Sunday 12th July
“Thank you,” Heather said as the waitress laid out the cake stand, and left the tea pot in the small sitting room that had been arranged at very short notice. She waited until the young girl had left, closing the door behind her, before she relaxed and looked at Serena Gleb, who was sitting opposite her.
“Thanks for agreeing to this, Heather,” Serena said as Karen Boyd started to pour some tea into the cups, Ken watching quietly.
“Well, Sandy is right about one thing – I don’t know what’s going on, and it’s not getting any better. Thanks, Karen.”
She took the cup, her hand shaking slightly as she took a little sip, and put the cup down on the table.
“Does it show?”
“Look,” Serena said as she leaned forward, “this isn’t a formal session as such, but I do want to talk to you, and see if we can deal with the immediate issue.”
Serena nodded as Ken said “I will say one thing Heather- you’ve taken the first step, and that’s the most difficult part – to ask for help.”
“He’s not just saying that because he’s a doctor – I’m backing him on this one,” Karen said.
“Heather, do you mind if I ask you a few questions – everything in this room is said in complete confidence, nothing that is said goes any further, all right?”
Heather nodded slowly as Serena said “Joanne – how old was she when she left home?”
“Let’s see – my aunt and uncle took her in a year before I left for Yale, so she would have been ten at the time.”
“Okay –now, I know you may not want to answer this, but…”
“No – no he didn’t.” Heather took another drink and said “I was twelve when he started with me, and I always suspected they knew something was wrong, but were too afraid to say anything. At any rate, they agreed that Jo would live with them while I did my senior year, and then went to university.”
Serena nodded, and then said, “Your parents died in your Freshman year at Yale, right?”
“Yeah – I called them to tell them the news, but also to plead with them not to bring Jo to the funeral. She was happy with them, and I didn’t want anything to spoil that peace she had found.”
“I can understand that,” Serena said with a smile. “So you continued at Yale, she lived with your relatives – and she came to New York two years ago, correct?”
“That’s right – my aunt and uncle died, but I’d also managed to settle with Sandy as her nanny, and she kindly agreed Jo could come and live with me.”
“That must have been a great relief to you.”
“It was – one of the happiest days of my life was when we met her at Central Station. Not as good as the funeral, but…”
Heather suddenly looked at Karen and Ken, and said “sorry – that must sound horrible…”
“Sounds honest to me,” Karen said quietly as she sipped her tea.
“And she’s lived here ever since, in safety?”
“Well, apart from her kidnapping last year.”
Heather took a drink as she said “A man convinced himself somehow Jo was his daughter, who had disappeared a year before. He became obsessed, kidnapped her – and, well, she was rescued a few days later.”
“The man who did it?”
“Killed in the rescue raid,” Heather said quietly, smiling inwardly at the memory of killing Joe Markham.
Serena sat back for a moment, looking at Heather as she said “Heather, when Joanne was snatched, you must have been terrified. Can you tell me what scared you the most?”
Heather thought for a moment, and then said “Honestly?”
“The fact she was somewhere, been hurt by someone, and there was nothing I could do about it.”
“Still, she is going to college this summer, and that is a huge adventure as well.”
“Yeah – scary and exciting at the same time.”
“For both of you, I’d imagine.”
Heather stopped, a sandwich halfway to her lips, and then put it slowly down on the plate. “I guess so,” she said quietly, “but why do you say that?”
“Well – listen, Heather, this may be way off base, but…”
“Please – what are you thinking?”
“All right – you were scared of Joanne getting hurt when she was kidnapped, but the man who did that died. Now, she’s going again, starting at college, some distance away, and like any good big sister, you’re worried something may happen to her there.”
Karen watched Heather as she nodded slowly, while Serena said “Now, that’s only natural, but with most people that fear eases as they realize she’ll be fine. People like you and me, however, who carry memories within us of something far worse – well, our subconscious starts to play tricks with us, and I think in your case…”
“Shit,” Heather said quietly as Serena slowly nodded.
“I think you see what I’m suggesting.”
“I do,” Heather said quietly, “and that’s what’s brought the dreams back so vividly?”
“Well, on this occasion yes,” Serena said quietly, “but you need to accept that is a possibility – because once you do that, there are some things you can do, with Jo and others, to deal with this situation.”
“Are you all right,” Karen said as Heather started shaking. She stood up and walked over, holding her as Heather started to cry.
“Let it out,” Serena said quietly, “you need to admit to yourself that this is worrying you, and admit it to us as well.”
Karen and Ken both held Heather as she cried, until she said “thank you,” and wiped her tears.
“Now, I have to say to you Heather, this is a start,” Serena said. “Will you do two things for me?”
“First, talk to Sandy and Joanne, tonight, about what we’ve discussed. You need to tell them your fears, and they need to play a part in reassuring you that what you fear most – your father – is not going to happen.”
“And that will make the dreams stop?”
“I think it will make them less vivid, but I want you to come and see me tomorrow – say at one. I’ll be in the city for a few days, and I want to talk to you some more about some other things we can do together.”
“So I’m not cured?”
“Well, here’s the bad news – Karen, you’re a recovering alcoholic, right?”
Karen nodded as Ken held her hand.
“Well, I’m a recovering victim of abuse, as are you – and I would like, if you’ll let me, to help you as well. The choice has to be yours, though – so come, talk to me, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
“I’m not cured?”
“We can’t be cured in that sense, but we can get better.” Serena looked at Karen, and said “May I have another cup of tea” as Heather slowly nodded.
Monday 13th July
The Richmond Mansion
“Hey,” Sandy said as Jo came through the back door, leaning forward as she got her breath back, “good run?”
“Just what I needed, thanks,” Jo said as she opened the icebox, and took out a bottle of water. “Where are the kids?”
“Sandy and George are in the front room – I’m letting them watch television while they have their breakfast.”
“Still fast asleep.”
Jo nodded as she sat down, and took a drink from the bottle. “Last night – I never knew she was that afraid of what would happen to me,” she said as she put the bottle down.
“Well, she’s like a mother to you, and she thinks of you as her kid – and mothers get worried, trust me.”
“I know – but…”
“Jo,” Sandy said quietly, “when you were taken last year, you didn’t see just how worried and upset Heather got. She was all for going up that first night and getting you back – it took all three of us, Me, Diana and Ju, to talk her down. After what she told us last night, I can very easily believe that running through her mind.”
“I can understand that – now,” Jo said, “I guess with everything going on, I lost sight for a moment of how she might feel.” Taking a drink, she said “Makes me more determined than ever to spend as much time as I can with her and the kids over the next few weeks.”
“Well, I’m packing all of us off to Manchester after the wedding, no questions asked,” Sandy said, “and if you need to work, you work from there.”
“It’s fine by me – John wants to do the shoot with Caroline in the hills anyway.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me too.”
The two of them turned to see Heather standing in the door, her robe wrapped round her.
“How are you feeling?”
“More awake than I have in weeks,” she said as she came in and kissed Sandy. “Thanks for letting me sleep.”
“You needed it – how do you feel?”
“Strange – but Serena was right. Talking to you guys helped. Now I need to see what else she suggests.”
“So you’ll go and see her today?”
“What have I got to lose,” Heather said as she stretched and yawned. “Who wants some coffee?”
Upper West Side
Marina opened the door to the apartment, smiling as she said “Hey – come on in. I’ve got some coffee brewing, and some salads made up.”
“Thanks, Rina,” Tracy and Bev said as they came in, wearing jeans and t-shirts. Marina was wearing a red vest top and a pair of shorts, as she showed them into Susan’s kitchen.
“Kylie, we have visitors.”
“I will be with you in a moment darling,” they heard Kylie call out as they sat down.
“So where is everyone?”
“Well, Susan and Clint are at work, and Rose and Maeve have taken April for a walk in the park. So we have the place to ourselves for an hour or two.”
“You know, even with everything I heard yesterday, and saw, this still seems like a surreal dream,” Bev said as Marina poured the coffee, “to see you and Kylie, like this, so different, so much part of that group…”
“Well, they accepted us, but they also challenged us – remember when Kylie came back and told us about that weekend?”
Both girls nodded as she handed them a mug of coffee each.
“I didn’t believe it either – but then I came out here with her, I met Catherine and Helen, and they began to teach us – and I realized she hadn’t told us everything. She hadn’t told us some of the people she met, and how they hid in plain sight as well.
“Susan’s right you see – to be good at this, you have to blend in, so we’ve started to do so. I mean, look at Susan, Penny, Lily – respectable businesswomen, right?”
“But all of them are killers darling,” Kylie said as she came in, wearing a white one piece top and shorts, with high heeled sandals.
“You’re kidding,” Tracy said as Bev made a low whistle.
“She’s not – they told you that yesterday, the trick is hiding in plain sight. It took both of us coming out here to fully appreciate that.”
“The question is, darlings,” Kylie said as she put some plates out, “do you see it now?”
“Yesterday,” Tracy said as Marina brought the salad bowl over, and then some meats and bread, “Lily asked if we could tell who at the party after the service were gangsters.”
“Such a vulgar word,” Kylie said as she sat down, “say, rather, career criminal.”
“Well,” Bev said, “we knew about you guys, and Lily – and we heard about Shirley’s group. But who else?”
“Work for Shirley, darling, and you may find out one day,” Kylie said, “but consider – Marina and I live in Hong Kong, Marina works for Catherine, and Helen trains us both.”
“And?” Tracy put some salad on her plate, and then said “oh. OH. Now I get it – I think.”
“We got a chance, girls, and we’ve grabbed it,” Marina said, “and yes, we’ve got a long way to go.”
“But let me ask you a question,” Kylie said as she put her knife down. “The old me, if I went into a high class jeweler, what would have happened?”
“You wouldn’t have got past the front door,” Bev said, “none of us would.”
“Well, now both Marina and I go into high class clothing stores, recognized by name, and are able to see all things. If, for example, at some time in the future we wished to target such a store, we can go, see what needs to be seen, learn what needs to be learnt, and then – well, you can imagine with planning and training what can be achieved.”
The two girls looked at each other, before Bev said “Lily’s boss said there may be an opening for us with them in the UK – not doing what you do, but working with them.”
“That’s how Susan started,” Marina said, “since I came over, I’ve learned of some of the jobs she did – and how much she helped with the child slavery thing last year. She’s an inspiration to both of us – let us be an inspiration to you now.”
“And if nothing else,” Kylie said with a smile, “you can afford a flat rather than the squat.”
