The Summer House Party by Caro Fraser – extract

Caro Fraser is the author of the Caper Court series and her latest novel The Summer House Party, was published by Head of Zeus on 9 March 2017 in ebook and on 6 April 2017 in hardback.

Today Head of Zeus have kindly given me permission to share an extract from The Summer House Party.

When she woke the next morning, it took Meg a few minutes to work out her surroundings and recall the events of last night. Never in her life had she felt so ghastly. She recognised the room she was lying in as one of the spare rooms in Paul and Diana’s flat. She lay for a long time staring at the pattern on the curtains, hazing it into faces and animal shapes as she had done as a child, trying to let her mind go blank so that she wouldn’t have to reflect on her disgrace. Her eyes felt gritty and her mouth dry. After a while she hauled herself up and put her feet on the floor. She sat inert, heavy-limbed, gazing down at the nightdress which, she recalled, Diana had lent her. At least she could remember that much. She also remembered being violently sick, and that recollection induced a new wave of nausea. She lifted her head, wondering if she was going to be sick again, then swallowed, waiting. She could hear the faint sounds of a radio somewhere in the flat. Shivering, she got up and took from the hook on the back of the door a dressing gown which Diana had thoughtfully hung there, then opened the bedroom door and ventured out.

She found Diana in the kitchen. When she saw Meg she exclaimed, ‘Gosh, you look rather the worse for wear. Would a cup of tea help? I’ve just brewed some.’ She poured cups of tea, and the two of them sat down at the table.

Diana lit a cigarette. ‘Hung-over?’ she asked sympathetically.

Meg nodded. ‘Too much champagne.’ She wasn’t going to mention the gin. She glanced across the kitchen and saw the bottle, one-third full, still on the counter. She gave an involuntary little shudder and looked away. ‘I’m sorry. My behaviour last night was unforgivable.’

Diana laughed. ‘My dear, it was immensely forgivable. You’re hardly the first person to get a bit tight within these hallowed walls. Let’s face it, we did make rather a night of it.’

‘Where’s Paul?’
‘At his club. He’s meeting some racing car chappie for lunch.’ Meg looked up at the kitchen clock and saw that it was past noon. She suddenly remembered that today she and her mother were meant to be taking Christmas presents to relations in Reigate. ‘Oh Lord, I must get home. I’m catching a train at half one.’

Diana put out her cigarette and untied her apron. ‘I’ll drive you back. I have some errands to run anyway. Off you go and get dressed.’

In the car Diana chatted about the Cunliffes’ party. ‘So many people I hadn’t seen in an age. Dan Ranscombe, for instance – it was fun to catch up with him.’

‘You certainly seemed to be making the most of one another.’ Diana gave her a glance. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I happened to see you both – you know, later on,’ replied Meg shortly. ‘In one of the bedrooms.’
‘Oh.’ She didn’t like the idea of having been observed by Meg one tiny bit. But she merely shrugged. ‘Well, that’s Dan for you. He takes his pleasure where he finds it. As do I. I’m afraid we’re both probably rather shallow creatures by your standards.’

‘I didn’t mean—’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake.’ Diana shifted gear somewhat crossly. ‘It’s what people do at parties. Dance. Get drunk. Kiss. As you’ve discovered.’ They drew up outside Meg’s house. ‘Here you are. Now, don’t forget you’ve promised to come to supper at the flat on Christmas Day. Apparently Paul has some wonderful present for you – I’m sure I can’t think what.’

‘I won’t forget. Thanks for the lift.’

Diana watched her make her way to the front door. That nonsense last night with Dan had been very much a spur-of-the- moment thing, provoked by her own flirtatiousness and too much to drink on both their parts. A kiss and fumble in the dark didn’t exactly amount to much in Diana’s book, but evidently it had upset Meg – if upset was the right word. Perhaps she har- boured some crush on Dan from last summer. In which case, it would be best all round if she was safely married off to Paul sooner rather than later.

Dan lay in his bed in Bloomsbury, reflecting on the events of the previous night. That interlude in the bedroom with Diana had been a bad idea, a very bad idea. He blamed the fact that he’d been half-cut and somewhat fired up from those moments with Meg on the Cunliffes’ sofa. Every time he thought about it, about her, he struggled to make sense of what he felt. It was more than mere desire. No girl had ever had this effect on him. Was it possible he had fallen in love with her? He’d never been in love with anyone before, and had always taken the view it was something best avoided, if one could help it. But what if it was something one couldn’t help?

He closed his eyes, reliving those erotic moments in the library. The thought of her marrying Latimer was ridiculous, unbearable. If he wanted her, he was clearly going to have to fight for her. He would undertake a sustained campaign, and he would start tomorrow by going round and apologising for the way he’d behaved and the things he’d said, even though what he’d said had been true – Paul was utterly the wrong man for her. She couldn’t possibly be foolish enough to marry him. But then, there was no end to the foolish things women could do.

About the book:

In the gloriously hot summer of 1936, a group of people meet at a country house party. Within three years, England will be at war, but for now, time stands still.

Dan Ranscombe is clever and good-looking, but he resents the wealth and easy savoir faire of fellow guest, Paul Latimer. Surely a shrewd girl like Meg Slater would see through that, wouldn’t she? And what about Diana, Paul’s beautiful sister, Charles Asher, the Jewish outsider, Madeleine, restless and dissatisfied with her role as children’s nanny? And artist Henry Haddon, their host, no longer young, but secure in his power as a practised seducer.

As these guests gather, none has any inkling the choices they make will have fateful consequences, lasting through the war and beyond. Or that the first unforeseen event will be a shocking death.

About the author:

Caro Fraser is the author of the bestselling Caper Court novels, based on her own experiences as a lawyer. She is the daughter of bestselling Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser and lives in London.

 

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