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Authors: Abby Clements

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Meet Me Under the Mistletoe

BOOK: Meet Me Under the Mistletoe
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Meet me Under the Mistletoe

 

Abby Clements

 

 

 

First published in Great Britain in 2012 by
Quercus
55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
London W1U 8EW

 

Copyright © 2012 Abby Clements

 

The moral right of Abby Clements to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

 

PB ISBN 978 1 78087 662 7
EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78087 663 4

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

You can find this and many other great books at:
www.quercusbooks.co.uk

 

Abby Clements
worked in book publishing before writing this, her first novel. Her Christmas baking skills are upper-intermediate, her countrysidesurvival skills are basic to none. She lives with her boyfriend in north London.

For Eloise

 

 

CHAPTER
1

 

Monday 20th November

‘Not even half seven yet, Laurie,’ the young security guard teased her. ‘Don’t you ever get a lie-in?’

‘Big day today,’ she said, swinging open the glass door of her office, latte held tight in her other hand. ‘If I’m lucky I might get some sleep next week.’

Laurie crossed the empty entrance hall, winter sunlight streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and stepped into the waiting lift. She pressed the button for the second floor, then turned towards the mirror and tidied the blunt-cut fringe of her dark bob. As the doors closed, she took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly, glad she’d arrived early before the building got busy. After just three hours’ sleep, her capacity for small-talk was minimal today – she wanted to focus on the job at hand, and nothing more.

‘Floor One … Two – DING!’

‘Morning, Laurie,’ Jacques said from behind the Seamless reception desk as Laurie walked out of the lift.

Newly employed at the upmarket fashion brand, Jacques, a snappily dressed Frenchman, had been getting in early for the last couple of weeks, keen to make a good impression. Laurie nodded hello politely, then walked on, passing the rows of unoccupied desks on the way to her corner office. She glanced around. Her boss Danny wasn’t in yet, and it looked as if the only other person on the floor was Gillian, their steely-willed CEO. Laurie could make her out behind the frosted-glass dividing walls, talking on the phone.

Laurie closed the door to her own office behind her, and glanced out at the view from her windows. Double-decker buses and cabs crawled down the Strand, past glittering Christmas shop-window displays, and the pavements were crowded with commuters and tourists walking to Trafalgar Square. But inside, apart from the faint hum of traffic, her office was an oasis of calm.

Laurie put her bag down, sat on her swivel chair and switched on her computer. As it powered up, she got settled at her immaculate, clear desk, the surface cool to the touch and smelling faintly of lemon cleaning fluid. After a few days abroad – another whirl of airports, new faces and anonymous hotel rooms – it felt good to be back in London.

Her computer started up with its familiar jingle of electronic notes and her eyes drifted to her pinboard – on it were a couple of fabric swatches, ideas for the Seamless spring accessories palette, and her calendar. One date stood out: Monday 20th November: today.

Navajo bags
! was ringed in red and had been marked there for months. Laurie smiled. Navajo was Seamless’ exclusive new line of wintertime accessories, and she was in charge of it – the handbag she was launching today was their leading design, embodying the understated elegance of the whole product line. She had lived, breathed and dreamed about this launch day since the summer, when she’d started her first sketches of the bag. If everything went smoothly, today could be the making of her. The publicity around the launch was unprecedented – features and mentions were lined up across all the glossies and the Seamless marketing department was primed to mail out freebies to a raft of A-list celebrities.

Laurie took a sip of her coffee as her emails opened on screen. After months of work designing and overseeing production on the bag, the first shipment was finally due in from China. On Friday she’d returned from two days in the factory outside Beijing, where she’d been checking the tassels on the bags as they sped off the production line. Her plan for today was simple: she’d check the newly delivered handbags swiftly, give the green light for them to be sent on to the shops ready for the pre-Christmas rush – then cross town to promote the whole Navajo range at a dedicated launch party. It was the highest-profile product line she’d handled since she’d stepped up to the role of Head of Accessories, and she was ready for her big moment.

She’d dressed for the part in a fitted slate-grey dress and black knee-high boots, her chestnut bob blow-dried straight and glossy, with plenty of liquid eyeliner and smoky grey eyeshadow to hide the fact her eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep. She’d been awake for most of the night, frequently checking her iPhone for the shipment’s progress. A technical issue at the factory had already set them back three days, so the timing was tight – there was absolutely no room for error.

The first delivery of a thousand bags was due in at 8 a.m. She tapped her nails on the desk as she watched the minutes tick by.

‘Are you sure there’s nothing down there?’ Laurie said, holding the phone receiver with one hand and clicking on the courier’s website with the other. ‘Would you mind checking again?’ She bit her lip. ‘They should have come in half an hour ago.’

Her heart raced. From the online tracking details it looked as if the packages should already have arrived.

‘There’s nothing down here,’ the boy in the post room replied. ‘Unless … you work for Danny Graham, don’t you? Always a chance they could have gone straight up to him.’

Laurie heard some noise from the open-plan area, a conversation going on in raised voices outside her office walls, then a knock came at her door. She saw through the frosted glass that it was her boss, Danny. She thanked the post-room boy and put the phone down.

‘Come in,’ she called out.

Danny opened the door and peeked around it. With his Just for Men black hair, ill-fitting suits and wild eyebrows, she marvelled once again at how he’d ever made it through the doors of the Seamless office – let alone become a director. Business sense had, in a rare moment at Seamless, triumphed over fashion sense.

‘Hi, Laurie.’

‘Danny, hi,’ Laurie said, spotting right away that he had one of the boxes from the shipment in his hands.

He put the cardboard box on the table between them. ‘They’re in.’

