Authors: Sheila Claydon
Books We Love Ltd.
(Electronic Book Publishers)
Copyright 2012 by
Cover Art Copyright 2012 by Michelle Lee
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
Dedication and acknowledgements
With apologies to all the tennis players in my family….
Kerry scowled at the telephone. Why did it always ring when she was up to her elbows in flour? She brushed her hands together and wiped them across the front of her T-shirt.
“Kerry, can you stand in for me today? I’ve picked up some sort of stomach bug that’s keeping me chained to the bathroom.” Mel, joint owner of
, the catering service she and Kerry were running on a shoestring, sounded worried.
Kerry’s first reaction was one of amused disbelief. Workaholic Mel was never sick. She considered illness a self-indulgence that interfered with work and so didn’t allow it into her life. Concern followed quickly, however, because if Mel was prepared to admit defeat then she must be feeling pretty rough.
“What are you taking for it?” she demanded, mentally reviewing the contents of her own bathroom cabinet in case she had something suitable.
“I’ve given up eating,” her friend wasn’t interested in discussing how best to treat her symptoms. “Look Kerry, can you manage or not? Mum says to tell you she’ll collect the twins from the nursery, and Dad will bring the van and help at your end. It isn’t a big spread. Just the cold buffet for forty you prepared yesterday, followed by coffee.”
“Of course I can manage. Give me the details and then go back to bed,” Kerry seized a stub of pencil and a notepad, resolutely ignoring the weariness that a week of broken nights had stamped on her face.
“You’re a star!” She heard the relief in Mel’s voice.
“I’m also your junior partner so I’ve enough clout to insist you stay put until you’re completely better,” Kerry reminded her drily.
“Save your mothering for the twins and concentrate. The lunch is scheduled for one o’clock at
Greenleas Country Club
“I didn’t know it was open yet,” Kerry said as she scribbled instructions.
“The pool and gym are being used but the hotel complex isn’t finished yet. It opens sometime next month I think. The conference rooms are ready to go though, so the manager has agreed to let our client use them as long as he brings in outside caterers. I guess the fact he’s running a big fitness drive for his executives helped. I expect the marketing people at
hope some of the conference delegates will be sufficiently inspired to join.”
“So that’s why fresh fruit and healthy options feature so prominently on the menu,” Kerry glanced at the week’s orders pinned to the notice board next to the telephone. Monday detailed a selection of cold meats, mixed salads, cheeses and seasonal fruit. It was very spartan by their normal buffet standards and it was already prepared and waiting in cooler containers in the hall.
Then, remembering what Mel had said about her father helping, she asked what time he would arrive.
“Ten minutes after you telephone him to say you’re ready to leave and…oh no! Sorry Kerry…I’ve got to go. Now!”
Realizing she was listening to the dial tone, Kerry slotted the telephone back into its receiver while absentmindedly dusting off a floury handprint with the edge of her T-shirt. Poor Mel! Poor Kerry for that matter! This would happen during a week when the twins, fractious from colds, had kept her up half the night. Still, it was only nine-thirty, so she had plenty of time to organize her day before she had to make the short journey to
Greenleas Country Club.
She hurried back to the kitchen, washed her hands, and then plunged them back into the half mixed bowl of pastry.
Thirty minutes of concentrated work saw four cheese flans cooking in the oven and all the dirty bowls and dishes stacked in the sink. Kerry crossed the last of the items off Tuesday’s list, wiped the flour from the counter, tossed the dishcloth onto the draining board, and returned to the telephone.
First she called the twin’s nursery to explain her change of plan and ask someone to tell Ben and Lauren that Mary, Mel’s mother, would collect them and take them back to her house. She smiled wryly as she did so, knowing they would be so excited by the prospect of a visit to the two people they loved best in the world next to Kerry, that they wouldn’t give her a second thought. Then she telephoned Mel’s parents.
Mary answered the first ring. “Kerry, I was just about to call you. George has to stand in as a volunteer driver for the hospital run because one of the other regulars hasn’t turned up. He says to tell you he’s really sorry but there’s no one else.”
“Not to worry. As long as you can collect the twins, I’ll manage.” Kerry forced herself to sound more confident than she felt about having to pile all the food into her own car and then lug it into the country club by herself.
“I’ll leave here in plenty of time, and I’ll walk them home through the park so they can feed the ducks. They’ll enjoy that. Don’t you worry about a thing. You know how I love to look after them.”
“And they love visiting you,” Kerry’s smile carried across the wires to the woman at the other end of the telephone. “I honestly don’t know what we’d do without you.”
“You’d manage,” Mary Parker hid her pleasure at Kerry’s words behind a brisk reply but Kerry was thoughtful as she hung up because she wasn’t at all sure she would manage without Mel and her parents.
