Authors: Sue Moorcroft
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction
Judith winked at Hayley and Nigel. 'It's his son's wedding, tomorrow. Sounds like a few nerves are creeping in.'
Adam was quiet on the drive home, twin lines engraved between his eyes and his expression troubled. After trying unsuccessfully to make him smile, Judith touched his arm. She knew that Matthias's wedding had preoccupied him recently, but his flare up today had been uncharacteristic. 'You're not wound up about shooting Matthias's wedding, are you?'
He flexed his fingers on the steering wheel and sighed. She had to wait until he'd negotiated the next swarming roundabout for his morose reply.
'No. I'm wound up about seeing Shelley.'
Shelley Leblond was a striking woman. Her hair was pale peach and she got away with clothes that were too young because she was tiny and glamorous. Surely most women of her age wouldn't choose an outfit in grass green and daffodil yellow? And, if they did, they wouldn't look so damned good in it?
She had a big laugh and a great smile, and posed between her tall, attractive sons with proprietorial pride, talking easily to Adam while his whirring camera captured the moment. Matthias, of course, took stunningly to the stark formality of morning suit, and must have filled both parents with pride.
A cheerful Caleb, ponytail down his back, hands in his pockets, looked as if he were wearing the outfit for a bet.
Shelley's boyfriend, apparently, had elected not to attend the wedding after all. She joked, 'I'd just never be able to spare him any attention! I have to keep an eye on the wedding photographer.' Then, 'Adam, you've got to be
some of these photos! Get the shot set up and then come and look gorgeous! I'm sure your assistant can push the button.' Adam suffered two such shots, one with Matthias and Caleb and one with Matthias and Davina, Shelley's hand tucked lightly through his arm throughout.
But, as Adam moved to disengage, her hand tightened. 'Adam and I, please,' she called to Judith. 'Take two or three.' And Judith let a few shots run while Shelley tossed her hair and smiled up at a rock-like Adam.
But he was soon back behind the camera. 'Got an empty memory card, Jude?'
'I'll change it.' She took the camera off the tripod, then flipped open the camera and slid the empty card in place, stowing the full one safely in a wallet in a pocket of the case.
He lifted his voice. 'Matthias and Davina, please.' Then, to her again, 'We'll finish out here with the bride and groom by that towering weeping willow. I'll need some reflectors, or everyone'll be green and gloomy.' Absently, he fired off three candid shots of Caleb and Matthias laughing together, Matthias's hand at his new wife's waist. 'Can you manage the smaller case? Then we'll go indoors for the cake and speeches.'
Judith filled her arms with equipment and set off awkwardly across the grass. But when she reached the willow, she discovered that she was alone. Shelley, she saw, had intercepted Adam and was laughing up into his eyes. He was stooping slightly to listen to her, hand in pocket.
She looked petite and very feminine, making Adam appear as if he were looming over her protectively.
Judith made a return journey for the large case and the tripod, cursing herself for dressing foolishly for this wedding. Her newly purchased dress, spangled with meadow flowers, was pretty, but suitably elegant heels were hell on the ankles over the winter-softened lawns. And she wasn't warm enough. She missed her jeans and boots, and especially her coat.
'It would've been better if I'd worn a suit and flat shoes,' she grumbled, when Adam finally joined her. 'Whenever I bend over, I have to hoist up my neckline.'
The corner of his mouth twitched as he assessed the sky and then the willow. 'Don't hoist on my account.'
There's nothing so turgid as a wedding reception, for the lone guest.
For what seemed like hours, Judith watched Matthias and Divine Davina on the dance floor rotating slowly in one another's arms, Davina a vision in heavy satin and cobwebs of lace. The palest pink of the satin made her look like an angel at daybreak, and Matthias, tall and handsome, his silver cravat still neatly tied, gazed at her adoringly. Neither danced with others. The dance floor heaved around them and children circled in endless games of chase.
