A story of new beginnings and friendship, set in the world of international business in Geneva. Beth is a lawyer who moves to the Swiss city to further her career, and distance herself from her cheating partner.
When Beth walks in on the oldest cliché in the book – her boyfriend in bed with another woman, she realizes that her relationship will never be what she wants it to be. Dumping him and taking the position in Geneva that she has been considering suddenly seems the best way forward.
Unwilling to lose Beth, Finlay starts a campaign of intimidation, which is slowly revealed throughout the book.
Beth’s new start in Geneva is hampered by the discovery that there is something decidedly odd about several of her client’s accounts, and the slowly growing suspicion that her debonair boss might have something to do with the discrepancy.
As she battles with her demons, both in her personal and her private life, help comes from an unexpected quarter.
Beth opened the door of her apartment. Tilting her head she listened to the sound of Ravel’s Bolero filling the small space. “Shit”, she muttered under her breath. She knew what that meant, and she was NOT in the mood.
Frowning, she wondered how Finlay could have known that she was on her way home. She had not let him know that the meeting had been cancelled. She hung up her coat, took off her shoes and put them in the shoe cupboard, automatically reaching for Finlay’s shoes and jacket on the floor, where he had left them. Untidy bugger.
She stared at the second pair of shoes next to Finlay’s scuffed Converse boots. Red high heels. Not her red high heels. Where did they come from?
With a mounting sense of dread, she walked through the apartment, the dadadaduuuum of Bolero booming in her ears. The music rose to a crescendo as she opened the door of her bedroom. There on her bed – the bed that she bought from her very first wage packet – the bed that she had shared with Finlay for the past two years – was Finlay. And the red shoes lady. He was shagging another woman. In her bed. To Bolero. Was there another cliché left unturned? Could he be any more bloody predictable?
“What the FUCK are you doing?”, she screamed, even as she realised what a stupid question that was. It was obvious what they were doing – he was thrusting in time to the music, for God’s sake.
Stalking over to the armoire, she plucked his iPhone out of the docking station, cutting Ravel off. In the silence that followed, two shocked faces turned towards her. “Fuck. Fuck. Beth. It’s not what it looks like”, he stammered.
His blonde hair falling down over her forehead, in that preppy way that she always found adorable, Finlay reached for her. Beth snorted, “It bloody well is what it looks like. You’re shagging another woman in my bed”, she looked more closely at the woman. “Do I know you?”.
MsRedHighHeels was recovering her poise remarkable quickly, she must have been in this position before, Beth mused cattily. “We met at the band rehearsal last week. The bass player is my brother.” Beth remembered her now. She had been all over the band, flirting and fluttering her eyelashes. Groupies were a part of being in a band, but Finlay had always said that he wasn’t interested in them. Beth wondered if this one was the first.
“Right, get out. Both of you. Finlay, you can come back tomorrow to pick up your things. I don’t want to see you again”.
Turning on her heel, she stormed out of the bedroom, pausing only to drop Finlay’s beloved iPhone into the glass of beer that was still sitting next to the sofa from last night. He sprang out of bed, vaulted across the sofa to rescue his phone in the most energetic display that she had seen in months. “You BITCH”, he howled. She gazed at him, naked except for a pair of white tennis socks, a dripping iPhone in his hand and smiled, “I’m going to Starbucks for a coffee. I ‘ll be back in 30 minutes. You and your floozy had better be gone by then”.
“Floozy? You didn’t really call her a floozy, did you”, Beth’s best friend struggled with laughter.
“I did. It suited her. Alex, you should have seen the red high heels. Bloody wicked witch of the West. It’s all right, you can laugh.”
“Sorry, I know it’s not funny but the thought of him playing the sophisticated seducer – why on earth was he playing Bolero?”
“It’s the only classical music on his iPhone – I think it was on a compilation of 50 Best TV Sports Moments or something. He liked to play it when we… well, you know”, Beth admitted.
Alex lost it. She laughed until tears ran down her face. After a moment, Beth joined in. It took some time until she was composed enough to say, “I know it’s awful, but he said that it made him feel like James Bond”, which set them off again.
