Wedding Night

By: Sophie Kinsella

Prologue

ARTHUR


Young people! With their hurrying and their worrying and their wanting all the answers now. They wear me out, the poor, harried things.

Don’t come back, I always tell them. Don’t come back.

Youth is still where you left it, and that’s where it should stay. Anything that was worth taking on life’s journey, you’ll already have taken with you.

Twenty years I’ve been saying this, but do they listen? Do they, hell. Here comes another of them now. Panting and puffing as he reaches the top of the cliff. Late thirties, I’d guess. Attractive enough, against the blue sky. Looks a bit like a politician. Do I mean that? Maybe a movie star.

I don’t remember his face from the old days. Not that that means anything. These days I barely even recall my own face when I glimpse it in the mirror. I can see this chap’s gaze raking the surroundings, taking in me sitting in my chair under my favorite olive tree.

“Are you Arthur?” he says abruptly.

“Guilty.”

I scan him adroitly. Looks well off. Wearing one of those expensive-logo polo shirts. Probably good for a few double Scotches.

“You must want a drink,” I say pleasantly. Always useful to steer the conversation in the direction of the bar early on.

“I don’t want a drink,” he says. “I want to know what happened.”

I can’t help stifling a yawn. So predictable. He wants to know what happened. Another merchant banker having a midlife crisis, returning to the scene of his youth. The scene of the crime. Leave it where it was, I want to answer. Turn round. Return to your adult, problematic life, because you won’t solve it here.

But he wouldn’t believe me. They never do.

“Dear boy,” I say gently. “You grew up. That’s what happened.”

“No,” he says impatiently, and rubs his sweaty brow. “You don’t understand. I’m here for a reason. Listen to me.” He comes forward a few paces, an impressive height and figure against the sun, intentness of purpose on his handsome face. “I’m here for a reason,” he repeats. “I wasn’t going to get involved—but I can’t help it. I have to do this. I want to know what exactly happened.…”





Twenty Days Earlier

1

LOTTIE


I’ve bought him an engagement ring. Was that a mistake?

I mean, it’s not a girly ring. It’s a plain band with a tiny diamond in it, which the guy in the shop talked me into. If Richard doesn’t like the diamond, he can always turn it round.

Or not wear it at all. Keep it on his nightstand or in a box or whatever.

Or I could take it back and never mention it. Actually, I’m losing confidence in this ring by the minute, but I just felt bad that he wouldn’t have anything. Men don’t get the greatest deal out of a proposal. They have to set up the occasion, they have to get down on one knee, they have to ask the question, and they have to buy a ring. And what do we have to do? Say “yes.”

Or “no,” obviously.

I wonder what proportion of marriage proposals end in a “yes” and what proportion end in a “no”? I open my mouth automatically to share this thought with Richard—then hastily close it again. Idiot.

“Sorry?” Richard glances up.

“Nothing!” I beam. “Just … great menu!”

I wonder if he’s bought a ring already. I don’t mind, either way. On the one hand, it’s fabulously romantic if he has. On the other hand, it’s fabulously romantic to choose one together.

It’s a win-win.

I sip my water and smile lovingly at Richard. We’re sitting at a corner table overlooking the river. It’s a new restaurant on the Strand, just up from the Savoy. All black-and-white marble and vintage chandeliers and button-back chairs in pale gray. It’s elegant but not showy. The perfect place for a lunchtime proposal. I’m wearing an understated bride-to-be white shirt, a print skirt, and have splashed out on stay-up stockings, just in case we decide to cement the engagement later on. I’ve never worn stay-up stockings before. But, then, I’ve never been proposed to before.

Ooh, maybe he’s booked a room at the Savoy.

No. Richard’s not flash like that. He’d never make a ridiculous, out-of-proportion gesture. Nice lunch, yes; overpriced hotel room, no. Which I respect.

He’s looking nervous. He’s fiddling with his cuffs and checking his phone and swirling the water round in his glass. As he sees me watching him, he smiles too.

“So.”

“So.”

It’s as though we’re speaking in code, skirting around the real issue. I fiddle with my napkin and adjust my chair. This waiting is unbearable. Why doesn’t he get it over with?

No, I don’t mean “get it over with.” Of course I don’t. It’s not a vaccination. It’s … Well, what is it? It’s a beginning. A first step. The pair of us embarking on a great adventure together. Because we want to take on life as a team. Because we can’t think of anyone else we’d rather share that journey with. Because I love him and he loves me.

I’m getting misty-eyed already. This is hopeless. I’ve been like this for days, ever since I realized what he was driving at.

He’s quite heavy-handed, Richard. I mean, in a good, lovable way. He’s direct and to the point and doesn’t play games. (Thank God.) Nor does he land massive surprises on you out of the blue. On my last birthday, he hinted for ages that his present was going to be a surprise trip, which was ideal because I knew to get down my overnight bag and pack a few things.

Although, in the end, he did catch me out, because it wasn’t a weekend away, as I’d predicted. It was a train ticket to Stroud, which he had biked to my desk with no warning, on my midweek birthday. It turned out he’d secretly arranged with my boss for me to have two days off, and when I finally arrived at Stroud, a car whisked me to the most adorable Cotswold cottage, where he was waiting with a fire burning and a sheepskin rug laid out in front of the flames. (Mmm. Let’s just say that sex in front of a roaring fire is the best thing ever. Except when that stupid spark flew out and burned my thigh. But never mind. Tiny detail.)

So this time, when he began dropping hints, again they weren’t exactly subtle indications. They were more like massive signposts plonked in the road: I will be proposing to you soon. First he set up this date and called it a “special lunch.” Then he referred to a “big question” he had to ask me and half-winked (to which I feigned ignorance, of course). Then he started teasing me by asking if I like his surname, Finch. (As it happens, I do like it. I don’t mean I won’t miss being Lottie Graveney, but I’ll be very happy to be Mrs. Lottie Finch.)

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