Abigail’s Party – Part 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 24th June

9 pm CET

Chateau de Ros

 

"Alright dear friends," Valeria shushed the crowd. "Can I beg everyone to clear the floor so that Guy might be able to dance a solo waltz with our granddaughter."

 

The floor cleared as Guy bowed and offered his hand to Abigail, waiting as she curtseyed before they walked onto the dance floor.  As the band started to play, he took Abby in his arms, the party clapping and cheering as they started to dance round.

 

“Are you enjoying your party, Abigail,” he asked as they danced round.

 

“Oh more than I can possibly say, Grandpapa,” Abby said, “to have all my friends and family here makes it so special.”

 

“Well, I have another secret for you,” Guy said as he leaned over and whispered into his granddaughter’s ear.

 

“You are serious?”

 

“I am – Abigail will ride in the Arc d’ Triomphe this year…”

 

 

“Agnes – you look amazing tonight,” Francesca said as she joined her to watch the dance.

 

“Thank you – I am going to treasure this weekend in my heart when life returns to normal.”

 

“Come Agnes – why should things go back to the way they were?”

 

“Francesca people might have been laughing at you,” Agnes said quietly, “but at least you were always allowed in the door…  It’s been twenty years since I was allowed into something like this, and it might well be another twenty before most of them see me again when MAYBE most of them come to my funeral.”

 

“You really think all these friends will desert you again Agnes?”

 

“Who knows?” Agnes shrugged, “but I know just what social pressure can do…I won’t be holding my breath.”

 

“Meaning just what Agnes?”

 

“Meaning Francesca that most events, and most people, will still have their doors closed towards me.”

 

“Well mine won’t be…”

 

“Thank you,” Agnes smiled, “but you really never have to worry about what people say in London. First you are Italian, and secondly you are rich enough that you can afford to flout convention.”

 

“Agnes, there will be at least one major event you will be welcomed at,” Charlotte looked at the older woman’s eyes. “You are invited to my wedding.”

 

“Thank you Charlotte,” Aggie smiled again, “but if I was you I’d wait until you see what the fallout is from my little appearance here before you go issuing invites to me.”

 

“Is she putting herself down again?” Tamsin asked as she delivered a drink to her sister.

 

“She was Tamsin,” Francesca shook her head. “And I thought I had cornered the market in self loathing and hatred till I met Agnes.”

 

“Francesca the difference is that you’ve lived a lie in the service of your country, I lived the reality of being an outcast.”

 

“How many of these have you had Aggie?” Tam asked her sister in a concerned manner.

 

“Not enough to tell Catherine just what I think of her yet, but enough to remind my brain who I actually am.”

 

“Darling I think its soft drinks only for you now,” Tam whispered.

 

“Why?” Agnes looked defiantly at her sister.

 

“Because you are already drunk darling, and I know that inside you don’t want to do anything to spoil Abigail’s party…Do you?”

 

“No,” Agnes shook her head, “she’s a lovely young lady, and her family have been more than kind.”

 

“Then I will see you in Naples in a few weeks,” Charlotte said with a smile, “I insist.”

 

“Come – walk with me,” Francesca said as she took Agnes by the arm, Charlotte walking with them as Shirley came ovder.

 

“She really ought to move home you know,” Tamsin shook her head.

 

“What do you mean move home Tam?”  Shirley asked, “I thought Ardray Castle was a ruin, and while I agree she needs to leave Paddington...”

 

“It is, but there remains our old flat on the Bayswater Road.”

 

“I thought from the way Agnes talks that it had long since gone.”

 

“Oh she doesn’t own it anymore, she gave it to me before…well before the fiasco, so I’d have a home once she moved in with Donald.”

 

“And you still own it Tam?”

 

“I do, but I very rarely if ever use it as I’m so little in London.”

 

“Have you offered it to her?”

 

“No…I’m waiting for a moment when I can talk sense to her.”

 

“You know she will not accept your charity Tam.”

 

“She could rent it from me though at a very low price Shirley.”

 

“She’ll still see it as charity.”

 

“What am I going to do then, just let her go back to that hovel in Paddington?”

 

“No she cannot go back there,” Shirley paused, “let me think on it before you say anything…please.”

 

“Alright,” Tamsin shook her head, “If she’d accept it, and not sell it, I’d give it back to her this second.”

 

“There may be a way to manage it – if we handle it in the right way…”

 

 

"Penny my love you look out of sorts?" Helen looked concerned as she handed her girlfriend a drink.

"I guess I am," Penny shook her head, "not only am I having to give support to Agnes, but to Sue as well."

"Ah I see."

"And it all means I haven't had the quality time I wish to have with you darling."

"Well we both serve others, so sometimes our duties come before our personal pleasures," Helen smiled as she kissed her girlfriend.

"Well I saw you talking to Marina earlier."

"I was, but compared to your problems, hers were very minor."

"Oh?"

"Yes she was worrying about scheduling herself for work in several different time zones, I reassured her that she was more than capable."


"I agree with you on that darling."

"So returning to your cares,” Helen said quietly, “what is going on?"

"Well," Penny paused, "Sue is trying to show that she doesn't still love Colin."

"But she called him names?"

"Yes, but it doesn't mean that she doesn't still love him."

"I'm glad I never learned to play such female games," Helen shook her head, "and Agnes's problem is...?"

"What does she do next?"

 

“Well, I suspect the latter is the easier to solve – but Susan…  I saw them dance earlier, and the passion was clear…”

 

 

 

 

“Susan.”

 

As she turned round to see Colin standing there, Susan curled her lip and said “what do you want now?”

 

“A word – outside,” Colin said as to her surprise he grabbed her arm and walked her out into the garden, Kay watching and not reacting for a second before she went to find Penny.

 

“What the hell do you think you’re playing at,” Susan said as he walked her out into the courtyard.  “You have absolutely no bloody right to…”

 

“No – no I don’t,” Colin said, “but you have no right to treat me as if I’m your plaything to toy with as you wish Susan.  We were married after all.”

 

“Until you discovered my past, and then dropped me in the most disgusting and horrible way – you’re weren’t a man, Colin,” Susan raised her voice, “you were a mouse.”

 

“Yes I was – and I know that, and I want to apologise for that, but you won’t give me a bloody chance to!  Is it conceivable to you that, just as I had you wrong, you may have had me wrong as well?”

 

“Not a fucking chance.”

 

“Look,” Colin shouted, “I was a weak willed coward who only thought of himself and his reputation – is that what you wanted to hear?”

 

“It’s a start – but when you left me in the rain, alone, you destroyed everything I had or was.”

 

“I KNOW!  I KILLED OUR CHILD!!!”

 

Susan stared at Colin, and whispered “yes you did – I could have coped with just about everything else you did, but that…  that…”

 

“Go on – say it.”

 

“Yes, you killed our fucking child Colin, and you killed any hope I ever had for love in this stupid shithole of a world.”

 

“You’ve had years to deal with that,” Colin said quietly, “I’ve had a few hours.  So forgive me if I say you were at fault as well – if only you’d told me.”

 

“Oh no you don’t you bastard – don’t you dare turn this and try to make it my fault…”

 

“I loved you Susan – I loved you so much I was so angry when I found out, I did one of the most stupid things I have ever done in my life.”

 

“Not going to disagree with that,” Susan snapped back as Penny and Kay came through the windows.  “You shit for brains, did you even stop for one fucking second and think of me?”

 

“No – and you hate me for that, don’t you?”

 

“YES I DO!!!”

 

“I bet you want to kill me for it.”

 

“Don’t say words like that when you may regret the outcome,” Susan whispered quietly.

 

“Well – do you?  If so, go on – take your best shot.”

 

He looked at Susan, the anger clear in her eyes as she walked up to him, and slapped him across the cheek.

 

“Better?”

 

Susan just kept staring at him before she drew her hand back again – but as she went to slap him, he caught her wrist and stared into her eyes, before he pulled her closer and kissed her.  Susan’s eyes shot open, and then slowly closed as she returned the kiss, putting her arms round his neck.

 

“What…  What just happened,” she said as they finally broke contact.

 

“I apologised – thank you for accepting it.  Can we talk now?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"So where were you going to go to university Tamsin?" Sigi asked as they watched the dancers.

"Well I won a place at Queen Mary & Westfield College."

"Part of the University of London at Mile End in the East End?"

"Yes," Tamsin smiled, “but I'd fled London before I found out my A Levels had got me accepted."

"So where did you actually go to University then?"

"Trinity College Dublin, I read history, and it was there I met Christopher my husband, we married when I got pregnant just before our final year."

"Sounds familiar," Sigi grinned, "I only married Dieter after he knocked me up."

"Oh dear..."

"Oh I'm not the only one. Will only made Mandy an honest woman when she got pregnant."

"I just about remember that. Paula and Stephen did the same thing."

"True." Sigi grinned again.  “So we are alike in that.”

 

“Sigi, may I ask a question?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“When you agreed to take on Francesca as a partner, did you have any doubts?”

 

“No – I always knew there was more to the Marchesa di Cambrello than the public image.  Why do you ask?”

 

“Aggie – we have to find a way to establish she is much more than the image she projects.”

 

Nodding, Sigi said “I agree – but how?”

 

"Thank you darling," Agnes said as she came over and hugged her sister.

"For what?" 

"For being such a special woman."

"Well you are yourself Aggie,” Tamsin said with a smile, “haven't you looked in a mirror today?"

'"Be that as it may, I love having you back in my life Tippy Toes...Thank You."

"Well I was stupid in the first place to cut you out like that."

"I embarrassed you..."

"I should still have listened to your side of the story...And so should Donald."

"Maybe, but then he would have not been who he is now...such an accomplished representative of our country."

"Oh I think he still would have been that Aggie,” Tamsin said, “the difference would be having a woman he loves by his side."

"Well we cannot concern ourselves with what might have been Tam, Reality has to be dealt with.”

"All your true friends want to help you to reshape your reality you know?"

"I know darling, especially you, the welcome ceremony was amazing, but I also love that you care enough to tell me when I'm drunk. I was going to make a fool of myself...Sorry."

 

“Okay,” Tamsin said quietly, “I’ll say this once – you have nothing, nothing to be sorry about Aggie.  The past is the past – time to start to put it behind you with the help of your friends.”

 

“Want to tell some people that,” Aggie said as Paula came over.

 

“Yes we do, old friend,” Paula said, “yes we do…”

 

 

 

"Remembering old dreams brother," Will said as he stood next to Donald, both of them watching Aggie suddenly laugh at something Paula said.

"Would it sound awful if I said yes Will?"

"Not to me Donnie," Will said as he took a drink.

"I see her there and she looks almost as she did all those years ago, and I feel a lot of both shame and regret."

"Probably nowhere near what she feels though."

"I don't know Will," Donald shook his head as his brother looked at her.

"You still love her don't you bro?"

Smiling, Donald said "Is it that obvious?"

"Oh yes...especially to her," Will nodded towards Catherine as she stood talking with a couple of French ladies.

"I know...I do know."

"If I said I think you should divorce her Donnie...?"

"I'd agree...but she would make such a fuss, it would cost me the ambassadorship..."

"And hurt Aggie by having all that muck raked over again," Will interrupted.

"Exactly."

"Did you try talking with Aggie?"

"I did."

"And..."

"She told me to stick with Catherine...To do nothing that would jeopardise my career...That her only remaining dreams are that I go where she always dreamed where we would go together."

"Well,” Will said, “and your thoughts are on that Donnie?"

"That I don't want to hurt her any more Will, but also I just so badly want her back in my life."

"You can always ask her just to sleep with you..."

"WILL!"

"It was just a suggestion," his brother said with a smile.

"You know very well I couldn't do that."

"Donnie you know all the risks, do you really think Agnes will ever do anything to hurt you?"

"No," Donald shook his head.

"Then you need to think deeply, dear brother,” Will said, “and if I can suggest look after your wife, and keep her and Agnes out of each other’s way...else the fireworks display might start earlier than planned."

 

 

 

 

Dave Clarke smiled as he looked over David’s shoulder.  “Make yourself scarce for a few minutes will you,” he said quietly, “I think I’m about to do something I have waited a long time for.”

 

Dave nodded as he went to find his girlfriend, while David saw Mary walk over with Richard.  “Enjoying yourself Poppit,” he said as he looked at them.

 

"Very much so… Pops this is Richard Mest...Richard this is Dave Clarke...my father." Mary smiled very shyly as she spoke.


"It's nice to meet you Sir," the Austrian extended his hand.

"Call me Dave please," he replied as they shook hands.

"Alright Dave it is."

"So Poppit - why did you bring Richard to meet me?"

"Because..." Mary started to blush.

"Because I asked if I might be able to take her out to dinner tomorrow night," Richard smiled as well, "and she said she would only answer me after I had met you."

"Mary,” Dave said as he looked at his daughter, “can you go check on the kids please while Richard and I have a quiet chat?"

"Of course Pop," Mary said as she walked away.

"Richard I know this is unusual," Dave said quietly as he indicated for him to sit down, "but at least for Mary this is a very unusual situation."

"I think I understand."

"Richard,” Dave said as he leaned forward, “do you know you are the very first person to ever ask my daughter out?"

"She told me earlier," he shook his head, "She is so beautiful it is a little hard to understand."

"Not if you know Mary it aint." Dave looked up as though he was searching hard for the right words to say.  "Richard, me and my family literally come from the wrong side of the tracks. Oakland Hills where we come from lays between Oakland and Berkeley on the East Bay...do you know the area?"

"I've been to San Francisco yes."

"Well,” Dave said, “most of the Hills is middle class, but the North Side on the far side of the railroad is an old fashioned working class neighborhood."

"And you come from the North Side Dave?"

"Yeah we do...Look did Mary tell ya about her Mom?"

"Only that she died when Mary was 14."

"Yeah she did...I have 7 kids Richard, already when my wife was alive Mary was workin' a part-time job to help ends meet. After her death Mary took on a second part-time job. On her sixteenth birthday Mary quit high school to go work in a hotel kitchen, from there she got a promotion to be a chamber maid."

"It sounds as if she's had a hard life Sir," Richard found himself looking downwards at his own feet.

"Yeah she's had it tough most of her life, and I said it was Dave," the American repeated. "Anyways a few months ago Missy Auerbach the model agent was looking at wannabe models in San Francisco, when she finished Mary went in to turn her bed down, and i guess you know the story from there?"

"I do."

"Well Mary's life aint just been financially tough, she's always been thin, she's always been tall, the other kids at school called her Stringbean."

"That was tough."

"Well it made Mary who she is today. The only time she even thought she was being asked out it turned out to be what other kids considered a huge joke."

