It is common knowledge that a single man in possession of a good fortune MUST be in want of a wife.
Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice
He didn't love her, of that he was certain. It seemed to be merely intense admiration that a woman of forty-four could retain her slender figure. At twenty-two, he knew that people would think him capable of fancying anything. Yet it wasn't just that, he enjoyed the dynamic they shared, the escapism from his everyday life. Each time he tried to picture a scenario where he put an end to things, they couldn't carry on, yet every time he saw her, his will would weaken and as she approached him, he knew that all he had to do was to get one whiff of her perfume and he was all hers. He wasn't gullible; he knew that she was a temptress who enjoyed getting what she wanted. He was completely at her mercy, her slave almost… Just as she like it; and, he knew full well, just as HE did too.
It sounded like a phone ringing, he couldn't be certain as his brain wasn't fully awake although his body was fully conscious of the sound. He stirred as the noise persisted and forced his brain to engage. It was a phone, his mobile to be exact, wherever that was. Slowly, he let an arm fall to his side and clumsily felt for his trouser pocket, finally retrieving it. It bleated at him demandingly, slowly adjusting his eyes, he was able to make out the collar ID; "Mum calling" it said. Groaning, he debated for a short while whether or not to answer it then grimaced as he thought of the repercussions if he didn't; Lady Tabitha St James wasn't known for her tactfulness. Slowly, he head still pounding slightly, he answered it.
'Oh hello darling! Did I wake you?'
Mark St James winced at the sarcasm in her voice, 'No…No I was awake anyway.' She can hear I wasn't, why do I bother? He thought suddenly.
'Oh good! I just thought I'd phone you to let you know that we're having a soiree at our place tonight.'
Soiree? Not dinner or party, soiree. He supressed a sigh, 'Right.'
'So I'll see you tonight at eight.'
'Yeah, sure. What is it? A business deal?'
Mark's father was an investor, he invested in thousands of well-known companies all that had done well and he himself was well respected, something he hoped his son would take up. Mark had initially been dubious at following in his father's footsteps, but had decided that there was no harm in trying, besides it wasn't like speculating. It was a calculating job, one that required common sense and excellent judgment, qualities he had found, to his surprise, that he possessed. Still, he dragged himself back to the present and found his mother still talking.
'Yes dear! And your father would love for you to be at his side, after all, it's all good experience isn't it?'
'Yes Mother! I suppose I'll have to bring someone then.'
'Oh no need dear! That's all sorted.'
He frowned, 'What do you mean it's all sorted?'
'Oh just wait and see dear.'
'Mother… You're not matchmaking again are you?'
'Wait and see!' His mother repeated patiently. 'Anyway, I must go, I have to help your Father. See you later dear.'
'Yes but…' It was too late though, his mother had gone. Mark sighed as he placed his mobile on the bedside table, suddenly he heard stirring beside him and felt soft lips brush against his back, shoulder and finally neck.
'Hey! Who was that?'
He turned round to face his lover, Christine was forty-six and although she wasn't an "obvious beauty" so to speak she was the sort of person who was very attractive, especially the eyes, they were of a deep sea blue and Mark found he could just lose himself in them. He often wondered whether she was gifted with the skill of natural hypnosis, he had met her while partially drunk, intending on her to be a one-night stand and they were still together two years later. Despite the twenty year age gap, she didn't look her age and Mark found that it was easy to forget, in other ways, she was a real treat. Being a lot older, she was very experienced in certain areas and he occasionally worried about her becoming fed up with this "casual agreement" and going off elsewhere but so far, she had never complained and seemed perfectly content.
Looking at her now he sighed and rolled onto his back and smiled as she nestled her head into his chest, 'Oh just her Ladyship.'
Christine smiled, 'Oh… Your Mother.'
'Yeah! She's at it again.'
'Yep!' He stroked her hair, 'I expect I shall go through the motions so to speak.'
She grinned and looked at him, 'What like last time?'
'Hey! I didn't do that deliberately! It's not my fault she fell for me, I was just being nice.'
'Yeah but even so, it was cruel to let her hope.'
'Oh god!' He groaned, 'Why does every woman think that just because a guy is nice to them that means that he fancies them??'
Christine laughed and nestled her head onto his chest, 'Well, everyone has to have a dream.' She hesitated and looked at him, 'Look, maybe it's best if I don't come.'
'What d'you mean? Of course you're coming!'
'Oh yes? How would that look? "Hi Mum! Oh by the way, do you know my girlfriend who's twenty years older than me?'
'Fourteen.' Mark corrected, smiling slightly, 'You don't want to age yourself unnecessarily do you?'
'Oh you know what I mean!'
'Look.' He cupped her face, 'I swear, nothing like that will happen, why would I want anyone else? Especially when you're so…. Experienced.' He grinned saucily.
She grinned seductively back, 'I can take the hint.' With that, he laughed in surprise as she pushed him onto his back and promptly begun to demonstrate just how experienced she was.
Mark drove to his parents in a relatively calm mood, he was used to their "dinners." Apparently, the guests were old friends; he'd never met them before. He slowed down as he approached the house, remembering their conversation;
'So… Just remind me, who are these people?'
His mother had smiled, 'Oh they're associates of your father dear.'
'I've never heard of them.'
'No, that's because they've been in Yorkshire for a few years but now they've moved back.'
'Oh! How come?'
Lady Tabitha smiled wryly, 'It was contracted work and the contract's finished, we receive a lump sum as your father invested in the business to help them out, that was how we met.'
