We are Gathered Here…
Saturday 16th July
3 pm BST
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly
“And so,” the blonde haired woman said as she looked over the room, “we were in the rare and privileged position to complete the route from initial sketches to the final picture, and so provide an illustration of the way a true master worked. It only remains for me to thank the Dowager Countess de Ros for allowing me to study at her collection, Professor Amy Hider for her guidance, and the academy for inviting me to present here.”
Sands and Sandy both stood and applauded as Heather blushed at the front, the room following as Amy Hider came to the front of the room.
“I want to thank Heather for both of her talks to us,” she said as the others sat down, “and invite you to join us for refreshments in the outer hall.” She turned and said “well done you – you can relax tonight.”
“Oh I feel like I could sleep for a week,” Heather said with a smile as her friends came over, “but we’re all going out for a meal before Carina’s race tomorrow, and then either here or Germany before we go to Naples for a wedding.”
Sunday 17th July
11 am BST
Dorney Lake, near Windsor
Carina looked out over the lake as the breeze blew the surface of the water into soft ripples.
“Looking good,” she said quietly as Kelsey and Molly stood behind her.
“Looking very good,” Molly said quietly. “Right – let’s get on the water.”
“Come on Specs,” Kelsey said with a smile, “we’ve got a race to run.”
“You made it,” Juliette said with a smile as Klaus joined her, ”how are the children?”
“Judith asked me to bring this,” he said with a smile as he held up her teddy bear, “she says they are bound to win with him here.”
“I’m sure they will,” Juliette said with a smile as she looked over. “John, Shirley – ready for later?”
“We have the change of clothes in the car, and Mrs Harris’ picnic basket,” Shirley said as she sat down. “It is a beautiful day for a race.”
“Indeed,” Juliette said as she saw the boats start to appear on the water.
“Karin Widdowes, this is my partner John Hammond, and Juliette’s husband Klaus,” Shirley said as the tall American joined them.
“A real pleasure to meet you,” Karin said as he kissed them both. “It’s a wonderful day for a race.”
“Hey Abs – ready for some more pictures?”
“I think so,” Abigail said as she checked her lenses, “with luck, I’ll complete my portfolio today and enjoy the next few weeks.”
“Well, they’re getting into position now…”
“Easy, easy – that’s it,” Carina said as the man caught the bow of the boat, and she held her hand up. “Remember the game plan?”
“Got it Specs – and not too early this time, right?”
Carina nodded as she glanced to the side, the Dutch and Swedish boats nodding back as she took deep breaths. “Showtime…”
“Showtime,” Abbie said as she saw the last hand go up, and checked her camera.
“Showtime,” Juliette said as the starting signal was given…
“Come on, come on… YES!!!”
Juliette stood and cheered as the Yale boat crossed the line first by the narrowest of margins.
"Okay where did they find that improvement from?" Karin kept asking as she hugged Aggie, Juliette and the others. "I had them coming fourth or fifth."
"I'll bet ‘what the hell’ is just what every other crew is saying?" Ingrid said as she managed a few words between whoops of joy.
"Oh US Rowing must at least consider giving them a row-off for the World Championship spot, " Annie was jumping for joy.
"Oh at the very least," Karin shook her head, "especially with the e-mail I'm going to send them in a few minutes time."
“Come on,” Annie said, “let’s go and see what they are thinking…”
“We did it, WE DID IT,” Carina cried out as the girls carried their boat to the shed, and then she saw the others approaching. “Pookie came?”
“Pookie came – we need to call Judith later,” Klaus said as he embraced them.
changed tactically darling," Juliette asked as she hugged Carina.
decided that instead of us building our tactics to fit the opposition, that
with just having made the final being a triumph we'd just go out and row 'our'
"AND IT PAID OFF" Molly said as she popped a champagne cork, "they worried about each other and forgot about us till it was too late."
Monday 18th July
9 am BST
“Shirley – Francesca di Cambrello on line 2,” Amanda said as she looked in the door. Shirley nodded as she picked up the phone and said “Good morning Francesca.”
darling can you tell me where my daughter is please?" Francesca spoke into
the phone, "I've been trying to get hold of her all morning."
several people Francesca darling,” Shirley said as she sat back, “but she's
locked herself in a room alone with all those stones, and rather blood-curdling
instructions as to what she will do with anyone who disturbs her."
Francesca laughed, "she's inherited that from James, when he was
evaluating things he did exactly the same...From having dealt with him I know
better than to disturb her."
seeing that the Honoured Fathers have agreed that they will only take 33% of
the value as the gems are collateral to what they were seeking, I'm hoping that
when Charlotte has them valued it will mean a huge bonus all round."
"Well I know all the girls who worked on this at whatever level, will appreciate that. I’ll call later – I wanted to make sure we met at the airport in good time."
“We’re coming later tomorrow – and looking forward to dinner at your home tomorrow night.”
“I will see you then,” Francesca said as she ended the call, and Penny came in.
"So Madame how was Glyndebourne yesterday?" Penny asked as she brought in the morning report.
"So I take
it you all made it there safely after the race?"
Shirley said, “and you know I am so happy that I came to meet Juliette, she and
Klaus really are the perfect couple for John and I to double with, we truly
just have so much in common."
"Oh that I
think most people will agree on Madame," Penny smiled deeply. "Before
we start the briefing though there is something I wish to discuss."
is?" Shirley lifted an eyebrow.
of Lily and her people. I just want to make sure that when the history is
written of the last week, the key role her team played is acknowledged, and how
it proved the need for a rapid-reaction force doesn't go unnoticed."
Shirley nodded, "I'd thought just that myself. Now that hopefully we are
looking forward to a reasonably extended routine period, please tell Lillian
that it’s time for her to assemble a full team and to start intensive
"I will," Penny nodded, "and by the way speaking personally, I think that Louise might just make a perfect member if she's prepared to move from LA to London?"
“Louise? Would she be open to such a move?”
“We can only ask – she is having dinner with Jill tonight, and can call in tomorrow?”
“I will talk to her then,” Shirley said with a smile
11 am BST
“All right girls – let’s see those smiles,” David called out as Katy and Doc posed in their leather dresses.
Eleanor it’s like I warned you,” Jan said as she stood with the others to one
side, “shoots aren't a spectator sport."
Eleanor said quietly, “but it’s still fun watching how my granddaughter and
Anna do this."
hard," Emma Carlton whispered.
"I can see
that, it's not at all about them, it's just about them delivering what the
Emma said, “and it's why my Anna I can see under her cool is steadily losing
her temper that she can't extend the line of her legs further."
doesn't have Abby de Ros' legs," Jan said as she watched, "and no
amount of him yelling at her is going to get them that long."
the subject, what is this I hear that you and Jeanne need to specially
address that conference tonight Jan?" Eleanor asked.
Jan sighed, "seems like they want to know chapter and verse about the
Pussycats all of a sudden."
Emma shivered, "those women scare the shit out of me, especially since I
saw the movie."
was a tiny graphic in parts," Eleanor agreed. “But a fascinating story none the less…”
"So you come down yet?" Doc whispered in Katy's ear.
"Yes,” Katy groaned, “but remind me next time Aunt Ju comes up with such a huge brilliant idea to tell her to count me out."
how the hell I can stretch like he wants while my muscles are screaming like
this I don't know."
"The same here." Katy smiled, "still at least the torture will be over this afternoon."
“True – and then home tomorrow.”
1 pm BST
darling,” Shirley said as she sipped her drink and looked at Catriona Crawford,
“are you flying to Dublin later?"
Shirley, see just what mischief Tam and my daughter can find for me to get
is coming over tomorrow?"
after she's sent Torware her preliminary report...oh and by the way I thought I
could bill people astronomical amounts for my service, have you seen what Agnes
is charging and getting?"
had," Shirley shook her head, "no wonder she can afford to do this
and keep her school running, all while re-emerging as one of the most beautiful
women in Britain.”
know," Catriona shook her head.
"Anyway changing the subject old friend, what did you make of your experiences during all that we have just finished?”
“So different, exciting – and I cannot deny whatever my share is is welcome – but the real shocker was seeing some of your associates in a completely different light. People like Francesca, and I will say that lady Dominique scares me.”
“She scares a lot of people,” Shirley said with a smile. “So, what are you getting Charlotte and Piet as a present?”
“That - would be telling… I heard that Mike Babbage found your loading point, by the way?”
“He did – protection was arranged for him, but as I understand it, he had a very busy weekend…”
1 pm BST
"Well at least you'll get double use from that uniform John," John Hammond smiled at the tailors worked over John Vosloo's dress uniform as a colonel in the South African Irish Regiment. "That saffron kilt will fit in perfectly on Oban."
"I just hope that people in Naples understand that this is my Regimental dress best," John said as he looked at himself while the tailor made some chalk markson his brown jacket.
"Well I personally think it looks grand Sir," one of the tailors looked up, "we are going to have to let it out slightly..."
"Ja I've spent too many years behind a desk," John nodded.
"Well It's only a slight adjustment Colonel, I've known staff officers who we have had to do far more to alter their regimentals."
"Just so long as Charlotte isn't embarrassed to have me give her away."
“She won’t be,” John said, “and besides, it could be worse. You could be Piet or his supporters in their outfits.”
“True – bad enough with belts and epaulettes, those guys…”
1 pm BST
Paddington Green Police Station
“Okay,” Mike said as he looked at Tom and Jenny, “let’s make sure we get the time line right on this. Thursday night.”
“At approximately 6 pm, Richard Norman and his family are taken at gunpoint, bound, gagged and blindfolded, from their home,” Jenny said as she stood at the board. “The women were dressed in black, wore balaclavas, and were armed. They have no idea where they were taken, but when the blindfolds were removed Richard said the two women in the room with them identified themselves as Miss Lynx and Miss Leopard.”
“Two of the Pussycat Gang,” Tim said quietly, “the statements of his wife and daughters – let’s just say they are going to need a lot of counselling.”
“So they are taken somewhere, and then Richard is told he is to go to work, and drive a train. What did TFL have to say about the trains?”
“That the work was authorized on their systems, and the first they knew of what had happened was Sunday morning. Whoever accessed their systems left no traces.”
Mike nodded as he said “so, later that evening, two more staff members have their families kidnapped, and they are forced to allow the gang, with Richard, to come and take the train. Members of the gang stay in the yard, while the two Pussycats force Richard to take the train, after service has finished, to a disused line.”
“Whitehall station,” Jenny said, “and we still haven’t had clearance to go down there.”
“Why on earth not?”
“It’s right under the MoD – but given what we have heard from him, I guess they’re embarrassed as well.”
“On the other hand,” Tom said, “we have Special Branch reports which are relevant for the Friday.”
“We’ll get to that. What did Norman say?”
“The smaller of the two women – Miss Lynx – guided him to the disused station, where they bound, gagged and blindfolded him again – but he did see it was a very active place, with a large number of armed and masked women – and palettes stacked with gold bars.”
“But there are no gold depositories round there – which means they may indeed have found the Manchurian Gold, especially given what happened on Saturday morning. Okay – so he was kept in the cab, but he could hear?”
“He could – fork lift trucks, things been put on the floor of the train, for a few hours. He’s then forced to drive the heavily laden train to a siding near Acton, where the gold is unloaded.”
Mike nodded. “Looks like Foxey was right on the button on that one.”
“The train is returned to the yard, cleaned out, and the three men taken to their families.”
“So, that was the Friday morning,” Mike said, “a very well planned operation. So what started to change on the Friday?”
Jenny looked at the Manilla files on the table. “A group of Japanese men and women were allegedly carrying out a survey near the MoD, at a manhole cover of all things. Special Branch and Security saw them off, but given what we now know, and also the presence over the last few weeks of one Tamiko Tanaka in London…”
“Who is she,” Tom asked.
“The Vice Queen of Tokyo – her father is one of the Oyaban,” Mike said quietly. “So she may have been looking for this gold as well?”
“We will never know- she disappeared on Saturday, her suite at Claridges cleared out overnight. There are a few other things – the closure of the main road between the Aldwych and Holborn early Friday night?”
“I remember,” Mike said quietly, “a suspected gas leak was the story?”
“Well, CCTV cameras went out as well, but before they did several pairs of Japanese men and women were on the street. When the cameras came back on, and the street opened, no sign.”
“They may just have left?”
“True – but then there is this,” Jenny said as she started to show CCTV footage of Trafalgar Square later that evening. Mike looked at the growing group, as Jenny froze the picture on a young Japanese woman.
“That’s Tamiko Tanaka – they must have gathered for a reason.”
“Well, we know now Boss – Richard Norman has described how he and his family spent the day at the hands of the Pussycats, before he and his colleagues were taken back to the yard, and the train set off again. This time, however, he told us he could see as he approached the station armed and masked women hiding in the tunnels.”
“At the same time,” Jenny said, “the CCTV showed about a third of the group approaching Whitehall, with Tamiko Tanaka at the lead.” She played the footage before saying “as they went in, the traffic lights were changed to block all traffic on the road, the CCTV network went down – and all the lights went out.”
“How long for?”
“About sixty minutes – and when they started working again, the street was clean.”
“You mean clear,” Mike said as he looked at Jenny.
“No – I mean clean, washed down, spotless.”
“Dear god – they must have had some sort of security watching to take out intruders.”
“Some of them – some got through. Richard said he heard shooting and then the leaders talking to a woman with a Japanese accent. Then he was forced to take the train to the sidings again.”
“And all three of us know what happened next – when the backup arrived, all that was left were the remains of those two trucks – and the bodies.”
“That’s right Boss – a squad arrived at the depot at six, to find the three families bound, gagged and unconscious.”
The door opened and all three stood up as Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, came in.
“Sir,” Mike said as he stood to attention, “we did not know you were calling.”
“DCI Babbage – you and your team have submitted your statements?”
All three nodded as he looked at the timeline. “Very well – what are you doing now?”
“Reviewing the timeline, based on known evidence, sir.”
“I need the room with DCI Babbage,” the Commissioner said, “good work, both of you.”
Tom and Jenny nodded as the left the room, Sir Bernard closing the door and saying “sit down, DCI Babbage. What I have to say is for your ears only.”
“Well, let me sum it up in one sentence – you were right. Everything that has happened in the city over the last couple of weeks seems to have been a campaign to distract us from the robbery of… Well, possibly of all time.”
“So… that really was the Manchurian Gold?”
Sir Bernard nodded as he said “Special Branch and MoD Security have been down to the disused station under Whitehall. There is evidence of a pitched gun battle, a wall was blown out to reveal a hidden room, and clear evidence of intense activity over the last few days – but bloody little in the way of actual clues. Whoever did this were master planners.”
“Which would put it in Madame X’s purview – and we know the Pussycat Gang took part as well.”
“Indeed – as well as a large number of Chinese workers. There is no way to know exactly how much has been taken – we can only estimate, and the informed guess is it was ordered by the heads of the Chinese crime families.”
“So there’s nothing we can do about it?”
“I’m afraid not Mike – we can only thank the Lord whoever planned and executed this took every step possible to minimise civilian casualties.”
“You mean when the blackout happened on the street?”
“We can only speculate, but our experts have seen the footage, and at least half of the group who set off down Whitehall did not make it into the tunnels. It’s almost as if a convention of the world’s deadliest killers descended on them, and then…”
“They had clean-up crews standing by.” Mik0e leaned back and laughed, before saying “well, I guess we chalk this one up to experience.”
“We do – I mean, if they called in a group like the China Dolls just to keep the three of you from getting killed at the sidings, they covered every possibility. Your report?”
“Good – take some very well deserved leave, DCI Babbage. This one must remain a mystery – for at least thirty years. You understand what I am saying?”
“I do Sir – I will inform them as well.”
“Any thoughts where you may go?”
“At home – some jobs need doing round the house.”
2 pm CET
The Furstenheim Townhouse
darling," Diana said as she looked over Abigail's shoulder, "are you
no Maman," the tall girl sighed as she looked up from her computer screen.
"It's like everything, you have to be very self-critical, and I keep
making judgments that I just hope my teachers won't when they come to grade
that is just why you will one day be a great photographer… I've been round enough of them in my life to
know they all have that same attitude."
telling me just that when I showed him what I had before we flew back to Munich
this morning. He was pointing out little things I might have done better."
still pronounced them as excellent didn't he?"
"Yes," Abby blushed.
“Then do not worry – come, some fresh air will do us both some good…”
Noon Pacific Time
San Francisco International Airport
“Where are they Dad,” Alison asked as she stood with Vicky, David and her father, both girls wearing shorts and their Mick Hannon t-shirts.
“Relax, little one,” Dave said with a smile, “I’m sure they will be through soon, and they will be pleased to see both of you.”
“THERE THEY ARE!”
“Well, we’re home again,” Mary said as she and Suzie came through from the Arrivals hall, wheeling their suitcases on a luggage trolley. While Mary was wearing a smock top and black leggings, Suzie was wearing yellow Capri pants and a short sleeved blouse. “Have you both been good?”
“Yes they have,” Dave said as he hugged both of them.
things you sent from Venice are amazing Mary," Vicky grinned as she hugged
first one of her sisters then the other.
was Munich like this time Suzie?" David asked,
different from when we saw it at the wedding." Suzie shook her head.
"All I think I'm going to remember is work and sleeping."
that tough eh?" her father asked as he took over the luggage cart.
Maestro certainly made me earn my fee, but for all I was cursing him, both
magazines are in raptures over my pictures."
needed a pin to deflate her ego after what they said," Mary laughed.
importantly what was Missy's opinion?" Dave asked.
have a future in the biz..."
Missy actually said was the Susie has a HUGE future in the biz," Mary
long it all fits round school then I guess I can live with that."
"Oh by the
way before I forget Pops, I got calls from both Maddie and Liz Appleton...They
want to come see us Wednesday to discuss managing my affairs."
"Well with what they've done for Mary I can't see that being a problem."
“You know what I think we both really want now though?”
“Let me guess – a hot coffee, and to be in your own beds again?”
“Got it in one, Pops,” Suzie said, “let’s go home…”
8 pm BST
Lardarn Castle, Ireland
to Lardan Castle Cat," Paula said as she stood outside the main door,
watching as Paddy the driver opened the car’s rear door.
Paula," Cat said as she got out and kissed her hostess, "and can I
say this place is as magnificent as I'd heard."
"Well we only
live in a small part,” Paula said as they walked in, “the rest is open to
said more than once - is it actually possible for a modern family to actually
live in houses like this size like our ancestors did?"
having so many servants to do things, then no, so much is just excess
space...It's why at least to me Kildare Street feels like a genuine family
house, being so much smaller."
"Well in my case i appreciate the intimacy of my flat in Belgravia, but Dunmarnock is the place I still really think of as being my 'home'."
“I can imagine,” Paula said as Thomas brought the bags in, and they went into th main room.
“MUMMY!” Liz ran over and embraced Cat as the girls watched. “You’re finally here!”
“Yes, I’m finally here, and this is genuine downtime,” Cat said with a smile, and then winced.
“Are you all right?”
“Yeah – I strained a muscle lifting something at the weekend, but I’m fine now…”
9 pm BST
The home of Sir Simon and Lady Fiona McDonald
They made an eclectic group as they sat round the dinner table – Sir Simon and his wife Fiona, Lord Donald Fitzstuart and Agnes McAdam, Sir Charles and Lady Roberta Gresham-Fox, and their son Colin with Agnes’ assistant and his fiancée, Susan Fletcher. She was wearing a dark blue cocktail dress, while Agnes wore an evening dress in the same colour, Roberta opting for a yellow dress and Fiona a green one.
“Shall we head to the drawing room,” Simon said as he stood up, the group nodding as they made their way through and sat down, Simon handing round glasses of whiskey and brandy while Fiona fetched the coffee.
we've enjoyed Fiona's excellent cooking its perhaps time to move onto the thing
we all wish to talk about tonight?" Bobby asked as she sipped her brandy.
"I have to
say I had to bite my tongue and not just ask a string of questions straight
away," Donald smiled as he drank from his cup.
to know how the weekend went?" Sue asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
it isn't too much bother Sue darling." Fiona laughed as she looked over.
actually went wonderfully," Sue sighed, "I fell in love with Ardray,
I very much like the McAdam's, the people at the Cathedral could not have been
she's basically saying is that she didn't need a plane, she could have flown
south on a cloud," Colin spoke happily.
eh?" Bobby grinned.
"YES!" Sue smiled the broadest smile possible. “It’s like a slice of heaven, and I cannot believe we will be married there.”
"What did you work out about accommodation?" Agnes asked.
Sue said as she sipped her drink, “we phoned Catriona and she's amenable to the
idea that the groom’s party will stay at Dunmarnock, whilst - and I hope you
don't mind this Aggie - the bridal party stays at Ardray?"
"No - as
long as Cat is happy opening her house up for the men I think that's the best
agree," Fiona looked happy, "and we can accommodate some of the
overflow at Invermuir."
"Yes, and again Fiona darling it is so good you offering Invermuir for this." Bobby answered with a happy glance at both Fiona and Sir Simon.
way how did lunch go today Sue?" Bobby asked.
took us all to a place by St Paul's..."
it certainly rates its Michelin star, if any of you haven't eaten there."
to try it then” Donald nodded.
than enjoying the quality of the food, what else got discussed darling?"
Susan took a deep breath, “Penny and Kay are throwing me some kind of a hen
party with the dates and location to be confirmed, and an assurance that it
will neither be too noisy, nor will there be a male stripper..."
"Oh I say
that's a bit unfair," Lady Fiona laughed.
a message from Kylie that we all need go for fittings before we leave for
Italy, and that includes you Bobby."
me when and I'll be there darling."
“Tomorrow – two
o’clock. Now, what else did we talk
about?" Susan paused..."O yeah the problems that Bobbie is having
finding a date."
need to step in and find her an escort Sue?" Fiona asked.
help...Thank you...Her usual taste in guys doesn't run to men who would even be
seen in a morning coat."
assures me coming with a very nice girl she met about three weeks ago."
"Well it sounds like the bridesmaids are at least going to be happy." Colin sipped his brandy. “What’s this I heard about you meeting an old University friend over the weekend Agnes.”
“Oh yeah – her daughter is one of the rowing crew Carina von Furstenheim is the cox for. Excuse me a moment.”
Agnes slipped out of the room. A few minutes later, Simon stood up and followed her, looking into the dining room where she sat looking at her glass.
long face Agnes," he said as he sat next to her.
"So can I
offer you a penny for them?"
heard them before Uncle Simon I'm sure," Agnes sighed.
have anything to do with your old friend from Oxford?"
and a bit about them,” she said as she pointed to the others, just sitting in
the drawing room and laughing.
regretting that alone among your friends that you have neither husband, husband
and children, or even just children of your own aren't you?'
Looking at him,
Agnes smiled, a sad smile. "As I
said I guessed you had heard it before Uncle."
"If I can
put it another way - you are overjoyed for Colin and Sue, but in the back of
your mind you keep asking when am I going to get my happy ending?"
one way of putting it," Aggie grimaced rather then smiled. "Seeing
Karin and Kelsey, and Sherry, Mike, and their family, I realised that I've
missed out on so much just because I was too proud and stupid not even to ask
someone like you for help over 20 years ago."
that I've spoken to John a couple of times recently?"
amazing, to be honest he and you were the last people I thought ever even
recognise I existed."
me just how much you've punished yourself all these years."
"Well I was the one who needed punishing, it was my choices that led to all the trouble.”
"And you were quite prepared to serve a life sentence weren't you?"
"As the saying goes Uncle Simon, if you aren't prepared to do the time, don't do the crime." Agnes shrugged her shoulders.
“But Agnes – it wasn’t you who sold your story to that paper, or caused so much trouble for you then and afterwards – at least, if what I hear is correct.”
“True – but why was she so jealous of me?”
“We may never know, but she’s in a place where they can help her now…”
Aggie with us?" Bobbie asked.
she's in the dining room talking to Simon darling."
doesn't want to talk about the wedding?"
she has something more important on her mind." Sue looked at Donald.
there is nothing I can do...Agnes agrees on that." Donald answered
let you ruin your career Donald," Sir Charles spoke quietly, "but at
some point when do you both reward yourself with a little happiness?"
dies, and the world gets collective amnesia about Lady D'Eath," Fiona
they both forgive themselves for all the years of pain." Colin nodded.
how hard it is on Aggie..."
just as hard on you as well Donnie." Charles interrupted.
asking myself why I didn't have the guts to go talk to her that Sunday..."
Donald's voice trailed away.
same as me not stopping, counting to a hundred, and then asking Sue what
exactly what that detective was saying and giving her a chance to answer."
"It's what neither of you did, and neither did most others, we never gave either Aggie...or Sue, the chance to explain."
Sue looked round as she said “it will get better I’m sure – and she will come round. She’s off to Ireland in the morning, then coming to Naples with Catriona and the others. That should cheer her up…”
"Oh that is sad news," Colin shook his head as he glanced down at his phone.
"What is son?" Sir Charles asked.
passed away earlier tonight."
shame," Aggie shook her head, "most of you will not have agreed on
all her political positions, but she was a formidable voice in the Commons
arguing for women's rights."
"That she was," Sir Simon smiled, "and she was also one of the toughest questioners of any minister from the back benches I've maybe ever met. I've known Foreign Secretaries who have literally shaken in their boots at having to answer her because she was so on top of what she was asking about."
“So that means it’s game on after the wedding,” Sue said as she looked round.
“Oh yes – now begins the fun…”
see Tom Baxter at lunchtime Colin?" Bobby asked.
and he's more than delighted to stand up with me."
other wedding news he was keeping?” Sue asked.
will be a formal announcement in the Times in the Morning that he and Serena
Serena?" Lady Fiona looked up.
Watson-Carleton, they did it secretly before he shipped out to
"Oh - that
was why you were being seen with her?" Fiona laughed.
Sue snuggled up to Colin, "his best friend trusted him to babysit his
bride knowing nothing would happen."
puts to bed at least one rumour that my wife had told me," Donald smiled.
Aggie came in and sat down, "Catherine has always wanted to wish the worst
the subject will you mention Kensal QP needing a new MP to her?"
"I suppose it depends what Dr Gleb advises."
"So – the
wedding this week. Have you ever been to
the Palazzo Sentova Charles?" Simon asked.
had that pleasure, and all I can say is that I personally think it’s the most
beautiful of all Naples palazzo's."
a compliment Charles."
like the way that Francesca clicks her fingers and suddenly one of Europe's
grandest hotels is emptied and that it will accommodate all the wedding guests
free of charge." Bobby smiled.
when you own the hotel I suppose you can do just what you like," Sue
darlings, more than a few guests have their own palazzo in Naples."
true Aggie," Simon nodded.
just can't believe that one word from you Aggie and that we get a last minute invite...I
thought you'd been exiled from society," Fiona laughed.
