Henry Fortescue Widgetson fell in love with her the very first instant he saw her as a bridesmaid following the bride into the wedding-room in the country house hotel. She was not only beautiful and blond, but in her face was a sweetness that told Henry she had his same views on purity before marriage, installed in him by his strict Christian mother and, had she and his father not died in a tragic car accident but three years ago, he knew she would have instantly approved of her.
The occasion was the hurried nuptials of his best friend, Robin, who’d bought a veterinary practice back home in Scotland only for the seller to be taken ill. and he was now moving there immediately, together with his fiancée, Avril, who’d insisted on going with him – as his wife. He’d first met Robin in vet college – the first time he was allowed to mix in this evil world by his God-fearing parents, and Robin’s Presbyterianism – though not too rigid – had contributed to their friendship, and Henry’s immediate assent – at only a day’s notice – to be his best man. His education, prior to being allowed to go to college, had been from private tutors calling daily at the manor house his inventor father purchased after his now world famous “Widgeton’s Widget” – nicknamed after his surname – had swamped the global market, fitting a large, small and minute component in every vehicle, computer, gadget across the entire world, and earning him millions and millions in annual royalties from every country (other than China, who claimed to have devised a similar invention of its own) and the title ‘Sir’ bestowed upon him (and his mother a ‘Lady’) in return for the colossal tax received by a grateful country, a title that had been inherited by Henry on his father’s death, as had the Manor House and annual royalty income. Most of Henry’s time was now spent running the estate, with his veterinary skills of immense benefit to the animals and those of his tenant farmers, with occasional visits to his also inherited four-storey Lambeth town house to take in a suitable, non-offensive straight play – on his own, of course, not being a ladies-man.
Giving Robin a loving smile, Avril positioned herself alongside him, with the bridesmaid slightly behind her, and almost shoulder to shoulder to Henry, standing behind the groom.
Seeing her standing alongside him in a figure-hugging long white dress glued to her slender figure, Henry’s instant love for her was accompanied, for the very first time in his life, by lust. The only time Henry had seen a derriere like hers, was Pippa’s entering Westminster Abbey as bridesmaid to her sister, Katherine, on the state occasion of the latter’s royal marriage to Prince William, and being honest to himself – and contrary to all the principles instilled in him by his mother – he thought Avril’s derriere was even perter.
Transfixed by it, he tried to prize his gaze away, but before he could, she gave him a smile – with, it had to be admitted, a hint of naughtiness in it – that told him she’d caught him looking and was flattered by it, rather than embarrassed. Not only that, she gave his slim, though muscular figure and profile – which a female admirer in vet college once told him (making him instantly flee away) resembled a young Gregory Peck – an equally head-to-toe appraisal, and seemed to be similarly taken by him.
He quickly looked aside, to be met by an amused over-the-shoulder smile from Robin who’d witnessed the exchange and, before turning to face the Registrar-of-Marriages, hastily whispered to him. ‘Her name’s Sabrina. I’ve told her only your first name, not your surname, for her to fall for you yourself, rather than who you are and what a catch you’d make.’
Robin then faced the front and the marriage proceeded with no more interruption, other than in Henry’s own mind, thinking hitherto impure thoughts about Sabrina, and occasionally darting a glance at her only to find her glancing back at him with undisguised approval, putting his mind in a whirl.
The glances continued across the main table during the reception and when Robin and Avril
stood to commence the first dance, Sabrina leaned across to him and murmured – her voice was deliciously husky – ‘We’re expected to follow suit.’
‘I’ve never danced before,’ Henry returned. In truth, he’d never once held a girl in his arms.
Sabrina stood, took his hand and lead him on to the dance floor. ‘Just hold my left hand,’ she said, ‘put your arm around my waist, and shuffle your feet, taking your lead from me, and you’ll be invited on to Strictly in no time.’
The fit of their bodies seemed to Henry to be perfect, making him so aware of her contours, he began to feel a strange response in the nether regions of his body and moved slightly away from her, embarrassed she might feel his reaction to her. If she did, she didn’t betray it, but rather seemed to deliberately press her body closer to his, put her right arm around his neck and held him even tighter to her. Henry, though reluctant to admit it, was for the first time in his narrow puritanical life, in Seventh Heaven.
‘Where do you live?’ Sabrina murmured in his ear. ‘Lambeth,’ he replied.
‘That’s an expensive area,’ she said.
‘I’m staying with a friend,’ Henry lied, hoping that on Judgement Day, it would be regarded as a white one and not held against him, then compounded it with another. ‘I’m trying to write my first novel. What do you do?’ he quickly asked before he was forced to add to them.
‘I’m a fashion designer,’ Sabrina replied.
‘To a top fashion house?’ Henry queried, finding the nerve to add a gallantry. ‘Judging by the dress you’re wearing.’
‘To myself. Sabrina Fashions. I lease a shop in Notting Hill. Machinist in the room behind. Living rooms above. Bedrooms over them.’
