Authors: Mandy Baggot
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Christmas Wish, #New York, #Holiday Season, #Holiday Spirit, #White Christmas, #Billionaire, #Twinkle Lights, #Daughter, #Single Mother, #Bachelor, #Skyscrapers, #Decorations, #Daughter's Wish, #Fast Living, #Intriguing, #New York Forever, #Emotional, #Travel, #Adventure, #Moments Count, #New Love, #The Big Apple, #Adult
‘You gave up you mean.’ Rita sniffed. ‘Made do.’ She reached forward, picking up her fine bone china teacup with the chip on the rim.
Hayley nodded. ‘It was a bargain too.’ She pitched her voice just right. ‘Nothing like a
She had never seen her mother move faster. She was up and out of her reclining chair quicker than a fighter jet taking flight.
‘Take it off, Angel.’ Rita tugged at the sleeve of the coat, shaking the girl’s arm in the process. ‘Quickly.’
‘Nanny! You’re hurting!’
‘Mum, stop. I was joking.’
Angel wrenched her arm back and hugged herself.
Rita turned her body to Hayley then settled herself in an angry stance. ‘Why would you say something like that?’
‘Why would you go on about it needing to be pink?’
Hayley watched Angel clamp her hands over her ears. She’d been backed into a corner again. Rita was good at that but it was unfair for Angel to be caught in the middle. They had a couple of nights staying here because the landlord was redecorating their house while they were away and the firm needed to start early. She should try and maintain peace and tranquillity and ignore the jibes directed her way. It wasn’t as if she wasn’t completely accustomed to it by now.
‘Shall I make a pot of tea?’ Hayley offered, getting to her feet.
‘I’ve made a shepherd’s pie. Angel, you must be starving,’ Rita said.
‘Oh, we’ve had dinner already,’ Angel replied, spinning around again.
‘Oh?’ Rita queried.
Hayley practically ran for the kitchen, waiting for the words to come from Angel’s mouth.
‘We went to McDonald’s.’
Hayley could almost feel the temperature drop. Just two more sleeps. Two more sleeps and they’d be heading for America.
Drummond Global Offices, Downtown Manhattan, USA
liver Drummond let
his eyes wander. Mackenzie, the head of his legal division, had her voice pitched at boring the second she opened her scarlet lips.
Settlement. Management. Negotiation. Collaboration.
And his very least favourite
. Strategising wasn’t in his nature. He was a doer. He acted, instinctively, and, more often than not, impulsively. He didn’t mull things over, that’s what he paid other people to do. By the time his employees had strategised the ass out of everything, all that was left was for him to do was give the green light. He wanted the finish line. The winning touchdown. He had no interest in the bits in between. Creation and completion were his fortes. And if people had a problem with that mantra, well, they knew what they could do.
Oliver turned his head back to the dozen or so people sat at the boardroom table on the eightieth floor of Drummond Global and nodded at Mackenzie. He had no idea what she’d said but he was confident in her ability to get the company out of whatever mess she’d been called in to deal with. He’d make an effort to find out. He should know, if only the bare bones of it. He put the end of his steel ballpoint in his mouth, pressing it to his lip. He’d been so focussed on the Globe over the past few months he’d let everything else slide. The Globe was going to change things. The tablet wasn’t just going to alter the lives of its consumers, it was going to reinvigorate his passion for the company. And he’d get right into the professional zone on other projects today … as soon as he got rid of last night’s hangover. He was blaming his best friend Tony for every last shot of that.
He shifted in his executive leather chair at the head of the table as a twinge pinged like an elastic band in his chest. He gritted his teeth together, trying to ignore it. He didn’t have time for this. He would not allow it to exist in his world. He turned his head to the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Downtown Manhattan. Snow was falling, spreading its whiteness over the tops of neighbouring buildings, raining down towards the ground. He focussed his hazel eyes on the flakes, watching their journey until they disappeared out of sight. Right now he wanted to be one of them. Weightless, drifting, silently floating through the air, oblivious to anything around. A layer of white hung from the neo-Gothic roof of the Woolworth Building, while shards of ice dripped from what he could see of the frontage of Broadway. Outside, the city was turning into a winter wonderland; inside, there was an avalanche waiting to happen.
