Contents

Cover

About the Books

Heiresses

Midnight Girls

About the Author

Also by Lulu Taylor

Copyright

About the Books

Heiresses

Fame, fashion and scandal, the Trevellyan heiresses are the height of success, glamour and style.

But when it comes to …

… WEALTH: Jemima’s indulgent lifestyle knows no limits; Tara’s one purpose in life, no matter the sacrifice, is to be financially independent of her family and husband; and Poppy wants to escape its trappings without losing the comfort their family money brings.

… LUST: Jemima’s obsession relieves the boredom of her marriage; while Tara’s seemingly ‘perfect’ life doesn’t allow for such indulgences; and Poppy, spoiled by attention and love throughout her life, has yet to expose herself to the thrill of really living and loving dangerously.

… FAMILY: it’s all they’ve ever known, and now the legacy of their parents, a vast and ailing perfume empire, has been left in their trust. But will they be able to turn their passion into profit? And in making a fresh start, can they face their family’s past?

Midnight Girls

From the prestigious dormitories of Westfield to the irresistible socialite scene of present-day London: everywhere Allegra McCorquodale goes, scandal follows her. And in Allegra’s shadow are her closest friends since school, the Midnight Girls.

Romily de Lisle: super rich, brilliant and bored. She’s as blessed as Allegra when it comes to looks, but she’s a force to be reckoned with. And Imogen Heath: pretty, timid and hopelessly drawn to Allegra’s reckless charm. She longs to be a part of the glitzy high-society world where her friends move with such ease.

Once free of the cloistered worlds of school and university, the Midnight Girls face new and different challenges, but they are for ever bonded by a terrible secret they’ve sworn never to break.

Bitter rivalries arise as their professional lives soon cross paths. Greed, tragedy and sinister passions threaten their allegiance and each of them stand to lose what they love most…

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

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

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

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

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

Copyright

title-page
title-page

To Helen Robertson

1

WHAT A DAY for a bloody funeral, Jemima thought, narrowing her eyes at the sight of the grey drizzle that had been falling all morning from charcoal-coloured clouds. It’s going to bloody well ruin my Philip Treacy hat.

At the sign for the village, Harry signalled left and drove the Jaguar smoothly down the narrow lane towards the church. They’d driven all the way from Dorset without a word between them. Briefly, after Tara had called to say that Mother was dead, Harry had softened a little towards her. He’d embraced his wife for the first time in months.

‘God, Jemmie, I’m so sorry,’ he’d said hoarsely. She knew that he was thinking of his own mother, the darling mama who’d died when he was only twelve. He’d never got over it and, what was more, no woman had ever been able to live up to the icon of perfection that gazed down from the portrait in the drawing room.

Harry had eased her into an armchair, brought her a stiff drink and then stayed with her while she sat, white-faced and shocked. She hadn’t cried, though. All she could say incredulously was, ‘So she’s finally gone. I can’t believe it …’

But the next morning, it seemed that things between them were back to the way they always were, cold and distant and she had a sense of foreboding that open hostilities were not far away.

Jemima glanced over at her husband as he drove. He looked handsome today, and smart in a way she had forgotten he could be when he made an effort. He’d put on his only black suit, the one he always brought out for funerals or when he had to go to London for a business meeting with the family lawyers. It was an ancient suit, made for Harry’s father by a Savile Row tailor some time in the fifties, a little musty now but still obviously excellent quality. It was beautifully cut and the rich dark fabric had a fine, velvety finish.

Like so much of what we have, she thought. Inherited. That’s all he cares about – the things passed down to him. I want something new, something fresh in my life. That’s the difference between us.

As they pulled round the small village green, they saw the church. Long black limousines were parked nearby, and the hearse was outside, the coffin laden with flowers. People were milling about in the front, some going into the church, others chatting on the grass verge. It was the great and the good of the county, all of whom had known her mother well, along with some withered old society hostesses who had thrown grand parties in the distant past and knew her mother from their debutante days. Then there were the expensive London cars, sleek and polished, looking like carefully reared pedigrees suddenly let loose in the wild. Jemima knew to whom those belonged: the ones who made their money from her family.

Harry parked the car and then turned to her. ‘All right?’

‘As much as you’d expect,’ Jemima said coolly. ‘It is my mother’s funeral after all.’

She pulled down the visor and inspected herself in the mirror. Her golden blonde hair, expertly highlighted, was perfectly styled in a demure French twist. Against its shimmering lights, her little black hat and its one curling black feather looked adorable. It went exquisitely with the vintage style, dark grey tweed Vivienne Westwood suit that made the most of her tiny waist and curves. Jemima blinked her large blue-grey eyes at her reflection, making sure her make-up was immaculate and her lashes free of mascara blobs. Then she pulled out her Chanel lipstick and reapplied a slick of bright red while Harry got out and put up the huge black umbrella. He came round to her side and opened the door.

‘How thoughtful of you,’ Jemima said.

He shrugged at her and held the umbrella close to the car to protect her from the rain.

Nothing will come between Harry and his sodding good manners, she thought. Not even the fact that he hates my guts. I can’t believe he’s sorry that the old witch is dead. It’s because of her that we’re in this mess, after all.