"Aunt Fiona so did I, but it still seems I might just have a little influence," Aggie replied with a twinkle in her eye.
“What is the forecast for this week anyway,” Colin asked.
“It’s Naples – what do you think?”
9.30 pm BST
“Good night girls,” Paula said as the girls went up to their beds, and she sat down with her latest guest.
me about Cruella Paula," Catriona asked as she sipped her coffee.
worry she doesn't earn a name from her temperament Cat."
gentle soul, and she'll give you a nice easy ride, she's old enough that she
knows enough to do most of the work for you."
sounds like my kind of ride." Catriona smiled, sipped her coffee, and
did you pull the muscle darling?"
the stupidest thing any woman can do..."
piece of furniture without a man there to help," Paula nodded and smiled.
it's nice having Paddy round the place, if I'm not able to call upon Tom or
John, I always have him I can call upon."
reward for still being able to afford some staff." Cat’s eyes danced as
not like you don't darling, you just call them pupils, clerks, PA's and office
boys and girls."
"I suppose so," Catriona laughed, "but try as I may I still can't get them to move things in my home for me."
“True – so when is Aggie due to arrive?”
“Tomorrow lunchtime I think,” Catriona said.
“Good – they’re coming here for dinner tomorrow, and then we all fly out on Wednesday. I hear we’re staying at the best hotel in Naples?”
“Apparently – the owner has insisted it is used for most of the guests travelling in.”
“Oh – and that owner is?”
“Francesca,” Catriona said with a smile.
“Now why didn’t I see that one coming…”
Tuesday 19th July
9 am BST
Xavier International, the Aldwych
“Penny – I was asked to come in this morning before I flew back?”
“Indeed you were,” Penny said to the tall blonde,” I trust you had a restful weekend?”
Louise smiled as she entered the lift, the collar of her blouse over the lapels of the jacket of her trouser suit. “Let’s just say I kept my head down – but thank you for getting my things from Claridges.”
“Our pleasure,” Penny said as they stepped out on the sixth floor, Amanda nodding as Penny knocked on Shirley’s office door and entering when she heard the deep mellow voice say “come.”
“Ah, Louise,” Shirley said as they went in, “thank you for calling in today.”
“Madame, Madeline, Lily,” she said as she smiled at all three of them, “to what do I owe the honour of this audience?”
“Come in, sit down,” Maddie said as Penny left the room, “we were just completing a review of last week, and wanted to discuss the role you played.”
“It was my pleasure to play even a small role,” Louise said as she sat down, and Lily passed her some coffee.
“It was a vital role, however, and at no small danger to yourself as it turned out,” Shirley said, “so my congratulations on what you did.”
“Thank you Madame.”
“You fly back today,” Lily said, “but between then and when Madeline returns at the weekend, we want you to consider a proposition.”
“As you know, Louise, Tracey heads up a special group at our LA office,” Maddie said. “Lily has been asked to form a similar group in the UK, but unlike Tracey and the girls, their role will be to act as a rapid response troubleshoot unit, to act where necessary.”
“Sounds like an interesting group, darlings,” Louise said with a smile, “who is in?”
“So far, Tracy,” Lily said, “but we want to bring in proven talent. Specifically, Louise, we want you to be part of the team.”
like me to move to London Madame?" Louise stared at Shirley, Maddie, and
wish to...this would both be a promotion and see a substantial increase in your
"Oh I get
that Madame, but I just can't think what I've done to deserve this..."
can," Maddie interrupted, "Tokyo, Buffalo, and now London."
been doing my job," Louise blushed.
you've done your job both stylishly and excellently Louise." Lily smiled,
"work like that does not go unnoticed."
thank you," Louise blushed a second time. "Can I ask just what my
duties would be?"
every skill that this organisation needs," Shirley pushed a document
across the table.
"It's going to be our job to be able to do anything that can't wait, that needs fixing as of yesterday." Lily spoke.
“And to reinforce that, if you accept,” Maddie said, “you will join the team for an advanced training course with some – friends of ours. It will be tough, but worth it.”
“We can arrange accommodation and work permits for you,” Shirley said, “and I am sure Rhenia will approve. Will you do this for me, Louise?”
“I owe you everything Madame – and it will be a wrench to leave the girls in the apartment - but I accept the challenge.”
“Good – we will discuss further next week,” Maddie said, “safe travels Louise.”
1 pm CET
Palazzo Sentova, Naples
Luisa smiled as she stood at the doorway, watching the limousine as it pulled up, the driver getting out and opening the door to allow Francesca and Charlotte to get out.
“Welcome home, Marchesa,” she said as she came forward, the driver retrieving the cases from the trunk of the car, as Piet went to help, “your rooms are ready, and I have some lunch prepared.”
“Thank you Luisa – I see the press are gathering already?”
“Sadly, yes – but the staff are on constant alert. I will have your bags taken to the room – your dress and that of the bridesmaids, Miss Charlotte?”
“Coming tomorrow with Kylie – Miss Mitchell,” Charlotte said as they walked in. “She is doing fitting today for another upcoming wedding, so was unable to travel with us.”
“Of course – this way,” she said as they went onto the balcony, sitting and looking out across the bay, “I will have the food brought out here.”
“It’s so beautiful,” Charlotte said as she looked over the balcony, the sun glistening on the clear blue water, “a true paradise.”
“Miss Charlotte,” Luisa said as the servants brought the food out, “several cards and gifts have already arrived. I have taken the liberty of placing them in a side room, and I also have heard that the Reverend Gordon will arrive later this afternoon – he wishes to talk with both of you then.”
“That’s fine,” Charlotte said as Piet put his arms round her.
2 pm BST
University of East London
“This is terrible,” Bobbie said as she stood with Kay and Jane, “remind me why we are doing this?”
“For our friend,” Penny said as she stood with Marina, “and I go from here to the airport, so at least you’re not…” All four turned as Rose opened the door, and Kylie walked Susan in.
Susan smiled as she looked at herself in the mirror. She was wearing a cream dress, layered from the waist to the knees, with an embroidered band below the chest, and a matching bolero jacket.
“We need to add the rose before the wedding,” Rose said, “but you get the idea Susan.”
“Oh I do – Kylie you are a true miracle worker,” Susan whispered as Rose looked at Penny.
“Come with me lass – we’ll get your dress on and the others can come after.”
“What about the hat?”
“The milliner has my design darling,” Kylie said as she pinned the jacket, “not much adjustment needed.”
“What do you think?”
The girls looked at Penny as she came in, the lace overdress covering the simple white dress with spaghetti straps on her shoulders, roses on the front of the waistband.
“Oh my goodness…”
“Your turn girls,” Rose said as she held the door open…
2 pm BST
As the car drew up to the front steps, Agnes looked up at the doors, as they opened and Lady Gaunt came out, wearing a blue blouse and pants and beaming as Paddy opened the door to let Agnes come out.
"You made it?" Paula opened her arms and embraced her old school friend.
"Just about... Is it me, or has Dublin airport got both bigger and more confusing?"
"Yes,” Paula said, “to all of the above."
"Well, at least Paddy rescued me."
"I did that
Yer Grace," the driver laughed, "she was looking awful lost."
she's arrived at last,” Paula said as she escorted Aggie in, “can you run the
bags up to the Queens bedroom please Paddy?'
Queens bedroom darling?"
Charlotte stayed here once."
explains it...but it sounds a bit grand for me."
putting yourself down, or I'll hurt you."
Paula...I'll try and remember."
Cat, and the girls should be back from riding soon, and we will eat after
you've freshened up."
"Thank you Paula, I do feel a little bedraggled."
“Well, follow Paddy and then come down.”
“Was that Aggie arriving,” Tom said as he came into the drawing room.
“It was – she went to freshen up and…”
"Here she comes," the Duke smiled as Agnes came in.
"Hello Tom," Aggie said as she let him kiss her. "I have to
say the little I've seen of Lardarn Castle is magnificent."
"Well when the tourists have gone I'll show you the rest of the
"I'd like that," Aggie smiled as she looked round.
"So all refreshed darling?" Paula asked.
"I am thank you."
"Good...and that sounds like the riding party getting back."
The three of them turned as they heard the laughter, and then Tamsin came in, grinning from ear to ear as she said “hey Big Sis – I see you made it safely then,”
"So how was your ride darling?" Aggie kissed her sister.
"Not bad,” Tamsin said with a smile, “but the ground can do with some
rain to put some spring in."
"Well as long as you don't put me on a horse,” Aggie laughed, “I'm
pretty sure I've forgotten how to ride."
"Can you forget?" Kits asked as she kissed her aunt.
"Who knows till she tries," Tamsin laughed, "and I thought
you were staying at Ballysatten?"
"No Paula grabbed me and put me in the Queens Room...Next time I promise."
“Fair enough – look who made it.”
“Well now, I see you are here,” Catriona said as she hugged Aggie, “read for some down time.”
“Sorry – you are talking about down time?”
“Miracles do happen, aunt Aggie,” Kit said as she came in with Liz.
“Anyway, the meal is ready – let’s go in…”
"So do you cook yourself Paula?"
"A little,” Paula said as she passed the vegetables round, “but Mrs
Coogan does most of it here."
"Mummy does all the cooking in Dublin," Clodagh smiled.
"Sounds like a good arrangement," Agnes ate a piece of the flan,
"I must say it was strange after all these years having the McAdam's
basically waiting on us when we stayed at Ardray. I've been used to having to
do everything for myself for all these years."
"It’s a culture shock," Tom nodded, "anyway how are things
"Ph as always." Aggie sighed. “The spectre of Catherine hangs over everything.”
"So what is the plan for the rest of the day? Is there anything I can
"Just relax and enjoy yourself darling, you are a guest."
"Well I can try Paula."
"Can I smack her if she doesn't?" Catriona smiled, "it's what I did when she was like my brattish younger sister.”
“No need – I promise, I am off the clock,” Aggie said with a smile.
“Good – girls go and finish your packing after the meal. I want to be off first thing in the morning,” Paula said.
"So how was riding Cat?” Aggie asked as they sat together after the
others had left, “I suspect you were stiff after the weekend."
"I was, and Aggie darling..."
"Don't worry as you know I keep secrets darling." Aggie smiled, "did you have fun with Shirley and the girls?"
“One word for it – did you hear what had happened?”
“No – I spoke to Sherry, and all she said was Mike had been told to take some time off. I know I – arranged some cover for him, but… Was it the gold?”
Cat nodded as she said “let me say a large donation is coming your way – several actually, lot of goodwill going round...”
4 pm CET
“Come in,” Charlotte said as she heard the tap on the door, smiling as Francesca came in. “I cannot believe the day is so close now Mamma.”
“Neither can I,” Francesca said with a smile. “And it is good to see you smiling again Carlotta. These last few days you have been so focused, so like your father.”
“Well, it has been a very busy time,” Charlotte said with a smile, “and those jewels…”
“Would it be intrusive to ask?”
“Conservative estimate? If they were to go on the market at the full value, at least two hundred million dollars. There was fifty million in emeralds at least. But for Madame? I’d say half that, less the promised amount to the Honoured Fathers.”
“So – the bridesmaids?”
“Piet’s cousins are here,” Charlotte said as she looked at her phone, “Maisha and Ama are due to arrive about now with Caroline, John and Shirley, and I believe Helen and Penny are on the same plane. With luck, they will be here within the hour, and join us at eight for dinner.”
“Excellent,” Francesca said with a smile. “Your Uncle George is about to arrive – come, we should find Piet and go to greet him and his wife.”
“Welcome to the Palazzo Sentova, Reverend Gordon,” Luisa said as the chauffer opened the door, George Gordon wearing a grey suit with the regulation black shirt and collar as he stepped out, and then helping a grey haired woman in a blue sundress to slowly join him. “I am Luisa, the Marchesa’s housekeeper.”
“Thank you for the warm welcome,” George said as the chauffer started to take the bags out.
“If either of you require anything, please do not hesitate to ask,” Luisa said as the doors opened, and Charlotte skipped down the stairs.
“Tha’s noo wee Charlotte, is it,” the woman said with a smile as Charlotte hugged her.
“It’s so good to see you Aunt Aileen,” she said with a smile as Piet and Francesca came down. “I’d like you to meet my fiance, Pietre van der Byl. Piet, my Aunt Aileen, and you know my uncle George of course.”
“It’s a real pleasure to meet you,” Piet said as he took Aileen’s hand and kissed it, while Francesca said “welcome – Luisa, have their bags taken to their room please, and both of you, come and join us for a drink.”
“Ah hed forgotten how beautiful the view is here,” Aileen said as she sat on the balcony with Francesca, sipping from a cold glass as they looked out over the bay.
“I never forget,” Francesca said with a smile.
“So – how are ye? Really?”
“Proud of my daughter, and anxious for the next two days,” Francesca said quietly. “I never dreamed I would see her again, never mind everything that has happened since then.”
“I read your story – to have lived through that hell… I wish we had been more forgiving, tried to talk to you, but…”
“The past is the past, Aileen – let it remain there. I know James will somehow be there by our sides this week.”
“As am I – I keep hearing our song everywhere you know.”
Aileen nodded. “I wuldnae be surprised. Your love was always so strong, despite everything tha happened.”
“And what are you two talking about,” George said as he came out with Charlotte and Piet.
“Past regrets,” Francesca said with a smile. “So, plans?”
“We’ve had the required chat,” George said as they sat down. “I suggest the wedding party meet at the Chapel tomorrow for the walkthroughs, and after that Piet will join the men at the hotel for the evening. Tonight, however, we relax and we talk.”
“Good – ye need some down time,” Aileen said with a smile.
"So - what
do you make of my chapel George?" Francesca asked, "now it’s fully
little over adorned for mah simple Calvinist tastes Francesca," the
Scotsman smiled, "but as I remember saying to James, as a piece of baroque
grandeur it is wonderful."
Alexander will be arriving in the morning, and I hope you won't be insulted if
I take communion?"
all Francesca...I don't harbor the same prejudices I'll admit some of mah
colleagues do till this day."
worship the same god, we just use slightly different rituals."
"Yes." George smiled as he said “the same cross, just different parts of the story… Now when do I meet the legendary Father Sergio?"
"Tomorrow, when we go to the Chapel di Cambrella... Oh and just a warning George he is rather frail and his mind wanders..."
"So I'd heard,” George said quietly, “but he is still an inspiration to people of all faiths...I just wish he'd not been on retreat when you married James, and I might have heard him talk then."
still talks George,” Francesca said with a smile, “but it tends to be in
unconnected passages. Even with that,
however, you can still sense that he has lived an amazing life."
"I know many people who say he will almost automatically be canonised one day."
"Yes, and I know the Holy Father, one of the reasons he is coming is to meet Father Sergio."
“I am amazed he is coming as well,” George said as he shook his head. “Having said that, I was visited by Angus Morrison.”
George nodded as he said “he asked me to deliver a letter to the Holy Father, and also to bring a gift for the happy couple. In the spirit of ecumenical brotherhood, of course.”
Francesca nodded as she looked out over the bay.
“Has Piet said where they are going on their honeymoon?”
“No – and I will ask in a few weeks…”
“Forgive me, Marchesa,” Luisa said as she came in, “but I have a message from the hotel.” She handed the note to Francesca, who smiled as she read it.
“Thank you Luisa – the guests will arrive for dinner at seven thirty.”
“The rest of the party are here?”
“They are at the hotel with Piet’s family – you will meet them all later.”
4 pm BST
"Tom this is an amazing house," Agnes said quietly, shaking her head as they walked down the long gallery, stopping to look at pictures.
"Well it's, I hope, still a living breathing place, and one that I'm happy people such as yourself appreciate." Tom smiled as he looked round.
"Oh I very
much appreciate it, and the history it represents..."
of that is perhaps best forgotten Aggie."
the bad bits need remembering," Agnes stood in front of a picture.
"Is this you, Eve, Cress, and your brothers?"
is," Tom smiled again, "I remember that I had to be bribed constantly
with sweets to keep still for the artist."
were still only a small boy." Agnes looked closer. "I remember
meeting both Johnnie and Martin - such a tragedy."
certain melancholy seems to affect most of us Gaunt's..."
Eve," Aggie laughed and interrupted.
say, maybe with the exception of my dear sister." Tom laughed gently. “Even Steven’s affliction does not usually
get her down.”
there a painting of you, Paula, and the children?"
hangs in the private quarters, I'll show you after dinner."
“Tom, you there somewhere?”
“I am indeed,” Tom said as Paula came out.
“We’re getting together for some photos before dinner – we need both of you down there now.”
“We are summoned, and we must answer,” Tom said with a shake of his head. “Or else we face the worst wrath of all.”
“And that is?”
“And we would not want that,” Aggie said as the memory of her put down of Catherine came to mind.
“Penny for them?”
“Looking forward to seeing Donald, if truth be told, on really neutral ground.”
As they walked into the room, Aggie smiled as she watched Kit trying to get the three girls to sit on a long recliner, John shaking his head as he stood with Lizzie and Catriona.
have you looking at the family painting by Lucien Freud Aggie?" Paulaasked
as she came in with Tamsin.
Agnes said, “and while I'm not the artist's greatest fan, I think even I would
be shocked how much its worth in today’s market."
"I won't tell you what we pay in insurance on this place," Paula smiled. “Even after Caroline’s new security system was installed.”
"Oh I can
guess." Aggie smiled back, "Are we dressed alright for this?"
she's the one in charge it seems," Lizzie called out.
"I just want this to be a special photo," Christine grinned, "It's all my family, and my best friend all together at once. So – John, Uncle Tom, Aunt Paula, behind the girls, then Aunt Catriona and Lizzie to one side, Mum and aunt Aggie to the other."
“Has she been taking lessons from Abby,” Catriona asked as she stood next to Paula, Lizzie sitting next to Aileen as Tamsin and Aggie stood behind the seat at the other side.
“Right – timer set, focus set, and… Everyone say something cheesy!”
“Mouldy Socks,” Clodagh called out, everyone laughing as the shutter went off.
5 pm CET
“Fergus? Is that you?”
The big grey haired man turned and smiled as he said “well, well – is that Dana van der Byl? You look wonderful!”
“So do you – how is life in Munich?”
“I manage to do a few things,” Fergus said with a smile as Bram van der Byl joined them. “So – here we are for a wedding.”
“Indeed we are,” Bram said with a smile. “When did you arrive?”
“Earlier today – I needed to get settled before the main part of the party arrives.”
“Which we have just done,” Marianne Vosloo said as she walked in with John. “The second group will be along in a minute – John and I came with some of the younger ladies.”
“So I see,” Fergus said as he nodded at Itsy and Liz. “I met a few others who arrived today as well – they said if I saw you, to say they would see you at Breakfast.”
“Excellent – well, we’ll head to our rooms and refresh ourselves before deciding on what to do tonight.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, if not before,” Fergus said with a smile as he looked across the lobby, and saw two young women walk in. The smaller blonde was wearing a sleeveless white blouse with a long skirt, and brown sandals, while the taller had her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, wearing a blue vest top and Capri pants with white heels.
It took him a few minutes to realise who they were, but as they turned and saw him they both recognised him instantly.
“Fergus,” Holly said quietly, “I did not know you would be staying at the same hotel as us.”
“Well, I think that many people who are coming to the wedding are staying here,” he said with a smile. “Alexandra – how are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you for asking,” Sands said quietly, “how are you?”
“Well… I’m no longer angry at both of you, if that is what you are afraid of. Hopefully, you have both learnt your lesson.”
As both girls nodded, Fergus put his head to the side. “May I presume you have also made peace with each other?”
“We have,” Sands said quietly, “but Holly is still Tommy’s partner, so we are trying to be discrete.”
“Some things never really change do they?”
Holly looked down as she said “I know we hurt you badly, Fergus, and I… We have to live with the knowledge of that. I truly hope there will be no problems here?”
“No – no problems,” Fergus said, “as I said, I’m not angry any more, and I am sure you have learned your lessons. Where is the rest of your family?”
“Fergus – looking forward to tomorrow?”
“Very much so,” he said as he looked at Sandy, Heather following with George. “And your sister Heather?”
“Coming in with a late arrival,” she said as Jo came into the hotel lobby with Curt. “We had to visit the galleries naturally?”
“OF course you must – and will you visit Pompeii as well?”
“Possibly on Friday,” Sands said.
“Well, I will not detain you any further,” Fergus said as he touched his hat and walked off.
“You okay,” Heather said as she looked at her young charge.
“I think so…”
5 pm CET
"This way your highnesses," Luisa said as she ushered the Furstenheim family towards the guest wing of the Palazzo Sentova. Judith was holding Ingrid’s hand, looking round as Carina and Annie carried Mags and Rudi.
"Francesca dear, this is an amazing house," Juliette smiled, "and how do we rate the privilege of staying here?"
"Security wants all royalty where they can be guarded together darling," Francesca said, “including their families.”
“That explains that then," Klaus smiled, "but we are only serene highnesses, not royal highnesses."
"Pretty much the same," Francesca laughed. "Terri and Rudi and family will arrive later, along with other assorted people for Luisa to be able to boast she has served."
“Anyone of real interest?”
“You will see,” Francesca said as Luisa opened the door. “Carina, you and the family will be in here, Klaus and Juliette next door, and Ingrid across here with Adam next to her.”
Adam looked at Ingrid, who smiled and said “endure – Piet feels the same way.”
“Dinner will be served at seven – if you will excuse me,” Luisa said as she left the room.
“Settle in – I’ll see you later,” Francesca said as she walked off, smiling as she wondered who would arrive next.
“Your room keys, Miss Xavier,” the receptionist said as she handed Shirley the key card.
“All right Maisha – you take this one, and we will be in the next room.”
“Thank you – would you care to go for a swim sister?”
“I will see you in a few minutes,” Ama said as they headed to the lift, while another clerk handed Marina the key cards.
“This is an amazing place,” Rose said as she sat with Maeve and Kylie in the coffee bar. “And I can’t believe I was invited as well.”
“It’s a family wedding,” Susan said as she watched April eating a biscuit. “So we’re staying here for the duration, but the girls move on for tomorrow night?”
"That’s right darling. The bridesmaids will all stay at Francesca's palazzo tomorrow night," Kylie smiled. "Rose and I are going up there with them in the morning to make final adjustments."
"NATTY!" Francesca almost squealed with delight, "you both made it."
“Of course we did,” Natalya said as she hugged her old friend, Willy smiling as the cases were brought in. “Thank you for finding room for us here.”
“Well, with the others staying here, how could I refuse,” Francesca said as another car drew up, Luisa curtseying as Rudi and Teresa got out from the rear with their daughter. “Welcome – I hope you had a good journey.”
“We did, thank you,” Charly said as she walked up the stairs, wearing a blue sundress like her mother, as Rudi looked round. “An amazing home, Francesca.”
“Thank you,” Francesca said with a smile, “I am glad you could stay with me.”
“As I understood it,” Rudi said with a smile, “we did not have a choice in the matter. But we will be in good company.”
“Indeed – and you have time to unwind before dinner,” Francesca said as they walked in. “In the meantime, allow me to introduce the Right Reverend George Gordon and his wife Aileen. George, Aileen, this is their Royal Highnesses King Rudolf and Queen Teresa of Ruritania.”
“An honour,” George said as he bowed, “forgive my wife if she does not curtsey, but…”
“Of course we understand,” Terry said as she hugged Aileen. “So you are the man who will do the actual wedding?”
“I certainly hope so – Francesca has kindly allowed us to stay, but she did not mention all who would be staying here as well.”
“This is a time of wonders,” Charlotte said as she came over and hugged Charly. “Come on – I want to show you something…”
"Thank you Luisa," Terri smiled as she looked round.
"It's my pleasure your Majesty," Luisa said with a smile. “I will send word when dinner is ready.”
“Again, thank you,” Terri said as Luisa backed out of the room.
"Oh I'm going to hate all this formality," Rudi muttered as he sat on the bed.
"Darling,” Terri said with a smile, “remember I'm a member of the former Italian royal family, it's going to be this way I'm afraid."
"An Italian royal, raised in France, and who speaks English with a German accent." Rudi laughed as he put his arms round his wife and kissed her.
"That is SO disgusting," Charlotte made a face as she came in via the connecting door.
"Not to me it isn't darling," Terri winked at her daughter.
"Aren't you both too old for that?"
"Charlotte darling you aren't so old yet that I can't put you across my knee you know." Rudi laughed.
“True,” Terri said, “so I suggest due humility – ask Carina or Ingrid.”
me look," Marianne stepped back and looked critically at John in his dress
uniform as she stood in their room.
do I think," Marianne removed a piece of lint from the sash. “The tailors John recommended did excellent
John said with a smile, “when you get near Francesca darling your standards
rise to hers."
course they do. Now go get changed before it gets dirty."
"YES SIR!" John saluted his wife then smiled. “We have a dinner to attend, after all…”
“Charlotte – what brings you down here?”
“I came to make sure everyone was all right,” Charlotte said to Heather as she walked into the bar.
the nerves doing?" Heather asked.
butterflies are wearing football boots..."
"Oh as bad
"Charlotte darling,” Heather said with a smile, “all will be well."
"So says the woman whose never been married." Charlotte laughed as she sipped her drink.
I think I understand a little."
"Oh I know you do Heather," Charlotte laughed, "but until is all over and done with I'm going to be Miss Nervous Cat."
“Fair enough – well, people are arriving in droves now. How are things at the castle?”
“Busy as well,” Charlotte said as Caroline sat down with Sharon Kennedy.
as a little bit of an expert this security impresses even me." Caroline
looked round spotting the plain clothes protection for the guests.
"I can see
a couple of them boss, and the Carabinieri in uniform..."
"Are the visible security Sharon," Caroline smiled at her intern. “I suspect if anyone did try anything, it would quickly and quietly be stopped…”
“I trust this suite will suit you and the children, your highness,” Luisa said as the tall man looked round.
“Very much so – George, help your mother and your sister.”
“Yes dada,” the fair haired boy said as he looked over, while Luisa walked out and closed the door.
“I trust the Duke and Duchess are comfortable?”
“Indeed, Marchesa,” Luisa said as she looked at Francesca and the tall, broad shouldered man who stood with her. “I must go and see how the preparations for dinner are going.”
“So you are satisfied with the arrangements, Tomaso?”
Colonel Tomaso Ventura smiled as they walked down the corridor. “With the arrival of Prince William and his family, the main group of guests outside the actual wedding party who will stay here are here. The walls are under constant patrol, and we have our own men and women amongst the additional staff here.”
