Sweet torment, p.1

Sweet Torment, page 1


Sweet Torment

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Sweet Torment

  Sweet Torment by Flora Kidd

  Working in Colombia for Monica and Ramon Angel, Sorrel found herself more involved than she would have wished in the marital problems of her employers, whose marriage, it seemed, was threatened because of Monica's infatuation with the devastatingly attractive Juan Renalda. Somehow Sorrel found herself being persuaded to visit Juan and ask him to intervene in the situation—with the result that before she knew where she was she found herself married to him—and in love with him. But in the circumstances, how could she ever be sure that he had not married her merely to conceal his affair with the other woman?

  Printed in Great Britain

  All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the Author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the Author, and all the incidents are pure invention. The text of this publication or any part thereof may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,including photocopying, recording, storage in an information retrieval system, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.

  First published 1978

  This edition 1978

  © Flora Kidd 1978

  For copyright reasons, this book may not be issued on loan or otherwise except in its original soft cover.

  ISBN 0 263 7278 5 8


  FROM the hilltop town of Manizales the road to the ski resort of El Sombrero passed through coffee plantations which covered the lower slopes of the mountains. Under the shade of tall banana palms the leaves of the lovingly-tended bushes glistened in the morning sunshine and red-shirted, straw-hatted berry pickers moved about, lifting ripe berries and placing them in the big baskets which they carried slung from belts round, their waists.

  As she looked out at the varying greens of the bushes Sorrel Preston could hardly believe that in another hour or so she would be looking at snow. Although she had been in Colombia almost six weeks she still found it difficult to accept that in this South American country climate was a matter of altitude. Last week-end she had been at sea-level, sunbathing in tropical sunshine on a dazzling beach beside the white-capped turquoise blue of the Caribbean Sea on the northern coast. This week-end she was going skiing in the high mountains of the Andes.

  She had come that morning from the city of Medellin, riding in the back of the sleek cream Cadillac which was driven by her employer, Ramon Angel. Along the great Pan-American highway they had come swooping south, seeming to leap from ridgetop to ridgetop town.

  But this road to the ski resort was very different. It was narrow and snake-like. The higher it climbed the more it twisted, swinging back on itself, often seeming to hang in space above dark narrow gorges which cleft

  the mountainside, their steep forested walls falling away to the thin silver threads of rivers far below.

  'I wouldn't like to drive along this road in the dark,' Sorrel confided to Laura Angel, who was sharing the back seat with her.

  'Mother used to drive up and down it by herself every week, when she came skiing with her friends,' replied Laura. She was fifteen and the elder of the two girls. Tall and slim, fair-skinned and blue-eyed, she had taken after her English mother and her speaking and understanding of both English and Spanish were excellent. 'But then Mother used to be a very good driver.'

  'I don't understand,' protested Gabriela, who was sitting in the front beside her father. She was twelve, small and round with eyes of glittering black and a smooth olive skin. She spoke English with the most captivating accent, slurring the consonants and using many American expressions. 'If Mummy was such a good driver, how come she crashed?'

  A heavy silence followed her question. The car crash which had turned Monica Angel from a sports-loving active woman into an invalid who was having difficulty in learning to walk again was never mentioned in conversation, Sorrel had noticed, almost as if the family didn't want to face up to the reality of it.

  'She made a mistake,' Ramon rebuked Gabriela sharply. 'How many times do I have to tell you.'

  He was a strict father. He was a strict husband too, and since she had come to live in his home Sorrel had gradually become aware that Monica and the two girls were afraid of offending him. She had also become aware that the relationship between Ramon and Monica was very shaky, and not only because Monica was crippled. She was sure that something had hap-

  pened before the accident to undermine the marriage.

  The road twisted upwards between the thin dark trunks of coniferous trees which gave way to a wilderness of rocks and stunted plants covered by a thin layer of snow, wide stretches of alpine meadow edged by icy battlements of mountains. Up and up it wound into a completely different world; a world of snow and ice, of razor-edged pinnacles of rock soaring against a blue sky across which wisps of cloud floated; of clear sparkling sunlight and thin rarefied air.

  'Is the altitude affecting you?' Ramon asked. 'Do you feel a little nausea, some dizziness, perhaps, because we have climbed so high in such a short time?'

  'My head aches a little, that's all,' Sorrel replied. 'Oh,' she added laughingly, holding her hands to her ears, 'my ears have just gone pop! Should I feel nausea?'

  'You might and you'll definitely feel breathless when you get out of the car. We won't do much this morning. We'll get in some practice on the nursery slopes and save the big stuff until this afternoon. By then you should be more used to the atmosphere,' he replied, and guided the car around one last bend between banks of snow which had been piled up by a snow-plough, and there before them, situated on a wide plateau, was the semi-circular five-storey building of the hotel, the nucleus of the ski resort. Beyond it the white slopes were already dotted with dark swooping figures of people skiing.

  Inside the hotel was furnished luxuriously in bright clear colours. There was much wooden panelling and thick wall-to-wall carpeting. An elevator took them up to the third floor where the girls shared a double bedroom and Sorrel and Ramon had a single room each.

