Marion waited anxiously under the big clock in Lime Street Station, Liverpool, watching the faces of people passing by. Most of them were too busy to notice her. A surge of passengers off a train swept through the hall towards the exit. Wherever they were going, wherever they came from, they were nothing to do with her. People drinking espresso in the café or buying newspapers in W.H. Smiths didn’t notice her standing there. The transport policeman moving on a beggar didn’t worry about a well-dressed young woman no matter how out of place and nervous she thought she looked.

She was very well dressed. She had taken care to put on a nice dress and her favourite shoes. She was wearing a delicate perfume and carefully applied cosmetics. She knew she looked nice.

She was certainly anxious, though. Would he be there? That was the thing that worried her. It was nearly one o’clock, the time they agreed last time. She had got there early. She was excited as well as nervous, looking forward to this respite from the tedium of her life.

She wondered what she would do if he didn’t come. He had given her so much to look forward to in recent weeks. Without him, she didn’t know if she could go on living the lie that her life had become.

If he didn’t come….

A hand touched her shoulder. She jumped visibly. He spoke her name softly as she turned.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“I didn’t….” she stammered. “I mean…. Oh, never mind. It’s so good to see you. I was so scared that you wouldn’t come.”

“Why wouldn’t I come? It’s been a whole week since I saw you last. I missed you.”

“You did?”

“Of course, I did. I have been longing to see you again, and to do this.”

He reached to embrace her and slowly and deliberately kissed her on the lips. She was surprised. He had never done that in such a public place before.

“Now I’ve frightened you,” he said. “I am sorry for that. I hoped you would enjoy it.”

“I did enjoy it. But… let’s go somewhere quieter, where we won’t be seen.”

“Nothing could be simpler,” he assured her. “I have booked a discreet table in a very fine restaurant.”

The restaurant was not very far away – the luxurious Adelphi Hotel was only a very short walk from the railway station. Stepping inside from the noisy street into the cool, quiet Edwardian styled foyer was a relief. She felt so much more relaxed at once. She smiled as she held his arm and walked into the restaurant where he had already made a luncheon reservation. He held her seat before taking his own and ordered aperitifs from the neatly dressed waitress while they looked at the menu. He had a Manhattan from the cocktail list, but she insisted on orange juice with ice and a twist of lemon. He always ordered wine with the food and that was enough alcohol for her in the afternoon.

She looked at the menu and chose the ‘Salade Adelphi’ followed by Dover sole with lemon butter and a crème brûlée for desert. He chose the game pate and the sirloin steak for his main course, followed by a cheese selection.

“Do try to relax, my dear,” he begged her as she finished her entrée and they waited for the main course to arrive at the table. She had hardly looked at him as she ate and her expression was still very strained. “I wanted you to enjoy lunch with me.”

“I know,” she answered. “But… my husband is starting to ask questions about where I go every week. I think he knows… not about us… but that I am hiding SOMETHING. I wonder if he might… I don’t know… have me followed. He is a very powerful man. He could do that. And… I don’t know what he would do to me… but he would make you suffer, Alex, my dear.”

“Marion, you’re not trying to tell me you want to break it off, are you?”

“No,” she assured him. “No, Alex. These afternoons are too precious to me. But I need you to know the risk. He could hurt you, he really could.”

“I will risk anything for this precious time with you,” Alex told her. “But I don’t want you to be anxious about it. This is your freedom from him. You are with me, having a pleasant lunch. Then afterwards….”

“Let’s not talk of ‘afterwards’,” Marion said. “Let’s just enjoy now. It is good to be with you. I have so looked forward to this. Just the thought of lunch with you made the week so much brighter.”

“I’m glad I can do that much for you,” Alex said. “But if you would let me, I could do so much more.” He smiled at her expression. “No, you are quite right. Let us enjoy this brief time.” He lifted his wine glass and toasted her. “To you, Marion, the woman who has brightened my life.”

She smiled and took a sip of her own glass as the main course was put before her and she ate her fish, appreciating fully the delicate flavour.

