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The Girl On The Balcony

The Girl On The Balcony

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Love at first sight does not exist. Or so Matt Steele thinks, until he sees the girl on the balcony at the London premiere of his latest movie.
Desperate to get to know her without his fame getting in the way, the Hollywood star assumes the name of the character he is due to play in a forthcoming movie. In this guise, he meets teacher Laura Marshall and they fall in love. It seems Matt's plan has worked.
But Laura believes she is in love with an out of work actor called Jonathan Mann. What will happen when she discovers their love is based on a lie?
More crucially, how will their fledgling romance survive when Matt has to return to the States without her? Especially when, through acombination of misfortune, misunderstanding and the malice of a distinctly fishy character, it seems as though the parting will be permanent.
The narrative switches between London and the States as the protagonists learn from their mistakes.
Was their love just a holiday romance or does it mean so much more?
Love at first sight does not exist. Or so Matt Steele thinks, until he sees the girl on the balcony at the London premiere of his latest movie.
Desperate to get to know her without his fame getting in the way, the Hollywood star assumes the name of the character he is due to play in a forthcoming movie. In this guise, he meets teacher Laura Marshall and they fall in love. It seems Matt's plan has worked.
But Laura believes she is in love with an out of work actor called Jonathan Mann. What will happen when she discovers their love is based on a lie?
More crucially, how will their fledgling romance survive when Matt has to return to the States without her? Especially when, through acombination of misfortune, misunderstanding and the malice of a distinctly fishy character, it seems as though the parting will be permanent.
The narrative switches between London and the States as the protagonists learn from their mistakes.
Was their love just a holiday romance or does it mean so much more?

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Publish date: Feb 19, 2013
Added to Scribd: Feb 25, 2013
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reservedISBN:9781481782760
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  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Chapter 8
  • Chapter 9
  • Chapter 10
  • Chapter 11
  • Chapter 12
  • Chapter 13
  • Chapter 14
  • Chapter 15
  • Chapter 16
  • Chapter 17
  • Chapter 18
  • Chapter 19
  • Chapter 20
  • Chapter 21
  • Chapter 22
  • Chapter 23
  • Chapter 24
  • Chapter 25




Girl On The Balcony

The Girl On The Balcony

The Girl On The Balcony

Frances Hart

AuthorHouse™ 1663 Liberty Drive Bloomington, IN 47403 www.authorhouse.com Phone: 1-800-839-8640

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. © 2013 by Frances Hart. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author. Published by AuthorHouse 02/05/2013

ISBN: 978-1-4817-8275-3 (sc) ISBN: 978-1-4817-8276-0 (e)

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only. Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock. This book is printed on acid-free paper. Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.


Chapter 1
The Hollywood star stepped out of the limousine and the crowd went wild. A tsunami of sound rolled round the nearby streets. The noise was unbelievable. Matt Steele laughed. It was fantastic. He was used to premieres and to the crowds that accompanied them but this . . . this was something else. The heady sense of anticipation strengthened as he went towards the walkway specially constructed for the occasion in Leicester Square. It was slow progress: an autograph for a starry eyed teenager here, a few words with an enthusiastic fan there, a special wave for those further back who could not get to him. He finally reached his destination and eased up the steps to the top. Now the

Frances Hart

people at the back of the crowd would be able to see him more clearly. It was difficult not to be unaffected by the warmth of this London crowd. Matt had been operating on autopilot, feeling as though he had lost the plot somewhere over the Atlantic: not surprising, given that he had jetted over to London on the back of a gruelling filming schedule. But now, he felt ready for anything. Galvanised by the excitement, he waved at the people below, his smile widening even further at the roar that erupted in response. The noise escalated as he moved along the walkway towards the camera crew and the television presenter who was beginning his introduction. There was time for one more acknowledgement of the crowd before he had to focus on the interview and Matt turned to do just that. Suddenly, out of the blue, the back of his neck tingled and he felt a compulsion to look towards a nearby building. There on the balcony was a girl. Their eyes met. Time stood still. Then the girl raised the wine glass she was holding as if in salute. She smiled and the world tilted. Matt’s mind blanked. He forgot where he was. He forgot who he was. Only one thought blazed through his mind: she’s the one.

The Girl On The Balcony

The roar that erupted at the end of the television presenter’s skilful introduction brought him back to some semblance of reality. Summoning up every ounce of his acting ability he managed to make his response to the girl, a nod and a smile, look casual before turning towards the interviewer. He might feel as though he had been sideswiped, as though his world had been knocked off its axis, but he had enough self-preservation to know that he could not afford to let his interest show. He was damned if he was going to let anyone guess how stunned he felt. And how desperate he was to find out her identity. Who was she? From far away Matt registered the interviewer’s first question and answered with the light hearted insouciance expected of him. Afterwards he always regarded it as one of the best performances of his life; he could not remember what he was asked or what he replied. He knew only that the most important question had remained unasked. And unanswered. Who was she? He laughed dutifully as the interviewer wrapped up the interview on a humorous note, even though the person he most wanted to laugh at was himself. He risked a last quick look towards the balcony before moving on and down towards the cinema entrance. Nothing. She was gone.

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And, finally, so was he, with a last wave to the crowd. “A real nice guy, Matt Steele,” the interviewer commented as the team watched the star disappear. “A real professional. Not like some. No wonder the fans adore him.” “I bet that girl on the balcony will remember today. Almost like sodding Juliet,” was the cameraman’s reply. He began to pack up his equipment. “Wonder who she is.” Inside the cinema Matt was still reeling. Love at first sight did not exist. It belonged in romantic fiction. It did not happen in real life. So why had he been blindsided by an unknown girl on a balcony? More to the point. What was he going to do about it? Who was she?

Half an hour earlier
“Just look at that.” Laura Marshall did not have to reply to her friend’s remark. She was already looking. On this July


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evening the only part of Leicester Square that was familiar was its name. The buildings along one side of the square were embellished by scaffolding and long snakes of trailing black cable, camera crews occupied the balcony of a near by restaurant and the square itself was the site of an invasion: people en masse as far as the eye could see. Above the pavement a wooden walkway had been erected for the cast of the film, ensuring that they could be seen by as many of their fans as possible although there was only one name that was on everyone’s lips: Matt Steele. The dais near the steps at one end was already occupied. Laura could see an interviewer and cameraman at work, not that she recognised the interviewees, an older male with a younger female companion. A trophy wife? Girlfriend? Beyond them the far flight of steps swept down towards the red carpet in front of the cinema. The atmosphere was electric. You could almost feel the buzz. You could certainly hear it. Laura looked at the mass of people and wondered whether there was even any room for a couple more. Above the cinema huge billboards screamed the film’s title Freeway along with the actors’ names and pictures while in front of the entrance, where the

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stars would descend to ground level, the crowd was thickest and noisiest. Here, a barrier separated the masses from the elite. The interview finished and Laura watched the couple walk down the steps towards the cinema where more people in evening dress were milling around. She shook her head guiltily. She hoped they had not missed Matt Steele. They were late because she had not been ready and then she had had to go back for her phone. Rachel, who had been looking forward to this for weeks, was gazing enraptured at the scene. “Isn’t this great. Can’t you feel the atmosphere!” Her excitement bubbled over as she gestured at one of the hoardings, “Look.” The larger than life poster featured the star of the film with his blonde hair, high cheekbones and keen blue eyes. The trade mark grin beamed at the crowd beneath him. “Isn’t he the most fantastic person in the universe!” “That’s what you said about your dad when he said he would pay for your holiday.” “Cynic.” “Me? As if. Who am I to comment on the statistical improbability of even seeing the top of


The Girl On The Balcony

a certain film star’s head? Let alone gazing into his eyes, which is what you’ve been fantasising about.” Rachel laughed. It was true. “We’ll never know unless we make a move.” She narrowed her eyes as she looked at the red carpet area, “Come on, I think I can see a way in. Are you ready for this?” She started forward then glanced back as Laura stood her ground. “Rachel, do you mind if I don’t come with you? The idea of forcing my way in there doesn’t appeal. Instead I’m going to be really boring and mature,” Rachel raised an eyebrow, “and go and have a drink over there.” Laura gestured in the opposite direction. “No way. Think what you’re missing. You’re throwing away your chance to experience the closest mankind has come to perfection.” “And you’re throwing away your chance to get to the front. Go on Rachel. I’ll catch up with you later. A good job I remembered my phone.” The last sentence was lost on her friend who was already knee deep in the crowd. Laura turned. She would have to go against the flow of humanity if she wanted to reach the marginally calmer waters on the other side. More people swept into the square, jostling her and knocking her bag against her legs.


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“Oops. Sorry. Oh, hi, Miss Marshall. Didn’t expect to see you here.” Laura recognised the voice, and the face, of one of her pupils. She and Rachel both taught English in the same girls’ school and this particular student was known to all the staff for the quickness of her mind and her cheerful disregard for any rule she regarded as irrelevant. She was also known for her habit of changing her hairstyle and colour. This evening it was dark brown and asymmetric in cut. It looked superb and Laura said so after she had greeted the fifteen year old. “Thank you, Miss. What are you doing here? I didn’t know you liked Matt Steele. Oh. I know. I bet you’ve come with Miss Eliot.” “And you’d be right Jess. If you’re quick you might find Miss Eliot in that crowd over there.” She pointed in the direction Rachel had taken. “I’m going in the other direction to gaze dreamily at a tall, cool, “she paused for effect, “glass.” “Miss! You’d rather have a drink than see Matt Steele? How can I ever believe in anything you say after this!” Jess grinned. In her view, Miss Marshall was a great teacher. She made her lessons fun and interesting and, partly because she was young, related well with her students. She was also the sort

The Girl On The Balcony

of person who could wear anything and make it look good which certainly made her stand out among the staff. Today she had teamed a teal coloured skirt and matching camisole with a jacket of embroidered Indian cotton. Her dark hair fell over her shoulders rather than being kept out of the way as it normally was when she was teaching. “I’ve evidently got no taste. At least, that’s what Miss Eliot tells me.” She smiled before adding the clincher, “I prefer Johnny Depp.” With that she turned away. She did not always have the last word with Jess Armitage so it was satisfying when it happened. What was not satisfying was the discovery that the tables normally gracing this section of pavement had been cleared away. Now what? She had to get out of the crowd. She looked around and homed in on the entrance to a restaurant. Perhaps they would let her take refuge in there if she asked nicely. Several minutes later Laura was being ushered through the first floor restaurant to the bar. She sat down near the open French windows leading out to a balcony as a small group of women went through, taking advantage of the late evening sun and looking at the crowds of people below, no doubt. Thank goodness she was out of the chaos.


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She smiled at the waitress who came up to take her order, the same waitress who had earlier sympathised with her need to get away from the crowd. This was a much better way of spending her evening. Laura relaxed while she waited for her wine to arrive, closing her eyes and letting the noise of the crowd outside slide away. Her mind drifted to the reason she was here, why she had agreed to spend a lovely summer evening in a crowded place in central London and it was not because she was obsessed by the prospect of seeing Matt Steele. She could see why Rachel fantasised about him—she was not blind—but she preferred live theatre; apart from Johnny Depp, it was stage actors who featured in her fantasies. Rachel, in contrast, had been putting Matt Steele at the top of her Christmas list for years. Unfortunately, Santa Claus had not yet obliged. She had agreed to come a long time ago, back in March, after her former boyfriend Neil, now officially designated the love rat, had dumped her by text when she had discovered he was cheating on her. Having an affair with some woman who worked in the same office and then dumping her by text might seem like a cliché but it had hurt. It had made her realise how


The Girl On The Balcony

little she meant to him. Now she could not understand what she had seen in him. Rachel had designated Neil as a love rat, wondering aloud if she ought to call the pest control people on the grounds that she knew one rodent that could do with extermination. “What you want is a nice slow acting poison,” she had declared before trying to take her mind away from Neil, a k a the love rat, by reading aloud some gossip about Matt Steele in a celeb magazine left behind by a previous customer; they were in a wine bar at the time. Unlike the champagne Rachel had ordered to celebrate Laura’s escape, the diversionary tactic had not been a total success; she was still preoccupied with Neil’s perfidy, and the film star was Rachel’s obsession not hers. However, it had led to her promising to come to the premiere. Or rather, to be accurate, to join the crowds outside the cinema. Not even Rachel had been able to solve the thorny problem of how you managed to get tickets. She recalled the rising excitement in Rachel’s voice on discovering that her idol was coming to London for the premiere of his latest film. “Wow. Imagine seeing him in the flesh.” She had lowered her voice before adding, “Even nicer to see him in the buff, of course. You never know. Hope springs

Outside the noise of the crowd had become intense. She was above the walkway. Why was he wasting time on an alliterative bimbo when he could have me?” She paused. she had a good view of the platform where the cameraman and interviewer were poised. Mia Masters.Frances Hart eternal and all that. The sight that met her eyes was amazing. The star must be due any moment now. She smiled at the waitress. Good. “We have just got to be there. waiting for the imminent arrival of the star. Another guest edged her way past and out of the French windows. and even better. Belatedly Laura cottoned on. Laura opened her eyes and returned to the present. “I’m not supposed to suggest this.” Laura looked blank. Especially now he’s split from his girlfriend. took her drink and went outside on to the balcony. The friendly waitress swung by at that moment with Laura’s glass of wine and said conspiratorially.” So here they were. The waitress inclined her head in the direction of the balcony. There was a space at the further end. but it might be quite a good moment to take your drink outside. she realised incredulously. The decibel and excitement levels outside were beginning to rise. Laura looked after her and saw that the group on the balcony had grown. As were 12 .

” Laura refused to remember that eerie moment when time stood still. “He was probably thinking of the film or what he 13 .” Rachel was trying. I can’t believe you got that close without even trying. who liked Jonny Depp. had succeeded and she had not even got near her idol. “It wasn’t that close. Time seemed to be suspended. Rachel would be green with envy. He might have looked in my direction but that’s all. The crowd was going wild. She smiled. without much success to get over the fact that Laura. And he saw you. Rachel. come on. She looked down. Their gazes caught. And she would never tell her that for a split second time had stopped. He didn’t see me as such. To see Matt Steele looking up at her. She watched the star turn back to his interview. Matt Steele must be here. Cries of “Matt Steele.The Girl On The Balcony all his fans. Matt Steele. Laura was caught up in the excitement and leaned against the balcony to see better just as the interviewer moved in more closely on his quarry leaving her with an uninterrupted view. “It’s not fair. Get real. Oh. You saw him. “were reverberating round and rising in a crescendo. Laura found herself lifting her glass in salute.

It did sound a bit pretentious.” It was later that evening and they had ducked into a pub before making their way to the Underground. I mean. how many people actually get close to a film star? Is it possible?” “What are you drinking?” “Something that is supposed to be a Pinot Grigio but doesn’t quite make it. His star 14 . the fact that I was looking at him from a distance is a bit symbolic. “If you think about it. it was too warm. even if they were inside the hot room rather than outside on the pavement.” “It must be the result of all those sixth form lessons on poetry criticism then.” Laura laughed. “You’re right. grimacing slightly.” “What must be?” “The rubbish you’re talking. and rather too near to the television screen above their heads although nobody was actually watching the endless news reports that provided part of the background noise. I was just contemplating that it must be very difficult to get to know him properly. Laura took a sip of her white wine.Frances Hart was going to say in the interview or even his latest girlfriend. They had managed to find seats. I was just a girl on a balcony.

The Girl On The Balcony

status would get in the way. Anyway, I must admit, he did look quite nice.” “Quite nice! Huh!” Rachel tried to think of an analogy. “That’s a bit like saying Hamlet is not a bad play.” Laura laughed. “Anyway, cheers.” Laura took another sip of her wine, her nose wrinkling at the taste, while Rachel, whose choice was a red wine of indeterminate heritage, swirled it around looking at the pattern it made and tried not to feel gutted because Laura had actually had a good view of Matt Steele while she had only caught a glimpse of the top of his head. “Did you see Jess Armitage in the crowd? I bumped into her shortly after I’d left you. Told her I preferred Johnny Depp.” “You’ll never hear the last of that. No. I must have missed her but given the number of people, that’s hardly surprising. I bet she managed to worm her way to the front and I’ll hear all about it. About how she was really close and could have touched him. I hope she didn’t manage to talk to him. That would be too much given the fact that I was the only one who did not manage to get a good view. Thank goodness


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there’s only this week of term to go. Perhaps she’ll have forgotten by September.” “Get a grip, Rachel. It was just a sheer fluke as far as I was concerned and Jess probably didn’t see much more than you did. Just give her some extra homework or something.” They both laughed at the thought of Jess doing extra homework. She was selective in her response to the homework she already had. Rachel’s eye was caught by the next item on the screen above them. “Oh, look Laura, the premiere’s on the news. I’ve got to see this. Look, there’s the crowd, I didn’t realise how many people were there. There must be thousands. Wait, yes, there’s Matt Steele and there—there’s you!” They both gasped as the camera caught the moment when the star looked in Laura’s direction. They saw her raise her glass in salute, saw her smile. It dazzled the room. Laura’s wine glass went flying and she leapt to her feet to avoid the spillage. Several people at the nearby tables in the pub heard the commotion and turned their heads to look at the screen and then at her. Laura went red and dabbed ineffectually at the spilled wine with a serviette that had been left behind by a previous customer.

The Girl On The Balcony

“I didn’t know I was on camera.” “Wow. I can’t believe it. You’re on the news. And you look great. In fact,” she narrowed her eyes,” you look as though you know each other. You haven’t been holding out on me by any chance have you?” She glanced at her friend who was preoccupied with the spilt wine. “I bet the press are already thinking in terms of you being Matt Steele’s latest girlfriend. They’ll be salivating trying to find out who you are and how long you’ve been together. You’re going to be famous.” Laura dumped the ball of sodden paper into her glass. “Come on, Rachel. He just happened to look in my direction, that’s all.” Although she recalled that odd moment when time had seemed to stand still. “He’s an American film star for heaven’s sake. This is reality.” She gestured at the busy pub scene around her. “He’s at some fantastic, glamorous party surrounded by fabulous looking women in designer dresses and killer shoes, drinking champagne, and I’m, I’m on my way to sort out this wine I’ve spilled. But at least the next glass might be something I can drink!” And, smiling, she made her way through the crowd to the bar, leaving Rachel to sigh over the interview with the Freeway star that was currently rolling across the screen.


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Matt sat bolt upright as the television camera focussed on the girl on the balcony and the moment their gazes had collided. It was still comparatively early. He and his agent had returned to his hotel room a short while before; they had left the party pleading jet lag. They were supposed to be going over plans for the following day although he was not in the right mood for work. He wanted to switch off and had absentmindedly turned on the television as soon as he came through the door. There might be an old movie on that he could use to tune out. He had poured himself a drink, gesturing to Peter to help himself and sat down, half listening to Peter’s comments about the party, before realising that the television was tuned to a news channel and the current item was about the premiere. And there she was. The drink nearly went flying. The jolt came again. And the insistence: This one. I’m going crazy was his first thought, followed by a second: I have to meet her. The shot faded into one of his interview. His companion had also caught the moment on screen and Matt’s reaction, although he did not refer to it. He knew Matt of old. Instead he went on with


The Girl On The Balcony

the conversation as though he had noticed nothing, “She was quite glamorous don’t you think?” Matt put his glass on the table. Carefully. “No. Not glamorous. Gorgeous. Devastating. Her smile. Dazzling.” Peter Yates, manager, agent, friend, brother in spirit if not by blood, rose to his feet with characteristic languid grace and strolled over to the side table. He picked up the decanter and poured some brandy into a glass. “We are talking about the same girl aren’t we?” He was sure they were not. “The blonde who was all over you tonight. After she had fought off all the opposition that is. And conveniently forgotten about her fiancé if the ring on her finger was anything to go by. What was her name again?” He strolled back, his relaxed demeanour masking his alertness. He had not heard such a positive response from his friend about a woman for a long, long time. Since before Mia. Yes, this was very interesting. “Annabel I think. The blonde that is. I don’t know her name.” Peter’s eyebrow rose. “I’m not following.” “The girl on the television just now. On the balcony.” He gestured towards the screen. “It was


Frances Hart

weird but I felt as though I knew her. Even though I have never seen her before in my life.” Peter looked at his friend. The jacket of his tux had been discarded as soon as they had come through the door. His cuff links were in a pile on the coffee table along side the forgotten brandy glass and the tie was on the floor. He had undone the top button of his shirt His thick blonde hair was tousled where he had run his fingers through it. Matt went on, “It was before the premiere. Just before the interview in fact. I saw this completely unknown girl on a balcony. And it felt.” He stopped, grinned at his friend, “And this is going to sound like some rubbish script that would never make it in a thousand years. It felt as though she was standing there, waiting for me. Then she raised her glass in some sort of salute, as if she knew me.” He paused. The words might be banal. The emotion was anything but. Why was he reacting like this? It made no sense. He ploughed on, “She smiled right at me. It bowled me over and it was, I don’t know how to explain it, as though the world had changed. And don’t even try to tell me love at first sight doesn’t exist. I know all that.” There was a hiatus as he tried to gather his thoughts. “Despite what the movie industry would have us believe, I don’t buy into all

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that. But,” he looked at his friend, “how else do I explain what I felt, what I feel right now?” Nothing was familiar any more. He gestured again towards the television where the news items had moved on; it was now cricket. “The cameras picked up the moment. She was on the television. Just now. As you saw.” Matt glanced at Peter, went on quietly, “I don’t know who she is. But I’m damn well going to find out.” He stopped and went to the window where he stared unseeingly at the night scene in front of him. It was not dark. Too many lights. He wished for a moment that he could be back home in Wyoming staring out into the blackness, knowing that there was nothing and nobody else around for miles. “It can’t be love. How can you possibly fall in love just by looking at someone?” Peter looked at the back turned towards him and swirled the brandy in his glass while he waited for Matt to continue. “What do they call love at first sight? A coup de foudre? It simply doesn’t happen. And a girl on a balcony sounds too much like sodding Romeo and Juliet. I never liked that play,” he went off at a tangent. “All that adolescent melodrama. Never could

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understand why she just didn’t get herself to Mantua. Would have saved everyone a lot of trouble.” Matt swung round. “Don’t worry, I don’t intend to come to a sticky end. Can’t stand the sight of blood.” His voice became more serious, “I was thinking of her all the time I was supposed to be working the crowd. Couldn’t concentrate . . . . it’ll be amazing if I sound coherent. As for the interview. The least said the better. You might have to do some damage control there. Then we got to the party.” He smiled, “A lot of guys would see it as a dream situation. Imagine all those beautiful women, and some of them were really fantastic, trying to get you into bed.” The eyebrow rose again. “Wouldn’t dare to have a dream like that. Anna would kill me. After she’d hurt me in a very painful place.” Anna was Peter’s long time girl friend. “Sounds like Anna.” Matt looked at the man he had known for fifteen years, nearly half his life-time. “I half expected you to laugh. It must sound pretty crazy. Falling for the unknown. And possibly unattainable.” His stomach clenched at the thought of her being married or living with a partner. “The party?” Peter prompted. “I must admire your acting skills if you were thinking about this girl then. I would never have realised.”

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The vein of gentle irony underlying the words surprised a quick laugh from Matt. “That is my job. Acting. On one level I enjoyed it.” His smile broadened. “What’s not to like about adulation?” Peter’s eyebrow rose. Matt smiled inwardly at his friend’s reaction, he could always get a rise out of Peter, before going on, “As long as you don’t start believing in the hype. I just feel, oh, I don’t know, as though I have heard all the lines before. It becomes like a verbal tennis match where you both mouth the appropriate responses in order to score the right number of points. Nobody really listens to what is being said. No one actually means what they say. They want to meet the star. Not the man.” The tone became more serious. “And this time I need her, my mystery girl, to meet the man.” Silence fell. The noise of the city at night melded with the voices from the television. Cricket had given way to some sort of cookery programme. “So how are you going to find out who she is?” “That’s where I need your help.” They both knew a media frenzy would be inevitable if Matt’s interest in the, as yet, anonymous girl ever became public. There was no hesitation. “I could get on to the television channel but I probably won’t even have to do that. I imagine that I’m going to get besieged by

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the media shortly.” Peter’s smile was sharp. “They’ll all be wanting the inside story and given the rubbish that tends to get written about you it’s about time they did something useful for a change. Yes, I think I’ll let them do all the work. I’m sure they’ll find out who your girl on the balcony, your Juliet is.” Peter laughed at Matt’s grimace. “We can go from there. Incidentally, I can’t wait to tell Anna. I never thought I’d see the day. The world’s most lusted after man felled by a smile.” He rose to his feet and gripped Matt’s shoulder in a gesture of support, “Don’t worry Matt, I’m sure you’ll find out who she is before too long. Good night.” He started moving towards the doorway. As if on cue his phone rang. He looked at the display. The eyebrow rose. The smile became feral. “Well, well. This is going to be fun. I do so love media manipulation.” Then he was gone. He had learned how to make an exit.


Chapter 2
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Laura started reading the opening chapter of “Pride and Prejudice” to her Year Ten class. It was the third, and last, of the GCSE texts, which the fifteen year olds were going to read over the summer. She hoped. She had read this so many times her mind could drift as she let her class listen to Jane Austen’s words. She noticed that Jess and her great friend Kirsty had hitched up their skirts again since being told off at break time: pleated plaid skirts in brown and green looked very smart but not when rolled up to a length

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bordering on the indecent. Now they were overtly following the text whilst taking surreptitious glances at whatever was beneath their books. Another student was gazing out of the window every so often at the playing field and the sixth form students basking, unofficially of course, in the warm July sun. Being at the top of the building in a room which was south facing and not air conditioned could be very trying. Architects should be made to work in the buildings they inflicted on their clients. Katy, one of her more industrious students, who had already bought her own copy, was already annotating in pencil as she listened to the cadences of the words. She had probably read it already and seen both DVDs—the BBC one with Colin Firth and the one with Keira Knightley. It was strange how the former was associated with the actor’s interpretation of Darcy, whilst the latter was seen more in terms of Elizabeth Bennet’s latest incarnation. Laura noticed that the terrible two’s attention was drifting away and raised her voice pointedly in their direction. “They are all silly and ignorant like other girls,” she read aloud. She paused, waiting while Jess and Kirsty found their places again, after smirking at her. Okay, it was a bit of a cop out to be reading to the class but what the hell. They enjoyed listening;

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they did not have to think very hard for a few minutes and she knew herself to be a good reader. Austen’s dialogue was too good not to be heard. Also, it was the last week of term. She knew that all the administration stuff was important, as were all the end of term activities, but she had had enough. So had the girls. She would prefer to finish earlier and go back earlier. Still, only a few more days and then the whole summer beckoned. Not that she was doing anything exciting although she was looking forward to spending a few days at her parents’ holiday home in Suffolk: not quite what she had originally planned but better than not going anywhere. After that though, she had to find somewhere else to live. The owner of her flat, the bat who lived on the ground floor while she rented the first floor, was planning to sell up and move away to be nearer her family. She doubted whether her family relished the idea. Moving could, at a pinch, be described as interesting, as long as she found somewhere else that was suitable and affordable. The last was essential if she was going to act on the idea, which so far she had not mentioned to a soul, not even to Rachel, of giving in her notice in order to go travelling. Laura had come to realise that she needed a change in direction, a feeling exacerbated by

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her split from Neil. Travelling would be exciting, at least for a while. It would certainly give her a better sense of the world in which she lived. She might return to teaching after that. She might not. But she would definitely do something which involved using her brain. She could not afford, in any sense of the word, to drift her way through life. She read aloud, “She was a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper.” That described her landlady beautifully. That was the upside of moving, never to have to see the bat again. The downside was that she might not find anything for several weeks and she really did not want to have to stay with her own family. Not at present. Not when her brother’s wedding was being planned and his fiancée was underfoot all the time, being important. She got on with most people but she really did not like his choice of bride. The thought of having her as her sister-in-law was not pleasant. “The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.” She finished the chapter and looked up. “That last sentence sounds a bit like an aunt of mine. Whenever I see her she keeps asking when am I getting married? She never asks how my career is


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going. I wonder how much has actually changed in attitude since Austen’s day.” The discussion began. “I like the irony at the beginning.” That came from Katy who ignored the mutterings from her class mates about the meaning of irony, whilst Laura made a mental note to come back to that but did not, for now, want to hold up the comments. Katy, oblivious, went on, “Why should a young man, especially if he’s rich, want to get married, particularly in this century when attitudes have changed so much?” “About sex, do you mean? What would they have done in Austen’s time, Miss Marshall?” That was Kirsty’s contribution. Before Laura could answer Jess broke in, “Never mind the sex. How important was money? Is it as important as it is now? I mean, who doesn’t want to be rich? Hey, guys,” her fellow students looked up, “what do you want from a bloke? Money or sex?” And, with prompting, they went off in a different direction, getting so immersed in what they wanted from their perfect man that the bell rang while they were still adding their contributions to the white board. “Right, that was just a taster for next term.”

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The girls groaned good—naturedly. “When you come back in September you will all, “she repeated the last word, “all have read Pride and Prejudice. Won’t you? And it isn’t enough to get out the DVDs and watch those.” She looked pointedly at Jess and Kirsty. “Jess, Kirsty, can I see you now, please. Good morning every one,” and she watched as the girls made their way untidily out of the class room. “Rich. Good looking. Tall, dark, handsome. Cliché. Suntanned. Hunky. Fit. Sense of humour—depends what type. George Clooney, Zac Efron, Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson? Hmmm. Matt Steele. There’s someone with sense. Sexy. Caring. Unconventional. Brave. And finally someone with even more sense, intelligent. What have you been doing?” Rachel strolled in reading the white board as she did so. “Deciding on our idea of the perfect hero.” Laura looked up from something she was reading. Jess and Kirsty were standing by the desk. They had an air of suppressed excitement. “Well you two, what have you been doing now?” “Nothing, Miss Eliot.” “Mmm. Define nothing.”


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Laura looked up again and there was a hint of worry in her eyes. “They’ve been showing me this.” She turned round the paper as she spoke and Rachel’s eyes widened as she saw a picture of the premiere with Laura and the film star looking at each other. The accompanying caption read: Matt Steele’s Juliet? The subheading went further: Matt’s mystery lover. Rachel winced. She knew that Laura would be extremely upset to be featured in the tabloid press like this and it would be wishful thinking to hope that there would be no repercussions. How many pupils were there in the school whose parents read this particular tabloid? The Head would be pulling out all the stops to play down any such suggestion. The kids would love it though. She eyed the teenagers speculatively, “And at what time did you get in touch with the newspaper to put them straight, Jess?” There was an interruption as a sixth former came hurriedly through the door, looking relieved when she saw the group. “Good. I’ve found you. Can you come to the Head’s office at once, please Miss Marshall. It’s rather urgent, I believe.” She glanced at the photo spread out on the desk and smiled knowingly, “I imagine you can guess why. Good one, Miss Marshall. My mum saw you on the news last night. And there I

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was thinking that you weren’t a Matt Steele fan. Must be Miss Eliot’s influence. I’ll tell them you’re on your way,” she said as she dashed precipitously out of the door. “There must be something interesting happening. Rare for a sixth former to go at something more than snail pace,” Rachel’s dry comment was followed by a repeat of her question to Jess. The teenager looked uncertain. “This morning at break but they already knew by that time. Honestly. I knew you wouldn’t mind Miss Marshall, not really. It makes an exciting end to term doesn’t it?” She looked at her teacher whose face remained outwardly serene and hoped that it would be all right. At break it had seemed a good idea to get in touch with the newspaper but afterwards she had had some doubts. She might find it exciting but would Miss Marshall? Inside, Laura was in a panic. Why had she raised her glass in salute? What an idiotic thing to do. It had been bad enough having her face plastered on the television screen but to see it in a newspaper with that sort of caption was terrifying. She felt as though she had been catapulted into a different kind of reality show. She hated the concept. Realistically she knew that it was a complete accident, or fate and, given the lack of story, she would very rapidly be yesterday’s

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news. But she had never liked being in the spotlight. The sooner the media attention died the better. Matt’s Steele’s mystery lover indeed. As if they could ever connect. She pushed aside her memory of a certain moment. Thank goodness for the holidays. Kirsty had slipped out of the room unnoticed and now she came rushing back full of the news that there were photographers outside at the front entrance who were being spoken to by the bursar. “You’d better go, Laura. The quicker you get down there and see what they want, the quicker this will be over.” Rachel knew that Laura would hate this invasion of her life. She bent over the desk and said quietly, “There are some advantages of course. Think of the effect this is going to have on your family. Your brother will be demented. This will upset his nice, pristine world.” There was no love lost between Lance and Rachel. Sparks flew on the rare occasions they met. She continued, her eyes on the girls to make sure they could not hear, “And think what his lovely fiancee’s going to feel. Her little, pointy nose will be put beautifully out of joint. Remember, she was the one who introduced you to the love rat.” She straightened up and addressed the culprits, “We’ll leave Miss Marshall in peace for now while we have a little chat about responsible behaviour, shall we?”

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They disappeared through the door and Laura found herself taking a deep breath. Her eyes roamed round the room, its walls festooned with bits of paper and crooked staples; they had been stripped of their display ready for the holidays. She was delaying the inevitable. She stood up and started to gather her things together. The newspaper was still spread out on the desk. She looked at it as though it concealed a viper and then picked it up gingerly, carefully folding it before she added it to the rest of her pile of papers. She agreed: the sooner this was over, the sooner she could go back to normal. After all, it was not as though it was important in the grand scheme of life was it? Nothing would come of it. She opened the door and felt a sudden sense of unease ripple through her as though she were tempting fate. A newspaper was slapped down hard on the table in front of him. Matt opened his eyes and the coffee mug in his hands tilted at a precarious angle, its contents threatening to cascade over his white tee shirt and jeans. He had been immersed in interviews, culminating in the final session this morning: necessary, and occasionally enjoyable, but draining.

I was nearly asleep.” “You’re too young to be napping in the middle of the day. Go away and bother somebody your own age. Now he was not sure what he would be doing. It made a change from obsessing about the girl at the premiere.” Peter’s legendary relaxed manner was certainly in abeyance. He looked at the tall.” Matt heard the triumph in his friend’s deliberately casual tone and raised himself cautiously from the horizontal. Peter had reassured him that things were progressing and that he should just concentrate on his job.The Girl On The Balcony He had tried to work on his next script but had given up in disgust. “Damn it. old guy. Leave everything else to him and the red tops. he would have complete privacy. he had been assured. He could not concentrate. Now he was stretched on the sofa deliberately focussing on his forthcoming break before the next movie. completely cut off from the publicity machine although he had also been invited to spend some time at a villa in the South of France. Peter. take a look. where. The last had been accompanied by the same feral smile. “There’s something in there that might be of interest. making sure that he did not spill any coffee. 35 . Matt had been intending to spend the next few weeks at his cabin in the mountains. dark haired figure. Go on.

Once again he was knocked sideways. and then at the newspaper in front of him. put down his mug so sharply on the coffee table that the liquid slopped on to its pristine surface and grabbed the newspaper. He read it again more carefully. No wonder Peter had told him to concentrate on the day job. It was accompanied by another picture of the girl smiling at the camera. His mystery girl was called Laura and she was a school teacher. The girl who caught the attention of Hollywood star Matt Steele is school teacher. included some enthusiastic comments about her teaching by her pupils at this point. She was also a fan of Johnny Depp. He looked at the photos then scanned the story. He never read anything like this and Peter knew it. and finally related why she was at Leicester Square ending with the revelation that she had never met the 36 . He glanced briefly at Peter before going on with the article which revealed where she taught and the subject. Laura Marshall (26). Matt sat up abruptly. He grimaced. it was evidently a follow up to some wildly speculative article. he read.Frances Hart immaculately dressed as usual. It was folded over at a certain page so he leaned forward and saw a picture featuring himself and the girl at the moment when their eyes had met.

“It’s fantastic. Again he spared a glance at his friend before returning to the article and the discovery that this was not quite right. I prefer Johnny Depp.” Matt rose to his feet.” the last was said more quietly. She was just a fan. It was quite satisfying.The Girl On The Balcony star.” He paused and looked at the man sitting clutching the paper as though it were a lifeline. How did you manage it?” His friend just raised an eyebrow. and girls’ bedrooms. I must admit. The face that adorned thousands of pictures. “I don’t actually go to the cinema very often to see Matt Steele.” There was a sardonic vein in his words. “And. A spokesman for Matt Steele confirmed that they had never met. worldwide was looking rather uncertain.” it’s my friend who is the fan. Before you ask. “Well. “Of course there might still be some enterprising reporter who tries to get your take on her preferring Johnny Depp. he was conscious of the situation’s irony.” he forestalled Matt’s next question.” thank you. getting them to do all the work. now you know her name and who she is where do you go from here?” 37 . “there’s no way that your denial won’t be believed.” he read. I’ve stopped that angle in its tracks. It was just a lucky coincidence.” “Let’s just say I exploited the media’s obsession with you.

Peter had done a sterling job.” Matt smiled his thanks at the promise of support. “Better put that away. could not inflict the media vultures on any one. He grimaced. Any girl with sense would say no. “No. All he had to do was meet her without the press getting wind of his very real interest.” Peter indicated the paper clutched in Matt’s hand. just to be on the safe side. not that he had expected anything less. He would not.” I suggest you rustle up some food for us while I get out of this gear.Frances Hart Matt stared at the picture. Getting in touch with her and just asking her for a date was out of the question. But I’m going to have a damned good try.” “Have you eaten?” Peter’s question broke the tension.” Peter had been at business meetings. “I’m not sure yet. He had not allowed himself to think beyond finding out who she was. He had a nightmarish vision of Laura being pursued down the street by the paparazzi. not yet. In fact. Now it was his turn. a couple as I haven’t yet checked in with Anna and she should 38 . “I have a phone call to make.” “Well they say an army marches on its stomach so I suggest we have something to eat before you start planning your strategy.

he was trying ineffectually to rub at the marks left when he had flung his coffee around. had kept intruding. he tried out her name in his mind. When the pizza arrived. So. half an hour?” Once Peter had gone Matt followed his suggestion. the intended victim. a lawyer.The Girl On The Balcony definitely be up by now. He was looking forward to the challenge. “there I was dressed in all this gear with all that food and there he was in jeans using the end of this white tee shirt to try and get out the stain. It had been a waste of time. Matt looked around the room satisfied that there was now enough surface that could be utilised for the lunch he had ordered. He put the newspaper out of sight and cleared away the papers strewn over the floor. 39 . The role of the assassin had a lot of potential and was a long way from his usual role as hero. He was to take on two roles simultaneously. “He looked so ordinary. He frowned at the coffee table. relics of the wasted quarter of an hour he had spent trying to work on his next movie. see you in what. and the role of the assassin hired to kill him only to discover that the target was his twin brother—a brother of whose existence he had been previously unaware. Laura.” the waiter would recount to his friends later.

One group sat discussing their coming holidays. It had been a long time since she had done any serious running. or racing elsewhere taking extra-curricular activities. She bent to untie her trainers and pull off her socks amid a chorus of protestations. mugs scattered haphazardly on the low tables in 40 . Laura collapsed into a chair in the staff room. Her cheeks were red with exertion and her legs felt like lead. “I might be ready to go and change in about a hundred years’ time but in the meantime my feet need some air.” She stretched her feet out in front of her and sighed blissfully. “Sorry everyone but I really have to do this.” The staff room was busy. It was lunch time. Mind you. Her red tee shirt felt really clammy.Frances Hart He looked so embarrassed. and because it was the last day before the holidays most of the staff were there instead of squirreling themselves away to catch up with marking. I don’t expect Housekeeping will be pleased. Wonder why he spilt it?” It was the last day of term. They only had afternoon registration and the final assembly to go and then: freedom. Her hair was windblown despite being tied in a ponytail and damp tendrils framed her face.

“The umpire was biased. They had just finished the traditional rounders match against the sixth form and had. Others were.” “Rubbish. splayed out on the nearest chair. That should never have been declared out. wearing an assortment of running and casual gear. 41 . Some of them didn’t have a clue. An earnest conversation concerning a pupil was taking place in the area by the pigeonholes. education magazines. the Head of Chemistry. for the third year running. The sixth form might be younger but they’re definitely not fitter. “Anyway. sunshine. And some of the staff didn’t either. Rachel had scored the winning rounder and was busy recounting her triumph to Paul. who had been declared out before he got to first post and was protesting about it. A couple of colleagues were getting out lunch boxes. faces glistening from unaccustomed exertion. old copies of The Times Educational Supplement and a few assorted text books. we deserved to win.The Girl On The Balcony front of them fighting for space with untidy piles of papers.” She raised her voice deliberately so that Laura could hear.” “In your dreams. You’re just mad because I scored and you didn’t. won.” They looked at each other and burst out laughing. like Laura.

“Waste of effort. White. plural.” “How much?” “She has to pay for my drinks. The face in the collage with its wide open mouth was made from numerous pieces of out of date examination board aims and objectives and official national curriculum directives which had since been superseded. See if you’re good enough for her. Laura’s dark hair was splayed out against the green cover of the chair. all torn into tiny pieces. I must go and remind her. I said I’d get more rounders than she did. with a broad smile.” It was a tradition that anyone who was not haring off on holiday at the first available moment would meet in the pub they frequented on Fridays. sir.” “She will when I remind her about our bet. Mr. 42 . She swung to her feet. Juliet over there isn’t listening. Excuse me. Are you coming by the way? Are you bringing your girlfriend? I want to check her out. He said. It had been created by a final year student for her examination coursework and presented. this evening at the staff do. Her eyes were closed and her skin was gradually retuning to its normal colour.Frances Hart Paul looked across the staff room to where Laura was leaning back against her seat underneath a collage based on Munch’s The Scream. to the staff when she left.

looking for her discarded trainers. sometime late November or early December. I said it would be okay. Just like Peggy to be thinking ahead. Rachel. Laura groaned.” Rachel drifted across to the other side of the room to where Laura was now scrabbling around. while I remember. one of which was the constant diet of Romeo and Juliet jokes from staff and students alike. “Hey. some achieve greatness. we’ve been asked to take a Year eleven trip to Twelfth Night at the National.” “Wasn’t it just. I hope you’re feeling rich because I’m feeling very thirsty. we’re coming. Yes. and some have greatness thrust upon them. they had been friends and colleagues for two years now. Of more concern was the fact that she had 43 . “The cheek of it.” Rachel quoted. Miss Eliot. I’d forgotten. Great rounder.The Girl On The Balcony Paul grinned at her. And guess who won the bet. all of which seemed to feature balconies and love at first sight and Matt Steele.” “Hi. miss media star. The media interest had died down once the press realised there was no story but there were still a few repercussions. See you. I can barely think ahead to tomorrow at the moment. Oh.” “Appropriate in view of this week’s events: Some are born great.” “Rats.

“Should be good though. It was weird how total strangers seemed to think they had the right to come up to her and give their opinion.” she capped Rachel’s Twelfth Night quotation. Her father had queried her sense at being anywhere near Leicester Square on a warm summer evening when it was likely to be crowded. What was even more unnerving was the feeling that she was being watched. prompted more by the reaction of his fiancée than on his own behalf. Her brother had been the most vociferous. I’ll get my revenge. if it had been The Times or The Guardian the fall out would have been more muted she thought rebelliously. Her mother had asked where she could get a copy of the photograph. “And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. had reacted more to the thought of her being in the tabloids. been in abeyance since getting engaged. Her family.” Laura threatened. that people were looking at her behind her back. “One day. admittedly. Even though Rachel thought he was a snob Laura knew that Lance had a real sense of loyalty towards her—a sense that had. remember.” She liked Shakespeare’s comedy about love and disguise.Frances Hart been recognised in the street. She sighed. “Do you want me to tell Peggy or will you?” 44 . as predicted.

Has a group of friends whom she goes around 45 . The chef was. Rachel had already reached it and was tapping an elegant fingernail on the bright blue notice stuck firmly to it: O. by now. engaged the services of a private enquiry agent to track Laura’s movements. through Peter. “Peter was saying. The intervening time had not been wasted. You coming?” Laura gathered together her trainers and socks and then padded towards the door in bare feet. Matt felt an easing of the tension that had gripped him. that way madness lies. “Seems to be generally liked.The Girl On The Balcony “I’ll tell our esteemed Head of Department.” Rachel said. His mother had trained him well. “but before I do anything else I must get changed and I haven’t had anything to eat yet. up to now. had been innocuous. Matt was automatically stacking together the empty plates as he listened. resigned to the inevitable. “You wanted him to find out the basics initially so he’s included her address and the detail that there doesn’t appear to be a husband or boyfriend on the scene. Yet another pizza had been demolished. Matt had. which. “Are you ready to face the chaos?” The door swung shut behind them.

although it’s mainly the girl who was with her in Leicester Square. Rachel Eliot.Frances Hart with. the media interest seems to have died down. there’s no point in digging deeper. of course. The rest is up to you. from that. “Needless to state. Ian Stewart. This guy. Their term ends today so he’s seeing if he can find out something about what she’s doing in the vacation and is going to get back to me. controlled movement so characteristic of him was back with a vengeance: the charisma that the camera loved.” He added. You should. “I must say. “I agree with you.” He went back to the email. And her. 46 . And what’s more. That might have something to do with the leaked information that you’re off to France once you’ve finished here. doing all this cloak and dagger routine is a lot more intriguing than the stuff I usually do for you. Have you had any more ideas?” Peter watched as Matt walked over to collect some papers from the side of the room. came highly recommended as being completely trustworthy. be able to engineer an initial meeting away from any media glare which is what you wanted. discretion is a priority.” He smiled wolfishly. “Appropriate for an English teacher.” He paused and looked at his friend. Your interest has not shown up on the radar. The fluid. So.

47 . slide along unnoticed. You know I was going to spend part of the summer working on the next movie?” He waved the sheets in his hand. but then this whole situation is crazy. “Matt started pacing as though to punctuate his comments. see if we can get to know each other in more ordinary circumstances as it were. going a long way back.” He drawled the phrase knowing Peter’s opinion on his profession. I’m not even sure if it will work but at the moment it’s the only idea I’ve got.” he lingered on the name. Yes. the eyebrow had gone up. Well. without attracting the attention of our friends in the press. “You mean Twin Target? Where you play both the would—be assassin and his victim?” “That’s the one. like a fool. I said I needed a challenge and you came up with two characters and this role where it’s vital to be part of the crowd. my idea was to do some method acting. the Day of the Jackal. It probably sounds crazy. He smiled to himself. or at least some elements of it. I thought I’d borrow Jonathan Mann’s name—that’s the assassin—and see if I can get around London unnoticed. When. You know. “without all the movie star crap getting in the way. “My priority is to meet Laura. So.The Girl On The Balcony “Yes. like Matt Damon in the Bourne trilogy or.

“At the worst. “It will be interesting to find out if there is anything worth bothering about underneath. “And before you point out the fatal flaw in my plan I’ll admit right now that I have absolutely no idea 48 . In some ways it would be easier if he had never seen Laura. it means that I’m working on the Jonathan Mann role. This time it was different. different lifestyle of course. I’ll just have to hope that Laura will think there is. At best. if the whole thing was a figment of his imagination. Nor was it as important.” There was a certain wryness to his words. He grimaced.Frances Hart “It will mean a different image. Who was he kidding? Now he had seen her he had no choice. Laura had already judged him and found him wanting if the newspaper reports were to be believed. She preferred Depp. If the dual role in his next movie was daunting it came nowhere near in difficulty to the one he was about to play. “if we get on. He had certainly traded on them earlier in his career. damn his eyes.” he stopped pacing for a moment. at least I’ll know that she likes me for myself.” If they got on. This feeling of vulnerability was hard to deal with. and that’s what all this is about.” Matt was realistic about his looks and the effect they usually had on the female of the species.

“You need to keep to the last of the scheduled events but after this evening you’re clear. long jean clad legs stretched out. and that was stretching it. Laura’s on record as saying she prefers Depp. He was damned if he was going to let Peter realise how vulnerable he felt. Anna excepted. What was the truth anyway? A list movie star? Romantic hero of the silver screen? Given his uncertainty. He had the uneasy feeling he might not be what Laura wanted. Right. “I have never had to work as hard as this just to try and talk to someone before. for God’s sake. “I’m assuming. But he had to try.The Girl On The Balcony how I am going to tell her the truth.” “Anna will love this.” He swung round. all concentrated energy.” The tone was dry. He added quietly.” “She’ll never let me hear the last of it. what she deserved.” At least he was still a successful actor if Peter had bought the fiction. Who can we use?” Peter was already checking his iPad.” He looked up when Matt flung himself on the sofa. beta male more like. “I can certainly state that being who I am is a fucking drawback. You’d better get your new identity organised. that you do not want this 49 .” “Do you good. “It might not ever become necessary.

He was probably thinking of Laura. “There’s nothing to tell yet.” Matt shook his head in 50 . He’d be on the first plane to check her out and if he approved he’d be trying to cut me out. “It’s interesting that your dad didn’t try to flirt with Mia. It was quite funny to see. He could not resist flirting with every woman he met even though he had been married to Matt’s mother for more than three decades. “Like barnacles.” Matt’s father was a regular on television.” had been Anna’s retort when she had heard that. “Met her once and couldn’t get away fast enough.” He had never approved of Matt’s last girlfriend who had done very well financially from her very public split with him. And I tell my father as little as possible about my private life. that you don’t want your family involved. She was now dating. eyes closed. “He didn’t like her.” He opened his eyes. currently stuck on to a shipping billionaire. actually. a media nightmare largely engineered by her.” Peter looked at his friend sprawled out. known for his ability to charm females of all ages.” “Good God. or as Matt put it. she’d be on the next available plane to stop him.Frances Hart to go any further. no. You know what he’s like. “And knowing your mom.” Matt shuddered.

It was better than mulling over the fact he no longer felt sure about who he was.” The fiery relationship between his friend’s parents was legendary but they had remained together and created a loving. if tempestuous. “I wonder what your teacher is doing this evening. especially as far as your mom is concerned. don’t you. Instead he lingered on the sound of the possessive pronoun. “You realise that this is the sort of scenario my mother reads about in romantic fiction. Somewhere a phone rang. Someone yelled derisively. He pushed it aside. A siren blared. I can’t believe that he has a better sense of self-preservation than his son. Love at first sight. opened his laptop.” I’ve just realised that it was his reaction that made me start to look at Mia in a different light.” “Honed by years of practice. Matt had the irrational feeling that he was jeering at him.The Girl On The Balcony disbelief as he continued. With any luck. Outside the sound of traffic was a constant.” Matt did not answer. An unsuspecting 51 . Sod it. At least his life had never been boring for himself and his two sisters Matt had responded when asked about it once. home environment for their offspring. Peter put his iPad aside. we’ll soon find out.

52 . The so-called hero in disguise. Couldn’t be more of a cliché if I tried. the quiet of the hotel had been broken abruptly by laughter.Frances Hart heroine.” The waiter coming to clear the remains of their lunch halted as he was about to knock discreetly on the door.

She had been on her way out before remembering her phone was still by the bed so she had had to race back upstairs to retrieve it. It was probably not a good idea to run in them. The number of times she had done that. its catch was playing up again and 53 .Chapter 3 Laura raced out of the house still trying to stuff everything into her bag. grimaced as her foot twisted under her. She was wearing high heeled sandals chosen because they went with her dress. She was going to be late. She was always leaving her phone somewhere. She raced along the pavement. She regained her balance and tucked her bag more firmly under her arm.

She hoped. She was about to cross the road when a van came slowly down the road. smiled at them as she went past. They were three streets away before Laura regained her breath enough to ask. threatening to spill its contents on to the pavement. She caught sight of a natty silver sports car and looked in astonishment when Peggy waved from the driver’s seat.” she grinned at Laura. then? A mid-life crisis?” “I always wanted a two-seater. She slowed her pace when she came up behind a small child tottering alongside his mother. Laura’s fifties style summer dress in green and white billowed and her hair whipped round her face as she rounded the corner to where her lift was waiting. She paused impatiently until it had gone by then raced across so abruptly she nearly knocked over a man who was just getting into his car. Don’t 54 . means you don’t have to offer lifts to all and sundry.” and it’s not too big to park. She was nearly at the end of the street.Frances Hart would not close. “What’s with the frivolous car. He looked after her as she flung an apology at him. So when my old car died I decided I was going to treat myself.

I’m off to Suffolk.” Peggy’s husband was often disapproving of his wife’s actions. “I couldn’t cope without a car. but my original travel plans fell through. “How did you guess? To cap it all. My parents have a cottage in Southwold. which meant that she left him behind as often as possible. but then he would. 55 . Peggy went on.” “I thought you’d be off to somewhere a bit more exotic.The Girl On The Balcony need to act as taxi driver to the kids.” “Because of rodent man I presume?” Peggy took her eyes off the road to look at her in enquiry. “And they’re not insured to drive this when they do deign to come home. Laura nodded. my landlady decided to move—I’m sure she did it just to spite me.” Her phone went before Peggy could ask her more and Laura had to rummage through her bag. I was supposed to originally.” She smiled slyly. I’m hoping to borrow my brother’s next week when I go on holiday though. Jack disapproves of course. How do you manage?” “Can’t afford a car at the moment. They’re away at university most of the time.” “Well. I wouldn’t put it past her—so I’ve got to find somewhere to live which means money is in short supply this summer.

” Laura ignored Peggy’s dig and continued. “Yes. “Oh. chequebook. I know.” She looked at Peggy for confirmation as she said. I think it might be my theatre ticket for Wednesday. “Tickets in the post. Yes it is. I’m going to the matinee at the National theatre on Wednesday. My last one broke and I haven’t got round to replacing it yet. “I don’t know why I brought all this junk. “What’s this? “She looked at it and laughed. I remember. “And no smart phone either. I’m a bit of a Luddite I suppose. you haven’t got a computer have you?” “No.” She ended the call and looked at all the disarray in her lap. It was Rachel. Peggy glanced at her. “Oh. Oh.” she offered in explanation. “Five minutes. we’re nearly there.” 56 .” “Which is why I never send you emails at work. before picking up an unopened envelope. good.” She grinned. “I’m going to get a laptop but it will have to wait. That’s a bit twentieth century isn’t it? Why didn’t you buy on line? “She answered her own question before Laura could reply.Frances Hart disgorging half the contents before she could locate it. post it reminder notes.” She looked at the assortment of bills. The post was still on the hall table when I came downstairs so I grabbed it and ran. diary. I don’t need it.

