Authors: Susan Lewis
Pete couldn’t have looked more pained. ‘But Vivi, it’s all you’ve ever wanted, to get back with him …’
‘Time to leave it,’ Alice warned.
‘No! No,’ he protested. ‘Well, OK. But darling, you’ve got to find out what the Justine wants.
‘Pete,’ Angus said firmly.
‘She can give you some great publicity for your auction,’ Pete pointed out.
‘I’d rather sink it than let her anywhere near it,’ Vivienne retorted. ‘Now are you happy about taking on
La Belle Amie
? I met with her and her agent first thing this morning. She’s pretty forthcoming about her past career and how she got into it. Actually, probably too forthcoming, so you’ll need to rein her in a bit.’
‘Oh, listen to you,’ Pete mocked, taking a mouthful of penne. ‘Everyone wants to hear about sex, and the raunchier the better.’
‘But she tends to go over the top, and we don’t want to start building a reputation as a PR agency for sleaze …’
‘Darling, you’re such a
,’ he told her.
Vivienne was taken aback. ‘I am not,’ she declared.
‘Yes you are.’
She looked from him to Alice and Angus. ‘Is that how you see me?’ she said.
‘Not at all,’ Alice assured her, a tad too quickly.
‘No way,’ Angus blustered.
Vivienne was clearly still bothered. ‘Look, I just don’t want us to become known for handling porn stars,’ she explained. ‘I know sex sells—’
‘It does?’ Pete interrupted, feigning shock.
Vivienne threw him a look. ‘I’m simply saying, I’d rather we were the broadsheet version of PR than the tabloid. OK, maybe there’s more money in the gutter stuff, and
La Belle Amie
‘Oh, you’re just too image-conscious,’ Pete protested, with a flick of his wrist. ‘They’re going to lap her up, pardon the pun if there is one there, which I’m sure there is. Anyway, what does she want us to
her into? A soap star? Pop singer? Please don’t tell me she wants to front BBC news, or some wildlife guff. Do you think she’s up to writing a book? I reckon we could get her quite a good deal considering her background.’
‘She’d need someone to ghost it,’ Vivienne answered, ‘and believe it or not, I think her ambitions lie in serious drama. To quote her, “Helen Mirren is my role model.” ’
‘How delighted the Dame will be,’ Pete chuckled. ‘Mind you, at her age—’
‘Are you going to answer that?’ Alice interrupted, looking at Vivienne. ‘That’s the second time the phone’s rung, and you seem oblivious.’
Vivienne looked at her in surprise. ‘If it’s important they’ll leave a message,’ she replied.
Alice glanced over as the bleep sounded, and once again there was a brief silence before the call cut out. She turned back to Vivienne.
Vivienne merely shrugged. ‘Everyone who means anything to me is around this table,’ she pointed out, ‘except my sister who never calls me anyway, my gran who’s forgotten who we all are, Kayla who’s gone to the movies tonight, and my mother whom I’ve spoken to three times this evening, and who would definitely leave a message or call the mobile if she needed me urgently.’
‘What about Miles?’ Pete put in.
Vivienne’s light-heartedness vanished. ‘Does he strike you as the type who’d hang up without speaking?’ she said shortly.
‘It could be Jacqueline.’
‘Pete! Just stop, will you.’
As Vivienne sat back she threw down her napkin. ‘All right, that’s enough,’ she declared. ‘From now on those three names are banned in this house, and anyone who utters them has to leave.’
In a very theatrical way Pete pressed a finger to his rosy lips. ‘Sealed,’ he promised.
Alice glanced at Angus, who was helping himself to more pasta. ‘OK, getting back on track,’ she said. ‘We know Pete’s going to handle
La Belle Amie
and, poppet of a porn star that she is, she’s prepared to pay megabucks …’
‘Most of which you’re going to need upfront,’ Angus interjected gravely.
‘We also know that I’m going to take on Irwin’s movie – working title,
A Deed Undone
– serious megabucks, at least for us, and Vivi’s doing the auction which is going to earn us no bucks at all, but shedloads of goodwill, and there’s never any knowing what it might lead to. That’s me taking the positive view.’
