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The Hairdresser Murders - 7

I Want Him Dead Straight


Mike O’Sullivan

Copyright © 2019 by Mike O’Sullivan

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Chapter 1

March 3 - Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, England

The value of everything was important to Carol who had squeezed herself out of places of not much value and was now a stylist at Mirror Images Hair Salon in Ross on Wye, with a client list that included some astonishing, extraordinary women. These women had chosen her because of her light touches, fancy cuts, innovative styles and the quirky way she had of turning everything into positive. To the other hairdressers she was a little odd but serious fun when she turned it on.

She was a slight woman of twenty-one, five feet five tall, with long fair hair that had been called dirty blonde by someone who took away a man she had dated twice and with whom she had, because of it, had a turbulent few weeks. She had two outstanding features that men could take to, nice legs, and unusual light green eyes. She was overall pretty. But sometimes that wasn’t enough. Personality meant something. And she was quiet most of the time. But she had decided recently to indulge in life a little more and to do that she knew she had to come out of herself. That didn’t mean being someone else, but it did mean making a splash.

Carol had decided to do that gradually with her clothes because drawing attention to her slight build would take some courage. She started with shorter skirts, fitted tops and extravagantly coloured shoes. She kept her clothes to primary colours. Intensity she thought would show up more. The only thing she worried about was that despite her improved hair highlights and new make-up, she looked younger for it maybe only sixteen or seventeen. That had it’s drawbacks of which getting served in bars was the oddest and could be embarrassing, with some really creepy men offering to help her out. So she thought she had to find a way to put youthful appearance to her advantage.

But first she had to get to the places where she could assure herself that straight men existed. She had had a conversation with Sophie and a few of the others at Mirror Images over drinks one Saturday after work at a local wine bar called The Grapes. They took a table in the window at one corner of the bar. Earlier, while still in the salon at the clearing up stage, Sophie had asked Carol what she was looking for in a man. Carol hadn’t hesitated in her reply.

‘I want him dead straight.’

So Sophie and another stylist Louise had offered to help. They thought she needed help. They all called in at the wine bar on their way home before they got ready for Lauren Canning’s party that evening. Lauren was another of the hair stylists at Mirror Images. The idea was that the wine bar would be an interlude before the party at Lauren’s big penthouse apartment at Hope Hall, now famed as the ultimate party venue. Everyone knew Lauren didn’t boast about the fact that she was wealthy. She had once told Carol she wanted to be part of the salon not the country set. But Lauren was part of the country set because of her wealth. Still, Carol thought, she must take everyone’s advice on her first big foray into glossy company so Lauren would definitely be able to help.

‘Just what is your idea of straight Carol?’ Sophie who was five years older than Carol and married to a carpenter, asked her.

But before Carol could answer Louise interrupted. ‘There’s hardly anyone who you could describe as ‘dead straight’ Carol. Men have different sides to them. Setting aside the gay ones and the ones who might wear women’s clothes occasionally, there are straight men who are into religion, porn, playing around, sport, business, and computer gaming, just for a range off the top of my head, and all of those interests might come before women. You might think they are straight. But if for example you hit on a religious nut, you might find that although you might be comfortable in bed, you can’t be compared with God and he might sometimes have to choose between God and you. So do you see where I’m coming from Carol?’

‘I see that you could make it more complicated Louise.’

Sophie added ‘Louise you forgot to mention that some of them have mothers you have to get by before you get to the man. If his mother is against you, and you want to know him better, he could side with his mother and no amount of straightness might get him to you.’

‘Are you trying to get me to think again about what I want?’ Carol asked.

‘What I think we are both saying Carol,’ Louise tried to point out ‘is that there may be no chance of meeting a ‘dead straight’ man. Take something simple like a straight haircut. He or she might want a straight haircut, but one person’s straight cut might be another person’s nightmare. So when you look at the head you know immediately what they mean by a straight haircut but someone sitting in the next seat might think ‘I better not ask for a straight haircut, in case I end up looking like her.’

‘Then what you must take into account is the difference in other people’s perceptions Carol,’ Sophie advised. ‘Smart set blokes will have different needs than say a carpenter when it comes to talking or acting straight. Then there are the military blokes, generals, captains and privates all wanting something different and possibly all of it straight. They could be straight backed or straight laced, stiff and pompous, and yet they might think they are being straight. Even their women might think they are straight while we might think they are just stuffed shirts. So have you got it yet Carol?’

‘I think you are trying to dilute my wants in a man, you two,’ Carol responded, not sure of their humour. She hadn’t expected to open up such a discussion because more than anything it was exposing the kind of man she might end up with at the party and they would be looking to see if she had taken their advice.

‘Instead of straight, diluted might be the best way of thinking about it Carol,’ Sophie quipped ‘you really can’t get a concentrated man of any kind that would not be better by being diluted. The concentrated version would be too much for you to stomach.’

‘Besides,’ Louise added ‘if he was that concentrated he might not notice you.’

‘You are going to make me feel self-conscious at the party,’ Carol complained.

‘Whose fault is that Carol?’ Sophie asked but answered her own question.

‘There could be as few as fifty or possibly upwards of one hundred and fifty at the party Carol,’ Louise advised ‘so we probably won’t get the chance to keep an eye on you all the time. That’s not the reason for us going. And we may ourselves feel a little intimidated but that is half the reason why we look forward to going. It’s one thing having them sitting down in the chair in the salon while we are in charge, but it’s something completely different being face to face and being appraised at a party especially after a few drinks. And believe me you’ll need a few drinks to get by some of the conversation you might get into.’

