October 27, 2022
Sept 20, 2022
Snowed In For Christmas
She’s snowed in with the family. The only problem? They’re not her family.
A family gathering
This Christmas the Miller siblings have one goal – to avoid their family’s well-meaning questions. Ross, Alice and Clemmie have secrets that they don’t intend to share, and they are relying on each other to deflect attention.
An uninvited guest
Lucy Clarke is facing a Christmas alone, and the prospect of losing her job – unless she can win a major piece of business from Ross Miller. She’ll deliver her proposal to his family home in the Scottish Highlands, and then leave. After all, she wouldn’t want to intrude on the Miller’s perfect family Christmas.
A Christmas to remember
When Lucy appears on the Miller’s snow-covered doorstep, she is mistaken for Ross’s girlfriend. But by the time the confusion is cleared up, a storm has hit and Lucy is stuck. As everyone settles in for a snowed-in Christmas, tensions bubble to the surface and suddenly Lucy finds herself facing a big family fallout with a family that isn’t hers…
"Best situational romantic comedy of this season" Fresh Fiction
"Morgan has merged six separate stories seamlessly into this funny, and often poignant, book that will thaw even the biggest Grinch’s heart.9/10" The Independent
Lucy Clarke pushed her way through the revolving glass doors and sprinted to the reception desk, stripping off her coat and scarf as she ran. She was late for the most important meeting of her life.
“There you are! I’ve been calling you. I’ll take that—” Rhea, the receptionist, rose from her chair and grabbed the coat from her. “Wow. You look stunning. You’re the only person I know who can look good in a Christmas sweater. Where did you find that one?”
“My grandmother knitted it. She said the sparkly yarn was a nightmare to work with. Feels weird wearing it today of all days, but Arnie insisted that we look festive so here I am, bringing the sparkle. They’ve started?” She’d hoped she might just make it, but the desks around her were all empty.
“Yes. Get in there.”
Lucy replaced her running shoes with suede boots, hopping around as she pulled them on. Her fingers were so cold she fumbled. “Sorry. Forgot my gloves.” She thrust her bag toward Rhea, who stowed it under the desk.
“What was it? Trains not running?”
“Signal failure. I walked.”
“You walked? You couldn’t have grabbed a cab?”
“Everyone else had the same idea so there wasn’t one to be had.” She dropped her scarf on Rhea’s desk. “How is the mood?”
“Dismally lacking in festive joy given that we are all waiting to lose our jobs. Even the Christmas sweaters aren’t raising a smile, and there are some truly terrible ones. Ellis from Accounts is wearing what looks like a woolly Christmas tree and it’s making him itch. I’ve given him an antihistamine.”
“We are not going to lose our jobs.”
“You don’t know that,” Rhea said. “We’ve lost two big accounts in the last month. Not our fault, I know, but the end result is the same.”
“So we need to replace them.”
“I admire your optimism, but I don’t want to raise my hopes and then have them crash around me. I love my job. Companies always say we’re a family and it’s usually a load of rubbish, but this one really does feel like a family. But it’s not as if you really need to worry. You’re brilliant at what you do. You’ll get another job easily.”
She didn’t want another job. She wanted this job.
She thought about the fun they all had in the office. The laughter. Late-night pizza when they were preparing a pitch. Friday fizz when they had something to celebrate. The camaraderie and the friendship. She knew she’d never forget the support her colleagues had given her during what had undoubtedly been the worst couple of years of her life.
And then there was Arnie himself. She owed him everything. He’d given her back all the confidence that had been sucked from her in her first job, and he’d been there for her at her lowest moment. She’d worked for Arnie for six years and she still learned something new from him every day. She had a feeling she always would, because the company was small and nimble and everyone was encouraged to contribute, whatever their level of seniority. That wouldn’t happen if she moved to one of the major players.
“Do I look okay?”
Rhea reached out and smoothed a strand of hair out of Lucy’s eyes. “You look calmer than the rest of us. We’re all in a state of panic. Maya has just bought her first flat. Ted’s wife is expecting their first baby any day.”
“Stop! If you keep reminding me of the stakes I’ll be waving goodbye to calm.” Lucy pressed her hands to her burning cheeks. “I ran the last mile. Tell me honestly, does my face look like a tomato?”