Mark frowned, 'I don't remember that!'
'No, you were very young.'
His mother smiled, 'Anyway! They have a daughter about your age and…'
'Well, let's wait and see shall we mother?' He replied, rolling his eyes.
Christine drove to the house in utter silence. Every now and then, she put a hand to her chest, indigestion. She always suffered indigestion when she was nervous. Her sister had texted her to let her know that they would all meet at the St James'. When she had first heard of it, her mouth had gone dry and she felt panic grip her chest. He was bound to be there, how were they supposed to act normally? What's more, she had never been given the chance to warn him that she was part of the party. Finally, she looked up and saw the house, feeling a stab of familiarity and her palms begun to sweat, he wouldn't be pleased at all.
Mark rubbed his knuckles against the palm of his hand; he wasn't looking forward to the evening one bit. On the other hand, if she was attractive, it might ease things a bit. He shook his head vigorously, he'd never been the kind to even entertain unfaithful thoughts let alone act upon them. Suddenly he heard the doorbell go and groaned silently to himself. His Mother rushed passed him,
'That'll be them!' She turned anxiously to him, 'You look very nice dear!'
'So do you Mum!'
He laughed, 'Calm down Mum! It'll be fine.'
'Oh I know!'
'He's right darling!' Mark turned as his father strolled in, 'The whole idea is to create a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.'
'…And marry me off while you're at it.' Mark couldn't resist adding drily.
'I assure you son that the thought never crossed our minds.' His father replied with a small smile.
'Wow! This house is amazing!' Siobhan looked up at it in amazement then turned and grinned at her aunt 'Isn't it Christine?'
Christine forced herself to smile, 'Yes! It's lovely.' She wasn't listening though, all the time she was playing the scenario in her head, but she had a feeling that it wouldn't be as she planned. He would be furious she knew, but that wasn't her fault! She knew that perhaps she should have told her family about their affair but she just couldn't bring herself to say; after all, they would tease her about having a "toy-boy" just the thought of him being labelled as such a thing made the whole thing seem so degrading. She was well aware of who he was and she didn't want to humiliate him either, now they were in this mess.
'Do you know anything about them Auntie Christine?'
She shook herself and turned to her niece, 'Sorry what were you saying dear?'
Siobhan smiled, 'I was just wondering if you knew anything about them.'
'Only that your father has been working very closely with them for a while now.'
'I wonder if he is good looking…'
Despite herself, Christine couldn't help smiling, 'I thought you were intent on becoming a staunched feminist!'
Her niece shrugged, 'A girl can change her mind.'
Mark was in his room reading when he heard the doorbell go, he sighed as he heard his mother call out,
'Darling! They're here!!'
He forced himself off the bed and headed downstairs. He could here talking and laughing and groaned to himself. No doubt his parents had given him the red carpet treatment. Slowly, he headed into the lounge; his mother turned to him and beamed.
'Oh there you are darling! Come in!'
As he did so, he suddenly found himself face to face with a very attractive girl who smiled at him with complete confidence, 'Hello!'
He smiled back, 'Hello!'
'Darling allow me to introduce Siobhan Manners.'
'How do you do?'
'How do you do?'
'…And these are her parents of course!'
Mark smiled and shook their hands, 'How do you do?'
Siobhan's father smiled, 'We've heard a lot about you young man.' Mark just smiled politely as he continued, 'Oh! By the way, I hope you don't mind but we've brought my sister-in-law.'
Mrs Manners smiled, 'Oh yes! She didn't want to come but we thought…'
'Oh no! Of course! She's very welcome!'
Mark smiled, ready to greet the new arrival but, as soon as she stepped in front of him, he suddenly went numb and his head spun. Was this some sort of bad joke? She was standing in front of him, smiling apologetically. He continued to stare at her when he realised that his behaviour was starting to become a bit suspect. Forcing himself to smile, he held out a hand,
'Pleased to meet you.'
'You too.' She replied.
There was an awkward silence then his father spoke, 'Well, shall we all start with an aperitif?'
Christine stood outside, smoking. She appeared perfectly cool on the outside, but inside she was tense and unsure.
'I thought you'd given up.'
She whipped round to see Mark approaching her, 'Jesus Mark!' She snapped.
'Well, I think I've got every reason to be don't you?'
'Hey! Don't take it out on me, how am I expected to know all my Father's associates?'
'I'd've thought as the "heir" he would have given you some inkling, or did he not think you responsible enough?' She winced at her harsh words.
Well, you could've at least told me about your niece!'
'You never asked!'
Christine watched him pace angrily and bit her lip, 'Well, I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.'
He glared at her, 'Sorry… have you just lost the thread of what's going on? They are trying to set me up with your niece!'
'Yes! I realise that!'
Mark slapped his head angrily, 'Why did you have to be so bloody cagey about your family eh?'
She glared at him, 'I wasn't! You asked about them and I said I had a sister and a niece.'
'Yes but maybe if you'd told me their full names…'
'Oh? And their address and telephone number? What about credit card numbers and bank statements?' She jumped in sarcastically.
Mark just glared at her and shook his head, 'Well… What am I supposed to bloody do now?'
'I'll explain, I'll tell them everything.' She went up to him and slipped her arms around his neck, 'Maybe this is the chance we've been waiting for.'
A feeling of dread crept over him, 'What are you talking about?'
'Well… maybe we should go public.'
