Making your mind up, p.36

Making Your Mind Up, page 36

 

Making Your Mind Up
 



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  Turning and flashing Mario a smile of gratitude, Lottie gave his arm a squeeze.

  “Eurgh! Worse than I thought!” Catching sight of her creased eye shadow and red-rimmed eyes, Mario recoiled in mock horror.

  “OK, I get the message.” Lottie altered the friendly squeeze to a painful pinch. “I’ll go do my face.”

  Upstairs in the enormous blue and white bathroom, she washed away the old makeup and applied a fresh layer. Downstairs the party was starting to buzz, getting into its post-funeral stride. Lottie took out her phone and tried Seb’s number again but failed to get through. Oh well, that was business meetings for you. Since there was no point in leaving a message she dropped the phone back into her bag, gave her neck a squirt of Jo Malone’s Vetyver, and readied herself to head back downstairs and rejoin the throng.

  “Oh!”

  “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.” Fenella, who had evidently been waiting for her to emerge from the bathroom, took in the reapplied makeup and refastened hair combs and gave a nod of approval. “That’s better. You looked a bit of a fright before.”

  “So everyone keeps telling me.” Startled because she’d had no idea Fenella was even here, Lottie took in the familiar chic haircut, lustrous eyes, and immaculately tailored black suit. “How did you know Freddie had…?”

  Except it was pretty obvious.

  “I saw the announcement in the Telegraph.” Fenella paused, gently cleared her throat. “Well, I’d kind of been looking out for it. Hoping not to see it, obviously, but knowing that sooner or later it would appear.”

  Lottie nodded, feeling awkward. Did that mean she was now duty bound to shake Fenella’s hand and politely thank her for coming? More to the point, why was Fenella here? Was she perhaps still hankering after a mention in Freddie’s will?

  “No,” Fenella read her mind with ease. “I’m not expecting him to have left me anything. I just wanted to pay my respects. Freddie may not have been the love of my life, but I was still very fond of him.”

  “We all were.”

  “So who gets his money?” Fenella’s eyes were bright. “You?”

  “No.” Lottie shook her head. “Not me.”

  “Bad luck. Anyway, I just wanted to say hello before I left. It’s never easy going to a funeral when the only person you know is the one in the box.” Pausing, Fenella added, “Unless you think it might be worth my while to hang around for a bit longer. If there are any eligible men you think I might like to meet, please don’t hesitate to point me in their direction.”

  Ted, from the village shop? Envisaging the two of them together, Lottie said, “No one springs to mind.”

  “Not even that handsome American? Tyler?”

  “I think you’d have to be thirty years younger.”

  “I imagine so.” Fenella acknowledged the dig with amusement. “But you wouldn’t. Who’s the very pretty girl with him?”

  She was doing it deliberately. Witch. “A friend,” said Lottie.

  “Disappointing for you.”

  “Not at all. I’m seeing someone far nicer.” Feeling like a fifteen-year-old, Lottie boasted, “He organizes polo tournaments. He’s gorgeous-looking and loads of fun.”

  Luckily it seemed she wasn’t the only one capable of juvenility. Fenella, arching her pencil-slim eyebrows, said, “Really? What’s he doing with you, then?”

  They looked at each other for a long moment. Lottie smiled first. “Thanks. You’ve actually made me feel better.”

  “My pleasure.” Fenella returned the smile, then glanced out of the landing window at the sound of an approaching car. “Ah, here’s my taxi.”

  “Come on, we’ll walk down together.” Lottie held out an arm. “Freddie was glad he’d seen you again, by the way. He didn’t regret doing it.”

  Side by side they descended the staircase. Fenella said, “Did he ever manage to track down Giselle?”

  “Yes.” As she said it, Lottie belatedly realized that Fenella and Giselle had once met.

  “Really?” Fenella’s gaze darted with interest over the thronged guests in the hall below. “I say, how fascinating. Is she here now?”

  Lottie hesitated fractionally. “No.”

  Laughing, Fenella said, “That means she is. Maybe I should find her and say hello.”

  “And maybe you shouldn’t.” Lottie steered her swiftly down the last couple of stairs and in the direction of the front door. “Your taxi’s waiting outside, remember. Thank you for coming. Bye.”

