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Pietermaritzburg, January 2003
Angie Wilson twirled her wine glass as she glanced at the faces around her. Everyone looked either suitably solemn, or suitably sad. She hoped her face was schooled into the suitably solemn mould, because she certainly didn't feel sad.
Perhaps that made her a bad person, Angie thought, but you couldn't make yourself feel sad when you didn't feel sad. Could you? Even though she had just come from her great-aunt's funeral.
She sighed as she looked at the assembled funeral party, chatting together in small groups around the room. They had all, at least, probably known her great-aunt Hilda. While she, Angie reflected, had only met her on three occasions.
The first time had been when she was a toddler, so she didn't remember that. The second time had been when she was ten years old, and she and her family had travelled to Cape Town on a family visit to see her mother's side of the family. And the third time had been when she had visited her aunt in the nursing home she had moved to in Pietermaritzburg, shortly before her death. Aunt Hilda had expressed a desire to die in the town where she was born, and be buried in the same graveyard as various other members of her family.
Angie pinned a smile on her face, as a man who seemed vaguely familiar approached her. Then clamped her lips firmly together. Were you allowed to smile at a funeral? Obviously the man coming up to her believed you were, because he smiled briefly at her as he extended his hand. 'I'm sorry about your loss, Angie.'
Angie smiled back at him, as she shook his hand, but behind the smile, her mind was working at the speed of lightning. Heknew her name. How embarrassing. She had absolutely no clue who he was!
"You don't remember me, do you?' the man said, looking at her with an amused expression. 'I'm Guy Carstairs. Hilda was my godmother and I met you when you came to Cape Town on a visit when you were a kid.'
Angie drew in her breath sharply. Of course she remembered him now! Guy had been that obnoxious teenager who'd been so mean to her when she was a poor, defenceless ten-year-old. Her mind flashed back as she recalled the visit to Cape Town, when she had first met Guy. When she had first seen him, on a visit to his parents' house, she had thought he looked like a prince in a fairytale, with his tall, blond good looks and startling blue eyes.
Well, she'd believed that until he'd dispelled the illusion. Guy had clearly thought her something of a nuisance as she tagged around after him, asking him numerous questions about the model airplane he and a friend were in the process of assembling in the garden, and when she had asked him how he intended to get it up in the sky--a perfectly reasonable question, after all--he had suggested that she go back indoors to her parents, instead of bothering him with her questions.
When she had persisted in her line of questioning, he and his mate had tossed her into the swimming pool! Yes, she remembered him very well.
"Oh Guy! Yes, of course. I do recall--er--meeting you.'
"Not with a great deal of pleasure, I'm sure,' Guy said, with a grin.
Angie studied Guy's handsome face. Though polite smiles might be acceptable at funerals, that grin, she was sure, was going just a little too far! Especially as it had such a strange effect on her knees...
"The last time I saw you, you had pigtails and braces. You've grown up a bit since then.'
He made it sound like she was still just a kid, Angie thought irritably, ignoring her wayward knees. It's not as if he was all that much older than she. What was the age difference? Seven years?
"And you were wearing a Duran Duran t-shirt and stonewashed denim,' she replied, with a sweet smile.
Guy looked surprised. 'I don't recall ever having a Duran Duran t-shirt.'
No, he wouldn't, Angie thought resentfully. Mr Perfect Good Looks would never have suffered from adolescent bad taste. She looked at him thoughtfully, before suggesting sweetly, 'Maybe it's the onset of age that's made you forget. You must be well into your thirties by now.'
Ha! She'd scored a hit there. Mr Perfect looked quite taken aback. 'Actually, I'm thirty-one,' he said shortly.
"Yes, really.' He glanced at his watch. 'I'm not sure if Jennifer's told you but you need to be at the reading of the will this afternoon.'
"Yes. Mr Porter, who was Hilda's attorney, asked me to let you know.'
"Well, OK,' Angie said doubtfully.
"As soon as everyone leaves, it'll be read here,' said Guy, indicating the living room of Jennifer's house, where they had all assembled after the funeral.
"Sure thing,' Angie said. She nodded at Guy, before drifting away. How odd that her great-aunt had mentioned her in her will. Walking into the adjoining study, filled to overflowing with books, Angie settled down happily to look through them. No romance novels, she noted with disappointment, but there was an extensive range of other books. She opened the latest John Grisham and started reading.