"Ouch."

"Yeah summat like that,” Dave said with a little smile.  “Well, anyway - Mary always said any guy she actually wanted to go out with she'd introduce to me first so I could check out it wasn't another joke."

"Aha."

"Yeah Aha...  Richard you seem a nice young guy, and Mary clearly likes you...but as her father can I tell you that yeah please take her out, but for her sake be careful with her, Mary aint like other girls - treat her nice please."

"I will Dave...I promise," Richard nodded as they both saw Mary coming back.

"So the kids alright Mary?"

 

“They’re fine Pops – so?”

 

“I’ll make sure with David the kids are looked after tomorrow night – enjoy your evening,” he said as he stood up and kissed Mary on the cheek. 

 

 

 

 

“FINALLY!”

 

Trina looked over with Charly, Johanna and Samantha as they saw David take his daughter onto the dance floor.

 

“She asked her dad, didn’t she?”

 

“And he’s given the all clear,” Abby said as she joined them, “I should warn Richard about the bodyguards though.”

 

“What, David?”

 

“No – the sisters…”

 

 

 

 

 

"Aggie darling, why the misty eyes again?" Mandy asked as Donald started to dance with Catherine.

"Oh just a memory of a day long ago," Agnes dabbed her eye with a tissue.

"Darling its obvious you love him..."

"Yes."

"And that he still loves you."


"Probably."


"Then why not just..."

"Because it would ruin him Mandy,” Agnes said, “and I will not do that, I'll kill myself before I hurt him again."

"Darling,” Mandy said as she out her hand on Agnes’ shoulder, “why do you always say all the fault lay on your side?"

"Because I was the one who was a dominatrix Mandy."

"Yes but he was worse...he was a coward darling. He really should have come see you and let you explain."

"Wouldn't have made a lot of difference Mandy...His career would have been ruined if he had married me."

"Agnes why do you look so unhappy?" a tall black girl joined them.

"Hello Maisha," Mandy kissed the youngster. "You two know each other darlings?"

"Dr McAdam teaches me economics...she is my favourite of my tutors." Maisha looked proudly at Agnes, "I've learned so much from her."

"Well you are a quick study Maisha," Agnes blushed.

"Thank you...but as I was saying, why are you unhappy?"

"Oh because I've probably drunk more than I should Maisha, and I'm just in a maudlin mood I guess."

"You neither look or sound like yourself," Maisha shook her head, "though I must say your hair is a great improvement."

"Well said darling," Mandy sipped her champagne.

"So why are you upset Agnes?" Maisha tilted her head.

"One day maybe I'll explain Maisha..."

"Alright," Maisha looked dubious, "but if this is about losing people from your life, just remember what you told me about always thinking of my African family?"

 

Agnes looked at her in her dark blue evening dress, before she said “that one day the time will come, but for now you have to think of yourself?”

 

“Would you mind if I borrowed Agnes for a few minutes,” Maisha said as she took Agnes by the arm and walked her to a table where Nyala and Ama were sitting.  “Sisters, I would like to introduce you to one of my tutors, Doctor Agnes McAdam.  Agnes, this is Ama Jameson and Nyala Brown.”

 

“It is a great pleasure to meet you Dr McAdam,” Ama said as she shook her hand, “join us please.”

 

“The pleasure is mine,” Agnes said.  “So where do you know each other from?”

 

Ama and Nyala looked at Maisha, before she said “they are the same as me, Agnes – they all shared the same experience.”

 

Agnes looked at the girls, before she said “both of you?”

 

Nodding, Ama said “I was a slave for over three years, as was Nyala – we came to the United States at the same time, but were sold to different families.  We met again earlier this year when Maisha and I visited Los Angeles.”

 

“My god,” Agnes said quietly, “and you were all rescued at the same time?”

 

“Indeed,” Nyala said, “I was adopted by my parents in San Francisco, while Ama was adopted by her mom and Maisha came to live with Miss Xavier.”

 

“You see,” Maisha said quietly, “we have all had to move on from what happened to us – not to forget it, but to use it and grow from it.  Africa is in our blood, and will always be part of us, but we had to build new lives.”

 

Looking at the three young women, Agnes said “Will you ever go back?”

 

“I cannot say,” Ama said, “but I discovered last week my younger sister is alive and well, so I have that link as well.”

 

“In the meantime,” Nyala said, “we talk together, and do all we can to help those who need our help the most.  Much in the same way Maisha told us you try and help others in London.”

 

Nodding, Agnes said “perhaps I need to learn a lesson from you three, to allow myself to be happy?”

 

“I hope so,” Maisha said quietly, “I truly hope so.”

 

 

 

"Richard, if you dare be unkind to my sister, then I'll hurt you, and hurt you badly," Suzie Clarke said as she danced in the Austrian's arms, looking almost as glamorous as her sister in a very tight dark purple evening dress.

"You are about the sixth person to threaten me Suzie."

"Well that just shows you how many people love my sister...doesn't it?"

"Yes...and like I promised your father, no I will not hurt Mary."

"Good," Suzie smiled.  “So where are you taking her?”

 

“Diana has recommended a little restaurant in town…”

 

 

 

“All right, I believe it now,” Melinda said as she stood with Poppy, Jess and Erica. 

 

“Believe what,” Poppy said with a smile.

 

“This is not a fairy tale, I really am here, in a French Chateau, attending a birthday party and dancing alongside royalty, dukes, duchesses – and I’m loving every second of it.”

 

“Good,” Doc said as she joined them.  “Bugs, you are discovering what Bones and I also discovered – you have joined a very special group of friends, who look after and love each other.  Welcome to the Sinners…”

 

"Abigail darlin' just a wee question from Missy and me...who's tha tall blonde girl with Anna and her friends?"

"Let me look," Abby adjusted her glasses, "That is Melinda Eckholm, the new Kirkham Scholarship winner."

"Interesting..." Fiona stood looking.

"Very interesting," Missy added.

"Look before you two decide you've made another sensational discovery darlings" Diana butted in.

 

“Yes Diana my darling?”

 

"Leave Mel alone please. The poor child is making a tough move away from her parents to board all week with Denice and Erica, she doesn't need your interest as well."

"The kid has potential though Diana."

"I can see she does Fiona, she's tall, a natural blonde, and those blue eyes are magnifique... but please at least for now do not disturb her or her family."

"Alright," Missy looked unhappy, "but she goes to another agency, then you will owe me one."

 

“A debt I will gladly pay.”

 

“Diana, can I have a word for a minute,” Juliette said as she came over.

 

“Of course, what about?”

 

“Over here,” she said as she led Diana to where Mother was talking to Sandy.

 

 

 

 

“So – I finally get to meet the Guardian Angel of Soho,” Margaret Harker said as she sat with Agnes.

 

“Is that what I get called?”  Agnes shook her head as she said “I am no angel Dame Margaret.”

 

“Nobody ever said angels had to appear 100% pure,” Margaret said with a smile.

 

“I should be honoured to meet you,” Agnes said, “your work with those who need help is an outstanding example of what can be done.  Even if you are looking for a new leader.”

 

“I saw that one coming,” Margaret said with a smile, “he’s an honourable man if nothing else.”

 

“I agree…”

 

“Listen – I’ve been talking with some of the others about your – shall we say troubles?”

 

“Shirley?”

 

“And others.  So just what does this Detective Sergeant Bennett have against you Agnes?" Margaret asked.

"Oh I think he just gets his jollies hassling me Dame Margaret. I think he thinks that I'm some posh bitch who got her comeuppance, and that that makes me fair game."

"Haven't you ever complained?"

"To whom?”  Agnes shook her head as she sipped her drink.  “The AC is my late brother-in-law’s cousin, but can you honestly see him listening to a complaint against one of his officers from me?"

"What about the Police Complaints Board?"

"I tried once, they practically threw me out when I told them I was Lady D'eath."

"But all your wonderful work?"

"Might be understood by someone like you Dame Margaret, but the law thinks I'm some kind of modern day Fagin, encouraging kids to steal, or sell drugs, or become whores.  I very much doubt that is an opinion that is going to change in the near future."

"And are you Agnes?"

"No...  But do I know these kids are often stealing to survive?  Then yes I do.  Do I know girls who sell their bodies?  Of course I bloody do. What am I supposed to do though?  Tell them to be good little children and run home to their Mummy's and Daddy's?"

"No," Margaret shook her head.

"I deal with the reality of how those kids live Dame Margaret.  I try and steer them towards a better life, I try to teach them the skills they will need to make it, and yes a few girls I've even brought into my business because I've been unable to help otherwise.  If I told them no because they are doing things that are against the law, I'd soon lose any credibility I have with those kids.  Enough of them never make it anyway, but if by turning a blind eye I can occasionally help save girls like Penny over there from the streets and early death, yes then I guess I can and will put up with bastards like DS Bennett."

 

“Even if it is manifestly unfair?”

 

Agnes nodded as Maggie looked over.  “If someone else was to raise the question, say as part of a Commons question…”

 

“I cannot ask you to do that Dame Margaret – and besides, technically the relevant MP is Mark Field for that area.”

 

“I know,” Margaret said with a smile, “I know.  But sometimes things happen purely by accident…”

 

 

 

"Alright,” Kit said as John was taken onto the dance floor by Charley, “can someone explain why half the world’s supermodels suddenly find my boyfriend so irresistible?"

"Because they saw him dancing with you Kit?" Jo laughed.

"Alright that makes no sense Joanne Smith," Kit shook her head.

"Every woman in the place who is 5' 10" or taller noticed there is a far taller man who can actually dance pretty well."

"Meaning what?"

"That for girls who in heels stand well over six feet, it's a treat to have a man to dance with that they actually have to look up to...Such paragons are in very short supply I can assure you."

"But what about him?" Kit pointed at Ken Boyd.

"Dr Boyd can’t dance to save his life," Jo laughed again. "Why do you think House, Piet, and Jason dance every single dance almost?"

"And can have their choice of the world’s most beautiful women to dance with?" Curt added.

"Well you are almost as tall," Jo snuggled against her boyfriend."

"Yes – but in my case though every woman in the place fears your claws darling."

"Damn straight they better," Jo flashed her long red nails. "you are ALL mine."

"Sounds like I need start telling other women just the same about John Gaunt being MINE," Christine gritted her teeth.

 

 

 

"Penny for them Shirley?" Coco spoke quietly as she came alongside.

"Oh Coco darling you made me jump," Madame looked startled.

"You were a million miles away, weren't you?"

"Tell the truth I was."

"So were you wondering when your courier will get here to...?"

"No he will be here in the morning as we arranged."

"What then?"

"Oh I'm worrying about poor Agnes."

"Ah, that's a theme I've heard several conversations about tonight."

"Any clues?"

"Not a one," Coco shook her head, "give me trying to break a security system any day over trying to think how people behave."

"Oh is that why you and John have never...?"

"Let me just say that John Jacobs and I long since gave up on caring either what our friends, or our enemies, thought about us."

"One of the rewards of aging very gently?"

"Exactly Shirley darling."

"But getting back to Agnes,” Shirley said as she looked over, “any suggestions will be most gratefully received."

"Well I've known Agnes almost as long as you have, and I've never seen that look in her eyes she gets each time she looks at Lord Donald."

"No I'd never seen it either."

"Nor the hatred when she looks at Lady Donald. I've never seen that expression either."

"Snap..."

 

“I heard someone say she was betrayed to the press,” Coco said quietly, “could it be Lady Donald who did it?”

 

“That, Coco, is a very good question…”

 

 

 

“Juan, my friend, enjoying the party?”

 

“Very much so – have you met Andy yet?  Andy, this is Prince Klaus von Furstenheim.  Klaus, this is Andy Eckholm – his daughter Melinda is the next Kirkham scholar.”

 

“Your highness,” Andy said as he bowed.

 

“Okay – first rule here, no titles necessary.   Please, call me Klaus.”

 

"Okay I'll try and say Klaus," Andy Eckholm smiled broadly.

"Klaus is almost as fanatical about his football as we are Andy," Juan Murchado spoke.

"Oh which club?...Bayern?"

"No, for my sins I'm a lifelong TSV 1860 fan."

"Munich's SECOND club eh?"

"Unfortunately," Klaus shook his head.

"At least Atletico are in the same level as Real."

"True...So I understand Andy that your daughter is both a scholar, and a more then promising goalkeeper."

"Well I think so."

"So does Sarah you know?"

"Ja, I think my girl will be getting great coaching for the next four years."

 

“I think with Jess and Ama, the team will be one to look to in the coming years…”

 

 

On the patio outside the main windows, Susan and Colin were slowly dancing, looking at each other.

 

"Why has it taken you this damn long Colin?" Sue whispered.

"Because I'm a damn idiot, and I didn't know a good thing when I had it Sue darling."

"Well we can't go backwards," Sue looked serious as they danced in the moonlight to the soft strains of the band coming from inside. 

"Agreed, but how do we go forwards?"

"I've got about as much clue on that as Agnes has," Sue shook her head. "Being completely honest with 'our' men though we should both runaway and hide to protect those we love."

"I'm not letting you go again Sue...I am not quite THAT stupid."

"So what are you offering me Colin? An affair? Or to become your bit on the side?"

"How do you know I don't...?"

"Because you want to be in politics Colin darling," Sue lay her head on his shoulder as they danced, "it will be hard shaking off the fact you were once married to me anyway."


"Well..."


"And don't say you don't care, of course you bloody well do." Sue interrupted. "I'll do my very best to keep things as quiet as I can so you can get your chance."

"And the fact that we are in love still?"

"Is a secret to only trust our best friends with," Sue tried smiling, "if you can't find yourself an acceptable girl to marry, perhaps I might be able to spot one for you?"

"A Chelsea Girl?"

"Just like on the TV show, a girl who will look good as an MP's wife, and give you the children you want." Sue started to cry gently, "I'll make sure that if you want me, that I'm the soul of discretion and that it will never come out."

"Sue...I don't want to..."

"Well then I guess I'll have to disappear Colin...do an Agnes...I love you but it cannot ever be." she sniffed, "I'm a whore Colin from the back streets of Northampton...even my Mum had no idea who my old man was...I was stealing and selling myself from when I was 13...literally hundreds of men have had me..."

"I don't care."

"Well you bloody well should...go talk to your family, go talk to your trusted friends.... and come find me later when you can think straight."

Colin looked on, his mouth open, not a sound emerging as Sue ran into the candlelit gardens, unsure of whether or not he should follow her.

 

"Well Colin?" he heard two voices in the darkness.

"Who is that?"

"Just us," Dame Margaret smiled as she and Glenda Verducci emerged from the shadows.

"So did you hear?"

