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The Proposal, страница 1

 

The Proposal
 


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The Proposal


  Copyright © 2013 Tasmina Perry

  The right of Tasmina Perry to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  First published as an Ebook in 2013 by HEADLINE REVIEW

  An imprint of HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP

  Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library

  eISBN 978 0 7553 8357 3

  Chrysler building illustration © Art’nLera/Shutterstock

  HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP

  An Hachette UK Company

  338 Euston Road

  London NW1 3BH

  www.headline.co.uk

  www.hachette.co.uk

  Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page

  About the Author

  Praise

  Also by Tasmina Perry

  About the Book

  Dedication

  PROLOGUE

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

  TASMINA PERRY’S GUIDE TO MODERN MANHATTAN

  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  TASMINA PERRY is the Sunday Times bestselling author of novels such as Daddy’s Girls, Kiss Heaven Goodbye, Deep Blue Sea and, most recently, The Proposal. She left a career in law to enter the world of women’s magazine publishing, going on to become an award-winning writer and conributor to titles such as Elle, Glamour and Marie Claire. In 2004 she launched her own travel and fashion magazine, Jaunt, and was editing InStyle magazine when she left the industry to write books full time. Her novels have been published in seventeen countries. Tasmina lives with her husband and son in London, where she is at work on her next novel.

  For more about Tasmina Perry, and ideas for glamorous getaways, visit www.tasminaperry.com.

  Take a journey with

  ‘A heady mixture of mystery, romance and luxury’ Woman

  ‘No one can mix a classy cocktail of intrigue, passion and glamour quite like Tasmina Perry’ Hello

  ‘Decadent and full of surprising twists . . . irresistible escapism’ Closer

  ‘A well-written tale of mystery and betrayal’ Sunday Express

  ‘Had me hooked from start to finish’ Daily Mail

  By Tasmina Perry

  Daddy’s Girls

  Gold Diggers

  Guilty Pleasures

  Original Sin

  Kiss Heaven Goodbye

  Private Lives

  Perfect Strangers

  Deep Blue Sea

  The Proposal

  Just say yes to this unforgettable read and take a spellbinding, romantic journey from the dazzling days of the debutantes in 1950s London to glamorous modern Manhattan.

  When Amy Carrell’s wealthy boyfriend ends their relationship just before Christmas, she’s left to nurse her broken heart alone. With nothing to lose, she replies to an advertisement requesting a companion for a mysterious ‘Manhattan adventure’.

  Whisked off to New York with eccentric British aristocrat Georgia Hamilton, Amy experiences a glamorous side of the city that she’s never seen before. Along the way, Georgia initiates her protégée in the arts of old-school elegance.

  But as Georgia shares her life lessons, Amy discovers a painful secret in her mentor’s past. A secret that shattered her future. A story of love and betrayal that only Amy has the power to put right.

  For John

  She hesitated before she put pen to paper, her pale hand shaking as it hovered over the form.

  Apparently this was the old-fashioned way of doing things – even people her age were internet savvy enough these days to submit a classifieds advertisement online. Instead she had popped into the magazine offices on impulse, having been in Covent Garden on a lunch date with some friends. Familiar people, on familiar territory, London’s traditional publishing heartland. Her own former workplace was just a stone’s throw away, and its restaurants – Rules, Christopher’s, Joe Allen – were where she had spent many happy times, doing deals, drinking with friends. It was her life. And it had been a good one.

  So was she now in her right mind doing this? Was it time to finally let go of the past rather than go running headlong into a fantasy of a life she had not even lived?

  She looked up and glanced at the woman behind the desk, hoping for an encouraging gesture, or some other sign that she was doing the right thing. But the lady was on the phone and the only other thing she had to spur her on was a nagging voice in her head. The voice that had been reminding her for weeks that if she was ever going to do it, if she was ever going to go there, it was now, whilst she still could.

  Today she felt every one of her seventy-two years. Recently she had noticed that society was trying to pull some sort of a con trick on millions of people just like her, that there was something good, something joyful, about getting old. She had seen the adverts around London, in magazines. Smiling white-haired women with beautiful bone structures advertised cheaper road insurance for the over-seventies. Suspiciously well-priced flats in glossy estate agent brochures were luxury retirement bolt-holes only available to the over-fifty-fives. The grey pound was apparently a potent economic force, whilst the term ‘silver surfers’ for those of her generation more internet savvy than herself implied an athleticism she had not felt since the eighties.

  But right now there felt nothing good about being old. Her friends were beginning to die. Not many, not yet, but it was happening, and every time she heard more sad news, it was a reminder of her own mortality.

  She had been thinking about it so much lately. Thinking about him. She wasn’t entirely sure how you could have memories about things that hadn’t even happened. All she had were her daydreams about a life they could have had together if it wasn’t for the one night that had changed her life completely. But lately it had consumed her thoughts to the point that she just had to go to New York – the one major Western city she had never been to. The one city that represented a life unlived.

