Alice Fraser is an innocent young girl from the quiet Scottish countryside whose life is about to take an unimaginable turn. Soon after her eighteenth birthday, against her better judgement, she finds herself catapulted into life in London during the Roaring 20s. Through her cousin’s connections, she encounters the hedonistic lifestyle of the Bright Young People. Before long, she is introduced to the intoxicating combination of jazz, alcohol, drugs and casual sex.
Accidentally gate-crashing an orgy awakens a curiosity within her, and she decides to learn more about sex. Her chosen tutor is the devilishly handsome womaniser Charlie, Lord Moorfoot. The many warnings about his reputation for being incapable of emotion do nothing to put her off. While reluctant at first, he agrees to her request, and they set off together on a sexual world of discovery. Despite numerous warnings, she finds herself falling for him, and he is shocked to discover he feels the same way. Despite their feelings for each other, untold family histories and prejudice on both sides mean they must fight to be together. Can Alice find the resolve and courage to win the fight to be with the man she loves?
When asked to tell their stories, many people say they have no idea where to begin. I do not share that worry. Prior to June, 1926, my eighteenth birthday, I have no story to tell. Well, I do, but it is rather dull compared with what happens after.
The day after my birthday, Dad sat beside me, wearing a grave expression as though readying himself for delivering sad news. I presumed he was going to discuss a neighbour’s death or illness. Although neither of us suspected, he was on the brink of suggesting something which changed my life in ways far exceeding my wildest dreams.
“Alice, I have come to terms with you showing no inclination to attend university, despite doing so well at school,” he reminded me for the umpteenth time.
Dad loved telling stories about the female students at university, although men and women studied at separate times for some archaic reason. He made no secret of his hope that I would join them. Passing the academy entrance exam meant a great deal to him, almost as much as receiving my Leavers Certificate. Despite his pleas, I drew the line at sitting the university entrance exams. I knew I might pass if I applied myself, although the point of doing so escaped me. No one could explain the purpose of spending years at university learning an occupation I must forgo when I married.
“I picture myself married someday,” I told him with a sigh. “Do you want me turning out a lonely, frustrated old spinster? Or married, yet unfulfilled because I abandoned my true vocation?”
I understood what being unmarried meant. The Great War consigned many young ladies into fierce competition for the attention of available young men. We had a few unmarried women over thirty living in our village, some war widows, others who had been incapable of catching an admirer’s eye. Theirs looked a solitary existence, and I harboured no ambition of joining them for sake of a career.
“All I am interested in is helping you at the surgery, but you won’t let me,” I complained.
“I’ve received a letter from your Aunt Violet,” he told me, ignoring my familiar grievance. “She has invited you down to stay with her in London for a wee while. I have spent some time thinking it over, and I believe it is a good idea. What do you think?”
He waited for my comments on this unexpected news, his face unreadable. A tell-tale sadness in his eyes showed he might not be as happy with the idea as he said.
“I don’t want to leave here. I do not want to go to London. It means leaving you on your own, and I don’t want to do that.” I took his hand.
“Och, it’s me that’s been leaving you on your own, lass,” he said, patting my hand. “I have my patients keeping me busy. You are a young lady now, and it is not right that you are on your own all the time. It is time you expanded your horizons.”
“Cludenbrig is my home. I’m happy here.”
“Are you?” he asked, his tone a sad one.
“Yes, I am,” I replied, although I could see what he meant. My happy childhood ended abruptly when my mother died. Dad never forgave himself for missing signs of her illness, although there was nothing he could have done. Following her death, he threw himself into his work, and a long time had passed since our house could be called a happy one.
“London is so far away,” I continued, changing the subject.
“You might find you love London, far away from your stuffy old faither.” He smiled, waving his arm to repel my attempts at stating otherwise. “It can be a wee holiday for you, and you can visit galleries and museums. The shops are vast. You can lose yourself in them for hours. It will be a good opportunity for you to buy yourself some bonnie dresses. It has been some time since you did that. They have all sorts of fancy restaurants where you can try food from around the world…”
“I’ll bet it won’t be as nice as Mrs. McKenzie’s cooking,” I grumbled.
“Perhaps not,” he conceded with a shrug. “But you won’t know until you try. There are countless picture houses. You love the pictures, don’t you? There are theatres and places for going dancing. You can do many things there that you can’t do here.” I did not realise then how accurate these words would prove. “If you are intent on finding yourself a husband, you may as well look for a rich one, and London is the place for that. Your Aunt Violet can introduce you to many interesting young gentlemen.”
I should have expected this. When Aunt Violet last visited, she reminded Dad I was approaching marriageable age and asked how I might meet a suitable husband. At the time, I thought the question unfair as I had my eye on one boy, Robbie, eldest son of the village blacksmith. I usually walked home from school with my friend Esther, the minister’s daughter. Robbie joined us when he wished, carrying our satchels. On our last day at school, he took my hand without saying a word. I found myself struck dumb by a pair of hazel eyes I now found quite striking. Esther’s eyes grew huge when she realised what we were doing. She wittered on for the entire walk home, talking about everything except us holding hands. When we arrived at the manse, she left us with a wave and a sly smile.