Sex stories

Short sex stories




Beware the Roasburies! Pt. 05

'Buck House' = Buckingham Palace (The hovel H M the Queen inhabits in London)

Chapter Twenty

Sunday 3 January 71

A week may be a long time in politics as Harold Wilson opined, but that week between Christmas and New Year was longer by far.

On Sunday the 3rd of January I sat in my armchair in my empty flat, or at least it felt empty even though Colette was sitting on the sofa. I had heard nothing from Connie since she had left on Boxing Day with her father.

We sat in silence, the feeling of oppression mitigated only by the music playing on the radio. Colette was reading a novel and I was sitting staring into space, something I had done frequently during that week.

What was it with these Roasburies? Two sisters, and they behaved in exactly the same way, except that the older sister had cheated under the impression I had cheated, and now it seemed Connie had the same impression. I had thought the episode at the Orchards in November had cleared that one up.

For the first two days I thought nothing of it, but by the Wednesday I began to worry. She had taken enough clothes for a short visit and all the rest were still in the second bedroom. The girls rallied round as usual, though I did not feel any need of sexual comfort from them. They were, however, just as puzzled as I was.

They dragged me to a New Year's Party, and I wondered all through that evening if she would phone while I was out to wish me a Happy New Year, but there was nothing. On New Year's Day divorce in Britain became very easy and that affected me: it seemed symbolic of the Roasburies, causing something to snap inside me. I rang the house. The dragon answered.

"What do you want?" she asked, after I identified myself.

"And a Happy New Year to you too, Mrs Roasburie," I replied, putting in all the sarcasm I could muster. Bad move. Silly move.

"I don't need any of that from you," she replied tartly.

"I would like to speak with Connie please," I said softening my tone.

"She's not here." Click.

I phoned Derek. Ingrid answered.

"Graham?" she sounded surprised, as well she might. "What's the matter?"

"Happy New Year, Ingrid," I began, "though it isn't very happy for me at the moment."

"I don't understand."

"You remember coming to see me to ask if Penny could talk to me?"

"Yes."

"She never came."

"But that is because what you told to us was wrong. It was not true. You had been seeing other girls. We were there at Christmas, and her mother had proof you had been seeing other women while engaged to her. Derek is here."

"Graham?"

"Hello Derek, what's going on? Connie left here on Boxing Day with her father for a couple of days. It's a week now, and I've heard nothing from her."

"We didn't see Connie," he replied curtly. "We left on Boxing Day morning. They didn't say they'd found her or we'd have stayed."

"So what's this about proof I'd been seeing other women when I was seeing Penny?"

"Mother's brother engaged a Private Investigator to watch you last year when Penny was in Liverpool, and he came up with a report. Cost her the earth she said, thousands. They watched you for months. She didn't use it because you broke up, but after the fracas in November, she showed Penny and at Christmas she showed the rest of us. It's convincing, Graham."

"If there's a report it's a fabrication, because there weren't any women while Penny was in Liverpool. I thought the girls explained that in November."

"Graham, the report detailed your relationships with all those women who backed up your story with dates. From what we saw, you and the three women weren't telling the truth. Quite a little harem you've got there. It's clear the lot of you were lying through your teeth. I think it would be better if you kept well clear of us all in future. Go fuck your sluttish colleagues." Click.

I was dumbstruck. This seemed so unreal, so far from the reality of what actually happened. So now my suspicion began to grow that Connie had also seen and believed that report. I could not understand how it could be so convincing, but it was unlikely I would ever find out, or that I would ever see Connie again either.

I had relayed the information to the girls, and Colette had come to stay for the weekend. We slept in the same bed but by unspoken agreement did not engage in any carnal pursuits. So there we were reading on a dull afternoon as the dusk fell.

"Graham," Colette said at length. "You could do with a break. Why don't you take next week off? You've got holiday entitlement coming to you that needs using up. Have a break. I have some time owing as well, we could go away for a few days. Take the whole week off, and I'll join you."

It seemed a good idea. Colette went home, since we were back at work the next day, when we both booked the following week off. No one else wanted the second week in January! It turned out the week's weather was the warmest for many years, early summer temperatures, though it did rain quite frequently.

Apparently Walsh made a sarcastic remark to his secretary in someone else's hearing about us taking the same week as holiday, but that did not surprise me at all.

Colette insisted we splash out on a really luxurious hotel in London to cheer me up, so we agreed she would book a suite at the Cavendish Hotel in Mayfair, from Wednesday 13th January to the Saturday after, with the intention of 'doing' the Museums and Art Galleries. We also booked first class returns on the train. It cost us frightening amount of money and as always we split the cost, but it was still very expensive.

I spent the week at work re-organising my diary, working late to complete work and having meetings that would not wait until I returned. Zena would field any urgent developments that might come up.

Wednesday 6 January 71

When I arrived home on Wednesday, quite late on, I knew someone had been in the flat. Nothing seemed to have been touched or moved around, but I had that feeling. I ranged round the flat and ended in Connie's room, when it became obvious that she had been there that day. More of her clothes were missing, and things had been moved around in the room.

I looked for a note. Nothing. Well, I changed that. I wrote one instead and left it prominently in her room.

Bad manners. Ingratitude. Distrust. Underhand behaviour. I didn't think you were like that. OK, you want to throw all the good my friends did for you in their faces, so why don't you take away the rest of the stuff they bought you and sneak out like a thief as you just have.

Whatever you've been told about me by your conniving mother and sister that's made you behave in such a hateful manner, is all lies. You want to think hard about the short time you were with me, about my family's love, my friends' care for you and Mary's helpfulness.

What evidence did you notice of me sleeping around while you were here? You knew about Colette but you also knew we did not get together while you were here. If you still won't talk, you're as bad as your sister. In which case good riddance to you. I'm sick and tired of you Roasburies. You're bad news the lot of you.


The note was still there on Thursday evening, but had disappeared on Friday. As far as I could see, she could not have taken very much more. However, there was no note from her in response.

As I might have expected with the Roasburies, I spent much of the weekend wondering if it would provoke any reaction. I could not work out if any more clothing had been taken. There was no reaction, no response.

On Monday I slept in and then Colette took me out shopping and for an evening meal.

"Tomorrow I'll come over and stay the night again, OK?"

"OK."

"In your bed."

"Definitely. I think Connie's in the past. She's gone."

"I'll bring my Sexy Nightie."

"Oh yes, please."

Tuesday 12 January 71

On Tuesday, Colette came over in the afternoon with her suitcase and we checked we had everything - train tickets with seats and breakfast on the train booked, and hotel reservations confirmed. She dropped her bag in Connie's old room and we then sat in the living room and drank our tea.

Late in the afternoon, we were both startled by the sound of the front door being opened with a key. Zena had a key but was at work. The only other person was Connie! Wouldn't you just believe it!

Colette made to get up, but I signalled her to sit tight. Whoever it was went to Connie's bedroom. There was an exclamation of surprise. We nodded at each other grimly. We assumed it was Connie and she had found Colette's bag.

The footsteps came to the living room and Connie entered, and stopped short at the sight of us. Her face showed shock and surprise, then dislike.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"If you've come for the rest of your things, get on with it." I snapped.

"I've not-"

"Constance, the property you are taking away is yours, but that is not the point. The point is your sheer bad manners and deception in not facing me and giving me an explanation. It's a real slap in the face for all those people who took you to their hearts and offered you friendship. None of us deserve this sort of treatment. So what have you to say?"

She looked puzzled, and I thought that perhaps there was some guilt there, then again dislike.

She scowled and said, "You told me a pack of lies about what you did when you were with Penny. That's what it's about. You were pretending to love her and saying you wanted to get married and all the time you were sleeping with your 'girls' for months before you proposed to her, and for months after. I suppose it was for release since she was not giving you any. She was devastated when she found out.

"And you got all these other people to lie to help you." She gestured at Colette. "How could you do that? You would have done the same with me. Mum said it was a lucky escape."

"OK," I said, restraining my frustration and anger. "Putting aside the fact that all that is a pack of lies on Penny's behalf - I assume because she is ashamed of what she has done - putting that aside for now, why not talk to me? You condemned me without giving me a chance, just like your sister."

Connie sat down, looking more uncomfortable. She said nothing.

"Nothing to say, Constance?" I deliberately used her full name to show my displeasure and to needle her.

"OK, we move on. I'm telling you truthfully that I was never unfaithful to Penny. Ever. At all. She lies. Without talking to me first she slept with another man, and I suspect she did it, not because she thought I was cheating, but because she wanted to. I think that is why she would not face me. So what do you say to that?"

At this Connie seemed to come to life.

"I know you are lying, and it's despicable you pretending you are wronged and innocent. You really conned me. I've seen the proof of what you've done. I've seen a Private Investigator's report detailing where you went with Colette here, and with the other two, staying together overnight. You're all in this together."

"Oh yes," I said dismissively, "that so called report. I don't believe you. Show me this 'report'."

"Mother's brother had you investigated when Penny went to Liverpool. It's a full report by a reputable investigation agency of all your fucking around. So you can stop your posturing. You don't really want to see it, because you know what's in it. Just admit it, you're pitiful."

"Well, since I've not seen this work of fiction, I can't comment. So why don't you show me? I do want to see it. Where is it?"

"Penny's got it," said Connie.

"Oh! Very convenient," I scoffed. "So how are you going to produce it? She won't come near me."

"I could go and get it," said Connie.

I burst out laughing. "And I'd never see you again. You and your darling sister have got form for disappearing. I think this is a bluff to get you out of my flat. Admit it."

I was goading her: at last I had a chance to get Penny to meet me.

"I could phone her," said Connie, uncertain and now puzzled about my urgency to see evidence that should condemn me. "How would that be?"