“It has a seasonal tint.”
“You mean green like holly, or red like Santa?”
“Get in there—” Rhea gave her a push and Lucy sprinted toward the meeting room.
She could see all of them gathered around the table, Arnie standing at the head wearing the same red sweater he always wore when he wanted to be festive.
Arnie, who had set up this company over thirty years ago. Arnie, who had left his family’s Christmas celebrations to be by her side in the hospital when her grandmother had died two years earlier.
Lucy pushed open the door and thirty heads turned toward her.
“Sorry I’m late.”
“Don’t worry. We’ve only just started.” Arnie’s smile was warm, but she could see the dark shadows under his eyes. The situation was hard for all of them, but particularly him. The unexpected blow to their bottom line meant he had difficult decisions to make. The thought of it was obviously giving him sleepless nights.
She’d seen him working until midnight at his desk, staring at numbers as if willpower alone could change them. It was no wonder he was tired.
She sat down in an empty seat and tried to ignore the horrible burn of anxiety.
“It’s a Christmas campaign,” Arnie returned to the subject they’d been discussing before she’d interrupted. “Think festive sparkle, think Christmas trees, think snow. We want photographs of log fires, luxurious throws, candles, mugs of hot chocolate heaped with marshmallows. And fairy lights. Fairy lights everywhere. The images need to be so festive and appealing that people who think they hate Christmas suddenly fall in love with Christmas. Most of all they need to feel that their Christmas will not be complete unless they buy themselves and everyone they know, a—” Arnie looked blank. “What is the product called again?”
Lucy’s gaze slid to the box on the table. “The Fingersnug, Arnie.”
“Fingersnug. Right.” Arnie dragged his hand through his hair, leaving it standing upright. It was one of his many endearing habits. “The person who advised them on product name should rethink his job, but that’s not our problem. Our problem is how to make it the must-have product for Christmas, despite the name and the lack of time to build a heavyweight campaign. And we’re going to do that with social media. It’s instant. It’s impactful. Show people looking warm and cosy. Has anyone tried the damn thing? Lucy, as you were the last one in through the door and you always forget to wear gloves, you can take one for the team and thank me later.”
Lucy dutifully slipped her hand inside the Fingersnug and activated it.
They all watched her expectantly.
Arnie spread his hands. “Anything? Are you feeling a warm glow? Is this life changing?”
She felt depressed and a little sick, but neither of those things had anything to do with the Fingersnug. “I think it takes a minute to warm up, Arnie.”
Ted looked puzzled. “It’s basically a glove.”
“Maybe—” Arnie planted his hands on the table and leaned forward “—but running shoes are running shoes until we persuade the public that this particular pair will change their lives. There are few original products out there, only original campaigns.”
The comment was so Arnie. He was a relentless optimist.
Lucy felt the lump in her throat grow. Arnie had so many big things to deal with, but the client was still his priority. Even a client as small as this one.
“It’s warming up,” she said. “It may even cure my frostbite.”
Arnie grabbed one from the box. “It would be the perfect stocking filler. I can see it now, keeping hands warm on frosty winter nights. Does it come in small sizes? Can kids use it? Is it safe? We don’t want to damage a child.”
“Children can use it, and it comes in different sizes.” Lucy felt her fingers grow steadily warmer. “This might be the first time in my life I’ve had warm hands. It might be my new favorite thing.”
“We need photographs that appeal to kids, or more specifically parents of kids. All those activities parents do at Christmas. Ice skating, reindeer—the client specifically mentioned reindeer,” he floundered and glanced around for inspiration, “doing what? I have no idea. Where does one even find a reindeer, apart from on the front of Alison’s sweater, obviously? And what do you do when you find one? Maybe someone could ride it. Yes! I love that idea.” One of the reasons Arnie was such a legend in the creative agency world was because he let nothing get in the way of his imagination. Sometimes that approach led to spectacular success, but other times…
There was an exchange of glances. A few people shifted in their chairs and sneaked glances at Lucy.
She looked straight at him. “I think using reindeer is an inspired idea, Arnie. Gives us the potential for some great creative shots. Maybe a child clutching a stack of prettily wrapped parcels next to a reindeer, capture that look of wonder on their face, patch of snow, warm fingers—” she let her mind drift “—aspirational Christmas photos. Make it relatable.”