  Fenella laughed, her expression softening as she leaned forward and kissed Lottie on each cheek. “Darling, I may be a gold digger, but I’m not that much of a bitch.”

  The taxi roared off down the drive in a Technicolor swirl of leaves, and Lottie made her way back into the house. The noise level had cranked up another couple notches by now as people reminisced happily about Freddie and relaxed into their second and third drinks.

  She found Giselle and Jeff in the drawing room, chatting away with Barbara. Jeff’s dark suit had the air of one that has been pulled, blinking in astonishment, from the back of the wardrobe where it languished for the last twenty years.

  “Here she is.” Giselle looked up as Lottie approached and handed her a photograph from the selection she’d been showing Barbara. “Jeff and I were going through the old albums last night. Have a look at this one. That’s Freddie on the left there next to Jeff.”

  Smiling, Lottie gazed at the snap of Freddie and Jeff with more hair than they’d possessed for years, larking about outside someone’s house. They were spraying each other with shaken-up bottles of beer while a gaggle of girls looked on and giggled, arms raised to protect their hair.

  “That’s you!” Lottie pointed to a sweet-faced brunette in a bright orange minidress and white leather boots.

  “I had a twenty-two-inch waist back then.” Nodding, Giselle said, “They were happy days.” Then she tapped Jeff and added, “Except you were drinking like a fish.”

  “And look what happened when I stopped.” Jeff in turn tapped his head. “I went bald.”

  “Oh, I meant to ask.” Giselle gazed up at Lottie. “Who was that woman we saw you saying good-bye to just now? The one who left in a taxi? I know it sounds daft, but I’m sure I’ve seen her somewhere before.”

  Forty years ago, Lottie thought but didn’t say. You and Freddie went along to a party thrown by that woman and her husband. Freddie had a torrid affair with her behind your back, but he wasn’t rich enough for her so she dumped him and he came back to you.

  Lottie shook her head. “God, I’m terrible with names. I can’t even remember now. I think she’s just an old friend of the family.”

  “I’m just being silly then.” Giselle shrugged, but she was still frowning.

  “Or maybe she’s been on the TV and that’s why you think you recognize her,” Barbara joined in reassuringly. “I was shopping in Camden Market once and I said hello to a girl I could have sworn I knew. Turned out it was Kate Winslet.”

  “Do you know, you could be right.” Nodding, Giselle said, “She looked just like that opera singer we were watching on TV the other night.”

  Phew.

  “Only older,” said Jeff.

  Lottie kept a straight face. If Fenella were here, she’d rip his head off.

  Just as well she was gone.

  Later, as Lottie mingled and chatted with those who had known and loved Freddie, she overheard Merry Watkins saying bracingly to Tyler, “Now you know what the antidote to a funeral is, don’t you? A lovely romantic wedding! How about you and that pretty girlfriend of yours making an announcement, hmm? That’d cheer us all up!”

  Chapter 56

  Two weeks after the funeral, Lottie and Barbara took the small rowing boat out into the middle of the lake. Gazing at the frost-covered hills rising up all around them, the swans floating serenel
y on the water, and the rooftops of Hestacombe among the trees, Barbara said, “I suppose there are worse places to end up. Although I still fancy the Eiffel Tower myself.”

  “If we don’t get a move on, Freddie’s going to end up in a swan’s stomach.” Having eased the airtight lid off the pot with a soft phut, Lottie saw that the swans had metaphorically pricked up their ears and abruptly altered course. Greedily imagining that it was feeding time, they were heading in a stately convoy toward the boat.

  “Did I ever tell you I was scared of swans?” said Barbara.

  “You big sissy. They won’t hurt you.”

  “I once had my arm broken by a swan.”

  Lottie’s stomach contracted in alarm. “Did you?”

  “Well, no, but I know it’s technically possible. Remind me again why I’m out here?”

  “Because this is where Freddie wanted his ashes to be scattered.”

  Barbara pulled a face. “Couldn’t we have just done it from the edge of the lake?”

