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Little Lady, Big Apple

Little Lady, Big Apple

4.3 36
by Hester Browne
     
 

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In Hester Browne's "deliciously addictive" (Cosmopolitan) bestseller The Little Lady Agency, Melissa Romney-Jones transformed herself from doormat to diva as Honey, London's premier freelance girlfriend. Now, Melissa is about to take Manhattan, and its clueless bachelors, by storm!

With the Little Lady Agency doing a booming business back

Overview

In Hester Browne's "deliciously addictive" (Cosmopolitan) bestseller The Little Lady Agency, Melissa Romney-Jones transformed herself from doormat to diva as Honey, London's premier freelance girlfriend. Now, Melissa is about to take Manhattan, and its clueless bachelors, by storm!

With the Little Lady Agency doing a booming business back home, Melissa joins her dashing American boyfriend, Jonathan Riley, for an extended holiday in Manhattan. But she's soon out of her depth among Jonathan's hard-charging friends and his interfering ex-wife. And while she's all for shopping and sight-seeing, a covert work opportunity is an irresistible temptation — a project that soon lands her in the tabloids! Now, a hilarious and heartbreaking chain of events may force Melissa to choose between the man she loves and the unique man-handling business into which she has poured her heart and soul....

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A scrumptious treat."
Kirkus
Claudia Deane
It's all spun as light as lingerie, but it's also effortlessly witty and utterly winning.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
As readers of The Little Lady Agency know, Melissa Romney-Jones makes her living by offering helpless London bachelors "every girlfriend service a man could need, except sex and laundry." Her clients know her only as Honey Blennerhesket, but her up-and-coming American realtor boyfriend, Jonathan Riley, loves the real Melissa. His invitation for her to stay with him in New York for a month sets up the action in this delightful, Atlantic-straddling sequel. Melissa is initially unsure about the holiday-business is booming and her personal life is overflowing with drama-but she is soon noshing on bagels and strolling through Central Park. Jonathan begins making noise about getting engaged, but what would happen to Melissa's beloved agency? An observant and witty narrator, Melissa provides a grab bag of nifty outsider observations (Kate's Paperie is "a vast temple to stationery-based politeness"; an Upper East Side apartment building is "more lavishly appointed than most London hotel bars"), though Americans' dialogue can come off a bit stiffly British. Browne's series (a sequel is not so subtly hinted) is a bright spot in a bloated genre. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Melissa Romney-Jones, alias Honey Blennerhesket, is back in Browne's second novel (after The Little Lady Agency). And this time she is in New York City, where she's taken refuge with her American boyfriend, Jonathan, while her apartment is being renovated. Melissa has left her business, a freelance girlfriend service she runs as Honey, in the unreliable hands of her best friend, Gaby, and newly divorced sister, Allegra. Jonathan is pleased to see brunette Melissa, but he's not as excited to have blond Honey meet any of his friends. When Melissa finds herself doing some agency work for an expatriate British actor, she is forced to choose between the career she loves and Jonathan. Meanwhile, Jonathan seems to be spending a lot of time with his ex-wife under the guise of selling their jointly owned co-op apartment, and Gaby and Allegra seem to be missing in action, all of which necessitates some transatlantic juggling. Chick-lit fans will enjoy this fast-paced and entertaining book.
—Lisa O'Hara Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

Kirkus Reviews
London life coach crosses the pond to share her talents. Browne introduced Melissa Romney-Jones in The Little Lady Agency (2006). Now, a year later, the plucky Melissa has astonished friends and family by growing The Little Lady Agency into a lucrative business. It seems that London is teeming with bachelors in need of female advice. Now that business is booming, Melissa has sworn off wearing the blonde wig that helped transform her into her alter ego, Honey, a take-no-prisoners bombshell. Sometimes Melissa longs for the blonde tresses, especially when dealing with her high-strung family and high-maintenance clients. When a promotion forces her American boyfriend, Jonathan, to relocate to Manhattan, Melissa fears her charmed life has begun a downward spiral. Jonathan comes up with a solution: a month-long holiday to New York. There's one hitch-Jonathan's jealous of Melissa's male clients and wants Melissa to focus on their relationship while in the States. Once in New York, things don't pan out as Melissa envisioned. Ghosts of Jonathan's past marriage pop up, making Melissa feel insecure, and, due to the demands of Jonathan's job, she's not getting nearly enough quality time with him. Shopping can only entertain a girl for so long. Feeling idle, Melissa takes on a few freelance projects. Her moonlighting lands her in the tabloids and in hot water with Jonathan. When it seems that the relationship of these two careerists can't be salvaged, Melissa heads back to London to mend her broken heart and run her business. But there may be one last hope for romance. A scrumptious treat. Browne has managed to spruce up her writing for this second installment.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781416541547
Publisher:
Gallery Books
Publication date:
10/02/2007
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
400
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Enjoy the following excerpt from Hester Browne's next novel, THE LITTLE LADY AND THE PRINCE - available from Pocket Books.

