The Couple in the Dream Suite (7 page)

He thought. He remembered. He was terrified, but he could cope. He took a deep breath, and then another. Vera was standing very still, watching him. She saw too much. If she looked any deeper, she wouldn’t like what she saw. He wouldn’t let her. Another breath, and he was ready.

‘I’ve been lying to you,’ Justin said. ‘About the reason I was here. It wasn’t just for Dex, it was work. I came here tonight to do an exposé of the hotel.’ He nodded to himself. That sounded possible. It was a lie, but it didn’t sound like one. ‘I’m a reporter.’

‘I don’t know how. I’ve never seen you at a single party.’

‘Not that sort of reporter. Not that sort of exposé. I write for the
People’s Tribune
. You’ve probably not heard of it. I write under the name of…’

‘Red Lancaster.’

‘How did you know?’

‘Yorke, Lancaster, it’s not such a difficult connection to make even for my silly little brain. I’ve read it, incidentally. It might surprise you to know that I agree with a lot of what you say, though not necessarily how you say it.’

She spoke coolly. He needed her to be angry. ‘This place, the people at this party,’ Justin said, ‘they are all that Red Lancaster despises.’

‘And me? Am I everything you despise too? Was that the point, to see just how easy it would be to lure me into your bed, then tell the world? I commend you, Mr Yorke – or should I call you
Red
? Your devotion to duty is quite breathtaking.’

She was angry now, but it was the wrong kind of anger. She was cold. Her face was set. But she was still looking at him. Into him. He needed her to stop that. He needed her furious enough to move. Flee. ‘That’s about it,’ Justin said, crossing his arms.

‘Liar!’ Now Vera did move, but not out of the door. She crossed the floor and stood directly in front of him. ‘You are lying through your teeth. Oh, not about the writing. I can see that – most likely it started at Craiglockhart.’ She waited, but even though he said nothing, didn’t seem to be able to say anything, she nodded. ‘Thought so. The style too, it resonates. Very angry. Very destructive. But it is never hypocritical, and it’s never petty, and it is never, ever personal. Besides, you quite forget you admitted when we were dancing that you were
not
here to do any such thing.’

‘I changed my mind. What do you mean, destructive? I do not – my writing is the very opposite of that.’

Vera shrugged. ‘You are very good at pointing out what is wrong with the world, but you’re not so good at offering solutions. I call that destructive.’

And she was right, damn her! She had turned the tables on him so quickly he hadn’t noticed, but two could play that game. ‘Who are you to lecture me?’ Justin said through gritted teeth. ‘What the hell are you doing with your own life, if not destroying it?’

Vera flinched. The mocking smile faded. ‘You’re right.’ She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, in an unconscious reflection of his own stance. ‘That’s exactly what I have been doing, but it’s going to stop. You see, Dexter was right when he threw us together, we are very similar. Listening to you, it’s made me see myself in a very different light, and I don’t like it.’

She paused, took a ragged breath and gave him a ragged smile. ‘It’s at times like this I wish I smoked. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve been – well, playing a part, I suppose. The vampire.’ Another ragged smile. ‘I’m sick of it. I’ve stuck to it because it’s seen me through some very dark times, and I realise now I’ve been scared that if I dropped it, those times would come back. Well, they might, but I’m going to hope they don’t, and if it wasn’t for tonight – for you – I wouldn’t have the guts to try. After today, I think I might actually stop living for the moment and try just living. Who knows, I might even get to like it.’

She stopped. She waited. She watched. He refused to think about what she had said. He refused to let it resonate. He was so set on his path, he refused to let anything get in the way. ‘I’m glad,’ Justin said.

Silence. And then she seemed to wilt. ‘I see. That will teach me to dream.’ Her shoulders drooped and she turned away, but half-way across the room, she stopped. ‘I’m not sure what the form is, so I’ll say goodbye now, we vampires have to get back into our coffins before the sun comes up.’ Her smile was vicious. ‘I should thank you for the lessons. You are an excellent teacher. I’m looking forward to putting what I’ve learnt into practice.’

***

Vera closed the door behind her without looking back. She was shaking so badly she had to lean against it for a moment. She couldn’t hear a sound from the other side. Was he still standing there, waiting for her to come back? She hauled herself upright and headed for the sitting room. No. He was simply waiting for her to go. Nothing she’d said had made a difference, because he was determined not to let it, and she was damned sure she wasn’t going to waste her time trying to change him.

Even if she was sure she was right.

Even if she had dared to dream a little.

Even if she did find the idea of the future a little bleaker without the possibility of him being in it.

She began to pick up the remnants of her stage costume. It was ruined. She bundled it into a waste basket. She’d have to wear the Fortuny gown with nothing underneath. A fitting end for her last night as a vampire. Her reflection in the mirror above the fireplace was pale. Stripped of cosmetics, she looked vulnerable. She would have to get used to that. Her hair was sticking up. She went into the bathroom to slick it down with water. There was not a sound from the bedroom. Back in the sitting room, she opened the French doors and went out onto the balcony. The morning air was freezing. Below, the traffic was already picking up. The sky above was pearl-grey. Sadly but resolutely, Vera made her way out of the Dream Suite, whispering goodbye as the door closed softly behind her.

She was in the main foyer, reading a message from Dexter, when he called her name. She turned, thinking – not thinking. Trying not to hope.

Justin was coming down the wide central staircase. He was wearing trousers, a shirt buttoned up the wrong way, and nothing else. His feet were bare. He took the last four stairs in one leap. Vera was vaguely conscious of the discreet stares of the night porter, the man behind the desk.

‘Don’t go.’ Justin caught her arm, pulling her over to a corner by the side of last night’s stage.

