Cupcakes and Christmas: The Carrington’s Collection: Cupcakes at Carrington’s, Me and Mr. Carrington, Christmas at Carrington’s (4 page)

BOOK: Cupcakes and Christmas: The Carrington’s Collection: Cupcakes at Carrington’s, Me and Mr. Carrington, Christmas at Carrington’s
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‘Not a whiff,’ Eddie says, looking despondent. He scans the shop floor and after making sure regular customers, Mr and Mrs Peabody, can’t hear as they wave at me on their way over to the escalator, he leans in close and whispers, ‘Do you think I should call him? Only I don’t want to look desperate or anything.’ He nervously plucks at the skin on his neck. ‘It’s driving me mad, what do you think I should do?’

‘Mmmm, tricky one. Maybe hold out until tomorrow, if you can. Let him know what he’s missing,’ I say, feeling sorry for him having to endure the ‘will he or won’t he call?’ agony. He doesn’t have much luck with men, and I really thought he’d met a keeper this time.

‘But what if it’s too late? All I want to know is if he still feels the same way. I’m just not sure any more.’

‘Why wouldn’t he?’ I ask, keeping my voice low.

He shrugs before answering.


Weell
… not coming to the party for starters, when he’d promised to. And I still haven’t heard from him with an explanation. It just doesn’t look very positive for a successful Valentine’s Day, does it?’

‘I suppose not,’ I reply, unsure of what else to say. ‘But like you said earlier in the lift, it’s his loss,’ I add, brightly.

‘Hmmm, guess I was just being ballsy.’ Eddie pulls a face.

‘But you definitely don’t want to be chasing after him. Nothing worse than hankering after unrequited love on February the fourteenth,’ I say. There’s a silence, and I can see that Eddie is pondering on what to do for the best.

‘Yes, you’re absolutely right. Why should I chase after him? He can put his little hoofs into gear and trot after me for a change,’ he smirks, changing tack again.

‘What are you two up to?’ Ciaran appears from behind the Lulu Guinness bag display.

‘Nothing much. Why?’ Eddie replies.

‘No reason. You just look very cosy, huddled together there, that’s all.’

‘We were just indulging in some online window shopping therapy,’ Eddie replies, swiftly. ‘Not that it’s any of your business.’

‘Well don’t be spending too much.’ Ciaran wags a finger before winking at me.

‘We’ll spend what we like, somebody has to keep the economy going,’ Eddie says, abruptly, and then turns to me. ‘Don’t they honeybunch?’ in a much nicer voice. Ciaran looks towards the ceiling before checking his watch. ‘Anyway, what are you doing down here again? Seems like you can’t keep away,’ Eddie sniffs, glancing in my direction, as if I’m the reason Ciaran’s hanging around. But that’s ridiculous.

‘Meeting Tina. And here she is.’ He glances over towards the staff door where Tina is standing with her hands on her hips. After Ciaran leaves I turn to Eddie.

‘What was that all about? You know we’re not actually buying anything. It’s just a bit of fun looking.’

‘Oh nothing. I’m on a come-down, and him, with his fake “bad boy” thing going on and his shovel-carrying troll … well they just get on my nerves,’ he says quietly.

‘What do you mean?’

‘It’s obvious she’s only after his inheritance, if he ever gets it! Last I heard his fabulously wealthy parents weren’t overly impressed with him working as a mere waiter in a café.’ He crosses his arms and pulls an old lady face. ‘But he doesn’t seem to realise it. See, there she goes again with her little shovel, digging for gold.’ I turn just in time to see Tina push her arm through Ciaran’s as they leave the shop floor.

‘Eddie, that’s a horrible thing to say …’ I begin, but suddenly Tina’s relentless pursuit of Ciaran makes more sense.

James suddenly bombs over.

‘Quick, follow me.’ He drums his fingers along the front of my counter with excitement.

‘Why? What’s happening?’ I ask.

‘The Russian bear and his entourage have arrived early and they require fawning. Lots of it. Think
Pretty Woman.
Big mistake. Big. Huge … and all that if we don’t get up there and FAWN!’ James looks charged as he pulls a tie from his pocket and slings it around his neck. Feeding off his adrenalin, I grab the Spring/Summer catalogue and the limited edition Valentine’s brochure before hurtling over and asking Annie to cover for me. She nods and smiles before plumping up a gorgeous caramel suede tote with a tassel drawstring.

‘Can I come? Could do with a bit of Russian eye candy,’ Eddie says, jokingly, knowing really that it’s his cue to go. I blow him a kiss as I race after James who is already standing by the staff exit.