The Blue Bar in the Berkeley Hotel was one of those fashionable places where everyone's head swivels when you come in, in case you're Someone, then swivels back when they've established you're Not. The small room was packed, and I couldn't spot Granny anywhere. Cigar smoke and hedge fund discussion hung heavy in the air as I inched my way through the hair extensions and Prada bags, checking discreetly to see if Prince Alexander was already here. There were at least four possibles in my immediate line of sight - far too tanned, well-groomed and well-dressed to be English.

A skinny woman with furiously plucked eyebrows gave my Diane von Furstenberg knock-off dress a very obvious once-over, and I felt the first flickers of "what am I doing here?" start to attack my stomach. No, I reminded myself firmly, you've got just as much right to be here as she has. Her dress might be more Bond Street than yours, but you're having dinner with two princes.

I stared right back, focusing my eyes a foot to the left of her head, and smiled at the light fixture. Unnerved after a second or two, she turned round to see who I was looking at, and, feeling a bit better, I got an elbowhold on the crowded bar and leaned forward to order a drink.

Almost immediately the barman seemed to gravitate toward me. It was a knack I had: Wish really hard to get served while leaning forward, and somehow I do. Nelson and Gabi always make me order for them when we go to the pub.

"A bottle of sparkling mineral water, please," I said, just for something to sip while I waited. The man to my right departed and I slipped onto his stool.

"Would you do me a favor and help me finish this bottle of champagne?" drawled the middle-aged man pressed up against my left arm.

I tried not to scan his face too obviously for signs of possible prince-ness. Last time Alexander and I met, ten years ago, he'd been being terribly reasonable about my wrecking the car he'd given Granny, and I'd been overwhelmed with mortification and whiplash. He probably wouldn't recognize me either, since I'd lost the braces and the strange haircut my sister Allegra had performed on me that summer.

"Er, thank you," I stalled. The tie looked expensive enough, for a start. "How kind of you. I'm Melissa."

"Hello, Melissa." As if by magic a champagne flute had arrived, and he filled it and pushed it over to me.

I didn't like to say, "Are you Alexander?" straight out. He was already smiling in a manner that suggested we knew each other pretty well.

"So..." I said, searching desperately for something to say that wouldn't incriminate me one way or another. "Are you staying here?"

Was that a shadow of a wink? "Perhaps. It depends on the company."

Argh. What did that mean? Was it a business trip he was on? I didn't think princes worked for anyone.

"Are you?" he went on.

"No," I faltered. "I, er, live just down the road."

"How convenient." He smiled in a very intimate fashion, and I could feel myself being pushed nearer him by the crush of customers behind us. I resisted as best I could, but there was a very persistent banker shoving his way to the bar behind me.

"I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name...?" I began, but my voice was swallowed up by the barman shaking a cocktail very loudly in front of me.

"Have you been in the roof top pool?" the man went on, as I began to panic. "The roof goes right back and you can swim beneath the stars - it's quite an experience."

"Oh," I said, with a little laugh. "Silly me! I forgot my swimsuit!"

"No need for that, necessarily...."

And that definitely was a wink.

Just as my mouth was opening and shutting in speechless surprise, I noticed heads turning back and forth toward the door, and I realized Granny had walked in - with a tall, elegant man who could only be Prince Alexander.

