An Innocent Affair

By: Kim Lawrence
CHAPTER ONE




‘AUNT Beth didn’t cry at all.’ There was implied criticism in the soft voice. ‘I always cry at weddings.’

Hope didn’t think the lace-edged handkerchief her fellow guest shook gently would have been much serious use. On closer scrutiny she couldn’t detect any tell-tale smears in the smooth, matt make-up.

‘Including your own, I expect.’ She regretted the dry comment the moment she made it; the shaky condition of her cousin’s marriage was well known. The trouble was she didn’t like Tricia and never had; she was shallow, pretentious and totally lacking in spontaneity. Being in her company solidly for the past half-hour had worn her tolerance level down.

‘Roger is in Geneva; he has business there.’ The brittle defences were clearly on show. ‘I miss him, but I don’t expect you to understand about the special closeness marriage brings.’

Hope let the insult wash over her; she’d weathered worse over the past weeks. Besides, this time she’d deserved a reprimand. You’re a cow, Hope Lacey, Hope told herself with disgust. Roger’s ‘business’ was a ten-years-younger version of his wife, and everyone knew it. Two bright patches of colour had emerged on her cousin’s cheeks.

‘Then we’ll have to take lots of pictures to show Roger how gorgeous you look, won’t we?’ she said, her generous personality reasserting itself. ‘Smile,’ she instructed brightly. ‘Anna has instructed me to point this thing at everything that moves. She insists that the official photos never give an accurate impression of any occasion. Too cosmetic.’

‘Anna always has been a bit odd.’

Hope bit back the instinctive scathing retort that hovered on her tongue. ‘Well, she certainly has appalling timing. Fancy giving birth to twins twelve hours before your sister gets married.’

Hope knew that Anna’s absence had been the one cloud on Lindy’s horizon today. The triplets had a close relationship, and on today of all days Rosalind had wanted them all to be together.

‘Twins!’ Tricia shuddered, and from her expression Hope instinctively knew she was about to receive a detailed history of her cousin’s own labour.

‘Well, it’s less dramatic than triplets.’ Hope heroically fixed an interested expression on her face as Tricia launched into a detailed account. She found it hard to keep the glazed look from her eyes.

The story she was hearing didn’t do much for her own maternal instincts, such as they were! It could be I’m meant to be a maiden aunt, she reflected. Her smile faltered. Tricia hadn’t even got to the part where her waters broke yet. This might be a long haul! Look on it as penance for that catty remark, Hope, she told herself severely. Poor Tricia. Considering how many women she knew who, like Tricia, were hanging on for grim death to the shreds of miserable marriages, she wondered that the institution was so popular.

Twenty minutes later Hope had her long silk skirts in one hand and a fortifying glass of champagne in the other. She was heading towards the small marquee set on her parents’ lawn from where the foot-tapping music emanated.

Her attention was diverted before she’d reached her destination. He wasn’t the tallest figure standing in the small group, but he was easily the most arresting. As he began to speak, using his hands to emphasise a point—no wide, sweeping gestures for this man; his hands inscribed economic, precise gestures in the air—Hope pulled the camera from around her neck and began clicking.

When he turned his head and looked directly at her, for once Hope’s poise deserted her. She turned quickly away, guilty as a child caught spying on her elders.

Great move, she silently cursed, trying to ram the lens cap back onto the camera. ‘Damn thing!’ She bent down on the damp ground, trying to recapture the item.

‘Can I help?’

They both reached for the lens cover at the same instant, and her fingers touched the tips of a much stronger pair of hands. Hands that matched the powerful image of the man, with neatly manicured square fingernails. The hands of an artisan and not a philosopher. It was the impression of immense strength Alex Matheson emanated that had first caught her attention. She fleetingly imagined the intense vitality he exuded had transferred itself along the nerve-endings in her fingertips.

‘Thank you.’ She turned her hand palm-up to receive the cap. ‘It doesn’t belong to me,’ she explained with a warm smile.

There was none of the immediate recognition on his face that Hope was accustomed to. She was one of an elite band of international supermodels, and her face made her public property. Strangers always made a big thing of identifying her, and after the unpleasant media coverage she’d received just lately there couldn’t be many people in the country who didn’t know who she was. At least he wasn’t condemning her out of hand, the way a lot of strangers did, which disposed Hope to think well of him.

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