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Authors: Kristen Ashley

Sommersgate House (36 page)

BOOK: Sommersgate House
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He’d taken her
at her word three weeks ago. He knew what she meant that night in
her bedroom. If he persisted in his flirtation and got what he
wanted, he’d have an unwanted attachment on his hands, a lovesick,
heartsick albatross and he’d thought better of it so he’d cast her
aside.

It was for the
best, she knew.

At least it
was better now with Douglas being around for the children.

As for Julia,
the logical part of her brain reminded her it was safer this way,
certainly her heart was safer and she knew she should be happy. She
even tried to be happy.

But she was
anything but happy.


That’s
it, you’re done,” Sylvie, the hair stylist, announced, pulling
Julia from her dismal thoughts. “
Magnifique!

Rosie, the
makeup artist, handed her a tube of lipstick and a blush compact.
“For touch ups,” she explained.

Julia looked
at herself in the three-way mirror and pulled in a breath.

Magnifique
was
right.

“Girls, you’re
miracle workers,” she told them.

They looked at
her and then at each other in surprise.

“You shine a
perfect diamond, it only glitters a bit more,” Sylvie replied.

Julia laughed
at her remark as if it was hilarious and stared at herself in the
mirror.

She was
wearing a green velvet grown made by Charlie’s most favourite new
English designer known only as “Gregory” (
with
the quotes). The velvet was of such a dark, rich
green it appeared to be black with only a sheen of colour. It was
sleeveless with a low-cut, v-neck. It had no back at all, falling
in an elegant, dramatic and slightly risqué drape just under the
small of her back with only one thin strip of velvet that held the
sides together under her shoulder blades. It moulded her body
snugly, the skirt falling straight with a generous kick-pleat at
the knees in the back leading down to a small train. She wore long,
black, fitted, satin gloves and black satin, stiletto-heeled pumps.
She’d put on her “essence” and the pair of emerald cut emerald
studs that her mother had given her when she graduated from
college. She felt the dress needed no other adornment and anyway,
she didn’t have any to do it justice.

Sylvie had
swept up her hair and pulled it back from her face softly and
whirled and twirled it in dozens upon dozens of different curls
pinned to the back of her head. Rosie’s makeup was not subtle, it
was dramatic and glamorous and Julia felt just like a movie
star.

Gazing at
herself, Julia was beginning to look forward to the evening.

“Whoops, we’re
late and so are you,” Sylvie noted, glancing at her watch.

She hugged
them both (to their surprise), dropped her new lipstick and compact
into her jet-beaded evening bag and took out generous tips to give
them both.

“No, we’re
covered,” Rosie said, holding up her hands.

“Then Merry
Christmas,” Julia replied and firmly pressed the notes in both
their hands.

The girls
packed up their things and left as Julia squirted one more spray in
her cleavage, grabbed her wrap (this made from black velvet and
lined in green-black satin) and threw it around her shoulders to
allow it to settle in the crooks of her elbows. Then she scuttled
out to see Veronika loitering in the hallway.

“I thought
you’d gone home!” Julia cried.

Veronika
stared, her mouth agape.

“Are you
okay?” Julia asked, concerned when Veronika didn’t speak, just kept
staring.

“I waited… to
see…” Veronika paused then exclaimed, “You are movie star!”

Julia giggled
and struck a pose. “I know, didn’t they do a great job on my hair
and makeup?”

Ronnie
continued to stare at her and then said firmly, “No,” she pointed
at Julia, “
you
look just
like movie star.”

Julia’s giggle
died at the earnest look in the girl’s eyes, she pulled her close
and hugged her.

In her ear,
Julia whispered a heartfelt, “Oh Ronnie, thank you.”

It was just
the boost of confidence that she needed.

Ronnie hugged
her back tightly, pulled away and gave her a brief smile before
disappearing toward the kitchen.

