Authors: Annie Lyons
Emma looks him in the eye. ‘Petrified.’
‘That’s what I thought. Well, I shall make sure I wear my thickest body armour to all our meetings. When is our first meeting by the way?’
‘How are you fixed next Monday? I thought we could meet at Kew seeing as it’s the backdrop for so much of the book.’
‘Sounds perfect. By the way, I just wanted to say what a fantastic time I had last night. I think we’re going to work really well together, don’t you?’
She looks up at him. He really is very attractive, just her type in many ways and if she were single then she’d probably be having some pretty inappropriate thoughts about him. As it is, she intends to just enjoy the ride. ‘Yes I do as a matter of fact.’
‘Right, well I have to be somewhere. I’ll see you on Monday. Looking forward to it.’ He kisses her on the cheek before he leaves.
‘Lucky cow,’ says Ella, nudging her friend as they watch him disappear down the corridor.
‘I know,’ laughs Emma, putting an arm around her. ‘I’m a very lucky girl indeed.’
Martin looks at the table and feels pleased with his efforts.
‘Chicks love candles and flowers. Chuck in the champagne and you’ve got yourself a night to remember,’ says Martin’s best friend, Charlie, helping himself to another chocolate digestive.
‘Yes, thank you, mate. With comments like that, I’m starting to feel sorry for Stacey. Now, isn’t it time you buggered off?’
‘I’ll have you know, my Stacey is very well looked after, thank you,’ says Charlie patting his groin.
Martin groans and rolls his eyes. ‘They say romance is dead and now I see they’re not wrong.’
‘Oi, I’m romantic! I’m always buying Stace flowers.’
‘Erm, I don’t think the ones with the orange discount stickers count, mate.’
Charlie shrugs. ‘They’re still flowers, aren’t they? Only mugs pay full price.’
‘Of course they do, Charles. Now, don’t you have a home to go to? Emma’s going to be back soon,’ says Martin, rearranging the flowers on the table like a professional.
‘All right, all right, I get the message. Muff before mates. I know.’
Martin ignores him. ‘See you later, Charlie,’ he says, wresting the biscuit tin from his grasp.
‘See you later, geeze,’ says Charlie, heading for the door.
Martin looks at the table again and checks his watch. Emma should be home in around half an hour so he turns on the oven and goes upstairs to the spare room to print out the details of the weekend away he is planning. He sits back in his office chair and feels happy. Charlie may mock, but he and Stacey are practically married and soon Martin and Emma will be settled too. He gathers up the printed pages and practically skips downstairs as he hears Emma’s key in the door.
‘Well, if it isn’t the sexiest, cleverest, most beautiful editor in the world.’ Martin folds her in his arms and kisses her on the mouth.
‘Mmm, I should almost fail to get a book and then succeed in getting a book more often,’ she says, pulling him towards her. ‘Shall we just skip the dinner and go straight onto pudding?’
‘All in good time, my little sexpot. I have many surprises for you first. Come in, come in.’ He leads her to the kitchen. ‘Look! I bring you good things to eat and flowers, candles and –’ he pulls open the fridge, swiping out a bottle, ‘champagn-a!’ he says in a mock-Italian accent.
Emma’s stomach does a little flip at the thought of her third dose of champagne in less than twenty-four hours but is touched by his kindness. ‘Thank you darling.’
‘And for my final trick –’ continues Martin, fanning out some printed pages in front of Emma like a magician. ‘Ta-da!’
Emma studies them. ‘What’s this? Wow! The Clevedon? For this weekend? That’s amazing. You spoil me!’ she cries, wrapping her arms round his neck.
‘Well, you deserve it,’ says Martin, stroking her face and kissing her tenderly. ‘I love you so much, Em. Now, sit down. Chef Love has a feast to prepare and you, my darling, have champagne to drink.’
Emma sits back in the comfy kitchen chair, propped up with mismatched cushions. She kicks off her shoes and accepts the glass of champagne Martin has poured for her.
‘Here’s to you, Emma Darcy, editor-extraordinaire. Congratulations.’
