Authors: Alexandra Brown
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance
Oh yes please. I fancy that, Mr Carrington. A lot!
So here I am in my flat having polished off two large glasses of pink wine and half a pizza, and I still haven’t heard from Tom. I even had a blissful bubble bath, figuring the phone would ring the very minute I submerged myself into the water – that’s usually what happens when I’m waiting on a call, but nope, nothing.
And then it dawns on me. Does Tom actually have my number? You know, I’m not entirely sure he does. Whenever we’ve spoken on the phone before it’s been at work, usually with him in his office upstairs and me ducked in the alcove talking quietly into the staff phone on the wall. Crap! I can’t exactly email him to ask, which would just be like saying ‘
why haven’t you called me yet
?’ And that won’t do … Oh no, no, no! Sooo uncool to be that woman who waits by the phone. Desperate. I can’t imagine that the type of women he’s used to carry on like that, but then they’re probably way too busy with hectic and extremely glamorous social calendars to be bothered by a mere phone call from one of their many ‘to-die-for’ gorge admirers. I flick on the DVD player and settle down for a Mad Men boxset-fest instead. I can always rely on Don to distract me.
I’m two episodes in when my mobile buzzes and I practically skyrocket myself off the sofa, only to feel instantly crushed on seeing that it’s Eddie calling, and not Tom.
‘Tom just rang asking for your mobile number. I gave it to him, and then realised I should have checked with you first. Is that OK?’ Eddie says really fast and I’m sure my stomach does an actual backflip.
‘Of course it bloody is!’ I bellow, and for some ludicrous reason, I leg it into the hall to check my hair in the mirror above the side cabinet before grabbing my bag and turfing all the junk out to locate my new MAC lipstick in Chatterbox pink.
‘OK, calm down lover, only I thought it best to check, seeing as you went bonkers the last time I slipped up and gave that hot guy in the club your number.’
‘That was different. He wasn’t hot. And he looked like a bell end.’
‘Hmm, well, not one I’ve ever seen before, sugar pie.’ Eddie laughs at his own joke. ‘Anyway, what are you doing? You sound distracted.’
‘Nothing. Got to go.’ I toss the lipstick down, end the call and run back to the sofa. Tom could be trying to get through. Right now!
It’s nearly midnight when my mobile eventually rings and I must have nodded off to sleep. I force myself awake and lean up on one elbow eagerly.
‘Georgie, it’s Tom.’
‘Hello. This is a nice surprise,’ I say, trying to sound breezy.
‘Did I wake you?’
‘Oh no,’ I lie.
‘So, how are you, Georgie?’ God, he sounds hot. His Downton voice (upstairs, natch) is still there, but there’s something different too, the hint of an accent. A deep, sexy Italian one – being in Sicily is obviously having a fabulous effect on him. Bonus.
‘Very well, thanks. How are you?’
‘Good. No, scrap that, I’m bored out of my mind, if I’m honest.’
‘Oh no, why?’ I say, magnanimously, but really thinking –
Good! I want you to be sooooo bored that you have to get back here RIGHT NOW
‘Just all this family stuff.’
‘You could always hop on a plane,’ I say hopefully, and wondering if it would be rude to ask what this ‘family stuff’ is all about.
‘I’d love to, I really would, but it’s just not possible at the moment.’
‘Ah, that’s a shame, but absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.’
What am I saying? I sound like someone’s old granny at a wedding, sucking on a pork pie as I dish out my guide to courting circa 1920. And I actually do a ridiculously coy giggle. Cringe.
‘Err, sorry Georgie, can you hang on for a second?’ he says, sounding distracted.
‘Sure.’ I shudder with relief that he seems to have missed my granny moment, while I listen to muffled voices and wait for him to come back on the line.
‘I have to go.’ And the line goes dead. I hold my phone out to check the connection and yep, he’s gone! Disappointment floods through me as I make my way to bed wondering what just happened there. Maybe I’m dreaming …
It’s the evening of the VIP sale preview event and I can’t believe a whole month has passed by already. That old adage of
time flying when you’re having fun
really is true – Tom and I have racked up over fifty emails now plus two late night telephone chats where things got very heated indeed. In a good way. Oh yes! Especially the bit on FaceTime where Tom showed me his tan line just below the waistband of his jeans. Cor! Luckily it was at the exact same moment I took a mouthful of wine, so the fake coughing fit to cover my ridiculously girly gasp was highly convincing, I hope. I just wish he was here – the last time we spoke he was in Milan but reckoned he’d be back any day now, and it really can’t come soon enough for me.
