The countdown to the launch of my third book This London Love is well and truly on! And to get you in the mood, here’s the new cover in all its shiny redness, plus the first two chapters to whet your appetite. This London Love is a spin-off of London Calling, focusing on Jess’s flatmate Kate and her search for her London love. The exact launch date is yet to be decided but I’m hoping for some time in June. Watch this space for more soon, but for now, it’s time to get acquainted with Kate and Meg…
This London Love: Chapter One
Kate Carter picked up the bottle of Veuve Clicquot and refilled her glass. She pulled down the cuffs of her egg-white shirt, flexed her calf muscles under her black trousers and waited for the laughter to die down. She’d been at her company’s awards ceremony for over an hour now and the woman hosting wasn’t quite as funny as she thought she was.
The team from Kate’s magazine — Female Health & Fitness — were sitting at a round table at the centre of the function room in a swish Mayfair hotel, surrounded by at least other 50 tables, all filled with an excitable media crowd and an endless supply of Bordeaux, Chablis and Champagne. It wasn’t Christmas, but you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise because the room was already bathing in anticipation and sparkles.
Kate didn’t do dresses, so she’d opted for a black tuxedo, the first time she’d ever done so. It sat well on her tall, slim frame — she should have done it years ago. She leaned back in her chair and rolled her ankle, the light catching on her black patent brogues. More dazzle.
“Kate. Kate!” Her colleague Henry was not doing a good job of keeping his voice down, such was his eagerness for more booze. “Kate! Psst! Pass me the bottle!” Henry held out his hand, his cheeks already alight with Champagne splotch, his pupils periodically sparking then slumping. Kate could already tell that Henry’s lovingly conditioned hipster beard was going to be hiding some food by the end of the night, and if he didn’t lose his phone as he did on most of these occasions, she would eat her bow tie. But she passed him the bottle anyway — Kate wasn’t a killjoy.
On stage, music blared as the winner of Feature of the Year trotted up to collect her gong. Kate had seen her walking the corridors in their building and she wasn’t a fan. The woman never held the door open if you were behind her, and Kate had witnessed her being rude to staff in the canteen on numerous occasions. Never trust people who are rude to serving staff, life lesson number one.
True to form, the woman shook out a speech with almost as many words as her lemon dress had sparkles, and Kate let her eyelids flutter shut. She didn’t mind these occasions, but the speeches could be a bit of a bore. Kate opened her eyes again when she got an elbow in her ribs.
“Are we next? I thought they said we were first half?” Magazine editor Dawn was chewing the side of her cheek and fidgeting with her red napkin. In recent years Dawn had never come to one of these ceremonies and not won anything, so Kate hoped she wasn’t let down today. The March issue of Female Health & Fitness was up for Cover Of The Year and they all thought it stood a fighting chance, adorned as it was with a Hollywood actress, a UK sprint sensation and the promise of a new you for summer. Something for everyone, as Dawn had rightly opined at the time.
Kate nodded. “I think so. Do you think if we win, management will spring for us to go abroad for a week?” She fixed her gaze on the air above her, painting the picture with her hand. “Sun, sea and sangria on them? What do you reckon?”
Dawn spluttered. “I’m sure it’d be no problem at all.”
Their conversation was interrupted as the winner on stage got a huge cheer for something she’d said. The woman grinned and waved at the crowd.
“And finally, thanks to my darling fiancée Hugo — you’re the best and I can’t wait to marry you next year!” To a cacophony of cheers and whistles, the previous winner tottered off the stage in heels the height of goal posts and the next award flashed up on the screens — Cover Of The Year.
“This is it!” Dawn dug her fingers into Kate’s arm in excitement.
Kate watched as the company’s art supremo, Simon, was called to the stage to present the winner. In all her years working as a designer, Kate had never won Cover Of The Year. It was something she was desperate to remedy, even if she was trying to underplay it tonight. She bit her lip and ran her hands through her platinum-blonde hair as Simon began to speak.
“It’s true what they say — people judge a magazine by its cover. If the image, coverlines and overall ethos don’t appeal to them, they’ll move on and you’ll lose a sale. The magazine market is a cut-throat, fickle business, so snagging consumers is all important in the battle to stay alive.”
Dawn turned to give Kate her best knowing nod, combining it with the raising of both eyebrows.
On stage, Simon continued: “All of these next five covers fulfilled that brief in terms of having vibrant imagery, must-do coverlines and engaging the reader, and thus improving sales. Let’s take a look.”
He stood back in his Armani suit as the covers flashed up one after the other on the giant screen, receiving rounds of applause and whoops from the appropriate tables. When it was the turn of Female Health & Fitness, their table lit up, glasses clinking, whistling and applauding.
A minute later, the screams had died down and the tension settled once again on the room.
On-stage, the envelope was ripped and Simon smiled, moving his mouth closer to the microphone. “And the winner is truly well deserved and a personal favourite of mine… Well done to Female Health & Fitness magazine for its March cover!”
Kate’s heart rate soared and her mouth dropped open — they’d only gone and done it.
