Staying at Daisy's

By: Jill Mansell

Chapter 1

In the absence of a gavel, Hector MacLean seized a heavy glass ashtray and rattled it against the mahogany-topped bar.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. Quiet at the back there, you Aussie riffraff. I feel the need to propose a toast. Over here, darling, over here.’ Beckoning Daisy towards him, he slung an arm round her waist. ‘And now would you all raise your glasses ... to my beautiful daughter.’

‘To your beautiful daughter,’ chorused everyone in the room, causing Daisy to roll her eyes.

Honestly, did he have to be quite so embarrassing?

‘You missed a bit out,’ she told him. ‘What you actually meant to say was "To my beautiful, intelligent and staggeringly hard-working daughter, without whom this hotel would crumble and go out of business within a week."‘

‘All that. Absolutely. Goes without saying.’ Hector gestured expansively with his tumbler of Glenmorangie. ‘Everyone here already knows that. Just as they know you’re also stubborn, bossy and incredibly lacking in modesty. But I’m still proud of you. Considering all you ever did at school was smoke and play truant, and your mother and I never thought you’d amount to anything, you’ve turned out pretty well. And now, for my next toast, I’d like you all to raise your glasses once more to dear old Dennis.’

‘Dear old Dennis,’ they all bellowed back at him, even those guests who hadn’t the foggiest idea who Dennis was. That was the thing about Hector MacLean, his enthusiasm and joie de vivre was infectious.

As usual, Daisy marvelled, and in no time at all, a quiet gathering for a few drinks had turned into an impromptu, rip-roaring party. It wouldn’t be long now before her father called for his accordion and got the dancing underway. The fact that they were all supposed to be taking advantage of these few relatively peaceful days — the Christmas guests having departed and the New Year’s Eve ones yet to arrive — was of no consequence to Hector. The fact that it was December the twenty-eighth was, as far as he was concerned, a good enough reason to celebrate. Why take it easy when you could be having fun?

Daisy, glad that her spritzer was nine-tenths soda water, eased herself onto a bar stool while her father greeted a couple of late arrivals as though they were his dearest friends.

‘At last! How marvellous! Listen, we’re in danger of having a bit of a knees-up — either of you two handy with a piano?’

One of the Australians materialised at Daisy’s side as she was busily lining her empty stomach with cashews and roasted almonds. Not ideal, but better than nothing.

‘Your dad’s a character. When this place was recommended to us, we thought Jeez, some old country house hotel full of la-di-da tweedy women and pompous old colonel types, no way. But our friends promised us it wasn’t like that here, and they were right. This place is great.’

‘You may change your mind,’ said Daisy, ‘when my father gets his bagpipes out.’

‘You’re kidding!’ The Australian’s face lit up. ‘He actually plays the bagpipes?’

‘No. He just thinks he can. If you know what’s good for you,’ Daisy whispered, ‘you’ll persuade him to stick with the accordion.’

He laughed, even though she hadn’t been joking.

‘And who’s this other guy we just drank to, dear old Dennis? Is he someone else who works here?’

‘Ah well. Dennis is our benefactor. Without him,’ Daisy explained, ‘we wouldn’t have this hotel.’

‘You mean he owns it?’

Behind the bar, Rocky casually flipped a tumbler into the air and caught it. No one was currently drinking cocktails but he did it anyway. Grinning at Daisy, he began to whistle a catchy tune.

‘You probably know Dennis,’ Daisy told the Australian. Tilting her head in Rocky’s direction she added, ‘If you recognise that song, you definitely know him.’

Standing next to the Australian, Tara Donovan joined in the whistling. The Australian frowned. ‘It’s that kid’s thing, yeah? Dennis the Dashing Dachshund? I’m sorry, you’ve lost me.’

Unable to help themselves — they’d started so they’d finish — Rocky and Tara whistled and jiggled their way through to the end of the song.

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