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An Absolute Scandal

Chapter 1
22 April 1988, Morning

She wasn't even going to think about having an affair.

It was something she totally disapproved of; it wasn't only immoral and selfish, it was deeply dangerous. She was married, very happily, to someone she not only loved but admired, and there was no way she was going to break her vows (and risk breaking Nigel's heart), and put her marriage and her very happy life at risk. So that was absolutely that. And if he phoned --- which he almost certainly wouldn't, he'd been drunk and probably hadn't meant a word of what he said --- but if he did, she would simply say, "No, I'm sorry, it was lovely meeting you, but I'm happily married and --- well, I'm happily married." That would be enough. Surely. He'd know what she meant and he'd probably come out with some jokey reply and that would be that. And if she had to spell it out --- well, she would. A fun encounter: that's all it had been. She might have been a bit silly: she had been a bit silly. But that was all. Blame the champagne. And luckily Nigel hadn't noticed anything …

He came into the bedroom now, from their bathroom, offering his wrists to her so she could put in his cuff links; as she did so, her fingers unusually fumbly --- blame the champagne for that as well, she seemed to have a bit of a hangover --- she suddenly found herself looking at him as if she had never seen him before. Was he really, as HE had said so rudely, a bit of a caricature? She supposed, honestly, he was: tall, blond --- well, blondish, going just slightly grey now --- very slim, pretty good-looking really, perfectly dressed, in his Turnbull and Asser shirt, his pinstripe suit, his Lobb shoes. (HE had been wearing Lobb shoes, he told her: "Only posh thing about me. I get a real thrill going in there, them getting the old last out.")

“Lucinda! Do concentrate, darling, I can't stand here all day.”

“Sorry. There you are.”

“Thanks. You having breakfast this morning?”

“Oh --- no.” The thought made her feel sick.

“Hope you're not overdoing the dieting?”

“Nigel, of course I'm not. I'd have thought you only had to look at me to see that.”

“Well --- you look pretty good to me. Anyway, I'm hungry. Not enough to eat at that thing, was there?”

“No, not really. Gosh, it's late, I didn't realise.”


She mustn't be late for work today, of all days. She worked for Peter Harrison, the publishers, as secretary to Graham Parker, one of the editors, and he had an important meeting with some Americans. Being Americans, they had suggested an eight o'clock meeting; Graham had managed to persuade them forwards an hour to nine, but she'd have to be there well before then, coffee brewed, biscuits and herself ready to greet them. It would be fun.

One of the things Lucinda loved most about her job was the social aspect; there was always something going on --- book launches, marketing meetings, sales conferences, press jaunts…She'd been working for Graham for a year now; she was hoping to be an editor herself one day, but her ambition was slightly halfhearted; she didn't intend to go on working after she'd had a baby. That was something else she disapproved of: working mothers. She intended to be like her own mother, always there, putting her children first. But --- come on, Lucinda, don't start thinking about that now. You've got to get to work.


She caught sight of herself in the hall mirror and tried to see herself through HIS eyes: long-ish full-ish skirt (Laura Ashley), blue shirt with a turned-up collar (Thomas Pink), and her twenty-first-birthday pearls, of course; navy sleeveless Puffa jacket, flat shoes (Charles Jourdan), blond hair scooped back in a velvet band.

There really was no way she could possibly appeal to HIM, not really. He'd like one of those sharp eighties girls in short-skirted suits with padded shoulders, girls with big hair and big ambitions. He wouldn't even be able to remember her this morning, never mind ringing her…and as she stood there, checking that she had her wallet and her keys, the post came through the letter box. A couple of quite nice-looking things, clearly invitations, a bill or two, a postcard from Verbier, from the skiing party she'd wanted to join and Nigel hadn't, and a letter from Lloyd's. Lloyd's of London. One of the whiter-than-white envelopes that arrived once a year, containing a statement of their account and followed in due course by a large cheque. Nigel was a Member of Lloyd's; it was one of the things that had pleased her father most when he and Nigel had had their little chat, just before they got engaged.

"Not only all that land, down in Norfolk, but he's a Name as well; that'll stand you in good stead in the years to come."