‘And why not?’ Vivienne responded. ‘The potential for publicity’s pretty good considering who Sharon was married to. I’ve already contacted the local fire station, and at least six of Keith’s old colleagues are willing to put themselves under the hammer. I have yet to talk to them about the skills they’re offering, but it’s definitely a promising start.’
‘Absolutely,’ Alice agreed, laughing at the way Pete was fanning himself down at the mere idea of a group of firemen strutting their stuff.
‘Plus,’ Vivienne continued, turning to Angus, ‘I was wondering if your nephew might be willing to help out? It would be an amazing coup if we could get him.’
‘You mean Theo?’ Angus replied. ‘I’m sure he would, if he’s in the country.’
‘Theo?’ Pete enquired. Then, remembering, his eyes rounded with awe. ‘Of course, Theo Kenwood-South is your sister’s son. How could I have forgotten that?’
‘More relevantly,’ Alice said, ‘he holds the Olympic gold for freestyle
he knew Keith Goss.’ To Vivienne she added, ‘We’re having a family get-together this weekend, and Theo should be there, so we can put it to him then.’
‘Fantastic,’ Vivienne declared. ‘And please send him my love. It’s been ages since I saw him.’
‘Oh please send him mine too,’ Pete begged. ‘I know he’s never met me, but I simply adore him.’
Laughing, Alice turned back to Vivienne. ‘When are you going to Devon?’ she asked.
‘Next Monday. There’s a lot to sort out here first, which Kayla’s helping me with. Has Irwin decided on locations for the movie yet?’
‘Scotland for three weeks, London for two. Listen, if you’re not going to answer that, will you at least let me?’
Vivienne shrugged. ‘Be my guest.’
Turning in her chair, Alice tugged the phone across the counter top and picked it up. ‘Hello?’ she said into the receiver.
‘Hello?’ Alice said again.
Still no response.
‘Is anyone there?’
Vivienne’s appetite was starting to fade.
Alice looked at the receiver, then at Vivienne.
‘Just hang up,’ Vivienne told her.
Putting the phone down again, Alice said, ‘Has this happened before tonight?’
All eyes were on Vivienne. ‘I can read your minds,’
told them, ‘so please don’t ask if I think it’s Jacqueline, because I really don’t know.’
‘But has it happened before?’ Pete pressed, as Alice dialled 1471.
‘Once or twice.’
‘Number withheld,’ Alice informed them.
Pete shivered. ‘Sorry, but that sort of thing gives me the spooks.’
‘It was probably a wrong number,’ Alice retorted, with a quick glance at Vivienne.
‘You’re going to start spooking me too if you don’t stop this,’ Vivienne snapped, and snatching up the wine she refilled her glass.
Later, after everyone had gone, and she’d finished clearing up, she stood against the counter top staring down at the phone. She knew it was probably Justine making the calls, trying to catch her unawares, but at the same time she had to face the fact that it could be Jacqueline. Her heart gave a twist of unease to think of her out there somewhere, alone, unhappy and with a purpose only Jacqueline knew anything about.
However, she wasn’t going to use these calls as an excuse to speak to Miles, even though she longed to hear him again. It would only end up worrying him, and that wasn’t what she wanted at all. She wondered if he’d spent as much time thinking about her these past few days as she had about him. Since they’d spoken she’d hardly been able to get him out of her mind, not that he was ever far from it anyway, but now she couldn’t help being concerned about the effect Jacqueline’s disappearance must be having on him.
Finally turning out the light, she closed the kitchen door and started up the stairs to bed. To her surprise
found the TV on in the sitting room. She had no recollection of turning it on, and for one unsettling moment she thought someone else might be in the house. Then she remembered Pete and Angus had come up here just after arriving to catch some cricket result.
After switching it off she went to stand at the window looking out at the night, where only a single lamp post was visible at the open peak of the courtyard, turning the branches of a weeping willow to silver and reflecting like moonlight on the river below. Trying not to think any more about Miles was too hard, so she indulged herself for a while, recalling some of the times they’d spent here, at her house, when they’d been happy and so wrapped up in one another they’d needed no one else. There had been no reason to feel guilty about Jacqueline then, because she’d chosen to go and start a new life. Finally his wife had given Miles his freedom, and considering their past, no one could blame him for taking it.
