This Revenge is Cold and Clever
Published By: Etopia Press
Published: Oct 28, 2011
ISBN # 9781936751778
Word Count: 29,198
For no apparent reason, Nadine, Maggie, Gary, and Nick are invited to dinner at the lavish home of top fashion writer, Erin Dartford. But why has she invited them? Why doesn’t she want her guests to mingle? And just what is it about the mysterious Erin that makes them want to run for their lives? Little do they know that as they prepare to eat their first course, an evil as old as mankind is about to be unleashed. And revenge really is a dish best served cold…
If you look back at my review of Cavendish’s first offering, In My Lady’s Chamber, you will see that I said “Cavendish captures the atmosphere perfectly and demonstrates an ability to chill in the great British tradition”. She proves herself yet again with her novella, Cold Revenge, which is a much more complex and clever tale, brilliantly executed in a manner that will delight lovers of Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and the old Twilight Zone shows. I loved the fact that there is a message in here, and one frighteningly relevant in present times. It should be compulsory reading in the City of London and Wall Street.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Nadine said in the car as she checked her lip gloss for the third time, “but she’s only been around five minutes and we all dance to her tune. She just appeared from nowhere with a column in Vogue and suddenly she’s the critic you have to impress.”
“She must have paid her dues somewhere,” Paul said. “Maybe she was big on the Internet, although I can’t say I had ever heard of her until a couple of years ago.”
She was thoughtful for a moment, and then snapped her compact shut before replacing it in her purse. “Well, wherever she came from, or whoever she was before, she is certainly someone now. Gilly said if I upset Erin in any way, I could kiss good-bye to the rest of my career. Crazy the power some of these critics have.”
“Your manager knows what she’s talking about. You’d better listen to her.”
“I’m in the car, aren’t I? I’m going to her wretched dinner party, aren’t I?”
“OK, OK, I’m not the bad guy here.” Paul laughed.
“Sorry.” Nadine meant it. She sighed. “Gilly says I should be honored. After all, she’s never met me. Apparently that’s quite unusual. She’ll normally have done a feature on you before you get an invitation to the Hallowed Hall.”
“Hallowed Hall. It’s what people call the mansion where she lives and where we’re going tonight. It’s set in around six acres of one of the most exclusive parts of Surrey and it’s a former abbey. Its real name is St. Saviour’s but everyone just calls it the Hallowed Hall. It’s supposed to be haunted.”
“Isn’t everywhere in Surrey? Everywhere that’s more than fifty years old at any rate.”
“They had that TV program there. You know, the one fronted by the woman with the piercing scream and the parapsychologist with the weird gadgets. They heard a lot of knocking and the furniture moved around quite a bit.”
“Amazing what you can do with a bit of nylon thread and a hammer, isn’t it?”
Nadine smacked his arm. “Oh Paul, you’re such a cynic!”
“You have reached your destination.”
“Thank you, GPS,” Paul said.
Nadine giggled. It always made her laugh when he talked to his SatNav. She peered out of the window. At dusk on this summer evening, the shadows were lengthening, but the dwindling sun still shed enough light to make out the detail of the mythical beasts carved on top of the stone pillars on either side of a tall pair of wrought iron gates. These now slowly opened.
“Must have seen us on CCTV or something,” Paul mused and looked upward, apparently searching for the camera without success.
Nadine also looked up and shivered. Strange how fierce that stone beast looked and how realistic, as if, at any moment, it might leap down and strike. Must be the light. Still, she couldn’t wait to put some distance between them.
Ahead of them was a long drive and, at the end, a large illuminated house that, even from this distance, looked ecclesiastical.
Paul threw the Ferrari in gear. “OK, let’s not keep the lady waiting.”
As they approached, Nadine took in the large sandstone building with its many arched windows. Two flights of stone steps curved upward to a small terrace in front of an imposing entrance flanked by two narrow turrets. Each of these was carved with figures she couldn’t quite make out, silhouetted against the darkening sky.
He parked and, as they stepped onto the gravel, a soft breeze played around Nadine’s hair. She took Paul’s hand, taking care not to trip in her five-inch heels. Then, without warning, her stomach turned over and, for an instant, she thought she was going to be sick. She felt as if her body was telling her to leave now. The nausea was over in a flash but it unnerved her. This is crazy. It’s just a stupid dinner party. But the inexplicable feeling of unease wouldn’t go away.
The door was open, and soft music wafted toward them. They stepped over the threshold, and Nadine looked around at the scene of conspicuous wealth. The abbey showed its ancient heritage in the stone facade and the worn carvings of saints, some of whose faces had long lost their detail through the actions of wind, sun, and rain.
The interior was light and airy. Nadine recognized the entrance hall in which they were now standing, from a feature in Hello magazine some months before. The room was vast, its pale lemon walls hung with old oil paintings depicting, she presumed, former abbots. A giant marble table took pride of place in the center of the black-and-white tiled floor. Three intricately carved cherubs appeared to be holding it up, and its surface was covered in orange roses, which gave off a heady scent that filled the hall. Above them, an enormous crystal chandelier glittered. Its many pendants tinkled gently in the slight breeze from outside.