He stared at her as if she'd just spoken another language, '…What?!'
'Well, we can say that we're together.'
'Yes! Great idea! That's what we'll do, we'll march in there together and announce that we're together.'
'Have you a better idea then?'
He paused, he knew that his parents were expecting a lot from him, maybe this was how it was supposed to be, he turned to her, 'Look… perhaps… perhaps this is for the best…'
She paled, 'Wait… Wh-what are you saying?'
'Look… This was great, but maybe it was foolish to think that it could go on. Besides, you're niece seems like a nice girl.'
'Yes well… She has youth on her side.' Christine muttered, feeling a stab of jealousy.
'Hey! Hey!' He smiled and went up to her, 'There's no need to be jealous, I'm just trying to think practically.'
She looked at him. Despite his youth, there were times when he seemed positively middle-aged, 'Alright! We'll do it your way.'
'Good! Come on! Let's meet your niece.'
'I'm afraid I don't know much about our history, only that our parents work together.'
'Well, temporarily.' Mark smiled at her, 'You see, my father's job consists of investing in failing business and helping to build them back up again.'
'Really?' Her eyes shone with admiration.
'And so you saved my father's?'
'Well, hold on…' He laughed, 'It isn't as glamorous as you think.'
'Well, I think it's wonderful, after all it's a bit of a gamble isn't it?'
'Well, not if you know what you're doing.'
'Yes but even so…' She smiled, ' I just think it's great when a business helps out, even if they do get something out of it.'
He laughed, 'What about you then? What do you do?'
'I work for the local hospice.'
That took him back, 'Wow! Children?'
'Yes! It's hard work but so rewarding.'
'It must be.'
'Yeah I mean it's just priceless to see their faces when you play with them and make them feel better you know?'
He nodded eagerly.
While all this was going on, Christine was watching them with slight consternation. She was watching their body language and realised that she had to intervene, she forced a smile,
'Sorry to interrupt but more wine dear?'
Siobhan smiled, 'Thanks! We were just talking about investing and the hospice.'
'Ah! Yes!' She smiled, 'Maybe Mark could invest in the hospice?'
Mark smiled, 'Well, I would help in any way I could.'
Siobhan smiled at him and sipped her wine.
'Thanks for a lovely evening.' Siobhan's parents' smiled at Mark's.
'Oh it was our pleasure.' Lady Tabitha smiled back then turned to Siobhan, 'And it was absolutely lovely meeting you my dear!'
Siobhan smiled then turned to Mark, 'This was lovely, maybe I'll see you around?'
He nodded and smiled warmly, 'Yes! Maybe you will.'
'If I need any advice about my investments.'
He laughed, 'Absolutely! Well… Good night!'
Mark smiled, 'It was an absolute pleasure.'
'It was for me too.'
'Good night!' He turned to his Mother, 'I'm sorry to sound so anti-social Mother but I must get back, I have an early start to-morrow.'
'Of course darling!' Lady Tabitha smiled, 'Good night.'
'Good night dad.'
His father smiled, 'Good night!'
Lady Tabitha turned to Christine, 'And it was a pleasure meeting you, you're niece does all of you credit.'
Christine forced herself to smile, 'Yes! We have high hopes for her.'
'I can imagine.'
'Well… Good night, thank you for a lovely evening!'
'Good night! And it was a pleasure.'
As both of them turned away and walked down the steps, Lady Tabitha was suddenly struck with an idea and rushed down towards Siobhan, 'Siobhan! Wait a moment.'
'Well… That was interesting.' Christine added as they walked up the steps of Mark's apartment.
'Yes! I could have done without the ambush though.' Mark muttered.
She bit her lip, 'I'm sorry! If I'd have known…'
'I mean… I was just as surprised as…'
'Christine! It's fine.'
'Alright.' She smiled, 'Anyway…' Slowly, she slipped her arms around his neck in a seductive manner.
Mark sighed, 'Christine, I'm exhausted.'
'Yes, I hate these dinners, they're so conservative and emotionally draining besides I have an early start to-morrow.'
However, she didn't seem to be listening and leaned in to kiss him deeply.
Mark stiffened then melted into her embrace before breaking away, 'Someone might see.' He whispered.
'We'd better go inside then.'
Mark groaned as he heard his phone bleep, a text message this time. It was Sunday for god's sake, who would be contacting him on a Saturday? Beside him, Christine stirred and he felt her snuggle up to his back, her nipples rubbing against his skin. He smiled and nuzzled further into the pillow, suddenly, he heard his mobile bleep again. He groaned and reached for it only to find that it wasn't there.
'Oh, so you swapped numbers then.'
He sighed and rolled over to face Christine, 'Obviously, unless your niece is psychic.'
'Oh don't look at me like that!'
'What? I wasn't looking at you like anything.'
'Yes you were! Look, I'm just being friendly.'
'Yes and I know the sort of "friendly" she's got in mind.'
He smiled and begun to kiss her neck, working his way downwards, 'Tell me, does your sister normally make a habit of matchmaking ?'
'When she can.'
'Yes…' He stopped and she sighed contently and rested against the pillows, 'Anyway let's see what she's got to say…' Christine frowned slightly and pushed a hand through her hair, 'She's wondering if I'd like to meet up for a coffee, quite forthright isn't she?'
'It runs in the family.'
'Yes! Obviously!' He took the phone back and glanced at the text, 'Well, I suppose it couldn't hurt.'
'You do realise she's attracted to you don't you?'