They were a striking pair of women, even without the borderline hysteria. Beth attracted attention wherever she went – it was inevitable when you had flame coloured hair and green eyes. For work she kept her hair tamed in a neat(ish) bun at the nape of her neck. Or at least it was neat when she left the house in the morning. As soon as she left work, she took the pins out of her hair; it was almost a ritual, shaking the day’s work out of her hair as she walked home. Her tall rangy figure striding along the streets of London made heads turn.
Alex liked to joke that she became friends with Beth because they were such opposites. Beth’s wild red curls and Alex’s sleek dark bob. Where Beth was tall and slim, Alex was short and curvy. Voluptuous. “Oh, alright, overweight, dammit”, Alex would complain, “and there is nothing worse than being the fat friend of a gorgeous skinny woman”.
Beth would retort that she would sell her grandmother if she could have Alex’s boobs,, and so they would banter on, each secure in the knowledge that there was no malice behind their comments, but deep and honest affection.
After several minutes of uncontrollable laughter, Beth took a deep breath, trying to stop sniggering. She signalled the waiter to bring another two drinks. Meeting Alex for drinks was a much better idea than sitting in Starbucks crying into a Chai Latte. The first thing she had done on leaving the apartment was to phone Alex, who had told her boss that there was a family emergency and she had to leave early.
The waiter strutted towards them, his bad boy pose studied, his dark eyes smouldering. Placing fresh drinks in front of them, he smiled seductively at the two women. “Can I do anything else for you ladies?” he asked, as he raised an eyebrow.
Beth looked at her friend, biting the inside of her mouth to keep from laughing, “Thank you, we are completely satisfied for now”, she smiled. He retreated, sighing as the sound of sniggers, then giggles, and finally full blown hysterical laughter followed him back to the bar.
Beth sobered suddenly. “I guess this makes the decision easier – I was offered a new job today, but was going to turn it down.”
“What?”, Alex struggled to catch up, “A new job? Why were you going to turn it down?”
“It’s in Geneva. It’s a great opportunity but I stupidly hesitated because I didn’t think that Finlay would go with me. Seems I don’t have to worry about that any more. It will also keep me out of his way. I can’t see him just accepting that it is over”.
Alex nodded, “He’s far too fond of the cushy life to want to give you up. Don’t look at me that way, Beth. You know he’s a lazy bastard; he’s been relying on you for months now, ever since he lost his job”.
“It wasn’t his fault that he was fired. His boss hated him from the first day”.
“Maybe, but he hasn’t gone out of his way to find a new job. You have been supporting him for months, so that he can chase his dream of becoming the next Mick Jagger“
“Only, slightly more attractive than old rubber face Jagger”, Beth laughed. “I know you’re right, but I was hoping that he’d either find a new job or get famous. It has been a strain financially. If I go to Geneva, the company will pay the apartment there, so I could sell the flat here, or rent it out. It will give me a chance to pay off my Visa bill at last, and I could save some money to have a decent down payment when I return. It would be madness not to take the job, and it sounds like a really interesting assignment, but I would miss all my friends”.
“Trust me, if you move to Geneva, you will have no end of visitors. It will be just like living here, but with better weather and sexier men. They speak French there, don’t they? How is your French?”
“Schoolgirlesque. I can ask the way to the Gare and ask for a room for the night, but that is about it. They speak English in the office so that won’t be a problem, and I guess I’ll pick up the lingo as I go along. Do you think I should do it?”
“Yes. Absolutely. And not just because I want a free holiday in Geneva,” Alex slung an arm around Beth’s shoulders. “You are 28 years old, single, intelligent, funny, attractive and a damn good friend. Have fun. Remember our New Year’s Resolution? Live More Bravely.”
Beth nodded. “Live More Bravely. We promised we would do something special this year. This is it”.
Beth raised her glass, “A toast. To Living More Bravely”, she declared.
Beth put the last folder in the packing box and gazed at her office. She had been working here for the past four years and it was strange to think that this was the last time she would cross to the window and look out at the London streets, busy and bustling as ever.
The old man across the road was shutting up his flower shop, emptying the buckets into the gutter, putting the tables into the shop. She remembered when she first started working here, she would often pick up a small bunch of flowers for her desk. That was when she had a tidy organised desk, before she had piles of folders, notes and books with the odd coffee cup dotted around for a bit of colour and a penicillin culture. Back then, she thought she was busy if she was working on three cases simultaneously. Now she often juggled 8 or 9 cases and was still asked if she had time to take on another by one of the partners.
