Authors: Lucy Diamond
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Harry Stone, eh. Harry Stoner, more like. She still half expected to see reports of his death come in on the wires – drug overdose or some alcoholic binge gone horribly wrong at a high-society party. What a mess their relationship had been. She’d thought it a charmed life at the time, mixing with his A-list friends in all the highest circles – yachts in Marbella, weekends in New York and Monte Carlo, dinner in all the most glamorous restaurants . . . it was amazing she managed to get any work done – but back then, of course, the showbiz news had been handed to her on a plate. She was part of the in-crowd for a short time, where everyone was beautiful, thin and rich . . .
She trudged down the concrete steps to get the Tube home. It seemed like a fantastical dream now, that time of her life. A blast of colour and light and heat. Parties, and catwalk shows, and paparazzi everywhere. But everyone knew that dreams didn’t last. Everyone knew that when you’d flown so high there came a time when you had to crash down to earth.
‘Big Isshoooooo! Big Isshoooooo!’ A skinny girl with olive skin and greasy dark hair was sitting in the tunnel that led to the Northern Line, knees up protectively. She had tatty stained combat trousers and scuffed DM boots. One arm was outstretched in a plea. ‘Big Isshoooo?’
God, London life suddenly seemed like hard work. Depressing. Georgia reached into her purse and took out a tenner, pressed it into the girl’s palm. She was starting to wonder if she wanted to be here any more.
Monday morning at the office, and for once, Isabella had a smile for Georgia. ‘Nice work with the Archer scoop,’ she said. ‘It looked great in Saturday’s paper, and we’ve had a huge postbag, according to the secretaries – you struck a chord with a lot of single mums out there. Well done.’
Phew. ‘Well done’ was the highest praise Isabella had been known to dish out. Ever.
‘Now then.’ She narrowed her eyes and folded her arms across her tailored grey trouser suit. ‘Any chance of a follow-up? Do we know Archer’s movements now? Did he take your advice? Let’s milk this while we can, yes?’
Georgia hesitated. She hadn’t heard anything from Alice. Not a call, not a text. God knows what was happening with any reconciliation attempts. ‘I’ll see what I can do,’ she said guardedly. Isabella was a difficult person to say no to.
‘Look forward to it,’ Isabella replied, as if the whole article was a shoo-in. And off she swished into her cubicle of power, leaving Georgia brimming with conflicting feelings – pleased that her work had merited praise, but not quite so thrilled that more of the same was expected. Hmmm.
Before she could think on it any further, Jacquie, the features secretary, was by her desk with a twinkle in her eye. ‘We’ve got a hot date lined up for you tomorrow, Georgia,’ she said, waving a piece of paper mysteriously.
Georgia eyed the paper, then Jacquie. Warily. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Our little competition, remember? We’ve got a winner. We’ve arranged for him to come in to the office tomorrow, live the life of a showbiz columnist with you for the day. We’ve booked—’
‘Oh, Jacquie, do I have to?’
‘Yes. We’ve booked you lunch at the Wolseley and an evening do at—’
‘Well, who is he? Has he been checked out? I don’t want to end up with some weirdo on my back.’
Jacquie tapped her nose in an annoying fashion. ‘Wait and see,’ she said, setting the paper down in front of Georgia. ‘There, that’s your schedule. We’ve already sent him a copy. Lucky lad!’
Georgia gave her a look. ‘Jacquie—’
‘Boss’s orders. Don’t want to slip out of her good books again, now that you’ve only just got yourself back in, do you?’
Georgia gritted her teeth and snatched up the paper. ‘Thanks. For nothing,’ she muttered.
The next day, Georgia made an effort to look her best. She was going to have a photographer by her side all day with this wretched prize-winner, so this was not the time for bad hair or skin – not unless she wanted to go begging to the art department for some major photo retouching, that was. So in went the big rollers for a proper blow-dry, on went the foundation, powder, mascara and lippy, on went a foxy fuchsia dress that cinched her body in all the right places, on went the matching heels. There.
She eyed herself critically in her full-length mirror. Not bad, although she said so herself. Most hacks her age hadn’t the stamina or looks for the gossip-girl thing once they hit their thirties. Georgia prided herself on keeping up appearances, not letting herself become fat and bloated on the free booze, or wrinkled and haggard from the late nights, like
columnists she could (and did) mention. She could still do femme fatale with the best of them. But she’d made other sacrifices along the way, of course. The job had changed her on the inside, even if her outward appearance remained relatively unscathed.