  As Ramon had suggested, they spent the rest of the morning on the easy slopes, riding to the top on the T-

  bar. Sorrel soon found that both the girls and Ramon were much more experienced skiers than she was, and she was grateful to them for their patience as they stayed with her until she had worked some of the stiffness out of her legs and had become accustomed to breathing the fine dry air.

  They lunched in the coffee bar of the hotel where Laura and Gabriela watched the coming and going of other skiers with much interest, chattering to one another in Spanish and giggling until Ramon becoming irritated with them told them to speak up so that he and Sorrell could hear what they were saying.

  'We were only recognising some of the boys we have seen here before,' Laura confided to Sorrel as they went into the foyer of the hotel to collect their skis. 'Daddy won't let us have anything to do with boys. He would have us chaperoned everywhere if he could, but chaperones are now out of fashion.'

  `So we have you instead, Sorrel,' lisped Gabriela with her charming grin. 'Which is much better ... oh, look, Laura, that man over there.' She whispered something in her sister's ear.

  `Don't let Daddy hear you mention him,' said Laura quickly.

  `Why?' exclaimed the irrepressible Gabriela. 'Oh, do you remember, Laura, the time we came skiing with Mummy and we had to spend the night in the ref ugio?'

  `Shush ' Laura jabbed her elbow into her sister's ribs.

  `What is a refugio?' Sorrel asked in an attempt to divert Ramon Angel's suddenly suspicious glance from his daughters.

  'A hut where you can shelter if there is a blizzard,' he said. 'There are several scattered about the slopes for the convenience o
f skiers who like to ski off the beaten track. Come, over here. This is a map of the area which

  shows where they are located.' He pointed to a chart on the wall of the foyer. 'They are rough but well equipped with camp beds, blankets, a stove and fuel and canned food.'

  Outside the hotel they bound on their skis again and glided over to the chair-lift which would convey them to the higher slopes. Riding up was as exhilarating an experience as sliding down promised to be, thought Sorrel, as she peered over the side of the chair and watched skiers carving their way down the mountainside churning up sprays of glittering snow crystals.

  From the last pylon of the chair-lift they climbed up yet another slope, their skis making herringbone patterns on the crisp untrammelled snow. When they reached the top Sorrel rested on her skipoles, gasping for breath, and gazed with awe at the view of mountains. Honed by wind, shadowed by drifting clouds, their jagged peaks glinted like silver carvings against the pale grey sky. They were remote and majestic, an ever-present challenge to mankind.

  'This used to be Mother's favourite ski slope,' said Laura sadly.

  'I can see why,' said Sorrel.' The view is fantastic.'

  'The clouds look full of snow to me,' said Ramon seriously. 'We'd better start going down now. Gabriela, you go first and lead the way. Sorrel, follow her as closely as you can. Laura will follow you and I'll come last. Then if one of you falls I'll see you and will be able to stop and come back to help you.'

  'But supposing you fall, Daddy. We won't know,' said the naïve yet outspoken Gabriela.

  'I shan't fall, of course,' replied Ramon with that cool assurance which Sorrel had discovered was typical of all the men she had met so far in Colombia. They didn't make mistakes, or if they did they didn't admit

  to them. After all, they were the superior sex ! 'Watch out for protruding rocks as you go,' added Ramon. 'Ready?'

  Sorrel settled her skiing goggles over her eyes and pulled the emerald green ski cap which matched the ski suit she was wearing more firmly on her dark red hair. Then she looked at the two girls to make sure they were adequately protected against the icy cold air which would sting the skin on the long ski run down to the top pylon of the chair-lift. But there was no need for her to check on them. More accustomed than she was to skiing in the Andes, they had their collars zipped right up to cover the lower parts of their faces and their hats tugged well down over their ears.

  'Off you go,' ordered Ramon.

  'Follow me closely, Sorrel,' Gabriela cried gaily. 'We would not like you to get lost ! '

  Watching the small neat figure in bright orange, Sorrel dug her poles into the snow and pushed off. Both of her skis parallel and at right angles to the fall line of the steep slope, her body leaning out away from it as she traversed the shoulder of the mountain, she followed the dipping and swaying Gabriela.

  Swish! The snow hissed under the skis and at every turn a spray of crystals was churned up to sparkle in the sunlight. Back and forth she went across the slope, glad that Gabriela was wearing a bright colour easy to see at a distance because the girl was rapidly forging ahead.

  She saw the jagged tooth of rock spearing up through the snow too late to turn and avoid it. Spreading her legs wide apart so as to bring the points of her skis together in a desperate last-ditch effort to stop her headlong rush, she fell in a flurry of snow and slid on her side almost to the base of the rock.

  Better to fall than to crash into it, she thought, as she

  stared up at the grey granite. If she had collided with it she might have been seriously hurt.

  Swoosh! A slim figure in red whizzed by her, smothering her in a spray of snow. She hadn't realised Laura was quite so close behind her and apparently the girl hadn't seen her fall, for she made no attempt to stop but continued her zig-zag course down the slope.