Ever since the twins were tiny they had treated her like one of the family, including her in their Christmas and Easter celebrations, remembering birthdays, and always being available for babysitting. Mel teased her when she became sentimental about it, telling her the twins were the grandchildren she had no intention of providing herself, but Kerry knew she would never be able to repay the huge debt of gratitude she owed.
She continued to think about this as she tugged her T-shirt over her head, peeled off her jeans, and dropped them onto a bed that had seen more than its fair share of tears in the months following the twin’s birth. She remembered those dreadful first weeks with a shudder; the endless feeds, the continual crying; her only support an overworked health visitor. She had gone for days without speaking to a soul, her heart shriveled with bitterness, her love for her babies threatened by a growing depression. Then she’d seen the advertisement for a junior partner/cook in a fledgling catering business and, realizing it was something she would be good at and which she could do from home, she had talked Mel into employing her. Ambitious, reliable, practical Mel had viewed the twins with dismay and started to say no. Then she had taken a second look at Kerry’s set white face and given her the job.
Dismissing the painful memories with a frown, Kerry slipped her arms into a plain white blouse, zipped up her black skirt and then turned to the mirror to adjust her collar. The face that stared back at her was pale and tired with huge smoky-grey eyes and a tousle of chestnut colored hair. She pulled a face. White had never suited her. It made her look insipid.
In an effort to improve things she creamed her face and added blusher and a slick of pink lip-gloss. Her eyes, fringed with long curling lashes beneath a curve of dark brow, she left alone. Instead she used her hairbrush to good effect, smoothing her short hair into a gleaming cap as she brushed it behind her ears. Finally she added tiny gold earrings and stood back to view her reflection.
The blusher and lipstick went a long way towards camouflaging her tiredness and the earrings lent sophistication to a hairstyle that had been chosen for convenience rather than fashion. Only her hands let her down, the nails short and sensible, several of her fingers scarred with oven burns. She shrugged and turned away. It would have to do. If the client wanted glamour he would have to wait until Mel recovered.
* * *
Loading the car took longer than she’d anticipated because she had to remove the twin’s car seats to make some space for the food, and then she snagged her tights against one of the cooler boxes. By the time she had changed into a fresh pair and checked everything against her list it was almost eleven o’clock. She began to panic when she suddenly remembered there was a route diversion between her house and
Greenleas Country Club
because of road repairs. Mel had cut the call before she could ask about the kitchen arrangements at the venue too. Would she be on her own, or would there be extra help? Did
have to supply everything or would china and cutlery be available?
She contemplated telephoning her friend but was reluctant to disturb her in case she was asleep. After a moment’s deliberation, she pulled boxes of paper plates, plastic tumblers and cutlery out of an overflowing hall cupboard and piled some from each into an empty carton, adding paper napkins and several plastic trash bags as she headed towards the front door.
Her worst fears were realized and it was almost noon by the time she reached
. A huge pantechnicon blocked the car park, and the main reception area was full of packing cases, ladders and open toolboxes. There was no sign of a receptionist, nor of anyone else, so with no one to ask, and desperate, she abandoned her car outside the main entrance and began to unload.
A printed notice with a large red arrow pointed her in the direction of the conference annex and she soon found herself standing in the middle of a large dining area staring in dismay at the tables and chairs stacked around the walls. A lone boiler full of cold water waited forlornly on a side table near the door. With a shaky intake of breath she lowered her boxes to the floor. Mel must have agreed to set out the tables and chairs as well as provide the food, and now she had less than an hour to do everything.
She was on her sixth and final journey to the car when the heel of her shoe caught between two paving stones and wrenched right off. Left with no choice but to don a pair of old trainers she kept in the car, she hoped nobody would notice. If she hadn’t been so desperately worried about letting Mel down she might have seen the funny side and gone in search of the regular staff to rustle up some sympathetic help. As it was, she couldn’t think straight. All she could remember was Mel’s delight when she landed the
contract, and here she was, ruining it.
At ten minutes past one she was still putting the finishing touches to the buffet and thanking her lucky stars the conference was running late, when someone burst into the room behind her and fired a fusillade of abuse.
“What the hell do you think you’re playing at blocking the reception area? We have a service entrance for contractors and if it’s not too much trouble I’d like you to move your car. Now!”
The sarcasm that lashed across the dining hall stopped Kerry in her tracks and drained the blood from her face until her eyes were two enormous holes in a dead white mask. For three years she had tried to forget that voice, the seductive Irish lilt that used to send shivers down her spine whenever it whispered in her ear. Her fingers became nerveless and her knees turned to jelly but she answered bravely, keeping her back turned, hoping against hope that the voice’s owner would go away.