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Thursday 24 August 2017

Beautiful Strangers: Chapters Twenty to Twenty-Two


Beth couldn’t get Lou out of her mind. Like a seed, once planted her feelings started to grow as thoughts of Lou dominated her. She knew they had made a tremendous connection, not just on a physical level but also a spiritual one too. She needed to know how Lou felt. But was she being silly? Unsophisticated? She didn’t think so. As soon as she arrived home she looked in her bag for Lou’s number. It wasn’t there.
Frantically she tipped everything out, scattering the entire contents over the living room floor. She knew exactly where she had put it. Sickened, it dawned on her that H must have searched her bag and destroyed it.
‘How dare she?’ Beth shouted into her handbag as she pulled it inside out tearing the lining. ‘The bitch. The fucking bitch. Just wait till I see her!’ Fury flooded Beth. ‘Now I’ll have to wait for Lou to contact me.’ She flung her handbag onto the floor.
Marching over to her drinks cabinet, she splashed whisky into a crystal tumbler. Snatching up the glass she went to stare into the large mirror above the fireplace. Her anger was so great that she could see nothing but blackness. And Hyacinth’s face. In her head she could hear Hyacinth’s voice. ‘I will make you want only me.’
Beth spun round, violently shaking her head, spilling the whisky on the carpet. Her room was as it should be. She turned back. The mirror now reflected her, and her surroundings. She was suddenly deathly tired and took sanctuary in her bed. She stayed there all day, only getting up to visit the bathroom. She felt ill. On Tuesday she rang into work pleading sickness, then unplugged the phone and switched off her mobile. She needed isolation, to be able to go within herself and look for answers.
On Wednesday morning Beth was working alongside George Dickinson.
‘Feeling better today, Beth?’ George enquired pleasantly while they prepared to scrub up.
‘Yes. Thank you for asking. It was nothing really, but I could not risk coming into work.’
‘Understood.’ George moved the taps into the on position with his elbows and began to scrub under the running water. ‘How did you enjoy your weekend away with my wife?’
Suddenly there was a silence. Everyone’s ears pricked, waiting for Beth’s answer.
Beth smiled thinly, ‘We had a pleasant enough time.’
She dried her hands, tossed the towel into the bin, then held her hands up for the nurse to help with her surgical gloves.
All the while George whistled tunelessly. Then he stopped, glanced over his shoulder, his hands still under the running water, and said, ‘I haven’t seen her since she got back. She went straight to Carlisle. Has she been in touch with you?’
Beth pretended not to hear. She walked off pushing the operating theatre doors open with her hip.

Friday 18 August 2017

Beautiful Strangers: Chapters Seventeen to Nineteen


Beth was haunted by thoughts of Lou, angry with herself for allowing her mind to be taken over by a woman she’d only met briefly. Lou had had a massive effect on her, the like of nothing before and she couldn’t stop Lou’s beautiful face dancing through her mind no matter how hard she tried. Lady Luck couldn’t make their paths cross again — could she?
The sound of the piano interrupted her thoughts. She was ready to dance then perhaps she could push all thoughts of Lou out of her head.
Wrapped up in herself she was unaware of the white rage Hyacinth was fighting to control and the several large gins she had downed in quick succession.
Better we sit in silence, H thought. She couldn’t trust herself to speak for fear of her anger bursting out. She needed to calm down. If Penny fucked up the delivery of the diamond consignment they would all be in real danger. Hyacinth would kill her if she did. Hopefully Alison, one of her trusted coven members, would be able to save the deal. H needed to be in Tynemouth, not in London seducing a woman she suddenly had doubts about. Just wait till she got her hands on Penny.
They had arranged to meet Constance at nine-thirty so had another hour to kill. Beth, happily preoccupied with thoughts of Lou, looked over at the piano and gasped, ‘Wow!’
Lou was playing the baby grand.
‘What? Did you say something, darling?’ H said.
Leaning forward in her seat, Beth rubbed her eyes hard. Lou evaporated. That was a rather tasteful vision, she thought.
‘It’s nothing, H. I thought I saw someone I knew. Another g and t darling?’ Beth mimicked.
Hyacinth nodded absently, not paying attention, she missed the sarcasm. Fury still surged through her over the phone call from her Number One. How dare Penny try to dictate the terms of sharing? How bloody dare she remind her — Hyacinth — about the basic rules of the group when she should have been out meeting the Contact.