‘Mimi!’ Tara came tottering up, looking fabulous in a Dior pencil skirt, pussy-cat bow blouse and black cashmere V-neck, notable for the enormous diamond brooch in the shape of a dragonfly that sparkled on one shoulder. She hugged her sister and then stood back to look at her. ‘Darling, I’m so glad you’re here. My God, this is all so tragic.’

She blinked moist blue eyes at her sister. Unlike Jemima, she was dark haired with the kind of classic cut and restrained low lights suited to a woman with a high-powered professional career that took her into the most prestigious boardrooms in the City.

‘Hello, darling.’ Jemima kissed her older sister on both cheeks. ‘It’s certainly a sad day. I think tragic might be pushing it, though. When old ladies with weak hearts drop dead after a full and active life spent fucking everyone else over, it’s hardly the end of the world.’

‘Oh, please, Mimi, not today. Try and think the best of her.’ Tara blinked hard again, holding back tears.

Harry stepped forward. ‘Hello, Tara, I’m terribly sorry about your mother,’ he said gruffly and kissed his sister-in-law. ‘I’ll leave you two to it and find a place in the church.’

‘How are things?’ whispered Tara as they watched him go.

Jemima shrugged. ‘Oh, the usual. It’s like being married to a block of stone. Where’s the family?’

‘The children are inside with Gerald.’ Tara nodded towards the church.

‘I bet they don’t have the first clue what’s going on,’ Jemima said.

‘They do seem a bit subdued. I’ve tried to explain to them that their grandma is dead but they’re too young to really understand what it means.’

‘Poor little sausages. I’ll go and say hello.’

Tara gave her a grateful look. ‘Listen, I must rush. I’ve ended up organising this whole thing, of course. I need to talk to the vicar. He’s wheeled the most ancient old canon you’ve ever met out of retirement to perform the service. Apparently he knew Mother and Daddy when they were first married, but he can barely stand up. Have you seen Poppy?’

Jemima shook her head.

‘Well, watch out. You may need to hold her up. She’s almost hysterical, poor love.’

Tara tip-tapped away on her Louboutin heels up the path towards the vicar.

Harry had gone. Jemima waved at some relations and made a quick escape into the church. She went over to her nephew and niece, who were sitting with their father.

‘Hello, sweeties.’ She kissed Edward and Imogen who looked up at her with timid expressions. They were too young for this sort of thing. She couldn’t help but wonder at Tara’s sense in bringing them, though she suspected Gerald had more to do with it.

‘Jemima.’ Gerald nodded at her, his bald head glowing in the light from a ring of ancient light bulbs above. ‘A sad day. A very sad day.’ He had a sonorous voice with a melodic South African accent. ‘We will miss your dear mother.’

‘If you say so, Gerald.’ She grinned at him. One of her pleasures in life was pricking the pomposity of her ridiculous brother-in-law. ‘I don’t know if she’ll be missing you over the other side. After all, she couldn’t bear you, as I’m sure you know.’

‘A funeral is hardly the time for such remembrances,’ Gerald said in his snuffly, arrogant way. ‘It is fitting that we remember your mother’s good qualities.’

‘I’ll do my best. Let me know if you can think of any.’ She heard a muffled sob from the front pew. ‘Do excuse me. I think I’m needed elsewhere.’

She swung round on a heel and approached the front pew where a green velvet opera coat, dark plum beret and masses of dark hair glittering with chestnut lights were scrunched up together into a small hillock.

‘Poppy?’ Jemima ventured.

Her sister looked up, her face ashen and her eyes swollen and red-rimmed. ‘Mimi!’ She burst into tears again and buried her face in her handkerchief. ‘Oh God, Mimi, isn’t it terrible? Isn’t it awful? I’ve been in pieces since I heard. I can’t believe she’s gone. I can’t believe we’re orphans.’

‘Oh, darling.’ Jemima slid into the pew beside her younger sister and put her arms around her. ‘Mother was going to die some time, you know. We all knew about her heart. And we’re hardly orphans in the abandoned little things in rags heading for the orphanage and bowls of gruel way. Tara’s well over thirty, I’m nearly there and you’re almost twenty-six.’

Poppy sniffed loudly. ‘Oh, I knew you wouldn’t feel the same way. I knew you wouldn’t. You’re always so in charge of yourself. But don’t you see … it’s our mother. She’s dead and gone. It’s only natural to cry, to mourn her.’

Jemima stared at her sister’s waves of dark hair and stroked her velvet shoulder almost absent-mindedly.

Christ, she thought. I can’t muster a tear. I must really have hated the old bitch after all.

The funeral passed off in the style of so many of the Trevellyan family occasions. It was all done perfectly properly and in absolutely the best taste without a trace of gaudiness or ostentation.

The three sisters stood together in the front pew. Behind them were the dead woman’s sons-in-law and grandchildren and then rows of family and distant relatives, the local gentry and smarter friends from London, the women in discreetly expensive black outfits that glistened with ropes of pearls and diamond brooches. Many of Mrs Trevellyan’s staff had turned out for the service, though they were mostly at the back and behind the pillars. Jemima spotted Alice, the long-serving, hugely loyal housekeeper, dabbing at her eyes with a hanky. She obviously really cared that the old woman was dead. Then there were the lawyers and directors of the family company, all very sober and respectful, pretending they actually gave a damn.

