Dangerous Places

Verity Powers sat very still in the darkened kitchen, sitting at the bench on the high stool, just where she always used to sit. She heard the front door open, heard him taking off his coat and hanging it in the small wardrobe in the spare bedroom, heard the door close, his steps along the corridor.

He didn’t notice her as he entered the kitchen. He turned to switch on the light and moved to the cupboard where the glasses were kept, opened the half-full bottle of wine—a shiraz viognier— that he took from the pantry, and poured himself a glass.

He had brought in a sheaf of letters from the mail-box, and flicked through them without turning. Three he placed to one side without opening them, and two he opened and read while sipping the wine. One of them he put on the end of the work-top, the other he placed with the three unopened ones, scooped them all up and bent to open a cupboard door under the sink. He placed the unwanted letters in the recycling bin, closed the device and shut the cupboard door. Then he turned and, with a shock, discovered Verity sitting there. Startled, he recoiled.

Hello darling, Verity smiled.

What the hell are you doing here? Matthew said. And how the hell did you get in?

I can do anything, remember? She looked smug and elegant, as beautiful as ever she had. Her hair shone darkly in the light from just above her head, her black trouser-suit immaculate, her lipstick the only splash of colour. In the stark white kitchen Verity looked for all the world as though a spotlight was on her.

Get out, he told her.

Verity held up one finger and wagged it from side to side. Not on your life, she said.

Matthew took a deep breath and tried to contain his anger, though blood was pounding in his ears and adrenalin pouring through his body. Get. Fucking. Out, he said, each word emphasised separately as though spelling it out.

Verity, her elegant legs crossed, swung one foot unconcernedly. She stared at Matthew for a full minute, then her gaze swung to one side as she surveyed the kitchen. God, she said at last, what a ghastly kitchen.

Despite himself, Matthew looked around. What’s wrong with it? he asked, and immediately regretted having been sucked into something approaching a normal conversation.

The kitchen was starkly white: the floor tiles, the benches and cupboards, the lamp-shades, even the refrigerator and the dishwasher were white. Only the occasional glimpse of glass and the spines of the books in a short bookshelf offered any variation.

The benchtops were bare. There was no sign of occupation, no items in regular use left in position, no cookery books open in a protective bookstand, nothing. It was as though the builder had just vacated the premises, leaving the kitchen ready for someone to move in and make it homely.

It was, however, huge. A long window above the sinks illuminated the whole room, and unadorned workbenches skirted all but one wall where an oven, a tall cupboard and refrigerator occupied the whole of the space.

Verity snorted. What’s wrong with it? What’s right with it, you mean. Looks like a morgue. Does she feed you? Or does she just call out for take-aways.

Fuck off, he said. Right now.

Oh no. I’m enjoying myself.

Matthew moved to the telephone standing on its charger on the wall, picked it up and dialled, just three numbers. Police, he said, and after a pause he added, I’ve got an intruder. Yes, I’ve just got home and found someone has broken in. He paused again, listening. Verity smiled broadly, her leg swinging to and fro. He found it intolerable.

Yes, he said into the phone. My ex. My ex-wife. No, she isn’t behaving violently, but I want her out. He listened again. I know, he said. I’m not going to touch her. I’m a fucking lawyer. And after a few moments: Fat lot of fucking use you lot are. He slammed the phone back on its charger, and turned away to reach for his wine.

Won’t they come, darling? Verity asked, her eyes sparkling.

Matthew didn’t answer. What do you want?

Just checking things out.

You can check yourself out. Right now.

The finger wagged. Do pay attention to what those nice policemen said, darling. Why don’t you just relax? I just want to see what your bitch has done to my house. So far, I’m not the least impressed.

How long have you been here? How did you break in?

Hours, darling. You’re always so late home from work. Nothing has changed there, has it? Now, tell me, what’s Nicola up to?

None of your business. Just get out of my house.

