This extract is from my novel
A contemporary romance set in the Highlands of Scotland.
Here’s the blurb . . .
Fliss Bagshawe longs for a passport out of Pimlico where she works as a holistic therapist. After attending a party in Notting Hill she loses her job and with it the dream of being her own boss. She’s offered the chance to take over a failing therapy centre, but there’s a catch. The centre lies five hundred miles north in Wester Ross, Scotland. Fliss’s romantic view of the highlands populated by Men in Kilts is shattered when she has an upclose and personal encounter with the Laird of Kinloch Mara, Ruairi Urquhart. He’s determined to pull the plug on the business, bring his eccentric family to heel and eject undesirables from his estate – starting with Fliss. Facing the dole queue once more Fliss resolves to make sexy, infuriating Ruairi revise his unflattering opinion of her, turn the therapy centre around and sort out his dysfunctional family. Can Fliss tame the Monarch of the Glen and find the happiness she deserves?
Here’s the extract . . .
The action takes place on a remote hill overlooking the Ruairi’s highland estate. He’s taken Fliss there so he can explain how his reluctance to commit to their relationship has its roots in the not too distant past . . .
‘Fliss, it’s no secret I was in a relationship which I thought would go the distance. But it didn’t – and the fault’s entirely mine. My fiancée – Fiona, was used to the diversions of Edinburgh, London and Paris, foolishly I brought her to Kinloch Mara where none of those things exists.’
He drew breath as though it was important that she understood. She knew how much it cost him to admit that he’d failed at something as fundamental as getting his bride to the altar and making a life with her, so she gave his hand an encouraging squeeze.
‘Go on . . .’
‘It can be really bleak here in the winter when the tourists leave and everything shuts down. That particular winter, Mitzi and the girls decamped for Angus’s villa in Barbados in early December as soon as their term ended at boarding school. As a result, Fiona spent a lonely Christmas at Tigh na Locha, waiting for me to return home from Australia. When I came back for the New Year I was so immersed in estate business that I didn’t see how isolated and neglected she was feeling. Now, looking back – I realise that I didn’t court her enough or pay her enough attention. That was the kiss of death on our relationship.’
Fliss knew that in Fiona’s place she would have stayed at his side, reading by the big fire in the library while he and Murdo went over the accounts. Driving out with him to rescue animals caught in the snowdrifts. Organising parties and making Tigh na Locha so welcoming that he would never want to leave. She would have cemented their relationship with nights of passion in the Laird’s old-fashioned bed, making love until the weak sun pushed through the curtains and drove everything else from their minds.
Not because she felt it was her duty as his fiancée, but because it was what she wanted to do, as his woman.
‘But then, I imagine that any woman – cut off by the winter snows, miles from Edinburgh and its allure would find it hard to settle to life as the laird’s wife.’ He excused Fiona’s desertion by putting the blame squarely on himself.
‘Not every woman,’ she demurred. But he was too lost in his own thoughts to register her moue of protest.
‘Eventually, the reality of being the laird’s wife, the social demands of the role and her position in the community hit home. That, coupled with the realisation of the years of hard work necessary to make the estate profitable, proved a bridge too far. The gilt wore off the gingerbread – in this case, me – and she left. One month before we were due to walk down the aisle together.’
‘When – how?’ Now she was hearing the whole story she wanted all the gaps filled in.
‘She packed her cases one morning while I was out on the hills with Murdo, called a taxi and left a note with her engagement ring – a family heirloom – explaining why she couldn’t marry me.’ Pain was etched on his face and Fliss wanted to find the faithless Fiona and shake her, make her realise what she’d thrown away. But she also felt a grudging sympathy for the runaway bride – Kinloch Mara was undoubtedly beautiful, but Ruairi’s love came at a price. That price was sharing the burden of lairdship and helping to preserve his inheritance for the next generation. It was his life’s work and any prospective wife who didn’t understand the importance of his birth right was the wrong candidate for the position.
Fliss realised that she was sizing herself up for the job. She knew she could show Ruairi the happiness he deserved. If only he gave her the chance . . .
Tall, Dark and Kilted – A contemporary romance set in the Highlands of Scotland http://t.co/xj2T54mE6j
Boot Camp Bride – Romance and Intrigue on the Norfolk marshes http://t.co/0WkwlH8bgg
Hocus Pocus 14 short story anthology – http://tinyurl.com/Hocus-Pocus14
This extract is from my novel Boot Camp Bride and the action takes place in a skip/dumpster on Christmas Eve. Charlee Montague is on her first stake out with temperamental, brooding photographer, Rafa Ffinch. If she gets it right, he takes her on as his partner for a trial period. Get it wrong, and she’s back to filing, fetching lattes and walking the editor’s dog.
