Simon was politely prompt the next afternoon and handed Chris a bottle of wine at the door. He kept hold of a second bottle, champagne this time, ‘for the birthday girl’.
“Seriously though, I looked those three up last night. I get the very strong impression those magazines and gossip blogs don’t know the half of it.”
Chris laughed, “I’d agree with that.”
Simon gave him the side-eye, “And that’s all you’re going to say?”
“Yup, pretty much lost for words beyond that.”
That earned a crack of laughter as they entered the kitchen and Simon absorbed the smooth flow from room, to patio, to lawn, to view.
“How many clients do you sign just by bringing them through this house?”
“None. You’re the first I’ve ever invited. So no business today, we have terrifying women to entertain.”
The last was addressed to the whole group as they reached the outside seating area.
Cesca was presented with her champagne, Simon getting an enthusiastic hug and kiss on the cheek in return.
She looked at the label, “How did you know this was my favourite?”
“Cyberstalking. A bottle featured in a number of your photos.”
“Darn, I’ve lost the advantage. I’ll have to think up other ways to outsmart you.”
Simon gave a theatrical shudder, “Please don’t, my poor, fragile ego can’t cope.”
He got snorts all round for that quip and felt quite pleased with himself.
They all settled with drinks and nibbles and the conversation grew general.
The doorbell rang. Everyone glanced around confused, then looked at Simon.
He raised both hands, “Nothing to do with me, I swear it.”
Chris shrugged and went to answer it. He returned with another man behind him.
“This gentleman says he’s here for his fiancee.”
Cesca snorted, “Well if it isn’t the village idiot himself.”
Simon looked him up and down, “That’s Timothy? Looks like a Class A twerp to me. When’s he leaving?”
Ally stood, “Get out.”
Timothy opened his mouth, she forestalled him, “Not interested, don’t care, Get Out.”
Lexi chimed in, “You’ve got some nerve pitching up on a complete stranger’s doorstep and trying to claim you were ever able to talk Ally into accepting your proposal. You have five seconds before I start throwing things.”
Chris took Timothy’s arm and steered him back the way they came.
“I happen to like those wine glasses”, was his only response to Timothy’s incoherent protest.
Chris returned a few minutes later, alone. He went immediately to a now-distraught Ally and gathered her close.
“Sorry that took a while, I wanted to make a couple of things very clear before he left.”
Ally drew a shuddering breath, “Why was he even here?”
“He was bleating something about some blog post on Acrewood and his mother.”
“I didn’t know the old bat could even switch on a computer, let alone use one.”
“It was probably read aloud to her from a tablet by some woefully put-upon paid companion.”
Ally tried to smile at her two staunchest allies.
Simon glared, “Clearly one of my guests from yesterday. Whichever person invited them is off my project list. I don’t appreciate that sort of behaviour.”
The whole group stared at him.
“What? Yes I like to stir the pot a bit but not in public.”
Chris tried not to grin at Lexi’s quiet aside to Ally, “And that’s Cesca gone.”
Ally gave a watery smile, but was still fretting.
“How could he claim we were engaged? I would never agree to marry him.”
Lexi looked over, “Uh oh, Cesca has her detective face on.”
“Do you blame me? That was just way too weird, too nasty and too conveniently timed. This week’s to-do list is being rearranged.”
“I just want to know he’s not going to come back. And what about my home? What if he knows where I live and starts turning up and making trouble?”
Chris gave her a reassuring squeeze, “Breathe, you have an entire village on your side. Just give Mrs Rightmore a call, right now and let her know the situation. She’ll galvanize the troops and the twerp won’t know what hit him. You know they’ll all enjoy it too.”
That finally produced a full smile and Ally picked up her phone.
A few minutes later she hung up, close to laughter, “Very good advice Chris. Mrs Rightmore is appalled and is getting on the phone right now but wanted to check if I had any aversion to Roddy Smithson possibly doing a little target practice with the experimental potato launcher he built last month. I just asked her to make sure they got the right target.”
The whole group collapsed.
Lexi wiped her eyes, “Is it too evil to hope the idiot does try something?”
Chris was slightly more serious, “I’d appreciate it if you opted to stay here for a little while. Just so I know you’re safe and not being hassled.”
Lexi grabbed Cesca, “We can pop down and grab you more clothes.”
Simon protested, “No fair, I want to go.”
“You can drive, we’ve both had too much wine. Anything in particular Ally?”
“My work laptop is probably the main thing. Other than that, maybe check the weather forecast. I can’t really think.”
Simon had one request, “Could one of you please call the cavalry and make sure I’m not wrongly identified as the potato target?”
Ally smiled and hit redial.
As Ally hung up, Lexi gasped and exclaimed, “Even better idea!”
Before they could ask her to explain, she got on the phone as well.
“Hi Grandma, it’s Lexi, how are you?”
“But if I said Alexandra, you wouldn’t know which one of us it was.”
“Yes grandma and I promise it’s a very good reason to interrupt.”
“You know Ally’s man Chris.”
“No, he’s lovely, I’ve given him the official Gresham family stamp of approval so you have to like him. In fact Lady Louisa met him yesterday and she approves.”
“Of course I’m telling the truth. We all visited Acrewood Hall with group looking at the renovations and he’s one of the possible architects.”
“Grandma, I’m telling you this for a reason.”
“So, we’re at Chris’s house this afternoon for Cesca’s birthday.”
“Cesca, Grandma says Happy Birthday.”
“No, this is the crazy part. Timothy just turned up at the front door. No invitation, no advance warning, nothing, and THEN he had the temerity to tell Chris that he and Ally were engaged.”
“I know, right?”
“Well, Cesca insulted him, Ally told him to get out, I threatened him with violence and Chris firmly escorted him out the door again.”
“Well Chris says as he was leaving he was going on about his mother putting him up to it.”
“I have no idea.”
“Thanks Grandma, love you, bye.”
Lexi hung up and gave the group a huge grin, “Grandma’s taking care of it.”
She gestured to Ally and Chris, “But you two have to visit for tea next week or she’ll be most put out.”