Read Emily Online

Authors: Jilly Cooper

Tags: #Romance, #Love Stories, #Fiction, #Modern fiction, #General


BOOK: Emily
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    IF Nina hadn’t bugged me, I’d never have gone to Annie Richmond’s party.

    ‘Cedric is beginning to take you for granted,’ she said, hurling clothes into a weekend case.

    ‘Cedric,’ I said crossly, ‘is getting his career together. As soon as he’s adopted as a candidate, we’ll get married.’

    ‘Because it’s better for candidates to have wives,’ said Nina. ‘He shouldn’t leave you alone so much. Your first weekend back from holiday, looking a million and a half dollars - anyone else wouldn’t be able to keep his hands off you - but old Seedcake just swans off to another political rally.’

    ‘I’m very happy about my relationship with Cedric. And that’s mine,’ I snapped, removing a yellow shirt she was surreptitiously packing in one corner of her case. ‘Cedric keeps me on the straight and narrow,’ I went on.

    ‘He’s turned you into a bore,’ said Nina. ‘You used to be lovely company when you were playing fast and loose with half of London.’

    ‘I want a sense of purpose in my life,’ I protested. ‘I don’t want to die in Chelsea with my knickers down.’

    Nina went to the mirror and started slapping Man-tan all over her face.

    ‘Where are you off to?’ I said.

    ‘Home. I don’t want my mother fussing about me looking washed out - and tomorrow I’m going out with an amazingly dishy new man. Now aren’t you jealous?’

    ‘No,’ I lied. ‘You just give up certain things when you’re engaged.’

    ‘Like fun. Just because Seedcake’s put a ring on your finger, he thinks he’s entitled to neglect you all the time. I think you ought to go to Annie Richmond’s orgy; she’s got this fantastically good-looking cousin coming. If he gave you a whirl, you’d soon forget about Seedcake.’

    ‘Don’t call him that,’ I stormed. ‘Anyway, I’ve nothing in common with Annie Richmond’s friends any more.’

    Nina laughed meaningly. ‘You mean Cedric hasn’t. She reminds him of your past and that come-hither look your eyes had once. You’re scared of going because you think you might fancy someone. If you were really hooked on Seedcake, you wouldn’t be frightened to go.’

    I felt depressed after she’d gone. I’d done all the boring things like washing my hair, shaving my legs and doing my nails yesterday, in the hope that I might see Cedric tonight. After a few minutes moping I settled down to half-heartedly cleaning the flat, then washing the suntan-oil out of a few shirts.

    I looked at Cedric’s photograph beside my bed, thought how good-looking he was, then I read a book on Conservative policy. It was incredibly boring and nearly sent me to sleep. Cedric telephoned - as he said he would - on the dot of ten o’clock.

    ‘How heavenly to hear you, darling,’ I said, overwhelmed with love. ‘How are you?’

    ‘Oh, full of beans,’ he said in his hooray, political voice, which meant there were people in the room. As he told me what a success the meeting had been and how well his speech had gone, I examined the diamond and sapphire ring he’d given me.

    Finally he said, ‘What are you going to do with yourself all weekend?’

    ‘Annie Richmond’s throwing an orgy,’ I said lightly. ‘As you’re not here, I was thinking of going.’

    Cedric laughed heartily and disbelievingly. ‘I thought you’d grown out of that sort of party,’ he said. ‘I must go darling. I’ll ring you on Monday and we’ll have dinner. Take care of yourself; and remember, no orgies. They’re bad for my reputation.’

    I put the telephone down feeling extremely irritated. What was the point of spending ten days alone in the South of France - Cedric naturally couldn’t get away - boring myself silly getting a suntan for his sake, when he wasn’t around to appreciate it?

    I looked out at the September evening - the dusk with its suggestion of autumn and nights drawing in and another year passing, sent shivers of excitement down my spine. I thought of sex and sin and all the men in the world I’d never have the chance to get my hands on now.

    It was such a long, long time since I’d been to a good party. Cedric thought all my friends so frivolous and idiotic, he’d scared them away.

    I looked at his photograph again - short, fair hair, clear, blue eyes, a determined chin.

    ‘Life is earnest, life is real,’ I said to myself firmly. ‘Cedric would hate me to go to Annie Richmond’s orgy, so I won’t go.’

    An hour later, feeling horribly guilty, I crept up the stairs to Annie Richmond’s flat, having heard the roar of the party all the way down the street. Annie opened the door.

