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Shopaholic_ties_the_knot

love_contemporaryKinsellaties the knotBloomwood has the dream job. She's a personal shopper, so is able to spend other people’s money all day instead of her own. And she gets paid for doing it. The perfect job, the perfect man — gorgeous Luke Brandon — and now… the perfect wedding. Yes, Luke has proposed and wedding bells are in sight. No excuses are needed to start the shopping trip of all time. And Becky’s parents are just assuming that the wedding will be at home — a marquee in the garden and Becky in her mum’s wedding dress, which she’s been saving specially for the occasion. But Luke’s mother has very different ideas — a huge affair in New York in a forest glade setting — or perhaps a Venetian Ball, or a fin de siecle extravagance? Now Becky’s getting confused. She doesn't want to say ‘no’ to anyone. The plans are going ahead, and soon it will be too late to turn back — from either wedding…KINSELLAties the knotthird book in the Shopaholic seriesAbigail,would have foundbrilliant solution in a flashUNION BANK

Wall StreetYork, NY 100057, 2001Rebecca Bloomwood. B251 W. 11th StreetYork, NY 10014Miss Bloomwood:Joint Account No.: 5039 2566 2319are pleased to confirm your new joint bank account with Mr. Luke J. Brandon, and enclose explanatory documentation. A debit card will be sent to you under separate cover.at Second Union Bank continually pride ourselves on our highly individual approach to clients. Please contact me personally at any time if you have a query, and I will help in any way I can. No matter is too small for my attention.kind regards.sincerely,Pitmanof Customer RelationsUNION BANK

Wall StreetYork, NY 1000512, 2001Rebecca Bloomwood. B251 W. 11th StreetYork, NY 10014Miss Bloomwood:you for your letter of December 9 regarding your joint account with Mr. Luke J. Brandon. I agree the relationship between bank and client should be one of friendship and cooperation, and in answer to your question, my favorite color is red.regret, however, I am unable to reword entries on your forthcoming statement as you request. The particular debit item you refer to will appear on your next statement as “Prada, New York.” It cannot be changed to “Gas bill.”sincerely,PitmanDirector of Customer RelationsUNION BANK

Wall StreetYork, NY 100057, 2002Rebecca Bloomwood. B251 W. 11th StreetYork, NY 10014Miss Bloomwood:you for your letter of January 4 regarding your joint account with Mr. Luke J. Brandon, and for the chocolates, which I must return. I agree it is difficult to keep tabs on every tiny purchase, and was sorry to hear that “the odd little misunderstanding” had arisen between you., it is impossible to split the statement into half as you suggest, sending half to yourself and half to Mr. Brandon and “keeping it our little secret.” All income and outgoings are itemized jointly.is why it is called a joint account.sincerely,Pitmanof Customer Relations. DON’T PANIC. The answer will come to me any minute. I just have to think hard about what marriage is all about. It’s about love, obviously. And companionship, and mutual support. And… soup?eye rests on a huge antique silver tureen, complete with ladle. Now, that would make a perfect wedding gift. I can just see it: Suze and Tarquin sitting by the fire, ladling soup into each other’s bowls. It’ll be all lovely and domestic and heartwarming, and every time they drink soup they’ll think of me.I could even have it engraved. “To my best friends Suze and Tarquin on their wedding day with love and affection from Becky.” And a little poem, maybe.you, engraving is quite expensive. I’d better check how much it would all come to.



“Excuse me, how much is this soup tureen?” I say, turning to Arthur Graham, who is the owner of Graham’s Antiques. This shop has to be one of my favorites in the West Village. It’s small and intimate like someone’s home, and everywhere you turn, there’s something you might want. Like that fantastic carved chair, and a hand-painted velvet throw, and that amazing grandfather clock over in the corner…

“The tureen?” Arthur comes over, dapper in his jacket and tie. “This is very special. Eighteenth-century silver. Exquisite craftsmanship. You see this detail on the rim?”

“Beautiful!” I look obediently.

“And it’s priced at…” He consults a little book. “Four thousand dollars.”

“Oh, right.” My smile falters, and I carefully put the ladle back. “Thanks. I’ll… keep looking.”maybe marriage isn’t about soup. Maybe it’s about… chess? I run my hand over a beautiful old chess set, all set up as though a game’s in progress. But I’m not sure Suze knows how to play chess.clock? No.… an antique barometer?God, I’m really clutching at straws here. I can’t believe it’s Suze’s wedding in two days and I still haven’t got her and Tarquin a present. Or at least, not one I can actually give them. Months ago I bought them this gorgeous picnic hamper, filled with picnicware, a champagne cooler, really cool knives and forks, and even a rug. It took me ages to choose all the stuff, and I was so pleased with it. But Suze phoned last night to check what time we’d be arriving, and told me her aunt had just given her a fantastic present — a picnic hamper filled with Conran tableware!, no way am I giving Suze the same present as someone else. So here I am in the only place I can think of where I’ll find something unique. Except… what? She hasn’t registered for gifts, because she says she hates the idea of asking people for things. And anyway, I’d never just get her some boring set of plates off a list. Suze is my best friend, and I’m going to be her bridesmaid, and my present has to be something really special.can feel myself starting to get anxious. OK, just think laterally. What do Suze and Tarquin enjoy doing?

“Do you have any horse saddles?” I ask in sudden inspiration. “Or… bridles?”

“Not at the moment.”well. Anyway, I’d have to get two, wouldn’t I? And they probably wouldn’t even fit the horses properly…carved music stand? Except how would I get it home on the plane? And anyway, neither of them plays an instrument. A marble bust of Abraham Lincoln? A picture of…on a minute. I push the bust of Lincoln aside and look carefully at the old trunk he’s been resting on. Now that’s rather nice. In fact it’s very nice. I undo the straps and gently lift the lid, inhaling the smell of old leather.. This is stunning. All pale silk and leather straps, and a mirror, and little compartments to put your cuff links in. Suze will adore this, I know she will. She can use it to keep jumpers in and when she and Tarquin go on a cruise a porter can wheel it up the ramp for her and she’ll look all glamorous and film-star-like.the point is, even if someone else gives them a suitcase or something, one of my great maxims of life is: you can never have too much luggage.

“How much is this trunk?” I ask Arthur Graham a little nervously. Please don’t let it be $10,000—

“We’ve had that awhile.” He frowns at it. “I could let you have it for… three hundred.”

“Perfect.” I breathe a sigh of relief. “I’ll take it.”accomplished! I’ve got Suze’s wedding present! Thank goodness for that. Now all I need is my bridesmaid’s dress, and I’m there.

“It’s Miss Bloomwood, isn’t it?” says Arthur, opening a large leather-bound notebook. “I’m sure we have your address… And yes. Here it is.” He smiles at me. “Is that all for today?”don’t need anything else. I don’t even need to look around the rest of the shop.

“Um… Well.” Idly I glance around again. It’s always a good idea to have your eyes open when you’re in antique shops, because there are some really good bargains out there. And it’s all a good investment. I mean, this is how some people make their money.the door to the back room I see the corner of a lace shawl, and feel a tug of desire. Antique shawls are so in at the moment. And since I’m buying the trunk, it occurs to me, Arthur might give it to me for half price. Or maybe even for free!, come on. I’ll just have a quick look. But only at very small things, because I’ve promised Luke no more furniture.

