Alyssa makes it to the afternoon. Catching some peace she sits on the beach, her back to the house and the sounds of more guests arriving. Lytton comes out to join her, the excited tones of old friends greeting each other reassure him that his staff can look after the latest arrivals; he is more interested in getting to the bottom of his god-daughter’s surprising relationship. He had considered their story and decided that it was little more than smoke and mirrors.
“Hey girlie, how’s my Sweet Pea today?
“Hi Uncle Richard. I’m just sitting. So busy getting on with getting on I guess I’d forgotten how nice it is to come back here and just sit and look at the sea.”
“You got things on your mind? Want to share with an old friend?” And what else was Richard if not the best friend she had when she was growing up?
“Not sure. Oh, what the hell. Yeah. Look, Uncle Richard I never thought I’d be the one saying this but could you lay off on my man for the weekend? He’s told me what happened last night. He’s not what I expected when we first met and, all joking aside, things are a bit complicated between us right now. Adding a gay seduction to the mix is just messing with his head … he’s … he’s …”
“A lot more innocent than he appears.” Lytton finishes her sentence. “I noticed. Unfortunately I noticed a little too late.” He shrugs and gives a rueful shake of his head before continuing. “I guess I should apologise to him but he seems to be hiding from me today. What can I say? He is absolutely captivating. I couldn’t pass up the chance of seeing what you had been getting hold of. And then, when I saw him I’m afraid I just went for him like a desperate old queen seeing fresh meat for the first time. Which, I soon realised, I probably was. Look, he’s very sweet and he’s adorable when he blushes … but a body like that needs a warning sign on it or he needs to know what signals he gives out.”
They sit and watch the waves breaking on the shore, the minutes stretching around them. Of all the things to cause tension between them, she would never have guessed it would be a man.
“Do you really like him then?” Lytton was brought up to be polite, this is his nearest to please and thank you when a man has caught his eye.
“Yes, Uncle Richard, I think I do. Odd, coming here has kind of helped put it into perspective for me. I guess I like him more than I first thought I would.”
“You didn’t really meet him through a friend did you? Don’t look away from me. The others might have bought it but I know when you’re lying … and I think I know why.” A wicked grin matches the twinkle in Lytton’s eye. “You bad girl. Why am I not surprised that you’ve been making the beast with two backs with one of your father’s coma boys? One of the soldiers that will never go home because his family think he’s already dead … how delightfully twisted of you.” Keeping things simple, Alyssa just shrugs. Let Richard think what he likes, it was better than him looking for the truth. From his long standing friendship with Struan, in Lytton’s mind it was a logical assumption to make, her father had always be trying to save those the army had given up on. “Don’t worry Sweet Pea, I won’t say a word, not even to let the old fool know he’s been rumbled. I can understand it’s not the kind of thing you want broadcasting around, wouldn’t want you to get a reputation as a predatory man-eater. You know, like me.”
Their shared laughter is a relief to both of them. There is no way Alyssa can stay out of sorts with her favourite Uncle and she feels a warm, proprietary glow as he complements her on the subject of her unexpected foray into men. Playing the girlfriend doesn’t seem such a stretch after all.
With Struan busy catching up with old friends and Alyssa in gales of half-shocked laughter with her uncle on the beach, Helena and Dave take a walk in the grounds of the sprawling estate. Alone and unobserved in an overgrown summer house their voices are low and there is an edge to their conversation. Though it is one they have had before, this time the hypothetical tone is missing. While Helena is experienced enough to view changes with a certain detachment, she sees the difficulty he has trying to reconcile new desires with untrained emotions.
“And to think it was your body I was worried about hurting when we started. This would always happen, we knew it. I know you feel safe with me, but I have no hold on you. I can’t keep you to myself. However much I want to it would be the wrong thing to do. We always said we would be honest with each other; don’t think you are letting me down now you have the chance of trying new experiences.”
Disconsolate, he hangs his head on her shoulder. Despite his appearance he is still too young to have the words for his feelings and needs her comfort even as he fears hurting her. Caring fingers smooth away tears of confusion from his eyes then lift his face to hers. “I told you before, you don’t need my permission. If you want to have sex with Alyssa then ask her, be open about it – all she can do is say no. Personally I think she would be mad to turn you down but, believe me, that isn’t the worst thing that can happen in this world.” She kisses him tenderly. “And if you want to experiment with Lytton … yes, she told me … let him take the lead but please insist on being safe. We know he can’t harm you, but it will look better to be careful and … and …”
Whatever the good intentions she had started with, they are too close in the secluded bower, his lips too inviting for her to maintain her resolve. This was what had started it all. Day after day of seeing him. Day after day of touching his uncanny flesh. And the dreams that came – the dreams of his white skin contrasting against her darkness, the fantasy of what he would feel like inside her. Helena had been on her own too long. Men were just men, all disappointments after her husband. But Dave was so different, so strange, there could be no comparison. She wasn’t betraying her husband’s memory, she was dreaming of something new. In the warehouse necessary touching had become stroking. Stroking had found a response. She thought they had brought each other to life. And now? Her words sound brave but inside she quails at the thought that he might never come back to her.
“Don’t ever think I will forget you. Whatever happens, if it happens at all, it may just be sex. You know there is no way I can forget my first lover.” And he slides his hands under her flowing sun-dress, strokes the inside of her thighs before his fingers snag on the cotton of her briefs. The slight tremor in his voice is matched in his fingers as he pauses. “You made we want to join the world. Your love is a sacrament.”
Away from the eyes of responsibility, many miles away from the watchers in the trees, neither of them can resist the urge for the other. Their coupling is hurried, intense with all the hopes and fears of their excursion into the outside world. Helena pulls away from him before it is too late. If it is going to be a sacrament she says she should receive him on her knees. In the still summer afternoon she pretends that she doesn’t hear him sob; she delays lifting her face from his sweetest flesh until all the strength is gone from him and she is sure he has composed himself. She wants to cry too, but will save that for when she is on her own.