Jemima glanced back over her shoulder and saw a whole row of crusty old men with white hair or balding heads, wrinkles and rheumy eyes peering through glasses. The directors of Trevellyan, no doubt, not that she could remember ever meeting any of them before. Among them stood a younger man, distinctively dressed in an exquisitely soft-charcoal suit that Jemima recognised as Prada, and a vibrant purple silk tie. She liked that. Purple had a nice imperial touch to it, and it was a colour of mourning after all.

Who is he? she wondered. He was shorter than Harry but with broad shoulders that promised a lean, muscular physique. He stood out not just because he was significantly younger than the men around him, but because of his dark looks: hair that was almost black, heavy brows over deep brown eyes and an olive skin.

She turned back to the front. No doubt another of those ghastly men, the ones her mother had employed who grovelled and fawned in front of her like she was God. All right, so she had owned Trevellyan and held all of their destinies in her hands – that certainly made her very important but did Jemima have to be constantly reminded of it? It made the woman bloody unbearable, she thought.

Jemima could sense a kind of excitement in the church, a nervous anticipation perceptible in everyone from Harry to her mother’s staff. They’re all wondering what’s going to happen now. What’s going to happen to Trevellyan? Well, join the club.

The order of service was printed on beautiful ivory-cream card tied with a tiny black watered-silk ribbon. Another excellent job by Smythson, noted Jemima. The funeral proceeded exactly as stated: Tara went up to read the lesson in her commanding voice that shook a little only at the end; the vicar gave the address, describing a woman who sounded vaguely like the mother Jemima had known but whose many virtues, ‘great love for human kind’ and many charitable acts were, frankly, fiction. Then the managing director of Trevellyan, a dusty-looking old man with bad spectacles, got up to declaim the prayers and they all obligingly mumbled the responses. There was another hymn – God, what a dirge! thought Jemima, although the people around her seemed to find it very moving, lots of them sniffing loudly into handkerchiefs – and then the service was over and it was time to go to the graveyard for the entombment.

It was outside, when she saw the open tomb where her mother’s coffin would be placed alongside her father’s, that Jemima felt something for the first time that day. It was horror.

They can’t put her in there! she thought, appalled. It looked unbearably dark and cold. Her mother had always slept with the little rose-coloured lamp on in the corner of the bedroom because she hated the dark so much. But of course – she’s dead.

The finality of it hit her with a sudden and unexpected force. She felt a huge tremor somewhere deep in her chest and swayed for a moment. She put out her hand and clutched at Poppy’s coat. The velvet was slippery and treacherous in her grasp and for an instant she was afraid that she would topple forward and fall down. Then Poppy reached out and took her arm and on the other side of her, Tara took the other.

The sisters held tightly to one another as the plain black coffin containing the last remains of their mother was lowered into the deep pit. The vicar intoned the final words of the interment, reminding them all what they had come from and what they would return to.

‘Oh my God,’ whispered Tara. ‘It’s over. She’s really gone.’

Poppy had stopped crying and was staring downwards with huge green eyes. ‘I can’t believe we’ll never see her again.’

‘I know.’ Jemima squeezed their hands. ‘Lucky us.’

2

THE WAKE WAS held at Loxton Hall, the family home of the Trevellyans. The long driveway curved downwards to a tree-ringed hollow and sitting cosily in that was the house, a solid and strong Victorian red-brick mansion constructed with the fortune of the first notable Trevellyan. In the mid-nineteenth century, he’d cashed in on the craze for cashmere shawls and the mania for the brand new Paisley pattern, importing shipfuls of exquisite pieces from India. With the fortune he acquired, he built Loxton Hall and founded his company, Trevellyan, a name that became synonymous with luxury.

The broad sweep in front of the house was full of expensive cars. Mourners were greeted at the door by maids bearing trays of champagne, then directed through to the ballroom, a Gothic creation dominated by vast stone fireplaces at either end and an oak-panelled ceiling.

While staff patiently circulated the room with trays of canapés, the sisters stood apart, surrounded by people offering their deepest sympathy and their sincerest condolences.

‘Your dear mother was a wonderful lady,’ said one elderly lady in a black dress printed with jaunty daisies. She was wearing a navy blue hat, Jemima noticed, that didn’t match her dress. Her irritation at this stranger grew as she listened, or tried to. ‘You must be heartbroken, heartbroken,’

‘Oh … yes, yes we are. We’re just devastated.’ Jemima eyed a passing tray of small smoked-salmon sandwiches and remembered that she’d eaten nothing that day and was ravenous. ‘How did you know Mother?’

‘She was gracious enough to be a patroness of our society. We are behind the church appeal, you know. The roof badly needs restoration as does the bell and we’re trying to raise several hundred thousand pounds. Your mother donated generously, both of her time and money.’ The old lady looked hopeful. ‘I wondered, Lady Calthorpe, if you were thinking of taking on any of your mother’s duties. We would be most delighted to have someone of your position, of your stature, on our committee …’

‘Oh dear. I’m so sorry. How frightfully kind of you to ask but I’m afraid I just don’t do things like that.’ Jemima giggled. ‘It’s so funny to think you might want me but really I’d be awful at it. I’m utterly hopeless, everyone knows, far too lazy to be any good to anyone.’