“I’ll have a bit of a browse.” I smile back at Arthur. “Thanks.”head happily into the back room and reach for the lace shawl, but close up it looks a bit ragged. I put it down again and pick up a cocktail shaker. This is nice. Maybe I should get it for Suze as well.

“This is cool!” I beam at Arthur, who has followed me in.

“It’s fun, isn’t it?” he agrees. “It goes with the 1930s cocktail cabinet.”

“Cocktail cabinet?” I echo, feeling prickles of interest. “I didn’t see a—”

“Here.” He walks over to what I thought was a cupboard, unhooks the front flap, and displays the mirrored Art Deco fittings inside. “You see, here’s where your bottles go… here are your highballs…”gaze at it, completely smitten. A real, genuine, 1930s cocktail cabinet. I’ve always wanted a cocktail cabinet.think, if we had one of these in the apartment it would change our lives. Every night Luke and I would mix martinis, and dance to old-fashioned songs, and watch the sun go down. It’d be so atmospheric! We’d have to buy one of those old-fashioned record players with the big horns, and start collecting 78s, and I’d start wearing gorgeous vintage tea dresses.have to have this. We have to. This isn’t some boring chair, or set of shelves. This is different. Luke will understand.

“How much is that?” I say, trying to sound nonchalant. I’m rather good at getting good prices in this shop. The trick is to sound as though you don’t care whether you buy it or not.

“This?” Arthur looks at it thoughtfully, and I hold my breath. “This really should be seven hundred dollars. But since you’re taking the trunk as well… I could let you have the pair for… eight hundred?”hundred dollars. For a wedding present and a unique cocktail cabinet that we’ll treasure all our lives. I mean, this isn’t like buying some pair of shoes that you’ll forget about. This is a genuine investment for the future.

“I’ll take them!” I beam at Arthur Graham.

“Excellent!” He smiles back. “You have a very good eye.”and I’ve been living together in New York now for a year, and our apartment is on West 11th Street, in the really nice leafy, atmospheric bit. There are ornate little balconies on all the houses, and stone steps up to all the front doors, and trees all along the pavement. Right opposite us lives someone who plays jazz piano, and on summer evenings we stroll up to the roof terrace that we share with our neighbors, and sit on cushions and drink wine and listen. (At least, we did that one time and I’m sure we will again.)I let myself into the house, there’s a pile of post for us in the hall, and I quickly flick through it.……Vogue!…. My Saks Fifth Avenue store card bill.look at the envelope for moment, then remove it and put it in my bag. Not because I’m hiding it. Simply because there’s no particular point in Luke seeing it. I read this really good magazine article recently, entitled “Too Much Information?” in which it said you should filter out the day’s events rather than tell your partner every single tiny thing and overload his or her weary mind. It said your home should be a sanctuary, and that no one needs to know everything. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense.put the rest of the post under my arm and start to walk up the stairs. There aren’t any letters from England, but then, I wouldn’t expect there to be today, because tonight we’re flying home for the wedding! I just can’t wait.is my first friend to take the plunge and get married. She’s marrying Tarquin, who’s a really sweet guy she’s known all her life. (In fact, he’s her cousin. But it’s legal. They checked.) The wedding’s going to be at her parents’ house in Hampshire, and there’s going to be loads of champagne, and a horse and carriage… and best of all, I’m going to be her bridesmaid!the thought, I feel a pang of yearning. I’m so looking forward to it. Not just being bridesmaid — but seeing Suze, my parents, and my home. It occurred to me yesterday I haven’t been back to Britain for over six months, which suddenly seems like a really long time. I completely missed Dad getting elected captain of the golf club, which was his life ambition. And I missed the scandal when Siobhan at the church stole the roof money and used it to go to Cyprus. And worst of all, I missed Suze getting engaged — although she came out to New York two weeks later to show me her ring.’s not that I mind exactly, because I’m having such a great time out here. My job at Barneys is perfect, and living in the West Village is even more perfect. I love walking through the tiny tucked-away streets, and buying cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery on Saturday mornings and walking back through the market. Basically, I love everything I have here in New York. Except possibly Luke’s mother.still. Your home’s your home.I reach the second floor, I hear music coming from our apartment, and I feel a little fizz of anticipation inside. That’ll be Danny, working away. He’ll probably have finished by now! My dress will be ready!Kovitz lives upstairs from us, in his brother’s apartment, and he’s become one of my best friends since I’ve been in New York. He’s a fabulous designer, really talented — but he’s not that successful yet. Five years after leaving fashion school, he’s still waiting for his big break to come along. But like he always says, making it as a designer is even harder than making it as an actor. If you don’t know the right people or have an ex-Beatle as a father, you might as well forget it. I feel so sorry for him, because he does deserve to succeed. So as soon as Suze asked me to be her bridesmaid, I asked him to make my dress. The great thing is, Suze’s wedding is going to be stuffed full of rich, important guests. So hopefully loads of people will ask me who designed my dress, and then a whole word-of-mouth buzz will start, and Danny will be made!just can’t wait to see what he’s done. All the sketches he’s shown me have been amazing — and of course, a handmade dress will have far more workmanship and detail than you’d get off the peg. Like, the bodice is going to be a boned, hand-embroidered corset — and Danny suggested putting in a tiny beaded love-knot using the birthstones of all the bridal party, which is just so original.only slight worry — tiny niggle — is that the wedding’s in two days’ time, and I haven’t actually tried the dress on yet. Or even seen it. This morning I rang Danny’s doorbell to remind him I was leaving for England today, and after he’d eventually staggered to the door, he promised me he’d have it by lunchtime. He told me he always lets his ideas ferment until the very last minute — then he gets a surge of adrenaline and inspiration. It’s just the way he works, he assured me, and he’s never missed a deadline yet.open the door and call “Hello!” cheerfully. There’s no response, so I push open the door to our all-purpose living room. The radio is blaring Madonna, the television is playing MTV, and Danny’s novelty robot dog is trying to walk up the side of the sofa.Danny is slumped over his sewing machine in a cloud of gold silk, fast asleep.

“Danny?” I say in dismay. “Hey, wake up!”a start, Danny sits up and rubs his thin face. His curly hair is rumpled, and his pale blue eyes are even more bloodshot than they were when he answered the door this morning. His skinny frame is clad in an old gray T-shirt and a bony knee is poking out of his ripped jeans, complete with a scab that he got Rollerblading this past weekend. He looks like a ten-year-old with stubble.

“Becky!” he says blearily. “Hi! What are you doing here?”

“This is my apartment. Remember? You were working down here because your electricity fused.”

“Oh. Yeah.” He looks around dazedly. “Right.”

“Are you OK?” I peer at him anxiously. “I got some coffee.”hand him a cup and he takes a couple of deep gulps. Then his eyes land on the pile of mail in my hand and for the first time, he seems to wake up.

“Hey, is that British Vogue?”

“Er… yes,” I say, putting it down where he can’t reach it. “So — how’s the dress doing?”

“It’s going great! Totally under control.”

“Can I try it on yet?”’s a pause. Danny looks at the mound of gold silk in front of him as though he’s never seen it before in his life.

