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Conveniently His Omnibus

By:Penny Jordan

Conveniently His Omnibus - Penny Jordan

‘DARLING, I DO HOPE you’re going to wear something a little more attractive than that for dinner. You know we’ve got the Bensons coming and he is one of your father’s best clients. Chris is back by the way.’

Sophy had only been listening to her mother with half her attention, too overwhelmed by the familiar sense of depression, which inevitably overcame her when she had to spend longer than an hour in the latter’s company, to resist the tidal flood of maternal criticism but the moment she heard Chris Benson’s name mentioned she tensed.

They were sitting in the garden on the small patio in front of the immaculately manicured lawns and rosebeds. The garden was her father’s pride and joy but to Sophie it represented everything about her parents and their life-style that had always heightened for her the differences between them. In her parents’ lives everything must be neat and orderly, conforming to a set middle-class pattern of respectability.

She had spent all her childhood and teenage years in this large comfortable house in its West Suffolk village and all that time she had felt like an ungainly cuckoo in the nest of two neat, tiny wrens.

She didn’t even look like her parents; her mother was five-foot-three with immaculate, still blonde, hair and plumply corseted figure, her father somewhat taller, but much in the same mould; a country solicitor, who had once been in the army and who still ran his life on the orderly lines he had learned in that institution.

It was not that her parents didn’t love her, or weren’t kind, genuinely caring people. It was just that she was alien to them and them to her.

Her height, the ungainly length of her legs and arms, the wild mane of her dark, chestnut hair and the high cheekboned, oval face with its slightly tilting gold eyes; these were not things she had inherited from her parents, and she knew that her mother in particular had always privately mourned the fact that her daughter was not like herself, another peaches and cream English rose.

Instead, her physical characteristics had come to her from the half American, half Spanish beauty her great-grandfather had married in South America and brought home. Originally the Marley family had come from Bristol. They had been merchants there for over a century, owning a small fleet of ships and her great-grandfather had been the captain of one of these.

All that had been destroyed by the First World War, which had destroyed so many of the small shipping companies and Sophie knew that her parents felt uneasy by this constant reminder of other times in the shape and physical appearance of their only child.

Her mother had done her best...refusing to see that her tall, ungainly daughter did not look her best in pretty embroidered dresses with frills and bows.

She had disappointed her mother, Sophy knew that. Sybil Rainer had been married at nineteen, a mother at twenty-one and that was a pattern she would have liked to have seen repeated in her daughter. Once too she...

‘Of course, Chris is married now...’

Her mind froze, distantly registering the hint of reproach in her mother’s voice. ‘There was a time when I thought that you and he...’ her voice trailed away and Sophy let it, closing her eyes tightly, thinking bitterly that once she too had thought that she and Chris would marry. Chris’s father was a wealthy stockbroker and she had known him all through her teens, worshipping his son in the way that teenage girls are wont to do.

She had never dreamed Chris might actually notice her as anything other than the daughter of one of his father’s oldest friends. The year he came down from university, when she herself was just finishing her ‘A’ levels, he had come home.

They had met at the tennis club. Sophy had just been finishing a match. Tennis was one of the few things she excelled at; she had the body and the strength for it and, she realised with wry hindsight, he could hardly have seen her in a more flattering setting.

He had asked her out; she had been overwhelmed with excitement...and so it had started.

Her mouth twisted bitterly. It was not how it had started that she was thinking of now, but how it had finished.

It hadn’t taken her long to fall in love—she was literally starving for attention...for someone of her own and she had been all too ridiculously easy a conquest for him. Of course she had demurred when he told her he wanted to make love to her but she had also been thrilled that he could want her so much. Seeing no beauty or desirability in her own appearance, she could not understand how anyone else could either.

She had thought he loved her. She had wanted to believe it. She had thought he intended to marry her. God, how ridiculous and farcical it all seemed now.

