Conveniently His Omnibus

By: Penny Jordan

CHAPTER ONE



‘DARLING, I DO HOPE you’re going to wear something a little more attractive than that for dinner. You know we’ve got the Bensons coming and he is one of your father’s best clients. Chris is back by the way.’

Sophy had only been listening to her mother with half her attention, too overwhelmed by the familiar sense of depression, which inevitably overcame her when she had to spend longer than an hour in the latter’s company, to resist the tidal flood of maternal criticism but the moment she heard Chris Benson’s name mentioned she tensed.

They were sitting in the garden on the small patio in front of the immaculately manicured lawns and rosebeds. The garden was her father’s pride and joy but to Sophie it represented everything about her parents and their life-style that had always heightened for her the differences between them. In her parents’ lives everything must be neat and orderly, conforming to a set middle-class pattern of respectability.

She had spent all her childhood and teenage years in this large comfortable house in its West Suffolk village and all that time she had felt like an ungainly cuckoo in the nest of two neat, tiny wrens.

She didn’t even look like her parents; her mother was five-foot-three with immaculate, still blonde, hair and plumply corseted figure, her father somewhat taller, but much in the same mould; a country solicitor, who had once been in the army and who still ran his life on the orderly lines he had learned in that institution.

It was not that her parents didn’t love her, or weren’t kind, genuinely caring people. It was just that she was alien to them and them to her.

Her height, the ungainly length of her legs and arms, the wild mane of her dark, chestnut hair and the high cheekboned, oval face with its slightly tilting gold eyes; these were not things she had inherited from her parents, and she knew that her mother in particular had always privately mourned the fact that her daughter was not like herself, another peaches and cream English rose.

Instead, her physical characteristics had come to her from the half American, half Spanish beauty her great-grandfather had married in South America and brought home. Originally the Marley family had come from Bristol. They had been merchants there for over a century, owning a small fleet of ships and her great-grandfather had been the captain of one of these.

All that had been destroyed by the First World War, which had destroyed so many of the small shipping companies and Sophie knew that her parents felt uneasy by this constant reminder of other times in the shape and physical appearance of their only child.

Her mother had done her best...refusing to see that her tall, ungainly daughter did not look her best in pretty embroidered dresses with frills and bows.

She had disappointed her mother, Sophy knew that. Sybil Rainer had been married at nineteen, a mother at twenty-one and that was a pattern she would have liked to have seen repeated in her daughter. Once too she...

‘Of course, Chris is married now...’

Her mind froze, distantly registering the hint of reproach in her mother’s voice. ‘There was a time when I thought that you and he...’ her voice trailed away and Sophy let it, closing her eyes tightly, thinking bitterly that once she too had thought that she and Chris would marry. Chris’s father was a wealthy stockbroker and she had known him all through her teens, worshipping his son in the way that teenage girls are wont to do.

She had never dreamed Chris might actually notice her as anything other than the daughter of one of his father’s oldest friends. The year he came down from university, when she herself was just finishing her ‘A’ levels, he had come home.

They had met at the tennis club. Sophy had just been finishing a match. Tennis was one of the few things she excelled at; she had the body and the strength for it and, she realised with wry hindsight, he could hardly have seen her in a more flattering setting.

He had asked her out; she had been overwhelmed with excitement...and so it had started.

Her mouth twisted bitterly. It was not how it had started that she was thinking of now, but how it had finished.

It hadn’t taken her long to fall in love—she was literally starving for attention...for someone of her own and she had been all too ridiculously easy a conquest for him. Of course she had demurred when he told her he wanted to make love to her but she had also been thrilled that he could want her so much. Seeing no beauty or desirability in her own appearance, she could not understand how anyone else could either.

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