cover

Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Lulu Taylor

Title Page

Dedication

Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Part Two

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Part Three

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Part Four

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Chapter 87

Chapter 88

Chapter 89

Chapter 90

Author’s Note

Acknowledgements

Copyright

About the Book

Rich Girl

Daisy Dangerfield has been born to a life of pampered luxury. The apple of her father’s eye, she is groomed by him to take over the family’s property empire while she spends his money and socialises to her heart’s content.

Poor Girl

Chanelle Hughes has never had anything. Dragged up by an alcoholic mother on a run-down council estate, all she’s ever wanted was to escape.

But which is which?

When their lives are turned upside-down, their fortunes, too, change utterly. And while Daisy is devastated by her new circumstances, Chanelle decides she’ll do anything to get the security she craves.

Born on the same day, two girls whose lives could not be more different find that they have more in common than they could ever have imagined.

About the Author

Lulu Taylor was brought up in Oxfordshire and has lived all over the world. She is married and lives in London.

Other books by Lulu Taylor

Heiresses

Midnight Girls

Beautiful Creatures

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To Lizzy Kremer

Part One

1

1985

IN LONDON’S EXCLUSIVE Portland Hospital, Lady Julia Dangerfield lay propped up on the Siberian goose-down pillows covered in white silk cases she had brought with her, along with all other manner of home comforts. She wasn’t about to feel any more uncomfortable than she had to. She wore a gauzy white wrap trimmed with white marabou and was perfectly made up; her short blonde hair, frosted with highlights, had been blow-dried into place by her personal hairdresser that morning. She did not look like a woman who had given birth only sixteen hours previously.

From her well-padded position, she gazed at the television set that was mounted on the wall and angled so it could easily be seen from the high hospital bed, but she was not really taking anything in. A tumbler full of clear liquid over a stack of ice cubes sat by her bedside and every now and then she lifted it to take a sip. There was a knock at the door of the private room. Julia clicked off the television with the remote control and said, ‘Come in!’

The door opened and a nurse entered, smiling broadly, holding a large bouquet of pink roses and ranunculus in her arms.

‘Not another one!’ exclaimed Julia, rolling her eyes. She gestured around at the dozens of other bouquets all over the room. ‘And they’re all in bloody pink! Why can’t someone send me a bunch of bluebells, for God’s sake! Everything is pink – pink cashmere blankets, pink teddies, pink clothes, pink booties … Everything except pink bloody gin, more’s the pity.’

‘Oh, they’re beautiful, Lady Julia,’ cooed the nurse, ignoring the gin comment, ‘and everyone knows it’s pink for a girl!’

‘Yes, I am aware of that, thank you,’ she snapped. ‘But all this pink is making me ill. People are so unimaginative.’ She sighed. ‘Put them over there. Wherever you want. We’ll be taking them away soon anyway.’ She gestured at the pile of Gucci luggage waiting in the corner. ‘My maid came in earlier and packed. I’m leaving when my husband gets here.’

‘Yes, ma’am. With your precious little bundle.’ The nurse went over to the cot next to Lady Julia’s bed and gazed down with melting eyes at the sleeping baby inside. ‘Ooh, isn’t she beautiful?’

Julia watched her, shaking her head. ‘I can’t think how you manage it. You must see hundreds of babies all the time, but you really sound as though you think she’s beautiful! Don’t they all look the same?’

‘Oh, no, ma’am, each one is unique! And this one’s a jewel. Look at that little mouth!’

Julia looked over at her daughter. The baby, dressed in a beautiful white lawn nightdress and covered with a pale pink cashmere blanket, lay on her back, tiny fists to either side of a downy fair head, eyes closed and little rosebud mouth half open. ‘Well … she is sweet, I do agree. Her mouth is rather adorable. But still – she’s just a tiny baby. We don’t really know what she’s going to look like or who she is. She’ll probably be rather boring until she starts to talk.’ Julia lifted the glass to her lips, ice cubes clinking, and took a long sip. She shrugged. ‘I suppose that’s what nannies are for, and thank God I’ve got three.’

The nurse gaped at her, obviously astonished by the new mother’s attitude to her little miracle.

Just then a man walked through the open doorway and at once the room seemed to be filled with his presence. He was of medium height and full-figured, his perfectly tailored suit not quite able to hide the rounded stomach and chunky back, and striking to look at: although in late middle age, he still appeared youthful and vibrant. His skin was tanned and scarcely lined and his black hair was luxuriant, receding only slightly at the hairline and tinged with grey at the temples. It was not simply his appearance, though, that drew all attention to him. He radiated a magnetic quality, a force of personality, that was intensely powerful. The nurse seemed to feel it as she almost shrank away from him, obviously hoping she would go unnoticed.

Julia had sensed him there almost before he had walked in. Now she turned to him with a bright but slightly brittle smile. ‘Darling!’

He stood still and opened his arms in an expansive gesture, a broad smile crossing his face. ‘My dear!’ he declared. ‘Where is our little angel?’

Julia nodded towards the cot. ‘Asleep.’

‘Ah!’ The man quickly skirted the bed. He bent over the cot, his expression softening as he gazed at the baby. ‘She’s gorgeous. You’ve excelled yourself, my love. This is the best birthday present you could have given me.’