Here’s the blurb . . .
Take an up-for-anything rookie reporter. Add a world-weary photo-journalist. Put them together . . . light the blue touch paper and stand well back! Posing as a bride-to-be, Charlee Montague goes undercover at a boot camp for brides in Norfolk to photograph supermodel Anastasia Markova looking less than perfect. At Charlee’s side and posing as her fiancé, is Rafael Ffinch award winning photographer and survivor of a kidnap attempt in Colombia. He’s in no mood to cut inexperienced Charlee any slack and has made it plain that once the investigation is over, their partnership – and fake engagement – will be terminated, too. Soon Charlee has more questions than answers. What’s the real reason behind Ffinch’s interest in the boot camp? How is it connected to his kidnap in Colombia? In setting out to uncover the truth, Charlee puts herself in danger … As the investigation draws to a close, she wonders if she’ll be able to hand back the engagement ring and walk away from Rafa without a backward glance.
Here’s the extract – enjoy – and Merry Christmas to all my readers . . .
The action takes place on Christmas Eve in an empty skip/dumpster outside an exclusive London watering hole frequented by the rich and famous.
‘You’re like Cinderella, aren’t you? Only, instead of ugly stepsisters, you have the Brothers Grimm.’ Ffinch shared his less than flattering appraisal of her family with Charlee.
‘I’m nothing like Cinderella. And, I’ll have you know, my brothers are clever, talented, uber handsome and … and think the world of me.’ She crossed her fingers as she said the last bit, not entirely sure if it was true. It was one thing for her to bemoan her lot regarding her brothers and the way they’d teased her almost unmercifully while she’d been growing up: nearly drowning her in the lake at the bottom of the farm and hanging her dolls and teddies from the apple trees in the garden. Then, as she grew older, scaring off potential boyfriends with glowering looks, folded arms and a hundred and one questions about their intentions. The way they kept harping on about ‘men are only after one thing, Charlee, and we should know.’ It was all too embarrassing; too mortifying. She flushed in the shadowy darkness of the camper van.
But she wasn’t going to allow Fonseca-Ffinch to cast aspersions on her family. It was none of his business.
‘So where does that leave you, Little Miss Intern?’ He managed to give her another swift, assessing glance as the traffic built up and the camper van crawled along.
She made as if to answer but then clammed up; she’d trade information with him on a quid pro quo basis. She wasn’t going to answer his questions when she wasn’t allowed to ask any of her own. Why, for example, had she been chosen for this assignment – apart from her assertion that she wouldn’t go all mushy on him and her declaration that she was prepared to die an old maid clutching the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism to her scrawny bosom? If that’s what it took to make her mark.
‘It leaves me in a camper van with you on Christmas Eve, wearing thermal underwear and cooking on gas,’ she answered. ‘Could you turn down the heat before I expire?’ She fanned herself with a magazine she’d found in the glove compartment. There were all sorts of notebooks in there and a top of the range camera.
‘I’ll remind you of that when you’re freezing cold in half an hour’s time,’ he said, reaching across and rearranging the parcel shelf to his liking. Something else out of bounds? No surprise there, Charlee thought, unfastening her coat and unwrapping the pashmina from her neck.
Patronised and demoralised – this was turning out to be a very unequal partnership – she slunk lower in her seat and folded her arms across her breasts. God, he’d had more mood swings in fifteen minutes than was entirely attractive in a grown man. She’d be more than happy to walk away from tonight’s assignment without exchanging Christmas cards, let alone email addresses and mobile phone numbers.
Something was eating him. But what?
On their previous encounters, she’d sensed an undercurrent, noticed the way his eyes looked dead, even when he smiled. Like he was grieving over something – or, someone. Yet, on both occasions, he’d pulled himself out of his dolour and appeared to enjoy sparring with her. As if she drew him away from dark thoughts that haunted him. But tonight was different, he seemed driven, almost unaware of her presence until she annoyed him – then he looked surprised to find her sitting next to him in the passenger seat.
Nothing like being made to feel invisible to build up one’s confidence on a first assignment, Charlee thought.
‘Anyhoo, Ffinch,’ she began.
