A Perfect Summer - First Chapter
Copyright © Jackie Williams 2012
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A Perfect Summer
I need this job, I need this job, I need this job.
Ava kept saying the words over in her head, like a mantra, desperate to make them come true.
Her palms were clammy with perspiration as she sat nervously on the huge leather settee. The vaguely familiar woman at the reception desk eyed her critically from time to time, but apart from asking her to wait, when she had first arrived, didn’t say another word to her. Ava thought she knew her from somewhere, but the woman offered her no sign of recognition. She looked very cool and smart in her buttoned blouse, as she tapped away at a computer keyboard.
Feeling very inferior, Ava wiped her hands on the tissue she had screwed into a ball in her fist and rolled her shoulders to try to shift the tension from them. She wondered if she was so hot due to nerves or merely because of the warm temperature in the reception area. She smoothed her already smooth skirt and straightened the collar of her blouse for the fifth time.
She had always been nervous at interviews. Ava knew it was a stupid reaction. None of the jobs she had ever gone for were terribly important, all part time and badly paid. They had been all she could get since quitting her performing arts course after her parents had died. None of the positions had needed excellent interview skills, but she still liked to make a good first impression. She hated the thought that anyone would think badly of her.
She raised her hand and touched her dark hair self-consciously, checking for any loose strands. Tying it back in a low plait and doubling it up underneath to keep the length from showing had seemed like a good idea first thing that morning, but now her head ached with tension and she felt desperate to let it free from the grips that held it all in place.
She held back a sigh and rubbed the crease that she knew marred her forehead. She was beginning to feel her age and her hair was only one of the things that reminded her. Only three days previously she had discovered a greying hair amongst the gently curling strands. It wasn’t completely white, just paler than the rest of her tumbling dark tresses. She had stood staring at it in the mirror for several seconds and then had tugged it out quickly and prayed that it was an old wives tale that two grew in its place.
God! Only twenty-nine and already past it!
She almost despaired, but then squared her shoulders and breathed in deeply. Whatever job was on offer would be fine if the hours allowed her to do it. Cleaning certainly was not the worst job in the world, maybe way below her intelligence level, but someone had to do it. And at least it wouldn’t matter if she were going grey or not! She would work to the best of her ability and be proud of the achievement. So long as a pay cheque came in at the end of every month she didn’t care what sort of work it was. She puffed out again and gulped back her simmering nerves.
Since Kate had come home from school a month ago, full of excitement and begging Ava to let her go on the performing arts week to Spain, she had been frantic with worry. Every penny of her already meagre income was budgeted and a thousand pounds looked like an insurmountable amount.
She had trembled as she had written out the hundred-pound deposit cheque and had been praying ever since, that she could find some extra work.
Her position as a chambermaid in the local hotel meant that she only worked during the mornings and in the restaurant of the same hotel at lunchtimes. She was hoping she could fit this cleaning job into her schedule in the early evening while Kate was either at after school clubs or able to go to a friend’s house.
She smiled as she thought proudly of Kate. At least she had been a success at bringing her up. She was a fabulous dancer and musician; she could sing and act too. Ava had missed so much when she was young that now she would do anything to make Kate’s dreams come true.
Ava looked up as a door opened and the previous candidate walked out. She was slim and elegant, way too elegant for a cleaning job, but she looked very pleased with herself. The woman smiled gloatingly at her and Ava’s heart began to sink.
It just wasn’t fair. She had dressed as nicely as possible, given her limited budget; she had fussed over her hair and even done her nails. All to become an office cleaner, and some Goddess, who could obviously find a job doing something much more important, had just waltzed in and taken it from her. The woman took her time saying goodbye to the receptionist and even had the audacity to say that she hoped to see her soon.
Ava closed her eyes briefly. She knew when she was beaten. This was hopeless! She knew when she was beaten. She stood up, ready to walk out, when the same door opened again and a tall, broad shouldered man put his head around the frame, glanced briefly at her, then looked towards the ever-efficient secretary who stopped typing and smiled at him immediately.
“Anyone else, Claire?” He stopped as he glanced again at Ava, did a double take and then stared openly, his lips turning up at the corners slightly.