    ‘Emily,’ she cried joyfully, giving me a huge hug. ‘I never dreamed you’d come.’

    She was wearing a dress so cut out there was hardly any of it left. I was wearing a backless black dress, pretty low at the front and welded together with safety pins, as usual, which I’d never dared show Cedric. I’d put on weight since I last wore it and was falling out all over the place. I just hoped I looked a bit like Sophia Loren.

    Annie looked at me with approval. ‘Stripped for action that’s more like the old Emily,’ she said, handing me a glass.

    ‘I’ve only just popped in for a quick drink,’ I said. ‘Cedric’s away.’

    ‘I know,’ she smiled knowingly. ‘There’s lots of talent in there, so go in and forage for yourself.’

    The next room was impossibly, clamorously full of good-looking people trying to shout each other down. I felt very nervous, so I drank my disgusting drink straight down, and quickly had another. I didn’t know a soul, but then Annie turned over her friends so fast.

    A handsome Australian in a red shirt came over and started to chat me up. His eyes smouldered under bushy black eyebrows.

    I knew that look of old: I feel I know every inch of you already, so let’s get on with it - it stated unequivocally.

    ‘Bloody awful row,’ he said. ‘Pity I can’t lip-read.’ He gazed at my mouth and then at my decolletage, which was descending fast. Any minute I’d be topless. I gave it a tug.

    The shivers of excitement which had assailed me in the flat overwhelmed me again. I squashed the feeling and started to shout to him about Cedric and his political career. He can’t have heard much of what I was saying, but got the message and drifted off.

    I was then collared by a kind of ancient mariness, a model with long red hair and skinny white hands, who went on and on about her split ends.

    Suddenly there was a commotion by the door.

    ‘But Annie,’ said a man’s voice, ‘I thought I was coming to an orgy. Where are the wall-to-wall couples? The lovely girls in tiger skins?’

    Split Ends caught her breath. I, like everyone else, turned around. My jaw clanged - for standing in the doorway was one of the most sensationally attractive men I had ever seen. He was tall, with broadish shoulders, long black hair, restless dark eyes with a wicked gleam in them, and an arrogant sulky mouth. He oozed sexuality. He looked round the room, as cool and haughty as a prince, yet he had an explosive quality - I’ve come out of the jungle and no one’s going to tame me, he seemed to say. Every woman in the room was going mad with desire; me included. The only problem was a very beautiful dark girl dressed in what looked like a bikini entirely made of flowers, who was hanging possessively on his arm.

    ‘You promised me an orgy, Annie,’ he said, coldly. ‘All I can see here is a deb’s tea-party.’

    Annie Richmond took him and the dark girl by the arm and hustled them towards the bar.

    ‘It’ll start warming up soon,’ I could hear her saying. ‘There’s a lot of fun people coming later.’

    I noticed she gave him a whole bottle of whisky to himself, while the rest of us had to make do with the revolting cough mixture.

    Gradually the conversation started to soar and dip again. ‘Who’s that?’ everyone was asking.

    I turned to Split Ends. ‘Who’s that?’ I said.

    She looked at me incredulously. ‘You mean to say you don’t know?’

    A stockbroker with a pink face whose eyes were about level with my cleavage, came past and filled up our glasses.

    ‘That’s Rory Balniel,’ he said. ‘He’s a bit of a menace.’

    ‘He’s Annie’s cousin,’ said Split Ends, watering at the mouth, ‘and quite the most evil man in London.’

    ‘In what way?’ I asked.

    ‘Oh, getting drunk and breaking people’s hearts deliberately. Everything you can think of, and a lot more besides.’

    ‘He looks like the leader of a Cossack horde,’ I said. ‘What nationality is he?’

    ‘Scottish, with foreign, I think French, on one side. His family own masses of land in the Highlands, but all the money’s tied up in trusts, and he can’t get his hands on it. He’s been sent down from everywhere imaginable. He hit London about a month ago. I don’t think he’s been sober since.’

    ‘He’s a bit of a menace,’ repeated the stockbroker, looking longingly at my cleavage.

    ‘He’s supposed to be a very good painter,’ said Split Ends.

    ‘The only thing he’s been painting recently is the town red,’ said the stockbroker.

    ‘He treats women appallingly,’ said Split Ends. ‘Has he treated you appallingly?’ I asked.

    ‘Not yet,’ she said with a sigh, ‘but I’m working on it.’

    I looked around again. Rory Balniel was leaning against the mantelpiece. Two girls who looked as though the head groom had been polishing and currycombing them for weeks, so sleek and patently glossy were they, were vying for his attention.