The move to Geneva would bring her one step closer to making partner. This was her chance to show the management that she was up to the challenge. In Switzerland, she would be working in a small office and would be one of the senior counsellors.
She closed the window, picked up her box and took one last look around the office before walking out and shutting the door softly behind her.
“Beth. I have been looking for you. Would you come into my office for a moment?”, Mr Wilson, one of the senior partners, beckoned her.
Damn. She had planned to sneak out before he noticed her and gave her some more work to do. Her weekend was planned; she needed to finish sorting out her flat before the packers came on Monday. Not to mention a last farewell dinner with friends and family. It had been a very long goodbye. Her mother did not seem to realise that she was only going to Geneva, not to Mars.
Setting her box down on one of the secretaries’ desks, she crossed to Wilson’s office. He was a decent boss but not one to allow his staff to sit around and chat. She was surprised to see that his secretary had gone home already; she normally stayed until Wilson left.
Opening the door to Wilson’s office, she walked through then stepped back in shock as a dozen of her colleagues shouted, “SURPRISE!”.
“You didn’t think that we would let you jet to off to Geneva without at least a farewell drink?”, Mr Wilson smiled at her shock, handing her a glass of champagne, “Good luck in Geneva, we will look forward to hearing how you are doing”.
My God. He was even smiling. Beth wondered how many glasses of champagne he had drunk before she arrived. His usually impeccable shirt was slightly wrinkled and he had even taken off his tie.
“Ah, thank you “, Beth stammered embarrassed to have been caught on the hop. She frowned at her secretary, Mary who might at least have given her a heads-up.
“Speech… speech!”, shouted one of the junior counsellors.
Oh, God. No. Not a speech. She wanted to go home, sit on the couch, have a pizza delivered and gorge on ice cream. Now she was stuck in the office delivering a speech.
Smiling bravely, she muttered a few words about being very grateful for the opportunity and how she would miss everyone in the office, “except Simon”, she glared at the junior counsellor who had put her on the spot, to laughs of approval.
Later that evening Beth wandered restlessly around her apartment. The last couple of months had been so busy, she had hardly caught her breath. Now she had nothing left to do until the movers came on Monday and she was beginning to get cold feet. Ice cold feet.
What on earth was she thinking? Moving to Geneva, when she spoke no French. Sure, she would only be speaking English in the office but she would not be in the office all the time. She would have to go shopping, order a meal in a restaurant, speak with a doctor. Although, some of her colleagues still did not speak any French – despite living in Geneva for years.
She would be different, she resolved. No way was she going to be a typical expat, she would learn French. She would not be stuck in an expat bubble. She would have fun.
Inner pep-talk over she fired up her computer to check her emails. Two from Finlay today, which like the others he had sent went straight to her trash folder. She had a quick look, despite telling herself she should not. It was similar to the others he had sent. Started out apologetic, moved quickly to whiny and then on to abusive and nasty. She hoped that he would leave her in peace once she moved away. She was fed up hiding in her apartment to avoid him. When he came to pick up his belongings, she made sure that Alex was with her but since then he constantly turned up in the bars and restaurants that she frequented. She was getting tired of leaving early to avoid unpleasant remarks.
She also had an email from the company relocation agent – arranging the time to meet her at her new apartment for the handover. She would have a few nights in a hotel close to the office before her furniture arrived by road.
When the phone rang, she checked caller-ID to ensure that it was not Finlay then picked up with relief. “Hi Alex. I thought you were Finlay for a moment. He’s emailed twice already today.”
“What an idiot. When is he going to get the message? Listen, do you fancy coming around for a glass of wine. I know we are going out tomorrow night with the rest of the gang, but thought you might need some distraction. Or shall I come to yours?”
“I have ice cream. And alcohol needing used up before the move. Come here”, Beth replied. One of the restrictions the company had on their removal policy was no transport of alcohol. Due to strict Swiss customs regulations, she was forbidden to take any wine or spirits as it could delay the customs procedures. Not that she had a huge expensive wine cellar to import, but there were a couple of bottles of champagne and some spirits. These were mostly gifts she had received over the years, often to her dismay. Did she really look like the kind of woman who drank Baileys and Bacardi, she thought with a frown. Looks like Mum will be getting a couple of bottles on Sunday.