‘What now?’ he asked in exasperated tones. Charlee could tell that he wasn’t in the mood for conversation or company and that made her all the more determined to needle him.
‘I thought you might have had our names stuck on the windscreen. Fonseca and Montague; Rafa and Charlee. Frankly, I’m disappointed – we are partners, after all.’
‘Temporary partners,’ he said crushingly. ‘With an emphasis on temporary.’
‘Were you this grumpy with your last partners?’ Then she remembered that his partners had drowned in the Amazon and he’d only just escaped with his life. She could have bitten her tongue off but laid a hand on his arm instead. ‘I – I’m sorry Ffinch, that was unforgivable of me. I forgot.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ he shrugged off her hand. ‘Nothing matters except getting through tonight without being spotted. Okay?’ He let out a shaky breath and when Charlee glanced at him in the orange city lights, his brow was furrowed and he looked unbearably sad. Deciding she’d said more than enough, she folded her arms across her chest and said nothing more until they drew into a side street in Mayfair. Ffinch parked the camper van on the darker side of the street and killed the engine.
‘Here?’ Charlee looked around at the discreet hotels with their doormen, the armed policemen from the diplomatic protection group walking together in pairs, machine guns slung across their chests. The upmarket designer shops with their subdued lighting and wares visible through the grilles.
‘Not here, exactly. Close by. Come on.’
He seemed to have regained some of his good humour because he came round to her side of the camper van, opened the door and held out his hand with a gracious bow. Charlee ignored his hand and slithered out instead, glancing over at Berkeley Square and wondering if nightingales had ever sung there. Ffinch looked down at his open hand and shrugged as if Charlee’s show of independence was of little consequence to him.
He locked the camper and strode out towards Piccadilly with his camera bag slung over his shoulder. Charlee had to break into a trot at his heels in order to match his long strides. She rather suspected that he was giving no quarter after she’d so ungraciously refused to be helped down from the camper van.
The evening was wet but mild. Well dressed, affluent partygoers drifted in and out of doorways which were flanked by Christmas trees or hung with lights and garlands. Most of Charlee’s friends had returned home for Christmas and it hadn’t gone down well with her parents, her mother in particular, that she wouldn’t be travelling down to Berkshire until early tomorrow morning.
‘Don’t disturb any of your father’s patients when you arrive late, Charlotte,’ her mother’s aggrieved tone echoed in her head. And, as she followed Ffinch down a side street, she thought it quite ridiculous that her mother referred to the animals requiring overnight care at her father’s veterinary practice as patients. And she wondered, not for the first time, why her mother couldn’t be more relaxed and accepting of who she was. She sighed, and pressed her hand to her side where a painful stitch was developing. She was getting quite out of breath and Ffinch showed no sign of slowing down. In fact, it looked as if he’d forgotten she was at his heels.
Then he ducked down an alleyway between tall, elegant buildings, stopped in his tracks and held his hand up for silence, like an Indian scout. Turning, he put his finger to his lips and indicated, by nodding his head, that she should follow him – quietly. Charlee stayed true to the promise that she’d made in the camper van, that when push came to shove she could be quiet as a mouse. But excitement bubbled up inside her as she wondered what was in store.
Ffinch led the way to the back of one of the houses where dustbins were discreetly hidden behind wrought iron screens and a tarpaulin-shrouded skip stood in one corner of the yard. Outside the back entrance of what was clearly a private club, there was a canopied smoking area with sturdy wicker chairs and a table. Crouching low, he went over to the skip, deftly raised up one corner of the tarpaulin and nodded towards it.
‘Your coach, Cinders. Get in.’
‘What?’ Charlee mouthed, sensing the need to be quiet, circumspect. Ffinch came over, removed the two Waitrose bags from her slack fingers and repeated his instructions.
‘I said, get in. Do it now, without arguing and I’ll explain …’
It was the thought of the explanation rather than his hissed command that made Charlee comply. She gave a shudder of distaste, envisaging sitting among rotting fish tails and the remains of last night’s dinner. At his earlier insistence, she was wearing her little black number and she did not intend ruining it, not even in the line of duty. But needs must; the experienced journo had to be prepared to put personal comfort aside and get on with the job. But the skip sides were quite high and she was rather on the short side so she raised an enquiring eyebrow at Ffinch.
