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Chapter 18 Henry’s girls

30 Dec

All eyes were on Iris, causing her to look panicked. She glanced nervously at me as though she regretted her outburst. “Are you saying you want the next turn?” Rachelle asked her in a gentle voice. I was grateful that she’d spoken first as I had no idea what to say. Iris stared at the floor, silent. “I don’t mind,” Rachelle pressed. All eyes were on Iris.”No, I’m not ready,” she blurted out, before standing so abruptly she sent her chair cascading over. Without another word, she fled across the sand and into her own villa, slamming the door shut behind her.

“What was that all about?” I asked nobody in particular. Rachelle was already placing her plate down on the lounger.

“I don’t know, but I’d better go over and see,” she told me. She lifted Iris’ chair back into position, and grabbed both their plates to take over with her. “I’ll let you know what happens,” she said.

I fixed her with a hard stare. “Tell Iris that whatever it is, it’s ok. There’ll never be pressure or recriminations from me. I need her to know that,” I told her. Rachelle flashed me her wide open smile.

“I’ll tell her.”

The mood felt a little awkward after that. Charlie tried to lighten the mood by talking loudly about the steak, asking Doc about her barbecue prowess. It didn’t work, as we soon lapsed into silence again.

The atmosphere was lifted by the arrival of Texan, yawning loudly, her hair a birds nest, with mascara streaked around her eyes. Seemingly oblivious, she grabbed a steak and some slaw and plonked herself down at the table before pouring herself a large glass of water from the jug. After noisily glugging it down, she wiped her hand across her mouth and looked around the verandah. “Did someone die?” She asked.

Doc shook her head. “Iris freaked a bit at the prospect of Rachelle having her turn with Henners here. She’s run off home crying. It’s ok, Rach is with her.”

Texan nodded sagely. After swallowing her bite of steak, she said; “it’s the first feels. Probably taken her by surprise. I know it well.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“For me, it was the first time I saw Rachelle cry after I’d gone through withdrawal. I’d seen her cry plenty of times when I’d been drugged up or drunk, but self-medicating, like I’d been, limits the ability to empathise or actually feel what’s going on inside. Sometimes it’s caused by drink or drugs, sometimes through trauma or abuse. I’m Iris’ case it was probably grief.”

“Christian’s death hit her very hard,” agreed Doc. “Rachelle did think at the time that there was also some latent grief for her mother there too. After the initial wave of crying subsided, she often said that she just felt numb.”

Iris and Rachelle stayed in their villa for the rest of the evening. I was so exhausted that I made my excuses early and headed back to my villa for an early night. Charlie decided to sit up chatting to Doc and Ava, who were both off work the next day, so weren’t in a hurry to rush off.

I must’ve fallen asleep the very moment my head hit the pillow, however I woke up again at ten past three. I’d suffered with insomnia intermittently throughout my life, so knew that there was no point laying there trying to drop off again. I pulled on a pair off shorts and opened the patio doors onto the beach and stepped out. The sound of the waves seemed magnified in the darkness, especially given what a still, windless night it was. The day’s heat radiated off the sand, keeping the air warm. 

In the pale light of the thin sliver of moon, I saw the outline of a person at the shoreline. As I padded silently towards her, I could make out the long hair. She was holding out her arms to the Milky Way above us, sobbing quietly to them, as though she was beseech in them for help.

My heart ached in my chest for her. I wanted to take away her pain, take it as my own. It hurt me to watch her.

That’s when it struck me.

I could feel.

Not just the superficial annoyances or pleasures that I’d surrounded myself with, the glee at getting a large cheque or the frustration at a nosy fan, but real, genuine pain at seeing this beautiful woman begging the universe for its help.

‘You love her’

The little voice in my head taunted me. I stopped walking for a moment, unsure of what to do. I needed to weigh it up carefully, decide whether I should give in and walk up to her, wrap my arms around her and let go of my fear of commitment.