"OK," I said, "Get her here with the report, and let me see it."

Connie looked confused at my wanting to see the report, but went off to the hallway to phone.

Connie returned. "Penny's just got in from school. She doesn't want to see you, but she'll bring the report."

"Tough!" I said, "She will see me, because I'm going to answer the door. Then at last we can talk properly."

"We'll talk all right," Connie said harshly, "and there will be some grovelling to be done."

The doorbell rang, and I went to answer it. I opened it. There she stood. She looked surprised, perhaps astonished.

She was just as pretty as she had been when we were together, though now she wore a grimace of distain. It reminded me of her mother and did nothing for her looks. I looked inside myself for some feelings for her but she was like a stranger.

"Come in," I said, no more.

She walked past me and went to living room. She had a briefcase which she put on the dining table, opened it, took out a large envelope and extracted its contents: an official looking booklet. Then she shed her coat and put it over the back of the dining chair.

She stood back, her arms folded. She said nothing to me.

I went to the table, sat down on another chair and read the report carefully, which purported to be a record of the investigator's surveillance of me on and off from October 69 until April 70.

I glanced at the front of the booklet. The agency was one our practice used! That was why I remembered that man who kept appearing when I was out with one or other of the girls in the summer. The report was very helpful in that it headed each time of surveillance with the date.

Lawyers are trained to look for small details, and there were enough details to make me wonder why neither of the Roasburie girls had seen them. The first thing was the dates were just that, dates with no day mentioned, so perhaps the dates alone did not ring any bells with Penny.

Perhaps they didn't want to notice, or perhaps like most people, they only saw what they expected to see.

There were thirty occasions when I was supposed to have offended, just before and then mainly after Christmas and before Easter. Something did not look right, and I went to my room, returning with my diary for that year and my photographs. Then I went through each occasion putting days to the dates lightly in pencil. At length I sat back.

Now I knew that some of the descriptions were outright lies, of the sort the red top tabloid newspapers concoct about the famous.

One supposedly had a neighbour of Zena complaining of the noise we made making love because the walls were so thin, and moaning about the frequency of such trysts.

Another detailed a two day hotel visit where the 'investigator' saw evidence of 'intense sexual activity' in our hotel bedroom.

"It's a fabrication," I said. "Some of the descriptions actually refer to the summer after we broke up, and some are totally fictitious. I'm surprised no one noticed, it's obvious if you have a diary."

"You can't wriggle out of it that easily," said Penny coldly. "They catalogue action by action how you cheated on me with dates and places."

"I don't need to do any wriggling," I said. "If the report is actually by this agency, I will be suing them for libel: I'll destroy them. It is not necessary for me to prove that all this is fantasy, I can show it has malicious intent by merely asking you some simple questions."

I'm afraid the lawyer in me had come to the fore. I was cross-examining a witness. It was Penny in the witness box. Penny bridled but I was ploughing on.

"Do you remember when we went to the Everyman Theatre?" I asked her.

"Yes."

"Remember the date?"

"It was the beginning of March, we'd only just got engaged. We hadn't announced it."

"It was the Saturday 7th of March. Here, see the entry in my diary. Now, do you remember I took you to the Free Trade Hall for a concert, about two weeks later?"

"Yes, it was Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven."

"Well remembered, that's right," I said. "Sunday 22nd March: see - here is the diary entry.

"Again do you remember where you were the weekend after I proposed to you on the Valentine's Day weekend? Weekend of the 21st and 22nd of February?"

"I came to your flat that weekend, I remember I worked and you read, but I don't see..."

I went to the relevant page in the report. The report showed the same dates.

"OK, I think those will do. Now look at this page. Here, I've underlined them in pencil: the report dates them, 21st February, 7th March; now here: 22nd March. See?"

Penny began to look puzzled. On each of those days there was a description of me with Colette in compromising situations, hugging or kissing, and the dates were quite clearly the same, except the report did not show the days of the week.

"This one. it says I went into my flat with Colette hugging and kissing, on Saturday 21st February. It even says we had hands on each other's bottoms, me goosing her and pushing up her skirt. I'm sure you'd have noticed us in the flat, since you were in there yourself the whole weekend! Perhaps you were too wrapped up in your work?

"The Everyman theatre, 7th March, in Liverpool, staying overnight in your bed, remember? The report shows me on that date staying in Colette's flat overnight, and leaving early on the 8th in a 'dishevelled state'. Again it does not show the day or you would have known it was a weekend.

"And here I am going into the Free Trade Hall, the report dates it 22nd March, with - you? No! With a woman called Susan with whom I went to a Tom Paxton concert on Wednesday the 20th of May!. Perhaps you went with my doppelganger?"

"I remember the Tom Paxton concert," she said, thoughtfully, "I wanted to go but couldn't get tickets. That was way after we split up."

"Now this one's a pearler!" I must confess to crowing. "Surely you saw this travesty?"

"No? What's so special about this one?"

"12th to the 14th December? Here I am in Ironbridge with Colette!"

"So?"

"Think Penny! What weekend was that? The last of your autumn term? Two parties?"

It was almost fun to see the dawning realisation. "You organised a weekend away for me, and I didn't go."

"Who went instead, Penny? Colette?"

"No, Kitty. And you went to London. She wouldn't let me forget it!"

"Well, according to this report there was evidence on the dishevelled bed Colette and I shared, of rampant sex! You remember that don't you Colette?"

"First weekend in June," she said, off hand. "The report is accurate about the state of the bed!" she giggled. "Great weekend that!"

Penny looked perplexed. "But...? Why didn't I see that? Especially that date?"

"Perhaps you didn't want to see? Perhaps you were so eager to get proof?"

"No, Graham! I just didn't notice!"

I was being a little unfair. Further the dates without days attached would not have rung a bell. I was actually looking for lies, so I found them. I continued.

"Penny, I don't need to prove when all these events in the report happened, most of them in the summer, only that these are fakes, deliberately falsified. If these, then all!"

She paled. "No, you're right. It's all a nasty lie."

"When did you first get sight of this so called report?" I asked.

"Well, after the November dinn..." She lapsed into silence.

"Exactly. You couldn't have seen it earlier - say just after Easter - because it was concocted over the summer when all those events happened, I assume in case you ever had second thoughts."

"Now, look at this diary entry of mine: Monday and Tuesday 9th and 10th May."
She read my anguished entry and thoughts, then I put the photographs in front of her.

"These, along with a letter containing all you did, including that lie of yours about being at Derek's on the Friday, were what your dear mother intercepted and destroyed. They speak for themselves, don't they? Now you know what you did to me."

Penny went and sat down next to Connie on the sofa, and shut her eyes.

I glanced at Connie who to her credit was showing real worry, registering disbelief at the deception, fear and dawning guilt at her own reaction to it. About time, I thought.

"So," I concluded to no one in particular, "either this investigating agency has knowingly falsified these events under orders, or the report has been concocted by someone else, who had the agency's report and dated a rewritten one at random.

"The report constitutes deception and libel, since they have been shown to other people to discredit me, and ensure that our engagement stayed ended.

"What do you know about it? Who really rewrote it and who falsified the dates? You can ask them why they did this horrible thing to me and to you, Penny."

"It was mother who said her brother had commissioned the report for her," said Penny, now visibly distressed. "So either she or my uncle altered the report's dates, or the agency she used did it. Either way she's behind this."

"Most of the events are 'true', I said. "I did all those things, but after we broke up, not before. The report about Zena is a straight lie, and I'll bet you won't find anyone in her flats who actually made those allegations: she gets on well with all her neighbours on each side and above and below - I've met them, and those flats are well built and pretty soundproof. I never heard any noise from the other flats, and Zena and I have never made love."

Penny was now distressed.

"Why did she do that? At that stupid engagement party I was ready to go to you and apologise and beg you to forgive me. It was she who stopped me, telling me she had all this 'evidence' that you had concocted an elaborate lie with your friends.

"Actually, I know why she did it. She was afraid because I got a job in the Manchester area near here, and she knew I was now keen on bell ringing. She needed more telling evidence than hearsay as ammunition. She knew it was likely we would meet and then the truth would come out."

She scowled. "She would use any trick in the book to stop the marriage, or any danger I would get back with you. She'd be sure she was doing me a favour - protecting me from 'an unsuitable match...'

An anguished Connie broke in, "The lying bitch! Who in their right mind would want to be her kind of 'suitable'? Why the fuck did I ever go home? Wait until Daddy gets home, I'll see to it he knows everything.

"I left home that first time to get away from that bitch, and it nearly destroyed me, and the man who's 'not our sort' rescued me, and his friends welcomed me and they were so generous and... and..." Here she broke down in sobs, and Colette, bless her, went over to her, sat on her other side and had an arm round her.

The two sisters sat with Colette on the sofa together, breathing hard, pale faced and trembling. They had their eyes cast down. Neither looked at me. Colette left the room to top up the teapot. In the meantime there was silence in the room.

Colette served them some more tea and they absently thanked her.

It was Penny who first turned her eyes in my direction. She gave a wan smile of shame. I could see she was thinking, or trying to think of what to say. At last she sighed.

"I was going to see you after that party," she said woodenly. "She produced that garbage," she pointed at the booklet, "and I should have seen through it. Why didn't I see through it? It reinforced everything she told me before, when Patty came up with her suspicions. I never checked the dates at all, except they were winter dates mainly."

She sighed again. "I'm just so... sorry, Graham. I don't know how to tell you how sorry and upset I am. You did nothing wrong and I never gave you a chance. Why, oh why didn't I talk to you when Patty and Annette told me what they'd seen?

