Keepers of the House
The first thing that Anna saw when she came into the house was the envelope propped foursquare against the crystal vase on the table in the entrance lobby. She turned it in her fingers, frowning. Mostyn’s handwriting. Her heart went pit-pat. Her thumbnail broke the seal. She took out the single sheet. Read it. Pain sliced.
The envelope slipped unnoticed to the floor. On numb legs, letter still clasped in her hand, she walked through the lounge to the terrace that ran across the rear of the house. She rested her hands on the stone capping of the wall and looked out at the manicured lawn, the flowerbeds that now, in the second week of December, were bright with petunias and antirrhinums, the scented heads of roses. Beyond the garden, the blue water of the harbour. The Manly ferry, toy-sized, trailed its wake as it tossed through the chop towards the city. The water was white-flecked, the air crackled with salt. The house unfolded its wings behind her.
It was here she had planned so many of her triumphs in recent years. To it she had returned to lick her occasional wounds; who, in the savage world of business, had not known a few of those? It had comforted her, cosseted her, protected her. Her safe stronghold. No longer. Now, with Mostyn’s note, the walls had been breached.
In the house the telephone started ringing. Anna did not move. It was probably Hilary with the latest production figures from the new factory in Geelong. They could wait. For the moment she was not up to Hilary’s obsessive pedantry, her accountant’s voice scratching dust over all Anna’s bright visions.
The phone stopped as the answering machine cut in. Released by silence, Anna walked down the steps to the grass. The turf yielded beneath her boardroom shoes. She had an urge to chuck away not only the shoes but everything they represented: the structure of deals and treasons, lies and promises, minutes and financial statements that for so many years had constituted her life.
All that, she thought, so that one day — today — I can come home to an empty house and find that my husband of thirteen years has walked out on me.
She was still holding Mostyn’s letter. She looked at it again. Behind the written words she could hear his voice, hot and spiteful, listing all the faults he claimed to have found in her in recent years. Yet the letter contained nothing of that; he had never been one to commit himself in writing if he could avoid it.
I’ve had enough. I’ll send for my things.
Just that. Not much to end a life with its attendant pains and joys, its hopes and plans and companionship.
Because there had been love, surely? To count no triumph complete without sharing it. To feel warmth at the sound of his voice. To know contentment and peace in his presence. What were these if not love?
They had found this house together; like excited kids had run through its rooms, sharing their vision of its potential, its place in their future. They had eaten Sunday morning breakfasts on that terrace, crumbs and newspapers and the hot, strong smell of coffee. They had laughed together, wept together, clung together. Silly, trivial things.
Of course, there were other, less delightful memories. Of rows and more rows, particularly lately. And now this.
I’ve had enough.
The crash of her collapsing world reverberating in her head and heart, Anna Riordan climbed the steps to the terrace and went back indoors.
She looked in the kitchen. Mrs Casey had left a cold meal in the fridge. Mrs Casey was no doubt the reason Mostyn had taken care to seal his note. Meats, salad, cold potatoes, the remains of a fruit flan.
You will not think, Anna said, as adept at giving orders to herself as to others. You will eat and then you will have a bath. Only then will you decide what has to be done.
Half an hour later, wreathed in steam, she lay in the hot scented water and, for the first time, brought her mind to bear on her situation.
She supposed she should have known a break was on the cards. The good times, the shared delight in each other, the enmeshing of minds and bodies had all ended years ago. For a long time they had not even made love, had been no more than two strangers sharing the same accommodation. Yet, in truth, she had not expected it. It was what happened to their friends; never once had she thought it might happen to her.
She stirred restlessly in the bath, running her hands over a body that at forty-one was still taut and firm.
We had something precious but were so tied up in our piffling careers that we never bothered to take care of it. Never even realised that care was necessary. Now it is dead, from indifference and neglect. And we are supposed to be so smart.
Damn, damn, damn.
One question remained. What had happened to cause Mostyn to make the break?
She supposed that, in this situation, it was the first thing all women wondered. It was certainly possible. Mostyn’s eye had wandered often but she had always been careful to ask no questions, had not permitted herself to care too deeply; always, the moments had passed. She thought she would have known had Mostyn involved himself seriously with someone.
