Carmen de Lucia arrived in the southern New Zealand mountain resort of Queenstown on her new passport after a bruising exit from her much publicized betrothal, prolonged by lawyers on both sides to squeeze out fees. Carmen de Mendoza had legally adopted her grandmother's family name de Lucia to escape Europe's hounding media undetected.
The striking twenty-six year old beauty was set for life financially. The only child of Spanish diplomat Ramiro de Mendoza and wife Frances Somers, an English performing arts historian, Carmen arrived as a social refugee, intent on living alone more than 10,000 miles away from those nightmarish times in Germany.
This biggest upset of her life began eight months ago when suitor and prominent German industrialist Penrod Krueger turned from loving her to gradually treating her harshly, finally confessing he'd fallen in love with his mistress and intended marrying her.
After that humiliation, Carmen resolved never to become involved with a male again. Adding to her emotional insecurity had been the unsettling three months living in the company of her voluble and quite unsympathetic mother while waiting settlement of legal proceedings. Mother and sharp-tongued cronies persuaded Carmen to think about shunning the company of females at the first opportunity.
All in all, Carmen really was not herself. It had hurt deeply to be abandoned and to know that Penrod's mistress was eleven years her senior. That disclosure and despair about wondering what the ‘other woman' had that she didn't had cost Penrod dearly: she'd rejected offer after offer presented via his lawyers until at last he capitulated and accepted her bottom line.
"What now?" asked the journalist of a famous European women's magazine - the only magazine that had treated her with respect and Carmen agreed to an exclusive interview, demanding a huge fee in return for ‘telling all'. The journalist arrived with an assistant and a photographer and positively gloated when Carmen spoke of the cruelty and her tears. But the quote that captivated the editor and layout-design people was, "Like Garbo, my heart tells me I want to be left alone."
The torrid story describing how mutual love turned into mutual hate sent women into a reading frenzy. Carmen's mother cried for two hours ‘in shame' but the deluged stopped when the first of many neighbors knocked on the door to say, "I never realized you had such a famous daughter Frances, May I come in and meet Carmen?"
Once documentation was completed, Carmen decided to disappear from Germany. Her travel agent suggested New York or Buenos Aires and then the agent's assistant suggested New Zealand: she'd just returned from a commercial promotion, touring the South Island and spoke well of ‘the hidden place - Queenstown'. Carmen booked a week at Millbrook, a resort where the travel assistant had stayed, and then intending to take an apartment in Queenstown for a minimum of two months while recovering and to decide her future.
"I had a fabulous time there - a different man almost ever night," the magazine writer's assistant simpered. Carmen almost cancelled that destination but knew she had to go somewhere. It was not difficult to avoid men.
Carmen left Düsseldorf feeling like a refugee, dressed down to avoid the paparazzi.
* * *
Once over the high country of New Zealand's South Island, the flight from Christchurch reminded Carmen of alps in Europe and so she quite at home. The aerial beauty of snow-capped mountain-locked Queenstown rose to greet her as the aircraft descended to the airport where she was astonished to find she was expected to disembark the old fashion way - down steps on to the tarmac and then walk to the terminal. How primitive.
Because the flight was early she chose to go outside and wait for the Millbrook courtesy vehicle. It would be blue and clearly marked, according to her travel guide notes.
With a roar, a young man driving an orange Porsche drove up beside her. His older companion struggled with her bag as the guy of perhaps thirty pulled down his dark eyewear to inspect Carmen. He showed white teeth; she displayed her haughtiest look. A damn gigolo.
"Goodbye mom, enjoy Wellington."
"Goodbye dear. Stay away from fast women."
God, thought Carmen. She was his mother and he'd not bothered to get off his butt and carry her bag to the trolley.
"Can you manage mom?"
"When I require a man to help me with my luggage I'll know I'm geriatric," she snapped.
Well, she only looked fifty, obviously an independent fifty, thought Carmen. She looked at the car and smiled at the skis sticking up and over the back but only just, not like the long skis of the past. They looked wide, so Mr Keep-Away-from-Fast-Women obviously was a skilled skier - or a show-off.
Carmen then realized the guy was out of the car and standing in font of her.
"Ma'am, you look lost. It would be my pleasure to take you to your hotel or lodge."