"Instead I went home to mother and she reinforced what Patty had told me. She said my Uncle knew all about you and a number of girls, and you were known to be a sexual hedonist and a disgrace to the profession but you wouldn't be in it for long. She said she'd tried to tell me about you when you first brought me home, but I wouldn't listen. She'd phoned Uncle Kieran and he'd told her you were totally unreliable, would be unfaithful and would bring me nothing but misery. I'm just so... sorry I hurt you so badly. I..."

She lapsed into silence.

I said nothing. I felt wrung out, depressed at the stupid mess we were in, and the effort to show the report for what it was. I looked at Penny, who was glancing at me hoping for something from me.

I had to say something.

"You perhaps now have some idea, Penny, how much you tore me apart. I ached for you and had no answers, just your lie about going to Derek's. I assume you were seeing Martin Greaves, and of course it was hell to see you arm in arm with him, kissing him with such love and affection, spending the night with him. You can have no understanding of how much that hurt.

"Now months have gone by, and there's no chance of saving what we had. It was over, dead, months ago, and I was over it and over you. Never ever do that to anyone else, Penny."

She looked even more woebegone at that.

Then she sat up. "Yes, you're right. It's beyond repair, but I want you to know that I'll always regret what I've done."

She stood. "Can I have a hug? Can you forgive me? I so want you to forgive me."

I stood and she came to me, and we embraced. It felt different, she was different, a different shape, more mature. She held onto me, and I enfolded her in my arms. She gave a little sob.

"Put it behind you," I said, "I have no hard feelings any more; they are long past. Yes, I can forgive you. Now you have to forgive yourself, but only for that first refusal to talk. The rest is down to your mother and that uncle. You mustn't take responsibility for what she's done. You were lied to, viciously so. Incidentally what's your uncle called? I might need to sue him."

"Uncle Kieran." she said. "I think he's a lawyer like you. We rarely see him, he disapproves of Mum's marriage to a divorced man."

I started and stiffened. Their mother's maiden name was Walsh. Kieran Walsh?

She pulled back and looked into my eyes. "What's the matter?"

"I think I know the man," I said. It seemed neither of the daughters knew the connection I'd just made. "I'll make some further enquiries. See if he is the one I think he is."

I would keep this knowledge to myself. Being well aware of Kieran Walsh's antipathy to me, I thought this knowledge might be of use to me in future. I suspected that he had reinforced Penny's mother's opinion of me and firmed her resolution that her daughters would never be allowed to marry me, for their own sake.

"Penny, Connie, please don't mention the report to anyone, not even Derek. I might take action about it, and I don't want anyone forewarned."

They both agreed.

"Just so you know," Penny said, "When I believed you cheated and was really down, Martin did comfort me, but he is so like you; he did sleep in my bed with me, but he wouldn't do anything until I broke off our engagement."

She paused and searched my face, "Actually, Martin is teaching in Manchester as well, and we're going out. He's very nice, but-"

"Don't say it," I said. "First love is always unique, but later loves can grow much deeper. Is he the one for you, d'you think?"

"I think so," she said quietly, "I hope so. Nigel was a big mistake."

"I'm surprised I haven't come across you both because of bell ringing."

"Oh, first year teaching. We haven't had time yet to join a tower."

We disengaged from our hug, and our meeting was over.

"I'd better be going," she said. "I'm really glad I came over now. I should have-"

"That's enough," I said. "We've made our peace. It's finished now."

It was faintly depressing this talk of a failed relationship, but while she was distressed, guilty and unhappy, I just felt deflated. I picked up her coat and helped her on with it.

"Thanks," she said and turned for the door.

"Sis?" came a plea from Connie, who had said nothing the whole time. She had stood in her turn, "Can you put me up for a few more days? Just till I sort out where to live?"

"If you can stand the sofa," Penny said. "You're welcome to stay."

Connie's voice prompted me to turn towards her.

"I did exactly the same as Penny, didn't I?" she said to me, dully. "I didn't give you a chance, and after all you did for me. I feel so embarrassed, so humiliated. If you don't mind, I'll collect some stuff another time."

She fished in her handbag and extracted the keys, laying them gently on the coffee table.

What did I feel? I'm not exactly sure. I think I told myself I had a duty to her since she was still homeless, though I was not sure I wanted her to stay: I was deeply unsettled by her behaviour, so like her sister's, as she had just admitted. I knew that realistically she had nowhere to go. What could I do? The words came out without further conscious thought.

"Where are you going?" I asked her. "I thought you lived here."

She froze and looked at me with some astonishment.

"What's the matter?" I asked her. "You live here, don't you? We agreed that, didn't we? Have I said anything different?"

She seemed dumbstruck, but then stammered, "I-I don't know if I can live here after what I've done. I knew what Penny had done and I still did the same. Then I came creeping in here to take the lovely clothes you all gave me. I was only taking what I needed to wear; these clothes are all I've got. I despised you and I wasn't even going to thank you for what you did do."

She spoke the truth; she was not her own best advocate, but I suspected her mother was the driving force behind it all, and her mother had the same vested interest in keeping Connie safely away from me, as she had for Penny. I couldn't fault Connie on her confession and her honesty about what she'd done, and at that moment I knew I really did want her to stay.

"Up to you," I said. "You have a room here, and I said it was yours as long as you wanted it. I gave you my word on that, and I won't go back on it. Of course, if you don't want to stay..."

Penny looked on, bemused about this development. Connie was also so surprised that she was undecided. Penny broke the spell.

"Connie," Penny said with a flash of a glad smile at me, "Don't be stupid. You know you want to stay. Graham's made you an offer you really can't refuse!"

"I don't know how you can do this," Connie said to me dully, "after what I've done."

"Connie!" I said impatiently. "Are you staying or not?"

She looked startled. Then made up her mind. "Yes," she said. "Yes please, in any case I've nowhere else to go. Penny's right about the sofa." There was a transient grin, gone in a second.

Thereafter there was no smile: her face was creased with worry and uncertainty. I had similar feelings. How would we live together after this? I only knew I wanted her with me, and hoped somehow to find a way to get over it or round it.

Penny moved to the front door and I followed her, leaving the other two in the living room.

She smiled at me, and I remembered our first meeting at the carol service. The smile hadn't changed and now lit up her face as before. She was just as beautiful, but there was no answering attraction or emotion in me at all. All too long ago and too much hurt. Also, one could add, someone else had taken her place decisively, though I'm not sure I was conscious of it at that moment.

"You're a star," she said to me, then sotto voce, "Look after her, won't you?"

I nodded. She embraced me again and kissed me on the lips, sighed, looked vaguely confused, and left.

Am I supposed to know what was going on inside her head? I hadn't a clue, and still haven't. I know I felt that nostalgia for a past relationship which had so much promise, so perhaps she did too. Move on: you can't go back.

--

Chapter Twenty-one

I went back to the living room to find Colette and Connie sitting very still and saying nothing. They both seemed relaxed enough. Darkness had fallen so I went to the window and closed the curtains, switching on the electric fire's coal effect. The red effect gave out no heat, but made the room feel warmer, in any case it was plenty warm enough from the central heating.

When Colette suggested to Connie that she go and settle back in since she was staying, Connie seemed relieved to have something to do and immediately made her way to her room, closing her door behind her.

"How d'you feel?" Colette asked me. "What d'you think?"

"I don't know. This is all a bit sudden."

"What about Connie?" The question was inevitable.

"What about her?"

"You took her back." Her words were weighted.

"You make it seem as if we were an item, as if she had been unfaithful and I had forgiven her."

"Well, nearly," she said, and I thought she was gaining the upper hand. "She did what her sister did before, and you took her back. She would have been gone long since if we hadn't had the day off. She'd have gone for good and you know it."

"We don't really know that; who knows, after coming back here she may have had second thoughts. It seems you're saying that I'm wrong to let her stay?"

"No, of course I'm not. We precipitated a confrontation which cleared up all the misunderstandings. Both of those girls now know how wrong they were to react against your supposed cheating by refusing to confront you. Penny has realised she threw away something good which she'll never get back.

"After what happened years ago when Connie was effectively thrown out by that mother of hers, she then too easily believed her mother's lies against you and all our kindness. A bad error of judgement and a worse reaction. She could have phoned you and told you what she'd found out. She didn't. At least she hasn't slept with anyone else."

"So?" I urged, "What are you getting at?"

"Graham, my darling," she said patiently, "You had a week together. One week. I'm sure you were more than flatmates when the week was over. I don't know whether you slept together, but you were definitely more than newly made friends sharing a flat, and, before you deny anything, we all saw what happened to you after Christmas: at the New Year's party you were just as you were after Penny cut you off. So, I'm wondering what you're going to do now. Think about it."

There was a meaningful pause. Then she added, "You do remember we were going to London tomorrow?"

I had quite forgotten in all the kerfuffle. She had not quite finished.

"Graham, I'm not trying to pry, but what are your feelings for Connie? Don't answer right away. Think. But I want an answer tonight before I go: I need to know if we're still going to London together."

She got up and went to Connie's room, shutting the door behind her. I could hear their voices, but through the door I could not tell what they were saying.

Then Colette came back.

"Connie needs to collect her stuff from Penny's. The clothes she took from here are there. I'll take her."

I nodded and the two left, without Connie coming near me.

Well, what were my feelings for Connie?

I reprised what had happened since I first met her. I remembered how she looked, how beautiful she was even in her downtrodden rather dowdy state. I remembered her constant worry that she could not pay me for what I was doing.

There was her settling in, cooking, bringing me tea, running with me, coming to ringing, her contagious happiness when she was kitted out, and her delight in showing me everything, including her body! How overwhelmed she was on her reception by the family and the romantic moments on Christmas Eve. Oh, and our lovemaking; definitely our lovemaking.

Then Boxing Day, Geoff, and her departure. She was happy to be reconciled with the family and promised to come back in a few days, but she didn't return; she cut me off.