A strong gust of Givenchy Gentleman mixed with cigars hoved in from my left. It was hoving in very close. "What a pretty brooch. Does it come off?"

Aghast, I slapped my hand over my cleavage and leaned as far away as I could without falling off my stool, as Granny and Alexander glided across the bar like a pair of swans.

She was looking supremely gracious in the sort of understated shift only the seriously stylish or very tall can carry off, with a set of diamonds that definitely weren't paste. He was looking impeccable in a navy suit that set off his gray hair and dark eyes. Together, they radiated a warm glow of confidence that made everyone else in the room look desperately over-dressed. I noticed too that he had one hand just resting on the small of Granny's back to guide her into the room - a tiny, old-fashioned gesture that was simultaneously protective and proud.

I knew it well, since Jonathan did it to me.

When Granny saw me, she raised a hand in greeting while Alexander turned to murmur something to the waiter who'd materialized out of nowhere.

"Excuse me," I said apologetically to the champagne man. "My date has arrived."

He boggled at me.

"Thanks for the champagne," I added, slipping off the stool as fast as I could. "Terribly sweet of you."

Across the room, a party of Russians was being unceremoniously turfed out of their prime spot so Granny could arrange herself on an easy chair, which she did with an air of delight, as if the table had been free all the time. She beckoned me over and I inched my way through the crowds, feeling quite nervous and unsophisticated again.

"Darling!" said Granny, half-rising to give me a kiss. "You look absolutely gorgeous! I bet you can hardly recognize little Melissa, can you, Alex? Hasn't she grown up into a beautiful woman?"

Alexander turned to me, and to the fluttering of my heart, made a very tiny little bow of his head, then took my hand, and raised it to his lips.

To be honest, huge clichè or not, I could have swooned right then and there, even if he didn't look like Clark Gable. Which he did.

My father might have been a Premier League Silver Fox, but Alexander was World Cup standard. An international charmer with the sort of old-school manners that flirted with self-parody but only in such a way to make him even more attractive. His silvery hair was thick, and swept back off his high forehead, and his brown eyes hinted at how dark and pirate-y he must have been in his youth. Yes, he had some wrinkles, but they were wrinkles of distinguishment. Wrinkles that laughed at Botox or face lifts. Alexander was clearly one of those rare men, like Paul Newman, who just kept becoming more attractive the older he got.

Not that I could see Alexander bothering with salad dressing. Caviar spoons, maybe.

"Of course I remember Melissa," he said, as a kindly twinkle came into his hooded eyes. "She has always had her grandmother's lovely smile. And now I see she has her grandmother's wonderful style too." The twinkle turned into a little private joke sort of intimacy. "I hope there have been no more...driving incidents?"

"Gosh, no," I said, gasping a little. "I'm perfectly safe behind the wheel these days. Terribly reliable. You know, I'm still so sorry about..."

"Oh, these things happen," he said, as if one wrote off cars every day of the week. "There's nothing wrong with a lady who drives with a bit of elan, Melissa," he added gallantly. "It's rather exciting." He looked over my head and caught Granny's eye. "Your grandmother, for instance, was a terror behind the wheel."

"Not just behind the wheel, either," Granny murmured with an innocent look.

"Her navigation isn't up to much," I agreed. "She can only do directions via shops and people's houses."

"Quite," said Alexander. "These days, I find it much easier to let my driver worry about that sort of thing." He nodded at Granny, who gave him a little twinkly smile. "Much nicer to sit in the back and admire the view."

"Don't you find she's a bit of a back-seat driver, though?" I asked. "She's always..."

Was Alexander suppressing a snort?

"Melissa is by far my most charming grandchild," Granny interjected, taking a glass, "and has the sort of innocence that quite restores my faith in humanity. Anyway, cheers!" She lifted her glass. "To old friends!"

I raised my flute and looked around the room to see if the fourth member of our party was anywhere in sight. Granny and Alexander were already chinking their glasses and muttering some Greek cheers-type phrase at each other.

"Um, cheers, but shouldn't we wait for Nicolas?" I suggested politely.

Alexander shrugged his shoulders and shook his head as if it went without saying. "He will be late. And I wanted to enjoy the pleasure of a quiet drink with you two ladies before the circus arrived. Can you blame me for wanting a few minutes of you to myself? We have so much to catch up on."

