BY: DANIELLA BERNETT
Never look back…Treason is deadly
While in the Lake District, journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon overhear a man attempting to hire international assassin Hugh Carstairs, a MI5 agent who went rogue. They race back to London to warn Philip Acheson of the Foreign Office and Superintendent Oliver Burnell. But it’s a devil of problem to prevent a vicious killing, if the target is a mystery.
More trouble brews as Emmeline pursues a story about shipping magnate Noel Rallis, who is on trial for murder. Rallis is desperate to keep the negative publicity from exposing his illicit schemes, especially something sinister called Poseidon. Lord Desmond Starrett, whose dark past made him easy prey for blackmail, is getting cold feet about their dubious partnership. Hovering in the shadows of this ugly secret world is a Russian mole buried inside MI5. Scorned prima ballerina Anastasia Tarasova makes the fatal mistake of threatening to reveal all she knows. The hunt for the answers takes Emmeline and Gregory up to Scotland, where they learn that the truth has lethal consequences.
Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland November 2010
The few strands of pearly moonlight dangling from the midnight sky shivered in the bracing wind. Soon, they would be swallowed whole by the menacing swath of clouds making its stealthy approach. And never would they be seen again on this miserable, murky night.
Emmeline cast a wary glance at the heavens. They held a teeming, silent threat of rain. Not one of those pleasant showers that freshened the air and coaxed spring blooms from their winter slumber, but rather a pelting assault that sought to punish all humanity for its sins from time in memoriam.
Emmeline tore her gaze from the impending doom Mother Nature had in store and squinted at Gregory. He hadn’t uttered a word in the last five minutes. What she could discern of his profile was set in taut lines. His body radiated tension as he expertly guided the Zodiac dinghy across the harbor’s inky netting of undulating liquid silk. Her fingers clutched for dear life at the rope that ringed the motorized dinghy. Up and down she bounced. Up and down. If, no when—definitely when—it started to rain she probably wouldn’t feel a thing. She was already drenched from the spray of splashing water, while the chill had settled deep in her bones—along with fear.
She hunched forward and hugged her arms around her body. A sadistic tentacle of wind managed to find the gap between the collar of her Barbour jacket and her neck. It slithered down her spine with apparent glee. She wanted to shake her fist at the sky. Only the possibility of tumbling backward into the water prevented her from doing so.
It was madness, sheer madness. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They had put the past behind them. She had put the past behind her. She was looking forward to the future.
And now this.
Against her will, her gaze was drawn to the huddled lump curled at her feet. The gloom hid the gravity of the situation. But she knew. She knew all too well in fact. It was a man. She could still feel his blood on her hands. She was certain they would be stained forever.
She squeezed her eyes shut. However, she was ambushed by images of the horror she and Gregory had witnessed not more than ten minutes ago. Was it only ten minutes? It felt as if it had been an eternity already. Her mind wouldn’t let her forget—would never let her forget—seeing the man sprawled, spread-eagled on his back on the floor in the yacht’s parlor. From the sinister hole in the center of his chest seeped his blood—thick, crimson, and terrifying.
She shuddered as her eyes popped open. She carefully bent forward, ears straining against the wind. Was he still breathing? She couldn’t hear anything. She leaned in closer. Still nothing. Her pulse was racing through her veins.
She shot a look at Gregory. The wind caught the tremor in her voice. “I…I think…”
He cut her off, barely flicking a glance in her direction. “Yes, darling, you’re quite right. He’s dead.”
Dunford House Swaley, England, October 29, 2010
Can it be true? Emmeline wondered. Her gaze snaked across the lawn to where Gregory, at his most dashing in a dove gray morning suit, crisp white vest and tie, had his head bent in earnest conversation with Gran. He must have sensed her eyes upon him because he looked up and gave her a wink.
She smiled, a rush of warmth spreading across her body. Yes, it was true. He was hers. All hers. She held out her left hand in front of her. There, nestled against her pink sapphire engagement ring, was a slim gold band. Its simplicity held a world of meaning and promise. They were bound together now.
Mrs. Gregory Longdon.
She rolled the name around her tongue. It had a lovely, lilting sound.
