Wife for a Week(11)

By: Kelly Hunter

‘Well, I—’

‘Having said that, I will of course ask your opinion on the things I’ve chosen. I’m not an unreasonable woman. You can tell me if you like something.’

‘And if I don’t?’

Hallie considered the question. She could be a bit contrary at times. ‘Probably best not to say anything,’ she said, and, squaring her shoulders, sailed on into the shop.

The boutique was streamlined and classy, the coiffed and polished saleswoman just that little bit daunting, never mind that she greeted Clea with friendly familiarity.

‘Size eight, I think,’ said the saleswoman after turning an assessing eye on Hallie.

‘Ten,’ said Hallie.

‘In this shop, darling, you’re an eight.’

Hallie liked the woman better already.

‘Do you have any colour preferences?’ the woman asked.

‘I like them all.’

The saleswoman barely suppressed a shudder. ‘Yes, dear. But do they all like you? Let’s start with grey.’

Hallie opened her mouth to protest, but the woman was having none of it. She pulled a matching skirt and jacket from the rack and held them out commandingly. ‘Of course, it relies on the wearer for colour and life, but I think you’ve got that covered.’

‘Umm…’ Hallie took the suit from the woman and held it up for Nick’s inspection. ‘What do you think?’

‘I’m confused,’ he said. ‘If I tell you I like it you may or may not decide to buy it, depending on whether you like it. However, if I say I don’t like it you’ll feel compelled to buy it whether you like it or not. Am I right?’

‘Yes.’ Hallie felt a smile coming on. ‘So what do you think?’

‘Try it on.’

And then when she did and his eyes narrowed and his face grew carefully impassive. ‘No?’ she asked. ‘It’s probably not the look you were after.’

‘Yes,’ he said firmly. ‘It is.’

Still she hesitated. ‘It’s very—’

‘Elegant,’ he said. ‘Understated. Just what we’re looking for.’

Elegant, eh? Not a term she’d normally use to describe herself. She’d won the right to choose her own clothes in her late teens and in typical teenager fashion she’d headed straight for the shortest skirts and the brightest, tightest tops. Okay, so she’d matured a little since then—she did have some loose-fitting clothes somewhere in her wardrobe, but truth was they didn’t often see daylight. She had never, ever, worn anything as classy as this. The suit clung to her every curve, the material was soft and luxurious beneath her hands, like cashmere only not. Even the colour wasn’t so bad once you got used to it. And yet…

‘It’s not really me, though, is it?’ she said.

‘Think of it as a costume,’ said Nick. ‘Think corporate wife.’

‘I don’t know any corporate wives.’ Hallie turned to Clea, who was busily browsing a rack of clothes. ‘Unless you’re one?’

‘No!’ said Nick hastily. ‘She’s not!’

‘It’s very grey, isn’t it, dear?’ said Clea, who glittered like a Vegas slot machine in her gold trousers and blood-red chiffon shirt with its strategically placed psychedelic gold swirls.

‘Greyer than a Chinese funeral vase,’ agreed Hallie glumly. ‘Do you have anything a bit more cheerful?’ she asked the saleswoman.

‘What about this?’ said Clea, holding up a boldly flowered silk sundress in fuchsia, lime and ivory. ‘This is pretty.’

‘Why my mother?’ muttered Nick. ‘Why couldn’t we have brought along your mother?’

‘She died when I was six,’ said Hallie, and then to Clea, ‘I like that.’ She held it up to her body, twirled around, and looked up to find Nick regarding her intently.

‘Sorry,’ he said quietly. ‘You said you’d been raised by your father and brothers but I didn’t make the connection. Try it on.’

And when she did…

‘She’ll take it,’ he told the saleswoman, and to Hallie, ‘That’s non-negotiable.’

‘Lucky for you I happen to agree,’ said Hallie.

‘His father had excellent taste in clothes as well,’ said Clea. ‘Bless his soul.’

But Hallie wasn’t listening. She was looking at herself in the mirror and her reflection was frowning right back at her as she turned and twirled, first one way and then the other. Finally, hands on hips, she turned to Nick.

‘Does this dress make me look fat?’

Two hours later, Hallie and Clea had purchased enough clothes for a six-month stint on the QEII, and as far as Nick was concerned he was neither the sadist Hallie had accused him of being, nor the skinflint his mother claimed. No, for a man to endure so much and complain so little, he was quite simply a saint.