Scarlett had determined on a day’s sailing and coached the sisters to crew for her little sailboat. They had taken a picnic around to a little beach, which could only be reached by water. Scarlett knew the coast like the back of her hand having learned to sail many years ago in these very waters.
‘The cove is beautiful and no one can get to it without a boat’ Scarlett grinned, ‘I sunbathe there topless. No strap marks, look’ she demonstrated with a giggle, ‘I’m going to wear a little sundress with spaghetti straps over my strapless bikini top tomorrow for the barbeque.
The day of the long awaited lunch with the Brooks family finally arrived. Both visitors had gained a little healthy colour without burning their fair skin. Jade had assiduously followed the advice of Scarlett’s mother; Factor 30 sunscreen with frequent reapplications after they had swam; hats and long sleeve cover ups went into the beach bag in case of any redness. Beyond the flattering golden colour they both looked rested and full of energy.
Jade and Emy both helped Scarlett to get ready for the lunch party. The idea was to look completely natural, which of course took a lot of artifice. Jade took charge of make-up. She used a dark pencil to subtly enlarge Scarlett’s brown eyes and applied a coat of mascara carefully so that her lashes appeared a tiny bit thicker and longer than they actually were. A barest swoosh of bronzing powder enhanced her cheek bones and a little lip gloss made Scarlett’s mouth look lush. Emy meanwhile plaited Scarlett’s hair into one thick plait, twisted it up loosely and teased out some ends to soften the look. Three faces peered into the mirror to inspect the result,
‘AWESOME’ was the universal pronouncement. Scarlett made a little moue at her reflection, grinning delightedly. The white sundress looked amazing against Scarlett’s chocolate tan, the low back and deep armholes making it necessary to wear a bra. Scarlett had chosen a boned, strapless khaki coloured bikini to wear underneath so that it looked as though she’d just come from the beach and pulled the dress over her head as she’d gone out the door. Perfect.
Jade twisted her hair into a loose knot and selected her new maxi dress to wear. Emy risked shorts as her legs were looking slightly tanned (if she didn’t stand too close to Scarlett) and anyway she’d get a little more sun being outside at the barbeque. The Brook’s place was also only a walk away and the party set off in time to be fashionably late without giving offence.
If the Bennet girls had been impressed by their accommodation at the Lucas’s cottage they were awed by the size of the Brooks’ place. Set a little higher than the cottage the party approached via stone steps cut into the hillside. They party arrived onto a sweep of gravel in front of a beautiful 17th century stone built house. Their feet were guided by the scent of food cooking on the barbeque, the sound of laugher and the clinking of glasses. Joe led the way scrunching across the gravel towards the lawns that rolled gently down towards the cliff edge. Into the cliff was cut another set of steps winding down to a private beach, here a large powerboat was moored. It looked so glamorous like something you would see in the south of France rather than bobbing at anchor in a little cove in Cornwall.
‘Wow, seriously rich’ Emy mouthed to her sister.
‘Come on over and meet everyone’ called Helen Brooks, her rather plummy British accent sounded warm and friendly. Ashley’s mother introduced Scarlett and her parents and swooped on the Bennet girls,
‘And you must be Scarlett’s friends’ she declared, ‘meet my son Ashley and his cousin Matthew and this is Sam. Er…’ Helen Brooks struggled to recollect the girl’s names, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so bad at names these days.’
‘I’m Emy and this is my sister Jade’ Emy supplied, ‘nice to meet you’ she quietly greeted the men, her voice quite overpowered by Helen Brook’s continued stream of small talk; the weather (gorgeous), duration of stay (five weeks), comings and goings (lots) parties (ditto).
‘Ah here’s Andrew, darling do pour drinks for everyone.’ She introduced her husband to the Bennet girls (incorrectly) and smiled benignly around at everyone. ‘Come and sit over here with me Claire, we have so much to catch up on’ she patted the place next to her on the comfortable looking patio sofa, ‘what will you have to drink? Andrew do pour a glass of white for Claire dear and top mine up there’s a sweetie.’
Emy watched Scarlett covertly as her friend greeted Ashley, shyly at first but soon she had gained the confidence of prior acquaintance. Ashley bent his head slightly to listen attentively to Scarlett’s account of her recent past and her questions about his. Emy could see what her friend saw in Ashley he was quite a hunk, though in an approachable boy-next-door sort of a way. Clad in baggy cut-off denims and a muscle tee his form was easy on the eye, powerfully built, well muscled and broad shouldered. His hair was dark and rather unruly, curling over his ears and falling across his eyes. As Emy’s eyes rested on his face a smile lighted his features in response to Scarlett’s conversation, patently she had said something that caused amusement. He had a lovely smile showing good teeth and his eyes crinkled with warmth. He likes her too. There was something in his body language that hinted at a preference. Emy was certain; she smiled inside delighted for her friend.
Emy turned as she felt eyes observing her in the same curious vein that she had appraised Ashley. She caught the tail of Matthew’s contemplation as he turned his attention back to the barbeque. There was a slight family likeness between the cousins; Mathew’s face in profile showed the same strength of chin and his hair was similarly dark. There, Emy observed, the similarity ended. Taller and slimmer in build than his cousin, Matthew had less ease about him. In fact his aloofness rendered him rather angular and off-putting though he was undoubtedly a good-looking guy. His pallor spoke of long hours inside. Emy put him down as a high-powered business executive or banker, she already knew from Scarlett that Matthew Brooks Devonshire was a wealthy man.
