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Chapter 11

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 ordi-nary, 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.

“Ha?ll?” I gulp, turning round. “Ha?ll . . . 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 areyou 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 doorsmyself 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.

But I can’t stand still on the pavement outside William Green all day. People will start thinking I’m a piece of installation art or something. So eventually I begin walking along the street, figur-ing I’ll arrive at a tube soon enough and then I can decide what to do. I come to a corner and I’m just waiting for the traffic to stop, when a taxi pulls up beside me.

“I know you’re a very busy woman, with a lot to do,” comes Luke Brandon’s voice, and my head jerks up in shock. There he is, leaning out of the taxi window, his dark eyes crinkled up in a little smile. “But if you had the odd half-hour to spare—you wouldn’t be interested in doing a little shopping, would you?”



This day is unreal. Completely and utterly unreal.

I get into the taxi, put my clunky briefcase on the floor, and shoot a nervous look at Luke as I sit down. I’m already slightly regretting this. What if he asks me a question about interest rates? What if he wants to talk about the Bundesbank or American growth prospects? But all he says is “Harrods, please,” to the driver.

As we zoom off, I can’t stop a smile coming to my face. I thought I was going to have to go home and be all miserable on my own—and instead, I’m on my way to Harrods, and someone else is paying. I mean, you can’t get more perfect than that.

As we drive along, I look out of the window at the crowded streets. Although it’s March, there are still a few SALE signs in the shop windows left over from January, and I find myself peering at the displays, wondering if there are any bargains I might have missed. We pause outside a branch of Lloyds Bank. I look idly atthe window, and at the queue of people inside, and hear myself saying “You know what? Banks should run January sales. Every-one else does.”

There’s silence and I look up, to see a look of amusement on Luke Brandon’s face.

“Banks?” he says.

“Why not?” I say defensively. “They could reduce their charges for a month or something. And so could building societies. Big posters in the windows, Prices Slashed’ . . .” I think for a moment. “Or maybe they should have April sales, after the end of the tax year. Investment houses could do it, too. ‘Fifty percent off a selected range of funds.’ ”

“A unit trust sale,” says Luke Brandon slowly. “Reductions on all upfront charges.”

“Exactly,” I say. “Everyone’s a sucker for a sale. Even rich people.”

The taxi moves on again, and I gaze out at a woman in a gorgeous white coat, wondering where she got it. Maybe at Harrods. Maybe I should buy a white coat, too. I’ll wear nothing but white all winter. A snowy white coat and a white fur hat. People will start calling me the Girl in the White Coat.

When I look back again, Luke’s writing something down in a little notebook. He looks up and meets my eye for a moment, then says, “Rebecca, are you serious about leaving journalism?”

“Oh,” I say vaguely. To be honest, I’d forgotten all about leav-ing journalism. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“And you really think banking would suit you better?”

“Who knows?” I say feeling a bit rattled at his tone. It’s all right for him. He doesn’t have to worry about his career—he’s got his own multimillion-pound company. I’ve only got my own multimillion-pound overdraft. “Elly Granger is leavingInvestor’s Weekly News,” I add. “She’s joining Wetherby’s as a fund manager.”

“I heard,” he says. “Doesn’t surprise me. But you’re nothing like Elly Granger.”

Really? This comment intrigues me. If I’m not like Elly, who am I like, then? Someone really cool like Kristin Scott Thomas, maybe.

“You have imagination,” adds Luke. “She doesn’t.”

Wow! Now I really am gobsmacked. Luke Brandon thinks I have imagination? Gosh. That’s good, isn’t it. That’s quite flatter-ing, really.You have imagination. Mmm, yes, I like that. Unless . . .

Hang on. It’s not some polite way of saying he thinks I’m stupid, is it? Or a liar? Like “creative accounting.” Perhaps he’s trying to say that none of my articles is accurate.

Oh God, now I don’t know whether to look pleased or not.

To cover up my embarrassment, I look out of the window. We’ve stopped at a traffic light, and a very large lady in a pink velour jogging suit is trying to cross the road. She’s holding several bags of shopping and a pug dog, and she keeps losing grasp of one or other of them and having to put something down. I almost want to leap out and help her. Then, suddenly, she loses her grasp of one of the bags, and drops it on the ground. It falls open—and three huge tubs of ice cream come out of it and start rolling down the road.