“You look really beautiful today,” Alex told her. “Absolutely stunning.”

“It’s… such a long time since anyone told me that,” Marion answered him. “He… used to… when we were first married, but not now.”

“That’s the tragedy of it all,” Alex said. “You are a precious flower. You deserve to be nurtured and cherished, and he treats you like a piece of old furniture. My dear, why do you stay with him?”

“I made my binding vows when we were married. I cannot break them.”

“Of course you can, Marion. He doesn’t deserve such loyalty. He has not lived up to his vows, after all. He has not cared for you as he should.”

“He… doesn’t hurt me,” Marion assured him. “He has never hit me. It’s just….”

“Psychological hurt is just as deep as physical wounds,” Alex told her. “You don’t have to suffer it. Leave him, my dear.”

“I couldn’t do that. I have nowhere to go. You know I have no family. The few friends I used to have I have lost touch with since I was married. I have no money of my own. I don’t even own the clothes I wear. He buys everything for me.”

“Then let me buy what you need, instead. Leave him and live with me. I will take care of you. I will protect you, Marion.”

“You couldn’t,” she said. “He would find us. He won’t just let me go. Besides, where COULD we go? I don’t even know where you live.”

“I have an apartment in the City Centre,” Alex said. “Only a short walk from here. That is where I live. It is sufficient for me, living alone, working at the bank every day. But I wasn’t thinking of taking you there. Look.”

He passed a small glossy folder to her. She looked inside. There were two first class tickets to Aberdeen.

Single tickets.

“That’s where my family home is,” Alex explained. “It is a sixteenth century castle, but it has all the modern conveniences like central heating and indoor plumbing. It is a beautiful, comfortable home surrounded by rolling fields and pine forest and bordered by a deep, wide loch. You would love it there.”

“You really mean it, don’t you?” Marion said, reading the tickets carefully and noting that their seats were reserved on the three-ten service from Lime Street. It was ten past two now. She had an hour to decide whether to take that offer of escape or not.

“We have time for our desert and coffee, before walking back to the station at our leisure and boarding the train. Once you step aboard, you will be free of every impediment to your happiness. I promise you that, my dear Marion.”

It was a tempting offer. She thought about it as she ate the desert. She imagined herself stepping aboard that train, sitting in a comfortable seat, watching the crowded platform of Lime Street slowly pass by as the train moved off, flying northwards through the countryside to Scotland, to the refuge that Alex offered, a place her husband would never think to look for her.

Yes, she would be safe. She would be with a man she loved. Yes, she loved him. It had begun as friendship, companionship, lunch and walks in St. George’s Gardens. But now it was much more. Now she knew she couldn’t go on living without him. She couldn’t go back to the sham marriage that she had endured for so long.

But could she? Did she have the courage to go through with it? Could she make her escape so easily? For so long she had accepted that she had no other choice, that she was bound to him by the vows of matrimony and that she would be his until her dying day. She had never even imagined breaking from him before. Alex was the first person who ever suggested that she could. He was the only one offering her a way to do it.

She debated the idea through the coffee as the clock ticked away slowly. The train would be in the station, now. The stewards would be stocking the buffet, cleaning the seats, checking for lost property. In a little while passengers would be allowed to board.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes, Alex, I will come with you to Scotland. Oh, yes. Let’s not wait any longer.”

“Let me pay the bill here, first,” he said with a smile. He summoned the waitress and the bill was brought on a small silver tray. He settled it and left a generous tip before he took Marion’s arm and they stepped out of the hotel, back into the bustle of the city streets and back towards the railway station where it had all begun.

“We’ll have to do some shopping very soon,” Alex said. You will need more clothes. You don’t even have a proper coat with you. You’ll need one in Scotland.”

“I have four fur coats in the wardrobe at home,” Marion admitted. “But I don’t care about them, or anything else I’m leaving behind.”

There was the train, a long, sleek, Virgin Pendalino, the newest and most comfortable way to travel long distances. Alex held her arm as they walked along the platform to the Gold Zone where the first class carriages were.