Ava was mortified. She instantly recognized the fabulously handsome Will Adams. The last time she had seen him had been a very long while ago, more years than she cared to remember, but no girl’s first crush could ever be forgotten.
Why did he have to be here now, seeing her latest humiliation? She shrank back against the wall and cast her eyes down, hoping he hadn’t really looked at her, but it was too late. He stepped forwards and stood right in front of her, his height and broadness overshadowing her and making her flinch back even further.
He didn’t appear to notice her disquiet.
“Hey! I remember you. Ava, isn’t it? Hang on don’t tell me, I’ll get it in a sec.” He slapped a large hand on his smooth forehead as he closed his eyes for a second and appeared to think hard. “Ava…Ava Carling?” His dark eyes opened wide as he obviously remembered and she nodded, surprised that he could recall her name. “Wow! It’s been a few years since I last saw you. You haven’t changed a bit. How have you been?” His smile was wide and welcoming, showing perfect white teeth, and his eyes sparked in his tanned face.
Ava cringed momentarily before forcing herself to meet his gaze.
“You’re right. It has been a long time. Please don’t remind me. I’m well thanks, and you?” She chanced a shy glance upwards and spoke softly, remembering his easy open manner, apparently unchanged from when they had been at school.
Memories flooded her head. Good ones for the most part though she remembered the heartbreak too. He had been so cool and so popular, talking to all the students in the group, not just those in his own year. He had been her first and only schoolgirl crush. At fourteen she had longed for him to ask her out and had been distraught when she had heard he was dating a girl in the year above hers.
He clearly hadn’t changed that much in the fifteen years that had passed, even better looking if that were possible. He was a lot taller and a lot wider at the shoulder than she remembered, but his dark hair was still just as thick and wavy and his eyes only a little more crinkled at the corners. They were still the deepest brown possible, almost the colour of melted plain chocolate and framed with the thickest, blackest lashes imaginable. His lean cheeks emphasized his jaw line, hard and square, dark stubble already showing through his perfect skin, even though he had obviously shaved that morning.
His voice was almost as deep as his eyes.
“Better for seeing you. I’m trying to find a decent P.A and the choice seems to be very limited. I’m so glad you’ve come Ava…though it’s strange, you’re not on my list, but you were always so clever and organized at school. Do you remember how you took over running the Christmas play one year, when that idiot teacher buckled under the strain?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Come on, let’s see if you can do any better than the last candidate. She was dreadful, not what I’m looking for at all; couldn’t have organized a pi…er…Drinks party in a brewery.” He looked slightly sheepish at his choice of words as he held the door open for her. Ava moved quickly, giving the receptionist what she hoped was a withering glare as she looked as though she was about to speak.
He waited until she had passed, then overtook her, towering over her slight frame as he strode ahead along the corridor, his long muscled legs powering forwards in pale beige denim, his broad shoulders moving fluidly under his soft white shirt, the faintest hint of expensive aftershave wafting in his wake. She hurried after him.
“School seems such a long time ago. I can’t even think why you would remember me. I was a year or two younger than you.” Ava squirmed inwardly, trying to make conversation while hoping he wouldn’t remember everything. “You must have a good memory to remember me from that far back.”
He gave a small snort of what might have been laughter.
“Actually I’ve got a terrible memory, always have had, but you were more memorable than most, what with your green eyes and all that dark hair. Very striking!” He waved his hand somewhere near his head. Ava felt herself flush at his words but he seemed completely at ease with what he was saying, then he shrugged and carried on. “But more to the point I seem to remember you being extremely efficient. That’s exactly what I need now. Felicity, my personal assistant is on maternity leave and I have been struggling to do things myself, but it’s festival season and I just can’t cope any longer. I have to find someone quickly, almost immediately really. Can you start Monday?” He asked over his shoulder and then stopped as he saw how far behind she was.
She took a little skip to catch up, her mind working fast, hoping to heaven that he wouldn’t realize the mistake he had made.
“I can, but you should know I’m not up to scratch on all the latest computer programmes. I’ve not worked in an office for a while. I only applied on the off chance that you could put up with someone getting back into the work place. I may be a bit rusty. What do you need me to do exactly?” She didn’t want to put him off, but she couldn’t tell an outright lie. She didn’t want to be caught out. She bit her lip nervously and crossed her fingers behind her back as she realized that she didn’t even know what his company did. It hadn’t seemed to be much of a priority to find out when applying for an office-cleaning job.