“Excellent – and as discrete as I expected. Tomaso, you are aware there are other, additional security forces on guard?
“Official or unofficial,” Tomaso said with a smile. “There are a lot of tourists in the city, and I do know many have shown an interest in this wedding.”
“Understandable – this is one of the great social events of the calendar,” Francesca said with a smile.
5 pm BST
“It is a beautiful place,” Aggie said as they walked through the grounds of the chapel.
there is one thing I want to do before we leave tomorrow," Tamsin said as
she led her sister and daughter to the main door.
Casey has left it open for us." Christine said as she covered her head
with a lace handkerchief.
have something like that for me?" Agnes asked.
happens I do." Kits smiled as she passed one over.
Tam pushed open the door, "this is the church I wish you had been inside
got to know that old tree outside pretty well." Agnes spoke softly as she
and her family approached the altar, bowed, and crossed themselves.
darling, but you ought to have sat in this pew." She indicated the close pew to the front as
really should of Aunt Aggie."
"Thank you darlings," Aggie started to cry as the emotion of the moment overcame her. “I feel I am here now…”
“Good – let’s go. The others are coming to us for dinner tonight…”
“Did you speak to Donnie,” Tamsin asked as they went out.
“Yes – he hopes to be there on time on Thursday, but he has to fly back that night, worst luck. Not until the last plane, however…”
7 pm CET
“There you are,” Piet said as he came down the stairs and hugged his parents, “welcome. Come in, come in – Charlotte is looking forward to seeing you.”
“Thank you,” Bram said as he and Dana walked in, Anders and Helga following as Britt and Evi held their hands and looked round, their eyes wide open.
“Luisa – this is my brother Anders and his wife Helga, and these two little ladies are Britt and Evi. They will be staying tomorrow with the other bridesmaids.”
“Welcome, little ones,” Luisa said with a smile, “come and have a cold drink.”
“Go on,” Helga said as Sarina and Ana came in.
“Welcome,” Charlotte said as she came over, wearing a yellow short sleeved tunic and skirt, “come through, we’re having some drinks.”
“Oh my,” Dana said as she looked around, “who the…”
“Welcome – you must be Pietre’s parents,” George Gordon said as he walked over, “I’m Charlotte’s uncle George. Come – come and sit with us…”
“So where are the other guests going to dinner,” Sarina said as she stood with Charlotte.
“The children are having – or have had – their meal already, and a sitter is with them,” Charlotte said as she sipped her water. “The older ones have a dinner invitation with the Italian President, so they may join us later.”
“Family only tonight then?”
“Really, yes – although John and Marianne are on their way to join us. Tomorrow, the women get together here for a small party the night before.”
“While the menfolk meet at the hotel?”
is not the prettiest city in the world," Piet's father said as he looked out
at the vistas of the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius, "the closest thing we
have to this in South Africa is Cape Town."
"Cape Town is wonderful if my memory doesn't fail me," Francesca smiled slightly sadly, "James and I always talked of taking Carlotta there when she was a little older."
“There is no chance…”
“None whatsoever – I have to rely on the hope Piet and Carlotta go one day, and tell me all about it.”
“She looks wonderful – and she is going to be a wonderful mother.”
Francesca nodded as she said “and her child will have two grandmothers that will love and spoil them totally.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, dinner is served,” Luisa said as she stood in the doorway.
“Excellent – shall we?”
As they sat at
the table, Anders said "When are your Italian family arriving
Charlotte said quietly, “they aren't real relations, just very old family
friends, and it will be tomorrow, and I know Mama is rather dreading it, most
of them still despise her for the life she lived."
was a spy living a cover…"
that, you are trusted to know that, but she can't tell everyone."
brilliant lawyer, surely they know she can't really have been La Bionda
"Well we will see in the coming days," Charlotte shook her head.
“Forgive me Marchesa,” Luisa whispered into Francesca’s ear, “we have some late arrivals.”
“Ah yes – I will be back in a moment. Please, start without me – our guests will join us later,” Francesca said as she stood up and followed Luisa to the main doors, where a young family were getting out of the Daimler.
Dieter, children, welcome to the Palazzo Sentova." Francesca greeted the new
arrivals as they descended from their car.
darling," Sigi kissed her hostess then looked round..."This place is
more or less where I think of as home, this and the Palazzo Cambrello in
baroque at its finest," Dieter looked at the frontage as they walked into
the courtyard, "Oh but this is far earlier..."
Father Alexander said almost the very same thing," Francesca laughed
lightly, "you both know your architecture."
father celebrating mass in the morning darling?"
and those of us who wish may take Communion."
"I'll be there," Sigi gave Dieter a playful dig in the ribs, "Lazybones here though prefers his sleep-in to his faith."
“Anyway – your bags will be taken to your rooms, join us for dinner if you are hungry.”
“Thank you – if we can wash up first?”
“Of course – in there…”
10 pm BST
did your visit go?"
amazingly Paula," Agnes smiled as they sat drinking Ovaltine. "it was
so thoughtful of Tippy Toes to do that."
dinner at her place instead of here?"
"I know, I
got to see two houses today that I'd only seen from a safe distance
know your problems with Tam, but why not come to me," Paula said quietly,
"I've always thought that us being born in the same hospital on the
same day makes us twins in a way."
Furstenheim girls?" Aggie said as she took a sip, “Darling honestly - if
roles had been reversed would you have asked me for help?"
asked myself that question a lot of times,” Paula said quietly, “and to be
honest I don't know...Remember I'm Anglo-Irish, I don't have that same fierce
sense of duty and honour that you Scots have."
darling I never felt disgraced working as a dominatrix, but do you know the
shame I'd have felt asking my friends for help?"
that, but what about your family?"
have, I probably should have," Aggie wiped away a tear, "but I'm my
father’s daughter, can you imagine him asking Simon for help?"
Paula shook her head, "one thing Uncle Angus would never have done. He may
have been a rogue, but his problems were his problems, and his alone."
Aggie said as she put her mug down. “Did
you know by the way he only really started to gamble heavily after Mummy died?"
news to me." Paula shook her head.
the casinos and the loan sharks for letting him build up that mountain of debt.
They should have cut him off."
aren't in the business of turning people away darling."
Paula, I do know," Agnes shook her head sadly.
Donnie was independently rich. God, you two were and are totally in love, why
didn't you ask him for help?'"
"Darling you know better, if I wouldn't ask relatives, what chance I'd ever ask Donald?"
“None – and only now are we sorting that out…”
Wednesday 20th July
8 am CET
“Hey – still nervous,” Heather said as she saw Charlotte and Annie come into the breakfast area.
“Oh yes – mind if I join you before we head to the Basilica,” Charlotte said as she sat with her friends, a waiter bringing her some coffee.
“What brings you with her Annie?”
“Cari’s orders – I stay with her all day!”
suggest a solution to all that nervous energy Charlotte," Caroline smiled,
"but Piet needs not be tired for the weddings."
I'd already thought all that out darling." Charlotte laughed.
a good climbing wall somewhere we could hit?" Jan asked.
idea," Annie spoke, "take your mind off things as well."
know if there is one in Naples," Charlotte looked at her close friends.
remember me," Heather giggled, "the non climber."
bring your computer Heather and do a climb online."
"That's not a bad idea Caroline," Heather smiled as well. “What about Katy?”
“She and Sands are doing something this morning before the others arrive,” Heather said as Ama drank her coffee.
“One small problem,” Charlotte said as she looked round the table.
“And that is?”
would have a fit if I went climbing while pregnant," Charlotte sighed.
would," Jan nodded in agreement.
subjects," Annie spoke again, “I hear that you are giving your entire
share to your new foundation?"
hardly like Mother and I need the cash,” Charlotte said, “so we are both
donating our full shares towards funding small projects in Africa."
"Ama thinks it’s a wonderful idea, and so I know does Maisha, she's especially happy that Agnes McAdam will be involved.”
“When are they getting here?”
“After lunch, the main UK contingent coming later,” Caroline said as she saw Sharon come in. “Good morning – grab a seat and join us.”
“How is the internship going Sharon,” Charlotte asked.
“I’m certainly learning a lot – on which note, I need to remind you of the appointment at the basilica at Ten, Caroline.”
“I know – Shirley and I will go with the girls, but I want you to come as well…”
“Father Alexander – welcome,” Francesca said as she came to greet Alex and Vanessa. “Thank you for coming.”
“Thank you for inviting us,” Alex said as he looked round, while Francesca kissed Nessa on the cheeks. “I understand you wish to take Mass today?”
“In an hour or so – come, have some breakfast, our bags will be taken to your rooms. We have a buffet set up, considering some of my guests.”
As they walked in, Juliette turned and said “Nessa, Alex – how was the flight?”
“Very pleasant thank you,” Nessa said, “Margaret and Glenda send their regards, and best wishes to the happy couple. Where are they?”
“Charlotte has escaped for a couple of hours, and Piet is talking to his family,” Natasha said as others came in. “Rudi, Teri, you know Father Alex and Nessa of course.”
“Of course we do – do you have a part to play tomorrow, Alex?”
“No, Your Highness – for once, I am here purely as a guest.”
“Best way tae be,” a soft Aberdonian voice said alongside Natasha. “Will ye do the honours, Francesca?”
“Of course – Father Alex Richmond, the Reverend George Gordon, Charlotte’s uncle and the man who will conduct the ceremony tomorrow.”
“Pleasure – my sister, Vanessa Richmond.”
“And this is mae wife Aileen,” George said. “Ye’re no the author of The Soldier and the Priest, are ye?”
“And they’re off,” Aileen said as she took Nessa by the arm, “come, have somefin tae eat…”
10.30 am CET
The Chapel di Cambrello, Santa Chiara
“Ah there you are,” Father Albert said as Piet came in with the family, “I was just discussing some of the arrangements with Reverend Gordon in terms of the transition.”
“Timing is everything,” George said with a smile as he stood next to the cassock wearing Roman Catholic priest. While Piet and Anders were wearing blazers, slacks and jeans, Charlotte and the other women were wearing sundresses. John was in a suit, shirt and tie, while Marianne sat with Shirley and Caroline.
“So, let me see if we have this right – yer brother and the man-mountain there are yer attendants?”
“He means you House,” Piet said as Winston nodded. “They are indeed my supporters.”
“Guid – now, let’s see… Charlie, you and Colonel Vosloo will be in together, and the order for yer bridesmaids is?”
“Britt and Evi?”
The two young girls came forward, Ama and Maisha behind them, and Penny and Helen taking up the rear.
“Excellent – so here’s how it works. All eight of ye, get tae the back of the church.”
As Helga walked back with them, George said “the three o ye will arrive a little earlier, and wait in the small room over there fer me to gie the word. Whit time’s the civil ceremony?”
“Eleven – we have plenty of time to change and get here.”
“Guid – so ah cum oot, stand here, you come and stand to my left, and – what are you coming in to Charlie?”
“We’re been traditional – Purcell.”
“Trumpet Voluntary it is then,” George said. “Maestro?”
The priest at the organ nodded as he started to play, George smiling as he said “Britt and Evi, listen tae the music, and walk down in time, nice and slow.”
As the music started, Helga said “follow me girls,” taking their hands and walking down with them.
“I am Sister,” Maisha said as she and Ama followed them, then Penny and Helen as Charlotte took John Vosloo’s arm.
“Where is Francesca,” John whispered as they walked down.
“She is needed at the Palazzo,” Charlotte whispered back, “Kylie and Rose are arriving about now, and then the family are coming…”
“Carefully, darlings,” Kylie said as the servants carefully lifted the dress bags from the rear of the car, Rose watching as they walked up.
“Place the bags on the rack in the Blue Room,” Luisa said as she stood to the side. “Miss Harker, Miss Mitchell, will you come with me and join the Marchesa for some refreshment?”
“We would be honoured darling,” Kylie said as they walked in, Luisa leading them to the drawing room where Francesca was sitting with Alex.
“Ah – the dresses have arrived?”
“They’re been hung now,” Rose said as Luisa poured some tea for her. “We’ll do the final fitting and adjustments after they return.”
“Truly a stunning panorama,” Kylie said as she looked out over the bay.
“Indeed – and I am so glad you were able to change your travel plans to work with Charlotte on this, Kylie – especially with the other wedding coming up.”
“It was a challenge,” Kylie said with a smile as Luisa whispered into Francesca’s ear. “You must excuse me,” she said with a smile, “some more family members to greet.” She walked with Lucia down the corridor, composing herself as she approached the grey haired gentleman standing with some other older woman.
“Claudio – welcome, welcome to all of you,” she said as she put her hands together in front of her, “it means a lot both to me and to Carlotta that you are able to attend her wedding.”
Claudio Morelli nodded as he said “of course we came at your invitation. I trust you are well, Francesca?”
“I take each day as it comes, but I also grow stronger each day,” Francesca said as she kissed her cousins on the cheek. “This, however, is Carlotta’s occasion, so I ask we set aside our personal feelings for the next few days, and join in supporting her.”
“Indeed,” one of the women said, “where is she?”
“She is at the chapel, rehearsing for tomorrow with her uncle and friends, but – ah, she is back already.”
“Uncle Claudio, it is so good to see you – and to meet my relatives at last,” Charlotte said as she hugged and kissed them in turn, “my apologies that I was not here in person, but I was needed elsewhere.”
“Of course we understand, my child,” Claudio said as he smiled.
“Kylie and Rose are here – have the girls come with you?”
“They have,” Charlotte said as Penny led the bridesmaids in, each carrying an overnight bag.
“Excellent – Luisa, show them to their rooms, and allow them to freshen up before lunch…”
3 pm CET
“Well, Penelope, Helen – is it acceptable?”
Kylie smiled as Rose watched the two senior bridesmaids turn in their dresses. “It’s beautiful,” Penny whispered as Helen nodded in agreement.
“Good – then we are ready. Take them off carefully, and then you can relax for the rest of the day.”
As Rose helped them to take off the dresses, Kylie sighed as she looked out of the window.
“Penny for them Kylie?”
“I was just seeing why Francesca loves this place so much – the walls breathe history,” the teenager whispered. “A wonderful day is coming, darlings.”
“Well, here we are,” Paula said as she and Tom walked into the lobby, the family following as Kit held John’s arm, followed by Tamsin and Agnes, Catriona and Lizzie coming in last.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” Aileen said as she gazed round.
“It is beautiful, isn’t it.”
“Sands? Is that you,” Aileen said as she looked at the blonde in a tight blouse and jeans.
“It most certainly is – want to come and meet some of the others while your parents check in?”
“Go on - we’ll find you later,” Paula said as she held Clodagh’s hand, Agnes, Catriona and Tom talking to the reception staff.
“Right – you girls have one room,” Paula said as she gave the key to Eve, “and we get the other.”
“The hotel is full – and they’re all going to the wedding?”
“So I’m told,” Catriona said as she handed Lizzie a key card. “Let’s all unpack, and meet the others when they…”
“Have a chance to check in and unpack as well?”
“Well, I see the London flight has arrived,” Agnes said with a smile as Colin walked in with Susan, Colin’s family and the others following.
“Strewth – now this is something I never thought I would see?”
“And what is that,” Liz asked as she and Itzy looked at the new arrivals.
“The two of you in dresses, never mind Mufti,” Sunburst said as she eased herself into a chair. She was also dressed casually, in a polo shirt and slacks, as she looked at the two women in their sundresses. “Some place – very different from me usual digs.”
“Tell me about it Captain.”
“Captain MacRae, Doctor Brookmayer – fancy meeting you here,” Sunburst said with a smile as Shelby and Barb sat down with them. “Waiter – cold drinks please!”
“I have to admit though – seeing you out of combats Leader…”
“For the next few days, I suppose it has to be Itzy,” Leader said as he looked round.
“What bothers you?”
“Photographers – the Italian press are milling round…”
“We have Sisters here and at the Palazzo,” Liz said, “keeping the press out as much as possible.”
“May I join you?”
“Of course ye can lass,” Sunburst said as Hannah sat with them, “How’s the job?”
“Different, and exciting – in a lot of ways. Francesca was kind enough to invite me, Peri and her housekeeper as guests.”
“I take it Little Mother…”
“We will see her tomorrow,” Liz said as drinks were brought to the table. “We are alert, and we are also honoured guests.”
“So where is Teach… I mean Helga?”
“Out for the afternoon with a certain South African…”
9 am PT
Xavier International, Los Angeles
“Well, Well – look who’s back,” Tracey and Rhenia said as JD and Louise walked through the entrance to the main offices. “How are you both?”
“Exhausted from the flights, but glad to be back,” JD said with a smile as she hugged them both. In her polo neck sweater and leather pants, she contrasted with Tracey in her blue summer dress, Rhenia in her blouse and skirt, and Louise in her tailored trouser suit.
“I’m not surprised – you’ve been round the world, and the toast of the offices here – and as for you Louise, you did good in London.”
“Yes – I need to talk to you about that, darling sister,” Louise said as she hugged Rhenia, “but first we should really catch up on the gossip.”
“What gossip? Everything’s quiet – save for the fact the entire firm is proud to know a new rising star.”
“You flatter me darling…”
“Not YOU doofus,” Rhenia said as she punched her sister, “JD.”
do you spot any weaknesses in security?" Dominique asked as they looked at
are obvious to me,” Itzy said quietly.
“Between the Italians, your people, and mine, I can't see anything
were my thoughts as well. Which is good."
think though,” Itsy said as she looked over, “that the open carriage is still
Dom smiled and
shook her head. "Charlotte insists
on it – she would not brook a limousine, not even the Swiss Guard could
know," Itsy smiled. "And speaking only as her friend, it will look SO
"Agreed," Sharon laughed. “The fairy tale wedding she so wants…”
"Yes, but if we've miss even one thing they are sniper bait."
just make sure we haven't missed anything,” Itsy said, “and that our
co-ordination with the Italians and the Swiss Guard works."
have it all worked out with the general, and the rehearsal this afternoon
a couple of suspicious people trying to decide if under their masks my girls
were bad guys."
we have the same problem, they will all be masked as well."
"I just wish both of us were watching, rather than being part of the wedding," Itsy again looked at the plans.
“We can anticipate as much as possible, and I believe we have,” Dom said quietly. “Let’s call it a night there. Then after tomorrow, we start to discuss the August ceremony.”
“There is one question,” Itsy said.
“And that is?”
"Where will the honeymooners be going?"
"I have no clue,” Dominique said. “I think the only person who actually knows, other than the two couples, is Penelope."
and Piet are taking no security with them?"
far as I know,” Dom said, “they are relying on the fact that no one knows to be
the only security they need."
know is that Sue has told me it’s very quiet, and very peaceful."
“Indeed – so a good night’s sleep, and then tomorrow we celebrate…”
“Come in,” Charlotte said as she looked at herself in the dressing table mirror, smiling as Francesca came in.
“I was just coming mother,” she said as she turned round and saw her standing there, her head to her side as she looked at her daughter.
darling...” Francesca said as she rubbed her arm. “Ummmm...you do know...well?"
the redheaded woman laughed, "I'm already knocked up, it's a bit late to
tell me the facts of life."
so, but no that wasn't what I meant," Francesca smiled as she walked over
and stood next to Charlotte, "I wanted to tell you one last time that it's
not too late if you still wish to back out?"
Charlotte smiled and reached out to touch her Mother's hand, "Piet is, has
been, and always will be, my one and only."
second thoughts or regrets?"
my father will not be giving me away, and that my Grandparents aren't here
to see my happiness."
"I think all three will be there in spirit darling." Francesca wiped her eye. From the open window, she heard music and laughed. “All right James – I get the message!”
“What is it?”
“The theme to a certain film - come, we have guests.”
darling, we've never discussed this, but are you religious?" Penny asked
as they lay on the bed, cooling down.
quietly for a moment, before she said "Not in a conventional sense I guess
darling. My Mother was a believer, and I was raised as a Russian Orthodox,
but after her death, and especially when my Honoured Master took me in, I sort
of abandoned a conventional religion, and I guess nowadays I believe in various
bits and pieces from several sources that I've learned and absorbed."
"I gave up
believing when Jesus was unable to help me first with my father, then my life
on the streets." Penny shrugged her shoulders. "I learned in my own
mind that the only person or thing controlling my fate and destiny was within
a view," Helen propped herself up on her elbows and leaned over to kiss
"And given what we've both done..." Penny kissed her back, "then I think neither of us has much hope of redemption and salvation.”
“And this concerns you?”
Penny shook her head. “No - we should change and join the others…”
“So – no regrets little bro,” Anders said as he and Winston sat in the hotel bra with John Vosloo and Piet.
“None whatsoever – even if this is going to be the most surreal day of my life. I mean, we were going to have a little family wedding, and suddenly not only is royalty here, but Cardinals and the Pope?”
“Relax,” John said as he passed the bottle of wine round, “you have a great day ahead tomorrow…”
Thursday 21st July
5 am CET
“Francesca? Francesca, my love?”
Francesca turned in her bed and smiled as she saw James looking at her. “It’s a very special day,” he whispered, “and we’re here with you and our daughter, our granddaughter, every step of the way.”
She looked to the side of the room, and said “Mamma? Pappa?”
“We are so proud, and so sorry we cannot be there in person,” Carlotta di Cambrello said as her husband stood, erect, proud, his hands on his wife’s shoulders, “and forgive me for what I said, what I did.”
“There is nothing to forgive Mamma,” Francesca said with a tear in her eye, “I am the one who should ask forgiveness of you – all of you.”
“We do – but it is time,” James said as he gently kissed her, “wake up, and go to see Carlotta.”
Sitting up, Francesca looked round, and then slipped out of her bed, putting on her gown and walking to the drawing room. She saw Charlotte there, sitting and looking at the dawning sky.
“Too nervous Mamma,” Charlotte said as Francesca sat down. “You?”
“A wonderful dream…”
“Good morning Marchesa, Miss Charlotte,” Luisa said as she came in, “would you care for some coffee?”
“Please, Luisa – for both of us…”
“What do you think Piet is doing?”
“Sleeping,” Francesca said with a smile, “if he has any sense. Mind you, when you consider who he is with…”
7.45 am CET
Francesca looked at the sheets of paper on the low table, sipping coffee as Elia Scaraponi sat across the table, wearing a light green jacket and dress.
Francesca eventually said, “what are our final press and PR commitments
as I've been humanly able to fix," Elia looked up from her notes, "we
got most of it done yesterday, but RAI would still like to do a morning of the
wedding piece, and of course there are photos to do."
least the photographer is a family friend," Francesca smiled. “But as Carlotta and Pietre are not both here
until after the civil service, and they need to change, RAI will have to do it
“As you wish,”
Elia said as the door opened, and Luisa slipped in. "Signorina Versace is here
Marchesa," she spoke softly as she stood there.
tell Donnatella she can set up in the Venetian room please."
are Kylie Mitchell and her team set up?" Elia asked.
Grand Salon," Francesca smiled again, "you know this house hasn't
been this busy..."
your own wedding Francesca," Claudio said as he came in, and kissed her on
"That's probably true," the Marchesa reflected. “But I am glad so many are here…”
"Well how is the bride’s mother doing?" Queen Therese asked as she and Natalya walked in.
"I am actually doing very well." Francesca stood and kissed her friends. Elia shook her head, and then smiled as she said “Your Majesty – it has been a long time.”
“That’s enough of that Elia,” Juliette said as she came in, and kissed the PR lead on both cheeks. “You have a busy day today?”
“Oh yes – starting now… One question – where are the family?”
“Klaus and Ingrid have brought Judith for breakfast, Annie has Mags, and Cari has Rudi…
isn’t it,” Carina whispered, and then she looked up at the grey haired woman in
her blouse and skirt. "Hello
Grandmother Lexa, how did I guess I might see you today?" Carina smiled as
she sat feeding Rudi from his bottle.
fact that you know that Charlotte is a descendant of my dear husband’s family,
and that you've read in my diaries of our visits to this house."
have," Carina smiled, "and I have tried to imagine how you looked
from your descriptions."
this," the vision of the elderly lady dissolved, and in its place Carina
saw a woman who was practically identical to herself in one of the elaborate
ball dresses of the late 1890's.
incredible," Carina's mouth hung open for a second, "we look so
remember your Aunt Lena was my identical twin, so she also looks like
glasses of course," another apparition of a stunningly beautiful blonde
woman dressed in the finery of the same period as her sister appeared.
both just so beautiful." Carina whispered.
guess at least today I'd have probably become a model," Lena preened
"While I certainly wouldn't," Lexa laughed, "because of my glasses everyone thought I was dowdy, until I took them off nobody even realised we were identical."
“So you are attending?”
“Alongside others – but they are waiting for later.” Lexa looked at Rudi and said “such a handsome young man.”
“I suppose you have talked to them already,” Cari said as she winded her son.
“Oh that would be telling – you have fun today…”
are you doing darling?" Marianne asked as she and Charlotte sipped their
tea on the balcony, Charlotte in her dressing gown.
think I'm doing a little better then Mamma, for all she's pretending."
Marianne said quietly, “your Uncle and I were up for breakfast early, and she barely
ate, she kept looking at the papers she's carrying..."
are the newspapers and TV?"
"Well,” Marianne said quietly, “yours and Piet's pictures are everywhere, it's like all other news has stopped while you get married."
"It's insane," Charlotte shook her head as she looked out.
are a very rich and important woman Roo."
"I know, I
guess I am," Charlotte shook her head, "this goes with my heritage I
so," her Uncle George said as he wandered in, "I thought that James
and your Mother's wedding was something I'd never see again...but this time I'm
not just giving a blessing, I'm actually conducting the marriage."
George?" Marianne asked.
"You might say so. I spoke with Father Alex over breakfast – ah fine man."
“He’s attending both services in clerical dress,” Marianne said, “although he’d rather be in civvies as I understand it.”
“That’s Alex – all things to all men. Right – I had best go and start to get ready for the civic ceremony – at least the men are coming back here to change after that…”
“Where is Alex anyway?”
“He went to the Basilica to pay his respects…”
8 am CET
you been to Naples before Mummy?" Clodagh asked as the Duke's family
gathered to have breakfast.
some shoots here when I was modeling darling," Paula said as she ate some
meat and bread.
slightly decaying way," Aileen added.
millennia of history lay beneath us darling,” Paula said, “back past even the
remember we are going to visit Pompeii tomorrow," the Duke said as he looked
out from behind his newspaper.
Clodagh looked thrilled, "that's the bit I'm really looking forward to."