“Well, when you put it that way Kyles…”
Kylie raised an eyebrow as Bev said “she’s joking – we saw Penny this morning, and we’re meeting in London next week when she gets back.”
“It’ll be strange leaving the Vipers behind though?”
“Times change Trace – you need to move with them,” Marina said, her two friends nodding as they drank their coffee.
“By the way, did you read the papers by the way this morning darlings?” Kylie asked.
“No…why?” Bev looked up from her coffee.
“You might want to keep the society page of the Times for your scrapbook.” Marina laughed. She picked the paper up, folded it and handed the paper to them.
“Oh my God,” Tracy shook her head as she saw the picture of Kylie and her standing with Annie and Carina.
“And they’ve got our names as well.” Bev shook her head.
“Of course they have Beverly darling.” Kylie smiled. “You are now at least on the edge of New York’s hottest social clique, the Saints and Sinners.”
“Oh wait till the other Vipers see this.” Tracy grinned, “us wiv a real life Princess.”
“The Daily News has you with Abigail.” Marina smiled as she opened another paper.
“Oh dear Gawd,” Bev stared in disbelief at the picture.
“Susan wants to see you before you leave tomorrow as well – she has a picture of you with April to take.”
“So what are your plans for the rest of the week?”
“Well,” Kylie said as she sipped her coffee, “we’re flying out to LA on Wednesday for the wedding of the year, by all accounts. You met Maddie Moore on Sunday?”
“Susan’s old boss?”
“That’s her – she’s getting married on Saturday, and Maisha is one of the attendants.”
“Who’s the lucky man?”
Marina and Kylie looked at each other, and then chuckled.
“What’s so funny?”
“Dessert? I have some fruit fool…”
Wednesday 15th July
The Richmond Mansion
“Right – bags?”
“Packed and in the hallway,” Jo said as she came in, putting on her leather jacket.
“Ready for the two of them to carry.”
“Got them in the front room,” Heather said as she came in, adjusting the sleeves of her leather jacket.
“Here,” Nessa said as she handed her a parcel, “from me and Alex. Got the tickets?”
“Right here,” Sandy said as she held them up. “Right – is John ready?”
“Waiting for you outside – and then he’s got to head back and get his things along with Barbara and Jeannie.”
“Ladies, we need to get going,” John said as he came in.
“George, Sandy – let’s go!”
“Bye Granny,” the two children said as they hugged Vanessa, and then put on their rucksacks as they ran to the car.
“We’ll call when we get there,” Sandy said as she kissed her mother.
“Go – have fun,” Nessa said as she waved them off, standing and watching as the car headed off.
12.30 pm PST
Beverley Hills, CA
“Goddess,” Carina said as the taxi swept through the double gates, and up the tree lined avenue, “this is Cassandra’s place?”
“Apparently it is,” Juliette said as the cab pulled up in front of an ornate covered doorway, the door opening and a woman walking out, dressed in a grey house coat with a white apron over her front.
“Miss Huntingdown,” she said as Juliette got out of the cab, the girls following as Klaus paid the driver, “I am Eleanor, Miss Stone’s housekeeper. Welcome to her home.”
“Thank you,” Juliette said as Carina held Judith, “perhaps you can tell us which rooms we will be using?”
“Of course,” she said as a young man came out. “Matthew here will bring your bags in – if you will follow me?”
“I forgot how hot it can get out here,” Carina said as they walked in, grateful for the blast of cold air that greeted them.
“Hollywood must pay well,” Ingrid said as he looked round.
“Miss Stone is certainly successful,” Eleanor said. “If you would come with me, I have some lunch prepared, and then I will show you to your rooms. I have heard from Miss Richmond, and Countess de Ros, to say they are on their way as well.”
“That’s good news – but please, call me Juliette.”
“As you wish, Miss Huntingdown,” Eleanor said, Carina and Ingrid giggling as they made their way to the dining room.
“Oh my – this is almost as big as the dining room at home, papa,” Ingrid said as they looked round.
“Please, be seated – I will serve lunch immediately.”
Xavier International, LA
The older woman looked up as Tracey opened the door, Shirley and Penny coming into her office.
“Thank you Tracey – can you rustle up some coffee,” she said as she came round and hugged both of them. “Welcome back to LA – how was the flight?”
“Better for using the corporate plane,” Shirley said with a smile. “Lily and Charlotte are at the hotel, and I believe George and Piet are making dark rumblings about going to Chinatown, but we both wanted to come and see you in the new offices.”
“What do you think,” Maddie said as she sat at the leather seats, the other two joining her.
“Very nice – I think you have put your own stamp on the building,” Penny said as she looked round.
“Well, if you’re going to work somewhere, it’s important you like it,” Maddie said as Tracey opened the door, allowing an associate to bring in coffee for them. “And where is John?”
“Visiting the Beverly Hills Hotel,” Shirley said as she accepted the cup, “he needs to be sure of the arrangements before he goes to work on Saturday.”
“You have no idea – which reminds me. Tomorrow night, all of you as well as Juliette and the group are invited to my hen party.”
“And where will this extravaganza take place?”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” Maddie said with a smile.
The Mosaic Hotel, Beverly Hills
“How on earth did you manage to get rooms here, Susan,” Marina said as they walked into the lobby.
“She did not – I know a few people,” Catherine said as a tall, fair-haired man walked over.
“Miss Lo – welcome back,” he said as he gave a small bow. “We have the suites you asked for ready for you.”
“Marina and Kylie, you will share one, Clint and Susan another, Helen you have the third, and I have the fourth,” Catherine said as she looked at them.
“I hope Rose and Maeve know what they are missing, darling,” Kylie said as she looked round.
“I think they do – but it was too much of a journey for April to make,” Susan said as a porter took their bags.
“Ah you made it,” Caroline said as she walked across the lobby. “Shirley and Susan have gone to see Maddie, while Charlotte and Lily have been dragged out.”
“She and Maisha are at the pool, if you wish to join them Kylie.”
“That sounds divine, Caroline – I think I will go and change first though.”
“Let’s all get settled in – I shall book a table for dinner for tonight,” Helen said as she headed for the restaurant.
“There you are,” Abby said as she looked up from the lounger, seeing Jo as she walked along the edge of the pool. “How was the flight?”
“Long – any word on Jeannie yet?”
“I don’t think they’re getting in until later tonight – want a drink?”
“I won’t say no,” Jo said as Abby sat up, and poured some lemonade from the iced pitcher.
“Have you met Eleanor yet?”
“Yeah – she showed me to the room. Big – but nice.”
“Hey,” Cari said as she came out with Annie, “you made it.”
“Eventually – when did you get in Annie?”
“A while back – I went with Dom and Ama to the hotel, and then came out to join you lot here. They’ve got a great place to stay as well.”
“Oh I don’t know – a private pool has something going for it,” Abby said as she stood up, and then dived in, the splash back narrowly avoiding Jo.
“Can we go and watch some television please mom,” Sandy said as she and George looked at their mother.
“Have you finished your pudding?”
“Yes,” they said as they showed them the empty plates.
“All right – but not for too long,” Heather said as the kids walked off, Carina using a wipe to clean Judith’s mouth after she had eaten a chocolate mousse.
“They should be exhausted,” Sandy said as she sat back and sipped her coffee.
“It’s better they stay up a bit later – then they won’t wake up early,” Annie said as she looked at the others.
“Allow me,” Eleanor said as she started to clear the plates.
“No, please allow…”
“Jo, Jo! You are on TV,” Little Sandy and George said as they came running in.
“On the advertisements.” George looked proudly, “We paused it so you can see.”
“Oh I think we all want to see.” Sandy stood up as Jo looked round the room.
“They must have started running the Big Box commercials out here already.” Heather followed the children.
They all went into the living room, watching as George started the picture again.
“Dear Goddess, that is so strange.” Jo shook her head as the whole party stood in the living room and watched.
“Don’t worry the novelty soon wears off.” Carina spoke.
“I don’t know, it was bad enough seeing my picture, let alone seeing myself walking and talking on TV.”
“The worst is when you see yourself dubbed into foreign languages.” Abby giggled, “I sound awful in the German version of my Memories ads.”
“Not going to happen to me, thank goodness.”
“Never say never,” Cari said. “They have Big Box in Canada – you may end up sounding like Cobie Smulders.”
Abby and Annie suddenly burst out laughing as the kids went back to watching the television.
“All right, all right – I get it,” Jo said as she rubbed the back of her head.
The Mosaic Hotel
John Hammond looked up as he heard a knock on the suite door, and then walked over, smiling as he opened it and the waiter wheeled in the trolley.
“Thank you,” he said as he signed the bill, and then slipped him a ten dollar bill, as he showed him out.
“Who was that?”
“Dinner is served,” John called out as Shirley came in, wearing a white toweling robe.
“This was a great idea, to eat in our rooms and have an early night,” she said as John uncovered the food.
“Well, the jet lag is a killer, and we’re not getting any younger.”
“Speak for yourself,” Shirley said as she sat down, crossing her legs as John opened the wine.
In the restaurant, Kylie covered her mouth, stifling a yawn as much as possible.
“I think someone needs to retire for the night,” Susan said as she looked at her.
Nodding, Kylie stood up and said “will you excuse me darlings?”
“Of course,” Marina said as she handed Kylie the keycard, “I won’t be too long behind you.”
“We meet in the cardiovascular room at seven thirty tomorrow,” Helen said as Kylie waved, stopping to say hello to Jeannie, Barbara and John as they came in before heading to the lifts.
“Good evening everyone.”
“Hello Maddie,” Susan said, “what brings you here tonight?”
“Making sure you all arrived – where’s Shirley?”
Susan glanced upstairs and Maddie slowly nodded, saying “Ah, got it.”
“Why don’t we go and sit in the bar, and enjoy a drink,” Clint said as he stood up.
The others followed suit, but as they headed out Maddie took Catherine to one side.
“Catherine can I beg a favour some time tomorrow?”
“Certainly Maddie,” Cathy said with a smile, “what can I do for you?”
“Come in and measure up some of my staff. I want some Audrey Hepburn/Breakfast at Tiffany’s outfits made up for them.”
“Surely any Hollywood costumier…oh sorry.” Catherine shook her head, “I’m being dense today. You need something untraceable?”
“I think you’ve got it.”
“Well it will be my pleasure to come see you all then. I’ll bring Helen and Marina as well to do the actual measuring. Shall we say at one?”
“That will be fine – I’ll have them ready for you.”
“Do we have a deadline?”
“Five weeks time.”
