“Natasha, darling!” The rather stout woman levered herself from the chair and swiftly crossed the room to throw her arms around her niece.
Breathing in the familiar perfume and leaning into the protective embrace of her aunt, Natasha’s irritation dissipated as quickly as it had appeared, and she closed her eyes against the sudden and unexpected tears of relief at having finally arrived at their destination. “Oh, Aunt Lucy, it’s so good to see you.” Her voice was muffled against Lucy’s shoulder and she took a deep breath before stepping back and smiling. “It’s been so long. I can’t believe we’re actually here at last.”
“It’s wonderful to see you, Natasha. I’ve missed you both so much.” Lucy lifted a hand to cup her niece’s face before turning to Nicky, hands on her ample hips as she scrutinised him critically.
“Oh, you always were like two peas in a pod. And, Nicky, you have grown into a very handsome young man. You have no idea how happy I am that you came.”
“Hello, Aunty Lucy, how are you?” Nicky briefly returned his aunt’s embrace before securing the baseball cap a little tighter on his head and asking the question foremost in his mind. “Can I have something to eat?”
Lucy shook her head with a smile and glanced at the man, who had so far remained silent throughout. “Kyle, this is my nephew Nicky, and my niece Natasha. I’m pleased to see that at least one thing never changes, and that is Nicky’s appetite.”
She caught Nicky’s arm and led him off to the far side of the room. “Come on, I’ve got some of your favourite biscuits over here in this cupboard.”
Natasha could see Kyle watching her younger brother, his eyes narrowed, and she felt the familiar churning in the pit of her stomach, trying to anticipate at what point he would realise Nicky had learning difficulties. Automatically, she tried to deflect that scrutiny, moving further into the room and feeling a sense of relief as Kyle’s gaze immediately swung towards her.
“Natasha Morgan,” she introduced herself, and held out her hand.
“So I gather.” His face was unsmiling and Natasha was uncomfortably aware of her earlier, rather waspish response to what was probably quite a reasonable conversation he had been having with her aunt. He pushed himself out of the chair to tower above her, his hair shining blue-black in the pale moonlight which streamed through the open window. Tall as she was, Natasha had to tilt her head back to meet his startlingly blue eyes. He was younger than she had initially thought, probably in his mid-thirties — just a few years older than herself.
There was a pause before he replied. “Kyle Richardson.”
He took her hand briefly, offering a firm cool handshake, before returning to his chair, long legs stretched out before him and crossed at the ankles.
“I’m sorry you overheard our conversation; I had no idea you were there.”
His voice was deep and husky, and his gaze once again followed her movements as she sank into the seat Lucy had recently vacated.
She nodded and spread her hands expressively, shrugging her slim shoulders. “I’m sorry if I sounded… irritated. It’s been a really long day and I hadn’t expected Aunt Lucy to arrange a personal guide for us. Please, it’s not a problem, we don’t want… we don’t need a guide, and I’m sure you have better things to do with your time.”
Kyle’s mouth twitched as if in amusement at the inadvertent slip of the tongue, but whatever he was about to say was lost as Lucy and Nicky returned, the latter clutching a packet of chocolate-covered biscuits.
“Oh, you’ve introduced yourselves. Excellent.” Lucy beamed at them, clapping her hands together. “I’m sure we’re all going to have a wonderful time together.”
“I was just explaining that Nicky and I are quite happy to find our own way around Egypt,” Natasha cut in quickly. “There is no need for Mr. Richardson to trouble himself.”
“Nonsense,” cried Lucy, fixing Kyle with a rather piercing gaze. “I’m not letting you wriggle out of this one, Kyle. You owe me rather a lot of favours and I am now calling one of them in. Heavens, man, I haven’t seen you in close to two years, and I happen to know for a fact that you haven’t taken a break for longer than that. It’s high time you did.”
Natasha observed this outburst with some surprise, having hardly ever heard her aunt speak so sharply. She risked a glance towards Kyle and saw that he was still reclined in his chair, arms folded over his chest, and a somewhat amused gleam in his blue eyes. He remained silent, obviously expecting Lucy to continue her reprimand.