The Best Revenge by LindMea

Strike couldn’t stop his mind from wandering as the service dragged on, interminably long. Why, he wondered, did marrying couples insist on such pageantry? There had to be close to three hundred people crowded into the cavernous ballroom, fighting for space with the massive arrangements of flowers and hangings of gauzy fabric that seemed to cover every available surface. Surely only a small fraction of the mass of guests were close enough to the couple standing at the front of the room to genuinely care about the ceremony that was underway. Strike would be prepared to wager good money that three quarters of the finely dressed crowd were as bored and disinterested in the whole affair as he was.

His wandering gaze happened to fall on Robin, sitting beside him, watching the proceedings with every apparent sign of attentiveness; but her hands were restless, he saw, continuously folding, unfolding, and twisting the program that they had been handed when they took their seats.

The sudden realization hit Strike with almost tangible force; it was, almost to the day, a full year since Robin herself had stood at the front of the ancient church in Masham, reciting her own vows. Strike had been a witness, in the months that followed her wedding, to the increasing frequency of Robin arriving early at work, puffy-eyed and pale from tiredness; to the heated arguments conducted over mobiles in harsh whispers when Robin’s hours at work stretched into the evening; and, finally, to the exhaustion and defeat in Robin’s eyes as she had asked him for a day off to move her things to the room she had rented in Bromley. He wasn’t sure at what point his dislike for Matthew had deepened into outright loathing, but he was certain that his fantasies of punching the accountant had become far too elaborate – and frequent – for comfort.

Was she remembering those miserable months now, he wondered, while she watched a radiant bride, beaming through her tears, slide the ring onto her new husband’s finger? Strike attempted to study his partner’s profile out of the corner of his eye; she didn’t look upset, but then again, Strike was very familiar with Robin’s abilities as an actress. Distracted, he failed to notice the ceremony coming to a close, and was several beats behind the rest of the congregation in rising to applaud the new couple, earning himself a quizzical look from Robin.

“You okay?” Strike asked her, quietly, as they waited patiently to file out of their row and join the receiving line.

“What do you mean?” Robin looked around at him, slightly suspicious; Strike shrugged.

“I just thought, with all the… you know,” he pressed on, waving his arm vaguely towards the altar, attempting to encompass the general atmosphere of romance. Robin narrowed her eyes – in irritation, Strike realized. With him. Shit.

“What, am I so heartbroken and – and bloody fragile that I can’t handle watching two perfect strangers getting married?” Robin kept her voice low, but her outrage was clearly apparent; obviously, Strike had touched a nerve.

“No, that’s not – I meant-” Seeing her eyes flash in sudden anger, Strike quickly thought better of his attempt to backpedal, and raised his hands in what he hoped was a conciliatory fashion. “Sorry. Forget I said anything.” Robin said nothing, but folded her arms tightly across her chest, and started fixedly at the wall opposite.

As they inched forward in the line, Robin’s flash of temper cooled, and her fundamentally kind nature re-asserted itself, along with a creeping sense of guilt. Strike didn’t deserve to have his head bitten off, just for trying to be understanding. She sighed.

“I’m sorry. It’s just…” she had to pause, searching for the words to explain herself properly. “I’m so tired of people deciding to feel sorry for me.” She could feel Strike’s dark eyes resting on her face, and kept her own gaze fixed firmly on the feathered hat of the young woman standing in front of her.

“I’m happy. I’ve got our work, my own space…” Robin trailed off, unable to immediately think of any further benefits of her current single life, but determined nevertheless to extinguish any sense of pity that Strike might feel for her. But when she chanced a glance sideways and met his eyes, it wasn’t pity that she saw, but rather understanding – the same piercing understanding that sometimes unnerved her, which made her worry that the detective was somehow capable of reading her innermost thoughts, as though he knew her on a level that she barely knew herself.

She held his glance for only a moment, then looked quickly back at the bobbing feathers in front of her. She could feel herself starting to blush; Strike was sometimes entirely too perceptive.