“Ah - once you return from your honeymoon…”
“And my girls have finished their course with Diana.”
“I understand completely.” Catherine smiled as they went to join the others.
Thursday 16th July
“Hello,” Juliette said as the cab pulled up, letting the various guests from the hotel out, “come and have some breakfast.”
“It was good of you to invite us here,” Shirley said as she kissed Juliette, and they walked into the large hallway. “So this is where Cassandra lives?”
“Indeed,” Kylie said as she looked round, “there is her poster for Barchester Towers.”
“We have a breakfast buffet set out for you and your guests in the dining room, Miss Huntingdown,” Eleanor said, “and tables are set out by the poolside.”
“Then let’s go in and get started,” John said as he rubbed his hands, “I’m starving.”
“Now where did he get such an appetite from,” Penny said as she looked at Lily.
“Don’t ask,” Lily said as she watched him and Shirley walk in, hand in hand.
“Hey there,” Jo said as she looked up from her recliner, “welcome to the quintessential West Coast experience – croissants, OJ and coffee by the poolside.”
“So I see,” Marina said with a smile as she sat down as well. “Relaxing?”
“Well this is a holiday for me – as for young mother of the year…”
“Well, Judith likes being in the water,” Carina said as George and Sandy got out of the pool, drying themselves off as she handed Judith to her mother. “Give me a few moments and I’ll be out as well.”
“So what have you been up to this morning,” Abby said as she joined Kylie and Marina.
“Helen has already held a training session for us,” Marina said as they headed for the buffet, “and she and I need to go with Catherine later to Xavier International offices here, to do a fitting.”
“Sounds intriguing,” Abby said as she looked over at Cathy, who was sitting with Diana and Sandy at a table.
“So what are Clint and Susan doing this morning,” Heather asked as she stood at the table with Penny.
“They’re visiting his parents, and then going shopping,” Penny said. “She likes to stock up on certain things while she’s out here.”
“Oh? And what particular tastes does Mrs. Walker have that cannot be met through either the New York or London offices?”
“That would be telling.”
The two women turned to see Maddie standing behind them, in a short-sleeved black dress, alongside Emma in a white sundress.
“Maddie? I didn’t know you and Emma were joining us today.”
“Neither did Juliette – we surprised her. Emma wanted to meet Marina and Kylie, and I need to discuss something with Shirley.”
“So where is Maisha,” Emma said as she looked round.
“Outside – let me take her to you,” Penny said as she took Emma by the arm and walked her to the poolside.
“Who’s the most nervous – you or her,” Heather whispered.
“Good question,” Maddie said as she poured herself a glass of orange juice. “Where’s Shirley?”
“I’m heading to her now, so come with me…”
“You look remarkably calm for a woman who is about to get married,” Shirley said as Maddie sat down.
“I’m very good at hiding what I’m feeling, as you well know Shirley,” Maddie said with a smile. “Enjoying the sunshine?”
“For now – I understand Catherine is visiting you later today?”
“Well,” Shirley said, “you are in for an interesting experience.”
The young woman looked up as Penny stood with a red-haired woman.
“Maisha, this is Maddie’s fiancée Emma. She wanted the chance to talk to you before tomorrow. Emma, this is Kylie and Marina.”
“A pleasure, darling,” Kylie drawled as she stood up and kissed Emma on both cheeks.
“So when do I get to meet my opposite number, Emma?”
“Tomorrow,” Emma said with a smile as Maddie came over, “they fly in today.”
“The rehearsal is tomorrow at four,” Maddie smiled, “then my thought was we will all head to Hung Lo’s for dinner.”
“Hung Lo’s?” asked Penny.
“A Chinese restaurant here in Beverly Hills, the owner is a friend.”
“Sounds like a plan to me” Diana looked up from the newspaper.
“As long as his forename isn’t Wun…” Lily giggled.
“Alright, I’m German and maybe a little silly, can I ask why Wun would be funny?” asked Ingrid.
“Wun Hung Lo.” Lily burst into laughter.
“I still don’t get it.” Ingrid looked perplexed.
“Don’t worry I’ll explain it to her.” Carina hugged her sister.
“And his name is actually Barry,” Maddie interrupted the laughter.
“All right Tracey,” JD said as she sat at the conference table, “why have you called the special team meeting today?”
“A few things,” Tracey said, “which Maddie will explain when she… Good afternoon Maddie.”
“My apologies, ladies,” Maddie said as she came in, accompanied by Catherine, “but I was held up elsewhere. May I introduce Catherine Lo? Catherine is a supplier of costumes to certain parties, and has agreed to outfit us for our next job.”
“Good afternoon, ladies,” Cathy said as she looked at them, “After Maddie has discussed certain matters, my assistants are waiting to take your measurements.”
“Right – next weekend, you need to be at LAX for 10 am Friday morning, for a flight to New York. Pack light, and be prepared for a long and tough weekend.
“Second item,” Tracey said, “we are looking to you five to provide additional undercover security for this Saturday, both during and after the wedding. Our security consultant will join you to outline the details after the fitting, and we thank you in advance for doing this.”
“Who’s the security consultant?”
“Security is been provided by Jameson Security – the head of the company and her number two are arriving soon.”
“Jameson – the security firm run by the model?”
“No,” Catherine said, “the security firm run by Dominique, who is also Caroline Jameson.”
The five girls looked at each other, as Tracey said “I will go first.”
“Excellent – Marina and Helen await you in the next room.”
As Tracey went out, Maddie’s secretary came in and said “Your 2.30 is here, Maddie.”
“I will return in a moment,” Maddie said, heading to her office as George and Caroline stood up.
“Thanks for coming in – your volunteers will be ready when Marina and Helen have finished,” Maddie said as she sat down. “You visited the hotel this morning?”
“We did,” George said as he accepted a coffee. “It looks straight forward enough, but as always I bow to my boss’s expert eye.”
“He’s getting better, honestly,” Caroline said with a laugh. “Seriously, we’re fine. We talked to hotel security, and the extra sets of eyes are most welcome, especially given the people coming. We need access early that morning to set a few things up, but it’s all in hand.”
“Excellent, good to know I have one less thing to worry about,” Maddie said with a smile.
“Can I ask you about an unrelated business matter,” Caroline said, Maddie nodding as she sat back.
“Maddie do you know a store called the Galleria di Gioielli on Rodeo Drive?” Caroline asked.
“I might do…why?” Maddie replied cautiously.
“They’ve asked me to update their security following you and your girls recent escapade.”
“I take it that is not welcome news Maddie?”
“Let me say Dominique darling, if you can put it off for say five and a half weeks, I’d be very grateful.”
“That might be arranged.” Dominique smiled. “Delays in getting costings, need for further building assessments, offering too much for their needs. Leave it in my hands.”
“Good – now, come and meet the team.”
As she walked out of the office, Maddie took a piece of paper from her secretary and looked at it. Nodding, she went back into the meeting room as Catherine looked up.
“Ladies, may I introduce Caroline Jameson and George Simpson of Jameson Security. Catherine, may I have a word please?”
“Of course,” Catherine said as she followed Maddie from the meeting. As she closed the door, she handed Catherine the note, watching as she read it.
“May I use your office,” she said as she looked up, “it is a private call.”
“Of course,” Maddie said as she opened the door, watching Catherine as she went in before closing it and leaving her alone.
Twenty minutes later, Catherine came out, as Marina and Helen appeared from the other room.
“I have the measurements,” Marina said, “I will send them on with the specs to our workers immediately.”
“Good – I need to speak to Helen on a matter of some urgency, and I wish you to listen in on the discussion Marina. We will use Maddie’s office.”
The three of them went in, Catherine speaking quietly in Cantonese as she closed the door.
The Mosaic Hotel
“Oh that is too, too funny darling,” Kylie laughed as she sat with Jeannie in the hotel lobby. “I can just imagine the look on her face when you did that.”
“The girls spoke to me today as well – they’re incredibly jealous of us being out here, so they’re heading to the beach with the Sluts and Judy this weekend instead.”
“Where would you rather be,” Kylie said as she sipped her drink.
“Honestly? I can’t wait to get out of New York for the holidays, but with Missy bearing down it’s going to be two more weeks. So here – today, definitely here. You?”
“I’m loving the experience, darling,” Kylie said slowly as she saw Marina come back in with Helen and Catherine. “I trust the business went well?”
“Yeah, it did,” Marina said. “Kylie, we need to go out for a while tonight. Will you be all right?”
“She can come with us,” Jeannie said, “we’ve been given a box to see Phantom at the Pantages, and there’s a spare seat.”
Kylie looked at Marina, saying “I would like that, if that is all right darling.”
“Excellent,” Catherine said with a smile, “we should be back by the time you return.”
“Well, we leave in an hour, so I’ll see you in the lobby,” Jeannie said as she pushed herself back, and headed for the elevators.
“Has something happened,” Kylie said quietly.
“A commission from the Honoured Father – we shall establish some things tonight, and then execute tomorrow.”
“I need Marina to assist me on this one,” Helen whispered, “as we had agreed previously.”
“Of course – I will be thinking of you,” Kylie said as they sat down.
Corner of Dixon and Lafayette, Glendale CA
“What is so special about this house,” Marina said as she looked out from the rear seat of the car.
“A very good question,” Catherine said as she sat next to Helen. “Continue with that line of thought.”
“The Honoured Father has said there is something here he wishes to see liberated and returned,” Marina said quietly, “and that anyone who we find in the house needs to pay the price for holding this item.”
Helen nodded quietly as she said “So who lives here?”
“According to local records, a Donatella Calonni. I do not recognize the name.”
“I do,” Catherine said quietly, “she is related to the family who showed such disrespect to the Honoured Father in the matter of Twills Casino. Her cousin was the one responsible for the death of his grandson.”
Marina nodded, and then said “but I thought that was avenged when the casino was robbed?”
“The death was avenged, and the insult removed – but since then, he has been listening for further signs of ways to repay – and recently, yesterday in fact, he found evidence of the item we have been asked to retrieve.”
“With extreme prejudice,” Helen added as a car pulled up, and a tall, dark haired woman got out. Looking round, she locked her car and walked to the side door, unlocking and opening the door as Helen put an earpiece in.
“How’s the device we planted working?”
“Effectively – you chose a good spot to place it Marina.”
The young girl blushed and smiled, and then saw Helen frown.
“So the information was correct?”
“So it would appear – Marina, we shall return late tomorrow to extract and execute.”
The young girl nodded as they drove off, the sun starting to set on the horizon.