“You don’t think someone should ride it?”
She didn’t hesitate. “No, Arnie, I don’t.”
“Why not? Santa does it.”
“Santa is a special case. And he’s generally in the sleigh.” Were they seriously having this conversation?
There was a moment of tense silence and then Arnie laughed and the tension in the room eased.
“Right. Well…” Arnie waved a hand dismissively. “Get creative. Whatever you think will add that extra festive touch, you’re to do it, Lucy. I won’t tell you to impress me, because you always do.”
“You want me to take on the account?” Lucy glanced round the room. There were twenty-nine other people in the meeting. “Maybe someone else should—”
“No. I want you on this. Getting influencers on board at this late stage is going to be next to impossible, and you’re the one who makes the impossible happen.” He rubbed his chest and Lucy felt a flash of concern.
“Are you feeling all right, Arnie?”
“Not brilliant. I had dinner with one of our competitors last night, Martin Cooper, CEO of Fitzwilliam Cooper. He was boasting about having too much business to handle, which was enough to give me indigestion. Or maybe it was the lamb. It was very spicy and I’m not good with spicy food.” He stopped rubbing his chest and scowled. “Do you know he had the gall to ask if I could give him your contact list, Lucy? I told him it would do him no good, because it’s your relationship with those contacts that adds the magic. The whole thing works because of you. You have a way of persuading people to do things they don’t want to do, and definitely don’t have time for.”
Lucy chose not to mention the fact that a recruiter from Fitzwilliam Cooper had approached her twice in the last month about a job.
She thought it wise to change the subject. “Finding a reindeer in the middle of London might be—”
“There are reindeer in Finland and Norway, but we don’t have the time or the budget for that. Wait—” Arnie lifted a hand. “Scotland! There are reindeer in Scotland. I read about it recently. I’m going to ask Rhea to track down that article and send it to you. Scotland. Perfect. I love this job. Don’t you all love this job?”
Everyone grinned nervously because almost without exception they did love the job and were all wondering how much longer they’d be doing it.
Lucy was focused on the more immediate problem. How was she supposed to fit a trip to Scotland into her schedule?
“It’s only two weeks until Christmas, Arnie.”
“And you know what I always say. Nothing—” He put his hand to his ear and waited.
“Focuses the mind like a deadline,” they all chorused and he beamed like a conductor whose orchestra had just given a virtuoso performance.
“Exactly. You’ll handle it, Lucy, I know you will. You’re the one who always swoops in and saves the day and you’re always great with everything Christmas.” Arnie waved a hand as if he’d just gifted her something special. “The job is yours. Pick your team.”
Lucy managed a weak smile. His enthusiasm and warmth swept you along. You couldn’t say no to him, even if you wanted to.
And what would she say, anyway?
Christmas isn’t really my thing anymore. No, she couldn’t say that. She’d leaned on them hard at the beginning, when the agony of grief had been raw and sharp. But time had passed, and she couldn’t keep being a misery, no matter how tough she found this time of year. She needed to pull herself together, but she hadn’t yet figured out how to do that. There were days when she felt as if she hadn’t moved forward at all.
But her priority right now was the company, which meant she would have to go to Scotland. Unless she could find reindeer closer to home. The zoo? Maybe she could persuade the client to switch the reindeer for a llama. Alpaca? Large sheep? Her mind wandered and then someone’s phone pinged.
Ted jumped to his feet in a panic, sending papers flying. He checked his phone and turned pale. “This is it! It’s coming. The baby I mean. The baby is coming. My baby. Our baby. I have to go to the hospital. Right now.” He dropped his phone on the floor, bent to retrieve it and banged his head on the table.
Lucy winced. “Ouch. Ted—”
“I’m fine!” He rubbed his forehead and gave a goofy smile. “I’m going to be a dad.”
Maya grinned. “We got that part, Ted. Way to go.”
“Sophie needs me. I—” Ted dropped his phone again but this time Alison was the one who bent and retrieved it.
“Yes. Good advice. Breathe. We’ve done lots of practice. I mean obviously it’s Sophie who is meant to be doing that part, but no reason why I can’t do it, too.” Ted pushed his glasses back up his nose and cast an apologetic look at Arnie. “I’m—”
“Go.” Arnie waved him toward the door. “And keep us updated.”
