* * *
Fenia finally cleared the main course dishes and brought out the dessert, sliced oranges with small portions of honey sorbet on the side.
“You’ve been awfully quiet tonight, darling,” Spyro said, as he popped an orange slice into his mouth.
Kathy cleared her throat. “Oh, I’m just tired.”
“Did you have a tour today?”
“Two of ‘em, back to back,” Kathy said. This was a lie.
“Ah.” Spyro nodded. He clearly could not have cared less.
“Fridays are always busy,” Kathy said, just to fill the empty space. “Two new groups came in from the UK.”
“Oh, I almost forgot!” Spyro said, looking at Alexander. “Today is Reading Day!”
Kathy detected what seemed to be an awkward vibe that passed between Alexander and his governess, but Spyro didn’t notice.
“So what was the topic today, Superman?” Spyro said, leaning back in his chair. “Tell your dad all about it.”
The boy looked at Gwen again, but said nothing. There was a scowl on his face.
Spyro frowned at him. “Son, I asked you what you read about today.” He looked at Gwen. “This is Reading Day, isn’t it?”
Now, Kathy was aware that both her hands had clenched into tense fists, her fingernails digging into her palms.
“What the hell is going on here?” Spyro said, when Alexander remained silent.
Gwen eyed Alexander coolly. “We skipped Reading Day today.”
Spyro looked confused, glancing between her and Alexander. “You skipped Reading Day?”
“Yes, sir, it was my decision.”
“And why is that?”
Alexander blurted, “She wouldn’t let me read the book!”
“Oh?” Spyro said, looking back at Gwen.
She glanced at Kathy, as if embarrassed. “It was a judgment call, Mister Leandrou. When I opened the package and looked at this week’s book, I...well, I decided it was, inappropriate for a child his age.”
“Oh?” Spyro was surprised. “What was it about?”
“Nothing important. I think it was just a mistake, the wrong book in the wrong envelope. I’m sure it was meant for much older kids.”
“Oh, I see.” Spyro glanced at his son and winked at the governess. “You mean a kind of biology book?”
“Yes, exactly,” she said, looking relieved.
“I’m old enough to read biology!” Alexander said, but it was clear that he had no idea what the book was really about.
Spyro ruffled Alexander’s hair. “Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up, son.”
“So,” Gwen said, “we decided to review math instead.”
Spyro gave the governess an approving smile. “Excellent call on your part, Gwen.” He shook his head, marveling at his own brilliance. “I knew you were perfect for the job from the day I hired you!”
The next morning at the farmhouse in France, Elaine Brogan woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off.
She did not sleep well. She had hoped she would have heard back from Kathy by now—it had been four days since her mother had gone home. Or rather, since Elaine had forced her to return home.
Elaine still had trouble thinking of Kathy as her mother. Yet, since Kathy left, Elaine had started to feel guilty, too, worrying that she’d been too aggressive in forcing her to go back, and that maybe Spyro had found out what Kathy had done and hurt her, or worse. Now she wished she had told Kathy to check in at least every few days, but that would have been risky.
She lay there for a moment, staring into space, lost in thought, Nick softly snoring beside her. If Kathy didn’t call soon, she would be so mired down in other work projects it would be difficult to pursue Spyro Leandro. A major counterfeiting operation had surfaced somewhere in Poland that her boss was trying to track down, and any day she was afraid he was going to ask her to go there with him and another Special Agent on an undercover sting operation so she could identify counterfeits on the fly as they zeroed in on it. That would mean she would be gone a couple of weeks. And Luna had been making excuses to postpone a martial arts refresher seminar that Valdez had asked her to organize in London for the European staff.
Luna thought they now had enough on Spyro to have the operation officially approved by Valdez. However, unlike Raj Malik, Valdez’s ruthless, unscrupulous predecessor, the new director would be a stickler for doing everything by the book. Every detail had to be carefully thought out, including an operational budget, which Luna was fine-tuning.
Elaine and Luna agreed that they had to have Valdez’s approval. There was no way either one of them would undertake a task this formidable and dangerous on their own, rogue, like they had done in the past. With his own security team and broad international connections, Spyro Leandrou would have the resources to thoroughly investigate anyone who applied for the governess job, if Kathy could get the current woman fired. Officially investigating Leandrou would have great advantages. Unlike the last undercover work Elaine had done, where she had to skulk around the seedier parts of Tangier with Giorgio Cattoretti and visit hole-in-the-wall “cobblers” to set up her fake identity, this time around, she would have the entire Secret Service back-office at her disposal. And she needed it.
