“Excuse me, excuse me, coming through, emergency, emergency.”
Megan turned at the sound of a familiar voice.
“Sorry, so sorry.” Brendon, tall, ginger and wearing a cerise T-shirt with ‘Rainbow Lover’ stamped across the front, was barging past several scowling passengers waiting to purchase tickets. “Can’t be helped, though, crisis situation.” He tilted his chin in the air, tugged at his roll-along case and set his attention on Megan.
“What the…?” Megan said, glancing back at the British Airways employee she’d just been speaking to.
“There you are,” Brendon said. “Seriously, you are a hard woman to track down in a place as big as this.” He bumped into the ticket desk and banged his passport on top of it.
“What are you doing here?” Megan asked.
“What do you think?” He rolled his eyes. His cheeks were flushed and several strands of hair were stuck to his forehead. Megan knew he would be complaining about that in a minute, and teasing it back to its usual carefully flicked style.
“I have no idea…” Megan said, though she couldn’t deny that she wasn’t thrilled to see one of her best friends in the world at her side. Especially when things had gone so wrong and she’d been so desperate that running away had been her only option.
Brendon turned to the airline lady. “I’ll have what she’s having.”
“What…?” Megan said. “What do you mean?”
“Where is she going?” Brendon asked, indicating the ticket that had just been set over the top of Megan’s passport.
“She’s going to Los Angeles, lucky thing.” The heavily made-up woman gave a big grin.
Brendon let out a whistle. “Wow, I’ll have me some of that.” He slapped a credit card down over his passport. “Are we travelling first class, sweetpea?”
“Er, no, not this time.” Megan had never travelled first class. But she would one day. She’d make sure of it. She had big plans for the future, just as soon as she got over this hiccup.
“I guess you want to sit together?”
“Yes, please.” Brendon nodded and wiped his fingers over his brow. “We have lots to talk about.”
“Are you sure about this?” Megan asked. “I’m on a one-way ticket. I don’t know where I’m staying or when I’ll be back.”
“Oh, yes, of course I’m sure.” He rubbed his hands together and grinned. “It sounds like the best type of adventure, and somewhere so glamorous too. Just think, this time tomorrow we’ll be strolling down Rodeo Drive. I’ve got a friend working there by the way—we can go to the Dolby Theatre and see the stars, drink champers in the Beverley Wilshire and pretend to be Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Oh, just think of all the hot men there’ll be. I vote we head straight down to Muscle Beach. We’ll sit and drink cocktails and watch the…waves!” He winked and licked his lips. “The waves of muscle and rippling abs, that is.”
His enthusiasm was infectious and Megan giggled, a bubble of excitement rushing through her for the first time. Up until this point it had been all about getting away, removing herself from London and Dylan and the nightmare that had become her and James. But now, with Brendon at her side, it all seemed much more fun.
“What made you decide on LA?” Brendon asked. “Not that I’m complaining.”
“Luck of the draw,” the airline lady said, handing Brendon the machine to key in his PIN. “She just asked for a ticket on the next plane out of here. Very romantic and exciting.”
“You didn’t just say that?” Brendon paused and gawped at Megan. “What if you’d ended up in Syria or Senegal or Siberia?”
“Would you have still come with me?” Megan raised her eyebrows.
Brendon hesitated. “Yes, of course.” He keyed in his number. “I’d travel anywhere with you, you know that. You need me.”
“Well I won’t deny I’m not over the moon to see you.” She thought for a moment. “But what about Gucci? Where is he? He needs you too.” Megan had rarely seen Brendon parted from Gucci, his adorable Pomeranian.
“He’s at my mother’s. I swung by and dropped him off on my way to the airport.”
“But you’ll miss him terribly. And he’ll pine for you.” Megan was worried. She adored Gucci—he’d been a little hero the night before when she’d needed all the heroes she could get.
“Of course I will, but he’ll be fine. He loves Mum’s choice of fluffy conservatory cushions. He’ll spend all day and all night humping them. If he can’t get to your cat doorstop, they’re his second choice.”
* * * *
Two hours later, Megan and Brendon were settling themselves into row twenty-six, seats A and B. Brendon took the window, and Megan was happy in the middle. Sitting on a plane, about to be whisked over the Atlantic to a different country, far, far away was exactly what she needed.
“I can’t believe you cancelled that last appearance on Ralph and Jayne?” Brendon said, clipping his seatbelt. “That was quite a coup to get that for you.”
Megan sighed. “I know. I feel bad, really I do, for throwing it away like that. But I’d done two appearances and I’m sure Enid will handle it perfectly when she calls to explain I can’t do the last one. Knowing her, she’ll keep it open so I can do another when I get back. She’s very professional.”
“Who is this Enid?”
