Mistress:Hired for the Billionaire's Pleasure(8)

By: India Grey

Orlando hadn’t seen the man emerge from the doorway of one of the outbuildings, but he recognised his voice easily enough. George had worked for Lord Ashbroke since Orlando and Felix were children.

‘No.’ Not today. Not ever.

Soon, Orlando supposed, he would have to tell George. Ask him to take on the duties of a chauffeur.

‘Shall I put her away for you?’

‘Thanks.’ Orlando took the keys from the ignition and let his fingers close around them tightly for a moment. Then he tossed them in George’s direction and walked across the yard into the house.

‘There. You look lovely, darling.’ Elizabeth Campion’s hands fluttered around Rachel’s face like tiny birds, smoothing a wayward curl here, teasing a fold of frothy lace there. The church bells seemed horribly loud, pealing out their tumbling scales with a threatening leer, but at least it made conversation unnecessary.

Beneath the shroud of her veil Rachel stood impassive.She was glad of the veil. It separated her from the rest of the world in a way that seemed particularly appropriate, filtering out the unwelcome ministrations of her mother, screening her own increasingly desperate thoughts and emotions from view. In the mirror her reflection was smooth and expressionless, with its pure, blanked-out face.

‘Right, then. I’d better go over to church,’ Elizabeth said brightly, as she checked her watch and gave Rachel’s dress a last little tweak. Chosen by Carlos, it was cut in the Empire style of a regency heroine—which, Carlos had said, would charm the Americans when she sat at the piano later. Elizabeth handed her a bouquet of waxy white flowers. ‘Here, don’t forget these. Now, wait until the verger comes across to get you. And then it’s your big moment! For God’s sake see if you can manage a smile, darling, please…’

The shrouded figure in the mirror nodded almost imperceptibly. Elizabeth bustled around, adjusting her large peacock-blue hat, spritzing on another cloud of perfume, picking up a pair of black gloves and thrusting her hands into them like a surgeon preparing to cut, before finally reaching the door.

She stopped, and Rachel felt herself go very still, waiting for a sign or a word that would mean all this could be stopped. Elizabeth’s face was thoughtful.

‘Such a shame your father didn’t have the decency to stay around for this. It’s the one day of his life when he could have made himself useful. Oh, well, darling. The verger’s a very nice man. He’ll be about ten minutes, I should think.’

Then she was gone.

A gust of air from the door rippled Rachel’s veil.

Beneath it, Rachel felt as if she was choking. Fury and despair swelled inside her, and without thinking what she was doing she found herself tearing off the veil as a series of shuddering sobs ripped through her.

She had to get away.

Glancing wildly around her, she picked up the keys to the car Carlos had bought her as an engagement present. She had always felt the gesture had been akin to putting a caged bird beside an open window, but suddenly it was as if the door to her cage had been left open and she had one fleeting chance to fly.

She ran down the stairs, her wedding shoes clattering on the polished wood, her breath coming in shaky gasps. Fumbling with the catch on the front door, she peered out for a second, before throwing it open and rushing across the gravel to the car.

Her hands were shaking so much she could hardly turn the key in the ignition, and then, when she did manage to start the engine, she shot forward with a sickeningly loud shower of gravel. She didn’t dare look up at the house as she accelerated out of the drive and onto the road, wincing as she made the tyres squeal on the tarmac in her panic to get away. Whimpering quietly, she cast an anxious glance in the mirror, half expecting to see Carlos run out onto the drive of The Old Rectory, or her mother appear at the roadside, a bright flash of peacock-blue in the February gloom.

The main entrance to the church where all the guests had gathered was around the other side, but still the road seemed horribly exposed, and almost without thinking she found herself taking the narrow turning alongside the church, down which she’d watched Orlando Winterton drive that morning.

It was a single-track road, overhung with high hedges and spiked, naked branches of hawthorn that made it almost like driving through a tunnel. She leaned forward over the steering wheel, gripping it so hard that sharp arrows of pain vibrated along the taut tendons of her hands and down her wrists.

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