Lord James Allenby could be a likeable enough character when he chose to be. The problem was that nowadays most of the time he chose not to bother.

Physically, he was nothing special. Fairly short, at 5′ 6″, his girth was now nearly as much as his height. He had been fit once, when he had played cricket and soccer for the local teams but had given up these pastimes long ago, and the years of good living had made their mark. He had a small scar too, a result of the car crash that had killed his first wife. He had survived with a badly broken leg. It had healed well, leaving only the scar on his left calf to give away the history. Facially, he was quite good looking, clean-shaven and with black hair cut short to maintain his respectable look. He had once worn spectacles but since the coming of contact lenses he had changed to these, feeling that in losing the glasses he lost a few years from his features too.

What he lacked physically though he more than made up for in position, wealth and power. He also had a keen sense of humour which he could turn on whenever he wished.

His wealth he got from an invention which he had patented while still in his twenties – a small plastic device that secured shrubs and small trees, and which would break away when it was no longer needed without damaging the plant it was holding in position. He got royalties from around the world, it being made under licence in both the United States and Asia. For the UK and European markets he had a small share in a manufacturing plant as a junior partner with Rob Bishop, though he got a larger cut than his partnership alone would have got him, having retained the patent personally so getting royalties as well as a percentage of the profits. He had recently renegotiated this deal when the first one had expired. The royalties and profits which he received kept him very well off indeed. You couldn’t visit a garden centre virtually anywhere without finding his little plastic devices hanging up somewhere or other, and each sale brought him a little more cash. He hadn’t cracked the Antipodes though, which he regretted. It was nothing to do with money, more an ego thing. He would have liked to say ‘every’ market rather than ‘most’.

His position he had inherited when his father had died several years previously. As there were no longer hereditary peers in an upper house the title ‘Lord Allenby’ brought no direct influence, but it did help get him through the doors of the ‘movers and shakers’ he liked to associate with, as well as securing good tables at restaurants, well appointed rooms at the hotels he frequently stayed in and that kind of thing.

His inheritance had also brought him the large manor house he was currently standing in, and a sizeable estate surrounding it, complete with four cottages. It hadn’t brought him much cash though. The family fortune, earned many centuries ago when kings ruled the land and topped up by very lucrative investments in the slavery and tobacco trades, had dwindled through the years as it got divided up amongst family members with the deaths of each lord. The situation got no better because the estate now barely turned enough profit to pay for the upkeep and running of the house. Most of the income came from one tenant farmer – John Giles. It was topped up with revenue from lands on the outskirts of the estate rented to two other farmers, and from the income received by letting out three of the cottages. He didn’t concern himself much with the details, leaving the business side of things to his accountant, Mark Peters, and household matters to Hazel, his second wife, who he had met while recovering from the accident that had taken his first from him.

The fact that he had beaten his brother Julian to the title by only forty-two minutes didn’t bother him. They’d never been particularly close. Even as children they had spent most of their time apart. Julian was usually to be found exploring the grounds, photographing and cataloguing all of the creatures he found there, while James preferred to stay inside reading from the large library the family had amassed and making gadgets with a Mechano set which grew larger with every passing birthday and Christmas. Julian was still based at the family home, but rarely spent much time there. He had pursued his childhood interests and was now usually to be found in some distant part of the world filming anything from insects to elephants.

As well as the house, James inherited staff to look after it. The butler had retired five years ago. There hadn’t been a tradition of service in the butler’s family, so Julian had replaced him with someone found for him by an agency. It amused him to call the man ‘Jeeves’, though his real name was Peter Jones. He had continued with his little joke long after it ceased to amuse those who heard it, Peter especially, and the name had stuck, so that they still used it today. He had also inherited his maid Polly too. She was old now, well over the age of 60 that she should have retired at, and only just capable of doing the tasks allotted to her. She was more than just a maid, being the chief cook for day-to-day needs. He only really kept her on for his stepmother’s sake. Valerie liked her. If he let Polly go with her still around he would never hear the last of it. Still, there were signs that Valerie might be marrying Philip Leslie soon and leaving the house. As soon as she did, he would get rid of Polly and replace her with a much younger, and more attractive, model. To maintain the fine gardens that surrounded the house he had inherited a whole family. When the grandfather had died from a heart attack, the job of Chief Gardener had passed to his son, Joe. It was actually Joe’s invention that he had based his on, modifying it just enough to claim it as his own.

