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Heath Sheridan was going to kill her.
He was going to jump up and stomp around and scowl and say that he knew that he had made a huge, huge mistake trusting her with something as important as making the bridesmaid dresses for his dad's wedding.
Kate Lovat lifted her left arm and squinted at her wristwatch for the tenth time in the last five minutes, then winced, sighed out loud and joggled from foot to foot.
Amber had warned her that Heath hated people being late to meetings. Hated it.
After all, he wasn't some heart-throb student any longer. Heath Sheridan was a serious publishing executive running his own media empire. He might have turned up late for that Valentine's Day dance, but this was different. This was business.
And she was now officially, undeniably, without doubt, late.
As in already ten minutes late. And that was allowing for the fact that her grandmother's watch always ran slow.
If only she hadn't bumped into Patrick, the friend she shared her loft with, on her way out.
Of course Pat wanted to check that he hadn't left anything behind in the studio, and then they'd got talking about his leaving party and then Leo had arrived to organise the photo shoot and she'd finally escaped almost thirty minutes later. But it had always been the same. She was hopeless when it came to her friends.
Just like her business management skills.
Good thing that she was a goddess when it came to the actual tailoring.
Kate slumped into the corner of the carriage of the rush-hour train on the London underground with both arms wrapped so tightly around her precious dress box that whenever the carriage lurched to one side, she lurched with it.
Today, of all days, the tube was slow leaving every single station on the route from her lowly design studio to the posh central London address for Sheridan Press. It seemed to be teasing her and the faster she willed it to go, the slower it went.
She had given up apologising to the other passengers after the first few times she had crashed into them and braced herself against the grubby glass partition instead.
The fact that she was too vertically challenged, as her friend Saskia called it, to reach the plastic loop swinging above her head was entirely immaterial when every lurch and rattle of the train seemed to be calling out in a sing-song tune the word late, rattle, late, late, rattle, late. Taunting her.
But it didn't matter. She had worked so hard on these dresses and they were lovely.
She would make Amber proud of her and prove to Heath and the wedding guests and their friends, hairdressers, postmen and anyone else they knew, how fabulously professional and creative she was and that they should choose Katherine Lovat Designs to create all of their future outfits.
With a bit of luck this wedding would be exactly the type of promotional opportunity she had been looking for. The first three dresses had already been delivered to the bride and the fourth and final dress had been finished right on deadline. Just as she had promised it would be.
Now all she had to do was go out into a thunderstorm and deliver the final dressand she would be done.
Kate glanced down at her damp high-heeled peep-toe ankle boots and crunched her toes together several times to get the circulation going again.
Okay, maybe they weren't the most sensible footwear in the world for trudging through city streets on the way to make a special delivery, but it shouldn't be raining in July. It should be sunny and warm and the pavements dry enough to walk on without being in danger of being drenched from passing cars.
The train slowed but Kate's pulse started to race as she peered out at the curved tile walls as they pulled into the tube station.
This was it. She swallowed down a lump of anxiety and nervous tension the size of a wedding hat, and then she lifted her chin and turned on her trademark bright and breezy happy smile.
Nothing to see here, folks. Move along. Everything is fine in Kate land.
No problems at all.
The lease on the warehouse studio which she rented with Patrick had not just doubled in cost in the last year, Patrick had not just decided to leave London and move to Hollywood as a wardrobe assistant in the movie business and, biggest of all, she was totally, absolutely not nervous about meeting the man she was on her way to see at that minute.
Heath Sheridan was Amber's ex-stepbrother. That was all. And her silly teenage crush was over years ago!
So what if she had pounced on Heath the last time that she had seen him? They had both kissed a lot of other people since then. He was bound to have forgotten that embarrassing little incident wouldn't he?
She had never seen Heath since that night and he certainly hadn't got in touch with her. But of course that was the autumn his mother had been taken ill and coming back to London wasn't included in his plans.
No. This was a straightforward business transaction. Heath needed the last of the four bridesmaids' dresses today and was willing to pay extra to have it delivered in person.
