The Way We Lied

By the time they reached the coffee break, Nick was feeling that attending the conference had been a worthwhile use of his time. He followed the other delegates into a large bright central atrium where refreshments were being served. He did not know anyone else here and decided to just stand back and see if he could identify key players as opposed to key workers. If he had an opportunity to introduce himself, he would. He stood back and observed the crowd. He could see Lady Marion Thursley, the charity’s director and the fellow beside her was their head of publicity, who had been doing all the links and introductions during the morning sessions. And there beside them, being kissed on both cheeks by Lady Thursley, was the interesting woman he had been watching. Did that mean she was part of their organisation?
Later, when the conference broke for lunch, Nick decided he would introduce himself to this unconventional delegate. It would be easier to ingratiate himself with a single person than with a group or those who were clearly heading the event. As the audience left their seats and shuffled towards the door, he made sure he was close by her side. She was carrying her sketch pad under her arm in a folder and as he caught up with her, she turned round to look at him.
“I couldn’t help noticing,” he said with a smile, gesturing at the sketches. “You seem to be the only one here who is not making written notes.”
She smiled back at him. “I make my own record of events in my own special way.” She held out her hand, by way of introduction. “Mary Reid.”
“I’m Nick Haskell. Are you involved with the charity in some way? I spotted you talking to Lady Thursley earlier.”
“I support the Society’s work and principles. They’re doing valuable work. And they’ve commissioned me to create a sculpture to be installed at their next project. They want to mark their success and it will be their one hundredth development.”
Nick grimaced to show he was impressed by this, then said, “Good for them, but I’m surprised a charity like this would want to splash out on works of art.”
“It’s a gift from a benefactor, actually. They won’t have to use any of the charity’s funding for it at all.”
Nick showed his approval with a nod, then asked, “And will the sculpture depict some of the people here today? Is that why you were drawing them?”
She glanced around at the councillors and architects piling plates with poached salmon and coronation chicken. “Possibly. But mainly I sketch at these events just to remember what it feels like. It’s better than taking notes for me. What about you?”
They had joined the buffet queue and Nick wondered how much to tell her. He decided to be vague. “I’m involved in property and thought this might be something I should be thinking about in the future.”
“Cheap housing?” She passed him a plate then helped herself to a generous portion of potato salad. “You should think about it. Everyone should. If we don’t, the countryside will be soon be dead and whole areas of cities will be out of bounds to the very people who maintain society.”
He was a little taken aback. “You have very forthright opinions. You obviously feel very strongly about this. And you yourself, are you a town or a country girl?”
“Both, but I live mostly in the country at present.”
Nick reached for the quiche and added two slices to his plate. “Well I’m all for preserving the countryside. And actually, I’d like to meet Lady Thursley as well. There’s a project coming up in the near future which might be of interest. Would you mind introducing me?”
Mary agreed to do so as soon as they were relieved of their plates of food. They found a couple of chairs and perched while they ate. As they talked, Nick assessed her potential. It was something he found himself doing instinctively with every woman he met. She was not his usual type. He was normally attracted to petite blondes, both buxom and slender, as long as they had a sense of humour, which had long departed Sarah. Mary was none of these and with her earnest tone, he had not yet established whether she found anything funny.
“Do you have any developments in my area?” she asked. “I’m living near Guildford at present.”
“As a matter of fact I do. And that happens to be my neck of the woods too. I live about four miles away.” Nick briefly pictured this tall dark woman reclining on the cream sofa in the show home. It was not an unattractive thought. “I’d quite like you to see the Dover Court project, as it’s nearing completion. We should perhaps discuss another commission for you.”
“I’ll come and see you there then,” she said firmly. “I’d like to see how you operate.”
Nick agreed and gave her details. She sounded serious, but Nick wondered whether he had just been propositioned.

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