‘It was rather lucky, wasn’t it? I didn’t plan to have her on the same day as your birthday, but it’s worked out rather well.’

‘Perfectly,’ he said with satisfaction. He put one of his great brown hands on a tiny curled fist. ‘She and I will always have a special bond. People who are born on the same day do.’ He smiled tenderly.

Julia studied her husband’s expression with interest. She had been fleetingly worried that the baby was not a boy. She’d feared he might share the same attitude as her father – boys good, girls a tiresome drain on resources. But as soon as the baby had been pronounced healthy, her husband had been elated. One of his greatest ambitions had been realised: this little child connected him by blood to some of the great society families, even to a King of England although it was centuries ago and very much on the wrong side of the blanket. To him it didn’t matter what sex the child was; this baby symbolised the fact that the Dangerfield family now officially belonged.

He looked up. His dark brown eyes, so often hard and determined, were now soft and moist with emotion. ‘My darling,’ he said in a low voice. ‘What a precious gift you’ve given me. I cannot hope to match it, but perhaps this will go a little way towards expressing my feelings.’ He slipped a hand into his pocket and brought out a long slender jewellery box of dark red leather edged with gold, stamped with the unmistakable livery of Garrard and Co., the Crown Jewellers.

‘Oh, a present, how lovely!’ cried Julia, clapping her hands. ‘Thank you, darling.’ She took it from him, opened it and gazed at the jewels inside. ‘How beautiful. Diamonds … and they’re pink.’ Her gaze slid swiftly over to meet the nurse’s, watching quietly from her corner of the room, and then back to the bracelet and earrings that lay sparkling on the ivory silk lining.

‘Do you like them?’ asked her husband, smiling proudly.

‘Of course I do, Daddy.’ Julia turned one soft peach cheek up towards her husband so that he could kiss it. ‘They’re simply stunning.’

‘Do you want to put them on?’

‘Oh … yes … but not now. I want to go home first.’ She gazed up at her husband plaintively. ‘Is the maternity nurse here?’

‘Waiting outside.’

‘Then call her in so that she can be told about the baby and what she needs, and we can leave.’ Julia pouted and gave her husband the beseeching look she knew he could never resist. ‘Then we can start being a family.’

‘Very well. Whatever you want.’ Daddy Dangerfield was evidently in the best of moods and his wife’s appeal to his new status as head of the family was just the ticket to get her what she wanted. ‘I shall order the arrangements to be made at once.’

2

ACROSS TOWN, THE maternity ward of the Royal London Hospital was full. Each bed had a curtain around it to separate it from the one next to it, but the thin material did little to shut out the mewling cries of newborns, the chatter of family groups come to admire the baby or the other noises that came from behind it: sobbing, anguished demands or loud complaints.

Elaine Drovey found this part of her job one of the hardest. She hated coming to the maternity ward. While most families were celebrating and enjoying the special moment that a new arrival marked, the people she was visiting were usually either terrified or furious at the sight of her. Social Services appearing in the maternity ward was never good news.

She walked down the aisle between the dull grey baggy curtains, trying to count beds as she listened to the babble of voices coming from behind them. The East End had large Asian communities and the languages spoken here were many and various. She stopped beside one particularly limp curtain. No sound came from behind it. There was no visiting family here, she noted grimly. No anxious husband hovering about, worried about his wife and new son or daughter. Well, that was hardly surprising.

She pulled back the curtain and stepped forward. ‘Miss Hughes?’

Lying on the bed under the meagre hospital blanket, her face buried in the thin pillow, was a young woman. She was completely still and all that could be seen of her were two scrawny arms marked by multiple wounds and scratches, and a nest of bleached-blonde hair streaked through with strawberry red.

‘Miss Hughes?’ said Elaine again, a little more loudly. She stepped into the little cubicle, pulling the curtain to behind her, and sat down on a black plastic chair by the bed.

The figure on the bed moaned, then the head was lifted and turned to face Elaine so that she could see two bleary eyes and an exhausted face. ‘Whad the fuck do ya want?’ said the woman from between dry lips. ‘I’ve just had a fuckin’ baby.’

‘I know that, Miss Hughes. That’s why I’m here.’ Elaine reached for the capacious bag that was always stuffed with case files, folders and the piles of paperwork that blighted her life. She tried not to appear shocked by Michelle Hughes’s appearance. The girl couldn’t be older than twenty-two but she looked at least forty, her face lined and thin, great dark circles under her puffy eyes and her mouth set in a line of exhaustion. Of course, she had just given birth and Elaine had seen enough new mothers to know that they rarely looked like the mums in glamorous soap operas, who seemed to have done nothing more strenuous than walk up a flight of stairs. But it wasn’t the ordeal of birth that had aged and ruined this poor young thing.

‘Where the fuck is my baby?’ demanded Michelle Hughes, pushing herself up on her thin, track-marked arms. ‘Where’ve you taken her?’

Elaine’s sympathy began to melt away. ‘Your daughter is at present in the emergency neo-natal unit,’ she said briskly. ‘She’s been born addicted to heroin, Miss Hughes, and that’s something we take quite seriously.’ She had just been to see the poor little mite herself: the baby girl, born late the previous night, lay in her high-tech incubator, connected by lines to drips and monitors. A hospital bracelet hung loosely around one miniature wrist and she was dressed only in what looked like an absurdly large nappy, her spindly legs emerging from it like two matchsticks. As she slept, her little chest rose and shuddered before falling again, and she made small shivery mewing noises. It had been quite heart-rending to watch.

