Authors: Evelyn Anthony
âI'll try,' Elizabeth said. âEven if James can't get away, I'm sure I can â¦ Bye, Mum, and thanks for a super lunch.'
âGood luck with the Lord Chancellor thing,' Jill said. âI must say it would be such fun if you got it. I can make everyone at home livid boasting about how my daughter's doing up the Palace of Westminster â¦ they won't know the difference.' She saw Elizabeth's face and said seriously, âIt means a lot to you, doesn't it? I wasn't being funny, darling â¦ I really do hope you get the commission.'
âYes,' Elizabeth answered. âI wouldn't admit it to anyone else but it does mean a lot to me. Since I don't seem able to have children I'd like to succeed at something!'
Her mother turned to look at her. âDon't be ridiculous, Liz. If you stop worrying you'll have a houseful of bloody children in the end and wish you'd never started! Let me know if you can come down for Pop's birthday. Bye â¦'
When Elizabeth got home she found a message on the ansaphone. It was from James. âDarling. Cancel everything tonight. We're going to Annabel's. I've got great news. We're going to celebrate, just the two of us â¦ See you around seven-thirty.'
Cancel everything. Dinner and bridge with friends. What could she say to excuse them? And what great news? He'd seemed breathless with excitement, whatever it was â¦ a new job â¦ he'd been so keyed up about the Board meeting, and she remembered that remark about Arthur on the way out â¦ new blood, he'd said, half joking in self-defence, mine â¦
It couldn't be
. No, Elizabeth dismissed the idea. But something very prestigious and important. She looked up the address book, found their friends' number, and, hating to lie on principle, decided to tell the truth. âI'm so sorry, Pam, we can't come tonight â¦ No, I've just got a message from Jamie. He's asked me to call you and say can we have a rain check â¦ Something mega's come up in the business and he's planning a wild celebration. Just the two of us.' Yes, she agreed, it was rather romantic. Pam said her man would have taken himself off to Boodles and got drunk with his mates â¦ Next week, maybe, they mustn't miss out on their bridge. They had to win their money back after the last time.
Elizabeth went up and had a bath, looked out the dress he liked best â a black silk jersey sheath, very short and cut low at the back. He said it made her look madly sexy. She had beautiful smooth skin, pale as a lily in winter, and tanning to a deep golden brown in the sun.
There was some colour left after their summer holiday in Portugal. She wore no jewellery except the mammoth diamond, and some extravagant fake paste earrings that danced and jangled in her blond hair. Gardenia scent, high-heeled black ankle-strap shoes, bare legs shown off by the wickedly brief skirt, and she was ready. He kissed her hard, smearing the pale lipstick, eager and possessive. âYou look gorgeous,' he said. âI've been watching you, didn't you realize?'
âNo,' she held him off, laughing, sharing his urgent desire, knowing that unless they broke away they'd end on the bed and never see Annabel's. âWe're going out,' she whispered. âRemember â¦'
He took a deep breath. He let her go. âI haven't told you,' he said. âHeyderman offered me the plum job this afternoon. If I make it work, the sky's the limit for me. Reece said it in so many words. I want to tell you all about it. I didn't want to share tonight with anyone else. Just us, darling. I've messed up your lipstick â¦ kiss me again, then put some more on and we'll go.'
It was a long, deep kiss. âWe'll make love,' he whispered to her. âWe'll make love all night when we get home. You wait â¦'
He had left when Elizabeth woke the next morning. She lay in a contented haze, remembering the wonderful night they had spent together.
First, dinner at Annabel's, with too much champagne, holding hands and whispering like two new lovers instead of old marrieds with five years' distance run. Then dancing with him, feeling the rhythm change to a slow sensual courtship, holding each other, oblivious to their surroundings. It was as if they'd turned back time, to the first evening they met. Another nightclub, Tramps this time; she was one of a noisy party of young men and their girls, her brother Nick was with them, and the girl everyone expected him to marry; she danced like a wild thing, leaving her partner to fend for himself, swept up in the thrilling beat of the music.
