On a special little street called Bliss Avenue, exists Bliss department store, formed by the children of rival store owners who fell in love over a century ago and created this magical store where visitors often come away with more than what they bargained for…
It was one of those days—cold, wet and going wrong from the moment Fortune Brennan stepped out of bed and into a delightful wet patch courtesy of the roof her landlord was supposed to have had fixed last month.
What she really wanted to do was climb back in, pull the quilt over her head and hide until life decided to cut her some slack. But snagging her tights, pouring tea down her freshly ironed blouse and spilling a box of cereal on the floor instead of into Millie’s bowl was what the future had in store.
And she had to get Millie to the child minders and herself to her job at Bliss department store before her boss truly did give her the old heave ho. Especially since she had a VIP client coming in at nine a.m. to purchase the perfect gift for his mother, and it wouldn’t do to keep thee Lord Tilsbury waiting.
The thee was courtesy of her boss as she’d stressed his stature upon her.
The slight flush to her cheeks and fluttering in her lower belly were courtesy of his recollected voice from their phone conversation…
It’s deep, throaty quality and crisp intonation was so very easy to listen to—easy and thrilling and wholly inappropriate! She really needed to get its effect under her control, she could hardly impress him if she was a flushing beacon every time he spoke.
And impress him, she must.
Oh god, and now she just sounded like Yoda!
But it was true, she needed him to sing her praises in his high-profile circle to attract new business to the store. Luring them away from the online shopping band wagon and back onto the high street. Where the heart and soul was…
Even Christmas had been bad, and now they were amid the chaos of January sales and instead of struggling with the crush, it was quiet, surreal even…
“Mummy, Mummy!” Millie tugged on her hand to slow her stride. “Wait!”
She looked back at her daughter, tightening her grip on the golf umbrella as the wind tugged at it, whipping the rain beneath its protective shield.
“What is it?” She called over the noise of the cars as they sped by disturbing the puddles in the road and sending great waves of rainwater perilously close.
“I’ve lost Bumble.” Her daughter’s eyes were already welling up, her bottom lip trembling. “I had him and then he was g—gone.”
Oh, no. Her heart plummeted. This couldn’t happen. The last time they’d lost Bumble, Millie hadn’t slept for days. She squinted back in the direction they had come, between the legs of passers-by, off the curb, into the hedgerow…There! She could just make out a tiny glimpse of gold fur jutting out of a bush but before she could say anything Millie was already heading in its direction.
“I see him, Mummy!”
They hurried back and Millie swooped down, grabbing Bumble, the now sodden teddy bear, to her chest. “Poor Bumble, he’s all wet now.”
She gave her daughter a quick kiss to the top of her head. “You, him and me! Come on, we best hurry.”
She was glad she had her trainers on, her heels would never have coped with the pace they needed to keep. As they scampered up the stone steps to Lucy’s flat she checked her watch and rang the bell. She was okay, she just needed to hand Millie over and she would still make it in time.
Except…no one was answering the door. She frowned. Rang the bell again. And again.
“Do you think Lucy is okay, Mummy?”
“I’m sure she’s fine.” She leaned against the glass, trying to peer through the bevelled panes for sign of movement. Nothing.
She tried again just as the window above them opened up. A very pale, very grey Lucy leaned out, her blonde hair sticking out at all angles.
“Oh, Fortune! I’m so sorry. I’ve been trying to ring you…”
Fortune dug inside her pocket for her mobile and sure enough, there were missed calls aplenty, only not once had her phone made a peep. Just another thing going wrong in her ruddy life.
She grimaced up at Lucy. “Sorry, my phone’s on the blink. Is everything okay?”
Of course, it’s not! One look at Lucy told her that her childminder was far from okay.
And in turn, neither was Fortune’s day…
Edward grimaced as the footman of Bliss department store pulled open the door for him and realised rather belatedly that the man would take it as being directed at him. He masked it in a smile and hurried on his way, his focus straight back on his phone call and his disgruntled PA.
“You should have just sent me,” she was saying.
