Excerpt from Gemma’s POV from the night she met Theo:
The night was over too soon. We stood outside in the warm night air. People drifted out in varying stages of inebriation. In the doorway of a shop, a man fell to his knees and spewed forth a stream of liquid and undigested food. Eager taxi drivers stood around touting for business, and the occasional police car crawled along keeping a watchful eye on the revellers, alert for the slightest sign of an altercation.
A catfight broke out between two girls who’d had too much to drink. The policemen separated them as clumps of peroxide hair came away in the taller girl’s hands. Skirts the size of belts hung askew and beer-stained tops rode high up flabby midriffs. Hair coiffed to within an inch of perfection at the beginning of the night was now lank, while makeup ran down their faces, and they screamed abuse at each other.
“Come back with me?” Theo whispered.
Every inch of my body screamed to go. I’ve come here to spend the weekend with Chris I can’t just leave her can I? She’ll understand. No, I can’t. I tried to explain to Theo though I’m not sure he understood. I saw his fleeting look of disappointment. We gazed at each other until he pulled me closer; I nestled against his chest.
“Can I see you again?” he murmured against my ear.
Phew. We exchanged mobile numbers and then kissed again before Tom and Stephen dragged a reluctant Theo away.
Excerpt from Theo’s POV from the night he met Gemma:
A tall blond sashayed towards the bar with her redheaded friend. Her hair hung to the middle of her back, graceful features and legs that went on forever. She walked past me at the bar and made her way to the end. I watched her as she picked up the cocktail menu, then with confidence caught the attention of the barman who drooled over her. She wore a simple dress that fell to just above the knee, modest at the front, but the back was scooped out and fell to the small of her back. She was exquisite, thinking about her I became aroused.
She scanned the bar. Her face was alight with pleasure. Her gaze intercepted mine, green and blue eyes merged with an intensity that I found disturbing. As we stared across the space that separated us, I felt a connection. I laughed a self-conscious tinkle, almost girly in sound. I was beginning to sound profound; the truth was she was stunning, and I wanted her.
The barman came back, and her friend dragged her away. I ordered our drinks and then stood chatting to the boys for a few minutes. What are you waiting for? If you don’t do something now, someone else will. I hesitated then told the lads that I was going after the gorgeous blonde.
“Give her one from me,” Jake infused his words with a crude inflection. I laughed shaking my head as I walked away; life was never dull with Jake around.
I stood on the balcony, like a King surveying his realm. Some of the diehard jazz fans had gone since the band had left, and the DJ had taken over. The Crypt had achieved the dubious acclaim of becoming the ‘in place’. The dance floor was heaving with people gyrating to the music.
Eventually, I spotted her, she seemed to be looking for someone and when our eyes met, I realised it was me. I’m in there tonight. Her eyes slid down my body and up again while mine took the same route over hers. She blushed, which I found charming, as she smiled back. That was definitely an invitation; I didn’t need asking twice. I headed towards her and had got halfway when I found my palms sweating, my mouth was dry, and I realised I hadn’t thought what I was going to say.
“Hey, I’m Theo, do you mind if I come and talk to you?” God how lame was that? A surreptitious slide of my hands on the back of my trousers removed all traces of the sweat soaking my palms.
“I’d like that.”
Theo attends a family wedding with his sister Cassie:
I arrived at The Royal Chester Hotel, a pretentious five-star affair. A 14th Century castle set amongst acres of land. Generations of dissolute aristocrats who understood nothing about estate management had fallen on hard times after years of profligate living. The final nail in the coffin came in the guise of World War One. The eldest son, an officer who hadn’t strayed too close to the front line, struck down and killed. Hailed as a hero. His younger brother, the last in the line, sold the estate to an American, who solved his increasing debt problem. He drank and gambled the rest of his money and within two years was laid to rest beside his brother.
Acres of land surrounded the extensive drive. Horses grazed, a few pricked up their ears at the sound of the car disturbing their tranquil environment. As we drew near, the fields were replaced by formal gardens enclosed by 4ft privet symmetrical hedges. Arched entrances led from one garden into another. Stone statues and water feature centrepieces adorned the gardens.
The wheels crunched across the gravel on the driveway. Before me stood the imposing edifice crafted in medieval stone, sympathetically restored.
The keep housed the main foyer, where they held the functions. The Castle had four other towers set in a rectangle with the keep at the front central to the whole structure. Parapets linked the buildings to each other. Glass domes were added, fusing the old and the new. The other side of the Castle housed an enviable stable of horses available to the guests.
I paid the taxi driver and walked through the massive oak studded doors. My shoes tapped a staccato on the stone floor. Ahead was the reception desk. A spiral staircase led to two bridal suites that took up the whole of the upper floor. Two reception rooms led off the foyer, and a large board stood outside each with the name of the wedding party. A guard in the guise of a green liveried footman held a list of all guests.
Gourmet finger food graced the tables. The band poised to play. Along the walls were huge oak tables and throne-like chairs. I spotted my parents sitting chatting to friends.
Cass was at the edge of the dance floor wearing a pained expression on her face as she pretended to listen to our cousin Giles. He was in all probability pontificating about how well he’d done in life. It looked as though Cass needed rescuing.
“Where were you? You were supposed to be here an hour ago.”
“I was just telling Cassandra here how I…”
“Yes quite Giles,” I interjected, “I would love to hear it, perhaps some other time though. I must steal Cass away.”
Giles’ jaw dropped open, his jowls wobbled as he considered the affront to his dignity. His face reddened, echoing the colour of his hair.
Cass tugged on my arm, “So what kept you?”
“Had a heavy night, wish I’d stayed in bed.”