Ted looked torn. “But this is an important meeting, and—”
“Family first.” Arnie’s voice was rough. “Go and be with Sophie. Call us when you have news.”
Ted rushed out of the room, then rushed back in a moment later to collect the coat he’d forgotten, and back again a moment after that because he’d left his laptop bag.
“Also,” he said, pausing by the door, breathless, “I have a train set arriving here today. Can someone take the delivery?”
Maya raised her perfectly sculpted eyebrows. “A train set?”
“Yes. It’s a Christmas present for my son.” His voice cracked and Arnie walked round the table and put his hand on Ted’s shoulder.
“A train set is a great choice. We’ll take the delivery. Now go. Ask Rhea to call you a cab. You need to get to the hospital as fast as possible.”
“Yes. Thank you.” Ted sped out of the room, knocking into the doorframe on his way out.
Maya winced. “Can they give him a sedative or something? And is a cab really going to be quicker than taking the train?”
“It’s going to be quicker than Ted getting flustered and lost,” Arnie said. “At least the cab will deliver him to the door, hopefully in one piece and with all his belongings still about his person.”
“A train set?” Ryan, the intern, grinned. “He does know that a baby can’t play with a train set, doesn’t he?”
“I suspect it will be Ted playing with the train set,” Arnie said. “Now, exciting though this is, we should return to business. Where were we? Fingersnug. Lucy? Are you on it?”
“I’m on it, Arnie.” She’d find a way to show it at its most appealing. She’d put together a last-minute Christmas campaign. She’d find a reindeer from somewhere. She’d pull in favors from her contacts, content creators with high profiles and engaged followings who she’d worked with before. She’d find a way to handle it all and try not to think about the fact that her job was occasionally ridiculous.
Arnie cleared his throat and Lucy glanced at him.
It was obvious from the look on Arnie’s face that they’d reached that point in the meeting everyone had been dreading.
“Now for the tough stuff. You all know we lost two big accounts last month. Not our fault. One company is downsizing because they’ve lost so much business lately, and the other is trying to cut costs and decided to go with someone cheaper. I tried telling him that you get what you pay for, but he wasn’t listening. It’s a significant blow,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend otherwise.”
“Just give us the bad news, Arnie. Have you made a decision about who you’re going to let go?” Maya, always direct, was the one to voice what they were all wondering.
“I don’t want to let anyone go.” He let out a long breath. “And not just because you’re a fun bunch of people when you’re not being annoying.”
They all tried to grin.
“And the truth is that to win accounts, we need good people. To staff accounts, we need good people. But I also need to be able to pay those people and unless we bring in a significant piece of business soon, we’re in trouble.” He rested his hands on the table and was silent for a moment. “I’ve never lied to you and I’m not going to start now. This is the most challenging time we have faced since I started the company thirty years ago, but all is not lost. I have a few new business leads, and I’m going to be following those up personally. And there’s something else we’re going to try—speculative, but worth a shot. It’s major. If we could land that, then we’d be fine.”
But what if they weren’t fine?
Lucy thought about Ted and his new baby. She thought about Maya and her new flat and how scared she’d been taking on the responsibility of a mortgage. She thought about herself, about how much she loved this job and how badly she needed to keep doing it. In the early days after she’d lost her grandmother, work had given her a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Her job was her source of security, both financial and emotional.
It was the most important thing in her life.
She felt her chest grow tight.
She couldn’t handle more change. More loss.
She gazed through the glass of the meeting room, forcing herself to breathe steadily. From her vantage point twenty floors up she had an aerial view of London. She could see the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the River Thames winding its way under Tower Bridge. Three red London buses nosed their way through traffic, and people scurried along, heads down looking at their phones, always in a hurry.
A lump formed in her throat.
If she had to leave the company, would it mean moving?
She didn’t want to move. She’d been raised here, by her grandmother, who had loved everything about London and had been keen to share its joys and its history with her granddaughter.
Do you see this, Lucy? Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London started in 1666.