    He filled up their glasses from the whisky bottle, then suddenly, he lifted his head, yawned slightly and looked in my direction. I shot him a glance I hadn’t used in months. One of pure naked come hithering sex. It didn’t work. He looked away without interest.

    ‘Hard luck,’ said Split Ends, avidly drinking in this classic case of indifference at first sight. ‘You’re obviously not his type.’

    ‘He’s probably queer,’ I said crossly. ‘Most Don Juans are latent homosexuals anyway.’

    Split Ends looked at me pityingly, then grabbed a plate of food from a nearby table.

    ‘I’m going to offer him a stuffed date,’ she said with a giggle, and wheeled across the room towards him.

    I turned my back and talked to the stockbroker. It was a calculated gesture. If anything was likely to turn Rory Balniel on, it was my back - brown, smooth and bare from the nape of my neck almost to the base of my spinal column, unmarred by any bikini marks.

    I imagined his dark, restless eyes ranging over me and thinking, ‘That’s the sort of girl who sunbathes without a bikini top. Mettlesome, ready for anything, even being treated appallingly by Rory Balniel.’

    But when I looked around, he was talking to Split Ends, and was still hemmed in by the masses.

    Sexless beast, I decided; or perhaps it’s my sex appeal that’s slipping.

    Cedric was right. These people were frivolous and uninteresting. The evening wore on. People were dancing in the next room, drinking a lot and necking a little. No one was actually orgying. I kept making up my mind to go home, but some instinctive lack of self-preservation made me stay. I felt jolted, uneasy and horribly aware of Rory Balniel. There was an unconscious glitter about him, a sinister stillness that set him apart from everyone else. One had to admit his force.

    Split Ends and the girl he’d arrived with, who I discovered was called Tiffany (I bet she made it up), were still trying to engage his attention. He was laughing a lot at their jokes, but a little late on cue. As he filled his glass, his hand was quite steady. Only the glint in his eyes betrayed how much he’d drunk.

    Annie Richmond went up to him and removed the bottle of whisky, ‘Rory, love, I don’t mean to nag.’

    ‘Women always say that when they’re about to nag,’ he said, taking the whisky back from her.

    People were really getting uncorked now. Couples had disappeared into rooms, a beautiful African girl was dancing by herself. A fat man was telling filthy stories to an ugly American girl who had passed out on the floor. The Australian in the red shirt, who had chatted me up earlier, turned out to be Split Ends’ boyfriend. He was not pleased at her paying so much attention to Rory Balniel and came strutting into the room wearing a Mickey Mouse mask, expecting everyone to laugh.

    ‘Where did you get that mask?’ said Rory Balniel.

    ‘Annie gave it to me.’

    ‘You should wear it all the time. Every day. Always. To the office. It suits you. Gives your face a distinction it didn’t have before.’

    ‘Don’t be stupid,’ said the Australian furiously, wrenching off the mask. He nearly tripped over the ugly American girl who was now snoring on the floor.

    ‘She ought to be moved,’ he said fussily.

    ‘She’s quite happy,’ said Rory Balniel. ‘I expect she needs sleep. Anyway, she gives the room a lived-in feeling.’

    ‘She’s giving people a bad impression of the party,’ said the Australian.

    ‘Not nearly so much as when she’s awake,’ said Rory Balniel. He was trying to balance a glass on one of his fingers. His eyes had gone out of focus. He looked like a Siamese cat. The glass crashed to the floor.

    Split Ends and Tiffany howled with laughter. A blonde, attracted by the tinkle of broken glass, came over and joined the group.

    ‘I hear you paint,’ she said, ‘I’d love to sit for you sometime.’

    Rory Balniel looked her over. ‘But would you lie for me later, darling? That’s the point.’

    He started to undo the buttons of Split Ends’ dress.

    ‘I say,’ said the pink-faced stockbroker. ‘You can’t do that here. Unfair to Annie. Know what I mean?’

    ‘No,’ said Rory Balniel unpleasantly.

    He had now undone all Split Ends’ buttons to reveal a very dirty bra.

    ‘Don’t,’ she said crossly, trying to do them up again.

    His dark face set into a mask of malice. ‘If you throw yourself open to the public, sweetheart, you must expect people to want to see over you.’

    Split Ends flounced off.

    ‘Good riddance,’ said the blonde, snuggling up to him.

    ‘She’s a silly cow,’ he said unemotionally, draining his drink.

BOOK: Emily
10.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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