“Oh, you haven’t met her, have you? She’s my new assistant. Georgie sorted her out for me. She’s great.”
“Well Georgie wouldn’t send you a dud, would she?” He tutted.
“Of course not, she’s great at her job. But Enid really is special, she’s only just started but has got a great handle already on Winter Shoes and how I operate. She’s super-organised and super-efficient.” She was also quite motherly, which appealed to Megan as her mother lived in Sydney now, but she kept that to herself. She tried to be brave when it came to missing her family, who’d emigrated a few years ago.
“Well this Enid must have impressed you if you’ve left your business, and by that I mean your baby, in her hands.”
“She has.” Megan paused. “But I haven’t left her completely alone, I’ll be at the end of the phone or on email. I can run it remotely, do as much as necessary.”
“Don’t forget about the time difference.”
“I won’t. But to tell you the truth, I was going to take some downtime anyway. I’ve got a pile of designs rattling around my head I want to work on. A whole season and a collection of bridal shoes that I need to get from my imagination onto paper and then made up as prototypes. And I just can’t seem to concentrate with so much other stuff going on.”
“You know, office stuff. When I’m there and I start on something the phone goes or an email comes in that needs urgent attention. I need peace to design, peace and quiet and hours of me time.”
Brendon pressed his hand over his heart. “You’re such a true artist, a tortured soul struggling to release the genius inside.”
“Don’t be silly.” Megan grinned. “I just get distracted by the day job. It’s not been easy being the designer, the secretary, the general dogsbody and the CEO of a business.”
“Well at least you haven’t had to worry about hiring staff, Georgie’s done that for you, or PR and marketing, because you have moi.” He swirled his hand in the air then pointed at himself.
“And I couldn’t do it without you, either of you.” She squeezed his arm. “I really do appreciate all you do for Winter Shoes, Brendon.”
“I know you do. Though I might have to start charging for my services soon.” He laughed. “Mates’ rates, naturally.”
“Of course I’ll pay you, and not mates’ rates, full rates.” She shook her head. “I should have already, we’ll get something sorted out. I promise.”
“Hey, hey don’t worry about it. I’m all good, Winter Shoes is something I’m passionate about too and I like seeing you happy. I’ve got enough ticking along with my other freelance work.” He paused. “But let’s see what happens in LA.”
“Do you mean in general or for Winter Shoes?”
The engines suddenly roared to life and Megan was pressed back in her seat.
“Oh sweet Lord.” Brendon gripped the armrest. “I always hate this bit.”
“It’s okay,” Megan reassured him. They were hurtling down the runway, the plane bumping as the speed grew.
The front of the plane lifted smoothly into the air. Megan felt her stomach float and she looked out of the window at the ground shrinking into the distance.
“There we go, we’re up,” she said.
Brendon nodded, still staring straight ahead.
“We’ll get you a drink in a minute.” Megan rested her hand over his.
“Yes, yes, that will be good.” His voice was a little high.
Once the plane had levelled and the seatbelt sign had gone off, the airhostess came along with the drinks trolley. They each ordered a white wine and Brendon added Pringles to his request.
“Cheers,” he said, touching the rim of his glass to Megan’s. “Here’s to LA.”
“And adventures.” Megan took a sip of her wine. “So what did you mean about what happens in LA? Did you mean for Winter Shoes? You said you know someone who works on Rodeo Drive? You’ve never told me that before.”
“Well you know what it’s like, he’s a friend of a friend. He works at LA Hype, a cute fashion boutique that sells everything from shoes to handbags, jewellery to midi-dresses. I’ve seen it online, looks adorable and in an amazing location, right between Prada and Agent Provocateur with those cute little lollipop trees in tubs out front. We simply must go and hang out there. Maybe we can afford a pair of socks.” He laughed.
“It will be. He’s pretty damn cute too.”
“This friend of a friend.” He tutted. “Zane, his name is, used to live in Chelsea but headed out to LA a few years ago with a boyfriend, now ex-boyfriend from what I gather, to work in the fashion industry. Got a degree from some London uni and then hitched his wagon to the stars and now mingles with the famous and the Beverley Hills clan.”
“Good for him.” Megan nodded. That was what she wanted to do, hitch her wagon to the stars and hang on for the ride. She had no intention of letting go until she reached dizzying heights and mingled with top designers and people who made a difference in the fashion world. It was the way she was wired, ambition ran hot in her veins. And now, with no Dylan to hold her back, she could throw all her time and efforts into Winter Shoes—once this little blip was over, of course.
“So what really happened?” Brendon asked. “To make you want to jump on the first flight out of the country to anywhere.”
