His brows were arched, somehow calculating. She had always thought he had such a nice face, but she didn’t know what to think any more.
“It was just a list of things I had to do for Makso. It was nothing, really. I can make a new list.”
Ryan nodded and looked at her curiously.
They sat back down at the table.
“Ryan, I was just wondering – where’s the note with the fingerprints, the one that Joshua tested?”
He looked momentarily lost for words. He searched in his pockets. There was an uncomfortable silence.
“How silly of me. I must have forgotten to get it back from Joshua. I could get him to send it to me when he returns from his cruise.”
“Thank you,” Mel replied, but her own voice rang in her ears like a disembodied echo. “I think we might head home now. I have work to do for Makso.”
“Is everything OK, Mel? You sound a little tense.”
She collected herself; she wasn’t going to be fazed by any of this.
“Oh!” She feigned laughing it off. “You’d be tense, too, if you worked for Makso and had a pile of paperwork waiting for you.”
“I’ll give you a lift back.”
“Thank you.” She gave him one of her best smiles, using it like a mask; she mustn’t reveal anything.
They turned the corner and headed for Ryan’s car. As if he sensed her unease and wanted to make it better, Mel felt his arm very tentatively land on her shoulder, then his hand crept down and squeezed her arm.
All afternoon she’d wanted him to give her some sign he was interested, but now he had, she couldn’t wait to shake him off.
Had she looked back, she would have seen Kaylee and Joshua down by the quayside, where they had fished the second note out of the water.
As soon as Mel and Ryan were out of sight, they drove off in the direction of Pula.
* * * *
Mihovil liked to keep busy when he was troubled. It was the only way to see off the constant thoughts that invaded his head.
He swept the area round the pool with long regular strokes of his broom. He had been round once already and practically all the needles from the Cedar of Lebanon were neatly swept into the adjacent beds. Now he was just going through the motions.
The needles sat on the red soil like a woody confetti helping to keep in the little moisture there was at the height of summer. Decorative red and yellow hibiscus flowers smiled up at him, but he couldn’t smile back.
Austere and sombre woody notes of cedar oil exuded from the branches like the incense at church, as if the tree was trying to soothe Mihovil’s agitated soul.
He had noticed, through the window into Makso’s study, Mel sitting working. She looked troubled, too. Usually, she would come over to say hello but she must have a lot of papers to deal with.
There was an uncharacteristic frown on her face and she’d had her head down in her work ever since she returned from Rovinj. More than once, Mihovil had thought of asking her advice about the deep waters his father was in.
She seemed so grounded and understanding. Besides, she was new to the villa and could see things with a fresh eye. Any advice from her would be wise and practical, he was sure.
He was about to go over and knock on the French doors when suddenly he heard his name called.
He looked around. The voice had come from the main gate and it sounded like Ildie.
He dropped his broom and rushed over.
“Come in.” He unfastened the gate, closing it behind her.
She had never been here before, but he was rather proud that she should see him in this grand house where he had a proper job and a position of responsibility.