Authors: Karen Elaine Campbell
Karen-Elaine Campbell was born in the West Country and has spent many of her adult years employed in the financial sector, both in the UK and overseas. She is always in the middle of some project or other, loves to cook and to eat, and now lives in St Neots, Cambridgeshire.
She has always wanted to write ‘
’ and is delighted by the publication of her very first novel.
THE PARTY GIRL’S INVITATION
Also by the same Author
Don’t Forget the Kettle
(Vanguard Press), 2009
ISBN: 978 1 84386 535 3
The Kettle in Transit
ISBN: 978 1 903490 563
* Writing as Karen Campbell
Karen Elaine Campbell
THE PARTY GIRL’S INVITATION
© Copyright 2011
Karen Elaine Campbell
The right of Karen Elaine Campbell to be identified as author of
this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All Rights Reserved
No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication
may be made without written permission.
No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced,
copied or transmitted save with the written permission of the publisher, or in accordance with the provisions
of the Copyright Act 1956 (as amended).
Any person who commits any unauthorised act in relation to
this publication may be liable to criminal
prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The people and events in this book are completely fictional and do not necessarily reflect the author’s personal taste and opinions. Any similarity to places or persons living or dead, apart from actual town names, is purely coincidental and is not intended to give offence.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
ISBN 978 1 78465 -193-0
Vanguard is an imprint of
Pegasus Elliot MacKenzie Publishers Ltd.
First Published in paperback 2011
This edition 2016
Sheraton House Castle Park
My thanks go to Paul, for a detailed and informative explanation of the ways of the countryside and an in-depth tour of a beautiful and much treasured country estate. The sad evidence of the despicable habits and sneaky tricks of Monsieur Reynard will remain with me for many years to come.
Yvette, Christina, Jo, Lucy, Aneta, Beth, Alina, Natasha and Tammy; for your effervescent enthusiasm and colourful insight during our infrequent, quite badly attended and hastily prepared book club meetings.
Did anyone ever read the whole book, apart from Lucy?
The train was late; again. Jazz listened out for the familiar chink of the beverage cart, overloaded with glasses and bottles and decided that regardless of the hour, a bourbon on ice would suit him just fine. He was working his way through a mountain of paper and he was up against impossibly tight deadlines on this job. He rubbed at his fingers and flexed them a few times, it was icy cold in here, no wonder the carriage was almost empty.
The only other person in this section of the nine-thirty from Paddington to Bristol, was right down at the other end, by the bicycle rack. She’d been sitting there, ostensibly reading her book, ever since he’d boarded the train. Her long, bleached platinum hair was stuffed up under a jaunty little cap and now a few fine wisps sprouted free to straggle down over one slim bare shoulder. For the moment she was curling one of the loose tendrils around her index finger, playing with the end, expression blank, staring blindly into the middle-distance.
Jazz couldn’t help himself. That skirt was almost indecent; thigh high, barely a scrap of black material, moulded to every curve and revealing miles of silky bare skin between hem and lacy stocking top. She’d completed the outfit with outrageous bright red stilettos and a large over-size fluffy sweater, the latter pulled sideways, over one shoulder, to reveal the straps of expensive, flimsy fuchsia pink underwear beneath. The whole effect was both provocative and sexy, if you liked that obvious kind of blatant ‘rock chic’ grunge thing.
She sensed his eyes on her, and focussed directly on him, clear green eyes bold and knowing, with just a hint of rebellion. He was a bit of a sexy beast, in a polished city kind of way. Might have been worth a second glance, once upon a time. The side of her mouth twitched and she lifted the paperback abandoned in her lap, returning to her book with a sigh, he’d been dismissed.
He could take a hint; he averted his gaze and began staring out of the window, trying to work out exactly where they were. He guessed they were somewhere between Slough and Reading, ploughing on tirelessly towards the heart of the Wiltshire countryside. He wondered where she was headed. One thing was certain, she’d be more than a touch conspicuous wherever she ended up, she’d stand out from the crowd in that get up. Some women courted attention, good or bad, regardless of the consequences.
He dusted a stray hair from his immaculate grey suit and looked down at the upholstery on the seat, the mid fifties elegance of this carriage was long gone, all that remained was the wood panelling and a fine layer of dirt and grime on the seventies vinyl covering the floor. This line boasted high speed connections, but the car they were travelling in was anything but; it must have been pressed into service at very short notice.
