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Chapter 6

OK, I THINK FIRMLY the next day. The thing is not to get freaked out by how much I happened to spend yesterday. It’s water under the bridge. The point is, today is the beginning of my new frugal life. From now on, I’m just going to spend absolutely nothing. David E. Barton says you should aim to cut your expen-diture by half in the first week, but I reckon I can do much better than that. I mean, not wanting to be rude, but these self-help books are always for people with absolutely zero self-control, aren’t they? And I gave up smoking easily enough. (Except socially, but that doesn’t count.)

I feel quite exhilarated as I make myself a cheese sandwich and wrap it up in tinfoil. I’ve already saved a couple of quid, just by doing that! I haven’t got a flask (must buy one at the week-end), so I can’t take in coffee, but there’s a bottle of Peach Herbal Blast in the fridge so I decide I’ll take that instead. It’ll be health-ier, too.

In fact, it makes you wonder why people buy shop-made sandwiches at all. Look how cheap and easy it is to make your own. And it’s the same with curries. David E. Barton says instead of forking out for expensive takeaway meals you should learnhow to make your own curries and stir-fries, for a fraction of the cost. So that’s what I’m going to do this weekend, after I’ve been to a museum or maybe just walked along the river, enjoying the scenery.

As I walk along to the tube I feel pure and refreshed. Stern, almost. Look at all these people on the street, scurrying around, thinking about nothing but money. Money, money, money. It’s an obsession. But once you relinquish money altogether, it ceases to have any relevance. Already I feel I’m in a completely different mindset. Less materialistic, more philosophical. Morespiritual. As David E. Barton says, we all fail to appreciate each day just how much we already possess. Light, air, freedom, the companionship of friends . . . I mean, these are the things that matter, aren’t they?

It’s almost frightening, the transformation that’s already occurred within me. For example, I walk past the magazine kiosk at the tube station and idly glance over, but I don’t feel the slight-est desire to buy any of the magazines. Magazines are irrelevant in my new life. (Plus I’ve already read most of them.)

So I get on the tube feeling serene and impervious, like a Buddhist monk. When I get off the tube at the other end, I walk straight past the discount shoe shop without even looking, and straight past Lucio’s, too. No cappuccino today. No muffin. No spending at all—just straight to the office.

It’s quite an easy time of the month forSuccessful Saving . We’ve only just put the latest issue of the magazine to bed, which basically means we can laze around for a few days doing nothing, before getting our acts together for the next issue. Of course, we’re meant to be starting on research for next month’s article. In fact, I’m supposed to be making phone calls to a list of stockbrokers today, asking for their investment tips for the next six months. But I already know what they’re all going to say. Jon Burrins will go on about the problems with e-commerce stocks, George Steadman will enthuse about some tiny biotechnology company, and Steve Fox will tell me how he wants to get out of the stockbroking game and start an organic farm.

Somehow the whole morning goes by and I haven’t done anything, just changed the screen saver on my computer to three yellow fish and an octopus, and written out an expense claim form. To be honest, I can’t really concentrate on proper work. I suppose I’m too exhilarated by my new pure self. I keep trying to work out how much I’ll have saved by the end of the month and what I’ll be able to afford in Jigsaw.

At lunchtime I take out my sandwich wrapped in foil—and for the first time that day, I feel a bit depressed. The breads gone all soggy, and some pickle’s leaked out onto the foil, and it really doesn’t look very appetizing at all. What I crave at that moment is Pret à Manger walnut bread and a chocolate brownie.

Don’t think about it, I instruct myself firmly. Think how much money you’re saving. So somehow I force myself to eat my soggy effort, and swig down some Peach Herbal Blast. When I’ve finished, I throw away my foil, screw the top back on the Peach Herbal Blast bottle, and put it in our tiny office fridge. And that’s about. . . five minutes of my lunch break gone.

So what am I supposed to do next? Where am I supposed to go?