‘What a shame.’ The old lady was crestfallen and a little startled by Jemima’s levity. She had obviously been hoping to bag a title as her patron. She glanced eagerly over to where Tara was deep in conversation with a distant cousin. ‘Perhaps your sister might have more of a mind to help us?’

‘I’m afraid you haven’t got a hope there either. Tara works all the hours God sends. She literally doesn’t have a minute to give to anyone. When she’s not working, she’s with her children – but she’s working all the time, I promise. I’m sure she’d be good for a donation, though, if you ask her. One thing about working all those hours – she has absolutely stacks of cash.’

‘Thank you, Lady Calthorpe. And perhaps you might consider a small token to aid the church?’

Got to give the old girl marks for persistence, thought Jemima. ‘You’re talking to the wrong sister for that, I’m afraid. Ancestral homes need a great deal of upkeep, I’ve discovered. Now, I’m so sorry, will you excuse me? I’ve seen someone I simply must talk to.’

Jemima slid gracefully away, careful not to make the mistake of meeting anyone’s eyes. She knew that her path was beset by people desperate to talk to her – relatives, neighbours, snooty ladies keen to be seen with a real, live viscountess – but she had only two goals in mind. One was a glass of champagne and the other was the dark Prada-suited man she had seen in church, who was now standing by one of the windows gazing out at the lawn beyond.

She picked up a glass of fizzing liquid with a deft gesture as she passed one of the maids and came quickly up behind the man.

‘Are you admiring our flora or our fauna?’ she purred.

The man turned, surprised, and then smiled when he saw she was there, her head cocked on one side, a sweet smile on her face and her eyes wide. ‘I wasn’t aware there was any fauna out there.’

Jemima looked out of the window and then shrugged. ‘Perhaps not. Sometimes the cats sleep on the terrace when the sun has warmed up the stones. We used to see lots of rabbits, munching up the lawn. My father liked to get out his gun and take pot shots at them from the terrace. We used to beg him not to. We would cry buckets over their little furry bodies.’

‘It must be strange having such a big garden. It’s more like a bloody great field, isn’t it?’

‘I never knew any different. It’s just a sodding hassle to look after, to be honest. Actually, this all looks rather small and poky to me now.’ Jemima took a sip of her champagne.

The man laughed. ‘Really? You must be joking.’

‘No. The house I live in now is twice the size of this. And twice the bloody expense.’

He laughed again. ‘I ought to take you home and show you where I’m from. Six of us in a three up, three down. We were considered the posh ones on the street because we had the end house on our terrace and a bigger garden than the rest. By big, I mean about twenty feet long.’

She gazed up at him coquettishly. ‘I love your accent. Where is it from? Birmingham?’

‘Birmingham? I ought to deck you for that. Can’t you tell an honest Liverpool accent when you hear one?’

‘No, sorry. I’m not much good on accents further north than Gloucester.’

The man raised his eyebrows at her. ‘You should be ashamed to admit that. Ignorance is never something to be proud of, as I learned at Cambridge.’

Jemima raised her eyebrows at him. ‘Well, well. Feisty, aren’t you? You needn’t suppose I’m a snob, you know. I can’t help my upbringing and I’m very well aware of its limitations. Anyway, you ought to be nice to me. After all, it is my mother’s funeral.’

‘Yes, I couldn’t help but notice you during the service.’ He bowed his head slightly. ‘May I offer my condolences on this sad occasion, Lady Calthorpe, and my sincere apologies for speaking so impulsively.’

‘Yes, you may and apology accepted.’ Jemima looked carefully at him. Now that she stood next to him, she could see that he had a rather beautiful face. His dark looks made him appear aggressively masculine but close up she was startled by the strong, slightly aquiline nose and the long black lashes hovered over deliciously soft brown eyes. The sensual mouth was just too inviting, especially when it spoke in that attractively direct way. ‘So you know who I am.’

‘Of course I do. Your social life is not something one can avoid. You seem to have made party-going an art form.’

Jemima laughed. ‘It’s true, I do like to amuse myself going out. And can I help it if the media seems to take an interest in me? I can’t think why anyone is bothered.’

‘Let me see – you’re stunning, titled and wealthy and you know everybody who’s anybody. You’re in the newspapers and gossip magazines every week. I think that rich, beautiful young women with the world at their feet have fascinated people since Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships.’

She looked at him from under her long lashes. ‘No one’s ever compared me to her before. You’re quite the smooth talker. What’s your name?’

‘Ali. Ali Tendulka.’

‘Ali. I can see that you’ve done rather well for yourself and, by the looks of your Prada suit and Patek Philippe watch, you’ve managed to escape the slums in Liverpool –’

‘I wouldn’t exactly call Whitworth Road the slums.’

‘No doubt you also drive something very fast in silver and have a modern apartment in London with glass walls and a river view. All very commendable.’ She smiled at him. ‘But why don’t I show you a few old bits and pieces we’ve got here? There’s a real Stubbs in the dining room.’

He looked at her with mild surprise. ‘Don’t you have to mingle?’