She had waited for this day for so long. They had been through so much. Had fought so hard to get here. And finally, finally they were married.
The first day of their future together. If she smiled any harder, she was certain her face would crack.
Endless days of happiness stretched before them. Nothing would ever pull them apart again. Nothing.
There’s always Swanbeck, a niggling voice at the back of her mind whispered.
She gave a violent shake of her head. No, you’re not going to ruin today, she snapped back silently. That man will not destroy our lives.
It had been three months since he disappeared. He wouldn’t dare set foot in the U.K. or Europe again. Every police force from Scotland Yard to Interpol, not to mention MI5 and MI6, were itching to get their hands on him. Besides, if Swanbeck had wanted to exact revenge, surely he would have done it by now?
You’re being naive, the voice taunted. Don’t forget the locket he left in your hotel room. It was Swanbeck’s sadistic little way of telling you he can get to you at any time he likes.
She bit her lip, her gaze straying to Gregory again. She knew he worried about Swanbeck too. They never spoke about him. But in unguarded moments, she caught the strained, worried look in Gregory’s eyes. She was well acquainted with that look. It was the same one staring back at her every morning she glanced in the mirror.
Emmeline exhaled a long, slow breath. She was determined that Swanbeck would not upset her. Not today. Today belonged to her and Gregory.
Her eyes alighted on Adam Royce, who had just emerged from the marquee that had been set up in the medieval manor house’s lush garden. He inclined his head, an amused gleam in his dark eyes. He was about to make his way toward her but was waylaid by another guest. He shrugged his shoulders and lifted his glass in the air in a virtual toast.
She dipped her head, accepting the compliment. She marveled at how close she and Adam had become. Her brother. Well, half-brother. For thirty-one years of her life, she had thought she was an only child. And she was content because she had Gran. Then three months ago, her life was turned upside down when she went to interview Victor Royce, Adam’s father. She sighed. It was startling how things could change in the blink of an eye.
She had two other half-siblings as well, Jason and Sabrina. She groaned inwardly. They had not been invited to the wedding. Suffice it to say, there was a world of difference between them and Adam. His brother and sister were cut from the same cloth. They both took after their mother Lily Royce. The mere thought of that woman sent a frisson down Emmeline’s spine. Never had she met someone so cold and calculating. It was hardly surprising that Jason was preparing to go on trial for murder, among other crimes. And then there was Sabrina, Adam’s beautiful, sexy twin, who made no secret of the fact that she wanted Gregory and didn’t care what she had to do to get him. Naturally, this did not endear her to Emmeline. Quite the contrary. She wanted to claw out her half-sister’s eyes. For a start. But she was willing to be magnanimous. After all, it was her wedding day and Gregory had clearly demonstrated that he was immune to Sabrina’s siren charms. Granted, this had not deterred Sabrina—if anything it had made her more determined—but soon she would realize it was a lost cause. And if she didn’t, Emmeline would devise a painful method to show her big sister the error of her ways.
“May one congratulate the lovely bride?” The well-modulated timber of Superintendent Oliver Burnell’s voice broke into her thoughts.
She spun round and beamed up at the burly Scotland Yard detective. “Yes, of course. Thank you for your good wishes. I can’t tell you how delighted I am that you were able to come.” She nodded at Sergeant Jack Finch, who flanked her on the other side. “And you, too, Sergeant Finch. Today wouldn’t have been half as special, if the two of you hadn’t been here. I’m certain Gregory agrees with me.”
At the mention of her husband’s name, Burnell cleared his throat and Finch tried to bite back a smile.
“We didn’t come for Longdon,” Burnell mumbled under his breath.
“What he means, Emmeline,” Finch interpreted, “is that we wouldn’t have missed today for the world. Isn’t that right, sir?”
He fixed his deep blue gaze on the sergeant for a fraction of a second and then turned back to Emmeline. “The words were on the tip of my tongue.”
She felt her grin widen. “You’re both absolutely lovely.”
Impulsively, she reached up on tiptoe and kissed each man on the cheek. She couldn’t help but notice that Burnell’s cheeks flushed a rosy pink beneath his neatly trimmed white beard.
“Yes, well,” he stammered.