Why should it matter if Heath saw her looking like a drowned rat? With her soggy bare toes sticking out of her damp designer boots?
He probably wouldn't even notice that she was late for their meeting. And wet.
And if he did, well, she could simply make a joke of her problems. The way she always did.
The glass doors slid open behind her back and Kate exploded onto the crowded platform with the crush of other passengers behind her with such momentum that she had to press one hand against the wall to protect her precious cargo.
And instantly winced.
She had just touched a wall decorated with graffiti, and who knew what else, with her white lace summer gloves.
Well, this day was getting better all the time.
It would actually be funny if she wasn't so nervous.
She sucked in a breath of hot fuel and soot-filled air charged with that tang of electricity from the tracks.
Nervous? Kate Lovat did not do nervous.
Kate Lovat was brave and strong and invincible and courageous.
Kate Lovat was going to exude an aura of total confidence and professionalism and Heath's family would recommend her work to all of their friends.
Kate Lovat had just spent an hour on her make-up so that it looked natural, and much longer choosing a professional outfit which would impress even the toughest of clients.
She clutched the dress box to her chest as she boarded the escalator.
She needed high-profile clients like the Sheridans to adore the bridesmaids' dresses she had created. After all, she had followed the brief Heath had emailed her to the letter.
Okay. Maybe she might have added a little something extra. After all, she had to stamp some Lovat flourish on her work. Otherwise, what would be the point of making something unique?
A smile crept up from her mouth to her eyes and a quick chuckle caught in her throat.
Watch out, Heath Sheridan. Ready or not, here I come. Get ready to be dazzled.
'The trade fair figures are not what we wanted, Heath. The presentations were brilliant and every buyer I spoke to was impressed with the quality of the hardbacks, but they are dragging their heels when it comes to firm orders,' Lucas explained, his exasperation clear even down the cellphone from a Malaysian hotel. 'The book stores simply don't want to hold a wide range of reference titles which only shift a few copies a year.'
Heath Sheridan scanned through the sales figures that had arrived onto his notebook computer in the past few minutes and quickly pulled together a comparison chart of how book sales were tracking in each region.
No matter how he mapped the data, the results were the same.
Sales were down in every category of reference book that had made Sheridan Press one of the few remaining commercially successful privately owned international publishing houses. The company had made its name one hundred and twenty years ago with high end, beautifully produced reference books. Biographies, dictionaries and atlases. Lovely books designed to last. And they did last. And that was the problem.
Over the past few weeks he had worked with Lucas and his talented marketing team to come up with a brilliant promotional campaign which focused on how Sheridan Press had invested in digital technology to illustrate the books which were still bound by hand so that every single reference book was a unique work of art. A superb combination of the latest technology with the finest handcrafting techniques that four generations of the Sheridan family had created.
Shame that the booksellers did not see it that way.
That was precisely the kind of approach that his father had been looking for when he'd asked Heath to inject some new blood into the companyand save the jobs of hundreds of employees who made up Sheridan Press in the process.
Growing up, he had spent more time watching men embossing gold letters onto beautiful books than he had watching sports. These men had given their lives to the Sheridan family, just as their fathers and grandfathers had done before them.
He could not fail them. He would not fail them.
Heath exhaled long and slow before replying to his father's Far East sales manager, who had lost just as much sleep as he had preparing for this sales trip. 'I know that you and your team did the very best you could, Lucasthank you for all of your hard work,' Heath said, trying to inject a lighter tone to his voice. 'Let's see what Hong Kong brings! I can just see all of those new undergraduates heading off to university with some Sheridan books under their arms this fall.'
'Absolutely.' Lucas laughed out loud. 'Call you when we get there. Ohand don't forget to take some time out to enjoy yourself at the wedding of the year. I'm glad I don't have to come up with a best man's speech for my own dad.'
'Hey! I'm going to be a great best man. But, talking about enjoying yourselfwhy not take the team out to celebrate on Saturday? I'll pick up the tab.'