They knock their glasses together and Martin strides over to the work surface to check on the bubbling pot of bolognese. He lifts the lid and scoops up a spoonful, blowing it before taking a tentative taste. ‘Ooh, hot, hot, but oh so good,’ he grins. Emma laughs and sips her champagne feeling cosy.
‘So, who did you end up drowning your sorrows with last night?’ asks Martin.
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, when I last spoke to you, you were on your way home, but you sent me a text at about ten telling me not to wait up.’
The lie is out of Emma’s mouth before she has a chance to stop it. ‘Oh, it was just Ella. We were going to go for one and ended up staying for more. How was the match?’ she asks, changing the subject.
‘It was great. I scored a hat trick,’ grins Martin proudly. ‘I’m top goal-scorer this season. Expecting an England call-up any day.’
‘I’m proud of you, darling. Hopefully that means I’ll get to give up this publishing lark and hang out with Coleen Rooney,’ laughs Emma as the phone rings. She picks it up and hears Martin’s mother’s voice.
‘Hello, Daphne. How are you?’ Emma has an uneasy relationship with her mother-in-law to be. She’s never been anything less than civil, but Emma knows she doesn’t really like her. It’s partly due to the fact that Martin is an only child and she’s fiercely over-protective, but she also once overheard her remarking to a neighbour that Emma was a ‘flibbertigibbet’. Rachel had snorted with laughter. ‘I’d take that as a compliment, sis. You should hear what Steve’s mum calls me.’ Emma knows she’s right but does want to get along with her prospective mother-in-law and she knows she tries too hard.
‘Well, I can’t lie Emma. I’ve had the most terrible bowel problems of late.’
Emma sits eyes-wide listening to Daphne’s very detailed descriptions. She does her best to avoid looking at Martin, who has picked up the gist of the conversation and is doing his best to make her laugh.
‘Well, that must be terrible,’ says Emma, biting her hand to stop herself from giggling. ‘I had no idea it could come out that colour.’ Martin mimics someone sitting on the toilet and Emma sticks two fingers up at him.
‘So, are you looking forward to the weekend?’ says Daphne abruptly changing tack.
‘Er, yes. Actually, I only just found out about it myself,’ she replies slightly annoyed that she wasn’t the first woman in Martin’s life to know.
‘Oh good, because we’re so looking forward to seeing you.’
Emma is confused and then notices that Martin is looking sheepish. She glances again at the hotel booking, realising that it’s just around the corner from his parents’ house. Daphne is twittering on about seeing her engagement ring and how much they are looking forward to her becoming their daughter-in-law.
‘Yes, we’re really looking forward to seeing you too. Martin’s just made me a lovely dinner, so shall I get him to call you later?’ says Emma eventually. She replaces the phone, fixing Martin with a look.
‘OK Em, I’m sorry. I was going to tell you and we’ll only need to pop round for half an hour or so.’
‘It’s OK,’ says Emma pecking him on the cheek. ‘It’s probably a good idea. Kill two birds and all that.’ She takes another sip of her champagne. ‘Now, where’s this dinner you’ve been promising me?’
Rachel watches Will disappear in a flurry of seven-year-olds. He looks small and even though she knows he doesn’t give their partings a second thought, she still feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about him growing up. She turns away quickly, trying to avoid conversation with the other mothers, but fails.
‘Rachel! Hi!’ It’s Verity, the toothy, overly keen year two PTA representative. Rachel has made it her life’s work to avoid people with the word ‘representative’ in their title. Today she is particularly keen to be on her way as Steve is starting work late so that he can drop Lily and Alfie at pre-school. Rachel is eager to enjoy some quality time with this week’s
and a skinny latte.
‘Rachel,’ says Verity again with a sincere smile, the ‘like me, like me!’ vibes oozing from every pore. ‘I just happened to notice that you hadn’t signed up to help at our annual Nearly New Sale.’
