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Chapter 1

Cass Mandeville, gradually stirring from sleep, stretched out an arm and encountered warm bare flesh. She gave it a light tap. When the warm bare flesh in turn shifted and its owner mumblcd, OK, OK, Cass raised herself up on one elbow and dropped a playful, nu!!ling "iss on the bac" of her husband s nec". #orty$one today, she sang %uietly, forty$one today . &ac", rolling over onto his bac", prodded her in the ribs. ' m forty. ' "now, but it doesn t rhyme. Cass prodded him bac". (nd forty s %uite shameful enough. Should an old man li"e you be lying in bed na"ed anyway) (re you sure you wouldn t be more comfortable wearing stripy py*amas and a string vest) &ac" pinched the tender flesh at the top of her thigh. +reat idea. (nd you can parcel yourself up in one of those frilly flannel nighties with a draw$string round the hem, to stop dirty old men li"e me ta"ing advantage of tender spring chic"ens li"e you. Cass, it s my birthday, he wheedled. ' don t as" for much, *ust a "iss from my lovely wife and a cup of tea in bed. Cass giggled as he began trailing "isses up her arm. 's that all) Well, toast and marmalade would be nice. ,he "isses reached her elbow. -,hen maybe a bacon$and$ mushroom sandwich or two, and a few newspapers to "eep me company. ' could "eep you company. ,he "isses, having reached her shoulder, abruptly stopped.

&ac" gave her a sorrowful loo". .ou ll be too busy ma"ing the bacon$and$mushroom sandwiches. /esides, what would ' want with a thirty$nine$ year$old woman) We older men prefer nubile young beauties, not a day over twenty$three, to tell us how wonderful we are. 0ow grey, you mean. +leefully, Cass ran her fingers along his temples, where the first flec"s of silver mingled with the unruly, swept$bac" blac" hair that always seemed to need cutting. Cass, my angel. &ac" was reduced to begging now. ' m starving. 't s still my birthday. Cup of tea, bacon sandwich . . . ) (aargh1 'n answer, she reached across and sei!ed the alarm cloc", giving it a fren!ied sha"e. Shit, it s stopped1 &ac", what s the time) 2on t tell me we ve slept through my whole birthday, he grumbled, seeing no reason to panic. 0is own watch, an unglamorous but infinitely reliable Se"onda, rested on the table ne3t to his side of the bed. 4ine forty$five. 's that so desperate) 't was, actually. With a flash of guilt Cass remembered that she hadn t %uite been able to bring herself to tell him about this morning s interview with the people from Hi! maga!ine. 0aving been forced to put them off last wee" at embarrassingly short notice because she d forgotten she was supposed to be presenting the pri!es at Sophie s school sports day, she hadn t had the heart to say no when Hi! had suggested rescheduling the visit for this morning. Hi! was one of the numerous maga!ines cashing in on the phenomenally successful formula initiated by Hello!, a formula moc"ed by many but devoured by millions. Cass, who read them herself, en*oyed seeing how other people lived. (ppearing in them 5 she had been done by Hello! years ago

5 was both lucrative and painless because you "new there was no way in the world the saccharine$penned *ournalist would write a single unflattering comment about you, your family or your choice in pin"$and$green tartan wallpaper. ,he drawbac" was &ac", who thought all such maga!ines were nauseating beyond belief, an insult to *ournalism and completely crappy to boot. &ac" had been away wor"ing for a month in (ustralia when the Hello! people had interviewed Cass. On his return, she had eased the pain of presenting him with the fait accompli with a new conservatory already in situ and paid for with the maga!ine s ludicrously generous fee. ,hey had made Cass an offer she couldn t refuse. ,he trouble was, as &ac" so acidly pointed out, she never could refuse anyone anything anyway. She would have said yes if they d offered her fifty pence to swim the Channel. Oh dear, thought Cass, her heart racing slightly at the prospect of having to tell him now, and this time ' ve said yes for even less than that. What) Watching her, &ac" frowned. .ou re twitching. .ou loo" guilty. What is it) (h . . Mum, 2ad. Someone downstairs to sec you, bawled Sophie, on the other side of the bedroom door. She sounded as if she was yelling through a mouthful of cornfla"es, which was entirely li"ely. &ac" raised his eyebrows. 0e turned his ga!e bac" to Cass. ( strippagram) ' m so old and in need of humiliation you ve got me a strippagram? Cass hesitated, still wondering how best to word it. Sophie1 shouted &ac". -,his someone. 's she by any chancc wcaring stoc"ings and suspenders)

' don t "now, ' haven t loo"ed. 6ven through the closed door they could hear their fourteen$year$old daughter s prosaic sigh. 't s possible, ' suppose. 2 you want me to as" him) 't was no good. Cass, as incapable of "eeping guests waiting as she was of saying no in the first place, grabbed a pin"$ andwhite striped satin robe with yellow butterflies on it and threw it on. ' ll ma"e the tea. 0e s a *ournalist, come to do a piece on us. ' got "ind of bamboo!led into it, she went on hurriedly, as with a loud groan &ac" began to slide down under the duvet. We had a phone$in on the show about the best ways to fund$raise and this sweet girl rang in to say she s never seen us interviewed in a maga!ine so why didn t we do it and donate the fee to charity) My +od . . . &ac" had by this time disappeared from view. So ' said what a good idea, because what else could ' say on live radio) Cass protested. (nd within minutes this 6ditorin$Chief from Hi! was on the phone pledging ten grand to the charity of my choice if ' too" her up on it. ,he groans increased in volume. (nd who was the sweet girl, her secretary) Oh, now that isn t fair . . &ac" raised his eyebrows in disbelief at his trusting wife s gullibility. Cass was about as streetwise as /ambi. Maybe not, but ' ll bet it s true. .ou re so cynical, Cass protested. ,hat s because ' m so old. 0e smiled slightly as he hauled himself bac" into a sitting position. .ou go ahead, sweetheart. ,his is your problem, you deal with it. (ll the more reason for me to stay in bed.

0i, hello, so sorry to have "ept you waiting li"e this1 +ushing and breathless, Cass arrived downstairs to find her visitor waiting in the "itchen. Sophie had been *o"ing, it wasn t a male visitor with transvestite leanings but a friendly loo"ing girl in her mid$twenties wearing a dar" green fitted *ac"et and a short red s"irt that clashed wonderfully with her strea"y orange hair. ,o ma"e matters even worse than they already were, she was sitting at the "itchen table which was strewn with the debris of Sophie s hapha!ard brea"fast together with last night s supper dishes. /elatcdly as usual, Cass remembered that Mrs /edford wouldn t be in until midday because her husband needed her with him to ma"e sure he didn t pass out at the dentist s. 7eally, it s no problem. ,he girl rose to her feet, smiled and shoo" Cass s hand. 't s my fault anyway. ' m early. 't s a failing of mine. (nd ' m always hopelessly disorgani!ed, Cass admitted with a sigh. ' forgot to set the alarm last night, so ' m afraid we overslept. Oh dear, this is terrible . . . What must you thin" of us) 2id Sophie even offer you a cup of tea) She was getting into a flap. (s she frantically attempted to clear the worst of the mess on the table, the loose sleeve of her dressing gown caught on the handle of the mil" *ug shaped li"e a cow, a ghastly monstrosity given to them for Christmas by Mrs /edford. /efore Cass "new what was happening, a tidal wave of mil" shot up her sleeve and down her front. ,he cow s"idded with its feet in the air across the table. 8i"e lightning, the girl in the smart outfit put out an elegant hand and caught it before it hurtled over the edge.

Oh ' say, well held, Cass gasped. ,hen she ga!ed down in dismay at the mil" dripping down her front. .u", *ust li"e breastfeeding. 8oo", why don t you sit down) ,o her ama!ement the girl was ta"ing control of the situation, piling up dirty plates and transferring them bris"ly to the sin". ,he "ettle was switched on, the mil" *ug refilled. (t this rate &ac" was in danger of having his brea"fast coo"ed for him by someone far more efficient than his own wife. Sorry, it loo"s as if it s going to be one of those days. (ll Cass could do was sit and watch and loo" suitably appreciative. 't seemed safer somehow. .ou ve only *ust wo"en up. ' m e3actly the same. ,he girl gave her a reassuring grin. /ut you ve come here to do an interview, and loo" at the state of this place . . 8et me tell you, it ma"es a nice change. ,he girl laughed. (ll ' usually ever get to see are glittering showhouses where you re scared to step on the carpet. 't s so much more reassuring to "now the people you re interviewing are human. 4ow, mil" and sugar for you) 's this strong enough) Cass, accepting the cup of tea, was almost pathetically grateful. .ou re being so "ind. ' still can t believe Sophie didn t offer to ma"e you one earlier, she fretted. She s usually %uite good. ,he girl sat down opposite her. Well, she did as" me if ' was wearing stoc"ings and suspenders. Cass groaned and clutched her head. Oh +od . .

Over the course of the ne3t fifteen minutes the girl from Hi!, whose name was 'mogen ,rent, made more tea, helped Cass stac" the dishwasher and regaled her with discreetly scurrilous stories of other celebrities she had interviewed over the past year. Cass, enchanted by her friendliness and unaffected, down$to$earth manner, forgot all about &ac" lording it upstairs waiting for his brea"fast to be brought to him in bed. Only when they had polished off five croissants between them 5 somehow the fla"y crumbs didn t plaster themselves around 'mogen s mouth as they did hers 5 was Cass *olted into remembering by the clun" of more mail than usual being shovelled through the letter bo3. 0ell . . . instant divorce. 0urriedly she drained her own teacup, refilled it from the pot and began heaping in the sugar. &ac" dran" his blac" and hideously sweet. 'mogen grinned. Can ' %uote you on that) 't s &ac" s birthday. ' was supposed to ta"e this up twenty minutes ago. 6ven as she spo"e, Cass heard the sound of bad$tempered footsteps on the stairs. (h, said 'mogen, when the "itchen door opened. She didn t seem at all intimidated by the loo" of irritation &ac" shot her. Mr Mandeville. Many happy returns of the day. 'n one hand &ac" was clutching an assortment of post. Some were cards, others were evidently bills. With his free hand he too" the cup Cass held towards him and swallowed the lu"ewarm contents in one go. Sorry, darling. ,his is 'mogen ,rent. Cass silently willed him to smile. She s been wonderfully understanding about all the mess. 4ow what was it you wanted, bacon and mushrooms . . . ) &ac", who was wearing a pale pin" sweatshirt and grey trac"suit bottoms, too" his car "eys down from the hoo" on the dresser.

' m going to the club for a swim. Maybe a game of s%uash. ,here wasn t any point protesting9 he had clearly made up his mind. OK. See you later. Cass signalled apology with her eyes. .ou will be here tomorrow afternoon for the photographer, won t you) 'mogen swivelled round in her chair to loo" at him. &ac", in return, glanced at her s"irt. 0e didn t smile. 4o. When he had gone and Cass had %uic"ly changed into a white ,$shirt and *eans, 'mogen said, 7ight, and prepared to get down to business. She too" a small tape recorder from her bag and placed it on the table between them. :romise you won t say anything about &ac" being stroppy, Cass begged her. 0e really isn t li"c that as a rule. ' don t want you to thin" we re one of those nightmarish couples who only pretend to be cra!y about each other. :lease, 'mogen protested. -,his is Hi!, remember) .ou and your husband could be flinging grenades across the sitting room at each other and we d still say you had the happiest marriage in 8ondon. (part from anything else, she added with a widening smile, you do have one of the happiest marriages in 8ondon. .ou re famous for it . . . wonderful husband, terrific "ids, brilliant career . . . 8et s face it, all$round bliss. Well, it s nice of you to say so. Cass hesitated, embarrassed by such an accolade. ' suppose ' ve been very luc"y . . Come on, don t be modest, chided 'mogen. 't s a fairy$tale thing, isn t it) 0ow many women really and truly have it all) (nd what s so great, I thin", is the fact that people don t resent you for it. ,hey re pleased for you because everyone li"es you. She paused, then said, .ou

give them hope. Cass loo"ed ama!ed. 0ope) .es1 ,hin" of all your fans; the housewives, stuc" at home with the "ids, listening to your show, said 'mogen eagerly. -,he thing is, that s how you were, once upon a time. (nd now you re here, but you haven t let it go to your head, you re still wonderfully natural . . . So they can listen to you and dream of ma"ing a success of their lives, *ust as you did. She shrugged and concluded brightly, Well, that s my theory. 8aughing, Cass said, 's that what you re going to put in the maga!ine) ,hat "ind of thing. 'mogen beamed at her. ,he wor"s, really. ' mean, ' "now most of it but if you could *ust run through the early days for me, how you got involved with radio in the first place and how it escalated from there. ,hat s what the punters love most of all, isn t it) ,he humble beginnings.

Chapter 2
Cass s beginnings hadn t been that humble but she "new her brea" into radio had a fairy$tale tinge to it. 0cr first meeting with &ac" Mandeville, many years earlier, had been e%ually romantic. Well, as romantic as it was possible for a meeting on the dodgems between teenagers to be .. . 't was Cass s fifteenth birthday and her protective mother had reluctantly allowed her to go to the fair on Wandsworth Common with her friend (nnie Murray provided she didn t spea" to any boys. ,he moment they were out of sight of the house, both girls shortened their s"irts by about a foot by rolling the waistbands over and over li"e

Swiss rolls, and plastered each other with strictly forbidden ma"e$up filched from (nnie s older sister. 4ot surprisingly, upon reaching the common where the Saturday$afternoon fair was in full swing, they found themselves attracting all "inds of attention, in particular the unsubtle interest of a couple of leather *ac"eted bi"er$boys from Walthamstow. Spotty, unwashed and sorely lac"ing in the social graces, they weren t at all what Cass and (nnie had in mind. 4either did they ta"e re*ection well. Stuc"$up little bitches, snarled the taller of the two, who had set his sights on Cass. 0er long blond hair, shining eyes and heavenly legs were right up his street. .u", *ust ignore them, shrie"ed (nnie, pushing Cass in the direction of the dodgems. Oooh, loo" at that boy collecting the money1 0e loo"s *ust li"e 6lvis . . . %uic", you *ump into that blue one and ' ll have the red. See if you can get him tal"ing . . . he s dreamy. ,he bi"ers in their fringed leather *ac"ets had other ideas. <nhappy at being ignored and deciding that the stuc"$ up bitches needed putting in their place, they leapt into two more dodgems and proceeded to batter the living daylights out of Cass s and (nnie s cars. With each successive shunt they *eered and cat$called. Cass, not finding this at all funny, began to feel afraid but the 6lvis loo"ali"e was forty feet away chatting up two brunettes. 'n the meantime she found herself being hammered slowly but surely into a corner. ,he bi"ers, by this time having decided to concentrate their *oint attentions on her, were ma"ing increasingly nasty threats. 0elp was at hand. ,he moment the ride finished, even as Cass was wondering if her trembling legs would hold her up, she found herself being lifted out of the car in one smooth movement. ( strong hand, clasping hers, left her with no alternative other than to follow her rescuer down the steps,

away from the dodgems and in a fast !ig!ag through the crowds until they were safely out of sight. Oh than" you, Cass gasped, panting for breath as she leaned against the chugging side of a hot dog stand. ' was so scared . . . .ou don t thin" they ll come after us, do you) Shouldn t thin" so. ,he boy, whom she had never seen before, glanced over her shoulder. 0is dar" eyelashes flic"ered. Well, maybe to be on the safe side . . Cass, her heart racing, didn t argue when he led her swiftly up the steps of the ghost train. (s he searched in his *eans poc"et for the money to pay for two tic"ets she covertly studied her rescuer, whom she guessed to be a year or two older than herself. 0is hair, so dar" it was almost blac", was %uite long and swept bac". 0e had very clear dar" brown eyes, a lightly frec"led nose and a humorous mouth, the "ind that loo"ed as if it was smiling even when it wasn t. 0e was tall and thin, which Cass also li"ed. 0er last boyfriend had been an inch shorter than she was and the effort of endlessly trying to ma"e herself loo" smaller had been e3hausting. With a start, she reali!ed how presumptuous she was being. ,al" about *umping the gun1 0er imagination was running riot and so far she didn t even "now his name. 't was &ac", she learned, once they were safely installed on the train. Cass, said Cass, wondering if she could also discover his surname. (nnie was sure to as", since surnames were vital. Was there, after all, any point in even bothering to get to "now someone called Win"le or Shufflebottom) ,oo embarrassing to go out with, (nnie bossily maintained, let alone marry. Cass blushed under the cover of dar"ness and cleared her throat. Cass (shton.

Oh well, if we re being formal, said &ac" lightly, &ohn Marius #rederic" 7othschild the third. ,he train chugged along the ric"ety trac" and *uddered round the first bend. ,hey were enveloped in total blac"ness and something that felt li"e a giant spider s web slid across Cass s face. 7othschild) she gasped. .ou re "idding1 :lease don t ma"e a big thing of it. (s &ac" sighed, an eerie howl echoed in the dar"ness above their heads. 'f you re scared, he said matter$of$factly, you can hang on to me.
* * * ,han"s a bunch, said (nnie when they finally emerged, blin"ing, into the sunlight. She was leaning against the white wic"et fence surrounding the ride and loo"ed very cross indeed.

Sorry. Cass e3perienced a belated paro3ysm of guilt. ' thought they were only pestering me. (re you OK) Well, alive. (nnie wasn t only cross, she was deeply *ealous. ,rust Cass to get herself rescued, if not by a "night on a white charger then by an unfairly good$loo"ing boy in a 8ed =eppelin ,$shirt. 7othschild1 (nnie screeched, when Cass had proudly introduced him. Oh come on1 We aren t all as gullible as Cass. .ou aren t as pretty, either. &ac" was smiling but the glint in his dar" eyes showed he meant it. Why do you suppose ' rescued her and not you) ,hat had been the end of (nnie s friendship with Cass. &ust as well, &ac" airily declared. With friends li"e that

you d only end up getting a name for yourself. /esides, you don t need her any more. .ou ve got me. 't had been a typically intense teenage romance. ,he only untypical aspect was the fact that it hadn t ended. Cass adored &ac", even if his name wasn t really 7othschild, and they spent all their time together. 0er mother fretted at first, complaining that Cass should be out having fun instead of tying herself down at such a ridiculously young age. ,hen, hearing what her daughter s untied school friends were getting up to on wild nights out at the local disco, she shut up. &ac" Mandeville was bright, charming and well$mannered, great fun to have around and highly motivated. 0ow could she complain when he helped naturally la!y Cass through her > levels) (s she watched the two of them studying together out on the newly mowed lawn, revising for the last few e3ams, +eraldine (shton reali!ed she had a lot to be grateful for. 't was *ust a shame &ac" was only si3teen. (s son$in$law material, in ten years time he would be perfect. She didn t have to wait that long. Continuing to defy the odds, &ac" and Cass remained together through the ne3t two years. ( levels came and went, Cass grew blonder, more beautiful and ever more devoted and &ac" 5 handsomer than ever 5 won a coveted place to study economics at Cambridge. Cass, less ambitious and without the faintest idea of what she wanted to do in terms of a career, ended up half$heartedly studying 6nglish at the somewhat less prestigious /ristol :olytechnic. She shared a house with five other students in Clifton, hated her course and suffered appallingly from homesic"ness. Or, to be more accurate, &ac"$sic"ness. 6very night, instead of wor"ing on essays, Cass wrote long desolate letters to &ac". 6ach time he phoned her, she cried so much she could barely spea". (t every available opportunity she either caught the 4ational 63press coach to

Cambridge or met him halfway, in 8ondon. ,his is hopeless, said &ac", hugging her to him as she spent the evening of her nineteenth birthday in tears because it would be at least a month before they could see each other again. 0e missed Cass *ust as much as she missed him. ,he two hundred miles separating them were doing neither of them any good at all. Cass wiped her face on the sleeve of his dar" blue sweater and sniffed loudly. ' hate /ristol. ' hate everyone on my course. She hiccuped miserably. ' m never going to pass my e3ams, &ac". ' hate it all so much ' can t thin". With an air of defiance she added, (nd ' miss you so much ' don t care. 'n that case, said &ac", you d better tell them you re *ac"ing it in. 7eally) Cass s eyes shone. 0er "nees sagged with relief. She had spent the last si3 months begging to be allowed to leave but &ac" had always said no, things would get better in time. ' "now what ' said. &ac" s smile was rueful. ,ut it didn t wor", did it) ' thin" we d better get married. +od, your mother s going to go wild. Cass had never been so happy. 0er all$time favourite film was Love Story, where (li Mc+raw fell in love with 7yan O 4eal. 4ow she and &ac" were living it for real. ,hey were happier than the two film characters, they were even more in love and best of all she had no intention of dying heartbrea"ingly of leu"aemia at the end.

Chapter 3
So did she) 'mogen, who adored love stories, couldn t wait to hear the rest. .our mother, ' mean. 2id she go wild)

Cass grinned. Oh, completely. (lthough it was more for show than anything . . . you "now, she felt she had to do the -you re too young and ine3perienced- bit. :oor Mum, she "ept saying, -/ut what about the se3ual revolution) ,his is the nineteen seventies, for heaven s sa"e1- She adored &ac", but even at the wedding reception she "ept pointing out gorgeous men and hissing in my ear; -See what you re missing.- /ut no regrets, obviously. 4one. Cass shoo" her head, her e3pression dreamy. ,hen she smiled. &ac" s the only man ' ve ever slept with, or wanted to sleep with. ' suppose we re a bit of a rare breed nowadays. :articularly when you consider the "ind of circles you move in. 'mogen nodded, impressed. (nyway, ' m interrupting. Carry on. Cass shrugged. What can ' say) We were poor but nauseatingly happy. ' too" a waitressing *ob to help out with the rent and loved it far more than ' d ever loved college. 4ot that it lasted very long 5 a couple of wee"s after the wedding, we discovered ' was pregnant with Sean. Once he arrived we were poorer than ever, but it didn t seem to matter. ,hen, hot on his heels, Cleo turned up and that was it. ' was twenty$one years old, a housewife, mother of two . . . not at all the "ind of glittering career my mother had set her heart on for her only daughter1 (nd in the meantime &ac" was wor"ing for his degree, building the basis of his own glittering career, 'mogen observed drily. She tilted her head to one side. 2id you never feel even the tiniest bit of resentment that you were the one who d had to give everything up) 4o. Cass spo"e with simple honesty. 't was what ' d wanted. &ac" and ' were together. (nd we had our babies.

't didn t even occur to me then that ' anything that ' might regret, at least.

had given

anything up .. .

Some people are *ust natural homema"ers. Smiling, 'mogen e*ected the tiny tape, flipped it over and started recording the second side. 't must be lovely. ' m not sure ' could do it myself. (h, you d be surprised. Cass spo"e with enthusiasm. :eople tal" about being trapped at home with the "ids but there are so many things you can do, even without heaps of money . . . well, li"e getting on to local radio when they have their phone$ins. 'mogen, along with the rest of the country, already "new about this. 't was how Cass had achieved her initial brea" into radio, when, as a supposedly typical young housewife and mum, her sense of humour, irresistible giggle and unerring ability to say what everyone else wished they could have said, captured the attention of all who heard her on air. Cass was down$to$earth. She was fluent, funny and never ever said, <m . . . y "now. ,he presenter of the show, fed up to the bac" teeth with his usual depressing roster of calls from weirdos, bores and people who peppered their every sentence with <m .. .y "now , was enchanted by Cass s delicious, unpretentious, easy manner. ,a"ing the highly unusual step of calling her bac" after the show, ,erry /rannigan urged her to become a regular . /efore long he was contacting Cass to as" her what the ne3t day s topic of discussion should be. When Sean, at nearly three, was admitted to hospital with measles and Cass missed a whole wee" of the show, the radio station was inundated with complaints. ,erry, reali!ing he had a potential star on his hands 5 not to mention a ratings booster 5 spo"e first to his producer, secondly to &ac" and Cass, and hammered out a deal. Cass became his co$presenter. ,heir double act flourished. ,ogether, ,erry and Cass were

a winning formula. 7atings soared. ,erry, a merciless tease, po"ed fun at Cass and told their listening audience she was a frump in hair rollers and a flowered apron who made 0ilda Ogden loo" chic. Cass, unfa!ed by his dreadful insults, giggled and gave as good as she got. With her hus"y, beautifully modulated voice, nobody believed for a moment she was as raddled and ghastly as ,erry made out. /esides, there was that indefinable chemistry between the two of them to give the game away, the particularly tantali!ing chemistry that only ever e3ists between a man who fancies a woman li"e mad and the woman who in return treats him li"e a best friend. When the time had come to leave Cambridge 5 &ac" had got his honours degree and been offered wor" as a political *ournalist with one of the better %uality nationals 5 Cass simply handed in her notice. ,erry went on a bender of ,itanic proportions and a wee" later came to the conclusion that he must leave too. 0e was Wise without Morecambe, ,orvill without 2ean. 0e had also, without Cass ever becoming aware of it, fallen hopelessly and irretrievably in love. ,erry too" his bro"en heart off to 4ew .or" where he landed a *ob on one of the larger stations presenting the suitably melancholy midnight$to$five slot. 6ach 2ecember he held his breath, praying that this might be the year Cass s Christmas card didn t say, With love from us all Cass, &ac", Sean, Cleo and Sophie. (nd each year he was disappointed. 6veryone else in the damn world got divorced, it seemed, e3cept Cass and &ac" who went on for bloody ever. Cass, meanwhile, had gone from strength to strength. Snapped up by one of the capital s most listened$to commercial stations, she was given her own mid$morning show. Over the years she had become an institution, a part of

her devoted listeners own families. &ac", progressing rather more steadily up through the ran"s of political *ournalism and not yet having made his own brea" into television, became used to being introduced as .ou "now, Cass Mandeville s husband. (nd he was never resentful of your success) 'mogen shoo" her head in admiration. Cass really did have it all. She was thirty$nine, yet sitting there opposite her, in her ,$shirt and 8evis and with the bright sunlight streaming through the windows turning her long fair hair almost white$ blond, she loo"ed more li"e twenty$five. (re you "idding) Cass laughed. 0e was thrilled. When you ve been as poor as we were, you don t care who s earning the money1 4o, that s never been a problem for &ac". /ehind Cass, propped up against the pine dresser, was an unframed, curling$at$the$edges snapshot of an alfresco lunch party. Since Sophie wasn t in it, she was presumably the one who had ta"en the photograph. /ut there, sitting around the wrought$iron table out on the sun$bleached terrace, were the glamorous Mandevilles. &ac" s arm rested across the bac" of Cass s chair. ,o the left of them lounged Sean in his 7ay$/ans, blowing a "iss to the camera. ,o the right was Cleo, currently /ritain s fastest$rising star on the modelling circuit, her famously sinuous body almost doubled in two as she roared with laughter at something her father had *ust said. .ou are so luc"y. 'mogen gestured loosely around her at the sunny, cluttered yellow$and$white "itchen and the sloping gardens beyond. ' "now it sounds corny, but ' have to say this; ' ve interviewed some celebs in my time but you really are by far the nicest. ' don t suppose you d be interested in fostering a twenty$eight$year$old redhead) She grinned.

#airly housetrained . . Cass, in turn, had ta"en an instinctive li"ing to the girl who had come to interview her. 4ow, touched by her openness, she reached impulsively across the scrubbed pine table. ' "now what you must do. We re having a small party here tonight, to celebrate &ac" s birthday. 4othing too elaborate, *ust drin"s and a few friends, but it ll be fun. Will you come along) 7eally) ' d love to1 'mogen was delighted. (nd do bring a partner. Cass hesitated, glancing at 'mogen s left hand. /oyfriend, husband . . . whatever. 4o, ' m not married. 'mogen, having intercepted the glance, pulled a wry face. ' haven t been luc"y enough to find the right man yet. ,hen, with a hint of mischief, she added, (t least, not one to match up to my e3pectations. ' need someone li"e your &ac". Oh for +od s sa"e1 &ac" groaned when Cass told him that afternoon what she had done. Why? ' li"e her. Cass was lying in the bath watching his reflection in the mirror as he shaved. .ou ve invited that chap you met at the +roucho last wee", haven t you) -0e s a good blo"e,- you said, so you invited him along. Well, that s e3actly what ' ve done. 'f you meet new people and you li"e them, you "eep in touch, she e3plained pointedly. 't s called ma"ing friends. 0e shot her a suspicious loo" over his shoulder. .ou rehearsed that. ' needed to, Cass protested. .ou "now what you re li"e when you start arguing9 you ma"e &eremy :a3man sound li"e a wimp. /esides . . /esides what)

Well, ' half$invited her so she could sec how nice you ca be. Cass bit her lip, hiding her smile. .ou were so vile this morning. ' wanted her to "now you had a good side, too.

Chapter 4
't was a warm, still night. (s the s"y dar"ened from violet to indigo, the stars multiplied. 'mogen, pausing for a moment at the foot of the drive as her cab reversed and pulled away, admired the picture before her of a large, comfortably sprawling ?ictorian house with +othic features and all its windows lit up li"e an (dvent calendar. She could hear music and laughter too, emanating from the bac" of the house where the party had evidently spilled out into the garden. Cass Mandeville had said eight for eight thirty and it was now almost ten but as far as 'mogen was concerned it was always the best way for a girl arriving at a party on her own. /y the time she turned up all the ice$brea"ing would have already been done and everyone would be well enough into their third or fourth drin"s to thin" nothing of introducing themselves to a complete stranger. 'mogen briefly chec"ed herself over before setting off up the drive. 0er hair, which she had put up into a chignon, felt OK. /ra straps hidden. ,he blac", above$the$"nee summer dress wasn t tuc"ed into her "nic"ers at the bac". (nd since her legs were bare she didn t have to worry about laddered stoc"ings. (s far as she could tell, everything was fine. &ust to ma"e doubly sure, and because it was what she always did before ma"ing an entrance, 'mogen slid a bottle of what she thought of as her confidence$booster out of her bag.

She had barely got the top off before a screech of car tyres sounded behind her. ( dar" car, being driven at ridiculous speed, !oomed up the drive and with a blast on the horn s%uealed to a sliding halt less than three inches from the bac"s of her "nees. What the@ Sha"en, 'mogen wheeled around. 't had all happened so suddenly. She could have been "illed. Well, ' m sorry, came an aggrieved male voice through the driver s window as it slid noiselessly open, but have your refle3es always been that slow) 2idn t you hear me coming up the drive) 'mogen stared at the boy ma"ing such fun of her. (s he spo"e he was using moc" sign language, as if she really were deaf. 0e was smiling, too9 something he undoubtedly wouldn t have been doing had she been a complete stranger encountcred in the street. /ut she wasn t, she was clearly an invited guest, and it didn t do to lose one s temper with a guest. 8i"ewise, if he had been a stranger, 'mogen would have called him every name under the sun. /ut he wasn t, so she held her tongue. 0e was Sean Mandeville, featured in the papers these days almost as often as his famous parents, and ripping the aerial off his stupid car to teach him a lesson wouldn t be the done thing at all. 'nstead, her fingers still resting against the dusty, midnight$ blue bonnet of the /MW, 'mogen too" a steadying breath and said untruthfully, ' m sorry, my fault. Sean wasn t stupid. 0e grinned. (nd ' was in a hurry. We re both pretty late. ' don t thin" we ve met before. 'f we d met before, 'mogen replied smoothly, you would have remembered. ' should certainly have remembered the smell. 0e gave

her a dar" loo". 2on t ta"e this personally, but is that really you) 't was 'mogen s confidence$booster, her almost full and *olly e3pensive bottle of 8ancAme s ,rBsor. ,he shoc" of almost being run over had catapulted it from her hand and the bottle had hit one of the roc"s bordering the gravelled drive. ,he fumes, wafting heftily up through the still night air, surrounded the car li"e cyanide. Cuic", get in. (s the passenger door opened, the driver s window slid shut. 'f we hurry, it can t follow us. Who are you, anyway) ,ell me your name. 'mogen wasn t at all sure she li"ed him but at least he was someone to wal" in with. Sean Mandeville, with his flashing dar" eyes and e3traordinary good loo"s, was currently ma"ing %uite a name for himself on the comedy circuit and if his name and natural talent were contributing factors then so were those loo"s, for the simple reason that seriously attractive stand$up comedians 5 men capable of ma"ing a girl simultaneously drool a d laugh 5 were as rare as hens teeth. (nd if Sean was no funnier than at least a do!en of his contemporaries at Comedy 'nc., the Soho club which had given him his first regular spot, he was infinitely more ban"able because all the girls and most of the gays were so besotted with him. 0is gigs were always pac"ed out. We bumped into each other outside, Sean told his mother as Cass greeted 'mogen with a delighted "iss on the chee". ' m so glad you were able to come1 Sean, darling, fetch 'mogen a drin". 4ow, where s &ac" disappeared to) (h .. . &ac", come and say hello and try to do it nicely this time. 'mogen, this is my ancient husband &ac". &ac", 'mogen

,rent. 0ello. 4o friendly "iss on the chee" from ancient &ac", thought 'mogen. 7eaching into her bag she withdrew a dar" green envelope and a flat parcel gift$wrapped and beribboned in dar" green and gold. 0appy birthday, she said, handing them to him and wondering if maybe now he would have the grace to be embarrassed. &ac" s dar" eyes, however, betrayed no hint of apology. What s this) 0e glanced at her. Some "ind of bribe) 'f you re e3pecting me to change my mind and turn up for this photo session tomorrow, you re out of luc". ,he answer s still no. 2arling1 Cass visibly cringed. &ac" was supposed to be ma"ing up for this morning s rudeness, not compounding it. 't s OK. 'mogen shrugged. ,hen she added %uietly, (nd it wasn t a bribe. Hi! didn t pay for it. ' bought the gift myself. She watched him unwrap the unadorned, solid silver photograph frame. ' thought the lovely snap on your "itchen dresser deserved

it.
Oh 'mogen, you shouldn t have, Cass e3claimed. 't s beautiful1 &ac", isn t it beautiful) &ust perfect for that photo. :erfect, said &ac". 'mogen *umped as Sean materiali!ed beside her. My father, he stage$whispered, has no shame. .our father is beyond the pale. Cass was beginning to

despair. 'mogen smiled to let her "now it wasn t her fault. 2on t flap. &ac" smiled too, but only *ust. .ou thin" ' m in danger of hurting our guest s feelings. She s a *ournalist, Cass. Of sorts. &ournalists don t have feelings. Some of them certainly don t have manners, Cass responded tartly. She wondered why &ac" couldn t let the matter rest. 0e was in danger of spoiling his own party. Come along. Sean touched 'mogen s bare arm. 8et me ta"e you away from all this. 'f you re hungry, there s food in the dining room. Cass had hired a well$"nown firm of caterers to supply the food but Sophie was the one busily piling shepherd s pie and chilli onto plates. 6veryone else here is old, she complained, giving Sean a messy e3tra helping of chilli. ' m bored. (nd ' heard 2ad being mean to you *ust now. ,he wide grey eyes behind wire$rimmed specs turned their attention to 'mogen. 0onestly, he can be such a grump. .ou should have heard the go he had at Mum this afternoon, all about nosy bloody strangers invading his birthday party. ,o be fair, ' have to say he isn t usually this premenstrual. She was a funny$loo"ing little thing, 'mogen decided. ,he out$and$out glamour of the Mandevilles made Sophie s averageness even more startling by comparison. With her small, pale face, short mid$brown hair and light eyes magnified by those unflattering spectacles she bore no immediate resemblance to any of them. ,he fact that she had probably cut her own hair and was so casually dressed in a beige sweatshirt and "ha"i shorts signified that she didn t give a hoot. .et her comple3ion was flawless, the figure beneath the baggy clothes perfectly proportioned. 't would be interesting, 'mogen thought, to see how she turned out in three or four years time. ,here was a definite hint of promise.

Sophie had the "ind of loo"s that could twea" themselves into place and suddenly clic" .. . ' don t mind about your dad, 'mogen told her. Will you be here tomorrow afternoon when the photographer from Hi! comes round) Sophie continued to ladle out shepherd s pie. She cringed. 4o fear. Cleo s the one around here for all that draping herself in front of a camera. 4ot me. Our little Sofe) +rinning, Sean pinched her white chee". 0aving her photo ta"en is a bit too frivolous, a bit too much li"e show business for Sophie s li"ing. <nless she s being arrested at some save$a$tree rally, that is. (n hour later 'mogen e3cused herself from the group she had been tal"ing to out on the terrace and made her way upstairs. One of the disadvantages of being a redhead was having to wear instant tan in order to prevent her s"in glowing fluorescent$white in the dar" li"e those plastic s"eletons in cereal pac"ets. On hot nights such as this, instant tan had a horrible habit of going strea"y. 't was always advisable to "eep an eye on it. 6ver prepared to carry out a %uic" repair *ob before other people could spot the mess and recoil in horror, 'mogen "ept a spare tube with her at all times. ( glance at her reflection in the full$length mirror which dominated the glit!y blue$and$gold bathroom told her she was right to do so. ,urning this way and that, 'mogen used a wad of white loo roll to mop up the melted bits at the bac"s of her "nees, in the elbow creases and 5 most noticeably of all 5 in her cleavage. She cursed beneath her breath as someone outside the bathroom turned the door handle. 0urrying always made it worse and there was no way she was going to leave until her white patches were safely covered up.

,he door handle rattled again, *ust as she unscrewed the top. 'mogen whimpered, aghast, as a gleaming dollop of con"er$ brown tanning cream fountained out of the tube, landing with an almost audible splat on the glorious lapis la!uli bathroom carpet. #irst the perfume, now the tanning cream, she thought despairingly. 'f &ac" Mandeville should find out about this, no doubt the ne3t thing to be spilled would be her own blood. ,he ne3t two minutes were spent on her "nees, frantically scrubbing at the stain on the carpet with yet more handfuls of loo roll and someone s yellow flannel. 'mogen s heart nearly stopped when a thunderous hammering at the bathroom door was followed by the instantly recogni!able voice of &ac" Mandeville. Come on now, time s up. 'f someone s passed out in there ' ll have to brea" the door down. &ust coming, s%uea"ed 'mogen, stuffing the shredded, incriminating loo roll down the toilet and pulling the flush. With sha"ing hands she rubbed *ust enough cream into her cleavage and behind her "nees to camouflage the white bits. 4ow her face was all pin", shining with perspiration and guilt. /ehind every effortlessly chic career girl, 'mogen thought ruefully, was a fraud, a hopeless mess struggling to get out. (t least she hoped there was. She couldn t bear it if she was the only one around. .ou. &ac" Mandeville gave her one of those despairing, told$you$so loo"s when she unloc"ed and finally opened the bathroom door, as if he might have "nown it would be her. Oh, but goodness, he was attractive. 'mogen hung on to the door handle and held his ga!e. 8oo", ' m not sure what ' ve done to deserve this. She spo"e %uietly, though there was no one else in sight. .ou don t approve of me, that much is screamingly obvious . . .

but ' m sorry, ' still don t understand why. Maybe ' don t approve of what you do, &ac" retaliated. ' mean, this maga!ine of yours, this form of so$called *ournalism, his tone was cutting, it s hardly :ulit!er pri!ewinning stuff, is it) 2oesn t it bother you, turning out such endless pap) .es. 'mogen shoo" bac" her fringe and stared him out. Of course ' d rather be doing something more intellectually stimulating, but this was the *ob ' was offered and ' needed to pay the rent. 't isn t that terrible, anyway, she added with a flic"er of anger. We re hardly tal"ing hard$core porn here. Our maga!ine is harmless. 4ot to mention pointless. ,his was bi!arre. 'mogen too" a deep breath. 8oo", your wife is donating her fee to charity. She s as"ed us to send it to +reat Ormond Street. 's it still pointless if that money helps to save a child s life) Since there was really no answer to that, &ac" glared at her and used the politician s tactic of changing the sub*ect. ' don t much care for the way you angled an invitation to this party either. My wife might fall for the professional flattery, Miss ,rent, but it cuts no ice with me. 0e paused for a second, his mouth narrow. (nd if you so much as consider selling little snippets of gossip about tonight to a y publication, ' shall sue. ,here was no doubt he meant it. #or a second, in the face of such venom, 'mogen felt her throat tighten. She wasn t that awful, other people usually li"ed her as much as she li"ed them . . . and she had certainly li"ed the idea of meeting &ac" Mandeville. 0e was deeply attractive, he had intelligence and charisma, he was even wearing the most delicious mulberry and dar" green striped shirt she had ever seen in her

life. Who wouldn t be attracted to a man with such a catalogue of assets) (nd why, when she had undeniable assets of her own, wasn t he in turn attracted to her) ,hen, %uite suddenly, it clic"ed. 'mogen felt almost lightheaded as reali!ation dawned. Of course . . . this whole barrage of abuse had come down on her precisely because he did find her attractive1 ' m right, 'mogen ac"nowledged with a surge of triumph. ,hat s it! She could see it now, in his dar" eyes and in the way he leaned against the bathroom door, apparently casually but in reality not casual at all. ,he sense of power it gave her was thrilling. Well, well, she thought with a smile, now here was a turn$ up for the boo"s. 6ven &ac" Mandeville, that most famously faithful of husbands, had his moments of wea"ness. 'mogen tingled all over, revelling in the discovery. 0e was, he really was, as attracted to her as she was to him. (nd he didn t li"e it one bit.

Chapter 5
Comedy 'nc., situated halfway along &elahay Street in Soho, didn t loo" terrific from the outside. S%uashed between a strip *oint and a burger bar, with blue paint peeling from its ancient door and the brass Comedy 'nc. nameplate devoid of polish, it boasted an unprepossessing grey stucco e3terior, less than twelve feet wide and splattered with graffiti. 'nside, it was a ,ardis. 't was also Sean Mandeville s second home, a place where he felt loved and secure and to which he gravitated at every opportunity. Who needed a villa in /arbados, he privately felt, when you had Comedy 'nc. right here on your doorstep) (s far as he was concerned it was perfect, from the tobacco$stained ceiling right down to the tac"y 5 in every sense of the

word 5 carpet. ,he thirty$four round tables at which the customers sat in order to drin", laugh and hec"le were crammed so close together it too" half an hour *ust to s%uee!e your way across the room. ,he stage wasn t brilliantly lit, the sound system could be temperamental and the barmaids 5 who had heard every *o"e in the world at least fifty times over 5 never smiled at anyone, but Sean loved them all anyway. 'f the place could only have air$conditioning, as he told /arney the manager at least once a wee", it would be perfect. /ut /arney was a notorious tightwad, hence the twenty$ year$old swirly red$and$green carpet so stic"y with spilt beer it glued your feet to the floor. ,he stage wasn t much better either9 the boards were probably saturated with the sweat of a thousand nervous comics. (t least, Sean hoped it was only sweat .. . 0alf his mind began to wander off on this new tangent, considering the possibilities of fitting it into the act even as he carried on chatting to the audience, addressing an imaginary nun at table thirteen about the perils of drin"ing rum and blac" in half$pint mugs. ,his was how Sean wor"ed9 his stream$of$consciousness monologues concerned everyday people and issues. &o"es with punch lines weren t his style. 0e preferred to stri"e chords, ma"ing people roc" with laughter because what he said was so right and leaving them wondering why they couldn t have thought of it themselves. 0is act was never the same two nights running. ( compulsive ad$libber, he was always careering wildly off in new and hitherto une3plored directions as fresh ideas came to him. Mostly it wor"ed, sometimes it didn t. Sean never let that bother him. (s long as he was on stage, performing, he was happy. (nd because laughter was an aphrodisiac, he had more than his share of offers. ,here were always plenty of

girls ready and willing to show him their idea of a good time . . . li"e that stupendous blonde on table seven, in for the third night running. 4either she nor her incredible shrin"ing s"irts had escaped Sean s notice. Maybe tonight, he decided, after the show, he would ma"e a move. 'ntroduce himself. . . come on, ' m not ma"ing this up, he protested, as the audience roc"ed in their seats. 0e was on to the latest Californian fad; plastic surgery for dogs so they could resemble their owners favourite film stars. -,here s the Streisand wor"s especially well on (fghans . . . ,urning half away, he covered his mouth as if stifling a cough. ,his was a new idea of 2onny s, a try$out. When the blood capsule was lodged safely between his bac" teeth he turned his attention bac" to the audience once more, his e3pression one of in*ured innocence. So ' thought of having my own dog done 5 she s a bitch, forever on heat 5 but the surgeon s already been sued by Madonna. 4o, please, ' "now you thin" ' m having you on, but trust me. May the dentist from hell rip out all my teeth if ' m lying to you . . (s he said it, he bit down on the capsule. ,he idea was that as he carried on spea"ing, apparently unaware of what was going on, blood would gush from his mouth. /ut the capsule had other ideas. ,he odd$tasting fa"e blood spilled out, hitting the bac" of his throat. Without warning, Sean began to cho"e. (s he attempted to fit the mi"c bac" onto the stand, he coughed. #a"e blood shot out of his mouth. ,able three, closest to the stage, was occupied by a group of girls. Sean could only watch, horrified, as a great spray of blood 5 in apparent slow motion 5 splattered itself over the front of one of them. 't was sod s law, of course, that she had to be wearing a short white dress. 0ell, thought Sean as the rest of the audience, assuming this

was all part of the act, erupted with laughter once more. 'f it had been a blo"e on the receiving end he might have played along, pretending he had meant to do it. /ut he couldn t do it to a girl. She wasn t laughing, either. OK, you lot, that s enough. 0e spo"e rapidly into the mi"e before stepping forward and *umping down from the stage. One of the girl s companions was trying to scrub at the front of the bloodstained dress with a handful of tissues. ,he girl met Sean s ga!e. ' m so sorry. Mortified by the e3pression in her luminous dar" eyes, he too" her hand and raised it to his mouth, pressing a "iss onto her "nuc"les. 't was a horrible accident and you must let me ma"e this up to you. :lease, come to my dressing room after the show. Won t be doing that again in a hurry. 2onny, po"ing his head round the dressing$room door twenty minutes later, was evidently highly amused. :ublic humiliation was his stoc"$intrade. 2id you see the e3pression on that bird s face when you did it) What a state1 Mind you, she wasn t a bad loo"er .. . don t suppose you got her phone number) 't was all right for 2onny Mulligan, Sean thought irritably. 0e had inherited his &amaican mother s good loo"s and his 'rish father s charm. 'f it had happened to 2onny he wouldn t have been rac"ed with guilt 5 it probably wouldn t even have occurred to him to apologi!e. With his shoulder$ length dreadloc"s and broad 2ublin /ay accent, 2onny could get away with *ust about anything he li"ed. Sean changed into a fresh shirt 5 the girl in the white dress wasn t the only one who d been splattered 5 and ran a comb through his dar" hair. 't was fifteen minutes now since

he d come off stage but there was still no sign of her. :u!!led and slightly put out, he tuc"ed his wallet into the bac" poc"et of his *eans and followed 2onny out into the corridor. 0e would have bought her a drin" to show her he really was sorry. Maybe she had felt too embarrassed to stay on in a ruined dress. Maybe she had stormed off to phone the press. Sean could *ust imagine the story in tomorrow s !ve i g Sta dard. 0e was relieved to spot her standing over at the bar with her friends. So she hadn t left. 'nstead, despite the warmth of the evening, she had chosen to cover the damage with a long, cinched$at$the$waist beige trench coat. 0i, it s me. 0ello, you. She tilted her head to one side and gave him a brief smile of ac"nowledgement. 2onny had been right9 she was a loo"er, though in a %uiet, unflashy way. 4ot Sean s usual type at all. .ou didn t come bac"stage. ,he rebu"e was gentle. 0e couldn t afford to offend her more than he already had. (nd what would ' have loo"ed li"e, a groupie) 4ow it was Sean s turn to be offended. Of course you wouldn t1 ,han"s a lot. Well, ' might have felt li"e one. ,he girl shrugged, unconcerned. 2oesn t matter, anyway. .ou found me. What do you do now, smile a lot, buy me a large gin and tonic and bung me a fiver to cover the dry$cleaning) 't was e3actly what Sean had planned on doing. :ositively affronted by the accuracy of her guess, he said, Charming. (s a matter of fact ' was going to invite you out to dinner. Or would that ma"e you loo" even more of a groupie) #or a second she said nothing. ,errific. She was probably one of those fanatical, fire$breathing feminists out on an

undercover mission to e3pose chauvinist bastards who dared to as" them out. Out of the corner of his eye Sean glimpsed the blonde with the legs ma"ing her way towards the e3it. ,han"s, 2onny. What a totally brilliant idea the blood capsule had been. 0e wouldn t forget tonight in a hurry. OK. ,he girl nodded. Cuite suddenly she bro"e into the most ravishing smile, revealing perfect teeth li"e pearls. OK) Sean, hearing himself idiotically echoing her reply, could have "ic"ed himself. 4ow he sounded li"e some gauche school"id. 0e d been so certain she would say no. ' m hungry. Sliding down from her stool, she drained her glass and placed it on the bar. .ou did mean tonight, didn t you) #ine, fine. Sean, who hadn t even meant to as" her out in the first place, gave up. ,he blonde had by this time disappeared9 he may as well get it over and done with. ' don t "now your name. 't s :andora, the girl replied gravely. (nd if you ma"e one *o"e about it, you re dead.

Chapter 6
:andora had never been to ,he /lue +oose before, though it was clearly one of Sean Mandeville s regular haunts. (t least it was now he was becoming successful and ma"ing enough money to be able to afford it, she guessed as the waiter greeted them with enthusiasm and tried to part her from her trench coat. 't s OK, she d li"e to "eep it on, Sean told him. When they had been seated and handed the menu he too" his wallet out of his *eans poc"et, rifled through it beneath the table then slid a twenty$pound note into her hand.

/efore ' forget, he murmured. #or the dry$cleaning. ' don t really "now . . . um, will that cover it, d you thin") Cover it) :andora smiled at the loo" of concern on his face. (way from the club and the company of all those wisecrac"ing friends of his, he was altogether less confident than he li"ed to ma"e out. 't s enough to buy me two new dresses. She pushed the money bac" across the table. 2on t worry. #a"e blood s bound to wash out. Sean was touched by her honesty. .ou could always turn it into a fashion statement. 0e bro"e into a grin. -,he :sycho, *ust$stepped$out$of$the$shower loo". Or did ?ivienne Westwood use that idea last year) 0er full name was :andora &acintha +rant, Sean discovered over dinner. She was twenty$four and shared a tiny, rented, end$of$terrace house in Kilburn with her elder brother &ocl. She wor"ed long hours as a waitress at a bistro, also in Kilburn, called ,he Moon and Si3pence. ,he pay was lousy but it was a fricndly place with a great atmosphere and when the last customer had been booted out the staff sat down each night to a terrific meal. ,he bistro was closed on Mondays, which was why she and the other girls who wor"ed there had come for an evening out to Comedy 'nc. instead. So far, so very ordinary. 't was hardly the most riveting life story he had ever heard, yet there was something about her that intrigued Sean. 0e didn t even "now why, since :andora +rant was *ust about the opposite of every "ind of girl who normally interested him. 0e went for blondes and long$haired blondes at that. 0e li"ed tall, thin, long$haired blondes with blue eyes and plenty of ma"e$up. 0is ideal women were Cameron 2ia!, +wyneth :altrow and the girl in the short s"irt whom he d planned on chatting up tonight, until fate in the form of a

blood capsule had buggered up his innocent plan. 0is ideal woman certainly wasn t coffee$coloured, with shrewd brown eyes, no ma"e$up at all and blac" hair less than an inch long all over. She wasn t wrapped from head to foot li"e 'nspector Clouseau in a beige trench coat either. So what the bloody hell "as it about her, Sean thought with a touch of despair, that so intrigued him) When :andora e3cused herself between courses and disappeared to the loo, she didn t ta"e her shoulder$bag with her. Sean, not even reali!ing she d left it on her chair, stretched out his legs and managed to hoo" the trailing leather strap round the toe of his shoe. When he straightened up in his seat, the bag crashed to the ground. ,he clip sprang open and the contents spilled out. Sean winced as a couple of 8il$lets rolled merrily across the wooden floor, coming to rest against the highly polished shoe of the ban"$managerish type at the ne3t table. ( pot of /ody Shop "iwi fruit lip$balm had s"ittered off in the opposite direction. Keys, a diary, an #$% and an (fro comb 5 with hair that short) 5 were easier to retrieve. 't was as he was stuffing everything bac" into the bag that Sean spotted something which hadn t fallen out. ,he discovery both *olted and enthralled him9 the une3pectedness of it acted li"e an adrenalin rush. 4ow he "new why he had been so subconsciously attracted to her. ,here was more to :andora +rant than met the cye. (ll of a sudden Sean found himself consumed with desire, as surely as if she had emptied some mystical aphrodisiac into his drin". 0e reali!ed he had never wanted anyone so badly in his life. ,han"s. ,hose big, innocent eyes turned to him. #or a fraction of a second her fingers hovered above his arm,

then moved away again. -,hat was really "ind of you. ' ve had a lovely time. .ou could always invite me in for a coffee, Sean suggested lightly. ,he body language was promising. ,he thought of what was in her shoulder$bag was even more of a turn$on now they were bac" at her place. /est of all, she had already told him her brother was out of town. /ut :andora shoo" her head. Sorry, ' can t. ' have to be up horribly early tomorrow... but than"s again for dinner and the lift home. Sean could hardly believe his ears. 0e d spent the last two and a half hours being charming and generally irresistible to the "ind of girl he wouldn t normally loo" twice at, and now she had the nerve to turn him down1 What was the matter with her) What, he wondered wildly, was the matter with him) 0e hadn t been turned down by anyone since he was twelve. :ride had prevented him as"ing for her phone number or whether he could see her again but over the course of the ne3t wee" Sean found himself unable to put :andora +rant out of his mind. 't was hopeless, not to mention mystifying. Was he o ly this interested in her because she had shown herself to be a girl who could say no) Whatever the reason, Sean found himself5 for heaven s sa"e 5 dreaming about her. 0e spent hours poring over the phone boo", finally ringing directory en%uiries to discover the number was e3$directory. 6very night on stage he scanned the audience, hoping against hope she might turn up. /y Sunday Sean had had enough. :andora 5 or rather, the non$appearance of :andora 5 was seriously getting to him. ,he

audience had *ust applauded 2onny s act more loudly than his own. (t the bar after the show 2onny had protested, What s up, man) .ou re losing your edge. Come on, loo", there s that blonde you had your eye on last wee". 0e couldn t even be bothered to chat up the blonde when she sauntered over, gave Sean a broad "nowing smile and leaned so close to him that the soft pin" leather of her s"irt brushed against his thigh. She ree"ed of Obsession. Close$up, too, he could see the way her honey$coloured foundation clogged the s"in around her nose. 0er face was melting in the heat. 2on. Sic"ened by the sight, he tapped his friend s arm. Im off. (s he left, he heard the blonde murmur frustratedly, Ohhh . ,he Moon and Si3pence was situated in a narrow side$ street *ust off the Kilburn 0igh 7oad. /y the time Sean reached it the last few customers appeared to be leaving. 4ot having the nerve to simply march in, grab :andora and whis" her into his arms li"e 7ichard +ere in # &fficer a d a 'e tlema she was, he sensed, only too li"ely to stand her ground and say no again 5 he par"ed the /MW ten yards away from the entrance to the bistro and settled down to wait. 'f she was going to humiliate him, at least she wouldn t be doing it in front of all her smir"ing friends. 't was eleven fifteen. Surely he wouldn t have to wait too long. /ut in his hurry to see her again, Sean had forgotten the meal shared by the staff at the end of cach evening. ,he lights in the bistro continued to bla!e. ,hrough the open car window he could hear the bu!! of animated conversation interspersed with shrie"s of laughter. /ored and hungry, he rummaged through the glove compartment and found half a pac"et of fruit

pastilles. 6ven they were a letdown; two greens and three yellows. Sean finished the last boring fruit pastille and heaved a sigh. Midnight. ,his was ridiculous. What was he, completely out of his mind) (s if in answer to his prayers, the door of the bistro opened. ,wo girls spilled out, neither of them :andora, but at least it must mean he wouldn t have long to wait. Sean sat up, switched off 7adiohead and reali!ed he had butterflies in his stomach. ,his was defi itely ridiculous. ,he door swung open again. ,his time he saw with a leap of e3citement that it was :andora. #or a second all he could do was sit there and ga!e at her, the ob*ect of his helpless fantasies for the past wee" 5 a wee" that had seemed to stretch on without end. 4ow, as she stood silhouetted in the narrow doorway, he saw the miraculous shape of her head, the graceful nec", the slender but still curvy figure. She was wearing neat gold earrings, a blac" ,$shirt and combats. ,he large blac" leather shoulder$bag hung from one shoulder to rest against her hip. She loo"ed even more desirable than Sean remembered. 0e too" a deep breath before opening the driver s door. (ll he had to do was act cool . . . &ust as his fingers reached the car door handle, the silence of the dar"ened street was bro"en by a piercing whistle. Sean s head swivelled to identify it. ( couple of hundred yards up the road, in the shadows between street lamps, he saw a tall figure brea" into a run. #or a moment he wondered if :andora was about to be mugged9 then he saw her raise her arm in greeting. Without even so much as a glance in the direction of the par"ed cars she ran out into the empty road, waving with both arms now. Sean, feeling sic", slid down in the seat so she wouldn t spot him. 4ot that she appeared to have eyes for anyone other than the tall, blond, athletic$loo"ing blo"e pounding his way down the road towards her.

't was pure bloody 0ollywood. When he finally reached :andora, the athlete pic"ed her up as if she weighed nothing at all and swung her round three times. :andora, her arms curled around his nec", let out a s%ueal of delight and buried her head against his chest as he lowered her gently bac" to the ground. 8acerated with *ealousy, Sean waited until they had reached the end of the road, disappearing arm in arm round the left$hand turn which would lead them in less than five minutes to :andora s end$of$terrace house. 0e forced himself to wait three more minutes before firing the ignition and setting off along the same route. 0aving timed it to perfection he drove past *ust as :andora and her big blond boyfriend closed the freshly painted blue front door behind them.

Chapter 7
(s a successful model, Cleo Mandeville always longed to punch anyone who suggested she had only got where she was because of her famous parents. She was ama!ed how often it happened, too. 4ot from those in the business @ who chose to wor" with her because they ( e" how good she was @ but from pig$ignorant members of the public who invariably thought they "new best. 8i"e the ama!ingly stupid, mouthy, interfering prat of a ta3i driver whose cab she had innocently hailed at :iccadilly sodding Circus. 4ow there s a coincidence, he crowed with sweaty delight, here ' am, tuned in to your dear old mum s show. 4ever miss it, y "now. She *ust about ma"es my day, specially with them phone$ins of hers. Mmm. 'n the bac" of the cab, Cleo peered into a

hand mirror and redid her lipstic". Must be nice, havin a mother li"e that, the driver went on. ' mean, it s all about contacts, innit) ,a"e my 8ouise, my eldest . . . ' m tellin you, she coulda bin a model. /etter loo"in than any of these s"inny, poncey supermodel types, she is, but she went round all them agencies an got turned down flat by every last one. 0e paused for breath and to hon" at a 7enault with the temerity to try and pull out in front. (n d you "now why they didn t want to "now) /ecause she didn t "now the right people1 ' m tellin you, if ' d bin famous with me own radio show they d ave said; -Oh, so you re ,om arris s daughter, the ,om arris) Course you can be a model, darlin , *ust sign ere ..$$ .awn, yawn. 0is 8ouise was probably cross$eyed, buc"toothed and walrus$shaped to boot. #urthermore, if she smelled anything li"e her father it was hardly surprising she d been turned down. Cleo pulled a fearsome face at the ta3i driver s damp, mountainous bac" and chuc"ed the lipstic" bac" into her bag. She was meeting 8inda for lunch and 8inda was in dire need of cheering up. Mind you, Cleo mused, if she d been si3 wee"s away from marrying 8inda s pain$in$the$bum fiancB, she d have needed cheering up too. 8inda and Cleo were both with the same agency. ,hey had been friends for years. Since 8inda s idea of lunch was three radishes and a nectarine for dessert they had arranged to meet at the cafB on the first floor of 6mporio (rmani. She was already there, sipping iced mineral water, when Cleo, late as usual, panted up the stairs. 8oo", ' ve bought five shirts. 8inda held open the brown carrier to show them off, but there was an air of desperation about her. Cleo loo"ed. (ll the shirts were white. 8inda

wasn t even a shirty person. She d been panic buying again. ' "now, ' "now. 8inda sounded defensive. 't s *ust that Colin says ' m going to have to pull myself together and stop acting li"e a selfish child . . . and ' "now he s right, she added hurriedly, what with the massive mortgage and all the e3pense of getting the house right. /ut every time he gives me a lecture on not frittering my money away ' *ust come over all desperate . . . and now Colin s saying ' should hand everything over to him as soon as ' gct paid. ,hat way, he can ma"e sure ' don t do anything silly with it. Oh Cleo, he wants to give me an allowance. 0e says a hundred pounds a wee" for -sundries- is more than enough for anyone. One of the hardest things in life to bear, as far as Cleo was concerned, was having to watch your girlfriends either moving in with or marrying completely unsuitable men. .ou could "now with absolute certainty that it wouldn t wor" out, that it would all end in tears, that it was the most disastrous relationship since ,om and &erry . . . but could you do anything to stop it happening) Could you hec". /ut it s your money, she protested. .ou earn ten times as much as Colin. 0e s bullying you and he has o right to do that1 Oh 8inda, her voice softened, are you sure he s the one for you) 2o you really want to marry someone who shanghais all your earnings and doles out poc"et money) She already "new the answer to that. 8inda, pluc"ing nervously at the sleeve of her navy ,$shirt, was loo"ing more twitchy by the minute. 2espite the outward glamour, she was convinced she had all the personality of 8ooby 8oo. Such chronically low self$esteem "ept her superglued to Colin s side. 0is bossiness where money was concerned might be a bit of a drawbac" but she trusted him implicitly. Shc believed him when he told her he would never be unfaithful to her. She loved him because he made her feel safe.

0e made Cleo feel sic". ' can do something about this, Cleo decided suddenly. 't was no good, she simply couldn t sit bac" and allow it to happen. (nd she had an idea how to go about it, too. 8ast wee" s trip to the States, where she had appeared in a promotional video for the new 2onna Karan collection, had introduced her to a new and interesting concept. One of the other models there had told her about it, a company called Chec"amate. ,he idea was both outrageous and perfect. OK, don t say anything, *ust listen. Cleo spo"e rapidly, before she could have sensible second thoughts. ,hen she told an open$mouthed 8inda how the scheme wor"ed in 4ew .or". .ou re not serious1 8inda loo"ed appalled. So engrossed that she pic"ed a brown sugar lump out of the bowl on the table and popped it into her mouth, she mumbled, +o on. Well, say a woman wants to "now if she really can trust the man in her life. She contacts this Chec"amate agency and tells them where he can be found. One of the girls from the agency then turns up on cue 5 say, at a bar he regularly drin"s in after wor" 5 and falls into conversation with him. She has a hidden tape recorder going, to play bac" to the girlfriend later. (nyway, they have a friendly chat and a drin" and if the guy leaves it at that, fine. 0e s passed. 'n the clear. Cleo s eyes spar"led. She thought the whole idea was brilliant. 'f, on the other hand, he flirts li"e cra!y and ends up as"ing her out to dinner, he s proved what a cheating bastard he is. (nd he can t even try and wriggle out of it later when his girlfriend confronts him with the evidence, because it s all there on tape. 8inda loo"ed worried. Seems a bit mean. Mean) )ea ? Cleo howled. .ou should hear what some of these apologies for men come out with1 2aisy, this girl

who told me about it, did some part$time wor" for the agency. 0er very first assignment was with a blo"e who d only been married for si3 months. 0e spun her this long tragic story that he was a widower and ended up inviting her to spend the wee"end with him s"iing in (spen. 8inda winced. 't still sounds li"e entrapment to me. Cleo, who was on a crusade, replied blithely, Only the men who get caught call it entrapment. 8oo", it s %uic" and it s cheap 5 much less e3pensive than hiring a private detective 5and it tells the women all they need to "now. .ou have to admit, it s ingenious. (nd you thin" ' should have Colin chec"ed out. (bruptly, 8inda s enormous violet eyes filled with tears. She pic"ed up another sugar lump. 0er lower lip wobbled li"e a toddler on a bi"e. :lease don t cry, Cleo begged, s%uee!ing her thin hand. ' m *ust saying, isn t it better to find out now rather than later) (nd who "nows, anyway) 0e might pass with flying colours1 ,hen you ll really "now you can trust him . . ' hate you, Cleo Mandeville. Wiping away the tears, 8inda managed a wea" smile. 0ow did you ever get to be so damn cynical anyway) .our mum and dad are the happiest married couple in 8ondon, according to Hi! maga!ine. ,hat s what s so depressing, said Cleo. ,heirs is the only happy marriage ' do "now. Otherwise it s wall$to$wall divorces. ' was tal"ing to Cherry Chandler yesterday. ' didn t reali!e she d been married four times. 8inda hesitated. 8oo", ' ll thin" about it. +ive me a few days. Will you arrange everything if ' decide to give it a go) &ust leave it to me. 0iding her triumph, Cleo gave her a reassuring smile.

,han"s. 8inda bit her lip. ' m feeling a bit panic"y. 2o you thin" another hour of shopping might help) /est therapy in town. 0arvey 4ic"s) suggested Cleo. Oh, yes please.

Chapter 8
,he Cameron was a private sports club in 0ampstead, owned by 7ory Cameron and boasting si3 s%uash courts, four outdoor tennis courts, an indoor swimming$pool, gym, aerobics studio and solarium. ,he bar, situated on the first floor, was separated from the aerobics studio by a glass wall, enabling the drin"ers to watch the e3ercisers being put through their paces. Conse%uently the e3ercisers werc always very done$up in designer leotards and matching nail polish. ?isibly sweating was frowned upon. #ull ma"e$up was de
rigueur.