‘So it can be quite frightening too,’ Carol concluded. ‘Still you won’t put me off going.’

‘That’s not our intention,’ Sophie responded. ‘We’ll feel a lot more at home with more of us from the salon being there.’

‘So what kind of people turns up?’ Carol asked trying her best to pass off the question as a lazy conversation piece.

‘I suppose it depends on who’s at home in Ross at the time,’ Louise advised as if she had been to lots of Lauren’s parties when in fact she’d only been to two. ‘Most of the people in the big houses spend their time in London or abroad. You know I once met two Lords in quick succession each trying to charm me. The youngest was about seventy. Maybe he took me for one of the caterers and thought I was on the menu. I was only nineteen at the time. They like us young when they get to that old age. But they could have been straight guys Carol. Even though they hinted at offering something they might not have been able to deliver.’

‘And what couldn’t they deliver?’ Carol asked.

‘They couldn’t deliver desire in me,’ Louise stated. ‘But they thought their titles would impress and I suppose they thought they had enough charm to compensate.’

‘And they really expected it would work out for them?’ Carol asked.

‘It might not have occurred to them,’ Louise stated ‘that titles and pensioner’s charm would only go so far.’

‘Did the hostess say anything?’ Carol asked.

‘Lauren expects that we are all old enough to look after ourselves,’ Louise responded.

‘And are we?’ Carol asked.

‘Well,’ Sophie took up on the explanation ‘that depends on how many men we come across, straights and deviants. If the answer is none, then we might be flattered by the attention and flirt with anyone we fancy even if they look like bastards. On the other hand it isn’t a classroom where there are rules. Nothing is written down, no rules to follow, you are on your own. One thing I think worth mentioning to you Carol is that with all the hysteria about under-age sex, and being that you now look younger, don’t be put off. Men don’t change and they don’t expect women, even extremely young women, to change either. My younger sister is seventeen and she’s going out with a man who is thirty four. Her friend is only sixteen and she’s picked up a man who we have worked out must be thirty six. So looking young even in this liberal age with all the media hype, doesn’t interfere with men’s needs.

Louise interrupted ‘But older men do usually know what they are doing and often look after themselves more, especially the wealthier ones. That can make them appealing. But why did you ask about whether we are old enough to look after ourselves? Haven’t you had any brushes with a proper man yet?’

‘Well I don’t know if you’d call Dave a brush,’ Carol explained.

‘At least brushes are straight,’ Louise pointed out.

‘When was it?’ Sophie enquired.

‘Two weeks ago at my friend Jane’s. She’d organised this party at her place, It’s just a small apartment. There must have been thirty people there and most of them were men.’

‘That’s how l like it,’ Louise exclaimed.

Carol continued ‘Yes but some of them were old, maybe forty. I didn’t know how forty year olds came to be there. It would be like inviting your father. The women were young, you know from about sixteen to around twenty me being almost the oldest. My friend Jane has a boyfriend and they were doing the food, drink and music. The rest of us mostly drank. I thought on the whole it was quite grown up and then I met Dave. He was one of the older men. He told me he was a managing director of his own company and tried to impress by pointing to his car parked out in the street. It was a Porsche. But you see my friend Katie, who’s only eighteen, went off with a chap in a Porsche after a party only last month and he stopped in a quiet place and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’d expected her to give in immediately. She resisted to the point of trying to get out of the car. But she said it was all a tight squeeze and she thought he wouldn’t be able to do anything with her. She didn’t want him to drive off and leave her out in the wilds. Eventually he had persisted so much that she gave in just to get it over with in case he turned really violent. She got his car registration number because he hadn’t used a condom and she wasn’t protected. Anyway, you see I knew it could happen in a Porsche. The other thing is that because I look younger in my new clothes, blokes often take me for sixteen and Lauren says that I can sometimes give the impression of actually being sixteen. I don’t want to move in circles of sixteen year olds though.’

‘You want a mature man,’ Louise concluded.

‘Someone older than me would do,’ Carol responded.

‘And forty?’ Sophie put to her.

‘Well there’s older and then there’s ancient,’ Carol related ‘and Dave was a bit bordering on ancient.’

‘Did you get the tone of that Sophie?’ Louise teased ‘she was at least considering him.’

‘Well I thought a few minutes conversation and flirting with a man old enough to be my father might be interesting. It might give me some experience for the future.’

‘And if he thought you were sixteen it might have excited you to raise some hopes for him. Is that it?’

‘Some men like us young,’ Carol answered looking like she was speaking from long experience and had to defend herself. ‘I wondered how far he would go in a crowd. But I should have known that everyone else was so hung up with each other that they wouldn’t have noticed what went on.’

‘So you must have fancied him a bit Carol,’ Sophie suggested.

‘Well he wasn’t bad looking and he spoke nicely. His clothes were lovely and he was really trying to impress me. Anyway there wasn’t anyone else around who was interesting so I thought I might learn more by talking with him. He took my interest to be more than I intended, so there was little time to work my way into it and by that time we were in a corner of the darkened room and he had his hands on my boobs and was kissing my neck. You know the full seduction thing and he knew what he was doing. So I took his head in my hands to look right into his eyes to try to work out how he was thinking. He seemed to have the hots for me. I could feel it and he was progressing faster than I could counter him. He’d got his hand up my skirt by then. I was getting a bit worried because it was getting towards midnight and it was pouring with rain outside and everyone was talking of going home. Well to shorten the tale…..’