Rachel’s heart sinks. It’s not that she objects to helping at school events, it’s just that socialising with the school committee members is more competitive than the Olympics. Last term, she had nearly come to blows with another mother when she suggested that they buy some cheap costumes for the end of term production from the pound shop. The mother had told Rachel that she was ‘creatively repressed’ and ‘morally corrupt’ for not making Will’s crab outfit herself. Rachel had then spent a miserable weekend constructing a papier-mâché crustacean that Will had refused to wear. Since that day, Rachel had vowed never to let middle-class guilt get the better of her again.
‘Oh sorry, I didn’t see the letter home. When is it?’
‘It’s on Saturday.’
‘Oh, we’re busy, we have a family do,’ says Rachel too quickly.
‘Week,’ finishes Verity.
‘Ahh, I think we might have something on that day too,’ she says knowing she has been rumbled.
‘Really?’ says Verity her tone changing, ‘because it would be a shame if people didn’t make the effort for their child’s school, don’t you think?’
‘Erm, sorry, Verity, I really have to go.’
‘Fine, Rachel, that’s fine. Just don’t expect to be voted onto the school committee. Ever.’ She delivers this final utterance like a judge who has just issued the death penalty.
‘Fingers crossed,’ mutters Rachel and scoots out of the school gates. Her mobile rings. It’s Emma.
‘Tartface! What news?’
‘We got the book!’
‘You are kidding me? A thicky like you?’
‘Seriously little sis, well done. That’s very good news. When do we celebrate? I could do with a night out.’
‘Are you OK?’
‘I’ll tell you when I see you. How about drinks tomorrow? At the Pickled Pig?’
‘OK, great. You can buy me a drink and tell me how clever I am.’
‘Don’t push it. See you around eight.’
Emma tosses her phone into her bag and returns to the manuscript before her. She really wants to get started on
The Red Orchid
, but has promised that she’ll wait until Miranda has read it through first. Saskia, the brilliant but slightly fluffy fiction designer, pokes her head over her pod.
‘Coming to Joely-Joel’s meeting?’
‘What meeting is that? The one where he patronises everyone in sight?’
‘Noooooooooooo sill-ee!’ trills Saskia. ‘It’s our monthly review of all the scrummy books coming up in the next three months,’ she adds cheerfully, curling her hair around her fingers in the manner of a six-year-old. In fact, today she is dressed just like a six-year-old apart from the inappropriate T-shirt with the slogan ‘Spank Me Hard’. This is teamed with a red check puffball skirt, blue and green striped legwarmers and silver ballet pumps. Her hair is pulled into two bunches like a Pekinese dog’s. It probably looks very hip, but Emma shudders at the sight of her and the dawning realisation that her opinions are starting to align themselves with those of her mother.
The prospect of a meeting in the company of Poochy Poo and marketing’s answer to Goebbels makes Emma want to quit her job and do something more fulfilling, like treating sewage. She takes heart at the fact that Philippa will be there and although she never gets a word in because of her fool of a boss, she’s a silent, eyebrow-raising ally of sorts. When Emma reaches the meeting room, Joel is sitting at the head of the long table talking in a loud voice on his mobile.
‘Yep, yep, will do, OK, of course I can sort it. Speak soon, boss. Bye!’
Emma plonks herself next to Philippa.
‘On the phone to his mother again?’ she whispers with a wink. Philippa grins.
Saskia bounces in, her arms full of print-outs which she always refers to as her ‘children’. She takes her seat and Joel begins.
‘So the purpose of today is to review the past three months, look forward to the next three, see where we are and where we want to be. OK, people?’
No one speaks so Joel continues. ‘So, Emma. Talk us through the latest on these.’ He fans out copies of a crime series set in Cornwall written by an eighty-year-old female author. Joel doesn’t wait for her to speak. ‘You see, I think we should either bin these or look to re-jacket. Book Data seems to indicate around a twenty per cent sell-through, which is very poor.’
‘I don’t think three months of sales is enough to say one way or the other. I think we should publish at least six before we take any kind of decision,’ says Emma irritated.