Friday 17th July
Reproductive Fertility, 9201 Sunset Boulevard
“Hey,” Carina said as Annie came back in, adjusting her top, “all done?”
“Yeah – they took enough tests to make me feel like I’m back in competition,” Annie said as she sat and took a drink of water, “but at least they didn’t say stop at any time.”
The door opened again as a young man, wearing a smart suit, blue shirt and dark tie walked in.
“Miss Huntingdown, Miss Kelly – I’m Chas McKenzie. Please, take a seat.”
As the two young women sat down, he looked through some sheets on a clipboard and sat behind the desk, smiling at them.
“Right – we need to wait a day or two for the final test results, but I think we can safely say there are no physical impediments, should you wish to conceive using a sperm donor.”
Annie gripped Carina’s hand as the doctor looked at them. “I need to stress, however, this is the first part of the journey, if you wish to take it. You need to go away, discuss with each other the options, and then we need you to keep a diary so that we can judge the optimum time for any procedures.”
“But if all that works, we can do it?”
“I think so yes – your profile suggests a fit and active lifestyle, and your general health is good, so no need for supplements or anything like that. We just need to monitor your cycle.”
“Thank you doctor,” Carina said as she shook his hand. “So what now?”
“I’m going to give you some more forms to fill, and also the diary I mentioned. If you can fill out and return the forms, we’ll arrange with our New York office for a consultation in a couple of months. We’ll take it from there.”
“Thanks – really, thanks,” Annie said as she shook his hand, and he walked them out, stopping to hand them the pack of information.
“We’ll be in touch – good luck,” he said as he walked them out, the two stopping to put on their sunglasses in the sunshine.
“Well, Monster Momma, what do you think?”
Annie smiled – a small, coy smile – and said “Yeah – let’s see what happens next, shall we?”
Galleria di Gioielli
“Thank you for coming, Miss Jameson – when I heard you were visiting Los Angeles, I hoped I would have the opportunity to discuss improvements with you.”
“Signor Corelli, it is my pleasure to visit today,” Caroline said as she shook his hand. Wearing a light coloured trouser suit with a brown camisole, and high heels, she looked every inch the professional with her slim leather case. “Perhaps we can start with a tour of the store, and I can take a few notes.”
“Of course, of course – this way please,” Corelli said as they walked across the floor, Caroline looking around and taking some notes as she did so. The store was full, with customers looking at the various displays, and the staff was pleasant and friendly.
The wares were contained in locked glass cases, true, but the relaxed attitude of the staff meant cases were left open. There were uniformed guards, but minimal arms, nothing heavy.
“Perhaps I can view the security room,” Caroline finally said, as the manager took her towards the rear of the store.
“I can see the appeal of this place.” Caroline thought to herself as the owner of the store showed her round. Maddie and her team could be in and out, and get probably $15 million in less then 7 minutes. The security was all wrong, the armed guards at the door would be no match for sawnoff shotguns, the video recording system was easy to find and disable, the parking outside was freely available.
No this place was asking to be robbed, Maddie and her crew might need to kill some people, but Dominique having worked with the Pussycats was now far more open to the use of pure violence on a job where required.
“Sorry,” she said as she smiled, “just considering options. Please, lead on.”
Beverly Hills Hotel
“Wow – the room is really coming together,” Emma said as she and Maddie looked round, the staff hard at work preparing the decorations.
“It sure is,” Maddie said with a smile as Caroline appeared at the other side, talking to the head of security.
“No problem, Miss Jameson,” they heard him say as he came over, “We’ll expect you in the morning.”
“Thanks,” she said as she came over. “Trying to get a sneak peek?”
“Well, can you blame me? This has to be one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in my life.”
“What, even more exciting than getting to number one in the Billboard charts?”
Emma’s eyes widened as she turned round to see a woman standing behind her. She was as tall as Caroline, with long blonde hair, and was wearing a long white dress and boho top with a wide brown leather belt around her waist.
“Andi? Good lord, is that really Andi Morecombe?”
“In the flesh,” she said as the two women hugged. “It has been far too long, Emma, and you look good!”
“So do you – Harry here as well?”
“Oh yes – and he’s made it safely as well.”
“Well, come on – I want to see them. What am I thinking no – Maddie, meet Andi Morecombe, bass player extraordinaire. Andi, this is Maddie Moore, my soon to be wife.”
“Pleasure,” Andi said as she hugged Maddie and kissed her on both cheeks. “Forgive me – I need to drag her off for a little while.”
As the two old friends walked off, Caroline whispered “So half of the band are here – are the others coming?”
“I believe so – but we may not see them until later. Come on – let’s go and get a drink before the others get here.”
Juliette looked up from the bar as Carina and Annie came in.
it go?" Juliette asked as they sat down.
are no obvious reasons I can't give Judith a brother or a sister." Annie
smiled happily. "I need to keep a calendar for a few weeks so that we know
the best time, but after that both Carina and I think it will be full steam
pleased – for both of you,” Juliette said as she hugged them both. "So, any preferences as to who your
donor might be?"
"Only that he's well over six feet." Carina laughed, “boy or girl, we want him or her to be able to see at football games over people’s heads."
“Such foresight,” Juliette said quietly as she smiled and shook her head. “Well, you have my full support whatever you decide you want to do.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Caroline said as she and Maddie came over and sat down. Ordering some drinks, Maddie said “Where are the others?”
“They went shopping on Rodeo Drive – we’ll meet up with them at the restaurant later. With the exception of – ah, here they are now.”
“Good afternoon darlings,” Kylie said as she and Maisha walked in. “Helen and Catherine will join us after they have parked the car.”
“Looking forward to your role tomorrow Maisha,” Juliette said with a smile.
“Nobody has explained what exactly I am going to do yet,” Maisha said as she ordered an iced tea, “so if someone can tell me?”
“Sorry – think of it as like a bridesmaid, but we’re a bit more liberal with terminology around here. No frilly dresses, no matching clothing – just stand by me and carry something for me.”
“A ring,” Maddie said as she sat back. “Of course, if you think someone else should…”
“No – I’m sorry, I’d be honoured.”
“Good – enjoy your iced tea, we’ll head off to the rehearsal in a little while.”
“Who’d doing the actual ceremony?”
“Another old friend, Pastor Dave McKenna of the First Baptist Gospel Church in our area. He’s a very open minded man, and has no problem with doing this as a civil ceremony.”
“Sounds a bit like Alex,” Juliette said with a smile.
“Except Alex can’t do it – damn those old time religions,” Maddie said with a smile.
“Ah there you are darling,” Klaus said as he came in. “How did it go today, Carina?”
“Very well, dad,” Carina said with a smile, “I’ll tell you and Ingy all about it later. So, how was Disneyland?”
“I have photos of papa screaming to show you,” Ingrid said as she patted her father on the back.
“I know, I know – but that ride. It’s a small world after all, it’s a…”
“NO!!!” Klaus grinned and stepped back to avoid the barrage of paper coasters sent towards him.
“By the way Maddie, we ran into John and his friend – they are looking forward to tomorrow.”
“On which note,” Maddie said as she stood up, watching a bleach blonde middle aged man as he walked towards them, “I think we need to go. Dave. Thank you for doing this.”
“It’s an honour,” he said as he kissed Maddie on both cheeks. “Shall we?”
“See you at the restaurant,” Maddie said as she and Maisha headed off.
“So this will be your attendant,” he said as they walked along.
“Indeed – Maisha, our host for tomorrow. Dave McKenna, Maisha,” Maddie said as they walked into the room, where Emma was standing with Andi and a young man, in his early twenties, wearing a short sleeved shirt and slacks.
“Maisha, I’d like you to meet Andy Morecombe,” Emma said, “Andi’s son and my godson.”
“Pleasure,” Andy said in a soft Mid-west accent as he shook Maisha’s hand. “I hear you come from the old country as well.”
“I do now, although I was born elsewhere,” Maisha said with a smile.
“Right,” Dave said as two of the hotel staff came over, “let’s run through what’s going to happen tomorrow, shall we?”
Hung Lo Restaurant
“It’s all right, dear lady,” Brian said as he looked at Lily, “I have heard the joke enough times to be able to deal with it now.”
Lily had the grace to blush as he said “the banquet will be coming shortly. For now, enjoy your evening.”
“Thank you, Brian,” Maddie said as he took her hand, and then Emma’s as they all sat round a large table in a private room of the restaurant.
“So what do you do for a living, Marina,” Andy said as he sat with her and Kylie.
“I’m on a year’s secondment in New York from Xavier international, learning Cantonese and Mandarin and acting as a liaison for Huntingdown’s with suppliers. Catherine and Helen are my bosses,” she said as she looked to the far end, where they were sitting with Sandy and Heather. “So what do you do?”
“I work as a junior editor on a magazine – not Complete Style, but more about homes and living.”
“Oh, so you are into interior design?”
“You got me,” Andy said with a smile, “is that a problem?”
“Not at all darling,” Kylie drawled, “so long as you make it truly exquisite.”
“I like her,” Andy said, “why does she do?”
“Attend school,” Marina said with a smile.
“Well there she is – the woman of the moment.”
“Belle! Xandra!” Emma stood up from the table and almost ran over to embrace the two new arrivals. One was a little shorter than Emma, with short black hair and wearing a dark blouse and pants, while the tallest of the three women had flaming red hair, held back in a ponytail, over a Laura Ashley style dress.
“How could we miss this, Em,” the taller woman said. “Belle and I met up in Seattle yesterday and just arrived.”
“Maddie,” Emma said as she and Andi came over, “this is Belle Lockhart and Xandra Parker – the drummer and keyboard player from Ladydown. Girls, meet Maddie Moore.”
“So you’re the one who finally pinned her down,” Xandra said as she embraced Maddie. “Knew it would take someone special.”
“Sit down, sit down – I’ll do the introductions,” Emma said as they walked back over to the table.
“Well, they seem happy to see each other,” Juliette said as she leaned over to speak to Shirley.
“Indeed – I suppose they have not seen each other for some time as well,” Shirley said as she picked some shrimp rolls up onto her plate.
“I remember seeing some of the publicity photos of her band in the day,” John said quietly, “when photography was just a hobby for me. That was when black and white were all the rage – they made an amazing group.”
“When I visited them last month, I saw some of her scrapbooks and souvenirs,” Jo said, “she really did look amazing then.”
“What, in day glo leggings and ra ra skirts?”