They’d visited the Tower of London, Lucy’s favorite place. They’d strolled through the parks hand in hand, picnicked on damp grass, fed ducks, rowed a boat on the Serpentine. Her annual Christmas treat had been a visit to the Royal Opera House to watch a performance of The Nutcracker. Every street and every landmark, famous and not so famous, were tangled up with memories of her grandmother.
She loved London. She belonged here. Sometimes it felt as if the city had wrapped its arms around her, as her grandmother had in those early days after her parents had died.
This time of year was particularly tough. It was impossible not to think about her grandmother at Christmas. Impossible not to wish for one more day with her, walking through the city looking at the sparkling window displays, and then sipping hot chocolate in a warm café. They’d talked about everything. There wasn’t a single thing Lucy had held back from her grandmother, and she desperately missed that. She missed being able to talk freely, without worrying that she was a burden.
Unconditional love. Love that could be depended on. That was what she missed, but that gift had been ripped away from her, leaving her feeling cold, exposed and alone.
She sat, made miserable by memories, and then caught sight of Arnie’s face and felt guilty for being selfish and thinking about herself when he was going through hell. He was worrying about everyone’s futures.
They had to win a big account, they had to.
Arnie was still talking. “Let’s start by looking at the positive. We are harnessing the power of social media and changing the way brands reach their customers. We are experts in influencer marketing. We are changing consumer habits—”
Lucy made a few notes on the pad in front of her.
In less than a minute she had a list of about ten people to call who might be able to help her with the Fingersnug. People she’d built a relationship with. People who would be only too happy to do her a favor, knowing that they’d be able to reclaim it in the future.
“We are raising our profile. And on that note, a special shout out to Lucy, our cover girl.” Arnie gestured to the latest edition of the glossy marketing magazine stacked on the table. “The Face of Modern Marketing. Looking good, Lucy. Great interview. Great publicity for the company. If any of you still haven’t read it then you should. Lucy, we’re proud of you and for the rest of you—let’s have more of this. Let’s get ourselves noticed.”
There was a chorus of “Go Lucy,” and a few claps.
Lucy gave a self-conscious smile and glanced at the cover. She barely recognized her own image. She’d spent an hour in hair and makeup before the photoshoot and had felt completely unlike herself. On the other hand, feeling unlike herself hadn’t been a bad thing. The Lucy in the picture looked as if she had her life together. The Lucy in the picture didn’t stand in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning hyperventilating, worrying that her control was going to shatter and she was going to lose it in public. She didn’t stand there feeling as if her emotions were a ticking time bomb, ready to explode without warning. Anxiety had plagued her since she’d lost her grandmother. She felt as if she was on the edge, navigating life with no safety net.
And now it was almost Christmas, and if ever there was a time designed to emphasize the lack of family, it was now. The worst thing was that she’d always adored Christmas. It had been her absolute favorite time of the year until that horrible Christmas two years before when she’d spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a vigil by her grandmother’s hospital bed. Now Christmas wasn’t tinsel, and fir trees and wrapping up warm to listen to carol singers. It was beeping machines, and doctors with serious faces, and her grandmother’s frail, bruised hand in hers. Massive stroke, they’d said, but she’d hung on until December 31, before finally leaving Lucy to face the new year, and all the years ahead, without the person she loved most. The person who had taken on the role of both parent and grandparent. The one person who knew her and loved her unconditionally.
The previous year she’d forced herself to celebrate Christmas, although maybe celebrate was the wrong word. She bought herself a tree, and she decorated it with all the ornaments she and her grandmother had collected over the years. I’m doing this, Gran. You’d be proud of me. But it had been hard work, the emotional equivalent of running a marathon uphill in bare feet. Christmas had always been a magical time, but now the magic was gone, and she didn’t know how to get it back. The truth was she was dreading it, and given the choice she would have canceled Christmas.
Panic rose, digging its claws into her skin.
“This is the point where I’m going to challenge you all,” Arnie said. “Do I believe in miracles? Maybe I do, because I have my eye on one of the biggest prizes of all. One piece of new business in particular that would solve all our problems. The biggest fish in the pond. Any guesses?” He glanced around expectantly. “Think sportswear brands. Think fitness and gyms.”
And now she had a whole new reason to panic.
Not sports. Anything but that.