“Marion!” A voice called out above the noise of the station. Marion looked around in horror as her husband stepped down from the train accompanied by men in uniform. She turned to see three Transport Police officers coming to close off their escape back to the concourse. They were trapped.

“Marion, sweetheart, stand still,” her husband said, catching her by the arm and pulling her away from Alex’s grasp as he was taken in hand by two of the uniformed men.

“No!” she screamed, to the utter bewilderment of the passengers on and off the train who stared at the unexpected drama. “No, don’t take him. Don’t hurt him. I love him.”

“No, you don’t,” Kristoph said very patiently. “Marion, look at me. Look at me, please sweetheart.”

He had to force her to turn to him, still sobbing and protesting about the way Alex was forcibly taken from her. He raised his hand and let the sunlight coming in through the glass roof above reflect off his diamond encrusted Ring of Eternity and into her eyes. He moved his hand slowly and the light pulsated rhythmically. She went quiet as it gently mesmerised her. Then she gave a deep sigh of relief and hugged her husband fondly.

“Oh, Kristoph, my love, how could I have… what happened? Why did I think that you…. I thought he loved me, not you.”

“Come with me, my dear,” he said. He led her gently onto the train as Alex was taken away by the Celestial Intervention Agency men in black escorted by the Transport Police. Kristoph brought Marion to the still quiet First Class buffet car of the train and a steward brought tea. She drank it slowly and let herself try to sort out the false memories from the real ones in her mind. The train pulled out of the station as she did so. She looked at Kristoph in concern, but he assured her that his TARDIS was aboard and when she felt ready they would go home in it. A quiet ride through the English countryside would do her good in the meantime.

“He’s a very powerful truth-bender,” Kristoph explained when he felt she was ready. “From Alsassia IV where such skills are highly prized. He first hypnotised you four weeks ago, when he followed you here on one of your shopping trips. While you were here in Liverpool, the memory trigger he planted made you think all those terrible things - that you didn’t love me, and you were trapped in a loveless marriage and longed to escape. When you went home through the portal you didn’t remember any of it. That was what concerned me, of course. You usually tell me everything, even the price of biscuits at Tescos. You were so vague about your day that I knew something was wrong. I had a Celestial Intervention Agency man watch you and he reported back to me. I knew none of it could be true. You would never be unfaithful to me. It had to be something else.”

“It felt so real,” she said. “It’s horrible… the man he made me think I was married to was so cold and cruel to me. Not… not like you at all.”

“Of course. He had to make you think you were ready to leave me.”

“But why?” Marion asked. “What was it all for? Was it some plot to discredit you, by showing me up as an adulterer?”

“No,” Kristoph answered with a wry smile. “Not so far as we know, although the Celestial Intervention Agency will be questioning him thoroughly about that. But as far as we can tell he first saw you on Ventura during an official visit. He developed a romantic obsession with you and determined to ‘have’ you for his own.”

“What if I had carried on believing him?” Marion asked. “I might have… I really might have committed adultery, thinking that I didn’t love you any more and didn’t care about our vows.”

“I don’t think that would have happened,” Kristoph assured her. “Even the deepest hypnotism can’t make people act against their nature, and you would not have betrayed me so thoroughly. I am confident of that.”

“Thank you,” Marion told him. “For your faith in me.”

“Always, my dear. But… to prevent such a thing happening again, I want you to have this.” He took her left hand in his. “You have enough rings already, and many diamonds. But this one….” He placed a slender gold ring, encrusted with very tiny jewels that refracted the light into an iridescent rainbow of colours, onto her middle finger. “As well as being a beautiful confirmation of my love, this ring is imbued with special properties that will prevent you being hypnotised by any natural or mechanical means. It will also dispel all of those false memories and let you see the absolute truth.”

“I do,” Marion told him. “Yes, I see it all now. Forgive me for being so silly, for letting myself be taken in by him?”

“Of course I do,” Kristoph told her. “You are absolutely forgiven.” He held both her hands in his and reached to kiss her, confirming that he was the one and only true love in her heart and in her life.