I giggled and looked over at Granny. She was smiling like the cat who'd got the cream, the cow, and the farmhand.

We spent the next half hour or so having the sort of elegant, grown-up conversation I used to daydream about when I was at school: Alexander asked intelligent questions about my experiences in Paris and what I thought of London compared to New York, and gave every indication of actually listening to my replies, while our glasses were topped up invisibly and fresh nibbles appeared. We skirted a little around the topic of my Agency, sticking mainly to the makeover side of things, and it seemed that Granny had filled him in - how much, though, I couldn't quite work out.

"You know, if I eat any more of these I'll ruin my appetite for dinner," I said ruefully, scooping up another small handful of honey-roasted cashews.

"I like a lady with an appetite," said Alexander, causing Granny to smile Sphinx-ishly. Suddenly, a waiter appeared at his side and murmured something in his ear. Alexander frowned and murmured something back, and the man disappeared.

Granny checked her watch. "Alex, darling, I know you're being polite, but I simply don't think we can wait any longer for Nicolas." She gave him a private look. "In fact, I don't think we should. He needs to learn that you simply can't keep people waiting."

I popped a cashew in my mouth and was surprised to see a grim expression spread over Alexander's handsome face.

Oh no. Had there been some drama already?

"He's already here, Dilys," he said through clenched teeth. "He's been here for a good thirty minutes."

"Really?" I almost laughed with relief. "Don't tell me - he's sitting round the corner? Oh, gosh, I've done that myself, so many times..."

"He's in the pool." Alexander clenched even harder.

"Oh no!" said Granny. "How tiresome of him! He knew we had a dinner reservation..."

"In the roof-top pool?" I repeated. "Is he a keen swimmer?"

As if in answer to my question, a young man with the most outrageously room-stopping aura I've ever seen appeared with a man I took to be the manager. I wouldn't say the manager was manhandling him, but there did seem to be a certain tension between the two. Whatever it was, everyone's jaw dropped.

"Evening all," said Prince Nicolas of Hollenberg, with a wink in my direction. "Nice tits."

Instinctively, I clapped a hand to my cleavage, not wanting to meet the flirtatious gaze he was directing up and down between my face and my chest. Even my neck was blushing.

"Nicolas!" hissed Alexander, his voice turning all clipped, like Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music. The man was a total film star. "Can you explain yourself?"

Nicolas paused, and pressed his lips together as if in thought. He dripped onto the floor. I must admit that I was staring at his feet because I didn't dare look any further up - whether for fear of encouraging him, or for fear of being hypnotized like a rabbit by his huge brown eyes, I didn't like to say.

Then he ran his hand through his wet hair. "Not really. Fancied a dip. Hopped in. With a couple of friends." He sounded a little drunk already.

"We do not allow swimming in outdoor clothes," said the manager, with an impressive note of apology in his voice. "So we were forced to remove the prince from the pool."

"I am at a loss for words," said Alexander. "I am aghast."

"I know!" said Nicolas. "I took my bloody shoes off."

Alexander shot Nicolas a look which would have reduced even Allegra to tears, but seemed to have little or no effect.

"I take it you won't be joining us for dinner?" enquired Granny, icily.

Nicolas shrugged. "No, that should be OK. I'm having some more clothes sent round on a bike."

"I'm pleased to hear that," said Granny, sounding anything but.

"What were you thinking?" demanded Alexander. He made a tiny gesture with his head toward me, and looked even more furious. "You knew we had guests for dinner. Nicolas, it's the height of rudeness..."

Nicolas rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. Rooftop swimming pool - has to be done."

"It does not 'have to be done'," snapped Alexander. "Why would it have to be done?"

"It's a phrase."

Nicolas turned to me, as if to say, "Huh! Old people! What do they know?" but I gave him the freeze. If he thought I was the kind of girl who would be happy to be tossed fully-clothed into a swimming pool, he was very wrong indeed.

Besides, from what I could see, he was a good ten years too old to be excited about that sort of thing.

"Does she speak?" he enquired of his grandfather, nodding at me. "Or is she just here for decoration?"

