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Authors: Jacqueline Harvey


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BOOK: Alice-Miranda at Sea
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ood afternoon, Admiral Harding,' Queen Georgiana greeted the Commander at the top of the gangplank. He was about to speak when the clamour of bagpipes rang out around the ship.

‘That will be quite enough of that,' Aunty Gee whispered to Dalton, who promptly murmured into his sleeve, silencing the kilt-wearing musician mid-bar.

‘Good afternoon, Your Majesty,' said Admiral Harding with a slight bow. ‘It's wonderful to have you aboard.'

‘It's wonderful to be here finally.' Aunty Gee arched her left eyebrow and glanced towards the flag rippling on the main masthead.

‘We're hoping to push off at two, ma'am. All passengers have arrived.'

‘Wonderful. Let's get everyone up onto the Promenade Deck, throw some streamers and start the party,' she smiled.

Admiral Harding nodded.

Aunty Gee glanced at her lady-in-waiting, who looked as if she'd sucked a whole tree's worth of lemons. ‘Oh, for heaven's sake, Mrs Marmalade, it's a wedding, woman. A party. I don't know about you, but this week I plan to have a jolly good time – so might I suggest you loosen up a little, dear, and enjoy yourself?'

Dalton barely suppressed a smirk. He wasn't a fan of old Marmalade's. The two had been with Queen Georgiana for many years and there was no love lost between them. It warmed his heart to hear Her Majesty giving the old girl the rounds of the kitchen. Marmalade, in her aqua twin-set and pearls, dropped her eyes to the floor.

‘Dalton,' Aunty Gee snapped, ‘while I hope you enjoy yourself too, I suggest you be on your game this week. We can't afford to have any

Dalton gulped, clearly recalling their last outing with the Highton-Smith-Kennington-Joneses, which had almost ended in disaster.

On that occasion, Aunty Gee had been mistaken yet again for Dolly Oliver, this time by crooks intent on stealing Dolly's formula for miraculous, miniaturised frozen food.

‘Would you like to go to your suite and freshen up, ma'am?' Admiral Harding glanced at his watch. ‘We have a few minutes.'

‘No, I'm quite all right. I think I'd like to head straight up and see everyone. I've been looking forward to this for months.'

Dalton was surprised that Her Majesty no longer required a visit to the amenities after she had been giving them all the hurry-up in the car, but he thought it best not to ask.

And with that, Aunty Gee led the way to the Promenade Deck where she found her goddaughter, Cecelia, her dearest friend in the world, Valentina, and the family she considered as much her own as any other.

The girls left their suite and scurried upstairs to meet Hugh and Cecelia on the Promenade Deck. There were loads of people gathering, most of whom Alice-Miranda recognised as friends of her parents, or relatives she only ever saw at large celebrations.

‘Isn't that . . .?' Millie squinted into the light. ‘That's my mother over there!' She ran towards a flame-haired woman standing beside Mrs Oliver on the open deck. ‘Mummy, what are you doing here?'

Pippa McNoughton-McGill turned and hugged her daughter into her outstretched arms. ‘Hello, Mill, didn't think we were going to let you have all the fun did you, sweetheart?'

‘Now, who's this gorgeous girl?' Hamish McLoughlin-McTavish appeared next to his wife and tapped Millie on the shoulder.

‘Dad! This is the best surprise ever,' Millie squealed. ‘I can't believe you kept it a secret – we only saw you a couple of weeks ago at the play and you didn't mention anything!'

Ambrose McLoughlin-McTavish walked up behind his granddaughter and put his hands over her eyes. ‘Wonderful occasion, isn't it?'

‘Grandpa!' Millie wriggled free. ‘You're here too?'

‘He's with me, dear,' said Mrs Oliver. During the last term break Dolly Oliver had been reunited with her old friend, Ambrose McLoughlin-McTavish, when Millie had gone to stay with Alice-Miranda. Now both widowed, Mrs Oliver and Ambrose were rather enjoying each other's company.

Alice-Miranda and Jacinta joined Millie's family reunion.