  Steeling herself, she began to write. Now was not the time for regrets or doubt. Old age was about doing the things you had always wanted to do, about tying up loose ends, before time ran out.

  No, she was absolutely right to be here. Absolutely right to do this. She handed her form to the classifieds woman, paid her money and, after confirming when the advert would run, picked up her bag and left the office. She glanced at her watch. It was not even four thirty in the afternoon. She had things to plan, phone calls to make, and only a few hours left in the day to do it a
ll.

  2012

  ‘He’s going to propose tonight, I can just feel it.’

  Amy Carrell looked across the kitchen at her friend Nathan Jones.

  ‘And what makes you so sure?’ she said, picking up three plates and expertly balancing them on one arm. ‘If he was whisking me off to Paris, then I might be suspicious. But we’re going to an office party – not exactly what you’d call romantic.’

  Nathan rolled his eyes.

  ‘Are you kidding me? It’s Christmas, darling, and the party’s at the Tower of London. At night! It’s what I would call the very essence of romance.’

  ‘Nathan, they used to behead people at the Tower of London . . .’

  ‘Correct. Anne Boleyn for one. Apparently it took several attempts because she had a very small neck.’

  ‘As I said. Not exactly romantic,’ grinned Amy, pushing through the double doors of the kitchen and into the roar of the dining room at the Forge Bar and Grill, one of the more fashionable eating houses on Upper Street in Islington, north London. She moved with the grace of a ballerina, swaying between tables and deftly positioning the plates in front of the diners. Tonight Amy didn’t need to remember who was having the squash risotto and who was having the escalope – everyone was having turkey. This was the sixth Christmas party she had done in the last week, and they weren’t getting any better.

  ‘Oi, love!’

  She jumped as someone slapped her bum.

  ‘Bring us out another bottle of the fizz, eh?’ yelled a red-faced man, leering up at her. ‘And what about your phone number too, eh?’

  ‘I will send the sommelier over for you, sir,’ she answered, forcing a smile.

  ‘Ooh, a sexy American,’ he laughed, pinpointing Amy’s accent. ‘Why don’t you come and join us for a glass of champagne? Maybe after hours, eh?’ he added as Amy fled back to the kitchens.

  ‘Groper, table two,’ she said to Nathan. Her friend just nodded and peered through the porthole in the kitchen door. ‘Pink cheeks, white shirt?’

  ‘You got it. Total sleazeball.’

  ‘Don’t worry, I suspect his shirt is going to be bright red when he leaves here. I feel a wine-related accident coming on.’

  ‘Nut roasts!’ screamed a voice. They turned as a dishevelled woman crashed through the door. Cheryl, the Forge’s owner, had a heart of gold but swore like a trooper and was not a woman to be crossed when she had a scowl on her face like now.

  ‘I got three arseholes giving me crap on table six; say they need their nut roasts asap or they’re walking.’

  ‘Sorry, I’ll get on it,’ said Amy, moving towards the serving hatch, but Nathan held up his wrist, tapping his watch meaningfully. ‘I’ll deal with the veggies, you better skedaddle.’

  ‘Where are you going?’ said Cheryl, frowning.

  ‘It’s Daniel’s party, remember.’

  ‘Jeez, Amy. You only just got here.’

  Thanks to an audition running seriously behind time, she had been thirty minutes late for her shift and Cheryl hadn’t let her forget it all day.

  ‘I’ll come in early tomorrow.’

  ‘You’ll do more than that. I need someone to take a double shift tomorrow. Think of the tips and tell me you’ll do it.’

  ‘I’ll do it,’ said Amy, knowing she needed the money.

  ‘Off you go then. Go, go,’ said Cheryl, shooing Amy away with both hands. ‘Want to use the flat to change?’

  Amy smiled gratefully as her boss pushed her hand into her jeans pocket, pulled out a jangling set of keys and threw them at her.

  ‘He better bloody well had propose after this,’ Cheryl shouted after her as Amy grabbed her bag and vanished up the stairs.

  Inside the pub’s top-floor flat, Amy looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. Her light blonde hair was all over the place, her cheeks flushed from the heat of the kitchen and – God, she sniffed her blouse – she stank of goose-fat potatoes. She looked longingly at the little shower cubicle, but there was no time for that. No time for anything, really.

  Unzipping the bag, she emptied the contents on to the bed. Two crumpled dresses fell out, tangled up with heels, a hairbrush and her make-up. The first dress was a black knee-length shift she had found in a charity shop, the second rust-coloured and covered in sequins, bought in the summer sales for an occasion just like this one. It wasn’t particularly well-made – there were sequins already floating around the bottom of her bag like little lost pennies – but there was no doubt it was a knockout look-at-me dress. Considering her options, she wondered what image she wanted to project tonight. Sexy and irresistible? Or did she want sophisticated, a woman of the world, good wife material?

