I HEARD IT from a friend of mine sitting in the ‘congregation’ at Jennifer Matthews’ memorial: Cai Matthews broke down in the middle of Carl Sorensen’s eulogy and couldn’t be comforted—in fact his whole body seemed to be shaking and not only did his wife look worried, but Carl did too. I was in South London shopping for necklaces at the time but after hearing the news, I couldn’t concentrate and abandoned my work-based trip to head back to the Elle offices in Soho. There I got short shrift from colleagues when asked if I knew what was going on and I said, “How the hell would I know? I haven’t seen them yet.”
I got back to my desk and after sitting twiddling my thumbs for long enough to know I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else all day, I told my boss Kendra ‘Kensey’ Lindsey I was leaving for the day.
“To get the exclusive?” she asked in her husky Scouse accent as she sat at her wide, white desk, littered with proofs, layouts and post-its. I knew she would sign off most of it without even really checking things through.
“Don’t joke, Kendra,” I fired back, disgusted.
Her poker-straight blonde hair perfection, her pale features made up in nude tones—if only she wasn’t wearing some awful, lime-green monstrosity. The woman couldn’t dress for shit though people excused her as ‘subversive’ or ‘trend-setting’.
“You work for us, not them.”
I took a seat in the chair opposite hers. It was absurd of her thinking I would squeal so easily. Time to pull her down a peg or two. Faced with someone trying to cut down my friends, I could turn nastier than any animal caught in a trap.
“There’s no exclusive here,” I assured her, “just a man who lost a relative. Plus the last time I checked, there was no us and them. Chloe left Frame two years ago to work for Chanel and Cai’s got more influence outside the fashion world than you could ever hope to earn. Clearly you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you can persuade me to not only betray my friends but cross such powerful people, too.”
She tapped the end of her pilot pen against her teeth. “I have it on authority there’s something about that family, something like a mystery, and they don’t want anyone to find out.”
This confrontation had been coming a while, I supposed. Most of the time she and I didn’t talk. In fact I despised her, but a job was a job.
“That would be telling.”
“Well, I’ll be visiting Chloe directly after here but I won’t be coming back with any kind of exclusive for you.” Yes, I have a way in and you don’t. Stick that in your cauldron and smoke it.
She turned her chair sideways so all I could see was her profile. Tipping her head back, she folded her arms. “Ever since you came here from the higher echelons of Empire, you’ve never not judged yourself better than us. You obviously have no loyalty.”
“Yet you promoted me, funny that, isn’t it? But… you’re right, I have no loyalty,” I told her straight, my hands resting on the arms of my spinning chair, “but actually, I don’t think I’m above you, I know I am. For a start, I don’t bitch about every member of staff in this place behind their back and when I arrive in the morning and head for the coffee machine, I ask others around me if they want one too. I don’t make my assistant remake my drinks until I get the kind of high only an egotistical maniac does from exerting their power over others.” I watched her face turn scornful. “Also, you spreading it across the desk every night has been more than noted by the security guys and they’re not exactly silent about what they’ve seen on CCTV.”
She cackled, so proud of herself.
“I only ended up here after receiving a random email from Klaus Häuser, who suggested I drop his name. He used to be friends with my friend Chloe—though I’ve always wondered what the crack is with that man, picking up girls like Chloe, no morals or scruples—yet the world rewards him anyway.”
She sneered; she knew what she was. This ‘authority’ she talked of was no doubt him. “Why make apologies when nobody else does, either?”
“That’s the kind of antediluvian attitude I’d expect from someone worse off than you, not a woman given the world. So what is the downside of having this job, hun? What does he make you do in exchange… maybe, taking it up the butt? Does he do your paperwork and bully people into doing what you say? I just don’t get how you survive when you’re full of nothing but hot air.”
I was on a roll but I’d had it with this woman.
“You can clear your desk, Kayla,” she spat, trying not to show I was getting to her.
I’m just not done yet. “The nature of all this… it makes me wonder now. It does make me wonder about a few things, especially you and Klaus and your need to know about what’s going on with Chloe and Cai. Seems to me I’m stuck in the middle of a shit storm of lies, backstabbing and revenge, if the rumours about yours and Jennifer’s feud is anything to go by.”
Kendra swaggered, “She just never liked me. I don’t know why. She just wanted to be queen of everything, that woman.”
I stood and looked down on her. “You’ll give me a good redundancy package otherwise I’ll sell what I know about you to some tabloid and we all know how much they’re willing to pay.”
She stood with her hands on the desk and lowered her eyes to mine like she might pounce across and rip my hair out. Six foot, she towered over me but I could take her. She snarled, “You wouldn’t dare.”
“I’ve had other offers and I’ve built relationships with other magazines and companies. I don’t have anything to lose if I leave and everything to gain. I don’t care if you threaten me, I can do as I please. So, you’ll do me a favour and let me go with a nice exit package and I will keep your disgusting manners and your filthy fucking habits to myself.”
