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  • Writer's pictureSheila Claydon

Bouquet of Thorns extract chapter 4

On a travelling scholarship in India, Sarah's brother has left her in charge of his run-down wine bar, telling her to sell it if she can. Waitressing in the evening as well as trying to establish her own flower shop during the day is more than she can cope with, however, and when she starts to fall out with the customers she knows it's time to stop. Then the owner of the biggest hotel in town offers to buy it and, fingers crossed, she hopes her troubles will soon be over. Unfortunately for Sarah, they are only just beginning.

Somehow things were better once Liz understood about Sarah’s feelings for Sean. Although she never referred to it again, she was always at work earlier on the days that Sarah had to visit the hotel, making sure that nothing was amiss with the flowers and streamlining the whole process so that the work could be finished quickly. Because of this, Sarah’s fears of coming face-to-face with Sean began to fade.

Things continued in the same manner for several weeks and once Sarah stopped worrying each time she heard footsteps approaching, she started to enjoy working in the hotel. Using the selection of ornate Georgian bowls that were part of the hotel decor, she began to perfect her colour schemes for each room, using cream and gold in the main reception area, and white and yellow or shades of blue for the various sitting rooms. And although it was a challenge, she always managed to find colours that complemented the crimson dining room and the white and apple green of the ballroom beyond.

Her private life was also less stressful because Nick was attending a ten-week course on Historic Design in London. On the rare occasions he managed to return home, he was too full of chatter about the course to push for more intimacy and with a feeling of relief, Sarah was happy to listen to his enthusiasm.

Consequently, one Wednesday towards the end of a rather wet and windy August saw her tackling a display in the hotel foyer in a much better frame of mind than she would have managed a few weeks earlier. And because Wednesday was a slack day at the shop, she had brought Susan with her, keen to show her a different kind of floristry before she began her day release classes.

The younger girl was overawed by her first view of the hotel dining room. She gasped in disbelief when Sarah let her peep into the ballroom, and she was still slightly overwhelmed as they tackled the foyer displays. These consisted of several wide vases standing on miniature Palladian columns at waist height, while smaller bowls of flowers decorated the low coffee tables placed in each alcove.

The full vases were very heavy and Sarah had persuaded a passing maintenance man to help carry them through to the hotel scullery. Now, as she stood back to survey the result of her work, she felt very pleased. Susan had learned a lot about the treatment of cut flowers during the course of the morning, and now she was busily tidying the stainless steel worktop and pushing discarded flowers and greenery into a large plastic sack.

With a nod of approval, Sarah left her and went to find someone to help carry the big vases back to the foyer. But, after five minutes’ fruitless search, she returned to the kitchen.

“I can’t find anyone. We’ll just have to manage ourselves.”

“Do you think we can?” Susan surveyed the larger of the vases doubtfully. “That one looks awfully heavy.”

“We’ll carry the smaller ones through first.” Sarah gave her an encouraging smile. “By the time we’ve manhandled those, perhaps someone will turn up who can help us.”

It took them more than twenty minutes to carry most of the vases back to the reception area but, despite this, no maintenance men had appeared by the time they returned to the scullery for the final display, so Sarah propped open the door with a heavy bucket and positioned herself on one side of the heaviest vase.

“Come on,” she said with a smile to her junior. “Lift it when I count to three.”

It was far heavier than she had anticipated, however. It was a huge china bowl decorated with dimpled cupids and tiny fluttering doves. It held a considerable volume of water which, combined with a trailing display of cream and yellow roses, made it awkward to hold.

Both girls tightened their grips as the vase began to tilt sideways, and then gave a joint sigh of relief as it righted itself. Sarah, her fingers growing numb as they clutched at the slippery porcelain, knew it would never do to drop such a display. Apart from the value of the vase itself, it would ruin the thick carpet and cause the sort of noisy disruption that would bring Sean from his office. Her relief faded abruptly as the vase began to tilt again.

“Careful, Sue,” she warned, trying to keep her voice calm. “Walk more slowly or we’ll have an accident.”

But Susan was too nervous to listen. Instead, she moved faster as she felt the unwieldy display beginning to slip, anxious to reach the stand as quickly as possible. Her hurried movement was all it took. The vase slid from her grasp and, in an attempt to save it, Sarah overbalanced. With a shriek of horror, she, Susan and the vase ended up in a tangled heap on the floor…

“Sarah! Sarah, are you all right?” Susan’s voice seemed to be coming from a great distance as Sarah struggled to open her eyes. The vase had caught her a glancing blow on the side of her head and for several moments she drifted in and out of consciousness, only vaguely aware of an uncomfortable wetness seeping through the thin cotton of her T-shirt. When she did open her eyes, she found that Susan was no longer beside her. Instead, Sean was bending over her, frowning fiercely.

“Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?” His voice was sharp with anger.

“I’m sorry.” She tried to sit up, wincing as her head began to throb. “I’ll clear up the mess in a minute…” Her voice faded into a whisper of horror as she registered the disastrous consequences of the accident.

The deep gold carpet was dark with water, while broken flowers and lumps of oasis were scattered haphazardly across it. But worst of all was the vase. It lay on its side, water still trickling down the fluted runnels of its wide lip, while a smaller piece of china lay like a jagged star against the creeping stain.

"Your beautiful vase.” Sarah stared at the scene in dismay. “It’s broken. I’ll buy you another one.”

“You can’t.” Sean’s voice was clipped with irritation. “It’s unique. And, anyway, you couldn’t afford it.”

His words were the final straw. Sarah put her hands to her aching head with a groan. Whatever had she done? In a moment’s stupidity, she had lost Bouquet the Unicorn Hotel contract and, at the same time, confirmed Sean’s opinion of her by having yet another accident in his presence. She wished the floor would open and swallow her but instead she had to face those icy blue eyes and somehow, despite the pain in her head, help Susan clear up the appalling mess.

She opened her eyes again as she suddenly remembered her young assistant. “Is Susan all right?”

“Apart from a splash or two of cold water, she’s fine.” As he spoke, Sean pulled her hands away from her eyes. She tried to move away but his grip tightened.

“Lie still, Sarah. The doctor will be here in a minute.”

“Doctor.” In her surprise, Sarah looked directly at him. It was then that she realised his shirt was spattered with drops of blood. Her eyes widened in alarm and then she saw that her hand and arm were stained red as blood seeped from a cut on her palm.

She was never entirely sure whether it was the blood or the blow to her head, but suddenly everything turned into a whirling kaleidoscope of lights, and for the first time in her life, she fainted.

* * *

When she recovered consciousness she was lying on a vast double bed in a darkened room with Sean holding her uninjured hand. Nearby she could hear other voices but she was too confused by the expression in Sean’s eyes to take any notice. She suddenly realised that what she had taken for anger, was concern. And, although he was frowning, it was worry and not irritation that creased his forehead.

“I’m so sorry.” She shook her head weakly. “I’ve made such a mess of everything, and I don’t normally faint at the sight of blood either.”


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