“What’s all this? My back is turned for five minutes and what happens? I find my wife in the arms of another man. Do I need to challenge you to a duel at dawn, Oliver? Your choice, pistols or swords.”
They looked around to find Gregory approaching with a masculine grace that cannot be learned. His lips curled into an impish grin, while his cinnamon eyes danced with mischief.
He slipped an arm around Emmeline’s waist, as she tilted up her face to accept his kiss. Even the most chaste of kisses were sweeter now. “Hello, darling. We were just talking about you.”
“Oh, yes?” His eyes still held a teasing challenge. “From my vantage point, Emmy, it appeared that you and old Oliver here were preparing to run off together to Gretna Green.”
Burnell cleared his throat. “Ahem. Superintendent Burnell.”
Gregory cupped a hand around his ear and leaned in closer. “I didn’t quite catch that, Oliver.”
“You know perfectly well, Longdon.”
Emmeline put a hand on her husband’s chest. “Gregory, for once stop needling Superintendent Burnell. I don’t want any cross words today.” Really, the glee he derived from tormenting poor Burnell was too wicked. It was like he was a five-year-old, rather than a grown man of forty-two.
“It’s all right, Emmeline,” the detective said. “I should be used to it by now. I hold nothing against you. Your husband”—he allowed his gaze to skim over Gregory, as he shook his head —“I can’t believe I’m actually using that word to describe you, Longdon.” Then his attention returned to Emmeline. “Your husband I’m afraid is a plague on all policemen. He haunts our dreams and waking hours.”
“Why, Oliver, you care. I feel a warm glow right here.” Gregory rubbed his hand in a circular motion over his heart. “To know I’m always in your thoughts.” He paused and lifted a finger to his eye, sniffing melodramatically. “I think I’m going to cry.”
Burnell made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Get off it, Longdon. I said haunt. As in terror.”
Gregory winked and lowered his voice. He put his free arm around Burnell’s shoulders. “Oh, I understand. You’re embarrassed to let the others know your true feelings. Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me.”
Finch snorted. “Nothing is safe with you, Longdon. Especially not jewels.”
The superintendent shrugged off Gregory’s arm. “You’re too cocksure of yourself. One of these days you’ll use up the last of your nine lives and we’ll have you.”
Gregory clucked his tongue. “Really, Oliver. I’m quite shocked. I hope Scotland Yard is not spending taxpayer money to go off on wild goose chases.”
“A leopard never changes his spots,” Burnell countered.
Emmeline interrupted this volley of words. “Superintendent Burnell, you forget that Gregory has turned over a new leaf. He is Symington’s chief investigator. He’s well respected.”
Burnell and Finch exchanged a stunned glance. “Respected?” they said in unison.
“You know he is,” she persevered. “He’s very good at his job. He’s a model citizen.”
Burnell gave her a pitying look. “Emmeline, for your sake I hope that’s true. I have no doubt that he loves you. Any fool can see that as clear as day. That’s Longdon’s one redeeming quality. But personally, I have my doubts that he will remain on the right side of the law. The lure of the chase is too strong, the rush of adrenaline too exhilarating. One day soon, it will become too much for him and he’ll go back to stealing jewels.” He raised an eyebrow. “If he hasn’t already.”
“You’re wrong. He won’t.” She tilted her head back to look up into Gregory’s face. “He promised.” These last words were barely a whisper.
Gregory gave her waist a squeeze and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Don’t worry, darling. Oliver, it’s ungentlemanly to distress my wife like this on our wedding day.”
“Emmeline, I’m sorry,” Burnell said, duly chastened. “Truly I am. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I would never do so intentionally. But stand warned, if the time comes when I have to arrest Longdon for his crimes, I will do my duty.”
“Does the intrepid Assistant Commissioner Cruick-shank know about this obsession of yours, Oliver?”
Burnell sighed. “Let’s leave Cruickshank out of this discussion. Actually, Cruickshank is not a fit subject for any discussion.”
“There we are in complete agreement. I knew we were of one mind.” Gregory extended a hand to the superintendent.
Reluctantly, Burnell clasped his hand but they did exchange a conspiratorial grin and the mood lightened.
