Read 31 Days of Winter Online

Authors: C. J. Fallowfield

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica, #Humorous, #Mystery, #Romantic Erotica

31 Days of Winter (5 page)

‘Is there another guest?’ asked the Receptionist.

‘Yes, she’ll be here later. I’m so sorry to
trouble you but she has my iPad and I lost my mobile and can’t remember her
number. Would you mind if I logged onto my iCloud account to retrieve it?

‘Not at all,’ she smiled.

‘Can I leave the spare room key here for her? It’s
Brooke Hanson, she’s a redhead.’

‘Not a problem, she’ll need to quote your name and
room number so we know it’s genuine.’

‘Thanks.’ I quickly scribbled her number on the
back of my hand, then headed up to the room, dumping the cases just inside the
door. I contemplated throwing myself on the bed and crying, but I didn’t have
time. When Brooke arrived I had a new laptop to set up, clothes to sort and I
needed a shower, all that humping of cases and the stress had left me hot and
bothered. I stripped off and had a steaming hot shower to help ease out some of
the tension kinks, keeping my hair tucked up out of the way then wrapped myself
in a towel and put on the complimentary slippers. I had a thing about walking
on hotel carpets where other people’s feet, and goodness knows what else, had
been. I opened my cases and sorted out what I wanted to take away and what was
staying behind. I needed to ring Brooke to make sure that she brought
everything, the new clothes bags, and laptop as well as my small case that I
had taken to hers. I dialled her mobile from the hotel room phone.

‘Hey Brooke, it’s me.’

‘Hi Steve, can I call you back, it’s really not a
great time.’

‘Shit, are you with Zac?’ I whispered as I
recognised the engine purr again.

‘Yes, on my way home now, I’ll give you a ring
when I get there, ok babes?’

‘Marriot Regent Park, room 115,’ I whispered in
case Zac overheard.

‘Love you too babes, speak soon.’

‘Ok.’

Shit! Zac was driving her back to her house? Knowing
him he probably won’t leave as he’d assume that I’d either go back there or
ring her. He knew I was a creature of habit and who I’d run to after a fight
with him. I had my passport so I guess I could just go with what I had here, but
it would mean not saying goodbye to her and I didn’t want to leave like that. I
opened the minibar and took out the small bottles of Baileys and knocked one
back in one go then finished sorting the clothes I had here with me, before
having a second Baileys. I rang room service and asked for a bottle of
champagne to be sent up. I needed to toast to a new start. I jumped when the
phone rang back.

‘Sorry babe, I was in his car,’ Brooke whispered.

‘I figured. Don’t tell me he’s in your house now?’

‘Yes, he’s refusing to leave as he reckons you’ll
come here or ring me. I’ve come to the bathroom and put the taps on so he can’t
hear.’

‘Shit, how are you going to get out without him
knowing?’

‘I’ll figure something out.’

‘I need my clothes and the new laptop, too.’

‘Don’t worry, stealth is my middle name. I’ll be
there as soon as I can, ok?’

I reminded her of my room number and hung up. This
was all a bit much, Zac had driven her home and was waiting in her house?
What
had I got her mixed up in?
I pulled on a t-shirt and climbed into the bed
feeling tired and shivery. As soon as my head hit the pillow I started to cry,
gut wrenching sobs. I cried for the life I’d lost and the life I’d dreamed of having,
but now never would. I cried until my eyes felt dry and gritty as the Sahara
desert and when my breathing calmed down, pulled the duvet over my head and
fell asleep.

 

‘O babe,’ I heard as I felt a hand sweep over my
hair.

‘Brooke?’ I mumbled as I opened my eyes to see her
smiling down at me.

‘I’m here, Zac free. You couldn’t wait for me to
arrive before you had a melt down?’

‘I’m sorry, it just happened. How did you get
away?’

‘Got your case and bags ready and snuck them in
the kitchen, booked a taxi and then told him I couldn’t find my mobile and that
I must have dropped it in his car. When he went out to check, I locked him out
and legged it out the back. And I looked to make sure he hadn’t followed the
taxi too, he has no idea where we are, though he’s left a few annoyed messages
on my phone.’

‘You’re amazing,’ I smiled as I sat up and gave
her a big hug. ‘Give me your phone and I’ll block him.’

‘You can do that?’ she exclaimed.