"We did indeed young man." Glenda held up a pack of cigarettes, "Dame Margaret and I were sharing an illicit pleasure."

"Please don't tell anyone...”  Colin looked at both of them and said “not for my sake, but for hers."

"Mr Gresham-Fox I told you that you were a complete idiot earlier...I was wrong," Glenda smiled, "you are only half an idiot."

"Do as Sue says Colin," Dame Margaret said slowly, "go talk to Grace, talk to your father, just remember though that young lady deserves an honest answer from you."

 

Nodding, Colin walked back into the ballroom, as Glenda and Margaret watched.

 

“And Lord Donald?”

 

“A very different question…”

 

Sue looked up into the night sky, the stars twinkling as she said “So what do I do now?”

 

“If you figure it out, let me know will you?”

 

"Hi Agnes," Sue said as she patted the bench beside her in the summer house for the older woman to come and sit on.

"What are you doing out here Sue?"

"Waiting for Colin to come tell me what he has decided to do about me...And you?"

"Trying to think straight about what I need to say to Donald."  She looked at Sue and smiled as she said “What a pair we make right now…”

"Any ideas?"

"Not at this moment," Agnes smoothed her tartan skirt out as she sat.

"Why can't we have the problems 'normal' women have Agnes?"  Sue looked upwards at the dome of the summer house.

"Because fate chose that we should both lead abnormal lives I guess."  Agnes leaned forward and said “what do you think he wants to do?”

"I think he wants to marry me again."

"I think if I gave him the chance,” Agnes said quietly, “Donald would want to marry me."

"But we both know that can never happen," Sue shook her head, "neither of us will ruin the lives of the men we love...will we?"

"No," Agnes put an arm round Sue.

"I told him I'll be his secret girlfriend and that I'd even help find him a wife who he could be proud of."

"Donald has Catherine, and as much as I hate her, she does look the part of an ambassador’s wife."

"And you?"

"If Donald really does want me, then I guess I'll have to offer him what you offered Colin."

"Have that wedding night at last?"

"I guess so," Agnes let a couple of tears drop.  “But I cannot do anything to stand in his way.”

 

Looking at each other, they both started laughing.  “Look at us,” Sue said, “how did we end up like this?”

 

“It was you three who got me over here,” Agnes said with a laugh.

 

 

 

 

"Where is Aggie Tam?"  Olivia asked as she looked round.

"She said she was going to take a spin round the garden to try clear her head Olivia darling."

"How drunk is she?"

"Not bad enough to cause a scene, but enough that I told her she had to quit drinking tonight."

"That's for the best."

"I have my own problems to think about."

"Which are Tam?"

"How do I get her to move into the old Bayswater Road flat without her thinking it's charity on my part."

"You don't Tam, her pride will never allow it."

"So I keep letting her live like she is?"

"No, but you get someone else to talk her into it."

"And who might be able to do that?"

"Just maybe I can," Penny said as Shirley brought her into the conversation.  “Let me have a crack first.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Grace – I need to talk to you.”

 

“Oh,” Grace said as she turned and saw Colin there, two glasses in his hand, “this looks serious.”

 

“It is – can we go somewhere quiet?”

 

Nodding, Grace took the drink and guided Colin to a quiet corner.  Sitting down, she looked at him and said “what’s happened?”

 

“I’m still in love with my ex-wife – and she loves me – but she’s not going to marry me again.”

 

“Because of your career?”

 

As Colin nodded, Grace smiled and put her hand on his shoulder.  “So what did she say?”

 

“She’d be there for me, but not as my wife…”

 

“Ah – I see,” Grace said quietly.

 

“What am I going to do, Grace?  I can’t turn back the clock, but I want her to be happy.  Do I give up my career, or accept she will always be my Lady Hamilton?”

 

Shaking her head, Grace said “I can’t answer the question about the career, Colin, but if you love her, you find a way to make it work.”

 

“I need to talk to Dad,” Colin said quietly, “but what are you thinking?”

 

“That if you truly love her, and she truly loves you, you will both find a way – but I’m here if you need to talk further…”

 

Nodding, Colin stood up and smiled, before he took his phone out and walked into the entrance hall.  Scrolling through his contacts, he looked round and then waited.

 

“Hello?”

 

“Dad, it’s Colin.”

 

“Ah Colin,” Charles Gresham-Fox said, “and how is the party?”

 

“Illuminating…  Dad…”

 

“Yes Colin?”

 

“Dad – Sue and I have been talking.”

 

There was a moment’s silence, before Charles said “have you managed to avoid her killing you?”

 

“Just about – I apologised, we cleared the air.”

 

“And what else did she say?”

 

Looking round, Colin said “that she would never do anything to damage my career, but she would be there for me.”

 

“I see – Colin, my boy, you have to ask yourself a very difficult question.”

 

“I’m not the only one – Lord Donald has some tough decisions to make as well I think.”

 

“Oh?  What has happened to him?”

 

“The return of the McAdam of McAdam.”

 

“Really not an easy day or night for either of you then.  Colin, I cannot tell you to follow your heart or your head, but if Susan is saying not to do anything stupid, listen to her.”

 

Nodding, Colin said “I want to talk to Lord Donald as well – discretely…”

 

 

 

“Hey.”

 

Susan and Agnes looked up to see Penny standing in the entrance to the summer house. 

 

“What are you two discussing?”

 

“Becoming the other woman,” Sue said with a smile.

 

“Lord Donald?”

 

“I don’t know,” Agnes said, “I love him, but…”

 

"Well if you are going to offer him carte blanche Agnes, you'll need a better class of place then your digs in Paddington for him to come see you. I can't quite see Donald

in a place like that...can you?"

"No I suppose not."

"I overheard Tamsin saying earlier that she still owns your old flat."

"That's hers Penelope, and I'll not take my sisters charity."

"Seems a pity, a flat like that goes unused 51 weeks of the year..."

"Well what she does with it is up to Tam?"

"And what happens if she offers it to Donald it at a decent rent...that's not charity, and from what i hear its quiet, its discreet...ideal place for Donald and you to..."

"I suppose...but..."

"Be logical Agnes, if you are going to be his mistress...and you know i don't mean that in your work sense, then what better option is there then Donald paying for the place you have your trysts?"

"It would make me a 'kept woman' Penny."

"Well I hate to tell you Agnes, in some form or another that's what you'll be if you want to be a discreet part of Donald's life."

"Alright I'll think about the flat then, but it must be he who negotiates with Tam...NOT ME!"

 

 

"Alright Abs where have you been hiding them all my life?" Nikki looked at the four young men who came in with their parents.


"Who?"

"Those guys?" 

"Oh you mean the Trachtenberg's," Abby laughed.

"They are German?"

"No, despite the surname they are quite literally the boys next door," Abigail smiled as the mother and father approached.

"Happy birthday Abigail," the woman kissed her on both cheeks.

"Thank you Aunt Marthe."

"And the same good wishes from me," the man kissed her.

"Thank you Uncle Jean."

"I'm sorry we are a little late, but Eric and Alain were late getting here from their school."

"I understand perfectly."

"Alright information please Abs?" Nikki asked as the Trachtenberg's moved away to chat with Valeria. 

"Okay they are two pairs of twins, Nicholas and Jean are 18, Eric and Alain are 17."

"Now the important question...are they or aren't they?"

"Are they what?"

"Abigail you aren't that dumb...Are they straight?...Are they taken?"

"As far as i know they are straight yes, as to girlfriends, not a clue."

"Introduce me before some of those predators get to that prime meat before i do," Nikki nodded at all the girls closely looking at the young men.

"Alright, already," Abby laughed. "Come on I'll introduce you Niks."

 

 

 

 

“Alright Tam,” Penny said as she came in, “she'll take the flat as long as Donald pays you the rent?"

"What the hell do you mean Penny?" Tam looked shocked.

"She's going to offer Donald the chance to make her his girlfriend."

"He'll never do it," Shirley shook her head, "he's the marriage or nothing type."

"Hey I just said I get her into the flat, it's up to the rest of you how you get a wedding ring on her finger," Penny held her hands up and laughed.

 

“Well, at least she managed to get somewhere,” Shirley said, “now for the next stage…”

 

 

 

 

“Colin,” Kay said as he came over, “I see you and Sue have…”

 

"Kay, what do you make of the mess I’ve created,” Colin said as he guided her into a corner, “you're her best friend...tell me what she really wants please?"

"What she wants Colin is to be with the man she loves."

"Even after what I did to her?"

"Even after."

"But what will she actually do?"

"What I think she's probably already offered you, a relationship in which she stays discreetly out of sight."

"That's what she said," Colin nodded.

"The romantic in me says that you should sweep her off her feet and marry her again, but really - is that practical?  You have things you want to achieve in life, are any of them possible if you have Sue by your side?"

"I don't know, I truly don't Kay."

"Well let’s start with an easy question, what does your family say?"

"Basically to listen to Sue."

"And will you?"

"I really don't know Kay, I don't think I've ever stopped loving her, but do I have the guts to throw my plans for life over to marry her again...well I'm confused, and I'm sure I'm not thinking straight."

 

“Then take the time to think straight,” Kay said kindly, “I’m sure she will wait…”

 

 

 

 

"Hello Grace." Agnes whispered as she saw the tall blonde in the entrance.

"Hi,” Grace said as she looked at Agnes and Susan, “a little bird whispered you were both out here hiding."

"Colin?" asked Sue.

"No just someone who is concerned about you both." Grace smiled.

"Grace,” Agnes said quietly, “if I'm not being rude why are you here?"

"To give you both an impartial opinion from someone knows all about running and hiding from her life."

"And that opinion is?" Agnes asked.

"That if I could,” Grace said with a smile, “I'd give you both swift kicks up the rear, and those men of yours an even harder one."

Susan looked at Agnes, before she said "Why?"

"Because when you are this deeply in love nothing should stand in the way."

"There is that crucial word though," Aggie smiled..."should."

"Agnes and I have pasts that would be no asset to anyone, certainly not husbands in public life." Sue shook her head.

 

“The past is the past,” Grace said quietly, “it can only hurt you if you allow it to.  Seriously, forget that, and look forward.   Lord knows I ran from my fears for long enough, but I managed to get out and move on.  With the help of friends and others – all of whom are here now.”

 

“She has a point you know,” Sue said as she stood up.  “Want to go back, enjoy the party, see what happens?”

 

 

 

 

 

"Why do men visit places like Aggie's Paula?" Victoria asked as she looked round.

"I suppose to pay to satisfy those oddities that their wives will not do," the Duchess said after a moment’s thought.

"And better they do it that way then preying on ordinary women who don't consent." Olivia added.

"I can certainly agree with that," Victoria shuddered at the memory of the indignities Jacques de Ros had inflicted upon her.

"It's like so many businesses, Aggie provides a service at a price that people are willing to pay. Really, when you strip out the sexual connotations that is all it is."

"I agree with you on that Paula," Kelly Rochermann smiled, "but at least on an amateur basis between people who both enjoy it then it’s just fun."

"And so says the voice of experience," Tonia laughed.

"Yankee Stadium," Olivia laughed.

"God are there no secrets in this world," Kelly looked towards the ceiling.

 

“Not amongst the sinners,” Paula said as she shook her head.

 

 

 

 

“A photo shoot?  Me?”

 

“You,” Linda Evangelista said as she sat next to Brooke Hutton.

 

"Linda if I said I wouldn't love to do it then I'd be lying," Brooke sipped her champagne, "but as a sitting judge I'm pretty sure that I can't."

"It was just a thought."

"I do agree though,” Brooke said, “that its time both Diana and Sandy did it again."

"If I can get them to agree...and Pippa as well."

"You know in my opinion Pippa looks far better today than she did when she was in the biz."

"I know, maturity and experience have added a certain something special she never had before."

"Agreed, if she had had back then that something special she now has, then she wouldn't have been a marginal girl." Linda sipped her drink as well. "And I can say the same for you Brooke."

"Well for me being a model was all about law school, I'm honestly not sure that I'd ever have wanted a full career...but one magazine cover to hang on my wall might have been nice," the judge sighed.

 

 

 

“Miss Xavier?”

 

Shirley smiled as she said “call me Shirley Colin.  What can I do for you?”

 

“You know Sue, don’t you?”

 

“Passably – Penny is my Executive Assistant, and I know her through Penny.”

 

“Well, you know I still have feelings for her?”

 

“I had noticed,” Shirley said as they sat down.  “Last week Agnes told me a story about Kay, Penelope, and Susan, which if it wasn’t so sad might actually be funny to some people. The girls for one tell it as a joke on themselves anyway.”

 

“And what’s this story Shirley?”

 

“Well for starters I need your assurance as a gentleman Colin that this all never passes your lips.”

 

“I promise.”

 

“Alright,” Shirley took a deep breath, “you know all three of them shared a house at one time?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“And you know that Sue was a working girl?”

 

“So I found out.”

 

“Have you ever asked yourself what at that time Kay and Penny were doing?”

 

“I’d always assumed they worked in town, and that Sue kept what she did a secret from them.”

 

“Oh no Colin,” Madame shook her head, “they were both working girls as well.”

 

“They were WHAT?” Colin hissed.

 

“Prostitutes, hookers, ladies of the night, pick your term, but that’s what each of them was back then.”

 

“I’m shocked…”

 

“I can see it in your face, but yes they all ‘worked’ in central London, and then went home to the house they shared.”

 

“Okay that takes a little getting used to as an idea, but your point is?”

 

“That while they were doing that, they were as ignorant of what they would have called the ‘straight world’ as the average small child.”

 

“How so? All those men, all that…”

 

“Sex Colin? Yes, they knew about sex and how it was bought and sold.” Shirley laughed slightly, “but how do you think they reacted when some neighbours set them up with a blind date with regular men one weekend?”

 

“Ummm…”

 

“You haven’t got a clue have you? Well neither had they…  After panicking for a couple of days they approached the nearest thing they had to a mother.”

 

“Agnes.”

 

“Correct,” Shirley nodded.

 

“Go on.”

 

“Now remember that Penny had been brought up motherless by an army Sergeant-Major. Kay’s parents were puritanical and told her nothing. Sue’s mother literally gave her away at the age of four.”

 

“So?”

 

“Agnes had to tell these girls in their late teens, who had all slept with countless men, who knew everything about sex, about how to go on a date. They had to ask Agnes how a girl dressed to go out on a date. What ‘straights’ talked about? Were they expected to pay for the men?” Shirley smiled, “do you get the picture Colin how actually innocent those girls were?”

 

“Good grief…really?”

 

“Really Colin…They were like babes lost in a strange forest…and even today I think they all are in many ways,” Madame shook her head. “I just thought that before you proceeded further with Susan that you should know that.”