Alternatively, I could turn around, go back into my villa and carry on with my life just fine. There would always be women, sex and fun…

Henry’s girls-chapter 17

8 Nov

I sat reading my fan’s responses to the fake marriage story, gratified that they’d employed their rather legendary detective skills in discovering that the girl who’d claimed I’d proposed had been out partying at Mahiki a few days afterwards and a snap of her snogging some fella had been posted on Instagram. Not for the first time did I marvel at the skills of my fandom. They’d give the FBI a good run for their money.Charlie and Iris were sitting on her verandah playing cards, engrossed in their game. I watched as Charlie slapped down a card, obviously a losing one, as Iris broke into laughter as she placed hers down beside it. The two of them were getting along fantastically well. I suspected it was because Charlie was a happily married man and therefore no threat. He had absolutely no idea how to flirt.

I glared at the pair of them. It struck me as deeply unfair that despite being the good-looking brother, I was being sidelined. Not only did Charlie have a wife of his own, he was Iris’ favourite too. A pang of jealousy hit, a feeling I was unfamiliar with. My own little brother, who I used to look down at on a regular basis growing up, was now showing me how to relate to the woman I wanted.

I sighed. Since being at San Vinco I’d repeatedly questioned everything I knew. I watched as Iris emerged from her villa with two cups of coffee, placing Charlie’s down gently in front of him. Everything Iris did was done with grace, like a ballerina. It made me feel like a great big bull in a china shop, blundering around in my pumped up body, believing that my huge, inflated muscles were attractive, not understanding that they only really appealed to body-builders. Likewise my fame only appealed to those thirsty famewhores that I treated with disdain.

The woman I wanted wouldn’t care if I had a soft body or even a small paunch like Charlie. I noted with some satisfaction that his waistline had grown since he’d got married. He was deeply in love with his wife, who was equally in love with him. I’d stayed with them for a few days once and marvelled at the way she appeared not to notice how annoying he was.

My pity party was interrupted by the screech of brakes followed by the arrival of Texan and Rachelle. Iris jumped up to pull Rachelle into a hug, smiling widely at her best friend’s return. To my satisfaction, Texan was a little off-hand with Charlie, simply pecking his cheek before twisting around to see where I was. I waved at her and stood to walk over. Texan bounded over the sand to throw herself into my arms. “We had such a great time,” she enthused, “totally wild. Glasto is such a blast.” She extracted herself from me and plopped down into a chair. “I really need one last beer before Rach starts drying me out,” she said, grinning impishly.

I collected two beers from the refrigerator and opened them both before handing one to her. “So have you shagged Iris yet?” She said.

I shook my head. “Janine, Juliet and Ava have succumbed to my charms since you left, but not Iris.”

“I’ve only been gone four days,” she said before starting to laugh. “You must be exhausted.”

“I am a bit,” I confided. “It’s more the lack of sleep that’s getting to me.”

“You’ll be ok tonight then,” said Texan, “it’s Rachelle’s turn and she doesn’t normally last all night. Likes her sleep too much for that.”

“You girls are gonna kill me,” I muttered, although I was excited at the prospect of having Rachelle. She was the sort of kind but cool girl I admired. I liked that she devoted her life to helping others while still being fun and sexy at the same time.

I liked HER, the person. The thought hit me like a ton of bricks. I was seeing Rachelle as a person, not a female body to be pleasured and used. I needed some time alone to ruminate on it. “Just going in for a swim,” I told Texan. She smiled at me.

“Sure thing pretty boy. I’m gonna go catch up with some shut-eye before I flake.”

I stayed in the sea until my fingertips wrinkled. I needed to be alone with my thoughts. My admiration of Rachelle was pale in the face of my huge crush on Iris, but it was still a departure from the way I’d been seeing women for a long time.

That evening, Charlie and I joined the girls for a welcome home barbie. As I sat working my way through a large rib-eye, Iris asked Doc who was next on my list. I stopped chewing as Doc told her it was Rachelle.

