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Two opulent glass bowls full of numbered pebbles sat on an onyx table. A group of men clothed in black capes and masks stood at one side of the room, and a group of women in identical attire stood at the other.
The glow from the candles dappled the dark crimson walls and reflected in the gilt-edged mirrors. The scent of fresh roses pervaded the air, and soft classical music caressed their ears.
One by one, each member of the group picked a pebble from the appropriate bowl and held it, number side facing the opposite members. As they paired up the matching numbers, the men placed an arm around the women’s waists before they moved breathlessly through the panelled double doors and glided up the wide, twisting staircase. One by one, the seven double bedrooms became occupied.
“We’ve not met before,” said the man as they both removed their masks.
“It’s my first time.”
“Your idea or your husband’s?” he asked, pouring two glasses of champagne and passing her one.
“His,” she replied before swallowing two large mouthfuls.
“No need to be nervous,” he said, guiding her towards the king-size bed dressed in Egyptian cotton.
DI Wednesday turned the packet of cigarettes over and over in her hand, disappointed in herself.
“I thought you’d given up,” Lennox said from the office doorway.
She looked up and shrugged before suggesting that they went down to the courtyard for a smoke.
“Good Christmas?” she asked before taking a deep, satisfying draw on her cigarette.
“My folks are social addicts, with an urge to foist me off with a daughter of one of their friends.” Lennox performed a mock shudder making her smile.
“What about your sons?”
“I took them out for lunch a few days after Christmas with my folks; who spoilt them rotten. What about you?”
“A quiet family gathering. Mum’s still a bit fragile and Scarlett is, well, Scarlett.” She gave him a sideways glance hoping to see some reaction to the name. Her attention then turned to the smoke furling towards the dirty sky. “She’s been asking after you.”
It was Lennox’s turn to remain silent whilst blowing smoke rings into the chilled air. “I’m sorry; I’ve been unsociable of late.”
“Well make your mind up soon, Lennox, we’ve still got to work together.” And with that, she stubbed out her cigarette before dropping it into the wall-mounted ashtray.
“Did you enjoy last night?” Craig Whiting asked his wife, stuffing some papers and his stethoscope into his briefcase.
“It was different. Do we have to go again?”
Snapping his briefcase shut, he told her they would discuss it over dinner later. April watched her husband climb into his silver Mercedes and reverse down the gravelled driveway, before returning to clear the table.
Her mind wandered to the tender red marks she found on her body as she showered that morning. She had no recollection of the pain she must have felt. However, she had no time to dwell on the matter as she needed to cycle to the nursery.
April loved the tingling cold wind on her cheeks and nose, and the flicking of the long, thick plait of ginger hair against her back. After twenty minutes she arrived in Cambridge. The impressive university buildings encircled her as she chained her bike to the railing before walking to the building with daffodils painted on the windows.
She was happiest when surrounded by the babies and toddlers who were dropped off by their harassed parents, juggling files of students’ papers and nappy bags. She felt sorry for the lecturers who had little time to spend with their offspring.
Working as a nursery nurse helped her fill the childless void she carried with her. Craig had no desire to start a family as he was too committed to building up his GP surgery, and discovering new social outlets to attend with her.
In an adjacent lane running from the market square stood a wine bar called The Vines, owned by Patrick and Gloria Hill. It was hallowed territory for the university lecturers and local professionals to display their wine snobbery. It was there Craig and April were introduced to The Sapphire Club, run by Oscar and Daphne Mason.
Most days, April Whiting arrived home before Craig in order to prepare a meal. The house was minimalist and immaculate, reflecting their perceived standing in society.
Memories of the previous evening sent a frisson down her spine, and she had noticed subtle changes in Craig that she could not quite fathom. She willed herself not to envisage Craig with someone else; it made her feel nauseated. But regardless of her sentiments, she was unable to say no to him—and he knew it.
When they lived in Derbyshire, they rarely socialised whilst Craig completed his medical training. They celebrated Christmas alone as both sets of parents were dead, and in their leisure time they would take country hikes and photograph wildlife. She had hoped that their lifestyle would remain the same in their new abode, but Craig was pushing for change.
As the smell of roasting vegetables and garlic pervaded the air, she heard the front door open.
“I’ve had a hard day,” he said, dodging her open arms.
Undeterred, April poured him a scotch on the rocks and placed it on the table next to his armchair. She hovered for a few minutes before returning to the kitchen.
Once at the table, Craig pushed his food around the plate, taking only tiny morsels of the lamb chops.
“You seem troubled,” she said, tilting her head to one side.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said this morning,” he replied, his voice terse.
“I just don’t understand the need for us to go. We’re happy as we are, right?”
His silence echoed loudly. Scraping his chair on the wooden floor, he stood up and moved to the kitchen to make a pot of tea.
“I want to branch out more, see what else the world has to offer,” he said, placing a cup and saucer in front of her.
“I thought I was enough,” her voice cracking as she spoke.
“I want to explore the sexual world; you were less prudish once.”
Tears welled in her eyes. He hated her crying, so she took a few deeps breaths. “What happens if you get the taste for someone else?”
“We’ll deal with that if and when it happens.”
“You know I won’t let you go; ever.”
Craig told her to finish her tea, keeping his gaze on her. She obeyed as always.
“I’m off for a bath,” she said quietly.
She did not see the relief on his face as she left. Pulling his mobile from his pocket he sent a message. The reply made him smile.
COPYRIGHT @2014 by Hemmie Martin
Excerpt appears courtesy of Winter Goose Publishing
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