As the line moved slowly forward, they shuffled along with it. After a minute or two, Strike cleared his throat, breaking the somewhat awkward silence.

“I’m starving,” he said. “How long d’you think until we get to the food?”

Robin couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her at this, nor could she disguise the fondness in her voice as she rolled her eyes at him and chided, “You’re ridiculous. I’m going to have to start carrying snacks for you everywhere we go.”

Strike assumed an expression of exaggerated thoughtfulness. “It’s not the worst idea you’ve ever had. How many biscuits do you think you could fit in there?” He nodded towards the undersized clutch in Robin’s hand.

“I might need a slightly bigger bag,” Robin laughed, her earlier irritation forgotten. “Something like that, maybe,” she whispered, tilting her head subtly towards the tiny elderly woman standing several feet ahead of them, whose handbag, the same bright pink as her hat and coat, looked quite large enough to hide a medium-sized toddler.

Strike’s snort of laughter earned him several reproving glares, and a clearly audible ‘tsk, tsk’ from somewhere in the line behind them. Thankfully, and quite suddenly, they reached the head of the line, and were brought face-to-face with the bride and groom. Strike stepped forward to greet his old friend. Before he could speak, however, the bride – a pretty, petite woman with masses of curly dark hair and bright brown eyes – gasped loudly.

“You’re Cormoran Strike!” Her excitement was palpable, as she grasped Strike’s outstretched hand with both of her own. “I could not believe Jimmy when he told me he knew you – is it true that you were inside the Shacklewell Ripper’s murder flat?”

Strike opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, at a complete loss. He was rescued by Jimmy, who gently freed Strike’s hand from his wife’s enthusiastic grip.

“Livvy is a big fan of true crime,” he explained, grinning unapologetically at the discomfited Strike. Robin, stifling her amusement, introduced herself and made the appropriate remarks of thanks and congratulations; Livvy, seemingly unperturbed by the detective’s stony expression and monosyllabic responses, began to eagerly question him on the details of his most recent high profile case.

It took several minutes for Strike to extricate himself, managing to do so only upon a promise that he would join the new couple for a dinner party upon their return from their honeymoon; finally, however, he managed it, and they stepped out into a large, sunny courtyard lined with further extravagant arrangements of flowers, crowded with milling guests, and dotted with small, high tables and waiters bearing silver trays of delicate hors d’oeuvres. As they moved slowly around the edges of the crowd, looking for a space to stand, Robin leaned in close to Strike, her eyes alight with humour and her loose waves of hair brushing briefly over his shoulder.

“At least we know why you were invited now,” she murmured quietly in his ear. Strike shot her a dirty look, but she smiled sweetly and serenely back at him. “I’ll go find us drinks,” she said, and disappeared into the crowd around them before he could respond.

By the time Robin rejoined him, carrying two slim glasses of champagne, Strike had waylaid a passing waiter and helped himself to a generous handful of the tray’s offerings.

“These are good,” he said around a mouthful of coconut shrimp, accepting his glass with a nod of thanks. “You should try some.”

Robin didn’t answer; her gaze was fixed on a point somewhere beyond Strike’s shoulder in an expression of sudden horror.

 “Oh, bugger,” she breathed.

“What?” Strike turned, looking to see what had caught her attention, but it took a few seconds of searching before he caught sight of a familiar head of tawny hair and chiseled profile. He squinted, trying to get a clearer view. “Wait – is that-?”

Before he could finish, Robin had grabbed his arm and pulled him sharply around so that they were both facing away from the tall, handsome figure standing at the bar. Strike had seen him only for a moment, but the man was instantly familiar. Matthew.

 “What is he doing here?” Robin hissed, glaring back over her shoulder. “And with Sarah fucking Shadlock!” She sounded, if it was possible, even more outraged over this than the fact of Matthew’s sudden appearance.

Strike, now curious – he had never before heard Robin swear so vehemently – craned his own neck around for another look. Matthew was standing next to a woman, shorter than him by several inches even in heels, her sleek dress and matching fascinator an eye-catching shade of scarlet. As Strike watched, she giggled coquettishly and rested her hand lightly on the accountant’s lapel.