Laurie put a hand to her mouth in anticipation as he held up one of the tan woven-leather handbags she’d spent the last six months working on. The curves were elegant, the leather had a delicate sheen and the small tassel hanging at the side added a final dash of style. Laurie reached over to touch the bag and couldn’t help smiling – it was perfect.

‘Wow. Beautiful, isn’t it?’ she said, running a finger over the small gold clasp. ‘And you said using kangaroo leather was a no-no? Come on, Danny, this stuff is amazing. Soft and hardwearing. Those roos are going to be immortalised by the Navajo range.’

‘Well,’ Danny said, the colour rising in his face. Somehow he didn’t look as relaxed or excited as she had expected. ‘I don’t know about that.’ He pointed down at the Seamless logo.

Or rather, where it should have been. As Laurie peered in to take a close look at the lettering, the realisation hit her like a jolt. Her breath caught. No. No. Way.

The Seamless logo – the distinctive ‘S’ in a large swirl – should have been pressed into the leather in the bottom left-hand corner, as it was across all their accessories. But it wasn’t.

Instead, imprinted indelibly in expensive, imported kangaroo leather on the Navajo bag, were the words: STAMP LOGO HERE.

‘Can you fill me in, Laurie?’ Danny asked, his eyebrows meeting as concern creased his brow.

Laurie angled her desk lamp to illuminate the lettering on the bag, and tucked her dark hair behind her ear. She looked at the printing more closely and reminded herself to breathe. Shit. It was far too big to stamp over.

‘It can’t be on all of them,’ she said, her chest tight. She put down the bag she was holding and reached into the box. But as she brought each identical bag out into the light, all she saw was the mistake repeated, again, and again, crushingly obvious.

How could this have happened? Laurie had been right there, she’d actually gone to China. She thought back to the fourteen-hour days she’d spent in the fume-filled factory, communicating as best she could with the staff, ensuring the right materials were being used, walking up and down the conveyer belt, checking the tassels on the pilot versions, doing and undoing buckles at random to make sure they all worked.

Then a memory flashed back to her. The email she’d sent to the Chinese factory owner on her last day out there, with final tweaks for the bulk Christmas order. Her stomach contracted. Unable to locate the relevant jpeg, she had hastily typed in the logo instructions instead.

Her eyes met Danny’s – a wave of shame crept over her as she realised her error. Laurie knew the owner only spoke limited English. She’d made an utterly stupid mistake. Worse than that – an extremely expensive one. Yes, she’d been jet-lagged. Yes, it had taken time renegotiating costs, and that had taken her away from keeping an eye on the production line. But she’d managed to juggle similar tasks without any issues on previous projects. The full picture slowly became clear to her. There’d just been one difference on this trip. She’d been thinking about Jay.

She’d been distracted from the moment she left Heathrow. Jay, her friend, her neighbour – the man she’d thought until recently could be a lot more than that – had dominated her thoughts. On the plane, in the factory, in the hotel, her mind had whirred, trying to work out where it had all gone so wrong. She looked down at the unusable stack of leather accessories in the box in front of her. Getting this bag order right had been her responsibility. The buck stopped right where she was standing.

‘We’ve got a thousand faulty bags here already,’ Danny said. ‘Gillian’s seen them, and she’s spitting bricks. I’ve put a hold on the rest of the delivery and called the factory to tell them to stop production. We’ll have to arrange for a new batch to be made and sent immediately. As you know, these bags were meant to be on the shelves last Friday.’ Danny dropped his head into his hands, exposing the thinning patch on the top of his head, then looked back up. ‘We were already running late, Laurie, and – God – we risk missing the Christmas shoppers at this rate.’

‘OK,’ Laurie said slowly, as the full impact of her oversight began to sink in. ‘Leave it to me,’ she said, trying hard to retain a calm façade, despite her rising panic. ‘I’ll sort this out today, Danny. I’ll talk to the factory, design a …’ She tried to think up a workable solution. ‘I don’t know, a patch, or …’ She stumbled. A lump rose in her throat and her words dried up.

‘Laurie,’ Danny looked at her directly, a questioning look in his eye. ‘The thing is, this isn’t like you. Is something up?’

‘No, I’m fine,’ she said, tears springing to her eyes as she looked at the boss she’d let down. ‘I mean. I can fix this. And Gillian.’ She thought then of the CEO’s fury – Gillian, the woman she’d been going all out for years trying to impress – and felt a stab of guilt, realising that Danny must already have caught the brunt of it. ‘She can’t stay this angry for long. I mean, she’ll remember the bronze belts, won’t she? The ones we sold last summer, that broke retail records?’

‘I’m sure she remembers the belts,’ Danny said, but the strain on his face hadn’t eased.

A wave of fear took hold of Laurie. She knew – had seen with her own eyes over the last year – that no one at Seamless was indispensable. With the shareholders demanding better returns, the pressure to deliver had never been higher. Every employee was expected to add value, and during the recent round of redundancies they’d all been made aware of that. Laurie knew that this was exactly the kind of costly mistake that could see her out the door, with a cheaper, fresh-faced fashion graduate like Jacques hopping into her still-warm seat.

Danny’s expression softened. ‘Laurie, what’s really going on?’

Flashes of her life over the last few months returned to her: China, New York, Paris, Berlin, Rome. Since the summer she’d gone from one bout of jet-lag to the next, frantically sketching and emailing on her iPad on red-eye flights to prepare for meetings. But while she usually thrived on pressure, this time round she’d struggled, lost focus. And there was a reason for that – when she’d seen that blonde girl going into Jay’s flat two weeks ago, drawing a line under anything they might have had – it had taken all her strength not to fall apart.

BOOK: Meet Me Under the Mistletoe
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