I eye him proudly and he blows bubbles and shakes his rattle violently. I am so incredibly in love with him. I look around. There is hardly anyone about and after a little while, I take my book out and begin to read. No more than ten minutes could have passed with Sorab contentedly playing with the little toys hung up on the hood of his pram when a woman comes up to us.
‘Oh, but he is a daahling,’ she croons.
I look up from my paperback smiling. ‘Thank you.’
‘What’s his name?’
She swings her head suddenly towards me and I am stunned by the flash of alarm in her eyes. ‘Why did you name your son so?’
I remember myself. ‘He’s not my son. I am babysitting for my friend.’
‘Oh,’ she says and straightens so I get to see her properly. She has medium brown hair, pink cheeks, and blue eyes, and is wearing an understated, but obviously very expensive coat. Her accent is very upper class, but there is something shrill about her eyes. It makes me itch to stand up and put myself between her and my son. I stand up and we are facing each other.
‘Why did she give him such a name?’
‘It is after the legend of Rustam and Sorab.’
‘Do you know the story of Rustam and Sorab?’
‘No,’ I lie, immediately.
‘It is the legend of a very great warrior who accidentally kills his own son in the battlefield, because when the boy was born his mother lied. She told the father he had no son, that she had borne a girl.’
I stare at the woman trying to control my horror, but by the expression on her face I am not succeeding. The irony had not hit me before. What have I unthinkingly done? Who is this woman? What is she to Blake, my son, and me?
‘Who are you?’
‘Who I am is not important. Do not be tempted to stay longer than your allotted time. You and your son are in grave danger. It may even already be too late. Don’t trust anyone.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘Beware of Cronus,’ she says, her voice as dry as dust, and begins walking away.
‘Hey, come back,’ I call out, but she increases her speed, and quickly disappears from my sight. I sit back down because my knees will no longer support me. I know that woman. An evening breeze rushes past me. I force myself up and push the pram as quickly as I can back to the apartment. Inside, I rush to the computer and Google images for the fourth Earl of Hardwicke and his family. Up pops a picture of the woman.
I sit back. The memory of her perfume drifts past me. The rest is a blur of real fear. Of course, I recognize her. The resemblance is small, but noteworthy. She is Victoria’s mother, but there is something pitiful about her. She has lost something precious. True, her shrill eyes betrayed extreme fury, but beneath the rage, she was essentially telling me that she has had to suffer, and intolerably. But unlike her daughter she was not threatening me, but warning me so I could avoid a similar suffering in my own future. Beware of Cronus. Turn back now, Lana. Before it is too late.
My phone rings. It is Blake.
‘Hi,’ I mumble.
‘You sound strange. Is everything all right?’
‘Yes, I’m fine,’ I say.
‘I’m coming home early. Wait for me.’
‘I’m here,’ I say.
By the time Blake gets home I have stopped restlessly pacing the floor and stilled the tremor in my hands, but not the terrible fear in my heart. I am standing in the middle of the living room lost to some unknown dread, when Blake appears at the doorway. I turn towards him and suddenly I am filled with a new fear. Can I even trust him? I feel confused and frightened of what I do not know.
In a few strides he has covered the ground between us. ‘What is it?’
I shake my head. ‘Why are you back so early?’
‘We are going to Venice.’
‘Venice?’ I repeat stupidly.
‘Would you like that?’
‘I can’t. I have Sorab.’
‘He will come with us. Laura has arranged five nannies for you to interview tonight. They come with the highest recommendation from the best nanny agencies in London. The nanny can help you here too until such time as you no longer need her.’
Why did no one warn me about this? My hands rise to my temples. ‘A nanny?’ The word is foreign on my tongue. The idea intimidating. Another woman taking care of Sorab.
‘The first lady will arrive at seven and one every half hour after that until you find one that you think is suitable. I thought we could have an early dinner. Laura has ordered us Chinese for six o’clock, I believe.’
I nod distractedly and notice the relief that washes over his face and tense shoulders, but I cannot imagine why he is relieved.
‘Can I fix you a drink?’ he asks, and moves to the bar. I stare at his turned back. Suddenly I have the distinct impression, he is worried about something. Something important. Something about me. But he doesn’t want to talk about it. Not yet. It’s part of those secret things I do not understand.
‘A large brandy,’ I reply.
He pushes a goblet into my hand, kisses me softly on the forehead. ‘I’ll join you after a shower. Just relax. Be back soon.’
‘Why are we going to Venice?’
‘You are going to the opera to experience Venetian music in its original setting. Pack your black dress,’ he says, his eyes smoldering.
He has planned a Venetian adventure for me. I drop my eyes to the floor. I dare not look in his eyes, not yet. I plan to tell him about Victoria’s mother. Not today, though. Not until I figure out who Cronus is. And who I can trust. Who is friend and who is foe?
The nannies arrive punctually. When the third woman comes through the door I know she is the one. She has a pleasant face and laughing, soft eyes. Her name is Geraldine Dooley. She is from Ireland. I put the baby in her arms.
‘All right, lad, what’s the story?’
Sorab babbles back at her.
‘T’be sure,’ she agrees solemnly.
The last two candidates I am able to cancel by calling their mobiles, but the next candidate is already waiting for me in the living room. I go out to meet her.
‘I’m so sorry to have wasted your time. I have just found the nanny that is perfect for my son.’
She smiles and pulls on spotlessly white cotton gloves. ‘You haven’t, my dear. I have been paid a considerable amount for attending this interview on such short notice.’
A thought occurs to me. ‘What time were you contacted?’