I brought the car because I’m on antibiotics at the moment. although she felt that it was a case of wishful thinking to be declaiming school was out forever. It was really sweet of you to give me a lift. please. Most of her colleagues were 57 . There was no need to strain to make out the words about school being out for the summer.The Girl On The Balcony The last credit card bill was finally stuffed back into the bag as the car drove into the pub car park. “Thank you so much. and I’m having to avoid alcohol like the plague. Already she could sense the end of term atmosphere and hear the traditional anthem being sung. not for anything serious.” “It’s nothing. Unfortunately. A chorus of welcome wafted in her direction when she entered the bar area. I’ll be outside.” She stopped to let a car with a male driver go past towards a parking slot at the far end of the car park before crossing towards the pub. anyway?” “Diet Coke. I’ll go and get your drink first. “Peggy gestured at the smokers’ area on the patio. What can I get you. Don’t worry about me. Peggy.” “That’s a shame. Saved me so much time. The song came bellowing out above the usual din of the Friday night crowd. Then you go and find the others. “I’ll probably come out later to have a chat.

All tables and benches were occupied. Still. 58 . She had made a few arrangements to catch up with friends when they came back from family visits or holidays. Laura stepped into the garden and wandered down the path. they seemed to be scattering to all corners of the globe. Six weeks of freedom lay ahead. this time next year she could be anywhere.Frances Hart already there and they were on a roll. She could smell the fragrance of honeysuckle and jasmine. and there was a subdued hum of conversation punctuated by the occasional burst of laughter and movement.” The evening sky was beginning to get dark. In the fading light the flowers were pale and featureless. Laura wished she was going somewhere different. She always enjoyed having the chance to talk to colleagues away from the normal working environment. They were on holiday! “I could do with some fresh air. The evening had been fun. During the day it was a riot of colour. She paused by the low wall at the end and breathed deeply. especially when their paths did not cross much in the school day. And she liked Suffolk. Nearer the building light and sound spilled out from the open door on to the patio area.

Laura edged past and went flying as her heel caught on a paving slab.” she managed. The nearest table was occupied by a man nursing a pint. She had not caught up with Peggy. How embarrassing.The Girl On The Balcony It was peaceful out here. That reminded her. smoke curling lazily upwards. She did not want to face the mayhem inside. “Damn. The music inside changed to a softer rhythm. She thudded against something solid and her bag opened. She would probably be dragged into a drinking game and she had had enough to drink. Laura wandered on. She hitched her bag more firmly on her shoulder and went towards the patio. The lazy tempo and distinctive voice of Annie Lennox charged the atmosphere with promise.” Laura registered that the something solid was the unknown male who had been sitting at the table. She spotted her colleagues towards the back and started in their direction. Now he was upright and preventing her from falling. Somebody in the smokers’ area chortled. She wanted to make sure of her lift home. a cigarette lay at the edge of the ash tray. struggling to get herself upright on her own two feet. She stood away from him as quickly as possible and stumbled 59 . “I’m so sorry.

There was momentary confusion as every one tried to help.” her rescuer said smoothly with just the faintest suspicion of a laugh in his voice.Frances Hart slightly. It was a good job she could not 60 .” To her horror. “I’ll leave you to your friends. Marshall?” “There’s no need to go to these lengths to pull. The cavalry had arrived. “That’s okay. Some articles had slid under the table and her knight errant bent down to pick them up. He nodded towards Laura’s colleagues who were insisting on dragging her and her possessions towards their table. Laura. let me help.” “Are you all right?” This last was from Peggy. “Hey. Laura felt like screaming. She could not see him properly as they were in shadow but his voice sounded sufficiently reassuring. “I knew I should have worn more sensible shoes. Here. what’s up?” “What have you been doing. No problem.” she mumbled. Laura saw that the contents of her bag were strewn over the patio. This was even more embarrassing. Why had she brought this particular bag? She knew the catch was suspect. Laura. she had wrenched the same ankle as before and it hurt.

She could almost feel the smirk on his face. They had been drinking for some time. “Serves you right for wearing silly shoes. “Light weight.The Girl On The Balcony make out his features. I think I’ve had enough. 61 . “Thank you once again. what an incredibly stupid thing to do.” “Not at all. “Phew. where’s my phone?” She scrabbled around trying to locate it subsiding with relief when she felt its familiar shape in the depths of her bag. Laura spent the next few minutes fielding comments from her friends—former friends she thought darkly—and trying to put her possessions back into her bag.” The others at the table laughed uproariously. Oh. Oh. She sat down finally and rubbed her ankle surreptitiously while she refused the offer of a drink. don’t you?” There was a wave of amusement. “No thank you. I hope I didn’t do any damage when I fell against you.” The stranger returned to his chair and picked up his pint.” “I hope I’ve got everything.” They had noticed her rubbing her ankle.

Laura?” “Let her alone.” “Excuse me. “I think this might be yours. 62 .” he repeated.” Her rescuer was standing at the table with an envelope in his hand.” she called out belatedly to his parting back. The soft promise of Annie Lennox had given way to the dominant chords of the theme music from Freeway. Where did you get them. The conversation stilled and the music from the pub could be clearly.” she sympathised. “You look as though you’ve had enough. They’re great. “Yes. “I bet that’s Rachel’s choice. Laura?” she called. “Excuse me. thanks. “Are you okay. “Oh.” and he handed Laura the envelope containing her theatre ticket before nodding at them and making his way towards the car park.” Laura turned her head as Peggy asked if she wanted a lift home. yes. thank you.Frances Hart “They’re not silly shoes. She took it automatically. He lifted his hand in salute but did not turn round. The poor girl’s in shock. How many times has she seen it so far?” someone commented and chuckled as she appeared in the doorway.

” she added. Laura was limping gingerly round to the passenger side of a silver sports car parked under the light. “I’m going home with Peggy. I think.The Girl On The Balcony “Thank you. There was the sound of car doors being slammed and then the car reversed and drove away into the night. as they got up to go. where the security light failed to reach. She called to Rachel still standing in the doorway. 63 . Yes please.” and Peggy and Laura made their way to the car park. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I sound like an automaton. Laura thought. Laura’s rescuer sat in his car. “Give me a ring when you’re ready to face the world!” Rachel’s retort was masked by the choruses of: “Good night” and “See you next term. He had just finished the email in which he was giving his client the details of Laura’s theatre ticket when he heard female voices. I’ve had enough. In its furthest corner. He looked up.


sunlight glinted on the waves of the incoming tide. The water would never be blue though. She was also enjoying the fact that life seemed to have returned to normal. That thought brought Rachel to mind. was now in the past. She had spent a couple of carefree hours mooching around Covent Garden and not once had anyone looked at her and done a double take. She stopped by the rail and looked downstream. thank goodness. She was in Spain at this moment. Her fifteen minutes of fame.Chapter 4 Laura strolled along across the Thames en route to the theatre savouring the fact of having time to stand and stare on a weekday. Unlike the Mediterranean. almost certainly 65 .

Peggy had worn one with Will power emblazoned across it. Laura thought that a holiday on the Costa Dorada sounded really wonderful but she could not afford it this year. Their parents were joining them for the last week. She was wearing the Hamlet tee shirt that she used as night wear (bearing the legend: O. Neither could Rachel. that this too too solid flesh would melt.) She had greeted Laura with a friendly demand to help her with packing and while Laura was retrieving the clothes strewn all over the chairs had regaled her 66 . The magazine was folded over at a picture of a villa and a headline about Matt’s Riviera retreat. waiting for her nail varnish to dry and reading a feature in a magazine about holiday destinations of the stars. Her flat was looking as though the proverbial bomb had hit it while Rachel was sitting calmly in the middle of the chaos. but her parents were keen that the family should spend some time together so she and her younger sister who had just finished at university had flown out two days ago. She had worn it to her sixth form lessons as a joke on Shakespeare’s birthday. Laura had last seen her on Sunday. which would possibly be a bit restrictive. but then they were footing the bill.Frances Hart lying on a beach soaking up the sun—and eying up the talent.

except destroy a few more brain cells with inactivity and alcohol. although she and her brother had had good times there when they were children. indeed. something she did at the beginning of the summer holidays if she was in London. She suppressed a chuckle. Lance had not been to the cottage for years and when he did get away from business he always went somewhere that sounded exotic. even though Rachel and. It had become a personal tradition. Laura sauntered along the South bank past the coffee bars and the Hayward gallery. most of her friends would categorize it as boring. But it was far better than going on holiday with Neil. They would not understand her intention of going to the Wallace collection either: tomorrow’s destination. as she went down the steps at the other end of the bridge.The Girl On The Balcony with her intention to do nothing for: “three glorious weeks.” Suffolk definitely did not belong in the same category Laura mused as she walked across the bridge. the sun highlighting warm shades of copper and chestnut. She was wearing her teal skirt again this 67 . This time she would be on her own. At least it would be peaceful. Her hair gleamed. he made a point of never going to the same place twice. she decided resolutely.

She squirmed mentally when she thought of her bag going flying. Laura paused and wandered over to the railings fronting the river.Frances Hart time teamed with a sleeveless top in a lighter blue. like others were doing. Her guess was confirmed when she heard an exasperated “Mom” break out. She leaned against it. It must be his mother she guessed: the cadences of his voice gave the game away. a young American guy with his back to her talking quietly on the phone. an elderly lady pointing out something across the river to her disinterested companions. Mothers were the same the world over she thought as she straightened and started walking across to the theatre entrance. Behind her there was a sudden exclamation and movement as though the man on the phone had realised he had to be somewhere else. wondering whether to go inside and get a drink or stay out here in the sun for a little longer. and settled to a moment of people—watching: the inevitable group of Japanese tourists taking photos. her ankle was now better but she did not want to take any chances. It was still fairly early. Her sandals had flat soles. At least her ticket had been saved although her mascara had rolled away to oblivion. 68 . and was carrying a lacy shrug in case it became cool later.

the apartment felt too small. Do you realise how hot it is down there? Anyway. it had a faded grandeur and a connection with London’s literary heritage which appealed. this mother 69 . Peter had used his networking skills with his usual expertise and had found him something suitable for his purposes in Bloomsbury. He had learned the hard way on one of his previous forays when he had attempted to go by subway. the Underground as the Brits called it.The Girl On The Balcony Time seemed to be going backward. Who says that Americans never walk anywhere? Despite his tension Matt found that he rather enjoyed his journey to the South bank and this time he made sure of his route before he set out. so I was reading one of those free papers that seemed to be dished out indiscriminately to all and sundry. who was now in Sardinia with Peter. Matt had never been there before and so far he liked it. giving up for good somewhere around seven o’clock when some damn dove started cooing just outside his window. trying not to be noticed. however. Anna. Matt slept fitfully in his new apartment. “There I was. had roared with laughter when he had told her the tale. He needed to get out before he wore a groove in the floorboards. Today. Perhaps he could walk to his destination.

she made it clear I ought to give up my seat. being careful to skirt the edges. all armed with cameras. There wasn’t room for the brat. I didn’t dare stay there. I didn’t want to argue. And. So far so good. Too many tourists. He liked the differences between the districts. not under the circumstances. would you believe. I could have killed it and its mother. he thought as he passed another small square with enclosed lawns and gardens. when it wasn’t stuffing its face.Frances Hart and child got on and made for the seat next to me. so rather than have it on her lap. the way the imposing buildings of the university and the formal terraced houses gave way to the cosmopolitan feel of Covent Garden. of course. I had to get out at the next stop. He made a detour to Trafalgar Square. Matt had ditched his normal look and now had shorter hair. Then. He enjoyed reading the blue plaques that fronted some of the houses and paused in front of one dedicated to Lady Ottoline Morrell: what a great name that was. which was rather large. nondescript brown in colour. it deliberately spilled its drink over my cargo pants. sunglasses which would 70 . that is. It whined the whole time. The brat turned out to be a psycho in the making. when I got outside I didn’t have a clue where I was.” He hoped that today any surprises would be pleasant ones. What the heck.

His mother. Why did mothers always pick the most inconvenient time at which to ring? It must be an innate part of motherhood. clothes from the High Street. when he felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to rise. Matt leaned against the railings looking towards the river while he talked to her. that vast grey monolith dominating its surroundings. Laura should be arriving at any moment and he did not want to miss her.The Girl On The Balcony be exchanged for tinted glasses when he was in the theatre. His mother was still in full flow. He forced himself to go slowly. keeping his voice low. something they all acquired when their baby was born. tension beginning to grip him as he arrived at the National theatre. He straightened abruptly. He looked discreetly to his left. it was not as though he were a teenager. He crossed the Thames and strolled along the South bank. but he was still wary of being recognised. When would Laura arrive? His cell phone went. he was thirty one. And there was Laura. He was protesting at something his mother said. 71 . He could not give her his full attention. for heaven’s sake. Certainly it was a talent his mother had perfected over the years. his relaxed stance switching to alert.

Yeah. Inside.” and he hastily disconnected. He looked around. Nonchalantly he eased in her wake. it was nothing to do with you. 72 . He put his cell phone away. Promise. nobody was taking any interest. I really have to go. He swung round to watch Laura make her way towards the theatre and tried to be apologetic: “No. I remembered something important. Honestly.Frances Hart On his left he heard movement. Look. Matt shook his head to clear it and then glanced round casually. Mom. Her slender figure was disappearing through the doors and he was still standing there in a trance. She was beautiful. Her dark brown hair cascaded over her shoulders in shimmering fall colours. he took a few seconds to adjust to the different light. He could not take his eyes away. swapped glasses and sauntered in the same direction. He realised he must have said it aloud when there was a deafening silence in his ear. Where was she? A small knot of panic lodged itself in his chest. Her skirt in some sort of blue colour seemed to dance about slim legs. It loosened when he caught a glimpse of blue and spotted his quarry going towards the café area. Hell. He cursed.

She was aware of a lean body and a slight hint of aftershave. “Excuse me. “Excuse me.The Girl On The Balcony At the counter Laura was watching her order being dealt with when the customer behind her in the queue spoke. “I don’t want to look too stupid. Something resembling a muffin sat forlornly in its centre. surprising herself. It came again. Do you think you could uh.” She turned to see the man who had been talking on the phone. his exaggerated air of patience straining the smile. make sure I don’t hand over too much?” He smiled at her apologetically. He was holding a tray. Only this voice was American.” As if he could. “I’m not especially familiar with your currency. well shaped hand with long. 73 . She never reacted like this to perfect strangers. thought Laura. “Do you think you could possibly help me out here?” A strong. was waiting to hand over her tea. High cheek bones cut a face that was faintly familiar. She was transported back to Friday evening and a male voice sounding in the darkness.” She started. graceful fingers gestured towards the counter where a young employee.

became trapped. wishing she could see what colour they were behind the tinted glasses.Frances Hart He smiled at her again. giving the lie to any accusation of pretty boy looks. Again. Madam. What was she thinking about? Hastily she forced her eyes up to his.” The American’s next words were directed at Laura. for heaven’s sake. An apologetic cough broke the tension.” and she turned to pay for her order. Let me deal with this first. This time she noticed the square chin. They stood facing each other and time stilled. which was ridiculous. sir?” “Coffee. Matt was felled.” Laura thought she detected an underlying echo of urgency. he was only talking about currency. Her gaze was drawn to his mouth. “Your tea. 74 . “I hope you can help me. She pulled herself together and smiled at him in response. otherwise I’m lost. “Of course. It called for every ounce of his control not to react openly to her smile. The lips quirked. It was not imagination. Laura had the oddest feeling that she had done this before. please. How can I help you. uncompromising.

75 . A pulse beat at the base of Matt’s throat. what change do you have?” Laura repeated her question when it appeared that the American was not going to answer. missed and her hand brushed against his arm. He registered her reaction. Here. “Sorry. It was like an electric shock: the sort you can get when touching a light switch.” and he pushed some coins on to the tray. “What have you got?” Love sickness. “I mean.The Girl On The Balcony He drew a deep breath as she turned back. having deposited her tray further along the counter ready to help him out. She pulled her arm away still clutching the coins and gazed at him wide eyed. And he was still holding the damned tray. I was wool gathering for a minute. aiming to drop the coins on to its surface. “Here you are. He had felt the same shock.” Her fellow customer jolted and the tray dipped so Laura. Laura picked up a handful that she gauged would be enough to cover his order and handed them to the bored assistant who dropped them disdainfully into the cash register and issued her with some small change.

76 . She never picked up unknown men. After that neither seemed to know what to do next. Let me just get my tray. That is. I’d be happy to share your table. girl.” He let the words trail off and tried not to let his tension show as he waited for her answer. My fault. he was drop dead gorgeous. Can you see anywhere that’s free?” Laura moved away quickly. “No. This one was rather nice.” Matt shut his eyes in despair. She needed time to regain her equilibrium. Miraculously there was an empty table and they busied themselves sorting out their drinks and getting rid of their trays. no. “I mean. then down at her cup.Frances Hart He managed to say. and yes. at their fellow diners. I don’t suppose you’d take pity on me and share a table. though! In fact. followed by: “Go for it. if you’re not with any one else. She could not believe it when she had heard herself agree. Laura looked around at the busy concourse. That was a typical Rachel phrase and she could almost hear her saying it.” She tried not to think about that weird reaction when they had touched. I’m not with any one else. “I’m sorry.

I . This was stupid. He really was that teenager. “I hope you don’t mind. at the stranger sitting opposite to discover he was looking at her. . Perhaps his mother was right and he was a teenager masquerading as a mature man. quickly. “Matt pulled his thoughts together. finally. and she realised she was still clutching a handful of coins. So much for attracting her with cool sophistication and ease of manner. well done Steele. He had to say something. “Your change.” There was a pause. She wished again she could see his eyes properly. I couldn’t think of any other method to get to talk to you. I’ve still got it. Oh. She looked up.” “It doesn’t matter. Her fingers tightened. She could feel the nerves still whispering along her arm where she had brushed against the American. I noticed you outside and. well.” She stared at him blankly. She needed to break the silence. Laura was unable to look away but his face was certainly worth studying. .The Girl On The Balcony Matt looked at her and mentally kicked himself. “It was only a ploy. 77 . This was ridiculous Laura thought. . out on a first date. He certainly felt gauche and uncertain. She smiled apologetically and opened her hand.

” she hurried on before she lost her nerve. if not ever. Ah. “I’m sorry. “I assure you I don’t make a habit of picking up women when I come to the theatre but I couldn’t help it when I saw you. who had actually said he thought she was beautiful and she was behaving like a tongue-tied adolescent.” he added quietly. I just had to get to meet you. You are so beautiful.” Laura was mentally castigating herself for being an idiot. That was hopeful. I’m not being very sociable am I? I feel flattered. I felt as though I had to see it. In fact.Frances Hart He smiled and she noticed the white. that was a good topic.” “Yes. even teeth so typical of American dentistry His voice came again. And she had certainly reacted when 78 . “Thank you. It had a very mesmerising timbre. before the performance started. You were talking on the phone. Now if she could get the others on the move she might start enjoying this. especially when it had such good reviews.” She had noticed him. I was just taken aback for a moment. “I noticed you outside too.” She continued without giving him a chance to respond. Here she was. “Are you going to see The Cherry Orchard? It’s supposed to be good.” At least one brain cell had begun to work. sitting with the most devastating male she had set eyes on for a long time.

perhaps I’d better introduce myself. Hell. It was not a lie. He even invested in plays occasionally. He was full of admiration for his fellow actors who put themselves on the line night after night.” “I have to say. Matt thought. You have no idea.The Girl On The Balcony he had touched her arm. He could still feel that moment. like an after shock. “My friends call me Jon. Laura. I’m sorry. “Are you travelling round Europe?” “Are you working or do you have a day off?” It was Laura who answered first. I’m very pleased to meet you. Jonathan Mann. Oh. “There’s nothing like live stage is there. It’s a bit flexible.” “I’m Laura Marshall.” 79 . He began to feel more at ease. took a slight breath. “I’m a teacher and I’m actually on holiday.” They looked at each other before bursting simultaneously into speech.” Matt hesitated. “An opportunity came up to see the performance today so I grabbed it with both hands.” and if the movie moguls could hear him. He liked the intimacy of live theatre and went to plays when he could. they’d be rushing out to sell their shares.” “Are you in England for long?” “That depends. It was not his metier though.

I’m an English teacher. I suppose we have to go. if you’d like to.Frances Hart “That’s a really cool thing to do for a living. a seat chosen for ease of movement. She had also managed to call him by name. For the life of me. “How about meeting in the interval then? That is.” “I’d love to. Jon. What do you teach?” “English. “I don’t suppose we’re sitting near each other are we?” Matt knew they were not. She tried to stifle her disappointment. Laura?” It sounded strange to be addressed as Jon but at last he had been able to say the name that had been haunting him for days. “You have a very pretty name. Have we got time to order interval drinks do you think?” Laura was pleased when she heard herself sound so casual when she was shaking inside. somehow. It sounded more intimate. I couldn’t do it.” Her spirits lifted when she heard her companion say hesitantly. “Great idea. What would you like to drink.” Any further detail was cut short when the bell rang to indicate that the theatregoers should start to find their seats. Laura. incidentally. They compared their tickets. He was at the back at the end of the row. He planned to be out of there as soon as the house lights went up.” 80 . “There’s the bell. Several times.

too.” he said easily.” Matt was fascinated when the tide of delicate pink washed over her face. shall we?” He came round to her side and automatically dealt with her chair when she. He did not know that girls could still blush in this day and age. fortunately. I like it. And I’ll have a dry white wine. “Sure thing. “Now where do you suggest we meet?” 81 . She was gorgeous. He pushed it under the table. “Thank you.The Girl On The Balcony She blushed. rising from his chair with an innate fluidity. “We’ll go and organise it. please. rose to her feet. He forced his mind back to the present.


Once again Matt and Laura were sitting at a table. You know. Laura pushed her plate away. red and white check table cloths and very large wine racks. This one belonged to an Italian restaurant they had found in their wanderings. But I couldn’t eat another thing.” 83 .Chapter 5 Dusk was falling and lights were coming on all over London making it seem magical. “That was lovely.” She looked round at the stark walls with abstract art hung at intervals and the modern seating: pale wood and glass dominant. “I expected the décor to be different somehow. leant back in her chair and sighed.

Why had his supposedly legendary ease of manner deserted him when it was important? He could not afford to fail. The rather strained atmosphere at the beginning of their acquaintance 84 .” as Laura said gaily. He could almost hear her formulate the next question in her mind.” was her companion’s contribution. Have you ever been there?” Matt thought of the glittering events he had attended in both cities.Frances Hart “With pictures of Venice or Rome. So far. Not there for long enough. “I’ve been to both but I wouldn’t say I really explored either. He had been momentarily sideswiped at seeing Laura. he had been steering the conversation around her. They had met as planned in the interval. “Yes. Matt had spent much of the play castigating himself for being so inept and determined to regain his self control. once he had met her. not now. when they had discussed the half of the play they had seen and had agreed to meet again for a quick drink when the play had finished: “to dissect the rest of the play.” Laura picked up her wine glass and studied it. It had not wandered too far.

although in Jon’s case she supposed. She was going to be articulate and interesting if it killed her. the play made a good starting point and their ensuing conversation flowed as words began to come more easily until they felt sufficiently comfortable with each other to be able to argue about the interpretation. Although that would rather defeat the object: a bit difficult to carry on a conversation with a corpse. he would not disappear as suddenly out of it. She was already drawn to the American who had appeared so suddenly into her life and was hoping that. Theatregoers were coming in droves for the evening performance before they reluctantly made a move. in reply to a comment of Matt’s. consumed at leisure. it needs pace. he had not seemed totally at ease either. at the end of the day. Although.” disagreed Laura on one occasion. She had spent the play annoyed with herself for the way she had responded to his compliment and hoped that he would not be put off by her initial awkward attempts at conversation. she comforted herself.The Girl On The Balcony became a memory. One quick drink became two. “Chekhov dialogue needs to be fast. Somehow Laura found herself agreeing to have a meal before they went to their respective homes. home was the 85 .

in Bloomsbury. although he wanted to feel the softness of her skin and the warmth of her hand in his. whether she would feel the same awareness. They deliberately did not touch as they strolled along. Matt knew that touching Laura this early in the relationship would be a mistake. They wandered along the river and across the bridge absorbed in each other and oblivious to the rest of the world. Laura was wondering what it would be like to hold Jon’s hand.Frances Hart wrong word. Its position suited Matt. or apartment as he described it. The atmosphere needed to be kept light and that would be impossible if he took Laura’s arm. each seeming to feel the need to keep at a slight distance while they talked. each remembering the moment when they had. he was staying in a flat. Opera was playing softly when they came through the door and were given a table in a secluded corner. the same sense of coming alive as she had when she brushed against him in the theatre café. They realised they were hungry. They had been strolling along when they were attracted by the warm light pouring out of the windows and the contented hum of a busy restaurant. 86 . They never knew where the Italian restaurant was located.

One in a long line. “I mean.” she went on.” A horrified look flashed across her face. It had certainly never made it to the papers. aren’t I?” The voice was quiet. thinking of Mia and her loose interpretation of commitment. Now he watched Laura play with her empty glass and waited for the conversation to be directed at him. “Jon. I would not have come near you if I were in a relationship. I am right in thinking that you’re unattached. He was clear. make no mistake about it. Thankfully. He had never been meant to find out about her one night stand with another actor. Loyalty is a given for me. he later discovered. the media also missed his subsequent visit to a clinic to be tested. Jon’s terse reply was a relief but also a hint that he had been hurt in the past. the tone vehement. Laura looked at him. “I assure you. I am currently single. and she was beginning to hope that 87 . when she went crying to the media about his callous behaviour. Perhaps one day.” he added. what did you mean when you said your time was flexible? I mean.” you now know more than you ever wanted to know about teaching but you haven’t said much about yourself. and comparatively inexpensive.The Girl On The Balcony The food was delicious and the wine surprisingly good. nor had any of the others.

he did not know enough about them. At the moment she knew very little about him. “what exactly do you do? Are you just travelling or are you in London for a reason?” Matt nearly laughed aloud at the question. He was going to stick to the truth as far as possible.” “And you let me make all those comments about The Cherry Orchard. “I’m an actor. here I am. for the foreseeable future. “If you couldn’t teach to save your life. He had decided against saying he was in an area such as computing or marketing.” she said brightly.Frances Hart there would be more than one day. “I had an invitation to go to France but something happened to overset my plans and so. They had only just met.” exclaimed Laura.” He had given a great deal of thought to how he should reply to any questions concerning his career. A resting actor to be precise. he would tell her more and she would tell him about Neil. But that was getting ahead of herself. “Why didn’t you let me know?” Matt watched Laura try to conceal her embarrassment. “I am currently between jobs so Europe is as good a place as any in which to spend the summer. 88 .” He grinned. reminding him of a comment he had made.

I did say I was resting at the moment. You had several ideas I’d never thought of before. “and 89 . “Come on. Have you any idea how many actors there are in the world? And how many are working at any given time? It takes a great deal of luck and determination and being in the right place at the right time.” Matt could almost hear Peter snort with derision. inadvertently giving Matt an enticing view of the swell of her breasts as she leaned forward. And I was interested in what you had to say. “Would I have I seen you in anything? You’re not famous.” he added quietly.The Girl On The Balcony “I actually haven’t done any stage work for a long time. You were coming it from a different angle. and having the right agent. thankful to focus on another topic. He poured himself another drink. remember” Laura put her elbows on the table while she absorbed that bit of information.” She did not take in the way her companion tensed. you wretch. I’m sorry if I made you feel even remotely silly. “I still wish you’d let me know. what type of actor? Are you on television? That might explain why you seem familiar. are you?” she said playfully. “Oh. before he felt confident enough to continue. He swallowed and picked up the wine bottle in order to mask his reaction. So. one he did not want. My agent is actually quite good.

thinking of his friend’s reaction to that deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. 90 . It always sounds such a glamorous world. it calls for a raft of minor roles and some of them are quite challenging. concentrating on its movement. He shifted in his seat. Full of excitement and vitality. Luckily. a sort of thriller.Frances Hart has got me on to a movie in the fall.” He smiled inwardly. like any other job. Laura was still chewing over the revelation that Jon was in films. “Being in films is so different. That sounded pathetic.” Matt looked at her finger moving on the glass and felt a rush of desire. Damn. It made her career look positively mundane and lacking in glamour.” The last words slipped out. He made himself stare at the wall above her. “A lot of it is boring and mundane. That is. head lowered. if you’re lucky enough to get a part. I imagine that you come across lots of fascinating people. He imagined her finger tracing the same pattern on his skin. Laura put her hands down on the table and started tracing a finger on the glass table. The colours of the abstract painting that hung there seemed to sear his eyes. Lots of beautiful women.

then put his fingers over hers. I don’t want you to walk out of that door and out of my life. but Laura. The sense that they were connected on a level previously unknown. The film industry is preoccupied with beauty. as far as I’m concerned I met the most beautiful today when I met you. “Do you feel that you can put up with an actor?” Still no reply. The sound of his voice was mesmerising. stilling the movement. The feeling that they had been here before.” There was the same electricity. The feel of his hand on hers was devastating.The Girl On The Balcony He returned his gaze to Laura and to the way her hair shone in the warm light. The knowledge that her attraction was reciprocated was almost too much to take in. This time Matt continued to hold her hand and began to stroke it gently. obsessed by it at times.” The voice that enticed cinema goers around the world deepened and said urgently. “I very much want to see you again. Finally. there are lots of beautiful women. his fingers teasing the skin.” Please say you’ll see me again. “And yes.” Laura was incapable of speech. 91 . She sat there unmoving. Laura. and cradled her hand between both of his.

” They were blue. “Will you? Please. Desire leapt. Yet. It now made sense. a dazed expression on her face. Their eyes locked. held. Laura. I would love to. its shape. Matt turned slowly towards the waitress whose impossibly black ponytail was still quivering from her abrupt stop. The rest of the restaurant fell away. he had done this before. It was the first time.Frances Hart Matt let go with one hand and took off his glasses. His lips knew her hand. smoothly replacing his glasses as he did so. He kissed it. She’s mine. tried to tug 92 .” At last. Shit. putting them on the table in Laura’s line of sight. Laura knew that the pattern of her world had been altered irrevocably. His eyes were blue. its feel. A gasp. And she was drowning “Yes. She focussed on them then raised her head slowly until she was gazing into his eyes. Matt gently raised her hand to his lips.

“Of course. I have this friend. Jon. It did now. It always worked then. “Sorry for spoiling your moment. Inwardly he winced. He was not going to let her go. on the other hand. Rachel will never believe me. It happens all the time. and she absolutely worships Matt Steele. I should have known. “The number of times I get asked that.” prefer the Jonathan Mann version.” She squeezed the hand which tightened momentarily before turning to the waitress. It would be nice to have his salary wouldn’t it?” he continued with a slight laugh.” she added softly. It sounded so artificial. Laura did not notice.” she murmured. “Aren’t you? Are you?” she faltered. She was bemused by the similarity that was now so obvious especially given the events of the past few days. “that’s who you look like. He continued in a slightly deprecating tone and hoped like hell Laura would not notice the slight changes in the inflections of his voice. one he often employed successfully on screen to confuse the opposition. Matt raised his eyebrow and gave the intruder a coolly enquiring look.The Girl On The Balcony her hand free but he held tight. “Matt Steele?” he finished for her.” She did not know 93 . I. not after last week. I’m not sure whether he’s my doppelganger or whether I am his.

Like a reverse Notting Hill. “That dialogue certainly had a surreal quality.” The waitress glanced briefly at Laura before redirecting her gaze at her companion. I think we’re finished. Could we have the bill please.Frances Hart that. It did seem a bit like it.” She moved away with alacrity and Laura felt a bubble of laughter welling up. Jon?” “Yes. for sure. Calling him Jon also helped. but Jon obviously felt slightly ill at ease at having a famous twin—and having seen for herself what happened when anyone came into Matt Steele’s orbit she did not blame him—so she was prepared to stretch the truth and pretend that she had known him for a long time.” 94 . You know the scene where Hugh Grant’s character takes Julia Roberts to his sister’s birthday party and one of his friends doesn’t recognise her and starts rabbiting on about how little money most actors make and asks her how much she managed to earn.” “And she names an extremely large sum. sir. “He means the bill. Yes.” The waitress looked blank. I remember that. I’ll just go and get it. like a black comedy version. please. We would like the check. “Sure. I agree. “Shall we make a move. so she continued.

I’m paying. but Laura seemed intent on paying her way and it made a refreshing change. “I certainly have more than enough to pay for this evening. Laura.” he said as they left the restaurant. before you begin to argue. 95 . May be. She bit her lip.” It went against the grain to say that. Laura’s heart was singing at the next time although she automatically protested enough to negotiate Jon down to sharing the taxi fare. “There is going to be a next time. Matt felt himself respond to the unwitting sensuality. He had to tear his eyes away from the softness of her lip in order to regain control. aren’t I.The Girl On The Balcony There was just the slightest touch of irony in Matt’s voice and Laura hoped she had not upset him by seeming to underline how success on that scale had eluded him.” He thought of the eight figure sum. “I think the check is about to arrive and. I did get some money for my last movie. You can pay next time. “I am right. I can see you again? Tomorrow?” A smile was all the answer he needed before Laura started waving her arm madly as she spotted a cruising taxi.

” Then. Have you got your cell on you?” Laura took her hand away with some reluctance to take her phone out of her bag explaining ruefully that she could never remember her number. and you can show me something of London? I’m a tourist. Laura’s heart began to beat rapidly. I’m not exactly on your route to Bloomsbury. “I normally use the bus or the Underground.Frances Hart They were ensconced inside and Laura had told the driver where she needed to be dropped off when she admitted.” She handed over a note. Matt stuffed the note in his pocket and took her hand firmly in his. that is. She had to find where it was stored in the phone whenever she was asked. 96 . She scrolled down to find her number. remember. And they were only holding hands. She handed over her phone. “First things first. Her mouth felt dry. “Where shall we meet tomorrow and when? How about tomorrow morning. We’d better exchange phone numbers. What if she put in the wrong number? Better to admit to being incompetent than get it wrong. if you aren’t doing anything else. realised her hands were shaking. But it’s going to cost you a bomb if I don’t pay my share. Their fingers touched. I must admit this is much nicer though.

The Girl On The Balcony “I know it sounds stupid. It was vital to get this right. He took off his glasses and stuffed them into his pocket along with the note. Where do I find your number?” Laura told him and Matt stopped speaking in order to concentrate. but do you think you could put both numbers in Jon. Right. It’s practically glued to her ear sometimes. however. just to make sure it’s actually done? I’d probably erase half the numbers in your phone if I did it. 97 . “Says it’s because her phone is different. much to his friend’s amusement.” She tried to laugh. Wary of the potential for hacking he had stuck with his old phone. Matt picked up on her embarrassment. I mean.” He left it to Peter to latch on to all the latest technology. “You sound like my kid sister. The last time she had her hands on it she managed to delete an important message and forgot to tell me she’d done it. He teased. She’d probably erase half the memory card before admitting she didn’t know what she was doing. I never let her near my phone. Goodness knows why. Mine. she spends all the hours under the sun using her own phone. is a different story. She seems to have a mental block or something where that’s concerned. Goodness knows what she’d do if I had a smart phone.

Laura’s wits were scattered. “I’m notorious for unpunctuality. Everything sharpened. The light had turned green before he spoke again.” She added softly. “There. Now.” He handed back her phone and waited until she had put it away before taking her hand again. He made his voice sound teasing again. “Somehow I don’t think I’ll be late tomorrow.” “The cheek of it.” Matt felt a surge of desire so intense he wanted to take her in his arms and insist on her not going home at all. To my flat. Now. of course. How could she concentrate when she was so aware 98 . His bed. Or hers. Her leg brushed against his as the taxi swung round a corner and again came the awareness. They stopped at a red light. The same longing. “Now I can give you a call in the morning to find out why you are late. The same shock. He must have felt it too because his hands stilled momentarily and he looked at her without saying anything. any ideas about where we go?” He knew where he wanted to go.Frances Hart Laura was conscious of his nearness.” she admitted. “I’ll hold you to that. but settled for informing her cheerfully. It depends on what I’m doing. Streetlights rushed past. But it’s actually not too far out. Finished. the jolt.

” That is. Shall I come over to your place?” Not that he had a clue where it was. Miserably. How about making that our first destination? We can play it by ear after that. She felt like crying. Oh. Matt heard the tentative quality in her voice. The Wallace collection. you idiot.The Girl On The Balcony of his hand brushing hers? Where to go that sounded reasonably sensible? She couldn’t think. And now she had done her level best to kill the attraction.” She shook her head at her utter crassness. How boring was that? There was no way he would want to go there. Matt’s eyes were drawn to where a silver earring twirled with the movement and felt a now familiar tightening in the groin. What had she been planning for tomorrow before her life had turned upside down? “Have you ever been to the Wallace collection?” she heard herself saying.” She still could not believe her luck in gaining the interest of such a fantastic guy. if you are serious about meeting tomorrow. “I was planning to go there tomorrow. Laura half whispered. Or where they were going tomorrow. She had ruined everything. What the hell was it? Did he care? As long as he was 99 . Tomorrow. “That sounds brilliant. he had no idea where he was going at this moment.

Matt gritted his teeth. “How about outside Bond Street underground station at eleven?” Happiness made her say.Frances Hart with Laura it did not matter where they went. There were rockets going off somewhere Laura was sure.” “Which. Rockets. don’t you? I can trust you not to get us lost?” “Huh. no problem. “You do have all the necessary qualifications. When she could breathe again she realised that he had not been talking about the Wallace collection but had an entirely different destination in mind: a 100 .” was the reply. Control yourself Steele. he qualified.” “I’m counting on it. I know what I’m doing. I’ll take you there. “Or shall we meet at a more central location?” In her elation Laura squeezed his hands more firmly. it did not matter as long as they ended doing what he had been fantasizing about ever since they had met. of course will match the parasol you will be holding to show that you are a bona fide tourist guide.” and Matt put her hand to his lips. Again. He repeated this instruction to himself like a mantra. Or. “You’ll recognise me by the pink carnation in my hair.

The taxi came to a halt and Matt leapt out to hand her out. It was only a gentle kiss. It’s your clock. narrow path and reached the front door of the end of terrace house. It was only a first kiss but she felt herself going boneless. And scary. I’ll wait.” he said cryptically. Became distant. A security light snapped on. She was going crazy. “Sure. His hand brushed a stray curl away from her forehead. she thought hazily. warm. Reality was the softness of her lips. sir. the feeling that he had come home.The Girl On The Balcony journey that was destined to be exciting. and utterly compelling.” They skirted past the low shrubs that edged the small. Laura wanted to stay like this forever. asking the driver to wait for a few minutes while he saw Laura to the door. He put his lips firmly on hers. A promise. His kiss was gentle. Their eyes met. “No problem. gently tipped her face to meet his. And inevitable. She was melting away and in the morning there would only be a little pile of clothes to show where she had been. Matt waited until Laura put the key in the lock then kissed her softly on the cheek. But the world rocked. 101 .

What had hit him? What was he doing? He had to stop. hoping his legs would remember how to walk. “I must go. demanding.” before the door shut and the light went out. He forced himself to pull away and spoke huskily.” Thank goodness. Finally Matt regained some semblance of control. He felt rather than saw Laura’s gaze following him as he went shakily down the path.” Her voice came softly through the darkness. He heard an airy. “Yes. Otherwise I won’t be able to.” He brushed his lips over her forehead. Exhilarating.Frances Hart It was madness. Suddenly his hands were fisted in her hair and his lips were on hers again: this time urgent. like a rare and precious work of art. waiting for her response.” Matt had to will himself to open the gate and shut it behind him before he dared to look round. She felt him draw away. lit by the brilliance of the security light. “See you tomorrow. And she was incapable of any thought at all. Hers? His? She closed her eyes to try to capture this moment. Laura. 102 . Then she smiled and turned away. She stood. possessing. Now. “I’ll see you in the morning?” The last was a question and he tensed. “Good night. “And don’t be late. and a sigh hovered in the air.

nursing a mug of stone cold coffee and watching the daylight get stronger.Chapter 6 “Good morning. She had been sitting at her kitchen table for what seemed like hours. She stood there rubbing her knee as his voice came through. “How are you this morning? Did you sleep okay?” 103 . Laura. With those words the sun came out. She had barely slept. banging her knee on the chair in her haste to get to the phone before it stopped ringing. when her phone had rung.” Laura felt a burst of happiness when she heard Matt’s voice. She had leapt up.

Frances Hart “Fine. I can’t ask what you’re wearing now. thinking of the way she had tossed and turned. I need to know. rippling sound that made his heart beat faster. I’ll be wearing a pink one.” she lied. It would 104 . hard body entangled in the sheets with her. “Right Pink. I can’t take a chance here. “And what colour carnation did you say? I mean. “Yes. We could meet somewhere else but it’s fairly central and easy to get to. Think what might happen if I went up to someone thinking she’s you. “Did you get back alright?” “Yeah. “Pink.” She knew she was babbling but she did not care. dizzy with relief. Now. Wasn’t it?” She sat down on the floor in an ungainly heap. a low. only to discover it’s the wrong colour flower.” Laura closed her eyes and braced herself for an apology about not being able to make it. about this morning. Good. “No. “It was Bond Street station at eleven.” Laura chuckled at Matt’s nonsense. tangling the sheets and imagining how it would feel to have a certain lean. You’ll be wearing a pink one.” There was a loud sigh of relief. No problem. Jon had not been having second thoughts.” There was a pause. Now I won’t worry about making a mistake.

” Silence. I’m off to have a shower. sweet heart. Rachel.” and the connection was cut. Grimacing. Totally unfair. She was half way through a fresh mug of coffee when the phone rang. She glowed.” “Unfair to whom?” “To me. “See you later.The Girl On The Balcony be unfair. The floor was hard. the words black and see through. Her heart leapt. What should she do now? It was going to be a long time until eleven. Laura. I don’t want to raise your stress levels any further. she levered herself up and retrieved her mug. 105 . so I won’t mention the word nothing then. A cold one. Then laughter. she was loving the unexpected turn the conversation had taken. Think what it would do to my stress levels. “Well. clutching her phone and reliving those last words until her body protested. in passing. totally out of order as you’ve probably only just got out of bed. Could it be Jon again? She checked the caller ID.” Laura glanced down at her pyjamas with their faded strawberry pattern and smiled. And before breakfast too.” Laura smiled. I don’t think I could cope if you happened to mention casually. heard a soft. “That is downright cruel. She stayed sitting on the floor.

Thought I’d give you a call. So. The brain cells are frying nicely. The talent is a bit thin on the ground though. No Matt Steele look-alikes. who’s the second one?” “He’s a Geordie with a fantastic accent and a really wacky sense of humour. what are you up to? What are you doing today?” 106 .” “But. “So far. Spain’s good.” “For heaven’s sake. And he hasn’t got a clue. I’ve decided he must be working towards his gigolo badge but hasn’t managed to achieve anything higher than sleaze level. Laura. He’s a caricature.Frances Hart “Hi. It’s fascinating.” “He wears football strip. One is a Spanish guy who is intent on practising more than his English. Not even close.” “You are a seriously weird lady. Anyway. See how things are going in sunny Britain. Rachel. I’ve only met two blokes who are even remotely interesting. Why is he so interesting?” “Because he’s so dire. enough about me. unfortunately.” Laura smiled slightly at that but Rachel rushed on before she could say anything.” “Which is?” “Level one.

Remember those two pensioners in the middle of all those school parties when we went to see The Dream at the Open Air theatre in Regent’s Park? I felt really sorry for the poor things. “He’s someone I met at the theatre yesterday afternoon. More like a nightmare.The Girl On The Balcony “I’m meeting a guy. I want to hear all about him. what’s he like? Am I right?” “You might be surprised. Anyway. I bet he’s thin and earnest and wears socks with sandals. “Why would you think that?” “Because who else would go to a matinee?” Rachel was on a roll now. you think? Don’t you know? Is he a transvestite or something? Come on. They didn’t know what had hit them.” she added. Her relationship with Jon was too new. Some dream. She kept thinking she was dreaming and would soon wake up to the cold light of day. tanned body and blue eyes and felt weak at the knees again.” 107 .” Laura realised that she did not want to tell all.” Laura had a vision of a lean. I think. Even to Rachel. “What do you mean. “Unless he’s a pensioner. Rachel was so wrong. It still seemed too fantastic to be true. too precious.” “Don’t tell me.

Rachel had cut the connection.Frances Hart “So what is he like? Oh. When were you thinking of going?” She had forgotten about her intended stay in Suffolk. How are you? How are the wedding plans going?” To her surprise Lance did not plunge into a morass of detail featuring his fiancee’s thoughts on invitations. flowers. “Morning Lance. “have a good time. he doesn’t. look at the time.” her voice became serious.” “But that’s your idea. photographs. She was dumping her uneaten breakfast in the bin when the phone went again.” Laura’s voice trailed off.” Her voice regained its teasing note. for once. She wondered whether he would 108 . guests. I’ll call you when I get back. but said. lists. I must go. Honestly. would be blue. When was she going? She had a sudden picture of herself and Jon. This time it was her brother. Unless I meet the man of my dreams before that. Caroline has decided we’re going to test drive a different beach today. “And try to persuade him to ditch the socks. strolling along Gun Hill in brilliant sunshine looking at the North Sea which. younger sisters can be so bossy. heavens. And Laura. “I’ve called about Southwold.

it was certainly an unusual venue for a first date. Yes.” She thought belatedly about his promise to let her borrow his car. She cringed again at her choice of venue. I’ll get there somehow. don’t worry. “I thought Sunday or Monday. is there a problem? Is it still okay to borrow your car?” There was a note of guilt in Lance’s voice when he answered. “Why. although Jon was hardly average. It would be heaven. She would ask him if today went well. “Oh. I remember. Do you remember the time when we were going by train and I got lost at Liverpool Street station?” “And we found you waiting for the Southend train. Still. She found the Wallace collection absorbing but did not feel it would appeal to the average male. It was nice of you to make the offer in the first place.The Girl On The Balcony come with her. She sighed. “I’m very sorry but I’d forgotten that it is needed next week. and dragged herself back to her brother’s question.” 109 .” Was it her imagination or was her brother choosing his words rather carefully? She had a strong idea who was behind the offer being withdrawn. Far better than going on her own. I think I know the way after all these years.

as she mentally designated his fiancée and promptly lost track of what he was telling her. the other thing is.” “When and where.” “That’s what you said then. and did not have the long holidays enjoyed by some professions.” What party? She must have missed the first part because her brother was now suggesting that because he was up to his eyes in work. Laura’s brow creased. I’ve got the keys for the cottage.Frances Hart That was better. what did you say?” “I said you can pop in at the party on Saturday to get them. less strained. Anyway. and Saturday was full to the brim she would have to meet him there. then? Do you want me to come over to you?” She grimaced at the thought of meeting the blonde bimbo. her brother sounded more relaxed.” “Sorry. “Well. She managed to get to a pen as he began to relay the address in the crisp tones of the lawyer at 110 . they both begin with the same word. Something was wrong. her brother did not usually employ his professional mode with her and was usually more accommodating. She realised she had not registered what he was saying when she heard the word “party. Mum and Dad are away for the weekend so they gave the keys to me to pass on.

I think so. It’s not the end of the world. That was seriously upmarket. There was a distinct chill before he went on. “You’ll only have to be there for a few minutes so don’t worry. It’s just one of those things.” “I know it isn’t. Do you realise where it is?” There was a silence as Lance digested the implications. Something was wrong. She was not mistaken. She focused on the present.” His voice sharpened as he asked: “What’s wrong with the address?” “Nothing. “Just as well.” It was not her imagination. “Don’t worry. given the address. It’s only a small gathering. the opposite. with beautifully manicured talons and a sultry voice artfully cultivated to ensnare every male who happened to wander into her territory. She knew from experience that he would not reveal what until he was ready. Her eyes widened as she dutifully wrote down the details. dressed to kill.” 111 . In fact. a sort of last moment thing. Lance was still speaking. “I’m sorry about the car.” Laura could imagine this particular thing: size zero.The Girl On The Balcony work. apparently. At least. There had been a very slight emphasis on “it.” His voice tautened.

She was going to be late. is everything okay?” “Yes. devastating came 112 . He reflected on the long night he had endured. Bye.Frances Hart “Lance. unable to sleep. It was damned difficult to remember to keep in role when all he could think about was Laura. It was only a kiss. Then she glanced at the clock and yelped. he had not answered her query about the wedding. He was a bit wary about meeting in such a public place so today sunglasses were a given. imagining how she had felt in his arms. she remembered. Only. inviting. Must go. He was walking with a slightly awkward gait. there was nothing simple about it: complex. shoulders hunched. No. That was abrupt and. been swept away so completely by a simple kiss. Laura. on and off screen. See you Saturday. how she would feel. Did that mean there was a hitch? She would ask him on Saturday.” and the phone went dead. He had never lost control before. to minimise the fluid grace that characterised him. Matt was walking along a side street trying to avoid crowds as much as possible and trying to gauge the time correctly so that he would not have to hang around the station but not run the risk of being late.

it was like being in an unknown country where he was having to learn the language. It had never mattered before. His thoughts and fantasies had entangled him for most of the night. he wanted. Besides. whatever the hell it was. Or thought he did. He remembered the way her laugh had made his heart beat faster. He had sat at the window. It made him uncertain. He had picked up his phone and held it. counting the minutes until he felt he could phone Laura in order to hear her voice. would not take up the whole day? What could they do this afternoon? He forced his mind away from his first thought. no. It would be too tacky to go to his apartment. He winced as he remembered how stupid he had been when he started rambling on about what she was wearing and how her response had triggered an intense reaction. nursing a cup of black coffee and watching London come to life. Surely the Wallace collection. Falling in love was uncomfortable. He knew what to say and do when relating with the opposite sex. He wondered what would happen today. He had finally given up and got out of bed when the same damn dove had started up again. he needed the choice to be Laura’s. and make sure she had not changed her mind. With Laura. 113 .The Girl On The Balcony to mind.

which hinted at the curves beneath. It matched the deep pink of her dress in some sort of filmy material. He watched as she turned and saw him. Did she realise she could floor him with a look? 114 . His face broke into a broad grin when he spotted the pink carnation in her hair. Would she be there. He felt his heart begin to thud at the prospect of seeing her again. fringed by long dark lashes. Matt glanced up as the density of passers by thickened to realise he was nearly at the station. The thudding became so hard he felt as though he was being pounded by a demented drummer. She looked totally gorgeous. light up when he approached. in every sense of the word. He was a stranger in this country. He knew he would certainly prefer it to be somewhere more private. with sexy heels. and his breathing became constricted as he saw her eyes.Frances Hart He had absolutely no idea where they could go. waiting? This question was answered when he came round the corner and saw her. He noticed that she had toning sandals. where there was less risk of being recognised. His eyes drank her in.

” He stood in front of her and touched her carnation. She wanted to grab him and pull his face towards hers. This was Jon. This morning he was wearing dark chocolate brown cut offs with a loose linen shirt. although she would have preferred to gaze into his eyes.” she spoke shyly. and looked good enough to eat. Very 115 . toned body and taut stomach. They had tasted fantastic. She could put up with the sunglasses. remember. He was tall. “Hi. She looked at the sculpted features of his face. Hastily she shut down the memory. as though he was trying to hide behind them: almost as though he were really adopting the role of a celebrity trying to be incognito. “Hi. “I like the flower. a shade under six feet. She pushed the thought away. yourself. with a lean. He must be tired of being mistaken for his famous alter ego and was trying to avert the possibility of any more such confrontations. at his lips which were firm and well shaped. although the effect was somewhat marred by the sunglasses masking his eyes.The Girl On The Balcony Laura saw him striding towards her and her heart stopped. She recalled the waitress’ reaction the previous night and the cool tone Jon had used.

Frances Hart fetching. Instinctive. where are we going from here?” Again she had the impression that there was a sub text to his words. the light’s green. His hand tightened protectively and he drew her close when a group of Italian tourists pushed noisily past.” The sarcastic tones of a would—be shopper recalled him to the public nature of their meeting place. He glared after them when they reached the other pavement. at the need to keep her safe. strengthened when a surge of people came bustling past ready to do battle with Oxford Street. 116 . How dare they push Laura around. It was primitive. Come on. He wanted to deal with them for being so rude. They turned to cross the street and were promptly caught up in a crush of people eddying towards a famous department store. “Excuse me. She wished he would kiss her. Matt felt slightly startled at the sense of protectiveness.” and nearly sighed aloud with relief when he took her hand. she smiled at him. She wished she knew. Instead. Some people are in a hurry. “Now. He straightened and asked.” She saw a pulse in his throat and he leaned forward as though he were going to kiss her. practically elbowing Laura out of the way. “Across here.

where are we going? What is the Wallace collection?” “Paintings and furniture left to the nation on condition they were all kept together in the same building. She felt her insides curl as his fingers started brushing her hand. He started to relax when they turned into the street alongside the department store and left the surge of people behind. Hand in hand. Matt smiled down at her.” She laughed self-deprecatingly and added rather desperately. It’s all a bit crowded together but the rooms and general ambience are rather special. I like it. “Incidentally. The paintings need more space. He wanted to gather her in more closely but recognised that if he did they would not reach the Wallace collection. whatever it was. without speaking.The Girl On The Balcony He had never felt quite like this with any previous girlfriends. passing its less populated entrances. “I 117 . At length Matt asked. they wandered along the pavement. Laura glanced at him wishing that she could see his eyes to get a sense of what he was thinking. past groups of staff having a smoking break. loving the feel of her hand in his.

the restaurant is great.Frances Hart must do. as they went through some rather imposing doors. 118 . Once inside. She was having to trust to luck that he would not be put off. They drifted through the magnificent rooms housing the Collection not saying much. I thought it would be nice to have lunch there. especially in winter. as I suggested coming here. Still. it will be interesting to see what you think.” “Sounds good to me.” Matt replied. “And. She put this thought into words when they were crossing Manchester Square. Again the errant thought slid into Laura’s head about how hard her companion was trying to blend in. the restaurant was good.” Just as well. she did want to know what he thought. She pushed it aside. conscious of each other rather than all the pictures crowding the walls. Out of work actors were much more her style. He was really nothing like his famous “twin. About her. Still. It’s in the centre courtyard which has been glassed in and it’s beautifully light. He looked much better without either. the carnation had been transferred to Laura’s bag and the sunglasses had been ditched in favour of the tinted ones from yesterday.” That was certainly true.