‘Are you ready?’ It’s Eddie looking very officious with a pen poised to tick a chart on his black clipboard.
‘Of course,’ I say, noticing a couple of cocktail rings are upside down in the display box on my counter. I quickly straighten them, tucking the price tags inside the velvet-covered cushion while Annie sees to a tangerine-coloured leather Chloé bag that’s managed to topple over on the shelf next to us.
‘Who put you in charge? Annie says cheekily as she turns back to face Eddie.
‘Nobody darling, but someone has to make sure the VIPs are looked after properly,’ he quips, before strutting off towards a group of middle-aged women arriving through the revolving door at the main entrance.
‘What’s gotten into him?’ Annie says, once Eddie is out of earshot.
‘I think he’s just extra busy, with Tom being away,’ I say, diplomatically.
‘Well, he’s not the only one missing him, eh?’ Annie elbows me gently and I laugh.
‘Uh oh, here they come. No time for standing around chatting,’ I say, as the group of women head towards us. Ciaran, one of the waiters from Sam’s café appears with a tray of canapés, which the women devour within a few seconds.
‘Oooh, don’t mind if I do,’ a women with purple spiky hair says loudly to her mate while eyeing up Ciaran’s bottom as he weaves through the now bustling crowd. Certainly an improvement on the last event we did like this – the autumn/winter sale preview, only nineteen people turned up and we sold just over a thousand pounds worth of stock. Dismal.
A stunningly attractive younger woman wearing a floaty butterfly-patterned Missoni mini dress appears at my counter in a puff of Clive Christian. She has long butter-blonde hair and is carrying the limited edition Dior top handle bag that Annie and I spotted in Elle magazine last month – costs a bomb and there’s, like, a ten year waiting list or whatever. Although this one has a sparkly gold jewelled key chain dangling from the handle. Nice touch, and I haven’t seen one like it before. Oh wow! I’m guessing this woman is from one of the yachts moored up in the new Mulberry Marina, and I’m sure she’s never shopped at Carrington’s before because I would definitely remember her special bag and sparkly key chain. Things are definitely looking up.
‘How may I help you this evening?’ I beam, making sure my eyes crinkle at the corners, just as Mrs Grace taught me back in the day when I started as a Saturday girl. She used to say there was nothing more off-putting to a customer wanting to splash the cash than a moody-looking sales assistant. Make them glow! That was her motto.
‘I’d love to have a look at the Anya bags please – that sunshine-yellow Seymour over there.’ The woman waves a beautifully-manicured hand across the floor and I’m impressed: she obviously knows her handbags. She dumps the Dior on the counter in anticipation.
‘Certainly. A good choice,’ I say, as Annie leaps into action and bombs over to retrieve it before returning to hover nearby and drool over the Dior bag. Luckily, she manages to refrain from actually stroking it.
‘It’s part of the sale preview, right?’ the woman asks, her stunning emerald eyes widening.
‘It sure is. And it’s half price.’ I lift the tag to show her.
‘Even better, I do love a bargain,’ she smiles conspiratorially, leaning into me and lowering her voice.
‘Oh me too, and this handbag is divine. See the detailing here,’ I open the bag to show her the iconic monogrammed interior with trademark tasselled zip pocket.
‘Can I try it on?
‘Please do.’ I lead her over to the long mirror.
‘Oooh, it’s gorgeous.’ Pushing the bag into the crook of her elbow, she twists and turns, admiring the view. ‘Would you mind trying it on please, so I can see what it looks like?’
‘Sure.’ She hands me the bag and I’m standing in front of her with it in my elbow when someone bellows from over by the floor-to-ceiling window display:
‘What on earth are you doing?’ An older woman with an Italian accent and long black hair swept severely from her surgically-enhanced face comes striding towards us. She’s wearing a navy Gucci trouser suit over a white ruffle-necked blouse and has a ruby-topped cane in one hand and a miniature quivering furchild with a pink diamante collar around its neck in the other, which she hands to a man in a chauffeur’s uniform. The man stands awkwardly, holding the yapping dog at arms length. Blimey, she must be important – I didn’t think dogs were allowed instore.
‘Oh Mother, there you are. Isn’t this handbag divine?’ I hand the bag back to the girl and she puts it on her arm, stroking the soft textured leather lovingly.
