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By Alison Fraser

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She started to laugh, a shade hysterically. She regained his attention, more than usual. ’ Half-reprimand, half-shock. And then she was babbling like the idiot her father always made her feel. ‘Don’t tell me. You’re busy. I can see that. I won’t bother you again. ’ She’d kept her word too, Kate recalled. Not very difficult in the circumstances for while she stayed sulking at home, her father had gone to Paris with her mother. And there they had both died, victims of a hotel fire, only four days after Kate’s little outburst.

Howard Carson, her employer, lived in an enormous Georgian house leased from a diplomat on a posting abroad. It was a lovely house, having all the elegance and charm of a more gracious age—Howard, unfortunately, had little of either! ‘You’re late, Kate honey,’ he said the moment she came through the door, almost as if he had been waiting in the chequered hallway just to tell her so. ’ Howard looked on the verge of pursuing it and Kate was relieved he didn’t. If he’d muttered his usual, ‘Well, little lady, don’t let it happen again,’ she might have laughed aloud, considering this was her last night of working for the moody American writer.

Just deciding she hated him when Mama came in. Rustle of silk, scent of jasmine. ’ she cried and kissed her fingers to place them on the baby’s forehead. Definitely hated him. ’ Kate always agreed with Mama. ‘Would you like to feed him, madame? His bottle’s ready,’ the new nurse suggested. ’ Wasn’t meant to hear that. ’ Made her laugh. ’ Mama kissed her properly. ’ Smiled. Knew what that meant. Mama often said nice things in French. Told her stories sometimes about her childhood in Paris and her Russian parents who had died in exile there.

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