Stella was worried. Something was wrong with Marjorie. A preoccupation, something in her eyes that looked like a mix of fear and anxiety, a smile suddenly forced, laughter less often, subdued—as if she was living on an alternate power source, as if she was holding herself by tight reigns. Stella did not normally operate with such perceptive analysis. She operated with a radar registering largely at face value level. But in the over six months of working at No.10, and within Marjorie’s personal orbit, she knew something was different with her employer. Something was wrong . . .
It had been in some English novel she had once read, an apt description that had stayed with her long after the reading, long after she could even remember the plot line or characters . . .
He had ordered his coffee, hesitated, then asked if she could join him. They sat together in the booth for nearly an hour. He forgot his to-do list for the day; she forgot that he was a good-looking single man. He forgot to wonder when the last time was that he had had such a refreshing conversation with a woman. She forgot, in that little slice of time, that she had a clearly hurting daughter at home, and did not know what to do about it. He did not have his dead wife Gloria in his mind. And she had George, in the wings, but for that interlude, not front and center. For Marjorie Dashwood and James Knightly, it was a very brief and uncomplicated holiday . . .
James Knightly had never been in the children’s store on Downing Street. He had never had a reason to be. Living in Washington DC for years, he had done his shopping there with its many options, or online. But this Saturday morning, he had come into town from his ranch home, to do a few errands. And under a sudden impulse, shop for a gift for a seven-year-old. An old friend from college days was coming that evening, bringing his wife, and seven-year old granddaughter. They were staying a few days, and he supposed the young girl would come laden with her own personal impedimenta . . .
She sat in the car knowing she should not be shocked. Of course time had marked and changed things, wiped away the comforting, the familiar. Still, she had hoped this place would have been the same as it had been ten years ago, when she jogged its length as an eager, energetic teenager. Anne Dashwood felt bitterness and disappointment rise up in her like bile, thinking that if she did not calm down, she would be opening the car door, to lean out and be sick . . .