His huge shoulders gave an expansive shrug.
“Not so much with computer programmes actually, the guys in the studio and editing departments run that sort of thing. No, obviously I use a computer, I mean, who doesn’t these days, but I only use it for sorting out my diary, meetings and travel arrangements, you know, the usual stuff. I need my events calendar and timing schedules perfect. There is so much going on this time of year, it can be a complete nightmare.” He ran frustrated fingers though his hair before speaking again. “Trouble is that we are just about the only company that delivers the whole package. All the promoter has to do is stump up the money and we take over everything else; from signing the artists to running the stage crew and sorting out the publicity. The promoter pays us to do the work, and then takes gate receipts and recording rights; we sell the retail stands space and all the other paraphernalia. We can make a fortune if the show is a good one, but we take an enormous amount of flack if there are problems too.” He paused, a worried frown marring his perfect brow for a moment.
Her eyes were wide with concern and he immediately tried to play the responsibility of the job down. She might be his only hope of hiring someone before things really went bad. He was running out of options. No one he had interviewed had come close to being the person he needed. At least he knew Ava to some extent. She had always organized events in the past and even though it had been a long while ago she might be his last chance to bring the seasons events to a successful conclusion.
“But you wouldn’t need to get involved in that side of things. You just have to sort out me and some of the more annoying things that get n the way of me doing my job. Stuff like the artist’s special requests, or orders more like. Some of the stars can be real divas. They can be an absolute pain if they don’t get exactly what they want at the time they want it, so I need you to fend them off and keep them out of my hair at all costs. You should have heard Katrina going off last month when she didn’t get the right mineral water and flowers in her dressing room. For God’s sake! It was Glastonbury, not the bloody Royal Performance.” He harrumphed in annoyance as he opened another door at the end of the hallway and stood back to usher her through.
Ava began to feel a little overwhelmed as she began to understand a little about his business at last. It was huge. Far beyond anything she had ever considered before and given the quality of the office she now stood in and the design of his clothes, it looked as though he made a big success of it.
The room they had entered was large and beautifully furnished. Ava’s feet sank into the thick, luxurious carpet as she stepped over the threshold. A long, leather settee sat against the wall beside a small bar and a huge polished desk stood at an angle to the window. The desk appeared to be completely empty and the wood gleamed beautifully as the sunshine glinted through the huge picture window. He sat down in the leather swivel chair and motioned for her to sit in the seat opposite him as he spoke again.
“Well, what do you think? Is all that clear?”
He looked directly at her, his brown eyes so clear, but mesmerizingly deep and her heart jumped into her mouth. He was too handsome, too strikingly masculine for her to concentrate properly. Was he offering her the job already? A long strand of her dark hair had worked itself loose from the plait. She tucked it behind her ear, took a deep breath and plunged, trying to sound confident and in control.
“I don’t know yet, Will. I’ll need to see the way Felicity has run things in the past, if that’s okay. And if I could stay and work shadow you today and tomorrow so that I have half an idea of what I am doing, I should be fine for Monday. Perhaps I should come in over the weekend if that helps, I can see you’re under pressure here,” she added as an afterthought. She needed to sound keen and efficient. There was no way she was going to miss this opportunity if she could help it.
His eyes widened in obvious delight.
“Work shadowing! That’s a brilliant idea. No one else has suggested anything like that. Come around here and I’ll show you my diary now. We can start straight away.” He leaned back in his chair, rolled his impressive shoulders inside his shirt, and let out a great breath. “What a relief! I knew as soon as I saw you waiting that you would be perfect. Just let me buzz Claire and tell her to send rejection letters to the other candidates.” He flipped a button under the desk and spoke enthusiastically to the receptionist.
“Hey Claire, I don’t need to see anyone else. Ava fits the bill. Can you sort it all out with the others? Oh, and Ava will be staying with me for the rest of the day. I’ll need you to sort out all her bank details later.”
There was a slight surprised delay and then Claire’s clipped voice answered.
“But what about the cleaning job, Mr. Adams? I thought she was going to…”
Will frowned again and interrupted her slightly impatiently.