‘I loathe mingling. Unless I’m with chums, I’m bad at it, very bad. It’s much better for everyone if I don’t.’ Jemima drained her glass and put it down on the window seat. ‘Come on, I’m sure we can find some fun away from all this dreariness …’

Ali smiled and lifted two more glasses of champagne from a passing tray. ‘If you say so.’

‘I do.’

She led him through the throng of people, using him like a piece of armour against the those she knew were clamouring to get to her. There was Aunt Daphne and all the Boyle cousins, always so desperate to oil up to the Trevellyans. She spotted Poppy listening to a long speech from the village doctor, who’d known them all since they were babies and was now silver-haired and somewhat doddery. Where was Harry? She looked across the room for his broad back and the mess of fair hair she knew so well. Oh, there he was, deep in conversation with the man from the estate office. No doubt they were talking about land management, or something equally boring. Well, that would keep him occupied for a while longer, at least.

‘This way,’ she said quietly, steering Ali through the double doors at the far end of the ballroom and out into the hall. She opened the door into another large room. ‘The drawing room,’ she announced, letting him pass her. Ali handed her one of the champagne glasses. ‘Thank you.’

They chinked flutes, their eyes meeting as they sipped from the cool crystal.

Jemima broke the silence. ‘After Daddy died, Mother did a little bit of redecorating, so you must excuse her rather Madame de Pompadour style. She was very fond of eau-de-Nil silk and porcelain snuff boxes. Bit too chi-chi for me.’

The drawing room was almost aggressively feminine, with tables draped in taffeta and covered in ornaments, cut glass and silver-framed photographs. The furniture was mostly eighteenth-century antiques with two ormolu cabinets taking pride of place. Somewhat out of place was the modern armchair, a pile of Country Life magazines stacked on the floor next to it, that stood beside a startlingly new white lamp. Jemima remembered how her mother had liked the way it directed its strong beam right on to the book or magazine she was reading at the time.

‘We didn’t use this room much. It’s too big really. We girls spent most of our time in the back sitting room. It always felt so cosy.’

‘The back sitting room.’ Ali raised his eyebrows.

‘There or the nursery. We had a television in the nursery, and our nanny would light the fire on cold winter afternoons and let us make toast on it. Have you ever toasted bread over an open fire? It’s just delicious.’ Jemima smiled. ‘I’d like to do that again one day. I can’t think why I haven’t.’

‘Maybe it’s because a toaster is just that bit more efficient.’ Ali ran his fingers over one of her mother’s favourite Meissen shepherdesses.

‘Maybe. But where’s the romance in that? Come on.’ She led him back to the hall and opened the door to the dining room. ‘Only used for Sundays and Christmas after Daddy died.’ Ali went in and walked slowly around the vast polished oak table. ‘It does look impressive when the silver is out and the candles are lit, I must admit. That’s the Stubbs there, over the dresser. Known as “the horsey picture” when we were children, but apparently it’s one of the finest examples of his work.’

Ali looked round at her, almost frowning. ‘You know, when I was a boy, I thought only the Queen lived like this. I didn’t imagine that ordinary people could or would.’

‘Funny, isn’t it?’ she replied carelessly. ‘Everyone I know does.’

They looked into the library and the study. Then they returned to the hall. Jemima stopped him in a dark corner by a green baize door.

‘I won’t show you the kitchen, they’ll be manic in there at the moment.’

‘What about the upstairs rooms? I was hoping for the full tour.’ Ali leaned in to take her empty glass, stroking the back of her hand as he did so.

Jemima dropped her voice to a husky whisper. ‘Actually, there’s one more room downstairs I’d like to show you first.’

‘Yes? Where?’

‘Here,’ she purred, and pushed open the door behind him, startling him by thrusting him backwards into the darkness.

‘Where are we?’ he asked as she entered the room and pushed the door closed behind them.

She tugged the light pull and revealed what was the downstairs loo, a large room wallpapered in red damask and with heavy green velvet curtains closed at the window. The walls were covered in family photographs and old prints and the lavatory itself was built into a vast wooden bench that ran along the length of the far wall, so that it looked like a throne.

‘Jesus.’ Ali gasped. ‘Even the bog is the size of my bedroom.’

‘Funny you should say that, darling.’ Jemima pulled at the light again, plunging the room back into darkness. She heard the clink of their champagne flutes as Ali put them down. Then the sound of his breath coming closer and harder. She curled her arms up round his neck, pushing him back against the wall. He moaned appreciatively. ‘I thought we might get to know each other a little better,’ she breathed.

Jemima pressed her mouth up against his, feeling the scrape of stubble against her face. He responded immediately, as hungry for her as she was for him. They kissed fiercely and deeply. He tasted of champagne and the faint mild tang of cigarette smoke.

She felt him bulging against her, a sensation that made her tighten with anticipation and she felt her own rush of arousal. He pressed his hand up to her breasts and she quickly unbuttoned the front of her jacket to allow him access to her. She sighed as he touched the lace on her bra and then slid a cool finger inside to rub a nipple.

