Authors: Alexandra Brown
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Romance
For my dad, Michael
Table of Contents
t’s Sunday morning in Mulberry-On-Sea and, if the dust-speckled shard of sunshine peeping through the chink in my bedroom curtains is anything to go by, then it’s going to be one of those gloriously uplifting
days. Bliss. And if this isn’t reason enough to feel happy, then my boyfriend Tom, aka hottest man alive for sure, is leaning over the bed to kiss my cheek.
‘Mm-mmm. Well, hellooooo, Mr Carrington.’ I grin and run my fingers through his thick curly black hair, drawing in his delicious chocolatey scent and wishing he’d jump right back into bed, but he’s already dressed – jeans and a soft grey T-shirt to nicely accentuate his velvety-brown eyes.
‘I have to go,’ he whispers, tracing a path to my ear with his lips.
‘Stay a little longer. Go on … you know you want to,’ I tease, doing my best to sound sultry and seductive.
‘I’d love to, Georgie, I really would,’ he says with a smile. ‘But I want to squeeze in a swim and then sort out some stuff at home, plus I’ve got a ton of paperwork to plough through before the party later on.’ Tom stands up to pat the leather laptop bag that’s slung diagonally across his magnificently firm body.
‘Hmm, well OK, if you must …’ I stick my bottom lip out and pull a cross-eyed funny face to make him laugh.
‘Pick you up at one o’clock, yes? And, seeing as we’re making plans – can you keep the weekend after your birthday free?’ He tilts his head to one side. I nod, and stretch out like a starfish.
‘Oooh, why’s that then?’
Mmm, curious, my birthday – the big
is coming up soon!
Friday 15 August, to be exact.
‘If I tell you, then it won’t be a surprise, will it?’ Tom grins mischievously and my stomach does a somersault. God, he’s gorgeous, and I hope this exquisite fluttery butterfly feeling never fades. I can see it now, I’ll be an old woman and still infatuated with him. Oh yes, how wonderful would that be?
‘Already missing you.’ I blow a kiss as he goes to leave.
‘Sweet Jesus, what are you
to me, woman?’ Tom turns back to the bed and gives me another kiss, his lips hot on mine, one hand in my hair, the other tantalisingly close to my knickers. I open my eyes to sneak a peek at his long dark lashes. I’ll say it again … he is officially
! The perfect blend of chiselled features and delicious Mediterranean real tan – his mother is Italian. ‘I just can’t resist you. And when are you going to move in with me? All this coming and going just isn’t practical any more.’ He goes to tickle me just as Mr Cheeks, my supersoft black cat, leaps onto the bed and snuggles down beside me.
‘Too slow.’ Laughing, I roll away, almost squashing Mr Cheeks with my left thigh. ‘Aw, poor thing, I’m so sorry.’ I scoop the cat up and bury my face in his silky fur.
‘Don’t avoid the question. It really would make things easier; it doesn’t seem sensible, all this toing and froing. And you can bring this little dude too, if you like.’ Tom lifts Mr Cheeks from the bed and gives him a gentle hug before depositing him on the carpet, much to the cat’s disgust. He likes nestling on the end of my bed; now he slinks off to the kitchen in a huff instead – I can always tell by the way his tail wafts extra-majestically, and I imagine he’d be giving us the finger right now, if he could …
‘Soon. I promise.’ Between you and me, I can’t wait to live with Tom, but it needs to be about more than practicalities. I’ve been in that kind of relationship before – where I was the one who loved just that little bit more. Never again, this time around I’m not messing up. I’m determined to make it work and, if that means waiting longer to be sure, after we’ve chatted it all through, and I don’t mean snatched minutes here and there before Tom has to go again, then so be it. I know he works hard, we both do, and he travels a lot too, meeting suppliers and sourcing new stock lines, so finding time to talk can be tricky, especially as when we are together we can’t keep our hands off each other, but it’ll be worth the wait, I’m convinced of it. Tom is my one, and I couldn’t bear it if something went wrong between us, or if we somehow managed to ruin what we have right now, all because we rushed onto the next stage without planning it properly.
‘Well I hope so. You know that I love you.’ He smiles tenderly, pushing a stray tendril of hair away from my face.
‘And I love you too.’ I prop myself up on a pillow with one elbow.
‘Most women would jump at the chance to move in with me!’ He laughs at his own joke before deftly leaning back as I go to play-punch his arm.