You think she’s at her book club, don’t you? And little Emma with her grandmother? Verity laughed, a brittle sound that echoed in the stark kitchen.

Matthew looked at her sharply.

You’re so naïve, Darling. Have you checked out who is in her book club? Do you remember how you met her?

Matthew’s eyes narrowed. He stared at Verity for a long moment, remembering how Nicola had bumped into him at that film festival, the one that Verity had missed because she had flown to Vienna for a conference. Bumped into him literally, that is, causing him to spill his wine down his shirt at the opening function. He remembered only too well how she had called a waiter to demand, immediately, a glass of water and a clean napkin, how she had soaked the front of his shirt thoroughly, dabbing at the wine and his chest beneath, laughing her apologies the whole time and he saying to her, It doesn’t matter, please don’t bother, it’s just a technique I use to get young women to touch me, and the people around them looking in horror (or perhaps jealousy) as they laughed together. There had been some wine spilled on the front of his trousers, too, and this also received some attention.

You don’t really imagine that was all an accident, do you? I was only in Vienna a week.

The film festival had lasted the rest of that week, too, and he had sat with Nicola each evening. No more wine had been spilled, but a great deal had been consumed by each of them.

Why don’t you check if she’s there?

It’s none of your business. Now get out.

Don’t be tiresome, darling. I’m not going anywhere, not just yet. You don’t know where it is, do you?

Confused, Matthew struggled to understand. Know where what is?

The book club meeting, of course. Do try to keep up, darling. You haven’t a clue where it is tonight, do you?

Why the hell should I?

Have you ever heard of the expression ‘Pulling the wool over your eyes’? I don’t think Nicola ever goes to the book club any more. Not since Andrew Wiltshire joined. And funnily enough, he doesn’t go, either. I wonder what he tells his wife? She reached into the top pocket of her suit and handed him a slip of paper. Go on, ring it, she suggested.

Matthew ignored it, and after a moment she released it to allow it flutter down to the benchtop, a curled slip of white paper lying on a white bench.

How did you get in? he demanded.

You didn’t change the locks, did you? Too expensive, was it?

Give me your key, he said, holding out his hand towards her. She showed no sign of doing so.

Now! he ordered in a voice louder and sharper than he had intended.

Verity smiled calmly.

How did you know what she was up to? he asked.

They were in the kitchen once again, Verity in red this time: red boots, red blouse. Black skirt, black scarf and black tights, but they seemed only to emphasise the red.

It was only a question of time, she replied. If you had looked into her history you’d have known that. The only difference between you and her previous four lovers is that you made a baby. Or at least, you thought you did. That delayed things. A serial slut, I think you’d call her.

Matthew flinched. Two weeks was too short a time for him to have got over the shock. The shock of betrayal, the shock of his sudden, destructive anger, the shock of her leaving, the shock of her demands. Oh, she wouldn’t get the half she was demanding: the brevity of their marriage and the faithlessness in which she had indulged would see to that. And of course the results of the DNA tests seemed likely to indicate he couldn’t be the father, weakening her case all round.

Despite all of that, though, Matthew knew he was a figure of fun amongst his colleagues. The cuckold, the randy bugger who was led by his dick, the besotted fool taken in by what he had thought of as a trophy wife.

Well, it would pass in time. He wasn’t the first to have been taken in, and he wouldn’t be the last, either.

Verity held out her glass and he poured the last of the champagne, over-filling both their glasses.

What now? he asked.

We get on with our lives.

As though nothing has happened?

Why not? I’m perfectly content.

If you had been perfectly content, why did you go to all that trouble?

She thought about that. She had worried about that a little, too. Why go to all that trouble, hiring the detective, following Nicola herself, keeping an eye on how often Emma was left with her grandmother, and for how long. Sounds like I’m a woman scorned, she thought.

I couldn’t stand the thought of what she had done to my house. On the other hand, now that she’s gone, I find I don’t really mind it at all. You shouldn’t keep it like this, though, bare and unappealing. Bring it to life. Get some books, flowers, anything to make it look lived in. Leave things out on the benches. Looks like a laboratory.