It came to me that thanks to Penny my feelings of rejection and hurt were more acute than they otherwise would have been. So, if I pretended Penny had never met me, what had actually happened?

Connie had been deceived by her mother who hated me. Connie had been loyal to her sister, who she then believed had been mistreated by me. That loyalty made her angry with me, and I saw how deep that sisterly love was for Penny whom she had lost for so long. I wondered if I could add that perhaps there was something genetic in both sisters' refusal to confront me.

Then there was her history. Men used her, deceived her. She distrusted men, and I seemed too good to be true, and she gave in to her feelings of relief that she had at last met a man she could trust. Then the bombshell back home that I was a philanderer and a liar, and was swilling around with a group of 'tarts' as her mother would have put it. No wonder she cut me off!

In fact her response wasn't really so bad after all if I looked at it that way from her point of view, with her history. Then there was her reaction when she found out she had been deceived by her own mother! She was livid at having been hoodwinked into rejecting me by her mother's lies, and that those lies had deprived her of our relationship. That was a more a quality than a deficiency; it seemed from her reaction that she really loved me a great deal.

I took a deep breath. Where did that leave me? It did not seem so serious now it was over. Would she cut me off again? That was always going to be an unknown, but I thought it highly unlikely. If we were to grow closer, that must be one of the ground rules, one of the most basic ground rules: talk before action. Every time. Talk as soon as there's a problem: no bottling things up.

Did I want her to stay? Of course. As more than a lodger? Oh yes indeed! Could I risk committing myself to her? Hmm.

The girls returned and again were closeted in Connie's room. Then Colette went and made tea, bringing me a mugful.

"Connie unpacking?" I asked.

She nodded. "Yes, there's really not that much, but she's not coming out just yet. You know she was only taking what she absolutely needed? She was going to leave the rest. So, do you love her?"

The question was arresting. I'd not allowed the 'L' word into my deliberations.

"Don't know," I said, "I am very attracted to her as a woman, she's very good looking-"

"You can say that again!" exclaimed Colette.

"I'm very attracted to her as a woman, she's very good looking," I repeated doggedly, and got a half-smile for it. "She's also thoughtful, she looks after me, she enjoys what I enjoy-"

"So you have had sex then!" she said mischievously, then, "It's all right, she told me you had."

"You've been talking about me to her."

"With her," she corrected. "Anyway, how do you feel towards her?"

"I feel happy when she's around, I feel warm and protective towards her, I desire her, I enjoy her hugs and kisses, I really enjoy making love with her. Does that satisfy you?"

"Yes," she said gaily, "and you certainly satisfy her from what she told me! Yes Graham, you love her, and you're in love with her already, but you're cagey about committing yourself out loud so soon, taking that risk, especially after the last couple of weeks. She's really undermined everything by staying away. It's a trust issue. True?"

"Her mother has undermined everything," I corrected her. "That about sums it up: been burned before? Be more careful near the fire-breathing dragon!"
"Graham, that girl adores you, she is out of her mind in love with you, and everything you do reinforces it. You really knocked her for six when you told her she still lived here, she's still half crying and half laughing, she's so happy about that. It must be wonderful to be able to make someone as happy as that. Her life has been turned round and you're the one who's done it."

I smiled, and felt warmly content. Who wouldn't?

"We've done it," I corrected her. She shrugged.

"However," she added seriously. "She's now also out of her mind with worry that there'll be an atmosphere and you'll be stand-offish and surly with her, and she doesn't think she could cope with that. She's really insecure you know; not surprising with her history. So I've thought of something."

My spirits dropped. Colette had that look - you know, the one that says she thinks she has a wonderful plan which will cost me a great deal. She saw my face, and laughed. That made it worse. She hugged me and kissed my lips gently. Now I was really worried.

"I don't like this," I hissed. "It's going to hurt, isn't it?"

"You're so wrong!" she crowed. "So wrong! Take her to London with you tomorrow, use my ticket for the train. I'll pay for her, it's my extra Christmas present for her."

"But it's your holiday," I protested. "You can't-"

"I can, easily," she said with assurance. "One phone call, and I'll be off to Sheffield to see a very good friend - with an enormous prick," she whispered with a salacious grin. "Gives a whole new meaning to doing stretches before taking exercise! He's very nice too, knows how to treat a girl - as you do!"

She giggled, and arched an eyebrow in an invitation to agree to her plan. I sighed, and nodded.

"Thanks Colette, in any case, I think she needs to go to London in different circumstances from last time - lance the boil as it were."

She got her coat, then picked up her bag from Connie's room, said a few words to her, and then preceded me to the flat door.

"She doesn't know anything about London," she said quietly. "She's sitting on her bed wondering what to do. She's scared, Graham. It's up to you now."

She kissed me as only Colette could until I could feel my toes curling, so I kissed her back. We looked into each other's eyes, and I knew this was a last goodbye as far as sex was concerned, at least while I was with Connie. I thought it and she nodded.

"Thanks for everything Colette. You saved my life, I'll be forever grateful."

"Hey, kid, look after her like you have Zena, Harriet and me. Believe me, we're as grateful for you as you are for us. Have a nice holiday."

Another prolonged kiss, a mutual sigh and she left, no looking back.

I closed the door. They say as one door closes another opens. While physically her bedroom door did not open, I began to hope there could be another start with her. I hoped that quite desperately. Perhaps I was in love after all.

I looked at the clock, seven o'clock. I felt hungry. There was not much food in the house because we had been going to London the next day after a night in bed together. I sighed. I'd been doing a lot of sighing that day.

I did my standby meal that I did when I had little time or little resources. Omelette, cheese filled, grilled tomatoes to use them up, frozen peas, chipped potatoes. I cooked everything except the eggs, laid the table in the kitchen, then went to Connie's room. I knocked.

"Come in."

I went in, and found her sitting on the bed.

"Tea's... I'm sorry, Dinner's nearly ready,"

There was a half smile from her.

I went back and cooked the omelettes, then plated everything.

"On the table!" I shouted. She came pottering through to the kitchen, and sat at the table. I served her her plate and a mug of tea.

"Thanks Graham," she said, eyes down, and began eating. We ate in silence. I did not know what to say to break the ice, and resolved to wait until the end of the meal, which came rather too soon for my comfort.

"I'm going away for a few days' holiday tomorrow," I began, "and I want you to come with me."

She had been looking anywhere but at me, but now she met my eyes. She looked hurt.

"You don't trust me to be still here when you come back?' she asked.

I had not thought of that.

"No. I'm sorry if I'm giving you that impression. It's just that we need to talk and I'd planned on going away before you came back, so I thought it would be better if you were with me so we can talk about what's happened."

"Can I ask where you are going?" she said, staring at me.

"Will it make any difference?" I asked in return. "Can't you trust me? D'you think I'll strand you somewhere?"

She looked embarrassed. "Well, no. Of course I can trust you, I just wondered."

"You didn't trust me enough to phone me when you saw the report."

She reddened again. There was a short silence, then, "No, you're right."

"I want you to trust me on this, then. You don't have to come. Your choice."

"If you put it that way," she said, then seemed to make up her mind. "OK, I'll come with you.

"We'll be leaving early," I said. "You need to pack tonight. No breakfast in the morning, we'll get it on the way. Taxi will be here at nine sharp."

"What do I need to take?" she asked, and I realised this was more a problem for a woman than a man.

"Something nice for the evenings, three evenings, we're coming back on Saturday. Obviously warm clothing: it's winter. Good shoes or boots for walking, we'll be in town, but we'll be walking about."

I could see she was itching to beg me to say where we were going, but she did not. Before she went to Chester she'd now be making suggestive remarks about the nights. Not this time; the exuberant happiness from before had gone. She was uncomfortable, and come to that, so was I.

"I'll wash up," she said, "then I'll pack and get an early night. It's been very tiring..." she stopped and I did not know to which part of the day's events she was referring. I left the kitchen and went to pack. I had just finished, barring the toiletries I'd need for the next morning, and was leaving my room.

She came to me.

"Have you got a suitcase I can use?" she asked, "My rucksack will ruin my best clothes."

"Use mine," I said, "it's less than half full." I pointed to my medium sized case. "Will that be enough?"

"Plenty," she said, lugging it into her room.

"I've got a small shoulder bag, if you need it," I offered, "for carrying all that paraphernalia you women need."

"Thanks, but Zena bought me one," she said. A tentative smile.

I wondered if we'd ever get back that carefree happiness we had before. I hoped against hope that this trip would do the trick. She was in for a number of significant surprises.

I took my book to the living room and listened to the news before reading for an hour. Connie emerged after an hour and used the bathroom.

"Good night," she said, popping her head round the door.

"Good night," I replied. "Sleep well."

I put the flat to bed and went to bed myself. I slept alone; I had expected no different.

Wednesday 13 January 71

I awoke at seven, made tea and took a mug to Connie. I touched her on her shoulder and she opened her eyes.

"Tea," I said. "It's seven thirty." Then I left the room.

I was ready at eight thirty, having showered, shaved and the rest. I wore a conservative suit, shirt and tie, and a heavy overcoat, scarf, leather gloves and cap, mainly because it was easier to carry them on my back than in a suitcase.

Connie too had a shower but I noticed she kept well out of my way on her journey to and from the bathroom. At quarter to nine she emerged from her room carrying the suitcase and with her shoulder bag on her shoulder (where else). She was wearing a trouser suit with a blouse beneath and medium heels. She looked fabulous. She got a warm coat and scarf from the hall-stand and put it on, adding her own warm gloves.