Up to that point, I'd been somewhat tongue-tied, not because Nicolas was technically royal, but because he was astonishingly good-looking. It pained me to admit it of a man so deeply in love with his own charms, but Nicolas was actually more gorgeous in the flesh than he was in the back of Tatler. Even in a bathrobe, with his black hair wet and slicked back, and five o'clock shadow tracing along his strong jaw, he managed to look as if he were en route to some A-list "come in your bathrobe" party.

However, equally obviously, he was also an arrogant, sexist, spoiled young man, and for me, that over-rode everything else, just like bad breath can ruin a fabulous outfit.

Even as I thought that, a little voice in my head was telling me not to be such a prig and to look at his fabulous swimmer's shoulders. Argh.

"Yes, she does speak," I said quickly, before Granny or Alexander could speak for me.

"And what does she say?" he drawled.

"She says, you're dripping onto my handbag."

He stared at me, and I stared back. If he'd been nice, I'd have been intimidated by his jet-set attitude, but being this uncouth didn't make him any different from the scores of surly blokes I dealt with on a daily basis. Nelson and Jonathan had raised my expectations, as far as manners went. Even Roger might smell weird but he was never rude.

Anyway, poor Alexander was now clearly mortified as well as angry. And it was a new Lulu Guinness evening bag that I'd brought out especially for the occasion.

"I do have that effect on girls," Nicolas drawled, raking his hair back.

"And what's that?" I said.

He winked at me. "Damp patches."

Granny took a sharp, disapproving breath.

I gave her a puzzled "What?" look.

"I know how to deal with drips," I said politely, moving my bag away from him. "They're quite easy to brush off."

"Book a room, wait there for your clothes and join us as soon as you can once you're decent," said Alexander in a low, dangerous tone.

"Oh, yeah, I booked a room already," Nicolas said, and turned his chocolate-brown eyes toward me again. "Room 202. Two-oh-two." The long lashes brushed his cheek as he winked slowly. "Shall I write it down on a napkin?"

"If you think you need help remembering it," I said politely.

"Go!" thundered Alexander, so forcefully that several heads turned and didn't turn back again.

There was a tense pause, then Nicolas shrugged, helped himself to my glass of champagne and swaggered off.

I watched him go, unable to take my eyes off his bathrobe. He didn't shuffle, or slouch, as most of my English clients did. He sauntered.

What an idiot, I reminded myself.

Granny, Alexander and I repaired to the luxurious dining room of Petrus next door, where Alexander wasted no time in ordering some wine for the three of us.

"I'm so sorry," he said, once our glasses were filled and the menus handed out. "He knew exactly what time we were meeting."

"I have no doubt," murmured Granny.

"Never mind," I said, trying to sound blasè. "It was lovely to have some time to chat on our own."

Alexander inclined his head graciously. "You're too sweet, Melissa. I can only apologize on his behalf."

Granny tutted to herself. "Well, as you can see, Alexander really needs some outside help," she said. "And, as I've told him, I don't know anyone who could do a better job of knocking some sense into Nicky than you." She took a large sip of wine. "Any sense at all would be a good start."

"Dilys," began Alexander, with a swift look over the table at me, "you know, perhaps it's a little unfair to Melissa to..."

Granny held up a hand. "Not at all. Melissa's dealt with much more awful types than Nicky, haven't you, darling? That dreadful actor boy in New York, for instance - tell Alexander about him."

"Well," I began, turning pink, "Godric wasn't so awful - he was just a fish out of water, and I helped him to-"

"He was an embarrassment," interrupted Granny. "Have you heard of him, Alex, darling? Ric Spencer? English actor, was in that film with the big plane crash? Anyway, he was upsetting people, sulking in interviews, no idea how to behave whatsoever. And Melissa stepped in and smoothed off his edges, and now he's meant to be the next Hugh Grant, isn't he? Did you tell me he's in the running for James Bond?"

I blushed. "Yes, well, that was meant to be confidential..."

Alexander sighed deeply. "Dilys, I don't doubt Melissa's...capabilities for a second. I just wonder if it's fair to land her with such an uphill task." He smiled sadly at me.

Granny flapped her hands.