&ac" Mandeville found the dress$to$impress attitude of the ma*ority of the club s female members laughable, but he and 7ory Cameron had been friends for years and the club was both conveniently close to home and e3tremely well e%uipped. 't was also somewhere he could rela3 and not be gawped at by over$e3cited celebrity spotters. Members of ,he Cameron weren t the gawping "ind, unless sitting at the bar watching the aerobics classes counted. &ac" preferred to ta"e his drin" out onto the sunny terrace overloo"ing the immaculately maintained grass tennis courts. 0ere he could either sit and chat to /enny, his regular s%uash partner, wrestle desultorily with the *elegraph crossword or simply rela3 and en*oy the view. 0e had the crossword with him today, /enny having driven off reluctantly to a board meeting in the City. &ac", than"ful

that he didn t need to drive anywhere on such a sweltering day, meandered out to his favourite table overloo"ing court one, stuc" his sunglasses on and folded the paper to the appropriate page. 0ave a cough on a horse, said a voice close behind him some minutes later. #ifteen across. 't s hac". 't was certainly appropriate. &ac" watched his fingers tighten around the ballpoint pen as it hovered over the page. When he loo"ed up, he saw 'mogen ,rent grinning down at him as if their last furious e3change had never ta"en place. She loo"ed as if she d *ust finished an aerobics class and had actually been putting some effort into it. 0er long red hair was held bac" from her face with a green ribbon, though damp tendrils of it clung to her forehead. :in"$chee"ed and still slightly out of breath, she loo"ed younger than she had at the party with all her evening ma"e$up intact. ( pale grey hooded top was hanging open over a yellow$and$white pol"a$dotted leotard and dar" blue shorts. ,he fact that she wasn t dec"ed out in the obligatory ultra$coordinated sportswear went in her favour. &ac" still wished, though, that she hadn t turned up. ' saw you at the bar *ust now. 'mogen puffed a strand of hair out of her eyes and leaned her elbows along the bac" of the empty chair opposite his. While ' was busting a gut in the torture chamber across the way. ' thought ' d better come and warn you ' was here. Save you getting a nasty shoc". 4ot loo"ing at all repentant, she observed the e3pression on his face and said, Oh dear, have ' ruined your day) &ac" s mouth narrowed. ,his is a coincidence, ' ta"e it) .ou mean, did ' brea" into 7ory Cameron s office at dead of night, snea" a loo" at the membership list, spot your name and the decide to shell out a huge amount of money to

*oin this particular club) 't had actually been far simpler9 she had overheard /enny at the party, tal"ing about his last s%uash game with &ac". Still, no need to mention that now. 'mogen s eyebrows lifted in moc" horror. :lease, Mr Mandeville. 'f ' wanted to really irritate you ' could do it a lot more cheaply than that. 's something the matter) 0er attention was diverted by the direction of his ga!e. What are you staring at) Oh +od, is it a wasp) &ac" was loo"ing at her legs, light brown and slender beneath the dar" blue shorts. 0e "new he shouldn t do it but the compulsion was overwhelming. 8eaning across the table, lic"ing his thumb as he did so, he reached out and ran it several inches down her shin. So ama!ed she didn t even move away, 'mogen watched the fa"e tan slide off. ( bright white trac" remained in its place. #unny , &ac" remar"ed, how it comes off s"in but not carpet. 'mogen flushed scarlet. 2amn. (bruptly she pulled out the chair and sat down. 8oo", ' m really sorry about that. ' can t tell you how awful ' felt. ' wanted to say something but you were so dreadfully angry with me already . . . She wriggled, loo"ing more uncomfortable by the second. Well, ' was *ust too scared. ,he stain, than"s to Mrs /edford, had come out the following morning after much fren!ied scrubbing with ?anish. &ac" decided to let 'mogen ,rent feel guilty for a few minutes more. 7emoving his dar" glasses, he rose to his feet. .ou loo" as if you could do with a drin". What ll it be) .ou "now what you re li"e) ,he flush had drained away. +a!ing up at him, 'mogen shoo" her head in frustration. One of those police interrogators who go from being horrible one minute to nice the ne3t. (re you doing this deliberately

to confuse me) &ac" smiled. Maybe ' m *ust interested in finding out whether you have anything else to confess. <p on the stage Sean was doing his condom routine. ,a"e my old mate 7upert, for instance, he said with an admiring sha"e of the head. 4ow 7upert has charm. 0e can get away with anything. 8ast wee" at a party he managed to persuade his girlfriend to lend him her last condom . . ,he ne3t moment he almost lost his thread completely. (t the bac" of the club, a door had opened. ( group of late arrivals slid in. Straining to see through the smo"e ha!e that hung over the audience bringing visibility down to practically nil, Sean e3perienced a sudden leap of hope. 0is heart began to pound li"e a tom$tom. Surely the figure on the far left of the group was :andora. /etter still, none of the others with her 5 if it "as her 5 was tall enough to be the big blond boyfriend. If it was her. Other than yelling at the stage manager to put the house lights up, Sean had no way of "nowing for sure. (ll he could do was get through the rest of this bloody set. ,han" goodness he only had a few more minutes to go. ,han" goodness, too, she didn t "now how long he d spent waiting in his car to tal" to her the other wee", Sean reali!ed with a shudder of relief. 'f she d spotted him lur"ing li"e a prat outside ,he Moon and Si3pence, his street cred would have gone crashing straight through the pavement. /ut none of that mattered now, because :andora was here. 't had been her, arriving with the same group of friends halfway through his act. (ll he had to do now was ma"e his way over, casually greet her and carry on where he had left off. Oh, and this time not splatter her from head to toe with

blood. 2ownstairs a cloc" chimed three. Sean lay on his bac" in bed, tuc"ed one hand beneath his head and ga!ed out through the semi$drawn white curtains at an almost full moon. ,he s"y was blac" and dotted with stars. Somewhere, outside, a cat yowled. Sean, who had never felt more wide awa"e in his life, wondered if he could slide out of bed without disturbing :andora. ,he evening had gone li"e a dream9 he could still hardly believe it had happened. When :andora had seemed so pleased to see him after the show he had got %uite carried away and whis"ed her off for a ludicrously e3pensive dinner at Caviar Kaspiar. 'n a soft, *ade green sil" shirt and a wonderfully demure blac" bias$cut s"irt she had loo"ed both classy and infinitely desirable. 't was all Sean could do to "eep his hands off her in the restaurant. 4o mention had been made of a boyfriend, past or present, but he didn t care about that either. (t least she was here with him now. .ou re different tonight, :andora said finally, over coffee. ' don t get it. 0ow can you be so different) What can ' say) Sean grinned. (bsence made the heart grow fonder. #or a second she pressed the bac" of her boiling$hot coffee spoon against his wrist. Come on, ' m interested. Sean hadn t been able to resist telling her. . .ou d ta"en your dress off, he said simply. .ou sat there in ,he /lue +oose, wrapped up in that damn raincoat, and all the time your dress was in your handbag. :andora loo"ed ama!ed. ,hen she smiled. So) .ou were na"ed under that coat, Sean e3plained. (nd you didn t even tell me. 0e shoo" his head, lost in

admiration all over again. ' thought that was *ust so . . . cool . . 4ot completely na"ed. :andora s tone was matter$of$fact. Well, you "now@ ' was wearing my (erte3 vest tuc"ed into big woolly "nic"ers. Careful. Sean found himself grinning uncontrollably. 0e touched her fingers, outstretched on the snowy tablecloth. ' thin" ' could be falling in love with you. 2o you believe in love at second sight) /etter wait , :andora warned him, until you ve seen me in my "nic"ers and (erte3 vest. 't was no good9 he wasn t going to be able to get bac" to sleep, at least not until he d had a glass of water. :eeling bac" the duvet in slow motion, he slithered out of bed. ( blue towelling robe of :andora s hung from a hoo" on the door. Sean, who didn t fancy wandering round a strange house na"ed, put it on. 0e didn t mean to pry. 'n coming downstairs, it certainly hadn t been his intention to snoop around. 't was only natural, however, that once he d helped himself to a glass of ice$cold water he should wander around the sitting room admiring :andora s taste in paintings, running his fingers idly across her C2 collection and chec"ing out the boo"s in her boo"case. 't wasn t nosiness, merely healthy curiosity, Sean reasoned. When you d *ust been to bed for the first time with a girl you li"ed a lot, you "a ted to discover more about her. (ll he was doing was pic"ing up a few clues, learning that she was a fan of ,om Sharpe, (retha #ran"lin, 'mpressionist art and Scrabble. ,he photographs were tuc"ed casually behind a pin"

porcelain candlestic" on the crowded mantelpiece. ,a"ing care not to disturb the fragile$loo"ing stem vase to the left of it and a saucer of iridescent marbles on the right, Sean scissored two fingers together and slid the photos away from the wall. ,here were only three, together with a hastily scribbled note; :andora, *ust had to send you these. What a great day 5 we must do it again soon1 8ove, Wendy. Sean ga!ed intently down at the photographs, two of which featured :andora and the blond boyfriend horsing around together at the side of an a!ure swimming$pool. 'n the first she was tipping a buc"et of water over him. 'n the second he was about to tip her head$first into the pool. ,he third picture, presumably ta"en by ,ar!an himself, showed :andora sitting with her legs dangling in the water, flan"ed on either side by a frec"led, ginger$haired girl and a man who loo"ed li"e 7ichard Whiteley. ,hey were all laughing up at the camera, evidently en*oying the sunshine and each other s company. :andora, in particular, wearing the smallest bron!e bi"ini Sean had ever seen, loo"ed as if she were having the time of her life. #lipping bac" almost obsessively to the other two photos, he studied the handsome, tanned face of the blond hul" with the all$(merican physi%ue and gleaming teeth. (nger welled up in him9 anger and a sense of rivalry. Shoc"ed, Sean reali!ed he was *ealous. When he heard the crea" of an upstairs floorboard moments later he *umped a mile, almost dropping the photographs into the empty grate. 0e only *ust had time to stuff them bac" behind the porcelain candlestic" before the sitting$room door opened.

0ere you are. :andora smiled slightly. ' thought you d done a moonlight flit. She loo"ed relieved to see him, which Sean felt to be a good sign. 4ormally an effortless liar, he stood with his bac" to the fireplace and watched his hand sha"ing as he raised his half$ empty glass to her. ' was thirsty9 couldn t sleep. <m, ' see you li"e ,om Sharpe. ' ve read all his boo"s too. ,om Sharpe ma"es me laugh out loud on the tube, said :andora. 2eeply embarrassing. 'f you can t sleep, how about a cup of tea) Sean wasn t in the mood for tea. ( fresh wave of *ealousy swept over him as he wondered whether the big blond guy in the photos was better in bed than he was. :utting down his water glass, he crossed the room and "issed :andora very slowly on the mouth. When her arms slid around his nec" and he felt her warm, scented body begin to respond, he murmured, ' ve got a much better idea. /ut :andora was smothering giggles against his shoulder. She was sha"ing all over, so helpless with laughter he practically had to hold her up. What) Sean demanded, his suspicions instantly aroused. 0e only li"ed people to laugh when he d said something funny. What if she was actually ma"ing fun of him) :andora wiped her streaming eyes, hiccuped twice and tried valiantly to control herself. ' m sorry, ' m sorry. .ou re being so macho and seductive. She ga!ed apologetically up at him, but her lip was trembling. 8aughter threatened to spill out once more. ' *ust can t cope with being seduced by a man in a blue towelling dressing gown with daisies all over it and a hard$ on.

Chapter 9
,en days after their first meeting at the Cameron Club, &ac" spotted 'mogen again. #or some time he surreptitiously watched her pant her way through the last stretch of a strenuous aerobics routine. 'mogen, on the other sidc of the glass, pretended she hadn t spotted him. When the class was over she emerged, pin" and glistening in a blac" leotard and rainbow$striped leg$warmers, with a russet towel slung around her shoulders. &ac" found himself ac"nowledging her with a brief nod and a smile. ,he ne3t moment he heard himself say, -,his time you definitely loo" as if you could use a drin". What ll it be) .es, yes, thought 'mogen triumphantly. She had been wondering how long it would ta"e him to ma"e the first vital move. ,hese happily married types, as she "new only too well, could drive you wild with impatience. Sometimes it too" them wee"s *ust to pluc" up enough courage to thi ( adulterous thoughts . . . (nd what a wic"ed waste of time that was. Smiling, 'mogen mentally congratulated &ac" Mandeville. ,en days was neither too "een nor too slow. (s far as she was concerned, ten days was *ust about perfect. &ac" "new what he was doing but was powerless to stop. ,he magnetic attraction spar"ing between 'mogen and himself was so intense he hadn t the will to resist. 't went, too, against all his long and vigorously held principles 5 but then, nothing li"e this had ever happened to him before. ,he only way &ac" had been able to *ustify the effect this could have on his marriage was by telling himself that for the

past ten days he had been far nicer than usual to live with. Whether it was out of sheer guilt or because *ust thin"ing about 'mogen ,rent made him feel bctter, he didn t "now. 't *ust wor"ed. Cass had even remar"ed on the fact herself. ' hate to say this, but people are beginning to raise their eyebrows in our direction. (s she spo"e, 'mogen drained her glass of orange *uice and glanced up at the cloc". 't was nearly one and she was ravenous. 'f she didn t eat soon she would pass out. &ac" read her mind. 0e also had a deadline to meet on the wee"ly column he wrote for the +aily Herald. Missing the deadline somehow seemed less important than missing out on another hour with 'mogen. ,here s a little 'talian place on Cardew Street, he said rapidly. 4o one goes there 5 it s practically empty at lunchtime. Why don t ' go on ahead and order while you shower and change) ,hat way they could be seen leaving the club separately. #or a novice in the field, &ac" felt he wasn t doing too badly at all. 'mogen, who "new better, didn t have the heart to tell him the double$bluff was far and away the more effective ploy. 8unch at a crowded restaurant where you werc bound to bump into heaps of people you "new was so much more sensible than running the ris" of being caught hiding out in an empty one. Still, she was touched by this demonstration of &ac" s lac" of e3perience in such matters. She was further amused, upon reaching 8a ,raviata forty minutes later, to see that he had chosen to ignore the half$do!en or so free par"ing spaces directly outside the restaurant. 'nstead, his car was on a meter round the corner ne3t to a tatty$loo"ing boo"shop.

&ac" was pretending to study the menu when she pushed the door open. 'mogen s heart contracted with lust at the sight of him. 0e was forty and so ridiculously good$loo"ing it almost too" her breath away. 'n that pale pin" polo shirt and those faded *eans, with his tanned, finely muscled arms resting on the table before him, the idea that he could be the father of grown$up children seemed ludicrous. /y mutual agreement they stuc" to mineral water. 'mogen ordered tagliatelle with articho"es, &ac" chose spaghetti carbonara and found he couldn t eat it. 0is appetite had gone, possibly for ever. 0e watched and dran" the iced :ellegrino as 'mogen, now changed into a purple shirt and short white s"irt, did enough eating for the two of them. Sorry, 'mogen said at last, not sorry at all. ' always eat when ' m nervous. ' never can. &ac", his dar" eyes intent, touched her hand. ,hey were the only customers in the pretty, blue and white dining room. ,here was no longer any point maintaining the pretence. (nd there s no need to be nervous anyway. One should only be nervous about things one doesn t want to happen. 'mogen, hopelessly e3cited, tried to loo" demure. What about the things that shouldn t happen) (s far as &ac" was concerned, it was already too late. #ate had ta"en over. 0e shrugged. Sometimes they *ust do. ,his was seriously erotic stuff. 'mogen wondered if this was how people felt when they matched si3 numbers on the lottery. 't was the silliest situation, too, she reali!ed; here they both were, ac"nowledging that they were on the brin" of an affair 5and nothing physical had even happened yet. ,hey hadn t even "issed.

' want to "iss you. +oodness, she was getting %uite emotional. 0er voice caught in her throat. 4odding to show how much she meant it, 'mogen tried again. ' do. So do '. ( smile flic"ered across &ac" s face. 0is eyes darted in the direction of the chef and the waiter hunched over espressos and glasses of Strega at the far end of the restaurant. /ut his was a television face and there were some ris"s only a madman would ta"e. 0e couldn t afford to "iss 'mogen here. She "new he was right, but that didn t stop it being frustrating. 0ad courting couples in the old days really endured years of desperate waiting until they were decently married) ,oo much anticipation, 'mogen thought, surely couldn t be good for you. She barely "new how she was going to survive the afternoon. 't s two thirty. &ac" loo"ed at his watch and tried to care about his fast$approaching deadline. (ll he really wanted 'mogen to do was suggest going bac" to her place. More disappointment was in store. We haven t organi!ed ourselves very well, have we) She gave him a rueful smile. ' m interviewing some (rab princess in /elgravia at three. 'f ' d "nown this was going to happen today, ' could have unfi3ed it. Oh9 &ac" . . . She clutched his hand and concentrated on not loo"ing too gleeful. ' still can t believe this is happening. ' "eep thin"ing about Cass. Showing a bit of concern for the wronged wife was always a good move. 4obody li"ed an out$and$out bitch. (nd you thin" ' haven t) What Cass docsn t "now can t hurt her. &ac" shoo" his head. <noriginal maybe, but it was what he "ept telling himself. She mustn t find out, that s all.

:lenty of men led full and happy lives, successfully maintaining both marriage and mistress. &ac" "new of several who did *ust that, men whose wives remained blissfully unaware of the situation for years on end. Why shouldn t that happen to him) Some men, on the other hand, got found out in no time at all. 't was as much as &ac" could do, as they left the restaurant, not to slide his fingers beneath the red$gold tumble of 'mogen s hair and caress the vulnerable nape of her nec". ,he urge to touch her was almost irresistible. So deep in thought was he, trying to wor" out when they could sec each other again, that he didn t even register the gaggle of schoolgirls spilling out of the boo"shop onto the dusty pavement ahead. ,hose spindly little legs were oddly familiar, 'mogen reali!ed. With her *ournalist s eye, she noticed such details. 4ow who was it she "new with spindly legs and a funny 2'. haircut)

Chapter 10
<m ... isn t that your daughter) &ac" barely had time to groan before Sophie, with almost telepathic timing, spun round. 2ad1 Sophie 0eavens. 'mogen reminded herself that this wasn t funny. Oh, but please ... how could such a smart man loo" so ama,i gly guilty) Sophie, meanwhile, was struggling to recall where she had seen the woman at her father s side before. 'mogen ,rent, Hi! maga!ine, 'mogen prompted. 7emember me, the one not wearing stoc"ings and suspenders) Of course. Sophie s face cleared. -,he one 2ad was

incredibly rude to at his party. 4ot incredibly rude. &ac" was still loo"ing shell$shoc"ed. .es you were. 'mogen turned bac" to Sophie. 0e was a pig, wasn t he) ' can still hardly believe he s spea"ing to me now. 2on t tell me he s agreed to do an interview. ,his time Sophie s tone was one of fran" disbelief. 4ot for Hi! 0e might be a pig, said 'mogen cheerfully, but he hasn t sprouted wings. 4othing that dramatic, ' m afraid. We *ust bumped into each other at the Cameron Club. 0e apologi!ed for being awful the other wee", ' nearly passed out with the shoc" . . . and we decided to seal the truce with a %uic" spaghetti at 8a ,raviata. /eside her, &ac" stiffened. 't clearly hadn t occurred to him that they must both ree" of garlic. 0e s such a novice, 'mogen thought fondly. /ut Sophie was in too much of a hurry to catch up with the rest of her friends to be that interested. Shifting her boo"shop bargain @ *each -ourself S"ahili . from one hand to the other, she merely gave her father an approving nod. +ood. Mum ll be pleased, anyway. Mum wouldn t if she "new what was really going on, thought 'mogen. She tried to feel ashamed of herself, and failed. Cass was sunbathing out on the terrace when &ac" arrived home. (s he had watched 'mogen from a distance earlier, so he now stood in the cool sanctuary of the living room, studying his wife and wondering *ust what it was that created se3ual attraction. 0e also wondered why, after so many years of almost indecently happy marriage, the attraction to 'mogen should have struc" him li"e this out of the blue. 't wasn t

something he d gone loo"ing for, nor something he had particularly wanted to happen @ e3cept that now, since it had happened, he wanted it furiously, more than anything else in the world. 't wasn t even as if he had one of those wives who had let herself go. With some men @ some women too, of coursc @ you saw the appalling state of their respective spouses and felt they positively deserved a bit on the side to cheer themselves up. /ut Cass never had let herself go. Who, in all fairness, could as" for more) (t thirty$nine, she possessed the "ind of body many twenty$year$olds would envy. 4o stretch mar"s, no cellulite. 0er stomach didn t sag, she wa3ed her legs regularly and always smelled gorgeous. She had an innate sense of style, too9 whatever she wore loo"ed good. 4ow, with her blond hair glinting in the sunlight as it spilled over the bac" of the dar"$blue sun$lounger, and with her golden breasts spilling out of a grcen bi"ini, she loo"ed utterly delectable. On a scale of one to tcn Cass rated a nine, because the heavenly (udrey 0epburn had been &ac" s one and only ten. /ut even as he now found himself in the grip of this new and overwhelming infatuation, he had to admit 'mogen ,rent was no nine. ,he red hair was gorgeous, the fa"e tan less so. She was undoubtedly good$loo"ing and her figurc was fine, but stand her ne3t to Cass and as" an impartial audience who was the more attractive and 5 no %uestion about it 5 Cass would win. &ac" hated himself for even thin"ing anything so crass. 0e remembered the words of that famously faithful actor, :aul 4ewman; why go out for a hamburger when you have stea" at home) ,he trouble was, after twenty$three years of non$stop stea", wouldn t a yo e find themselves yearning to try a burger, *ust for a change) <gh, that was crass too. 0e

watched Cass wriggle into a sitting position, ad*ust her sunglasses and pic" up a buff folder of the notes and letters she needed to go through for tomorrow morning s programme. 7eminded 5 as if he needed reminding 5 of his own fast$approaching deadline, &ac" stepped out of the shadowy sitting room onto the sun$drenched terrace. 2arling. Cass lifted her face for a "iss. ' thought ' heard the car *ust now. 't s so hot out here . . . you couldn t do my bac" and shoulders) +lad of the e3cuse to stand behind her, &ac" began slowly massaging (mbre Solaire into her smooth, sun$warmed s"in. .ou ll never guess who ' too" out to lunch today. ,om Cruise, Clinton . . . ) :addington /ear, Madonna, /ill

.our friend 'mogen ,rent. Cass s mouth dropped open in astonishment. 63pecting him to say &o"e , she swivelled half round on the lounger. 7eally) 7eally really. &ac" carried on massaging the oil into her shoulders with slow, deliberate stro"es. My +od, ' thin" ' m going to faint. ,hat s what 'mogen said. She sends her love, by the way. /ut how@ She s *ust *oined the Cameron Club. We bumped into each other at the bar and ' remembered how angry you were with me after the party, so ' thought ' d better apologi!e. ,hat s when she nearly passed out with the shoc", &ac" continued drily. (nyway, we chatted for a bit. When she mentioned how hungry she was, ' did the decent thing and too" her out for some pasta. So that s it, we ve made up. Screwing the top bac" onto the (mbre Solaire bottle, he

wiped his hands on a nearby towel. She s not so bad, ' suppose. We got on fairly well. Oh, and 'mogen says if you ever fancy a spot of torture, she d love the company. She does the advanced aerobics class, run by Susie the Sadist. ' said there was no way in the world you d go to that. ' might. Cass, ama!ed and delighted by the news of &ac" and 'mogen s reconciliation, too" off her dar" glasses to ma"e sure it really was true. /ut you hate aerobics. 't was &ac" s turn to be ta"en abac". ' "now, but these things are always more fun if you re with a friend. ' wouldn t mind if ' "new 'mogen was going to be there. /esides, Cass prodded her brown midriff, ' should start doing something before it s too late. (ll the girls in the office go to "eep$fit classes and Cleo "eeps nagging me too. ' am pushing forty, after all. She frowned. (lthough ' m not sure ' could handle an advanced class. 's 'mogen ama!ingly fit) ' wouldn t want to show myself up. .ou wouldn t show yourself up. &ac" s tone was curt. 0is guilty imagination, wor"ing overtime, had con*ured up once more the mental image of Cass and 'mogen standing ne3t to each other, being *udged by an audience of club regulars through the glass partition that separated the aerobics studio from the bar. 7eally) Cass loo"ed pleased. 'n that case, ' might give it a go.

Chapter 11
Setting up and chec"ing out Colin Matheson had proved ridiculously easy. (ll Cleo had needed to do was enlist the

help of a friend, Miranda, who had wandered into the bar where Colin was drin"ing and had promptly found herself being chatted up. 0e hadn t so much ta"en the bait as gu!!led it whole. (nd he had clearly had plenty of practice, Miranda had reported bac". Meeting other girls and being unfaithful to 8inda was all in a day s wor" for him. 0e probably regarded it as no more than a harmless pastime, li"e cric"et. Miranda had ta"en enormous pleasure in turning his offer down. 2elighted with the success of her plan, Cleo nevertheless felt her courage begin to slip away at the prospect of having to actually brea" the news to poor 8inda. Colin might be pond$life and a creep of the first order but 8inda s life had revolved around him for the last three and a half years. 'n the event, when they met up again in a little wine bar *ust off /er"eley S%uare, 8inda did the dirty wor" for her. 0e went for it, didn t he) She too" a deep, despairing drag of her cigarette. 0er huge violet eyes drooped at the corners. 't s OK, you can say it. ' m not going to slit my wrists. Cleo had to remind herself she was doing 8inda the favour of her life. ' m so sorry. ,he words came tumbling out. .ou said he always stopped off for a couple of drin"s at ?ampires when he finished wor". ' sent Miranda along, because you said he li"ed brunettes9 all she had to do was stand ne3t to him at the bar and drop her purse. Colin helped her pic" up the money, started chatting, introduced himself . . . and that was it. ,wo drin"s later he was inviting her to dinner at San 8oren!o. When Miranda as"ed if he was involved with anyone, he told her he d *ust bro"en up with a girlfriend and

was en*oying being single again. Cleo shoo" her head in disgust. +od, why are me such devious shits) ,he famous violet eyes now filled with shimmering tears. ' ll have to cancel the wedding. Oh, this is horrid. What if ' never meet anyone nice again) ' ll end up a dried$up, miserable old spinster. /o0ody will want me. 8oo", if he chatted up Miranda in three seconds flat, it means he s done it before and he ll do it again, for ever and ever amen. /ut it s up to you, said Cleo more gently. 'f you really want to marry him, go ahead. 4o. ' "now you re right. /etter to get out now. ,ears were dripping steadily down 8inda s long, elegant nose. ,he young (ustralian barman tried hard to loo" as if he hadn t noticed. (nd you won t end up a spinster anyway, Cleo reassured her. .ou ll find someone heaps nicer in no time at all. 8oo" at you, who "ould t want to snap you up and give you the "ind of future you deserve) 8inda sniffed and rummaged in her bag for more tissues, dumping the ball of soggy used ones in the already overflowing ashtray. ' saw your brother on some Channel D programme the other night. She dabbed her eyes, sniffed again and sat bac" with a sigh. 0e s awfully good$loo"ing, isn t he) Cleo beamed. -,a"es after his gorgeous sister. (nd he seems so nice, too. ( flic"er of hope showed in 8inda s red$rimmed but still spectacular eyes. ' mean, ' don t mean *ust yet of course, she said shyly, but ' wouldn t mind being introduced to him in a couple of months time. :oor 8inda, that was all she needed. Cleo reali!ed with alarm she had to act fast. 4o. .ou re my friend and ' couldn t do it to you. ,his

time she spo"e as firmly as she "new how. Sean might be fun to have as a brother but he gets through more women than you ve had cold salads. 0e s a tart, darling. Where bastards are concerned he s the biggest one of all. Sean wasn t having the best evening of his life. 0e didn t "now what was wrong and, having loo"ed forward to this evening for over a fortnight now, the sense of disappointment was crushing. 't was pissing him off no end too. ,he last couple of wee"s had been cra!y. 4o sooner had he finally got together with :andora than his agent had come up with a five$day trip to Scotland where he was boo"ed to appear on three different ,? shows. 'mmediately after this, he had been boo"ed to fly down to the Channel 'slands for a couple of live gigs. /ac" in 8ondon, between shows at Comedy 'nc. and interviews for the national press, he barely had time to do more than change his shirt. When he had finally managed to wangle a free thirty$ si3 hours, repeatedly punching out :andora s number had got him nothing more rewarding than the endless, infuriating purr of an unanswered phone. ' swapped shifts with one of the girls and too" a couple of days off, :andora had told him last night when he d finally managed to get hold of her. ' went to stay with friends in /ath. /rilliant. Sorry. She had sounded amused. 'sn t that allowed) ' wanted to see you. Sean heaved a sigh, trying without much success not to sound irritable. .ou don t reali!e how hard ' had to wor" to ma"e that free time. Well, how was ' to "now you d 0e free) 4o need to get stroppy, said :andora.

,here had been a slight but definite edge to her voice. 'mpressed despite his annoyance that she wasn t another simpering yes$girl 5 he had "nown as much already, but it made a refreshing change from the groupies who floc"ed to Comedy 'nc. 5 Sean bro"e into a smile. OK. ' ve missed you, that s all. So how about tonight) ' m wor"ing. (fter wor". ' ll pic" you up. 0e decided to be magnanimous. Which would you prefer, dinner or a club) :andora hesitated for a moment. #inally she said, Could we *ust go bac" to my place) <m . . . ' ll coo". Something was definitely going on. (s soon as he had pic"ed her up from ,he Moon and Si3pence Sean sensed a difference in :andora, yet he was unable to put his finger on what it might be. 't wasn t %uite nervousness, but she was undoubtedly less rela3ed than before. ,hen, bac" at her house, she had handed him a bottle of Cabernet and a glass the si!e of a grapefruit. We can eat in ten minutes. Why don t you wait in the living room while ' get everything onto plates) ,he photographs had disappeared from the mantelpiece. Sean wondered if it meant she didn t want him to see them, or that the relationship was now over. 0e still wanted to "now why :andora was so on edge. Surely she wasn t about to tell him their own relationship was over, almost before it had begun) /ut that made no sense either9 she could have told him as much over the phone. (nd why, Sean reminded himself, would she not want to see him again anyway) ,his is stupid. :ushing open the "itchen door, he announced the fact to :andora s bac" as she stood at the stove stirring prawns and chun"s of pineapple into a pan of bubbling Creole sauce. Why don t you turn that off) 8et s

forget dinner and *ust go upstairs to bed. :andora was wearing a slim$fitting, scarlet cotton dress, high$heeled red and gold leather sandals and nail polish to match. Sean, deciding she really did have the most irresistible shoulders he d ever seen, moved up behind her and slid his arms around her waist. Kissing each perfect collar$bone in turn, he murmured, Maybe that s what we need to rela3 us. +et us used to each other again. .ou "now something) .ou smell absolutely gorgeous . . ' d li"e to do that. :andora switched off the gas burners and put a lid over the saucepan of almost$coo"ed rice. She twisted round to face him, her big eyes serious. /ut we have to tal". She too" a deep breath. ' m really sorry about this, but ' m afraid ' m pregnant. 2amn. Sean s ga!e slid automatically downwards. She didn t loo" pregnant. So that was that, he thought. ,he party was over. +reat. Oh. ' see. 4o wonder she hadn t seemed her usual rela3ed self. 0e smiled, to show he was sympathetic to the problem. Shame. :andora s mouth was slightly open. #inally, after staring up at him for several seconds, she said, What) Classic case of bad timing, ' suppose. Sean shrugged. &ust when we were getting on so well, too. What? Confused by this reaction, Sean too" a step bac". 8oo", obviously ' m disappointed. 0e spo"e in ultra$ reasonable tones. /ut what on earth else ca ' say) &ust how e3cited do you seriously e3pect me to get about the fact that you re having some other blo"e s baby) (nother ominously prolonged silence, then; 't isn t some other blo"e s baby. :andora glanced up at the "itchen cloc",

whose tic"ing seemed to have grown ine3plicably louder. 't s yours. Oh come on. #or a bi!arre moment, Sean wanted to laugh. ,his was cra!y, more than cra!y .. . ' m sorry. 't is. /ut we only . . . did it . . . a fortnight ago1 .ou can t possibly pin this on me1 :andora s e3pression changed. 0er eyes seemed to dar"en. ' m not pinning this on you, she replied evenly. ' m stating a fact. ,wo days ago my period didn t happen. ' m always pretty regular. ' did the test this morning and it was positive. 't s come as a shoc" to me too, you "now. ' m sorry, but it s definitely you. Sean was by this time feeling sic". 0e didn t believe her for a second, and the idea that she was doing her damnedest to ma"e sure he too" the rap only fuelled his anger. 2id she ta"e him for a complete mug) 0ad she decided that because he was becoming well "nown and earning cash to match, he could be relied on to for" out huge sums in hush money, maybe even child support) #or +od s sa"e, did he loo( stupid) Oh dear, said :andora drily when he didn t reply. ,his is going well. ,his is one bloody lousy tric". Sean s eyes narrowed. #or all he "new she could be a professional blac"mailer. ' used condoms, in case you d forgotten. ' "now. (nd one of them obviously failed the medical. :andora was doing a good *ob of loo"ing outraged. (t least she hadn t attempted the floods$of$tears routine, Sean thought. 'f there was one thing he couldn t stand it was that. 0ow can you be so sure it s mine)

/ecause you re the only man ' ve slept with in the last year. (nger was beginning to creep into her voice. 8oo", ' "now this isn t the "ind of evening you had in mind, but why on earth would ' tell you this if it wasn t true) (re you always so trusting) Sean couldn t believe this was happening to him. 0e wished he could be bac" at the club, drin"ing with 2anny and chatting up blondes 5 safe, giggly blondes, who were on the pill and who wanted nothing more from him than the opportunity to boast to their friends about who they d spent an evening with. Why should ' trust you) ,his all seems ama!ingly convenient to me. Sean lowered his voice to add e3tra emphasis. ( great opportunity to ma"e the best of a bad *ob. .ou could be lying, he went on, privately convinced of it. .ou could have been seeing someone else and recently have bro"en up with him. 4ow you find out you re pregnant, you "now damn well he won t want anything to do with it so you decide to bestow the honour on me instead because at least you "now ' can afford to do something about it. /ut@ 7ight, let me put it this way, Sean continued smoothly. ' ( o" you ve been seeing someone else. ' ve seen the two of you together . . . ' ve seen photographs of the two of you together . . . bloody great blond chap, ring any bells) So as far as ' m concerned you can leave me out of this. 7un bac" to that 'ncredible 0ul" of yours and see if he won t marry you or@ ,0W(444++ went the frying pan against the side of Sean s head. /loody hell, that really hurt. +et out, :andora yelled as he staggered sideways against

the fridge, "noc"ing a mesh bag of oranges with his elbow. One by one the oranges rolled off the fridge and bowled along the blac"$and$white tiled floor. +et out now before ' hit you again. .ou re disgusting and ' hate you, she hissed, visibly sha"ing with rage. .ou told me you loved me and now you re calling me a liar1 0ow dare you say that to me)

Chapter 12
't was lovely to see 'mogen again and lovelier still, Cass decided, that &ac" had managed to overcome his initial mistrust of her. 4ot that they were ever li"ely to become bosom pals 5on the couple of occasions all three of them had met up at the Cameron Club &ac" had adopted the "ind of polite$but$distant manner more usually encountered between off$duty doctor and hypochondriac patient 5 but at least &ac" was no longer downright, blush$ma"ingly rude. Cass thought how nice it would be if only 'mogen had a boyfriend, then she could invite them to dinner. 't was the "ind of entertaining she li"ed best. ,here was someone, 'mogen finally admitted as they rela3ed out on the terrace one afternoon after a particularly muscle$wrenching aerobics class. She stirred her :imm s with a la!y forefinger. We were together for almost two years, until last autumn when he was offered a terrific *ob in 8os (ngeles. ' didn t want to leave Hi! so that was it. She shrugged. -,here hasn t really been anyone else since. .ou put your career first. Cass, who never had, still found it an admirable %uality in a woman, a sign of true inner strength.

' m not that driven. 'mogen s face softened. 'f ' d really loved &ames, ' would have gone with him li"e a shot. ' was scared, ' suppose, of *ac"ing everything in here, moving out to California and reali!ing too late we didn t have a future together anyway. 6ven the most apparently sophisticated career woman, Cass reali!ed, could feel insecure. (nd 'mogen was so nice9 here she was, at the pea" of attractiveness and without a man in her life when she would clearly li"e one. What a dreadful waste. Cass, eager to help, rac"ed her brains, running through all the available men of her ac%uaintance, thin"ing that a spot of gentle matchma"ing wouldn t go amiss. 'mogen stretched and yawned. Where s &ac" today) 2o you "now, ' can t remember. Cass thought for a moment and shoo" her head. 4ope, it s gone. 4othing enthralling, anyway9 either the ,? studios or #leet Street. ' ll find out when he gets home tonight. She smiled. ' "now ' ve said this before, but ' m so glad you two are friends now. 't ma"es such a difference. 0is bar" s worse than his bite, 'mogen said easily. She smiled. Once you get to "now him, &ac" s all right. 'mogen s mews flat, with its sugar$almond pin" e3terior, white window$bo3es and pictures%ue wooden shutters, was surprisingly sparse inside. 4ot what you re used to, she said, instinctively on the defensive even though &ac" hadn t uttered a word. She li"ed her flat but it wasn t the be$all and end$all of her e3istence. Simple, efficient lines, modern furniture and good %uality abstract prints suited 'mogen9 they were easy to live with and no trouble to "eep clean. Compared with what &ac" was used to, however 5 the vast, sunny, cluttered$but glamorous 0ampstead family home he

shared with Cass 5 it suddenly seemed cool, impersonal and oddly masculine. (lthough what her choice in wallpaper had to do with anything was scarcely the issue. 'mogen dropped her blue *ac"et over the bac" of a polished beechwood chair. ,here s wine in the fridge, if you d li"e some. ,here was a well$chilled bottle of /ollinger as well, but she didn t say so. 't sounded too corny for words. 0e was here, which was all that really mattered. 't was happening. (t last. /etter not, said &ac". 'f ' have one glass ' may not be able to stop, and Cass thin"s ' m at the office. ' don t want to roll home legless. 'mogen didn t want him to roll home at all. Wee"s of planning and breathless anticipation had led up to this, they had three heavenly hours alone together and already &ac" was tal"ing about getting bac" to Cass. ,urning to face him, 'mogen slid her slender, frec"led arms around his waist. ' thin" we ve wasted enough time admiring my flat. ' d much rather admire your body. <p until this afternoon, their relationship had classified only as a flirtation. Scarily aware that he was about to ta"e that final, irrevocable step, reali!ing that the strength of his feelings meant he couldn t ot ta"e it, &ac" cupped 'mogen s pale, %uivering face in his hands and slowly "issed her mouth. 0is arousal was almost instantaneous. 't was going to be so strange, ma"ing love for the first time in over twenty years to someone who felt and smelled and reacted differently from Cass. 0e only prayed he wouldn t disgrace himself, leaving 'mogen to wail, Was that it) (s if reading his mind, she murmured, ' m scared too, you

"now. ' thin" you d better ta"e me to your bedroom. &ac" half smiled. ' m too old to do this "ind of thing on the floor. 0e didn t want to run the ris" of going home with carpet burns, either. ,hat , 'mogen sighed much later, was seriously, seriously good. Maybe she would open the /ollinger now anyway, to celebrate. She couldn t help wondering whether &ac" too" as much trouble with Cass, or if all those years of familiarity had ta"en their toll. Maybe the longer the marriage, the shorter the act until you were both too ancient to do it anyway. &ac", lying beside her, ris"ed a surreptitious glance at his watch. 't wasn t yet time to leave, he "new that9 there was *ust that overwhelming compulsion to "eep double$chec"ing. 0ow, he wondered, was it possible to feel so happy and so rac"ed with guilt at the same time) 2on t get up. 0e put out his arm to stop 'mogen sliding out of bed. Spea"ing of serious. ,his is, isn t it) ' bloody hope so1 She raised her eyebrows in moc" outrage. ' d hate to find out you re only here because you had a bet with your friends at the club. &ac" pinched her wrist. .ou could have been doing that. ' m not completely naive, you "now. ' may not have done anything about it before, but ' have been approached by the bed$a$celeb brigade before now. ' ve never wanted to go to bed with anyone more, said 'mogen. /ut ' wish you weren t a celeb. (s far as ' m concerned, all it does is ma"e things a million times more difficult. She had indirectly answered his %uestion, although he d

"nown the reply already. What had happened this afternoon wasn t simply a matter of satisfying mutual curiosity. ,his was no casual, short$term affair. ,he prospect of being found out 5of hurting and maybe even losing Cass 5 was too horrible to contemplate, but at the same time &ac" "new he was powerless to stop what had begun. ,hey would *ust have to be ultra$careful, he decided, that was all. #ate was already lending a hand, having supplied a door which led from the bac" of 'mogen s drive$in garage up to the flat above. ,his meant he would be able to enter and leave the flat without being spied on by nosy neighbours. ,hey might not be able to go out and about much but at least they had a safe house. Other people in his situation managed it anyway9 loo" how often you heard about some respectable married media personality or politician suddenly announcing that he had been involved with another woman for the past si3 or seven years. 'f they can do it, &ac" decided, comforted by the thought, so can '. ,he ,uesday$morning problems phone$in on the Cass Mandeville show was a big ratings$puller, one of the highlights of the wee". Cass, discovered all those years ago by ,erry /rannigan, had made an e%ually happy discovery of her own. 0auling big, bosomy &enny 2uran out of the radio station s dingy post room and into the studio had been one of the most inspired moves of her life. &enny, a natural problem$solver, was never stuc" for an answer. 0er brash, no$nonsense, go$for$it attitude contrasted perfectly with Cass s gentle, more laid$bac" style. ,heir differing senses of humour complemented each other. &ewish, in her late twenties and an inveterate collector of boyfriends 5most of them wildly unsuitable 5 &enny "new

everything there was to "now about the singles scene. When listeners rang in with more family$orientated complaints concerning interfering in$laws, boring husbands and nerve$ rac"ing "ids, they turned instinctively to Cass. /etween them, no problem ever went unanswered. ,ogether they were a resounding hit. 't s my best friend, you see. Marianne from Coventry was on the line sounding agitated. She thin"s she s married to the most wonderful man in the world. ,he thing is, ' found out last wee" he s been seeing another woman and ' don t "now what to do about it. 4othing, &enny replied promptly. .ou may be mista"en. #orget it. :ut it out of your mind. Oh please, how can you say that) Cass protested. ' can t 0elieve you said that1 What about her poor friend if it s true) ,his was how they operated, as a double act arguing the pros and cons of each situation as it presented itself. Cass wasn t putting it on, either. She had automatically assumed &enny would belong to the string$the$bastard$up$by$ his$gonads brigade. (h, but ' m spea"ing from personal e3perience. &enny wiggled her e3pressive eyebrows at Cass. 1itter personal e3perience, too1 ' was in e3actly the same situation as Marianne . . . and since my friend had once said she d want to "now if it happened to her, ' told her. Well, it turned out she didn t want to "now after all. She called me a spiteful bitch and said she never wanted to spea" to me again. (nd that was it, the end of a beautiful friendship. She stayed with her lying rat of a husband and never forgave me. ,a"e it from me, Marianne, &enny firmly concluded, "eep this one to yourself. 'f you tell her, she won t than" you for it. (s you said *ust now, as far as your friend s concerned, she s married to Mr Wonderful. 'f her illusions end up being shattered . . .

well, then you can offer endless comfort. 'n the meantime, don t breathe a word. Cass, still astonished, said, .es, but not all women are li"e that1 ' imagine most of them would "a t to be told by a sympathetic friend if they were being cheated on. ' "now ' certainly would. Well, aren t we the helpful ones) &enny put in cheerily. ,hey were only forty seconds away from the news at midday9 it was time to wrap up the call. Maybe some others of you out there have opinions about this. Cass prepared to slot in a *ingle. :lease, ring in and tell us what you thin" Marianne should do. We ll be bac" after the news and weather, so get dialling. We want your views . . +rinning across at &enny, she added, . . . especially if you agree with me. She s only being this brave , &enny countered, because she "nows she d never have to deal with this "ind of bombshell herself. ?ote for me, everyone out there, because this time ' m definitely right1

Chapter 13
(lmost a fortnight had passed since Sean had been hit by his own personal bombshell, in which time he had neither seen nor heard from :andora. 8i"e an ominous$loo"ing envelope from the 'nland 7evenue, however, not opening it because it probably contained an outrageous ta3 demand wasn t going to ma"e the problem go away. Once again :andora was occupying virtually his every wa"ing thought, only this time he wasn t en*oying it one

bit. She had lied to him, denying the e3istence of anyone else in her life, but he was still uncomfortably aware that his behaviour had been atrocious. 'f what she d told him about the baby was true, he would feel terrible . . . almost as terrible as :andora was probably feeling now. (nd there was, of course, still that sliver of a chance that it might actually be true. Sean, never having given the matter much thought before now, had sidled into /oots the Chemist, bought a pregnancy testing "it and discovered upon reading the instructions that it was indeed possible to get a positive result as %uic"ly as :andora had claimed. 6ach time it occurred to Sean that he might really be responsible for the mishap he was sei!ed with shame. One night he even dreamt he was holding his own baby. #inally, unable to live with the guilt any longer, he rang :andora at home. 0i, it s me. 0is heart began to race when she pic"ed up the phone. <m . . . how are you) :andora, as he supposed she had every right to be, sounded cautious in the e3treme. #ine, than"s. Still ) :regnant) Oh yes, still that. Sean s palms were sweating. 0e wiped his free hand on the side of his *eans. (t least she hadn t slammed down the receiver. 8oo", maybe we should tal". 0e spo"e hesitantly. ,he sound of :andora s cool voice still had an unnerving effect on him . . . he *ust wished this cra!y baby thing hadn t happened. <nder different circumstances they could have had such a great time together. +o ahead, said :andora, ' m listening.

4ot on the phone. Can ' come round) Sean consulted his watch. ' can be there by five. OK. She didn t sound e3actly thrilled. 't won t ta"e long, will it) ' have to be at wor" by si3. (ll Sean wanted to do was get matters straightened out, as much for his own peace of mind as anything else. When he arrived on :andora s doorstep forty minutes later he certainly wasn t e3pecting the door to be opened by the big blond boyfriend who had been the cause of all the trouble in the first place. 0e was big, too, even taller and wider close up than Scan remembered. #or a hideous second he wondered if :andora had set him up for this. Was he about to be pounded to a pulp) Were all his teeth going to end up clattering down his throat) Would he ever live to tell a *o"e again) /ut his erstwhile rival, much to Sean s confusion, was grinning broadly at him. 0i, you must be Sean. Come on in. :andora s upstairs, but she ll be down any second. ' m &oel, her brother. 0e glanced at his watch and grabbed a tennis rac%uet from the hall table behind Sean. (nd ' m late. Sorry, have to go. 4ice to meet you, anyway 5 maybe see you again some time . . 4e3t moment the door had slammed shut behind him. Sean, who had instinctively winced as the tennis rac"et whistled within inches of his left ear, too" several seconds to ma"e sense of what he had *ust heard. :andora appeared at the top of the stairs, wearing a pale grey ,$shirt and combats. ,hat e3pression on your face, she observed. 'nteresting. ' ta"e it the penny has *ust dropped)

0e s your brother, Sean replied stupidly. 0e felt %uite numb. 7eally) ' mean, he really is your 0rother? Well, half$brother. Mum married twice. She s white, :andora e3plained. So was &oel s father. My dad was blac". ,errific. Sean stared at her in e3asperation. -,han"s a lot. .ou could have mentioned this, you "now. When ' said ' d seen you with some big blond guy you could have told me . . Slowly, one step at a time, :andora came down the stairs. Oh) Would it have made a difference) Of course it ma"es a fuc"ing difference1 Sean shouted bac" at her. What was she doing, being deliberately obtuse) Well, ' m afraid ' don t see it that way. 8oo" at it from my point of view, :andora said calmly. .ou spied on me a d you rummaged through my personal possessions. .ou refused to believe for one second that you could be the father of this baby, you called me a liar and a cheat and you made it perfectly plain that all ' d been to you was a bit of a challenge, an amusing diversion . . . a . . . a . (s Sean watched, her comple3ion turned greeny$brown. With a groan of resignation :andora spun round and bolted bac" upstairs. Concerned that she was on the verge of passing out, he raced up after her. +o away, :andora moaned between retches, her head over the toilet bowl and her right hand blindly casting around for the loo roll. 2on t stare. 'f you want to do something useful, go down and ma"e a cup of tea. (ppalled by the sight of her vulnerable nec" and heaving shoulders, Sean leaned across, unravelled the roll of (ndre3 and pressed a great wodge into her hand. What is it)

Ooohh, wailed :andora. Morning sic"ness, you moron @ /ut . . . but it s twenty past five. ,ell that to the baby. Sean, ' mean it. +et out of here. 0e was hopelessly confused. 0is whole life was in the process of being turned upside down. :andora was still trying to argue with him and all he wanted to do was hug her. 0e didn t even care that she was being sic". /ut since it clearly bothered :andora, he retreated. When she staggered downstairs ten minutes later, pale and subdued and ree"ing of toothpaste, Sean handed her a cup of hot sweet tea and a Mc?itie s digestive. #or the first time that afternoon, having sipped the tea, :andora smiled. ' don t ta"e sugar. 0e "new so little about her. 0ere, have mine. Sean did a swap. (nd eat your biscuit. What are you all of a sudden, 2r Kildare) &ust do it. Shall ' phone wor" and tell them you won t be in tonight) 'f ' don t wor", ' don t get paid. :andora shoo" her head. 't s OK, ' ll be fine. 8oo", ' came here today because there were things we needed to sort out. Sean s eyes softened. ,he urge to reach out and touch her was overwhelming but he still didn t %uite dare. So far we ve got more sorted out than ' d bargained for, but there are still a couple of %uestions ' have to as". ' m not getting rid of it, if that s what you re dying to "now. :andora laced her fingers around the teacup. ' m sorry, ' can t do that 2on t say sorry. Sean s tone was sharp, covering up

the guilt he felt at ever having considered such an option himself. Something else occurred to him. .ou haven t told your brother yet. ' m still getting used to the idea myself. :andora loo"ed apologetic. 0e thin"s ' ve gone down with a stomach bug. ' have to say, he isn t going to be thrilled when he does find out. 2on t worry about it. /etween us we ll manage. :andora s eyebrows lifted. 0e had changed his tune. .ou trust me now) .ou don t still thin" ' m lying) ' trust you. ,his time Sean too" her hand, gently massaging the slender, ringless fingers. 0e wanted to say, ' love you, but sensed it wouldn t go down too well. .ou don t "now me, said :andora sadly. .ou don t even "now if ' ta"e sugar in my tea. (nd we re having a baby. ' never lie, by the way. 0er huge brown eyes fi3ed on his. 'f you ever do get to "now me, you ll find that out for yourself. ' thin" ' already have. Sean smiled, leaned across the "itchen table and "issed her soft, tea$and$toothpaste$scented mouth. .ou never lie. .ou *ust don t say the things other people might automatically say. .ou mean li"e; Oh no, ' thin" ' m going to be sic" again) 6ven as she spo"e, :andora was turning green once more. Covering her mouth, she bolted bac" towards the stairs. OK, ' m saying it now . .

Chapter 14
Wee"s of glorious weather ended with a crash of thunder the following ,uesday. 'mogen, who had *ust spent a tiresome couple of hours interviewing an actor with a brain the si!e of an acorn, was driving across town to her ne3t

appointment. Switching on the radio, she tuned in to the Cass Mandeville show *ust as the first raindrops pelted li"e lead against the windscreen. ,he s"y was dar" grey, e3actly the same shade as the (gnes / sil" shirt she was wearing, which &ac" had bought her last wee". ( 2ire Straits album trac" was currently being played on the radio. 'mogen briefly amused herself ma"ing the swish of the windscreen wipers fit in with the beat of the music then turned her attention to tomorrow night s dinner party. 't had been Cass s idea, of course, and &ac" hadn t been able to ob*ect. ,wo of the couples were long$standing friends of theirs, which was fair enough, and the third couple were 'mogen and the newly appointed producer of Kingdom 7adio s brea"fast show. 0is name was 7oly /rent and he was 'mogen s blind date for the evening, much to her own amusement and &ac" s disgust. Cass, the only one who had so far met him, had high hopes for the outcome. 0e s lovely, she enthused to &ac". -,erribly good$loo"ing and the weeniest bit shy. ' thin" he s *ust what 'mogen needs. 2on t you dare flirt with him, &ac" had growled only half$ *o"ingly when he and 'mogen had met up at her flat yesterday for a lunchtime session. ' ll have to a bit, she d protested, laughing. ,o "eep up appearances. (nd it s what Cass so desperately wants. ,he least ' can do is seem grateful. 2ire Straits came to an end. 'mogen turned up the volume as the rain, drumming on the roof of the car, almost drowned out Cass s voice. Oh good, it was the problems phone$ in. 'mogen turned the sound up another notch. Other people s problems were always a good laugh. . . and now we have /eryl on the line, calling from 'slington. /eryl, ' understand you have something to add to

last wee" s debate about what to do if you find out your best friend s husband is having an affair. Or wife, &enny chimed in, before a thousand outraged husbands could *am the switchboards complaining that they had been cheated on too. .es, hello. /eryl from 'slington sounded middle$aged and breathless. ,he thing is, Cass, ' listened to what you said 5that the wife has a right to "now if her husband s carrying on 5and ' ve given the matter a lot of thought this past wee". ( *uggernaut trundled past 'mogen, sending up a wave of scummy water. ,he driver of the lorry leered down at her, evidently approving of her short red s"irt and shapely fa"e$ tanned thighs. 4eanderthal oi", thought 'mogen. .es, go on, prompted Cass. 7ight, well, so ' m ringing to tell you that your husband s been up to no good. /eryl speeded up. (nd ' "now ' m not your best friend but ' felt you should "now about it anyway, because ' ve watched him, see, snea"ing into this girl s house in my road . . . 0e wears dar" glasses and slides down in the passenger seat of her car 5 it s a bright green M7E 5 but it s definitely him, and why would he need to act li"e that if he isn t doing something he s not supposed to do) 4ever trust a redhead, that s what ' say, Cass. Sly$boots, that s what they are. My husband, he left me for a redhead@ Oh dear, we appear to have lost /eryl. 7eaching across a fro!en Cass, &enny cut off the call and pushed another record onto the turntable. /ris"ly she said, Coming up after this from Sting, we have a call about transvestism. 8et s hope it s not from my boyfriend, eh) (s Sting flooded the studio, mournfully singing 'f

' 6ver 8ose My #aith 'n .ou , Cass reali!ed she simply couldn t move. 4o matter how hard she tried, nothing happened. ,hrough the plate$glass wall of the studio she saw interested faces peering in. So this was how it felt to be a mon"ey on show at the !oo. Come on, Cass, you should have cut her off straight away, &enny chided. ,hat s what the nutter$button s for1 (ny longer and she d probably have told you she was the one having an affair with &ac". 4o she wouldn t. Clutching the edge of the des", wondering if she was about to faint, Cass stumbled clumsily to her feet. ' m sorry, ' ve got to get out of here. /ut, Cass@ ,he transvestite was still waiting on line three. (larmed, &enny signalled through the glass to the producer for help. .ou can t go1 What that stupid woman said isn t true. ' mean, of all people, what on earth would your &ac" want with a redhead) ' don t "now, said Cass numbly as her whole world caved in. /ut it seems he does. (nd ' "now who she is. Shit, shit, 'mogen gasped, so stunned she almost smashed into the car in front. Who the bloody hell was /eryl and whatever had possessed her to blab li"e that on live radio) What a way to be outed. Moments later, ridiculously, 'mogen found herself cringing at a pelican crossing as pedestrians swarmed in both directions in front of the car. 0ow many redheads drove around 8ondon in an emerald$green M7E) Were people li"ely to start pointing her out) 2amn, she hadn t wanted this to happen. &ac" was going to blow a gas"et when he found out. Cass "new she hadn t helped matters, bolting from the

studio li"e that. 'f she could have somehow forced herself to remain calm, dismiss /eryl from 'slington as a mere nuisance caller, perhaps ma"e a *o"e or two about it and cheerfully carry on with the show, there was a good chance they would have got away with it. 2oing a lightning bun", leaving &enny to cope alone and having to be helped into a ta3i because there was no way in the world she could drive, had pretty much given the game away. Word had spread li"e wildfire. /y the time Cass arrived home, the phone was already ringing off the hoo". ( flustered Mrs /edford handed her a list of messages telling her the /e"s of the World, the Su , the )ail and the 2eople had already called, sounding most insistent. ,hey wanted me to give them a %uote, Mrs /edford wailed, confused by all the frantic goings$on. ' didn t "now what to say so ' *ust put the phone down. Whatever s happening, Cass) ' didn t "now nothing about no divorce. Cass, functioning on auto$pilot, shoo" her head and switched the "ettle on without putting any water in. 't s OK, there isn t going to be a divorce. ,he press have got hold of some silly story from heaven$"nows$where. 8oo", why don t you ta"e the rest of the day off) .ou go home. ' ll deal with everything here. /low the house to "ingdom come, more li"e. <nplugging the "ettle, Mrs /edford filled it with water at the sin". 0er own panic gave way to pity as she reali!ed how shoc"ed and vulnerable Cass was. 't s all right, duc". ' ll stay. /ut Cass shoo" her head. ' ll ta"e the phone off the hoo". &ac" will be home soon. 7eally, ' m OK.

Chapter 15
&ac", who had been at the newspaper offices when the first whispers of the story began to filter through, "new he had to get home right away. Cursing, he drove at top speed past a gaggle of photographers at the gate. 2ownstairs, there was no sign of anyone and the phone was off the hoo". 0e found Cass upstairs in bed. So that s it, Cass said %uietly, when she saw the e3pression on his face. 't was an absolute giveaway. .ou complete bastard. She was shivering, despite the fact that the temperature in the room was near$tropical. ,he duvet was pulled around her and she was wearing a thic" sweater. &ac", dripping wet from the rain which had soa"ed through his shirt, ran a hand over his face and wondered how on earth to begin. 0ow the hell could he e3plain to Cass something he didn t even understand himself) (nd why, he thought wearily, were some men able to carry on discreet affairs for years on end while he was found out in a matter of wee"s) (t least come downstairs. 0e didn t mean to sound irritable but it came out that way. Cass, who had been hoping against hope that maybe it was all some ghastly mista"e, felt something inside her die. ,his is the most hideous day of my life, she snapped. 'f ' want to stay in bed ' bloody will. ,here had been no time for rehearsals. +a!ing through the long window at the storm still raging outside, &ac" reali!ed he didn t have a clue what to say. 8oo", ' m sorry. Cass couldn t believe this. Sorry was what you said when you forgot to put sugar in someone s coffee, when you

accidentally stepped on their toe, when you phoned them in the middle of 3oro atio Street. 4eeding to lash out, she pic"ed up the nearest flingable ob*ect and hurled it at &ac" s face. #rustratingly, it was only a bo3 of rose$patterned tissues. ,his isn t going to help. Catching them, &ac" placed the bo3 on the walnut bureau behind him. 8oo", can we at least try and sort this out sensibly) Sensibly) Sensibly1 4ow ' "now how it feels to want to shoot someone1 (t the top of her voice, Cass yelled, /elieve me, if ' had a gun right now ' d do it1 .ou ve been having an affair with 'mogen ,rent, &ac". 2o you seriously e4pect me to be sensible about this) $ Wearily, &ac" shoo" his head. OK, but please don t get hysterical. ,hese things happen, Cass. (ll the time. .ou ve said yourself, everyone seems to be doing it these days@ /ut not us. Cass stared at him, hollow$eyed. 0e didn t even sound li"e the &ac" she "new 5 or thought she "new. (nd now he was actually *ustifying his behaviour li"e any caught$out eight$year$old by saying everyone else did it. 4ot us, &ac". 4ot me, anyway. ,he shivering became more violent9 Cass wondered if she would ever feel warm again. ,hen she wondered if she would ever feel normal again. So how long has it been going on) ,he interview with Hi! was it all your idea) 2id the two of you set the whole thing up) (t least now he could be honest. ,he endless lying had been a drain on &ac", unused as he was to ever spea"ing anything but the truth. 0e sat down on the edge of the bed and saw Cass flinch away. Of course not. ' wouldn t do that. 0e sounded faintly aggrieved that she should thin" so. 'f you hadn t invited her here to do the interview in the first place, none of this would have happened. ' didn t even "a t it to happen@

/ut not hard enough, obviously. Cass s voice began to rise. 'f you don t want something, &ac", you say no. 't s as simple as that. 4ow that he was sitting down, &ac" was able to see their *oint reflections in the dressing$table mirror; Cass, white$ faced and surrounded by duvet, and himself with his hands clasped, his elbows resting on his "nees. ,he mirror effect only served to intensify the feeling that he was watching two actors in a play 5 and not even a particularly original one at that. ,he clichBs he found himself coming out with were shoc"ing but he felt he had no other choice. ' tried saying no. /elieve me, Cass, ' did try. /alls, Cass said bitterly. #or a second she covered her face with trembling hands. +o on then, tell me the truth. Who chased who) &ac" was unable to tell her that 'mogen had been the one who d instigated the relationship. 8oving 'mogen as he did, he felt the need to protect her. Chasing didn t come into it. 0e spo"e %uietly, with a mi3ture of apology and pride. Sometimes these things *ust happen. ,he first time we set eyes on each other . . . well, ' thin" we both *ust knew ' thin" ' need a bigger sic" bag. /ut Cass s eyes, for the first time, had filled with tears. 'f there was one thing she "new she couldn t compete with, it was this "ind of obsessive infatuation. Whether it was love or not only time would truly tell. 0ow, though, after twenty$four years together, could she possibly provide as much novelty and adrenalin$pumping e3citement as someone brand new) ' can hear hammering on the front door, said &ac". 7eporters. ' disconnected the doorbell. 0ow bi!arre, thought Cass, that we can still discuss something as

mundane as a doorbell. ,he tears having safely subsided, she too" a deep breath. So what happens ne3t) (re you moving out) (re we getting divorced) ' thin" ' have a right to "now. Oh my darling, ' m so glad to see you1 ,he press had wasted no time uncovering the identity of &ac" Mandeville s mystery lover. /y nine o cloc" that evening 'mogen s flat was being sta"ed out too. She, li"e &ac", had needed to drive li"e a maniac in order to give the chasing photographers the slip. ,he otherwise deserted ninth floor of a South Kensington multi$storey car par" might lac" the glossy allure of the &rie t !4press or the ,a* Mahal but at this moment in time it seemed to her the most romantic meeting place in the world. 'mogen s fingers stro"ed the bac" of &ac" s nec" as she pressed herself against him. 0er past e3perience with married men was that they "ept their mistresses firmly on the side and never left their wives. 't was why she hadn t even dared to hope that &ac" would ever leave Cass. Some prospects were simply too unli"ely for words. /ut this was different. (nything could happen. ,heir affair was out in the open now and the possibilities were limitless. She had even caught herself earlier this evening doodling 'mogen Mandeville 5 *ust trying the name on for si!e 5 across the phone pad. &ac" was, after all, clearly the marrying "ind. +od, what a day. &ac" was clutching her so tightly her breasts almost popped over the top of her blue$and$green patterned dress. 0is warm breath against her bare shoulder made the little hairs at the top of her spine stand on end. .ou poor thing. 'mogen breathed in the aphrodisiac scent of him. 0as it been bloody) (nd Cass, how s she ta"ing it)

:retty much as you d e3pect. (s"ed me if ' wanted a divorce. ,he hairs at the top of 'mogen s spine rose doubly to attention. Oh) 'mogen too" care not to sound too thrilled. (nd what did you say) &ac" sighed. 't s too soon to say anything. She s in shoc". ' m in shoc", come$to that. Cass hasn t even cried yet, she *ust . . . sha"es. She must hate me. 'mogen tried to feel guilty. She had genuinely li"ed Cass. ,he trouble was she li"ed &ac" more. Well, you aren t e3actly top of her Christmas card list. &ac" gave her an apologetic smile. /ut then you aren t going to be top of %uite a few Christmas card lists. ,his isn t going to be easy for you, sweetheart. 6veryone loves Cass. (s far as they re concerned, she s Snow White@ (nd ' m going to be cast as the Wic"ed Witch. 'mogen had already guessed as much. She had seen it done enough times in the papers before now to "now the routine. ,omorrow she would have to pose for the photographers. 6veryone would compare her with Cass, their beloved golden girl. ,he entire nation would wonder what she had to offer that Cass didn t. She was going to have to dress with care, ma"ing sure she gave no one the opportunity to sneer and as" what the bloody hell &ac" Mandeville thought he was up to. She mustn t loo" li"e a frump, a bimbo, a hoo"er or a bitch. &ac" "issed her. ,he ne3t few wee"s are going to be tough. ' don t care, whispered 'mogen. 't ll be worth it. #or a moment her eyes feverishly scanned his face. 't will be, won t it) .ou aren t going to dump me and pretend we never happened)

2on t be silly. /ending his head, &ac" "issed her again, hard. 0ow can you even as") ' love you too much for that. Sophie, who had been spending the wee" with a schoolfriend in 0emel 0empstead, had finally got to hear what was happening via another friend from school who had spent the evening phoning everyone she "new in order to spread the delicious news. 0orrified, Sophie had begged a lift from her friend s elder brother, arriving home at ten o cloc" to find her mother wandering around the "itchen li"e a !ombie in three sweaters, and her father out. /y the time &ac" returned it was close to midnight. 0is heart san" when he saw Sophie, waiting for him, sitting cross$ legged in the porch. Oh 2ad, whatever s the matter with you) 0er tiny, pi3ieish face beneath the uneven fringe was haunted, the amber porch light only emphasi!ing its pallor. 0ow could you do it) ' m so sorry, sweetheart. &ac" "new the words were inade%uate but what else could he say) ' "now this is rotten for you@ 4ot me, Im all right. Sophie gestured impatiently towards the house. ' meant how could you do it to Mum) .ou re fourteen years old. 0e tried to put his arm around her narrow shoulders but she shrugged it off. Sophie, you can t possibly understand . . She wal"ed past him into the house, her e3pression one of pure disgust. 8isten to you. .ou re the one who s immature. #or +od s sa"e, 2ad, how can you even thin" of getting involved with someone li"e that) 'mogen ,rent is a two$faced bitch.

She is not, &ac" replied icily, and if ' hear you saying any such thing to a yo e outside this house you ll be in big trouble. 2o you hear me, Sophie) (s Cass had done earlier, so Sophie now heard the protectiveness in his voice and reali!ed that nothing she could say would sway his opinion of 'mogen. 0e was in too deep to even listen. Oh, ' hear you all right, Sophie muttered, but you re the one who s wrong.

Chapter 16
,he rest of the wee", for Cass, was a complete nightmare. With the heatwave well and truly bro"en, sheets of rain continued to pelt from an oily grey s"y. ,he only good news, as Sophie pointed out, was the fact that this meant the hordes of photographers still huddled at the gate suffered endless well$ deserved soa"ings. /ut they clearly had no intention of leaving until Cass gave them the pictures they wanted. She couldn t hide for ever and 'mogen had already done her bit. 0ating herself for being so wea"$willed, Cass had nevertheless stared for hours on end at the photographs featured in almost every national paper, wondering over and over again how this could have happened, how she could have been such a fool. #or the photo$call, 'mogen had chosen a demure but wearer$friendly white shirt and a narrow, *ust$above$the$"nee sunflower$yellow s"irt. 0er shoes were low$heeled. 0er red$ gold hair was loosely fastened with combs and the ma"e$ up was very girl$ne3t$door. Only the glittering eyes and se3y, "nowing smile hinted that she wasn t %uite as 2oris 2ay as

she might appear. ,hat, and an altogether more voluptuous snap obtained by a press agency from an old ac%uaintance of 'mogen falling out of a too$small bi"ini as she played an enthusiastic game of volleyball on a Spanish beach. .ou re going in to wor") said &ac" on #riday morning . when Cass had come off the phone to her producer. ,o boost her confidence and go some way towards assuaging his own guilt, he reached across the brea"fast table and touched her hand. 't s OK, we ll face the press together. ( couple of minutes and the worst will be over. Sophie, glancing up from her Coco$:ops, said nothing. Cass stared at &ac" and *er"ed her hand away as if he d *ust bitten it. (nd tell them what) ,hat my husband s a bastard but ' love him so much ' ll stand by him anyway) 4o than"s. She pushed her plate to one side, leaving the toast untouched. 'f they want me, they can have me as ' am. ' m not pretending anything. (nd sod putting on a brave face. &ac", clearly feeling he d done as much as could be e3pected, shrugged and disappeared upstairs. ' ll come out with you, Sophie offered, if you li"e. Cass managed a brief smile. ' thought you d never as". Wor" was as hard to bear as Cass had e3pected but at least it gave her something to do. Sophie, valiantly forgoing a morning at the 4atural 0istory Museum, travelled with her to the studios and said, 8et me go in first, while Cass was still loo"ing for somewhere to par". Cass let her, "nowing she would be warning everyone not to mention what was obviously uppermost in all their minds. /ris", everyday conversation, Cass could handle.

Kind words and sympathy reduced her to *elly. #ar easier all round to pretend it simply hadn t happened. /ut the fear of losing her nerve on$air haunted her li"e a playful ghost. ,wenty minutes into the show Cass saw through the glass partition a vast cellophane$wrapped bou%uet of white, glossy$leaved roses being delivered. ,hey were from a darling old gentleman, a retired widower from 7otherhithe, who wrote to her at least twice a wee". Chin up, my dear, we re all on your side, urged the accompanying note and Cass had to grit her teeth in order not to cry. Worse was to come an hour later as she too" a call from /etty of 6sse3. ,he topic of conversation was the latest Kenneth /ranagh film, supposedly safe enough, but /etty in 6sse3 too" matters into her own hands. . . . and ' "now the girl on the switchboard said ' mustn t mention it, but ' *ust had to let you "now, Cass, that we thin" you re coping wonderfully. ,hat silly, undeserving husband of yours must be star" staring mad if he thin"s@ 2ear me, what a shame, we appear to have lost that call. (s Cass pressed the cut$off button she watched her hand begin to sha"e. ,hrough the glass partition the producer visibly cringed. Cass forced a smile and leaned towards the mi"e. Still, banging on about my private life is *ust about the last thing we need. We ll cheer ourselves up instead with some music, shall we) 0ow about -,hat 2on t 'mpress Me Much- by Shania ,wain) Cass had managed to get through the first day bac" at wor" but that didn t mean it had been easy. ,he early edition of the !ve i g Sta dard carried one of the photographs ta"en that morning. /ac" at home, Cass studied the picture and saw she loo"ed every bit as haunted as she felt, which was only going to ma"e everyone feel sorrier for her than ever. ,he

accompanying feature, entitled, Would you really want to be told if your husband was fooling around) *ust about said it all. (n ama!ing number of women, it appeared, felt it was better not to "now. So many e3tra$marital affairs ran out of steam of their own accord, they argued, why ris" roc"ing the boat) ,oo many wives, discovering what had been going on behind their innocent bac"s, over$reacted. 2ivorce in haste, repent at leisure, warned some raddled old agony aunt who had evidently seen a thousand marriages ruined and appeared to feel it was all the cheated$on wives fault for "ic"ing up a fuss in the first place. What would that dried$up old cow "now about it anyway) Cleo demanded a few days later. Stuc" in Milan on an assignment when the story had first bro"en, Cleo had only *ust arrived home weighed down with duty$free perfume and a vast bottle of Cointreau for Cass. Outraged by her father s behaviour, desperately protective of her mother, she was wading through the mountain of press coverage for the first time, alarming even Cass with the appalling fluidity of her language. 4o point getting your blood pressure up. Cass attempted to ma"e light of the situation. 6veryone has their opinion. (nd my opinion of 4ancy Wibberley is that she s a desperate old spinster with about as much se3 appeal as a wasp. Cleo was furious and with &ac" out of the house she had no one else upon whom to vent her anger. Men were bastards, she "new that, but the brutal discovery that even her own father was one too had "noc"ed her for si3. 't was unthin"able, the ultimate betrayal. (nd as for that double$ crossing tart 'mogen ,rent . . .

