MEL, sitting in Makso’s study, had tried to concentrate on paperwork, but she was constantly distracted and found herself watching Mihovil sweeping up pine needles.
When she next looked, he was chatting to a pretty young visitor.
Everything was distracting her. Her head was full of worries about Ryan and his friends Kaylee and Joshua.
At first when she’d learned the two Americans had lied and were not continuing on the cruise ship, she had been sure Ryan must also know that.
But as Mel pondered more and more, it occurred to her that they might have been lying to him as well. Maybe she was wrong to suspect Ryan.
Despondently Mel gave up on work, put away her papers and wandered out to the pool area.
Makso would be back soon, and she’d rather not have to chat to him about work this late in the day.
Mihovil and the girl emerged and wandered hand in hand towards the gate.
Mel held back, not wanting to embarrass him. When he returned to the pool, Mihovil looked flushed.
“Hello, Mel, how are you?”
“Fine, thank you. What a pretty girl. Is she your girlfriend?”
Mihovil walked taller now, his chest puffed out like a proud swan.
“Yes,” he said, nodding his head as if coming to a conclusion. “She is my girlfriend.”
Mel was pleased. It was good to see him coming out of himself and not being so painfully shy.
Was that why Severina had sent the first note asking for help? Had she been troubled about Mihovil? Teenagers could be a constant worry.
But no, that didn’t explain the second note. It was what was going on at the trulli houses that was worrying Severina, and it was something so dire she needed to keep it a secret.
Suddenly Mel had an idea.
“Mihovil, you mentioned a while ago that your grandfather keeps a boat in Fazana. Do you think he might take me out one day? Maybe this Wednesday evening? I would so love to see the sunset from the sea.”
“Yes, I can ask him. I can check if he is free on Wednesday. If he can’t do then, would you want to go another time?”
“Well, Wednesday is best. It’s just that I have a friend coming – an Italian called Cesare. I wanted to show him Makso’s yacht, and the Villa Lavanda from that lovely cove. I suppose I want to show off a bit.”
By Wednesday, Cesare would have arrived from Sorrento with her friend Caroline and her fiancé Antonio for their visit.
She would tell Cesare, whom she trusted one hundred per cent, all about the second note.
They could then go out with Mihovil’s grandfather and look at the trulli houses from the safety of the sea. Cesare would know exactly what to do.
As she thought about Cesare, Mel pushed to the back of her consciousness the fact that he would be asking her straight out why she had turned down his marriage proposal.
She had never talked to a man about her inability to have children, but she owed it to Cesare to be straight with him.
“Of course I will ask Grandpapa,” Mihovil replied, clearing away the broom. Then he hesitated. “There is something I want to ask you, Mel.”
“The thing is, I need to ask Makso for a favour, and I do not know the best time. My girlfriend thinks I should ask as soon as he gets back today, but do you think it would be best to wait? He has strange moods and I’m not sure which would be best. It is a very important favour.”
As he spoke, they suddenly heard a voice bark out loudly, “Mihovil!”
It was Makso, who had returned with Hiroko from his visit. He didn’t sound happy.
All Mihovil’s confidence dissolved, and he seemed to shrink as Makso strode up to stand over him.
“Who was that girl I saw leaving the Villa? Is she something to do with you?”
Makso’s wife Hiroko looked on nervously, her eyes full of compassion for the boy.
“Who said you could invite a stranger into my grounds? This is a very busy time for me. I don’t want anybody on my land who doesn’t belong here. Is that clear?”
“It must be nearly time for you to go to bed. Get back home.”
With that, Makso marched off, grabbing Hiroko by the hand.
The birthmark on Mihovil’s face glowed red.
“Are you OK?”
“Yes.” Mihovil bit his lip.
“What is wrong with Makso?” Mel asked. “He usually keeps his temper under control. But the other day there was that argument with your father, and now this.”
“I don’t know.” Mihovil looked troubled.
Mel wondered whether Makso’s short fuse was due to whatever was going to happen on Wednesday.
She remembered that, only yesterday, he had shouted at his groundsman Greg Brodie for allowing some contractors clearing trees to take a wrong turn and end up near the trulli houses.
“I must go home now.” Mihovil’s brow was furrowed. “This is no time to ask Makso any favours.”
Mel couldn’t wait for Tuesday to come, when Cesare was arriving in Vodnjan with Caro and Antonio. Then, and only then, would Mel feel safe and among true friends.
* * * *