“And have another one of those looks from Mother, no thank you. Besides, it’s her sixtieth, one has to make a special effort.” It was his sister’s words coming out now but deep down he knew she was right.
“And I could have come up with something.”
“I’m sure you would have but I’m here now and I’m sure with the help of…of…”
“Yes, Miss Brennan…” He cast his mind back to his phone conversation with the skilled personal shopper who’d managed to dig into his mother’s interests with a tactful inquisitiveness that had left him decidedly reassured and…strangely warmed. Not to mention her soft-spoken voice with its delicate but very definite Yorkshire twang, and the way she had teased out smile after smile.
“You’ll secure the perfect gift,” his PA finished for him.
“Well…” she gave a soft laugh “…you best be quick about it too; you know what they say about that store?”
His laugh was more of a bark. “You don’t believe in all that.”
“I don’t, others do. Since the store was created, the street with it, many have found themselves coming away with a lot more than just their shopping.”
He ran his finger through his collar. “If you think I’m coming away with a wife, you really don’t know me as well as you ought to.”
“I’ve known you all of your life, Edward, and if there was anyone that needed that kind of magic, it’s you.”
“Carry on like that and you’ll cease being my assistant.”
“Poppy cock, you wouldn’t fire me, it would be like sacking your own mother.”
He shook his head knowing full well she was right.
“And on that note, I will…” His words trailed off, straight ahead at the concierge desk was Miss Brennan herself. At least he assumed it was her. He was right on time and she was most definitely at the desk. But really, he was having a hard time keeping any rational thought going…
Whatever she was doing currently involved bending so far over the high-rise desk that she had one leg bent with a stiletto heel pointing in the air, the other was on precarious tip toe. He was quite concerned she was about to land on her head and while he debated whether it was wise to grip her hips should she indeed go too far; he was being gifted the most amazing sight…
“Eddie? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m here.” And so was the smile Miss Brennan had managed to coax out of him time and time again on their phone call. “I’ll speak to you shortly, Marlene.”
He didn’t catch her signing off as the vision before him spun on her heel with a squeal.
She gulped, pressing both palms back into the desk as a delightful blush crept into her cheeks, setting off the sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose. “Lord Tils—Tilsbury?’
“At your service.”
And where on earth had that ridiculous line come from?
He cleared his throat. “It’s Eddie, please.”
She nodded, her breath seemingly held as she skirted around the desk, not once taking her eyes off him.
“Sir…” she blurted, raising one finger in the air “…just one second and I’ll be right with you.”
She ducked behind the desk, emerging a swift second later with a tablet clutched to her chest.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She brushed her fringe out her eyes and gave him a grin that seemed to reach inside the very heart of him, obliterating his power of speech.
Her lips wavered and she cleared her throat, gesturing to the plush violet sofa off to one side. “If you’ll take a seat, I’d just like to run through some thoughts that I’ve had following our conversation.”
“Of course.” He gave himself the mental slap he needed and followed her to the sofa. She perched herself at one end and he settled back into the other.
She made to speak and stopped. A strange rustling back at the desk had her eyes drifting in its direction and she shot up, her eyes flaring. “Please—please can I offer you a refreshment—coffee, tea, Champagne perhaps?”
He shook his head, his lips quirking at her quick-fire offering and…edginess. It wasn’t often he came across people as uncomposed as Miss Brennan and she’d given no indication that she was quite so…unhinged…on the phone.
“I’m on a tight timescale so if we can just skip ahead.”
“Of course, let’s begin…” Her eyes slid off to the desk before darting back to him, her grin widening as she lowered herself back down. “I’ve made a shortlist of possible ideas and I was thinking…”
This time it was a loud clatter behind the desk, and she was back on her feet with a “Birds!”
His eyes widened, his mouth quirking all the more as he eyed her. “Birds?”
“Yes—yes that’s right…” She pursed her lips as she edged back towards the desk.
“Birds?” He repeated as he found himself standing to follow. She really was quite captivating. Vibrant red hair, green eyes that blazed, cheeks full of colour, the barest of makeup to enhance her features and in the store’s uniform she looked anything but uniform.
She gave a rapid nod. “It certainly jumped out as the most obvious interest your mother has.”