Come on, let s open the Cointreau. 't was seven o cloc" on Sunday evening and Cass was more than ready for a drin". When she came bac" into the sitting room carrying two glasses loaded with ice$cubes, Cleo was poring once more over yesterday s )ail. So far there had been no let$up in press interest. 6veryone wanted to "now what would happen ne3t. ,hey aren t the only ones, thought Cass. &ac" had disappeared at lunchtime and she had no idea when or if he would be bac". .et when she had as"ed him this morning if he would be moving out soon he had seemed %uite ta"en abac". Cleo, who was wearing only a midriff$s"imming blac" ,$ shirt and pin" shorts, shivered. ' still can t believe this has happened. 0ow can you be so calm) 2o ' loo" it) Cass tried to smile. ' don t feel calm. .ou re doing a good *ob of hiding it then. 0er mother loo"ed momentarily helpless. /ut what ca ' do) :ublic punch$ups are hardly my scene. ,his is as much your father s home as mine. ' can hardly boot him out into the street. ' could always leave, but why the bloody hell should ', when ' haven t done anything wrong) Oh Mum. Cleo, who had been sprawled across the carpet, "nelt up and gave Cass a hug. (s newspapers crac"led beneath her legs, she saw with satisfaction that one bare "nee was grinding into a front$page photograph of 'mogen ,rent. We ll sort this out somehow. +esturing towards the Sainsbury s carrier$bag bulging with post which Cass had yet to show her, she added, (nd everyone s on your side. ,hat must help. ,he cards and letters had been pouring in by the buc"et$load, to both the house and the radio station. 't was,

Cass felt, li"e being publicly bereaved. ,he outpouring of sympathy, support and sheer goodwill from complete strangers had %uite overwhelmed her. Of course it helped, she "ept telling herself, to "now these people cared so much. /ut their support was, at the same time, becoming something of a burden. 't was all very 2isneyland, Cass felt with a surge of irritation, un"nowingly echoing &ac" s earlier warning to 'mogen. She was Cinderella, &ac" and 'mogen were the <gly Sisters. She was Snow White, 'mogen was the Wic"ed Witch. She was /ambi s mother, &ac" was the big bad hunter with his gun . . . ' m fed up with being the goodie, Cass announced. With a rattle of ice$cubes she finished her Cointreau and nodded at the bottle, holding out her glass for more. 4ot having eaten anything all day, her stomach was now nicely aglow. ' don t want everyone to be on my side. Why should ' be the doormat, the poor little wife they all feel so bloody sorry for) Why can t ' do something about it and get my own bac") ,a"e a lover1 Cleo cried. +oodness, what a strange thing to be saying to one s own mother. /ut Cass shoo" her head. ' couldn t. 4ot *ust li"e that. OK. ,a"e a ravishing man and pretend. Still wouldn t wor". Cass loo"ed despondent. &ac" "nows me too well. 0e wouldn t be fooled for a second. 's that 2ad now) Cleo s head swivelled round as the front door opened. 7eady for confrontation, her pulse began to race. 7ight, ' m going to tell him what ' bloody thin" of him. /ut it wasn t &ac", it was Sophie returning from a geology field trip in 6pping #orest. (s the front door banged shut behind her, the phone in the hall began to ring. ,hat was 2ad. Muddy$booted, she came into the sitting

room less than thirty seconds later. 0e won t be home tonight, he needs time to thin". 0e says sorry. Sophie s face was e3pressionless as she removed her spectacles, wiped the rain off the lenses with her crumpled shirt$tail and loo"ed across at Cass. ' did as" if he wanted to spea" to you, but he was in a hurry to get off the phone. ' bet he couldn t get away %uic" enough. Cleo s voice dripped with scorn. ,ime to thin", indeed. /astard. Cleo. 't s OK, ' have heard the word before. Sophie slumped down onto the sofa ne3t to Cass and pulled off her filthy boots. ' ve got one for a father, remember) (nd ' m sorry to have to say this but ' am sic" to the bac" teeth of hearing about it. 6very single person on my field trip, teachers included, said what a shame it was about the trouble between you and 2ad .. -.our poor mother, it must be dreadful for her.- 6ven batty old Mr Melrose cornered me on the coach on the way bac" to as" me to pass on his very best wishes. <gh. Sophie shuddered at the thought of 6dgar Melrose, who had a totally gross perspiration problem and moss$green teeth.$ .ou re welcome to them. ,hat man ma"es me feel sic". Cass "new she was going to have to do something, the only %uestion was what. Whilst Sophie dran" caffeine$free Co"e and Cleo wolfed down a pac"et of chocolate 0ob4obs, Cass found her glass being refilled again and again with Cointreau. ' m going to have a terrible headache in the morning. (t least you ll be able to sleep. Cleo "new her mother would otherwise spend the night tossing and turning alone in the double bed, torturing herself with thoughts of what &ac" was getting up to with 'mogen. 8ady +raham$Moon, Cass suddenly announced. She

sat up, e3cited. .ou remember, the one who cut the sleeves off all her husband s Savile 7ow suits1 What else was it she did) Cleo half$remembered. 't had happened years ago, but there had been a ton of press coverage at the time. <pon discovering her own husband s infidelity, 8ady Moon had wrec"ed his seriously e3pensive suits, thrown a couple of gallons of white gloss paint over his smart car and .. . +ot it1 Cleo e3claimed. She raided his wine cellar and left hundreds of bottles of vintage claret on people s doorsteps, li"e a cross between a mil"man and #ather Christmas. /rilliant. She grinned at the perfection of the idea. ,hat s what we ll do to 2ad. 63cept we don t have a wine cellar and cutting the arms off Mar"s F Spencer suits doesn t have %uite the same ring, Sophie pointed out. Keen to do something constructive but ever$practical, she went on, (nd you can t copy someone else s revenge anyway. 't lac"s impact. #ive glasses of Cointreau were ma"ing their own "ind of impact on Cass. She was en*oying this9 deciding not to be an ob*ect of sympathy any more and planning a suitable punishment for &ac" was cheering her up no end, but she was feeling decidedly woo!y. She had to blin" twice and concentrate hard on her watch to ma"e out that it was, astonishingly, past midnight. ,hin" ' m going to have to go to bed. She enunciated slowly and carefully so as not to ma"e a mista"e. ,his is naughty, Cleo, you shouldn t have opened that bottle. 2on t either of you dare sell this story to the papers . . 4ight, Mum. Sophie leaned across and "issed Cass s flushed chee". Sleep well. We ll thin" up more ways to teach your father a lesson

tomorrow, Cass promised fondly. 0e s %uite vain, you "now. 0ow about shaving off one of his eyebrows while he s asleep) ,he grandfather cloc" in the hall was stri"ing three as Sophie and Cleo crept past it, their arms full of bags containing everything they needed in order to carry out the necessary revenge. 4ot that there was any need to creep9 upstairs, helped along by the Cointreau, Cass was out for the count. 'f she hadn t stirred when Sophie, up in the loft earlier, had tripped and fallen over a crate of china, she was hardly li"ely to be disturbed by the clic" of the front door. With the car loaded up, Cleo drove and Sophie navigated, consulting her battered ($= with a torch as they made their way through the almost entirely deserted city streets.

Chapter 17
't had been Sophie s idea, spar"ed off by Cass s parting shot, to play on their father s vanity. ,he trouble with the +raham$Moon thing , she had e3plained to Cleo when Cass had gone up to bed, is that it made the woman s husband sound actually %uite fanciable. 'f he wasn t so ancient, of course. (s far as you re concerned, seventeen s ancient. .es, but you "now what ' mean. Sophie shrugged. 0e might be ancient but he wears fab suits, drives a swish car and drin"s bloody good claret. Sounds li"e &ames /ond. Cleo had twiddled her fingers. /eing tal"ed down to by a fourteen$year$old was ama!ingly irritating.

So) So what would seriously wind 2ad up is ma"ing him loo" stupid @ more Mr /ean than /ond @ so that people laugh at him . . ,hey found 'mogen s flat without too much trouble, the only one in the silent, narrow street with empty window$ bo3es and clinical$loo"ing blinds instead of curtains, as Sophie had spotted in one of the photographs in Saturday s !4press. :ar"ing the car at the far end of the street they unloaded everything from the boot and padded noiselessly bac" to their target. 's he here) Sophie whispered. Of course he s here. 2umping the bags on the pavement and propping the stepladder noiselessly up against the garage door, Cleo rolled up the sleeves of her blac" sweatshirt. (t least it wasn t raining. What if we get arrested) Cleo grinned. She had a particular talent for da!!ling policemen which, considering the way she drove, was *ust as well. One glimpse of her big, con"er$brown eyes and apologetic smile was generally enough to soften the heart of the meanest traffic cop. /esides, was what they were doing now so terribly wrong) ,hey can t arrest .us. Confidently, she began to climb the ladder. We re playing a harmless pran" on 2addy, that s all. /ig deal. She won t li"e it. Sophie ga!ed up at the dar"ened windows of 'mogen s flat. So let her sue. Cleo really couldn t care less. +ood luc" to her. Come on, don t stand there li"e a prune . . . pass me up one end of that rope. &ac" wo"e with a start at six thirty. 'mogen, having

thrown bac" the yellow duvet, was out of bed and heading for the window. What s the matter) 4oises outside. She approached the window with caution, duc"ing down to avoid being seen in all her na"ed glory. ' can hear people laughing. Surely not at this time of the morning. 't was meant to be a *o"e but even as he said it &ac" reali!ed with a pang of guilt that someone who definitely wouldn t be laughing this morning was Cass. 0e hadn t even had the guts to spea" to her on the phone last night. /ut he d been desperate9 all he "new was he couldn t carry on much longer li"e this. 0e loved 'mogen. 0e loved Cass too, but the two "inds of love were poles apart. 't was li"e being as"ed to choose between two e3%uisite dishes on a Michelin$starred menu. &ac" wanted both, but that wasn t allowed. (nd this wasn t a menu. 0e had to decide in which direction his whole future lay . . . Shit1 'mogen dropped from her semi$crouched position onto all fours. .an"ing the blinds shut, she scuttled li"e a crab away from the window. ' don t "now what the hell s going on but there have to be fifty photographers outside. /loody Cass must have blabbed that you were staying the night. &ac" felt sic". 4o. Why would she say that) What good would it do her) Well, someone told them. 'mogen "new scorned women didn t always need a good reason. Scorned women had a habit of behaving irrationally. 0er mouth narrowed in annoyance as she tugged an oversi!ed orange ,$shirt over her head. 0er stuffy bosses at Hi! weren t thrilled with her anyway for having walt!ed off with the husband of one of her recent interviewees, feeling that it reflected badly on the image of the

maga!ine and could deter future candidates. ,he prospect of losing her e3tremely well$paid *ob wasn t funny, and it was a possibility that was strengthening by the minute. Why, 'mogen wondered, should there be this many photographers outside her flat at such a +od$awful hour) More to the point, why the hell "ere they all laughing li"e drains) ,he doorbell started shrilling less than ten minutes later. Come on, &ac", we "now you re in there, a gravelly voice shouted through the letter bo3. We aren t leaving so you may as well come out now. ,he voice cac"led with helpless laughter. +et dressed and come and see what s been going on out here while you ve been . . . otherwise occupied. .ou go. 0ow he wished now that he hadn t come here. 'f there was one thing &ac" hated more than being laughed at it was not "nowing why. /ut 'mogen, who didn t have to go to wor" today, put her foot down. 4o. 't s you they want. 2efensively, she began rummaging through the wardrobe. .ou go. ,he moment &ac" opened the front door he was da!!led by a firewor" display of flashbulbs going off. Some of the photographers even cheered9 that haughty, irritable e3pression was perfect. 0e really was ma"ing their day. When &ac" turned, he saw why. 0e guessed at once that Cleo must have been behind it9 this wasn t Cass s style. 4o, it was definitely Cleo who had raided the loft, unearthing *ust about everything an intellectual, image$conscious forty$year$old wouldn t want to be seen. ,wo washing$lines had been rigged up along the front of the flat. :egged to them were all &ac" s old Showaddywaddy, 7ubettes and Osmonds 8:s, along with a pair of flared, raspberry$pin" loons, several flowered shirts with pointy, eight$inch collars, a pair of yellow three$inch platform shoes,

a lime green 2artridge 5amily ,$shirt and a /ay City 7ollers scarf. ,here was also a creased old photograph, ta"en at a party during his university days, of him absolutely plastered, waving a pair of red frilly "nic"ers in one hand and pretending to "iss a bulldog. ( huge banner, slung across the garage, bore the hand$painted message; Sometimes I have o taste . . . ,hey were all &ac" s things, parcelled up and bunged in the attic because Cass could never bear to throw anything away. Completely unfairly, he saw that Cleo had also hung up a bottle of fa"e tanning cream, a huge medallion and a nylon toupee left over from last year s Christmas party, none of which he had ever worn in his life. ,he press, however, didn t "now that. ,hey were still busy using up roll after roll of film and crac"ing *o"es about the pegged$up banana$yellow platform shoes. &ac" wondered if he would ever be allowed to live this down. Come on then, &ac", how about a statement) bawled one of the reporters at the bac". .ou re not denying this stuff s yours, then) 0e grinned at his companions. 4ot even the 2onny Osmond 8:) 0ow about giving us a %uic" blast of -:uppy 8ove-, eh) &ust to remind us how it goes.
Cass, at home later that afternoon, "new she should be wor"ing through the script for tomorrow s show. 'nstead she found he rsel f on her hands and "nee s in t he "it chen, manicall y emptying out and scrubbing clean all the cupboards. Staring into space and endlessly going over and over in her mind the events of the past wee" was doing no good at all9 far better to wear herself out physically and have something to show at the end of it 5 even if it was only surgically sterile cupboards.

,he phone rang *ust as she finished emptying the contents of the larder out onto the "itchen floor. Cass had to tread a careful path through the bags of sugar, rice and pasta in order to answer it. 0ello, it s me. 'mogen.
Oh. Cass wished she hadn t pic"ed the phone up now.

8oo", are you alone) Why) 'mogen sighed. Come on, things are getting out of hand. We need to tal". Cass wondered if the brea"$up, after over twenty years, of a perfectly good marriage counted as one of the things getting out of hand. She had had imaginary conversations in her head with 'mogen over the past few days but she couldn t even begin to imagine how it would feel actually to see her again. 'mogen certainly had plenty of nerve, but then she already "new that. OK. Cass ga!ed at the piles of food on the floor. 0owever had they managed to accumulate seventeen tins of pineapple chun"s) 'f you re alone, ' ll come round now. OK. ' m in a cab at the end of the road, said 'mogen. ' ve *ust chec"ed there s no one at the bottom of your drive, so it s safe. 63traordinary, thought Cass. ,wenty$two tins of chopped tomatoes. She nodded into the phone. OK. ,rue to her word, 'mogen arrived at the bac" door less than a minute later. (s she let her into the "itchen Cass wondered if 'mogen had done it on purpose, not even giving her time to

run a brush through her hair or wash the (*a3 off her hands. Still, at least 'mogen was used to seeing the "itchen in a mess. ' may as well say this. :ulling out a chair, 'mogen sat down and carefully smoothed her blue s"irt over blac"$ stoc"inged thighs. ' am sorry you had to find out. .ou weren t meant to. ' was perfectly happy for the affair to remain a secret. She paused, her fingers brushing against a
thin gold chain around her nec". ' certainly didn t plan any of this, in case you were wondering. 't wasn t supposed to happen. Oh, said Cass with *ust a trace of irony, that s all

right then. ' "now, ' "now. 'mogen sounded impatient. G/ut it has happened, so we do need to sort things out. #or your sa"e as much as ours. Ours, Cass repeated, marvelling at her easy use of the word. .ou mean you and &ac") 'mogen s eyes flic"ered. #or all our sa"es. ,his morning s pantomime, for e3ample. 2id your daughter even stop to thin" of the effect it could have on &ac" s career) 2aughters. ,hey did it together. (nd no, Cass s voice was li"e chipped ice, probably not. 0ow about screwing some young bimbo *ournalist) 2o you thin" that ll do his career the world of good) 'mogen flushed, the *ibe catching her off guard. ' m not a bimbo. (nd ' didn t come here to fight. 4o, *ust gloat, Cass thought bitterly, sitting bac" down amongst the tins of Scottish raspberries and (mbrosia creamed rice so beloved of Sophie. She glanced up at 'mogen, slee" and businessli"e with her hair swept up in a bron!e barrette.

So why did you come here) 't s &ac". ,his isn t easy for him. Cass blin"ed. 's this some "ind of a *o"e) 0e s torn, 'mogen said bluntly. 0e s afraid to leave you because he thin"s you won t be able to cope, but ' m the one he wants to be with. ,his isn t one of those silly flings, Cass. 4either of us wanted it to happen . . . it *ust did. &ac" loved you, but now he loves me more. :ale now, she leaned forward, her eyes alight with passion. (nd if you love &ac" you ll let him go. ,orture him by clinging on, Cass, and you ll only end up ma"ing him ill. ,his was outrageous. More humiliating still, it was coming from a girl Cass had ta"en such an instinctive li"ing to from the start. She had even nagged &ac" to ma"e an effort to be nice to 'mogen when he had ob*ected to her being invited to his party. Maybe &ac" was right, what was happening now own fault.
"as all

her

:op, pop, went the plastic on a bag of /asmati rice as Cass s roughened fingernails san" through. She wanted to hurl something at 'mogen s head but if she threw the rice it would seem li"e a wedding and if she whac"ed her with a tin of tomatoes 'mogen would only bleed everywhere, "eel over unconscious and probably die out of spite. OK, you ve said what you wanted to say. Cass wiped her perspiring palms on the sides of her old 8evis. .ou can leave now. 'mogen stood up. ' really am sorry, she said, but if your marriage had been as good as you thought it was, this could never have happened in the first place. .ou can t only blame me, Cass. ' didn t

"idnap &ac". 0e wanted me as much as ' wanted him. /ut ' m still sorry. ' m really not as horrible as you thin". Oh yes you are, whispered Cass.

Chapter 18
't had been a nightmare of a day for &ac" and the evening was turning out even worse. ,he press were bac" baying at the gate, the phone didn t stop ringing and the Sta dard had him on the front page. /y tomorrow when the rest of the papers followed suit he would be a national laughing$stoc". Cleo and Sophie, meanwhile, were being hailed as heroines and Sean was finding the whole thing too funny for words. ,hat was a researcher for +M,? wanting to "now if you two could do Wednesday, he announced, grinning his head off as he came bac" to the dining table. ' told them you were already doing 6ichard a d 7udy. (s he passed Sophie, he rumpled her short hair. Who d have thought it, eh) Our little Sofe, a celebrity in her own right1 She ll be getting herself a minder ne3t. 7uffle my hair once more, said Sophie e%uably, and ' ll punch you. ,ell whoever it is to go away, &ac" ordered as the phone began ringing again, and for +od s sa"e, leave it off the hoo". What are you doing) he demanded as Cleo, rising to her feet, too" her dinner plate with her. (nswering the phone. Cleo, who was still barely spea"ing to her father, was brus%ue. 't s what you wanted, isn t it) G:ut your plate down. 'f ' leave it here, Sean will pinch all my "ing prawns.

63asperated, &ac" said, 2on t be so bloody childish. 63cuse me, *eered Cleo, you thin" Im the one acting li"e a child) :lease don t. Wearily, Cass tried to stop another fight blowing up. 6ven attempting a normal family dinner was hopeless *ust now. Sean, ne3t to her, had spilled red wine on the tablecloth. Mopping it up with the nearest thing to hand, the !ve i g Sta dard, he pulled out a couple of centre pages and started to laugh. Oh brilliant, they ve got a cartoon here of 2ad interviewing :rince Charles. 2ad s wearing si3 medallions and bloody great platform boots and he s saying to :rince Charles; -/ut don t you worry that people might not ta"e you seriously)- ?ery funny. &ac" glared at Cleo, who was bac" smir"ing in the doorway. .ou ve forgotten your precious plate. ,oo much e3citement. Cleo s e3pression was *ubilant. -,hat was a friend of mine who wor"s for Channel D. She was *ust ringing to say if we want a really good laugh to tune into 7ory /remner ne3t wee". 2uring the course of the evening Cass had developed a thumping headache. <nable to cope with the friction downstairs she made herself a cup of tea, forced down two aspirins and went up to bed. &ac" followed her. 't s only nine o cloc". ' m tired. Cass shoo" her head, barely able to meet his ga!e. ' m so tired of it all. What) &ac" loo"ed alarmed. Cass, who had been in the process of undressing,

reali!ed she didn t want him to see her na"ed. Suddenly, her almost middle$aged body had become something to be ashamed of. (t the same time she hated &ac" for ma"ing her feel that way. Oh, not that "ind of tired. She forced herself to ta"e her *eans off but climbed into bed still wearing the white ,$shirt. Moc"ingly she said, ' m not going to "ill myself, if that s what s bothering you. 'f you want to leave, &ac", it s fine by me. ' m not "eeping you here . . . and we re perfectly capable of managing without you. ,he pain showed in &ac" s dar" eyes. /ut you are "eeping me here, *ust by being here yourself. ' don t want to leave, Cass. ' still love you. So what are you saying) ,hat you ll tell 'mogen it s over, it s all been a terrible mista"e, you re going to stay with me and never have anything to do with her again)
( shadow fell across his face. ' can t . . Oh well then, Cass said evenly, that s easy. Off you go. /ut@ (nd don t forget your toothbrush.

Cass turned away to hide the tears pouring down her face. She hadn t even "nown they were there, they d *ust suddenly started gushing out. (nd the oddest thoughts were going through her mind; if this really was it, the absolute end, she would never see &ac" cleaning his teeth again. She would never hear him sing in the shower again. ,hey would never ever ma"e love together again .. . 't was this last thought, the reali!ation that they had made love for the very last time and she hadn t even "nown

it, that upset Cass most of all. 'f only she d "nown, she would have paid more attention, concentrated properly and made sure she remembered every moment, no matter how insignificant it may have seemed at the time. 2amn, Cass thought as the tears continued to spill down her chee"s, it s not fair, he should have "ar ed me . . . &ac" couldn t bear it. #or all her softness Cass wasn t a crier. ,hese were the first tears he had seen her shed all wee". When he pulled her into his arms she let out a low moan of grief, hiding her wet face against the front of his blue$and white striped shirt. /ut &ac" lifted her chin, forcing her to loo" up at him. ,his was the woman he had loved unwaveringly for twenty$ four years. /ehind her on the bedside table were framed photographs of their three children as babies, children they had created between them and whom he also loved beyond all imagination. 0aving to bear the brunt during the past few days of Cleo s fury and Sophie s %uiet disgust had been seriously getting to &ac". ,he fact that as a family they had always got on so well together only made the current situation that much harder to bear. 0e had hurt them *ust as much as he had hurt Cass and they weren t afraid to let him "now it. 'f ' leave, thought &ac", could ' ever forgive myself, let alone e3pect them to forgive me) What are you doing) Cass gasped, though as her white ,$ shirt was pulled off over her head it became pretty obvious. ' love you. &ac" pushed her gently bac" against the massed pillows. 0aving removed his own shirt and flung it behind him, he "issed Cass as he hadn t "issed her for years. ,heir love$ma"ing was only heightened by the

strength of their emotions. 0elplessly, Cass ra"ed his bac" with her fingernails. (s &ac" s clima3 approached she had to smother his groans against her shoulder so the whole street wouldn t hear. (ll the pent$up hurt and anger of the past wee" was spilled out as passion too" over, blotting out the unimaginable pain. Oh my +od, Cass sighed, her ribcage still heaving, when it was finally over. -,hat was . . . ' don t "now what that was .. . ' can t thin" of the word . . . incredible. &ac", beside her, grinned. 4ow ' see why people brea" up to ma"e up. Cass, now we really need to tal". 0e ran his tongue over dry lips. (re you as thirsty as ' am) 'f ' don t get a drin" . . 8a!ily, Cass nodded. :lease. Orange *uice, splash of tonic, loads of ice. ,wo minutes. Sliding out of bed, &ac" reached for his dar"$blue towelling robe. 0e couldn t resist leaning across the bed and "issing Cass s warm, flushed chee". ,hen, more lingeringly, he found her mouth. Orange *uice, ordered Cass, smiling. /efore ' dehydrate. 2ownstairs, because one meal was never enough, Sophie was ma"ing one of her beloved peanut$ butter$and$honey sandwiches. +lancing up as &ac" came into the "itchen, ta"ing in the e3pression on his face, the towelling robe and tousled dar" hair, she said hopefully, 's this good news)
&ac" smiled. Kids today. Could be, sweetheart. .our mother wants a glass of orange *uice. Sophie winced. ' ve *ust finished it.

/ut all her father did was open the fridge and ta"e out

a bottle of /ollinger instead. 7eaching up to the cupboard for two glasses he said, Maybe this is more appropriate anyway. Oh 2ad, ' m so glad. 't was Sophie s turn to spout helpless tears. (bandoning the sandwich 5 which was as thic" as a dictionary 5 she flung her arms around &ac" s nec" and breathed dreadful peanut$butter fumes all over him. -,his is the best news ever. &ac" "issed the top of her head and patted her bony spine before gently disentangling himself. ' "now, ' "now. Come on now, don t want to "eep your mother waiting. .ou could probably do with an early night yourself, he added mildly. ,o ma"e up for yesterday. Orange *uice, Cass protested when she saw the dar"$ green bottle, beaded with condensation, in his hand. &ac", what on earth do you want to open that for) ' said ' was
thirsty. We can celebrate, can t we) 2ropping the glasses into her lap, feeling as if a great weight had fallen from his shoulders, &ac" began to ease the cor" out with his thumbs. 0e couldn t stop grinning. Cass, it s all over. /ehind us. ' won t see 'mogen again. .ou re my wife and ' love you. We belong together . .

Cass stared at him, unable to believe what she was hearing. .ou mean ' ve "o ? ,he cor" shot out of the bottle with a whoosh, ricocheting off two walls and a light$fitting before landing in one of Cass s strappy high$heeled evening shoes. +lasses, glasses, shouted &ac" as foam cascaded over his hands, but who really cared if the champagne spilled out) 0e

was bac" and that was all that mattered. +od "nows how 'mogen would ta"e it9 he couldn t thin" about that now. 0e would simply have to ma"e her understand. Well, said Cass, than"s, as they say, but no than"s. ,he contents of the bottle, where he must have sha"en it running up the stairs, were still overflowing onto the duvet. &ac" stopped smiling. What) .ou heard. Cass spo"e clearly, all trace of tears gone. .ou wanted to leave, &ac". .ou "now you wanted to, you *ust couldn t bring yourself to ma"e the decision. So ' m doing it for you. ,here you are, see) ' m ma"ing it easy for you. (ll you have to do is pac" your things and go. 't was blissful, watching the e3pression on his face. Such a handsome face, thought Cass, steeling herself to see it through. 0e was only forty, still young, still toe$curlingly attractive. &ac" stared at her. ' ve *ust said, ' don t want to go. ,oo late. ,he duvet was safely tuc"ed up over her breasts. Cass folded her arms as if insulating herself from attac". ' want you to. G/ut why) &ac" was stunned, clearly unable to believe this was happening. ' ve *ust told Sophie@ /etter go and un$tell her, then. #urious that he should have so pointlessly raised Sophie s hopes, Cass felt the heat begin to rise in her chee"s. 0ow bloody dare you, &ac") Without even bothering to as" me first1 0ow bloody patroni!ing can you get) Cass, please@ 4o, she shouted. 4o way. #orget it1 Why should ' forgive you for screwing that little tart) Why should ' be the one to have to spend the ne3t fifty years listening to you blaming me for rui ni ng your l i fe ) &a c ", yo u wa nt her,

you can ha ve her. .ou re forty years old. 2ivorce me, marry 'mogen and when you re ninety you can celebrate your golden wedding anniversary with her. 2on t you see) .ou can start a whole e" life@ Stop this, &ac" hissed, his eyes very dar" against the

sudden pallor of his face. .ou re hysterical. 0ysterical ha$ha or hysterical scream$scream) /itterly, Cass glared bac" at him, her whole body rigid with fury. .ou re the one who s hysterical ha$ha, &ac". .ou re the one everyone s laughing at. What about *ust now) he shouted. We made love . . . didn t that mea anything to you) Of course. Cass was moc"ing him now. 't was so easy to be cruel. &ust what ' wanted, to go out with a bang. ' thought it finished things off nicely.

Chapter 19
Cleo "new she had done the right thing, letting 8inda discover for herself *ust how eager Colin was to be unfaithful to her, but it had still been a depressing e3perience. Were all men, she wondered, as untrustworthy as that) Were they physically incapable of remaining faithful to one woman) When Maisie, her boo"er at the agency, began as"ing tentative %uestions about the way she had gone about catching Colin out, Cleo bac"ed away in despair. Oh Maisie, no. 4ot ,om, ' can t bear it. 4ot ,om. Maisie smothered a giggle. (t forty she was about as far removed from lithe blond Cass as it was possible for a forty$year$old to be, but ,om adored every shapeless grey inch of his beloved wife. 4o, it s my mother s new boyfriend. ' m sure he s up to no good but she s

smitten. 'f you as" me, he s after her money. 0mm. So it s in a good cause. Cleo, perched on the edge of Maisie s des", drummed her heels thoughtfully against the waste$paper bas"et and began to cheer up. What is he, ancient) She d met Maisie s mother, a vivacious si3ty$ something widow, a couple of times and li"ed her a lot. Some "ind of ,erry$,homas bounder with a leer and a wa3ed moustache) +uess again, said Maisie wryly. 0is name s 2amien and he s younger than me.
* * *

2amien Ma3well$0orne, with his e3pensively highlighted hair, overpowering aftershave and boyish crin"le$at$the$ corner eyes was, as far as Cleo was concerned, guilty from the word go. Such suspiciously blue eyes must be the result of tinted contact lenses. (part from anything else, anyone who wore bright red soc"s had to be all bad. 2amien, lounging against one of the blac" marble pillars of the Kellaway wine bar in #ulham, e3actly where Maisie had said he would be, was pitifully easy to pic" up. (ll Cleo needed to do was saunter up to the bar, order herself a lemonade and choose an empty table for two by the window. 0e was over faster than you could say slimeball. .ou re Cleo Mandeville. Cleo widened her eyes and smiled up at him. Of all the dumb statements in all the world, he d had to come out with this one. So ' am. 2amien Ma3well$0orne. ' must say, you are even

more beautiful than your photographs. 0aving ta"en Cleo s hand, he showed no sign of giving it bac". ' m a huge fan of yours, by the way. ,he crin"ly$eyed grin widened. ' m also allergic to the sight of gorgeous girls buying their own drin"s. .ou can t possibly drin" that stuff anyway . . . please, let me get you something decent. Cleo hesitated. Well . Come on. 2amien gave her a complicit smile. 0ow about a glass of chilled Chardonnay) Chardonna y would be gre at . ,ha n" you, Mr Ma3well $ 0 o m e . . o u r e v e r y " i n d . ' m s u p p o s e d t o b e m e e t i n g a girlfriend but ' was half an hour late getting here myself. Cleo glanced at her watch and gave a shrug of resignation. 8oo"s as if ' ve been stood up. 0er loss, 2amien smugly announced. My gain. 8et me tell you, Cleo, anyone who stands you up, male or female, must be off their heads. One Chardonnay coming up. (nd, he added with moc" severity, call me 2amien, please. (nnoyingly, 2amien was having far too good a time greeting everyone he "new who came into the wine bar, and ma"ing sure they noticed who he was with, to say anything wholly incriminating. Cleo, stuc" with him until he did, forced herself not to yawn. Maisie s mother, 0arriet, must really be smitten if she could put up with hearing the same *o"es almost every fifteen minutes. OK, so 2amien was good$loo"ing enough in a 1ay"atch "ind of way, but if 0arriet thought a man li"e him could love her for the maturity of her mind she had to be "idding. 0arriet s last facelift, thought Cleo, had evidently gone to her head. So you ve been divorced for two years. ?aliantly she soldiered on, covering her glass with her hand as 2amien tried to top it up for the fourth time. (ny plans to try again or

was once enough) ,wice, smir"ed 2amien, and that s more than enough. Won t catch me getting trapped again. :lay the field and have some fun, that s my motto. <nless you re volunteering for the *ob . . Cleo smiled and managed not to "ic" his legs from under him. 8ast wee" 2amien had suggested to 0arriet that they might get married. ,he fact that he was having trouble finding financial bac"ing for some new business pro*ect in /altic W ha rf a nd 0arri et ha d inherited
s%uillions from her own beloved late husband had, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with it.

/ut the doors had swung open, giving 2amien yet another heaven$sent opportunity to show her off 0ey, it s the lads. Swivelling round in delight, s%uee!ing Cleo s hand as he waved to attract their attention, he almost "noc"ed a brimming ashtray into her lap. Sorry, sorry. +reat crew, the lads from the rugby club1 0ey boys, my shout .. . c mon, what ll it be) Sweetheart, how about you) (nother Chardonnay) Cleo was really beginning to wish she hadn t come here. 2oing 0arriet a ma*or favour was one thing, but this was horrible. 0er own integrity was being put on the line. What if people were secretly laughing at her) Only the mental image of Maisie, sad$eyed and helpless to do anything herself, "ept her there. Maisie was a darling who had done her endless small favours in the three years they had "nown each other. 0aving come this far, Cleo "new she couldn t let her down now. 6n*oying the momentary breather while 2amien was ostentatiously waving tenners across the bar, Cleo wasn t over*oyed to see one of his rugby$playing

lads loo"ing towards her. With that sunbleached blond hair and impressive body he might loo" OK but Cleo had no illusions. (ny friend of 2amien s was bound to be as awful as he was. Men li"e that always went around in pac"s. 0i. My name s &oel +rant. 'ntroducing himself in a low voice barely audible above the yells and whoops coming from the bar, he smiled briefly at Cleo as he too" 2amien s seat. ' was introduced to your brother a few wee"s ago, coincidentally. 0e s been out a few times with my sister. So that was his big claim to fame. Since Sean must have been out with half the girls in 6ngland in his time, as a boast it lac"ed novelty value. Cleo only prayed he wasn t about to start regaling her with Sean$style *o"es. Warily, because this was what Sean s fans had a boring tendency to do, she said, ' see. /ut all &oel +rant did was move closer and lower his voice further still. 8oo", ' "now we don t "now each other and it probably isn t my place to say this, but ' m not sure getting involved with 2amien is such a wise move. ,a"e it from me, he went on, you could do a hell of a lot better. 8i"e you, you mean, Cleo thought. 't was obvious what he was trying to do. She d been right; 2amien s friends were every bit as charmless as she had imagined. 2isgusted by this one s ability to badmouth someone who was at this very moment buying him a drin", she gave him her coldest stare. (re you always this loyal to your friends) 0e sighed. 8oo", ' m not@ :lease don t, drawled Cleo. She stood up. .ou were right the first time9 what ' do with 2amien is none of your

business. (nd ' d far rather ma"e my own decisions than be told what to do by someone li"e you. 0ey up, what s going on here then) Smir"ing and trailing rugby players in his wa"e, 2amien returned to the table. 0ands off, if you don t mind1 ' saw her first. 2on t worry, she s all yours. With a derisive smile, the blond giant vacated his chair. 'f you as" me, you ma"e a perfect match. 2amien preened. ' thin" so too. Sweetheart) Observing the e3pression on Cleo s face, he touched her arm. 0ey babe, you OK) 0e had called her babe. <gh, ugh. &ust hungry. My fault, ' missed lunch. Cleo "new she was brea"ing one of her own rules, but if she didn t get out of here soon she would e3plode. 0ungry) 4o sweat, we ll finish this drin" and leave. ' "now a terrific little Me3ican@ Cleo gritted her teeth. ' m hungry now. ,errified of losing her, 2amien pushed his untouched drin" to one side. 0ey, no problem, we ll eat now. Sorry, chaps, gotta love you and leave you1 Come on, sweetheart, let s go. ,he man was supposed to as" the woman to dinner. ,hat was the whole point of the e3ercise9 he was meant to ma"e all the running. Cleo, unable to even summon up much of an appetite, reali!ed she d blown the whole thing. She was haunted, too, by the memory of the loo" on the blond giant s face as he had watched her go, a loo" of unremitting disdain. #urious with herself for not being able to put it out of her mind, Cleo gave up on the meal and heaved a sigh.

' "now what you need. 4ot reali!ing he had spilled guacamole down his already hideous pin"$and$ yellow patterned tie, 2amien crin"led his eyes at her and decided to ta"e the plunge. .ou need cheering up. 8oo", a great mate of mine has a villa in :ortugal. ' can use the place whenever ' li"e. 0ow about getting away from it all for a few days) Cleo loo"ed up, her pulse %uic"ening. +etting away) Who with) Me, of course1 0e roared with laughter. Sweetheart, ' mean it, you loo" as if you could do with the brea". 0ow about ne3t wee") Seriously, this chap wouldn t mind. ' "now he s busy here for the ne3t fortnight, 2amien added in confiding tones, so it d *ust be the two of us. 0ow does that sound to you, hmm) (lmost too good to be true, thought Cleo *oyfully. (loud she said, Whereabouts in :ortugal) ,he (lgarve. ( pretty little place near (lbufeira. 6agerly 2amien leaned across the table. :rivate gardens, own pool, maid service . . . hang on, what are you doing) 't s called money. Cleo was pulling tenners out of her purse. My very own. .ou don t have to pay1 Smiling but confused, 2amien tried to push the notes bac" in. ' told you, the villa belongs to a pal . . . it won t cost us a penny. ,his is to pay for my dinner, said Cleo, relieved that at last she could go home. (nd the villa doesn t belong to any pal, it belongs to a very nice lady called 0arriet Coburn who deserves an awful lot better than a two$faced, lying little turd li"e you.

Chapter 20
+od, men really were the pits. #inding herself the following lunch$time with an afternoon free, Cleo planned a cheering$up session of serious spending in South Molton Street. ,hen Sean had the nerve to disrupt even that, phoning her mid$morning and practically begging her to meet him for lunch. ' m doing a charity thing at midday at the club. Meet me there, he said, sounding more subdued than Cleo had heard him sound for years. :lease.

'f he was saying please, it had to be serious. Consoling herself with the thought that at least she would be saving thousands of pounds, Cleo arrived at Comedy 'nc. at one o cloc", *ust as Sean was winding up his act. . . . and for everyone who is thin"ing of giving up fags, he told the audience, there to raise money for a new hospital body scanner, ' d *ust li"e to say it s fuc"ing hell with 4icotinell. /ut try anyway, it s worth it. ,han" you very much, ladies and gentlemen. .ou ve been great. What s this) Cleo moc"ed when he *oined her at the bar five minutes later. Moral lectures on smo"ing from sinful Sean Mandeville) We don t have to leave yet, ' ve *ust ordered drin"s. 4ever mind the drin"s, let s *ust get out of here. Sean, who had her by the arm, was dragging her towards the door. ' need a cigarette. 0e too" her to ,he /lue +oose because Cleo had already warned him that giving up South Molton Street for the sa"e of lunch with a lousy brother meant ma"ing it seriously worth her while. /y the time their first course arrived, Sean was

stubbing out his fourth Marlboro. 8et s hope you manage to raise the money for that scanner, Cleo observed. ,hen, glimpsing the troubled loo" in his dar" eyes, she softened. OK, so something s wrong. What is it) ' ve been seeing this girl . . . well, "ind of. #inding himself unable to eat, Sean buried the %uail breasts beneath a mound of glistening roc"et. -,he thing is, ' was really cra!y about her to begin with. ' thought she was ama!ing. Couldn t stop thin"ing about her. 2ammit, he admitted crossly, ' used to drive past her house in the middle of the night *ust because it made me feel better. /loody hell, sounds li"e love. Cleo was genuinely ama!ed. So you are human after all. Why haven t we met her) Oh . . 0er eyebrows rose another inch as the unthin"able occurred to her. 2on t say she s dumped you1 'f it was sympathy he d been after, Sean reali!ed he d pic"ed the wrong person to tell. Cleo was about as sympathetic as &aws. 4o, he snapped bac", irritated by her obvious amusement. 'f anything, the other way round. She s dumped o me. She, she. 2oes she have a name or do we *ust "now her as mystery woman) Cleo, her own appetite undimmed, tuc"ed greedily into her langoustines. She lic"ed garlic mayonnaise from her fingers. (nd what s the big problem anyway) ' suppose she s married. 4o. :regnant.
Cleo stopped lic"ing her fingers. Oops. (nd her name s :andora, said Sean. 4o bo3 *o"es. So what s going to . . . happen) ,o illustrate her meaning, Cleo nodded in the general direction of Sean s stomach.

/it late for a vasectomy, if that s what you re hinting at. /ut he managed a wan smile. She wants to have the baby.

Cleo thought things through while Sean lit up another cigarette. So you re absolutely cra!y about this ama!ing girl, maybe even in love with her, and now she s pregnant. 's that really so terrible) 'f she was some hideous old dog maybe you should be worried, but@ /ut she isn t so why don t ' do something drastic li"e marry her) Sean had thought of nothing else for the last two wee"s. Cleo, ' m twenty years old. ' m too young to settle down and play happy families. OK, so ' was cra!y about her at first, but you "now what ' m li"e . . . by ne3t wee" ' could have met someone else. ' mean, can you seriously see me doing the goo$ goo bit and pushing a pram) Cleo s eyes glittered. (s if she needed it, here she was being faced with yet another shining e3ample of how completely and utterly shitty the male se3 could be. 2on t be so bloody selfish. (nd ' m still eating. 7eaching across the table, she twea"ed the smouldering cigarette from his fingers and brutally stubbed it out. 0as it even occurred to you that :andora might not be able to see herself pushing a pram either) ,he thing is, Sean, when you sleep with someone yo u t a " e a r i s " a n d i f yo u ge t c a u gh t o u t yo u f a c e t h e conse%uences. (nd don t ma"e out she dumped on you, Cleo went on bitterly. Why do men always blame the women when things go wrong) .ou should have used a condom. ' did, Sean hissed bac". 0e prayed the couple at the ne3t table weren t able to hear every word. ' bloody did, OK) So this isn t my fault.

Cleo trawled the last langoustine through a s e a o f mayonnaise. Should have worn two.
't was hard to tell who was the more surprised when :andora opened the front door. ,he last person in the world she had e3pected to see there was Cleo Mandeville, more glamorous in the flesh than in any of her photos and sic"$ ma"ingly thin in an off$the$shoulder blac" top and pin" flares.

Cleo in turn ga!ed down in ama!ement at the girl who had answered the doorbell, plump in a long loose$ fitting yellow ,$shirt, bare$legged and definitely pregnant. -ou re :andora)
,he baby in :andora s stomach s%uirmed. .es. (nd ' "now who you are.

+ood 8ord, said Cleo, fran" as ever. Sean s told me about you but he didn t mention you were@ /lac") :andora smiled. 't s OK, you can say it. ' already "now. ,hen, warily, she added, 2oes it . . . um, ma"e a huge difference) 2on t be daft. Cleo followed her through to the living room, heaved her shoulder$bag onto the floor and flopped down. 't s *ust typical of Sean, not saying it. 8i"e forgetting to mention someone s bald, or only has one leg. 0e s useless li"e that. 0e doesn t "now ' m here, either. We had lunch earlier and he told me about the baby. She beamed. ' said ' wanted your address to send a congratulations card. Cleo had made herself %uite comfortable on the green$and white striped sofa. Stupidly :andora hoped she wouldn t dislodge the cushions piled up at each corner and catch sight of the frayed bits underneath.

' don t thin" Sean feels congratulations are much in order. :andora tried to sound matter$of$fact about it, to disguise the pain she couldn t help feeling. 0e isn t thrilled about this. (s ' suppose you ve already heard, she added ruefully. ( baby doesn t %uite fit in with his image. 4either, of course, do '. Oh, but . . Smiling at the appalled e3pression on Cleo s e3%uisite face, :andora said, 't s OK, ' don t mean blac". 'f ' were 0alle /erry ' dare say ' d be fine. /ut ' m not, ' m four years older than Sean and a waitress to boot. 0ardly glamorous. 'f ' loved somebody, Cleo declared with passion, ' wouldn t care what they did for a living. 8oo", when Sean started telling me about you he said you were ama!ing. 0e was so besotted he used to drive past this house *ust to feel close to you . . (nd now he s scared silly. :andora nodded, to show she understood and accepted the situation. ' wasn t part of his plan. +irlfricnd and screaming baby not included. 0e is scared, dammit, Cleo admitted with a gusty sigh. (t least you "now. ' m sorry, he s my brother but he can be hopeless. ,hat s why ' had to come here today, to warn you in case you didn t reali!e it already. &ust don t get your hopes up too much. ' won t. 0onestly, men are such weasels. Sha"ing her head in despair, Cleo absent$mindedly helped herself to an apricot from the fruit bowl. 6ven the ones you thin" are all right to begin with. .ou seem to "now how to deal with them, anyway. :andora was smiling. #or a second Cleo thought

she d somehow heard about her recent adventures, chec"ing out the unfaithfulness of men. Wondering how she could possibly "now 5 and praying :andora wasn t about to re%uest trying it out on Sean, who would undoubtedly fail 5 she loo"ed blan". .our father, :andora prompted. Stringing all that stuff up outside 'mogen ,rent s flat. ' thought it was completely brilliant. 2idn t help, though. +loomily, Cleo started popping seedless grapes into her mouth. 0e still moved in with her. :oor Mum s trying to put on such a brave face but she s crumbling inside. : andora nodded. Sean tol d m e. ,hat s why he hasn t mentioned the baby to her. 0e felt she had enough to cope with *ust now. Still, he can t e3pect to "eep you hidden away for ever. Cleo loo"ed cross. She was sure Sean s motives weren t that pure9 he *ust didn t have the guts to go public. Oh hell, now ' ve eaten all your fruit. 8oo", you re really nice. ' ve only "nown you this long and already ' can tell how nice you are. &ust as ' "now you sure as hell deserve better than my useless brother. 't was odd, hearing one of the nation s most lusted$after celebrities being dismissed as useless. (s his sister, :andora supposed, Cleo was immune to the charms which so effectively floored everyone else. ' do love him you "now. :andora spo"e simply, from the heart. ' reali!e this isn t going to be easy but ' love him anyway. ' haven t even told him that. ( lump came to Cleo s throat9 she could so plainly foresee that :andora and Sean were a disaster waiting to happen. (nd :andora would be the one who ended up getting hurt.

,hat s why ' had to come and see you. 2etermined to help, Cleo leaned closer. 8oo", ' really hope everything wor"s out. /ut if it doesn t . . . well, you might not always have Sean s support, but you ll definitely have mine.

Chapter 21
: an do ra h a d b e e n s o dr e a di ng b re a "i n g t h e ne ws of h er predicament to &oel that she had found herself putting it off and off for wee"s. ,his was only possible because he had been away more often than he was home, thus missing out on the worst of the appalling morning sic"ness which, in the first couple of months, actually had her losing weight instead of putting it on.

/ut that, mercifully, was behind her now. 'nstead, :andora found herself shovelling down mountains of buttery, peppery mashed potato and at least five pac"ets of crisps a day. ,he crisps had to be dipped in 0ellmann s mayonnaise which she "ept in a *ar in her handbag @ the craving for them was so all$ consuming it would even wa"e her up in the night @ and the bathroom scales were barely able to "eep up. 0orrified but helpless to prevent it happening @ there simply wasn t a moment in the day when she wasn t ravenous @ :andora watched herself balloon and wondered how on earth &oel could have failed to notice what was going on practically under his nose. /ut that was men for you. (nd the time, :andora decided, had finally come. 'f Sean could confide in his sister, she could tell &oel. 't was either that or go out, buy a cot and let him guess. ,hey were sitting out in the tiny bac" garden en*oying the

early$evening sun. :andora was trying to en*oy it, anyway. Cleo had left two hours earlier and &oel was *ust home from wor". :andora braced herself against the white wrought$iron chair, waiting for the inevitable storm of outrage. &oel might be only three years older than she was but he could be as protective when he wanted as any father. /ut this really wasn t the end of the world. She hadn t murdered anyone, hadn t even run over ne3t door s cat. 'f she made light of the situation maybe &oel would rela3 a bit too. :regnant) 0e stared at :andora. What the hell do you mean, pregnant) .ou "now, the "ind of pregnant where you end up having a baby. She had made a lamb casserole, &oel s favourite, specially to help her through. With lots of mashed potato. /ut you don t@ ' do, actually. 0e loo"ed so stunned she had to smile. 6very now and again. @have a boyfriend, spluttered &oel. .ou don t have a 0oyfrie d. What s going on) 's this some "ind of a *o"e) 'f it s a *o"e, :andora, please tell me now. 4o *o"e. Oddly, having finally said it, she felt %uite calm. (nd ' have been seeing someone, *ust not very often. 0e s been wor"ing a lot, so have you. (nd you have met him, she added with a touch of pride because not everyone, after all, could boast a relationship with one of the ten most desirable men in /ritain. (ccording to a poll in last ,hursday s !4press, anyway. 't s@ &esus, shouted &oel, sitting bolt upright in his chair and going three shades redder. .ou re going to tell me it s Sean Mandeville1 Oh :andora, are you out of your mind) .ou can t get mi3ed up with someone li"e him . . . you

certainly can t get pregnant by him1 Well ' have. :andora s eyes flashed in defiance. -,oo late, it s already happened. So there. &oel closed his eyes. (s far as he was aware, :andora had done nothing more intimate than share a couple of meals with Sean Mandeville. ,wo brief outings and that had been the end of it. She hadn t so much as mentioned him since. (nd now this . . . 2oes he "now) Of course he "nows. (nd) said &oel heavily. (nd he hasn t run off screaming into the sunset, :andora snapped bac". Well, he hadn t. 4ot %uite.
Oh, so ' m invited to the wedding)

2on t be so bloody patroni!ing, shouted :andora. When he wanted to, &oel could be infuriatingly old$ fashioned. Who says ' want to get married) .ou mean if he went down on one "nee and as"ed you, you d refuse) 2on t ma"e me laugh, &oel retorted. .ou ll be as"ing me to believe in fairies ne3t. More gently he went on, :an, don t get upset. ' m thin"ing of you. ,hese "ind of people live their own lives ... they aren t like us. .ou don t "now. .ou met Sean for all of three seconds, :andora accused him. .ou can t only *udge people by what you read in the papers. 0is sister came round to see me this afternoon and she couldn t have been nicer. &oel ga!ed at her in total disbelief. .ou mean Cleo Mandeville) 4ow you really are having me on1 ' met her last night. She s having a thing with 2amien Ma3well$0orne of all people. ,al" about pond$life, he went

on bitterly. -,he man s nothing but a gigolo. ' even tried to warn her off him, more fool me, but she soon put me in my place. .ou re *o"ing. :andora stared at him, dumbfounded. ,he silly bitch thought ' was only doing it because ' wanted to chat her up myself. &oel shoo" his head in disgust. Wrapped herself round Ma3well$0orne and flounced off in a huff. ' mean, please1 She may have the loo"s and the body but there has to be more to life . . . 'magine trying to hold a real conversation with someone li"e that1 'magine , he went on with a shudder, having a relationship with the "ind of girl whose idea of current affairs is whether 8ogue says fur coats are in or out this year. /ig, easy$going &oel seldom lost his temper but he was certainly cross now. :andora, who couldn t remember the last time he d got so overheated, was both ama!ed at Cleo s abysmal taste in men and grateful to her for having so brilliantly diverted &oel s attention from her own sorry state of affairs. Sadly though, not for long. /ut that , he said, is only one more reason why you d have to be out of your mind to get involved with Sean Mandeville. 2on t you see) :eople li"e them *ust aren t@ ,his is silly. 0e wasn t helping. :andora had had enough. ' ve heard of racial pre*udice, but celebrity pre*udice) Come on, &oel. /esides, she added flatly, it s not as if ' m as"ing you whether or not ' should get involved with Sean. ' already am involved. ' m having his child, for heaven s sa"e1 0ow much more involved can ' get)

Chapter 22
Of all the stupid songs to get stuc" in your head, thought Cass, ' have to get &ingle /ells .

6ven more annoyingly, it wasn t going to go away. Kingdom 7adio had adapted and adopted it as this year s Christmas *ingle. Cass, who had heard it a thousand times over the past couple of wee"s, wondered if she was ever going to get it out of her brain. &ingle bells, *ingle bloody bells . . . She hoped every Kingdom listener in the country was as plagued by it as she was. Why should she suffer in silence and alone) Still, only two days to go before Christmas and it would all be over. (s she reached home, driving through the gates at the bottom of the drive, Cass couldn t help remembering those terrible wee"s when the pavement outside had been awash with photographers scrabbling for position every time anyone either came or went, in order to get the best shots. &ac" moving his things out, Cleo losing her temper one morning and yelling at them all to piss off, Sophie loo"ing pale and upset following the departure of her father . . . the press had got it all. (t least that was over now, Cass mused. (s summer had drawn to an end so public interest had gradually waned, the photographers had sloped off and things had got bac" to normal. 63cept it hadn t been normal at all, because &ac" was no longer there. 0e had gone. Shac"ed up with his carrot$headed floo!y. ,hey had even, amongst themselves, ta"en to calling her #loo!e. Cass pretended it helped but it didn t really. She was still completely unable to envisage Christmas 2ay itself without &ac". When she unloc"ed and pushed open the front door, the

first thing she smelled was his aftershave. She breathed in the achingly familiar scent, mingled with pine from the eight$foot tree shimmering in the hallway, and wondered if she was hallucinating. ,here had been no sign of &ac" s car anywhere outside. (ccording to Sophie, he and #loo!e were spending Christmas in :aris. 0e couldn t possibly be here. &ac" was there. 0e hadn t been able to stay away. 4ever a great drin"er, several glasses of Chablis at the office Christmas party earlier that afternoon had wea"ened his resolve, e3erting an almost mystical pull in the direction of 0ampstead. ,he ta3i driver who had brought him here, recogni!ing him at once, had been characteristically up$front. Season of goodwill, eh mate) +onna ma"e it up wiv the missis) Wanna watch out9 good$loo"ers li"e Cass don t ang around for ever, rec"on you oughta snap er bac" up %uic" before someone else does. 't wasn t a %uestion of snapping Cass bac" up9 &ac" had *ust needed to see her again. 0e had needed to see his family, to ma"e sure all the decorations had been put up properly and the tree was standing in its usual place. 6verything, to his relief, was as it should be, from the eclectic assortment of baubles they had collected together over the years to the battered papier mHchB bells made by Cleo in her last year of primary school, festooned with scarlet$and silver ribbons and hung 5 along with a football$si!ed bunch of mistletoe 5 above the "itchen door. (nd although Sean was out, Sophie had been touchingly pleased to see him. 6ven Cleo, *ust bac" from a wee"$long assignment in the Seychelles, and in a more forgiving mood than usual, had teased him for not being as brown as she was and offered him a

microwaved mince pie. &ac", who missed his family desperately, had been more than happy to *ust sit there in the "itchen, catching up on his daughters news, watching Cleo paint her nails red and sign her way through a pile of Christmas cards destined 5 if he "new Cleo 5 never to be posted. Sophie, who had sent all hers off three wee"s ago, was simultaneously wrapping presents, updating him on the amount of conversational Swahili she was now able to spea" and ma"ing tremendous headway through a family$si!ed *ar of Cuality Street. ,he "itchen was warm, the atmosphere friendly, the chatter non$stop. One of Mrs /edford s specialities, stea"$and$"idney casserole, was ba"ing in the oven. Cleo was singing along intermittently with the :hil Spector Christmas tape playing in the bac"ground. When &ac" heard Cass s car draw up outside he felt his pulse brea" into a gallop. (nd here she was at last. (s his wife appeared in the "itchen doorway, her blond hair glittering with rain, &ac" stood up. She was wearing a white angora dress he hadn t seen before. She loo"ed beautiful, even with slightly smudged grey eye shadow and all her lipstic" 5 after a hard day in the studio 5 worn off. 4o need to stand. Cass dumped her coat over the bac" of a chair and nodded gratefully at Sophie who was putting the "ettle on. -,his isn t a *ob interview. She glanced across at him. ' thought you were in #rance, anyway. #lying tonight. &ac" watched her ease her leather boots off and thought of all the hundreds of times he had massaged Cass s tired feet for her. 4ot until eleven. ' thought ' d *ust drop by and see how you all are. :retty much the same as we were four days ago.

,hat was when he had called round to deliver the Christmas presents. 8eaning forward in her chair, Cass gently massaged her own feet. (nd you) She didn t mean to sound stilted, it *ust came out that way. &ac" s une3pected arrival had unsettled Cass, who was spending far more time than was sensible imagining him celebrating Christmas in a fabulous :aris hotel with 'mogen. She hadn t as"ed, but they would undoubtedly be staying somewhere swish, either the +eorges Cin% or the :aris 7it!. When Sean and Cleo had been tiny and she and &ac" had still been terrifyingly poor, they had left the children with her mother and escaped to :aris together for a much$needed wee"end brea". ,heir hotel, in the foggy bac" streets of Montmartre, had been a +auloise$infused fleapit with damp crawling up the walls and a manager permanently out of his mind on :ernod, but it had been one of the most romantic, magical, idyllic wee"ends of her life. So much for romance, Cass thought. She carried on rubbing the soles of her feet. ' ll ma"e it. ,he "ettle had boiled. &ac" rose to his feet once more. -,ea or coffee) Coffee. /etter ma"e yours blac". 7eali!ing he d had one or two lunchtime drin"s too many, she couldn t resist ma"ing the dig. .ou wouldn t want to miss your plane. Cards, Mum. Sophie pushed this morning s arrivals across the table before the bic"ering could escalate into an argument. ,he third one Cass opened was from ,erry /rannigan in 4ew .or"; -,o Cass, &ac" and "ids, he had scrawled across the inside in his hectic handwriting. 0ere s to the best Christmas and happiest 4ew .ear yet1 Much love to you all, ,erry. Our cards must have crossed somewhere over the (tlantic.

Cass had to smile at the cartoon on the front of a depressed radio presenter playing 8onely ,his Christmas . She passed it over to &ac". ' sent his off last wee", telling him you d moved out. ,he phone rang. Cleo answered it. Mum) ,he +aily )ail wants to "now what you d most li"e for Christmas. &ac", who had been studying ,erry s cartoon, glanced up at Cass. #or an instant their eyes met. 0ope flared in &ac" s heart. ,hat s easy, said Cass without a flic"er of emotion. ( divorce. (rriving bac" at the flat an hour later, &ac" was met at the top of the stairs by 'mogen. .ou re late. ' phoned the office and they said you d left ages ago. #or heaven s sa"e, she said crossly, we have to leave for the airport at eight. ' had to see the "ids. &ac" was sober now. Compared with the glittering house in 0ampstead, the flat seemed dreadfully blea". 'mogen, not one of life s Christmas decoration putter$ uppers, was unable to see the point of doing anything at all if they were going to be in :aris anyway. 0er one concession had been to buy a small, severely elegant fa"e tree from 0arrods, hung with seven matte, dar"$blue glass icicles and nine olive$green ones. 'mogen was pac"ed, ready and sipping a gin and tonic. What for) .ou saw them the other day. 't s Christmas. With a weary gesture, &ac" pushed his fingers through his hair. ' wanted to see them again. (nd they re hardly "ids. 'mogen didn t as" whether or not Cass had been there too. She "new these feelings of

*ealousy were futile but they wouldn t go away. Sophie s only *ust fifteen. (nd more of a grown$up than ' am, 'mogen said tightly. She glanced at her watch. 8oo", ' hate to sound li"e a nagging wife but are you planning to pac" a case or not) When &ac" didn t move, she was gripped with fear. 'n an instant her composure dissolved. What is it) #earfully, she searched his face. .ou don t want to come to :aris, do you) .ou d rather spend Christmas with them. &ac" watched the tears slide slowly down her chee"s. 0e felt terrible. ,orn. 0ow honest did 'mogen seriously e3pect him to be) 8oo", ' m sorry. ,hey re my children . . . they are Christmas. (nd you want to be with them. 'mogen fished desperately in her *ac"et poc"et for a hand"erchief. Of course ' do, thought &ac". /ut it wasn t even that simple. 0e wanted to spend Christmas with his family and Cass wanted a divorce. 2on t cry. We re going to :aris. 0e put his arms round 'mogen s heaving shoulders and "issed her wet frec"led face. ' love you. We ll have a wonderful time. Come on, tenderly he too" her hand, come and help me pac".

Chapter 23
,he doorbell rang at eleven thirty p.m. on Christmas 6ve. Cleo and Sean were both out and Sophie was in bed. Cass, in her dressing gown with her hair tied bac" and her face shiny

with moisturi!er, was up to her eyes in Sellotape and curly ribbon frantically wrapping the last of the presents for Sophie s stoc"ing. She almost passed out with shoc" when, having peered through the spy$hole, she saw who was standing on the doorstep. ,erry1 <tter ama!ement turned her fingers to :laydoh. #inally, after fumbling for several seconds with the loc", she managed to open the door. ' don t believe this . . . 1 ,he ghost of Christmas very much past. ,erry /rannigan threw his arms around her. Cass found herself being lifted into the air and spun round li"e a top. 't seemed an age before he put her down. Oops, my dressing gown s coming undone. 8aughing, Cass retied it before hugging ,erry again. ,hen she slipped her arm through his and led him through to the sitting room where a fire still burned in the grate. .ou re free!ing. Sorry about the mess, ' m doing a stoc"ing for Sophie . . . +oodness, ' still can t believe you re actually here . . . do ' loo" as da!ed as ' feel) .ou loo" li"e heaven on legs, ,erry assured her. 0e meant it too. (s far as he was concerned, Cass always had been the most beautiful girl on the planet. 4ow, at thirty$nine, she was an even more beautiful woman. 0er dressing gown, in ,erry s opinion, could come undone as often as it li"ed. ' got your card three days ago, he e3plained when Cass, having poured him a spectacular measure of &ac" 2aniel s, had curled up beside him on the sofa in front of the fire. ' couldn t believe it. .ou and &ac", of all people . . . after all this time. What happened, did you boot him out) Si3teen years had passed since they had last seen each other, yet the old magic, that instantaneous rapport, was still there. Cass nodded.

/ut only because he d got himself a bimbo. 0e didn t1 ,erry was genuinely appalled. 's the man mad) ( real bimbo) ,hey had always been able to tell each other everything. Well, no, Cass reluctantly admitted. ,hen she told him all about 'mogen. . . . but ' m still alive, she concluded some time later with a shrug and a ghost of a smile. ' thought the world had come to an end but it hasn t. We "eep going. ,he "ids have been brilliant, everyo es been brilliant. 6ven the show s ratings shot up and stayed up, +od "nows why. Maybe because the "ids and -everyone- aren t the only ones who are brilliant, ,erry moc"$scolded, because Cass s modesty had always been one of her most endearing features. 't would never occur to her that her ratings might have risen because she was good at her *ob. 't s Christmas 2ay1 (t twenty past midnight, Cass had only *ust noticed the time. 7eaching across, she cupped ,erry s stubbly chin in both hands and planted a "iss on his travel$weary chee". -,here, merry Christmas. ' don t even "now why you re here but ' don t care. 't s *ust so great to see you again, she said simply. .ou ve cheered me up more than you ll ever "now. .ou ve cheered me up, ,erry told her. 0e pointed to the card he had sent, which hung in pride of place above the mantelpiece. See that miserable sod of a 2&) ,hat s been me for the last five years, that has. .esterday ' decided ' d had enough and told them to stic" their lousy *ob. 0e s%uee!ed Cass s hand. 't was time to come home, ' reali!ed, and loo" up a few old friends. 0appy Christmas, Mum. Sophie, already washed and

dressed at eight o cloc" the ne3t morning, wo"e Cass with a "iss and a cup of tea. /y the way, do we have a burglar or do you "now something about the complete stranger ' ve *ust bumped into outside the bathroom) Cass stretched and rubbed her eyes before hauling herself into a sitting position. .ou mean ,erry) ,hat s ,erry /rannigan, sweetheart. 0e turned up last night after you d gone to bed. 0e ll be staying for a few days. .ou ll li"e him. ' do li"e him, Sophie murmured to Cleo later that morning as between them they ine3pertly basted the roast potatoes for lunch, but not a millionth as much as he li"es Mum. .ou don t thin" she fancies him, do you) Sophie loo"ed worried. 0e s ancient. 4ot to mention obvious. Cleo glanced through the "itchen window. ,he temperature outside had dropped several degrees and a heavy frost had formed overnight. Cass was wandering arm in arm with ,erry at the bottom of the garden, showing him round and chattering non$stop as they caught up on the events of the past si3teen years. ' as"ed Mum how old he was, Sophie went on. She said fifty$two, but he loo"s miles older than that. What if they get married) Calm down. Cleo grinned. 't was unli"e Sophie to get so twitchy. 0e only arrived last night. Out of the blue. +loomily Sophie slid the roasting$tin bac" into the oven and gave the tur"ey a tentative prod. ' don t thin" Mum even reali!es what s going on. 0e s been living in 4ew .or" for umpteen years. ,hen, three days ago, he gets Mum s Christmas card telling him 2ad s buggered off. /y an ama!ing coincidence, the very ne3t day ,erry *ac"s in his perfectly good *ob and flies over here, turning up on Mum s doorstep at midnight.

What you re saying , Cleo replied solemnly, is that we need to sit her down and give her a good tal"ing$to about getting involved with the wrong "ind of man. 2on t ma"e fun. Well . . . yes. Sophie s spectacles had misted up in the heat from the oven. She cleaned them on the sleeve of her new blue shirt, a present from Cleo. (nd you "now what ' mean, she persisted stubbornly. Mum s so nice she wouldn t want to hurt ,erry s feelings. She wouldn t be able to say no. Sean, who had been on the phone in the study for the last twenty minutes, came into the "itchen grinning from ear to ear. What s this) Can t say no) (re you calling our mother a trollop) ' m calling you a la!y bum, said Cleo. We ve been slaving away all morning and you ve done sod all. Sophie s eyebrows rose. She hadn t noticed Cleo doing any slaving unless you counted snipping the corner off the orange *uice carton at brea"fast. ' have been doing something, as a matter of fact Sean s dar" eyes glittered. 0e was loo"ing pleased with himself. .ou d better lay an e3tra place at the table. :andora s coming to lunch. (bout bloody time too, Cleo declared. Sophie was ga!ing out of the window. ,erry had grey hair, a million wrin"les and the loo" of a drin"er about him. She *ust hoped he didn t also have anything as bi!arre as an engagement ring in his poc"et. So are you going to warn Mum first, Cleo sounded interested, or let it be another surprise) Who , demanded Sophie, is :andora)

.ou have no idea how scary this is. :andora clung to her seat as Sean too" a sharp corner. 0er teeth were chattering despite the fact that the heating in the car was turned right up. My driving s brilliant, Sean protested. ' m not tal"ing about that. Meeting your mother is what s scary. Still loaded with misgivings, she said for the fifth time, (re you sure this is a good idea) ' mean, on Christmas 2ay of all days . . ,hey were nearly there. Sean flashed her a sideways grin. ' d have thought it was entirely appropriate. 8i"e &oseph and Mary turning up at the inn. (nd they were turned away, :andora ruefully reminded him. She pulled a face. /esides, ' m only five months pregnant. ' wasn t actually planning to give birth during the Cueen s speech. 'nside the house, Cleo was putting Cass in the picture. 't was, she felt, horribly unfair of Sean to e3pect to spring this "ind of surprise without warning. (s far as Cass was concerned, all he was doing was bringing a new girlfriend round to lunch. OK, Mum, this girl of Sean s. ' ve met her and she s lovely, but there s something else you should "now before she gets here. Cass cast a worried glance in the direction of the glistening golden tur"ey surrounded by bacon$wrapped chipolatas. She s not vegetarian) 4o. :regnant. +ood heavens. Cleo stifled a smile. (nd blac".

Chapter 24
:andora could have wept with relief when Cass, emerging from the house, ran across the gravelled drive and flung her arms around her. Spoilsport, Sean said to Cleo.

,his is the very best present ' could have had, Cass assured :andora, hugging her tighter still. .ou have no idea how much ' was dreading this day, after everything that has . . . you "now, happened. (nd it s turning out so much better than ' d dared hope. #irst a dear friend from the past turns up out of the blue . . . and now this. ' m going to be a grandmother1 't s *ust the most ama!ing news1
Come on, +ranny. 'ndoors. Cleo :andora, who was loo"ing %uite overcome.

win"ed

at

0ang on, something ' have to do before ' forget. ,urning, Cass cuffed Sean around the ear. Ouch. ,hat s for not telling me sooner. We should have met :andora months ago, she scolded. ' thought you had enough on your plate. was the picture of wounded innocence. Sean

G/ut t hi s is wonderful ne ws. 8aughing, Cass s%uee!ed :andora s arm. ( lovely wedding, ' can hardly wait1 0ave you set a date yet)

:andora loo"ed embarrassed. ,al"ing of dates, said Cleo in conversational tones, ' m starving. 8et s eat.

,he only other hiccup in an otherwise perfect afternoon occurred after lunch when the phone rang. ' ll get it. Sophie leapt up in a hurry, "noc"ing over ,erry s half$full tumbler of Scotch. Sorry. 2ad said he d phone. Cass too" a deep breath, preparing to loo" as if it couldn t matter less. /ut it wasn t &ac". #or you. Sophie held the receiver towards Sean, her grey eyes e3pressionless. ' don t "now who it is. Oh, hi, said Sean as a girl he had met at the club a couple of wee"s ago hus"ily sang 0appy Christmas to you, 0appy Christmas to you down the phone at him. .es, fine than"s. .ou too) 0ow are Su!y and the "ids) When am ' going to see you again) ,he girl, whose name was either 6mily or (my, he couldn t for the life of him remember which, sounded petulant and slightly drun". ' waited for you at the club last night and you didn t show. /usy, ' m afraid. Sean "ept the receiver *ammed against his ear. Catching Sophie s disapproving eye, he turned to loo" out of the window instead. ,he room behind him had gone horribly %uiet. .our friend 2onny gave me your number, purred the girl. What about tonight then) .ou wouldn t be disappointed, Sean. ' never disappoint. Can t do it. Out of the %uestion. Sean silently cursed 2onny. 7eflected in the window he could see his mother and :andora, both pretending not to listen. 8oo", ' m going to have to go. +ive my love to Su!y and the "ids, OK) ' d much rather you gave your love to me. 6mily$ (my had a throat y giggle. -,ell you what, why don t you get rid of whoever s there) ' ll ring bac" in thirty minutes.

/ye, said Sean. 0anging up, he was careful to leave the phone *ust off the hoo". ,hat was Ma3, one of the guys from the club. (s he spo"e to the room at large, it was horribly obvious that not even :andora believed him.
/y seven o cloc" Sophie was close to tears. 2ad said he d definitely ring, she whispered when Cleo, wandering into the "itchen, found her crouched shivering on the bac" doorstep, feeding strips of smo"ed salmon to ne3t door s Siamese cat. Sophie, outwardly so tough and practical it was easy to forget she was still only fifteen, had found the day far more of an ordeal than she had let on. 0e promised to phone, she said miserably. 0ow could he forget)

0e woul dn t forget . Cl eo put an arm round her and improvised rapidly. 0e probably couldn t get through. ,he phones in :aris are hopeless 5 whenever ' m there it ta"es me about si3 hours to dial out. (nd Christmas 2ay is especially bad . . 4ice try. Sophie managed a wea" smile. 'f ' was si3 ' might even have believed you. Oh come on, let s face it 5 2ad s with 'mogen now. 0e s got himself a whole new life. We re *ust too boring for him. ,hat s plain silly. 4ow you are sounding li"e a si3$ year old. Sophie said nothing. 't had only *ust occurred to her that if her father was building a whole new life for himself, he might want a whole new family to go with it.
* * * So what do you really thin")

said ,erry, when Sean

and :andora had left. Cleo and Sophie were clearing up in the "itchen, leaving them alone together in the sitting room in front of the fire.