She felt her insides melt. When they reached her flat that evening she would ask him in. The food had better be good. a little less crowded. Otherwise she might find herself saying goodbye at the end of the day. the pictures were almost superfluous. Or they could get a takeaway. She tested the thought in her mind. The sheer romanticism of the first floor with its exquisite furnishings still made an impact. The Franz Hals portrait was much smaller than he had imagined. No. She wished she had thought of somewhere a little less public. For coffee.The Girl On The Balcony She was ready for his surprise when he saw the Laughing Cavalier. And she did not want that. Matt turned away from a picture he was studying and smiled at her. Perhaps a brilliant idea would occur while they had their lunch. evidently. 119 . A little more appropriate. She had always loved the way the deep emerald green walls and matching drapes in one room gave way to the hazy blue in the next. Laura wondered what Jon thought but was not confident enough to ask. she definitely did not want to say good night and watch him drive away. especially when she was so uncertain about the whole venue. She had felt exactly the same on her first visit.

The pictures were too close together. Yes. It would not be having sex. It was almost with relief that she realised they had reached the restaurant. He had seen enough. She shied away from probing any further into her feelings. He 120 . Visitors enjoying a coffee break were interspersed by those who had decided to have an early lunch. the girl who had invaded his life and his dreams. Love was the right term. It was hard work having to try and concentrate on pictures and antique furniture. It was much more than that. It was light and airy and hummed with the sound of people having a good time. She was also right about the restaurant.Frances Hart She had put fresh sheets on the bed that morning. She would die if they did not make love soon. Matt was quite glad when they sat down in the courtyard. however. Love? Her eyes widened. however beautifully crafted. to decide that Laura was right. Her heart turned over. when all he wanted to do was look at. She had never felt like this before. She refused to think about the implications of that action. The smell of coffee and the scents of food made him appreciate that he was hungry. Was it only the second day she had known this truly gorgeous American actor? It did not seem to matter. and hold.

He nearly groaned aloud. He was tormented by Laura’s nearness. he wondered whether he would be able to eat any lunch.The Girl On The Balcony had not been able to eat any breakfast—not that there had been anything to eat. He laughed at himself. not to mention the trustees of the building. Get a grip. His mind returned like a homing pigeon to the question of where they would go next: somewhere more private that would enable them to get to know each other better. He stared down at the menu. she was going. He glanced around at his fellow customers and visualised them vanishing in a puff of smoke. Not a good idea probably. He was beginning to sound as though he was part of a fucking girlie movie. Matt was so preoccupied he barely registered the arrival of the waiter. Steele. Health and Safety might have something to say about that. for the foreseeable future. he had forgotten to buy any food—because he had felt so nervous. Now. Nothing made sense. he admonished himself. despite his hunger. He realised that the waiter had come and gone and he did not have a clue what he had ordered. He was also neglecting Laura. He felt a moment of panic when she got to her feet. 121 . He wanted to spirit her away to a place where they could be on their own and where he could make love to her. God.

smoothly. “Anna’s dying. then subsided when he saw her going downstairs. How’s it going?” “Bad timing on your part Peter. to the rest rooms. Just then his phone rang.” “Where are you? Is Laura with you?” Matt answered the second question. And it would be dark. he remembered. That was an idea. Another part of him revelled in the enticing way she moved. He looked around in apology but there was no one in the immediate vicinity. thank goodness. He would still prefer to spend the afternoon making mad. I’ll call you later. Damn.” he began without any preamble. Part of him had heard her mumble something about going to tidy up. “Yes. Much later. Watching a movie would ensure some measure of privacy. 122 . This was uncharacteristic of the twenty first century equivalent of Machiavelli. Matt shifted in his seat. Even though I love her she’s just going to have to die. Preferably next century.” “Oh.Frances Hart He almost leapt to his feet to stop her. “I’ve been forced to make this call. He usually timed things to perfection. He had meant to put it on vibrate.” Have you taken her to see Freeway yet?” And Peter disconnected.” Then. “of curiosity. It was Peter.” he paused.

” 123 .” “Not exactly. “Laura. His expression was priceless. He would. “Laura. “That’s because you ordered the vegetarian special.” They concentrated on their meals for several minutes then Matt gave up the pretence of eating. At this rate he would be losing weight big time. If you like vegetables. avoid Freeway. When Laura returned to their table. (she had spent the time staring at the mirror above the wash basin trying to believe that he had not lost interest.” Despite her misery. He looked up with relief as she sat down. I can’t find any. just perhaps. Laura emitted a gurgle of laughter. the movies would work. I’ll survive. have you any idea what this is supposed to be? They haven’t been exactly generous with the meat here. he had been so quiet ) it was to find Jon picking dubiously at his food.” He took an experimental mouthful. “I take it you didn’t mean to order that.” “Would you like some of mine?” She gestured towards her chicken Caesar salad. “Not bad. “No thank you. no. about this afternoon.The Girl On The Balcony passionate love but for now.” Her laughter rippled out again at the look on his face.

He flashed a smile at her when she managed to reply.” 124 . The brush off. with you. “any where. She concentrated on pushing the salad around her plate.” Outside the sun shone on the glass roof and made it sparkle.” She could have danced on all the tables in the restaurant when he went on.” and added daringly. “The cinema sounds fine. I would probably smash the glass roof. “I wondered about the Tate Modern. I am going to combust. “His voice deepened. And our fellow diners might complain if they found glass in their food. if you haven’t anything else in mind. Laura hoped she would not cry. for instance. Introducing me to the National Gallery.” She could hear the humour in his voice which gave her the courage to look up at him. “But if we can’t find some place this afternoon where I can get to do more than hold your hand. “How do you feel about going to see a movie? That is. “I know the theatre is probably more your style but I can’t think of anywhere else we can go this afternoon that’s quiet and comparatively private. Other than my apartment of course.Frances Hart This was it. Not a good idea. I’d love to go. Laura felt she could have danced on the table. but that might give you the wrong idea about what I want for us. It was worth it.

but Jon was continuing. She could not speak. She felt like singing along. not far from a couple of middle aged women spread comfortably with shopping bags piled around them. As if we’ve known each other for a long time. “I thought a cinema might be a good place to be.The Girl On The Balcony Laura was sure her jaw had dropped several feet.” a playful note crept into the voice. “what we’re going to do next. But. Not a goodbye speech. “it’s not a good idea to lure you to my apartment so that we can go straight to bed” Why not? Laura quite liked the idea of being lured. Somehow. 125 .” They took their seats as the lights started to dim. at least until we decide. It just feels right. Laura could see a group of giggling teenagers nearer the front. then. “I know that we only met yesterday but somehow this is different. And I’m hoping that you feel the same way because what is definite is that I want to make love to you. And that is a promise. perhaps. Certainly her knife and fork clattered on the plate when she dropped them. she did not think she would resist too hard. loudly.” there was a slight emphasis on the we. while she danced. The audience was not exactly large. Her breathing hitched as a hand covered hers and a quiet voice said.

she remembered. The dark lenses of his sunglasses had seemed to become more opaque. his manners 126 . She did not care.Frances Hart A male accompanied by a rotund stomach and a giant carton of popcorn sat across from them and a few rows behind him another older man was already asleep. Again. Once inside he had glanced at the films listed. she thought fancifully. (They were sharing the cost at her insistence.) That was rather uncharacteristic. as he called them. Normally. he had pulled her past the Freeway hoarding and whisked her into the cinema so quickly she did not have a chance to see what else was on offer. What was it called? Her lips curved into a smile. slumped sideways in his seat with his mouth open. She had suggested that they see the Matt Steele film but. going so far as to excuse himself to go to the rest rooms. It had been advertised as “unforgettable” and “spell binding”. while they were in the process of getting their tickets. She wrinkled her brow when she thought of how Jon had seemed ill at ease. She did not really know what the film was going to be about. Jon had vetoed it. Rachel would regard her lack of knowledge as heresy but Rachel would have elected to see Freeway. rather unsurprisingly. In fact. grimaced slightly. then had suggested the one they were about to see.

remembering the snatch of a conversation that echoed behind them as they went up the stairs. had squelched her mother. No way is that Matt Steele. “Come on mum. lucky sod. Everyone knows that.” She had not dared to look at him. She suppressed a squirm of unease. all ear piercings and overdone eye makeup. He’s in France not London.The Girl On The Balcony were impeccable. “This is better. She knew why. tantalising rhythm. The opening credits were rolling across the screen when she heard a murmur. 127 . She stifled a giggle. He had apologised on his return but had certainly not wanted to spend any time in the cinema foyer and had made a point of avoiding eye contact with anyone. Now they let their eyes adjust to the darkness and their ears to the opening music. Why is it mothers never know anything important? As if he would want to come here.” A strong finger started to make circles in her hand in a gentle. get real. His alter ego seemed to follow him everywhere. That is so not possible. Laura relaxed when she was pulled closer and her hand taken.” Jon had visibly tensed but she saw his shoulders begin to shake when the teenage daughter. “Don’t you think that man looks like Matt Steele? I wonder if it is him. an older woman had said to her daughter.

Laura shut her eyes again. She took in the scent of expensive aftershave. Laura thought muzzily as Jon rested his head on hers. produced a gun and started to shoot back. respectable citizens would not be trying to gun down pedestrians in broad daylight.Frances Hart In front of them one of the teenage boys said something that caused laughter to ripple along the group. Normal. somewhere. At least Laura assumed they were the bad guys. tanned skin and sheer masculinity. Laura felt the vibration and opened her eyes. Car tyres started squealing. finally called the cops. Matt started chuckling. He rolled under it to emerge on the other side and. The hero was now bounding over fences and causing traffic jams as he raced down alleys and side streets and across roads trying to avoid the cars containing the bad guys. She hoped. She had already lost the plot. He had been offered this role and had decided it was too energetic. from nowhere. People started screaming. Her eyes closed with complete happiness while on screen the hero started strolling towards his car to be met with a hail of bullets. Sirens started blaring as somebody. Footsteps started running.” came a soft murmur and a kiss was dropped on to her hair. “Sorry. She 128 . like an auditory Mexican wave.

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could not concentrate on the film. The dialogue could have been in Swahili for all the sense it was making. Not that the actor would take long to memorize the script; grunts and exclamations mingled with cursing as he finally lost the villains and managed to reach his original destination. Laura snuggled in closer as her arm almost of its own volition discovered skin under the linen shirt while the feisty, and decidedly pissed off, heroine confronted the hero when he emerged, looking decidedly travel worn and weary, at her front door. She felt protected, as though she had come home. She sighed with pleasure. The effects of a sleepless night and tension-filled morning seemed to vanish as Matt nuzzled her hair. The world started to melt away. The camera focussed on long legs and incredible bust before zooming in on bee-stung lips that made the most of their mobility to yell, “Where the hell have you been? What goddamn time do you call this? And what the fuck have you been doing? I thought you had a business meeting with some guys.” “Sorry honey. It took some time to get shot of them.” Matt angled his face so that he could kiss Laura. He discovered that she was asleep.


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On screen the aspiring Hollywood actor enjoyed a passionate love scene with his curvaceous co-star. In the audience the A list movie legend dropped an occasional kiss on the hair of his girl who was peacefully asleep, shifting uncomfortably when her hand moved to a different position on his chest and reflecting on first dates and the vagaries of fate.


Chapter 7
“I can’t believe I fell asleep. Why didn’t you wake me?” Laura was still mortified. She had been dreaming about being kissed, light butterfly kisses: she could almost feel them on her forehead. She had opened her eyes to find that it was real; she was being kissed and her companion was whispering, “Wake up, sweetheart, the movie has finished.” They were going up the narrow stairs to her flat as she spoke. The aromas of a Chinese take away rose from the bags they were carrying. Laura fumbled with the key before she opened the door and led the way into her flat. She took the

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bags and put them in the tiny kitchen while Matt stood in the small living room and gazed around with curiosity. The neutral oatmeal colours of the walls and carpet were offset by cushions and curtains in rich, distinctive shades. A fluid, wooden carving of a mother and child blending into one figure stood in a corner, a light angled to make it back lit. A rectangular picture of a seaside scene done in brilliant acrylics dominated one wall. Two photographs of a giant dandelion seed enhanced the wall opposite. The photographer had used different colour filters. “Taken using a microscope,” Laura commented, when she came back to see him move across to inspect them more closely. “Nice.” He turned to survey the room in more detail and realised there were books and files everywhere; even the television, which must be several years old, had a small stack of essays balanced on top. Several texts sat in front of the computer. The dust across its screen confirmed the fact that it had not been used for some time. “It’s broken,” Laura confessed looking at the direction of his gaze, “and I haven’t got around to getting a new one. I use the one at work or invite


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myself round to friends and borrow theirs when I want to check on my email.” That was a bit of a set back. There was no way he could give Laura his email address under the circumstances. Security was enough of a problem as it was. He would worry about that later. He looked at Laura. Much later. Now he had other things on his mind. Laura sensed Matt’s withdrawal. Was her flat that bad? She hesitated before asking, “Would you like some coffee before we eat? Or beer? I think I have some lager in the fridge.” She turned towards the kitchen needing to do something ordinary. It had been her suggestion to get a take away and come back to her flat rather than go to a restaurant, because, as she had stated, it was her turn to pay. In her mind she knew she had a different agenda although she was trying to persuade herself that the reason was economic; she did not want to waste money by going to a restaurant and not tasting the food, as had happened at lunch time. She made a face when she recalled yet again what had happened in the cinema afterwards. Jon had chuckled when she apologised and had said that it was good for his ego to have a date fall asleep in his arms.

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“Why? Because you made me feel secure?” “Something like that.” Who was she trying to convince? It was nothing to do with money. She did not want to waste any more time. She wanted him. And he had told her he wanted her. Now, they were finally alone and she did not know what to do. “Laura.” She loved the way he spoke her name. She turned. He had come up behind her and put his hand out to touch her cheek. “Laura. You have no idea.” She found herself in his arms. They stood fused together, her head on his shoulder, his hands curved round her waist while the late afternoon sun angled into the room and dust motes danced. Why did it feel as though they had come home? His lips found hers and they came together in a wild, exhilarating burst of passion. Laura closed her eyes and abandoned herself to a maelstrom of longing and need. Her fingers were tracing sharp cheekbones, brushing over that


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uncompromising chin, pausing when the pulse at the base of his neck quickened at her touch. Matt tangled his hands in her hair: it was fragrant with the elusive scent of spring flowers, heightening senses and making him want. His hands moved down over the silken curves of her body and rested on her hips. The filmy material of her dress was soft and seductive but it was not skin. He needed to touch her and explore her body with his eyes and with his senses. He had to make love to her. This minute. And he was damned if he was doing that on a beige carpet. They needed a bed. Laura had pressed closer against him, arousing desire so strongly that his knees threatened to buckle. Where was the bed? They needed a bed. Now. Somewhere Matt found the strength to break the kiss and murmur into her hair, “Bed room? Before you have your wicked way with me on your living room carpet, sweetheart.” Laura could feel the smile in his words. Breathless, she made herself pull away until there was a tiny gap between them. Hazily, she remembered that he had asked a question. Bedroom? Where was it? Somehow she managed to lead him into the right doorway. Yes. There was the bed.

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Matt wanted to fall on it with Laura and start tearing away clothes but they needed to slow down, to make this moment last. He drew her to him and held her close until he could breathe again. His mind cleared sufficiently for him to remember about protection. With one hand he reached into a back pocket and withdrew a foil packet which was tossed on to the bedside table. At least, he hoped it had fallen on the table where he could reach it. With his track record where Laura was concerned he would not be at all surprised if it fell on the floor and he would have to scrabble around to try and find it. That would certainly kill the moment. Laura smiled at him, that mesmerising smile that had captivated him from the first second, and his thoughts scattered. He could not tear his gaze away from her beautiful grey eyes darkening to the colour of a stormy sea. From somewhere he found his voice and breathed, “I need to see you, touch you. And I need to get rid of this shirt.” As passion started building again, deliberately, and slightly desperately, “Can you remember how to undo buttons?” Laura’s eyes widened and she smiled wickedly, bewitching him, again. Her eyes holding his, she started to undo the buttons. Her hands moved downwards, brushing his skin, pausing while they

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explored the hair on his chest, interrupting the downward movement to feather over his rib cage, returning to trace below his navel: seducing him. He caught his breath and his heart started to pound as her lips tracked across the breadth and muscle of his shoulders, over the contours of his chest, down to his taut stomach. He could not take any more. He yanked the last buttons undone and his shirt fell to the floor. He caught her hands before reaching for the fastenings of her dress. It slid down to join his shirt on the carpet. Matt’s breathing hitched momentarily when he saw Laura standing in her flimsy underwear and those sexy heels. She was an enchantress and he was spell bound. Her eyes on his, she stepped out of her heels and let the silk and lace pool to the floor. He reached for her and his mouth took hers. Passion erupted. She clung to him, shuddering when strong, clever fingers pressed at the cleft in the small of her back before feathering over her stomach and upwards to her breasts. A haze of desire engulfed her. The kiss became more urgent. He took her breasts in his hands and circled her skin in a rhythm at once entirely new and as ancient as time. Matt lowered his head and brushed her nipples with his lips sending waves of longing through

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Laura’s sensitised skin. She craved more and arched forward in invitation. His lips became demanding. She felt the rasp of his teeth and exhaled sharply. Her longing pulled at her. She reached for the waistband of his cargo pants and felt him shudder when her hands felt the hard outline of his erection. The remnants of his clothes went flying as they tumbled on to the bed. He ripped the foil packet and with hands that shook managed to get it on, all the while kissing her with increasing urgency, ravaging her lips in the need to make her his. She responded greedily and desire took over, driving them into a world that was fuelled by instinct and desire. He thought he knew what it was like to want but it had never been like this: uncontrolled, desperate. Longing knifed through him. He drove into her and sent them headlong. Laura had never experienced this collision of the senses; it was unnerving, wonderful. She was out of control and she loved it. Never . . . like . . . this . . . before was Matt’s last incoherent thought before release swept through him. Together they abandoned their hold on the world. And shattered.


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Joy. The word hovered above Laura as she inched back towards consciousness. Gradually she began to distinguish shapes and she realised where she was. Her bedroom. It was shadowed in the soft evening light, that magical spell before darkness falls. She could feel the weight of Jon’s arm round her, keeping her safe. She felt warm, protected. She snuggled against him, nuzzling his chest. The hair on his chest was surprisingly soft. She liked the taste of his skin. She wondered drowsily what the time was. She listened as Jon’s breathing slowed, became regular. He turned his head. Matt felt at peace. This was where he should be. The doubts and uncertainties of the last few days, the restlessness, the sense that something was missing, that had been an accepted part of his life for the last few months had gone. Laura made the pattern whole. Mine. The thought hovered. What they had shared went beyond lust, desire. They had connected on a plane he had never previously experienced. He opened his mind and let a word sweep in with a brilliance that lit the world. Love. That was the difference. He had never been in love before. He turned his head towards her and there she was, the girl he loved. The moment when he had first seen her edged into his mind. She was his.

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And he was hers. He took her lips and kissed her with a gentleness and sweetness that threatened to overwhelm her. Tears came to her eyes. Matt’s body decided to take revenge for a night with very little sleep and a day with very little food. Appalled, he heard his stomach rumble. Laura could feel the heat as a blush spread over his whole body and realised that he was embarrassed. She looked at the sheepish expression on his face, and she tumbled into love. The threatened tears turned into giggles then laughter and the moment of almost unbearable sweetness turned into a moment of exuberance as he, too, started to laugh, reluctantly at first before gaining in strength. They clung to each other in a mixture of happiness and laughter and tenderness. And love. “Well, I suppose that answers the question of what we do next. I evidently need something to eat. In fact, I seem to remember being lured here by the promise of food and look what happened. You turned into a siren.” Matt was playing with her hair as he spoke, “I’ll waste away and you won’t be able to see me. You’ll wander round searching for me, calling my name and apologising for not feeding me.”


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“Patience. I don’t know. Some people are never satisfied.” She sat up and looked around the room. “I’m sure I had clothes on when I came into the room. I wonder what happened to them.” She glanced mischievously at him and started to get out of bed. Slowly. Seductively. He gave a groan and took her in his arms. Later, much later, Matt insisted that cold noodles made a surprisingly tasty breakfast.


Chapter 8
“Are you going far, Miss Marshall?” The voice of her landlady stopped Laura in her tracks. It was lunchtime. They had decided to decamp to Bloomsbury (Matt’s suggestion) via the Royal Parks (Laura’s contribution) as Laura had insisted that Matt ought to see more of London, and, besides, they needed some fresh air after a morning spent indoors, in bed. Matt was just coming downstairs behind Laura, carrying her rucksack, when they were accosted. Gimlet eyes turned briefly in his direction before boring down on her prey.


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“Not at the moment, Mrs. Whiting,” she replied. Not that it’s any business of yours, you old bat. The name suited her. She resembled a fish, Matt thought, as he regarded the down turned mouth and protuberant eyes of the woman standing in the doorway to the ground floor flat. “Only I wondered whether you had managed to find alternative accommodation yet.” “We agreed the end of August, if you remember, Mrs. Whiting. I probably won’t be here for the next couple of weeks,” Laura flashed a look at her companion, he was positively bristling at her landlady’s abrupt manner,” but I will be ready to move out at the end of the month, don’t worry.” There was a grunt and the sound of the door being shut very firmly as she disappeared into her lair. “Who was that? Dracula’s mother?” Matt said as they went down the path into the street. Laura laughed. “Worse than that. My landlady. She’s selling up and I have to move out at the end of the month, as you gathered. In some ways I won’t be sorry to move. She tends to be a bit too aware of what I’m doing. However, it does mean I have to find somewhere else to live before the beginning of term and I don’t want to go home to my parents if I can help it.”

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A picture flashed into Matt’s mind: Laura standing in front of the window of his place in Wyoming looking out at the forests and mountains. She looked as though she belonged there. He would ask her. When she knew who he was. An out of work actor would not have a luxury cabin in the mountains. How was he going to tell her? When? He did not have a fucking clue. He shelved the probable identity crisis for the time being. Instead, he put his arm round her as they strolled along the road and asked casually, “Did I hear you say something about being away for a couple of weeks? You must be very low maintenance if these are all the clothes you need for that length of time,” he indicated the rucksack on his back, before raising his eyebrows and leering at her, “or were you thinking that we wouldn’t be spending much time away from the bedroom, and you wouldn’t need many clothes. You’re a wicked woman Laura Marshall.” Laura blushed. Matt laughed. She responded to that by giving him a shove. Inwardly she was glowing at the implication that they would still be together. “I was going to ask you this morning, before I got distracted, whether you would like to come with me to Suffolk. That is, if you didn’t have any other plans,” she added hastily. “Only, I’ve arranged to go to my parents’ holiday cottage on Sunday or Monday,

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and I thought it would be nice if you came with me.” This came in a rush before she said quietly, “In fact, it would be more than nice, it would be incredible. Unless you would prefer to stay in London,” her voice petered out. It sounded brilliant to him; he could not bear to let her go. He wanted them to get to know each other properly and it would give him more time to work out how he was going to come clean about his real name. In addition there would probably be less chance of being recognised. He held her in his arms and whirled her round, ignoring her yelp of surprise and forgetting that he was supposed to be blending in. He waited for her to regain her balance before saying cheerfully while she clung to his arm, “That sounds brilliant. Even if I haven’t a clue where or what Suffolk is.” “It’s in East Anglia which isn’t that far from here. It’s by the sea, although you have to be extremely hardy to go swimming in it.” Matt’s eyes brightened at the thought of Laura in a bikini. Laura realised where his thoughts had gone and wrinkled her nose at him before going on, “I can’t remember the last time I wore a bikini on that beach. The North Sea is cold. It’s nothing like the Med,

The Girl On The Balcony

certainly as far as temperature goes. We’ve had it for years, the cottage that is. Used to spend all our holidays there. My parents don’t tend to use it much at this time of year now. Too many families with kids on the beach, to quote my father. But they’ve still got it because the area is quite good for bird watching, the feathered variety, “she added sternly as she saw his eyebrows quirk. “My father is a keen bird watcher so they tend to go in spring and autumn.” “Sounds cool. I’d love to come.” “I have to pick up the keys on Saturday. Damn,” she stopped abruptly causing Matt to stumble. “I’ve left the address behind. We’ll have to go back. I’m so sorry, Jon.” “Which address? I thought you’d been there before.” “Sorry, I’m not explaining very well.” Laura had turned on her heels as she spoke and they started back the way they had come. “I arranged to pick up the keys to the cottage from my brother, Lance, tomorrow evening. He’s got to go to some do or other, so he suggested I pop in there, wherever it is, for a few minutes to get them. I copied down the address where he’ll be on to a bit of paper and forgot to pick it up and I’ve left it behind. Sorry,” she repeated.


Frances Hart

“What are you sorry for? Confronting the mother of Dracula is enough to make anybody forget everything they ever knew. I wonder what her husband was like. Poor sod.” Laura giggled, especially when she saw her landlady quartering the street from her window as though making sure the enemy did not arrive from an unexpected direction. She waved deliberately as those eyes tracked her hastening up the path and into the house, then rushing out again several minutes later with a bit of paper clutched in her hand. “Okay to go now?” Matt teased, as he waved nonchalantly at the face in the window. She really did look like a fish. “Got every thing? Phone? Purse? Shopping list? Spare hanky?” “You sound just like my mother.” Laura ducked away from him before he could retaliate and started running down the street. She let herself be caught before they had gone too far, a victory Matt sealed with a kiss that left both of them breathless and realising that if they were to make it to the park they needed to get a taxi. The gates at the entrance to St. James’s Park were busy.


a young man. When had she ever said she wanted to go 149 . to the sky. recognisable by the sombre colours of their clothing. had their eyes peeled for empty seats and benches. an older woman. back pack adorned. a teenage girl. brushing past groups of young travellers. She pushed her shoe around on the tarmac and hoped that her mother would not have too much to say about her hair. staggered through the gates. before repeating the cycle. Joggers sped patronisingly past the unfit to vanish among the trees. Jess Armitage was waiting for her mother who was late. Office workers. taking advantage of the hazy sunshine to eat their sandwiches in more congenial surroundings than work canteens or desks. to the interior of the park. cut short in a choppy style. absorbed in each other and wrapped in each other’s arms. ignoring the squeals of welcome as yet another youth. shifted their feet from side to side and switched their gazes randomly from the street to their watches. Business men strode briskly through the gates on their way to official destinations. to passers by. A few individuals. using the gates as a meeting place.The Girl On The Balcony Matt and Laura mingled unnoticed as. they strolled into the park. the intense black colour lightened by vivid red highlights.

She had not missed much: another gaggle of foreign school kids had gone by as had three business men clothed in expensive suits and self importance. She gave a quick glance around. pretending she was her younger brother. shut her eyes. totally absorbed in each other. An exasperated teacher by the sound of it. and her mother would materialise during that time. They had years to practise their negotiating skills before their offspring could even string a sentence together. She could phone Kirsty before her mother came. she turned again to look at the couple. and a couple who were now wandering slowly down a near by path. She watched as a girl in crop top and high heels—so suitable for traipsing around London but then who wanted to be sensible—sauntered back to the shelter of her group. It was quite sweet really. not her mother. She sighed and. Her gaze focussed on 150 . She had to count to ten before she opened them.Frances Hart to Buckingham Palace to see the State apartments? That was the trouble with mothers. obviously so much in love you could practically see a heart shining above their heads. No. She looked longingly at her phone. A shout made her head swing towards the gates. if you were into that sort of thing. Still bored. No such luck.

Jess’s eyes narrowed. Her mouth dropped open. To do that. It was her fault for being late. She watched the way he moved. The lucky thing. broad shoulders. She looked like. This guy was a dead ringer for the film star. where the hero. She had seen that skirt before. 151 . really sexy butt. He even walked in the same way: sex on legs. Casually. Jess wrenched her eyes away from masculine heaven and focussed on his companion. The guy was really fit: long legs. So would her mother. Matt Steele. A memory nudged at her: the scene in Freeway. She watched as the couple left the path and angled towards some trees. she needed to get closer. She must be really something. The girl was really lucky to have landed him. It was Miss Marshall. it was almost like watching a film. was wandering along with the woman with whom he fell in love and had to leave behind. She must get a look at his face to see whether that was as promising. Ohmigod. Jess hesitated. Wow. It was so romantic the way they were glued together. She darted one last glance at the entrance then started to stroll along the same path. Kirsty would have to wait. He was about the same height and build and had the same physical magnetism.The Girl On The Balcony their backs.

152 . He glanced around automatically. more colourful. Lapse of protocol. “Laura. We’ll have to have a rethink. It made you more aware. featureless landscape and could be spotted from miles away. This was what love did for you. rather than the pale grey haze that often denoted summer in London. Love also ensured that his intelligence was taking a back seat whilst his emotions. I forgot the invitation. Here it gave the illusion of privacy. “Buckingham Palace probably.Frances Hart Everything was brighter. Matt sucked in a breath as she said. helped by slender fingers which had found their way beneath his shirt and were teasing his skin and senses. Matt thought. His glasses were still in his pants’ pocket.” “We can’t. There was nobody near them but without his sunglasses he felt as though he were trapped in some arid. Even the sky seemed blue. and other organs. He had forgotten his camouflage. Did it hell. are we going anywhere in particular?” Her hand angled along his rib cage. Wouldn’t do to turn up without it.” Matt left the path and led the way under a convenient stand of horse chestnut trees with wide spreading branches. were driving along gleefully and erratically without control.

Time stilled. and sat up. irrevocably. Laura gazed at the intense blue eyes above her. Their eyes locked. savouring her softness. Matt rolled over on to his stomach and buried his face in 153 . They could see nothing but each other. Laura broke away. her scent. with another. He drew her down towards him and lay there looking up into her eyes. The world outside their retreat was silent as though behind a wall of glass cutting off the noisy. A piercing wolf whistle splintered the glass. Two cyclists waved cheekily as they flew past. The only sound was the intake of their breath. Stopped. Gentle. Laura felt cherished. flustered. breathing noisily. gently and joyfully her heart was entwined with his. Welcoming. sprawling metropolis beyond the gates. Had a kiss ever been this sweet before? So captivating? This was what love meant. Their lips met. A plane roared past on its descent. His life was tied. Sound and awareness roared back. the colour of early morning mist. Two joggers slapped past. He was no longer a separate entity. Warm.The Girl On The Balcony He dropped to the ground and lay on his back using Laura’s rucksack as a pillow.

He heard the sound of footsteps which slowed and hesitated. Laura froze. We’re going to Buckingham Palace to see the State apartments. 154 . “I’m waiting for my mum. Jess came to life and rushed on before her other foot connected with her mouth. “Where exactly are you meeting your mother. He needed some time before it was physically practical to meet the world. The Queen’s not there though. Miss Marshall. All she could see were shoulders shaking accompanied by the sound of muffled laughter. Laura stood up. I wondered whether you were going to the same place.Frances Hart the rucksack. She dared a glance in the direction of the rucksack. Jess imitated a statue. Stopped. Jess?” The temperature must have dropped at least ten degrees. Her face went the colour of the highlights in her hair. what are you doing here?” Jess had been concentrating on trying to see the face of the figure lying on the ground rather than on what she was saying. Silence hung sharp as a paper cut until it was broken by a muffled explosion of laughter from the direction of the rucksack. “Hello. Then her brain caught up. “Her voice petered out.

Miss Marshall. He suppressed another laugh and rising fluidly to his feet. Perhaps my mother meant the entrance or something. She had seen that quizzical expression before somewhere. Matt suppressed a grin and managed to exert sufficient self-control to ask in a reasonably coherent sentence. A faint image of Leicester Square came into her mind but was pushed away. Miss Marshall. She was too upset to pursue it.The Girl On The Balcony Oops. A frisson of memory edged into Laura’s consciousness.” Footsteps retreated.” Matt turned over and looked up at her. I was just mooching around wondering where to go when I thought I saw you. “Well that settles it.” “Goodbye Jess.” “What does?” 155 . Laura exhaled loudly. “She said St. His hair was shooting out at all angles and his face was creased where he had pressed it into the rucksack. “A student of yours?” “Yes. “Well. James’s Park.” The reply was clipped. I hadn’t realised there was quite so much of it. slowly at first then gathering speed. I’d better check. Jess decided this was not the best idea she had ever concocted. hugged her. See you. that was a bit embarrassing to say the least.

“It’s bound to be a lot quieter in Bloomsbury. Her mind chewed on the fact that she had embarrassed Miss Marshall. She might manage it for two weeks.Frances Hart “There’s no way we’re going to Buckingham Palace now. Jess slowed her pace.” He smiled wickedly at her and. the rigid stance indicating that she was not amused by her offspring’s absence. despite herself. It was bound to be somewhere on her bedroom floor. This was all her mother’s fault for being late. She repeated it to herself when she spotted her parent waiting by the gates. if she tried really hard.” He let her go while he searched for his glasses. when he continued. Jess sped along. She could begin by trying to find her examination text. 156 . As they left the shelter of the trees Matt asked casually. possibly three. you never answered the question. Laura managed a quick laugh. Laura retrieved her rucksack. Perhaps she ought to become a model student. She had managed to embarrass herself and her teacher and she had failed to see what the guy looked like. What exactly were you doing there?” The rucksack was dumped on his head. That was so not a good idea. Miss Marshall. “Incidentally.

157 . what to say to her mother? Would she like her hair? They were nearly at Matt’s apartment when he had a sudden thought.The Girl On The Balcony Now. They made a detour to buy some food.


Chapter 9 “This must be the place. Another chauffeur driven car arrived while she and Matt stood there absorbing the scene and disgorged another guest.” The uncertainty in Laura’s voice was apparent as they looked at the light spilling out across the manicured lawn and sweeping driveway of an imposing and clearly expensive private hotel. The trees hanging smoothly over the gateway seemed to act as a barrier between worlds. dressed in formal evening attire. A limousine was purring away from the front entrance. 159 . The discreet name-plate set in the gateway shone. having dropped its passenger.

along with the buzz of conversation and laughter that became louder as the doors opened to admit these latest guests. He remembered throwing it away. She was the glamorous blonde who had been at the party the night of the premiere. Laura gasped. This was unfamiliar territory for Laura.Frances Hart She grasped Matt’s hand more firmly and began to walk towards the entrance. along with the others 160 . That would be asking for trouble. her future sister-in-law. At some point she must have slipped her business card into his pocket. the night he had first seen Laura. Annabel. He remembered this woman. They had to step aside several times as more cars swept up the driveway. She had draped herself all over him and engaged him in conversation for ages before Peter had responded to his eye signals and had extricated him by pleading jet lag. They could hear the faint sounds of classical music. Matt froze. It was her brother’s fiancee. it was unfamiliar territory for him to be turning up uninvited. not difficult to do given the way she had gotten in close. They were now close enough to distinguish the hostess among all the exclamations and air kissing. He glanced at her set profile and squeezed her hand comfortingly. even though he had no intention of going in. Hell.

He also remembered wondering about her devotion to her fiancé. “Could I see some ID please. He could not for the life of him remember what that conversation had been about. “Excuse me. you understand. It wouldn’t do to let the wrong people in. It would have been difficult not to notice the ostentatious engagement ring decorating her left hand.” He glanced over at Matt. How was he going to get out of this? His pace slowed.” The accent and the sharp suit indicated that this was not a guest. that is. “I was asked to look out for you. Sir.The Girl On The Balcony that had accumulated there during that evening. while asking curiously. Matt noticed the earpiece.” How could 161 . Her business card had been similarly ornate. his mind centred on the girl on the balcony as he had dubbed Laura then. if you are Miss Laura Marshall. A burly figure loomed in front of them blocking the light as they neared the bottom of the steps. Madam. He had responded automatically.” Matt stiffened before realising that the security guard was addressing Laura. I apologise for the inconvenience but I have to be sure that I have the right person. Laura rummaged around in her bag to find her driving licence. madam. A security guard.

Jon? I’m sorry. we’re not exactly dressed for this are we?” Laura gestured towards their rather more casual attire. listened to what was said in reply and then gestured to Laura to go ahead before saying to Matt.” They looked towards the front entrance where another car was disgorging another glamorous figure in impossibly high heels. Just Miss Marshall. but I’ll be as quick as I can.Frances Hart you be sure you have the right person?” She gave him the licence. Madam. saying. Matt took the opportunity to turn away from the light and the scrutiny. She leaned towards him to give him a quick kiss.” “Do you mind. “But I’m afraid that I can’t let you in sir.” He spoke to into the receiver. 162 . “I see. “Your brother. “Your brother said that you would be dropping in briefly and that I was to let him know when you arrived. The security guard glanced at the photo and returned it to her. mentioned that you would probably be walking. Lance Marshall. whispering in his ear. “I don’t think my designer outfit would have fitted into my rucksack somehow.” He saw no need to mention the hostess’s barbed comment about what the intruder would be wearing. After all.

It encouraged the speaker to continue. “Annabel is the hostess. “Oh well. only I was told about Miss Marshall. but not about you and between ourselves. sir. And I will try not to antagonise Annabel too much by being there. The security guard spoke apologetically. Matt was temporarily stunned by the information she had just imparted. Typical woman.” She straightened her shoulders. 163 . She also happens to be my brother’s fiancée. she wasn’t in the best of moods to start with. The poor bloke could hardly get a word in edgeways. Wouldn’t listen to a word he spoke. “Hope you don’t mind. slim blonde in the inevitable black dress was fussing over her latest guests.” The bulk standing beside Matt shifted as another car purred to a stop.” he leaned confidentially towards Matt. know what I mean. then resumed its monologue.The Girl On The Balcony I’ll be back as soon as I can. Went on and on about how important this was to her career. She was not pleased to learn about Miss Marshall. gesturing towards the lit interior where the stylish. “Miss High and Mighty over there is very particular about who should be let in. added. here goes.” She looked at his bemused expression and. “She had a right go at her fiancé.” Matt said nothing. “and started up the steps. “Course.

some sort of PR shindig for the great and the good. “What exactly is this?” He emphasised the last word before adding in extra smooth tones. being what I’m a professional and don’t listen to gossip. does she? Anyway.” he gestured to where Annabel was greeting Laura with overt reluctance. I’m Len. “Well. let her down. I mean how would she persuade someone like him to come here and mingle with the likes of 164 .” He paused portentously and leaned even further towards his audience. “Not surprised at your reaction. I think.Frances Hart Just between ourselves. Matt began to get a sinking feeling. so to speak. by the by. and you haven’t heard me say this. the great and the good. the movie star. Told her he’d be sure to come and now she can’t get hold of him. “Who is. the star guest?” The shine on the suit undulated and a chuckle came from its depths. where was I? Oh. yes. Made her look a bit stupid. mate. You know. “Doesn’t seem to like your girl friend much. according to my source. you understand. organised by Miss High and Mighty over there. or was. but her star guest. the one she’s been boasting about. so to speak.” Matt jerked instinctively. I’m not exactly sure about the occasion. It was supposed to be Matt Steele.

” he touched the side of his nose knowingly. apparently. everyone apart from her fiancé. He could also visualise the calculating smile that 165 . “told me. Shame. if you know what I mean. really. of course. “Wanted to know where she’d met him and didn’t seem to like the answer. He was trying to recall that evening.” Matt had stopped listening. But then what would I know? I’m only Security.The Girl On The Balcony that lot? Met him at some party apparently and asked him and was full of herself when he said yes. “At least. some wannabe from that reality show what’s just finished. Apart from herself. she got in a right tizzy when she couldn’t get in touch with him. some so-called models and that entertainer with the orange tan and hairpiece. At least that’s what my source. Strikes me she should have had it confirmed in triplicate before she lorded it over all us lesser beings. means we’re left with the usual rent a crowd: a couple of actors from the soaps. It seemed the quickest way to get rid of her. after she told everyone he was coming. Anyway. But pride comes before a fall and all the rest of it because he’s vanished off the scene. He didn’t seem to know much about it. or so I was told.” He smirked.” He paused. He dimly remembered saying yes to something when Annabel was breathing sexily into his ear. Blamed everyone under the sun.

He thought wryly of his throw-away comment to Peter about having to do some damage limitation. It would not have mattered. Over the years he had learned to deal with it and. He imagined the scene if he had appeared at the door dressed as he was. He was not being fanciful. being part of the crowd. to this. however inadvertently. he mused. it was a fact of life. apparently. when they were all dressed to kill. of course.Frances Hart had appeared. He still had the problem of telling Laura who he was. He shuddered to think what might have happened had Annabel been less meticulous about turning away the uninvited. come to expect it. He heard the certainty in his own mind. He was still not totally used to being anonymous. but had not had a clue what it was all about. They would have been all over him. that was for sure. at some point. in chinos. For Laura. agreed to come here. His mind had been had been in a complete fog. He was certainly not used to being disregarded. unseen in the shadows. if he were honest. He would have to do something to appease Annabel. He would not have been stopped by his new best friend Len. It was not a habit of his to let people down. and revealing his identity was only 166 . casual shirt and linen jacket. He shook his head. but it was worth it. He had.

of course. or in New York going around with Peter and Anna. She would lose a part of herself. They might have known each other for hours rather than 167 . His resolve hardened. He could not see Laura wanting to be dependent on him and did not want that for her. Being in the limelight. Better than he was coping now that was for sure. He would have to ensure his father did not try to cut him out. His family would adore her. The public part was a different story. Laura would love it in Wyoming he was sure. The private part of his life would be fine. sharing the public side of him would not be easy. Their happiness depended on it. What they had was real and enduring so any difficulties could be overcome. He pushed it aside. They had to work it through. He could also see her in Boston meeting his family. He could not concentrate on his erring parent now. Matt straightened. They would work it through. Neither would resolving the demands of their two careers. How would she adjust to the change? Matt smiled to himself.The Girl On The Balcony the first step. They could cope with anything as long as they were together. What came after would be more of a challenge. Matt’s mind slid off at a tangent as he remembered the rumours about his father and his latest young co-star.

” Matt’s attention was caught. does he? Have you seen Freeway. Another chauffeur driven car purred to a stop in front of the entrance. Being driven around London would have been a godsend but being lionised at social occasions like this was not something he missed. “Mind you. Somebody hoping to make an entrance by being late? There were some compensations for being a nobody. does he? He don’t have to go to a flipping party to get his picture in some poxy magazine. Matt glanced up as a second security guard appeared to stand in front of the door. “that Matt Steele wouldn’t want to be part of this mob. He was only operating on auto some of the time. He don’t have anything to prove. I thought he could have done better. There had been occasions in the shooting of that movie when he 168 . weren’t it?” The accent had become more noticeable. “I got this feeling. Matt realised that his buddy. Without Laura in his life he would have less than nothing. had carried on speaking.Frances Hart days but they belonged together. He had never been more certain about anything in his life before. when he heard his own name mentioned. You got the feeling in some scenes that he’d done this before. You know what I mean. that it were all too easy. mate? Good. once Len had decided he was on the same level. Len. “Len was saying.

occasionally breaking off to communicate with some colleague and always keeping his eyes alert. Apparently.” and Len went on to give his ideas about the path Matt should take. It was not necessary. same old. “Looks like you’re off. He had not seen the finished movie. “Do you think he’s losing his edge.The Girl On The Balcony had not been satisfied with his performance and had hoped it was not visible on camera. “Anyway. to the discerning eye it was.” He jerked a thumb at the buttons straining to keep his jacket closed and convulsed with laughter at the picture.” It was true. “I haven’t seen it yet. Never likely to meet the geezer. acting wise. I’ll rustle up a taxi for you. mate. “Needs to have more of a challenge. to hear an unbiased opinion. Matt murmured something in response and stepped slightly further into the shadows. am I? Don’t catch Hollywood stars like him standing around outside and having to talk to the likes of me because they ain’t got invites. then?” He was genuinely interested.” 169 . and possibly salutary. Needs to get away from the same old. He did not look at his companion to see how he was reacting but finished by saying. It was refreshing. Len had seen movement in the doorway. don’t matter what I think.

cut short the kiss. Annabel. “Could you tell me where he is. “Hello. The man. “Everything okay.Frances Hart The words came at a distance. Matt had looked in the same direction to see Laura being kissed.” The voice dripped icicles. Matt could hear Len asking genially. sorry to disturb your party but Lance said it would be all right to drop in for a few moments.” and she turned away to summon a minion of some sort. thoroughly. please and I’ll be out of your way as soon as possible. gave Laura a hug and disappeared back inside. She waited while her future sister-in-law finished greeting the latest batch of air brushed women and salon tanned men before condescending to turn towards her. Annabel’s eyes would stop global warming in its tracks.” “I know he did. he could not see his face as his back was turned towards them.” “I’ll find someone to take you to him. by an unknown man. 170 . Laura decided. whoever he was. Wait there for one moment. Miss? Did you find your brother?” He was unable to speak. Matt took in a fairly slim build and dark hair. Jealousy green and sharp had seared through him.

What are you doing out there? Don’t tell me. I could eat you up. No wonder she had not wanted Laura there. delectable. “Laura. in essence. the sparkle of champagne glasses and jewellery. the occasional flash of a camera. first things first. whose colour always reminded her of the soft green of olive leaves. A nobody. Why was she behaving like this? Annabel had left the doors open and Laura took in the room behind them: the glitter and glamour. Why did she have to be taken? And why was Annabel being so rude? She might not be dressed in designer evening wear but her Italian knit dress. “You must let me get you a drink. I haven’t kissed you yet.” Laura was swept into the fray. was perfectly respectable. Not the champagne on offer here. uber-bitch has left you high and dry. what must Jon be feeling after being stopped by Security? She hoped that he would not be too upset by the obvious snub. “Wait.” 171 . She was. the sound of polished conversation and theatrical laughter.The Girl On The Balcony Laura was puzzled. Come in and let me introduce you to people. my darling. You look ravishing. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you.” An eloquent shudder. Annabel’s career demanded publicity. If she felt like that. Of course. the poor relation.

172 . “Lance told me you’d be dropping in. From the corner of her eye she noticed Annabel looking murderous.” She looked up at her brother’s childhood friend. Philip. so clever to take the understated approach.Frances Hart Laura resigned herself to the inevitable as she was swept into masculine arms and a kiss was planted on her lips. “I knew it would be like this between us.” He grinned at her as he spoke and moved her smoothly and expertly through the room as if they were dancing. You could almost see the flash of light. The photographer at work. Spontaneous combustion. There was a flash. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. taking in the beautifully cut dark brown hair and laughing eyes which had had the same look of mischief in them when the three of them had been caught in yet another nefarious childhood escapade. You look as lovely as always. Perhaps they had given up the effort of competing against all the noise of loosening inhibitions. The members of the four piece ensemble were taking a break. although there was no music. Trouble followed him like the Pied Piper.” “Hello. either. mostly instigated by him.

” She glanced at Annabel who was hovering. Perhaps not always the best course Laura thought. Although that 173 .” Laura tried to extricate herself from Philip’s arms. bringing her mind back to the present. I should think. Do you know where he is?” “As far away from Annabel as possible. caused apparently by excitement over a proposed trip to Paris. for crying out loud. She remembered the time he had persuaded a friend that he was a member of the aristocracy albeit born on the wrong side of the blanket. preventing any further advance. She was used to his histrionics. no doubt to make sure they did not cause a scene. He did not like the way she tried to change Lance and never missed an opportunity to needle her. Another time he had introduced her to an elderly acquaintance as his fiancée to “get her off my back about when I’m going to reproduce.The Girl On The Balcony “You wretch. rolled her eyes when she heard him apologise for the “clumsiness” of his girlfriend. She waited while Philip charmed the matron whose elbow he had brushed against. The antagonism between Lance’s fiancee and Philip was inevitable. “I’m here to pick up the keys to the cottage from Lance. you know I wasn’t invited.” Laura stopped. They drew her more firmly towards him. I don’t need introducing to people.

I’m here officially. I do know that.” Until tonight. for some reason. It’s so exciting to watch. They’re having to be nice to each other while they’re in public. that Annabel was organising this shindig.” Laura knew that Philip and Lance were close and the flippant comments belied a deep concern. Lance was not pleased when he heard. And. they have had an almighty row. Isn’t it fun. You should have seen her face when I walked in. Laura was never sure exactly what he did. my sweet? Yes.Frances Hart did not answer the question about why Annabel was being so poisonous towards her. otherwise.” Philip worked in marketing. as a representative of my company. I should add. before you ask. Not a clue. She had always made a point of being gracious “to my wonderful future sister-in-law. “What do you mean? Have they had an argument? Is that why she was so cool to me when I arrived?” “Which question would you like me to answer first. Would this mean that Lance had come to his senses and that the engagement was off? “No. from someone else. “Do you know what about?” She looked at Philip. “The darling girl would never have let me through the door. They both detested Annabel.” 174 .

Phillip was a keen member of an amateur dramatic group.” He widened his eyes in innocence before bursting into laughter. Laura followed his gaze which had drifted towards the photographer. Does this mean you’ve found someone else to replace me in your affections?” “Rubbish. my sweet.” “I think I had better find Lance as soon as possible. live with each other. He’s having to wait outside. “Anything for you. Philip. I didn’t come on my own and it was a bit embarrassing when my friend wasn’t allowed in.” Philip put his hands to his heart as though wounded. While Jake’s father had come to accept that his son would never produce an heir he still found it difficult to acknowledge the gender of his chosen 175 . my darling. “You’ve cut me to the quick. “Behave yourself. stopping to have a word here. Jake and he had been together for several years although they did not. Annabel was now smiling her way through the crowd.The Girl On The Balcony He glanced across the room. Laura had to smile. an air kiss there with one of the celebrity guests which was caught by the camera. What would Jake say if he heard you?” “Which second rate melodrama have you been acting in recently?” was the prompt response. as yet. Apart from anything else.

She accepted the keys.” Her voice instinctively softened. she would catch up with him another time.” Within a few minutes Laura found herself at the front door again. It was not the place. Let’s face it. kissed him on the cheek and let Philip guide her back through the mass of guests. Philip picked up on this and decided not to tease her further. stopped him from apologising about the car. he’s in films although he’s out of work at the moment. whose social skills were disintegrating rapidly. Duty made her return to Annabel and apologise again for her intrusion. Luckily for me. Perhaps I’ll be able to introduce you sometime. Then you can get out of here. undermined by the attraction of free alcohol. You’d get on well. and its infectious nature caused several people to turn and look at her. I might not have met him otherwise. “I’ll take you to Lance. my darling.Frances Hart partner and both Jake and Philip recognised this and respected it for the time being. Lance had been conversing with a group of male guests when they found him and was disinclined to talk. Laura laughed. who would want to stay? Come on. “The friend I’m with tonight is an actor. She wished she had not bothered when all she received was an inclination of 176 . the males with admiration. Laura thought.

This could be fun. Laura finally came up for air and her eyes met those of Annabel’s. what are you doing?” Laura spluttered. She leaned against the seat and closed her eyes 177 . “Nothing. Philip had noticed too. making a beeline towards the photographer. invited. my darling.The Girl On The Balcony that perfectly coiffed blonde head which then turned with palpable relief to another. and take care. “Keep in touch. Laura could almost feel the chill from Annabel’s steely glare as she climbed in the taxi which had appeared at the front steps. Her future sister-in-law had turned back. He gave Laura another hug for good measure. guest.” was the airy reply. wondering why her departure had been delayed.” Philip’s head bent towards hers as he went to give her a friendly kiss in farewell. does she? I wonder what you’re supposed to have done. Suddenly the angle of the kiss changed. no doubt.” He waited until she was going through the doorway before adding. “She doesn’t like you at all. He had remembered the boyfriend might be watching.” and he melted back into the throng. “Philip. Bye. “Have a good time. Jon was already inside. She could almost see the shards of ice.

“No. It was just like him. The bite in Jon’s voice was unmistakeable. He had caught the smile when they passed a parade of lighted shops. It was no good.Frances Hart wanting to shut out the memory of Annabel’s behaviour. not really. They had never been able to rein him in when he was on a roll. “Why is everything so problematic?” Did she mean their relationship? What was he supposed to think when he saw his girl being kissed by someone else? Matt shook his head. though.” Laura’s thoughts had turned back to the party and Lance’s problems and she did not catch the sharpness. She deliberately turned her thoughts to Philip and her lips curved at the memory. “I did meet an old friend there. She added absently. She did not register the silence. “Really? You didn’t seem to be having problems just now. It was inexplicable.” Despite himself the words came out through gritted teeth.” Her deliberations circled back towards Annabel. He was looking away from her out 178 . Hurtful. Laura opened her eyes. “Did you have a good time?” There was an edge to Matt’s tone. Laura could not make sense of Annabel’s behaviour. He trusted her didn’t he? He tried to be casual.