  “In the middle’s better. Then they can spread out in all directions. Right, shall we do this?” Carefully lifting the pot and tilting it with the reverence it was due, Lottie allowed the first ashes to spill out. Oh…phh, tppph…

  “Stop!” cried Barbara. “They’re going in your hair!”

  “They’re going in my mouth.” Spluttering and coughing, Lottie almost dropped the pot in her lap. A gust of wind had sent gray dusty ash flying into her eyes, up her nose, and down her throat.

  “Oh God, the swans are coming… GO AWAY,” Barbara shrieked, leaping to her feet and causing the boat to rock wildly from side to side. One of the male swans, startled by her dance technique, rose up and began beating his wings. Barbara panicked and stumbled against an oarlock, knocking the oar free.

  “Don’t let it slip, don’t let it slip.” Still tasting ashes and blindly rubbing her eyes, Lottie felt the pot wobble in her lap and made a grab for it.

  “The bloody swans are eating Freddie’s ashes!” wailed Barbara. “Oh my God, make them go away. Now they’re trying to climb into the boat… Aaarrrgh…”

  The boat overturned as neatly as a toy, tipping Barbara and Lottie, equally neatly, into the lake. The all-over blast of iciness took Lottie’s breath away and caused every muscle in her body to contract in horror.

  It took a few seconds to reorient herself. The water wasn’t what you’d call tropical. Relieved, at least, to have had the ashes washed out of her hair and eyes, Lottie bobbed up to the surface and came face-to-face with Barbara. Barbara might be terrified of swans, but at least she could swim. And the swans had taken off; disgusted by the flurry of activity and lack of palatable food, they had retreated to the far end of the lake in high dudgeon.

  Treading water, Barbara blinked and said, “Are you sure this is a heated pool?”

  “I think they forgot to put fifty pence in the meter.”

  “Sorry. I panicked. Poor Freddie. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that.”

  “He wanted the lake. He g-got the lake.” Lottie’s teeth were chattering. “C-come on, race you to the beach.”

  Tyler was standing there waiting for them, shaking his head. “I saw the boat tip over. I was going to dive in and rescue you.” Leaning forward, he reached out a warm hand and helped first Lottie then Barbara out of the water. “But basically the water was just too damn cold.”

  “Wimp,” Barbara said cheerfully.

  “Maybe. But you’re wet and I’m dry.” His dark eyes glittered with amusement. “Oh, and here’s another tip. Always best to check the direction of the wind before you start scattering ashes.”

  “It’s done now.” Maybe not in quite the way they’d planned, but done nevertheless. The pot containing Freddie’s ashes lay at the bottom of the lake and the contents had been well and truly scattered. Lottie, shivering and dripping, said, “You know, a gentleman would give up his sweater.”

  “You’re joking. It’s cashmere. Come on,” Tyler said good-naturedly as Lottie shook her head, attempting to shower him with water. “Let’s get you two up to the house.”

  Hestacombe House, not Fox Cottage. Lottie was still getting used to the idea that it was Tyler’s home now. So much had changed in the space of a fortnight. A week after the funeral, when he had announced that he would be moving into Hestacombe House the following day, she had retorted indignantly, “Shouldn’t you wait until it’s actually yours?”

  That was when Tyler had explained that it was, in fact, already his, that he had bought the house from Freddie three months ago.

  Showered and changed into an oversized white toweling robe of Tyler’s, Lottie made her way back downstairs. Tyler was in the kitchen making mugs of tea and eating a toasted cheese sandwich.

  “Barbara’s train leaves at two thirty. That means we have to leave here in”—he checked his watch—“five minutes. If you go home and change now, you might not make it back in time to say good-bye.”

  “I know.” Lottie seized her mug of steaming tea and glugged it down. “I’ll wait here until you’ve gone. If that’s all right.”

  “Of course it’s all right.” Tyler offered her the other half of his grilled cheese sandwich. “You don’t want to miss waving her off.”

  Barbara was leaving, going back to London. Lottie shook her head, knowing she would miss her terribly. When the contents of Freddie’s will had been relayed to them, nobody had been more touched and amazed than Barbara to learn that Freddie had bequeathed almost half his fortune to the children’s hospital in Uganda where her daughter Amy had been working when she died. Barbara was now planning to travel to Uganda to visit the hospital and advise how the money might best be spent in Amy’s memory.

