Jeffrey Ashford, the master of crime fiction, gives us a compelling portrait of an ordinary man under extraordinary pressure, in Loyal Disloyalty.
When a woman is lured into a car and raped, Richard Adeane begins to suspect his brother-in-law. Should he betray his estranged wife's confidence, knowing she values loyalty far more than most, or act on his suspicions and face the consequences?
"Not a comma is wasted as Ashford engineers this perfectly calibrated little thriller." -- Washington Post Book World on The Price of Failure (1998)
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||281 KB|
About the Author
Jeffrey Ashford was born in London, and practiced law for a brief period before starting to write full-time. His more than thirty books have been published in many different countries. He and his wife life in Mallorca, Spain.
Read an Excerpt
By Jeffrey Ashford
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1996 Jeffrey Ashford
All rights reserved.
Serena lowered her voice as she leaned slightly forward. 'Why do men like tying women down to the bed before they ... you know what?'
Diana's sharp surprise was caused not by the question, but by the fact that her sister should have asked it; normally, Serena found sex far too embarrassing to discuss even obliquely.
The waitress came up to their table. 'Would you like some more patisseries, madam? And perhaps some fresh coffee?'
Serena sat back and looked at Diana. 'How about another éclair?'
'Thanks, but I won't.'
'I thought you liked them?'
'One more can't possibly do any harm.'
'That's what you think.' She didn't think anything of the sort, of course, Diana decided, cheerfully aware of how uncharitable she was being; had they both had another, Serena's greed, especially for chocolate, would have been camouflaged.
'Well, I'm going to have another and then skip pud at lunch.' She turned to the waitress. 'One éclair and some more coffee.'
'Thank you, madam.' All the waitresses were middle aged and trained to offer the obsequious politeness to be expected in somewhere called – with that strange love of bogus antiquity – Ye Olde Tea Rooms.
As soon as the waitress was out of earshot, Diana said: 'Why your sudden interest in bondage?'
Serena answered irritably, obviously regretting having asked the question. 'Forget it.'
'Has Tom been tying you down before leaping aboard?'
'What a foul thing to say! Sometimes I don't begin to understand you.'
'Not very surprising. Mother once told me that we were so different that if she hadn't had the upset of bearing both of us, she'd never have believed we were sisters.'
'When did she say that?'
'Aeons ago; when we were kids. I think I'd just hit you and Mother was comparing my tomboy approach with your ladylike demeanour.' It hadn't been aeons ago, it had been when Serena had announced her engagement. 'You're not going to believe this,' their mother had said, 'because I don't. Nevertheless, your sister is going to marry that pompous little snob who's at least twice her age.'
The waitress returned, collected up the dirty plates and the empty coffee pot, put down on the table a filled coffee pot and an éclair on a scallop- shaped dish. Serena used tongs to put the éclair on her plate. She sliced off the end with her fork, ate with greedy pleasure.
Life really was bloody unfair, Diana thought. Serena not only had youth (she was ten years younger; her mother had considered christening her Surprise), looks, and wealth, she could eat as many chocolate éclairs as she wanted yet not put on an ounce of flab. Conscious that it was a sense of jealousy which prodded her to continue with a subject Serena clearly wished to forget, but unwilling to forgo the pleasure of returning to it, she said: 'So, now tell all. Why the curiosity?'
Serena wiped her mouth with a paper serviette, hesitated, then said: 'I was watching a film on the telly last night and the man tied down the woman to a bed before he ...' She did not finish.
'Before he screwed her?' Diana was gratified to note Serena's increased unease at such direct speech. 'Dick used to say that variety was really the spice of sex, not life. But since his interests never led in that direction, like you I can't understand. After all, I've always understood that much of the pleasure is supposed to be supplied by a partner's imaginative moves, so why should he deprive himself? You'll have to ask Tom if he can explain.'
Serena abruptly changed the conversation. 'How is Richard?' She made a point of never using a diminutive.
'As far as I know, he's all right,' she answered, suddenly defensive.
Serena seized the chance to embarrass as much as she had been embarrassed. 'You haven't seen him recently?'
'Last weekend when he took Melly out for the day.'
'You let him do that?'
'What on earth do you expect? He is her father.'
'Does he ever take her back to his home?'
'Once or twice.'
'So Amelia's met the woman?'
'What does she think of her?'
'I haven't been told.'
'You've not tried to find out?'
'Of course not.'
'It would be too awful if Amelia liked her, wouldn't it?'
'Well, I mean ... I imagine you make very certain you don't meet the woman?'
'Why should I worry?'
'But surely it would be so humiliating to look at her and know ...'
'The only person who'd be humiliated would be she, after I'd finished telling her just what I think of her for busting up our marriage and causing Melly so much distress. She used to be such an up-and-go child, now she spends much of her time just mooning around.'
'Men never think of that end of things.'
'When a young bimbo waves her goodies, men only have room for one thought.'