The distraction of the winter weather wasn’t enough. The pain was still there. It was an ache that seemed to increase in magnitude with every passing second. He fought the urge to grimace, holding his jaw in place as the monotony of Mackenzie’s voice continued in the background.
It could definitely be muscular. Maybe he’d pulled something when he was working out. And how crazy were those dance moves Tony had forced him to do last night? He swallowed, putting a hand to the dark grey tie at his throat, slackening it off a little.
The direct tone and the force at which his name hit his eardrums drew his attention back to the table. Clara, his PA, was giving him one of her
looks. The eyebrows were up in her mahogany-tinted hairline, her head tilting downwards, glasses sat halfway down her nose, shoulder pads widening. He’d just about deciphered this look to mean
get your head back in the room now or I’m going to quit
. Somehow she knew that scared the crap out of him.
Oliver adjusted his body in the chair as another shot of pain hit his chest wall. This wasn’t good. Was this how it started? No, he needed to banish that thought from his mind just like he had all the other times this had happened. He
his father. He
his brother. This was
touching him. He swallowed. He didn’t believe that. He was always going to be next.
He directed his gaze to the brassy statement necklace laying just above Clara’s fifty-something décolletage. It paid homage to everything that was bad about the eighties. Where did she get these things? A smile broke on his lips. This was good. Focussing on Clara’s poor taste in accessories was really working. He leaned a little nearer to her, ignoring the thud of his heart and the perspiration at the back of his neck. Then the reflective fake diamonds started to blur his vision. He tipped slightly, nudging Clara’s elbow with his hand. The papers she was holding fanned to the floor in spectacular fashion.
Mackenzie stopped talking. Oliver straightened up quickly, blinking desperately, his face coated with an expression he hoped signalled solidarity and comradeship. He nodded his head as Clara dipped to recover her documents from the carpet.
Oliver cleared his throat before speaking. ‘Do carry on, Mackenzie.’
hat was going
on in there, Oliver? If I wasn’t old enough to be your mother I’d have thought you were trying to hit on me,’ Clara said as they headed from the boardroom.
‘I apologise. I was bored and I couldn’t look at Mackenzie. She’s hankering after another date and the last time I took her out she drank me under the table.’
Clara turned and looked at him, wearing the school principal expression.
‘I know, I know, and I’m done mixing business with pleasure,’ he stated.
‘So, you’re confident you know everything there is to know about the proposed takeover of Regis Software?’
The long strides he was taking meant she was following him at running pace along the corridor. Deftly, he swept left, heading towards the bank of elevators. He needed to get back to his office, take a breath. He paced with urgency before remembering Clara could barely walk in her shoes at the best of times. He slowed.
‘I kick-started the project, Clara. My father and Andrew Regis weren’t just old friends. They were like brothers. He came to every birthday party I ever had until I got too old for clowns and piñatas.’ He stopped, pressing the stainless steel button to call the lift. He tried to hide the bob of his Adam’s apple. He had no idea of the latest content in the Regis Software contract. He had set it up, he had banged out the basics of the agreement … what had happened then? It was nowhere near final stages, was it? What exactly had he missed?
‘So, bearing that in mind, after dinner and drinks you decide to ship out?’ Clara had her bluntest tone on now. If he didn’t know her background already he would have guessed at prison officer.
Oliver filled his lungs to their maximum capacity and turned to look at her. ‘I don’t know, Clara, has something happened I don’t know about? You’re my PA, if you know something then it’s your duty to tell me.’
She adopted a confused expression as she looked back at him. ‘I don’t know anything.’
‘Then I ask the question … am I not the CEO of Drummond Global?’
Who was he trying to sound like here? Donald Trump? King Midas? He watched Clara swallow away her resolve. She did a good job, no, scrub that, she did a
job. So why was he intent on making her feel small in this moment? He moved his tongue in his mouth and swallowed away the bitter taste. He was attacking, fighting instead of fleeing, because she’d backed him into a corner. If he wasn’t careful he would lose his edge.