Don’t laugh, I instruct myself. Be mature. Don’t laugh. I clamp my lips together, but I can’t stop a little giggle escaping.

I glance at Luke, and his lips are clamped together, too.

Then the woman starts chasing her ice cream down the road, pug dog in tow, and that’s it. I can’t stop myself giggling. And when the pug dog reaches the ice cream before the lady, and starts trying to get the lid off with its teeth, I think I’m going to die laughing. I look over at Luke, and I can’t believe it. He’s laughing helplessly, too, wiping the tears from his eyes. I didn’t think Luke Brandonever laughed.

“Oh God,” I manage at last. “I know you shouldn’t laugh at people. But I mean . . .”

“That dog!” Luke starts laughing again. “That bloody dog!”

“That outfit!” I give a little shudder as we start to move off again, past the pink woman. She’s bending over the ice cream,her huge pink bottom thrust up in the air . . . “I’m sorry, but pink velour jogging suits should be banned from this planet.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” says Luke, nodding seriously. “Pink velour jogging suits are hereby banned. Along with cravats.”

“And men’s briefs,” I say without thinking—then blush pink. How could I mention men’s briefs in front of Luke Brandon? “And toffee-flavored popcorn,” I quickly add.

“Right,” says Luke. “So we’re banning pink velour jogging suits, cravats, men’s briefs, toffee-flavored popcorn . . .”

“And punters with no change,” comes the taxi driver’s voice from the front.

“Fair enough,” says Luke, giving a little shrug. “Punters with no change.”

“And punters who vomit. They’re the worst.”

“OK . . .”

“And punters who don’t know where the fuck they’re going.”

Luke and I exchange glances and I begin to giggle again.

“And punters who don’t speak the bloody language. Drive you crazy.”

“Right,” says Luke. “So . . . most punters, in fact.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” says the taxi driver. “I’ve got nothing against foreigners . . .” He pulls up outside Harrods. “Here we are. Going shopping, are you?”

“That’s right,” says Luke, getting out his wallet.

“So—what’re you after?”

I look at Luke expectantly. He hasn’t told me what we’re here to buy. Clothes? A new aftershave? Will I have to keep smelling his cheek? (I wouldn’t mind that, actually.) Furniture? Something dull like a new desk?

“Luggage,” he says, and hands a tenner to the driver. “Keep the change.”



Luggage! Suitcases and holdalls and stuff like that. As I wander round the department, looking at Louis Vuitton suitcases andcalfskin bags, I’m quite thrown. Quite shocked by myself. Luggage. Why on earth have I never considered luggage before?

I should explain—for years now, I’ve kind of operated under an informal shopping cycle. A bit like a farmer’s crop rotation system. Except, instead of wheat-maize-barley-fallow, mine pretty much goes clothes-makeup-shoes-clothes. (I don’t usually bother with fallow.) Shopping is actually very similar to farming a field. You can’t keep buying the same thing—you have to have a bit of variety.

But look what I’ve been missing out on all this time. Look what I’ve been denying myself. I feel quite shaky as I realize the opportunities I’ve just been throwing away over the years. Suit-cases, weekend bags, monogrammed hatboxes . . . With weak legs I wander into a corner and sit down on a carpeted pedestal next to a red leather vanity case.

How can I have overlooked luggage for so long? How can I have just blithely led my lifeignoring an entire retail sector ?

“So—what do you think?” says Luke, coming up to me. “Anything worth buying?”

And now, of course, I feel like a fraud. Why couldn’t he have wanted to buy a really good white shirt, or a cashmere scarf? Or even hand cream? I would have been able to advise him authori-tatively and even quote prices. But luggage. I’m a beginner at luggage.

“Well,” I say, playing for time. “It depends. They all look great.”

“They do, don’t they?” He follows my gaze around the department. “But which one would you choose? If you had to buy one of these suitcases, which one would it be?”

It’s no good. I can’t bluff.

“To be honest,” I say, “this isn’t really my field.”

“What isn’t?” he says, sounding incredulous. “Shopping?”

“Luggage,” I explain. “It’s ............

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