|Publisher:||Hale, Robert Limited|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Best Laid Plans
By Patricia Fawcett
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2013 Patricia Fawcett
All rights reserved.
Both of us would like to wish you a Happy Christmas!
We have had a good year and Frank is recovering well from a little health scare, although retirement is still a long way off. He keeps moving the goalposts as far as that is concerned. I have stopped helping out in the office and am enjoying the quiet life. Mike and darling Monique are very happy together and Amy is still running the world! She's at the top of her game in the retail trade and now has a senior job with the Leeds store and she has a beautiful flat in a Victorian house on the outskirts of town. You know Amy, she has no time for a significant relationship but that doesn't worry her at all. She's a career girl through and through.
Frank and I visit her whenever we can. We see much more of Mike and Monique, of course, who live down in the village. Mike is enjoying shadowing his father and will be ready to take over when the time comes and Monique is having some success with her paintings. She is such a talented artist and beautiful with it and she certainly deserves it.
We hope you and yours are all well. Once again you are very welcome to pop in if you are in this part of the world. We have masses of room and would be delighted to see you.
Our very best wishes for the New Year
Christine and Frank Fletcher
Amy Fletcher, contrary to her mother's inflated expectations, did not quite run the department store.
But, considering she was only in her mid-thirties, she was reasonably happy with what might be considered to be a meteoric rise within the company. She was relishing the experience just now of working with Daniel Coleridge, an energetic man with an engaging smile who could have had another career as a young George Clooney look-alike. They had worked together before and she felt comfortable with him, pleased that their relationship was strictly business and therefore devoid of complications. Daniel had gained a reputation in the retail trade as an ideas man, a man of sure instincts with incredible trouble-shooting abilities and she was his right-hand woman, the one he bounced ideas off, the person who sorted out his brilliant, if sometimes chaotic, thoughts.
Their arrival at this store several months earlier was not entirely welcome, for Daniel's reputation had preceded his appointment and there had been a lot of huffing and puffing from the senior staff here, all of them nervous as hell, as well they might be. They had been coasting happily for years failing to see the danger signs that were flashing from every corner, blaming the store's decline on everything and everybody except themselves.
Affable as Daniel might be he was ruthless with it, and Amy admired that. It was unwise to underestimate him and after a couple of years of working together it suited them both that they did not meet outside the office. They were a good team and tried their damnedest to be firm but fair, although she knew they were considered by some to be the Bonnie and Clyde of the retail world, bursting in as they did and cutting a swathe through the hangers-on and the no-hopers.
Sadly, in business there is no place for sentiment, although that did not stop her from fretting every single time numbers were dangled in front of them, numbers that had to be sliced. Thankfully, more often than not, it could be achieved without too much heartache; old-timers were usually more than happy to snatch what they could and make a run for it. She knew for sure that Daniel would be moving on before long, for she was aware of the surreptitious approaches from rival companies but he had asked her to keep quiet and she was doing just that.
Wearing a pale blue blouse today with her dark grey suit – knee-length pencil skirt, neat fitted jacket – Amy hurried into their office to find Daniel's secretary Janet engaged in chatting with Bea from perfumery. Bea had a keen mind behind her blonde, blue-eyed model-like exterior and, at nearly six feet tall with the longest legs this side of the West End stage was as far removed from Amy as it was possible to be. Even though she was in no way petite herself, Amy still had to look up to her and it was doubly annoying that Bea could even make the workaday suit she was wearing look sexy. Just one look and Bea had set her sights on Daniel, who was blissfully unaware of it. He was young for the job, only six years older than Amy; he had been recruited by the big boss at head office himself and was held in high regard by him. He kept his private life private but he had let slip that he was divorced and off women, or at the least a serious relationship, forever so it would seem that Bea was wasting her energy on him. However, trying to look at it from a neutral viewpoint Amy saw that Bea working on full flirt power would be hard for any normal hot-blooded male to resist.
The two women stopped chatting when they saw Amy, smiles frozen, which made her wonder if they had been discussing her. The suspicion with which most of the staff regarded Daniel stretched to her, too, and it was amusing that they thought of her as some sort of internal spy. They were facing strong competition in the high street and needed to up their game and introduce the store to a much younger audience, which was why the basement area was at present undergoing a serious restructuring, the promised disco-like atmosphere and coffee bar intended to entice the youngsters in. It would be a no-go area for their older clientele, of course, but that was understood.