No, not that. What, then?
Only one thing seemed possible. Over the last few years Anna had had the Midas touch; all her ventures had turned to gold. Because of her flair she had been invited to join the boards of some of the largest companies in the land; political connections had caused her to be offered — and accept — a seat on the prestigious State Economic Strategies Committee.
By contrast Mostyn’s own career had topped out. No one could call him unsuccessful. He was executive director of a merchant bank, had a hatful of other directorships and enough cash to indulge his whim of investing in premium vineyards, both in Australia and overseas. It would have been more than enough for most men. Yet, somehow, his career had lacked the sparkle of her own.
He had known it and resented it. Small signs that, in retrospect, had been significant: a determination, ever more frequently expressed, that Anna’s career should be subordinate to his own; unreasoning anger when their schedules clashed and she was unable — or unwilling — to put off her arrangements to suit his.
Recently had come what might have been the final step in bringing him to the break. Some weeks earlier, Anna had been invited to lunch at an unfashionable restaurant by one of the main power brokers in the party. He had spoken ambiguously, yet to someone like Anna, who understood the language, his words had been unmistakable. People had been wondering, he said, whether she might be interested in a place, a very senior place, in government. If one happened to become available. If she should by chance be interested in a political career. No need for a decision right away, he had told her. Think about it.
She had gone home ten feet off the ground, bursting to share the news with her husband, who knew well that politics had been a source of unending fascination to her ever since the early eighties when she had spent two years as aide to Jack Goodie, at that time shadow Trade Minister.
Mostyn had been unable to handle it.
‘I’d as soon mix with the Mafia as that riffraff. At least you know where you are with the Mafia.’
‘Just a chat. They’re not committed. Neither am I.’
‘No such thing as just a chat with those blokes.’
He was probably right. She had not committed herself but knew she probably would, had felt the tingle of excitement that for her always signalled the lure of a new adventure.
‘Isn’t business enough for you?’ The genuine astonishment of a man to whom the acquisition of money was the world.
For some time she had felt restless at the prospect of spending the rest of her life making nothing but money. Such a limited ambition … Whereas politics would give her the opportunity to stretch herself, perhaps even do some good in the world.
For some time she had become involved in a number of issues, women’s rights and third world matters among them, telling herself they were no more than sidelines.
Perhaps, with the cautiously worded invitation, it was time for them to move centre stage.
Had that caused the final rift? Probably. Since that conversation, if you could call it that, Mostyn had never stopped bitching about how her career was taking over both their lives, had made it clear that if she wanted him to play second fiddle she was in for a disappointment.
‘You needn’t expect me to trot along behind you …’
And then, two days ago, the Premier himself had phoned. An election was due next year; it would be helpful if he had an idea of her plans.
Even then she had not committed herself. She had not said no, either, as she had admitted when Mostyn questioned her. Some husbands would have been proud; he had been furious, had told her that she thought only of herself, that his career meant nothing to her.
It was nonsense and she had said so, angrily. It had ended in a terrible row, recriminations flying like bullets, and the spoiled brat she had married thirteen years earlier had stormed out in what she now saw had been a rehearsal for today’s main event.
Envy, she told herself. A petty, petulant reaction from a petty, petulant man. The thought made her feel better, if not much.
She stood up, body glowing from the hot water, mind clear. She reached for a towel and began to rub herself dry. Envy, pure and simple. Except that envy was never pure and seldom simple.
She knew Mostyn so well. He had always been a hatchet man, even had the nickname to go with it. Hatchet Harcourt, they called him in the city. If he fell out with you, people said, look out. Anna had never thought she would have to worry about that — her husband, for heaven’s sake — but now was not so sure.
She tossed the towel into the laundry basket and walked naked into the bedroom. Theirs, it seemed, no longer.
She would have to watch her back.
She put on a deceptively simple linen dress in a tone of dusty pink that suited her colouring. She had bought it in Genoa the last time she had been in Europe; it was one of her favourites for a summer evening when she didn’t want to get too tarted up. She brushed her dark hair — no grey so far, although after this episode who knew what she might find in the morning? — and put on the dab of lipstick that tonight was her sole concession to the conventions of make-up.