"I knew it
would be darling," Paula smiled.
did your walk go?" Eve asked as her brother arrived walking hand in hand
didn't get too far," John answered as he held the chairs for Agnes,
Tamsin, and Christine to sit down, "but the views out over the bay
was the press Aggie?" the Duke asked.
not bad at all, but I'd say woe betide anyone they are really interested in
just wandering casually out there."
"Far worse than even a London royal wedding," Tamsin nodded.
“So where are the men?”
John looked over to a side table, as he said “plotting…”
“So the car will arrive to take us to the town hall at ten fifteen,” Anders said as he looked at Piet and Winston. “From there, we go straight to the Palazzo, where our suits will be waiting for us.”
“I never thought I would feel like this,” Piet whispered. “I’ve seen and faced some terrifying things, but this…”
“Only natural,” Winston said with a smile, “but it’s time to put on the business suit…”
Basilica Santa Chiara
As Alex stood to the side of the room, his arms folded and an amused expression on his face, Father Albert supervised a team of young priests as they tended to the Monsignor.
Father they say I will be made a Saint one day," the venerable priest
shook his head as the younger priests fussed to dress him.
"I certainly can believe it Monsignor," Alex smiled as he sat and watched.
"I've never understood why they think so," the old man smiled at the younger priest as one tied his shoes.
know he never will," Father Albert smiled at Alex.
he won't," Alex nodded his head, "to him he was merely doing his duty
as a priest in ministering to those men up there on the mountain."
Father will I be able to dance today?" Father Bettega asked as a priest
checked his blood pressure and other signs.
take it slowly Father," the medical priest grinned. “I am sure the bride will be honoured.”
I cannot do anything quickly anymore, but I did promise this young woman I
would dance at her wedding."
actually seems a lot more focussed then at our last meeting Father?" Alex
whispered to Father Albert.
"He has been, I think it’s because he's excited, and he remembers all her and the late Marchesa arranged."
“Well, I for one am glad he will enjoy today…”
looking so nervous girls," Penny smiled at the younger bridesmaids,
"We got it perfect in practice...we will be perfect at the churches."
no one watching then," Evi looked up as she played with her bread, "I
know I'm going to make a mistake with all those people watching."
won't," Helen put a comforting arm round the youngster, "I promise
dresses are just so beautiful," Britt said with a smile.
know," Penny sighed, "Kylie surpassed herself."
think that Charlotte's dress is the loveliest I've ever seen."
"I know Piet will certainly think so."
“Of course he will,” Maisha said as she sipped her coffee, “but at least we have the morning to relax. We do not have to go to the civil service.”
“Aunt Shirley and Mom will be there for us,” Ama said as she nibbled on some fruit.
“I've met His
Holiness a couple of times," King Rudolf sipped his coffee, "it's the
remarkable Father Bettega who I think I'm most looking forward to
Richmond says that he remains an inspiring person even though advanced age has
taken its toll," Klaus finished his cup and looked round.
heard, but for all that there are still very few men who have become legends in
their own lifetime."
a legend for all the very best reasons, bravery, compassion, humility..."
"Exactly," Rudi nodded, "I think it’s going to be humbling to meet him, well at least it will be for me."
“For all of us I think,” Willy said as he joined them. “Klaus, your darling wife is looking for you.”
“She calls, I answer,” Klaus said as he stood up and walked off.
9.30 am CET
As Donald walked out of the breakfast room, he saw Agnes looking flustered and upset.
“Aggie? What’s happened,” he asked as he came over.
Catherine know you are here Donald" Agnes asked quietly, "and if she
does then does she know I'm here?"
knows I'm here, she knows this is the type of event where a lot of diplomatic
business gets done behind the scenes. But does she know that you are here? That
I have no clue as to the answer."
"Well,” Aggie whispered, “better then you aren't seen with me."
"Agnes McAdam I know that tone of voice...What has happened?"
you won't tell anyone else? PLEASE promise Donald."
promise,” Donald said quietly, “now tell me what has happened darling."
have started to receive the treatment I always expected..."
Donald broke in.
shoulders, the snubs, the rudeness."
whom?" Donald's voice steeled.
doesn't matter darling, but it just proves that first I'm so lucky that most
of my friends and family have accepted me back...but it also has taught me
really was right all along, that it's better I just make sure I stay out of
sight of most people in this world," Agnes fought her tears, "I have
my new work, I have my family, my friends, and I need just remember that after
what I did I'm very lucky to have those."
"Donald it’s just further proof that even were you to divorce Catherine, I could never be your wife. Far too many people even after having heard my story are never going to forgive me."
Donald looked round, and then took Agnes by the arm and walked her back to the breakfast room. “Aggie? What’s wrong,” Susan said as she and Peri saw them.
“Someone has upset her – I want you girls to sit with her, while I find Tamsin and Catriona, and I want you to tell her how special and loved she is.”
“Of course, but why…”
“Because I Want to kiss her and tell her all this right now, but I can’t – and it’s breaking my heart I can’t. The best I can do is say we will all go together to the Basilica, and show our solidarity with her.”
“Go,” Peri said quietly as Agnes sat down, Donald nodding as he left, returning a few minutes later with Tamsin.
upset you Aggie?" Tamsin said as she looked hard at her elder sister.
quietly, Agnes said "I ran into Henri, and Charlotte de Sally..."
they cut me dead, they wouldn't even acknowledge my Hello."
Tamsin said as she held her sister’s hands, “that's just two people."
but they once upon a time liked me, and Olivia was one of my very best
has anyone else done this?" Donald asked.
"Oh one of two people have been a little curt, but no it's the worst yet," Agnes started to cry again.
“I should cut him out now, take him and tell him how rude…”
“But Aggie darling…”
you know Henri de Sally is a very senior diplomat, if he did that to me, how long
would it take for news to leak to other diplomats that Donald Fitzstuart
has been seen with 'her'?"
I'm not leaving you high and dry."
I'm here with friends, you just go and talk with the other diplomatic
"Donnie, she will be okay," Tamsin put an arm round her sister. “We understand – do your work.”
“All right – all right, but I don’t like it,” Donald said as he stood up.
“None of us do,” Susan said, “but I know she’s right. We’ll look after her – all of us – until we get to the Palazzo.”
Donald nodded, then leant over and kissed Agnes on the forehead, leaving as Catriona came over.
“The de Sally’s happened.”
Nodding, Catriona said “right - let’s go and get you ready Agnes.”
10 am CET
“I can’t believe the time has finally come,” Charlotte said as Abby helped finish her make up. She was wearing a pale green shift dress, with a matching jacket, and smiling as Abby stood back.
“Oh it has arrived all right – now, that’s good for the civil ceremony, and we’ll finish up for the main event afterwards. So Caroline is at the Palazzo San Giacoma, with Sharon helping to coordinate the security, and Piet and Anders will meet you and Francesca there.”
“Donatella, you have excelled yourself,” Francesca said as she looked at herself in the mirror. The coat dress was fitted, made from grey silk, with a bolero jacket and a pill box hat.
“And for later, you will be amazed,” the legendary designer said. “May I beg a favour, Marchesa?”
“For you, anything.”
“A chance to meet with Miss Mitchell while you are away.”
Nodding, Francesca looked round as Luisa came in.
“The group is gathering to go to the church Marchesa.”
“Of course – please, take Miss Versace to meet Miss Mitchell, Luisa.”
“This way please,” Luisa said as they walked out, Francesca sighing as she slipped her rings on.
It was as clear as day - the sound of James’ voice, but as she turned round there was nobody else there.
“We are here – but we are watching in secret. This is our daughter and our granddaughter’s day – we told you earlier, we forgive you.
“We all do.”
“Mamma,” Francesca said quietly at the second voice, before there was a knock on the door and Elia came in.
10.15 am CET
“Ready,” Marianne said as she adjusted John’s jacket.
“Ready – we’re going with Shirley and John, right?”
“As well as Jeannie’s family – given Winston is there as well, they were invited.”
“Then let’s go and see her start her marriage,” John said with a smile as Marianne put on her hat, and they went out, meeting the others in the lobby as in the coffee area, Leader sat with the other sisters.
“It is right this is a time for family and their supporters,” Helga said as she sipped her coffee. “Our security?”
“Working with Caroline Jameson along the route and at the Palazzo.”
“Excellent – we need to consider getting ready soon ourselves…”
10.50 am CET
Palazzo San Giacoma
“Okay – now I’m nervous,” Piet said as he ran his finger under the collar of his shirt, the rest of his family laughing as they looked at him.
Looking out of the window at the park outside, the fountain sending water down the marble, House said “at least you have a beautiful day for it…”
“Piet – Charlotte is on her way. Time for you and the family to go in,” Caroline said as she came through the large double doors.
“Here we go,” Anders said as he and the others went in, joining Claudio and other family as they sat down.
“John – thank you for coming to this as well,” Piet said as he looked at John Hammond, sitting next to Shirley.
“My pleasure – at least this bit gets to be private…”
Piet nodded as Sharon appeared at the door and indicated to Caroline to come out. “You should know – the local Carabinieri just arrested two photographers who got past their screen.”
“Apparently, two women stopped them and knocked them out.”
“There’s a surprise – go and meet the cars from the Palazzo please.”
Sharon nodded as she headed downstairs, Caroline smiling as Barbara, John and Jeannie arrived.
“Hey – how is the big lunk,” Jeannie said with a smile.
“House? The usual – Pier on the other hand…”
“Would rather be back in the bush,” Marianne said as she arrived with John, Helga and Razzie, Fergus bringing up the rear with Juliette, Klaus, Natalya and Willy.
“You had better take your seats – she should be here any minute,” Caroline said as Luigi de Magistris came down the corridor, wearing a smart suit, light blue shirt and tie, as well as the chain of office.
“Miss Jameson – a beautiful day for a historic occasion.”
“Indeed, Your Honour – I will go and see if the bride has arrived.”
“This is ridiculous,” Charlotte said as she and Francesca sat in the back of the limousine, the press and photographers fighting to take their pictures as the police held them back.
“This is the worst part – the ride to the Basilica will be more open, but strangely as I understand it less obtrusive,” Francesca said as the car pulled up to the main entrance, Sharon walking down in her grey jacket and skirt as the police officer opened the door.
“I think we should head straight in,” she said as Francesca adjusted her hat, Charlotte smiling as they walked into the main building where Caroline was waiting.
“You have no idea – shall we?”
Sharon looked into the room and nodded as the Mayor stood on one side of a long table, Piet coming and standing at the other side with Anders as Caroline walked in with Francesca and Charlotte. As he looked round, Piet smiled as a grey haired man stood by the mayor.
Charlotte smiled in return as they stood in front of the table, the Mayor smiling as he said “Signore, signori, onorati ospiti, benvenuti a questa più benedetta occasione - l'unione agli occhi della legge di Pietre e di Charlotte.”
“Ladies, Gentlemen, honoured guests, welcome to this most blessed of occasions - the joining in the eyes of the law of Pietre and Charlotte,” the grey haired man said as Jeannie looked at her grandfather.
“Italian law – the ceremony apparently must be conducted in Italian,” he said with a smile.
“And you know this because?”
“I read it in a book…”
As the mayor spoke, the translator continued.
“You are Pietre van der Byl?”
“I am,” Piet said as this was translated back into Italian.
“And you are Charlotte di Cambrello Gordon?”
“I am,” Charlotte replied as Francesca nodded.
“And your witnesses?”
“Anders van der Byl.”
“Excellent - In accordance with the law of this office, I will now read the civil law that regulates the duties and rights concerning both spouses.
“Article 143 of the Civil Code states that with marriage, husband and wife acquire the same rights and assume the same duties. The reciprocal obligation of faithfulness, moral and material assistance, collaboration in the interest of the family and cohabitation, all derive from the rite of matrimony. Both spouses have a duty, each in relationship to their patrimony, professional or domestic capacities, to contribute to the needs of the family.
“Article 144 of the Civil Code states that the spouses must agree on the management of the family and fix the family residence, according to both their needs, and those pre-eminent to the family itself. Each consort has the right to decide on the management of the family as agreed.
“Finally, article 147 of the Civil Code states that the rite of matrimony obliges both spouses to maintain, instruct and educate their offspring to their natural inclinations and aspirations.
“I ask you both, do you accept and publicly state that you understand and accept these responsibilities in accordance with civil law.”
“We do,” both Piet and Charlotte said as they looked at each other.
“I know formal vows and rings are to be exchanged later today,” the mayor said, “so let us move on to the important part of the morning. Please, turn and face each other, and take each other’s hands.”
As they did so, the interpreter looked at Piet and said “Do you, Pietre van der Byl, take the here present Charlotte di Cambrello Gordon to be your lawful wife?”
“I do,” he said in a clear voice.
“And do you, Charlotte di Cambrello Gordon, take the here present Pietre van der Byl to be your lawful husband?”
“I do,” Charlotte said quietly.
“Have both witnesses heard?”
“We have,” Anders and Caroline said as they smiled.
“Therefore, in the name of the law I now pronounce Pietre and Charlotte husband and wife. I would normally say you may kiss the bride, but you may wish to wait until later.”
“Oh I don’t know,” Piet said as he leaned down and kissed Charlotte while everyone clapped.”
“Right – the cars are waiting outside to take people to the Palazzo, where a buffet is waiting as the relevant parties change,” Sharon said as Piet and Charlotte walked hand in hand out of the room.
“You are joining us in the Basilica later,” Francesca said as the Mayor held her hand.
“OF course – it is my honour to do so, but your daughter needs you now Marchesa.”
“So – first part over and done with,” Charlotte whispered, “now for the real fun part…”
“Right,” the hairdresser said as she looked in the mirror, “I think that should be fine for both of you.” Evi and Britt looked in the mirror, their blonde hair platted and put up on their heads, while Ama and Maisha sat in the chairs having their make-up finished.
“There you are,” Helen said as the door opened, and Charlotte came in, glowing as she took her jacket off.
“Right then – let me strip off, and I can start to get ready.”
“We’re ready for Ama and Maisha,” Rose said from the other side of the room, as they walked over, the two youngest girls taking their places.
“Right Colonel Vosloo – into ceremonial dress,” Marianne said as she guided John to their room, while Piet, Anders and Winston went into another bedroom.
“Gentlemen – time to don the formal attire,” he said as he unfastened his tie, and slipped off his jacket.
“Jeannie is going to have a field day when she sees me in this,” Winston said as he opened his suit bag and looked at the outfit. The slate grey jacket had black lapels, short at the front with long tails, the matching waistcoat under the jacket and trousers. There was also a white silk shirt and black tie.
“Well, once more unto the breach…”
12.45 pm CET
Basilica Santa Chiara
Chapel di Cambrello
“Well, this is a fine place for ah wedding George,” Aileen said as she and George walked down the aisle of the Chapel. While George was wearing his usual work clothes, Aileen wore a grey dress coat with matching heels and a large hat.
As they approached the front, they were surprised to see a blonde haired woman coming from the vestry. “Oh – my apologies Father,” she said with a faint Swedish accent, “I was taking some photographs.”
“Nae problem -although it’s Reverend not Father. Ah recognise you – ye’re that wildlife photographer.”
“Margaretha Olsen – pleasure. Do you mind if I wait here for my friends to come?”
“Of course not – but excuse us, I need to get ready.”
“Of course,” she said as she sat down. As the elderly couple walked into the vestry, she took out her phone and dialled.
“Teacher, this is Blondie – Chapel secure. Will await your arrival.”
“Understood Blondie – on our way now,” Helga said as she looked at the group. “Right – let’s go and see a wedding…”
As they set off, Aggie came into the lobby, adjusting the sleeves of her jacket.
“There you are - ready,” Tamsin said as she came over.
“I think so – I still can’t believe I got the double invite.”
“Well you did,” Shirley said as she walked over, wearing a cream jacket over a silk dress, “so you, Tamsin and the others come with me and John.”
“And never mind what others say,” Catriona said as she joined them. “Once we are in the chapel, we are with friends all round – so shall we?”
“All right,” John Hammond said as stood with his camera, “Groomsmen if you please.”
As he watched, Piet walked into the lobby, Anders and Winston joining him as they stood at the foot of the stairs.
“Excellent – if I can just get a picture…”
“The car is waiting, gentlemen,” Luisa said, Francesca watching from a window as they got into the car and it started to move off.
“Marchesa, we are waiting now for you,” Luisa said as she and Mrs Bridges appeard in the doorway.
“Well, I guess it is time,” Francseca said as she put on her light blue hat, designed to complement her short sleeved dress and short jacket, and made her way into the entrance hall. Marianne smiled as she stood there, wearing a lemon dress and grey jacket.
“Have you seen the dresses,” she asked as they stood together.
“The designs, but not the final…”
Both women fell silent as they saw Ama and Maisha walk down the stairs with Evi and Britt. The two young South Africans were wearing white floor length dresses with a square neckline, gathered under their chest in the classic empire style, with elbow sleeves and short white gloves. They each had a floral headband holding their blonde hair back, and held a small posy of flowers.
They were followed down by Ama and Maisha, smiling as they joined the others. Their dresses had a similar style, but their neckline was higher, and round, while their sleeves were short and puffed at the shoulders. They wore long opera gloves, and each held a bouquet.
Finally, Penny and Helen walked down, the only difference between them and the teenagers that their dress were sleeveless. Rose and Maeve came after them, both wearing new coatdresses as the said “Well – I think they are ready.”
“The car is waiting to take you both to the chapel with Miss Mitchell – where is she?”
“I am here darlings,” Kylie said as she came down, “let us leave them to their carriages.”
“We’ll see you there,” Penny said as they went off, Mrs Bridges going with them.
“Well now,” Francesca said quietly, “you all look amazing – so how does…”
Francesca fell silent as she looked to the stairs, John Vosloo walking down in his dress uniform, proudly looking over as Charlotte held his arm. The dress was made from white silk, but in the classic Georgian style, with a high bodice and square neckline, a gold sash around the bodice under her chest, and cut to flow out and cover her bump. The skirt had a lace overlay, and like the veil was intricately embroidered, Charlotte smiling underneath as a tiara was visible underneath. A simple set of pearls was round her neck, and pearl earrings were on her ears.
“Oh mio Dio, ti sembra così bella trascendentemente, Carlotta”, Francesca whispered as Charlotte blushed.
“The carriage for the bridesmaids is outside,” Luisa said, “as is the car for Mrs Vosloo and you,Marchesa.”
“Go Mamma,” Charlotte said quietly, “I will see you there.”
Nodding, Francesca and Marianne walked down to the waiting car, as John looked at Charlotte.
“I wish your father could have been here instead of me, but I am proud to be by your side today,” he said quietly.
“I know,” Charlotte said quietly as the six bridesmaids headed out, “I know.”
Chapel di Cambrello
“There you are,” Sarina said as she saw the car door open, and Pietre get out, “my, you do look good.”
“I feel like a penguin,” Piet said as he looked round, “the others?”
“All inside and waiting – come on in, George Gordon has something to stead your nerves…”
The three men nodded as they came in, stopping to talk to family and friends, Winston talking quietly to Jeannie as she sat in a peach sundress, and then headed into the vestibule.
“Ah there ye are,” George said as he poured whisky into some glasses, “there ye go…”
“Look at the crowds,” Marianne said as she and Francesca drove to the Basilica, “and security?”
“At least three teams – officially,” Francesca said, “but I am assured a fourth team is watching closely as well.”
“I really do feel like a princess,” Britt said as the carriage left the Palazzo, and made its way along the road leading to the basilica. “All these people cheering as we go past.”
“I feel strange seeing this,” Maisha said, “to be the centre of attention.”
“I agree,” Ama said, “but this is a most special day.”
“It most certainly is,” Penny said as she looked at Helen.
“What is Evi?”
“Every few yards, one or two women bow their heads as we go past. Do they think this is Charlotte’s carriage?”
“Who knows,” Penny said as she looked at Maisha.
“It is time, Miss Charlotte,” Luisa said as she stood by the doorway.
“Let me guess – security as the driver and footmen,” John said as they walked down to the open carriage.
“I imagine so,” Charlotte said as one of the footmen opened the door, John holding her hand as she walked up and the dress gathered after her, then sitting opposite. “So – nice day for a drive?”
“I think so – whenever you are ready?”
The driver nodded as he cracked the reins, and the carriage set off, Charlotte smiling as it made its way out of the entrance and down the hill…
“Missy – what are you doing here,” Eve Stone said as she kissed her old friend in the lobby.
invited,” Missy said as she looked round.
"You know there are a handful of young women here that I'd sign in
an instant if they ever wanted to model Eve." Missy smiled as the foyer
started to fill.
might they include?"
nieces for starters, and I think Kit and Lizzie might also make the
darling, you've always had a thing for aristocratic girls."
Missy said, “but somehow they all have that certain air about them that
translates so well."
that's four...Who else?"
Alexandra Richmond...I've known her all her life, and she grows more beautiful
but I think like Sandy she might just not have the desire."
nieces and their friends darling?"
"Precisely Missy," Eve chuckled, "but I can always put a word in with their mothers and see if there is a response if you'd like?"
“What on earth are we doing here,” Sherry Babbage said as she and Mike came into the lobby, Mike adjusting his tie as she looked round.
“Well, let’s see,” Mike said as he looked at her, “Monday, the Big Boss tells me to take time off. I get home to find you with a hand delivered letter from the Marchesa, inviting us to come to the blessing and reception, and to put us up here. Then the kids basically packed our bags and kicked us out of the door – sound familiar?”
“I guess so – and this is a beautiful city, and so many – Sir Simon? He and his wife are here…”
Diana said as she looked across the lobby, "What made Francesca invite the
think she thought that we owed him a certain reward for getting so close,"
Juliette chuckled. "You know, as a piece of detective work I will admit it
was excellent. It is by far the closest
any law enforcement has ever got to catching us."
sure that is actually something to celebrate Cherie."
"You know me Diana, I enjoy excellence, whatever shape it takes. And besides – that was one of the reasons I changed my mind. DCI Babbage will never come to our side, and we still beat him…"
quietened down any?" Sir Simon whispered in his wife's ear as they came
out of the lift.
but she's still a bit unhappy, and as always blaming herself for 'their' rudeness."
Lady Fiona sighed. “I’m glad she went to
the actual small ceremony – it gives her a chance to compose herself, while
Donnie does what he needs to do.”
few weeks ago,” Sir Simon said as he looked for the others, “we'd have done
just the same, and we are her family."
darling, and I could kick myself for 20 years of ignorance and prejudice."
Simon, Lady Fiona," a tall brunette joined them.
Olivia darling, it's been a while," Fiona said as she kissed the younger
"It has..." the Belgian woman paused and hesitated. "Look I...I... I heard what my parents did to Aggie. How did she take it?"
"How do you expect Olivia? You always knew Aggie as well as almost anyone did."
blaming herself isn't she?"
"As I said
you've known her a very long while."
crap...I read the article, I hate myself..."
"I think a lot of us do Olivia." Simon said softly.
“Where is she?”
“She was invited, with others, to the ceremony in the chapel before the main wedding blessing,” Fiona said, “so she should be arriving now…”
Chapel di Cambrello
“Marchesa, welcome,” Father Albert said as Francesca and Marianne got out of the car, “the wedding party is assembling in the chapel.”
“Thank you,” Francesca said as they went in, nodding to Tom and the family, as well as Aggie as she went past.
Agnes turned to see the blonde haired woman they had seen when they arrived sitting behind her.
can I have a word please?" the blonde asked.
"Do I know
name is Margaretha Olsen - I'm a friend of Charlotte's."
I'm sorry I should have recognised you, I own some of your books." Agnes said
as they shook hands.
you, anyway Charlotte said we needed to speak."
Are you?" Agnes discreetly touched her nose.
"I am, but
this isn't about them."
then?" Aggie looked a little perplexed.
starters Charlotte has asked me to serve on the board of her new foundation
your work in Africa you'll be an asset."
thing though is that she thinks that with my contacts, and the fact that doors
all over the continent just seem to open for me, that I might be able to help
you meet the right people to aid you in your work."
"Oh dear...I suspect you would," Agnes was caught off guard.
“Can we talk later – at the reception?”
Agnes nodded as Rose and Kylie waited at the entrance to the chapel with Caroline and Sharon. Just outside, Jeanne Beckman was talking to the camera.
a voice said over her earpiece, “take us through some of the guests invited to
the small intimate actual wedding."
Brent they are an eclectic and interesting group, reflecting the couples
relations and personal friends."
brides mother obviously, the grooms family, but as well old friends from South
Africa, as well as friends from elsewhere."
though there are a couple such as Margarethe Olsen the photographer, and
Caroline Jameson the model."
Jeanne looked over as the group of women entered the church, the dark skinned Aborigine with her prosthetic leg.
Sunburst McRae,” Jeanne said,”the Australian former soldier who lost a leg rescuing
children from a minefield in Iraq. she's a close personal friend of the
genuine heroine as well."
"That she is Brent. I’m not sure of the others with her, bar one – I think we’re seeing, for the first time in public for some time, Princess Itsy Buthelesi. She has committed her life and time to helping those girls repatriated to Africa, and this is a rare outing in public for her."
“So tell me Nicholas, who is conducting the wedding ceremony today?”
The tall, thin grey haired reporter smiled as he said “The actual ceremony, which will be conducted in this small private chapel, is under the leadership of the Reverend George Gordon, the cousin of Charlotte’s late father, and a minister in the Church of Scotland in a small town near Aberdeen. As for the blessing in the main basilica, that will be led by the Monsignor, but I understand that Father Bettega, the former Monsignor and war hero, will also play a part.”
“And Nicholas, how is it possible for the couple to be married in a Catholic Basilica?”
“Because, Steph, the chapel the actual wedding ceremony will take place in is an ecumenical chapel, and as such can be used by any mainstream Christian faith…”
“Sorry to interrupt, Nicholas, but we see the carriage with the bridesmaids approaching…”
“There you are darlings,” Kylie said as the carriage stopped the footman setting some steps out and opening the door, “come down carefully…”
The footman helped them out in turn as they lined up outside the entrance.
"Alright ladies," Kylie stood back a pace, "can I see please?"
"Kylie stop fussing, the dresses are amazing," Helen smiled, "centre yourself."
when I'm sure that you all look perfect darling."
bloody listen 'elen, she aint going to let you go till she's sure." Rose
two look perfect," Kylie kissed the two youngsters.
you," they replied and smiled in unison.
that isn't a chocolate stain is it?" Kylie asked accusatorially.