I slump miserably at my desk. God, this frugality is hard going. I leaf dispiritedly through a few folders . . . then raise my head and stare out of the window, at all the busy Oxford Street shoppers clutching carrier bags. I want to get out there so desper-ately, I’m actually leaning forward in my chair, like a plant toward the light. I’m craving the bright lights and warm air, the racks of merchandise, even the bleep of the cash registers. But I can’t go. This morning I told myself that I wouldn’t go near the shops all day. Ipromised myself—and I can’t break my own promise.

Then a brilliant thought occurs to me. I need to get a curry recipe for my homemade takeaway, don’t I? David E. Barton says recipe books are a waste of money. He says you should use the recipes printed on the sides of food packets, or take books out of the library. But I’ve got an even better idea. I’ll go into Smiths andcopy out a curry recipe to make on Saturday night. That way, I cango into a shop, but I don’t need to spend any money. Already I’m scrambling to my feet, reaching for my coat. Shops, here I come!



As I walk into Smith’s I feel my whole body expand in relief. There’s a thrill about walking into a shop—any shop—which you can’t beat. It’s partly the anticipation, partly the buzzy, welcoming atmosphere, partly just the lovely newness of everything. Shiny new magazines, shiny new pencils, shiny new protractors. Not that I’ve needed a protractor since I was eleven—but don’t they look nice, all clean and unscratched in their packets? There’s a new range of leopard-print stationery that I haven’t seen before, and for a moment I’m almost tempted to linger. But instead I force myself to stride on past, down to the back of the shop where the books are stacked.

There’s a whole array of Indian recipe books, and I pick up one at random, flicking over the pages and wondering what sort of recipe I should go for. I hadn’t realized quite how complicated this Indian cookery is. Perhaps I should write down a couple, to be on the safe side.

I look around cautiously and take out my notebook and pen. I’m a bit wary, because I know Smith’s doesn’t like you copying down stuff out of their books. The reason I know this is because Suze once got asked to leave the Smith’s in Victoria. She was copying out a page of the street atlas, because she’d forgotten hers—and they told her she had to either buy it or leave. (Which doesn’t make any sense, because they let you read the magazines for free, don’t they?)

So anyway, when I’m sure no one’s looking, I start copying out the recipe for “Tiger Prawn Biriani.” I’m halfway through the list of spices when a girl in WHSmith uniform comes round the corner, so I quickly close the book and walk off a little, pretending I’m browsing. When I think I’m safe, I open it again—but before I can write anything down, an old woman in a blue coat says loudly, “Is that any good, dear?”

“What?” I say.

“The book!” She gestures to the recipe book with her umbrella. “I need a present for my daughter-in-law, and she comes from India. So I thought I’d get a nice Indian recipe book. Is that a good one, would you say?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” I say. “I haven’t read it yet.”

“Oh,” she says, and starts to wander off. And I ought to keep my mouth shut and mind my own business—but I just can’t leave it there, I have to clear my throat and say, “Excuse me—but doesn’t she have lots of Indian recipes already?”

“Who, dear?” says the woman, turning round.

“Your daughter-in-law!” Already I’m regretting this. “If she’s Indian, doesn’t she already know how to cook Indian food?”

“Oh,” says the old woman. She seems completely flummoxed. “Well, what should I get, then?”

Oh God.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe a book on . . . on something else?”

“That’s a good idea!” she says brightly, and comes toward me. “You show me, dear.”

“Well,” I say, looking helplessly around the racks of books. “What’s she interested in? Does she . . . have any particular hobby?”

“She likes the fresh air,” says the woman thoughtfully. “Walk-ing in the countryside.”

“Perfect!” I say in relief. “Why not try the travel section for a walking book?”

I point the woman in the right direction, then hurry off to do my copying. I reach the CD and video section, which is always quite empty, and hide behind a rack of Teletubbies videos. I glance around and check no one’s about, then open the book again. Okay, turn to page 214, “Tiger Prawn Biriani” . . . I start copying again, and I’ve just got to the end of the list of spices, when a stern voice says in my ear, “Excuse me?”

I’m so startled, my pen jerks off my notebook and, to myhorror, makes a blue line, straight across a photograph of perfectly cooked basmati rice. Quickly I shift my hand, almost covering up the mark, and turn round innocently. A man in a white shirt and a name badge is looking at me disapprovingly.

