Home > The Protector(5)

The Protector(5)
Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas


I’m not going to win this one with convincing words, so I take the only other option. I go to my purse and pull out another tenner, then place them both on the counter, before scooping up my drinks and making a run for it. “Now you can tell people that Camille Logan bought you a drink!” I just hear her squeal of delight as I land on the pavement outside, only just upright in my wedges. Heather has the reams of the fabulous material I found in her grasp, her hand paused mid-stroke of the velvety fabric as she watches me drop into my chair.

“All right?” she asks, folding it back up.

“A lively one.” I hand over her iced tea as she laughs, craning her neck to see inside the café.

“Bless!” Heather coos, taking a long slurp of her tea. “Love the material!”

“Fab, isn’t it?” I poke the ice down with my straw and rest back in the metal chair, my skin soaking up the sunrays. “I’m thinking clinched-in waist—”

“Full skirt.” Heather finishes for me, grinning.

“Yes!” This is why I love her and why we’re such perfect business partners. We’re so in sync with our thoughts and ideas. “I’ll have a drawing to you by the end of the week.”

“I’ll get straight to it.”

“Perfect. And we need to make arrangements to visit that fabric supplier you were telling me about.” I grab my diary and flick through the pages. “Next week?”

“Sure. It’s not like I’m busy in a day job anymore.”

I laugh. She sounds devastated. “I’ll let you arrange that, then.” Glancing down at my tea, I note the ice melting rapidly. I take a long draw on the straw before slipping on my glasses. “What are you wearing for Saffron’s party?”

She leans in, encouraging me to do the same. Anyone watching would think she’s about to divulge something juicy in the gossip department. “I was thinking red dress and gold heels.”

“Good plan,” I assert quickly.

“You?”

“You haven’t helped yourself to that bag, then?” I ask, reaching down and pulling out my new dress.

“That would be rude,” she sniffs, eyes widening as she takes in the lovely black piece. “Wow, I love it!”

“Me too,” I agree.

“It’s short.” She waggles a brow at me, and I get the gist straightaway.

Paps.

With photographers on the prowl on most of our nights out, we’re all fully aware of the potential damage a wrong photo could do if it were to turn up in a magazine the next week. Like your dress riding up and revealing that little bit too much leg, and, God forbid, a bit of cellulite. That’s a mild example in the grand scheme of things, however annoying it is. There’s a nastier side to the press, a more damaging side, and, regretfully, I’ve been on the receiving end of it during that particularly hard time last year when Seb and I split up. I know Dad paid many of the newspapers off to stop them printing the pictures. Whether with money or promises. But his connections and relationships didn’t stretch to the glossy mags. And there were far too many pictures of me out there.

I shudder, remembering how hopeless I felt, how black my world was, and how disappointed in myself I was. Sebastian did that to me. Dragged me into his drug-induced haze and nearly ruined me. He took my money when he’d squandered his own and his parents turned their back on him; he got arrested on more than one occasion for violent, drink- and drug-induced outbursts; and when he had no one to lash out on, I was always to hand. I hope he never comes back to London. I hope he’s never released from rehab. I never want to see him again.

“Camille?” Heather’s soft voice startles me, and I jump in my chair, trying to focus on my best friend. “Where were you?”

“Nowhere.” I look down at my cup and find I’ve drunk my way through it while I was lost in the land of regret. I can feel Heather watching me, probably with a sad smile on her face, undoubtedly after reaching the right conclusion.

I look up and paste on a strained smile, and she smiles right back, reaching over for my hand. “He’s gone,” she whispers, tightening her hold.

I nod and breathe out slowly, gathering myself. Heather was there through it all with me, loyal to a fault. Thanks to the media, the world knew about my tangle with cocaine, but they didn’t know about Seb’s habit of venting his anger on me. That happened behind closed doors. Heather pieced it together and after I begged her, she didn’t tell a soul. The press reports already had my controlling father going into overdrive, chipping away at the independence I’d fought so hard for. Heather helped pull me back onto the right path. We’re kindred spirits. Childhood best friends. Every step of our life has been taken side by side. I hope that never changes. Heather is the only person on earth who knows the explicit details of mine and Sebastian’s relationship. I plan on keeping it that way.

“Anyway!” she releases my hand and claps her own. “Fancy a trip to Harvey Nic’s?”

My shoulders drop despondently. I would love nothing more, but I can’t. And I’m pissed off about it, because what I have to do is far less exhilarating. Far, far less. “I’ve been summoned by my father.” I give Heather my Elvis lip, which is more commonly known as a curled lip. “Actually, I’ve been summoned by his personal assistant, but who cares how I received the order. It came, so I’m going.”

Her face screws up. “Is he going to try to force you into dating some boring business associate again?”

My face matches Heather’s at the thought of Dad’s idea of a match made in heaven for me. Rich. They’re always rich. And deadly boring.

I stand and collect my bags, leaning down to give Heather a kiss on the cheek. “I’d rather push hot pokers into my eyes. Want a lift anywhere?”

She pushes her cheek into my lips. “No, Saffron’s meeting me. She needs to find an outfit for her birthday.”

I grumble my annoyance, wishing I could join them, and head off toward the NCP down the street to collect my C63. The entire journey to Logan Tower is spent trying desperately to conjure up some strength to get me through my “meeting” with my father.

Which basically means that my strong head is screwed on tightly.

 

 

Chapter 3

JAKE

 

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