‘We don’t want any abridged version Carol,’ Sophie declared ‘do we Louise?’

‘It wouldn’t be fair on us Carol,’ Louise stated.

‘Well I realised I had no way of getting home except in his Porsche.’

‘And you knew what happened to your friend who took a ride back home in a Porsche,’ Louise added.

‘I knew there were several places where he could stop if he wanted so I was thinking as we drove past them that, well, we’d got past that hurdle. But he did stop before we reached my place so I panicked a bit. He said it was only so that he could kiss me goodnight out of sight of my house. Then he started to fiddle with my blouse as we kissed goodnight and he had his hand under my skirt again. Before I knew it he had my knickers nearly off and begged me to let him keep them.’

‘Oh yeh,’ Sophie sneered.

‘He got all emotional and I’d never been in that position before so didn’t have any idea what to do. He wasn’t hugely strong but he was stronger than me. I wasn’t so much fending him off as talking to him. But I thought he was past any words I could use. He was persuading me over my words. He persisted so much I decided in the end to let him take my knickers off and let him have them. Then far from my expectations of what he would do he just moved his hand inside my tights and you know used his fingers. He told me how beautiful I was and how he would love to see me again. He said lots of things that were all romantic and flattering, like in the movies. And I thought it would only take one more thing for him to fall in love with me.’

‘So how long were you in that position with him Carol,’ Sophie asked her.

‘Quite some time,’ Carol admitted.

‘And he had his hand there all that time?’ Sophie kept up the interrogation.

‘So he knew what he was doing then,’ Louise concluded.

‘Well yes,’ Carol confessed.

‘How did you feel?’ Sophie asked her.

‘It was nice,’ Carol confessed.

‘And did it finish all right,’ Sophie continued the third degree.

‘Well I don’t think I should say. It was just nice that’s all Sophie.’

‘Yeh you came. That’s what I meant,’ Sophie confirmed.

‘Then what?’ Louise asked.

‘Well we looked at each other for about a minute. It was a long time. And I knew that he wasn’t going to do anything else. He was looking at me like he loved me. I don’t know how I could tell, I just could.’

‘So here you are in a sports car with an ancient who has your knickers in his pocket and you almost bare to the world in a darkened road, how did you feel?’ Louise asked.

‘Well I don’t know. He could have been nasty but he was nice to me. That’s how I felt about him. He was old could have been my father but I just thought that maybe, just maybe, if he asked me I could see him again.’

‘Oh Louise, did you hear that,’ Sophie exclaimed. ‘She’s into mature men.’

‘Is he married Carol?’ Louise asked.

‘Well we didn’t discuss that,’ Carol responded ‘but he gave me his business card and his private phone number so I thought he might not be married. He could be divorced. But that is as far as I have thought about him.’

‘How did you feel when you got to your place,’ Louise asked.

‘I was surprised how I felt. I felt like I had achieved something.’

‘I suppose there is something in it, seducing an older man. I think that is why you felt good Carol,’ advised Louise.

‘There is a difference though between his lust and your feeling good,’ Sophie said. ‘I mean it could all turn out all right for the both of you. But you would be dating an older man.’

‘I’m thinking about it Sophie. I have his number. He is leaving it to me to call him. Although he knows where I live and could call anytime I think he is leaving it up to me.’

‘Does that mean she is in control Louise?’ Sophie asked.

‘It could do,’ Louise agreed. ‘That’s a powerful place to be Carol. ’

‘You might not want to be,’ Sophie added ‘with someone so ancient. I’ve been thinking,’ she said looking to the ceiling for inspiration ‘of any man about forty that I might fancy but I can’t think of one for the minute.’

‘I think maybe it’s different if you never saw him before,’ Louise mused ‘and he just arrived in your life because he fancied you. I think there is a chance that you could be flattered and possibly accept him for the immediate situation you were in.’

‘Well I might have been able to accept that at one time I suppose,’ Sophie agreed. So Carol are you going to contact him?’ she asked.

‘I haven’t decided,’ Carol admitted. She was holding her glass out in front of her like she was trying to defend her position or that of her man.

‘And you weren’t going to say a word to us,’ Louise said almost accusingly, ‘do you feel better for telling us Carol?’

‘I think I do,’ Carol admitted. ‘It means somehow that I have spread any decision I take between the three of us, if that makes sense.’

‘I can see the sense Carol,’ Sophie confirmed ‘otherwise you could be taking a very lonely decision on your own and feel terrified about the outcome. At least now you can talk with us.’

‘So have you got any secrets Louise,’ Carol asked ‘that you might do better to share in case we can better the odds on getting to the right man for you?’

‘Not many,’ she replied.

‘What about Peter then?’ Sophie reminded her. ‘We have to even things up for Carol.’

‘Well it was a drinks do at the Gardener hotel in Ross where this eighteen year old, Peter, came up to me with a glass of Dutch courage and started to chat. I mean you know what a difference of five years makes with a young bloke, we were on different planets. He wasn’t bad looking but his mind was on my boobs from the moment we started to chat. I think why he’d got ahead of himself was that he had gone to public school and thought as a result that local Ross women owed him a grace that just doesn’t exist. I could see he had something between his legs that needed airing and he was having difficulty ignoring it I decided that he had probably had two pints already and was holding his third. But I was not in a hurry to have a hungry male of any age who was lusting after me, move on so quickly so I lingered.’