Giving an irritated tut, he put the bags containing the food and his camera equipment on the floor and swung her easily into the skip, as if she weighed no more than a fly. He held her in his arms briefly and his warm breath fanned her temple. For a moment, Charlee felt like a bride being carried across the threshold, but then pulled herself together and put a stop to her wild imaginings. He might be the hottest ticket in town, but this was a skip for God’s sake – and hadn’t she promised not to go all mushy on him?
He deposited her gently into the skip, followed close behind and pulled the green tarp over their heads. Using a pocket torch, he illuminated the interior which was loaded with offcuts of wood and indicated that she should sit. Then he took up position next to her on a sturdy plank and started to examine his photographic equipment.
Feeling dismissed, Charlee said nothing for a few moments. When she did finally manage to say: ‘Okay, level with me, what are we doing here?’ her voice was hoarse from being route marched through Piccadilly. Although she’d spoken no louder than a whisper, he made a throat cutting gesture with his forefinger, raised a corner of the tarp and poked his camera lens through it. He fired off a few rapid frames and then withdrew the camera and sank back on the makeshift seat.
‘We’re here,’ he offered, rifling through the bag of food until he found some doorstep sandwiches oozing brown sauce, ‘to photograph a prince who, it turns out, is less than charming, Cinders. He’s playing away from home while his girlfriend is -’
‘Over in Africa in a drought zone with Save the Children. Yeah, I’ve seen the photos,’ she drawled cynically, ‘of her holding starving babies, all perfectly made-up and in crease proof fatigues.’
‘The babies are wearing make-up and fatigues?’ he asked innocently, biting into a cold bacon and tomato sandwich.
‘You know perfectly well what I mean,’ she replied haughtily. ‘And it’s not funny to make fun of starving children in the Horn of Africa.’
‘About as PC as referring to one of the Cat People as having had an extreme makeover?’ he came back with, HP sauce dribbling down his chin as he ate his sandwich.
‘Touché,’ she remarked as she handed him a piece of kitchen roll to use as a napkin. ‘That was a stupid of me and I’m sorry – but you were goading me -’
‘I don’t think I was. I rather get the impression that you pretty much act on impulse and do and say what you want.’
His assessment of her was so unnervingly accurate that Charlee changed the subject.
‘I smell a rat; one wearing a crown and ermine, but a rat nonetheless. Not much of a story, though, is it: PRINCE PLAYS THE FIELD WHILE FIANCEE IS IN AFRICA DOING GOOD WORKS? I mean, it’s hardly breaking news that HRH is poor husband material, but if she wants the big wedding and the title then she’ll have to get used to him playing away from home. It runs in the blood. So, cut the bullshit and give me the truth, Ffinch.’ She took the bag of food away from him. ‘Food seems to be the only bargaining chip I have and I’m prepared to use it. No cranberry muffins, or coffee, until you come clean.’
‘Montague, you’re beginning to make me wonder if I did the right thing in choosing you. Sam assured me that you were ambitious but biddable.’ He had reverted to the same light, bantering tone he’d used the night of his book launch and in Sam’s office. Whatever demons had been haunting him when he’d picked her up at her bedsit seemed to have vanished into the darkness the moment they had climbed into the skip. Maybe, like her, the stake-out and the story had pushed everything else to the edge of his consciousness.
‘One out of two ain’t bad,’ Charlee laughed and fetched her own sandwich out of the bag. ‘Don’t change the subject. Give.’
‘Okay, this isn’t about the prince and the showgirl. That was just a smoke-screen for the team back at What’cha! There’s a story unfolding here tonight, one which I’m on the trail of.’
‘I knew it. And?’
‘That’s as much as I’m prepared to divulge at the moment.’
‘Even to a partner?’ she asked pertly, knowing that their partnership only existed in her imagination. ‘Montague and Ffinch – sounds good to me.’
‘Ffinch and Montague you mean. Not that we are partners,’ he corrected, ‘you are my assistant – nothing more.’ He reached for the bag of food but Charlee held it away from him.
‘Then this assistant needs to know what’s expected of her or she’s leaving and taking her sandwiches with her. Then you’ll have the whole skip to yourself. Capice?’
Ffinch shone the torch on her face. ‘You are trouble, lady. Not only that, you’ve been watching too many episodes of The Sopranos. Capice, indeed,’ he pulled a face but she could see that he was figuring out that she was no pushover. And, quite possibly, trying not to laugh. ‘Okay, Montague, here’s the thing. You’ve heard of Anastasia Markova, the model who’s marrying the Russian plutocrat?’