"Just what exactly is this uphill task?" I asked sweetly. "If you would explain exactly what it is, I'll be able to tell you whether I'm up to it or not."

Alexander and Granny looked at each other.

"He's your grandson, Alex," said Granny encouragingly. "Better explain before he gets back, don't you think?"

Alexander hesitated, then looked me square in the eye.

I tried not to melt.

"My father was the last reigning prince-governor of a small province on the Montenegran coast," he said. "It wasn't large, but we had a beautiful, ancient castle, and a wonderful forest where we kept truffle hounds...Anyway, there was a revolution in the nineteen thirties, long before your time, of course..."

"And ours, darling," Granny reminded him.

Alexander allowed himself a little smile. "And ours. In any case, we were forced to abandon our family home in a great hurry, and move to France, but I have dreamed of returning ever since. And now, I am so pleased to say, there's a chance that we can."

"Oh, how lovely!" I exclaimed. "Just like a film!"

"Ah." He raised a finger. "As ever, there are conditions. The country is very poor, and we must maintain the castle ourselves, which is not a problem. It would be an honour to return it to the state I remember from my childhood. And we must allow people to look around some of it, and allow the BBC to film some drama there once a year, or somesuch. My lawyers are looking into that. But the main difficulty is that the government is very traditional. They want a family, a respectable family that they can show off to tourists." He shrugged his shoulders in a gorgeously European manner.

"Ah," I said, beginning to understand.

"My daughter, Oriane, is not..." He turned to Granny. "What is the best way to put this, Dilys?"

"Oriane reminds me very much of your mother," said Granny, looking at me meaningfully. "I think they have the same taste in spas. And detox centers. And kinesiologists."

"She is not the same after the last divorce," agreed Alexander.

"And Nicky's father?"

"We do not speak of him," he said gravely.

"Racing driver," murmured Granny under her breath.

"It has been made very clear to me that unless Nicky shows he can calm his behavior, take on some responsibility, the deal cannot go ahead. And my family will lose this last chance. I must confess, yes, I would like to see him settled down, and thinking of a family, instead of just his own pleasure. But not with someone who'll make the situation..." He paused. "Worse." Alexander looked up at me, concerned. "I'm afraid he won't meet the right girl, the way he is now. Or that she would be horrified by his selfish behavior. Would you want to marry him, Melissa?"

"Well..." I stammered, not sure what the polite response was.

"No, you wouldn't." Alexander shook his head. "And that makes all of us so unhappy. Ours isn't an illustrious family, but it's an old one, and our name has never, ever, been dragged through the tacky papers this way. We do not want Nicolas to end up with a trapeze artist, in and out of the divorce courts, children everywhere."

"But, if he wants to..." I began.

"Nicolas does exactly what he wants," said Granny tartly. "That's the point. But he wants all the fun of being a prince, and none of the responsibility that goes with it.'

Alexander raised his majestic, sad eyes to mine, with what I assumed was several hundred years' worth of dispossessed royalty. "What I would like to engage you to do, Melissa, is simply show him the right way to behave. For a few months."

"Improve his profile," added Granny. "Be seen with him at a few art galleries and museums, instead of the usual trampy masseurs he falls asleep on in that nightclub." Her brow furrowed. "What's it called? That one Prince Harry goes to."

"Boujis," I said automatically. But a dread thought was dawning on me. "Be seen with Nicky?" What exactly had Granny told Alexander about my Agency? "You don't want me to pretend to be his girlfriend, do you?" I looked at Alexander. "Perhaps I didn't mention it, but Jonathan is my fiancè. We were engaged at Christmas. He would..." I stopped myself saying "go nuclear if I did this again" and corrected it to, "be very reluctant to agree to my doing this."

Alexander opened his mouth, but Granny cut in. "Think of it more as image consulting," she said. "Like a PR expert."

Just as I was searching for the right way of pointing out that rebranding Prince Nicolas was more than most experienced PRs would take on, Alexander suddenly threw his napkin on the plate, got to his feet and excused himself.

Nicolas had appeared at the door, dressed in a tight shirt with three buttons undone, a pair of dark jeans, held up with a belt that screamed "this buckle is made from gold by Gucci!", and loafers.

