Friday, 18 August 2017

Beautiful Strangers: Chapters Seventeen to Nineteen


Beth was haunted by thoughts of Lou, angry with herself for allowing her mind to be taken over by a woman she’d only met briefly. Lou had had a massive effect on her, the like of nothing before and she couldn’t stop Lou’s beautiful face dancing through her mind no matter how hard she tried. Lady Luck couldn’t make their paths cross again — could she?
The sound of the piano interrupted her thoughts. She was ready to dance then perhaps she could push all thoughts of Lou out of her head.
Wrapped up in herself she was unaware of the white rage Hyacinth was fighting to control and the several large gins she had downed in quick succession.
Better we sit in silence, H thought. She couldn’t trust herself to speak for fear of her anger bursting out. She needed to calm down. If Penny fucked up the delivery of the diamond consignment they would all be in real danger. Hyacinth would kill her if she did. Hopefully Alison, one of her trusted coven members, would be able to save the deal. H needed to be in Tynemouth, not in London seducing a woman she suddenly had doubts about. Just wait till she got her hands on Penny.
They had arranged to meet Constance at nine-thirty so had another hour to kill. Beth, happily preoccupied with thoughts of Lou, looked over at the piano and gasped, ‘Wow!’
Lou was playing the baby grand.
‘What? Did you say something, darling?’ H said.
Leaning forward in her seat, Beth rubbed her eyes hard. Lou evaporated. That was a rather tasteful vision, she thought.
‘It’s nothing, H. I thought I saw someone I knew. Another g and t darling?’ Beth mimicked.
Hyacinth nodded absently, not paying attention, she missed the sarcasm. Fury still surged through her over the phone call from her Number One. How dare Penny try to dictate the terms of sharing? How bloody dare she remind her — Hyacinth — about the basic rules of the group when she should have been out meeting the Contact.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Beautiful Strangers: Chapters Thirteen to Sixteen



Hyacinth, still in her party dress, pulled away from the Hull ferry terminal. The package delivered safely by the courier was zipped into her handbag. It meant a trip to her London Bank sooner rather than later. She didn’t like keeping the diamonds in the house. The nagging voice in her head kept urging her to organize a safe deposit box in Newcastle. This was a personal consignment after all; it had nothing to do with the Coven.

Daphne’s sleep was disturbed by the telephone ringing. Anticipating a hospital emergency she paled when she recognized her caller’s voice.
‘I have been thinking about you, Daphne. I have decided I would like you to be the new Matron of my unmarried mothers’ unit in Carlisle.’ H casually fondled the bag of diamonds she’d carefully placed on her bedside cabinet. ‘It’s such a beautiful Georgian building and I need someone with your expertise and someone I can trust.’
Daphne attempted to speak.
‘No, Daphne. You must listen to me. This is how it’s going to be. You will move into the self-contained ground floor flat within the premises. I will double your hospital salary, provide you with a new car, secure your pension, and increase your holidays. In return you will hand in your resignation today, when you go on duty. Then I want you to take a holiday until you come to me in Carlisle. There is one other thing: you will never see or try to contact Beth McConnell again.’
There was silence while Hyacinth allowed Daphne time to digest the implications and seriousness of her words.
‘Hyacinth, thank you. What can I say? I don’t really want to go to Carlisle, I’m quite happy where I am.’ Daphne floundered, dreading the consequences if she dared to refuse.
‘Are you, darling? Do you think the Hospital Board will want you to stay when they learn about how you prey on the female student nurses and the dreadful things you make them do so they score good marks in their ward assessments.’ Hyacinth spoke calmly. She knew Daphne would accept her offer. She could afford to be patient.
‘Why are you doing this, Hyacinth? I’ve never done anything to hurt you. I’ve always been protective.’
‘That’s exactly why I know I’ve made a good choice and I can rely on you to make the right decision.’
‘You’ve given me no choice, have you? I’ll submit my resignation today.’
‘Good. Welcome aboard. We’ll speak later. You won’t regret it.’ Hyacinth replaced the receiver, admired herself in the dressing-table mirror, all the while congratulating herself on her latest plan. That was Daphne neatly moved out of the Beth equation and she had the perfect Matron into the bargain.
Three hours later, Daphne handed in her notice, collected her belongings and left the hospital without telling a soul.
Later that day, rushing along the corridor between wards, Beth, half asleep, literally bumped into Hyacinth.
‘H! What are you doing here?’
‘Hello darling. I’ve come to tell you my good news.’ H lifted her slipping shoulder bag back onto her shoulder. She wanted to prolong this conversation.
‘News? What news?’
‘I’ve accepted a new position, darling,’ Hyacinth lied.
‘A job?’
‘Yes, as you so sweetly put it. A job.’
╩╗Here, of course. I want to be close to you. They’ve been head hunting me for ages so I thought, why not? It’s the perfect opportunity for us darling. I officially accepted this morning, but I won’t be starting for a few months. We have to keep it to ourselves until the official announcement.’ She flicked her hair seductively, expecting Beth to be delighted.
Beth didn’t know if she was or not. It was a bit of a bombshell. Through gritted teeth she forced a smile, ‘Well, isn’t that nice. Congratulations, doctor.’
Linking Beth to walk with her, H continued, ‘I’ve booked our London weekend. We’re going to have a wonderful time, darling, so be ready to go two weeks on Friday. We’ll take the early train. George can drive us to the station.’ She loved rubbing his nose in it. ‘Oh and I have some more friends I want you to meet. I’ll arrange a little get together.’
‘Don’t jump the gun. I could be working.’
‘You’re not, I’ve already checked with George.’
Hyacinth stroked Beth’s arm. Beth wished she would stop treating her like a pet Poodle.
‘Darling, you have forgiven me for last night?’
‘Of course.’ Beth pulled away before anyone had the chance to see them together. It’ll be like this all the time when she works here, she thought, we’ll be continually ducking and diving. Hyacinth liked to take risks; she didn’t. She decided she had put it off long enough. It was time to talk to Lindsay. She could trust her lifelong friend. She would call her tonight.
Uncharacteristically she crashed through the doors into the ward causing the nursing staff to wonder what had ruffled Miss McConnell’s feathers.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Beautiful Strangers: Chapters Eleven and Twelve



