The words brought Georgie to an abrupt halt as she was dragged back four years in time without warning.
For most people it had been the summer of the heatwave, when cold, damp Britain had basked in tropical temperatures. For Georgie it had been the summer her life had changed.
She had been just twenty-one then, a fairly typical student enjoying the summer break before returning to college for her final year. Her only plans had revolved around the teaching career she’d wanted and the car she’d been saving up to buy.
The previous term she had been stopped in the street by a clipboard-wielding woman doing a survey for a television programme.
‘Do you believe in marriage?’
‘I don’t disbelieve in it.’
‘So you would get married?’ the interviewer pressed.
‘Me…? Oh, I’m far too young to be even thinking about it.’ Georgie laughed. ‘I want to have some fun before I settle down.’
Barely three months later she had been exchanging vows with a man she had known less than a month.
And yes, her grandmother had told her it would never last, but this had hardly put her in an exclusive category! It would have been hard to find someone who had thought the marriage was a good idea!
Georgie, floating several feet off the ground, had smiled serenely through the lectures and totally ignored the predictions of disaster. If anything the opposition had stiffened her resolve, made it seem somehow more romantic to her.
Her lips twisted in a self-derisive grimace as she recalled the idyllic future she had seen stretching ahead of her.
Georgie pushed aside the memories crowding in on her and turned to the little boy who was holding up some treasure in his chubby hand for her to admire. Long, curling lashes as black as the glossy curls that covered his head lifted from his rosy cheeks as he raised his cherubic, smiling face to hers.
Not everything that had come from her ill-judged marriage had been negative. She had Nicky; she had her baby. Not that he was such a baby any longer, she thought ruefully as she made the appropriate admiring noises.
As Nicky went back to his game—he really was an extraordinarily contented, sunny child—Georgie banged the sandals she was carrying loudly against the wrought-iron table set on the patio.
It didn’t have the desired effect. Too engrossed in their conversation, the women inside remained oblivious to her presence.
This is just what I need! A front-row seat to the dissection of the marriage from hell. Georgie could have saved them the bother; bad idea about summed it up.
‘Were they together long?’ Georgie recognised the distinctive Yorkshire accent of Ruth Simmons, a retired headmistress and keen bird-watcher who had rented the cottage next door to theirs for the summer.
The way her grandmother said it made it sound like a jail sentence.
‘Do you think there’s any possibility of reconciliation?’ the other woman probed. ‘Perhaps if they had given it more time…tried a little harder…?’
‘Tried harder…what would be the point?’
Georgie leaned her forehead against the frame of the door and absently rubbed a flake of peeling paint with her thumb. She was rarely in tune with her grandmother, but on this occasion she agreed totally with the older woman’s reading of the situation. She could have spent half her life trying to be what Angolos wanted and she wouldn’t have succeeded.
In the end, however, the choice to call it quits had not been hers.
Angolos had ended it. He had done so with brutal efficiency, but then, she reflected, Angolos didn’t like to leave loose ends, and he was not sentimental.
‘They could,’ she heard her grandmother, Ann, reveal authoritatively, ‘have tried until doomsday and the result would have been the same.’
‘But six months…poor Georgie…’
The genuine sadness in the other woman’s voice brought a lump of emotion to Georgie’s throat. There hadn’t been much sympathy going begging when she had swallowed her pride and turned up on her dad’s doorstep. Plenty of, ‘I told you so,’ and a truck-load of, ‘You’ve made your own bed,’ but sympathy had been thin on the ground.
‘With those two, it was never a matter of if, just when they would split up. When he got bored or when she woke up to the fact they came from different worlds. Far better that they cut their losses. He was only ever playing.’
It had felt pretty real to her at the time, but maybe Gran was right. Were you playing, Angolos? Sometimes she just wished she could have him in the same room for five minutes so that she could make him tell her why. Why had he done what he did?
‘By all accounts his first wife led him quite a dance…beautiful, spirited, fiery…apparently she could have had a successful career as a concert pianist if she had dedicated as much energy to that as she did partying.
‘In my opinion after the divorce he was looking for a new wife who could give him a quiet life…unfortunately he picked Georgie. Inevitably the novelty wore off when he got bored with quiet and biddable.’
It was not an ego-enhancing experience to hear yourself described as what was basically a doormat. Sadly Georgie couldn’t dispute the analysis. She had been pathetically eager to please, and it was awfully hard to relax and be yourself around someone you worshipped, and she had worshipped Angolos.
‘I think you’re doing Georgie an injustice,’ Ruth protested. ‘She’s a bright, intelligent girl.’
Georgie leaned her shoulders against the wall, smiling to herself. Thank you, Ruth.
‘Of course she is, but…look, let me show you this.’
Georgie could hear the sound of rustling and knew immediately what her grandmother was doing.
‘This was in last week’s Sunday supplement. That is Angolos Constantine.’
Georgie knew what the other woman was being shown; she had seen the magazine before her grandmother had hidden it under the cushions on the sofa. A double-page glossy picture showing Angolos stepping out of a chauffeur-driven car onto the red carpet of a film première. At his side was Sonia, his glamorous ex-wife. Were they back together…? Good luck to them, Georgie thought viciously. They deserved one another.
‘Oh, my…!’ she heard the older woman gasp. ‘He really is quite…yes, very…! They do say opposites attract…’ she tacked on weakly.
Nice try, Ruth, thought Georgie.
‘There are opposites, and then there is Angolos Constantine and my granddaughter.’
Georgie’s lips curved in a wry smile. You could always rely on her grandmother to introduce a touch of realism.
‘It was always an absurd idea. She was never going to fit into his world, and they had nothing in common whatsoever except possibly…’ Ann Kemp lowered her voice to a confidential whisper. It had a carrying quality that only someone who was a leading light of amateur dramatics could achieve.
‘Sex! Or love, as my granddaughter preferred to call it. Personally I blame it all on those romances she read in her teens,’ she confided.
‘I’m partial to a good romance myself,’ the other woman inserted mildly.
‘Yes, but you’re not a foolish, impressionable young girl who expects a knight in shining armour to come riding to the rescue.’
‘Young, no, but I haven’t totally given up hope.’
Georgie missed the dry retort.
A distracted expression stole over her soft features as she rubbed her bare upper arms, which, despite the heat, had broken out in a rash of goose bumps. Low in her pelvis the muscles tightened. She blinked hard to banish the image that had flashed into her head, but like the man it involved it didn’t respond to her wishes, or even, she thought, her soft mouth hardening, her entreaties.
In the end, bewildered and scared, she had lost all dignity and begged him to reconsider. He couldn’t want her to go away. They were happy; they were going to have a baby. ‘Tell me what’s wrong,’ she had pleaded.
Angolos had not said anything, he’d just looked down at her, his midnight eyes as hard as diamonds.
Strange how one decision could alter the course of your life.
In her case, if she hadn’t caved in to her stepbrother’s nagging and taken him down to the beach, when she had actually planned to curl up in an armchair and finish the last chapter in her book, she would never have met Angolos. Not that there was any point speculating about what might have been.
You just had to live with what was, and Georgie thought in all modesty that she wasn’t making such a bad job of it. She had good career, rented her own flat, a gorgeous son. A single friend had remarked recently that she didn’t know how Georgie managed to cope being a single parent with a young child and a full-time, demanding job.
‘I couldn’t imagine my life without Nicky; he’s the reason I do cope,’ Georgie explained. It was true—not that her friend had believed a word of it.