The doorbell rang, interrupting her contemplation. Alex lived just two streets away, she would miss having a fried so close. She pressed the button for the door opener and went back into the apartment to find the corkscrew. Pulling her cardigan closer around her body against the cold draft from the hall, she called out, “C’mon. Hurry up. You are letting all the cold in”.
She came out of the kitchen, holding a bottle of white wine in one hand and two glasses in the other to find Finlay closing the door behind him. “Expecting company, are you?”, he asked snidely. “Didn’t take you long to replace me”.
“Get out. Get out of my apartment right now”.
“No. I want you back, Beth. I know I made a mistake but that was only because you spent more time at work than with me. If you hadn’t been so obsessed with your career, we could be married by now”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Finlay. We split up because you were shagging other women. Don’t think your so-called friends didn’t let me know about the others. They were gagging to tell me that Shannon wasn’t the only one you had been entertaining while I was at work”
“That is a lie. She was the only one, and only because she chased me. She would not let me alone. I didn’t want her, I wanted you but you were so cold and frigid.”
“Oh, that is rich. Call me frigid now. Because I didn’t want sex everytime you fancied it”.
Changing tack, he walked towards her, hands outstretched, his eyes filled with tears. “I know I messed up. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I can’t live without you”.
She softened slightly. “I am sorry, Finn, but the trust is gone. I cannot be with someone I don’t trust”.
Taking her hand, he held it to his cheek. She could smell his aftershave, dark and musky and so familiar. “I will show you that you can trust me. I promise that I won’t ever let you down”.
She almost bought it. Almost. Then she thought of the other issues. His unpunctuality, unreliability, his reluctance to part with money, unless it was someone else’s money. She thought of how free she had felt since she had thrown him out. And she thought of that moment when she had walked in on him and Shannon.
Drawing back, the tears in her eyes drying, she shook her head. “No. Finlay. I am sorry. It is over. I am moving to Switzerland on Monday.”
Holding tight to her hand, he pleaded, “I can move to Switzerland. It will be cool. A new start for both of us. I can get a job there”.
“No. Finlay. Let me go”. She tugged at her hand. He pulled her towards him, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. Beth struggled but he was stronger. “Finlay”, she tried to stay calm. “Finn. You are hurting me. Let go”.
“No, Beth. You have to see that we are meant to be together”.
She began to struggle in earnest now, fear rising inside her. He had never threatened violence before, but he seemed like a different person, so cold and unfeeling. He backed her against the wall, his body hard and solid against hers. She pushed hard at his shoulders, but it was like pushing a wall. He bent his head and tried to kiss her but she twisted her head so that his kiss landed on her hair.
“Don’t do this, Finlay. Don’t”, she pleaded now. She tried to calculate how long Alex would be, she only lived minutes away. Why was she not here yet? Looking around for something – anything – that she could use as a weapon, she cursed herself for not checking the peephole before letting him in. Hadn’t she learned anything in her years in London?
Flailing behind her for the discarded bottle of wine, she struggled to reach it. It was just out of reach. She could almost touch it. She relaxed against him, hoping that he would soften his hold. “Finlay. You are right. We are meant to be together. Let’s go and sit down and talk about it. I will show you the pictures of our apartment in Geneva. You will like it, we have a view of the lake”, she could hardly talk for fear of what would happen next. He was holding her hair tightly wrapped around his fist, but loosened his hold at her words.
He lifted his hands, cupping her face gently in contrast to his harsh treatment just moments before. “I knew that you would see sense.” He moved toward her to kiss her and she wriggled out of his grasp, seizing the bottle of wine by its neck as she did so.
“Get away from me”, she yelled.”Get the fuck out my house”.
He made a grab for her but she was prepared and ducked out of reach. Moving towards the door, she kept a wary eye on him and a good grip of the bottle. Lucky she hadn’t found that corkscrew after all.
The door bell rang, splitting the tension and distracting her for a second. He pounced, she swung the bottle and he lashed out with his fist. He caught the side of her face, throwing her to the floor. She lay dazed on the wooden floor, watching the bottle of wine roll across the hall. It had not broken, she noticed. That was handy. Less to clean up.
She could hear footsteps, first heavy ones receding then lighter ones running up the stairs. “Beth! Oh, God. Beth. Are you all right? HELP! Someone help us please!”.
Doors along the corridor were opening, neighbours emerging to see what was going on. This was some farewell party, Beth thought, as she passed out.