‘A disgrace really,’ Sophie smirked.

‘Still I can identify with that,’ Carol admitted ‘the difference is that I look sixteen when I am twenty one and you Louise are twenty-three and look your age, mature I should think to an eighteen year old’.

‘And,’ interrupted Sophie ‘you know the clothes you wear at parties make your boobs stand out. I’m guessing they would mesmerise a schoolboy.’

‘Given the state he was in, I tried to distract him with talk about boys changing rooms after rugby games and the frequency that they might bump up against one another in the shower room with nothing on,’ Louise recounted. ‘I tried to get him to admit that the statistics say a number of them might fancy each other and did he ever notice because there was certainly one way that would give them away. He was a bit coy about that.’

‘I bet,’ Carol muttered.

‘Well we went on from there before he could get into any defensive position.’

‘That’s a new one on me,’ Sophie giggled.

‘Then I moved things on from the hypothetical to the nitty gritty. I decided to laud it while I was in total control. I pulled out a few more statistics for him to ponder on while his eyes were still glued to my boobs. I told him how long it would take him on average to get a woman sufficiently aroused to want to have sex and how fast a man could get it on with another man.’

‘So you were back to the changing rooms,’ Carol noted.

‘He was looking a bit sheepish by that time. But I didn’t let up on him, why should I? He was the one who thought he was God’s gift, but so at the same time I sort of left the door partially open so that kept him anticipating that I could offer him the chance with me. Then I asked him how he managed to get from Hereford to Ross and he told me he drove. I got out of him that he had an Audi TT and I that made me think for a moment about cruising the lanes in a nice car with a young bloke in tight white jeans and clearly interested. I asked him to show me his car and we went out to the car park and sat in his Audi. I started to guide him how I would like him to treat me while at the same time opening his pants and pulling out his business and playing with it. He must have taken less than a minute to climax in my hands. He was a bit of a mess and I told him he would have to do better than that. When he could control his infatuation and hunger for me for longer than a few minutes, I would welcome him to try again.’

‘So you left him with his stuff all over his white jeans,’ Carol asked for confirmation.

‘Yes I held it straight up purposely and it came down as I expected on his jeans. He wasn’t all that disappointed but I’ll bet he’ll be careful about who he approaches in future.’

‘So I don’t suppose you were as cruel to him as you could have been,’ Sophie surmised ‘but you can see Carol, women can have an edge and use it for whatever reason they want.’

‘How about you Sophie?’ Carol asked her.

‘I don’t want to go into that much as I’d like to help you out, I’m married and it would not be fair on my husband, Bob. You never know how these things could get out into the clear air and blow about for me to face somewhere down the road.’

‘I suppose that’s understandable Sophie,’ Carol agreed. ‘Who’s to say when any event you might describe took place, before or after getting married. And I can see trouble in that.’

‘So do all these tales of escapades in sex set us up for the party tonight or set us on edge?’ Louise asked them.

‘I’d like to be more on edge,’ Carol stated ‘that way I am more excited about what could happen.’

‘So who is going to do the driving this time?’ Louise asked.

‘I think it’s my turn,’ Sophie volunteered. ‘And anyway I would do the driving because Bob will want to drink. So I’ll pick you both up around eight and we can go to Zoe’s hotel for a drink first.’

‘She’s a friend of Lauren’s isn’t she?’ Carol asked for confirmation.

‘Yes,’ Louise confirmed. ‘It’s her first year with the hotel. Just think, she’s only Lauren’s age.’

‘That’s good going,’ Carol declared.

‘It was amazing when they opened the hotel, the party was great, the people the food, the drink. They haven’t looked back,’ Louise recalled. ‘Now it’s the must-go-to place for people before setting off for parties.’

‘And Zoe hasn’t had the time to look back,’ Sophie told them. ‘She loves it. She told me once that she often wonders what set her on the road to the hotel business.’

‘So are we all settled then,’ Carol concluded. ‘I must get back home to work out what to wear.’

The other two looked at each other as she left.

‘Well I never,’ Louise exclaimed. ‘I’ll have to look at her in this new light now.’

‘Do you think she will chase this ancient Dave?’ Sophie wondered.

‘Do you know Sophie, I have the sneakiest suspicion she might.’

‘I suppose,’ Sophie suggested ‘it depends from where she starts. Recently I have noticed with her new image that more men are giving her attention. I think she’s had a rough time up to now. Her father left when she was ten and her mother became a bit of an alcoholic. Carol has never said, but everyone else thinks Carol had to look after her mother even though she was only eleven or otherwise run the risk of being taken into a children’s home. It must have been really tough. I don’t know how I’d have coped. But she managed to get her mother off the drink. I don’t know how she would have found the strength of character to do that.’

‘So does she still live at home?’ Louise asked.

‘Well cruelly her mother took up with a new bloke when Carol was sixteen and still at school. He started to interfere with Carol and so she left and got into a house with two other women, she’s still there.’

‘They must have been nice people to take a schoolgirl in,’ Louise suggested.

‘They were teachers and although Carol hasn’t said anything about them I get the impression that they may be lovers.’

‘Well I suppose Carol had no choice. But presumably they keep it under wraps and Carol must feel pretty safe there.’

‘With that kind of background I think that explains why she looked such a drab waif when she first came to Mirror Images. It’s probably only recently that she’s had any money to begin to splash out on new clothes,’ Sophie suggested. ‘She must feel a little more confident in herself to get into the kind of outfits she wears now.’

