London Evening Post, 28 September
meeting with creditors of the Harrington Park Hotel the owner, Nicholas
Wolfe, announced today that he has filed for bankruptcy.
Once a name
breathed with a sigh of pleasure, considered a home away from home by
those wealthy enough to enjoy the Harrington experience, the hotel began
to lose its way following the death of Rupert Harrington two decades
his widow handed ownership of the hotel to her second husband, American
businessman, Nicholas Wolfe in order to concentrate on her young family.
Wolfe lacked the magic Harrington touch however; under his stewardship
the brand lost its sparkle and following Katherine’s death in a traffic
accident, the hotel’s decline, while slow, became terminal.
it that James Harrington, owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant
L’Étranger, and the younger son of Katherine and Rupert Harrington, has
teamed up with his designer twin, Sally Harrington, to put together a
bid for the hotel, hoping to restore this iconic London hotel to its
running late. She should be on her way to another job, but an outbreak
of ‘flu‘ had left the hotel short-handed and when the head of
housekeeping asked her to extend her shift, refusal had not been an
shift had left her exhausted, her legs, feet, head were aching, but this
was the last. The room had been booked for a late arrival, but she was
running out of time.
about being upstairs when guests were beginning to return from shopping
or sightseeing, she worked fast, but it had to be perfect. She needed
this job and mentally ticked off a checklist, ensuring that everything
was exactly as a guest who was staying in a luxurious boutique hotel in
the heart of Paris would expect.
fridge was fully stocked. The flowers perfect, the fruit without a
blemish. A bottle of Evian stood beside a gleaming glass. A small,
pink-lidded box containing two, light as air, macarons, were on
the tray beside the coffee machine.
She took a
breath, momentarily swept back to the taste of raspberry and rose petals
melting in her mouth. A long ago treat from the boy she loved…
She’d spent too
long day dreaming and the click of the key in the lock brought her back
to reality with the arrival of Madame to check the room.
The man’s tone was reassuring, not Madame, but the guest telling
her to take her time as he dropped his bag and crossed to the window.
He spoke in
French and his accent was good, but he was English and her hand trembled
as she smoothed back the cover.
would have been bad, but far worse was the risk that she would come face
to face with someone who might recognise her. Someone who had attended
the same exclusive private boarding school.
News of where
she was, what she was doing - in mocking tones of scandalised amusement
- would be flashed around social media within hours/ She would have to
leave Paris, start again somewhere else. That would cost money, put the
dream further out of reach.
possibility, she told herself, was vanishingly small. She took a breath,
reminded herself that staff were invisible. Even if she did come face to
face with someone with whom she’d been at school, someone who knew her
parents, they would only see the white shirt, the black waistcoat and
The uniform not
straightened from her task, took one last glance around. The man was
staring out at Paris, already ablaze with lights for the Christmas
season, but she didn’t see the view, only the face mirrored in the
It was no more
than a whispered breath, but his gaze flickered from the lights of the
city to her own image mirrored alongside him.
For a moment,
as they looked into the reflection of each other’s eyes, her heart stood
still. Would he recognise her? Remember her?
The thought had
barely formed before he spun around so fast that, as if he had disturbed
the earth’s rotation, the room rocked.
She flung out a
hand as her world tilted, throwing her off balance but there was only
air to grasp until strong fingers clasped hers, his body steadying her
world as he stepped into her, supporting her, holding her, saying her
Not a ghost,
but the living man with whom. a lifetime ago, she had shared an intense,
passionate teenage love.
romance that had brought disaster down on both their heads but, in his
arms, she had forgotten reality, naively blanked from her mind the
future planned for her by ambitious parents.
For a few
short months, lying spooned against his body, feeling the slow, steady
thud of his heart beating against her ribs, the softness of his sleeping
breath against her neck, anything had seemed possible.
unbelievably, he was here, grown into the promise of the youth whose
every kiss, every touch had stolen her senses, his fingers entwined in
her own, a hand at her back, holding her safe against the breadth of
wide shoulders, their bodies touching close. Looking at her as if he
could not believe what he was seeing.
His eyes were
still that thrilling swirl of grey and green that, for years, had
haunted her dreams. To look at his wide, sensuous mouth was to feel his
lips angled against hers, feel the heat of his need echoed in the desire
pounding through her veins and for a moment, weakly, she leaned into
breathed her name into her hair, as uncertain as the first time he’d
kissed her, as the first time they had made love. The same thrilling
tremor rippled through her and for a heartbeat, maybe two, she was that
girl again, in his arms, lifting her face to him, inviting more.