'Look, there's no harm in meeting up as friends and if it goes any further I'll tell her.'
'Oh of course, that won't make it seem as if you're leading her on at all.'
He kissed her breasts softly, 'I can handle it, trust me.'
Siobhan nervously checked herself in the mirror, she had initially been unsure about asking him out for a coffee but she had thought why not after a fashion. After all, this wasn't the nineteenth century! They had agreed to meet up at the Café. Slowly, she looked at herself in the mirror and breathed out slowly. Looking at her watch, she saw that she had better get going.
Mark checked his e-mails again then looked at himself in the mirror, he knew how to play it; cool and non-committal. At the back of his mind, he knew that if he was attracted to her, it would be more of a problem and although he thought her a very nice girl, he just didn't feel anything for her. Anyway, he looked at his watch, he was going to be late. Suddenly he heard his doorbell. Frowning, he went to answer it.
'You look very smart!' Christine stood on the door step, smiling at him.
'Christine! What are you doing here? I'm supposed to be meeting your niece in a minute.'
'Oh yeah! I know, I was just thinking perhaps we could go together? You know, if you're going to be part of the family.'
He stared at her then groaned, 'Christine please! I don't have time for your jealousy.'
She glared at him, 'Who said I was jealous?'
'Look, it's just a drink, don't you want me to be nice to your family?'
She paused then sighed, 'Yeah of course I do but…'
He kissed her softly, 'It's just a drink, I promise.'
Siobhan was busy scribbling in her pad, every now and then; she stopped and looked at the tree across the street and swapped crayons.
'I had no idea you were so good at drawing!'
She jumped and looked up at Mark who was smiling at her, 'Oh, you made me jump!'
'That's very good!'
'Oh, the kids love drawing and luckily I can so…'
'May I?' Siobhan smiled and handed the pad over to him, 'Wow! These are amazing!'
'Oh well, I started doing drawing with the kids, they can tend to get a bit scared as you can imagine so I decided to find a distraction.'
'So you teach them to draw?'
'Yes… Well, they do the colouring at any rate.'
He laughed, 'Sounds great.'
'Yeah they really enjoy it.'
Mark warmed considerably to her, 'Can I get you another drink?'
She wasn't jealous, she wasn't jealous! Slowly breathing out, Christine turned her attention to the files in her lap and started reading them. She had to get them sorted by Monday, becoming a legal secretary was something she'd always wanted to do and after her degree in law, she managed to land her dream job, of course it was far easier back then, god that made her feel really old she thought sadly. Every now and then, she glanced at her mobile. No! She trusted him, it wouldn't be right. Even so… She grabbed her mobile, it rang and rang until finally it went to voicemail. Deciding not to leave a message, she turned her phone off.
The reason why his mobile wasn't on was because it was being charged up and he was busy looking through some figures. After their drink, Mark and Siobhan had gone for a walk around the town.
'So, tell me which date do you leave your boyfriend outside and start going in and out of the shops?'
She laughed, 'Oh about the fourth or fifth at least.'
'Right! I'll bear that in mind.'
'Oh? You're expecting a fourth date then?'
He paused, 'Well… I wouldn't say no.'
She grinned, 'You're very cocky aren't you?'
'Only when there's a beautiful woman involved.'
'Right! So you think I'm beautiful.'
Mark paused, this was getting out of hand, 'Who wouldn't? You know, I've been wondering why a lovely girl like you is still on their own?'
Siobhan laughed, 'Well, my work partly I suppose, it's rewarding but demanding and I sometimes do night shifts so …'
'…You're often not awake?' He teased.
'Yeah something like that! What about you?'
'Yes! How come you're not attached so to speak?'
Mark hesitated, now would be the ideal opportunity to stop leading her on, to tell her that he was in fact already in a relationship. However, he hadn't told his parents about Christine and he knew that if they so much as had a hint of him seeing someone, they wouldn't stop pestering him until they found out who it was. There was no privacy anywhere. So that was why, no matter how wrong it may be, he found he had no alternative than to lie to her.
'Oh well, I've just been too busy I guess, I mean they've been one or two in the past but no-one special.'
'Same!' She smiled and tossed her beautiful hair behind her shoulders, 'I think my Mum worries, she's always saying I should be out more, but I've never really had the need for friends you know?'
He smiled, 'Yes! I think I do. You seem as if you can handle yourself though.'
'Oh I can! You needn't worry about that!'
'God! You women nowadays! You make us feel redundant!'
'Well, we don't mean to!'
'No! Of course not!'
'Oi!' She laughed.
'It must be handy being so near your family, working around here.'
She smiled, 'Oh yes! I'm very family orientated.'
'I can see that, your parents are obviously very proud of you.'
'Yes! Yours too no doubt.'
'Yes, at the end of the day.'
She laughed, 'Fathers and sons eh?'
'You can say that again.'
There they were, Christine had decided to have an early lunch break and had headed out into the sunshine. She stopped and glanced at her reflection with pride, although she was in her late forties, she still looked good for her age. The sun was glorious and she thought she might treat herself to a coffee and a Viennese swirl. As she walked down the pavement, she happened to look to the left and noticed them sitting outside a Cafe laughing and talking, she watched as her niece tossed her hair behind her shoulders and looked at how attentive he was being. Straightening herself, she adjusted the strap on her shoulder and marched up to them, she suddenly paused and decided to make it look as if she was just passing by.
