Authors: Evelyn Anthony
EARLY BIRD BOOKS
FRESH EBOOK DEALS, DELIVERED DAILY
BE THE FIRST TO KNOWâ
NEW DEALS HATCH EVERY DAY!
To my darling Michael,
with all my love.
âDarling,' Elizabeth Hastings reminded him, âif you don't hurry up we're going to be late.' It was unlike James to sit with a drink when he should have been dressing to go out. She came into the handsome drawing-room, and stood beside his chair. He looked up at her and smiled.
âYou look terrific,' he said. He held out his hand and she grasped it.
âI heard you come in, I was getting ready upstairs and I thought you'd be up. Anything wrong?'
He shook his head, touched by her anxiety for him. He was so lucky. He couldn't believe it sometimes. His beautiful, sweet-natured wife, the prize he had won from so many contenders.
âWhat's the matter?' she repeated. âYou look tense.'
He got up, finished his gin and tonic and held her in his arms.
âNot tense, sweetheart. Excited.'
âWhat, tell me?' She waited expectantly. âSomething good?'
âIt could be,' James Hastings answered. âKiss me, and I'll tell you all about it while I get into my monkey-suit.'
He disliked wearing a dinner jacket. He liked being casual when he got home from the office. Open-necked shirt, sweater, loafers. He wore belts with designer buckles, which Elizabeth thought vulgar but didn't say so. Such tiny differences of taste between them. James wasn't hidebound like her father and her poor dead brother, conventional, hedged in by custom instilled in them by family and tradition. She was still inclined to be old-fashioned, even after five years of marriage to her human dynamo. She teased him with the nickname, mocking the restless energy and seeking mentality that didn't know how to sit still and take time off to look at life.
James had to be in the centre of things, he had even jazzed up the pace of her own interior decorating business. Since their marriage it was flourishing, with commissions for private houses and an office block. Elizabeth was swept along on his enthusiasm; she worked harder, became more positive, and the small one-woman business she had started with a legacy at twenty-one was now expanding daily.
âDarling,' he said, âbefore I tell you my news, how was your day?'
âBusy,' she said. âI had a call from Mitchels; the chairman loves his office! Everybody kept saying how difficult he was, always wanting changes, but not this time.'
âYou're a clever girl,' he said fondly. âOf course he liked it. Any news on the quotes for Westminster?'
Elizabeth said, âNo, not yet. It'd be a miracle if I got it. All the names are after that one.'
âI'll bet they are,' he said. âBut don't underestimate yourself. If you get that job, sweetheart, you're made.'
There was a new Lord Chancellor, and his apartments at Westminster were due for complete redecoration. Encouraged by James, Elizabeth had submitted designs and quotes in competition with the grandest household names in the world of interior decoration and design. The impudence appealed to Elizabeth, who had a mischievous streak.
âColefax and Fowler, Nina Campbell â¦ God, wouldn't it be a joke if I pipped the lot of them?'
âAnd why not?' he insisted. âYou're every bit as good and half the price.'
They went upstairs together, and she sat on the bed while he showered quickly and then began to dress. He had a lean, virile body, and she loved the feel of him; she had a few cheerful love affairs behind her when they first met. Nothing serious, just encounters that were fun, with men she liked but didn't fall in love with. She was unprepared for making love with James. She was twenty-two and she discovered what sexual passion between two people really meant. And not just physical fulfilment â¦ but tenderness, humour and a sort of painful joy in being together.
They were so completely different as people; she was country born, a sportswoman who rode and fished, and loved long walks with the family dogs. He loved the theatre, modern art, classical music. He also swam every day and played squash, but she realized later that this was merely to keep fit, and not an enjoyment for its own sake.
He taught her to appreciate things she would have dismissed as boring before she met him. She knew her self-confidence had developed and she was richer for it. There had been a price to pay after they married, but she shrugged it off. Life in a big London house in Thurloe Square, fewer and fewer weekends with her family in Somerset, new friends with money and business interests, or politicians like the Chichesters who had invited them to dinner that evening, a more aggressive approach to her own career. She adapted to James's lifestyle without much difficulty because she loved him so much and she was so happy with him.
âNow come on,' she said. âYou know I'm dying to hear all about it â¦ What's happened?'