“I’d say that we’re all in agreement that Longdon is a very lucky man to have found Emmeline,” Finch observed. “I think we should toast to the gracious and charming Emmeline Longdon.” There was only the merest hesitation, before he uttered her new surname.
The superintendent clapped him on the back. “Well done, Finch. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”
Gregory hailed a waiter and flutes of champagne were handed round.
She felt a blush creeping up her cheeks as Burnell and Finch raised their glasses. “To Emmeline.”
“To my darling, Emmy. The woman who captured my heart on a filthy, rainy night three years ago. I’m never going to you let go.”
She took a sip of the golden liquid and leaned into his body. She lowered her voice so that only he could hear. “I’m going to hold you that promise.”
His lips curled into a smile. “I would expect no less. I’m your slave to command. I can hardly wait to get you alone later.” His warm breath tickled her ear. “You look absolutely delectable Mrs. Longdon and the most erotic thoughts are racing through my mind.”
His eyebrow arched up suggestively and Emmeline cheeks burned. “Gregory, behave yourself,” she hissed, as her elbow nudged him gently in his ribs. “What will the guests think?”
“I don’t give a damn what the guests think.”
She shot a sideways glance at Burnell and Finch, but they didn’t appear to have overheard her exchange with Gregory. Or perhaps they were merely being tactful?
She took another swallow of champagne to hide the secret smile that played around her mouth.
“Ah, there are you,” Nigel Sanborn, Gregory’s cousin, said as he sidled up to the little group with his older brother Brian in tow.
The brothers shook hands with the two detectives, as Brian’s wife, Tessa, approached with her arms out-stretched toward Emmeline.
She folded her new cousin into her embrace. “You look like an angel, Emmeline,” Tessa gushed as she drew back. “Isn’t that right, Brian?”
Her husband’s eyes crinkled into a smile. “An absolute vision.” He bent down and brushed a kiss against Emmeline’s cheek. “All eyes were on you today.”
“You’re both very kind. Thank you for coming.”
Nigel cleared his throat. “Ahem.”
“Yes, Nigel,” Emmeline replied expectantly. Of the two brothers, she was closer to Nigel.
He took her hands in both of his own larger ones. “I was wondering when I was going to get my turn. You know how I feel about you. From the bottom of my heart, I wanted to wish you”—he cast a glance at Gregory—“both of you every happiness.” He kissed her cheek. “Welcome to the family.”
“Hear, hear,” Brian chimed in. “Little brother was always more eloquent. I suppose that’s why he’s the company lawyer and I’m merely the managing director.”
They all chuckled as a waiter appeared at their side with a tray of hors d’oeuvres. A brief silence fell as they munched on the tasty morsels.
“Well, Toby,” Brian said at last. One of Gregory’s eyebrows quirked upward at this. “Sorry. It slipped out.”
Brian still often relapsed into calling Gregory by his real name. Toby. Toby Crenshaw. But that was another life. A long, sad story. Gregory had shed his past like a snake sheds its skin. At least he had tried to. The only problem is one can never escape the past. It has a funny way of catching up with you when you least expect it, as Emmeline was only too aware.
She looped her arm through her husband’s and beamed up at him. But things were different now. They had each other and would face things together. No more secrets.
The awkward moment passed and they were all chatting amiably.
“So where are the two of you going on your honey-moon?” Tessa asked. “Somewhere exciting and exotic, I hope.”
“Actually,” Emmeline replied, “we’ve both had more than enough excitement in the past few months to last us a lifetime. All we want is a nice, quiet honeymoon. Just the two of us, no distractions. We’ve decided to spend a week in Grasmere in the Lake District.”
Tessa shook her head. “Only a week?”
An eyebrow arched upward and she shot an outraged look at Brian, who raised his hands in the air. “Don’t look at me, love. I’m not a slave-driving ogre.”
“But surely now that Emmeline is one of the family, you can give her some more time off. You told me yourself that the Clarion is flying off newsstands and subscriptions have doubled since she became editorial director of invest-igative features.”
“Tessa, please. I don’t want to cause a family rift. Brian has been very generous since I started working at the paper.”
“Ahem.” Brian cleared his throat noisily and cast an aggrieved glance at his wife.
