Authors: Wendy Holden
Copyright © 2010 by Wendy Holden
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Originally published in 2000 in Great Britain by Headline Book Publishing.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bad heir day : a comedy of high class and dire straits / by Wendy Holden.
1. Nannies--Fiction. I. Title.
For my parents
The bride had still not arrived. Beside Anna, Seb fidgeted, sighed and tutted, and the surrounding cacophony of wailing babies and coughing increased. There seemed, Anna saw as she glanced round the candlelit chapel, to be an awful lot of people there. All better dressed than herself. As she caught the haughty eye of a skinny and impeccably turned-out brunette, Anna dropped her gaze to her feet. Realising that there had been no time even to clean her shoes, she immediately wished she hadn’t.
Everything had been such a rush. After breakfasting at his usual leisurely pace, Seb had glanced at the invitation properly for the first time and, after much panicked scanning of the Scottish mainland, eventually discovered the location of the wedding in the middle of the Atlantic.
“Fucking hell, I thought it was in Edinburgh,” he roared. “It’s practically in Iceland.” Seb thrust the
AA Road Atlas
at her, his stabbing finger a good quarter inch off the far northwest coast of Scotland. Anna stared at the white island amid the blue, whose shape bore a startling resemblance to a hand making an uncomplimentary gesture with its middle finger. She glanced at the invitation.
“Dampie Castle, Island of Skul,” she read. “Well, I suppose getting married in a castle is rather romantic
“Castle my arse,” cursed Seb. “Why can’t they get married in Knightsbridge like everybody else?”
“Perhaps we shouldn’t bother going,” Anna said soothingly. After all, she had met neither component of the unit of Thoby and Miranda whose merger they were invited to celebrate. All she knew was that Thoby, or Bollocks, as Seb insisted on calling him, was a schoolfriend of his. There seemed to be very few men who weren’t. While his habit of referring to Miranda as Melons confirmed Anna’s suspicions that she was one of his ex-girlfriends. Again, there seemed to be very few women who weren’t.
Seb, however, was hell-bent on putting in an appearance. Abandoning plans to drive to Scotland, they flew first class from Heathrow to Inverness instead and drove like the wind in a hired Fiesta to the ferryport for Skul, Seb in a rage all the way. Being stopped by a highway patrol car and asked, “Having trouble taking off, sir?” had hardly improved his temper. In the end, they had arrived at Dampie too late to be shown their room, too late to look round the castle, too late to look at the castle at all in fact, as darkness had long since fallen. Too late to do anything but rush to the chapel, where the evening service would, Seb snarled as they screeched up the driveway, be halfway through by now at least. Only it wasn’t.
Ten more brideless minutes passed, during which a small, sailor-suit-clad boy in front of Anna proceeded to climb all over the pew and fix anyone who happened to catch his eye with the most contemptuous of stares. Anna returned his gaze coolly as he bared his infant teeth at her. “I’m going to kill
the bridesmaids,” he declared, producing a plastic sword from the depths of the pew and waving it threateningly about.
“I’m feeling rather the same way towards Melons,” murmured Seb, testily, when, after a further half hour, the bride was still conspicuous by her absence. “Then again, she always did take bloody ages to come.” He sniggered to himself. Anna pretended not to have heard.
“Thoby should think himself lucky,” whispered a woman behind them as the vision in ivory finally appeared at the door. “Miranda is only fifty-five minutes late turning up to marry him. She’s always at least an
late whenever she arranges to meet
“There’s probably a good reason for that,” muttered Seb.
“Shhh,” said Anna, digging him in the ribs and noting enviously that Thoby clearly did think himself lucky. His inbred features positively blazed with pride as Miranda, her tiny waist pinched almost to invisibility by her champagne satin bustier, drew up beside him at the altar on a cloud of tulle and the arm of a distinguished-looking man with silver hair and a second-home-in-Provence tan.
“Stella McCartney,” whispered the woman behind.
?” hissed her companion.
“No, the dress, darling.
“Aching hips, as well, I should think. It looks like agony. Poor Miranda.”
“Still, it’s worth it. Mrs. Thoby Boucher de Croix-Duroy sounds
grand. If not
“No. They’re about as Scottish as pizza,” whispered the second woman. “Hired this place because Miranda was
to get married in a castle. And I hear Thoby isn’t quite so grand as he seems anyway. Apparently he’s called Boucher de Croix-Duroy because his grandfather was a butcher from King’s Cross.”
Shush, we’ve got to sing now.
my order of service?”
As everyone vowed to thee, their country, Anna sneaked a proud, sidelong glance at Seb and felt her stomach begin its familiar yoyo of lust. His tanned neck rose from his brilliantly white collar, his tall frame, drooping slightly (Seb
standing up), looked its best in a perfectly cut morning suit innocent of the merest hint of dandruff and his long lashes almost brushed his Himalayan cheekbones. He might make the odd thoughtless remark, but he was the best-looking man in the chapel by a mile, even—Anna prayed not to be struck down—counting the high-cheekboned, soft-lipped representation of Jesus languishing elegantly against his cross. Seb was
And, source though that was of the fiercest pride and delight, it was also rather terrifying. Seb attracted women like magnets attracted iron filings—and in about the same numbers. If being in love with a beautiful woman was hard, Anna thought, it was nothing to being in love with a beautiful man.
After Miranda had got all Thoby’s names in the wrong order and, amid much rolling of eyes in the congregation, promised to obey, everyone returned to the castle’s tapestry-festooned hall for the receiving line and
Anna looked admiringly around, drinking in the vast fireplace blazing with heraldry and a fire of infernal proportions, the latticed windows and the stag’s head-studded stone walls along with her rather flat champagne. Seb, meanwhile, made a beeline for the newlyweds.