Cass sighed. Oh dear, she s a lovely girl. /ut it s hardly the romance of the century, is it) :oor :andora. 4oticing the phone was slightly off the hoo", ,erry replaced it on his way to the drin"s tray, behind the sofa. (s he topped up Cass s glass he ga!ed lovingly down at her gleaming, tousled blond hair and at the way the collar of her white sil" shirt fell open to reveal the infinitely desirable nape of her nec". ,heirs could be the romance of the, century, he thought, given half a chance. Cass was everything he d ever wanted in a woman. ,hey had the rapport and Cass had 5 surely, by now 5 had enough time to get over &ac". (ll he needed was to be able to persuade her that their "ind of friendship could so easily turn to love. 'n the meantime, Cass was too hung up about her wayward son to concentrate on her own future happiness. Who "nows) Sean may settle down. :ersonally ,erry doubted it, but he "new this was what she wanted to hear. (s he sat bac" down beside Cass he too" her left hand in his own, glancing at the still$visible indentation where for so many years her wedding ring had been. .ou can never tell what will happen. 8i " e us. C ass was t hi n"i ng of & ac". 'dl y s%uee! i ng ,erry s hand, which he too" as a huge sign of encouragement, she sighed. .ou wouldn t believe the letters ' ve had from people. One woman wrote to say he only left me because once, on air, ' made fun of his feet. (nother said it was my own fault for going out to wor". Only last wee" someone sent me the recipe for a medieval love potion. 'f ' could persuade &ac" to drin" it, they said, he d dump 'mogen and be bac" li"e a shot.

So, are you going to try it) ' don t thin" they sell newts eyes in Sainsbury s. Cass leaned her head bac" against the sofa. 4o, &ac" s gone and that s that. ' ve decided to face up to it. 4e3t wee" ' m seeing a solicitor about getting on with the divorce. /etter and better, thought ,erry, hardly daring to hope that his arrival could have had something to do with her decision. /reathing in, he could smell Cass s perfume, the same one she had worn for over twenty years. (nd she was still holding his hand. 6mboldened by his own happiness he said, ' thin" you re right. +et the divorce, put it all behind you and start again. .ou never have to worry about being alone, Cass. .ou do "now that, don t you) With my three) Misunderstanding him completely, Cass bro"e into a grin. ' m never li"ely to have a minute s peace. ,erry s heart began to race. 4o, ' meant@ Mum, %uic"1 ,he sitting$room door was flung open and Cleo raced in. Switch on the ,?, we re missing & ly 5ools
a d Horses!

Within seconds she was draped across the other sofa, turning up the volume, tearing open a family$si!ed bag of Marmite crisps and yelling for Sophie to hurry up, it had started.

Chapter 25
:aris had been perfect. ,hat most romantic of cities, gloriously wreathed in mist, frost and pale mil"y sunlight, had never loo"ed better.

'mogen had never felt better, either. ,his brea" was *ust what she and &ac" had most needed, a chance to escape the pressures of &ac" being recogni!ed wherever he went and to revel in each other s company. ,heir suite at the Crillon was the last word in sil"$upholstered lu3ury, the meals over which they lingered for hours were positive wor"s of art, the aprIs$ dinner se3 sublime. 4ever had 'mogen felt more rela3ed and desirable. ,he tetchy e3change which could so easily have spiralled out of control at the flat was forgotten. ,hey were together, reaffirming their love, and apart from an irritable couple of hours on Christmas 2ay itself when &ac" had repeatedly tried and failed to get through on the phone to Sophie, concluding finally that the phone had been left off the hoo" on purpose, he hadn t so much as mentioned his family once. +ood, thought 'mogen, pleased to see he was getting that particular guilt$trip under control. She didn t feel she was being unreasonable. She wasn t an ogre. 'f his children were still small then fair enough, that would be different, but they weren t. So why on earth the fuss)
* * *

8ondon, grey and slushy by the time they returned, was loo"ing very down$at$heel in comparison, not romantic at all. 'mogen didn t care9 she had more important things on her mind. (nd 8ondon had its advantages, she thought with a secret smile the ne3t m orni ng as &ac" set off for #l eet Street and a post $ Christmas meeting with his editor. (t least here, instructions were printed in 6nglish. +uess what, guess what) .ou learned how to do *oined$up writing. Sophie was trying to finish her muesli and gulp

down a glass of chocolate mil"sha"e before rushing off to the library. ,he new boo" she d ordered, Livi g "ith the )asai, had *ust come in and the last thing she needed was &ennifer Smith$ 6lliott twittering down the phone, telling her in awful detail how she d been #rench$"issed over Christmas by some gross boy. &ennifer, who was in her class at school, was famous for spending her whole life on the telephone instilling terminal boredom in her victims. 8i"e Samaritans in reverse, thought Sophie, tilting her head bac" to get the last chocolatey dregs from the bottom of the glass. &en, the library shuts at lunchtime. ' really mustn t miss it@ 0old your horses, &ennifer giggled, this is good. ' was out shopping with my mother this morning. We had to pic" up a prescription for +ranny 6lliott, her legs have been terrible over Christmas. She can hardly wal". Wish you could hardly tal", thought Sophie. ,uc"ing the phone between ear and shoulder, she carried on spooning muesli into her mouth. (nyway, so there we were, %ueueing up in this little chemist s shop in 'slington and guess who ' recogni!ed ahead of me) 4o. Sophie began to lose patience9 it was twenty to one. Why don t you *ust tell me) Spoilsport, chanted &ennifer. OK then, but you re no fun. 't was that woman your dad s living with. 'mogen what s$hername, she said proudly. Mum and ' both recogni!ed her, even with a coat on and her hair hidden under a hat. /ig deal, thought Sophie, hopping from one foot to the other. So) she demanded, suppressing a sigh. What was she doing, buying condoms)

4ot %uite. &ennifer sniggered down the phone. One pin" Ma3 #actor lipstic", one tube of Colgate toothpaste. (nd , she added smugly, a pregnancy testing "it. &ust in time1 (t the sound of &ac" s "ey turning in the loc", 'mogen flew downstairs to greet him. 't was no good, some secrets were *ust impossible to "eep. 'f she didn t tell him now she would burst. What) &ac" good$humouredly allowed himself to be dragged up the stairs. ,hrough the open "itchen door he glimpsed an icy$loo"ing bottle of ,aittinger and two glasses lined up on top of the fridge. What) he said again, marvelling at her energy as she propelled him instead into the sitting room. 8oo"ing ridiculously young in a peach cashmere sweater and faded *eans and with her red$gold hair flying, 'mogen was practically aglow with whatever form of surprise she was about to spring. 0er enthusiasm, as she made a great show of chec"ing the time by &ac" s watch, was infectious. 2on t tell me, Michael (spel s on his way up, said &ac". ' m about to be ,his is your 8ifed. 0e grinned. ' hope they don t forget to bring on my old #rench teacher, Mademoiselle 2upont. She loo"ed li"e /ardot, she really did. ,hat woman must have launched a thousand schoolboy fantasies@ /etter than that. 'mogen s eyes were shining. #or the second time she consulted first his watch, then her own. Oh &ac", ' can hardly bear it. One more minute. /race yourself, darling . . 'n a flash, &ac" "new what it was. ,hat loo" of hers was one he d seen before, one he now clearly recogni!ed. ,he trouble was, it was a loo" he was used to seeing in Cass s blue eyes,

not 'mogen s brown ones. .ou re pregnant. My +od, you re pregnant. 8etting out a s%ueal of delight, 'mogen flung her arms around him. .ou can tell) .ou mean it shows) .ou really can tell) She showered his face with ecstatic "isses. Oh &ac", ' still can t believe this is happening1 ' ve always been so regular ' "new at once something was up. ' ve *ust done the test, it s in the bathroom . . . .ou have no idea how complicated it all is, you practically need a chemistry degree to figure it out and my hands wouldn t stop sha"ing. She was babbling with e3citement, scarcely recogni!able as the cool, in$control 'mogen he "new. /eyond words, &ac" let himself be hauled off to the pristine blac"$and$white bathroom, where a test tube stood in solitary splendour on the blac" marble shelf. 0ome$testing "its weren t something with which he was familiar. 'n his day, Cass had left the necessary specimens with their doctor and phoned up a wee" later for the results. ' "new it anyway, as soon as ' was a day late, 'mogen beamed, but this proves it. Oh &ac", ' can t believe how different ' feel already1 0ow does it tell you) 0e was peering at the white stic" semi$submerged in the test tube. What happens) ,he end bit goes pin". 0ang on, you have to ta"e it out and run it under a tap. 't isn t pin". 't must be. 'mogen frowned, holding the stic" under the cold tap. ' saw it start to change colour as soon as ' put it in the test tube. &ac", get the instructions out of the bin, they ve made some "ind of mista"e. 't must be pin" . . /ut the stic" stayed obstinately white. ,he result of the test

was negative. (nd 'mogen, who until three days before had never even thought she wanted a baby, was inconsolable. When at nine o cloc" that evening her period started, &ac" seriously considered phoning for the doctor. 0er grief was all$consuming. When the flow of tears finally dried up, grim determination too" its place. OK, so it ll happen ne3t month. 6merging from the shower, pale and red$eyed, 'mogen spent several minutes poring over her diary. ,his is no good, the best time to conceive is here. 0aving already chec"ed out fertile periods in the Miriam Stoppard baby boo" she d bought at lunchtime, she tic"ed off five consecutive days in red felt pen. ' m in /udapest from ,uesday to ,hursday and you re off to the 6urosummit on the #riday. ' ll cancel /udapest. She loo"ed up at him. Can you get out of the /russels trip) Come on, calm down. &ac" had done his best to comfort her but his patience was beginning to wear thin. 0e "new women were capable of such desperate yearnings but this was so sudden it was positively bi!arre. 0e too" 'mogen s hands in his, forcing her to listen. Sweetheart, ' "now you re upset. /ut we have tal"ed about this before. ' ve had three "ids. ' ve been through all that. (nd you said you d ever wanted children. .ou were so certain you didn t want any, he reminded her, you were even willing to be sterili!ed. #resh tears @ where did they "eep comi g from) @ slid down 'mogen s white face. She "new she was being illogical but it was all way beyond her control. ,hat had been then, this was now. 0e was right9 she never had yearned for children. /ut believing, truly believing, for three whole days that she was carrying &ac" s child had, as far as she was concerned, changed everything. ,he baby would inherit &ac" s dar"

eyes and, devastating loo"s9 it would be intelligent, athletic, loving and ful l of fun. /o y or gi rl , t hat di dn t m at t er9 i n 'm ogen s daydreams either se3 would be perfect. 63cept that instead of either, she had neither. ,he stic" hadn t turned pin". ,here was no baby to devote the rest of her life to, no adorable bundle to set the seal on their love. Such bitter disappointment was outside 'mogen s e3perience. (ll her life she had got what she wanted. ,hat she could now be denied something as simple and natural as a baby, when across the world so many thousands of unwanted ones were being born every day, seemed cruel beyond belief. ' ve changed my mind. 'mogen clung to him, drenching the front of &ac" s shirt with her tears. ' want a baby . . . your baby1 't s *ust, ' really thought we had one. +od, why is life so unfair)

Chapter 26
:andora "new she wasn t going to be able to carry on wor"ing for much longer. ,he tables at ,he Moon and Si3pence, in true bistro style, were crammed in willy$nilly, the gaps between them growing narrower by the wee". With her ever$e3panding stomach, s%uee!ing past with plates of cassoulet held high was becoming an increasingly ris"y procedure. 0er bac" ached too, more than :andora would have believed possible. She felt li"e a woman sawn in half. ' ll be sorry to lose you. genuinely meant it.

Maurice, her boss,

' ll miss you, too. Massaging her spine, :andora gave him a rueful smile. /ut in this state, ' definitely

won t be sorry to go. ,uesday, luc"ily for her, was a %uiet night. ( combination of appalling weather and the fact that the coming ,hursday was ?alentine s 2ay, so everyone was revving up for that, meant the bistro was almost empt y. :andora was resting behind the bar with her aching feet propped up on an empty w i n e crate when the door swung open and Cleo came staggering in. Stin"ing bloody weather, Cleo gasped as half a do!en 0arrods carriers slithered to the floor around her. Whoever invented winter needs to be shot. 7oll on tomorrow. She bro"e into an unrepentant grin. ' m off to 0awaii. :andora, who was delighted to see Cleo, lowered herself carefully down from her bar stool. 't s a tough life. She pointed to the green$and$gold bags. What s all this) Stoc"ing up on sun cream) My agent sent me a massive royalty che%ue this morning. Cleo loo"ed smug. #or that yoghurt campaign ' did last year, filthy muc". (nyway, ' decided if ' m going to be a doting maiden aunt ' may as well do it properly, so this is for you. Well, she amended, for the baby. :andora stared at the bags. (re you serious) Oh, than"s. Cleo gratefully accepted a glass of Chablis from Maurice, who was overwhelmed to have such a glamorous celebrity in his humble bac"$street bistro. 6veryone else might be bundled up in winter woollies but Cleo was having none of it. 'n a fuchsia$pin" *ac"et and violet trousers, she loo"ed every bit as e3otic as her namesa"e. When she flashed her da!!ling smile at him he felt almost faint. Cuite funny, really. (ll the assistants in the baby department were trying not to stare at my stomach. ' had to

"eep saying, -'t s not for me, it s for a friend,- and you could tell nobody believed me for a second. ' bet the papers will be on to it before the end of the wee". Come on, she urged, when :andora didn t move, open up, have a loo". ,his is far too much . . . oh, you shouldn t have. :andora couldn t believe it9 Cleo must have spent an absolute fortune. 0and$embroidered bootees, intricately "nitted baby cardigans, lace$trimmed satin pram covers and a perfect Moses bas"et woven through with white sil" ribbons appeared out of the bags li"e con*urers rabbits. 4e3t came an ivory cashmere shawl, a set of framed /eatri3 :otter prints and the most e3%uisite musical mobile :andora had ever seen. ' mean it. :andora was overwhelmed. 7eally, this is far too much. 't must have cost . . . hundreds1 ,he total bill had run into thousands. Cleo, glad :andora didn t "now, said, 't isn t for you. 't s for my new relative, whom ' have every intention of spoiling rotten. She shrugged happily. So there. Well, than"s. (ware of Maurice hovering behind her and hoping his tongue wasn t actually hanging out, :andora said, (t least let me get you another drin". Cleo shoo" her head. Sorry, got to dash. ,hat s why ' had to drop the stuff in to you here . . . ' m *ust on my way to the airport now. What a beauty, Maurice breathed when she had gone. 4ow if she were to come to me as"ing for a *ob . . :andora laughed. Cleo doesn t get out of bed for less than ten thousand pounds a day. #ine. 8ost in admiration, Maurice rolled his eyes. Who d want her to)

,he bistro was empty of customers by the time &oel arrived to drive :andora home. 8oo"ing enormously pleased with himself, he strode in waving three white Mothercare bags. Wait till you see what ' bought today1 :andora didn t have to wait9 &oel was already spreading the contents across the bar li"e a hard$sell mar"et trader. 4ot daring to loo" at Maurice, whose mouth was twitching beneath his moustache, she said, ' can t believe you actually went into Mothercare. ' can t believe you even "new what Mothercare was. (s proud as any new father, &oel beamed. Chose it all myself. Well, not long to go now. Can t have the poor little sod turning up with nothing to wear, can we) :andora had been too superstitious to buy anything too soon, but he was right. She had reached seven months now9 it was definitely time to begin stoc"ing up. (nd &oel had definitely stoc"ed up. She counted a do!en serviceable /abygros, si3 white cot sheets, ten vests, three yellow cellular blan"ets and a potty shaped li"e an elephant. 't plays a tune when you pee in it. &oel grinned. So they tell me, anyway. .ou are brilliant. 7eaching with difficulty across the bar, :andora gave him a hug. -,his is great, *ust what ' m going to need. Come on, you two. Maurice, having read :andora s mind, held the front door open. 8et me loc" up. &oel was carrying the Mothercare bags and :andora was halfway through the door when Molly, the +eordie washer$ upper, came charging li"e a rhino out of the "itchen. 0ang on a second, pet1 ' don t "now, young people these

days . . . sieves for brains. :anting, she thrust the glossy 0arrods carriers into :andora s arms. Whatever you do, don t forget these1 Well, &oel said stiffly, it ma"es my stuff loo" pretty poor by comparison. 0e had insisted, as soon as they arrived home, on laying out the rival gifts ne3t to each other on the living$room carpet. ,he fact that :andora had tried to leave Cleo s presents behind at the bistro only proved, in his eyes, how hopelessly inferior his own purchases were. :andora couldn t believe how much he minded. ,his is silly, she protested, waving a minuscule pair of hand$smoc"ed, apricot satin dungarees. .oure being silly. OK, so it was "ind of Cleo to buy all these things but they re hardly practical, are they) /abygros and vests are what ' need. ,hey re what the baby s going to be wearing every day. She did it on purpose. &oel wasn t to be appeased. She *ust has to flash her money about, to show us how much better she is than everyone else. Or thin"s she is, he added dar"ly. Cleo didn t do it on purpose. She isn t li"e that. 0a. 8oo", :andora s dar" eyes widened in despair. She doesn t even "now who you are, so how ca she be doing it on purpose) ' wish you d stop all this and meet her properly. ' met her %uite properly enough, than"s, before Christmas. &oel began shovelling the /abygros bac" into their bags. 6ven Ma3well$0orne had the sense to dump her. Said she was a spoilt rich$bitch. 0is mouth narrowed. (nd frigid. 4ice of him. .es, well. &oel, who couldn t abide 2amien

Ma3well$0ome, concentrated on retrieving the last of the cellophane$wrapped vests. 0e s a git, but for once in his life he s right. (h. :andora smiled. .ou mean he s a right git.

Chapter 27
Sophie, having decided drastic action was called for, had phoned her father and as"ed to ma"e a formal appointment to see him. (lone. So alarmed by her subdued tone of voice and by the fact that for the first time in years she was calling him 2addy, &ac" cut short an editorial meeting and arranged to pic" Sophie up from school. 0is heart went out to his younger daughter when he saw her waiting alone on a wall ad*oining the school gates, white$faced and swamped by a miles$too$big grey sweatshirt that reached almost to her "nees. 7ain, to which Sophie seemed oblivious, was running down her owlish glasses. When she climbed into &ac" s car they promptly misted up. Sweetheart, you sounded so low. What is it) ,ell me what s wrong.

6ven as he hugged her, &ac" "new it must be something serious. 0e had never seen Sophie this withdrawn. 6verything s wrong, Sophie said %uietly. ' hate it at home, it s *ust awful. Oh 2addy, can ' come and live with you) & a c" co ul dn t h av e be en m o re st un ne d i f S op hi e h ad announced she was *oining the #olies$/ergeres. (wful) 0ow can it be awful) Sophie, tightened around her shoulders, it s your home. his arm

't s not li"e home any more. Mum s not li"e Mum any more. Sophie paused and drew a deep shuddering breath. Sean s never there. /loody ,erry /rannigan s al"ays there. Cleo s OK, ' suppose, but she s away most of the time . . . it s so horrible, 2addy, ' really can t bear it. 0uge grey eyes searched his face. :lease, please say ' can come and stay with you. 'mogen thought she was hallucinating when she arrived home from wor" that evening to find five suitcases strewn around her pristine sitting room, spilling out awful$ loo"ing clothes and a vast number of boo"s. Since she was dying for a pee, she was even more outraged to find the bathroom door firmly loc"ed against her. 'nside, some unearthly music blared. What s going on) &ac" was in the "itchen, burning sausages under the grill. When she saw the loo" on his face as he turned to greet her, 'mogen s worst suspicions were confirmed. 2arling, ' m sorry. ' tried ringing you earlier but they said you were out of the office all afternoon. 0e "issed 'mogen s unresponsive mouth, as if it would help. 't s Sophie9 she was in a dreadful state earlier. ' "now this is a bit of a bombshell, but basically ' was *ust too worried to leave her. Sweetheart, she was so desperate to come and stay here, what else could ' do) .ou don t mind, do you) 4ot terribly, at least) 'mogen minded far more than that. She couldn t believe &ac" seriously e3pected her to smile and sha"e her head. #inally she felt able to spea". #or how long)

4ot long. &ac" s tone was soothing, li"e a hypnotist assuring a smo"er they no longer want a cigarette. &ust until we get things sorted out. 0onestly, she ll be no trouble at all. ,he sausages were about to ignite. 8i"e an automaton, 'mogen switched off the grill and opened the "itchen window to clear the billowing blac" smo"e. ,his is a one$bedroomed flat. 2on t worry. 0e gave her a reassuring Sophie s more than happy to sleep on the sofa. (t this, 'mogen s temper flared. Oh well, as long as Sophie s happy, she mimic"ed, that must mean everything s fine. 4ever mind the fact that my bladder is about to e4plode. Without loo"ing at her, &ac" turned and headed along the landing, rat$tatting efficiently on the loc"ed bathroom door. Out of the bath, sweetheart. 4ow, please. ,he music stopped and the door opened less than a minute later. Clouds of e3pensively scented steam gushed out. Sophie, wet and pale and with 'mogen s favourite pin" bath towel around her s"inny frame, emerged with a tentative smile. Sorry, did you "noc" earlier) ,he bat hroom was li"e a S out h (meri can swamp, the ceramic floor$tiles awash and every towel crumpled and damp. ,ight$lipped, 'mogen replaced the top on her precious bottle of &o Malone s #rench 8ime /lossom bath creme, although there wasn t much point since Sophie had almost completely used it up. ,he matching triple$milled soap 5 at fifteen pounds a bar 5 was %uietly dissolving in the dregs of the bath water. ,he basin was littered with &ac" s ra!or and strands of
smile.

straight, mouse$coloured hair where Sophie had hac"ed at her fringe. ,here were grubb y foot pri nt s on t he t oi l et seat and 5 'm o ge n shuddered 5 toenail clippings floating in the loo.
/ut if what was now happening to her was 'mogen s worst nightmare, it was at the same time &ac" s dream come true.

&ac" s children were his blind spot and Sophie, in particular, the beloved baby of the famil y, could 5 as far as he was concerned 5 do no wrong. ,o feel needed again after so many months of cold$shouldering more than made up for the minor inconveniences Sophie s arrival was li"ely to cause. &ac" was implacable. Worse still, he couldn t for the life of him understand why 'mogen wouldn t want Sophie there as much as he did. ' m not trying to be difficult, ' m *ust saying this flat s too small for three people. ,hi s was ridi culous9 here t hey were in bed, forced t o converse in whispers because Sophie, e3hausted after all that mess$ma"ing, had settled down for the night on the sofa. (nd 5 in disbelief 'mogen rechec"ed her watch 5 it was only nine o cloc". Cheer up. &ac", putting the finishing touches to this wee" s column on his laptop, was only half listening. 't won t be for ever.
(s far as 'mogen was concerned, it was already too long. ' had no idea one girl could be so untidy. She loo"ed mutinous. Sophie isn t untidy. .ou should have seen Cleo in action at that age. (nyway, &ac" pointed out, children do ma"e a mess. 'f you re so hell$bent on having a baby, this is *ust about the best training you could have.

'f ' have a baby, thought 'mogen, ' ll have a nanny to deal with all that. (loud she said, /abies don t use half a bottle of your best bath essence at a time. 4o, they chuc" the lot down the loo instead. &ac" sighed.
8oo", ' m sorry if this is a pain for you, but Sophie was desperate. 0ow could ' have turned her down)

Simple, 'mogen thought sul"ily. &ust say no. &ac" glimpsed the rebellious flic"er in her eyes. 'f you had children, you d understand. Sophie has a mind of her own. 'f ' d turned her down, who "nows where she might have ended up) 'magine how many teenagers living on the streets were re*ected by their families when they needed help . . ,al" about a losing battle. OK, OK. 'mogen smiled as he switched off the laptop, and resolved to give in gracefully. Since they were in bed she may as well ma"e the most of the situation. 't was coming up to her fertile period too. What are you doing) said &ac". 'mogen s hand moved further downwards. She grinned. Oh, ' thin" you "now. /etter not. +entle but firm, &ac" removed her wandering hand. We wouldn t want to disturb Sophie. Mum) 't s me. Sophie1 2arling, is everything all right) Why are you whispering) ,hese walls are li"e cardboard. (nd yes, everything s fine. Sophie giggled. ' m having a lovely time. 'mogen s gritting her teeth, trying to be nice for 2ad s sa"e, but she

really hates me being here. 4ot that ' blame her, she went on happily, considering the mess ' made of her bathroom. Oh dear. Cass sounded worried. .ou aren t doing anything too awful ' hope. Sophie rolled her eyes in despair. 0ow absolutely typical of her mother9 before you "new it, she d be feeling sorry for #loo!e and ta"ing her side. .ou mean compared with 'mogen being all best$friendsy with you and at the same time having an affair behind your bac" with 2ad) .es, but@ Mum, don t you dare tell me to behave myself1 Sophie pulled the duvet over her head. +oodness, it was hard wor" "eeping down to a whisper. Why should that double$ crossing bitch have everything her own way) she demanded bris"ly. ' haven t even started yet. Married men with children have responsibilities and ' m going to ma"e 'mogen reali!e she has to share them. /y the time ' ve finished, she ll wish she d never even met 2ad. (t the other end of the line, Cass cringed. Sophie sounded so determined, so bitter. Over si3 months had passed now since &ac" had moved out but the pain clearly hadn t diminished. Cass "new how that felt, only too well. She was beginning to wonder if the wounds would ever heal. Well, ' can t stop you, she said %uietly, but please don t stay away too long. 't seems strange already not having you here. ' m going to miss you terribly. ' miss you too, Mum. 't s *ust something ' have to do. ( lump came to Sophie s throat. She reali!ed she had to hang up fast. (nd don t worry. ' ll give it a couple of wee"s at the most.

Chapter 28
0aving given up wor" a wee" earlier, :andora announced she was goi n g t o st a y wi t h fr i e nd s i n / a t h for a fe w d a ys. Why) Sean was instantly suspicious. /ecause they re friends and ' d li"e to see them. :andora was unperturbed. -,he y ll feed me up and spoil me rotten. What could be nicer)1 (s if she wasn t fed enough already. Sean could barely get his arms around her these days. 0e wasn t too pleased, either, by the implication that she wasn t being spoiled rotten here. 8oo", you "now ' ve been busy. Once this ,? thing has finished filming at the club@ ' do "now, said :andora mildly. 't s OK, you don t have to remind me /ut@ :lease. (ny more e3cuses and ' ll start putting it down to a guilty conscience. ' m going to stay with /ill and Wendy, that s all. Sean e3perienced a stab of irrational *ealousy. Who are they, then) :andora s mouth twitched. .ou saw photographs of them once, when you were spying on me. &ealousy changed to relief. ,he 7 i c ha rd W hi t e l e y l oo"a l i "e , you me a n) (nd the woman with ginger hair) ' suppose so.

What do they do) /ill s a ban" manager. Wendy teaches chemistry.

7iveting, Sean moc"ed. .es, well. :andora hated the way he so effortlessly

made fun of ordinary people. We can t all have ,? programmes made about us. Wendy and /ill are old friends. ' ll be bac" ne3t Sunday, if you re interested. (s she !ipped her case shut, she gave him a %uic" sidelong glance. Or maybe you ll be too busy entertaining friends of your own. What s that supposed to mean) Sean loo"ed wounded.
't means ' saw the photo in yesterday s paper of you and that actress. :andora hadn t meant to say it9 sounding li"e a nag would do her no favours at all. She felt her chee"s grow warm, fiddled with the !ip on the suitcase and carried on anyway. (lthough ' was surprised to sec her calling herself an actress. ' thought all Mindy Charleson had ever done was get her "it off for page three.

,hey printed it in yesterday s paper) ' was going to tell you about that before it came out. #or once Sean s innocence was genuine. ,he trouble was, how on earth was he supposed to persuade :andora to believe him) 0onestly, he protested, as she swung the heavy suitcase down from the bed. 0ere, let me do that. ' mean it, sweetheart ... her agent organi!ed it as a publicity push for her career. ' wouldn t be interested in Mindy Charleson, for +od s sa"e . . . the girl s a slapper. Credit me with some taste, please. ,he loo" of dismay on Sean s face was so real :andora had to believe him. ,his time at least, she decided, he had the benefit of the doubt. Oh, but was it really any wonder he showed interest in other girls, anyway, when these days even she found

loo"ing at herself in a mirror hard to bear) ,he actress s page$three days might be long gone but at least she still had a figure that went in and out.
Mine, :andora reminded herself, *ust goes out.

(nd Sean was a red$blooded male. 'n all honesty, :andora thought with a rueful sigh, how can ' blame him for showing interest in anything with a waist)
(rriving bac" at :addington Station the following Sunday, :andora was absurdly flattered to find Sean waiting on the platform for her. Since their relationship hadn t yet become public "nowledge, she hung bac" at a discreet distance while he signe d a ut ogra phs for a group of giggl ing schoolgirls beneath the arrivals screen. She was almost afraid to be seen with him anyway9 with those film$starry good loo"s and that lean, perfect body he was pretty awe$inspiring even from a distance of twenty feet.

4o wonder ' can t say no to him, thought :andora, glancing down at her own pale grey sweatshirt and *ogging pants. 4ot that she could *og, at present, to save her life. Sean, wearing a blac" cashmere sweater and dar"$grey trousers, loo"ed dauntingly glamorous. S he cont i nued to wat ch hi m e3 change * o"es wi t h the schoolgirls, signing their forearms when they ran out of bits of paper. :andora admired the way his dar" glossy hair fell across his forehead, and the "nac" he had 5 when he chose to use it 5 of ma"ing each girl in turn feel special and more important than the rest. ,hen, glancing up, Sean spotted :andora. 0e bro"e into a grin, mouthed 0i, and finished signing the arm of a willowy blonde whose pert bottom was barely covered by a red wool minis"irt. ' say, gasped :andora, when she finally managed to come up for air. #lustered, she reali!ed *ust how many people were

now watching them. ,he girl in the red mini, in particular, was loo"ing on in disbelief. Should you be doing this) Sean s arms were still wrapped around her. 0is mouth brushed the tip of her nose. Most definitely. ' mean, in public) Why not) 0e "issed her again. ' ve missed you. More than you deserve to be missed, too. /uggering off to the bac" of beyond, *ust to pay me bac" for that stupid picture in the paper@ 't was /ath, :andora pointed out, not the Kalahari desert. (nd ' wasn t trying to pay you bac" for anything. 0elp, loo" at all these people. 2o they have to stare li"e that) Sean was used to it. Come on, the car s outside. 'f it hasn t been towed away. ,hey both heard the words of the girl in the red mini as she turned away in disappointment. She can t really be his girlfriend. 't must be some "ind of *o"e. Sean, his arm curling protectively around :andora s shoulders, swung round and fi3ed the girl with a cold, unamused stare. Why should it be a *o"e) he demanded. (ctually, she s my live$in lover. :andora wished the platform could open and swallow her up. She had never felt more humiliated in her life. Where are we) as"ed :andora when he pulled up outside a ?ictorian semi$detached house halfway along a leafy avenue in :utney. Sean loo"ed across at her.

' meant it, he said. -,hat bit about the live$in lover. What) :andora ga!ed up at the bedroom windows, framed with ivy and scarlet$curtained, as if e3pecting to see some female standing there waving down at them. Who) Come on, Sean protested. ' meant it about missing you too. (nd ' ve made up my mind. 'f we re having this baby we may as well do it properly, the whole bit. :andora turned to him, her eyes li"e saucers. .ou mean get m@) (t the sight of the e3pression on Sean s face, the rest of the word died on her lips. ,he dreaded M$word clearly wasn t what he d meant at all. Well, nearly the whole bit. S%uirming, Sean pointed to the house, which had cost an e3orbitant amount to rent. 0e even had the grace to go a bit pin". 8oo", sorry, but ' m pretty allergic to the idea of weddings and stuff. /lame it on my parents, if you li"e . . ,his was a shameful cop$out and they both "new it. 0urriedly :andora said, 4o, ' m sorry. 't isn t as if ' even want to get married anyway, which was another big lie. 0anging her head, mortified by her own mista"e, she would have "ic"ed herself. 'f only she could have reached. (ll of a sudden Sean s gloriously romantic gesture didn t seen %uite so glorious. Well, it s up to you. 0e hadn t meant it to, but it came out sounding huffy. -,he house is here. 'f you want to move in, you can. :andora, who hadn t interpreted it as huffiness, assumed the words to be tinged with boredom and began to panic. +oodness, this was a huge step forward1 &ust because it wasn t the giant step her

boringly strait$laced brother felt Sean should be ta"ing . . . well, why should she care what &oel thought anyway) 6veryone lived together these days. (nd now, :andora thought *oyfully, Sean s as"ing me to live with him. Of course ' want to. ,he words tumbled out before he could change his mind. <ndoing her seat belt and wishing her enormous stomach wouldn t "eep getting in the way, she leaned clumsily across and hugged him. 't s what ' want more than anything. (nd this is a beautiful house. ' wonder what your brother will have to say. Sean loo"ed amused. &oel, he "new, wasn t wild about their relationship. 0e should be glad we re going legit. J
:andora, who wasn t so sure, was too happy to care. 4ever mind about him. Still, he can help you move your stuff. #ishing in his poc"et, Sean pulled out a front$door "ey. ' have to wor" tonight, but ' m sure you could manage between you. 0ow about that) 0e grinned and "issed the tip of her nose; /y the time ' get bac" from the club, you can be all moved in.
* * *

:andora had guessed right. #or all his outrage over Sean Mandeville s inability to commit himself, &oel didn t ta"e at all well to the news that she was moving out. Without even reali!ing it, he had been loo"ing forward to the idea of having a baby around the house. 0e had already warned his partner at 0enley$+rant motors that he would be ta"ing a wee" or two off wor" when the baby arrived, in order to help :andora settle into the new routine. 4ow, suddenly, his help was no longer needed. She was

leaving, moving out *ust li"e that. 't doesn t suit you, you "now. &oel wasn t about to refuse to move her things but that didn t mean he had to approve of what she was about to do. :andora sighed as he loaded up the boot of the car with her hastily assembled belongings. 0ow many dar", big$brother$ "nows$best loo"s was she supposed to put up with, for heaven s sa"e) What doesn t suit me) .ou, *umping whenever Sean Mandeville says *ump. What did he do, clic" his fingers at you and say, -Come on, you re moving in with me-) 't *ust isn t you, &oel said crossly. Where s your self$esteem) Whatever happened to the independent girl ' used to "now) ,he one with a mind of her own) She got pregnant, thought :andora. She glared across the dar"$blue roof of the old /entley at &oel, who couldn t have the least idea how that felt. So maybe he "as half right, and maybe seven months ago she would have agreed totally with his point of view . . . but the reality of actually finding herself landed in this situation had soon put paid to all that. :andora "new she d changed 5 and probably not for the better 5 but when you were this pregnant and your self$ esteem was this fragile, how else were you supposed to act) &oel, meanwhile, was shovelling clothes hapha!ardly bac" into one of the cases where a !ip had burst open. :andora "new how it felt. Summer dresses) 0e glanced across at her, unable to resist the *ibe. 2o you thin" you ll last that long) Shut up. :andora was uncomfortably aware that much the same thought had crossed her mind when she d pac"ed them. 'f it doesn t wor" out, then you can

say -' told you so- as often as you want. She gave him a warning loo". G/ut not before then, OK) .ou mean you re going to ma"e me wait) &oel raised his eyebrows in moc" horror. What, the full three wee"s)

Chapter 29
0e didn t stay, *ust unloaded the cases, piled them in the spacious panelled hallway of :andora s new home, showed the minimum of enthusiasm when she gave him a %uic" guided tour and left shortly afterwards, having planted a perfunctory "iss on her chee". When the doorbell rang less than five minutes later :andora hurried to answer it, certain it was &oel come bac" to apologi!e. /ut he hadn t. 'nstead Cass and Cleo stood there, beaming and waving a tissue$wrapped bottle to help celebrate her moving in. (nd another of my babies flies the nest. Cass heaved a sentimental sigh an hour later, as the third glass of St 6milion began to ta"e effect. -,here ' was, thin"ing they d all be with me until ' was ninety, and loo" what s happening. #irst Sophie, now Sean . . .ou ve still got me, Cleo lovingly declared. ' won t run away from home. .ou could meet someone wonderful and fall madly in love, said Cass. She smiled across at :andora. &ust li"e Sean. <gh. Cleo pulled a face. ' hate all men, remember) ' m not going to fall in love. She drained her glass with a flourish. (nd if ' did, it definitely wouldn t be with anyone

li"e Sean. Cass and Cleo left at ten o cloc". Sean had already warned her not to e3pect him home from the club before half$past
midnight at the earliest. .awning, :andora wondered how on earth she was going to stay awa"e until then.

'n the "itchen, waiting for the "ettle to boil, she went over in her mind the accusations &oel had levelled at her. ,hey were only hurtful because they were true. :andora conceded that much, but she was at a loss to "now how she was supposed to go about restoring her own drastically depleted confidence. ,he Mandevilles were celebrities, each of them famous in their own right, each one breathta"ingly glamorous. (nd ' m not even a waitress any more, thought :andora, feeling more diminished by the second. Catching sight of her distorted reflection in the stainless$steel "ettle 5 Michelin man loo"ed positively anore3ic by comparison 5 she felt tears of self$pity spring to her eyes. She was grotes%ue, she had no *ob, there was no way in the world she could begin to compete with Sean and his glit!y family.
<nless .. . <nless maybe there "as something she could do.

:andora s heart began to race. (bandoning the "ettle she went out into the hall, "nelt down and began un!ipping cases until she found what she was loo"ing for. Of course it was an awesomely long shot, but imagine the thrill of actually managing to pull it off. She sat bac" on her heels, smiling to herself as the plan began to ta"e root. ,here were two months left before the baby arrived. 2uring these last two months she might not be able to do much 5 winning Wimbledon was definitely out 5 but if she put her mind to it she could

do this.
(t least, thought :andora with a surge of elation, ' can try.
* * *

She was wo"en from a deep sleep by the sound of muffled laughter. Confused, dimly aware that she wasn t in her own bed 5 or, for that matter, in any bed at all 5 :andora "ept her eyes closed. ,he laughter wasn t the least bit familiar, which was disconcerting. (nd a strange arm was draped across her forehead. /ut did burglars really howl with laughter whilst they were actually in the process of ransac"ing one s home) (nd why would one of them be resting their arm leadenly on her head) :andora opened an e3perimental eye. ,he owner of the laugh was a big West 'ndian male, heavily dreadloc"ed and clutching a can of #osters. 'n the other e3tremely large hand he held a sheet of foolscap paper. ,he ne3t moment Sean appeared in the doorway waving another sheet and laughing so hard he couldn t spea". ,hat s mine, :andora said, struggling to sit up and discovering to her humiliation that the heavy arm draped across her face was her own gone$to$sleep one. 8ifting the deadened limb with her good right hand, she placed it gingerly at her side before hauling herself upright. ,he man with the dreadloc"s, she now reali!ed, was 2onny Mulligan, one of Sean s great friends from the club. .ou shouldn t be reading that, it s private, :andora protested, but only mildly. (t least they were laughing. She felt it had to be a good sign. 0ow can it be private) Sean gestured with his own can at the remaining pages strewn across the floor ne3t to the sofa, abandoned there by :andora when she d fallen asleep. 't was there, waving up at us when we came in.

S%uealing; -7ead me, read me.- 2onny Mulligan gave her the benefit of his famous gold$and$white grin. 0e shrugged. ' mean, what else could we do) 0mm. :andora massaged her arm, now fi!!ing with pins a n d n e e d l e s , a n d c o n s i d e r e d r a i s i n g t h e s u b * e c t o f t h e infamous photographs. ,he fact that they had been tuc"ed out of sight behind a candl esti c" on her m antelpiece hadn t stopped Sean having a good nose then. 'f she really wanted to " e e p s o m e t h i n g f r o m h i m , m a yb e s h e s h o u l d c o n s i d e r installing a safe. /ut she couldn t be angry with either of them now. ,hey were still reading, still laughing. (nd they were, :andora supposed, e3perts. Chancing upon a maga!ine article about ,? scriptwriting in the dentist s waiting room last year was what had drawn :andora to Comedy 'nc. in the first place. ,he idea of creating a comedy script for television had instantly appealed, capturing her imagination and resulting in a torrent of ideas which she had enthusiastically committed to paper.
/ut that fateful first trip to the club in &elahay Street had had dramatic c onse %ue nc e s of i t s own a nd i n a l l t he e nsuing emotional chaos the impetus to "eep going had been lost. 't wasn t something she had even mentioned to anyone else, mainly because there hadn t been much to say. /ut tonight the idea had come bac" to her, prompted by those daunting feelings of inade%uacy. She had reali!ed that writing was something she could perfectly easily do, no matter how pregnant. 't was what had prompted her to dig out the folder of ideas, notes and half$written trial scripts. One, in particular, the one 2onny and Sean had sei!ed upon, she privately thought might not be bad at all.

4ow for the acid test, thought :andora, crossing her fingers and trying not to loo" too terrified. She had to find out if the

real funny men li"ed her ideas.

+o on then, she said bravely. .ou ve had a loo" at it. ,ell me honestly what you thin". Oh dear. Sean glanced across at 2onny in search of rescue. 2onny e3amined a fraying hole in the "nee of his *eans. /riefly at a loss for words, Sean ga!ed once more at the sheet of foolscap in his hand. .ou can tell me, said :andora. OK, it s crap. (cross the room, 2onny winced. Well, ' m sorry. ,wo spots of colour appeared high up on Sean s chee"s, the first time :andora had ever seen him blush. 2efensively he went on, /ut it is. What are you trying to do here, anyway) Compete) 4o, o . . . 0orrified that Sean might thin" she was trying to *ump on the comedy bandwagon on the strength of her relationship with him, and at the same time desperate not to let him see how crushed she was by his verdict, :andora said, 't was *ust something ' had a go at, ages ago. 't s nothing, really. 7ubbish. ' ll chuc" it in the bin@ ,hat s OK then. Clearly relieved, Sean let the page flutter to the floor. #or a minute there you had me worried. ' mean, ' wouldn t want you to thin" we were laughing *ust now because it was funny. :andora tried not to feel sic". ,hey d been laughing at the script because it was so bad. 'n the pit of her stomach, the baby gave a small, sympathetic "ic". 4ever mind, 2onny put in, meaning to be "ind, you don t find these things out until you give them a try. 4o. She dredged up a smile. 8et s face it, his own good humour restored, Sean ruffled

:andora s short hair, gorgeous you may be, but &ennifer Saunders you re not.

Chapter 30
Cass s earlier lament that everyone was leaving home didn t e3tend to ,erry /rannigan. 0e might, for the sa"e of propriety, have rented a studio apartment in nearby Kentish ,own but all it really did was house his few belongings. ,erry spent every spare moment at Cass s house, not because it was a hundred times nicer than his own depressing flat but because it had Cass in it.

,erry s love for her was as unwavering as ever but fear of re*ection had so far prevented him doing anything about it. She seemed to adore him but that, ,erry "ept gloomily reminding himself, was Cass s way. What if she didn t) 2are he ta"e that chance and ris" losing everything) 't was a problem that had been tearing ,erry apart for wee"s. ,he only thing that seemed to help @ cheering him up and dulling the pain of uncertainty @ was vast %uantities of &ohnnie Wal"er 7ed 8abel. 0alf a bottle every night and he was happy again, reassured that Cass loved him every bit as much as, if not more than, she had once loved &ac". ,onight, after rather more &ohnnie Wal"er than usual, ,erry decided it was high time he did something about it. 0e had to let Cass "now how he felt. 'f he waited much longer he was going to find himself in the 'ui ess 1oo( of 6ecords under +reatest length of unre%uited love .
,erry was waiting by the front porch when Cleo and Cass arrived home after visiting :andora. ' don t believe it. Cleo, who was driving, was tempted

for a moment to put her foot down. 6ven if she couldn t %uite bring herself to run him over she could spray him painfully with gravel. 't s almost eleven o cloc" and your fan club s waiting on the doorstep. Can t you *ust give him your autograph and send him home) /ut Cass was already waving to ,erry through the car window. 0e s lonely, that s all. 4ot to mention boring. Cleo was suddenly glad she had to be up at five in the morning for a ,estino shoot in 6dinburgh. She yawned. Oh well, if you re going to be nice to the old soa", ' m going to bed. Coffee) as"ed Cass, reaching up to ta"e a pair of blue$ and yellow cups down from the glass$fronted wall cabinet. ,erry fingered the %uarter bottle of whis"y in the poc"et of his raincoat. Cass had a distressing habit of running out of drin" in the house and forgetting to buy more. 6ven more alarmingly, sometimes she hadn t run out of drin" at all, she *ust thought he d had enough and tried to sober him up with coffee instead. 't was why ,erry had brought along a little something of his own. 0e d *ust have to slosh a good measure into his cup when she wasn t loo"ing. (fter all, he definitely needed something to spur him on. Cass thought at first it was a *o"e. #or the past half an hour everything had been perfectly normal. (ll she d done was carry their empty coffee cups through to the "itchen, dump them in the sin" and "ic" off her shoes on her way bac" to the sitting room. When she reached it, the biscuit tin was still perched on the arm of the sofa but ,erry, who had been
sitting ne3t to it, was no longer there.

,he ne3t moment, almost as if he had been deliberately lying in wait behind the sitting$room door,

he pushed it firmly shut, too" both Cass s hands in his own and said urgently, -,ell me you love me. :lease, Cass. 4ow. What) She smiled, searching his face, waiting for the inevitable punchline. /ut ,erry was staring at her, his e3pression intense. ,he smell of stale alcohol was strong enough to ma"e Cass flinch. 't s not a *o"e. ' ve waited so long for you to say it. 0e s%uee!ed her hands so hard Cass felt her "nuc"les scrape together. My darling, you must "now how ' feel about you. 0ow much longer do you e3pect me to wait) &ust tell me you love me, please. Oh, but . (s Cass, horrified, opened her mouth to protest, ,erry groaned and pulled her into his arms. 0is mouth, wet and whis"y$sodden, clamped down on hers. She felt his teeth gra!e her lower lip. 't was an ine3pert "iss, a desperate one, and fond though she was of ,erry she couldn t bear to let it go on. 2on t ... mmphhggh . . . stop it . . /ut determination had granted ,erry new strength and he wasn t about to give up now. 'nflamed by the physical contact he had dreamt of for so very long, he pressed his mouth over Cass s once more and began pulling her towards the sofa. Once Cass reali!ed he meant what he said 5 that he truly did love her 5 she would stop fighting it, he was sure. (ll he had to do was convince her.
Cass wasn t scared but she "new she had to deal with the situation before it had a chance to get seriously out of control.

(s ,erry propelled her across the room, the bac"s of her thighs hit the sofa. So intent was he on "issing her 5 and persuading J her to "iss him bac" 5 that he didn t reali!e what she was reaching for. ,he blac"$and$gold biscuit tin crashed down on the bac" of his he a d a nd ,e rry sa w ma t c hi n g bl a c "$ a nd$gold stars. What the . . . )

Staggering beneath the impact, he overbalanced and fell bac"wards across the sofa, ending up bum$ first in a heap of tasselled cushions. ,he screw top on the whis"y bottle in his *ac"et poc"et had been less than firmly fastened. 6ven as Cass watched, an amber stain was spreading across the front of his crumpled trousers. She loo"ed down at the tin in her hands and saw it had a fair$si!ed dent in it. Oh dear, drawled Cleo, who had heard the sound of tussling as she came downstairs for a glass of water. ' hope those biscuits are all right.
,erry was distraught. 0is worst fears had been reali!ed. 4ot only did Cass not love him but he had made a complete and utter ninny of himself into the bargain.

0ow he could have got so carried away was beyond him, but he had. Worse still, he had needed to be brained with a biscuit tin in order to be brought bac" to his senses. 0ideously ashamed of what he had done, ,erry didn t "now which was harder to bear, Cass s sympathetic understanding or Cleo s smir"ing disdain.
One thing he did "now; his enduring friendship with Cass was over. 6ven if she could forgive and forget, there was no way he could ever forgive himself.

,ears swam in ,erry s eyes as he ga!ed at Cass for the last time.

't s all right, you don t have to be polite. Why would you be interested in someone li"e me anyway) ' m *ust a decrepit old has$been who drin"s too much. Come on now, this is silly. Cass was worried about letting him leave but when she put her hand on his arm he flinched li"e a burns victim. -,here s no need to be upset. 't was a simple mista"e, that s all. 4o harm done. 4o harm done) 2espite everything, ,erry almost smiled. .ou really don t understand, do you) .ou have no idea how it feels to love someone . . . <nable to go on, he shoo" his head and opened the front door. Im sorry, sorry about everything. .ou don t have to worry, either. .ou won t see me again. (nd that s a promise. When he had gone, Cass sat down on the bottom step of the staircase and buried her head in her hands. Cleo, who had with uncharacteristic diplomacy retreated to the "itchen during the final emotional farewells, reappeared. 8oo", Mum, maybe it s *ust as well he s gone. ,he last thing you need is hassle li"e that. Oh, but how the poor man must be feeling, Cass sighed. 'magine how you d be feeling now , Cleo bris"ly retaliated, if he d raped you. 0e wouldn t have raped me. .ou don t "now that. Wearily Cass shoo" her head. -,erry s a good man. ( "ind man. ,o thin" after all these years, ' didn t have the least idea how he felt. (nd now ' ve re*ected him, made him miserable @ ,hat s hardly your fault. Cleo was unforgiving. (nyway, serves him right for being a prat.

G/ut this feels almost worse than splitting up with your father, Cass wailed. ' don t "a t to hurt someone else that much. ' feel so guilty. (t least when &ac" left ' didn t have to feel guilty. Oh +od, do you thin" ,erry will be all right) Course he will. (s soon as he sobers up. Cleo, who was hungry, retrieved the biscuit tin from the sitting room. 8oo" at that, she e3claimed in disgust. 0ow could you say no harm done) ,hese bourbons are beyond repair.

Chapter 31
'mogen was at her wits end. 'n the ten days since Sophie had moved in, the flat had become scarcely recogni!able. 't was li"e being invaded by an army of s%uatters, e3cept they wouldn t spend as much time hogging the bathroom. (s far as 'mogen could ma"e out, Sophie ate fifteen meals a day and used every "itchen implement "nown to man in order to prepare each one. ,hese she then dumped in the sin" along with the plates of half$eaten food which were undoubtedly too disgusting to finish. 'mogen felt sic" *ust having to loo" at the concoctions Sophie was capable of con*uring up. She cringed at the peanut butter$and$chocolate$sauce splashes plastered across the wall behind the Magimi3. She marvelled at the fact that she was the one e3pected to do all the washing$up. ' ll have a word with her, was &ac" s way of fobbing 'mogen off, but you have to give Sophie a bit of leeway, darling. She is studying for her +CS6s. 'mogen doubted whether Sophie could study anything with bloody #oo #ighters blaring non$stop. 4or did she see why

she and &ac" should be banished to the bedroom at nine o cloc" each evening when Sophie, instead of going to sleep as she was supposed to do, lay in solitary splendour across the sofa watching ,? until gone midnight. (s the days wore by, 'mogen began to suspect &ac" s precious daughter was doing it on purpose. When Sophie arrived home from school the ne3t day with a bo3 of frogs, she decided the time had come to spea" out. OK, Sophie, what s the plan) (re you deliberately trying to ma"e my life hell) Oh no, is that what you thin") Sophie loo"ed dumbfounded. ' m sorry, 'mogen, really ' am. ,his was half the trouble9 despite the chaos she caused, Sophie was unfailingly polite and apologetic. ,he frogs are part of my biology pro*ect. ,hey won t get in your way, ' promise. ' m going to ta"e brilliant care of them. 7ibbit, chorused the frogs in their perspe3 bo3. 7ibbit.
' m not *ust tal"ing about the frogs. 'mogen willed herself to stay calm. -,his morning after you left for school ' spent an hour cleaning the bath, wiping marmalade off the television screen and trying to get the smell of pic"led onions out of the rug in front of the fire.

She forbore to mention *ust how much the rug 5 cream and white and nineteenth$century :ersian 5 had cost. Sophie hung her head. Sorry again. ,he *ar slipped out of my hand. .et your father insists you re normally clean, tidy and pretty much house$trained. Which ma"es me thin" all this havoc$ma"ing is a bit of a put$on. 'mogen gave her a long, cool loo". (nd it isn t going to wor". So

why don t you *ust give in gracefully, go bac" home and leave us in peace)
Sophie s eyes filled with tears. ' m not doing anything on purpose, honestly. Of course ' ll leave if ' have to, but where would ' go) 4ot home . . . ( single tear rolled down the side of her nose. .ou can t ma"e me go home.

' don t see why you don t want to. 'mogen s teeth were clenched together so tightly her *aw ached. .ou ve been perfectly happy there for the past fifteen years. So was 2ad, but you didn t mind when he left. Sophie loo"ed defiant. ' don t see why ' can t leave too. ,hen she heaved a sigh. (nyway, ' can see ' m not wanted here, so ' ll move out tomorrow. Will after school be OK) Say, five o cloc") 'mogen loo"ed at her. Where will you go) 2on t worry, ' can loo" after myself. Sophie wiped the lone tear from her chee" with the bac" of her s"inny white hand. -,hat cardboard bo3 your washing machine was delivered in last wee", is it still around) (nd if you could spare a couple of old blan"ets . . <nder the circumstances, &ac" did the only thing he could do. 7ight, he announced, returning home the following day loo"ing e3tremely pleased with himself. -,hat s that sorted. What) demanded 'mogen. Sophie said nothing, simply loo"ed at her father and blin"ed. +et pac"ing, &ac" declared. ' ve rented a house in Wimbledon. We can move in tonight. 'mogen glanced across at Sophie.

What) .ou mean she s coming too) Of course. &ac" determinedly ignored the tension in the air. We re all going. ,he house has five bedrooms, more than enough space for everyone. (nd, he announced firmly, ' ve arranged for a cleaning woman to come in five mornings a wee". So that s that. (ll our problems solved. 4ow maybe we can start to rela3 and en*oy each other s company. Maybe, he said, smiling at the two girls in turn, the situation in future could be less . . . fraught.
Oh hell, thought Sophie, appalled by what she had done. Shit, thought 'mogen, her heart sin"ing as she reali!ed &ac" had presented them with a perfect fait accompli.

7ibbit, cac"led the frogs in their perspe3 bo3.


Sophie could have "ic"ed herself for getting it so spectacularly wrong. 4ow ' ve really messed up, she groaned over a plate of cottage pie in the comforting familiarity of her own home. She loo"ed in anguish at Cass, who sat opposite her at the "itchen table. 2ad had even hired a van to get all our stuff over there in one go. When he was in #loo!e s flat he could leave any time he li"ed. 4ow, than"s to me, he s ta"en a house on a five$year lease. 't s made them a proper couple, she said woefully. #ive years . . . it sounds so perma e t. (ll ' ve done is made everything worse.

't s not your fault. Cass tried to pretend it couldn t matter less but the news had still come as a body blow. She too had been reassured by the thought that &ac" s move into 'mogen s mews flat had an air of temporariness about it. 4ow, however, &ac" appeared to be committing himself and Cass found herself feeling more and more

alone. 0er family was drifting away from her, for the first time in her life the radio show seemed more of a chore than an adventure, and ,erry appeared to have vanished from the face of the earth. 7epeated phone calls to his bedsitter having yielded no reply, she had gone round to see him last night only to discover from the girl ne3t door that ,erry had moved out. ' as"ed him if he wanted to leave a forwarding address but he said there wasn t any point, the girl had told Cass, impressed to thin" her e3$ne3t$door neighbour had "nown someone so famous. She wrin"led her nose and smiled. 0e was a funny old chap, wasn t he) 4ot that any of us saw much of him but he seemed %uite nice. 2ran" li"e nobody s business, mind you. 2id he really have his own radio show once) /laming herself for ,erry s disappearance only made Cass feel even worse than she did already. What if he were to commit suicide or drin" himself to death as a result of her re*ection of him) What, she thought with a shiver, if he were already dead) 2on t panic, ' m almost sure you wouldn t get done for manslaughter, Sophie said soothingly when Cass confided her fears. &ust so long as we don t say anything to the police about you battering him over the head with a biscuit tin@ ?ery funny, Cass fretted. ' don t "now how you can *o"e about it. ,hat poor man. 0e could be dead . . Sophie was eminently practical. Come on, he s not that stupid. .ou ve been reading too much 6omeo a d 7uliet. With some relief, she added, ' thin" it s definitely time ' moved bac" home. .es) Cass s spirits lifted at once. What about the big house in Wimbledon) 8eave them to it, ' suppose. Sophie shrugged. ' did my

worst and it bac"fired. #loo!e was on to me, anyway. She guessed ' was doing all that stuff on purpose. Well, ' m *ust glad you re coming bac". +etting up from the table, Cass enveloped her in a hug. (nd even if it didn t wor", it was a nice try. Oh, don t worry. Sophie, who had been spending a lot of time recently on the phone to Cleo, gave her mother a small, controlled smile. We haven t given up yet.

Chapter 32
So you re planning to spend the summer here in 6ngland. 'mogen, chec"ing her notes and double$chec"ing the tape recorder was running smoothly, "new she couldn t afford to ma"e any mista"es. /ut filming 3rac(shot is only going to ta"e up seven or eight wee"s at most. So what plans do you have for the rest of your time here) +oodness, 2ino Carlisle was handsome. Meeting him in the flesh, too, was even more of a revelation. Since the film parts in which he was invariably cast were of the invincible hero variety, 'mogen had automatically assumed him to be a "eep$fit fanatic, humourless and possibly a bit thic". 'nstead, upon being shown into his sumptuous fifth$floor suite at the dauntingly swish 8anesborough, she had been %uite bowled over by the welcome she had received and by the fact that 2ino Carlisle was so very much more charming and approachable than she had imagined. What are my plans for the rest of my time here) 0e ga!ed across at her, the spar" in his green eyes not humourless at all. .ou mean my real plans or the ones we ma"e up for the benefit of your devoted readers)

/eads of perspiration tric"led down between 'mogen s breasts. She hoped she didn t loo" as flustered as she felt. Why don t you tell me your plans and ' ll decide how much our devoted readers can ta"e. She gave him a prim smile. OK. 2ino Carlisle grinned bac". Well, ' guess ' ll be loo"ing up a few old friends. (nd hopefully ma"ing one or two new ones. ' m sorry, do ' have the heating turned up too much in here) 's this temperature uncomfortable for you) Well, maybe a touch . .
My fault. 2ino grinned again, revealing 0ollywood$ white teeth. .ou came here dressed for a misty (pril morning in 8ondon and ' m suffocating you with summer in California. Moc"ing his own accent he drawled, ' m sorry, ' m *ust a selfish, pig$ignorant, ill$mannered ac$tor. 0ere, let me open a couple of windows.

'mogen began to rela3. She removed her grey &asper Conran *ac"et and allowed 2ino to ta"e it from her. 'n true California style he was wearing a casual white cotton shirt and well$worn K>Ls. 0is toffee$brown tan loo"ed as delicious as the body beneath it. ,he temptation to reach out and touch that almost too$ perfect flesh was overwhelming. 7ight, well, better get on. 2ragging her attention bac" to the interview, 'mogen glanced once more at her notes. .our agent granted us thirty minutes and ' reali!e how busy you must be@ ,a"e no notice of him. 2ino gave her a disarming smile as he sat bac" down, stretching out on his side across the yellow sofa. 0e only does that to ma"e

the press thin" ' m more important than ' really am. 't s the old +arbo thing, see) ,reat em mean, "eep em "een. 0e win"ed at 'mogen. G/ut it s all bullshit. .ou can stay here as long as you li"e.
'mogen was en*oying herself. ,he interview was going li"e a dream, 2ino Carlisle had "ept her thoroughly entertained for

almost two hours and room service had supplied them with a fab lunch of asparagus, gingered sea bass and raspberry brMlBe. 2ino had even refused to let her pic" up the tab. 0ell, why should you) ' m having fun, he had protested. ,he least you can let me do is buy you lunch. 0e really was a tremendously nice man. Charismatic, too. /as"ing in the pleasurable glow of such undivided attention, 'mogen smiled and nodded when he offered her another glass of white wine. /eing flirted with was always an ego$boost. When the man showing such obvious interest was none other than 2ino Carlisle it was almost impossible to resist. 't was *ust about impossible not to flirt bac", either. +lancing down at her feet, 'mogen saw that without even reali!ing it she had "ic"ed off her shoes. 0er s"irt had ridden a couple of inches higher up her thighs and she had swivelled into a rela3ed, sideways position in her chair with one foot comfortably tuc"ed beneath the other leg. ,al" about body language, thought 'mogen. What a dead giveaway. 8eaning forward, inserting a fresh tape into the cassette recorder on the coffee$table between them, she tried to concentrate on the %uestions she was supposed to be as"ing. Oh help, ne3t on her list she had written se3 life . She too" a deep breath. OK, girlfriends. ' "now you li"e to "eep your private life private but is there anyone special at the moment) /eneath the mane of unruly dar" hair, 2ino s eyebrows

twitched. 4ow there s a %uestion. 0is voice softened. Well, what can ' say) 0ow about possibly) 0e hesitated. Or should that be hopefully) (s a *ournalist, 'mogen was unable to resist the dig. 0ow about enigmatically) Sorry, ' m not trying to be enigmatic. 2ino was loo"ing at her in such a way that 'mogen s throat went suddenly dry. -,he thing is, ' m not too sure myself. ' "now ' ve met someone special, ' *ust don t "now how she feels about me. 't s early days, you see. 0e paused, then said, (ctually, that s not true. More li"e early hours. 0eavens. 'n her chest, 'mogen s heart was going nineteen to the do!en. 0er palms were damp. She found she couldn t drag her ga!e away from those mesmeri!ing emerald$green e ye s . 2 a m n , s h e m u s t l o o " l i " e a r a b b i t p a r a l ys e d b y headlights.
(nd before you as", ' propositioning pretty *ournalists. don t ma"e a habit of

Stalling for time, 'mogen said, 4o) 4o. 2ino s smile was rueful. 2angerous hobby. .ou never "now when you might be being ta"en for a ride. 'magine the blow to the ego if you thought you d ac%uitted yourself with honours 5 then discovered in print that the last time they d had that lousy a time in bed was when they d been struc" down with flu. 'mogen managed a sha"y laugh, then drew breath. 0ow do you "now ' wouldn t say that) ' don t. ' *ust happen to thin" you re worth the

ris". 0is ga!e flic"ered for a moment. ' also hope you wouldn t eed to say it. ' don t "now if you reali!e how attracted ' am to you, but@

Stop, 'mogen said unhappily. :lease, don t say any more. ' m sorry, you really are one of the nicest men ' ve ever met, but you must stop. ' m already involved with someone else, you see. (nd ' love him. ' m tremendously flattered by all this, her vague gesture around the suite included 2ino himself, but nothing can come of it. ' m . . . spo"en for, ' suppose. (nd ' could never be unfaithful to &ac". Cleo was utterly disgusted. Well, she grumbled, all ' can say is you can t have tried very hard.
' did. 2ino grinned, unperturbed. ' gave it my all,

as you /ritish so weirdly say. (nd if ' say so myself, ' was magnificent. She *ust turned me down flat. She even apologi!ed but said she loved your old man too much to ever cheat on him. ' thought it was "inda cute. ,o infuriate Cleo even more, he couldn t resist adding, (nd ' "now you described her as the hag$from$hell but she really wasn t half as bad as you made out. She s an attractive girl, great body, good company@ #ine, let s hope she writes a good obituary. Cleo sei!ed a blue tasselled cushion and pressed it across his face.
(t least you "now she really is in love with your

father, 2ino protested when she let him breathe again. OK, so maybe it wasn t the result you wanted but isn t that still a reassuring thing to find out) What a completely dumb thing to say, howled Cleo. ' don t give a stuff whether or not 'mogen ,rent loves my father. (ll ' want is for him to stop loving her. 2ino and Cleo had first met two years earlier at a stultifyingly dull celebrity party in 4ew .or" thrown to publici!e the launch of a new perfume. ,he perfume,

named after and supposedly created by a face$lifted, drug$ addicted movie star in her fifties was being touted as the e3plosive new fragrance of the year. Cleo, wal"ing into the hotel ballroom where the launch was being held and breathing in the scent for the first time, had declared, Smells li"e don"ey droppings to me. Sadly, she had failed to recogni!e the drastically relifted face of the middle$aged movie star standing less than three feet away. ,he star, who favoured toyboys and maintained a pathological fear of having them enticed away by stunning e i gh t e e n $ ye a r $ o l d gi r l s , h a d s p u n r o u n d , b a gl e s s e ye s bla!ing. .ou. Smart$mouthed 6nglish bitch. &ut.
Oh, heavens . . . ,oo late, Cleo reali!ed her mista"e. Clapping her hands over her mouth, she ga!ed in ab*ect dismay at the furious female before her. ' m so sorry, ' didn t mean it . . . your perfume doesn t really smell of don"ey droppings@

Out, hissed the star, her capped teeth bared in a snarl. /o".
/ut@ Come on. 2ino Carlisle, whom Cleo had never met before in her life, too" her arm and swept her towards the e3it.

2ino1 cried the star, who had pinned her hopes on his becoming her ne3t toyboy. .ou can t leave . . ,he papara!!i, thrilled that something photogenic was at last happening, began fren!iedly snapping away. 7ight, let s get out of here, 2ino told a speechless Cleo. 8oudl y enough for t he press t o hear, he sai d, (nd fi nd somewhere that doesn t smell of 6au de =oo.

,hey had been friends ever since that night, the friendship cemented still further by the reali!ation that although they li"ed each other tremendously, there wasn t so much as an iota of se3ual chemistry between them. ' can t understand it, 2ino had once drawled, amused but at the same time perple3ed. .ou re gorgeous and ' love you to death . . . so why don t ' fancy you) Maybe you re gay. 0e loo"ed appalled. ' am ot.
(nyway, who cares) Cleo shrugged and grinned. ' don t fancy you either. We must have been brother and sister in some past life.

4ow, putting the tasselled cushion with which she had tried to suffocate him bac" on the sofa, 2ino refused to be bullied into submission by Cleo s pig$headed attitude. She had done her best to catch 'mogen out and had failed. 't was something she was simply going to have to accept. .ou re being unreasonable, he pointed out. -,he whole point of doing these chec"$up things of yours was because you wanted people to be happy and faithful. .ou told me how depressing it was, watching everyone fail their tests. ' thin" you should be pleased someone finally passed. 6ven if it is my father s tart of a girlfriend) said Cleo gloomily. Oh 2ino, ' "now ' wanted my faith in humanity restored. ' *ust didn t want it done for me by 'mogen bloody ,rent.

Chapter 33
,he si3th and final episode of Sea )a deville & Sho"

was in the can. 6ach thirty$minute segment was interspersed with behind$the$scenes footage of Sean preparing to go on stage and winding down after each performance. 'n "eeping with his image, there were girls galore to help him wind down. When the :andora story finally bro"e only days before the last episode was due to be filmed, the producer was desperate to have her included. We need her if we re going to be topical, he e3plained to Sean. Come on, it s all good human$interest stuff. +et the girl down here. /ut :andora was still smarting over Sean s accusation that she might be trying to gain attention simply by being associated with him. She steadfastly refused to be involved. &ust a two$minute piece, the producer urged over the phone. ,hat :andora was blac", as far as he was concerned, only heightened the intrigue. .ou wouldn t even have to come to the club. We can do it at the house. Sorry, said :andora, but no. 't s Sean s series, not mine. .ou re Sean s family, the producer reminded her. :eople are interested. ,hey want to see you. What, :andora thought sadly, so they can snigger and wonder what Sean Mandeville ever saw in me) :lease . . . ) wheedled the producer. 4o. &ust tell everyone ' m pregnant and the si!e of a whale, said :andora. (nd it s not a pretty sight. ,hey really wouldn t want to see me.
,he end$of$series party was held at Comedy 'nc. the following #riday. /y ten o cloc" the club was straining at its grubby, nicotine$stained seams.