” “I didn’t mind. He was not touching her. particularly when she had not said a word about it. He could not remember the last time he had been denied entry to anything. You must have felt very unwelcome.” The terse words reverberated though the darkness. It felt wrong. So distant. Almost as though he were jealous. Matt knew they were not true. Something must have happened while she was inside. She must have known he had seen her. Damn Philip. His words did not ring true. He was sounding so curt. 179 . Being refused entry was very demeaning for anyone. He did mind. In fact he seemed to be sitting as far away from her as possible. Light dawned with a rush. Why didn’t she say something? And why was he so vulnerable where Laura was concerned? “Jon? What’s wrong?” Laura’s attention was fully focussed on her companion. “I’m so sorry you had to wait outside. But that was nothing compared with the agony of seeing Laura kiss someone else. Jon must have seen her being kissed and drawn the wrong conclusions.The Girl On The Balcony at the whirl of London. She berated herself for being preoccupied with Annabel to the extent of forgetting the rudeness extended towards Jon.

It didn’t mean anything. I couldn’t. my brother’s fiancée. I was upset by the way Annabel. Not when I’m with you. He’s also gay. He knew he had over reacted. “I’m so sorry.Frances Hart She reached across and took his hand. “I promise. I wasn’t thinking straight. I wouldn’t. He’s a friend of my brother’s. He’s just a friend. She added. behaved towards me. “Incidentally. . Philip’s parting words caught in Laura’s mind as she lay entwined with Matt on the couch in the Bloomsbury apartment. She had certainly had a good 180 . He pushed his doubts aside. “I’m not messing you around. Jon. I’ve known Philip for years. In the dim light of the taxi Matt saw the uncertainty of Laura’s expression. gathered her in and whispered in her ear.” Promise what? When can I collect?” His lips met hers.” His head turned. don’t worry. if you saw me being kissed.” She could feel the moment when the tension began to lessen.” The commitment in the softly spoken word went some way towards him regaining his equilibrium.” she repeated. I should have said something.

needed. “What would you do if she got engaged to someone you loathed?” There was a hiatus until his brain connected. you mentioned you had a sister. All he wanted. It felt so good.” A sleepy murmur was the only response. “Jon. here. He started to trace a pattern on the soft skin belowLaura’s ear with his fingers and was rewarded by a swift intake of breath. in this room. “Luckily. “Have a fit. although it was late. my older sister. She looked up at the ultra modern lights which graced the ceiling. Ros. had the good sense to marry someone we all like. 181 . Matt pitied them. Julia’s only fifteen.The Girl On The Balcony time. They looked superb: elegant but cold. a good percentage of the population was still out and about. She smiled sleepily at the memory of the past few hours.” Outside the roar of traffic indicated that. He did not have to go anywhere. He did not really want to think about the party. A bit like Annabel. was with him. She sighed contentedly and let her head fall back on to a masculine shoulder.” Matt paused to give her a quick possessive kiss.

as my new buddy. except hope that your brother. Her taste. This time the fingers touched her breast circling the nipple as he continued. . She was smooth and silken. The sensations sweeping her skin were beginning to overwhelm her. You said that they had been arguing.” “And . The room became distant. Len called her?” A nod was all Laura could manage. Her back arched. “comes to his senses and breaks off the engagement. Now. or Miss High and Mighty. They clung to each other as they lost themselves in love. . She was losing hers. Thought disintegrated in a maelstrom of emotion. Never mind about her brother coming to his senses.” there was a faint query in the last word and again Laura nodded. “There’s not a lot you can do. Lance. Indescribable.” Her voice trailed away as lips took the place of fingers and desire swept through her. Len. As did my new best friend. It was out of this world. He wanted her.Frances Hart “I take it you are referring to Annabel. harder. . And for all time. 182 . He could feel himself spiralling out of control as desire built faster. The party was forgotten.

August .


She glanced at Jon out of the corner of her eye.” She overtook a car with caravan in tow. “Where did 185 . She had never driven an Audi before. She knew the route to Southwold and this was so much better than going by train. She did not need it. “I’m so glad you got this car.Chapter 10 “I still think you Brits ought to drive on the right side of the road like the rest of the civilised world. Driving on this side is just plain wrong. It’s great to drive.” In answer Laura laughed and accelerated smoothly past a lorry thundering towards Felixstowe as she indulged in the sheer enjoyment of driving such a powerful car. He was fiddling with the sat nav.

Why did he feel like an actor who knew he had blown the first audition? Matt closed his eyes and pretended to relax. They seemed to stretch round the globe. Too quick? She tried to stifle her doubts about whether it was a car an unemployed actor could afford. The moment Matt stepped across the threshold he could feel its warmth. He knows a few people. That way he would not have to answer any questions. muted browns and blues and faded with age was designed for comfort rather than decoration. The prospect of a journey by train had been too harrowing. It was a place that was loved and cherished even though an interior designer might despair. He caught Laura’s sidelong glance. He could imagine himself relaxing on the 186 . The cottage felt like home.Frances Hart you say you got it?” She hoped that was said with the right amount of nonchalance. The furniture. It had been unnerving when the Audi had turned up outside Jon’s flat. He had been very quick to assure her it was only borrowed.” Matt had used one of Peter’s contacts. He would have to tell her soon. “Through a friend you said?” “Yeah. He put down the bags and let his eyes wander round the living room.

He would bet it was terrestrial channels only.” 187 . probably the local area. “Somehow we never seem to get round to it. It’s very comfortable though. Beneath it was a video player. In fact it needed recovering about a decade ago. A small television hunched in a corner next to the fireplace. When had he last seen a video? He could see the title of one of his own movies near the bottom.” “Is that so?” There was laughter in her companion’s voice. Another shelf groaned under a pile of board games. Videos rested against the wall in an untidy stack. He recognised some of the titles from his own childhood. “Perhaps we ought to test it for comfort. She hoped Jon was not too concerned with the shabbiness. “she said. Videos. The cupboards were painted pale blue with shelves of the same colour lining two of the cream walls. Classics rested against well-thumbed paperbacks. “The settee needs recovering. One shelf carried holiday reading. The clock on the mantelpiece ticked contentedly. Modern novels jostled with books on birds and geography.The Girl On The Balcony large couch with its squashy cushions. He might need to hide that for the time being. for heaven’s sake. From what he could see the range of books was eclectic. Laura saw the direction of his eyes.

She raised her eyebrows and shook her head as he stood back to admire the positioning.” He turned. Those blue eyes glinted as he finally put the toy down. She had loved all the different coloured patterns it had made. “What’s that supposed to be? Your entry for the Turner prize?” “Mock not. She had given the model of the bird to her father as a birthday present. “Now where are we going today? Are we going into Southwold again?” They had already been here two days and had ambled into the small Suffolk town on their first day 188 .Frances Hart A long time later they both agreed that it had passed the test. I was trying not to disturb the pattern I’ve just created. What is it with men and toys? What do they say about second childhoods?” she queried to the air. “I don’t know. Laura was waiting for Jon to finish playing with the kaleidoscope he had found in one of the cupboards: a memento from her childhood. woman. positioning it with care on the small corner table between the telephone and the wooden avocet. It appeared that Jon did too.

“There’s a ferry. It would not have taken much. The rowing boat seemed all too close to the water. They wandered hand in hand through the village looking at the stone cottages.The Girl On The Balcony where Laura had fulfilled her wish of walking with Jon on Gun Hill in sunshine. “You’d be surprised at what I can do. 189 . It was his turn to pretend to be offended and he laughed when she stuck her nose in the air and threatened to tip him out. Some ferry. They all had low ceilings. bypassing the small green occupied by several children and attendant adults.” She pretended to be affronted. and ducked into several of the small shops. Matt watched in bemusement as the ferryman rowed them across the fast flowing grey water deftly and efficiently using the current. but not even you can walk on water. They were apparently going to walk to the next village across the river.” Then she relented. He was impressed. Literally. “I know you’re amazing Laura. He noticed Laura seemed more impressed by the oarsman’s muscular arms.” They picked up fish and chips from one of the places along the harbour and ate them while waiting to be transported across the river.

Old fashioned roses. It had been heaven. Music was coming from a radio in the kitchens. clung to the ancient brickwork of a wall and filled the air with scent. dark shop crammed full of souvenirs and knickknacks into a tiny garden which they saw was full of wooden tables and chairs and practically empty of people. The wails of the toddler had long since died away.” Laura tugged Matt’s hand and led him through a small. were on the verge of departing. pristine white against the light blue of the sky. A gull swept overhead. a family of frazzled parents and tired toddler. The air seemed full of promise. The only customers. a cloud of pink. He sat back replete and looked across at Laura.Frances Hart “I know. Suddenly it seemed right. Let’s have a coffee. A sparrow hopped along the uneven surface of the stone hoping to find some crumbs. “No chance. They were on their own. The jolt came again. The garden was paved with old stone slabs and framed by overgrown honeysuckle.” Matt told it as he devoured the last of his home made cake. She smiled at him. All the emotions that had swept Matt along during the last weeks 190 .

His script. He had been listening to the Killers but the last track had finished several minutes before.” Something eased about his heart when he heard her soft response. how true. He was also too comfortable to move.” Matt sprawled on the couch in the silent cottage listening to the surf crashing against the shingle. “Let’s go home. was lying across his chest. He took Laura’s hands in his. The weather had changed with a vengeance. “I love you.” The fervency behind Matt’s quiet words resonated in the tiny enclosed garden. He ought to put it away before she came back. He repeated his words and was surprised to realise how easy it was to say them. “I love you. He brushed the tear away.The Girl On The Balcony crystallised in the need to tell Laura what he felt. Rain was beating against the windows. It was the first time he had been on his own and he was taking advantage of Laura’s absence on a food shopping expedition to try to do some work. A tear started to trace a path down Laura’s cheek as she clasped his hand tightly and smiled tremulously. She murmured. annotated and highlighted. 191 . He felt happy.

192 . Laughing at him when he banged his head on the low ceiling in the bedroom. Laura. He could not concentrate. His head was filled with images of Laura. attempting to watch television. He would treasure it for the rest of time. . His mind drifted to the moment in the garden.Frances Hart It was strange how he missed her even though he had agreed with alacrity to her suggestion about going on her own as it would be quicker and she would be able to concentrate on her shopping list. the moment when he had put his feelings in words. . His eyes gleamed as he thought about that kiss. He had managed to get out of cooking but had been stuck with washing up. He had gathered from her teasing comment that pizzas were not necessarily on that vital bit of paper but he still hoped. No dishwasher here unfortunately . Arguing with him about allocation of chores. then kissing it better as they toppled on to the bed. They had not seen any of the programmes. And the aftermath. Smiling at him with the smile that always captivated his senses when they were lying together on this couch.

He looked at his watch. Matt listened to the clock ticking. which he had created for himself. Again it did not stop. It did not stop. It was as simple as that. At least Laura knew he loved her. She said she loved him. tyres swishing in the rain. Another car swished by. What the hell was he waiting for? He loved her. How right he was. he now had to find the right ones. She needed to know who he was. Matt slumped down again.The Girl On The Balcony He sat up and the script slid out of his grasp on to the settee. He hoped. But it was more crazy to go on drifting like this. afraid to put their relationship to the test. “What’s in a name?” he murmured. He would tell her today. He had called his idea crazy at the beginning. He was done with procrastination. Enough of acting like a coward. Not Laura obviously. Still no Laura. In this situation. As an actor he was accustomed to dealing with words. Enough of wondering how Laura would react to the knowledge that he was a sham. At least he had told Laura what was most important before he told her his real name. She would be back soon. He might not like Shakespeare’s play but he could sympathise with Romeo’s predicament. A car went by. and the surf crashing as he thought about what he was going to say 193 .

She had chosen to go to the large supermarket in the next town. She loved Jon. She 194 . So perfect it was almost unbelievable but that was nothing new. even if it was only on a shopping expedition. Laura backed the car into the narrow parking slot next to the cottage and grinned with triumph. simply because she could. His eyelids closed. She did not think he would have gone far. He smiled at the word. He fell asleep. She leaned into the boot to get the bags and tried to push aside her disquiet about how an out of work actor could afford it. Sometimes she felt as though all the past few days had been a fairy tale and one day she would wake up to find it was nothing but a dream. Thank goodness the rain had stopped.Frances Hart when she arrived home. She looked up at the clouds. The moment had been magic. She smiled at a neighbour taking his overweight dog for a walk and called a cheery “Hello. She trusted him. The moment when he had told her he loved her came unbidden. He tended to avoid crowds. It had a tendency to do that.” Laura locked the car and wondered what Jon had been doing while she was away. She loved this car and relished driving it.

after all. She bit her lips as she opened the back door. She had put it resolutely away and picked up her camera instead. Laura dumped the bags on the kitchen table and listened. she had nearly brought her passport. Had she been hoping 195 . She went to the sitting room door and looked through. He was asleep on the sofa. She had taken it out of the drawer before realising that she would not need it in Suffolk. Silence. Her eyes softened. Wordlessly she crept back into the kitchen and started to put the shopping away. She chuckled as she hid the pizza at the back of the freezer. She had packed in a hurry and had left several necessary items behind. There had been a few curious glances and a few double takes. so that he would not be mistaken for the film star again. not unless they had declared independence in the last year. Strangely. She went upstairs to put away the new underwear and the sweater she had bought. moderating his walk and hunching slightly into himself. remembering how Jon had gravitated automatically to the quietest table in the pub to avoid being noticed. she assumed. This was summer in England.The Girl On The Balcony tried not to obsess about the fact that he made a point of wearing sunglasses when they were out and at times seemed to be working on being inconspicuous.

sprawled out. Laura caught herself up. It was not fair. An arm came up and caught her nearly toppling her. Perhaps he was doing some work for his next part. She loved him. savouring the sight. His cheekbones were to die for. In the autumn he had said. were incredibly long. His eyelashes. A 196 . they had not said anything. Laura walked over to him unable to resist touching his face. A few minutes later she stood in the doorway again. She would trust that everything would turn out all right. Not a book. A script of some sort. Jon looked so right in the room. and smoothed his cheek. without the inner tension that seemed to grip him occasionally. He had told her he loved her. Giving in to the impulse she pushed him aside until there was enough room for her to sit down. She loved the feel of his skin. Almost as though to do so would be tempting fate.Frances Hart that Jon would ask her to come back to the States with him? They had not said much about the future. picking up the sheets of paper so she would not sit on them and placing them on his chest. unusually dark considering his colouring. He stirred as she put his head on her lap and started to stroke his hair. He was totally relaxed for once. In fact. with whatever he had been reading lying beside him.

She had to manage one-handed as he did not seem to want to let go. Laura caught them just before they went too far. She glanced at the name. It must be just in this scene. This time the pages started to fall to the carpet. The title Twin Target caught her eye. Perhaps she could see from the highlighting which it was. She flicked through several 197 . When she opened them again the letters shone at her in lurid green: Jonathan Mann. She wondered which one. She turned the script so that she could read it. She managed to get past the name to realise that he had most of the dialogue. The walls closed in. She was right. And froze. Perhaps he only appeared in one scene. Jon. The clock ticked extra loudly in time with the thudding of her heart.The Girl On The Balcony smile appeared although his eyes remained closed and his hand gripped hers. Laura swallowed and made herself turn the pages. This must be the film in which he had one of “the raft of minor roles” as he had put it. She bent down to kiss him on the tip of his nose and he stirred again. The name Jonathan Mann leapt out at her. She closed her eyes in hope that the words would disappear. There seemed to be a lot of highlighting for a bit part. It was the same there.

Frances Hart more. falling through the looking 198 . Jonathan Mann was a work of fiction. The name seemed to waver as she stared at it. Jon was a lie. who was he? She wanted to avoid the next step. This could not be true. She dared not look at him. Matt Steele. Make sure you get back to me. She stared at the staple before she let herself read what the note said: Matt. The truth was too enormous. She went back to the name and stared at its ten letters. Matt Steele. Two words. Be interested to get your take. Someone whose hand was holding hers as if he could not bear to let her go. Al A phone number was scrawled underneath. Still the same. What was that about trust? Realisation swept through her. Slowly she turned to the first page. If he was not Jonathan Mann. Soonest. She had fallen in love with someone who did not exist. Only two words but they had the capacity to topple her world. She whispered them aloud to try and make sense of their meaning. Her mind blanked. It was succinct. Jon’s famous doppelganger. She felt as though she were Alice. But she had to know. She felt like crying. Laura forced her eyes away from the name and made them travel to a note stapled to the top left hand corner.

The Girl On The Balcony glass. How could she believe that one of the most famous actors in the world. faltered. was sitting in her parents’ cottage saying he loved her? 199 . half the female population of the world. I’ve been trying to summon up the courage. Those ten letters encompassed one of the most famous names in the world. I came up with the idea because I wanted to meet you. Laura. “Everything else is true. I love you. Everything else is real. “Laura. Those deep blue eyes that had mesmerized countless cinema audiences were gazing at her in entreaty.” He swung his legs down with the innate grace that she should have recognised and sat up. that charismatic voice that had seduced her and. He still had her hand. He tried again. “It’s not what it seems.” Laura could hear the words but nothing made sense. Real? How could it be real? Everything was surreal. I didn’t know how to tell you. One of the most famous faces: the face that was now looking up at her. You have to believe me. one of the most lusted—after stars in the universe to quote Rachel. His hand tightened on hers.” His voice. presumably. Please believe me.

“That’s it isn’t it? I bet it requires you to pick up an ordinary.” she took a deep breath. “Believe you? You’re an actor for goodness’ sake. “a rehearsal for your role?” She saw him flinch. Her temper was beginning to spike fuelled by pain and anger.” she nearly choked on the word. You have to believe that. “I mean. “Why did you do it? How can I believe you? You lied to me.” 200 . Jon. “Please believe me. Why did you do it? What was it all about? A sudden whim to see how the other half lives? Or. What will I do if you don’t?” The rawness of the last question struck through her misery. She tried to tug her hand away. Matt. “Why?” The words caught in her throat. Laura. Laura. “How do you expect me to believe that?” The last word was infused with bitterness. Slowly her head came up and she looked at him. Like me. This time she registered the panic in his voice. From the beginning.Frances Hart She shook her head. You lied to me.” “Come on. Jon never existed did he? He was a lie.” The tears started. “an ordinary girl and you needed the practice because you don’t come into contact much with ordinary people. Everything else is true.” She wrenched her arm free and stood. You have to believe me. I love you.” “Only about my name.

any girl will do. Why do you think you have the monopoly on being hurt?” He tried to gather his thoughts. “Laughing inside? Bullshit.” Laura could not bear it. “You want to know what it’s like? Fucking 201 . I can tell you that from this side of the fence it hurts. The moon was hidden behind the clouds.” Matt managed to get to his feet. I love you Laura. I fell in love with you. “About how easy it is to pick up a girl. while inside his stomach was roiling. and persuade her that you are in love with her? Does it boost your ego? Or is it a power thing? Did you ever stop to think about what she might be feeling?” The words arrowed with scorn. Why the hell would you think I’m laughing ? I fell in love with you when I first saw you. will you please listen. “It hurts from this side of the fence too. Here in the real world it bloody well hurts.” What I might be feeling? Well. “How does it feel? I bet you were laughing inside at all this. picking up on her words. “Laura. to make her understand in a calm. Whatever that means.” He struggled again for control. logical fashion. Failed. He felt old. Matt erupted. She turned her back and stared through the windows. That action was too much.” She gestured at the surroundings. And it’s never been easy. More quietly.The Girl On The Balcony Her face was wet with tears.

for that particular matinee? It wasn’t coincidence. He dared not touch her. She needed to get away.” It was not true. She would not be able to bear it. Laura could not look at him. What does that mean. But neither could she cope with betrayal. But this was the so-called civilised world. “Crap. but I thought it was worth it. I saw you in Leicester Square. And I sodding fell in love with you. He wanted to storm up to her and force her to look at him. She started to move towards the door. “Laura. I engineered that meeting because I wanted to meet you. “And I’m beginning to wish that I hadn’t bothered.” He needed to make her turn round.” He glared at the back still turned to him. He could not go on. He could not touch her while his emotions were running so high.” She still did not turn round. think. She fled. Civilisation sucked. Real world?” The last two words were invested with scorn. anyway? What do you know about what’s real? You can’t see what’s in front of you. What the hell do you think I was doing there that day? Why would I happen to be at that goddamn theatre at the same time. “You need to pack your things and go. 202 . I don’t want you here. his eyes dark with fury and hurt. If this is what love is like I can do without it.Frances Hart difficult is the answer.

Perhaps. had gone. It fell lifelessly. He had gone. She could not remember why she had come. She could get past this. She knew what she would look like. Her tears were spent. She hoped Jon. She had never mastered the art of crying prettily. Her mind blanked. Wearily she hauled herself off the covers and trudged to the bathroom to bathe her face. That was what he—she shied away from the name—had said: what was I doing 203 . What was she doing here? Her heart lurched. Her eyes would be puffy. clinging to the lifeline of the banister. her face would be wrecked. The cottage was silent. She dragged herself downstairs. She pushed her hair away from her face. the bed she had shared so willingly and joyfully. It sounded so final. She listened. She had been too wrapped up in her misery to notice the sound of his departure. her breath caught at the name. It would get better. Or next week. Laura lay unseeingly on the bed. She needed some water. Tomorrow. She was alone.The Girl On The Balcony Matt collapsed on to the worn fabric of the couch and buried his face in his hands. She trailed into the kitchen and leaned against the sink. She did not look in the mirror. She was thirsty. In their place was an emptiness she knew she would never fill.

She traced back to that first day and remembered the waitress. Slowly. He had not gone. Wasn’t she supposed to trust him? She thought she had no more tears left but she could feel the wetness on her cheeks. He had deflected the question.Frances Hart there? And had given the answer: because I wanted to meet you. She scrolled through their time together. Laura plodded into the sitting room and stopped transfixed in the doorway. She could even picture the initial hesitation when he had told her his name was Jon. He had not denied being Matt Steele. Her heart started beating again as she focused on that fact. Her mind probed further. He had never denied being Matt Steele. He was still there. There she stopped. He had gone and she had sent him away without bothering to find out the truth. remembering. thinking. What if she were wrong? What if he really loved her? She loved him. She had failed to send him away. What did that say about her? She did not want to answer those questions. 204 . until she came up against the day in the garden. she crossed the room and touched his shoulder.

How could she think he would abandon her? What they had? He felt a soft touch on his shoulder and heard her words. He looked up. No way was he going to let her go. His shoulders straightened. He could not get beyond simple statements. Drearily he wondered whether he would ever move again. He was still here and he was damned if he was going to go. The rain had stopped. Stupid woman. Yet he had not gone. Why was he thinking in terms of losing her? No way. The moon was shining.The Girl On The Balcony “I’m sorry. “Matt. The room was dim. Her face was swollen and blotched from crying. The thought coalesced.” Matt had always scoffed at the notion of a broken heart but that was what his felt like now.” Then she added. He had no concept of time and how long he had been sitting here. Anything beyond that was too complex. Laura had sent him away. Laura. Was he really going to bow out at the first hurdle? He was supposed to be reasonably intelligent so he needed to fucking well do something instead of acting like a child. It lay in shards on the carpet. He could not move. 205 . He had lost.

Frances Hart She was beautiful. He was unable to speak but at least he could move. He bent and kissed each precious eyelid as if he were trying to make them better. He had done this to her. He eased back and took her face in his hands. She looked at him and without breaking her gaze imprinted a kiss on each palm. The moonlight edging into the room lit the two people moulded together. He needed to taste her. they felt as though they were glued there. She buried her face against his chest. It picked up the sharp 206 . brushed her cheeks with those strong. fused with the need to become one. gentle and tasted salty with tears. sensitive fingers. The kiss was sweet. Their lips met. joined. Her lashes were wet and her eyes were reddened. He looked stricken. to remind her what they shared. His heart lurched. He sprang up and wrapped her in his arms. and took hold of his. Laura managed to prise her hands away from his back. At last she stirred and raised her face to his. He was never going to let her go again. Again he wrapped her in his arms and bent his head. He found her mouth.

It caught the traces of tears on soft feminine skin. When the room was washed once more with silvery light it was empty. The moon was caught behind a cloud and the figures became indistinct.The Girl On The Balcony planes and angles on a masculine face. 207 . eyelids heavy with love and desire.


Chapter 11
Matt opened his eyes. The morning sun was trying to track through the curtains. The wind had dropped. He felt at peace. It was liberating to be himself. No more Jonathan Mann. Not off screen anyway. He watched Laura sleeping and his heart turned over. He did not want to let her go. He dropped a kiss on to her hair as he thought about what came next. While he could be sure, after last night, that she loved the man not the star, would she feel that was enough? He had to convince her it was. Matt recalled his own words from the previous night. No, it was anything but easy, he hated this

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feeling of uncertainty, was not used to being so vulnerable, but yes, it—she—was worth it. What they had together was worth fighting for. With her he felt whole, as though his world was complete. Laura stirred and reached out for his hand, cuddling it against her breast. Matt felt the by now familiar longing sweep through him. But this was no time for indulgence. They had to talk. He was sure, knew without doubt, that Laura was the love of his life. He had to convince her he was hers. She was in his life now, not just for a few days but for all time. Hell, he wanted to marry her. Marriage. He let his mind savour the idea. He had fought shy of marriage, been wary of the concept of commitment. It was not surprising given the high failure rate for people in his profession. But this was different. His mother would be pleased. Pleased? She would be ecstatic. He had never met the right woman before. Now, how was he going to persuade her to accept the whole package? How was he going to get her to accept that the public persona was only a part of who he was? Matt’s arm tightened as he began planning how this could be accomplished. Laura woke up feeling warm and protected. She sighed with contentment, too lazy to open her

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eyes. She could feel a strong arm keeping her close, keeping her safe. She smiled at the thought. It seemed so natural for Jon to be sleeping next to her. Her eyes flew open. He was not Jon. He was Matt Steele. He was a famous film star not a struggling actor. An icon. She turned her head to see him gazing at her and those blue eyes that mesmerised cinema audiences around the world were looking at her filled with love. “Hello beautiful.” A whispered hello was all she could manage. He lay there looking so sexy and desirable and he called her beautiful! “We need to talk but first I have to kiss you,” and he suited the action to the word. He wanted to stay in the kiss forever but he had done with procrastination. “There was nothing accidental at all about our meeting, so any idiotic thoughts you have about being on different fences or in different worlds or what ever you were babbling on about last night are completely wrong. Yes, I assumed a different identity and yes, part of the idea was to work on the Jonathan Mann role, and I am so glad I can consign him to history as far as we’re concerned, but the overwhelming purpose was to meet you.” He paused to order his thoughts.

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“First things first, I love you and want to be with you and, to put it simply, I can’t now imagine life without you. So, how do you feel about spending a few more days here getting to know each other all over again? I’d also love you to come to the States with me, sweetheart. Just for a holiday initially although I’m hoping that in time it will become much more than that.” He gazed at her in enquiry and when she did not reply he continued, “I have this cabin in Wyoming. You’ll love it, Laura. I’ve been picturing you there. Miles and miles of space with nobody around. Just us. It’s where I go when I need to recharge, to remember who I am.” He smiled at her, that heart stopping smile that made her feel as though she had been drinking too much champagne. “I’ve never asked anyone there before. I’ve been dying to ask you but I couldn’t until I’d told you who I was. You will come, won’t you?” She smiled at him, the smile that had pole axed him on that first occasion and still made his heart stop in its tracks. “I’d love to.” Laura thought of the passport resting in the drawer in her flat and regretted not acting on the impulse to bring it. Still, it would not matter. They would have to go back to London first, to return the car.


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“That’s brilliant.” Matt dropped a kiss on her hair. “I’d also like you to meet my family.” He settled her more firmly against him and said, “You’ll love the mountains. It’s like being in a different world.” He paused trying to find the words. “You were right when you flung that idea at me. But for the time being let’s not worry about that, let’s just take it a day at a time.” He thought of all the women he met who wanted him as a scalp, all the rubbish written about him in the press. “It’s not going to be easy because of who I am. We both know that. It comes down to trusting each other. And love. I hope you think I’m worth it.” He tried for a careless note with that last sentence. He failed as even he could hear the desperation. Laura squeezed his hand in understanding. It helped that Matt was feeling vulnerable. She was scared rigid at the implications but she was not going to bail out. Being without him was unthinkable. And he was right. They needed time to get to know each other and they had to trust each other. Trust was so important in any relationship, one she prized more highly after the Neil debacle, but this was of a different magnitude because of Matt’s fame. She shook her head. She still found it hard to comprehend how someone like him could possibly have fallen in love with her. But then by its very nature love was

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illogical. If they wanted this to work then everything from now on would be a leap into the unknown and surely that applied to any relationship? Laura kept her hand in Matt’s and only later realised how the twisting and turning of her fingers would have signalled the churning inside her. “Being with you is worth every moment. I realise it’s going to be difficult at times,” that was an understatement, “but it will be worth it,” she repeated, “because I love you and trust you.” She added quietly, “That has to be worth any amount of effort.” Matt planted a kiss on the top of her head as she continued, “I agree, let’s just take it a day at a time. I was trying not to think beyond August anyway,” she confessed, “the thought of you being thousands of miles away.” She stopped. The enormity of returning to her old life in London while Matt picked up his celebrity lifestyle in Los Angeles or wherever became too much for her. She could feel the tears coming and turned away. In response, Matt angled her face towards him and traced his finger down her nose. “Laura, I thought we’d agreed we were going to take it a day at a time. So, let’s concentrate on having a fantastic summer, on being together.” He kissed her and felt desire surge into life. “Which reminds me, Miss Laura Marshall,

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have I told you recently that I love you? No?” he went on without giving her a chance to reply, “then perhaps I’d better show you,” and he grinned wickedly as he drew her towards him. Matt returned to the subject of their meeting when he next had breath to speak. He fitted her against his side and let his fingers play with her hair. “I meant what I said about going to the theatre to meet you. I’d been having you followed.” Laura gasped. She recalled the feeling she had had about being watched. “Ever since Leicester Square. You smiled at me and that was it. I had to find out who you were.” He related all that had been done to ensure that they met, finishing, “And when I actually found myself next to you in that queue, I didn’t have a clue what to do.” “Neither did I. I mean there was this gorgeous guy next to me, showing interest and I felt like a teenager. Mind you, some of the teenagers I teach would have been a lot less tongue tied.” “Like your friend Jess from the park?” “You wretch. I was so embarrassed.” “Don’t worry. So was she.” “She deserved it.”


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Matt was trying to be sanguine. He did not want to leave Laura behind in September but was hoping that by the end of the summer things would be clearer. At least these days America and England were not that far apart in terms of travel and of communication; thank heavens for twenty first century technology. He thought of Laura’s broken computer. That, at least, could be fixed. And they had all the summer first. “Suffolk and Wyoming sounds a pretty good combination to me.” “It sounds wonderful.” Laura’s face fell. “I need to find a new flat before the end of the month, remember.”. “Ah, the estimable Mrs. Whiting,” Matt was saying. “How could I forget? No problem. I’ll get Peter to sort it. He’s my agent and my closest friend,” he added at Laura’s look of enquiry. “He’s a genius at sorting things.” “Don’t forget it needs to be something I can afford, “she reminded him, inwardly marvelling at the ease with which something like getting a new flat could be sorted if you had the connections. “A short term lease should be easy enough to arrange. Incidentally, how much notice do you have to give with your job?” The words were casual. The implications were not.

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Suddenly the morning seemed brighter. “I was actually planning on giving in my notice to finish just before Christmas. I was thinking of going travelling.” Their eyes locked. “I could always begin my travelling in the States. That is, if you think it’s a good idea.” “I think it’s an excellent idea.” Matt felt compelled to prove how excellent it was. Neither of them would ever forget those few days in Suffolk. The days were wonderful despite the possibility that Matt would be recognised and their idyll would be interrupted. Southwold would never be the same, Laura declared, if it were discovered that it had a hotshot movie star in its midst. She painted a picture of how the hordes would descend, filling the hotels and guesthouses, snarling up the traffic even further, inducing spluttering road rage and forcing the retirees to pen frantic letters to The Daily Telegraph. Consequently, they kept away from people as much as possible. Instead they explored the gentle Suffolk countryside and stored up memories that could be hoarded. Sometimes there were moments of pure magic.


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The first one came when they were roaming around the area to the south of the small town. They were walking quietly along a lane that seemed to be touched with mystery. One side of the road was edged with marshland. A swan, gliding along the dark water next to the road, stilled as they went by and gazed at them enigmatically. Through the twisting, gnarled trees they caught glimpses of open skies above the reed beds. A soft wind moved past them and caused the stalks to rustle. The road curved round a bend and the trees closed in on both sides. Fallen trunks, brought down in the Great Storm in the eighties, still lay at angles. Leaves, brown and dry from the previous autumn, covered the ground, broken by animal tracks that gleamed with damp. The water was never very far away. Suddenly, they saw a deer. It stood motionless between two trees at the edge of the reeds. They froze, unwilling to move. They could see the soft brown eyes, the dark velvet on its pricked ears. A car on its way to the nearby nature reserve purred round the bend and the doe vanished back into the reed bed. Matt exhaled. “That was awesome.” He gazed at the spot where the deer had been as the intruding car slowed over the speed bumps and past them. “This

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place is just not real. You could almost start believing in fairy tales.” “Just don’t tell me it’s a prince in disguise, on a quest or something like that.” “I won’t. I have news for you, sweetheart. That was a doe. They’re female.” She grinned. “You’ll be breaking into song next,” and she started humming the tune. Matt grinned back and started to join in quietly with the words but didn’t get very far before Laura creased up at the thought of Matt, the film star, the epitome of cool, knowing the words to The Sound of Music. Later, their exploration took them into the nature reserve. At one point they found themselves sitting in a bird hide overlooking a mere. Nobody else was around. They sat on the hard wooden bench holding hands and gazing out over the still water as it reflected the vastness of the sky and the movement of the clouds. It was like being in another world. Gulls shrieked and quarrelled, ignoring the ducks paddling busily around. Moorhens puttered around at the water’s edge. In the air, marsh harriers soared as they patrolled the reed beds. Suddenly there was a dart of blue. A kingfisher came to rest on a branch in front


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of the hide. It paused motionless, its iridescent colour reflected in the water. Then it was gone. They left when a party of birders came in brimming with enthusiasm and chatter. They went down the path and passed a solitary bird watcher stalking the other way. He nodded incuriously at them. He was dressed in camouflage gear and armed with an expensive telescope. “And I thought I looked ridiculous.” Matt looked after him as he spoke. He had borrowed some outdoor clothing which Laura’s father had left in the cottage. “It’s obviously the done thing to wear when you’re bird watching. Can’t let the enemy see you. Could be dangerous.” Laura put her arm round his waist and whispered mischievously, “Just think what would happen if you went out like this in public. There would be an uproar.” There would definitely be uproar but not because he looked ridiculous. He looked fantastic. When they reached the coast she finally remembered to get out her camera. “Smile.” She pointed the lens at Matt who stood on the headland gazing out at the rolling waves of the sea. Her heart did its accustomed blip at the sight of his lithe figure wearing her father’s old waxed jacket

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and cap. They never looked so good when her father was wearing them. Matt invested them with a careless elegance that her father had never achieved. His jeans, his own rather than the ones he had worn as Jonathan Mann, showed off his long legs to perfection. He only had to stand there to look as sexy as hell. A shaft of watery sun reflected on his face as he turned to face her. Behind him, if Laura had cared to look, damp, grey clouds scudded across the few patches of washed blue. The morning’s drizzle had petered out and the wind had freshened. She was conscious of nothing but Matt as he obeyed her injunction. Her finger clicked automatically. He reached for her and swung her towards him for a kiss. Laughing he reached behind her and took the camera from her hand. “Now my turn,” and framed her against the brilliant white of the coastguard cottages. She batted her hand at him but he resisted, and wrapping her in his arms, he pointed the lens at them both. “At least this is a digital camera.” He had not recovered from the fact that Laura had never used the photo facility in her phone. He had been using his to good effect.


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“Another for luck.” This time they were not looking as the lens caught the moment when his lips met hers. “Will we ever tire of doing this, I wonder, “Laura mused when they were once more on the move, holding hands as they went down the slope towards the place where they had left the car. “What, going for long country walks in the vain hope of avoiding people?” Matt asked and leapt aside as a red setter loped past followed closely by its young owner hurtling after it. “No. “She promptly lost her footing and fell against Matt who held her upright before she managed to continue, “Needing to be close.” “As in falling into my arms? Never,” was the reply before he whirled around and started racing after the dog and owner. “Last one down has to do the washing up.” “No way. That’s your job,” and Laura hared after him. In the evenings they were cocooned from the world and could talk and laugh and love without fear of interruption. It was a time of enchantment. And of discovery.


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One evening Matt insisted on lighting a fire with logs brought in from the stack in the minute back yard. He was not used to the British summer, he argued. Laura sat in front of the brick fireplace leaning against Matt’s legs while he worked on his role in Twin Target. She was beginning to appreciate how much preparation he put in: how much responsibility he had. It was an awesome thought. For the most part, it was his name on the credits that pulled in the crowds and he was fully aware of that fact. In turn, Matt was coming to value Laura’s input. He found that he could bounce ideas off her which helped him to dig beneath the character. He had never been able to do that before with any girl friend, even the aspiring actresses. Especially the aspiring actresses. This particular evening she was protesting about motivation. “Surely, this is the moment when he realises it’s impossible?” and she rifled through the pages until she came to the one she wanted. “Here, where he comes face to face with the little girl.” “Because he is confronting innocence?” Matt replied slowly. “Yes, but also because he suddenly realises that she is his niece. She is part of his family. He’s having to confront what he’s lost, if you like. He is

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now part of something. She’s the next generation. She represents the future.” The future. Matt was certain his future would contain Laura. Now, for the first time, he wondered whether he would be good father material, even while he was arguing, “But, he’s never seen her before, never realised that he had a family. Why would he let that affect him? Why would he feel a connection?” “Because it’s something he’d been looking for even if he didn’t know it? After all, people don’t live in isolation. They need to belong, to feel needed.” Laura warmed to her theme, “You could argue that’s why Jon,” she could say the name without flinching now, “is so good at what he does. It gives him a purpose, a sense of being valued.” “Despite knowing logically that he’s being used?” “Yes. Despite that. What else is there for him? It gives him an identity. A sense of who he is.” “Until he realises that he has a niece, a brother, a twin. And then everything changes. You could build on the bond between twins, “Matt murmured to himself as he made a note to do some research on what it was like to be a twin. “If you take that line, he would feel perhaps, that some part of him that was missing, was suddenly filled.” That was how he felt, he thought. Laura completed the pattern in his life.

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His mind went back to the role. He began to think about how to convey that on camera. “So if you go along with the idea of the connection you deepen the inner conflict. He’s not sure who he is any more.” “And he finds himself in an impossible situation. Given the nature of the people who ordered the contract he can’t just give up and walk away,” Laura contributed. “And up to that point the job was everything.” “So it’s as if his whole world has imploded,” Matt continued. Laura was expanding her thoughts away from the morass of relationships towards the importance of careers. “I could never fully understand why people immerse themselves totally in their jobs to the exclusion of everything else but I hadn’t stopped to ask why. And it could be that, for whatever reason, they don’t have anything else.” Matt gazed at the fire and pondered on his frenzy of work after the Mia debacle: on his sense of personal failure. He had refused to let his family intrude, feeling that he had let them down in some obscure fashion. That he had let himself down. Work helped to push away the guilt. Particularly the sort of work where you had to assume a different identity.


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While you were pretending to be someone else you did not have to come to terms with your own failings. He started playing with Laura’s hair, relishing the way the firelight brought out the copper and chestnut, loving the way the curl sprang when he released it. He thought about how different he was now from the person he had been then. A comfortable silence fell. A log hissed and released some sparks. They could hear the pulse of the sea. The clock ticked. Laura’s mind veered to another part of the script. It was a scene about which she felt less than comfortable: the love scene. Somehow, it symbolised her inner fears about being in love with a film star, who was also a sex symbol. This scene was between Jon and a girl he had picked up on his travels, a secretary of some sort. Someone in an ordinary job. She remembered the accusations she had hurled at him and tensed. Matt felt the movement and looked at her enquiringly. “I was looking at this scene.” She turned to the page. “The one where Mann has a one night stand you mean?” Matt was determined to put it into perspective. He, thank goodness, unlike his character, was done


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with one night stands. He had, despite media claims, never had that many affairs. He waited to see where Laura was going. She opened her mouth, lost her nerve and instead countered with a question, trying to inject the right amount of disinterest, “How difficult is it to do a love scene?” She was not cut out to be an actress she realised when Matt stopped playing with her hair and flopped down on the rug beside her. He hugged her. “It depends. You have to have the right sort of chemistry that will come across on film. If you don’t have that, then you have to work damned hard at making it look real. And it’s not easy when you’re surrounded by all the people needed on set and being told that at this point you have to turn in this direction, at that moment, look at that camera. It’s part of the job, unfortunately.” He knew this part of his fame would be very difficult for Laura. He was not being arrogant. He was the subject of endless speculation; it was an intrinsic part of his life. He featured in thousands of female fantasies. He also knew that many of those girls would not know what to do or say if they finally met the object of their dreams. But a lot more would. He was always going to be the target of the predatory female both in and outside of the profession: the sort who did not care about whom

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they hurt. He dropped a kiss on her hair. It smelled summery and fresh. “Remember, I love you.” He put a very firm emphasis on the last word. Laura met his eyes fleetingly and smiled tremulously. She was secure in Matt’s love when they were on their own but it had not been tested on the world stage yet. After all, thousands of girls lusted after him, Rachel included, and not all of them would be particularly scrupulous about morals. She was not at all sure how she would handle the tabloid stories about Matt and his supposed love life. He had said that he never read anything about himself as it was invariably untrue. Hell, she was not sure how she was going to handle Matt kissing another girl as part of his role. Badly, if the rush of jealousy that has stormed through her was any indication. Logically she knew it was part of his job. Emotionally she wished it were not. “There are always all sorts of rumours about what happens on location, about stars falling in love with each other,” she managed to say. He saw out of the corner of his eye that she was biting her lips and felt the familiar stirring. “I’m not going to say it never happens,” that was how he had met Mia, after all, “but, Laura, from now

Especially when you’re thousands of miles away. and that’s going to pretty limited for sometime. will be centred around you. I warn you. “It will certainly never happen to me again. at the end of the working day when I haven’t had a chance to even comb my hair. “As long as you keep telling me that I’m beautiful.” He looked at her. It was no good brooding. it might be a bit more difficult. as far as the sun was from the earth.” She tried to smile. almost to herself. None of them are as beautiful.The Girl On The Balcony on why would I be interested? None of them can hold a candle to you.” His movie script was forgotten as he tried to make her understand that what he did on film was as far removed from what he shared with her as.” She added quietly. And showing me. he groped for a comparison in his mind.” 229 . “I believe it when I’m here with you but. “I will try not to be jealous. the blue of his eyes intensifying as he conveyed the seriousness of his intent.” A log blazed and Laura looked at the fire thinking of the female stars with whom he had worked. “Why should I want anybody else when I can come back to you? And there won’t be any stories about me in the red tops as any free time that I have. I promise.

He’s not in the movie business and has made it very clear that she’s off limits.” He grimaced. It had been light hearted and fun to make. Every one else thought it was hilarious that she couldn’t seem to look at me without throwing up. I began to feel that something was wrong with me. As soon as we got close she started feeling sick. He could also tell her. the girl Mann meets. “The actress who’s playing Rebecca. is going out with a friend of mine. And so did I once she started being sick every time we had a love scene. It was something to do with the lights. apparently. It’s very difficult to pretend you’re madly in love with somebody when at the back of your mind you’re wondering whether she’s going to be sick all over you. “We laughed about it later but it wasn’t funny at the time.Frances Hart He held her close knowing that she needed reassurance and started to tell her about his movie due out before Christmas where he had several love scenes with a very well known screen goddess.” At last he had coaxed a tremulous smile. It didn’t matter what time of day it was. “I didn’t think it was funny. Not. Hauled me off to a sports bar under the pretext of catching 230 . “She realised she was pregnant just before we started shooting. Does wonders for the ego. It was a beginning. He qualified his last statement.

Yet even while she was protesting. “well. Now. Couldn’t for the life of me see why he was so uptight. “Hey.” thinking of that moment when he had watched his own girl being kissed and had felt jealousy scorch him. I’m not a piece of land you know. He would want to do a hell of a lot more than just talk. I thought it was unnecessary. I’d want to do more than just talk if I thought someone were muscling in on my territory. now I do.” He had deliberately used the possessive vocabulary in order to provoke a reaction from Laura and it worked.” he knew that if he were ever again in the same situation he would be hard put to act in a civilised fashion. 231 .The Girl On The Balcony up and spent the whole time staking his claim.


It was not raining but the sun was still being reluctant about coming out. Before lunch they ambled along the beach to contemplate the memorial to Benjamin Britten. searched for shells. They looked at the small fishing boats and boat sheds. Matt learned. then spent some time trying to skim stones across the grey waves of the North Sea. The twentieth century composer was associated with the area. Matt 233 . They walked round the giant shell and contemplated its corrugated texture and the symbolism that could be derived from the breaks in its symmetry.Chapter 12 It was their last day before returning to London so they decided to spend part of it in the small seaside town of Aldeburgh.

Laura was talking about the delights of teaching Hamlet to her sixth form. She shook her head and teased him about his competitive instincts. “We ended the summer term with the two minute version. The conversation had started with Britten and had somehow. especially as any bits of conversation they might have caught were not centred on Hollywood and celebrity. in the way conversations meander. The sixth formers. veered towards literature. We used the electronic white board so it was a bit like having an autocue in front of us. It was great. her eyes alight with fun. “I based it on a script I found in a text and we added our own bits.” she was explaining. Matt sauntered along the beach dodging seagulls and thinking about happiness. before slipping her hand in his while they wandered towards the town. they’re the eighteen year olds who were about to leave school. They sat on the sea wall to have their fish and chips and none of the holiday makers who wandered past would have dreamed that a famous star was sitting there. chatting to her fellow customers.” she explained 234 .Frances Hart was exultant when he beat Laura. Laura insisted on paying for their meal and while she happily queued outside the fish and chip shop.

Absolute magic.e. I think you’d be good. They had a great role for anyone who prefers non-speaking roles. “were great. They loved the Branagh video. It’s a long time ago although I can still remember some of the speeches. the classroom at given intervals: a reminder that Fortinbras was waiting in the wings.” “A challenge then.The Girl On The Balcony to Matt. They developed the part of Fortinbras so that all he had to do was march across the stage i.” she went on. “Have you seen it? Have you ever played Hamlet? Isn’t it the role all actors are supposed to want?” Matt took a chip from the paper and ate it appreciatively before replying.” Matt thought that Laura embodied magic sitting on the sea wall. You. being an actor. enjoying fish and fries and extolling on Hamlet with the vitality and enthusiasm that was so characteristic of her. Obviously I’d have a different take on it now but the opportunity hasn’t come up. “Only at high school. 235 . How can you fail given the character of Hamlet and the language? All those wonderful lines. I’d be scared stiff to return to stage work. might not believe this but there are some people who would die rather than have to say a word from a script. The play’s great to teach. It’s been so long since I did any.

he didn’t have much time or emotion left to focus on it. always with his eye on the main chance. Matt.” “Leaving Ophelia to gather that he didn’t care. just for me? Surely. “And of course there are the unanswered questions: how much did Gertrude know? Or guess? Were Hamlet and Ophelia lovers?” “She’s a bit of a nonentity isn’t she? A bit tough to have Polonius as her father though. you know To be or not to be?” Her eyes sparkled. I guess so much was happening in his life at that moment.” and Laura turned towards him. “Okay.” she added severely as Matt’s arm snaked around her shoulder. How could he refuse? “It need only be a few lines but I’d love to hear what you make of them.” do you think you could possibly quote some of the lines. who also happens to be his king? Huh.” Laura was waving her small wooden fork around as though it were a sword.Frances Hart She was continuing. She looked adorable. “Talk about impossible demands made on children.” he replied agreeably. For teaching. But what’s a little heartbreak when he’s supposed to be killing his uncle. “but I think we’d be better getting away from here and wandering further 236 . I tend to think it was hard on Hamlet not knowing why Ophelia suddenly stopped talking to him. But then. It might give me a few ideas as well.

She had tears in her eyes when she opened them to find him looking at her quizzically. You’re wasted in the movies. with the plangent notes of the seagulls interweaving with the sound of the sea and acting as background music. Matt launched into the third act soliloquy. The sheer vocal and emotional range was thrilling. to cajole his audience into entering into his state of mind. Laura felt it was one of the most thrilling theatrical experiences of her life.The Girl On The Balcony along the beach where we won’t be overheard. She stopped walking. shut her eyes and let herself be swept away by the music of the words. even if he had never been close to playing Hamlet in his professional career. When his voice died away it was several moments before she realised. They scrunched along the beach in companionable silence until they were far enough away not to be overheard.” 237 . Then. Have you finished eating? Right. “Did you like it?” “Of course I liked it. It was wonderful. You ought to go on the stage. you know. the bewitching timbre of his voice: by the sheer emotion. captivating. mesmerising. He used his voice. shall we go?” He was touched by Laura wanting to hear him speak some of the most marvellous lines he had ever had to learn.

They turned to retrace their steps. we’d do Hamlet the panto. 238 . “Although I might consider it later when we’re back and not in view of the great British public or any adoring fans. I have something else in mind for this afternoon. we’ll have to stick to the two minute version I suppose. “I don’t suppose you’d like to be a visual aid at any time?” she teased. Shakespeare would have approved. Which I intend to write. Not that. You’d be fantastic. Although. “I suppose we’d better turn round.” she teased as Matt reluctantly let her go and took her hand instead. “I’m serious. I’ll think of you saying that when I’m teaching it next term. “You know.” She added. Pantomime is a very English tradition. Might. come in one lesson and act it for them? No? Shame. as I’m going to teach it to the next batch in September. Oh well.” “Not at all.” Her eyes clouded at the thought of Matt being in the States and apart from her but she pushed it aside. I thought for my finale at the end of term.” “Sacrilege.Frances Hart He laughed. I’ll have you know.” she protested smilingly as Matt brought her towards him and started to kiss her.

bounded by the golf course. He then proceeded to kiss her senseless. especially those with small children on board.The Girl On The Balcony The something proved to be a visit to a village to the north of Aldeburgh which was known for its windmill and a building known as the House in the Clouds. it was comparatively quiet and empty of people. had not strayed far. They had to stop before they fell in the water. She was looking forward 239 . on the lake known as the Meare. frightening the nearby ducks which quacked in protest and took off clumsily for calmer waters. He put the oars in the rowlocks and leaned towards her. It was nearly dusk when they arrived back at the cottage. It had started life as a water tower and certainly dominated the area. Most of the other rowers. Here. they hired a rowing boat. Laura insisted on languishing on the wooden bench and admiring the play of his muscles as they rowed to the far end. They rowed back laughing. Laura sighed when she reversed the car into its parking spot and stopped. It was perhaps fortuitous when the small craft started rocking. At this end of the lake. A bolt of sheer lust hit her and she was quite glad when Matt turned towards the bank and brought the boat in under the trees. He really did have the most fantastic body. Matt rowed.

Matt had been in contact with his friend Peter who was on his way back to the States and relieved to learn that Matt was returning soon. exciting. She hoped she would live up to it. She also loved not having to share him with the outside world. He was also extremely interested in the fact that Matt was not coming alone. They had not been entirely isolated. and Wyoming sounded too good to be true. challenging. He and Anna were the only ones who knew about Matt’s disguise and the reasons for it.Frances Hart to America and meeting Matt’s family and friends. Visits here would never be quite the same again. “Why the sigh Laura?” She waited until they were inside the cottage before replying. Matt explained.” 240 . but it’s going to be a wrench leaving here. She was not quite sure what would happen when they had to reconnect with the rest of humanity. I’m looking forward to seeing America and the places and people you love.” It’s just been so wonderful being here with you. It seemed her life was going to be different: new. he had been telling her about Peter and his girlfriend Anna. but she loved being here with Matt and sharing places that were special to her. Whenever she thought of this area now her memories would contain Matt.

they would fly out. “I know what you mean. She suspected that he had discovered the pizza. Just us. Two could play at that game. although for the present.” He infused the last sentence with a deliberately plaintive note which had Laura narrowing her eyes. having gone to Laura’s flat to retrieve her passport and get some more clothes. Laura reflected. They had debated whether to fit in a brief visit to her parents but a phone call had elicited the fact that her father was away on business and her mother was planning to spend a few days with a cousin. “At some point we’d better start packing.” He dropped a kiss on her hair. “I’m looking forward to showing you the places and people which are special to me and I want the world to know how wonderful you are. but it’s been tremendous. her parents would be rather taken aback by Matt’s presence. 241 . I suppose. they would be pleased but rather bewildered that he had chosen her as his girlfriend. We’ll never forget it.The Girl On The Balcony They had decided that once they had dropped off the car. Perhaps it was just as well. Not unlike their daughter.” Matt was saying as they went into the kitchen. She still could not believe it entirely. family and friends will be more than enough believe me. We’ll need sustenance first though.

242 . he was an actor after all. I think I can guarantee it will be a meal fit for the gods.” “Right.” His groin tightened at the combination of words and action. Hell. She just laughed at him before taking her hands away. innocence brimming in his eyes. I have another suggestion though. He would never last for three courses. Laura only had to look at him and he wanted her. How’s that?” and he turned to look at her. suggestive note. I’ll do the food. “So. I’m sure that you can find something. “But before that. “I’ll leave the choice to you. you see to the wine. He hoped that she was not going to suggest a visit to a local restaurant as it was a special occasion. Let’s share the work.” Her eyes twinkled as she added. “and we’ll share the washing up. “I thought we might do something a bit different for our last night here.” drawn out on a long. Hell.” for our last night.” they had been to the local wine shop the previous day. you are going to do the cooking.Frances Hart She put her arms around him. I think that we should swap roles. and whispered seductively.” He had told her about Peter’s favourite insult. I’ll do the washing up while you put your feet up. resting her head on his shoulder. old guy.