"Thank you but I am awaiting transportation," Carmen said in perfect English, being fluent in five languages. She was tempted to add, ‘With regret I advise I'm not a fast woman' but that was trading a polite offer with an insult. Instead she smiled, a little dismayed at having overdone it as her mouth opened fairly wide.
"Hello Mr Macdonald," chorused two young women in dark business suits who had been on the same flight as Carmen. She was sure the one nearest Mr Macdonald had pushed out her chest, the vamp.
"Hi Lucy, hi Jill. A good seminar in Christchurch?"
"Yes thank you," said the vamp, showing a huge smile. "Why don't I see you up the mountain?"
"Because I am favored with an early pass that allows me to ski from 8:00 which would be two hours before the likes of you rise."
"You're such a tease Mr Macdonald. You know we working girls start at 8:30."
"Bye girls," he urged.
"Hello," the vamp greeted Carmen. "Welcome to Queenstown."
"Hi, I saw you board the aircraft at Christchurch," said her friend. "May I say you looked stunning?"
"Thank you for your warm welcome."
"We are in hotel management," said the vamp. "I'm Lucy Lee and this is Jill Faber. We are bound to see you around; with a physique like yours I guess you ski - here's my card. We ski the Remarkables mostly but it depends on weather. If you want to do Treble Cone you ought to befriend His Nibs over here with the sexy car. Dunstan - did you hear that?"
"Loud and clear Lucy, but she's already turned me down."
"Wow," Jill whispered to Carmen. "You certainly have made an impression on Dunstan Macdonald. He's Mr Very Eligible in this town and is so choosy he almost prefers his own company."
"Come on Jill, don't embarrass the lovely lady. She's probably married and is very staunch. Goodbye."
"Goodbye, Lucy. Thank you again for your friendliness, I am Carmen de Lucia."
The Porsche roared as the motor was started and revved.
"Carmen de Lucia - what a fantastic name," shouted the Macdonald man who then drove off reasonably quickly with two parking marshals waving at him to slow down.
"Ohmigod, did you hear how Dunstan said that," Lucy said in awe. "You have captivated him."
"Me?" replied the astonished visitor. "I'm not interested in men."
"Oh we didn't pick up on that, sorry," Jill said.
Carmen realized she'd fallen into a hole and felt she had to clarify her situation. "No, not that; I've just come through a messy time after being, um, jilted."
She was grateful for the looks of sympathy she received. Jill handed Carmen her card. "Lucy and I are best of friends, but not the gay kind. We do a lot together and don't mind you joining us for dinner or going to one of the two casinos with us, or whatever. We will show you around. Do you like action adventure?"
"Well, be prepared for a great time. Oh, here's my mother to pick us up. Are you sure you don't require a ride into town?"
"No, I'm fine - oh, there's my transportation now," Carmen said, noticing a group a people following a man to a blue mini bus. "I've think we've already said goodbye twice before. I won't call you as I'm reluctant to impose, but leave a message for me at Millbrook if you really wish to keep in touch."
"We'll do that," Jill said warmly. "You appear to be a really neat person. Perhaps golf at Millbrook?"
"That would be lovely - come as my guests."
"Poof - what is money?" Carmen said, smiling as she pushed her trolley towards the mini van.
Early that evening the two girls saw Dunstan in a bar, looking weary after a morning of skiing and an afternoon of meetings or whatever. Lucy and Jill took the empty seats on either side of him; everyone else in the bar was an accompanied person.
"Hi, thank God for company," he said, his spirits visibly lifted. Drinks?"
"Need you ask?" Lucy said, smacking gentle kisses at him.
"Two Bloody Mary's thanks Todd," he told the barman.
Dunstan and Lucy that been thrown together into a two-month long affair after he'd returned from completing a BMA in London to take over Lightning Ridge Developments Ltd from his ailing father. That was three years ago - he's arrived as a stranger in Queenstown as he'd completed schooling and university in Christchurch. Lucy had been traveling on the same aircraft to take up her first position in hotel management after graduating and being seated together they agreed to share a taxi from the airport. Eight weeks later Hank, an American investor, propositioned Lucy and promised her a good life back in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, when Lucy was three weeks away from heading to America with Hank, his ‘deceased' wife turned up to take him home.