She'd majored in English and Legal Studies at university and she enjoyed reading legal thrillers, as she understood something about how legal systems worked. Well, it would be strange if she didn't, Angie thought, with a wry smile, seeing as she worked as a legal secretary for a law firm.
Glancing at her watch, about an hour or so later, she guessed that most of the people would have left by now and, putting the book down, Angie jumped up and left the room.
"There you are, Angie! We were wondering where you'd got to,' her cousin Jennifer said. 'Mr Porter is ready to read the will now.'
Angie looked at the attorney who, with his spectacles, stooped shoulders and slightly abstracted air, reminded her of one of those dusty characters from a Charles Dickens novel.
Clearing his voice, Mr Porter sat down behind a large table in the corner of the room. Angie sank into a large, comfy armchair, which quite dwarfed her small frame, while Jennifer and her husband seated themselves on a nearby sofa, their gazes fixed expectantly on Mr Porter. Guy stood by the window, his hands jammed into his pockets, gazing into the lush garden, dripping with fresh rain. Obviously he didn't have much interest in the proceedings, Angie thought, before turning her attention to the lawyer.
Mr Porter read the beginning of the will, which was couched in legal jargon, before coming to the main bequests.
"To my great-niece, Jennifer Smith, I bequeath half of my estate. The other half of my estate I bequeath to my great-niece, Angela Wilson, with the proviso that it be held in Trust for her by my godson, Guy Carstairs, until she reaches the age of twenty-five. Up until that age, her Trustee, the aforementioned Guy Carstairs, shall allow her to have payments, on a monthly basis, at his sole discretion.'
Angie's mouth dropped open. She hadn't expected her great-aunt to leave her money. She'd thought, when Guy had spoken to her, that perhaps Aunt Hilda had left her a piece of family jewellery or something. But a Trust Fund!
Excitement coursed through Angie's veins. And then she felt quite terrible. What kind of a person was she that she could feel happiness as a result of her aunt's death? Really, Angie thought guiltily, maybe she was a very bad person after all.
But stealing a look at Jennifer, Angie noticed that her cousin was looking just as pleased, although Jennifer nodded in a suitably grave manner when Mr Porter closed the folder in his hands and stood up, saying he would leave them now.
Jennifer showed him to the door, while Angie remained seated, staring in front of her. Doing rapid calculations in her head, based on what Mr Porter had estimated the entire estate to be valued at, Angie figured out how much money she now had to her name. It was enough for her to give up her job--well, at least for a while! She could take time off--move away from Maritzburg--write full-time! It was like a dream come true.
She blinked as she became aware that Guy had moved away from the window, and was talking to her. 'Angie, are you free now? I have to get back to Durbs later this afternoon, so it would be great if we could discuss the details of the Trust Fund now.'
"That's fine,' Angie said.
"Let's go next door then,' he said, indicating the study.
Angie nodded and followed Guy into the study.
"Now,' he said, clearing a pile of books from a chair and sitting down across from Angie, who was sitting snugly in a beanbag in the corner of the room. 'This must have come as something of a surprise to you...'
"You can say that again,' said Angie, shaking her head. 'I only met Aunt Hilda a few times, you know.'
"Yes, she always regretted living so far away from what she termed "The Younger Generation". She was very family-orientated, you know, and didn't want to leave her money anywhere else.'
"So, as she had no kids herself, she decided to leave her money to Jen and me,' Angie mused.
Guy nodded his head. 'Any idea what you want to do with it?'
"Well, ummm ... I'm not sure if Aunt Hilda ever mentioned this to you, but I--ah--write.'
"She did say something of the sort.'
Angie looked suspiciously at Guy, but his face was perfectly serious.
"Did she also tell you that I write romance novels?'
Angie looked for any hint of mockery in Guy's face at the mention of the dreaded word 'romance', but he was looking at her perfectly calmly. 'Yes, well, I've always wished I could take time off work to write full-time as it is my...' She paused dramatically, 'Grand Passion.'
"So you want to quit your job?' Guy looked disapproving.
"Maybe for six months or so, while I write my next book. There's a big demand for legal secretaries, you know, and I'm sure I'll be able to find another job, if I wanted to, later on.'
Guy studied her in silence for a long moment. 'I'm not sure, Angie...'
"Please, Guy.' Angie looked at him imploringly. 'If you'd make me an allowance out of the Trust money every month--enough to live on--it'd be great. I've been thinking of moving to Durban, as a matter of fact.'
"I went to school here. And varsity. I've lived in Maritzburg forever and I'd like a change.'