‘Hello there, young lady.' Pippa leaned down and kissed Alice-Miranda's cheek. ‘And Jacinta, it's lovely to see you again too,' she said and gave her a hug.

Cecelia Highton-Smith approached the group. ‘I see you've found your surprise, Millie.'

‘You're so sneaky,' Millie admonished. ‘But in the nicest possible way, of course.'

‘Well, Charlotte and Lawrence insisted we invite your parents. As it turns out Cha and Pippa knew each other a little bit at school – I'm much older so we didn't meet back then. And would you believe that Lawrence and Hamish were only a couple of years apart at Fayle, too?' Cecelia scanned the gathering crowd as they began to line the side of the deck.

Jacinta fiddled with a strand of hair. Cecelia glanced over at her, then searched the sea of faces.

‘It's all right, Cee,' Jacinta whispered. ‘You don't have to let me down gently. I know my parents have far more important things to do.'

‘No, that's not the case at all,' Cecelia reassured her. ‘Your parents are definitely on board. I checked with the First Officer and he said that they arrived just before Aunty Gee.'

Jacinta looked as though she'd swallowed a fly. ‘Really? My mother and father are here? On board the

‘Yes, darling.' Cecelia stroked the top of Jacinta's head.

‘Isn't that fantastic?' Alice-Miranda was wide-eyed. ‘I've wanted to meet your parents forever and now we get to spend five whole days with them. Shall we go and find them?'

At that moment, a blast of trumpets heralded the arrival of the official party.

‘My lords, ladies and gentlemen, I present Her Majesty, Queen Georgiana,' a uniformed page announced with great vigour.

Aunty Gee, accompanied by the admiral, stepped onto a small raised platform in the middle of the crowd to the delight of everyone on board.

‘And now,' Aunty Gee spoke, ‘please join me in welcoming our guests of honour and the real reason we have all gathered together for this wonderful time of celebration. I give to you one of my beloved goddaughters, Miss Charlotte Highton-Smith, and her fiancé, Mr Lawrence Ridley.' Aunty Gee could not have looked prouder.

The group clapped and cheered and there was even a wolf-whistle or two coming from the end of the promenade.

‘Manners!' Granny Bert, the Highton-Smith-Kennington-Joneses' retired housekeeper tutted at Max, their stablehand, when she caught him removing his fingers from his mouth.

Charlotte looked stunning in a white pants-suit with navy trim and a matching hat, her arm linked through Lawrence's. He looked equally stylish in a navy sports jacket and white trousers. His jet-black hair glistened in the sun and his ebony eyes gazed adoringly at his wife-to-be. When he smiled his movie star smile, almost every woman on the ship went weak at the knees.

‘Gosh, he's gorgeous,' Jacinta swooned.

Millie and Alice-Miranda exchanged glances and giggled. Millie began to snap away, taking photographs of Charlotte and Lawrence and the rest of the guests.

Alice-Miranda raced over to greet her aunt. Charlotte scooped the girl into her arms and peppered her face with kisses.

‘This is the best day ever!' Alice-Miranda exclaimed. ‘Well, except for Wednesday, when you get married.' She leaned across to kiss Lawrence's cheek.

‘You are a funny thing,' Charlotte beamed.

‘And where's that son of mine?' Lawrence glanced around looking for Lucas.

‘There he is, with Sep.' Alice-Miranda wriggled out of Charlotte's arms and ran to greet her soon-to-be cousin.

‘Hello,' she cried above the ship's horn, which had begun to blast. ‘Lucas!' She tapped him on the shoulder.

The dark-haired boy turned and smiled at Alice-Miranda.

‘Isn't this fun?' she exclaimed.

‘Like a fairytale.' He shook his head. ‘I can't believe we're here on Queen Georgiana's ship. If you'd have told me this would be my life six months ago, I'd have said you were crazy.'