By then Dunstan was long into dating Jill, also in hotel management, and when they eventually parted Dunstan began inviting them both to parties when males outnumbered the females. Being on Dunstan's short-list drew the two females together, which is the way such things happen in small resort towns with a heavily fluctuating population.
"I really don't know what I'd do without you two babes," Dunstan said, following his glass of red wine with a soda water chaser. "Those two Aussie clients, who looked to be wanting more than companionship from you two last Friday night reckon Queenstown's a great place to do business. They both bought an investment unit and each took a month's option on two more to try to spin them off to friends."
"They were nice buys, Dunstan," Lucy smiled. "We ended up given them what they wanted."
"What Jill? Dunstan's a big boy; he knows a girl has to graze where she can when she'd single."
"How do you put up with her?" Dunstan asked, grinning at the flamed-faced Jill.
Lucy smiled wickedly. "Engaging in this topic reminds me, Dunstan. What do you think of the gorgeous Carmen de Lucia with her obvious pedigree?"
Strangely for Dunstan, he fell silent.
"Apart from the name, I mean."
"Great name, great looking lady," he sighed.
"She's here to recover from the trauma of a bust-up with her fiancé," Jill said quietly. "So if you intend looking her way, you best be Dunstan-go-Lightly."
Dunstan patted both girls on the knee. "Thanks guys; it's great have good mates who look great. I know if I said I hadn't given her a thought you'd both know it was a lie. She actually gave me the impression she was Miss Ice-lady; now I understand why. I'll just keep out of her way to keep her happy."
"Now you are lying," Lucy giggled. "You are naughty. We better go for a nap as we both work the night shift this week. We'll be in touch. I fancy the way Miss de Lucia moves she's a great skier."
"As I said Dunstan, we'll be in touch. Just think about her in the meantime."
* * *
Carmen liked her ‘luxury hotel villa', a two-bedroom French provincial-style suite. Men on their own and loud music couples would take a studio unit grouped away from the larger units, which was sensible and very convenient for her with her mind on segregation. She found the décor and furniture and furnishings modern-casual, exactly the right tone for a resort built around a golf course and encircled by mountains about to gradually give up their winter coats as spring stepped into warmer days.
The establishment was an international-class resort so the friendly women in reception made no comment about a single person taking a two-bedroom unit for which she was grateful. The woman taking Carmen to her villa in an electric golf cart was chatty, but not overly, and when showing Carmen the interior smiled and said, "Alone in this luxury with those views - you'll be in heaven."
"Is this anything else you require Miss de Lucia?"
"Yes, a full spa treatment at 4:00 today and every alternate day at 4:00 for the length of my stay. Tonight I wish to dine here, as I am travel weary. At 8:00 please. Also I require four more vases of flowers - I love flowers. If your floral staff are no longer on duty, then have then brought in from Queenstown within the next couple of hours; I'm happy to pay any extra costs."
"Certainly, Miss de Lucia. There is a menu on the table - just choose what you want and call the restaurant."
"Please do all of that for me, Rachel," Carmen said, palming the women $50. "I want chicken pesto with oil tossed spaghetti on the side, no sauce, grated Parmesan over it. Plus a half-bottle of very dry red and a crusty bread roll. That's all apart from machine black coffee delivered thirty minutes after in an insulated flask thirty minutes after my meal arrives. Have you got that?"
"Yes Miss de Lucia."
"Oh, and a bicycle - a mountain bike actually for my exclusive use. I'm in need of exercise."
"Yes Miss de Lucia. In this country it's compulsory to wear a cycle helmet."
"Thank you very much for that information, Rachel. I have my full cycling kit with me. Call me if there are any problems meeting my requests. If the spa is booked out arrange for one of the girls to stay on and for me to be billed accordingly."
"I imagine 4:00 today will be fine as it's Wednesday - the weekenders have gone so it's just only the casuals and long-stayers here at present. The build-up begins again from midday tomorrow. Look, here's my mobile number. I'll be your personal assistant whenever I am on duty. I do not expect to be further rewarded for doing that. I hope you don't mind me saying this but I suspect you are here to be pampered."