Just in time, Charlee stopped herself from saying, Duh! She knew she had to play this one poker-faced and hide her excitement. ‘Sure.’ She shrugged and put the bag of sandwiches between them on the plank.
‘I’ve had a tip-off that she’s holding her hen night, here.’ He pulled a face and left Charlee wondering if it was the whole concept of marriage, weddings and the attendant brouhaha that cheesed him off. Or the expression ‘hen night’ with its connotations of soon-to-be brides tied to lamp posts and wearing L plates while their attendants were sick in the gutter. Dancing on tables and staggering out of nightclubs wearing pink Stetsons was so not what she would do when/if her moment arrived. ‘Montague! Are you listening to a word I’m saying?’
‘I don’t have to look adoringly into your eyes to prove I’m concentrating. Okay? Not that I can see them in this light,’ she added in a more conciliatory tone just in case she was seriously pissing him off and blowing her chances of being taken on another assignment. ‘Okay, so where do I fit into your plan, apart from being in charge of catering?’ She pushed the bag of sandwiches closer to him.
‘I need you to go over to the smoking area and stand there until they come out.’
‘Who comes out?’
‘Anastasia and her laydees,’ he explained patiently. Charlee bit her lip; the flaw in the plan was blindingly obvious – wasn’t it?
‘But I could be standing there all night, freezing my assets off waiting for her to put in an appearance. Or, when we spot her I can hardly clamber out of the skip, walk over and start passing round the Silk Cut, can I? And, besides, I don’t smoke and don’t carry ciggies round with me on the off-chance that – ’
Ffinch leaned forward in the semi-darkness and put two fingers on her lips.
‘Montague. It’s all been taken care of … Now, are you going to shut up and listen?’
Charlee knocked his hand away and nodded her head, fuming that he had acted so patronisingly towards her. She wasn’t a doll to be manhandled as and when he thought fit, and the sooner he realised that, the better.
‘I’m listening,’ she said.
‘Here’s how it works. I get a text from my contact inside the club to say she’s coming out. That gives us time to get you out of the skip and station you at the back door looking like you’ve been there all night.’
‘What am I supposed to do when she comes out? Secretly film her, or what?’
‘No,’ he sighed heavily as though she just didn’t get it. ‘You are to do nothing.’
‘Although,’ she felt rather than saw his moody grey eyes directed towards her like laser beams in the darkness, ‘I suspect that doing nothing might not sit easily with you.’
‘I told you back in the van. I can be anything you want me to be – if it results in getting the story.’ As she uttered, I can be anything you want me to be, she wanted to call back the words. She rather suspected that too many women had been just a little too keen to please Rafa Fonseca-Ffinch. Apparently finding the idea of her pleasing him in a non-work related capacity repellent, he shifted uneasily on the uncomfortable plank. As he did so, his knee grazed against the inside of her thigh where her dress had ridden up, the hardness of bone meeting soft, yielding flesh.
Anything you want me to be? Now he’d think she was coming onto him and … as if of one mind they sprang apart, scalded and embarrassed by the unexpected, intimate touch.
Then Ffinch’s iPhone buzzed twice, the screen lit up and he grabbed it as if it were a lifeline. The light illuminated the planes and angles of his face, emphasising the dark circles of fatigue beneath his eyes and the shadows beneath his cheekbones. He seemed far away, as if he was remembering Christmas Eve in a different place and time, and the remembrance saddened him. Then he shrugged off whatever was haunting him, and became suddenly focused and businesslike.
‘Okay. We’re on.’ He looped a velvet evening bag over her head. ‘Cigarettes, lighter and a mobile phone. Switch the phone to voice recorder, leave it on the table and record everything they say. Everything. Got it?’
‘But, what if -’
‘There’s no time for ifs. You were chosen by Sam specifically because you can speak Russian, you’re full of bravado and – correct me if I’m wrong – can blag your way out of most situations.’ If there’d been time, Charlee would have felt almost flattered by the description; but, as it was …
‘Okay. Here, help me off with my coat. I can’t …’
In the confined space of the skip, Ffinch managed to winkle her out of her coat and scarf. Keyed up by the thought of what lay ahead, Charlee almost didn’t notice the way his fingers grazed her collarbone. Or that his hand had brushed against her breasts in the darkness. She’d remember all of that much, much later when she was alone in bed. Now she concentrated on divesting her outdoor things and smoothing the wrinkles out of her black hold-up stockings. Then she shuffled past him, losing her footing and almost sitting in his lap as she tried to avoid laddering her stockings on the side of the skip.
