Cupcakes and Christmas: The Carrington’s Collection: Cupcakes at Carrington’s, Me and Mr. Carrington, Christmas at Carrington’s (9 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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‘It’s OK, you’ve got me too, and Nathan … he seems really smitten, maybe he really is your “one”,’ I say, gently touching her arm, knowing how upset she gets about the prospect of being all alone. She looks back and manages a little smile.

‘But what if something happened to your dad? And you hadn’t resolved this? He made mistakes, I know, and you helped him out, there’s no denying that, but do you really want to punish him forever?’ I ponder on what she’s said, and for a moment I waver – maybe she has a point.

‘But it’s not that simple,’ I tell her.

‘What do you mean?’ Sam’s eyes widen.

‘What do you think it did to Mum? She was devastated. It was the stress of it all that made the multiple sclerosis develop so rapidly and cause complications. That’s why she died prematurely and I ended up in care …’ I say, in a wobbly voice, an image of Mum in the hospital bed flashing inside my head. Sam steps forward and gives me another hug.

‘Georgie I’m sorry. I didn’t realise that you still felt that way.’ She gives me a weak smile.

‘It’s OK. That’s just the way it is,’ I say, putting on a brave face to cover the hollow feeling inside.

‘But it doesn’t have to be. You could forgive him and set yourself free from hating him. It wasn’t your dad’s fault she died.’

‘Maybe.’ Silence follows. ‘Anyway, let’s go and enjoy ourselves,’ I say quickly, with a half-smile, desperate to shift the conversational focus.

‘OK, but if you want to talk about it, I’m here.’ Sam gives my arm a little squeeze and turns to leave. I take a big deep breath, bracing myself to face Tom again.

Nathan and Tom are sitting at the bar. They’ve already polished off half the bottle of wine. Nathan leaps down from his stool.

‘Here you are, lovely lady. Saving it especially for you,’ he says to Sam, and she bounces up, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Tom pulls out another stool for me. My tummy flips. I sit down and cross my legs and promptly let out a little yelp. The safety pin must have popped open.

‘Hey, are you OK?’ Tom leaps off his stool and places a hand on my arm. His face is full of concern.

‘Yes, yes I’m fine,’ I manage to squeak, wincing with agony. I quickly uncross my legs and let out a discreet sigh of relief.

‘That was quite some floor show,’ he says, sitting back down and leaning towards me. I grin in an attempt to hide my embarrassment.

‘Well, I aim to please,’ I say, remembering Sam’s advice to laugh it off. His presence, so close to me, is totally intoxicating, and I’m aware that I feel tingly all over.

‘So how long have you been working at Carrington’s?’ he asks, thoughtfully changing the subject. I take a sip of the cold wine and let the taste linger in my mouth. Waiting for me to answer, he smiles attentively – his impeccable manners are very appealing, I must say.

‘Since school.’ I swallow, relieved that we’re talking about something else now. ‘I started doing Saturdays and now I work full time in Women’s Accessories and sometimes deputise for James. He’s the floor supervisor and is also in charge of Men’s Accessories and Sportswear.’

‘For now.’ Tom says the words quietly, but I know I’m not mistaken. He takes a large swig of his drink and looks away.

‘What do you mean?’ I say, a little too quickly.

‘Nothing. Look, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.’ He looks a bit panicky as his eyes drop downwards.

‘No, come on. You can’t say something like that and then not expand,’ I say, wanting to know what he knows. I shove my bag down on the bar, cringing at the slapping noise it makes. I don’t want him thinking I’m hysterical.

‘It’s nothing, honestly,’ he replies, not giving anything away. His mobile flashes on the bar, signifying the arrival of a text. ‘Sorry,’ he says, tapping out a reply. Irritated by the break in conversation I fiddle with the sequins on my bag, wanting to get back to his comment. If it meant what I think it does, then I have to warn James – at least then he can find another job before he’s pushed out. He places the phone back on the bar.

‘Anyway, no wriggling out of it,’ I say, trying to sound light-hearted. ‘Come on. Tell me what you meant by that comment. What do you know?’ Tom scans my face, and for a second his overwhelming beauty distracts me, but I manage to hold the stare, trying not to let his charm get the better of me.

‘You’re not going to let it go, are you?’ he says, a flash of concern on his face.

‘No. Not when it comes to my friends.’