“Well last night was bad enough, wasn’t it?” Megan said, supressing a shudder at the memory of her ex-fiancé—whom she’d jilted at the altar—turning up at her flat deluded about what was still between them and determined to win her back. He’d scared her with his adamant belief that he could win her round when she’d been crystal clear about the fact they were over. She couldn’t have been any blunter with words or actions—after all, she had turned and run, run as fast as she could in sparkly stilettoes down the aisle and away from him. She’d craved freedom, fresh air, to be her own person again, not controlled by him from the moment she woke up until she went to sleep at night.
But dumping someone who was as domineering as Dylan wasn’t a walk in the park, in fact, it was more like being an extra on Nightmare on Elm Street. He’d raged and cried and tried to win her round with kisses she hadn’t wanted. He’d even bought her a new ring, so they could start afresh, and dropped to one knee begging her to go back.
“Megan?” Brendon asked, tipping his head as though encouraging her to go on.
“He put another note under my door,” Megan said. “Last night.”
“What? After I left?” Brendon banged his fist into his palm. “He must have been lurking about out there, in the shadows. Oh, if only I’d seen him.”
“Yes, he does that—lurk in the shadows—but I’m glad you didn’t see him and approach him. He’s unpredictable.”
“Unpredictable and a creep. No, wait, I mean stalker.”
“That is what it’s felt like.”
“I’m sure.” He pulled a sympathetic face. “What did the note say?”
“Basically it said I was his and he would get me back, soon. Really short and precise, like he was telling me, not asking me to get back with him.”
“He’s got a nerve.”
“Well yes, he’s always had that. But it was like…”
“Like he was going to kidnap me or something.” She stared out of the window at the huge marshmallow clouds billowing into the distance. This had been the best thing for her, to be heading out of London, out of the UK and with no one knowing where she was. No, make that the only thing for her to do.
“Well this is the best thing for you,” Brendon said, starting on his Pringles. “You couldn’t stay, sweetpea, you just couldn’t.”
“I know. But there’s more.”
“Yes, he was at my office this morning. First thing.”
“Oh hang me from the rafters and call me batty, you cannot be serious?” His eyes widened and he shoved several crisps into his mouth. He began to munch, clearly enjoying the drama.
“Unfortunately I am being serious, he was just skulking around out there. He wanted me to let him in.”
“Please tell me you’d locked the door, you’re terrible for forgetting to do that.” A flash of panic crossed his face.
“Not anymore I’m not, and I don’t think I ever will be again, not after turning around in my kitchen last night and finding Dylan there, having just strutted into the place like he owned it.”
“Well, thank heavens for that locked office door. What did he want?”
“Same as before, for me to go back to him. Marry him, have his babies, blah, blah, blah, whatever…” She twirled her finger next to her ear. “Cuckoo. Completely stark raving mad.”
“He really launches not being able to take a hint up to a whole new level that’s for sure.”
Megan huffed and drank some of her wine. “He was just going on and on, talking on his phone but standing on the other side of the window. Saying how he couldn’t live without me and we could make it work.” She paused. “He also confessed to being the one to have made all the silent phone calls.”
“Well, you don’t have to be Einstein to work that out.” Brendon shoved in more crisps. After he’d eaten he said, “So how did you get rid of him? Police?”
“No, but to tell you the truth I wasn’t far off calling them. It gave me the shivers, it was so early, no one else was about, not even the estate agents next door, and let’s face it, a pane of glass isn’t much of a barrier.”
Brendon looked aghast. “You really think he would have smashed it?”
“I honestly don’t know what he’s capable of anymore. I thought I knew him so well for all those years. Thought I loved him too, but now, lately, his behaviour has made him like a different person to me. I always knew I’d hurt him by ending it, and I admit I could have made it less dramatic, but he’s obsessed with getting what he wants.”
“Yes I agree, but, Megan, it was glorious to see you holding up your dress and running down the aisle like that. A perfect scene from Runaway Bride, hair flowing, chest heaving, veil floating behind you like a ghostly trail of smoke.”
“I didn’t wear a veil.”
“Well, my imagination embellishes these glorious moments.”
“Brendon. It really wasn’t meant to be glorious.”
“I say it how I see it, or remember it. Excuse me…” He held up his hand to a passing airhostess who was pushing the drinks trolley. “Two more wines, please.”
“Certainly, sir.” She handed two small bottles over the elderly man sitting to Megan’s right. He had his earphones in and his eye mask on. Megan hoped he’d stay that way.
“Thanks, lovely,” Brendon said to the airhostess then set both tiny bottles down on Megan’s tray.
“I don’t want two.”
“I know you don’t, one is for me.” He fiddled with his table tray for a moment then once it was flat again, took a bottle and poured the wine into his own glass.