"How true Rachel, how true."
As Rachel left Carmen wondered if all New Zealand women serving the public were as lovely as these women at Millbrook, especially Rachel who probably was only twenty. She had similar positive thoughts about Jill and Lucy and wished she'd not acted so guardedly when talking to them. Well, she had their cards so she knew what to do if she continued feeling sorry for herself.
Carmen was dimly conscious of Dunstan but thought more about the car; she wasn't sure she approved of a Porsche being painted orange - black, blues and yellow, yes. But orange? And how could he get up to the ski fields on something as low-slung as that?
At 4:00 the pampering began. Rachel arrived to drive her to the spa and said she'd be off duty when the treatment finished but she'd arranged for spa staff to call for transport. "We don't want you coming from the spa treatment feeling like a million dollars then facing a chilly walk back to your villa."
"Thank you, this is so kind of you."
"When you return you'll find your mountain bike parked in the kitchen. It's more secure there and the seat won't have frost on it if you decide to do early morning cycling. We suggest you keep within the boundaries of Millbrook - there is a map in your room. But here's Amanda Rippon's mobile phone number - she's a schoolteacher and a biking enthusiast. She's a friend of my oldest sister and I called her. Amanda says she'd love to take you on a half-day bike ride on Saturday. She loves meeting young foreign women with style."
"Is that what you think of me?" Carmen asked in surprise.
"Oh God yes."
Carmen found it difficult to believe what was happening to her. She'd arrived in the country only eight hours ago and already things she hadn't wanted happening were happening with people with incredible openness befriending her. What's more, she found the trend irresistible. Diffusion was occurring: what she knew and what had happened to her in Germany already seemed unimportant, in fact irrelevant. Here she was caught in a different world. She still had to come with terms with this and at present her mind was still spinning in neutral.
What does she really think, she pondered, resting in a spa designed to open her pores. She was tired, unable to think precisely but she was aware she was being seduced by the reception she'd received in this foreign land. She felt so privileged, so safe and calm and thought that was so unbelievable.
The blurb Carmen had read in Germany about the rebuilt spa at Millbrook had claimed ‘a fully featured wellness program designed to provide toe to head restoration'. Perhaps it was head to toe, she couldn't remember. A guy called Reggie drove her back to her villa in a golf cart. Wearing a dressing gown and towel around her head and face, just with her eyes peeping through a gap, she felt like a Beauty Queen in the making. That was an adorable feeling and she then frowned, wondering if she could keep her eyes open until after dinner was served in her villa.
At that time, twelve miles away to the south-west in Queenstown midway on the side of Lake Wakatipu - a glacier S-shaped lake forty-eight miles long and up to miles wide and up to 1200 feet deep - Dunstan Macdonald was seated in a restaurant opposite the daughter of Auckland clients.
Steph had simply arrived at his office to say her parents were staying unexpectedly in Dunedin for the night so would he look after her that evening. What could he say but "Yes, I would be delighted," which is what he said and hoped he would have being equally hospitable had she not been beautiful and had yet to turn thirty. Steph didn't dwell on the fact that she was married with two children so Dunstan didn't find it necessary to give her marital status much more than a passing thought. After all, it was only dinner.
They both chose venison and a heavy French red wine and before they left the table Steph had felt sufficiently liberated to run her now shoe-less foot up and down her host's right leg.
"Sleep with me tonight," she invited, unabashed.
Up to then Dunstan had thought she was just flirting, but obviously Steph was out to play. He hesitated. Coming to his mind was the inhibiting advice of his mother: ‘Always act like a gentleman.' Well, let's switch off your spoiling lecturing voice mother, he thought, concentrating instead on mentally removing the clothes of the playful woman sitting opposite him. The relationship between what he pictured in his mind and reality in what lay under the bra and panties probably were not too far apart. He licked his lips; Steph saw that and smiled.
"Shall we walk down to the lake front?"
She looked at him sensuously. "No, that won't be necessary, Dunstan. I'm half drunk and want to be in bed."
Dunstan called the waitress and asked for the bill.
Inexplicably as they walked back to Steph's parent's rented apartment, Dunstan began thinking of another woman - Carmen. He felt overcome by a feeling of remorse. What the hell, he thought; I have done anything yet.
