This story is set before Rich, Benson Security 5.
“Have we got everything?” Elle Roberts asked as she entered Rachel’s pricey apartment building that faced London’s Hyde Park.
“Aye.” Megan Raast glared at her. “We have literally everything. Why the hell we need all this crap, I do not know, but we have it.”
“I explained this already.” Elle held the foyer door open for Megan, who was carrying their educational supplies. “Rachel has some gaps in her education and, as her friends, it’s our responsibility to help fill them.”
“Rachel doesn’t have friends,” Isobel McKay said as she carried in a bakery box. “She has minions. She tells me so every time I invite her to something. It’s usually followed by: I don’t socialize with minions.”
Elle waved the comment off. “She just doesn’t know how to be friendly. I don’t think she’s ever had any friends.”
“She has Harry.” Julia Barone entered last, carrying a portable whiteboard and easel.
Harry Boyle was a tech genius and one of the partners in Benson Security. Before that, though, he’d run a programing company with Rachel. Or, to be more accurate, he’d started a company and brought Rachel on board. She’d promptly taken over, leaving Harry to do as he was told. Yet, for some reason, the big loveable geek considered Rachel to be his best friend. The mind boggled.
“Harry doesn’t count. I’m talking about girl friends.” Honestly, it was like trying to get kids to visit the dentist. “She needs to learn how to interact with other women.”
“Why?” Megan asked after she’d told the concierge they were there to visit Rachel. News that seemed to stun the man. “She’s happy. We’re happy. Why ruin it? And I take offense at saying Harry isn’t a girl. He’s more girly than I am.”
Dressed in blue jeans, black t-shirt and black biker jacket, the blonde definitely looked badass. What she didn’t look was male. So she could probably beat Harry in a fight, but that was only because Harry was too honorable to hit a woman. And because Megan fought dirty.
“I’m not going to debate the manliness of your cousin.” Again. “Rachel needs us. She just doesn’t know it. That’s why we’re here.”
“Isn’t this something the single women among us could do on their own?” Isobel asked hopefully. “The rest of us have other things to do on a Friday night.”
“Better things.” Megan agreed. “Sexy things.”
Elle glared at the two Scottish women. “Just because I’m the only single one here doesn’t mean I don’t have a life.”
“Oh,” Julia said. “What do you normally do on a Friday?”
If it had been anyone except shy, caring Julia who’d asked the question, Elle would have assumed sarcasm, hacked their bank accounts and cancelled all their cards. But Julia didn’t have a sarcastic bone in her body.
Megan on the other hand was ninety percent sarcasm and ten percent reckless stupidity. “Aye, what do you normally do on a Friday night, Elle? Do tell.”
“I get together with friends for an evening filled with fun and adventure.”
“And where does this fun happen?” Megan asked with a smirk. “A nightclub? A West End show? Day tripping to Paris, perhaps?”
“It happens online.” Elle puffed a strand of her neon blue hair out of her eyes. “I go on gaming quests with my team on Fridays. It’s social. It’s just social stuff I can do in my own living room, in my Pjs. What does Rachel do? Huh? Nothing. Because she avoids her family, has no friends, and doesn’t know how to play well with others. She needs us. Now stop whining and get upstairs. Her majesty granted us an audience.”
She pointed to the poor concierge who’d had to call Rachel and ask if she wanted to see them. His face was red and he was visibly sweating.
“Don’t worry,” Isobel told him. “She has that effect on everybody.”
As they bundled into the lift, Elle continued her lecture. “You guys don’t understand Rachel because you were born into a sister network. Isobel has three of them, Megan has a twin, and Julia has Belinda. Rachel and I don’t have sisters to take up the slack where female friends would be. Trust me, she needs our help.”
Megan reached into a bag and pulled out a remastered copy of Star Wars IV (or one, depending on whether you went by storyline or release date). “How is this going to help Rachel understand female friendship?”
Elle couldn’t believe her ears as she gaped at Megan. “Seriously? It’s Star Wars.”
Three blank faces confronted her as the lift doors opened. Elle strode out.
“Again, I ask,” Megan said as she followed. “Star Wars?”
“I don’t have time to educate everybody in one evening. Tonight, Rachel is the priority. I’ll sort you lot out another day. But just so you know, I despair of all of you. And put that back in the bag. Star Wars is part of the advanced program. We’re starting with something simpler. I only brought that in case of emergency.” Elle lifted her hand to knock on Rachel’s door, but it swung open before she could.
