They were staying at the Hall the evening after the wedding, but had to be there fairly early for the midday wedding. Sophie had barely slept the night before, and as she brought her bags downstairs she could barely focus for the nausea and anxiety overtaking her. Soon Bill’s charm and enthusiasm kicked in, and as they tried to pack Bill’s little sports car with overnight and suit bags, which wasn’t an easy feat, they were chuckling together. Vincenza in her fashion guru way had packed everything for Sophie, down to her makeup. As Bill slid into the driver’s seat he grinned.
“Hassington Hall it is!” They both waved to Vin who stood in the doorway making a ‘call me’ gesture.
Bill had the roof down as is was a warm sunny late September morning, so to avoid a Bridget Jones moment, she covered her head in a scarf provided again by Vincenza, that coordinated perfectly with the pastel coloured floral blouse and pedal pushers that Vin had selected and assured her was exactly what the partner of a ‘Sir’ would wear, she felt like Doris Day as oppose to Kate Middleton, but Bill assured her whilst he rathered her own style, he felt she’d pass as a potential partner to his brother. And that was the level she was aiming for!
“So we need a story!” Bill suggested as they hit the winding roads of the English countryside. “I mean if we’re dating people are bound to ask where we met etc.”
Turning to look at him suspiciously, she raised an eyebrow, “you’d swear you’ve done this before!”
He raised both hands in an ‘I’m innocent’ gesture before re-gripping the steering wheel. “I haven’t! But I’ve seen plenty of films...though in most of them you’d be paying me a few grand for this!” He gave an elaborate wink and she scowled.
“Huh! You’re the expert! You decide.”
Glancing at her briefly he grinned then returned his eyes to the road, “Well, as you’re an artist and I’m a banker, work is out. Though maybe you knew my brother?”
“Chances are the groom will know him! Why don’t we tell the truth there, we met at University?”
“Good idea, but we lost contact until a year ago!” When she looked at him quizzically he added, “If you are as desirable as you look I’d have married you years ago wouldn’t I?”
She nodded, unable to control her humour, “of course! You HAVE done this before! Ok, maybe you recognised a picture of mine at a gallery then came looking for me?”
“Oh you romantic! That sounds good though, and you refuse to accept my marriage proposal until you’ve had your first major solo show.” He giggled, “Too worried about coping with my virility to give in to me fully until after that! Because let’s face it, a couple as glamorous and stunning as us...” He left the innuendo hanging in the air.
Laughing she had to thank him for this, there were so many other things he could be doing on a weekend.
But he belittled it, when she told him that, “That’s what friends are for!”
“God I hate this place!” He groaned as he slowed the car to pull into the ornate driveway, stone gargoyles on either gate post almost warning them to turn around.
“You never told me that about your father before.” She glanced across at his grim expression.
He shrugged, “at least I know there’s a reason why I don’t live up to the Swift expectations mate, I’m not too distraught. I hate him for taking it out on me, but it must be hell not knowing if your kid is yours...”
“I don’t agree!” Sophie was used to being Devil’s Advocate, she did like courting controversy, but this was a particular topic she felt strongly about. “People adopt kids; bring up nieces and nephews when parents die. They love them unconditionally. There’s a strong shout for nurture over nature Bill, whatever happens, kids are the innocents in this, the ones needing protecting. It doesn’t matter if your father was a road sweeper, it wouldn’t be YOUR fault! Either your father accepts you and your mother’s choices, or h e doesn’t. Because she’s the villain really. Your father took out his anger at your mother on you. Loving a child shouldn’t be forced or hard work, it just comes naturally...if you let it.”
Bill was silent for a moment, then turned to her, “we’ve always had that in common, haven’t we? Parents being crap!”
She nodded, “oh yes, my parents care, but more about helping others than their own kids. But it all means we’ll be great parents one day Bill, because we’ll never treat our kids like that!”
Laughing, he turned to her, “are you going to propose before we have kids?”
He swung the car up to the front door, this place had valet service of course, as she punched his shoulder. “I meant that rhetorically, not literally you goon!”