‘Ermmm, yes.’

‘God, I’ll give you a whole list of names to
block, that’ll make my life a lot easier.’

I laughed and took the phone and told her to go and
unpack and charge my new laptop, and then ring room service again and order us
some food while I blocked the long list of callers she wanted to avoid.

Day Four

Ellie

Brooke dropped me off
outside the office at seven-thirty and earned herself a raised eyebrow from me
as she wheel spun away and headed off in Maisie to fetch the cases from Mike’s
to take back to hers. I stood on the pavement outside and looked up at the tall
building in front of me and closed my eyes trying to find my centre of calm
before walking in and nodding to security. Four years I’d worked here, every
time I came in I’d nod to him, and did I ever get a nod back? I wondered if he
was related to the Captain. The only thing that had cheered me up this morning,
other than the exquisite croissants I’d had for breakfast, was the fact that by
the end of the day I’d be able to put a face to the sexy voice that had me in a
tizz for hours after I spoke to him on Saturday. I looked down at myself as I
went up in the lift. I’d dressed in a pair of heels, black skinny jeans, a
sheer emerald blouse and a black jacket, and had taken a bit more time with my
hair and makeup than normal. Brooke had laughed at the effort I was making.

‘Don’t know why you’re bothering,’ she’d said.
‘He’ll be like one of those sex line people. They sound incredibly sexy on the
phone, when in reality they’re some fat sweating bald guy with no teeth, who’s
probably taking a shit while reading off a script.’ She was probably right, but
a not so tiny portion of me really hoped that she wasn’t.

I stepped out into the lobby of our publishing
firm and smiled sadly when I looked at the reception desk and realised I wasn’t
going to see Natasha to say goodbye. I sat at her desk and ran my hand over the
smooth polished wood, taking a second for the enormity of the moment to catch
up with me, then wrote her an apology letter, sealed it in an envelope and
propped it up on her keyboard. I stood and mentally psyched myself up for the
battle of my life, and walked through to the Captain’s Office.

‘You’re early,’ he commented without even looking
up. I looked at my watch, I was an hour and fifteen early, well, fifteen by his
standards.

‘I need to talk.’

‘No time, schedule an appointment in for later.’

‘That’s the problem, I won’t be here later.’

‘Damn it, Ellie. Another personal day? I don’t
just hand them out, you know,’ he snapped as he looked up at me. I was about to
remind him that for the last four years I’d been way under my holiday
entitlement, but what did it matter? ‘What’s the problem? Why do you need it
and what the hell are you wearing? You know I have a strict no jeans at work
policy.’

‘Well if you’d let me talk, you’d know.’

‘You can’t have today off, I need you here, I need
notice for you to drop me in it, check with Natasha and she’ll see when I can
squeeze you in.’ He looked back down at his desk and carried on with his scribbling.

‘I’m giving my notice John, I’m resigning with
immediate effect and I’ll be gone before Natasha arrives.’ I slid my letter
across the desk and watched as he stopped his scribbling and his index finger
reached out to touch the edge of the envelope, but he didn’t look up.

‘Is this your idea of a fucking joke?’ he asked
quietly.

‘No, no joke, I’m really sorry to do this to you,
but personal circumstances dictate that I don’t have a choice. I’ve already
composed a letter to my clients, which I’ll email to you later so you can vet
it before sending it out, if that’s what you chose to do. I’ll leave
instructions for Natasha to reassign my meetings until you find a replacement.’
I held my breath as I saw him take a deep one and quickly took a step back, this
was going to be flobber central and the roar would probably knock me flat on my
arse this time. I was surprised when he leaned back in his chair and rubbed his
mouth as he raised his puzzled gaze to study my face.

‘You’re serious,’ he stated calmly.

‘Yes,’ I nodded nervously. I’d have preferred
Captain Cranky to this guy, at least I knew where I stood with him.

‘Personal reasons?’

‘Yes, but as I’m leaving I may as well go all in. I’m
not afraid to tell you that you don’t exactly make life easy for people around
here, it’s not a happy working environment. You’re moody and cantankerous and
scare the shit out of everyone.’

‘Not you, obviously.’

‘Sometimes yes, and quite frankly I’m rather
surprised you haven’t roared at me this morning.’

‘I apologise, Ellie. I’ve had some … “personal
stuff” going on at home too, I hadn’t realised that I was letting it get to me
at work. I’ll make an effort to be less shit scaring.’

