“Nearly there,” says Jill, and smiles at me.
“Good,” I say brightly, and clasp my sweaty hand more tightly round my briefcase handle. Oh God. Please save me from this. Please. .
“Here we are!” she says, and stops at a door marked “Conference Room.” She knocks twice, then pushes it open. There’s a roomful of people sitting round a table, and they all turn to look at me.
“Jan Virtanen,” she says. “I’d like you to meet Rebecca Bloomwood.”
A bearded man rises from his chair, give me a huge smile, and extends his hand.
“Neiti Bloomwood,” he says cheerfully. “Nautin erittain paljon tapaamisestamme. Onko oiken, etta teilla on jonkinlainen yhteys Suomeen?”
I stare speechlessly at him. My face is glowing, as though I’m consumed with happiness. Everyone in the room is waiting for me to answer, I’ve got to say something.
“I. . erm. . erm. . Hašallø!” I lift my hand in a friendly little wave and smile around the room.
But nobody smiles back.
“Erm. . I’ve just got to. .” I start backing away. “Just got to. .”
I turn. And I run.
I ARRIVE BACK DOWN in the foyer, panting slightly. Which is not surprising, since I’ve just run about a half marathon along endless corridors, trying to get out of this place. I descend the final flight of stairs (couldn’t risk waiting for the elevators in case the Finnish brigade suddenly turned up), then pause to catch my breath. I straighten my skirt, transfer my briefcase from one sweaty hand to the other, and begin to walk calmly across the foyer toward the door, as though I’ve come out of an utterly ordinary, utterly unspectacular meeting. I don’t look right and I don’t look left. I don’t think about the fact that I’ve just completely shredded any chances I had of becoming a top City banker. All I can think about is getting to that glass door and getting outside before anyone can. .
“Rebecca!” comes a voice behind my voice, and I freeze. Shit. They’ve got me.
“Hašallø!” I gulp, turning round. “Hašall. . Oh. Hell. . Hello.”
It’s Luke Brandon.
It’s Luke Brandon, standing right in front of me, looking down at me with that amused smile he always seems to have.
“This isn’t the sort of place I would have expected to find you,” he says. “You’re not after a City job, are you?”
And why shouldn’t I be? Doesn’t he think I’m clever enough?
“Actually,” I say haughtily, “I’m thinking of a change of career. Maybe into foreign banking. Or futures broking.”
“Really?” he says. “That’s a shame.”
A shame? What does that mean? Why is it a shame? As I look up at him, his dark eyes meet mine, and I feel a little flicker, deep inside me. Out of nowhere, Clare’s words pop into my head. Luke Brandon was asking me if you had a boyfriend.
“What. .” I clear my throat. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“Oh, I recruit from here quite often,” he says. “They’re very efficient. Soulless, but efficient.” He shrugs, then looks at my shiny briefcase. “Have they fixed you up with anything yet?”
“I’ve. . I’ve got a number of options open to me,” I say. “I’m just considering my next move.”
Which, to be honest, is straight out the door.
“I see,” he says, and pauses. “Did you take the day off to come here?”
“Yes,” I say. “Of course I did.”
What does he think? That I just sloped off for a couple of hours and said I was at a press conference?
Actually, that’s not a bad idea. I might try that next time.
“So — what are you up to now?” he asks.
Don’t say “nothing.” Never say “nothing.”
“Well, I’ve got some bits and pieces to do,” I say. “Calls to make, people to see. That kind of thing.”
“Ah,” he says, nodding. “Yes. Well. Don’t let me keep you.” He looks around the foyer. “And I hope it all works out for you, job-wise.”
“Thanks,” I say, giving him a businesslike smile.
And then he’s gone, walking off toward the doors, and I’m left holding my clunky briefcase, feeling just a bit disappointed. I wait until he’s disappeared, then wander slowly over to the doors myself and go out onto the street. And then I stop. To tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure what to do next. I’d kind of planned to spend the day ringing everyone up and telling them about my fab new job as a futures broker. Instead of which. . Well, anyway. Let’s not think about that.