Angela Wheeler studied herself in the bathroom mirror. At thirty-two her golden hair still shone. Her blue eyes were bright. Her complexion was flawless. Her figure was trim and there was little sag to her breasts. Nevertheless she sighed. Her eyes no longer sparkled with vivacity and a sense of fun and her lips were a straight line. Her smiling mouth had gone.
"My marriage is a façade," she thought. "Clive isn't the husband I thought I married. Yes, he's still very good looking and keeps himself fit but his charm and friendliness exist now only for his own ends. I am a useful adjunct, nothing more: a social advantage, a nanny to his children. My children as well, dammit! He wouldn't even let me keep them, sending them off to boarding school. He wouldn't listen to my argument and pleas. 'Only the very best for my children.' So Harriet's down for Marlborough, where the York princesses and the Duchess of Cambridge went, and Nigel for Eton. Jumped up snob! No boarding school for him: just the local comprehensive."
She sighed again and went to get dressed. How she wished she still had a job but that had been vetoed when Clive became a senior manager and looked set to join the board. Instead he had pushed her into playing golf, riding, bridge and joining a gym. She had ridden as a girl and still enjoyed it. She found also that she enjoyed golf. Bridge was the least fun. Clive had forced her into it for social reasons but refused to learn himself. Consequently she found that she was playing with women twenty or thirty years older than herself. The gym was not too bad and had certainly contributed to her keeping her slim, lithe figure.
She no longer loved him and she was pretty sure he felt the same but his ego would not let him divorce her. Furthermore, if she left him she had little doubt that he would make access to the children as difficult as possible. She had to hold on for their sakes.
Angela was the subject of Clive's thoughts as he drove to the office that morning. She had fulfilled all the reasons he had married her for: a step up the social ladder, money before he started to earn a half decent salary, two children, a beautiful partner at social events and, until fairly recently, a delightful sexual partner. She had responded well to his training to do his will. She had tried arguing things with him early on such as schooling for the children but his obstinacy had won the day and now she just quietly acquiesced. He had never raised a hand to her but he would have been prepared to had he felt it necessary. Now he was bored with her. Her conversation was boring. She was boring in bed. She was not the least bit interested in his work merely acknowledging that he had done well. Perhaps it was time to get a replacement. There must be nothing blameworthy on his part. There was no immediate rush though. He needed to find a substitute first.
Clive turned his mind towards work. A year ago he had been promoted to Director of Design and had inherited a first class team. They were all good or very good engineers, imaginative and hard-working. When he took over they were working on the design of a hospital in West Africa. It was well advanced and he had had nothing much more to do than curb over-enthusiasm which might incur greater costs and cause them to lose the tender. The design was architecturally stunning. In addition it met all the clinical and administrative requirements and indeed improved on many of them. The results of the competition were imminent. The team needed to be rewarded. He was tempted to put that off until the result was announced but then the whole firm would be involved and the kudos of arranging it would be lost to him. He resolved to have a word with the Chief Executive that morning and see if he could worm some money out of him. There was no need to go overboard; just drinks and a three course dinner in the canteen for the team and their partners. That should be achievable for two to two and a half thousand pounds, a mere drop in the ocean compared to the millions they would make if the company did get the contract.
He greeted his PA, Trish, on arrival and asked her to arrange a meeting with the Chief Executive. She brought him his coffee and the day's mail and then, with a smile, left him to it. Clive smiled to himself. She clearly fancied him and was quite attractive in her way but she was no substitute for Angela. It might be quite fun to have a short affair with her but that would be fraught with risk. She popped her head round the door and said that the Chief Executive could see him at ten. He thanked her and continued to go through the mail.
At five to ten he wandered up one floor to the Chief Executive's office. Moira, his PA, greeted him warmly.
"This is all very secretive, Mr Wheeler," she said with a smile. "Trish said she had no idea why you wanted to see Mr Herbert."