He had tied his tie, grimacing because he never succeeded at the first attempt and he hated failing at anything. âJulius Heyderman's coming over on Tuesday night. He's called a special meeting of the whole Board for Wednesday. Kruger's coming back from France, the Wassermans are on their way from New York, and Reece is coming via Spain. The office is really buzzing. Arthur had gone down to the country, so his secretary was running round like a blue-assed fly trying to get in contact. It must be some kind of trouble; Heyderman never comes at this time of year. He's down at the Cape. Oh damn â¦ darling, can you do this for me?'
He pulled the tie loose in exasperation.
âCalm down,' Elizabeth told him. âAnd keep still or I can't do it. There. I'll get you one on an elastic band if you make such a fuss. Go on â¦ why should it be trouble?' She watched him as he pulled on his jacket, and checked that he had his keys and an Asprey cigar case she'd given him as an impromptu present one day. Then she said suddenly, âIt's not something you've done, is it?'
âOh God no, darling. I haven't cocked up. I'm not important enough to justify Heyderman making more than a telephone call.' He loved her for thinking that he was. âMy guess is, it's either a crisis blown up in South Africa that's going to affect the mines â the political situation is so bloody unstable it must be like sitting on a timebomb â or it's our Arthur Harris.' Arthur Harris was the London Managing Director of Diamond Enterprises.
She turned the big oval cut diamond round on her finger. That ring had been the only jarring note in her engagement. Elizabeth wanted a nice sapphire with a diamond each side, something she could wear every day of her life, as her mother wore hers, even washing-up or feeding the dogs. But James had been adamant. As the fiancÃ©e of an employee of Diamond Enterprises her ring had to be a statement. When she first heard that he worked for D.E. she asked him if he was a jeweller, and giggled because he didn't look like one. He had explained that he didn't know one stone from another; his job was strictly executive. She had never liked that big vulgar ring, but it upset him if she didn't wear it.
She pushed back the long silky blond hair that tended to fall over her face. James wouldn't let her cut it or pin it. He was crazy about her hair; loved to smooth and twist it between his fingers.
He often held her and looked at her. Just looked, and then told her how beautiful she was. And how incredibly lucky he was to be married to her.
âWhy should it be Arthur?' Elizabeth asked.
âBecause Heyderman hates him; he'd jump at the chance to kick him out. Arthur won't enjoy waiting for brother-in-law Julius to walk in on Wednesday!'
âI'd much rather have Heyderman than Arthur,' she said. âI've always liked him.'
âYou've never crossed him,' James said. âOr failed him. You know â¦' He paused, about to put his most secret ambition into words. âYou know if Arthur did get the elbow, it might open the door for me â¦'
Elizabeth stared at him. âYou? For his job? But you're the youngest, what about Kruger and Andrews â¦?'
âKruger's past it. That business with the secretary didn't do him any good.'
âI hate that woman,' she said coldly. âShe deliberately broke up that marriage. After thirty years. She's a bitch.'
He shrugged. Nobody liked Ruth Fraser. Especially other women. She was just too clever and sexually attractive for her own good. He went on. âAndrews is the only one. He should be in line â¦ but â¦ I just get the feeling Heyderman might be tempted by new blood.' He grinned at her. âMine.'
He looked at his watch. Another present from Elizabeth. She was so generous with money. She was always giving him surprises. He had been brought up to be careful, not to indulge in needless extravagance. But, unlike his wife's family, the Hastings money was very new.
He stood up. He said, âI've been there twelve years. I reckon I'm ready for the top job if it's offered to me. Come on, darling, we'll be late. I hope you won't be bored â they're not very exciting, the Chichesters. I'll make it up to you later.'
âI bet you will,' Elizabeth said. They had a wonderful love life; it had got even better as they grew together. And now there was the added incentive of the baby they both wanted. Two years of waiting and hoping, no medical reasons except the prolonged use of the Pill. âYou can't expect Nature to oblige immediately,' the gynaecologist had said. âYou'll have to be patient. It'll happen. Most likely just when you want to go skiing.' They had laughed and gone away reassured.
But so far Nature had remained obdurate and Elizabeth would cry with disappointment as her hopes were dashed again.
James was kind and supportive, comforting her. âIt'll be all right,' he soothed. âThe more you fuss, the longer it'll take. You're twenty-seven, sweetheart, for Christ's sake â¦ we've all the time in the world.'