't was, Sean decided, probably *ust as well :andora had chosen to stay at home. 0e hadn t the least

idea why she had so stubbornly refused to appear in front of the cameras but steering clear of tonight s party 5 when it was pac"ed with this many people 5 was undoubtedly a sensible move. 't also meant he was free to rela3 and en*oy himself without having to loo" after :andora and perpetually wonder if she was all right. 4ot, he hastily e3cused himself, that he minded9 it was *ust one of those things. :andora wouldn t "now a soul here, whereas he "new *ust about everyone. Sean s attention at that moment was caught by a face in the crowd over at the far end of the room. 't was a face belonging to one of the few people there he didn t "now but whom he nevertheless instantly recogni!ed .. . Since brea"ing off her engagement to Colin, 8inda 8a!enby had discovered *ust how painful being single could be. 2esperately unprepared for the loneliness which had engulfed her li"e a tidal wave 5 for since the age of fourteen she had simply fallen from one relationship into the lap of the ne3t 5 8inda had ta"en on more and more wor" in a panic"y attempt to blot out the horror. Only the even more terrifying prospect of having to face the wrath of Cleo Mandeville had "ept her from begging Colin s forgiveness and crawling bac" into his unfaithful arms. /ut Cleo hadn t warned her that being young, free and single would be this vile. 4or had spending the last si3 wee"s in 4ew .or" helped. Male 4ew .or"ers were a decidedly off$ putting lot. 4ow, bac" in 8ondon, she couldn t find anything that could be called an improvement. 0elp, thought 8inda with a renewed pang of fear, won t ' ever meet anyone nice again) (nd then she saw Sean Mandeville coming towards her and her heart did an odd little s"ip. 4ot that his being here was in

any way a surprise, seeing as the party was in his honour, but she was *olted by how good$loo"ing he was. 't really seemed, too, as if he was heading directly for her. Sorry, said Sean, no gate$crashers. Oh . . . 8inda s hands fluttered to her bony chest. Chronically insecure, it didn t occur to her for a moment that he might be *o"ing. /ut ' was invited, honestly. ' m here with Margo 0amilton, only ' thin" she s got lost in the loo or something . . Calm down. <p close, Sean was able to see the fear in those slanting violet eyes. Of course you re invited. ' *ust came over to say hello because ' "now you re a friend of Cleo s. 0e bro"e into a grin. 0ello, friend of Cleo s. ' m Sean. Oh. ,he fear left 8inda s eyes. 0ugely relieved that she wasn t about to be turfed out on her ear, and unsure what to do ne3t, she sei!ed Sean s hand and shoo" it so vigorously the chain belt around her waist rattled li"e a gaoler s "eys. .es, Cleo and ' ve "nown each other for years. She s brilliant, isn t she) 0mmm. Sean loo"ed doubtful. -,ry being her brother. 't s so lovely to meet you at last, as well. ,oo busy gushing to thin", 8inda went on, ' as"ed Cleo to introduce us ages ago but she wouldn t. 7eally) Sean raised an eyebrow. Why not) Oh . um . 0e loo"ed amused. 8et me guess. ' m the big bad wolf. Well, "ind of. ,hough ' m sure you aren t . . Sean said gravely, ' m much misunderstood. 0ere comes Margo. +lancing behind him, Sean saw Margo 0amilton ma"ing

her way through the crowds. 4ow there was a model he didn t care for. Margo was a big$boned, big$mouthed ,e3an. (nd she was taller than he was. She s got her coat on. 8inda sounded unhappy. Oh dear, it loo"s as if we re leaving. 7apidly, before bossy Margo could butt in, Sean said, .ou don t have to leave *ust because she is. 8oo", how about coming for something to eat with me) ,o celebrate meeting each other, he smiled at 8inda, against all odds and my interfering sister s wishes. ,han" goodness Cleo was in Milan this wee", safely out of the way and unable to stic" her oar in. Come along, 8inda, we ve had enough now. ,ime to go. Oh, hello, Sean. ,here was no warmth in the greeting. Sean s disli"e of Margo was entirely reciprocated. 8inda glanced nervously from one to the other. Sean s brief nod of encouragement was accompanied by a ghost of a smile. Margo began to chivvy her towards the door. Come o . ' m OK here, actually. 8inda blurted out the words, reali!ing that Sean wasn t about to intervene. 0e was leaving it up to her. 't was scary but thrilling. What are you tal"ing about) Margo s eyes narrowed. 8inda had. never answered bac" in her life. .ou go, ' ll stay. 8inda vividly recalled Cleo s urgent pleas that she should learn to stand up for herself. What better time to start, 8inda thought with a rush of pride ... and who better than Cleo s own gorgeous brother to start with) 0ave you been drin"ing) Margo demanded crossly. Only 2iet Co"e.

Come on now, 8inda. ' really thin"@ 't s all right, ' ll ta"e care of her. 0ighly amused

by the spectacle of the worm turning, Sean slid his arm around 8inda s %uivering, wafer$thin waist. She ll be fine with me. 't didn t ta"e long for the gossip to filter bac" to Cleo when she arrived home from Milan three days later. 2ue to appear at a charit y fashion show at t he #our Seasons that aft er noon, she turned up early. 8inda, one of the other celebrity models doing their bit for Children in 4eed, greeted her with delight. .ou re bac"1 Oh, ' m so glad to see you again. .ou ll never guess what ' did the other night@ Cleo sincerely hoped she couldn t. <nable to face playing along, she said flatly, 't s Sean, isn t it) 8inda, whatever it was you did, you must never do it again. ' can t believe you even spo(e to him. What did ' tell you, Cleo wailed, about getting involved with bastards) ' "now, ' "now, 8inda ga!ed at her in earnest, but that s *ust it . . . he is t a bastard. Oh Cleo, he s really nice @ /alls, said Cleo, terrifying one of the show s organi!ers. ,he little man bac"ed away in alarm. Sean said you d say that. 8inda shoo" her head in sorrowful fashion. 0er raspberry$pin" taffeta froc" crac"led in sympathy. Well, maybe not balls e3actly, but he "new you d get funny. /elieve me, ' ll get even funnier when ' see him. .ou could at least be a bit pleased for me. Cut to the %uic" by Cleo s unsympathetic attitude, 8inda s heavily mascaraed eyes swam with tears. .ou "now how

unhappy ' ve been since@ Since you gave Colin the boot. Such gratitude, thought Cleo despairingly. .es, yes, ' do "now. /ut getting involved with my brother isn t the answer. 0e ll ma"e you unhappier than Colin ever could. .ou ll end up unhappy beyond your wildest dreams. .ou re only his sister. 0ow can you possibly understand) 8inda was stic"ing obstinately to her guns. ,he other evening with Sean had been one of the most wonderful of her life. 0e made me feel so alive, so special . . 't s a gift he has. Cleo "new she had to be brutal. Some people can play the piano, some can do card tric"s. Sean s talent is for ma"ing girls feel special. (hem, coughed the nervous organi!er behind her. Miss Mandeville, we re ready for you in the dressing room if you d li"e to come with me) 8inda, who was trying to be assertive, was finding it hard going. OK, so maybe lots of girls are mad about him, she blurted out in desperation, but he has to fall in love and settle down some time. Why not with me) Oh for heaven s sa"e1 63asperated beyond belief, Cleo shouted, What s he done, brainwashed you or something) What about :andora) Who) 8inda began to sha"e. Who s :andora)
Oh, come on1 ,he girl Sean lives with. Cleo glared at the cringeing organi!er then returned her attention to 8inda. -,he one who s about to have his baby.

4o, 8inda whimpered, disbelief. .ou aren t serious.

violet

eyes

wide

with

.ou mean you don t "now) 't s been in all the papers1

8inda, before her, was deflating li"e an old balloon. ,he taffeta froc" crac"led once more as she san" into a chair at the side of the stage. ' don t read the papers. Only 8ogue and Harpers. ,his was true. Cleo, "ic"ing herself for not having reali!ed that 8inda hadn t "nown about :andora, put her arms around her. ' m sorry ' shouted. ,his is all bloody Sean s fault. ,his time ' m really going to "ill him. 8inda s mascara was running freely down her face. Cleo hugged her again. Cheer up, at least you haven t had time to get properly involved.
8inda gave her a mournful loo". 0aven t ') Cleo sighed. Oh dear. 2id he seduce you) We went out to dinner, that s all. 0iccuping, 8inda too" the handful of tissues thrust at her by the agitated organi!er. 4othing else happened. Sean didn t seduce me. Maybe not physically, thought Cleo, but mentally he had. ' tried to warn you about him.

8inda nodded. What s she li"e, this :andora) Who is she) :andora s . . . nobody. Cleo didn t mean to be cruel, she was simply stating a fact. She s *ust very very nice. (nd she made the mista"e of getting involved with my brother.

Chapter 34

<nable to "ill Sean, who was 5 luc"ily for him 5 wor"ing in Scotland, Cleo decided to visit :andora instead. #eeling guilty on her appalling brother s behalf, she popped into 0arve y 4ichols beforehand and spent an hour choosing a sil" dressing gown in glorious sunset shades of ?enetian red and saffron yellow for :andora to wear when she went into hospital. 't was a poor substitute for a faithful partner but it might *ust lift her spirits. (nd, thought Cleo, it was a damn sight better than that terrible grey$blue towelling thing she had spotted hanging up in the bathroom the last time she d called round. 't s beautiful, sighed :andora, who wasn t over$fond herself of the blue dressing gown &oel had given her for Christmas two years ago. 't had never recovered from being chuc"ed by him into the washing machine on a ferociously hot wash along with four sets of oily mechanics overalls.

,hose colours really suit you. with her final choice.

Cleo was pleased

.ou shouldn t have bought it. Surreptitiously glancing at the label, :andora tried not to thin" how much this new robe must have cost. Of course ' should, thought Cleo, it s to ma"e up for my brother being a shit. (loud she said brightly, .ou have to have something decent to wear in hospital. Why are you breathing li"e that) 8i"e what) :ulling a funny face and "ind of holding your breath. Oh hell, is that what ' m doing) (s :andora spo"e, it began to happen again. With a sin"ing heart she reali!ed why. (westruc", Cleo gasped. 's this . . . it) 's this . . . la0our? 8oo"s li"e it. ,ypical, *ust when Sean isn t here. Oh, help

@ 2on t panic, ' m here. Cleo, who hadn t the faintest idea what giving birth entailed, assumed an e3pression of importance and guided :andora into a chair. Shall ' start boiling saucepans of water) Stic" some spaghetti in. :andora s breathing eased as the contraction receded. Cleo loo"ed alarmed. 'n where) ,he water, silly. Smiling, :andora nodded in the direction of the "itchen. 'n my how$to$have$a$baby boo" it says you re supposed to eat lots of pasta when you go into labour. ,o give you energy. Cleo, who wasn t domesticated, said, ' could phone our local 'talian restaurant and as" 8uigi to send something round. She wrin"led her nose. &ust thin", all that puffing and panting on top of all that garlic. .ou ll have the doctors dropping li"e flies. &oel hadn t the faintest idea what to e3pect either, when he arrived at the hospital three hours later. 0aving *umped red lights, cursed every other driver on the road and abandoned the /entley on double yellows when he couldn t find a par"ing space, it came as something of an anticlima3 to find :andora alone, sitting up in bed flipping through a
pile of maga!ines and watching 1lue 2eter on a portable colour television. 0i, said &oel, "issing her anyway and trying to hide his disappointment. ' thought women having babies clung to the headboards, swore non$stop and bit chun"s out of people s hands . . . and here you are loo"ing perfectly normal. 0e peered at the copy of 3osmopolita lying open across her lap. ,he article was headed Si3teen 4ew :ositions for Si!!ling Summer Se3 . Should you be

reading that) :andora closed the maga!ine 5 well, she could dream, couldn t she) 5 and put it to one side. ' haven t bitten any hands yet. 't only hurts every few minutes. 'n between contractions, she said with a loo" of apology. ' m fine. (nd what s this, some new "ind of hospital robe) &oel rubbed the sil" sleeve e3perimentally between thumb and forefinger. 0e frowned. Why aren t you wearing your own dressing gown) :andora, bracing herself as another contraction began to ta"e hold, didn t have the energy to fib. ,his one was a present from Cleo. She came round to the house at lunchtime. Oh well, fine. &oel, who had been *ust about to admire the design, said tightly, .ou may as well throw your old one away then . . . if Cleo s given you something better. /eads of perspiration sprang out on :andora s forehead. ,rying to breathe through the swelling wave of pain, she gasped, 2on t be childish. Cleo was the one who brought me to the hospital. She ll be bac" in a minute 5 she s *ust gone to the canteen for a coffee. ' m here. Cleo, standing in the open doorway, ga!ed across at &oel. &oel stared bac". :hew, :andora sighed as the contraction died away. ,hat had been a strong one. 4ow all she had to do was introduce &oel and Cleo. Or rather, reintroduce them. ' "now who you are, Cleo suddenly announced. (s if she could forget. 't had been one of the most interminable

evenings of her life. ' "now who you are, too. /ut . . . you re :andora s brother) Such powers of deduction, &oel murmured beneath his breath. 8oo" out, Sherloc". 0e was sitting on the edge of the bed. :andora "ic"ed him, hard. 8oo", ' m sorry. ,his is my fault. She turned to Cleo. ' didn t %uite have the nerve to tell you. ' can t believe it, said Cleo, still loo"ing at &oel. .ou . . OK, let s get one thing straight. &oel stood up. :andora, watching them both, thought; ,his is li"e the gunfight at the OK Corral. ' wasn t trying to chat you up that night, &oel said heavily. ' "now you thought ' was, but ' wasn t. 2amien Ma3well$0orne is a liar and a croo". ' felt you should be warned off him. ' "new what he was. Cleo s brown eyes glittered. 0e was cheating on the mother of a friend of mine. My *ob was to prove it, which ' did. With a shudder, she added, ' was never . . . involved with him. <gh, credit me with some taste. When she loo"ed again at &oel +rant, Cleo saw the cautious beginnings of a smile hovering around his mouth. 0onestly) 0onestly. 0e told us he d had to dump you, because you were frigid. 0e "hat? ,he lying weasel1 said &oel,

<m . . . said :andora hesitantly, could someone please call a nurse) &oel shrugged. Well, you can t say ' didn t try to warn you. 0e really said that) howled Cleo, beside herself with rage. (nd you believed him, ' suppose . . Could someone call a nurse please?
2amn right ' believed him. &oel was grinning now 0e said you were an uptight frigid bitch, and@

Shut up1 :andora yelled, reali!ing that the time had come
to start cursing and biting hands. +et a nurse in here 4OW1 ,ell them my waters have bro"en@ .eeuurgh, Cleo s%uealed.

Oh dear. &oel tried not to laugh. (ll over your new dressing gown too.
/anished from the delivery suite by both :andora and the senior midwife 5 4ow, now, you two, how on earth is the poor girl supposed to concentrate with all this bic"ering going on) 5&oel and Cleo retreated to the hospital canteen. 4urses, doctors and technicians came and went, gossiping over shepherd s pie and mugs of thic" 'ndian tea, snatching a few minutes of much$needed sleep, or gu!!ling down cans of

Co"e and salad sandwiches and poring over te3tboo"s to help them through the ne3t e3am. /ut if most of the hospital staff noticed and instantly recogni!ed Cleo Mandeville, with her distinctive crop of short, bright blond hair, glittering dar" eyes and Slavic chee"bones, Cleo didn t notice them. (ll she could concentrate on was &oel, :andora s brother, the man who had so annoyed her all those months ago and whom she had never been able to successfully put out of her mind since.

0e had been wearing a faded green rugby shirt last time, and battered *eans. 4ow, having come to the hospital straight from wor", he wore a well$cut dar"$ blue suit over a blue$and white striped shirt. 4ice tie, thought Cleo, good shoes too. 4ice hair, good body . . . great body .. .
2iscovering that her initial impression of &oel +rant had been so entirely off$beam too" some ad*usting to.

Cleo told him when he returned to their table with two cups of coffee. ' thought you were such a pig that night. Severely she added, (lthough ' still don t approve of the fact that you were happy enough to let 2amien buy the drin"s. 'f you hate someone that much you shouldn t accept drin"s from them. 0appy) ' was ecstatic, &oel retorted. -,hat man is forever pushing himself into conversations, getting himself included in big rounds then disappearing before there s any danger of having to buy one bac". 0e d never been "nown to open his wallet before. 0is meanness is legendary. 2amn right we were going to let him buy us a drin"1 Cleo sighed. ' didn t "now that. ' *ust despised you. ' m sorry. ,hat s OK. +rinning, &oel stirred three teaspoons of sugar into his coffee. ' felt *ust the same about you. .ou didn t help much, either, with that fairy godmother act the other wee". What fairy godmother act) /uying up most of 0arrods. ,he time had come, &oel reali!ed, to be fran". (ll those lacy, frilly, hand$embroidered baby things. Way too much stuff 5 and most of it dry$ clean only. ' "now how much that little spree must have set you bac". ' decided you d done it deliberately, to show us *ust

' can t get used to this,

how much we couldn t afford. Cleo s eyes bla!ed with indignation. Well, e3cuse me for being rich1 Can ' help it if ' ma"e silly money) (nd choose to spend it on people ' li"e) 4o, but@ (nyway, said Cleo, thin" how you d have reacted if ' d turned up with a couple of lousy /abygros. ' can *ust imagine the "ind of names you d have called me then. Of course he would. ,he coffee was disgusting. &oel pushed it to one side. OK, so you aren t as horrible as ' thought you were. 0e pulled a face. <nli"e this coffee. Cleo sighed. ' suppose you aren t either. #or several seconds they ga!ed at each other in silence. Cleo, never normally at a loss for words, could feel something strange happening in her chest. 't was li"e a giant moth battering frantically against her ribs. She loo"ed away first, shoc"ed to reali!e how violently attracted she was to &oel +rant. 0e wasn t in the least her type9 years of modelling meant she was used to chiselled, physically perfect men with bodies li"e panthers and 5 far too often 5 the brains of a si3$year$old. 4one of them had ever made Cleo s insides feel li"e this. 't was a shoc" feeling it now. &oel might be good$loo"ing in his own big, blond way but he was never li"ely to be mista"en for a model. ,he hair needed a cut, he could probably do with losing a few pounds around the middle and those shoulders were too broad even for someone of his great height. /ut none of these minor faults mattered in the least. Cleo li"ed them because they were part of &oel, *ust as she li"ed his bro"en nose and the way the bags under his eyes were

accentuated by that croo"ed, irreverent smile. (ll the attraction she had been unable to summon up for gorgeous, eminently fanciable 2ino Carlisle had been saving itself, she now reali!ed, for a different "ind of man altogether. 0er mind was wandering so happily in this new and une3pected direction that Cleo had almost forgotten where she was. /ringing her bac" to earth with a thump, &oel said, So what will happen, do you suppose, when this baby s born) 't ll scream a lot. (nd loo" li"e a fried tomato. ' m tal"ing about Sean. /e honest with me now. 's your brother messing my sister around) Cleo sighed. :robably. (lthough he is trying not to. Some people are naturally . . . good, ' suppose. (nd some aren t. 'f he hurts :andora, said &oel, ' ll "ill him. ' ve already told him that. Cleo thought unhappily of 8inda, who had had the narrowest of escapes. ,he only truly effective answer seemed to be to put Sean into permanent %uarantine. Maybe actually having the baby will settle him down. &oel didn t sound convinced. Maybe. Cleo glanced at her watch. Spea"ing of actually having the baby, perhaps we should go and see how :andora s getting on. &oel loo"ed s%ueamish. 0ow long do these things normally ta"e) 0ow long s a piece of umbilical cord) said Cleo.

Chapter 35

4ot at all sure he wanted to be there for the actual coming$ out but feeling morally obliged to pretend he did, Sean had responded to Cleo s phone call earlier by cancelling that evening s show and dutifully catching the 6dinburgh$to$ 8ondon shuttle. 0aving rather hoped the whole messy business would be over and done with by the time he reached the hospital, he was horrified to find himself being sei!ed and catapulted through the doors of the delivery suite by Cleo, &oel and an alarmingly burly midwife. &ust in time, gasped Cleo, who appeared to have pic"ed up a tremendous amount of *argon in the last few hours. She s into the second stage now . . . fully dilated and bearing down nicely . . 0ere, you ll need the sponge. Sean s hand. &oel pushed it into

What am ' supposed to mop up) /lood) Sean went white. (nd what the hell s the second stage when it s at home) 't means the baby s about to arrive. ,he midwife, almost as big as &oel and twice as disapproving, marched Sean through a second swing door. (s you would "now, young man, if you d bothered to attend a single antenatal class. 4ow get yourself in there and start ma"ing yourself useful. Mop that poor girl s brow. 't was half$past midnight when Sean staggered into the waiting room. Well) Cleo and &oel demanded in unison when he didn t spea". 't s a girl. Sean was shell$shoc"ed. Seven pounds five ounces. (ll the bits in the right places .. ( girl1 /eaming li"e an idiot, Cleo leapt up and hugged him. Oh, that s fantastic . . . what s her name)

0ell, ' forgot to as", murmured Sean. &oel stared at him in disbelief. What) /ut Sean had already fainted into the nearest chair. ,his is so weird, Cleo sighed. 8oo" at us. Whoever would have thought it) &oel obligingly loo"ed at her, stretched across the sofa with her bare feet resting in his lap. 0er blond hair was slic"ed bac" from her unmade$up face, the blac" cashmere sweater she wore had holes in both elbows and her well$worn *eans were splattered with dried mud, yet she was still the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Whoever would have thought it indeed) &oel still found the events of the past wee" hard to believe. 't was more than weird as far as he was concerned. 't was downright scary. ,he fact that Cleo didn t seem to have had so much as a moment s doubt about the situation was the scariest aspect of all. Could she really feel this way, &oel "ept as"ing himself, about someone li"e him) OK, maybe it wasn t e3actly /eauty and the /east 5 he wasn t that awful 5 but it was still the Supermodel and the <sed$Car Salesman. 0e couldn t help but be wary. Of course it was flattering, but was it realistic) Wasn t he in danger of falling into e3actly the same trap as :andora) 't was all very well, thought &oel, for Cleo to tal" ecstatically about true love but how did he "now she wasn t *ust amusing herself with a five$ minute fling) Oh stop it. +limpsing the e3pression on his face, Cleo guessed at once what was going through his mind. (gain. Stop what)

2on t be such an old pessimist. She gave his "nee an affectionate s%uee!e. 0ow many times do ' have to say it before you start believing me) ' love you, it s as simple as that. (ll we have to do now is rela3 and en*oy it. 0ow can ') &oel loo"ed e3asperated. .ou re Cleo Mandeville. ' m &oel +rant. ' m not rich, ' m not famous and ' sell second$hand cars for a living. ' mean, what are people going to thin") ,hat you must be a fantastically nice person, Cleo declared with passion. 4ot to mention e3traordinary in bed . . ,he words slipped out before she could help it. (s soon as Cleo heard herself utter them she felt her chee"s redden. 4ow what on earth could have possessed her to come out with a statement li"e that) ,his, of course, was the trouble with getting to "now someone in the romantic sense. When you were waiting for .. . ', . . . to happen but it hadn t happened yet 5 that delicate stage 5 there were certain *o"y remar"s better left unsaid. Cleo couldn t wait for ', to happen. 4ormally, she wouldn t have thought twice about instigating proceedings herself. /ut this time it was different. ,he situation was a tric"y one. <nder the circumstances, she felt, the seducing should be done by &oel. Of course ' m a nice person, &oel said drily. 't seemed safest to pretend her last statement hadn t been uttered. .ou "now that and ' "now that. ' *ust don t want the rest of the world thin"ing ' m your bit of rough. 8iar. Cleo grinned. .ou re scared because you thin" ' m a flighty piece. .ou thin" my only real ambition in life is to get laid by &ac" 4icholson. 0ow many times do ' have to tell you ' m not li"e that) 0mm. .ou mean not li"e Sean.

She smir"ed. 0e doesn t want to get laid by &ac" 4icholson either. .ou "now what ' mean. Oh come on, wasn t ' the one who saved 0arriet from the dreaded 2amien Ma3well$0orne) demanded Cleo. She didn t ma"e a habit of telling people about the Chec"amate system but &oel s refusal to ta"e her seriously was becoming irritating. 0e wasn t the first, either. ' don t *ust tal" about fidelity. /elieve me, ' do something about it. (re you serious) as"ed &oel twenty minutes later when she had finished telling him everything. .ou really chec" these people out) #or money) Of course not for money. What do ' need with more money) Cleo loo"ed offended. ' *ust did it to try and help a few friends. Ma3well$0orne was the only one ' dealt with in person, she added hastily. Other friends helped out with the rest, because it was in a good cause. /ut you ve stopped doing it now) Cleo nodded. -,oo depressing. .ou mean everyone failed the test) 4ot everyone. /ut most of them. She couldn t bring herself to mention 'mogen. ' wouldn t fail the test, said &oel %uietly. 0e loo"ed down at her for a long, heart$stopping moment. 'f it was tried on me. 6nough, Cleo decided, was enough. She was dying for &oel to ma"e love to her. 't was all very well being noble and telling herself she had to wait and let him ma"e the all$important first move, but how patient could he seriously e3pect her to be) Much longer and they d be %ueueing up together for their damn pensions. .ou mean you re incorruptible) Cleo glanced teasingly

up at him. .ou can resist anything) (nyone, &oel replied. (nything. 0mm. What are you doing) 4ow there s a silly %uestion. Cleo had risen slowly to her feet. Standing before him, in one movement she pulled the blac" cashmere sweater off over her head. 4e3t, her fingers moved to the !ip of her muddy *eans, unfastening it without ta"ing her eyes from &oel s face. 0e watched the famous body reveal itself, seventy inches of flawlessly sculptured flesh, na"ed apart from a tiny grey lace bra and matching thong. Cleo s s"in gleamed in the firelight, her coral toenails the only spots of colour against the not$%uite all$over tan. ,here was no getting away from it, she was truly irresistible .. . G:ut your clothes bac" on, said &oel in a low voice. Im sorry, ' don t want you to be offended but ' thin" you should put them on again now. 0e hadn t moved so much as a muscle. Cleo, smiling slightly, advanced towards him. With her hands on his shoulders she lowered herself onto &oel s lap. Stop it, said &oel. Cleo "issed him, her warm lips parting as they covered his. 0er tongue gently e3plored the inside of his mouth. 0er fingers did upwards, burying themselves in the blond hair at the bac" of his head9 her hips began to move slowly against him. ' mean it, said &oel, when he was able to spea" again. 0is tone was firm. 0e still hadn t moved. Come on now, be a good girl. :ic" those clothes up and put them bac" on. 0is voice softened. ' really am sorry, sweetheart, but it s for the best. 8oo", why don t ' put the "ettle on and ma"e us both a nice cup of tea)

0e caught up with Cleo by the front door. ,ears streamed down her face as she writhed li"e an eel to escape. 8et fuc"ing go of me . . . you bastard . . . get off !
2on t be silly, of course ' m not going to let go. &uch. &oel suc"ed in his breath as Cleo s toe$capped cowboy boot made vicious contact with his shin. +rimly he hung on. Calm down. stop crying. .ou can t leave anyway, not with your sweater on inside out.

Cleo didn t care. (ll she wanted to do was die. 0umiliated beyond belief by &oel s brutal re*ection 5 no, not brutal, it had been a "indly re*ection, which was a hundred times worse 5 he couldn t bear to stay in the house a moment longer. She couldn t bear to loo" at &oel. She couldn t stop crying either. /ut escape was impossible. &oel was bigger and much stronger than she was. 8ashing out with the other boot, Cleo missed completely and almost toppled over. She covered her wet face with both hands, slumped bac" against the wall and let out a howl of despair. 2ear me, said &oel with a sorrowful sha"e of his head. What a state to get into. (nd there ' was thin"ing you d be impressed. Cleo, red$eyed, glared at him. 'mpressed by what, your impotence) 'mpotence) &oel loo"ed amused. .ou still don t get it, do you) ' m not impotent. 0uh. Cleo spat the word out in disgust. 2amn right she hadn t got it. +ay, then. Oh come on. .ou dared me to resist you. 4o need to have a blue fit, &oel protested good$naturedly, *ust because ' won. She shot him a suspicious loo". 's this a *o"e)

Well, it was supposed to be. 0e grinned. 4ot one of my better ones, evidently. Cleo still didn t believe him. She had thought it might be a *o"e at first, but &oel had so adamantly refused to give in he must have meant it. ,here had been something else, too. Or rather there hadn t. ' was sitting on top of you, Cleo whispered, ashamed even to have to say it. (nd nothing . . . happened. Mind over matter. &oel shrugged, but loo"ed pleased with himself. 't s not easy, let me tell you. ,he thing is, you have to concentrate li"e cra!y on dustbins full of maggots .. . shipping forecasts ... how ugly the students are on 9 iversity 3halle ge . . ' ve never been so humiliated in my life, said Cleo. Well, ' m sorry but ' had something to prove. &oel stopped miling. 8i"e ' said, if ' had a steady girlfriend ' d be faithful N her. (nd nobody in the world @ o0ody . could ma"e me be unfaithful. 4ot even someone as beautiful as you. Cleo was on the verge of bursting into tears all over again. OK, OK, but you weren t supposed to ma"e me feel stupid. .ou could have "ept it going for the first minute, then given ,hat, &oel reminded her, would have defeated the ob*ect. Cleo s "nees were trembling. 0er eyes swam as she ga!ed p at him. So what happens now) 4ow) &oel s mouth twitched. What did she thin" he was, completely superhuman) 4ow ' thin" ' d better carry you upstairs and start proving a few things to you. (s he lifted her into his arms a single tear slid down Cleo s chee". She banished the rest with a noisy sniff. What things)

,hat ' m not impotent. ,hat ' m not gay. &oel "issed the solitary tear away. (nd that ' am e3traordinary in bed.

Chapter 36
't had been a good show. Come on, &enny said to Cass when it was over, that one deserves celebrating. ' ll treat you to lunch. ,hey went to 6dwina s, a smartly done$up restaurant less than half a mile from the Kingdom studios. ' haven t been here before, said Cass, ga!ing around. ,hey only opened two months ago. 8u"e told me about it. 0e said they do ama!ing pump"in ravioli. Cass said nothing. &enny tried so hard not to loo" smug, and so hard not to mention 8u"e in every sentence 5 failing abysmally every time 5 you couldn t help but smile. &enny tried to loo" shamefaced instead. ' "now, ' ve *ust done it again. Sorry. Stop apologi!ing1 ,hat s what 8u"e@ &enny clapped her hand over her mouth. 8oo", Cass protested, ' li(e it that you ve met someone wonderful. 4ow there s a coincidence. ' don t li"e it that you haven t. :lease, don t start. 4ot another lecture. ' want you to be happy, &enny protested. She meant it. 'f anyone deserved happiness it was Cass. ' don t need to be. Cleo s happy enough for both of us *ust

now. Cass pulled a long$suffering face. She s even more besotted than you are. 't s %uite sweet really, seeing her li"e this after all these years of being tough and cynical. ' was beginning to wonder if she d ever fall in love. ,he waiter arrived to ta"e their orders. &enny chose the pump"in ravioli followed by lemon chic"en because 8u"e had said that was terrific too. ' ll have the same. Cass "ept a straight face. What s good enough for 8u"e is good enough for me. Ouch, that was my a (le . . So Cleo s "eeping it in the family, &enny mused when the waiter had left them with a bottle of /arolo, with :andora s big brother. She nudged Cass s arm. +o on then, what s he li"e) /ig. 4ice. Cass had so far only met him twice, and those meetings had been brief, but from what she was able to tell of &oel he was *ust about perfect for Cleo. 0e s "eeping her in order. .ou "now how impetuous Cleo is. She s already *abbering on about wedding dresses and where to hold the reception. /ut &oel s ta"ing it all with a buc"et of salt. ,he press are dying to get their claws into him but he s not having any of it. +ood for him1 &enny leaned forward and dropped her voice. Spea"ing of the press getting their claws in, how s it going with &ac" and the floo!y) Oh, couldn t be more wonderful. 8ove s young dream, according to &ac". Middle$aged dream, more li"e, &enny retorted. Cass reali!ed she was stirring the wine in her glass with her inde3 finger. 't was a long$standing habit that had always driven &ac" to distraction. 4ow she was free to do it as much as she li"ed. #or a moment she was unable to spea".

0e s deluding himself, &enny went on, her tone forceful. Silly sod. ,a"e it from me. 6ven if he thin"s he s happy now, it ll never last. 4ot that it s going to affect me either way. Cass shrugged and tried to loo" unconcerned. 't s the decree nisi ne3t wee". 4ot long now to the absolute. &enny s dar" eyes widened. +od, ' had no idea. .ou didn t say. 2rily, Cass said, ' was trying not to thin" about it. ,he decree absolute s due on the first of &uly. Our wedding anniversary. Oh Cass@ One thing ' want you to promise. &enny nodded. (nything. What) &ust don t get me one of those *olly, *o"y, congratulations on$your$divorce cards, said Cass. ' couldn t bear it. ,he timely arrival of the translucent pump"in ravioli diverted &enny s attention for all of ten minutes. ,hen she was off again. .ou need to meet someone. (nd you sound li"e Sophie. Maybe we re both right. (s the waiter refilled their glasses &enny dabbed melted butter from the corner of her generously lipstic"ed mouth with a nap"in. ' mean it, Cass. 0onestly, you d feel so much better1 't gives you such a boost, "nowing someone really cares about you@ 8i"e ,erry /rannigan, you mean) Cass winced. 0e really cared about me . . . and what a tremendous boost to the ego that was. ,hat was his fault, not yours. Only Cass, &enny thought, could feel guilty about having inflicted such a well$deserved

bash on the head with a biscuit tin. ' still haven t heard from him. Cass, who worried endlessly about what might have happened to ,erry, still felt her heart s"ip a beat each time she read in the paper that another unidentified male had thrown himself beneath the wheels of a speeding tube train. ' m not going to give up, &enny warned. ' ll as" 8u"e if he has any eligible friends. 0elp. .ou re ma"ing me nervous. Cass shoo" her head in despair. ' m too old for all that. 'n that case ' ll change the sub*ect . . . for now. &enny gave her a sweet smile. Come on then, old lady. Show me those photos you were babbling on about earlier. ,he ones of your heavenly grandchild. ,erry /rannigan wiped his wet hands on an already damp apron and watched through the crac" in the red$painted swing door as Cass and the plump dar"$haired girl made their way out of the restaurant. Cass, wearing a blac"$and$white *ac"et, a flatteringly cut above$the$"nee blac" s"irt and high heels, loo"ed wonderful. &ames, the sous$chef, came to peer through the small circular window in the door. What s this, celebrity$spotting or *ust ogling a great pair of legs) ,hat s Cass Mandeville. ,erry turned away, his face e3pressionless. ' "now. ' m going to miss you so much, Cleo murmured. She cradled &oel s face between her hands and covered it with "isses. ' don t want to go to boring wet old ?enice. &oel smiled down at her.

So don t go. ' have to. Cleo smoothed his blond hair away from his forehead, glad he didn t use gel li"e every male model she had ever "nown. -,hey re paying me s%uillions. She brightened. /ut afterwards ' ll have a whole wee" free. We could get away somewhere. 0ave you ever been to (capulco) 't didn t occur to her that he had a car showroom to run. (t moments li"e this &oel reali!ed the immensity of the difference between them. ' m wor"ing. ' can t *ust ta"e a wee" off. Cleo, opening her mouth to as" why not, closed it again in the nic" of time. ' m sorry. ' m going to miss you, that s all. She tried to loo" penitent, failed miserably and "issed his adorable bro"en nose instead. .ou ll have to phone me hundreds of times to ma"e up for it. &oel could only too easily imagine the scenario9 it would ta"e a hundred calls before he managed to get hold of her. .ou ll be in ?enice, he pointed out. What are you going to do, loc" yourself in your hotel room each night and read the +ideon /ible) ' might go out. Cleo loo"ed offended. /ut it isn t as if ' ll be on the pull. 't still might be easier if you phone me. We ll phone each other. She threw her arms around him. Morning, noon and night. (fter all, ' have to ma"e sure you stay on the straight and narrow too. 't was easy for Cleo to say. &oel only wished he could believe her. &ust the other night, whilst they had been driving through the West 6nd, he had pointed to a huge hoarding

advertising le latest designer aftershave. ,he male model, brooding down t them from a height of thirty feet, was one of the most successful in the country. 0e was also rumoured to be ama!ingly well$endowed, which tied in nicely with the aftershave s advertising slogan; Could you say 4o to this) Well, &oel had said *o"ingly, could you) (nd Cleo, without batting an eyelid, had replied in casual fashion, What, say no to Murphy Mac"ay) 0e s a prat. # d he s doing the ?enice shoot ne3t wee". .u", who says ' don t suffer for my art) (s if, thought &oel, anyone could suffer in ?enice. /ut that 8ad been beside the point9 prat or no prat, Murphy Mac"ay was pretty daunting competition. :articularly if those rumours about he si!e of his tac"le were true. 'f you want me to ring you, he told Cleo now, you d better LL me where you re staying. She scrabbled around in her bag, found her bulging diary .and flipped through it. <m . . . here we are. ,he 0otel San Carlo. +od, these people are stingy. Why couldn t it be somewhere decent for once li"e the Cipriani) &oel said, -,he San Carlo) (re you sure) Of course ' m sure. Why) Cleo was instantly suspicious. 2on t tell me, you ve been there and it s a complete fleapit on he verge of disappearing into the lagoon. 2on t be silly. &oel twea"ed her nose. .ou can swim, can t you) 0ell s bells. Cleo was loo"ing mutinous. 's it really terrible) &ust teasing. ' ve never been there. 0e grinned. -,he name *ust rang a bell. ' thin" a friend of mine stayed there

once. 'f that s the one, you can stop worrying. 0e had a brilliant time. Hmm. Cleo sounded doubtful. G/ut he wasn t stuc" there for five days with Murphy ding$dong Mac"ay.

Chapter 37
'n the event, the San Carlo was *ust about the only bearable aspect of the whole trip. #ormerly a fifteenth$century palace, now an elegant cream$ca"e of an hotel *ust a few steps from the :ia!!a San Marco, it was so much better than Cleo had been e3pecting that for the first couple of hours she was actually deluded into believing she might en*oy herself in ?enice after all. /ut not even the Cipriani itself could have made up for the awfulness of the rest of the ?isa party, the deeply depressing weather and the une3pected, even more depressing arrival of (nton ?isa himself. ?isa, the company funding the shoot, were renowned for dependability rather than glit!. 2onatella ?ersace they were not. /ut their customers, appreciating that, were loyal in return. ?isa was hugely successful across both 6urope and (merica, and the biannual advertising campaigns for ?isawear were lavish, double$page splashes seen by everyone who had ever pic"ed up a maga!ine. 'f only those people, Cleo thought wearily at the end of their first gruelling day, "new how much misery could be involved in the ma"ing of such apparently idyllic ads. Merry, the stylist, was miserable beyond belief. 0er boyfriend had recently left her for another girl and she was

ta"ing it out on anyone who came within fifty paces. ,he photographer s name was :ierre. 0is boyfriend had also *ust run off, but with an (ustralian surf$bum. :ierre was consoling himself with fistfuls of cocaine. 0e also snarled rather than spo"e and had the loudest, most annoyingly persistent sniff Cleo had ever heard. /ut :ierre was a positive poppet compared with &ina and 2onna, in charge of ma"e$up and hair respectively. ,hey made the Kray twins loo" sweet and their *oint mission in life was to get laid by Murphy Mac"ay. Whoever got there first, won. ,heir bitchiness was terrifying. ,he only consolation, as far as Cleo was concerned, was that nobody deserved them more than Murphy. ,hey were all welcome to each other. ,he happy band also included ?iolette, a reserved #rench model who seldom spo"e at all, preferring to smo"e endlessly instead9 Martine the bossy :( who wore her hair in plaits wound 0eidi$style round her head, and (nton ?isa himself. (nton ?isa was so famously reclusive most people had no idea what he loo"ed li"e. ,his, Cleo decided, was a smart move on his part. 'f she d loo"ed li"e (nton ?isa she d be a recluse too. Why he d chosen to show up in ?enice was anybody s guess. +ifted designer he might be, but he made her s"in crawl. Maybe he is the beast from the lagoon, she d whispered to :ierre, but all :ierre did was grunt, sniff and sha"e his light$meter at the filthy grey s"y. ?enice was beautiful but the weather wasn t doing it any favours. Cleo, first downstairs for dinner because boredom had only made her hungrier than usual, perched on a stool at one end of the deserted bar and ga!ed gloomily out at the endless rain, the swirling leaden water of the +rand Canal and

the redundant chained$up gondolas bobbing li"e toy duc"s on the far side of the canal. ,he gilded double doors to the restaurant swung open and she was *oined by &ina and 2onna, bic"ering. . . . and why would he be interested in you anyway) 2onna sneered. With that spot on your chin the si!e of a fried egg. /etter spots, &ina said sweetly, than herpes. .ou lying cow1 ' had a cold sore, that s all@ &ina s bright green low$cut dress emphasi!ed her round shoulders and pendulous breasts. 2onna was wearing a spar"ly blac" top and an almost transparent minis"irt. /oth girls ree"ed of scent. Cleo, trying to loo" as if she didn t belong to them, smiled at the young barman and ordered an orange *uice. Come on, ?isa s paying. &ina loo"ed appalled. .ou can t drin" that crap. 0ave a bellissima 5 the fat bastard can afford it1 ,hree bellissimas, OK) She snapped her fingers at the barman. (nd ma"e em doubles. /ellinis) ,he young 'rish barman loo"ed almost apologetic. :each *uice and champagne, would that be ... ) ,hat s them. <nperturbed, &ina pointed to the half$pint glasses. Who gives a toss what they re called) So long as they do the *ob. ,hey were soon *oined by the rest of their party. (nton ?isa, more maggoty than ever, laid a white and clammy hand on Cleo s arm. .ou loo" sad, my dear. (nd you loo" li"e a slug in a dinner *ac"et, thought Cleo. She s%uirmed as his hand inched its way up and began massaging the inside of her elbow. She wished she was

bac" in 8ondon with &oel. ' m OK. 't s *ust the weather. (nton ?isa nodded in sympathy. One thing, ' m afraid, over which ' have no control. ,he first day had been a complete wash$out. (s far as Cleo was concerned the sooner they completed this shoot, the better. She managed a brief smile. Maybe the rain will have stopped by tomorrow. 8et s hope so anyway. :ierre has plans to use us outside the 2oge s :alace. :ierre shall bring out your true beauty, (nton ?isa leered, wherevcr he uses you. Startled, Cleo wondered if it was usual for recluses to leer. ,o grope and leer. /ehind her she heard Martine the :( scolding :ierre for being late. Merry, the miserable stylist, was droning on to ?iolette about the number of tran%uilli!ers she was up to. Murphy Mac"ay, whose obscenely tight blac" leather trousers were the sub*ect of much admiration amongst &ina and 2onna, was stro"ing 2onna s bottom and braying with laughter at one of his own *o"es. (nton ?isa was still leering. 0e showed no sign of moving away. Cleo, who had always prided herself on her professionalism, felt sic". ,he temptation to race upstairs, grab her things and do her first$ever bun" was overwhelming. Sod being a professional, she thought, repulsed by the very nearness of the man. ,his was the ultimate *ob from hell. So sorry, murmured the young barman, whose tongs had slipped. ( cluster of ice$cubes landed in (nton ?isa s lap, provo"ing a torrent of e3pletives and bringing him rapidly to his feet. Im0ecile, (nton ?isa hissed. ,he barman, who spo"e with a soft 2ublin accent, said,

Sir, my apologies. 't was an accident, Cleo put in hurriedly. /ut when, moments later, the young barman gave her the ghost of a win" and a smile, she began to wonder if it had been an accident after all. Madam, he ac"nowledged her with a nod when she slipped bac" into the bar two hours later, how may ' help you) ' thin" you already have. Cleo loo"ed at him. -,hose ice$ cubes. 2id you really drop them on purpose) (gain that mesmeri!ing hint of a smile hovering behind the professional facade. .ou mean, to cool his . . . ardour) 2id you) ,he young barman s e3pression was delightfully innocent. Well, let s *ust say ' m not normally such a butter$ fingers as all that. (nd it stopped the old lech groping your arm. 8eaning across the bar for a second, he lowered his voice. (lthough ' must say, you don t loo" the damsel$ in$distress type. 'f it isn t an impertinent %uestion, could you not have dealt with the matter yourself ) Of course ' could. Cleo didn t want the barman to thin" she was a complete wimp. ' *ust wasn t e3pecting it, that s all. 0e caught me off$guard. She shuddered. 7epellent old toad. /ut you have to be nice to him because he s the boss. Was this young 'rish lad teasing her) ' m not his secretary, said Cleo, a touch huffily. 0e grinned. Of course you aren t. .ou re that famous model who did all those yoghurt ads last year.

0er good humour restored, Cleo said, So famous, you mean, that you can t remember my name. ,he grin broadened. 2on t ta"e it personally. ' have enough trouble remembering my own. Which is) 0ang on now, let s. see . . . ah, that s it. 2eclan Mulcahy. 2eclan. 7ight. Well, than"s anyway for coming to my rescue earlier. Cleo, deciding she li"ed the blue$ eyed barman with the fetching smile, stuc" out her hand. (nton ?isa might not be my boss but he s still someone it s better to "eep on the right side of. 6specially in my business, she added drily. +etting yourself a reputation for being difficult to wor" with doesn t do your ban" balance any favours. 't s always better to at least try and get along with the people who count. 4ot that she held out much hope for the rest of this particular wee" in ?enice. So where are the rest of them now) 2eclan raised a playful eyebrow. +one to visit some nightclub. ' told them ' had a migraine coming on. (h, you re not missing much, said 2eclan when Cleo had told him the name of the nightclub. 't s a shame, though, to be here in ?enice and not see something of the city at night. ' m off duty myself in another twenty$five minutes . . . he hesitated, glancing at his watch . . if you d li"e a bit of a guided tour. ' don t "now, how s that migraine of yours) 2oes it feel as if it might clear itself up in the ne3t half$hour or so) Would a %uic" gin and tonic help, d you thin", to do the tric") Ma"e it a large one, Cleo beamed, and it *ust might.

,he rain had finally stopped, an almost full moon hung in the in"y night s"y and Cleo was having more fun than she d imagined possible. 2eclan Mulcahy was great company and the perfect person to show a stranger around a new city. 0e "new all the best cafB$bars, most of the owners and a riveting amount of local gossip. /etween each cafB and the ne3t Cleo was regaled with a stream of *o"es as unrelenting as the waves lapping against the damp mossy walls of ?enice s canals. (t midnight they almost bumped into the rest of the ?isa entourage, ma"ing their way bac" to the hotel across the :ia!!a San Marco. Cuic". 2eclan pushed Cleo into the shelter of a dar"ened doorway and s%uee!ed her wrist, hard, when her fit of the giggles almost gave the game away. &esus, d you thin" ' want to be held personally responsible for the decline and fall of /ritain s top yoghurt model) ' can t help it, Cleo gasped. ' feel li"e a fifteen$year$ old on the run from boarding school. Maybe ' should ve stuffed pillows down my bed, in case they loo" in my room. ,his time 2eclan pinched her non$e3istent waist, the bare brown bit between her crop top and the top of her *eans. 4ap"ins, more li"e. .ou re hardly the pillowy type. ,his only made Cleo want to laugh more. She covered her mouth as Murphy, &ina and 2onna 5 the eternal triangle 5 passed within twenty feet of them. 2onna s high heels, clic"ing through the puddles, were sending splashes of muddy water up over &ina s pale yellow trench coat. &ina retaliated, swinging her imitation Chanel handbag viciously into the small of 2onna s bac". Murphy, who loved to be fought over, waved his hands in placatory fashion and smir"ed. +irls, girls, ta"e it easy. ,here s enough for everyone . .

/ehind them Merry ga!ed longingly in the direction of the nearest deep canal. :ierre, barely able to put one foot in front of the other, sounded li"e a sniffer dog. Martine, as officious as ever, was bar"ing instructions about the schedule for tomorrow. ,he toad$li"e (nton was absent, evidently having decided to go bac" to being a recluse. My hero, Cleo whispered in 2eclan s ear when the party had moved out of sight, leaving them alone once more. .ou saved me from the worst night of my life. (h well, that s to prove ' don t bear a grudge. 0e was smiling. She could see his white teeth gleaming in the dar"ness. What grudge) Why should you) 2eclan swung her round to face him. Well now, aren t you the very one who persuaded me to buy a si3$pac" of that inedible yoghurt) ' tell you, ' couldn t believe how terrible it was. 2o you not thin" we poor consumers deserve some form of compensation for having to eat the stuff ) 8i"e what) Cleo smiled. ,here were no threatening se3ual undertones to the challenge. ' finish wor" at eight tomorrow evening, said 2eclan. (nd ' "now some great restaurants. 2o you thin" you could get away with going awol again) 2elighted, Cleo gave him a hug. 2eclan really was the answer to a prayer. ,han"s to him ?enice might not be unbearable after all. .ou are brilliant, she said happily. We ll go somewhere wonderful. My treat.

Chapter 38
,he morning s postbag had, for Cass, been more heartbrea"ing than usual. Other people s problems made her own seem embarrassingly minor by comparison. One woman had written in a sha"y hand to say she was a widow suffering from multiple sclerosis, afraid of what the future might hold for her mentally handicapped young son. Cass had been forced to rush to the loo and sob uncontrollably into handfuls of toilet paper. &enny, no help at all, had simply groaned and said, :ass the sic" bag1 She s having us on, Cass. 't s one of those pathetic begging letters. /ung it in the bin. /ut what if the woman had been genuine) ,here was so much in*ustice in the world. Some people, Cass "new, battled against far more than their share of tragedy. ' should be ashamed of myself, Cass thought as she drove home from the studios that afternoon. ' m healthy, my children are healthy, so what do ' have to complain about) (ll ' am is nearly divorced. She pulled in at the garage on the way home. (nything to stop that irritating red fuel light flashing endlessly on and off, distracting her attention from the road. 2amn@ Cass leapt away as a wave of petrol shot bac" out of the tan", splattering her light s"irt and pale pin" suede shoes. ,his was always happening to her, she never understood why. 't provided endless amusement, too, for other garage users, particularly the men. 'f there was one thing they en*oyed more than the sight of an incompetent woman driver it was one who couldn t even manage to get petrol into a car. Sure enough, at that moment the driver of the vehicle behind her blasted his horn, ma"ing Cass *ump a second time.

Colouring up, she ris"ed a %uic" glance over her shoulder. ,he car was a denim$blue Mercedes, its windows heavily tinted. 't was bound to belong to a smir"ing bloody man. When she heard the driver s door being opened, Cass s heart san". ,his time she didn t loo" round. 0er fingers tightened around the metal no!!le of the pump and she wondered if she would have the nerve to accidentally spray the ma"er of the ne3t patroni!ing remar" with as much petrol as she had *ust splashed over herself. :atroni!ing remar"s were the least of Cass s worries. 0aving resolutely refused to loo" at the other driver when he climbed out of his car, she was unprepared, moments later, for the arm which sna"ed une3pectedly, and with surprising strength, around her waist. 't was a brown arm attached to a solid body. Warm breath farmed Cass s nec". #or a fraction of a second she wondered if she should scream for help. 0er finger pressed convulsively down on the trigger of the petrol pump. (ll the pump did was go clun" . Of all the filling stations in all the world, murmured a familiar voice in Cass s ear, you had to pull into this one. 'mmensely relieved she hadn t screamed for help 5 what a fool she would have loo"ed 5 Cass turned and greeted 7ory Cameron with an affectionate "iss on the chee". .ou idiot. ' thought ' was being "idnapped. 4o you didn t. 7ory started to laugh. .ou thought ' was some smug chauvinist unable to resist ma"ing fun of a damsel in distress. Well . Come on, ' saw that loo" you gave me earlier. Cass blushed and smiled. OK, maybe that is what ' thought. ' "now this is going to sound completely ridiculous but &ac" was nearly always the one who put petrol into the

cars. (nd now ' *ust can t get the hang of it, she concluded lamely. ,hese pumps seem to have it in for me. My poor darling. ,a"ing over, 7ory finished the *ob. 't s the angle of the no!!le, you see. 0e win"ed. Ma"es all the difference in the world. ,hrough the window, the young cashier was watching with interest. 4ow ' really loo" feeble, said Cass. 'f you as" me, you re loo"ing rather splendid. 7ory stepped bac" and cast an appraising eye over her. (nd far better than you have any right to loo", considering how long it s been since you visited the club. (h. ' "now, ' "now. 0e had guessed her reasons for staying away. /ut &ac" doesn t come to us any more. 0asn t done for almost a year. 4or does 'mogen. So you see, you d be %uite safe. 0e smiled. (nd ama!ingly welcome. Well, maybe. Cass wasn t sure she had the heart for wor"ing$out, let alone the stamina. ' mean it. (s 7ory loc"ed her petrol cap bac" into place, he was watching the e3pression on her face. We ve missed you at the club. ' "ept meaning to get in touch, but you "now how it is. Shona and ' were having a few ups and downs of our own. 0e grinned. ' threatened to enter her for suitcase$pac"er of the year. .ou have no idea how many front$door "eys ' ve had flung at me in my time. Shona especially. 4ow she loved throwing them. 7ory Cameron had sensibly got his first two marriages out of the way while he was young. 4ow nearing fifty, he had spent the last couple of decades getting engaged instead, because it was cheaper, to a series of leggy blondes. 6ach blonde was more unsuitable than the one before. ,hey were getting

progressively younger too. ,he club regulars organi!ed sweepsta"es, betting on how long each doomed relationship was li"ely to last. Shona, who was twenty$si3, had worn a gold ring through her s"inny brown navel and a three$ carat canary diamond on her engagement finger. She had actually e3ceeded the club members e3pectations, managing a grand total of fourteen months, although /ill Matthews had argued that with all that to$ing and fro$ing she and 7ory had only been together for nine. 4ine, coincidentally, was the number /ill had drawn in the loc"er$room sweep. /ut 7ory remained optimistic. One day, he cheerfully maintained, he would find his perfect love$match and settle down. ,he club regulars only hoped it happened before he was too old to en*oy it. Well, Cass delved into her bag and too" out her purse, ' suppose ' d better pay for this petrol before it evaporates. 7ory was still waiting by her car when she got bac". ' ve had a terrific idea. Oh. Cass loo"ed nervous. 8oo", ' don t "now if ' m really up to aerobics at the moment@ We re a sports club, he gently berated her, not Stalag O. Cass smiled. Sorry. (nd this is an invitation. 't s not compulsory. +o on. (manda s getting married the wee"end after ne3t. Country wedding down in the Cotswolds, should be fun. ,he thing is, ' don t actually have anyone to go with. ' dare say (manda s glad ' won t be turning up with Shona. 7ory loo"ed slightly shamefaced. She always said it was embarrassing, her father s girlfriends being younger than she was. /ut ' "now she d be thrilled to have you there. 'f you thin" you d li"e to come . . . )

' d love to. Cass was both touched by the offer and delighted to be as"ed. She had met (manda, the product of 7ory s first marriage, several times over the years and li"ed her a lot. More selfishly, the thought of having something to loo" forward to was more than welcome. 'n two wee"s time Sophie would be away, grubbing around on some archaeological dig in the Mendips. Cass still found Saturdays and Sundays on her own hard to bear. ,hat s great1 Cleo, calling from ?enice, had always adored 7ory Cameron. 0e was also, she felt, *ust what Cass needed right now. .ou ll have a brilliant time. (nd who "nows, she added in teasing tones, this could be the start of something too slushy for words. .ou and naughty$boy Rory... ' thin" you re more his type than ' am. 2rily Cass said, ' m about twenty years too old for him. Maybe he ll see the error of his ways and throw himself at your feet. 't was a friendly invitation. Cleo, Cass decided, had been watching her 5our Weddi gs video again. (nyway, enough about my non$e3istent love life. 0ow are things going with you) Cleo snorted down the phone. -,he shoot stin"s, ' hate everyone on it and the weather s lousy. Oh dear. (nton ?isa "eeps ma"ing slimy passes at me, Cleo continued, the ma"e$up girl smells li"e she chews garlic for brea"fast and every pair of shoes ' have to wear is two si!es too small. 0eavens . . ,he dopey stylist s gone and got a crush on the

photographer, who s *ust bro"en up with his boyfriend. ,he hairdresser thin"s she s pregnant and yesterday ' caught Murphy Mac"ay stuffing his *oc"strap with soc"s. Cass sighed. :oor you, it sounds awful. ' m OK. Cleo certainly seemed chirpy enough. ' ve met up with this great chap, 2eclan. 0e s showing me ?enice, we re having the most terrific time. Oh. Cass was ta"en abac". /ut ' thought . . . ' mean, what about &oel) Mum1 't isn t li"e that with 2eclan and me. We *ust get on brilliantly, that s all. Oh. Well, ' m glad. &ust good friends. 7ory Cameron, OK) Cleo laughed. 8i"e you and

Chapter 39
#riday came round at last. ,he rain, miraculously, was managing to hold off *ust long enough for the shoot to be completed. ( newly emerged sun cast its watery rays across the city. Cleo, in beige satin and yet another pair of too$small shoes, draped herself across the 7ialto /ridge while :ierre, still sniffing, shot roll after roll of film from a gondola beneath. (fter an irritable lunch, they all moved on to the Canale 2ella +iudecca. #inally they trooped up the LPQ stone steps of ?enice s famous cloc" tower in order to capture the spectacular 5 if somewhat washed out 5 ?enetian views. 't s morning sic"ness, moaned 2onna, clutching her stomach. She dropped her styling brush into Cleo s lap.

More li"ely three helpings of cieche. Cleo, who was cold, was also fast running out of patience. 0ow you can eat blind baby eels ' don t "now. 2onna, who had been under the impression she was eating some "ind of translucent pasta, screamed and promptly threw up into &ina s ma"e$up bo3. &ina let out a piercing shrie". .ou stupid cow . . . 1 Murphy Mac"ay, who had persuaded 2onna to order cieche in the first place, turned on Cleo. 't s your fault. Why did you have to tell her it was eels) Maybe for the same reason you shove soc"s down your pants, Cleo flashed bac". -,o get a reaction. &ina hon"ed with laughter. 0e doesn t, does he) +irls, girls. Martine bristled up, flapping her clipboard and glancing down with revulsion at the mess in the ma"e$up bo3. -,his is neither the time nor the place. :lease can we get on) Cleo had had enough. She tapped the ,ag 0euer strapped li"e a grenade around Martine s s"inny wrist. 't s #riday. 't s five to five, she told an uncomprehending Martine, and it s Crackerjack.
What? Well, maybe not. /ut it s definitely time to go home. Cleo stood up, returned the hairbrush to an open$mouthed 2onna and in one bris" movement un!ipped the bron!e satin dress she had been about to wear for the final shot. 't slithered down and fell in a sil"y pool at her feet.

't was the stylist s turn to let out a s%ueal of anguish. 4ot on the ground 7ight. Cleo, wearing only s"impy "nic"ers, reached for her *eans and blac" sweatshirt. ' m off. ' won t say it s

been fun, because it hasn t. /ye, all. She pronounced it bile. /ac" at the hotel, she pac"ed swiftly and went in search of 2eclan. 0e ees not on duty until eight. running the bar, loo"ed apologetic. Marco, who was

2amn. Cleo didn t want to hang around and face the wrath of (nton ?isa. .ou wouldn t happen to "now where ' could find him) Marco shrugged. 4eaps ees een is room. ,he staff %uarters were on the top floor of the hotel. 6agerly Cleo leaned across the bar. Oh please, Marco. ' have to see him. /e an angel and point me in the right direction . . Sorry about this, ' was asleep. 2eclan, rubbing his eyes, nevertheless summoned a smile. 0e was na"ed apart from a pair of crumpled white shorts, and surprisingly well muscled for someone so slim. Cleo, who hated being wo"en herself, was overcome with remorse. ' m the one who should be sorry. 8oo", you get bac" into bed. ' only popped up to say goodbye. +oodbye) 2eclan halted, halfway beneath the green$and white striped duvet. ' thought you weren t leaving until first thing tomorrow. ' was going to ta"e you to a party tonight at Marconi s. Cleo sighed. ' can t. Why, what s up) She told him.

Oh dear, was that wise) 2eclan, properly awa"e now, loo"ed alarmed. Will you still get paid) ,he bed in which he sat too" up almost half the available space in the cramped attic room. Since there was nowhere else to sit, Cleo perched on the end and tuc"ed one leg under the other. &ust about. We d pretty much finished. Sod it, she went on with a sha"e of the head, ' don t care any more whether ' do or not. 't s only than"s to you ' ve stuc" it out this far. 2eclan loo"ed crestfallen. /ut you re going to miss the party, and ' was so loo"ing forward to our last night together. 2amn, now ' m depressed. .ou loo" li"e a small boy , Cleo teased, who s *ust had his best con"er nic"ed. 't s how ' feel. ,here now, did anyone ever compare you with a con"er before) Cleo loo"ed amused. So this is what they call 'rish blarney. Only brought out on very special occasions, let me assure you. 0is blue eyes s"immed her face with open appreciation. (h, but you re a fine girl. .ou deserve it. (nd ' have en*oyed myself, you "now. 0asn t it been a great wee") ,errific. ,hat s why ' had to come and say goodbye. (nd than"s for ma"ing it terrific. 0e was li"e a brother, Cleo decided, only much, much nicer than Sean. Knowing how little he earned, too, she had wanted to give 2eclan money as a gesture of appreciation for all he had done, but now she sensed it would be the wrong thing to do. .ou tipped porters and chambermaids, not friends. 'nstead, she moved up the bed and planted a "iss on 2eclan s thin chee", steadying herself with a hand on his shoulder. (s une3pected "isses have a habit of doing, this one

didn t go according to plan. Cleo s nose bumped clumsily against his left chee"bone. (aargh, murmured 2eclan, don t you *ust hate it when that happens) ,he corners of his mouth curled with undisguised amusement as he shifted his own weight. (ll the better to "eep my balance, you see. 0ang on a sec, that s better . . . right now, let s try again. ,his time, somehow inevitably, his smiling mouth found Cleo s. 't wasn t what she had planned, but she "new it would be churlish to pull away. /esides, where was the harm) 't was only a "iss, after all. (nd a *olly nice one at that.

Chapter 40
Oh, ' ve missed you1 (s soon as &oel opened the front door, Cleo threw her arms around him. Missed you, missed you, missed you. What a shitty wee" ' ve had. +ive me a hug. 4o, better than that. ' warn you, ' m going to need some serious cheering up . . When she had finished "issing him senseless &oel said, (ctually ' was *ust on my way out. 't was nine thirty on Saturday morning. 0e was wearing a pale denim shirt and freshly pressed chinos. (ftershave, too. 7unning a hand through his *ust$washed blond hair, Cleo drawled with moc"$suspicion, ' see. (nywhere nice) (nyone ' "now) Come on now, you can tell me. Sainsbury s. ( li"ely story. ' "now, bi!arre, isn t it) &oel ga!ed down at her. 't s where ordinary people go when they run out of food.

Cleo, who had different ideas, grinned and waggled her car "eys. Come on, ' ll drive. We ll go to #ortnum s instead, stoc" up on loads of really scrummy things and come bac" here for the ultimate brea"fast in bed. 4ow how about that for an offer you can t refuse) #or some reason &oel wasn t smiling much today. (ll he did was breathe out slowly, much as her old maths teacher had done every time she got everything spectacularly wrong. ' d rather go to Sainsbury s. Mimic"ing him, Cleo heaved a &oel$type sigh. Oh well, let s go then. 'f we must. ,here s no need for you to come. ' m %uite capable of carrying my own groceries. 2on t be so boring. Cleo protested. We ve never done this before. ' want to see you shop. Why) She beamed. ,o find out if we re compatible. ' doubt that, said &oel. Somehow ' doubt it very much. Cleo screeched to a halt forty minutes later in the middle of rice and pasta. ,he aisle, crammed with Saturday$morning shoppers, was gridloc"ed within seconds. OK, enough s enough. ' thin" you d better tell me what s going on. &oel s mouth narrowed as he too" control of the trolley and moved it to one side. ' don t "now what you re tal"ing about. Oh yes you bloody do. Cleo glared up at him. ' ve been trying and trying to ignore your rotten mood and it hasn t done a bit of good. So why don t we *ust get this thing out in the open) Come on, say it. ,ell me

what s on your mind. :eople were beginning to stare. &oel pic"ed up an economy bag of macaroni. 4ot here. -es here. 0er dar" eyes glittered. 'f there s one thing ' can t stand it s a moody man. 'f there s another thing ' can t stand it s a moody man who won t say what the damn matter is. ' *ust don t see why ' should have to put up with it. 't gets on my erves. 6ven more people were beginning to stare. Cleo was facing him across the half$full trolley as if s%uaring up for a fight. ,he sleeves of her cropped, dar"$brown leather *ac"et were pushed up to her elbows. /eneath it she wore a plain white vest and *eans pulled in at the waist with a battered leather belt. ,he deep brown of the *ac"et e3actly matched Cleo s eyes. ,he vest very nearly matched her short, white$blond hair. She was so stri"ingly beautiful, thought &oel, of course people stared. 't was only natural that they should. /ut it wasn t his fault if Cleo chose to pic" a fight in public. ,his was her decision alone. +o on, Cleo goaded, challenging him now. .ou re mad with me, aren t you) ' ve obviously done somethi g wrong. So tell me what it damn well is. She even had the nerve, as she spo"e, to pic" the bag of macaroni out of the trolley, dump it bac" on the wrong shelf and choose a pac"et of tri$coloured conchiglie instead. #or &oel, who didn t li"e poncey pasta shells, even plain white ones, it was the last straw. OK, he said %uietly, you re right. 63cept maybe ' m more disappointed than mad. 't s over, Cleo. ' don t want to

see you again. ' tell you what, why don t you leave now) ' ll get a cab home. 4ow people were really beginning to ta"e notice, nudging each other and *er"ing their heads in Cleo s direction. She stared at him in silence for several seconds then lowered her ga!e, scanning the contents of the trolley. 's all this because ' wanted mil" chocolate digestives and you wanted plain) ' m not *o"ing. Cleo bent down and pic"ed out three multi$pac"s of Star0urst. +o t tell me, you d set your heart on fruit pastilles. 4ow you re being silly. Silly) I m being silly) 8eaning across the front of the trolley, Cleo hissed the words at him through pale lips. -,he fact that you won t tell me what ' m supposed to have done wrong is what s silly. .ou don t even have the guts to say it@ 4o, dear. ( middle$aged woman held bac" her adolescent daughter. ' don t thin" this is %uite the moment to as" for an autograph. ,hey really shouldn t have come here. &oel wished now he d dealt with the matter bris"ly and in private, bac" at the house. OK. 0e "ept his voice low. 8et s *ust say you ve been Chec"amated. What) ' used to have a lad wor"ing for me in the showroom at 0enley$+rant Motors. ,errific salesman he was too. 4ame of 2eclan Mulcahy, if that rings any bells . . (ware of the interest gathering around them, Cleo gritted

her teeth and made it out to the car par". .ou bastard, she hissed when they were finally alone. ' can t believe you did that. .ou complete and utter@ /astard. ' "now. &oel nodded, his mouth twisting in a grim, unamused smile. 'f it s any consolation it started off as a *o"e. ,his wasn t something ' planned, believe me. ' was *ust stunned by the coincidence when you told me you were boo"ed into the San Carlo. 2eclan s always "ept in touch, you see, sending us silly postcards from wherever he s wor"ing. (nd you d been banging on about this wonderful Chec"amate system of yours . . . for some reason ' thought it would be a laugh to use the opportunity and try it out on you. 0e paused, no longer even pretending to smile. Stupidly, as it turned out. Or not, ' suppose. /ecause this is the whole point of the e3ercise, isn t it) 2iscovering the truth about people. 7eali!ing that what they say and what they do doesn t necessarily match up. Cleo was so mad she could barely contain herself. She was doubly mad because not only had &oel been snea"y enough to set the whole 2eclan$thing up, but now he was claiming victory and she hadn t even done anything wrong. 4ot really wrong . . . She was too mad to drive as well, which meant they were stuc" in this damn car par" unable to even put the roof down because all around them people were unloading their groceries with e3traordinary slowness, pretending not to watch the furious e3change ta"ing place in the rapidly steaming$up car. ,he car wasn t the only one getting steamed up. Cleo tried to wrestle her way out of her leather *ac"et. 0er left arm got stuc". She glared at an elderly couple, watching with undisguised amusement from less than four feet away. She felt li"e 0oudini in a bloody fish tan" and all they could do

was smir". #ree of the *ac"et at last but still seething at the in*ustice of &oel s accusations, Cleo forced herself to ta"e deep breaths. (ll she had to do was calm down and e3plain. 8oo", ' told you what the shoot was li"e. 't was a complete nightmare. 2eclan cheered me up, that s all. 0e was good company, fun to be with, a frie d . . . but it s not as if ' slept with him, for +od s sa"e1 4othing happe ed between us @ Save your breath, &oel said icily. 0e phoned me last night. /ut nothing did happen, Cleo yelled, punching the steering wheel in e3asperation. 2on t you mean 2.C.O.8.) She stared at him. 4ow what are you on about) Come on, said &oel. ' may not move in your "ind of showbusiness circles but even ' ve heard of that. 2oesn t Count On 8ocation. 't was hardly relevant *ust now but still sic"ening to reali!e that 2eclan s apparent friendship had been nothing more than a sham. 0e d been acting under orders9 prostituting himself, Cleo thought furiously, in order to try and catch her out. ,ry 2.0.O.8. She spat the words through clenched teeth. 2idn t 0appen On 8ocation. /ecause it bloody didn t and if that lying little shit told you otherwise he d better watch out. ' swear, ' ll go bac" to ?enice and dro" him@ ' didn t say you d slept with him. &oel sounded weary. .ou didn t need to sleep with 2amien Ma3well$0orne, did you, to "now he was cheating on that friend of yours)

4o, but@ /ut nothing. 0e bought you a few drin"s, chatted you up a bit, and that was more than enough. &oel shrugged. (s far as you were concerned he was guilty. ,his was li"e being cross$%uestioned in court. Cleo couldn t bear it. .es, but@ (nd even you have to admit you did more than let 2eclan buy you a few drin"s, said &oel. ' mean, maybe rolling around in bed with a na"ed man isn t your idea of unreasonable behaviour. Call me old$fashioned, he drawled, but ' m afraid it sure as hell is mine. ,he unfairness of it all was overwhelming. #eeling ganged$up on, Cleo said sul"ily, ' wasn t in the bed, ' was on it. (nd he wasn t na"ed either, he was wearing shorts. ' don t care if he was wearing si3 fluorescent condoms and a suit of fuc"ing armour. &oel had had enough. .ou can do what the hell you li"e with whoever you li"e from now on. 't s over between us. ' told you from the start we weren t compatible. ,his *ust proves ' m right. 0e really meant it. Cleo, unused to losing any "ind of argument, felt the first flic"erings of fear. ,his relationship was too important to throw away. She was telling the truth9 why couldn t he believe her) :lease. 't sounds much worse than it was. (ll ' did was give a friend a goodbye "iss. 's that so abnormal) 0e didn t spea", *ust stared directly ahead. &oel. She tried again. -,here s no way in the world ' would have slept with him. 0e was li"e a 0rother. ,his time &oel turned his head. 0e loo"ed at Cleo as if she were a stranger, then sighed. 2on t be stupid. 6ven 2eclan Mulcahy doesn t

screw around as much as your brother.

