“She’s screwing my best man, from our wedding. I was thinking how much I’d like to return the favor.”
“Screw her bridesmaid?”
“Or just . . . anyone, really.”
Huh. As propositions went, it was certainly direct. He grinned again, somehow managing to make the line sound fairly charming, like he was trying his luck, rather than acting like a sleazy pickup artist.
“Well, I think you shouldn’t have too much trouble,” I said lightly. “I’m pretty sure Tina would oblige.”
Cole gave a snort of laughter, and I felt a sudden twinge of guilt, thinking about how I would feel if Ben and Tina were over on the other side of the room making jokes about me throwing myself at Cole for the sake of my career. So Tina had turned on the charm. Big deal. It was hardly the crime of the century.
“Sorry,” I said, wishing I could take back the remark. “That was a pretty cheap dig.”
“But accurate,” Cole said dryly. “Tina would skin her own grandmother for the sake of a story. My only worry”—he took another slug of champagne and grinned—“would be coming out of the encounter alive.”
“Ladies and gentlemen . . .” A steward’s voice broke into our conversations. “If you would like to make your way through to the Jansson room, dinner will shortly be served.”
As we started to file through, I felt someone’s eyes on my back, and I turned to see who it was. The person standing behind me was Tina, and she was looking at me very speculatively indeed.
- CHAPTER 8 -
It took a surprisingly long time for the staff to usher us through into the miniature dining room next door. Somehow I’d been expecting something practical, like the ferries I had been on with rows of tables and a long lunch counter. Of course, the reality was quite different—a room about the size of a private dining room in a restaurant. We could have been in someone’s home, if I knew anyone whose home had raw-silk curtains and cut-glass goblets.
By the time we sat down, my head was throbbing painfully, and I was desperate for some food—or better still some coffee, though I presumed I’d have to wait until dessert for that. It felt like a long way off.
The guests had been arranged into two tables of six each, but there was an empty place at each. Was one where the girl in cabin 10 had been supposed to sit? I did a quick head count under my breath.
Table one had Richard Bullmer, Tina, Alexander, Owen, and Ben. The spare place was opposite Richard Bullmer.
Table two had me, Lars and Chloe, Archer, Cole, and a spare place beside Cole.
“You can clear this,” Cole said to the waitress who arrived with a bottle of wine. He waved a hand at the unused setting. “My wife wasn’t able to attend the trip.”
“Oh, my apologies, sir.” She gave a little half bow, said something to her colleague, and the place setting was whisked away. Well that explained that. The empty place at the first table remained, though.
“Chablis?” the waitress asked.
“Yes, please.” He held out his glass. As he did, Chloe Jenssen leaned across the table with her hand extended towards me.
“I don’t think we’ve been introduced.” She had a low, husky voice, quite unexpected for her tiny frame, and the hint of an Essex accent. “I’m Chloe—Chloe Jenssen, although my professional name’s Wylde.”
Of course. Now that she’d said it, I recognized her, the famous wide cheekbones and slightly Slavic tilt to her eyes, the white-blond hair. Even without stagy makeup and lighting, she looked slightly otherworldly, like she’d been plucked from a tiny Icelandic fishing village, or a Siberian dacha. Her looks made the story of her being discovered by a modeling scout in an out-of-town supermarket all the more incongruous.
“Pleased to meet you,” I said, and took her hand. Her fingers were cold, and her grip was almost painfully strong, made more so by the chunky rings she wore, which cut into my knuckles. Up close she was even more stunning, the austere beauty of her dress so obviously outclassing mine, I felt like we might as well have come from different planets. I resisted the urge to tug at the neckline. “I’m Lo Blacklock.”
“Lo Blacklock!” She gave a gurgling laugh. “I like it. Sounds like a fifties film star, the sort with a wasp waist and tits up to her chin.”
“I wish.” In spite of the growing ache in my head, I grinned. There was something about her amusement that was infectious. “And this must be your husband . . . ?”
“This is Lars, yes.” She looked across at him, ready to bring him into the conversation and introduce him, but he was deep in conversation with Cole and Archer, and she just rolled her eyes and turned back to me.
“Have they got someone else joining them?” I nodded at the spare place at the first table. Chloe shook her head.
“I think that was for Anne—you know, Richard’s wife? She’s not well. Decided to have supper in her cabin, I think.”
“Of course.” I should have thought of that. “Do you know her well?” I asked. Chloe shook her head.
“No, I know Richard quite well, via Lars, but Anne doesn’t often leave Norway.” She lowered her voice and spoke confidentially. “She’s supposed to be kind of a recluse, actually, so I was surprised to find she was on board—but I’d imagine that having cancer might make you—”
But whatever she had been about to say was interrupted by the arrival of five dark square plates, scattered across with small rainbow-colored squares and clumps of foam arranged on what looked like grass clippings. I realized I had no idea what I was about to eat.
“Beet-pickled razor clam,” announced the head server, “with a bison grass foam and air-dried samphire shards.”
The waiters retreated and Archer picked up his fork and poked at the most neon-colored of the squares.
“Razor clam?” he said dubiously. His Yorkshire accent was somehow stronger than it sounded on TV. “Never been that keen on raw shellfish, somehow. It gives me the willies.”
“Really?” Chloe said. She gave a curving, catlike smile that indicated something between flirting and disbelief. “I thought bush tucker was your thing—you know, bugs and lizards and stuff.”
“If you got paid to eat droppings for your day job, maybe you’d fancy a nice steak on your day off, too,” he said, and grinned. He turned to me and stuck out his hand. “Archer Fenland. Not sure if we’ve been introduced.”