Ama laughed, "just a piece of lint." She brushed the offending dark
chocolate, but she was careful," Maisha laughed.
was extra careful."
better have been," Kylie walked round Ama staring hard through her glasses
looking for any sign of imperfection.
us?" Penny asked.
great to me love." Rose smiled again.
only if you pull the hem down fully darling," Kylie leaned down to do the
look wonderful," Kylie broke into a broad smile.
"Now she can just worry about Aunt Charlotte."
“Who should be arriving any minute now,” Caroline said, “Sharon, inform Rev Gordon please…”
“So the brisdesmaids have arrived Jeannie – and we see someone making last minute adjustments…”
the one person who is maybe more nervous than the bride Brent,” Jeanne said,
“and that is sensational teenage fashion designer Kylie Mitchell."
designed both the brides dress, and those of the bridesmaids?"
she worked in association with Alice MacKinnon of APCO Jeanne."
Brent, but this was a solo commission by her as a friend of Charlotte's."
Jeanne smiled, "her first big solo project."
bridesmaids look incredible."
"They do Brent,
the Regency style dresses probably a hint of what we will see in the bride her
"So tell us about the bridesmaids themselves?"
"Well the two young girls, Evi and Britt van der Byl, are the nieces of the groom. The two older young ladies are the daughter of model Caroline Jameson, and the ward of Shirley Xavier the boss of the company that the bride works for. Both were among the slave girls freed in New York the year before last..."
and whose cause Charlotte has been a big supporter of."
Brent, whilst the two oldest are Penelope Harker, a work colleague of
Charlotte's, and Helen York a friend from Hong Kong."
a very interesting group Jeanne."
"Extremely, and fully reflective of the life the couple lead."
George looked over at Piet as he sat in the chair, his hands constantly moving.
“Wud I be right in thinking yer a wee bit nervous still?”
“Looks like it,” Winston said with a smile as Anders nodded in agreement.
Piet looked up as he said “was it like this for you?”
“No comment,” Anders laughed, “but you’re setting a great example for the young man here.”
“What? Oh Jeannie and I are a LONG way away from that step,” Winston said with a smile as Anders patted his jacket pocket.
“What is it,” Piet said as he looked over.
“The rings – I knew I had them somewhere…” He watched as his younger brother stood up, Piet’s eyes flashing as he said “Anders, so help me…”
The knock on the door made Piet look round, as Anders held up the ring and said “you are so easy to get, Pietre…”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Sharon said as she looked in, “but the wedding party is arriving.”
“Aye,” George said as he stood up and brushed down his gowns, “ye three go oot, ah’ll join ye shortly.”
The chapel fell silent for a moment as the three men came out from the vestry, Piet smiling at his family as they stood at the front, waiting as Sharon walked back to the entrance.
“And I can see the carriage now,” Jeanne said into her microphone as the horses came to a stop, the footman getting down and opening the door as Rose and Kylie came over. “First out is Colonel John Vosloo, who has the honour of giving the bride away today, in his full Regimental Dress Uniform – complete with kilt…”
John put on his cap as the footman helped Charlotte to alight, her smile broad as Kylie and Rose adjusted the dress.
she looks STUNNING Brent," Jeanne was in raptures. "As I surmised, it’s
a Regency style dress, or Empire line, that looks like it came from the pages
of a Jane Austen novel."
it looks amazing Jeanne."
"Close up Brent it's even better. My colleagues down here are using their full range of superlatives to describe both the dress, and the embroidery, which by her presence, is the work of Rose Walker who similarly did the embroidery for Juliette von Furstenheim's wedding dress."
Inside the church, Alex and Nessa slipped in and took their seats, as George Gordon came to the front and looked towards the doors.
“Perfect, darling,” Kylie finally said as she looked at Charlotte, “truly perfect. It is time.”
“See you inside,” Rose said as the two of them slipped inside.
"What are the oohs and ahhs from outside?" Piet looked over his shoulder.
"I think your bride just arrived." Winston whispered.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” George called out from the front, “will ye please be upstanding!”
4.30 am PT
“And so they head in,” Jeanne Beckman said as they watched the bridal party start to walk inside.
Trina asked as she sat down on the Clarke's couch and stared at the computer.
well worth staying up for," Mary smiled. "I thought Kylie did an
incredible job on my gown for your ball, but this is even better."
kill to be married in something like that," Allison shook her head.
doesn't seem to have excited them too much," Trina nodded at Dave, and
David asleep in armchairs.
Sally said as she shook her head, "I sometimes despair even of
"I heard that," David opened one eye. “I’m just resting…”
As the organ started to play, the congregation turned to see Brit and Evi walking down the centre aisle, smiling as they held their posies in both hands. Ama and Maisha walked behind them, Caroline and Shirley beaming with pride as they passed, and finally Helen and Penny.
They moved to the sides of the front as Piet stepped forward with Winston and Anders, and then turned, whispering “oh my god” as he saw John escort Charlotte down the aisle, waiting as she stood to the left side of Piet.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” George said as he looked out, “we are here today to witness the joining in holy matrimony of Pietre and Charlotte. This is a joyous and solemn occasion, as in the presence of God, and of you as witnesses, the pledge their lives to each other.
“Marriage is ordained in the church for the purposes of mutual support, and for the creation of new life, to be raised in love by the family. It also is a serious commitment, and must not be undertaken lightly, so I ask if anyone in this place knows of any reason why these two may not be joined in holy matrimony, they are to declare it.”
Piet and Charlotte looked at each other as George said “good – that’s always the worst bit. If either of you know any reason why you should not be joined in holy matrimony, now is the time.”
Both stayed silent as George said “Guid – let us pray.
“Lord God, We give thanks to God for the gift of marriage and the special gifts bride and bridegroom bring to each other, and especially for Pietre and Charlotte. We ask for God’s grace for them that their marriage be enriched, and we ask that you forgive them their past transgressions, as they forgive each other. Place in them a heart of love and respect for one another, and for all,and be with them through this part. In his name, Amen.”
“Amen,” the congregation said as George looked over.
“Please, be seated. Marianne Vosloo will read now from One Corinthians.”
Marianne smiled at the couple as she stood and read.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
As Marianne sat down, George looked over and said “now, who gives this woman to be married?”
“I do,” John said as he gave Charlotte’s hand to Piet, and then stepped back to join Marianne, as Francesca wiped her eye.
“Repeat after me – In the presence of God and before these witnesses…”
“In the presence of God and before these witnesses,” Piet said in a clear voice.
“I, Pietre van der Byl, give myself to you, Charlotte di Cambrello Gordon…”
“I, Pietre van der Byl, give myself to you, Charlotte di Cambrello Gordon…”
“To be your husband, and take you now to be my wife.”
“To be your husband,” Piet said as he smiled, “and take you now to be my wife.”
Charlotte smiled in return as George said “I promise to love you, to be faithful and loyal to you for as long as we live.”
As Piet repeated that line, he squeezed Charlotte’s hand, as George said “and now, Charlotte, repeat after me. In the presence of God and before these witnesses…”
“In the presence of God and before these witnesses,” Charlotte said quietly.
“I, Charlotte di Cambrello Gordon, give myself to you, Pietre van der Byl…”
“I, Charlotte di Cambrello Gordon, give myself to you, Pietre van der Byl…”
“To be your wife, and take you now to be my husband.”
“To be your wife,” Piet said as he smiled, “and take you now to be my husband.”
Charlotte smiled in return as George said “I promise to love you, to be faithful and loyal to you for as long as we live.”
“I promise to love you, to be faithful and loyal to you for as long as we live.”
As Francesca looked to her side, she gasped as she saw three figures, watching and smiling, so faint in the light.
“Do you have the rings?”
Anders reached into his pocket and placed the two rings on the bible, as George said “these rings are given as a token and sign of the commitment of Pietre and Charlotte to each other, and as a reminder of the vows they have spoken here today. May God bless these rings on this most special of days.”
Adam took the first ring and slipped it over the third finger of Charlotte’s left hand, smiling as he said “Charlotte, I give you this ring in God’s name, as a symbol of all that we have promised, and all that we share.”
Charlotte then took the larger of the rings, and slipped it on Piet’s hand, as she said “Pietre, I give you this ring in God’s name, as a symbol of all that we have promised, and all that we share.”
Smiling, George took their hands in his as he said “You have exchanged vows and rings, and spoken of your commitment to each other. It therefore gives me enormous pleasure to pronounce you as man and wife. You may now kiss your bride.”
The church clapped and cheered as Piet lifted the veil back, and said “I love you,” before he kissed Charlotte.
“Please, and finally, be seated,” George said as he looked at them. “I will be brief. I had the rare privilege of being able to play a part in the wedding of Charlotte’s parents, and I know if he had been here, her father would have been proud to see Charlotte married here as well.
“This chapel was built, and consecrated, for the purpose of meeting God and being at one with him, and so it is today. For today, we celebrate a new union, and the only advice I can really give both is what was read earlier – love is patient, and kind and forgiving, and if you allow it to be, then it can be a wonderful power for good.
“Pietre, Charlotte, hold onto the love you have for each other, let it mature, let it grow as your family grows, and all will be well.”
“Now, if you and the witnesses for this service will accompany me?”
Anders and Penny followed Charlotte and Piet as they went into the vestry, as the organ played, and Marianne handed Francesca a handkerchief.
A few minutes later, they came back out into the main church.
they've been married twice," Helen whispered to Penny as she came back to
her side, "just the big show to do now."
you look nervous?"
don't think I've ever been this nervous."
you've done in your life?"
know...Silly isn't it? But those were never done in front of that many people,
or a worldwide TV audience."
fine, just remember we follow Charlotte up the aisle for this, and we lead the
procession from here through the complex in a few."
"I know, I
you looking at Shirley?" Agnes asked.
that I never thought I'd see in my life, Penelope looking scared," Shirley
shook her head. "I always thought she was stone cold."
"Well different things panic different people."
“True,” Shirley whispered as George said “Let us pray.
“Heavenly Father, We pray for the new marriage, for the home that will be shared, for the families from which the couple have come. For the whole human family, and remember with thanks those who have died who contributed much to our families, church and society.”
“May the lord protect you, bless you and keep you. May He make his face shine upon you, and be gracious onto you. And may He bring you peace.”
Piet put Charlotte’s arm round his, the two of them beaming as they started to walk back up the aisle.
Jeanne looked on from outside the chapel, as she said “and yes – the wedding party is emerging now, with the main ceremony completed, and the blessing in the Basilica to follow!”
As they stood outside, John came out and took some picturesof the wedding party, while Francesca and Marianne emerged.
“Well Mrs. van
der Byl?" Francesca said as she kissed her daughter.
Mama," Charlotte smiled, "though I nearly mangled my vows."
noticed,” Marianne said as she kissed the young woman.
badly as your father nearly did," Francesca remembered, "he never
really did learn much Italian."
"Uncle John...THANK YOU," Charlotte kissed the colonel.
“It was my honour and my pleasure,” John said with a bow, “but we should go and lead the other guests to the main chapel. I’ll see you for the photos later.”
“All right then,” John Hammond said with a smile, “we get the main pictures after the blessing, but you have a few moments to rest up now while the rest get here.”
The Main Basilica
“Donald,” Sir Simon said as Lord Donald sat with him and Fiona, “Agnes?”
“She attended the main family wedding – this is a working trip for me I’m afraid.”
Nodding, Fiona said “we heard what happened earlier – some people need more time Donnie.”
“I know – doesn’t make it any easier for her,” Donald said as he looked round.
be a nightmare to organise," Paula Gaunt shook her head as she looked
round, "the questions of protocol and precedence must have taken forever
to work out."
"I know," Eve whispered back, "I'm just surprised that as a mere Mrs Stone, I'm so far forward."
“Well, if we are talking rank, we are in the right place, but even so…”
they?" Kit whispered to her mother as she looked across the aisle.
"I'm guessing various cabinet ministers and their wives." Tamsin looked evaluating the clothes the women were wearing.
“I wonder what Aunt Aggie thought of the main wedding?”
“I imagine she would have loved it – but she’s coming in with the others in a few minutes…”
have a bad view at all," Sherry nodded to a couple of friends.
we'd be crammed in at the back." Mike shook his head.
like we are sat in the right place for a nobleman's daughter," Sherry
said as she looked round closely.
darling I'm so used to you just being Sherry, I forget I married a Viscount's
"I know you do Mike," Sherry smiled, "but I guessed Francesca wouldn't."
“So we are in the second tier as it were,” Mike said before he stood as a young couple walked past with their children.
“I guess so…”
HE merit an invitation?" Bobby asked her husband as she looked over.
"He got it
because despite all the scandals, he remains a major political force in this
country." Sir Charles nodded, "so play nice darling."
"Charles if I can put up with that man in Washington, I'm sure I can put up with a man with a taste for teenage hookers," Bobbie put on her 'diplomats wife' smile and nodded in the tycoon politicians direction.
glad my own wedding will be much smaller than this," Sue whispered to
Colin, "This is just so overwhelming."
Mother thought she could do it,” Colin said quietly, “you know this is probably
what she'd organise."
know," Sue looked forward a few rows, "Bobby does everything with
such panache...and I did use that word right didn't I?"
"You did darling," Colin gave her an affectionate peck.
"So if Donald is seated there?" Sue pointed, "where will Aggie be?"
"Not next to him as she should be, but probably over there." Colin looked at an area that was still roped off, as one of the priests came forward and removed the ropes, Sue nodding as John and Marianne led in the party from the small chapel. Aggie came in with the other Sisters, nodding to Tamsin and Katherine as she took her seat.
Harry," King Rudolf smiled at the red-headed prince, "did you get to
be the official delegation?"
the younger man laughed, "I know Charlotte via Daffy and Jimmy, I'm here
strictly as a friend. Big Bro gets that
are here as old friends of Francesca's?"
"Exactly. Have you met Meghan?”
“Charmed,” Rudolf said as he kissed the hand of the young actress, and went to join the others.
“This is amazing,” Heather said as she looked up at the ceiling, “I could spend hours in this place just admiring the artwork.”
“And she’s off,” Sands giggled as she sat next to Holly.
“Peace, mon cherie,” Diana said as she sat with Abby, “you may have time to look after the blessing, once others have gone out…”
really good," Ingrid whispered in Carina's ear as they both looked at
Judith sitting on Annie's lap, looking round and taking everything in.
"She is,” Carina said, “but she loves new sights and sounds."
The quiet hum
of chatter was appropriately muted for inside a church. Guests sat down, or
stood in place talking, exchanging nods and glances with other people they
The organist played Bach softly, as more and more guests were shown to their appointed places, while the smell of burning candles and incense filled the air.
From a side door, a number of the fathers came out, Father Albert escorting the Monsignor to a seat in the front pew, and sitting with him. As he looked round, he smiled and seemed to nod to someone at the side, as Francesca was escorted down to the front pew on the other side. She smiled at Father Sergio as she took her seat, before the whole congregation stood as a white haired man walked down the centre aisle.
“You honour us with your attendance today,” Francesca said as Sergio Mattarella kissed her hand, and then stood with her as the attention of the congregation turned to a box overlooking the high altar. As a door at the back of the box opened, Pope Francis came in, the congregation paying their respects as he looked round, and then took his seat.
“No Joan Collins today then,” John Hammond whispered, Klaus trying not to laugh as the doors to the rear of the basilica opened.
3.30 pm BST
“She seemed a lot more settled this morning,” the doctor said as he and Serena Gleb walked down the pristine corridor, “but whether it is the drugs or her finally starting to come to terms with her condition, it is difficult to say.”
“I know – this has to be one of the worst cases of this form of Mania I have ever come across,” Selena said as they passed the nurse, her head buried in some files as she turned out of the corridor.
Stopping at the door to the room, the doctor looked in through the spyhole. The room was spotless, Catherine Fitzstuart asleep under the covers on her bed. He typed in a keycode on the bed, both he and Serena hearing the door unlock before he opened the door and they walked in.
“Good afternoon, Catherine,” he said as Serena closed the door, glancing up at the camera in the corner of the room. She stared at it for a moment, not quite sure what to think.
“Look up,” Serena said quietly, the doctor looking up and seeing the wires that had been cut behind the camera. He then walked over to the bed and pulled the covers back – to see the unconscious nurse, stripped of her uniform, battered around the head and unable to move.
“Oh god,” Serena said quietly as the doctor pressed a button on the wall, the alarm sounding throughout the building as a white Skoda drove off the premises…
2.30 pm CET
Basilica Santa Chiara
the man in white Mommy?" Judith quietly asked Annie as she looked to the
front of the church.
considering how you explain what God’s Vicar on Earth was, when Judith's
attention was distracted by the events at the church door.
"She is darling," Annie stood and held her daughter up so she could see.
“Ready girls,” Penny said as they stood in line outside, while Sharon handed Charlotte a note. She looked at it and started laughing.
funny?" Piet asked as his wife read the little note.
Prince William," Charlotte continued to laugh softly, "asking how did
I rate a bigger wedding then his and Kate's?"
"I see his
point," Piet slipped his arm under Charlotte's. "Well Mrs van der
Byl, are you ready to smile for the crowds and TV?"
"As ready as I'll ever be Mr van der Byl."
With the Dean of the basilica’s chapter leading the way, the procession began its slow progress round the precincts of the complex, and allowing the crowds to see the heiress to both a millennia of local history, but also one of the world’s largest fortunes.
The doors opened, the congregation rising as one and looking to the back. As they turned, Helga smiled as she saw Britt and Evi walking down the aisle behind the procession, smiling as they carried their posies.
As Ama and Maisha walked down, they looked to the sides where the Sisters were sitting, smiling as Teacher and Poison led the group in inclining their heads slightly.
“Jeanne, that is an interesting group of people there,” the voice said in her ear, “am I mistaken, or is that Princess Itzy Buthelesi there?”
“It is,” Jeanne whispered into her microphone, “she has shunned public life for some years now, but has joined the board of the charitable trust set up by Charlotte and her mother to finance small businesses in Africa. As a representative of the significant work Charlotte has helped lead in the continent, her presence here is a welcome surprise.”
Winston and Anders walked behind them, followed by Susan and Helen as they came to the front and stood to the sides, watching as Piet and Charlotte walked down the aisle arm in arm, their smiles broad as they looked round.
As they stood at the front, the Archdeacon smiled as he said “your royal highnesses, honoured guests, welcome all to this celebration of the joining of this man and this woman in the rite of holy matrimony. Let us join together in singing our opening hymn, To God be the Glory.”
Outside the basilica, one of the team accompanying Sir Simon looked at his mobile phone, then motioned to a superior.
“No – inform him at the reception,” the supervisor said quietly, “he can decide what to do then.”
you think her grandparents are somewhere close by and watching?" Alex
whispered in the old priest’s ear as the Archdeacon spoke.
so Father," Father Bettega smiled, "it’s almost like I can see the
Marchesa out of the corner of my eye. Her spirit is happy that what we planned
all those years ago has worked out like this."
"I suspect it is," Alex murmured as his old friend Cardinal Kelly nodded at him from the Papal Box.
“Karen? Are you all right,” Liz said as she and Itzy looked at their friend.
“Sorry – I just felt a great surge of love from somewhere,” the young woman said as she looked to the side of the main chapel and smiled.
“What is it lass,” Sunburst whispered.
“The family have come to watch and bless them – as it should be,” Karen said with a smile as she nodded in that direction.
“Ah ripper,” Sunburst said with a smile as the congregation stood.
As the Archdeacon conducted the blessing, Vanessa whispered into Mandy’s ear "Where were you and Will married Mandy?"
Cathedral darling. It’s a wonderful old
church, and while it was a big wedding it wasn't quite on this scale"
rather a rushed job," Will grinned, "Mandy was a little further along
than Charlotte is."
about 6 weeks more pregnant darling then she is."
"Oh dear." Vanessa covered her mouth to stifle a laugh.
so pwitty Mommy." Judith smiled at Annie as Charlotte and Piet knelt at
does darling," Annie smiled back.
we didn't do the whole cathedral bit Monster Mama?" Cari whispered to her
really darling, I'm not sure I could have coped with a huge congregation like
it's not really you is it lover?"
just glad the twins Christening is going to be in our own little church."
"Did you hear the way Annie just said 'our'?" Klaus smiled as he whispered to Juliette.
“I did – she is part of our family now as well…”
“Are you crying Mamma,” Abby asked as Diana dabbed her eyes.
“A little Abigail – this is true love, and one cannot help but be moved by that.”
“Indeed – they make such a wonderful couple,” Abby said with a smile. “Will you cry if one day I am at the altar?”
“If it is with the right man, then yes of course I will,” Diana said as Charlotte and Piet stood up.
Tamsin handed Agnes a handkerchief as Catriona stood beside her with Shirley and John.
“What are you going to be like at Susan’s wedding,” Catriona whispered to her as the lesson was read.
“I have no idea, but I am so happy to be here with all of you,” Agnes whispered as Tamsin hugged her.
The newly married couple then turned and began to process behind the priest as the organ played, the congregation smiling as they walked down. As Charlotte passed the sisters, she smiled at them as they bowed their heads, and then whispered “well, it’s finally done Me van der Pyl.”
“It certainly is Mrs van der Pyl,” Piet whispered back as they emerged into the front of the basilica, and took their places as the congregation came out to be presented.
“They look so wonderful there,” Jo said as she and Curt watched them talking to a line of men and women in smart suits.
“Who are the people being presented to Piet and Charlotte?” Annie whispered in Abigail’s ear.
“They are representatives of the various companies that the di Cambrello’s control…and no I didn’t know that,” she laughed, “I asked Mama.”
“It’s like the various tenants at Mom’s wedding,” Carina spoke, “it’s a token of respect given their relationship to the di Cambrello family.”
“Well it’s nice that ordinary people got a chance to see that wonderful show.”
“It was Annie, wasn’t it?” Abigail nodded in agreement.
“Are they ever going to let us leave?” Kit asked John as they watched the wedding party, and the VIP’s having pictures taken.
“In a bit I guess. Given the interest I suppose this all has to be done.”
“Well our wedding will be a lot quieter John Gaunt,” Kit looked up at him and smiled. “It will be at Ballysatten church, and only friends and family will be invited.”
“You don’t think that a Gaunt getting married in a Catholic church might not attract some media attention?”
“They might try,” Kit laughed, “But I know just what my wedding will look like, and they aren’t ruining it.”
“I trust you enjoyed the ceremony Alex,” Cardinal Kelly said as he came alongside his old friend.
“I did indeed – and His Holiness?”
“Was most impressed. He’s going to receive Piet, Charlotte, and Francesca in a private audience later Alex before they return to the palazzo – I will attend the reception as his representative.”
“That is quite an honor,” Vanessa interrupted.
“It is,” the Irish Cardinal smiled, “but he’s been well briefed on them and I think that he sees in them both, protestants or not, two inspiring young people who dedicate a lot of their lives to doing what is good and decent.”
“Piet’s reporting work in Africa has certainly helped sway international opinion.”
“That it has Alex me bhoy,” and while it’s not widely reported, her work for women and children hasn’t gone unnoticed within the Vatican either.”
“Here you look like you need this Dave,” Maddie said as he passed the Californian a small bottle of water from out of her handbag.
“You are a mind reader Madeline,” he smiled at her. “You know if you weren’t taken…”
“And also a Lesbian,” she laughed gently.
“I could seriously consider proposing to you.” He finished with a laugh, and a twinkle in his eyes.
“And if as you say those impediments didn’t exist, then I could seriously consider falling for you Dave Clarke.”
“I think that I’ll take that as a huge honor Maddie.” Dave grinned. “Anyway, who is the priest over there chatting to Richard and Mary?”
“It’s Cardinal Brecht, and he’s Richards uncle.”
“I need to thank so many people personally for all this.” Francesca said as for a second she stood to the side with Peri, and Hannah.
“Do I need get my book out and start jotting down names boss?”
“You might have to,” Francesca smiled at her Personal Assistant, “there are just so many.’
“Aye there are that,” the Reverend Gordon said as he joined the little group with his wife. “An awful lot of people worked awful hard to make this happen.”
“Not the least him,” Francesca looked at the very elderly priest sitting on a bench with a couple of young priests attending him. “All those years of planning by him and Mama came to magnificent fruition today.”
“They did,” George kept his gaze on the old man, “I’ve been told he will talk to me in a bit, and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that.”
“In many ways, this is his day as much as theirs…”
“Well I’ve been to some magnificent weddings…”
“Her own included,” Dieter smiled.
“But I have to say that was probably the grandest.” Sigi positively beamed as the family stood on the steps.
“It was rather something,” Natalya nodded
“Juliette better just be glad this happened AFTER my wife and Frau Stecher planned their wedding, the ideas she’s got from today.”
“No,” Sigi shook her head,” Juliette’s wedding was perfect, I couldn’t have improved it.”
“Well from you dear niece, that’s a rare admission,” Natalya let herself smile broadly.
“Ah - we have been given the signal to leave. Come – a great party awaits!”
3 pm BST
The flat was quiet – she had had it prepared for her little meetings, but now it was her refuge, her base of operations as she considered her position – and what was left after fucking Babbage had worked his way.
That fucking cop was now officially on her crap list. He and his friends had either got rid of, or intimidated so many of her ‘contacts’ that she found herself virtually without allies.
At least her ‘friend’ was at the wedding in Naples and was keeping her appraised of what was going on.
It galled her that the whore was there as an honoured guest while she found herself a hunted fugitive, but the bitch should enjoy it while she could, this time she was going to ensure there was a ‘final’ solution to the Agnes situation, and that then she would reemerge and join Donald in her rightful place as the new British Ambassador’s wife in Paris.
“So what is happening now?” Catherine glanced at the latest e-mail and read of the arrivals at the reception, as she sipped her coffee…
4 pm CET
Palazzo di Cambrello
“So has Lily made the arrangements for Madame’s private meetings later Penny?” Caroline asked.
“It’s a shame that when she is here really just for private and personal matters that she has to conduct meetings like this.”
“You know that at the very least the Camorra would have been unhappy, and at the worst they could have caused real trouble, if she hadn’t agreed to do this Dom.”
“I know, I’m aware how sensitive they can get when they feel slighted,” the very tall enforcer nodded.
“So she has to give up a couple of hours, she’d rather do that then have a little war break out.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her happier,” the venerable businessman sat on a side chair as Francesca and the couple received guests as they arrived. “This is the Francesca I loved as though she was my own daughter.”
“Were we all so wrong about her Papa?” The woman who spoke was in her early thirties, with shoulder length black hair, wearing a grey coat dress.
“I don’t know Sara, I don’t know,” Claudio said as he looked on, “but I look at her today, and I see her love for Carlotta, and I begin to wonder was what we were seeing all those years genuine, or an act?”