"Well, it's your money Angie. If this is what you're keen to do, I won't make any objections. But, let's review the situation in six months, OK?'
He looked at his watch, before continuing, 'Look, I have to run.' Taking a business card out of his wallet, he handed it to her. 'Here's my card. Get in touch with me when you're more certain about your plans, and we'll discuss the details.'
With a smile and a nod, he stood up, and made his way to the door. 'By the way, Angie,' he said, turning around, his hand on the doorknob. 'With your braces off, you're not bad looking.'
And if that wasn't a backhanded compliment, Angie thought as he shut the door behind him, she didn't know what was!
Later that evening, Angie soaked in a candle-lit bath, reading the latest edition of Mode magazine. Her mind wandered as she reflected on the day's events. She really couldn't believe it! Now she had the freedom to do what she wanted with her life, rather than working at a job she didn't have all that much interest in. And moving to Durban would be cool. It would be best, though, to stay in a digs, she thought, as she didn't know all that many people who lived in Durban. Although her dear friend, Zama, had been working as a fashion buyer in the city since they had graduated from varsity together. She'd call Zama tomorrow and let her know about her plans.
The article on the next page was written by one of her favourite authors, Victor Veritate. He'd written a column about the typical romance heroes in women's novels, and Angie laughed out loud as she read the column. It was simply hilarious, particularly the closing paragraph, where he wrote: 'We have established why women fantasise about the Tall, Dark and Daring man, but is this man necessarily a Romance Hero (or a RH as we shall call him from now on)--Unlike men in Real Life, so-called RH's sweep women off their feet into a dream world where they never have to do his dirty dishes or pick up his smelly socks.
Women like the RH because the RH is someone who fulfils their every fantasy. Unfortunately, this paragon does not exist in Real Life, ladies, although there are a few men out there who'll do their damnedest to make you believe he does. Don't trust these men, my friends. Run a mile from any guy who quotes love poetry to you. Or says he's a Sensitive Man. Except me, of course. I'm the one true exception to the rule. I'm Sensitive and Romantic. The sweet nothings I whisper into a woman's ear actually mean something.'
Victor's e-mail address was included at the bottom of the column, and readers were invited to send their comments about the article to him. Angie sighed as she put the magazine on the floor and settled herself more comfortably in the bath. She'd love to write to Victor. But she wasn't sure if she should ... A couple of years ago, she'd sent a fan letter to Victor, via his publishers, but he hadn't ever got back to her, and she felt a bit self-conscious at the thought of getting in touch with him again.
But this was a golden opportunity to contact one of her all-time favourite authors, and she didn't really have anything to lose by writing to him again. E-mail was such an accessible form of communication, and maybe he'd respond this time. She'd be over the moon if he did! Perhaps she could comment on his article and mention how, as a Romance novelist, she understood exactly where he was coming from...
Yes--she would write to him, Angie decided, lathering herself luxuriously with rose-scented body wash, but she'd wait a while before she did so. Lots of desperate women would probably respond to his article in the hope of catching a 'Sensitive Man', and she didn't want to give him the impression that she was interested in him romantically.
That would be way too embarrassing. And completely untrue.
After a particularly difficult break up with her boyfriend, Alan, two weeks before, Angie had decided that it would be best to remain single for a while. She'd even cut all her hair off-a sure sign, according to the glossy magazines she was always reading, that a relationship was well and truly over.
Alan had simply been too possessive. He'd always wanted to know where she was going, and who she was seeing, and he'd get unbelievably jealous if she so much as spoke to another guy when they went out. It had been a nightmare near the end, and she'd felt like a weight had lifted off her shoulders when she had ended the relationship.
What she wanted to do now was focus on her career as a novelist, she reflected. She had a golden opportunity to write, and she needed a man around about as much as she needed last season's lilac hot pants.
Her goal was to complete her second book in the next six months, and it would be far easier for her to accomplish this if she were single. Guys complicated your life, and she wanted no distractions.
An image of Guy Carstairs drifted into her mind, but she dismissed it.
Guy might have a nice smile, but he was a teeny bit too sure of himself. Besides, he probably already had a girlfriend in Durban, Angie thought, rinsing soap off her arms and drying her hands on a fluffy pink towel before opening the magazine again.
But she couldn't seem to focus on the words in front of her, and dropping the magazine to the floor, Angie hugged herself in excitement as she thought about the future. It all seemed very, very promising.