The Marriage Bed

By: Helen Bianchin
  • An Ideal Marriage?
  • The Marriage Campaign
  • The Bridal Bed


An Ideal Marriage?

Helen Bianchin





CHAPTER ONE

GABBI eased the car to a halt in the long line of traffic banked up behind the New South Head Road intersection adjacent to Sydney’s suburban Elizabeth Bay. A slight frown creased her forehead as she checked her watch, and her fingers tapped an impatient tattoo against the steering wheel.

She had precisely one hour in which to shower, wash her hair, dry and style it, apply make-up, dress, and greet invited dinner guests. The loss of ten minutes caught up in heavy traffic didn’t form part of her plan.

Her eyes slid to the manicured length of her nails, and she dwelt momentarily on the fact that time spent on their lacquered perfection had cost her her lunch. An apple at her desk mid-afternoon could hardly be termed an adequate substitute.

The car in front began to move, and she followed its path, picking up speed, only to depress the brake pedal as the lights changed.

Damn. At this rate it would take two, if not three attempts to clear the intersection.

She should, she admitted silently, have left her of fice earlier in order to miss the heavy early evening traffic. Yet stubborn single-mindedness had prevented her from doing so.

As James Stanton’s daughter, she had no need to work. Property, an extensive share portfolio and a handsome annuity placed her high on the list of Sydney’s independently wealthy young women.

As Benedict Nicols’ wife, her position as assistant management consultant with Stanton-Nicols Enterprises was viewed as nepotism at its very worst.

Gabbi thrust the gear-shift forward with unaccustomed force, attaining momentary satisfaction from the sound of the Mercedes’ refined engine as she eased the car forward and followed the traffic’s crawling pace, only to halt scant minutes later.

The cellphone rang, and she automatically reached for it.

‘Gabrielle.’

Only one person steadfastly refused to abbreviate her Christian name. ‘Monique.’

‘You’re driving?’

‘Stationary,’ she informed her, pondering the purpose of her stepmother’s call. Monique never rang to simply say ‘hello.’

‘Annaliese flew in this afternoon. Would it be an imposition if she came to dinner?’

Years spent attending an élite boarding-school had instilled requisite good manners. ‘Not at all. We’d be delighted.’

‘Thank you, darling.’

Monique’s voice sounded like liquid satin as she ended the call.

Wonderful, Gabbi accorded silently as she punched in the appropriate code and alerted Marie to set another place at the table.

‘Sorry to land this on you,’ she added apologetically before replacing the handset down onto the console. An extra guest posed no problem, and Gabbi wasn’t sufficiently superstitious to consider thirteen at the table a premise for an unsuccessful evening.

The traffic began to move, and the faint tension behind her eyes threatened to develop into a headache.

James Stanton’s remarriage ten years ago to a twenty-nine-year-old divorcee with one young daughter had gifted him with a contentment Gabbi could never begrudge him. Monique was his social equal, and an exemplary hostess. It was unfortunate that Monique’s affection didn’t extend to James’s daughter. As a vulnerable fifteen-year-old Gabbi had sensed her stepmother’s superficiality, and spent six months agonising over why, until a friend had spelled out the basic psychology of a dysfunctional relationship.

In retaliation, Gabbi had chosen to excel at everything she did—she’d striven to gain straight As in each subject, had won sporting championships, and graduated from university with an honours degree in business management. She’d studied languages and spent a year in Paris, followed by another in Tokyo, before returning to Sydney to work for a rival firm. Then she’d applied for and won, on the strength of her experience and credentials, a position with Stanton-Nicols.

There was a certain danger in allowing one’s thoughts to dwell on the past, Gabbi mused a trifle wryly as she swung the Mercedes into the exclusive Vaucluse street, where heavy, wide-branched trees added a certain ambience to the luxurious homes nestled out of sight behind high concrete walls.

A few hundred metres along she drew the car to a halt, depressed a remote modem and waited the necessary seconds as the double set of ornate black wrought-iron gates slid smoothly aside.

A wide curved driveway led to an elegant two-storeyed Mediterranean-style home set well back from the road in beautiful landscaped grounds. Encompassing four allotments originally acquired in the late 1970s by Conrad Nicols, the existing four houses had been removed to make way for a multi-million-dollar residence whose magnificent harbour views placed it high in Sydney’s real-estate stratosphere.

Ten years later extensive million-dollar refurbishment had added extensions providing additional bedroom accommodation, garages for seven cars, remodelled kitchen, undercover terraces, and balconies. The revamped gardens boasted fountains, courtyards, ornamental ponds and English-inspired lawns bordered by clipped hedges.

It was incredibly sad, Gabbi reflected as she released one set of automatic garage doors and drove beneath them, that Conrad and Diandra Nicols had been victims of a freak highway accident mere weeks after the final landscaping touches had been completed.