The pain on Iris’ face was plain to see. Her hand flew up to her mouth. “Please don’t,” she implored me. The verandah fell silent.

Henry’s girls-chapter 16

18 Oct

They say the quiet ones are the worst. I can confirm that the little homily is true. Ava, for all her sophisticated and polished appearance was a little hell-cat in the sack. Not only did her hair get mussed up, but I got scratches down my back and think I may have lost a tuft of hair from above my ear. We had a blast.I finally got to sleep at around seven in the morning, by which time I was practically delirious from sleep deprivation. Ava stayed with me, which was a first. She just snuggled down and dozed off. I wrapped myself around her, enjoying the contact, and joined her.

We were woken rather rudely by Charlie, who burst into my bedroom clutching his tablet. “Hen, wake up, we gotta situation.” He then proceeded to to yank open my curtains, causing harsh, spiky sunlight to stream directly into my eyes. It hurt.

I covered my eyes with the sheet, instantly becoming aware of a very sleepy, naked Ava laying next to me, also blinking from the piercing light. “Henry, wake up,” my brother was insistent. He must’ve spotted Ava, as I heard him say; “oh, sorry love. Do you want a coffee too? Henry, I’ll go wait for you in the kitchen, but you need to get up NOW.”

My lay-in ruined, I turned to see a groggy Ava, also trying to get her eyes used to the light. I struggled up onto my elbows. “Go back to sleep. I’ll go see what Charlie wants.” I pulled on a pair of board shorts and closed the curtains. Ava just pulled the sheet over her head and carried on snoozing.

In the kitchen, Charlie had made a pot of strong coffee and was pacing around. “What’s up?” I asked as I wandered in.

“Apparently you’re trying to get married. That’s what’s up. That dozy bird you took out to dinner before you came here has sold a story that you begged her to get married in secret and the world thinks that you’re now on honeymoon. Where on earth do you find these batshit crazy women?”

“She had money troubles,” I told him, recalling our one and only date where she’d asked me to pay off all her debts and give her an allowance. I’d never run so fast from a girl in my life. He rolled his eyes.

“You need to put out a statement, refute all her claims. The press are going nuts and your fans are up in arms.”

I sighed. Fame and all its horrors had been a world away for long enough for me to have felt invisible again. I’d forgotten how it felt to have to be guarded all the time. 

A knock on the kitchen door heralded the arrival of Doc, looking grim. “Have you seen the news?” She asked. “Is it true?”

I shook my head. “Not remotely. I just took her out on one date.” I paused. “Welcome to my world.” Doc looked shocked and shook her head.

“That’s…..terrible. Why on earth is she saying all this?”

“She’ll be paid for the story,” said Charlie, “and probably thinks that if she achieves some notoriety she’ll get some TV or modelling work out of it. She was clever enough not to confirm or deny that the two of you are married, so she’ll have another story to sell pretty soon.”

“You are SO much better off sticking with the harem,” said Doc, “did Ava cause those scratches?” I nodded. Doc laughed as Charlie peered around my shoulder to see the damage for himself. “She’s such a tiger.”

I scrubbed at my face, trying to take in all the events. I needed to speak to my PR experts and craft a press release. What I really wanted to avoid was giving away my location. Doc poured me a coffee. “Can’t you just tell the press that it’s all lies and you only met her once?” She asked as she handed me the cup.

“Then he’ll sound like he’s sore that she didn’t accept his ‘proposal’,” Charlie pointed out. “In some ways it’s better to call her bluff, not respond at all and force her hand. She’ll have to admit that they’re not together and certainly not married. Let’s face it, what she says isn’t important. It’s tomorrow’s chip wrapper.”

This was why I liked having Charlie around. He was always fond of the ‘do nothing’ approach, which suited me. “I agree with Charlie. We don’t dignify her story with a response.”