As she did so, she thought deliberately about what she had to do. Speak to Maurice Steyn, first of all, if she could get hold of him. He was her lawyer and would have to be told, much as she hated the idea. She would check the answering machine for messages, return Hilary’s call, if that was who it had been. She might phone Monica; it was what friends were for, wasn’t it, to lean on in times of trouble? The idea of leaning on anyone was so bizarre that she found herself smiling at her reflection in the dressing-table mirror.
Perhaps the shock of all this will make me cuddly, she thought. But doubted it. Loving, yes, that might still be possible. But cuddly? Never.
Apart from sitting on the phone for an hour, she had no plans for the evening. Tidy up the bits and pieces, eat her supper on the terrace, have a glass of wine and watch the lights come up in the city on the far side of the harbour … She could have done all that in a dressing-gown. In nothing at all, come to that. The idea of sitting in the nude, clutching the phone and discussing her marital problems with the dignified Maurice Steyn brought the smile back to her lips. How the idea would have horrified him!
So why go to the trouble of dolling herself up in her favourite Italian dress to make a few phone calls?
Because I must, she told herself. Suddenly she felt like tears. Resolutely she fought them down. I have to prove to myself that the show will go on. My show. However much I want to lie down and scream my heart out, I shall not do it. I shall not allow him to destroy me.
Purposefully, as presentable as she could make herself, Anna walked down the stairs to her study.
Let’s get on with it.
Two hours later Anna, plans for a quiet evening blown out of the water, sat with her friend Monica Talbot eating Chinese food at a harbourside restaurant in the Rocks.
Monica had been less surprised by the news than Anna had expected, and had at once suggested that they should go out and eat together.
‘Cheong Wah’s,’ Monica had said. ‘Eight o’clock.’
It was nice to be bossed for a change.
Monica was bowstring-taut, angry-eyed and neurotic. She’d been through two husbands and now blamed the world — or at least the male part of it — for them both. One had been wealthy, pleasant. After five years she had caught him making up to a woman she had regarded as a friend. The second had been a dealer on the stock exchange who relieved stress by drinking. When he drank, he used his fists. The first time, Monica had warned him; the second, she had packed an overnight case and walked out. Anna had sheltered her on that occasion; now she was returning the compliment.
Not that Anna needed it. She could look after herself and said so.
‘Don’t you believe it. Your husband’s no different from the rest of them. They’re all bastards.’
‘Mostyn’s not the bash ’em and mash ’em type.’
To Monica, Mostyn was male, the enemy. ‘I wouldn’t put it past him.’
‘He’s probably home already,’ Anna hoped. Or did she? She couldn’t be sure.
‘Reckon there’s someone else?’ Monica asked.
‘Thought you might be able to tell me that. They say the wife is always the last to hear.’
Above their heads the bridge’s familiar girders loomed against a rash of stars, but here, on the cobbled waterfront, her new situation had made all things strange. It was like finding herself in a new, incomprehensible world where the signs were back to front. I don’t understand this new place, Anna thought. I don’t want to understand it. Bruised ego or not, she wished with desperate fervour that everything could go back to how it had been three hours ago. Futile, no doubt, but knowing it did not stifle the wish.
Monica was not into wishes where husbands were concerned. ‘It stuck out a mile. You were bad for his ego. A wife more successful than he was? No way he would put up with that.’
Her own thoughts; yet she disliked hearing them from anyone else. Absurdly, she found herself defending the indefensible. ‘He’s not that bad —’
‘If he’s so marvellous, why aren’t you home with him instead of sitting here with me?’
Monica was right, of course. His place was here, with her. They’d dined out a lot together, once. Had fun together. Once.
‘He certainly chose his moment. The first free weekend I’ve had in yonks and he messes it up.’
‘Only if you let him.’
That was true, too. For the first time in thirteen years she could do what she liked without thinking about anyone else. She could walk the beach, stay in bed, get on a plane. She could do anything she wanted. If she wanted anything.
Oh Moss, she thought, how could you?