“Yeah – but that was the fashion then Jeans. As you mum can probably testify…”
“Oh don’t remind me,” Barbara said with a laugh. “Trying to look like Belinda Carlisle with only C&A available to you…”
“Ask her tomorrow,” Maddie said as she looked down the table, “she’s coming.”
“She… Belinda Carlisle is coming?”
“Yup – she gave us a big break by asking us to support her on tour,” Andi said as she nibbled on a won ton.
Barbara looked at her father as Jo and Abby looked at Jeannie. “Mom’s about to meet one of her pop idols – this should be fun,” she said as she sipped her drink.
“You look much more awake, Heather,” Little Sandy said as she picked up a prawn cracker.
“Well, I’ve slept a lot better this week, darling,” Heather said as she rubbed her head.
“You certainly have,” Sandy said, “and hopefully they’re over for now.”
“For now, yes, but Jo and I are going to have to do something next week – something I’m not looking forward to.”
“Take a drive to Atherham, and visit a graveyard with Serena.”
“Ah,” Sandy said quietly, “Let me know when.”
As the starters were cleared away, large tureens of soup were placed on the table as bowls were laid in front of them.
“Oh my,” Kylie said as she looked up, “there’s that actress from the Cassandra Stone movie – she really did not suit it.”
“Where,” Jo said as she and Carina looked round.
“Oh my Goddess,” Juliette looked over and then ducked down as low as she could get.
“What’s the problem?” asked Shirley.
“You may or may not have heard Shirley, but I was once engaged for exactly 28 days.”
“Yes I had darling…why hide though?”
“Because the man who just came in with the very young curvaceous blonde on his arm was the man I was engaged to.”
“Ouch!” Shirley giggled. “Don’t worry though darling he’s walking away.”
“No he’s not!” Maddie spoke as the man and his escort came towards them.
“Well of all the places to run into you Ju,” the man spoke with a pronounced ‘Hollywood’ accent.
“Hello Brian.” Juliette stood up and let him kiss her on the cheek.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends Purity?”
“Oh I’m sorry…Ladies and gentlemen this is Brian Goldstein, an old acquaintance of mine…”
“I think rather more than an acquaintance Purity, this lady once paid me the honour of saying she would marry me.”
“Brian is a senior producer with Sony Pictures.” Juliette finished the introduction.
“Oh and this is Lia Marcol, she will be in one of my upcoming movies,” Brian introduced his blonde companion.
“I saw your last film with Cassandra Stone, Miss Marcol,” Kylie said.
“Oh,” the blonde said with a smile, “did you like it?”
“Sorry, not really – I do not think I was the target audience,” Kylie said as Marina watched her.
“We’re here to celebrate with my friend Maddie at her wedding tomorrow,” Juliette said as Brian looked round.
“Hang on – Ladydown? I remember you – one of the big girl bands when that meant something. So who is the lucky bride to be?”
“That would be me,” Emma said as she raised her hand.
“Now there’s a story that may be worth doing a film about. Maybe I’ll think about it – if we wanted to talk, who would that be through?”
“Talk to her partner,” Andi said as she looked at Maddie, “she has some contacts in the field?”
“Minor ones,” Maddie said quietly, “but I will act as their contact.”
“I see you still work in the modeling world, Purity – I recognize quite a few of you. Diana – it has been a long time, and is this your daughter?”
“It is,” Diana said quietly.
“And Jeannie Brewster – a pleasure to meet you.”
“Thanks – and I liked the film,” Jeannie said as she stuck her tongue out.
“So what is your next picture to be Brian?” Diana asked.
“It’s a crime story based on the Pussycat Gang…”
“On who?” Juliette practically choked.
“That gang of female bank robbers from your part of the world - Cassandra Stone will be playing the chief villainess, Lia here will be playing one of the victims in one of the holdups.”
“Sounds interesting.” Andi nodded her head.
Diana and the others looked at each other, before Shirley said “A difficult subject, to be sure – from what little I know of them, they are extremely violent. Surely this is more of a Michael Bey movie?”
“That’s what makes it exciting, you see…”
“Oh yeah – good to see you again Purity,” Brian said as they walked off.
“Why does he call you Purity Juliette?” asked Ingrid as they walked off.
“Because he once saw a picture of an ancestor of mine called Purity Huntingdown and thought the name was a great joke…so he started calling me Purity, and you have no idea how much I loathe it.”
“I don’t think Papa particularly likes him.”
“Your father doesn’t like the idea I was once engaged to him you mean.”
“Oh certainly that, but I think he’s far too California, big movie industry guy, to ever be the type of man Papa likes.”
“Klaus,” Juliette said quietly, “it was a lifetime ago, and I dropped him when I discovered he was three timing me.”
“Ah – typical Hollywood producer than,” Klaus said as he sipped his soup.
Shirley raised an eyebrow as John shook his head. “Honestly – I am amazed what passes for entertainment today. I wonder what Cassandra is going to have to say about it?”
“I can’t wait to find out,” Juliette said quietly as the main courses arrived.
“So the wedding itself is at eleven tomorrow Emma?”
“That’s right Xandra,” Emma said as she sat with her fellow band members, “we’ll gather for breakfast between seven and nine tomorrow.”
“So what are you going to be wearing?”
“Wait and see, wait and see. So what happened to big Eric?”
“Kicked him out five years ago – he was seeing a waitress on the side.”
“Only one? He must have been getting old.”
“He had been a good boy – up until then,” Xandra said with a smile.
“Xandra was always the strong arm of the band,” Emma said as she looked at Maddie. “But she’s supposed to have mellowed over the years.”
“Allegedly,” Belle said with a laugh.
“Brian really has not changed much, has he,” Diana said as she sipped her wine.
very much the prototypical producer with a casting couch." Juliette said
as she shook her head.
didn't think Hollywood did that nowadays?" Shirley asked.
believe it, producers still find an ample supply of beautiful girls with stars
in their eyes, prepared to sleep their way into the movies."
offer he made to think about a movie about Ladydown?" asked Emma.
would be genuine, Brian knows a good story, and I guess he thinks you guys
might be one. It's not women of our age who need to beware of him."
think he might proceed?"
be surprised if Maddie received an outline of a script in a few weeks."
sure we are all ready for a tell all movie." Emma looked thoughtful. “Ours may not be riches to ruin story, but
there’s a few dark corners.”
despite my personal problems with Brian, he is an amazing producer, I'd at
least look and listen." Juliette smiled.
"Brian's trophy cabinet houses two Oscars, a couple of Emmys, and
numerous other awards. He's earned them fair and square."
"Alright well we maybe should at least talk then." The Ladydown members nodded to each other.
“Leave it until we come back – you can meet at my offices then, and we can see about agents and so on. Now, can we relax and enjoy the rest of the meal please?”
“Suits me,” Belle said as she sipped her glass of wine, “so long as we get a chance to chat over a drink afterwards.”
“You may have to excuse me from that,” Marina said with a small yawn, “I need my beauty sleep.”
“So did you ever settle on what music you are coming into tomorrow – and who’s coming in first anyway?”
“Wait and see,” Maddie said with a smile, “Wait and see…”
“Is something wrong, sister,” Ama said as she looked at Maisha.
“No – I still find occasions such as this – difficult to process. I know I am safe here, among friends and those who care for me, but I still feel a little uncertain of what to do and say.”
“I understand, darling,” Kylie said as she looked over. “I know I have changed, but to meet some of the people that are here is still a real thrill. And when you consider your experiences, it is not too difficult to see why you feel the way you do.
“But take it from me, Maisha darling, you are unique and you are special.”
“She’s right – a bit flowery, but right,” Penny said. “We are all strong, independent women – so rejoice in that.”
As the group started to leave, Jeannie saw Abby standing in the lobby. “Hey,” she said, “not headed off yet?”
“Mom’s talking to Grandmamma in France – christening and other things. We’ll go up in a little while. What about you?”
“I was talking to Winston – he just went to the restroom before we hail a cab.”
“Did you get anything yet from Stephen Stone?” Abby asked.
“He e-mailed some sketches and ideas, both Mum and Winston went ballistic. I personally rather like a couple of them.” Jeannie smiled.
“Oh like what?”
“Me sitting in my chair in a sheer babydoll, it appearing I have no panties on. Nothing would show, but I think the impression would be so sexy.”
“Well speaking personally I think that sounds great.”
“What does – oh no, not those sketches again…”
“I love it when he’s so protective,” Jeannie said as Winston took the handles of her wheelchair. “See you tomorrow Abby.”
“I think they will be up for some time talking,” Juliette said as she sat on the bed, reading the paper.
did you meet Brian?" Klaus asked as they got ready for bed.
couple of years or so after you married Renate." Juliette paused,
"For all the modeling I'd done I was still pretty green in some ways, and
I guess I found his charm, and the fact time he was a big-time producer
seductive. And with Carina only a year
old, somehow I felt wanted again."
that pretty little starlet he had with him?"
"I guess so...” Juliette took her glasses off as Klaus turned the bathroom llght off. “Anyway I was intrigued by his promises of a movie career, and he certainly intrigued me. We went together for a while, and when he proposed, well it wasn't the magic it was with you, but I still thought why not?"
"So why only 28 days?"
“Blame my fear of thirteen – he proposed on the 13th of February, I flew out to see him on the 12th of March, leaving Cari with my mom, went into his office on the 13th of March – and found him screen testing a girl much like the one with him tonight.”
“And her twin sister.”
“End of engagement?”
“I haven’t really seen him since I stormed out.”
“Well, his loss is my gain,” Klaus said as he embraced her, “but are there any more skeletons?”
“None,” Juliette said as she turned the light off, “none I can remember anyway…”
“Oh dear oh dear – you need changing after your bedtime drink, don’t you little one,” Annie said as she rubbed Judith’s tummy with her nose, making her giggle.
“Hey come on Annie – I need to get her to sleep,” Carina said as she hung her jacket up.
“Do you think our parents will ever get married Cari?” Ingrid asked as Annie started to change Judith’s diaper.
“Who knows?” Carina shrugged. “First thing is Pops needs to ask her again.”
“And what do you think her answer would be?” Annie asked over her shoulder.
“You know I haven’t got a clue.” Carina shook her head. “Mom loves Pops with all her heart, but is she secure enough in herself to think that getting married won’t spoil what they currently have?”
“I don’t know.” Ingrid shook her head as well. “He must spend time back home, she has her work here…would that really be a marriage when they’d be apart so much?”
“Well Cari and I are apart a lot of the time, but we still want to consider adding another child to the family.”
“I know that Annie, but New Haven to New York is a lot closer then Munich to New York.”