Elaine pulled a typed form out of her bag and scrutinised it. ‘The doctors say that your daughter has an unusually low birth weight and shows the signs of opiate withdrawal. So far there are no signs of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.’ She smiled tightly. ‘So that’s one good thing.’

‘What ya talking about?’

‘Did you drink much in pregnancy, Miss Hughes? Alcohol, I mean. Not orange juice. Sadly.’

‘Alcohol?’ Michelle Hughes laughed in a hollow tone, and fell back on her pillows. ‘Couldn’t afford booze if that’s what you’re saying. No one can, on the fucking pittance this government gives us to live on!’

‘Yet you found money for heroin,’ sniffed Elaine. ‘Some people might consider that rather expensive.’

‘No, I fuckin’ didn’t!’ snarled Michelle, her eyes blazing as she turned to glare at the social worker. ‘I haven’t touched it for months! Not since I found out I was knocked up. I haven’t,’ she insisted, seeing the look on Elaine’s face. She assumed a hurt expression. ‘I haven’t used since the fucking test came out positive.’

Elaine just stared at her, and at the fresh track marks on her arms. She said more gently, ‘Then it’s a mystery how your little girl came to be addicted to it.’

‘Is she all right?’ There was a flicker of anxiety in the girl’s eyes.

‘They don’t know yet,’ Elaine replied, glancing back at her notes. ‘The first forty-eight hours are the most critical. They’ll give her intravenous fluids, a high-calorie formula milk to make up for her low birth weight, and keep her very calm in a low-stimulation environment. She’ll be prone to fits, seizures, breathing problems, muscle pain and distress. We’ll have to see how she progresses. She’ll be in hospital for a week at least.’ Elaine fixed Michelle with a look over the top of her glasses, interested to see how the mother responded to news of her baby’s condition, but Michelle seemed unmoved. She simply sighed heavily and closed her eyes.

‘When can I get out of here?’ she murmured. ‘I’m in fucking agony and I’m bleeding like a pig as well. How long does that go on for?’

Elaine remembered the aftermath of her own first delivery. No one could be prepared for the physical consequences of giving birth, the great trauma it caused to both mind and body. Michelle groaned and rolled over, obviously in pain.

‘Is there anyone to come in and see you?’ asked Elaine, more sympathetically.

‘Nah.’

‘The baby’s father?’

The girl made a snorting sound that Elaine took to be a derisory laugh.

The social worker sighed. It was a sad story. What kind of life did the fatherless baby face with this sad, lonely creature for a mother? What sort of future awaited her? The child would be safe enough here in hospital, and checks would be carried out before she could be allowed to go home with Michelle. If there was inadequate housing and the mother still showed signs of addiction, the child would be put immediately into foster care. Elaine would be happy to bet a sizeable sum on that outcome. ‘So,’ she said a little more brightly, ‘have you thought of a name for her?’

‘Yeah.’ Michelle looked round, a spark of interest in her eyes. ‘I’m gonna give her a really nice, glamorous name. Something that don’t sound like she comes from round here. I’m gonna call her Chanelle.’

‘Chanelle. Very pretty.’ Elaine picked up her pen and snapped the nib out. ‘Now we’ve got a name, we’d better get on with filling out some of these forms then, hadn’t we?’

3

DAISY DANGERFIELD LIKED this game very much. She called it ‘Being Like Daddy’, and it was a game she and her father both enjoyed. They always played it when Daisy came to stay in London. It would start the same way: Nanny would dress her up in her best pink coat with the velvet collar, pale pink leather shoes and a big pink bow in her fair hair. Then she would be summoned downstairs where Daddy was waiting in the hall in his huge grey overcoat and black hat, a cigar clenched between his teeth.

‘Here’s my princess!’ he’d yell as she came skipping down the stairs, giggling. Then she’d put her tiny hand in his huge one and they’d go down the front steps of the house to where the Rolls-Royce was waiting for them. The driver, Ted, opened the door for her and she’d climb into the vast interior and on to one of the slippery pale leather seats. Once Daddy was beside her, he would open the silver drinks cabinet that was recessed in the panelling in front of him, and pour himself a grown-up drink from a crystal decanter, one of those liquids that looked as pretty as honey but smelled bitter and nasty.

While he sipped it and shouted through the dividing window at Ted about the traffic and the state of the markets, Daisy would press her face up against the cool glass window and watch the reactions of the people on the pavement as the car glided past them. In Belgravia, where they lived, there were plenty of cars like this and no one took much notice, but as soon as they were passing along busy shopping streets and through crowded squares, she would see people stare, their mouths dropping open and their eyes widening at the sight of the magnificent golden car with its unmistakable Spirit of Ecstasy mascot on the bonnet. Ted would drive them to a smart, modern building in the City of London, the place where Daddy’s company, Dangerfield Property Investments, had its headquarters, and a doorman would come and open the door of the Rolls and hand Daisy down exactly as if she were a real, grown-up lady.

