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Authors: Rosamunde Pilcher

Sleeping Tiger

BOOK: Sleeping Tiger
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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

St. Martin's Paperbacks Titles by Rosamunde Pilcher

Enter the Enchanting World of Rosamunde Pilcher …

Copyright

1

The wedding-dress was creamy-white with a suggestion of pink behind it, like the inside of a shell. It was made of very stiff, thin silk, and it swept the red carpet as Selina moved forward, and when she turned, the hem stayed where it was, so that she felt as if the dress were wrapping her up in a luxurious parcel.

Miss Stebbings said, in a high ladylike voice, “Oh, yes, you couldn't choose one prettier than that. It suits you down to the ground.” She pronounced it
syuits.
“Now, what about the length?”

“I don't know—what do you think?”

“Let's pin it a little.… Mrs. Bellows.” Mrs. Bellows moved forward from the corner where she had been standing waiting to be needed. Miss Stebbings wore draped crêpe, but Mrs. Bellows was in a black nylon overall and shoes that looked suspiciously like bedroom slippers. She had a velvet pincushion held to her wrist by a piece of elastic, and knelt down and pinned up a portion of the hem. Selina watched in the mirror. She was not sure if she agreed with Miss Stebbings that the dress
syuited
her down to the ground. It made her look much too thin (surely she had not lost yet more weight!) and the warm colour only emphasised her pallor. Her lipstick had come off and her ears were showing. She tried to shake her hair over her ears and only succeeded in dislodging the small coronet of satin which Miss Stebbings had placed on the top of her head, and when she reached up to push it straight again, she spoiled the set of the skirt, and Mrs. Bellows drew her breath in through her teeth, as though some terrible catastrophe was about to take place.

“Sorry,” said Selina.

Miss Stebbings smiled quickly to show it didn't matter, and said conversationally, “And when is the happy day?”

“We thought about a month … I think.”

“You won't be having a big wedding…?”

“No.”

“Of course not … under the circumstances.”

“I don't really want to have a proper wedding-dress. But Rodney … Mr. Ackland…” She hesitated again, and then said it: “My fiancé…” Miss Stebbings beamed with nauseous sweetness. “He thought I ought to. He said my grandmother would have wanted me to be married in white.…”

“Of course she would. How right he is! And I always think a very small, quiet wedding, with the bride in white, has a special charm all of its own. No bridesmaids?”

Selina shook her head.

“Charming. Just the two of you. Finished, Mrs. Bellows? Now. How does that strike you? Just take a step or two.” Selina paced obediently. “That's better. We can't have you tripping.”

Selina wriggled slightly inside the rustling taffeta. “It seems awfully loose.”

“I think you're getting thinner,” said Miss Stebbings, plucking at the material to make it fit.

“Perhaps I'll get fat again before the wedding.”

“I doubt it. Better make a tiny alteration, just to be sure.”

Mrs. Bellows hauled herself off her knees and inserted a few pins at the waistline. Selina turned and walked some more, and finally the dress was unzipped, levered delicately off, over her head, and borne away on the arm of Mrs. Bellows.

“When will it be ready?” she asked, pulling her sweater over her head.

“Two weeks, I think,” said Miss Stebbings. “And you've decided on this little coronet?”

“Yes, I suppose so. It's quite plain.”

“I'll let you have it a few days before, so that you can show it to your hairdresser. It would be rather sweet to have your hair swept up, and through the coronet.…”

Selina had an obsession about her ears, which she considered large and ugly, but she said weakly, “Yes,” and reached for her skirt.

“And you'll see about the shoes, Miss Bruce?”

“Yes, I'll buy some white ones. Thank you so much, Miss Stebbings.”

“Not at all.” Miss Stebbings held out the jacket of Selina's suit and helped her into it. She noticed that Selina was wearing her grandmother's pearls, two rows fastened with a sapphire-and-diamond clasp. She noticed, too, the engagement ring, a huge star sapphire, set alternately in pearls and diamonds. She longed to remark on it, but didn't want to be thought inquisitive or vulgar. Instead, in a ladylike silence, she watched Selina pick up her gloves, then held aside the brocade curtain of the fitting-room, and saw her out.

“Good-bye, Miss Bruce. It really has been a pleasure.”

“Thank you. Good-bye, Miss Stebbings.”

*   *   *

She went downstairs in the lift, walked through various departments, and finally out of the revolving doors and into the street. After the overheated interior of the store, the March day felt nippy. Above, the sky was blue, patterned with racing white clouds, and as Selina moved to the edge of the pavement to call a taxi, the wind caught at her, blew her hair all over her face, her skirt up, dust into her eye.

“Where to?” said the driver, a young man in a sporty checked cap. He looked as though he might race greyhounds in his spare time.

“The Bradley, please.”

“Rightey ho!”