Matthew nodded. Nicola had liked to keep everything put away, himself included. Except, of course, when he was earning money. Nicola had liked that he did a lot of that.

What are you doing tonight? he asked.

She stared at him in surprise. She knew him very well, very well indeed. I’m going home to bed, she told him.

Wouldn’t like dinner?

What, with you?

Of course. We could go out. He warmed to the thought. We could even go back to the Firenze.

She laughed. You fool, she said. You divorced me. Incompatible, you said. Irreconcilable differences, you said.

That’s all in the past, he said, his voice lower now.

Hah! All in your past. But certainly not in my future!

Are you seeing someone? Curiously, he felt a flare of jealousy at the thought. As far as he knew, and his friends kept him posted from time to time, Verity was still unattached. He knew of her occasional dalliances, knew that from time to time she was seen with attractive men. But, according to his sources, never twice.

Lots, she said. But once bitten, hey? No more of that nonsense for me.

Well, why not come and celebrate with me? My freedom?

You’re not free yet, not by a long chalk. And you’re the last person I’d want to celebrate with.

I really don’t understand you, he said.

Tell me something new, she thought. You never did.

Over the next few months Verity dropped in often to Matthew’s house. She had almost stopped thinking of it as hers, but not quite. She wandered slowly through the rooms, touching this, lifting that; occasionally she would probe the contents of his clothes basket in the main bathroom, lifting a discarded shirt to her nostrils and breathing deeply, remembering. Often, though, she would choose a room and simply sit, perhaps looking through a window, perhaps positioning herself in the centre and gazing about her. Absorbing the atmosphere, she told herself.

It was interesting that Matthew hadn’t changed the locks after all, and from time to time she left little signs that she had been there: a curtain opened, his bed turned down; small things like that. It was amusing.

In October, though, she noticed a change. A different perfume, feminine but subtle, on his shirt; a handkerchief on the bedside table, too small to be one of his, and on the wrong side of the bed—he was a creature of habit. She examined the handkerchief, but quickly replaced it, the edges of her mouth turned down in distaste.

She shouldn’t have cared. He had offered, she had turned him down, preferring to live alone now that she had grown used to it. But so soon! How typical of the man, to be unable to live happily alone, to reach out for a replacement so quickly. Verity brooded on this for some time, more than willing to believe that Matthew was simply indulging in a meaningless sexual encounter, soon to be satisfied before moving on.

By early December, though, it had become obvious that this was no casual affair. The signs of her presence were everywhere. Her clothes hung in the wardrobe, the bathroom contained her make-up, her hairdryer, her dressing gown behind the door, dark hair of similar colour to her own, and of similar length, too.

Verity always parked her car some distance away when visiting the house. She walked down the path leading through the garden, a little overgrown now, forcing her to duck her head as she passed the crepe myrtle that partially blocked the pathway, and around to the back of the house. She let herself into the laundry and wandered through the short corridor that led to the kitchen. The moment she opened the kitchen door she realised she had blundered: sitting in her spot on a high stool at the bench was her twin. Verity stopped dead half-way through the door, her hand still on the door knob.

The woman looked up and smiled. Do come in. You must be Verity, she said.

Verity stared at her. There were subtle differences, she realised. This woman, though she looked to be the same age and height, had longer legs and a shorter body than she did. The face was very similar, though the chin was slightly longer. Her hair looked to be virtually identical to her own, though of course that was easily arranged through her hair-dresser. She was wearing a dark blue business suit, trousers rather than a skirt. A pale lemon shirt eased the severity of the picture she presented, setting off the lustre of her hair.

Why don’t you sit down, she said. Would you like coffee? Tea?

Verity stood rooted to the spot, uncharacteristically stunned and unsure of herself.