Siobhan suddenly looked up, 'Oh look! There's Aunt Christine! CHRISTINE!'
Christine suddenly paused and turned round, she saw her niece waving enthusiastically, it was important to play this carefully, slowly, she waved back and smiled as she saw her beckon her enthusiastically. It was working! She pretended to look at her watch before heading over.
'Hello you two!' She smiled, 'Skiving I see!'
'Hey! I'm entitled to a lunch break!'
She smiled at her niece, 'Yes! Well you do work hard darling.' Christine suddenly turned to Mark, 'Hello again!'
Mark smiled, 'Hello Ms…'
'Oh no! There's no need for that! Christine, please!'
'What about you though?' Siobhan grinned, 'You talk about me skiving!'
'When you've worked as long as I have then you can lecture me young lady but not before!' Christine replied, jokingly, 'So… What have you two been talking about then?'
'Oh nothing much.' Mark replied airily.
'No, just… trying to find out more about each other really.' Siobhan smiled.
Christine forced herself to smile, 'Well, that's great!'
'What about you?'
'Oh I'm just having a lunch break.' She looked at her watch, 'I should be getting back actually.'
'OK! Well, nice seeing you again.' Mark added, anxious for her to leave.
'Yes, you too!'
'Oh you don't have to rush off!' Siobhan said suddenly.
'Oh I should darling!' Christine replied.
'Well, what's the point in being your own boss if you can't have a long break?' She added.
'Well, I suppose it couldn't hurt.'
Mark's heart sank as she sat down next to them, 'So…' She smiled at him, 'How do you like our family?'
He glared at her as Siobhan said, 'Oh Aunt that's not fair! Ambushing him like that!'
'I am merely making sure that he is suitable for my favourite niece that's all.'
Siobhan laughed, 'Yeah right!'
'Whatever!' She grinned and glanced at her watch, 'I'd better go.' She turned to him, 'So… I'll see you tonight?'
He winced and inwardly cursed, 'Err… Yes!'
'Tonight? What's this?' Christine asked suddenly.
'Oh my charity function for the hospital, I thought that Mark would like to come… you're welcome as well of course.' She added quickly, 'Mum and Dad are coming so…'
'Yes! That would be lovely!' Christine smiled, 'Thanks!'
'Great! Starts at seven.' There was a pause as she turned to Mark, 'I thought perhaps we could go together.'
Christine balled her hand into a fist, 'Well, why don't you go ahead dear? I mean you don't want to be late!'
'Yes… perhaps that would be best, I can take ages.' Mark grinned.
'Oh! OK!' Siobhan smiled, 'I'll see you then!'
It was five o'clock and Mark was just thinking about getting ready when he heard a knock on the door, he sighed as he opened it, 'I don't know why you bother to knock.'
'Well, I always like to be polite.' She grinned as she stepped inside.
'What do you want Christine?'
'Nothing! Just wanted to check you were ready for your "date."'
'Oh god! Not this again!'
'What? I'm just asking.'
'Look Christine, you're acting like a child! I'm just being friendly!'
'I haven't said anything!'
He stared at her then shook his head, 'I don't have time for this, we're going to be late.'
She nodded, 'Yeah! You're right.' Then slowly, she leaned in and kissed him deeply.
'We don't have time for this.'
'Oh I think we do.' She kissed him again and he had no choice but to submit.
He wouldn't talk to her in the car, she knew he was annoyed at being late but at least she felt secure. He was hers, she wasn't going to let anyone else get their claws into him, even her niece. Slowly, she slipped a hand onto his leg he paused then placed his own hand on hers briefly before withdrawing it.
The evening was turning out to be a great success and Siobhan was thrilled with how much awareness and money she was raising for the hospice. Every now and then, she quickly turned to look at the doorway, expecting him to appear. He did say he might be a bit late, she helped herself to another glass of champagne and tried to relax.
Mark drew up outside and turned off the engine, 'Looks like a good turn out.'
'Yes.' Christine replied tonelessly.
Feeling himself thaw even more, her reached over and squeezed her hand, 'C'mon.'
'Hey! You came!' Siobhan suddenly ran up to Mark.
'Hello darling!' She leaned forward to kiss her niece.
'You came together then?'
Mark smiled warmly, 'Well, I offered to give her a lift actually.'
'Oh I see!' Siobhan smiled.
'You look lovely by the way.'
'Thanks! So do you.'
'Anyway!' Christine decided to interrupt, 'How are you feeling dear?'
'Nervous if I'm honest.'
Mark grinned, 'Oh you'll be fine!' At that he reached out and stroked her arm, 'I'm sure you'll do really well.'
She blushed, 'Thanks!'
He grabbed another glass of champagne, 'Here! Steady your nerves.'
'Thanks! This could be an opportunity for you as well you know.'
Mark laughed, 'This is a charity night! Trust me, you don't want a money grabbing scheme getting in the way!'
'You invest in worthwhile things though!'
'Well, yes but that isn't without expecting some sort of financial gain.'
'Well, every cloud I suppose.'
He grinned, 'Well, exactly!'
Siobhan looked at him, 'God! Talk about unapologetic!'
'Well, that's what I am! I've had to be let's face it!'
She grinned, 'Tell you what, shall we make a wager?'
'What sort of wager?'
'Well… I'll say an amount and if you manage to drum up that much support which will equal to that then…'
'Then I'll buy you dinner!'
'Yeah! At a posh restaurant!'
She laughed, 'Five star?'