Chapter 41
' "now ' ve told you this already but ' must *ust say it again. 7ory Cameron shoo" his head in admiration. .ou do loo" terrific. Cass was relieved. She had been ta"en shopping by Cleo, who had persuaded her to part with far more money than she would normally have done, on the grounds that now Cass was out on the pull she had to loo" the part. Cass had closed her eyes whilst writing out the che%ue, but now she was glad she d gone through with it. ,he /en de 8isi dress and matching *ac"et, yellow and white and absurdly flattering, almost made up for the fact that she was forty. Sophie calls it my spring$chic"en outfit. She said ' should wear a feather boa to match. 7ory pulled a face. ' hate feather boas. (lways covering up the bits you most want to see. Sshh. .ou re the father of the bride. Cass gave him a surreptitious nudge. /est behaviour. ,he wedding ceremony was over. 6veryone had crowded around the entrance to the church for the official photographs. ,he photographer was struggling to position the smaller pageboys. 7ory, tanned and handsome, stood proudly between (manda and Cass. ' thin" ' m behaving impeccably. Cass glanced at him. .es, well. #or (manda s sa"e, ma"e sure you "eep it up. 'f it s for my sa"e, said (manda out of the corner of her

south, ' d rather, for once in his life, he "ept it down. Shortly after divorcing 7ory Cameron, (manda s mother (lma had married again, moved into her industrialist husband s splendid &acobean manor house on the outs"irts of Cheltenham and set about turning it into one of the most desirable residences in the country. 7ory, hugely successful by most people s standards, but unable even to begin to compete with (lma and her dull but obscenely wealthy second husband, had always found their patroni!ing attitude towards him hard to ta"e. +iving his beloved daughter away and attending the deception, held in a vast mar%uee in the immaculate grounds of their home, was one thing, but accepting the pompously worded invitation to spend the night in one of their countless spare bedrooms was too much. 4o, 7ory had decided when the invitation had first been issued, he definitely couldn t stomach that. 'nstead, he had boo"ed himself a room at the nearby Old :riory 0otel. When Cass had agreed to come with him to the wedding he had phoned the hotel again and managed to boo" a second room, the last available at such short notice but every bit as charming, the receptionist had warmly assured him, as his own. 'n the end, having made the most of his e3$wife s lavish hospitality at the reception, it was ten thirty before 7ory and Cass even reached the Old :riory. 7eali!ing he was over the limit to drive, 7ory had retrieved their overnight cases from the car and organi!ed a ta3i. 2o we loo" li"e honeymooners) Cass giggled as her heel caught in a fringed :ersian rug covering the stone floor at the entrance to the hotel. Oops, you ve got confetti in your hair@ #unny honeymooners, boo"ing separate rooms. (s she

almost stumbled again 7ory put his arm around her waist. 't was odd9 as Cass herself had pointed out she absolutely wasn t his type, but over the course of the day he had found himself becoming more and more drawn to her. 4ow, for the first time, he e3perienced a stab of regret that he should have done the gentlemanly thing and boo"ed two rooms. Cass might not wear leather trousers and a ring through her navel but she was still *olly attractive. #or her age. ,he receptionist welcomed them with a professional smile. We re a bit late, ' m afraid. 7ory watched as a fragment of confetti, dislodged from the arm of his grey morning suit, fluttered down onto the des". ,he name s Cameron. (h yes. ,he glossy$haired receptionist was pretending not to have recogni!ed Cass. 0er pen ran down the list in the ledger before her. 7oom si3, on the second floor. She handed him the "ey. 'f you d li"e to go on up, the porter will follow with your bags in *ust a moment. (nd Mrs Mandeville) prompted 7ory. ,he receptionist smiled. .es, he ll bring her bag too. Cass gave 7ory a great nudge. .ou said you d boo"ed two rooms. .ou promised.
' did. ' did.

,he receptionist s professional smile began to falter. -,hose were the original instructions. 4odding cautiously, she turned bac" to 7ory. /ut we received a call two days ago from your secretary, altering the boo"ing to one double room only. She fa3ed the confirmation through yesterday afternoon. Cass loo"ed at 7ory. ,he receptionist loo"ed at 7ory. /ut my secretary s been away for the past fortnight, said 7ory. On safari in Kenya.

(n uncomfortable silence ensued. #inally, as all the subtle digs of the past few days clic"ed into place, Cass said, 't s Cleo. 7ory had been about to loo" round for a lamp and a genie. 4o sooner had he made his wish than it appeared to have been granted. /emused, he said, What s Cleo) ,he phone call, the fa3. Cass shoo" her head and raised her eyebrows in a you$"now$what$daughters$are$li"e "ind of way. ' m sorry. 't s Cleo, trying her hand at a spot of match$ma"ing. ' hope this isn t muc"ing you about too much, she apologi!ed to the receptionist, but we really do need two rooms. Oh dear, said the receptionist, ' m afraid we don t have them. We re full up. 7ory s room was, as promised, an e3tremely nice one. Crimson walls and dar"$blue bed$hangings conspired to create an almost +othic atmosphere. ,he eighteenth$century four$ poster was piled with red velvet cushions and the lamps burning on either side of the bed were heavily shaded. 't was an outrageously romantic room, designed to enthral visiting tourists. (s far as Cass was concerned it was dangerously romantic, the "ind of room where things that weren t meant to happen, happened. Maybe it s *ust as well, she thought, ' m here with 7ory Cameron. /eing a decrepit forty, at least she "new she would be safe. 7ight, well, no need for anyone to be embarrassed. 7ory, rubbing his hands together in hearty fashion, loo"ed so e3actly li"e an embarrassed man hell$bent on not loo"ing embarrassed that Cass had to hide a smile.

,here s a couch, she said helpfully, pointing to a small chaise longue beneath the curtained window. ' couldn t sleep on that. 7ory ga!ed in horror at the narrow steeply curved and ruthlessly upholstered seat. 4ot with my bac". (nd ' thought you were a gentleman. Cass loo"ed resigned. ' suppose ' ll have to be the one to suffer. Oh come on, 7ory protested, there s no need for that. We re old friends, aren t we) Cass allowed herself a cautious nod. Mm . . So what s the big deal) 7ory s eyebrows went up. 0e spread his arms li"e :avarotti. 'f we were strangers on a long$haul flight to /ali we d fall asleep ne3t to each other, wouldn t we) Mm . . (nd it wouldn t be aw"ward. 2oubtfully, Cass said, ' suppose not. Well then, what s the difference) We ll sleep ne3t to each other tonight. .ou can "eep your clothes on if it ma"es you feel safer. ,he corners of 7ory s blue eyes crin"led as he bro"e into a smile. .ou can even "eep your hat on if you li"e. (ny more hesitation on her part, Cass reali!ed, and he would only remind her what a prehistoric old fossil she was and how utterly uninterested he was in her wrin"led, worn$out body anyway. She breathed out. OK, fine. +ood. 7ory s smile broadened. ,o prove how innocent his intentions really were, he sei!ed her hand and "issed it. 2arling Cass. ,han" you for today. 0ave you en*oyed it) Of course ' ve en*oyed it. 0e stepped bac", unloosening his tie.

' m glad. .ou can use the bathroom first. 't felt weird, thought Cass, lying in bed ne3t to 7ory. She hadn t been able to "eep her dress on, of course, any more than she could have hung on to her hat, but she was wearing her pin"$and$yellow satin robe. (nd her "nic"ers. +oodness "nows what 7ory was wearing9 she hadn t been able to bring herself to loo". Cass wondered if 7ory snored. What are you thin"ing) Cass smiled into the dar"ness. So he hadn t been able to sleep either. &ust wondering if you snore. 4ever on a first date. 0e bar"ed with laughter. OK) What else) ' m trying to pretend ' m on a long$haul flight to /ali. ,his time his laughter was silent. /eside her, she felt the bed sha"e. :oor old thing. 's this really such an ordeal) Old. Well, she admitted, "ind of .ou could always close your eyes and go to sleep. ' "now. ' m not tired. &ust scared witless. Cass turned her head and saw that he was still laughing. 4ot scared. 't feels strange, that s all. :ushing bits of her fringe out of her eyes, Cass said, 't s all right for you. .ou ve shared a bed with !illions of girls. 4ot always the same bed. .ou "now what ' mean. 0er tone was reproachful. ' ve only ever slept with &ac".

.ou re "idding1 7ory sat up, genuinely shoc"ed. Such an admission was outside his e3perience. .ou mean you ve .. . never . . . ) 0e switched on the rose$tinted bedside lamp. ,o her relief Cass saw that he too was wearing a robe, dar"$green sil" with white piping. She hadn t e3pected py*amas9 7ory Cameron simply wasn t a py*ama person. Well, no, of course not. We met when we were very young. She shrugged. When would ' have had the chance) Still flummo3ed, 7ory said, /ut . . . nothing si ce then) 4ot even a fling) Cass blin"ed and shoo" her head. 0e half smiled. ' suppose flings aren t your thing. 't s not that. ,he words came tumbling out before she even had a chance to vet them. Cass listened in astonishment to her own voice. -,hey could be. ' "eep thin"ing a fling might be nice. ,he thing is, ' *ust haven t met anyone ' li"e enough who li"es me bac". (nother silence. Cass felt her heart begin to pound against her ribcage. 0ad she really said that) Was it true) Was this what she had subconsciously been thin"ing without even daring to admit it even to herself) ' li"e you. Oh heavens . . . (re you listening) said 7ory when she didn t reply. .ou don t li"e me. Cass s throat was dry. ' m too old for you. 0e loo"ed amused. Well, older than ' m used to. ,hat much ' ll admit. Compared with what you re used to, ' m pensionable. /ut do you li"e me)

She bit her lip as his fingers brushed her arm. Cuite suddenly she wanted 7ory Cameron so much it hurt. What am ', Cass wondered, some "ind of wanton, se3$ cra!ed mad woman) /ut when he leaned across and "issed her, she stopped caring. 't was what she needed, what she deserved. .ou are beautiful. 7ory s warm mouth brushed against hers. 2o you "now that) /eautiful. Cass s arms, so empty for so long, closed around him. (re you sure about this) She whispered the words. .ou re not *ust doing it because you pity me) 'n reply, his body pressed against hers. ,hrough their respective dressing gowns Cass could feel how aroused he was. 2oes this seem li"e pity to you) 7ory smiled as he spo"e. 2arling girl, ' ve been in this debilitating condition for the past half$hour. Why on earth do you suppose ' wasn t able to get to sleep in the first place) ,he glossy$haired receptionist was still on duty when they went down to brea"fast the ne3t morning. 6verything . . . all right) ,he smile this time was less professional, more openly curious. Cass felt her chee"s begin to heat up and mentally "ic"ed herself. 4ow they really did loo" li"e honeymooners. ,he trouble was, the more insouciant she tried to loo", the more it felt as if the words .6S, W6 2'2 ',1 were flashing, ?egas$style, above her head. 7ory, less easily embarrassed, bro"e into a broad grin. 63tremely all right, than"s. +ood. ,he receptionist loo"ed relieved. /rea"fast is being served out on the terrace.

Come on, darling. Still grinning, 7ory put his arm around Cass. 4o need to go %uite so pin". 'f anyone s over the age of consent, we are. (lways a poor liar, Cass had even less success pretending to Cleo that nothing had happened. ,he stupid neon sign simply wouldn t switch off. .eah, yeah, Cleo crowed, having listened in disbelief to her mother s hopeless protestations of innocence. (nd ' m the %ueen of the tooth fairies. Mum, it s OK, we re on your side1 ,his is what we "a ted to happen, remember) .es, well. Still flushed, Cass felt she had to ma"e at least a to"en protest. -,hat was very naughty of you. (nd me, Sophie piped up. 't was naughty of me too. 't was embarrassing. Cleo beamed. 4ice, though. .ou too" a big ris". Cass tried to sound severe. 't could have been a disaster. (h, said Cleo, but it wasn t, was it) Sophie gave her mother a hug. We "new it would wor" out. (nd we both li"e 7ory. .ou have our permission to marry him. #or a moment Cass was gripped with panic. She was a fortnight away from the decree absolute. ' m not even properly divorced yet.

Chapter 42

,here was no answer when 2onny rang the front doorbell, but able to hear signs of life coming from the garden, he let himself through the side gate and made his way round to the bac" of the house. Oh my goodness1 :andora, sitting in the sun, clapped her hand to her chest. .ou gave me a fright. Sorry, ' wasn t e3pecting to see anyone . . Im the one who should be sorry. 4ot sorry in the least, 2onny flashed his famous white$and gold grin. :andora wasn t the only one to be ta"en by surprise. 0e certainly hadn t been e3pecting to see her loo"ing so different from the last time they d met. 0aving that baby had done her the world of good. Well, come and sit down, :andora offered shyly. She patted the blue$and$white chec"ed rug spread out on the lawn beneath a gnarled apple tree whose arthritically twisted branches provided a welcome patch of shade. 8ying on the rug "ic"ing its legs and grasping at shadows was the baby 2onny had heard incredibly little about. (ccording to Sean, its sole mission in life was apparently to yell its head off, fill its nappy and throw up. ( less$than$besotted father, Sean had ta"en to spending more and more time away from the house. ' m no good at all that stuff, he had told 2onny, pulling a face at the mere thought of the nappies he had come across in the swing$bin. +od forbid that he should ever have to change one himself. 't s more :andora s scene than mine. ' mean, women are programmed to li"e that "ind of thing. 2onny had felt sorry for :andora, who didn t appear to have much choice in the matter. 't was also why he had decided to drop in on her today. Someone had to, after all,

and he was fond of his nephews and nieces. 0e had even been "nown to change the odd colourful nappy himself. 0e ga!ed down now at the baby s%uirming on the rug. 0er name was 7ose, though Sean still called her 't. 'sn t she brilliant) :andora was totally besotted with her daughter. We had a bit of trouble with colic at first but she s over that now. 8oo", she s smiling at you. ' say, you are honoured. She hardly ever smiles at Sean. :robably because he s never here long enough to be smiled at, thought 2onny. 6ntranced by the buttery softness of the baby s s"in he eased himself down ne3t to her and stro"ed her bare brown stomach. 7ose gurgled with delight and sei!ed his inde3 finger, grasping it ferociously with both hands. What can ' get you) lemonade or a drin"$drin") as"ed :andora. Cup of tea,

2onny shoo" his head. ' m fine. 'f you re loo"ing for Sean ' m afraid he isn t here. :andora had *umped to her feet anyway, and was heading for the "itchen. Over her shoulder she called, 0e s at the club. 0e wasn t. 2onny, who had *ust come from there, said, Maybe ' ll have a cup of tea after all. She returned minutes later with three vast mugs. One for you, two for me. :andora loo"ed almost apologetic. Im thirsty. /ecause of the breastfeeding. 2onny, who had five sisters, gave a "nowledgeable nod. -,hat s how you ve managed to lose so much weight so %uic"ly. (m ' allowed to tell you how great you loo") 0e wasn t e3aggerating. :andora must weigh less now than she had done a year ago. ,he pert curves of her bottom and thighs were balanced by new and fetchingly voluptuous breasts. (s the e3tra pounds had melted away, so :andora s delicate

bone structure had reasserted itself. 0er eyes loo"ed bigger, her nec" longer. 'f he tried, 2onny thought, he could probably get his hands around her waist. :andora loo"ed delighted at the compliment. Say it as often as you li"e. 2onny obliged. .ou loo" great. :andora s smile faded. Maybe you should tell Sean instead. 0e doesn t appear to have noticed. On the rug, 7ose was ma"ing strenuous efforts to roll over onto her stomach. Of course he has. #ibbing on Sean s behalf as well as :andora s, 2onny gave 7ose the helping hand she needed. 0e s always going on about how brilliantly you re managing and how fantastic you loo". ,he lie began to e3pand, li"e ma"ing popcorn. (nd he s cra!y about 7ose, never stops tal"ing about her . . Oh dear, said :andora regretfully, *ust as ' was beginning to believe you too. 7ose was ma"ing futile attempts to swim across the rug. 2onny pressed his palm against the soles of her furiously flailing feet. Well, it s what he should be doing. 'nstead of touring the nightclubs, :andora remar"ed, and coming home ree"ing of other women s perfume. ' don t "now. She sighed. 't was pointless but she couldn t resist saying it. Why do they always have to wear such bloody obno3ious perfume) Why can t he ever choose someone who smells normal) 0e s a mate, said 2onny, but ' don t always li"e him. Snap.

/ut you re still here. 0e could have no idea, :andora thought, how helpless and lac"ing in confidence she had felt throughout her pregnancy. Coping with a colic"y screaming newborn had been no picnic either. (loud she said, ' suppose ' feel ' owe it to 7ose. ,o do my best, anyway. Whatever happens, Sean s still her father. 't wasn t until twenty minutes later when :andora fell asleep almost in mid$sentence, that 2onny reali!ed how tired she still was. Wa"ing with a start as a car at the front bac"fired she apologi!ed profusely. 2onny, who hadn t meant to stay longer than ten minutes, heard himself saying firmly, 2on t you dare be sorry. /abies are "nac"ering. 8oo", why don t you go up to bed and have a proper sleep) ' ll loo" after 7ose. Oh, that s really "ind. :andora hesitated, almost as if afraid to say it. /ut what ' d most love is a bath. 7ose always yells her head off, you see, the moment ' get into the water. 'f you could *ust entertain her down here for half an hour, a proper uninterrupted bath would be such bliss . . /loody Sean, never here. 2onny, wandering into the "itchen with 7ose tuc"ed frog$li"e against his shoulder, listened to the taps running upstairs. ,here had been tears in :andora s eyes as she had accepted his offer. 63hausted by five$times$a$night feeding and the constant attention 7ose demanded during the day, she was ready to drop. 2onny loo"ed at the washing$up waiting to be dealt with, then turned away. ,here was such a thing as going too far. Ma"ing his way through to the sitting room instead, he began to suspect 7ose might not be on his side. 0aving evidently decided to put to the test his proud boast to be able

to cope with anything, she had promptly filled her nappy. 2onny pulled a face. 7ose, thrilled by the contrast between his blac" face and white$and$gold teeth, let out a s%ueal of delight and tugged one of his dreadloc"s. /ut the changing "it was all to hand in a s%uashy lilac$and green !ip$up bag, recogni!able because it was the same as the one his sisters had passed around between them. #eeling profoundly capable, 2onny began unloading wet$wipes, cotton$wool balls, baby lotion, changing mat and clean nappy. 'f he wor"ed really fast, maybe he wouldn t need to draw breath. . 0e found the diary, %uite by chance, at the very bottom of the bag as he was shovelling everything bac". 7eali!ing it had been hidden there deliberately, 2onny e3perienced a brief spasm of guilt before opening it. /ut some things were simply too irresistible to pass up. (nd a diary belonging to Sean s woefully neglected girlfriend was definitely one of them.
* * *

So this is it, thought Cass, sitting alone at the "itchen table and ga!ing at the piece of paper in her hands. ,his is what a decree absolute loo"s li"e. ,his is how one signals the end of twenty$two years of marriage. +lad to be on her own, gladder still that it had arrived by second post rather than first thing, *ust as she was leaving for wor", she closed her eyes and thought of &ac". (ll those years, all that shared history, dissolved into nothingness li"e (spro Clear. Cass wondered if he would marry 'mogen now. She wondered if she would ever meet anyone and actually want to marry again. She had tried to envisage being married to 7ory Cameron and 5 as ever 5 failed abysmally. 't was an

image that stubbornly refused to materiali!e. Cass shivered. 0er whole future, it seemed, was one big scary blan". &ust as her throat began to tighten, the phone rang. Cass s hand trembled as she pic"ed it up. 0i, it s me. &ac", of all people. 2id you get it) ,he paper was still in Cass s hand. She loo"ed at it once more, then glanced out of the "itchen window. ,he sun was still shining, the s"y was still Mediterranean blue. ,here wasn t a cloud in sight. 't really had been the most glorious day. ' got it. Me too. &ac" sounded odd, almost hesitant. <m . . . are you OK) #abulous. /uggered if she was going to let him thin" otherwise, Cass straightened her shoulders. ' mean, it s hardly a surprise, is it) We "new it was going to happen. /ut &ac" "new her too well. 4ot fooled for a second by her show of bravado he said, Come on, it still feels strange. I feel strange. +et 'mogen to give you one of her famous herbal body rubs. Cass, don t. 0er bitchy tone only convinced him how upset she was underneath. (re you on your own) 's Sophie there) .es. Sophie was spending the night with a friend from school. :ut her on for a second. She doesn t want to spea" to you, said Cass. ,hat means she isn t there. &ac" sighed. 8oo", will you have dinner with me tonight) 't was the last thing Cass had been e3pecting him to say. ,he

receiver nearly slid from her hand in shoc". 2inner) What for) &ac", who wasn t sure himself, said, Why not) We can be civili!ed about this, can t we) ' d li"e to ta"e you to dinner. (h, but would 'mogen li"e you to ta"e me to dinner) 't doesn t matter whether 'mogen li"es it or not. ' m the one inviting you. &ac" paused. 'mogen didn t "now yet. <nless you have something else on. 8et me chec" my diary. Cass tried not to sound over*oyed. She had no other plans and the prospect of irritating 'mogen was too delicious to pass up. /esides, at least now she would be spending the evening with someone who understood how she felt. (h, ' do appear to be free . . +ood. ' ll pic" you up at eight. ,o seem casual Cass said, Ma"e it eight thirty.

Chapter 43
:andora, ma"ing the most of the heaven$sent opportunity, spent almost an hour in the bath. When she finally made her way bac" downstairs, rela3ed, scented and changed into a "ingfisher$blue cotton shirt and *ogging pants, she found 2onny stretched out across the sofa. 7ose, her legs tuc"ed beneath her, lay fast asleep on his chest. ' m sorry, ' "now ' ve been ages. :andora tried and failed to sound apologetic. -,hat was possibly the best bath of my life. Should have given me a shout. 2onny loo"ed amused. ' could have come up and scrubbed your bac". Shall ' ta"e her off you) :andora held out her hands

as 7ose, snuffling contentedly, shifted position in her sleep. 4o need. We re both comfortable. ' really didn t mean to ta"e so long. She might need changing. 2onny shrugged. 't s OK. She did. ' ve already dealt with it. +ood heavens. Startled, :andora sat down in a chair opposite him. Warily she said, 4o . . . problem at all) 4o problems. We aren t all li"e Sean, you "now. Oh, ' "now. With a *olt, 2onny reali!ed he fancied :andora +rant li"e mad. .ou seem nervous, he observed in casual fashion. 4o . . (lmost as if you had something to hide. :andora gave him a searching loo" and said nothing. 'n the bottom of that nappy$changing bag for e3ample, he continued remorselessly. Oh, you complete bastard1 :andora wailed. ' can t believe you did that1 4ot agai . 't was 7ose s fault. 2onny pointed down at the baby asleep on his chest. 'f she hadn t needed to have her nappy changed . . :andora, still groaning, slumped bac" in her chair. ' thought it was a safe place to "eep it. +od "nows, Sean was never li"ely to find it there. (h well. (s ' said@ ' "now, you re not Sean. :andora clapped her hands over her eyes as 2onny pulled the diary out from behind the cushions wedged between him and the bac" of the sofa. Well, than"s. ' hope you reali!e how embarrassing this is. 0er

eyes were bright. .ou do "now, don t you, that if you didn t have my daughter plastered to your front ' d "ill you) Why do you suppose ' di dn t hand her over * ust now) 2onny cupped the baby s padded bottom in the palm of his hand. She s my human shield, aren t you, sweetheart) She never stays asleep li"e that for me. :andora loo"ed perple3ed. ' don t understand why she hasn t wo"en up. 't s the timbre of my voice. Smugly, 2onny e3plained. My big, blac", male voice. /abies li"e the way it vibrates against their chest. 't s@ Comforting. OK, OK, said :andora, so you re Mary :oppins in dreadloc"s. .ou re still a complete bastard. ' wish ' d never had that bath now. Oh cheer up. 2onny s smile broadened. 0ow was ' to "now what it was going to be) ' thought it was a diary. So of course you had to have a nose. 0e shrugged, unperturbed. Wouldn t anyone) ' still can t believe you ve done this twice, said :andora in despair. 2onny reali!ed he d teased her enough. (s if sensing as much the baby began to stir. ,iny starfish fingers fle3ed and unfle3ed. 2onny stro"ed the dar", downy, perfectly formed head and for a moment wished 7ose could have been his daughter instead. ,hen he loo"ed across at :andora. ' ve read it. (ll of it. 't s brilliant. <nable to meet his ga!e, she stared at the floor. 4o it isn t. 8ightly, teasing her, 2onny said, Oh yes it is. ' don t li"e being patroni!ed. ( fierce pride burned in

:andora s eyes. ' won t be made fun of. (nd it was private . . ,he baby, ready for her ne3t feed, began to whimper. 2onny pulled himself up into a sitting position and *iggled her against his shoulder. ( ribbon of dribble hung between 7ose s fretful mouth and the nec" of his white ,$shirt. ' m not patroni!ing you, he told :andora. ' mean it. 'f ' d thought it was crap, ' wouldn t even have said anything. ' d have read a few pages, shoved it bac" in the bag and pretended ' d never seen it. :andora didn t loo" convinced. ,he last time had been humiliating enough. Once bitten, 2onny reali!ed, twice terminally suspicious. 0e tried again. 8oo", ' m serious. ,hat last script of yours . . . well, it wasn t as bad as we made out. ' felt pretty mean afterwards, ta"ing the piss out of it li"e that. (ll ' can say is we d had a few drin"s at the club and when Sean started ma"ing his cutting remar"s it was easier to go along with him than start an argument. :andora, slowly beginning to believe him, thought of all the pages of script she had ripped to shreds and hurled into the bin. .ou mean what ' d written was good) #unny) Some of it was good. 4ot great, 2onny added hastily, but not as bad as we made out. :andora loo"ed crestfallen. Oh. ,he thing is, you ve learned by your mista"es. ,his, 2onny tapped the diary, is 0loody good. (nd ' do mean that. 't s fast, funny, original. 't wor"s. 0e paused. 2o you still thin" ' m bullshitting you) :andora, seemingly unable to spea", shoo" her head. 7ose, gripped by real hunger pangs now, let out an indignant

bellow. OK, first things first. #eed this baby. 2onny passed the bawling infant across to her. Sensing :andora s hesitation he said, +o upstairs if you want to, but it doesn t bother me. ' m not embarrassed if you aren t. :andora smiled slightly, sat bac" down and undid a couple of buttons of the blue shirt. Within seconds silence reigned once more. #or the second time 2onny found himself wishing he was 7ose s father. Sean certainly didn t deserve her. Sean didn t deserve either of them. Second things second, he announced, dragging his attention bac" to the contents of the diary in his hand. Would you li"e me to help you) See if we can t get this thing off the ground) Cautiously, :andora nodded. What about Sean) said 2onny. 2o you want him to see it) 4o. ,his time she was adamant. ' d rather this was between us. ,hat suited 2onny. 0e tried to tell himself his motives were pure. Sweat pric"led at the base of his nec". 7ight, so we need to get this lot typed up. 0e waved the diary at her. /etween its moc"$leather crimson covers were two hundred or so pages of closely written script, roughly si3 half$hour episodes, he estimated, of the "ind of groundbrea"ing ,? sitcom which might *ust end up being heralded as the new #0$5a0. ,hat :andora had even dared to write it following Sean s lacerating verdict on her first attempt said something positive about her character. (s far as 2onny was concerned, she *ust went up and up in his estimation. 0e thought she was an all$round bloody miracle.

<rn, said :andora, ' can t type. 4ot a problem. ,here was no stopping 2onny now. One of my sisters can do it. (nd we re going to need a synopsis, he went on. -,wo or three thousand words should be enough. :andora pulled a face. ' don t get much spare time. ' wrote all that stuff before 7ose was born. 2onny grinned. 'n that case ' ll *ust have to help out. 7ing me when the coast is clear and ' ll come over. 'n disguise if you li"e. ,his could be fun. #or an uncomfortable second :andora wondered whether she should be "eeping this "ind of secret from Sean. ,hen she reminded herself how he had reacted last time. 0e would only start banging on about nepotism again and po"ing fun at her efforts. 4o, :andora decided, far better to wait until she actually had something to show for it, something concrete to boast about. ,hat is, if it ever actually happened. Sean, arriving home minutes later, wasn t thrilled by what he found. 0is eyes narrowed at the sight of 2onny, wearing a white ,$shirt and strategically ripped *eans, sprawled easily. across the grey sofa loo"ing as if he was having the time of his life. ,hey narrowed further still when he reali!ed what was going on beneath :andora s bright blue shirt. 0ow could she sit there, feeding that damn baby, as if it were the most natural thing in the world) 2idn t she "now how she loo"ed) Sean s lip curled in disgust. #or +od s sa"e, didn t she reali!e what 2onny Mulligan was li(e?

What is this, feeding time at the !oo) 0e glanced meaningfully across at :andora, signalling her to stop it at once and ma"e herself decent. Why she couldn t feed 7ose from a bottle was beyond him. Why she was loo"ing so clear$eyed and bloody pleased with herself was more of a mystery still. 7ose had finished anyway. (s :andora did up the two unfastened buttons on her shirt the baby loo"ed across at Sean. #or a moment she seemed as if she was about to smile then she let out an ear$splitting burp. 2onny started to laugh. 0ey, man, all ' did was as" her what she thought of your act last night. 0a ha, said Sean coldly, because last night s act hadn t gone down that well. ,o further irritate him, the baby was now ga!ing with rapt attention at 2onny. ,his time her toothless smile was genuine. So how long have you been here) said Sean. .ou should have phoned first. Couple of hours. 2onny shrugged. 4o worries. ' didn t particularly come to see you anyway. Sean loo"ed at him. ' see. ' decided it was time ' introduced myself to your daughter. (gain, the big flashing white$and$gold grin. She s a beauty. ,a"es after her mother. Wm. Sean was becoming less and less amused. What was 2onny s game) Chec"ing that :andora was decent he drawled, Well, the floor show s over. (nd it s time ' was off. 7ising slowly to his feet, 2onny waggled his fingers at 7ose. /ye, sweetheart. ' thin" ' m in love.

4ice to see you, said :andora. (nd than"s. #or everything. 2onny win"ed. (ny time. ,han"s for everything, Sean mimic"ed furiously the moment 2onny had left. (ny time. What does he thin" he s playing at) 0e was *ust being nice. ,oo buoyed up to care what Sean thought, :andora showered 7ose s face with noisy "isses. (nd ' can guess why, spat Sean. 0e didn t really come all this way to pic" up a sweater. ,he sweater, borrowed by Sean a wee" earlier, had provided 2onny with the e3cuse he needed to smuggle the diary out of the house. :andora shrugged. 4o) 0e s ma"ing a play for you. 7eally) She raised her eyebrows, unable to resist the dig. 4o wonder ' didn t twig. 't s been so long since a yo e showed any interest . .
does -,han"s

Sean was getting madder by the minute. So what the fuc" for everything- mean)

't means than"s for an afternoon of wild and thrilling se3. :andora lifted the baby onto her hip. She turned to face Sean. Which was something else ' d almost forgotten about. 4ow if you ve %uite finished, it s time for 7ose s bath. 0aving been too weary over the past few months to retaliate, :andora reali!ed she was ma"ing up for it now. Startled, Sean bac"ed off. 8oo", you "now what ' mean. 0ow many times have ' told you about 2onny Mulligan) 0e s a screwing machine, the biggest lech in the club. Second biggest, said :andora.

Chapter 44
&ac" pulled up outside the house at e3actly eight thirty. 0e had on a new dar"$grey suit, the cut more modern than he was accustomed to wearing. Cass wondered if 'mogen had ta"en to dragging him round the shops, persuading him into younger, trendier styles. ,he pin" tie, in particular, was something he would never have had anything to do with before. Well, she said, as they set off bac" down the drive, this feels strange. 8i"e a first date, you mean) Out of the corner of his eye, &ac" could see her smoothing her blac" satin s"irt over her thighs, a gesture with which he was so familiar that it seemed odd when 'mogen didn t do it. 0ardly. 8eaning forward, Cass turned down the volume of the music coming from the new state$of$the$art stereo. On our first date ' rode on the crossbar of your pushbi"e. (nd ' spent the whole evening wondering how ' was going to handle the good$night "iss. &ac" grinned. ' nearly tossed a coin, you "now. 0eads, mouth open. ,ails, mouth closed. Cass felt herself being drawn helplessly bac" to that night, one she would never forget. 6ven now, *ust thin"ing of it, the butterflies in her stomach were starting up. Where are we going to eat) 't was an abrupt change of sub*ect, but necessary. 'f they were going to spend the evening playing do you remember) she needed a couple of drin"s inside her first. &ac" had boo"ed a table at ,he :hoeni3, a %uiet restaurant

in Streatham which they had visited on and off over the years. ,he food was sublime, the atmosphere welcoming and the doorstep mercifully free of papara!!i. 4ot San 8oren!o then, Cass said lightly, when the waiter had handed them their menus and moved away. &ac" carried on studying the wine list. ' didn t thin" you d en*oy the attention. Me) She glanced at him. Or 'mogen) ' felt it was something we could all do without. 0e sat bac" in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table. 2on t loo" at me li"e that, Cass. (nd no bitchy remar"s please. 8et s *ust have a nice evening. ( nice, civili,ed evening. She remembered the term he had used on the phone, pronouncing it with due solemnity. ,o celebrate the end of a nice . . . civili!ed marriage. ' thin" ' ll have the smo"ed trout then the guinea fowl. Spea"ing of trout, how is 'mogen these days) &ac" shot her a warning loo". ,his wasn t what he d had in mind when he had invited Cass out to dinner. Stop it. Sorry, sorry. Cass was beginning to en*oy herself. OK, ' ve stopped now. ' ll be serious. 0ow s 'mogen) Stiffly, &ac" said, #ine. Most of the time it s fine, &ac" amended two hours later. ,he fingers of his left hand pleated and unpleated a corner of the linen tablecloth. /ut she wants a family. 'f she marries you , Cass marvelled at how composed she was able to sound, she ll get one. ,hree gorgeous stepchildren, she said innocently. +oodness, even a step$ grandchild thrown in for luc"1 What could be nicer)

Come on, said &ac". .ou "now what ' mean. She wants a family of her own. 0e heaved a sigh. 'n fact, she s obsessed with the idea. (h. Cass nodded. (nd you aren t. &ac" s e3pression was blea". Can you seriously imagine going through all that again) ' mean, actually "a ti g to, at our age) Our age, thought Cass. /ut 'mogen wasn t their age. She was only in her twenties. 0ang on. She frowned. 'sn t this a bit serious) 'mogen s desperate to have children, you re horrified at the thought. What are you going to do if she gets pregnant) What can ' do) 't s not what ' want. &ac" paused while the waiter removed the last of the plates from their table. /ut ' dare say ' d survive. ' wouldn t run a mile, if that s what you re thin"ing. 0e gave Cass a brief smile. ' m not that much of a shit. ' "now ' would grow to love a new baby *ust as much as ' loved the old ones. 't s a bit of a daunting prospect, that s all. One you d better get used to, all the same. 'magine, said Cass, in less than a year there could be baby$sic" on the shoulders of that new designer suit. 8oo" how fertile ' was 5 ' only had to thin" about babies and ' got pregnant. &ac" sighed. -,he thing is, she s 0ee trying. Since Christmas. Seven months now and nothing s happened. 't s really getting to her. Cass wondered if she was e3pected to feel sorry for 'mogen. ,he temptation to remar" that maybe this was her punishment for being such a marriage$wrec"ing cow in the first place was tempting in the e3treme .. . 0eroically, Cass resisted the temptation. 'nstead, downing her Sambuca, she said, Well, isn t that %uite useful) (s far as

you re concerned, surely it s good news) ,hat s what ' thought. #or a moment &ac" wondered if he should really be confiding all this to his e3$wife, but what the hell. -,he thing is, she s fi3ing up all these infertility tests. #or her, you mean) said Cass. 'f she laughed, &ac" thought, he would "ill her. ,hat s the trouble. 0e gave her a gloomy loo". #or me, too. 't was almost midnight when they left the restaurant. 'mogen will be wondering where you are, Cass remar"ed as he drove through the dar"ened streets, ta"ing the familiar route bac" to 0ampstead. 's she *ealous) What ll happen when you get home) Will she bombard you with %uestions about tonight) 4o. &ac" smiled, as if the idea were an amusing one. Why not) Offended, Cass twisted round in her seat to face him. (ren t ' enough of a threat) &ust because ' m your e3$wife does that mean ' m not worth getting *ealous about) ,he blac" satin s"irt, unbe"nown to Cass, was riding up her thighs. One dar"$stoc"inged leg was half tuc"ed under the other. With her piled$up blond hair escaping from its combs and her eyes bright in the reflected glow of the street lamps, &ac" wondered if she had any idea how havoc$ ma"ing she loo"ed. 0is conscience began to pric" him. 't *ust went to show, he thought, how deep an effect poor self$esteem could have. Cass s lac" of confidence in her own appeal was so unfounded it would be laughable if it weren t so sad. What she needed, &ac" thought, was a man in her life. Some highly satisfactory se3. 0e wondered, as they approached the

house, if she would invite him in. Of course you re worth getting *ealous about. 0e bra"ed and turned left through the gates and up the gravelled drive. 7elenting, he went on, (nd yes, OK, ' dare say 'mogen will give me the third degree. She ll want to "now what you were wearing and how you 5 Oh1 Whose car is that) ,he denim$blue Mercedes was carelessly par"ed across the top of the drive. 't was empty. 0ow sweet, e3claimed Cass. 7ory had a meeting up in 4ewcastle. 0e said he d try and get bac" but ' didn t thin" he d be able to ma"e it. +osh, ' hope he hasn t been waiting here all evening@ 7ory) 7ory Cameron) Wee"s ago Sophie had mentioned in passing that Cass had gone to some wedding with 7ory Cameron but there had been no word of him since. &ac" stared at the car with indignation. ,he fact that it was unoccupied meant 7ory must have let himself into the house. .ou can t be serious. .ou aren t seeing him) .es ' am, said Cass. /ut not actually . . . seei g him . . . ) &ac" floundered, struggling to find the appropriate words. 'f you mean se3, Cass supplied with a trace of impatience, then yes, having se3 too. Why so shoc"ed, &ac") 2id you thin" you were the only one allowed to do that "ind of thing) /ut@ (nd don t you dare say ' m too old for him. 0aving unfastened her seat belt Cass was out of the passenger door in a flash. (lmost as if, &ac" thought dar"ly, she could hardly wait to leap into bed with her new and deeply

unsuitable lover. .ou might not be too old for 7ory Cameron, but you re definitely too good for him. ,he man was a smooth$tal"ing rogue. &ust the thought of the pair of them together filled &ac" with a "ind of helpless rage. So much for thin"ing Cass might have invited him in for coffee. 2on t be so stuffy. 7ory s fun, he s "ind and he ma"es me laugh, said Cass. /lithely she added, (nd he s divine in bed. Well) 'mogen demanded when &ac" finally rolled in at twenty to one. Oh dear, it was all very well being determined not to sound li"e a shrew but when it came down to it how else could you find out what you needed to "now) She smiled to soften the effect. 0ow did it go) &ac" shrugged. OK. 'mogen s suspicions were instantly aroused. She thought it bloody odd, anyway, that he should feel the need to ta"e his e3$wife out to dinner to celebrate their divorce. 'f anything, surely it would have been more appropriate for &ac" to have ta"en her out to dinner to celebrate the fact that he was now free to remarry. .ou can t *ust say OK. She followed him upstairs and sat on the edge of the bed watching him undress. &ac" was an e3tremely tidy undresser. What was it li"e) Was she upset) 2id she cry) 2id you "iss her, comfort her, sleep with her, were the %uestions 'mogen was dying to as". 4o. &ac" had his bac" to her. She watched him hang up his suit, ensuring the trouser creases were straight. 0is white shirt went into the laundry bas"et. 'mogen "new she would have to chec" it tomorrow morning for lipstic".

' thought that was the whole point of ta"ing her out, she persisted, oh$so$casually. ,o cheer her up. She must have been a 0it upset. &ac" "new he wasn t helping matters. 0e "new e3actly what was going through 'mogen s mind. ,he trouble was, all he could thin" about was Cass in bed with 7ory Cameron. 0aving fun, &ac" thought savagely. /eing made to laugh, laugh, laugh and en*oying endless divi e se3 .. . .ou could at least tell me what she was wearing. ( petulant note had crept into 'mogen s voice. <nless, of course, she wasn t. 8oo". Wearily &ac" turned to face her. 't wasn t 'mogen s fault. 0e mustn t ta"e it out on her. Cass is involved with someone else. 't s come as a bit of a shoc", that s all. ' "now him and ' m not sure she s doing the right thing. Oh1 ,a"en abac" but hugely relieved, 'mogen said, 's she happy) &ac" s mouth twisted in an unamused half$smile. Oh yes, shes happy . . What was he loo"ing at now) #ollowing the line of his ga!e 'mogen saw that it was her thermometer and ovulation chart, lying on the floor ne3t to her side of the bed. ,hat s all we need, she said with helpless bitterness. Cass to get pregnant before me.

Chapter 45
,he royal film premiere was to be one of those glittering affairs so beloved by the media. ,he papara!!i were wor"ing on overdrive as limousine after rented limousine slid to a halt,

disgorging yet more done$up celebrities. 0alf a do!en different ,? crews *ostled for position. Microphones were being shoved under perfect remodelled noses. 8eicester S%uare was bursting at the seams with fans. (ll this and *et lag too, murmured Cleo as she stepped out of the hired limo to face a barrage of flashbulbs. Wincing at their brightness she said, +ot any aspirin) 2on t worry. 2ino, right behind her, put his arm around her waist and whispered into her ear. -,he film s crap. .ou can sleep right through it. Cleo pulled a face. +reat. ' fly bac" on the red$eye from 4ew .or". .ou invite me out to the movies. ' m wearing a dress that costs as much as a three$bed semi in Swindon . . . and now you tell me the film s crap. Miserable old bag. 2ino gave her non$e3istent spare tyre an affectionate s%uee!e. ' thought you d en*oy a night out. ' wish ' d invited someone else now. Cher, he added in moc"ing tones, would have been here li"e a shot. ,he fans were cheering, waving autograph boo"s and screaming out the names of their favourite stars. ,he photographers, more concerned with the money they would ma"e selling their pictures to maga!ines and newspapers worldwide, yelled out; 0ere, Cleo1 Over here1 -+ive us a smile . . . let s get a good loo" at the dress. 0ey, 2ino, this way1 +ive the girl a "iss . . Cleo Mandeville and 2ino Carlisle1 ( gushing female interviewer, swooping down on them, was closely followed by her ,? crew. On a truly star$studded night, may ' say how fabulous it is to see the two of you together. 4ow, the film you re about to see is a romance. ,he interviewer s eyelashes fluttered. (vid for details she turned co%uettishly to 2ino. So1

's this a hint) (re you and Cleo seeing a lot of each other) Could this be . . . %uic" turn, e3aggerated smir" to camera . . luuurve) Cleo s dress, as 2ino had cheerfully informed her earlier, consisted of two slivers of material smaller than ironing$board covers. ,hese slivers, one at the front and one at the bac", one blac", one white, were held together with narrow strips of transparent perspe3. 't wasn t the "ind of outfit that lent itself to underwear. 2ino grinned at the interviewer, who had orange lipstic" on her teeth. Well, ' thin" we re all seeing a fair amount of Cleo at the moment. (h, but are you two an item) :ersistence was this interviewer s stoc" in trade. ' must say, you certainly ma"e a stri"ing couple. Cleo 5 ama,i g dress, by the way 5 perhaps you have something to add) ,he crew, Cleo reali!ed, were from a popular 8ondon$based early$evening news and entertainment programme. 't was what &oel generally watched if he was home from wor" in time. #or a split second she imagined him lounging across the sofa with his feet up, starting in surprise at the sight of her on the ,? screen, rac"ed with envy and remorse .. . 2ino s everything ' ve ever loo"ed for in a man, she told the astonished interviewer. 2ino loo"ed momentarily astonished too. 0e s gorgeous. We re very happy, Cleo went on. Of course, he has to be bac" in the States soon, wor" commitments you "now, but ' m not worried. We have absolute trust in each other, don t we, darling) 2ino, whose wrist was being pinched, said good$naturedly, Sure we do. (bsolute trust. 2arling. Well, that is splendid news, gasped the interviewer, all

the more startled because no one ever gave her the "ind of e3clusives really worth having. So, is marriage on the cards) ,he arrival of the royal entourage was imminent. Men with wal"ie$tal"ies were rushing around gabbling into them. Sorry, Cleo said sweetly, loo"s li"e we re being herded inside. Well) said 2ino when they had been ushered upstairs to the, plushly carpeted foyer. 's marriage on the cards) 0a ha. ,he fle3ible strips of perspe3 were beginning to dig into Cleo s hips. Surreptitiously easing the pressure with her fingers, reali!ing that two and a half hours in a cinema seat were going to be sheer hell, she heaved a noisy sigh.
Wo" what s the matter)

My dress hurts. 8oo", there s the royal party. Cleo pulled a face. ' must say the prince loo"s thrilled to be here. ' "now how he feels. ,his bad mood of yours. ( note of e3asperation crept into 2ino s voice. :lanning on staying in it for long) She glanced at him. ' might. .eah) So when e3actly did it start) Cleo stuc" out her lower lip. (ges ago. .ou mean when you got dumped)

Oh, hang on@

When that guy dumped you, 2ino mused, slowly nodding his head. -,hat was mo ths ago. (h, now ' get it. ,he thing for the ,? cameras. ,hat was for his benefit, right) Cleo loo"ed more mutinous than ever. Maybe. /ut it wasn t my fault ' got dumped. 0e tric(ed me. :ull yourself together, said 2ino. 0aving never been in

love for more than thirty minutes himself, he had no sympathy at all for Cleo s plight. (nd for Chrissa"e cheer up. ' ve never seen such a miserable bloody face. Come on, they re opening the doors. 0e too" Cleo s hand. We ve got a film to watch. .ou mean a crappy film, said Cleo. ,he stupid perspe3 strips were still digging into her flesh. (nd if you thin" ' m miserable, she added, scowling as she followed 2ino into the dar"ened auditorium, you should meet my friend 8inda ,his is cra!y, 2ino sighed, four hours later. ,he film, as crappy as he had predicted, had had the effect of sending him to sleep. Wa"ing up, he had found his poc"ets being rifled. ,he hopelessly contrived ending had reduced Cleo to tears and she 5who never cried 5 was desperate for a hand"erchief. ,he post$premiBre party at ,he 'vy had improved matters not at all. 4ormally bursting with energy and game for anything, Cleo was unnaturally subdued. 4ot even bothering to table$hop, she sat, apparently lost in thought, endlessly stirring the bubbles out of her untouched glass of champagne. Come on, said 2ino as they headed in the limousine bac" to 0ampstead. -,he guy s history. .ou can t "eep letting him get to you li"e this. ' "now, ' "now. 't was what Cleo had spent the evening telling herself. 't was *ust a shame, she thought, that it should be so easy to organi!e other people s love lives and so bloody hard to sort out your own. What you need is something to ta"e your mind off him, 2ino went on, then corrected himself. Or rather, someone. Cleo had been telling herself that too. 't certainly seemed to

have wor"ed for her mother, who had cheered up no end since the arrival of 7ory Cameron in her life. Cleo wondered if it was possible to ma(e yourself fancy someone, even if the se3ual attraction wasn t immediately apparent. 't must be, she reali!ed. 8oo" at all the arranged marriages in the world. ,hey seemed to wor" well enough. What are you doing) 2ino loo"ed startled as she slid along the bac" seat towards him. 't s an e3periment. 7ela3, said Cleo. want to try out.
Its

*ust something '

/efore she could lose her nerve she too" his face between her hands and drew him to her. She had, of course, "issed 2ino loads of times before, but they had been "isses on the chee", affectionate pec"s, mere gestures of friendship. ,his time it was different, the wor"s, the full Monty. ,his time she meant business. ,he chauffeur, a consummate professional, recogni!ed that now was not the time to stop the car. 'nstead he drove smoothly past the gates of the Mandeville residence and carried on down the road. 0e would drive round in circles and await further instructions. 'n his opinion the odds were on a trip bac" to Mayfair and 2ino Carlisle s five$star hotel. 8uc"y sod. Whilst the chauffeur cast discreet glances in his rear$view mirror Cleo concentrated all her attention on 2ino. Kissing him was surprisingly easy, and it was nice that 5 having overcome his initial surprise 5 he was *oining in. 0is mouth vas soft and he tasted faintly of champagne. She li"ed, too, the way his fingers lightly stro"ed the bac" of her nec". ,hat was something &oel had often done. Sorry. Cleo pulled away with regret. 't isn t going to wor". 2ino raised an eyebrow. ' see. .ou tried me out and ' failed he audition. 4ow you re going to toss me aside. 0e paused. 8i"e a used condom.

' did say it was an e3periment. /ut that was the great thing bout 2ino and their friendship9 Cleo "new he wasn t really offended. She tuc"ed an arm through his and gave it a concilitory s%uee!e. :retty bi!arre though. Most women shut their yes when they re with their awful husbands and fantasi!e that they re being made love to by some gorgeous 0ollywood movie tar. (nd here am ' . . Charming. 2ino gave her a pained loo". .ou mean there ' vas, giving it my all, and all the time you were pretending ' vas your hopeless case of a used$car salesman. ' can t help it. Cleo started to laugh. 0e s not a hopeless case. (nd ' did say ' was sorry. So ' should bloody well hope, 2ino drawled. .ou too" shameless advantage of me. ' m crushed. Who "nows, ' may ever recover . . ,hat bad, huh) Cleo half smiled. 'n that case you should definitely meet my friend 8inda. 0e grew serious. ' m still worried about you. Oh, ' ll be OK. ' ll meet someone else. What, another used$car salesman) Cleo was beginning to feel better. 2efinitely not. 0mm, said 2ino. -,he way you re going you ll end up with an estate agent. 8eft here, sir) ,hey were bac" outside the house. ,he chauffeur momentarily met 2ino s eyes in the mirror. 8eft here, 6dward. 2ino briefly nodded. -,ell me, 6dward, between us men, what were you betting on) ( %uic" <$turn bac" to the hotel) /eg pardon, sir) .eah, yeah. 2ino s grin was unrepentant. Me too.

Chapter 46
P
andora, lying in bed, heard the rattle of the letter bo3 down$stairs. ,he papers, all eight of them, landed with a series of thuds on the doormat. She hoped the noise wouldn t wa"e 7ose. She wondered if Sean, ne3t to her, was really as asleep as he loo"ed. 't was hard to believe a whole year had passed since 2onny had discovered and hi*ac"ed her diary. 0arder still to believe that, the idea having been sold to a highly regarded production company who had in turn 5 eventually 5 persuaded ',? they had a ratings winner on their hands, the series was about to be made. 't was a dream come true. (t last :andora could admit to Sean what she had done. (ll she had to do was ta"e a deep breath and say it. (ny day now, she promised herself. /ut not %uite yet. Sean s own series for Channel D, due to be screened months go, had twice been shelved, apparently as a result of scheduling difficulties. 7umours had begun to circulate, hinting that maybe it wasn t as great as the producers had first hoped. Sean, desperate to scotch that particular item of malicious gossip, had ta"en time off from the club, planning to write a whole load of da!!ling new material. 0e had promptly gone down with comic s bloc". ,he funniness wouldn t come. 4othing he wrote was even remotely amusing. .et more rumours began to do the rounds; he was burned out, washed up, finished. <nused to failure and far too proud to admit his feelings to anyone, least of all :andora, Sean had reacted by spending less and less time at home. :andora, who "new e3actly how he felt

but was powerless in the face of such determined stonewalling even to begin to help, had "ept her own e3citing news to herself. 't was all Sean needed to hear, she decided, when his own career was going through such a dodgy patch. When Channel D decided to screen Sean s series and he had a few encouraging reviews to boost his self$ confidence, the she would tell him .. . Meanwhile it was something of a novelty having Sean here ne3t to her in the bed. 6ven when he did come home these days he was more li"ely to crash out on the sofa than ma"e it upstairs. +a!ing down at him, :andora felt the familiar involuntary leap in her chest as her heart turned over. ,oo damn handsome for his own good, that was how a female columnist had described him in one of the tabloids the other wee". She had followed it up with the scathing, %uestion; but is this the comic s e%uivalent of premature e*aculation) 0as Sean Mandeville run too soon out of steam) Sean had reacted with predictable fury to the article. 't didn t ma"e him easy to live with. 8ife, :andora thought wearily, would be a whole lot easier if only she didn t love him so. much. ' m not asleep, said Sean. 0e opened his eyes and rolled over onto his side. .ou may as well go down and get them. ,he first episode of Sea )a deville & Sho" had been screened last night. 4ow all they had to do was find out how it had been reviewed. ,he fact that it had gone out against unfairly stiff opposition 5 ',? had premiered a big$budget Mel +ibson movie 5 was not, :andora felt, a promising start. 7ose, si3teen months old now and as light a sleeper as ever, heard the stairs crea" as :andora tiptoed downstairs. 6ars$on elastic, 2onny had ta"en to calling her. 'n his view 7ose would ma"e a terrific concierge when she grew up. /y the time :andora had made tea, heated a bottle and

collected up the great heap of papers on the hall floor, 7ose s yells had worn Sean down. /ac" upstairs, :andora found the two of them sitting up together in bed. Climbing in ne3t to them, she winced. 7ose s nappy was sopping wet. 't would never occur to Sean to do the honours and put her into a dry one. ,he ne3t ten minutes ran"ed amongst the worst of :andora s life. (s Sean scanned each review in turn his face grew progressively stonier. ( muscle twitched in his clamped *aw. ,he only sounds in the room came from 7ose, happily slurping from her bottle with one hand and shredding the torso of a Su page$three girl with the other. #inally shoving the whole pile of papers across to :andora, Sean pulled bac" the dar"$blue duvet, levered himself out of bed and disappeared without a word into the bathroom. Oh dear, a dud from Mandeville1 sneered the first review :andora came to. Sean s .awn, declared the second before going on to catalogue his apparently endless failings. Sean Mandeville has the loo"s of a film star, the third critic had written, and the wit of one too. Sadly, that film star is 8assie. 8assie, go home. :lease. ,he rest were *ust as scathing. ,he reviewers seemed to be falling over themselves to outdo each other in the insult sta"es. Only one had suggested the fault might lie with the programme s actual format which intercut the live stand$up with documentary$style behind$the$scenes footage. ,his had resulted in the loss of any sense of continuity. 't was an idea that hadn t wor"ed out. .ou couldn t sit bac" and en*oy the comedy because it was never on for long enough. .ou couldn t en*oy the documentary because it "ept being interrupted by the stand$up. :andora felt sic". 7eviews this bad were going to have the

viewers turning off in droves. ,his was terrible news for Sean. What he must be going through right now didn t bear thin"ing about. What) Sean said irritably when she pressed the handle of the bathroom door and found it unloc"ed. #or a terrible second :andora wondered if he had been crying. /ut when he turned to loo" at her she saw only bla!ing anger in the coal$blac" eyes. ' m sorry. She felt so helpless. (ll she could do was let him "now she was on his side. What for) 2id you write the reviews) 4o, but@ Well then. 2on t apologi!e. ,he last thing Sean wanted was :andora feeling sorry for him. (t that moment, *ust to twist the "nife a stage further, 7ose appeared in the doorway. Sodden nappy dangling, she waddled across the bathroom and flung her arms around Sean s legs. 2anny. 2anny. 2addy, :andora hurriedly corrected. 7ose had ta"en to muddling up 2addy and 2onny, which didn t amuse Sean in the least. 6veryone who s anyone has had rotten reviews in their time, she went on, even though Sean plainly wasn t interested. Ma"ing it up, :andora said, Morecambe and Wise, ,ommy Cooper, :aul Merton@ 2on t patroni!e me. Sean prised 7ose s loving arms off his "nees, pic"ed her up and handed her to :andora. 2o something useful instead. ,a"e her downstairs. ' m going to have a shower. (nd if the phone rings, for Christ s sa"e don t spea" to any *ournalists. Sean was out of the house before nine. 0e didn t say where

he was going and :andora hadn t the heart to as". She was not very successfully spooning cornfla"es into 7ose s mouth when the phone rang. Only when :andora heard who was on the other end did she switch off the answering machine and pic" up the call. Well) 2id you tell him) Oh, please. Men, thought :andora. ,hey could be so male sometimes. Of course ' didn t tell him. 0ave you seen the reviews for last night) Only the Su and the !4press. ,hey were enough to be going on with. 2onny was in a good mood. ,here was, after all, something satisfying about Sean Mandeville getting his come$uppance at last. 7eali!ing belatedly that it wasn t so easy for :andora he said, Come on, he ll survive. 6veryone gets "noc"ed bac" at some stage. ' "now :andora spo"e with feeling. &ust don t try telling Sean that, OK. .ou still have to brea" the news to him about your series, 2onny chided. -,hey re about to go into production. 't s hardly the "ind of thing you can "eep %uiet. ' "now that too. :andora sighed. /ut have a heart. 4ot *ust yet. On the other end of the line, 2onny ga!ed at the clearly defined white bi"ini strap mar" across the smooth brown bac" of the girl lying asleep ne3t to him. 0e had pic"ed her up . at Comedy 'nc. last night and he was almost sure her name was Sarah. :andora disapproved of his one$night stands, which 2onny felt was pretty rich when you considered how she had come to get so hopelessly involved with Sean. 2onny had a heart all right. Sadly it belonged to :andora. 0ow about lunch) he said. ,heirs really was the daftest of

relationships, in some ways not unli"e a furtive affair. With all of the subterfuge, thought 2onny, and none of the se3. 8unch) :andora sounded doubtful. She watched her daughter plunge both hands into the blue bowl of cornfla"es. .ou said he d gone out. ' ll come and pic" you up. What about 7ose) She ll be all right. We ll find somewhere child$friendly. 4e3t to him the girl whose name was probably Sarah began to stir. 2onny s heart san" as he saw the mascara stains imprinted on his pale green pillowcase. 2idn t these women reali!e what hell mascara was to get out) 4ot 8e +avroche then, :andora said gravely. <gh, are you sure you can put up with her) She s *ust stuffed cornfla"es into her ears. 2onny grinned. 0e adored 7ose. 0ow is my girl, anyway) #ine than"s. Sarah 5 it was definitely Sarah 5 opened her eyes. ' wouldn t say no to a coffee, though. She loo"ed at 2onny. Who s that you re tal"ing to) My wife. OK, come round at twelve, said :andora. ' should have finished shampooing brea"fast out of her hair by then. She paused. (re you tal"ing to someone else) 2onny wondered why nobody had thought of manufacturing disposable pillowcases for one$night stands. 4o one, he said blithely. -,welve o cloc" it is. (s he replaced the receiver, Sarah propped herself up on her elbows. <naware of the mascara strea"ing her chee"s she said, 2id ' hear someone say 8e +avroche) Can ' come too)

Chapter 47
Sean had "nown better days. ( meeting with his blandly reassuring agent did nothing to reassure him. 6very cab he too" was driven by some loud$mouthed git who had, naturally, watched last night s show and was full of opinions as to precisely where he had gone wrong. 0aving decided the person with whom he wanted to drown his sorrows was 2onny, Sean had been unable to get in touch with him. 4ot in the mood to face the rest of the crowd at Comedy 'nc. he ended up instead in an almost deserted pub in Camden ,own where if the barman recogni!ed him, at least he had the decency not to say so. ,here, silently brooding and m a" i n g c om m e nd ab l e pr ogr es s t hr ou gh a b ot t l e of +lenmorangie, he might have stayed all afternoon. 'nstead, another customer came into the bar. (h, it s you. 8oo"ing up, Sean found himself being addressed by a complete stranger, a middle$aged man with a neatly trimmed moustache and highly polished shoes. When Sean didn t reply the stranger said, Well, well, hardly surprising you ve fallen flat on your face. .ou "now where you went wrong, don t you, lad) #an$fuc"ing$tastic. ,his is all ' need, thought Sean; to be collared by yet another "now$it$all, a Mr #i3it with a surefire cure for failure. What was he, an off$duty cabbie) 4o. 0e had to say something. ,he man was standing right over him, less than two feet away. Wearily Sean glanced up. Why don t you tell me) Where did ' go wrong) 2idn t stic" with your own "ind, did you) ,he loo" in the stranger s pale eyes was one of triumph. 0ad to mess with one of those blac" bitches. # d put her in the club. .ou

should be ashamed of yourself, my lad. Oh yes you should. (nd that s why your ,? show s crap. 2on t you get it) ,his is your punishment. Serves you right, see, for betraying your own "ind. Sean may have been drin"ing but he was still fast. 8ess than a second later the man lay flat on his bac", groaning. Sorry about the blood, Sean told the barman. 0e slid a couple of tenners out of his wallet. +lancing down, he noticed splashes of blood on the front of his own white shirt. Well, a split lip had a tendency to gush. (t least the man on the floor wasn t spitting out teeth. 2o you "now him) as"ed Sean, when the stranger had finally dragged himself to his feet and with a malevolent glance over his shoulder left the pub. 4o. ,he young barman shoo" his head and gave Sean a sympathetic loo" in return. /ut he "nows you. 0e arrived bac" at two thirty to find the house deserted. Wanting to tell :andora what had happened @ for some reason laying out that nutter in the pub had cheered him up @ Sean did a bit of detective wor". ,he "ettle was stone cold, so she hadn t *ust gone out. 0e could detect a faint whiff of her perfume in the air, so she was unli"ely to have ta"en 7ose to the par". /ut the pushchair was still here. So was :andora s car, minus its child$seat. ,his meant they had been ta"en out by someone else. +iving up, Sean helped himself to a can of lager from the fridge. On his way through to the sitting room he almost bro"e his foot on a dopey$loo"ing 2uplo giraffe. ,he phone rang within minutes. Sean, convinced it was :andora, didn t wait for the machine to pic" up the call. 0e lay bac" on the sofa, balancing his lager can on his stomach,

and reduced the volume of music blaring from the stereo. .es) 's that Sean) 2amn. 4ot :andora at all. /ut the voice was both se3y and female. 't also belonged to someone Sean felt he dimly recalled. 0e didn t put the phone down. 'nstead, with e3treme caution, he said, Wm. Sean, how are you) +emma 0ogan, e3claimed the voice. .ou probably don t remember me, but ' did a piece on you last year for the 3lario . Sean remembered. +emma in the flesh had been something of a disappointment, one of those girls whose physical attributes didn t match up to her voice. /ut the article she had written had been a charming one and as a *ournalist she was less awful than most. 4or, he reali!ed, could he spend the rest of his life refusing to spea" to the press. +o on. 0e pinged the side of his can, watching it sway li"e one of those bottom$heavy punchball dolls. 4ot unli"e +emma herself, in fact. +o ahead, say it. ,he series stin"s, ' m past it and what are my plans for the future) /arely pausing for breath, Sean went on, Well, ' thought ' d probably do the decent thing and stic" my head in the oven. 't s called going for the sympathy vote. (t least it might stop the ratings sliding into minus figures@ (ctually, +emma 0ogan sounded almost apologetic, ' was going to as" how you felt about the competition from your girlfriend. 's there any rivalry between the two of you, now that her own ,? series is about to go into production) ( long silence followed. #inally Sean said, Which girlfriend) 't was +emma 0ogan s turn to be ta"en abac". -our girlfriend. :andora, of course.

Somebody s made a mista"e here. Sean paused to ta"e a mouthful of lager. :andora doesn t have a ,? series. (nother hesitation. ,hen +emma said, <m . . . yes she does. :andora was wearing ma"e$up and a pin" dress Sean had never seen before. She came into the sitting room carrying 7ose s car seat. Oh. She stopped when she saw Sean lying with his feet up on the sofa and was promptly cannoned into from behind by 2onny, carrying 7ose. 7ose, in turn, waved a silver$and$ white helium balloon in one hand and half a rapidly melting Cornetto in the other. What s this, Sean drawled into the ensuing fro!en silence, been playing happy families without me) 2onny too" us out to lunch. ,he loo" in :andora s brown eyes was defiant. (s she sat down Sean caught another waft of the perfume he had bought for her. She was wearing high heels too. :ale pin" ones, to match the dress. 0e hadn t seen her this done up in years. 8unch. +reat. 2on t tell me9 it s your birthday. .ou "now it isn t. 6venly :andora said, 8oo", ' m sorry you came home and didn t "now where ' was, but ' thought you were out for the day. So you thought you may as well ma"e the most of it. ,hrough narrowed eyes, Sean observed the trusting way 7ose s chubby brown fingers curled around 2onny s nec". She seemed entirely comfortable being held by him. ,he happy families *ibe hadn t been so wide of the mar". ,hey loo"ed, thought Sean with a lurch of anger, li"e a happy bloody family. 4othing s been going on, man.

2onny felt it was his duty to say as much, since that was clearly what was on Sean s mind. .ou mean apart from the fact that my best friend has been seeing my girlfriend behind my bac". Sean s smile was icy, unamused. 4ot to mention playing surrogate daddy to my child. What the fuc" else has t been going on, may ' as") 0is ga!e flic"ered in :andora s direction. 4e3t you ll be telling me you haven t written your own ,? series. (h. :andora loo"ed defensive. ' was goi g to tell you about that. 2o it now, said Sean. -,ell me everything. &ust blurt the whole sodding lot out . . . ,? shows . . . affairs . . . everything. /elieve it or not, ' m interested. .ou hypocritical bastard. 2onny passed 7ose, who was beginning to whimper, across to :andora. 't s OK for you to do whatever the hell you want, isn t it) .ou *ust don t li"e it when it s done bac" to you. 63cept :andora hasn t even do e it bac" to you@ Oh well, maybe she should, Sean hissed. 'f he was being irrational he no longer cared. (s 7ose s whimpering escalated to a full$blown wail he raised his own voice to be heard above it. 2o you "now what ' did today) 2ec"ed some lunatic for telling me ' should have stuc" with my own "ind. ' ll probably get done for +/0. :andora, horrified, said, What) ' "now. 'ronic, isn t it) Sean shot her a loo" of disgust. ,here ' was defending you, and now it seems he was right all along. /ecause while ' was punching the guy s lights out, what were you doing) Stic(i g "ith your o" (i d. :andora eventually persuaded 2onny to leave.

't s OK, ' ll be fine, she assured him. 0e s had two shoc"s in one day. We *ust need to tal" things through. :hone if you need me. 2onny was reluctant to go but :andora was standing firm. 4ot for the first time he wished he could have chosen someone easier to fall in love with. +o home. :andora smiled. .ou never "now, that girl you left in your bed this morning might still be there. With his luc", 2onny thought gloomily, she bloody would.

Chapter 48
' didn t want to tell you about the ,? thing until ' "new for sure it was going ahead, said :andora. (nd you weren t e3actly thrilled the last time ' wrote something. ' wasn t trying to cash in on your fame either. We sent the script in under the name :. &. +rant. ,he producers assumed ' was a man. 2us" had fallen outside. 7ose was upstairs asleep in her cot. ,hey were, Sean reali!ed, having their most in$depth conversation in almost two years. 0e found himself by turns both enlightened and confused. :articularly noticeable was the change in :andora. Sean didn t "now if it was due to 2onny s interest in her 5 because even if they weren t sleeping with each other it was pretty obvious the lecherous bastard wished they were 5 or to the fact that she had, according to +emma 0ogan, evidently written the sitcom of the year. 6ither way, the difference was there. 0e couldn t thin" how he hadn t noticed it before. 't was as if the old :andora, the one he had met and fallen for with such di!!ying intensity, was bac". Well) she prompted when he didn t react. (ren t you

going to say anything) Slowly Sean nodded. Well done. :andora loo"ed wary. 't was hard to tell, sometimes, if he was being sarcastic. ' mean it, Sean said. ' felt pretty stupid, ' can tell you, getting caught out on the phone earlier. ' wish ' had "nown about it, but ' can understand why you put off telling me. 0e paused, then patted the space on the sofa ne3t to him. /y all accounts you ve written a terrific script. .ou deserve to be congratulated. (nd ' am proud of you. ' li"e your dress too. Why don t you come and sit over here) ' m not having an affair with 2onny. :andora needed to ma"e sure he understood. 't felt strange, sitting ne3t to Sean. When he put his arm around her the gesture was oddly intimate, more so than being in bed together. 't was these small, affectionate gestures she had missed so much. ' "now you aren t. ( smile flic"ered at the corners of Sean s mouth. .ou had me worried though. 's it true what they say about blac" men) On the grounds that it might incriminate me, no comment. <nable to resist it :andora added, /etter as" 2onny. Sean raised his eyebrows to heaven. 2onny s the one who "eeps telling me it s true. 't was inevitable that they would end up ma"ing love. What ama!ed them both was the renewed intensity of their feelings for each other, the absolute rightness of it all. (t midnight, perspiring and sated, they lay happily in bed gu!!ling chilled nectarines, Kraft cheese slices and wafer$thin prosciutto, the only picnic$type food Sean had been able to find in the fridge. .ou still haven t told me properly what happened in that

pub at lunchtime. :andora s head rested against his bare chest. She found it hard to believe Sean had actually punched someone. 2id this blo"e really *ust come up to you and start ranting or had you said something to him first) ,or once ' m blameless. Sean lobbed the last nectarine stone out through the open window and lic"ed the *uice from his fingers. 0e ran through the brief e3change, word for word. More great publicity, he concluded with heavy irony, if ' get done as a result. Well, ' m proud of you. :eople li"e that deserve all they get. ' never "now how to@ :andora abruptly stopped and bit her lip. .ou never "now how to what) /ut Sean guessed at once. Outraged, he sat bolt upright in bed. 7eact, was that what you were going to say) When people shout racist abuse in public) 4obody s ever said anything li"e that to me before1 Maybe ' m an easier target than you are. ,hey were being so honest with each other :andora thought she may as well tell him. ' ve had the occasional awful phone call too. (nd leaflets shoved through the door. Some people *ust can t bear the idea of us being together, ' suppose. &esus. Sean s eyes bla!ed with anger. 't had never occurred to him that :andora had been forced to suffer as a result of her relationship with him. 'gnorant fuc"ing bastards. 0e was sha"ing, ready to go out and ta"e on the world. Why didn t you tell me any of this before) ' suppose ' thought it wasn t your problem, :andora lied. Sean saw through that too. 0e had behaved li"e a pig towards her. 0is arms tightened around her. .ou mean you thought ' wouldn t care. ,he police station was situated less than five hundred yards

from the pub. Sean wal"ed into it the ne3t morning and spo"e to the duty sergeant on the front des". ' hit someone yesterday. ' wondered if they d reported the incident. My name s Sean Mandeville. Oh yes, sir. ,hat incident certainly has been reported. ,he policeman nodded several times. Overweight and fiftyish, he had pendulous *owls that swung as he spo"e. ' dealt with the gentleman in %uestion myself, yesterday afternoon. Sean s heart san", though it was no more than he had e3pected. 0e did provo"e me. 0e loo"ed resigned. So, what happens ne3t) What do ' do now) #ind myself a lawyer, ' suppose. 'f ' were you, sir, ' d go home and forget all about it. Sean shoo" his head. ' don t want this thing hanging over me. ' d rather get it out of the way. 8oo", sir, the incident was reported but it wasn t written down. Was the sergeant, Sean wondered, trying not to smile) ,he gentleman concerned is, shall we say . . . well "nown to us here at the station. :ops in most days, as a matter of fact, to report some incident or other. .ou hit him, you say) (ll Sean could do was nod. .es, well. 4o sign of any in*uries, sir, by the time he reached us. So we ll *ust leave it at that, shall we) Off you go. 7ight. 0ugely relieved, Sean nodded again. 0e smiled. ,han"s. ,han"s a lot. :leasure, sir. ,his time the *owls were definitely %uivering. One more thing . . Sean was on his way out of the station door. 0e turned. .es) ,he sergeant, who had watched the first disastrous episode

whilst taping it for his teenage daughter, gave him a "indly win". 8i"ed the *o"e about the penguin, sir. Shame about the rest of the show.