I opened my laptop and emailed my instructions to the PR company I used, copying in my agent and publicist. “Let’s get back to our holiday,” I said to Charlie. “Fancy a swim?” He grinned.

“Well you can’t go back to bed, so we may as well.”

I’d forgotten that Ava was still tucked up. I drained my cup and ran across the beach, determined not to allow events in the real world overshadow the peace and happiness I’d found. 

Henry’s girls-chapter 15

7 Oct

The barbecue was a resounding success. Charlie and I arrived as the steaks were sizzling and spitting on the grill. My mouth watered at just the smell. Charlie was greeted like an old friend by Doc and introduced to all the others. He seemed unusually quiet, almost tongue-tied being surrounded by such beautiful women. Earlier, while we were sitting on my verandah, he’d questioned me about them and the set-up I had going on. I’d answered truthfully, trying to make sense of it myself. When he tried to make a joke about it, I showed him the picture of Texan and Rachelle kissing me, which shut him up.”Seriously, you shagged Vixen?” He asked as he swigged a beer.

“Yep, certainly did.”

“What was she like?”

It was a question us brothers had often asked each other up until the moment they’d all met their wives, when conversations of those kinds would stop. I could still remember my eldest brother describing how he’d lost his virginity, us younger ones sitting wide-eyed and rapt at his story.

“Insatiable,” I told him, “bloody lucky I work out so much, even so she nearly killed me.”

“Wow,” Charlie breathed, once again assuming the mantle of little brother, despite being only two years younger. “Well don’t let me stop you having fun while I’m here. I can always get some ear plugs.”

We both knew that Charlie slept like the dead, especially after a few drinks. It had been a family in-joke after he’d fallen asleep standing up on a train once and ended up miles away from his digs.  

Anyway, back to the barbecue. Ava sat next to me at the tiled bistro table as we dug into steak, salad and fries. I noticed there’d be little touches, a hand on my arm, a gentle brush of her fingers on my knee. She was claiming territory for the night. 

Charlie had also noticed, even though he was being entertained by the lovely Iris, who was asking him about Canada and his new baby. I saw her looking at me just as Ava leaned in to speak, her hand clasping my shoulder to steady herself on the spindly, iron chairs. I saw a flash of something in Iris’ eyes, envy perhaps? She caught me glancing at her and looked away, plastering a faux bright smile onto her face. My heart lurched.

“Have another drink Charlie,” said Doc, pressing a large, cloudy white cocktail into his hand. “This is the house special, the San Vinco beachbomb. Try it, you’ll like it.” She threw me a theatrical wink as he began sucking the straw. “Texan and Rachelle are back tomorrow. I got an email,” Doc announced loudly. I noticed beachbomb squirt out of Charlie’s nose at the news. He quickly wiped it with the back of his hand.

“I always miss Rachelle when she goes on vacation,” I overheard Iris say to Charlie. “Are you ok? Here, use my napkin..”

“Do you think Iris can keep Charlie talking ALL night?” Ava whispered in my ear, a seductive little smirk on her face.

“She won’t need to. One of those beachbombs on top of all the beer and wine he’s had will knock him out completely,” I told her. I watched as she shifted on her chair, her arousal already starting.

“We could stay in my room,” she said, “if you’re worried he’ll hear.” I shook my head. I was pretty confident that Charlie would be asleep fairly quick.

Whatever Doc had put in that cocktail sent Charlie out cold almost as soon as he’d drunk it. “You sure there wasn’t anaesthetic in it?” I asked her, which made her laugh. Charlie was snoozing on a sun lounger at that point.

“Just vodka, coconut liqueur and gin,” she giggled. “We’d best put him to bed though, he’ll get bitten by the mozzies out here. Doc, Ava, Iris and I each took a corner of the sun bed and carried Charlie through to his bedroom, where I managed to haul him onto his bed fully clothed.