To occupy herself, she tried to establish who was who among the family. Adam's mother was easy enough, Judith heard both Matthias and Caleb call her Grandma, and Adam call her Mother. She was stooped, and leant on a stick as if afraid she'd tip over without it. Two tall, rangy men just had to be Adam's brothers, Terence and Guy, even if she hadn't heard them also call the stooped woman Mother. They each had family with them. A woman with improbably platinum curls seemed to be Mother's sister, someone with too much time to consider other people's business and express her opinion on how they ought to conduct it.
Yawning, Judith lost interest.
God, she was bored.
This endless evening was giving her far too much time to brood about Alexia's letter, now tucked into the drawer of her dressing table. As Adam pointed out, she was none too keen on being in the wrong, and it was beginning to seem to her more and more that that was where she in fact was. Sending the crucifix back to Alexia was a simple enough remedy. But how did she know that Alexia was the one who was entitled to it?
She made an effort to unknot her mind from this problem, and gazed about the room festive with shiny silver and blue balloons and great displays of sea holly and tortured hazel.
Adam seemed to have been commandeered by Shelley for hostly duties, which could be viewed as reasonable, Matthias being just as much his son as hers. And Judith was trying not to blame Shelley for acting as if Adam still belonged to her, particularly as Judith had no claim to him. But it did rankle when Adam had particularly asked Judith to stay for the reception so that he wouldn't be Adam-no-date. She smothered another yawn.
Leaving aside the bride and groom, Caleb was the only other guest she really knew and he was part of a scuffling crowd in the corner, jacket off, shirt ballooning from his trousers as he participated in gusts of laughter and tipped pints of Diesel down his throat. Briefly, she considered joining the mob around him, but, as she'd be roughly twice the age of anyone else in the group, discarded the idea.
Would it have been worse, or better, if she'd accepted Adam's invitation to join him at the top table? She'd waved the idea away and insisted that she'd be fine for the duration of the dinner. Then they'd have the final atmospheric shots to take during the speeches, and after that the formality would go out of the seating arrangements, anyway.
But that hadn't quite worked out. Because Shelley had sprung to her feet almost as the final flash popped, beckoning to Adam and the parents of Davina, leaving Judith to pack away the camera equipment. By the time she had, in several trips, lugged everything to the car of an obliging cousin that Adam had put in charge of delivering it to his flat, events had slipped so far behind schedule that the evening reception was in full flood and Adam was involved in greeting the new guests.
Judith should have hopped into a taxi then. In any event, she decided, with a final yawn, she was going to do so now.
Skirting the dance floor and threading through the press of bodies she escaped The Magnolia Room, the glittering pride of Brinham's only country club. In the privacy of the Ladies' Cloakroom she was able to switch on her phone and dial a cab. A minute later the lining of her jacket was settling over her shoulders and she was ready for a discreet escape.
But, outside the cloakroom, she found Adam lurking, obviously waiting for her. He frowned. 'You're leaving?'
She wondered whether she should feel guilty that she'd intended to melt away without telling him. 'I've just rung for a car.'
He cast a hunted look towards The Magnolia Room. 'I've talked to almost every guest at this bloody do except you, the one I actually want to speak to. And you're
guest. I'm never normally guilty of such atrocious behaviour. Are you totally fed-up with me?'
She smiled, but said, firmly, 'Totally. Next time you need a date for the sake of appearances, ask Mum.'
'One dance?' he wheedled.
'Don't think so.'
Disconsolately, he fell into step with her, sleeve brushing hers as she crossed the softly carpeted foyer to the big double doors where she'd arranged to await the taxi. 'I'm so sorry! Every time I turned to look for you, Shelley found someone else she decided I just had to talk to. I don't suppose you'd change your mind, and stay?'
She managed not to shudder. 'I don't think so, Adam. You go back and do your father-of-the-groom bit, Matthias will wonder where you've gone.' She was pretty certain that the moment Shelley saw her with Adam, she'd find Adam a positive shoal of people who needed his attention.