In the elevator Steph's pinned him against the well, pressing into him and kissing him while undoing the buttons of his shirt.
"No, no Steph," he heard his voice saying. "Ease back. Sorry but I can't go ahead with this. You see, to my knowledge I'm never committed adultery."
"Well, I have, so join the club," she said, grabbing at him but her blocked every move she made. Her slowness made him realize she was a lot more than half drunk.
Steph began crying. "You can't do this to me. I feel s-o-o-o hot."
"I'll take you to the door of the apartment, then I'm out of here."
The doors opened and she accused him of being a virgin.
"Good night, Steph. We did have a lovely evening."
She caught the finality in his voice and decided to accept his decision. "Yes, indeed. But I guess this is the end of the line for me."
"It's your call - I'm not thinking like that. Your parents are probably taking two of my apartments so a relationship is being established with your family. We'll go out to dinner again, perhaps with your husband. It's just that there can never be sex between..."
"Oh that. I was just getting carried away. You are rather sexy Dunstan and tonight I felt a little lonely. I'm a big girl and am already over it. Here, I'll give you a friendship kiss to prove it."
She kissed him gently and they parted, saying goodnight,
Two minutes later walked from the building feeling fantastically aroused and happy, aroused in the sense of feeling perhaps something deeply meaningful lay ahead of him - a romantic encounter greater that he'd ever experienced. He knew why his was thinking like this; it was the alcohol now mixed with adrenalin. The deep romantic encounter had been something he'd often thought about. His entrance into the Temple of Love as some writers portrayed it. So, the theory now appeared to be bordering reality. There was no suggestion it would be Miss de Lucia's lips he'd kiss in that temple. He'd never been so cold-eyed by a young woman before. That look she'd given him hit like a bucket of icy water being sloshed over him. That's why any flicker of interest in her had died like the pilot flame in a gas-fired water heater.
So, why the change; what had happened? He didn't really know but the actions of sexed-up Steph figured in it. But how?
Almost an hour later in bed Dunstan was almost asleep when his eyes widened and he remembered. That thought of fighting off Steph of because he'd never knowingly committed adultery. When the thought pounced at him he now distinctly recalled that he couldn't imagine Miss de Lucia behaving so brazenly, even if drunk. Ah, Carmen de Lucia - what a face, what a body from what he could see, and she appeared to have the personality to string that all together to provide a great persona. But did she have a black heart? What caused the break-up of her engagement to that lucky guy?
Well, she'd be around for a while so perhaps that question would be answered, He had found he had the urge to meet Carmen in the temple. She'd have to get there willingly; no way would he carry her in kicking and screaming to work the magic of temple kissing. He sighed wondering what's this temple thing doing trying to become something of substance in his life? He preferred it being a background thought, not to be looming large like this.
Drifting off to sleep Dunstan knew it was hopeless thinking like this. There was a chance they wouldn't be compatible and Carmen would have her own ideas of what she wanted in life without her fiancée. He'd probably not even see her again.
* * *
Carmen enjoyed her dinner and the chef even called her and with obvious concern enquired had she found everything to her liking.
"It is a treat to have someone who departs from the executive chef's menus," he laughed. "Thank you Miss de Lucia. Obviously from what you ordered you have a refined taste in food and wine with food. I look forward to cooking exclusively for you again."
Drifting off to sleep Carmen wondered if that man Dunstan would accept an invitation to eat pasta with her. That thought astounded her, temporarily halting the drift towards sleep. Why had that thought come into her mind and why him? He looked the type that no women was safe when he was around, though not safe in an evil sense although perhaps some women would view any man playing the field, or having more than one or perhaps two women in a lifetime was evil and who could blame them? Her fiancé who'd jilted her was in that despicable category.
Would Dunstan be kind to her?
"Oh God," Carmen sighed aloud. "Something here is changing my mind. "I don't need another male companion ever again. Consulting a psychologist could quickly cure any notion of losing that idealistic resolve."Closer to sleep her thoughts turned to two gazelle running across grasslands of South Africa. Carmen was dimly aware she often enjoyed such imaging when adrift in a romantic mood, but just now she was too uncaring to chastise herself for romanticizing.