“Not yet, no,” he says at last.

“But it will be ready in time?”

“Of course! Absolutely.” He puts his foot down and the sewing machine starts whirring busily. “You know what?” he says over the noise. “I could really do with a glass of water.”

“Coming up!”hurry into the kitchen, turn on the tap, and wait for the cold to come through. The plumbing in this building is a little bit eccentric, and we’re always on at Mrs. Watts, the owner, to fix it. But she lives miles away in Florida, and doesn’t really seem interested. And other than that, the place is completely wonderful. Our apartment is huge by New York standards, with wooden floors and a fireplace, and enormous floor-to-ceiling windows.

(Of course, Mum and Dad weren’t at all impressed when they came over. First they couldn’t understand why we didn’t live in a house. Then they couldn’t understand why the kitchen was so small. Then they started saying wasn’t it a shame we didn’t have a garden, and did I know that Tom next door had moved into a house with a quarter of an acre? Honestly. If you had a quarter of an acre in New York, someone would just build ten office buildings on it.)

“OK! So how’s it—” I walk back into the living room and break off. The sewing machine has stopped, and Danny’s reading my copy of Vogue.

“Danny!” I wail. “What about my dress!”

“Did you see this?” says Danny, jabbing at the page. “‘Hamish Fargle’s collection demonstrated his customary flair and wit,” he reads aloud. “Give me a break! He has zero talent. Zero. You know, he was at school with me. Totally ripped off one of my ideas—” He looks up at me, eyes narrowed. “Is he stocked at Barneys?”

“Erm… I don’t know,” I lie.is completely obsessed with being stocked at Barneys. It’s the only thing he wants in the world. And just because I work there as a personal shopper, he seems to think I should be able to arrange meetings with the head buyer.fact, I have arranged meetings with the head buyer for him. The first time, he arrived a week late for the appointment and she’d gone to Milan. The second time, he was showing her a jacket and as she tried it on, all the buttons fell off.God. What was I thinking, asking him to make my dress?

“Danny, just tell me. Is my dress going to be ready?”’s a long pause.

“Does it actually have to be ready for today?” says Danny at last. “Like literally today?”

“I’m catching a plane in six hours!” My voice rises to a squeak. “I’ve got to walk down the aisle in less than…” I break off and shake my head. “Look, don’t worry. I’ll wear something else.”

“Something else?” Danny puts down Vogue and stares at me blankly. “What do you mean, something else?”

“Well…”

“Are you firing me?” He looks as though I’ve told him our ten-year marriage is over. “Just because I’ve run a tad over schedule?”

“I’m not firing you! But I mean, I can’t be a bridesmaid without a dress, can I?”

“But what else would you wear?”

“Well…” I twist my fingers awkwardly. “I do have this one little reserve dress in my wardrobe…”can’t tell him I’ve actually got three. And two on hold at Barneys.

“By whom?”

“Er… Donna Karan,” I say guiltily.

“Donna Karan?” His voice cracks with betrayal. “You prefer Donna Karan to me?”

“Of course not! But I mean, the seams are actually sewn…”

“Wear my dress.”

“Danny—”

“Wear my dress! Please!” He throws himself down on the floor and walks toward me on his knees. “It’ll be ready. I’ll work all day and all night.”

“We haven’t got all day and all night! We’ve got about… three hours!”

“Then I’ll work all three hours. I’ll do it!”

“You can really make a boned embroidered corset from scratch in three hours?” I say incredulously.looks abashed. “So… um… we may have to rethink the design very slightly…”

“In what way?”drums his fingers for a few moments, then looks up. “Do you have a plain white T-shirt?”

“A T-shirt?” I can’t hide my dismay.

“It’ll be great. I promise!” From outside comes the chugging sound of a van pulling up and Danny glances out of the window. “Hey, did you buy another antique?”hour later I stare at myself in the mirror. I’m wearing a full sweeping skirt made of gold silk — topped by my white T-shirt, which is now completely unrecognizable. Danny’s ripped off the sleeves, sewn on sequins, gathered hems, created lines where there were none — and basically turned it into the most fantastic top I’ve ever seen.

“I love it.” I beam at Danny. “I love it! I’ll be the coolest bridesmaid in the world!”

“It’s pretty good, isn’t it?” Danny gives a casual shrug, but I can see he’s pleased with himself.take another gulp of my cocktail, draining the glass. “Delicious. Shall we have another one?”

“What was in that?”

“Erm…” I squint vaguely at the bottles lined up in the cocktail cabinet. “I’m not sure.”took a while to get the cocktail cabinet up the stairs and into our apartment. To be honest, it’s a bit bigger than I remembered, and I’m not sure it’ll fit into that little alcove behind the sofa where I’d planned to put it. But still, it looks fantastic! It’s standing proudly in the middle of the room, and we’ve already put it to good use. As soon as it arrived, Danny went upstairs and raided his brother Randall’s drinks cupboard, and I got all the booze I could find in the kitchen. We’ve had a margarita each and a gimlet, and my invention called the Bloomwood, which consists of vodka, orange, and M&M’s, which you scoop out with a spoon.

“Give me the top again. I want to pull in that shoulder tighter.”peel off the top, hand it to him, and reach for my jumper, not bothering to be modest. I mean, this is Danny. He threads a needle and starts expertly gathering along the hem of the T-shirt. “So, these weird cousin-marrying friends of yours,” he says. “What’s that about?”

“They’re not weird!” I hesitate for a moment. “Well, OK, Tarquin is a tiny bit weird. But Suze isn’t weird at all. She’s my best friend! You’ve met her!”raises an eyebrow. “So — couldn’t they find anyone else to marry except their own family? Was it like, ‘OK, Mom’s taken… my sister, too fat… the dog… mmm, don’t like the hair.’ ”

“Stop it!” I can’t help giggling. “They just suddenly realized they were meant for each other.”

“Like Harry Met Sally.” He puts on a film-trailer voice. “They were friends. They came from the same gene pool.”

“Danny…”

“OK.” He relents, and snips off the thread. “So, what about you and Luke?”

“What about us?”

“D’you think you’ll get married?”

“I… I have no idea!” I say, feeling a slight color coming to my cheeks. “I can’t say it’s ever crossed my mind.”is completely true., OK. It’s not completely true. Maybe it has crossed my mind on the very odd occasion. Maybe just occasionally I’ve doodled “Becky Brandon” on my notepad to see what it looked like. And I might possibly have flicked through Martha Stewart Weddings once or twice. Just out of idle curiosity., also, it’s occurred to me that Suze is getting married and she’s been going out with Tarquin for less time than me and Luke.you know. It’s not a big deal. I’m really not into weddings. In fact, if Luke asked me, I’d probably say no.… OK. I’d probably say yes.the point is, it’s not going to happen. Luke doesn’t want to get married “for a very long time, if at all.” He said that in an interview in the Telegraph three years ago, which I found in his file of clippings. (I wasn’t poking about. I was looking for an elastic band.) The piece was mainly about his business, but they asked him about personal stuff too — and then they captioned his picture Brandon: marriage at the bottom of agenda.is absolutely fine by me. It’s at the bottom of my agenda, too.Danny’s finishing off the dress, I do a little housework. Which is to say I tip the dirty breakfast dishes into the sink where they can soak, dab at a spot on the counter — and then spend some time rearranging the spice jars in the spice rack, according to color. That’s such a satisfying job. Almost as good as organizing my felt-tip pens used to be.