Chapter 49
't came to something, thought Sophie, when your mother was more delighted with the results of your +CS6s than you were. Since discovering over brea"fast that her brilliant daughter had scored the darts e%uivalent of LR> @ ten flawless grade (s @ Cass had barely come down to earth. Sophie hadn t even been able to get to the phone to compare grades with her friends from school because her mother had spent the whole morning hogging the thing, broadcasting the news to everyone she "new. (nd don t you dare mention it on air, Sophie warned when Cass finally had to give in and leave for wor". ' ll be mortified. 't ll loo" as if you re bragging. ' "ill be bragging. Cass beamed. ' m entitled to brag. What s more, we re going to have a party to celebrate. ' ve *ust decided. ,hen ' ll be able to brag some more. Who are you going to invite) Sophie loo"ed suspicious. .our friends or mine) 2on t glare at me li"e that, sweetheart. !veryo e. Saturday night, &ac" mused when Cass phoned him that evening. 2amn, we ve already been as"ed to something then. ' ll need to cancel it.

Sophie would want you to be here. Cass held her breath. Sophie wasn t the only one. (nd ' wouldn t miss her party for the world. &ac" sounded deeply offended. Sophie s my daughter, Cass. We ll definitely be there. We) She s%uirmed at the sound of the dreaded W$word. <rn, it s "ind of a family celebration. Cass spo"e rapidly. ,he last thing she wanted was 'mogen spoiling the whole night. ' meant *ust you. Oh dear, come on now. She heard &ac" assume his let s$ be sensible tone of voice. (n involuntary shudder went down her spine. /e fair, Cass. 0ow long is it now since we separated) We re mature adults. .ou have your own life to lead and ' have mine . . . and it s certainly time we put an end to this silly feud. Silly feud) Cass stared at the phone in disbelief. Well, you "now what ' mean. /e reasonable, &ac" urged. .ou can t spend the rest of your life inviting me to family events and leaving 'mogen out. 't doesn t ma"e sense. 't made perfect sense to Cass, but she reali!ed this was one argument she was destined not to win. 'f she stuc" to her guns &ac" might refuse to come to the party at all. .ou were friends once, he went on, when she didn t spea". ,hat ma"es it worse, Cass coldly informed him, not better. Oh well, in that case@ OK, OK, she sighed, before he had a chance to start ma"ing his e3cuses. 'mogen can come too. ' ll be polite. &ust don t e3pect me to fling my arms around her and give her a big "iss, that s all.

7ight, said Cleo, marching unannounced into Sophie s bedroom on Saturday afternoon and e3pertly pluc"ing the (ugust edition of /atio al 'eographic from her sister s grasp. -,ime for a spring clean. /atio al 'eographic hit the wall and slid down behind the bed. (nd ' m the one who s going to do it. (, it isn t spring, Sophie pointed out. LP, Mrs /edford deals with all that. (nd C, never mind a whole bedroom, you have enough trouble cleaning sweet wrappers out of your car. ' m not tal"ing bedrooms. .ou re the one in need of the spring clean. <gh. 8i"e an eel Sophie slithered out of reach *ust as Cleo made a grab for her. 2on t, you aren t allowed1 ,his is my day and everyone has to be nice to me. 6ven you. ' m sorry. 6mploying a change of tactics Cleo collapsed onto the narrow, boo"$strewn bed. ' m trying to be nice. ,hat s why ' want to do you up for tonight, ma"e you loo" wonderful. :leeease, she wheedled, don t you thin" you owe it to your guests to ma"e some "ind of effort) Sweetheart, you can t *ust roll downstairs in a horrid ,$shirt and yu""y old *eans. Sophie scowled. 't wasn t a horrid ,$shirt, it was a perfectly decent tur%uoise$and$white Save the Whale one. She had even given it a once$over with the iron. /ut Cleo wasn t nearly ready to give up. :leeeease, she said again, *umping to her feet and frogmarching Sophie across the room. #linging open the wardrobe door she pointed Sophie in the direction of the mirror. 4ow, isn t there heaps of room for improvement) 'f only for Mum and 2ad s sa"e . . Sophie seldom bothered to e3amine her reflection but Cleo

had her shoulders in a vice$li"e grip. #inally, with a weary shrug, she said, OK, so maybe it wouldn t "ill me. &ust for one night. 0er eyes bored into her sister s. /ut it had better not be anything drastic.
* * *

Cleo was in heaven. ,his was 7ichard$and$&udy ma"eover time, the "ind of magical transformation that made you rub your eyes in disbelief. 6ven she, with all her e3perience, had never suspected Sophie could come up so well. 't really was gob$smac"ing . . . ,he figure had been there all along, of course, *ust hidden beneath disgusting clothes. 4ow, helped by the fact that in the past year Sophie had shot up, it was virtually faultless. She had all the necessary bone structure too, Cleo reali!ed. ,he face was heart$shaped, the chee"bones high. (nd as for those eyes . . . well, they might not loo" much on their own, na"ed and hidden behind spectacles, but plenty of charcoal shadow, blac" pencil and mascara had brought them out li"e nobody s business. 0umming happily, in her element now, Cleo "ept going. 8ip pencil, raspberry$pin" lipstic" and highlighting gloss for the mouth. More blusher. ( smidgeon more wor" on those eyebrows. (nd maybe another coat of mascara, to really show off the length of those lashes 0aven t you finished yet) Sophie groaned. Shut up. .our hair s a disaster. Cleo wasn t *o"ing. 't really was. (ll she could do was slic" it bac" with tons of gel and hope it hid the fact that Sophie still hac"ed away at it herself. (bout bloody time too, Sophie grumbled when she was at last allowed to stand up and ta"e a loo" at herself in the mirror.

Without her glasses, which Cleo had confiscated, this was easier said than done. 't helps , Cleo observed, if you try and loo" as if you aren t having your toenails yan"ed out. 't d help even more if ' could see. Oh, for heaven s sa"e. Cleo gave the spectacles bac". ,hey didn t remotely go with the midnight$blue 0ervB 8eger dress she had shoe$ horned Sophie into, nor with the delicate high heels. 't was a miracle she had managed to s%uee!e Sophie into these anyway9 more used to thumping great 2oc Martens she had the broadest feet imaginable. /leeurrghh, Sophie wailed, seeing herself at last and going %uite pale beneath the layers of bron!ing powder. 's this a *o"e) Come on, protested Cleo. Standing behind Sophie, she admired her own handiwor". .ou loo" ama!ing. 8i"e a young (udrey 0epburn. Sweetheart, this is seriously 8ogue! ' "now models who would "ill for your figure. ' loo" li"e a tart, said Sophie flatly. ,rust me. 4o self$respecting tart would be seen dead in those specs. +o t. Cleo let out a screech of alarm as Sophie, still scrutini!ing her reflection, ran an e3ploratory fingernail down her chee". #oundation, bron!er, blusher and translucent powder came away li"e magic, leaving a thin white line in its wa"e. ,his is ridiculous. Sophie, e3amining the gunge under her fingernail, began to laugh. 6dna 6verage would loo" au aturel compared with this. What gets it off, Swarfega) 't was heartbrea"ing. (ll Cleo could do was throw herself onto Sophie s bed, ga!e up at the ceiling and listen to the shower going full pelt ne3t door. When Sophie emerged fifteen

minutes later every last spec" of ma"e$up had been scrubbed off. 0er face was pin" and shiny, her body wrapped in a white towel. Scrunched up in one hand was thousands of pounds worth of midnight$blue 0ervB 8eger. 0ere She held it out to Cleo. -,han"s, but it s not really me. She smiled briefly. ' thin" ' ll stic" to *eans. 't was more than heartbrea"ing. Cleo now understood how people felt when they claimed to have seen a spaceship or been "idnapped by aliens. She "new it had happened 5 she had seen the transformation of Sophie with her own eyes 5 but she had no photographs, no witnesses, no proof

Chapter 50
,he ta3i dropped &ac" and 'mogen at the bottom of the drive. (s they made their way on foot up to the house they were overta"en by a blue /MW with a child$seat in the bac". +limpsing Sean at the wheel, 'mogen s mind slipped bac" to the night of their first meeting two years earlier. Cass had impulsively invited her to that party, being held to celebrate &ac" s fortieth birthday. ,his time &ac" had been the one who had insisted she come along. 'mogen s grip on his hand tightened. 0ow things had changed since then. ,he house was teeming with people. 'mogen, more nervous than she cared to admit, stood by in the hall while &ac" made a grandfatherly fuss of 7ose. ' "eep hearing about this sitcom of yours. #or something to say, 'mogen turned to :andora who was less li"ely to rebuff her than Sean. 6vidently the producers are thrilled with the way it s going. +reat things are being predicted . . . /aftas, the wor"s. She smiled, noting how much better

:andora was loo"ing these days. 0ow would you feel about doing an interview for us) 'f we get a move on, we could feature it in the 4ovember issue of Hi! to tie in with the screening schedule. :andora opened her mouth to spea". 4o than"s, said Sean, who had been listening. 0e loo"ed at 'mogen. /etter safe than sorry. .ou might have an affair with :andora. ,he drawing room was even more crowded with guests than the hall. Sophie s school friends mingled e3citedly with the "ind of glamorous showbusiness types they normally only saw on ,?. 6ven 'mogen, famous by association rather than in her own right, found herself being accosted by a twittering teenager who introduced herself as &ennifer Smith$6lliott. ' m in the same class as Sophie, she babbled on. ' stood behind you once in a chemist s shop in 'slington. 7eally. 'mogen, bored already, loo"ed round for a mean; of escape. .ou bought a Ma3 #actor lipstic" and a tube of Colgate. # o r s o m e r e a s o n t h e g i r l w a s e ye i n g h e r s t o m a c h . +oodness me. (nd a pregnancy testing "it, said &ennifer, tilting her hew to one side. /ut you can t have been pregnant because you haven t had a baby. (re you still trying, or did you not really want one in the first place) Sophie hadn t only invited friends from school. Mum, ' d li"e you to meet &ulian and 4atasha. Cass had been deep in conversation with &enny 2uran ,urning, she reali!ed the preconceptions that e3ist

where name are concerned. &ulian and 4atasha sounded infinitely glit!S Cass smiled and shoo" hands with each of them in turn. &ulia had wispy beige hair, an even wispier beard and holes in the elbows of his hand$"nitted grey *ersey. 4atasha was wearing hippyish patchwor" s"irt, no ma"e$up and a yellow tan" tor ,hey were both drin"ing orange *uice. &ulian and 4atasha are *ust bac" from <ganda. ,hey re with ?SO, Sophie beamed. .ou remember, they sent me a couple of postcards. Of course. Cass vaguely remembered. Sophie s passion for all things (frican remained undimmed. ?oluntary Service Overseas, isn t it)
?igorously and in unison &ulian and 4atasha nodded. We can t wait to go bac", 4atasha enthused. -,he orphanage needs us. .ou have no idea, Mrs Mandeville, how much of an effect the ('2S epidemic has had on that country.

(nd the more volunteers we can persuade to come out with us, the better, &ulian chimed in. 't s such a "orth"hile cause. ' m sure you must be proud of@ Sophie "ic"ed him. Ouch. &ulian loo"ed at her, surprised. She hasn t told them yet. tones. 0ave you, Sophie)
,old us what) said Cass. Oh help. 4atasha spo"e in soothing

Cleo, sitting out on the terrace with :andora and 7ose, felt the hairs at the bac" of her nec" go up. She stopped tal"ing and stared through the open #rench windows.

(h. :andora followed her ga!e. .ou mean &oel.


' didn t "now he d been invited.

:andora loo"ed guilty. When Sophie rang us, she said to as" &oel along too. Sorry, was that the wrong thing to do)
<m . . :eering at her more closely, :andora began to loo" worried. .ou ve gone pale. (re you feeling all right)

Cleo wasn t sure how she felt. Seeing &oel again for the first J time in so long @ and without any warning whatsoever @ had "noc"ed her for si3. 7ose, recogni!ing him, let out a shrie" of uncomplicated delight and s%uirmed to be allowed off Cleo s lap. Cleo watched 7ose charge across the terrace towards him. She saw &oel bend down and lift her triumphantly into his arms. #or a shameful moment Cleo wished she could swap places with 7ose and be smothered in "isses by that dear familiar mouth. Shit, she had tried so hard to forget him. So much for willpower9 it hadn t wor"ed at all. ' really am sorry. :andora hadn t dreamed &oel s arrival would have this much effect. 4either he nor Cleo had e3actly opened their hearts to her about whatever had gone wrong between them last year. :andora, assuming their brief affair had simply fi!!led out, had similarly never thought to as". &oel, meanwhile, had hoisted a giggling 7ose onto his shoulders and was ma"ing his way towards them. Cleo too" the coward s way out. ,here s Sean being pestered by a couple of Sophie s friends. She rose abruptly to her feet. 'f they re telling him how crappy his ,? series is, he s li"ely to chuc"

them onto the barbecue. ' d better get over there, see if ' can t calm him down. Only by the merest flic"er of his eyes did &oel ac"nowledge having even noticed Cleo as she swerved swiftly past him. /ut then he d had the advantage, thought :andora. 0e might have caught Cleo on the hop, but he had "nown full well that she d be here.
* * *

'mogen, in need of a bit of 2utch courage, had downed three vod"a tonics in %uic" succession. 4ow feeling much better, she found herself tal"ing to an e3$neighbour of &ac" s, a friendly$loo"ing middle$aged woman called 2aisy who, 'mogen remembered &ac" once telling her, had two adopted sons. 't s so hard, 'mogen confided. <nless people have been through it themselves they haven t the least idea how it feels. 6very time some earth$mother with si3 "ids tells me to rela3 and stop worrying about it ' *ust want to slap them. /ehind her, &ac" frowned. 0e tried to be sympathetic but 'mogen s habit of blurting out intimate details of the latest tests she had undergone to all and sundry was unnerving. &ac". Sorry to interrupt . . ,o gain his attention, Cass briefly touched his arm. (s he turned to face her, so did 'mogen. Cass, said 'mogen. So far this evening they had managed with some success to avoid each other. /ut &ac" was right, it was silly to carry on li"e this. 't was high time diplomatic relations were restored. 0ello. Cass nodded stiffly. She hadn t been loo"ing forward to it either, but now at least it was done. ,urning her

attention once more to &ac" she spo"e in a low voice. 't s Sophie. 8oo", can you come and have a word) She s being stubborn about something. 2etermined that it shouldn t loo" as if she were being snubbed by Cass, 'mogen said rapidly, ' was *ust telling 2aisy about the problems we ve been having at the infertility clinic. +etting onto a decent '?# programme is tougher than winning a scholarship to O3ford. She forced a bright smile. 't s ironic, isn t it) Some people seem to fall pregnant *ust li"e that, and loo" at us, desperate to have a child. Well, 2aisy understands what we ve been going through. She glanced from 2aisy, who was loo"ing pu!!led, to Cass. 't seems so . . . unfair. 2o ' really have to be polite) wondered Cass. ' thin" . . . 2aisy coughed delicately. ' thin" you have 2aisy confused with ,rudy, said Cass. ,rudy is our other neighbour but she isn t here tonight anyway so you won t be able to bore her to tears with your sob story. (s for things being unfair . . . She stopped, her ga!e sweeping coldly over the girl who had befriended her, stolen &ac" and bro"en up a perfectly good marriage 5 8ots of things in life aren t fair. &ac", stunned into unaccustomed silence, could only stare at his e3$wife. 7ight. 4o longer caring what he thought, Cass tapped his arm. Maybe now ' can drag you away to have that word with your daughter. ' swear, you wouldn t believe how different she loo"ed1 Cleo, relating the story of Sophie s brief encounter with high heels and ma"e$up to &enny 2uran, was

beginning to feel more and more li"e the only person in the world to have seen the 8och 4ess monster. &enny adored Sophie, who had always been the ugly duc"ling of the Mandeville family but more than made up for it in spirit. ' m sure she loo"ed sweet, she said to appease Cleo. ,hrough a gap in the crowd around the barbecue she glimpsed Sophie, deep in some discussion with a group of school friends. &enny smiled. When hac"ed$at hair, unflattering specs and the "ind of clothes only a train$ spotter would wear became the height of fashion, maybe Sophie would have her chance to shine. ' m serious, ama!ing. Cleo stubbornly insisted. She loo"ed

0mm. (nd you re loo"ing shifty. (t once, Cleo s dar" eyes flic"ered. ' am not. .es you are. Sei!ing on the outrageous lie with delight, &enny said, 4ow ' get it. ,here was a real reason for dragging me outside. Come on, tell me everything. Cosily she nudged Cleo s arm. -,his is what ' do best. 't s a man, isn t it) 2amn, what am ' saying) Of course it is. So what are we doing out here anyway, trying to accidentally$on$purpose bump into him) Or hide) ,here really was no stopping &enny when she was hot on the trail of someone else s problem. Cleo, who hadn t meant to at all, found herself spilling out the whole miserable tale. 0e thin"s ' m some "ind of playgirl *et$setter, she concluded mournfully some minutes later, with all the morals of an alley cat. Well, you do *et$set. Only because it s what ' m paid to do. 't s my *ob, said Cleo in fretful tones. (nd as far as &oel was

concerned, it meant ' couldn t be trusted. 'f ' was a secretary in a ta3 office in ,ring, ' d be all right. ,he ne3t moment she stiffened as &oel came into view at the far end of the terrace. 0e was tal"ing to 'mogen ,rent of all people. Cleo watched him laugh at something 'mogen had *ust said. ,hat s him, ' ta"e it. Cleo nodded. 0mm, said &enny, observing the way Cleo s fingernails were digging into the palms of her hands. ,he blond giant was good$loo"ing enough but in all honesty he didn t compare with 2ino Carlisle. .et 2ino, according to Cleo, left her cold. ,his thing with &oel, &enny decided, really must be love. Cleo glanced across at her. 0mm what) &ust thin"ing it doesn t suit you. What doesn t suit me) S"ul"ing in the shadows. She touched the long blac" velvet sleeve of Cleo s dress. 8oo"ing li"e a bit of roc"ery hell$bent on melting into the bac"ground. 0iding away . . . Cleo, it *ust isn t you. Cleo already "new that. She loo"ed cross. So what do you thin" ' should do) March up to him, ' suppose. +rab him by the hair, fling him over my shoulder and drag him off to the nearest cave) &enny grinned. Well, something li"e that. 't s all right for you, grumbled Cleo. &enny was still deliriously happy with 8u"e. What if he doesn t want to be dragged) :ersuade him otherwise. (s far as &enny was concerned, it was simple. She spread her hands. ' mean,

loo" at you now. /e honest, what have you got to lose)

Chapter 51
6nough, said &ac", because Sophie was being ridiculously stubborn and his patience was wearing thin. 2etermined not to lose his temper he "ept his voice low. 8oo", this is neither the time nor the place. Sophie, you re in danger of spoiling your own pa rt y. 8e a ve it for now, OK) We can ta l" about t hi s properly tomorrow. Sophie stood her ground. /ut you ll still say no. /ehind the light$reflecting spectacles, her grey eyes bored steadily into him. 's that it) 2on t try and fob me off, 2ad. ' ve made up my mind. ,his is what ' want to do more than anything else in the world. (nd ' thin" you re the ones who are being unfair. ,he unflinching ga!e was turned on Cass. 6veryone else around here seems to do whatever they want to do.

Sweetheart, you re .ou re si4tee .

too

young,

Cass

protested.

Old enough to get married, snapped Sophie.

'mogen had come in search of &ac", who had been missing for ages. She saw the determined set of Sophie s *aw. She heard the words Sophie uttered. She ga!ed in ama!ement at &ac".
Sophie) Married) Cleo, having decided to ta"e &enny s

up$and$at$ em advice but needing a %uic" nervous pee first, was on her way bac" from the loo. <nable to spot &oel anywhere in the garden she now found herself diverted by the reali!ation that some "ind of argument was brewing in the "itchen.

What s going on) Cleo had never been over$friendly towards her but 'mogen couldn t resist brea"ing the news. Sophie s getting married. 6veryone including Sophie turned to stare at 'mogen. Oh dear, you can tell she s a *ournalist, murmured Cass. 'mogen longed to slap her. 2on t be stupid. Cleo s tone was dismissive. What is it really) .our sister s being ridiculous. &ac" s eyebrows were drawn together. -,en +CS6s, all ( grades, and what does she want to do) /ugger off to <ganda. 0onestly. Sophie glared bac" at him. -,he way you re frea"ing out, anyone would thin" ' had my heart set on a career as a King s Cross prostitute. 2arling@ Cass tried to calm her down. Or a heroin addict, shouted Sophie, refusing to be calmed. ' mean, what is so terrible about wanting to wor" in an orphanage in <ganda) (nd it can t have come as that much of a surprise anyway, she rattled on. .ou "now it s what ' ve always wanted to do. ' d be helping people who need help, doing something useful with my life. Sophie was ga!ing around, desperate for support. 'mogen, who had never been afraid to disagree with &ac" and who was still smarting from Cass s %uite uncalled for put$down earlier, began to applaud. 0ear, hear, she told Sophie. +ood for you. 4obody else *oined in. 'mogen reali!ed she was on her own.
6ven Sophie didn t seem to appreciate the gesture. Well, e3cuse me. /ut ' m entitled to an opinion, 'mogen moc"ed, aren t ')

8eave it. &ac" s voice was low. .ou aren t helping.

Someone behind 'mogen @ a voice she couldn t identify @murmured, .ou can tell she doesn t have children of her own. OK. ,his is a party. Cass put her arm around Sophie. 2etermined the evening shouldn t be spoiled, she said, (nd we are proud of you, sweetheart. We re *ust saying si3teen is awfully young for such an adventure. Some of these (frican countries aren t safe . . . you ve told us yourself ('2S is everywhere @ .ou don t catch it by tal"ing to orphans, Sophie shot bac". With a glimmer of sarcasm she added, (nd ' promise not to sleep with anyone. ,hat isn t the only danger and you "now it, said &ac". Civil war could brea" out at any time ... Sophie, you "now what we re trying to say. (t least leave it another two years. ,a"e your ( levels and then go. ' want to go now. Cass frowned. What was it &ulian and 4atasha had said earlier) ' thought ?SO didn t accept people under the age of eighteen. ,hey don t. Sophie remained cool. ' d pay my own way.
Oh yes) Sei!ing this straw, &ac" said, What with)

Sophie had no money, he "new that. 6very penny of her allowance was spent on boo"s, educational trips and more boo"s. 7eali!ing she d been rumbled, the spar" of battle died in Sophie s eyes. 2on t tell me, said &ac". .ou were going to as" us to

lend you the money. (m ' right) Sophie said nothing. #inally, and with reluctance, she nodded. Well, said &ac", ' d be happy to do that. 0e glanced at Cass, then bac" to Sophie. 'n two years time. ' d be more than happy to. &enny 2uran, coming downstairs, bumped into Sean. Oh good, you re here. She pointed over her shoulder at the first of the bedroom doors along the landing. ' thin" ' heard 7ose crying a moment ago. Sounds as if she s wa"ing up. OK. 0e nodded. ' ll let :andora "now. &enny paused on the last stair but one. Can t you deal with it) When she s *ust wo"en up , Sean replied evenly, she s happier with her mother. &enny had encountered this type of attitude before. 0er eyes narrowed. ' m glad you aren t my husband. Sean, who "new e3actly what she was thin"ing, wondered what the hell business it was of bossy &enny 2uran s anyway. 4ot nearly as glad as ' am , he drawled, that you aren t my wife. 't was no good. &oel, watching from a discreet distance as Cleo chatted animatedly with a group of Sophie s friends, reali!ed it had been a mista"e to come here. Stupidly, he had imagined they would be able to put the past behind them. #or the last few days all he had been able to thin" about was how Cleo, finally seeing him again after so long, might react.

,he trouble was, his imagination had got carried away. (ll it had managed to con*ure up had been a variety of happy endings. ,he one reaction that had never occurred to &oel was the one he had got. Cleo, so desperate not to spea" to him that she hadn t even been able to bring herself to say a simple hello, had seen him coming and scuttled away li"e a panic"y sand crab. 't was so un$Cleo it had to be seriously bad news. She can t bear to loo" at me, thought &oel. 0e felt sic" with disappointment, and furious with himself for having been gullible enough to thin" things could have been different. ,his was hopeless. With one last glance across at Cleo, stunning in blac" and more stri"ingly beautiful in the flesh than even he remembered, &oel reached into his bac" poc"et for his car "eys. 4ot having the heart to search out either Sophie or :andora in order to say goodbye, he left.
Cleo had been battling one interruption after another. #irst she had been distracted by Sophie s impassioned speech about running off to save the poor starving babies of (frica. ,hen, before she could hunt down &oel, she was stopped in her trac"s by a bunch of Sophie s friends from school. 4one of them was an inch above five foot three. ,hey were all desperate to become supermodels. Only the fact that they were friends of Sophie s had prevented Cleo telling them that what they really needed if they planned a career in modelling was a damn good seeing$to with a steamroller. #inally managing to ma"e her e3cuses and escape, Cleo resumed her search. She still hadn t formulated an e3act plan, but the gist of it was there.

#ind &oel.

Ma"e him reali!e 5 in no uncertain terms 5 how she felt about him. (bsolutely refuse to ta"e no for an answer. ,en minutes later, with a sin"ing heart, Cleo began to ac"nowledge the possibility of a flaw in her three$point plan. Ma"ing &oel reali!e how she felt about him and refusing to ta"e no for an answer was only going to wor" if she could find him first. (nd &oel was nowhere to be found. So much, thought Cleo, for thin"ing he might have been loo"ing forward to seeing her again. 0e hadn t been able to get away fast enough. ' thought 7ory Cameron was supposed to be here tonight. 'mogen s green eyes glittered. Or has he found someone nearer half his own age and given Cass the push) ,hat the relationship had lasted this long had, fran"ly, surprised &ac" too. ,hey re still seeing each other, he said. (ccording to Cass, anyway. 'mogen gave him a "nowing loo". (h well. Cass would say that, wouldn t she) &ust to loo" good. /ut when 7ory Cameron did finally arrive at almost ten o cloc" there appeared to be nothing stage$managed about the way he and Cass greeted each other. &ac" loo"ed away. Sorry, sorry. 7ory e3cused his lateness with an apologetic grin. /it of a punch$up at the club between rival papara!!i. ' don t "now if these royals are worth the trouble they cause, ' really don t. ,o show Cass and 'mogen there was no need to be bitchy and ill at ease with each other, &ac" made a point of being

e3tra friendly towards 7ory Cameron. 't wasn t too difficult so long as he didn t imagine him in bed with Cass. (ctually, ' was wanting us to have a %uiet word. With a King 6dward cigar in one hand and a tumbler of Scotch in the other, 7ory led him out into the garden. 0e was loo"ing well, &ac" had to concede; fit and tanned and several "ilos lighter than when they had last met. 4o doubt, &ac" thought dar"ly, as a result of all that sex .. . 2aft really, ' suppose, said 7ory when they were out of general earshot. ' mean, it isn t as if you re Cassie s father. 0e drew carefully on his cigar and smiled. 't *ust "ind of feels that way. Since he was the best part of a decade younger than 7ory Cameron, &ac" felt he had a damn chee". 0is own smile cooled by several degrees. 7eally. OK, maybe not, 7ory conceded. Opa%ue smo"e rings drifted up into the night s"y, mingling with the e3pensive scent of his aftershave. 2ear me, this isn t going to be as easy as ' thought. &ac" had by this time formed his own suspicions on the sub*ect. ( chill seemed to settle around his heart. 0e said briefly, 'f ' were you ' d *ust say it. 'mogen was half listening to a dull conversation about public schools and mentally triple$chec"ing the dates of her ne3t fertile period when she saw &ac" emerging from the garden. Without so much as a glance in her direction he shot through the drawing room into the "itchen, where 'mogen "new Cass was. 4o doubt he had rushed inside to discuss some new and vital family catastrophe, she thought *ealously. Maybe Cleo had bro"en her best

fingernail. Or Sean had run out of cigarettes. 'mogen, who had been only too glad to leave home at si3teen and ma"e her own way in the world, found all this constant concern for the family hard to bear. &ac" was beginning to wish he d stayed at home. ' ve *ust been spea"ing to 7ory Cameron, he announced. Cass, the sleeves of her pale green shirt rolled up in case they melted in the heat, was ta"ing the last tray of ba"ed potatoes out of the oven. Or rather, been spo"en to by him. &ac" paused, watching the way she manoeuvred the tray onto the wor"top and swung the oven door shut with a practised nudge of the hip. .ou didn t tell me you were planning to marry him. Cass s chee"s were flushed pin", whether from the heat of the oven or as a result of his statement &ac" didn t "now. 't s som et hi ng we ve tal"ed about . .ou can t be that astonished. She spo"e with a trace of defiance. We ve been seeing each other for over a year. .ou still might have mentioned it. 8oo", ' m a big girl now. Cass turned her attention bac" to the potatoes, prodding them in hapha!ard fashion with a for". ' can do whatever ' li"e. ' can marry +raham 4orton if ' want to. 't really didn t occur to me that you d even be interested, to tell the truth. We re divorced. ,he colour in her chee"s deepened. ' wouldn t dream of interfering with your private life.
* * *

.ou were popular tonight.

:andora, who was driving as usual, felt her fingers tighten

around the steering wheel. ,hings had been so much better between them recently. Still, she had been semi$prepared for this, guessing that Sean wouldn t be able to resist ma"ing some such remar". #or the first time since they had met she had been paid more attention than he had. /ut it was way past midnight and :andora wasn t up to a fight. Keeping her voice low, to remind Sean that 7ose was asleep in the bac", she said lightly, ' m a novelty, that s all. 't won t last. Come on. ' spo"e to /etsy ,yler at the club last wee". Sean sounded resigned rather than angry. /etsy was one of the actresses co$starring in. :andora s sitcom, Wide$ !yed a d *opless. She said your scripts were the best she d ever read. ,he show hasn t even aired yet and they want a second series. .ou ve crac"ed it. (nd how does that ma"e you feel) Only the fact that she had to "eep her eyes fi3ed on the road ahead gave :andora the courage to say it. :roud. Sean hesitated for a second. (nd *ealous. #or someone li"e him it was a huge admission to ma"e. (wash with love and sympathy :andora reached tentatively across and rested her hand on his thigh. ,his new series. 't was a possibility she had already considered, a chance to maybe bolster Sean s own flagging career. ' could write a part in it for you . . . if you thin" you might be interested. ,he last thing Sean needed was :andora s charity. 0e gave her a long, measured loo". ,han"s for being so subtle. (nd no, he said %uietly, ' fuc"ing well would not.

Chapter 52
What are you doing, going into the agency) s"idded into the "itchen on Monday morning, collided with Cleo on her way out. 0er eyes /rilliant, we re both heading in the same direction. give me a lift. (s she Sophie lit up. .ou can

OK, said Cleo when they reached Camden 0igh Street, where do you want to be dropped)

She negotiated a wobbling cyclist, pulling out and waving gratefully at the driver of the car behind. Sophie, very casually, said, &efferson s. &efferson s was Cleo s modelling agency, situated off 7egent Street. Cleo frowned. ' meant where are you going) &efferson s. ,hat s where ' m going. Sophie beamed. -,old you we were heading in the same direction.
2oing all but an emergency stop, Cleo earned herself a barrage of tooting car horns. ,he driver of the car behind, who had been %uite smitten thirty seconds earlier, abruptly changed his mind. /loody women drivers. What s this, Cleo demanded, some "ind of set$up)

.ou said ' loo"ed modellish. Sophie remained calm. -,he other night when you slapped that disgusting gun" on my face. .es, but@ (nd modelling s a good way to earn heaps of easy money. 't is ot, Cleo howled, this time almost cannoning into the

car in front. She glared at Sophie. 't isn t easy money for a start, it s bloody hard$earned. (nd you don t walt! into an agency either, and get ta"en on *ust li"e that. Sophie, be realistic. 0undreds of thousands of girls dream of becoming models@ Come on, don t be so defeatist. Sophie shrugged. ' need the money for <ganda. Mum and 2ad won t lend it to me but they both admit that if ' can earn enough off my own bat, they won t be able to stop me spending it however ' li"e. ,hey re only saying that, of course, because as far as they re concerned ' haven t a hope in hell of raising that much cash@ Sophie was hopelessly deluded. .ou still can t march into &efferson s, Cleo wailed, without so much as an appointment, and e3pect someone to scream; -My +od, it s the face of the decade, give this girl a haircut and put her on the cover of 8ogue this mi ute.: Sophie, ' "now what ' said the other day but that simply isn t how it wor"s1 (h, but ' have two things in my favour. Sophie held up two fingers and waggled them. What) What) ' have an appointment with &anice &efferson. She beamed. ' rang at nine o cloc" this morning and made one. Startled, Cleo said, (nd) ' ve got you as a sister. Oh no, you can t use me1 ,hat s nepotism. So) ' need the cash. <nperturbed, Sophie added, Watch where you re going. .ou almost hit that car. ' ll lend you the money, Cleo promised wildly. ' ll earn it myself. If we ever get there in one piece.

't s still nepotism. So, get nepoti!ing, said Sophie. 't s in a good cause.

Cleo sat on the edge of Maisie s des" morosely swinging her legs. 't s all my fault for painting her stupid face in the first place. 'f this does come to anything, my parents are going to string me up. 0ow can a si3teen$year$old 0e so hell$bent on going to (frica anyway) Why can t she need the money for something normal li"e a fortnight in 'bi!a) Maybe &anice will turn her down. <nable to stand it a moment longer, Maisie reached out and grabbed Cleo s an"les, bringing the rhythmic clin" of cowboy boots against wooden des" to a merciful halt. Sorry, you have no idea how annoying that is. Cleo always drummed her heels. :u!!led, she said, .ou ve never told me that before. ' m being assertive. Maisie loo"ed shamefaced. ' ve started going to classes. /ut you re a boo"er9 it s your *ob to be assertive1 ' "now, ' "now. /lushing, Maisie said, (nd ' can do it at wor". ' ve *ust never been able to manage it in real life. ' wish Sophie was a bit less assertive, Cleo said with feeling. Maisie, who was full of admiration for Cleo, said, She ta"es after you. 8oo" at the way you dealt with that awful 2amien Ma3well$0ome. Cleo s thoughts flew bac" to the Chec"amating that had ultimately proved her own undoing. 4ever mind the dreaded 2amien, she reminded herself gloomily, loo" at

the way ' messed up with &oel sodding +rant. ,he heavy oa" door leading into &anice &efferson s office 5 the hallowed inner sanctum 5 finally reopened twenty minutes later. Cleo s heart san" into her obediently immobile boots when she reali!ed &anice had a bony arm draped around Sophie s shoulders. Sophie was loo"ing unbelievably smug. 7ight, we re giving her a go. &anice prided herself on her eye for future talent. ,he fact that Sophie was wearing not a scrap of ma"e$up and still sported her 2ennis the Menace haircut hadn t fa!ed her in the least. ' m sending her over to ,ony this afternoon for test shots. 0e can ma"e up a composite, get a portfolio under way. ' ve already spo"en to (nna about hair and ma"e$up. ,his girl has something. ' feel it. &anice s multi$braceleted arm tightened around Sophie s shoulder as she gave her a reassuring s%uee!e. ,he famous &efferson smile, veteran of several hundred maga!ine covers bac" in the Si3ties, !oomed triumphantly in on Cleo. (nd she s a Mandeville to boot, which can only be good publicity. ' thin" we can safely say we re on to a winner. Sophie s e3pression grew smugger still, all but screaming I
told you so.

Murmuring so only Maisie could hear, Cleo said, Spea"ing of boots, who needs a des" to "ic" when they have a sister) ,a"e a loo" at this. Who is it) Outside it was buc"eting down. 'mogen, still sha"ing the rain out of her hair, had barely set foot inside the front door before &ac" was shoving a curly fa3 into her hands. Obediently 'mogen ga!ed at the photograph reproduced on

the sheet. <m ... old picture of Cleo) &ac" was loo"ing shell$shoc"ed. 4ew picture of Sophie. ,his time 'mogen too" notice. .ou are "idding1

/ut upon closer e3amination it was definitely Sophie, complete with new ultra$short, ultra$ bleached hair, no spectacles and a faceful of s"ilfully applied ma"e$up. 'mpressed, 'mogen started to laugh. Can you believe it) She s gone out and got herself signed up with &efferson s, no less. &ac" shoo" his head. 't wasn t the career he d had in mind for his beloved younger daughter, the brightest of his three children, but he had, grudgingly, to admire her spirit. ' mean, of all people. Sophie, prancing round in front of a camera for a living . . 4ever mind going to help out in an orphanage in <ganda, said 'mogen, marvelling at his failure to twig. (t this rate she ll be able to afford to build her own.
,hey were due to go out at eight to a party in the /arbican. &ac", who had been writing his column from home, hadn t even decided which shirt to wear. (s 'mogen emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a blue towel at ten to seven, she was further irritated to hear him on the phone downstairs. 0aving spent the last two hours attempting to get hold of Cass, he had evidently *ust managed to trac" her down.

(ll this fuss, 'mogen thought for the hundredth time. 0ow overprotective could you get) 7ifling through her wardrobe she too" out the strappy blac" dress she had worn to &ac" s fortieth.
/y the time he got off the phone it was ten to eight. Well, you were right.

,ight$lipped, 'mogen chuc"ed a clean white shirt at him. (nd we re going to be late. She s si4tee . 4ot paying a bit of attention, &ac" sat on the bed. Why won t she listen to us) Only yesterday a piece came into the newsroom about two voluntary wor"ers in 7wanda being shot dead. 0e shoo" his head. 't isn t as if we re trying to stop her going out of spite. 't *ust isn t safe. When he was finally wearing the shirt, 'mogen handed him two unmatched cuff$lin"s. &ac" didn t notice, fastening them into each sleeve without so much as a second glance.
'mogen s patience snapped. When ' was si3teen ' lived in a s%uat in /ayswater. ( girl ' sh ar ed wi t h w as ra pe d b y a t ra m p . On e of t he b l o "e s overdosed on heroin and wasn t discovered for a wee", she shouted. So don t tell me how dangerous it would be for poor little Sophie in <ganda because compared with 8ondon, let me tell you, <ganda is about as dangerous as afternoon tea at the 7it!. ,he party had been an out$and$out disaster. /ac" at home, still barely on spea"ing terms, &ac" and 'mogen were in bed by midnight. 8oo", ' m sorry. 'mogen tried half$heartedly to ma"e amends. ,he certainty that she was in the right, however, gave the words a hollow ring.

Of course ' was right.

What ' don t understand, said &ac" in unforgiving mood, is how you can be so desperate to have children when you clearly don t want the responsibility. 't isn t all bootees and /abygros, you "now. Children

grow up but you don t stop loving them. /astard. 'mogen turned onto her side, facing away from him. 'f she had children of her own she "ould love them. She *ust didn t see why she should have to pretend to love somebody else s, particularly when they had made so little effort to li"e her. &ac" lay awa"e, ga!ing up at the ceiling, long after 'mogen s rigid spine had rela3ed and she had drifted off to sleep. 0er parting shot 5 the sarcastic suggestion that since it was only half$past twelve at night he might li"e to phone Cass and spend the ne3t couple of hours discussing Sophie s new haircut with her 5 wasn t so wide of the mar". ,hey could tal" about Sophie, at least. 'f it weren t for 7ory Cameron he might have been tempted. &ac" suppressed a sigh. #or over twenty years he and Cass had had some of their best discussions in bed at night. 't was something he missed more than he would have imagined possible, but 'mogen regarded bed as the place for se3 and sleep.
#eeling very alone, &ac" turned onto his side and closed his eyes. 0e wondered if 7ory and Cass tal"ed much in bed.

Chapter 53
,he first episode of Wide$!yed a d *opless was screened on the second ,hursday in 4ovember at O p.m.

0eavily hyped by the networ", already well reviewed and singled out by the press as a must$ watch, the tale of non identical flat$sharing twins, one a page$three model, the other an assistant in a charity

shop, was being tipped as one of the ma*or successes of the season. /etsy ,yler and (llegra (sh rise splendidly to the occasion, observed the normally dour, rip$ everything$to$shreds ,? reviewer for the )ail. /oth script and situations are scream i ngl y f un n y9 we r e b ei ng t r ea t e d he re t o c om ed y a t i t s finest. Set your video recorders now9 if tonight s episode is anything to go by, you ll be watching this series again and again. (nd this from a man who never seemed to li"e anything. :andora, who had been secretly rereading the review at fifteen$minute intervals throughout the day, was ama!ed the page was still in one piece. ,he phone had been ringing non$stop too, with re%uests for interviews. 7ose, reali!ing that something was going on but not "nowing what, grew increasingly boisterous. (s nine o cloc" approached, :andora felt the first flic"ers of apprehension. Sean had gone out at lunchtime, casually promising to be bac" by eight. 0e was late already. ,he series of e3cuses he had made for not watching
:andora s own advance tapes of Wide$!yed a d *opless had been feeble to say the least. 2onny phoned at a %uarter to nine. 0e s been at the club all afternoon. ' ve *ust put him into a cab.

(nd told him in no uncertain terms to grow up, 2onny could have added but didn t.
:andora winced. 's he drun") 4o, but ' ve seen sunnier smil es on t raffic wardens. Congratulations on all that stuff in the papers by the way.

't s all than"s to you. :andora "new how much she

owed him and was grateful. ,or wrec"ing everything between you and Sean) 2onny s brief laugh contained an edge of bitterness. 0e wished he could be there with her now. On impulse he said, 8oo", Sean s on his way home in a shifty mood. .ou don t have to put up with that. Why don t ' come round . . . ) 4o. ,hat wouldn t help at all. (s brightly as she could manage, :andora said, ' ll be fine. 't s not as if he hits me. ' don t need a minder. /ut as she waited for Sean to arrive home, her stomach began to really churn. ,he vague, nagging ache that had been bothering her all day became a stabbing pain at the base of her abdomen. 4ever mind traffic wardens, :andora thought when Sean wal"ed through the door at one minute to nine9 she had seen sunnier smiles on bulldogs. ,here s a goulash in the oven, she offered despite the unpromising start. (nd ba"ed potatoes. (re you hungry) 4o. Sean helped himself to a brandy and sat down in front of the ,?. Come on, you too. .ou can t start dishing
food out now. ,his is your big moment.

:andora felt perspiration brea" out all over her forehead. She hoped she wasn t about to be sic". #illing her own glass with iced water she sat cautiously ne3t to Sean. Within seconds a plaintive wail drifted downstairs. Mum$mee. #or +od s sa"e, Sean sighed. :andora winced as she rose to her feet once more. 0er legs were sha"ing. On the television, the blond

continuity announcer said brightly, (nd now9 the first episode of a brand$new series ' personally can t "ait to see .. /et you say that to all the boys. Sean was loo"ing bored already, his dar" eyes narrowing as if he was on the verge of falling asleep. Mum$meee1
Sean wasn t proud of himself. ,he way he was behaving was, he "new perfectly well, nothing short of shameful. ,he bolloc"ing 2onny had given him earlier had been along much the same lines. ,he trouble was, none of it helped.

0e could hardly blame :andora, either, for staying upstairs with 7ose. ,he funnier Wide$!yed a d *opless was, the more impossible it became for him to laugh. ,hat awful familiar mi3ture of pride and *ealousy gnawed away at his gut li"e battery acid. 0e "as proud of what she had achieved, he *ust wished it di dn t have t o ma"e him feel so washed$ up i n comparison. 't was /arbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson all over again, Sean thought bitterly, in # Star is 1or , only this time with *o"es. (nd the *o"e was on him, he reali!ed. #rom upstairs came the sound of the toilet flushing for the third time. 2ownstairs, as the show ended and the credits began to roll 5 Series created and written by :andora &. +rant 5 the phone began to ring. 't was a tabloid *ournalist with an oily voice, scarcely able to believe his luc". Sean, my man1 ,he very person ' wanted to spea" to. So, how does it feel to at least "now someone with a successful ,? show) 1astard.

#eels great, Sean replied evenly, than"s.


O h , a n d d o yo u h a v e a c o n t a c t n u m b e r f o r 2 o n n y Mulligan) ,he *ournalist, disappointed by the lac" of response, went on, ' need to confirm the rumour that your good lady has written a part for him into the ne3t series@

Sean put the phone down. ,hen he switched it off. <pstairs the lavatory flushed again. When :andora finally made it bac" downstairs he only had to ta"e one loo" at her puffed$up eyes and drawn face to reali!e what had been going on. /een bringing our boots up, have we) 0is eyes glittered. Oh well, if you re pregnant again at least this time you can t hang it on me. 8uc"ily 7ose had done no more than whimper for a couple of minutes before falling bac" to sleep. :andora, who had never felt more dreadful in her life, reali!ed she was in danger of bursting into noisy uncontrollable tears. .ou bastard, ' m not pregnant. My stomach hurts . . . ' m ill . . . owww11
Still wounded by the oily *ournalist s phone call, Sean said, .ou ve written 2onny fuc"ing Mulligan into the

ne3t series. .ou ve put him in it, haven t you) Without even telli g me@ ' offered it to you first. :andora clutched her stomach as another wave of pain sei!ed her in its vice$ li"e grip. ,hrough clenched teeth she said, .ou turned it down, remember. Sean, ' don t eed this . . . ' thin" you re going to have to call the doctor.
She really was ill. Sean watched, with a pang of guilt, as :andora collapsed onto the sofa.

0e frowned. What is it) What s the matter) ' don t "now. :lease, *ust pho e . . Sean pic"ed up the receiver. (s he did so, the doorbell rang. ,hat was %uic", said Sean.
:andora groaned. -,al"ing of %uic", get a buc"et@

Cleo, woefully underdressed as usual and hopping up and down on the doorstep to "eep warm, had *ust pressed the bell a second time when she heard footsteps coming up the path behind her. ' don t believe it. Staring into the dar"ness, she felt her heart s"ip several beats. What are you doing here) ' d have thought that was pretty obvious. &oel glanced at the bottle clutched in her hands, then at the one in his. Cleo s, needless to say, had cost three times as much. ' "ept ringing and ringing and couldn t get through. Cleo s teeth had begun to chatter from a combination of cold and sheer nerves. So ' *ust *umped into the car and came over anyway. Me too. .ou ve *ust watched it) Of course you have . . . how silly of me1 2amn, she was gabbling. Cleo waved the bottle at him and tried to smile, e3cept her upper lip had somehow got itself stuc" to her front teeth. Wasn t it brilliant) ' thought we should celebrate1 ,he garden was wreathed in mist, the footpath silver with frost. Cleo was wearing, of all things, a pin" micro$mini and a white tan" top. &oel nodded. Me too.

(re you mad) Once inside the house &oel recovered himself. 7emoving the phone from Sean s grasp he closed the .ellow :ages with a great thud. 4ever mind ringing the doctor. 8oo" at her, what she needs is to get to a hospital, fast. My car s right outside. ' ll ta"e her. ' could. Cleo made the offer but she loo"ed uncertain. :andora was still throwing up li"e nobody s business. Cleo wasn t awfully good with sic". ' ll ta"e her, said Sean. 0e was seriously worried now. 0e glanced from Cleo to &oel. Can someone stay here and "eep an eye on 7ose) (s soon as Sean and :andora had left, Cleo felt herself slipping into witter$mode once more. &oel had caught her off guard 5yet again 5 and she felt li"e a panic"y party hostess trying desperately to entertain a two$hours$too$early lone guest. Well, poor :andora, what do you suppose it is) Could be food poisoning . . . you can catch food poisoning from lettuce, you "now . . . Marsha Collins went down with it in the middle of a shoot for a hairspray ad which muc"ed up si3 wee"s scheduling and pissed the director off no end@ Should you be opening that) &oel nodded at the bottle of ,aittinger she was busily de$wiring. ' thought it was for :andora. Cleo was nervous enough as it was. ,he last thing she needed was criticism from the person who was responsible for ma"ing her nervous in the first place. ' ll replace it, don t worry. +ood.

,he cor" was on its way out. (nd if you want to ma"e yourself useful, said Cleo, you could unearth a couple of glasses. 4ow what are you doing) &oel demanded an hour later. Cleo, daring him to stop her, said, What does it loo" li"e) and carried on prising the cor" out of the second bottle. ,he contents of the first had disappeared at an astonishing rate chiefly because it had given her something to occupy her hands when all she really wanted was to grab hold of &oel, swear passionate undying love and "iss the life out of him. . . <nder the circumstances it seemed safer to drin". .ou won t li"e it, &oel warned as the cor" flipped out. ' called in at some off$licence on the way over and this was all they had. 't s only cheap, probably as rough as sandpaper. ' li"e a bit of rough. Cleo beamed. &oel s e3pression dar"ened and she clapped a dramatic hand over her mouth. Oops, wrong thing to say. ' thin" you ve had enough to drin" already. 8oo"ing less amused by the second, &oel shoo" his head as she attempted to refill his own glass. (nd ' thin" you re being boring. Cleo sloshed some over his hand for good measure. Come on, she urged, be a sport. ,i me t o t oa st :andora and t he succ ess of Wide$ !yed a d Whatsit.
What s the matter with you)

&oel had never seen

her li"e this before. Me) ' m fine. ,a"ing her first gulp of the champagne he had brought along, Cleo couldn t help but pull a face. &oel had been right; it was dog$rough. ' m absolutely fine, she repeated with a shudder. .ou re

the misery guts around here. 't might have been some time ago now but &oel would never forget one of the most heart$stopping moments of his life. ,hat ,? interview, he said, at the film premiere you went to. (ll that garbage about finding true love and being about to marry 2ino Carlisle . . . had you been drin"ing then, too) Oh , so yo u di d s ee i t . C l eo wa s u na bl e t o hi d e h er satisfaction. +ood. (nd no, of course ' hadn t been drin"ing. ' *ust felt li"e saying it. Why) She wagged a triumphant finger at him. 2id it ma"e you *ealous) &oel hesitated, then shoo" his head. 't made me reali!e how much better suited you were to him, than to someone li"e me. ,he loo" of resignation on his face was gut$ wrenching. Cleo s dar" eyes promptly filled with tears. /ut ' didn t mean it, there never was anything between 2ino and me. So ' gathered, when he went bac" to the States and started an affair with that new /ond girl. 'n contrast with Cleo s histrionics, &oel spo"e without emotion. /ut the fact remains, he s the type of man you need. (t least he s in the same celebrity league . . Cleo was torn now. :art of her wished she hadn t drun" so much, so fast and on such an empty stomach. On the other hand, she thought ha!ily as the room began to undulate around her, would ' have the nerve to come out with this stuff if ' was sober) ' wish you d have another drin". She said it hoping it might have a similar effect on &oel.

One of us , he pointed out, has to babysit. (nd one of us has to be at 0eathrow to catch the eight o cloc" flight to ,unisia tomorrow morning. Cleo groaned, belatedly remembering she had to be up at five. <gh, now she really wished she hadn t had so much to drin". 'n the meantime, however, she had something to say. 6ncouraged by the fact that &oel was evidently trying hard not to loo" at her boobs, braless beneath the white top, and wishing she had the courage to *ust fling herself at him @ e3cept she feared he would only fling her smartly bac" @ Cleo too" a deep breath. 8oo", ' don t give a toss about celebrity leagues. ' don t care whether or not someone s famous . . . if ' loved someone ' wouldn t care if they swept roads for a living. Struggling to "eep her thoughts ahead of her mouth, Cleo ga!ed wildly about the room for inspiration. She spotted &oel s bottle of barely touched, truly awful champagne. 'f all they could afford to buy me was ,i!er, ' d drin" it1 (nd they wouldn t need to feel inferior because they wouldn t 0e inferior . . . the thing is, as long as two people love each other and are happy together nothing else in the world matters@ :hone, said &oel, because Cleo hadn t even heard it ringing. Worried sic" about :andora, praying that whatever was wrong with her wasn t serious, he reached past and grabbed the receiver before Cleo had a chance to answer it. .ou could have let me spea" to her, Cleo protested when he put the phone down again. :oor thing, food poisoning s the pits. .ou can get it from lettuce you "now. 0ow is she, anyway) #eeling better yet) So much, &oel thought blea"ly, for touching speeches about the meaning of true love. Cleo was absolutely plastered.

,hat was Sean. ,hey re ta"ing :andora into the operating theatre. 0e was only than"ful he had beaten Cleo to the phone. Sean had sounded as worried as he was. ,he last thing he needed was to have to listen to his sister s drin"$sodden emotional ramblings. /ut that s terrible1 (ppalled, Cleo struggled to sit up. What s wrong with her) ,hey don t "now. Could be peritonitis. With too much to thin" about, &oel lost patience with her. (nd ' doubt if you care anyway, he said icily. Why don t you *ust go to sleep)

Chapter 54
,he screech of an unfamiliar alarm cloc" *er"ed Cleo into consciousness at five thirty. 0er recall of the events of the previous evening was, unfairly, both instantaneous and complete. Covered in shame and goosebumps, because &oel had evidently decided she didn t deserve a blan"et, she crawled off the sofa and let out a low moan as the first "nife$ li"e spasm sei!ed her brain. ,his is it, Cleo thought numbly, grateful at least that she was still dressed. Made my pass, totally blew it, couldn t have got it more wrong if ' d tried. ,he rest of the house was in total dar"ness. :adding upstairs, she loo"ed in on 7ose, who was fast asleep with one arm and one foot dangling through the wooden bars of her cot. 'n the spare room, &oel slept. Cringing at the memory of his disgust with her @ and who could blame him) @ Cleo "new there was no point in wa"ing him now. 'nstead she

ga!ed silently down at the tousled blond hair and dear familiar profile and watched his tanned chest rise and fall in its slow, regular, reassuring rhythm. ,he longing to reach out and touch him was fiercer than ever. Sadly, she thought, so was &oel s reaction li"ely to be if she tried it. 2ownstairs Cleo phoned the hospital, found out which ward :andora had been admitted to and spo"e with the nursing sister on duty. When she had found out how :andora was, she %uietly let herself out of the house.
Sean, watching :andora sleep, reali!ed how much he loved her. 't was as if he "ept forgetting, only to be reminded of it, in a great rush of emotion, all over again.

When she opened her eyes moments later her ga!e fi3ed directly on Sean. What are you thin"ing) 0e touched the bac" of her hand. ,hat you gave me a hell of a scare. :andora smiled briefly in return. 4othing e3citing. Only appendicitis. ,han" +od. ' m st ill not feel ing great. t ouching the dressing over the wound. She winced,

.ou ll be better soon. .ou loo" . . . Sean hesitated, unused to e3pressing such thoughts aloud . . beautiful. 8iar. :andora "new how she must really loo" but it was nice t o hea r. She ha d be e n sc a re d t oo. 't s a lmost seven o cloc". .ou should be getting home. She frowned. ' don t "now who s going to be able to loo" after 7ose while ' m in here.
' will.

:andora loo"ed alarmed. ,he doctor said ' d be in hospital for three or four days.
' "now, ' was here when he said it. Sean had spent half the night trying to thin" of someone who might be able to come to the rescue. ,he trouble was, everyone had *obs of t h e i r o wn . S h o r t o f h i r i n g a n a n n y fr o m a n a ge n c y @ a complete stranger whom 7ose would have no

time to get used to 5 he hadn t been able to come up with anyone at all. 4ow, offended by :andora s obvious lac" of faith in him, Sean rose to his own defense. 4o big deal. 0e shrugged as he spo"e. (s you said, it s only for a few days. She s my daughter, isn t she) Sean grinned. 7ose and ' ll have a great time. .ou bloody little animal, Sean howled twelve hours later as 7ose emptied a pot of strawberry$and$melon yoghurt over her head. 0ow anyone so angelic could do something so completely disgusting was beyond him. +od, now it was beginning to drip down the bac" of her head onto the carpet. 7ose waited until he d finished cleaning her up before gleefully 5 and noisily 5 filling her nappy. Sean had to spray the room with half a bottle of (%ua di +io to hide the appalling smell. /y the time he came bac" from dumping the nappy in the dustbin, 7ose had rifled efficiently through his discarded *ac"et, discovering and helping herself to a pac"et of 7olos. She had also found a pen and was simultaneously dribbling chocolate and scrawling blac" felt$tip pen all over the blue$and$white Colefa3 and #owler wallpaper at twenty$eight pounds a roll. ' hate you, Sean murmured, wrenching the pen from her hands and wondering if the neighbours had heard him yell at her earlier. Knowing his luc" they d be on to the 4S:CC in a flash.

7ose s chocolate$brown eyes filled with tears. (ppalled at the loss of the pen she let out a screech of rage and wailed for :andora. 'f you re good, Sean spo"e through gritted teeth, ' ll ta"e you to see her. /ut by the time he d finished clearing up the chaos in the sitting room, 7ose was screaming for *uice. 4e3t thing he "new, another nappy needed changing. 7ose turned this into a marathon s%uirming contest and landed Sean a painful *ab in the eye. /y the time he managed to lever her against her better *udgement into clean dungarees and two shoes that actually matched, visiting time was over. ,here, that s your fault. Sean glared at her. 7ose, on the sofa, glared bac". 0er lower lip wobbled. ,hen, without any warning at all, she fell asleep. 0ow has she been) as"ed :andora an3iously the ne3t day when Sean arrived with 7ose at the hospital. 7ose, wearing odd soc"s and the remnants of that morning s Weetabi3, flung herself at her mother in delight. ,errible. Was it reall y onl y eleven o cloc") 0e was e3hausted. ( complete toad. ' m considering adoption. What a gorgeous baby, e3claimed one of the nurses. (nd doesn t she loo" li"e you1 Who, me) Sean was ta"en abac"9 the nurse was definitely addressing him. 0e glanced across at 7ose. ,hough he had barely been able to admit as much, even to himself, he had found it hard to recogni!e 7ose as his daughter simply because she seemed to have inherited so many more of :andora s genes than his own. She had caramel$ coloured s"in, candy$floss blac" hair and enormous dar" brown eyes. 0e "new she was beautiful but it had

never occurred to Sean that there might be any discernible resemblance to him. Of course you. ,he nurse tic"led 7ose s dimpled "nees, ma"ing her s%ueal with delight. 8oo" at her eyes, the way she laughs. (nd what about those chee"bones . . 8oo", said :andora when the nurse had gone, ' spo"e to one of 2onny s sisters on the phone this morning. She s happy to loo" after 7ose. Why don t you ring her) Sean grabbed 7ose, who was about to nose$dive off the bed. 0e had no intention of admitting defeat. 4or did he need one of bloody 2onny s sisters to show him how it should be done. 4o need, he said. We can manage. We ll be fine. 't was Cleo, ironically, who prompted the real turning point. She s a baby, for Christ s sa"e. Calling from ,unisia that evening to find out how :andora was, she was treated instead to a litany of everything 7ose had done wrong since lunchtime. She doesn t understand. She isn t being naughty on purpose. #or once in her life Cleo was right. 0e had, Sean reali!ed, imagined that 7ose was doing everything deliberately to punish him for not loving her enough. #rom that moment on their relationship improved out of all recognition. Sean discovered that the less he shouted, the less 7ose misbehaved. On the fourth morning, instead of hearing the usual call for :andora, he went into the nursery to find 7ose with her arms outstretched, beaming and yelling, 2addy.

Chapter 55
Steve the photographer was ta"ing for ever to set up each shot. 't was all right for him9 he was wearing three sweaters and a she e ps"i n * a c "e t . 0m m, t hought Sophi e , bl owin g on her "nuc"les to try to defrost them, so much for modelling being glamorous.

4ot that she cared. 't might be bitingly cold but she was earning a bi!arre amount of money for this shoot. (nd by the time today s photographs appeared in *op$*ee maga!ine 5eight pages of Sophie Mandeville floating in ethereal fashion across mist$ shrouded Cotswold landscapes in cobweb$fine dresses and lacy scarves 5 she would be well away, in <ganda.
2oing something useful with her life.

When they finally bro"e for lunch the rest of the crew wasted no time piling into the pictures%ue pub they had already made their base. Situated on the brow of a steep hill above the tiny, hapha!ardly constructed village of Cinderley, the Salutation 'nn was a charming, ivy$strewn old coaching inn run by a husband$and$wife team more than happy to accommodate a photographer and his entourage from 8ondon. ,he home$coo"ed chic"en casserole smelled terrific but Sophie stuc" to cheese rolls and a can of T$<p. ,here was a programme about missionaries on 7adio D she didn t want to miss. Missionaries, eh) Steve, the photographer, gave Sophie a great nudge. 'f you want to "now about positions, my darlin , all you have to do is as". 0a ha, said Sophie dutifully, because Steve might be a dic"head but he was also a good photographer. ' *ust

wondered if ' could have the "eys to the /MW, then ' can listen to it on the car radio. #unny little thing. (s he made his way bac" up to the bar for the third time half an hour later, Steve glanced out of the mullioned windows and across the car par". Still sitting there listening to her precious programme. ' didn t "now we could even get 7adio D in that car. 0e win"ed at ,itia, the fashion editor of *op$*ee . -,hat Sophie. She doesn t drin", you "now. Or smo"e. 't isn t normal, if you as" me. &ust get another bottle of red in, ,itia drawled, and stop having a go. ' thin" she s cute. 'f anyone s abnormal around here, my sweet, it s you. Sophie had polished off three cheese$and$tomato rolls, two pac"ets of smo"y$bacon crisps and her can of T$<p. ,he radio programme was *olly interesting and she was en*oying being able to listen to it in peace. ,he view from where she was sitting was spectacular too; a deep valley dotted with honey$ coloured houses, semi$na"ed trees and the remains of the morning s mist. 'n the wea" 4ovember sunlight a narrow stream glittered. Sophie, heaving a sigh of contentment, wriggled and rested her "nees more comfortably against the steering wheel. #rom the poc"et of her denim *ac"et she too" a pac"et of fruit pastilles. ,he first two were pineapple$flavoured, her favourite, and there was still twenty minutes of the radio programme left to go. What more, thought Sophie, could a girl want) When the passenger door was pulled open she thought it was Steve, come to regale her with more missionary *o"es, pinch her last pastille and chivvy her bac" to wor". 'nstead, a complete stranger slid into the car. 7ight, get moving, ordered a boy in his early

twenties with spi"y blond hair and piercing pale blue eyes. 0e was wearing a combat *ac"et and grubby mud$ stained *eans. ' beg your pardon) Sophie turned and stared at him. 2o ' loo( stupid) She glimpsed a flash of sunlight against metal. ,he ne3t moment a "nife blade was *abbed into her ribs. Move it, the boy hissed. &ust drive the car. 2o as ' say.
8oo", ' would if ' could. Sophie felt the coldness of the blade as it pressed against her. She shoo" her head. 6verything seemed to be happening in slow motion. 7eally ' would. /ut ' can t drive.

#uc" it . . (ny faint hope that Sophie might have had that this could be some "ind of elaborate set$up, a *o"e at her e3pense, crumbled as the "nife dug into her side. She felt the s"in resist. ,hen it gave way. Staring down, she saw a dar" tric"le of blood seep through the gau! y rose$ pi n" crUpe de Chine of her ,wenties$style dress. .ou can have the car, Sophie said rapidly. 0ere, she pointed to the "eys in the ignition, help yourself. &ust let me out and you can go wherever you want. ,here s plenty of petrol@ ' didn t m ean to do that . ,he boy was ga!i ng at the bloodstain on her dress. /efore Sophie could reach the door handle his free hand closed roughly around her wrist. 4o chance. We need to swap places. Come on, climb over me. ' ll drive, but you re coming too. What the@ Spluttering in indignation, Steve moved across to the window to get a better loo". &esus, ' don t believe it1

Sophie s got someone in the friggin car with her and that s not the missionary position she s in either. Well, well, rec"on it s true what they say about the %uiet ones being the worst. She must have arranged to meet a boyfriend down here. :eering over his shoulder, ,itia sounded amused. -,he girl has some nerve, ' ll say that for her. 2oing it in your car, in broad daylight. 4ow what s happening) Steve s e3pression changed to one of alarm as the car started up. /loody hell, he s drivi g it. 's this a wind$up) 4o wind$up. ,itia cringed as the /MW, tyres screaming, shot out of the car par". ' swear. -ou fuc"ing swear. Steve spo"e through gritted teeth. 0is K$Series, his pride and *oy, was being driven off by a teenage lunatic. What s she doing, fuc"ing eloping) ' tell you, ' ll "ill that stupid little bitch when she gets bac". 0er "idnapper s name was &e!, Sophie discovered, and he was on the run from ,aywood open prison where he had 5 until this morning 5 been serving eighteen months for burglary. ' got a letter yesterday, said &e!, from my wife, saying she was leaving me. She s gone and got herself another blo"e. ,hat s why ' had to escape. ,o see her, ma"e her change her mind.
Sophie nodded. What happened)

0is blue eyes flic"ered. She wouldn t change her mind. ' hit her. ' suppose she s gone running off to the coppers by now. /ut ' m not going bac" to that nic". 0e glanced across at Sophie. See, that s why ' needed you. Someone to bargain with. 'f they try coming for me, ' ll threaten to do something drastic. 'f they want you badly enough they ll have to let me go free.

0e was driving horribly fast. Sophie wondered where he planned to ta"e her. She "new she should remain calm and try to stri"e up some rapport with &e!. #or some reason the fact that he was only twenty$ three lessened the scariness of the ordeal. She couldn t believe he would really harm her.
63cept, of course, he already had. What s your wife s name)

0is tone was dismissive. .ou should ve seen the loo" on her face when ' turned up this morning. She loo"ed li"e a tart. (ll that ma"e$up. Why do women have to wear that stuff) 0is ga!e slid coldly over Sophie s face. .ou too. .ou loo" li"e a tart. What d you have to put in on for) ' don t normally. ' hate it, said Sophie. 't s for a modelling *ob. ,hat s why ' m wearing this stupid dress too. She touched the leather seat. (nd this is the photographer s car we re in. We drove down from 8ondon at si3 o cloc" this morning. &e! was loo"ing interested. Maybe, Sophie thought, if he thin"s ' m famous he won t hurt me. 8eaning forward slowly she said, -,his sounds boring, doesn t it) and pressed a couple of buttons on the car s state$of$ the$art radio. .ou re a model) 0e sounded impressed. ' ve never been to 8ondon. What s it li"e)
/ig and dirty. 7ound here s much nicer. .ou can disappear in 8ondon. Sophie, suddenly inspired, said, - ou could disappear. 8oo", never mind "eeping me as a hostage and bargaining your way out of this. &ust drop me off here, !ip up the motorway, dump the car and lose yourself. She felt in her *ac"et poc"et. ' can even give you money for petrol@

/renda. Silly cow.

&esus, &e! sneered, you re thic".


Sophie s shoulders drooped. Sorry. ' thought it was a good idea.