Langdales occupied a prime corner position in a busy shopping street. The windows had been beautifully dressed this festive season. Daniel had been responsible for that, stopping a dubious attempt to save on costs by spending a lot of money on new sparkly decorations. That old chestnut about having to spend money to make money was one of his mantras.
The result was that the store had never looked so good. It was like a lighthouse shining at the corner of the drab and dismal December street, a haven for tired and grumpy shoppers, a silvery glittery spectacle and up on the second floor Santa's grotto was an Arctic wonderland and this year, after a few complaints the previous one, they had hired a trio of men to do the Santa shifts, a jovial three who at least looked like the man himself.
Just now, using the stairs to get up to the offices – her token keep-fit trip of the day – Amy allowed herself a moment's satisfaction at the hordes of bustling shoppers that had squeezed in on this final Saturday before Christmas. They did not look particularly happy but then who in their right mind did at this crucial late stage of the Christmas buying spree? Mind you, whether or not they were actually buying or just looking would come out later.
'I've left last week's figures with Janet, Amy,' Bea told her, her tongue flicking over perfectly applied red lipstick. She was about a foot taller than Janet who was looking up at her with something approaching awe. 'It's been mayhem, utter pandemonium. We've had a fantastic run with "Bella-Sophia". They've been practically killing each other for the last few bottles. We're the only stockists in town and we could have sold it at double the price. The higher you price a perfume the better and that TV advert of theirs was a stroke of genius. Every woman wants to look like that, not to mention having that gorgeous hunk drooling over her.'
'Quite.' Amy caught the look Bea gave her, sympathetic verging on despair so that she had to bite her lip to check back an apology for letting standards slip and not looking her best today. She was at least two sizes larger than Bea but she thought – and she hoped it was not just wishful thinking – she could carry it off. The truth was she had been running round in circles since arriving here at eight o'clock this morning and she hadn't had the time yet to refresh her make-up, so what could you expect. They were all like that in Cosmetics & Perfumery, groomed to within an inch of their lives, glossy, glamorous girls who might as well be from another planet. Amy had always thought them a shade intimidating to the average woman who had just struggled in from the street, hair blown off course by the vicious air-con apparatus by the door. To be accosted at that moment by one of the Cosmetics team was not generally appreciated.
As well as the fast-fading make-up, Amy was also a little self-conscious today, showing off her new haircut. She could kill Amanda, never mind that she was one of the top stylists in the store's Hair & Beauty Salon up on the top deck. What was it with hairdressers when you gave them the nod to trim? True, goaded by that scissor-happy stylist to go for it she had given the thumbs up for something new, fed up with the shoulder-length bob she had had for years but she had not envisaged such a drastic change. The elfin look took years off her and that was the last thing she wanted if she was to be taken seriously. Unable to stop herself, she ran her fingers through it, shocked at how short it felt before glancing pointedly at her watch. 'If that's all, Bea ...?'
'Sure. Is he in?' she said, indicating the door to Daniel's office.
'No, sorry.' Amy had no idea where he was but then she seldom knew as he never bothered to inform her.
'Oh. Never mind, I'll catch him later. Bye.' Bea waved a French-manicured hand and went out leaving Janet, little, plump, homely Janet, to give Amy a truly sympathetic smile.
'You look exhausted, love.'
Janet, here since the year dot, called everyone 'love', male and female alike, although she became sweetly formal sometimes, insisting for instance on addressing Daniel as Mr Coleridge. Amy valued Janet's opinion. She thought of her as a mother figure although at close on sixty Janet was a couple of years older than her own. She could let her guard down with Janet and she needed her as back-up if Daniel had one of his occasional frustrated outbursts when sometimes his more creative ideas met with a stony response. Janet was very much a calming influence and, as with all senior secretaries, there was little that escaped her notice. In fact, Amy was of the opinion that if they took away the senior secretaries the place would fall apart.
'Do you know where he is?' Amy asked her, glancing towards the closed door.
'No. But he said he would be back by half four. He seems very relaxed today. I think he's quite optimistic that we'll reach our target.'
'I'm glad somebody is.' Amy smiled at her. Janet knew exactly what was what and the two of them had no secrets. She was under the impression that because Amy lived alone and was frantically busy she did not eat enough and occasionally she would produce a pie of some description as it was just as easy to make two as one. 'It's not over yet so we have to keep up the momentum,' she went on. 'I've been giving everybody the pep talk but the trouble is people are getting tired.'
'Don't I know it? I'm shattered by the time I get home.'
'Same here. We have to keep spirits up as much as we can. Mr Armitage is expecting a miracle and we don't want to disappoint him, do we?'