‘Cheeky! And I’m not most women, plus I actually love my little shoebox flat,’ I tease right back. ‘It’s cosy, and it’s been my home for a very long time.’ I scan the room. There’s the triple wardrobe that fills the length of one wall – I remember lugging it all the way home on my own from Ikea, crammed into a rental van. It took me a whole weekend to put it together, but so worth it. And the glorious, enormous Art-Deco-style dressing table; I found it in the YMCA second-hand furniture shop and it only needed sanding down and repainting. I used a metallic bronze spray, which actually works really well now that the shine has faded, giving it a lovely shabby-chic look. It’s authentic, and with the trillion necklaces looped over the sides of the triple mirror and all my lotions and potions lined up, I can just imagine its previous owner, a sophisticated flapper lady, titivating herself ahead of a tea dance, or something.
I like that – reminiscing, the feeling of nostalgia, a sense of history, and when I think about it, I’ve worked blooming hard to make this little shoebox flat my home for so long. First, stashing every penny I earned to buy it in the first place – a lot of extra hours and overtime was involved; and then keeping hold of it over the years – there were plenty of times when I very nearly couldn’t pay the monthly mortgage. This flat holds many memories; it’s my security, and that’s important to me after spending time in foster care as a child. Mum died when I was thirteen – she had multiple sclerosis, which had worn her down so much that when she caught pneumonia she just couldn’t fight any more. So I ended up in care because Dad was in prison for selling secrets from the trading floor of the bank where he worked to fund his gambling addiction, and my only other relative, Uncle Geoffrey, couldn’t – or wouldn’t – take me in. But that’s all in the past now. I’m blissfully happy, financially secure and Dad and I are really close again – his new wife Nancy is lovely, so kind and warm and mumsy; I had missed having a mother figure in my life.
‘Well, you don’t have to sell it or anything, I know how much this place means to you. So just keep it – it can be your bolthole,’ Tom suggests.
‘Will I need one then?’ I raise an eyebrow. My last boyfriend, Brett, cheated on me with a tall beautiful woman with super-big blonde hair and a sylph-like figure, in total contrast to my average height, curves and wispy brunette bob that requires a
of maintenance (read: copious cans of Batiste Plumping Powder) to resemble anything near swingy. I tried hair extensions for a while, but had to have them removed after shaking my head a little too vigorously on a lunch date one time – a chunk above my left ear winged out and ended up floating in Tom’s butternut squash soup. Eek!
‘No. Only an idea … it could be your girl pad,’ Tom says casually.
‘Did you really just say
?’ I stifle a snerk.
‘Where are those knickers you used to wear? The ones with the cow motif all over them and the words “cheeky cow” emblazoned across the back?’
‘Don’t know.’ I pull a pretend ‘whatevs’ face.
‘Worn out, I bet.’ He slides a hand under the duvet and pings my knicker elastic.
‘Ha ha, you are so hilare! In fact, you crack me up
I think I’m going to laugh myself into an actual hernia because you’re just
funneee …’ I shoo his hands away.
‘Hmm, well, as much as I’m enjoying our banter, I really must go. Just think about it, please.’ He kisses his left index finger and places it gently on my lips before turning to go.
‘Will do. Promise,’ I call after him.
,’ he shouts as the front door closes.
And I really will think about it. But first I’m having half an hour in bed to luxuriate inside my new two hundred trillion, or whatever, thread count cotton sheets while I ponder on suitably sensible but witty one-liners to say to Tom’s parents this afternoon – Isabella of the incredibly wealthy Italian Rossi dynasty, and Vaughan Carrington, direct descendent of Harry Carrington, the founder of Carrington’s department store where I work as a personal stylist.
One rainy afternoon, Tom and I were cosied up watching old films, drinking hot chocolate and sharing our respective family stories, and he explained that his father, Vaughan, never showed an interest in Carrington’s, so went ‘off to see the world’ instead. That’s how he met Tom’s mother, Isabella, on safari in Zanzibar. Meanwhile, the majority share in the store was left to Vaughan’s sister, Camille, who later sold it to Tom, which is how he came to be the boss. Mr Carrington.
And this afternoon his parents are hosting a summer soirée on board their super-yacht! Yes,
. I know! Apparently, it has a cinema, a champagne bar and an actual helipad for, like, when they can’t be bothered driving or taking a train in normal-people style, they can just be mechanically rotated from whichever exotic location they happen to be in, and boom! They’ve arrived. Not that I begrudge them, of course not, and I’ve only met them once before as they tend to spend most of their time travelling the globe, so perhaps I read it wrong. Or maybe I was having an oversensitive moment brought on by nerves from necking one too many jellybeantinis – I knew Tom and I shouldn’t have met up in that cocktail bar beforehand. Big mistake. Huge. You see, I really want his parents to like me, of course I do, he’s my one, my boyfriend, my happy-ever-after. But the slightly awks atmosphere when Tom’s mother, Isabella, turned to me and said, ‘So what do you do, my dear?’ in her very breathy but regal-sounding Italian accent, told me it wasn’t to be. Yet! Let’s just say I’m working on it. Hence the proper preparation this time around. And definitely no jellybeantinis …