She was intimidated by gyms and she had no reason to wear sportswear. Her exercise regime involved racing round London meeting clients and influencers, and scoping out new cool places to include in their visual campaigns.
Wishing Ted was here because it was right up his street, Lucy scrolled through the big brands in her mind, discarding the ones she knew were already locked into other agencies.
One stood out.
“Are you talking about Miller Active? The CEO is Ross Miller.”
“You know him?”
“Only by reputation. His family own Glen Shortbread.” Her grandmother had described it as comfort in a tin and it had been her favorite treat at Christmas.
“Is Glen Shortbread the one in the pretty tin?” Maya chewed the end of her pen. “The one that changes every year? Last year was snowy mountains and a loch? I love it. Delicious. I buy it for my mum every year. Just looking at it makes me feel Christmassy.”
“That’s the one.” Lucy still had three of the empty tins in her apartment, even though she didn’t have room for them. She couldn’t bear to throw them away, so she used them as storage. Two were full of old photographs, and the third held the letters her grandmother had written to her during her first year of college when she’d been homesick and tempted to give it up.
“Same Miller, different business.” Arnie rubbed his chest again. “Son Ross went a different route.”
“Rebel Ross,” Lucy murmured and saw Arnie glance at her with a question in his eyes. “I read an article—last year, I think. That was the title. ‘Rebel Ross.’ All about how he was the first generation not to go into the family business. He wanted to strike out on his own. The implication was that he and his father were like two stags fighting over their territory, although given the way Miller Active has grown I’m assuming he has proved himself by now. There was a lot about the family. Grandmother—can’t remember her name. Jane, maybe? No, it was Jean. His father is Douglas, still at the helm of Glen Shortbread. His mother is Glenda, she’s been involved with the business from time to time, although I’m not sure she still is. There are three children—Ross, obviously. He’s the eldest. Then Alice, who is a doctor, and Clemmie, who—I don’t know what she does.”
Maya was staring. “How do you remember all that?”
“I have a good memory for useless facts.” She wasn’t going to tell them the truth. That the article had stuck in her mind because she’d had serious family envy.
There had been photographs of the family estate in the Scottish Highlands, showing ancient trees and herds of deer and their baronial home, Miller Lodge, with its gardens sloping down to a deep loch. There had been glossy photos of the whole family gathered around a roaring log fire, their world-famous shortbread piled on an antique plate on a table in front of them. Who had been in that photo? She couldn’t remember. She’d been too busy gazing at their big, perfect family and envying their perfect life. They’d all been smiling. Even the dogs had looked contented. The message was that no matter what happened in life they had each other, and their gorgeous home. After she’d salivated over the picture, she’d ripped out those pages and thrown them away because no good ever came from wanting what you couldn’t have. Now she wished she’d kept them. It would have been a good place to start with her research.
“I’m impressed.” Arnie seemed cheered by her response. “Background is important, we all know that. Context. Where does a client come from? What does he need? These are the questions we ask ourselves. They’re the questions you’re going to be asking yourselves when you come up with ideas for a campaign. That’s the challenge. I’m hearing a rumor that Ross Miller has reached out to a few agencies. He wants to shake things up.”
“He’s invited us to pitch?”
“Not exactly.” Arnie shuffled some papers. “But he would, if he knew how good we were. We need to grab his attention. We need to find a way to do that. We need to be the ones to give him what he needs.”
Lucy thought back to that article. It seemed to her that Ross Miller already had everything he needed.
“Doesn’t Miller Active use Fitzwilliam Cooper?”
“Yes, but their last campaign was uninspired. That’s just my opinion, obviously, but that doesn’t mean I’m not right. Miller Active has a strong customer base, but seem unable to expand beyond that. They’re going to be shopping around in the New Year. They need us. And it’s our job—” Arnie waved a hand at the team seated around the table “—to persuade them of that fact. Over the next few weeks, I want you to come up with some ideas that will blow them away. Then we need to find a way to get those ideas in front of Ross Miller. It will be our number one priority for the New Year.”
“This is one for Ted,” Lucy said. “He lives at the gym.”
Maya leaned back in her chair. “He’s not going to be going to the gym for a while or Sophie will kill him.”
“We have to assume that Ted is out of the picture, but we can handle this without him.”