“Look,” Annie said, “they’ll find a way to make their relationship work – if marriage comes from that, well and good. Let them enjoy it – on which note, did you see the way that producer looked at her?”
“Old flame, nothing more,” Carina said with certainty.
Corner of Dixon and Lafayette, Glendale CA
Catherine sat behind the wheel of the car, watching the lights in the house closely.
“How long,” she said without looking round.
“Wait for the lights to go out,” the quiet voice replied behind her, “and then we will return.”
She nodded as the rear doors opened and closed, and watched the road, her eyes missing nothing.
The two women were clad entirely in black, only their eye showing as they made their way across the road and crouched behind a low wall as they looked to the gap between the house.
The smaller of the two motioned with her hand, the taller nodding as she made her way silently through the gap, keeping low ad below the lights as she reached the rear yard.
On the porch of the house, she could see one man, standing with a cigarette in his mouth as he looked out over the yard. She could see the bulge of a gun under his jacket, and smiled to herself as she drew a small metal star from her jerkin.
He never knew what hit him as the shiruken embedded itself in his neck, the masked figure watching as he crumpled slowly to the ground, and then moved silently onto the porch, whistling in a high tone as the tall figure made her way round to join her.
She nodded as the girl knelt and worked for a moment on the lock of the door, and then opened it out, the smaller women removing a bow from her back and drawing an arrow from a quiver strapped to her leg with one smooth movement as she put it to the string.
Nodding, they made their way across the kitchen, making no noise as they walked down a narrow corridor. Standing either side of a doorway, they both looked in.
Donatella Calloni was sitting on a long couch, wearing a white top and shorts, a tall glass in her hand and her feet resting on something. A tall brown haired man was standing at the other side of the room, and was saying “we managed to complete the deal, my lady, with minimal disruption.”
“Excellent – you’ve both done well on this business matter. We need to remind the tongs from time to time that we tolerate them, but we still run this city.”
The two masked women looked at each other, before the one with the bow drew it back and let the arrow fly, watching as it pierced the man’s neck. Donatella watched, stunned into silence as the second woman moved in, grabbing her head and holding it back as she pressed a knife to her throat.
“Greetings,” the bow woman said as she drew another arrow, stringing it as she aimed it at Donatella, “the Honoured Father sends his respects, and has asked us to collect on the debt you have incurred with him.”
“The… Who are you?”
“She has already said,” the woman holding the knife to her throat whispered, “I strongly suggest you listen and comply.”
That was when she heard the whimper, and looked down, at the young African girl who was acting as a footstool for Donatella’s legs. She was dressed in rags, and looked dangerously thin, her wrists and ankles linked by chains.
“The document,” the bow woman said, “now.”
Donatella glanced down at the table, where a thin brown leather case was sitting. She nodded to her partner, who walked slowly round, her gaze not leaving the Italian woman’s eyes as she picked up the valise and opened it. Glancing inside, she looked up and nodded.
“Good – but we find you have brought dishonor on our house, and to the Honoured father. What is worse, you have shown great cruelty, and that must be avenged.”
“I dare you to,” Donatella said as she looked at the arrow.
“No – another takes that honour,” she said, as the second woman pulled her head back, the knife slicing through her throat. She held Donatella as her body thrashed round, pressing a cloth over her throat as it turned red, and then letting her drop to the side.
Removing the arrow, the woman placed her bow on her back, as the second one produced a set of lockpicks and released the young African girl. Helping her to her feet, she supported her as the lights went out, and she slowly opened the door.
“Come with me,” the woman said as she helped the young girl to walk out of the house, waiting as the car came round before she was half walked, half carried to the rear of the car.
“Do we have it?”
The woman nodded as she held up the brown leather case.
“Blood has been avenged – what of her?”
“I have my instructions,” the driver said in her Oxbridge voice as they drove off.
“Who can that be,” the grey haired woman said as she came out of the bedroom, watching as her younger housemate put on a robe.
“I will go and see,” she said as she walked down, the cream silk reflecting on her dark skin as she looked through the peep hole.
“Maria,” she turned round and whispered, “we have visitors.” She opened the door quickly and let the two young women in, the red haired one supporting the younger African girl.
“Thank you,” she whispered as Maria closed the door, the other girl helping her as she sat the young girl on the floor.
“Who is she?”
“I do not know – she does not speak a language I know, but we have information she is a Sister.”
“Who has done this to you,” Maria whispered as she knelt in front of her, and looked at her wrists and ankles.
“We need you to give her shelter, give her time to recover and help her regain her strength. Someone will contact you soon to discuss the next stages, but for now she needs friends.”
“Where are you from,” the dark skinned woman asked quietly.
“I came from my village – so very long ago. Am I free?”
“Yes you are,” the older girl said as she gently put her hand on her cheek. “Let us bathe you, feed you. Do not fear any more.”
“Let me get some soup on, Becca,” Maria said as she went to the kitchen, the girl standing up.
“She will be safe here,” Becca said, “I do this for the Heart and the Strength.”
“As it should be,” the woman said as she bowed and left the house, returning to the car.
“She will be safe there,” Catherine said as she drove off. “Come – we must rest. A great day awaits.”
Saturday 18th July
Becca opened the door to see three women standing there, one small with hair the colour where blonde meets red, one red headed, and one tall with auburn hair. They all wore jeans and t-shirts, as the smallest said “I am Charlotte – these are my superiors. I come from the Heart and the Strength.”
“I have been expecting you,” she said as she stood to one side,” please, come in.”
“How is she?”
“She has slept a little, but screamed. She was there when her mistress died.”
“I understand,” the taller woman said in a rich, deep voice, “may we speak with her.”
“In here,” Becca said as she showed them to a dining room, where Maria sat with the young girl.
“Hello,” Maria said as she stood and looked at them, “you are…”
“We arranged your sanctuary here,” Shirley said, Maria nodding as she sat down again.
“Then you are amongst those who rescued my sisters?”
“I am – but this new discovery concerns us.”
Charlotte sat next to the young girl, and said “Can you tell me your name” in several languages. The girl merely stared back, as Becca said “I have tried several languages – she speaks none of my native tongues, and her English is limited.”
The girl looked at them, and then started speaking quietly.
“What language is that Charlotte?” Madame asked.
“It’s a Hinza dialect, I know some of the words, but not others.” Charlotte listened carefully. “She’s from somewhere in southern Mogola I think.”
“Mogola? Not Mazengwe?”
“No she’s from Mogola I’m sure Shirley.”
“How did she end up in slavery in Los Angeles then?”
“I can try asking her, but whether she will understand me, and I’ll understand her, I don’t know.”
“Pease try Charlotte.”
Charlotte nodded as she said in Hinza “Do not be afraid. Speak slowly – I know some, not all.”
The girl stopped and looked at her, and then said “did you send the angels?”
“They came from us,” Charlotte said, “what is your name?”
“I do not have one – one I can remember.”
“What did your mother call you?”
“May I call you Flower?”
The girl nodded as Charlotte smiled. “Can you remember where you came from, before you came here…?”
Half an hour later, Charlotte spread out a map of Mogola.
from the country south of where the great river forks...or about here,” Charlotte
pointed to an area on the map in the atlas.
a pretty remote piece of country Charlotte."
"It is, but back in the days when Mogola was Dutch West Africa, it was always rumored there was gold in there."
and questioned the girl again. "Okay if I'm getting this right, then there
is some kind of mining going on, they have been raiding the local villages,
killing those they can't use, and enslaving the rest."
“That sounds eerily familiar" Penny shook her head.
Shirley nodded, as she said “Tell her she is under our protection. I must ask you ladies to care for her and ensure her safety for now – I will arrange security for you for that time.”
“We thank you,” Maria said, “and we will keep her safe.”
“For the Heart and the Strength.”
“We will inform them.”
“They are here?”
“We will bring them to see you tomorrow – today, I regret we are needed elsewhere.”
“Sleep, rest,” Charlotte said as she looked at Flower. “We will talk again tomorrow.”
Maria showed them out as Becca sat with her.
She nodded as Becca pointed to herself. “Becca.”
“That’s right,” she smiled.
The Mosaic Hotel
Juliette looked at her cell phone as she heard Klaus in the shower, smiling as she put it to her ear.
“Good morning Janice – how’s New York today?”
“Getting hotter – sorry to catch you before the wedding, Ju, but I need to give you a heads up on something.”
“Go on – what’s happened now.”
“Does the name Brian Goldstein mean anything to you?”
“More than you want to know,” Juliette said as she sat down, “where did you hear it from?”
“Tom – he called me and Adam in yesterday, and said Goldstein had been in touch with several levels above him. Is he planning a film based on the Pussycat Gang?”
“Yeah – we met him last night and he dropped that on us at the rehearsal dinner. Why?”
your producer friend has asked for me to be the technical advisor on his new
film about the Pussycat Gang." Janice spoke."Tom Callaghan wants me
to do it, but I thought I'd talk to you first."
you on the picture is getting a bit close to home."
Ju, but though it’s fictionalized, as Tom puts it, it will be a great career
boost for me."
"Well we can't stand in the way Jan, but dear Goddess please be careful when you talk to Brian."
“Trust me – I’m handling this one with kid leather gloves. I’ll touch base with you when you get back next week. Enjoy the wedding.”
“How are you feeling,” Kylie said as she looked at Marina, a towel wrapped round her hair as she fastened a robe around herself.
“Not too bad – Helen and I talked, and we’ll talk again later,” Marina said as she poured herself some coffee. “How did you feel the first time?”
“I knew it had to be done – simple as that. Mind you, I had the weekend test – you haven’t done that.”
“Maybe I should sign up for it while I’m here – Maddie’s sending some of her staff along, do you think Diana would include me?”
“Ask Helen – right now, you need to get dressed. We have a wedding to go to.”
Beverly Hills Hotel
“What do you think,” Maddie called through from the bathroom as Shirley sat in the lounge. A knock on the door made her stand up and open it, as Maddie said “Who is it?”
She looked round the corner to see Sandra standing there, wearing a peach coloured dress, and smiling broadly as she held up a bottle of champagne.
“Trying to get me drunk?”
“Aiming to – but come on, we can have a drink together first,” she said as Shirley opened the bottle. She was wearing a white coat dress, her hat and gloves sitting on the bed.
“I saw John and Coco downstairs, talking to some of the other guests,” Sandra said as Maddie came out, wearing a white trouser suit with a black top underneath, and a red rose in the lapel.