Friday 11 August 2017

Beautiful Strangers: Chapters Thirteen to Sixteen


Hyacinth, still in her party dress, pulled away from the Hull ferry terminal. The package delivered safely by the courier was zipped into her handbag. It meant a trip to her London Bank sooner rather than later. She didn’t like keeping the diamonds in the house. The nagging voice in her head kept urging her to organize a safe deposit box in Newcastle. This was a personal consignment after all; it had nothing to do with the Coven.

Daphne’s sleep was disturbed by the telephone ringing. Anticipating a hospital emergency she paled when she recognized her caller’s voice.
‘I have been thinking about you, Daphne. I have decided I would like you to be the new Matron of my unmarried mothers’ unit in Carlisle.’ H casually fondled the bag of diamonds she’d carefully placed on her bedside cabinet. ‘It’s such a beautiful Georgian building and I need someone with your expertise and someone I can trust.’
Daphne attempted to speak.
‘No, Daphne. You must listen to me. This is how it’s going to be. You will move into the self-contained ground floor flat within the premises. I will double your hospital salary, provide you with a new car, secure your pension, and increase your holidays. In return you will hand in your resignation today, when you go on duty. Then I want you to take a holiday until you come to me in Carlisle. There is one other thing: you will never see or try to contact Beth McConnell again.’
There was silence while Hyacinth allowed Daphne time to digest the implications and seriousness of her words.
‘Hyacinth, thank you. What can I say? I don’t really want to go to Carlisle, I’m quite happy where I am.’ Daphne floundered, dreading the consequences if she dared to refuse.
‘Are you, darling? Do you think the Hospital Board will want you to stay when they learn about how you prey on the female student nurses and the dreadful things you make them do so they score good marks in their ward assessments.’ Hyacinth spoke calmly. She knew Daphne would accept her offer. She could afford to be patient.
‘Why are you doing this, Hyacinth? I’ve never done anything to hurt you. I’ve always been protective.’
‘That’s exactly why I know I’ve made a good choice and I can rely on you to make the right decision.’
‘You’ve given me no choice, have you? I’ll submit my resignation today.’
‘Good. Welcome aboard. We’ll speak later. You won’t regret it.’ Hyacinth replaced the receiver, admired herself in the dressing-table mirror, all the while congratulating herself on her latest plan. That was Daphne neatly moved out of the Beth equation and she had the perfect Matron into the bargain.
Three hours later, Daphne handed in her notice, collected her belongings and left the hospital without telling a soul.
Later that day, rushing along the corridor between wards, Beth, half asleep, literally bumped into Hyacinth.
‘H! What are you doing here?’
‘Hello darling. I’ve come to tell you my good news.’ H lifted her slipping shoulder bag back onto her shoulder. She wanted to prolong this conversation.
‘News? What news?’
‘I’ve accepted a new position, darling,’ Hyacinth lied.
‘A job?’
‘Yes, as you so sweetly put it. A job.’
╩╗Here, of course. I want to be close to you. They’ve been head hunting me for ages so I thought, why not? It’s the perfect opportunity for us darling. I officially accepted this morning, but I won’t be starting for a few months. We have to keep it to ourselves until the official announcement.’ She flicked her hair seductively, expecting Beth to be delighted.
Beth didn’t know if she was or not. It was a bit of a bombshell. Through gritted teeth she forced a smile, ‘Well, isn’t that nice. Congratulations, doctor.’
Linking Beth to walk with her, H continued, ‘I’ve booked our London weekend. We’re going to have a wonderful time, darling, so be ready to go two weeks on Friday. We’ll take the early train. George can drive us to the station.’ She loved rubbing his nose in it. ‘Oh and I have some more friends I want you to meet. I’ll arrange a little get together.’
‘Don’t jump the gun. I could be working.’
‘You’re not, I’ve already checked with George.’
Hyacinth stroked Beth’s arm. Beth wished she would stop treating her like a pet Poodle.
‘Darling, you have forgiven me for last night?’
‘Of course.’ Beth pulled away before anyone had the chance to see them together. It’ll be like this all the time when she works here, she thought, we’ll be continually ducking and diving. Hyacinth liked to take risks; she didn’t. She decided she had put it off long enough. It was time to talk to Lindsay. She could trust her lifelong friend. She would call her tonight.
Uncharacteristically she crashed through the doors into the ward causing the nursing staff to wonder what had ruffled Miss McConnell’s feathers.