'Sounds good to me. Call you later in the week.'
The cellphone clicked off, leaving Heath in silence, his quick brain working through the ramifications of the call. Frustration and exasperation combined with resigned acceptance. This promotional tour of the Far East book fairs had to pay for itself in increased sales. This was precisely the market the investment in new technology was designed to attract.
He had been convinced that the techniques that had worked so brilliantly in the commercial fiction line of the Sheridan publishing empire, could be applied to the reference book section. He had taken over a tiny and neglected division straight out of university and transformed it into one of the seven top commercial publishers in the world. The profits from Sheridan Media had been keeping Sheridan Press afloat for years.
Surely it was time to reap the benefits of ten years of driving himself with a punishing workload. When was the last time that he had a holiday? And what about the series of failed relationships and missed family events?
There had to be a way to use all of that hard-won success to save the reference books. And save his relationship with his father at the same time.
His father had reached out to ask for his business advice. It was a small stepbut a real step. And an important one in rebuilding their fragile family life. The media loved it and Heath had set up press releases and interviews which had rippled through the publishing world. New technology and traditional craftsmanship. Father and son. It was a golden ticket. Heath Sheridan was the equivalent of calling in the cavalry to save yet another much respected publisher from going to the wall.
He had jumped at the chance, excited by the possibilities. And excited by the opportunity to spend more time with Charles Sheridan. They had never had an easy-going relationship and this was the first time they had worked together as professionals.
Of course he hadn't counted on being asked to be best man at his own father's wedding. Especially considering who the bride was. That was an unexpected twist.
Asking for help or acknowledging any kind of problem had never been Charles Sheridan's strong point. Maybe he should report back on what Lucas had told him.
Heath flipped open his phone when there was a polite cough and he looked up, blinking. The car had pulled to a halt and his driver was standing on the pavement, holding the door open for him while the rain soaked into the shoulders of his smart jacket.
Apologising profusely, Heath generously tipped the driver and stepped out of the executive car his father had sent to collect him from the airport. He stood long enough to take one quick glance up at the elegant stone building that was now the London office of Sheridan Press before the reporters realised who he was and ran out from the shelter of the arched entrance, cameras flashing.
Heath pulled his coat closer as protection against the heavy rain and smiled at the press.
Dealing with the media was all part of the jobas long as they produced column inches in the financial and trade press, then he was happy.
'Mr Sheridan. Over here, sir. Mr Sheridan, is it true that you are taking over Sheridan Press when your father retires, Mr Sheridan?'
'What can you tell us about rumours that the printing operation is going overseas, Mr Sheridan?'
'How do you feel about being the best man at your father's wedding? Is it third time lucky for Charles Sheridan?'
'Thanks for coming out in this typically English summer weather, everyone.' Heath smiled and waved at the cameras before turning to the female reporter who had asked the last question. 'Alice Jardine is a lovely lady who my father has known for many years as a close friend. I wish them every happiness together. Of course I was delighted when my father asked me to be the best man at his wedding this weekendit isn't often that happens. As for the company? Business as usual, ladies and gentlemen. And no closures. Not while I am on the team. Thank you.'
And at that, by some unspoken signal, the main entrance doors slid open and Heath stepped inside with a quick smile and a wave.
But, just as he turned away from the press, a man's voice echoed from over his shoulder, 'Is it true that your late mother and Alice Jardine were good friends, Mr Sheridan? How do you feel about that?'
The doors slid shut and Heath carried on walking across the pale marble floor of the hallway, apparently deaf to the question, and it was only in the solitary space of the elevator that he slowly unclenched his fingers.
One by one. Willing each breath he took to slow down as the words of that last question repeated over and over again inside his head.
How did he feel about the fact that the woman who had been his mother's best friend was marrying his father?
How did he feel about the fact that Alice had been with his father while his mother lay dying in a hospice?
How did he feel?
Heath tugged hard at the double cuffs of his tailor-made shirt and fought back the temptation to hit something hard.
But that wouldn't fit into his carefully designed image.