“So do you guys find it hard living together?” says Danny, coming to the door and watching me.

“No.” I look at him in surprise. “Why?”

“My friend Kirsty just tried living with her boyfriend. Disaster. All they did was fight. She said she doesn’t know how anyone does it.”slot the cumin jar next to fenugreek (what is fenugreek?), feeling rather smug. The truth is, Luke and I have had hardly any problems since living together. Except maybe the incident when I repainted the bathroom and got gold glitter paint on his new suit. But that doesn’t count, because, as Luke admitted afterward, he completely overreacted, and anybody with sense would have seen that the paint was wet.that I think about it, perhaps we’ve had the odd teeny little dispute about how many clothes I buy. Perhaps Luke has on occasion opened the wardrobe door and said in exasperation, “Are you ever going to wear any of these?”we’ve also had the odd argu-frank discussion about how many hours Luke works. He runs his own very successful financial PR company, Brandon Communications, which has branches in London and New York and is expanding all the time. He loves his work, and maybe once or twice I’ve accused him of loving work more than me.the point is, we’re a mature, flexible couple who are able to talk things through. We went out to lunch not long ago and had a long talk, during which I sincerely promised I would try to shop a bit less and Luke sincerely promised he would try to work a bit less. And I reckon we’re both making a pretty good effort.

“Living together has to be worked at,” I say wisely. “You have to be flexible. You have to give as well as take.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes. Luke and I share our finances, we share the chores… it’s all a matter of teamwork. The point is, you can’t expect everything to stay as it was before. You have to accommodate.”

“Really?” Danny looks interested. “So who do you think accommodates more? You or Luke?”’m thoughtful for a moment.

“It’s difficult to say, really,” I say at last. “I expect it’s about equal on both sides.”

“So, like… all this stuff.” Danny gestures around the cluttered apartment. “Is it mostly yours or mostly his?”

“Erm…” I look around, taking in all my aromatherapy candles, vintage lace cushions, and stacks of magazines. For an instant, my mind flicks back to the immaculate, minimalist apartment Luke had in London.

“You know…” I say at last. “A bit of both…”is kind of true. I mean, Luke’s got his laptop in the bedroom.

“The point is, there’s no friction between us,” I continue. “We think as one. We’re like one unit.”

“That’s great,” says Danny, reaching for an apple from the fruit bowl. “You’re lucky.”

“I know we are.” I look at him confidingly. “You know, Luke and I are so in tune, sometimes there’s almost a… sixth sense between us.”

“Really?” Danny stares at me. “Are you serious?”

“Oh yes. I’ll know what he’s about to say, or I’ll kind of feel when he’s around…”

“Like The Force?”

“I suppose.” I give a nonchalant shrug. “It’s like a gift. I don’t question it too closely—”

“Greetings, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” says a deep voice behind us, and Danny and I both jump out of our skins. I swivel round — and there’s Luke, standing at the door with an amused grin. His face is flushed from the cold and there are snowflakes in his dark hair, and he’s so tall, the room suddenly seems a little smaller.

“Luke!” I exclaim. “You scared us!”

“Sorry,” he says. “I assumed you would feel my presence.”

“Yes. Well, I did kind of feel something…” I say, a little defiantly.

“Of course you did.” He gives me a kiss. “Hi, Danny.”

“Hi,” says Danny, watching as Luke takes off his navy cashmere coat, then loosens his cuffs while simultaneously unknotting his tie, with the same assured, deft movements he always makes., after a few too many cocktails, Danny asked me, “Does Luke make love the same way he opens a champagne bottle?” And although I shrieked and hit him, and said it was none of his business, I could kind of see what he meant. Luke never fumbles or hesitates or looks confused. He always seems to know exactly what he wants, and he pretty much gets it, whether it’s a champagne bottle opening smoothly or a new client for his company, or, in bed, for us to…. Anyway. Let’s just say, since we’ve been living together, my horizons have been broadened.he picks up the post and starts to leaf briskly through it. “So how are you, Danny?”

“Good, thanks,” says Danny, taking a bite of apple. “How’s the world of high finance? Did you see my brother today?” Danny’s brother Randall works in a financing company, and Luke’s had lunch with him a couple of times.

“Not today, no,” says Luke.

“OK, well, when you do,” says Danny, “ask him if he’s put on weight. Really casually. Just say, ‘Why, Randall, you’re looking well-covered.’ And then maybe comment on his choice of entree. He is so paranoid that he’s getting fat. It’s hilarious.”

“Brotherly love,” says Luke. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” He comes to the end of the post and looks at me with a slight frown.

“Becky, has our joint account statement come yet?”

“Er… no. Not yet.” I give him a reassuring smile. “I expect it’ll come tomorrow!”bank statement actually came yesterday, but I put it straight in my underwear drawer. I’m slightly concerned about some of the entries, so I’m just going to see if there’s anything I can do to rectify the situation. The truth is, despite what I said to Danny, I’ve been finding this whole joint account thing a bit tricky.’t get me wrong, I’m all for sharing money. In fact, hand on heart, I love sharing Luke’s money. It gives me a real buzz! I just don’t love it when he suddenly asks, “What was this seventy dollars in Bloomingdale’s for?” and I can’t remember. So I’ve worked out a whole new tactical response — which is so simple, it’s brilliant.’s to spill something on the statement, so he can’t read it.

“I’m going to take a shower,” says Luke, gathering up the post. And he’s almost out of the room — when he stops. Very slowly he turns back and looks at the cocktail cabinet as though seeing it for the first time.

“What is that?” he says slowly.

“It’s a cocktail cabinet!” I say brightly.

“Where has it come from?”

“It… umm… actually, I bought it today.”

“Becky…” Luke closes his eyes. “I thought we said no more crap.”

“It’s not crap! It’s genuine 1930s! We can make amazing cocktails every night!” I’m feeling a bit nervous at his expression, so I start to gabble. “Look, I know we said no more furniture. But this is different. I mean, when you see a one-off like this, you have to grab it!”trail away and bite my lip. Luke silently walks toward the cabinet. He runs a hand along the top, then picks up a cocktail shaker, his mouth tight.

“Luke, I just thought it would be fun! I thought you’d like it. The guy in the shop said I’ve got a really good eye…”

“A really good eye,” echoes Luke as though in disbelief.gasp and scream as he throws the cocktail shaker in the air, and I’m wincing, waiting for it to land with a crash on the wooden floor — when Luke neatly catches it. Danny and I gape as he throws it again, twirls round, and rolls it down his arm.don’t believe it. I’m living with Tom Cruise.

“I worked as a barman for a summer,” says Luke, his face breaking into a smile.never knew that! Luke is so driven and businesslike and you think he doesn’t care about anything except work… and then all of a sudden, he surprises you.

“Teach me how to do it!” I cry excitedly. “I want to be able to do that!”

“And me!” says Danny. He picks up the other cocktail shaker, gives it an inexpert twirl, then tosses it at me. I make a grab, but it lands on the sofa.

“Butterfingers!” mocks Danny. “Come on, Becky. You need to get in practice for catching the bouquet at this wedding.”