Inside, she held Daddy’s hand all the time, and, when he sat behind his huge mahogany desk, she would perch on his knee, pretending to help him run the enormous empire of Dangerfield holdings even though she was only four years old. All the grey-haired businessmen in their dark striped suits and silk ties would smile at her fondly and burst into roars of laughter whenever she spoke.

Today was a special day for Daisy. Daddy had promised her a surprise and she was eager to find out what it was. When the Rolls stopped at the entrance to the Dangerfield headquarters, she was ready to jump out as soon as the car door was opened.

‘Hey now, don’t be in such a hurry,’ laughed Daddy in his deep, booming voice. ‘It’ll keep, Princess. Another five minutes won’t make any difference.’

But Daisy couldn’t wait. She hurried in, her little leather shoes tapping on the marble floor of the entrance hall, and went straight to the special lift that only Daddy used, pushing the button for the top floor. The security guards and receptionist smiled fondly at her as Daddy followed behind, his laugh echoing in the vast atrium.

‘I wish all my employees were as eager to get to work!’ he declared, coming up to Daisy and taking her hand in his.

By the time the lift doors opened on the top floor, people had gathered to meet them: executives, assistants and the secretaries who followed Daddy around whenever he was at work. And they always beamed at little Daisy, their affection for her blazing out of their eyes. Each one of them took every opportunity to tell Daddy how much they adored his little girl.

‘Here we are,’ he announced, smiling at his staff. ‘Is my surprise ready?’

They were led along the carpeted corridor to Daddy’s vast office, with its three glass walls and panoramic view over the city: St Paul’s Cathedral lying almost immediately below in its splendour, with the river stretching away beyond, spanned by bridges; skyscrapers to the east and the less dominant skyline of Westminster to the west. But they didn’t go into Daddy’s office this time. They stopped instead at a door next to his, and Daddy pointed at an engraved nameplate.

‘Can you read that, sweetheart?’ he asked.

Daisy recognised her own first name written out in capital letters, although she could not yet read her surname. Nanny had taught her the alphabet and how to scrawl out her name, but she wouldn’t learn to read properly until September when she started at her exclusive girls’ prep school.

‘Daisy! Me!’ she announced proudly, and everyone laughed.

‘Clever girl,’ said her father fondly. ‘Let’s go in.’

They stepped into a perfect miniature office. There was a small but beautifully made dark wooden desk inlaid with scarlet leather, and tucked under it was a child-size replica of Daddy’s own carved mahogany chair but this one had a little scarlet cushion. On the desk was an ivory pen pot with a miniature Mont Blanc pen in it, a Smythson scarlet leather writing pad stamped with ‘Daisy Dangerfield’ in gold letters, and a shiny black modern telephone. On the wall hung a pretty painting of a pot of daisies.

‘Oh!’ exclaimed Daisy, clapping her hands with joy. The watching executives murmured their admiration of the adorable little set up. She ran to the desk, pulled out the chair and sat down. She swung on it happily and it turned smoothly, without a squeak. Laughing, she beamed up at her father.

‘Do you like it, darling?’ he said, his expression soft.

‘Yes, Daddy, yes!’

‘Look, I’ll show you how it works.’ Daddy came forward and picked up the telephone receiver. He showed her how one of the buttons would connect her to Lorraine, her personal assistant, who would fetch whatever she wanted. Lorraine stepped out from the crowd of onlookers and smiled.

‘Can I have betsy cola?’ asked Daisy quickly.

Her father laughed heartily. ‘Well, if you are a very good girl and make lots of lovely profits for Daddy, then you’ll be allowed a Pepsi-Cola. And this button is for when you want to speak to me. Your telephone is directly connected to mine and we shall be able to speak whenever we want to. Now, what do you think?’

Daisy gave herself an extra strong swing and put out her legs as she revolved in her little chair. ‘I think … I like it here!’

Everyone laughed again, then Daddy picked her up and carried her along the corridor to his own office. The others left them, to go to the boardroom in readiness for a meeting. Daddy and Daisy were left alone, the little girl in her father’s arms as they stared solemnly at the portrait over the fireplace. It showed a man who looked like Daddy: dark hair, strong features and a determined look in his black eyes below the thick dark brows. But this man had a neat black moustache, small gold-rimmed glasses and wore old-fashioned clothes.

‘My father,’ said Daddy softly as they looked together. ‘The man who passed on his gifts to me and made me what I am today. He was a brave man, Daisy. A man who struggled every day of his life, and who gave us all the blessings we enjoy. He gave me so much, and what he gave me, I pass on to you – my daughter. There are some Dangerfields who aren’t true members of the family and we must beware of them. But you are, and one day, my dear, all of this – the Dangerfield inheritance – will be yours.’

Daisy thought for a moment, trying to understand what had just been said. Then something occurred to her. ‘And Sarah’s?’ she said brightly. ‘And Will’s?’

There was a pause. She felt her father’s shoulders stiffen under the soft wool of his business suit. She wondered if she’d said something wrong. Surely Daddy meant for her brother and sister to have something too – that was always how it was at home. If one of them got a biscuit, they all got a biscuit.

‘Yes, of course,’ he said gruffly. ‘Will’s and Sarah’s too. But you, Daisy …’ His hand tightened around her small one. ‘You are the special one. Try to understand that, my dear – you are the special one.’