He laughed, “Oh I don’t know, with my good looks and charm, and your artistic tendencies...and legs,” he floundered, “we’d make some cracking kids!”
“My legs?” She turned to look at him, “is that the only thing you can compliment? Bastard!”
Laughing he tossed the car keys to the valet, then grabbed their bags in one hand, and her hand in the other. When she looked at him questioningly, he grinned, “If Mr Perfecto is in reception when we arrive we want to bombard him with how devoted I am!”
Grinning she followed him in.
It was like a curtain had gone up and they were on stage, Bill fell into character immediately and Sophie had a snippet of how it felt to be on the receiving end of the charming Bill!
At the reception he dumped the bags on the floor then wrapped his arm around Sophie’s shoulder, pulling her close to him. Then smiling at the smartly attired lady behind the desk, he spoke in his sexiest voice, “we’ve got a room in the name of Swift.” As she tapped at the computer he smiled his dazzling smile, “we’re here for the Langley wedding.”
The receptionist nodded and pointed out the location of the wedding, through a large ornate archway at the left of the foyer. “Your room is number fifteen, up the stairs and to the right. Do you need a porter to bring your bags?”
Bill shook his head, “No need, I’m her devoted pack horse!” then he gave an elaborate wink.
Then gathering the bags with his arm still around her shoulder, an achievement in its own right, he led her to the staircase. Halfway across the large hall, he felt Sophie tense, then looking down he saw she looked a little pale.
Dropping his mouth to her ear, in what from a distance would seem an intimate gesture, he hissed, “What is it?”
She turned to him with a smile that betrayed her fear; she was no actor, “two o’clock, father of the bride. Not ready to see anyone yet.”
Bill lifted his fingers to cup her cheek gently, every gesture calculated for the audience, “you look amazing and we’ll knock them dead. Ok?”
Nodding she bit her bottom lip, unable to hide her discomfort at the worsening situation, he merely thumbed it gently battling with her teeth to dominate the soft flesh, it was a weirdly erotic gesture, and shocked Sophie. When she gasped, Bill grinned in triumph.
“Come on, we’ve got an hour!”
The whole friendship with Melody Langley was rather one sided. Sophie’s parents had been in Uganda building a school for more than six months, when she was younger they seemed to be home more often, but once she’d hit eleven or twelve it was very rare. Her brother was a ball of angry energy, and it was probably his fault that Thea, their mother’s sister asked for them to be put into boarding school. He was always in trouble. Lonely even when she was with her brother and aunt, the school life was hell. Some of the older girls spotted weakness, but she hated it there and they knew it. One day Melody stuck up for Sophie, popular, pretty and perfect Melody Langley, daughter of a Harley Street Surgeon, and the bullying and hatred eased.
It started a very one sided relationship where Sophie’s dependence on Melody meant that she could say and do what she liked without recrimination. She’d snub her on weekends and invite others to her home, but equally she’d single her out with gifts and attention that the lonely Sophie craved. It was hard being the poor girl in boarding school. But the occasional grace shown by her friend made it all worthwhile, and she was easily manipulated.
Then there was the much anticipated trip to the Knightsbridge home that happened eighteen months into the friendship. They’d travelled alone by train, at fourteen that was such a treat, Sophie had been so excited, but when the door to the house open and an older boy dived down the steps to hug Melody, Sophie thought she’d faint with what she now realised was desire. After a lengthy hug Melody introduced him as Miles, her older brother. The relief that he wasn’t a more intimate relation to Melody was like Christmas coming early. All weekend she’d studied him, hoping it was from a distance. He was angelic to her hormone driven eyes, his short dark hair, blue eyes, perfect dimpled cheeks, and then there were his legs. He insisted on wearing shorts all weekend, and Sophie could barely drag her eyes from the hair dusted thighs or pert buttocks. She’d never felt attraction like that before. And he merely looked at her as the nuisance friend of his nuisance younger sister.
“So when did you last see all these people?” Bill shouted from the bedroom.