If he’d turned up that minute she would have thrown herself at him. Open arms; open legs, too, no doubt. You make me sick, she told herself.
Belatedly, something that Monica had said a few minutes earlier struck her.
‘I would hardly say I was that successful,’ she said.
Monica laughed in disbelief. ‘Australian Businesswoman of the Year?’
‘Doesn’t mean much.’ Though she’d been delighted at the time. ‘What’s the point of it? I’ve worked my butt off all my life. For what?’ To be like you, filling lonely evenings with food and bitterness? Somehow, she managed not to say it.
‘You started with nothing. Now look at you. How can you say you’re not successful?’
It was true, she supposed. She’d picked the tree she’d wanted, had climbed damn near to the top. It was a bit late to start wondering if it had been the right tree.
She was in shock, she told herself. That was why she was thinking like this. It would have been remarkable if she’d felt nothing, after all.
Out in the harbour, islanded in darkness, a brightly-lit ferry headed somewhere unknowable, like a metaphor of her life.
‘Love is a mistake, isn’t it?’ Anna said. ‘It makes you vulnerable.’
Vulnerability was a new experience, yet now it had arrived it seemed in no hurry to abandon her. Later, at the house that no longer felt like home, it tightened like a clamp about her heart. Lying alone on the tossed sheets in a bedroom that was suddenly far too big, far too small, every creak of the house jerked her out of the doze that was the nearest she could get to sleep. Afraid Mostyn would come home after all; afraid he would not.
He wouldn’t; she knew him too well to believe anything else. The ego that had driven him away would make it impossible for him to return so quickly. She hoped, all the same. Unavailingly.
At last, after a dozen lifetimes, the dawn. The harbour as serene as on the first day.
I can’t stay here all weekend, Anna thought. I’ll go ape.
She showered, wishing she could scrub her mind as clean as her body. She arranged a few clothes tidily in a case — not even a broken marriage, which was what she supposed it was, could break her addiction to order — spread a croissant with jam, drank one cup of black coffee. She went out to the garage, stowed the case in the Porsche, and headed north.
Past Broken Bay she found a beach with a pub at the far end, a lake behind a scattering of houses. Miraculously, being a fine Saturday, it had a room. So small the bed almost filled it, a rickety, dark-stained wardrobe jammed against one wall. At the end of a bare corridor, the shower and lavatory were as drab as a public toilet. It was a long time since Anna had stayed anywhere like it but the very discomfort eased her. Here everything was different. She had a name for resilience, for permitting nothing to faze her. Very well. Now was her chance to prove it. Here she would start to forget.
She gave it her best shot. She walked the beach; when she was sick of the sea she crossed the dunes and followed a sandy track shaded by trees until she reached the lake. Watched a man with a dog, a father and mother surrounded by a joyous scream of children.
I should have been like that, she thought, knowing it was nonsense. She had never been cut out for a housewife. A week of it and she’d have been climbing the walls. She imagined packing hubby off to work, the kids off to school. Cleaning the house, doing the shopping, building her own little kingdom in her own little home. Nothing wrong with any of it. Admirable, even, but not — most emphatically not — for her. If everyone were like I am, she thought, the human race would have died out long ago.
Which at the moment did not seem such a bad idea.
It grew hot. She returned to the beach. Luckily, she had thought to slip on some bathers beneath her clothes. She peeled off shorts and top, baring white city skin to the cancerous eye of the yellow sun. Much she cared about that. She rubbed on sunscreen, lay on the stinging sand, plunged periodically into the tepid Pacific as it lapped along the shore. Later, when she’d had enough sun, she found a scrap of tattered shade, sat and stared at the water.
She wasn’t used to doing nothing. It was an art, like everything else, and she had never thought to acquire it. All her life had passed in a rush. She wondered what was the point of it.
Don’t start that again.
But there had to be a point. Simply to function mindlessly, with no object in view — that was scary.
Surely there was merit in the generation of wealth, not simply for herself but for tens of thousands of others? People better off than they’d have been without her? Of course there was. Then why didn’t it seem enough?
Damn you, Mostyn. I never had doubts before.