“Whose bed though?” Cass enquired waspishly but then softened it with an affectionate smile.
“So you’ve heard,” I laughed, “I was going to save it for you till tonight as a special treat. So, the gossips got in first. So who was it?”
“I got it from the horse’s mouth.” Cass’ strident tone held a sting. “She said the relationship was too boring for words.”
I refused to rise to the bait, “Your words, but true nonetheless.”
“You don’t appear distraught.”
“Should I be?”
Cass grinned. “Come on, let’s see ‘The Parents’.”
We reached the table where our parents sat with Jeremy and Kate Rose, their friends; part of the narrow almost incestuous social set to which most of the people here tonight belonged. I kissed mother’s cool cheek and shook father’s hand while greeting the Roses with a smile and a nod. I had just decided that this would be a tedious evening when Cass looked at me and winked, an air of barely suppressed mischief shone from her eyes.
“How was the ceremony?” I asked, with no real interest.
“It was lovely.”
“It will definitely be in the society pages,” Kate Rose gushed.
“Sandra looked divine and carried herself well. She did your Uncle Geoffrey proud, but then that is no more than one would expect from her.” The inference was that Cass and I failed to live up to her expectations.
“You have spoken to her haven’t you?”
“Out with it Theodore, I can’t tolerate stuttering; it plays havoc with my nerves.” The last she confided to Kate, who nodded in sympathy.
“I haven’t seen her yet,” I answered as Cass glared. Her crimson painted lips, puckered; the skin between her lips and nose reminded me of a concertina. Her eyes the same unusual shade of green as mine, a Perkins family trait, flashed in resentment. She looked like an angry schoolgirl about to lash out. My eyes locked with hers. As the silent understanding passed between us, she deflated, her jaw line jutted out as she sought to regain her composure.
“Theodore. Well really, how terribly ill-mannered of you. It wasn’t how I brought you up.” She hissed. Her colour heightened as she contemplated what her best friend would think of me and whom she’d tell.
“What would you know?” Cass’ voice trembled, barely coherent.
“What was that Cassandra?” Mother demanded, puffing up her bosom as she fixed her with a penetrating gaze.
“I said I’m sure he didn’t know.” Cass’ smile was so sweet it dripped honey.
Mother swung back to face me missing the fleeting and rebellious smirk that crossed her friend’s face.
“I take it you deposited your present in the reception safe?”
Shit! I was supposed to buy it today. Mother will have me hung, drawn and quartered for this. My chaotic thoughts were mirrored on my face because Mother turned an interesting shade of puce, opening her mouth to rain abuse down on me. Cass interrupted her, she was grinning like that cat who not only had the cream but who’d savoured every lick.
“We bought the present together,” she lied, “that hideous crystal vase on the gift list.”
Mother nodded, rising. She’d wasted enough time on us, time to circulate; Kate followed in her wake.
“Make sure you congratulate your cousin.” She threw over her shoulder as she departed. I relaxed back into the chair and let out an enormous sigh of relief.
“Bitch,” Cass hissed.
“You saved my life, I could see the gibbet being erected.”
“Right to the noose tightening around your neck.” Cass finished.
“How did you guess I’d forget?”
“I bumped into Claudine while I was picking a present. I figured you’d be out celebrating, ergo, with a rotten stinking hangover you’d forget the present.” Her smile held a strong suggestion of self-satisfaction, “Soooo I bought that horrific vase, forged that scrawl you call a signature on the card, et voila.”
She reached over and gave me a quick hug; it was a symbol of our solidarity, gaining strength from each other.
“All this affection is giving me a headache.” She affected a theatrical leading ladies voice, “I’m going to powder my nose darling.” She flounced off and left me laughing at that unlikely prospect.
Gemma visits her best friend who has called her in distress:
The door was flung open by a hysterical creature that resembled my friend. Her intractable hair was always held back by a band, but now strands of the shoulder-length fair hair clung to her wet face, the rest sat starkly on her head like a mad professor. Her brown eyes, so reminiscent of a puppy’s, were clouded by a mist of tears. Black splodges accentuated the lines that the tears followed.
I held her in my arms stroking her matted hair. After what seemed like five minutes the sobbing lessened and I were able to lead her into the living room.
Magazines and books lay discarded on the floor as though they’d been thrown: CDs had crashed to the floor in a heap. A cup sat on the marble inlaid coffee table, a brown stain marking the surface, the coasters sitting idle. The white fluffy cushions held the imprint of the head that had lain there; black sooty mascara smudges evidence of whom the head belonged.
I led Susie to the sofa and sat her down. I held her hand, waiting for her to talk.
“What’s wrong Sus?”
She didn’t respond.
I poured two glasses of wine out, handing the first to Susie who grasped it between shaking hands. She drained it in a single gulp and handed it back to be refilled.
“What is it Sus? What’s happened?” I settled down beside her.
“Ted!” the violence reverberated in the stillness, like a meteorite exploding in the night sky and raining debris down on the world below.
“Where is he? Do you want me to get him?”
Susie’s wild mane tossed from side to side, her eyes dilated, mad with an unnamed emotion.
“Tell me,” I urged.
“He’s having an affair.” The simple words tore through her lips like a bullet ripping from a gun. She slumped back. I sat frozen, trying to inject the words into my consciousness. It hit me with a sickening clarity. I reached over and took her still form in my arms, trying to induce comfort where there was none.
“Bastard,” I hissed, expelling the breath from my body, “Fucking Bastard.”
“Six months…” little sobs punctuated the gaps between the words. “It’s been going on… for… six months… and I didn’t know. He said… he said… his workload had increased… I believed him. How could… I have been… so… stupid?”
She drained the rest of her glass and tipped the last dregs of wine from the bottle.