“This isn’t a public library, you know,” he says.

“I’m just browsing,” I say hurriedly, and make to close the book. But the man’s finger comes out of nowhere and lands on the page before I can get it shut. Slowly he opens the book out again and we both stare at my blue Biro line.

“Browsing is one thing,” says the man sternly. “Defacing shop stock is another.”

“It was an accident!” I say. “You startled me!”

“Hmm,” says the man, and gives me a hard stare. “Were you actually intending to buy this book? Or any book?”

There’s a pause—then, rather shamefacedly, I say, “No.”

“I see,” says the man, tightening his lips. “Well, I’m afraid this matter will have to go to the manager. Obviously, we can’t sell this book now, so it’s our loss. If you could come with me and explain to her exactly what you were doing when the defacement occurred . . .”

Is he serious? Isn’t he just going to tell me kindly that it doesn’t matter and would I like a loyalty card? My heart starts to thud in panic. What am I going to do? Obviously, I can’t buy the book, under my new frugal regime. But I don’t want to go and see the manager, either.

“Lynn?” the man’s calling to an assistant at the pen counter. “Could you page Glenys for me, please?”

He reallyis serious. He’s looking all pleased with himself, as though he’s caught a shoplifter. Can they prosecute you for making Biro marks in books? Maybe it counts as vandalism. I’ll have a criminal record. I won’t ever be able to go to America.

“Look, I’ll buy it, okay?” I say breathlessly. “I’ll buy the bloody book.” I wrench it from the man’s grasp and hurry off to the checkout before he can say anything else.

Standing at the next checkout is the old woman in the blue coat, and she calls triumphantly, “I took your advice! I’ve got her one of those traveling books. I think she’ll really like it!”

“Oh good,” I reply, handing my recipe book over to be scanned.

“It’s calledThe Rough Guide to India,” says the old woman, showing me the fat blue paperback. “Have you heard of it?”

“Oh,” I say. “Well, yes, but—‘

“That’s £24.99, please,” says the girl at my till.

What? I look at the girl in dismay. Twenty-five quid, just for recipes? Why couldn’t I have picked up some cheap paperback? Damn.Damn. Very reluctantly, I take out my credit card and hand it over. Shopping is one thing, being forced into purchases against your will is something else. I mean, I could have bought some nice underwear with that twenty-five quid.

On the other hand, I think as I walk away, that’s quite a lot of new points on my Club Card. The equivalent to . . . fifty pence! And now I’ll be able to make loads of delicious, exotic curries and save all that wasted takeaway money. Really, I’ve got to think of this book as an investment.



I don’t want to boast, but apart from that one purchase, I do incredibly well over the next couple of days. The only things I buy are a really nice chrome flask to take coffee into the office. (And some coffee beans and an electric grinder.) And some flow-ers and champagne for Suze’s birthday.

But I’m allowed to get those, because, as David E. Barton says, you must treasure your friends. He says the simple act of breaking bread with friends is one of the oldest, most essential parts of human life. “Do not stop giving your friends gifts,” he says. “They need not be extravagant—use your creativity and try making them yourself.”

So I’ve bought Suze a half bottle of champagne instead of a whole one—and instead of buying expensive croissants from thepatisserie, I’m going to make them out of that special dough you get in tubes.

In the evening we’re going out to Terrazza for supper with Suze’s cousins Fenella and Tarquin—and, to be honest, it might be quite an expensive evening. But that’s OK, because it counts as breaking bread with friends. (Except the bread at Terrazza is sun-dried tomato focaccia and costs £4.50 a basket.)



Fenella and Tarquin arrive at six o’clock, and as soon as she sees them, Suze starts squealing with excitement. I stay in my bedroom and finish my makeup, putting off the moment of having to go out and say hello. I’m not that keen on Fenella and Tarquin. In fact, to be honest with you, I think they’re a bit weird. For a start, they look weird. They’re both very skinny, but in a pale, bony way, and have the same slightly protruding teeth. Fenella does make a bit of an effort with clothes and makeup, and doesn’t look too bad. But Tarquin, frankly, looks just like a stoat. Or a weasel. Some bony little creature, anyway. They do strange things, too. They ride around on a tandem and wear matching jumpers knitted by their old nanny and have this family language which no one else can understand. Like they call sandwiches “witchies.” And a drink is a “titchy” (except if it’s water, which is “Ho”). Take it from me, it gets irritating after a while.