I smiled in greeting and she, while clearly unsure, smiled back. It was such a begging smile that I had to restrain myself from taking her in my arms and being late for the taxi. As it was I took the suitcase from her and we left the flat and went down the stairs, arriving at the front door as the taxi arrived. From the time we arrived at Piccadilly Station I would have lots of fun seeing her reactions, and I hoped by the end of the trip we would be back where we started.

As we neared the barrier, she stopped. "Please don't tell me we're going to London!" She exclaimed unhappily. "You know London is my least favourite place."

"OK," I said gaily, "I won't tell you if that's what you want, but this train is the one we're getting."

"In that case, perhaps you'd better go alone. It's not fair putting me through this just because I've upset you."

At last she was beginning to assert herself against me.

"Connie," I said gently, "This is not a punishment. You had a bad time in London. I promise you on my honour, that this trip will lay the ghosts of that time, and reverse the feelings you have at the moment. Now, will you please trust me on this?"

She thought for some time; it was a good thing we'd arrived twenty minutes early for the train.

"You're pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?" she said at length. There was no smile.

"Yes," I replied seriously. "Absolutely sure that you will come back from London with a completely different attitude to that city. Connie, trust me."

"OK," she said very reluctantly, "but you'd better be right."

I thought that that particular exchange was between equals, perhaps for the first time since she'd joined me in my flat.

We walked down the platform to a first class carriage, and I stopped at the door. She made to go on.

"This is ours," I said.

"But it's 'first'."

"Yes, we have first class tickets."

Her astonished look was priceless.

"Come on," I said.

We entered and walked down the corridor to our compartment with its wide plush seats and arm rests. Our reserved seats were by the window, facing each other.

"Graham I... I've never gone first class before."

"How did you get to Bolton?"

"National Express," she said. "You know, the coach. Took six hours!"

"Well, this reverses that one," I said. "You'll go back to London first class. These new electric trains take just about two hours forty minutes."

She smiled at that, the first smile since we arrived at the station.

The train had only just pulled out of the station, when the compartment door slid open and the guard came in and punched our tickets, followed by a waiter. By which I do not mean the guard punched the waiter.

"Breakfast is served in the Dining Car," the unpunched waiter said, "You did order breakfast, sir?"

I nodded, and we left our places and went for breakfast, which was well cooked and followed by toast and coffee.

"Graham," she said, now all smiles after the meal, "This is just fantastic!"

Back in the compartment we were still the only occupants, time for a talk.

"I don't know how long we'll have the compartment to ourselves, so I think now would be a good time to talk, don't you?"

She looked uncomfortable, but nodded.

Unfortunately the train was just pulling out of a station, I think it was Stafford, and into our compartment came a middle-aged couple. Talking was off. I shrugged and smiled at her and she smiled back. We passed the odd comment about the scenery, or townscapes. Now and again she would give me an apprehensive look, and I would smile, I hoped reassuringly, back.

We each had a book to read and we settled down. I felt we were on our way, literally and hopefully in our relationship.

--

Chapter Twenty-Two

We arrived at the Chesterfield Hotel in a taxi, and she gasped. "Really? This hotel? I used to pass it often when I was homeless, and now... I never thought then..."

I signed us in and we took the lift to the top floor and to the suite. I noticed that the book showed us as 'Mr & Mrs'. Again she was in awe of the opulence of the room, her eyes sparkling. I was glad that Colette had given half the cost, for it was a very expensive suite for someone on my money, generous though my salary was. We were accompanied by a porter and our single bag.

He opened the door for us and wished us a happy stay; I tipped him and he withdrew.

The room was indeed luxurious, with a four poster bed in the bedroom area, and a three piece suite in the living area, a small dining table for two at the window, and a sideboard. The bathroom was huge and the free standing bath with claw feet sinfully ornate. There was a bowl of fruit and some canap├ęs on the sideboard.

I gestured to her to sit on the sofa, and I took an armchair.

"You were coming here alone? To all this?" she asked.

"No," I said. "I was coming here with Colette."

Her face fell. "You'd given up on me then?"

"Two weeks and I'd heard nothing. I'd phoned your house and your mother said you weren't there. Obviously she wouldn't tell me where you were. I was very depressed. Colette told me I needed a break. This was it."

"Colette?" she said with worry all over her face. "She gave up all this for me?"

"Yes," I said with a smile. "She had a contingency plan - a boyfriend with plenty to offer her in Sheffield, if you follow my meaning."

Her smile told me she did.

"But can you afford all this?"

"Colette is paying half," I told her, "She insisted. A sort of late Christmas present."

I paused, "Connie, would you have phoned me? Written?"

"I really don't know," she said reflectively. "I was destroyed when Penny showed me the report. I've been abused so often and I'd trusted you completely because you were so different, and suddenly you were as bad as all the others. I couldn't cope with that."

"But your father?"

"He didn't comment but we were only together there one day and he was away again. All there were at home were Penny, Mother and me, and Penny and I came back on New Year's Day so she could be ready for school starting. I needed more clothes. I told Mother I ought to phone you and finish with you properly, but she put a stop to that. She said she would come over and help me collect all my stuff one afternoon, and then I could phone that evening to give you your marching orders.

"I told her I would only take what I absolutely needed. She said I should take it all - it was really a bribe from your women to con me into your lifestyle. I told her in that case I would phone you and tell you as much. She immediately gave in and told me to do it my way, but not to phone until I was well clear, and not to believe your story - you were a lawyer and could be very persuasive. I would be taken in, and that would be disastrous for me.

"So I took her advice and didn't phone. I know you said she hated you, but I never realised how much."

"So you might have got in touch?"

She shrugged. "I was so torn. I hated all your lies and how much you'd hurt Penny, but on the other hand, I wanted you so badly that I didn't care what you'd done. Then it seemed so out of character for you - you didn't behave like the other men had, but the evidence seemed so strong I was perplexed and had in the end to accept it.

"So eventually I think I would have. I wanted to give you a piece of my mind, but only later, when I was well over you."

"Eventually might have been too late."

"Graham I am truly sorry, and I don't know how I can make it right again." Her eyes pooled with tears.

"I don't think we need any more apologies," I said. "Sorry's been said, and I accepted it. As you say, the problem is how to make it right again."

"Colette said that it hit you as hard as it did when Penny cut you off," she said.

"Yes, that's true," I agreed. "I simply couldn't believe it had happened again. I couldn't understand why you should behave exactly like she did, after all, even if what Penny believed I had done was true, what had I ever done to you?"

"You know that it will never happen again, don't you?" she said quietly. "I won't care what anyone tells me about you, I'll always know I can trust you, and you'll always be honest because that's who you are. The lies came from somewhere else. I won't be taken in again, not by her. In a way, it's made that solid for me."

"I don't mind you having suspicions," I replied. "It's remembering to talk about it. That's what counts."

"I don't think you'll ever give me reason to suspect you of anything."

"I need to be sure of that," I said, "and it will take time for me to be sure, but Colette said it was obvious to her from how I despondent and depressed I became when you didn't come back. I reacted exactly as I had with Penny, and Penny had been with me for over a year. You and I had been together only a week! She couldn't understand how I couldn't see it, since it was so obvious to everyone else."

"I'm sorry?" she looked puzzled. "Colette said it was obvious? What was obvious?"

"That I'm hopelessly in love with you Connie, and she's right, I am."

She jolted upright. "Graham, did you just say what I think you said?"

"If what you think I said is what I said, then yes, I did say that!" It was my standard response to that question, and I was starting to feel it was getting stale and time to give it a rest.

"Stop it, Mr Lawyer!" she reproved me. "Tell me again."

"I love you Connie."

"Again?"

"Don't push your luck! You heard!"

"After all the hurt I-"

"I wouldn't have been so hurt and depressed if I didn't love you so much. Look, you made a mistake. You've told me again and again how sorry you are. We forgive one another, it's part of being human, being a couple. It means we put it behind us and try to move on without it."

Guess what happened then? Yes, if there were tears in her eyes before, now she began to weep in earnest. What can you do? She was happy; at least I hoped so.

It turned out she was happy; she was smiling through her tears.

"I don't deserve you," she said.

"True," I said with superior smile, and seeing her outrage immediately followed by guilt, I hurriedly followed it with "For goodness' sake, Connie, stop this self-abasement! You've been through ten kinds of hell in London and after, and you've come out strong. I've not had anything like the suffering you've been through, apart from one failed love affair with your sister, which compared with what you went through in this fair city, was peanuts. So let's give the guilt trips a rest, eh?"

"I don't know about that," she said, "but I know I love you very much as well."

"It's just after two. Dinner is at seven. What could we possibly do to kill five whole hours?" I hoped my expression was suitably lustful.

At last, realisation! An open, guilt-free and knowing smile spread over her face. She stood, kicked off her shoes, slipped off her jacket, pushed down her trousers, unbuttoned her blouse and shrugged it off. Now she was in her cream lace bra and briefs, her suspenders and dark stockings, but there was no posing. She reached behind and unclipped her bra, allowing it to fall forward to the plush carpet, slipped off her knickers, bending to push them to her feet, when she stepped out of them. Then she stood before me, wearing a smile, stockings and suspender belt, and waited.

I smiled, looked her up and down as lustfully as I was expected to do, then surprised her by going to the bathroom and bringing out a bathrobe. She looked puzzled.

There was a knock at the door. She panicked and reached for the robe, which I devilishly snatched it out of reach.

"Come in!" I shouted and gave her the robe, which she hurriedly put on, turning her back as the door opened and a waiter came in with a bottle of champagne and some nibbles to add to the petits fours on the sideboard. Perhaps he got the merest flash of a stocking top.
I passed him a ten bob bit (as the new fangled seven sided fifty pence piece was called then; it replaced the ten shilling note in 1969 two years before we went decimal in February '71) as an exorbitant tip and he grovelled his thanks, stole another glance at Connie, her used underwear strewn over the floor, almost managed to suppress a grin, and left.