 

“I think I was as naïve as well,” Colin said quietly as he saw Donald and Catherine dancing.  “Excuse me – I need to talk to Lord Donald.”

 

 

 

 

"So what is it you do Nicola?" Eric asked. in lightly accented English.

"Well,” Nikki said quietly, “I'm an actress and a model?"

"Truly?" the French boy both looked and sounded impressed.

"Well part time...I'm also still at school though."

"At the renowned St Angela's like Abigail?" Alain spoke.

"Well like Abby was, she just graduated, but yes I have two more years to go."

"So what have you acted in?"

"Well I have a tiny part in the Pussycat Gang movie, I've also done some television commercials...I'm not a star by any means."

"Well it's more than either of us has ever done," Alain laughed quietly.

"My real ambition though is to fly US Navy jet fighters."

"Do you already fly?"

"Virtually Eric, I've been taking lessons, hopefully I'll get my license in a few months."

 

 

 

 

“Colin – enjoying the evening?”

 

“As much as you are, I suspect Lord Donald – may I have a private word with you please?”

 

“Of course,” Donald said as he and Colin left the main ballroom, while Agnes and Susan came back from outside.  “Now, what is it?”

 

“It’s – something of a personal nature,” Colin said, “and, if I am not crossing the line, I suspect you of all the people here know exactly what I mean.”

 

Lord Donald looked at the young man for a few minutes, before he said “your ex-wife?”

 

Colin nodded quietly as he said “I…  I did her a great wrong, I know that now, and if I could I would forget these last few years and marry her again.  But…”

 

“But you have a career and a position to think of.  Let me take a guess – she has already said she will do nothing to stop that career?”

 

Colin nodded and then saw the smile on the Lord’s lips.  “You as well?”

 

“Oh yes – oh what a tangled web we weave, Colin.”  Shaking his head, Lord Donald said “you have one comfort – it’s only been a few years.  In my case, it’s been twenty lonely years…”

 

“Lord Donald, surely you are not…”

 

“Colin, I honestly have no idea,” Donald said quietly.  “I love her, I have always loved her, but I married someone else.  I have to live with the price of that.”

 

“I suppose I may have to as well…”

 

“Have you talked to her?”

 

Colin nodded and said “she said she would support me, be there for me – but never marry me.”

 

“Yeah – I heard that too,” Donald said.  “Come – we need to talk to them.  Both of us.”

 

 

 

“How certain is she Lily,” Shirley said as she looked at the screen.

 

“Fairly certain Madame – what are you thinking?”

 

“That I know what happened – but it will require skill to handle.  Thank you.”

 

“Madame,” Lily said as she went to join Susan, and Shirley went to talk to Diana.

 

"Diana,” she asked quietly, “if I was to ask you if you could lay your hands on a couple of 'clean' guns right this second, what would your answer be?"

"Yes...of course I can Shirley. My question in return though would be to ask you why?"

"I'm not sure yet, but I'm beginning to think that someone’s happiness might depend on extracting a confession from someone else."

"Oh? Should I be concerned?"

"No, you just enjoy the party."

"Alright, but remember I'm here."

"Will do," Shirley smiled, "now have you seen your cousin Davina in the past few minutes?"

"She and Jimmy were over there somewhere last i saw Cherie," Diana pointed.

"Okay thanks Diana."  Shirley headed to where the young aristocrat was talking to her boyfriend.

 

"Davina darling might I drag you away from Jimmy for a couple of minutes for a quick chat please?"

"Certainly Shirley," 

"Over here perhaps?" Shirley pointed to a quiet spot as they walked over.

"What can I do for you Madame?" the aristocratic woman asked in a very low tone.

"Nothing for this minute...but tell me does Jimmy sleep soundly?"

"If I slip him something...then yes...Why?"

"I might need you for a task in the wee hours."

"Well as always I am here to serve."

"Good," Shirley thought for a second, "I'll tell you in a bit if I need you to slip Jimmy a 'Micky', but be on alert please."

"Yes Madame."

 

 

 

“Agnes – where did you get to?”

 

“Some fresh air,” Agnes said as she smiled at Tamsin, “Talking to a few people about things.”

 

“Such as Donald?”

 

Agnes just smiled as she looked at her sister.

 

"So,” Tamsin said, “what are you going to do about the fact you are still in love with him Aggie?"

"About all I can do without ruining his career Tippy Toes, I'll offer to become his lover."

"And if he wants more?"

"Then I'll make sure I never see him or speak to him again."

"Just like you have these past twenty years?"

"Well it's kept him from doing anything stupid hasn't it?"

"But it's been at the expense of making you both extremely unhappy."

"I know," Aggie sighed, "but can you suggest any alternatives Tam?"

"I'm trying to think of some."

 

“Susan mentioned the flat – talk to him will you about that?”

 

“Apart from that…”


"Well if you can you are brighter than I am darling."

Tamsin smiled as she said "Things have come to an odd pass if you are relying on MY brains dear genius."

"You aren't dumb Tippy Toes...you never were."

"Father always made me feel stupid though in comparison to you."

"I know," Agnes put an arm round her sister, "that was wrong of him...dreadfully wrong."

"I wonder what he said to himself when I got a first as well?"

"I imagine the same thing he said to me...That he was dreadfully proud...Now what are you going to do for an encore?"

"Exactly," Tam laughed, "all we ever did could always be improved upon."

"Still you thought the sun shone out of his..."

"Aggie! Some decorum please," Tam laughed again.  "Yes for all his faults I loved him, and in so many ways he was wonderful. He made us both stand on our own two feet and take responsibility."

"And that's how i got in this mess in the first place," Aggie sighed, "If I just hadn't been so stubborn about paying his debts..."

"And giving me all you could..."

"Then this whole damn catastrophe would never have started in the first place."

 

“Enough big sister – stop looking back, and face forward.”

 

 

 

 

"Two boys all to yourself Nikki? You could at least share one of them." Suzie Clarke giggled as she walked over.

"With you Suzie, in that dress?”  Nikki laughed as she said “you look far too much like competition."

"And Mary said that I would like you," Suzie giggled some more.

"I saw Mary has tied up a man for herself?"

"Yes, and I'm not sure which of them is happier," Suzie smiled as her sister danced by.

"Is your brother Tommy ever going to ask Poppy to dance by the way,” Nikki said “he keeps approaching her then backing away."

"I know,” Suzie laughed, “the men in my family are slow at coming forward."

"Unlike your sisters," Nikki pointed to Allison and Vicky dancing VERY close to young men.

"Yeah, they don't exactly take after Mary."

"Mary?" Eric and Alain said as they arrived back with drinks and food.

"Her sister...This is Mary Clarke's sister Suzie."

"It's a pleasure to meet you Suzie," Alain said as he kissed her on the cheek.

"You know I DEFINITELY could get used to French men," Suzie giggled again.

"I'll find a glass of champagne for you," Alain said as he hurried away.

"Alright then Suzie...one each," Nikki whispered in the California girl's ear.

 

 

 

 

"I see Ally is staking a claim to one of those twins Kelly?" Elaine whispered to her old friend as she saw Ally talking to one of the older twins.

"I wonder if the poor boy knows what he's letting himself for?" Kelly shook her head.

"Well at least it's now not both twins," Tonia observed, "Now that Nell is firmly tied to Mick."

"Yeah they do make a pretty lovely couple, don't they?"

"I'm thinking that we ought to invite you the hall for a visit this summer Kelly," Olivia spoke.

"Is Cornwall ready for the Rochermann's?" Denice asked.

"As ready as it ever will be Denice darling."

"Switching topics though, did I overhear Linda Evangelista extending an invitation to Brooke to model?"

"You did," Claire looked across the room at her friend dancing with her husband, "seems like Brooke managed to keep a huge secret from us all once."

 

 

 

 

"Quiet please...QUIET!" Trudie Styler said as she stood at the microphone. "As most of you are aware I'm sure, I have the honour and pleasure to be one of Abigail's godmothers."

"You don't look old enough, not nearly..."

"Guy you always were the most outrageous flatterer," the Englishwoman laughed. "Anyway to return to what i was trying to say, eighteen years ago I got a message from a hospital saying that Diana had given birth to a lovely healthy girl. When I first saw the baby a couple of days later, I can honestly say she was the oddest looking child I had ever seen. She wasn't round like most tiny ones, she was...well a bit elongated..."

"And she still is." Nell shouted out.

"She has grown to be one of the loveliest women on this planet...not just on the outside...but even more on the inside..."

"Definitely," Valeria called out.

"I could tell lots of stories about Abigail, but I'll stick to just one. Three years ago Carina Huntingdown was shot by armed robbers.  As she hovered on the brink of death, Abigail spent every minute other than when she was at school trying to help Juliette, Cari's mother, stay strong."

"She did," Juliette nodded quietly.

"Carina was a heroine standing up to the thieves..."

"More like I was damn stupid," Cari shook her head.

"But Abigail's infinite patience, her kindness, her willingness to give everything of herself were also shown in what happened...Ladies, Gentlemen...I propose the toast...To Abigail."

"To Abigail" the hall thundered as she blushed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"So Mom,” Adam said as he handed Eleanor a glass of champagne, “what do you make of it all?'

"it's wonderful Adam darling," Eleanor kissed her son. "Veronica though is a trifle overwhelmed."

"How so Aunt Ronnie?" Katy asked.

Veronica looked round as she said "I knew there might be a few titled, and rich, and famous people here...but all this is just blowing my mind."

"How do you think I felt when I first became a Sinner?" Janice laughed.

 

“Very true,” Adam said with a smile, “very true…”

 

 

 

 

 

"Did I see Scheherazade a few seconds ago?" Lily asked Abigail as she stood chatting with her and Tony.

"She and Uncle Simon are here, they gave me a large present."

"Alright for the uninitiated...who is Scheherazade?' Tony laughed.

"My Aunt Yas," Abby giggled.

"Yas?...Simon?...oh now I get it," Tony grinned.

"Did you see that Emerald was dancing with one of those older French twins?" Lily pointed to a couple dancing to the rock music. "Should we?"


"No, I think her dad, and the Irish mafia are keeping a pretty close eye on her."

"But he does know how old she is? No matter how famous she is."

"I'm sure someone’s told him."

"By the way," Tony pointed, "the Fitzstuart boys have lost all their cred."

"Why?" Lily asked.

"Because Katherine, Maeve, and Rose are better dancers to this kind of music then they are." Abby laughed aloud.

 

 

 

 

 

"So are you enjoying yourself darling?" 

"Almost as much as I enjoyed Cambridge," Pepsi smiled as they walked off the dance floor.

"Is it?"

"Buried in my cleavage," the American girl’s smile turned to a giggle.

"Darling,” Mandy drawled, “two years almost is going to be a long time keeping it secret."

"I know Mandy, but for both our sakes it has to be kept secret at least for now."

"I couldn't help but overhear Mandy, what is her secret...I hope she's not got something to hide?" Agnes looked concerned, "not a child like that...is she pregnant?"

"No she isn't darling, but she is engaged to marry Jack, but with her being just 16 they are going to keep that very secret for two years."

"Oh I understand, if that came out it might shock a few people, but it won't destroy their lives..."

"Unlike your problem darling?"

 

“Maybe I’ve let it do that for long enough…”

 

 

 

 

"You haven't danced much luv," Sami said as she sat with Kylie, and caught her breath from dancing.

"I've had a few darling," Kylie drawled.

"Kid like you should be dancin' every dance though."

"It's what I told her Samantha." Marina smiled as she took a fresh glass of champagne.

"Most of the boys my age are already taken,” Kylie said, “and I know I look nice, but darling I know I'm no competition for all these models."

"You look great Kyles," Gio spoke as he and Kerry came back from dancing.

"Thank you Gio, but darling I'm aware of my limitations." Kylie adjusted her large black framed glasses as she watched Anna start to dance with Chet.

"So no one you fancy luv?"

"Oh there is someone Mum, but I'm pretty sure they will never ask me to dance."

"And just 'oo is this mystery man Kyles?"

"That's my secret Mum darling."

 

“Well, I hope to meet this mysterious other someday,” Sami said as Clint and Winston walked over.

 

“Dance, ladies?”

 

As Kylie watched them walk off, she heard Sands say “Kylie – can I have a seat?”

 

"Of course.  Not dancing Sands?"

"I could ask the same question of you Kylie."

"I know, but I think just like you the person I want to be dancing with is off limits for the night."

Looking at the teenager, Sands said “I didn't realise you and Doc were that serious."

"At first we weren't...but with time...well." Kylie looked skyward.

"And just like me you are the spare wheel," Alexandra smiled.

"How do you cope?"

"I don't overly well...I dance with Erik von Manschen, and while he's cute...he's not her."

"Yes I know that feeling darling," Kylie drawled. "So are there any boys you can suggest to help me not think about Kitten?"

"Is that what you call her?  That's cute. But no one I know in your age bracket isn't already taken."

 

“As I said,” Kylie drawled, “unlucky…”

 

 

 

 

“Agnes?”

 

As she looked round, Agnes smiled as she said “Donald – where is Catherine?”

 

“With her sister and Archie – look, I want to say something, and if after that you say no, then fine.”

 

“Donald, I already told you…”

 

“You’re right – as much as I wish I could spend the rest of my life with you in public, and put the past behind me, I cannot.”

 

Smiling, Agnes said “so what are we going to do?”

 

“I will always love you Agnes, but my bed is made, and I have to accept it.  But…  I would like it if we could see each other, from time to time, somewhere…”

 

“Oh – do you have anywhere in mind?”

 

“Well, I just agreed to rent this place on the Bayswater Road, and it could use a live-in tenant to look after the place when I’m away on business.”

 

“I see – do you have anyone in mind?”

 

“I do – but I’m afraid she will reject the offer because she thinks it will stop her doing her work.  So I need to reassure her work will continue – in whatever capacity.”

 

“And if anyone wanted to find her?”

 

“If they did, they’d have to talk to me first – and me only.”

 

“And Catherine?”

 

“Can enjoy the position and the influence, and boil her head otherwise.”

 

“I see.  Well, if you were to ask this person, she might be open to the idea, and also might be stepping back from some aspects of her work to concentrate on the really important things.”

 

“Good – I’ll have to let her know,” Donald said as he saw Catherine come over.  “Thank you.”

 

Agnes watched as he went to join his wife, the perfect gentleman and diplomat – and now back in her life as well…

 

 

 

 

 

“Colin – have you had a chance to talk to others?”

 

Looking at Susan, Colin said “I have – and I have been advised to listen to you, and not quit.  Can I buy you breakfast tomorrow – talk things over?”

