As Weekends Go (Choc Lit) (9 page)

BOOK: As Weekends Go (Choc Lit)
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‘Refill?’ he asked, taking hold of the champagne bottle.

Rebecca knew it would make her cheeks flush even rosier, but as she was hot and beer-stained, with her damp dress clinging to her thighs, and probably looked like a beef tomato anyway, what difference would it make?

‘Why not,’ she said, angling her glass towards him.

She saw Abi peering over Kenny’s shoulder at a photograph he had stored on his iPhone.

‘Look, Bex. Isn’t he sweet?’ said Abi, plucking said phone out of his hand at that moment.

Staring back at Rebecca was a mini version of Kenny, dressed in a blue and white romper suit and matching booties.

‘Adorable,’ she replied with a sigh, gazing at the child’s angelic face. ‘What’s his name?’

‘Connor.’ Kenny’s face exuded fatherly pride. ‘That’s an old picture though. He’s two now.’

‘Well, he certainly looks like you,’ said Rebecca. ‘Is he well behaved?’

‘Yeah, he’s blinding. Just a shame I don’t get to see him that much.’ He took another mouthful of beer before tucking his phone away.

‘Anyway, how come you two are here on your own?’ said Abi. ‘I’d have thought you’d be surrounded by babes.’

‘We are,’ said Kenny, winking at her. He ordered a second bottle of Laurent-Perrier.

‘I love this song,’ said Abi, clicking her fingers. She and Kenny started belting it out, much to the waiter’s amusement, who’d returned with their bubbly in what seemed like a nanosecond.

‘I feel quite guilty,’ said Alex to Rebecca. ‘Like we’ve gatecrashed your evening.’

Was he serious?
Rebecca was enjoying his company so much she really didn’t want him to leave.

‘Not a problem,’ she said, pushing the thought away. ‘It’s all just a bit surreal. I’m used to seeing you on the telly, not—’ She stopped talking as a bouncer came over.

‘Yo, Alex! Plenty of room up top if you want some privacy,’ he said, looming over them.

‘Cheers, mate.’ Alex waited until he’d loped away, then turned back to Rebecca. ‘Do you fancy going upstairs?’

Her insides cartwheeled.

‘Sorry, let me rephrase that. I meant to the lounge,’ he explained. ‘I wouldn’t normally bother but it’ll be easier to talk in there. We might even get to finish a conversation.’

‘Yeah, come on girls. Live dangerously,’ said Kenny, patently an expert lip reader.

‘What do you think, Bex?’ Abi stared at her, eyes pleading.

‘It’ll be okay,’ said Alex.

Rebecca swallowed as the lamplight caught his smile.

‘Oh, go on then,’ she said, already mentally blaming the alcohol for robbing her of common sense. ‘One more drink won’t hurt.’

‘I’ll ask for the bill,’ said Abi.

‘It’s sorted,’ said Kenny, grabbing the champagne.

Chapter Eleven

Greg couldn’t believe it was as late as ten forty.

The hotel bar, thankfully a cut above the restaurant, was beginning to thin out, having been crammed with conference attendees either nursing one for the road, or staying over.

He pulled his phone from his pocket and walked into the lobby. He’d intended to call Rebecca earlier instead of texting her, but had been so wrapped-up in post-presentation cheer, he’d forgotten all about her. If Abi had taken her out on the town, chances were she probably wouldn’t even hear her phone, let alone pick up, which meant he could make up some convincing excuse via her voicemail.

His luck was in!

He shoved his phone back in his pocket after leaving his message and was assessing whether or not to return to the bar when someone laid a hand on his shoulder.

‘There you are, Mr Stafford!’

Nina.

Greg would know that voice anywhere.

He turned to face her. Dressed in a low cut emerald-green maxi dress that she’d changed into for the evening, she took his breath away even now. It seemed crazy to think she was nearly forty.

‘Just grabbing five minutes to make some calls,’ he said.