‘I’m not my father, Clara.’ He stopped talking, the breath suddenly catching in his throat. He tried again. ‘And I don’t need to get involved in every minute decision there is. It’s a more modern approach.’
‘I’m well aware of all that, Oliver.’ Clara paused before carrying on. ‘I’m worried about you, that’s all.’
‘Please don’t do that.’ He moistened his lips. The pain was back now, only a lot worse. His heart was beating like the corps of a military band. He could no longer fill his lungs. Breaths were coming short and sharp. He tried to recover. ‘I … I don’t pay you to worry about me.’
A vice-like grip wrapped itself around his heart and squeezed, unrelenting. Where was the damn elevator? The steel of the lift door just in front of him started to warp and bend in his vision. The internal glass windows to his left and right bowed and refracted the morning sun hitting the building from behind them. The walkway was suddenly getting sauna hot.
‘Oliver, are you all right?’
He opened his mouth to speak but his jaw was tightening. Everything was being squashed and compacted like garbage in a city truck.
‘Oliver,’ Clara repeated.
The words he wanted to say just wouldn’t come. Clara’s necklace spun around in his vision and before he could do anything else his body dropped to the floor.
Balmoral Road, Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK
I met someone last night at this really cool club called Vipers. Michel De Vos!!!! An artist!!!! He looked a bit like Johnny Depp and he was foreign too. Exotic!!!! I think Dean would probably fancy him. We danced and talked and he told me all about his paintings and photographs. He’s going to be exhibiting at these cool galleries – New York Life and the Tilton. New York is giving me all these completely amazing opportunities. You just don’t bump into sexy artists in Wiltshire.
I can’t remember the hotel we went to. It began with ‘t’ I think or it could have been ‘the’ something. It was nice though. Like a Hilton. And there were chocolates on the pillow. I ate them all and he didn’t mind. And then he kissed me and I kissed him and we did EVERYTHING … twice. And I lay there thinking this is one of those perfect moments I’ll remember forever. Me, in New York with an artist called Michel.
old bedroom Hayley snapped her ten-year diary closed. She’d read enough. The memories were good but the feeling they left her with didn’t feel nice, it felt … dirty. She pushed the diary onto the bookshelf between a Jill Mansell and a Jilly Cooper. Not content with how it looked she set a toy elephant and half a dozen fairground Gonks in front of it.
‘Mum!’ Angel called from the other bedroom.
Hayley pushed two Gonks closer together so the diary was no longer visible and checked how it looked. Obvious because of the furry guardians? Or invisible?
‘Mum!’ Angel called again.
Hayley couldn’t help the smile forming on her lips when she got to the other bedroom. Angel was diligently putting things inside her suitcase, her pigtails bouncing as she moved from drawers to case and back again in the smallest bedroom of the house.
Angel turned, a thick dictionary in her hands. ‘I do have twenty-three kilos, right?’
‘Yes but, Angel, seriously? A dictionary?’
It was a hardback. She could see Angel struggling to even hold it in one hand.
The reply came quickly. ‘It’s my favourite.’
Her daughter had a favourite dictionary. Why didn’t she know this? It was a proud mother moment despite how much it weighed. Hayley sat down on the edge of what had been her childhood bed. The duvet cover with swirls and graffiti logos on had long since been replaced by something clean-lined, neutral and perfectly prim – ideal if ever the Queen or Mary Berry needed a bed for the night.
‘They do have books in New York you know.’ Hayley patted the duvet next to her.
Angel put her hands on her hips and struck a surly pose. ‘Does that mean I can’t take my favourite dictionary?’
What did you say to moves like Beyoncé from a nine-year-old?
‘What if I want to know what
‘You know what
‘That’s not the point.’ Angel stuck her head forward like an ostrich getting interested in prey. ‘There will be things in America I might not understand.’
‘They speak English, Angel.’