 

“I’d like that,” Susan said, “now can we dance?”

 

“Yeah – I’d like that…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Lord Donald – you appear to be happier now.”

 

“Thank you Miss Xavier – but please, can we dispense with the formality.   As an old friend of Agnes, I would prefer if you called me Donald.”

 

“Only if you call me Shirley – so, what has happened?”

 

“An understanding,” Donald said with a smile, “a chance to rebuild possibly.”

 

“Good – forgive me, Donald, but it is ovbious to me and her other friends she still has feelings for you.”

 

“I imagine – but I hope we can find a way to make everyone – well, happier?”

 

Shirley smiled and nodded.  "Donald, may I ask a question?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“Didn't you ever notice anyone following you, or checking up on you in the weeks leading up to Agnes's unmasking?"

"Tell the truth Shirley,” Donald said with a smile, “I was so involved in the wedding and honeymoon preparations I was almost walking in fog."

"So nothing out of the ordinary happened...to either of you?"

"No - I was still getting my daily 'obscene' phone call at work."

"Obscene phone calls at work?” Shirley took interest.

"Oh it was Agnes who called," Donald laughed, "she'd make the odd very naughty suggestion and the game was I had to not give a clue to my colleagues what was going on."

"And were you able to?"

"No,” Donald laughed, “it became a great office joke and everyone would gather round to listen and laugh, including my boss the Deputy Under Secretary."

"Well I can't see a bit of silliness like that between a betrothed couple having been part of Agnes's problems." Shirley smiled.

 

“No – but as I say, it was an open secret.  I suspect the guys would have told their partners, wives, girlfriends…”  Donald looked ahead for a moment.

 

“Something coming to mind, Donald?”

 

“It’s nothing – Catherine was going out with a colleague until a week or two before the wedding.  I wonder if he told her?”

 

Shirley smiled as she said “I am sure she probably knew.”

 

"There was one thing…  You do know she had a home invasion back in January that year don't you?"

"Now that I did not know...Was much taken?"


"Four of five thousand pounds’ worth of jewellery,” Donald said, “but it was the damage was more distressing, the thief set her bedroom on fire destroying a couple of her family heirlooms."

"Did the cops ever catch the man?"

"Oh no it wasn't a man...It was a woman."

"OH!" Shirley whistled.

"I think as much as anything, what hurt Agnes was that the diaries she had kept since she was tiny were destroyed in the fire..."

 

“Her diaries?”

 

“They were locked in a bedside bureau – one of the heirlooms.”

 

“Donald, did they get a description?”

 

“All Agnes ever said was they were sloppy, and she was grateful – mind you, now I think about it, if they had been professional she may not have survived…”

 

“Donald – did you ever read the expose?”

 

“Not fully,” Donald said, “why?”

 

“They had her diaries, Donald – they were not destroyed in the fire.  Whoever robbed her stole them as well – and probably set fire to the bureau to cover their tracks.”

 

Turning to look at Shirley, Donald said “but who would do that?  Who would hate Agnes that much that they would try to harm her like that?”

 

“That, Donald, is the question…”

 

 

 

 

 

"Luke darling," Jack Linklater said as he pointed a few yards away, "there is a very sad looking damsel in distress...be a good boy and ask her to dance?"

"Why? Kylie? Surely she has boys queuing up to dance with her?

"It seems no, I've been watching, she's danced with Clint, she's danced with Gio, and she's danced with me...Other than that she has sat there all evening."

"Is she under the weather?'

"I don't know, but having seen the signs myself so often, there is someone in this room she's pining for."

"Any idea which boy? or which man?"

"Not a clue Luke my darling...but anyway go take pity on the poor girl please?"

"On my way Jack." Luke gave his lover a little kiss on the cheek and walked over.  “Kylie my dear – may I have this dance?”

 

“But of course Luke darling,” Kylie said as she took his hand, and started to dance with him.

 

“You seem a little distracted – jet lag?”

 

“Not really darling,” Kylie said, “just feeling a little disoriented I think.  But it is a fabulous party, right?”

 

“Oh yes,” Luke said as he looked at her.  “So – who is she?”

 

“She?”

 

Kylie looked at Luke, and said “how did you?”

 

“Do I really have to answer that?”

 

“I cannot, and will not say darling,” Kylie whispered, “but I can trust to your discretion?”

 

“Always – we can talk when you get back to NY…”

 

 

 

"If I was to ask you to put yourself on standby to interrogate someone tonight Dominique,” Shirley whispered to Caroline, “what would your answer be?"

"That why bother to ask me to do it with the array of talent there is in this room...I'm good, but I'm not in their class at extracting information." Caroline smiled.

"You mean?"

"Penny, Carina, Natalya, Francesca, Annie, Susan, Gale, Sharon, and of course Helen, you are spoiled for riches Madame.”

"And if I didn't want scars left?"

"I'm sure Heather and Charlotte can rig some electronics up."

"Okay you make a very fair point Dominique...I need to think for a few minutes."

 

 

 

 

“Alright all of you, it’s time we put all this crap into perspective by talking about some common ancestors,” Grace addressed the group like the schoolteacher she was.

 

“Let us start with your family Mandy darling, and the Seventh Earl of Fairhaven…John Bamber and his sister Elizabeth, What do you know about them?”

 

“Virtually nothing darling…why?”

 

“Well I think I know rather more…now let’s turn to you Will, and to one of the daughters of the 4thMarquess…Lady Anne Fitzstuart.”

 

“If she actually existed.”

 

“Oh your ancestors might have tried to eradicate her from history Will,” Grace said quietly, “but yes, she was a very real person. In many ways the truest descendant of your original ancestress.”

 

“Ah yes, the chambermaid, Annie Smith,” Valeria remembered the genealogy, “she died giving birth to a bastard by the king, and because she had never asked him for anything, and had been so caring and discreet, he recognized the child and gave him the name Fitzstuart.”

 

“My revered ancestor,” Will nodded.

 

“We now turn to another family – in fact, to my family the Gresham-Fox’s, the oldest son of the first Viscount Standerton being a chap called Thomas who would go on to marry a Bamber, whilst his younger sister would marry a Gaunt.”

 

“Well that covers most of our families…”

 

“Oh don’t worry Olivia, Treharran’s and McAdam’s also play a part in this story.  So where were we?”

 

“Our revered ancestors?”

 

“Yes, that’s right… From childhood on what I’ve read, the four young people were inseparable, two couples, Tom and Bess, and Jack and Nan. They plotted their futures together - the two men would be each other’s groomsman, the girls each other attendant.”

 

“Alright it’s pretty history Grace, but how is it relevant to us?”

 

“I’ll tell you if you wait Colin,” Grace caught her breath, There was a rather roguish gambler, and a member of the Prince Regent’s clique called Roger Treharran,”

 

“He I know of,” Charles nodded, “the blackest of black sheep.”

 

“But very attractive to women, and with a need to refill his pockets. He set his cap at Bess Bamber who was an heiress in her own right, and persuaded her he was in love with her and that they should elope.”

 

“I’ve heard the story, “Charles nodded.

 

“Well there came the night, and as planned they meet, her wearing a great cloak to hide who she was in case passers-by saw her. Treharran was seventy miles away from Gretna Green  when he stopped to eat, undid the cloak, and instead of Bess, he found Anne Fitzstuart who had intercepted his message and taken her place.”

 

“Oh God Darlings,” Mandy drawled.

 

“She had hoped she would have to been able to slip home and no one knew what she had done, but by the time the stagecoach arrived in London the scandal was widespread, and she was a ruined woman.”

 

“What happened to her,” Olivia asked.

 

“Her father gave her a thrashing and turned her out on the street in just the clothes she had on. Best friend or not, Elizabeth Bamber made it clear she didn’t wish to ever see her… John Bamber sent her a note in which he said if he should ever see her he would set his dogs on her.”

 

“So what did she do?” Young Christine asked.

 

“She sunk out of memory, her story became a warning tale mothers told their children to warn them of making mésalliances.” Grace brushed a tear away, “she walked from house to house seeking refuge from those who had once between her friends.

 

“In the end, starving to death she was taken in by some itinerant workers going down to Kent. They nursed her better, and she quickly learned the lesson that to eat she had to work. She started with the harvest, then once the fruit picking over she took to the roads till she found news of another job, when that was over, the walking and searching began again…  For fourteen years, Annie Smith as she styled herself lived a hand to mouth existence, often sleeping under hedgerows or in barns as she made her way trying to find that eventual place where she hired on forever.”

 

“And I thought my social exile was hard,” Agnes murmured.

 

“Anyway back in her old world things were changing of course. “Tom and Bess married and started a family. Old Lord Fairhaven died, and Jack inherited the title…but not his inheritance.”

 

“Not the cash?” Will asked, “weren’t they fabulously wealthy?”

 

“They were, but the old Earl had had a great kindness for Nan Fitzstuart, in his will he specified his heir would only receive his inheritance WHEN he honoured the marriage contract with Nan Fitzstuart.”

 

“Oh dear,” Tamsin shook her head.

 

“He on the other hand wished to marry one Lucy McAdam…”

 

“Aka in our family Lucy the Redheaded.” Aggie nodded.

 

“So I’m guessing he had to find Anne then?” Paula asked.

 

“A needle in a haystack, darlings,” Mandy said as she sipped her drink.

 

“Well he got lucky,” Grace continued, “He was playing a hide and seek game at Brotherford Park, when he disturbed a scullery maid at the start of her day, laying a fire in one of the rooms.  He shushed her to keep quiet, and then for some reason he looked at the young/old woman hard, beneath the greying hair, the small spectacles, and her scarred and broken face…”

 

“He recognized Lady Nan.” Aileen said with a romantic sigh.

 

“That he did Aileen, but she wasn’t the beautiful young woman she had once been, in her place was a fragile, nervous person, whose body its owner had battled keeping together with her soul.”

 

“Nan?” he is said to have asked,” Grace stopped for another tear, “No Sir,” she said quietly as she looked down at his feet, I be Annie Smith.”

 

“So you’ve taken her name have you,” he is said to have replied, “No wonder I’ve never been able to find you…do you know what you have cost me?”

 

“No Sir, you have the wrong person, I am Annie Smith.”

 

“Well I don’t care what you call yourself,” he said as he grabbed her arm, “you are coming with me.” 

 

“He dragged her out of the house, threw her into a carriage, and set off at speed.  He then drove like a banshee till he reached London late at night, dragged her up the stairs and threw her into the house, and towered over her.  As she sat on the floor he outlined that she would be marrying him, that there was no question of it being consummated, that he would get his inheritance, and that after a year and a day he would have the marriage annulled on the non-consummation.

 

“He gave her to his steward and the housekeeper, told them she could not leave the house. Next day she faced the indignity of being certified a virgin by a pair of doctors… Four days later, at the dead of night, she was married to the Earl, the only witnesses being the two servants.”

 

“That is terrible,” Tam shed a tear.

 

“For a year London society buzzed over Lord Fairhaven’s marriage - visitors tried to see her, but the court warned formally she would be unwelcome at anything. Even more damming, Almack’s Assembly warned the Earl that whist he might be welcome, his Countess most assuredly wasn’t.”

 

“So how did she react Grace?” Donald asked quietly.

 

“She settled down Donald, for a year and a day she did the jobs other housemaids did, she fed herself on scraps left over from the servants table. She went to church early each Sunday…”

 

“So she left the house then” Paula asked, “but how if people were looking for her?”

 

“Because they were looking for the old Nan she had once been, the poorly dressed prematurely middle-aged woman just went invisible.”

“I hate to ask,” Donald said quietly, “but what happened, did they reconcile?”

 

“According to the stories Lord Donald they did - he apologised, declared he loved her still, but despite his pleas she continued as she had. One year after her wedding the doctors declared she was still a virgin…A day later she walked out of the house and out of history.”

 

“And then?”

 

“Nobody knows – he married Lucy McAdam six months later, and history continued.  Was he ever happy is the question – and was she?”

 

"It's a very ugly legend Grace," Will spoke, "but that's it all it is, a legend. There is no proof anywhere in the Fitzstuart archives that an Anne Fitzstuart existed."

"Have you ever had an expert look at those archives Will to check?"

"Never saw the point Grace."

"Alright, but you asked Heather to investigate a family picture by Romney that some have cast doubt on as being his work?"

"I did, but what has that got to do with this?"

"Well it turns out that darling Mandy's brother asked LIFA for information on a Lawrence that in his invoice is described as two ladies and two gentlemen, and which shows Jack, Bess, and Tom?"

"Gerry has?" Mandy looked interested.

"Well after all the shit started flying today I remembered Nan's story, and played a hunch. I got LIFA to send Lily Cole its research on the Lawrence, and for her to talk to Heather about the Romney."

"So?" Mandy asked.

"The doubt over your Romney family group is because there is a section that experts say he didn't paint...am I correct Will?"

"You are Grace."

"Well Lily had a look at x-rays of both paintings, in each case, a figure has been painted over...look and you can see it’s the same young woman."

"Nan Fitzstuart?" Will whispered. "so she was real?"

 

"She clearly wasn't in love with Roger Treharran," Charles mused, "and that if he just dumped her says she didn't have the fortune he was seeking...so why did she run away with him?"

"To prevent Bess Bamber ruining herself," Aggie whispered, "and in saving her best friend."

"She ruined herself." Tamsin finished.

"Has a sort of familiar feel doesn't it?" Grace smiled.

"But why if Jack wanted her eventually...why turn him down and walk away?" Paula asked.

"You weren't listening darling," Mandy shook her head, "all 'society' had made it clear she was persona non grata...she left so he could marry Lucy McAdam, and live his true life."

"She must have loved him so deeply," Olivia shed a tear."

 

"What do you think happened to her Aunt Grace?"

"No one has ever found out Christine. Mills and Boon have probably got rich on variations of her story. In some she gets a happy ending, in others its a tragedy...In my opinion given all the people who have combed parish death records etc over the years, I think one cold night she just froze to death under a hedgerow somewhere...and she's buried in an unmarked grave."

"Oh that is so horrible to think of." Kit started to cry.

 

“My point is – History does not have to repeat itself, if you do not want it to.  Love has to find a way, whatever society thinks.”  Looking at Colin and Donald, she said “think about that…”

 

 

 

 

“Excuse me a moment,” Colin said as he saw Susan talking to Kay and Penny across the room.  “Something I need to do.”

 

“Donald?”

 

Looking round, Donald saw Catherine and slowly stood up.  “Tamsin – the offer you made to me earlier?  I accept.”

 

As Tamsin looked at Agnes, Donald said “I will not see you go the same way” before he walked towards his wife.