But Suze loves them. She spent all her childhood summers with them in Scotland and she just can’t see that they’re a bit strange. The worst thing is, she starts talking about witchies and titchies when she’s with them.

Still, there’s nothing I can do about it—they’re here now. I finish brushing on my mascara and stand up, looking at my reflection. I’m pretty pleased with what I see. I’m wearing a really simple black top and black trousers—and, tied loosely round my neck, my gorgeous, gorgeous Denny and George scarf. God, that was a good buy. It looks fantastic.

I linger a bit, then resignedly open my bedroom door.

“Hi, Bex!” says Suze, looking up with bright eyes. She’s sitting cross-legged on the floor of the corridor, ripping open a present, while Fenella and Tarquin stand nearby, looking on. They’re not wearing matching jumpers today, thank God, but Fenella’s wear-ing a very odd red skirt made out of hairy tweed, and Tarquin’s double-breasted suit looks as if it were tailored during the First World War.

“Hi!” I say, and kiss each of them politely.

“Oh, wow!” cries Suze, as she pulls out a picture in an old gilt frame. “I don’t believe it! I don’tbelieve it!” She’s looking from Tarquin to Fenella with shining eyes, and I look at the picture interestedly over her shoulder. But to be honest, I can’t say I’m impressed. For a start it’s really dingy—all sludgy greens and browns—and for another start, it just shows a horse standing still in a field. I mean, couldn’t it have been jumping over a fence or rearing up or something? Or maybe trotting along in Hyde Park, ridden by a girl in one of those lovelyPride and Prejudice dresses.

“Happy Bad Day!” Tarquin and Fenella chime in unison. (That’s another thing. They call birthdays bad days, ever since . . . Oh God. It really is too boring to explain.)

“It’s absolutely gorgeous!” I say enthusiastically. “Absolutely beautiful!”

“It is, isn’t it?” says Tarquin earnestly. “Just look at those colors.”

“Mmm, lovely,” I say, nodding.

“And the brushwork. It’s exquisite. We were thrilled when we came across it.”

“It’s a really wonderful picture,” I say. “Makes you want to just. . . gallop off over the downs!”

Whatis this drivel I’m coming out with? Why can’t I just be honest and say I don’t like it?

“Do you ride?” says Tarquin, looking up at me in slight surprise.

I’ve ridden once. On my cousin’s horse. And I fell off and vowed never to do it again. But I’m not going to admit that to Mr. Horse of the Year.

“I used to,” I say, and give a modest little smile. “Not very well.”

“I’m sure you’d get back into it,” says Tarquin, gazing at me. “Have you ever hunted?”

Hunted? Little furry foxes? Is he joking?

“Hey,” says Suze, fondly propping the picture against the wall. “Shall we have a titchy before we go?”

“Absolutely!” I say, turning quickly away from Tarquin. “Good idea.”

“Oooh, yes,” says Fenella. “Have you got any champagne?”

“Should have,” says Suze, and goes into the kitchen. At that moment the phone rings and I go to answer it.


“Hello, may I speak to Rebecca Bloomwood?” says a strange woman’s voice.

“Yes,” I say idly. I’m listening to Suze opening and shutting cupboard doors in the kitchen and wondering if we have actually got any champagne, apart from the dregs of the half bottle we drank for breakfast . . . “Speaking.”

“Ms. Bloomwood, this is Erica Parnell from Endwich Bank,” says the voice, and I freeze.

Shit. It’s the bank. Oh God, they sent me that letter, didn’t they, and I never did anything about it.

What am I going to say? Quick, what am I going to say?

“Ms. Bloomwood?” says Erica Parnell.

OK, what I’ll say is, I’m fully aware that my overdraft is slightly larger than it should be, and I’m planning to take reme-dial action within the next few days. Yes, that sounds good. “Remedial action” sounds very good. OK—go.

