Read an Excerpt
staying at daisy's
By Jill Mansell
Sourcebooks, Inc. Copyright © 2011 Jill Mansell
All rights reserved.
In the absence of a gavel, Hector MacLean seized a heavy glass ashtray and rattled it against the mahogany-topped bar.
'Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. Quiet at the back there, you Aussie riffraff. I feel the need to propose a toast. Over here, darling, over here.' Beckoning Daisy towards him, he slung an arm round her waist. 'And now would you all raise your glasses ... to my beautiful daughter.'
'To your beautiful daughter,' chorused everyone in the room, causing Daisy to roll her eyes.
Honestly, did he have to be quite so embarrassing?
'You missed a bit out,' she told him. 'What you actually meant to say was "To my beautiful, intelligent, and staggeringly hard-working daughter, without whom this hotel would crumble and go out of business within a week."'
'All that. Absolutely. Goes without saying.' Hector gestured expansively with his tumbler of Glenmorangie. 'Everyone here already knows that. Just as they know you're also stubborn, bossy, and incredibly lacking in modesty. But I'm still proud of you. Considering all you ever did at school was smoke and play truant, and your mother and I never thought you'd amount to anything, you've turned out pretty well. And now, for my next toast, I'd like you all to raise your glasses once more to dear old Dennis.'
'Dear old Dennis,' they all bellowed back at him, even those guests who hadn't the foggiest idea who Dennis was. That was the thing about Hector MacLean, his enthusiasm and joie de vivre was infectious.
As usual, Daisy marveled, and in no time at all, a quiet gathering for a few drinks had turned into an impromptu, rip-roaring party. It wouldn't be long now before her father called for his accordion and got the dancing underway. The fact that they were all supposed to be taking advantage of these few relatively peaceful days—the Christmas guests having departed and the New Year's Eve ones yet to arrive—was of no consequence to Hector. The fact that it was December the twenty-eighth was, as far as he was concerned, a good enough reason to celebrate. Why take it easy when you could be having fun?
Daisy, glad that her spritzer was nine-tenths soda water, eased herself onto a bar stool while her father greeted a couple of late arrivals as though they were his dearest friends.
'At last! How marvelous! Listen, we're in danger of having a bit of a knees-up—either of you two handy with a piano?'
One of the Australians materialized at Daisy's side as she was busily lining her empty stomach with cashews and roasted almonds. Not ideal but better than nothing.
'Your dad's a character. When this place was recommended to us, we thought Jeez, some old country house hotel full of la-di-da tweedy women and pompous old colonel types, no way. But our friends promised us it wasn't like that here, and they were right. This place is great.'
'You may change your mind,' said Daisy, 'when my father gets his bagpipes out.'
'You're kidding!' The Australian's face lit up. 'He actually plays the bagpipes?'
'No. He just thinks he can. If you know what's good for you,' Daisy whispered, 'you'll persuade him to stick with the accordion.'
He laughed, even though she hadn't been joking.
'And who's this other guy we just drank to, dear old Dennis? Is he someone else who works here?'
'Ah well. Dennis is our benefactor. Without him,' Daisy explained, 'we wouldn't have this hotel.'
'You mean he owns it?'
Behind the bar, Rocky casually flipped a tumbler into the air and caught it. No one was currently drinking cocktails but he did it anyway. Grinning at Daisy, he began to whistle a catchy tune.
'You probably know Dennis,' Daisy told the Australian. Tilting her head in Rocky's direction she added, 'If you recognize that song, you definitely know him.'
Standing next to the Australian, Tara Donovan joined in the whistling. The Australian frowned. 'It's that kid's thing, yeah? Dennis the Dashing Dachshund? I'm sorry, you've lost me.'
Unable to help themselves—they'd started so they'd finish—Rocky and Tara whistled and jiggled their way through to the end of the song.
'My father may not have been blessed with many brilliant ideas in his lifetime,' Daisy said fondly, 'but twenty-five years ago he had an excellent one. He came up with Dennis.'
'You're kidding! Are you serious? That's incredible!' The Australian slapped his knee in delight. 'I used to buy those books for my kids.'
Rocky was well away now, tap-dancing behind the bar and singing under his breath, 'My name is Dennis, the dashing dachshund,' because Dennis danced like Fred Astaire and Rocky liked to show off the fact that he had been to stage school.
Actually, Daisy amended, he just liked to show off. Then again, it was why she had hired him in the first place.
'Dad used to make up stories for me when I was small,' Daisy told the enthralled Australian, 'about this effeminate dachshund. But I didn't know what he looked like so Dad started drawing pictures of him. I took the pictures into school, told the stories to my friends, and the next thing we knew, all the mothers were asking where they could get hold of these Dennis books their kids kept pestering them for. So Dad sent his stories off to a publisher and they snapped them up. Then a TV company got involved and Dennis fever took off—soft toys, games, pajamas, the whole merchandising malarkey. All from one dear little idea. Dad sold the rights five years ago and bought this place,' Daisy concluded. 'So you see, we owe everything to Dennis.'
