“Oh! Sir Greene,” Eugenia said, looking back at him. “You surprise me!” Raised almost to Herbert Greene’s eye level as she bent to pick up the Lego from the carpet was a derrière of such startling loveliness, it was all he could do not to exclaim aloud. She held his gaze half a second longer than might have been deemed necessary, then gave a little wiggle before returning to the vertical once again.
“I’m going now to pick Lucas up from nursery,” she declared.
“Yes. Er, good,” he said. “Cheerio then.” And off she went.
The new au pair in the Greenes’ Holland Park household was, to borrow Raymond Chandler’s phrase, the sort of blonde who could cause a bishop to kick a hole in a stained-glass window. She was 19 and smart as hell and – unless Herbert was imagining it – definitely seemed to be giving her employer the glad eye.
When she had arrived on the scene, the talk at the nursery gates had all been about how crazy Violet Greene – the new Lady Drifford – was to let a number like that within 100 miles of her husband. “Miss Latvia” they called her, although she was actually Moldovan. Au pair recruitment etiquette was well established: you vetted them carefully and you chose Rosa Klebb over Heidi every time. What they didn’t know was that Violet had plans for Heidi.
“Well?” she said later that week at a hastily convened meeting in the kitchen, drawing impatiently on one of the Rothmans King Sizes she was supposed to have given up some time ago. “Are you seriously telling me he hasn’t made any sort of pass at you?”
“No,” said Eugenia. “He has been the perfect gentleman.”
“You did the thing with your boobs?”
“And you tried the coming-out-of-the‑shower trick?”
“Of course.” There was a pause. “I think your husband, perhaps, is not all that interested in the sex,” Eugenia said with a slight smirk and an impertinently questioning tilt of the head.
Violet nearly choked on her cigarette. Remembering how, three years earlier, she had become the third Lady Drifford was enough to rule that out. Dammit! She was banking – and the term was far from accidental – on Eugenia’s charms being enough to turn the old fool’s head.
The arrangement was simple: Eugenia was to encourage Herbert’s hands to stray – how far she went being up to her. She was then to raise all manner of hell about it, whereupon Violet would take a) the moral high ground and b) Herbert to the cleaners in the no-publicity quickie divorce his family would insist on. Everyone – except Herbert – would be happy, and Eugenia would scoop, as promised, a cool 10 grand.
Yet Violet’s scheme, seemingly foolproof, was falling at the final and – she had supposed – lowest fence. The horse had been led to water but was showing no interest in drinking. What on earth was to be done?
It was in late May – just as Violet’s thoughts were turning to giving Eugenia the heave-ho and trying a brunette instead – that Herbert, out of the blue, served her with divorce papers. She almost collapsed at the gall of it. The betrayal! Somehow his lawyers were privy to the exact details of her arrangement with Eugenia, and if she didn’t assent quietly to his petition for divorce, relinquishing all claim on his fortune, those same lawyers would be contacting the police.
“But that’s – that’s – blackmail!” she shrieked at Herbert.
“How ironic you should say that,” Herbert replied mildly.
Eugenia must have caved in and told him. Had the girl – who had agreed so readily to her scheme – had some sort of attack of conscience? Had she, heaven help them all, taken pity on the old goat? Violet was – if not exactly ruined – right back where she’d started.
A fortnight after their decree nisi she was shouldering through the newsagent when she caught sight of the cover of Hello! magazine. “From Russia With Love” read the headline. “The 14th Earl of Drifford shares his joy as he marries Slavic beauty.”
A moment of white rage overcame her, and then a feeling of grim resignation. “Twenty Rothmans,” she said glumly when she reached the counter.