Please? The woman held out her hand in welcome, and smiled again. I’m Alice. But I’m sure you know that already.

Verity took a cautious step forward, then another. Then she braced herself and approached Alice, taking her hand and accepting the reassuring squeeze. Do sit down, Alice suggested again. Coffee? ...you prefer a flat white, I think? Verity found herself nodding in agreement, and watched as Alice prepared the machine and set it in action, eventually offering her a small mug. She noted that she wasn’t offered sugar. She never took it, anyway.

You were expecting me, she said after a few moments.

Of course, Alice told her. It’s not that you are particularly predictable, but you do tend to follow a pattern, don’t you? About this house, I mean.

Verity nodded slowly, recognition dawning. What did it mean? She thought back on her behaviour, and recognised belatedly that it was usually on a Monday that she visited, and that it was generally about ten o’clock before she was out and about. Predictable? Obviously.

You don’t seem put out.

Alice smiled broadly and shook her head, her gleaming hair fanning out under that same light. Oh, why should I be? As far as I can tell you’ve never done any damage. We don’t mind if you take a peek every now and then.

Verity, always so self-assured, so confident, so poised, experienced a sudden moment of self-doubt. This was not running to her agenda, she who was always in control, managing her world, manipulating those around her. How had she lost the initiative so thoroughly?

You know, Matthew is even more predictable than you. Look at the two of us. We could be sisters, perhaps even twins. Oh, Nicola was an aberration, of course, young, blond, frivolous and all that. It was really always you he wanted.

He had me. Then he wanted her.

Alice smiled broadly again. That’s true, she replied thoughtfully. But look what he replaced her with when it all went so wrong: I’m almost a carbon copy of you.

Verity looked at Alice more closely. It’s remarkable, she said eventually.

I know.

Aren’t you jealous? I mean, he seems to have chosen you simply because you are so similar to me. How does that make you feel?

I had no idea when I first met him. Notice there are no photos of you around here? Of course I knew that he had been married twice before, but there were no clues about what his previous two wives were like. I found Nicola on Facebook; so like her to spend so much time on it, isn’t it? She’s not at all like us, so it never entered my mind. Then eventually I found you through Google. You know, jet-setting business woman and all that. Hit me like a sledge-hammer.

Is that you too?

Well, pretty much. Perhaps a little less since I teamed up with Matthew.

And for me, a lot less since I broke up with him.

The coffee was good, and both women drank a little, relaxing.

Jealous, I asked? said Verity.

You did, didn’t you? I’m not sure. In some ways it’s quite insulting; but in others, of course, it’s quite a compliment.

In what way?

Alice smiled. To be considered a replacement for you, she said.

Verity’s head snapped up. What the hell... she started.

Alice interrupted: Don’t be silly, Verity. You’re not going to tell me you don’t realise how beautiful you are? Well, so am I. We could be sisters.

Verity was surprised, but disarmed.

And we’re both go-getters in our different ways, both highly successful business women. I’ve read your CV.

So, asked Verity, what?

Alice was in Dubai for most of the following week, sorting out some of the financial disasters on behalf of Bashir, the developer. He was not going to survive the crash, it was clear; but he was hopeful that Alice could rescue some of his assets, those in the names of his children. Alice thought she could well be successful, but not to the extent that Bashir had hoped.

She was very tired by the time she reached her home, but she found Matthew waiting for her. He took her case from her and set it down, his arm around her shoulder. Wine, he suggested?

She would rather have fallen into a steamy bath with a glass of single malt, but she inclined her head in agreement, and smiled pleasantly. In the kitchen she perched on the high stool beside the bench, and sipped the drink; it was a verdelho, cooled to perfection and deliciously grassy.

So you’ve been talking to Verity, he said. She looked at him carefully, trying to decide if he was cross, or amused, or what? She nodded carefully, her eyes fixed on his over her glass. He seemed relaxed. How did you know?

He smiled as though enjoying a secret joke. I have my methods, he replied.