“How so?” Sara’s husband Pietro asked.
“I can’t describe it Pietro, but when I look round and I see so many people from the security and intelligence communities here, not as ‘official’ guests, but as personal guests of Francesca, then I start thinking.”
“Well at least officially she was in the Navy, they are probably friends from there,” Sara shrugged. “That’s the logical explanation.”
“As you say that’s logical,” the old man murmured aloud, while internally thinking that very little about Francesca as La Bionda Idiota, had ever really been logical.
Agnes felt a trifle amused as she stood and watched Donald mingling with the other diplomats. She wondered what he’d say if she told him that three of the men he was talking to had at one time or another been regulars in her dungeon. She wasn’t sure if he would have been shocked or not.
Well it had been an amazing wedding, but it had reminded why over the years she had attended so few. The thoughts of what she had missed that long ago Saturday in Oban had flooded into her brain, and as always at weddings she had seen herself in her mind as the bride, and Donald as the groom. The images and the other feelings had as always reduced her to tears, but she’d been lucky that with full attention focused elsewhere then nobody had seen.
She turned suddenly to Karen Kamula standing next to her. “I counsel you to endure a little while longer,” she said with a smile, “the time is coming near.”
“What time,” Agnes said as she looked at Donald, but as she turned, Karen had moved on…
“Well darling it’s unanimous that your creations are a hit?” Alice smiled as she passed Kylie a glass of champagne.
“YES!” Alice laughed, “as if there was ever any doubt they would be.”
“See, I’m not the only one says that.” Marina laughed.
“I know, but this was such a huge thing…”
“And you rose to the challenge as always Kylie,” Duncan said as he bought over food.
“Well she said she wanted to look like something from Jane Austen, and well you know how I love those books…”
“We do,” Jeannie looked upwards as Winston wheeled her into the little group.
“And YOU, I have to say special thanks to,” Kylie kissed down and kissed her friend on the cheek, “a lot of those dresses was inspired by those things you sent me to look at.”
“See her passion for fashion does come in useful occasionally,” Winston smiled at his girlfriend.
“Donatella was asking me a few minutes ago where you got your ideas from?” Alice sipped her drink.
“Well now you know,” Marina looked round happily at her friends.
“So what has Judith made of all this?” Sandy smiled as she sat down.
“I think its overwhelmed her a little,” Juliette smiled at her granddaughter sitting on her lap.
“I know, there has been just so much to take in.”
“For once it’s not the horses that mean the most, I think for the first time ever she’s noticed jewellery. She keeps asking me about all the sparkly, pretty things.”
“Well there is an awful lot of it being worn,” Sandy nodded.
“I noticed the matching earrings that Holly and Alexandra have on…I take it things remain as they were?”
“Yes,” Sandy glanced across the room towards her children. “It’s nice that both she and George do have someone special. Even if really they are both…”
“A little young?” Juliette broke in.
“Yes,” Sandy nodded.
“Well that’s something to be dealt with another day, just let them enjoy today.”
“How did I guess I might find you all here?” Heather joined Carina, Natalya, and Gale as they stood in front of the huge wall painting depicting torment.
“I guess you could say it called to us,” Carina looked closely at a piece depicting a man being branded.
“I thought that might be the case,” Heather stood back and looked herself. “I know they cannot say who painted this, and the probably several hands were responsible, but I still think it’s a remarkable piece of 16th century allegory.”
“If by that you mean it’s a realistic portrait of suffering Heather, then I’d have to agree.” Natalya took a sip of wine, “several of these things I can personally tell you are really quite realistic.”
“I may not have seen all this in person,” Gale Callaghan smiled, “but I do have to say it excites something deep inside me.”
“Oh and just what might that be?” Penny laughed as she and Annie joined the conversation.
“Oh I think you have a clue Penny,” Gale chuckled.
“So the artist knew from life what they were depicting in your ‘professional’ opinions?”
“Probably Heather,” Carina moved to look at another section. “This bit showing a man’s balls and cock being abused…let me just say been there, done that.”
“And she has the T Shirts to prove it.” Annie laughed gently.
“Have any of us not done just that kind of flogging?” Natalya pointed to a section near the top.
“You know very well we all have Aunt,” Carina grinned, “and though we might to think it’s ‘our’ kink and ours alone, I’ll bet Agnes as well did that plenty of times in her dungeon…Right Penny?”
“Yep,” the Englishwoman nodded, “that’s bog standard bdsm to this day.”
“This interests me,” Annie reached out and touched a section.
“Dismemberment…why didn’t I see that coming,” Heather smiled and laughed.
“We all have our own little specialties,” Annie blushed.
“Leave my Monster Mamma alone,” Carina said with a smile as she put her arms round her wife.
“I think I might need a ‘night out’ when we get back to America darling.”
“I think we are all going to need to do some things,” Natalya nodded.
“Let’s get together then – it has been far too long,” Carina said, “and I have the perfect people in mind…”
“John don’t I remember you saying that you were in the Transvaal Scottish?” Shirley asked as she looked at the South African, “so how comes this uniform?”
“When I got my commission, there were no vacancies in the Scottish, so I transferred regiments. Since I was going to Intelligence and not going to be a line officer it really made little difference.”
“Just the style and colour of the kilt.” John Hammond laughed gently.
“As you say Major.”
“Well it looks dashing.”
“That’s just what I told him Shirley,” Marianne joined the laughter.
“So,” John said quietly, “when do you formally retire John?”
“At the end of August, your good lady has been good enough then to give me time to get things together John, and I join Xavier’s October 1st.”
“So you are going to take that flat Marianne?”
“Yes Shirley,” Marianne said as she sipped her champagne, “he will need a London base and to be honest it’s perfect. He and I will be racking up the frequent flier miles to back home as I work on my ranch project and he does whatever you find for him to do.”
“And what is that to begin with,” John Vosloo asked with a smile.
“Oh, you will see…”
Helga and Liz watched as Leader nodded to a man, and then walked over.
“So who was that guy boring you to death Leader?” Liz asked.
“Was it that obvious?” Itsy smiled. “He’s an old friend of my family, he’s known me since I was a baby, and he was insisting on telling me stories from back then.”
“Oh dear,” Helga laughed, “and because of the family connections you just need stand there and listen.
“So when he tells your family he has seen you…”
“Let them approach me if they wish – I am joining Marianne at the ranch for some months to initiate the training program, they will find me there.”
“Are ‘our’ teams still out there?” Helga whispered.
“They are Teacher,” Leader said quietly, 2they’ll be on alert till Piet and Charlotte are safely away.”
“Poison was comparing the professionalism of our girls to the other security teams.”
“Well we aren’t being disgraced,” Leader smiled, “one of the Carabinieri colonels was I hear more than complimentary.”
“Donald,” Simon said as he walked over, “I need a word please.”
As they walked into a quiet corner, he watched and tried not to show any interest. The call had come out of nowhere, and as he had heard her voice, he knew he was in trouble. Especially when she gave her orders.
Speaking personally, he had nothing against Agnes McAdam, but ‘she’ had his balls in a vice. What she had proof of could destroy his career, his marriage, and his family. He was being squeezed and actually keeping the bitch informed about what Donald and Agnes were doing wasn’t the worst thing she could have ordered.
Not that they were actually doing anything…together. He was mixing with the diplomatic set, whilst she was with her friends. To all intents and purposes they weren’t interacting at all. Not that she would believe that…
“Keep your voice down Gordon,” Simon said as he looked round, “the police are looking everywhere for her, and her description has been circulated. We’ll find her and make sure she goes back – but in the meantime, take care.”
“Tell her – and tell her friends as well.”
“Is this the biggest event you’ve ever been to Aggie?” the more than still slightly overawed Sue asked as she came over.
“It’s up there,” Aggie smiled.
“I keep asking,” she said as she looked round, “what the hell I’m doing here?”
“If you can relax darling, hopefully enjoying yourself.” Colin said as she passed the ladies some drinks.
“Well it’s alright for you two,” Sue shook her head, “but girls the like of me just don’t get to go to things like this.”
“She thinks any second they are going to arrest her…or evict her.” Penny spoke.
“Was that a dig Penny?”
“No Colin, just I hope an explanation of what’s going in in Sue’s mind.”
“And I go to the races next week?”
“I’ll be joining you there,” Aggie said, “for a change…”
“Francesca and her people have put on a first-class show,” Bobby Gresham-Fox whispered to her husband as they looked round the room.
“They have indeed.”
“And I see that the diplomatic back channels are being well used?”
“There is a lot to be talked about,” the Ambassador said seriously. “Our European colleagues are still far from pleased by what they are hearing from HMG.”
“Can you blame them?”
“Not really…the trouble is that they saw Brexit as being about economics, while the British electorate was purely focused on immigration.”
“It worked wonderfully - the Market - as long as it was all Western European nations with roughly similar living standards. It was only when the Eastern countries joined, and the free market in labour kicked in, that Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary started to moan. They love the freedom the Community gave them to move within Europe, they just didn’t want others to have the same rights.”
“Bobby my darling, I would not have put it that way, but of course in essence you are right…and now we have to sort out the mess.” Charles sighed.
“Can it be sorted out?”
“A question for another day, my dear…”
“Thank you for coming Uncle,” Francesca said as she let the older man kiss her on the cheek, “I wasn’t totally sure for a time if you would.”
“Francesca,” Claudio said quietly, “you and I may have had our difficulties, but this was about ‘family’ and I know I’m not a true relative, but I would have had to have been hospitalized to prevent me.”
“To me you are real family Uncle,” she replied quietly.
“So… I hear that your name is being whispered with respect in international legal circles Francesca, like so many people I’d forgotten that you’d trained as a lawyer.”
“Oh I’m just doing what I can, I’m lucky Sigi was willing to take me on as a partner, and Hannah my clerk is a brilliant young woman.” Francesca blushed.
“As the Americans say Francesca, that story will not cut it,” the old gentleman said as he fixed her with a stare, “what has truly been happening in recent years?”
“I had a breakdown…”
“That was true, but even a breakdown like that doesn’t make a genius into an idiot Francesca, I missed it at the time, and I let my prejudices cloud my judgment, but something was going on,” he put his hand on hers, “to humour an old man who used to bounce you on his knee, will you one day tell me the truth?”
“Uncle, I want to…” Francesca paused, “look I need to talk to a couple of people first, but if the say okay we can chat later…Alright?”
Francesca watched as he walked away, and then went to talk to the security heads…
“So – still think we did the right thing,” Charlotte said as she stood with Piet.
“Oh yes – although Carlotta di Cambrello Gordon van der Pyl is a mouthful…”
“Oh I don’t know, it rolls off,” Winston said as he stood with Jeannie.
“No – Charlotte Gordon for professional reasons, Mrs van der Pyl for others. The di Cambrello – well let’s hope that is a long way away…”
“Father can I say this is the greatest of honours,” Karen Kumalo said as she bent a knee to the old priest, and kissed his hand.
“A lot of people have said that today,” Father Bettega smiled at the young black woman.
“People have said what is in their hearts,” Karen replied with her head bowed, “and have spoken what is the truth.”
“Perhaps, but it was still kind of them.” For a few seconds the priest looked directly at the black priestess. “I can sense you know something of the spirit young lady.”
“I think I do.” Karen looked at him and said “you have lived to see this special day pass – and you know others were there as well.”
Father Bettega nodded as he said “I have a dance still to claim – then I will rest and sleep peacefully.”
Taking his hand in both of hers, Karen looked at him and said “you know, don’t you?” As he quietly nodded, she whispered “you have earned your rest, Honoured Father.”
“Perhaps – I hear them calling to me, and I will be happy then, although I know I will be missed.”
“Enjoy the evening, Father, and the dance – we will be there as long as you need us, and so will they.”
Looking into Karen’s eyes, he nodded and said “bless you my child – I will be happy tonight.”
“Uncle Reinhard,” Richard said with a smile, “can I introduce Mr. David Clarke, Dave may I introduce my uncle Cardinal Brecht.
“Your Eminence,” Dave bowed his head as they shook hands.
“Mr. Clarke,” the clergyman smiled, and replied in quite heavily accented English. “Did you enjoy the wedding?”
“I did actually, it wasn’t too long ago such an occasion would have left me totally overwhelmed, but I’m learning to relax a little.”
“That’s probably the best way to deal with these grand spectacles,” the Cardinal chuckled, “just sit back and enjoy the show.”
“I think Dave gets that.” Richard chuckled.
“My nephew says we have a common passion for the internal combustion engine Mr. Clarke.”
“You’re into cars Your Eminence?”
“My relaxation used to be driving rally cars.” The Cardinal looked at the face of his nephew, “Richard finds it a little hard to cope with that I love getting into overalls and tinkering with cars.”
“Well he’s into stamps, so what does he know,” Dave found himself laughing aloud.
“I used to be president of the Vatican’s motor sport club.”
“Richard I think I had better drag you away,” Mary suddenly appeared and whispered in her boyfriend’s ear. “Let these two talk.”
“Indeed – I should know better…”
“Well your father and your girlfriend are both happy darling,” Mandy said as she passed her son a glass of wine.
“I noticed,” David looked across the room. “Who is that with them?”
“He’s one of the assistant choir masters from the Basilica. He arranged most of the music for today.”
“I should have guessed it was someone musical just from the look on Judy’s face.” David smiled as he watched Judy wave her hands around.
“So have you and she talked about a wedding yet darling? And really I’m not prying but some advance warning would be nice.”
“Yes we’ve talked about it,” David said as he rolled his eyes, “and yes, Jack and I have also talked about his and Pepsi’s wedding.”
“And what have you decided?”
“To be honest Mom we haven’t really decided upon anything.”
“Have you proposed to Judy?”
Mandy looked at her second son with surprise, and said “what was her answer?”
“That she loves me, but she wants to finish Yale before she gives me an answer.”
“Are you happy with that?”
“Not totally, but I do see her point.”
“I hear you’ll be joining us for the shooting Miss Jameson?” Sir Charles asked as they stood with Ama and Maisha.
“Well I’ve never shot grouse, so I’m not sure if I’ll be very good, but yes I thought I’d take up the invite.” Caroline smiled.
“Well I hear you are an excellent clay pigeon shot and the technique is not that different.”
“Well I wouldn’t say I was excellent, at best I’m…”
“Don’t let her fool you with her modesty Charles,” Daffy smiled, “I’ve shot alongside her and she’s far better than I am.”
“And I’ll second that,” Diana joined the conversation. “She swept the prizes at my gun club in the spring.”
“I’ll have to be at my best,” Charles chuckled.
“You will Charles,” Daffy took a sip of her drink, “and I’m not sure if you’ve met, but this is Diana de Ros.”
“No we haven’t met,” Charles kissed Diana on the cheek, “but of course I’m aware who the Countess is.”
“The admiration is mutual Sir Charles…”
“Can I really say how much I love your work,” Luke said as he stood talking with Margaretha Olsen, “your books on Africa are truly beautiful examples of what can be done with a camera.”
“Well thank you,” Magaretha said with a smile, “but having seen that photo set of Native Canadians of yours that I’m very impressed by your work as well.”
“Thank you,” Luke blushed slightly, “coming from someone of your stature that means a lot.”
“Hello Margaretha,” Jack for once dropped the flamboyance as he kissed the Scandinavian photographer, “it’s lovely to see you.”
“And it’s always nice to see you Jack…as well as so many distinguished colleagues,” she smiled as she looked round the room.
“All of whom will tell you that we don’t see you nearly enough Margaretha.”
“Well, my work keeps me busy – but I’ve enjoyed coming here, and relaxing for a change.”
“So where do you know Charlotte from?”
“Oh – I came across her through her charity work…”
“So are all you journalists strictly off duty Jane?” Klaus asked.
“Well I am, but have you asked your wife the same question?” Jane Molloy nodded towards Juliette who was making notes in a small book. “Why do I think she’s making notes about the fashions for the next edition of CS?”
“She might be,” Klaus nodded, “but she’s not exactly a newswoman trying to scoop the world on the di Cambrello wedding.”
“That’s true,” Jane took a drink, “no I think it’s safe to say all the invited news-hounds are just here to enjoy themselves.”
“Did you meet Father Bettega yet?”
“I did. Piet introduced me and if there was ever someone I’d like to interview and write about then it would be him.”
“He’s an amazing person, and he’s lived an amazing life.”
“That’s for sure.”
“How do all these people overlap?” Mike Babbage asked as he stood chatting with a small group of people.
“I think it’s called friends of friends,” Curt Richardson replied. “When Jo first introduced me into these circles I was amazed at the variety of people, today I rather take it for granted.”
“Well let me rephrase it,” Mike said as Sherry came alongside, “how does a London copper like me get invited to a thing like this?”
“Well let’s see if I can work it out for you,” Brooke said as she smiled. “As I understand it you and your wife were at Oxford with Agnes McAdam.”
“And Dr McAdam is involved with some of the causes that Charlotte Gordon supports.”
“So I hear.”
“Now your wife is related to several aristocratic models I believe?”
“She is,” Mike laughed, “and I can see your point Judge, if I was investigating me then I’d consider myself a known associate of Miss Gordon’s known associates.”
“Exactly,” Brooke smiled broadly.
“Would you mind coming in here Uncle,” Francesca beckoned for the old gentleman to follow her into a side room, “I think it’s time for us to talk, before we sit down and eat.”
“I think it’s long past time Francesca,” he followed her slowly, and then sat himself in a comfortable old armchair.
“Look Uncle,” Francesca said as she sat next to him, “I’ve been told I can only tell you this if I don’t talk in specific terms, and it’s only because you have the highest of security clearances, and besides count so many of our country’s most powerful people as your personal friends.”
“What I’m about to tell you poor Mama never did find out, and Papa only learned on the day of his death.”
“Did he forgive you?”
“In person…No, but he made a video that I finally got to see a few weeks ago,” Francesca said as she wiped a tear. “I just wish he and I had had the chance to talk this all out.”
“You broke their hearts you know?”
“Yes,” Francesca looked down at her feet.
“And you hurt all those who loved you as well.”
“But I’m guessing today,” Claudio said as he took her hands, “it was not totally your fault, was it?”
“I will always blame myself,” Francesca felt the tears coming.
“When did they get to you child?”
“Who…who got to me?”
“La Citadella…I sit here and suddenly everything falls into place… At the Naval Academy?”
“And those rumours that you were expelled from South Africa for spying were true?”
“Yes,” she nodded again.
“Does Carlotta know that you didn’t leave her of your own free will?”
“She does, while she doesn’t know all the details she knows I was put on a plane and forced to leave her, and that James in his pride turned his love for me into hate.”
“I never did think that the Francesca I knew could just leave her child like that…” After a pause the old man spoke again, “so then you had your breakdown?”
“The first of several Uncle,” Francesca continued crying.
“But they wouldn’t let you go would they…Bastards…they kept you in the military and continued to use you didn’t they?”
“Yes,” Francesca fought to control herself.
“La Bionda Idiota was their creation…Wasn’t it?” He said angrily as he stood up.
“Yes, and please calm down Uncle.”
“They put you under the most outrageous of covers, and they USED you.”
“I had to do something with my so-called life Uncle.”
“I won’t ask what they had you doing,” Claudio said as he sat and looked at her, “but I’m guessing that if they made you such a figure of fun, then it was to hide covert activities?”
“It was…but as I said I’m not allowed to say what.”
“I understand,” he nodded and looked serious. “Francesca while I think this out may I beg a glass of wine?”
“Certainly.” She stood and walked to a side table, poured wine into two glasses, and handed one to her.
“I heard tales, stories of an operative who carried out very dangerous, very risky assignments – the Devil Fish. Was that you?”
“I cannot confirm or deny that, Uncle Claudio,” Francesca said with her head bowed.
“You do not need to my child – and you are free from that now?”
“I am retired, and finding myself again – but I must always live with the pain my actions caused.”
“Well,” Claudio said quietly, “I for one must ask you to forgive an old man for his anger. I hope we can talk more later?”
“Do I have the honour of addressing Doctor McAdam?”
Agnes turned and nodded, then bent her knee and kissed the ring of the proferred hand as she said “you have the advantage of me Your Eminence.”
“Cardinal Aidan Kelly – I wonder, may I have a quiet word with you. I believe you may be in a position to assist me with a – delicate request.”
Agnes looked round as she said “Your Eminence, whatever you may have heard…”
“It’s not that,” Cardinal Kelly said as he took Agnes into a quiet corner. “The Papal Archivist, Cardinal Bruckner, has been approached by the Princess von Furstenheim to provide records of any dealings her great aunt may have had with Cardinal Morcelli, my esteemed predecessor, during World War 2.”
“Her… Jane Huntingdown? I am aware she is working on a book about her, but what dealings would she have had with your office.”
“The type that still must remain secret. Dr McAdam, I wish to ask you to act as a liaison between Cardinal Bruckner and the Princess Juliette with her questions.”
“Your Eminence I’m flattered by the offer, but I’m an economist, not a historian, surely one of your own people at the Vatican is far better placed to work on this.” Agnes said before she took a large breath.
“Dr McAdam I know a considerable amount about you, and I’ve talked this out with several people and everyone seems to agree upon one thing, and that is your absolute integrity,” Aidan Kelly sipped his wine. “Cardinal Morcelli’s work was often not pretty, and to get things done he often made deals with the devil.”
“In wartime I understand that happens.” Agnes nodded, “but I’m still not sure why I’m the person to work with Cardinal Bruckner on this?”
“It’s because Aggie,” Aidan said with a smile, “we are certain that you’ll look at the historical record, give Juliette Huntingdown the facts she needs for her work, and will carry the other things you learn with you to your death bed.”
“Alright accepted that my word is my bond,” Agnes smiled, “how does Cardinal Bruckner feel about working with someone like me?”
“He’s actually looking forward to it he says.”
“Well,” Agnes smiled again, “I’ll admit as an academic the challenge appeals greatly, but I see a huge hindrance in that I can’t afford to be away from London for any real length of time, I have contracts with clients and a business to build.”
“We’ve foreseen that,” Aidan Kelly sipped his wine. “Cardinal Bruckner has been digitizing much of the Vatican’s 20th century history. We are proposing he will bring you files on disc and that you can work on them together in London.”
“Well that might work,” Aggie pursed her lips.
“Good – we will be in touch soon, and we thank you for this service.”
“Your Eminence – this may sound cavalier, but…”
Aidan smiled as he said “I am working on your behalf as well, Dr McAdam. And thank you.”
As the guests started to make their way in for the wedding breakfast, Francesca escorting Father Bettega in, Natala was surprised to hear “Countess Buchenwald.” Turning, she smiled as she said “Claudio – it has been far too long.”
“Indeed,” the venerable Italian said, “a truly wonderful day – but I need to ask a question of you. You were – still are – Francesca’s closest friend.”
As she nodded, Natalya said “you have a question, do you not?”
Claudio turned and whispered “we truly wronged her, did we not?”
“Claudio I think I was the only one who maybe even saw 50% of what was going on with Francesca,” Natalya smiled as she looked round. “If we had all got together and went over what we knew…”
“And what we guessed?”
“As you said, if we had also talked about what we guessed we might between us have got reasonably close to the truth. But left to ourselves none of us was seeing the bigger picture”
“I remember you once saying to me” he said quietly, “there was more to La Bionda Idiota than met the eye, and I was too upset at her ‘antics’ to listen.”
“She punished herself for a quarter of a century Claudio,” Natalya shook her head. “The rest of the world laughing at her and treating her as a joke, that was never ever anywhere near as painful as what she was doing to herself.”
“I’m beginning to understand,” Claudio said.
“There will be time to talk of that later,” Francesca said, “for now, let us go in and celebrate.”
5 pm BST
Catherine stood up and looked out of the grey window. In her mind, she could picture them all sitting down to the most sumptuous of meals. The great and the good gathered there to celebrate the wedding of one of the whore’s friends.
Suddenly it occurred to her, “What odds the bride’s a whore herself?”
It would make sense, why else would one of the world’s greatest heiresses want anything to do with someone like Agnes fucking McAdam unless she was just like her?
That had to be the answer. It was the only thing that made sense. And she would be the one to expose her, as she went to her laptop.
7 pm CET
“You have done an amazing job, Luisa,” Betty Harris said as she and Peri stood with the housekeeper, watching the others finishing their meal.
“It has been my pleasure – but now, we sit and join the others,” she said as John Vosloo stood up to a round of applause.
“Alright can I have quiet please,” John Vosloo said as he looked at the assembled guests, waiters and waitresses filling glasses as he looked at some cards. “At this point it’s customary for the father of the bride to make a short speech. Well as we all know James is not hear to do so, and so it falls to me as his best friend to do my inadequate best to try and say what he would have said.”
“Charlotte darling,” he said as he turned and looked at her, “if your father could see you today he would be just so proud. You’ve grown…”
“Barely,” Wendy Rhodes-Savage called out and drawing laughter from the audience.
John shook his head and said “You’ve grown…And Wendy I’ve rehearsed this speech so please don’t knock me off my stride…into the most beautiful of young women. You are beautiful, intelligent, self-reliant, and above all one of the most loving and caring people I ever met.”
“Hear, Hear,” Lily called out as she clapped, others following.
“Pieter,” John said as he looked along the table, “it seems like I’ve known you almost as long as I’ve known your little Roo. In fact, I remember you trailing after her even you were both small children.”
“And tripping over,” his sister called out as the room laughed again.
“And even when you split up, Charlotte coming to London as you stayed in Cape Town, that friendship remained.” John looked round before he continued “you know, it’s customary for the person giving this speech to remind the couple of their devotion to each other, but as I just said it honestly seems like you two have been devoted to each other forever…And I’ll be honest I can’t ever see that changing or wavering”
He waited as there was a round of applause.
“Of course, when they announced their engagement, they had no idea of just what was waiting around the corner. I am so glad not only that she has been reconciled with her mother, but that we were able to gather here today to help them celebrate their union in a slightly more – flamboyant way then they had originally envisaged.”
“Suits them though,” Sunshine called out, making everyone laugh.”
“True. Now, Charlotte didn’t grow up knowing she was the heiress to a vast fortune, but it is so typical of her that one of the first things she has done on coming into her inheritance is to set up a charity to aid women and children in her beloved Africa. I want to say a huge thank you to all those – including my own wife – who are working on the ground with her on this, and who have made the journey here to be part of her family today.”
Liz raised her glass with Leader and the others, Razzie squeezing Teacher’s hand as there was another round of applause.
“I understand the happy couple will be retiring to their own new home after this – so I have something for both of them. I brought this little bag of red soil from home,” John held up a tiny canvas sack, “so that here in this classic European splendor, there would be a little piece of the place both Piet and Charlotte hold dear in their hearts.”
