‘I’m really sorry about that, but it is better that we did not meet her. I take it you know her?’
My hands are trembling. I nod. I am in a state of extreme shock. Of all the millions of people in London I could have to run into, why her? And on the first day of my contract. I understand it to be a bad omen, a warning that I am making a horrible mistake.
Fleur’s beautifully manicured hand grasps mine. ‘Don’t worry about it. It was just bad luck. We will shop in Kings Road instead. There are wonderful places there too. In fact, sometimes I think I prefer it.’
I shake my head. ‘I don’t want to shop anymore, Fleur. I just want to go home.’
Fleur’s eyes change. I see pure determination shining between her extravagant lashes. This is a woman who will not allow anything to stand in her way. I start to admire her anew. She is resilient in a way that I am not.
‘You can’t go home, Lana. You are committed to this day. We have appointments that we must keep. Victoria is not as powerful as you or she believes. She cannot take away from you that which is really yours.’
‘What do you mean?’ I ask shakily. I am actually filled with fear. I have lost so much. All I have left is Sorab and if I am careless in any way at all he will disappear like a mirage in the desert.
‘My position does not allow me to say, but do not underestimate Blake Law Barrington. He could surprise you yet. Besides, don’t you think that women who blame the other woman are stupid? The other woman owes them no allegiance. Look to your own man. He is the one who has betrayed you. Get angry with him, if you dare.’
I nod. Fleur is right. I have done nothing wrong. I kept to my agreement. I left the country for a year. I did not approach Blake. He came looking for me.
‘Good,’ Fleur says with an encouraging smile. ‘Here is what we will do. We will go to my friend’s boutique and find something for you to wear tonight and tomorrow I will have some clothes that I think will be perfect for you sent to your apartment? And you can choose what you want and return the rest, OK?’
‘I will reschedule your hairdresser’s appointment and Laura will push all the other appointments up accordingly.’
In a daze I hear her call the celebrity hairdresser and effortlessly get him to come into the salon four hours earlier than scheduled. People bent backwards to accommodate a Barrington’s needs. After that she calls Laura.
‘Slight change of plans,’ she says. ‘Mmnn. Tell you about it later. We are going to the hairdresser’s at 1:00 pm. Push all the other appointments up accordingly.’ A pause while she listens and then she says, ‘Right. That’s fine with me. Speak later.’ She turns to me. ‘All right?’
I am not hungry, but I nod unhappily.
She takes a deep breath. ‘If you promise you will never tell anyone what I am about to reveal to you then I will tell you a secret.’
I promise quickly.
‘It is very important that you do not tell anyone, especially Blake, or you could drop both Laura and me into some extremely foul smelling stuff.’
‘I won’t tell anyone. Especially Blake.’
‘You are more important to Blake than you think. Sometime after he met you last year, when he was about to go into an important meeting, he called over his shoulder and told Laura to hold all his calls. But then he turned around and said, “except for Lana”.’
‘Laura was very surprised by the request. You see, never before had he given her such an instruction. Not even for his father or brother. “Is that for just this meeting or for all day,” she asked. “Until I tell you otherwise.” But here is the most surprising thing of all: Blake Barrington has never told her otherwise.’
The first thought in my mind. That was before.
‘Don’t make the mistake of thinking that is because he has forgotten. Blake never forgets anything. Not even the smallest details.’
I nod. Perhaps he did care. Perhaps he will learn to care again.
‘I did not want us to meet Victoria not because I am afraid of her, but because I think it is unnecessary. It is unnecessary for you and unnecessary for her. She has overestimated her importance; you have underestimated yours. Be confident. Things are not always what they seem.’
A business call comes through for Fleur. She asks if I mind her taking it. I say no and spend my time looking at the shoppers on the street, my stomach rolling with anxiety.
The car comes to a stop outside a brightly painted corner shop called Bijou.
Fleur pushes open an old-fashioned door and a quaint bell tinkles. A waft of carpet deodorant rushes out to greet us. The small shop is so crammed with clothes, jewelry, hats, bags and shoes and so different from the usual pared down designer shop that Fleur usually takes me to that I actually have the impression of having stumbled into Aladdin’s secret cave.
A well-preserved small woman of indeterminate age stands from behind an ornate desk and comes forward to greet and air kiss Fleur on both her cheeks. Her laughter is a sophisticated, heavy smoker’s rasp. She has that sort of European chic that comes from teaming box jackets in bold colors with numerous ropes of pearls.
I am presented to Rêgine.
She smiles at me, gives me the once-over, and bustles Fleur and me towards a couple of red velvet chairs. When we are seated, she turns the sign on the door to closed and begins running around her overcrowded shop humming to herself. She comes back with three different outfits.
‘Try that one first,’ suggests Fleur pointing to a fabulous knee-length white dress with a high mandarin collar, three jeweled cut-outs in the shape of leaves in the chest and slits up the thighs. I take it from Madame. The material is the softest wool.
‘Only girls with very slim arms can wear the cheongsam,’ says Fleur.
‘Qui,’ agrees Madame Rêgine.
I go behind a heavy velvet curtain, where there are three full-length mirrors. We have no long mirrors at home. Billie goes to Marks and Spencer’s changing rooms to see herself nude. I strip down to my undies. I can see that I am too skinny. My ribs and hip bones are showing. Not a good look. I used to look better before. Immediately I begin to worry if I will please Blake. I remember how attracted to my body he was. How he used to tell me to take my clothes off, and watch me. Simply watch me with hungry, fascinated eyes as if I was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. What if my body no longer excites him?
‘Hey, we want to see,’ calls Fleur with a laugh.