‘Another Victoria Beckham,’ Henry jossed.
‘Except I make profits, not lose millions.’ There was a hint of scorn in Sabrina’s voice, ‘and
hoping to move to Knightsbridge one day. Though to have a sugar-daddy like she does, without having to marry him – unless he looked like hers, but without tattoos – would get me there sooner.’
Knowing he could easily answer her financial requirement, and suddenly realising he would also love to be married to her, Henry didn’t reply and continued dancing, enjoying her pressed to him, with knowing glances and knowing smiles from others shuffling around them, all sensing a budding romance in the air.
A few dances later, Robin announced he and Avril were retiring, they had a plane to Scotland to catch early in the morning, and they left, holding hands, to a mix of best wishes and, to Henry’s embarrassment, double entendres from the more intoxicated guests.
‘I’m a little tired myself,’ Sabrina whispered, ‘Would you walk me to my room?’
And putting her hand in his, they too left, to more and risquér “goodnights” following them, increasing Henry’s embarrassment and his face crimson, which Sabrina didn’t seem to notice, or pretended not to. If the later, Henry’s gratitude was overwhelming, feeling he’d met the woman who would always understand him, and infinitely perfect to share the rest of his life with.
Reaching her room on the first floor, she opened the door, placed a hand on his crotch, and said, ‘Would you like to stay the night?’
Henry pulled back like a scalded cat, mumbled, ‘I’ve a headache coming on,’ and fled down the corridor like the Hounds of Hell were after him – hearing Sabrina’s door slam shut behind him – and into his own room, locked the door, and sank on to the bed to recover from his shock.
He sat for a while in a turmoil of mind, then collapsed back on the pillows, his hands behind his head, recalling over and over again what had happened between them since first seeing her, and agonising how he could have been so wrong about her. Her sweet, innocent, beautiful face, that of an angel. Her ingenuous expression. Surely he could not have been mistaken about her. True she’d pressed her body tighter against his than he would have wished when they danced, but there again, in her defence, the hotel’s small dance floor was crowded. What’s more, to be brutally truthful with himself, after his first shock he had found it pleasurable and, after all, there were layers of clothes between them.
Could he have been mistaken in what took place outside her room? Touching his genitalia? Thinking about it, they were standing very close together in the doorway when it happened, and it could have been a perfectly accidental brush of her hand as she entered the room.
As for what she’d said to him – or he thought she’d said to him – ‘Would you like to stay the night?’ his mind was in a state of shock at what he then thought was a brazen come-on by her, and maybe what she’d asked him was more like. ‘Are you staying the night?’ In other words, in the same hotel.
If so, there was an innocent explanation for both – hand and question – and he’d unforgivingly
wronged her. The more he thought about it – filled with shame at so branding her in his mind as a hussy – the more certain he became he was the guilty one, not her. Tomorrow, at breakfast, he would ask if he could share her table, and risk his soul by lying to her his reason for leaving her so abruptly was that he really did have a headache, and unless he got back instantly to his room and take a prescribed medication pill, it would become a raging migraine.
He spent the night sleepless, tossing, turning as he agonised over whether or not she would accept his explanation, but when he entered the breakfast room, she wasn’t there, nor were Robin and Avril, and when he questioned the head waiter, he was told all three had breakfasted very early and booked out of the hotel, the groom and bride to catch their early flight to Scotland, and the bridesmaid was long homeward bound.
Exiting the room without having breakfast he ran to his room, hurriedly packed, rushed to the reception counter, paid his bill, hastened to his car – an all-electric Jaguar – and sped to his Lambeth house, rather than the Manor House, to urgently phone her.
Reaching it and parking his Jag outside, he burst through the front door into his sitting-room,
found her business number, and dialled it.
She instantly answered it, ‘Sabrina Fashions’.
‘It’s Henry,’ he blurted across her. ‘Robin’s groom -‘
She slammed the phone down on him,
Shattered by her reaction, he criss-crossed and criss-crossed the room, then decided to phone her again.
Her line was engaged.
Not wanting to waste a moment longer, he decided to drive to Notting Hill, but at that same moment his phone rang. Praying it was her, he snatched it up. ‘Henry Widgetson.’
‘Henry,’ Sabrina rushed her words, ‘I’m sorry I had to put the phone down on you, but I had an incoming call on my other line which I thought was from a supplier I’m desperately wanting to hear from, and had to answer it. But it was just Avril phoning from the airport – their flight’s been delayed. Will you forgive me?’
‘But of course,’ Henry replied, his heart soaring.
‘Robin had just confided in her all about you, but she couldn’t wait to tell me. Of all things, a Sir. And your father was the famous Widgetson -’
‘Will you marry me?’ he blurted across her again,
‘Oh, Henry, of course I will,’ Sabrina replied, almost breathless with apparent shock. ‘I fell for you the first moment I saw you. If you’ll give me your address, I’ll call a cab to Lambeth and we can talk about it some more rather than over a phone. It’s clear you’ve not returned to the Cotswolds, nor is it a friend’s house, and I’m a teeny bit cross with you for not confiding in me at the reception,’ her voice had now taken on a teasing tone, and it was patent she was anything but. ‘As for last night, I’d have taken you to your room and cared for you until your headache had gone, then returned to mine, but you rushed off too fast.’
