Whenever Chloe Boyd found herself awake in the dark hours before dawn, it wasn’t existential angst that had her brain churning. Nor was she fretting over her share price, even though, as the CEO of a major media conglomerate, she often carried the weight of the corporate world on her shoulders. Invariably, as the morning light began to filter through the curtains, the only thing that caused Chloe’s stomach to knot was the unspeakable faux pas her husband Toby had committed at dinner the night before.
Despite being an intelligent man with all his own hair and a genius for contemporary architecture, Toby Boyd was better with buildings than people. He simply couldn’t be relied upon to open his mouth in public without something eye-wateringly offensive falling out. Not that his views were especially political – he didn’t lean dangerously to either the left or the right – it was simply that his opinions failed to chime with the rest of the right-thinking world.
Since Brexit the Boyds had managed to fall off so many Christmas card lists that Chloe had bought herself a coffee mug inscribed with “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”. Luckily, she took her husband with an affectionate pinch of salt and found him so wildly entertaining in the company of their own home that she wasn’t too upset when obliged to jettison the dinner-party circuit.
Adept as she was at damage limitation, Chloe had managed not to invite Toby to a single work event since her promotion to CEO. So, when the invitation to Sir Teddy Burlington’s annual charity gala thudded dully onto the doormat, with a gold-embossed indication that she should come plus one, Chloe was besieged with panic. She had spent years trying to get into a room with Sir Teddy. A venerable captain of industry, he was as traditional as tartan slippers, so flying solo was not an option. Though equally, taking her husband could prove to be professional hara-kiri.
At the reception, having read Toby the riot act about the need to acquit himself with unprecedented discretion, Chloe headed off to ingratiate herself with her host. Grabbing the fullest glass of champagne she could find, she left her husband surrounded by women in evening gowns. None of whom were in tears… yet.
However, when she returned from a long and fruitless search for Sir Teddy, she found that the women’s jaunty smiles had been replaced with slack-jawed horror, and that Sir Teddy himself was hastening purposefully towards the scene. Rather than watching the carnage unfold in slow motion, Chloe’s atavistic, cavewoman response was to flee. As she hurried along the corridor towards the powder room, her eye alighted upon a fire alarm on the wall. After a sly glance around, and with not a soul in sight, Chloe whipped off her stiletto and smashed the glass with a blasé tap. Then she watched as the alarm rang out and a vortex of taffeta and tuxedos began swirling into the lobby and towards the revolving doors of the hotel.
In the mêlée, Chloe spotted Toby and grabbed him by the arm.
“Don’t panic, darling, I’m sure it’s not serious.” She calmly followed him out onto the street along with the rest of the party evacuees. Then she watched with palpable relief as Sir Teddy and his wife were bustled into their waiting Bentley.
“Damn shame,” Toby lamented as their car was driven away from the fracas at speed. “That chap and I were getting on like the proverbial hotel on fire.”
“Really, darling?” A triumphant Chloe indulged her husband, having successfully wrested her career from the jaws of death. “How nice for you.”
“Such sound views on everything.” Toby nodded his approbation. “In fact, we hit it off so well he asked us to his shoot in the country next weekend. But the wretched fire alarm went off before we could exchange business cards.” Chloe sank to the pavement in despair. By the time the fire engines screeched to a halt beside them, the only thing to have gone up in smoke was her dream of a glittering partnership with Sir Teddy Burlington.