Except that she had, which was why the political option had seemed so attractive. Now she found herself wondering even about that.
She wasn’t going to walk out on her present life, make any rash decisions. She had to give herself time. It was less than twenty-four hours since she’d got the letter. Besides, what else could she do? She wasn’t the sort to sit on her bum and do nothing. She was used to seizing problems by the throat and shaking them to death. Not being able to do so now made her uncomfortable. Like the drying, powdery sand, frustration itched her skin.
Give it time and it will pass, she told herself. I only wish it would.
She wondered if Mostyn had been trying to contact her. It pleased her to think of the phone ringing in the empty house, him listening to her metallic voice on the answering machine. She liked to imagine his indignation at discovering that she was not available just because he wanted her to be. Of course, the chances were he had not tried to get in touch with her at all.
Once again she thought back over their relationship, seeking the defining moment when the balance between Mostyn’s options — to stay or go — had finally shifted. She remembered one of their more recent rows. At the time, she had barely noticed it. It had been simply another in what now she realised had been a crescendo of rows.
If only I’d taken more notice, she thought. If only I’d listened. If only …
But she hadn’t.
Now she saw that it had been remarkable only because Mostyn had come closer than ever before to expressing his real feelings, the core of his resentment of her and their life together.
Mostyn’s voice, battering the living room walls. ‘You’ve always wanted to keep up with me but you couldn’t hack it. Envy — that’s your problem. It’s become a kind of mad game, hasn’t it? How many directorships, how many TV appearances?’
‘I don’t see anything wrong with being well-known.’
It was true that most businessmen favoured a low profile, but Anna had always enjoyed the limelight. She knew how to manipulate the media, with its politically correct cringe towards any woman who achieved prominence or notoriety.
Mostyn topped up his Scotch without offering her one, took a ferocious belt. Given half a chance he would have devoured her too, and her independent ways.
‘All this palaver about human rights … In the old days it was South Africa. Now it’s Northern Ireland, the United States. Australia too, of course. Why do people like you always pick on their own side? Softer target, I suppose. As for this feminist garbage …’
On and on.
Anna, maliciously, said nothing, knowing that it would make him madder than ever. Which it did.
‘Bumped into Donald Jeffreys last week, at the SCG. Know what he said?’
No, Mostyn, I do not know what Donald Jeffreys said. No doubt you are about to tell me, though.
‘Asked if I’d burned any bras lately.’
And down, yet again, went the Scotch.
‘Good work if you can get it,’ Anna said, contempt hot as flame. ‘Right up Donald Jeffreys’ street, I’d have thought.’
Mostyn had already told her about Andy McKillop and his chuckles over Hatchet Harcourt’s feminist army. Better not call ’em women. They don’t like that.
‘Don’t you see how embarrassing it is when my friends start talking like that? Doesn’t do my image much good.’
‘You’ve no idea how I despise your friends,’ she said.
Mostyn glared savagely. ‘They put bread on your table, though, don’t they?’
Which was true, too, if irrelevant.
None of which had anything to do with the real problem, what Mostyn called buttering up the pollies.
‘You don’t get the nod in the boardrooms of this city by playing footsy with the ALP.’
Had that been the moment when the balance — to go, to stay — had finally shifted? Probably not; from what Anna had seen of other people’s bust-ups, one isolated episode seldom made the difference; it usually took a series of events to cause the break.
None of it mattered, now.
She meandered back to the hotel, forcing herself to take her time. She had a shower, washed her hair, determined to make herself as sparkly as possible. Not to attract anyone — heaven forbid! — but for her own sake.
If I have to make a new life, let me get on with it.
That night, iron bedstead and lumpy mattress notwithstanding, she slept. Woke, romantically, to the first rays of sunlight shafting through the smeared window. Discovered that in the night she had come to a decision.
I shall do nothing until after the New Year, she thought. Give myself time to work things out. She had two board meetings that week. The Christmas break meant there would be nothing after that until mid-January. In past years she had worked through the holiday but this year Hilary could handle it. She had not had a real break in years; now she would.
She spent the day in the hills, had a bite at a fancy-pantsy restaurant, felt herself beginning to come back to life. Driving back to Sydney that evening, she wondered how her great-grandmother would have reacted to the situation.