“The blonde?” Strike asked.

Yes.” He could feel the tension radiating from Robin, standing as close as she was. His mental filing system threw up a flashcard; Sarah Shadlock was the woman that Matthew had cheated with, which went a long way to explain Robin’s vehemence. Strike risked another glance over his shoulder. On closer scrutiny, it seemed to him that – though attractive enough – Sarah, when placed next to Robin, could only suffer in the comparison. His opinion of Matthew’s taste and judgement, already quite low, slipped down another notch. He shrugged.

“Well, there has to be at least three hundred people here,” he pointed out, quite reasonably. “It’s not like you’re going to have to make conversation.”

Robin appeared to take a deep breath, and made a shaky attempt at a smile. She took a bracing gulp of champagne.

“You’re right,” she said, and the champagne appeared to steady her smile, which almost reached her eyes. “I doubt they’ll even notice we’re here.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Robin pulled up short.

They had, after several more canapés and another round of champagne, been ushered into another large ballroom, this one packed with tables around a large empty dance floor. After finding their names – correctly spelled, Strike noted, impressed – in the ranks of place cards displayed in precise, orderly rows on the large table near the door, they had begun to weave their way to the far side of the room where their assigned table lay.

The cause of Robin’s abrupt halt and soft cry of dismay was readily apparent; they had just rounded a pillar allowing them to see Table H clearly and, along with it, the guests who had already settled into their seats; tall, handsome Matthew, his arm draped around the shoulders of Sarah Shadlock.

Strike, who could clearly make out the accountant’s clenched jaw and reddening face, guessed that Matthew had seen them approaching at the same moment that they had spotted him.

“Y’know, we could just leave,” Strike said quietly to Robin, who hadn’t moved. He was half hopeful that she would agree to this, that they could retreat to the comforts of a nearby pub; he certainly did not fancy the thought of an entire night spent between an angry Matthew and resentful Robin. But she was already shaking her head, eyes glittering in anger.

“If we leave, Matthew will think he’s won,” she said emphatically. “I’m not giving him the satisfaction.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder and set her chin in the stubborn line that Strike recognized all too well; yet she remained standing where she was, and, after a moment, Strike had to pull her aside to clear a path for those coming up behind them. Robin, defiance fading, leaned against the pillar and sighed.

“I just wish-” she began, then cut herself off, twisting her mouth in a moue of annoyance. She didn’t continue.

“What?” Strike prompted.

“Nothing.” Robin pushed herself upright again and, bracing her shoulders, resumed walking, Strike keeping pace beside her.

“What do you wish?”

“It’s petty. Childish,” Robin said, already regretting that she had said anything. Strike looked at her expectantly, and she relented; if anyone could understand, it would be Strike – she remembered his own devastation, when they had first met, in the wake of his split with Charlotte.

“I just wish that I could be the one to ruin his night.” Robin felt a stab of shame as she said the words out loud. She was supposed to have moved on, to have gotten over the misery and anger of the months leading up to and following her ill-fated marriage; she was supposed to be above a spiteful desire for retaliation. Grow up, she chided herself. She had to act like an adult, no matter how bloody miserable it made her.

Strike had slowed, brow furrowed in thought, clearly undergoing some sort of internal debate. Seeming to come to some sort of conclusion, he looked at her intently, as though searching for something in her expression.

“I could think of a way to ruin his night,” he said slowly, as though unsure himself that it was a good idea. Robin stared at him for a moment, dubious; but her curiosity, and a strange mischievous urge that seemed to bubble up quite suddenly from some hidden corner of her mind, won out.


Strike grinned conspiratorially and placed his hand on the small of her back, moving closer to her as they neared their table; Robin’s stomach turned over deliciously, and she could feel herself start to blush again. Get a grip, she chided herself. Strike leaned in to whisper in her ear.

“Follow my lead.”

 <Chapter 1             Chapter 3 >


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