Rachel Ford-Talbot, the independently wealthy heir to a pharmaceutical company and relative of the Queen, cocked an eyebrow at them. “Why are you here?”
She was dressed in black silk lounge pajamas, her dark hair piled on top of her head, and there was a glass of white wine in her hand.
“Oh good.” Elle nodded at the wine. “You’ve already started.” She walked into the apartment as though Rachel wasn’t blocking their way. Fortunately, Rachel took a step back and Elle didn’t collide with her.
“Started what?” Rachel frowned after her as the other women filed into the room.
“Girls’ night.” Elle beamed at her.
Rachel continued to frown. “I thought we’d agreed not to do this.”
“No, you said you didn’t want to do this, but none of us agreed.” Elle corrected her.
“I agreed,” Megan said. “I wouldn’t even be here tonight, but Elle threatened to cancel my credit card unless I came along.”
“Elle,” Rachel said, “why are we having a girls’ night? In my home. Without my permission. Or interest.”
“I’m glad you asked.” Elle pulled bottles of wine out of one of the bags she carried and put them on Rachel’s pristine kitchen counter. Just one of the many pristine areas in the monochromatic open-plan living area. “Remember a while back when I explained to you how female friendship worked and you stared at me like I was an amoeba?”
“No.” Rachel sipped her wine.
“And that’s why we’re here. You need a refresher course.” She carefully retrieved a platter from her other bag and peeled back the foil covering. “Don’t worry, this will be fun. We have a charcuterie board, wine and cake. Show her the cake, Isobel.”
The diminutive Scot placed her box on the counter and set about freeing the chocolate cake within it. “I don’t think this is going to work,” she hissed at Elle. “We should leave. She can keep the wine.” She paused. “I’m taking the cake.”
“Nobody’s leaving,” Elle said. “We’re going to have a lovely evening together. Right, Rachel?”
“No.” Rachel swung the front door wide. “Please leave.”
Julia sent a panicked look Elle’s way before frantically folding up the easel she’d just set up.
“Don’t you dare.” Elle pointed a finger at Julia. “Get that whiteboard set up. We’re doing this. And you,” she pointed at Rachel, “you’re going to learn something this evening, whether you like it or not. Lesson one: when your female friends come around with food and entertainment, you’re obligated to tolerate them. That’s what friends do. They tolerate each other’s crap. Got it?”
Rachel lifted her chin in disdain. “There seems to be a flaw in your logic. I don’t have female friends.”
“Good try, but it won’t work.” Megan sank into one of the overstuffed and very white sofas. “Just give in, suffer through the next couple of hours, and it should be enough to get her off our backs for at least three months. It’s either that or have her hack your life until you go insane trying to untangle the mess she makes. Elle is a devious little blue-haired hacker monkey.”
“I don’t give in to blackmail,” Rachel said.
“You say blackmail.” Elle smiled as she wrestled the chocolate cake from Isobel so she could slice it up. “I say enforced friendship. Now, grab a plate and help yourselves to food and wine. We’ve got a video to watch.”
With a disgusted sigh, Rachel swung the door shut. “Two hours. Then I go to bed, whether you’re here or not.”
“See?” Elle beamed at her. “You’re already being more friendly. Well done.”
“Somebody please give me alcohol,” Megan whined. “Don’t bother with a glass, just hand me the bottle.”
Rachel had made her way into the kitchen area and was reading the label on one of the wine bottles. “This isn’t wine. It’s vinegar.” She opened the peddle-bin marked recycling and dropped it inside.
“Rachel!” Elle was seriously beginning to lose her famous patience. “There’s nothing wrong with the wine. Put it back on the counter.”
“I can’t. It’s an insult to my kitchen.” She tossed another bottle into the bin along with the first one.
“Fine.” Grinding her teeth, Elle yanked open the door to Rachel’s wine fridge and helped herself to two random bottles. She opened them before Rachel could return them to the fridge.
“You’re paying for those,” Rachel said.
“Does emotional suffering count?” Elle poured herself a large glass. “If it does, consider this covered in full.”
She knocked back the wine. “Wow, this is so much better than the stuff I bought.” She read the label – Paper Nautilus, Sauvignon Blanc. She wondered how many bottles Rachel had stocked in her nifty fridge. And then she wondered how many she’d miss if Elle took some home.