He paused, 'Three and a half?'
Siobhan laughed again, 'Deal!'
The evening got into full swing and the bids got bigger and bigger until finally, the hospice had raised more than enough.
Siobhan cried, 'I-I can't believe it!'
She looked at him thoughtfully, 'You don't seem that surprised.'
Mark sighed, 'Alright! I must admit, I might have helped out a little bit.'
'Oh my god! I-I don't know what to say!'
'It's no problem.'
She laughed and hugged him excitedly, 'Thank you! Thank you so much!'
'Oh you're welcome!'
'So… I suppose that means you have to treat me to dinner then?'
'A deals a deal!'
'Errr… Yeah! Pick you up at seven?'
'I'm glad the auction went well, Siobhan works hard.' Christine remarked as they drove home.
'That was generous of you by the way.'
Mark shrugged, 'Well… you know, I'd rather my wealth was put to good use.'
'Clearly.' Christine looked at him carefully, 'What were you and Siobhan discussing earlier?'
'Oh… nothing… we were just messing around.'
'Oh. Care to elaborate?'
'We had a little wager, we each bet how much the hospice would raise.'
'And you helped it raise that much?'
She paused, 'So… that you had to carry out whatever promise was made?'
He sighed tiredly, 'Christine please, don't read so much into things! It was just a bit of fun.'
'Do you like her?'
'Do you like her?'
'Of course I like her, she's your niece.'
'That's not what I mean.'
The atmosphere suddenly turned frosty; then Mark said, 'Let's just get home shall we?'
Christine's hand slowly travelled from his leg inwards and she smiled, she had the answer she needed.
Christine was awoken the following morning by Mark's phone vibrating and bleeping, she leaned over and looked at him, he was still fast asleep. Smiling to herself, she reached for his phone and saw it was from Siobhan, it read thus,
Hi! Lovely day
Was thinking about popping over at about eleven?
Let me know.
If u're awake that is!
Christine frowned. The stupid girl! Didn't she even have an inkling of how immature and pathetic that made her sound? She stared at the message until her eyes started to ache. Despite their passionate lovemaking last night, just looking at the text made her incredibly envious. How dare he give out his mobile to someone else, let alone her niece!! She calmly deleted it and then nestled her head on the back of his shoulders and kissed his neck softly.
He groaned slightly and stirred, finally, he rolled over to face her, slowly opening his eyes.
She smiled, 'Good morning!'
She giggled, 'Me too!'
Mark suddenly frowned, 'Did I hear my phone?'
'Oh it was just an advert for a lower tariff.' Christine lied.
'Oh right!' He stretched then turned to her, smiling slightly, 'You OK?'
'Yeah! Fine! You?'
'Yeah! Listen…' Mark slowly stroked her back, 'I'm sorry I was harsh yesterday.'
'…And you're right, I shouldn't lead her on.'
Christine shrugged, 'Well, as you said, you were only being friendly.'
He smiled, 'That's all it is I swear.'
'Yes but she's still young and impressionable… and a romantic.'
Mark suddenly laughed and kissed her head, 'You sound like an old woman!'
'Exactly only two years off forty!'
He grinned and kissed her chest, 'Great body though.'
She giggled, 'Ditto.'
'Listen, you have nothing to worry about OK?'
'…Yeah… I know I've been… jealous lately.'
'There's no need! I'm just being a friend.'
'Yes but she doesn't know that does she?'
He sighed and ran his hands through his hair, 'Look, I'm not going to lie; she's a great girl, I guess I'm just stalling for time really.'
Christine snuggled into his chest, 'You should tell her though…'
'There are other forces behind this though, namely my parents.'
'They can't force you to be with her though!'
'No, but it would be a humiliation and they would be accused of deliberately trying to mock your sister and brother-in-law; the business deal would fall through as well.'
She bit her lip and snuggled deeper into him, 'I could explain.'
He laughed, 'Oh they'd love that! Your niece would probably scratch your eyes out! This isn't some sort of novel, it won't end well.'
'Well… I'm not just going to lie down and take it!'
'Oh my god! Can you hear yourself? How many more times do I have to say it? I'm yours.'
She grinned, 'You're a typical upper-class toff aren't you? Millions to inherit, still afraid of Mother and Father!'
'That is not true… I won't inherit millions.' His mouth twitched.
'Whatever… I-I just wish that it could go back to just being us two.'
He squeezed her tightly and kissed her head, thinking. The truth was and he knew it, that he was afraid of how his parents would react; they had always had an idyllic view of him with a beautiful girl on his arm- no more than a couple of years younger than him- and, eventually, grandchildren. Yet, what if he didn't want that? What if he was content with what he had?
He looked down, 'Sorry, miles away.'
Christine stroked his chest, 'What were you thinking about?'
'Oh this and that.'
'Care to elaborate?'
'Oh the usual…'
'Look, why don't we just tell and get it over and done with?'
The quilt suddenly fell away, revealing her heavy, dark brown nippled breasts. Mark bit his lip as he looked at them and found he wasn't listening anymore.
'…Are you listening to me?'
'Yes…Yes of course I am…' He replied as he lowered his head.
She giggled and sighed, 'Never mind, it can wait.'
A while later, she lay in his arms, staring into space and they both watched the clock slowly tick round to eleven. Suddenly, they heard a car and the doorbell suddenly went.
Mark suddenly jolted awake, 'Who's that?'
Christine shrugged, 'Don't know!'
