If Nina hadn’t bugged me, I’d never have gone to Annie Richmond’s party.
‘Cedric is beginning to take you for granted,’ she said, hurling clothes into a weekend case.
‘Cedric,’ I said crossly, ‘is getting his career together. As soon as he’s adopted as a candidate, we’ll get married.’
‘Because it’s better for candidates to have wives,’ said Nina. ‘He shouldn’t leave you alone so much. Your first weekend back from holiday, looking a million and a half dollars — anyone else wouldn’t be able to keep his hands off you — but old Seedcake just swans off to another political rally.’
‘I’m very happy about my relationship with Cedric. And that’s mine,’ I snapped, removing a yellow shirt she was surreptitiously packing in one corner of her case. ‘Cedric keeps me on the straight and narrow,’ I went on.
‘He’s turned you into a bore,’ said Nina. ‘You used to be lovely company when you were playing fast and loose with half of London.’
‘I want a sense of purpose in my life,’ I protested. ‘I don’t want to die in Chelsea with my knickers down.’
Nina went to the mirror and started slapping Man-tan all over her face.
‘Where are you off to?’ I said.
‘Home. I don’t want my mother fussing about me looking washed out — and tomorrow I’m going out with an amazingly dishy new man. Now aren’t you jealous?’
‘No,’ I lied. ‘You just give up certain things when you’re engaged.’
‘Like fun. Just because Seedcake’s put a ring on your finger, he thinks he’s entitled to neglect you all the time. I think you ought to go to Annie Richmond’s orgy; she’s got this fantastically good-looking cousin coming. If he gave you a whirl, you’d soon forget about Seedcake.’
‘Don’t call him that,’ I stormed. ‘Anyway, I’ve nothing in common with Annie Richmond’s friends any more.’
Nina laughed meaningly. ‘You mean Cedric hasn’t. She reminds him of your past and that come-hither look your eyes had once. You’re scared of going because you think you might fancy someone. If you were really hooked on Seedcake, you wouldn’t be frightened to go.’
I felt depressed after she’d gone. I’d done all the boring things like washing my hair, shaving my legs and doing my nails yesterday, in the hope that I might see Cedric tonight. After a few minutes moping I settled down to half-heartedly cleaning the flat, then washing the suntan-oil out of a few shirts.
I looked at Cedric’s photograph beside my bed, thought how good-looking he was, then I read a book on Conservative policy. It was incredibly boring and nearly sent me to sleep. Cedric telephoned — as he said he would — on the dot of ten o’clock.
‘How heavenly to hear you, darling,’ I said, overwhelmed with love. ‘How are you?’
‘Oh, full of beans,’ he said in his hooray, political voice, which meant there were people in the room. As he told me what a success the meeting had been and how well his speech had gone, I examined the diamond and sapphire ring he’d given me.
Finally he said, ‘What are you going to do with yourself all weekend?’
‘Annie Richmond’s throwing an orgy,’ I said lightly. ‘As you’re not here, I was thinking of going.’
Cedric laughed heartily and disbelievingly. ‘I thought you’d grown out of that sort of party,’ he said. ‘I must go darling. I’ll ring you on Monday and we’ll have dinner. Take care of yourself; and remember, no orgies. They’re bad for my reputation.’
I put the telephone down feeling extremely irritated. What was the point of spending ten days alone in the South of France — Cedric naturally couldn’t get away — boring myself silly getting a suntan for his sake, when he wasn’t around to appreciate it?
I looked out at the September evening — the dusk with its suggestion of autumn and nights drawing in and another year passing shot waves of repressed lust through me. I thought of sex and sin and all the men in the world I’d never have the chance to get my hands on now.
It was such a long, long time since I’d been to a good party. Cedric thought all my friends so frivolous and idiotic, he’d scared them away.
I looked at his photograph again — short, fair hair, clear, blue eyes, a determined chin.
‘Life is earnest, life is real,’ I said to myself firmly. ‘Cedric would hate me to go to Annie Richmond’s orgy, so I won’t go.’
An hour later, feeling horribly guilty, I crept up the stairs to Annie Richmond’s flat, having heard the roar of the party all the way down the street. Annie opened the door.
‘Emily,’ she cried joyfully, giving me a huge hug. ‘I never dreamed you’d come.’
She was wearing a dress so cut out there was hardly any of it left. I was wearing a backless black dress, pretty low at the front and welded together with safety pins, as usual, which I’d never dared show Cedric. I’d put on weight since I last wore it and was falling out all over the place. I just hoped I looked a bit like Sophia Loren.
Annie looked at me with approval. ‘Stripped for action, that’s more like the old Emily,’ she said, handing me a glass.
‘I’ve only just popped in for a quick drink,’ I said. ‘Cedric’s away.’
‘I know,’ she smiled knowingly. ‘There’s lots of talent in there, so go in and forage for yourself.’
The next room was impossibly, clamorously full of good-looking people trying to shout each other down. I felt very nervous, so I drank my disgusting drink straight down, and quickly had another. I didn’t know a soul, but then Annie turned over her friends so fast.
A handsome Australian in a red shirt came over and started to chat me up. His eyes smouldered under bushy black eyebrows.
I knew that look of old: I feel I know every inch of you already, so let’s get on with it — it stated unequivocally.
‘Bloody awful row,’ he said. ‘Pity I can’t lip-read.’ He gazed at my mouth and then at my black dress, which was descending fast. Any minute I’d be topless. I heaved it up. ‘Leave it,’ he said. ‘I’m enjoying the view.’
He was clearly a superstud, and would have whipped me down the passage and under Annie’s duvet in two seconds flat. But I wanted to stay upright, not flat. Suppressing the waves of lust that were sweeping over me, I started to shout at him about Cedric and his political career. He can’t have heard much of what I was saying, but seemed to get the message and drifted off.
I was then collared by an ancient or more an elderly Wren, a model with long red hair and skinny white hands, who went on and on about her split ends.
Suddenly there was a commotion by the door.
‘But Annie,’ said a man’s voice, ‘I thought I was coming to an orgy. Where are the wall-to-wall couples? The lovely girls in tiger skins?’
Split Ends caught her breath. I, like everyone else, turned around. My jaw clanged — for standing in the doorway was one of the most sensationally attractive men I had ever seen. He was tall, with broadish shoulders, long black hair, restless dark eyes with a wicked gleam in them, and an arrogant sulky mouth. He oozed sexuality. He looked round the room, as cool and haughty as a prince, yet he had an explosive quality — I’ve come out of the jungle and no-one’s going to tame me, he seemed to say. Every woman in the room was going mad with desire; me