‘I mean tomorrow,’ Henry said, elated. ‘I’ll pull a few strings, get a special licence, and meet
you at Lambeth Registry Office. I’ll let you know what time. In the meantime, I hope you won’t
mind but I’ll have a lot to do. Phone the Manor, tell them I’m getting married and going abroad for a month – I hope your passport’s up to date; you can choose our destination – and instruct them on running the estate in my absence. We’ll have to come here for a week after the marriage to make all the arrangements, and give you time to find someone to manage Sabrina Fashions while we’re away.’
‘Oh, Henry,’ Sabrina now sounded breathless, ‘this is all so sudden. The stuff of dreams. The shop’s no problem, my machinist can run it, she’s more than capable. But you’ve given me so much to do in such a short while, I’d best ring off and start my planning.’ She paused a moment then questioned. ‘Henry, if you’re a Sir, does that mean I’ll be a Lady?’
‘Of course,’ Henry said.
‘Oooh, Henry,’ Sabrina almost squealed.
After the wedding, they returned in a rented white limousine to Lambeth. Sabrina almost goggled at seeing the house and its grandeur for the first time, then at his new, dark blue Jaguar parked alongside the pavement by the double-fronted entrance door. As for the house’s splendour inside, the sitting-room’s expensive and modern furniture, almost reverentially touching the two white leather settees and four armchairs grouped U-shaped around a white and blacked streaked marble coffee table, the modern paintings hanging on all the walls, she finally said, ‘Let’s send for an expensive prix fixe meal to celebrate here without going out again, and give me more time to find the words to express myself for the way you’ve made it a perfect day for me.’
Henry just smiled, thrilled to know he was giving her so much pleasure, and the evening passed in bliss for him, with Sabrina stretched out on one of the sofas after their sumptuous meal, her head resting in his lap and his fingers gently brushing her fair hair.
Then at 10 o’clock, Sabrina suddenly said, ‘I think it’s time we went to bed.’
While she was in the off-suite bathroom doing whatever ladies do to beautify themselves on
their wedding nights, Henry put on his striped pyjamas, got into bed and waited expectantly for her to emerge. Except, when she did she took his breath away. Stark naked. Never in his life had Henry thought a perfectly figured young woman could look so ravishing without clothes on.
She got into bed, started undoing the buttons of his pyjamas and whispered. ‘You can take those off. It’s our honeymoon night, and there should be nothing between us anymore.’
But then disaster struck. As she guided him into her he instantly came, and rolled off her with unbearable embarrassment. Sabrina, bless her, was instantly understanding. She cuddled into him, her arm around his neck, pecked his cheek and said. ‘Don’t upset yourself about it, Henry. I gather it often happens between couples on their first night. What’s more, being a virgin, I may be equally to blame, making it even more difficult for you to penetrate.’
Except the exact same thing happened the next night, then the second, third, fourth and fifth, and after a week he was no nearer consummating their union than on the first.
On the eighth morning, Sabrina was up and dressed early. ‘I’m just popping to Notting Hill,’ she said, ‘to check how my machinist is coping on her own, it being her first time in charge.’
After a few hours of being on his own, Henry felt so lost without her, he phoned her.
‘Sabrina Fashions,’ she answered.
‘It’s me,’ said Henry, then paused as he heard a male voice seem to come from another room.
‘Don’t be long, Sab, I can’t keep it up forever.’
‘And don’t forget I’m next,’ exclaimed another male voice in the background.
‘Henry,’ Sabrina rushed his name in an obvious panic. ‘They’re just two of my models trying on new designs. I didn’t give the first a belt to hold up his slacks -’
But Henry didn’t hear her. He was lying dead, his neck broken, on the patio below their open French window after rushing through it and hurling himself over the stone balustrade.
At Henry’s internment in his parents’ Lambeth grave, Sabrina, suitably dressed in black, stood
by the freshly mounded earth and thought.
‘As the new Lady of the Manor, I must go there soon and engage an Estate Manager. Someone like Lady Chatterley’s Mellors would fit the bill nicely. And once a suitable period of mourning has passed, I can swop the Jag for a Ferrari. Then with the Widgeston fortune behind me, move to Knightsbridge to live, and relocate Sabrina Fashions nearer Harrods sooner than I’d hoped, but, unlike VB Fashions, making profits not losses. As for marrying again, I much prefer variety, and then sleeping alone in a luxurious king-sized bed.’
She started to leave but in the absence of giving Henry a religious funeral service, she thought she should offer a prayer for him over his eternal resting-place.
‘Bless you, Henry,’ she said