It had unsettled him seeing her in the conference suite earlier, sitting in the front row, staring up at him. She’d looked so impressed when he’d finished his presentation she’d even given him a little wave.

Then, over dinner later where, naturally, she’d been placed on his table, she couldn’t praise him enough. And although he’d initially begrudged having to be overly civil to her, he’d quickly found himself thawing. After all, if they were going to work so closely together in future they had to communicate, didn’t they?

If anyone could snare Torrison Products and Solutions, Greg could. He’d been given full licence to schmooze, and his boss, armed with the knowledge of his past relationship with Nina, had stressed that there was no room for resentments.

Nina tossed back her hair, longer, browner and glossier than Greg had ever seen it. ‘Seeing as how we’ve been incredibly adult and almost buried the hatchet, I was hoping you might join me for a drink,’ she said. ‘There’s a bottle of Merlot in the bar with our names on it. It’d be rude not to toast such an accomplished presentation.’

Greg smiled, more to himself than at her. Her familiarity, not to mention, front, should have astounded him, but the compliment won over. ‘Well, if you insist …’

She sashayed ahead of him into the bar, passing a couple of middle managers who stopped talking, beer bottles raised halfway to their drooling mouths.

Greg puffed out his chest.
Dream on, suckers!

Nina ordered the wine and then sat down at the nearest table, leaving Greg to fetch over the bottle and two glasses.

‘Shall I be mother?’ she said, pouring for them.

Greg loosened his tie, his gaze flickering over her as she raised her glass.

‘To the future!’ she declared.

‘I’ll drink to that,’ said Greg. ‘I just hope today has all been worthwhile.’

‘Oh, I think you can rest easy.’ She crossed her slim legs, giving him a healthy view of soft, milky white thigh. ‘My lot are pretty enthralled with Rutland Finance. You sold it up there on that stage today. I can see why they promoted you.’

Greg’s chuckle lodged in his throat. Was this the same woman who’d walked out on him without a backward glance because he hadn’t been go-getting enough for her?

Oh, how times had changed …

‘Talking of promotions,’ he said, unable to help himself, ‘how’s the boyfriend these days? Charles, isn’t it? Last time we spoke, at that seminar in Bristol, you were telling me how he’d been made non-exec chairman of some textiles company or other.’

Nina stiffened in her chair. ‘To be truthful, I hardly see him. He’s away most of the time, out of the country on business.’

‘He can’t be far off retirement, can he? He was pushing seventy when you met him.’

‘He’s sixty-two, actually,’ said Nina, flushing slightly. ‘And don’t kid yourself that I haven’t sussed where you’re going with this, Greg. I know you think I left you for him, but you’re wrong. I left you because we wanted different things.’

Bingo! One-nil!
Greg had her riled and was enjoying every second of it.

‘Anyway,’ she said, after a while, peering at him over the rim of her glass with that mischievous expression on her face he recalled so well, ‘we’re supposed to be talking about you. How’s the lovely Rebecca? I expect I’ll get to meet her at last … socially, I mean, now that our two companies are on the brink of working together. Is she still an …
admin
clerk?’

Greg bristled.
One-all!

‘No,’ he said. ‘She was made redundant.’

‘Oh, sorry to hear that. The odd update does filter through to me from time to time via a couple of our old mutual friends, but this clearly passed me by. No mini Staffords charging about the place yet then?’ Nina ran her fingers spider-leg-style across the table towards him.

Greg couldn’t help smiling at her corresponding shudder of disdain. ‘No, I’m far too busy for all that baby stuff at the moment. We agreed to postpone. Rebecca’s fine about it. It’ll give her a chance to network with my lot a bit more. You know what it’s like when you hit executive level, all the extra socialising.’

‘Oh, absolutely!’ agreed Nina, taking a gulp of her wine.

‘Trouble with Bex is that she’s not very good at disentangling herself from certain people. I need to lure her into pastures new. Her best friend drives me nuts. They’re in York together until Monday. Having said that, Bex has been nothing but supportive. She’s a fantastic hostess, warm, caring, sensual …’ He watched Nina’s empathetic expression switch to a pout.

