Friday, March 07, 2008

Sneak preview of Fashionistas: Irina

I promised a sneak preview of Irina and here it is! I can't wait for you guys to get hold of a copy of this book, especially as there's a very special guest star who may well make you squeal out loud. As ever, though the book isn't officially released for a week or so, there are copies already for sale. This is because unless you're JK Rowling, book shop staff usually start putting books on the shelf as soon as they come in, never mind the actual date of publication. And it really boosts my first week sales so I've learnt not to mind. One last thing, if you have read the book ahead of the release date, please try not to give spoilers away in your comments. Anyway, on to Irina:

Irina checked the pocket of her coat again for the bulky but reassuring weight of the bolt cutters, and cast an anxious look at Sergei who was chattering animatedly to the two glacially unimpressed sales assistants

She scanned the rails for the black silk dress that Sergei's client had requested. This was the bit that Irina hated the most because she could never tell the difference between silk and satin, charcoal and grey. Actually the part she hated the most was setting foot in Kitai-gorod where everyone looked at her shabby clothes and knew that she didn't belong, even wearing the voluminous fur coat that Sergei had stolen from his grandmother.

There were three black silk dresses hanging from one rail; so understated and elegant that Irina was convinced they'd disintegrate from one touch of her grubby fingers. She grabbed the collar of the first dress, checked the size and reached into her pocket for the cutters.

"You're gorgeous," she heard Sergei say behind her. "You ever think of being a model?"

Irina scowled. She knew that he was only flirting to distract the salesgirls. And she also knew that guys like Sergei with his twinkling blues eyes and easy smile weren't interested in girls like her. But still, it was pathetic the way the sales assistants were fawning over him now, even though he looked just as out of place in their stupid, ritzy boutique as she did.

Her fingers were shaking as she manoeuvred the bolt cutters carefully between the stem of the security tag and the delicate material. Not because she was scared. Irina wasn't scared of anything but Sergei was laying it on too thick now and their cover could get blown.

"Wow! I've never seen such beautiful women." Irina shifted to one side so she could glare at the simpering sales staff and make sure that a well-dressed couple were between her and the security guard stationed at the door. Sergei would punch him when she ran for the exit, Irina assured herself as she tried to cut through the thick plastic tag.

But then Sergei's phone started ringing.

"Lilya, baby, I'm a little busy right now. Can I call you back?"

Lilya was tiny and blonde and punctuated everything she said with a high-pitched giggle. Irina yanked impatiently at the dress, which gave up the fight and tore under her impatient fingers.

She swore softly under her breath. Keep calm. Keep calm. One black silk dress was much like any other. Irina seized the next one on the rail, vaguely aware that the guard was walking towards Sergei who was badgering one of the girls to open a glass display case. They could get 1000 rubles for Prada sunglasses. It wasn't part of the plan but that's what she liked about Sergei – he was so spontaneous, so exciting and so very about to get busted.

"Leave the store now," the guard ordered tersely. "Out, or we press the panic button."

He hadn't seen her yet. Irina fumbled with the cutters again, heard Sergei remonstrate with the staff.

She felt her body grow clammy, beads of sweat popping up on her forehead as a hand clamped down on her shoulder. "Any second now, that security guard is going to see you," a voice advised her. "If I were you I'd leave the dress and come with us."

Us? The well-dressed couple had her book-ended. Irina's eyes darted wildly around and came to rest on the man's polished black shoes. He spoke Russian with an accent. The woman was younger, blonde, elegantly dressed in a soft leather coat and staring at Irina incredulously. What a bitch!

"Go away," she spat loud enough that the security guard slowly swung round. "I'm not going anywhere with you."

She could already see Sergei sidling towards the door, not even bothering to look back and check that she was OK. Then he was gone, an indistinct blur streaking past the window and she was on her own with the guard striding towards her. They didn't carry guns, Irina was pretty sure about that. Not here where the rich came to shop. Though you could never tell with the private security firms.

Irina tried to put the dress back on the rail; wrinkling it in her sweaty hands, messing it up like she did everything. "I… I…" the words were stuck in her throat, but the woman was calmly shielding her from view, taking the bolt cutters out of Irina's hands and dropping them into a capacious Gucci tote.

"Do something, Henri," she hissed in English. "And do it quickly."

Henri was already pushing Irina towards the sales desk. He presented the dress that she'd already torn with a flourish. "I'm terribly sorry but my niece has had a small accident. We'll pay for it, of course."

Irina waited until he was taking a credit card out of his wallet, before she bolted, the worn soles of her trainers skidding across the highly polished marble floor, but the blonde woman was blocking her exit.

"Don't even think about it," she rapped out. "Just stay there and smile and remember to thank your 'uncle' for getting you out of this mess."

Her 'uncle' had a stiff cardboard bag in his hand, as he nodded his head at the staff before hurrying over to them. "Let's get the hell out of here," he gritted between clenched teeth as they bundled Irina out of the door.

"What do you want from me?" she demanded brusquely, trying to wrench away from them as soon as they got outside. "You want me to pay you back for the dress, huh? How do you want me to do that?"

She knew about rich tourists. There were girls that hung around on the edges of Sergei's gang who'd come into the city and go to the fancy bars attached to the biggest hotels. They came back the next day with tearstains, bruised lips and fistfuls of dollars.

The woman was pulling Irina into the weak sunshine spilling down on Tretyakov Drive. There was nowhere to hide from two pairs of beady eyes that swept over the moth-eaten fur coat, the grubby tracksuit bottoms and trainers poking out from under the hem and Irina's face. Her stupid, sallow face with the blotchy brown marks all over it.

Irina sized them up – the woman could easily be knocked over, but Henri was tall and she could feel the tensile strength in his hand as he kept a tight grip on her arm. "I didn't ask you to pay for the dress," Irina insisted again.

It was like her words were made out of air. They simply brushed them away and continued to stare at her.

"Have you ever seen cheekbones like hers?" the woman said in English because they thought she was some dumb hick. "And she's tall."

"Thin too," the man added, actually daring to pull back the side of her coat, even as Irina hissed at him. "Rangy, she's got long legs."

Any moment now, Sergei would roar up on his bike. Except Sergei was probably halfway to St Petersburg by now and Irina was on her own. They didn't know that she could speak English and that was something at least that she could use to her advantage. Maybe even take the woman's bag while she was at it.

All Irina needed was to come up with a plan while they talked about her like she was a slab of meat on the butcher's block.

"I wonder how she photographs," the woman was saying and Irina couldn't help the shudder that ran through her. Everyone knew a girl who'd gone off to Sweden or Germany or Switzerland with a rich foreigner who'd promised her a passport and they were never heard of again. Sergei said that they got sold into prostitution rings. They'd sit there wide-eyed, listening to him go into lurid details. Then he'd ruffle Irina's hair. "Not like you have to worry about that," he'd say. "You'd have to pay them." And they'd all laugh. And Irina would laugh too, though actually she didn't think it was that funny.

"I'm going now," she said decisively, because the icy panic washing over her was making it hard to think clearly. "Get your hands off me or I'll scream."

She'd never screamed in her life but they didn't know that.

But they weren't letting go, instead the man nodded and the woman turned to her with a smile. "Tell me something, have you ever thought about being a model?"

1 comment:

szeying said...

I didnt like irina when i was reading hadley and laura, but she's great! The pace of the book is amazing and kept me going all the way.=) awesome!