Wife for a Week

By: Kelly Hunter


HALLIE BENNETT had been selling shoes for exactly one month. One long, mind-numbing month working solo at the exclusive little shoe shop in London’s fashionable Chelsea, and she really didn’t think she’d last another. Back in the storeroom she’d sorted every pair of shoes by designer, then model and finally by size. Out here on the shop floor she’d arranged the stock by colour and within the colours, by function. Dusting and vacuuming? Done. Serving customers? Not yet but, hey, it was only midday.

Hallie picked up the nearest shoe, a pretty leopard-print open-toed sandal with an onyx heel, and tried to figure out why anyone would actually pay three hundred and seventy-five pounds for a pair of them. She dangled it from her fingertips, turned it this way and that before finally balancing it on her palm.

‘So what do you think, shoe? Are we going to cram a sweet size six like you onto a size eight foot today?’

A quick jiggle made the shoe nod.

‘I think so too but what can I do? They never listen. These women wouldn’t be caught dead in a size eight shoe. Now if they were men it’d be different. As far as men are concerned, the bigger the better.’ The door to the shop opened, the bell tinkled, and Hallie hurriedly set the shoe back on its pedestal and turned around.

‘Darling, what a thoroughly daunting shop! I swear, until I saw you talking to that shoe I didn’t dare come in.’

The woman who had spoken was a study in contradictions. Her clothes were pure glamour, and her figure was a triumph over nature considering that she had to be in her late fifties. But her wrinkles were un-ironed, her hair was grey, and her ‘darling’ had been warm, possibly even genuine.

‘Come on in,’ said Hallie with a smile. ‘Look around. Trust me, they never talk back.’

‘Oh, you’re an Australian!’ said the woman, clearly delighted with the notion. ‘I love Australian accents. Such marvellous vowel sounds.’

Hallie’s smile widened, and she spared a glance for the woman’s companion as he followed her into the shop, a glance that automatically upgraded to a stare because, frankly, she couldn’t help it.

As far as women’s fashion accessories went, he was spectacular. A black-haired, cobalt-eyed, dangerous-looking toy who no doubt warned you outright not to bother playing with him if you didn’t like his rules. He was like a Hermès handbag; women saw and women wanted, even though they knew the price was going to be astronomical. And then he spoke.

‘She needs a pair of shoes,’ he said in a deep baritone that was utterly sexy. ‘Something more appropriate for a woman her age.’

‘You’re new at this, aren’t you?’ muttered Hallie before turning to stare down at the woman’s shoes, a stylish pair of Ferragamo man-eaters with a four-inch heel. They were a perfect fit for the woman’s perfectly manicured size-six feet. They were fire-engine red. ‘There is nothing wrong with those shoes,’ said Hallie reverently. ‘Those shoes are gorgeous!’

‘Thank you, dear,’ said the woman. ‘Why a woman turns fifty and all of a sudden certain people to whom she gave birth start thinking she should be wearing orthopaedic shoes is completely beyond me.’ The woman seemed to age ten years as wrinkles creased and unshed tears leached even more colour from eyes that would have once been a bright sparkling blue. ‘Your father would have loved these shoes!’

Ah. It was all starting to make sense. He of the indigo glare was the woman’s son and right now he was in big trouble. ‘Right,’ said Hallie brightly. ‘Well, I’ll just be over by the counter if you need me.’

He moved fast, blocking her escape. ‘Don’t even think of leaving me alone with this woman. Give her some shoes to try on. Anything!’ He picked up the open-toed leopard-print sandal. ‘These!’

‘An excellent choice,’ she said, deftly plucking it from his hand. ‘And a steal at only three hundred and seventy-five pounds. Maybe your mother would like two pairs?’

His eyes narrowed. Hallie smiled back.

‘If only I had something to look forward to,’ said the woman with a sigh that was pure theatre as she sat on the black leather sofa and slipped off her shoes. ‘Grandchildren, for instance. I need grandchildren.’

‘Everyone needs something,’ said her son, looking not at his mother but at her. ‘What do you need?’

‘Another job,’ said Hallie, kneeling to fit the sandals. ‘This one’s driving me nuts.’ She sat back on her heels and surveyed the sandals. ‘They fit you beautifully.’