‘It has certainly changed her image,’ Louise added ‘and men’s attitudes to her.’

‘I get the impression,’ Sophie related ‘that she is happy where she is now and that the ancient she might be contemplating might be the long term answer, but she is not sure whether she is ready for it.’

‘Love has its benefits I’d say,’ Louise sighed ‘but I suppose no amount of experience can get it for you. It can help you but it can’t deliver unless you are lucky. She deserves luck.’

‘And you Louise do you feel you deserve luck or are you all right as you are?’

Louise was twenty three and full of fun, although she perhaps did not recognise how her classic beauty and very ample breasts often intimidated men of her own age. Her female friends therefore by contrast, did not feel overshadowed by her good looks, and felt that Louise never quite achieved the recognition she deserved.

‘I’m in no hurry Sophie. I’ve got a beautiful room in a lovely house with two other women who are friendly, take their turns at cleaning and are good fun socially. We are all OK with bringing friends back and their staying over. We help each other when we need it. So I wouldn’t change my life for the moment. And you Sophie how is married life treating you?’

‘Better than I thought Louise. I had this idea that being only with one man forever might cramp my style and weaken my taste for adventure. But that hasn’t happened. We get on great. The only problem I see on the horizon and it isn’t one yet, is when Bob wants to start a family. I’m not into playing happy families. I’m not sure about having to go through pregnancy and then bring up children. I don’t know if we could afford childcare but I would not want to stay at home. I like it at the salon. We can have a laugh each day. There is always something going on. I’d miss it. But so far that potential problem has not surfaced. I might think differently in a few years time.’

‘Well I’ll be asking you. You are ahead of me in the marriage game. It would be nice to be forewarned of the things that might occur so that maybe I could avoid the worst of them and go for the best bits.’

‘Well I’m only one married person Louise. I’m sure others will have different views.’

‘Oh it’s still a valid view Sophie.’

‘Do you think we should push off home now Louise. I need to get a few things organised before we set off for Lauren’s.’

‘Yes I think we’d better. See you later.’

Lauren drove home to her Hope Hall. As she pulled into the drive and closed the automatic gates behind her she looked at the light blue building ahead of her that was home. She could never ever get over the fact that she owned the whole lot plus the ten acres of garden and parkland. Also she was amazed when the residents, who were all related to the previous owner, were genuinely delighted that she had inherited the estate. None of them wanted to be responsible for it. They were all leading full lives of their own. It turned out to be a big family kind of place with lots of quirky elements in the residents that she never tired of hearing about. There was a large swimming pool and gym that were well used by almost everyone. There were always little gatherings if not parties and dinner parties, that rolled out at lovely times when there might not otherwise have been much to do.

Then there were her neighbours in adjoining estates, all friendly and yet each very different. They brought more variety to their own social events so there was an almost constant changing social scene on her doorstep. She still also had her best friends Zoe, who along with Donald her husband ran the boutique hotel in Ross, very popular with the turned on, and Claire who was still a receptionist in Ross of the flagship hotel of an international chain of five star hotels, and happy with her job and life.

Lauren was wealthy enough to give up her own job as a stylist at Mirror Images but she liked it too much to walk away. She kept her wealth low profile. Besides her two best friends, there were very few who knew how much she could be worth. She liked it that way because it gave her a freedom she otherwise might not have had. She kept in touch with her parents in Ross. She had offered to buy them a new house but they were happy with where they were because they had lots of friends around them. The fact that the father she had known all her life was not in fact her father didn’t worry her. She had accepted her mother’s explanation of how, when she became pregnant while at university in London, she could not identify which of two fellow students was the father of her child. Lauren had also accepted that that was why she had not been told of her origins or where her real father might be. Lauren had come across all this only recently by accident but did not hold a grudge against anyone. She accepted the situation as a fact of life. She had established for herself that her real father was a high powered London lawyer with a family of his own, Fortunately he had accepted Lauren’s origins and she had been introduced and been accepted by his official family.

Where she was less sure of herself, was on the man front. She had met James Stirling at one of her neighbour’s parties and liked him. However, she worried when he left the army to take up the management of a gym locally where one of his ex girlfriends was a member. She kept in mind that he had said he took it on initially to be near her but he had not been around recently. She understood that he had to put mountains of work into his new project to make a success of it. Now as things had moved on she wondered if he had too. But she struggled with herself to be sensible and give the relationship more time.

Right now she had to organise a party, or rather organise the friends who were helping her organise the party. She had just made it to her penthouse apartment when the road gate intercom buzzed. She let in Eva Cyclone who worked at another salon in Ross. Eva made wonderful cakes and had promised to bring some for the party. Lauren decided to leave the door to the Hall and to her apartment unlocked for the party but to keep the road gate shut so that they could check on who was arriving. This was a rule to keep the other residents happy about security. Eva arrived at the same time as Claire and they both brought up the cakes in the lift to the penthouse.

The apartment consisted of a very large sitting room with black velvet upholstered sofas set out around a substantial coffee table with a huge Persian carpet covering the polished oak floor. There was a balcony overlooking the parkland. Lauren was still finding her own style and often made adjustments to the decor and style of this room. But the large kitchen diner remained unchanged from her initial makeover of the apartment, as did the three bedrooms, two with ensuites, and the main bathroom. She had all the walls white to display her growing eclectic collection of paintings. All windows looked over the parkland.