‘Oof, Montague, have a care. You almost flattened me,’ was his gallant response as she rested the flat of her hand on his thighs and pushed herself off. Strangely, without her coat, instead of freezing to death, she felt uncomfortably warm. Her cheeks and forehead burned while goose pimples travelled the length of her arms. Excitement, she guessed, hurriedly dismissing the conflicting sensations of hot and cold. That’s all it was. What else could it be?
‘Ready?’ he asked in a hoarse whisper, like he was in dire need of the drink she’d packed, possibly with an added shot of rum.
In one swift movement, he threw back the corner of the tarp, lifted her up and over the high sides of the skip and deposited her on the ground. The back door of the nightclub opened and light streamed out over the smoking area. Charlee froze – then a member of staff poked her head cautiously round the door and placed a glass of red wine on the table. She glanced, once, towards the skip and then withdrew.
‘That’s your drink. Go and get it – and remember … voice recorder. Go!’
As Charlee staggered across the space between the skip and the calico framed gazebo strung with fairy lights, she wondered how he’d organised all this. If he could survive capture by a guerrilla group in Colombia, she supposed that paying a member of staff to do his bidding was small fry by comparison.
Three tables, comfortable sofas and chairs were positioned inside the decorative corral trimmed with winter foliage and berries. Huge scented candles spiked on sconces at the corners of the enclosure sent out a perfume of oranges, cloves and winter spices towards Charlee. The smoking area was warmed by overhead heaters, and onyx ashtrays filled with sand were positioned strategically on the tables. All quite different to the pub yards where her friends did their smoking. Usually there was a bucket of sand for stubbing out cigarettes, if you were lucky. Mostly, the stubs were crushed underfoot on the pavement.
There was little time for reflection or one of her usual flights of fancy. She had to be in position, glass in hand and puffing away at a cigarette before the bridal party came out. She allowed herself one backward glance at the skip and then stationed herself under the nearest heater. She was anxious to prove that she was the woman for the job and ready for whatever fate sent her. A chill wind blew into the yard and cut through the fabric of her little black shift dress. She searched in the quilted velvet bag and did a double take when she saw the label – it was vintage Chanel. Whose was it? An ex-girlfriend’s? His mother’s? Did he have a wardrobe of props for occasions such as this? It wouldn’t surprise her to learn that he did.
Hands shaking, she extracted a solid silver cigarette case and lighter; the case was just the right size to hold six long cigarettes. Inside the lid it was engraved with signatures in different handwriting and Charlee suspected it was a family heirloom. She turned it over and saw the intertwined C’s – Cartier, what else? Why couldn’t he have given her an ordinary pack of cigarettes? It’d be just her luck to drop the heavy case down a drain or damage it, and then spend the next six months working to pay it off.
Stiffening, she concentrated on carrying out the task to the best of her ability.
With her ear for languages, she detected the cadence of upper-class vowels overlaid with Estuary English. Posh kids, trying to disguise the Received Pronunciation considered so uncool nowadays. Not her intended mark, clearly. Pulling the mobile phone out of the bag, she turned away and pretended to talk to someone on the other end, but not before registering the young prince surrounded by his circle of trusted friends. Then she practically singed her eyebrows as she inexpertly put the cigarette in her mouth, tried to light it one-handed and take a long draw without choking. Evidently, she was beneath their notice and looked just like another young woman out enjoying the Christmas Eve buzz. They carried on talking about driving down the M4 to Wiltshire to stay on their parents’ ‘estates’, and how they would need to meet up if they were to survive the ordeal.
Then the door opened again and a troupe of long-legged beauties wearing minimal clothing but some serious jewellery walked out of the back entrance. Well, not so much walked as covered the ground in long, languorous strides with legs that looked like they belonged on thoroughbred racehorses – all bone, sinew and slender ankles. Charlee looked at her definitely average legs and wondered how it would feel to have those added inches. Or to be able to walk on five-inch Jimmy Choos without falling over. But there was no time to give full rein to her neuroses, she could feel Ffinch’s eyes boring a hole in the back of her skull and hear him saying: What are you playing at, Montague – get closer. Move in for the kill.
The models joined the prince and his friends and they air-kissed and schmoozed each other big time. The blue bloods happy to rub shoulders with the supermodels, and the models glad of the validation they gained from mixing with the prince and his entourage. Then Anastasia Markova spotted Charlee’s mobile.
