Lizzie didn't drink. She hated it when Dudley behaved like her father, ringing her up when he was pissed, slurring his words as he told her she was his best friend in the world, that he'd love her forever. It was only because they'd known each other since the age of six that she put up with it. She had no idea why he had married Amelia anyway unless it was for publicity. He'd said he was in love but Dudley was always falling in love with someone. It was a stupid idea to get married when you were only eighteen. Lizzie didn't intend to marry anyone, ever.
She stood up, unpleasantly aware of the sweat sliding down her back and turning her lace mini dress transparent as it stuck to her skin. Kat, her godmother, had told her it was bad taste to wear a white dress to a wedding but Lizzie hadn't cared. The June sun was dropping towards the horizon now and the marquee cast long shadows across the lawn. Not a breath of wind stirred the sultry air. A band was playing on the terrace but no one was paying any attention. Lizzie knew the partying would carry on long into the night. Dudley seemed to have an inexhaustible capacity for drink and drugs but she was bored.
Stepping out from beneath the jaunty poolside umbrella, she was hit by the full heat of the day. She hated being too hot; it didn't agree with her redhead's pale, freckled skin. Suddenly the water looked very tempting. Dudley, seeing her hesitate on the edge of the pool, waved a soaking arm in her direction.
"Lizzie!" he shouted. "Come on in!" Beside him a number of girls splashed around, screaming. One was Amelia's younger sister, Anna, who had jumped in wearing her bridesmaid's dress. Another was Letty Knollys, the girlfriend of one of Dudley's bandmates whom Lizzie privately thought was an even bigger groupie than Amelia.
Lizzie smiled and shook her head. Her curls would go even frizzier if she got them wet and there were bound to be paparazzi hiding in the trees to capture the wedding reception for the papers. Dudley would have made sure of that. She didn't want to be all over the red tops with mad hair and a wet see-through dress. She was too careful of her reputation for that.
She wandered off in the direction of the luxury portaloos. Evidently the plumbing at Oakhangar Hall, the ridiculously ostentatious wedding present that Amelia's father had bought for the bride, was not up to coping with two hundred celebrity guests. Nevertheless, the cool darkness of the entrance hall beckoned to her.
It took her eyes several seconds to adjust when she took off her sunglasses and then she almost fell over the enormous pile of wedding presents spilling across the floor. Beyond the gift mountain the flagstones stretched, smooth and highly polished, to the base of a grand staircase that curved up in two flights to a balustraded gallery. The soaring walls were panelled in dark wood and hung with tapestries. The whole effect was consciously mock-medieval and rather over the top but Lizzie could see that it suited Amelia's Pre-Raphaelite style.
A huge black grand piano skulked in a corner beside the stair, its surface playing host to a vast display of lilies more suited to a funeral than a wedding in Lizzie's opinion. She muffled a sneeze as the pollen tickled her nose. In contrast to the roar of the party outside, the house was sepulchrally quiet. Except... Across the wide acreage of floor came the cascading melody of a harp, the notes resonating for a couple of seconds then dying away.
Lizzie spun around. There was no sign of a harp, no sign of any instrument other than the piano. The cadence came again, higher, wistful, a fall of notes that sounded like a sigh. She moved towards the sound and then she saw it, on a little shelf to the right of the door, a crystal ball held in the cupped palms of a stone angel.
The crystal swirled with a milky white mist.
Lizzie stopped when her hand was about an inch from the crystal surface.
No. The urge was strong but she knew what would happen if she did. Ever since she had been a small child, she had had an uncanny knack of being able to read objects. It was something she had grown up with so at first it had seemed natural; it was only when she had first mentioned it to Kat, who had looked at her as though she was a changeling, that she realised not everyone had the gift. "It's just your imagination running away with you," Kat had said, folding her in her embrace and stroking her hair, trying to soothe and normalise her, to reassure herself as much as Lizzie. "You see things because you want to see them, sweetie. It doesn't mean anything..."
Lizzie had never mentioned it to her again after that but she had known Kat was wrong. Later, when she looked it up, she saw it was called psychometry. She used it carefully, secretly, to connect with her past and the mother she had lost as a child. The rest of the time she tried not to touch anything much at all if it was likely to give her a vision. She really didn't want to know.