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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Warner Books Edition
Copyright © 2004 by Annie Sanders
All rights reserved.
This Warner Books edition is published by arrangement with Orion, an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group Ltd., Orion House, 5 Upper Saint Martin's Lane, London, England WC2H 9EA.
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First eBook Edition: April 2006
Book design by Nancy Singer Olaguera/ISPN
Text composition by Peng Olaguera/ISPN
Stiletto-high Praise for Goodbye, Jimmy Choo
"A book that will delight fans of Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives."
—Ireland on Sunday (UK)
"Plenty of romantic interest to keep the story bubbling along . . . This one is chick lit, and a good example of its kind."
—Leicester Mercury (UK)
"A great read about an unusual friendship."
"Curl up with GOODBYE, JIMMY CHOO . . . a hilarious and moving novel about an unlikely friendship."
—She Magazine (UK)
To McVitie's, who have sustained us all the way
Thanks are due to our brilliant friends who've answered many hypothetical and occasionally off-the-wall questions with patience and imagination. These include: Rupert Symons, Mark Kalderon, Philip Lelliott, Marie Laure Legroux, Dolores Smith, Julie Weiner, Elaine Townshend, Lord Tombs of Brailes, Peter Byrom, Janine Watson, Marie Gerrard, and Wynford Dore. And thanks to those experts too numerous to mention who fielded our weird phone calls and even weirder enquiries: the nice man at the Trading Standards office, the beekeeper, the desk sergeant at Stratford Police Station, the person at the accreditation office, and many others.
Izzie glanced at the clock, then redoubled her efforts. "Get in there, you bitch," she hissed. "I haven't got time to mess around!"
A glance in the shiny metal lids of the Aga stovetop confirmed her worst fears. Quite apart from the fact that the curved surface made her look like Barry Manilow's ugly sister, she was a mess, and there was evidence of the struggle all over the kitchen too. In just over an hour, she'd have to appear in public with every trace carefully cleaned away. No one must ever know the ghastly truth of what had gone on. If anyone found out, all her careful work would be ruined. How had she got herself into this godawful situation? But time was running out. She grabbed a bread knife.
"I'll cut your bloody legs off, I'm warning you! This is your last chance."
Barbie lay on the kitchen worktop, unmoved by the threats and surrounded by cake crumbs. Once more Izzie jerked her upright and, ignoring the accusing stare of the painted blue eyes, thrust her into the top of the cake. This time she went in up to the waist and stayed upright.
Muttering a fervent prayer of thanks, Izzie started to patch up the damage: cake fragments unceremoniously jammed in to fill the crater in the top, then a light skim of butter cream to stick on the all-forgiving royal icing. Once that was in place, with a few strategically placed icing rosebuds and some jelly sweets, she'd defy anyone not to be impressed by "Princess Barbie in a Crinoline"—even if the sponge cake was bought and hacked into shape after her pitiful effort sank without trace in the bloody Aga. The first thing she'd do if she ever got any spare money would be to yank out that temperamental monster and replace it with a nice biddable gas oven.
There—finished. Now to do something about her hair—like wash out the icing sugar for a start. Only twenty minutes until Sue "Twin-Set" Templeton's awful lunch party. ("What that woman doesn't know about cardies, you could write on the back of an M&S label," had been Marcus's remark.) She wasn't Izzie's type at all, and the feeling was clearly mutual. Izzie was quite aware she'd only been invited to make sure she delivered the cake on time. The prep-school set, of which Sue was the lynchpin, wouldn't bother with her otherwise, despite the mysterious ex-London allure that still clung to her—just. This was definitely the last time she'd let herself get suckered into doing a cake for some posh kid's birthday. She'd rather be ostracized altogether than go through ordeal by Victoria sponge cake again.
She stormed upstairs and turned on the shower. Her entirely undeserved reputation for being good at birthday cakes, she realized, was based on those she'd produced for her own children's parties. What no one had tumbled to was that she had simply snaffled her ideas from the displays in the Jane Asher shop in Cale Street, so she'd allowed the fiction to continue—and this was the price! Sue Templeton's ghastly adenoidal brat had demanded a cake for her birthday, and Izzie, against her better judgment, had complied at once. She'd have to keep the whole cake thing well hidden from her old mates in London. What would they think if they knew she was now rubbing shoulders with the Mercedes Mums?