‘Mmm,’ says Joel not listening. ‘Saskia has kindly mocked up some roughs. A bit less Miss Read and a bit more ‘read me’,’ he snorts vastly amused by his own joke. Philippa winces.
Saskia’s covers are horrific depictions of severed limbs, mutilated heads and general carnage.
‘Joel,’ says Emma, trying to remain calm, ‘the author is a lovely lady called Queenie and the books are really more Miss Marple than Slasher Central. I think we should continue as we are for the time being.’
Joel is riled. ‘Well, I think Digby would disagree.’
‘Well, Digby isn’t Queenie’s editor and while I am tasked with producing books that are fit for publication, I will have the ultimate say on covers, OK?’
‘Like I say, I think Digby might have something to say.’
‘And so might Miranda,’ retorts Emma aware that they are starting to sound like five-year-olds.
Philippa and Saskia shift uncomfortably in their seats. The rest of the meeting passes without further confrontation, but beneath it all Emma is seething.
‘I mean, who does he think he is?’ she complains to Ella on returning to her desk.
A beautiful array of pink and white lilies is waiting for her. She picks up the card. They’re from her godmother, Rosie: ‘Clever girl. Well done.’ Her phone rings. She picks it up smiling. ‘Hello-oo?’
‘Emma? It’s Mummy. You sound pleased with yourself.’
‘I am, thanks, Mum. Auntie Rosie just sent me the most gorgeous flowers.’
‘Oh.’ Her mother sounds perplexed. ‘Did I miss something?’
‘Oh sorry, I forgot to tell you. We got that book I was telling you about.’
‘Oh. Good. Well done. It’s a shame you didn’t think to tell us before your godmother. We’re only your parents.’
‘Sorry, Mum, and I didn’t tell Rosie. She must have heard. You know what she’s like.’
‘Yes I do. Anyway, Emma, Rachel and I are going to take you dress-shopping. How about this Saturday?’
‘Sorry, I can’t do this Saturday. Martin’s whisking me away for the weekend.’
‘Oh. Right. Is there anything else you haven’t told us? You’re not emigrating like your sister are you?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Oh well at least Rachel tells us things first. Your brother-in-law is planning to move them all to Scotland.’
‘Exactly. So when you’ve finished living your life in isolation from your family, maybe we could set a date to look for wedding dresses?’
‘Don’t be like that, Mum. Look, I’ll take a day off. Maybe Dad can look after the kids and we can have a girly day with Rach?’
Diana doesn’t want to give in, but Emma can tell she’s softening. ‘All right, let’s say Monday week.’
‘Perfect. Wow, that’s big news about Rachel. I’m seeing her tomorrow and I thought there was something up.’
‘Yes well, maybe you can try talking some sense into her. Goodness only knows I’ve tried.’
Rachel takes a sip from her Styrofoam™ cup of coffee and does a quick head count. Lily and Alfie are engaged in a stand-off with an older boy on the play-bus, while Will is scaling the rope climbing frame, SAS-style. She sees Christa and Roger and waves. Roger jumps out of his pushchair with great excitement and runs over to join Lily and Alfie.
‘Halloo,’ cries Christa kissing Rachel on both cheeks. ‘Could Sue not make it?’
‘Joe’s still poorly. How are you?’
‘Coffee?’ asks Rachel finishing her first and ready for another.
, your English coffee tastes like
Rachel laughs. ‘It’s actually Nescafé which I believe is a Swiss company?’ she says with a grin.
perhaps, but they are not as bad as your Pot Noodles, hey?
‘Touché! So, how are things with you?’ asks Rachel as they find a bench.
‘Fine. I think you and Sue were perhaps a little shocked by the things I told you on Monday, yes?’
‘It does sound like you’ve got a lot on your plate.’
Christa laughs. ‘I love you English and your metaphors. My life is really not so bad. Rudi is a good man really. He looks after us. We are going to have a wonderful family holiday next month.’
‘Oh lovely. Where are you going?’ asks Rachel thinking of Disneyland or a villa in Spain.
lucky as that lovely Cowell man is letting us use his yacht.’
Rachel is amazed. ‘As in Simon Cowell?’