  The other half of Freddie’s fortune had gone to the hospice on the outskirts of Cheltenham where Amy had helped to nurse Mary through her last months of life.

  The remainder of the estate had comprised an assortment of personal bequests that had brought a lump to Lottie’s throat.

  For Jeff Barrowcliffe, ten thousand pounds to be spent on the motorbike of his choice, to make up for the Norton 350 Freddie had written off all those years ago.

  For Giselle, ten thousand pounds to make up for everything else.

  For the villagers of Hestacombe, five thousand pounds to be splurged on a rip-roaring party in the Flying Pheasant.

  And for Lottie Carlyle, five thousand pounds to be spent on an even more rip-roaring family vacation in Disneyland, Paris.

  Lottie’s eyes filled with tears at the thought of her conversation with Freddie way back in the summer, when he had asked her where she would go if she could travel anywhere in the world. That had been the day he’d told her about his brain tumor, yet still he had remembered.

  “Here.” Tyler handed her a tissue, something he’d grown accustomed to doing over the last couple weeks.

  “Sorry. Being daft.” Wiping her eyes and noisily blowing her nose, Lottie forced herself to stop. “It’s thinking about Disneyland, gets me every time.”

  “Hey, you’ll have a great time. Will Seb be going with you?”

  “Maybe. I haven’t even thought about dates yet.” In truth, Lottie was torn. Seb would be brilliant, would love every minute, and Ruby and Nat would adore having him there. But a part of her, ridiculously, sensed that this hadn’t been Freddie’s intention. Nothing had ever been said, but in a weird way she felt he would be disappointed if she went with Seb.

  “Don’t move. You’ve got something in your hair.”

  Lottie stayed still while Tyler teased apart the wet ringlets in order to reach whatever she hadn’t managed to wash out of her hair in the shower.

  “What is it?” It was certainly taking him long enough.

  “Nothing.”

  “Dead leaf?”

  Tyler gazed down into her eyes. “Dead beetle actually.”

  “R
eally?”

  He held up the offending creature, a glossy dark brown corpse missing a couple of legs.

  “Oh well, could have been worse.” Lottie patted her hair. “Could have been a dead rat.”

  Then her stomach lurched into washing-machine mode because Tyler wasn’t smiling at her feeble attempt at humor: he looked as if he wanted to kiss her.

  A lot.

  Oo-er. Lottie gazed helplessly back, heart racing, all sensible thought wiped from her mind. Was he going to do it? Was he waiting for her to do it? Should she—

  “Helloooo? Tyler, could you be an angel and give me a hand getting these bags downstairs?” It was Barbara’s voice, echoing from the landing. “Then I’m all set to go. Don’t want to miss my train!”

  * * *

  That was it. They’d said their good-byes and Barbara was gone. Waving until the car had disappeared from view, Lottie closed the heavy front door and made her way through to the drawing room. She needed to get home and change into dry clothes, but not just yet.

  The sage-green velvet sofa was piled with cushions and facing the window. Curling up on one end of it, Lottie bent her head and sniffed the toweling lapel of Tyler’s robe to see if it smelled of him. Yes, it did, faintly… Oh God, had he really been about to kiss her just now, or had she imagined it? Had it been a case of wishful thinking on her part? Was she turning into a sad old bag, fantasizing that men fancied her when they didn’t? And what about Seb, who definitely did fancy her and surely deserved better than this?

  Dammit, why did life have to be so complicated?

  * * *

  “Now, what is it that this reminds me of?”

  Jerking awake with a start, Lottie saw who had spoken.

  “Oh yes, that’s it.” Liana clicked her fingers. “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

  Lottie prayed she hadn’t been dribbling in her sleep. It was bad enough that the front of the toweling robe had worked loose and was gaping saucily, making it apparent that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath.

  “Feel free. Just make yourself at home.” Liana was smiling her usual angelic smile, but there was a faint edge to her voice. Tilting her head inquiringly to one side, she said, “And excuse me if this is impertinent, but am I allowed to ask what you’re doing here, all alone in the house, wearing Tyler’s robe?”

 

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