“Sir, the truck is here,” one of the employees said from my office doorway.
“Thank you. I’ll be right there.”
I saved the work on my laptop and grabbed the key to the safe from the other safe kept in my office. My feet crossed the plush carpet my father had loved while he was running the jewelry store. It was way outdated in my opinion.
He wanted the store to exude wealth and luxury. To me it screamed “hello, eighties” in a way that was worse than the neon prints from the day. Not that I remembered those prints. I was born at the tail end of the decade. I’d seen pictures though.
I opened the back door and waited for the armored-car driver and his partner to come into the store. “This way, please.”
I used my key to unlock the cage, which protected our vault. Then it was a thumbprint followed by a retinal scan to open the vault that was basically another office with a desk and all the equipment we needed to examine the diamonds and other stones we purchased from all around the world.
“Excuse me,” I heard my father say.
“Dad, I didn’t know you were coming today,” I said with my disappointment hidden.
“It’s a large shipment,” he replied. “I’d like to see it.”
“Thank you, gentlemen,” I said after taking receipt of the two briefcases of diamonds.
I left my father in the vault, escorted them back through our many layers of security, and rejoined my father, who was entering the code on one of the cases. He was supposed to be handing the running of Biltmore Jewelry over to me. Unfortunately, he was having a hard time letting go of the reins.
“Wait,” I told him before he opened the case. I turned on the camera we used to document the receipt of the goods. We took no chances when it came to things like this. Dealing in diamonds could be a very unscrupulous business. There were too many scammers and thieves that would love to cheat us.
“Ready?” he asked. The look on his face reminded me of my daughter when she was handed a gift. Pure joy. Excitement. And maybe just a little giddiness.
“Ready,” I replied.
He popped open the case to reveal several black velvet bags carefully set into foam. It was a little overkill, but when one dropped fifty million on diamonds, it was nice to know the sender took a little extra care. Each of the diamonds had been carefully selected by me on a recent trip to our diamond broker.
Dad slipped on his white gloves and began to inspect each one under the magnifying glass. I was checking each diamond against the inventory list along with the pictures to make sure it was all on the up and up. He nodded and slipped each one into its bag after inspecting it. Like a young boy waiting for a pat on the head, I watched his every expression.
He finally inspected the last one and pulled off his gloves. I waited. “Good,” he said. “These will do just fine.”
It wasn’t exactly high praise, but I would take it. “I’ve already got some designs drawn up for a few of the stones.”
I put the stones into the safe. I could feel there was more he wanted to say. I loved my father, but damn he could be difficult. I turned around to find him studying the paperwork for the stones. He was shaking his head as he scanned the documents. He dropped them on the desk with disgust. “The business isn’t like it used to be,” he said. “We never used to have to go through all this to get just okay stones. I miss the days we could buy direct.”
“Those days involved blood diamonds,” I reminded him. “We don’t do that. If we did, we’d lose everything. No one is going to buy diamonds with blood on them. Nor should they.”
“I know a guy—”
“No,” I said firmly. “We are not going backwards. We have too much on the line. These diamonds are just fine. Business is fine. We are not suffering. We pay a little more. It’s not going to kill us.”
He let out a heavy sigh. It wasn’t like we hadn’t had this conversation a hundred times before. I was taking over the business and I was not about to compromise our ethical standards. We left the vault, with him following me back to the office.
“Have you figured out who you will be taking to the gala?” he asked.
“Son, this is important,” he said with just a little irritation. “You’ve had months to plan for this. There are countless women out there that would be willing to be your date. What about Miss Derbyshire?”
“No,” I quickly answered. “Definitely not.”
“She comes from a good family,” he argued. It was always his argument.
If someone had a pedigree reaching back to some duke or even the royal family, they were perfect for me. The bluer the blood the better. Never mind our family was still considered new money by British standards. My grandfather had started the jewelry business after working in the mines. He had a knack for making money and the business was very successful.
It was handed to my father, August the second, and he essentially exploded the business. I was born into wealth. Extreme wealth, but we had yet to establish ourselves in the aristocracy. Not that it mattered anymore these days.
“I don’t care who her family is,” I said. “She is obnoxious. She’s arrogant and a spoiled brat. Elsie is more mature than she is. I will not date someone because she has royal lineage.”
“You made the mistake of choosing a trollop the first time around,” he said. “I would think you would want to look for a woman more befitting of your name.”
I rolled my eyes. “Shelly isn’t a trollop.”
“She ran off with some actor.” He said it with his lip curled like the words actually tasted bad.
“And she gave me a beautiful daughter,” I replied. “Besides, she came from what you would call a good family.”