She laughed, ruefully. Anneliese had been dead for twenty-six years yet, in a sense, had never died at all. Her strength and willpower had been a role model to Anna all her life. She could feel her right now, beside her in the car.
The ferocious old lady would probably have gone for Mostyn with a shotgun, Anna thought. How she had been influenced by her! — even to the extent of changing her name from the Tamsin Fitzgerald she’d despised to an Anglicised imitation of her great-grandmother’s name.
What would I have been like without her genes in me?
She tried to imagine herself as placid and easy-going, a cow chewing the cud in her own particular paddock. A preposterous idea; she laughed and felt better.
Anneliese Riordan had died in 1970 at the age of ninety-five, when Anna herself had been fifteen. Her will had been diamond-bright until the end, eyes focused resolutely upon the twin objectives of her life: never to relinquish her heritage; never to forgive the past. She had lived sixty-seven years in Australia yet never for a moment had she allowed her hatred to grow dim.
As long as Anna could remember, Ouma Riordan, as she had liked to be called — Granny Riordan — had told her tales of her life in the years before she had been forced to leave Africa.
Such tales. Of her first husband and the two children they had made together. What had happened when, after nearly three years of war, her own home burned, she had returned to Oudekraal, the farm that had been the centre and focus of her childhood.
Anneliese’s guttural voice had drawn pictures in the air: Oudekraal, with its steeply-pitched roofs, its white walls gleaming in the moonlight, the central gable rising over the front doorway; the stoep along the length of the building, the oak trees to shade it from the fierce suns of summer.
Tamsin, as she had then been, had seen it so clearly, had felt herself as much a part of the great house thousands of kilometres away as if she had been born in it herself.
‘My brother Deneys came to terms with the English,’ Anneliese had told her, spitting hatred. ‘Something I would never do. Yet without him they’d have had me, sure enough.’
For a moment she was silent, her eyes seeing every grain of soil, the terraces of vines climbing the hill behind the house, the valley enclosing it. Tamsin saw it, too; had heard about it so often that it was hard to believe she had never been there herself.
‘I wrote once to an attorney in Stellenbosch,’ Anneliese said. ‘He told me my great-nephew has it now. Pieter Wolmarans. By rights it should have been mine.’
Anna’s memories faded but later, back in the house overlooking the harbour — no messages from Mostyn on the answering machine — they returned. She remembered the last time she had spoken to the old woman.
In the bedroom Anneliese was fighting her final battle. Echoing voices, a confusion of memories, death with its hand already upon her. Her voice rose and fell, gasping, barely coherent.
‘I was twenty-eight when I came to this country. Already I’d had children of my own. Ja, and buried them. My first husband dead. No, I was no longer a child.’ She cackled. ‘Surprising your great-grandfather would have me. But he was a wild one, too.’ Her eyes were lost in distance as she remembered. ‘Dominic,’ she said. ‘And fire, the curse and cleansing gift of God.’
And for a time was silent. Eventually she came back. Outstretched fingers clutched at the past. ‘Two hundred years,’ she muttered. ‘Two hundred years since the first of the Wolmarans carved his farm from nothing. Oudekraal. A garden where before had been only a wilderness of stone.’ The wandering eyes focused again on Tamsin. ‘My land was stolen from me. You know that?’ Spit rattled urgently in the ancient voice. ‘My life has been a life of blood. Some from my heart, some on my hands. There are times when I can hear the screams …’ Again she drifted, again returned. This time the old note of purpose was back in her voice. She stared up at Tamsin, leaning forward over the bed. ‘Oudekraal is mine. You will recover it. Never forget. You will reclaim my house. Our past. It is your destiny. I can see it in your face.’ She tried to sit up a little but could not, and lay back again, panting. ‘The book on the table beside the bed … Is it there?’
‘You know what it is?’
‘It’s a Bible.’
‘Take it in your hands.’
She waited until Tamsin had done so.