I didn't need to inspect his feet to guess that he wouldn't have bothered with socks.

Granny and I watched as Alexander opened his arms wide, and escorted his grandson out of the dining room with all the appearance of warm family feeling. I knew enough about displays of warm family feeling to suspect it was anything but.

"Probably going to lend him a tie," I suggested, to break the silence.

Granny put out a bejewelled hand and grasped mine over the table. I braced myself for some serious persuasion. No one in my entire family could ask for anything normally. More worryingly from my point of view, none of them could take no for an answer either.

"Please, darling," she said in a low, impassioned voice. "You're the only person Alex can turn to! I have heard him dream about that castle for forty-five years!"

"Ladle on the emotional blackmail, why don't you?" I said faintly.

"Think of it as a challenge then!" She arched her eyebrow. "And what about the knock-on effect it'll have for the rest of your business?"

"But Jonathan would never agree to let me do something like this again," I insisted. "Not after Godric. He hates the idea of me getting emotionally entangled in other men's problems - and this is obviously a big family issue!"

"Well, isn't Jonathan in Paris these days?"

"There are newspapers in Paris," I reminded her.

She made a dismissive gesture and played what was obviously her trump card. "Anyway, we haven't even discussed terms yet. I know Alex is prepared to be very generous."

"That doesn't make the slightest difference," I said stoutly.

"What a shame. Never mind." Granny picked up a menu and began to study it.

We examined the entrees in strained silence.

The mental image of the letter from my landlord floated in front of the tempting list of goodies.

Exactly how generous was generous?

Generous enough for me to buy my office?

I bit my lip.

"Alexander is such a darling," mused Granny, as if apropos of nothing. "He was all for giving you a separate clothing allowance too, since you'd have to dress up for events and so on, and he doesn't want to put you to personal expense." She looked up. "Isn't that thoughtful?"

I narrowed my eyes. "Don't bother going down that road. You know I make most of my own clothes."

She smiled beatifically. "You've got so many talents, darling."

We went back to studying our menus.

"And then there's the car," added Granny without lifting her gaze from the card. "You'd have had to have a car and a driver. Wouldn't that be fun? No having to go mad finding a parking meter outside the shops! And did I ever tell you Alexander has the most gorgeous old yacht? He'd love to invite both of us out to the Med for a sail...What do you think about the quails' eggs here? Nice, or not?"

"Don't tell me - he has Harrods discount cards and his own vineyards!" I said, finally snapping. "And what's your cut in all this?"

Her head bounced up but I could see a triumphant sparkle in her pale blue eyes. "Melissa!" she exclaimed reproachfully. "I'm helping a dear old friend in a very trying time. I'm sure you'd do exactly the same." She paused. "If it was an old, dear friend of yours."

"Hmm," I said, trying to maintain my own stern expression. I knew what she was getting at. At least she hadn't stooped to mentioning Nelson by name, as Daddy would almost certainly have done. And she had a point: if Nelson's grandson turned out to be a notorious letdown, making Nelson miserable in the process, I'd be itching to sort him out by whatever means possible too.

Of course, first Nelson would have to get married and have children, which was hard enough to picture in itself.

Granny's radar must have picked up my weakening because she went in for the kill. "There's nothing wrong with cutting a good deal, darling," she said. "It's good business! I'm sure Jonathan would approve. And do I need to say that you would have my undying gratitude for ever and ever, amen? I mean," she added, as if it had just occurred to her, "I did help you out when you needed that money to start up your business in the first place, didn't I?"

Oh God. Granny really knew how to twang my heartstrings. And she was right about the loan: if she hadn't lent me the cash to start up the Little Lady Agency, there wouldn't be an Agency at all.

I turned my attention back to the menu, and let her stew while I chewed it over.

At the end of five minutes I said, distantly, "I'll have to ask Jonathan.'

"Thank you, darling," said Granny. "Oh, look! Here come the men!"

Meet the Author

Hester Browne is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including The Little Lady Agency in the Big Apple, The Finishing Touches, and Swept Off Her Feet. She lives in London and Herefordshire with her two Basset hounds Violet and Bonham.

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