He grumbled under his breath. “The family might have good breeding, but that one was not right. She was a bad egg. Even her parents are disgusted by her choices.”
“She’s living her life the way she wants. I don’t care.”
“My poor granddaughter has to live her life knowing her mother is—”
“Don’t say it,” I warned. “Elsie loves her mother.”
“How could she?” he said. “She doesn’t know her.”
“Elsie knows about her mother,” I said. “She loves her because she’s her mother.”
“Despicable,” he growled. “What about Louis’s daughter? She’s widowed but I think you would have that in common.”
“Shelly isn’t dead. She’s just not in England.”
“Australia,” he sneered.
“I’ll find a date of my own choosing,” I assured him.
“Your mother has a couple ideas if you don’t like my suggestions,” he offered.
Mom’s suggestions were a step above my father’s, but they were still never going to be my preference. “I don’t need you guys to set me up. I can find my own date. I still have some time.”
“Showing up alone to the event would start gossip,” he said in his very British tone. “We want people to focus on the diamonds, not your love life. They are already talking about it.”
“More than they’re talking about my American education?” I teased.
“This is serious business, son,” he said. “It’s time you find a wife. That little girl needs a new mother.”
“And I need a son?” I filled in the blanks.
“Elsie is a beautiful creature and we love her dearly, but a son would be nice,” he said nonchalantly.
“You’ll never let her hear you say that,” I said firmly.
“Absolutely not! Do you think me an animal?”
That was debatable. “Dad, I need to get to work. I’ll have a date.”
He nodded, knowing he was dismissed and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. He left the office without another word. I let out a sigh of relief. He could be a very stubborn man. He wanted me to live my life according to his plans. He hated when I made my own decisions. If he wanted a puppet, he should have trained me better.
My assistant, Josh, came in a minute later. “Did the old man approve?” he asked.
I smiled and took my seat behind my desk. “I’m not sure he knows how to approve, but he accepted my choices.”
He gave a small laugh before handing me a stack of invoices. “Those need to be signed today. You’ve got a Zoom call with a client from Dublin that is looking for a specific ring. Then I have you with the broker for a call.”
I was nodding as he spoke. Josh was my living and breathing calendar. I never bothered to try and update my own calendar. He did it and then he told me everything that was on the calendar at least three times. My time was managed to the minute most days.
“I’m in a situation, Josh.”
“Sir?” His concern was evident in his tone.
“I desperately need a nanny. And a date. Know of a two-for-one service?”
I was teasing. Mostly. Kind of. I did need both.
“You want the date to also be your nanny?” he asked. “Or would you prefer two different women? I would think you need a nanny so you can date.”
“You make a good point, but I think it would be easier to find one person instead of two.”
He opened his mouth and snapped it shut again. “I’ll check with the nanny agency.”
“You can’t ask a nanny to be a date,” I said. “That would get me a black mark and I would never find a good nanny.”
He looked like there was something on his mind. “So, we’re looking for a date that would be a suitable nanny for the lovely Elsie?”
“Yes. I doubt that person exists, but it would certainly make my life easier.”
He shifted from his left to his right while looking away. Clearly, I was making him uncomfortable. Josh and I had worked together for years. I didn’t know why he was suddenly being shy.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Have you ever heard of something called the Faux Agency?” he asked.
“No. Why? What is it?”
“It might be the answer to your problems,” he replied.
“I’m all ears.”
“In a nutshell, it’s an escort service,” he blurted out.
“Escort? As in women paid for services?”
“Yes,” he answered. “It’s not quite like that. It is, but it’s not about sex. You can hire a date. The women are carefully chosen for each client. They’re screened and sign NDAs.”
I studied him. “Why do you know about this service?” I asked.
“I know someone that’s used it,” he said. “It was just for a wedding. He told the woman who runs the agency what he needed. He answered a few questions, and after dropping a couple grand, he had a date.”
“Isn’t that basically hiring a call girl? That is what they are called, right?”
“The women are just escorts,” he repeated. “Professional dates.”
“And you think they also offer nanny services?” I questioned.
“I think you could certainly request a woman that was willing to do both,” he said. “It’s a service that has become very popular in the US. There is a website. Check it out.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to have a nanny slash call girl around Elsie.”
“Understandable,” he said.
“I’ll keep it in mind,” I said. “Thanks.”
He walked away and that was that. I had to know. My curiosity was getting the best of me. I had no idea such a place existed.
I needed to know more.
Can’t wait to read the rest of the book.
Weston Parker says
Thanks, Diane. I hope you enjoy it.