She hoped that remark did not come over as sarcastic because she knew Janet was fond of the man. Mr Armitage, the store manager, had a lot to answer for but the staff loved him and his easy-going smiley ways and so did she, and that was what made it so difficult. Any criticism of him was like telling a mother her baby was ugly. He abhorred change of any kind, which was why this store was stuck in a time warp. Cosmetics & Perfumery and Menswear on the ground floor had been revamped last year but things got progressively worse the higher up you went and the restaurant and toilets on the fifth were in serious need of a complete makeover.
'Do you want a coffee?'
'Have I time? I'm seeing Mr Armitage in twenty minutes.' Amy checked her watch. 'By the way, it's looking messy down on the second floor. There were things lying about. They should know by now that they must pick up and re-hang at once. We are high end, Janet, not bargain basement. I appreciate it's very busy down there but I don't want it to be like that when Mr Coleridge comes back. You know how eagle-eyed he is.'
'I'll give them a ring. Americano, no sugar?'
She nodded. 'It was frantic up in the restaurant. Not a spare seat anywhere. We've got to reorganize the seating arrangements when we do the refurbishment, somehow find the space to bring in more seating and tables. The last thing people want is to be standing there holding a tray with their food going cold and nowhere to park their bums. Where's the feel-good factor in that?'
'Don't tell me. It's the saving seats thing,' Janet reminded her. 'People still do it and it causes havoc.'
'I don't like the idea of issuing orders to customers but maybe we should put up a polite notice. No saving seats.'
'There's one up already but everybody ignores it. I suppose we could have somebody on hand to arrest them.' Janet's smile lit up her face. 'The fact is, Amy, love, we could run the whole thing so much better if we didn't open to the Great British Public.'
'My sentiments exactly. Janet, what would I do without you?' They laughed and thankfully some of the tension Amy was feeling evaporated. Only a few more days and the worst would be over.
'By the way ...' Janet lowered her voice. 'I hope you don't mind me saying but you've got a ladder in your tights.'
'Have I?' She checked it. Bugger. The tights were the barely black variety so it was very obvious. Worst of all, Bea, who never ever had a ladder in her tights would surely have noticed it.
They exchanged a small rueful smile.
Janet stood up to get the coffee, pausing to hand Amy a message.
'He's persistent, I'll give him that,' she said cheerfully. 'And he's a lovely man if you don't mind me saying. Believe me, good men are in short supply these days. Don't let him slip through your fingers. And another thing, I like the new hair. It takes years off you.'
'Does it? Do you really like it? I feel like Peter Pan, Janet.' Quickly Amy went into her cubby-hole of an office next door, blessedly finding a new pair of tights in her desk drawer and changing into them, wedged behind the door as she did so just in case Daniel barged through and caught her with her skirt hoiked up and what she considered to be her ample thighs on display.
After Janet brought the coffee through, she took a moment, gazing out onto the street as the daylight dwindled and lights came on and wondered what to do about Brian. Janet was quite right; at her age, unattached heterosexual males were thin on the ground.
She had no idea how it had happened, for she had never set out to get a boyfriend but then didn't they say that they came along when you least expected them? No, their eyes had not locked over the ready-meals cabinet at the supermarket but rather at an art exhibition when, as she puzzled over a particularly awful example, he had laughed in a kindly fashion and tried to explain what it was all about. For a moment she had thought he might be the artist himself, which would have been a terrible faux pas but luckily he was not, merely a guy looking to buy something. They ended up having a coffee together and that was very much that. Bea would consider Brian to be a hunk, too, if she ever set eyes on him but he was all hers and Bea was not getting a look in.
She found herself smiling. At their age, 'boyfriend' was not the right word. 'Gentleman friend' was ridiculous. They were not yet at the 'partner' stage and referring to him as her 'lover' sounded daft. They had been going out for the past three months and he had invited her to spend Christmas with him but that would mean cancelling with her mum and dad.
She was guilty, she knew, of leaving a change of plan much too late because her mother liked Christmas arrangements to be settled by November at the latest and after that they were written in stone.
Her parents did not know about Brian but it was stupid trying to keep him a secret from them. She knew she blew hot and cold and that a less persistent man would have given up on her long since but she liked to have her life mapped out and she really did not have time for a man in that life, certainly not just now, and he had to understand that.
She had seen the women who tried to have it all, an exciting career, a husband and children.
It might work for them but it would not work for her.
Excerpted from Best Laid Plans by Patricia Fawcett. Copyright © 2013 Patricia Fawcett. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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