Elisaveta stared around as the church erupted into confusion, chatter and a low-level hysteria.
‘I need to see if I can help,’ she muttered to Mrs Mellors as she ducked out of the pew. ‘That’s my job.’ But she knew she wasn’t going to find Theo in order to sort out announcements or organise people. She needed to make sure he was okay.
She hurried along the aisle, ducking behind the curtain that separated the vestry from the rest of the church only to skid to a stop as she heard Lady Fitzroy accuse Theo of having an affair. An affair with her. She started to back away, shame heating her whole body. She might not technically have been having an affair with Theo, but emotionally? Her conscience was far from clear.
Then Theo spoke, every word clear and cold, and Elisaveta froze. ‘There’s nothing going on between Elisaveta and me.’ She’d never heard him sound so commanding, so sure.
She swallowed convulsively. It had all been in her head; she was a fool, conjuring up intimacy from kindness. Turned a tipsy kiss into a great love affair. Did he know how she felt? Pity her?
She had to get out. Elisaveta headed out of the church and back to the flat, grabbing her bag and keys before locating her car. Only where was she to go? The flat she had been born in, raised in, lost two parents in, felt too small, too hemmed in, too full of memories of what she had lost. She wasn’t close to any of her cousins, had drifted away from her school friends as her mother’s illness deepened.
She was all alone.
Elisaveta pulled into a garden centre and opened her bag. She had her purse; she had her passport; maybe she should go away? She couldn’t go back to work, not after everything.
Maybe, in a way, this was a good thing. She’d never intended working as a PA forever. She’d fallen into a rut. Now she was forced to think about what she really wanted. She had savings, which gave her time...
Hang on, what was that? Her hand brushed against something cold and sharp. She drew it out, taking a breath when she realised it was the key to Sofia’s villa. ‘Not such a good luck charm after all,’ she said out loud. But as she said the words an idea hit her. Sofia had said she could return to the villa whenever she needed – well, she needed a place to escape to now. She could – should – call Posy and make sure it was all right for her to do so. But the memory of blue seas and rolling hills, of whitewashed buildings and soft sands, of meadows filled with flowers assailed her and Elisaveta was hit with a yearning so hard it almost made her double up in pain. She had to return to her mother’s island. There was nowhere else she belonged.