It was true; a lot of things had changed in a short time for Lucas Nixon. Until recently, Lucas hadn't known his father's name, let alone that he was one of the world's most sought-after film stars. When Lucas had first met Alice-Miranda and Jacinta on a recent school holiday, he had been more than a little angry and confused. He had been expelled from school, in what was a most unfortunate mistake, and sent to stay with his Aunt Lily, Uncle Heinrich and cousins Jasper and Poppy at their farmhouse on the grounds of Highton Hall. To make matters worse, Lucas had felt completely abandoned by his mother when she had gone away to work in the United States.

But after a couple of weeks, the mystery of his true identity began to unravel and life as he knew it would never be the same. Lucas had just spent his first term at Fayle School for Boys on the other side of the village to Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale Academy for Proper Young Ladies, the school Alice-Miranda, Millie and Jacinta attended. Fayle was fantastic as far as Lucas was concerned, and within a very short time he felt as if he'd been there forever. His new best friend and room mate, Septimus Sykes, had arrived just before him and the two lads had quickly become as close as any brothers. Lucas could hardly believe how good life was.

Septimus Sykes was a lovely lad, with a rather unfortunate immediate family. His sister Sloane had for a brief period been Jacinta's room mate at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale, until she was caught up in some very nasty business with her mother, September. Septimus had steadfastly refused to leave school, where for the first time in his life he felt he truly belonged. His sister and mother, on the other hand, had departed the village in such a rush there were still tyre marks in the school driveway. They'd fled to Spain where Sep's father, Smedley, who knew nothing of what had gone on, was doing very well with his new property developing business. Apparently the Sykeses were very happy with their new life in the sun.

Millie and Jacinta joined Lucas, Sep and Alice-Miranda as the ship lurched away from the dock. Aunty Gee, to the horror of Mrs Marmalade, was busy distributing streamers from her apparently bottomless handbag. Family and friends waved at the dockhands down below as shouts of ‘goodbye and farewell' were carried away on the breeze.

Below deck, Neville Nordstrom was jolted awake by the blasting ship's horn. Groggy and somewhat confused, Neville took a moment to remember where he was. At least the ship was moving, he thought to himself.

In the suite opposite, Ambrosia Headlington-Bear was having a terrible time deciding what to wear. She had come aboard in black but feared that was far too French for a Spanish send-off. Three multicoloured outfits lay across the bed. She really didn't know what to do. Without Henri, her stylist, getting dressed was rather more difficult than she remembered.

can't believe your brother was invited to that wedding without us,' September Sykes whined as she sat up to rub suntan lotion on her overcooked shoulders. ‘And he wouldn't even tell me where they were going. Said something about it being a secret to make sure that it was all private. Who wants to have a private wedding, anyway? I'd have sold the whole thing to
Gloss and Goss
magazine to pay for the honeymoon. Sloane? Are you even listening to me, Sloane?' September growled as she glanced over at her daughter.

Sloane, lying metres away on a matching sun lounge, rolled away from her mother and turned the music in her ears up louder. An unopened letter fell out of the magazine she was thumbing through. Addressed to ‘Miss Sloane Sykes, Villa Del Mar, Castelldefels, Spain', the envelope, just like the two she'd received earlier in the month, felt like silk.

Typical, Sloane had thought. She probably has her own silkworm factory just to provide her stationery.

Sloane had been more than a little surprised to receive the first letter. It had sat under the jewellery box on her dressing table for a full week before she decided to open it. And when she did, it wasn't at all what she had imagined. But then again, Alice-Miranda Highton-Smith-Kennington-Jones was hardly normal now, was she? Instead of the sound telling-off Sloane had expected, Alice-Miranda had prattled on about what a pity it was that she had left school and she was sure they could have worked things out with Miss Grimm and it really wasn't Sloane's fault and probably there were lots of circumstances that had contributed to her mother's actions because grown-ups are so very complicated.

Sloane was sorely tempted to tear it up right then and there, but something made her stop. Instead she put the letter in her top dresser drawer and wondered if she would hear from her again. And like clockwork, the following week another letter arrived. This one described the end-of-term activities and how well Sep was doing and that it was so lovely for Lucas to have such a good friend, seeing that he'd had rather a rough trot the past few years. She asked how Sloane was settling into her new school and if she was enjoying her life in the sun.