“Yes, she’s very much an ornithologist but I can’t think of anything left to buy that—”
“I like birds too mummy, can I come help look?”
He frowned as he watched Miss Brennan’s face colour further. “I’m really very sorry, Lord Tils—”
“Eddie,” he interjected.
“Eddie, but…” She scanned the shop, the customers and the shop assistants milling around as she sucked in a breath and eyed him with those dancing green eyes. “I had a slight…erm…childcare issue this morning and my—my daughter has…well, she’s sort of here with me.”
His eyes fell to her left hand, to the bare ring finger and she seemed to follow his trail of thinking.
“There’s just me and Millie, and so I—I didn’t have any choice but to bring her. I didn’t want to cancel our appointment. I know how important this present is for you, your mother, and I really do have some lovely items to show you.”
“And I know all about presents for Mummy’s!” piped up the disembodied voice.
Miss Brennan looked behind the desk with what looked to be a mix of affection and panic and he had the oddest need to face the little stowaway.
“May I be introduced?”
Her eyes narrowed and she bit the inside of her lips. “To my daughter?”
“If that’s okay?”
She hesitated, her eyes going to the shopfloor once more and then she reached behind the desk. A small hand took hold of hers and out stepped a mini version of the woman before him. He’d place her at five, maybe six, and her grin was wide, her eyes as green as her mother’s.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Millie.” He bowed down and offered out his hand which she took in a grip that was far firmer than he would have expected.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you too.” She leaned into him, her eyes sparkling as she whispered suspiciously, “Are you a friend of Mummy’s?”
A chuckle rumbled up through him, drowning out her mother’s choked cough. “You know, I think I’d like to be.”
“I think she’d like to be yours too.”
“Miss Brennan, what the devil?!”
“Ms Woollcott!” Her mother paled in an instant, her body rigid as she stared past him to their new arrival and he turned to face her too.
Blonde hair in a tight bun, several layers of makeup and an expression that one could only describe as a bulldog chewing on a wasp. His eyes dipped to the name tag on her jacket: Ah, the store manager.
“This is Lord Tilsbury,” Miss Brennan hurried out. “My 9am.”
He served up his most charming smile. “Ah, I hope you don’t mind Ms Woollcott, but Miss Brennan and her daughter are helping me choose a gift for my mother.”
“Miss Brennan and…” her gaze swept over all three of them. “Well, I…this is quite unorthodox.”
“But then so is my mother and when Miss Brennan mentioned she had a daughter who shared a similar interest, I must admit I was intrigued; I hope you can see fit to let them continue.”
“You have to admit it’s not many stores that offer such a personal service in this day and age.”
“Well, no, quite.” She straightened, clasping her hands together. “In that case, I’ll leave you to it.”
“Wonderful. I’ll be sure to pay for the additional service.”
Her laugh was high, school-girl like, as colour bloomed beneath the heavy blusher, “That won’t be necessary, Lord Tilsbury. Nothing is too much trouble at Bliss.”
Bliss Avenue and its love stories. He considered Marlene’s very recent tease. Maybe there was something in it after all…and maybe, just maybe the magic of Bliss Avenue was going to his head…or rather the magic of one Miss Brennan and her equally enthralling daughter.
He watched the manager leave before turning to face them. “Since Ms Woollcott won’t take any extra money, perhaps you would both consider a dinner date instead?”
“But—but you haven’t even seen the items I’ve chosen.”
He smiled at her. “Something tells me whatever you’ve picked out will be perfect, Miss Brennan.”
She beamed back at him, her pulse fluttering in her throat. “And if you really will insist on me calling you Eddie, please do the same in return.”
His eyes fell to her name tag, his smile widening. “Very well…Fortune.”
And the warm feeling inside that their phone call had sparked, spread.
He suddenly felt very fortunate indeed…
Bound For Bliss Avenue was written to celebrate Valentine’s Day and the study into the most romantic street names in the UK, carried out by AZ Maps in collaboration with Mills & Boon.
It was originally published on Female First and printed in The Sunday Post on the 21st February 2021.