"You bastard!" she hissed as the man left the room. She was bright red with embarrassment seeing her bra and knickers strewn about the floor with her other clothes, but she was laughing. She dropped the robe. "You need to be punished. Get to the bed and strip."

"Now bend over the bed and lie flat." she ordered after I had lost all my clothes, and my penis had already begun to rise. I did as instructed, laying my upper body on the bed while standing, thus presenting my backside to her. I twisted to see what was to happen. A woman dressed only in a garter belt and stockings was going to punish me somehow. Sexy!

"Lie straight!" she barked. "You have no right to look."

Again I obeyed. Then her hands were on my back, stroking down from my neck, thumbs on my spine and fingers on my sides. Over my bottom cheeks and down my thighs and calved to my ankles. Then up again, but this time her hard nipples pricked the back of my legs as she brushed them upwards over the backs of my knees and thighs. Now I was very hard and excited: it was an unbelievable sensation, especially as those sharp points got to my upper thighs and made their way over my buttocks.

I was just thinking If this is punishment bring it on, when her hand came down hard on my left bottom cheek. I mean hard. It was not breathtaking pain, but a sharp sting. I sucked in a breath.

"You do not," slap to right cheek, "Expose," slap! "me to people," slap! "bringing champagne," slap! "and nibbles," slap! "to our room!"

The slaps came on alternate cheeks, each harder than the last; they really stung but were never unduly painful but certainly intensely arousing.

Then her body was on my back and her nips were spearing my back.

"Punishment over!" she said gaily, "Now I think you ought to see to me."

She stood, allowing me to climb onto the bed and lie on my stomach across the bed, adjusting my hard cock under me.

"I'm too badly injured to engage in carnal pursuits," I groaned. "I need medicinal treatment, can you open that bottle of medicine the man who enjoyed your underwear so much brought?"

She grunted, left and I turned over to watch her lithe naked form and especially her buttocks and snatch as she bent to pick up the bottle. She stopped and turned to me.

"How do I do this?" she asked, brandishing the bottle, which was dripping from the ice it had been steeped in.

"You don't know?" I asked.

"Daddy always did it, I never paid attention."

"Take the wiring off the cork, then put the napkin over the top of the bottle."

"OK," she said, doing it.

"Now hold the cork tightly through the napkin and twist the bottle until you feel the cork begin to rise, then let go the cork. It'll come by itself."

She did as instructed and with a muffled 'pop' the cork came out.

"Now pour," I said. "Put the open end of the bottle over the glass and tilt-"

"OK, smart arse!" she said with a smiling pout, "I think I can manage to pour it."

She poured and the fizzy, frothy wine overflowed the glass all over the tray.

"Oh!" she gasped.

"Oh, yeah?" I sneered. "So you can manage to pour it, eh?"

"You want punishing again?" she asked over her shoulder, affecting a snarl. Wonderful!

"Promises, promises," I retorted. "Just pour the wine, as I was about to say before Miss know-it-all interrupted - verry gently."

She scowled at me again, which I was finding increasingly arousing, then brought the glasses over to me, setting them at the side of the bed on the cabinet.

I got up and got two of the very large bath towels, bath sheets really, which I laid on the bed and over the pillows.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Lie back on the towel," I gently ordered her. She looked a little puzzled but did as I said, spreading her legs, expecting to be taken. I took my flute and knelt beside her, one knee between her thighs. She was looking into my eyes for clues, when I drizzled the chilled champagne onto one breast and into the valley between the two. She jumped and sucked in a breath.

"Fffss - Cold!"

"Oh, dear," I said, "I've spilled some on your tits. Here let me lick it off," and I immediately began licking and sucking all over her breast and in her cleavage, still holding the glass and spilling some on the other tit. She sucked in a breath again and began to giggle.

"How clumsy," I said, diving onto the wet tit and sucking off the wine. Then more fell on her stomach and into her belly button, and more slurping and sucking, digging my tongue into her naval. More gasps and giggles.

I finished by tipping the glass onto her bush and let it trickle down her crease, licking and sucking to make quite sure none was wasted. It involved licking her arse.

Now she was moaning and groaning as I made reparation with an active tongue and lips. As I reached my destination she lifted her bottom at give me access, while holding my head to her pussy as I suckled her clit. I continued to suck and lick until with a cry she convulsed.

When she recovered, she pulled me up to her to kiss me, looking wanton. Then pushed me onto my back and took her glass.

"I need a drink after that!" she exclaimed, with a satisfied but also devious smile. She sat up and took a drink, then suddenly, "Whoops!" and I felt a splash on my erect cock.

It was cold!

I gasped and panted, and my soldier began to wilt with the cold. She dived for it, holding her glass level as she engulfed it and sucked me clean, going to my balls and perineum to clean them up as well. I groaned, and my cock regained its former glory.

She took a drink, and then engulfed my cock in her cold, cold mouth, I hissed and moaned and she giggled. She handed me the empty glass and then went to town licking up and down, pulling the foreskin back and laving the head all over. Then more sucking and bobbing, until I began to thrust up against her mouth, feeling the beginnings of my climax.

She stopped, climbed over me, aimed and sank, and immediately began to ride me hard. She made no effort to rub her sensitive nub against me to excite herself, instead sat up and rose and fell to give me maximum sensation and a superb view of her pitching breasts. It did not take long.

She leaned down and said throatily, "Come on, come in me, lover. Come up me now. Give me your spunk!"

I came, feeling the come as it spurted from the end of my prick, feeling the contractions behind my balls squirting that spunk into her grasping cunt, feeling the wetness and hearing the squelching as she continued to milk me.

She fell forward and covered me, laying her whole length on top of me, and kissed voraciously, first my mouth then my neck, chin, ears, eyes and forehead. Then lifted herself off and to the side, with my arm round her and her head on my chest. So we lay for some time.

"Back where I belong," she murmured.

We drank the remaining champagne more conventionally and finished off the bits and pieces of food.

Then we bathed together in the huge tub, and as we had back home, we washed each other all over, though this time we excited each other until she turned her back, bent forward onto her hands and knees, and her waggling bottom invited my insertion from the rear. I fucked her with long strokes and she fingered herself until we reached a satisfying though gentle orgasm apiece. The storm we provoked in the bath water sent it everywhere.

We mopped the floor with a towel, dressed and then explored the hotel, finding the restaurant, and checking our booking at reception for dinner that evening, after which we sat at a table near a window in the bar, she with a G & T and I with a Highland Park Malt whisky. We sat and watched the world go by, read a paper each, exchanging comments on the articles and then returned to our room to prepare for dinner for which we were expected to dress more formally.

During the excellent dinner, Connie remarked, "I used to pass this place when I was homeless, and the smells were painful for me. I was always so hungry! And now!" She said no more but smiled. From the amount she consumed at the meal I assumed her hunger had been assuaged, confirmed by her groan as she raised herself to a standing position after the meal was over.

We went to bed after the meal and lay in each other's arms, idly caressing each other, until I was hard enough to penetrate her, which I did from behind, spooning against her on our sides. We did not move much, we were too full of food, but the feelings were delightful and relaxing.

"D'you want to go up my bum?" she asked out of the blue.

"D'you like it like that?" I asked, surprised.

"Doesn't do a lot for me," she answered, "but a few blokes did me that way. They seemed to like it. If they didn't get me greased up first it was bloody painful."

"To be honest, I've never done it, and don't really feel any need to."

"Hmm, OK."

"Why d'you ask?"

"Well, you've done me from behind twice today, I just wondered."

"Do you like it from behind?"

"Sometimes. It feels different and it really excites me, but I like facing each other more. More loving face to face."

That was the end of that conversation.

Soon I fell asleep, still erect and buried in her. I assume she did the same. When I awoke in the morning, we were back to back at each edge of the bed!

Thursday 14 January 71

After breakfast, I asked her if she wanted to do the usual tourist places, or perhaps shopping on Oxford St.

"Could we do that stuff tomorrow?" she asked. "I'd like to take you on a different tour this morning."

"OK," I said, wondering what she had in mind.

The day was cool but sunny, and well wrapped up we began a walking tour of the capital. It was not a normal tour as indeed she had promised. She took me to the places where she slept rough, where she was assaulted, where she went begging. We went to look at the squat where the girls had been 'passed round the men' as she put it. It had been cleared and was being renovated: workmen in hard hats and a lot of noise.

The smell under some of the bridges and in some alleyways was overpowering, but she pointed out that there was nowhere to urinate for down an outs except in the corners of those dead-end streets. One had to beg for pennies to use the public conveniences.

She did not argue a case, she simply took me to different places and commented.

"Joe gave me half a sliced loaf he'd pinched. He was nice, never tried anything, just liked sitting and chatting."

"George was insane. He did me over that bin over there. He was one of the bummers. Thankfully he had a thin prick. I was frightened of him."

"Mazy showed me this corner. We dossed down together, kept each other warm. She was nice."

"Got done by two of them in that alley. You've no idea the taste of a cock that's not been washed for months."

"This theatre was always good for begging, don't know why. I often made enough to get in a hostel for the night."

"Sally Army bring soup and bread to this corner every night. They're saints, those guys."

And so it went on, and I began to appreciate the horror of her life with greater acuity. When we got back to the hotel I undressed her, then myself, and I just held her in bed under the covers for an hour. She didn't weep, but just lay.

After an hour she said, "Thanks. I needed that."

"Words fail me," I whispered. "I'm so sorry."

"I'm glad you brought me. You were right. I needed to lay the ghosts. I feel much better now I've shown you. I appreciate how far I've come, and I really appreciate you yourself more as well. I still don't understand..." and she sighed.