What does that mean?

Never you mind. What did you talk about?

Alice was suddenly cross. You’d better consult your methods, she said sharply.

His smile faltered, but only for a second. Don’t get shirty, Alice, he said. It doesn’t suit you.

She held his gaze for a moment or two, then placed the glass on the bench. She stepped down from the chair and he realised he had gone too far. I’m too exhausted for this, Matthew. I’ll see you in the morning.

When he, in turn, approached the bedroom he found the door locked. He tapped on the door hesitantly, but heard nothing from within.

Alice did not, as it turned out, see Matthew in the morning. Coming down from the bedroom she found that he had left, though it was a Saturday. On weekends they usually stayed in bed much later than usual. At seven or thereabouts he would leave the bedroom and return shortly with coffee. Twenty minutes or so later, he would descend once more and return with breakfast, usually toast, with the papers tucked under his arm. They would eat and read, discussing the news and sometimes reading items aloud when either of them thought they might interest the other. Eventually they would arise and think about the day.

This morning, though, the house was silent. Matthew had left. Alice sighed to herself and made her own breakfast, an omelet, which she ate with toast and a glass of grapefruit juice. She went to the front door to find that he must have taken the papers with him, and found herself irritated at his thoughtlessness. She made coffee, but found that it wasn’t what she really wanted and poured it away down the sink.

Alice wandered through the silent house, seething with dissatisfaction. She noted that he had slept in the downstairs spare bedroom, the one next to the office. She noted, too, the glass on the bedside table and the half-empty bottle of the single malt she would have preferred the night before. She noted with satisfaction the bedding sliding untidily from the bed, the pillow thrown to one side during the night: he seemed to have had a restless night.

They met on neutral ground in a small coffee house, though they each felt, by now, that they were possibly on the same side. They both smiled when they realised that they had chosen almost identical clothing, red shirts over jeans. Scarlet women, Alice suggested.

Not me, protested Verity. And not you, either.

No, agreed Alice. Not scarlet women. Maybe red in tooth and claw?

Verity laughed loudly, people turning to to look at them.

He’s been spying on us.

Yes. But how? Verity shrugged. I mean, it’s one thing to ask a friend or two what’s been going on, but this sounds rather... professional, no?

You mean a private detective?

They were both silent for a while as they considered this possibility. Surely he wouldn’t have done that, would he?

Well, how did he know, then?

That we had met?


It was pretty private, wasn’t it? I mean, have you told anyone?

No. Why would I?

Neither have I. So how did he know?

I wonder if he’s having me followed? Verity laughed again at the thought. She supposed it could be true, but what did that say about Matthew?

I wonder if I should ask him? Alice said.

I suppose he might tell you. On the other hand he might just get mad.

Mmmm, Alice agreed. Maybe you’re right.

So should we just ignore it?

Perhaps we should. After all, why shouldn’t we talk?

I think perhaps he’s worried we might be comparing notes.

They finished their coffees and sat silently for a while, considering their options. They left the coffee shop separately, both keeping an eye out to see if they were being followed. Parked cars with men sitting in them, cameras pointing from high windows, raincoated men in hats following behind.

Verity, Nicola, Alice.

The truth is, he told himself, I’m getting rather bored with it all.

Nicola was agitating to move back into his house, for him to dump Alice who was, he was beginning to recognise, rather boringly like Verity. He enjoyed his time with Nicola, now that he had dropped his resentment at her affairs. She was a spicy little thing, ever inventive, ever exciting. A serial slut, of course, as Verity had pointed out: but he liked sluts.

If he wasn’t careful, he was going to be taken to the cleaners. He couldn’t just dump Alice as he had Verity. Alice had the pre-nup, of course, too smart to fall for the line that she could trust him. So, what?

His mistake, he thought, or one of his many mistakes, was to have allowed Verity to hang on to the key. It was a vanity at first, to allow her to pry into his growing affair with Alice. It had been intended to taunt her, but instead had become a little conspiracy between the two women... and now it was coming back to bite him.