‘Second best …’ she countered, loud enough for him to hear. She licked her lips. ‘Oops! Sorry, just slipped out.’

Greg sat back, folded his arms and stared at her, unsure of his next move. He’d been enjoying the flirtatious sparring between them, but this had put a deeper slant on things.

‘You’re annoyed with me, aren’t you?’ said Nina.

‘Not annoyed, just a bit confused as to why you’d come out with something like that after all these years.’

‘Because it’s true. You don’t have to justify to me how wonderful Rebecca is, okay? I know how much time and energy she invested in dragging you back from the abyss when we split, and I admire her for that. I’m sure you love her and the whole devoted wife-at-home deal very much. And that’s great. You have a nice life, as do I. I just think that what you and I had was extra special. All right, so I blew it, but you can’t deny we were good together. And I can’t deny that I’m thrilled we’re back in contact. I feel like we’ve come full circle, and dare I say it,’ she gazed into his eyes, ‘still have much to share that could mutually benefit us.’

Greg feared his heart was going to pound its way through his chest wall. Was she really saying what he thought she was saying?

His mind flicked back over their conversation as he watched her sipping her wine and making polite small talk with one of her Torrison colleagues who’d approached their table.

He must maintain control. He’d been here before and knew perfectly well what Nina was capable of.

Even so, the two of them were older and wiser now.

He pondered both the practical and delightful advantages of having both Rebecca and Nina, revisiting the thought over and over again as fast as he dismissed it. With the huge success of the conference and potential new joint business ventures thrown in, he was starting to feel like the jammiest man alive.

‘We still have much to share that could mutually benefit us,’
Nina had said.

Greg did love Rebecca, that much was true, but Nina was in his blood. Always would be. No other woman – and that included Rebecca – could match her in his eyes.

Rebecca shot Abi an anxious glance. Alex and Kenny were leading them through a door marked Staff Only. This wasn’t a lounge. It was a long, poorly lit passageway littered with old newspapers, broken chairs and stained carpet tiles. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all. Mum would have a fit if she could see her. How many times over the years had she told her kids to keep their wits about them?

‘No need to worry,’ said Alex as though reading Rebecca’s mind. ‘It’s a shortcut. Runs parallel with the club. Saves fighting our way through the crowd.’

They stopped at the foot of a spiral staircase. To Rebecca’s relief, they turned left at the top of it and entered the air-conditioned VIP lounge.

‘Whoah! Makes downstairs look like a bingo hall,’ said Abi, eyes bulging at the sight of the champagne bar, glam hostesses and a private veranda overlooking the club. ‘Get a look at the mirrored dance floor, Bex.’

Rebecca already had. And at the potted palms, cushioned booths and low slung sofas.

A group of eight people over on the far side started waving at them. Friends of Alex and Kenny, she assumed.

‘I feel like a celeb,’ said Abi.

‘Come and say hello,’ said Kenny, propelling her forward.

‘It’s all right. We won’t be with them for long,’ said Alex, once again identifying Rebecca’s doubt.

As they drew closer, Rebecca recognised Liam Tyler. He had on the tightest pair of jeans and a shirt even louder than Kenny’s, with half the buttons undone, and eyed her hungrily as Alex introduced her to him.

Liam’s rangy, and rather toothy companion, tightened her grip on his arm. Noticeably miffed that Liam had failed to introduce her, she flashed her bleached incisors at Alex. ‘Hi, I’m Sara.’ Then, turning to Rebecca, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.’

‘Rebecca,’ she said, flinching as Sara actually looked her up and down. Alex and Liam were immediately accosted by the Statton reserve goalkeeper, and with Kenny and Abi going AWOL, Rebecca spent the next ten minutes being dictated to by the woman.