One of her uncles had been a Name in quite a big way, apparently. When she was young, she'd heard her mother talking about it, and asked her what it meant. "Well, darling, it means you become a sort of sleeping partner," Margaret Worthington had said rather vaguely. "They insure big things, like ships and buildings, and they make a big profit on it. If you're a Name, you get a share in those profits." "What happens if the ships sink?" she'd asked, and her mother had said, well, there was more than enough money to deal with that. "They still make a profit. Ask Daddy about it, he'll tell you more, I don't really understand it. Except that it pays all your cousins' school fees," she added.

It hadn't sounded interesting enough for Lucinda to ask her father; but she did know now that there was enough money coming in from Lloyd's every year to boost their income quite a bit. Which they didn't need at the moment of course, Nigel's salary as chairman of the family business was perfectly adequate, and he had quite a big portfolio of stocks and shares, but it would be wonderfully helpful when they wanted to move to the country and buy a house.

That was the plan, to move as soon as they had children. Not to Norfolk, that was too far and the last thing Nigel wanted was to run the farm, but he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in London. Nor did she; she'd grown up in the country herself and loved it.

"Where did you live when you were a child then?" HE had asked last night. "Some pile in the country, I s'pose?"

And, "Well," she'd said, "not exactly a pile, but quite a nice house, yes, in Gloucestershire, near Cirencester."

"Oh yeah? Ponies?"

"Yes. Yes, I did have a pony. Actually."

"Very nice," he'd said, "very nice indeed. I'd like my kids to have all that, ponies and boarding school. You go to boarding school?"

"Yes, when I was thirteen."

"Like it?"

"Quite. I got awfully homesick and missed my pony. And Mummy, of course, and my brothers."

"And where were they at school? Eton or Harrow or some such?"

"Um --- Eton, yes, actually."

"And hubby, he go to Eton?"

"Yes, he did."

That was when he'd said Nigel was a caricature. And --- Stop it, Lucinda, stop thinking about it.

She started ripping open the envelopes to distract herself. Invitations: oh, fantastic, Caroline's wedding. And that looked like Philippa's writing (it was) --- brilliant, party in the country --- and Sarah's baby's christening, and --- Damn! She'd opened a letter addressed to Nigel by mistake, half pulled it out. Not that Nigel would mind --- at least, she didn't think so. He always said he had no secrets from her. She'd just say she was sorry and --- now the letter wouldn't go back into the envelope. Lucinda pulled it out to refold it and couldn't resist reading it. The letterhead was jackson and bond, members' agent, lloyd's of london, and the letter itself was quite brief:

Dear Nigel,
I thought I should warn you ahead of the final account that, as I feared, you did make a loss for the year just closed. Not a big one, just a few thousand pounds

A loss. How extraordinary. That had never happened before. She didn't know how many thousands of pounds Lloyd's would regard as "just a few." Maybe ten thousand, or even more? Surely not. But she did know they dealt in very big numbers. Nigel would know. They'd have to talk about it tonight.

God, she was late; she must go. She left the letters on the hall table and slammed the door behind her.


Despite her resolve, she began to think about HIM again: him and last night. She'd never met anyone quite like him before. It had been at a party, to celebrate the publication of a book edited by Graham Parker about the financial markets just before and just after Big Bang --- that extraordinary day in October 1986, when the stock market became totally computerised and a free-for-all, rather than the gentlemanly domain of the traditional stockbroker.

Lucinda organised and attended all the editorial department's parties; it was part of her job and she enjoyed it.

The guest list had looked like a Who's Who of the Square Mile, Nigel had been invited, not because he worked in the City --- he worked for a large manufacturing company that had been founded by his grandfather --- but because he had a large share portfolio and Graham had kindly suggested to Lucinda that it might be interesting for him. HE on the other hand did work in the City.

HE was one of that entirely new breed of traders, the market makers, sprung not from the great public schools but from the East End of London. "I'm one of your electronic barrow boys, so-called," he said, grinning at her, as he allowed her to refill his glass. "Not the sort the City used to give the time of day to, unless we was in our proper place in the back office." He held out his hand. "Gary Horton. Known these days as Blue. Pleased to meet you" --- he peered at her name badge --- "Lucinda Cowper." He pronounced it wrongly as people so often did; it always annoyed her.

"It's pronounced Cooper," she said briskly, "the w's silent."

"Yeah, I see," he said looking mildly amused, and then, his dark eyes moving over her. "Are you really called Lucinda?"

"Yes, of course. Is that so unusual?"