Two other couples stood at opposite ends of the hall, sipping champagne. That was strange; Nadine was sure she and Paul had arrived on time. Maybe everyone else planned to be fashionably late, although that was somewhat at odds with Erin’s famed insistence on punctuality.
“You must be Nadine Cornwall. How lovely to meet you at last.” Erin looked exactly like her photographs. Tall, thin to the point of emaciation, she was one of those women whose age was impossible to guess. She could have been anywhere between thirty-five and sixty. Her hair was a helmet of black, her eyes heavy lidded, vivid blue, and chilling. Her lips were a slash of scarlet, matched by her long nails, but she was dressed from head to toe in black. Nadine had never seen Erin pictured in anything else.
Erin was waiting to shake Nadine’s hand, so she tore her eyes away from Erin’s compelling gaze. Her hands were covered in opulent rings, the most stunning of which was an enormous ruby that reminded Nadine of a Pope’s ring she had once seen in an old film. Maybe she expects me to kiss the bloody thing.
Apparently not, and Nadine allowed the older woman to take her hand, immediately wishing she hadn’t. Erin’s grasp was dry, and her hands clawlike. Nadine was relieved when it was safe to withdraw her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Dartford.”
“Oh please, call me Erin, everyone does.”
But not because they like you. They fear you. Nadine wished Erin would stop staring.
As if reading Nadine’s mind, Erin now turned her attention to Paul. “And you must be Nadine’s husband?”
“Partner.” He took her hand and kissed it lightly. Nadine flinched involuntarily and hoped that Erin hadn’t noticed, but the thought of Paul’s lips in contact with that dry, dusty hand brought on another wave of nausea. “I’m Paul Kelly.”
“Of course. You made a fortune out of those clever little websites that show us how we can all save money if only we follow your advice.”
Paul smiled and Nadine watched the exchange, fascinated. Erin’s returning smile stayed firmly planted on her lips while, in her eyes…
“You have no idea what is going to happen to you. You came from nothing and you shall return to nothing.”
“Nadine! Are you all right?”
She jumped. Paul was shaking her arm. Erin had moved on to another couple.
“I thought you were going to pass out. You went so pale.”
She stared at him. “I have no idea, Paul. Maybe it’s low blood sugar. I really don’t know. What did I do?”
Paul smiled. “Nothing really. I don’t think Erin noticed. Her attention was diverted by Maggie O’Donnell over there.” He nodded toward the famous crime writer whose latest bestseller Nadine had just enjoyed. “She was talking to me and I caught you swaying slightly. You were staring at Erin and growing paler by the second. I really thought you were going to faint. What was it?”
Nadine searched her brain for an answer but could find none. She’d heard a voice in her head but she couldn’t remember what it had said.
“I don’t know, Paul. All I know is I just want to go home. Now.”
Paul moved closer to her. “Nadine, you can’t. You know that. She would be offended and you would be committing career suicide. Who knows? I might even be affected by the fallout. Come on and pull yourself together. It’s a bit warm in here and you haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.”
“Gilly said I needed to lose a couple of pounds.”
“You do not need to lose a couple of pounds. Hell, you make Victoria Beckham look well nourished.”
A waiter appeared with a tray of champagne and Paul handed her a glass. Nadine’s hands were shaking, but she did her best to steady them and took a large swig, not surprised to find the bubbly was good quality and perfectly chilled. She recalled how, just five years ago, she wouldn’t have known good champagne from a glass of cider. But that was before she became famous. Before… No, I don’t want to remember that. Not now. Not ever.
Paul was looking at her, curiosity in his gaze.
Her stomach heaved again. “I need to find a bathroom,” she said, handing him her empty glass and hurrying away, aware that he was following her every step.
The waiter directed her out of the hall, down a long, arched passageway. Hobbled by her heels, Nadine removed her shoes and, as she sped past the tapestry-covered walls, was vaguely aware of scenes depicting heroic battles between good and evil. She located the door she needed and opened it, then shut and locked it behind her. She leaned against it, sweat beading her brow.
The room contained an old-fashioned toilet and a dressing table with a mirror over it. Ornate gilt wall lights cast a muted glow over dark red wallpaper, giving it a Gothic air. She dropped her shoes on the floor, took a tissue from a box on the table, and gently dabbed her forehead and upper lip, closing her eyes and fanning herself to cool down. Her stomach seemed to be doing somersaults.
She jumped. Her eyes shot open. The voice had been in her ear. “Who is it?” she called.
No one replied.
I’m going mad. Paul’s right. I must eat properly. I’m hallucinating because my blood sugar’s dropped too low.
“Nadine. You know who I am.”
Terror overwhelming her, she grabbed her shoes, unlocked the door, and wrenched it open. In the passageway, she leaned against the wall, panting. That voice. She recognized that voice. But it couldn’t be. She must have imagined it. The hunger. Maybe even the heat. After all, the temperature had soared today.
Maggie O’Donnell went by, a strange expression on her face, but Nadine was barely aware of her. She was slipping away. Gradually the passageway throbbed, and then started to fade as if a mist was descending.
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