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An Extract from NO ANGEL


The first in the bestselling SPOILS OF TIME trilogy.



I always felt that writing The Spoils of Time was a piece of total self indulgence. I had long wanted to write a trilogy because the worst thing about finishing a novel is saying goodbye to the characters; and I thought if I could carry on for two more books, I wouldn’t have to. And it was marvellous, creating those characters, and watching them fall in love and get married and have the babies: who two books later were major characters in their own right. I loved the way the family grew, along with the story, and how a small decision or chance meeting in the first book could lead to a hugely important event in the second, and then the third. I enjoyed the tangled threads of the different generations, the criss-crossing of the different branches of the family.


And I savoured the great span of time I could cover, the Lyttons moved from the luxury of Edwardian house parties to the poverty wracked slums of London, were involved in the suffragette
movement, savoured the excesses of both the twenties and the thirties, fought in two World Wars, escaped from war-torn France, and throughout it all, carved out a success for their publishing
company on both sides of the Atlantic.


Most of all I loved the Lytton family; and especially, of course Lady Celia Lytton, the difficult, despotic glorious matriarch, her lovers, her children and her greatest love of all, the publishing house. I do not feel I invented Lady Celia; I felt she was there, waiting for me to write about her. From my first meeting with her when she was a young girl, to my last when she was a great-grandmother, she held me spellbound; fortunately, if I miss her too much I can pick up one of the books and discover her all over again. As I very much hope you will do too.


Penny Vincenzi, London 2006


\An extract from Chapter One


Celia stood at the altar, smiling into the face of her bridegroom and wondered if she was about to test his vow to cherish her in sickness and in health rather sooner than he might have imagined. She really did feel as if she was going to vomit: there and then, in front of the congregation, the vicar, the choir. This was truly the stuff of which nightmares were made. She closed her eyes briefly, took a very deep breath, swallowed; heard dimly through her swimmy clammy nausea the vicar saying, ‘I now pronounce you man and wife’, and somehow the fact that she had done it, managed this marriage, managed this day, that she was married to Oliver Lytton, whom she loved so much, and that no one could change anything now, made her feel better. She saw Oliver’s eyes on her, tender, but slightly anxious, having observed her faintness, and she managed to smile again before sinking gratefully on to her knees for the blessing.


Not an ideal condition for a bride to be in, almost three months’ pregnant; but then if she hadn’t been pregnant, her father would never have allowed her to marry Oliver anyway. It had been a fairly drastic measure; but it had worked. As she had known it would. And it had certainly been fun: she had enjoyed becoming pregnant a lot.


The blessing was over now; they were being ushered into the vestry to sign the register. She felt Oliver’s hand taking hers, and glanced over her shoulder at the group following them. There were her parents, her father fiercely stern, the old hypocrite: she’d grown up seeing pretty housemaid after pretty housemaid banished from the house, her mother, staunchly smiling, Oliver’s frail old father, leaning on his cane supported by his sister Margaret, and just behind them, Oliver’s two brothers, Robert rather stiff and formal and slightly portly, Jack, the youngest, absurdly handsome, with his brilliant blue eyes restlessly exploring the congregation for any pretty faces. Beyond them were the guests, admittedly rather few, just very close friends and family, and the people from the village and the estate, who of course wouldn’t have missed her being married for anything.


She knew that in some ways her mother minded about that more than about anything else really, that it wasn’t a huge wedding like her sister Caroline’s, with three hundred guests at St Margaret’s
Westminster, but a quiet affair in the village church. Well, she didn’t mind. She didn’t mind in the very least. She had married Oliver: she had got her way. ‘Of course you can’t marry him,’ her mother had said, ‘he has no money, no position, no house even, your father won’t hear of it.’ Her father did hear about it, about her wish to marry Oliver, because she made him listen; but he reiterated everything her mother had said.


‘Ridiculous. Throwing your life away. You want to marry properly, Celia, into your own class, someone who can keep you and support you in a reasonable way.’


She said she did not want to marry properly, she wanted to marry Oliver, because she loved him; that he had a brilliant future, that his father owned a successful publishing house in London which would be his one day.


‘Successful, nonsense,’ her father said, ‘if it was successful he wouldn’t be living in Hampstead, would he? With nowhere in the country. No, darling,’ for he adored her, his youngest, a late flower in
his life, ‘you find someone suitable and you can get married straight away. That’s what you really want, I know, a home and husband and babies; it’s natural, I wouldn’t dream of stopping you. But it’s got to be someone who’s right for you. This fellow can’t even ride a horse.’


Things had got much worse after that; she had shouted, raged, sworn she would never marry anyone else, and they had shouted and raged back at her, telling her she was being ridiculous, that she had no idea what she was talking about, that she clearly had no idea what marriage was about, that it was a serious matter, a considerable undertaking, not some absurd notion about love.


‘Very overrated, love,’ her mother said briskly, ‘doesn’t last, Celia, not what you’re talking about. And when it’s gone, you need other things, believe me. Like a decent home to bring up your children in. Marriage is a business and it works best when both parties see it that way.’


NO ANGEL is available in ebook and paperback