"Well, where I come from it is. I mean, that is a posh name, isn't it? Seriously posh."

"I --- I don't know," she said.

"I don't s'pose you would. Don't s'pose you know anyone who isn't posh, do you?"

"Well, of course I do," she said, rather helplessly.

"Oh, OK. What, like Daddy's chauffeur and Mummy's cleaner?"

"I think you're being rather rude," said Lucinda, "if you don't mind my saying so. Now if you'll excuse me, I --- "

"Sorry," he said, putting out an arm, stopping her. "I was out of order. Sorry. It interests me, all that Eton-and-ponies stuff, not sure I know why. Probably because I can't understand how they --- you've --- done it."

"What do you mean?" she said, reluctantly interested.

"How you've survived so long. I mean, most dinosaurs die out, don't they? Oh, shit. Now I've been rude again, haven't I?"

"Yes. Very," she said coolly, unable to laugh it off; she looked for Nigel, went over and refilled his glass.

"You all right?" she said. "Got enough people to talk to?"

"Oh yes, of course. Jolly good party, Lucinda, well done." He smiled at her; it was one of his more endearing characteristics, that he enjoyed life enormously; his work, his social life --- although he got a bit irritated with her more giggly friends --- his tennis, his shooting. He was seldom out of sorts, always cheerful, almost always good-tempered. He was quite a bit older than she was, forty-two to her twenty-four, but it had never been a problem. She rather liked it; it made her feel safe.

She was in earnest conversation with one of the other editors when Blue Horton appeared at her side again.

"Look," he said, waiting patiently until the editor moved away, "I just wanted to apologise. I've got a real gift for saying the wrong thing. Can't help it, really."

"It's all right," she said. "Now if you'll excuse me, I really have to go and talk to some more --- what did you call them? --- oh yes, dinosaurs."

"No, don't go," he said, putting his hand on her arm, "please. One of the reasons I got carried away was because I felt --- I don't know --- thrown by you."

"Thrown? Why?"

"Well, because you're so bloody gorgeous," he said. "I just totally forgot myself. Looking at you."

Lucinda felt a blush rising up her throat.

"Don't be ridiculous," she said.

"I'm not being ridiculous. I'm a shy, retiring sort of a fellow."

"Now you are really being ridiculous." She smiled in spite of herself. "You're about as shy as --- as" --- she struggled to think of someone suitably self-confident --- "Mrs. Thatcher."

"Ah, now there's a lady I admire," he said, surprising her. "She's responsible for all this" --- he waved his arm round the room --- "all this enterprise; she's freed up the market, she's made it possible to do whatever you want, given enough ambition and energy and that. It's getting more like the States every day here, and I like it. I think that's what I was really trying to say," he added with a grin, "when I said your lot were dinosaurs. I meant, everything's changed and you've managed not to. And still done well. Very admirable."

"Well, all right. I'll try to accept that."

"Good. So how long you been married then?"

"Three and a half years."

"And kids? Got any kids?"

"No. Not yet,"

"OK. And where'd you live? Don't tell me, somewhere not too far away from Sloane Square."

"Well, yes. Actually. In dinosaur country."

"You're not going to let me forget that, are you?"

"No, I'm not. Now I really do have to circulate a bit more."

"I'll come with you."

"Blue --- " She stopped suddenly. "Why Blue, when you were christened Gary?"

"It's a nickname," he said. "We all have them and they all got some sort of reason. I mean, there's Luft, short for Luftwaffe, he's got blond hair and blue eyes and very, very right-wing views. And Croydon, because his surname is Sutton, and Harry, he's one of your coloured gentlemen, so Harry as in Belafonte, and Kermit who looks like a frog, and Blue Buttons were the runaround boys on the old stock-exchange floor. Looked after the brokers, kept them supplied with tea and coffee --- and info, of course. You'd hear people shouting for them: 'Where's the Blue? Hey, Blue, over here!' I was one of them, before Big Bang. In fact, I got to be the head Blue Button. So the name stuck. I quite like it. Don't you?"

"I…well, yes, I think so," she said doubtfully.

"Good. Come on, let's do some of this circulating then. You introduce me to some of these people. And your husband, if you like."

An Absolute Scandal
by by Penny Vincenzi

  • paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0767926269
  • ISBN-13: 9780767926263