Firmly I tell myself not to panic—these people are human—and take a big breath. And then, in one seamless, unplanned movement, my hand puts down the receiver.



I stare at the silent phone for a few seconds, not quite able to believe what I’ve just done.What did I do that for? Erica Parnellknew it was me, didn’t she? Any minute, she’ll ring back. She’s probably pressing redial now, and she’ll be really angry . . .

Quickly I take the phone off the hook and hide it under a cushion. Now she can’t get me. I’m safe.

“Who was that?” says Suze, coming into the room.

“No one,” I say, and force a bright smile. I don’t want to spoil Suze’s birthday with my stupid problems. “Just a wrong . . . Listen, let’s not have drinks here. Let’s go out!”

“Oh,” says Suze. “OK!”

“Much more fun,” I gabble, trying to head her away from the phone. “We can go to some really nice bar and have cocktails, and then go on to Terrazza.”

What I’ll do in future, I’m thinking, is screen all my calls. Or answer in a foreign accent. Or, even better, change the number. Go ex-directory.

“What’s going on?” says Fenella, appearing at the door.

“Nothing!” I hear myself say. “We’re going out for a titchy and then on to sups.”

Oh, I don’t believe it. I’m turning into one of them.



As we arrive at Terrazza, I’m feeling a lot calmer. Of course, Erica Parnell will have thought we were cut off by a fault on the line or something. She’ll never have thought I put the phone down on her. I mean, we’re two civilized adults, aren’t we? Adults just don’tdo things like that.

And if I ever meet her, which I hope to God I never do, I’ll just keep very cool and say, “It was odd what happened, that time you phoned me, wasn’t it?” Or even better, I’ll accuseher of putting the phone down onme. (In a jokey way, of course.)

Terrazza is full, buzzing with people and cigarette smoke and chatter, and as we sit down with our huge silver menus I feel myself relax even more. I love eating out. And I reckon I deserve a real treat, after being so frugal over the last few days. It hasn’t been easy, keeping to such a tight regime, but somehow I’vemanaged it. I’m keeping to it so well! On Saturday I’m going to monitor my spending pattern again, and I’m sure it’ll have gone down by at least 70 percent.

“What shall we have to drink?” says Suze. “Tarquin, you choose.”

“Oh, look!” shrieks Fenella. “There’s Eddie Lazenby! I must just say hello.” She leaps to her feet and makes for a balding guy in a blazer, ten tables away. How she spotted him in this throng, I’ve no idea.

“Suze!” cries another voice, and we all look up. A blond girl in a tiny pastel-pink suit is heading toward our table, arms stretched out for a hug. “And Tarkie!”

“Hello, Tory,” says Tarquin, getting to his feet. “How’s Mungo?”

“He’s over there!” says Tory. “You must come and say hello!”

How is it that Fenella and Tarquin spend most of their time in the middle of Perthshire, but the minute they set foot in London, they’re besieged by long-lost friends?

“Eddie says hi,” announces Fenella, returning to the table. “Tory! How are you? How’s Mungo?”

“Oh, he’s fine,” says Tory. “But listen, have you heard? Caspar’s back in town!”

“No!” everyone exclaims, and I’m almost tempted to join in. No one has bothered to introduce me to Tory, but that’s the way it goes. You join the gang by osmosis. One minute you’re a complete stranger, the next you’re shrieking away with the rest of them, going “Did youhear about Venetia and Sebastian?”

“Look, wemust order,” says Suze. “We’ll come and say hello in a minute, Tory.”

“Okay, ciao,” says Tory, and she sashays off.

“Suze!” cries another voice, and a girl in a little black dress comes rushing up. “And Fenny!”

“Milla!” they both cry. “How are you? How’s Benjy?”

Oh God, it just doesn’t stop. Here I am, staring at the menu, pretending to be really interested in the starters but really feel-ing like some utter loser that no one wants to talk to. It’s not fair.Iwant to table-hop, too. I want to bump into old friends I’ve known since babyhood. (Although to be honest, the only person I’ve known that long is Tom from next door, and he’ll be in his limed oak kitchen in Reigate.)

