Authors: Jan Brigden
‘Yes,’ said Abi, a slow grin spreading across her face as she read it. ‘He says if I can
keep a straight face when I meet Jack Byrnes, he’ll double my wages.’
‘Who’s Jack Byrnes?’
‘His manager pal at Hawksley Manor. He must wear a naff toupee or something. Honestly, I’ll swing for Richard when I get back to work. He knows I can’t hold my laugh in.’ Abi fired off a response.
‘So did Richard recommend anywhere for us to visit while we’re there?’ Rebecca asked. ‘Only Greg said York Minster’s amazing.’
… this weekend is about having fun, lady, not schlepping round old buildings. Or cruising up the River Ouse as Richard, unbelievably, proposed we do.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. A cruise in this weather might be lovely.’
‘No, Bex. It won’t. When was the last time you had proper fun?’
‘I’m not going clubbing, Abs.’
‘Because I’ve got nothing to wear,’ said Rebecca, declining to mention the other reasons: Too self-conscious, too many sweaty blokes, Greg’s scathing put-downs.
‘Oh, don’t be silly. Borrow something of mine.’
A voice rang out over the tannoy informing them of their imminent arrival in York.
‘Best reclaim your trunk,’ said Rebecca, glad of the timely intervention.
She dragged her holdall down from the luggage rack. Most people, it seemed, were getting off, including the paper-rustler, who tut-tutted in her direction before huffing off towards the exit doors.
‘Miserable old fart,’ Abi whispered, reappearing with trunk in tow. ‘Just our luck he’ll be staying at Hawksley Manor!’
Rebecca had pictured York station as being quaint and quiet but, although easier on the eye than King’s Cross, it was swarming with tourists, some of them wielding maps almost as big as themselves.
It reminded her of the time Greg had taken her to Blackpool for the weekend. He’d refused to go and see the lights because he’d said they’d be ducking cameras and guidebooks all night. Rebecca had gone without him in the end and, thanks to an elderly couple from Bath who’d adopted her for the evening, had loved it.
She wondered if York would be as memorable.
They criss-crossed their way over to the taxi rank, reaching the front of the queue within minutes.
A bright red Citroen pulled up.
‘Hawksley Manor, please,’ said Abi, poking her head through the open passenger window and beaming at the driver. He had a nice face – Father Christmas-ish – and helped both women into the car with their luggage.
‘First time in York, is it?’ he asked, turning left out of the station.
‘Certainly is. And I’ve heard it’s lovely,’ said Abi.
‘Aye, it is,’ he said, grinning at them in his rear-view mirror, ‘especially where you’re going.’
Twenty-five minutes later they reached the huge, black wrought iron gates that heralded the start of Hawksley Manor’s long drive; neatly paved and shaded by legions of gold and copper beech trees.
They slowed to observe the ten m.p.h. speed limit, passing a cluster of tennis courts dotted with several people, sweat trickling from every pore, doggedly net-rushing as though their lives hinged on it.
weather?’ Abi yanked her sunglasses back down over her eyes, as if offended.
‘I know. They’ll have to dive in there to cool off,’ said the driver, pointing ahead to a magnificent central water fountain.
They circled it, gaining their first proper view of the manor’s imposing sandstone façade. It had looked grand enough in the brochure, but seeing it up close took Rebecca’s breath away – as did the acres of rolling parkland surrounding it. So, too, the lush gardens preceding it, chock-full of beautiful red and pink peonies, showy hydrangeas, snapdragons and roses, to name but a few of the blooms she recognised, and big bronze water features that made her pond and pebble stacks at home look paltry.
‘This place is something else,’ she said, leaping from the taxi onto the wide front steps, the aroma of sweet peas filling her nostrils.
‘Awesome, isn’t it?’ said Abi, joining her. She pointed out the golf course, nestling beyond a huge guest car park on the right side of the manor, set in a valley populated by trees, with greens so velvety they looked synthetic.
Rebecca imagined the joy on Greg’s face if he could see it.
She thanked the driver and helped him to unload their luggage, picking up her holdall as Abi settled their fare and waved him off.
A young doorman dressed in full livery raced down the steps towards them. ‘Good afternoon, ladies. Welcome to Hawksley Manor.’ He took charge of Abi’s case, gamely trying to lift it without showing the strain, his ballooning cheeks turning as maroon as his jacket.
Rebecca and Abi exchanged doting glances and followed him up the steps into an opulent marble lobby.
‘Whoa! Fancy polishing those monsters,’ Abi gasped, urging Rebecca to look up at the giant drop crystals hanging from the equally giant chandeliers.