 

“You all right Agnes?”

 

“Yeah – I guess I need to pack up soon,” Agnes said with a smile.

 

 

 

 

“Susan, can I have a word please?”

 

“Sure, what is it,” Susan said quietly.

 

“Do you remember that night just after we moved in together?”

 

“I remember – oh, you mean THAT night,” Sue said quietly…

 

 

2013

 

“Alright what kind of wanker is stupid enough to try and rob a China Doll?” Sue thought to herself as they stuffed a rag in her mouth and secured it with a nylon scarf.

 

“I don’t even rate silk?” she felt her temperature rising. This was what she did to other people, not them to her. That they had ripped open, and ruined, the silk blouse that had been a gift from Madame had not helped her mood, nor that they had pulled down her panty hose so it hung round her lower legs.

 

Colin’s nose was bleeding from where they had hit him so hard and his eyes that she loved so much, looked slightly dazed. Honestly if these scum had hurt her man really badly she would have her revenge, and for them it would be extremely painful.

 

They had to be a pair of true low life scum, any crim of any standing would have got the word that Madame X had ordained this house was off limits, that this was a house you robbed at peril of your own life.

 

She and Colin had moved in together a month ago. It was less than six months since she and the Dolls had done this house themselves. “Poor Colin,” she thought as she looked over, “these bastards had trussed him up rather more painfully then Kay and Bobbie had done.”  There was a rope wound round his chest, tied to a similar binding round his legs that caused him to have to stay in a sitting position.  To ensure he did as he was told they had jerked his head back and slapped him around.

 

Good God if they just knew who she was, then she bet they wouldn’t have dared to do it. Why had she decided to play this straight? At her old place she had always kept at least a couple of guns at all times, but she’d told herself that if Colin had found them in the house he would never have understood, and she didn’t want to give him any grounds to think she was not the ‘nice’ girl he’d met in a pub in Chelsea one day.

 

He had asked if he could see her the next night, and asked her out to eat at a very nice little Thai restaurant. That night they had eaten and then sat talking. He told her about himself, his family, and his political ambitions. She told him a sanitized version of her life, that she was from Northampton originally, that she worked as a PA, and leaving out the fact that she had been a runaway, a prostitute, and that she was still a thief.

 

He’d given her a little peck on the cheek as he put her into a taxi, and the next morning he sent her roses at her work. She’d fallen for him while she had held him prisoner, and nothing he had ever done had spoiled her impression of him. It took four more dates, and two more weeks before she had slept with him, and the thrill she had got touching him that first time they had met hadn’t turned out to be false promise. He was a very masculine lover who was both sensitive and understood a woman’s body and how to bring her maximum pleasure. Their lovemaking was intense and long, and she had fallen even more deeply in love with him.

 

The men as far as she could tell were big, middle aged, and real Londoners. Even with the stockings over their heads she had fixed some kind of mental image of them in her mind, if she saw them again she’d probably be able to identify them.

 

They were ripping drawers out of antique furniture here in the drawing room and scattering the contents on the floor, they had no style…no finesse, these guys were just plain thugs.

 

“You be a good girl, while we look around the rest of the ‘ouse darling, or I might forget ‘ow nice I am and give yer boyfriend a new ‘ole to ‘ave fun in,” he’d lifted up her skirt with the shotgun and rubbed it up and down against her.

 

Kay was due to be dropping round soon, Sue wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. Did she want her best friend to get caught by these bastards? Or would Kay give ‘em a bloody good clobbering?

 

Poor Colin, her darling looked totally pissed off, not as he’d done the night she and the girls had raided this place, when they had stared into each other’s eyes. This time he was angry, and she knew that for all the people thought he was a chinless wonder, underneath the regulation blue suit, he was far from being soft.

 

Colin had certainly not been happy that as they wound the rope round her chest, that they had ripped open her red blouse, and that both men had groped her breasts.

The thieves had crashed the front door as she and Colin unloaded the weekend’s shopping after getting back from Tesco’s. They’d pushed them both into the front room; Sue could still not bring herself to call it the drawing room as Colin did. They’d closed the front door behind themselves and threatened them with a pair of shooters, a sawn-off shotgun, and what looked like quite an old revolver.

 

They had punched Colin in the face, and then dragged her to the floor by her hair. It was crude, but it had been effective, she quickly found her hands and ankles secured with zip ties, and that Colin was being dealt with in a similar fashion.

 

It was obvious that both had been taking a bit of ‘Dutch Courage’ prior to this, Sue could smell the booze on their breath.

 

She was glad that Antonia and Ambrosia had gone home after lunch. If these bastards had touched either of Colin’s nieces, she wouldn’t have been responsible for her own actions if she caught them. As it was Penny would ensure via Madame’s network that these bastards would soon hear their lives weren’t worth shit. Either Dominique would deal with them, or just maybe the inner Penny, that part of her that only her fellow Dolls were aware of might get released.  If she was one of these idiots she would be praying it was Dominique sent to kill them, the mere thought of what Penny might do was chilling.

 

Anyway that was for later, for now she tried to work out what they were trying to take. She had never had a lot of jewellery, and the most expensive thing she owned was the gold ring on her finger that Colin had given her, and they’d not even looked at that.  They had found the ebony and ivory antique snuff box in one of the draws, and pocketed that. They had found the Rolex that Colin didn’t wear because it didn’t work, and taken that, but other than that they seemed to have found very little.

 

She looked again at Colin, as he tried to speak, the rag held in his mouth by one of his ties.  She just shook her head and watched as one of the men ran upstairs, returning a few minutes later with one of the pillow cases, jangling.

 

“Let’s go,” he said, the other man nodding as they ran out of the front door.  Sue started to edge her way over to Colin, moving so she sat next to him and put her head on his shoulder.  He leaned over and kissed her head with his lips, before they both heard Kay say “What the hell…”

 

2016

 

“I wanted to protect you that time,” Colin said, “and I still do.  Let’s do this together, for each other, agreed?”

 

Sue simply nodded as she kissed him, Penny and Kay smiling…

 

 

 

 

 

"Davina what indescribably naughty things have you been doing to poor Jimmy?" Madame asked, "He looks like he needs a nice long sleep to recover."

"Who Moi?" the aristocrat asked in mock horror.

"Yes you Daffy," Shirley laughed, "at least let him get to sleep by at least three thirty tonight."

"Oh don't worry Shirley by then I'll have made sure he's out for the night."

"And the terrible thing is she means it," Jimmy groaned, "I sleep like a log some nights."

"But logs don't snore like you Jimmy darling," Davina kissed him on the cheek.  “Can you get me another drink?”

 

As he nodded and walked off, Davina said “so you will require my assistance Madame?”

 

“In a number of ways, yes.  I will let you know.”

 

Yet again Shirley reflected on how useful Davina was as one of her people.  As a Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter of Edward VII she was widely regarded as a very minor member of the royal family, and not a door in London was barred to her.

Her skill as an operative was undoubted, and she would play an important role tonight. Shirley however hoped she would be up to doing something else - if Daffy and Jimmy would openly receive Agnes, she was hoping that a lot of the 'smart' set might follow.

 

 

 

“Colin – is there something you wish to tell us,” Grace said as she saw her cousin and Sue walk over to where she was sitting with Maggie and Olivia.

 

“Well, yes – Sue and I have talked, and we’re going to see if we can patch things up,” Colin said with a smile.

 

“Ah.”

 

“Margaret?”

 

"Before you do anything though, there is some news you maybe need factor in." Dame Margaret spoke softly. "It's a well guarded secret, but Jack Channing is terminally ill, he probably has less than a month."

"The poor man," Colin murmured.

"Well it will mean a by-election at Chase Valley, and from what I hear on the grapevine, Peter Latimer will ensure you will be on the selection committee shortlist Colin."

"Are you sure Dame Margaret?"

"He will," Maggie smiled, "you are his blue eyed boy after all."

"Alright for someone like me, where is Chase Valley?" Paula asked.

"Directly north of Northampton," Sue mumbled.

"It's a safe Tory seat, whoever they select is assured of winning," Maggie said quietly.

"What she's saying though without actually saying it, is that if Colin is to be selected then I can't be seen within a million miles of him," Sue shrugged, "well it was a nice dream while it lasted."

"Sue I am not losing you a second time."

"Be practical Colin, you want this so bad that you can taste it." Sue smiled, "and it’s Chase Valley, I know that means so much to you."

"Why?" Olivia asked.

"His grandfather, and his great grandfather both represented the constituency,” Sue looked round. "It's almost a family tradition."

"I'm not going to do it without you Sue."

"I think you are going to have to though my love."  She looked up into his eyes, those eyes she loved so much.

"You give up easily don't you?"

"No Grace, but I learned years ago to be a realist, and not to wish for what I couldn't have." Sue started to gently cry as she leaned against Colin's shoulder.

"What do you think Colin?" his cousin asked.

"That above all I am not going to lose Sue..."

"But there is a but coming," Sue murmured.

"It's the House of Commons, it’s a chance to do things..."

"Are you sure it will be such a big thing Darling?" Mandy slowly drawled the question.

"Mandy you know better my love," Will shook his head, "even nowadays in the Tory Shires they expect an awful lot of a candidate’s wife."

"Yeah can you see me opening fetes, of hosting tea parties." Sue tried to dry her eyes. "Not exactly the sort of thing I'm good at."

 

“But I will not…”

 

"Colin there is perhaps another fact you don't know about me that probably needs saying right now."

"And that is?"

"I was actually born in the constituency...I was born in Helmstone?"

"You never said that Sue...at St Martha's Hospital?"

"No, I was born in the prison hospital Colin...my Mum was doing 18 months for stealing a car."

"Ouch," Charles Treharran whispered.

 

"Colin darling, let's try and do what we can,” Sue said quietly, “I can move back into Rutland Street, at least for a few weeks, but as soon as things start moving I'll move back out again to avoid any scandal."

"That's unfair on you Sue."

"Not really my love, we at least get to be a couple again for a while, and beyond that? Well we see what we can work out."

 

“If I was you,” Grace said quietly, “I would take the offer Colin.  A lot can happen in a few weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Did I hear correctly what happened Kay?" Madame shook her head.

"That Sue had agreed almost to marry him again, but that then Dame Margaret dropped a little bombshell?"

"Yes...why did Maggie do it?" Shirley shook her head, "does she dislike Sue?"

"No I think she likes her very much Madame, but that inside information regarding the Chase Valley seat I guess she knew would be pertinent to what Colin and Sue worked out."

 

 

 

 

"So Davina what exactly is your ancestry?" Rachel asked as they watched the dancers.

"Well," she took a breath, "I'm a Duff, a Mountbatten, and a few other bits thrown in for good measure."

"Including being a Romanov," Diana laughed as she stood next to them.

"So is that how you are related Diana?"

"No," Abigail is related that way, but personally  I relate via that that illegitimate Mountbatten."

"Well it's all too complicated for me."

"Even Aunt Valeria has trouble keeping it all straight," Davina laughed.

"But it all makes you royal?"

"Not really darling, I'm ninety something in the succession, I'm sort of family, but no I'm not royal....Unlike Terry and Rudy here..."

"Don't let Daffy kid you Rachel, her ancestry is as grand as virtually anyones." Rudy poured fresh drinks for all the ladies.

 

 

As they sat out in the summer house Colin asked a question that Sue had been dreading.


"Sue,” he said quietly, “can you still have children?"

"Yes - they'd need to monitor me closely, there was some damage when I miscarried, but yes the doctors said I still can be a Mum."

"And would you like to be?"

"Yes, but as we stand I never will be."

"Why?"

"Because unlike me,” Sue said quietly, “I'd like any child of mine to bear their father's name."

"And if we can't get married," Colin shook his head.

"Exactly." Sue looked into his eyes, "and I know you'll be a terrific dad one day, but that all gets back to you finding someone to marry..."

"Sue I want to marry you..."

"And I you, but haven't we just worked out it can't be."

 

“I know, I know…”

 

 

 

 

 

"Heather,” Shirley said as she looked at the young couple outside, “is there no way you can help?"

"With what Shirley? Her minor scrapes with the law as a juvenile are sealed, and she has no record as an adult...Just as with Aggie it’s human memories, and just as with her those I can't change."

"You were able to give Marina and Kylie whole new lives, Caroline too...Surely?"

"Plastic surgery, a brand new face, I could give her a new identity, but somehow I know that's not what she wants to do."

"All those people who saw what happened will never forget the details..."

"And that is without other former clients recognising her." Heather shook her head.  “the best we can do is support their decision, whatever it is.”

 

“And on the other matter?”

 

“That, Charlotte and I may be able to help with…”

 

“With what?”

 

“A small business matter, Agnes – how are you feeling now?”

 

“Better,” she said with a small smile.  “Shirley do you know Detective Chief Inspector Babbage of the Met?"

"Only by reputation. Everyone says he is straight as an arrow, and he's led the team that solved a couple of London's nastier killings."

"He spoke to me in the pub on my way home from the races Wednesday night."

"Oh?" Shirley's eyebrow lifted.

"No it wasn't official," Agnes smiled, “it was one old friend giving a heads up to another."

"Now you have me lost Agnes."

"I was a bridesmaid at his wedding, Sherry his wife was my roommate at Oxford."

"Ah, I see...”  Shirley nodded as she whispered “so what was he warning you about?"

"That the security services had asked him about Donald, and that he'd had to tell them all about me."

"I understand...so he is a friend of Donald's as well?'

"Yes, they are obviously re-vetting him ahead of him perhaps getting the Paris embassy."

"Which has triggered what thoughts in your head?"

"That if I am going to try build some relationship with Donald, I'm going to have to be so discreet I'm virtually invisible if it isn't going to hurt his career."

 

“Not as impossible as you might think, if you will allow your friends to help you.”

 

“And Catherine?”

 

“Yes – she is someone I feel needs to be talked to…”

 

 

 

 

Abigail smiled as Carina came back into the party.

 

"Is she asleep alright Cari?"

"Yes, she exhausted herself running round and dancing Abby."

"I saw she was having fun."

"Oh yes,” Carina said as she took a glass of champagne from a passing waiter.  “So are you enjoying your very special party?"

"I am, but I wish a few others were."

"Oh whom?"

"Penny's friends, Madame, Mandy, Olivia, and that group."

"Yeah something's not right, I'd noticed as well."

 

“I wonder if it’s to do with the McAdam of McAdam?”

 

“Well, she seems happier as the day went on – but something else is happening, that’s for sure…”

 

 

 

"Dr McAdam might I beg a word?"


Agnes turned to the man and said "Yes."


"My name is Augie van Roon, you met my wife I believe earlier."