When she went back to the table, laughing and breathless, James was sitting there. He had been watching her, ignoring his own date, just watching the lovely blonde letting rip on the dance floor. He had told her about it afterwards. He knew one of their party and deliberately crashed their table to meet her. He had known from that first sight, that she was the one he wanted. He had reminded her of it as they danced.
âYou were the sexiest thing,' he murmured. âI was out of control just watching you â¦ I am now,' and he'd pulled her even tighter against him.
They came back soon after midnight, and he had kept his promise. There wasn't much sleep, only interludes before they came to each other again. Before they fell asleep in each other's arms, Elizabeth had drifted on the thought that surely, surely, they had made a baby â¦
That morning she got up, bathed, examined herself in the bathroom mirror, as if some miraculous change had already taken place. None had, of course. She had a fine, slender body. She placed both hands on the flat stomach. She wanted to be pregnant so much that it was a physical ache. It had seemed so easy when they abandoned contraception. Two years to get adjusted, have fun, find the right house. It was all planned and ready, but nothing happened. Nothing in the last three years but endless monthly disappointments. There was no medical reason. She was healthy, James was fertile. He had undergone the test just to set her mind at rest. He was so understanding, so patient with her. He had insisted, and she recognized the wisdom of it, that they didn't make love just by the calendar. That mustn't lose its spontaneity. He loved her because he wanted to; a child would come, or not. He didn't mind. But Elizabeth knew that he did, and that made her more anxious. He might deny it, laugh it off, but he'd planned the top floor as a nursery when they bought the house. She hadn't forgotten that.
It was easy for her mother to counsel patience. Her maternal longings had been quickly satisfied. And they had transferred to the breeding of her much-loved spaniels. Elizabeth was empty; she had never experienced the feeling in that way to anyone, but she said it to herself that morning. So much in love with her husband, everything going for both of them, but empty, unfulfilled. âOh please,' she said it aloud. âPlease make it happen this time â¦' She found herself blinking back tears. It wasn't a prayer. She hadn't been to church for years, not even when she went home to Somerset.
She didn't think you could deny something, and then ask it to help when it suited you. She made a resolution not to think about it. Not to worry, not to look for early signs. Not to hope. They were moving to Paris before the end of the month. There were a million things to be organized. She had an efficient team in her small shop in Walton Street; there were no major jobs in hand at the moment, she had deliberately turned down two smaller commissions, for a house in Kensington and a flat in South Molton Street, in case, just in case, the miracle happened and her scheme and competitive quotes were accepted by the Lord Chancellor. It would be a miracle, Elizabeth insisted. She and James had talked about it briefly the night before; she was touched that in his own exuberance he hadn't forgotten that she too had a career to run. She had been too warm with champagne and desire to do more than say it could tick over for the next couple of months while she was away. After all, if something came up urgently, she could always fly over for the day â¦ even the job at Westminster, she had said blithely, knowing it wasn't true, and at that moment she hadn't cared. James meant everything to her. Loving him, wanting him more than ever.
A million things to do. The house to close up. Packing, ringing her friends, going to Walton Street to sort out any details on the current job which was so nearly finished it could run to the end without her supervision â¦ Letting her father and mother know. Oh God, she thought, Pop's birthday â¦ I hope I don't have to miss that â¦ no, three weeks away, it was just all right.
James would have to go over to Paris for a few days before they made the final move. She'd be able to get down to Somerset and see her father. Better ring and tell them the news first. No, better not. They hated upheavals. Her mother once told her that after her brother Nick's death, her father wouldn't answer the telephone for weeks â¦
She bathed and dressed, her mind full of plans. The letter was in the morning post when she went downstairs. She saw the official seal on the envelope and tore it open.
She read it and the colour ran up into her face. The miracle had happened. Her scheme and quotes had been accepted in preference to the top names in London interior design. She took the letter into the kitchen and sat down to read it over again.