Sophie was trying to apply light make up in the bathroom, but her hands were shaking. Still in her robe, she stepped out into the bedroom, “my sixteenth birthday was at the end of school term, at my party I threw myself at a man who saw me as a nuisance little girl I left the school the day after that.”
Looking at Bill she gasped, he wore suits to work every day, but today he looked devastating, this dark grey suit with a faint pinstripe looked amazing, the waistcoat of the same colour hugged his athletic body like a glove, and the blue paisley tie matched the colour of her dress perfectly.
“You look amazing Bill! The bride will be filled with regret if I know Melody Langley!”
He chuckled softly, “that should be my line, but I can’t say that that robe is exactly suitable for a society wedding!”
Swatting at him she rolled her eyes, “I’m not putting the dress on until the last minute.”
“Good idea. I ordered us some food from room service.” He pointed at the table laden with cold meats and bread. As she made to protest he silenced her with a raised hand, “trust me. There’ll be a hell of a lot of champagne drunk before we eat anything. You can’t get pissed and start falling over...it’ll shatter the illusion!”
“Have you thought of everything?” she asked snagging a piece of German salami and popping it into her mouth.
Nodding he gestured for her to sit, and she complied. When she crossed her legs her robe fell open, and it was Bill’s turn to hide his gasp. He didn’t realise she was wearing anything on her legs, but the band of lace that circled her thigh was the top of a holdup stocking. He had a thing for hold ups! A REAL thing.
Sophie watched his eyes as they darted around the room nervously, “what’s up now?” She feigned frustration.
She was like a terrier when it came to questions, so he knew there was no point lying, “I’ve got a fetish for holdups, ok!” He gestured wildly at her exposed legs, “and you’re flaunting them a bit!”
Giving him a seductive smile she breathed, “holdups? I’d never have guessed!”
As visions of him finding them draped all over the house to wind him up in the future flew into his brain, he called for a truce, “ok, ok, let’s move on!”
After eating some bread and a lot more of the meat, Sophie found the dress hanging in the wardrobe, then took it to the bathroom to slip on. Then there was the jewellery, shoes, and then the fascinator of blue ostrich feathers to slide into the chignon that she’d perfected over the week at Vincenza’s instruction.
As she emerged, a little apprehensive, she looked to Bill who wolf whistled, “that is EXACTLY what the doctor ordered! You look....whew!”
Smiling she turned to look at her reflection in the mirror, the blue silk clung to her breasts without being too racy, then skimmed her figure to float to her knees, with the three inch high ‘fuck me’ shoes that were Vincenza’s insistence did make her legs looked long, and fairly shapely, maybe Bill was more observant than she gave him credit for.
“Do I pass?”
He nodded, “more than!” He glanced at his watch, then handed her the small matching clutch bag, “come on Miss Beck or we’ll be extremely late!”
With that she followed him out of the room, praying that she didn’t fall off the heels that seemed to tip the outfit off.
The stairs down to the large ornate foyer in three inch spiky heels were a challenge for someone used to wearing trainers or Crocs, but hanging on to Bill’s arm, a smile plastered on her face, manage it she did. He was better than any crutch, and the one time she toppled against him, he reached down to kiss her forehead attentively, making it seem as though she had intended the contact.
“If you feel a little stressed, or concerned, ‘call Aunt Margaret’!”
Spinning to look at him Sophie couldn’t help herself, “what?”
Wrapping a hand around her shoulder he whispered, “It’s a code word. If things aren’t great, tell me you want to phone and check how Aunt Margaret is. Then we can both leave the situation.”
Stopping dead he almost knocked her over as he catapulted into her, “William Swift! You HAVE done this before, do NOT deny it!”
His blush was very subtle, but he refrained from answering because at that very second he felt her tense beside her, and turning to face the same direction as her, he pasted on a happy smile and looked.
Miles Langley was a smarmy bastard! He didn’t need to know the identity of the man she stared at, he fitted the profile perfectly. Tall, dark, and he had to admit handsome, but there was an arrogance, and over confidence that the man exuded in bucket loads. Poor Sophie, this man was a predatory tiger, and she was no match now, let alone at sixteen.