But just in case, I lower my menu and gaze hopefully around the restaurant. Please, God, just once, let there be someone I recognize. It doesn’t have to be anyone I like, or even know that well—just someone I can rush up to and go mwah mwah and shriek, “We must do lunch!” Anyone’ll do. Anyone at all . . .

And then, with a disbelieving thrill, I spot a familiar face, a few tables away! It’s Luke Brandon, sitting at a table with a smartly dressed older man and woman.

Well, he’s not exactly an old friend—but I know him, don’t I? And I so want to table-hop like the others.

“Oh look, there’s Luke!” I shriek (quietly, so he doesn’t hear). “I simplymust go and say hello!”

As the others look at me in surprise, I toss my hair back, leap to my feet, and hurry off, full of a sudden exhilaration. I can do it, too! I’m table-hopping at Terrazza. I’m an It-girl!

It’s only when I get within a few feet of his table that I slow down and wonder what I’m actually going to say to him.

Well . . . I’ll just be polite. Say hello and—ah, genius! I can thank him again for his kind loan of twenty quid.

Shit, I did pay him back, didn’t I?

Yes. Yes, I sent him that nice recycled card with poppies on it and a check. That’s right. Now don’t panic, just be cool and It.

“Hi!” I say as soon as I get within earshot of his table, but the hubbub around us is so loud, he doesn’t hear me. No wonder all Fenella’s friends have got such screechy voices. You need about sixty-five decibels, just to be heard. “Hi!” I try again, louder, but still no response. Luke is talking earnestly to the older man, and the woman’s listening intently. None of them even glances up.

This is getting a bit embarrassing. I’m standing, marooned, being utterly ignored by the person I want to table-hop with. Nobody else ever seems to have this problem. Why isn’t he leap-ing up, shrieking “Have youheard about Foreland Investments?” It’s not fair. What shall I do? Shall I just creep away? Shall I pre-tend I was heading toward the Ladies’?

A waiter barges past me with a tray and I’m pushed helplessly forward, toward Luke’s table—and at that moment, he looks up. He stares at me blankly as though he doesn’t even know who I am, and I feel my stomach give a little flip of dismay. But I’ve got to go through with it now.

“Hi, Luke!” I say brightly. “I just thought I’d say . . . hello!”

“Well, hello,” Luke says eventually. “Mum, Dad, this is Rebecca Bloomwood. Rebecca—my parents.”

Oh God. What have I done? I’ve table-hopped an intimate family gathering. Leave, quick.

“Hello,” I say, and give a feeble smile. “Well, I won’t keep you from . . .”

“So how do you know Luke?” inquires Mrs. Brandon.

“Rebecca is a leading financial journalist,” says Luke, taking a sip of wine. (Is that really what he thinks? Gosh, I must drop that into a conversation with Clare Edwards. And Philip, come to that.)

I grin confidently at Mr. Brandon, feeling like a mover and a shaker. I’m a leading financial journalist hobnobbing with a lead-ing entrepreneur at a leading London restaurant. How cool is that?

“Financial journalist, eh?” grunts Mr. Brandon, and lowers his reading glasses to have a better look at me. “So what doyou think of the chancellor’s announcement?”

I’m never going to table-hop again. Never.

“Well,” I begin confidently, wondering if I could suddenly pretend to spot an old friend across the room.

“Dad, I’m sure Rebecca doesn’t want to talk shop,” says Luke, his lips twitching slightly.

“Quite right!” says Mrs. Brandon, and smiles at me. “That’s a lovely scarf, Rebecca. Is it Denny and George?”

“Yes, it is!” I say brightly, full of relief. “I was so pleased, I got it last week in the sale!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see that Luke Brandon is staring at me with an odd expression. Why? Why is he look-ing so . . .

Oh fuck. How can I be sostupid ?

“In the sale . . . for my aunt,” I continue, trying to think as quickly as I can. “I bought it for my aunt, as a present. But she . . . died.”

There’s a shocked silence and I look down. I can’t quite believe what I’ve just said.

“Oh dear,” says Mr. Brandon gruffly.

“Aunt Ermintrude died?” says Luke in a strange voice.