She returned to his mouth, attacking his tongue with hers, pushing deeper into him. Excitement bubbled up through her at the pleasure he was giving her as he teased her breasts and also at the illicit nature of their activity. She loved this: the handsome stranger, seduced by her beauty, ravished by her directness and as thrilled as she was by the naughtiness of their situation. She loved the way they were both clothed, reaching only for what they needed of each other, and the sense of urgency and desperation, the animal need that lay beneath their smart clothes and civilised exteriors.

She reached for his groin, pulling his trousers open with a practised flick and releasing his cock, which was iron hard and throbbing with heat.

‘I hate to do this,’ she murmured, ‘but …’

From an inner pocket in her skirt, she quickly removed a tiny foil packet and ripped it open with her teeth. In one swift movement, she took the condom out and rolled it swiftly down, sheathing him.

‘And here I was, thinking how delightfully unplanned this was,’ Ali teased.

‘I’m always prepared, darling. I like risks – but not that much.’ She kissed him again and then gasped as he clasped her round the bottom, picked her up and turned her round so that she was against the wall. Then, as he held her with one arm, he reached down, yanked up her skirt and felt for her panties. There was nothing there.

‘You see … always prepared … Oh God …’ She sighed and moaned softly as he pushed into her with his fingers, rubbing at her with the pad of his thumb. A moment later he took his hand away and she felt the hard head of his penis pushing against her and then the delightful sensation as he entered her, filling her completely, pushing her back up against the wall as he thrust strongly into her.

She panted as they began to move together, finding a rhythm that maximised their pleasure. ‘Keep doing that … Yes, just like that. Oh … my … God.’ She pulled in to squeeze him tightly as he reached the peak of his thrust, making him kiss her deeply. He broke away to bite at her neck and shoulders, overcome by the sensations she was giving him.

Their speed increased as he pounded into her and she bumped against the wall, dislodging some family photographs that fell to the floor. She was barely aware of it, knowing only the waves of pleasure that were building up inside her, pushing her towards the brink, and that Ali was going with her …

A moment later and they were both gripped by climax, Ali first and Jemima quickly following, propelled over the edge into a spasm of delight by the knowledge that he was coming.

He was still inside her when they heard the voice getting closer.

‘Jemima? Jemima, where are you?’

‘Oh Christ.’ Jemima pushed Ali away and pulled her blouse back together. ‘It’s my sister.’ She began to put her clothes in order as she shouted, ‘I’m in the loo, Tara. What is it?’

‘I’ve been looking for you.’ Tara came up to the door and called through it. ‘We’re being summoned to the library. The lawyers want to read Mother’s will.’

‘All right, all right, I’m coming. Give me five minutes.’

‘We’ll see you there.’

They heard Tara walk off down the corridor. They looked at each other in the gloom, their eyes now adjusted to the darkness.

‘Thanks so much,’ Jemima said with a smile. ‘That was exactly what I needed. Now, I hate to be rude, but I really must dash.’

Ali had already tidied himself up and was smoothing his hair and reknotting his tie. ‘Not at all. I’ve got to hurry myself.’

‘Yes, I meant to ask. Who are you, exactly?’

‘Me? No one important.’

‘Then why are you here?’

He grinned at her. ‘You’ll find out, your ladyship. Now, if you’ll excuse me. My guess is that we’d better not to be seen leaving together so I’ll slip out now. And thank you. It was a pleasure all the sweeter for being so unexpected.’

Then he opened the door and was gone.

Jemima opened the curtains and went to the mirror. Even in the grey daylight that lit the room, she looked flushed and her eyes were bright. She tidied herself up as best she could without her bag of tricks to hand, and smoothed her hair. At least she was a little more presentable. She knew she was considered the beauty of the family. She hadn’t been much to look at as a child but she’d grown into her looks. Now, in her late twenties, she was at her peak: a soft pink-and-white complexion, wide-spaced blue-grey eyes above well-defined cheekbones, a straight, narrow nose and lips full enough to guarantee she’d never be tempted by collagen injections. Her blonde hair was just above the shoulder with a long fringe falling prettily down one side. She shook her head a little to make her hair glint in the light.

‘Nothing like a good fuck to bring me out of myself,’ she murmured. She smiled at her reflection. ‘And now we’ll find out exactly what kind of revenge Mother has been planning all these years.’

3

TARA TREVELLYAN RAN hastily up the carved wooden staircase and padded along the corridor, oblivious to the fine works of art and family portraits that lined the walls. They were so familiar she never noticed them now.

No one else was about. All the staff were downstairs serving the guests. She went to a door at the far end, paused for a moment to listen at it, and then shook herself.

‘Just who do you think is going to be inside?’ she whispered to no one. Taking a deep breath, she turned the handle gently, opened the door and silently slipped inside.

The room she now stood in was the grandest bedroom suite in the house, a vast chamber with a flat-fronted window of triple Gothic arches, each one festooned with pink taffeta curtains held back by tassels. A pink cream silk velvet chaise longue rested luxuriously in the niche of the window on the thick white carpet. Against the far wall was a 1930s art deco glass dressing table, covered in cut-glass scent bottles, jewellery cases and silver photograph frames – and, of course, a vast decanter of Trevellyan’s Tea Rose. A door at the side of the room led into the dressing room and another opposite led into a white and silver art deco bathroom.

