I'VE always kept a diary. I'm a compulsive writer some might say. I've heard that in the absence of anyone else to confide in people often record their thoughts. This is day one of my new life in London and my train is just pulling into the station, so I have to keep this short. To make sure everything is in line with the K.I.S.S. principle— which, just in case my journal is discovered a thousand years from now, stands for Keep It Simple Stupid, there are only two rules: Rely on no one but yourself. No men—at least, not until you are established as a journalist and can call the shots!
THERE was sleet dripping down her neck and a really old man had just decided Holly was the one who needed help. Was she trying to work out which bus would take her to the station? 'No, but thank you for asking—I just got here,' she explained. Chin up. Jaw firm. Smile big. Stop tapping diary notes into your phone and put it away. 'I'm waiting for a friend,' Holly added to reassure the elderly Samaritan. Well, it was almost true. She was waiting to get hold of a friend on the phone.
The old man wished her well and went on his way but with the brief moment of human contact snatched away again she felt doubly lost. It was the noise in London, the constant traffic and the mobs of people that took some getting used to when you had just arrived in the capital from a small market town. It didn't help that her winter coat was soaked right through, she was frozen, and her long red hair hung in sodden straggles down her back.
How could things go so wrong?
It wasn't as if she hadn't made the most meticulous plans before coming to London to take up the job at ROCK! magazine, carefully tallying her start date with an amazing offer from her best friend from school to stay in her central London garden flat until Holly could sort out her own accommodation. So how was it that the black cab that had brought her from the station to this faceless part of town had left her in front of a door that should have been flung wide in welcome but had instead been opened by a stranger who didn't even know her name?
Wiping the rain from her face, Holly pulled out her phone and tried to call her friend Lucia again.
'Lucia?' Holly exclaimed excitedly, forced to execute a little unplanned dance as she dodged spray from the traffic. 'Lucia—Can you hear me?' Holly yelled over a deafening soundtrack of horns tooting, grinding gears, and steel drums—
'Holly!' Lucia shrieked with equal excitement. 'Is that really you?'
'Where are you, Lucia?'
'St Barts. Can't you hear the sea? Holly, it's incredible here. You'd love it—'
'St Barts in the Caribbean?' Holly interrupted, shivering as she bowed her head beneath a fresh onslaught of wind and icy sleet. Lucia was from a very wealthy Argentinian family, so anything was possible. 'Isn't it some unearthly hour there?'
'Dunno…Still partying!' Lucia shrieked as if to confirm this with a thousand friends.
'So…didn't you get my text?' Holly asked carefully.
'What text?' Lucia sounded bewildered.
'The one I wrote confirming I'd love to accept your invitation to stay with you this week until I find a place to live down here?'
'Breaking up…breaking up.' Lucia was shrieking with laughter now with her hand over the phone. 'This line is terrible, Holly,' she confided in a slurry voice. 'Why don't you just catch a plane and come over here?'
Er, zero cash? Zero bikinis? Zero desire to cop out of a life that had already been through the shredder…
Holly held back from explaining to Lucia that they might have attended the same school but, while Holly had been a full scholarship pupil, Lucia had been a new sports hall, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a riding stables complete with indoor manege. Oh, yes, St Bede's
School for Girls had had a very shrewd headmistress.
'So, where are you now, Holl?' Lucia demanded to the accompaniment of clinking glasses.
'Outside your flat. "Meet u apt 12/20th Nov",' Holly read the text from her phone, leaving out the bit about how Lucia 'cdnt wait', followed by ':-D' and a dozen exclamation marks.
'Did I send that?'
'Yes, but no problem,' Holly lied cheerfully.
Lucia groaned. 'I did! I said it would be okay for you to stay. I remember now. And it is okay. At least, it would be if I were there. And I sublet my part of the house. Oh, you poor darling, I completely forgot. Were they awful to you?'
'But you can book into a hotel, right?' Lucia chirped before Holly could explain that the woman who had opened the door to her had been quite nice, if a little bewildered to find a stranger with a suitcase standing on her doorstep looking hopeful.
'Of course I can,' Holly soothed. 'I'm really sorry I interrupted your break, Luce—'
'The penthouse?' Holly queried.
'The family's London penthouse is free! I'm sure it is.'
'The penthouse, where?' Holly said, frowning.
'Right there at the same address,' Lucia explained triumphantly. 'There's a spare key in the key box by the side door. Give me ten minutes to ring someone to make sure the penthouse is empty and find out what the code is.'
'Are you sure?'
'Is the sun shining in St Barts?' Lucia screamed with laughter. 'And there's a café right across the road,' she said. 'See it?' Lucia demanded, tense with excitement now she had identified a way out of the problem. 'Have a coffee and wait for me to call you—'
Holly stared at her silent phone. Only a member of the powerful Acosta clan could have a penthouse going spare in London, she thought wryly. Putting her phone away, she glanced across the road and saw the café Lucia had mentioned. The windows were all steamed up. It looked inviting, and also warm. But it also looked very smart, Holly thought, losing confidence. The café was all black glass and bronze—the sort of place her boyfriend had frequented between those colossal deals he used to tell her he was brokering.
Her ex-boyfriend, Holly reminded herself as she started jiggling her cumbersome suitcase down the kerb. You didn't have to be middle-aged and weary to lose everything to a good-looking swindler, Holly had discovered. You could be young and ambitious, and think you knew it all too. But she wasn't going to let one mistake rule her life. She was going to forget Mr Crud-for-pants dipping his greedy little paws into her bank account, and start again. Right now her goal was reaching that café where she could have a hot drink and dry off while she waited for Lucia to call.
Choosing her moment, Holly launched herself across the road—only for her suitcase to get stuck at the opposite kerb long enough for a truck to drive past and soak her. She was still spluttering with shock when a huge black dog appeared out of nowhere and attempted to lick her dry. And now a hunk in jeans had joined the scrum.
'Here. Let me,' he insisted in a deep, husky voice with an intriguing accent. Lifting both dog and suitcase away, he tried to steer Holly off the road.
'Get off me!' She was spluttering with -