“No, I don’t!”

“Sure you do. You wanna be next, don’t you?”

“Danny…” I try to give a lighthearted laugh.

“You two should definitely get married,” Danny continues, ignoring me. He picks up the cocktail shaker and begins tossing it from hand to hand. “It’s perfect. Look at you. You live together, you don’t want to kill each other, you’re not already related… I could make you a fabulous dress…” He puts down the shaker with a suddenly intent expression. “Hey, listen, Becky. Promise me, if you get married, I can make your dress.”is appalling. If he carries on like this, Luke will think I’m trying to pressure him. He might even think I told Danny to bring up the subject deliberately.’ve got to redress the balance somehow. Quickly.

“Actually, I don’t want to get married,” I hear myself saying. “Not for at least ten years.”

“Really?” Danny looks taken aback. “You don’t?”

“Is that so?” Luke looks up with an unreadable expression. “I wasn’t aware of that.”

“Weren’t you?” I reply, trying to sound nonchalant. “Well… now you know!”

“Why don’t you want to get married for ten years?” says Danny.

“I… erm…” I clear my throat. “As it happens, I have a lot of things I want to do first. I want to concentrate on my career, and I want to… explore my full potential… and… get to know the real me first… and… be a whole… umm… rounded person.”tail off and meet Luke’s quizzical gaze slightly defiantly.

“I see,” he says, nodding. “Well, that sounds very sensible.” He looks at the cocktail shaker in his hand, then puts it down. “I’d better go and pack.”wasn’t supposed to agree with me.ARRIVE AT Heathrow at seven the next morning and pick up our rental car. As we drive along to Suze’s parents’ house in Hampshire, I peer blearily out of the window at the snowy countryside, the hedgerows and fields and little villages, as though I’ve never seen them before. After Manhattan, everything looks so tiny and pretty. For the first time I realize why Americans go around calling everything in England “quaint.”

“Which way now?” says Luke, as we arrive at yet another little crossroads.

“Erm, you definitely turn left here. I mean… right. No, I mean left.”the car swings round, I fish in my bag for the invitation, just to check the exact address.Gilbert and Lady Cleath-Stuartthe pleasure of your company…stare, slightly mesmerized, at the grand swirly writing. God, I still can’t quite believe Suze and Tarquin are getting married.mean, of course I believe it. After all, they’ve been going out for well over a year now, and Tarquin’s basically moved into the flat I used to share with Suze — although they seem to be spending more and more time in Scotland. They’re both really sweet and laid back, and everyone’s agreed that they make a brilliant couple.just occasionally, when I’m not concentrating, my mind will suddenly yell, “Whaat? Suze and Tarquin?”mean, Tarquin used to be Suze’s weird geeky cousin. For years he was just that awkward guy in the corner with the ancient jacket and a tendency to hum Wagner in public places. He was the guy who rarely ventured beyond the safe haven of his Scottish castle — and when he did, it was to take me on the worst date of my life (although we don’t talk about that anymore).now he’s… well, he’s Suze’s boyfriend. Still slightly awkward, and still prone to wearing woolly jumpers knitted by his old nanny. Still a bit tatty round the edges. But Suze loves him, and that’s what counts.God, I can’t start crying yet. I have to pace myself.

“Harborough Hall,” reads Luke, pausing at a pair of crumbling stone pillars. “Is this it?”

“Erm…” I sniff, and try to look businesslike. “Yes, this is it. Just drive in.”’ve been to Suze’s house plenty of times before, but I always forget quite how impressive it is. We sweep down a great big long avenue lined with trees and into a circular gravel drive. The house is large and gray and ancient-looking, with pillars at the front and ivy growing over it.

“Nice house,” says Luke as we head toward the huge front door. “How old is it?”

“Dunno,” I say vaguely. “It’s been in their family for years.” I tug at the bell pull to see if by any remote chance it’s been mended — but it obviously hadn’t. I knock a couple of times with the heavy door knocker — and when there’s no answer to that either, I push my way into the huge flagstoned hall, where an old Labrador is asleep by a crackling fire.

“Hello?” I call. “Suze?”I notice that Suze’s father is also asleep by the fireplace, in a large winged armchair. I’m a bit scared of Suze’s father, actually. I certainly don’t want to wake him up.

“Suze?” I say, more quietly.

“Bex! I thought I heard something!”look up — and there’s Suze standing on the staircase, in a tartan dressing gown with her blond hair streaming down her back and a huge excited smile.

“Suze!”bound up the stairs and give her a huge hug. As I pull away we’re both a bit pink about the eyes, and I give a shaky laugh. God, I’ve missed Suze, even more than I’d realized.

“Come up to my room!” says Suze, tugging my hand. “Come and see my dress!”

“Is it really lovely?” I say excitedly. “In the picture it looked amazing.”

“It’s just perfect! Plus you have to see, I’ve got the coolest corsety thing from Rigby and Peller… and these really gorgeous knickers…”clears his throat and we both look round.

“Oh!” says Suze. “Sorry, Luke. There’s coffee and newspapers and stuff in the kitchen, through there.” She points down a corridor. “You can have bacon and eggs if you like! Mrs. Gearing will make them for you.”

“Mrs. Gearing sounds like my kind of woman,” says Luke with a smile. “I’ll see you later.”’s room is light and airy and overlooks the garden. I say garden. It’s about twelve thousand acres, with lawns running down from the back of the house to a clump of cedar trees and a lake, which Suze nearly drowned in once when she was three. There’s also a walled rose garden to the left, all flower beds and gravel paths and hedges, which is where Tarquin proposed to Suze. (Apparently he got down on one knee and when he stood up, gravel was clinging to his trousers. That is so Tarquin.) On the right there’s an old tennis court and then rough grass, extending all the way to a hedge, beyond which is the village church graveyard. As I look out of the window now, I can see a huge marquee billowing to the rear of the house, and a tented walkway being put up, which will snake past the tennis court and over the grass, all the way to the churchyard gate.

“You’re not going to walk to the church?” I say, suddenly fearful for Suze’s Emma Hope shoes.

“No, silly! I’m going in the carriage. But all the guests can walk back to the house, and there’ll be people handing out hot whiskeys as they go.”

“God, it’s going to be spectacular!” I say, watching as a man in jeans begins to hammer a stake into the ground. And in spite of myself, I can’t help feeling a twinge of envy. I’ve always dreamed of having some huge, amazing wedding, with horses and carriages and lots of hoopla, ever since…, since…be completely, perfectly honest, ever since Princess Diana’s wedding. I was six years old when we all watched it round at our neighbor Janice’s house, and I can still remember goggling at her as she got out of the carriage in that dress. It was like Cinderella come to life. It was better than Cinderella. I wanted to be her so much, it hurt. Mum had bought me a commemorative book of photographs called Diana’s Big Day — and the next day I spent ages making my own version called Becky’s Big Day, with lots of drawings of me in a big frilly dress, wearing a crown. (And, in some versions, carrying a magic wand.)I’ve moved on a little since then. I don’t dream about wearing a crumpled cream-colored lampshade for a wedding dress. I’ve even given up on marrying a member of the royal family. But still, whenever I see a wedding, part of me turns back into that starry-eyed six-year-old.