  Back in the kitchen, she had mocked Nathan’s suggestion, and two days earlier she would have had absolute conviction that Daniel Lyons, her boyfriend of little more than one year’s standing, was more likely to fly to the moon than get down on bended knee. But that was before she had gone rummaging around his sock drawer and seen a duck-egg-blue gift box tucked away among the neat balls of fabric – a Tiffany gift box. It had been too tempting to ignore it, but before she’d had further opportunity to examine the size and shape of its contents, Dan had come back into the bedroom and she’d had to slam the drawer shut.

  She hadn’t been alone in his bedroom since, but it had sent her giddy with excitement and she had tried to read hidden meaning into every comment, every affectionate gesture he’d made since. ‘Dress up,’ he’d said about tonight’s party. And she was certain that he’d been a little anxious about something, which for someone as poised and confident as Daniel was very unusual indeed.

  With twenty minutes to get to the Tower, she held one dress up against herself and then the other. What do you wear for a night that just might change your life for ever? she thought, staring at her reflection in the mirror. For a split second she allowed herself to imagine him slipping a sparkling solitaire on her ring finger in the creamy moonlight. They’d take a picture of themselves with her camera phone and she’d post it on Facebook to show to all their friends. At some later, unspecified time, it would be shown to their children and be smiled at wistfully in their old age. It would be a forever photo – an image you’d remember and talk about for many years to come and one for which you wanted to look your very best.

  ‘Screw it,’ she whispered, quickly pulling on the sequinned dress and leaning into the mirror to tie up her hair. The dress was very short and tight and she did wonder if there’d be any sequins left by midnight, but sexy had to be better than looking like someone’s mum, she thought, throwing the shift dress back on the bed.

  She slipped on her heels and ran out of the pub, hearing a wolf-whistle from Nathan before she exited on to the street, where a black cab pulled up almost immediately.

  ‘Tower of London,’ she breathed to the driver as she slammed the cab door. ‘And don’t go down City Road, it’s always crazy at this time.’

  Amy didn’t really have any idea if City Road was mental or even if the cabbie would have gone that way, but she always tried to say something to imply she knew London inside out, otherwise the driver would hear her American accent and immediately think ‘Tourist!’ and add a zero to the price – a zero she definitely couldn’t afford. She sank back into the seat and watched the little red numbers tick around on the meter, resisting the urge to open her bag and check the lining for stray twenty-pence pieces – after all, this was a cab ride she could barely afford.

  For a brief moment, Amy allowed herself to think about what Nathan’s premonition might mean. How becoming Mrs Amy Lyons would change her life for ever, because the reality was that it would change everything. No more taking double shifts at the Forge to scrape together the rent for her tiny Finsbury Park studio; no more auditions, praying that someone would finally give her a job in a chorus line; no more stumbling from date to date hoping she wasn’t making a complete idiot of herself; no more rooting around sock drawers searching for validation that someone actually l
oved her.

  ‘Blimey, Tower’s lit up like a Christmas tree,’ said the cabbie, sliding his window back as they turned on to Lower Thames Street. Ahead of them there was a queue of sleek cars and people spilling on to the street in black tie.

  ‘Special night is it tonight, love?’

  ‘I hope so,’ she grinned, leaning forward and handing him the only twenty-pound note in her purse.

  She left the cab and walked down the cobbled road towards the gatehouse. Wow, she thought, stopping and looking at the ancient building, artfully floodlit against the pitch-black sky. Her family and friends had all been surprised when she’d announced that she was leaving New York for London to take a job with Blink, a physical theatre performance group that had transferred from Broadway to the West End two years earlier.

  No one close to her back home had ever left the United States – not even for a holiday. I mean, why go to see the Alps when they had amazing snowy peaks of their own? Why bother with the Loire valley when they could visit Napa for the price of an internal flight? Her dad particularly was of the mindset that if it hadn’t happened in New York’s Five Boroughs, it didn’t happen. But Amy had always been fascinated by England, by London – its history, its culture, its majesty, the fact that kings and queens and generals and ladies in their huge skirts had walked across this very spot – so while she had been nervous about leaving her New York life behind her, now she wasn’t sure if she ever wanted to go home.

  She handed over her invitation and hurried inside – the wind was cutting right through the thin dress despite her coat and she didn’t want any more sequins to get blown off.

  ‘The FO, miss?’ asked an old man in a dark uniform.

  ‘I’m sorry?’

  ‘The FO, you are here for the Foreign Office dinner?’

  ‘Oh, yes, yes I am,’ she stammered, feeling suddenly very self-conscious. Didn’t she look like she should be going to the Foreign Office party? she thought, trying to pull the fabric of her dress a little further down her thighs. She glanced at the man again and could see that he was simply trying to help, make sure she didn’t get lost. He gestured to her right.

 
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