“Unfortunately,” Emmeline continued, “that’s all the time we can take at the moment. I can’t leave the paper for an extended honeymoon. I’m working on a profile of the shipping magnate Noel Rallis ahead of his murder trial. Meanwhile, Symington’s has assigned Gregory to a big, new case. Maybe when things settle down, we’ll take a fortnight in the spring. We were thinking of Scotland. Edinburgh, of course, and the Highlands. Possibly, the Isle of Mull. We’ve left the details a bit loose.”
“We’re going to play it by ear,” Gregory echoed. “In the meantime, we’re going to enjoy nature in Grasmere. And each other.” He winked at her.
Nigel made a disgusted gesture with his hand. “Hmph. How very disappointing. You already sound like a boring, old married couple.”
“I heard that, Nigel.”
Emmeline’s grandmother came barreling toward them, swathed in a flowing creamy beige confection, whose well-cut lines disguised her plump figure. “Boring indeed,” she sniffed as she wagged a finger at him. “Don’t start putting ideas into their heads. Emmy and this scoundrel”—she latched onto Gregory’s free arm—“as much as I adore them both, have spent far too much time the past two years running around in circles being silly.” Emmeline rolled her eyes heavenward. “Don’t give me that look, Emmy. You know I’m right.”
“Yes, Gran,” she mumbled under breath. “You’re always right. I wouldn’t dream of contradicting you. It’s more than my life is worth.”
Helen gave her a pointed glance. “Hmph. Anyway as I was saying, Nigel,” she returned to her lecture, “boring is not a crime. Emmy and Gregory need to spend time together. Otherwise, how am I going to get my great-grandchildren? I’ve been patient for far too long.”
They all burst out laughing.
Emmeline felt her cheeks flaming. “Oh, Gran. Really.”
For a second, her throat constricted as her mind flew back to the baby she had lost two years ago. Their baby. She swallowed down the tears. The ache in her heart never left her, but she would not cry. Not today.
Gregory pressed a kiss to the top of Helen’s head. “You’re a treasure. A woman after my own heart.” He lowered his voice and whispered in her ear, “I’m willing and ready. It’s up to Emmy.”
Helen patted his shoulder and beamed up at him. “Good boy. I knew I could count on you.”
“Honestly, you two,” Emmeline hissed with a disapproving shake of her head. “You’re like two peas in a pod. Incorrigible.”
Helen leaned across Gregory. “And you, my precious girl, think too much. No more holding back.” She straightened up and cupped one of Emmeline’s cheeks and touched Gregory’s face with her other hand. “Promise me to embrace life and love, and each other. Never let go.”
They both hugged Helen. “We won’t. We promise.” Gregory’s voice was a gentle caress in her ear.
“I love you, Gran. More than you will ever know.” There was a catch in Emmeline’s throat. “Thank you for everything. My life would not have been the same without you.”
A sheen of unshed tears sparkled in Helen’s soft brown eyes. “Piffle,” she said as she disentangled herself from their arms. “You would have been just fine.” She touched a finger to the corner of her eyes. “Now, I must go and find out about the cake. Ah, there’s Adam. It’s a crime that such a nice boy is not married. I will have to do something about that. We can’t have him floundering about. Look at the muddle the two of you made of your lives when you were left to your own devices.”
Emmeline put out a restraining hand, but it was too late. Her fingers slipped off Helen’s arm like raindrops dripping from leaves. “Gran, he’s not a boy. You shouldn’t meddle…”
Helen was already bustling toward an unsuspecting Adam.
Emmeline sighed. “Poor Adam. I bet he rues the day I introduced him to Gran.”
The others watched with bemused grins as Helen ambushed Adam, looping her arm through his so that there was no means of escape.
“Nonsense,” Nigel countered. “Adam is a grown man. He is well aware that Helen is a force of nature. It’s easier not to put up any resistance. You simply have to go with the flow. We’ve all learned that. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
They watched as Adam’s face broke into a broad grin as he allowed Helen to lead him off. They saw her throw her head back and laugh at something he had whispered into her ear.
“You see what I mean,” Nigel pointed out. “You gave us a gift, Emmeline. Another grandmother who cares about all of us.”
She looked up at him. “What a lovely thing to say. I know for a fact that she worries about whether all of you are happy.”