"The lady who does burlesque...yes I did."

"That's her." the American smiled. "Look my Uncle Gus has said that I should probably talk to you."

"He has?" Agnes looked surprised.  “And what would you want to talk about?”


"I run a company called Torware."

"You manufacture household products?"

"Among other things...Look I'm seeking to expand our production base into both Africa, and South-East Asia."

"Cheaper labour markets?" Aggie speculated.

"Yes,” Augie said, “but Torware has always prided itself on being an ethical employer. I want us to do this in a way that doesn't hurt my American workers, that pays a decent living wage to my new employees, that gives them maximum social benefits, and which doesn't end up lining corrupt people’s pockets."

"Laudable aims Mr van Roon,” Agnes said, “but how can I help?”

"I understand you wrote a much praised book on investing in the underdeveloped world?”

"So people tell me..." Aggie smiled.

"Well if I hired you, could you prepare an advisory brief that I could show my board of directors?"

"Are you being serious Mr van Roon...I'm sure you know of my personal problems?'

"If you are as good as the academic community says you are, it will be worth every penny, and your personal life has no bearing on your academic credibility."

"Look Mr van Roon, give me till Sunday to think about this please?'

 

“Of course – think it over tomorrow, and we’ll talk at the christening,” Augie said as he walked off.

 

“There you are,” Tamsin said as she walked over.

 

"Tippy Toes,” Agnes said quietly, “how drunk am I?"

"You are actually starting to sober up a little Aggie...Why?"

"Because I wasn't sure if what just happened wasn't a drunken fantasy on my part."

"Why what did Donald say?"

"Oh that I'll whisper to you in a bit."

"Alright so what did you think might be a fantasy then?"

"That the head of a Fortune 500 company just asked me to consult on his company's proposed expansion."

"Oh my God Aggie...really?"

"If you are right and I'm not drunk out of my gourd...then yes."

"So what did you say?"

"The same as I said to Francesca...I need a little time to think about it."

"It's the kind of work you always wanted to do."

 

“I know – now if only…”

 

“Miss McAdam – may I have the honour of this dance?”

 

She looked at Alex, smiled and said “of course you may” as he led her onto the dance floor…

 

 

 

"So what does Jimmy do Daffy?" Claire Morse asked as she made conversation with Lady Davina.

"He's a captain in the Blues and Royals."

"The who?"

"They are one of the two cavalry regiments that provide guard for the Queen," Brooke answered.

"I think I saw some of them when we were sightseeing in London...Outside a building on Whitehall Street?"

"It's just called Whitehall Claire," Lady Davina gently chuckled, "but yes that's one of their roles."

"The other is chasing nasty buggers round war zones in armoured cars," John Hammond smiled, "just like my old regiment they are rather more than just toy soldiers looking all nice for the tourists."

"That is true,” Davina said with a smile, “Jimmy just got back from Afghanistan a couple of months ago."

"As I've always told John, I truly admire the British Guards," Ken said as he brought over fresh drinks.

"This is superb wine," Brooke murmured, "or am I wrong Alexander?"

"No, your taste buds are impeccable Brooke, Valeria and Guy have served nothing but the best tonight, must have cost a fortune."

"Do you know,” Davina said, “it doesn't matter how good the wine is Father there is a relative of mine who wouldn't drink it?"

"Yes," Alex laughed, "I heard that at state dinners and the such they serve him beer."

"I only remembered that at the last second when I photographed him," John shook his head, "I nearly made a dreadful faux pas."

"Who the hell are they talking about?" Rachel McNally whispered in her husband ear.

 

“A senior Royal,” George replied, “and more than that they’re not going to say…”

 

 

 

 

 

“Penelope,” Shirley said quietly, “be a darling and cover for me, I need to go outside and make a phone call.”

 

“Certainly Shirley.”

 

Walking out of the large double doors, Shirley looked up at the darkening sky, and then walked further into the courtyard.  “Alright, this is quiet enough,” Shirley made sure she couldn’t be overheard, then pressed a button on her cell phone and selected a contact.

 

“Hello,” a voice answered after three rings.

 

“Hello Lady C…it’s been a while,” Shirley said quietly, her voice altered by the telephone.

 

“It has Madame…and to what do I owe this dubious pleasure?”

 

“Much as I hate it I need to ask a personal favour.”

 

“Well those are words I never expected to hear in my life.”

 

“Nor did I expect to say them,” Shirley laughed as she heard some clicks on line, “oh and don’t bother trying tracing this call, it really would be a waste of time and effort.”

 

“Well it was worth a thought.” Lady C laughed lightly. “So alright what is the favour, and why should I do it?”

 

“Because I’m guessing that we have a common interest in rehabilitating and helping a certain true lady.”

 

“And what leads you to that conclusion Madame?”

 

“That because, as has been said before, we are two sides of the same coin you and I, and that I think we therefore share a common respect for Agnes McAdam?”

 

“Ah,” the voice replied, “I had heard rumours saying her life might be about to change.”

 

“Tell me C, what is your view of prostitution?”

 

“That historically it’s the one crime where the same person has been both perp…and victim.”

 

“Precisely my view.”

 

“And coming back to Agnes, while she might be Lady D’eath, her work for the children on the streets earns nothing but my admiration…”

 

“And your financial contribution?” Shirley interrupted.

 

“Oh I’ve been known to write the odd cheque…and yourself?”

 

“I’ve donated a little,” Shirley smiled and laughed lightly.

 

“So what can I do for her that requires you of all people to ask for my aid?”

 

“Use your influence to ensure that Agnes can put her life back to where it always should have been, without your side either embarrassing her, or hassling her.”

 

“You think I have that much influence?”

 

“I’m hoping you do.”

 

“And on your side of the street?”

 

“I’ll do anything I can to help her.”

 

“You know you’ll owe me one?”

 

“If Agnes can find happiness,” Shirley said quietly, “then it’s a price I’ll pay.”

 

“Alright, I’ll do it…but not for you Madame, purely for Agnes.”

 

“I can live with that.” Shirley hung up and looked up into the sky.  “Strange bedfellows,” she whispered to herself as she made her way back in.  As she did so, she saw Caroline and walked over to her.

 

"Caroline what do you know of a certain Detective Chief Inspector Babbage?"

"With the Murder Squad, extremely honest, extremely clever, and I hear before he retires his ambition is to put someone called Dominique behind bars...Why are you asking?"

"He's also an old and good friend of Agnes's."

Smiling Caroline shook her head.  "That must make for a few complications in his life."

"From what she said I think he truly wants to help her."

"Well he is a very rare breed of copper then." Caroline thought for a second, "Is he also a friend of Donald's?"

"I get the impression so...they all go back to Oxford, Aggie was a bridesmaid at Babbage's wedding."

"And the question you want me to answer Shirley, is how can we use him to best effect to help her?"

"Precisely."

"Alright give me a chance to think on it please?" Caroline sipped her champagne.

 

“Again that is all I ask,” Shirley said as Diana walked over.

 

"Shirley my friend what the hell is going on?" Diana spoke quietly, "people are starting to ask me questions about you all."

"I apologise Diana, but I'm trying to help two couples find happiness with each other."

"Well don't spoil my daughters party whilst doing so."

 

“It is not my intention – and indeed, there is no more I can do now save to let nature take its course,” Shirley said as John came over.

 

“Dance?”

 

“Of course…”

 

 

 

"Carlotta darling can I ask you for an opinion?"

"An opinion from me Mama? On what?"

"The status of Agnes McAdam?"

Shaking her head, Charlotte said "Not really my field of expertise."

"Nor mine darling, but I've been used for so many years of living with a very negative public image, that I think I can venture that a good PR person might be just what Agnes needs right this minute."

"And?"

"Elia is coming to London on Monday, I will see what she suggests we can do to help Agnes bury her past."

 

 

 

 

"Mr van Roon,” Agnes said as she walked to where Augie was standing, “there are a few questions that I think you need to think about before we start considering what you asked.”


"It's Augie Dr McAdam, and what are those difficulties?"

"Well my name is Agnes, and there are a few things I probably need to say."

"Okay,” Augie said with a smile, “go ahead Agnes."

"Well for starters, given the travel problems that my legal status imposes on me, I'm pretty sure I can't do the field work myself, that means I'd have to rely on outside sources for my data and information."

"Alright I don't think that's an insurmountable problem."

"Second I'd have to do any presentations and Q&A sessions via video link...I know I'm definitely not welcome in the States."

"Understood, and we can get round that."

"Thirdly, and probably most importantly, I've been out of this area for twenty years, are you sure you wouldn't be better off with someone with more recent experience?"

"Not from what I hear," Augie laughed.

"Well as you know all the problems I'll bring, then I still need think a few bits out for myself, so is Sunday still alright for a reply?"

 

“Of course – and thank you for at least considering…”

 

 

 

 

“Well now – did you enjoy that?”

 

"I know he's attached Eleanor,” Veronica gasped after dancing with Guy, “but I can see just why so many women have dropped their panties for him over the years.”


"He's a charming old rogue that's true," Eleanor said as she gave her friend a drink.

"Well I'm happy to say I was never one of those women," Nessa laughed, "I was tempted, but i never did."

"And a warning Veronica,” Eleanor said, “Valeria would kill you if she heard that you had made a play at Guy."

"I know Eleanor, but for someone who isn't usually part of this world, I'm still allowed to dream aren't I?"

"As long as it just stays dreams." Nessa answered.

 

 

 

 

 

“Sue darling, there is something I want to ask you?”

 

“About what Colin?”

 

“How were you…umm…recruited…”

 

“You mean what made me become a Prossie?”

 

“Well Yes.”

 

“Are you sure you want to know?”

 

Grimacing, Colin whispered “Is it that bad?”

 

“No it isn’t,” Kay interjected, “but it is kind of unusual.”

 

“Meaning what?”

 

“Well a lot of girls go on the game because they fall for some pimp’s smooth line of chat, or they think he’s in love with them, or often just because they want to please the first person many of them have ever met who seems to take a real interest in them.”

 

“I can lend you a book on it Colin if you really want to know,” Dame Margaret whispered.

 

“Okay I get that, but you said that wasn’t why you started. So what was the reason?”

 

“I signed on the dotted line, so to speak, because Madame Caroline promised me both a cooked dinner, and a cooked tea, every day.”

 

“So it wasn’t the promise of money?” Colin looked perplexed.

 

“No the money was incidental to me at the time, I was so hungry most of the time I’d have done it for nothing if she’d added in breakfast as well.  I’m probably the only tart ever to go on the game just to make sure she got something to eat regularly.”

 

“I’m not sure if that’s awful…or funny?” Colin shook his head.

 

“Well looking back I don’t think I’m even sure…When I started I’d go to her place in the late morning, I’d have me dinner, then she dressed me in something fancy and sexy, plastered the makeup on, I worked the afternoon shift, had me tea about seven, got changed into me own clothes and then walked back to Cardboard City.

 

“Eventually I realized I was earning enough to rent a room, so I had a proper roof over my head, I even had enough left over to treat myself to things like a little telly for my room, and that is the true story of what Susan Fletcher did when she was aged 13.”

 

“It was really like that?”

 

“Yeah,” she looked in his eyes as he cuddled her, “that’s how I started.”

 

 

 

 

“Shirley,” Agnes asked quietly, “did you ask Augie van Roon to talk to me?”

 

“No…Why Agnes?”

 

“Because out of the blue he’s made me one hell of an offer to do some consultancy work for his company.”

 

“He has?”

 

Nodding, Agnes said “How well do you know him?”

 

“Socially I know him very well, and we co-sponsor a racing car team together as well.”

 

“Can you promise me you didn’t tell him to throw me a bone?”

 

“This time I can,” Shirley laughed, “If you want a suspect, then look at the president of your fan club,” she turned and pointed.

 

“You mean the Minister?”

 

“Well he has been singing your praises to anyone who would listen all day.”

 

“So the Torware offer is just because he thinks I can do this?”

 

“Agnes dear, trust that people do realize your worth, and want your opinions.”

 

“Well I told him some of the potential problems.”

 

“Which are?”

 

“Oh basically not being able to go and do the on the ground research myself…I will need a top class researcher to help me.”

 

“You know this young lady would be ideal…if she didn’t have two years left at college.”

 

“I’d be ideal for what?” Ingrid asked as Shirley stopped her.

 

“I’ve been asked to do some consultancy work for Torware, but with my personal problems I can’t travel to look in the country for myself.”

 

“You know I’d kill to do it, but as Shirley says I’m still at Princeton.”

 

“If you can think of anyone though Your Highness I’d appreciate a recommendation.”

 

“I’ll ask a few people.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

“So Agnes,” Shirley said as Ingrid went off, “do you still think there is no way you can go back to the person you were?”

 

“I can never go back there Shirley,” Agnes said quietly, “but if all the offers I have received come through, then it may finally be time to set one side of my life into the background, and fully concentrate where I am needed.”

 

“The children?”

 

Agnes nodded as she said “the children.  But forgive me if I do not count my chickens – there are always bumps in the road…”  As she said this, she saw Catherine looking with pure hatred at her.

 

 

 

 

 

"Enjoying yourself Orion?" Katherine asked as she gave the youngster a glass of lemonade.

"Yes, but all this dancing is exhausting me," she laughed.

"I'd noticed you seem to have partners for everything."

"Yeah but I wish I knew in advance which ones were interesting? and which ones just wanted to stare at my titties."

"The penalty for you being such a star dear. So where's your Dad?"

"Last I saw he was chatting to Mary Clarke's father, I think they have a common interest in 1970's cars."

"Ah, well I'm glad I'm over here chatting with you, and not with them."

"Yeah my Dad is restoring an old American car he found in a junk yard."

"Oh well he and Dave could be at it for a while."

"Just be glad my son-in-law isn't with them," Rose smiled, "they'd be talking all night."

"Ooooh," Katherine winced, "even the thought of it hurts."

"Doesn't it just," Rose giggled. "So what are you drinking Orion?"

"Lemonade, me and Katy agreed we'd each have two glasses of champagne tonight, but otherwise we'd be on soft drinks."

"That's very sensible dear...so looking forward to Sydney?"

"The show? Then yes. The travel? Not at all."

"Yeah it will be a long trip for us all," Katherine grimaced.

 

 

 

 

"Okay David Clarke I think I'm well and truly drunk...I don't think you'll have any trouble taking advantage of me tonight," Sally grinned as she leaned against him.

"And I had such intricate plans for how I was going to seduce you." David laughed.

"I know I've never drunk this much...and I've certainly never danced as much."

"That makes both of us," he said before he gently kissed her.