Adam hunched into his jacket as the doorman opened the door and let them out into a frigid evening. 'Shouldn't think so. He's about to slip off to the bridal suite with a bottle of champagne in one hand and Davina in the other. Do I really have to stay here on my own?'
A car turned in between the stone gateposts and up the drive, its tyres crackling over the gravel. 'Here's the taxi,' Judith pointed out unnecessarily, stepping forward to meet it.
The taxi deposited them outside Judith's house in Lavender Row, and drew quietly away into a clinging grey mist. 'I'm sure you should've stayed.' Judith, teeth chattering, tried to open her door, which seemed to swell a little more with every wet winter day that passed. For several moments she thought longingly of a hot, dusty country where freezing, dank evenings like this were unknown.
'For whose benefit?' Hands in his pockets, he turned up his collar against the damp as he fidgeted on the step below her. 'Matthias and his divine wife will by now be tucked away in the honeymoon suite. Caleb is in his favourite spot, the middle of a crowd, getting thoroughly and mortifyingly drunk. They don't need their old man at the moment.'
He paused. 'I hope she's enjoying the party.' He reached over Judith's shoulder and struck the door a swift blow from the heel of his hand. The door flew open.
Judith shuffled into the inky black hall, wishing that she was like Molly and always remember to leave on a light when she expected to return after dark. 'I think your presence was required for that.'
He sighed, stepping in close behind her as she wiggled the door key to free it from the lock. His voice was neutral. 'You noticed, did you?'
The key came free. 'Difficult not to.'
'She tells me it's time for us to talk about our future. See what can be salvaged, now we've both had time to think.'
Oh. Judith concentrated hard on not letting her heart sink. She wanted Adam to be happy, didn't she? It was selfish of her to let her mind to fly to the conclusion that Adam would have no time to be her friend if he returned to being Shelley's husband.
Shelley had hurt him.
But now she was going to make it better.
So that was good. Good. He deserved to be happy. She turned in the narrow confines of the hall to give him a beaming smile, and a brief kiss on the cheek to go with her enthusiastic, 'What a surprise! Congratulations! I hope it works out for the best.'
He touched his cheek, lounging against the wall as she searched for the light switch. 'Oh come on, Jude, we both know there's not going to be any salvage,' he chided, softly. 'She scuttled the ship, and it sank too deep. I think the boyfriend she's been toying with has moved on to pastures new, making her temporarily insecure. I'm just an old habit she's tempted to take up again, for comfort. You know how hard it can be to break habits like that.' Stopping abruptly in the act of closing the door, he hesitated, swearing under his breath, then swung it open again with an exaggerated air of resignation so that Judith could see the large man slamming his way out of the pick-up truck slewed to a halt half on the opposite pavement. 'Right on cue! Here's
Alarmed, Judith peered past him. Chest out and fists clenched, her ex-husband was barrelling across the road. '
, there you are! I'm going to part your bloody head from your shoulders, girl!'
'I suppose I ought to offer to give you privacy,' Adam murmured, removing his hands from his pockets. 'But I can't leave you alone with a man with murder written so clearly on his face.'
Judith felt her lips turn numb. It wasn't that she was scared of Tom. But he could be very... scary. 'He's angry.'
Tom arrived with a clumsy jump up the two steps to the front door. '
!' he swore, slamming his two powerful fists against the doorframe. 'I can't believe what you've done! I thought even you would behave better than this!'
'Tom, you'd better come in and - '
Tom shook with fury. His voice dropped to a malevolent hiss as he talked rudely over Judith's attempt at diplomacy. 'This evening I've been harangued and insulted by that Sutherland bloke, trying to find Kieran! After blood, he is! Because my son Kieran who
got the man's young daughter pregnant, a girl who subsequently suffered a stillbirth,
has now run off with her!' He struggled for control. 'And you
! You knew, just like you knew about my grandchild, and you didn't tell me!'