The children
were at Mr. and Mrs. Kilpatrick’s for the evening; Julia rounded
the door to the dining room and saw Douglas through the opposite
doorway standing in the hall at the end, looking unbelievably
attractive in a well-cut tuxedo. His dark, overlong hair brushed at
his collar and something about the fact that he always seemed to be
so impeccably turned-out, so in control of everything, yet always
seemed to need a haircut was endearing to her.

If she were
his wife, she could remind him to get a haircut.

That tugged at
her heartstrings too but she refused to allow herself to dwell on
it.

He was
scowling at his watch and she was slightly surprised. She hadn’t
seen his scowl in awhile or his grin or smile or his hilarious
arrogance. He’d been reserved, remote, expressionless, the same old
Douglas.

That thought
started to drag at her budding excitement and, hiding her
disappointment, she tilted her head down to adjust her glove and
called out, “Sorry, sorry, I’m ready.”

The glove was
tangled at the back of her arm so she stopped to give it a good tug
and, once it was smoothly pulled into place, she looked up to see
the old Douglas, scowl gone, he simply regarded her coolly. He
showed no reaction to her transformation and she realised he had
most likely spent considerable time waiting for women far more
glamorous than herself.

Julia
instantly deflated like she was an overblown balloon that had been
pricked by a pin. She stopped in front of him and tipped her head
questioningly.

“Ready?” She
hoped she sounded distracted instead of disappointed.

“Not quite,”
he replied and pulled a thin, black velvet box from the inside
breast pocket of his tuxedo jacket.

She watched in
mute stupefaction as he opened it and she glimpsed a stunning
emerald cut emerald, ten times the size of her studs, set without
further ornamentation and suspended from what looked like a simple
platinum chain.

He pulled it
out of the box without any ado and moved to stand behind her. She
saw the emerald dangle before her eyes for a moment and then felt
it settle heavily on her chest, resting just above her breasts. She
then felt his hands make light work of clasping it at the back of
her neck, his fingers brushing her faintly there, causing a
delicious, dual tremor, one that slid down her spine, the other up
into her scalp.

The whole time
he worked at her neck, Julia opened and closed her mouth, words
tumbling into her head but her brain would not engage with her
mouth to let them out. Her skin tingled where his fingers touched
and the hairs raised with acute awareness down her neck, back and
arms.

He came around
her side and threw the box carelessly on a table in the
hallway.

“Now we can
go,” he stated casually, as if he hadn’t just clasped an expensive
jewel around her neck, and offered her his arm.

She didn’t
move to take it.

“What’s
wrong?” he asked, looking down at her and barely masking his
impatience.

“The…” she
stopped.

What’s wrong?
She repeated his words in her head incredulously. He’d just
put what was an incredibly expensive emerald around her neck, for
goodness sakes!

“The
necklace,” she finally explained, touching the stone lightly with
the tips of her fingers. Her voice sounded strained to her own
ears.

“It’s nothing,
an early Christmas present,” he replied tersely, the subject
obviously closed and even more obviously meaningless to him, as if
he gave enormous, precious jewels to women all the time, which he
probably did. “We’re late, there’ll be traffic enough as it
is.”

He offered her
his arm again and she took it, still mentally reeling.

Then Julia
walked out to the Bentley at Douglas’s side thinking that she might
be the only woman on earth who could have a perfect emerald affixed
around her neck and still consider her brief feelings of the
excitement for the night were well and truly dead.

* * * * *

Three hours
later, she was no longer feeling the same.

This was
because of Charlie, who was determined to show her a good time and
because of six glasses of champagne, which would make
anyone
start to relax.

“All I can say
is, forget about him!” Charlie declared and then blew out a stream
of smoke. They were on a terrace and hiding from Oliver. Charlie
had quit smoking over Thanksgiving but was now what she called,
“Christmas-stress-smoking”.

Julia had
thrown caution to the wind and, after glass of champagne number
four, had confided in her new friend about Douglas, the marriage
proposal, everything.

Charlie,
at first, had stared at her in dazed disbelief and then she’d
muttered triumphantly, “I
knew
it!” After that, she’d hugged Julia and shouted, “Hurrah!”
so loudly that everyone around them turned to stare.

