She focused on filling the kettle for tea. “They’re a bit short-staffed at the practice at the moment and he can’t get away.”
She plonked the kettle onto its stand and switched it on. “I haven’t pushed him about it as I know he’d come if he could, and I don’t want to make him feel bad.”
She could add one element of clear truth. “He’s said a few times he’d love to have you both down to visit in the summer, once things are a bit more settled. Maybe for the Midsummers Day party.”
Hercules smiled at that, although his brows were drawn together in a worried-looking frown. Had he picked up on her lie?
He said. “I’m sorry he won’t be at the wedding, I would have liked to have him there.”
Jason grinned evilly. “You mean you wanted to see everyone’s reactions to Calypso’s sexy beast of a boyfriend.”
And that was why she was doing her best to keep her two worlds apart. It wasn’t that she thought Herne would find the attractions of Artemis, or Aphrodite, or Athena, greater than hers. He wouldn’t. Not at all. It was just that they saw him as an object, a curiosity, a plaything, and the powers that be at Z Corp had a nasty habit of breaking any new toys they came across.
She went to bed and spent most of the night awake, trying to avoid her thoughts.
The following day, Hel called her up to the first floor for a conversation. Her boss came straight to the point. “I’ve had an expert look at your old contract and he’s willing to take on the argument on your behalf if you want to follow his advice.”
Calypso frowned. “What’s his advice?”
Hel skimmed over the document on her computer screen. “Assuming you’re following a similar line of product to the work you were doing for Z Corp, make it clear they’re fresh ideas and not replicas of what you did there.”
She paused for Calypso’s nod, then went on. “Then they can’t come after you for intellectual property theft, all they can do is try and compete, potentially use your own ideas against you.”
That was cutthroat, and entirely likely. Calypso squared her shoulders. “They’re welcome to try. My new ideas are better.”
Hel’s lips curled into a smile, both sides, she was pleased. “The house is where it gets interesting, and is where the real argument will play out, according to my advisor.”
She leaned back and transferred her gaze to Calypso’s face. “What are your plans for funding your new business?”
Disconcerted by the topic switch, Calypso floundered for a moment, then said. “Possible backing from a friend in a compatible industry, and I do have a little bit set aside.”
Hel grunted. “Not solid enough. If, on the other hand, you had your own residence, potentially providing workspace as well as living quarters, you remove rent or mortgage as an overhead.”
She was right, that would make a huge difference. She wasn’t paying much for her room with Hercules and Jason, but it all counted.
Hel continued. “Since the house is yours, and has been for the past two years, the current resident owes you back-rent. Probably enough to develop and produce an initial range of whatever product you’re looking at.”
Calypso narrowed her eyes, Hel shrugged and smirked. “I had a look around the meeting room you and Eos were in last week. You should remember to clear off whiteboards after strategy meetings. “
She leaned forward, fixing Calypso with the icy determination of her blue eye, and the remorseless blank of her black orb. “Are you prepared to fight?”
Was she? This was Z Corp. Would she lose her friends? Would they punish her father? What would they do? What could they do?
She took a deep breath. “I’m not sure how far I’ll go with it, but I’d like to look at the proposal your expert has in mind.”
Hel nodded. “I’ll have him pull something together and get it to you. In the meantime, adjust your funding premise. Tish will send you some numbers on average rents in your house’s area.”
The new numbers meant adjustments on more than just the funding portion of the submission. She wasn’t sure why Hel had put Tish onto her finance case but her former reception colleague had gone all out, providing information on business costs, prototyping options and an alternate ‘back-rent’ fund that made Calypso’s jaw drop.
When asked if this much help was allowed, Tish messaged back. Gotta get some sort of unfair advantage for working here. I want first refusal on any product samples as payment.
Did everyone at Yggdrasil know her idea?
With a week left until the submission date (the real one this time), the reception desk was busy. Ganglot was fielding most of the emails but calls and drop-ins were constant.
Calypso had hoped to pick up her laptop from Dragon House at lunch but couldn’t get away. She fretted over not having it for the weekend until Maria-Philippa appeared at the reception desk in the middle of the afternoon.
She handed over the laptop, Calypso’s work-in-progress folder and a freshly baked batch of chocolate chip shortbread biscuits.
Calypso offered them to Aaliyah and Eos, who’d just delivered teas, and they both fell into raptures, to Maria-Philippa’s delight.
She was fairly sure, when the housekeeper left, that Maria-Philippa and Eos had come up with some sort of catering side hustle agreement and wondered whether to mention it to Amy.