The itinerary Jacquie had put together covered just about every in-place to be seen around the West End. As well as their lunch date, Georgia and her shadow would be taking in an afternoon movie premiere, sipping cocktails at the opening of some new Cuban bar in Piccadilly Circus, and going to a record company party in Soho that evening. The usual suspects would be out, no doubt, the WAGs and the pin-up girls, the Chelsea boys, the pop darlings and perhaps even a few minor royals for good measure. The line from Isabella was that they had to dazzle the winner – and the readers, of course – with the A-list lifestyle of Georgia Knight.
Dazzling. Ha. She’d once thought it dazzling, too, of course. But the shine had gone from that world lately. Five years, she’d told herself when she landed the job. Any more than that and you lose it. She’d seen it happen to colleagues who’d turned into alcoholics or had let the party circuit take over their lives. She hadn’t meant it to happen to her, but somehow or other, she was still here, ten years on. It was a long time to do any job, let alone one as exhausting as this.
She sat at her desk trying to write up some copy about Jude Law’s alleged new squeeze, but the words were hard to find. She took a call from her
mole who was always feeding her secret scandalous titbits about the rest of the cast – God, she was starting to despise that woman – and then half-heartedly chased up a story about one of the Holby actresses from a PR woman in Bristol.
‘Oh – Georgia Knight! You’re my sister’s friend,’ the PR woman said after Georgia had introduced herself. Her voice was bubbly with enthusiasm. ‘Katie Taylor? I’m Laura, her sister. What can I do for you?’
Georgia had a vague memory of Laura, auburn-haired and quite loud, she seemed to recall. ‘Oh yes,’ she said slowly. ‘When did we meet? The wedding, was it? Or Katie’s hen night?’
‘Both I think,’ the reply came. ‘Hey, talking of which . . . have you spoken to Katie lately?’
‘No, is she all right?’
‘Ooh, yes, I’d say so,’ Laura said. ‘But I’ll let her tell you about it herself. Anyway, down to work. You’re ringing about the Patsy story, are you?’
Georgia ended the call feeling curious. What was Katie up to, then? No point ringing her on a Tuesday, she’d be teaching algebra or some other god-awful thing to spotty teenagers, but she’d have to get hold of her later for sure.
‘Here she is,’ came a voice just then. ‘Georgia! Here’s our competition winner, who’s going to spend the day with you. Meet Owen.’
She was rising from her feet automatically at the words, hand outstretched, but when she saw who was standing there with Jacquie, she promptly sat down again, her legs giving way. Oh my goodness. Two worlds colliding. Owen McIntosh was standing in the office. Smiling disarmingly at her.
‘Right,’ Jacquie said, smirking. ‘I’ll leave you two to get to know one another, then. Taxi’s booked for half eleven, okay? Lily’s just bringing you both some coffee.’
Georgia realized her mouth was hanging open and promptly shut it with a snapping sound. ‘How . . . how . . . ?’ she began, but she couldn’t get the question out.
‘How come I won the competition? I fixed it, of course,’ Owen said, perching himself on the corner of her desk. He looked smart and sexy out of his hospital uniform, in dark jeans and a crisp white shirt. ‘So, how are you?’
‘Wait . . .’ Georgia couldn’t get her head around it. ‘You fixed it? How?’
Owen grinned. ‘Better ask her,’ he said, looking at the red-haired girl who was walking towards them bearing two mugs of coffee.
Georgia sized up the redhead – it was the girl who’d been talking about competition entries the Friday before. Lily, was it? ‘What do you mean?’ she hissed curiously. ‘What’s she got to do with it? Do you
Owen didn’t answer because Lily was there in front of them, holding out the coffees. Georgia gave her a beady-eyed stare and the girl blushed violently, her spattering of freckles vanishing completely. ‘Cheers, Lily,’ Owen said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to be there, drinking coffee in the
office. He had balls, you had to give him that.
, as Gordon Ramsay would say.
Lily looked up at Georgia through her long fair lashes. ‘Taxi’s coming in—’ she began in a timid voice.
‘I know,’ Georgia snapped. Feeling Owen’s gaze upon her, she managed a gracious, ‘Thank you.’
This was all so weird. Was she dreaming? Was this actually happening? ‘Sorry,’ she said after a moment, shaking her head. ‘I just . . . I’m just a bit stunned, that’s all.’