“I know! Isn’t it going to be great?” Suze beams happily. “Now, I must just brush my teeth…”disappears into the bathroom and I wander over to her dressing table, where the announcement of the engagement is stuck in the mirror. The Hon. Susan Cleath-Stuart and The Hon. Tarquin Cleath-Stuart. Blimey. I always forget Suze is so grand.

“I want a title,” I say, as Suze comes back into the room with a hairbrush in her hair. “I feel all left out. How do I get one?”

“Ooh, no you don’t,” says Suze, wrinkling her nose. “They’re crap. People send you letters saying Dear Ms. Hon.”

“Still. It’d be so cool. What could I be?”

“Erm…” Suze tugs at a tangle in her hair. “Dame Becky Bloomwood?”

“That makes me sound about ninety-three,” I say doubtfully. “What about… Becky Bloomwood MBE. Those MBE things are quite easy to get, aren’t they?”

“Easy-peasy,” says Suze confidently. “You could get one for services to industry or something. I’ll nominate you, if you like. Now come on, I want to see your dress!”

“OK!” I heave my case onto the bed, click it open, and carefully draw out Danny’s creation. “What do you think?” I proudly hold it up against myself and swoosh the gold silk around. “It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?”

“It’s fantastic!” says Suze, staring at it with wide eyes. “I’ve never seen anything like it!” She fingers the sequins on the shoulder. “Where did you get it? Is this the one from Barneys?”

“No, this is the one from Danny. Remember, I told you he was making me a dress?”

“That’s right.” She screws up her face. “Which one’s Danny, again?”

“My upstairs neighbor,” I remind her. “The designer. The one we bumped into on the stairs that time?”

“Oh yes,” says Suze, nodding. “I remember.”the way she says it, I can tell she doesn’t really.can’t blame her — she only met Danny for about two minutes. He was on his way to visit his parents in Connecticut and she was pretty jet-lagged at the time and they barely spoke. Still. It’s weird to think that Suze doesn’t really know Danny, and he doesn’t know her, when they’re both so important to me. It’s like I’ve got two completely separate lives, and the longer I’m in New York, the farther they split apart.

“OK, here’s mine,” says Suze excitedly.opens a wardrobe door and unzips a calico cover — and there’s a simply stunning dress, all drifting white silk and velvet with long sleeves and a traditional long train.

“Oh God, Suze,” I breathe, my throat tight. “You’re going to be so completely beautiful. I still can’t believe you’re getting married! ‘Mrs. Cleath-Stuart.’ ”

“Ooh, don’t call me that!” says Suze, wrinkling her nose. “It sounds like my mother. But actually it is quite handy marrying someone in the family,” she adds, closing the wardrobe, “because I can keep my name and take his, all at the same time. So I can keep being S C-S for my frames.” She reaches into a cardboard box and pulls out a beautiful glass frame, all spirals and whorls. “Look, this is the new range—”’s career is designing photograph frames, which sell all over the country, and last year she diversified into photograph albums, wrapping paper, and gift boxes too.

“The whole theme is shell shapes,” she says proudly. “D’you like it?”

“It’s beautiful!” I say, running my finger round the spirals. “How did you come up with it?”

“I got the idea from Tarkie, actually! We were out walking one day and he was saying how he used to collect shells when he was a child and about all the different amazing shapes in nature… and then it hit me!”look at her face, all lit up, and have a sudden image of her and Tarquin walking hand in hand on the blustery moors, in Aran sweaters by The Scotch House.

“Suze, you’re going to be so happy with Tarquin,” I say heartfeltly.

“D’you think?” She flushes with pleasure. “Really?”

“Definitely. I mean, look at you! You’re simply glowing!”is true. I hadn’t really noticed it before, but she looks completely different from the old Suze. She’s still got the same delicate nose and high cheekbones, but her face is rounder, and kind of softer. And she’s still slim, but there’s a kind of a fullness… almost a…gaze runs down her body and stops.on a minute.. Surely….

“Suze?”

“Yes?”

“Suze, are you…” I swallow. “You’re not… pregnant?”

“No!” she replies indignantly. “Of course not! Honestly, whatever can have given you—” She meets my eye, breaks off, and shrugs. “Oh, all right then, yes I am. How did you guess?”

“How did I guess? From you… I mean, you look pregnant.”

“No, I don’t! No one else has guessed!”

“They must have. It’s completely obvious!”

“No, it isn’t!” She sucks in her stomach and looks at herself in the mirror. “You see? And once I’ve got my Rigby and Peller on…”can’t get my head round this. Suze is pregnant!

“So — is it a secret? Don’t your parents know?”

“Oh no! Nobody knows. Not even Tarkie.” She pulls a face. “It’s a bit tacksville, being pregnant on your wedding day, don’t you think? I thought I’d pretend it’s a honeymoon baby.”

“But you must be at least three months gone.”

“Four months. It’s due at the beginning of June.”stare at her. “So how on earth are you going to pretend it’s a honeymoon baby?”

“Um…” She thinks for a moment. “It could be a bit premature.”

“Four whole months?”

“Well, OK then. I’ll think of something else,” says Suze airily. “It’s ages away. Anyway, the important thing is, don’t tell anyone.”

“OK. I won’t.” Gingerly I reach out and touch her stomach. Suze is having a baby. She’s going to be a mother. And Tarquin’s going to be a father. God, it’s like we’re all suddenly growing up or something.is right on one point at least. Once she’s squeezed into her corset, you can’t see the bulge at all. In fact, as we both sit in front of her dressing table on the morning of the wedding, grinning excitedly at each other, she actually looks thinner than me, which is a tad unfair.’ve had such a great couple of days, chilling out, watching old videos and eating endless KitKats. (Suze is eating for two, and I need energy after my transatlantic flight.) Luke brought some paperwork with him and has spent most of the time in the library — but for once I don’t mind. It’s just been so nice to be able to spend some time with Suze. I’ve heard all about the flat she and Tarquin are buying in London and I’ve seen pictures of the gorgeous hotel on Antigua where she and Tarquin are going for their honeymoon, and I’ve tried on most of the new clothes in her wardrobe.’s been loads going on all over the house, with florists and caterers and relations arriving every minute. What’s a bit weird is, none of the family seems particularly bothered by it. Suze’s mother has been out hunting both the days that I’ve been here, and her father has been in his study. Mrs. Gearing, their housekeeper, is the one who’s been organizing the marquee and flowers and everything — and even she seems pretty relaxed. When I asked Suze about it she just shrugged and said, “I suppose we’re used to throwing big parties.”night there was a grand drinks party for Suze and Tarquin’s relations who have all come down from Scotland, and I was expecting everyone to be talking about the wedding then, at least. But every time I tried to get anyone excited about the flowers, or how romantic it all was, I got blank looks. It was only when Suze mentioned that Tarquin was going to buy her a horse as a wedding present that they all suddenly got animated, and started talking about breeders they knew, and horses they’d bought, and how their great chum had a very nice young chestnut mare Suze might be interested in.mean, honestly. No one even asked me what my dress was like.. I don’t care, because it looks wonderful. We both look wonderful. We’ve both been made up by a fantastic makeup artist, and our hair is up in sleek chignons. The photographer has taken so-called “candid” pictures of me buttoning Suze into her dress (he made us do it three times, in fact my arms were aching by the end). Now Suze is umming and aahing over about six family tiaras while I take sips of champagne. Just to keep me from getting nervous.

