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The tables have turned on Minty Lloyd. The once irresistible mistress now finds herself deeply uneasy in her role as the second wife to her husband Nathan and mother of their twin boys. Though she has finally achieved the comfort and stability she once craved, family life has brought her more disappointment than she can admit, and she is yearning to rekindle the ambition, and career, she has left behind. She is also struggling, yet determined, to make her marriage work. ‘The trouble is’, she cries, ‘Everything I do is second-hand.’
Read An Extract
How It Began
On my wedding day, I got dressed in a red silk full skirt to hide my ten-week 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 make-up and wishing that 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 back my lips shaping the words – but, of course, what I saw was the distortion. What I really, truly saw in the mirror was ‘the second Mrs Lloyd’.
Nathan hailed a taxi and we sailed off towards the registry office. He had chosen his dark grey office suit, and had cut his hair too short which I disliked. It made him appear unfinished, and not the worldly sophisticated man that I fancied and, since, he had lost weight, underfed. He did not look particularly happy.
‘You could look a little pleased,’ I remarked from my side of the taxi.
To his credit, his face cleared. ‘Sorry darling, I was thinking of something else.’
I observed a cyclist weaving suicidally in and out of the traffic. ‘We’re on our way to our wedding and you are 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 Nathan but I wanted to drive the point home. ‘This is our special day.’
He gave me one of his strong-man smiles. ‘Everything is fine. And I promise I am thinking about you.’
I nipped the flesh of his palm between my fingers. ‘Well, here’s a thing for fainting. The bridegroom is thinking about the bride.’
Nathan had specified ‘casual’ to the guests which were eight altogether. No fuss, he said. No fireworks. He had been anxious not to make a big deal of the day. ‘You do understand?’ he asked me, more than once which irritated me. On the other hand, pregnant and, as it turned out without a job, my negotiating position was limited.
When we arrived, Nathan seemed transfixed by the ugly stone office block which housed the Registry. Inside, there was an ante room which was adorned with fake panelling, crude gilding and a stand of plastic flowers in hideous pinks and blues which no one had dusted.
As we filed inside, Paige rushed in behind us. She was still working then at the bank, and was dressed in beige office suit and a white blouse. There was a lick of grime on its 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 sharply. ‘Oh my God, you did want me to dress up…’
I could only stare back at her, mute and uncomprehending. For, so help me, I did. I wanted Paige to be in her best Alexander McQueen and 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 – of the kind that stirs the guests to stand on metaphorical tip-toe, untied for a moment by unselfish kindness and by a yearning to start all over again themselves.
Paige frowned. ‘Where’s your bouquet, Minty?’
‘I don’t have one.’
‘Right,’ said Paige, and you could not fault her. ‘Hold on.’ She thrust her briefcase into my hand and disappeared.
Nathan beckoned me over to a group where Poppy, Richard, Sam and his wife, Jilly, were talking to Peter and Carolyne Shaker. Poppy was in black and Jilly was markedly pregnant in a demin smock that needed a press. Only Carolyne had made an effort in a glaringly bright red dress and a white jacket.
Sam did not quite meet my eye. ‘Hallo, Minty.
Jilly made more of an effort and pecked at my cheek. Her long, silky hair brushed against my cheek, and 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 which hurt.’
Her eyes raked over my body. ‘You hardly show, you lucky thing.’
Jilly meant the opposite. Every line of her body with outthrust belly proclaimed her delight in being so obviously fecund. She leaned back 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 will have to do.’ She thrust into my hand a bunch of red roses, the kind that were sold at street corner by oppressed immigrant workers. They were tightly furled and only half alive.
The Registrar cleared his throat. ‘Are we ready…?’
‘The cellophane,’ Paige hissed. ‘Take it off.’
I ripped it off and squashed it into a ball, and left it on the table.
‘Oh Minty,’ Nathan said. ‘I quite forgot you should have flowers.’
In the restaurant afterwards where Nathan had booked for 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 the wheelchair to which she was confined.
I observed the guests at the table. Mostly, their expressions were fixed, as if they were collectively struggling to find a way through this experience. Jilly drank ostentatiously from a glass of water. Sam had his arm draped around his wife’s shoulders. Poppy chattered and fluttered, the Thai silk scarf round her shoulders flashing scarlet and gold. Every so often, she touched Richard on the shoulder or the 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 life, I hated the name I had refused to use since I was fifteen, but I went to its defence. ‘What’s so funny about Susan?’ Jilly and Poppy put their heads on one side. ‘It’s just that you’re so Minty,’ Jilly explained.
‘I’m sorry you haven’t got any family here,’ Sam remarked as we ate Dover sole and scallops.
‘My father vanished when I was small, and my mother is dead and I don’t have any cousins.’
‘I don’t miss what I don’t have.’ I added stubbornly, insistently. ‘It’s not so terrible.’
Sam might have said: we are your family now. But he didn’t.
At the end of the meal, I watched Nathan proffer his platinum credit card to pay the bill, and thought with relief that I would not have to worry about money any more. Then, I went to say goodbye to Aunt Ann. I stooped down over the wheelchair and inhaled face powder and dust from her hat with a black feather. ‘Goodbye. Thank you so much for coming.’
She raised a startlingly thin hand blotched with liver spots, on which rattled a platinum wedding ring and diamond solitaire, and touched my cheek. ‘So nice,’ she murmured, and I felt a rush of unexpected tears. They say cynics are the only true romantics. I was marrying Nathan without any of the true and proper beliefs, only non beliefs, but I was doing it all the same. And Aunt Ann’s touch was worth more than it was possible to describe.
Poppy was hovering. ‘Aunt Ann. We must take you home. I promised that I would not let you overdo things.’
Her exhaustion and confusion obvious, Aunt Ann groped for her words. ‘Goodbye, Rose,’ she said.
Wickedly entertaining…This polished novel is about a slippery second marriage but first and fifth ones will recognize the conjugal territory that Buchan so glitteringly explores.
Quirky and poignant… hard to put down.
A depth and understanding that will take your breath away. In the end, this is a story of compassion and forgiveness.
A high-class, guilt-free soap opera one can savour without the television remote.