Home > Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(7)

Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (At the Cupcake Café #1)(7)
Jenny Colgan

Issy tended to stick her fingers in her ears at this point and sing lalala. The thing was, well, yes, she could break it off – although there was hardly a line of eligible suitors, and certainly none as hot as Graeme in view. Or, perhaps, she could make his life so pleasant and lovely that he would see how awful things would be without her, and propose. Helena thought this plan very over-optimistic, and did not keep this thought to herself.

Graeme grimaced to himself in his BMW and turned down Jay-Z to pick up Issy. Of course he’d stop on a rainy day. He wasn’t some kind of bastard.

Issy folded herself into the low-seated car as gracefully as she could, which wasn’t very. She was conscious that she’d just exposed her gusset to the bus queue. Next to her, Graeme, before she’d had a chance to arrange herself or put her seatbelt on, was already nudging into the traffic, without bothering to signal.

‘Come on, you arseholes,’ he growled. ‘Let me in.’

‘Do I wanna ride?’ asked Issy. ‘Have you gone American?’

Graeme glanced at her and raised an eyebrow. ‘I can let you out if you like.’

The rain pounded hard on the windscreen as if answering the question for her.

‘No, no thank you. Thanks for picking me up.’

Graeme grunted. Sometimes, she thought, he really hated being caught out in a good turn.

‘Well, we can’t really go public, because of the office,’ Issy had said to Helena.

‘What, even after all this time? And you think they don’t already know?’ Helena had countered. ‘Are they all idiots?’

‘It’s a property developer’s,’ Issy said.

‘OK,’ said Helena, ‘they’re all idiots. But I still don’t see why you can’t stay over at his house once in a while.’

‘Because he doesn’t want us walking into the office together,’ Issy had said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And it was, wasn’t it? It wasn’t as if eight months was terribly long. There was plenty of time for them to formalize things, decide when to take it to the next level. It just wasn’t the right time at the moment, that was all.

Helena had sniffed in a characteristically Helena way.

The traffic getting into town was terrible, and Graeme growled and swore a bit under his breath, but Issy didn’t care – it was just so nice to be in the car, cosy and warm, with Kiss FM blaring out on the radio.

‘What are you up to today?’ she asked conversationally. Normally he liked dumping the stresses and strains of the office on to her shoulders; he could trust her to be discreet. Today, though, he glanced at her.

‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Nothing much.’

Issy raised her eyebrows. Graeme’s days were never nothing much; they were full of jockeying for position and being the Billy Big Bollocks. Property development was a profession that encouraged that sort of behaviour. That was why, she sometimes had to explain to her friends, Graeme could appear a little … aggressive. It was a façade he had to keep up at work. Underneath it all she knew, from their many late-night chats, from his moods and occasional outbursts, that he was a vulnerable man; sensitive to the aggression in the workplace; worried, deep down, about his status, just like everybody else. That was why Issy was so much more confident of her relationship with Graeme than her friends were. She saw the soft side of him. He confided to her his worries, his hopes and dreams and fears. And that was why it was serious, no matter where she woke up in the morning.

She put her hand on his on the gear stick.

‘It’ll be all right,’ she said softly. Graeme shrugged it off, almost rudely.

‘I know,’ he said.

The rain got heavier, if anything, as they turned into the street near Farringdon Road that housed the offices of Kalinga Deniki Property Management, or KD as it was known. It was a sharp chunk of modern glass, six storeys high, that looked out of place among the lower-set red-brick flats and offices. Graeme slowed the car.

‘Would you mind … ?’

‘You’re not serious, Graeme.’

‘Come on! How would it look to the partners, me driving in in the morning with some office clerk?’

He saw Issy’s face.

‘Sorry. Office manager, I mean. I know it’s you. But they won’t know what to think, will they?’ He caressed her cheek briefly. ‘I’m sorry, Issy. But I’m the boss and if I start condoning workplace romances … all hell will break loose’

From a moment Issy felt triumphant. It was a romance! Officially! She knew it. Even if Helena did occasionally imply she was an idiot, that it was just a convenient thing for Graeme to have a spare ear around.

As if reading her thoughts, Graeme smiled at her, almost guiltily.

‘It won’t be for ever,’ he said. But he couldn’t deny the slight relief he felt when she stepped out of the car.

Issy stumbled through the puddles. It was hosing it down so hard that only a few minutes’ walking up Britton Street were enough to render her as completely soaked as if she’d never had a lift at all. She ducked into the ladies’ loos on the ground floor, which were cutting-edge (so guests could never figure out how to turn on the taps or flush the loos) and usually empty. A few blasts of the hand dryer were all she could muster for her hair. Oh great, it was going to look like a complete frizzathon.

When Issy took the time and properly blowdried her hair and used lots of expensive products, it made beautiful shiny ringlets that fell in tinkly twists round her neck. When she didn’t, which was most days, she ran a huge risk of frizz, especially in the wet. She looked at herself and sighed. Her hair looked like she’d knitted it. The cold wind had put some colour in her cheeks – Issy hated her propensity for blushing at everything but this wasn’t too bad – and her green eyes, fringed with lots of black mascara, were fine, but the hair was undoubtedly a disaster. She scrabbled around in her bag for a clip or hairband but came up empty-handed except for a red elastic band dropped by the postman. That would have to do. It didn’t quite go with her floral print dress and tight black cardie, worn with thick black tights and black boots, but it would have to do.

Slightly late, she said good morning to Jim, the doorman, and hopped the lift up to the second floor, which was accounts and admin. The salesmen and the developers had the floor above, but the atrium was made of solid glass, which meant it was always easy to see who was around and about. Up at her desk she nodded to her workmates, then realized with a start that she was late for the 9.30 meeting she was meant to be minuting; the meeting where Graeme would talk about the results of the board meeting to staff lower down the chain. She cursed under her breath. Why couldn’t Graeme at least have mentioned it to remind her? Crossly, she grabbed her laptop and ran for the stairs.

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