Clive smiled back and tapped the side of his nose. "Never fear, Moira. It won't be a secret for very long and no, I'm not resigning."
Moira laughed. She liked this young man with his good looks and ready smile.
"Go on in," she said.
Clive did so and Tony Herbert rose to his feet with a smile.
"Good morning, Clive. What are you about to spring on me?"
Clive grinned as they both sat down. "Nothing earth-shattering," he said. "It's just that the design team has been working like beavers for the last eighteen months on the hospital project and I'd like to reward them."
"Well, if we win the contract there will no doubt be a company celebration but that'll be everybody. OK, the Finance boys and girls and Contracts have all played their part but the brunt of the work has fallen on my team and Project Management have had nothing to do with it yet."
"I'd like them to have a party but something rather more than just a booze up in the canteen. I was thinking of drinks and a three course meal, held in the canteen to keep the costs down, with their partners."
"Sounds good but why are you running it past me?"
Clive smiled again. "I'll give you one guess: money."
"Aha! What a surprise! Surely though your directorate has an entertainment fund."
"Yes it does but that goes towards the Christmas party and in any case I don't think they should put a penny towards what I envisage as a gesture of thanks."
Tony nodded. "How much are you asking for?"
"Well, I guess it will cost between two and two and a half grand. I'm happy to put up five hundred to show my own appreciation for what they've done so I'm asking the company to foot the balance."
"Up to two thousand. That's not insignificant."
"No I appreciate that but it's peanuts compared with what we stand to make on this project."
"Got it all worked out, haven't you? What about the bribery and corruption now?"
Clive looked at him wide-eyed. "Bribery and corruption? Me?"
"The little white hen that never lays astray."
"That's me." He smiled engagingly. "Of course if you do give the go ahead we shall be inviting you and the chairman and your wives as our guests."
"Ah!" Tony chuckled. "Go for it, Clive. I think it's a great idea."
"Thanks, Tony. I really am most grateful and my directorate will be too."
A few minutes later he took his leave and went back to his office. He smiled at Trish. She saw only happiness at success not triumphalism.
"Coffee, Trish, and bring yours in. We've got some planning to do."
Trish perked up and came in a few minutes later with coffee and biscuits.
"What's up, Boss?" she asked eagerly.
"Party! I've persuaded the Chief Executive to part with some cash so that we can have a team party to celebrate finishing the design for the hospital so now we've got to organise it."
"I'll go and get the diary."
She ran to collect it.
"When were you thinking of?"
"A fortnight on Friday."
"It's clear. Do you think a Friday's a good idea though? People will be wanting to get away."
"The party includes partners: husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends."
"Oh wow! How much will everyone have to subscribe?"
"Nothing. That's what I managed to get out of the Chief Executive."
Clive smiled self-effacingly. "Not all of it. I offered to put up five hundred quid myself towards it but that's just between you and me."
"That's very generous, Mr Wheeler."
Clive shrugged nonchalantly. "Not really but I do think that I personally owe the team a lot for all they've done over the past year."
Trish nodded enthusiastically. He really was a nice man: so appreciative and generous.
"So now, my dear, I'd like you to get things underway with the canteen manager but I'd like to cast an eye over whatever you cook up between you before he starts organising things. You'll need to produce some posters and booking forms and so on as well. Half past six to seven drinks and then a three course dinner. No more than twenty five quid a head. Does that give you enough to go on?"
"Mm!" Trish nodded happily.
"OK. I'll leave you to get on with it."
Trish had notices posted that afternoon asking people who wished to attend to add their names. Tom Clifford was attracted by the idea but waited to talk to his wife, Briony, about it before signing up.
They had married eighteen months earlier and were extremely happy. Tom was a civil engineer in his early thirties and had played a major part in the hospital project. He had led the section that had worked on all the concrete: piles, beams, foundations, floors and much else. He was well built with sandy hair and an open smiling face. He played hockey and cricket not at a high level but nevertheless at a reasonable standard. It was through hockey that he and Briony had met. She was a member of the ladies' side at the same club. She was a small, dark haired elf with vivid green eyes. She was a computer expert writing programs for a national IT company.
