The Billionaire's Blue-Eyed Girl
I scanned the grounds to make sure nobody was looking and slipped down the discreet passageway behind Wallington Estate. Pictures formed in my mind’s eye. Pictures of staff scurrying up and down the uneven pathway when Wallington Estate was a private residence. Images of women wearing respectable maid uniforms popped into my mind. I wondered what they would have thought of my waitress ‘uniform’ for the evening. To be fair, it didn’t take Victorian standards to recognise that I resembled a trollop. Even by today’s standards, the outfit I’d squeezed myself into was eye-wateringly indecent. Fear mixed with pride crippled me. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go into that hotel and serve drinks wearing it. I’d thought I could, which was why I’d put the damn thing on. But standing there, with more exposed flesh than a burlesque dancer, I had a judder of sensibility. I just wasn’t that desperate for money.
It was dusk; the sun was setting, and it was getting a little eerie in the alley. I never entered dark alleys alone. But this evening I needed the sanctuary. I checked once more that there was nobody within earshot before dialling the number for the agency and waiting for somebody to answer. The jumped up representative who’d sent me here should have told me what type of event it was. ‘It’s an upmarket event,’ he’d said. ‘They’ve requested that the staff are presentable with smart hair and make-up and heeled shoes,’ he’d said. At the time I’d wanted to point out that their requests were sexist but, with it being the first job they had offered me in over a week, I’d bitten my tongue and gone with it. Stupid, stupid, stupid me.
‘Best Event Catering Recruitment Management, Tony speaking, how can I help you?’ The smarmy shit answered.
I took a deep breath, as deep a breath as I could take in the tiny little basque. ‘Tony, it’s Tabby.’
‘Tabby,’ he greeted me heartily, like an old friend. ‘How are you? I trust you found the venue with no problems?’
I clenched my jaw. Of course I’d found the bloody venue. Nobody would miss a Grade I listed manor house complete with 37 bedrooms and walled garden. ‘Yes, I did. I’m calling about something else.’
‘It’s the uniform.’
I softened a little, maybe he didn’t know what they expected the staff to wear. ‘Yes, the uniform. It’s a little…’
‘Risqué. It’s a little risqué.’
He chuckled, which told me he knew damn well what the all-female army of waiting staff was expected to wear. It was humiliating, dehumanising and downright disrespectful.
‘Were you aware of the theme for tonight’s event, Tony?’
‘Listen, Tabby. Don’t be cross but yes, I was aware.’
‘Don’t be cross? How am I supposed to not get cross? Listen, Tony. I’m an educated woman and am capable of far, far more than this. Scrap that. No woman, educated or not, should be subjected to this. It’s discriminatory and I won’t do it.’
He sighed as though he’d heard it all before. ‘Exactly, sweetheart. If I’d told you, you wouldn’t have taken the job. Listen, it’s one night, let your hair down and have fun. They’ve provided a mask haven’t they?’
My body temperature soared, probably turning my face as crimson as my uniform. ‘Tony, I look like a hooker. I’m not doing it. I’m not going in there, to serve, wearing this. No amount of money in the world will get me back in that function hall.’
‘You’re flush with other options at the moment, are you?’ He said, sounding bored with my tantrum ‘There are other girls on our books, Tabby. Other girls who would fight you tooth and nail for an opportunity like this. Besides, you didn’t complain when I told you the hourly rate.’
My stomach dropped. Why did I not think to question the hourly rate? I’d known when he quoted the figure it was too good to be true. I tugged at the flimsy tulle skirt which made up the bottom half of the devil costume they expected me to parade around in. ‘Yes, but you should have told me why the money was so good. Call one of the other girls, because I’m getting changed and leaving.’
Tony whistled. ‘You’re in it? You’ve put it on?’
I cringed at the thought of him picturing me wearing next to nothing. ‘Screw you, Tony,’ I spat. ‘I’m outta here.’
‘Fine, leave, but you’ll be kissing goodbye to any future contracts with us, not to mention a reference.’
I slumped into the wall behind me; The stone pressed cold into my exposed shoulders and snagged at the satin basque. The man had me over a barrel. During my interview, he’d sat in his executive chair listening to my woes, about how I had graduated from uni three months ago, and besides the odd waitressing job here and there, I hadn’t had a sniff of employment opportunity. He’d listened, and he’d learnt that I was desperate and would do almost anything right now to pay my rent. Three years of study were feeling like a waste of time. My bills were stacking up and homelessness was around the corner. I needed every penny I could get my hands on. Even if it meant serving drinks while wearing a devil themed masquerade costume to a bunch of fellas enjoying a circle jerk.
‘Fine, Tony. I’ll stay. But you pull another trick like this again and I swear I’ll find an employment lawyer and sue you and your agency for everything you’ve got.’