'That's why I'm so lucky with Thomas. He's not like that.'
The outrageous hypocrisy of that remark made Diana mentally blink; Serena had waved, Tom had thought.
'I know how to cheer Amelia up. She can come and spend a weekend with us.'
'That would be fun for her,' Diana said, trying to sound enthusiastic.
'I read recently that there's a new theme park which is wonderful for children. I'll take her there.'
'It's up in the Midlands, not far from Birmingham.'
'Really? That would be rather a long way to go, wouldn't it? Still, there's always plenty to do at Farthingstone. And Thomas is thinking of buying some horses; if he does, she can ride.'
'I rather doubt that any horse which will carry him will be of much use to Melly.'
'He's not fat.'
That depended on one's viewpoint. Seen sideways on ... 'Melly's only six. The most she could cope with would be a very small pony.'
'I'll tell Thomas to buy one for her.'
This was Serena being the grande dame. Diana said sweetly: 'I'm surprised Tom's thinking of starting riding at his age – it can be very dangerous to old bones. Still, it is a useful way of getting to know the county crowd.'
'That's not the reason he's thinking of having horses.'
'Of course not. What makes you think I was suggesting anything of the sort? It was just a remark made en passant.'
'Then you ought to stop and think more before you speak.'
'Dick used to say that thinking was the death of good conversation.'
'That's the kind of thing he would say. Half the time I couldn't understand what he was getting at.'
'An advantage not to be lightly dismissed.'
Serena finished her éclair. She sniffed the coffee she had just poured, sipped it, added another spoonful of sugar. Her tone changed and became light, almost coy. 'Have you noticed anything new?'
The watch, Diana thought. So casually revealed when they'd first met. Serena had obviously lost patience at the lack of comment concerning it. 'I was taught at school that I should notice something new every day, but so far I've drawn a blank.'
'Then here's your chance to do as you should.' Serena pulled back the left-hand sleeve of her lightweight coat and held her wrist so that the gold watch was clearly visible. 'Thomas gave it to me for our wedding anniversary.'
'What fun! Swatches are all the rage.' The moment she'd spoken, Diana accepted that she'd gone too far. She hastened to make amends. 'Just rank envy speaking! It really is very lovely. May I have a close look?'
Serena hesitated, as if wondering whether to forgive such lèse-majesté, then finally held her hand out across the table. 'It's a Boucheron.'
Diana humbly said all the right things.
Serena withdrew her hand. 'I mustn't be late because we're having lunch with the Brierleys. D'you know them?'
'Only by name.'
'He's asked Thomas to join the committee of the society he's just formed and of which he's chairman.'
'What's it in aid of?'
'Preserving traditional rural England in the face of modern farming.'
'Sounds like a lost cause.'
'Which is why the society's motto is: Tall oaks grow from tiny acorns.'
'Provided the squirrels don't get there first.'
'Why do you always have to sneer at everything?'
'I suppose it's understandable, considering what's happened.' She beckoned the waitress across. 'The bill.'
The waitress made it out, folded it up, put it down on the table at Serena's side. 'Thank you for coming here today, madam.'
As the waitress left, Serena picked up the bill and unfolded it. 'This place is becoming impossibly expensive.'
'We'd better go halves, then.'
'Not when I invited you,' Serena snapped. 'All I was saying was, they seem to think we're made of money.' She opened her crocodile-skin handbag, brought out a purse. 'Tipping is so demeaning to everybody concerned,' she added, as she slid a ten-pence piece under her plate.
Her sister knew how to feel not too demeaned, Diana thought.CHAPTER 2
Richard Adeane stretched across the desk to take the newly typed itinerary of the coming visit of three German journalists. 'Thanks a lot, Anne, for staying on to get this done.'
'For you, any time, any place, any how.' She grinned, left the room swinging her hips.
An offer that undoubtedly would be withdrawn the moment there was any suggestion of its being accepted. Through her young eyes, he must appear old enough to need a crutch. He swivelled the chair round until he could tap out instructions on the desktop computer's keyboard to call up the aide-mémoire. He checked. Air flights booked and tickets sent by recorded post; two cars detailed to be at the airport to meet the incoming flight; hotel bookings made and confirmed; welcome at the factory organized (Steve still had to be reminded that these were Germans so he must start his speech of welcome by saying Germany was his favourite foreign country, not France); four hours' free time for shopping, having received written notes on where to obtain the best buys (underwear in silk was very popular. It was just possible this was for wives); dinner at the Ostler's Arms, much more upmarket than the name suggested, hosted by the chairman (aka Pompous Prat); the following morning, two hours at Brand's Hatch, driving Lantairs as fast as they liked, provided they'd signed blood chits absolving the company from any and all liability (why were motoring correspondents some of the most incompetent drivers in the world?); cars to take them back to the airport ...