“What about your mother?” says the hairdresser to Suze, as she pulls wispy blond tendrils round her face. “Does she want a blow-dry?”

“I doubt it,” says Suze, pulling a face. “She’s not really into that kind of stuff.”

“What’s she wearing?” I ask.

“God knows,” says Suze. “The first thing that comes to hand, probably.” She meets my eye, and I pull a tiny sympathetic face. Last night Suze’s mother came downstairs for drinks in a dirndl skirt and patterned woolly jumper, with a large diamond brooch on the front. Mind you, Tarquin’s mother looked even worse. I really don’t know where Suze has managed to get her sense of style.

“Bex, could you just go and make sure she doesn’t put on some hideous old gardening dress?” says Suze. “She’ll listen to you, I know she will.”

“Well… OK,” I say doubtfully. “I’ll try.”I let myself out of the room, I see Luke coming along the corridor in his morning dress.

“You look very beautiful,” he says with a smile.

“Do I?” I do a little twirl. “It’s a lovely dress, isn’t it? And it fits so well—”

“I wasn’t looking at the dress,” says Luke. His eyes meet mine with a wicked glint and I feel a flicker of pleasure. “Is Suze decent?” he adds. “I just wanted to wish her well.”

“Oh yes,” I say. “Go on in. Hey, Luke, you’ll never guess!”’ve been absolutely dying to tell Luke about Suze’s baby for the last two days, and now the words slip out before I can stop them.

“What?”

“She’s…” I can’t tell him, I just can’t. Suze would kill me. “She’s… got a really nice wedding dress,” I finish lamely.

“Good!” says Luke, giving me a curious look. “There’s a surprise. Well, I’ll just pop in and have a quick word. See you later.”cautiously make my way to Suze’s mother’s bedroom and give a gentle knock.

“Hellooo?” thunders a voice in return, and the door is flung open by Suze’s mother, Caroline. She’s about six feet tall with long rangy legs, gray hair in a knot, and a weatherbeaten face that creases into a smile when she sees me.

“Rebecca!” she booms, and looks at her watch. “Not time yet, is it?”

“Not quite!” I smile gingerly and run my eyes over her outfit of ancient navy blue sweatshirt, jodhpurs, and riding boots. She’s got an amazing figure for a woman her age. No wonder Suze is so skinny. I glance around the room, but I can’t see any telltale suit-carriers or hatboxes.

“So, um, Caroline… I was just wondering what you were planning to wear today. As mother of the bride!”

“Mother of the bride?” She stares at me. “Good God, I suppose I am. Hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“Right! So, you… haven’t got a special outfit ready?”

“Bit early to be dressing up, isn’t it?” says Caroline. “I’ll just fling something on before we go.”

“Well, why don’t I help you choose?” I say firmly, and head toward the wardrobe. I throw open the doors, preparing myself for a shock — and gape in astonishment.has got to be the most extraordinary collection of clothes I’ve ever seen. Riding habits, ball dresses, and thirties suits are jostling for space with Indian saris, Mexican ponchos… and an extraordinary array of tribal jewelry.

“These clothes!” I breathe.

“I know.” Caroline looks at them dismissively. “A load of old rubbish, really.”

“Old rubbish? My God, if you found any of these in a vintage shop in New York…” I pull out a pale blue satin coat edged with ribbon. “This is fantastic.”

“D’you like it?” says Caroline in surprise. “Have it.”

“I couldn’t!”

“Dear girl, I don’t want it.”

“But surely the sentimental value… I mean, your memories—”

“My memories are in here.” She taps her head. “Not in there.” She surveys the melee of clothes, then picks up a small piece of bone on a leather cord. “Now, this I’m rather fond of.”

“That?” I say, trying to summon some enthusiasm. “Well, it’s—”

“It was given to me by a Masai chief, many years ago now. We were driving at dawn to find a pride of elephants, when a chieftain flagged us down. A tribeswoman was in a fever after giving birth. We helped bring down her temperature and the tribe honored us with gifts. Have you been to the Masai Mara, Rebecca?”

“Er… no. I’ve never actually been to—”

“And this little lovely.” She picks up an embroidered purse. “I bought this at a street market in Konya. Bartered for it with my last packet of cigarettes before we trekked up the Nemrut Dagi. Have you been to Turkey?”

“No, not there, either,” I say, feeling rather inadequate. God, I feel undertraveled. I scrabble around in my mind, trying to think of somewhere I’ve been that will impress her — but it’s a pretty paltry lineup, now that I think about it. France a few times, Spain, Crete… and that’s about it. Why haven’t I been anywhere exciting? Why haven’t I been trekking round Mongolia?was going to go to Thailand once, come to think of it. But then I decided to go to France instead and spend the money I saved on a Lulu Guinness handbag.

“I haven’t really traveled much at all,” I admit reluctantly.

“Well, you must, dear girl!” booms Caroline. “You must broaden your horizons. Learn about life from real people. One of the dearest friends I have in the world is a Bolivian peasant woman. We ground maize together on the plains of the Llanos.”

“Wow.”little clock on the mantelpiece chimes the half hour, and I suddenly realize we’re not getting anywhere.

“So anyway… did you have any ideas for a wedding outfit?”

“Something warm and colorful,” says Caroline, reaching for a thick red and yellow poncho.

“Erm… I’m not so sure that would be entirely appropriate…” I push between the jackets and dresses, and suddenly see a flash of apricot silk. “Ooh! This is nice.” I haul it out — and I don’t believe it. It’s Balenciaga.

“My going-away outfit,” says Caroline reminiscently. “We traveled on the Orient Express to Venice, then explored the caves of Postojna. Do you know that region?”

“You have to wear this!” I say, my voice rising to a squeak of excitement. “You’ll look spectacular. And it’s so romantic, wearing your own going-away outfit!”

“I suppose it might be rather fun.” She holds it up against herself with red, weatherbeaten hands that make me wince every time I look at them. “That should still fit, shouldn’t it? Now, there must be a hat around here somewhere…” She puts down the suit and starts rooting around on a shelf.

“So — you must be really happy for Suze,” I say, picking up an enameled hand mirror and examining it.

“Tarquin’s a dear boy.” She turns round and taps her beaky nose confidentially. “Very well endowed.”is true. Tarquin is the fifteenth richest person in the country, or something. But I’m a bit surprised at Suze’s mother bringing it up.

“Well, yes…” I say. “Although I don’t suppose Suze really needs the money…”

“I’m not talking about money!” She gives me a knowing smile and suddenly I realize what she means.

“Oh!” I feel myself blushing furiously. “Right! I see!”

“All the Cleath-Stuart men are the same. They’re famous for it. Never a divorce in the family,” she adds, plonking a green felt hat on top of her head.. I’m going to look at Tarquin a bit differently now.takes me a while to persuade Caroline out of the green felt hat and into a chic black cloche. As I’m walking back along the corridor toward Suze’s room, I hear some familiar voices in the hall downstairs.

“It’s common knowledge. Foot-and-mouth was caused by carrier pigeons.”