They sat on the sofa entwined. not talking much. Matt had heated the pizza to perfection. he had found out. They created their own. Laura knew something about wine. “Let’s go to bed. I’ll go and open a bottle of red. Privately. Her father was a bit of a wine buff. Dusk was falling as they finally left the kitchen table and took their wine into the living room.” 243 . They talked and laughed their way through the meal. and had raised his children accordingly. leaving only a standard lamp. It will go nicely with Italian. They did not need the candle-lit and professionally romantic ambience of an expensive restaurant. Laura picked out something at random from the stereo while he switched off the main light.The Girl On The Balcony “In that case. They had not drawn the curtains and through the curtains could watch as the August sky darkened and the stars appeared. Matt thought beer went better with pizza but he had to admit that this was a good choice. Count Basie was cajoling his listeners to come and fly with him when Matt stirred finally. content to be drawn into the mood.” and she disappeared through the door.

This was as essential as breathing. gently they explored each other and rediscovered delight. They swept towards the climax together. When Matt eased inside Laura. yet as ancient as time. finally and irrevocably. her breasts rising and falling as she sought to regain her breath. He had never. There were no words. He turned to look at Laura who was lying with her eyes closed. 244 . caught up in a tide of indescribable sensation: completely new. felt so united with another being.Frances Hart Moonlight shone through the partially opened curtains and invested the room with enchantment. They could work from there. He wanted her as his wife. It transcended anything he had experienced before and went far beyond physical need. Matt decided. Slowly. What was fundamental was the fact that they loved each other and wanted to be together. he felt as though he was coming home. This was where he should be. ever. He knew he wanted to have her by his side for the rest of his life. so sharp in intensity it was almost painful and yet so loving and sweet. Suddenly all his plans about introducing her gradually to his life so that she would not be frightened away seemed stupid.

I love you so much. His eyes grow moist. I want you. “Laura. He was going to ask her to marry him. Laura felt as though she had been catapulted into a different dimension. She only had to smile at him and he was felled. He felt the jolt again. I love you so much. She suspected that Matt had felt the same: as though their relationship now occupied a plane that was new to both of them. revelling in its hard contours as she did so.” He never finished what he was going to say: what he was going to ask. The moment was too precious. “Laura. signing it on his chest. Sound came back in a tender. He felt compelled to tell her how much she meant to him. too fragile to let sound intercede. She repeated the message. Sod his previous intentions.” Her fingers spelled the words on his skin. I want you. “I love you. She felt his fingers on her face as though he was memorising it and she opened her eyes.The Girl On The Balcony He raised himself up on one elbow and started tracing his fingers over her face until her eyes opened and she smiled at him and mouthed. She let her mouth form the words even though no sound emerged. His phone rang. She could not bear to let him go.” 245 . She loved him so much. enthralling wave as she heard.

What’s happened?” 246 . Laura saw him glance at the display. looking out at the dark night. Laura could hear the voice at the other end becoming more concerned until finally Matt turned to her with a dazed expression and handed her the phone. She had never seen it before. What the hell. Its insistence jarred. He could not speak.” She watched the blood drain from his face. He reached out for her blindly and gripped her hand so tightly that she knew he would leave a mark. A phone call at this hour could not be good. “Peter. his back to her. It was devastating. seeing nothing. Other than a brief. He stood there in silence. Laura’s eyes tracked him as she took the phone and murmured. Matt went completely white. He listened intently although he looked as though he was unable to comprehend what was being said. Matt stopped in mid sentence and stared at it. He left the bed and went across to the window. She had read about the phenomenon in literature.Frances Hart She never heard how he was going to continue as his phone rang. Matt wants me to take over I think. heard him say abruptly. “When? Where?” he did not contribute. He stirred uneasily before reaching for it. “It’s Laura.

It’s bad. Goodbye. I’m sorry we’ve had to be introduced under such circumstances.” The voice paused. That’s a great help. I’ll give your number to the driver along with the directions. But I don’t know how much he’s taking in.” “If you tell me. “His father’s had an accident.” Laura shuddered and gave him the information quickly and concisely. Hopefully we’ll meet when things are less fraught. I’ll make sure he gets wherever he has to. Matt needs to get home right away. I’ll be in touch. It’s best to try and keep this under wraps as far as possible and I certainly don’t want to give out Matt’s cell number to all and sundry. Take care of him. “I’m glad you’re with him. I’ve started making the arrangements to get him here as quickly as possible.The Girl On The Balcony The crisp voice at the other end relayed his name and then said. He should be there in about an hour and he’ll ring just before he arrives.” and disconnected. lost some of its crispness and added. won’t you.” “Good girl. It’s going to be hard enough for Matt without a media frenzy. “If you don’t mind. Laura. ending with the request for directions and the landline number. Very bad. Thanks again. 247 . Laura. “Thanks Laura.” He went on to tell her what had been arranged so far.

Bleakly. She had to be positive for Matt’s sake. he said. Laura realised. He was in a different dimension. If he hasn’t done it already to save her the trouble. They stood there while Matt absorbed her warmth and finally he bowed his head and let himself break down. “Sodding hell. Laura never knew how long they stood there. Matt scrubbed a hand over his eyes.” He stared round the room as though he was not sure where he was. What the blazes was he doing? Mom will kill him. He let his hand smooth over Laura’s eyebrows. He was trying desperately to keep his grief under control. Laura thought. She scrambled off the bed and went to him.Frances Hart Laura stared at the phone for a moment then put it down gently at the side of the bed. and brush away 248 . Wrapping her arms round him she drew him to her and held him. Soon. She shook herself mentally. Matt drew in one last shuddering breath and managed to raise his head.” He drew in a breath and seemed to become aware of his surroundings for the first time. What a mess. Matt was still standing rigid at the window. nothing would ever be the same. At length. tightly. Especially if his father died. even if she was breaking in pieces at the thought that he would be leaving without her. Someone’s coming. “I’ve got to go.

“What the hell was he doing in New York anyhow?” The question burst out of him. drawing comfort from her. “I’m going to have to get ready. Now. Did you take in what Peter was saying about the arrangements?” “Just about.” Laura peeled herself away. “I’ve got to go sweetheart and I can’t take you with me. Laura. “Do you 249 .” “Yes of course. Finally. holding her tightly. It was an effort. imprinting himself on her as though it was the last time.The Girl On The Balcony the threatening tears from her eyes before putting his brow against hers. This time it was his arms that encircled hers. can I leave most of my stuff here? I can get what I need in your daypack if you’ll let me borrow it. Her needs were not primary. She turned towards the door. Laura’s voice broke into the incoherence of his thoughts. Unless you’ve got your passport?” He felt the shake of her head. Her mind registered the fact that it was morning. He did not want to be without her but he was needed in the States. I won’t need much. “You need to pack. She could discern a faint lifting of the dark. he heaved a sigh.” She started to take her arms away to let Matt go but he would not let her. His heart plummeted even further.

“I must pack.Frances Hart want a coffee or anything while you get ready? The driver should be coming soon.” I need you. Thank you for being so quick.” He caught her to him again and kissed her. “What have I done to deserve you?” Reluctantly he let her go. But it isn’t going to happen. “And we’d better make some plans for what happens when my father is out of danger. but.” They were in the living room sitting on the settee. “I’d like you to come to New York as soon as it’s possible.” He smiled crookedly and added. He’s going to ring when he’s about five minutes away. “Fine. I’ll be expecting you. Matt lunged to answer it and cannoned into the side table. I know I’m being selfish here.” “Of course I will. holding hands when the phone rang.” and the last words came huskily.” This 250 .” “What I want is for this whole nightmare to be just that. I’d love a coffee. “Steele here. He swore as the wooden avocet tottered and the kaleidoscope fell on to the floor and rolled away.” He came up to her as he spoke and said. So I’d better stop feeling sorry for myself.” Laura registered the authoritative tone. Thank you. Something that will go away when I wake up.

quick kiss and was gone. They held hands as though they could not bear to let go. This was it. “Matt’s voice was rough. stooped to pick up the rucksack. “things are bound to be a bit chaotic. “Laura could barely speak. They looked at each other. By then Matt would have a clearer idea of events. Already she felt as though he were drawing away. I don’t know where I’ll be.” Silence fell in the living room.The Girl On The Balcony was a side of Matt that was unfamiliar: the side of someone accustomed to being in control. “Bye for now. She swallowed.” this was said bleakly. Oh God. A car could be heard drawing to a stop. Take care. I want you in New York in one piece. “You know what it’s like in hospitals and. “how am I going to let you go?” He took his hand away slowly. “He’ll be here in five minutes. They could hear the crash of surf on the shingle. 251 . Matt. “I’ll phone you as soon as I can. He gave her one last.” Laura had decided to stay on at the cottage until the weekend. “the voice broke. “Goodbye. He would phone her as. I wish I could take you with me Laura but it will help knowing you’re here for the next couple of days.


August .


Tea was supposed 255 . She was on her own. It was still dark. Not that she wanted to go anywhere without Matt but he was on his way to America. She was not.Chapter 13 Laura went to the window and watched the car crawl down the narrow lane and inch around the corner. too early to be thinking of going anywhere. The purr of the engine died away and all that could be heard was the sound of the sea. flying out of her life. He would soon be flying to America. Laura’s mind skittered at the finality of that last phrase as she trudged into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Matt was gone.

When would Matt phone? When would she see him again? Laura swung her feet off the bed. staring into space. if things went well. She was not going to be a weak. She was supposed to be a mature adult. The tea remained untouched. needy female who only thought of herself. She was trying to console herself: they would only be apart for a few days.Frances Hart to be the panacea for anything life might throw at you. When daylight arrived the supposed panacea had not worked. she should behave like one. She dived for it and lit up when she heard his voice. She concentrated instead on the insignificant detail that her brain evidently did not want to deal with precision. She refused to think of the implications if things went badly. She needed to get a grip. “Matt. She could go downstairs and make breakfast. She could have a shower. Laura lay on the bed clutching the pillow on which Matt’s head had rested. How are you? Have you heard any more?” 256 . Instead of giving way to misery she needed to do something positive. Laura was sitting at the kitchen table looking at her uneaten breakfast when her phone rang. The euphemisms somehow made the unbearable easier to handle. Matt. made it easier to believe that they would get back together quite soon.

” “Yeah.” Those few hours were going to be very long. The hospital’s one of the best in New York. I’ll call as soon as I can when I get there. Matt. though. Peter’s told her I’m on my way. How are you?” “Fine. Not yet. His voice was strained. Have you spoken with your mother? She must be frantic. Goodbye Laura.The Girl On The Balcony “I’m fine. No more news.” The connection closed.” she lied.” “I love you too. No. then Matt spoke again. “Missing you. Safe journey. I love you. Laura thought. You said yourself he’s in good hands. Laura sat there looking at her phone for several minutes before she decided it 257 .” A voice interrupted. “Yes. There was a brief pause as if Matt wanted to say something else then he said softly. Which has to be good don’t you think?” The voice was determined. “I really must go.” “No. He’s like another son. It will be a few hours yet though. “I’ve got to go Laura. You need to be with your father. Bye. Missing you. but that’s just me being selfish. I don’t know what we’d do without him. But then he’s known my folks for a long time.

She would go over to the sink. And try not to think about anything at all. She needed to do something. He would be taking off about now. How long would it be before he was out of British air space? She shook her head as if to clear it. She took a deep breath as the memories came flooding in. Was it eight hours flying? New York was five hours behind wasn’t it? He would probably not ring until the early evening and of course everything depended on what he found when he arrived at the hospital. Sitting at the table for hours. She had to keep herself occupied. Her eyes fell on the washing up.Frances Hart was not going to ring again. apart from giving her cramp. When would he phone again? She tried to work out the times involved. She could not continue to sit there asking herself unanswerable questions. or standing at 258 . script in hand. What would he find when he got there? There she went again. asking questions with no real hope of knowing the answers. Those early hours following Matt’s departure were awful. Laura would turn round expecting to see him lounging on the settee. run the hot water and wash up. She was not going to start crying. waiting for the phone to ring would not accomplish anything. Somehow it had not been a high priority the previous evening.

259 . in case there was anything about Matt in them. Despite the constant lectures she gave herself about self-indulgent behaviour. They all featured the same photo of Matt at Kennedy airport. Most of the food she managed to put in front of her ended up in the bin. drifting in and out of shops. She slept in the tee shirt he had been wearing on that last night. she was unable to concentrate on anything. She bought an armful of newsprint and spent the rest of the morning poring over the accompanying stories. It was a bittersweet moment when she found that the tabloids had picked up the story of Matt’s mercy dash. Laura wondered later if she had been experiencing the effects of shock. Some enterprising photographer had struck lucky.The Girl On The Balcony the kitchen sink protesting about doing the dishes. wandering aimlessly round the town. especially the sort that tended to thrive on gossip. Laura made a point of going to the newsagents to look at the newspapers. A large part of her time was spent away from the cottage. She found herself getting meals out of the fridge and then putting them back when she could not eat them. She was constantly leaving chores half done or going into a room for a specific purpose and then forgetting why she had come. and raided his clothes to wear during the day.

had not been alone on his motor bike and that his passenger. Presumably Peter. She looked round at the kitchen when she reached that detail and managed a half smile. She winced as she recalled the pride in Matt’s voice when he talked about his parents. Matt’s elder sister. had also been injured although she was making a good recovery. For the first time she realised that Dominic Steele. Julia had been on holiday in the Adirondacks in New York state. had been busy disseminating that little gem. She remembered Matt commenting that he and his girlfriend Anna were among the few people he trusted 260 . His mother and younger sister. Ros. waiting for Dominic Steele to join them when he finished filming. a TV actress half his age. 56. Matt’s friend.Frances Hart From the papers she learned more about his father’s accident. an attorney. Matt himself had flown by private jet from France where he had been holidaying at a private villa. the first for a long time. stating that it was highly regarded as a major trauma centre. Laura devoured everything she could find about Matt and his family. had flown in from Seattle with her husband. the well known star of a long running television series. she read. Several of the papers featured the hospital in First Avenue and cited its connections with the New York school of medicine.

although the inevitable “friends of the family” were only too ready to speculate about the strain this would put on the marriage as it was.The Girl On The Balcony completely. One friend went on to state that Gill Steele was thinking in terms of divorce. The family were too distressed to talk to the press. needy female did not stand a chance. among other details. that eighty per cent of motorcyclists in a crash go over the handlebars and that Matt’s father was lucky in that he was in surgery within an hour after his accident and therefore had a better survival chance. No wonder Matt never read anything about himself and placed a high value on loyalty. Her resolution not to be a weak. she read. She learned. She lived for Matt’s phone calls. He had qualified his remarks by adding that Peter was a Machiavellian figure when it came to business. And trust. Laura pushed the newspaper away when she came to that gem. Her heart would jolt whenever she heard his voice and her lips curve into a smile even though the calls 261 . apparently. The accounts were all similarly vague about the exact nature of Dominic Steele’s injuries. the latest in a long line of indiscretions. There was a lot of padding about the sort of injuries incurred by motorcyclists.

Frances Hart themselves were rushed and perfunctory. despite the excellent care he was receiving. when it came. After the second day of drifting around like a wraith Laura decided she would return to London. underscored by fear that his father would not make it. However. that call. She could mope equally well there she thought tiredly. Matt himself. was even more unsatisfactory as his father did not seem to be responding to treatment. To make it worse. It was clear that Matt’s mother and sisters were relying on him completely. She was not going to intrude but she could not go on like this. especially. Now to make sure Matt knew. as she waited for something to happen. She could not press him and tried to reassure herself that it was too soon. of course. Her life was in limbo. 262 . The flat delivery he used when telling her made Laura want to get on the next flight. She left a message on her parents’ answer phone to say that she was vacating the cottage and would call in briefly on Sunday evening to drop off the key. He sounded so tired and uncertain she ached to be with him to offer comfort but so far he had not said any thing about her joining him. there were hordes from the media camped outside the hospital desperate to capture any comings and goings of the family.

I just feel so helpless. I miss you so much. Laura. Oh god. I’ll be on the move. She would tell him about her plans instead.” Laura started to say how much she missed him but caught herself.” “I’m the one that should be sorry sweetheart. He had enough to deal with. I shouldn’t be taking this out on you.” An understatement if ever there was one. I can’t remember the last time I got any sleep. I’m so sorry. Laura felt something break inside her. It’s not my father lying in hospital. And why the hell did my father decide to have a fucking mid life crisis and buy a motorbike? Why now? Of all times?” The last words were hard to hear and sounded so grief stricken. Oh. It’s not the same here without you. Matt. as though talking about the press intrusion could take his mind away from the awfulness of his father’s condition.” “Don’t worry. I just wish you weren’t so far away. “I should be there by the evening. “Oh Matt. I’m going back to London tomorrow so don’t worry if you don’t get a reply when you phone. “I’m used to being regarded as public property but this is too much.” 263 . “Matt.” “I’m too tired to think straight.” Matt’s voice was vehement.The Girl On The Balcony “They’re like vultures.

“I have to go. There was still no reply. Laura. When he came back on the line his voice was terse. I’ll see to it as soon as I arrive in London. I’ve tried. I’ll ring tomorrow. I should be able to give you the details tomorrow when I phone.Frances Hart Silence. She needed to 264 . I’m not functioning at all. Laura cringed. “It’s no good. I need you here. No matter what happens. Laura. When do you think you can come?” “As soon as possible. how soon do you think you could get to New York? Could you come?” The answer was simple.” Matt broke off and she could hear muffled tones as someone spoke to him. Laura clutched the silent phone. She ached to be with him.” “Thank goodness.” she added tentatively. “It will be easier to get to the airport from there as well. She hugged the thought to herself.” Then. Safe journey. “Of course. a soft “I love you. It sounded as though matters were at crisis point. Laura.” and he was gone.” “Don’t worry. Poor Matt. But she would be there soon. worried. Did he still want her? Then she heard him say. but I can’t do it without you. I’ll get your ticket sorted.

telling herself she needed nourishment. He looked at the camera and gave that quizzical look that had all his female fans swooning. On screen he lounged against a shed in some remote western town. managing to finish most of her meal while tasting nothing. Laura looked down at the white tee shirt she was wearing. She had not touched a thing since Matt left. In the next shot he stretched his long legs clad in jeans that looked as though they were painted on. He eased his shoulders to ease the tension and the muscles in his arms rippled and his white tee shirt showed off his washboard stomach. She ought to pack her stuff and tidy the cottage. as he pushed away from the shed wall. She spent the evening watching Matt on video while she ate determinedly. 265 . when they were not ogling his butt.The Girl On The Balcony get organised. her parents never came in the school holidays and she knew Lance was booked to go somewhere exotic with the awful Annabel. When was it going to be used next? Probably not until the autumn. she could not afford to be sick now she was going to the States. determined to eat it this time instead of putting it back in the fridge. Laura took out some chicken dish for her evening meal. It had looked better on him.

Laura bit her lip as. her phone. her mind full of what might be happening in New York. again. She could not face tidying it up now. Rachel had been right all these years. He was utterly compelling—he did not have to do anything to steal the scene. Laura looked around at the living room. shorter than normal because she had skipped the love scenes. the range of understanding of a role. When the video ended its run. The next morning was not one of her better days. She would grovel to her mother when she got back.Frances Hart She looked back at the screen and began to see beyond the sexiness to the innate talent: the way he could convey emotion with just a look. It was no good. the way the camera picked up the charisma. She had to make several trips loading up the car as she kept forgetting things. This time he was not there to reassure her. She had slept badly. 266 . she remembered she needed the information about where to return the car and had to dash back inside. Matt was a real star. . When she was finally ready and had grabbed her bag. She just wanted to get the journey over so that she would be at home when Matt phoned the next day. and Matt’s pillow to put on the passenger seat. the discrepancy between their life styles struck home. a simple gesture.

Laura slotted into a parking space with a sigh of relief. Finally. with a sense of relief. “There’s no rush. before adding. She just wanted this journey to end. There was not that much traffic on the road and the car was a joy to drive but she could not get into the mood. Matt by her side. The journey was straightforward. loving the power of the car and the ease with which she could overtake. She had not enjoyed the last 267 . She stopped at a service station where the road from East Anglia bisected with the M25 and sat at the plastic table looking at the cup of tea and the sandwich she had bought.” She dumped everything she had been carrying on to the kitchen table while she searched for the information. “you won’t need it in the States. she located the piece of paper behind the clock in the living room and. Suddenly she did not want either. Home at last.The Girl On The Balcony Matt had scribbled down the number on a piece of paper so that she could return it when she was ready.” he had said. scooped up her stuff from the table and locked the back door behind her. It was such a contrast from the outward journey when she had swept up this same road. Her stomach felt uneasy.

on the kitchen table. All her concentration was taken up by the normally simple task of putting one foot in front of the other. Still no phone. She spent that night huddled on the bathroom floor not daring to leave. She had never felt so wretched. before she could even lock the door behind her. Even her worry about Matt was overtaken by the pain and discomfort she was feeling. not even water. She needed help but 268 . The following morning. She managed to get her key out of her bag and unlock the door. Once inside. An icy feeling swept through her as she realised her predicament. trudged up the stairs feeling decidedly fragile. Her phone was not there. She did not see her. the sickness eased enough to let her stagger into the living room to get to her phone. once inside the house. She grabbed the stuff from inside the car and. She felt the presence of her landlady who had come out of her kitchen when she heard noises on the stairs.Frances Hart part of the journey at all. Her stomach was churning and she was beginning to feel cold. She must have left it behind in Suffolk. She dropped every thing on the carpet and made a dash for the bathroom where she was violently sick. Nothing would stay down. she suddenly felt ill. Laura upended the contents of her bag. she needed help.

She thought she might be dreaming when she heard the distinctive sound of her brother’s voice. her legs gave way. The first indication that help had arrived was the sound of raised voices. What would he be thinking? She was supposed to be getting on a plane. anybody. She could not make out the words but the tone was enough. 269 . She banged on the floor in a vain attempt to get her landlady’s attention. At present she was not sure she could make it to her bedroom. Surely even Mrs. She heard a last protest coming from the nether regions. It was how Lance found her. She was supposed to be going to New York. Whiting would realise something was wrong? The only response was a slam of the kitchen door below her. a firm tread on the stairs and the sound of the door opening. he was seriously angry with someone. her landlady she presumed. She thought about Matt and became frantic. She had to reach the stairs but when she tried to get up.The Girl On The Balcony could not contact anyone. She tried to yell for help but her throat was too raw and little sound emerged. She collapsed on the carpet clutching Matt’s pillow and cried. She needed somebody.

“Christ. “sick. “Mum. She’s not in a fit state to travel at the moment. said. I’ll stay here tonight and bring her home tomorrow. Left it behind.” 270 . and a drink of water was being thrust into her hand.Frances Hart A voice. “Tears started afresh. she was put into bed. she was shaking too much.” He took out his phone with his other hand. “How long have you been like this? Why didn’t you phone?” She whispered. “bathroom. Another expletive followed when Lance realised she could not hold it. She could not remember the last time he had done that. The next few minutes were dreadful but eventually. Laura. In the cottage.” He listened to the response.” then. desperately. still in her clothes.” Strong arms picked her up from the floor and carried her there. “Couldn’t. Then we can get her sorted. you were right to worry. Food poisoning at a guess. said. whatever’s happened?” She managed. “How long have you been ill?” “Since last night. her brother’s voice. “She’d better not throw up in my car though. For once. It’s Lance.” “Hell.” He glanced at Laura and winked. and he had to hold it for her. “No need. Her brother put the mug down and put his arm around her.

but Laura had become practically hysterical until he had made the promise. not hers. something to do with a boyfriend and not being able to get in touch. as Lance put it. His jaw tightened. It had shaken him to the core when he had walked in and discovered Laura collapsed on the carpet. to retrieve her phone. the doctor had been called. although it had been a near thing.The Girl On The Balcony Being sorted. Lance did not understand fully why retrieving her phone was so important. Up to that point he had been in a bad mood about having to go over to Laura’s flat at his mother’s insistence: he was up to his eyes in work. This time. That changed when he had seen his sister 271 . She had not thrown up in Lance’s car. They seemed to do nothing but argue these days. and her mother was fussing over her. He began mentally to reassign appointments and commitments. he could not spare the time. Annabel would not be pleased to have her plans rearranged in order to accommodate his sister. and in return had dragged a promise from her brother to go to Suffolk as soon as he could. they would go along with his plans. meant that within twenty four hours Laura was tucked up in bed in the family home.

Whiting glare at his retreating figure—she had not appreciated the tongue-lashing she had received from him about her neglectful behaviour—and drop the address in the paper recycling box by the front door. She did not specify further. he might have seen Mrs. the boyfriend he assumed. Laura was in bed in her old room. He did not regret giving her landlady a piece of his mind and reinforced it when he gave her his parents’ address while Laura waited in the car. especially ones that had been taken out from the fridge more than once. and strode away.” Laura had pleaded. She had been diagnosed with salmonella. phone at his ear as a call from a client came through. “In case somebody needs to know where I am. fretting about Matt and cursing chicken meals. He did not look behind him. as the doctor had told her cheerfully over the phone. he was not accustomed to having his requests disregarded. Laura. If he had.Frances Hart huddled on the floor. “You’ve hit the jackpot. He ignored the landlady’s hostility when he suggested that she leave the information in the hall. or. But look on the bright 272 . He called in to rearrange his schedule without a qualm.

Surrounding it was the chaotic muddle of photos. She wanted her phone. he talked to her as though she were still nine years old. She was stuck here for two weeks. now we know what it is we can start treating you.The Girl On The Balcony side. she wanted Matt. Lance had promised but he was very busy and the last time she had asked him over the phone he had become positively glacial. She wanted to get back to her flat. cryptic messages. Laura stared unseeing at the picture of a younger Johnny Depp which she had stuck on her notice board when she was seventeen. but she was out of luck. or better still. badges and invitations of her student years. Just like the muddle of her present life. He had thought about hospitalising her he said but had refrained because he knew she would be sensible and that meant following his instructions and not even think about going anywhere until he said she could. postcards.” That was the disadvantage of having a doctor who had known you when you were a child. She wore herself out worrying about how she was going to get in touch with Matt if she did not get her phone back within the next few days. The doctor had insisted. 273 . She was not going to get what she wanted. drive up to Suffolk.

274 . her stomach felt sore. when she was not thinking about her problems.Frances Hart She had no energy. commenting that she was not supposed to be exercising her brain merely her common sense. and. before her eyelids closed. she spent most of her time dozing. Her mother refused to let her read. and so she had no idea what was happening in New York. she was on a liquid diet. For the umpteenth time she wondered what Matt was doing.

Matt had no real recollection of his dash across the Atlantic but he knew he would never forget the first sight of his father hooked up to various drips and tubes. Frantic. a closed head injury. His father had sustained a serious head trauma. he looked for a sign that he was still breathing.Chapter 14 Life was a nightmare. a white sheet over him. When Matt went over to him and took his hand it felt cold. The brain tissue had been damaged on impact. as though he were already dead. The violent head movement he had incurred had caused his brain to move around in his skull. lying inanimate. stretching and squeezing and affecting the blood 275 .

He was badly bruised and Matt swallowed when he saw the various shades of blue and purple that decorated his father’s torso like a crazy tattoo. his younger sister spent all her time in tears. Matt found very hard. This. Quite what she had in mind was never made clear. Not that his father gave any sign that he realised they were there. The only thing that kept him going in the first few days were the phone calls to Laura. Julia. He would come out from the ward to the quiet spot he had found overlooking the grounds. He was in a private room and they were only allowed in for brief visits. He had also fractured both tibia and fibula in his left leg and while this in itself was not life threatening there was always the risk of a blood clot. There would be no escape. He wanted her with him as they had planned but was reluctant to bring her into the limelight. It was this that was causing the concern. and call her. the media attention would be unbearable. when she was not imploring him to do something. He was also doubtful about letting Laura encounter his family in such a highly volatile state. Hearing her voice always made him feel calmer. Ros was more controlled but bitter about their father’s 276 .Frances Hart vessels.

in response. He had always thought of his mother as being strong. In those first days Matt made a couple of attempts to get right away from the hospital for a few minutes. He realised he was wrong. while his father was the one who constantly upset the family dynamics. “They’re like vultures. break down at the thought of losing her husband. When Laura. in the next moment. That was the day when he thought he could not take any more. waiting for his father to die. he needed fresh air and space. Matt was torn apart. New York in the summer was hot and humid. He could not even hear himself think with the roar of traffic from First Avenue and when he returned to the hospital he had to run the gauntlet. started talking about 277 . His mother had depended on his father as much as his father depended on her. then. The paparazzi and the official media representatives were camped outside like ghouls: wanting tragedy. Now they were all depending on him.The Girl On The Balcony pillion passenger and the uncaring attitude of wannabe starlets.” he vented to Laura. “Why now of all times?” he heard himself ask. Could she not see that it did not matter? His mother would talk wildly about divorce as soon as his father was well enough to sign the papers. He soon gave up. the linchpin holding them together.

fighting. something to which he could look forward. He smiled as he looked at his favourite image of her in his phone: the next best thing to having her there. He needed her. To hell with the publicity. He had to go. He looked up and his 278 . but he was too wired up to rest. He remembered the phone call with Laura. Dominic Steele was still there. he winced mentally at the phrase that he had used. He needed to savour the anticipation in private. From here he could see the sky. To hell with the rest of his family. Matt closed his eyes with relief when she agreed without hesitation. At that point one of the medical staff came towards him with a serious look on his face. He finished the call and made his way back to his father’s side. At last. Tomorrow. After several hours it appeared that the latest crisis had been averted. Matt’s heart plummeted. Matt was too tired to object when his mother indicated that she wanted to stay with his father. she would be on her way. They all needed sleep. Cautiously he slipped out of a side door. He was almost dead on his feet.Frances Hart returning to London he knew he had to ask her to come to New York.

He whirled around but it was too late. He was so caught up in his thoughts he lost his habitual wariness and did not react immediately when a sultry. He wondered whether she had lit a fire. or upstairs in her bedroom packing ready for her return to London. how could I stay away?” Before his brain caught up the photographer had disappeared. He had no doubt that she had already given the interview and had been waiting for an opportunity 279 . smiled at him cynically and then sweetly at the camera which had appeared in front of them that he realised that he had been caught. What the hell are you doing here?” “Matt darling. It was only when the ash blonde. immaculately styled hair came to rest on his shoulder and the eyes. She could be in the kitchen. He had been set up. He could just picture the headlines: Dramatic reconciliation. framed by impossibly long lashes. Matt and Mia back together. “Mia.The Girl On The Balcony thoughts were not with his father and the latest battle for life. familiar voice breathed in his ear and an arm snaked round his waist. He was wondering whether Laura was looking up at the same sky or was it night back in England by now? He smiled as he pictured Laura in the cottage. or in the living room watching a video.

as your father is dying. His father had never liked Mia. he fumed. He did not hear her parting words: “See you around. She had positioned herself perfectly to convey the right body language and he had played along by thinking of Laura. Any further comments would not improve the situation. He also knew why she had done it.” Matt stormed back towards his father’s room. We’re finished.” Matt flinched at the deliberately chosen words.” “And there I was thinking that you might need some support. Her meal ticket of a boyfriend had ditched her. Apparently it was reciprocated. Her career needed a kick start. It was not her career that needed a kicking.Frances Hart to get the accompanying picture. I don’t want you anywhere near me. leaving Mia smiling. I haven’t got time for this. Mia. and of depicting herself as the innocent party. He had no doubt that her arrival would be spun as a 280 . He wondered how many people she had paid to get this set up. And after this stunt. “Get away from here and keep away from me. He turned on his heel and went in. Mia had perfected the art of hitting a man when he was down. He knew what the picture would look like. A long time ago.

The Girl On The Balcony good will gesture and any comments he might make to the contrary would be to his detriment. He knew that he could not stop the photo being published. He also established that the car had not yet been returned. He did not want her to think of him as being needy. He felt a sudden impulse to call Laura and vent his anger at his former girl friend. The ticket arrangements had been made. He needed to get Peter on to it. Since that last call when he had asked Laura to come to New York he had not been able to get in touch. then stopped. They had been too busy living the present. He and Laura had never talked about past relationships. He would explain tomorrow. spreading as far as London to find out if Laura had been admitted. He swung round. Concern turned to worry as he kept getting her voice mail. It was also too complex a subject for a phone call. 281 . with negative results. All he had to do was wait. He could not be spared away from his father for very long so had to rely on Peter to contact the hospitals in and around East Anglia. The best he could do was instigate some damage limitation of his own. when he saw her. He grimaced. Matt was still waiting several days later.

He could not remember the last time he had slept. he was currently in the middle of another assignment he explained. He could free up some time for them in the next day or so but if the search ran on after that he would have to fit them in round his other commission. He did not know whether he was coming or going. She’s just left her phone somewhere. Matt made the decision to stick with Ian Stewart. And all the time unanswerable 282 . There was a frustrating delay before Stewart replied.” When the expected call still did not come they decided to contact the P. I’m sure she’ll call soon. he could pass them over to someone he knew in the profession.I. Sorry. but that was the best he could do. they had used before.Frances Hart Peter tried to reassure his friend. He was balanced precariously on a knife-edge of uncertainties. she might even have left it behind at the cottage and had to go back for it. “I’m sure it isn’t a problem. It was better than nothing. He would try the London flat first then. Matt felt as though his world had imploded: as though the centre had shifted and life would never be the same again. if necessary. Ian Stewart. He apologised. go on to Suffolk. You never know. someone reliable. If they preferred.

He smiled easily as he finished his explanation and waited for a response.” “Would you have any idea where she is?” The answer was not forthcoming. He tried again. which Mrs. He could not see much. He was met with a blank stare. was lying under creased flyers from a pizza delivery firm and a local supermarket. “She’s not here. it seemed rather gloomy. He stood on the doorstep and explained his errand to the pursed lips and pale eyes of the householder. This time the stare became more pronounced and the lips thinned but they did not open with the information he sought. When would his father wake? Was he going to wake? And where was Laura? When Ian Stewart called at the flat in London. The sole splash of colour was the green recycling box in an alcove by the front door. Brown linoleum complemented a dark wooden hall table and faded cream walls. 283 . Whiting had dropped in the recycling box. Laura’s parents’ address. while reconnoitring the narrow hall. There was certainly no white oblong of paper indicating a potential communication on the table: only dust.The Girl On The Balcony questions hammered at him.

Then he saw a pair of protuberant eyes staring at him from a window as she shooed him away. He was no longer capable of rational thought. 284 . Like a puffer fish. he was sure of it. It was not the height that was formidable. not even his comments on the fish resemblance of the landlady could raise a smile. “and ask her to get in touch?” The card was taken between her finger and thumb as though it were a bad smell and he watched in fascination as she drew herself up to her full height. He would not have been so amused if he had seen her drop his card into the recycling box in the alcove by the front door. When Stewart’s reply came back in the negative.Frances Hart “Could you see that she gets this. How could he get the information from her? He amused himself with thinking of several improbable and highly satisfactory scenarios before he contacted his client. Matt was in despair.” he handed over his business card. He stood on the path. It was the breadth. She knew where Laura was. The meaning was clear. Her chest seemed to expand until it filled the doorway. it was too soul destroying. He had given up leaving messages. just before the door was shut in his face. looking at the closed door in disbelief. he thought. He had to go. please.

His father opened his eyes for the first time. The medical team were beginning to sound more optimistic.The Girl On The Balcony The only positive note was the indication that his father was coming round. round about the time that Ian Stewart arrived in Suffolk. 285 .


It also meant that he was on the road on a Friday afternoon. the traffic was appalling. or on the phone to her friends complaining about other people’s 287 . There had been an accident around Colchester that had closed the road for a time. Worse. He was due in Spain on Monday. and had planned to spend today working on the brief.Chapter 15 Lance was in a bad mood. As he had expected. which meant a Sunday departure. a fate any sane person normally avoided. Instead he had promised Laura he would retrieve her damned phone so his Saturday was now a washout. Annabel had insisted on accompanying him and had spent the journey citing his shortcomings to his face.

Her whole behaviour was intensely irritating. The difference in her behaviour had become really noticeable around the time of that party. It struck him that he ought to be pleased she was with him. It grated. he conceded. It was not only her voice. When had his feelings changed? What had happened to change his mind? He swept past an ancient Volkswagen camper van as he tuned out her voice. What did that suggest about their relationship? Or his feelings towards her? Somewhere along the A12 he had had enough of the sound of her voice. and realised that it was no longer true. veering around a Dutch container lorry that seemed to think it was on mainland Europe already. and thought about the last few weeks. destroying his concentration. he had obviously not been listening when she had told him how important it was to her career and it had not been entirely appropriate for Laura to drop in. He did not love her any more. He crossed the Orwell bridge. judging by its lane discipline. By the time they were circumnavigating Ipswich.Frances Hart failures. All right. What was stupid was the way Annabel 288 . he was wondering why he loved her. no mean feat. where the A12 and A14 joined.

Lance frowned. He negotiated the turn off the A14 on to the A12 and tried to decide when he had realised that she was selfish: uncaring about any one except herself. Annabel ought to have known that. People like him did not need the publicity.The Girl On The Balcony blamed his sister for spoiling her big moment. It just made it more convenient for Annabel to blame Laura. Matt Steele. When she was not blaming Philip that is. They lived in a rarefied world not habited by the rest of creation. 289 . He snorted. Expecting him to turn up to ease her promotion path had never been on the cards. That was when she had met the damn star. causing Annabel to pause in her interminable phone calls and regard him disapprovingly. He shrugged. He did not notice. It was not as though she had ruined the occasion. He had discovered that she had actually been at a show biz shindig. Certainly she gave no real indication that she cared about him. What had ruined it was the non-appearance of the star guest. rather than herself. not any more. As if an actor of Steele’s calibre had ever had any intention of turning up at her party. He thought about the time she had lied to him about going on a girls’ night out. Laura had only been there for a short time.

Frances Hart Why had it taken him months to realise that she was selfish? He shook his head as he realised how easily he had been played. His eyes narrowed as he thought back to their first major quarrel. It was after that argument that her behaviour towards Laura had become poisonous. He had gone ballistic when Annabel admitted knowing that Neil had been cheating on Laura back in the spring. He turned off on to the Southwold road. It had not been apparent at the beginning. He assumed now that Annabel had been hiding her dislike. He glanced across to where Annabel was still talking on her phone. his mind veering away from his susceptibility. when Annabel had protested about him lending his car to his sister. Annabel had claimed she just loved the idea of having Laura as a sister-in-law. She had known for weeks and when Lance ripped up at her for her disloyalty to his family she blamed Laura for the quarrel. He ought to have cut his losses then. He did not notice the slim figure 290 . Laura had never reciprocated. Instead he pondered why Annabel disliked Laura so much. That was when he found out about Neil. he thought. Laura’s ex. but Annabel was very good at conciliatory behaviour when she wanted to be.

the family possessions accumulated over the years. her foot colliding with some object which rolled away into the corner. He swung into the parking space and cut the engine. he could no longer stomach the thought of going anywhere with her. the flawless make up which complemented her glamorous looks. His lips curved as he relished the thought. he heard the petulance in her voice. He would wait until they returned to London to tell her. It was not the essence of who she was. He could see only the hardness of her lips. It was curiously freeing to realise he no longer loved her. He only had to get through the next few hours. let alone the rest of his life. the sharpness of the red nails. He would make it a priority to cancel their holiday. Hell. as it was unfair on her to be forced to travel back by train. the 291 . he did not want to spend any more time with her. The beauty was cosmetic.The Girl On The Balcony and stylish hair and clothes. Lance began to negotiate the narrow lanes leading to the cottage as he decided when to end their engagement. He ignored Annabel’s theatrical shudder as she stepped through the living room door. and surveyed the mismatched furniture. manufactured.

switching it off automatically and slipping it into his jacket pocket before going upstairs to collect the clothes lying on her bed. 292 . he wondered idly. nodded in response to a neighbour’s greeting when he came past walking his dog. had not been able to fit them into her suitcase. He took one last look at the sky darkening in the east and turned to go in.Frances Hart painted cupboards. a rather overweight Labrador. He looked around for a suitable receptacle. listening to the crash of the waves on the beach and the cries of sea gulls. but had to make do with several carrier bags. He ought to come back. apparently. It was peaceful out here. These he carried out to the car. He had other things to do. She. He smiled in reminiscence. He retrieved Laura’s phone from the kitchen. hoping to find her rucksack. Lance refused to take notice. he would steel himself and suggest that he and Annabel go to one of the local hotels and have a meal before returning to London. They had had some good times. He could smell the sea. Sometime. And freedom. Why not. Lance stayed outside looking at the clouds tinged with pink from the evening sun. For now. He looked across at the other cottages where lights were beginning to come on.

When he suggested they went for a meal at one of the local hotels before heading back to London she finished her conversation with a snap of the phone. She wanted to go back. ending when Annabel flounced out of the door with the threat that if they did 293 . The evening went downhill from there. He had known she would find it boring but she had insisted. One of her friends had just that minute told her about an important party which she did not want to miss. Annabel was perched gingerly on the settee as if it might be contaminated.The Girl On The Balcony In the cottage.” When Lance pointed out that he had been driving for several hours and needed a break she replied that she had had to cancel a previous engagement in order to come but this was just too important to miss. The argument escalated. “It’s absolutely vital for my career to be seen there. when Lance came back in and intimated that he was ready to go. regardless of what she felt was important. as. However. still talking. he needed a meal and a break from driving. Lance darling. Now. Annabel made it clear that she did not want to stay any longer in Suffolk. She was talking on the phone and rose. Lance bit back the reply he wanted to make and mentioned that it was her idea to come with him. remember.

Frances Hart not go back immediately she would get a taxi back to London and he could regard their engagement at an end. said. stopping to let a taxi negotiate a right turn ahead of him. “talking earlier. It was in darkness. He finished his cigarette. They were here when we started our 294 . No answer. “Heard them. He was standing there.” he coughed. She had had enough of his selfish behaviour. Ian Stewart eased his car along the main street. When he thought he had given her enough time to get a taxi he went in search of the meal he had promised himself. Heel. The cottage seemed really quiet once she had gone. checked the directions and threaded his way through the maze of lanes to the cottage. He knocked at the front door anyway. and found a parking place. “Pardon?” The voice with the distinctive vowels of the public school system. “You’ve just missed them. when a voice accosted him through the twilight. Marcus.” He swung round. Lance wandered into the kitchen and made himself a black coffee while he waited for his turbulent emotions to subside and to be sure that Annabel was on her way to London. looking at the sturdy Suffolk brickwork and the polished brass letterbox.

” “Well. Was it urgent?” “No. Friend of yours? I said. “Come on Marcus. He wrenched his mind away from the anti-smoking laws and grimaced. He decided to have a bite to eat at a pub before going back to London. tongue lolling. Shame you’ve missed them. heel. It seemed as though he had just missed her. and sat on one haunch. as a matter of fact. wondering about the identity of the “nice young man. Lovely family.” A fat Labrador came ambling up. Safe journey. Couldn’t take any chances these days.” Ian glanced back to see the dog owner watching him. His master bent to clip on the lead then straightened his military stance even further in order to point with his stick at the flattened grass of a parking space. The daughter’s grown up well. He ought to give up. He speculated about what sort of provision the pub had made for the recalcitrant smoker. good night then. Time for tea. “The car’s only just gone. I hope not. I said hello.The Girl On The Balcony walk. A pity he had not come to Suffolk first. I only came on the off chance. The cottage was obviously empty. Marcus. No use in staying. like him. Seen them around for years. he had 295 .” Oh well.” The dog owner stood his ground until Ian Stewart turned back to the High Street. Nice young man.

before deciding what to do 296 . Laura was in bed when Lance contacted his parents to say that he would be back the next day with Laura’s phone. There was no Annabel in the passenger seat.Frances Hart better make a start on catching up with the elusive Miss Marshall. He had not even turned on his phone. Was his father still alive? When would she see Matt again? For the first time in days Laura let herself relax and fell asleep. The journey back to London this morning had been quick and stress free. He would spend the rest of the day working on the brief before packing at leisure. Once he had been to the pub. After demolishing a bottle of very good claret with his celebratory meal he had decided to stay overnight at the hotel. which was now in the glove compartment of the car. He relished the thought of planning his day without having to consider anyone else. Lance was in a good mood. She wondered what was happening in the States. She needed to take into account the time differences. He would then slip over to Laura’s and drop off her phone. And quiet. of course. She was euphoric when her mother relayed the news and started calculating how soon she could make her phone call.

The magazine fell open on to the glass of the coffee table and an expensively clad bride smiled up at them as Annabel cooed. He did not even manage to open his door. and to pack some appropriate clothes as he was expected to socialise. Her engagement ring glinted in the light as she stood to put her arms around him. Ring me. He stood with the key in his hand as he listened to the senior partner telling him he had been booked on a flight later that day as the client wanted him out there earlier.” He stepped into his flat and his day disintegrated further when he saw Annabel in the living room leafing through a bridal magazine. and do your best to have a good time. darling. Where have you been?” Lance carefully disengaged himself.The Girl On The Balcony with his evening. Good opportunity to bring your Spanish up to scratch. 297 . “I’ve been sick with worry. “Just give me a quick call to confirm you have the information. Lance my dear chap.” Lance looked at her immaculate. He could not recall when he had last felt this sense of freedom. His plans dissipated as soon as he turned on his phone. The flight details had been emailed to him. “Lance. coordinated appearance and doubted it. Make it a successful one of course. oh.

He had had a trying weekend so far and he had a plane to catch.” The tinkling laugh that accompanied the last statement was really irritating.” Then. How much you love me. I thought I had. “Why are you here.” Lance was tired of the posturing. enticing. “Why shouldn’t I be here? I’m your fiancée.Frances Hart “Why didn’t you call me to say where you were you were?” Lance did not bother to be polite. breathy. Lance remained unmoved. “I want to end the engagement Annabel. Annabel?” The bewilderment was nicely judged.” “Lance. “No we’re not. “Surely you don’t think I meant what I said last night. rather cruelly. “What do you mean? You do love me. how could you say that? You know how much I love you. “No I don’t. 298 .” The slight laugh was practised and sounded unforced to all but the keenest ear. Lance darling?” “Yes. We’re getting married. remember. In fact. darling.” Her voice sharpened. And you know how much I adore you. remember.” “What do you mean? Celebrating what?” Lance decided to twist the knife. “That was why I spent the night in Suffolk.” The tone was coy. I was celebrating.

I should have done it weeks ago. He turned away. His action triggered a different response. it’s amazing how easy it is. Lance had heard them all before. “Definitely not a good idea. He held her away from him before her nails raked his face.” “Lance! How can you stand there and tell me something like that. before Annabel started a tirade of vituperation. “I wouldn’t. It’s not a good idea. In fact. They were certainly inventive.” “Easily.” His grip hardened as her hand came perilously near his face again.” There was a shocked gasp. They hit their target with all the velocity of a dry sponge. your so-important career. her accusations of his failings. Annabel launched herself at him. I was celebrating my freedom.The Girl On The Balcony “While you were racing back to London to further your career. Annabel. She railed at him for several interminable minutes. Without warning. Lance caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and caught her hands before she could inflict any damage. and her condemnation of his antecedents were intended to be an explosive mixture. He just wanted her gone. I think you 299 . an indrawn breath. which she tossed in among the verbal abuse.

I no longer want to marry you.” 300 .” He dropped his arms and stood back as his ex-fiancee tried another approach and burst into tears. And I think you should go before you start making a fool of yourself. swung round. Don’t you? Now. At the suggestion that she could possibly look foolish. The key skittered across the glass. And leave your key on the way out. The next few moments were filled with the sound of sobbing. She did not say anything more but spun on her ice pick heels and started gathering up her possessions. her sobs ceased. “He turned her round so that she was facing the door. “Don’t think you’ve heard the last of this. “The key. Don’t you?” He had judged her right. You know where the door is. her eyes dried and her look became venomous. No one treats me like this. It bounced half-heartedly across the smiling bride. They both looked at it for a second before Annabel whipped the magazine away and stalked to the door. Annabel.” She glared at him and dropped the key on the coffee table. Lance Marshall. “I have a plane to catch.Frances Hart ought to go. Especially not you. Lance stood immobile until the noise eased. She paused. “It won’t work. Annabel.

He needed to get his skates on. He didn’t say what. he was steaming over something she had done. He roused only when the phone rang. my sweet. They had used the time fruitfully in bitching about Annabel and discussing the probability that Lance was no longer infatuated. He knew when to cut his losses. With detachment he realised that his heart was beating rapidly and he felt slightly nauseous. and that slime ball you used to date. when he recalled that Annabel still had her engagement ring in her possession. They speculated how long the engagement would last. passport and boarding card at the ready. he was sitting at the airport waiting for the gate to open. He shrugged. but he was 301 . It was his boss. And he still had Laura’s phone. dear boy. That had been unpleasant. He sat there for sometime. After a mad dash. apart from at the party.The Girl On The Balcony “Goodbye. Something to do with you. It would only be for a few more days. “The last time I saw him. The idiot temporary secretary had got the details wrong. Annabel. Laura had spent the morning being entertained by Philip. As for the ring.” The door banged in response. Lance sank on to a chair. It couldn’t be that important.

Lance would be returning her phone later that day. enough about me.” There was an edge to Philip’s reply. “Anyway. Is anything wrong? Apart from Jake’s father. No we’re fine. How’s Jake?” “Fine. She was beginning to feel better. She was now allowed out of bed and was trying out some solid food: almost as though she were a baby she complained. A diet of rice. bananas and toast was not exactly exciting but it meant that she was on the mend. Says he’ll come and see you soon. Life was looking up. go anywhere on my own.Frances Hart livid. “You don’t sound as though everything’s fine.” A shaft of longing for Matt swept through her. “I might even be able to walk downstairs on my own soon.” “You sound like an Agony aunt my sweet. of course.” Laura laughed.” 302 . It will make a pleasant change not to have to be polite to her highness. I hate feeling so helpless. He sends his love by the way. Couldn’t be better. At the moment my legs don’t seem to know that they’re supposed to be supporting me. Even though she would soon be able to speak to him she still would not be able to see him just yet. It’s so frustrating not to be able to do anything.

and he’s thrilled at the thought. I know it’s a fantastic opportunity. What is it? Come on. I’ve known you forever. “Jake is being seconded to Australia for six months. Philip. bound to be exciting and so on. Most of the time. “I’m going to miss him. they depended on him to cheer them up. Still. She forced her mind away from Matt and sympathised. People knew that they would have a good time when he was in the vicinity. Something’s the matter. Philip. marvellous for his career. of course. Tell me. it’s only for six months. And I’m thrilled for him. wherever there was a buzz at any social gathering you would find Philip at its centre.” “I know. Don’t think I haven’t gone down this route. “Oh.” Laura knew how that felt. He could be ill with cancer or Aids. “Now stop trying to distract me. starting in September.” Philip’s composure faltered. but. It could be a lot worse. I’m a friend.” Laura looked across at the arrangement of yellow roses that graced her dressing table.The Girl On The Balcony “Can you thank him for the flowers? They’re gorgeous.” there was a slight hiatus before he continued. much as she 303 . You poor thing. He could have fallen in love with somebody else.” Laura put her hand in Philip’s and squeezed it gently in support.

Sydney should be fun. He rose to his feet. the life and soul of any party that’s going. “You know me. She could not reveal the truth. Anything for you my darling. It was easy to forget that he had his worries and insecurities like everybody else. “Don’t think you can have any secrets from me. Jake’s visiting his father this afternoon. “Now. “I’ll get used to the idea. We’re already planning when I’m going out there. “I wondered whether you could possibly phone this number. actually. But it’s a bit hard to take at the moment.” Philip smiled at her.Frances Hart had.” “No problem. As long as you tell me all about the boyfriend next time. I’ll see about the car on my way back.” He laughed as Laura blushed. “and arrange for it to be returned. is there anything I can do for you.” 304 . I’ll survive.” And with that the subject was closed. Laura my sweet?” “There is.” Laura gave an edited version about why she still had an Audi sitting outside her flat.” she picked up the piece of paper. Laura Marshall.

He would always treasure the moment when his father’s eyes opened and focused on him. They were under strict instructions not to force his memory. Son. Not even to remind him about his pillion passenger.” before they closed again.Chapter 16 In New York the medical staff were being guardedly optimistic. 305 . there was a weak smile on his father’s face. This time. Great. It appeared that Dominic Steele had sustained no serious brain damage although he could not remember the crash or the hours leading up to it. and possibly never would recall them. “Matt. His voice had whispered. Matt aimed that last directive at Ros.

He too had some decisions to make. How far down the line was he going to go for a girl who apparently did not want to be found? A murmur came from the bed. had a hard road to travel. He listened to the sound of his father’s breathing. Matt leaned over and took his father’s hand in his. a restless movement. in England. Tough decisions would have to be made. It was white. He. The medical staff made it very clear to Matt that Dominic Steele would need close attention and support for a long time to come. they.Frances Hart He was still gravely ill but the family began to feel they could contemplate the future. He stared at the white wall in front of him and let the muted sounds of the hospital settling down for the night wash over him. the hand of an old man. not on what was happening. She had not let him know. 306 . He had to concentrate on what was happening here in New York. He thought of the way his family were relying on him and how his priority was to do everything he could to aid his father’s recovery and to support them. or not. At long last he had time to think. At least he assumed that was where Laura was. Matt sat in his father’s darkened room. dry.

