To Marry a Prince - By Sophie Page Page 0,1
very thought of finding a hotel, checking in, talking, made her want to sink down on to the shiny floor of the concourse and go to sleep right where she was.
But she was a seasoned traveller now and she knew from experience, not just Granny Georgia’s homilies, that you did not go to sleep until you were indoors and safe. If her old mobile had been working, she would have texted her best friend, Charlotte Hendred. But as it was, she had to start with the public telephone system again.
‘Man is a problem-solving animal,’ said Bella between her teeth.
She stripped one of her stepfather’s £50 notes off the wad, stuffed the rest inside her bra and hauled her backpack on to her shoulders. She bought some chocolate, along with an expensive glossy magazine, so that the man on the till didn’t mind giving her change for £50, and started the business of tracking down Lottie.
It didn’t take long. Bella couldn’t remember her mobile number but she knew the name of the big PR agency where her friend worked. She found the number and the switchboard found Lottie in seconds.
‘Bella!’ she squeaked. ‘Where are you?’
‘Belgium?’ said Lottie, bewildered. ‘You’ve left the island?’
Bella choked with laughter. ‘Waterloo Station. I’m home.’
Lottie squeaked quite a bit more at that. She was probably bouncing on her seat, thought Bella, warmed.
‘Look, Lottie, it was all a bit last-minute and I haven’t organised myself anywhere to stay—’
And Lottie, who had known Bella for ever, did not say, ‘What about your mother’s place? Where’s your father? Can’t you stay with your brother and his wife?’ She said, ‘Great. Crash chez moi. Can’t wait to catch up. In fact, I’m closing my laptop even as we speak. I’ll be home in half an hour. Race you.’
So Bella blew some more of her stepfather’s cash on a taxi to the Pimlico flat and got her hug from Lottie, followed by the promise of several bottles of wine and a blissful shower.
‘I’ve made up your bed. Now tell all,’ said Lottie as Bella padded out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, with her blonde hair dark and dripping.
The wine bottle was already open on the low coffee table. Lottie poured two generous glasses as Bella sank into the deep sofa with a sigh of pure bliss.
‘This is so good. I feel clean for the first time in days. Hell, no. For the first time in months. I’m sorry to dump myself on you—’
Lottie waved that away. ‘Garbage,’ she said briskly. ‘Couldn’t be better. The harpy I used to share with moved out last month to be with the Man of Her Dreams … poor sod. I was thinking I ought to rent out her room. But I don’t really fancy living with another stranger, not after The Harpy. So I didn’t get round to it. And now you’re here.’ She raised her glass in a silent toast. ‘Sometimes the Lord provides.’
Bella laughed and raised her glass in return.
‘Lottie Hendred, you’re a star.’
‘Stay as long as you want.’ Lottie curled up in the armchair and tucked her bare toes under the skirts of her exotic Eastern robe.
‘Lovely idea but I’m not sure I can afford to.’
Lottie raised her perfectly arched eyebrows. ‘Explain?’
‘Well, to be honest, Lottie, I’ve got to get a job. Fast.’
Lottie’s brown eyes were shrewd. ‘Island job didn’t materialise, then?’
Bella shook her head. ‘Go on. Say it. Everyone else will. Say “I told you so”.’
Lottie was indignant. ‘I never say I told you so. Anyway, what did I know?’
‘But you never trusted Francis.’
‘I thought,’ said Lottie carefully, ‘that be-my-unpaid-assistant-for-a-year-and-I’ll-give-you-a-job didn’t sound much of a deal. Or, well, terribly reliable.’
‘You were right,’ said Bella gloomily.
‘Want to talk about it?’
Bella shrugged. She swirled her wine, staring into its ruby surface as if she were seeing something very different from reflected firelight and the pleasant room.
‘There wasn’t a job?’ ventured Lottie at last.
Bella came back into the present. ‘Oh, there was a job all right. One job. And about twenty of us that Francis had offered it to.’
Lottie sat bolt upright and her wine spilled. ‘Blimey. The man is a real operator,’ she said with respect. ‘Twenty?’
Bella forced a smile. ‘Not all at the same time. They came and went – usually when they found the job was counting fish. I lasted longer than pretty much everyone else.’
‘Um – why?’
‘You know me, Lottie. Never know when I’m beaten.’ There was an edge to Bella’s voice. ‘Besides, they got me teaching the kids