Madeleine Wickham - The Gatecrasher (mobi).mobi, page 1
by Madeleine Wickham
Praise for the bestselling novels of
Cocktails for Three
“Deliciously funny . . . witty and wicked.”
“Wickham serves up a healthy dose of good-natured witticisms mixed with biting retorts.”
“Wickham writes a witty tale that goes beyond mere gossip, fashion, and fun; she provides a wickedly insightful look at the choices women make between career, children, and relationships.”
“Wickham spins a delightful story . . . [She] does a bang-up job of creating believable characters . . . Surprises abound as the plot unfolds.”
“Sure to please her many fans and gain her new ones.”
“A rare breed of beach read that’s breezy but doesn’t wriggle out of difficult adult choices.”
The Wedding Girl
“Kinsella fans will feel right at home . . . At this Wedding, prepare to laugh, and maybe get a little misty.”
“A bride’s impetuous past comes back to haunt her in this yummy confection by Wickham.”
“What fans want!”
ALSO BY MADELEINE WICKHAM
The Tennis Party
A Desirable Residence
Swimming Pool Sunday
The Wedding Girl
Cocktails for Three
St. Martin’s Paperbacks
NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
First published in Great Britain by Black Swan, a division of Transworld Publishers
Copyright © 1998 by Madeleine Wickham.
Excerpt from The Wedding Girl copyright © 2009 by Madeleine Wickham.
Excerpt from Sleeping Arrangements copyright © 2008 by Madeleine Wickham.
Excerpt from Cocktails for Three copyright © 2001 by Madeleine Wickham.
All rights reserved.
For information address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 99089869
Printed in the United States of America
St. Martin’s Press hardcover edition / July 2007
St. Martin’s Griffin trade paperback edition / May 2008
St. Martin’s Paperbacks edition / January 2010
St. Martin’s Paperbacks are published by St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
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Fleur Daxeny wrinkled her nose. She bit her lip, and put her head on one side, and gazed at her reflection silently for a few seconds. Then she gave a gurgle of laughter.
“I still can’t decide,” she exclaimed. “They’re all fabulous.”
The saleswoman from Take Hat! exchanged weary glances with the nervous young hairdresser sitting on a gilt stool in the corner. The hairdresser had arrived at Fleur’s hotel suite half an hour ago and had been waiting to start ever since. The saleswoman was meanwhile beginning to wonder whether she was wasting her time completely.
“I love this one with the veil,” said Fleur suddenly, reaching for a tiny creation of black satin and wispy netting. “Isn’t it elegant?”
“Very elegant,” said the saleswoman. She hurried forward just in time to catch a black silk topper which Fleur was discarding onto the floor.
“Very,” echoed the hairdresser in the corner. Surreptitiously he glanced at his watch. He was supposed to be back down in the salon in forty minutes. Trevor wouldn’t be pleased. Perhaps he should phone down to explain the situation. Perhaps . . .
“All right!” said Fleur. “I’ve decided.” She pushed up the veil and beamed around the room. “I’m going to wear this one today.”
“A very wise choice, madam,” said the saleswoman in relieved tones. “It’s a lovely hat.”
“Lovely,” whispered the hairdresser.
“So if you could just pack the other five into boxes for me . . .” Fleur smiled mysteriously at her reflection and pulled the dark silk gauze down over her face again. The woman from Take Hat! gaped at her.
“You’re going to buy them all?”
“Of course I am. I simply can’t choose between them. They’re all too perfect.” Fleur turned to the hairdresser. “Now, my sweet. Can you come up with something special for my hair which will go under this hat?” The young man stared back at her and felt a dark pink colour begin to rise up his neck.
“Oh. Yes. I should think so. I mean . . .” But Fleur had already turned away.
“If you could just put it all onto my hotel bill,” she was saying to the saleswoman. “That’s all right, isn’t it?”
“Perfectly all right, madam,” said the saleswoman eagerly. “As a guest of the hotel, you’re entitled to a fifteen per cent concession on all our prices.”
“Whatever,” said Fleur. She gave a little yawn. “As long as it can all go on the bill.”
“I’ll go and sort it out for you straight away.”
“Good,” said Fleur. As the saleswoman hurried out of the room, she turned and gave the young hairdresser a ravishing smile. “I’m all yours.”
Her voice was low and melodious and curiously accentless. To the hairdresser’s ears it was now also faintly mocking, and he flushed slightly as he came over to where Fleur was sitting. He stood behind her, gathered together the ends of her hair in one hand and let them fall down in a heavy, red-gold movement.
“Your hair’s in very good condition,” he said awkwardly.
“Isn’t it lovely?” said Fleur complacently. “I’ve always had good hair. And good skin, of course.” She tilted her head, pushed her hotel robe aside slightly, and rubbed her cheek tenderly against the pale, creamy skin of her shoulder. “How old would you say I was?” she added abruptly.