Their courtship had not been a whirlwind affair. Certainly they were attracted to each other from the moment they met but they had spent time getting to know each other and their families. It was eighteen months or so before they became engaged. Both families were delighted although Tom's younger sister, Kate, teased him about his teenaged bride, he being ten inches taller than Briony.
"It's all yours and Mum's fault," he had replied happily. "I'm used to midgets."
Kate had growled and hugged him. She and Briony had also become great friends.
Tom beat Briony home. In fact she texted him to warn him that she was going to be late. He heated the oven and kept a ready-meal on hand ready to cook as soon as she arrived. She finally arrived at ten to eight letting herself in. Tom rushed to meet her.
"Oh, my poppet," he murmured as he took her into his arms. "You must be bushed."
She nodded against his chest. "Yes. Whacked." She looked up. "But happy. We cracked the problem and I'm in your arms. Please could I have a kiss?"
Tom obliged. It was a gentle kiss but full of love and Briony recognised it. Her arms tightened round him and her lips pressed harder. In moments it was passionate.
"Oh, Tom, I love you."
"And I love you, my precious Briony." His hands went to her head and he ran his fingers through her hair gently massaging her scalp.
"Oh, Tom, yes," she murmured as he massaged away her tension. "What would I do you without you?"
"Hit the bottle probably," he murmured.
Briony giggled. "As if!"
Their lips met again.
"Despite what I said I think you need a restorative drink. White wine?"
"Thank you, my sweet."
He led her into the kitchen and sat her down at the table before going to the fridge, retrieving a bottle of Pinot Grigiot and pouring her a glass. He put the fish pie in the oven.
"It'll be another half hour, I'm afraid."
She smiled at him. "That's all right. Why don't we go through and sit on the sofa together?"
"I'll have to go and do the peas in twenty minutes."
"I can give you quite a lot of kisses in twenty minutes."
They both went and snuggled together and they did kiss, quite a lot, but Tom knew she needed to get the day off her chest.
"Tell me," he said.
"The program has got to be ready by close of play tomorrow. We'd been testing it for forty-eight hours and everything looked good until there was a glitch this morning and we couldn't find it. We had to find it today and it took us until six-thirty this evening."
"Yes." There was a pause. "Well me, I suppose, but I'd never have found it without the others."
"I'm sure you wouldn't but well done, my Bri."
She smiled up at him. "My Bri!" she said scornfully but she loved the endearment.
Tom grinned unrepentantly. "Better than Mio Brio."
"Telling me. Don't try wooing me with Italian smoochiness."
"But I love you con brio."
"And I love you appassionata, so there."
"Same to you."
That led to another laughter filled kiss.
"Peas, Mrs Clifford, can I have another kiss?"
Hand in hand they went back into the kitchen. While Tom did his stuff with the peas Briony laid the table. He doled out their supper and poured them each another glass of wine. Both were hungry and there was silence as they took two or three mouthfuls.
"So what happened in your world?" asked Briony.
"Not a lot. Now the hospital's over we're back to more mundane things with less sense of urgency."
Briony nodded. "Good! You were working much too hard. Now you'll have more time for me." The mischievous twist to her lips belied anything serious.
Tom smiled happily at her. "And don't even wait for the weekend. Now, my poppet, the company's throwing a three course dinner on Friday fortnight to thank the Design Directorate for all the hard work on the hospital project. How about it?"
"Sounds good. What time?"
"Half past six for seven."
"Great! I'll make a point of knocking off at five then I can get home and change and drive in. That'll mean we don't have to worry about trains and taxis home."
"But it does limit you on booze."
Briony glared at him. "Since when... ?
Tom smiled back. "Never. I love you, Mrs Clifford."
"I love you, Mr Clifford."