Mrs Gresham asked, “Around your age, thinning blond hair and a green coat?”
Lexi looked puzzled, “No, age is probably about right but dark hair and his jacket is black or near enough.”
“Hmm, not the usual one then. Michael, when Steven arrives, tell him to bring the photographer lurking outside with him. They should know by now I insist on being properly introduced and understanding their credentials.”
“Of course Mother.”
And so it was, another half an hour of embarrassing family stories later, that Steven and Andrea Gresham arrived, accompanied by a spluttering, protesting photojournalist.
He stumbled to a halt in the middle of the sitting room and looked around at the crowd watching him with various shades of amusement.
“Well I suppose now I’m in here, you wouldn’t be interested in a family portrait would you?”
Mrs Gresham laughed, “Well you do have a bit more aplomb than the other one. Who are you?”
“The other one’s fill-in. He had his kid’s birthday party this weekend but heard something was happening and called in a favour.”
Lexi eyed him narrowly, “And how exactly does a gossip pap manage to score a favour from an award winning international correspondent?”
“So’s our family get-together.”
He matched her narrow-eyed gaze, “Which one are you? I’m guessing the one who likes to pretend she’s an airhead.”
Mrs Gresham interrupted the stare-off, “Yes she is, although she’s not very good at it.”
“Well you’re not, you’re constantly giving yourself away. Now would you be so good as to explain precisely who you are and why the normal lurker decided my home simply had to have eyes on it today?”
“No idea why he decided something was important enough to be here today, he just asked me to get a picture of anyone coming in or out of this house. I figured it was an easy way to strike off a favour I really didn’t want on my card.”
“Humph, sounds like someone’s doing a bit of gossiping although I don’t see what the drama would be with my family dropping by for afternoon tea. You haven’t answered the first question though.”
“Paul Connolly, I normally cover international events and in-depth studies on wildlife.”
“And why do you think your friend might have wanted photos of my front door this afternoon?”
“He was pretty cagey but I’m guessing it’s you”, he nodded towards Chris.
Mrs Gresham kept up the questions, “And why do you suppose that?”
“I always research my subjects. He’s the only one that isn’t a member of the family and he hasn’t been in photos with either of your granddaughters before today.”
Mrs Gresham turned to Ally, “What do you want?”
Ally looked to Chris, who shrugged, “I’m not about to complain about a nice picture of the two of us. I’m likely to be upset if it’s not a good shot.”
Paul looked affronted.
Ally smiled at her grandmother, “I think Mr Connolly’s suggestion of a family portrait is a lovely idea.”
Both Paul and Lexi choked, Mrs Gresham laughed.
“Very well young man, you may take your photographs. Where would you like us situated?”
Whatever Paul Connolly had been expecting when he was all but frogmarched into the home of one of society’s most revered matriarchs it was not stage directing a series of family portraits.
Mrs Gresham insisted on a series of various different groups and arrangements and, if Paul hadn’t been aware of the incredible coup he’d scored in capturing these images, he would have bristled at the seemingly never-ending directions.
It was Ally who called a halt, “Grandma, enough, please. You’ve got enough photos for every paper in the country to have their own one, plus fill about five albums. Mr Connolly is probably exhausted and Chris and I have to get home.”
Chris noted Paul’s ears pricking up (figuratively), “No we’re not living together but our respective homes are quite close to each other and some way out of London.”
Paul grinned slightly guiltily, “The worst part is, I haven’t managed to work out who you are. Other than being the clever one’s boyfriend and a fairly serious improvement on the old one.”
Lexi looked at him, “Do you have ANY filters.”
“Only on my cameras. There’s a reason I do pictures, not interviews and I like to keep it that way.”
Chris and Ally had been quietly conferring in the background and now re-entered the conversation.
“We were thinking, someone’s going to work out who Chris is pretty quickly anyway, so you may as well get the full story.”
Chris held out his hand, ” Chris Whittaker, carpenter and architect. More usually known as C.J. Whittaker in architectural circles, and Chris in the wood-shaping ones.”
Paul shook his hand, then did a double-take, and Mrs Gresham added, “It’s a very good story but those two do need to go. Lexi can fill you in on the details Ally will approve of you knowing and she can liaise with you on copies of the pictures as well.”
Lexi looked indignant but held her tongue. She scribbled out her contact details and handed them over, then all-but dragged Paul to the front door.
His parting quip had her glaring daggers at his back, “You are really bad at being an airhead.”
Ally called out to her, “Take it as a compliment. He thinks you’re smart.”
“But not smart enough.”
Mrs Gresham eyed her as she walked back into the sitting room, “You’re just a little too used to wrapping men around your little finger. You don’t know how to deal with one who won’t wrap.”
While Lexi was still working out a response to that which wouldn’t leave her in more trouble than even she could handle, Ally and Chris started making their farewells.
By the time they left the house, Paul had retired to a nearby pub and was enjoying a thoroughly satisfactory phone conversation with an increasingly put-out former colleague over a quiet pint.
Their trip home was similarly uneventful and Ally looked forward to settling back into a life she’d grown to love very quickly. Even one day back in the city was more than enough to reinforce the rightness of her decision to move.