‘OK. I’m sorry, it was insensitive of me, but seeing as it’s you,’ he starts, momentarily making me feel like I’m the only woman in the world, but then I spot a glimmer of something in his eyes before he looks away … like embarrassment, or shame almost, that he’s resorted to schmooze. He clears his throat before continuing. ‘What I meant was that we don’t know what’s going to happen now that Maxine’s arrived. Obviously there’re going to be changes and people might move around. That’s all I meant.’

‘So how come you just started working at Carrington’s then? I mean, it seems odd to have someone joining on the same day a consultant is brought in to help us fend off a terminal decline?’ I say, almost thinking aloud – surely he must have done some homework before his interview. Anyone could find out that Carrington’s is struggling.

‘Fair point.’ He nods. ‘I was headhunted,’ he says, slowly.

‘What for exactly?’ I’m conscious that I’m now practically interrogating him, but I have to find out more.


Weell
,’ he starts slowly, as though he’s buying time to make it up as he goes along. ‘Look, please don’t take this the wrong way,’ he eventually adds, tracing his finger around the rim of a glass. ‘I was recruited a month ago by Walter to sell jewellery.’ His mobile flashes again and he’s saved from saying any more.

‘Sorry,’ he mouths, taking the call and heading towards the Gents, leaving me puzzled. My mind races through the options. Why would Walter have brought Tom in? And why did Tom imply that James’s job isn’t safe? What does he know?

I decide to call it a night and grab my bag from the bar. I don’t fancy sitting here while Tom shows more interest in his phone than talking to me. After making my excuses to Sam, I go in search of a taxi to take me home. I need some time alone to think this all through.

9

I’
m at the counter of Sam’s café when I feel an arm around my shoulders.

‘Mine’s a black coffee and one of those Valentine cakes.’ It’s Eddie, and he’s pointing to a luscious lemon cupcake with an enormous sparkly silver meringue peak on top, and he looks exactly how I feel.

‘God, I feel terrible,’ he moans as I add his order to mine (tea and my fave, the delicious red velvet) before handing over my staff discount card. ‘And so would you if you’d been beavering away for that old hag, Maxine,’ Eddie snorts. ‘I reckon she must be at least forty.’ He pulls a face and I laugh.

‘Slight exaggeration. I’d put her at thirty tops.’

‘Oh, don’t be fooled by all that work,’ he says, circling an index finger around his face. ‘Bucket loads of filler. And she’s a total femme fatale too, heard her purring like a phone sex worker into her BlackBerry the other day. Vom! And this morning she turned up in a fur coat and a skimpy playsuit … that’s all she had on underneath.’ He flares his nostrils. ‘And I swear she smelt of SEX!’


Eddie!
Do you mind?
I haven’t even had breakfast yet.’ He purses his lips and runs a finger over his hair.


Weell
, I pity the poor man she bedded last night, I imagine he’s lying exhausted somewhere, covered in talon tracks and whimpering for mercy.’ We both laugh.

‘Come on. Let’s get a booth before they all go,’ he sniffs, nudging me with his elbow.

Taking his coffee and cake, Eddie flounces over to the far corner of the café. It’s the best spot for chatting and keeping an eye on the door. He flings his jacket down.

I follow Eddie’s lead and sit down next to him.

‘You’ve got your meeting with the stick insect at eleven, haven’t you?’ Eddie says, tipping a sachet of sugar into his coffee and stirring it vigorously.

‘Yep, can’t wait.’ I pull a face and for a moment I contemplate telling him about the conversation with Tom in the club, but decide not to. I want to see what Maxine has to say first.

‘Oh, it’ll be fine. Bound to be. I’ve not seen or heard anything about redundancies. Besides, there’s no way The Heff will let her get rid of our best sales assistant,’ he says, echoing Sam’s words. He nudges me playfully across the table.

‘But what if it comes out about Dad?’ I ask, dropping my voice.

‘But why would it? You don’t even use the same surname as him. Don’t worry so much, sugar plum.’

‘Well, you know how it is, especially in this new security-obsessed climate. It’s not like it was when I was starting out. What if Maxine decides to drag Carrington’s into the modern age and we have to go through stringent checks? You know Polly who used to work here in Celebrity Fragrances?’ Eddie nods. ‘I bumped into her the other day in Tesco on the industrial estate and she works in one of the big department stores up in London now. They did all sorts of security checks on her before they let her anywhere near the high-value goods. Even then they wanted to know about her immediate family too and I couldn’t bear everyone knowing about Dad’s mistakes and judging me with a suspicious eye. The shame of it.’ I shudder.