“Bollocks, you old bastard!” he yelled, slapping the groom so hard on the back his eyes bulged. “Melons!” he whooped, pressing himself close to the bride whose chest, Anna noted, was flatter than pita bread. Seb’s idea of a joke, obviously; Anna wondered what, in that case, the significance of Thoby’s nickname could be. She maintained a fixed smile as Seb nuzzled Miranda’s neck and stuck his tongue down her throat. “For old times’ sake,” he assured a distinctly tight-faced Thoby as he and Miranda came up for air.
“Darling, you look marvellous.” An impeccable brunette Anna had spotted in the church was suddenly beside them. Silk Cut fumes pouring from her nostrils, gazing at Seb like a dog eyeing a bowl of Pedigree Chum.
pedigree chum, actually, thought Anna hotly, slipping her arm through Seb’s, looking meaningfully at his patrician profile and trying not to notice that the brunette’s brilliant white dress accentuated her spectacular tan just as Anna’s own black dress accentuated her spectacular lack of one. But Seb did not return her glance.
“Anna, have you met Brie de Benham?” Seb shook off her hand.
“We were in the same year at university,” Anna muttered. She did not add that they had actually sat next to each other throughout Finals and the girl had sobbed hysterically through each paper before eventually walking off with a First.
I don’t remember,” countered the brunette. She raked Anna’s figure up and down and, like a hurt-seeking missile, homed in instantly on the vulnerable area of Anna’s stomach. “How
clever of you to wear your money belt under your dress.”
Anna went redder than a Mon Rouge lipstick. Come gym, come diet, come what may, the soft swag of flesh that clung around her hips had resisted all attempts to shift it. It had remained with all the knowing, grim relentlessness of the last guest at a party. She had been determined to lose it for the wedding. But it had been even more determined to attend.
Whipping round to display her fine-boned back, Brie de Benham began a lively conversation with a tousle-haired man in a velvet jacket of highlighter-pen neon green.
Seb had not heard the exchange. He had other matters at hand—quite literally. Anna turned, eyes pricking, back to Seb to see one of his palms wedged firmly inside the dress of a curvaceous blonde, the back of which was slashed to the top of her bottom.
“So I’m flying back to Hollywood next week,” the blonde was saying in a deep, slow, seductive voice. “Darling, you should come too. You’d be wonderful in films. The new Rupert Everett…” She traced a slim finger round Seb’s lips.
“Just saying hello to Olivia,” Seb muttered to Anna. “Old friend of mine. Liv, darling, meet Anna.”
The blonde’s stare was the same chill blast as someone opening the lid of a freezer. “Hi. What did you say you did?”
Needled by the haughty tones, Anna was tempted to declare she cleaned loos at Watford Gap Services but, still reeling from Brie de Benham’s opening gambit, failed to muster the necessary nerve. “Um, trying to do some writing…”
“Got an agent?”
Gosh, there’s someone I absolutely must speak to over there. Big kiss, Seb, darling. Catch you later.”
“Seb, how are you?” A girl so skinny that her eyes were quite literally bigger than her stomach had appeared in the blonde’s powerfully scented slipstream. She did not even look at Anna. “It’s been ages.”
Anna wondered crossly, looking at the new arrival’s puffed-up eyes, pneumatic lips, and bed hair. Rumpled, rough-cut, and a sexy,
dirty blonde, it did not disguise in the least the girl’s delicate face and air of fragile sensuality. Automatically, Anna sucked in her stomach and once more cursed the gene that had given her hair the colour of carrot soup.
“Strawberry!” Seb’s eyes lit up. “You look amazing. I hear you’re modelling.”
“Yeah,” drawled the girl. “A Storm scout just stopped me in the street…”
Typical, thought Anna. The only people who stop me in the street are tourists wanting to know where the Hard Rock Cafe is. She stood feeling utterly surplus to requirements—surplus, in fact, in every way—and listened to Seb chatting away animatedly to the exquisite newcomer. Strawberry was so thin as to be barely visible in profile; her perfectly flat front and back making Anna feel about as sexy
as an overstuffed black bin-liner. She looked around wildly for the champagne tray.
A tall and slightly maladroit waiter was circulating uncertainly in her vicinity, looking as if he might drop his tray at any moment. Among the many lipstick-smeared empties which formed its contents, Anna spotted a single full glass of champagne. The waiter caught her eye and started towards her; at precisely the same time, something very large and colourful bore down from the opposite side of the room. Before Anna knew what was happening, a portly figure in a suit of wildly clashing checks had made a surgical strike on the champagne she had earmarked for herself. She and the waiter stared at each other in dismay, during which time Anna registered that he was really rather good-looking. He had wide-apart dark eyes
into which locks of thick, dark hair intruded, making his progress through the crowded room more perilous than ever.
“And you are…?” Anna tore her eyes
from the waiter’s to realise with horror that the portly checked suit was barking at her, thrusting his heavy red face into hers. He was, Anna calculated, twenty-five going on at least fifty. The type of man who wore piglet print boxer shorts. Who teddy bear ties and novelty cufflinks were invented for; sliding her glance to his plump little wrists, she saw that, sure enough, a pair of miniature
front pages in enamel—one bearing the legend “Up Yours Delors” and the other “Gotcha”—were securing his French cuffs. As his glazed and lustful gaze slid slowly over her bare arms, Anna, out of the corner of her eye, saw Seb place a hand on Strawberry’s naked back and steer her away into the crowd.