Liz and Harry seemed to have lost the power of speech, so I made the introductions
Lunch was over and we had an hour to kill before our tour. We decided to have a drink in the lounge. I’d peeked into the room on the way to the restaurant. One end was elegantly furnished with coffee tables, marooncoloured sofas and a baby grand. Cream curtains, held back with sashes, framed the large bay windows. The other end served as the bar, with taller tables, wooden chairs, and recesses in the wall that gave drinkers a measure of privacy. As this was Monday, the room was spotless and the dark red carpet smelt of shampoo. I wondered idly what it would smell like by Friday.
Harry, who never wasted time when someone mentioned a drink, marched into the room.
“My God.” He stopped dead. “Who is that Adonis?” Liz was peering over his shoulder. “Ooh Harry, he is rather gorgeous,” she murmured. There was only one person in the lounge.
He lay sprawled in a chair, one arm slung lazily over the back pulling his jacket open and straining the shirt across his chest. His legs stretched endlessly, the ankles crossed in such a way it was impossible not to see the Bart Simpson socks.
His silk suit was superbly tailored, possibly even handmade, and gave him the air of a Chicago gangster. Apart from the socks, his other concession to individuality was the bubblegum-pink tie, which he fingered softly as though needing to check the quality.
His hair was expertly cut and, I suspected, deliberately tousled. Despite his relaxed features, there was something disturbing about him, something I couldn’t put my finger on.
He got to his feet. I was conscious we were staring. I walked over, smiling awkwardly. “I’m Maggie Stewart.”
There was a pause as he took his gaze off my hair. “Mike Molloy,” he said, in a strong Irish accent. “At your service.”
He smiled easily, as if to say, “Any time, and as often as you like.”
Liz and Harry seemed to have lost the power of speech, so I made the introductions.
“Delighted,” Harry beamed, finally finding his voice. He hurried forward, hand extended, and pumped Mike’s arm. “May we join you?”
“Of course,” Mike said warmly. We took our seats. “You people with a group?” he said, looking at no one in particular.
“We’re with Leo Tullis,” I said. “He told us there’d be another member of the Edinburgh party here. That would be you?”
“That’s right,” he said softly.
“So where have you flown in from?”
“I was in Stockholm all last week. It made sense to stay over the weekend and fly to Kiruna this morning.”
I glanced at his clothes, wondering why, north of the Arctic Circle, he was dressed like a banker. He caught me looking and smiled ruefully. “These are my work clothes.”
I smiled back. “I’d gathered that.” I hesitated. “Is it a Swedish company you work for?”
“Mane Drew.” There was a hint of pride in his voice. “The name’s familiar. IT consultancy?” “They’re one of the bigger Scottish companies. They service most of the south of Scotland.”
“But you’re working in Stockholm?”
“I helped Mane Drew set up a branch there last spring. The irony is that, although I work out of the Edinburgh office, I’m hardly ever there.”
“Your accent’s not Scottish, though,” said Liz. “You’re Irish, aren’t you?” She was gazing at Mike, her expression deliberately softened.
I rubbed my mouth so he didn’t see the smile. When Liz dangled her charms, it worked with most men, but I was curious to see how this one would react.
He flicked a speck of fluff off his lapel. “Well now, I was transferred to Edinburgh 18 months ago from our Dublin branch” – he looked up at Liz – “to inject a little Irish talent into Scotland.”
“Indeed,” Harry said, under his breath.
“I flew here after my morning meetings.” Mike glanced down at his pinstripe. “Some eejit sent my luggage somewhere else, which is why I’m dressed like this. I need to get some ski gear.”
He leant back, crossing his legs. “This holiday was a last-minute decision,” he said, laughing. “I’m wondering what I’ve let myself in for.”
“You had to work this morning?” Liz said, pouting. “Poor you. On the first day of your holiday, as well.”
“It wasn’t that bad. Mainly presentations. I slept through most of them.” A mischievous look came into his eyes. “The last one was given by some woman, an A-type female. She’d pinned her hair up, twisted in this funny way, it was. Well, in the middle of her talk, the pins came loose and it began to unwind. You should have seen the faces, especially on the women.”
Harry was hanging on Mike’s every word, his eyes glazed.
“So the hairpins came out, one by one, and her hair fell over her shoulders. It was a good trick, and no mistake. Certainly got everyone’s attention.”
“You thought it was deliberate?” I said coldly, suddenly sympathetic towards a woman I’d never met.
He laughed then, a deep resonant sound. “Come on now, all women do it. I know one who lets out another button before a talk. She never gets asked any questions, because no one’s paid any attention to what she’s said.”
“Sounds like you don’t believe in equality of the sexes,” Harry said, in a tone of playful admonishment.
The corners of Mike’s mouth lifted, dimpling his cheeks, making him look like a boy. “Not only do I believe in it, I’m fighting to get it back.”
It was impossible not to stare into his eyes. The brown irises were flecked with amber, the effect both fascinating and disconcerting.
When he smiled, which was often, his eyes glowed with a warm confidence: Mike Molloy wasn’t a man whose ego needed constant massaging.
He was watching me, apparently waiting for my reaction. “So how do you all come to know each other?” he said, when no reaction was forthcoming.
“Mags and I were best friends at school. We lost touch and then met up” – Liz turned to me – “when was it now? I can’t quite remember.”
“A couple of years ago,” I said, looking at Mike. “That’s it. We literally ran into each other in Jenners, at the January sales.”
Mike continued to watch me. The expression in his eyes was unnerving.
“So what’s it like living in Sweden?” I said, for something to say.
He shrugged. “On the plus side, no one cares if you’re a Catholic or a Prod.”
“And on the minus side?”
“Swedes don’t know how to party – I’ve been at better wakes, to tell the truth – so you have to make your own fun.” He grinned.
“Last Saturday, I hooked up with a group of Yanks. We spent the evening drinking in hotels. It was a blast. I spent most of Sunday sleeping it off.”
More on Monday.
Icehotel, available on Amazon Kindle, is Hania Allen’s debut novel. Her second book, The Polish Detective (Constable, £8.99), is the first in her new series featuring DS Dania Gorska and is set in Dundee.