4

LITTLE NELLY HUGHES was playing in the sandpit in the garden. Her father had built it for her ‘specially, and she loved it when he pulled off the wooden cover and let her climb in with her feet bare, the cold dampish sand squelching up between her toes. Inside was a collection of toys: buckets, little pots, plastic spades and some toy cars and tractors. A naked Sindy doll kept smiling despite the fact that her nylon hair was matted and dull with sand. Nelly liked to make the dolly have adventures in the sandpit, muttering to herself in a long, ceaseless stream of chatter as she played.

She was lost in her own world when her mother came to the sliding patio doors and called for her.

‘Nelly! Nelly! Come inside, please!’

Nelly heard a note of anxiety in her voice and looked up. Her mother stood just inside the house, wiping her hands on the apron she always wore during the day, unless there were visitors. As Nelly watched, her mother carefully untied the strings and took the apron off, folding it up neatly as she did so. The little girl got up obediently and climbed out of the sandpit. Her feet were scratchy with sand, so she wiped them quickly on the grass, picked up her sandals and came skipping back over the lawn.

‘What is it, Ma-ma?’ she asked chirpily. If visitors were here, a plate of the best biscuits appeared on the glass coffee-table in the lounge, and that meant one for Nelly. She hoped there were the round shortbread ones, with the window of sticky jam in the middle like a little red cushion or a shining jewel. She liked those best of all.

‘The lady’s here, darling,’ said her mother, her expression worried. ‘She says she phoned to tell us that she was coming this morning but we thought it was tomorrow. Oh dear, oh dear …’ Her mother’s eyes filled with tears.

Nelly didn’t say anything but gazed up, hoping and trusting that whatever was wrong, her mother would make it all right.

‘Come along.’ She bustled Nelly through the dining room, smoothing down the child’s hair as they went. Outside the lounge, her mother kneeled down and helped Nelly put on her sandals as she muttered that it couldn’t be helped. Then she stood up, took a deep breath, smiled and ushered the child into the sitting room.

It’s always cold in here, Nelly thought. It was only used for best, and there was a chill in the air that never went away. The family lived mostly in the kitchen or else in the room her mother called the snug – a small cosy room with a squashy sofa and a television.

In the lounge sat a plump lady in a flowery dress and glasses, a big bag by her side. She stood up with a smile as Nelly and her mother came in.

‘Hello, dear,’ she said cheerfully. ‘How nice to see you again. Do you remember me?’

Nelly nodded silently. She did remember her. The lady had come here before and asked to see her. There had been questions, dull ones, and she’d been made to sit still and answer them with the promise of a jam biscuit as a reward if she answered nicely. It was never the way it was when one of her mother’s friends came round and the adults ignored her as they chattered away, pouring endless cups of tea and not noticing when she slipped another pink wafer off the plate.

This lady had also been there when Nelly had been taken to a place like a doctor’s waiting room: a bright room, with toys and tables and chairs in it. Another lady had been there, asking to play with Nelly and telling the little girl to call her ‘Mum’, but Nelly hadn’t wanted to. The skinny, shabby woman, smelling of cigarettes and with her nose pierced, was nothing like Nelly’s own clean and comforting mother. Instead, the little girl had played with the dolls and ignored her.

Nelly expected a question from the visitor, but the lady turned instead to her mother.

‘Is she ready?’

‘No, not really … we thought … tomorrow …’ Her mother sounded helpless.

‘You should have warned her in advance,’ reproved the lady. ‘That’s the policy we advise.’ She shook her head. ‘It’s going to be worse for the poor little thing now.’ She turned her attention to Nelly again, the big smile spreading over her face. Nelly didn’t trust it.

Did the lady think she couldn’t hear anything? What was going to be worse? She felt a flicker of apprehension.

‘Have you had a lovely time here?’ the lady said in a stickily sweet voice. ‘Have you enjoyed it?’

What does she mean? Playing in the sandpit? Nelly just stared back and said nothing.

The lady turned to her mother again. ‘She has lovely eyes, hasn’t she? Very striking, that greeny-blue colour. You’ve done an excellent job, Mrs Thornton, you really have. You’d hardly know it was the same child. Remember how she was as a baby!’

Her mother looked down and Nelly saw pain deep within her eyes and felt cold clammy fear crawl over her. ‘Yes,’ said her mother in a strange, tight voice. ‘I thought she’d never stop crying. It took four months before she stopped suffering. Now you’d never know what she’d been through. It’s taken a lot of love and care.’

The lady looked sympathetic. When she spoke it was in a low, soft voice. ‘I know how difficult this is. I’m very sorry.’

‘We … we had hoped … to adopt.’ Nelly’s mother’s voice sounded choked.

‘That’s what we all thought would happen,’ the lady said, shaking her head. ‘But the mother really has turned her life around, quite unexpectedly. And her petition to have the child back to live with her was granted.’ The lady shrugged. ‘You know and I know that the best thing for the poor mite is to stay here with you. But what the judge says … well, that’s what happens, I’m afraid.’

Nelly reached out for her mother’s hand. She had grasped that they meant her when they said ‘poor mite’. ‘I want to stay with you!’ she said quickly, clasping Ma-ma’s fingers.

‘When does she go?’ asked Nelly’s mother in a shaking voice, putting her own hand over Nelly’s.

