“Is that you?” Three words, and her husband’s voice betrays him. It’s not even possible to describe him as worse for wear. He’s drunk. Of course he is. At this hour, anything else would be a miracle.
“Yes, Charles.” Patrice looks in on him, seated in his usual armchair, facing the fire. “As you see, I’ve returned.”
With the study’s leather armchairs and mahogany panelling, Charles has succeeded in replicating a gentleman’s club in miniature. A place of rationality and calm, where women are unwelcome. He calls over his shoulder. “Where have you been?”
Finger by finger, Patrice pulls off a soft butter-coloured buckskin glove. Must she put up with his supercilious Undersecretary of State for Home Affairs voice? “I hope I’m not expected to account for my every move.”
“Why so defensive?” Her husband’s head appears around the wing of the armchair. “All I wanted to know is if you caught tonight’s news.”
“I missed it.” She unpins her hat, stabs the felt band. “If you must know, I took a box at the theatre.”
“Then you won’t have heard the rumpus. Rumours went flying. World War Three, the King.” Charles makes a double-clicking noise, more ‘giddy-up’ than the indication of a slit throat she presumes is his intention. But at least he isn’t morose. Already, he’s said more than he’s said to her for the past week.
Curious, Patrice pauses in the doorway. “Why on earth –?”
“Big Ben ground to a halt. A flock of starlings, would you believe? Have a drink with me.” Without waiting for her reply, he unstops the crystal decanter that sits within convenient reach, on the side table next to his chair. “Come on, live a little!”
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