Mrs Kent is the extremely high maintenance wife of Mr Kent – MD of Kent Yacht Builders – and this Kensington house is their third home in four years. I’ve re-designed the interior on all of them. No sooner are the works completed, Mrs Kent decides she can’t envisage growing old there – she’s seventy, if a day – so the house is on the market, sold and I’m starting from scratch on their new abode. I was slightly paranoid when they up sticks, selling the first home that I worked on only a month after works were completed, especially as it was my first contract when I started working for Patrick. But she was soon scheduling an appointment for me to view their new place, crooning down the phone, “Ava dear, it’s not you. It just didn’t feel like home.”
So, I’m now on the third Kent residence, the specification being the same as the last two houses, which is convenient because I don’t have to source any freestanding furniture. It also softens the blow on Mr Kent’s wallet.
I jump in my car, setting off for The Surrey Hills. I didn’t divulge to Kate the reason why I’m going to be home late. Telling her would only fuel her curiosity as to why I’m returning to The Manor. I would, of course, lie and feed her the same crap that I’ve fed myself – that the addition of The Manor’s works would benefit my portfolio. The magnet of lean loveliness has zero influence on my decision – none at all.
I stop at the intercom this time, but as I press to release my window, the gates start opening. I look up to the camera and figure John must be waiting. I did say seven-ish and its five past now. I drive through the gates, up the gravel road until I reach the courtyard. John’s waiting on the steps for me, filling the double doorway, sunglasses firmly in place.
‘Good evening, John.’ I greet, grabbing my folder and bag. Will he speak today?
No, he nods and turns, walking back into The Manor, leaving me to follow him into the bar. It’s busier than when I was last here. It’s probably the time of day.
‘Mario?’ he rumbles.
A little man pops up from behind the bar. ‘Yes?’
‘Get Miss O’Shea a drink, please.’ John turns his concealed eyes back to me. ‘I’ll be back. Jesse wants a quick word.’
‘With me?’ I blurt, blushing slightly at my abruptness.
‘No, with me,’
‘Is he staying in his office?’ I ask nervously. I’m asking too many questions about something so trivial, but he assured me he would leave me and John to it. Even the thought of the man reduces me to a nervous wreck. I never thought I would think this, but I do actually feel more comfortable with the big guy. For a start, I trust myself with him. John’s lips twitch, clearly trying to fight a smile. I inwardly groan. He knows.
‘S’all good, girl.’ He turns, giving Mario a funny look, which the little barman acknowledges with a flick of his cloth.
What’s that all about?
John nods sternly before striding out, leaving me with Mario at the bar.
I gaze around, noticing a woman laughing with a middle aged man at a table nearby. It’s the woman I saw in the toilets when I was here last Friday. She’s wearing a black trouser suit and looks extremely professional. She must be staying a while – business, maybe? The man accompanying her rises from the table, putting his hand out politely. She accepts it with a smile as she stands, letting him tuck her under his arm and lead her out of the bar as they chat and giggle.
I perch on a bar stool to wait for John, taking my phone out to check for messages and missed calls.
‘You would like wine?’
I look up, finding the little barman smiling at me. He speaks with an accent, and I conclude that he’s Italian. He’s very short and rather sweet, with his mustache and receding black hair. ‘I could do with one, but I’m driving.’
‘Ah!’ he exclaims. ‘Just a small one,’ He holds a small wine glass up, drawing a line across the middle with his finger.
Oh, sod it! I shouldn’t drink on the job, but my nerves are shot to bits. He’s in this building somewhere and that’s unsettling enough. I nod on a smile. ‘Thank you.’
He holds up a bottle of Zinfandel. I nod again. ‘Your dress is very, urhh…how you say...striking?’ He pours a little more than half a glass. In fact, it’s full.
I look down at my black, structured, figure hugging dress. Yes, I suppose striking would be a word you could use. It’s my if-all-else-fails dress. I always feel nice in it. I ignore the little voice in my head asking me if I wore it in the hopes of seeing Ward. I snap a lid on that thought immediately and laugh at Mario’s careful choice of words, taking the glass as he passes it over the bar on a smile. I think he means tight. It shows every curve I have. Considering I’m a size ten, there are not many, but if I live with Kate for much longer, that may change. ‘Thank you.’ I smile.
‘Pleasure, Miss O’Shea. I leave you in peace.’ He picks up his cloth and starts wiping the granite counter under the optics.
I sip my wine as I wait for John. It goes down too well and before I know it, I’ve drank the lot. I can’t wait to get home so I can dig into the bottle being kept chilled in the fridge.
I swivel on my stool, coming face to face with the woman that was draped all over Ward on Friday. She smiles at me, but it’s the most insincere smile I’ve ever had the pleasure of receiving. ‘Hi.’ I say politely.
I see Mario come rushing over with a panic stricken face, waving his cloth in the air. ‘Miss Sarah! No, please. No talk.’