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Chapter 77 Jared Let Her Go

The spectre of murder held him still, its ramifications swirling through his mind as he watched her walk away from him, trudging steadily up the slope to the homestead, a lonely figure bearing a dark knowledge, moving back into a darkness there was no escape from. Not for her.
He wanted to pluck her out of it, to promise her a different life with him, but he knew they would be empty words to her. Empty words to him, as well, until he could see a way past this final fatal barrier. As it was, he realised his continual pressing of the attraction between them must have been a torment to her all these months. It would be a gross act now to subject her to more pressure. He had no ready answers to ease her pain.
He’d forgotten her husband, dismissed him as irrelevant once he knew he’d died before Alicia was born. Five years—ancient history, he’d thought, while it had been five years of living hell for Christabel. And there was no end to it. No end to the Kruger fortune and the power behind it. That was a truth he couldn’t dismiss.
He watched her until she was swallowed up by the darkness of the night. For several moments he was gripped by a haunting sense of loss, and a cold, cold loneliness pressed in on him. He looked up at the stars and felt the distance of them, unreachable yet there, twinkling their invitation to those who would dare cross space to get to them, dare anything to conquer the void.
A strong surge of determination burned through him. He would not accept that he and Christabel were ships passing in the night. He had taken it upon himself to bring her and her daughter to King’s Eden, to stop her running. He would not let Santiso win. If there had been murder done, as Christabel believed, then any further threat of it had to be lifted and dealt with.
At least now he understood—why she ran; why she had tried to deny the attraction between them; why she’d given in to it, if only for a limited time; why the time—to her mind—had to be limited; the wretched weight she’d been carrying on her conscience about involving him in her life, a weight she’d wanted to put aside while having this one last night with him.
He understood that, too…the compelling need to feel all there was to feel between them while she still could. It wasn’t selfish or greedy. It was as natural as breathing, the wish to extend the life of something beautiful, something he knew would never come his way again.
He believed she knew it, too, that what they shared went too deep to ever find with anyone else. It wasn’t wrong to take what she could of it. She’d given him as much as she took.
But Jared had no intention of letting it end here. He set about picking up his clothes and putting them on. Christabel had her own brand of integrity. Not hurting others was high on her list. Perhaps that was a woman’s way, doing her utmost to save those she loved from being harmed. But letting a predator win only put off other evil hours. The harm would come anyway. It had to be stopped.
Fully dressed again, he walked slowly up to the homestead, planning what he would do if Christabel was right in her reading of the situation. Fear might have distorted her view but he was not about to discount anything she believed. She’d acted on that belief with a determination that was stronger than her own personal desires. That said a lot to Jared.
The lights were on in the living room, Nathan and Miranda waiting in case they were needed. Jared glanced at the illumined numbers on his watch—21:43. His mobile telephone was still in his shirt pocket. He paused by the bougainvillea hedge that surrounded the majestic old house and its immediate grounds, took out the telephone and hit the computerised code for the Picard home in Broome. He wanted to talk to his mother before he spoke to Nathan.
But it wasn’t his mother who answered the call.
It was Vikki Chan.
“It’s Jared, Vikki.”
“She is not home yet, and she did not give me a time to be home,” came the reply, cutting straight to the point of his call.
Jared frowned, impatient for another report. “Where can she be reached?”
“I think you should trust your mother, Jared, and wait for her to call you.”
“Tell me, Vikki,” he commanded curtly. “Don’t come between us. This it too important to me.”
“It may be important to your mother, as well.”
“She is meeting with Santiso on my behalf,” he argued.
“I do not think entirely, Jared. Rafael Santiso is a very attractive man and you may not see it as her son, but your mother is still a woman with a lot of life to live.”
Jared’s mind reeled over this new element. Never having met the man he had to give Vikki’s judgment some credence on this point, but he found it extremely difficult to imagine his mother connecting to anyone after his father. He recoiled from the idea. Vikki had to be wrong. It might be a female pretence on his mother’s part to fool Santiso into relaxing his guard with her. On the other hand, Christabel’s conviction suddenly rang out loud and clear.
Santiso will persuade her. One way or another, he’ll persuade all of you…
“Where are they?” he demanded grimly.
Vikki sighed. “He invited your mother to dine with him in the Nolan Suite at the Cable Beach Resort.”
“She’s gone with him to a private suite?” Even he could hear the edge of outrage in his voice.
“You have no right to judge what is right for your mother,” came the terse reproof. “I remind you she respected your choice of Christabel, knowing very little about her.”
“But we do know about Santiso, don’t we?” he retorted angrily. “Christabel told us.”
“Trust your mother, Jared. She is not a fool.”
His own words to Christabel thrown back at him, yet his judgment of his mother was now severely shaken. She does not know him as I do, Christabel had replied, and those words burnt into his mind, building a belief that his mother was being fooled by a man who had no scruples in using anything to get what he wanted.
“I’ll see what happens tomorrow,” he said, ending the call, his mind already occupied with Christabel’s other predictions.
He activated Tommy’s telephone number, determined on building a safety net. “Jared here,” he announced the moment Tommy answered.
“No news of movement yet,” came the instant report.
“He’s with Mum. In the Nolan Suite at the Cable Beach Resort, no less. And get this, Tommy. She finds him attractive.”
“You’re kidding.”
“Vikki Chan’s judgment. Want to knock it?”
A shocked silence. Both of them were acutely aware of the old Chinese housekeeper’s closeness to their mother, and her astute summing up of any situation.
  • “Christabel called Santiso a master manipulator,” Jared went on. “She expects him to persuade Mum to bring all three of our European visitors to King’s Eden tomorrow. If that’s in the wind, Tommy, I want you in Broome tomorrow morning to fly them out yourself. No charter pilot. You. We keep this in the family. Okay?”
“Right you are. I won’t keep Sam out, though.”
“She’s family.” Tommy’s fiancée had been like a kid sister to Jared for most of his life. He’d trust her with anything. He was going to trust her with a vital part of his plan. “I have a job for Sam, too, Tommy,” he said, and outlined the responsibility he wanted her to take on.
“No problem,” his brother assured him. “Where do you expect this to end, Jared?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m hoping to sort out the truth tomorrow. But the final outcome—I will not have the woman I intend to marry living in fear.”
“I’m with you, Jared.” Hard resolve in his voice.
“Thanks, Tommy.”
Satisfied he had countered whatever persuasion Rafael Santiso was working on his mother, Jared moved forward, heading for the home that had sheltered the King family for over a hundred years. He paused at the front gate, feeling the spirit of those who had built this place and the legendary memories it embodied, the hospitality that had always been extended and the rules implicit in that hospitality.
Let Santiso come, he thought grimly. If the Kruger trustee and his cronies demonstrated any poisonous fangs, they would be cast out of Eden and left in a wilderness, the like of which they would never have experienced before.
It wouldn’t be the first time a transgressor learnt at first hand the rigours of survival in the outback, gradually acquiring a new respect for life and the lives of others. All the money in the world was futile and meaningless on that journey. Lachlan’s law had always delivered a punishment to fit the crime—justice not only done but seen to be done.
Jared decided he would like very much to give Rafael Santiso a taste of fear, a taste of feeling there was no way out for him. A couple of years of that might very well revolutionise his thinking, give him a true appreciation of what Christabel had been put through. Though he had to be certain such a course was warranted before carrying it out.
His mother’s apparent vulnerability to the man was another issue. It nagged at his sense of rightness as he proceeded past the gate and on to the house. Surely her sharply honed instincts wouldn’t play her false. He had never once felt out of tune with his mother. Never. Could she be so deeply deceived by Santiso?
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