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Chapter 14

A TAXI IS CHUGGING OUTSIDE in the road, and Tarquin ushers me inside. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed it isn’t a chauffeur-driven limousine—but still. This is pretty good, too. Being whisked off in a taxi by one of Britain’s most eligible bache-lors to . . . who knows where? The Savoy? Claridges? Dancing at Annabel’s? Tarquin hasn’t told me yet where we’re going.

Oh God, maybe it’ll be one of those mad places where every-thing is served under a silver dome and there’s a million knives and forks and snooty waiters looking on, just waiting to catch you out.

“I thought we’d just have a nice quiet supper,” says Tarquin, looking over at me.

“Lovely,” I say. “Nice quiet supper. Perfect.”

Thank God. That probably means we’re not heading for silver domes. We’re going to some tiny tucked-away place that hardly anyone knows about. Some little private club where you have to knock on an anonymous-looking door in a back street, and you get inside and it’s packed with celebrities sitting on sofas, behaving like normal people. Yes! And maybe Tarquin knows them all!

But of course he knows them all. He’s a multimillionaire, isn’t he?

I look out of the window and see that we’re driving past Harrods. And for just a moment, my stomach tightens painfully as I remember the last time I was here. Bloody suitcases. Bloody Luke Brandon. Huh. In fact, I wish he was walking along the road right now, so I could give him a careless, I’m-with-the-fifteenth-richest-single-man-in-Britain wave.

“OK,” says Tarquin suddenly to the taxi driver. “You can drop us here.” He grins at me. “Practically on the doorstep.”

“Great,” I say, and reach for the door.

Practically on the doorstep of where? As I get out I look around, wondering where on earth we’re going. We’re at Hyde Park Corner. What’s at Hyde Park Corner? I turn round slowly, and glimpse a sign—and suddenly I realize what’s going on. We’re going to the Lanesborough!

Wow. How classy is that? Dinner at the Lanesborough. But naturally. Where else would one go on a first date?

“So,” says Tarquin, appearing at my side. “I just thought we could get a bite to eat and then . . . see.”

“Sounds good,” I say, as we start walking.

Excellent! Dinner at the Lanesborough and then on to some glam nightclub. This is all shaping up wonderfully.

We walk straight past the entrance to the Lanesborough, but I’m not fazed by that. Everyone knows VIPs always go in through the back to avoid the paparazzi. Not that I can actually see any paparazzi, but it probably becomes a habit. We’ll duck into some back alley, and walk through the kitchens while the chefs pretend they can’t see us, and then emerge in the foyer. This is so cool.

“I’m sure you’ve been here before,” says Tarquin apologeti-cally. “Not the most original choice.”

“Don’t be silly!” I say, as we stop and head toward a pair of glass doors. “I simply adore . . .”

Hang on, where are we? This isn’t the back entrance to anywhere. This is . . .

Pizza on the Park.

Tarquin’s taking me to Pizza Express. I don’t believe it. The fifteenth richest man in the country is taking me to bloody Pizza Express.

“. . . pizza,” I finish weakly. “Love the stuff.”

“Oh good!” says Tarquin. “I thought we probably didn’t want anywhere too flashy.”

“Oh no.” I pull what I think is a very convincing face. “I hate flashy places. Much better to have a nice quiet pizza together.”

“That’s what I thought,” says Tarquin, turning to look at me. “But now I feel rather bad. You’ve dressed up so nicely . . .” He pauses doubtfully, gazing at my outfit. (As well he might. I didn’t go and spend a fortune in Whistles for Pizza Express.) “I mean, if you wanted to, we could go somewhere a bit smarter. The Lanesborough’s just around the corner . . .”

He raises his eyes questioningly, and I’m about to say “Oh, yes, please!” when suddenly, in a blinding flash, I realize what’s going on. This is a test, isn’t it? It’s like choosing out of three caskets in a fairy tale. Everyone knows the rules. You never choose the gold shiny one. Or even the quite impressive silver one. What you’re supposed to do is choose the dull little lead one, and then there’s a flash of light and it turns into a mountain of jewels. So this is it. Tarquin’s testing me, to see whether I like him for himself.

Which, frankly, I find rather insulting. I mean, who does he think I am?

“No, let’s stay here,” I say, and touch his arm briefly. “Much more relaxed. Much more . . . fun.”