What he had been slow to recognise was that his growing reputation as a womaniser did him no harm at all. In his staid life with Verity, he had been terrified that his affairs would be uncovered, and that he would be ruined professionally. True, he had thrown caution to the wind with Nicola, and that had cost him plenty in dollars, but had in fact enhanced his position at the bar. Everybody wanted him, a man of worldly experience clearly attractive and exciting.

For some reason it had seemed important after the Nicola debacle to get back at Verity, especially as she had rejected his second attempt with her. A hollow victory that had turned out.

Matthew sighed, and wondered how he was going to extricate himself.

Do you know, Alice said, I do believe he’s having an affair again.

What a surprise, Verity said. Has he ever not?

I’m beginning to wonder if I care any more. It’s all becoming, well, perhaps too much.

It’s two years, after all, Verity suggested. Looking back, I think it’s always been around two years before he started wandering. Any idea who?

No. And actually, I have no real evidence, just his declining interest in me.

A bad sign, Verity agreed. They were in the kitchen again, a kitchen that Alice had made homely and welcoming, very much along the lines that Verity had suggested to Matthew so long ago. They really were very similar women, and not just in appearance.

The trouble, Alice said thoughtfully, is not that he no longer wants to make love to me... that was never going to last for ever, was it? No, it’s just that if he wants to end it all it’s going to be so disruptive. I’ve grown very fond of this house. I really don’t want to leave.

Just that? asked Verity sceptically. I mean, don’t you feel anything for him?

Alice shook her head. No, it’s not that. It’s just that if it’s over, then it’s over. Plenty more fish in the sea and all that.

Verity remembered her own shock when Matthew had said he was divorcing her, sudden, devastating, humiliating. She wondered how Alice could be so... clinical about it all. Perhaps they weren’t that similar, after all. Or maybe the cynicism was just a front?

Documentation is what we need, she said.

Alice looked at her quizzically. Documentation?

Yes. Let’s get someone on to it, and find out for certain.

Us? You mean me and you?

Verity smiled. Why not? I know just the fellow.

There were five names on the list, names together with dates and places.

The two women looked at each other. He has been a busy little boy, hasn’t he?

Wonder where he gets the energy? Verity laughed, and Alice smiled broadly.

The other four aren’t important, Verity suggested. Look, twice, once, twice and four times... a close thing, that last one. But Nicola... fifteen times in the last month?

Bloody Nicola, though. How did she wangle her way back in?

Pity we can’t just do her in, eh?

They both paused and looked hard at each other. There was a long silence.

You know, Verity said, looking away, that’s not a bad idea.

Alice, suddenly very cold, looked at her friend, reached out and took her hand. You can’t be serious? she said.

Verity seemed to toss her head, her hair shimmering, her eyes suddenly flashing. Why not?

But what would be the point? There would be others to take her place. Alice tapped the list... Look, there would be plenty of takers.

But what if...

What if what?

I’m not sure. Let’s think about it.

Alice shivered. Yes, let’s, she said quietly.

We don’t want to be cruel about it, do we? I mean, we just want her gone, not hurt.

So an accident might not be the best idea, do you mean?

They were only discussing it, not actively planning anything. Verity had done considerable research into ways and means, but Alice had put it far from her mind. She wasn’t at all sure that this discussion was healthy.

No, Verity said. Not an accident. Too hit and miss, anyway. We could pay someone, but how unpleasant would that be? And probably violent, anyway.

Verity, I can hardly believe you’re really thinking about this. I mean, having a bit of giggle over the idea is one thing, but you’re beginning to sound serious.

They were walking through the park. It was cold, damp, and rather depressing really, wet leaves lying about in piles where the wind had swept them, the grass beside the paths too long and wet, muddy patches showing through in places.

We have to protect ourselves. If you just let things go, Alice, you’ll be out of the house and she’ll be in like a shot.