(bruptly his mood had changed. .ou re thic". ( dumb tart. 6lton &ohn had been playing on the radio. 4ow, as the final poignant bars of the song died away, Sophie heard her mother s voice. 8ovely, lovely, Cass sighed. +oodness, isn t that enough to cheer up the most miserable old day) (nd now, spea"ing of miserable old days, here s ,om (rcher with the weather. Sophie couldn t help it. 0er eyes filled with hot tears. What are you listening to that crap for) &e! said rudely. 't s not crap, whispered Sophie. 't s my mum. Keeping the "nife pressed against the small of her bac" beneath her denim *ac"et, &e! marched Sophie into the house. 't s nice. Over her tears now, though blac" mascara still mar"ed her chee"s, Sophie ga!ed round the small but well$maintained cottage. &e! and /renda had moved in here as newly$weds three years ago. .ellow$and$white 8aura (shley curtains hung at the windows. ( blue$and$yellow "itchen opened out onto a small sitting room. On the floor in front of the television lay a smashed glass, a buc"led brass photo frame and a crumpled photograph of the happy couple on their wedding day. My dad went off with another woman, said Sophie. Mum ripped up a few photos too. She said it made her feel better. Oh please, there s no need to tie me up. Stifling terror,

Well you would, wouldn t you)

she shoo" her head. ' won t run away, promise. 8oo", at least let me sweep up this glass. ,hen maybe ' could coo" us something to eat. .ou must be starving by now. OK. &e!, seeing the sense in this, chuc"ed the rope bac" into the cupboard under the stairs. ,hen he shot her a warning loo". /ut don t try and escape. ' ve got a gun as well as a "nife. (nd loc"s on every window, Sophie reminded him. So how could ' get out anyway) ,rue. 0e almost smiled. ,han"s to /renda, the slag. Why) 2ouble$gla!ing salesman. ,he blo"e who came here and persuaded her to have the whole house done, he s the bastard she s been seeing for the past year. .ou poor thing, Sophie said in soothing tones. 4o wonder you lost your temper with her. She glimpsed her reflection in the mirror hanging above the polished mantelpiece. (nd loo" at me, what a sight. OK if ' go upstairs and have a wash) 0e loo"ed irritated. Can t you do it in the "itchen sin") ' want to clean this up too. +ingerly she touched the torn, bloodstained crUpe de Chine. -,hin" about it9 ' m not going to be much use to you as a hostage if ' m dead. 't s stopped bleeding, &e! snapped. .ou aren t going to die. 't could become infected, argued Sophie. 0aven t you heard of septicaemia) ,etanus) 0er grey eyes narrowed. 8oo", ' ve given you my word. ' won t try and escape. ' ll be your hostage. /ut you have to treat me li"e a human being, that s only fair. ,o her ama!ement he nodded.

OK. /ut no nosing around upstairs, right) .ou can t get out. ,han"s. (nd when you ve done that, &e! said softly, we ll phone your mum.

Chapter 56
&ust my luc", thought Sophie, to be "idnapped by a star$struc", wife$bashing burglar.

She dialled the radio station, spo"e to her mother s producer and handed the phone across to &e!. ,he transistor radio balanced on the coffee$table sounded tinny @ the batteries were on their way out @ but at least Sophie could hear what was going on. (nd now, said Cass, we have a mystery caller on the line. (ll ' "now is he s something to do with Sophie, my youngest. :ersonally ' suspect a set$up. So, hello mystery caller from +loucestershire, you re on the air. 4ow, why don t you tell us what this is all about)
,hat was great. &e! replaced the receiver a minute or so later, running his fingers through his spi"y blond hair and loo"ing ridiculously pleased with himself. ' ve never been on the radio before. 0e loo"ed across at Sophie. /loody hell. What s the matter with you now)

0ow stupid she had been to thin" that because &e! was only twenty$three he wouldn t harm her. :anic welled up in Sophie s chest. .ou ve frightened my mother to death. She felt sic".

0ow could you) 6asy, said &e!. /ending forward, he pic"ed up the torn photograph of /renda and himself and crushed it with his fist. ' m really glad ' chose you now, he told Sophie with a smile. ,his is ace. ' m going to be famous. What the hell do you manager of the restaurant ,erry /rannigan threw sponge, stripped off his coat. Where are you going) thin" you re doing) ,he stared in astonishment as down his washing$up apron and reached for his .ou can t *ust wal" out.

2idn t you hear that) ,erry pointed briefly in the direction of the radio he only ever paid any attention to when Cass was on. Cass Mandeville s a friend of mine and she s in trouble. She needs me. /limey, it s Superman, *eered one of the waiters above a chorus of whistles and much muffled laughter. 2on t forget to put your pants on over your tights.
,here was a mountain of washing$up still to be done. 'f you leave now, sac"ed. the manager said icily, you re

0ooray, said ,erry. (bout bloody time too.

,he restaurant was less than half a mile from the Kingdom 7adio studios. 8uc"ily ,erry had dropped Cass off there often enough in the past to persuade the security guard on the gate to let him through now. ' "now, ' ( o", the producer was shouting into a phone when ,erry reached the studio from which Cass s show was broadcast, she s in no state to do anything but we don t have a stand$in. /ob s gone down with flu, Serena s in #rance and &enny s buggered off to 6gypt. ,here is nobody else to ta"e over@

' ll do it, said ,erry. ,hrough the glass, he saw the petrified face of the weatherman valiantly attempting to hold the fort and failing abysmally. ,he producer glared at ,erry. Who the fuc" are you) ( door behind him swung open. Cass, white$faced, threw herself into ,erry s arms. 't s a nightmare. She shoo" her head, cho"ing bac" tears. &ac" s on his way over. We re flying straight down there now. 0er body began to sag. Oh +od . . . and to thin" when Sophie phoned ' thought it was some "ind of silly *o"e. ,erry held her. ,he producer was still glaring at him. ' had to come. ' want to help. ' was going to offer to drive you, but@ ,here s no one to do the show, Cass said sha"ily. -,he stand$in s off with flu. .ou could do it. ' can do it, ,erry assured the producer. .es, yes. ,he producer, who was too hyped$up to be grateful, ground his e3pensively capped teeth. So you "eep bloody saying. /ut *ust who the fuc" are you) ,he siege moved into its second day and Cass began to wonder if she had the strength to stay sane. ,he cottage was surrounded by police mar"smen. ( trained negotiator was attempting to build a rapport between himself and &e! :otter. 0e had also spo"en to Sophie, who appeared to be bearing up well. ,his was partly due to the fact that she didn t "now all there was to "now. &e! :otter, the police had carefully e3plained to Cass and &ac", was in fact serving seven years for the manslaughter of a nightclub bouncer who had dared to win" at his wife. ,here were possible psychopathic

tendencies. (nd nobody had seen or heard from /renda :otter since the morning of &e! s escape. ' can t bear it, Cass sobbed, clinging to &ac" and trying to blot from her mind the terrible sight of &e! :otter using their daughter as a shield whilst he gesticulated wildly with his gun. Why did he have to pic" Sophie) 't s so u fair. ,he cruel irony of the situation hadn t escaped &ac". 0aving deemed the <ganda trip too dangerous he had driven Sophie to this instead, a modelling shoot in deepest +loucestershire .. . and more danger than he could ever have imagined. ,hey were staying at the Salutation 'nn, the pictures%ue pub on the outs"irts of Cinderley from whose car par" Sophie had been ta"en hostage. ,he place was crawling with press despite the fact that a news blac"out had been imposed. ,he police had no intention of pandering to &e! :otter s lust for fame. Susie Wheeler, the landlady of the Salutation, felt desperately sorry for Cass and &ac" Mandeville. She had also, two years ago, avidly followed the public brea"down of their marriage and had felt every sympathy for Cass. ,hat they should now be sharing a room 5 along with their grief 5 was only right and perfectly natural as far as Susie was concerned. Which was why, when 'mogen ,rent rang from 8ondon for the third time that day sounding rather more suspicious about &ac" than worried about how Sophie might be, Susie decided she was bored with being discreet. ,he thing is, he said he d phone me and he hasn t. 'mogen paused then added furtively, ' "now you ve left a message in his room. /ut ' wonder if ' could trouble you to
leave one in Mrs Mandeville s too. 4o need, my dear. Susie Wheeler smiled9 she couldn t

help it. ,his was too good a chance to miss. .ou see, they ve only got the one room. (nd the note s right there waiting for him, slap$bang in the middle of the bed. (re you going to "ill me) as"ed Sophie. Course not. &e! was sitting on the floor playing with the revolver, twirling it between his fingers li"e /illy the Kid. Well, probably not. ' thin" you should give yourself up. 't was three o cloc" in the morning. (rc lights beamed outside. Sleep was out of the %uestion. Sophie was cold, too, but &e! s offer of one of /renda s sweaters for some reason gave her the creeps. 4ever. 0e shoo" his head. ' told them to send a helicopter, didn t ') 't ll be here in the morning. Where s it going to land, in the vegetable patch) Shut up. 4o need to get cross. ' m *ust trying to be realistic.

&e! loo"ed as if he were about to cry. ' can t give myself up. Why not) Sophie shivered. &ust shut up.
0ow much longer) whispered Cass, clinging to &ac" and wondering if she would ever feel warm again. Something has to happen soon. 'mogen had no need to worry. ,hey might be sharing a bed but se3 was the last thing on either of their minds. ,he police will sort everything out, said &ac". /ut what if they don t)

Stop it. 0is arms tightened around her, his mouth brushed her forehead. -,hey will.

Sophie had finally drifted off into a fitful sleep but the dreams racing through her brain were as hard to bear as reality. (lmost glad to be rid of them she wo"e with a start. ,errible sobbing noises were coming from the hallway. &e!) Stumbling to her feet, she crossed the sitting room. 0e was on his "nees by the front door, peering through the letter bo3, his wet face contorted with grief. ' didn t hurt you. 0e turned and stared up at her, his eyes pin"$ rimmed. 2id ') ' didn t hurt you)

Sophie felt numb. She shoo" her head. ,ell them ' didn t. What, now) 2id he want her to shout through the letter bo3) &ust tell them. Wearily, &e! shoo" his head. ' couldn t help it. She made me do it. &ust so long as they "now ' didn t hurt you.
,he ne3t moment, to Sophie s bewilderment, he rose slowly to his feet and unloc"ed the front door. :ushing her outside, he disappeared bac" into the house. 8i"e a rabbit caught in car headlights, Sophie stood there blin"ing. ( voice through a loud$hailer said evenly, Sophie, wal" down the path. 't s OK, "eep moving towards us. We re here. .ou re doing fine . . . *ust "eep wal"ing .

Sophie did as she was told. /ehind her, upstairs in the cottage, a single shot was fired.

Chapter 57
&e! :otter had shot and "illed himself. ,he body of /renda :otter, as the police had suspected, was discovered lying in the spare bedroom. Considering what she had been

through, the police told Cass and &ac", Sophie had come through her ordeal remar"ably well. ' can t believe she s safe. Cass hung on to &ac" s arm, giddily euphoric and teetering on the brin" of tears. ,heir reunion with Sophie in the early hours of the morning had been indescribable. 4ow, having been thoroughly chec"ed over by the police surgeon 5 the "nife wound in her side was only superficial 5 she was catching up on some much$needed sleep.

/ y ei ght o cl oc" t he y were bac" in t hei r room at t he Salutation. 2awn was brea"ing9 the spectacular view of the valley beneath them was shrouded in veils of mist. 6verything loo"ed *ust the same as it had yesterday, but everything was different. Sophie was safe. Cass, so happy she didn t "now what to do with herself, "ept ga!ing out of the window thin"ing guiltily of all the people they should be ringing with the news. .ou should phone 'mogen. (s far as Cass was aware, &ac" hadn t even responded to her calls yesterday. ' "now. 0e came to stand beside her. 'nstinctively Cass found herself leaning into his shoulder. +o on then. ' don t want to. Cass hardly dared loo" at him. She tried to s o u n d reproachful. Oh, &ac". ,his is our time together. Why spoil it now) 0e too" her into his arms and Cass felt her insides dissolve. She "new e3actly what he meant. W e shoul dn t , she gasped mi nut es l at er. W e real l y shouldn t be doing this.

Wrong. &ac" stifled her half$hearted protests with a "iss. We really really should.
,heir lovema"ing only proved to him beyond all doubt what he had suspected for months. ' love you. (s he spo"e, &ac" rolled onto his bac", suddenly unable to loo" at Cass. 0e had to sa y the words first and gauge her reaction afterwards. .ou "now that, don t you) ' thin" ' love you more now than ' ever have. 'f you "new how much ' wish ' d never met 'mogen . . . it s tearing me apart. (nd as for 7ory Cameron . . . Christ, when he told me the two of you were planning to marry ' *ust wanted to (ill him.

0e stopped and turned his head, his heart pumping wildly in his chest.
Cass, lying ne3t to him, was fast asleep. 'mogen was still in her dressing gown, huddled up on the sofa watching the si3 o cloc" news. ,he ,? cameras had been out in force to catch Sophie s triumphant return to 0ampstead. She was being hailed as a heroine. ,he driveway leading up to the h ou se wa s c l o gge d wi t h r e p or t e rs. C le o M an de vi l l e a nd :andora +rant were both there in

floods of tears. When the cars finally drew up outside all hell bro"e loose. 'mogen bit her nails as Sophie, her natural pallor accentuated by her new ash$ blond hair, waved briefly for the cameras before hugging Sean and disappearing into the house. Cass and &ac", emerging from the car moments later, had their arms around each other. 'mogen winced as she peeled one of her nails down to the tender %uic". (ll ' can say is that we re very tired and very happy, &ac" told the ',4 reporter. 't s been a harrowing couple of days. ,han" +od it s all over.

.es, Sophie s in brilliant shape. Cass s smile, when the reporter turned his attention to her, was positively radiant. She s fine, but we thin" she ll give modelling a miss from now on. Maybe stic" to something less ris"y, li"e lion$taming. 'mogen s stomach churned. Cass and &ac" vanished into the house. ,he newsreader, putting on his and$ now$for$the$badnews voice, moved on to the latest unemployment figures. 'mogen wondered when &ac" would remember she even e3isted. &ac", preparing to leave the house at close to midnight, braced himself. 0e had to "now. ,here s something ' need to say, he told Cass, who was loo"ing stunning with her blond hair up. She had changed into a dar"$blue velvet dress and was wearing Shalimar. /ehind them, in the sitting room, Sophie s welcome$home party roared on. ,erry /rannigan was launching into song, to howls of derision from Cleo and 7ory Cameron. #or the moment, in the panelled hallway, they were alone. .es) prompted Cass. &ac" swallowed. -,his isn t easy. 4o) .. Cass s blue eyes searched his face. 't wouldn t by any chance have something to do with this morning s little speech) ' thought you were asleep. ' thought ' should appear to be asleep, said Cass, *ust in case you changed your mind. 't was a bit of an emotional moment, after all. She paused. .ou might not

have meant it. &ac" leaned against the front door. ' m not going to change my mind. 0e had never meant something more in his life. -,he %uestion is, could you ever change yours about me) ,he door to the sitting room flew open. Oops. Spotting them, Cleo promptly closed it again. Change my mind) 0e wondered if Cass was being deliberately unhelpful. ' suppose what ' mean is, could you ever trust me again) 7ory Cameron was in the ne3t room. 't was, &ac" reali!ed, hardly the time or the place to be ma"ing possibly the most vital speech of his life. Still, he d come this far. Could you ever forgive me) 0is voice was low. Could you ever love me) 's there even the faintest chance of you being willing to try again) 63cuse me, said Cass, but how does 'mogen feel about this) &ac" shoo" his head. 'mogen doesn t "now. (h well, ' "now how that feels. She pulled open the front door. 'nfuriatingly, giving nothing away, Cass said, Maybe she should.
* * * .ou don t mean it, you can t mean it, you can t . . . 1

'mogen, on her "nees, clutched blindly at &ac" s trousered l eg. She "new she was howling li"e a dog. ,he humi lia tion was unbearable. /ut still she clung on, screaming in disbelief, refusing to accept that what he was saying could be true.

' m sorry, but this hasn t wor"ed out. .ou "now it hasn t. &ac" wasn t finding it much easier. 'mogen s torment was a painful thing to have to witness. 0e was also uncomfortably aware that he could be doing all this, ma"ing the brea", for nothing. Cass hadn t e3actly thrown herself into his arms. She hadn t yelled, .es1 .es1 .ou re all ' ve ever wanted. ,here was every chance she might turn round, laugh in his face and tell him it served him damn well right. /ut that was a ris" &ac" was prepared to ta"e. Cass was the one he wanted. 0is relationship with 'mogen was over. (ll he wanted was his old life bac". ' "now you slept with her, 'mogen wailed. 0er eyes, red$rimmed and piggy, begged him not to go. ' "now you shared a room at that place. 8oo", it s OK9 ' forgive you. /ut Sophie s bac" now, that s all in the past and we can *ust carry on as before, Cass and 7ory Cameron, you and me@ 4o, &ac" shoo" his head. We can t. ' m sorry, but we can t. 0e winced as 'mogen s fingernails dug into his leg. (ny minute now she d have his "neecap off. .ou bastard, ' "now what this is about1 't s because ' can t get pregnant, isn t it) She was desperate now, clutching at straws. ' can t ma"e babies so you re dumping me@ .ou were the one who wanted children, &ac" pointed out. ' didn t. 4o, because you already had your family. 'mogen spat out the words. .our precious fuc"ing family1 (nd now you re going bac" to them li"e the good old family man everyone always used to thin" you were. Won t the

tabloids *ust love that1 ' said ' wanted to go bac", &ac" replied wearily. 't may not happen. Cass hasn t said she ll have me yet. +ood grief. Sophie opened the front door and too" a step bac"wards. Whatever s happened to you) 0er eyes narrowed. 'f you re loo"ing for 2ad he isn t here. 'mogen shoo" her head. She "new that. 't was seven in the evening. She had deliberately waited until now, when &ac" was at the ,? studios, to come round to the house. 't s your mother ' m here to see. She glanced at Cass s car standing in the drive. She is in, ' ta"e it) 0ang on, ' ll go and get her. Cass, evidently *ust out of the bath, appeared in the doorway a minute or so later. 0er wet blond hair had been combed bac" from her face. She was wearing the same pin"$and$ yellow satin robe she d had on almost two and a half years ago, when 'mogen had turned up to interview her for the maga!ine. ( gust of icy wind plastered 'mogen s blac" s"irt against the bac"s of her legs. She had made the effort to dress up and loo" halfway decent but the loo" on Cass s face 5 not to mention Sophie s startled e3pression earlier 5 told her it hadn t wor"ed. 4o amount of ma"e$up, she thought bitterly, could conceal this much grief. 0ello. Can ' come in)
' thin" you d better.

C ass st epped to one si de, guessi ng at once what had happened. She hadn t spo"en to &ac" today. &ac", however, had clearly spo"en to 'mogen. Cass wondered if this was the happiest, most gratifying moment of her life. ,he ne3t second that

habitual sense of guilt "ic"ed in. She "new how 'mogen felt. 't would be so easy to start feeling sorry for her. ' mustn t let it happen, Cass told herself, hardening her resolve. Why shouldn t 'mogen suffer) Why shouldn t she discover how she made me feel) 'mogen, she reminded herself, deserved everything she got.
' was *ust about to ma"e myself a sandwich. Cass led the way into the "itchen. :ic"ing a baguette out of the bread bas"et as casually as if 'mogen were a ne3t$ door neighbour popping in for coffee and a chat, she said, Would you li"e one)

'mogen imagined them duelling with #rench stic"s across the "itchen table. She shoo" her head. /ehind Cass, the "ettle was coming to the boil. She didn t want a bloody cup of tea either. ' d prefer a vod"a and tonic.
.ou loo" in a bad way. Cass handed her one but stuc" to tea herself. ,he last time 'mogen had arrived unannounced at the house, she had been the one effortlessly in charge. (nd ' was the stupid one, Cass reminded herself, reduced to sorting out my "itchen cupboards because if ' didn t do something to "eep busy ' "new ' d go mad.

Of course ' m in a bad way. 0elplessly, 'mogen began to spurt tears. 't was no good, she couldn t even begin to hold bac". (nd you "now why. 8oo", ' had to come and see you. .ou "now how much ' love &ac" . . . he s my whole life. (nd ' "now he thin"s he wants to come bac" to you, but @ /ut you don t thin" he does really) Cass s tone was cool. 't was so much easier, being the one in control. She wished she d tried it years ago. 63cuse me, but isn t &ac" old enough to "now who or what he wants)

't s this Sophie thing. 'mogen slumped in her chair. 't scared him 5 of course it scared him 5 and now it s made him thin" he needs to be with his family. 7ubbing her eyes in despair she added, -,hat wasn t what ' was going to say, anyway. -ou have to be honest with yourself too. #or your own sa"e. What) Come on, Cass. .ou must be loving this. ' m getting my come$uppance, aren t ') 't s what you must have prayed for. ,he corners of Cass s mouth twitched. Well . . /ut do you really want him bac", 'mogen blurted out passionately, or do you *ust thi ( you do) /ecause cutting your nose off to spite your face isn t going to ma"e you feel better in the long run. (nd you re happy with 7ory Cameron, aren t you) ' m *ust saying don t ris" your own chance of happiness. 'mogen swallowed9 her throat ached with the effort of holding bac" yet more tears. :lease. 2on t ta"e &ac" bac" simply because you can. 'mogen "new she was begging. /ut it was no good, she could no longer afford the lu3ury of pride. When desperate measures were called for, she would beg. (nd she had never been more desperate in her life. Maybe, thought Cass, this is the best moment of my life after all.
She thought for a moment before replying. ' hated &ac" for what he did to me, she said finally, ama!ed by the steadiness of her own voice. /ut ' never stopped loving him. 4ot for one minute. (nd don t imagine you re going through what ' went through two years ago either. Cass s china$blue eyes bored into 'mogen s bloodshot ones. /ecause what ' went through was worse.

'mogen "new she was losing. 0aving pinned all her

hopes on Cass living up to her reputation for being "ind, underst an di ng a nd d am n n ea r a l l $ ro un d p er fe c t , t he se ns e o f disappointment was crushing. 'f you two get bac" together, 'mogen hissed, how do you "now he won t do the same thing again) Maybe he s learned his lesson, with you.
Cass replied stonily,

Chapter 58
&esus1

Sean rammed on his bra"es as 'mogen, li"e a bolting horse, l oom ed abrupt l y out of t he dar"ness. 0e wi nced as she ricocheted off the bonnet of his car. 8uc"ily @ and for once in his life @ he hadn t been driving li"e a maniac. 8uc"ier still, 'mogen didn t appear to be hurt. Sean, who was in a good mood, climbed out of the car to ma"e sure. With a grin, he pic"ed up her handbag and returned it. 8ast time this happened you were wal"ing up the drive. We must stop meeting li"e this ,hen he reali!ed 'mogen was crying. 0olding her in front of the headlights, he saw the swollen blubbering mess that was her face.
Sean frowned. 2id ' hurt you or is this something else) .ou d$didn t hurt me. 'mogen twisted away so he couldn t see how hideous she loo"ed. /ut it was no good9 the grip he had on her arms was vice$li"e.

So what is it)

'mogen had arrived at the house by ta3i. ,he prospect of flagging down another one and having to endure the fascinated attention of some nosy cab driver was unbearable. 8oo", ' "now you don t L$li"e me, she gasped out between sobs, but w$will you drive me h$h$home)
Why) Sean was getting fed up with this. 't was li"e playing twenty bloody %uestions.

&ust get me away from here. ,a"ing matters into her own hands, 'mogen wrenched herself free and stumbled round to the passenger door. Please.
/y the time Sean pulled up outside the Wimbledon house 'mogen shared with his father, she had stopped crying. She had also changed her mind about going home. +od, loo" at it. 'n desperation 'mogen gestured up

at the unlit, unwelcoming windows. &ac" wouldn t be bac" from the ,? studios before midnight. ,he prospect of spending the entire evening alone was too depressing for words. She turned to Sean. .ou said you were going to the club. ,a"e me with you. Sean sighed. 'f the ob*ect of the e3ercise was to scupper his own plans she was ma"ing a good start. ,he visit to his mother s house hadn t been vital @ he had only driven over to see if he had left a leather *ac"et there the other wee" @ but 'mogen had effectively put a stop to that. (nd he could definitely do without her weeping and moping her way around Comedy 'nc., li"e the spectre at the feast. Wouldn t you be better off here) Sean tried to sound as if he "new best. ' m only going to be at the club for an hour or so myself. ' m meeting :andora as soon as ' ve finished my set.

8i"e a dog threatened with a bath, 'mogen dug herself deeper into the passenger seat. 't s OK. .ou can pretend you don t "now me. She shot him a petulant sidelong glance. /ut ' m still going, whether you li"e it or not. 8oo"@ 't s a comedy club, isn t it) snapped 'mogen. Maybe it ll cheer me up. Sean had to par" around the corner from Comedy 'nc. (s he and 'mogen turned into &elahay Street he saw 2onny ahead of them. ,hey caught up with him at the crowded entrance to the club. 'mogen s come out for some fun, Sean e3plained, because he could hardly announce in front of everyone that she d *ust been dumped by his old man. Wondering if 2onny might be interested in ta"ing 'mogen off his hands he win"ed and added, She needs loo"ing after. Once inside, 'mogen promptly disappeared to the loo to repair her face. 2onny got the first round in at the bar and watched Sean sign autographs for a group of girls up from 6pping #orest for the night. 0is act was beginning to come together again. :eople s memories of the disastrous ,? series had begun to fade. 0e had even regained enough confidence to start ad$libbing on stage once more. 4ot to mention "noc"ing off his old man s mistress, thought 2onny sourly an hour later. 0e sat ne3t to 'mogen up at the bar while Sean performed his set. 'mogen, who had been "noc"ing bac" vod"a li"e a demented 7ussian ever since they arrived, had applauded wildly when he wal"ed out onto the stage. 4ow, unable to ta"e her eyes off Sean, she "ept nudging 2onny in the ribs and saying stupid things li"e,

'sn t he gorgeous) and, .ou "now, ' ve fancied him rotten since the first night we met. ,he pair of them made 2onny sic". Watching Sean Mandeville screw his way through life had been entertaining enough when he had been doing much the same himself, and when the girls they d bedded had been nothing more than casual pic"$ups. /ut that was when they had both been young, free and single, thought 2onny. Standing by while Sean treated :andora li"e dirt had been an altogether different matter. 't had bothered 2onny more and more. ,hen, some months ago, Sean had seemed to come to his senses and the womani!ing had abruptly stopped. <ntil now, it seemed. 0e was bac" to his old ways with a vengeance. .ou were 0rillia t! 'mogen threw her arms around Sean when he came off stage. Sean grinned at 2onny. 2on t you *ust love it when women say that) /rilliant, brilliant, brilliant, 'mogen chanted, sliding off her bar stool in order to plant an enthusiastic "iss on his chee". (t the last moment she lunged forward and caught him full on the mouth instead. Such command of the 6nglish language. 8oo"ing amused, Sean wiped the lipstic" from his face. .ou can tell she s a *ournalist. 7eali!ing she didn t have a hope in hell of getting bac" o n t o h e r b a r s t o o l , 'm o g e n g i g gl e d a n d c l u n g t o S e a n instead. ' m a terrific *ournalist, she proclaimed with pride. ' m nearly as terrific a *ournalist as ' am in bed.
2onny loo"ed away in disgust.

Sean, who hadn t yet had a chance to tell 2onny what was going on, turned to 'mogen. Why don t you run along to the loo and powder your nose while ' get the ne3t round in)

'mogen had by this time had a great deal to drin". She was also intent on paying &ac" bac". She smiled lasciviously up at Sean. Why don t ' stay here instead and mentally undress you while you re getting the ne3t round in) Wouldn t that be more fun) 't was time for 2onny to head bac"stage. 0aving heard more than enough anyway, he was glad to get away. 'f Sean wanted to rot up his own life, fine. /ut this time he didn t want anything to do with it. ,he more 'mogen had to drin", the more her imagination got carried away. ' "now, she murmured, breathing vod"a fumes into Sean s ear, why don t we get out of here and find an hotel) #or you) Sean s patience was by this time wearing e3tremely thin. 0e was trying to listen to 2onny up on the stage and 'mogen "ept interrupting. (ll this stupid suggestive stuff was starting to get on his nerves too. ,he trouble was, he felt responsible for her. She was out of her tree and he didn t feel he could *ust up and leave. (t this rate, Sean thought, he was going to be late for :andora. #or us, silly. 'mogen gave him a "nowing loo". Come on, you "now you want to. Sleep with you, you mean) Sean raised an eyebrow. ' don t. Oh yes you do. .ou ve always wanted to. 0e loo"ed at 'mogen, with her red hair tumbling around her face and her pin" tongue darting wetly between her teeth.

4ew ma"e$up on top of old gave her a dishevelled, morning$after loo" but she was still undeniably attractive. 'f he was honest, the idea of sleeping with her had crossed his mind more than once before now. ' may have wanted to , he said, in the beginning. /efore you got yourself involved with my father. /ut not now. 'mogen pouted. .ou wouldn t regret it.
' would. Sean glanced at his watch. 'f he didn t leave this minute he was definitely going to be late. 0aven t you heard) ' m a reformed character. #amily man and all that. ' ve got 7ose. (nd :andora.

Oh yes, and everyone "nows how faithful you ve been to :andora. ' m going to be, from now on.
/or$ing, 'mogen moc"ed. (nd ' m supposed to be meeting her for dinner. 0e pic"ed his car "eys off the bar. 8oo", do you want to stay here or shall ' drop you home) ' m sorry, but ' do have to go.

What, stay here and be glared at by your friend 2onny) 'mogen shuddered at the prospect. 4o than"s, ' ll come with you. 2onny, up on the stage nearing the end of his set, saw them leave. 'mogen was still clinging to Sean s arm. 0er blac" s"irt was ruc"ed up at the bac" to reveal blac" stoc"ing tops and suspenders. She was a tart, he thought coldly.
(nd Sean was cheating on :andora.

Chapter 59
#or Christ s sa"e, Sean howled twenty minutes later, will

you ma"e up your mind) Who d you thin" ' am, Mother sodding ,eresa)

0aving been driven bac" to Wimbledon, 'mogen was now flatly refusing to get out of the car. ,his was the last straw. She was really pissing him off. ' don t want to be on my own. She said it in a wobbly little$girl voice. .ou don t "now how miserable ' feel. ' want a drin". 8oo", there s a pub round the corner. :lease come and have a drin" with me, Sean. &ust one, ' promise . . Short of turfing her head$first out onto the pavement there wasn t any other way of getting 'mogen out of the car. Sean heaved a sigh and drove round the corner to ,he Cueen s 0ead. :andora would be wondering where he d got to. 'f only he d "nown the number of ,he /lue +oose he could have phoned the restaurant and e3plained that he was going to be late. 4ever mi nd. : andora was used to his hapha! ard ti me"eeping. (t least he "new she would wait for him to turn up. One %uic" drin" here, thought Sean, and ' m off. 'f 'mogen tried to "ic" up another fuss he would have no %ualms, this time, about leaving her here less than two hundred yards from her own home.
* * *

,he /lue +oose was bursting at the seams. :andora, sitting alone at a table for two, was feeling more and more con spicuous. Sean was three$ %uarters of an hour late now. So much, she thought with a sic"ening sense of d;<= vu, for a romantic evening together at the restaurant he had brought her to on the night they d first met. So much, thought :andora

bitterly, for turning over a new leaf. (nd stupid me, for actually believing he could change. She felt doubly humiliated because the temperature in the restaurant was tropical and she had *ust been approached for the fourth time by a waiter en%uiring if she might not feel more comfortable without her coat. She loo"ed ridiculous. (nd she was being stared at. Maybe if she were Cleo she might have the guts to stand up and announce; OK everyone, stop smir"ing. ,he reason ' can t ta"e it off is because ' m star"ers under neath. 't was *ust the "ind of thing Cleo would say, probably earning herself a round of applause into the bargain. :andora only wished she could be brave enough to do the same. Madam, eet ees so warm in ere. Shit, this time it was the maitre d himself, e3uding professional +allic concern but clearly worried that other diners might thin" her dangerously eccentric. .our coat . . . do you not sin" you might be more appy wi!!out eet) 't had seemed li"e such a good idea at the time, :andora thought with weary resignation. /loody Sean. 4o than"s. She rose to her feet, trying to loo" as if the fact that she had been stood up couldn t matter less. Sorry. ' m afraid ' have to leave.
* * *

,he Cueen s 0ead had contained the answer to Sean s prayers. 4o sooner had he ordered their drin"s 5 vod"a for 'mogen, tonic for himself 5 than a smoothly dressed thirty$something with heavily highlighted hair and a spray$ on tan detached himself from the group he was with and *oined them at the bar. Sean Mandeville. 0e clic"ed his fingers in

delighted recognition. Well well, fancy meeting you here1 ' m a great fan of yours, a great fan. .ou aren t the only one, 'mogen chimed in, almost "noc"ing her drin" over as she beamed up at Sean. (ctually, we have someone in common. ,he stranger carried on addressing Sean in chummy fashion. .our sister, Cleo. We . . . "noc"ed around together for a while, a couple of years bac". What a girl, eh) 0e shoo" his head, remembering the terrific times they had shared with obvious affection. 0is hair, heavily sprayed, didn t budge. What a girl. 'f you as" me, 'mogen mumbled under her breath, Cleo s a cow. 8oo", ' really do have to leave, said Sean. 0e drained his glass, stood up and shoo" hands with Cleo s e3. +ood to have met you, er . . 2amien. ,he man beamed. 2amien Ma3well$ 0ome. ' m in the property business, in case you re ever in need ... here, let me give you one of my cards ,hat s really "ind of you, lied Sean. 0e glanced from 2amien to 'mogen. ,he guy had dodgy hair but he loo"ed safe enough. (nd he "new Cleo. OK if ' leave 'mogen with you) She only lives round the corner. 'f you could *ust ma"e sure she gets home in one piece, ' d be grateful. Say no more, say no more. 2amien s eyes, which were e3tremely blue, lit up at the prospect of doing Sean Mandeville a favour. 2igging into his *ac"et poc"et for his wallet, he gave 'mogen a reassuring win". We ll be fine, won t we, sweetheart) Come on, finish that. 8et me buy you another drin".

/y the time he reached ,he /lue +oose, :andora had left. Sean, eventually arriving home at eleven thirty, found $the babysitter gone, 7ose suc"ing her thumb in her cot and :andora determinedly asleep. She wasn t going to be thrilled with him but since it hadn t been his fault Sean didn t feel too guilty. 'f he wo"e her up now, she would only shout at him. 'nstead he went bac" downstairs, watched an old &ac" 2ee video and fell asleep on the sofa, finally crawling into bed ne3t to :andora at dawn. :andora left him to it, sliding noiselessly out of the bed an hour later and ta"ing a long hot bath before 7ose wo"e up. 2uring the bath she thought a great deal about her life with Sean and wondered if she was ma"ing too much of the fact that he hadn t bothered to turn up at the restaurant last night. She was downstairs ma"ing brea"fast when the front door bell rang. Morning, angel. 2onny bent to give her a decorous "iss on the chee". (t least Sean s car was in the drive. 's he up) :andora shoo" her head, suddenly unable to spea". 2onny was so sweet and Sean could be such a pig. Mm, bacon. Sniffing appreciatively, 2onny headed for the "itchen. 0ow was your meal last night) 't probably would have been great. :andora found she wasn t as hungry as she d thought. She pushed her plate across the table towards him and shrugged. 'f Sean had bothered to put in an appearance. ' didn t feel li"e eating alone, she said bitterly, so ' left. Shit. (t once 2onny dropped all pretence of cheerfulness. 8eaning bac" in his chair he heaved a sigh and ran his hands over his face. ,his time, he reali!ed, he had to tell :andora. She had a right to "now.

What) said :andora. OK, maybe ' shouldn t be saying this but ' ve had *ust about enough of standing by and doing nothing. 0e lowered his voice. Sean was at the club last night with 'mogen ,rent. She was all over him. ,hey disappeared together at around ten o cloc". Sorry, sweetheart. 2onny shoo" his head. ' thought he d got all that stuff out of his system. 't s unfair on you. .ou deserve better than this. Sean wo"e abruptly, wincing with pain as an empty suitcase landed across his legs. What the@ :andora was standing on a chair heaving cases down from the top, of the wardrobe. She glanced over her shoulder and said, Sorry, as if they were strangers on a crowded train. ,he ne3t moment another suitcase came flying through the air. ,his one narrowly missed Sean s head. 0e sat up. What the hell s going on) 0mm) :andora turned round to loo" at him. 2espite her deceptively casual tone there was a dangerous glitter in her eyes. Oh, not a lot. 7ose and ' are going to do you a favour and get out of your life, that s all. ,hen you ll have more room for your other tarts. 4o more mi3$ups, no more double boo"ings. ,hin" about it, Sean, it ll be great1 (nd
so much easier@ Come on, this is cra!y. 0e fell bac" against the pillows, groaning. :andora was down from her chair now, pulling open drawers and flinging "nic"ers and ,$ shirts willy$nilly into the first case. ,his was all he needed at the crac" of dawn. She must be getting her period.

4ot cra!y. ' *ust came to my senses at last.

Sean had by this time figured it out. (ll this, he protested, *ust because ' was late turning up at the restaurant last night) Sweetheart, listen to me. .ou don t "now what I had to put up with. ' was hi*ac"ed by bloody 'mogen ,rent. ' mean, good news in one way 5 my old man s dumped her and it loo"s li"e my parents are getting bac" together 5 but she was desperate last night. Clung to me li"e a leech1 What could ' do) What could you do) :andora drawled the words in disbelief. Screw her senseless, ' imagine. 'sn t that what you normally do with girls who wrap themselves round you li"e clingfilm) 8i"e she was wrapped round you last night) /ut ' didn t. Sean spo"e through gritted teeth, willing her to believe him. OK, she wanted to, but ' did t. ' said ' wasn t interested. ' told her ' d given up on all that. 0is voice rose. #or +od s sa"e, ' told her you were the only woman in my life. +oodness me, totally believable, murmured :andora. Its true. Save your breath. ,he first case was now full to overflowing. She moved on to t he ne3t , wrenching open the doors to t he wardrobe and dragging coats and dresses off their hangers. ,his was unfair. ,hings between them had seemed so much better lately. (nd now, Sean thought with annoyance, ' m being punished for something ' didn t even do. OK, he said tightly, if you don t believe me, as" 'mogen. :andora threw him a shrivelling loo". 0aven t ' already been humiliated enough) &ust as( her.

4o than"s. 0e shoo" his head. ' ve never seen you li"e this before. 't s called the last straw, said :andora. ' ve put up and up with your bullshit for the last two years and now ' ve had enough. 2onny s right, she continued evenly, ' do deserve better. Sean howled, 5uc( 2onny1 Well, you never "now, :andora replied, ' *ust might. .ou bitch, you wouldn t dare. Wouldn t ') 't was all going horribly wrong. Sean heard the vengeful, bitter words spilling out of his mouth and was sic"ened by them. 0e loved :andora. 8ast night, over dinner at ,he /lue +oose, he had planned to as" her to marry him. 2ammit, he thought despairingly, it had even crossed his mind to as" her to turn up wearing the infamous beige trench coat with nothing underneath . . . 'nstead, evidently hell$bent on revenge, all she was interested in was *umping into bed with 2onny Mulligan. Where are you going) ' don t "now. :andora averted her ga!e. Of course she "new. She had already phoned her friends Wendy and /ill and invited herself and 7ose down to their home in /ath. .ou can t disappear. Sean began to panic. .ou can t ta"e 7ose away *ust li"e that. .ou can t stop me.
' love 7ose. 0e wanted to add, ' love you, but the words wouldn t come out. :andora gave him a weary loo". .es, maybe you do. /ut it never lasts, does it) Cheer up, she added bitterly as she lugged the two bulging

suitcases towards the door. /y this time ne3t wee" you can be madly in love with 'mogen ,rent instead.

Chapter 60
'mogen "new something was wrong when she opened her eyes and saw blac". /lac" satin sheets. 'f you "new how beautiful you loo" . . . said a soothing male voice. /aby, you are gorgeous.

/lac" satin sheets with gold piping. :illowcases to match. (nd a blac"$and$gold striped satin duvet.
Oh dear.

'mogen smelled coffee and (ramis. She groaned and turned over. 2amien Ma3well$0orne was standing by the bed carrying a loaded tray. 0is dressing gown, which matched the duvet, had his initials embroidered across the breast poc"et. ,o remind you, presumably, who you d *ust spent the night in bed with. 'mogen s heart san" as the events of the previous evening came rushing bac". .es, you did it, her memory smugly confirmed. (nd not *ust once either, but twice. ,he first time in 2amien s chrome$and glass sitting room, the second here in bed. /rilliant. 'mogen s%uinted at her watch. +ood +od, it was ten thirty. C o m e o n , u p s a d a i s y. 2 a m i e n , d i s gu s t i n gl y b r i gh t $ eyed, was beaming down at her. ' ve made you one of my specials, smo"ed salmon and scrambled

eggs. ,here, that s it, let me help you with those pillows. (nd you can ta"e this as a compliment. :lacing the tray across 'mogen s lap he planted an (ram i s$l oaded "i ss on her cl am ped$ t oget her m out h. ' only ma"e my specials for those very special ladies in my life. Was it the coffee or the strength of the aftershave) 'mogen wasn t sure but she "new she felt sic". ' don t thin" ' can manage this. She pointed feebly at the tray. <m . . . maybe a cup of tea) (nything you li"e. 2amien win"ed and ruffled her hair before she had a chance to dodge away. Coffee, tea, he went on with a suggestive leer, or me)
't was ove r t wo ye a rs si nc e C a ss ha d l a st se t foot in the newspaper offices where &ac" wor"ed. Stepping out of the lift on the fourt h floor, she not ic ed the i nte resting variety of e3pressions on the faces of his fellow wor"ers. <nannounced visits from e3$wives weren t, as a rule, good news. ,he last time it had happened, Cass recalled &ac" telling her, the deputy editor had ended up with a belt round the ear from a Manolo /lahni" stiletto.

+lenda, &ac" s secretary, had never li"ed 'mogen ,rent. She greeted Cass with delight. .ou ve missed him by ten minutes. (nd he won t be bac" until midday. 0e s gone out) 2amn, thought Cass, ' should have phoned first. 4ot out$out. +lenda pointed her inde3 finger at the ceiling. /ig meeting in the boardroom. She pulled a fearful face. 't s a do$not$disturb *ob. ' daren t interrupt. Oh well, Cass said cheerfully, in for a penny.
What are you doing) s%uea"ed +lenda as Cass turned bac" towards the lift.

Calling on him. 0eavens1

2eeply intrigued, +lenda said, Can '

come too) Mrs Mandeville, protested ,om the old security guard, panting after them both as they headed for the boardroom s double doors. Mrs Mandeville, you can t go in there. Cass had so geared herself up to seeing &ac", there was absolutely no stopping her now. :ushing open the heavy oa" doors she said, 2on t be silly, ,om. Of course ' can. 6veryone seated at, the polished table loo"ed up simultaneously when Cass wal"ed in. ,he deputy editor turned %uite pale. ,he scar from his e3$wife s high heel may have faded but the fear that she might one day turn up and do the same again had never %uite left him. Cass. &ac", in shirtsleeves and with his dar" hair flopping over his forehead, was on his feet in an instant. 0is loo" of horror told her at once that he thought something awful must have happened. ,o burst unannounced into a meeting this important somebody had to be
dead at least. 't s OK. 4othing s wrong. Cass was aware of +lenda cringing behind her at the prospect of their famously tetchy proprietor s impending wrath. ' wanted to see you, that s all.

What a coincidence, the proprietor of the Herald said heavily. ' wanted to see him too. Call me old$ fashioned, but that s why ' organi!ed this meeting@ What is it) 'gnoring him, &ac" came towards Cass.
' ve made up my mind. ' want to "now when you re coming home. 4o hurry, Cass said lightly, though her "nees were

wobbling, any time within the ne3t couple of hours will

be fine. .oung lady, the proprietor s voice dropped to an ominous rumble, this man is here for a purpose. ' do not appreciate having my meetings interrupted. Will you please leave) Will you please leave 'mogen) Cass murmured in &ac" s ear as his arms closed blissfully around her. ' already have. <nable to face going bac" to the house in Wimbledon last night 5 tellingly it had always been a house rather than a home 5 he had boo"ed into an hotel instead. 4ow, "issing Cass full on the mouth, &ac" "new he had never been happier in his life. <gh, declared the proprietor, by this time purple with indignation. ,hree times he d been divorced and nothing li"e this had ever happened to him. /ut then none of his miserable wives had ever loo"ed li"e Cass Mandeville either. Wo" where d you thin" you re going) he roared at &ac" s departing bac", even though the answer was pretty damn obvious. Christ, this was worse than that &fficer a d a soddi g 'e tlema . . . 0ome, said &ac". (nd about time too, said +lenda, following at his heels. Such a reconciliation might be inconvenient but it was still news. Wearily turning his attention to his misty$eyed deputy editor the proprietor drawled, ' reali!e we re only a newspaper, Wil"ins, but ' don t suppose there s a chance anyone here has a camera)

Chapter 61

't was the second wee" in 2ecember, an icy Saturday night, and Cleo was having a crisis. ' can t believe ' m doing this, she wailed as they made their way up the steps to the hotel s main entrance. ' can t believe ' let you tal" me into it. (m ' gullible or what) 6ven her white$blond hair, shorter than usual so it stood up in spi"es, loo"ed panic"y. (s they approached the sliding doors Cass saw the four of them reflected in the smo"ed glass. Cleo was wearing an embroidered dress split to reveal one brown thigh and it didn t matter how much of a flap she was in, she still loo"ed ravishing. 4e3t to Cleo was ,erry /rannigan who loo"s$wise might not be in %uite the same league but was determined to en*oy himself tonight all the same. Without resorting to drin", either. Cass was so proud of ,erry she could burst. :ulling himself together and *oining (( had ta"en guts but it had paid off in spades. 4ot only was he trimmer, fitter and far more fun to be with nowadays, but following his impressive step into the breach that terrible wee" when Sophie had been ta"en, Kingdom 7adio had repaid the favour and offered him the about$to$be$vacated mid$evening show. 't might not be prime time, as ,erry himself was the first to admit, but it beat the hell out of washing dishes in a bac"$ street restaurant. Cass s fingers tightened around &ac" s as the smo"ed$glass doors slid open and the first volley of flashbulbs went off. /eing seen together again in public was still enough of a novelty to guarantee attention. ,han"fully, as &ac" had drily observed, good news was never as enthralling as bad. +ive it another fortnight, was his view, and the fact that the Mandevilles were a couple once more would interest the general public about as much as the single 6uropean currency.

Cass didn t care about that. 't mattered to her, it was what interested her and above all it was what she wanted. She hadn t even needed to feel guilty about dropping 7ory Cameron. 'mogen might not have ta"en the split with &ac" well, but 7ory had more than compensated. 6ver the gentleman, he had understood perfectly, "issing Cass goodbye and giving them both his blessing. Within a wee" he had become embroiled in an affair with a fiery twenty$four$year$ old 'talian singer. (s Sophie remar"ed, he d fallen bac" into his young ways. Cleo, meanwhile, was feeling sorrier for herself by the second at the prospect of the evening ahead. ,his was all Cass s fault. 't had been her mother s bright idea, when invited to donate a personal item to the charity auction, to offer Cleo. 2arling, it s a fund$raiser, she protested when Cleo reacted with alarm. 't s only a bit of fun, anyway1 ( night out with the highest bidder. (nd , Cass added soothingly, it is for charity. ,hin" of 'mogen. ,he last time you did something for charity you ended up minus a husband, Cleo grumbled. 6ven that hadn t wor"ed. Cass, who was being very flippant these days, had beamed. .ou ll be OK then. .ou don t have one to lose.
,his evening s ball, held at the :ar" 8ane 8yndhurst 0otel

overloo"ing 0yde :ar", was already under way by the time they reached the vast ballroom. 2ino Carlisle spotted them at once and made his way over to their table. So you re really going to do it. 0e had discovered Cleo s name in the programme amongst the list of items to be auctioned off.

.ou mean "ill my mother) Certainly. Cleo gave him a gloomy loo". ' don t "now why she couldn t *ust donate a handbag li"e everyone else. ' m either going to be snapped up by a white$slave trader or not bid for at all. ' don t "now which is worse. 2ino grinned down at her. ' won t let you be publicly humiliated. ' ll go up as far as si3 pounds fifty. .ou re all heart. +ood news about your parents anyway. 0e nodded at Cass and &ac", evidently so happy together. Seeing them li"e that s enough to restore the faith of even a hardened old cynic li"e me. ' thought you were supposed to be having a fling with that co$star of yours. 0e had *ust finished ma"ing a film called, appropriately enough, All the Way. 2ino pulled a face. Studio publicity. ' d rather have a fling with Cruella de ?il. 0e loo"ed at Cleo. (nyway, how about you) 4o *oy with that guy you were once so cra!y about) Cleo s throat tightened. 0ad she ever stopped being cra!y about &oel, and had it done her the slightest bit of good) 'f only she could stop, she might not be so damn miserable now. She shoo" her head, recalling what an idiot she had made of herself the last time their paths had crossed. 4o *oy. .ou should have snapped me up, 2ino said modestly, while you had the chance. Oh wow@
What) demanded Cleo, reali!ing he was peering over her shoulder. Wow what)

Sorry. ,hought ' *ust saw someone. 0e sounded miles away. ,here s a ,? ad running in the States, a commercial for some new shampoo. ,his is going to sound stupid, but ' ve really had the weirdest "ind of

feeling for the girl in this ad . . . it almost seems as if ' "now her. ' don t, of course. ,he loo" he gave Cleo was unusually self$deprecating. /ut ' sure would li"e to. (nd)
' don t "now for certain, but ' thin" ' *ust saw her. She s thin, with long dar" hair, 2ino elaborated. (ma!ing eyes. /lac" dress.

Sounds li"e Cruella de ?il. ,urning, Cleo searched the crowds. ,he ne3t moment 2ino s hand tightened convulsively around her wrist. +lancing bac", startled, she saw him blushing li"e a teenager, muttering, My +od, it is@ 0i, said a shy voice behind her. Cleo grinned as in an instant everything fell into place. ' don t "now if you ll remember this, she told 2ino, but ' once said to you, if you reall y wanted to m eet som eone miserable ' d introduce you to my friend 8inda. 8inda, who was beaming li"e an idiot and evidently incapable of tearing her eyes away from 2ino, said, ' m not miserable any more.
Several miles away, alone in the 'slington mews flat to which she had returned following the brea"$up with &ac", 'mogen was ta"ing a long slow bath. She listened to both sides of the latest Coldplay C2 and let the tears roll helplessly down her face. 4ot that any of the trac"s had been their song 5 the album had only come out last wee" 5 but the lyrics, always so horribly easy to relate to, got to 'mogen every time.

(fter her bath she microwaved a Mar"s F Spencer tagliatelle and poured herself a glass of white wine. Switching on the television, she flic"ed through the channels and tried to find something remotely

watchable. ,hen she put Coldplay on again and spent a good ten minutes curled up on the sofa ga!ing at the blan" wall, reali!ing that either way she had to face up to the truth. She couldn t put it off any longer. ,he deed had to be done. 't was weird, going through the e3act motions she had gone through so many times before, only this time e3periencing such mi3ed feelings about the possible end result. Sitting on the edge of the bath with her yellow towelling robe pulled around her li"e a security blan"et, 'mogen hugged her "nees and counted slowly to si3ty. ,hen she counted to si3ty again, twice. (nd this time when she loo"ed, it was there. ,he unmista"able pin" line she had so often in the past willed to appear had appeared. :lain as day. 4ot light pin" but bright pin". She wasn t *ust pregnant, it seemed. She was very pregnant indeed. (s 'mogen wandered trance$li"e bac" through to the sitting room, &ac" s face reappeared in close$up on the television. She had ta"en to recording and endlessly replaying his programmes in order to feel closer to him. 4ot that it was wor"ing now. She closed her eyes in despair. ,here wasn t a way in the world it could be &ac" s baby. 2uring their last few wee"s together, as his interest in her had dwindled, so too had their se3 life. 't was partly why she had made such a desperate play for Sean, e3cept he had re*ected her too. 'mogen stood up and studied her ghostly reflection in the mirror. She supposed she should be glad she wasn t infertile, having agoni!ed for so long that she might be. Oh, but dammit, she would have been so much gladder if only she hadn t been fertile with 2amien Ma3well$0orne.

Chapter 62
Cleo had never seen anything li"e it before in her life. ,he chemistry between 2ino and 8inda was so powerful it was almost embarrassing. She appeared to be witnessing love at first sight. 't really was e3traordinary9 8inda had lit up li"e /lac"pool illuminations and couldn t ta"e her eyes off 2ino. 2ino, in turn barely able to "eep his hands off 8inda, loo"ed as if he wanted nothing more than to bundle her out of the ballroom, bac" to his hotel suite and @ without further ado @ into bed. Cleo wished she didn t feel %uite so *ealous. She tried hard to be pleased for them both. 't wasn t even as if she harboured a secret han"ering for 2ino herself, because she d already tried that and it simply hadn t . . . well, happened. /ut it was certainly happening to 8inda and 2ino right now. ,here was nothing secretive about it either. Cleo wondered if there was any danger they might spontaneously combust and if such overwhelming mutual lust could ever happen to her li"e that. (bove all she wished she didn t have to feel, by e3tremely poor comparison, so dried$up and spinsterish and alone. ' should be getting bac" to my table. ,he least Cleo felt she could do was put on a brave front. +aily prodding 2ino s chest, she added, (nd you d better get that wallet out. 2on t forget, you promised to bid. Si3 pounds fifty. 2ino grinned. See, ' haven t forgotten. 8inda clapped her hand over her mouth. +oodness, ' ve *ust remembered. She turned to Cleo. ' did a :aris show for (nton ?isa last wee". 0e

was as"ing %uestions about you. 0e still hates me for rotting up last year s ?enice shoot. Cleo pulled a face. (nd ' hate him bac". 0e gives me the creeps. 0as he had those chins fi3ed yet or does he still loo" li"e a bullfrog) Well, he s still pretty slimy. 8inda nodded, biting her lip. (nd he mentioned the fact that you were up for auction tonight. 0e said if he could get over he might even put in a bid for you himself. ,hen he laughed. With a shudder 8inda added, ' "now he s a genius but he certainl y has a weird sense of humour. ,errific. Cleo began scanning the ballroom once more. (t least ' can t see him anywhere. 'f you spot a bullfrog in a dinner *ac"et, give me a shout. OK, OK, 2ino said wearily. ' get the big hint. ' ll go up to a tenner. /ac" at their table Cleo found Cass and &ac" being interviewed by one of the 2empster team. So you are remarrying. ,he *ournalist, delighted with her scoop, was busy scribbling down notes. -,hat s great. ' finally managed to tal" her round. &ac" wasn t *o"ing. Cass had been worryingly "een for them to try living in sin. 4o firm date yet, but it ll be some time in &anuary, he added with feeling. 0aving won Cass bac" after so nearly losing her for good, he wasn t about to ta"e any chances. -,he sooner the better, for me. /ridesmaids) +lancing across at the e3pression on Cleo s face the *ournalist said hastily, Sophie, maybe . .
Cass grinned. Sophie, in a frilly bridesmaid s dress) .ou might be brave enough to as" her, said &ac".

We wouldn t dare. ,he auction began straight after dinner in order to catch people at their most replete and generous. Cleo, so nervous she had barely been able to eat anything at all, watched the auctioneer 5 a famously charming politician 5 hec"le his audience into a fren!y of generosity.

(n ',? chat$show host outbid his //C rival for a trip on the Orient 63press. One of Shirley /assey s dripping$with se%ui ns eveni ng gowns was "noc"ed down t o a raucous transvestite who would never s%uee!e into it. ,he third item up for auction, a cameo appearance in one of the nation s most popular soaps, finally went after much fierce bidding to the charming politician s bimboes%ue wife. 4ow, lot number four. (s the politician announced it, he e3tended his hand to Cleo who had to *oin him up on the stage. (n evening in the company of Cleo Mandeville. What a pri!e. 'f my wife hadn t *ust cleaned us out financially ' d be going for this one myself. 0ere she is, ladies and gentlemen . . . ta"e a good loo" at what could be yours for an entire evening and dig deep into your poc"ets, he added with a win", because ' can assure you she s worth it. 4ow, who ll start the bidding) 2o ' hear five hundred pounds . . . ) Cleo felt sic". ,here was much good$natured laughter but nobody was ma"ing a bid. 4ow that she was up there on the stage it was hard to ma"e out faces in the crowd. (s the seconds tic"ed by, each one stretching longer than the last, Cleo felt perspiration brea" out on the nape of her nec". 4ot helped by the heat of
the stage lights, it began tric"ling down her spine. /loody mothers, she thought, frantically trying to "eep her smile intact. /loody charity balls and their stupid embarrassing fund$

raising schemes. /loody 0loody 2ino Carlisle, evidently too enthralled with 8inda to remember that it was his *ob to save her from e3actly this "ind of shame.

63 ce pt s ha m e wa sn t t h e w or d f or i t . ,hi s wa s t ru l y mortifying. Come along now, gentlemen, the politician chided with a sorrowful sha"e of his perfectly groomed head. We re tal"ing about the opportunity of a lifetime here1 OK, *ust to get the ball rolling . . . do ' have three hundred pounds) Si3 pounds fifty, drawled 2ino, from his table close to the bac" of the room. More laughter erupted. Cleo, who could have punched him, forced herself to "eep smiling and remain on the stage. Si3ty$five pounds, came a voice from a different direction. ,erry /rannigan, Cleo reali!ed. Oh well, she supposed she ought to be grateful for small mercies. 2ino, at the bac" of the ballroom, s%uee!ed 8inda s hand and whispered, She ll "ill me if ' don t. (loud he said; Si3 hundred pounds. (nd fifty pence. Cleo stopped wanting to punch him. She blew a "iss in 2ino s direction. ,hat was it9 surely now the torture was over. (h, and a telephone bidder enters the fray. ,he politician turned his attention to one of the young waiters hovering beside the stage with a phone pressed to his ear. Cleo turned and stared at the waiter who was murmuring into the phone. ,hen he nodded at t he poli tician and mouthed, One thousand pounds. We have a bid of one thousand pounds. ,he politician, mil"ing the situation for all it was worth, gave Cleo an encouraging win" before returning his attention to 2ino s table. Come along now, gentleman at the bac" . . . do ' hear

two thousand) 2ino nodded. (fter briefly consulting the bidder on the other end of the line, so did the waiter at the side of the stage. ,hree thousand pounds. ' have three thousand pounds, the politician declared. Who is it) hissed Cleo, her eyebrows disappearing into her spi"y blond fringe. 'f it s (nton ?isa, she went on agitatedly, refuse the bid. /ecause ' won t go, ' "o t. (t the bac" of the room, grinning broadly, 2ino raised four fingers. #our thousand, gabbled the politician, beginning to sound li"e a cattle trader. We have four thousand at the bac", do ' hear five, five, five . . . ) ,he waiter nodded. Cleo s stomach lurched. 2ino called out, Si3. Seven, said the waiter, nodding at the politician to confirm the bid. Cleo considered leaping down from the stage and wrenching the phone off him. She wondered wildly how much further 2ino, in the name of friendship, would be prepared to go to rescue her. She hoped he wouldn t e3pect her to go halves. /ut . . . horrors . . . the undivided attention of everyone in the room was now bac" on 2ino and he was sha"ing his head. Cleo s flesh began to pric"le with alarm. 4o, that s my lot, 2ino declared. Still grinning broadly he "issed 8inda s hand, and pulled her closer to him. ' ve already found the girl for me, anyway. 8et Mr /ullfrog or whatever his name is have Cleo. (t least no one else in the room "new who he was tal"ing about. 4ot that anyone cared, thought Cleo

numbly. ,hey were all too busy whistling applauding the successful mystery bidder.

and

(s the politician led Cleo off the stage, directing her towards the young waiter with the phone still pressed to his ear, she e3perienced a gut$wrenching spasm of sheer panic. 'f it s bloody (nton ?isa , she repeated, ' m not going. 't occurred to her that if it was, she would now have to come up with the seven grand herself.
Come on, this is unfair. She pleaded with the waiter to put her out of her misery but he was busy filling in the necessary amount on a blan" che%ue. Only when he had handed it over to the politician, who in turn bounced bac" up onto the stage in order to continue with the auction, did Cleo have any attention paid to her at all.

Sorry. ,he waiter had a disarming grin. :aym ent in advance, you understand how it is. 4ow if you d be "ind enough to follow me, my client is waiting for you outside. Outside) Cleo wondered if the mystery bidder was actually anyone she d ever met before in her life. Or was it some cran" lying in wait for her out there, his imagination fired up by all the press coverage of Sophie s "idnap) (s the waiter led her through the lobby towards the smo"ed$glass sliding doors, Cleo said, 8oo", this isn t funny. ' m certainly not going anywhere o". ' still don t even "now who s behind this whole thing. What s more, if you thin" for one moment ' m going to walt! out of this hotel and climb of my own free will into a blac"ed$out limo@ (s she dug in her heels the waiter moved forward and pulled open the door of the limousine.

,or +od s sa"e, woman, came an e3asperated male voice from inside, ' could hear you whingeing all the way down the lobby. Will you shut up, do as you re told for once in your bossy life and *ust get in the damn car)

Chapter 63
Sean had driven out of 8ondon in icy dri!!le. (s he made his way down the MD the rain had given way to sleet. /y the time he reached the /ath turn$off a flimsy covering of snow dusted the hills around him. Misreading the map which lay open across the passenger seat, he promptly got lost.

:erseverance drove Sean on. 't was wee"s now since he had seen :andora and 7ose. ,here had been no word from them, no hint of when they might be coming bac". 2esperate to see them again @ 0oth of them @ he had finally managed to prise the address out of &oel. (nd now, at last, he was nearly there. (s he reached the outs"irts of /ath, too" a steep downhill turn to the right and saw the signpost he d been loo"ing for, Sean breathed a sigh of relief. ( sharp left$hand turn a couple of hundred yards further along brought him to a narrow bumpy trac" with a farmhouse at the end of it. ,he house was lit up and there were cars par"ed ahead of him, which was good news. (t least someone was at home. Stepping out of his own car, shivering as a gust of wind sent a flurry of half$melted snowfla"es into his face, Sean followed the rough path around the side of the house. 0e d forgotten to bring a coat but that didn t matter. (ny minute now he would be seeing :andora and 7ose again, holding them in his

arms and beginning to ma"e up for far too much lost time. ' love you, ' want to marry you, please come home with me tonight. ,hese were the words he was going to say to her, the very first words he would utter. 0e had been practising them all the way down the motorway. Sean "new he needed to ma"e :andora understand how much she meant to him, really meant to him. /eing accused of having slept with 'mogen ,rent when he hadn t had cut him to the %uic". 't had also made him reali!e how helpless and hurt :andora must have felt all those times in the past when he had let her down. 7eaching the bac" of the house Sean discovered a party in progress in the sitting room. #ull$length #rench windows, boldly uncurtained, gave him an uninterrupted view of the proceedings. ,here were thirty or forty people in the room. /ill, the 7ichard Whiteley loo"ali"e, was pouring out drin"s. Wendy his wife, in a yellow 8aura (shley froc", stood in front of an open fire laughing at something one of her friends had *ust told her. ,here was no dress code to spea" of. ( motley crew of children, from toddlers up to teenagers, were in evidence. ,he atmosphere was overwhelmingly informal. (nd there, amongst them, was 7ose, sprawled across the arm of a faded green velvet sofa, playi ng happil y with a frayed "nitted rabbit. Sean felt his heart contract with love and the need to hold her again. She was wearing a crimson s l e e p s u i t h e h a d n t s e e n b e f o r e . S h e w a s gr o w i n g u p , becoming a person. 0e ached with love for her. (ny minute now, thought Sean, she ll spot me through the window and yell, 2ad$dee . . . 2on t tell me you ve been out here all night,
said

:andora behind him.

Sean *umped. 0e hadn t heard a sound, the snowfall had deadened her footsteps. '$' was watching 7ose. #eeling stupid, li"e a :eeping ,om, he forgot that his first words were supposed to have been, ' love you, ' want to marry you. When :andora continued to ga!e unswervingly at him, her e3pression giving nothing away, he said instead, 0ow did you "now ' was here) ' came to put some food out for the badgers. ' saw your footsteps in the snow. .ou mean you recogni!ed them) Sean tested her with a brief smile. :andora s denim dress clung to every slender curve. 0e had forgotten how beautiful she was, even in muddy green wellies. 0ow could he ever have wanted anyone else) /ut the test wasn t wor"ing. :andora didn t smile bac". Coolly she said, What are you doing here) Sean s teeth began to chatter. 't was bitterly cold and all he was wearing was a dar"$blue sweater and ancient *eans. 0e too" a step towards :andora, who wasn t shivering at all. ' ve come to ta"e you home. .ou and 7ose. ' love you@ Stop it. .ou don t. ' do. .ou only say these things, :andora told him, because they re what you thin" you feel. 't never lasts, Sean. ,hat s what really hurts. $ 0e saw the loo" of resignation in her dar" eyes. ,his time it s going to last, said Sean. 0e "new he meant it. .ou and 7ose are all ' want. 't s why ' ve come down here. (nd no, he said again for good measure, ' did t sleep with 'mogen ,rent.

't doesn t matter to me whether you did or not, :andora replied wearily. ' m still not coming bac". 't was no good. 0e couldn t ma"e her change her mind. /ringing 7ose out into the hallway of the farmhouse so that Sean could have fifteen minutes with her without disturbing the ongoing party was as far as :andora would go. #or the first time in more years than he could remember, Sean reali!ed he was dangerously close to tears. When 7ose ran into his arms, a lump the si!e of a table tennis ball rose up in his throat. 0e couldn t believe :andora was doing this to him, punishing him li"e this, even as 7ose cooed with delight, stro"ing his cold face and singing over and over again, 2ad dee. ,here was nothing else for it when his fifteen minutes were up but to turn round and drive bac" to 8ondon. Suggesting that he might boo" into an hotel in /ath did no good at all. ' can t stop you, :andora said with an unconcerned shrug, but it won t help. Ma"ing clear the difference between them she had added calmly, Sorry, but ' m not going to change my mind. (s he made his way bac" down the bumpy drive, Sean decided he would never forgive 'mogen ,rent for this. ,he icy wind swirled through the open car window ma"ing his eyes sting. 0e had to slow down to wipe his face with the bac" of his sleeve. 8ess than a minute later he reached the end of the dirt trac". (nother car, coming towards him through the dar"ness, flashed its headlights and bra"ed, allowing Sean to pull out of the side$turning bac" onto the road.
Only when he had done so and the other vehicle had turned left up the dirt trac" did Sean thin" twice about the number

plate. ,wisting round in his seat he saw the car slow to a halt at the top of the drive. 0e watched 2onny Mulligan *ump out. 't was dar", but some profiles were unmista"able. :articularly when they involved dreadloc"s. 7eali!ing there was nothing in the world he could do about it, Sean drove on. Cleo, in the bac" of the limousine, wondered if she was going to faint. ' thought you were (nton ?isa. ,han"s a lot. ' m sorry, ' m confused. She shoo" her head, struggling to come to grips with the situation. .ou ve *ust bid seven thousand pounds for an evening out with me. ' don t understand this at all. .ou don t even li(e me@ 2on t be stupid, said &oel. Of course ' li"e you. #or your information, you don t bid seven thousand pounds for an evening out with someone you don t li"e. 0e too" a deep breath. 'n fact, you generally have to be completely cra!y about them . . . madly in love with them . . . totally desperate even . . Cleo burst into tears. She couldn t believe she was hearing this. /ut you can t afford seven thousand pounds. (nd you didn t eed to bid for me, she wailed messily, because ' would have gone out with you for nothing1 (ll you had to do was as", dammit, and ' would have paid you! 2eeply relieved 5 it had, after all, been a nerve$rac"ing gamble that might not have paid off 5 &oel handed her a clean hand"erchief.

.ou don t get it, do you) he told Cleo affectionately. 2on t you see) 't was my turn to spend more money than anyone else. ' needed to do it, *ust this once, to prove ' could compete. Cleo was now crying and laughing at the same time. /$but seven thousand pou ds? .es, well. &oel put his arms around her, his smile dry. ,he amount had come as a bit of a shoc" to him too. Maybe ' didn t allow for your mate 2ino getting %uite so carried away. 2ino s an impulsive fool, Cleo confided. She loo"ed indulgent. Who "new, this time it might even last. 0e s in love. 'n love) Couldn t be li"e it myself. &oel "issed her. ,hen he "issed her again, because Cleo might be bossy, impulsive and an incurable meddler in other people s lives but she was also totally, hopelessly addictive. .ou d better be. ,o prove *ust how bossy, Cleo punched him lightly on the arm. 6nough to marry me, at least. &oel raised his eyebrows in despair. .ou had to be the one to as"1 'sn t that supposed to be my line) .ou might have forgotten to say it. Cleo wasn t *o"ing. More than anyt hing else in the world she wanted to marry &oel +rant. She d had enough of chec"ing out other people s relationships. 't was high time she concentrated on her own. (re you sure , &oel said carefully, you want to settle down with a used$car salesman) Oh, but an honest one1 (nd honourable. Wonderfully handsome, too . . . .es yes, of course ' m sure1 Cleo, way ahead of him, was already thin"ing of names for their children. She d always adored 2eclan.

,hen again, she decided hastily, perhaps not. 7ight. ,hat s it then. &oel leaned bac" against the seat, marvelling that his spur$of$the$moment decision 5 his impulse buy 5 had actually wor"ed. We ll get married. Outside, someone "noc"ed on the car s blac"ed$out window. &oel pressed the switch and the glass slid noiselessly down. (h, there you are, said &ac". 6verything OK) &ust thought ' d better chec" you were all right. ' m fine. Cleo s megawatt smile beamed out of the dar"ness. 4ever better. 4ot you, stupid. 0er father gave her a long$suffering loo". .ou re always all right. ' meant &oel.

:erfect ,iming

&ill Mansell

:oppy

2unbar is out on her hen night when she meets ,om Kennedy. With his dar" eyes and %uir"y smile, he could lure any girl off the straight and narrow, but what really draws :oppy to him is the feeling that she s "nown him all her life. She can t go through with the meeting they arrange @ but she can t go through with her wedding either. Suddenly notorious as ,he +irl Who &ilted 7ob Mc/ride , :oppy moves to 8ondon. Soon she s installed in the bohemian household of Caspar #rench, a ravishingly good$loo"ing young artist with a reputation for brea"ing hearts. /ut even in her colourful new home, :oppy can t get ,om off her mind. <ntil she s trac"ed him down, she ll never "now if their meeting was destiny @ or if the future holds something entirely different for her .. . :raise for &ill Mansell; #abulous fun . . . to read it is to devour it 3ompa y ( riotous romp 2rime # <au ty summer read 2aily Mail Se4y a d mischievous ,oday

5rothy fu /ella > TDTE KDDD P

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