With another man. Perhaps she had turned to him for support. 307 . Philip. he was merely reporting what a neighbour said. Instinctively he started to smooth the dry. His mind turned to the letter he had mailed to England in desperation.The Girl On The Balcony Almost as white as the wall. He had tried to ignore the fact that. Laura had not gone to London when she said she was going. he reminded himself. papery skin and felt it begin to relax. no other member of her family was going the cottage that summer. He dredged up the name. If. when he managed to get hold of her. He had tried to focus on the detail that Stewart had not actually seen Laura there. Why had he bothered? With the way things were going he would not be surprised if it were returned address unknown. An old friend who was gay. An unwelcome picture of Laura being kissed by at the party sidled into his mind. She had apparently stayed in Suffolk. according to Laura. Where was she? He felt his father’s hand tighten. He stared at its flat surface and thought about his reaction when the first report had come in from Ian Stewart. had not seen either of the couple mentioned. He would ask her. A moan came from the bed. from hearsay. That was the crunch. He shook his head.

This time it was his hand which tensed as he recalled how he had lashed out at Peter. “I’m sure Stewart will find her for you. reassuring him. He had been off balance. Peter’s instructions regarding the return of the car had been disregarded and so they had no information about the unknown male who had handed in the keys. He’s going to locate her parents’ address.Frances Hart He grimaced.” Shamefacedly he recalled how Peter had refused to yell back. but at the critical time he was called away and the guy on duty didn’t know the circumstances.” No.” 308 . In addition. Sends his apologies. He and Peter had been on their own in the small waiting room they had used during their vigil. It wasn’t until Steve saw the car in the parking lot he realised it had been returned. I didn’t forget. He winced as he remembered the accusation he had flung at his friend. None of this was his fault. his confidence at an all time low after hearing that Laura was not at the London flat either even though the car had been returned. If he continued like this he would be losing his best friend as well. “Why didn’t Steve question him when the car was returned? Or did you forget to leave instructions to that effect?” The reply had been placatory.

How was he going to cope with the idea that Laura did not want him? He had thought his heart was broken the night Laura had found out his real name and had asked him to leave. laying his father’s hand gently on the cover. He glanced down at the two hands entwined. He swallowed. he loved her. Hell. A sudden image of Laura’s hand superimposed itself. He needed for his own sanity to regain some semblance of control. rose from the chair.The Girl On The Balcony At least somebody was capable of acting maturely. He was sure that if Peter were separated from Anna he would not behave like a spoiled child. He had been going to ask her to marry him. He could not deal any more with this sensation of being torn in half. 309 . He still wanted her. He disentangled his fingers and. And he had lost that from the moment he had seen Laura in Leicester Square. He went to the window and stared out into the night. This was worse. He had been so sure that Laura was the one with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. But then he had known Anna for a long time. How long ago had he met Laura? And how well did he really know her? Another murmur came from the bed and Matt made his fingers relax.

At least he could reassure his client that Laura was probably okay. Everything seemed as normal. He had seen a grey suited gentleman. otherwise all the work he had done on his other current assignment would be wasted. He thought of the time already spent outside the hotel where she met her lover. probably Laura’s father. yes. However that did not mean she was not there. Marshall he supposed. He had been staking out the house for a couple of hours now. Mrs. Ah. He stubbed out his cigarette and let his mind move on to his other quarry. if the behaviour of the parents was anything to go by. His mouth twisted sardonically as he scrolled through which day it was. He had hoped to get here earlier. Ian Stewart sat in his parked car and lit another cigarette. tonight she was supposed to be playing bridge. He would come back tomorrow. Damn. it was too late now. arrive back from work to be greeted by an older lady. 310 . He would have to wait to put the next part of his plan into operation.Frances Hart By the time his mother returned Matt had reached a decision. There was no sign of Laura. He checked his watch. One thing was certain. He had to go. The parents were home.

He could practically see the defences which had been erected. He had some pride. he would return to what was familiar. the conclusion which had been drawn. it sure as hell did not involve playing cards. He did not care for the role of the discarded boyfriend. He had trusted her and she had let him down. “Everything seems as normal. 311 .” Ian Stewart’s innocuous comment in his latest communication consolidated the decision Matt had made in the long reaches of the night when the spectre of the other man in Laura’s life had become more real. He knew Matt was finding it difficult to understand why Laura had left him without a word. Ian Stewart turned on the ignition and drove off into the night. Piece by piece he had tightened the control over his emotions. He was sure it was going to be the wrong one. Peter’s eyes narrowed. In time it would not matter that there was a hollow where his heart was supposed to be.The Girl On The Balcony whatever they were doing. “Normal. He would resume the identity he had lost.” The words were drawled. He would lock them away while he took back his life.

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Apparently. He could not understand it either. There must be a rational explanation. But, he had to admit, it was easier for him to trust people, except in business of course. And he had Anna. He was not a movie star who had never been sure whether girls wanted him or his image. In the past it had always been Matt who had moved on first. He had never let himself become involved. Never trusted his heart before. Before Laura. Peter’s own heart sank as he heard Matt continue, “I’ve been living a fucking nightmare and they’re carrying on as normal. So, where is Laura?” The tone was almost good humoured. “She’s not in London, she’s not in Suffolk, she’s not at her parents’.” Peter had to interrupt, “We don’t know that. Stewart is going to verify that.” He was disregarded. “She obviously doesn’t want to be found.” The cool, almost bored diction heightened the finality of the words. “I’ve decided I’m wasting my time. It’s finished. Phone Stewart and call him off.” “Why not wait one more day? Let him confirm she’s not there?” “No.” This time the voice was razor sharp. Lethal. “Do you know something? I don’t think I care any more.”

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Matt turned on his heel and left the room without a backward glance. Laura was watching for Jake. The occasional car came by. A neighbour stomped purposefully down the road carrying empty shopping bags. A couple of teenagers swooped by on skateboards. All making their way to somewhere more exciting while she was stuck here. Her eye was caught by the sudden gesture of a man across the road who was leaning against his car and talking into his mobile phone. From the body language he did not agree with what he was hearing. At least he had a phone. She watched idly as he pulled himself away from the car and stood poised on the pavement before pivoting on his heel. She saw him get back into his car and pull away, turning out of the road just as Jake turned into it. That was lucky. Jake would have somewhere to park. Ian Stewart shook his head. His client was nuts. He had overslept—his other quarry had evidently got extra lucky last night, it had been very late before he got to bed. He had meant to be here long before this, posing as a university friend of Laura’s who was trying to get in touch. He had, literally, been on the

Frances Hart

point of strolling up the driveway to the front door when the phone call came. For several seconds he debated whether to go regardless. He had a gut feeling about this. Then he thought, sod it and returned to his car and drove away, pausing only to let another car turn into the road. Idly he noted idly the pink roses in the rear window. Laura was in tears. Seconds after Jake had left a phone call had come from Spain. Her phone was locked in her brother’s car. In England. Even the news that he had broken it off with Annabel was unimportant besides the enormity of her phone being out of reach. When she was cried out Laura stared at the bouquet of pink roses Jake had brought and tried not to think about the walled garden in Suffolk. Laura was beyond tears when Lance phoned several days later to say that he had decided to remain in Spain for a further two weeks on holiday, now that he had cancelled his holiday with Annabel. He would be back in September. He sent his apologies about her phone. He would pay for a new one if she wanted.


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What was the use? Matt must have given up by now. It was over. Laura clutched Matt’s pillow and stared dry eyed at the picture of Johnny Depp. She felt numb, as though she were an automaton going through the motions of living. There was nothing she could do until her phone was returned. She prayed that Matt was still waiting for her to get in touch, that he had not moved on to one of the beautifully sculptured female predators who stalked her nightmares. Her isolation was made worse by her inability to talk about her loss. She had said virtually nothing to her parents. It was too painful. What could they do anyway? They had realised, of course, that she had boyfriend trouble and had tactfully avoided questions, wanting her only to get better. Laura felt that was impossible. A piece of her was missing and, in her darkest moments, she suspected that she would never be whole again. She could not confide in Philip. He would get too excited about the implications and find it difficult to respect her need for confidentiality. Besides, he had his own troubles. Rachel was not around. She was still on holiday. She had emailed her using her parents’ computer

Frances Hart

to tell her where she was. So far there had been no response. How could she confess to Rachel anyway, given her obsession with a certain film star? She certainly could not tell Lance. He was in Spain. Her problems whirled around in her head in an endless cyclical movement, one from which she could not break free. She could not go anywhere as she was confined to the family home. Laura looked at the familiar memorabilia of her early life and began to feel that her time with Matt was all a dream. Except that dreams were not supposed to hurt. When her mother eased her draconian regime Laura felt too listless to read or watch television. The fate of the world was insignificant in comparison with her desire to find out what was happening with Matt but she found herself unable to ask for any gossip magazines or tabloids in case they had a picture of Matt Steele, film star, with his latest girlfriend, someone who had all the glamour and sophistication she lacked. Nor could she bear to use the internet to search for news. She was too much of a coward. What if she found a feature on Matt’s father’s death, or worse? All she managed to do was email some of her friends to explain why she was not around and to tell

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them she would see them in September. She was not up to visits, not when her life was on hold, not when she felt so empty. When Laura was allowed out into the wide world at last she coerced Philip into taking her round to her flat. She had been hoping that there would be some sort of communication from Matt waiting there. There was nothing. Laura’s eyes filled and for a moment she could not see. She blinked the tears away letting her gaze focus unseeingly on the green recycling box until she had regained her equilibrium and was sufficiently in control to ask her landlady, who had appeared at the back of the hall, whether any letters had come for her. A shake of the head was the only response. Laura surveyed the hallway again in case she had missed something. She had. The information Lance had left giving details of her parents’ address should be there but was conspicuous by its absence. She swung round to face her landlady and demanded to know where it was. Mrs. Whiting fixed her with a cold blooded stare and pronounced that it was in an appropriate place and she knew where it was if it became necessary. She drew herself up as if daring Laura to retaliate before going on to confirm that nothing had come through the post for her.

Frances Hart

Laura backed down from her implacability and left. She did not have the strength for a confrontation, especially since she was moving out. For the time being she was staying with her parents, at their insistence. Just as well. She could not bear to live there any more. She had to go back eventually in order to sort out her belongings. It was hard going. When she stood in her living room for the first time it resonated with Matt’s presence. Eventually the tears stopped and she was able to start sorting through her books and papers. She would have to be ruthless as her parents would not take too kindly to having old lesson plans and ideas stuck in their loft. They had only recently managed to jettison her university notes which had been stored there, taking up space. Several hours later the living room carpet was covered with piles of paper, one of the hallmarks of being an English teacher, she reckoned. Most of the paper was destined for recycling. She filled the box in the hall in about ten minutes and ended up getting boxes from the local supermarket to accommodate all the paper intended for recycling and all the other stuff she was going to give to charity.

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She dropped the last piece of paper into a box and surveyed the bare shelves. That was it. She had finished in here. The room was now empty of her possessions. And her memories. Now she had to sort out her clothes. It took a long time before she could go into the bedroom. “For heavens’ sake, Laura, what have you got in here?” Laura turned round to see Philip grappling with a large box. Somehow she managed a smile despite the misery that engulfed her. She was finally moving out. A chapter of her life was ending. They had made endless trips to the local recycling centre and charity shop that morning and were now in the process of loading her possessions into the hired van. It was amazing how much one could accumulate in two years, she thought bleakly. Where it was going to fit in her parents’ home she did not know. Where she was going to live she did not know. She did know there was a term for children who moved back into the family home, not that her brain could remember it at the moment. How many of them wanted to be there?


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She loved her parents and had enjoyed being cosseted but she did not intend to stay with them any longer than necessary. She needed freedom. She squelched the thought that insinuated itself subsequently, that she also needed Matt, and picked up the box containing her photographs. It would fit in the van somewhere. Finally, they finished and Laura checked once more that Mrs. Whiting had her parents’ address. She had to be satisfied with a nod before a hand was held out for the keys. Laura returned them and turned to go. Mrs. Whiting stood at the front door watching as they drove away. Laura thought she could discern an air of triumph. They passed a postman bright in his orange HV jacket. He seemed to be going towards her flat. She looked back at him as he turned up the path. Laura clutched suddenly at Philip. “Philip, can you stop. What if there’s a letter for me?” Philip swore as he swerved slightly and just missed a parked car. Behind him a BMW flashed its headlights. “Sorry. Can’t at this moment.” He negotiated a corner and added, “Don’t worry, Laura. Even if there is a letter for you, your landlady

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has your address. She’ll send it on. Damn.” They had met the recycling lorry coming the other way. He edged past. “At least we put the paper box out at the right time.” Laura was still looking back as he added, “I’ve been meaning to tell you, Jake has had a brainwave about where you can live.” Mrs. Whiting picked up the airmail letter that had fluttered through on to the linoleum. She stared at it for a moment then took it into her kitchen, fetched a pen and wrote across it in careful capitals: NOT KNOWN AT THIS ADDRESS. She put it by her shopping trolley. It would go in the post box when she went to the shops.


Chapter 17
“Hello Laura. Congratulations on your results. Well done. Heard about your rotten summer. You poor thing. Department meeting after this, remember. In room one, I think. Oh, there’s our new fellow sufferer. I must go and welcome her. I’ll introduce you properly later, after the Head gets this show on the road,” and Peggy swept away towards a young, nervous looking girl sitting towards the back of the library. The show, mentioned briefly in her narrative, was the first Staff meeting of the new term. It was Inset day. The hordes of students, reluctant and otherwise, would not be descending until the next morning, giving the Staff an opportunity to get organised.

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The library, the traditional meeting place for this event rather than the staff room, (too informal) was humming with noise as staff greeted each other, congratulating or commiserating, exclaiming over holidays, already a distant memory, sympathising over timetables. Laura leaned back against the hard back of a library chair and gazed at the fiction shelves in front of her. Above them the photographs of past head teachers stared ahead, with disapproval or sympathy, according to the era, at the motley crowd in front of them. Rachel slid in the chair next to her and gave her a conspiratorial grin, a welcoming touch on the shoulder, just as the noise was cut by the Head’s voice, “Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back.” Chairs were turned round to face the front, mugs were put down on the tables, papers were rustled and the school term began. “You cut it fine, Rachel. Where were you? I thought you were going to be late.” They were walking along the corridor, having called in at the Staff room so that Rachel could arm herself with coffee for the Department meeting.


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Suddenly, Laura stopped and turned towards her friend. “Oh, Rachel, it’s good to see you. You look incredible. All relaxed and suntanned and happy. Spain must have been good.” The blonde hair, sun streaked and shining, nodded. Blue eyes glanced at her sympathetically, “You, on the other hand, look as though you’re in need of a holiday. What’s this I hear about you getting salmonella?” She echoed Peggy’s words, “You poor thing. I had a touch of food poisoning at one stage and that was bad enough but it didn’t go on for weeks. It must have been awful.” Laura thought that the Staff grapevine was obviously working well. Rachel had only been in the building for five minutes. She repeated her question, “Where have you been? Have you been in Spain all this time?” She was hurt Rachel had not been in touch. She must have extended her holiday. Perhaps she had found someone who fulfilled her exacting standards, some one who didn’t wear a football shirt, she thought, remembering the phone call at the beginning of the holidays: the day of her first date with Matt. She pushed the thought away resolutely. Rachel said sheepishly, “Didn’t get in until late last night. That’s why I was only just made it.”

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“You must have been having a good time. I thought you were due back ages ago. I was wondering why you hadn’t got in touch.” She added, “I missed you.” “Sorry, but I’m back now. Here we are. I wonder what Peggy has in store for us.” Rachel turned in at the classroom. “Hi Peggy. How’s things?” By the end of the day Laura was worn out. This was not good, she thought as she sat in the staff room with all her papers piled on the chair beside her. Also she had not had a chance to talk to Rachel all day and now she was on the verge of going, pleading jet lag. “But you only went to Spain,” Laura protested. “I know, but the flight time was distinctly anti-social. I’ll call you later. Bye.” She stuck her head round the door a second later, “Seems weird to think of you living with your parents.” Then she was gone. “Tell me about it.” Laura slumped in her seat. She had expected more of a welcome from Rachel. She had not anticipated a friend who was too tired to talk. She felt let down. No, she could not tell Rachel She was cramming her new record book and class lists into her bag when the Staff room phone rang.


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Another member of staff heaved herself to her feet to answer it then held the phone in her direction. “It’s for you, Laura.” “Laura Marshall speaking.” “Laura, it’s Jake.” “Jake, you’re wonderful.” Laura raced out to the visitors’ car park, regardless of who might be watching, and, dropping her unwieldy bag, hurled herself into Jake’s arms. She kissed him on the cheek. “Right, are you ready for this? Philip did tell you about Mrs. P, didn’t he?” He grinned at her, displaying enviably white teeth that showed off his tanned skin, the heritage of his Italian mother. Laura reached forward and brushed back a lock of black hair that had fallen over his brow as she replied, “Your inquisitive neighbour? Yes. I think I can cope with her.” She had become fond of Jake over the past few years. “Come on then. Let’s get this show on the road.” He picked up her bag and put it on the back seat before opening the passenger door and ushering her inside. “I can’t believe you’re letting me house sit while you’re in Sydney,” she said as Jake turned out of

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the school gates. “It’s just too good to be true. I was getting desperate.” “I know. Philip told me.” “My parents are fantastic but I don’t want to live with them all the time. Any more than they want me around, probably. I couldn’t believe it when Philip told me your plan. It’s the best thing that has happened to me for ages.” “You poor soul. You didn’t have a good summer, did you?” “The first part was heaven,” Laura replied quietly, “then it all went pear shaped.” They drove in silence for a few minutes. “I can’t believe term starts tomorrow. We’ve had staff training today,” she explained, “that’s why there aren’t any kids around.” “Well, if all goes to plan, you should be moving in at the weekend and I’ll be flying out to pastures new. Now let’s see if you like where I live, shall we.” Across the road from the apartment block Ian Stewart watched the couple go into the flat. He heard Laura’s squeal of laughter as she was picked up by her male companion and dumped across the threshold. It would not take him long to find out the guy’s name.


The Girl On The Balcony

He had been surprised when he had received an email from America. Second thoughts, presumably. He watched as Laura Marshall stood with her back to one of the windows and talked animatedly to the man inside. Once again he had that gut feeling he ought to return another day, to confirm what he had seen and to find out more about the set up but he would be surprised if he were asked to do any more. Whatever. The client knew best. And he knew that, after this, his services would no longer be required. It was the end of a long morning. With Twin Target due to start shooting soon the pre-production stage was drawing to a close. The director, Al Wallis, had been in New England checking on locations and was now meeting Matt in New York. The production company was aware of the impact Dominic Steele’s crash might have on the film; contingency plans had been drawn up. Now, when it was clear that they would almost certainly be able to go ahead as planned, the director was ebullient, although when he saw Matt he winced. They had factored in a few days’ break for him, and he needed it. “You look like hell, man.” Al’s bushy white eyebrows twitched. “Mind you it’s a great look for Jonathan Mann.” He wondered why Matt flinched at

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that point, before he steamrollered on, “Not for David Mann though. I don’t want to be near the make-up department when they see you.” The eyebrows twitched again as he continued, “Oh, by the way.” It was then that he dropped his bombshell. He repeated his words, adding, “Mia is looking forward to working with you again.” “Mia? Mia Masters? Mia’s in this movie? No fucking way. Since when has she been on board? Why wasn’t I told?” “You were incarcerated in the hospital, Matt, and she assured me it would be fine, that you could work together on a professional basis. She’s a good actress.” “She’s certainly that all right. What happened to Jane?” This was the actress due to play Rebecca, Jonathan Mann’s one night stand. He remembered telling Laura about her. Was there ever going to be a moment when he did not think about her, he wondered, before homing in again on what Al was saying. “I decided she wasn’t right for that role. Switched her to the part of Belinda, David’s wife.” He became conciliatory. He knew that he should have kept Matt informed and had taken advantage of Matt’s circumstances to make the casting changes. He was

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fully aware of Matt’s personal history with the actress but had been assured that it was all in the past. He had not probed too deeply. Matt and Mia had chemistry on camera that was explosive. He wanted that for his movie. He knew what would work. “It’s not going to happen, Al. I don’t want her. Can’t work with her, whatever she might be saying. Get rid of her.” Matt knew that he sounded pathetic: the big movie star flexing his muscles, something he normally avoided doing. Al remained unabashed. He looked at him from under his eyebrows and said firmly, “It’d be a bit difficult at this stage, Matt. She’s perfect for Rebecca, all innocence on the outside but inherent sensuality in the bedroom scenes. It’ll make great cinema. Think about it.” Matt was. He was quietly furious with the whole scenario. It smacked of Mia’s duplicity, although he would not put it past Al to go along with it if he thought it would work. He bet that she had persuaded Al not to tell him until it was too late. She had used his father’s accident to move things along in his absence, had probably convinced him by being sweet and innocent and, oh so concerned for Matt’s well being. He could almost hear her saying it. Yeah, she was certainly right for the role but it sucked. Al was

And make sure you get some rest. He did not know whether he could do it. See you after the weekend. Not now. At least he had a few days 332 . Take the rest of the week off and that’s an order. He knew that he would have to accept Mia. It was too late. but he’s on the mend now and you need to get back to work.” Matt was mulling over the irony of that statement when he walked into his New York office. You can’t spend all your time brooding on what might have been. to try and get another actress. On screen they were explosive. Al could sense that Matt was weakening.Frances Hart right. “Tell you what. Off screen it was a different story. It would certainly call for sustained acting. He could see why Al wanted her but he was not looking forward to the experience. This particular star looked like hell and this movie was important. This was different. “You need to get back to work. Matt. I was really sorry to hear about your old man.” He thought wryly how futile that command was. One did not normally give orders to stars of Matt’s calibre. “Think what it’ll add to the movie. think about it over the next few days. He added. Matt.” He repeated that dictum as he ushered Matt through the door. and too expensive.

“He’s not here. it was Peter to whom he spoke.” he said in answer to Al’s question. He had been so sure Matt had made the wrong decision back in the summer. He was finished with all that. you can’t. He stopped himself. he rose to his feet.” Not Philip. And she was only in a few scenes. “Somebody called Jake Carmichael apparently. Not the gay friend. His father was now definitely on the mend. He did not notice when Peter left the room. If only he knew what had happened to Laura. He barely heard the quiet. “I think you need to see these. The family was moving back home shortly. The last flicker of hope died. Without informing his friend he had instructed Stewart to get to the school for the beginning of term. Peter was sitting at the desk looking intently at the computer screen when Matt came in. No. wishing he had left well alone. He looked up. “Yes. When Al phoned through a few days later to check up on Matt. His face serious.” Matt stared at the pictures sent by Ian Stewart.The Girl On The Balcony of relative peace before he needed to immerse himself in making the damned movie.’ He’s not in New York. He’ll be back.” 333 .

“It sounded as though there was a certain amount of. Don’t worry. At its left hand corner were some scrawled words: return to sender. The director’s voice became more emphatic and Peter rolled his eyes. You know him. “Yes. The director’s voice sounded in his ear. “You’re lucky I was not there. This one is no different” He winced as the voice on the other end became louder. You’re lucky he didn’t refuse on the spot. He is always totally committed to any movie he makes. creative licence involved. “He’ll be there. “No. No.” Peter’s voice hardened.Frances Hart He listened to Al’s next comment. Not as far as I know. Where was he? 334 .” Al evidently refused to believe him. I can see where you’re coming from. He demanded to speak with Matt himself. Peter decided to cut him off. They overlaid the careful block lettering: NOT KNOWN AT THIS ADDRESS.” His tone became steely. I promise you. Yes. I’m not going to tell you.” He gazed at the airmail letter propped up against a photo of Matt’s family. shall we say. On time. He will be there. He repeated. “I agree.” There was a pause.

When Matt returned from Wyoming the next day there was a new bleakness in his eyes. He had found solitude. too quick to be identified. He had not seen any people. From a distance he had even glimpsed a bear fishing in a fast flowing river.” and he put down the phone.The Girl On The Balcony Peter raised an eyebrow. He had watched the chipmunks darting. There was a flatness in his voice that was had not been there before. He had spent hours walking in the crisp mountain air. He had regained control. the tang of the pines. He had not found peace. Matt refused point blank to talk about Laura. leaned back in his chair. He ripped it in two and dropped it in the bin. Why did he have to spend so much of his time dealing with the artistic temperament? “All I can tell you is that he will be there. as they flew overhead. He had seen the magnificent bulk of a moose as it stood in the trees scenting the air. The hardness around his mouth deepened when he picked up the letter he had written so painstakingly. 335 . Matt had found solitude at his cabin retreat. She was history. taking in the soaring beauty of the mountains. He had listened to the calls of birds. Good bye Al.

He would be glad to get out of New York and was raring to go. Matt brushed Peter’s concern aside. Monday could not come soon enough. It was only if you were looking closely that the changes were apparent. He did not want people to guess that he was dead inside. he reassured the director on the phone.Frances Hart Outwardly. He did not want sympathy. 336 . he seemed to have regained his poise.

He and Philip had helped her move in that morning and she had just waved them goodbye. Whiting monitoring her every move.Chapter 18 The first Saturday after the beginning of term was a red letter day for Laura. Jake was going to spend his last night at Philip’s place before flying out in the morning. airy living room. knowing that she did not have to get up early the next day and that she was once more independent. 337 . It was also bliss not to have Mrs. She was absolutely shattered after the first week of teaching but it was heaven to be sitting in Jake’s stylish.

I admit.” Laura could not reply.Frances Hart Her happiness was complete when there was a ring at the door. She wanted to phone him immediately but thought she ought to make the effort to be hospitable. It did not matter. At last. nobody knew about Matt. “It wasn’t a good time for me. it’s not as though it’s a matter of life and death. She was relieved when Lance refused the offer of a coffee. She clutched her phone and made herself remember how good Lance had been when she was ill and. kissing her briefly on the cheek before saying goodbye and disappeared smartly through the door. “Still. and you just happened to get caught in the crossfire. He entered rather sheepishly and apologised for the mess up. or whoever it was. at long last. At least you’ve got it back now.” he said. He turned to go. will still be around. It was Lance carrying her phone and a box of chocolates he had picked up at the airport. And I’m sure the boyfriend. that through her own inability to talk about what had happened. 338 . It’s not as though it’s the end of the world. she could make her phone call. she assumed. He was on his way elsewhere. Guilt.

She had asked him ages ago and he still had not given her one. it was his fault. Peter’s girlfriend while she was upstairs. in his bedroom. New York was great. Her brother’s condo was cool though. but she missed her friends. Workdays were often very long indeed. The term had started without her and although she had been given special dispensation along with her assignments it was not the same as actually being there. She looked at the partly closed door and convinced herself that it was all right.The Girl On The Balcony Julia was happy. This was her only opportunity. listening. She was not entirely sure that he meant her to rummage around in his bedroom. Then he had disappeared off to Wyoming and was due on location in the next day or so and she knew what that meant. In a few days’ time she and her mother would be moving back to Boston as her father was well enough to be transferred to a hospital there. He had agreed in passing that. she would be glad to get back to school. They would be lucky to see anything of him until the production phase was finished. She paused. not that she had seen much of it. Still. For once. she could have one of his tee shirts for a charity auction. up to eighteen hours sometimes. He was talking downstairs to Anna. 339 . sure.

She filled every available surface with her possessions. She was cool. It was so different from her bedroom back home. She liked Anna. created by Ros when she was in her hippy phase. She bit her lip.Frances Hart She could hear Anna replying to something Matt had said. She shut the door quietly. Julia had a sudden thought. Her brother did not have to collect things to remind him who he was. She edged towards his chest of drawers and cautiously pulled out the top one. convinced she was going to make her mark in the art world. She grinned. This one seemed to be mainly socks and underwear. The few ornaments were tasteful and expensive looking. She glanced around. No tee shirts. Then she spotted the ashtray she had made for him in her ceramics class even though he did not smoke. Alongside it was a photo of herself as a toddler being held by her elder sister. The photograph was set in a gaudy frame. a Christmas present to Matt. If she could hear them they might be able to hear her. She could make a fortune 340 . Julia cringed at the sequins which sparkled in the morning light. The only incongruous note was a rucksack hanging on the back of the door. It stood on the dresser in chunky splendour and had keys tossed in it.

She put the photo back. Normally she was not allowed within a mile of his precious phone. She dropped the tee shirt on the floor and picked up the phone. She looked nice. She picked it up and wondered who the girl was. She was sitting on some sort of fence. She could not help herself. How tacky was that. Julia looked at the cloud of dark curly hair framing a smile that took the breath away. anyway. She was really pretty. Ah. Really cool. looking at the camera and laughing. Julia was standing in front of the mirror holding it up against herself when she noticed Matt’s phone by the side of the bed. This one looked natural. 341 . Honestly.The Girl On The Balcony selling her brother’s underwear on e bay but somehow she did not think he would be pleased. She was certainly different from all the other girls her brother had dated over the last few years. he was so picky. She rummaged among the stack of tee shirts finally picking one that bore the logo: Steele working. numbers of other actors. She was dying to know whether her brother had any important numbers stored there. opened another one. this was more like it. closed the first drawer. She noticed a photo lying haphazardly among the socks as though it had been tossed there.

” Laura could not speak. “Hello. If she wanted him. “Sorry. She could hear the increasing desperation at her lack of response. The final message had been devastating. Is anyone there?” Laura took a deep breath. and that I’m very sorry I 342 . Would you like to leave a message. The voice repeated. Now she was about to do what he had said. Hearing Matt’s voice as he left message after message has been upsetting. He was not going to waste his time any more.” The female voice had an American accent. Her heart lurched. she was too nervous to sit. he’s not available at present. Laura took another breath and tried to ignore the racing of her heart.Frances Hart The phone rang. It was not Matt. Her hand was shaking. Laura Marshall. What would he say? “Hello. “Could you tell him that Laura called. Laura stood in Jake’s living room. “Could I speak to Matt please. The voice was female. and listened to the dialling tone. she would have to ring him.” There was a pause.

“Er. It’s a long story but I’ve only just got it back. “Could you tell me to whom I’m speaking.The Girl On The Balcony haven’t phoned before but I’ve been ill and then I lost my phone. that I couldn’t because I didn’t have my phone. please?” Again there was a hiatus and then the voice said quickly. Goodbye. I’ll relay the message. Are you sure he is unavailable?” There was another brief pause the other end before the reply. I’m afraid I must go. I mean. 343 . She had not managed to make contact. Was it the same one? And why was she answering Matt’s phone? It did not look good.” Laura summoned her courage.” There was silence. Mia. yes.” She bit her lip. Mia. “I’m sorry but he really can’t answer his phone right now. Instead of Matt it had been a girl. Laura sank on to a chair and looked dumbly at the phone in her hand. Can you make sure he knows why I haven’t been able to phone before. and tell him that if I haven’t heard from him before then. I’ll certainly give him your message. “It really is important that I speak to him.” “Thank you. She remembered vaguely that Mia something had been a girlfriend. that I will try again tomorrow?” “Yeah. I’ll certainly do that.

The day which had started with such promise now stretched drearily ahead. That could be embarrassing. At any moment he was going to come up and catch her in his bedroom with his phone. If she did not hear today she would try again tomorrow. Shit. She heard the sound of movement downstairs. She could not believe she had done that. She would curb her impatience and wait to hear from him. Why had she given her name as Mia? Why hadn’t she given her own name? Just because it was the first name that had come into her head when the English girl. Laura Marshall. 344 . She put the phone carefully on Lance’s box of chocolates and traced the gold lettering with her finger. Then she sank back. In New York Julia stared at the phone in her hand.Frances Hart She had a sudden urge to ring the number again and sat up straight. She had overheard her brother talking about his ex-girlfriend to Anna. He was never ever going to forgive her for this. whoever she was. He might not welcome a call from her at this moment. had asked. to say the least. There would be hell to pay. Tears threatened.

She would have to be careful after what happened last time. She had deleted the information. The girl had said she would call again. nearly dropped the phone. She ought to confess. Seconds later she stared in disbelief. Shit. She had better hurry. She had a thought. just in case. Her fingers tightened involuntarily on it. She heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs.The Girl On The Balcony She had better just check the record of the call was still there. Matt kissed Anna goodbye and came upstairs to retrieve his cell phone. Why hadn’t she just yelled down to Matt that he had a phone call? It would have been so much easier. It would be okay. Because she had hoped that it might be one of his famous friends. He picked it up from the side of the bed and wished he was waiting for a call from Laura. She was just in time. Matt would kill her. She looked up in alarm as her as her name was called. 345 . Julia put back the phone by the side of the bed and crept to her own room. He was waiting for a call from Al. that’s why and she did not want to reveal that she had been in his bedroom. carrying the tee shirt.

How much of it was real? And it now seemed such a long time ago. each one more stunning than the last. He would not have moved on. There was now someone else in his life. He had meant it then.Frances Hart The next morning Laura lay awake. She needed to hear Matt’s voice again. the moment when he had told her he loved her. A very good actor. She was certainly not going to give up at the first set back. The thought pushed its way into her head. He was a very good actor. She had spent the night picturing a whole range of beautiful women in Matt’s arms. But not yet. She recalled the scene in the garden. listening to the muted noises of an early Sunday morning. Matt had told her he loved her and she had believed him but he was an actor. That phone call yesterday had been awful. wondering whether to cut her losses. Her doubts had resurfaced. But he is an actor. but he had waited too long for her to phone. It fulfilled her worst nightmares. Some day the pain would go away. He still would. surely. She had lain dry eyed. Then she would do her best to change his mind. 346 . Definitely not yet. Matt had moved on. Some day she might give up. even if it was going to tell her that he was sorry.

She reached for her phone and switched it on. But then what was new? The last time he had slept properly was back in England. That would keep her occupied. He was not sleeping well. He would be asleep and might not appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night. the soft feel of her skin. He sat up and snapped on the light. Everywhere would be dark. He felt himself harden. It was night in America. 347 . was he never going to get past this? Did she have any idea what she had done to him? Why didn’t he tell her? He could pick up his phone right now and vent his frustration. He missed having Laura curled up against him. She would get up and go for a walk until she gauged it a more appropriate time to ring the States. She planned what she would do. She could go to the shops and buy some basic necessities. Common sense asserted itself. He reached for his phone. Hell. Matt stirred. Laura tried to ignore the little voice in her mind that asked whether he would be sleeping alone. She swung her legs out of bed. She could buy a Sunday paper.The Girl On The Balcony She had a sudden urge to ring Matt now.

at the way Mia was all over Matt.” Laura read. thank goodness. First though. “We realised what is important in life. then froze when she registered the cover story. who claimed that she and Matt had had a dramatic reconciliation. not quite a deathbed scene as his father was on the mend. She straightened it quickly. She raced out of the shop and was at her front door before she remembered the milk. It was a feature on Mia Masters. at the warm smile on his face. Laura felt sick. She stared at the photo of them at the hospital. She read it again. Once inside. she stood in the kitchen area and read the story with disbelief. The girl on the phone. It had a picture of Matt. And Mia. What was the use? Laura walked into the corner shop. 348 . She grabbed a copy and rushed towards the till. what newspaper should she get? She turned in the narrow aisle and nearly knocked over a stand of glossy magazines. but his father’s accident had put things into perspective for both of them. She needed milk.Frances Hart He stopped.

He told me that role was being played by his friend’s girlfriend. He had lied. that we are taking things a day at a time. This time the words started screaming at her. who just happens to be his twin brother.” the star replied with a laugh. He spent his life making people suspend their disbelief: making her believe. Laura whispered. There was more. “Yes. Her anger started to build. “Almost a case of art imitating life.The Girl On The Balcony She read on to discover that Mia had an important role in his upcoming movie Twin Target. you could say that the affair is important to him. “Let’s just say. She was playing the part of Rebecca. She had believed that what he had told her was true but he was an actor. an ordinary girl he meets while he is stalking his target. What had he said about trust? 349 . She scanned the article again. What else about their relationship was a lie? Could she trust anything he had said? Anything he had done? She put her hand to her mouth. Her heart lurched.” She refused to be drawn on the possibility of a more permanent relationship.” Where had she heard that before? She remembered something else. She felt sick.

A sob escaped. The anger became fury. She had spent hours sympathising with his worries and all the time the snake had been reverting to type. What could she do? She never wanted to see him again. To think she had spent the summer torturing herself about him and he was having an affair with somebody else. She wanted him there in front of her so that she could yell at him. She wanted to rip something. She had been here before. to pieces: preferably Matt. He had been having it off with another girl. She clenched her hands.Frances Hart He had played her. Why had she ever thought their relationship would work? She hurled the magazine away. As if that would happen now. Somebody who fitted into his world. She picked up her phone. The hotshot super star had been tired of slumming it and had discarded her like a skin that was too small. She had been desperately unhappy ever since he had left. Had he any idea how much he had hurt her? She wanted to kill him. After she had fallen into his arms and begged him to kiss her senseless. She looked at the picture again. It was not enough. Then she retrieved it and with savage 350 . anything. She hurled it away from her.

“What do you mean Matt’s gone?” Julia stared at her mother in disbelief. She had spent the last hour or so summoning up the courage to face her brother’s anger. She hugged his pillow and cried for all that she had lost. She had sidled into the kitchen midway through Sunday morning fully expecting to have a confrontation with her big brother. During the night she had reached the reluctant conclusion that she ought to confess all that happened the previous day. He had left early. She obliterated any record of his calls. she was faced with the news that he had gone.The Girl On The Balcony fingers deleted his number. She erased his voice. 351 . What was she going to do? She hoped that Laura would phone back. Then she dropped it on to the counter and raced upstairs. after all that angst. The unknown Laura had said she would phone back but she needed to do what she had said she would. honestly he was so fussy about her not using his phone. and pass on the message. With good reason. Now. her logical side asserted. He would not be back for sometime.


October .


It was a good day for a drive. It was so clear he could make out the early season snow at the summit. The light in the fall had a distinctive clarity that was like no other season. highlighting the bright reds and golds and browns of the trees. 355 . It dominated the New Hampshire landscape. It was a perfect day to climb the summit. He took a last look at the mountain and then eased himself into his car.Chapter 19 Jonathan Mann stared across towards Mount Washington. The early morning sky was a cloudless blue. It was a beautiful day in early October.

was being broadcast from 356 . Not here in New Hampshire. if any one asked. Jonathan would be driving his own vehicle.Frances Hart “Cut.” Al’s voice echoed across the motel car park. He thought about the day ahead. supposedly. The driver muttered about damage if they hit one. He doubted whether they would meet one. Occasionally he looked up to gaze absently at the trees as they flashed past. Matt managed a half smile. figuring that it made for a more realistic feel. He noticed several yellow diamond signs: Moose crossing. David Mann. He wanted to use ordinary tourists as background instead of extras. Matt worked on his script as he was being driven towards Mount Washington and the private road that wound its way up the mountain. and his family as they were driven to the top in one of the mini buses. Al’s intention was to make it as realistic as possible. that particular Sunday. Jonathan Mann was going to follow his target. The ploy had worked a few weeks ago over the state border in Vermont. There they had mingled with the hordes who had come to be part of “Good Morning America” which. They were making a documentary.

he had been interested to note. his niece. As would the episode where he met Rebecca in the gondola going up to the ski resort. He was not looking forward to shooting those scenes. Al’s plan had worked to perfection. in the guise of Jonathan Mann. She was able to hint beautifully at the sensuality hidden under the layers of small town respectability: the lonely girl who takes a gondola ride on her own on a weekend morning. He was right. It had been the optimum weekend to view the fall and the gondola going up the mountain was free until ten o’clock for all those who wanted to be part of the action—and for all the leaf peepers who were taking advantage of a free ride to look at the fall colours.The Girl On The Balcony the ski resort of Killington. She was perfect for the role. No one had noticed Matt as. The restaurant at the top was where Jonathan Mann would have the confrontation with the little girl. That would be filmed in the studio later. The chemistry would work big time. Mia was sugar itself in her dealings with Al. His mind drifted back to the Vermont shoot. The mountain bikers and walkers who used it after that had to pay in the normal way. Matt grimaced. he had boarded the gondola for the ride to the top and 357 .

supposedly keeping his target in view. It was in the empty restaurant that he would meet his niece who had become separated from her parents. he had blended in among the crowds. past empty tables with their chairs pushed back at all angles. strong boots. The fall centrepieces on the tables had been looking rather forlorn. The weather had helped.Frances Hart later for the ride down. it had been bright but cold. Once there. The plan was that he would walk through the restaurant. to the rest rooms. He had been anonymous in a thick jacket. They had been too busy packing 358 . past a side table housing a depleted coffee machine and a few unused cups. sunglasses. The view had been spectacular. It had all gone without a hitch. He had been seen looking over the wooden balcony where. following the trail with the other tourists to a viewing point. They had filmed him as he wandered around the gondola station. He had even wandered past the television crew packing up their equipment on his way to the rest room. skiers would be found soaking up the sun. in the winter. the tablecloths no longer pristine white. which had emptied rapidly once the broadcast had finished. scarf and cap. once the television filming was finished. He had drifted through the restaurant.

It was too public. They were aiming to do this in one hit. 359 . All he had to do was drive. He jerked his mind away from memories that threatened and concentrated on the brilliance of a red maple that stood across from the car park. Matt brought his mind back to the present and listened to Al’s instructions. The car stopped in the car park at the foot of Mount Washington. Without stopping. Al went away and Matt could hear the distant noise of a helicopter. When Al’s order for action came through Matt started the engine and rolled to the pay booth. He hoped it would be a wrap. it was all in hand. apart from an inboard camera. although perhaps that was not the most appropriate word. they had been there since very early that morning. Don’t worry about what we’re doing. that is. All he had to do. once they were off the mountain. Soon it would be hovering overhead filming his ascent. he was told. was drive. as Al said. Not his problem. They were tired. At least it was on the right side of the road. All the way to the top. Al would never get away with it this time. He was on his own. and had their minds on their breakfast down in Killington.The Girl On The Balcony up to notice him.

the road would be closed. The action called for him to listen to the CD provided which gave information about the road. The information was interesting but it detracted from the beauty of the drive. Matt would have preferred the silence. impenetrable with snow. before starting up the mountain road. He had to scan the papers and then discard them disdainfully. He passed the first stopping place and the vista opened up to encompass the mountains and hills and sky adding shades of grey and blue to the colour palette. until he went above the deciduous trees. This was another ploy of Al’s. They gave an illusion of safety. red and gold of the mature trees. Then Jonathan Mann would turn it off with an abrupt movement. The scenery changed and the bends became more pronounced as he ascended the mountain.Frances Hart Matt was given a ticket and the accompanying information and disclaimer by a bored attendant whose eyes were fixed on the attractive girls in the car behind as they giggled in excitement. The lower road was lined with the orange. What would it be like going round all these curves in winter? He answered his own question. 360 .

Perhaps brother David knew what he was doing coming up by bus. He switched off the engine. his heart beating faster than normal. 361 . “Well. He heard “cut” in his ear and waited for Al to set up the next shot.” He drove cautiously until he reached the next section where the hardness of a proper road surface could be felt once more and negotiated his way into the lower car park. Desolate. Then there were no trees at all. empty rock and sky. Matt realised that he would have to drive down again. The asphalt suddenly became a dirt road slippery from the melting snow. They had also left behind the illusion of safety. These were all conifers. just stunted grass. The road surface changed abruptly.The Girl On The Balcony The nearer they wound their way to the summit the smaller the trees became. baby Christmas trees. The road had no safety barriers and hugged the mountainside. there’s a surprise. They had left behind the rich colours on the lower slopes. Matt lost traction for a moment and added to Jonathan Mann’s dialogue. There were few passing places. The terrain became more rocky and bare.

There was nothing they could do. Towards Matt. He was nearing the end of the dirt section when an oncoming car driver. The car jolted. a tourist in a hire car. Light years later Matt felt his tyres come back on to asphalt. panicked when he hit the slippery surface and started to slide. Several bends later he felt able to say.Frances Hart It was on the journey down that it happened. He fought to get back to the road. The film crew watched with horror.” The sound crew could just hear Matt’s voice above the noise of the engine as he accelerated in an attempt to get past before he was side swiped. Below was a steep slope hurtling down for a very long time. Matt felt the impact as the tyres on the driver’s side hit rock. “Shit. He was very near the edge and there was no safety barrier. How come I nearly got wiped out? I 362 . “Well. They kept filming. He rocketed along the last section of the dirt road veering towards the rock at the side of the road and just missed the frightened motorist who was desperately trying to regain control before he made history as the road’s first fatality. that was different.

The potential for publicity was unbelievable.The Girl On The Balcony thought I was supposed to be doing the hit?” The nonchalant words did not quite hide the relief. He opened it cautiously and smiled in bemusement as. led by Al. he took out a sticker for the bumper of his car. In capital letters. he left its safety to be surrounded by a smiling sea of euphoria. It seemed like hours before he could escape their collective concern. making sure he was fine and in one piece. were overwhelming. WASHINGTON. They had filmed some terrific aerial shots of the near collision. Everyone wanted to touch him as though he were a talisman. along with a generic certificate attesting to his success. Away from Matt. Al punched the air with delight when he heard them. Matt stopped in the car park and sat in the driver’s seat staring at the sticker. Al was ecstatic. At long last. unable to get out of the car. brightly printed in blue and red. At the pay booth he returned the CD and was given a brown envelope in exchange. it proclaimed: THIS CAR CLIMBED MT. Their congratulations and expressions of admiration and sympathy. 363 . when he felt he was capable of moving.

He stared at it for a long time. Laura.” Laura and her GCSE class were discussing Pride and Prejudice. He managed to phone Peter briefly to give him his version and ask him to let his family know before it hit the media. look at her reaction to the Bingley sisters. She doesn’t believe them for a minute.” The comment came from a student sitting by the window. He looked at her smiling face. “I don’t get it. Once in the solitude of his trailer his mind finally caught up with the danger he had been in. His legs would no longer hold him.Frances Hart Matt was shaking. “Why does Elizabeth believe what Wickham says about Darcy? He’s such a toad. 364 . He had never felt so alone. I thought she was supposed to be good at seeing what people were like? I mean. When his hand stopped trembling he opened his phone. the image he had thought of deleting but had never managed to do so. He relived the moment when he thought he would go over the edge and knew the meaning of terror. He had to sit down.

Emma. Sure. Her pixie cut was a now a deep auburn. although not as bad as she had been in the first week of term. She had arrived at school expecting to see an engagement ring and a brilliantly happy teacher. I don’t think the examiners would approve though.” came from Jess who was sitting near the front. She looked pale and thin. It had been suggested politely that perhaps she ought to mute the colour. “Nice one. Jess knew better. It was a relationship gone wrong. The school grapevine had said it was food poisoning. That’s a good way to describe Wickham. Her mind still cringed when she thought of that moment in the park. 365 .The Girl On The Balcony Outside the sun was already beginning to cast long autumnal shadows across the playing fields. She stared at Miss Marshall’s hands and wondered what had happened to the guy she had been with in the summer. Now she would never get to see the guy’s face. although it had been dented on the first day of term when she had arrived at school sporting bright red hair. Her resolution to become a model student had survived more than the expected two weeks. her teacher was as fun as ever but it was like the shine had gone out of her eyes. to see whether he looked like Matt Steele. It was so not right.

” “And that’s exactly what Elizabeth does. 366 . I still think she’s stupid. good old Katy. say patiently. That’s why she is so receptive to the lies Wickham is telling about him. and the fact that he is supposed to be good looking.” this last came from Laura who wanted to lead the discussion into a new direction. I mean if you heard someone say that you weren’t pretty what would you do?” “Tell them to get lost. “Elizabeth pretends that she doesn’t care even though she was hurt by Darcy’s comments to Bingley.” came from Emma.” “Feel hurt. That.Frances Hart She came back to the discussion to hear Katy. “But Austen wants us to think that Elizabeth dislikes Darcy at this point.” she added mischievously. “Well. “She is supposed to be intelligent so why doesn’t she realise she’s only heard one side of the story?” “Because she’s not thinking straight. She tapped the nail against her recently acquired dental brace.” “Pretend you didn’t care.” interrupted Kirsty who had finished peeling away the bright pink polish on her thumbnail and could now contribute to the lesson.

But I still think she’s daft not to know that there are two sides to every story. She would never forgive herself for deleting Matt’s number. “Surely she doesn’t believe everything she hears?” Like I did. And would be for the rest of her life. Good. He was still there. “Yeah. When her tears had dried on that fateful Saturday she had stared at the ceiling in her new bedroom and gradually the enormity of what she had done had sunk in. She continued above the noise. Laura applauded her student. Okay.” Emma was not convinced. for trying to erase him completely from her life. her ponytail swinging energetically in time with the movement of her head. 367 .” This came from Katy.” Her last words took on the Scottish accent of one of the History teachers and everyone laughed. It had been a useless attempt.The Girl On The Balcony “I think it’s also because Darcy is too proud to set her straight himself and is still trying to fight the fact that he has fallen in love with her. “Well done. Katy. thought Laura miserably when the girls had all gone.

She felt incomplete. double. She felt 368 . She knew how it felt. That was mainly her own fault of course. life could not be rewritten. She no longer had the means to get in touch. how he never read anything about himself because it was all lies.Frances Hart In her mind she could hear Matt exclaiming about the media. she looked at the empty classroom as if it held the answers on its walls. she kept putting Rachel off. Unlike events in a novel. versions of the weird sisters’ chant from Macbeth: Double. toil and trouble. There was nothing there apart from her Year nine display featuring modern. to hear his side of the story? Now. She would give anything to be able to go back to that morning. as she felt dreadful about keeping such an enormous secret from her. She had tried to fill her time with work and. She would be so hurt that Laura had not confided in her. her lesson preparation had never been so thorough. Listlessly. She wished she could. and gruesome. she was unable to ask him. It was not enough. In school there was hardly any time to talk and they rarely saw each other out of school these days. Laura wondered where Rachel was. Even that relationship had changed since the holidays. It was useless. Why had she not insisted on speaking with Matt himself. she thought wryly.

Strange to think that since the holidays she could no longer cope with silence. But how on earth could she tell her? Where could she start? “You know Matt Steele. the Hollywood legend? Yes. Laura was sitting watching Jake’s flat screen digital television that evening. It was not surprising that Rachel was becoming impatient with her. Well. She would be impatient too if the situations were reversed. She could hardly believe it herself. That was one of the advantages of living in Jake’s flat. And. She had the television on as background noise. When she could bear it. It did not help either that Jake’s flat was further away. The computer was state of the art. he told me he loved me. It was a shrine to twenty first century technology. She was planning to use it to download her photos.The Girl On The Balcony very lonely at times but she was still unable to talk about Matt especially after the phone debacle. the actor you’re mad about? You know.” Rachel just would not believe her. She did not feel like going out anyway so she fell back rather too often on the excuse of still being tired after her illness. I went out with him in the summer holidays. It reminded her too much of 369 . that Matt Steele. guess what.

Minutes later she decided that the Year seven poems on colours were fighting a losing battle with tiredness. He looked tired and drawn. He looked wonderful.Frances Hart her loneliness. Her brain seized. heard dimly the account of the filming that had so nearly ended in disaster. Laura’s head shot up as she heard the name Matt Steele. saw him surrounded by a mass of people as he walked away from his car. She did not really want to know how an eleven year old was imagining the colour blue. 370 . She decided to call it a day. The red pen fell from her fingers as she tried to absorb that fact. The female newscaster’s voice took on a note of suppressed excitement. Resolutely she turned back to the exercise books that sprawled around her. She went sheet white. Her mind slid away from her marking as she pondered on the difference between being lonely and being on one’s own. Of the emptiness of her life. She saw the footage of the near collision in New Hampshire. He was thousands of miles away but he was still alive. He had nearly been killed. She drank him in.

Why didn’t you tell me?” 371 . they were her only tangible reminder. She hoped she would not delete these records of him as well. He was away somewhere this weekend. It was Rachel.The Girl On The Balcony He very nearly was not. She was spending Saturday afternoon in downloading her prints taken on that never–to-be-forgotten walk in Suffolk. She surged in. She was wearing his linen shirt over a camisole. Matt. was smiling at her from the screen. She was not up to explanations and histrionics. She could hardly bear to see herself in his arms. The doorbell rang. She still had his clothes. She wrinkled her nose at her maudlin thoughts. She had contemplated asking Philip to help her when he came round on one of his frequent visits—he was missing Jake and compensated by always being out—but had decided against it. She gave in her notice the next day. It was slow going. It was the weekend and Laura was in Jake’s study grappling with his computer. she remembered. “Laura. She looked at the other images. No they were not her only reminder. silhouetted against the Suffolk sky. It blended well with her fine wool trousers. She still slept with the pillow.

“Wow. 372 . “Why didn’t you tell me you had given in your notice?” There was a distinct note of hurt in her voice. She could hardly admit that she was going to the States after Christmas in order to track down a film star.” Rachel ignored the slight tinge of accusation and demanded. “It gives such a feeling of space. “Why?” Laura had her answer ready. She was trying to be realistic about her chances but somehow she had to see him. This is nice. It sounded farfetched even to her.” Rachel surveyed their surroundings.” She returned to the attack.Frances Hart “Tell you what?” Laura asked as she led the way into Jake’s living room. Laura knew she could not get on with her life until she found out exactly what had happened. There was no other option. In her darkest moments she wondered if she ever would. She shied away from the thought of Mia Masters. “I had to find out from Peggy. I meant to tell you first thing but I couldn’t find you. who lurked in the background and caused her sleepless nights.” “I’m sorry. the same one that she had given to Peggy. At the very least she owed it to herself to hear his excuses. with added silicone.

I wonder?” Peggy had not believed her either.” Rachel moved towards the study. “Would you like a coffee?” Laura gestured towards the coffee machine which stood on the granite worktop. Rachel switched subjects. Laura froze. “Please. An awkward silence fell. She wanted to bridge the distance in their friendship that had suddenly revealed itself. then? It’s a far cry from your old flat.The Girl On The Balcony “Oh.” She looked at the ultra modern kitchen area. They looked at each other. “Why don’t you look around the rest of the flat while I deal with this. She had forgotten what was on the computer screen. and peered into some of the cupboards. “Why don’t you show me round Jake’s pad.” Rachel stared at her. Rachel nodded.” She picked up the ground coffee and scoop as she spoke. She made no reply. isn’t it? This is great. all stark white with black surfaces.” “I’ll just try and get this to work. It’s a good job Jake left me the instructions. “So why do I think that isn’t the reason. it just feels like the right time to leave. 373 .

