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'Well, here's to Beth; let's hope that this trip to Prague is a success and that it helps her to get over that rat Julian,' Kelly Harris announced, picking up her glass of wine.
'Well, she certainly deserves some good luck after all that's happened,' Anna Trewayne, Beth's godmother, sighed, following suit and pausing before drinking her wine to add worriedly, 'I must admit that I feel partly to blame. If I hadn't persuaded the two of you to open your shop here in Rye-on-Averton, Beth would never have met Julian Cox in the first place.'
'There's only one person to blame for Beth's unhappiness,' the third member of the trio, Dee Lawson, Beth and Kelly's landlady, announced starkly, 'and that's Julian Cox. The man is a complete and utter '
She stopped speaking momentarily, lifting her glass to her lips, her eyes darkening painfully as she quickly hid her expression from the others.
'We all know what he's done to Beth, how much he's hurt and humiliated her, telling her that he wanted to get engaged, encouraging her to make all those plans for their engagement party and then telling her the night before that he'd met someone else, making out that she'd misunderstood him and imagined that he'd proposed. Personally, I think that instead of bemoaning what's happened what we should be doing is thinking of some way we can punish Julian Cox for what he's done to her and make sure he can never do it again.'
'Punish him ?' Kelly enquired doubtfully. She and Beth had been friends from their first days together at university and Kelly had enthusiastically agreed to her friend's suggestion that they set up in business together.
'Rye-on-Averton is the kind of pretty rural English town that artists and tourists dream about, and my godmother was only saying the last time I was there that the town lacked a shop selling good-quality crystal and chinaware.'
'Us open a shop ?' Kelly had protested a little uncertainly.
'Why not?' Beth had pressed enthusiastically. 'You were saying only last week that you weren't particularly enjoying your job. If we found the right kind of property there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to make your own designs to sell in the shop. With my retail experience I could be responsible for the buying and we could share the work in the shop.'
'It sounds wonderful ' Kelly had admitted, adding wryly, 'Too wonderful. We'd need to find the right kind of premises, and it would only be on the strict understanding that we share the finances of the business equally,' she had warned her friend, knowing that although Beth had no real money of her own her grandparents were rather wealthy and Beth was their adored and adoring only grandchild.
But Beth had swept aside all her objections, and in the end Kelly had been as enthusiastic about their shared project as Beth herself.
Over the last twelve months since the shop had first opened they had gone from strength to strength and then, just over eight months ago, Beth had met Julian Cox.
He had pursued her relentlessly whilst Kelly had stood helplessly to one side and watched as her friend became more and more emotionally dependent on a man whom Kelly had never liked right from the start.
'Don't you think you're letting him rush things a little bit?' she had suggested gently, just after Beth had announced that they were getting engaged. But Beth's face had clouded and they had had their first real quarrel when she had responded uncomfortably, 'Jules said you'd say something like that He he thinks that you're that you're jealous of us, Kelly I told him that just wasn't possible, of course '
Jealous of them! With that comment Kelly had been forced to acknowledge that Julian Cox had very skilfully robbed her of the chance to pass on to her friend a piece of information she ought to have given her weeks before. But right now, under the influence of her second glass of the strong Italian wine the three of them had been drinking in the busy Italian wine bar where they had gone for a drink after they had seen Beth off on her buying trip to Prague, the idea of revealing Julian Cox as the unpleasant and untrustworthy character they knew him to be seemed to have taken on the air of something of a crusade, a moral crusade.
'Why should he be allowed to get away with what he's done, to walk away from his guilt in the same manner he walked away from Beth?' Dee had asked the others now.
'Walk away! What he did was even worse than that,' Kelly exploded. 'He practically forced Beth to publicly humiliate herself. I can't believe how many people seem to have fallen for the lies he's been spreading about her, implying that not only did she misunderstand his intentions but that she also actively pursued him, to the point where he was supposedly thinking of taking legal action to stop her. Bunkum! I know which one of them was doing the lying and it wasn't Beth. For goodness' sake, I even heard him telling her how much he loved her, how much he couldn't wait for them to be married.'