‘So Lauren where is your party dress?’ Claire asked her.

‘Still hanging in my bedroom until after I’ve got to grips with the food and drink.’

‘It’s mostly out isn’t it?’ Claire suggested.

‘Probably,’ Lauren replied.

‘Well then go and get yourself ready and I and Eva will take care of the party scene until you get back.’

‘We know where everything is Lauren,’ Eva assured her.

‘OK I’ll get ready then,’ Lauren confirmed as she made her way out of the kitchen diner where they had gathered.

Chapter 2

‘So Eva’, queried Claire, ‘have you found a new balance in your love life yet after all the frenzy of being the obsession of spies and gangsters in the south of France and New York?’

‘I’m getting used to the slower pace of life here in Ross that I deserve Claire. Hairdressing, baking cakes for Zoe occasionally, getting to the gym, driving down to the coast in Wales or Cornwall, and parties. I haven’t found the man yet. I’m like you there. I don’t want to find him yet.’

‘There’s plenty of time don’t you think? The main problem is avoiding the ones who are near because they are too near.’

‘That’s it Claire, being crowded in is as bad as not being wanted at all.’

‘So maybe it’s someone who comes here that could sort out some of it?’ suggested Claire.

‘Mostly though it’s who goes to Olivia’s next door that could do that,’ responded Eva.

‘I suppose you’re right. Although this is the place to get the invitation to an event next door. A stepping stone to freedom Eva.’

‘I would have thought Claire that you had more chance of that kind of freedom at the hotel. You must see a lot of heavy rollers walk through the door all the time.’

‘So my hotel could be your sort of place then Eva. I’m a bit too slow to pick up on the kind of fly-by-nights that roll up to my desk to get booked in for only one night.’

‘Well I would say you are only half way there then Claire.’

‘And I’d be fired for attempting to slow down the patrons.’

‘I’d say you could be good at seduction. Rather than slow them down you could fire them up Claire.’

‘Well there have been a few with whom I could have made sparks and they would have taken the fire from the heat I could have created with them. But I’ve always chickened out. I wouldn’t go after any who were married for a start. That would be too complicated to explain to my employers if I was caught out. But I have to say I have been tempted, so don’t encourage me please.’

‘What about Zoe’s place. Would she mind if you seduced some of her patrons?’

‘Eva how has this gone from one man to some in a sentence or two? I’m not Paris Hilton? And besides you have as many chances at Zoe’s as I do. Where’s your New York sleek or your French chic. You could keep a few of them dangling at the end of one of your looks.’

‘I don’t know Zoe as well as you do Claire. I suppose if I were to call on you at your hotel and you were to call on Zoe at hers we could clean the board. Think about the headlines Two Ross Sirens seduce twenty men in five working days.’

‘I’d have to do a lot more swimming and you’d have to do more gym to keep that up Eva.’

‘Might be fun though,’ Eva concluded.

There was a knock on the apartment door. Eva went to answer it.

‘Party goers already,’ she exclaimed. ‘Welcome, do come in. Lauren will be here in a moment. I’m Eva and this is Claire.’

The two newcomers were obviously from one of the other apartments in the Hall because they hadn’t called at the main gate. They were in their sixties.

‘I’m Peter and this is Diana.’

‘I hear that we may be missing some fun,’ Diana commented showing some interest in the answer she might get.

Claire asked what they would like to drink and then presented the requested G&Ts as they were talking with Claire

‘We were discussing the preferred seduction of men visiting Ross because the one’s here are too close for longterm comfort,’ Eva revealed.

‘I can see that in those outfits, if I might be so forward,’ Peter suggested’ you could highjack any or all the male tourists. It’s just a pity I’m not a tourist.’

‘There you are, that just shows what you two women can do in a moment of free thought,’ Diana quipped ‘with the elder statesman of a party. I dread what would happen if you were let loose on the town in this mood and started to act in real earnest to fulfil your fun rota.’

‘You must have stories to tell Diana,’ Claire smiled ‘come on Diana tell us about your adventures before you settled for Peter.’

‘Now would I make him blush by spinning those tales in front of him?’ Diana side-stepped the pointed question just as Lauren appeared on the scene.

‘And who is blushing,’ she commented, ‘surely not Peter. I remember him catching me coming out of the shower in the swimming pool without clothes and he didn’t bat an eye.’

‘He was probably blinded by what he saw,’ Diana suggested to mild laughter.

At that stage the road gate intercom buzzed and Olivia Bearington-Damper announced she had brought a car load and there was one following behind. On the intercom camera Lauren could see men in the back of Olivia’s car.

Lauren whispered to Claire ‘You might be able to put into practice that seduction rota right now if what I have just seen in Olivia’s car and the other one she is bringing in behind is anything to go by. You can let them in Claire.’

As she opened the gates they were followed by four other cars. This was when Lauren had to be careful because it was not unknown for locals to cruise the party spots and try to creep in on the tail of official guests when the gates opened. The camera over the gate as well as the screen on the intercom usually told her who was trying to get in. This time however she recognised the cars. They all looked full and when their occupants reached the apartment there were sixteen more people including eight men belonging to Olivia’s group who looked interesting to both Claire and Eva, as Lauren was sorting out the introductions.

‘Hello Olivia,’ Lauren greeted her ‘is this a girls’ night out with all your men. I hope you will share them.’