“You’re ever so strong,” Ava said, prompting a hard stare from Iris, which confirmed that my earlier impression hadn’t been wrong.

“Shouldn’t we undress him?” Iris said, looking directly at me, almost challenging me. I shook my head and just covered him with a sheet. He’d freak out if he woke up unclothed in the morning. I watched as she carefully took his trainers off, her deft fingers untying the laces and gently prising the sneakers off his feet as though she was undressing a child. “He’ll get very hot and sweaty in the night,” she pointed out.

“I’ll turn up the air-con,” I reassured her, thinking that her concern was sweet. I watched as Doc touched Iris’ arm to remind her that they should go. For a moment, Iris seemed torn, almost as though she was going to say something. My stomach leapt. If she was going to ask me not to sleep with Ava, as horny as I was, I’d jump to Iris’ tune. Instead, Iris turned and followed Doc out of the door, waving goodbye over her shoulders with just the tips of her fingers. I couldn’t see her face.

As soon as I heard the door shut, I grabbed Ava and dragged her to my room. Like an insatiable beast, I tugged her clothes off with uncustomary impatience. I felt a need to see the polished, perfectionist Ava lose control. I wanted her hair mussed up, her makeup smeared and those glossy lips screaming my name as she came. I was turning into an animal.

Henry’s girls-Chapter 14

28 Sep

“What the hell happened to you?” I was woken rudely, having fallen asleep on a sun lounger in the shade of my verandah. Charlie loomed over me, half laughing, half concerned. I wondered what was wrong.I struggled up onto my elbows and squinted at him. “What?”

“You look like you’ve not slept for a week. You were practically passed out, complete with drool.”

I wiped at my mouth. “Any other complaints?”

“You’ve not been working out by the looks of you, you’re practically…..withered away.”

I laughed out loud at that one. “I’m on holiday, so no, I’m not working out much. I have plenty of time after I get back to build my physique. Anyway, there isn’t a gym around here.” Not that I’d even looked for one. “How’s your diet and exercise regime going?” I knew the answer to that one just by looking at him. Charlie would easily run to fat, and despite his wife’s best efforts, always sported a thick waist and pot belly. “Want a beer?” I asked. He nodded and parked himself on a rattan chair while I went inside.

I handed him a cold beer and took a slug of mine. “This sun is fierce, how do you put up with it?” I answered by nodding at the ocean, indicating the best way to cool off. I lived in board shorts, so simply cooled off in the sea as the need arose and drip-dried on the verandah.

“The villa has air-con,” I told him, “and there’s a great sea breeze. You need to get out of your jeans and shirt. It’s way too hot for normal clothes. I’ll show you your room.”

Charlie followed me into the villa, glancing round appreciatively as we walked through the kitchen and lounge to the bedroom I’d earmarked for him, which was at the front of the villa, as far away as possible from my room at the back. “This must have the worst view in the house,” Charlie whined as he peered out at the dusty road and scrubland. I was about to make a remark about him expecting a five star hotel when Ava and Janine wandered past in their bikinis, laughing about something. Charlie’s eyes bulged and his jaw dropped.

“I think it’s quite a nice view myself,” I remarked.

“Who are they?” He asked quietly.

“My harem, well, part of it. Wait until you meet the others. They’re all that gorgeous, apart from Iris, who is transcendently beautiful.”

“Wow,” Charlie muttered under his breath, “and you’re, you know..?”

“Shagging them? You can say it you know.”

He nodded. “Yes I am, and I’m having the time of my life here.”

“I’m not surprised,” he muttered, sounding a little disgruntled. “Are there cat fights over who gets you on certain nights?”

I laughed. “No, the girls have formed an orderly queue. I believe a list has been drawn up, which they’re sticking to.”

“So you just sit on your patio each evening and a different girl shows up?” Charlie was incredulous. I nodded. “Whoa, what did you do in your last life? You must’ve been Mother Theresa or something,” Charlie said, peering at me as though he was trying to fathom out why I’d been born with more than my fair share of luck.