‘So, like I was saying …’ Sara bleated on, after they’d both been handed the obligatory glass of bubbly. ‘A lot of women would kill to go out with Alex, so if you want to keep hold of him, sweetie, you’ll have to be on your guard twenty-four-seven, because if Liam’s anything to go by, they will be throwing themselves at him.’

‘Oh, no, we’re not together in that way,’ said Rebecca, realising how ridiculous that sounded, Sara’s incredulous grin back at her confirming as much before she sauntered off.

Where was Abi, for goodness sake?

Rebecca craned her neck to see if she could spot her. Oh, there she was air-kissing everyone whilst Kenny propped up the bar.

With faultless timing, Alex reappeared.

‘How’s it going?’ he asked, looking a bit guilty that Rebecca was on her own.

‘Fine, thanks,’ she fibbed. ‘Apart from being a bit hot.’

‘We could sit over there, if you like,’ he said, pointing to one of the booths.

Rebecca could see Sara, among others, observing the two of them, watching their every twitch. It made her feel as wretchedly out of place as she probably looked, standing there dangling her left arm by her side, self-consciously trying to cover her wedding ring, drinking champagne with a bunch of footballers like it was her average Saturday night out.

Worse though, Rebecca thought, was how meeting and chatting so easily with Alex, after her initial shock of seeing him, however fleeting it might turn out to be, had highlighted how utterly disconnected from Greg she felt.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said, foisting her glass upon him, ‘would you excuse me for a minute?’

She headed across the lounge, praying that she was going in the right direction for the Ladies’ toilets. The thought of having to scoot back past everyone … Why hadn’t she checked it out beforehand?

Phew! Here they were!

Three waifs, testing out the complimentary perfumes, glanced up at her mid-spray as she walked past them and locked herself in the only available cubicle.

She had no idea why she’d even come in here, but at least it would buy her some thinking time.

She checked her phone, guilt taking over as she listened to a voice message from Greg saying how bad he felt for not calling her in person about his presentation, and how exhausted he was, and to not fret about ringing him back tonight as his signal was temperamental. A text would do. They’d catch up properly tomorrow, he said.

Oh, hell! Now someone was rapping on her cubicle.

‘Bex, it’s me,’ hissed Abi, through the gap between door and wall. ‘Alex is really concerned that he’s upset you.’

Rebecca dabbed her face and forehead with some tissue, and unlocked the door.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Abi, embracing her. ‘I shouldn’t have strolled off like that. I got a bit carried away with the razzamatazz of it all. I’ve been trying to shake off some twat in a trilby who Kenny introduced me to for the last ten minutes. If Alex hadn’t tapped me on the arm, worried about you, I’d have died of boredom. And now Kenny’s disappeared too.’

Rebecca shared a smile with the toilet attendant as she washed her hands in one of the ornate leaf-shaped basins and accepted a paper towel from her.

‘I think we should leave,’ she said, sobriety kicking in. ‘We’re sending out the wrong signals, especially with me being married. Perhaps we should go back downstairs. Or better still, back to the hotel.’

‘Oh, come on,’ said Abi, mollycoddling her. ‘It’s only a little drink. We’re not going to shag them.’

‘These people are celebrities, Abs. They live in their own bubble. You might feel at ease up here, but I’m struggling to even tread water.’

‘But Alex seems like a real gent. He might be offended if we leave.’

‘Well, then he’ll have to be offended,’ said Rebecca, not wishing for that at all, but wary of the alternative options. She could tell Abi was bursting to stay. Lord knows part of her wanted to stay, too, but for all the wrong reasons. ‘Anyway, Greg’s left me a really apologetic voice message telling me not to worry about calling him back, but I feel I ought to.’

‘So, call him.’

‘What from here? You must be joking.’

‘Why? He knew you were going out, didn’t he? You don’t have to say we’re in a VIP lounge.’

‘I’m not lying to him,’ said Rebecca, checking her lipstick in the mirror. ‘I’ll fluff it. I know I will.’

BOOK: As Weekends Go (Choc Lit)
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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