Emy’s opportunity to observe was broken by her sister’s interruption,
‘Emy, come and meet Sam’ Jade invited warmly, ‘he’s been telling me about when he was at University in Oxford, he shared a flat in Walton Street, isn’t that strange. I wonder that we never bumped into you’ she remarked to Sam. Emy added her voice to the debate, privately thinking that it wasn’t at all surprising as there were thousands of students in Oxford at any one time.
‘How long since?’ Emy asked, trying to calculate how old he would be.
‘Must be seven or eight years since’ he admitted, putting his age at 27 or 28 much as Emy had guessed, ‘and I must correct a misapprehension of your sister’s I went to Oxford Brooks, I’m much too dim a scholar to get into the main Uni’ he grinned, in a self-deprecatory way. Emy liked him immediately and hung around chatting together with him and Jade, mostly reminiscing about Oxford.
Matthew busied himself with the barbeque, and unobserved his eyes wondered back to Emy once again. There was something about her that attracted him. He wondered why as his gaze slid over her form. Sure she was attractive in a tomboyish sort of way, but Matt got to meet attractive women everyday of the week. In fact many of them threw themselves at him. Perhaps it was her cool indifference that fascinated him? Concentrate on the job he admonished. The methodical process of turning steaks, sausages, chicken and burgers absorbed his attention again,
‘Lee, I think we’re ready to roll’ Matt informed his cousin, laying down his tools and stretching lazily. Emy turned at the sound of his voice, there was something about the deep slow timbre that reminded her of something forgotten or not yet known. Puzzled by the feeling Emy shook the thought away and joined the cousins at the barbeque to offer her assistance.
‘Thanks’ Matt smiled slightly, ‘if you hold plates for me I can serve and Lee can ferry them over to the table, OK?’
‘Sure’ Emy commenced her part of the production line subconsciously admiring Matt’s dexterity as he skewered various foodstuffs and decanted them onto the plates that she held.
Soon they were all seated around the table, casually laid on a blue and white check table clothe with chunky blue glasses for water and large wine goblets. Compliments flowed as the barbequed meats were sampled with crusty bread rolls and an array of salads prepared earlier by Ashley’s mother. Conversation turned to events in Rock, particularly those planned for the near future. Ashley was particularly keen that the girls would attend a beach party on the following weekend,
‘I’m hoping that Matt and Sam will return to attend. It’s on Saturday night’ he raised an eyebrow to his cousin,
‘Not sure, I will if I can’ Matt responded thoughtfully, ‘are you staying down here all week then?’
‘Yes’ Ashley responded, ‘well if you don’t mind’ he added as an afterthought, ‘everything is in hand on the estate.’ Matthew shook his head slightly,
‘What about you Sam? Can you make it?’
‘I’m not sure yet either but I’d like to’ his glance lingered on Jade as he answered, ‘obviously its much easier for me if you can make it as well’ he answered, ‘Matt flew us down and then we finished the journey by boat’ he explained for the rest of the audience with a smile, indicating the powerboat that Emy had remarked on earlier. Emy listened to the conversation between the men attentively, it appeared that Matthew had a say in the other’s affairs, she wondered idly to herself why that would be.
That evening her curiosity was largely assuaged by Scarlett and by her sister who appeared to have taken a remarkable amount of interest in Sam Bradford. Ashley, Scarlett informed, worked for the family corporation, which was headed by his cousin Matthew.
Matthew Brooks Devonshire Senior had died suddenly and tragically almost ten years before, when Matt had only just completed University. Matthew had stoically stepped into his deceased father’s shoes as manager of a huge and diverse portfolio of business interests that had been started in the eighteenth century by one of Matt’s distant forbears and his brother from whom Ashley traced his descent. Matt had also taken responsibility for his much younger sister, who could have only been about ten or eleven-year-old at the time Scarlett thought.
‘No wonder he seems so serious’ Jade remarked kindly, ‘how terrible to lose your father so suddenly, and I understand from Sam that his mother died many years ago.’ Emy agreed that it did seem very unfair,
‘But his circumstances do have their compensations’ she laughed, ‘it’s not many men of less than thirty that own their own corporations, airplanes, boats and I guess anything else that money can buy.’
‘That’s so not like you Emy, since when did you care about such things?’ her sister rebuked Emy for her levity.
‘I didn’t mean to be unkind I was just commenting on his situation in life. He seems to wield authority comfortably; did you not notice how Ashley and Sam yield to his wishes?’
‘Well Ashley does work for him I suppose’ Scarlett interjected, ‘but he speaks very fondly of his cousin, not as though he’s a power freak.’
‘What does Ashley do?’ Emy asked.
‘He manages the family estate. Farms and such I think, and from what I can gather he’s going out to Australia soon as they have vineyards over there as well as in France and in Derbyshire.’ Scarlett looked rather depressed by the idea.
‘He seems to return your regard’ Emy expressed cautiously, ‘did he say anything about this week?’
‘He’s going to call’ Scarlett answered happily. Emy smiled warmly in response, she was pleased for her friend,
‘What about Sam?’ Emy asked her sister, she had spent a lot of time in private conversation with him. In fact Emy had never before seen her sister so taken by a man.
‘Sam and Matthew went to school together, at Eton’ she informed impartially, aware of her sister’s rather left wing views on the subject, ‘they have been friends for many years. Sam reckons he’s not very academic so he chose to go to Oxford Brooks to study business. He expects one day to take over from his father but for the time being he works for one of those big consulting companies in London. I forget the name.’
‘It’s a shame you moved to Oxford just as you meet someone who’s based in London’ Scarlett voiced Emy’s thoughts.
‘He’s very nice but I don’t expect to see him again’ Jade spoke offhandedly.
‘You will if he comes down for the beach party on Saturday’ Emy corrected, watching her sister’s face closely.
‘If he does it will be nice to see him’ Jade rejoined neutrally.