Beth awoke with a start, her heart pounding, her pyjamas sticking to her body. Sitting up in bed, she raised her hands to her cheeks, unsurprised to find them wet. Taking a deep breath, she tried to remember what she had been dreaming about but it was gone. The metallic taste of fear in her mouth was all that remained.
Reaching out, Beth groped for the light switch and sighed in relief as a soft yellow glow filled the room. 3 am. Great. Knowing better than to try to go straight back to sleep, she slipped her feet into soft ballerinas, flung a cardigan on over her pyjamas and padded towards the kitchen. Outside the night was black and calm, the roads and pavements empty. The kettle gurgled and switched itself off as she reached for a mug and her favourite herbal tea. Opening the door to the balcony, she stepped out into the night. The cool night air settled around her. She wrapped her hands around the mug of tea, sipping it slowly, the sweet hot liquid slipping down her throat, soothing her.
Beth raised her eyes above the buildings, staring into the sky, watching sheer curtains of clouds cover the moon. At least tonight she could see the moon.
Leaning against the balcony railing, Beth willed herself to feel sleepy. She did not want to be awake till dawn again, like the last time. Perhaps the fresh air would make her tired.
The mug of tea had been refilled several times and the sky had lightened before her wish was granted. Falling into bed at 6 am, Beth sent up a small prayer of thanks that it was Saturday, and not a work day. She wasn’t sure she would get through another day of work on such little sleep.
When she wakened several hours later, she still felt groggy. Stepping into the shower, she turned the tap to lukewarm them cold to shock her brain into action. Shivering slightly, wrapped in a comfortable dressing gown, she went into the bedroom to dress, pulling on navy shorts and a loose linen shirt with contrasting collar. By the time she had prepared her breakfast and carried it onto the balcony, she was feeling more alert. The city below her was wide awake and already busy. The sounds of the farmers market in the neighbouring street drifted up and she decided to go later and buy some fresh fruit and vegetables. Beth bit into her bread roll, smothered in butter and orange marmelade and took a sip of tea.
Voices from the balcony below made her pause and set her tea down quietly. Eavesdropping is really naughty, she told herself, even as she strained to hear more.
“I don’t see why I can’t go with you to Amsterdam. You don’t have to take care of me. I will do some shopping and go to a couple of museums while you work. You’ll hardly notice I’m there”.
“Iris”, – aha! She had a name, “You know that it is frowned upon, my boss doesn’t like it when wives or girlfriends go along on business trips. And before you ask, he will know. He always knows what his guys are up to, it is his business to know.”
“It is so unfair”, she was sounding sulky now. Beth wondered if her bottom lip was all pouty and if he would fall for it. Men often did. “I don’t want to be left all alone here, I want to be with you, Yogibear”.
An soft involuntary snort escaped Beth. Yogibear! He hadn’t looked like a Yogibear kind of guy. She fought against the laughter that bubbled up inside. If she laughed, he would know that she was listening and that would put paid to any kind of neighbourly friendship. She felt that they had got off on the wrong foot and would have liked to start over. She could do with a friend, and maybe he could introduce her to some of his buddies. He seemed to be a decent guy. Aside from the Yogibear thing.
There was silence from the balcony below. Maybe they had gone inside. Peering gingerly over the balcony railing, Beth could see two pairs of feet, intimately intwined. Oh, she had moved on to other methods of persuasion. Beth drew back guiltily, feeling like a peeping Tom. She picked up her breakfast tray and moved into the small kitchen, a feeling of sadness stealing over her. She missed it – the lazy breakfasts, the cuddles, the feeling of being one half of a couple.
The end of the relationship with Finley had been so sudden, the aftermath so shocking that she had no time to mourn. The new job, the move had been both welcome distraction and avoidance of unresolved issues. She missed her friends, she missed Alex. There were things that she felt almost ready to talk about but she did not want to worry her friends and family. For the first time since she had arrived in Geneva, she realized how alone she was. Washing and drying her solitary tea cup and setting it back in it’s space in the cupboard she noted that none of the other cups had been used.
As she picked up her keys from the wooden cupboard in the hallway, and searched for a shopping bag, she decided she would introduce herself to the couple downstairs. Maybe a bottle of wine would break the ice. Her decision made, she unlocked the door and let herself out of the apartment.