“We mustn’t get drunk,” Megan said with a giggle. She was already a little woozy after just one drink.
“Why not? We’re on holiday now.” Brendon grinned.
“Mmm, yes, I suppose that’s how we should look at it.”
“Absolutely. I know you want to work on designs but let’s have a few days of fun as we adjust to the time zone.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Her heart was feeling lighter with each passing mile the jet engines took her towards America. Getting away from Dylan and James was a good thing.
An image of James hovered in her mind. Well, maybe getting away from James wasn’t such a good thing. They’d had something special going on, really special, hot, sexy special. He was everything she looked for in a guy yet she’d gone and ruined it. Well, she hadn’t, Dylan had.
“So now what’s going through that pretty head of yours?” Brendon asked, studying her. “No.” He held up his glass. “Don’t tell me. Hot Guy.”
“James, you mean.”
“Yes, that’s the one, Hot Guy James.”
Megan shrugged. She’d called James Carter Hot Guy too, until they’d been properly introduced. She hadn’t got as far as introducing him to her friends—their fledgling relationship, although intense, hadn’t moved that far forward. “He’s not an easy person to forget.”
“He didn’t get back to you then?”
“No, I even sent him a text. He read it, you can tell on iPhones can’t you, but nothing. Not even a call for me to explain and he never answered when I tried to call him.”
“I have to say that’s all a bit off.” Brendon frowned. “Like really off.”
“I guess what he saw through the kitchen window was pretty damning. He wasn’t to know that while Dylan was holding me close and attempting to kiss me I was trying to untangle myself and push him away. Things aren’t always what they seem but people do tend to jump to conclusions.”
“He could have given you a chance to explain that it was your idiot ex, though.” Brendon rolled his eyes and tutted.
“Maybe I’d used my chances up with him.” Megan shook her head, remembering how she’d left him in the rain outside her office after their first kiss, then how she’d panicked after spending the night at his house and slipped away in the morning while he was showering and making breakfast. She’d apologised for both of course, but perhaps a third strike had been the final nail in the coffin of their relationship. Some things were just not meant to be, even when it felt like they should be.
“It’s his loss,” Brendon said. “Because you are without doubt the best thing that’s ever happened to him.”
“Well I don’t know about that—”
“I don’t care how many awards he’s got, or how amazing a director he is, if he hasn’t got a good woman at his side, and by that I mean you, then he’s a loser.”
Brendon held up his hands. “I know what you’re going to say, that he’s made a difference with all the documentaries he’s made. That he’s brave and loyal and passionate about justice, but still…he’s a moron.” He paused for breath. “Exposing malfunctioning weapons used by the British military might get him as many accolades as threats, but it’s still not won me over.”
“Blimey, did you memorise his Wikipedia page?”
“No… Well I read it a couple of times, and why not, it’s got some nice pictures of him and he’s pretty easy on the eye.”
He most certainly was. Tall and lean with an athletic rather than a gym-honed body, James held himself with style and ease. He was comfortable in his own skin. His often brooding face gave away the seriousness with which he took his job and the world he lived in, but once relaxing and smiling he became an easy companion with a quick smile and keen wit.
“Shame he’s not—” Brendon started.
“He’s most definitely not gay.”
“Doesn’t even swing both ways?” Brendon looked hopeful.
“I would say not.” Megan thought back to their one night together and how he’d held her, kissed her, made her feel so special, like the only woman in the world. For that night she had been the only woman in his world. She’d hoped for more, but a combination of factors had dashed that hope like petals being ripped from a rose in a hurricane.
She sighed. No point in thinking about what could have been. That was in the past now. Time to think of the future, both long-term and immediate.
“So where are we going to stay when we get there?” Brendon asked as if guessing her next thought.
“A hotel I guess, but I’m not sure where. I’ve never been to LA before.”
“I reckon it’s one of those places that will feel familiar, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because it’s on TV so much. A bit like New York.”
“Mmm, so what do you think? Beverley Hills?”
“I think that might break the bank, darling. I say let’s head to the beach, must be somewhere in Santa Monica with rooms.”
Megan laughed. “I know exactly what you’re up to.”
“I’m not up to anything.” He hung his mouth open as if shocked.
Megan poked him in the ribs, still giggling. “You just want to be as near as possible to all those buff, oiled bodies as you can. I can see I’m going to have problems with you in LA, Brendon Trugate.”
“How very dare you.” There was a twinkle in his eye. “I’ll be on my absolute best behaviour. Scout’s honour.” He held three fingers to his chest, pinkie and thumb touching.
“Mmm, I’ll believe that when I see it, but I’m guessing you are thanking your lucky stars that ticket wasn’t for Siberia.”
“I don’t know, there’s something about a big, hairy Russian that’s quite appealing.”