Friday before last ended in a painstakingly embarrassing pass-out, from which I woke dazed and thoroughly mortified. Had it been the hastily gulped down champagne on an empty stomach or the flustered hyperventilation when I had found out that the host of one of London’s best guarded private society events was indeed my (or rather very sadly: NOT my) mysteriously attractive stranger?
It wasn’t until Sunday late afternoon that I was prepared to leave bed and face gloomy reality. Mercifully, the flat was quite deserted. I was still moping around, when James called. “Sophie,” he said when he had poured himself a Scotch, “you won’t believe who I just met!” His eyes alight with amusement and twinkling wilfully, he made a dramatic pause. Trembling slightly, I looked at him, searching his crinkled eyes for an answer. Leon? He laughed softly and shook his head teasingly. I forced my features into a composed smile and shrugged. Sophie E. White, I told myself, do not forfeit the sad bit of self-respect you have left.
An hour and a half later, we were heading over to White’s for a spot of supper. We sat down with a number of James’ old Etonians and I was only half paying attention to their usual business and sports conversation, dwelling on the bubble bath and candles I was yearning for, when the mention of a certain name catapulted me back into the presence.
“Leon?” I sat bolt upright, nearly shouting the name. “Why, yes,” smiled the speaker, a good-natured looking chap called Charles, “do you know him? Jolly good fellow, he is, I say!” Charles bred horses in Wiltshire. One of his most estimated customers, frequently buying his best studs, was a Spanish horse enthusiast, called Leon de Meiras… My heart leapt into my throat and I felt the heat rising in dizzying waves. Leon…
I must have missed the next few minutes of conversation struggling to remain calm and the remainder of the evening passed rather uneventful. “Sophie,” said James once we had settled comfortably with a glass of red at my place some hours later, “Charles has invited us to the country next weekend. He is expecting Leon to join us for dinner on Saturday!” The ring of the name sent jolts of nervous anticipation mingled with delicious tension through my body. A mere week from now I would see him again. This time, I would be prepared, I wouldn’t faint!
The week flew by in a haze of interviews and press invitations, leaving me hardly any time to dwell on the upcoming dinner party. The little time I could find, I spent foraging for cute country and equestrian gear, preparing my weekend getaway in style.
Friday loomed in what felt like no time. We left London around 4pm, all packed for a weekend on Charles’ Wiltshire estate. I had packed tweeds and cashmere, riding-style boots, gloves and a cute red hat, donned with a single pheasant feather. For dinner I would wear a long, flowing silk gown of midnight blue and a pale golden shoulder wrap. Almost laughing at myself in exasperation, I had also packed some crème coloured satin and lace lingerie (I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need it – mortification makes for a good contraception…)
Friday evening passed pleasantly with Charles showing us around the estate. After a light spot of supper and a mollifying glass of sherry, I turned in for an early night. Tomorrow, I thought when I had snuggled into the deliciously soft pillows of my four-poster, tomorrow…
Having spent most of Saturday outside and feeling thoroughly windswept, I withdrew early to get ready. A hot, foamy bath had been run for me and a soft robe had been laid out and the despite it being still early into autumn a fire had been lit against the chill of the old stone walls. I soaped myself with slow, languorous movements, dreaming of grey temples and an aquiline nose – would Leon soon touch my soft skin?
Dressed all in midnight blue silk and sapphire earrings, I stepped onto the landing of the first floor, where a sweeping staircase arched its way beautifully into the entrance hall. Several gentlemen in black tie were assembled at the foot of the stairs and I could just see the back of a particularly handsome one with dark hair…
The group had already been joined by a considerable number of ladies, one of which seemed to be entertaining them with an amusing anecdote. Oh blast, I had hoped for a grand entry and now, nobody would pay much attention. Steeling myself inwardly, I descended the sweeping stairs and was graciously greeted by Charles, who lend me his arm and began introducing me to the crowd.
And then… finally, he stood before me. Leon. If he was surprised to see me, he was a good actor. “Leon,” said Charles “I would like you to meet Miss Sophie White.” Leon smiled, inclined his head courteously and replied “Ah, Miss White, I am very pleased to see you have made a full recovery.” My heart was rapidly beating in my throat. Fine. If he wanted to play cool – well, so could I!
A delicious seven courses later we proceeded to cognac in the drawing room. What was going on? Did Leon not remember me? Impossible. Bristling with frustration, I could hardly concentrate on my conversation when I noticed the edge of a crème-coloured card sticking out of my handbag. Sneaking a peak at the now familiar handwriting, I read ‘In the stables – midnight. L’.
Was I up for another mystery rendezvous? I felt torn between curiosity and the desire to run. But then… who was I kidding? Wasn’t this exactly why I had come here? To meet Leon and to get a second chance.
The minutes seemed to creep by until just before midnight. Hesitantly, I made my way across the dark grounds to the stables, where a door stood slightly ajar. Quivering with nerves, goose bumps erupting on my naked arms, I edged nearer and peered inside. It was dark and smelled of hay.
“I am glad you came,” said a low voice behind me and I spun round. There he stood, leaning casually against the wall, a slight smile on his shadowy face. He walked over to me until he stood barely inches away and considered me with a quizzical look. I gasped when he suddenly seized my arm and pulled me inside.