‘Hi Lauren, my other half is looking after a sick dog at the farm and can’t make it. I have brought a few men, lawyers, and business people there are four of them Josh, Joe, Ben and Jamie, meet Lauren your hostess.’

Everyone shook hands and politely prospectively eyed each other as Claire and Eva offered drinks. Then Lauren decided enough people had arrived to let them have free sway over the drinks and food. Olivia introduced the second four men that had followed her through the gates. They were trainee agricultural estate managers studying at college in Cirencester and were staying over at Olivia’s along with the lawyers.

‘I know what you’re thinking Lauren,’ Olivia smiled ‘how come she only has men to stay. Well I can tell you it’s down to luck and the fact they all know each other from school.’

‘And do you take advantage?’ Lauren asked.

‘All the time,’ Olivia stated like she did but she was not going to expand.

‘I approve,’ Lauren smiled. Olivia put her hand on Lauren’s shoulder to whisper in her ear,

‘Now don’t you start wondering anymore.’ She grinned.

But Lauren couldn’t tell if Olivia was playing her up or whether she really was having a fling or two with some of her house guests. She was always very confident in herself and was often someone who took over the conversation if not the minds of the people within her field of hearing. Some men would avoid a woman of such vivacity, others could be seduced by her sheer personality combined with her curves and come-on looks. Lauren couldn’t read her yet.

Lauren greeted David and Pamela Duckham who lived on the floor below her in Hope Hall. They were another couple in their sixties who had dragged with them Lavinia from another apartment in the Hall. Lavinia was a pharmacist, divorced, in her early forties. They were followed by the Sengrove sisters and their boyfriends. Claudia was eighteen and Juliana was twenty and both were university students. Their family home Red House was just down the road.

‘Hello Lauren,’ Juliana announced herself. She was studying law. ‘Might be the last party we see you as neighbours. Mummy and Daddy are splitting up. Mummy’s keeping the house in Mayfair and Daddy is going to live in his brother’s old house in Fownhope.’

‘That’s sad to hear,’ Lauren responded but she knew about the breakdown in the Sengrove’s relationship from the last case on which she had helped Chief Inspector Worcester. ‘And where will you and Claudia live?’

‘Well we gave it some thought and we decided that since Mummy is not really Mummy anymore and cheated on Daddy and the Mayfair house is sort of isolated in central Mayfair, that Daddy’s new house would be better for us. So we are going to move our stuff to Daddy’s new place.’

‘How is he getting on alone in the country?’ Lauren enquired.

‘Oh he’s not alone anymore,’ Juliana told her. ‘He has Lucy looking after him and he says she’s really such an adventurous woman he hasn’t got time for anything else. She’s great fun. And she has promised us a life of comparative ease and freedom when we visit and stay there. She insists that we call it home.’

‘That sounds like you both get on supremely well with her.’

‘Well we’ll be having a house closing party at Red House in the next few weeks and then a house warming one in the new place. You’ll be very welcome, you and your friends.’

‘Well thank you both.’

More people at the gate took Lauren away from the Sengroves. This was Sophie, her husband Bob, Carol and Louise. She opened the gate for them and when they arrived at the apartment she introduced them to the lawyers and trainee estate managers. The lawyers looked to be in their middle to late twenties and the trainee managers in their early to mid twenties. So if there ever was a good mix of men then this was it Lauren thought. She waited for the connections to be made. There were two almost immediately. Two of the lawyers and two of the trainee mangers surrounded Eva. No surprise there. One of the lawyers, Joe, had taken to Carol who looked to be, but wasn’t, the youngest woman there. In fact since he had been introduced to Carol he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off her. He seemed unable to move from looking at her. Lauren noted that Carol was deciding whether to take him on or not.

‘Hello Carol,’ Joe had responded to Lauren’s introduction. Carol was the last one Lauren had introduced and so Joe was left facing Carol and as Lauren moved on she noticed the look in Joe’s eyes. She hoped that Carol would be cute enough to see what could happen.

‘Are you a real lawyer or are you still studying?’ Carol asked Joe.

‘Well I’m not that far into it Carol but I have had three cases so far.’

He was a tall man nearly six feet while she was five feet five, elevated to five six and a half in her heels. He was lean, which she liked, and serious which she wondered about. She wondered if she could turn seriousness into something more human and intimate, but did she want to. Carol decided she’d give it a go.

‘Did your three cases encourage you to persevere with the legal profession then Joe?’

‘Well yes Carol. They were all intriguing cases, completely different and yet riveting. I am looking forward to the next.’

‘So it’s the experience you’re after mostly then Joe.’

‘It’s all gone too easy so far Carol so I wonder when it will get tougher.’

‘I suppose it can get tougher. But if you like it you might find it easy.’

‘It sounds to me that you like what you do too Carol. How do you make a living?’

‘I’m a hair stylist.’

‘That sounds like upper tier hairdressing Carol. Could I have your opinion?’

He turned around so that she could see his own hair.

‘It’s not bad Joe. You have a good jaw line with well set eyes in an oval face that would require a more sympathetic cut around the ears and forehead to bring out those manly features.’

‘You are being so complimentary Carol when you yourself are so beautiful. I am really flattered. I’m surprised you’ve learned so much in such a short life.’

‘I’m twenty-one if you are wondering Joe, which I think you are.’

‘You are right Carol I was wondering.’

‘I know I look like a sixteen year old schoolgirl’ she said looking down at her feet, then up through her lashes directly into his eyes. ‘Does that turn you on Joe?’ she enquired apparently shyly.