’ Christa snorts as if this is the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard. ‘
, silly, his brother, Nicholas. He is not nearly as rich. He only has one yacht while Simon has, I think, six or seven.’
‘Well, that will be fantastic.’
, for sure. You should come!’
‘Oh I don’t think so.’
It would be so much fun. There are always many famous people dropping in. Last year Paris Hilton was there and Bruce Willis. Paris was so sweet with Roger and Bruce is lovely. He told me to call him if Rudi and I ever split up.’
‘Really?’ says Rachel, wishing that Sue was there.
‘Well, you know. Have a think about it. Talk to Dave,’ she adds.
‘Steve,’ corrects Rachel.
‘Yes, him too. Roger!’
Christa strides off to rescue her bilious-looking son from the roundabout, which Lily and Alfie have been spinning a little too fast.
‘Mum! Look at me!’
Rachel looks over to see Will at the top of the climbing frame.
‘Well done, Will. Clever boy.’
She catches sight of Verity talking with intensity to another mother. She lifts her hand to wave, but Verity looks away, pretending not to see her. Rachel sighs as her phone beeps with a text. It’s Steve: ‘Dn’t b md bt gt 2 wrk l8 agn. Lkng 4wrd 2 w/e. Love u, sx’
Rachel punches a reply ‘OK. Going fr drnks wth Em 2mrrw.Pls cn u b on time, r’
Steve answers: ‘Wll do my bst. C u l8tr. x’
Rachel throws her phone into her bag and calls to the children. ‘Right who wants pizza? Mummy’s treat!’
Richard Bennett is feeling smug as he strides into the entrance hall of the Battersea riverside apartments. The lobby is tastefully decorated with modern-looking canvasses and the discreet lighting gives a warm glow that says ‘you really want to live here’. Richard breathes in the aroma of a new and untouched world, a million miles away from the piss and vomit stench of his East Dulwich flat’s corridor.
He turns smiling, ready with effortless charm. He is delighted by the form and features of the person before him. She holds out a perfectly manicured, soft hand.
‘Sophie Chancellor. Delighted to meet you. I think you’ll like what I’m about to show you,’ she adds with mild innuendo.
‘The pleasure will be all mine,’ Richard replies, knowing that this sounds corny, but also knowing that he is talking to a casual acquaintance. He has nothing to lose.
‘Please follow me.’
He follows her into the lift, enjoying a shameless view of Sophie’s perfectly sculpted behind, enveloped as it is in an hourglass-tight, knee-length skirt. As they travel to the ninth floor, Richard observes the curve of her neck and notices her checking him with a coy, sexy smile. They emerge from the lift and she leads him to the end of a corridor, then takes a sharp right, stopping at door number 915.
‘Here we are. Home,’ she says with a smile as she turns the key.
Richard pushes the door and is impressed. Every corner of the flat screams ‘I’m modern, I’m hip. You want me.’ From the granite breakfast bar and six-ring stove to the Bose stereo which blinks into life at the flick of a switch, it is everything Richard has longed for. All the endless research trips, the hours spent doing time at the British Library and the years writing, getting rejected, rewriting and then getting accepted as a proper writer, have been worth it. Richard turns towards the French windows that flank one side of the apartment and is breathless at the view. London in all its mish-mashed glory stretches before him looking wonderful. Richard turns to Sophie who is watching him carefully, allowing him to take in his surroundings.
Good at her job and probably a good shag too
, he thinks.
‘You like?’ she asks in a teasing voice.
‘I do, but aren’t you forgetting something?’ he says.
‘You haven’t shown me the bedroom.’
Sophie smiles and it’s the smile of someone who loves her job, who is control of her life and who knows how to play a man. She unbuttons her blouse, slips off her skirt and stands before him looking gorgeous in black lacy underwear and as Richard correctly suspects, stockings and suspenders. Even Richard is speechless, not quite believing how his day and his life are turning out. Sophie walks down the corridor glancing backwards and beckoning to him. Richard grins and shakes his head before following her to the bedroom.