I stormed into the largest function room of Wallington Estate with war on my mind. Guests overspilt form the opulent room. Successful men. Men with letters after their names, men with a heritage which would make the royal family green with envy, men with considerable influence. Most of whom my family had known for a very, very long time. Unfortunately, the one man I was gunning for wasn’t on display. My brother. My half-witted, half-brother, Glenn. The man who I had entrusted with this venue and who, it appeared, was hell-bent on ruining the impeccable reputation that ten generations of Belmore men had built. I scanned the space and saw him in the corner. He was entertaining a handful of his so-called guests. He was laughing. His face was flush, probably with booze. And, although in conversation with a man who I knew to be a politician, his eyes roamed over the curves of one of the scantily clad waitresses who peppered the room. That was my problem. The staff. And their uniforms. Luckily, one attendee had the sense to call and let me know that the dim-wit had arranged the waitressing staff to wear these slutty little masquerade outfits. All it needed was for one of the young girls to snap a couple of images of the spectacle and sell them to the press. Boom, our business would be in tatters. The public wouldn’t take kindly to a hotel full of over-sexed, privileged men leering at innocent young girls desperate for cash. Not that Glenn gave a shit about anything other than his newfound social status. I took a moment to compose myself before ripping him away from his gathering.
‘Good evening, gentlemen.’ I smiled at the inebriated men. ‘Can I please steal my brother from you for a moment?’
Shock flashed across Glenn’s face before his Cheshire cat grin returned. ‘Conrad, what brings you here, old chap. I thought you had business at Tolbury House this evening. Otherwise, I would have invited you to our little soiree.’
Soiree! Old chap! My new brother had picked up the lingo since passing his DNA test and being welcomed into the family fold. ‘I did, but something came up, something pressing which I must discuss with you. In private.’
I stepped to one side and gestured for Glenn to walk ahead of me, which he did without causing a scene. Together we marched towards the foyer and as soon as I was certain we were out of earshot I grasped his shoulder with my hand, yanking him to face me. ‘What the fuck are you playing at?’ I hissed.
The snake had the audacity to look confused. ‘What’s your problem, Conrad?’
‘What’s my problem?’ I shouted but lowered my voice when a few heads turned to our direction. ‘What’s my problem? This is my problem. What kind of event is this, Glenn?’
He rolled his eyes, and it was all I could do to resist ripping them out with the nearest blunt instrument. ‘You gave me Wallington Estate to prove I could turn it around and I’m turning it around. So if you’ll excuse me there’s a lot of money in that room I’ve yet to schmooze.’
He tried to brush past, but I stiffened my shoulder to thwart his exit. ‘Let’s be clear,’ I said into his ear. ‘I didn’t give you Wallington Estate I loaned you Wallington Estate because father asked me to. Because the old fool grew a conscience and felt bad about your upbringing. I promised him I would give you a chance and a chance you have had. But there are no more. You will not make Belmore Estates a laughingstock and I will see to it you are cast out of the family quicker than it accepted you. Do I make myself clear?’
His eyes slid across to meet mine and a smirk danced on the corners of his mouth. ‘I’m sorry, Conrad. But until daddy dear croaks it you have no say in my family status. I’m his flesh and blood too, and I’m sure that once he sees for himself what the bottom line of this estate is since I took responsibility for it he’ll grant me access to more and more of the manors. Face it, you’re no longer the apple of his eye and you know it, which if you were honest with yourself is the real problem.’
My blood boiled, but I swallowed down my rage. Wallington House had not been in financial ruin when father insisted I gifted it to him. But would be if he carried on the way he was going. Not for the first time, it was taking every thread of my being not to cause some serious damage to the jumped up newcomer. I could kill my father. If he had spent more time nurturing his marriage with my mother than seducing every piece of skirt which crossed his path, then there wouldn’t be so many claimants for the family fortune crawling out of the woodwork now. There had been dozens over the years, we outed some as frauds, and others received big pay-outs on the proviso they disappeared. But this one. Glenn Munroe. Had rattled the old boy. Rattled him enough to give him a chance to prove himself as a capable Belmore heir.
‘You listen to me, bastard-boy,’ I sneered. I hated how the man forced me to stoop to low-level insults but I needed for him to realise that he wasn’t the boss in this operation, I was. ‘Maybe your mother gave the best blow job in the northern hemisphere who knows, but whatever, nostalgia may have stripped father of his sanity but that does not mean I’m gonna sit back and watch you screw this business to the ground. Is that understood?’
Glenn shrugged a shoulder, my insults rolled off him like water off a duck’s back. ‘Whatever you say, boss,’ he hissed. ‘Now, if you’ve said your piece, I’m returning to the party, to mingle, and make this venue the most profitable of them all. Then we’ll see if you’re still the twinkle in daddy’s eye shall we.’
I allowed him to brush past but my skin crawled knowing that we had the same blood running through our veins. I needed to regain control of Wallington Estate. Before it was too late, and he ruined us. I needed an insider. Eyes and ears on the ground who would report back while I was busy overseeing the other properties.
‘Fine,’ I said to his back. ‘You mingle, but I’m recruiting a sales manager for Wallington. You are not pulling a stunt like this again, ever.’
He twisted his shoulders and a sly grin spread across his pitted face. ‘Great,’ he said. ‘Just make sure she’s fuckable, yeah?’