“I love their yoga pants, if that helps,” Maya said. “They’re the only ones that don’t move when you do downward dog. But somehow I don’t think I can build a whole campaign out of that.”
“We’ll figure it out.” Arnie gathered up his files and his laptop. “The timing is good. Everyone thinks about fitness in January, right? We’ve all stuffed ourselves over the festive period. Turkey. Multiple family meals.”
Lucy kept her expression neutral. “It’s true that there is a focus on health and fitness in January.”
“All we have to do is find a unique angle, and that’s what we’re good at.”
Maybe. But a sports client? Why did it have to be a sports client?
If gym membership was what it was going to take to save Arnie’s company, she was doomed.
An idea exploded into her head out of nowhere. Maybe the perfect idea.
She opened her mouth and closed it again. Maybe it wasn’t a perfect idea. She needed to think about it, work it through in her head. But still…
She was definitely onto something.
Ross Miller hadn’t built a successful business in a competitive space by being predictable. When he’d started out there was no way he could outspend the big brands, so he’d chosen to outsmart them and that approach had seen his business grow faster than all predictions.
Arnie was right. Whatever they came up with, had to be creative and the idea bubbling in her brain was certainly a little different.
People started to file out of the meeting room, except for Arnie, who was checking his phone.
Lucy stood up and headed to the coffee machine. She poured two cups and took one to him. Now that she was close, she could see that his face was pale. “Have you taken something for that indigestion? Maybe I shouldn’t give you this coffee.”
“Give me the coffee. The indigestion will pass, I’m sure.” He took the coffee and caught her eye. “What?”
“I’m worried about you.”
“Why? I’m fine. Never better.”
It was tough, Lucy thought, keeping up an act. No one knew that better than she did.
“Everyone has gone. It’s just you and me. You can be honest.”
His shoulders sagged. “There’s no fooling you, is there? I’m worried, that’s true. But all we can do is our best. I’m going to reach out to a few more contacts this afternoon. It will be all right, I’m sure it will. Next year will be better. It has to be better.”
“About Ross Miller—”
“Don’t worry. I know sport isn’t your thing,” Arnie said. “It was just an idea. Grasping at straws. Even if we came up with an idea that was a game changer, Ross Miller is a tough cookie. I doubt he’s going to give us a meeting or agree to hear our pitch. He has always used the big names. We’re not on his approved agency list.”
“Then we need to get ourselves on that list.”
She was not going to give up. And she wasn’t going to let him give up, either.
“We can do this, Arnie.”
“That’s the spirit.” He managed a smile. “You’re not to worry. If the worst happens, I can make some calls and you’ll be in another job before the day is out.”
“I don’t want another job.”
“I know.” He put the coffee down untouched. “You and I go back a long way, Lucy. And frankly that makes me feel worse. We have so many loyal and wonderful people in this company and I’ve let you down. We should have spread our net wider. We relied on a few big accounts, instead of taking on multiple small ones. It has left us vulnerable, and that’s on me.”
It was typical of Arnie to take responsibility. Typical of him to blame himself and not others.
“You’re not responsible for the economy and world events, Arnie. You’re brilliant.”
“Not so brilliant.” He gave a tired smile. “Anyway, enough of that. How are you doing, Lucy? I know this is a difficult enough time of year for you without all these additional worries.”
“I’m doing fine, thanks.” Now she was the one putting on an act, but that was fine. The last thing he needed was to listen to her problems on top of everything else. “You’ve been working too hard. Maybe you should go home.”
“Too much to do.” He rubbed his hand across his chest again. “I need to make some calls. Start putting together some ideas ready for January.”
“Right.” But if major agencies were going to be pitching to Miller Active in the New Year, they needed to get in front of Ross Miller before that. He was known to be a workaholic. Surely he wasn’t going to waste time partying around the Christmas tree?
She left the room and when she glanced back she saw Arnie slumped in a chair at the head of the long empty table, his head in his hands.
Feeling sick for him, she headed to the watercooler. She was going to do whatever she could to fix this, and not only because this job was the one thing in her life that was good and stable.
Maya was leaning against the wall, swallowing down an entire cup of water. “Sorry.” She stood to one side when she saw Lucy. “Fear makes me thirsty. I’m pretending this is gin. What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to go after new accounts, starting with Miller Active. What we’re not going to do is panic.” At least not outwardly. She was keeping all her panic carefully locked inside.