Sloane's nosey mother had missed seeing the first letter. Her father had picked up the mail that day, which was just as well. Sloane didn't feel like being subjected to the Spanish Inquisition from her mother about why the little princess was writing to her. She'd successfully intercepted the second letter and now there was a third. Sloane slid off the sun lounge and sloped off into the garden.

‘Where are you going, Sloane?' September demanded. ‘Can you pop inside and get Mummy some corn chips and dip? I'm a bit peckish.'

Sloane ignored her mother and headed to the front steps of the villa. She would be safe there, seeing as just after they moved in September had seen a giant skink and run off screaming to the back of the house. Sloane told her mother that Spanish skinks were deadly (which of course they're not) and that they only lived out the front of the house, closest to the ocean, hence her mother had steadfastly refused to go anywhere near the beach and spent her days reclining by the pool out the back.

‘So what news do you have for me this time, little girl?' Sloane murmured while she slid her finger under the flap of the envelope. She then read the letter aloud.

Dear Sloane,

I hope that you are very well and enjoying life in Spain. It's the final week of term and Miss Grimm has arranged a whole school working bee at Miss Hephzibah's. The boys at Fayle are joining us and afterwards there is a huge picnic planned. As you can imagine, Mrs Smith has been cooking non-stop. She told me she's making apple tarts and strawberry sponge cake and chocolate torte and that was just for starters.

Sloane's stomach grumbled. If there was one thing she did miss about her old school it was the delicious morning and afternoon teas.

Miss Hephzibah's house is coming along beautifully too. Daddy sent our builders over and they've already fixed the roof and I know Miss Hephzibah and your granny, Henrietta, have been making plans to turn part of the house into a training college for teachers. Miss Grimm and Professor Winterbottom are busy working out the curriculum and having interviews for new staff. And I can't wait until the end of the week because we're being whisked off to a secret location for Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Lawrence's wedding. Sep is coming too, but I suppose you knew that already because Mummy would have had to check with your mother and father about him going. I've been asked to be a flower girl, which is terribly exciting. My dress is the most gorgeous shell-pink. I promise to send some photographs. If you have a spare minute I would love to hear your news.

With all best wishes,


Sloane tucked the letter back into the envelope.

‘As if I'd want to see your stupid photographs.' She rolled her eyes. ‘And don't expect to get any news from me anytime soon, you little twit.'

But reading the letter gave Sloane a niggly twinge in her stomach. Her new school, though well-equipped, was not the same as Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale with its amazing facilities and clever teachers. She had no ear for languages and, truth be told, Sloane was finding it awfully hard to make any friends.

Her thoughts were interrupted by an ear- piercing scream coming from the rear of the villa.

‘Help! Heeeeelp!' September shrieked.

She arrived to find her mother standing on her sun lounge, squealing like a stuck pig.

‘What's the matter, Mother?' Sloane asked.

‘There . . . down there . . . it's a . . . a . . . skink,' September held her hands over her eyes and shuddered.

‘Really? A skink?' Sloane enquired, looking completely nonplussed.

‘You know they're deadly, Sloane. If Mummy gets bitten, well, that's it.' September had now begun to cry.

Sloane couldn't help enjoying the scene in front of her. And she wasn't keen to tell her mother the truth about the not-so-deadly Spanish skinks either.

‘I'll get it,' Sloane offered.

‘Oh, darling, be careful. I don't know what I'd do if . . .' Her mother's voice trailed away.

Sloane grabbed her towel from the recliner next to her mother's and threw it over the unsuspecting reptile. She scooped the wriggling lizard into a ball and promptly walked around to the front of the villa where she released the frightened beast into the grass.

‘Off you go.' Sloane gave him a grin as he shot off under the villa. ‘I know, she's terrifying.'

Poolside, September Sykes checked carefully before she climbed down from the safety of her sun lounge. She raced across the hot tiles into the kitchen, slamming the terrace door behind her.

‘Well, that's no use.' She opened the pantry and pulled out a giant box of corn chips. ‘How am I supposed to get my tan now?'

BOOK: Alice-Miranda at Sea
10.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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