Read an Excerpt
Mimi Fiorini Ryan picked up the poster for London Fashion Weekend and scanned down the list of events until she came to a small paragraph of elegant bold script, which encapsulated her entire future in a few short lines and sent her heart racing:
Langdon Events is proud to present an exclusive fashion show in aid of the Tom Harris Foundation for Climbing for the Disabled.
The New Classics collection from Studio Designs will be introduced by their head designer, Mimi Ryan, one of London's brightest new talents.
Tickets selling fast.
The words were almost swimming in front of her. Mimi had to blink several times to clear her head and come to terms with the fact that she was awake, and that this was not a dream.
'Well, what do you think? You look a bit stunned.'
Poppy Langdon leant across the desk and bared her teeth. 'Do you hate it? Because I'm not sure I can change anything with only a week to go.'
Did she hate ithate the fact that, after ten years of study and working every evening and weekend, she finally had a chance to show her clothing designs to the public?
Mimi grinned at the bubbly blonde. She had only known her for a few weeks but she was rapidly becoming a good friend whom Mimi felt able to trust with something as important as the organisation of her dream fashion show.
'NoI don't hate it. It's just that '
'Go on. I can take it,' Poppy whimpered. 'Tell me now and get it out of your system.'
Mimi coughed a reply and shook her head for a second before coming round to the other side of the desk and hugging Poppy warmly before grinning down at her.
'It's just that I have been working towards this day for a very long time. It means so much to me, I can't tell you. Thank you so much for giving me a chance. I don't hate it at allI love it.'
Poppy breathed out a sigh of relief and hugged her back.
'You are welcomebut I should be the one who is thanking you! If you hadn't stepped in last month I wouldn't have a charity fashion show at all. You are going to be a total hit! I predict it now. We have already sold loads of tickets, so you can stop worrying and start enjoying yourself.'
Poppy grinned and crinkled her nose. 'Even if we are in the middle of a heat wave,' she added, flicking her long hair away from her neck. 'Why is it so hot in June? And how do you manage to always look so cool and elegant in black?'
Mimi took a breath and tried to answer Poppy without betraying the inner turmoil.
If only Poppy knew how very hard Mimi had worked to look so cool and elegant. It was all about looking the part on the outside. From the black trouser-suit that had taken her a week to tailor down to her simple mocha-silk tee and antique gold wrist-watch she had inherited from her mother. Every breath Mimi Fiorini Ryan took was totally focused on one thing: persuading Poppy Langdon that she had made the right decision to use Mimi's first clothing collection as part of her charity fashion show.
'Me?' Mimi replied, glancing down at her wide-leg trousers and loose top. 'Natural fibres, I supposeand I am indoors most of the time.' She paused then tilted her head. 'How is the iced coffee?'
'Divine!' Poppy replied with a warm smile, fanning herself with a brochure and shrugging up her shoulders in delight. 'I had no idea there was an Italian bistro just around the corner. You are so resourceful!'
'Not really. My parents and I used to come to this part of London a lot when I was at college. I'm just pleased that the bistro is still here and the coffee is as good as ever.'
Poppy saluted her with the cup. 'Nectar. Seeing as you are a total life-saver, I do have one final treat for you.' She took one last long slurp then started sorting through the stacks of folders on her desk. 'The hotel has come back to me with a few ideas for the catwalk part of the show. I know you want elegant and sophisticated, and the hotel ballroom is just perfect, but we do need to confirm how much space we need before they start renovation work on the rest of the hotel. Can you stay a little longer?'
Mimi could only chuckle at that question. She would happily stay here for the rest of the week if Poppy would put up with her.
'Of course. But here's an ideawhy don't I pop out for refills on the coffee? I'll be right back '
If there had been an Academy award for 'leading man in your own drama', then Hal Langdon would have been determined to head the list of nominees.
Hal swung himself out of the London black cab with the help of the hand rail, his one crutch and a special sideways slide-and-stand motion which had taken him weeks to perfect in the numerous ambulance trips between his chalet in the French Alps and the local hospital.
Pain shot through his left leg as soon as he shifted his weight from the crutch onto the ankle wrapped in an inflatable boot. The thrill of finally being free of the heavy plaster-cast which had protected what was left of his smashed ankle and broken leg had soon faded when he'd realised just how far he still had to go before he could walk on his own.
But that was what he was going to do.
One slow, faltering, painful step at a time.
He was going to prove to the world that he could walk againand perhaps convince himself at the same time.
It was all about going forward and pretending to the outside world that his old life was not a total sham, while his new life was as yet a complete mystery.
The doctors had made it clear: no more climbing, no more high-risk sports, no more doing the job which had taken him all over the world filming the more exciting experiences an adrenaline junkie could find on this planet.
And in his heart and gut he knew that they were right. Not just because his body was no longer capable of taking that amount of relentless punishment month after month, year after year, but because of something more important.
The day that he had lost his climbing partner was the day that his old life had ended.
Tom Harris had saved his life more than once since their first crazy adventures at university. Tom had been his best friend, the older brother he'd never had.
And now Tom was dead, killed in a fall that Hal relived in Technicolor detail every night in his dreams, and was reminded of every single time he looked at his leg or felt the ridge on his head where he had fractured his skull. It had been five months, but the memory of those terrible few minutes on the mountain was still as fresh as yesterday. Just as vivid; just as painful; just as traumatic.
And some part of Hal had died that day too.
This made his decision to come back to London and work on the charity Tom had founded both logical and ridiculous at the same time. Every time Tom's name was mentioned it was like an ice-axe going into his gut again.