With a deft twitch of the wrist he flicked back the cuff of his pristine white shirt and frowned at his watch as the train slowed to a crawl, exhaling a short succinct breath, this was getting ridiculous. He had plans for tonight he needed to be out of the office early. His attention drifted again, drawn towards the graceful, rumpled creature and her invisible ‘don’t touch me’ aura. Her skin was smooth and blemish free and it looked soft enough to touch, but the heavy layer of black eye make-up caked around her eyes, which was now streaking down her narrow face, hinted at tragedy or exhaustion. Either way unkempt and unwashed, she was still an absolute stunner. Her neat white teeth worried at the frayed cuff of her jumper, while she gazed blankly at the pages of the latest Inspector Morse crime thriller.
She felt his eyes on her again and looked directly at him this time, pointedly.
He’d been caught, staring like a schoolboy. He was momentarily flummoxed, and his heart thudded hard, just once, in his chest. He swallowed past the lump in his throat, and cursed as he pressed the wrong key on the keyboard, deleting the work he’d just typed. He’d not felt this gauche in years. How old was she anyhow? In that get up she might be eighteen or nineteen, maybe twenty at best? He was no cradle snatcher, he went in for mature women himself, polished and calm, able to hold a conversation, it was unlikely that this bold, bedraggled creature had seen the inside of a beauty salon, ever. Danger lay in that direction, as surely as night followed day.
He rubbed at his neck, cramping up from the position he’d been sitting in, the hours were killing him, he needed to slow down. He’d been on the go since five this morning and was obviously becoming delusional. Where was that drinks trolley? As he looked back at the screen he had the impression she was laughing at him, though he couldn’t be sure. His Blackberry pinged, as another message came in and he shut it off decisively, he was out of range for the moment.
He stared down again at the papers, spread out on the table, striking at the keyboard in random haste. He wondered what her skin smelled like.
Crystal was not immune; desolate and disillusioned maybe, but she’d have had to be blind and comatose to remain oblivious to his sleek polished charm. She’d picked this carriage because it was unheated, hoping to deter fellow passengers and gain herself a bit of peace and quiet, pity he couldn’t take a hint. She’d been shamefully ogling him from behind the cover of her book for some time now, watching the play of muscles beneath the clean, crisp, cotton shirt; delicious. He managed to exude total delectable sexiness, while dressed in the finest Saville Row cloth and studiously tap-tapping away at a pile of boring old papers. Good job she was off men, for the foreseeable future at least, he gave her goose bumps. As she tried unsuccessfully to engage her brain and pick up the threads of a complicated plot she picked at the chipped nail polish of her right hand, small scarlet flakes dropped onto her skirt; it would all have to come off. She’d go for a decent short French manicure next time, so much more sophisticated then the vampire red talons which she’d favoured whilst living in LA.
He was watching her again, she could almost taste his disapproval, shimmering along the carriage towards her in waves. She engaged his bold glare directly, her lips curling as he stabbed irritably at the keys on his laptop, the poor computer was taking the worst of it, by all accounts. She allowed herself a small flicker of satisfaction, he seemed to find her rather unsettling, probably couldn’t quite handle the kinky socks and skirt combo. It had been bad enough in London, at least she’d managed to look abstract and quirky there and had blended in with the crowds, to a certain degree.
She curled another strand of long, straight hair around her index finger, playing with the end, as she tried to find her place in her book, he had no right to judge her anyhow. She might appear more like a teenage harlot than a grown-up professional celebrity event organiser, but that was the whole point of the thing. Leaving behind all of the trappings of a wealthy lover and profitable lifestyle had been part of the re-location plan after all. Men were so fickle, he was probably trying to look up her skirt, right at this very moment, for all she knew.
The designer clothes and the plush, expensive handbags, still resided in her flat in London, nestled protectively inside their equally expensive dust jackets, unwanted and unused. Her favourite Manolos were on her feet, but there were many other designer trinkets, discarded there too, like yesterday’s news. She cared little for their extravagance, and less for their benefactor, that lifestyle was past now.
Jazz dragged his attention back to his work. Why he was watching such an unusual creature he had no idea, she looked like a bit of a tart if he was honest. The classy and eminently suitable Olivia would be waiting for him at Chippenham railway station as arranged, and if he didn’t get these figures completed in the next half hour he’d have to cancel their dinner plans, which was sure to bring on a case of the sulks. That he could do without.