And then he
said her name again, not with that first rare wonder, but with disbelief
written into the frown puckering his forehead.
clinging to him, waiting for his kiss while he was attempting to relate
the glossy princess of the Lower Sixth with whom he had fallen in love
to the maid turning down his bed.
brought her to her senses.
Harrington was living his dream, the one they had shared in grabbed
moments of privacy, in the precious, never to be forgotten stolen
half-term week that her parents thought she was spending with an
aristocratic school friend. He’d rented a cottage on the coast. They’d
swum in the cold sea, eaten luscious food in the middle of night, made
love in front of the fire, totally consumed by their passion.
precious days when they hadn’t had to hide, but had lived their dream,
planning the life they would have together one day in Paris. A fantasy
world where, for a few short days, nothing could touch them.
And then the
stick turned blue.
James did his
best to convince her that he could take care of her and their baby, that
they would be together no matter what. She wanted to believe him, but
that fantasy died with morning sickness. That was something you couldn’t
keep secret in the hothouse atmosphere of school. Someone heard her and
ratted her out to matron.
kept her hand in his as she took a step back, attempting to reclaim a
long hours working three jobs, had taken their toll and she was no
longer that Chloe. His Chloe.
bear for him to see her like this and she wrenched her hand away,
throwing it up to keep him back as she stepped back towards the door.
repeated more forcefully as he took a step towards her.
of her rejection stopped him, giving her time to wrench open the door.
was gone, now. All doubt.
older, without the dewy freshness, the gloss, of the girl he’d known,
pretending not to know him, to only speak French, he might have
hesitated, been left with that disturbed feeling you have when you see a
stranger who looks like someone you once knew.
That might have
given her enough time to escape.
But he’d always
been Jay to everyone.
James, soft and
sweet, was the name she’d used when they were on their own. A stranger
would not have clung to him, lips parted, inviting a kiss. No maid would
abandon her trolley and run, and she knew that he would come after her,
demanding answers that she did not have.
He’d grown up
in an hotel, knew his way around behind the scenes; there would be no
hiding place and she didn’t wait to explain, to change. She just grabbed
her coat, bag, boots and made her escape down the narrow lane at the
rear of the hotel, the thin soles of her flats slithering on the icy
Once in the
street, she was quickly swallowed up by the Christmas shopping crowds
laden with glossy carrier bags from the designer stores on the Rue
Saint-Honoré but she didn’t slow.
running until she was below ground in the safety of the Metro where she
boarded the first train to arrive, pushing into the crush, heart
pounding, shivering more with shock than cold, gasping for breath, as
the train sped through the dark.
It was early
evening and the train had the steamy heat of transport packed with
people wanting only to get home to their families, food and warmth after
a hard day.
see them, hear the coughs, the grumbles.
She was lost in
the memory of the last time she’d woken in James’ arms. His repeated
promise that they would be together, that he would be there for her,
always. The brief stolen kiss when he’d received a text telling him that
he’d been picked to join the cricket team for a grudge match with a
rival school on the other side of the county.
It had never
occurred to either of them to be suspicious.
There had been
no hint of anything other than an ordinary school day until she was
called to the Head’s office.
The Head wasn’t
there. Her parents were alone and so, she realised, was she. Matron had
pretended to believe her diet story, but it was clear that she had not
While she had
been listening to Miss Kent drone on about Hardy, someone had packed her
belongings and within ten minutes of being delivered into the hands of
her mother and father she had been driven away from school.
Cut off from
the moment she’d left the classroom, there had been no way for her to
leave a note, a message.
where she lived but even if he came after her, he wouldn’t find her.
They weren’t taking the road towards their Hampshire estate, or the
motorway into London.
had asked her mother where they were going. Her only response had been
to hand her a tissue and turn away.
Harrington, stunned, scarcely able to believe his eyes, his ears,
remained rooted to the spot.
He had barely
noticed the woman turning down his bed. He was still coming to terms
with the sudden turn of events in London. The reappearance of his older
brother after twelve years of silence, the announcement that Hugo was
the new owner of the Harrington Park hotel.
recovered from the shock, heard his story, he’d been thrilled that Hugo
wanted both him and Sally to be involved in wiping out the bad years
when Nick Wolfe had been in control. Excited that he wanted them both to
help him restore the hotel to the icon it had once been. But his return
had dredged up brutal memories. That ghastly Christmas morning when he
and Sally had woken up to discover that Hugo was gone, and no one would
tell them where he was or when he’d be home.
had done her best to fill the gap left by his absence, to be there for
them. She had even signed the hotel over to Nick, no doubt convinced by
him that it would give her more time to spend with her remaining
children. The man was an ace manipulator.