“You’re happy being married though?” I asked tentatively. I knew that temptation was all around in San Vinco and I really didn’t want to witness my brother screw up his life, plus my mother would be furious.

“Course I am. I like to look as much as the next man, but that’s as far as it goes. I’ll just live vicariously through you, if that’s ok?”

I breathed a sigh of relief and left him to get changed into his shorts, while I set out some snacks on the verandah.

I’d forgotten how much fun Charlie could be. We sat outside all afternoon, chatting, laughing and catching up on family gossip. It felt great to be with someone so familiar and so…British. We were so busy snickering about England beating Ireland at Rugby, I didn’t notice Doc, Ava and Iris wander over.

“Hi Henry, this must be your little brother,’ said Doc cheerfully. “I can see the family resemblance.”

I introduced Charlie and watched as his eyes nearly fell out of his head when Iris smiled at him. “We just came over to see if you fancied a barbie tonight,” Ava said, “save you cooking.”

“You up for that?” I asked Charlie, who was too busy being spellbound by Iris to answer. “Yep, that’d be great thanks,” I answered for both of us.

“Well, if you’re indisposed for a few days, we may as well feed you up,” said Doc, winking at me.

“Talking of which,” I whispered so that Charlie wouldn’t hear, “who’s next?”

“Ava,” she replied. “She likes it hard, so I’ll cook you an extra large steak tonight. You’re gonna need all your strength for that one…”

Henry’s girls-Chapter 13

30 Aug

I felt quite nervous as I knocked on Iris’s door, the little gift box in my hand. I felt almost overcome with doubt as to whether I’d bought her a good enough gift. The sensation was a strange one, I didn’t normally worry about such things, although I never generally shopped for gifts, preferring to leave that job to my PA.
Iris beamed when she saw that it was me, and invited me in. “This is for you, it’s not much, but happy birthday anyway,” I blurted out before thrusting the little box into her hands.
“That’s so thoughtful of you, I’m sure I’ll love it just because you chose it.”
I followed her into the villa and sat down at the kitchen table. She opened the card first, smiling at the image of a cute kitten on the front, then placing it upright on the table in front of us. She took her time opening the box carefully, seemingly savouring the experience of untying the ribbon that held it closed. I held my breath as she lifted the lid and took out the anklet.
She turned it over in her hands, examining it closely.”this is beautiful, perfect,” she declared. “I saw one a while ago and wanted it, but Christian….” She tailed off.
“Christian what?” I asked softly.
“He was sensitive to sound, so didn’t like me wearing jewellery, said the noise of it annoyed him. Doc’s bangles used to set his teeth on edge.” I watched as she fastened it around her slender ankle and gave her leg a little shake. The anklet gave a little tinkling sound.
“Well I like it,” I declared. I’d have preferred it to have been in gold or platinum though.
“And I love it,” she declared, “so thank you for such a lovely gift.” She leaned over and kissed my cheek, her scent invading my senses.
“When is it your turn with me?” I groaned. I was desperate to touch her.
“Soon,” she replied impishly, “you have a few more to get through yet. After the reports from Texan and Janine, the girls have formed an orderly queue outside your bedroom door.” She bumped my shoulder with hers to show she was joking.
“Charlie will be here tomorrow, so I’ll have to be a good boy while he’s around,” I hinted. Iris just laughed.
“It’s ok, I can keep him talking for you.”
“It’s you I want,” I whined. Even to my own ears I sounded pathetic and needy. I ached to touch her, hold her, taste her…”I don’t know how I’m keeping my self control around you.”
The sadness enveloped her, I saw it. “I know, just give me a bit longer, I’m just..” She trailed off.
“I know, not ready,” I said. “Just tell me that you will want me…eventually?”
“I will, of course I will Henry. Why don’t you have some fun with Juliet tonight? I know she’s excited at being next on the list.”
“There’s a list?” I spluttered.
She nodded “And I’m on it too. I’m just not telling you where. Now, Juliet’s just in the lounge. You could go out that way.”
“I prefer to leave the beach way,” I said primly, before stomping off.
Back at my villa, I poured a beer and sat out on the verandah, almost instantly regretting my decision. Texan and Janine had whetted my appetite, unleashing the animal within. Juliet was beautiful and extremely sexy, with a cute, hour glass figure and fantastic tits. I’d kick myself if I didn’t have a taste of her. Fortunately she was sitting outside their verandah on her own when I wandered past.
A half hour later I discovered just how juicy and ripe Juliet was as I licked her into ecstasy before pounding her until she blew. She turned out to be the most fun lover I’d had, her easy humour relaxing me and making me laugh. She was also insatiable.
When Charlie arrived the next morning, I was a wreck.