Beth had been trying to contact Hyacinth since their trip to Scotland. She was smitten, her feelings alternating between incredible lust, desperate to get into bed with her, and total self-doubt seeing herself as a stupid fool who had got the situation entirely wrong. Despite leaving several messages, H hadn’t returned her calls. What was the woman playing at? Beth was anxious to make contact, needing some sort of reassurance.
Beth presumed Hyacinth’s silence meant she wasn’t going to Davinia’s birthday party. She convinced herself H was playing with her mind; she didn’t appear to want to play with her body. The party might help to lift her spirits. Despite going with dreary Daphne, she was looking forward to her first glimpse of Melton Manor. From Daphne’s description the Macfarline residence sounded impressive.
On the night of the party they rattled along in Beth’s old car. The Manor was well off the beaten track. The endless private drive twisted through acres of open parkland. Finally they arrived. Built more like a castle, Melton Manor was imposing, and much bigger than Beth’s family home. She couldn’t wait to see inside.
To create an atmosphere, not that they needed to because the place had enough of its own, strategically placed torches were positioned to cast long shadows. Beth loved it.
The minute they stepped out of the car, Beth’s keys were taken by a handsome young man who drove it away to be parked out of sight. Apparently Daddy didn’t like the place to look untidy and her old bone-shaker of a car would certainly lower the tone. Liveried staff ushered them towards a red carpet leading into an arched doorway that spilled out warm welcoming light.
This is some way to live, Beth thought, walking into the grand reception hall where a string quartet played in an alcove. Davinia and Julie were waiting inside to receive their guests. Beth was amused that they were immaculately and identically dressed in purple silk shirts under flowing black kaftans.
‘Come in, darling girls. Have some champagne,’ greeted Julie. She air kissed Beth, and thrust a glass into one hand as she grasped the other continuing, ‘Come with me. Daphne knows lots of people here, but let me introduce you to someone else so you don’t feel left out. Daphne’s sure to get sidelined; she always does!’ Julie chuckled.
Barely giving Beth time to wish Davinia a happy birthday, Julie led her into the garden room — a lovely, mellow yellow room with tall windows reaching down to the floor that opened in such a way you could step out into the walled garden. Numerous fruit trees jostled with each other from behind shrubs in varying stages of bloom, providing a riot of colour. A summerhouse, almost hidden by rhododendron bushes, was just visible in a far corner — perfect for secret liaisons. Holding on tightly to Beth’s hand, afraid of losing her in the throng of chattering women, Julie headed towards a woman sitting alone on one of the comfortable sofas. As they approached, the woman turned her head, glossy dark hair swung across her shoulders and brown eyes smiled up at them.