“I don’t . . . I wouldn’t . . .” the young man began to flounder.
“I’m forty,” she said lazily. She closed her eyes. “Forty,” she repeated, as though meditating. “It makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“You don’t look . . .” began the hairdresser in awkward politeness. Fleur opened one glinting, pussycat-green eye.
“I don’t look forty? How old do I look, then?”
The hairdresser stared back at her uncomfortably. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. The truth was, he thought suddenly, that this incredible woman didn’t look any age. She seemed ageless, classless, indefinable. As he met her eyes he felt a thrill run through him; a dart-like conviction that this moment was somehow significant. His hands trembling slightly, he reached for her hair and let
“You look as old as you look,” he whispered huskily. “Numbers don’t come into it.”
“Sweet,” said Fleur dismissively. “Now, my pet, before you start on my hair, how about ordering me a nice glass of champagne?”
The hairdresser’s fingers drooped in slight disappointment, and he went obediently over to the telephone. As he dialled, the door opened and the woman from Take Hat! came back in, carrying a pile of hat boxes. “Here we are,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “If you could just sign here . . .”
“A glass of champagne, please,” the hairdresser was saying. “Room 301.”
“I was wondering,” began the saleswoman cautiously to Fleur. “You’re quite sure that you want all six hats in black? We do have some other super colours this season.” She tapped her teeth thoughtfully. “There’s a lovely emerald green which would look stunning with your hair . . .”
“Black,” said Fleur decisively. “I’m only interested in black.”
An hour later, Fleur looked at herself in the mirror, smiled and nodded. She was dressed in a simple black suit which had been cut to fit her figure precisely. Her legs shimmered in sheer black stockings; her feet were unobtrusive in discreet black shoes. Her hair had been smoothed into an exemplary chignon, on which the little black hat sat to perfection.
The only hint of brightness about her figure was a glimpse of salmon-pink silk underneath her jacket. It was Fleur’s rule always to wear some colour no matter how sombre the outfit or the occasion. In a crowd of dispirited black suits, a tiny splash of salmon-pink would draw the eye unconsciously towards her. People would notice her but wouldn’t be quite sure why. Which was just as she liked it.
Still watching her reflection, Fleur pulled the gauzy veil down over her face. The smug expression disappeared from her face, to be replaced by one of grave, inscrutable sadness. For a few moments she stared silently at herself. She picked up her black leather Osprey bag and held it soberly by her side. She nodded slowly a few times, noticing how the veil cast hazy mysterious shadows over her pale face.
Then, suddenly, the telephone rang, and she sprang back into life.
“Fleur, where have you been? I have tried to call you.” The heavy Greek voice was unmistakable. A frown of irritation creased Fleur’s face.
“Sakis! Sweetheart, I’m in a bit of a hurry . . .”
“Where are you going?”
“Nowhere. Just shopping.”
“Why do you need to shop? I bought you clothes in Paris.”
“I know you did, darling. But I wanted to surprise you with something new for this evening.” Her voice rippled with convincing affection down the phone. “Something elegant, sexy . . .” As she spoke, she had a sudden inspiration. “And you know, Sakis,” she added carefully, “I was wondering whether it wouldn’t be a good idea to pay in cash, so that I get a good price. I can draw money out from the hotel, can’t I? On your account?”
“A certain amount. Up to ten thousand pounds, I think.”
“I won’t need nearly that much!” Her voice bubbled over with amusement. “I only want one outfit! Five hundred maximum.”
“And when you have bought it you will return straight to the hotel.”
“Of course, sweetheart.”
“There is no of course. This time, Fleur, you must not be late. Do you understand? You-must-not-be-late.” The words were barked out like a military order and Fleur flinched silently in annoyance. “It is quite clear. Leonidas will pick you up at three o’clock. The helicopter will leave at four o’clock. Our guests will arrive at seven o’clock. You must be ready to greet them. I do not want you to be late like last time. It was . . . it was unseemly. Are you listening? Fleur?”
“Of course I’m listening!” said Fleur. “But there’s someone knocking at the door. I’ll just go and see who it is . . .” She waited a couple of seconds, then firmly replaced the receiver. A moment later, she picked it up again.
“Hello? Could you send someone up for my luggage, please?”
Downstairs, the hotel lobby was calm and tranquil. The woman from Take Hat! saw Fleur walking past the boutique, and gave a little wave, but Fleur ignored her.
“I’d like to check out,” she said, as soon as she got to the reception desk. “And to make a withdrawal of money. The account is in the name of Sakis Papandreous.”
“Ah, yes.” The smooth, blond-haired receptionist tapped briefly at her computer, then looked up and smiled at her. “How much money would you like?” Fleur beamed back at her.