Trying not to disturb Nick, Elaine finally slipped out of bed to shower and to drive to work in Marseilles, her mind already focused on next week’s to-do list. As she put on her robe, she found herself gazing at a small, framed photograph she kept on top of her dresser. The picture was taken when she was fourteen, standing in the grass outside Bromley Academy for Girls, tall and gangly in her overcoat and school uniform, smiling at the camera. Her father stood just behind her, dressed in blue overalls, an aluminum ladder in his hand, half-smiling, candidly caught in motion, the ladder a little blurry. She could still hear him speaking in his fake Irish brogue, saying, “Top a de marnin’ to ya, gershas!” or “I saw a leprechaun hidin’ in de gerden!” to entertain Elaine’s friends and make them laugh.
It was one of those precious moments frozen in time that said so much about her life, her love for her father, his love for her, and especially her education—what Patrick Brogan was willing to do for his only child.
And now Elaine finally had found the miserable human being who was responsible for her father’s death, if she could believe her mother’s story...and so far, there was nothing she could do about it but wait.
Nick stirred in the bed, and Elaine set the picture back down. When she glanced at her husband through the dresser mirror, he was watching her.
“Kathy will call, honey, don’t worry,” he said.
Elaine turned to face him. “What if she didn’t go back to Greece at all? What if she just decided to take her chances and go on the run? She had a couple of hundred thousand euros with her.”
“If her husband is as powerful as we think he is, I doubt she would take that risk. She only got the nerve to leave him and come here because she thought you could get him put in jail.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“She’s only been gone a few days, babe. It just seems a lot longer. Try to be patient.”
Nick’s advice was sound, but extremely difficult to swallow.
The failure of Kathy’s third attempt to get rid of Gwen did not anger her—it threw her into depression.
As soon as dinner was over, she went up to her room and sulked. I have a daughter who can have the most wanted criminals in the whole world arrested, and I can’t even have a lousy twenty-nine year old governess fired from her job!
This not only made Kathy feel incompetent, but completely helpless. She wondered if she was doomed to live her intolerable life with Spyro and Alexander and Réka forever, until she grew frail and wrinkled and the three of them watched her body be lowered into the ground, not a tear shed between them.
But then, just as she was about to step into the shower, when her spirits had reached an all time low and she was utterly despondent, a miracle occurred.
There was a soft knocking at the bedroom door.
She turned off the water and donned her robe. It was probably Alexander wanting to ask her something trivial. He had reached the age where he had become acutely interested in female anatomy, and though it might have only been a coincidence, he’d recently had a habit of knocking on her door when the sounds from her room indicated she might not be fully clothed. A week ago, she also thought she glimpsed him peeking around in the doorway of the bathroom when she was coming out of the tub. But that also might have been her imagination.
When she opened the bedroom door, she was surprised not to find Alex standing there, but Gwen. She was barefoot, wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
“I hope I’m not bothering you,” the governess said. “I thought I heard you moving around...” Gwen’s gaze drifted down to Kathy’s chest—her robe was open.
Kathy quickly closed it and tied the belt. “I was up, just taking a shower. Is something wrong?”
“No, no. It’s just that tomorrow’s Saturday, and I had an idea.”
“Well,” she said, a little shyly, “I thought Alexander and I could go with you on the volcano tour. That is, if you’re conducting one...”
Kathy was taken aback. “Well, yes, of course you can go, that would be great. There’s a tour at one o’clock.”
Gwen smiled, revealing a pair of faint dimples that Kathy had never noticed before. “Perfect! I’ll tell Alex!”
* * *
Kathy spent the rest of the evening in a curiously upset psychological state—having Gwen ask for her and Alexander to go on the tour was the last thing she had expected to happen.
Was it some kind of sign?
Kathy believed in such phenomena and often checked her horoscope. Now and then she visited a psychic in Fira.
For a fleeting instant, when she was putting on her hiking clothes, an image of the treacherous crater flashed through her mind, the boy from Oklahoma slipping on the loose rocks, and how scared his mother was...
She shoved the image away.
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