‘And cantankerous?’ I asked hesitantly, wondering
where this version of the Captain had come from.

‘Yes, that too,’ he replied with a wry smile. ‘You’re
the best editor I’ve ever had Ellie, can I do nothing to change your mind?’

‘Today? No, I’m afraid not. I’m taking a month out
to try something new and I don’t expect you to hold my job open for me if my
plans don’t work out, but I appreciate the faith in my abilities. I’m so sorry
to do this and obviously as I can’t work my month notice I know I won’t be
paid.’

‘I’ll make you a deal, Ellie. While you try this “something
new” I’ll start the recruitment process for your successor, but I won’t accept
this letter until you’ve had time to think about it. If in a month you still
want to resign, give it back to me. However, in exchange I’d like you to work
another month, both of which would be paid, while you settle in the new person.
If you end up choosing to stay, well then you’ve just been on an extended holiday.’

‘That’s really kind John, but if you recruit
someone there won’t be a job for me to come back to.’

‘Not as a Senior Editor, no. I’d make you a Junior
Partner with a substantial pay rise, that’s how much I don’t want to lose you.’

‘I don’t know what to say,’ I exclaimed.
Junior
Partner?
Junior Partner was a serious offer for me at only twenty-six and
he’d completely thrown me by acting like a human being for once.

‘Say nothing, take the letter with you, your desk
will remain yours and come back and see me in a month’s time with your
decision. I’ll get HR to email over a contract stating the new terms and pay. In
the meantime, email me a meeting date and we’ll discuss it then and see how you
feel.’

‘Thank you, I really appreciate your
consideration,’ I smiled and let him see the sincerity behind it.

‘Well I’m busy, I have people to shout at all day
and scare the shit out of, so if you’d make me a coffee before you go then
you’re free to leave. Natasha makes crap coffee,’ he sighed and looked back
down and starting writing again. I headed to the staff room in a daze.
Had
that really just happened?
No shouting
and
a new job offer? I had
some serious thinking to do while I was away.

‘Here’s your coffee, John.’

‘I think you mean Captain Cranky,’ he smiled with
an arched brow as he looked up at me. My mouth dropped as I felt my cheeks
flame. ‘I’ve been called worse, I hope you sort out your personal stuff and
Happy Christmas, Ellie,’ he waved my letter at me and I took it and noticed
another envelope. ‘You’d miss the Christmas bonus cheques while you’re away,
now go, I have work to do.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Yeah whatever, don’t have a girly moment on me.’ His
head was back down and I walked out, tucking the envelopes into my bag, still
marvelling at how my day was turning out.

I should have known I wasn’t that lucky. When I
headed out to the lobby downstairs my heart sank, Zac was leaning against one
of the pillars just outside the security turnstiles and he’d spotted me. I
should have known that he’d be here waiting for me to come to work, after all
it wasn’t like he had anywhere else to be. He was dressed down in jeans, a
white shirt and black blazer, and I sighed to think only this time last year
I’d looked at him and wanted to run my hands over his body. Now …
nothing
.
I decided that I couldn’t hide behind the safety of the security checkpoint
forever, I needed to get to the bank, get some cash and let them know I was
going to be away. I also needed to go and buy a new iPhone, then get back to
the hotel to collect my bags and meet Brooke who was taking me to the airport. I
walked through the turnstile and put out my palm again as he tried to step too
close to me.

‘What are you doing here, Zac? I thought I’d made
it clear that I didn’t want to speak to you.’

‘How else am I supposed to, El? You clear out your
stuff from our place, have Brooke get in the way of me coming after you, then
she ditches me and your mobile’s in pieces all over our bedroom floor.’

‘Your bedroom floor, I don’t live there anymore.’

‘El, honey, we really need to talk. I’ve fucked up
big time, I know that, but I don’t want you to go.’

‘Zac, I’ve already gone.’

‘If you had, you’d have taken off your engagement
ring,’ he advised with a flick of his head to it. I shoved my hand in my jeans
pocket.

‘I’ve had rather a lot on my mind Zac, my fiancé
has been lying to me, cheating on me, doing drugs, clearing out our bank
accounts and faking his job. Sorry if my still wearing a ring that meant
something to me when we were happy has made you think that I can forgive all of
that. I need to go, I have things to do.’

