Elizabeth Buchan

The Second Wife aka Wives Behaving Badly

The second book in the Two Mrs Lloyd series, 2006

For Marika

‘We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence’

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species


I owe many people for generously giving me their time and expertise. In particular I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Clive Sydall, Antony Mair and Sebastian Leathlean. Any mistakes are mine. I would also like to thank Janet Buck, Lucy Floyd, William Gill, Ann MacDonald, Pamela Norris, Belinda Taylor and many other friends who, as ever, gave rock-like support. To my editor, Louise Moore, and the team at Michael Joseph and Penguin, Hazel Orme, Mark Lucas, my agent, and lastly my husband and children, a big thankyou.

How It Began

On my wedding day, I got dressed in a red silk full skirt, to hide my ten-weeks pregnant figure, and a black jacket. For a considerable time I hovered in front of the mirror in the cramped bedroom of my flat, fiddling with the lie of the skirt, adjusting my makeup and wishing I could wear high heels, but pregnancy made my feet hurt. I think I was trying to persuade myself of my imminent new status: ‘Mrs Lloyd’. The mirror reflected my lips shaping the words – but, of course, what I saw was the distortion. What I really saw in the mirror was ‘the second Mrs Lloyd’.

Nathan hailed a taxi and we sailed off to the register office. He had worn his dark grey office suit, and had cut his hair rather short, which I disliked. It made him appear unfinished, not the worldly, sophisticated man I rated, and, since he had lost weight, underfed. He did not seem particularly happy.

‘You could look a little pleased,’ I remarked, from my side of the taxi.

His face cleared. ‘Sorry, darling, I was thinking of something else.’

I watched a cyclist weave suicidally in and out of the traffic. ‘We’re on our way to our wedding and you’re thinking of something else?’

‘Hey.’ Nathan reached over and captured one of my hands, which were permanently hot – another little pregnancy joke. ‘There’s no need to worry, I promise.’

I believed him but I wanted to drive the point home. ‘This is our special day.’

He gave me one of his strong-man smiles. ‘Everything’s fine. And I promise I’m thinking of you.’

I nipped the flesh of his palm between my fingers. ‘Well, here’s a shock. The bridegroom’s thinking about the bride.’

Nathan had specified ‘casual’ to the guests, who were eight. No fuss, he had said. No fireworks. He had been anxious not to make a big deal of the day. ‘You do understand?’ he asked, more than once, which irritated me but, pregnant and jobless, my negotiating position was limited.

When we arrived, Nathan seemed transfixed by the ugly stone office block. Inside, there was an anteroom adorned with fake panelling, crude gilding and a stand of plastic flowers in hideous pinks and blues that no one had dusted.

As we filed in, Paige rushed up behind us. She was still working at the bank, and wore a beige suit with a white blouse. There was a lick of grime on the lapel. ‘You look great, Minty.’ She hefted a briefcase, which bulged with papers, from one hand to the other. ‘You did say not to dress up and I’ve just dashed out of a meeting.’


She peered at me. ‘Oh, my God, you wanted me to dress up.’

I could only stare at her, mute and uncomprehending. For, so help me, I did. I wanted Paige to be in her best Alexander McQueen and a hat that shrieked ‘occasion’. After all, and after everything, I craved silk and tulle, a flash of diamonds in the ear, the hiss of champagne, the scent of expensive flowers and the welling up of emotion and excitement – the kind that stirs the guests to stand on metaphorical tiptoe, united for a moment by unselfish kindness and by the yearning to start all over again themselves.

Paige frowned. ‘Where’s your flowers, Minty?’

‘I don’t have any.’

‘Right,’ said Paige, and you could not fault her. ‘Hold on.’ She thrust her briefcase into my hand and disappeared.

Nathan beckoned me to a group in which his eldest children, Poppy and Sam, and their spouses, Richard and Jilly, were talking to Peter and Carolyne Shaker. Poppy was in black and Jilly was markedly pregnant in a denim smock that needed pressing. Only Carolyne had made an effort in a glaringly bright red dress and a white jacket.

Sam did not quite meet my eye. ‘Hello, Minty.’

Jilly made more of an effort and pecked my cheek. Her long, silky hair brushed against my cheek; it smelt of shampoo and wholesome things. ‘How are you feeling?’ she whispered meaningfully, one pregnant woman to another.

‘Fine. Very little different – apart from very hot hands, and feet that hurt.’

Her eyes raked over me. ‘You hardly show, you lucky thing.’

Jilly meant the opposite. Every line of her body, with out-thrust belly, proclaimed her delight in being so obviously fecund. She leant against Sam. ‘You wait. Sore feet is only the start,’ she said contentedly.

Paige burst back into the room. ‘Here’s your bouquet, Minty. It’s terrible, but it’ll have to do.’ She thrust into my hand a bunch of red roses, the kind that were sold at street corners by oppressed immigrant workers. They were tightly furled and only half alive.

The registrar cleared his throat. ‘Are we ready?’

‘The Cellophane,’ Paige hissed.

I ripped it off, squashed it into a ball and left it on the table.

‘Oh, Minty,’ Nathan said. ‘I forgot you should have flowers.’

In the restaurant afterwards, where Nathan had booked lunch, we were joined by Aunt Ann, Nathan’s last remaining relative, and there was a great deal of fussing and rearranging of chairs to accommodate her wheelchair.

I observed the guests at the table. Mostly, their expressions were fixed, as if they were struggling collectively to find a way through the experience. Jilly drank ostentatiously from a glass of water, Sam’s arm draped round his wife. Poppy chattered and fluttered, her Thai silk scarf round her shoulders flashing scarlet and gold. Every so often, she touched Richard’s shoulder or his arm. Once, she pressed her lips to his cheek. Not once did any of them look in my direction. There was comment about my first name being Susan, a fact revealed by the registrar. For most of my

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