It’s not just the house. For the first time, Verity noticed that Alice was actually upset. She frowned.

It’s not just the house, Alice repeated. It’s... I love him, you know. She looked at Verity, an appeal in her eyes. They stopped, and Verity put her hand on Alice’s arm. Oh dear, she said. I suppose you do. This whole thing must be very upsetting for you.

Alice nodded abruptly, and turned to face Verity. And you, Verity. You’re not getting over it either, are you?

What do you mean?

Look at yourself. You spend all your time thinking about the house, about what he’s up to. You haven’t got over him either, have you?

I don’t spend all my time like that. I have got another life, you know.

Pull the other one, Verity. Face up to it. And anyway, how much of our friendship is really an alliance in the face of his infidelity?

We were friends before we found out, answered Verity indignantly. You know we were.

But we’ve been a lot closer since, haven’t we?

Verity thought about it, and slowly nodded. They continued walking, slowly, not really headed anywhere. Strolling. They were silent for a while, each woman considering what had been said.

Perhaps you’re right, Verity admitted. I don’t think I ever got over him. Not really. You know that after I got rid of Nicola he wanted me to go back to him?

Oh, he told me all about it. Said you were just being a bitch about it, trying to hurt him. Well, you certainly succeeded with that.

I don’t think I love him, though. Not now.

Alice smiled grimly. Just as well, I suppose.

The problem is, Verity added, that he seems not to love either of us very much. I don’t suppose he loves Nicola, not really.

He’s a bit of a bastard, isn’t he?

More than just a bit.


When you think about it, Alice, what we need to do is to make him get rid of her. But then not take up with anyone else.

Getting rid of her shouldn’t be too much of a problem. You did it once before.

Yes, but she came back.


We’ve been going about this all wrong, you know, Verity decided. We haven’t really looked at what each of us want. In fact, of course, it should only be what you want. He’s yours, not mine.

What I want is to have him properly, not half-heartedly. I don’t want him to shrug me off when he gets tired of me, and I don’t want Nicola, or even you, butting in. No, I didn’t mean in that way, she said, noticing her friend’s reaction. No, I mean butting in sexually.

Verity shrugged. Well, I don’t think there’s much chance of that, darling.

Alice gave a brittle laugh. Don’t you believe it.

Well, not on my part, anyway.

So, that’s what I want.

He’s never going to change, you know.

Alice sighed. My mistake, wasn’t it? Not realising it.

Mine too, I suppose.

So we have to get rid of Nicola, and make sure he doesn’t go wandering off afterwards. At least, I have to.

Oh, I’m more than happy to help. If I can. It’s the second part that’s going to prove difficult.

They walked on in silence, thinking hard. The sky was iron-grey, there were few people in the park. Despite the rumble of nearby traffic, it seemed quite silent, even their footsteps were muffled.

But if he’s never going to change?

That’s exactly what I was thinking. If he’s never going to change, what’s the point?

They looked at each other. There’s always the house, of course.

D’you mean you might... you know, give up on him, but hang on to the house?

Alice smiled despite herself. Well, she said grimly, you can never win everything.

It was amazing to see how easy it turned out to be. A little parcel arriving from Mexico, a few SMS messages from Matthew’s phone in the dead of night, a scribbled note that looked for all the world like Nicola’s untidy writing, half a bottle of Nicola’s favourite wine, so sweet that Matthew would never dream of touching it himself, and in no time at all some of those nice policemen had come round and taken Matthew away, protesting his innocence.

Alice and Verity are sitting together in the kitchen. Did you tell him you’d wait for him? Verity asks.

Alice nods. Until the end of time, I swore. He believed me.

What about visits?

I suppose so. It’s such a long drive, though, I suppose he’ll forgive me if they’re not too frequent. A small price to pay. Alice looks very complacent.

They sip their wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, not the dreadful Moscato that Nicola favoured.

Poor girl. Such a shame.

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