But what else could he do? He was the one who had suggested to Tom that the events company he'd created with his sister should organise a fundraising event for the work with disabled climbers that Tom had become passionate about during the last year of his life.
It was little wonder that Poppy had telephoned him to ask when he was planning to arrive to help her with the arrangements, claiming that she was snowed under with other work she desperately needed to spend time on. His sister certainly knew which buttons to press to bring on even more guilt. It had been his decision to leave Poppy to run the company on her own while he had enjoyed the life of action and excitement he had always yearned for during the years they had spent building up the company together.
But it was more than that, and she knew it.
He was expected to be at the fundraiser, both as Tom's friend and as the co-founder of Langdon Eventseven if that meant that he would have to endure the constant reminders of the man Tom had been.
He would survive the next week in the same way that he had survived the last five months: one day at a time. Each day was filled with the confused feelings of anger and resentment at the way Tom had died blended with his own overwhelming feeling of failure and the endless self-recriminations.
He had to start taking action and getting back into some sort of workotherwise he would be guilty of failing Tom all over again.
Head back, chin up, chest forward, Hal glanced at the huge plate-glass doors that marked the entrance to the elegant stone building where Langdon Events rented a second-floor office. He gave a low chuckle and shook his head in disgust.
There were three flights of steep stone steps between the pavement and the entrance. He knew that there was a ramp at the back of the building, but he had not spent his life leading from the front to use the disabled entrance now, even if his sister Poppy did call him stubborn. He was determined to negotiate the steps leading up to the front entrance just like he had before.
Hal Langdon looked up at the glass doors, clenched his fingers tight around the rubber grip of his crutch and braced his jaw even tighter.
Just as Hal was about to take that first step with his good right leg, he was distracted by a flash of movement from inside the building; a few seconds later the glass doors slid open. A pretty girl skipped down the steps onto the pavement, and in seconds was on the other side of the road.
Her attention was so fixed on her target that she had not even glanced once in his direction. He watched in amusement as she weaved her way through the bustling crowds and clusters of tourists who flocked to this part of Covent Garden.
She was clearly a girl on a mission.
He could not resist a smirk at the way she ducked and dived from side to side, onto the road then back onto the pavement, shoulder-bag tight across her chest, elbows tucked into her sides. Her face was totally focused on the goalso focused that she probably did not realise that she was biting her lower lip in concentration and that her reddish-brown hair was flying up around her pale face.
Black trousers and a coffee-coloured blouse could not disguise a great figureand also a tantalising glimpse of a shapely ankle above shoes with the kind of heels Poppy would kill for. Someone somewhere must be in desperate need of coffee to send this poor girl out on a mission in that outfit in what passed for a warm day in London.
He was almost disappointed when she turned the corner and was immediately swallowed up out of view. Good for you, he acknowledged with a twist of his upper lip. Mission accomplished.
Time to find out if some of that sense of purpose would rub off on him.
Ten minutes later he stepped out of the elevator, his ankle still aching with the effort, his T-shirt damp with perspiration. He steadied himself for a few minutes to cool off, before taking the few steps to the office he had last seen over a year ago.
Not much had changed, not even the small blonde girl sitting with her head down behind the wide partners' desk they had bought with such enthusiasm all those years ago so that they could work together from the same office.
Buying such an enormous desk had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Now she looked tiny, and swamped by the stacks of boxes and folders which seemed to cover every flat space in the room.
A twinge of guilt heightened the tension in his shoulders. She was overworked and would probably have asked him back even earlier if it had not been for his injury.
He shuffled on his crutch and her head lifted. 'Oh, that was fast, Mimi. How did you manage to ? Hal!' Poppy squealed and flung herself out of her chair and into his chest, her knee connecting with his leg as she pressed against him.
'Ouch!' He flinched and hugged her back, one-handed.
'Sorry,' she replied and ducked her head. 'Your leg; I had forgotten for a minute.'
Then she stood back with her hands on her hips and slowly shook her head. 'Something is definitely different about you today.' She pretended to scan him from head to toe. 'Is it the hairwhich is desperate for a restyle, by the way? Or perhaps the jacket? No?'
Hal snorted and Poppy laughed, stepped forward and kissed him warmly on the cheek.
'That boot may not win many fashion awards but it is certainly a big improvement on the horrible cast. You look a lot better.'
Then she play-thumped him on the arm. 'You pest! I should be annoyed at you. Why didn't you tell me you were coming? I could have picked you up at the airportmade a fuss of you.'
'You mean apart from the fact that you have a bucket-seat sports car built for one tiny person and their handbag?'
'Well, yes, apart from that small detail.' Poppy waved her arm towards the office chair and Hal lowered himself into it very slowly, leg out in front of him. The office was so small that Poppy had to step over his leg to reach her chair.
'Tell me everything, big brother. How is France? How long can you stay? Because, in case you haven't noticed, I am swamped. Ohand you know that you are always welcome chez moi; my pals would love to see you. They are totally into cosseting and, darling, you need some serious love and care. What? What?'
Hal held up one hand in surrender.
'Please can I have a word in edgeways? Okay. France is great but I've rented out the chalet and put my stuff into storage. I am staying long enough to get through Tom's fundraiser, then we can see what I can do to help you with that workload. And, thank you, I would love to sleep on your couch. But no cosseting. I've had more than enough cosseting these last few months.'
'Wow,' Poppy replied in a low voice and sat back. 'Now you have surprised me. You love that chalet. What made you rent it out?'
Hal inhaled a couple of deep breaths before even trying to reply.