“If you’re serious about Miller Active then you should be in a panic. Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with? Ross Miller has a black belt in three different martial arts. He can ski. He’s a killer in the boxing ring. He sailed across the Atlantic. He has muscles in all the right places.”
“When have you ever seen his muscles?”
“In photos.” Maya put her cup down. “He did some fitness challenge for charity last summer—trust me, I would have handed over my credit card happily.”
“You have nothing but debt on your credit card. And what does any of this have to do with pitching?”
“I love you to bits, but your exercise program is couch to kitchen. Is there any chance I can turn you into an exercise fanatic before January so we can increase your credibility? Or give you any credibility at all?”
“I don’t need to be an exercise fanatic.”
Maya frowned. “Why? This is a fitness account. Sportswear. The brief is to expand their customer base. No offense, Lucy, but do you even own yoga pants?”
“No. But in this case it’s going to work to my advantage.” Lucy helped herself to water. “Think about it. Ross Miller wants new customers. What is the profile of a new customer? Not someone like Ted, who is already a convert. It’s people like me, who would never go near a gym. What would it take to make me buy a pair of sexy workout leggings and show up for a morning weights session?”
“I honestly can’t answer that,” Maya said. “Knowing you, I’m guessing it would take something major.”
“The Miller account is major.”
“Lucy, I’m your biggest admirer but be realistic. The major agencies are pitching. This is the big time. How would you begin to compete?”
“By being smarter than they are, and by getting ahead of them.”
“But it’s Christmas.”
“Exactly. It’s the perfect time to work.”
“For you, maybe, but not for most people. And probably not for Ross Miller.” Maya hesitated. “Look, about Christmas—I’ve already told you, you can come and spend it with Jenny and me. It’s our first Christmas in the new place. Jenny’s mother is joining us, and her brother. Not her dad because he still can’t bear seeing the two of us together and I don’t want to spend Christmas with a knot in my stomach.”
“Don’t be. I’ve never been happier, that’s the truth, and if some family tension is the price I have to pay then I’ll gladly pay it. And we’d love to have you.”
“It’s a kind offer and I appreciate it, but no thanks.” She knew Christmas would be rough. She didn’t want to inflict her misery on anyone else, and pretending to be fine when you weren’t fine became exhausting after a while. Her Christmas gift to herself would be to give herself permission to feel horrible.
Maya sighed. “Lucy—”
“I’m fine, honestly. I’m going to be busy with work.” She didn’t mention her conversation with Arnie. If the team knew how worried he was, they’d worry even more than they already were. What was the point of ruining everyone’s Christmas? It would be better for the team to return from their holidays well rested and optimistic. “I’m going to come up with a plan to get us in front of Ross Miller.”
“I can’t bear to think of you on your own and working over Christmas.”
“I’m thrilled to be working. It will make the whole thing so much easier.”
This would be her second Christmas alone. Third, if you counted the one she’d spent with her grandmother in hospital although Arnie had been by her side for that one. She’d survived the others. She’d survive this one. Work would be just the distraction she needed.
“Christmas is just one day, Maya. This year I’m going to be too busy even to notice it.” She’d been dreading Christmas, but at least now she had a purpose. “I’m going to find out everything there is to know about the Miller family and Ross Miller in particular, and I’m going to secure a meeting with him before the other agencies have even swallowed their first helping of turkey. And then we are going to knock him dead with our brilliance.”
“I’m assuming you don’t mean that literally.” Maya didn’t look convinced. “The competition are big players. They’re motivated.”
Lucy thought about Arnie, sitting with his head in his hands. She thought about Ted and his new baby. About Maya spending her first Christmas in her new flat. She thought about her own situation. “I’m one step further on than motivated. I’m desperate.” Desperate for Arnie. Desperate for her colleagues. Desperate for herself.
“That’s all very well,” Maya said, “but how are you going to get yourself in front of Ross Miller?”
“That’s something I’m—” Lucy stopped as she heard Rhea shout her name. She turned. “What?”
“Come quickly!” Rhea was breathless and pale. “Arnie has collapsed. The paramedics are on their way. Oh, Lucy, this is terrible!”