’ Rebecca indicated a centrally placed sweeping staircase.
‘Red-carpeted especially for us, dahling.’ Abi coughed demurely and patted the back of her hair.
They tailed the doorman past a row of oil paintings depicting various scenes from the manor grounds, to a mahogany front desk where a team of receptionists, dressed in maroon and black uniforms, stood busily checking people in. Beyond the desk, a richly carpeted lounge furnished with squidgy, leather armchairs played host to a clutch of guests sipping tea and coffee from dainty, white china cups.
Rebecca longed to wriggle out of her jeans and T-shirt and tidy her straggly ponytail, and sighed with relief when a receptionist became free.
, the woman’s name badge said.
Rebecca couldn’t help mentally likening her to a Doberman.
Mid-fifties, with a pearly white French pleat and a face you could chop wood on, she glared at Abi through pink-rimmed varifocals. ‘How may I help you?’
‘Huxley and Stafford,’ Abi replied, meeting the receptionist’s gaze full on. ‘We’re booked in for three nights.’
‘One moment, please.’ Ms Sharp tapped the computer keys with long, bony fingers.
‘Actually,’ said Abi, smiling sweetly, ‘I was told to ask for Jack Byrnes on arrival. Is he around?’
Ms Sharp’s features juddered. ‘I’ll see if he’s free.’ She snatched up the nearest phone receiver.
Rebecca could see Abi trying not to gloat seconds later, as they were asked to wait in the lounge and told begrudgingly that their luggage would be taken to their rooms for them.
But we’re booked into a twin,’ said Abi, frowning.
‘You’ve been upgraded.’ Ms Sharp arched a needle-thin eyebrow at them. ‘By a Mr and Mrs Murray. Regular guests of ours, I believe.’
‘My boss and his wife.’ Abi looked genuinely embarrassed. ‘Oh, well. How lovely. Two rooms it is then.’ She ushered Rebecca into the lounge.
They’d just settled themselves into two of the comfy armchairs when a chubby, suited man with a nose that could only be termed a whopper, strode over.
He thrust out a meaty hand.
‘Jack Byrnes. General Manager. Welcome t’t manor.’
‘Thank you,’ said Abi, avoiding eye contact with Rebecca as she leapt up to greet him. ‘I’m Abi, and this is Rebecca.’
‘Pleased to meet you both,’ Jack gushed. ‘How’s Richard? Shame he and Mrs Murray couldn’t make it. They’d have loved the charity golf tournament yesterday. Not that we resent having you two lovely ladies here, instead, of course.’ He chuckled, allowing Rebecca and Abi to release some of their pent-up laughter.
‘He’s fine,’ said Abi, composing herself, ‘sends his regards. They both do.’
‘Marvellous!’ Jack led them back into the lobby. ‘So, what do you think of the manor so far, then, ladies?’
‘Incredible,’ said Abi, answering for them both.
‘Isn’t it just?’ Jack launched into a well-rehearsed overview.
He then introduced them to Bern
– emphasis firmly on the second syllable – the concierge, who looked like he’d been there since time began and had, unless Rebecca was mistaken, a wee twinkle in his eye.
She saw Abi perk up as Jack pointed out the bar to them, before summoning over the young doorman they’d met earlier.
‘Right, ladies, Sam here has your key cards, and will escort you upstairs. If you’re hungry, the Regency bar does snacks, otherwise dinner is served between seven and ten in’t main restaurant. Enjoy your stay. And needless to say, if there’s owt you require, just ask.’
As their rooms were only on the second floor, they took the stairs, where halfway up, they passed a man in Bermuda shorts, a vest top and an England baseball cap.
Not all suits and boots then, Rebecca was relieved to see.
Upon reaching their rooms in the sumptuously decorated West Wing, the doorman slipped their key cards into slots 218 and 219, respectively, indicating whose was whose. ‘Your luggage and welcome packs are inside,’ he said. ‘Any problems, don’t hesitate to call reception. Enjoy your stay, ladies.’
‘Bless his heart,’ said Rebecca, watching him dash, rosy-cheeked, back down the corridor. She turned to Abi. ‘So, what do you think? Unpack, shower and go for a nose round? Bit of lunch?’
Abi didn’t respond. She was gawping at the interior of room 218.
Rebecca tried to peek.
‘No, don’t. It’ll spoil it,’ said Abi, blocking her path.
‘Just go into yours, and I’ll give you a knock later,’ said Abi, leaving her intrigued.
Unsure of what to expect, Rebecca nudged open the door of room 219.
And nearly fell over.
It looked more like a suite than a room. This couldn’t be right, surely?
