Novel Name : Masters & Lovers Box Set Three

Chapter 37

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Michael’s bar of choice turns out to be more of a club, humming with activity. A singer croons from the
stage; soft jazz which can barely be heard over the vibe of the crowd. A glitter ball spills multi-coloured
light across a dance floor and here and there, a strobe splatters occasional black-light.

The two women take stools at the bar, whilst Michael, James and I find a table in a quieter corner.

Girl time…

Charlotte, so far as I usually see, normally drinks wine, but Michael has bought cocktails for both her
and Elizabeth. The technicolour extravaganzas arrive draped with umbrellas, fruit, butterflies on sticks
and a sparkler fizzing out of the top. The women watch them arrive and both burst into helpless
laughter. Then, heads close, they start talking.

“How is she now?” I nod towards James’ and Michael’s communal wife.

“Getting over it, I think,” says James. “Without a doubt, it shocked her, learning that Klempner is her

Michael grunts agreement.

“Of course…” I say, “… it was always known to be a possibility, surely? Had she simply closed herself
off to the idea?”

James palms the back of his neck. “My guess is it was Klempner’s own certainty that Conners was her
father that convinced her. But equally, I’d say that she wanted to be convinced.” He glances at Michael,
the question in his eye, but the blond man isn’t paying attention.

Instead, he’s looking across the floor to where the women are involved in animated conversation. He
sucks at his cheeks; gives me a nudge. “What do you think they're talking about?”

“How should I know?”

“Look at them,” he says. “Look.”

As one, James and I spin.

Charlotte is holding her palms open, perhaps two handspans apart. Elizabeth responds by opening her
thumb and forefinger a couple of inches. They both dissolve into laughter.

Michael pulls a face. “You think we should be worried?” But a smile quirks at the corners of his mouth.

Elizabeth holds up a palm, moving it up and down as though weighing something. Charlotte responds
by making a fist of her hand then sliding it up and down some invisible object with a pumping action.
Then they both crease up again.

Michael, chin propped on fist, turns to James. “Is this the rest and relaxation you had in mind?
Something about that conversation sends a shudder down my spine.”

James sits back with an expression of mock austerity. “My ego can cope. They’re fine. If they’re
laughing, it can only be a good sign.”

Michael stands. “Those cocktails are nearly done. I’ll order them a top-up in a minute.” He strolls off in
the direction of the bathrooms.

I watch my beautiful wife, laughter lighting her face as she talks with her friend. “They’re good for each
other, those two.”

James Mmmms into his drink. “A lot in common; family, intelligence, inclinations; but such contrasting
personalities. Yes, I’d agree.”

“You think Charlotte will get past this latest shock?”

His brows arch. “She’s faced the world down to get what she wants. I’ve never known anyone with
such a terrifying version of courage. She can handle it.” Then, he nudges me with an elbow. “Who's the
young wolf prowling around Beth?”

I look across. Elizabeth, looking nervous, catches my eye. Sitting by the bar, suddenly alone…

… except that a man is there. Weaving, he looks the worse for drink and he’s trying to talk to her. She’s
turning away, not meeting his eye. Arms pulled in, legs crossed at the knee, she couldn’t be more
obviously uninterested.

But she looks upset…

She's vulnerable.

Where’s Charlotte vanished to?

Scanning the room, I see her heading for the powder room.

“Please excuse me for a moment, James.” He tilts his glass toward me.

The crowd is jostling and shoving, hampering my progress. Just as I find a break in the mass of
bodies… as I am about to make my way across the floor, from off-side, Michael moves in.

Over the hubbub, I can’t make out his words, but he stands beside Elizabeth, who leans towards him,
saying something to the man, shaking her head.

The stranger scowls, his face reddening, chin jutting at Michael. The blond man steps forward, oh-so-
slightly. Although he’s tall, he’s not overly so, standing eye-to-eye with the stranger. And his expression
is mild…

But I’ve seen Michael punch right through a door…

Elizabeth’s unwelcome visitor backs off, then away. Michael stares after the stranger as he vanishes
into the crowd then turns back to Elizabeth, offering his arm and nodding across to me and James. He
waves a forefinger at the barman, a circular motion, then pointing to our table. Elizabeth is smiling as
the pair make their way back across the floor, he with a hand on the small of her back.

Despite myself, I chuckle. “Saw that one off rather easily, didn’t he?”

James’ voice is bland. “Would you pick a fight with him?”

“I don’t think I would, no.”

Charlotte reappears, sees Michael and Elizabeth moving to join us then pulls up a seat at the table.
Looking between James and me, “Have I missed something?”

“Just Michael defending Beth’s honour…” says James, mouth quirking. “… in the absence of her usual

Charlotte blinks and flushes but doesn’t seem unhappy. Then as the two arrive, “That was rather well
done,” I say. “Thank you, Michael. I was heading across myself, but you beat me to it.”

“My pleasure. Anytime.”

“Yes, thank you.” Elizabeth drops her eyes, sucking at her lower lip. Michael rubs a knuckle over her
cheekbone, then lifts her hand and kisses the fingers…

Will that upset Charlotte?

Or James?

But neither appears concerned; or indeed, barely to notice.

“What were you talking about?” says Michael.

“Talking? What? When?” Charlotte takes her second cocktail from the tray that has just arrived.

“A few minutes ago.” Michael holds his hands about eight inches apart…

Charlotte stalls but Elizabeth breaks in, stirring her own cocktail using a stick with a fuzzy blue bee
stuck on the end. “Charlotte was telling me about the greenhouse Michael's building for her, and the
things she's going to grow in it.” The blond man levels his gaze at her. “Cucumbers and things,” she
finishes, her eyes wide and green.

How can a lying face look so innocent?

“So, what was the…?” I measure two inches with curled thumb and forefinger.

“I like gherkins.” Her face poker-straight, Elizabeth meets James’ eye and Michael’s, but not mine. “I
was asking Charlotte to grow some for me.”

“And the...?” James makes a weighing gesture with the palm of a hand.

“She likes beef-steak tomatoes too,” says Charlotte. She looks at me but not at James or Michael.

“And the…?” Michael repeats the pumping action Charlotte was making.

Charlotte stalls, but Elizabeth breaks in. “She was showing me how the pest-sprayer works…” He
cocks a brow… “… For the aphids.” Then she turns away, the two women knotting together in a ‘Secret
Sorority’ huddle that makes my teeth grow soft.

“Do you think there was a word of truth in any of that?” I murmur.

“I'm not sure,” says James. “Do you really want to know the answer?”

“No. I don’t think I do.”

“Then I suggest you don't ask the question.”


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