He wanted her attention on him tonight, a couple of undemanding hours in her company, followed by a night of unbridled passion, her bed or his, he wasn’t fussy. He gave a small satisfied smile, yes, tonight was ‘the’ night alright, he’d expended enough energy on his foxy little debutante already, it was way past time, time to get personal. The thought warmed his belly and fired his blood as the drinks trolley finally rolled into view. He ordered a double. After the week he’d had, he reckoned he’d earned it.
The doors rattled and the windows shook, as the train limped slowly over the points just outside of town, finally straggling to a halt just short of the one and only platform. Crystal took a moment to scrutinise the once familiar landmarks, strangely smaller and more faded than she remembered, she’d done this journey a hundred times or more in her youth, but now with adult eyes, the buildings were less grand and the prestigious viaduct smaller bordering on insignificant. Her eyes pricked, and she rubbed crossly at her face, adding even more grime to the ‘panda’ eyes she’d applied so long ago at the make-up counter in Macy’s, on her way to the airport.
Without conscious thought, she stuffed the book into the top of her carrier bag and tugged randomly at the hem of her skirt, it would just have to do for now. As the train moved again, she uncurled herself from the seat in one lithe movement and glowered at the heavy holdall sprawling in the luggage rack. She was tall and rangy for a girl, more than capable of hefting her own baggage, but that last bout of ‘flu’ had really taken its toll, she was as limp as a rag doll and really couldn’t summon the strength or the effort.
Within moments, there was a sharp irritable intake of breath, and a lightly tanned wrist with a sprinkling of fine dark hair emerged at her right shoulder.
“Allow me,” her saviour snapped, in short precise tones. It would have been a nice voice she reflected, if it hadn’t sounded quite so irate.
As she stepped to one side and allowed him to manhandle her middle eastern style carpet bag down from the overhead compartment, she took a quick peek at his profile; dark brows over blue-grey eyes, a heavy jawline, smooth shaven and exuding just a hint of spice and lips that were almost too full for a man, almost, but not quite.
The bag hit the deck with a heavy thud, and with a brief nod he was gone, off through the carriage and down onto the platform, before she’d even had the opportunity to thank him. She had a brief view of the back of his head as he bent to kiss the woman waiting for him and she smirked, she’d been right about that then, no doubt what was on his mind. Men, they never changed, or at least his sort didn’t. Without warning her eyes rimmed with fresh tears, she was alone now, and the future stretched out ahead of her, bleak and barren. She reached for the bag, handles still warm from his grasp and pulled it up off of the floor, she just needed a rest that was all. She strained to heft the bag over her shoulder and prepared to disembark.
By the time she reached the car park, she was back in control. It was fortunate that her gran had a spare bedroom and her family were prepared to support her. An eccentric bunch, even on a good day, they always rallied round. They’d not probe or ask embarrassing questions, not yet.
A pale, watery sun had just struggled out from behind a bank of ominous looking storm clouds, when there was a sharp whistle to her right. As she turned in the direction of the sound, a smart, low slung silver grey sports car roared off down the hill, the distinctive engine emitting a low growl and pulsing with power.
“Did you see that?” asked a familiar voice, causing her to spin around and grab the young man directly behind her.
“Jez, what are you doing here? You gave me an awful fright. Where’s gran?”
“Mmm, nice to see you too, Tatty.”He grinned to take the sting out of his words as he returned her exuberant hug, deftly avoiding the bag which swung around on her shoulder and narrowly missed his chest.“Gran is in bed, um,” he shuffled his feet.“With a broken hip. She’s fine, or she will be in a couple of weeks when it’s had time to heal a bit,” he gabbled.“ She said we weren’t to worry you with the details.”
As Crystal frowned, he continued, “It’s all been set properly, don’t worry, and she has Norma to look after her.” He paused, “Though I’ve a funny feeling one of them will kill the other before the week is out,” he ended on a smile.
Crystal frowned. “She broke her hip? Why didn’t you wire me? You should have told me. When did this happen?”
“Now, now, don’t go getting into a state. Gran is fine. She slipped on some ice a week or so ago now, you were in LA, and she didn’t want you flying back home in a panic.”