‘American English is very different to British English. They practically never use a “u” in anything and they prefer “z” to “s”.’
‘See how much you know already,’ Hayley quipped.
my dictionary.’ Angel pouted better than Naomi Campbell.
Angel let out a growl akin to an irritated beast on a nature documentary. Definitely more bear than ostrich. ‘I bet you’re taking that massive diary.’
The words pinched but Hayley did her best not to let it show.
The diary she’d just hidden was practically an undetonated grenade. She didn’t know why she even kept it. Most entries these days were a couple of lines, sometimes only a few words.
Angel’s tooth came out when she ate the yellow Quality Street. Mother made another crack about single mothers – she’ll be asking Denise Robertson to give me advice soon. Greg bought me a sausage roll from Greggs, it would be funny if he wasn’t expecting his sausage to be rolling around somewhere near me and the trouser press.
Hayley forced a smile. ‘I’m not taking it.’ There was no way she could take it now.
Angel plumped herself down onto the cover, crossing her legs underneath her body in a show of flexibility to rival an experienced Pilates class attendee. ‘You should get a new diary.’
‘What for? There’s nothing wrong with the one I have.’ The one she hoped to God Angel hadn’t been reading. Along with the random sentences of life events she’d been writing in there this year, there were nine other years, including the very beginnings of Angel’s existence. And it was
entries that were the most controversial, as well as being the most helpful when she had been researching their upcoming trip.
‘You should bring your ideas book then. The one with all your drawings and designs and the bits of material in,’ Angel suggested.
Her ideas book.
She’d had so few ideas lately she’d turned the back of the book into notes for her party planning exploits. Most people wanted the packages set out on the website but occasionally, every now and then, someone would ask for something a bit different and then she pounced on it, like a hungry lion who’d been starved for an age.
‘What would I need that for?’ She swallowed.
‘To note down all those designs you give people.’ Angel smiled. ‘Like that woman in McDonald’s. Imaginary scarves.’ She wafted a hand in the air. ‘Berets and buckles. There’s going to be so much inspiration in New York.’
Hayley smiled, enjoying Angel’s enthusiasm. ‘You’re changing the subject, young lady, when we’re meant to be getting ready for our trip,’ Hayley reached out her fingers and nudged Angel’s ribs, tickling.
‘Stop it!’ Angel squealed.
‘Sorry, didn’t hear that.’
‘Mum!’ Angel screeched, falling backwards on the bed and trying to get away from the attack. ‘You’ll make Nanny come up here and you know she doesn’t like to be interrupted when she’s watching
Hayley removed her hands with the speed of a mousetrap mechanism. The last thing she needed was her mother on the warpath.
Her eyes went from Angel to the thick book laying on the bed. She picked it up and opened it.
‘Ah, here’s a word I might need to get familiar with.’ Hayley cleared her throat. ‘Bodega – a cellar or shop selling wine and food especially in a Spanish-speaking country.’
Angel snapped the dictionary shut and claimed it back. ‘I hope we’re not going to spend all our time searching for fizzy white wine.’
‘No, once we’ve established our local seller we’ll be loyal.’
Angel crossed her legs again, placing the dictionary in the middle of her lap and fixing her eyes on Hayley. ‘Do you think Nanny will be OK on her own at Christmas?’
There was deep sincerity in the question. Angel loved Rita. She was the only other person who had always been there for her. And she
been there. In body, if not in spirit.
Rita wasn’t coming because she had a hospital appointment on Christmas Eve. She’d been waiting over six months to see one particular consultant about her ongoing arthritis that she didn’t dare reschedule. Hayley felt guilty for two reasons. The first was that perhaps she should be here to take Rita to the appointment and the second was that it had been a perfect excuse to not invite her on the trip. She swallowed as the last thought hit home.
Hayley put her arm around her daughter and drew her into her body, kissing the top of her head. ‘I think Nanny is going to be just fine on her own. Haven’t you seen the salmon head in the freezer? And she’s hidden Bendicks at the back of the larder.’
