Victoria Jane Montgomery
I am Victoria Jane Montgomery, daughter of the fourth Earl of Hardwicke and I will have my way.
I enter the large conservatory built on the east wall of my father’s home. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful part of the house, with its old Victorian stained glass and its profusion of citrus trees, tropical palms, and orchids. When I was younger there was even a banana tree. But Geoffrey died some years ago and this new gardener has other ideas, newer ideas.
My mother, she has pink cheeks, soft blue eyes and a small pink mouth, is reading a book. Another cheap period romance with a swashbuckling man clutching a buxom woman with flowing hair on the cover. I have never understood why a woman of her age should read romances. Surely, the instinct for romance dies when one reaches a certain age. In fact, I have never understood the allure of romances. They bore me. You see, I have the real thing in my life. I have Blake, all six feet three inches of him.
And all I have to do to make my toes clench is to think of him. But when I think of him with that hussy, my stomach actually knots and I have to stop myself from doing the bitch bodily harm. In fact, in a dream I once had I tore her eyes out. The feeling of hate is so strong that sometimes I have to clench my hands, so hard my nails bite into my flesh and leave half moon marks.
My mother looks up from her book. ‘Oh, daahling. Have you just come from the hospital? How is Blake doing?’
Her King Charles, Suki, jumps dementedly at my feet. I pick it up and, tickling the fur next to its pink crystal-studded collar, sit on a chair opposite my mother.
‘He hasn’t come around yet,’ I say, as the dog tries to lick my mouth.
‘Oh dear, what are the doctors saying?’
‘It’s a matter of time. The swelling needs to go down. They expect to be able to operate tomorrow.’
‘I’m sorry, my dear.’
‘Actually, Mummy, I’ve come to talk to you about a different matter.’
‘Oh?’ My mother puts her book down.
‘Well, it is about Blake, but it’s not about his accident, well maybe it is, a little bit. Anyway, I found out that Blake has a mistress.’
‘Oh,’ my mother says again. I bite my lip. It is a blow to my pride to tell my mother this.
‘I went to the apartment where he keeps her and paid her to leave the country and never see him again. Her mother is Iranian or something, and I suggested she live there for a while until everything blows over.’
The foolish look suddenly drops from my mother’s eyes and her voice loses that simpering softness that I grew up with. My mouth drops open in shock. In that moment I realize I have never really known my mother. This woman is nobody’s fool.
‘You have taken a huge and unnecessary risk by doing that. These types of women will grow in such soil as ours and wither quickly, but when you force one out by the roots the way you have done, they leave a mark, an ugly scar that some men will mistake for a lost love.’
The wisdom in my mother’s words makes undeniable sense and I look at her worriedly. ‘But he took her to the Craft ball!’
She looks at me with narrowed eyes. ‘How do you know that?’
I look away and gently lower Suki to the ground.
My mother sighs and throws an imperial mint to the floor. Immediately Suki catches it in her mouth and crunches it. ‘You’ve had him followed. You are playing a dangerous game, Victoria. What does she look like?’
My mother looks at me steadily.
‘All right, she’s very beautiful and young,’ I spit out.
‘But dirt poor?’
‘Poorer than dirt.’
‘Oh dear. Perhaps you did the right thing then.’
‘But what do I do now?’
‘Nothing much. Persuade your father to talk to Blake and take the blame for paying the girl off. It will appear less sordid if such a thing is done by a father to protect his daughter’s interest. You must remain spotless. Go and see your father. He is in the study. He never could resist a tear or two from you.’
I stand and my mother says, ‘You do know that this will not be the last woman that will come into your life, don’t you?’
‘Are you sure you want this life?’
I did not hesitate. ‘Yes.’
My mother nods sadly. ‘Remember this. I married beneath me. So will you. All women do.’
I stare at her in shock.
‘Well, run along then, daahling,’ she simpers and picks up her lurid novel.
The first person I call is Jack. He answers on the fifth ring just as I am about to give up.
‘What is it?’ he asks, instantly alert.
‘Oh, Jack,’ I cry.
‘Where are you?’
‘Going to Mum’s.’
‘I’ll meet you there.’
‘You don’t have to meet me there, Jack. I only wanted to hear your voice.’
‘Nothing.’ But my voice breaks.
‘Fuck nothing. What happened?’
‘I have to leave. I’m taking Mum back to Iran.’
‘Just for a year.’
‘I’m coming over.’
‘Please don’t, Jack. I was feeling weak, but I’m all right now. Funny, just hearing your voice did it. I know now what I have to do. I’ll email you when I get settled. It’s a bit primitive over there, so it might take a bit of time, but you and Billie will be the first people I write to.’
‘Don’t you want to see me before you go?’
‘I’ll be gone by the time you get here. Someone else is making the arrangements and they don’t mess about. I’m afraid I kinda jumped from the frying pan into the fire, but I think it will be OK when I get to Iran.’
‘What about Blake?’
‘He’s history. He must never know where I am.’
‘Has he hurt you?’
‘No. He’s still unconscious in hospital.’
‘You’re not going of your own free will, are you?’
‘No, but it is for the best. I’ve got to go now, Jack. I will write as soon as I can.’
‘Goodbye, darling Jack.’
It is a rich room in which I find my father. He is sitting in a large armchair reading the newspapers, and his favorite foxhound, Sergeant is curled up on a rug at his feet. At my entrance, Sergeant does no more than swivel his mournful eyes in my direction and wave the tip of his thirteen-year-old tail.