Blimey, she thought as she applied shampoo, an invitation to join the august company of that lot was quite a step up rural Ringford's social ladder, but it had been long enough coming. After two years, she still wasn't sure she'd mastered the steps of the complicated social dance of the provinces. It wasn't that she hated the country. Intellectually speaking (not a thing she did a lot of nowadays), she could see all the advantages. The schools were fine and you didn't have to go private; there were no syringes in the sand pit at the recreation ground; the air was clear (apart from the crop spraying, the slurrying, and the GM trials down the road). She'd even developed a sneaky affection for the funny little shops in Ringford High Street—learning to live without squid pasta and giving up hope of Jo Malone opening a branch there. On the rare occasions she went back to London now, she realized her friendliness with shop assistants in Upper Street was hopelessly inappropriate, and returned home with a rather pathetic sense of relief. Okay, so she'd lost her urban edge, but in all the ways you could calibrate, quality of life here was better, even though it hadn't been her idea to come.
But in the ways you couldn't measure, Izzie knew there was something lacking. Those intrinsic bits of London: the buskers on the South Bank, violet-colored fondant icing on those mini-cakes from Konditor & Cook, or leisurely Saturday mornings spent reading the Guardian from cover to cover while the kids were at tap dance lessons.
She fumbled for a towel, water trickling over her eyes. No, what she really couldn't bear a moment longer—and somehow, this Barbie thing had brought it all into intolerably sharp focus—was the permanent feeling that there was no one round here she could share even the memory of these delights with, least of all Sue Templeton. Izzie couldn't get this crowd at all, and she was torn between not even wanting to understand them—so sod the lot of them—and longing to feel a part of something. No wonder she was bloody confused.
Now, as she combed her wet hair, she thought back to her hopes when they moved out of London. Downsizing had seemed the sensible thing to do and Marcus was so keen to do it. They'd sold their house in Islington—oh all right, Stoke Newington—and bought this sweet Victorian cottage in Hoxley. They'd been reliably informed by the agent that it was a highly "desirable" village (meaning it had no council houses), so they'd packed up without a backward glance. In fact, Marcus had been thrilled to shake the dust of London off his feet, and he'd even lost touch with his old friends.
Izzie had talked it through with all the publishers she worked for as a copy editor, and everyone had agreed that they'd carry on as before. It would be just the same, only she wouldn't be able to pop in to pick work up or deliver—but no problemo. And the Jiffy bags of page proofs, designs for approval, and sheets of illustrations to check kept hitting the doormat. She could work in her pajamas (a long-held ambition), fit it all around the kids, and everything went on as before.
She untangled some clean knickers from the over-stuffed drawer. Frankly, the new school had been a bit of a culture shock. Liberal though she was, Izzie was a stickler for correct spelling and grammar—and that extended to tattoos. Instead of the Tobys and Tashas of North London, here most of her children's classmates were Waynes and Kellys whose main entertainment after school was PlayStation 3, shooting pigeons with air rifles, or, most mystifying of all, Irish dancing.
So why had she agreed when Sue Templeton, nonworking wife of the BMW-driving proprietor of a sign-writing firm, with kids at the local prep school, had asked her to make a Princess Barbie cake for snotty Abigail? She buried the question and dried her hair while simultaneously hopping on one leg trying to pull on Gap low-slung combats. Would her black cashmere sweater have shrunk so far that it would leave a strip of unappealingly white back on display when she leaned forward to serve herself quiche? There was bound to be quiche.
Within twenty minutes she'd arrived and parked rakishly between driveways on Millstone Meadow, the newly built estate of executive homes in Long Wellcote that was chez Templeton. "Stepford Drive" Marcus had christened this mock-Georgian abomination, and Izzie had to admit wryly he had got it right again. Hopping over the precisely alternated clumps of blue and white lobelia that passed for imaginative planting, she glanced at the car she had parked behind. A bloody huge Beamer, naturally. But the woman inside it didn't look very Stepford.
She was blond, of course—it seemed to be some sort of legal requirement if you drove a BMW—but she'd got the shade exactly right: somewhere between Gwyneth and Cate, without veering dangerously toward Jerry (or even worse, Geri!). Puffing grimly out of the window on a hands-free cigarette, this woman was gripping the steering wheel and seemed to be muttering to herself, a ferocious scowl on her face.
Shrugging, Izzie composed her face into the bland smile she thought fit for such an occasion, then, gripping the cake board more firmly, she rang the doorbell.
White toaster sliced bread. Oven chips. Frozen crispy pancakes. Turkey drummers. Maddy's heart sank as she watched the shopping of the woman in front of her passing through the checkout. Did these philistines know nothing about real food? She looked down at her own trolley. It had been a struggle to find them, but she'd managed free-range duck breasts, those scrumptious but obscure little French choccie biccies the children so adored, and some balsamic vinegar that looked just like the stuff they'd bought in Tuscany last year. God, she missed that little deli on the corner of Draycott Avenue.