Getting out of bed, he headed over to the window and looked out. To his horror, Siobhan was at the front door, 'What the hell is she doing here?'
'What?' Christine reached for her shirt and then joined him and looked out, 'Oh yeah! There she is!'
'God! Talk about forthright!'
At that, she giggled, 'As I said, a family trait.'
'She could've warned me!'
'Well, that's Siobhan! Once she's set her heart on something…'
'Yes! Obviously!' He quickly jumped in the shower and came out a few minutes later with wet hair. 'You'd better leave the back way.'
Christine did a double take, 'Maybe I want to stay and say hello.'
'Oh alright! I'll slink out the back door as usual.'
'Thanks, I-I'll call you later.' He kissed her.
Christine watched him go to the front door and slowly sauntered her way to the kitchen.
After checking she was out of sight, Mark pushed a comb through his hair and went to answer the door.
Siobhan grinned, 'Morning! I'm sorry, is this not a good time?'
'Errr yeah! No problem! Didn't know you were coming over.'
'Really? I sent you a text.'
'You sent me…' Suddenly, the penny dropped, Christine! She must have deleted it! 'Oh sorry! I had it switched off, it was charging up.'
'Oh right! I just thought that, as it was such a lovely day, you would fancy a walk or something.'
He looked at her, her beautiful dark brown eyes looked at him uncertainly, he smiled, 'That sounds great, let's go.' With that, Mark locked up, at that moment, not caring about how far Christine was from the house.
'I'm sorry I didn't get your message, it was switched off.' He lied.
'Oh that's alright! I should've waited until it was a bit later; I expect you were having a lie in.'
'Yes, it's been a bit of a hectic week.'
'Oh right! Yeah! Me too.' She laughed nervously, 'I was wondering if you'd like to grab a coffee or something?'
Mark smiled, 'Coffee sounds great.'
'Have you been busy lately?'
Mark laughed, 'Oh it never stops! You?'
'You could say that! But we've had quite a few donations this month, so that's something.'
'Well, that's great!'
'Yeah! We're getting new equipment soon, so that's good.'
'That's great! Not enough money goes to the really worthy causes.'
'Yes, that's what I've always thought.'
He looked at her and smiled, 'Well… I think you're amazing.'
She coloured, 'Thanks.'
'No I mean it! It's so great to do something for a worthy cause.'
'Yes.' Suddenly, she grinned and waved, 'Christine!'
Christine stopped and then headed across the street, 'Hello you two!'
Mark suddenly turned round, 'Oh! Hello!'
'Hi! You managed to catch up with each other then?'
Siobhan smiled, 'Yeah! I popped round.'
'Oh! I'm sorry if I held him up.'
'What do you mean?'
If looks could kill, Mark's was poleaxing Christine, but she ignored him and said calmly, 'I was just passing his home when I realised that I could ask his advice on an investment that my firm was thinking about.
'Yeah!' Mark thought it was a pathetic excuse but even so, 'I ended up inviting her to stay for a cup of coffee. I forgot to turn on my phone.'
To his sheer amazement, she seemed to accept it, 'Oh right! Well that's lucky you're into that sort of thing isn't it?'
Mark laughed, 'Well exactly! Re-fill?' He offered.
'Err… yeah! Thanks!' Siobhan smiled, 'Hang on, I'll get them!'
'Oh you don't have to!'
'No I don't mind!'
'Absolutely! What are you having Christine?'
'Errr… I think I'll push the boat out and have a cappuccino!'
Mark smiled as she got up but it changed to a glare as she walked away, 'Investment??'
'What?' Christine looked at him innocently, 'I couldn't very well say there was a problem with my mobile could I? Unless you'd rather I said that I was sleeping with her potential boyfriend.'
'Of course not! Don't be stupid!' He looked around, 'Look, this is getting far too dangerous.'
She sighed, 'I know.'
'Yeah. Look, I've been thinking.'
'Me too, there's only one thing that can be done.'
'Yes! The only decent thing, you'll have to break up with her.'
He stared at her, unable to process her arrogance, finally he spoke, 'Sorry?'
'Break up with her!'
'How can I break up with her, I'm barely in a relationship!'
'Shouldn't be too tricky then!'
'Oh for god's sake! Can you hear yourself? You've got a damn cheek anyway!'
'What do you mean?'
'Oh you know very well what I mean!'
She stared at him blankly, 'What?'
He glared at her, 'Don't play games! I thought I heard my phone this morning!'
'I honestly don't have a clue what you're talking about! I never touched your phone, perhaps the text never got through.'
'How did you know it was a text?'
She paused, '…Oh whatever! Stop trying to catch me out!' Ignoring his glare, she placed a hand on his wrist, 'Look, I-I didn't mean… I just....'
He looked down at her hand and flashbacks of that morning came back to him. Nevertheless, he angrily withdrew his hand, 'Give it a rest!'
'Give what a rest?'
They suddenly turned to see Siobhan and Christine looked at Mark anxiously, 'Oh I was just telling your aunt about how investment can be trying at times, there was this co-investor if you like, he was new to the whole business- investing saga.'
'Oh I see, and you pointed him in the right direction?' Siobhan smiled.
'Exactly! Saved him a lot of money.'
'So…' Christine decided to change the subject, 'What do you young things have planned?'
'Well… Actually.' Here he turned to look at Siobhan, 'I was thinking about seeing that new film at the Cinema.'
'Oh yes! I know the one you mean!'