‘Come on,’ James yells. He’s holding the cage door of the lift back with one hand and beckoning with his other for me to hurry up. Feeling exuberant, I jump hard into the lift and then instantly regret it when it quivers violently. I look at James but he just grins back at me, totally oblivious to my embarrassment. ‘We can chat on the way up,’ he says, fixing his sparkly eyes onto mine as he presses the button to take us to the personal shopping suite.

4


S
o what will you spend your share of the commission on, Georgie?’ James asks, turning to face me.

‘Not sure,’ I say, knowing it’ll go towards the gas bill. ‘What about you?’

‘Oh, it’s got to be a weekend away. I was thinking a few days lazing in the sun. What do you think?’ He flashes a smile at me, and I allow myself a momentary fantasy that he’s actually inviting me to join him.

‘Mmm, I could do with a break. A nice hotel with a pool.’ I grin, enjoying the relief the fantasy brings and forgetting my cash-flow problems for a moment.

‘Yes. Now you’re talking. When shall we go?’ he jokes, and we both laugh. ‘Now, getting back to Malikov, from what his “people” said, he’s prepared to buy a lot of merch, but only if he gets a “super deal”, as he calls it.’

‘In other words he wants to feel as though he’s got a
bargain
?’ I say.

James nods. ‘Indeed. But, as you know, we only have a very small margin for manoeuvre on the sales price.’

‘Leave him to me. I’m sure I can make him see what a bargain he’ll be getting.’ I smile, relishing the prospect. James shakes his head. He looks amused.

‘So what have you managed to find out about him?’ he asks, flipping his cricket club tie over and under until it’s knotted perfectly. James has a passion for the sport, which is handy given that he runs Men’s Accessories incorporating a little Sportswear section too. And as bowler for the Mulberry-On-Sea First XI team, he spends every Sunday up on the grassy common being admired by the WI ladies who ply him with cucumber sandwiches and cream teas. I remember seeing him in his cricket whites once when he changed into them before leaving work, and it was true he looked pretty adorable.

‘Well, obviously Malikov’s wealthy. Loves to take a risk; he supposedly sustained a gunshot wound to his right leg during military service, but there’s speculation about the authenticity of that claim, according to his Wikipedia profile. He’s just returned from his first voyage aboard his yacht, named
He Who Dares,
complete with Baccarat crystal bar and splash-proof karaoke platform, I might add.’ I pause to catch my breath. ‘Oh, and according to one particularly scathing
Wall Street Journal
article, he’s desperate to gain recognition and respect here in the UK, apparently. Trying to join just about every private members’ club there is.’

‘Is he? But seriously, karaoke?’ James says, shaking his head. ‘Not sure that’s the way to go.’

‘Apparently his third wife, Natalya, is the karaoke queen, or is she one of his girlfriends? Mmm … I can’t remember now,’ I say. He smiles at me again. Feeling awkward, I busy myself by fiddling with my name badge and straightening my top down. He clears his throat just as we reach our floor and simultaneously my phone vibrates. Without thinking, I grab it from my pocket and answer, not even bothering to look at the screen, just grateful for the perfect timing.

‘Hello?’ I glance at James and pull a sorry face, but as soon as I hear the voice on the other end of the phone, my heart plummets like a bungee jumper from a crane.

‘Hi darling.’ It’s Dad. My head spins. I should have known better than to answer it. I’m usually so careful with withheld numbers. I turn away, desperate to create some privacy. I contemplate hanging up, when thankfully James nods his head towards the Gents loo to indicate a pit stop and disappears inside.

‘I told you not to call me at work,’ I say, in a low voice, feeling my cheeks warming again as I huddle into the corridor wall.

‘I just wanted to know how you are. It’s been such a long time …’ I swallow hard, remembering when I last spoke to him. The strained conversation and the falseness, just because it was his birthday and I felt sorry for him being all alone. But then it’s his own fault, I quickly remind myself.

‘Dad, I’m sorry, but I can’t talk now.’ I snap the phone shut, vowing to be more careful next time it rings.

‘You OK? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,’ James says softly, when he reappears.

‘Oh, yes I’m fine,’ I mutter, doing my best to recover.

‘You know if you don’t feel up to this I can always do the fawning by myself. You work twice as hard as the other sales assistants.’ The way he talks, so kindly, makes tears prick at my eyes. I study the pattern on the carpet and swallow hard before glancing back at him.

‘I’m fine. But thanks for your consideration.’ The shock of Dad’s voice perforating my work day slowly subsides.

‘If you’re sure?’

‘I’m sure,’ I say, managing a weak smile.

‘OK, so we know that Malikov likes his toys then,’ he says in a low voice, thoughtfully bringing us back on topic.

We reach the personal shopping suite and James pushes through the creamy white padded door into the little anteroom that smells of lilies and expensive perfume.