Henry’s girls-Chapter 12

16 Aug

I was pushing a trolley around the local grocery store, stocking up on beer and pizza for Charlie’s arrival, when I came face to face with Juliet. She was holding a birthday card in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. “Hi there, is it somebodies birthday?” I asked, gesturing towards the card.”Didn’t Iris tell you?” She said, looking puzzled. I shook my head. “Well, I know she doesn’t feel like celebrating, but it’s her birthday today. I thought I’d at least mark it with a card, you know, let her know we’re all thinking about her.”

“Quite right,” I asserted, vowing to find her a nice card and gift myself.

“Do you need any help?” Juliet asked, her eyes raking over my trolley, which contained only booze and junk food.

“My brothers coming tomorrow, so I get to forget about healthy eating for a few days. It’ll be beer and pizza on the menu,” I told her. Juliet laughed.

“Going feral then? Just let us know if you want us to lay on a barbecue or a party,” she said, “I take it you’ll be introducing him?”

“Could hardly keep all you beautiful girls a secret could I?” I teased.

“You mean your personal harem?” Juliet said, giggling.

“Quite.” I paused. “He’s a married man though, so he won’t be available.” The last thing I wanted was for Charlie to go off the rails with all the temptation in San Vinco.

“We don’t play with married men,” Juliet said coolly, “there’s enough single men in the world.”

I felt strangely relieved. For all their bohemian lifestyle, the girls still lived by an honour code. It struck me at that moment that my whereabouts hadn’t been leaked, no photographers had shown up and no mentions of me being in San Vinco had appeared on social media. My harem had been guarding my privacy well.

Juliet helped me with the remainder of my shopping, wrinkling her nose at the bags of potato chips I piled into my trolley. She insisted I include some fresh fruit, in case Charlie and I got sick of processed junk (which I thought was unlikely). I also chose a nice card for Iris and, after dumping my groceries in the car, we went in search of a gift.

San Vinco didn’t have a lot of shops, but tucked into a little courtyard off the Main Street, we found a tiny gift store, mainly aimed at tourists. Amongst the shell art and painted ceramics, I found a small silver ankle bracelet, made of tiny heart-shaped bells. As I turned it over in my hands, Juliet looked over my shoulder. “That’s cute, she’d love it.”

“It’s only 30 bucks, seems a bit mean for a birthday gift,” I said. I was mindful of the man that Iris had lost, who had been richer than Croesus. I doubted he’d have bought her a cheap anklet. For the first time since arriving in San Vinco, I wished that I at least had my PA around to send out for something more suitable.

“Iris isn’t materialistic, you need to understand that about her,” Juliet said gently. “If she was, then she’d have gone for Howie.”

“Yes, but..” I began. Juliet cut me off.

“You can’t compete with a ghost Henry.”

Her words silenced me. She’d understood straightaway. “You’re very perceptive,” I said eventually.

“I try,” she replied, smiling at my frown. “Now, you’re gonna need a gift box for that anklet.”

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