“Do you mean to tell me?” She stopped. She put down the scoop and coffee and went to the study. It just can’t. no. It makes.” Laura never knew what it would make because Rachel’s voice stopped in mid-sentence. tried again. Have I really just discovered that my best friend has been dating the love of my life and I knew nothing about it? Nothing. began talking to the screen. She stood in the doorway as Rachel gaped at the screen. Fancy having a study all to yourself. Rachel turned towards her slowly. Especially when she is supposed to prefer Johnny Depp!” 374 .” her voice faltered once more. She gawped at the screen. “Are you telling me that you and. “Are you sure that this isn’t a parallel universe? It can’t be real. “Is that who I think it is?” Laura nodded. Black. Nothing about the fact that my best friend somehow has met and become involved with a Hollywood film star.” She started to regain her equilibrium. Strong. She accused.Frances Hart “This is awesome. “I think I need that coffee. behind my back and she didn’t tell me. Her mouth had dropped open. “that he and you. “she gestured at the screen. a Hollywood legend.

Miss Superior being.” She looked at the stricken expression on Laura’s face and stopped to give Laura a quick hug before she went 375 .” They looked at each other. Can’t be. “I’m sorry. “You idiot. “I couldn’t think of what to say. When were you going to tell me? You were going to tell me. I still think it isn’t real.The Girl On The Balcony She turned. She was not expecting Rachel to groan despairingly when she regaled her with the Mia saga. I just couldn’t talk about it. She was beginning to put it in perspective. She continued over several glasses of the very nice white wine Jake had left in the fridge for his houseguest. “Laura Marshall. over several cups of strong. weren’t you?” Laura told her. Laura was still standing in the doorway.” Laura found that telling Rachel about her summer was cathartic. Besides. If you read the gossip pages that you affect to despise. you would know that it was all fabricated by the woman herself.” Rachel’s voice was quiet.” “There is that. “Laura’s voice took on a note of humour. “I knew there must be something wrong. black coffee. The Matt Steeles of this world do not spend their holidays in East Anglia. “I still think you should have told me.

“Even if it wasn’t Mia. The cow took advantage of all the confusion caused by his father’s accident to get her career back on track. Her face was blotched. hoping her feeble attempt at a joke would lighten the tension. and. and I quote. the voice on the phone was female and she gave her name. The tears brimmed over when Rachel remembered the episode in New Hampshire that had dominated the headlines the previous week and exclaimed. “Well. and I am relying on gossip.” She tried to stifle a sob. her eyes were bright with tears. So I don’t know who it could be or why she gave Mia’s name but Matt Steele is too busy working on his new movie according to the magazine Jess lent me last week. she informed me given up reading them in class since she became. a model student.Frances Hart on. “You 376 . as far as I know. “Rachel paused. unlike some people. I don’t know the guy personally. She attempted a watery smile. Eventually there was a muffled. “As far as I know.” Laura finally looked up. She has. remember. Laura’s face remained hidden. “There was a strong denial by his spokesperson later on. he is not seeing anyone else.” Laura buried her head in her hands.

you’ve got to go out there to have even the slightest chance of success. “Did that have any bearing on your decision to give in your notice?” She answered her own question before Laura could manage to speak. “When are you going to go?” It was the last Year eleven lesson on Austen before the Autumn half term at the end of October. “I bet you’ve got this mad idea to go out to the States and try to get in touch. This happy event was due to occur immediately after the holiday. The girls were all looking forward to the week’s break from school and bemoaning the amount of homework they had been given.The Girl On The Balcony poor sod. tears streaming down her face as Rachel said slowly.” They were going over the points needed for a timed essay on Pride and Prejudice.” Laura sat there silently. You can’t do anything here. If 377 . What are you planning to do now? Now that you’ve deleted his number? You are such an idiot Laura Marshall.” She halted her monologue and grinned. It’s totally insane. “Honestly.” Rachel continued her one sided conversation. “I bet it did. So. you’d think that we aren’t allowed to enjoy ourselves. You must have felt awful when you heard the news.

why is she such a successful heroine? Austen says of her creation that she is: as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print. She makes her seem more independent.” She went off on a rant. She’s such a sap. being a martyr because Bingley went off without telling her. “Honestly. She had been a bit too like the eldest Bennet daughter for comfort. “So why does Jane’s behaviour help to make Elizabeth a successful heroine in the twenty first century?” Katy gave her contribution. Why do we still agree with that assessment today?” Jess had an answer.” Laura flinched infinitesimally at that point. She was thinking of her own behaviour. “So.Frances Hart they were conscientious they would find the relevant material and work on it during the week they were off. “Because she’s not a goody goody like Jane. Jess’s eyes narrowed. “She’s a contrast with Elizabeth. She went on. “Surely it had to be harder for girls to take their lives into their own hands in the early nineteenth century.” 378 . sitting there. that woman. Laura knew that most would rely on the notes being fed to them in this lesson. Jess?” Laura questioned after a miniscule pause. She might be pretty but she’s so wet.

” is that we can relate to Elizabeth because she messes up. She raised her voice. Although at that point she thinks it’s too late of course.The Girl On The Balcony “What I was actually going to say. Where she says something about being wrong. Well done.” 379 . Chelsi with an “i” no less. She bit back the comment she was going to make about Chelsi’s reading ability and returned to the essay question. She makes mistakes. She doesn’t think she will ever see him again. prejudiced. Excellent point.” Jess decided to mull over Miss Marshall’s reaction later and took back the limelight. absurd. “But the quotation you might find most useful is where she says: Till this moment I never knew myself. then glanced at her teacher who was looking at her steadily. It takes forever to read. Jess.” Laura said.” Heads bent to commit that to paper. “Make sure you know the page reference. “You know the bit I mean. Can you imagine having the time to write something like that?” Jess glared at her classmate.” “She actually berates herself for being: blind. partial. What does she say after she’s read Darcy’s letter?” “That letter! It’s sooo long.

before she had refused to trust him: before she had deleted him from her life. She had not considered all the facts before she had thought badly of Matt. She did not know whether she would ever see him again. She had something else in common with Austen’s heroine she realised.Frances Hart Laura was mulling over that object lesson at the end of the day. 380 . Her self-knowledge might have been learned too late.

muttering. He had finally been allowed home and Matt was on a rare stopover before flying out to California via New York. “Damn things. He was calling in to see his parents although not his younger sister. Location work was finished. He was also going to help Peter celebrate his recent engagement to Anna.” as he caught the edge of a table and then proceeded to knock over the flower arrangement that stood in the empty fireplace. partly due to the actor’s maniacal dedication to work.” Dominic Steele limped into the room on crutches. one of the few bright spots in the last few 381 .Chapter 20 “It’s not what it seems you know. Julia was staying with friends.

Your mother is making sure of that. Forget it” “It’s a hard life. In time he should become 382 . He was pale and had lost weight.” Dominic Steele sat down carefully on a chair and tucked the crutches under them. “Never lets up. He looked older. but he was a million times better than he had been in hospital when Matt had last seen him. He had a really good speech therapist working with him. Matt was relieved to see his father looking so well. although his mother was working on that by the sound of it. his mother had assured him over the phone. “You mean you aren’t an aging actor who’s having a mid-life crisis?” The tone was affectionate as he went over to give his father a hug. Dad?” “Getting better every day. Always on at me to eat properly and do the exercises the sadist physio recommends. “How’re you doing. His speech was hesitant and slightly slurred which was bad news for an actor.Frances Hart weeks. After that he would fly out to California to continue work on the movie.” Father and son smiled at each other in accord. As for booze. Even makes sure I go to bed at an acceptable time.

“She said she’d always wanted to ride a Harley.” Silence fell as they considered the implications of that remark.” 383 . Says she needed something to do while I was in the hospital here. The accident. His father repeated. “I see Mum’s been working out hard here. “Yes.” Matt looked at his father and waited for him to expand on that statement.” “It was the Harley that was the attraction. “Suppose you tell me.” Matt came over to his father and sat on the couch. stretched out his legs and suggested. Matt was suddenly overwhelmed by the changes in his father.” His father gave him a keen glance. The wit was still there even if it came more slowly. The trees were not quite so splendid now but they still added a colourful backdrop to his mother’s late-flowering plants. He rested his head against its comfortable back.The Girl On The Balcony his usual articulate self again. “It isn’t what it seems. To mask his reaction he wandered over to the window and looked at the back yard. Not me. by all that had happened to him.” “And you just happened to have one.

all geared up in these fancy leathers. Was going to surprise your mother and Julia when I turned up on a motorbike. But. you know me.” his father agreed. And don’t give me any smart aleck remarks about midlife crisis. when Alicia happened by and said how much she’d always wanted a ride. He too had first hand experience of girls “happening” by. Dominic looked at his son and said seriously. 384 . He grinned roguishly.” Matt thought of the periodic rows that had resulted when his father had opted to show off as he put it. and said nothing. Your mother’s become an authority on the subject. Anyhow. he was still a good-looking guy. His father might be in his fifties but hell. I’d hardly spoken to the girl before that. Matt could see the attraction that made him such a magnet for his female co-stars.” Matt was not sure about the nuances of that remark. “I know what it looks like. “You don’t really think that I’d compromise my marriage for a girl half my age do you?” He went on before Matt could agree. I was getting ready to set off. couldn’t resist the chance to show off. “I’d just bought it.Frances Hart “And I just happened to have one. but believe me.

especially when I was younger. She’s the only one who has ever counted. “It was a helluva good bike though. The talk turned to other matters. “and you’d think I’d have learned some thing after all these years. “I haven’t exactly set you a good example. “Just remember Matt. you could never keep him down for long. To Matt. His father always insisted that he never went beyond flirtation. have I? However. His parents were still together. but your mother knows that she’s the only one who counts. Whatever. he might not have been the best of husbands but he had come to terms with that. It was just before Matt was leaving that his father said again.” he gave a short laugh. a good father who had never hesitated in showing his children how much he loved them and how proud he was of them.” There was a pause and then he added.” 385 .The Girl On The Balcony “I know I haven’t exactly been whiter than white. it’s not what it seems.” His father was silent for a minute looking at the past and perhaps not liking what he saw because he said quietly. this time I actually believed she only wanted a ride on the bike. Okay. He loved him to bits. It was typical of his dad. this time. he had been and still was.” Matt had to laugh.

at her command. Matt was with Peter and Anna in a restaurant. marginally. The pristine white tablecloths and silver caught the light and reflected the pleasure of the diners as they enjoyed the chef’s masterpieces and the satisfaction of being able to get a table. The restaurant stirred. despite having this really mean employer who makes him 386 . His smile broadened when she punched him on the arm and responded. He earns every penny. and for being fully booked months in advance. The film star and his guests ignored the reaction.Frances Hart That parting comment reverberated in New York. The low murmur of conversation became louder. The diamond and surrounding sapphires sparkled in the lights. noted for its application to producing remarkable culinary experiences and discretion. He teased Peter about having to get him more work so that he could help pay for the mortgage required. Matt was admiring Anna’s ring. The evening was made even more satisfactory when Matt Steele and two companions were ushered to a place reserved for important guests. and heads turned. and grinned when Anna tossed her head making the auburn hair gleam. She herself was shining with happiness. carefully. “Stop being a wiseass.

“Depends on what you’re offering. I’ll have to think about it. Just tell me where and when and I’ll be there.” He sat back again and then added. “I was talking about the stag do.” 387 . More heads turned.” “Watch it Mr.” There was a pause. I’d be honoured.” They laughed. broken when the wine waiter arrived. Hot shot movie star. of course. “Of course. He was overwhelmed when Peter asked him to be his best man.The Girl On The Balcony work all hours under the sun. “I know he works hard.” He leered at her exaggeratedly. Especially this summer. discreetly. He had been working long hours and it was good to relax with friends who were not going to make any demands on you. I don’t know how I would have coped with out him. Matt enjoyed the evening immensely. Matt became serious. He reached across the table and gripped his hand. A celebratory meal did not deserve shadows. That’s my fiancée you’re talking to there. I don’t suppose you could have a word could you?” “Hmm. They turned to him as one. They would not be selling him to the papers either.

I’ll be delighted to be best man. He would not let himself remember the urgent need to touch each other. as though they needed to be in physical contact. he was enjoying the evening but a small part of his mind was too aware of the closeness between the newly engaged couple: the way they could not refrain from touching each other almost every minute. he felt lonely.” The restaurant echoed once more to the sound of their laughter. “Seriously.” He looked at them both and could not resist continuing. He was used to being an integral part of this particular trio. He refused point blank to let himself acknowledge how their behaviour reflected his own when he had been with Laura. Matt could hear the slight hollowness in the sound of his own laughter. to smile into the 388 . Yes. He will make sure I get there on time if I ask him nicely. the endearments they murmured when he pretended to be concentrating on his meal. He felt an outsider. “I have this very good agent who’s a master at organisation.Frances Hart Anna threatened him with a glare but her eyes were dancing. the intimate glances they exchanged when they thought he was not looking. This evening.

“Of course. But this time he would be the one doing the manipulating. His mind and body were at odds. and that of his family. His father’s statement sidled uneasily into his mind. For what?” Her eyes laughed at him. They would get fucking pictures. He had made his decision. “Are you game?” Being Anna. He wrenched his mind to the present. (Or a discreet one. or even some of the diners. He recalled the photograph taken with Mia and the effect it had had on her career. he might be able to control his mind. No doubt some of the restaurant staff.The Girl On The Balcony other’s eyes: the awareness. she said immediately. It stampeded into his consciousness later on when they came out from the restaurant to find a barrage of cameras waiting. He turned to Anna and said.) He remembered all the ghouls. Behind him he heard Peter cursing quietly. That part of his life was over. felt rather than saw the protective move made to encircle his fiancée. the leeches who had waited outside the hospital back in August and battened on his grief. Matt snapped. 389 . his body ached for her still. They wanted pictures. were making a quick buck. The three of them blinked at all the flashes that erupted when they came through the door.

It was he who murmured. “I assume you have your reasons for making my fiancée grist to your publicity mill. “To know that Anna’s face is going to be plastered across the world as Matt sodding Steele’s new girlfriend?” He turned to look out of the rear window at the pursuit and swore.Frances Hart With a quick glance of apology to Peter he drew her into his arms and gave her a smacking kiss on the lips. Peter.” Peter’s tone was savage. 390 . “Sorry. It was he who ushered Anna into the back seat. It was he who shouldered his way into the waiting car while the security guards tried to prevent them from being overwhelmed. “Don’t get upset. Anna put her hand on Peter’s arm. By then they were being hemmed in from all sides. It was accompanied by an audible surge in excitement from the waiting pack and the night was filled with exploding lights.” to Peter as soon as they were away. wasn’t it Matt?” “Fun!” Peter’s exclamation scorched the car’s interior. It was only intended in fun. They were being followed down the street by the pack.

For goodness’ sake.” Peter decided to seize the opportunity and continued. “Sorry Matt. Oh. “Talk to her. You’re 391 . Anna squeezed Matt’s arm in comfort before she turned to Peter and kissed him on the cheek. “You know you’re going to enjoy the fall out. You know where Laura’s living. “You’ve lost her and you can’t be bothered to find her. You’re due there in December for your next movie premiere. Find out about this Jake guy.” The name echoed through the night. “Peter.” Matt’s unhappiness that evening had not gone unnoticed. I forgot.” The tone was biting. Go and see Laura.” Anna’s soft cry of distress cut through the anger. The heat was so intense the driver wondered whether they were going through some sort of hotspot. Matt swallow your pride and go to London. “But now you’ve started to think straight you need to decide what you really want from life.” The atmosphere became charged. That was uncalled for. Matt could not reply. He felt as though he had been floored with a swift uppercut that he had not seen coming.The Girl On The Balcony “Get your own girlfriend. If you can afford to wait that long.

” Her voice went quiet. And it’s the only time I’m going to get a starring role. it’s not necessarily the right one. I didn’t consider your feelings. Just think about it Matt.” She touched his arm again in sympathy. “It’s only the once. They’ll tie themselves in knots over this. I shouldn’t have done it. “Is it the only idiot decision you’ve made? Tonight showed clearly that although every picture tells a story. Peter nodded his head in acceptance and got out. Matt leaned over to kiss her goodbye. The driver was on the verge of driving away when Peter suddenly leaned into the window and said. Do whatever you have to. I just wanted to give the pack something to chew on. so you’d better make sure it’s a good one. “I don’t know how you stand it. Idiot decision. The car slowed down outside their apartment. He gripped Peter by the hand as he went to get out and apologised. It was crass. “I’m sorry.Frances Hart probably already deciding how you’re going to play it.” 392 . I know you. He and Anna were standing on the pavement and had said their goodbyes.” he tacked on bitingly. But Matt gets this all the time. I can’t wait to see it. How anyone could.” They all watched the streets whiz past.

It still held books: publishers’ samples. narrow room with a window that was too high to look through. in a previous incarnation. 393 . been the stock cupboard. One day they would sort them all out. odd copies of texts left around by careless students and dumped here.Chapter 21 Laura was sitting in the grandly designated English office. the occasional work of criticism or study guide. It also held files by the dozen. government directives by the score and what seemed like hundreds of examination papers all from different eras. It was a small. It had.

It might make it more real.” The landing out side echoed with the sound of two feet stomping up the stairs and on to the landing just as Rachel was saying. Mum wants me to tidy up the cottage. “I still can’t believe that you 394 .” Rachel looked at her. “Surely you’re not going to spend the half term marking. Huh. They haven’t got there this Autumn. “Sometimes I can’t believe it really happened. “Will you be all right? Do you want me to come with you?” “Thanks but I’ll be fine.” She shrugged. Too busy swanning off to the Caribbean. A week without the sixth form looking as though I was torturing them by teaching them Chaucer. But it’s in another language. “Am I glad it’s half term. I was the last one to use it and I didn’t exactly tidy up when I left. Might help to put things in perspective. “I ought to do my bit at the cottage. I’m spending a few days in Suffolk as well.” She looked at the neat stack of exercise books that Laura was building and exclaimed. Miss Eliot.” She sighed.Frances Hart Today Laura was sorting out her bag ready for the half term holiday when Rachel came in and flopped on a neighbouring chair.” “Some of it.

came out of the classroom and stopped 395 . Was it her imagination or had the feet slowed at Rachel’s words? “What’s wrong with Suffolk?” She jerked her head in the direction of the landing and waited until she heard the feet go into the next door classroom before she went on. And this time the awful Annabel isn’t around to change his mind. He still feels guilty for keeping my phone all that time. Thank goodness. at one time she would have known what Rachel’s plans were in the most minute detail. He doesn’t need it as he’s off to Spain again. “I’m borrowing Lance’s car. changing the subject. In Suffolk of all places.” Laura paused before she replied. half listening to the feet as they went into another classroom. stomped around. Although she had laughed it off. according to Philip.” She thought of how their friendship had changed. “It’s good of you to offer but I’m sure you’ve got other plans. but Lance isn’t having any. She’s trying to get back on the scene. The footsteps clumped out of the classroom as she added.” She returned to her sorting.The Girl On The Balcony were Matt Steele’s girlfriend and went on holiday together. Rachel had evidently not taken kindly to being left out in the cold about the romance with Matt Steele.

What are you doing here? The bell went ages ago. Too much work to do.” She glanced at Miss Marshall out of the corner of her eye before spoiling the effect. I won’t need it over half term. I’ll let you have it after the holidays. in December. Eve’s Garden. I found it in the classroom. “Then I remembered I hadn’t got my Pride and Prejudice. Don’t worry Miss Marshall. He’s coming to London for the premiere of his latest film.” In her peripheral vision she saw Miss Marshall put her hand to her mouth. don’t worry about returning my magazine. 396 . Miss Eliot. “Are you going to be there. Miss Eliot?” She looked innocently at the two English teachers as they looked at each other. Sometimes it was hard work being a model student. Ashton in the Physics lab. I would have thought you’d be well on your way home by now. “Miss Eliot. “Besides. if you like. Jess. “Anyway.Frances Hart outside the open door of the English office.” she added.” was the gloomy reply. Their owner said brightly.” “I had an appointment with Mr.” “Yes. There’s a feature in it on Matt Steele. She turned to Rachel. brandishing it triumphantly. I’ve got the latest one.

The Girl On The Balcony “The article goes on about Bethany Moore’s off-screen relationship with him. Laura saw Matt everywhere she looked. Miss Marshall. “I don’t imagine you’ll be at the premiere though. I have to go. After all. She could see him lounging in front of the fire and congratulating himself on getting it going. you prefer Johnny Depp. Her phone beeped. apart from the extra dust. “Just imagine the effect that would have had. The room was exactly the same. In her imagination the settee still had Matt sprawled on it.” She risked another glance at Miss Marshall and saw a smile light her face.” She turned and added. “Woops. Apparently when they were making the film she kept being sick just before the love scenes. Above her the landing rang with the sound of delighted laughter. She wondered how far she could safely go. Kirsty was waiting outside and was getting impatient. And the memories. The ashes were still in the grate.” She raced down to join her friend. She could visualise him standing in front of the video collection and muttering something about being out of the ark and 397 .” She grimaced.

She turned and he was listening to a track from The Killers. The coat he had borrowed sagged on its peg in the small lobby. She could not resist twisting it to form a new pattern. The fact that Matt was going to be back in England in December raised her chances of being able to contact him but there was no guarantee of success. She could hear the exclamations as people bought and sold collectables. First. Her mother would not have been pleased by the state of the cottage. The initial euphoria resulting from Jess’s pronouncement had worn off. as she bent to pick up the kaleidoscope which had. she needed some noise. Half the stuff in this place is collectable she thought. She decided to start with the living room.Frances Hart dinosaurs. Would he want to know her after all this time? She 398 . Laura switched on the television and half listened as she worked. The real test would come when she went into the bedroom. She swallowed and concentrated on the task in hand. The tea towel he had used for washing up hung limply on its peg in the kitchen. rolled into a corner. unaccountably. Just as Matt had done. She placed it back carefully in the cupboard.

She had a few more ghosts to dispel there too. The man raised his stick in salute. The same neighbour walked along the road. Some things don’t change. He was in PR. She could do some research on the Internet. There must be a way of getting tickets. It was magic having Jake’s computer. He might know. She had already started using it to check flights for New York in January. She would go now. The sound of the surf rolled through the October afternoon. 399 . There was no way she could ask Annabel. overweight Labrador ambled along in his master’s wake. She had another day to finish the cottage. She and Rachel were also going to explore other avenues. A sea gull flew overhead. She turned to get her keys. satisfaction she went outside for a moment and breathed in the sea air. surely. She would go down to the sea later and walk along the front.The Girl On The Balcony had to try. She intended to be in Leicester Square as early as possible. after all. She was on holiday. nodded to her as he went past. At the very least she should be able to see him at fairly close quarters. When she had cleaned the living room to her. she thought. She was planning to ask Philip. The cottages warmed in the soft October sun. What the hell. The same large. and her mother’s.

Since she was up early. for him. that delicious combination of skin and aftershave and pheromones or whatever. Life would get better. Bit by bit. That was where her dream ended. Laura mumbled resentfully and turned towards Matt to continue her exploration of his body.Frances Hart She smiled at them and watched as they processed up the road. He was not there. that was uniquely his. Late October was giving them a last touch of summer 400 . She could smell him. Laura decided. She could feel the texture of his skin as her fingers wandered over his chest. She could see them darken as desire took hold. she might as well take advantage of the fine weather. She was in her bedroom at the cottage on her own. moving downwards. looking at her with love. physically ached. She was touching him. those beautiful blue eyes. His side of the bed remained empty. She stared at the ceiling while her body ached. She had been dreaming of Matt. In her dream he was lying next to her with his eyes. Laura came slowly out of sleep the next morning.

The teenage assistant stopped chewing. 401 . The soft wind played with her hair as it swirled around her head in a shining dark cloud. “Can I help you. Business was slow this morning. The girl shrugged her shoulders and went back to perusing the story about Matt Steele and a mystery girl. She looked at the picture and wondered enviously what it would be like to be kissed by him. “No thank you. “Jess. She went up the slope towards the main street and wandered along enjoying the freedom. She came to the newsagent’s and her feet paused in the doorway. at least for the foreseeable future. its colours reflecting the hues of autumn. looked back at the sunlit street and replied. she recalled. Are you doing anything important?” The question floated down the stairs.The Girl On The Balcony before the easterly winds came biting in across the North Sea.” and went on. Madam?” Laura glanced in. She paced along the shingle feeling the hardness of the stones under her shoes and felt alive for the first time in months. looked up from the newspaper spread flat on the counter. It was her last half term holiday.

Minutes later she stared at the nugget she had unearthed: an article about the villa in France where the film star had supposedly spent his holiday in the summer. the one who had made paper aeroplanes out of her essay notes? They had been lying on the floor of her bedroom by the waste bin when he had sidled in. It cited all the famous people who had been there. She went back to her research on Matt Steele.” Jess gave herself a high five. Besides. It was schoolwork. Mum?” “I was going to ask you to fetch Anthony but if you’re doing school work I won’t interrupt you. “I’m doing some research for school. Result! Why should she have to waste her time fetching her annoying little brother. Connected with school anyway. He was never there. looked up from the computer and yelled back. Matt Steele’s name did not feature at all. He had not been one of the guests. He had whined when she had had a right go at him before going to tell their mother. It was so not fair her mother taking his side.Frances Hart Jess sighed. Why? Did you want me for anything. put down her Ipod. A scene came into her mind: the day she had 402 . He’ll just have to wait a bit longer until I’ve finished this. Jess thought of the words she had overheard at school. what she was doing was important.

She had not been successful in seeing his face. She had not told anyone about that episode in the summer. yet again. Jess looked at the screen and considered the information she had unearthed. It seemed to validate her theory but it did not get her any closer to the actor.The Girl On The Balcony followed Miss Marshall and her boyfriend into the park that long ago day in the summer. when she had featured in the tabloids. it was so not cool. not even Kirsty. He and Miss Marshall were no longer an item 403 . What if the Matt Steele look-alike was not the equivalent of a tribute act at all? What if he had been the real thing? Her mind went into overdrive. she considered the implications. Her eyes narrowed as. He had buried it in a rucksack or something. It had been no hardship watching the guy walk along in front of her. Wow! Her heart started to thump. But what if she had been that close to him? What if she had actually seen Matt Steele? After overhearing her teacher’s words that afternoon about him being in Suffolk she had decided to see what else she could find out. she recalled. What if he had hooked up with Miss Marshall after the Freeway premiere.

She was contemplating the advice to keep her radar out as she replied. She had been trying to find out how you managed to get hold of tickets for premieres. “I’m fine. “Hi Laura. to explain. I think. she decided when Kirsty came round with the paper later on and she saw the photo of him kissing a really gorgeous looking girl. “Duh. “Honestly. Probably not. thanks.” She sounded like one of her students. How’re you feeling?” Rachel’s phone call came as Laura was sitting in front of the computer in Jake’s study.” For now.” “How was Suffolk?” “Better than I had expected. 404 .Frances Hart it seemed. Shame. or at the very least be able to get in touch with him. She wondered what had happened and if it could be fixed.” There was a questioning feel to the pause that followed so she added. She picked up her phone to hear Rachel’s question while she looked at a website which told her breezily that you had to be in the right city and know the right people. It was what I needed. What she actually needed to get her life on track again was to be back with Matt.

” Rachel’s 405 . Why?” “Because he and this Anna are plastered all over them. Laura thought. Screaming headlines about Matt Steele and his new mystery girlfriend cosying up outside a restaurant. Anna Greene. Matt has agreed to be best man at our upcoming wedding.” he said.The Girl On The Balcony “If I said that I had seen a picture of Matt Steele and Anna Greene in the paper what would be your response?” came the cryptic remark. “The only Anna I know of is Peter’s girlfriend. “Peter Yates. They’re both close friends of Matt’s. She and Matt are good friends and have been for years. close friend and business associate of Matt Steele. “In fact. Listen to what I found out. Peter Yates went on to lambast the irresponsibility of certain sections of the media who continually ignore the rights of certain individuals in their grubby and relentless desire to make money at other people’s expense.” she ventured. “I take it you haven’t seen yesterday’s papers then?” “No.” and she started to read. It got me really worried. I could just imagine the effect on you. So I got on the Internet to find out who she is. stated that the girl in the photograph is his own fiancee.

I think. Sure enough. before continuing. “You’re right though.” Laura waited for the next question. 406 . Rachel?” “Do you mean to tell me that you have been wearing some of Matt Steele’s clothes?” Rachel’s voice rose on a crescendo of incredulity. I won’t read you the rest of it but he is certainly not happy.Frances Hart voice went on. She forced herself past the moment and said. I would have spent the morning destroying his clothes.” Laura replied. I would have given up. “He left them behind when he flew to the States. “It’s a good job I didn’t know.” “Matt described him as a Machiavellian character. I get disheartened enough now. otherwise my wardrobe would be sadly depleted. I would have been devastated. Sometimes it seems as though I will never see him again.” “Are you ever going to finish a sentence.” “Do you mean to tell me? I thought you had changed your style a bit but I never dreamed. A memory of the moment in the garden when Matt told her he loved her hit her unawares. it came.” she added quietly. “He sounds a tough character. I can’t believe that you. That I will never get the chance to find out whether he meant what he said. She could almost smell the roses.

noting that she could also start a film blog as a way of getting tickets at the same moment that Rachel asked.” if he and this Peter guy are really close friends that’s another way of getting in touch. in answer to your question. to concentrate on Anna. or—she thought of the previous picture that had so upset her—an old one. She wondered why Matt was kissing her. And.” After several false starts she found the image to which Rachel had referred. But if you’re sure you want to torture yourself seeing the photo the easiest way is for you to do it on-line. She looked nice: really attractive and happy. She tore her eyes away from the picture of Matt.” “You’re mean.” She closed the website on screen. “What are you doing on Saturday? Fancy meeting up?” “Great idea.The Girl On The Balcony “Got any spare?” “More to the point. “That’s true.” Laura brightened. 407 . how do I get hold of a copy of the photo? And no. and the headlines.” her voice became excited. He’s based in New York so you should be able to locate his office. At least that night he was not kissing a new girlfriend.


” The call came at last. Al had. however.Chapter 22 Matt was kissing Mia. “Cut. fortunately. decided to make more use of Mia’s body double for the scenes where they were supposed to be having sex. He bent his head. Desire took hold. Her breasts were assaulted by Matt’s mouth. 409 . Mia clutched his hair as she became aroused. He had his hands on her bare breasts while she was frantically undoing the buttons on his shirt. Scenes like this. Thank goodness.

He became a coldblooded killer who was using a small town girl for his own physical satisfaction. They had spent a long time blocking their moves and he was still insistent on making final tweaks. It was time for the cameras to roll once more. he complained. 410 . He watched the sound and camera teams as they started to log the technical notes before moving on to the next set up. She started to rub herself against him.Frances Hart he could not avoid. She was not used to being a mousy brown in colour. The make up girls rushed across. He wanted a sex scene that would sear the celluloid and so far he was not getting it. Al was not yet satisfied. not if they were going to make the sensuality in the relationship come across. ignoring Mia who was complaining about her hair being ruined. In several takes’ time they would be mussing it up. Matt forced his personal feelings out of his mind. He stopped her. Matt stood quietly. The camera focussed on the power and carnality emanating from Jonathan Mann. and pushed her away then forced her head downwards. They were in Rebecca’s bedroom: its centrepiece the single bed with its virginal white cover. In this shot Rebecca was pulling at his shirt in her effort to get at his bare skin.

The camera recorded the change to acceptance and then sexual excitement on her face: the sensuality and knowledge in his expression as she succumbed to his dominance. The triumph and sensuality and sexual satisfaction in his gaze was breathtaking. 411 . She was supposed to be pleasuring him. contemptuous way in which he took control. He raised his head straight at the camera. The on-screen chemistry was inflammable.The Girl On The Balcony In the next shot Rebecca looked up uncertainly. The scene reeked with his power: the way he took them both to the edge. Al had been right. The director was triumphant. It showed the skilful way in which the professional assassin unleashed Rebecca’s sexuality and hinted at how it would subsequently unravel. Time and time again the camera had caught the latent violence fuelled by raw sexual passion. the chilling. In the final shot in this segment the camera concentrated on the killer’s expression as Rebecca knelt between his legs. a smile playing around his mouth. It was destined to sear the celluloid. Jonathan Mann looked at the girl’s bent head with a hooded gaze. By the end of the day Matt was wrung out. They stared at each other for a moment.

Matt stepped back. As soon as makeup and wardrobe had finished with him he grabbed a bottle of water and turned towards his trailer. He raised the 412 . He was nearly at his trailer when he was stopped by Mia. She had deliberately waited until they were at a slight distance from the rest of the cast and crew.Frances Hart He needed space. He stood there impatiently as the director made it clear what was required. He did not want to have to cope with Mia. He could not ignore Al who wanted to go over the next day’s shooting schedule. He wanted to get away. She was on a high. on his own. Mia was exultant at the way the day had gone. How was he going to deal with this? He was exhausted. The nipples were outlined against the thin material of her blouse. He waved away the offer from the producer to watch the previous day’s footage. ignoring the buzz and excitement of the various teams as they dismantled the set and began to set up the new one. He wanted to be in his trailer. and stood in front of Matt in a provocative pose that highlighted the breasts on which Matt had supposedly been feasting. Much of it was due to Matt’s uncanny ability to sense precisely what the camera required. It was apparent that she was confusing art and reality.

how about it? For real?” She touched his arm.” She gave Matt a smouldering look. what we had. started to run her fingers along it. Mia preferred to dwell on her own talents.” “So. Matt. I’ll never believe it. This time she 413 . If she had thought the sex with him was so wonderful why had she cheated on him? As far as he was concerned.” she finished with a husky laugh that was intended to make his hormones sit up and beg.” He took a pull at his water and replied tiredly.The Girl On The Balcony performance levels of every actor. Matt. Mia ignored the tell tale gesture and came closer.” a suggestive pause. “Al seems pleased. “We had a lot going for us. “You have to admit we’re good together. It was a stunning performance Marr conceded privately. how about it?” she repeated. Admit it. “So. But it was all an act. She was missing the kudos that went with the role of his girlfriend. knowing that it enhanced her sensuality and hoping that it would set Matt’s libido soaring. He shook his head. Mia was not missing the sex. Matt. Well. “It makes me remember what we shared.” what we did. You can’t tell me that you don’t miss it. not until today at any rate. it was eminently forgettable. the sex was out of this world.

Matt looked at her with distaste. It had always been different. With Laura it had never been about sex. He moved away. A love so complete that he could not imagine ever being happy with anyone else. There was no way that he would take up her offer although he knew some of the crew were wondering why he was not interested in what was being offered so blatantly. Surely she knew the difference between acting and real life? The scene they had just enacted was an illusion. Once. And would be for the foreseeable future. So what was he going to do about it? 414 . He had done his best to ensure that Mia knew that they could not resurrect the past. He did not want to have sex with anybody else. It had been love. Despite all his denials. he had enjoyed having sex with Mia. all his posturing he was still in love with Laura. Yeah. very much in the same manner as she had done on screen. How stupid had he been. Not until he could forget Laura. It was a long time ago in terms of time and experience: the experience of falling in love so deeply that he could not imagine himself having sex with any other girl for the foreseeable future.Frances Hart rubbed her hand against his tee shirt. Awareness and loss swept through him.

How could he let her off lightly? “I’m sorry. Knowing Laura. He could not understand it.” His name was uttered impatiently. The sense of loss 415 . If she felt like that why was she living with another guy without even bothering to tell him? Why had she left him in limbo? What was certainly true he thought as he sprawled in his trailer.” He hardened his voice. About being faithful. “But I’m involved with someone else and you know too well how I feel about trust and loyalty. having finally managed to get past Mia. Matt looked at Mia. was that he was still involved with Laura and until matters were resolved he could not move on.The Girl On The Balcony “Matt. loving Laura had changed him irrevocably. He had been a fool to think that by locking away his emotions he could regain his identity.” he said at last. not until they had finished their damn scenes. her wonderful eyes were shooting daggers because he had not graced her with a reply. He had to hope that Mia would respect his scruples although she had never shared the same concerns about being faithful. Laura had. He could hear Laura’s words in his mind about not encroaching on forbidden territory. Her sultry mouth was pouting sulkily. He could not afford to antagonise her too much. She had sounded so sincere.

What did Jake have that he didn’t? His thoughts crystallised. not taking in a word. What if that picture. he needed to find out why Laura had left him stranded . that had devastated his world. He would just have to swallow his pride. . if nothing else. He was looking at the script. He wondered if love always hurt this much. He wanted to kill the other guy. .Frances Hart swept through him. was not what it seemed? 416 . He would find out when he was in London. when Peter’s words edged in at the margins. this Jake person. For his own peace of mind.

November .


The tourists in hiking boots had sneered at the more delicately shod who were picking their way through the mud. listening to the “stars” of the early morning television programme as it beamed across America. 419 . They had leaned over the wooden balcony to look at the slopes below. They had surged out of the cable car station. On the back lot tourists had gestured at the wonders of the fall colours as they wandered about the ski resort of Killington. They had been the audience.Chapter 23 They had recreated Vermont in California. They had made their way to the beginning of the footpath to the viewing point.

Startled.Frances Hart Jonathan Mann had strolled past keeping his twin in sight as he and his family milled around the set for “Good Morning America. He had certainly been suffering from sleep deprivation. The excuse was hollow. He forgave her every time. Jonathan Mann’s niece. He could blame it on the aftermath of his father’s accident. He had to admit.” The film editor would later merge these with the location footage. He had never felt less like a hero in his life. Temper tantrums were to be expected from children. 420 . He did not come out of it very well. he looked up just in time to see his heart-breaking fictional daughter/niece stamp her three-year old foot and fling her doll to the ground. The takes where he was playing David Mann were in the can. he supposed. He knew he had not been thinking clearly. A childish scream came from nearby. But not from adults. He shrugged his shoulders. the toddler playing the lawyer’s daughter. She tended to steal the scenes. A hot wave of shame swept over him as he remembered his behaviour in the summer. was a real heartbreaker. how he had practically stamped his foot and demanded that Ian Stewart should be called off.

When he was in London he would see her. The director had changed his mind about something and was in a huddle with the sound and camera crews. Peter and Anna were coming too.The Girl On The Balcony Matt noticed that the toddler was now clutching her mother. He had not been thinking straight. Peter had been right. They were shooting the restaurant scenes on the sound stage. 421 . Everything was forgiven. He would see for himself soon. In time Laura might forgive him. He would sit down and have a civilised conversation and discuss what she felt about him. and her doll. The tantrum was over it seemed. Matt let the noise and chaos wash over him. He was waiting to be called while Al was fussing. Perhaps he might even start forgiving himself. He wanted her forgiveness for not trying harder: for giving up so easily. He had come to terms with the fact that he would never get any peace until he had seen her one more time. He tried to wrench his mind back to the task in hand. He would go to the apartment where she was now living with that other guy. He was due home for Thanksgiving. If only life was always that easy. He thought about the progress his father had made since the accident. His mind drifted back to Laura. damn his eyes.

But he had not hung around to find out. He had stamped his proverbial foot and had decided he did not want to play any more. He winced. Who was he kidding? He might have control in the persona of Jonathan Mann but he was discovering in himself a strong desire to get hold of the guy with whom she was shacked up and beat the hell out of him. the difference between fact and illusion. The scenes with her were no longer so difficult. He had become convinced that Laura had really loved him. He glanced across at Mia as she sat while the make-up girl fussed over her. There had to be some explanation for the pictures of her being carried over the threshold. Those words had also been instrumental in helping him see. really see. There had to be some explanation for Laura failing to get in touch after he had left. for moving in with someone else within a matter of weeks. That girl would have not dumped him without a word. Once he had put it into words that he was involved with another girl Mia had sulked but had finally left him alone. He balked at the finality of the past tense. He thought back to the girl he had known—thought he had known—in the summer.Frances Hart His lips widened in a mirthless grin. 422 .

He was also committed to a gruelling round of publicity for the American premiere of his last one. Al would just have to get the production done on time. Then. He too had reached a decision. the footage of the day’s scenes. The scenes with Mia were scorching. although he was muttering about retakes for some of the David Mann scenes now that Matt was not so gaunt. He owed it to himself. Eve’s Garden. he rationalized. 423 . He would surely be needed soon. He would go to England. see Laura. provided that it did not get messed up in production although with Al’s vision that did not seem likely. and to the backers. to concentrate on it. He owed it to Al. and they worked. would he be free to see Laura. He knew that it was going to be good. the London premiere in December. He had seen some of the dailies.The Girl On The Balcony A movement caught his eye. It looked as though decisions had been made. and his fans. Once the movie was finished. That was a promise. That was in Los Angeles towards the end of the week. He had broken away from his comfort zone for this movie. The end was in sight as far as this movie was concerned. and only then.

Half way across the restaurant she stopped to consider her bright red boots. It looked as though they had set up for the scene with the little girl. “Picture is up.Frances Hart He watched as Al gesticulated. Now he had to turn his mind back to being a killer. He was crouching on the floor. She had been separated from her parents in the crowd. She stuck a foot out in 424 . “Mr.” They were away. He turned his head and saw her dancing around her real life mother. He shook his head. She was happy again. when the little girl ran in. Laura would have to wait. back against the wall. The assistant director called. He wished he were. Jonathan Mann ducked out of sight beneath the restaurant window. Matt took up position on set. New bright red Wellington boots were put on her feet. He tried to ignore the suspicion that the delay was nothing to do with his commitment to the movie. Her mother whispered in her ear. His twin was part of the crowd surging around outside. She held her dolly tightly. her doll clasped in her arms. The little girl stopped her dancing. It was because he was too fucking scared Laura might not want him any more. Steele?” They were ready.

He forgot he was Jonathan Mann. this cold eyed man crouching at her level. She reached the part of the wall where Jonathan Mann was squatting and came to a halt.) Matt was in England. She was saying: “Surely this is the moment when he realises that it’s impossible? He’s having to confront what he has lost. He had come to respect Matt’s ability to take a scene and run with it. He forgot he was in California. He slumped against the wall. He was no longer aware of the other actors on set. A tear started to edge down his cheek. (Al was not going to interfere. Suddenly. Matt could hear Laura. the director tensing as the silence dragged on beyond the agreed time. His face bleached.The Girl On The Balcony front of herself and beamed. masquerading as Vermont in the fall. 425 . listening to Laura as she explored his role. the knot of people standing by quietly while the cameras were rolling. often going far beyond his original vision. He was confronting what he himself had lost. Wide eyed she looked at him. What he had thrown away.” His mind drained. Then she gave a hop and a skip and continued on. All they had to do was look at each other. the camera and sound crews.

The crew swarmed round as he approached. Make it better. The little girl reached out and gently touched the wetness on Matt’s cheek. She leaned forward and kissed it. but he waved 426 . then lifted her head as her name was called.” she said. It surged like a wave. hesitantly at first. They opened. then with assurance as though he at last knew where he was going. The anguish was palpable.” The call when it came was almost an anti-climax. “There. He moved. “Cut. The noise came back. Nobody spoke. The cameraman focussed on it before angling the shot to centre on Matt’s closed eyes. wanting to share in the moment. The little girl stared at him. there.Frances Hart He closed his eyes. He stood there as if he was no longer certain of where he was. The silence was total. She took another look at the man who was crying before she ran on and out of shot. The buzz and excitement reached Matt as he came to his feet. Nobody moved. The only movement was the tear sliding down Matt’s face. They were still gripped in the emotion of the scene.

” Laura looked at Peggy’s right arm being held out to the imaginary audience in an appropriately dramatic gesture. “Peter. “I can’t live without her.” He did not know. that he would be back in time for the next shot. whether Peter heard his last words as he put the phone down. After the initial greetings the instruction was terse.” Laura was rehearsing some of the English department for their contribution to the charity events being held at the end of the week. Your other left.” she giggled. He disappeared off set without looking back. can you get hold of Ian Stewart? Get him to check whether Laura is still living in the same place. did not care.The Girl On The Balcony them away.” “No. In his trailer Matt reached for his phone and called Peter. I’m going to get in touch. at lunchtime. “Sorry everyone. When Peggy looked around the rest of the group waved their left arms at her. 427 . He could no longer live with the uncertainty. the teachers were going to make fools of themselves for a good cause. The school was dotted with posters headed by Pudsey bear logos and announcing that. Peggy. He indicated to Al. yet again. “I did warn you what I was like. without stopping.

“It’s supposed to rain men. not cretins. eight. seven.” 428 . but it won’t be as good as our routine. and Peggy had managed to synchronise her right and left arms with everyone else. “Nice one ladies. Paul overtly looked at his watch as an indication that it was time the women should be going. Laura grinned. “But you can guarantee it will cause a riot. from the top.” he replied. The troupe responded appropriately. Another colleague followed in their wake.” and they were off. “Rachel complained. one of the Geographers. “Go away White.” When they had finally finished with their last triumphant gesture. “Okay everyone.” They groaned. It was their turn to rehearse. Five. They would be singing and dancing their way through It’s raining men. six. They were proclaiming yet again that it was raining men when the door to the drama studio opened and Paul White strolled in along with another male teacher. “Right.Frances Hart Laura was rehearsing her troupe for their chosen routine. will it Rick?” “What are you doing?” “Classified information I’m afraid. You’ll just have to wait and see.

” Laura replied quietly. she was going to try and locate Peter Yates when she was there.” They turned into the staff room as she continued. how are the numbers going for the Twelfth Night trip?” “Just about full. The rest of her life depended on being able to get to see Matt once more. She was not being dramatic. they will still beat us simply because they’re men! You can bet on it. “It doesn’t matter how good we are. They were late. “That reminds me. Failure was not an option.The Girl On The Balcony “He’s right. It doesn’t seem possible that it’s December in a couple of weeks. it doesn’t. you know. At least she now had a plan. Even if our esteemed head of department doesn’t know her left from her right. The 429 .” “No. as they say. “You realise that we’re going on my birthday don’t you?” she said to Rachel.” Rachel grimaced as they went back to the staff room. There were still twenty minutes of lunchtime left. “At least we will have taken part.” Laura grinned. It will be all right on the night. They grabbed their sandwiches from the fridge and flopped on to the chairs. She was no further forward in her bid to get to the premiere although she had booked her ticket to New York.

Laura stared at the pictures. delaying the moment when they had to remember what they were teaching that afternoon. “I feel tired. “You sound like that bit in Pride and Prejudice. where Elizabeth goes to Derbyshire and 430 . One of the Modern Languages department was immersed in a magazine. A Mathematics teacher was asleep.” Laura leaned across to find that the main spread was about who’s who on the red carpet. Laura. She felt an urge to giggle. Several Staff members were clustered round the urn earnestly debating the merits of tea versus coffee.” She leaned back in her chair. She and Rachel looked at the husband and wife team who were smiling brightly at the camera as they stood on four. We’ve got five minutes before we need move.Frances Hart staff room was beginning to empty although some colleagues were still there. “I’m doing haikus with Year eight.” Rachel lowered her voice. “Quick. Grab it. “What are you teaching this afternoon?” Rachel asked. Roll on the end of term. different red carpets.” She glanced across as the Modern Languages teacher went away. That might have been you. “Just think. Laura. leaving her magazine behind. no five.

Laura sat there for a moment longer staring at the magazine and thinking of Matt.” she said. “He can’t wait to go. she wonders whether: “in defiance of everything. she was still dear to him. not that she knew what he was doing.” Her brother was going to be out there for the foreseeable future.” “You love it really.” I meant to ask you earlier. before Lance goes off to Spain. once again she had something in common with Elizabeth Bennet. before continuing.” She stopped speaking to check whether she had all the sixth form essays on Hamlet.The Girl On The Balcony sees Pemberley for the first time. do you want to come round tonight? Philip’s coming with Lance.” “How were the haikus?” she asked Rachel when they met in the office at the end of the school day. She knew he was excited at the prospect. before she meets up with the man himself.” she muttered. 431 . where she says: Of this place I might have been mistress!” The bell rang before Rachel could reply. It occurred to her that. “Short. In the same chapter while Austen’s heroine is wandering around the grounds of Darcy’s home. You know. I’m two missing. “Damn.

“Rachel turned to go. I’ll be out there until after Christmas. No doubt she would soon find out. “And. I’ve wangled some unpaid leave. although it does mean I don’t know when I’ll see you next.” he added. “I’m off. I’ll miss you. did I?” The tone was casual.” “That’s great. she had said.” “‘Bye. He did not believe her.” Laura had told Philip about New York although he did not know the real reason for her decision. She found out as soon as Philip swept through the door armed with a champagne bottle already chilled. He looked after her as she led the way into the living room.Frances Hart “I’ll give it a miss if you don’t mind. Jake had been summoned back to England for an important meeting and was on his way home from Australia. See you tomorrow. Too much work to do.” Laura looked at Rachel’s departing back before turning her mind to the evening ahead. so with that and the holiday time I’m owed. Philip had sounded excited about something. See you. She was taking time out to travel. Philip. “I’m going to go back with him next week. The question was not. 432 . “I never did find out about the boyfriend.

Philip wandered over to the settee. 433 . When I can. gave a cursory glance.” The champagne cork popped. Laura came towards him holding the full glasses to hear him say wickedly. When is Jake coming back?” “Towards the end of the week. Laura had been working on a lesson plan when he arrived. you’ll hear all about it.The Girl On The Balcony “No. Still hurts.” He thought from the set of Laura’s shoulders that was all the answer he was going to get before unexpectedly she relented. looked again. “Pathetic isn’t it?” before changing the subject.” his sister said resignedly. It was strewn with paper. He started to pile it together. “I can’t talk about it yet. Says he’ll catch up with you another time but something came up.” “It always does as far as Lance is concerned. “What is this. Laura my sweet? Hamlet the panto?” He took a glass almost absentmindedly as his eyes scanned the pages. “I suppose that means I won’t see him before he goes to Spain. “Do you know when Lance is arriving?” “He sends his apologies.” She went towards the kitchen to get some glasses and added.

“I thought of the idea in the summer.” Laura glanced at her friend and said quietly. Philip carried on reading. “It’s for my sixth form lesson at the end of term.” “I thought my last lesson ought to go out with a bit of a bang as it were.” Shakespeare for the twenty first century. Thirty? I leave the birthday cards to his mother. Anyone would think that’s typical male behaviour. She told herself she wanted to hear Philip’s reaction “Since when have you had witches in Hamlet?” He grinned.” 434 . I like this part where the three witches from Macbeth meet the ghost and ask him how old his son is and it’s obvious that he doesn’t have a clue: I don’t know. Laura sat there patiently and tried not to think about a beach in Suffolk. That’s when I first started seriously thinking about giving in my notice. I don’t know what the luvvies would make of it but I think it’s fun. “Well. He’s spent long enough at university for goodness’ sake.” Laura teased. I thought I’d have a shot at rewriting Shakespeare. He was immersed. “I love the next bit: “He should be intelligent enough to figure it out.Frances Hart Laura laughed.” Philip did not reply.” “And of course it’s not.

Matt was due on set. It was no good. unfortunately. He did not remark on it. committed elsewhere and could not get back to it for another week. “He will be popping in to see you and check that you haven’t been trashing the place. She struggled to regain control.” The answer came back from Ian Stewart. “Jake isn’t going to ask for his flat back is he? I’m not going to be dispossessed just yet am I?” Philip was regarding her steadily when she eventually looked up. She could still hear Matt reciting Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy.The Girl On The Balcony She stared into her glass and watched the light honey bubbles. Eventually she was able to ask brightly. my sweet. He had seen the misery in her face. 435 . He could make time and do a detour on his way to the airport but that was literally all he could manage for the time being. “He wants to know whether that is fine by us. Sadness overwhelmed her.” Peter reported to Matt over the phone. He was. If they wanted more detailed information they would have to wait until his return. merely replied that Jake would be staying with him although. He suppressed the thought that he wanted to be in England finding out for himself.

Laura was practising her routine when she heard a ring at the door. Peter had the intelligence to make no reply.” They both laughed. 436 . raced to the door and caught Jake in a hug when he was still on the front door step. There was a polite knock at the trailer door. looked at her intently and said. After all. Laura threaded her arm through his. She stopped what she was doing. “Jake. Jake came round to see Laura the day before the charity event. aren’t you going to invite me in? Unless you think your landlord won’t let me.” He gave her a swift kiss on the cheek.Frances Hart “I don’t suppose a week will matter that much.” Matt told him.” He held her in his arms. “I must go. An hour later Jonathan Mann was walking along a dark deserted back lot: a solitary figure on an isolated road. Welcome home. you’re back. “And you’re looking a lot better. how long has it taken for me to begin to come to my senses?” he queried. “Well.

He wondered what his client would make of that. The Californian night was lit by a thousand flashes. Matt.” The excitement rose to fever pitch. He would have to rush if he wanted to send the images and the information before hightailing it to the airport for his flight to Scotland. “Stupid dress. The diamonds at her ears and around her neck flashed in response to all the cameras aimed at them.” Laura was saying as the door closed behind them. Bethany. heard the conversation. shook his head in bemusement. He checked his watch. Over here. 437 . “Look this way.” she muttered. surreptitiously yanking at its folds while simultaneously smiling with practised ease at the mass of fans yelling their names. It reached a crescendo as he turned to help his co-star alight. From across the road Ian Stewart saw the hug. “Ready?” Matt asked when she stood upright. Matt waved to the crowds as he emerged from the limo.The Girl On The Balcony “How was the journey? You must be tired after all that flying. The noise was deafening.

