Alex found herself being regarded with a cool haughty stare and felt she was being judged. In the tight black trousers and soft black leather jacket she had chosen for this occasion, she had thought she would seem edgy and cool. But suddenly she felt ridiculous before this woman with piercing blue eyes, who had made no special effort with her appearance. Mary was wearing jeans with a man’s shirt. Alex noticed that her hands were rough and workmanlike and she wore a long chain bearing an old fob watch, dangling between her breasts.
“Well since you are an established connoisseur of Helen’s work, what do you make of her new style?” Mary asked. “Do you like it?”
Alex hesitated, “It’s very interesting, but I think I like the flowers in the jug best.”
Mary smiled her lazy smile and nodded. “You prefer her old style. Safer, isn’t it? I guessed that’s the one you’d pick.”
Helen came briefly to the rescue. “I suppose that’s because it’s like the ones Alex’s got already. Maybe the new style does take a bit of getting used to.” She gave them both a small nervous smile, then said, “Actually, will you excuse me a minute, someone’s just arrived.” She rushed away and Alex was left feeling exposed.
“Helen’s right,” Alex flustered, wondering why she felt she had to justify her taste before this critical face. “It would look very nice alongside the ones I’ve bought from her previously. And the new work is very different. But I think perhaps it could grow on me in time.”
Mary was still looking at her with amusement. “Maybe it will. I rather doubt it though in your case.”
“Why do you say that? You don’t know what I like!”
Mary shrugged. “No? Well, I know you like decorative things, just as you yourself are decorative. You like to be desired for your attractiveness without actually giving of yourself, just as you like flirting with the men around you, toying with them. You are playing with Nick and there are probably others too.”
Alex felt herself growing hot. “Nick is my friend’s husband and my husband’s former business partner, actually. We just happened to bump into each other at that country house sale last week.”
Mary smiled again, that secretive knowing smile which implied she knew far more. “Of course you did. You are far too clever to make a mistake. So is Nick. But you should both be careful. You might get caught out one day. The sexual games you both like to play, can have serious consequences you know.”
to be continued March 24