“Very chic,” Shirley said as she handed her a glass. “Here – to a bright and prosperous future.”
“For all of us,” Maddie said as they toasted each other.
The main ballroom had been decorated in white and blue, with garlands of balloons hanging from the ceiling, and matching centerpieces on each of the tables that were arranged around the dance floor.
Caroline and George looked round the floor, Caroline wearing a light blue dress and George in a suit, his silk tie carefully knotted under the collar of his white shirt.
“Okay – the extra pairs of eyes?”
Caroline turned to see Tracy and the other girls walk in, wearing sun dresses.
“Excellent – the guests are starting to arrive, so mingle, stay inconspicuous.”
“Any particular instructions?”
“Hotel security have the photographers in a cordoned off area outside, but it wouldn’t be a wedding like this without one of them trying to sneak in.”
“Security are checking invitations at the door,” George added, “but be prepared – and if you see someone who does not fit, inform me or Caroline. We’ll take it from there.”
“What – like him,” JD said as she pointed at a tall, imperious looking man walking round and checking the table settings.
“No, not him,” Caroline said as he walked over. “Bertram, these are the additional security staff I told you about.”
“Ah – a pleasure to meet you ladies,” he said as he bowed to them.
“Bertram is our toastmaster for today – the word is?”
“All is in readiness, Miss Jameson – in fact, the first guests are arriving now.”
He walked to the door, smiling as he said “Welcome, Lord and Lady Hayden-Guest – please, allow me to show you to the gathering area.”
“Isn’t that Christopher Guest and Jamie Lee Curtis?”
“It is – to work ladies…”
The room slowly started to fill up with guests, so that as Juliette arrived in the SUV she had hired to take them all to the hotel, it was already fairly busy.
“Oh my,” Carina said as she walked in, “I didn’t know Maddie knew so many of the brightest and best.”
“Or Emma,” Sandy said as she saw Debbie Harry talking with Belinda Carlisle and Simon le Bon.
“Yasmin? I did not know you and Simon were coming,” Juliette said as they embraced.
“We were invited – how could we refuse – and is this Carina? Last time I saw you, you were a babe in arms.”
“And now she has my granddaughter in hers,” Juliette said as Yasmin looked at Judith.
“She is beautiful,” she cooed before she said “I’ll catch up with you later” and walked off.
“It is Jo isn’t it? Jo Smith?”
Jo turned to see a twelve year old girl standing behind her.
“I’m Hannah – I think we swapped places recently?”
“Oh, sorry, yes,” Jo said quietly, “from the Rising Stars agency. How did you find New York?”
“Different, but I prefer LA.”
“We can agree to disagree on that – so are you here alone?”
“No – a small group are here with Kathy and her daughters, at the invitation of Madeline.”
She gestured to where five other girls were standing with a middle aged Vietnamese woman, and two others who looked enough like her to be her daughters. One looked to be a little older than Carina, while the other was about the same age as Abby.
“So that’s Cathy Huan – a pity Missy Auerbach isn’t here, or they could have had a lovely time together.”
“Anyway, I wanted to say hello, and hope we get a chance to talk later,” Hannah said, and then stopped as she gasped “Jeannie Brewster? Here?”
“Yeah, that’s Jeannie,” Jo said as she came in, escorted by House, as well as her mother and grandfather.
“Miss Brewster,” Hannah said as she went over, “would you come and say hello to my friends from Rising Star?”
“Of course I will,” Jeannie said as House pushed her over.
“Amazing,” Catherine said as she came in with Helen, Kylie and Marina. Maisha was also with them, looking round.
“Ah, there you are,” Caroline said as she walked over, “you need to come with me Maisha. My apologies to the rest of you.”
“It’s all right darling,” Kylie said as she looked round, her wide brimmed hat covering her eyes, “We will see you after the ceremony.”
Caroline took Maisha off to a side room, where Sandra and Shirley were sitting with Maddie.
“Ah, my attendant,” Maddie said as Caroline closed the door. “Ready?”
“I believe so,” Maisha said as she looked at Shirley. “So what is the item you want me to watch?”
“This,” Maddie said as she picked up a small black box and handed it to Maisha. “I’ll see you girls later.”
As Shirley and Sandra went out, Maddie closed the door and said, “I heard about last night – will you help her as well?”
Maisha nodded as Maddie put her hand on her shoulder. “I find it, as does Aunt Shirley, repugnant that others are now in the position I was, and I will do all that is necessary.”
“We’ll talk later,” Maddie said, “with Shirley. For now, put on your public face – I need you to help me with this most dangerous of human activities.”
“Walking into a room?”
“My lords, ladies and gentlemen.”
The room fell silent as Bertram called out.
“Please make your way to the room next door, where the ceremony will take place.”
The people slowly started to filter through, Diana looking round as they entered a room with row upon row of white flowers, chairs laid out in rows with a wide path between them.
Dave McKenna stood at the front, wearing a grey suit, light blue shirt and grey tie, as the guests took their seats, Juliette and friends sitting behind Shirley and Sandra, while John stood to one side, his camera in hand.
A piano stood to one side of the stage, with a dark haired woman sitting there, playing what Barbara recognized as Ladydown tunes while Andi, Xandra and Belle joined other guests of Emma on the other side of the room.
The quiet hum of chatter died down as the pianist looked up, and then started to play Eternal Flame. A dark haired woman stood up and joined the pianist, as she sang
“Close your eyes, give me your hand,
“Oh my,” Sandy said, “that’s Suzanna Hoffs.”
A door opened at one side, and Maddie came out, accompanied by Maisha as she walked over and stood in front of Dave. As the song continued, a door opened at the other side and Emma came out, wearing a short sleeved blue dress and a beret with a veil covering her eyes. Andy came with her, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie as she joined Maddie at the front.
As the song ended, Dave looked round and said “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this most special day and this most special occasion.
“We gather here today to celebrate the union of Madeline and Emma, and to bear witness to their commitment to each other. They do this after sober and mature consideration, and wish all present here to bear witness to what they say and give to each other today.
“Under Californian law, both Madeline and Emma have sworn that they are in a position to marry, and that there is no lawful impediment to their union, and a wedding license has been issued. I am required to ask, however, that if anyone presents knows any reason why they should not make this commitment to each other they should speak now.”
There was a nervous silence, before Dave said “Thank the lord – I guess we can carry on now.”
“It is always the same,” Abby whispered, her mother trying not to laugh as they watched.
“Right – ready?” He turned and looked at Maddie, before he said “The time has come for Madeline and Emma to declare their marriage vows before you, their witnesses, family and friends. Please, stand and join in the celebration of their marriage.”
The room stood, Heather holding little Sandy’s hand as Annie held Judith in her arms.
“Madeline Jane Moore, will you take Emma Louise Cromwell to be your wedded wife, to share your life with her, to love support and comfort her, whatever the future may bring?”
“I will,” Maddie said as she took Emma’s hand, before she said “I call upon these persons here present to witness that I Madeline Jane Moore do take you Emma Louise Cromwell to be my lawful wedded wife.”
“And Emma Louise Cromwell, will you take Madeline Jane Moore to be your wedded wife, to share your life with her, to love support and comfort her. Whatever the future may bring?”
“I will – and I call upon these persons here present to witness that I Emma Louise Cromwell do take you Madeline Jane Moore to be my lawful wedded wife.”
“Having exchanged vows, I now ask you to present the tokens of your commitment to each other. It is an ancient tradition for a bride and groom to exchange rings: this giving and receiving of rings symbolises the continuity of their relationship and the sharing of their lives together. A wedding ring is an unbroken circle which symbolises an unending and everlasting love, and we would ask you to wear your wedding rings as an outward sign of lifelong vows and promises that you have both made to each other today.”
Maddie turned and waited as Maisha handed her the small black box, waiting as she opened it and took out a plain gold band before she placed it on the third finger of Emma’s hand.
“Emma, I give you this ring as a symbol of our marriage and as a token of my love, trust and commitment. I promise to care for you above all others, to give you my love, friendship and support and to respect and cherish you throughout our lives together.”
Emma wiped away a little tear – as did Shirley and Sandra – before Emma took a ring from Andy and placed it on Maddie’s hand.
“Madeline, I give you this ring as a symbol of our marriage and as a token of my love. I promise that I will respect you as an individual, support you through difficult times, rejoice with you through happy times, be loyal always, and above all, love you as my wife and friend.”
Dave looked at both of them, before he looked around the room.
“Madeline and Emma, you have both made the declarations prescribed by Californian law, and have made a solemn and binding contract with each other in the presence of the witnesses here assembled. Therefore, by the power invested in me by the city of Los Angeles and the state of California, I am proud, nay delighted, to pronounce you wife and wife.
“This is the point where you get to kiss her, Maddie.”
“With great pleasure,” Maddie said as she lifted the veil in front of Emma’s face, took her head gently in her hands and placed her lips on hers. That simple act was greeted by cheers and claps as the entire room applauded, John taking a photo of them as they stood there.
Emma and Maddie turned, smiling broadly as Hannah and her friends threw confetti over both of them.
“Right,” Dave said as he looked out over the room, “I invite you all to welcome Madeline and Emma as they walk down the aisle, and that you join them in the next room to help celebrate this day.”
Two hotel staff members opened the door as the piano started playing again, Maddie and Emma walking down arm in arm as they were greeted on each side by their friends.
“May I,” Andy said as he offered his arm to Maisha, the young woman smiling as she took it and walked behind them.
“Now that was a moving ceremony,” Sandra said as she wiped away a tear, “I wonder who’s going to be next?”
“You,” Sandra said as she looked at Shirley. The tall brunette looked at her, and then laughed as she said “I don’t think so.”
“Never say never, little one,” John Jacobs said as he joined the couple. He was dressed in a light jacket, trousers and open necked shirt, while Coco stood by him in a light grey coat dress, a grey scarf over her shoulders.
“Well, John, the day you announce your engagement is the day I announce mine.”
“Well, that settles that then,” John said with a smile as they walked out into the open area, where waiters and waitresses were carrying round glasses of champagne.
“Thank you,” Juliette said as she accepted a glass, while Carina and Annie sat with Judith.
“A wonderful ceremony,” Caroline said as she came over.
“Indeed – she always does seem to prefer the simple things when given the choice,” Juliette said with a smile.
“Did you read on our net what Doc posted Caroline?” Juliette asked.
“I did,” Caroline shook her head, “she’s certainly researching this completely.”
“The big problem is her asking if we know anyone who’s a specialist in explosives. I certainly don’t know anyone…do you?”