John waited while the clapping went on.
“I need to also dodge another tradition. I won’t tell Piet that from now on his greatest task is to continue to love Charlotte because I know he always will. They are two wonderful individuals, and together they make an extraordinary couple.”
John blinked back a tear as he looked at his last card.
“If James was here,” he said finally, “he’d probably be finishing by welcoming Pieter properly into his family. I can’t quite do that, but I’ll still say Welcome to Piet anyway, and that come hell or high water I know both he and Charlotte will share both life’s joys and sorrows…and looking forward they will nurture a family as wonderful as they themselves are.” Picking up his glass, he said “so, in conclusion, please join me in a toast to the happy couple – Charlotte and Pietre”
“CHARLOTTE AND PIETRE,” the room called out as Piet kissed Charlotte, and then applauded as John sat down, Charlotte kissing him as Winston stood up.
“May I have silence please,” Winston’s bass-baritone voice boomed inside the stone walls of the palazzo.
“Thank you,” he smiled as everyone quieted down. “It falls to me as best man – well, as the supporter who drew the short straw - to do a variety of thank-you’s to people who have played a part in making today the wonderful day that it’s been.”
“So,” he said as he smiled at Jeannie at a nearby table, “can I say thank you to His Honor the Mayor, to the Reverend Gordon, and to His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop for the way they conducted all three ceremonies today…”
Winston smiled as he waited for the applause to die down.
“When Charlotte and Piet planned their part for today, I know she planned it to represent the three aspects that are of prime importance to her – her family, her homeland, and her work colleagues. She asked six very special women to do that task – Britt and Evi, Ama and Maisha, and Penelope and Helen. So, I’d like to thank the bridesmaids for supporting Charlotte today, and to tell them all just how beautiful they looked.”
“Thank you,” Penny said as she smiled up at him.
“And I also think we should thank all those who have served us tonight and today – please, show your appreciation.”
He waited as the room applauded, Luisa blushing as she stood at the back.
“There are two people however who above all thanks are owed on this day to, for without their foresight it would never have happened…” Winston paused, “Father Bettega is here with us and on behalf of everyone I want to thank him for all he did.”
Winston stopped while everyone stood and clapped, the old priest looking round and smiling.
“The other person isn’t here in person, though I’m sure she is in spirit…” Looking at Francesca, Winston smiled as he said “Ladies and Gentlemen can I ask you all to charge your glasses and to toast the woman who really planned this wedding and made everything possible, Charlotte’s grandmother…DONA CARLOTTA!”
“DONA CARLOTTA!” the response was almost deafening as Francesca wiped a tear away.
“Right,” Winston said as he looked round, “now that is dealt with… Being honest I haven’t known Pietre that long, and I was sort of surprised when he asked me to stand up with him, but I was also more than happy to do so. I’ve seen Piet at his best, and having played rugby with him…at his worst.”
Winston stopped for the laughter as Charlotte punched Piet in the arm.
“People for most of my life have called me a ‘gentle giant’,” Winston said quietly, “and while I’m not sure I fit that term, I know for sure Piet does.”
“Unless he’s in the ruck,” someone called out, making the room laugh.
“But I thank him for the chance to be here today to support him, and to allow the second most beautiful woman in the world today to be here – Jeannie.”
“You big softie,” Jeannie called out as others laughed.
“Now it is customary for the best man to read messages from friends who couldn’t be here today,” Winston said as he looked at some cards in front of him. “However… given that most of Piet’s friends are rugby players I’m not sure I’m comfortable reading aloud most of what they say.”
Winston stopped for the laughter.
“And not being that experienced a rugby player I had to ask John Hammond what certain terms meant…I now wish I hadn’t asked.”
Winston smiled at the applause.
“Having said that,” Winston said as he looked down, “some messages I can read, and the rest the happy couple can read at their own leisure. So… Sorry we could not be with you today, but I wish you all joy and prayers for the future. Amelia, Margaret, Pippa and Poppy…
“Congratulations and our best wishes for your future together. Guy and Valeria.
“May you know every blessing that you deserve. Madeline and Emma.”
As Charlotte nodded, Winston said “but what can I talk about? Perhaps the time he apparently was investigating a certain underground trade in Botswana, and had to hide out in a place of ill repute?”
“They treated me as an honoured guest,” Piet protested as the room laughed.
“Or the rumour his brother told me of how he was photographed skinny dipping in a pool as a thirteen year old – and how his sisters still have the negatives?”
“We’re not selling them,” his sisters called out as everyone laughed as Piet shook his head.
“Although I do like the tale of how he got involved in a game of touch rugby at de Witts… Can we roll the film please?”
“NO!” This time everyone laughed as Piet shook his head.
“Now, as we have already toasted the happy couple, I ask you to join me in a toast to the other six beautiful women from today – Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bridesmaids.”
Ama and Maisha blushed along with the others as Caroline and Shirley looked at them, and the room cheered “THE BRIDESMAIDS!”
As Winston sat down, Piet shook his head, Charlotte laughing as he stood up.
“Alright with what little character and dignity I have left following Winston,” Piet smiled, “I want to make what I hope will be a short, and simple, speech. I too need to thank the wonderful gentlemen who conducted the services, and to thank our wonderful bridesmaids.”
Again the people stood and clapped. “We have some gifts for each of them as well,” he said as Luisa handed small thin boxes to the girls, and larger boxes to the men.
“You know,” Piet said as he rubbed his bearded chin and looked round, “when Roo and I first talked about getting married what we had in mind was a very simple and small ceremony with just immediate family and friends there. Once Charlotte’s heritage became known and it became obvious that our wedding was to be an ‘event’, I thought we would lose what we had always planned. I was however underestimating a wonderful woman who I just wish I’d had the chance to meet even once. Thanks to Dona Carlotta’s amazing vision Roo and I got to have that intimate little wedding, it was wonderful, and I thank her and Father Bettega for it.”
There was another round of applause as Piet looked along the table. “Next, I want to thank ‘Uncle’ John for giving Charlotte away, though I did think it a little unfair he said he would never take her back…” Piet laughed as Charlotte dug him in the arm.
“Above all though I need to thank Dona Francesca for her part in all this,” Piet paused as the applause rang out. “Not only for bringing the woman I love into this world, but for coming into both our lives as she did and doing all she could to make this such a memorable occasion. I also want to thank my mother, for being the best mother a little boy could have – Luisa, we have something for both of them as well?”
Francesca and Dana blushed as two large bouquets were carried in and presented to each of them, as the room cheered and clapped.
“Charlene Botha reminded me earlier to also though thank James Gordon. Even though he isn’t with us in body, I want to say thank you both to him, and to my own parents for all they did as well to bring us to this day.”
“Finally in thanking everyone, can I say thank you to Winston who has stood by me and Anders not only today, but in recent days, and whose cool and calm head helped stop me going nutso with nerves. Thank you both.”
Piet took a very deep breath as the room applauded.
“I’ve loved Charlotte for ever and a day, and I’ve dreamed of us one day being a couple and having a family. Well maybe we started the family bit before we should of…”
Again there was laughter.
“But if I can stop ‘action woman’ here doing anything stupid, there will indeed be a new member of our family round about the end of the year.”
“Oh she’s going nowhere, trust me,” Penny called out, Lily and Shirley nodding in agreement.
“I know Shirley, Caroline and others are watching her, and making sure she doesn’t go anywhere stupid, but I have to say, without Roo, I would not be complete, and today she has made me the happiest man in the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to make one last toast – Charlotte.”
“CHARLOTTE,” the room called out, Judith raising her glass as well as Piet bent down and kissed his wife.
“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” John said as he stood up, “if we can vacate the room for a short while, we will be dancing soon.”
“Agnes,” Shirley said as she walked over, “you remember Juliette von Furstenheim from Abigail’s party?”
“It’s lovely to meet you again, Your Highness…”
“Agnes…” Juliette hissed, “Shirley assured me that you know better.”
“I do,” Agnes laughed, “but sometimes the lessons Nanny taught me all those years ago about etiquette take over.”
“Well stop them,” the tall blonde laughed.
“Anyway Cardinal Kelly told me that you are to be my eyes looking at certain Vatican documents.”
“Why I can’t just look myself…”
“Juliette I explained already why Agnes’s security rating is what it is.”
“I know, I know.”
“You tell me what you are looking for Juliette,” Agnes said with a smile, “and I’ll see what there is. I promise that I will not censor or sugar coat anything. I’m an academic and I believe in honesty and truth as well.”
“I accept that,” Juliette smiled, “will it be alright I send you a list of questions I have that are unanswered?”
“Well I said it was gonna be a bonzer piss-up,” Sunburst smiled contentedly, “even better than my cousin Sue’s do was, though of course that ended up with a huge fight.”
“Only an Australian could consider a wedding reception that ended in a fight to have been a great one,” Teacher said with a smile as she shook her head.
“Oh I don’t know, I think we Irish sometimes think the same,” Alex Richmond butted in.
“She’s Swedish father, what do you expect,” Sunburst laughed.
“Cool calmness,” Alex laughed. “Anyway Captain McRae I’d like to introduce myself, I’m Alex Richmond.”
“How do Father?”
“Very nicely Captain. I wanted to say what an honor it is meeting such a genuine heroine.”
“Oh Jeeeezzz I wish people wouldn’t say that…especially when a true hero like him,” she said as she pointed to Father Bettega, “is in the same room.”
“Actually you are both heroes…Would you like me to introduce you to him before the dancing starts?”
“I would be truly honoured…”
“You look nervous still Leader,” Karen said as she came alongside the Zulu princess.
“I am not as nervous as I was, but I cannot totally forget I am Leader,” Itsy said quietly.
“No, I can understand that.”
Both women turned and smiled as they saw Fergus MacLean standing behind them. “But I will say this to both of you – this is her day,” he continued as he looked at Charlotte talking to some of the guests, “and as such, we are ornaments on the side. So relax – she and her husband are safe, and that is the important thing.”
“Wise words,” Liz said as she joined them. “where is the present from the Sisters anyway?”
“Waiting for them at their honeymoon destination…”
“Having fun Kit?”
“I am actually Eve,” the young Master of Ardray said as she watched her aunt talking to some others. “It was a beautiful wedding.”
“Indeed, and Aunt Agnes seems to be having a wonderful time as well.”
“So I see,” Kit said as Donald talked quietly to his staff, and then walked over to where Mike and Sherry were talking, before Mike went to Agnes.
“Mike – I haven’t seen much of you today,” she said with a smile as he came over.
“I know – Agnes, can Sherry and I have a word please?”
“Of course,” she said as they went into a side room, Shirley watching carefully. “What’s wrong?”
“Agnes,” Mike said quietly, “Catherine has absconded from her hospital. We are looking everywhere for her, but you need to know, and you need to take care.”
“We’re trying to find out, but tell Tamsin and the others – and whoever is watching you.”
“What makes you think someone is watching me, Mike?”
The DI shook his head and said “I know someone is – let them know.”
“Alright can we please clear the floor?” Winston didn’t ask, he commanded as he stood in the centre of the room. “Let us all give Piet and Charlotte the room so they can have their first dance as a married couple please.”
“He’s such a commanding softie,” Jeannie said as she watched from the side.
“Thank you,” the big man smiled as people moved backwards. “Now Maestro,” he nodded as the newlyweds took to the floor and the beautiful strains of ‘The Blue Danube’ started.
“Your new son-in-law is a wonderful dancer Francesca?”
“He is Uncle,” the Marchesa positively beamed her happiness, “and my Carlotta isn’t bad on her feet either.”
“Well she’s a better dancer then you are Francesca,” Marianne interrupted, “James always said it was your one weakness.”
“Well he was almost as good as Piet, and compared to him yes at best I was average.”
“I remember at your wedding you accidentally spiked me twice when we danced,” the old gentleman shook his head.
“I did didn’t I Uncle,” Francesca laughed, “Did I ever apologise?”
“Yes,” he laughed, “and you weren’t as bad as my own daughter.”
“No one is as bad as Maria,” Francesca laughed some more.
“Francesca – may I have the honour?”
“Of course,” she said as John Vosloo took her onto the dance floor.
"I'll have to dance like that won't I?" Sue asked Bobbi as Piet and Charlotte waltzed by.
“You will have to lead off the dancing with Colin my dear – why?”
Sue blushed as
she whispered "I don't know how."
get a lotta chance to learn workin' in knockin' shops or living on the
not," Lady Roberta looked said as she looked her daughter in law up and
it’s one tradition that will 'ave to be left out."
won't," Bobbi said as she shook her head, "not if I have my
usually does," Colin laughed as Sue looked at them.
to the point - I know someone can maybe teach you in a very short time."
Roberta called out, “can I borrow you and Jimmy a second."
darling," Daffy smiled, "what can I do?"
you darling, it's Jimmy I need."
the tall cavalryman asked, "and can I enquire why?"
"Sue can't dance, and I remember hearing that among your lesser known skills is you teach young Guardsmen how to dance Jimmy. I want you to teach Sue."
“Well, no time like the present,” Jimmy said as the band started the next song, and he took Susan’s hand, ”follow my lead…”
“Father Bettega,” Alex said as he sat next to the venerable priest, “I want you to meet Captain Sunshine McRae, formerly of the Australian Army.”
As he looked up, he smiled and said “you look like a woman who has seen the pain of war, Captain – forgive me, but do you have an artificial leg?”
"Captain McRae lost her leg rescuing children from a minefield Monsignor."
"Ah… That makes you a very brave young woman," the elderly priest smiled at the former soldier as they held hands. "It is an honour to meet you."
honour is all mine," for once Sunburst was quiet and restrained in her
manner. “Your name is revered in
armies around the world, and I am glad I had the chance to meet you.”
"Are you a
friend of the brides?"
Father." Sunshine said as she sat
next to him.
Father Bettega said with a smile, “her grandmother would approve that she has
so many interesting and worthy friends."
Charlotte has told she was a pretty formidable lady."
"She was, I'm looking forward to seeing her again..." his voice trailed off.
He smiled as he said “forgive an old man my dear – I sometimes do lose myself. Please, accept my blessing for your work, and thank you for talking to me.”
Juliette," a bright eyed teenager in a cream slip dress called out as she
ran up, kissed her and smiled.
Andrea," the Princess smiled. "Klaus darling met Elia's oldest
daughter Andrea, Andrea darling this is my husband."
highness," the girl bobbed down.
is enough of that young lady," Klaus grinned, "I thought I'd told
and she told us, but I thought it would be fun to see your face." The youngster's eyes twinkled as she laughed.
Andrea's godmother," Juliette said as she looked the gangly girl up and
down. "You know darling when you fill out a little you are going to be the
image of your Mother."
more then I ever was Andi," Carina hugged the younger woman. "Judith,
this is your Aunt Andrea, Andrea this is Judith."
"Hello Judith," the Italian girl said as she lifted up the young child and kissed her, causing Judith to blush.
“Do you want to meet Rudi and Mags?”
“Rudi and Mags?”
“Andrea,” Cari said as she took Mags from Ingrid’s arms, and Annie held Rudi, “this is my wife Annie, and our twins, Rudolf and Margaret.”
“Such wonderful babies – mamma, come and see!”
“Ah, so this is the prince and princess,” Elia said as she came over, “it’s very nice to meet both of you.”
“Dance momma, please?”
“All right then,” Cari said as she took Judith’s hands and they danced on the edge of the floor.
it's time I get to dance with you darling," Winston swept Jeannie up out
of her chair.
"I thought you'd forgotten," she laughed as she put her arms round his neck and he supported her weight with his arms round her waist.
“Now that is a sight,” Helga said as she looked on – and then was pulled onto the dance floor by Razzie in his Dress uniform.
“Shirley – can I have a quiet word please,” Agnes said as she came over. “Penny as well?”
“You come as well,” Penny said as she looked at Helen, “this looks serious?”
“How can you tell,” Agnes said as they slipped into the hallway.
“Because I know that look Agnes – what’s happened?”
“I don’t want this to spoil the day in any way,” Agnes said quietly, “but Catherine has absconded.”
The other three women looked at each other, before Shirley said “does Will and Donald…”
“Donald knows – he’s telling Will now – as does Mike and Sherry Babbage. Shirley…”
“No more need be said – will you tell Sue?” As Agnes nodded, Shirley said “we will bring all the resources we can to this as well, Agnes. Your safety is our number one concern. Penny?”
“I’ll let Lily know,” she said as she slipped off.
“I will contact the Honoured Father, and inform the Swan and the Mongoose,” Helen said as she too left.
“The Swan and the Mongoose?”
“Not important – stay with the others today Agnes. You are safe with them and us – and leave this in my hands.”
As Agnes walked off, Shirley watched and then slipped back into the ballroom.
“There you are,” John said, “time we danced, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is John,” she said with a smile as they went onto the floor.
is something to keep Sue even busier while we are at Daffy's place for
Goodwood," Agnes sat down next to her sister.
is?" a perplexed Tamsin asked as she sipped her drink.
Agnes said with a smile, “has arranged for young Jimmy Winmouth to give Sue
dancing lessons while she and Colin are staying at Daffy's place."
"I take it
dancing like this isn't one of her skills then?"
Agnes nodded, "the life Sue has led there was never much call for her
being able to waltz."
understand, and Jimmy like all the Winmouth men is such a great dancer."
you'd know darling, his brother used to be your favourite partner."
was fun to dance with," Tam both smiled and blushed slightly.
remember you telling me what else he was good at darling."
"Ssssshhh Kits might hear," this time Tam blushed a bright red, "there are certain things a daughter should never know."
“True – including this,” Agnes said as she leaned over and whispered “Catherine has escaped. They’re looking everywhere for her.”
Tamsin nodded as she blanched for a moment, and then said “security?”
“Is being arranged, but watch your step – and your back.”
“I can’t believe she would do anything, even now…”
darling, we all thought she was just a nasty bitch," Mandy drawled as she waltzed
in the arms of her brother-in-law, "but she's far more than that, she's
criminally insane. You can't consider yourself tied to her anymore."
Mandy, but I feel rather..."
are about to say you feel responsible for her Donald I'll kick you. You are
nothing of the sort, you've heard what her sister says, she's been this way all
her life. She's just been incredibly good at hiding her madness. She set out
intending to destroy Agnes and to trap you darling, it was nothing you
"I know so.” Looking into his eyes, Mandy said “Donald, it’s long past time to put her out of your mind and to start looking forward to that happy life with Agnes that you should always have had if Catherine hadn't intervened."
“But I cannot divorce her, Mandy. And I need to think of Agnes and the others as well.”
“So do that, but be honest with her and us about how you feel, or she is going to continue to hurt you.”
"That is a
dirty old man," Katy whispered, shaking her head as she rejoined her mother
have given you a warning Katy," Eleanor shook his head, "I've slept
with the man and know a lot of other women who have done so, but he has a thing
for younger women."
wandering hands, and a line in talk I bet he thinks makes him
irresistible," Katy sipped from her champagne.
least you made it obvious you weren't interested darling," Jan smiled,
"I thought for a second I might have to intervene."
"No Mom, I
know JUST how to handle randy old bastards like him." Katy chuckled as she
glanced across the room, "And if he thinks he's going to have any luck
with Orion then he's sorely mistaken."
need to alert his security detail that he's on the prowl," Eleanor mused,
"both he and the country don't need another scandal."
"I think I'll have a quiet word with Dave Clarke so that he keeps an eye on his girls." Janice started looking round.
“So, how are you both feeling,” Caroline said as she approached Ama and Maisha.
“Proud and happy, Mom,” Ama said. “Did you see the present that Sisters have presented to them?”
“Indeed,” Maisha said, “the traditional gift for an African bride. Very appropriate.”
“That,” Ama said, “and a traditional tribal outfit for both of them. I understand Blondie has given them a collection of African prints from her work.”
“Caroline,” Penny said as she came over, “I need a word please – and then we bridesmaids have something to do for Charlotte.”
“Of course - I will find the others,” Ama said as she walked off.
“Stay Maisha – you need to hear this as well.”
“Catherine Fitzstuart has escaped from the secure hospital – inform Sue, and the others. The Sisters need to be on guard for Agnes and Tamsin from this moment on. Shirley is informing other parties now.”
“Father Bettega,” Charlotte said as she stood in front of the priest, “may I have this dance, as you promised I may?”
“I have the honour,” he replied with a smile, the floor clearing as he took Charlotte and a new dance started. “I pray you will know happiness all your lives my dear.”
“And I pray you will as well Father,” Charlotte said with a smile.
“Oh I think I have, and will,” he said as the music played, and he moved like a man half his age, the room clapping as Francesca looked on.
Suzie Clarke stood to the side of the room, shook her head, and then took a sip of her drink. It was amazing what had happened in the past couple of weeks, she had gone from being a complete unknown to a minor celebrity almost overnight. Well at least within fashion industry circles, and amongst those who followed the industry.
She just couldn’t believe the number of men who had asked her to dance already, and they all seemed to know just who she was, and that wasn’t that she was just Mary Clarke’s sister.
“Having fun?” she heard Madeline’s voice from beside her.
“Oh Hi Madeline,” she jumped slightly not having anyone was there, “and Yes I am.”
“But it’s all still something very different isn’t it?”
“God Yes,” Suzie smiled, “what the hell am I going to tell my girlfriends when school starts again?”
“Just tell them the truth darling.”
“I’m not sure they’ll believe it,” Suzie shook her head again, “I’m not sure I believe it.”
“Oh believe it Suzie,” Maddie smiled, “I was talking to Dave earlier with Missy trying to sort out a work schedule for you after we return to California, there are just so many offers that need considering.”
“Yes,” Maddie actually giggled, “but given the child labor laws and your schooling we are going to have to highly selective.”
“Well just tell me where and when…”
“Oh to have a model who is that eager,” Maddie giggled again as she interrupted.
“Well I like modeling,” Suzie smiled herself, “even with someone like the Maestro it’s such a huge kick, I can’t believe they pay me to do it, I’d do it for free.”
“NEVER say that,” Madeline looked amused, “Darling you are going to make a lot of money in the biz, but not if advertisers and designers hear you say you’ll do it for nothing.”
“Alright,” Suzie laughed out loud.
“So Heather what next?” Lily Cole asked the nanny, while her husband went to get them both more drinks.
“What do you mean Lily?”
“Come on Heather, I know very well that after LIFA you’ve been offered at least a couple of jobs, and at least book contract. What are you going to do about them?”
“Nothing,” Heather shrugged her shoulders, “all that is a nice boost to my ego, but I have a job, and I’m very happy doing it.”
“Why didn’t I guess that?”
“I might explore some writing Lily, I can fit that round what I do, but I owe Sandy everything for giving me a job when I couldn’t find one, and I adore the kids.”
“As well as Sandy,” Lily smiled. “I have to admit I told some people just that when they asked me about you.”
“Well Uncle, are you looking forward to doing something new?”
“I am Blondie,” John laughed at the use of the code names. “I think I’m going to enjoy confronting the new challenges.”
“Well I’m glad you have agreed to be on the board of Charlotte’s new charity,” Margaretha for a second looked serious, “There is so much needs doing, and we really do need experts setting policy.”
“Agreed,” John smiled as he twirled the famous photographer, “and it helps that we have access to the sisters as both a source of information, and to help put things in place on the ground.”
“Yes, it will give the sisters some kind of public front, the group is really getting too big to operate on the ad hoc basis that we’ve been doing it.”
“Yes,” he smiled again, “and with my work also for Xavier’s I think I might actually be working now I’ve retired then I was before.”
“Where is Shirley Uncle John?” Tamsin looked round.
“She needed to go lay down for a bit, but she’ll be back later.”
“It has been a long day.”
“Yes,” the photographer nodded, “anyway Francesca is letting her borrow a room to have a nap.”
“That’s good – she must need the rest…”
The four men turned and looked as the doors opened, and Madame walked in, smiling as she said “thank you for agreeing to meet with me today, gentlemen – I am honoured that you would make the time.”
“The honour is ours Madame,” the oldest of the four said as he stood, bowed and kissed her hand, “and we are pleased that the day has passed so peacefully and successfully for the Marchesa and her daughter.”
“Thank you Don Martello,” Madame said with a smile, “I trust refreshments are to your liking?”
“Indeed,” one of the other dons said, “did we see our not so esteemed former president at the service?”
“Sadly, the political rules had to be applied,” Madame said with a smile. “But be assured, we have taken appropriate measures to ensure he cannot have – shall we say, any fun?”
“Good – may I complement you on the security today. It was very discrete – where did you find them?”
“They are a volunteer force, and I am not at liberty to say more than that,” Madame said with a smile. “Now, to business gentlemen – I wish to discuss trade deals in terms of supplies to my caterers in London and New York.”
“May I ask what the situation is in Buffalo now Madame?”
“Ah yes – the faux pussycats were eliminated, and peace has been restored. On which not, Don Martello, I wanted to inform you of a placement I am sending a distant relative of yours on.”
“Oh – and this is?”
“Beverly Martello – I understand she is a great-niece of yours?”
“Indeed – although I have not heard from that branch of the family for some time. She is in your employ?”
“Indeed – but I am sending her to work with the Honoured Madame Lu and her team in Hong Kong, to learn new skills. When she returns, she will be a formidable asset to me.”
“We also wished to congratulate you on the job in London,” one of the other dons said, “a true master stroke.”
“There, we were the assistants to a master planner,” Madame said, “but it will pass on your complements. So, to business.”
“So any plans for after the honeymoon Piet,” Jane Malloy asked as they danced.
“The paper wants me to do a series of articles on government corruption in Africa.”
“Sounds just your kind of thing.”
“It is,” the big man smiled, “but I’m also thinking of stepping outside my comfort zone and writing a book about Charlotte’s Great Great Grandfather.”
“Her grandmothers grandfather, the one who built up the Industrial businesses. He was an engineer with vision, I’ve been researching his life and I think it will make an interesting book.”
“Well you are right it will be a change of pace for you Piet.”
“So what about you Jane?”
“Back to the election coverage.”
“Exactly, what’s going on is making me more and more disheartened by the day.”
“Is he really going to be the nominee for the Republican party?”
“It looks that way – I know Tom and Rupert Brook have signed a pact not to bring either candidate into their campaigns.” Looking over at Charlotte, Jane said “will Charlotte accompany you?”
“Not this time – she’ll return to London, but we’ll keep in touch.”
“So he’s going back to Africa for a few weeks,” Charlotte said as she stood with Carina, while Annie danced with Judith, “and I go back to the office.”
“Well are you going to be content sitting behind a computer for the next few months Charlotte?”
