***Note: The following excerpt has not gone through its final proofing.**
Mrs. Ginger Reed, alias Lady Gold, had reserved a box at the London Playhouse Theatre for her family, who now, mingling with anticipation and glasses of champagne in hand, waited for the signal that the production of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet was about to begin.
“I never grow tired of living in London!” Felicia Gold said. Felicia, Ginger’s exuberant and très modern former sister-in-law, was the sister of Ginger’s late husband, Daniel, Lord Gold, and what Ginger’s American counterparts would now, in the year 1925, call a super-flapper. Indeed, Felicia looked the epitome of the icon in a beaded, sleeveless frock with a lantern fringe that barely landed mid-shin. Her glossy auburn bob was pressed down with a glittering headband to which a large feather was attached. “My darling, Ginger,” Felicia went on. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for rescuing me from dull country living!”
“I quite miss the quiet of the country,” said Ginger’s former grandmother, the Dowager Lady Gold. “Young people at least had manners and knew their place in proper society.” She scowled at Felicia’s outfit and the bare skin shown, but refrained from speaking out her displeasure at Felicia’s flagrant display in the presence of strangers who could possibly overhear. Ambrosia had tried to enter the twentieth century by having her long hair cut into a short shingle, but her spirit hadn’t quite made it over. “My heart is rather broken over the loss of Bray Manor.”
“Oh bosh, Grandmama,” Felicia said, brightly. “I fear that your loss is my gain.”
Ginger pulled on her husband’s arm, subtly separating the two Gold ladies. Chief Inspector Basil Reed’s mouth twitched, and his handsome hazel eyes glinted in amusement. Ginger was glad to see Basil found the situation humorous.
“I don’t think I’ve had a chance to say it before now,” he said, “but you are a sight of loveliness.”
Ginger felt the weight of the tiara she wore on her head, her red hair in a stylish marcelled bob, which went perfectly with her sequin-covered gown.
“Thank you, love,” Ginger said, but before she could return the compliment, their attention was captured by the group occupying the box next to them.
“I wish I’d stayed at home.” The voice belonged to a gruff-sounding gentleman in a wheelchair. “I can’t stand theatre.”
“Why did you come then?” An attractive woman in her forties shot the man a disparaging look.
“Because you’d never let me hear the end of it if I didn’t. You and your endless social engagements! You’re going to put me in the grave before God is through with me.”
Basil whispered into Ginger’s ear. “That’s Mr. Reginald Peck and his second wife, Mrs. Virginia Peck.”
“Of Eaton Square?” Ginger said. “We’re attending a gala at their house tomorrow evening.”
“Which would explain Mr. Peck’s complaint.”
“And the others with them?”
“They are his children by his first wife. The young man dressed in that fine suit is his son, Matthew, and the young lady is his daughter, Mrs. Deirdre Northcott.”
The two siblings were dressed as one might do for a night at the theatre, similar to their father and stepmother, in fine suits and gorgeous evening gowns.
“Who’s the other fellow?” A third man was dressed as if he were a visiting dignitary from India, in a brown satin pyjama-style kurta. However, the pale tones of his skin and hair belied Indian ethnicity.
“That is the son-in-law, Alistair Northcott.”
“How eclectic,” Ginger said. “I suppose we shouldn’t be rude and not greet them. I would like the hosts to recognise me when we show up at their gala.”
Basil led Ginger by her elbow to the end of their box that joined with the Peck family’s. Virginia Peck spotted them and made strides to greet them. Ginger, an expert in all the top fashion designers, recognised the Elsa Schiaparelli gown immediately.
“Good evening,” Mrs. Peck said. “It’s Mr. Basil Reed, is it not?”
“Indeed,” Basil said.
Before Basil could introduce Ginger, Mrs. Peck continued, “I’ve met your parents, Mr. Reed. They share mutual friends with my husband, Reginald.” Her eyes darted to the man in the wheelchair, positioned at the opposite end to where Mrs. Peck had sat. Mr. Matthew Peck and Mr. and Mrs. Northcott sat in the chairs between them.
“I hear they’re back in the city,” Mrs. Peck said. “Such adventurers!”
“Indeed, they are,” Basil said.
“I quite envy them.”
“Yes,” Basil shifted and changed the subject. “May I introduce my wife, Ginger Reed?”
Mrs. Peck finally looked Ginger in the eye and offered a tired smile. “Forgive me. I do get carried away at times. How do you do?”
“Very well, thank you,” Ginger said. “We received an invitation to your gala and I saw I had a unique opportunity to make your acquaintance beforehand.”
“I host the gala every year to raise funds for our injured servicemen. Our own Matthew was injured in the fighting. She cast a glance at her stepson and lowered her voice. “He’s never been quite the same since returning, I’m afraid. But let’s not be solemn on such a fabulous evening. I’m delighted you can make it tomorrow, and I look forward to seeing you again.”
The lights dimmed signalling the production was about to begin.
“Enjoy the show, Mrs. Peck,” Basil said.
Once they were seated, Ginger spoke softly, “She seems lovely, though I get the feeling she’s not very happy.”
“I don’t think Reginald Peck is the easiest fellow to live with. He’s had ongoing health problems. I’m dreadfully sorry to see he’s ended up in a wheelchair.”
“A house on Eaton Square—he must be a very wealthy man.”
“Oh yes. He built his wealth buying and selling property and is apparently quite savvy with the stock market.”
The curtains parted, and Ginger, along with a myriad of other spectators, lifted a small set of viewing glasses to her eyes. It just so happened that the angle allowed her a quick study of the intriguing family in the box next door. Everyone’s eyes were on the stage except for Mr. Matthew Peck’s. He was most definitely glaring at his brother-in-law—or was he staring at his father? Mr. Reginald Peck and Mr. Northcott were seated side by side. At any rate, if looks could kill. Ginger shivered and focused on the action on stage, quite determined to mind her own business.