“For crying out loud Claire! You know how busy I am at the moment. It’s bad enough Felicity having to have time off, I don’t have time to sort out cleaners. You can interview them anytime. Employ anyone you like, or talk to one of the agencies. As long as the job is done properly and they are gone by the time I get in I really don’t care who vacuums around my desk. The last thing I need is cleaners under my feet first thing in the morning. I’ll leave it all in your capable hands.” He pressed the button again and cut off the sound of an intake of breath. He looked back at Ava, smiled wearily, and shook his head.
“As if I need to interview cleaning staff. Good grief! I don’t know what she thinks of sometimes…Now, is there anything else I need to go through with you before we start?”
Ava gulped silently and then spoke quietly, embarrassed that she had to ask.
“I hate to mention it, but do I get paid for sorting out you and your diary Will? And the hours? I’ll need to know when you expect me in and all that. I have a few other responsibilities that I have to consider and the pay will have to be enough to cover them.” She hoped it would be a little more than the pay advertised for the cleaning job. If this was going to be full time, the rate would have to be high enough to cover the loss of her two other jobs.
Will rolled his eyes and looked as though he was actually going to slap his own forehead again.
“Oh God! What an idiot. I really am losing it. I should have sorted out hours and money with you first.” He raised his eyebrows and his generous lips twisted to the side in an apologetic half smile as he went on to explain. “I don’t really have set hours. I normally work from around eight until I’m done, but it all depends on what’s going on in La La Land.” He twiddled his fingers in the air as if everyone should know what he was talking about. “Sometimes I don’t bother going home if my son Jake is at a mate’s house, but you won’t have to worry about those sorts of hours. I need you to work hard, but I don’t need you late. You can leave at five but if you do stay late or work over weekends you’ll have to mark it in mine and Claire’s diary. I’m paying fifteen pounds an hour,” he paused as she pulled in a sharp breath. “Sorry, isn’t that enough? I can probably go to seventeen if you’re prepared to either work through your lunch or maybe stay until six in the evenings.” His impossibly beautiful eyes were begging her.
Ava broke in, trying to tear herself out of their hypnotic depths as she quickly calculated the enormous sum of money he was proposing. A single day’s pay would to work out at more than she normally earned in a week at the hotel. She nearly choked in shock but didn’t want to sound desperate. She composed herself quickly with a couple of short breaths.
“Will, stop for a moment, please, I don’t want to sound hesitant, especially with the wages you are proposing, but have to think about this. The hours are a little longer than I had anticipated. It’s going to mean that I have to make some changes at home. I have Kate to look after. She’s still at school and I can’t be out every night when she comes home. Just give me a moment to think…She’s at dance group until four thirty three nights a week and drama the other two. She’s normally home at five and up until now I have always been back home by then. I wonder if she would mind me being a little late.”
Will’s shoulders slumped a fraction.
“Kate? Who’s she?” He was so direct, as he sat back suddenly in his chair and stared so hard at her, his gaze almost penetrating her mind, that she gulped before she spoke again.
“She’s my little…sister. I’ve looked after her since our parents died. They were in a car accident a few years back; icy weather and a child running across the road at the wrong time. My father’s car hit a tree. He died instantly and my mother only lasted a few days longer. The child was fine though. It’s the only thing that relieves my mind.” She sighed and Will looked pensive for a moment, as if wondering what to say to comfort her, but then she carried on quickly as it looked as though he were about to speak. She didn’t think she could bear his sympathy. “It was pretty awful at the time though that wasn’t the worst of it. I thought social services were going to take Kate away from me. There was some talk of it because I was only a teenager myself, but I couldn’t let them do that. She is all the family I have left.”
Will swallowed audibly, but he sensed that she did not want pity. He looked directly at her, his gaze holding hers steadily.
“Oh, is that why you disappeared for a few months when we were at school? No, I’m mixed up. I think you were ill then. Meningitis or something? Well whatever, we had to cancel the show that year, as I remember. We had no one to run it.” He paused, his voice was soft when he spoke again. “I’m sorry about your parents Ava. They were nice people. Always giving us lifts and all that, but I don’t remember a little sister. How little is she? I may need you to come to events with me and I’m afraid that however accommodating I can be, you won’t be able to bring a small child.” He was almost frowning and his dark eyes had lost some of their melted look.
