“Yes, I know.” I glance up at her, then reach for a black top and look at it critically. “Actually, I think I’ll take a rain check.”
“You mean. .” Suze pauses. “You mean you don’t want to go shopping?”
There’s silence, and I look up, to see Suze staring at me.
“I don’t understand,” she says, and she sounds quite upset. “Why are you being all weird?”
“I’m not being weird!” I give a little shrug. “I just don’t feel like shopping.”
“Oh God, there’s something wrong, isn’t there?” wails Suze. “I knew it. Maybe you’re really ill.” She hurries into the room and reaches for my head. “Have you got a temperature? Does anything hurt?”
“No!” I say, laughing. “Of course not!”
“Have you had a bump on the head?” She wiggles her hand in front of my face. “How many fingers?”
“Suze, I’m fine,” I say, thrusting her hand aside. “Honestly. I’m just. . not in a shopping mood.” I hold a gray suit up against myself. “What do you think of this?”
“Honestly, Bex, I’m worried about you,” says Suze, shaking her head. “I think you should get yourself checked out. You’re so. . different. It’s frightening.”
“Yes, well.” I reach for a white shirt and smile at her. “Maybe I’ve changed.”
It takes me all afternoon to decide on an outfit. There’s a lot of trying on, and mixing and matching, and suddenly remembering things at the back of my wardrobe. (I must wear those purple jeans sometime.) But eventually I go for simple and straightforward. My nicest black suit (Jigsaw sale, two years ago), a white T-shirt (M&S), and knee-high black suede boots (Dolce & Gabbana, but I told Mum they were from BHS. Which was a mistake, because then she wanted to get some for herself, and I had to pretend they’d all sold out). I put it all on, screw my hair up into a knot, and stare at myself in the mirror.
“Very nice,” says Suze admiringly from the door. “Very sexy.”
“Sexy?” I feel a pang of dismay. “I’m not going for sexy! I’m going for businesslike.”
“Can’t you be both at once?” suggests Suze. “Businesslike and sexy?”
“I. . no,” I say after a pause, and look away. “No, I don’t want to.”
I don’t want Luke Brandon to think I’ve dressed up for him, is what I really mean. I don’t want to give him the slightest chance to think I’ve misconstrued what this meeting is about. Not like last time.
With no warning, a surge of fresh humiliation goes through my body as I remember that awful moment in Harvey Nichols. I shake my head hard, trying to clear it; trying to calm myself. Why the hell did I agree to this bloody dinner, anyway?
“I just want to look as serious and businesslike as possible,” I say, and frown sternly at my reflection.
“I know, then,” says Suze. “You need some accessories. Some businesswoman-type accessories.”
“Like what? A Filofax?”
“Like. .” Suze pauses thoughtfully. “OK. Wait there—”
I arrive at the Ritz that evening five minutes after our agreed time of seventy-thirty, and as I reach the entrance to the restaurant, I see Luke there already, sitting back looking relaxed and sipping something that looks like a gin and tonic. He’s wearing a different suit from the one he was wearing this morning, I can’t help noticing, and he’s put on a fresh, dark green shirt. He actually looks. . Well. Quite nice. Quite good-looking.
Not that businessy, in fact.
And, come to think of it, this restaurant isn’t very businessy, either. It’s all chandeliers and gold garlands and soft pink chairs, and the most beautiful painted ceiling, all clouds and flowers. The whole place is sparkling with light, and it looks. .
Well, actually, the word that springs to mind is romantic.
Oh God. My heart starts thumping with nerves, and I glance quickly at my reflection in a gilded mirror. I’m wearing the black Jigsaw suit and white T-shirt and black suede boots as originally planned. But now I also have a crisp copy of the Financial Times under one arm, a pair of tortoiseshell glasses (with clear glass) perched on my head, my clunky executive briefcase in one hand and — Suze’s pièce de résistance — an AppleMac laptop in the other.
Maybe I overdid it.
I’m about to back away and see if I can quickly deposit the briefcase in the cloakroom (or, to be honest, just put it down on a chair and walk away), when Luke looks up, sees me, and smiles. Damn. So I’m forced to go forward over the plushy carpet, trying to look as relaxed as possible, even though one arm is clamped tightly to my side, to stop the FT from falling on the floor.