He felt a roaring in his head.Frances Hart She nodded in reply. What was he going to do now? He buried his head in his hands and thought bleakly of a life without Laura. To hell with his commitment to the movie. He looked at the images again and this time read the email. And he was fucking well going to get her back. “Now are you sure you’re not going to be sick on me? Because if so. He wanted to get over there and sort this out. His worst feelings had been realised. I’m out of here.” The glittering couple made their way up the carpet. noting the words of the conversation. The crowd clapped and whistled and yelled. Matt was not laughing when he returned from the premiere and picked up the email from Peter. Laura was his. That thought hammered at him. They both laughed as he went on. His eyes narrowed. It contained new images of Laura being hugged by the same dark haired guy. Matt’s heart hammered. What sort of a welcome was that? 438 . He wanted to get over there and knock this Jake Carmichael senseless. He took several deep breaths trying for control.

The Girl On The Balcony When Peter rang to check on him. Laura and her troupe stood there. If she’ll have me. The teachers. Peter. The noise filled the darkened and crowded hall and rolled through the corridors towards the rest of the school. “Unrepeatable. There was an energetic note in his friend’s voice that he had not heard for a long time. or some of them. “Take another look at the pictures. Matt. acknowledging the response. in answer to your question. They’re not exactly passionate are they? So. “Find out what’s happening and as soon as this movie’s finished I’m going to get her back. It was the Friday lunchtime charity event. The noise was deafening. the response was robust. If you greeted Anna like that after you’d been away what would be her response?” He allowed a pause to develop while Peter called up the images at his end.” Hardly had the last notes died away than the whistles and yells and applause started. were occupied in making fools of themselves. 439 . laughing and wincing at the same time. what are you going to do now?” The reply was so quiet he could hardly hear it.

papers in hand. bounced up.” was the unequivocal response. who had not been taking part. Rachel. “Hi.” “Hey.” she replied as they turned in at the staff room door to be met by a barrage of congratulations.” Rachel complained between giggles as they made their way back to the staff room.” She gestured at the papers in her hand. shoot me the next time I suggest something like this. and dragged Laura to a good spot at the side of the hall. You look like a girl on a mission. Bev. Not as distinctive as the Sugababes though. “I said they’d do better than us. The men were going to be the Sugababes. You lot were great. The hall erupted.Frances Hart They trooped off the stage to come up against Paul and his group and burst into uncontrollable laughter. Whose idea was this?” “Yours.” Rachel gasped. They slumped into chairs and groaned good naturedly as a member of the department. round the front. “Peggy asked me to do something on GCSE language for the Year elevens 440 . “Quick. I must see this. “Well. “The kids’ll be as high as kites this afternoon. The catcalls and wolf whistles were beginning to die away behind them.

She smiled wanly at the anxious probationer and said.” and she left the staff room in a rush. Do you think she’s all right?” “She’s fine. Laura looked at the tabloid headline: Steeled for Death and could read no further. was involved in a potentially fatal near collision and felt as though she was going to be sick.” replied Rachel reassuringly. It’s a comparison of two articles. Was it ever going to get better? 441 . Just leave it with Rachel and I’ll pick it up later but I’m afraid I need to go and change.The Girl On The Balcony so I did something on the media section. Bev gazed after her. I’ll look at it properly this afternoon and let you know what I think. Bev. See you later. “She looks a bit pale. The two articles were about the near accident on Mount Washington. “This looks great. She nodded at the paper. the American film star. She glanced at the broadsheet which began more prosaically that: Matt Steele. that’s all.” In the cloakroom Laura wiped her mouth. “I’m sure that it’ll be fine. What do you think?” Bev was in her first year of teaching and was still enthusiastic. All the effort involved in singing has got to her.


He was dying for a cigarette. and could now turn his mind to Laura Marshall. He had finished in Scotland. about to board the train from which he had just alighted. He was mulling over his options when his attention was caught by two men coming the other way. 443 . totally absorbed in each other. Ian Stewart strolled along the concourse. The two men were talking animatedly.Chapter 24 The Heathrow Express drew in smoothly at Paddington station and disgorged its passengers. One of them was Jake Carmichael.

and you’ve given 444 . “What do you think. “Kirsty. This certainly changed things. “How does Shakespeare use disguise in the play?” “He can introduce cross dressing on stage. He noted their body language. have you by chance changed your name and not told the office?” Kirsty subsided. Laura was giving her Year eleven students a revision lesson on Twelfth Night.” came an irrepressible comment from Kirsty. They were due to see it in about two weeks’ time. Ian Stewart went on down the platform and waited for a few moments before turning round and making for the exit.Frances Hart Ian Stewart turned round and walked after them. He considered his next course of action. heard the other man say. “It’s an interesting comment though. their ease with each other. Laura let her off the hook.” Jake’s reply was lost as they boarded the train. He drew close. Sam?” she was asking one of the less forthcoming students who always sat at the side of the classroom so that she was not in the teacher’s direct line of sight. “And of course you’ll be losing your houseguest when Laura leaves in January.

Shakespeare’s looking at what is real and what isn’t. Miss Eliot might like to see it.” There was a murmur from the class. who had been uncharacteristically quiet. chimed in.” That was interesting. Bit like acting really. I’ve just read an article about Matt Steele being in disguise. Miss Marshall had not commented on the interruption. It’s all about him going around some ski resort as the character he’s playing in the film he’s shooting now. Was it her imagination or had she paled slightly? 445 . They were actually filming him at the time and all the people who’d gone up there didn’t know he was there. When Malvolio goes on about not being mad. Katy?” “To illustrate the theme of illusion and reality.” she smiled at the more reticent student.” Near the end of the lesson Jess.” so how does he use disguise?” “To complicate the plot?” “Good. “Excellent. I bet all those people were gutted when they found out. The differences between illusion and reality.The Girl On The Balcony Sam time to think. talking about disguise. How cool is that. “I’ll give you the article after the lesson. for instance. Any other ideas anyone? Yes. “Miss Marshall.” she pondered.

and nobody realised. “Just think about if he did it in other places. Result! Jess was pretty sure by now that it was Matt Steele she had seen in the summer with Miss Marshall. She gave the article to Laura.” and she was off down the stairs. It was all too easy getting information when you had 446 . shall I? Bye. What do think would happen? I bet I’d spot him. imagine if he did it in England!” She looked at her teacher. This neighbour was a female of a certain age trying valiantly to pretend otherwise if the preponderance of pink was anything to go by. Her white rat.” the bright pink mouth was saying eagerly. masquerading as a dog. Otherwise she might get to see him again. “I’ll leave the article with you and you can give it to Miss Eliot. She wondered whether Miss Marshall would be going to Leicester Square in December.” She pretended not to notice when her teacher blanched. safe under its owner’s arm. was clad in a pink jacket. saying brightly. “Yes. Ian Stewart was once again chatting to a neighbour. She had been that close to him! A shame that they had broken it off. Wow. in disguise like Viola was.Frances Hart Jess was as good as her word. “Just think if he went round London dressed as somebody else.

I think she said. Been house sitting while Jake’s away in Australia. He popped in to see me last week. Apart from her brother.” How appropriate. Shame about Jake’s father. Economy class 447 . Not a bit like his sister. The rat fixed its beady eye on the pavement and shivered as Ian Stewart asked about Laura. He asked another casual question. he said. He had discovered the identity of Jake’s companion. “Going to the States in the new year. He’s a bit standoffish. Won’t accept that Jake’s gay. Reassured. So friendly.” Ian Stewart started to calculate time zones. she’s a school teacher as you know. P.” He nodded his head. Calls me Mrs. “Such a lovely couple.The Girl On The Balcony a few names to bandy around. “Had to come back for a meeting. Was really pleased because Philip’s going back with him. She seemed a bit down when she first arrived but has been a bit more cheerful in the last few weeks. Told me she’d given in her notice. “Lovely girl.” she fluted. Haven’t seen her with a young man. New York. “No. Known them for years. she went on. He bent his head and listened to what else this neighbour had to say.

She knew he was not asleep. You can’t be too careful these days. She looked at her brother. Gill Steele was in the kitchen fussing over the meal. Ros had not even stayed to listen to it but had bustled into the kitchen to see whether their mother needed any help. She sent her husband into the kitchen with a query to do with the place settings. her sister’s choice of music. Typical. I’ll miss her. Huh. Just pretending.Frances Hart flight though. I wonder if Jake will get another house sitter. 448 .” She eyed him. poor thing. She told him to make himself useful and see to the drinks as Peter and Anna were expected any time. pretending that her husband was getting in the way as he limped around the kitchen. In the living room Julia had been listening with disdain to Coldplay. The place hummed with conversation and banter. He was stretched out. Ros was in the dining room setting the table. “I would feel much safer if I knew I had a handsome man like you around. Huh. on the sofa. In Boston the family was celebrating Thanksgiving.” He knew when to retreat. eyes closed. This year they were all too aware how much they had to celebrate.

while he’s been in Australia. He opened his eyes and rose to his feet as Anna and Peter entered the living room in a rush. His mother’s voice floated from the kitchen. He heard the bustle as Julia let their guests in and the sound of greetings. Laura’s friend. He’s already got a partner. house sitting. The doorbell rang. there isn’t 449 . Stewart should be back by now. Matt. Philip Yorke. guess what? It’s fantastic news. the one you saw at that party. It will be Peter and Anna.The Girl On The Balcony Matt was relaxing. Matt. Peter was marginally more calm as he told Matt. He’s in a long-term relationship with Philip.” Anna was excited. relishing the chance to be with his family before returning for the last frantic weeks of filming and the continuation of the publicity mill for Eve’s Garden. Then would come the trip to the UK. Jake Carmichael isn’t Laura’s boyfriend. he had flown into Boston. “Matt. Laura has been living in Jake’s flat. “Ian Stewart has just been in touch.” There was a grunt from his sister as she rose to her feet and did as her mother requested. “Julia. He was wondering whether there would be any more news. can you get that.

I’ll never know. Boston had become Narnia. On the other side of the door the four figures were frozen in a tableau.” She faltered.” Julia had been listening intently.” He was popping the top of a beer can as he spoke. Julia’s lip quivered. I thought she was going to phone you the next day. On one side of the door there was movement and noise. She’s still single. His voice had improved immeasurably since Matt had last seen his father and the sound came through distinctly. came to a stop. saying eagerly. she interrupted. As if at some unseen signal three of the figures turned to look at the fourth.Frances Hart anyone else on the scene. Matt’s father could be heard discussing baseball with his son-in-law in a measured. “Laura. didn’t she?” 450 . Laura hasn’t got another boyfriend. Now. Laura Marshall she said her name was. Why they ever spent money on him. The one who said she hadn’t got in contact because she had lost her phone. That was the name of the girl who phoned you. At least that’s what she said she was going to do. Matt’s mother was singing to herself as she busied herself with the meal. “She did phone back. rational manner. “That guy’s crap.

” “Yes. “Go on.” She blinked in disquiet as Matt turned his back on her and went to look out of the window. Julia. It was easier than facing her brother’s back.” Julia stared at her brother for a long second.” 451 . Anna asked. She said she hadn’t been able to get in touch because she had lost her phone. the words enunciated precisely. “What did she say. She knew when he was mad.” This time it was Peter who encouraged her. “Why don’t you tell us about it. When we were at your place in New York.” She phoned back in September.” “She said that her name was Laura Marshall and she asked to speak to Matt. She raised her head and focussed on his face. “Can you tell us exactly what she said. Julia? Tell us again. Oh and something about being ill as well. And when. you’re doing great. Just before you went off on location.” The tone was even.” Julia looked down at the floor.The Girl On The Balcony Anna went over and took her arm in a friendly gesture. She spoke warily. “She said that it was really important that she spoke to him to explain.

Matt. Julia moved nearer to Anna who put her arm round her. “So.Frances Hart “You can say that again. It got deleted accidentally. “I wonder why you didn’t pick it up. the next few minutes were going to be impossible.” He turned round. “So. “Go on.” came softly from the window. “Surely there would have been a record of the call. not yet.” Julia concluded miserably.” His voice was biting. would you care to explain why you didn’t pass on the message? For that matter. You were downstairs. she would phone the next day. “She said that if she hadn’t heard from him before.” Julia could not admit to being in her brother’s bedroom. “I know the answer to that one. didn’t it?” He glared at his younger sister. I’m waiting the answer to the other questions. would you care to explain precisely why you were answering my phone in the first place?” Her brother’s back was rigid as he stared out into the yard.” Anna suggested. She asked me to pass on the message. “Well.” 452 . I answered it. I was passing your room when I heard the phone. If it was hard going now.

“He’ll be back. “No. I’m really sorry.The Girl On The Balcony Matt digested this information. I’d heard you talking about her with Anna. “That still doesn’t explain why you did not pass on the message. I’m sorry.” Peter’s voice was conciliatory. “He’ll forgive you. This time she could not bear to look at her brother’s face as she said miserably.” They waited for her to gather her courage. Will you forgive me?” Silence.” Peter looked at the tears forming in Julia’s eyes. When she opened her eyes again. It was the first name that came into my head. Matt was gone. “I said my name was Mia.” 453 . Now he said. Peter had been looking keenly at Julia. “It’s just that you didn’t know how important that phone call was. She closed her eyes. a murmur to Peter and the sound of movement as someone left the room. She heard a muffled exclamation. “What name did you give to Laura? Did you tell her you were Matt’s sister?” The answer came in a whisper. He met Laura in England in the summer and then they lost touch.” This was going to be excruciating. He’s been going through a bad patch because he thought she had left him. Matt.

Peter and Anna made a tremendous team in helping to make the atmosphere a really happy one. But why did you not pass on the message?” “Because I was too scared. Julia was uncharacteristically silent though. this was a celebration after all. “We’d better be going through.” There was not much Peter and Anna could say to that particular nugget of teenage logic. and they all played along.” 454 . her mother noted. I suppose I just hoped she’d phoned back. Something came up.” Nobody remarked on his absence. “That certainly explains why she didn’t ring back. Instead. Anna remarked. Mom. Matt will come back when he’s ready. before your mother starts to wonder where we are. Come on Julia. Don’t worry.Frances Hart Anna chimed in. Peter had a quiet word with Matt’s parents when the three of them came in and Ros and her husband followed their lead. “Sorry for being late. He had decided it was time for a change. he said. adding that he was already in talks about an upcoming series. Matt came through the door to hear his father explaining that his character in the television series was going to be killed off.

I’m not old enough.” “I can’t drink it. He and Peter had peeled off to the study. He perched on the window sill. the golden boy of the cinema as he stood before them looking rather red eyed but with a look of peace on his face that had been absent for a long time. His mother gave thanks. you’ve arrived just in time to make sure your father doesn’t make a hash of carving the turkey. Julia complained. You can watch us drink it while you tell us what’s happened between you and your brother.” The Thanksgiving meal was over and in a demarcation of the sexes that was positively antediluvian. She said briskly. too 455 . the women were delegated to do the clearing up while the men were shooed away to find another occupation.” “But we are. “Well. “We want to hear all about Anna’s wedding plans.” “They’ll only get in the way. “That only means they’re going to chill out in front of the sports channel. I’ve got the champagne chilling. don’t we? Besides.” her mother explained.The Girl On The Balcony His parents looked at their son. He had no intention of chilling out.” Julia was wrong about her brother.

As soon as I can.” Matt’s voice faltered momentarily. and studied Peter who was sitting at the desk. old man. I reckon that if I work my ass off in the next day or so I can create a forty eight hour window towards the middle of the week which will just give me enough time to get over there and see Laura. “Wouldn’t dream of it. making it sound understandable.” His voice gained strength. “I hope you’re not going to say I told you so.” “There you go. “Ask her if she’s prepared to give me another chance.” He left the window and perched on the corner of the desk. “How do I explain what an idiot I’ve been over the phone anyway? If only I’d listened to you earlier. 456 . “So. I think I’ve been fucking crazy.Frances Hart upbeat to relax.” “You weren’t exactly thinking straight. “I’m not calling her because I’m going over there. Ask her if she’s willing to forgive me. What’s next? When are you going to call Laura? Unless you’ve done it already.” He noted Matt’s derisive expression and smiled inwardly.” He was not prepared for the answer.” Peter was relieved to hear the self-deprecating tone in his friend’s voice.

He reached for his iPad and started bringing up the relevant information.” Matt laughed. The intention was clear. Once that’s out of the way I can hightail it back to London again where. Ask him to keep an eye on her. I should be able to talk him round especially if I promise that his movie will be finished on time even if I have to work twenty four seven what with that and the publicity for Eve’s Garden over here.” The tone was flippant. “I should have known.The Girl On The Balcony “Some romantic hero I’ve turned out to be. “What do you want me to do to facilitate all this?” “Get in touch with Stewart.” “Already done. A sound Peter had not heard for a long time. Laura didn’t like seeing me with other women. I’ll phone 457 .” Peter knew that even without a quick dash across the Atlantic the next weeks were already destined to be gruelling while Matt wrapped up Twin Target and was busy with the publicity for his other movie. Laura will be waiting. Thanks. The type of role I take on. I hope. “I’m going to call Al and set it up. But it would be worse if Matt had to spend them wondering whether he still had a future with Laura. And incidentally. that’s something else that’s going to change.

“He’s getting together a production team to do a remake of Hamlet. Heartfelt. The details could be refined later. Perhaps you’d better not tell him that.” “I’ll get the travel sorted when I get back to New York this evening. It would be a good time to change the subject Peter decided. No. Tell him that I would love to come on board. I wonder how Anna would like a trip to London.” he added as the eyebrow went up. “Thank you. “You didn’t think you were going on your own did you?” There was a poignant silence. “Tell him I’d be very interested.” Peter glanced across at his friend. Finally the reply came. He wants you for the title role. Again. You’ll never guess who phoned me yesterday.” He named a well-known director who was famed for his modern slant on Shakespeare. What do you think? Are you interested?” Matt could almost hear the crash of the surf on the beach as he recited the play’s most famous soliloquy to Laura.” The words were simple. He could also hear her response.Frances Hart Al later this evening if you could start working out the logistics. 458 . At almost any price. “Talking about different roles.

Wanted to know how true all this business was about her and said he would disown me if he had to stomach Mia as a daughter-in-law. We ought to go and join them. “Oh. There’s one other detail Stewart relayed. I was going to tell you when Julia interrupted. He was so relieved when I told him that she was very much in the past. doesn’t he? Almost back to his own self. Matt. Incidentally. “Did I tell you about her introducing me to her latest acquisition? He’s the scion of a fast food chain apparently.” He laughed. That is one helluva scary dame was how he described her.” The smile was blinding. Poor bugger. She’ll eat him alive. “He does.” It was perhaps as well Matt did not hear Anna’s response to the plans after she and Peter had started 459 .” Matt’s glance was puzzled.” Matt was nearly out of the door when Peter spoke again.” He suited the action to the word and started towards the door. “He said that Laura has booked a flight to New York in January. “He was asking me about Mia earlier.The Girl On The Balcony “I’ll tell him you like the idea and we’ll negotiate from there. I haven’t had a chance to say how much better your father looks. Economy class.

“You haven’t been for ages.” She added as the plane came into New York airspace. I know it’s only a few days but still. It’s a lot better than nothing. His heart’s never been involved before. are you coming to the pub?” It was Friday of the following week and the end of the school day. and if she really isn’t with anyone else. He’s genuinely in love and is finding that it’s not always easy. if everything does turn out all right. Or his fame. “Well. “No.Frances Hart back to New York. This time it’s different. and I must say. Isn’t it about time you came back into the land of the living?” 460 .” When her fiancé queried her conclusion she replied. If I were in her shoes. Yes.” “Laura. think about it. after all this. I’m dying to meet her. Marshall. I’d want to hear from him. He’s so used to being chased it’s been all too easy for him. “Mind you. I think it’ll do him good. I think he’s being an idiot in not phoning her. then it will have done Matt good. Some of the teachers were intending to celebrate that fact. even though half the time he never knows whether they’re chasing him or his money. He’s also had do all the chasing. even if it’s only a text. and if Matt does manage to get back together with Laura. He’s never thought twice about moving on.

” 461 . “Our elder son has decided to take a year out after university to go travelling. “And it goes without saying that we’ll miss you next term. Luckily. She had not been exactly sociable of late. “I expect Peggy will give you a lift. To find himself as he rather grandly puts it.” She was right. She knew that the nearer it got to the date of the premiere. “Yes. It’s your decision. I’ll come for a bit. Peggy was only too delighted to give her a lift.” “No need. How are we getting there?” “We’re just sorting that out.” Rachel had been conferring with Paul.” She sighed.” “He sounds as though he knows what he wants. “We’ve missed you on Fridays. I envy you going travelling. Perhaps she ought to go even though she did not really feel like it. It’s what you want. the more strung out Laura was becoming. we’ve managed to get a supply teacher for January and.” she said as she was driving along. we’ll get all your exam classes covered. by revamping the timetable.The Girl On The Balcony Rachel’s voice was teasing although Laura could hear the note of concern. Sounds a good idea.” “I’m sorry.

” “Perhaps not. You don’t mean that. “We’re having meaningful discussions at the moment. or whoever. She ought to go and say goodbye to Peggy. I’d prefer it if he was concerned with finding the money rather than himself. Sometimes I think more’s the pity. happened to you in the summer certainly set you back. She herself had decided to call it a day. he’s never been lost. “I must say that you’ve seemed a bit happier since half term. Now what is this I’ve been hearing about a pantomime?” Laura looked out into the darkened garden. As far as I know.” “Peggy. Rachel had already gone. I was getting quite worried about you at one point. “Whatever. Some of the time had been spent in being teased by the others about the fact that she could no longer be relied on to be late because she no longer left her phone behind. on the lines of where the money is going to come from.” She grinned and continued unrepentantly as she zipped past a people carrier.Frances Hart “He does that all right. He wants us to fund him to help him find himself. Luckily.” She concentrated on the road ahead as she went on. I must admit.” Peggy glanced across at her before continuing. before Laura could even begin 462 .

Just. Paul and Rick were teasing Bev. the probationer. I sound as though I’m in a Monty Python sketch. Anything. although she seemed to be holding her own. You’re my best friend. Without him life was incomplete.” Laura thought of all the worries she had had in the summer over the differences in life style: her concerns about the public nature of Matt’s life. Now. What she would give for a call or a text from Matt to come through on her phone. “had been Rachel’s reply. Any sort of sign. Laura knew that was not the real reason. Laura thought. Nothing mattered. She had come to realise that they did not matter. She ought to be sticking up for her department colleague. They were smirking about the fact that she no longer thrust Matt Steele down their throats at “every given opportunity. “Perhaps I’ve grown up. she thought.The Girl On The Balcony to formulate a reply. Her mind reverted back to her Austen 463 . She nursed her wine and lost track of the conversation. It wouldn’t be right. I can’t.” as Paul put it. apart from being with him. “How can I lust after him now?” Rachel had wailed. they had turned their sights on Rachel. She felt as though she were in limbo. “When you’re in love with him.

she thought. The class was gleeful at the way the visit rebounded on her: the fact that it resulted in Darcy coming back. I wish he were here now. I’d better go and say goodbye to Peggy. she thought. I haven’t a clue. waiting for spring. went into the garden. She recalled how astounded she had been to learn that she had been followed to the pub by a private detective. At least. I’d enjoy telling them where to go. She resisted the protests of her companions when she declared she was going and. I might be 464 . then I would know that Matt is still interested. she mused. Oh well. I wish somebody would come and demand of me that I never see Matt Steele again. She let the banter wash over her. amidst a chorus of goodbyes.Frances Hart lesson with her year eleven class. just before she had met Matt. the visit gives Elizabeth a hint that Darcy has not lost interest. They had been looking at the chapter where Lady Catherine de Bourgh comes to Elizabeth’s home to demand that she had nothing more to do with her nephew. wishing won’t get me anywhere. Bev was beginning to hit back. She remembered the last Friday of the summer term. Or else. The flowers were dormant now.

who was leaning against a post letting the smoke from his cigarette drift into the night. The smokers were all huddled together around the patio heater. After a suitable interval he followed her. It was cold outside.The Girl On The Balcony able to sleep properly at night. Ian Stewart watched Laura say her goodbyes before turning to leave on her own. thank goodness. a stranger. Not long to Leicester Square now. 465 . She shivered suddenly. apart from one hardy soul.


She had never told Matt when her birthday was. She looked at the clock.” Wishful thinking. “but did you have to call so early?” 467 . It was only just past six. She woke early to the sound of her phone. Lance. and Laura’s birthday. “Thank you. she thought muzzily. Laura. Who could be calling at this hour? Her heart leapt.” she managed. She had evidently forgotten to turn it off the night before. “Happy birthday. It was still dark outside.Chapter 25 It was the day of the Twelfth Night trip.

Frances Hart “I wanted to catch you before you left for work. look at the time. And remember.” Laura rolled her eyes. grown up celebration. That is.” “Rather you than me. I owe you a meal. “Your present is in the post. Christ. I’ll take you out for a belated birthday meal when I’m next home. if he came home. Don’t forget. “What are you doing to celebrate the big occasion?” Laura chuckled.” 468 . Her Christmas present would probably be perfume bought at the airport when he was on his way home Christmas Eve. He was equally likely to go off skiing in the Pyrenees with some of his new work colleagues. Sorry Laura but I have to go. then he went on. Some things never changed. Apologies for its lateness and all that but I’ve been up to my eyes in work.” “Did you by any chance remember that you’re an hour ahead?” “Sorry. With Philip away and the possibility of bumping in to Annabel at a party he was quite likely to stay in Spain.” was the perfunctory reply. “I’m helping to take a party of sixteen year olds to see Twelfth Night at the National. A proper.

469 . they had to check names.” “Bye Laura.The Girl On The Balcony “I’ll hold you to it. This time it was Rachel phoning to wish her a happy birthday. Bye. she had an orthodontic appointment.” The phone went again. Satisfied. big brother. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. “I can’t remember the last time he bought my present on time. count heads and tell the girls that they had to stay in their seats and wear their seat belts: the joys of the risk assessment policy. Have a fantastic day.” There was a grunt in response. Although Annabel seemed to manage quite well. “Which one is it?” Jess came bounding on to the coach. Now. “Right. pausing to wave energetically to Kirsty who was not coming.” “If only. She told Rachel about Lance’s phone call when they were in the coach and on the point of leaving for the theatre. By that time Laura was up and dressed and about to go out of the door. “Honestly. We’re one missing. Rachel was perusing the list of pupils.” she said.” Laura said a few minutes later. she handed it over. Try not to lose too many pupils on your trip. I pity the girl with whom he eventually ends up.

ready to gain some Brownie points. She was beginning to find that it got in the way when she was working. Not quite how a model student would behave. Are we all here now?” She counted heads again then nodded to the driver. She checked her hair. She lost her balance and had to hang on to the back of a seat to stop herself from falling. They came Jess’s way and she picked them up. “Right. “Thank you.Frances Hart “Sorry. It suited her. but she liked it. Jess. with the front flowing artistically over one eye. “I might have known. The sheets she had been holding jerked out of her hands. the latest colour incarnation. This hairstyle was short and shaped.” said Rachel with a sigh.” Jess looked around to see that all the seats had been taken apart from one next to Katy who was deep in a book and one across from the staff at the front. She shrugged and plonked herself in the latter seat. Can you hold on to them for a minute while I do this?” 470 . They were off before Laura realised. She was standing ready to tell the girls about wearing seat belts and reminding them not to drop litter. after losing them for being late and holding them all up. as did the warm copper beech colour.

The Girl On The Balcony Jess nodded and Laura walked a little way down the coach so that she could be heard by the whole party. This must have been taken in the summer. Nothing exciting. wow. just across from her teachers. She had reshuffled them and was looking innocently out of the window at the grey December day when Laura turned back to reclaim her papers. Her breath caught. Lots of names and addresses and other boring details. 471 . They were some way into their journey before she thought it was safe to turn on her phone. sitting immediately behind them. Rachel was looking to the back of the coach as well. there was. She was a bit vulnerable. “Thank you. She risked another glance. Their colleague. it really was him. That was helpful.” Miss Marshall was right about that. Matt Steele. sitting at the front. They both looked brilliantly happy. Jess glanced surreptitiously at the sheaf of papers. was glancing at some test papers and grimacing at the results. Perhaps she should have sat next to Katy after all. Talk about getting proof! She continued to gaze out of the window as she mulled over what she had learned. Jess. Yes. He was smiling down at her teacher. Mixed in amongst them was a photo of Miss Marshall and. Yes.

Frances Hart It was all right. At times he had despaired about getting here but he had worked round the clock and he had the satisfaction of knowing that Twin Target would be finished on time. despite his current absence. Today he was not Jonathan Mann caught up in a conflict he could not win. Matt. Nobody took any notice. There were still a few ends to tie up as a result of their impromptu trip. accompanied by Peter and Anna. He was Matt Steele and he had a very definite idea what he wanted: an English teacher to whom he had given his heart. strode into the room where Peter was working. 472 .” came from the driver. Do anything to make out they’re important. alert. “Some people. Matt’s flight into England escaped under the radar of the media and he. His mind had been too preoccupied with what lay ahead. despite having had little sleep on the long flight. She was checking her phone for texts when they stopped at some traffic lights. The adults were deep in conversation. his hair wet from his shower. A car with tinted windows going in the opposite direction had to stop as well. managed to reach the hotel undetected. He felt energized.

” He said sheepishly. They were not supposed 473 . “I can’t wait any longer. Another delay. Anna had agreed to let them go without her provided that they kept her in the loop. Jess was looking at Miss Marshall out of the corner of her eye wondering what she was going to do with her new found knowledge when her phone went. Matt was looking at the image of Laura in his phone when they stopped at yet more traffic lights.” His friend looked up.” Before long he and Peter were on their way. He groaned. She glanced at it. She must be out of school on her way to the orthodontist. Matt did not notice. He had to see Laura. “Peter. “Sure. I thought it was time to go and see if we can spring Laura from lessons. she was consoling herself with a trip to Knightsbridge in the company of their joint credit card.The Girl On The Balcony Now he was here and he could wait no longer. A coach went by in the opposite direction. “Can we have the car brought round?” The eyebrow went up. Kirsty. Why? Are you ready to go?” The carefully modulated irony was wasted. “Yes. The traffic was heavy.

She turned towards the window. He wasn’t due in London until next week but she would stake her exam results on it. I’m supposed to be in the foyer but I can’t use my phone there. He must have come early wanting to see Miss Marshall. It must be him. There’s this really smooth guy in reception asking for Miss Marshall . The women there are all over him. away from adult ears. She muttered something placatory to the oblivious English teachers to cover herself and moved quickly down the bus. waiting for my mum to come. Fantastic American accent. Not that they were listening. “Jess. “Where are you? “Just outside the front doors. can I?” 474 . and listened to what Kirsty had to say. she was still too near.Frances Hart to have their phones switched on while inside the main school building. Jess looked towards the front to where the teachers were talking. It would better if she were further away from authority. who looked up in surprise. It must be to do with Matt Steele. No.” She could hardly believe it. His car is in the car park and it’s got a chauffeur. It had to be. And tinted windows. . . She plonked herself down next to Katy.

Should she? It had to be him. Not the driver.The Girl On The Balcony “Tell me again what the guy was saying to the reception staff.” 475 . Hey. when I was signing out.” “Well. you’ll owe me. grinned at her and said. I could have told him he was wasting his time. If I’m wrong. She’s got really cool taste.” “What are you talking about?” “Can you pretend you’re on your way to meet your mum but instead of walking out of school go up to his car?” There was a half-hearted protest. If I’m right. then I owe you big time. “What. There’s no way they’d tell him without Miss Marshall’s say-so. She was going to do it. I could hear him trying to get hold of Miss Marshall. Jess glanced at Katy who was trying not to listen. can you do me a favour. Yes. Go to the back of the car. talk to the driver? What do I say?” “No. do you think he’s her boyfriend? Great clothes. he said. She had an idea. He’s not bad looking either. He wanted to know whether he could speak to her as a matter of some urgency. “Kirsty.” You don’t know the half of it Jess thought.

“What am I supposed to be saying anyway?” “Knock on the window and ask the guy inside if he wants to know where Miss Marshall is and tell him she’s on her way to the National.” Jess turned to Katy and said. Jess winked. I don’t know who’s in there. “Then what?” “I’ll leave it to you. it’s got tinted windows. The things I do for you.” Katy was eavesdropping unashamedly. “Honestly. Seems weird not knowing who you’re talking to. “But let me know what happens.Frances Hart “I told you.” This time there was a sigh. She looked at Jess questioningly. that she’s going to a matinee performance of Twelfth Night. Honestly. “Now. sometimes it was hard 476 . “Okay.” Jess knew she had won when her friend asked. we wait. I can’t see in.” There was a wail from the other end. I’m on my way.” Kirsty took a deep breath as she knocked on the darkened windows. “Isn’t this fun. Jess.” She grinned again. She waited.” Good for Kirsty.” “How do you know there’s a guy inside?” “Trust me.

It was. This was just not real. excuse me. Somebody began to emerge. Especially when there was no response.The Girl On The Balcony work being Jess’s friend.” 477 . “My friend asked me to tell you that if you want to know where Miss Marshall is.” She felt totally stupid talking to a car. She was in full view. Looking at her. That’s where my friend is too. Blow it. Kirsty’s jaw dropped. Here. “Er. Speaking to her. She checked that she had her appointment card as proof that she had a right to be out here. It could be anyone in there. She could not breathe. “Do you think you could repeat that for me please. Perhaps there was nobody in there. she’s gone to the matinee at the National theatre. It was Matt Steele. The car door opened slowly. It should be safe enough to do this. She glanced back at the school.” she quavered to the glass. One of the staff was coming her way. She could see her own reflection. The American guy was just coming away from the entrance. They’ve gone to see Twelfth Night. because the voice that was so familiar to her and to millions of fans around the world was saying to her. It couldn’t be. The American film star was in her school car park. She looked again at the school. It’s just that it’s vital to get this right.

” “It doesn’t matter. I think. He might disappear if she did. Then she went on slightly more coherently. but she’s not there and they wouldn’t tell me where she was. Goodbye. I’m very grateful.” Kirsty said in a gabble.” He turned back to Kirsty. for which I’m very grateful. Kirsty looked at it. Dazedly. Peter. We’re off to the South bank. Matt.Frances Hart “MissMarshallhasgonetotheNationaltheatretosee TwelfthNight. How many times had she fantasised about this. in case. and slowly put her hand in his.” She gulped. I left my phone number. looked at the smile and the seriously blue eyes.” He held out his hand. Her heart beat faster. “It starts at two. She was actually going to shake Matt Steele’s hand! Wait until she told Jess about this! 478 .” He looked over as Peter approached. I will be eternally grateful. This young lady has been kind enough to tell me where she is. who felt as though her jaw might return from pavement level any time soon. She could hear footsteps coming up behind her but she dared not take her eyes away from Matt Steele. “Thank you once again. It appears someone else has an inkling of what’s been happening. Laura’s gone to the theatre. “I’m sorry. “Thank you very much indeed.

The two men were in the limo and its engine was purring before Kirsty could remember how to put one foot in front of the other.” Laura was saying. Just before the car pulled away. She could not move. Then.” “What if the school wants to get in touch?” “I can’t think why. Ever. do we really want to deal with any potential crisis at a distance?” “If you put it like that. She brushed her hair away from her face. “In fact. won’t you?” Kirsty’s jaw dropped to the ground again and this time it stayed there. He had kissed her hand. 479 . “Tell Jess thank you from me.The Girl On The Balcony The film star gave her a wicked smile that made her weak at the knees. Besides. “We need to remind the girls too. instead of shaking her hand. Her knees buckled. Her mind seized.” and Rachel turned hers off too. How did he know Jess’s name? What did Jess know? What had she not been telling her? What was going on? “I must remember to turn my phone off when we get to the theatre. he kissed it. Matt Steele had kissed her hand! She was never going to wash that hand again. She added. the window came down and Matt Steele said. I might as well do it now.

” Laura glanced back. I wonder what that’s about?” “Nothing to do with Twelfth Night. admitted defeat. Their calls always are.Frances Hart They had spent the journey discussing Laura’s plan of action. Her phone was switched off. we’d better turn our minds to this afternoon. “Probably wants to use her phone to call Kirsty. trying to get hold of Laura to ask about the American visitor. Right. On the coach Jess had been telling Katy all about her suspicions concerning their teacher and Matt Steele.” Rachel commented when she noticed the empty seat across from them. looking for her daughter. When do we want them in their seats? And are we dishing out the tickets on the coach in the hope that they are not going to lose them before they get into the theatre?” At the school the receptionist. For once. Now that’s unusual. 480 . that’s for sure. Katy did not know what to say. He had left his mobile number to no avail. “Seems to be deep in conversation with Katy. occasionally glancing back to check that they still had their full complement of pupils “I see Jess has decided that Katy is the lesser of two evils. It’s bound to be important. She put the message to one side as a parent came in. The performance starts at two thirty.

” Jess stopped suddenly.” Katy finally found her voice. Chelsi. he kissed me. Miss Eliot. “Won’t the school be trying to contact Miss Marshall to tell her about the man in reception?” Jess shrugged.” Inwardly she was beginning to feel uncertain. “Jess.” They were walking along side the theatre towards the river when her phone finally went. I’m sure I am. What’s keeping you? Ring me. She’ll have to turn off her phone in the theatre so she won’t be available then. this way. “I wonder when Kirsty is going to ring? She will owe me big time. The girl walking behind cannoned into her. Matt Steele kissed me. “at least. “My mother. What are you doing?” “Sorry. Sorry. It had better be worth it. “Kirsty.” The voice was elated and nearly incoherent as she went on.” Jess said triumphantly.” Her face brightened. But at least.The Girl On The Balcony “And I was right. “Probably. I can’t wait. Come on. it’s quicker. I was a bit surprised about something that’s all. He’s now got a fighting chance of catching her up. 481 .” That grated. “Jess Armitage. Kirsty. “And we’ve got a fighting chance to see him in the flesh. What happened? Why haven’t you rung?” Kirsty answered the last question first.

what time did you tell him it started?” “Two. She had no intention of telling Miss Marshall. “It’s a long story. “What did you say.” she wailed. Kirsty?” “Matt Steele kissed me. I’ll tell you when I see you. She wondered whether she ought to inform Miss Eliot what was happening. She thought of Kirsty being kissed by Matt Steele! Huh. She kept her eye on Miss Marshall as the school party came round to the front of the theatre and were given their instructions about being in their seats with their own tickets before being let loose into the 482 . “Now. Kirsty would owe her for the rest of her life.” And she intended to see the finale of this particular drama even if it meant missing the beginning of the stage play. trying not to fall over her feet as she listened to what was being babbled over the phone.” “Thank goodness you got it wrong.” Kirsty regaled her with all the details then went on.” Suitably edited. He might just get here before it starts. “But how did you know that it would be him? Why haven’t you told me? I thought I was suppose to be your friend.Frances Hart She started to walk on again. She was looking forward to the big reconciliation scene.

Crowds were already beginning to gather for the performance. We’ll look after things here. They scattered like chickens being loosed from the coop. She gave Katy a conspiratorial grin and leaned casually against the wall waiting for her teacher to emerge again. Perhaps not into the Ladies though. Rachel heard the break in her voice. “How about a coffee?” Rachel was saying. “I’m just going outside. She noticed Jess leaning against a wall and surveying the scene. Laura could see Katy in the bookshop. She had to get away from here.” She had to get out before she burst into tears.The Girl On The Balcony theatre’s capacious foyer.” 483 . Grief swept through her. I’ll see you inside. I don’t think I could manage a coffee at this moment. The same bored counter assistant was trying not to look too impatient as a tourist fumbled with change. Half an hour in the big wide world during school time was not to be missed. Jess decided to stick with Miss Marshall like glue. Laura could not take it. “Okay. I need some fresh air. The cafeteria was full of school uniforms and members of the retired club sipping tea and trying not to notice the overly short skirts of the younger generation.

Another school party came along and disappeared with alacrity into the comparative warmth of the theatre. She had not brought her coat. She adjusted her scarf against the cold breeze coming from the river. “What will you have then. Matt Steele had better arrive soon. Jess stood outside the theatre and shivered in the cold. She must be waiting for someone. If she closed her eyes she could see him. She was back in that July afternoon and Matt was there with a tray and that incredibly forlorn muffin and asking if she could help him. She looked vaguely familiar. She looked determinedly across the river and saw nothing.” Laura leaned against the railings and struggled to combat tears.Frances Hart She watched as Laura went swiftly out through the door then turned to their colleague and said brightly. She glanced around to see if there was anyone else foolish enough to be outside. She would be late for the performance if something 484 . Some tourists stopped to take a photo. It was all coming back to her like a flood tide. It was no good. Jess looked back towards Miss Marshall who was still gazing across the river. Bev? I’ll treat you. Jess glanced at her watch. A girl with auburn hair came hurrying from the other direction and slowed to a stop when she reached the theatre building.

“It started at two. She could hardly breathe.” His eyes swept the area. It was Matt Steele. They’ll have gone in by now. He was looking in the direction of the river. They had come round the corner as Peter was speaking.The Girl On The Balcony did not happen soon. ask them to locate her and then get her out of there. She had instructed Katy to cover for her in the meantime. She had to repeat it to herself. What are you going to do? You will have to wait until the interval. She saw the figure familiar from the screen striding along. Her heart thudded. It was Matt Steele. recognised the way he moved. you said. It had to be him. Then he saw the figure standing with her back to the theatre. It was him. 485 . At last. Laura. He was saying something to his companion as they came nearer. Matt. His heart lurched. scanning the area anxiously. There were not many people about. She noticed two men coming on to the front concourse. He stopped suddenly. I’m going to contact the management. looking across to the other side of the river. He had seen Miss Marshall.” “No I won’t. It had to be Matt Steele. She was so beautiful.

Frances Hart The voice which he had ignored for so long whispered. “No need. not when she was supposed to be a responsible adult looking after a crowd of schoolgirls. she wanted for her birthday present. guess what. Started again. Slowly she turned. She could hear them. “I hope you can help me. There were no prizes for guessing what. There she is. She could not go into the theatre looking like this. At last. He was here. Finally. I’ve found her. They were not in her head. They were coming from behind her.” Her heart stopped. she was not having a ball. “Excuse me. otherwise I’m lost. It was her birthday and. either. hearing a well-loved voice in her head saying. She ought to be inside helping with the students. This one. He said quietly to Peter. or who. 486 . They were real. Matt. not waiting outside.” The voice continued. and she could certainly not cry if she wanted to. Those words. Laura scrubbed at her eyes with the heel of her hand. let alone a party. Do you think that you could possibly help me out here.” He went to her.

connected together as though they were one entity. “Sorry. Their lips met. I’m so sorry. she decided firmly. Forgive me?” “I’m sorry Matt. “Laura. they were never going to be parted again. that was it. She went to join him. At last. Laura. Eventually they could manage words. They never knew who moved first. Then they were in each other’s arms clinging to each other as though they were never going to let go. her eyes fixed on Matt and his long lost love. It was the cold outside. Behind them the auburn haired girl waved at Peter who was coming to meet her. looked at her watch.The Girl On The Balcony Laura and Matt stared at each other for a long second.” she murmured as she brushed against a teenage girl whose eyes were on stalks looking at the couple kissing. The girl came to with a start. She had seen the desperation in the figures as they merged together in mutual need. exclaimed something and hurried inside. This was where they belonged. Will you forgive me?” 487 . It was quite sweet really. Jess brushed away a tear as she went through the doors in a rush.

To the end of time.” Peter and Anna watched them go.Frances Hart The words were replicas. She was where she wanted to be. He hugged Anna tightly.” Peter replied. At last. His body remembered how good she felt. When do you think that Matt will remember us?” “Not for a long time.” 488 . the conviction in the words caused Laura’s eyes to swim.” He added more robustly. “Well. The soft words were whispered. “More to the point. that’s our lift gone.” The warmth. Wrapped in the warmth of Matt’s arms Laura felt as though her world had returned to an even keel again. “Let’s go home. She must be wondering where Laura’s got to. “I love you Laura. Matt could smell Laura’s perfume. And superfluous. when will Miss Marshall remember that she has a few pupils in her care? Perhaps we ought to locate her colleague and inform her about what’s happened.” They gazed at each other. They drank in each other. feel the softness of her skin. How could he have doubted her for one moment? This was where he should be. stared into each other’s eyes. “I hope. “I love you.

“Miss Eliot.The Girl On The Balcony Inside the theatre. She heard a rustle beside her. She did not see or hear anything of the first two scenes. where was Laura? She had seen her distress but knew she could not follow her. Someone had to be here with all the rest of the party checking to see that their students were all in place. Jess slid into her seat just as the house lights dimmed and. which had better be in the next few seconds. She saw her give a thumbs up sign to Katy sitting on her other side before whispering. Matt Steele came. There was still one missing. Damn. More importantly. She’s gone with him. Rachel looked anxiously around. It was not until the third scene that the laughter caused by the arrival of Sir Andrew Aguecheek gave Jess the opportunity to speak again under cover of its noise. Orsino started to proclaim: If music be the food of love. She whispered. Where was Jess Armitage? She would skin her alive when she saw her next. do you think Miss Marshall still prefers Johnny Depp?” 489 . against the noise of the storm raging outside. “Miss Marshall is okay.” Rachel sat pole axed.


He had even conjured up a supply teacher for the last weeks of term and was paying her salary. She had arrived that morning and was due to start later. In fact. she was leaving after morning break. It was her last day. she did not stand a chance against his formidable negotiating skills.Epilogue Rachel came up the stairs to see Laura sitting in the English office. after Laura’s last two lessons with her examination classes. The term was not ended but the indomitable Peter Yates had smoothed over Laura’s non-appearance at school after the theatre trip and had persuaded the Head to let her leave her post early. staring round as though imprinting the surroundings on her memory. 491 .

Except one. She would never be the object of his desire. She had gazed at the face that had graced her bedroom wall for years. She had also met Matt Steele briefly before he had flown back to the States. He was drop dead gorgeous. She had looked into those wonderful eyes. and it was all so different. They hugged. but not with her.Frances Hart Rachel had met Matt Steele’s friend at the theatre—which was an education in itself. Life would be very different after this. They were as blue as she had imagined them to be. although not for the usual reasons. He fulfilled all of her fantasies. He was deeply in love. His voice had that distinctive timbre that still made her shiver. It was still as breathtakingly handsome. He had spoken to her. That was a moment she had dreamed about for years. They drew apart and Rachel picked up Laura’s hand to examine her engagement ring although the flawless diamond on her finger was out shone 492 . this production of Twelfth Night was one she would always remember. “Reminding yourself of what you’re leaving behind?” Laura stood up when she heard Rachel’s voice and came towards her.

” Her news had surprised her brother. He had been lost for words.” Matt had told her about Julia’s role in their drama. “Matt’s warned me about his father. 493 . or nearly. can’t come but he’s sent his best wishes. Their engagement was now official. Matt had returned to England the previous day. He has good taste. he’s marrying me. She knew he had recovered his usual aplomb when. They flew in this morning with his younger sister. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Annabel finds out. he said. the press release about their engagement was scheduled for midday.” “Of course. “My parents are coming too. of course. but you’ll soon see for yourself.The Girl On The Balcony by the happiness shining in Laura’s eyes. She was incandescent. “I wonder if I ought to be the one to tell her. Laura stopped. “It’s beautiful. Lance.” Rachel was due to meet them at the premiere. This state had not lasted long. when are you meeting the in-laws?” “Tonight. “So. isn’t he?” Their laughter echoed down the stairs. after the warm congratulations. He had been totally flabbergasted and had refused to believe her initially.” She relayed this to Rachel with a mischievous chuckle and then went on.” and had continued smoothly.

For some reason. I’ve got some free time then. I wanted to get some work done before I send in the cavalry.” Laura replied. Talk about baptism of fire. No wonder she didn’t make it to assembly this morning.Frances Hart shook her head. “I’m using a visual aid instead. I can’t wait to see it. I didn’t manage to finish it.” “Where is he.” “Are you doing your panto with them?” “No. Rachel changed the subject before Laura became overwhelmed by emotion. Mind if I come along to hear the visual aid in action?” “Of course not. “I can still hardly believe it.” “She probably thinks it’s Christmas come early.” “It will be worth it.” Laura laughed.” “Oh. incidentally?” “He’s been in with the Head for about twenty minutes. It’s like a dream.” 494 . “Then I’ve got the sixth form with Hamlet.” “Just wait until you’re on the red carpet at the premiere and all those cameras are flashing in your face. “was the quiet reply. “What are you doing this morning?” “I’ve got my last ever lesson on Pride and Prejudice any minute now.

Laura looked at the clock.The Girl On The Balcony Laura looked at her class. Yes. The girls were more interested in moaning about the fact that she was leaving them. “Don’t forget that it’s always a good idea to know where the most relevant quotations are so you can find them quickly. although in the case of the latter pair it tended to be spasmodic. congratulating her on her engagement. She knew it for a fact. in preparation for the school exams in January. It was time to bring this part of the lesson to an end.” 495 . They were supposed to be working on the theme of marriage in Pride and Prejudice. Katy?” she queried as the student flicked back her pony tail and asked whether there was a suitable quotation to underline Austen’s views on the marriage between her hero and heroine. Rumours had been flying through the school like wild fire. Only Katy. She had spent much of the time pretending that she had not heard the buzz about her engagement ring. Jess and Kirsty were giving any concentration to the lesson. and speculating about her fiancé than they were in thinking about the marriage between Elizabeth and Darcy. They sat with smug smiles on their faces as Chelsi with an “i” whispered to her neighbour that Miss Marshall was marrying George Clooney.

You’re not in trouble. She could certainly see why Laura was marrying him. I believe. “Austen first. “Is Laura still intending to do her pantomime that Peggy was telling me about?” Matt smiled at her. She tried to concentrate on the fact that she was a professional 496 .” The two girls looked up from their collective admiration of their teacher’s engagement ring. The hesitant knock at the door came as the Head was asking Matt about his plans for the morning. She could see why he was an object of desire for so many of her girls. After they had gone Laura turned to the class. “Jess. Don’t worry. I wonder if you can find it yourself. then Hamlet. way back at the end of the summer term?” Before she had met Matt and fallen in love. “Well. “Yes Miss Marshall?” “Could you go down to the Head’s office for me please. Kirsty. as you know. Can any of you by chance remember our very first lesson on it.” she added.Frances Hart “There’s one just before Darcy reappears on the scene.” was the response. The Head resisted the temptation to fan herself. that was our very last lesson on Pride and Prejudice.

We’re hoping to start shooting Hamlet in the fall and I’m having a go at the title role. Jess dropped her hand away from the door and looked at Kirsty. honestly the Head was so boring about skirt lengths. The knock came again. 497 . and took hold of the door handle.” he was saying.” The Head made a mental note to check Laura’s timetable to see where she was teaching. She just might go and observe. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’m acting out bits for her class.” Finally. this time more strongly. She tried not to drool at the expensive Italian leather jacket worn with a casual shirt. that killer body.” Laura has decided I need to rehearse for one of my future movies. They walked into the study and stopped abruptly. Now they would find out why the Head wanted them. as a familiar figure uncoiled himself from a chair and came towards them.” He grinned wickedly. She unrolled her skirt at the waistband one more time. unable to move. starting today I gather. “Laura has promised to help me. the jeans that looked as though they were moulded on those long legs. “No.The Girl On The Balcony career woman and was happily married. “Come in.

Hello Kirsty. “Thank you. They finally found their voices when they opened them and. In fact. Matt Steele. Matt inclined his head in response. it said. would make of his invitation.” Matt said. his best buddy in the Security business. He recalled the note that accompanied it: Sometimes you do catch Hollywood stars standing around outside because they haven’t got invites. to their delight and incredulity. it’s a pleasure. grinning at their stunned faces.Frances Hart “Hello Jess.” was the Head’s comment. being hosted by Matt Steele himself. Jess. I gather you’re staying until after break for Laura’s farewell to the Staff?” 498 .” and he held out two envelopes. Steele to your lesson. “I reckoned you deserved some recognition so I thought you might like these. discovered that they and their parents were invited to the premiere of Eve’s Garden and to a private party afterwards. Yours.” He wondered what Len. it’s not often we see you speechless. “Now. I believe you have the onerous task of escorting Mr. so I’ll say goodbye for now. I would be really interested to hear your views on the movie. “Well. “they chorused dazedly. I gather I have you two to thank for getting me to the theatre so quickly. “No problem.

They knew where they would happen to be at break time. ladies.” a second student chimed in. Her engagement ring caught the light as he kissed her 499 . “Good morning. when Laura heard the sound of feet coming up the stairs. He stood in front of the class and smiled at them.” Laura was saying mischievously. Mr. The glamour of Hollywood strolled into their classroom.” The class gasped. “Then we wrote on the whiteboard about what our perfect hero would be like. and raise her left hand.The Girl On The Balcony Matt nodded. Steele. Now. “Yes. The girls’ ears pricked. go and enjoy Pride and Prejudice. as the door opened. “I will see you then.” “I thought of that lesson when I was wondering what to give you as a farewell present.” one girl contributed. if you remember. all that is apart from Katy who was searching for that elusive quotation.” The girls were in the middle of recalling details about that first lesson way back in July. Complete silence followed as they watched him go towards their teacher. The world of fact and fantasy collided. “and we included the names of stars like Matt Steele.

and they could see that this smile was for her alone. would most suit her. He smiled at her.Frances Hart fingers. She looked up. as film star and teacher exchanged a look of warmth and intimacy that told the world that they were in love. “Oh. who.” The class cheered. He was exactly the man. 500 . The girls’ eyes caught the promise in his. And would be till the end of time.” Katy’s voice rose against the silence. in disposition and talents. “I’ve got it.

About the Author "The Girl on the Balcony" is the author's debut novel and has been influenced by her fascination with literature throughout her career as an English teacher. 501 . Two of the secondary characters will feature in her next novel. she lives in south east England. Married with two adult daughters.

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