  Sorrel stood up carefully and pushed her goggles up on her forehead. The sun had gone behind a thick grey cloud and there was no longer any glare on the snow. Quickly she examined the bindings of her skis to make sure they were secure, and she was just straightening up when another figure dressed in cinnamon yellow went by her.

  `Hey, wait for me, senor!' she yelled as loudly as she could, and pushing hard with her poles she set off in pursuit.

  Ahead of her Ramon glided swiftly over a bank of snow over which the two girls had long disappeared. Sorrel could only hope that when she glided over it she would be able to see him. But it took her longer to reach the bank than she had anticipated and when she topped it eventually all she could see in front of her was another steep slope plunging downwards into a veil of whirling snowflakes.

  No one had seen her fall and so no one had stopped to wait for her. In which direction had they gone? She should be able to find their tracks, but the snow was coming down so thickly that all trace of ski tracks had been blotted out. She would just have to continue skiing downwards and perhaps once she was through the veil of snow she would be able to see the pylons and wires of the chair-lift. Once she had found that she would know she was going the right way, towards the hotel.

  Back and forth, back and forth across the slope

  which seemed never-ending and was very steep, far steeper than anything she had ever skied before. Had they really climbed up it earlier that afternoon? Or had she taken the wrong direction? If there was only some sun visible she would know, but there wasn't a glint of yellow in the sky which was fast becoming joined with the veil of snow so that she felt as if she was enveloped in a thick grey blanket.

  Out of the blanket another rock reared up and she fell again when trying to avoid it. Breathless, covered with snow, she struggled up and was almost knocked down as another skier swooped suddenly out of the veil of snow. She had a glimpse of double white stripes curving down the arm of a black skiing jacket as the skier passed her and then he was whizzing away from her, carving his turns with ease and accuracy as if he were competing in a slalom race in the Winter Olympic Games.

  Cheered by the fact that she had company, Sorrel went after the skier, trying to turn with the same speed, but by the time she glided up and over another bank of snow he had also disappeared and all she could see was an empty wasteland of snow stretching down to a line of stunted trees.

  Weary with her efforts, she stood resting on her poles trying to catch her breath, feeling panic flicker through her because so far she hadn't found the chair-lift pylon. Chewing her lip in indecision, she listened hoping to hear the whirring sound of the wires carrying the lift, but all she could hear was the moan of the wind which had sprung up and the soft spattering sound of snow falling on the nylon of her padded ski jacket.

  Then suddenly she caught sight of a twinkle of light among the straggly trees at the bottom of the slope. At once she began to ski towards it. The slope was still

  steep and she had to cross it many times, aware all the time that the wind was getting stronger turning the gentle fall of snow into a raging blizzard.

  But the twinkle of light continued to shine like a beacon through the haze and at last she was able to see it was shining from the window of a snow-covered building crouched among the trees. At once her spirits rose. It must be one of the refugios that Ramon had showed her on the map in the foyer of the ski hotel. Inside she would find other skiers sheltering, warmth and food. She might even find Ramon and the girls.

  Relieved, she began to hurry along a path which wound through the small wood of conifers. She didn't see the patch of ice until she was on top of it, skidding about. She lost balance and fell backwards, her legs and feet attached to the suddenly ungainly skis waving about in the air. Her head banged against something which was very hard.

  Stunned, she lay for a few moments in the snow feeling the flakes settling softly on her face. She must get up quickly before she was covered with the sticky clinging stuff. She raised her head. It whirled and throbbed and she actually saw stars before she blacked out.

  She came to, hazily aware that she was upside down and that her throbbing head
was wagging about. A bar of iron was clamped over her legs and beneath her stomach she could feel something hard and tensile which moved slightly. After some puzzlement she realised she was being carried over someone's shoulder in a fireman's lift.

  Her head wagged violently and she heard the clump of feet on wooden steps. There was the sound of a door being opened. There was a feeling of warmth, the smell of kerosene and the sound of a door being closed. A few more wags of her head and then she was being

  eased off the shoulder and laid on something which creaked a little beneath her weight.

  She opened her eyes and looked right up at the wooden beams beyond which she could see the slanting shape of a roof. Light was faint and flickered so that the rafters seemed to be moving.

  Someone was lifting her right foot. She raised her head and saw hands pulling undone the fastening of her boot. Then she saw double white stripes curving up the sleeve of a shiny black jacket. She looked higher and saw the profile of a face above a turned-back, unzipped collar; a jutting chin, creases at the corner of a mouth, one flaring nostril of a finely-chiselled straight nose, a prominent cheekbone below a dark eye-socket, and a broad forehead from which longish ink-black hair was swept straight back.

  'What happened?' she asked, forgetting momentarily which country she was in and speaking in English. The man's head jerked round and she saw light-coloured eyes flash with surprise. She remembered and repeated the question in Spanish.

  'You fell and hit the back of your head against the trunk of a tree. It knocked you senseless,' he replied speaking English with a definite North American drawl. `If you feel the back of your head you'll find you have a bump, egg-shaped. Lucky for you I was behind you.'

  'Behind me?' she exclaimed, pushing up on her elbow. 'But I thought I was following you. It was you skiing out there on the slopes, wasn't it?'

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