He switched off the computer, swivelled his chair back, wrote a note to Anne that it was OK to distribute copies of the itinerary to all interested parties. This would be the first visit from Germany and he wondered how they'd react to a car which had been designed in 1951 and then carefully kept in that era? Italians loved Lantairs because they loved all cars which offered fun. The French treated them with patronizing condescension because it was treason to be seen to admire anything from across La Manche, nevertheless they bought them because women found them sexy. So the Germans ... By reputation, they sought power and progress and saw little merit in nostalgia, but one never knew; until one found out.
He pushed his chair back and crossed to the window, looked out. Immediately opposite, on the other side of the road, was the garden of the vicarage; it was a mass of colour. The vicar clearly was a keen and successful gardener. He wasn't. He remembered the day when he'd dragged up a mesembryanthemum, misidentifying it as a weed. Diana had told him that he might well become blue from cold, red from anger, even yellow from fear, but he'd never have green fingers ... He wondered why he so often recalled a moment of no consequence when he did his damndest to forget even those of great consequence? Presumably on the same basis that if one set out not to think of fish, one inevitably envisaged shoal after shoal ...
He retrieved his mackintosh from the old-fashioned coat stand and left the office. The lift was waiting, but he chose to go down the stairs. Exercise had become a key word. That morning, when in his pyjamas, Patricia had told him that he was developing a middle-aged tum. Very conscious of their difference in ages, he'd denied the charge as he'd sucked in his stomach, squared his shoulders, and tried to feel thirty. It was astonishing how ridiculous even an intelligent man could become in the face of a younger woman ...
He left the building and crossed to the far end of the car park and his Peugeot 205. Senior staff were provided with Lantairs which they were expected to use at all times, junior staff had to provide their own transport. An arrangement that suited neither party.
He backed, turned, and drove up to the gates where the gateman motioned to him to wait. As the traffic rumbled past, his mind, fired by that memory of the mesembryanthemum, went walkabout. Was there any one set of circumstances which now could, with hindsight, be seen to mark the point at which the marriage had begun to founder?
They'd both had definite ideas on almost all subjects and so had often disagreed, but they had learned to live with this. Diana's pregnancy had been a time of physical unpleasantness for her and strain for him, since sex had come to a full stop, but they'd survived. Amelia had squealed and squalled and left Diana exhausted ...
A shout brought him back to the present; the gateman was waving him out. He engaged first and drove forward, only to have to brake sharply because he'd left things too late. A sour comment on life. Missed opportunities only recognized as such after they had been missed ... A stream of traffic passed, then there was another break, thanks to lights a quarter of a mile back. He drove out.
Amersford was a town which had once possessed character, but this had been lost to blind, greedy development. A shopping centre had replaced the cattle market, a block of offices, the corn market; supermarkets and chain stores had forced the family shops into liquidation and now there was not a single independent grocer, butcher, baker, wine merchant or hardware store to offer quality and interested service. Much of High Street had been pedestrianized, enforcing a one-way system on surrounding roads which so defied logic that at one point a motorist wishing to drive north found himself heading south.
Adeane turned into Rander's Road and slowed, searching for a parking space; luck provided one close to home. He climbed out, locked up, and walked on to No. 17, an architecturally neutered semi-detached, built between the wars. To look at it was to remember the mellow charm of Turnbull Farm; which was to dislike No. 17 a little more.
He unlocked the front door and stepped into the hall. There was no sound of television from the front room, so Patricia was not yet back from work. The emptiness depressed him and he went past the stairs and into the kitchen, where he poured himself a drink. He crossed to the refrigerator for ice and noticed how bare the shelves were. Supper was once again going to be out of the deep freeze. Patricia always claimed she didn't have the time to cook; the truth was, she simply couldn't be bothered to do so. Being a housewife was not where her abilities lay ...
He had returned to the hall when he heard the click of the front-gate latch. He opened the door as Patricia held out the key to insert it in the lock. 'Snap!'
'What ...? You startled me!'
She replaced the key in her purse, purse in handbag; she stepped inside. He kissed her, to find her unresponsive. She was the first to agree that there were times when she was turned on and times when she wasn't.
'I've had a really lousy day,' she said fretfully.
He closed the front door. She could milk life dry of its pleasures, but found it very difficult to cope with even its minor stresses.
'That bitch chewed me up for something that wasn't my fault.'
'That bitch being Mary?'
Mary, office manager, was middle aged, very earnestly married, and totally loyal to management; small wonder that she and Patricia had taken an instant dislike to each other. 'I've just poured myself a drink, so what can I get you to wash away the taste of work?'
'A whisky ... Why doesn't the silly old cow get her facts right?'
Even if Mary did work for a newspaper, he thought that she was the kind of woman who always got her facts right. 'Go into the sitting-room and I'll bring you one very large whisky.'
'One day I'll tell her what I really think of her,' she said, as she turned away.
Excerpted from Loyal Disloyalty by Jeffrey Ashford. Copyright © 1996 Jeffrey Ashford. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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