Tara knew this room had been her mother’s pride and joy. It was strange to be in here without her. Tara could still picture her sitting at the dressing table, powdering her nose with a pink swan’s-down duster, wearing her favourite ice-blue silk robe with the mink trimming, or lying in the magnificent four-poster bed supported by twenty soft white pillows while she answered her correspondence and drank sweet tea from her favourite Sèvres teacup.

Now she’s gone, Tara reminded herself. The question is, what has she taken with her, and what has she left behind?

Of course it was impossible for a dead woman to take anything with her but there was no saying what arrangements she had made before she’d gone. After all, she’d had battalions of tame lawyers prepared to do anything she asked, along with a deep love of meddling with other people’s lives.

Remembering that there was not much time before they met for the reading of the will, Tara went swiftly to the dressing table. Four large jewellery boxes sat on the smooth glass surface. Hell to clean. Poor housemaids, I bet she made their lives a misery. Now … which one?

A pink leather Asprey box looked most likely. Or perhaps it was the splendid enamelled Fabergé case bought by a Trevellyan in the 1920s from a poor Russian princess after the Revolution. The white Cartier box looked less likely but you never knew. Tara decided to start with the smallest, the Lalique glass heart-shaped case. Lifting the lid, she saw that it was almost empty except for a couple of dress rings in amethyst and aquamarine, only semi precious.

Quickly she moved on to the Cartier. It was almost the same as the first – strangely empty except for one or two pieces of little value. Here, it was some Edwardian paste: a parure of jet and marquisite. Worried now, Tara went to the Fabergé. The same again. Where had her mother’s jewels gone? Ever since childhood, Tara had seen her mother open her cases and reveal their sparkling treasure – diamonds, emeralds, rubies; exquisitely set in silver, gold and platinum. Jewellery was her mother’s weakness and even though her insurers had insisted that the most expensive pieces be kept at the bank, her mother had retained plenty to enjoy.

‘What the hell have you done with it all?’ she muttered. ‘Where is it?’

She turned to her last hope, the Asprey box. The lid would not open. It was locked.

‘Shit!’ she swore. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the triple mirror. Her face looked so slender it was almost gaunt but her cheekbones had spots of high colour along them and her blue eyes were anxious. She pulled a hand through her hair and licked her lips. She was used to running on adrenaline – perhaps it was what kept her so thin – but this was different. She could feel her sense of control leaving her.

‘Keep it together, Tara,’ she muttered to herself. ‘Don’t let it get to you. There’s bound to be a logical explanation.’

She quickly rearranged the dressing table so that it was just as she’d found it and then darted to the door, pausing only for one last look at the room she was leaving. Would she ever stand in it again when it was like this – as though her mother had only just left and would be back in a moment?

Tara shuddered, and then hurried back downstairs.

The gathering in the library looked very Agatha Christie.

‘It feels like the murderer is about to be revealed,’ muttered Jemima as Tara came in, a little breathless, to take her seat next to her at the front. Someone had thoughtfully put the dining-room chairs in short rows in front of what had been their grandfather’s great desk, where Victor Goldblatt, the head of Goldblatt Mindenhall, now sat importantly, gazing over the documents in front of him.

‘Or like someone is about to be expelled,’ Tara said softly, slipping on to her chair.

‘If history is anything to go by, darling, it won’t be you. I’m the one who had to leave three different girls’ schools, remember?’

‘Answering the call of the wild even then. Were you alone in the loo?’ Tara looked over at her sister, who dropped her gaze and smiled. ‘Oh Mimi, honestly, of all the times. You are incorrigible. Where’s Poppy?’

‘God knows.’

‘Someone had better find her. We can’t start without her.’

‘Look, there she is, in the musicians’ gallery.’ Jemima pointed up to the oak balcony at the far end of the room which had been a favourite place to hide when they were children. Sure enough, Poppy was standing there gazing down upon the gathering, a curious expression on her face as she surveyed them all.

Tara gasped. ‘Oh God, she’s not going to jump, is she? She’s been in a terrible state today.’

‘Don’t be so melodramatic. Of course she’s not. I think she’s looking for someone.’

The two sisters exchanged glances.

‘Is anyone else … expected?’ Tara asked meaningfully.

‘I don’t think so. But you never know who’s going to crawl out of the woodwork. After all, it was in all the papers that the funeral was today.’ Jemima frowned. ‘Let’s hope there are no more nasty surprises than whatever is in that will.’

Victor Goldblatt peered up over his gold-rimmed half-moon spectacles and coughed. ‘Are we all here? I’d like to proceed.’

‘Just a moment,’ said Tara, and she beckoned to Poppy. Her sister stared down at her for a moment longer before disappearing to descend the tiny spiral staircase back to the ground floor. She came across the floor to the others, looking almost eerily suited to her surroundings in a long red velvet dress, and sat down. ‘Yes, we’re ready.’

‘Very well. We’re here to read the last will and testament of Yolanda Margaret Trevellyan, late of this address. The people gathered today are those who were closest to the deceased, her intimate family and relatives, and those who have an interest in the proceedings.’