‘This afternoon, I’m afraid. We can wait until your husband gets back so he can say goodbye.’

‘So soon?’

The lady nodded, and Nelly saw to her horror that her mother was crying.

‘I don’t want to go!’ she cried, nestling into the warmth of her mother’s body. ‘Where am I going? I won’t go! I won’t.’

Her mother suddenly pushed her away, stood up and ran out of the room, sobbing. Nelly watched her go, staring after her with wide eyes, confused and frightened. The lady in the armchair opposite leaned towards her, her eyes grave and sad.

‘Now, Chanelle,’ she said softly. ‘You must be very brave. Do you understand? You must be a very brave girl indeed.’

5

THE PARTIES HELD in honour of Daisy’s birthdays were legendary: in the grounds of Thornside Manor, a modern William-and-Mary-style palatial mansion in the greenest, plushest part of Surrey, whole fairgrounds and circus tops appeared. One year, a fairyland was built in the grounds, with tiny houses where real little people lived, along with a miniature castle with a moat for Daisy and her friends to play in. Another year, a dozen over-excited eight-year-old girls were dressed and made up as miniature Disney Cinderellas, before being driven around the grounds in a glass coach pulled by white ponies, and then enjoying a party in the ballroom of the house. And the celebrations weren’t confined to birthdays. People still talked of the Christmas extravaganza that Daddy organised one year: fake snow, husky dogs, sleigh rides and a skating rink were all conjured into existence, along with stalls handing out hot chocolate or hot blackcurrant and endless ice cream. Father Christmas himself came from Lapland to sit in a beautiful, twinkling, snow-covered chalet and hand out splendid presents to everyone. Daisy had a sense that anything was possible – Daddy could always make her dreams come true.

For her twelfth birthday, she asked for something a little more grown-up. Her entire class was invited to a smart hotel in London where Daisy’s favourite pop group, a chirpy quartet, performed on the stage and then mingled with the party goers. Familiar faces were everywhere, tucking into canapés and seeing if they could get anything harder to drink than lemonade: they were the stars of Daisy’s favourite television soap opera, flown over from Australia to be guests at her party.

‘Thank you, Daddy!’ she’d said, squeezing him tight in a gigantic hug.

‘You’re welcome, my princess. Anything for you,’ he’d replied, kissing her cheek and beaming with pleasure.

Everybody thought how wonderful it was to be a Dangerfield and have such a loving, indulgent father. But they didn’t see what it was like at home, when Daddy wasn’t the expansive, generous giver of gifts and thrower of parties. They didn’t see his rages.

Daisy was thankful that these were never directed at her. When Daddy wanted to let rip with his lacerating tongue, he directed it at Julia, criticising her looks, her clothes, and almost every choice she made. Or he took out his bad temper on Will and Sarah, his children by his first marriage. Daisy’s half-brother Will was five years older than she was and seemed very grown-up. Sarah came next, with three years between her and Daisy, although her shyness and reserve made her seem a little younger. Daisy loved being with her big brother and sister, but some of the time they lived with their mother, Elizabeth, who had been divorced from Daddy before Daisy was born. Will and Sarah were both at boarding school and divided exeats and holidays between their parents.

When they arrived at Thornside or London or wherever, Daddy would be happy to see them at first but soon he would start becoming irritated, and before long his temper would ignite because once again they’d fallen short of his expectations, and then the raging would start. It made poor Sarah clumsy and frightened and prone to bursting into tears, provoking her father even more. His remarks to her could be cruel and cutting, but he seemed to take a particular pleasure in putting Will down, questioning his choices, dismissing his achievements and demanding ever higher standards.

Daisy saw the way her half-brother handed over a good report with a glow of pride, hoping for praise from his father, and the hurt and sadness that filled his eyes when Daddy ignored the good and focused on one low mark, working himself into a rage and tearing the report to pieces. It was worse when Will brought friends to the house. As everyone sat down to lunch, Daddy would set about criticising Will in front of the visitor, mocking him and making the poor guest join in the laughter directed at his son.

He would declare that Will was useless, that he hardly knew the boy was his son sometimes. Then he’d list Will’s failings and flatter the unfortunate friend: ‘I expect your parents are very proud of you, you seem a very well-rounded, diligent boy. You should teach Will not to be so lazy. He needs to push himself! I’d be proud if you were my son.’

Daisy wondered why Daddy couldn’t see that this had the opposite effect on Will to what was intended. The boy wasn’t motivated to try harder. He simply hardened his heart against his impossible-to-please father, and decided it wasn’t worth the effort trying to win his praise. And the pain of being found wanting, no matter how hard he tried, was obvious in his eyes.

Julia remained remote from her stepchildren, watching the way they were bullied with a distant look of sympathy in her eyes, though she never intervened. More and more these days, she looked beaten and broken, and no one blamed her for not wanting to draw Daddy’s fire.

Only Daisy escaped the rages. Only she rushed into his arms, beaming with delight. Only she said, ‘I love you, Daddy!’ with sincerity in her eyes.

As she grew older and her position as Daddy’s favourite more entrenched, Will and Sarah began to avoid her. Even her mother seemed to find it difficult to be with her sometimes, and certainly when Daisy and Daddy were together. It seemed that his love for her only increased the others’ hurt at his indifference to them.