Which is actually quite true. And I do like pizza. And that yummy garlic bread. Mmm. You know, now I come to think about it, this is quite a good choice.



As the waiter hands us our menus, I give a cursory flash down the list, but I already know what I want. It’s what I always havewhen I go to Pizza Express—Fiorentina. The one with spinach and an egg. I know, it sounds weird, but honestly, it’s delicious.

“Would you like an aperitif?” says the waiter, and I’m about to say what I usually do, which is Oh, let’s just have a bottle of wine, when I think, Sod it, I’m having dinner with a multi-millionaire here. I’m bloody well going to have a gin and tonic.

“A gin and tonic,” I say firmly, and look at Tarquin, daring him to look taken aback. But he grins at me and says, “Unless you wanted champagne?”

“Oh,” I say, completely thrown.

“I always think champagne and pizza is a good combination,” he says, and looks at the waiter. “A bottle of Moet, please.”

Well, this is more like it. This is a lot more like it. Champagne and pizza. And Tarquin is actually being quite normal.

The champagne arrives and we toast each other and take a few sips. I’m really starting to enjoy myself. Then I spot Tarquin’s bony hand edging slowly toward mine on the table. And in a reflex action—completely without meaning to—I whip my fingers away, pretending I have to scratch my ear. A flicker of disappoint-ment passes over his face and I find myself giving a really fake, embarrassed cough and looking intently at a picture on the wall to my left.

I can do this, I tell myself firmly. Ican be attracted to him. It’s just a matter of self-control and possibly also getting very drunk. So I lift my glass and take several huge gulps. I can feel the bubbles surging into my head, singing happily “I’m going to be a millionaire’s wife! I’m going to be a millionaire’s wife!” And when I look back at Tarquin, he already seems a bit more attractive (in a stoaty kind of way). Alcohol is obviously going to be the key to our marital happiness.

My head is filled with a happy vision of our wedding day. Me in some wonderful designer dress; my mum and dad looking on proudly. No more money troubles ever.Ever. The fifteenth richest man in the country. A house in Belgravia. Mrs. Tarquin Cleath-Stuart. Just imagining it, I feel almost faint with longing.

I smile as warmly as I can at Tarquin, who hesitates—then smiles back. Phew. I haven’t wrecked things. It’s all still on. Now we just need to discover that we’re utter soul mates with loads of things in common.

“I love the—” I say.

“Do you—”

We both speak at once.

“Sorry,” I say. “Do carry on.”

“No,you carryon,” says Tarquin.

“Oh,” I say. “Well. . . I was just going to say again how much I love the picture you gave Suze.” No harm in complimenting his taste again. “I love horses,” I add for good measure.

“Then we should go riding together,” says Tarquin. “I know a very good livery near Hyde Park. Not quite the same as in the country, of course . . .”

“What a wonderful idea!” I say. “That would be such fun!”

There’s no way anyone’s getting me on a horse. Not even in Hyde Park. But that’s OK, I’ll just go along with the plan and then, on the day, say I’ve twisted my ankle or something.

“Do you like dogs?” asks Tarquin.

“I love dogs,” I say confidently.

Which is sort of true. I wouldn’t actually like to have a dog—too much hard work and hairs everywhere. But I like seeing Labradors running across the park. And cute little puppies. That kind of thing.

We lapse into silence, and I take a few sips of champagne.

“Do you likeEastEnders ?” I ask eventually. “Or are you a . . . aCoronation Street person?”

“I’ve never watched either, I’m afraid,” says Tarquin apolo-getically. “I’m sure they’re very good.”

“Well . . . they’re OK,” I say. “Sometimes they’re really good, and other times . . .” I tail off a bit feebly, and smile at him. “You know.”

“Absolutely,” exclaims Tarquin, as though I’ve said something really interesting.

There’s another awkward silence. This is getting a bit sticky.

“Are there good shops, where you live in Scotland?” I say at last. Tarquin pulls a little face.

“I wouldn’t know. Never go near shops if I can help it.”

“Oh right,” I say, and take a deep gulp of champagne. “No, I . . . I hate shops, too. Can’tstand shopping.”

“Really?” says Tarquin in surprise. “I thought all girls loved shopping.”

“Not me!” I say. “I’d far rather be . . . out on the moors, riding along. With a couple of dogs running behind.”