“Actually I might.” Caroline smiled as she led Juliette over to where Helen was standing.
“Hello ladies, having fun?” Helen asked.
“Yes,” Juliette smiled.
“Helen, that little hobby of yours I found out about in Russia…”
“You need something to go bang?” Helen whispered.
“Can you do little bangs?”
“How small Caroline?”
“Like a vault door?”
“I’ve never done it, but I’ve always wanted to…”
“Well we might just have an opportunity for you Helen.” Juliette interrupted.
“Give me a chance to practice and I’m your girl.” Helen laughed quietly.
“Well, today is full of surprises,” Juliette said quietly.
“So you’re an old married woman now,” Penny said as she and Shirley stood with Sandra and Maddie.
“Less of the old,” Sandra said with a smile.
“Who’s the big guy with the trophy wife, and the bodyguard?” Penny asked as she looked over at the small group, talking to some other guests.
“That’s Tony Ambrosina, the head of the teamsters local,” Shirley replied. “He is one of those gentlemen we have to be nice to if our trucking and shipping businesses out here aren’t to suddenly have labour problems.”
“I take it he’s family then?”
“Yes, he’s a senior man in the local mob, and not someone even I would willingly tangle with.”
“I try and maintain a good relationship,” Maddie whispered, “though only as a legitimate businesswoman, our other contacts with his people are done via Madame and London, so he has no idea what our other business is.”
“We pay him off twice, once from here in LA, the other from Head Office, it’s rather an inconvenience, but it keeps Xavier International here looking clean.” Shirley smiled.
“The intricate nature of organized crime.” Penny smiled back.
“I know that look Jeannie,” Barbara said as she looked at her daughter, “what’s the word?”
“Danielle Sheypuk just e-mailed me Mum, she’s going to take up Stephen’s invitation to pose?” Jeannie smiled sweetly.
“Well Danielle can if she wants to, she’s a mature woman, she’s not just 15 years old Jeannie.”
“Carlana Stone is doing it, and she’s already posed nude before.”
“Again Carlana is a mature woman. She’s a married woman and if her husband approves good for her.”
“Mum do you realize how badly I want to do this?”
“I know love…”
“Granddad says he doesn’t mind…”
“He objected quickly enough when my sister posed in the nude.” Barbara said in a startled tone.
“Yes, but that was girlie magazines, not art.”
“Look – I just don’t know for…”
“Abby’s agreed as well.”
Barbara stopped and looked at her, before turning slowly to look at Diana.
“Excuse me a moment, Jeannie,” Barbara said as she walked off, and Abby came over.
“Still trying to persuade your mum to let you do the Stone shoot?”
“Yeah – I may have just overplayed my hand though. I told her you had agreed to do it.”
“Oy,” Abby said as she looked for Barbara, then saw her mother walk in the other direction. “Hold fast, BS – I’m going to get this sorted out once and for all.”
Abby quickly walked over, talking to Juliette before she went to intercept her mother.
“Barbara,” Juliette said as she walked over to join Jeannie’s mother, “lost someone?”
“Diana - What’s your opinion on Jeannie posing for Stephen Stone Juliette?”
Juliette looked at Barbara, before saying “Do you want an honest answer?”
“I think you should turn it down on her behalf.”
“So you at least agree with me that’s she’s too young…”
“No I never said that did I.” Juliette broke in.
“Well if it isn’t because she’s too young, then why?”
“Because I think it could damage her career.”
“That appearing nude would hurt her as a fashion model?”
“Again, did I say that Barbara?”
For a few moments Barbara thought, “well if not on the grounds of her age, or because of hurting her main career by appearing nude, then why?”
“Because appearing nude and everyone seeing what is really under her clothes might turn people against her.”
Barbara again stood looking at Juliette, a flush coming to her face. “Are you saying that people wouldn’t think my daughter has the body to pose nude?”
“You said it, I didn’t Barbara.”
“Bloody cheek Juliette, I’d match up my daughter’s body against any models…any day.”
“Well if that’s your opinion, who am I to disagree?” Juliette ostentatiously turned her back to ask a waiter to fetch her another glass of champagne.
“My daughter is bloody well good enough to appear nude anytime.” Barbara fought to maintain her temper. “In fact I’m going to bloody well send Stephen an agreement for her to do so right now.” Barbara stormed off.
“I owe you one Pelican.” Jeannie said as she wheeled herself over and smiled at her older friend.
“I knew that the only way to get your mother to agree, was to tell her you weren’t good enough.” Juliette smiled back. “Use her pride in you and your accomplishments to bluff her into it.”
“She’s going to want to kill you later,” Jeannie said.
“Oh, once she realizes, she’ll be fine,” Juliette said with a smile as Bertram called out “My Lords Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats for the wedding breakfast.”
“A magnificent setting,” John said as he and Coco joined Shirley and John, as well as Charlotte, Lily and George, and Penny.
“Indeed,” Coco said as she looked round, “and a very elite gathering.”
“I don’t think there is much call for hydraulic engineers out here, Coco.”
“Oh you would be amazed – the irrigation issues for the orange groves alone are fascinating, never mind other problems.”
“Please, Lily, this is a holiday, no shop talk, all right?”
“All right John, I promise…”
“Telling me that my Jeannie hasn’t got the body to pose nude, who does that bitch Juliette think she is?” Barbara muttered under her breath as she stood at the bar.
“Taking my Juliette’s name in vain Barbara?” Klaus asked as he ordered some drinks.
“Yes,” Barbara counted to ten, “she told me I shouldn’t let Jeannie pose nude for Stephen Stone.”
“When? She and I talked about it this morning and she was all for it.”
“She told just a few minutes ago…she said Jeans body wasn’t good enough, so I reacted and went and Okayed the contract…” Barbara paused and looked at the amused look on the prince’s face. “I’ve been had haven’t I?”
“Sounds like it to me.” Klaus suppressed a giggle.
“The Bitch!” Barbara looked skyward, “I bet she and my daughter cooked the whole thing up.”
“Come – join us at the table, and make your peace with her. I think you can appreciate the skill in her negotiating?”
Barbara shook her head as she muttered “Oh I’ll get my own back one day…”
“Miss Smith, a pleasure to see you again,” Bertram said as he walked round the tables, ensuring the food was delivered on time.
“Thank you Bertram – may I introduce my sister Heather, and her partner Sandy, with Sandy’s children Sandy and George.”
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance ladies – forgive me, I must greet the other guests,” he said as he moved on.
“Who is he?”
“The waiter I told you about Heather – he knew me before I even arrived in the city.”
“Impressive,” Heather said as the starters were brought out.
“He seems a nice boy, darling,” Kylie said as she cut into her steak carpaccio.
“Who, Andy?” Marina looked across to where he was sitting with his family. “Yeah, he seems a nice guy – might like to get to know him better, except – d’oh few thousand miles between us.”
“Not right now – or until the end of August. You should take time to get to know him, darling.”
Marina shook her head as she said “let’s enjoy the meal first…”
“My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Bertram called from the table, “pray silence for Mrs. Madeline Moore.”
As Maddie stood up, there was loud applause from round the table as she smiled and waved her hands. “All right, all right,” she said quietly, “I just wanted to say a couple of things, the first been thank you to all of you who have joined us today. I’m glad so many of you were able to make it, particularly my friends from the United Kingdom – and especially my boss, my best friend – after Emma – and my mentor, Shirley. Shirley, you made me what I am today, and I thank you. So first toast of the day – to Shirley!”
“TO SHIRLEY,” the party said as she blushed, especially when John kissed her on the cheek and whispered “you deserve every part of that.”
“There are so many others I wish to thank – Bertram, Wolfgang, Emma, and the crew that have served us today, the staff at the hotel who have made us all feel welcome – especially with the conventions in town – all of them, thank you.”
There was another round of applause as Maddie said “I also need to thank, with all my heart, Dave for conducting the ceremony so well today. Thank you.”
She blew a kiss over to him as he waved back in return.
“One more person I need to thank – and she’s sitting right here,” Maddie said as she looked at Emma. “Today, you have made me the happiest woman alive – ladies and gentlemen, friends, colleagues – Emma.”
“Please, enjoy the rest of the day,” Maddie said as she sat down, and Bertram stood behind Emma while she stood up.
“I think I need to say thank you as well,” Emma said as she put her napkin down, “but if I am being honest, I have no words to describe the way I feel now, as Mrs. Emma Cromwell.”
“Actually,” she then said as she walked towards the stage, “I do have something to say, but it needs to be said in a particular way – and I need a little help. Can I have three volunteers please?”
“Oh go on, I’ll give you a hand,” Andi said as she stood up, and joined Emma on the stage, putting on a bass guitar and starting to play a few chords.
“I don’t know – I think you need something else,” Xandra said as she walked over as well, and stood behind the keyboard, the murmur round the tables growing stronger as Belle walked up and sat behind the drum kit.
“Oh my goddess,” Lily said quietly, “they haven’t done this in…”
“It’s been a while,” Andi said, “so forgive us if we’re a little rusty.”
“One, two, three, four,” Belle called out as she tapped her sticks, and they started to play, a slow, beautiful melody from Xandra as Andi played on the guitar, and Emma stood behind the microphone, taking a deep breath before she opened them and looked at Maddie.
“I don’t recognize this,” Lily whispered as Emma started to sing.
When Burns wrote love was like a rose,
You knew his words were true.
And when Shakespeare wrote, of love and hope,
You felt he spoke to you.
Now I don’t have the words they do
To say the way I feel of you
But what I can, I’ll say to you,
My lovely English Rose…
Maddie stood up, a tear forming in her eye as Emma continued
Denver only told half the truth
For when I sit and look at you
I see a love so rare, so full,
And on this day when you said I do
I find I have to sing this song
To show a love that is so strong
And to say I live to walk along
Life’s road with my English Rose…
“It’s beautiful,” Diana whispered as Andi set off on a guitar solo, Emma watching as she did so, and then went into the middle eight.
You make me feel complete,
With every word you speak,
And in this place of love,
I fly high as the dove,
When I think of you.
The other three stopped and watched as Emma sang alone.
So let me say one more thing,
On this, our wedding day.
My heart, my soul, will prove to you
That we are here to stay.
So in front of all our friends,
I say now, this love will never end,
So all I can do now is lend
My hand, to my English Rose.
She watched as Maddie slowly walked over, and whispered “I hope you like my present” before she stepped off the stage and into Maddie’s arms, everyone applauding as they kissed.