My eyes grow huge. ‘Really? That’s what really rich people do. When their pets die they simply stuff them and hang them up as decorations.’
Lana laughs. ‘They do have some strange customs. Seems that was where the owls loved to perch when they were alive.’
‘I passed a photograph of another of Blake’s ancestors in a top hat and tails riding on a giant tortoise.’
‘That’s the uncle that went mad,’ Lana explains. ‘He was crazy about animals. He is the one who started the zoo. He once drove to Buckingham Palace in a carriage drawn by zebras.’
‘I thought zebras couldn’t be tamed.’
‘The zebras were led by a horse,’ explains Lana.
‘I can’t believe what we are talking about. Come on, tell me all about your honeymoon. Where did you go? What did you see?’
Lana laughs. ‘Blake took me to the desert.’
‘That’s the great surprise? The desert?’
‘Oh, Julie, it was so unbelievably beautiful. We joined an old-fashioned camel train. When it got too hot we traveled in a howdah. It was wonderful. The cameleers were so polite and hospitable. In the day they sing songs; at night they gather around a fire and tell stories.’
She claps her hands together in front of her.
‘Blake knew I always wanted to experience rain in the desert, so he had the clouds over us seeded and that night it rained. It was amazing. Truly. We sat at the mouth of our tent and looked at the rain and then we made love in the rain. It was the most sensuous sex I have ever had.’
I look at her and think I must get Vann to have sex with me in the rain.
Something happens outside the greenhouse behind me and Lana is distracted by it. I look over my shoulder and see two peacocks.
‘Come on,’ she urges. ‘It looks like they are about to dance.’
We go outside the glass house and around its side and come upon the peacocks. Lana puts her finger to her lips. We wait a few minutes but she was wrong. Neither spreads its tail. Lana looks at me and shrugs ruefully.
‘Oh well,’ she says, and we both turn to go back. As we are walking I have an odd sensation. I turn my head and one of the peacocks has opened his glorious tail. I touch Lana’s arm. We both turn and catch the rare sight of the spectacular creature dancing for his mate. Strangely my hand is still on Lana’s arm. I don’t pull it away. When the dance is over Lana turns her bright eyes on me. ‘That was spectacular, wasn’t it?’
Unable to speak I nod. We have shared something special. I feel connected to her like I have not with any other human being. The piercing jealousy has dissipated.
‘Remember that time those boys were chasing me and throwing stones at me?’
Lana looks at me strangely. ‘Yes, I do.’
‘Why did you come to help me? They could have hurt you.’
‘I knew they wouldn’t dare. They were afraid of Jack.’
I take my hand away. The old hurt is back. How wonderful for her. To be so cherished and loved and protected by my Jack. ‘He looked out for you, didn’t he?’
‘He was my brother,’ she says simply.
He was in love with you, you fool, I want to scream. ‘Let’s have tea,’ I say quietly.
‘Yes, let’s. You have to try the chef’s scones. He makes the most delicious scones I have ever had anywhere.’
We sit at the table and Lana presses a buzzer.
‘Does Blake’s sister live here alone?’
‘Yes, for the moment, but she will be moving in with us when we move into our house next week. She’ll only be coming here at the weekends to see her animals.’
‘How come there is no information about her on the net?’
Lana lays her hands flat on the table. Her engagement ring glitters. ‘Apparently that is what these old families do. They hide the relatives that they are ashamed of or might threaten their social standing.’
‘Even the Queen’s had two first cousins who were secretly incarcerated in a mental asylum, and Burke’s Peerage declared them both long dead, on the misinformation supplied to them by the family. It was only when a journalist discovered in 1986 that one of the women was buried in a grave marked only by a plastic name tag and a serial number and the other is still alive but forgotten that the story came to light.’
The food arrives. Cake stands filled with delicate finger sandwiches, scones, cream cakes and tarts. Lana pours the tea. ‘You must try the cucumber sandwiches. Until I came here I had never tasted one. They are exceedingly delicious.’
I take one and bite into it. Lana is right. The cucumber is very finely sliced. It is light and buttery and scrumptious.
‘What happened to Victoria?’
Lana’s face tightens at the mention of the woman’s name. ‘She has been locked away in a place where the doors have windows.’
I am shocked. ‘Just because she crashed your wedding reception, emptied a glass of wine on your dress and nearly slapped you?’
Lana looks directly at me. Her eyes harder than I have ever seen them. ‘She had three razor blades taped to her fingers. She didn’t want to slap me, Julie. She wanted to shred my face, and disfigure me forever.’
My mouth drops open. ‘Oh my God!’ The thought of what so nearly happened that day.
‘Blake looked like he wanted to kill her that night. I thought he was going to do her harm.’
‘It was actually her father’s idea. He knew that Blake had become an obsession for her, and if she was not locked away she would do something that would end her in prison. She is being treated with the best that money can buy.’
‘Can someone become mad just like that?’
‘It seems mental illness runs in her family. Her grandmother suffered a major nervous breakdown and, despite spending many years at a private sanatorium in the care of famous psychiatrists, she never recovered fully. At a grand society dinner party in New York she shocked everyone by eating the roses that were there as table decorations.’
I meet her eyes. ‘That makes perfect sense. No wonder she was saying all those crazy things about Blake.’
For the first time since I have known Lana, her eyes become veiled. ‘Yes, her breakdown was very unfortunate.’
As soon as I come into the apartment I know immediately that Vann is not in. The flat seems emptier than normal. I wonder where he is. Perhaps he has popped down to the newsagent. Smith comes towards me and rubs his face against my legs. I pick him up and glance upstairs. Why, the door is slightly ajar. I put Smith back down and go up the stairs.