‘OK, you ready for this?’ he whispers while checking his cufflinks. I nod. ‘Great – knew I could count on you,’ he says, enthusiastically, and I smile at his praise.

Inside, and standing by the floor-to-ceiling chiffon-covered window is a sturdy-looking man yelling Russian into a hands-free mobile phone. As we walk towards him he snatches the earpiece away and tosses it towards the three enormous men wedged on a cream leather sofa, all wearing identical black suits. The one on the end performs a sudden pincer movement to successfully catch the earpiece. James dashes over to greet our customer.

‘Mr Malikov, welcome to Carrington’s.’

Ignoring James’s outstretched hand, he commands, ‘Let’s shop,’ in a gravelly voice that has an American-English accent. He’s dressed casually in chinos with a navy blazer over a canary-yellow polo shirt with a ridiculous paisley cravat. He limps towards the enormous overstuffed circular sofa in the centre of the room, slumps down and rests both hands on a carved, tiger-headed cane that has a ruby the size of a plum wedged inside the tiger’s roaring mouth. Lifting his wrist, he squints at a platinum jewelled watch. ‘I have twenty minutes before I leave for the opera. Do you like opera?’ he barks. James and I exchange glances. Twenty minutes! We better get on with it if we’re to stand any chance of securing a big sale and earning some much-needed commission.

‘Well, sailing is my thing,’ James replies, calmly, as though he has all the time in the world. I smile inwardly, knowing how he hates water, preferring his beloved cricket to anything that might involve getting wet.

‘A man after my own heart.’ Malikov hauls himself up, grabs James’s hand up from his side and pumps his arm vigorously. We’re all smiling. So far so good. I feel relaxed. ‘And what,
Miss
, do you like?’ Malikov says, suddenly and suggestively. He wets his lips before slowly turning a pair of shark-like eyes towards me. I wither under his scrutiny as I rack my brains, searching for a suitable response. It’s as if time has stood still. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I see one of the heavies holding out a glass of champagne. Malikov is distracted. He turns to take the flute and gulps it down in one. The feeling of relief is overwhelming.

‘So how was your maiden voyage aboard
He Who Dares
?’ I ask, steering the conversation away from me and James’s faux love of the sea. Malikov’s hand is the size of a shovel and with a vice-like grip.

‘I see you’ve done your homework.’ Looking impressed, he nods his head slowly. ‘Kon. You must call me Kon. It’s what the people I like call me.’ His gaze lingers for a moment, sending a chill right through me. His power fills the room, practically overpowering the glorious scent from the three Jo Malone candles flickering on a white lacquered table nearby. Eventually Malikov drops my hand and I feel the blood rushing back into my aching palm as I wonder what the people he
doesn’t
like get to call him … if anything at all.

‘OK Kon, if you’re sure you don’t mind,’ I smile, and he tilts his glass up towards me like a tick of approval. ‘And how are you settling in to your new home here in England?’ I add, trying to relax and get into the swing of things.

‘It’s adequate,’ he shrugs, waving a hand in the air. ‘A kennel compared to my home in Moscow.’ He juts his head up. ‘There I have a house as big as your Queen Elizabeth’s Buckingham Palace,’ he adds with all the attitude of a movie Mafioso.

‘Oh, how wonderful,’ I simper, being careful not to overdo it, but knowing the fawning process is the most crucial part of the personal shopping experience. Private customers want to feel special and taken care of. And why not? They’re just like any other customer at the end of the day – only with stacks more money, obviously.

‘You must come and see it sometime.’ He fixes his eyes on me again and I glance towards James.

‘Well, I’d have to see what the boss says of course …’ I venture, playing along with his flirtation. He studies me for a moment, as if peeling my clothes off with his eyes. Then he tugs at the side of his jacket, making it flap open momentarily, and I catch a glimpse of a handgun inside a tan leather shoulder holster. His eyes meet mine.

‘I am a businessman, business is dangerous in Russia,’ he says by way of explanation. I quickly tear my eyes away.

‘Who’s your best customer?’ Malikov asks suddenly.

‘Mr Malikov, I’m sure you’ll appreciate that it would be totally unprofessional of me to break any customer confidentialities,’ James says smoothly, knowing it’s more than his job’s worth to name any names. The Heff is very particular about discretion. Only a few weeks ago he had a go at one of the boys in Menswear for sniggering in the canteen after catching a glimpse of a well-known MP in one of the changing rooms. Under his rotund belly, the MP was working skimpy leopard-print Speedo-style budgie smugglers while admiring himself doing a pretend dive in the mirror.

BOOK: Cupcakes and Christmas: The Carrington’s Collection: Cupcakes at Carrington’s, Me and Mr. Carrington, Christmas at Carrington’s
10.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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