Then she went to my cock and sucked me to hardness, then crawled over me and fucked me until I came. I did warn her, but she brought me off anyway. It was obvious she did not come. I pointed that out.

"I've very little to give you but my smiles and my love. I wanted to give you something without you giving me something first."

It brought tears to my eyes, that comment, and I pulled her to me, and she moaned and nestled against me.

Friday 15 January 71

The next day was sightseeing, and shopping. We did all the tourist places: Buck House, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, etc. It amazed me that she'd been in London for two years and had never been to half of these.

"When you're dirty and ragged, you don't go where the clean people go. They look at you with disgust."

Then she laughed. "That life is yesterday. Really!"

I got the double entendre: we did that tour the day before, and her life in London was past as well.

She hugged my arm, "I'm so grateful. I still can't believe what's happening,"

I booked the play at her 'begging' theatre, though I cannot remember what the play was. On our way out there was a young woman begging. I dropped her a five pound note. She nearly passed out when she saw what it was. Her ecstatic smile was a real reward. I got a squeeze from my girl as well.

A few late drinks in the hotel bar saw us off to bed. We were tired and went straight to sleep. Next day we were on our way home.

Saturday 16 January 71

We unpacked, loaded the washing machine, did shopping for the weekend, and bought ourselves a fish and chip supper, after which we relaxed on the sofa in the living room with the dark of the January evening outside. She was reading yet another novel, and I was doing the cryptic crossword in the paper.

"You were right," she said from out of nowhere.

"I was?"

"About London. It did lay the ghosts, and I do have a different view of the place. You said to trust you, and I'm glad I did."

"You'll always appreciate the little things, the ordinary things in your life, more so than the rest of us. You should get extra happiness out of every day. You are very positive, you know."

She hummed agreement which turned into a torrid kiss, which in turn led to shedding of clothes and some intensive action on the sofa, my mouth on her sex and hers on mine after which she straddled me, took her pleasure and gave me mine.

Sunday 17 January 71

Sunday was a return to normal life, ringing in the morning, cooking a Sunday dinner and then preparations for the working week. Everything was getting set for beginning a normal, routine life.

Normal routine life was indeed ours, and each of us appreciated it deeply from rather different backgrounds. Connie insisted on running with me every morning, and enjoyed and excelled at providing varied and often exotic dishes for our evening meal, which she called dinner and I still called tea. She was a talented cook, and I was very happy.

The name Roasburie was no longer bad news, not at all, I thought. However, in its malevolence it was not finished with me yet.

--

Chapter Twenty-three

One consequence of the exposure of the lying report was that Connie and Penny became much closer and spent more time with each other. I was happy that Connie was getting out and that now she had a sister to talk with as well as my friends.

What I didn't realise, of course, was what they were talking about and planning at that early time. I assumed it was girl stuff, and that I was well out of it. I had my male friends, of which Ian was the closest.

Martin Greaves and I also became drinking buddies. He was a little uncertain in view of our previous history, but he soon realised that Penny was well into my past and Penny's sister had completely taken her place. In fact it felt as if we were like brothers-in-law.

Another consequence was a more careful watch over Mr Kieran Walsh. What were the chances of two lawyers in the Manchester area having the same name? I looked up the register. There were two Smiths as one might expect but only one Walsh. From what had been said, namely that he organised the PI to watch me, even if he didn't fabricate the evidence it was likely that he was scheming to do me some damage.

I confided to Zena what I knew.

"Well," she said, "It's common knowledge that he thinks you're a womaniser, and he hates that. I think you're right to be aware of him."

"D'you think he'd fabricate a PI's report?" I asked her.

"I doubt it," she said. "Though if he were to do it, his secretary is completely devoted to him. She'd do anything for him, and she'd never tell a soul, so you'll never know for certain. It could be the PI, you could certainly make enquires there."

Monday 1st February 71

I arrived home to find Penny and Connie in the living room. Penny looked uncomfortable, as if she'd been caught out, but I wandered over to her and gave her a hug and kiss, before getting buried in Connie's arms.

As I emerged, Connie said she had news.

"Derek phoned to tell us that Dad was back home last Friday. We told him what mother had been up to, and he promised to help us."

I looked enquiringly. Help them?

She went on, "I phoned the house and Mother answered. I asked to talk to Dad and she put the phone down. We got back to Derek and he got through to talk to Dad. So now we're waiting for Dad to ring us."

I invited Penny to eat with us and Connie said there was enough for three, so she stayed. It was after nine and Penny had left to do her marking or lesson prep, when the phone rang. Connie nodded at me to answer it.

"Hello Graham," he said. "Derek phoned; said Connie and Penny wanted to talk."

"Yes, apparently Lucy wouldn't let Connie talk to you, which doesn't surprise me, in view of what she's done."

"Oh hell!" he swore. "What is it now?"

"I take it you left on business shortly after taking Connie back home?'

"Yes. I had to go to the States; just got back."

"It may interest you to know that after she left here, Connie made no contact with me for two weeks. It was a repeat of Penny's behaviour, but Connie can fill you in."

Connie then took the phone and gave a concise account of all that passed.

Then she listened.

"Yes, Dad, she'd got that doctored PI's report to discredit Graham..."

"You've never seen the PI's report? Penny was taken in by it after that engagement party, and that's why she didn't contact Graham. Mother showed it to me after you left, and I believed what I saw and I severed contact with Graham as well..."

"No, Graham proved it was faked, and once he'd shown us, we couldn't believe we'd been taken in..."

"Daddy, he didn't cheat on Penny either..."

"Daddy, he was so good. He showed us that the dates in the report were wrong, and then he forgave me for doing what Penny did."

More talking from Geoff.

"Really Daddy? Are you sure?"

More talking.

"OK, Dad, if your mind's made up. She ruined Penny's life with Graham and was trying to ruin mine. We don't want anything to do with her..."

"OK, 'Bye Daddy,"

She put the phone down and we went into the living room.

"He said he's had enough," Connie said. "I suppose he meant he was leaving her."

We sat looking at each other. There were mixed emotions - a marriage break-up is painful and uncomfortable for all the members of a family. After a moment or two Connie sat up and changed the subject.

"Graham," she said, "that's not all Penny and I were talking about."

"No?"

"No. It really is time now for me to be looking for a job. I feel terrible about living off you and I want to pay my way. I know what you're going to say - I keep house and cook, but really that's not enough for me. So I want to get a job so I can give you something back."

She stopped and looked at me expectantly.
Now the first thing that came to mind was an image of her fucking me senseless in the bed we now shared. I dismissed that as an argument: she had been forced to pay for lodging on her back too many times. I certainly didn't want to fall into the same category as those bastards who had used her.

The second thing was more realistic. She did not need a dead end job; she was far too intelligent and could do better. Perhaps...

"Connie, my sweet, you are highly intelligent. If you go looking for work you'll end up with a job that pays peanuts. Why not get some courses under your belt first and that'll open doors to better jobs?"

"But that means-"

"You would be working towards getting a job which pays well, rather than one at the bottom of the barrel," I pointed out. "Really, Connie, I'd feel better if you went that route. I don't want you cleaning hospital floors again."

She gave in reluctantly, and expressed her agreement by taking me to bed, leaving a trail of clothes all the way there. She was good at agreeing in various styles, and I was grateful for all of them. Mind you, I was sure she had an element of self-interest, judging by her determination to reach orgasmic bliss as often as possible before I surrendered to mine.

Tuesday 2 February 71 Candlemas

The next day she was at the library researching courses she could take. Then at night her father called her again and they had a long conversation.

"Dad says he'll make some enquiries about courses for me," she said eagerly when she returned to the living room. "Apparently he has 'connections'," and she giggled. Then became serious.

"He's tried talking with Mum, but she's obdurate that she's done the right thing. It's so sad: they've been together for nearly thirty years."

"Did he actually say he was leaving?" I asked.

"Well, no," she said, "but he said he didn't know if he could live with her after this."

Connie was so keen and I felt warm all over, and it got me thinking the unthinkable. We were so compatible: we were always touching, patting, stroking, hugging each other. We would kiss any time we passed each other, then kiss again. I wanted her and it was clear she wanted me. All the time.

Wednesday 3 February 71

I awoke to a fine sunny day though cold, we ran our miles together, had breakfast after a joint shower smiling at each other, and everything in life felt just fine.

When I got to work I was completely distracted by thoughts of Connie. We were so happy and more to the point, contented with each other that I thought it might be time to commit more fully to her, even though really it was so soon after we had met - two months and a bit - but it just seemed right somehow.

Then there were the problems we'd had thanks to her conniving mother. The spectre of my previous engagement still loomed large in my consciousness, and something in me wanted to leave things as they were, perhaps until well after Easter. Connie seemed happy enough as we were, and really, so was I; why tempt fate?

I needed to talk to someone and that someone had to be Zena.

I talked it over with Zena on the way home from work. Of course she had no problem with the idea.

"Look Graham, you've lived with her all the time apart from that silly break in January, which is more than you ever did with Penny. You say yourself that this relationship is completely relaxed, unlike that with Penny. It just isn't the same situation. There really is no risk here. I think it could only make your relationship deeper and even happier. I'd go for it. Ask her!"

Well, that was positive enough and I could see she was right: we were secure with each other and very happy. Anyway, she could always say no! I could propose on the Valentine's Weekend.

Then I had a thought, more a memory of the previous Valentine's weekend and a similar proposal to a Roasburie woman. Only a year ago! Suddenly I felt an irrational fear about repeating the exercise with another of the same family. No, I'd do it the coming weekend, the one before Valentines.

"Connie darling, Valentine's is a week on Sunday." I began.

"Yes, I know."