She gritted her teeth, “We’ll see about all this, we’ll see.”
“I guess we will,” I smiled, and left her office.
THE pretty nanny, Teri opened the door of Chloe’s Notting Hill mansion to let me inside and I had to shake off my hatred of Kendra and prepare myself for whatever drama Cai Matthews had created this time. The man was a menace. If only Chloe didn’t love him so much, I would have told her to escape to some colony and never come back. Trouble brewed around the Matthews’ clan like flies round shit.
I shook off my bag and coat in the hallway and quickly asked her, “What’s going on, then?”
“He seems calm now, actually,” she said with surprise in her eyes, “they have a guest, some tall man. Very dishy.”
I’d only ever seen him in pictures but I knew he was absolutely devastating.
“Err, yeah, I suppose,” I replied.
While she went into the kitchen to boil the kettle, I stood in the hall thinking about how to approach this. I knew myself and I knew, if he was even more beautiful in real life, I was about to make a total fool of myself. It was how I coped in these sorts of situations.
I took the door handle and thought, nothing for it.
I crashed into the room, all action, no thought. If I let myself think, I’d say something totally fucking stupid.
I looked between everyone in the room and let my eyes glance at Carl, who sat with his legs crossed, briefly looking up under his brow at me.
Shit, my heart is pounding like a motherfucker now. Can he see it kicking into gear?
The man exuded sex, grace and eligibility and I’d only had a glance so far!
When my eyes landed on Cai, Christ, I knew the man was broken. He was totally broken. He looked worn out, his eyes sunken, his olive skin pallid and wan.
What’s going on here? I asked myself.
I perched myself next to Chloe, holding out my arms. She rushed into my embrace and grabbed me tight, letting me know this was bad. She was suffering and she didn’t know how to comfort him. Cai, in a corner of the sectional seating by himself, looked like he was in a world of his own.
“Well now, I didn’t expect this, tea and biscuits, eh?” I said throwing my head back on a loud tut, reaching for humour, because humour always worked. “Cai, when she’s breastfeeding, you know she only eats packs of donuts!”
Not a speck of reaction from Cai.
I dared not look at Carl again, I might have come on the spot, but I could see him staring at me and it made me feel so uneasy.
“You’re such a bitch!” Chloe scolded me.
“Me? A bitch? I’m just looking out for you. So what’s been going on?” I was breathless because a huge, beautiful man sat opposite me and I wanted to stare back at him, too. However, I was there to help my friends, not jump the dishy American.
“You can’t just march in here like you own the show! We’ve been doing fine thanks,” she exclaimed, gesturing subtly to Carl.
You’re here to help Cai, you’re here to help Cai! I had to remind myself. I’d witnessed his meltdowns before and they were ugly, but this one seemed serious.
“Hmm, whatever, now let me see those big blues, Cai Matthews. Let me see them,” I asked clearly. He lifted his chin slowly and looked up. I could tell he was in pain, the kind you can’t express through words. “You finally snapped then, boy? Can’t say it surprises me, I’m just surprised you held out so long. Must be a tough one, you.”
He smiled a little so I pushed on, ignoring the elephant in the room, “Listen to me. Okay? I’ve got her so while I’m holding her, she’s okay, she’s safe with me. Now listen. I have some training in this area…” I’ve had several years’ worth of counselling, “…and what I want you to do is tell us the problem, how ever big or small, and we’ll all deal with it right here and now, we can all deal with it. I’ve got her, nothing bad will happen, because believe me this bitch ain’t as strong as me. Now, c’mon. Let it go, Cai. Just tell us the problem.”
Cai shook his head and removed his suit jacket, running his hands up and down his cheeks. “I feel like I need a drink.”
“Never solved a thing,” Carl said, and oh god, his voice made my nipples hard. In my bondage top and jeans, I felt contained and trapped. I wished I’d worn heels, not my big, clopping steam punk boots.
Keep your hat—or more importantly—your knickers on.
I agreed with Carl, trying not to look at his eyes for too long, turning my focus back on Cai. “Too true. How about you just try some deep breaths, from your diaphragm. Few deeps breaths. I could be doing with some fucking tea though people, the K.T. here be thirsty after three tubes and Kensey fucking me up.”
While Cai took some deep breaths, Chloe frowned and asked, “What? How?”
“The woman is a fucking bitch. She was all like, ‘You go get the exclusive from Chloe,’ and I was all like, ‘No sodding chance, luv,’ so then she was like, ‘Oh like that is it? Well I know where your loyalty lies Kayla,’ so then I told her to swivel on her stick and eat it. The shagged out old bag.” Not those words exactly, though that’s how it was in my head!
Chloe giggled but it was Carl’s reaction that astonished me. He covered his face with his hands and his laugh, so deep and throaty, turned me on even more.
It made me ecstatically happy to have made him laugh. My heart picked up even more pace and my eyes and his finally met for a stretch longer than a glance.
Hazel. He had hazel eyes.
I think that was the moment I fell…