‘You’re not working?’ he asked as he looked down
at my jeans.

‘No, like you I’m now jobless too. I just quit, so
I can get away and clear my head.’

‘You quit?!’ he exclaimed. ‘Captain Crank let you
out alive?’ I nearly laughed,
nearly
, but no way was I falling for that
charm act again.

‘Yes, and he’s offered the position of Junior
Partner to me if I change my mind and return.’

‘El, that’s amazing, I’m so proud of you.’ He
stepped forward with his arms out, as if to hug me and I shoved him back.

‘You don’t get to be proud, Zac,’ I bit. ‘You lost
that right a long time ago it seems.’

‘What can I do to make you forgive me, El? I’ll do
anything,’ he pleaded.

‘I want you to leave me alone, I need to go.’

‘But I need to talk.’

‘Why ask me, Zac? You ask what you can do to help
and you ignore me when I tell you what I need. You want to talk to make yourself
feel better and that’s not my problem. You can’t dump all this on me and expect
me to deal in a couple of days.’

‘So if I give you time you’ll sit down and talk to
me?’

‘Yes,’ I sighed. ‘But it’s on the condition that
you use your free time to go and get cleaned up. If you keep doing drugs or
paying for prostitutes, I won’t want to even talk.’

‘How much time?’

‘I’m going away for a month.’

‘A month?’ he gasped and stepped back, putting his
hands over his mouth.

‘I’ll contact you when I get back,’ I advised him
as I averted my gaze.

‘Promise me you’ll think about if we can work this
out, El? I love you.’

‘I promise,’ I sighed and quickly walked away, making
sure I didn’t look back to encourage him. I was sure that he’d ruined any
chance of me ever forgiving him. I mean if Brooke told me Steve had done what Zac
had done to me, I’d scream at her to run like the bloody wind. I wished I’d had
more sexual or relationship experience to have toughened me up a bit more, or
an errant father that I could blame my need to be in a relationship on, to have
someone to love and to love me in return, but I’d had the perfect childhood,
the perfect supportive loving parents, until they both died in a car accident five
years ago.

Neither of my parents had made themselves careers.
We’d lived hand to mouth every day on a council estate with high levels of crime
and drug problems, but it was a happy home and they’d maxed themselves out on
debt to support me through Uni. When they died, the creditors reclaimed pretty
much everything. I reached up and caressed the small silver heart shaped locket
around my neck, one of the few things I’d been able to keep between the
creditors and my evil aunts stripping everything before I got home. Dad had
given the locket to Mum the day I was born and inside was a picture of the two
of them. Dad was standing behind Mum with a protective hand on her obviously
pregnant stomach, and they’d put a tiny curl of my hair in it. I cherished it,
because they did.

I headed to the bank and stood in line and
breathed in the welcome air conditioned air, not that it was warm outside, it
wasn’t, but on the inside I was overheating with too many emotions. It would
just sum up my last few days if the bank was held up at gunpoint and I was
taken hostage. I grabbed my wallet out of my bag and saw my bonus envelope. I’d
helped with two bestsellers this year, so was hoping for around £1,000, but was
probably being optimistic. I wasn’t prepared for the extra zero on the end of
the cheque. I looked at it as the cashier called me forward.

‘You’re making a deposit?’ she smiled.

‘No,’ I shook my head and shoved the cheque in my
bag. I couldn’t just bank that without knowing if I was going back, or talking
to John about why it was so high. I didn’t feel I deserved that. ‘I’ll just
take some cash and I’d like to advise you that I’ll be away for a month.’ I
headed out and purchased a new pay as you go iPhone and got a taxi back to the
hotel and made it there before eleven. I stuck the phone on charge immediately
and sorted my handbag ready for my flight. I’d used my largest case for my trip
and hadn’t really bothered with many fancy clothes, I figured I’d be lounging
about writing indoors most of the time. I suddenly felt excited, for a whole
month Zac and his issues were behind me, and I had no work deadlines or worries.
Brooke had already told me the spare room at hers was mine when I got back, for
however long I needed it. So for the first time in a long time, I could just
focus on me. I looked at myself in the mirror, my eyes finally had a bit of
sparkle in them and my heart skipped a beat when I remembered, “It’s all part
of the service, Miss Baxter.” I was way too invested in a voice.

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