Was this some big wind-up?
she suddenly wondered, eyeing him suspiciously. Was it him proving a point about her shallow London life or something? But surely he wouldn’t go to so much effort to score one over on her, would he?
Georgia got to her feet, not looking at Owen. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of thinking he’d triumphed in any way until she’d sussed out his motives. ‘Come on,’ she said. ‘We can’t talk here.’ For the benefit of the others in the room, who were no doubt earwigging madly, she added loudly, ‘I’ll show you the office bunker where all the hush-hush stuff takes place.’
She felt incredibly self-conscious as she led him through the newsroom. Leon gave a piercing wolf whistle that made her feel even worse. How she wished she’d worn something looser fitting, rather than going for the all-out siren look! Her bottom wiggled like a bag of melons in this dress, and wearing these shoes only accentuated the shimmy. God. She couldn’t get her thoughts straight, she felt scrambled inside. Owen McIntosh was in London. He’d fixed the competition and here he was, walking right behind her. Any minute now, her nan would bowl in on roller skates, then Georgia would wake up.
She glanced over her shoulder to check he wasn’t some kind of mirage. He was definitely there, having a good old nosy around as they went along. ‘Where’s this place you’re taking me, then?’ he asked. ‘The bunk-up, did you call it?’
She was about to glare and make some haughty remark, but he was grinning at her so cheekily, the words melted away. ‘That’s very forward of you, Ms Knight, if you don’t mind me saying,’ he added wickedly.
She could feel her cheeks flushing at his words. And her legs were going wonky and weak at his smile. And then suddenly, she laughed. She couldn’t help it. ‘I think you’ve got the wrong idea about me, sunshine,’ she said, trying as hard as she could to put on a snooty voice, but spoiling the effect by smiling.
He arched an eyebrow, then took her hand. ‘I don’t think so,’ he said.
Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Her heart was beating wildly and a fizzing sensation spread through her, like sherbet on her tongue. ‘I . . .’ she started, but words failed her. She was drowning in his eyes – no, not drowning, she corrected herself, that was a terrible cliché, one that only a wet-behind-the-ears hack would ever use . . . But oh, sometimes clichés worked so well . . .
She cleared her throat, aware that other members of staff were looking at them curiously. ‘I’m not sure if the bunker can match the thrills of the hospital canteen . . .’ she started – but then he was leaning in to kiss her, right there in the newsroom, with all the hacks whooping and cheering around them.
‘Get a room!’ someone yelled. But Georgia didn’t care. Owen was holding her and kissing her, kissing her, kissing her, and she was oh, just kissing him right back . . .
‘Welcome to London,’ she managed to say when they came up for air. Then she grinned at him and crooked her arm. ‘Shall we?’
It felt like the very best kind of skiving, leaving work with Owen, stepping into a purring black cab together and kissing feverishly as they were driven to the Wolseley. He had just a hint of stubble on his chin, and mmmm, his arms were so hard and muscular, just the way a man’s arms should be . . .
‘Here we are, lovebirds! The Wolseley, right?’
Georgia managed to disentangle herself and sign the chit. ‘Thanks,’ she said, taking Owen’s hand and dragging him along the seat. ‘This way, northern boy.’
She was spinning with excitement now that the realization was sinking in. She had a whole day out in London with Owen McIntosh. A date that he’d somehow wangled. Never in her wildest dreams had she thought this might happen!
The Wolseley was right on Piccadilly, a beautiful old listed building with stone arches at its front and high-vaulted ceilings and magnificent columns inside. ‘Wow,’ Owen said, gazing above his head as they walked in, and almost bumping into a grey-liveried waiter.
‘Wow, indeed,’ Georgia smiled. It felt nice to impress him, to show him a bit of her city. She’d make the most of it while it lasted. ‘We’ve got a table booked,’ she said to the waiter. ‘Georgia Knight?’
The waiter seated them quickly – good, at one of the nicest tables by the window – and brought them water. Georgia leaned over the table and took Owen’s hand. It seemed such a natural thing to do and yet so extraordinary at the same time. ‘So,’ she said. ‘Come on. Tell me what you’re doing here. Apart from snogging all my lipstick off.’
He put his other hand over hers. ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about you,’ he said. ‘I didn’t just imagine it, did I? There was something between us.’
She nodded. ‘Yes,’ she said. Oh
, she sighed inside.
Yes, Owen, yes!