‘Yes it does, very much Carol. I mean since I started talking with you I’ve hardly noticed anyone else.’

‘So you find me attractive then Joe.’

‘You are certainly having an effect on me Carol. I’ve never met a girl like you before. You are so amazingly slim. You have a wonderful sense of style. You are vibrant and your face could take over modelling magazine covers.’

‘And I could take your hair into the modelling pages too Joe. Would you let me?’

‘I’d be delighted to submit to your stylist imagination.’

More people arrived to fill up the apartment and Lauren turned the music a little louder.

‘How good are you at dancing Joe?’

‘I’d love to dance with you Carol. You could inspire the best in me.’

She took his hand and led him onto the floor that had been cleared between the kitchen diner and the sitting room. Others started dancing too. So they were less self conscious than if dancing alone and this gave Carol more confidence. After one move to get closer to him didn’t work, she looked up at him when she thought he was acting like a gentleman and whispered ‘You can lean into me if you would like Joe.’

He didn’t need a second invitation. He put both his arms around her and pulled her into him. She could tell immediately he was excited. She felt proud of that, exciting a man like Joe purely on her own terms. She wondered how much in control of events she would remain. Here was the second man in as many weeks who she knew wanted her desperately. She wondered what it was she had that they felt drawn to her so quickly. Was it that she looked young? Was she as beautiful as they said? Her hair had been the same at both parties, long with curls down her back. Was it her hair? She thought she would have to find out. What she hadn’t told anyone and would never tell, was that she was still a virgin. She decided that she wanted her first to be Joe. She liked the way he was treating her.

She had had many narrow scrapes with men when in the end she’d not wanted to go ahead with her first time. Joe seemed the most interested she had met so far. She didn’t know anything about him yet though. She guessed he wasn’t married or seeing another woman. She had no proof, she was going on instinct. She wondered how she suddenly felt she had all this experience. It just must be confidence she decided. She was coming to conclusions while still a virgin. Could she do that? She decided to check and looked up to Joe and into his eyes. I am being silly here she thought but he is melting. He feels terribly warm. She was still looking up when he bent down and kissed her. His eyes were intense and now her own feelings were beginning to run as well. She thought for him she would be only one in a succession of women, but for her he was going to be the first. But if she could feel this hot for someone she had just met where would it all end?

‘How old are you Joe,’ she asked as a way of establishing verbal communication with him again and, she thought, a way of asking questions she felt easy with.

‘Twenty-nine in a month’s time Carol. So I’m glad there’s only eight years between us and not thirteen as I feared.’

‘But you could think I am still sixteen couldn’t you.’

‘Everything about you feels sixteen,’ he looked into her eyes ‘and your mind is fast and seductive.’

‘So you think I’m seducing you Joe.’

‘That’s what you are doing Carol.’

‘With all the lights on and in a crowded room?’

‘I’d hardly noticed Carol.’

‘And would anyone notice me stealing a man to become a model for hair styling, shaping him to suit me?’

‘An artist at work,’ he smiled.

She leant into him again. And she wondered if it was all going the way she had been imagining. She felt in charge while he was thinking of her as sixteen. So was sixteen working? Should she continue at sixteen? She had a mind to because of the protective way he looked at her. She knew he wouldn’t leave her for the whole evening. She had collected a handsome mature man who was treating her like a wonderful find, a sex kitten even. She was thinking of what he might be imagining about the rest of the evening and decided to try to anticipate his thoughts to stay out in front where she seemed to be at the moment. They kept dancing or sitting out clinging to each other for the next couple of hours. She recognised that content with this, she was greatly affected too. He didn’t want to let go and now neither did she. They’d not been for food or drink nor had they any need for conversation with anyone else. It was obsession. She wanted his full attention. She knew by now that at least all the hairdressers would have noticed as well as the very alert Olivia, and Carol was wondering how they saw it. She decided she had had enough of having her feelings shown up in public and maybe there was a way it could be private.

‘Where are you staying Joe?’

‘Well Olivia has let us have one of her cottages and I have a room on the second floor, the only one on that floor. It’s luxurious.’

‘Would you like to invite me back for a nightcap then Joe?’

‘I’d love to Carol.’

‘Now Joe, if you want me,’ she said looking up to those hungry eyes melting in adoration. I hope I’m right she thought.

Joe went over to see Olivia, and Carol found Lauren. It was then that Carol and Joe discovered that there was a private gate between the two estates. Lauren told them she would open it for a few minutes to let them into Olivia’s grounds and they set off down the stairs to escape the quizzical looks. As they left the front door of Hope Hall they put on their coats and emerged into darkness where he kissed her long and hard.

They walked on and pushed the gate open. They were now in Olivia’s estate as the gate closed behind them.

‘Bridges Joe.’

‘Effortless to cross with you Carol.’

They found the instructed route to the cottage.

‘There are drinks in the fridge upstairs Carol. Shall we go up?’

‘That would be fine Joe. So straight up then,’ she looked to him.

They were still holding hands and while the air had cooled her down a bit his hand was clammy. She thought this was a good sign of his need for her. At the top of the stairs Joe opened the door to the most beautiful bedroom Carol had ever been in, large and spacious. The walls were a soft warm beige and the curtains, bedcover and rugs had luxurious red and gold patterns. He turned on the bedside light and she switched off the central ceiling light. Her shadow danced across the walls as she moved to the bed.

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