“It looks like I’m going to have to be Cari,” the bride shook her head, “both Piet and Madame have laid down the law that I’m not to do anything might endanger this little one,” she rubbed her stomach. “How the hell did you cope?”
“Who said I did?” Carina laughed. “Mom and the others had to create a couple of things so that ‘she’ was kept quiet and happy.”
“Well at least I don’t have that going on,” Charlotte said, “but six months of purely routine is still going to tax my patience.”
“Find a project that doesn’t involve going into war zones…You have your new charity.”
“I know,” Charlotte said with a smile, “but you know me, I truly enjoy doing physical things.”
“Well… Ask Aggie if you can shoot while everyone visits Scotland.”
“I already did so, and she’s happy enough with the idea, it’s just there are an awful lot of people going to be there for the shooting, and she’s not sure there will be room for me.”
“Oh she’ll make room – I’m sure of it.”
“So with the wedding out of the way,” Maria said with a smile, “what will you be doing Cousin Francesca?”
“Well I have a few social events to go to Maria,” the Marchesa said as she looked round, “but most of my time will be occupied with my work. Sigi took on most of the extra case load the past few weeks, it will be time I started pulling my weight fully.”
Smiling, Maria said “I’d forgotten that you were a lawyer.”
“Most people did darling. La Bionda Idiota pushed that from most people’s minds.”
“Papa says we all need forget a lot of what we once thought about you,” she looked across at Claudio, who was deep in conversation with the Defence Minister and a couple of generals, “that your breakdowns caused a lot of the…”
“They did,” Francesca interrupted and tried changing the subject quickly, “why is Uncle looking so animated and angry?”
“I don’t know,” Maria shrugged her shoulders, “I heard your name mentioned, but I couldn’t tell what they were saying.”
“Oh my,” Francesca said quietly, “I wonder if they have ever experienced Claudio in full flow.”
“This probably isn’t the best time to raise this Heather,” Juliette said as they stood and watched the dancing, “but can I beg that you come to Munich for a couple of days…without Sandy and the children.”
“Oh?” Heather lifted an eyebrow. “Is this to do with your decision not to retire Juliette?” she whispered.
“It is,” Juliette said quietly. “I’m going to be busy on my book and getting back to my work at CS, but I have some ideas for a ‘fall campaign’ and I want us to sit and talk so I can confidently leave all the planning to you.”
“Yes, Heather darling - I trust you, the others trust you, I think it’s time you took on more responsibility.”
“Ju… I hope though it will still be with you looking over my shoulder?”
“Oh I’ll be involved, it’s just with so much else going on I thought it was about time I delegated a bit.”
“Very well then – they’re coming for the christening, but I’ll come a few days early…”
“How are you doing darling?” Donald asked as he and Aggie slow danced to a melody of classic big band melodies.
“I’ve been better Donald, most people have been fine, but I’ve been snubbed a couple of times, and I’ve heard some of the conversations behind my back,” she sighed. “How are you holding up?”
“Not as well as I was before I heard about Catherine.”
“I know darling, but Mike says that there’s been a national alert been put out for her, he says the police will find her.”
“God I hope so,” Donald said as he looked round, “I’ll never forgive myself if she manages to hurt you again somehow.”
“Well I think there will be some discreet protection given to both of us.”
“So I’m informed, but I’ll still feel happier when she’s back in the hospital.”
“Donald we’ve let her ruin our lives far too long,” Agnes said quietly. “I’m going to try and just go on living my new life and I’m going to Goodwood, then Scotland as well as running my business and my school, and she’s not stopping me.”
“Just be careful darling.” Donald whispered in her ear as he held her close, “I love you too much to ever lose you.”
“And I love you,” Aggie smiled and whispered back.
“They make a wonderful couple,” Sue said as she stood with Caroline.
“You are up to the task, Susan?”
“I’ll do my best,” Sue said, “but if she’s that determined?”
“All we ask is watch her, look after her – others will do as well.”
“Paula,” Missy said as she joined Paula Gaunt, “I know this is a lousy time to be talking business, but I just got an e-mail that I’d been expecting for a few days now.”
“About me Missy?” the Duchess looked surprised.
“Not directly,” the American took a deep breath, “it’s actually about your girls.”
“It’s about Eve and Aileen?”
“It is,” Missy stood for a second trying to think how to say what she needed saying.
“Well go on. What’s got you so worried?”
“Look - I remember you saying they didn’t want to model when that whole Carlin Kardecki shit blew up.”
Paula looked serious for a moment before she said in a quiet, dangerous voice “This isn’t to do with that bitch, is it?”
“No,” Missy hesitated, “but it turns out she’s not the only person who has thought about them as models.”
“Oh - who else has?” the Duchesses eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Have you met Janis Ashton and Chloe Frost of GND…You know Girls Next Door?”
“No,” Paula said quietly, “I’ve heard of them of course, they are very talented designers.”
“Well David Richmond is an old friend of mine, he’s their Marketing Director.”
“He’s also an old friend of mine,” Paula smiled and relaxed, “he’s Eve’s godfather.”
“He approached me a few weeks ago, to ask what I thought about Eve becoming GND’s spokesmodel, and since then he’s come up with the idea of using both girls.” Missy paused again. “He wants me to sound you out on would they be interested?’
Paula looked at the girls as they stood with Kit and John, and said “all right – David I can trust, but it’s their choice. Let me talk to them.”
“Is there anything else we need to discuss gentlemen,” Madame said as she looked at the four men.
“One thing Madame – you promised our good friend Don Carlucci that, in return for allowing you to deal with the Corsican, you would one day return the favour.”
“I did, and I am a woman of my word,” Madame said with a smile. “I would be – upset – if it was something that crossed my own moral lines, but…”
“Be assured, it does not,” Don Martello said. “We require secure passage of a certain set of items from the US to our country. May we ask for your assistance with this?”
“I will ask Dominique to turn her attention to your request, if you will supply the details,” Madame said as she stood up. “Again, my thanks for your cooperation today, gentlemen.”
“A pleasure as always,” Don Martello said as he kissed her hand, watching as she left.
“Hey Mum,” Eve said as Paula walked over, “you and Dad having fun?”
“Yeah – can I talk to you and Aileen – over here?”
The two girls looked at each other as they followed Paula into a quiet corner, Aileen whispering “I haven’t done anything – whatever Sands says, I haven’t…”
“Talk to me about that later,” Paula said, “this is serious. Missy just had a word with me, about an inquiry she had.”
“Don’t tell me Carlin is back,” Eve said quietly.
“No – this is from your uncle David. He’s seen some pictures of you in the press recently, and…”
“And what, Mum,” Eve said quietly.
“Well, he wants to know if you and Evie would be interested in posing in some of the clothes his company makes.”
“GND? You’re joking, right Mum?”
“Actually, I’m not - but only if you wanted to, and I would need to sign any deals on your behalf. Now, I know in the past…”
Paula looked at Aileen as she said “I’m game if Eve is. What do you say, Sis?”
“I don’t know,” Eve said quietly, “I mean, I’m interested, but when and how and…”
“I understand,” Paula said quietly, “look, talk to Jeannie and Abby, but would you like to hear more?”
“Why not? I mean, what could possibly happen?”
“Are you all right, Uncle Claudio,” Francesca said as she sat next to the industrialist.
“I am fine, but I let a few of my thoughts go in the direction of a few people,” he said with a smile.
“That may not have been a wise thing to do…”
“Pshaw – I am too old to worry about what they can possibly do to me, my dear. But they needed to know how much damage they did to you and us.”
“I think they do know,” Francesca said quietly, “but in that world, you cannot consider the consequences. You have your orders, and you execute them. And you cannto consider what comes after.”
“Still, the cost to you… To us…”
“Has been paid in full. We have to put that behind us and look forward – which means I get to ask you a completely different question.”
Claudio looked at her and said “and that is?”
“Now that the British people have spoken, what steps need to be taken to try and preserve open trade routes?”
“Ah – now that is the Francesca I knew as a girl. Asking the difficult questions and looking for the straight forward answers again?”
“Answers would be a nice start.”
“Well, I let them know how I felt – so let us discuss your questions tomorrow. Today is their day, after all…”
“GND? Now that is an offer,” Katy said as she looked at Aileen. “And they want you to be their spokesperson?”
“I don’t know. At this point, it’s having them take some pictures with me and Eve in their clothes,” Aileen said as Orion and Katy looked at her.
“This dress is by GND,” Orion smiled, “I love their stuff.”
“And they must be serious to have got Missy to approach your Mom with the offer,” Katy added.
“I do Aileen.”
“I was belly-aching to Uncle David when he took me and Eve out to lunch, that being friends with you all, and with you all being superstar models, that I could do with an ego boost of being asked even once to model something. He’s not just being nice - is he?”
“Aileen, people like him don’t get paid to be nice.” Jeannie spoke up, “if they want you and Eve to be the face of one of their campaigns, then believe me - they will have researched you very closely.”
“Let’s be honest it’s a gig most young models would kill for.” Orion sipped more of her drink.
“Wow – well, I guess if Suzie can do it…”
“So would you do it if you were me Jo? Do you think I can do it?” Eve asked her American friend.
“Eve you can do it easily. Let’s face it - you are just plain beautiful, and you get the model gene from both your Dad’s, and from Paula’s side of your family.”
Eve nodded, and then said “You didn’t answer if you would do it Jo?”
“You noticed,” Jo smiled, “look Eve - modelling isn’t all about glamour.”
“I know, I saw your shoots remember. It’s serious hard work.”
“It’s also time consuming and can be a major pain in the ass.”
“What she’s trying to say Eve is that a major deal like this would immediately launch you as a star,” Abigail smiled, “and she and I both know from experience that getting recognized most places you go soon becomes very boring.”
“Alright, I understand that,” Eve nodded, “but would I be able to combine it with my school work?”
“Well we both do,” Jo grinned, “having Missy representing you will mean she takes on most of the crap other young models have to deal with for themselves.”
“Yes truly,” Abby giggled, “we complain and bitch about her, but when I talk to other girls then I realize just how lucky we are. She and Paula would have your backs, and so would your aunt.”
“Okay then,” Eve said as she looked at over at her mother, talking to her father and Missy, “showtime…”
“Are you enjoying yourself Diana?” Adam asked as they danced across the floor. “You look out of it a bit.”
“Do I? Sorry.” Diana smiled, “I’ve been taking mental notes for what to do for Abigail’s wedding when it eventually happens.”
“Oh now I understand,” the FBI man smiled, “I don’t think Janice and I if we ever do tie the knot will ever be able to do it on the grand scale.”
“And you’d probably want to plan it yourself rather than let Katherine and Eleanor do it for you.”
“Exactly,” Adam nodded, “now I think when Abigail and Tony get married this will all be rather expected.”
“It will, and I notice Cherie that just like me when you think of my daughter as a bride you think of Tony as her groom.”
“Oh I think it’s a certainty, even Sandy has given up running a book on who Abby will one day marry.”
“I know,” Diana smiled broadly.
“It would make their lives so much easier if Catherine was simply found floating face down in the river one day Penny.” Kay watched as Aggie and Donald waltzed.
“I know it would, you know it would, but she gets murdered guess who Mike Babbage’s prime suspect will be.”
“I’d do the job myself, and enjoy hurting her as punishment for what she’s done to Agnes, but as Madame says it will mean a lot less crap and suspicion if she is just locked away.”
“And he divorces her.”
“I know,” Penny shook her head, “I just can’t get this code of honour he has.”
“By the way did Agnes tell you about what the Vatican has asked her to do?”
“She did,” Penny started to smile broadly, “that is such a glowing tribute to her integrity that they trust her with secrets like that.”
“Well we’ve always put all our trust in her not telling people just what she knows about us.”
“Precisely, Kay – our very own confessor…”
“She looks so beautiful,” Helga said as she sat with Anders.
“True – but I still believe the true beauties of the day are sitting there with Digi and Dieter’s boys.”
“You’re biased, papa,” Sarina said as she sipped her wine, “but they do look wonderful, and Roo looks amazing.”
“I suspect they may be slipping away soon,” Ana said as she watched Francesca beckoning to Charlotte to come over. “Are we prepared?”
“I think the plans have been laid – but we need to find out exactly how they are going first…”
“Do we have a problem Mama?” Charlotte saw the look on her mother’s face after she had finished talking with the Carabinieri Colonel.
“A bad one?” the tone of Charlotte’s voice shifted as she looked round.
“Some of the press have somehow worked out where the secret passage comes out and have it staked out.”
“I know darling, it looks like we will have to go with Plan B if we are to get you out of here anonymously.”
“I better tell Piet. We probably need to go and change anyway,” Charlotte said as she moved off, Teacher nodding as she whispered to her in passing.
“Problem,” Leader asked as she came and joined the others.
“What’s happened,” Marianne whispered.
“A change in plans is required for their departure,” Teacher said quietly, “we need to inform the Sisters at the destination they will be leaving soon.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?”
“There’s nothing we can do as Sisters to help Marianne,” Leader shook her head, “this isn’t security as such, this is more about a slight of hand and deception so that Piet and Charlotte can just slip away and enjoy their honeymoon in peace and quiet.”
“I know, but still…”
“It’s a pain in the posterior but luckily the Marchesa and the Italians had drawn alternate methods of exit.”
“I just wish we could help.”
“We might not be able to, but Major Erasmus will still be playing a vital role.”
“Ja - I knew the idea that we’d simply go down that tunnel and I’d just drive you away was too simple for it really to work,” Rassie shook his head as he stood with Piet and Charlotte.
“Well you’ll still be driving us, it’s just going to mean we have to play the shell game with my colleagues in the media,” Piet laughed.
“Yeah,” Rassie said with a smile, “three helicopters leaving from the front lawn, leave them guessing which one you are on is a good idea.”
“Especially as we won’t be on any of them, we will be in the back of that police van leaving out the front door.”
“Exactly – so, you go get changed, I’ll get the bags in the back of the van, and we get to work. Let me just tell my guest what’s going on…”
“I have ensured the bags have been loaded in the van, Marchesa,” Luisa said as she stood in the corner with Betty and Francesca, “and they have gone to get ready.”
“Excellent. We get Piet and Charlotte safely away, then all the other guests can start to leave as they wish Luisa.”
“I understand Marchesa.”
“Is the buffet supper ready for those not needing to leave straight away or who are staying here all prepared Betty?”
“It is Marchesa, if we can keep some of the younger guests out of the kitchen and eating most of it.”
“So Luisa told me,” Francesca smiled, “well a lot of them have been dancing and they’ve all had tiring days, I can understand.”
“The Princesses von Furstenheim have taken a lot of the very small children down there Marchesa, and I’m afraid my staff have been spoiling them.”
“Don’t let it worry you – this has been a very special day for so many of us.”
The Monsignor looked round and then down.
“Would you like some?” Judith toddled over towards Father Bettega carefully carrying a tray of finger food.
“I would,” the old man smiled at the small child. “It is very kind of you to bring me this, little one. You are the Princess Judith, yes?”
“Yes. Are you vewwwy old?” Judith cocked her head as she handed him the tray.
“I am child,” he looked down into her enquiring eyes. “And you aren’t very old are you?”
“I’m two.” Judith grinned.
“Well, come – sit with me and tell me what you have enjoyed the most today.”
“I liked the dwesses, and the dwanses,” Judith said as she sat down, “what did you like?”
Smiling, Father Bettega said “Seeing a dream come to fruition, and a prayer answered. There is no greater joy than that.”
“Well, I liked the dances anyway,” Judith said with a smile. “Did you dance?”
“I did indeed,” he replied as he looked round, “but I feel tired, and it will soon be time for me to rest.”
“I’m tired too – sleep well,” Judith said, Father Bettega nodding as he said “I think I will, little one, I think I will.”
“Judith,” Carina said as she came over, “have you been bothering Father Bettega?”
“Not at all, Your Highness,” the priest said with a nod of the head, “but I do feel I should be leaving soon. If you could inform the Marchesa?”
“Of course – but I need my daughter to come with me – and you as well, Father. Charlotte and Piet will be leaving soon, and they wish to say something before they go.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, honoured guests,” Winston called out as Charlotte and Piet came back into the room, “Before they leave for their honeymoon, Charlotte and Piet would like to say a few words.”
He stood to one side as the couple came to the stage, Piet wearing a grey suit over a lilac shirt and grey tie, Charlotte in a light blue knee length dress and grey jacket.
“Folks,” Piet said as he looked round, “this has been a truly amazing day, and I want to take one last chance to say thank you to all of you for making it so. I trust you will forgive us, however, is we try to make a semi-dignifed exit, but enjoy the rest of the evening.”
“Before I go, however,” Charlotte said “I do have one more thing to do.” She turned her back to the group held up her bouquet and said “in three… two… one…”
The women cheered as the bouquet sailed through the air, hands reaching up to grasp it as it fell into the hands of…
Pepsi stared at the bouquet she had caught in her hands, Ama and Maisha smiling and clapping as Mandy and Jack went over and hugged her.
“Well darling,” Mandy drawled, “I guess we have to wait a little while longer…”
“Well, it goes to show how important it is to jump in at the right moment,” Jeannie said with a grin as Helen came over.
“Penny and I would like you to have our bouquets – a momento of the day…”
“Oh – girls, you don’t have to…” Jeannie wiped away a tear as she took the bouquets, and whispered “thank you…”
“The cases are loaded, Miss Carlotta,” Luisa said as she came back in.
“Right – decoys?”
“On their way now,” Francesca said as three young couples made their way out onto the patio, as the three helicopters warmed up their engines…
The shout came up from the paparazzi outside as the first helicopter took off, and a number headed off on scooters.
“Why aren’t we going,” one young photographer said to a veteran.
“Simple – it’s a bluff – look,” he said as a second helicopter took off, and headed in a different direction, while he and some others headed off in pursuit as well.
A small group waited, then drove off as the third helicopter left, flying south as the first went towards the airport, and the second east.
The few that were left watched as the gates to the palazzo opened, and the President was driven out as part of a convoy, two police vans at the front and at the back. It was only when they were out of sight that the first of the rear vans turned off, Rassie looking over his shoulder as he said “I think that worked. Let’s get you lovebirds to your own palazzo…”
He smiled as a car moved in front of them, and a second one behind, as they disappeared into the night…
“They are running in half a dozen different directions Marchesa,” Leader smiled as she looked out on the streets below. “I think it’s safe to assume that they haven’t got a clue where Piet and Charlotte are.”
“I hope not Itsy,” Francesca smiled, “these next ten days are all about them just getting the chance to sit back and relax, and just being together.”
“I know,” the tall African woman smiled, “to be honest I envy them. May they be granted peace and quiet.”
Francesca looked at the tall Zulu princess, and said quietly “Is there no chance that you’ll ever get married?”
“No,” Itsy said quietly as she let a tear come, “I will never get married unless my parents approve, and no man of whom they approve will ever marry someone like me who is soiled goods as the expression goes.”
“God,” Francesca said as she threw her hands in the air, “I thought that finally, here in the 21st century, everyone finally agreed that rape is not the woman’s fault?”
“In most of this world it is,” Itsy said, “but in places the myth still continues that if she was raped the woman must have encouraged it. I think in his heart even my father knows it’s the truth, but well - custom dictates a royal bride must be a virgin, and thanks to that bastard I’m not.”
“What would he make of the fact that Charlotte got married today and that she’s pregnant?”
“I don’t know,” Itsy tried to smile, “maybe one day I’ll get the chance to ask him. But until that day, I will never know.”
“Well, when the day comes, let me know – but for now, a hurricane approaches.”
“Alright Boss I think things will start to quieten down very quickly now they’ve left.” Peri came over with her notebook open, “any instructions for the rest of the night for Hannah and Me?”
“Only to relax,” Francesca said as she smiled at her PA, “a lot of people have worked their socks off today to make this all work, and you are one of them Peri. So now go eat, have a drink, and I will see you in the morning for a late breakfast.”
“Okay,” the English girl closed her notebook, “I was hoping you’d say that.”
“Have you seen my John anywhere?” Marianne asked as she brought over a bottle of champagne and started to top up glasses.
“Unfortunately I have,” Francesca laughed and groaned both at once. “I love Agnes McAdam with all my heart, but I could cheerfully throttle her for bringing over those bottles of very old whiskey from her late father’s cellar.”
“Oh don’t tell me,” Marianne sighed as she rolled her eyes, “John has joined with some of the other gentlemen and has gone to sample them.”
“It’s not only men,” Itsy let a laugh escape, “some of the other photographers have dragged Margaretha in there.”
“Rather them then me,” Peri joined the laughter, “whiskey makes me throw up.”
“It’s not for everyone Peri,” Francesca suddenly had a thought, “you know I wonder if my James’s spirit is in there with all those spirits?”
“Knowing James as I did, then the answer is probably,” Agnes Gordon said as she joined the other women, “I know it didn’t exactly take a lot of persuading by Father Richmond to get my George to join them.”
“Agnes – I hope you enjoyed the day as well.”
“Oh I did – but these bones are feeling their age now. May I?”
“Of course,” Francesca said as she handed the older woman a glass.
“Gentlemen…and Lady,” Jack Linklater said as he nodded towards Margaretha, “may I propose a toast? To the bride and groom,” he called out as he lifted his glass.
“The bride and groom,” the response came floating back.
“You know this was a wonderful idea by Agnes,” Will Fitzstuart relaxed next to his brother on a beautiful 18thcentury sofa. “Gives a chance for some of us to unwind gently.”
“The cellar at Ardray has some treasures in it that Aggie’s father and grandfather collected,” Donald said as he swirled the amber nectar round his glass. “She thought that bringing some here, and drinking more at Sue’s wedding was putting it to its best use.”
“True,” Will smiled, “a lot of collectors forget that eventually the sole purpose of any drink is to be drunk.”
“Alright who forgot to invite me in,” Catriona Cuthbertson said as she stood in the doorway and looked at faces, “Aggie finally lets some of the Ardray stash be drunk, and I don’t get invited?”
“A glass for Lady Sithwell,” Alex called out, “and we apologize.”
“We do indeed,” John Hammond, walked over and gave Catriona a glass, “I should have remembered better.”
“You should indeed John,” Cat smiled as she took a sip, “oh that is truly special. I know Shirley prefers fine brandy, but really there is nothing quite to match fine old whiskey.”
“So will we be seeing more of you in our world Margaretha?”
“Oh I may be making more trips nearer home – I go where the work takes me after all,” Margaretha said with a smile, “but not for the moment.”
“So how did your ‘nap’ go Madame,” Lady Davina asked as she sat down next to her employer in the White Drawing Room.
“Pretty much as I expected Daffy,” Shirley smiled, “So has Jimmy gone to join ‘the men’?”
“He has – may the Lord have mercy on us all.”
“Well, their going off to drink means that some of us can now sit and start to talk about final plans for Sue here’s wedding,” Agnes said as she came over with a small group of women and sat down.
“When Bobbi insisted that Colin and I get married in the cathedral at Oban,” Sue said as she looked round, “I thought it was going to be a huge thing, but well when compared to this?”
“It’s going to seem pretty small time, isn’t it?” Kay laughed.
“Not small time, just smaller in scale Kay,” Lady Roberta sipped from her glass, “we might not feature Popes and Presidents on the guest list, but we will stay have the odd royal, and VIP.”
“I know,” Sue whispered as she shook her head, “and that fact amazes me.”
“Well it will have far more of a family feel I can assure you darling.”
“Agreed Bobbi,” Aggie nodded, “there won’t be ‘official guests’.”
“I think I need to say thank you again Aggie for let me getting married from Ardray.” Sue smiled.
“Well a wedding there is long overdue darling,” Mandy drawled.
“Yes the last one rather got cancelled in a hurry,” Tamsin giggled.
“As long as someone in particular doesn’t turn up unexpected and uninvited then I’m predicting Sue’s wedding will be an even bigger success than this one.” Shirley poured herself another brandy.
“Amen to that,” Agnes whispered. “So, plans?”
“Let’s talk about Goodwood first – when are you expecting us Daffy?”
Friday 22nd July
3 am CET
Basilica Santa Chiara
Father Bettega opened his eyes, and looked round the familiar surroundings of his room. He had retired as soon as he had come back, the faithful Father Albert helping him into bed, but something had made him wake up. And what it was was something he had not expected.
He could hear singing – a light, female voice, and if he was hearing correctly, she was signing Duetinno Sull’aria. He slowly turned himself round, putting his feet into a pair of slippers and putting on a dressing gown, before he slowly walked out of his room, and along the corridor.
As he approached the library, the singing seemed to get louder, and Sergio wondered who it was, and why nobody else was coming to her it. There was a candle burning in the room as he opened the door, and by the light of the candle he saw a tall, graceful woman in a light coloured dress walking round, singing to herself as she looked at the covers.
“Excuse me, dear lady,” he said quietly, “but may I ask who you are, and why…”
The lady stopped singing, smiling as she turned and said “Hello Father Sergio – it has been some time since we have talked, no?”
“Marchesa Carlotta,” Sergio said as he returned the smile, “I thought I saw you earlier today.”
“Oh you were not the only one who saw me, I assure you of that,” she said as she came over, and he felt the soft touch of her hand on his face. “But yes, how could I miss seeing the happiest event in my daughter, and my grand-daughter’s life so far?”
“Your prayers and patience were answered, as were mine,” Sergio said with a smile.
“All our prayers were.”
Sergio’s eyes widened at the sight of the two men, tall, erect, proud, who now stood either side of Carlotta. “Thank you, Monsignor,” the Marchese di Cambrello said, “for all you have done.”
“Yes, thank you,” James Gordon said quietly, “my darling wife and daughter reunited, and now blessed.”
“The honour was mine,” Sergio said quietly, “and I know you were all there. I am sure they knew as well. I made a promise, and I kept it.”
“And now,” Carlotta said, “it is time for you to rest, my dear old friend. We have come to welcome you, and to bring you home.”
Nodding, Sergio said “I felt it was time – like Anna in the temple, I have lived to see redemption and salvation, and my work is done. Will it be painful?”
“No – it has already happened,” James said as two lines of soldiers appeared, and a light began to shine in the far end of the room. “You will be mourned, and honoured, but a far greater journey awaits you now.”
“Come, take my arm,” Carlotta said, the old man smiling as they walked between the two lines, and into the light…
7.30 am CET
Basilica Santa Chiara
“Good morning Monsignor,” Father Albert said as he knocked on the door and entered, “how do you feel this…”
He stopped and looked at the old man, his eyes open and a beatific smile on his face, before making the sign of the cross and stepping quietly out, making his way to the breakfast room to inform the Archdeacon.