Melrose was astonished when his rich uncle Bertie died and left him an envelope containing a brief note, a hand-written, gilt-edged voucher, and a personal telephone number marked “call to confirm”.
“Train tickets?” Cathy scoffed. “The guy was a millionaire. Why not leave you money, or a house? What could we possible want with train tickets?”
“It’s not just a train, Cathy, it’s the Orient Express. Four weeks, two passengers. We’re talking historic, high-class, once-in-a-lifetime elegance! And by the way, no one ever rides for four weeks!”
“Including us, Mel. Cash it in. How much do you think you could get? Several thousand pounds? It might help pay for our down payment.”
Melrose didn’t dare tell her that the price of these impossible-to-get tickets would not only pay their down payment, it would pay for the entire three-bedroom two-bath corner flat. In cash. With enough left over for a fairy-tale wedding, instead of the civil ceremony they’d planned.
Uncle Bertie had never been fixated on money for its own sake. He believed in style, in quality, in what he called “the life of the connoisseur”. Cathy probably didn’t even know how to spell connoisseur. She believed in home, family, holidays in Brighton, saving for retirement. Melrose felt guilty pigeonholing her like that. Cathy was a good person. She’d been kind to him when the love of his life, Vanessa, left him to devote her life to art.
Vanessa. Now there was a woman who would appreciate the fabled Orient Express. The dazzling art deco, the Lalique glass inlays, the mother-of-pearl and teak walls, the damask silk hangings. Melrose imagined Vanessa’s hazel-blue eyes widening as he showed her their suite. All that lavish art would be lost on Cathy. “Don’t waste your life on the ordinary.” Bertie’s note had said. Melrose felt his head spinning. Cathy would make a wonderful wife. But four weeks on the train might win Vanessa back.
Vanessa’s paintings at the Tate, Cathy’s gentle sweetness. Stay with the safe or gamble on the extraordinary? The rose-covered cottage or the Orient Express?