'I used to have a Dennis the Dachshund duvet cover,' Rocky put in cheerfully. 'And Dennis slippers with ears on them that waggled when you walked.'
'I had Dennis everything.' Daisy groaned and pulled a face. 'By the time I was nine it was embarrassing. All I cared about then was Madonna.'
One of the late arrivals was being persuaded to go and fetch his harmonica; he might not be able to play the piano but, Hector assured him, a mouth organ would do just as well.
'I love this place,' exclaimed the Australian. 'I must go and talk to your dad.'
'Are you all right?' Rocky leaned across the bar and lowered his voice as the man moved away. 'You look a bit ... knackered.'
'Me? I'm fine!' Daisy realized he'd caught her off guard for a moment. What was the difference between putting on a brave front and telling a great big bare-faced lie? 'Of course I'm fine, why wouldn't I be?'
Rocky shrugged, reached for the silver tongs, and lobbed a couple of ice cubes into a tumbler.
'Thought you might be missing Steven. When's he back?'
'New Year's Eve.' Scooping up another handful of nuts, Daisy gave him a bright smile. Rocky wasn't wild about Steven, she knew that, and he might even have an inkling about the events of the previous week, but there was no way in the world she was going to blurt out the whole story. She hadn't told a soul. Not Tara, not even her own father. For now, she just had to carry on as if nothing was wrong.
'Because if you're feeling a bit lonely, I know just the thing to cheer you up.' Rocky waggled a playful eyebrow as he said it, flashing her his naughtiest Robbie Williams smirk. 'I'm young, single, and available. Not to mention totally irresistible.'
Rocky was twenty-three, with a wicked smile and a peroxide crop. His favorite band was Oasis, which meant she could never fancy him in a million years.
'It's really kind of you to offer.' Solemnly, Daisy patted his hand. 'But you're five years younger than me. You think Liam Gallagher's a cool bloke.' She frowned, pretending to think for a moment. 'Oh yes, I knew there was something else. And I'm married.'
'You don't know what you're missing. I'm at my sexual peak.'
'I'm still married.' God help me.
Rocky said, 'Is that all that's stopping you? I'm sure we can sort something out.' Privately, he didn't think much of marriage if what Daisy and Steven shared was a shining example. Daisy might be pretending everything was great, but you only had to see the two of them together to guess there were problems. The chief one being the fact that Steven Standish was a prize prat.
'What are you two talking about?' Tara shimmied up to them in search of more wine. Drinking and partying was so much more fun than being a chambermaid, she couldn't imagine why she wasn't allowed to do it for a living. She'd make such a great It girl, if only she could have been christened Tinker Tonker-Parkinson. Fate was truly unfair.
'Sex,' Daisy announced with a wink. 'And the fact that poor old Rocky here isn't getting any.'
'I didn't say that. I didn't say I wasn't getting any,' protested Rocky, who wasn't. 'I just offered Daisy the opportunity of a lifetime and she's pretending not to be interested, going all prim on me, making out she doesn't want to upset her husband.'
'We've got a visitor.' Tara nudged Daisy, drawing her attention to the police car moving slowly up the drive. Turning back to Rocky she said, 'Opportunity of a lifetime? You? Oh dear, what a shame, now you'll have to be arrested. The big scary policeman's going to charge you with deception and fraud.'
'On the other hand,' Rocky jeered, 'they could be here to arrest you for thinking you're funny when you're not.'
This was typical of the way Rocky and Tara carried on.
'They can't have come to complain about Dad's bagpipes.' Daisy was indignant. 'He hasn't even got them out yet.'
The panda car drew to a halt at the top of the drive. Through the French windows they watched Barry Foster, their local policeman, haul himself out and mutter a few words into his walkie-talkie. As he slammed the driver's door shut and moved towards the entrance to the hotel, Daisy slid off her high stool. 'I just hope he hasn't come to arrest any of our guests.'
'Unless it's that one.' Tara grimaced in the direction of the Dubliner who only thought he could play the mouth organ. 'Oh well, obviously,' said Daisy with a grin. 'He's welcome to take Mr Harmonica.'
* * *
In Daisy's office, Barry Foster pulled out a handkerchief and surreptitiously wiped his perspiring palms. Being the bearer of bad news was the thing he hated most about his job.
The green and gold wallpapered walls of the office appeared to be moving in and out. Daisy blinked slowly in an effort to get them to stay still.
'Look, it must be some kind of mistake.' She paused, licking dry lips. 'Steven isn't even in Bristol. He's up in Glasgow, visiting his grandfather. He's not due back until New Year's Eve.'
Barry gave her a sympathetic look. He knew and liked Daisy. Knew Steven too.
'I'm sorry, love. It was Steven's car. His driver's license was in his wallet ... would you like a glass of water?'
'No thanks.' Daisy shook her head, aware of her heart pounding in her chest. The accident had happened on Siston Common, according to Barry. Less than ten miles away. Steven's BMW had skidded on a patch of ice and smashed into a wall. But Barry was still looking uncomfortable, as if there was something else he hadn't quite plucked up the courage to tell her yet.