A commission that would establish her among the top rank of the profession. Exciting, demanding, time consuming. Months of work, preparation, constant supervision on a day-to-day basis, with a tight schedule for completion.
She put the letter down and tried to think clearly what the choices were. Her own dismissal came back to her, whispered to James in the intimacy of the night-club.
âEven if I did get it, darling, I could cope. It's only two hours door to door from Paris to London. If it happened, which it won't â¦ come on, I love this music, let's dance â¦' She couldn't accept the job
go to Paris with him. It was a straight choice. As a professional she couldn't compromise and hope to fulfil the contract properly. At that moment the telephone rang. It made her jump.
She picked it up and heard James's voice. âLiz? How's my girl?'
They'd been so close, so radiantly together last night. They'd only been apart for a few hours and he was ringing her â¦ âI'm fine,' she said. âHow's my superman?'
He laughed. âBushed! What a night, my darling. I just wanted to say thank you and tell you how much I love you â¦' She felt the sting of tears in her eyes.
âI love you too,' she said. The choice was made. âI had a letter this morning. I didn't get the Westminster job. So I'm really looking forward to going to Paris.'
âOh, sweetheart, I'm sorry. Don't be too disappointed, will you?'
âI won't have time, I'm going to be so busy.'
âI wish I could take you out to lunch but I'm flat to the boards What are you going to do today?'
âStart making lists, see what we need to take with us, stuff like that. We can have a quiet evening tonight, darling. I'm bushed too.'
âWell,' he drew the word out. âWell â¦ you might drop by Cartier sometime this afternoon. I've ordered a little something for you. No, darling, I'm not going to tell you what it is. But it'll cheer you up, I promise. I just wanted to give you a surprise. So go along and get it. Bye, sweetheart â¦'
Elizabeth put the phone down and picked up the letter. There hadn't really been a conflict. She had learned her priorities from her own family. Her husband and her marriage would always come first with her. And she had the comfort of knowing that she had, in fact, succeeded. James wouldn't see it like that. Business success meant so much to him. That was why she had lied â¦ it was her decision, her choice. She didn't want him feeling guilty because of what she'd missed.
âI think James should go to Paris and make contact with Karakov.'
Julius Heyderman had opened the Board meeting with that sentence. He was met by a shocked silence, and then Kruger burst out, âHastings? Why him? He hasn't the experience, or the weight, to talk to someone like Karakov. No offence,' he added, turning towards James, âbut it'll look as if you're sending the office boy!'
Arthur Harris winced. Kruger was making it worse; you could try persuading Heyderman, and he might listen. Bluster or question his judgement like that, and he'd see you in hell first.
âDavid is the best choice; he's a diamond man, Karakov knows him â¦ Even me, if you follow it through. We've been on the Board for years. We're serious players. I say again, no offence to you, James, but you're too young and too newâ'
âWhich is why I'm sending him,' Heyderman cut in. âKarakov won't listen to David, and certainly not to you, Dick. We heard this morning how he feels about the London office â¦ that certainly includes you. Hastings is young, he's new and Karakov will drop his guard, because of those factors. He'll think you're easy meat, James,' he spoke to him directly. âAnd you'll let him think so. Let him think he's in control. He's such a vain bastard he'll believe it. Anyway, gentlemen, if Hastings is prepared to take it on, then I say he joins the Paris office on a three-month secondment. Longer, if necessary. Arthur? You support me in this?'
It was a command, not a question.
âOnly if I register my reservations,' his brother-in-law said. âYes, conditionally I support you, but I draw the line at more than three months. You said yourself that time was of the essence to stop this agreement with the Russians.'
Julius looked at him with dislike. âIf Andrews doesn't cock it up again, Hastings won't need three months,' he snapped. âAgreed?'
Nobody dissented. Kruger had shot his bolt.
âGood.' Almost as an afterthought he turned to James. âYou happy about this? Feel you can make a success of it?'
The bright blue eyes were fixed on him, shrewd and probing. He hadn't flinched.
This was his chance, his golden moment. He took it as he'd taken every opportunity on offer to rise up in the world.