Publisher: London Wall Publishing
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Luz set eyes on him for the first time from her seat on Zeyna’s back as the fine white Arab mare stepped down the narrow path from the cliff that led to the beach. He was sitting on the edge of the track, leaning nonchalantly against a wild carob tree,watching her while chewing on a sprig of heather. As she drew nearer, she met his steady gaze, spirited and wild. At that moment she had no idea this man would have the power to change her world and create such havoc in her heart, that she would emerge from the experience a different person. Fate had not yet lit up the winding pathway of her life nor the echoes of history along it, but now, in front of this stranger, a disturbing awareness leapt into flame deep inside her and began to flicker intensely. Without thinking, she tugged on Zeyna’s reins to slow the mare down.
For a moment they stared at each other. He was clearly a gitano, one of those people that Luz’s family had always warned her to steer clear of. The frayed, cut-down denims sat low on his hips, revealing deeply tanned, muscular long legs, and his feet were bare as though he had just walked straight from the beach. Unruly chestnut hair, bleached golden in parts by the sun, tumbled to his shoulders; his smooth copper skin glowed more than that of any gypsy she had ever seen. As she allowed her gaze to flick back to his face, Luz caught the flash of amused, provocative arrogance in those bright, burning eyes, mixed with something deeper that she didn’t understand. She swallowed. The overwhelming masculinity of the gitano unsettled her. Luz lifted her chin resolutely, but felt the pull of his magnetism reaching out and gripping her, beguiling and dangerous, so that instinctively she nudged her mount and they broke into a smooth canter. The thumping of her heart sounded loud in her ears. She could sense his eyes on her, as a palpable touch, even as she rode away, trembling, and the feeling remained with her until she knew she was out of sight.
Had Zeyna picked up her mistress’s inner turmoil? Luz was pulling on her bridle as the mare tossed her head this way and that, snorting. Surprised by the horse’s unusual behaviour, Luz looked down at her hands and realized that she was clutching the reins much too tightly. She relaxed her hold. ‘I’m sorry, old girl. My fault,’ she whispered, leaning forward to pat the mare’s neck. Feeling free, the handsome creature surged forth without hesitation. The wind blew warm and salty; it touched Luz’s long black hair like a caress, threatening and tantalizing, wrapping a few silky wisps around her face. An unusual heat coursed through her, even though she was dressed only in a T-shirt, jeans tucked into riding boots. She raised her head against the breeze, letting the briny air course over her body, willing it to drive away this unfamiliar disquiet from her mind.
Gradually her sense of foreboding subsided and the awesome setting regained its hold. She felt an exhilaration and breadth of freedom in the vast solitude of the deserted beach and the wide horizons of the sea. The intense blue of the bay lay before her in the late afternoon sun. The lines of the land were so recognizable to her: no trees, no shrubs, no delicate tinting nor soft beauty, but a pure, distinct outline of form, almost terrifying in its austerity. Then, from time to time, there were the shadows of great clouds moving overhead, staining this infinite expanse of dunes that stretched before her like a vast tapestry, in shades of cream, greys and silver. Galloping in the wind on the back of her beautiful white mare, Luz felt in harmony with the Andalucían landscape and with herself. She had left her flat in Chelsea, finished her job in Scotland, and now she was back in Spain, a newly born post-Franco Spain, ruled by an energetic young king, and teetering on the edge of new possibilities. She was back at last in her beloved country, this time to stay.
Luz María Cervantes de Rueda was the only child to Count Salvador Cervantes de Rueda and his beautiful half-English, half-Spanish wife, Alexandra. At the time, their love story had made newspaper headlines and had been a favoured subject for wagging tongues in the drawing rooms of Spanish society. There had been a scandal involving Count Salvador, a young gypsy girl and her ne’er-do-well brothers. To add to the gossip, Alexandra de Falla was not from a pure Spanish background. Her foreign ways had caused suspicion and disapproval among the cloistered circles, their traditions still so deeply rooted in 1950s Andalucía. The fact that she was a romantic novelist, too, had caused many raised eyebrows. Some predicted doom when the couple’s fairy-tale marriage was announced, but as in all fairy tales, the pair had surprised everyone and were still living happily ever after.
For the first eleven years of her life Luz had lived in Spain, spending July and August in Kent with her Great-Aunt Geraldine. Later, when she was sent to boarding school in Gloucestershire, she would return three times a year to El Pavón, the ancestral home of her father outside the city of Jerez: at Christmas, Easter and for part of the summer holidays.
Luz had just arrived in Cádiz that morning, straight from England. She intended to spend at least a week at L’Estrella, the family’s summer house, before going on to see her parents at El Pavón. She was excited, pulsing with life, feeling as though she was on the verge of embarking on a great adventure.
It had been a long haul that had started with Cheltenham Ladies’ College when she was eleven, through a master’s degree in history and modern languages at Cambridge, and finally two years spent in the Highlands of Scotland penning the biography of an ancestor for one of the great families of Britain. Now that book was delivered, she could feel that Spain was where she was meant to be, where she was always meant to be. Here, she could breathe, feel her body come alive under the Spanish sun, and let all the pent-up, reckless instincts she had tried so hard to tame all through boarding school in England run wild and free. Luz had never thought that those compulsive feelings she had were the secret machinations of ‘destiny’; there was a sceptical, no-nonsense side to her inherited from her mother, along with a talent for writing, but she knew that the fiery Spanish nature that was her father’s – and always got the better of her – had finally pulled her back to Andalucía.
Only that morning, when Luz had arrived at L’Estrella laden with suitcases, Carmela handed her a letter that had come the day before. Ever since she had replied to an advertisement in the local paper for a biographer, she’d been praying for an interview. And here it was: a letter inviting her for a first meeting that week. Luz had barely been able to contain her relief and joy as she pulled the housekeeper into a delighted hug. She had really set her heart on this job, not only because she would be writing about Count Eduardo Raphael Ruiz de Salazar, one of the great painters of modern Spain, but also because the artist was from this part of the world and a large portion of the research would be done locally in Cádiz and its neighbouring towns. It seemed that now Luz had been given her reason to stay.
She brought Zeyna to a halt at the edge of the shore. The wild salty air seemed to be sweeping up from the beach as it brushed her cheek. She closed her eyes to savour its breath, delicious odours laden with iodine and fruits of the deep. The sun was setting in the late afternoon and the sky, gloriously mottled with apricot-pink and lilac, was broken here and there by shafts of light reflecting on the surface of the water, turning the calm ocean into a spectrum of peacock colours.
Now she could make out the fishing boats in the distance returning after a day’s work: black toy insects, the antennae of their masts bristling against the flamingo-tinted sky. Gulls and terns mingled overhead, screeching, impatient for the laden fleet’s arrival. Luz did not care much for birds. She found them – even the beautiful ones – eerie and menacing. It was time to be starting back.
The Andalucían Nights series: Love, mystery and desire under the scorching Spanish sun.
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