This is how it began. My sister Anna, a brilliant and witty writer, suggested that we should try to write a romance novel according to the guidelines published by Mills & Boon. Not as easy as it sounds, apparently. She created a finely judged opening paragraph and sent it to me. And, intoxicated by the stylistic possibilities that are simply not offered by my usual literary output of press releases on Bedfordshire’s latest social housing project, I have taken up the gauntlet. The idea is that we will take it in turns to develop the story, in full view of you, dear reader.

We are taking this project seriously, but I am already acutely aware that writing about simmering desire with one’s own sister might be possible only with tongue tentatively in cheek. We have agreed not to discuss our plot ideas, so the novel will unfold as unpredictably to us as to our readers. This could lead to trouble later on, but for now it seems a very liberating way to start.

Who knows where this project will take us? To the dizzying heights of publication by the world’s leading romance brand? Probably not. But wherever we end up, it should be fun getting there…

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Part 50 – Return to Brinkworth Place

It’s been a while, I know. I blame Life: what with earning a living and being a responsible parent and having the decorators in, there hasn’t been much time for blogging. Even so, I realise that expecting my readers to go for two months without Topaz and Cleft is a big ask, especially since we really are on the home run now. I apologise.

Part 50 (by Oliver)

Still Topaz stared, not understanding, barely hearing. But the liquid that filled her huge brown eyes and started to trickle, glinting, down one cheek showed that, somewhere deep within, the thunderbolt had hit.

She stood, seemingly calm, her poise heartbreaking in the face of the turmoil that her life had become, Terence thought. Then, with a rasping sob, Topaz clutched the sticky formica table as her legs buckled and she slid into the blessed velvet blackness of a swoon.

It was later – much later – when the first shards of light pricked through her unconsciousness and Topaz found herself swathed in the familiar luxury of crisp Egyptian cotton. Saw the glimmer of water reflecting from the pool on the suede-covered ceiling of her own room at Paradise Heights. Heard the hushed tread of feet on the deep black shagpile. Felt the cool, tender touch of caring hands on her forehead, soothing, nurturing – sustaining.

Terence’s face loomed into view, his brow puckered with concern but his mouth perked with relief. Topaz smiled weakly, yet the comfort of the surroundings and a friendly face could not thaw the icy clench that gripped her still. At first she could not recall the reason for the numbness, for the aching void she felt deep inside. She thought first of Cleft – but the yearning space within her that only he could fill was such an intrinsic part of her existence now that she knew there must be something else, something still raw and tender, that was causing this new sense of hopelessness.

Then she remembered. The airport hubbub. The long wait. The unexpected sight of Terence and another young man in a pink tuxedo. And with a low moan, she turned onto her side, curled up, and sobbed.

‘Have your cry,’ said Terence. ‘There’s so much that needs to come out. Which reminds me; you haven’t met Pedro.’

‘Hiya,’ said a voice, and, turning, Topaz saw through a film of tears the slender figure of the young man who had accompanied Terence to the airport. She managed a wan smile and a murmured ‘how do you do?’.

‘Just fabulous, darling,’ said Pedro. ‘Terry’s told me so much about you, and I have to say your pad is to absulutely die for! Isn’t it, Terry dear? I’m just mad about the swivel-touch handbag carousel in your closet.’

Topaz’s quick mind processed the significance of Pedro’s words almost instantly. Evidently, she told herself, her relationship with Terence would never have worked out. The realisation came a huge relief, as the lingering guilt she still sometimes felt about breaking their engagement melted away.

And so began a period of quiet contentment at Paradise Heights. The death of her parents, Topaz conceded, was a blow; yet she couldn’t help but acknowledge that it removed several issues that had been niggling her for some time: the prospect of her father losing everything he had worked for, lived for; the agony of seeing her own mother as the adulterous lover of Duncan Dunkley; Dunkley’s sinister hold over her father, her inheritance – her very body. And as the Spanish sun warmed the frigid core of her grief, and the stimulating banter of Terence and Pedro buoyed her spirits, she learned to accept her new life – as an orphan, yes, but also as an unencumbered woman of property.

The knowledge galvanized her. ‘Make busyness your business now, girl,’ said Topaz to herself; and she knew, with a thrill of worldly self-knowledge, that action might help to fill the comfortable but empty existence her life had become. Flicking open the gold-plated iPhone 4 that she had bought in a half-hearted effort to console herself, she reserved flights to Heathrow. ‘No return,’ she said; ‘I don’t know when I’ll come back.’

Brinkworth Place had the air of all houses whose owners are dead: a dowdiness that shadowed even the crisp white leather sofas in the den; a clamminess that seeped into Topaz’s pores as she stepped into the marble-floored hall; a silence that muffled Life itself, like a closed coffin. And every room held memories. Happy ones from a life long-gone; but, more, the trauma of recent events.

Topaz had moved into the apartment above the garages, safe from the gloom of death and the tugging fingers of the past. Her days were filled with sorting papers, clothes, books; meeting auctioneers, estate agents, solicitors; saying goodbye to gardeners, grooms, maids. And as the Eversleigh-Brinkworth estate was dispersed, she turned her back on the old life at last.

One bright morning, as the sun slanted into the atrium and gilded the dust motes in the air, Topaz sealed the final box and labelled it in her clear, firm hand: ‘Paradise Heights’. All around were the few items she would keep from her old home; items whose significance or beauty were so tied up in who she was, what made her Topaz Eversleigh-Brinkworth. A tall, bulky shape was the bronze Venus de Milo, its 100,000 Swarovski crystals safe behind layers of bubble wrap. Propped against the wall, the smoked-glass dining table waited to be reunited with its cavorting dolphin supports. A whole life waiting to be reassembled in sunnier climes.

‘The packers will be here soon,’ Topaz said to the village woman who had come in to help pack these last remnants of the old life. ‘Let me know when they come.’

But even as she spoke an engine sounded outside, and Topaz crossed the atrium to open the front door. The panthechnicon had arrived. And emblazoned in huge gold letters on its side were the words ‘Cleft’s Paletts’.


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