She looked at her watch; twenty minutes before she had to be at Little Goslings to pick up Florence and get to the lunch. If the woman in front didn't get a move on packing her pathetic selection of fast food, she'd be late and Clare Jenkins, the rather obsequious proprietor of the nursery, would give her yet another reproachful look. She had no right to, of course, when Maddy had offered so generously to back pay the extortionate fees when Florence had started there three weeks into term.
Her three-year-old's education had already cost them an arm and a leg. With the sudden move up to this god-forsaken county, she'd had to forfeit a term's fees to the nursery in London where Florence had been so settled. They'd had to reserve a place there for her almost before conception—it made joining the exclusive Hurlingham Club seem like a picnic. Little Goslings just outside Ringford was, frankly, a comedown, and the fact that she had promised to enroll nine-month-old Pasco very soon was another reason why the staff had no right to come on all superior with her.
The woman at the checkout was now searching through her ghastly, faux-leather handbag to find her purse. Maddy sighed and tapped her fingernails on the handle of her trolley. It was going to be a close-run thing. While she waited, she looked the woman over. She seemed to sum up everything that was so common about everyone in this hayseed community. The woman's white T-shirt—probably a man's and undoubtedly from Matalan—was pulled tight over a huge, insufficiently supported bust and hung out loose over a vulgarly overpatterned flared skirt, creased at the bum. And her shoes, oh God, her shoes. Light beige sandals bearing up heroically under the strain of the fat feet squeezed into them.
Maddy looked down smugly at her own soft-as-toffee, pale blue suede driving shoes which she'd found in a gorgeous little place on Walton Street. She hadn't been able to resist buying another two pairs in different colors. She sighed again. Her monthly haircut at John Freida was one thing, but would she be able to justify a trip up to town now just to satisfy the imperative of decent footwear or, after a few more weeks living here, would she too be drowned in a sea of mediocrity?
Grabbing a last-minute bunch of bright orange gerbera from the flower section, she paid for them and a packet of Marlboro Lights at the cigarette counter as she left (delayed even longer by the bloody losers queuing for the lottery). The fact that the flowers cost three times as much as they should, being out of season, would almost certainly be lost on her lunch hostess, Sue Templesomething. She maneuvered the trolley at precarious speed around the car park and stuffed the bags into the back of her car. They'd bought it in the days when they had to negotiate the perils of the traffic on the Fulham Road—the TV screen in the headrests was a godsend for entertaining the children. But now that they were in the country, its height from the road gave her a sense of superiority over other cars that felt appropriate.
Turning out of Ringford, she headed onto the more rural roads toward the nursery and Huntingford. She could feel her hands relaxing on the wheel as she looked over the hedges at the fields and the view beyond. Summer was holding on for dear life, and there was a heat haze that hung over the hills in the distance, making each one less distinct than the one before it. A tractor in a far-off field looked like a child's toy and was busy plowing up the remnants of the summer wheat, she guessed, to prepare for a crop she certainly wouldn't recognize. Her agricultural knowledge was sketchy to say the least, but the whole picture of undulating countryside was, she supposed, a pleasing one and went some small way to reminding her of the positive reasons for the move here.
Simon's announcement that he had decided to abandon the City and had bought an IT company "somewhere lovely in the country" had landed on Maddy like a bombshell. Okay, so they had ranted and raved about the parking difficulties of SW10 and fantasized occasionally about the delights of a big garden and the sound of bells from a village church, but Maddy had thought that was all just in fun. Simon, however, had rehearsed all the reasons why it was the best thing for the family to get out of town, even before presenting her with a virtual fait accompli one evening last May over a glass of chilled white Burgundy. He'd even had Colette, their French nanny, look after the kids for the weekend and had driven Maddy around the country lanes, seducing her with a carefully vetted pile of estate agents' details of houses with idyllic pictures and even more poetic descriptions. He'd then seduced her again after dinner at a rather gorgeous hotel he'd booked them into, as if making love in the country was somehow superior to doing it in the city.
Huntingford House had been everything she had lusted after: Queen Anne, brick built, with big sashes and dormer windows peeping out of the roof on the second floor. The type of house you see in the opening pages of Country Life. It had all the right bits in all the right places: sweeping drive, old roses in an acre of rambling garden, and a kitchen bigger than the whole downstairs area of their house in Milborne Place. The decor hadn't been quite so gorgeous. The Formica units, fifties central heating system, and shag pile carpets had to go. But with the help of her old boss, Felicity Cook, and an instinctive good taste acquired by osmosis after years living within spitting distance of Knightsbridge, she was in the process of replacing avocado bathroom suites with C. P. Hart, and exchanging William Morris curtains for yards of Zoffany. She was now well on the way to creating the home she wanted it to become. Somewhere that would turn visiting London chums green with envy.
