CHAPTER TEN

Christopher Ellingham's holiday season was quickly becoming less than pleasant.

He and his wife had only just arrived on holiday in Paris that evening, and Margaret had retired very early after dinner, complaining of a headache. He had decided to visit the hotel bar for a nightcap: something he didn't indulge in as often as he would have liked, if only to avoid the inevitable row with his wife that came after. She didn't approve of his alcohol consumption and made no attempt to hide her feelings, usually accusing him of being a raging alcoholic and threatening to leave him and take her father's money with her. He found it best for all parties involved to humor her when he had to and be creative with the truth the rest of the time.

That night, he was quite happy he had taken the risk, as he had met a very beautiful young woman at the bar. She had been very impressed with his surgeon credentials and thoroughly charmed by his charisma and good looks. She was all too keen to invite him back to her room for her own special brand of holiday cheer. Who was he to refuse? Margaret was sure to be out like a light until well into the next morning. She would be none the wiser, like so many times before. He had gotten quite good at covering his tracks.

He and the woman-her name escaped him now-had began kissing hungrily as soon as they boarded the lift, their mutual lust overtaking them. At least twenty years his junior, her body under his wandering hands was firm, with large, perfect breasts and a lovely taut bottom, which he gripped to hold her close against his groin. She made appreciative sounds, the tip of her tongue exploring his full lips. It had been quite a long time since he had been kissed like this, Christopher thought to himself, before the blood began to rush from his brain toward other, more pressing, parts of his body. He and his object of affection were too engrossed in each other to notice when the elevator door opened on the fourth floor to let on a passenger.

Margaret was having trouble sleeping. A siren on the road outside the hotel had woken her, and she took the opportunity to visit the loo and take two paracetamol for the headache that still had not abated. Now, although her body was thoroughly exhausted, she couldn't seem to turn off her thoughts. For starters, she was angry that her husband's 'nightcap' was nearly into its third hour, and he would most likely be hung over the next day, their first full day on holiday. The longer she laid there, the more furious she became, until she finally decided to take some initiative and go harangue him into calling it a night. She wasn't about to allow him to ruin the lovely plans she had made for their Christmas together.

She dressed hastily, made sure her hair and lipstick were presentable, and made her way down the hall to the lift. She pressed the button before noticing the elevator was going up instead of down. No matter; she would wait and catch it on the way back down.

The lift doors opened to reveal a couple in a very compromising position, the woman clinging to the man, whose hands and mouth were enjoying the many goods she had to offer. Margaret blinked, unmoving. Neither of them noticed her, or even that the doors had opened at all. She continued to stand there like a stone as the doors slid closed and the lift went on its way...stood there for several minutes after, her mind processing what her eyes had just witnessed.

The next morning before dawn, after a night in which Christopher had been thoroughly pleasured in every possible sense of the word, he crept from the young woman's bed without waking her and rode the lift back down to his hotel room on the fourth floor. He was sure his wife would still be sleeping, and hoped he could have a quick shower and slide into bed next to her without her waking up. He was knackered, quite frankly, and looked forward to a couple hours of sleep before what would be an inevitably long day with Margaret at the reins.

An odd sight met him as he approached the room's door: his suitcase was sitting in front of it, with a slip of paper attached to the side. His stomach dropped, knowing immediately he had somehow been caught. He unfolded the note slowly and read:

'Don't bother knocking. Enjoy your visit with your new friend. Merry bloody Christmas.'

Christopher sighed, ran a hand over his face. So much for a few hours sleep. He knew if he tried to talk to Margaret right now, it would be the beginning of a horrible scene and before it was all over, the entire hotel would be witness to her wrath and his embarrassment. No, he would leave her alone for now, go have a coffee, and decide what to do next, if there was any way at all to rectify the situation.

He crossed the street to a small cafe that smelled of fresh croissants and espresso, and sat at a table by the window. He ordered a cup of coffee, then another, rehearsing in his head the words he would say to his wife when he returned to their hotel room. As he stood to leave, however, he glanced out the window and with dismay saw Margaret stepping into a taxi as the driver loaded her suitcases into the boot. Before he could pay for his coffee and run out the door, she was gone.

It wasn't until after he had gone back to the room of the young woman with whom he had spent the previous night, only to find she had checked out that morning, that he came to the decision of where to go. He knew there was no point in going home to London and face being locked out-not without giving Margaret a few days to cool off. He didn't fancy the idea of staying in Paris alone on Christmas. The only other alternative was to pay Joan a visit in Cornwall, spend the holidays with his son. He hadn't seen Martin since the summer, hadn't spoken to him much since then either. It would be good to see the boy. Joan couldn't refuse a visit from her brother at Christmas; she didn't have to know the true reason he was visiting.

He boarded a flight to Exeter the next morning, and from there the train to Bodmin Station. A taxi took him on the last leg of his journey, along the narrow, winding roads to Joan's farm by the sea. He knew he had made the right decision in coming here. He hadn't even phoned his sister to tell her he was on his way; he thought it would be a nice surprise for Martin, being with his father for Christmas.

The taxi pulled into the front yard of the farmhouse, and Christopher paid the driver and got out to retrieve his bags. He noticed a truck parked close to the house-Phil must have gotten another one, although it hardly looked in better shape than the one before. The taxi pulled away, and he started to walk toward the door when it abruptly opened. Joan must have seen him coming, he mused.

Joan was indeed at the door, but she wasn't alone: she was accompanied by a man Christopher had never seen before. As he watched, the man pulled Joan close to him, and she in turn put her hand by his cheek and brought his face toward her, kissing him passionately. They stood that way, lost in the embrace, for quite a long time.