“Ten thousand pounds. And could you order me two taxis?” The woman looked up in surprise.
“One for me, one for my luggage. My luggage is going to Chelsea.” Fleur lowered her eyes beneath her gauzy veil. “I’m going to a memorial service.”
“Oh dear, I am sorry,” said the woman, handing Fleur several pages of hotel bill. “Someone close to you?”
“Not yet,” said Fleur, signing the bill without bothering to check it. She watched as the cashier counted thick wads of money into two crested envelopes, then tenderly took them both, placed them in her Osprey bag and snapped it shut. “But you never know.”
Richard Favour sat in the front pew of St. Anselm’s Church with his eyes closed, listening to the sounds of people filling the church—muted whisperings and shufflings, the tapping of heels on the tiled floor, and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” being played softly on the organ.
He had always hated “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”; it had been the suggestion of the organist at their meeting three weeks previously, after it had become apparent that Richard could not name a single piece of organ music of which Emily had been particularly fond. There had been a slightly embarrassed silence as Richard vainly racked his brains, then the organist had tactfully murmured, ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ is always very popular . . .” and Richard had agreed in hasty relief.
Now he gave a dissatisfied frown. Surely he could have thought of something more personal than this turgid, over-popular tune? Emily had certainly been a music-lover, always going to concerts and recitals when her health allowed it. Had she never once turned to him, eyes alight, saying, “I love this piece, don’t you?” He screwed up his eyes and tried to remember. But the only vision that came to him was of Emily lying in bed, eyes dulled, wan and frail and uncomplaining. A spasm of guilty regret went through him. Why had he never asked his wife what her favourite piece of music was? In thirty-three years of marriage, he had never asked her. And now it was too late. Now he would never know.
He rubbed his forehead wearily, and looked down at the engraved order of service on his lap. The words stared back up at him. Service of Memorial and Thanksgiving for the life of Emily Millicent Favour. Simple black lettering, plain white card. He had resisted all attempts by the printers to introduce such prized features as silver borders or embossed angels. Of that, he thought, Emily would have approved. At least . . . he hoped she would.
It had taken Richard several years of marriage to Emily to realize that he didn’t know her very well, and several more for him to realize that he never would. At the beginning, her serene remoteness had been part of her appeal, along with her pale, pretty face and the neat, boyish figure which she kept as resolutely hidden as she did her innermost thoughts. The more she had kept herself hidden, the more tantalized Richard had become; he had approached their wedding day with a longing bordering on desperation. At last, he had thought, he and Emily would be able to reveal their secret selves to each other. He had yearned to explore not only her body but her mind, her person; to discover her most intimate fears and dreams; to become her lifelong soulmate.
They’d been married on a bright, blustery day, in a little village in Kent. Emily had looked composed and serene throughout; Richard had supposed she was simply better than him at concealing the nervous anticipation that surely burned as intensely within her as it did in
Now he closed his eyes, and remembered those first, tingling seconds, as the door had shut behind the porter and he was alone with his wife for the first time in their Eastbourne hotel suite. He’d gazed at her as she took off her hat with the smooth, precise movements she always made, half-longing for her to throw the silly thing down and rush into his arms, and half-longing for this delicious, uncertain waiting to last for ever. It had seemed that Emily was deliberately delaying the moment of their coming together; teasing him with her cool, oblivious manner, as though she knew exactly what was going through his mind.
And then, finally, she’d turned, and met his eye. And he’d taken a breath, not knowing quite where to start; which of his pent-up thoughts to release first. And she’d looked straight at him with remote blue eyes and said, “What time is dinner?”
Even then, he’d thought she was still teasing. He’d thought she was purposely prolonging the sense of anticipation, that she was deliberately stoppering up her emotions until they became too overwhelming to control, when they would flood out in a huge gush to meet and mix with his. And so, patiently, awed by her apparent self-control, he’d waited. Waited for the gush; the breaking of the waters; the tears and the surrender.
But it had never happened. Emily’s love for him had never manifested itself in anything more than a slow drip-drip of fond affection; she’d responded to his every caress, his every confidence, with the same degree of lukewarm interest. When he tried to spark a more powerful reaction in her, he’d been met first by incomprehension, then, as he grew more strident, by an almost frightened resistance.
Eventually he’d given up trying. And gradually, almost without his realizing, his own love for her had begun to change in character. Over the years, his emotions had stopped pounding at the surface of his soul like a hot, wet tidal wave and had receded and solidified into something firm and dry and sensible. And Richard, too, had become firm and dry and sensible. He’d learned to keep his own counsel, to gather his thoughts dispassionately and say only half of what he was really thinking. He’d learned to smile when he wanted to beam, to click his tongue when he wanted to scream in frustration; to restrain himself and his foolish thoughts as much as possible.