‘Is it a sale item?’ she demands, ignoring her daughter’s question. The chauffeur surreptitiously rolls his eye before wandering towards an exit.
‘Yes, and such a bargain.’ The mother slaps a palm to her chest – so dramatically, anyone would think she’d been shot through the heart with a poison dart.
‘Take it off! Take it off your arm at once,’ she hisses, her black kohl-lidded eyes amphibian-like as they scan the store.
‘Will you wrap it please?’ The girl hands the bag back to me, ignoring her mother.
‘Um, yes, of course,’ I hesitate, before heading towards my counter. God, I really hope this doesn’t turn into a scene. The last time we had an incident like this, a mother–daughter spat over what constituted ‘a sensible school bag’, I had to call security when the teenage girl had a hissy fit and ended up hurling a ‘boring black rucksack’ into the window display – I think she wanted the Juicy Couture neon pink cross-body bag instead.
‘Stop right there,’ the mother demands, making me jump. And I do as I’m told. ‘My daughter does not need to purchase
items,’ she says, barely able to bring herself to say the actual word.
Hmm, so why would you come to a SALE preview evening then?
I open my mouth, unsure of what to say, but luckily, Eddie appears just in the nick of time, having dumped the clipboard and changed into a dapper grey suit complete with waistcoat. Very debonair.
‘Countesssssss … there you are! I’ve been looking all over for you,’ he says in an extra camp voice.
‘Oh Paola, pleeeeease …’ the Countess purrs, before extending her free hand for Eddie to shake or kiss or whatever – he plumps for a kind of two-handed clasp before leaning in to do three alternating air kisses either side of her head.
‘Certainly, Paola. Enchanted.’ And I swear Eddie almost does a little courtesy in reverence. I stare, mesmerised and bemused at the schmooze coming from his mouth – I’ve seen Eddie fawn before, but never as sycophantically as this. ‘And my sincere apologies for not being at your car door to greet you as discussed. Maybe you’d like a flute before we show you our finest collection.’ Eddie flaps a hand wildly and a waiter with a silver tray of pink bubbly materialises immediately next to the Countess. She downs a glass in one before helping herself to another.
‘Yes, the finest. That’s what we want, and definitely no sale items for Adrianna,’ the Countess replies, tossing a glare in our direction.
‘Please, here’s my credit card.’ Ignoring her mother, Adrianna offers me a black Amex.
‘I’m so sorry, we don’t take American Express,’ I cringe, willing my cheeks to stop flaming. I’m going to talk to Tom, because if Carrington’s is to attract this calibre of customer – glamouratti and royalty – then we really need to up our game …
‘No problem, I have cash.’ Adrianna pulls a bundle of notes from her purse instead.
‘I said NO! Sale items are for people who can’t afford to pay full price. It would be mean of us to deprive them …’ the Countess says, adopting a mock-concerned voice now.
The woman with the purple spiky hair is within earshot and quickly elbows her mate before muttering ‘flaming cheek’ under her breath. The Countess necks another flute, oblivious to the commotion she’s causing and goes to shoo Adrianna away from the counter with her cane before toppling slightly. Oh my God, Paola is trollied!
‘Mother, please. You’re embarrassing me.’
‘Ha! You need no help from me where that’s concerned. No wonder Mr Carrington chose your sister over you. Yes, Lucia knows how to behave properly.’
What’s she going on about?
A weird icy feeling trickles down my back. The Countess drains another flute and stumbles as she leans in towards Eddie. He takes her empty glass and places it on the tray, but just as the waiter heads off, the Countess grabs another flute. I busy myself by processing the payment and gift-wrapping the handbag, desperately trying to ignore the now panicky swirl in the pit of my stomach.
‘Do you know Mr Carrington?’ the Countess slurs in Eddie’s face.
‘Yes, I do. I’m his personal assistant.’
‘Ah, that’s right. I spoke to you on the telephone. You know, my other daughter, Lucia,’ she pauses to cast a disparaging glance towards my counter where Adrianna is waiting patiently for me to finish, ‘soon she will be Mrs Carrington. And such a delightful couple they make. Two extraordinarily exquisite creatures together, can you imagine how perfect their babies will be?’ Eddie flashes me a look before placing a hand on the Countess’s arm.
‘Delightful, I’m sure. Perhaps you’d be more comfortable in our personal shopping suite,’ Eddie suggests, attempting to steer the Countess away from the gathering crowd.