Inevitably she had let him make love to her, one hot summer night at the end of August when they were alone in his parents’ house...and that night had shattered her rosy dreams completely.

Even now she could remember his acid words of invective when he realised that she was not enjoying his lovemaking, his criticisms of her as a woman, his disgust in her inability to respond to him.

Frightened by the change in him, her body still torn by the pain of his possession she had sought to placate him offering uncertainly, ‘But it will get better when we are married...’

‘Married!’ He had withdrawn completely from her, staring at her with narrowed eyes. ‘What the hell are you talking about? I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last woman on earth, darling,’ he had drawled tauntingly. ‘When I get married it will be to a woman who knows what it means to be a woman...not a frigid little girl. You’ll never get married, Sophy,’ he had told her cruelly. ‘No man will ever want to marry a woman like you.’

Looking back, she was lucky to have come out of the escapade with nothing worse than a badly bruised body and ego, Sophy told herself. It could have been so much worse. She could have been pregnant...pregnant and unmarried.

‘Darling, you aren’t listening to a word I’m saying,’ her mother complained a little petulantly, ‘and why do you scrape your hair back like that? It’s so pretty.’

‘It’s also heavy, Mother...and today it’s very hot.’ She said it patiently, forcing a placatory smile.

‘I wish you’d have it properly styled, darling...and get some new clothes. Those awful jeans you’re wearing...’

Sighing faintly, Sophy put down her book. If only her mother could understand that she could not be what she wanted her to be. If only...

‘I’ve told Brenda to bring Chris and his wife round to see us. She’s a lovely girl, Brenda was saying. An American...they got married last year while we were away on that cruise.’ She looked across at her daughter. ‘It’s time you were thinking of settling down, darling, after all you are twenty-six...’

So she was, and wouldn’t Chris just crow to know that his cruel prediction all those years ago had proved so correct.

Not that she wanted to get married. She moved restlessly in her deck chair, unwanted images flashing through her mind...pictures of the men she had dated over the years, and the look on their faces when she turned cold and unresponsive in their arms. She had never totally been able to overcome the fears Chris had instilled in her—not of the physical reality of male possession, but of her own inability to respond to him...her own innate sexual coldness. Well it was something no other man was ever going to find out about her. It was her own private burden and she was going to carry it alone.

No male possession meant no children, though. Sighing once again, she opened her eyes and stared unseeingly at her father’s neat flower border. Just when she had first felt this fierce need to have children of her own she wasn’t quite sure but lately she was rarely unaware of it. She very much wanted children...a family of her own. But she wasn’t going to get them, as Chris had so rightly taunted her. No man was going to want a woman who was physically incapable of responding to him sexually.

The sharp ring of the telephone bell on the wall outside the house cut through her despondent thoughts.

Her mother got up and hurried into the house via the french windows. Several seconds later she reappeared, beckoning Sophy, a frown marring her forehead.

‘It’s Jonathan,’ she told Sophy peevishly. ‘Why on earth does he need to ring you at weekends?’

Jonathan Phillips was her boss. Sophy had been working for him for two years. She’d first met him at a party thrown by a mutual acquaintance to which she had gone in a mood of bitter introspection having finally come to the realisation that the happiness and fulfilment of marriage and children would never be hers. She had also been well on her way to getting drunk. She had bumped into him on her way to get herself yet another glass of wine, the totally unexpected impediment of a solidly muscled chest knocking her completely off balance.

Jonathan had grasped her awkwardly round the waist looking at her through his glasses with eyes that registered his discomfort and shock at finding her in his arms.

She had pulled away and he had released her immediately, looking very relieved to do so. She would have walked away and that would have been that if she had not suddenly betrayed her half inebriated state by teetering uncertainly on her high heels.

It was then that Jon had taken charge, dragging her outside into the fresh air, procuring from somewhere a cup of black coffee. Both were acts which, now that she knew him better, were so alien to his normal vague, muddledly hopeless inability to organise anything, that they still had the power to surprise her slightly.