Jemima glanced around quickly. The usual suspects were here: her mother’s faithful retainers, various of the Trevellyan and Loxton staff, Gerald, Aunt Daphne – though what she hopes to get out of it, God only knows. Mother thought she was a sponging, useless whinger – and there at the back, leaning against one of the bookcases that lined the walls, was Harry, his arms folded and a closed expression on his face. Jemima jumped. Standing next to him was Ali Tendulka, last seen pumping into her ecstatically in the downstairs lavatory. She tried to hide her astonishment and the sudden rush of anxiety at seeing her husband and her most recent hook-up side by side. Harry ignored her but Ali caught her eye and grinned. She gave him a look, something between an acknowledgement and a rebuke. What the hell was he doing here? She’d collar him as soon as it was over and find out. Meanwhile, Victor had begun to read in his gruff voice.

‘I, Yolanda Margaret Trevellyan, being of sound mind, do hereby commit my last will and testament …’

The sisters listened as their fate unfolded. Each had been born to wealth and privilege and to a family name famous across the world. This was their inheritance, the reason why the press had dubbed them ‘the Heiresses’. The moment of truth was here.

Tara had been determined to outstrip what she had been born to, and had become independently wealthy in her own right through her extraordinarily successful finance career. Then she had married Gerald, with his South African money, media portfolio and ambitions to be a press tycoon. What more could she want from her mother’s will? She needed Loxton like she needed a hole in the head – Gerald had bought an enormous Scottish estate only last year and she was still reeling from this unexpected burden as the old house needed complete renovation and naturally it had all fallen to her – but that didn’t stop her wanting it. It would mean everything to her if her mother finally acknowledged her by leaving her the house.

Jemima shifted uneasily as the opening sentences were read out. She felt nervous, knowing that Harry was here. But it was his right, she supposed. After all, he was her husband and Yolanda Trevellyan’s son-in-law. He had every reason to be here. But the truth was it made her sick to her bones to think about it. This was his payday. Finally he was going to get his reward for marrying her, for allowing Yolanda to have her way. The old hag had never been so happy as she was on the day Harry and Jemima had announced their engagement and once they were married she loved to remind people of the union as often as she could. ‘Do you know my daughter’s husband, Lord Calthorpe?’ she would ask offhandedly. Or, at some luncheon for the local ladies, she would say casually, ‘My daughter, Lady Calthorpe, has a charming home, Herne Castle. Do you know it? Rather magnificent, in its way.’ It was all the more galling for Jemima, who found Herne the very opposite of charming. No doubt it was Herne, the never-ending money pit, that had kept Harry with her as long as this.

Well, marrying Harry was the only thing in her life Jemima had done to please her mother and it had worked spectacularly. Now she would see exactly how happy she had made the old woman. And so would Harry.

Poppy twisted her hands nervously in her lap. Her childhood at Loxton had been happy, she had to admit that, and it had bred in her a love of the mad Gothic Victoriana this house was full of. She looked like a Pre-Raphaelite stunner herself, with her thick dark hair that fell into curls when she didn’t dry it straight, pale skin, full lips and enormous green eyes. Burne-Jones would have wanted to sketch her as an angel or maiden and she would have captured the heart of Rossetti with her poetic nature and love of art. But despite the privileges and comfort the lucky chance of her birth had brought her, she didn’t care for any of it. She had spent her entire adult existence trying to shake off the burden of her inherited money and the life she was expected to lead. She felt as though she was burdened by her wealth, as though it prevented her going out to taste life’s adventures. Jemima thought her mad, she knew that. Her sister argued the opposite: that without the struggle to earn daily bread, they were free to do whatever they wanted, to go anywhere and be anything.

But Poppy knew that Jemima was blind to the fact that no matter where she went or what she did, her life was unchanging. She met the same people and did the same things. The same expectations were constantly fulfilled – there were no surprises or challenges. Life inevitably became predictable and taken for granted. Jemima was a bright, clever woman who’d never done anything with her life because she hadn’t needed to – and it was money that had done that to her.

Poppy looked across at her oldest sister. Tara, on the other hand, seemed to have the worst of all worlds. She slaved like a donkey, as though penury waited for her around the corner despite her enormous salary and family wealth, not to mention Gerald’s money. And when did she find time to enjoy the luxuries this prosperity brought? She had all the toys of the rich: the fabulous London townhouse, the rambling Cotswold farmhouse, a beautiful white bungalow on an island in the Bahamas, the great black SUV and a roaring sleek convertible for herself. She had nannies, assistants, cooks, drivers, housekeepers and gardeners. In the most exclusive shops in London and New York, her personal shoppers were on constant lookout for her favourite designers’ new collections. The most unique and exquisite items were sent from all over the world direct to her office, house or the City pied-à-terre she used when there wasn’t even time to get home for the night, for her to try on. Exclusive and over-priced accessories arrived by taxi at her whim. Her hairdressers, her masseurs, her manicurists and eyebrow threaders, her facialist and dietician, all came to her. The only one who didn’t do home visits to Tara was her gynaecologist.

Tara’s life passed by in a whirl of meetings, deadlines, hours hunched over her computer, appoint ments, phone calls, long-haul flights and, occasionally, five minutes to herself or an hour with the children, reading them a story or giving them a bath.

It’s like she’s on a treadmill and it’s killing her but she’ll never get off, Poppy thought.

She looked up at the lawyer with frightened eyes and clenched her hands together more tightly.