Daisy didn’t know why it should be this way and there was nothing she could do anyway, so with childish logic she simply accepted it. Daddy wasn’t nice to the others. Perhaps they should try a little harder to please him, and then he might love them as much as he loved her.

Daisy was lounging around in her sitting room in the Belgravia house, watching afternoon telly before she had her supper. She thought that at thirteen she was too old to have a nanny, but Daddy wouldn’t hear of getting rid of Nanny Johnson, who was humming away in the next-door kitchen as she cooked for Daisy. When the house telephone rang, the light that denoted her father’s study flashing on the base, Daisy leaped over the sofa and whisked it up at once.

‘Yes, Daddy?’

‘Come down here, darling, right away.’

She hurried downstairs, skipping down them three at a time, lithe and energetic in her cropped jeans and ballet pumps, and burst into the study to find Daddy, standing before the fireplace, puffing away on his usual big cigar.

‘Princess!’ he said, beaming, as she came in and rushed over to kiss him. ‘How would you like a little treat tonight?’

‘Ooh, what?’

‘A trip to the opera.’ Her father’s face darkened. ‘Your mother was supposed to come. But she’s … unwell.’

Daisy knew what that meant. Her mother was frequently unwell these days, staggering and unfocused not long after lunchtime, her breath bitter and her eyes bloodshot. She wasn’t often seen in the evenings and, if she was, would always say that she felt ill and that her sleeping pills were making her drowsy. The pills were supposed to explain the way her mother’s head tilted and swung slowly, and the slurs and drawls in her speech, but Daisy wasn’t fooled. She knew that the drinks tray in the drawing room held an irresistible allure for her mother. There was one in each of the family homes: the Belgravia house, Thornside Manor, the villa in Tuscany, the estate in Thailand, the chalet in Gstaad – a little folding table tucked discreetly behind a sofa or beside a cabinet, laden down with bottles of spirits, little cans of mixers, a soda siphon, an ice bucket, a supply of crystal glasses and saucers of lemon slices put out freshly each day. Three or four visits to the tray would turn Julia from an articulate, sharp-witted woman into something else altogether.

Daisy hated her mother’s inability to resist the lure of those bottles – not just because of the drawling, drowsy creature who then took her place but because she knew her father despised it too. Sometimes her mother didn’t become slow and slurry but hysterical, full of laughter and jokes, although the laughter and gaiety always turned eventually to screaming rows. Daisy knew them well, even though they usually took place when she was supposed to be asleep in bed. In London, the voices would bounce off the marble floors and soar up the main staircase, reverberating off the white-painted walls. The thick carpets of the corridors and their sturdy doors absorbed some of the noise, but Daisy would still know that three floors below her parents were screaming and yelling at each other. Sometimes she heard them clearly.

‘I don’t know why I ever let you take me away from him!’ her mother shouted once. ‘You only did it to satisfy your own fucking pride, not for me!’

Her father’s booming tones were harder to distinguish but she heard him say some dreadful words: ‘You crazy bitch!… Disgusting tramp … Why don’t you go and live on the Embankment with all the other winos? You’re mad, you should be locked away!’

In Surrey, her bedroom was far away in the east wing, but she still seemed to be particularly attuned to the frequencies that carried her parents’ voices. She always knew when another humdinger was underway, and would bury her head under her pillow, muttering ‘stop, stop, stop, stop …’ through gritted teeth, until she could at last shut it out and go to sleep.

They won’t be rowing tonight anyway, Daisy thought with a stab of relief. Not if Mummy has already gone to bed and Daddy’s going out.

‘Well, what do you say?’ asked her father, smiling. ‘Do you want to come?’

‘Yes, please!’ she said, excited. The opera! Staying up late! How exciting. ‘What should I wear?’

‘Tell Nanny you need a long dress,’ Daddy said, putting his cigar between his lips. ‘We’ll be leaving in half an hour, so you’d better hurry.’

Upstairs, Nanny tutted because the supper she’d cooked for Daisy was now not needed. ‘You’d better have a mouthful or two, though! Goodness knows if Mr Dangerfield will remember to feed you.’ But she said it without rancour as she liked life with the Dangerfields. Apart from looking after Daisy’s things, there wasn’t much for Nanny to do; she whiled away hours in front of the nursery television, enjoying the daytime game shows, ordering food from the kitchen and growing ever more plump.

Nanny went to the large walk-in wardrobe to find something suitable. Daisy was measured every six months and the measurements sent to a Parisian boutique; a few weeks later, a huge powder blue box would arrive, its insides thick with tissue paper that concealed beautifully made dresses, skirts, blouses, cashmere cardigans and pairs of soft kid shoes in white and pale pink. Daisy was beginning to scorn such babyish things, and had persuaded Daddy to let her go shopping with her friends instead once or twice. Nanny flicked through the rail of clothes. ‘You should wear your black velvet, I think. It’s not long, but long’s no good for a girl your age anyway. It’s below the knee and will look very nice.’

‘Can I wear my hair up?’ Daisy asked excitedly, pushing her fair hair on top of her head, blonde tendrils escaping through her fingers.

‘No,’ said Nanny firmly. ‘A nice brushing out and hairclips will be best.’