Will's school too had been a persuasive factor. Simon had arrived home gripping a copy of The Good Schools Guide with the page already marked. Eagles had been described as having "all the elements of an inner London prep without the traffic." That was good enough for Maddy. By an amazing stroke of luck, they had managed to secure a place left by a child whose parents were relocating and, despite another hefty financial penalty for starting late, they were in. Maddy had been heartened by the other parents in the car park. Okay, so there was an alarming plethora of gold shoes and appliquéd T-shirts, but there weren't too many common accents and the head, Mrs. Turner, a rather tall, anorexic-looking woman in her mid-forties, Viyella suit, and high heels, had assured them that most parents worked "in fields like IT and medicine."
Colette was just wiping the remnants of lunch off Pasco's face when Maddy burst into the kitchen with the supermarket bags. "I'm late for that woman's little 'get together,'" she gasped, planting a kiss on the baby's head. The petite French nanny had been Maddy's bargaining tool for the move. Either she came too or Maddy wasn't budging. Colette, despite (or perhaps because of) being from deepest France, seemed even more cynical about a move to the back edge of beyond than Maddy. In fact, Colette's rooms at the top of the house had to be first for an overhaul as an added incentive, and she was now ensconced in luxury with her wide-screen TV and Malabar curtains, while the rest of the household were having to put up with bare plaster and barer floorboards.
"Oh, Maddy, leave the shopping," cooed Colette in that drop-dead sexy accent. "I just change Pasco's nappy and he be ready. Come on, little man." She called back over her shoulder, "The builder want to talk to you about the spare room."
"He'll have to wait." Maddy quickly packed Ben & Jerry's Phish Food into the big American freezer and plonked pots of coriander and fresh basil onto the windowsill, brushed her hair, and applied some lipstick, by which time Pasco reemerged smelling clean and delicious in his nanny's arms.
"We'll be back after school pickup," she said, taking the baby from Colette. "I can make a pretty good guess what sort of women will be there—I've met them all at the school gate—and it's not looking like a gathering from the social pages of Tatler. Pasta for the children's supper? With that lovely plum tomato sauce you do so well—and I've even managed to track down some fresh Parmesan. There is a God!" Is that an expression the French understand? she wondered as she swept out of the drive. God, her command of her mother tongue must be slipping.
By the time she pulled up outside Little Goslings, a substantial Victorian house with every window festooned with a child's jolly drawing, it was ten past one and she was well prepared for the disapproving looks she'd receive from the nursery nurses.
"Florence has had a lovely morning," gushed Clare Jenkins, the name of the nursery emblazoned on the sweatshirt stretched across her ample bosom, "haven't you, Florrie?" (To flatly refuse to give her name the correct French pronunciation was one thing, but Florrie!) "We've done a drawing of mummy and your lovely new house. She's had some banana and raisins for a snack," then she added, almost mouthing the words as if to protect Florence from the knowledge that she had a negligent and tardy mother, "but I think she's a bit hungry. It's lunchtime, isn't it, Florrie darling?" Oh stuff you, thought Maddy. Wouldn't anyone be if all they'd had since breakfast was a handful of raisins and some banana?
"Thanks, Clare. See you tomorrow. Come on, Florence," she said, emphasizing the name and grabbing her rather fractious daughter's hand. "We're off to meet some nice new friends."
Twenty past one now and Maddy wasn't quite sure how late you could be for a half-twelve invitation around these parts without appearing completely rude. She lit a cigarette, confident that she wouldn't be allowed to smoke chez Templeton—that was the name—and opened the window wide so it wouldn't choke the children. Back home, you could turn up virtually when it suited you. Lunches had been long and fun, with nannies (usually from ex-eastern bloc countries) entertaining various offspring in the garden. She'd then return home around five and escape the teatime war zone, with the excuse that she had to get ready to meet Simon in town for whatever dinner or party they were attending that night.
She overtook a couple of horse riders at speed and vaguely returned their enthusiastic gestures. Did she know them? No, somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she wasn't achieving all she should in life. "If Madeleine puts half as much effort into her schoolwork as she does into her social life, she will go far," her headmistress had written on her leaving report from Queensgate. Maddy knew she had been right, and, though she endeavored to read serious books and always to scour the Weekend section of the Daily Telegraph, life was too much fun. She justified her lifestyle by consoling herself that Simon earned quite enough to make her working unnecessary—and what could she do anyway with a couple of A levels and a few years picking wallpaper for the rich and clueless?