The taxi smelt of scented disinfectant with an undertone of stale cigars. Selina got the bit of dust out of her eye, and then rolled down the window. There were daffodils blowing in the park, and a girl on a brown horse, and all the trees were misted with green, the leaves as yet untouched by soot or the dirt of the city. It was not a day for London. It was a day to be in the country, to climb a hill, run down to the sea. The streets and the pavements were crowded with lunch-hour traffic, businessmen, and shopping ladies, and typists, and beatniks and Indians, and lovers, hands entwined, laughing at the wind. A woman sold violets from a barrow by the pavement, and even the old derelict who paced the gutter between a pair of sandwich boards wore a daffodil, perkily, in the lapel of his sagging overcoat.

The taxi turned into Bradley Street, and stopped in front of the hotel. The doorman came to open the door, and let Selina out. He knew her, because he had known her grandmother, old Mrs. Bruce. Selina had been coming to the Bradley for lunch with her grandmother since she was quite a little girl. Now Mrs. Bruce was dead and Selina arrived on her own, but the doorman still knew her, and called her by her name.

“Morning, Miss Bruce.”

“Good morning.” She opened her bag to find some change.

“It's a lovely day.”

“Frightfully windy.” She paid the driver, and thanked him, and turned toward the door. “Has Mr. Ackland come yet?”

“Yes, about five minutes ago.”

“Oh, bother, I'm late!”

“Doesn't do any harm to keep them waiting.”

He spun the door for her, and Selina was injected into the warm, expensive interior of the hotel. There was the smell of fresh cigars, of warm delicious food, of flowers and scent. Elegant little parties of people sat about in groups, and Selina felt windblown and untidy. She was about to sidle in the direction of the Ladies' Room, when the man who sat by himself near the bar saw her, stood up, and came over towards her. He was tall and good-looking, in his middle thirties, dressed in the businessman's uniform of dark grey suit, lightly striped shirt, inoffensive Regimental tie. His face was unlined, well-featured, his ears flat against his head, his brown hair thick and smooth, coming down, at the back, to meet the shining edge of his collar. Across his well-cut waistcoat hung a gold watch-chain, and his cuff-links and his watch were also gold. He looked what he was: well-to-do, well-groomed, well-bred, and slightly pompous.

He said, “Selina.”

Her flight to the Ladies' abruptly halted, Selina turned and saw him.

“Oh, Rodney…”

She hesitated. He kissed her, and said, “You're late.”

“I know. I'm sorry. There's so much traffic.”

His eyes, though quite kind, conveyed that he thought she looked a mess. She was just about to say, “I must go and powder my nose,” when Rodney said, “You go and powder your nose.” This, she found maddening. She hesitated for a second, wondering whether to explain that she had been on the point of going to the Ladies' when he had interrupted her, but it hardly seemed worth the trouble. Instead, she smiled, and Rodney smiled back, and, apparently in complete accord, they momentarily parted.

When she returned, her fawn-coloured hair straight and combed, her nose powdered, her lipstick fresh, he was sitting on a small curved satin sofa, waiting for her. In front of him was a small table on which stood his martini and the glass of pale dry sherry which he always ordered for Selina. She went to sit beside him. He said, “Darling, before we talk about anything else, I must tell you this afternoon's off. I've got a client coming to see me at two, rather an important chap. You don't mind, do you? I can make it to-morrow.”

Their plan had been to go to the new flat which Rodney had leased, and in which they intended starting their married life. It had recently been re-painted and the plumbing and electrical work was completed, and now all they had to do was to measure and choose carpets, and curtains, and decide on colour schemes.

Selina told him that of course she didn't mind. To-morrow was as convenient as to-day. Secretly, she was grateful for twenty-four hours' grace before she was compelled to make up her mind about the colour of the sitting-room carpet, and the alternative merits of chintz and velvet.

Rodney smiled again, warmed by her acquiescence. He took her hand, moved the engagement ring a little so that the sapphire lay dead centre on her narrow finger, and said:

“And what have you been doing this morning?”

To such a straightforward question Selina had an essentially romantic answer.

“I've been buying my wedding-dress.”

“Darling!” He was delighted. “Where did you go?”

She told him. “It sounds very unimaginative, I know, but Miss Stebbings—she's in charge of the model gown department and my grandmother always went there, and I thought I'd rather go to someone I knew. Otherwise I'd probably make the most frightful bloomer and buy something desperate.”

“Now why should you do that?”

“Oh, you know how feeble I am with shops; they make me buy anything.”

“What's the dress like?”

“Well, it's white, sort of pinky-creamy white. I can't describe it.…”

“Long sleeves?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And is it short or long?”

Short or long! Selina turned to stare at Rodney. “Short or long? But it's long, of course! Oh, Rodney, do you think I should have got a short one? I never thought of buying a short wedding-dress. I didn't even know you could get them.”

“Darling, don't look so worried.”

“Perhaps I should have got a short one. As it's going to be such a quiet wedding, a long one's going to look ridiculous, isn't it?”

“You could change it.”

“No, I can't. It's being altered.”

“Well then…” Rodney was soothing. “In that case it doesn't matter.”

“You don't think I'll look a fool?”

“Of course not.”

BOOK: Sleeping Tiger
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