“Pigeons? You’re telling me that this huge epidemic, which has wiped out stocks of cattle across Europe, was caused by a few harmless pigeons?”

“Harmless? Graham, they’re vermin!”and Dad! I hurry to the banisters — and there they are, standing by the fireplace. Dad’s in morning dress with a top hat under his arm, and Mum’s dressed in a navy jacket, floral skirt, and bright red shoes, which don’t quite match her red hat.

“Mum?”

“Becky!”

“Mum! Dad!” I hurry down the stairs and envelop them both in a hug, breathing in the familiar scent of Yardley’s talc and Tweed.trip is getting more emotional by the minute. I haven’t seen my parents since they came out to visit me in New York four months ago. And even then, they only stayed for three days before going off to Florida to see the Everglades.

“Mum, you look amazing! Have you done something to your hair?”

“Maureen put some highlights in,” she says, looking pleased. “And I popped next door to Janice this morning, so she could do my face. You know, she’s taken a course in professional makeup. She’s a real expert!”

“I can… see!” I say feebly, looking at the lurid stripes of blusher and highlighter painted on Mum’s cheeks. Maybe I can manage to wipe them off accidentally on purpose.

“So, is Luke here?” says Mum, looking around with bright eyes, like a squirrel searching for a nut.

“Somewhere around,” I say — and Mum and Dad exchange glances.

“He is here, though?” Mum gives a tense little laugh. “You did fly on the same plane, didn’t you?”

“Mum, don’t worry. He’s here. Really.”still doesn’t look convinced — and I can’t honestly blame her. The truth is, there was this tiny incident at the last wedding we all attended. Luke didn’t turn up, and I was completely desperate, and I resorted to… um…. It was only a tiny white lie. I mean, he could have been there, mingling somewhere. If they hadn’t had that stupid group photograph, no one would ever have known.

“Jane! Graham! Hello!”’s Luke, striding through the front door. Thank God for that.

“Luke!” Mum gives a relieved trill of laughter. “You’re here! Graham, he’s here!”

“Of course he’s here!” says my father, rolling his eyes. “Where did you think he was? On the moon?”

“How are you, Jane?” says Luke with a smile, and kisses her on the cheek.’s face is pink with happiness, and she’s clutching onto Luke’s arm as though he might vanish in a puff of smoke. He gives me a little smile, and I beam happily back. I’ve been looking forward to this day for so long, and now it’s actually here. It’s like Christmas. In fact, it’s better than Christmas. Through the open front door I can see wedding guests walking past on the snowy gravel in morning dress and smart hats. In the distance, the church bells are pealing, and there’s a kind of excited, expectant atmosphere.

“And where’s the blushing bride?” says Dad.

“I’m here,” comes Suze’s voice. We all look up — and there she is, floating down the stairs, clutching a stunning bouquet of roses and ivy.

“Oh, Suzie,” says Mum, and claps a hand to her mouth. “Oh, that dress! Oh… Becky! You’re going to look—” She turns to me with softened eyes and for the first time seems to take in my dress. “Becky… is that what you’re wearing? You’ll freeze!”

“No, I won’t. The church is going to be heated.”

“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” says Suze. “So unusual.”

“But it’s only a T-shirt!” She gives a dissatisfied tug at the sleeve. “And what’s this frayed bit? It isn’t even finished properly!”

“It’s customized,” I explain. “It’s completely unique.”

“Unique? Don’t you have to match the others?”

“There aren’t any others,” explains Suze. “The only other person I would have asked is Tarquin’s sister, Fenny. But she said if she was a bridesmaid again she’d jinx her chances of marriage. You know what they say, ‘Three times a bridesmaid.’ Well, she’s been one about ninety-three times! And she’s got her eye on this chap who works in the City, so she doesn’t want to take any chances.”’s a short silence. I can see Mum’s brain working hard. Oh God, please don’t—

“Becky love, how many times have you been a bridesmaid?” she says, a little too casually. “There was Uncle Malcolm and Aunt Sylvia’s wedding… but I think that’s it, isn’t it?”

“And Ruthie and Paul’s,” I remind her.

“You weren’t a bridesmaid at that,” says Mum at once. “You were a… flower girl. So it’s twice, including today. Yes, twice.”

“Did you get that, Luke?” says Dad with a grin. “Twice.”, what are my parents like?

“Well, anyway!” I say, trying quickly to think of another subject. “So… er…”

“Of course, Becky has a good ten years before she needs to worry about anything like that…” says Luke conversationally.

“What?” Mum stiffens, and her eyes dart from Luke to me and back again. “What did you say?”

“Becky wants to wait at least ten years before she gets married,” says Luke. “Isn’t that right, Becky?”’s a stunned silence. I can feel my face growing hot.

“Um…” I clear my throat and try to give a nonchalant smile. “That’s… that’s right.”

“Really?” says Suze, staring at me, wide-eyed. “I never knew that! Why?”

“So I can… um… explore my full potential,” I mumble, not daring to look at Mum. “And… get to know the real me.”

“Get to know the real you?” Mum’s voice is slightly shrill. “Why do you need ten years to do that? I could show it to you in ten minutes!”

“But Bex, how old will you be in ten years’ time?” says Suze, wrinkling her brow.

“I won’t necessarily need ten whole years exactly,” I say, feeling a little rattled. “You know, maybe… eight will be long enough.”

“Eight?” Mum looks as though she wants to burst into tears.

“Luke,” says Suze, looking perturbed. “Did you know about this?”

“We discussed it the other day,” says Luke with an easy smile.

“But I don’t understand,” she persists. “What about the—”

“The time?” Luke cuts her off neatly. “You’re right. I think we should all get going. You know, it’s five to two.”

“Five minutes?” Suze suddenly looks petrified. “Really? But I’m not ready! Bex, where are your flowers?”

“Er… in your room, I think. I put them down somewhere…”

“Well, get them! And where’s Daddy got to? Oh shit, I want a cigarette—”

“Suze, you can’t smoke!” I say in horror. “It’s bad for the—” I stop myself just in time.

“For the dress?” suggests Luke helpfully.

“Yes. She might… drop ash on it.”the time I’ve found my flowers in Suze’s bathroom, redone my lipstick, and come downstairs again, only Luke is left in the hall.

“Your parents have gone over,” he says. “Suze says we should go over too, and she’ll come with her father in the carriage. And I’ve found a coat for you,” he adds, proffering a sheepskin jacket. “Your mother’s right, you can’t walk over like that.”

“OK,” I agree reluctantly. “But I’m taking it off in the church.”

“Did you know your dress is unraveling at the back, by the way?” he says as he puts it on.

“Really?” I look at him in dismay. “Does it look awful?”

“It looks very nice.” His mouth twitches into a smile. “But you might want to find a safety pin after the service.”

“Bloody Danny!” I shake my head. “I knew I should have gone for Donna Karan.”Luke and I make our way over the gravel to the tented walkway, the air is still and silent and a watery sun is coming out. The pealing bells have diminished to a single chiming, and there’s no one about except a sole scurrying waiter. Everyone else must already be inside.

“Sorry if I brought up a sensitive subject just then,” says Luke as we begin to walk toward the church.

“Sensitive?” I raised my eyebrows. “Oh, what, that. That’s


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 796


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