“A representative from Flagstaff Life,” says Zelda triumphantly. “Head-to-head with the enemy. It’ll make great television!”
“Zelda!” comes a voice from outside the room. “Bella again!”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” says Zelda, leaping up. “Rebecca, I’ll be back in a sec.”
“Fine,” I manage. “See you in a minute.”
“OK,” says Chloe cheerfully. “While she’s gone, let me put on that lipstick.”
She reaches for a long brush and begins to paint in my lips, and I stare at my reflection, trying to keep calm, trying not to panic. But my throat’s so tight, I can’t swallow. I’ve never felt so frightened in all my life.
I can’t talk in a high-powered debate!
Why did I ever want to be on television?
“Rebecca, could you try to keep your lips still?” says Chloe with a puzzled frown. “They’re really shaking.”
“Sorry,” I whisper, staring at my reflection like a frozen rabbit. She’s right, I’m trembling all over. Oh God, this is no good. I’ve got to calm down. Think happy thoughts. Think Zen.
In an effort to distract myself, I focus on the reflection in the mirror. In the background I can see Zelda standing in the corridor, talking into a phone with a furious expression on her face.
“Yup,” I can hear her saying curtly. “Yup. But the point is, Bella, we pay you a retainer to be available. What the fuck am I supposed to do now?” She looks up, sees someone, and lifts a hand in greeting. “OK, Bella, I do see that. .”
A blond woman and two men appear in the corridor, and Zelda nods to them apologetically. I can’t see their faces, but they’re all wearing smart overcoats and holding briefcases, and one of the men is holding a folder bulging with papers. The blond woman’s coat is actually rather nice, I find myself thinking. And she’s got a gorgeous Louis Vuitton bag. I wonder who she is.
“Yup,” Zelda’s saying. “Yup. Well, if you can suggest an alternative phone-in subject. .”
She raises her eyebrows at the blond woman, who shrugs and turns away to look at a poster on the wall. And as she does so, my heart nearly stops dead.
Because I recognize her. It’s Alicia. Alicia from Brandon Communications is standing five yards away from me.
I almost want to laugh at the incongruity of it. What’s she doing here? What’s Alicia Bitch Long-legs doing here, for God’s sake?
One of the men turns round to say something to her — and as I see his face, I think I recognize him, too. He’s another one of the Brandon C lot, isn’t he? One of those young, eager, baby-faced types.
But what on earth are they all doing here? What’s going on? Surely it can’t be—
They can’t all be here because of—
No. Oh no. Suddenly I feel rather cold.
“Luke!” comes Zelda’s voice from the corridor, and I feel a swoop of dismay. “So glad you could make it. We always love having you on the show. You know, I had no idea you represented Flagstaff Life, until Sandy said. .”
This isn’t happening. Please tell me this isn’t happening.
“The journalist who wrote the piece is already here,” Zelda’s saying, “and I’ve primed her on what’s happening. I think it’s going to make really great television, the two of you arguing away!”
She starts moving down the corridor, and in the mirror I see Alicia and the eager young man begin to follow her. Then the third overcoated man starts to come into view. And although my stomach’s churning painfully, I can’t stop myself. I slowly turn my head as he passes the door.
I meet Luke Brandon’s grave, dark eyes and he meets mine, and for a few still seconds, we just stare at each other. Then abruptly he looks away and strides off down the corridor. And I’m left, gazing helplessly at my painted reflection, feeling sick with panic.
POINTS FOR TELEVISION INTERVIEW SIMPLE AND BASIC FINANCIAL ADVICE
1. Prefer clock/twenty grand? Obvious.
2. Flagstaff Life ripped off innocent customers. Beware.
3. Always be very careful with your money.4. Don’t put it all in one investment but diversify.5. Don’t lose it by mistake6. Don’tTHINGS YOU CAN BUY WITH £20,0001. Nice car; e.g., small BMW2. Pearl and diamond necklace from Aspreys plus big diamond ring3. 3 couture evening dresses; e.g., from John Galliano4. Steinway grand piano5. 5 gorgeous leather sofas from the Conran shop6. 40 Gucci watches, plus bag7. Flowers delivered every month for 42 years8. 55 pedigree Labrador puppies9. 80 cashmere jumpers10. 666 Wonderbras11. 454 pots Helena Rubinstein moisturizer12. 800 bottles of champagne13. 2,860 Fiorentina pizzas14. 15,384 tubes of Pringles15. 90,909 packets of Polo mints16.