“It should be. I imported it from New Zealand.” Rachel frowned at her. “You’re supposed to savor the taste, not drink it like tap water. Were you raised in a zoo?”
Julia cleared her throat. “Should I put the board away now?”
“No!” Elle snapped as she refilled her glass. She took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Please put the DVD marked lesson one into Rachel’s player. It’s in Megan’s bag.”
As Julia hurried to retrieve the DVDs, Isobel stared at the sofa in horror.
“I forgot about the white furniture. I can’t sit on that to eat chocolate cake!” She gestured to her flower-covered dress. “There’s a reason I wear patterns and prints. It’s to hide food stains.”
“For the love of Prada,” Rachel said. “Civilized people don’t need to wear bibs to eat cake.”
“Julia,” Elle said through clenched teeth. “Could you fetch a chair from the dining area for Isobel.”
“Good idea.” Julia headed for the recessed eating area. “They’re black.”
“Please don’t place her on the rug,” Rachel drawled.
“I’m still waiting for my wine,” Megan said. “Any wine. Even the vinegar. I’m not fussy. As long as it has an alcohol content, I’ll drink it.”
“That’s it!” Elle exploded as she stomped into the middle of room. She put her hands on the hips of her bright yellow skater dress and stamped a lavender Dr Martens boot on the wooden floor. “I know you lot just wanted to hang out, but educating Rachel is important. And we will have fun doing it, even if it kills me. There will be no whining. No arguing. No complaining. No sarcasm. Do you understand what I’m saying? One more negative word from any of you and I’m taking my laptop out of its bag. Trust me, you don’t want me to do that. Because, in this mood, I will shred every single area of your online lives. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Elle,” Isobel and Julia said demurely.
“Whatever.” Megan got off the sofa. “I’ll get my own wine.”
“Two hours.” Rachel curled up in one of the huge armchairs. “Then I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t get chocolate cake on the furniture. Or swim. I don’t want to wake up and see you waving at me through the bottom of the pool.”
“Still deeply disturbed about a glass-bottomed pool over your bed,” Megan said as she sauntered back with a bottle of wine. “But seeing as you can’t drown a witch, I’m sure you’ll be fine if it breaks.”
“Right,” Elle said before anyone else could speak. “Tonight, we’re going to examine one of the greatest friendships in television history to see what lessons can be learned for our own friendships.” She glared at Rachel. “Which we all have.”
“Apparently even when we don’t want them.” Rachel reached for her phone, which sat on the table beside her chair.
“Hell no.” Elle scooped up the iPhone. “This is confiscated until we’re done.”
Rachel narrowed her eyes. “I’m going to make you suffer for this.”
“It’s always nice to have something to look forward to. Now stop talking so we can have fun.” Elle took a deep breath. “I’ve compiled a variety of scenes from one of my favorite shows. After each scene, Julia is going to write what we’ve learned about female friendship on the board and we can chat about it. At the end of the evening, we can take photos of the board to refer to in the future.”
“I know I’m inexperienced at this friendship thing,” Rachel said. “But does it usually involve homework?”
“I’m going to need more wine.” Megan took a long drink from her bottle. “Man, this is goooood.”
“And expensive. So please stop chugging it like it’s cheap beer on a hen night pub crawl.”
“You know what a hen night is?” Isobel said. “I’m so proud.”
“Don’t speak with your mouth full,” Rachel replied.
“Everybody stop talking and watch the DVD before you completely ruin what’s supposed to be a fun-filled night.” Elle pointed the remote at the massive screen above Rachel’s fireplace. “This clip shows the way our two friends support each other when one of their boyfriends turns into an evil soulless vampire.” She pressed start.
Megan groaned. “We’re watching Buffy? What happened to Star Wars? Can’t we watch that instead?”
“Less chit-chat, more listening,” Elle snapped. “There will be a test.”
“I’m going to need extra cake for this,” Isobel said as she headed to the kitchen.
“Elle,” Julia whispered, “should I make notes as we watch?”
“And to think I could have been reading the new Sandra Brown novel, with a nice glass of wine, in my own people-free apartment,” Rachel said.
“One. More. Word.” Elle threatened. “Just one. And I get my laptop. In fact, any noise at all and I’m booting it up. All I want to hear is the TV.”
There was silence.
With a sigh, Elle sank back into the sofa at the other end from Megan and smiled at the screen, where Willow was comforting Buffy after Angel turned bad. Only ten more clips to get through. They could do it.