Stand By Me
Copyright © 2010 Sheila O’Flanagan
The right of Sheila O’Flanagan to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2010
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is
available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 7553 5341 5
This Ebook produced by Jouve Digitalisation des Informations
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
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Table of Contents
With each book I’m delighted to thank the team that has stood by me so solidly over the years. I am incredibly lucky in having such great support from so many people:
My agent, Carole Blake
My editor, Marion Donaldson
The Headline teams around the world
My overseas publishers and translators
Thanks to my family who’ve always believed in me
To my friends who are loyal and wonderful
And to Colm who’s always there
I’d also like to thank the many, many booksellers who have championed my books and recommended them to readers everywhere. It’s always wonderful to meet you on the signing tours even if it means I dismantle your lovely displays!
Most important of all, a massive thank you to my readers, for buying my books, for getting in touch with me and for keeping me inspired. I really appreciate your comments and emails. You can reach me through my website
or my Facebook page. And you can follow me on Twitter too!
Dominique was trying to decide the best way to position a dozen coloured Chinese lanterns around the small patio garden when she heard the doorbell ring. Her eyes widened as she glanced at her watch and she hurried through the house, wiping her hands on her black jeans as she walked along the narrow hallway.
‘Hi.’ A petite redhead with a dark green baseball cap sitting unsteadily on her unruly curls looked at her with a hint of curiosity, and then smiled. ‘Mizz Delahaye? I’m Lizzie Horgan. I’m from the caterers.’
‘Bang on time,’ said Dominique. ‘I didn’t realise how late it was getting. Everything’s through here.’ She led the way back along the hallway into the small, square kitchen that she’d tidied that morning. Open French doors led to the enclosed patio where she’d been hanging the lanterns.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said as Lizzie looked around with unbridled interest. ‘It’s a bit on the poky side.’
‘Don’t worry. There’s not that much stuff. We’ve catered for much bigger events than ...’ Lizzie broke off, aware that she could be insulting Dominique by (a) insinuating that her party was too small to worry about; or (b) implying that the client herself was someone who didn’t know all about big events. There was a (c) too, of course, and that was that her boss had given her very strict instructions about how she was to treat Dominique Delahaye, and that with her careless remark, she wasn’t sticking to Ash’s instructions at all.
Those instructions, delivered firmly, were that she was to be as professional as possible. To be ultra-polite. To make the delivery and leave. She was not, Ash had warned, to engage the woman in casual conversation or make any comments at all that could be construed as interfering or critical or personal in any way whatsoever.
‘We’re not rubberneckers,’ Ash had reminded Lizzie. ‘We don’t pry into our customers’ private lives. No matter what our own opinions on them might be,’ she added.
‘I’ll be discretion itself,’ Lizzie assured her. ‘But she’s having a party, for heaven’s sake! She must have something to celebrate. I haven’t seen anything on the news, have you? Either about him or about her. I read that she’d gone abroad. That she’d met him somewhere. But that’s obviously all wrong. So why d’you think she’s doing this? Are they right about her having money? Is she back on the social scene again? Or is it a farewell party because she’s leaving the country now?’ Lizzie was almost breathless with excitement.
‘It’s none of our business,’ Ash replied. ‘It’s a private party; she made that perfectly clear. Crystal clear, in fact, so no trying to worm info out of her. We don’t know what her situation is now. If she’s getting back into the whole party scene, there could be lots of work for us in the future, but not if we upset her over this. So it’s simply a question of us doing a good job with the minimum of fuss.’
Lizzie assured Ash that she’d be the soul of discretion, although she couldn’t help thinking that her cool, calm and efficient employer would be much better at that. But Ash was working another function that day and couldn’t spare the time for what was just a simple delivery job, no matter how famous (or infamous) the client might be.
So Lizzie said nothing further to Dominique Delahaye as she continued to transfer the food from the van to the kitchen as quickly and as unobtrusively as possible. But she couldn’t help glancing at the woman from time to time and wondering if any or all of the reports about her were true. Ash frequently said that newspapers and magazines only ever gave one side of a story; the side that they thought was the most interesting, or fitted with their own philosophy.
In the past, stories about Dominique Delahaye were always about her glittering life, her social standing and her charity work. That had all changed abruptly, and the pieces over the last few months had been completely different. But it was a long time now since Lizzie had read anything about their new client in the paper. It was funny, though, she mused, as she plugged in the small wine chiller that the catering company supplied, how
Dominique Delahaye seemed to be. There was, of course, no real reason why the woman shouldn’t be normal. But when everything you knew about her was thanks to the news reports in the papers and on the TV, you tended to forget that there was a real person underneath. Lizzie couldn’t help wondering what the real Dominique was like. Normal or not, she doubted she’d ever really know.
Dominique hadn’t missed the curiosity in Lizzie’s eyes. She left the younger girl to finish unloading the van and went upstairs, shutting the bedroom door behind her before sitting down on the edge of the double bed. She released her breath slowly and evenly and then pinched the bridge of her nose with the tips of her finger and thumb. She’d been really looking forward to today, looking forward to doing something fun and frivolous for someone she cared about, looking forward to having some good friends, old and new, to the house; but she was feeling suddenly anxious, and her anxiety had been ratcheted up by the cheerful caterer’s obvious attempt at nonchalance.
Would there ever be a time, she asked herself, when people stopped looking at her the way Lizzie Horgan had looked at her? With a mixture of sympathy and disdain and unbridled curiosity? Would there ever be a day when someone would meet her and not make snap judgements based on things they had read or heard?
Probably not, she conceded, as she released another slow breath. Probably not, and that’s something I have to live with. Something I have to accept. Something, she reminded herself, I’ve already accepted, because I’m here today holding a party. There was a time when I thought I’d never even be at a party again. She got up from the bed and stretched her arms over her head. She was doing the right thing. And the party was going to be great. It would be an occasion to look forward, not to look back. For everyone concerned.
‘Um, excuse me, Mizz Delahaye. Everything’s done now.’ Lizzie’s voice wafted up the stairs. ‘The food’s in the fridge, the ice is in the freezer and the wine is in the chiller. I’ve taken the glasses from the boxes and left them on the table. They’re already washed and I’ve given them a quick wipe too.’
Dominique took another deep breath and ran lightly down the stairs. The caterer was standing in the hallway.
‘Thanks,’ Dominique said. ‘You’ve done a great job. I appreciate it.’
Lizzie beamed at her. She’d thought she’d done a pretty good job too, unloading and storing everything in record time. Nevertheless, it was nice to get praise from Dominique Delahaye, who had, she knew, once been voted Ireland’s Most Celebrated Hostess. Dazzling Domino, they’d called her at the time. Of course, that was before everything had gone totally pear-shaped for her and she’d ended up being called a lot of other things instead. She was hardly dazzling now, was she, in her black T-shirt and black jeans, her hair held back untidily from her face and a streak of dust across her cheek. Although there was still something about her that held your attention, there was no doubt about that.
‘I hope you have a fantastic evening,’ said Lizzie. ‘Housewarming, is it?’ As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wished she hadn’t said anything. Ash would freak if she knew she’d asked a question. But she hadn’t been able to help herself.
‘No.’ Dominique hesitated, and then gave Lizzie the ghost of a smile. ‘It’s a divorce party, actually.’
‘Oh.’ Lizzie looked surprised. ‘I didn’t realise . . . well, um, I suppose I should probably say congratulations - would that be the right thing under the circumstances?’