Ava answered, smiling reassuringly now that she had decided that at possibly seventeen pounds an hour, there was no way she was going to let this opportunity slip through her fingers. She spoke confidently.
“I don’t think we’ll have to worry too much. I’ll have to check with a couple of people, but I’m sure I can make arrangements. Kate’s fourteen now, fifteen in a few weeks. Our parents died when I was nineteen and she was only four.” She tried to ignore his raised eyebrows, but acknowledged the age gap “Yes I know, late life ‘accident’ and all that, but anyway, I dropped out of university to take care of her. She’s still too young to be left alone for long. After school won’t matter too much as she’ll only be home for an hour without me so, within reason, I can be flexible. I don’t suppose that Kate will mind if I’m not there a couple of evenings a week or even the odd weekend. She’ll probably like going round to friends. She’s getting to that sort of age, they’re all into sleepovers and gatherings already.” She looked back into his slightly narrowed eyes and crossed her fingers behind her back again, desperately hoping that she hadn’t put him off.
He puffed out a deep breath as his face softened and he quirked a crooked smile.
“Huh! My son Jake is fifteen and I hardly ever see him. I’m lucky if he’s around for Sunday lunch. He’s always out with his mates, unless he’s hungry or wants money, of course. He thinks that I’m his personal bank.” Will snorted and then smiled warmly again. “You were very young to take on a four year old Ava…Look, don’t worry about the hours, I’m sure we will be able to work something out between us. If you need to get away early in the evening I can leave work out for the next day if you can maybe come in at seven thirty the following morning. I can be pretty flexible here. I need you, Ava.” There was no doubt about it. He was pleading.
Ava smiled and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thanks Will. I want to help you. It used to be more difficult when she was younger, that’s why I haven’t had an office job for a while, but you must know all about the difficulties, even though your wife is at home to look after your son when he is about.” Her eyes dropped curiously to the slim golden band on his third finger.
Will cleared his throat and blinked steadily at her, then his dark eyelashes flicked for a fraction of a second and he glanced down at his left hand. He thumbed the ring around his finger a few times before he spoke.
“Chloe, my wife, died five years ago. I was with her from when we were at school.” The office suddenly seemed to become very silent. He cleared his throat. “I have a housekeeper who sorts out the household stuff for us, Adele is Lithuanian, over seventy and batty as you like, but I could never get rid of her now for any reason. She’s been with us for nearly ten years and become part of the family. Chloe employed her as soon as I started to make some money. Turns out that she made an excellent decision. Adele does the washing and keeps the house in order, but apart from her occasional cooking days, generally Jake and I sort ourselves out now.” His voice was softer now. He turned his head away from her and stared out of the window.
Ava lowered her hand from her mouth where it flown in shock at hearing of his wife’s death.
“Oh! Will, that’s terrible. She was so young. How?...I’m sorry, that was really insensitive of me. I shouldn’t have asked,” she mumbled to the floor, wishing it would open up and swallow her and her big mouth.
Will sighed gently. He turned back, away from the window.
“No, it’s okay. It was a long time ago. She had cancer. It was pretty awful to be honest, but these things happen and at least I still have Jake. I’m so glad now that we did the right thing.” He was looking at her, his voice strong and sure again.
She glanced up at him, and seeing his suddenly radiant expression when he spoke of his son, she chanced another question.
“You must have been very young when you had him.” Ava didn’t want to pry, but she just had to ask.
“Seventeen actually, and as it proved, very stupid when it came to over active hormones, but Jake is great, when he’s not being teenagerish. Chloe was only sixteen when he was born. Do you remember her from the club? She was more musical than the rest of us. You must remember the scandal if nothing else. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, I have to admit I was terrified. The school expelled both of us when they were informed of the situation. For a while I was desperate, but a baby soon makes you ‘man up’ and get on with life. Chloe was the one who eventually persuaded me to make a career in event management. Started out with arranging a couple of gigs for local bands in pubs, but it soon grew and so did the bands. They all still use us for all their promotions actually. She must have known I’d find it easy.” He looked at Ava carefully.
She answered with a slight smile. She could only really remember Will, but she had heard some of the gossip at the time. The gossip before she had left school herself, that was.