The car crash
in which she’d died had shattered them both, and their Nick Wolfe had
been quick to rid himself of the burden of a couple of step-children.
It had hit
Sally especially hard and her reaction when Hugo had turned up out of
the blue had been a release of all that anger, all the pain that had
been bottled up inside her.
her inability to accept that he’d been forced to stay away, to empathise
with what he’d been through, but it had been emotionally draining, his
nights disturbed by the return of exhausting dream searches down endless
corridors for those lost.
Chloe and the
baby they had made.
vanished off the face of the earth eight years ago and when he’d seen
her reflection in the window beside him, he had thought for a moment
that he was imagining it. That she was a phantom dredged up by those
Then their eyes
He’d caught her
as she’d swayed, felt her breath on his cheek, his lips. Could still
feel the warmth of her hand where he’d grasped her fingers. Still, in
his mind, feel the warmth of lips that had, for just a moment, been his
scarcely able to believe his eyes, he had hesitated, unsure, and she had
Did she believe
that he had rejected her?
out of shocked immobility he wrenched open the door but wasted seconds
had given Chloe time to disappear.
have waited for the lift and he raced to the staff stairs, leading
straight down to a part of the hotel that guests never saw. He was down
two flights before reality brought him crashing to a halt.
If he burst
into housekeeping, chasing a woman who’d run from him, he knew exactly
what they’d think. Bad enough, but he’d won a major television show, was
the youngest chef ever to win a Michelin star for, L’Etranger,
the restaurant he’d founded on the back his television fame.
His face had
been on the cover of enough lifestyle and food magazines to make him
recognisable, especially here in Paris where food was a religion.
He didn’t care
what they said about him, but speculation would be all over social media
Until he knew
why Chloe was working here, in housekeeping, he needed to exercise
discretion because something was wrong. Badly wrong.
Scotts were old money. The kind of people who lived behind a security
cordon on their estate when they were in the country. In a penthouse
apartment accessible only from a private lift in the city. Who spent
their vacations on the private islands owned by their friends.
as Croesus, they could, as he discovered when he’d tried to contact
Chloe, could throw up a wall of silence as impenetrable as their
He hadn’t seen
or heard from her since she’d been whisked away while he’d been on the
other side of the county, bored out of his mind, sitting out the game as
twelfth man on the side lines of the pitch.
After all the
publicity about the Michelin star he had, for a while, lived in hope
that Chloe might walk into L’Etranger one day; take in the clubby
atmosphere of the ground floor, order a cocktail, ask to meet the chef.
Or maybe arrive for the fine dining on the floor above with friends, a
At least send
him a card offering her congratulations.
Pie in the sky.
She might have
smiled to see his success, perhaps remembered a doomed, youthful
passion, but she would have moved on, married someone approved by her
definitely not want to have her life complicated by him turning up and
whatever happened in the years since she’d disappeared from school, it
couldn’t have been that.
Did she marry
someone her parents disapproved of? That wouldn’t be difficult. She’d
warned him how it would be. Money spoke to money and anyone short of a
multi-millionaire would have been viewed as a fortune hunter.
Did she have a
He leaned back
against the wall, swept up in the memory of the anger, the pain of the
boy he’d been. He’d had no illusions about the likely outcome of a
youthful pregnancy caused by the urgency of their need for one another.
He pounded a
fist into the wall.
Did she think
that he’d blame her? She’d warned him what her parents were like, how
controlling they were, but with the arrogance of youth he’d dismissed
her fears. He had the money his father had left him. A pittance compared
to her family’s wealth, but enough to live the life they had talked
he would take care of her and their baby. Promised that they would be a
He swore as his
phone pinged a warning that it was time to leave for his meeting with
the chef he hoped to recruit for Harringtons. He turned to walk back up
the stairs and paused as something glinted on the steps above him.
He reached out
and picked up a piece of crushed silver. It was, or had been, an art
deco silver hair pin. He knew that because he’d bought it for Chloe’s
seventeenth birthday and it seemed likely that that he’d stood on it on
his rush down the stairs.
He did not want
to leave but Chloe was, for the moment, beyond his reach and time was
short if Hugo was to have the hotel open for Christmas Eve.
was an old friend, but even so it was going to be a hard sell and he had
the dramatic temperament to match his flair. He had squeezed in this
meeting before starting service and keeping him waiting would not be a
He slipped the
piece of silver into his pocket to deal with later.
It was a crazy
busy time of year for everyone and he should be in London, in his own
kitchen, but he wasn’t leaving Paris until he’d talked to Chloe.
Like it? Buy it!
From the book
CHRISTMAS REUNION IN PARIS by Liz Fielding
Copyright © 2020
by Liz Fielding