Christine smiled, 'Which one do you mean?'
'Oh you won't have heard of it Aunt, it's one of the new ones.'
'Yeah! Funny though, what about the time when..?'
'Oh god yeah!'
Christine watched as they both laughed, 'What's this?'
'Oh nothing… You-you'd have to watch it.'
'Right!' Christine watched them enjoy something that she wasn't a part of and felt jealousy twisted her gut even more. 'Well, I'd best leave you to it.'
'Oh you don't have to go!'
'No! No! I've got to prepare for Monday.' She smiled at her niece, 'See you later darling.' She kissed her head and smiled at Mark, walking away, knowing in her heart of hearts that she had already lost him.
Mondays were always slow going Christine always found, as she made her way into the office and switched on the computer. Suddenly she heard a knock on the door,
'Hello Christine! Long, time no see!'
She paused, it couldn't be! Her head suddenly shot up to see the tall, handsome man who was standing in front of her smiling slightly, 'Oh my god! Justin Lewington!'
'Hello Christine Lane…' He paused, '…Although perhaps you're not "Lane" anymore?'
'I'm afraid I am.'
'Oh dear! I'd have thought that you would have been snapped up ages ago!'
'Personal choice Justin, I've had my chances I assure you.'
'I'm sure you have!'
She laughed, 'Anyway! What about you?'
'Divorced, two kids.'
'Right! How long?'
'Oh quite some time now.'
'Oh dear! You mean your "charisma" wore thin in the end?'
He laughed, 'Actually, I found out she was having an affair.'
Christine's smile faded, 'Oh… Sorry!'
'…I would've forgiven her had the person in question not been my children's godfather and best friend for over twenty years!'
'Seriously?? Oh my god! I'm so sorry!'
'Oh that's alright! We'd been rowing quite a lot lately anyway.'
'What about the kids?'
'Oh they were fine with it.'
'Yeah!' She laughed, 'God last time I saw them…'
'I know, Benjamin's twenty now and Cassandra's eighteen.'
'I can't believe it!' She laughed, 'Did they take after their old Dad then?'
'Yes they did; well sort off. Ben's training to be a solicitor and Cassandra a law clerk.'
Christine grinned, 'You must be very proud.'
'Yes. So… You're still a legal secretary?'
'Still a legal secretary.'
'Wow! I'm surprised! I remember a time when you were quite…'
'Damn cheek! I was no such thing!'
He smiled, 'Anyway, I'd best leave you to get on, hopefully we'll see more of each other.'
She raised an eyebrow, 'Why's that? Another divorce?'
'No, there's some business with my firm that needs sorting out that's all, it's quite big we need all the help we can get.'
Christine frowned, 'Is that code for our firms are going to be joined?'
He laughed, 'Wait and see!'
Christine stretched and looked at the clock, ten past five. Sighing, she saved her work and closed down the computer. Slowly, her thoughts wondered back to Justin. It had been great to see him again, familiar and nostalgic. As she got up to go home, she suddenly noticed a post-it on her desk, on it was his name… and number.
Mark looked at his phone again; twenty-four hours without so much as a text from Christine; no threats, no pleads, nothing! Not that his was complaining, it was a refreshing change. All the same, habit kept making him check his phone, (that's all it was…habit!! He reminded himself for the umpteenth time that day.) Yet, she had gone suspiciously quiet. It unnerved him, no doubt she was up to something. Still, he tried not to think about it as he went to meet Siobhan.
He found her outside the Café, she seemed quite excited, 'Hey!'
'I think my aunt's got an admirer!'
'Oh yeah? Generic is he?'
'No! Apparently he's an old friend or something.' She smiled, 'That'll be nice for her, she deserves someone.'
'Whoa! Someone? You matchmaking then?'
She laughed, 'No but you never know…'
Mark's smile froze, 'No! No you never know.'
Mark got home that evening, pleading the start of a sore throat to Siobhan. Once inside, he closed the door and ran a hand through his hair. He felt unusually restless, slowly, his eyes flickered to his mobile. After staring at it for a while he grabbed it and dialled her number, he was greeted by the answering machine. This seemed to make him even more angry.
'Christine, it's me. Siobhan's just been telling me about this bloke you've met. I've got to say I never thought you would stoop so low. Well… I'm just calling you to tell you that you may as well stop these pathetic mind games, they won't work! I'm with Siobhan now, not you.' With that, he hung up and gazed out of the window.
'Did you get my post-it?'
Christine smiled and looked up from her computer, 'Yes I did.'
Justine grinned, 'Well?'
'Well, let me explain how things are done here Mr Lewington.' She sat back in her chair, 'We are not accustomed to infantile games such as post-its with numbers on.'
'Well, how should it be done then?'
'Well… We have procedures here that must be adhered to.'
'Ah! ' He nodded and smiled, 'What about asking an old friend and new colleague out for dinner?'
She grinned, 'Well, it would depend on what you had in mind?'
'Fancy restaurant say Friday at eight?'
'I'll… have to get back to you on that one, but I think there's a strong possibility that I can make it.'
'Great! See you then!'
Christine grinned and turned back to her computer.
'Thanks for lunch.'
Mark walked Siobhan back to work, 'No problem! It was an absolute pleasure.'
She turned to him, 'Look… do you fancy doing something later?'
'Actually I was thinking of taking you out for dinner Friday.'
'Oh were you?'
She laughed, 'I'd like that.'
'Great, say eight o'clock?'
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