‘Honestly, you’ll be fine. I’m sure as hell not going to tell anyone.’

It’s nearly nine and I want to sort out the new Marc Jacobs display before we open.

‘I have to go, see you later,’ I say, giving Eddie a hug.

‘OK, sweetness. And good luck with the meeting.’

‘Thanks,’ I say, waving at Sam as she ducks her head out of the kitchen on my way past.

Later on, I’m serving a pretty, red-haired woman with twin baby girls asleep in a fuchsia-pink double pram.

‘Thank you. How would you like to pay?’ I say.

‘Card please.’ I tap out the price, £59.99, for a gorgeous, sparkly Biba purse, and she enters her pin number. ‘My treat for three months of sleepless nights,’ she says, smiling and glancing at the twins.

‘Ahh, they’re adorable,’ I say, handing her the carrier bag and sneaking a peek at the snuggly bundles with their fuzzy strawberry blonde hair and tiny rosebud lips.

‘You wouldn’t think so at three in the morning when one of them starts howling and sets the other one off.’

‘Oh dear,’ I smile diplomatically, handing her the receipt and card.

‘Thanks, love. I’m off to the café upstairs now for a nice cup of coffee and a cake while these two are still snoozing.’ She grins and loops the bag over the handle of the pram.

‘Well, you enjoy and I highly recommend the new pinkberry Valentine cake. Divine.’

‘Sounds like just the thing. See you next time.’ And she wheels the pram off towards the lift.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Walter’s wife, Camille, coming through the revolving door. Instinctively, I straighten the ring tray and busy myself with plumping a couple of bags. I catch Annie’s eye and nod in Camille’s direction. A breathtakingly beautiful older woman; she glides elegantly across the floor, patting her ice-blonde chignon as she heads towards my section.

‘My dear, how are you today?’ Camille arrives at my counter.

‘Very well, thank you,’ I say, politely. Camille shakes my hand and I have to mentally resist the urge to curtsey. A puff of Hermès floats around her; clad head-to-toe in Chanel, she really is something.

‘Splendid. I’m off to New York for Fashion Week and wondered if you’d be kind enough to select some luggage for me.’ She whips off her gloves and slips them into a vintage black Chanel bag.

‘Of course, we’d be delighted to,’ I say, beckoning Annie over.

‘Something understated dear, not those gaudy bright colours.’ Camille glances at a wheelie case in fluorescent lime green with a white splash print pattern.

‘Leave it to me. I think we have just the right collection for you,’ I say, swiftly retrieving a gorgeous, buttery, red leather vanity case from behind the counter. I flip open the lid to reveal the exquisite delicate pink silk interior and Camille twitches an immaculately groomed eyebrow in approval. ‘It arrived just this morning from Paris.’ Camille runs an expensively manicured finger over the handle.

‘Delightful. And rather appropriate in the Valentine red, wouldn’t you say?’

‘Absolutely. Especially with Fashion Week ending on the fourteenth February this year,’ I say, having read all about it in
Grazia
magazine.

‘That’s settled then. I’ll need the whole set and if you could organise the monogram too.’

‘It will be my pleasure.’ I glow.

‘Thank you. I’ll call by on my way back from the salon. Knew I could count on you, my dear.’ She pats my arm before gliding off towards the escalator.

After unpacking the luggage collection and calling Freddie at the engravers on Birtle Street, I go through everything with Annie, making sure she knows exactly what to say and do if I’m still in the meeting when Camille returns. I duck into the cupboard behind my counter to straighten my clothes and bouf up my hair. Grabbing my bag, I head off to the staff lift.

‘Chop chop.’ It’s Tina, and she has her crackle-
manicured
fingers around the cage door and a cross look on her face. ‘Where are you off to?’ she demands.

‘To see Maxine,’ I say, though it’s obviously none of her business
.

‘Ooh, well you don’t want to be late then. Do you?’ she says.

‘No, of course not. Thanks for waiting for me,’ I say, feeling a little uneasy as I step into the lift and wrench the cage door closed.

‘I’ve been meaning to talk to you.’

‘You have?’ I say, warily.

‘Yes, it’s about your sales sheet. Half the time I can’t read your writing so if I’m to pay your commission correctly then you need to tidy it up,’ she says, smugly, like the money comes out of her own actual purse. And she’s only the blooming record keeper.

BOOK: Cupcakes and Christmas: The Carrington’s Collection: Cupcakes at Carrington’s, Me and Mr. Carrington, Christmas at Carrington’s
3.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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