When Joe had retired a few years ago, the job had passed on again to his eldest son Fred. Fred hadn’t married and still lived with his parents in the estate’s fourth cottage. James hadn’t filled the junior position this change had left open, expecting Fred to complete much of the work alone. Labour was occasionally topped up by a couple of the children from the neighbouring village, where it was needed and when they were available. The grounds were now a little shabbier as a result.

Children were something neither his first wife nor his current one had provided him with. He would have liked a son to pass his title on to. If he outlived Julian, the title and estate would pass to the next nearest living male relative. At the moment this was a young cousin, Paul. That could change if Paul died suddenly, which was unlikely, or if James’ uncle Albert had a male child. This was even more unlikely. Albert was well over 80 and spent much of his time breathing through a mask. The idea of him being able to father another child now was something James didn’t like to think about.

Whoever did get the title eventually would get the estate too. There had been clauses in every will as it had passed down to ensure this, as well as to ensure that surviving relatives retained a right to remain there, so long as marriage or remarriage didn’t negate that right.

The fact that neither wife had got pregnant pointed to it being a deficiency in James himself, rather than in both women. He had never had this theory tested by his doctor, Timothy West, but it seemed most likely. The affair he was enjoying with Hazel’s much younger sister, Anne Frobisher, would soon get out if she got pregnant. She was past the age when this was likely and as far as James knew was still taking the necessary precautions but it was still a risk. James never took any precautions himself, feeling that it was something that should properly be done by the woman rather than the man.

He had made very sure to keep the income he received from the patent separate from the estate’s monies, so that he would be free to dispose of that however he chose when the time came. Much of this only he and his accountant knew about and even his accountant didn’t have any knowledge of some of the funds he had squirreled away in a couple of offshore accounts These were growing larger as he took every available opportunity to move his money into them.

The power came from the position and wealth. It afforded him access to many of the judges and senior policemen who enforced the laws made by the politicians he courted. He was a major contributor to the MP representing the area he lived in, which got him into the lady’s diary whenever he wanted. He did in fact secretly contribute to her opponents too, or to serious ones at least, on the off chance that one might take her seat from her. He dined too with other senior politicians whenever the opportunity arose. It was not a job he would like to do himself but he enjoyed being able to engage and perhaps influence them on whatever the topic of the day might be. When the opportunity had arisen to become a Freemason he had taken it eagerly and used the position he had attained there to extend his influence still more widely. He had recently got Julian involved in the society’s activities though his brother had shown less interest in its affairs than he had himself.

Many of the people whose acquaintance he cultivated would be at the party he was throwing to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Curiously, it wasn’t quite the same as Julian’s as they’d been born either side of midnight. Having two separate parties had been a tradition started by their parents and one which the brothers maintained even now. A rumour had begun to circulate that He was planning to announce his retirement at the party, though what from no-one really knew. He didn’t really ‘work’, just took business lunches with people. These lunches would no doubt continue, though he might call them something else. Perhaps he planned to stop, or dramatically cut down on, his frequent overseas travel to see how sales were doing in various parts of the world, or at least he always claimed this was the reason behind them.

Before the party, he would make another trip to Pittsburgh where the company that supplied the Americas was based. They were being difficult about signing the new agreement he had proposed and he felt that in a face-to-face meeting he could convince them. He would combine this legitimate business trip with taking his mistress away. Anne had already left to travel home claiming that she was to do a week’s work. She would be waiting for him to collect her when he arrived later that day.

All things considered, he had a good life. The only thing that could improve it was to be free of Hazel so that he could marry Anne, as he had promised to do on many occasions. Hazel though was adamant that she wouldn’t divorce him, Anne had told him, even though she suspected that he was having an affair. Something else that Anne had confided. It was quite handy that Hazel used Anne as a confidante, so that James soon knew what she was thinking. Hazel also subtly let James know that she had secrets on him if he should try to divorce her and left him sure that she wouldn’t hesitate to use them if he did. James prided himself on being clever though, and was sure he would find a way to get around it.

When he had finished packing his suitcase he rang for Peter to collect it and take it to his car. When Peter arrived several minutes later Julian followed him down the stairs. He didn’t bother trying to find Hazel before climbing into his jag and starting the drive to Anne’s house.