“Sounds perfect,” says Tarquin, smiling at me. “We’ll have to do it sometime.”

This is more like it! Common interests. Shared pursuits.

And OK, maybe I haven’t been completely honest, maybe they aren’t exactly my interests at the moment. But they could be. Theycan be. I can easily get to like dogs and horses, if I have to.

“Or . . . or listening to Wagner, of course,” I say casually.

“Do you really like Wagner?” says Tarquin. “Not everyone does.”

“Iadore Wagner,” I insist. “He’s my favorite composer.” OK, quick—what did that book say? “I love the . . . er . . . sonorous melodic strands which interweave in the Prelude.”

“The Prelude to what?” says Tarquin interestedly.

Oh shit. Is there more than one Prelude? I take a gulp of champagne, playing for time, desperately trying to recall some-thing else from the book. But the only other bit I can remember is “Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig.”

“All the Preludes,” I say at last. “I think they’re all. . . fab.”

“Right,” says Tarquin, looking a bit surprised.

Oh God. That wasn’t the right thing to say, was it? Change the subject. Change the subject.

Luckily, at that moment, a waiter arrives with our garlic bread, and we can get off the subject of Wagner. And Tarquin orders some more champagne. Somehow, I think we’re going to need it.



Which means that by the time I’m halfway through my Fiorentina, I’ve drunk almost an entire bottle of champagne and I’m . . . Well, frankly, I’m completely pissed. My face is tingling and my eyes are sparkling, and my arm gestures are a lot more erratic than usual. But this doesn’t matter. In fact, being pissed is agood thing—because it means I’m also delightfully witty and lively and am more-or-less carrying the conversation single-handedly. Tarquin is also pissed, but not as much as me. He’s got quieter and quieter, and kind of thoughtful. And he keeps gazing at me.

As I finish my last scraps of pizza and lean back pleasurably he stares at me silently for a moment, then reaches into his pocket and produces a little box.

“Here,” he says. “This is for you.”

I have to admit, for one heart-stopping moment I think, This is it! He’s proposing!

But of course, he’s not proposing, is he? He’s just giving me a little present.

I knew that.

So I open it, and find a leather box, and inside is a little gold brooch in the shape of a horse. Lots of fine detail; beautifully crafted. A little green stone (emerald?) for the eye.

Reallynot my kind of thing.

“It’s gorgeous,” I breathe in awe. “Absolutely . . . stunning.”

“It’s rather jolly, isn’t it?” says Tarquin. “Thought you’d like it.”

“Iadore it.” I turn it over in my fingers then look up at him and blink a couple of times with misty eyes. God, I’m drunk. I think I’m actually seeing through champagne. “This is so thought-ful of you,” I murmur.

Plus, I don’t really wear brooches. I mean, where are you supposed to put them? Slap bang in the middle of a really nice top? I mean, come on. And they always leave great brooch-holes everywhere.

“It’ll look lovely on you,” says Tarquin after a pause—and suddenly I realize he’s expecting me to put it on.

Aaargh! It’ll ruin my lovely Whistles dress! And who wants a horse galloping across their tits, anyway!

“I must put it on,” I say, and open the clasp. Gingerly, I thread it through the fabric of my dress and clasp it shut, already feeling it pull the dress out of shape.

“It looks wonderful,” says Tarquin, meeting my gaze. “But then . . . you always look wonderful.”

I feel a dart of apprehension as I see him leaning forward. He’s going to try and hold my hand again, isn’t he? And probably kiss me. I glance at Tarquin’s lips—parted and slightly moist—and give an involuntary shudder. Oh God. I’m not quite ready for this. I mean, obviously Ido want to kiss Tarquin, of course I do. In fact, I find him incredibly attractive. It’s just . . . I think I need some more champagne first.

“That scarf you were wearing the other night,” says Tarquin. “It was simply stunning. I looked at you in that, and I thought . . .”

Now I can see his hand edging toward mine.

“My Denny and George scarf!” I cut in brightly, before he can say anything else. “Yes, that’s lovely, isn’t it? It was my aunt’s, but she died. It was really sad, actually.”

Just keep talking, I think. Keep talking brightly and gesture a lot.

“But anyway, she left me her scarf,” I continue hurriedly. “So I’ll always remember her through that. Poor Aunt Ermintrude.”

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