Something Hidden (Andrew Hunter #2)@Kerry Wilkinson
SIXTEEN MONTHS AGO
Owen glanced up as the bell above the door jangled its greeting.
Nice. Very traditional. He liked that. None of this modern nee-nar nonsense that some of the shops had on the go when customers walked through the door. Newsagents were awful at it, especially on a Sunday morning when hungover people popped in for a paper.
Wendy half-turned as she led the way into the shop, offering him that wonderful grin of hers. Her green eyes met his for a fraction of a second before she twisted back to look where she was going.
Bloody hell, this was really happening.
Her slightly wavy black hair bounced across her shoulders as she offered a small giggle as if to indicate that she couldn’t quite believe what they were doing either. As she continued inside, Owen wrestled the rain-swelled door back into place, standing directly underneath the heater and enjoying the gust of warm air that was battling the October squall.
They were too young to be doing this, weren’t they? That’s what everyone thought, even if they didn’t say it. He’d seen it on the faces of their old university friends when the news was delivered. On the surface it was all smiles, congratulations, and ‘when’s the engagement party?’ Underneath, it was all ‘they’re only twenty-two, why are they getting married?’ Either that, or ‘I’d marry her sharpish too if I was punching above my weight that much.’
Only Owen’s older brother possessed the guts to say what so many others were surely thinking, taking him aside in their old shared bedroom, nodding towards the stack of well-thumbed FHMs in the corner with that laddish smile of his, and asking if Owen was really going to spend the rest of his life sleeping only with Wendy. Or, in his own less-poetic terms, ‘but there’s so many women you haven’t shagged yet . . .’
Despite the heat, Owen shivered as he turned. He was nervous. The whole room was a U-shape of varnished wooden cabinets and glass display cases polished to within millimetres of their existence, all surrounded by pristine green carpet. It was all very neat. Very professional. Very . . . not him. He’d never been into a jewellery shop before. Well, Argos, but that didn’t count.
Wendy skipped her way across the floor and was bent over the cabinet directly across from the front door, peering towards the rows of items they probably couldn’t afford. Owen watched her and broke into a smile of his own. Sod his stupid brother and those un-shagged women – Wendy was worth it. This was happening and, despite his worries over how much it would all cost, Owen was happy.
On the other side of the counter, a man turned away from a workbench to greet them. He smiled thinly, wiping his hands on his stripy red and white apron, then pushed back the remnants of his greying hair, before removing his glasses and allowing them to hang from the chain around his neck. On the bench behind him there were neat rows of tools next to something sparkling that he was fixing.
‘Can I help you?’ he asked.
Wendy looked up from the display case, reaching backwards to take Owen’s hand. He could sense the excitement in her voice. ‘We got engaged last weekend and we’re looking for a ring.’
The man’s grin widened, showing off a set of slightly crooked yellowing teeth. He was either full of the joy that comes when two people find their eternal soulmate, or he sensed a sale. Owen knew which scenario he believed.
‘You’ve come to the right place,’ he said, focusing on Wendy. ‘This is my shop, Sampson’s, and you’ll always receive a personal service here. There’s none of the staff merry-go-round you get in the chains, plus I can resize or reset anything on-site. Most of the other local places send their items out to be worked on externally but I always look after my customers. You’ll also get the best prices. If there’s something you’ve seen elsewhere, I can work with you to recreate any design.’
Wendy giggled again, spinning to face Owen and telling him with a raised eyebrow that she’d made her mind up to buy from here. She always liked the local places and personal touch thing. He was more of a ‘wherever’s cheapest’ kind of guy.
‘I’m Leyton, by the way,’ the shop owner added. ‘Leyton Sampson. Feel free to browse and ask anything you want.’
He stepped back, holding his arms out in pride to indicate the selection, before glancing