"Alright you two," Trina laughed, "break it up...I promised your mom you'd be perfectly safe on this trip Sally."

"I am safe...David is protecting me," Sally snuggled up.

"Who is looking after you though Trina?" David asked, "two men almost fighting over you?"

"Yeah, and what makes it worse is I don't really like either of them, but Italian men latch on and they get possessive."

"What do you think of Richard?"

"That I could easily fall for him myself...your sister is so lucky."

 

"So Dave, is it true what they say that your Mary has never had a boyfriend?"

"Well not until now Mick,” Dave said as he stood with Orion’s father, “but it looks like Richard might be sticking around a bit."

"I'm really not sure how I'm gonna react when Orion says a boy has asked her out."

"Well she's only 14."

"But like your Mary, she's a celebrity, I just don't want it to be the wrong kind of boy...or worse someone much older than her."

"Well my second son might be ideal, but I think he likes young Poppy."

"Yeah I noticed."

"All I can say is you gotta trust Orion, she seems despite all the attention to be a kid with her head screwed on right. Now with my girls other than Mary…”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“It aint them I worry about, it's the poor guys that they are hunting."

 

Mick laughed as he looked at the dance floor, and said “I see what you mean…”

 

 

 

"So you realise that your wedding celebration will be even bigger than this Piet?" Winston asked as the South African delivered Jeannie back to her chair.

"Yeah," Piet looked skywards, "all those people I don't even know, Man I'm not looking forward to it."

"It's the penalty for marrying one of the world's richest women," Jeannie sipped from her glass.

"Ja, it was going to be a whole simpler as we planned it before Roo found out."

"So where are you going on your honeymoon?"

"I'm not saying,” Piet said, “but just know it will just be me and Roo, and the rest of the world can go screw itself."

"Why do you call Charlotte Roo Piet? No-one’s ever explained."

"Her hair Jeans,” Piet said with a smile, “the Afrikaans word for red is Rooi, and I just shortened it a fraction."

"Ah now that makes sense."

 

 

 

 

"So what chance of Sue coming back to the hotel with us Penny?" Kay asked as she stood with her friend.


"I'd say less than zero Kay."

"Yeah she does look pretty happy to be dancing with him again."

"Well we both knew she was still head over heels about him, despite all that crap she said and did."

"Definitely...so what's Helen doing tonight?"

"What do you think I'm doing Kay?" a voice laughed behind her.

"Coming back to our hotel?" Kay giggled.

"Bingo," Helen laughed as she delivered fresh glasses of champagne.

"So how has your love life been Kay? Still seeing that stock exchange guy?"

"Not really...his wife isn't letting him out much currently."

"He was MARRIED?" Penny looked shocked.

"Yeah...Another prince turned out to be a rat." Kay sipped from her glass, "In my love life if I didn't have such bad luck I'd have no luck at all."

 

 

"Why didn't you tell me as soon as you knew that you were pregnant Sue?" Colin asked as they slow danced with her arms round his neck.

"Because I had this whole big thing planned for how I'd tell you when we got home."

"It would have changed a lot."

"Maybe, but that detective, and those big mouths blabbing they'd had me, you might have been more careful throwing me out, but you'd have still done it...I embarrassed you in front of your whole family."

"Had you meant to get pregnant?"

"I suppose in the back of my mind maybe, but i always was a little casual taking my pills."

"Even when you..."

"Yeah, even then, but every guy who had me before you I made sure wore a rubber, so that always kept me safe."

"You mean?"

"Yeah you were the first man to have me bareback Colin."

"Well that makes me feel more than a bit special."

"Of course you were, and are, special," she grinned.

"But you still won't marry me again will you?"

"Not unless a lot of people get collective amnesia...especially your family." Sue had a sad little look float across her face, "but I will always be somewhere close Colin, even if I'm hidden in shadows."

"So you think one of those girls on 'Made in Chelsea' would have me?"

"In a heartbeat." Sue buried her head in his chest as again tears came to her eyes.

 

 

 

"Alright Aggie,” Mandy said as she drained her glass, “I think I've had enough to do this darling."

"To do what Mandy?"

"To apologise for withdrawing the invitation to be one of my bridesmaids." Mandy stifled a tear, "My parents...and Will's, both insisted that I did it...I'm so sorry."

"Well as it turned out unless you'd have got married in Holloway I couldn't have been there anyway," Agnes tried to laugh.

"It still wasn't right."

"Mandy..."Agnes paused, "thank you for saying that...But in the grand scheme of things it really was just something even I knew you had to do."

"So you forgive me darling?"

"Of course I do," Agnes smiled and embraced Mandy.

"What is Mandy doing Bro," Donald asked Will.

"Apologising to Aggie for disinviting her to our wedding."

"My fault I guess?"

"No Donnie, after the scandal broke I bet even Agnes agrees it was inevitable...with you standing up with me, it was never going to be appropriate for her to stand opposite."

"And she was in prison anyway."

"Yes," Will shook his head, "as you say..."

 

 

 

 

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Guy said as he stood on the stage, “please will you join us on the Patio for a firework display.”

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 25th June

3 am

Chateau de Ros

 

Catherine Fitzstuart woke with a start, looking to the side of her room as she heard Donald gently snoring behind her.  The party was over, and the house was in darkness, but seeing HER accepted back amongst her friends was still weighing on her mind.

 

She sat up, and then stood, slipping her dressing gown on.  Perhaps a walk round, while she knew SHE was not in the building was what was needed.  She had come close to ruining everything, all her plans, with her reactions, and she was determined not to let that happen when she was so close, so close…

 

Slowly opening the door, she looked up and down the dark, empty corridor, and then stepped out, quietly closing the door behind her.  Perhaps if she called her contact – if he was still working – he could place a story…

 

The hood over her head took her completely by surprise, as she heard a deep female voice – a voice strange to her – say “keep walking” as she felt a small disc press into her back.  A kidnapping?  Here?  She toyed with the idea of screaming, raising the alarm, but something told her that would cause more trouble…

 

She was walked along the corridor, down stairs, along corridors, down stairs, and along corridors, and where she was heading she had no idea – until she heard a second, French voice say “sit her down.”

 

“What’s going on,” Catherine said as she was sat in what she presumed was a chair, and she felt a pair of strong hands pull her own arms behind her back, rope securing her wrists together.  As the hood was pulled off her head, she blinked and tried to look into the candle lit room, but all she could make out was the blurred form of a woman.

 

A woman with a leather hood over her face.

 

“You little bitch,” she whispered, “what the hell are you doing?”

 

“I’m sorry – have we met,” the masked woman said, “I did not think we had.”

 

“Come off it, Agnes – I know it’s you?”

 

“Agnes?  Agnes McAdam?  Well, it is strange you should mention her name,” he masked woman said as she walked forward, “but as you can see, I’m a little taller than Agnes McAdam.  She, however, is the reason we invited you to come tonight…”

 

Catherine sneered as she said “oh?  What did the whore want you to do?”

 

“Again, you jump to a false conclusion.  Agnes does not know you are here – indeed, she has been steadfast in her steps to ensure she avoids you and your husband unless it had been unavoidable – which unfortunately it has not been for most of the day in the case of Lord Donald.  She has, however, save for two occasions, I understand avoided you today.”

 

Catherine looked round as she said “so why have I been – invited here?”

 

“Now that is a very good question,” the masked figure said as Catherine felt a pinprick in her arm.  “We want to talk about the past, Lady Donald.  We want to talk about what happened to Agnes McAdam twenty years ago.”

 

“Twenty years ago?  What do you…  What do…”  Catherine blinked as her eyes slipped out of focus, and she started to feel light headed.

 

“Now, Lady Donald,” the masked woman said as she lifted her head up, “is your maiden name Catherine James?”

 

She tried to think for a moment, and then said “Yes…”

 

“I want you to go back twenty years Catherine, when you were single, and your sister was a model.  What was the thing you most desired then?”

 

A smile came onto Catherine’s face as she said “Donald – I wanted to be with Donald Fitzstuart.  But he had eyes only for Agnes.”

 

“What did you think of Agnes McAdam back then?”

 

“I hated her,” Catherine said in a stern voice, “She was his love, and she was the one preventing him seeing me.  She had her First from Oxford, was doing her doctorate, and even though her father had died she was still looking after her sister while she finished her schooling.  She was the darling of society, and I hated her for that.”

 

“But why?  Had she done anything to harm or bring disgrace to you or your family?”

 

“Apart from been chosen over Victoria as Debutante of the year?  She was everything, and had everything, I wanted to be – but then there was that November day when I was walking home from Soho, and I saw her walking out of a brownstone off Berkeley Square.  She wore a long fur coat, and dark glasses, but even under her hat I could see the red hair, and I followed her home to the Bayswater Road.”

 

“Now why would you do that Catherine?”

 

“It was a nice night – but I wondered what the house was, given she was taking great steps not to be recognised, so I followed her there and back a few more times.  I saw other women – and men – coming in and out, so I wondered if it was a club.

 

“And I was right – in a way…”

 

"Why did her being named Deb of the Year annoy you so much Catherine?"

"Because she didn't even care...She never really wanted to be a deb, she did it only because they expected it of her, and then to win the prize...  Victoria should have won…"

 

“Over the likes of Olivia or Paula?”

 

“Yes,” Catherine said with a frown. "My sister was a part of their little group, she got invited to go skiing with them all, I never damn well did!”

"Do you dislike Victoria as well Catherine?"

"A lot of the time, but you know who I really cannot stand?  That Mandy, everyone thinks she's so amusing with the way she talks, etc... I think it’s all a bloody act...and she's the one who got to become a Marchioness yet!"

 

“So, the house – what did you find out about it?”

 

“That it was a whorehouse – a very upper class one, ran by a Madame Sylvie.  Very prim, very proper – but why was she there?  So I went to the Chancery, and looked at her father’s will.  He had left her a good amount of money, as well as Ardray, but I also found she had been selling it off – and the money used to pay her father’s debts.  That was when I realised – she was working there as well.  She was a stinking whore…”

 

“So you discovered her secret – what did you do next?”

 

“I had to bring her down – and destroy her in Donald’s eyes, clear the way for the right wife for him.”

 

“You?”

 

“Me – I knew she kept a diary, Victoria had told me she saw her writing in it once, so I had to get it in a way that made it look like it was not me.  I’d seen thrillers and police dramas – I knew what to do.”

 

Catherine was dimly aware of other women, masked women, standing and listening, but she was too focused on her tale.

 

“So it was you who broke into her flat, tied her up, and set fire to her bedroom?”

 

Catherine smiled and nodded.  “All to cover the fact I’d forced the lock on that precious cabinet of hers, and found her diaries.  I had to do it, to cover that up, let her think they were destroyed in the fire.”

 

“She could have died if she had not been able to free herself.”

 

“No – I called the fire brigade when I was far enough away.  I wanted to destroy her, not kill her – but the diary, what wonderful stories it held…”

 

“And it was you who sold it to the Journalist – he gave your name when he was asked.”

 

“Yes – the jewellery and the fee paid for some clothes, then all I had to do was sit back and wait.  I did not know it would happen when it did – but the weekend before the wedding was wonderful, wonderful timing.”

 

The masked woman looked at her, and said “and you moved in?”

 

“I comforted Donald, told him to end the engagement, to avoid the disgrace, and he listened like the little puppy dog he is.  For an intelligent man, he is far too easily led.”

 

“And when she was arrested?”

 

“I knew the judge – and so did she, although she did not recognise him.  He wore a mask when he visited as well.  I told him I knew, and he came down hard on her to cover his own indiscretions…”

 

“So you brought her down, ruined her – and you were pleased?”     

 

“I was ecstatic – I bided my time, and then ensnared Donald for myself.  And all was well – until she appeared yesterday, and then today it was like she had not changed.”

 

“I see,” the masked woman said.  “The diary – did you ever make use of the contents?”

 

“Why would I?  But I made a note of a few names – they have proved useful over the years.  But with Agnes gone, and disgraced, I had my main revenge.”

 

“Your main revenge?”

 

"I couldn't get the other two,” Catherine said, “but I got that bitch Agnes good."

"Which other two Catherine?"

"Olivia and Paula."

"Did you ever try to hurt them as well?"

"Yes, I got this American dress designer I knew convinced that Tom was actually in love with her, and that Paula had stolen him from her...Stupid bitch actually believed me."

 

"Well that was a surprise bit of information"' one of the masked women whispered to herself.

"She contacted me a few months ago...She still hated Paula and asked me how she might get revenge. I told her to do something to hurt those precious girls of hers."

 

“So it must have upset you greatly to see Agnes not only here, but to be feted….”

 

“I want her dead…”

 

There was silence for a moment, before another voice asked "Just a thought Catherine, but did you have anything to do with breaking up Colin Gresham-Fox's marriage?"

 

She turned her head, and said "I'd seen that whore he married talking to 'her' once or twice, so I investigated her, and I steered the private detective the family used into looking closely at her. Turned out she was even dirtier than the bitch, and I can't quite believe she is a guest here either.  I saw they had got together again – stupid idiot…"

 

"Have you been watching Agnes Catherine?"  the masked woman asked.

"I've kept the occasional check on her yes."

"Tell me Catherine." another masked woman asked, "do you know a Detective Sergeant Bennett?"

"Yes."

"And is it you who has set him on Agnes?"

"Yes."

"How did you meet him?"

"He was a young constable when I broke into 'her' flat. He caught me sniffing round later that night?"

"And did he arrest you?"

"No, but he told me how envious he was of Donald for having a girl like Agnes...I knew an opportunity when I saw it, I let him fuck me, and he's been useful to me ever since."

 

"What do you think of Agnes's work with the children Catherine?"

 

Catherine sneered as she said “They are scum, they have no place in our society.  I don’t care what she and others think – send them home or into homes.”

 

“So you have no compassion for those children – many end up there because of their home lives, and it’s better than going back to abuse and pain.”

 

“Not my problem.”

 

“And now that she is back, what are you going to do?”

 

“Ruin her again.”

 

“No you will not,” the masked woman said, “you are going to forget this conversation, this meeting, but I want you to remember something Catherine.  I know – and if you do anything to attempt to harm or hurt Agnes or Donald or Colin or Susan in any way, I will share my knowledge with those who you have talked about, and it will be you who faces ruin.  Let the thought remain in your mind, and heed my warning.  Now, you will be taken back to your room, and you will sleep deeply.”

 

Catherine nodded as she was hooded, her wrists released and she was led out, Caroline removing the mask and looking at Shirley.

 

“Goddess, she is a bitch,” she said quietly.

 

“Indeed – Charlotte, Heather?”

 

“We have it on video and audio,” Charlotte said, “what do you want to do with it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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