I gave my tall heels a rub with their shoe bag before I stepped into them. Maybe the only thing Elisabeth Teerlinc had in common with Judith Rashleigh was that she didn’t employ a maid. Becoming Elisabeth had taken so much more than an expensive wardrobe, in the end. Armour only truly protects if it’s invisible, and that was where the real struggle had lain.
Not just the studying and the exams, but maintaining the conviction that I could win. Getting out of the miserable estate where I’d grown up. Not allowing myself to be subsumed into the squalor of my mother’s life. Resisting the taunts, the insidious daily whisperings of ‘slag’ and ‘bitch’ that hissed after me along the school corridors just because I wanted more. I’d taught myself to hate the girls at school, and then to ignore them, because what were they ever going to be in a few years but flabby pram-faces in the bus queue? That was the easy part. The difficult bit was eliminating every trace of the gaping prole I felt like when I finally won a place at university, because people can see it. Not just the sad kid dreaming under the duvet over her precious book of fashion plates and her little collection of art postcards, but the sorry, striving heart inside. Once I’d taken the train south from Lime Street, no one was ever going to see that girl again. Slowly but surely I had erased my accent, changed my manners, learned my languages, shaped and smoothed my defences like a sculptor works marble.
Even that was only the beginning of Elisabeth’s demands. For a while, when I landed a job at a prestigious London auction house , I’d believed I had made it, but I had no money and no connections, which meant I was never going to rise further than departmental dogsbody. So I took a night job in a hostess bar, the Gstaad Club, because surely a better suit and a nicer haircut would make it come right? I was disabused of this touching belief when I discovered that my boss, Rupert, was involved in a faking scam. He’d taken less than five minutes to show me the door. One of the club’s clients, James, had offered me a weekend on the Riviera, and from there things had become a little . . . untidy, for a while. Though ultimately highly profitable, since I’d located and sold the fake that got me fired, and used the money to set up as an art dealer in Paris. Admittedly there had been a few casualties. James hadn’t made it back to London, though that hadn’t been entirely my doing. And neither had the dealer from whom I’d stolen the fake, Cameron Fitzpatrick; my old school chum, Leanne; Renaud Cleret, an undercover policeman; or Julien, the conniving owner of a Paris sex club. Relocating to Venice as Elisabeth Teerlinc had been a practical necessity. Not least as I wanted to avoid the attentions of a certain police inspector, Renaud’s colleague Romero da Silva. It had taken quite a lot of polish to obscure all that. But Elisabeth’s façade had become pretty good, its gleam reflecting only what people wanted to see. It’s true what they say – in the end, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
LS Hilton is the author of DOMINA and MAESTRA, published by Zaffre.