“Yes,” I reply, forcing myself to look up. “It was terribly sad.”

“How awful!” says Mrs. Brandon sympathetically.

“She was in hospital, wasn’t she?” says Luke, pouring himself a glass of water. “What was wrong with her?”

For an instant I’m silenced.

“It was . . . her leg,” I hear myself say.

“Her leg?” Mrs. Brandon’s staring at me anxiously. “What was wrong with her leg?”

“It . . . swelled up and got septic,” I say after a pause. “And they had to amputate it and then she died.”

“Christ,” says Mr. Brandon, shaking his head. “Bloody doctors.” He gives me a suddenly fierce look. “Did she go private?”

“Umm . . . I’m not sure,” I say, starting to back away. Why didn’t I just say she gave me the bloody scarf? “Anyway, lovely to see you, Luke. Must dash, my friends will be missing me!”

I give a nonchalant kind of wave without quite looking Luke in the eye and then quickly turn round and walk back to Suze, my legs trembling and my fingers twisted tightly by my sides. God, what a fiasco.



I’ve managed to recompose myself by the time our food arrives. The food! I’ve ordered grilled scallops and as I take my first bite, I nearly swoon. After so many torturous days of cheap,functional food, this is like going to heaven. I feel almost tearful—like a prisoner returning to the real world, or children after the war, when rationing stopped. After my scallops I have steak béar-naise and chips—and when all the others say no thanks to the pudding menu, I order chocolate mousse. Because who knows when I’m next going to be in a restaurant like this? There could be months ahead of cheese sandwiches and homemade coffee in a flask, with nothing to relieve the monotony.

While I’m waiting for my chocolate mousse, Suze and Fenella decide they simply must go and talk to Benjy on the other side of the room. So they leap up, both lighting cigarettes as they do so, and Tarquin stays behind to keep me company. He doesn’t seem quite as into table-hopping as the others. In fact, he’s been pretty quiet all evening. I’ve also noticed that he’s drunk more than any of us. Any moment I’m expecting his head to land on the table.

For a while there’s silence between us. To be honest, Tarquin is so weird, I don’t know how to talk to him. Then, suddenly, he says, “Do you like Wagner?”

“Oh yes,” I say at once. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard any Wagner, but I don’t want to sound uncultured. And I have been to the opera before, though I think that was Mozart.

“ ‘The Liebestod’ fromTristan,” he says, and shakes his head. “ ‘The Liebestod.’ ”

“Mmm,” I say, and nod in what I hope is an intelligent manner. I pour myself some wine, fill his glass up, too, and look around to see where Suze has got to. Typical of her just to disap-pear off and leave me with her drunken cousin.

“Dah-dah-dah-dah, daaaah dah dah . . .”

Oh my God, now he’s singing. Not loudly, but really intensely. And he’s staring into my eyes as though he expects me to join in.

“Dah-dah-dah-dah . . .”

Now he’s closed his eyes and is swaying. This is getting embarrassing.

“Da diddle-idy da-a-da-a daaaah dah . . .”

“Lovely,” I say brightly. “You can’t beat Wagner, can you?”

“Tristan,”he says.“Und Isolde.” He opens his eyes. “You’d make a beautiful Isolde.”

I’d make awhat ? While I’m still staring at him, he lifts my hand to his lips and starts kissing it. For a few seconds I’m too shocked to move.

“Tarquin,” I say as firmly as I can, trying to pull my hand away. “Tarquin, please—” I look up and desperately scan the room for Suze—and, as I do so, meet the eye of Luke Brandon, making his way out of the restaurant. He frowns slightly, lifts his hand in farewell, then disappears out of the door.

“Your skin smells like roses,” murmurs Tarquin against my skin.

“Oh, shut up!” I say crossly, and yank my hand out of his grasp so hard I get a row of teeth marks on my skin. “Just leave me alone!”

I would slap him, but he’d probably take it as a come-on.

Just then, Suze and Fenella arrive back at the table, full of news about Binky and Minky—and Tarquin reverts into silence. And for the rest of the evening, even when we say good-bye, he barely looks at me. Thank God. He must have got the message.

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