After glass of
champagne number six, Julia had gotten around to explaining how it
all ended and the way it was now. In response, Charlie had grabbed
her and two more glasses of champagne and pulled her out to the
terrace.

“There are men
who would kill for you in there!” she announced, extravagantly
gesturing back to the ballroom. “If he doesn’t want you, find one
who does!”

Julia giggled
before declaring, “Hardly. And anyway, it’s not that easy. I live
with him, remember?”


It’s
just that easy!” Charlie decided, but her eyes were glittering with
something Julia couldn’t quite make out. “He doesn’t care, so be
it. He wants to live in his shell, he’s welcome to it. But
you
live
your
life.” Charlie came forward and linked her arm
through Julia’s, saying firmly, “Let’s go.”

Charlie
smashed out her cigarette in a thoughtfully provided ashtray and
pulled Julia back into the crush of the ball.

Julia
and Douglas had arrived three hours ago to the flashbulbs and
shouts of the paparazzi, but now they were shouting
her
name too. She held on to his
arm for dear life, doing her best to keep a slight smile pinned to
her face (it wouldn’t do to have her picture flashed across the
newspapers looking like a deer caught in headlights or worse).
They’d also had to stand for photos for the society papers and
magazines as they were not only representatives of Tamsin and
Gavin, who were being memorialised in the programme, but Douglas
was the largest benefactor of the event.

Then, that was
it. Charlie and Oliver had come in from London for the evening and
found them. Charlie swept her away for a round of introductions and
Charlie-induced fun. Julia hadn’t seen Douglas again except in the
crowd every once in awhile. The strange thing was, every time she
caught sight of him, he was looking directly at her. Still no
expression on his face but she found his constant stare highly
disconcerting.

Now, Charlie
determinedly pushed through the crush and just as determinedly
sought out, nailed down and introduced Julia to every available
(and some not-so-available) man of Julia’s age (and some a bit
younger than Julia’s age). It was impossible not to laugh at
Charlie’s outrageousness or, indeed, participate in it herself,
enjoying every moment as the harmless diversion it was. Diversion
was good, Julia needed diversion and Charlie, she was realising,
gave the best diversion there was to give.

So, she
thought, as she sipped her seventh glass of champagne, she’d have a
great time and Douglas could stand there and glower and scowl with
Oliver, who was also glowering and scowling…

Julia stopped
laughing at something her male companion was saying, which was what
she was doing when she caught sight of Douglas and she swiftly
averted her gaze, a feeling of dread seeping through her.

“Charlie,”
Julia said, her voice low with warning, rudely ignoring the man at
her side as a chill ran up her spine.

Charlie threw
back her head and roared with laughter at something a rather
handsome man of somewhat average height was saying to her.

Julia felt a
pair of eyes, maybe two, boring hotly into her back. She hazarded a
peek and then turned quickly away again at what she saw.

It was
true, she wasn’t seeing things. Douglas was glowering, scowling and
now, she could say,
glaring
at her
and Charlie.

“Charlie.” She
grabbed her friend’s arm and pulled her away from the man she was
laughing with. “Excuse me, I just need a quiet word,” she explained
awkwardly to the man.

“What’s
wrong?” Charlie asked, immediately registering Julia’s
discomfiture.

“Um, don’t
look now but I think your husband may be a bit peeved and Douglas
looks…” she glanced back and then away again as his eyes drilled
into hers. “Fit to be tied,” she finished lamely.

Charlie
whirled around and gave them a bold, anxiety-free stare. “Well,
well, well,” she said, “the beast awakens. About bloody time.”

Julia’s mouth
dropped open and, because she was acutely aware of being the
recipient of censorious glare from across the room, she snapped it
shut again before asking, “What do you mean?”


No time
to explain, call me tomorrow. And remember,
you owe me,
” Charlie said mysteriously, leaned
forward, kissed her cheek and then disappeared.

BOOK: Sommersgate House
11.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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