What galled her now, as they drove toward Long Wellcote, was the thought that at least in London she could make sure she went to the right exhibitions and operas and kept up with the sharp end. The closest thing Ringford had to offer in terms of culture was a framing shop with prints of Provençal lavender fields in the window. She glanced in the rearview mirror at her beautiful children: Pasco with a dark coloring that suggested his European grandparentage, and Florence with her blond curls, so like Simon, and her thumb in, gripping her beloved rabbit with her other hand. Suddenly she had an image of the woman she was in danger of becoming: a country mumsy who spent her life going from school playground to bloody coffee morning to bloody toddler group to bloody boring lunches, talking about potty training and school fund-raising. It just wasn't her bag.
Hers was more Prada, and the prospect loomed terrifyingly of a life without one, or for that matter, lunch at Harvey Nicks, Jimmy Choo's, or a couple of hours shopping in New Bond Street.
Royally pissed off, she finally found Sue Templeton's house at the other end of the village and pulled up outside, behind a new Peugeot MPV with a "Don't Kill the Countryside" sticker displayed in the back. The house, a pastiche of Georgian splendor, complete with porticoed porchway, sat on the corner of a road of other unimaginative boxes and, through the new privet hedge, Maddy could make out a garden strewn with garish plastic trikes.
As Maddy jerked on the hand brake and turned off the engine, she could feel herself about to weep with despair. "Sod the bloody countryside," she wailed out loud. "It deserves to die."
Izzie could hear Sue Templeton's loud, unrelenting voice long before the door opened. Her big face fell when she saw who it was. "Oh, it's you," she brayed. "We were beginning to wonder if you were coming. At last. Is that the cake? Abigail will be thrilled."
Of course it's the bloody cake, you dopey tart, thought Izzie, but smiled artlessly and mouthed invented excuses for her lateness. Sue shepherded her through the oppressively narrow hall.
"Bring it through," she ordered. "Fortunately we haven't started eating yet."
"Oh, you shouldn't have waited for me. Sorry, I should have called to say I'd be late but—"
"We weren't waiting for you," Sue retorted, then thinking perhaps it was a bit too rude to speak that way even to Izzie, corrected herself, twinkling revoltingly. "I mean we're waiting for our guest of honor—Mrs. Huntingford House!"
"Mrs. who? I don't think I've met her. What an unusual name!"
"No, Isabel," Sue explained as if to a tiresome child. "She's the new woman who's moved into Huntingford House. Come up from London, husband did something seriously important in the City, setting up a business locally now—to do with computers, I think," she honked. "Isn't it always?"
Rolling her eyes to indicate that the details of the business were not the important part—only the size of the bank balance—Sue flapped her hands irritably at the hesitant Izzie and ushered her through. "Her little boy is at Eagles with ours, and I thought she'd like to get to know us all better. So important to make sure you have plenty of friends when you move to a new place!"
Laudable sentiments, but Izzie suppressed a cynical smile. Sue's hospitality had never been extended quite so freely to her. Izzie could tell by the sense of anticipation in the overheated kitchen that Mrs. Huntingford House had been identified as something of a social catch. This should be funny!
As they entered the room, Izzie could hear stifled laughter then a hurried "Ssshhhh!" She felt herself tense up even further. There were three women already seated at the table: Linda Meades and Clare Lorrimer were so inseparable that she always thought of them as one, a bit like Ant 'n' Dec or Rosencrantz 'n' Guildenstern. Meades 'n' Lorrimer kind of blurred into a sea of silky camel knits, silky camel hair, and too-orange fake tan—all in a flawless eggshell finish. Even the lip gloss was coordinated.
Shoehorned in close to the wall opposite was Fiona Price. Looking frumpy and uncomfortable—her one concession to femininity a pair of gold earrings shaped like stirrups—perspiration beaded her bleached mustache in the airless kitchen, and her arms were clamped across her boobs. Fiona reminded Izzie of an overstuffed armchair, but any idea of coziness was deceptive. Affectionately known in Izzie's house as "Frau Schadenfreude," her speciality was spreading the word. She was more effective than Reuters, and, like CNN, seemed to function 24/7. What bothered Izzie the most, though, was the obvious delight she took in other people's misfortune. When a friend's husband had been banned for drunk driving, Fiona had virtually pinned Izzie to the wall outside Boots to impart the sordid details.
- On Sale
- Nov 15, 2008
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- 5 Spot