‘It is not like the one we had when I was your age, with brass hinges and the names of all the family from the beginning written inside the cover, but the word of God, all the same. There is something in it that I want you to remember. For me and for yourself.’ The claw fingers tightened on Tamsin’s wrist. ‘Oudekraal is mine. I want you to swear to get it back for me. The Bible says it. In the days when the keepers of the house shall tremble …’ The dark eyes probed, as fierce as a hawk. ‘Keep my commandments,’ Anneliese said.
On Monday morning Anna sat in her office on the twentieth floor of the building overlooking Darling Harbour. She thought long and carefully before at last picking up her private phone to dial a number in the city.
‘Mark Forrest, please.’
‘Mark Forrest’s office.’
People who called her had to fight through a similar ring of defences.
‘This is Anna Riordan. May I speak to him, please?’
‘Mr Forrest is not available. So sorry.’ She didn’t sound sorry at all.
‘You mean he’s out or in a meeting?’
Ice chinked at the end of the line. ‘I mean he’s not available.’
‘Do yourself a favour. Tell him who’s calling, right?’
What a bully! Anna thought, not worrying about it. She had grown used to bullying. At times, as now, enjoyed it.
Silence as again she was put on hold.
‘Anna?’ Laughter as well as astonishment in his voice.
Even after so long there was no mistaking him.
‘What did you say to my secretary?’
‘I asked her to put me through to you.’
‘Was that all?’
‘More or less.’ She shared his laughter. ‘Why?’
‘You seem to have got up her nose.’
‘Oh dear.’ Not in the least repentant.
‘What can I do for you? After all these years?’
‘I want you to have lunch with me.’
‘Today?’ He sounded doubtful.
‘If you can.’
‘Let me grab my diary …’ A pause as he considered. ‘I could maybe re-schedule a couple of things … What time?’
‘There’s a place in Darling Harbour called Hugo’s. I’ve heard good reports about it.’
‘I don’t know it.’
‘Neither do I.’
She had thought to suggest Ristorante Venezia, where they’d shared their last meal all those years ago. She had been there again in recent times and found it as good as ever but, for this meeting, somewhere without echoes would be a wiser choice.
‘Look forward to it.’
She cradled the phone. He had not asked if her business were important. She liked that. It was like saying that anything involving her was bound to be important. The implied compliment gave her a warm feeling, as his voice had given her a warm feeling.
She indulged the luxury of thinking back, something that her own inclination and monstrously busy schedule rarely permitted. Her brain juggled dates. Fifteen years since they’d first met. Good heavens. That meeting, startling as it had been, had at first been a good deal less than friendly, although almost at once the atmosphere between them had changed. Then, later, it had changed back again. How it had changed! At that time it would have seemed ridiculous to imagine that they would ever choose to meet again. Yet here they were, fifteen years down the track, going to have lunch together. At her invitation. The wheel turning in a world where it seemed nothing was ever definite, nothing final.
Despite everything that had happened since Friday, she found herself looking forward to the lunch with more than warmth, even with a touch of gathering excitement.
Re-visiting old times …
Annaliese and Anna are two women divided by time but united by a common destiny and the heritage whose dramatic history exerts so powerful an influence upon their lives.
Anna Riordan, a very successful businesswoman who also dabbles in politics, is at a crossroads in her life. Her husband has just walked out on her, she is trying to decide whether to seriously pursue a political career, and then there is the matter of Mark, an old flame, and her ties to South Africa. Anna’s great-grandmother, Annaliese, fled South Africa not long after the Boer War.
But she remembers the farm and the land, and impresses on young Anna that she must buy back that land – nothing else matters. Anna is sent on an unofficial government mission to test the winds of change in South Africa she makes contact with one of the black African leaders whilst there; a meeting that will, in the future, change her life.
Before she can move on with her life, Anna must come to terms with her heritage, with the ghost of Annaliese that haunts her, and decide whether she really wants her husband back.
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JH Fletcher is the author of eight romantic historical novels, published to both critical and popular acclaim. The author’s plays for radio and television have been produced by the BBC and the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and many of this author’s stories have been published in Australia and throughout the world. JH Fletcher was educated in the UK and travelled and worked in France, Asia and Africa before emigrating to Australia in 1991. Home is now a house within sound …