Furnished in gold and cream throughout, the bed alone seemed double the size of Rebecca’s one at home. Next to this, stood a stylish oak dresser, atop which sat a silver platter of fresh fruit with a little card propped against it. Emblazoned across the card in shiny gold letters were the words:
Confirmation that this vast stretch of grandeur was her home for the next three days.
She stepped over her holdall, cupping her hand to her mouth as she ventured further inside and discovered an alcove around the corner, boasting a chaise longue, glass topped coffee table and top-notch sound system. French doors opened onto a balcony, complete with table, four chairs and a buttercup-yellow parasol. They’d even thrown in two sun loungers. All that was missing was the paddling pool.
Rebecca peered over the railings and gasped. Paddling pool? That was an understatement. Directly below, set within a perimeter of pruned hedges and surrounded by grass, shimmered a beautiful, kidney-shaped swimming pool. An archway, shrouded in pink clematis, bore entry onto a covered terrace, where people sat sipping fresh orange juice and eating ice creams. It made Rebecca’s mouth water just looking at them.
She shook off her gold mules and padded back inside. She’d already clocked the mini bar next to the trouser press, so opened the door and removed a bottle of ice cold water, wondering, as she sat on the chaise longue to drink it, how much this upgrade, ‘mates rates’ or not, must have cost Abi’s boss. According to her welcome pack, this room was superior. Lord knows what the deluxe ones were like. The hotel plan showed them as being situated on the floor above, along with the bridal suite.
Abi at the door, hyperventilating.
‘Can you believe our rooms?’ she screeched, flying past Rebecca. ‘The bathroom’s bigger than my lounge.’
‘Oh my word! The bathroom!’ Rebecca tore across the room.
White with gold accessories, it had a walk-in shower, an abundance of creams and lotions in miniature bottles with exotic sounding names like frangipani and passionflower, and bath towels like duvets.
‘Richard sounded so pleased when I screamed down the phone at him how fabulous it all is,’ said Abi, laughing.
‘You’ve spoken to Richard?’
‘Don’t worry. I thanked him from both of us. After giving him some more stick for not warning us about big-nosed Jack, of course. Not too much stick though, I wanted to cheekily ask him if I could have Tuesday off too, extra day to recover. He only went and agreed!’
‘I know,’ said Abi, bounding back towards the door. ‘Look, the sooner we unpack and freshen up, the sooner we can do the grand tour.’ She let out a parting squeal. ‘Give me a knock when you’re ready.’
The second she’d gone, Rebecca unearthed her phone to call Greg. He hadn’t asked her to, but she was so used to him ringing her from the various destinations he’d reached, she thought it would be nice to do the same. No point in dwelling on his actions or, rather, non-actions earlier that day. She couldn’t change anything.
She hadn’t expected him to answer, he rarely did, so she left a message explaining that she’d arrived safely, and could he call her back when he was free.
She then set about stowing her clothes in the mammoth floor-to-ceiling wardrobe and, after fiddling with every dial and button in sight, delighted in an invigorating power shower.
An hour later, she and Abi headed back downstairs. Abi was dressed in her least-creased black shorts and a vintage T-shirt, Rebecca, having gleefully found an iron, parading a pair of flawlessly pressed brown combats and a turquoise vest top. She’d stayed with the ponytail, twisting it into a pretty blue and gold bulldog clip big enough to keep it tethered.
When they entered the lobby it buzzed with New Yorkers shrieking, ‘
some!’ at the décor and slavering over the oil paintings.
‘First stop Regency bar, I think,’ said Abi, hustling Rebecca past them.
Inside, the polo shirt brigade was out in force, its smiling members standing at the oak-panelled bar,
over their cognacs and comparing scorecards whilst their good ladies – suitably tanned and buffed – sat chatting in their wicker-chaired enclave beyond.
A man of about thirty, with a dimpled smile, greeted Rebecca and Abi as they approached the bar. ‘Afternoon, ladies. What can I get you?’ He was wearing a white shirt and black trousers teamed with a maroon waistcoat and a black bow tie and looked every inch the perfect barman.
‘Vodka and tonic, please,’ said Abi, giving him a sexy smile.
‘Ice and lemon?’
‘Yes, please.’ She turned to Rebecca. ‘Bex?’
‘Coke with ice, please.’
He nodded politely, before mixing their drinks.
‘So is it Daniel, Danny or Dan?’ said Abi, pointing to his shiny gold name badge.
Here we go, thought Rebecca. Then again, this guy had curly, black hair. Abi didn’t usually do curly.
‘I prefer Danny,’ he said, grinning at them. ‘Makes me sound younger.’