Turning from the window she looked around the small sitting room where she and Miles had snuggled together on the squishy sofas, reading poetry to one another or watching TV. The shelves were full of books, many of which were his, and though none of the photographs around the room were of him, in their way they were a constant reminder too. She’d tried so hard to forget, but knew she never could.
She switched off the lamps and went back out onto the landing, glancing at the closed doors of the small guest bedroom which doubled as a study, and the neighbouring bathroom. It was too late to do any work tonight. She was tired and had probably had too much to drink, so leaving the doors closed, she climbed on
to the top level where the spacious master suite opened onto a small Juliet balcony with a view of the courtyard and river. Two large skylights allowed her, if she left the blinds open, to lie in bed and gaze up at the stars. Tonight she closed them by pushing a button next to the bed.
After taking a quick shower and shaking her glossy hair out of a clip she wrapped herself in a towel and went to sit in front of the mirror. As she picked up her hairbrush she was still thinking of Miles, remembering the way he used to lie on the bed watching her at night, seeming to love everything about her. He’d never seemed able to get enough of her, which was how she’d felt about him. She recalled how easy it had been to laugh and dream with him, how eagerly they’d talked about their future and the family they would have. They’d cherished every moment they’d spent together, and when they were apart not many hours would go by without them being in touch. The only cloud on their horizon was Kelsey’s refusal to accept her. But time would sort that out, he’d assured her, and maybe it would have, if they’d been given a chance.
Putting down the brush she stood up and let the towel pool at her feet. Her limbs were slender and long, her hips boyishly slim while her breasts seemed too large for her delicate frame. She couldn’t help remembering how he’d adored her breasts, and how she’d come to love them too for the pleasure he’d given her with his eyes, his fingers and his mouth. No one had touched her intimately since the last time they were together, and though she often craved the release she’d always recoiled from the mere thought of being that close to anyone but him.
Now Jacqueline had disappeared, and she knew she’d be asking too much of herself not to see it as a chance for them to be together again.
KELSEY WAS STANDING
at her bedroom window, watching her father loading up the car in the courtyard below. The rain had stopped an hour ago, leaving everything gleaming like silk in the sunlight, but more clouds were starting to roll over the treetops that separated their land from the moor. A big storm was forecast for later, and strong winds, the kind of tempest that could as easily set nerves on edge as it could exhilarate the senses.
Her eyes were drawn to a quad bike bumping down over a neighbouring field, scattering the sheep and leaving a dark trail in the grass behind it. It was the gamekeeper making his rounds, fattening up the birds ready for a shoot, and checking no poachers had ventured onto private land via the moor. She followed his progress in through one of their gates, which he diligently closed behind him before carrying on down past the lake, where he took a short cut through the woods to their neighbour’s much larger estate.
Remembering that the ducks and geese needed feeding, she was about to turn from the window when her father spotted her and waved. She stared down at him, her eyes remaining bleak as he walked into the house, disappearing from view. For all she cared he
go away for as long as he liked – her friends were coming for the weekend, and it would be much better not to have him around.
Going into her bathroom, she poked about in a basket full of make-up and other stuff, looking for a scrunchie to tie back her hair. Finding a blue velvet one that she’d borrowed from her mother, she stretched it between her fingers, feeling it go tighter and tighter until it almost snapped. Throwing it back, she rummaged around for another, feeling weird and restless and like she wanted to lash out with angry words, or her fists, or anything that might hurt.
Quickly twisting her hair into an old cloth band, she slipped a gilet over her sweater and jeans and ran downstairs to the utility room where they kept the large sacks of bird food. As she scooped the grain into small feeding pails she kicked off her shoes and was just digging her feet into her wellies when her eye was caught by an old Barbour hanging on the back of the door. She stopped and stared at it, feeling a bit sick, like there was something about it that was stirring up horrible things inside her. Then she felt annoyed and frustrated. There was loads of her mother’s stuff around, so this coat was nothing special. In fact, her mother hardly ever wore it – it had only got all shabby like that because it used to belong to Grandma who loved to garden and go out hiking on the moor. She still really missed Grandma, and Grandpa, and felt mad that they’d had to die when she was only ten, but it was OK really, because actually she was fine.