“That makes us very lucky,” Gregory said.
She reached up on tiptoe and gave her husband a peck on the cheek. “Gran has a big heart, but I still think I’d better go over and pry her away from Adam.” She glanced around again. “Oh, they must have gone inside. I won’t be a minute. Promise.”
“Emmy, leave it.”
But she was already walking toward the manor. At the door, she tossed a look over her shoulder and was happy to see that Gregory was once again engrossed in conversation with their friends.
Good, she thought. All she needed was about ten minutes.
“Excuse me,” she hailed a passing waiter. “Is there a telephone I can use? I have to make a rather urgent call to London.”
His brown eyes clouded with concern. “I hope nothing is wrong, Mrs. Longdon.”
“No, no,” she assured him with a smile. “It’s just something I neglected to tell the deputy editor. I don’t want to worry about the office on my honeymoon. I’m sure you understand.”
He grinned back at her. “Of course. There’s a telephone in the library at the end of the corridor.” He gestured with his chin.
She inclined her head and waited until he had drifted outdoors. Then, she half ran, half walked toward the library.
She pressed the door closed behind her and crossed to the desk. She snatched up the receiver and dialed Jeremy’s number. He was a University of London student, who was doing an internship at the Clarion this semester. His dream was to become an investigative correspondent and he was eagerly, almost greedily, willing to do anything to further his career. At the moment, Emmeline had him doing research for her.
“Hello Clarion. Jeremy Mortimer speaking.”
“Hi, Jeremy. It’s Emmeline. I only have a minute, if that.”
“Emmeline? Isn’t today your wedding?”
“It is. Now, hush and listen. I need you to dig into Noel Rallis’s business. There have been rumors swirling for years about illegal schemes and possible money laundering. Instinct tells me that he may have murdered his girlfriend because she discovered something.”
“Right.” His voice was infused with elation. “Leave it to me. I’ll check under every rock. If there’s anything to find, I’ll find it.”
“I knew I could rely on you. Ring me on my mobile the minute you dig up something.”
“On your honeymoon?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes. Now, I’ve got to go.” She ended the call before he could say anything else.
She scurried out a French door and across the lawn. She was by Gregory’s side again all in the space of five minutes. Her absence had been barely noticed. No one need ever know about the call. She would never hear the end of it, if Gran found out. However, she couldn’t stop doing her job simply because she had gotten married. She was a journalist, after all.
“All right. Where are the bride and groom hiding?” a female voice carried over the low buzz of conversation. “Ah, I see you.”
Maggie Roth, Emmeline’s best friend who was more like a sister, emerged from a knot of guests. She had always been attractive, but today she was stunning with her red-gold hair piled in an elegant chignon atop her head and a sea-green silk dress clinging to her slim figure. As she got closer, a delighted gleam was clearly evident in her mesmerizing emerald eyes. Maggie and Helen were the two people who had been dreaming about this wedding more than Gregory and Emmeline themselves.
“Right, there you are you two. Time to cut the cake. Everyone inside.”
Gregory clicked his heels together and gave her a cheeky salute. “Aye, aye, mon générale. It is an honor to be commanded by such a beautiful woman. Lead the way.”
“Oh, you.” Maggie flapped her hand, but she reached up and gave him a kiss. “Save the charm for your wife.”
“She knows she has my heart.”
“Well, that’s as it should be. Now, come on. Chop, chop.” She snapped her fingers impatiently as she attempt-ted to herd them toward the tent.
Emmeline fell in step with Maggie. They locked arms around each other’s waists, their heads touching.
“I haven’t had a chance to thank you and Gran. No one could have dreamed of a more perfect wedding. The two of you thought of everything.”
“We had a long time, a very long time, to plan things. I must admit that your and Gregory’s silliness—well, your stubbornness really—caused us no end of sleepless nights. He was keen as mustard. We despaired of you. But thank God, in the end you came to your senses. Otherwise, I don’t mind admitting, we were going to beat you into submission.”
Emmeline merely laughed at her friend’s good-natured chiding. “Thanks for everything. It was exactly what we wanted. A small, intimate wedding with only family and close friends.” Her eyes darted around the guests who had come out to share their special day. Yes, just right.
