Chianti led Chloe into Victoria Square as Valerie and Lorne followed, and when they all paused in the centre of the garden, Chloe asked, "Which one did James Bond live in? — No. In which one did James Bond live?"
Lorne suppressed a chuckle as he pointed across the street. "The one with the towered corner. And guess where his writing studio was."
"At the top of the tower. That's where mine would be."
"Yup. He was smart like you."
"And which one is our new home?"
Valerie squeezed Lorne's hand as her heart seemed to skip a beat. Oh, God. Fait accompli. She nodded as Lorne winked at her.
"Tight on the leash, Chloe." He paused, then said, "Chianti! Home!"
Chianti led them along the small garden then across to the front door. Lorne unlocked it and entered, disabling the alarm with his thumb on the scanner before he ushered them in. "Welcome home."
He closed and locked the door, then they all stood in awkward silence in the foyer until Chloe asked, "So, where is my room?"
"Yeah." Lorne offered a sheepish grin. "I guess a tour would be a good place to begin. This is a new experience for me." He pointed to the stairs. "Let's start at the bottom and work our way up."
He led the way down, Chianti galloping past as they descended. "This is the lower ground floor, the former kitchen and servants' quarters. They are now my office and bedroom. The lower entrance is out that door, and the wine cellar is through there, vaulted under the pavement."
Lorne led them along the hall and out into the garden, pausing at the door to point. "My bedroom is through that door, and there are two bathrooms and a utility room along there."
"Have you a map?" Chloe shrugged as she looked around. "This is already complicated, and we've four more floors to go. I'll get lost."
"I've an old one that came with the house files. Let me see if I can find it." He headed back to his office.
"You mustn't be so demanding, Sweetheart. Besides, this is Mr Benton's private area, so you won't need to come down here."
Lorne returned a minute later. "This will keep you from getting lost."
Chloe studied the drawing for a while, then she pointed. "We're there, aren't we? In the garden. Okay, I'm fine now. Let's continue."
Valerie and Lorne looked each other, stifling laughs, then Lorne pointed. "That's my bedroom window —nice view of the garden. And these doors lead back in to the old servant's staircase up to the ground floor."
Chianti trotted up ahead of them, and when they reached the top, Lorne pointed through another set of French doors. "A balcony overlooking the garden." They continued through the music room and the study, then along the hall to tour the kitchen and the dining room. "And that's all I use. The next three floors are unfurnished."
Chloe pointed to the drawing. "I want that one. The top floor with the window looking out onto the square."
Valerie knelt beside Chloe and studied the layout. "That's for Mr Benton to decide, Sweetheart."
"Please, may I have that one, Mr Benton?" She looked up with a grin.
"Let's go up and take a look. Your mother will decide what is best."
Oh, God! Valerie's heart fluttered again.
They ascended to the first floor, emerging into a huge empty space, Valerie nodding as she assessed it. "This must be fifteen by thirty."
"Twenty-eight eight by sixteen ten, it says here, Mummy."
Lorne grinned as he walked across to another set of French doors. "Here's a small balcony overlooking the square."
Valerie ran her hands over the intricately carved marble surrounds and mantles. "Do the fireplaces work?"
"Both these do. We've five which are still usable. The one in the kitchen is blocked by the counter and cupboards, and the ones on the top two floors are covered by closets, bathroom fixtures and what not."
"So, the one in the dining room works?"
"Yes, and the ones in my office and bedroom."
"Hmmm." She paced around the room nodding. What a great space to decorate. Need a few new pieces, but much of mine would work well. She sighed. Guess I'm hooked. "This will be fun to decorate."
"I'm pleased you think so. I've thought about doing it several times, but I had never gone beyond a few sketches. Always stopped when I began questioning why I was doing it." He shrugged.
"Yeah, I can see that."
"Now, I have a reason."
Valerie nodded as she took a few steps and wrapped him in a hug. "I hope I'm more than only a reason to decorate." She giggled then rose to her toes to kiss him and nibble his lips.
"Hey, you guys! When am I going to see my room?"
"In a moment, Sweetheart. We're in a meeting."
"When will I be old enough to meet like that?"
Valerie stifled a laugh. "In a few years. When you're ready, you'll know." She trembled as Lorne nibbled back, then she sighed and said, "Okay, meeting adjourned. Time to continue our tour."
Chloe and Chianti rushed up to the second floor with Valerie and Lorne following at a more sedate pace. "This entire floor is the master suite," he said as he ushered her into the large, empty room."
"Where are you, Sweetheart?"
"In here, Mummy. This is like yours. A bidet, a walk-in shower, a huge soaker tub, and everything."
Valerie stepped into the oversized bathroom, nodding as she examined the layout and the fixtures. Yup, I'm home. Now to move him upstairs with me. Oh, God. Now, who's manipulating?
Valerie turned and gazed into Lorne's eyes, then pouted. "It's too big for only one."
"I was hoping you'd see it that way." He wrapped her in a hug.
"You go on up, Sweetheart. Mr Benton and I have another meeting."
Two minutes later, when Valerie and Lorne reached the top of the stairs and walked into the front bedroom, Chloe smiled up at them from her prone position on the floor. "I want my bed here,"
"That looks like the perfect place for it."
"And look at this, Mummy." She sprung to her feet. "A big walk-in closet."
Valerie followed Chloe to examine it, nodding her approval. Then back in the bedroom, she asked, "So, what do you think, Sweetheart? Do you feel comfortable about moving in here with Mr Benton?"
Chloe gave her mother a puzzled look. "No, not at all. I don't know him well enough yet for anything like that. Besides, I thought it sounded like he wants to be in the big bedroom with you."
Valerie let out loud laugh as she shook her head. "I meant our moving into the house with him, Sweetheart, not the sleeping arrangements."
"Oh!" She giggled. "Then, yes, I'm very comfortable. Are you?"
She knelt and pulled Chloe into a hug. "Yeah, very very."
YOU ARE READING
Set in an environment of extreme wealth in contemporary London, this is a story of tender new love trying to flourish while a tragic past conspires to destroy. As Valentine's Day approaches, two lonely people begin breaking out of their social shell...