‘Are those the minty dark chocolates?’
‘Yeah, the ones she usually keeps by the side of her chair under deep security at Christmas.’
‘If I have more than three they make my mouth spicy.’
‘Reasons Christmas is going to be better in New York number 49. Not having to share chocolates with Nanny.’
‘But we will have to share them with Uncle Dean, Vernon and Randy.’
‘Are you sure Randy’s a dog?’
‘Yes …’ Angel paused. ‘Well I heard something barking in the background on Skype. And there was definitely a leather collar on the coat rack behind Uncle Dean.’
Hayley swallowed. ‘Dogs are allergic to chocolate,’ she said quickly. ‘Just like Nanny’s allergic to clothes from the charity shop.’
Angel let out a sigh. ‘Nanny’s a good person. She’s just different to you that’s all.’
That simple sentence from the lips of her offspring cut deep. Because it was the truth. Her mother wasn’t an ogre. She hadn’t beaten her, or deprived her of material needs, she just hadn’t ever been spontaneous with emotion. That didn’t make her bad. They were just opposites.
‘Sorry,’ Hayley said in little more than a whisper.
‘So, can I take my dictionary?’ Angel batted her eyelids up and down, poking out her bottom lip and looking suitably like a cast member of
Hayley sighed. ‘You can take the dictionary as long as you promise not to take that ancient old Christmas storybook. I can’t take another year of Alfie falling into the toymaker every night for a week.’
She looked at Angel, waiting for her to relinquish the dictionary. Her daughter’s face was expressionless.
‘OK?’ Hayley checked. ‘Are you sure? This must be one special dictionary.’
‘The dictionary comes and, for being an awesome mum, I think you should have some fizzy wine,’ Angel said, checking her watch. ‘It’s past eight o’clock and it’s nearly Christmas.’
‘Quick! Where’s the nearest bodega?’ Hayley smiled. ‘Come on, it’s late. Let’s move the case off the bed and tuck you in.’
She strained to pick the case up lengthways but managed to slide it down onto the floor without losing any contents or banging the floorboards too hard. It was a double
night. When she straightened herself back up, Angel was slipping down under the covers, eyes wide open, but the first signs of sleep showing. She yawned.
‘Time for sleep,’ Hayley said, brushing a hand over Angel’s hair.
‘I don’t really mind if they don’t have Yorkshire puddings in New York you know,’ Angel said.
Hayley looked at her daughter’s expression. There was concern in her large blue eyes. She didn’t want that. Whatever life threw at them none of it should ever come to rest on Angel’s shoulders.
‘I have good news.’ Hayley smiled. ‘Google tells me they
have them and they’re called popovers.’
‘Really?’ Angel looked less than convinced.
‘Really. And the best news of all is they sell them in a ready-made mix.’
Angel broke a smile then and clenched her fingers into excited fists.
‘Reasons Christmas is going to be better in New York number 84 – they have Yorkshire puddings.’ Hayley grinned. ‘So, let’s recap. We know what a bodega is and we can probably pick up the Yorkshire pudding mix while we’re getting the fizzy wine.’
‘Mum!’ Angel said, swiping a hand at Hayley’s arm and laughing.
She kept the smile going but inhaled a long breath and watched the happy expression restored on her daughter’s face. This trip was all about Angel and she didn’t even know it yet.
Hayley leaned forward, kissing Angel’s forehead. ‘Go to sleep now. No reading up on George Washington or how many types of squirrel there are in Central Park.’
‘Only one, the grey squirrel and they’re in decline. Apparently …’
Hayley put a finger to her lips and Angel stopped talking.
‘Time for sleep now but tomorrow I want to hear all about the little critters.’
Angel smiled. ‘Night, Mum.’
‘Night, Miss Mensa.’ Hayley went to the door turned off the light and stepped onto the landing.
She waited a few seconds, just wanting to stay in this happy bubble before everything in their lives changed, and then she heard the softest of voices.
‘Dear God, or Father Christmas, it doesn’t matter which … If you’re listening I really, really want to find my dad.’