‘Justin, I…’

‘No, don’t, say it. Please, just listen. I know I don’t deserve it, but – let me explain. Please.’

She had merely been about to suggest they find somewhere a little more private, but he seemed so on edge she changed her mind. ‘Go on,’ she said.

He nodded. He raked his hand through his hair. ‘I hated what you said. That thing, about putting what you have learnt into practice.’

‘Oh.’ Her stupid parting dagger. The least important thing she’d said of all.

‘Don’t look so deflated. I don’t mean – I meant it was the thing that got through to me. Not the most important thing.’

‘Oh.’ She had butterflies now. She mustn’t read too much into what he was saying. Hope was a killer.

‘I wanted you to walk away. I said all those things, the lies about the exposé – I wanted you to go, but when you did, and you said that thing…’ Justin shook his head. ‘Do you ever get that feeling, where you think your head might explode?’

‘Not now,’ Vera said. ‘But before.’

Justin smiled, a lop-sided smile that made her want to pull him into her arms. She held her hands rigidly at her side.

‘All those things you said about yourself, you could have been talking about me. Acting a part. Running. Not belonging. It all hurt so much, I didn’t want it to be happening. It reminded me – too much. Like looking over a cliff edge and wanting to jump just to stop it.’

Beside the blue-black sheen of his stubble, his skin seemed unnaturally pale. His eyes were dark. ‘Oh God, Justin, I didn’t mean…’

‘No. I’m fine. I thought it was the same, but it wasn’t.’ He took her hand. ‘It really wasn’t the same. I’m not the same. You were right. Last night, it changed things. Me. At least, it made me want to change. Not to play a part any more. Not to be so angry. To see if it was possible to live. You were right. You were very aptly named after all, Verity.’

‘No-one calls me that.’

‘I like it.’ He lifted her hand to his mouth, and kissed her knuckles. ‘Last night, we said we wanted to stop the clock. This morning, you made me see that I want to move it forward.’

Her insides were doing strange things. She felt as if she was on a swing. Or up high. She was dizzy. Frightened. Excited. Hopeful. ‘What does that mean?’ Vera asked, because hope really was the killer.

‘I have absolutely no idea,’ Justin said with a crooked smile, ‘but I think I’d like to find out. Want to help me?’

‘And what does that mean?’

‘I don’t know that either. Say yes, Verity.’

‘What to?’ She didn’t care, but she had to be sure all the same.

‘Taking a chance,’ Justin said. ‘Us. Together.’

‘Why should I?’ she asked, not a question, but a plea.

‘Because I think we could make a difference. I don’t know how, but I think we could. Because you’ve opened my eyes, and maybe I’ve opened yours, and I think maybe we need each other to keep them that way. Only that’s not it. Not only it. Not the real reason.’

Justin led her across the foyer, to the front door of the Chatsfield. Outside, the sun was shining. ‘Say yes, Verity, because you’re done with being a vampire. I want to be the one you see the sunrise with, whenever you see it. I want you. This. Us. Whatever it is. Say yes, Verity, because you want it too.’

Vera looked at him. And smiled at him. And leaned towards him. ‘Yes,’ she said. And kissed him.

Chatsfield, The Next Chapter

Style! Spectacle! Scandal! The newest and surely the most illustrious of London’s hotels, the Chatsfield, has all that and more, as regular readers of this column will know. Since it opened in April, guests have included royalty, high society, stars of the silver screen, the London stage and Broadway too.

Rumour has it, Dear Readers, that this weekend, the exclusive Dream Suite will be occupied by none other than newlyweds, Mr and Mrs JUSTIN YORKE. Mrs Yorke, the former Miss VERA MILTON-KERR, was also, formerly, most often seen about town with the most eligible bachelor, Mr DEXTER MAXWELL, who has now established himself in Hollywood as a film producer. The split between that formerly golden couple was revealed in this very column, you may recall, when Miss Milton-Kerr and Mr Yorke were caught on camera in the early hours, after the Chatsfield’s opening night party. A kiss, Dear Readers, full on the lips, and in case you missed it first time around, we’ve thoughtfully reprinted it. Now, they do say a picture paints a thousand words, so you don’t need me to explain what their very dishevelled apparel, to say nothing of that embrace, say about how the pair spent the night. And if a fraction of a doubt lingers in your mind, look closely, and you’ll see that Dream Suite key right there, dangling from Mr Yorke’s trouser pocket.

‘Dare to Dream,’ Mr Yorke said to me that morning when I asked him for a quote. That phrase, which you read here first, has become synonymous with the Chatsfield’s Dream Suite, and I am very relieved to say, that though it has taken them six months, the new Mr and Mrs Yorke’s dreams have finally come true. We congratulate them. And we hope that in future, which rumour has it will involve both of them taking a place on the political stage, they set a rather better example.

Cordelia Confidential,
Daily Express
, 28 October 1921

This will be Red Lancaster’s last column. With the strong possibility of an election taking place next year, I have taken the decision to put myself forward as a Labour Party candidate. I have no idea if I will be selected, never mind elected. I do know that it is the best way I can think of to try to implement some of the changes I have been advocating in this column recently.

Some of you have commented on my change of direction. You are concerned that I have lost my invective. That I’ve become soft. That I have given up. Not so, I absolutely assure you. Red Lancaster will be no more, but trust me, I have merely changed tactics, not given up the fight.

I hope you will join me in the battle for a better world. I truly believe there’s a chance we may win. All of us. Men. The women who will be able to vote for the first time. And those who we will fight with and for, to earn that same right the next time.

‘Red’ Lancaster,
The People’s Tribune,
28 October 1921

*

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