‘No photos. No photos,’ she shrieked, holding her hands over her face. Charlee gave a shrug and put the phone on the table, after making sure the voice recorder was activated.
‘Whatever, darling,’ Charlee drawled, picking up her drink and moving away from them. She drank the red wine in several thirsty gulps and then as the bouquet hit her taste buds suppressed a wow of delight. Whatever bottle it had come out of had spent long years in the darkness of a temperature regulated wine cellar.
Vin de Pays it was not.
Some desultory conversation passed between the disparate group, mostly about how this was Markova’s hen night and how close her wedding was. Then the prince and his friends stubbed out their cigarettes and went back into the nightclub. Charlee, sitting on the large sofa, made a great play of letting her cigarette burn down and flicking the ash onto the ground. The models slipped into Russian and she looked away from them while the recorder did its business and captured every word. She was trying so hard not to look in their direction that, when Anastasia Markova touched her on the shoulder, she almost jumped out of her skin.
‘Is vintage Chanel, no?’ Markova said pointing at Charlee’s bag and reaching out to stroke it. ‘You permit?’ She didn’t wait for an answer but un-looped the bag and without more ado looked inside. Flaming cheek, Charlee thought, but smiled sweetly – had she left her manners on the Russian Steppes along with her impoverished background? Markova was checking out the stitching with all the thoroughness of a customs officer looking for drugs. ‘Is real deal,’ she declared and gave Charlee a beatific smile, admitting her into their circle. ‘Cartier,’ she pulled out the cigarette case and lighter and showed the other models who cooed over it. They spoke in rapid Russian and Charlee gleaned that they loved vintage but it cost too much, even on their wages. ‘Lucky girr-ll.’ She passed the bag and the cigarette case round her girlfriends. ‘Your man buy this?’ she asked directly, slanting Charlee an envious look.
‘Oh nawr,’ Charlee affected an upper-class drawl, ‘It belongs to Mummy.’ She thought about her man sitting not so many metres away, watching, taking photos and no doubt getting ready to mark her performance out of ten. Low marks, like Craig Revel Horwood in Strictly – a big, fat five probably. They returned the bag and cigarette case back to her and the phone on the table rang. Smiling apologetically, she reached for it.
‘Darling, we were just talking about yow,’ she said, in an accent no one had used for at least fifty years. Not even the Queen.
‘Okay, you’ve got what we need …’
‘But darling, I don’t want to come home just yet,’ she protested, and laughed one of those tinkling laughs she’d read about in novels. ‘Don’t send the chauffeur round for me, sweetie, I’m going back in for a nightcap.’
‘Montague, you’ve done well, don’t overplay your hand.’ Charlee pulled a petulant expression and gave a large sigh.
‘Honestly, sweetie, you can be such a party pooper.’ She turned towards the models who were openly listening to her conversation, no doubt hoping to improve their English. ‘He’s such a pain in the a-r-s-e,’ she spelled out, pointing at her own derriere. ‘But he loves me to bits! Can’t wait to marry me. But I’m in no hurry to get tied down, or have babies,’ she informed them, pulling a face. Nodding sagely, they stubbed out their cigarettes and made their way back towards the nightclub.
Anastasia Markova turned. ‘Get married soon. Looks fade. Men change, grow cold. You join us for drink? It is my hen’s nights.’ She smiled uncertainly at Charlee, looking like a child in the playground, anxious to make a new friend.
‘Of course. Go ahead, I’ll just finish talking to my fiancé and join you.’
Her fiancé in the skip was less than impressed. ‘Don’t even think it Montague. Wait until they’ve left and then make your way down the alley and towards the camper van. Don’t glance at the skip – wait in the street for me, and don’t forget the bloody phone …’
‘Relax, darling, remember your blood pressure,’ she said sweetly before cutting him off. The models walked back into the nightclub as graceful as borzois. She waited until the door closed and then made her way down the alley and into the side street towards Ffinch’s camper van – the theme from Mission Impossible playing in her head.
Move over Ethan Hawke – there’s a new kid on the block.
Boot Camp Bride – Romance and Intrigue on the Norfolk marshes http://t.co/0WkwlH8bgg
Tall, Dark and Kilted – A contemporary romance set in the Highlands of Scotland http://t.co/xj2T54mE6j
Hocus Pocus 14 short story anthology – http://tinyurl.com/Hocus-Pocus14