'Oh God.' Daisy swallowed hard. 'Is he dead?'
'No, no,' Barry said hurriedly. 'No, love, he's not dead. It's serious, like I said. Condition critical. But he's still alive, I promise you that.'
Critical. With a head injury. Deeply unconscious.
'So why are you ...?' Nodding at his hands, Daisy mimicked the agitated handkerchief-crushing movements. None of this made sense; Steven had phoned her last night from Glasgow and moaned about the weather up there. He had talked about buying tickets to see Glasgow Rangers play at home tomorrow. He was arranging for a plumber to come to his grandfather's house to fix the broken thermostat on the boiler.
And no, he hadn't told his grandfather about the other thing. Poor old fellow, he was eighty-three, didn't he already have enough to cope with?
'Daisy, I'm really sorry. Steven wasn't alone in the car when it crashed.'
'What?' For a split second she thought he meant Steven had had his grandfather with him.
But no, of course he hadn't meant that. The reason for the hand-wringing abruptly became clear, zooming into focus like a Nikon.
'Go on,' Daisy prompted. It was like the end of a crime thriller, suddenly realizing who the murderer was.
'He ... um ... had a girl with him.' Barry clearly wasn't happy; in fact, he was the one who looked as if he could do with a stiff drink.
Daisy frowned. 'You mean a girlfriend-type girl?'
'Ah, well ... looks that way, yes.'
'And is she unconscious too?'
'No. No, love. She was lucky. Escaped with minor injuries.'
Is this really happening? To me?
Daisy discovered she'd been twirling a long strand of hair round her index finger so tightly the end of her finger had gone blue. Beyond the closed office door she heard a burst of laughter drifting through from the bar and the sound of an accordion being revved up.
She really should tell Hector what was going on, but it was all so complicated. How could she explain something like this when she was still so confused herself?
'They're having a party.' Daisy gestured—fairly unnecessarily—in the direction of the bar. 'I don't want to spoil it for everyone else. My car's parked behind the hotel.'
'You don't want to drive, love.' Barry's chins wobbled as he shook his head. 'I can take you to the hospital.'
'No need. I'm OK.' Daisy wondered if she should be crying. The walls of the office had stopped going in and out, which was something to be grateful for. Somewhat shakily, she stood up. 'I'll be fine.'CHAPTER 2
Fifteen minutes down the motorway was all it took to reach Frenchay Hospital on the outskirts of Bristol. For the first time in years Daisy drove without music blasting from the stereo to sing along to. Nor, when she parked the car in the tree-lined avenue next to the wards, did she reach automatically into her bag to redo her lipstick in the rearview mirror.
It was three forty-five. The sky was darkening from ash-grey to charcoal and lights were flickering on in the various buildings that made up the hospital. Daisy followed a sign pointing the way to the intensive care unit. Staff and visitors were walking around as if nothing had happened. A small girl let out a shriek of outrage as she dropped her bag of candy on the path outside the hospital shop.
How could Steven have been seeing someone else?
The doctor was incredibly kind. He explained the functions of the various types of machinery that surrounded Steven's bed. This was the ventilator, which was taking care of his breathing. This smaller one was the EKG machine, monitoring his heartbeat. That clip on his finger was a pulse oximeter, the intravenous line enabled them to administer the various medications he needed, and the drip was supplying him with fluids.
The intensive care unit was ultra-bright. Everything was white apart from the staff uniforms, which were pale blue. Feeling ludicrously out of place in her red velvet shirt, black leather skirt, and black patent high heels, Daisy tried hard to concentrate on what the doctor was telling her. She felt it was vital to understand everything he said, as if this were an A level she absolutely mustn't fail.
Except it appeared to be an A level in a language she'd never learned. She was able to hear the words but they were making no sense. Apart from the bit about Steven's condition being critical.
The doctor's beeper went off.
'Here, why don't you sit down.' Pulling a molded plastic chair up to the bed, the doctor steered her towards it. 'Hold his hand. Talk to him. You can stay as long as you like. I'll be back later, OK?'
He shot off to deal with the next crisis, leaving Daisy alone with Steven. Well, not really alone. Fifteen feet away, a couple of nurses were keeping a discreet eye on her.
She sat down on the unforgiving plastic chair and held Steven's hand, as instructed.
He was looking ridiculously healthy. A narrow white sheet covered his groin, otherwise he was naked. Tanned and muscular and obviously a fit chap, proud of his physique and deservedly so. All those hours in the gym had paid off. This was the body of a man in peak condition. He didn't look injured at all.
Daisy blinked, pulled herself together. What was it she was meant to be doing now? Oh yes, talking to him.
But what was she supposed to say? Not 'You lying cheating fucking bastard,' that was for sure. Oh no, that definitely wasn't the kind of thing the doctor would have had in mind.
After twenty minutes Daisy rose to leave.
Excerpted from staying at daisy's by Jill Mansell. Copyright © 2011 Jill Mansell. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.