"Well, last year I proposed to Penny on Valentine's weekend. I feel it's cast a shadow over that romantic weekend for me, so how about we do the romantic dinner for two on this Friday, and make a weekend of it this weekend at home?"

She got all dewey eyed at that, and reached round my neck, pulling me in tight for a kiss and pressing herself against me. "That sounds just fine," she said throatily. "I'm different from my sister, but I do see your point." I felt both hers!

That settled, it meant I would be able to get a ring - definitely no watches this time round!

I decided on our favourite restaurant, Orchards, and booked a table for Friday, which, though fully booked for the following weekend, had plenty of tables for the week before.

The restaurant held no significance for Connie who had missed the drama of Penny's second engagement party, and I was damned if I was going to be put off the place that had been my favourite for years and where I was known.

Thursday 4 February 71

I 'stole' the dress ring that Harriet had bought her for Christmas to get the size right, and took the lunch hour to select and buy a ring, with the option of returning it if Connie didn't like it. It was a solitaire diamond on a gold band.

I had no sooner arrived back at my desk when my phone rang.

It was Geoff. Roasburie. Could we meet for lunch the next day, as he had something to discuss with me. The girls had heard a lot more from Geoff, who seemed to have rediscovered his family. He didn't disappear on business trips as often, and we suspected, perhaps unfairly, that he didn't feel the need to escape the dragon any more.

Friday 5 February 71

"Penny told me something and it's given me an idea," he began after we had ordered and before the food arrived. I nodded by way of encouraging him to continue.

"Connie was round at her place and in the conversation Connie was lamenting she had wasted her time at university, and was only fit for menial jobs. She mentioned you had suggested she got some training."

"She's certainly intelligent enough," I said. "She's agreed to start looking at courses."

"It set me thinking," he continued, "but it would depend on what you think. She wouldn't go against your wishes you know."

"Go on." I was getting an uneasy feeling about the conversation.

"She could go back to Keele and finish her degree. She would need to re-sit first year exams, but I've been in touch with the university admissions - my company has funded a chair at Keele - and that seems quite straightforward, then it's two more years.

"I would fund all her expenses and I was thinking of renting a studio flat where she could live. There are some brand-new ones on campus, I should know, my company has been involved with building the student accommodation. She's only twenty-one, and she'd have her qualification when she was twenty-four. It would open doors for her. What do you think?"

My spirits sank. It was as I thought. I decide to propose to Connie; wedding bells in a year or so, engagement ring bought, dinner booked that evening for the proposal, and here was a ruddy great spanner thrown in the works. To say nothing of how reminiscent it was of Penny. As someone once said, it was deja vu all over again!

I was struck dumb. It had never crossed my mind for her to go back to Keele; I was thinking of secretarial courses and the like, done locally and of short duration. But this?

I could see Geoff was impatient for an answer. He was so excited at his idea, he could not see any snags. I saw plenty.

"Geoff, I need to think about this. It's something that hasn't occurred to me. We're only just settled in together, and you will remember that there is a precedent for this which did not turn out well for me or Penny."

He immediately understood and looked dispirited, so I hastened on.

"Give me a little time to think it through. I'm not against it, don't get that idea. It could be very good for her, but as you say, if she even suspected I was not totally enthusiastic about it she would turn it down flat. You understand?"

He breathed a sigh of relief.

"Yes," he said. "I hadn't thought of the parallel with Penny. I can see that will arouse uncertainty. Yes, please think it over - talk about it with Connie if you wish. Just know that if you both decide she goes back to University, I will pay for everything. It's the least I could do after the experiences you've both had at the hands of the Roasburies."

"Thanks Geoff. I won't take too long over this; if she wants to go she'll need to apply as soon as possible."

The conversation ruined an afternoon's work: I was lost in thought. Luckily I had no clients to see. The paperwork could be done sometime over the weekend.

I had thought that it was proposing marriage to her that was a risk, and Zena scotched that one. But this? This was a real risk. We would be apart for a week at a time or more, she would be back in student life with all its temptations. I would be waiting for the time when she put me off visiting her, or stopped coming to visit me, citing pressure of work. I vividly remembered when Penny was with Martin and was putting me off seeing her.

There might come a time when she would need to revise and would indeed put me off. How would I cope?

Could I refuse? Could I stop her furthering her own education? The point being that if I even seemed faintly uncertain, I was sure she would not go. I already knew the answer to that.

My spirits dropped as I envisaged that this could well be the beginning of the end of our relationship. I doubted we could survive the long periods apart, but I could not stand in her way. Nothing was ever straightforward with the Roasburies.

Then the thought came, should I propose anyway, and would this keep us together? After all there were people who stayed together when the husband worked away from home, sometimes for weeks at a time. They survived. Then another thought, and some don't survive: one or the other partner cheats. The strain of being alone for such folk was just too much.

Harriet arrived at my office.

"Missed you at lunchtime," she said brightly. "Zena said you're going to propose to Connie tonight. Congratulations!"

"Hold on, Harriet," I smiled. "First of all I haven't proposed yet and she might refuse me. Second I just had lunch with Connie's father, and he wants to send her back to Keele University to finish her degree for two more years."

"But? I mean... I don't follow."

"He's just got her back and he wants to do what's best for her. I have to do the same, don't I?"

"You think she'll go?"

"If I can convince her I'm completely in favour, yes."

"But it's just like-"

"Penny? Yes, back to being apart."

"You aren't happy though."

"What do you think? I can't help thinking she'll find someone else while she's there."

"But that would be so ungrateful!"

"Harriet, you can't base a marriage on gratitude. Gratitude is not enough."

"So are you going to propose?"

"The last time I proposed it lasted a few weeks before Penny was in Martin's bed."

"Graham!"

"Yes?"

"Please talk it through thoroughly with her. At least then you'll both know where each of you stands."

"I think you're right."

So Connie and I went out for a meal at Orchards, and after the meal, over coffee in the lounge bar, I began 'the conversation'. I would convince her to go, after all I was a lawyer: convincing people was a central part of my job!

"Your Dad took me out to lunch today."

She looked surprised and intrigued.

"He was saying that you regretted dropping out of University."

"Yes. I do."

"It's not often you can put a mistake like that right."

"Sorry?"

"You can put that right. You can re-sit first year exams this coming summer and go back in October."

"I can't."

"Why not?"

"I'm with you."

"You can still be with me. The summer vacation is at least three months, and roughly a month at Christmas and Easter, that's five months out of the year. Then there are weekends. Lots of people who work away from home have far less time together. You can find out if courses have changed and spend the next few months revising."

See? Convincing arguments.

"I don't understand. Why d'you want me to leave?"

"I'm not asking you to leave. I'm asking you if you would like to finish your degree. You're more than capable. You've been looking for courses to follow here. This is better."

"But we've only just got together-"

"Hey, Connie, you wouldn't be starting second year until the beginning of October. It's April, that's... five more months together. The two years will only be fourteen months in all, actually away from home. You're only twenty one. This is too good an opportunity to miss."

Where did that come from? Even I had not thought of that one before!

"I couldn't afford to live, and you're not going to be paying for me."

"No I'm not, your Dad is. He wants to rent a studio flat for you, and pay all your expenses. He would love to help you and see you get a degree. Now that would open doors for you. Think of the opportunities you'll have."

"Why are you so keen to get me out of the way? D'you want Colette back again?"

"Connie we have to trust each other. You'll be alone down there as well. Plenty of opportunity for a fling or two. Parties. Drinking. I have to trust you; you have to trust me. Don't forget, someone else betrayed my trust when she was away at College."

Silence. Had I swung it?

I added, "When you love someone you want to do the best for them. I think your Dad's offer is too good to refuse. I can come and see you every weekend, or you can come to me, it's only three quarters of an hour on the M6."

"Is this why you took me out tonight, to persuade me to leave you?"

'Connie darling, I don't want you to leave me. I will miss you terribly, but we can get through it and together we can get you a degree. Who knows you might even go on to postgrad! Now that you could do at home.

I had not realised how insecure she was about us - about me. Time for the clincher.

"And I invited you to this meal before your Dad saw me. I had another purpose but this is more important."

"Go on, what was the original purpose of this evening?"

"I was going to ask you to get engaged, to marry me."

"And you're not going to now? Why?"

"Well if you remember I asked your sister to marry me when she was at College and within a month she was in someone else's bed. I thought you might like it better if you stayed free, and it'd be less painful for me."

"So you don't trust me."

Wow, this was much harder work than I thought.

"I do, but I don't want to go through that again. We can still trust each other."

Connie was quiet for a moment. Then: "But you do want to marry me, and you'd wait until I finished at Keele?"

"Yes."

"Graham, I'm not the girl who dropped out of university any more. You've seen how I lived in London. I've grown up a lot; I know how much I have to lose, and I know I want you and only you. There are much more important things than parties and casual sex. So?"

Aha! Now she was trying to convince me! At this point I was glad I'd brought the ring along.

"Connie, we fit together so well. I know we've only been together a few weeks, but you are the light of my life. Will you marry me?"

"Yes of course I will. There's no doubt at all in my mind. I've been sure a lot longer than you have."

Different response. Very practical. Then I noticed the tell-tale moistness round the eyes. OK, she was emotional about it.

I got out the ring and offered it to her. Her eyes went wide.

"You brought it anyway! You are so Good! Put it on please?"

So I did, I slid it onto her finger and we were engaged.

"So," I said, "are you going to give Keele a try?"

"I will now I'm engaged. I want to do well for you."

"Ah! Sweet!" I simpered. Yes! I thought, metaphorically punching the air.

She scowled, then gazed at her engagement ring with a soppy smile.

Here we go again, I thought, ruefully, but this is different. She is different. I desperately hoped so.

--

beware   roasburies!   the  

Apr 3, 2018 in romance

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