She needn’t have worried, Amy messaged her as the train to Wildwood left the outskirts of London. I hear your café person has added Maria-Philippa’s biscuits to her menu. Love hearing her so excited, we’ve been worried about her getting bored and leaving us.
Calypso smiled and replied. I’m glad. I thought they’d cooked up something (ha ha) during Maria-Philippa’s visit, but I wasn’t sure what.
Amy’s response moved to more immediate matters. Speaking of what’s cooking, how’s the submission shaping up? What you sent me looks good, I’ll send my thoughts tomorrow, while Joshua’s having his weekly Grandpa Morning.
To mention the new funding option or not? Amy had seen the contract, she knew about the house, but it involved her father and that was a topic they’d avoided since their first call after the split.
Calypso decided to decide the following day, depending on whether it seemed a relevant response to Amy’s feedback. It would be better explained in an email anyway.
She spent the train journey refining and pruning the designs for the initial range of items. It was hard to find a balance between not doing to much but still having enough to transform a student, or new worker’s space into something special.
She nearly missed her stop and rushed out of the carriage door just in time, juggling bags and notebooks. She spotted Herne and went to race towards him, but found herself so tangled, she had to stop.
He reached her, laughing in that sweet warm way she adored and leaned in for a kiss before relieving her of two bags and the worst of her burdens.
A quiet, restful night resolved into a gentle, golden morning and Calypso padded to the window of Wildwood’s master bedroom to watch the dogs race around the wildflower meadow in a fit of early exuberance.
Owlbert appeared from the depths of the Wildwood itself and, when Calypso opened the window, changed his flight path to perch on the windowsill beside her and accept head scratches.
Herne’s voice came from below. “And there he goes, stealing my girlfriend from right over my head.”
She looked down to see his grin and fought a blazing hot blush. It was the first time he’d called her that and she wanted to hear it again.
Thankfully, Herne didn’t seem to be expecting a reply, at least not from her. He rattled a food dish and Owlbert launched back into the air with an apologetic hoot, gliding down to the terrace for his breakfast, or dinner. She’d never been quite sure which was which for an owl.
After (human) breakfast, Herne headed to work and Calypso settled in to read Amy’s email. It turned out she had very similar opinions to Hel’s expert. She asked about the house, the rent, and the tenant. Calypso replied with a summary of the situation, then ran through her other messages before diving into the Yggdrasil submission form.
Arachne’s email was short and sweet. Your dress is done. With the correct hairstyle, accessories, shoes and underwear, it will be perfect. Make sure you follow the instructions. It will be delivered to your hotel room.
She sent her thanks and a promise to do as she was told, then took a moment to breathe. The wedding was in three weeks and she still hadn’t talked about it with Herne. Maybe something would come up and she wouldn’t have to. She squashed the little voice that hoped something would come up and she wouldn’t have to attend. Of course she wanted to be there for Jason and Hercules’s big day. It was the least she could do in return for their friendship and support and it was going to be fun.
She sighed, put it in a mental box, slammed and locked the lid, and got on with the submission. She honed and revised and polished until she was ready to scream, then left a note and took the dogs to the ruins in the wood.
Herne found her there a few hours later, as the misty mauves of the shadows began to creep out, pushing back the afternoon’s golden light.
He frowned as he stepped up and through the doorway. “Aren’t you cold?”
Calypso rubbed her arms. “Now that I notice it, yes, a bit.”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into his heat, but the gentle tease she’d expected didn’t come. The furrow between his brows remained. “They must have been deep thoughts, to keep you from noticing the temperature or the time. Is everything alright?”
She wasn’t laughing when she checked her email and found a message from her mother.
Here’s the submission, tidy it up in a way that will get it accepted and put it in under your name.
The attached document was a mess, and several key pieces of information were missing.
Jason put a glass of wine by her hand and said. “I hope that’s not some bad news about our wedding present you’re scowling over.”
She’d completely forgotten about the wedding present. She put that in the mental box marked ‘deal with next week’.
She spun the laptop to show the email on the screen. “Hecate wants me to try and game the Yggdrasil system by putting an application for her in under my name.”
Hercules turned from the stove. “No!”
She replied. “It’s all right here, and she’s missing mandatory fields. I couldn’t submit this even if I wanted to.”
Jason sipped at his wine. “So, what are you going to do?”
She looked at his smugly evil grin. “What are you suggesting?”