“I can remember her vaguely. I think she played the piano,” she lied convincingly, knowing that the school had an upright in nearly every classroom and a baby grand in the main hall. There were hardly any other instruments to play, apart from the odd tambourine or glockenspiel. “Wasn’t she the year above me, and you were the one above that? We really only knew each other because of the performing arts club, if you remember.”
“How could I forget. It’s what I’ve made my business in. Well anyway, Chloe and I decided to get married when we found out that she was pregnant. Much against our parent’s wishes, I might add. They wanted us to get rid of him,” he gave an involuntary shudder. “Either before he was born or put him up for adoption after, it didn’t matter which, but we just couldn’t do it. It was hard when we were so young, but we both wanted and loved Jake. That was never a question. I’ve always thought that he’s an absolute gift...The cancer Chloe had is very rare in someone so young. Horrible disease. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” He gave an involuntary shudder. “Jake found it very difficult to cope without her at first. Adele, our housekeeper, batty though she is, has been a complete Godsend. He’s only really come out of himself in the past eighteen months.” Will put his hands on his knees and puffed out his cheeks as he eyed her warily. “Do you know Ava, I’ve never spoken to anyone about this before. I shouldn’t be boring you with all my sorrows; they’re long past anyway. Come on, let’s have a look and see how Felicity organized me and then we can get you started properly.” He still looked a bit grim.
Ava took another long look into his dark eyes before she glanced over the completely empty desk.
“Well, if you can show me where your diary is, it would be a help.” She smiled at him a little tentatively and he suddenly smiled widely back. The difference was almost breathtaking. His whole face was alight with warmth.
“Of course.” He turned to the desk and pushed a button under his knee hole. The centre section of his desk flipped up and a sleek computer screen clicked open. It was clearly of the most up to date design and Ava raised her eyebrows as he began touching icons on the screen. Almost instantly his diary was displayed.
Ava gasped at the punishing schedule he had to keep up.
“Crikey Will, haven’t you ever heard of delegation. You can’t possibly get all this lot done in a day. I’m not surprised that you have to stay late so often. I’m astonished that you ever go home!” She leaned over his shoulder, staring at the screen as she ran her finger down the timings list. “This is completely crazy, don’t you have anyone that can help you out with any of this?”
Will shrugged his huge shoulders.
“Not now Felicity has gone. She stayed longer than she should have because I couldn’t find anyone good enough to replace her. I have plenty of studio and publicity staff but they are at their full capacity already. This time of year is completely manic and I’ve no body to sort out all the day-to-day stuff. Claire’s okay at reception work, but she’d keel over with pressure of this sort. All the artists only ever want to see me or my sound and recording man, Gregg. I’m really all about the P.R. and advertising on this side of things. Gregg and the fellas sort out all the recordings, schedules and staging so you can imagine how busy they are at the moment. I’m picking up the slack on all the rest of it, but we are already scheduling for next year. It’s becoming impossible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m good at what I do. I always get the results everyone wants. Bums on seats and money in pocket, it’s the bottom line that counts in all of this but somehow, although I’m the boss, I seem to get bossed around an awful lot.” Ava didn’t doubt a word of it. She glanced around the sumptuous office as he spoke again. “Come on, I’ll show you to what will be your office.”
He closed the diary page with a quick shove of his long finger, pushed his chair back and stood up in one fluid movement. Ava had been momentarily distracted by a wall of framed pictures. Will stood in all of them, grinning with stars she recognized easily. He really was at the top of his game.
She felt his chair move and jumped back as she realized that she was much too close to him. He was so broad, she tried to move further to the side but she hit the wall behind her and took a sudden, involuntary step forwards. Will’s rock hard shoulder caught the underside of her jaw with a sharp crack as he rose from his chair. Her head jerked backwards, hit the wall and she staggered blindly in pain, her knees buckling beneath her as he spun round and caught her before she hit the floor.
“Ava! My god! Ava?” Will’s shocked voice came at her through a haze of fog. It gradually became fainter as the room whirled wildly around her, leaving her head spinning and everything disappearing into the darkest brown pools of intensity that stared at her in panic-stricken horror as she passed out in his hard embrace.
I hope you have enjoyed this first chapter of A Perfect Summer. If you would like to find out more about Will and Ava, please click here or on any of the images.
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