“How did you discover Dunford Manor?”
Her gaze roamed over the Tudor manor and the six acres of gardens surrounding it. The house was situated in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty overlooking the border between Kent and Sussex. And on this October day, Mother Nature had outdone herself. Like a chef, she whipped up a cerulean sky. It had exactly the right tinge of blue with a smoky scarf of cloud drifting by to give it texture and make things visually interesting. Meanwhile, a balmy Indian summer breeze whispered sweet-nothings upon the air, making all thoughts turn to love.
They had opted for a civil ceremony since Emmeline was Jewish and Gregory was Church of England. Neither wanted their wedding to be a tussle of religious sensibilities. The ceremony had taken place in what had been the drawing room, which was cozy and snug, and had been perfect for their fifty or so guests.
“Actually, Helen is the one who unearthed this jewel,” Maggie replied. “She attended a friend’s fiftieth anniversary party here several months ago and thought it would be ideal for your wedding. She was bubbling with excitement when she rang to tell me about it. That very weekend I came down to Kent and we visited the manor together. I was instantly smitten. Then, it was merely of question of working on you and Gregory.” She cleared her throat and one red-gold eyebrow rose up accusingly. “As I said before, you presented no end of trouble. Now, Helen and I can finally stop worrying.” She paused. “Of course, you know we are expecting an announcement in the very near future about a little Longdon on the way.”
They both giggled.
Emmeline swatted her friend’s arm. “Honestly, Mags, you’re as bad as Gran. Give us a chance.”
“Oh, no. We’re not leaving anything to chance anymore. Too much time has been wasted. You need a firm guiding hand—well, two firm guiding hands.”
“Don’t let my darling wife browbeat you, Emmeline. Stand firm,” Philip Acheson said as he joined them as they ducked into the marquee. “Otherwise, you’ll turn into a cowering shadow of yourself. Look what happened to me.”
“Beast,” Maggie snapped without rancor, allowing Philip to press a kiss against her temple. “I married a beast.”
There was a mischievous glint in his blue eyes as his blond brows waggled up and down. “But a lovable beast, you must admit.”
Maggie tossed her chin in the air and teased, “Hmph. Arrogant too. Emmeline, you’re fortunate that Gregory is gallant and charming and knows how to treat a lady properly. Some people around here could learn a thing or two from him.”
Philip snorted. “Darling, it’s no use trying to make me jealous. The only thing that Longdon could possibly teach me was how to steal jewels.”
Even without Maggie stepping on his toes, he regretted it the instant these words tumbled out of his mouth. “Sorry, Emmeline. I didn’t mean to…”
Maggie gave him withering look. “Never mind my husband. His tongue can often be a menace to his life. No one believes those ridiculous rumors about Gregory being a jewel thief. It’s merely vicious gossip. Isn’t that right, Philip?”
His eyes widened and his gaze fixed on Emmeline’s face. He shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, definitely nasty gossip. What else could it be?”
“Exactly,” his wife concurred as she patted Emmeline’s arm. “Anyone can see that someone as sophisticated as Gregory couldn’t possibly be a jewel thief. So we’re not going to dwell on these rumors ever again, understood?” There was a warning note in her tone that was clearly directed at her husband.
He flashed her a brilliant smile. “I’ve already forgotten it.”
Secrets, Emmeline thought. Everyone harbored secrets. It’s amazing that relationships survived at all.
She cast a sidelong glance at Philip as Helen and Maggie fussed about arranging them around the cake. Maggie, like most people, thought her husband worked for the Foreign Office’s Directorate of Defense and Intelligence. However, a small group, which included Emmeline, Gregory, Burnell and Finch, knew he really worked for MI5, Britain’s counterintelligence agency.
She sighed. She understood that Philip only wanted to protect Maggie and the twins, even though he wasn’t a field agent. It certainly wasn’t Emmeline’s place to tell her friend the truth. That was their business. Still, it made her feel a bit dirty having to pretend.
She shook her head trying to physically banish these thoughts from her mind. The only thing she should be concentrating on today was her marriage to Gregory. For better or worse, their new life stretched out before them.
A boring, old married couple.
A smile spread over her face. She could hardly wait.