Daisy descended the stairs twenty minutes later feeling tremendously dressed up. Her black velvet dress felt very sophisticated, and Nanny had been persuaded to let her wear the tiniest smear of cherry lip gloss on her lips, so she felt like a proper lady. She wished she was wearing something with a heel like Mummy’s spindly party shoes, but her ballet slippers had bows on them and looked a little like the shoes the older girls at school wore, so she was happy.

Daddy was downstairs waiting for her. He’d changed into his dinner jacket and black silk bow tie, a white silk scarf draped round his shoulders. Daisy always thought Daddy looked terribly impressive and handsome in his evening clothes – and tonight she was going out with him! She wanted to dance down the stairs, but walked as elegantly and carefully as she could instead.

‘You look beautiful, my darling,’ he said, smiling as she came towards him. ‘Now come here.’

When she reached him, he leaned forward and pinned something to the front of her dress. When she looked down, a diamond brooch sparkled on her chest.

‘Oh!’ she gasped, hardly able to speak.

‘I was going to give that to your mother,’ Daddy said. ‘A little piece I picked up in Paris – it’s vintage Van Cleef and Arpels. Art Deco. Do you like it?’

‘Yes,’ Daisy breathed, hardly able to take her eyes off the delicate setting that curled around the glittering diamonds.

‘I think it suits you best,’ he said with a smile. ‘Now, come along. The traffic can be terrible at this time of night.’

She couldn’t stop looking at the sparkle of her diamond brooch all the way to the Royal Opera House.

6

THE GIRL RAN nimbly through the Peckham estate, racing along the well-known paths, her brown hair streaming out behind her as she went. She knew where to skip the broken paving stones, or when to leap over a flowerbed, and where she could cross the road most quickly, ignoring the lights as she dashed to the central island, then over the far lane between slow-moving cars. She wove in and out of the people in her way: mothers pushing buggies, small children dawdling in their wake, the strolling elderly.

She knew which places to avoid – the ones where kids hung out when they ought to be in school. Everyone knew. Whenever she reached the children’s playground – painted in bright brave yellow and red against the grey concrete and grime of the estate – she always speeded up. Today it was difficult to imagine how she could go any faster, but when she saw the boys there, she pushed herself as hard as she could, despite her thumping heart and the pain burning in her chest.

‘Hey, girly! We can see you!’ shouted the tallest. He must be sixteen at least – almost a man – a gangly black boy in a leather jacket and pristine white trainers, his trousers slung so low they were round his thighs. He laughed.

She felt her blood chill at the sound of his voice.

‘You can’t run fast enough,’ yelled his friend, a white boy with a close-shaven head and a skin dotted with red spots. ‘We’re gonna catch you one of these days, you better believe it.’ Then he laughed loudly. ‘Gonna do what you know you want.’

‘Your pussy ever been fucked?’ demanded another. ‘You wanna taste of my dick, huh?’

She tried not to shiver, but pulled in another burning breath and ran even faster. When she reached home, a small shabby terrace house, she pushed her key into the lock, rushed in and slammed the door behind her, shutting out the chill winter weather. It was almost Christmas and a string of limp fairy lights flashed around the hall mirror.

‘Chanelle! Chan-elle! You back from school?’

It was the usual shriek, coming from upstairs. Still catching her breath, Chanelle cast her eyes in the direction of the noise.

‘Come up here, girl, I heard you come in!’

Chanelle sighed and climbed the stairs to her mother’s fusty, filthy bedroom. Opening the door, she saw Michelle sitting up in bed in a bedraggled nightie, her hair all over the place and her eyes bleary.

‘What is it?’ the girl asked, lolling against the doorframe, one skinny leg tucked behind the other.

‘Bring us a cuppa tea, will you? I’m bloody parched up here, and so’s Bill.’ Her mother gestured to a musky snoring lump next to her under the duvet.

Chanelle sighed. ‘All right.’

She pulled the door shut and went back downstairs, feeling angry. She was always angry these days, from the moment she woke up till she flung herself down on her thin mattress to go to sleep. It was hard to remember a time when she hadn’t been full of rage and spitting with fury at the horribleness of everything. Sometimes she was sure that life had once been different for her: she recalled warmth, sunlit days, and a comfortable feeling of love and security that had felt like being hugged. In her nightmares, she was being ripped away from a soothing presence. She would wake sobbing and more lonely than ever.

In the kitchen she turned on the radio. Music flooded out. It was one of her favourite pop songs and she started to relax as she put the kettle on and washed up a couple of mugs, pouring away the dregs with their sour flotilla of cigarette butts. Her mum and Bill had been up till the early hours, drinking and smoking, which explained why they were still in bed at close on four o’clock. They’d kept her awake until after midnight and then she’d overslept and almost been late for school. She couldn’t afford to get another late card. Her teacher had said that the council officers had reviewed the register and noted her punctuality problems. Then there were all the unauthorised absences. They didn’t understand that Michelle could decide on a whim that her daughter wasn’t going to school that day – that she wanted to take her shopping, or else had errands to be done. And Michelle didn’t care if the truancy officers came calling or not. Nothing seemed to bother her – she didn’t take them seriously when they said that they could take her to court if Chanelle’s attendance didn’t improve. They said she could be fined or even put in prison if she didn’t make sure her daughter got to school on time every day.