Dawn flung herself at Kate. “I can’t believe it — we bloody won!” When Dawn released her, Kate looked around the table at her team, arms raised in the air, volume racheted to the max as they celebrated in unison.
On stage, Simon was speaking into the mic. “Come on up, art editor Kate Carter and editor Dawn West!”
Hearing her name called, Kate finished high-fiving her co-workers but found her grin was stuck solid to her face. She shrugged on her jacket and straightened her bow tie, before taking Dawn’s hand and pulling her up towards the stage.
Dawn brushed imaginary crumbs from her blue sparkly dress as she followed Kate, tottering like a pro on her extra-large heels through the sea of whistles and cheers. “Have you prepared a speech?” she muttered in Kate’s ear.
Kate turned and shook her head. “Thought it might jinx it.”
They were at the stairs leading up to the stage now and Kate had goosebumps all over.
“How’s my hair?”
“Gorgeous and ultra lesbian.” Dawn kissed Kate on the cheek. “If you don’t pull tonight in that tux and with this award in the bag, the world’s gone mad.” Dawn gave Kate a wink, then she was up the stairs, taking Kate with her.
They reached the debonair Simon, who was holding the glass trophy in one hand. He went to give it to Dawn, but she shook her head and gently pushed Kate forward.
Kate bashfully accepted the award and Simon kissed her on both cheeks. Then he stood back and applauded, while Dawn got on the mic.
“Thanks, you lovely people!” Dawn had never been shy of public speaking and she wasn’t about to start being shy now. “I’d like to say a massive thank you to my whole team, who are all brilliant, but mostly thanks to the brains behind this cover, my dear friend, Kate Carter.”
Dawn turned her clapping in Kate’s direction, before darting back to the mic. “Oh, and even though he’s not here, thanks to my husband Nick for being a saint and putting up with me!” With that, Dawn backed away.
Kate replaced Dawn at the mic and held the trophy aloft — the crowd applauded, and through the dim lighting, she saw Henry and features editor Hannah clapping madly, arms above their heads.
“Like Dawn said, this is a team effort, but thanks again for the award — it means a lot.” Kate was shaking slightly, and she felt Dawn’s soothing hand on her back. “I’d like to thank my editor Dawn, my deputy art editor Henry and everyone on the magazine!”
Kate felt the love in the room embrace her as she held the trophy aloft again. But then it hit her, as she looked out across the room and the smiling swathe of people, most of whom had somebody to go home to, to celebrate with. For Kate, that was not the case. Sure, she had her editor and her team to toast with tonight. But there was no girlfriend or wife who she could dart back to the microphone and thank as the previous two speakers had. Being single didn’t ordinarily bother her, but at this moment she could feel it clogging her arteries and slowing her breathing. In this lifetime, right now, Kate was flying solo.
But, ever the professional, she styled it out, never losing her grin, glossing over the fact she had nobody to say she loved as a footnote on such a grand night. Instead, she made an ‘after you’ gesture to Dawn, who took her hand and held it aloft as they made their way down the stairs and back to their team, placing the trophy in the middle of the table as they both sat down.
“Incredible — I still can’t believe we won!” Dawn simply couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.
“I can — it was a brilliant cover,” Henry said. “Made all the more brilliant by my addition of the gloss to the headline, didn’t you think?” Henry had his serious face on, which made Kate burst out laughing.
“It was all about you, Henry,” she said, patting his shoulder.
Pulling her chair up to the table and rubbing her hands together, Dawn smiled round at her team, the adrenaline clearly still sparking in her veins. “Right, now that’s over with, let’s have a great night! Nobody has to be in tomorrow till lunchtime at the earliest.” She paused and pulled the Champagne from the bucket, then frowned in Henry’s direction when she saw it was empty. Dawn looked around and accosted a nearby waiter.
“Two more bottles when you’re ready, please.”
Mr Davis clicked his fingers together as he stood at the counter of Fabulous Flowers and pointed at Meg. He looked very pleased with himself. “A young Sharon Stone — that’s who you look like! Was she the bunny boiler in that film?”
“I don’t think she boiled any bunnies, but she was definitely a bit unhinged.” Meg gave him a thin-lipped smile.
“That’s it, then.” He paused. “Not that you look like you’d boil any rabbits soon either, but you get what I mean.” He looked Meg straight in the eye. “It’s a compliment, by the way. Sharon Stone — she was a looker in her day. Not so bad now, either.”
“I’ll take it as a compliment, then.” Meg smiled and willed her mum to come out of the back of the shop, where she was just putting the finishing touches to Mr Davis’s flowers.
Mr Davis was a terrible flirt who came into the florist every Saturday, rain or shine, to pick up flowers for his wife. Every week, he told Meg she looked like someone new. Last week it had been Cameron Diaz. The week before, Marilyn Monroe. Meg was always amazed he knew who all these actresses were as they spanned many different eras, but Mr Davis was something of a film buff. Plus, being newly retired, he had a lot of time on his hands.
As far as Meg could see, the only similarity she had with any of these people was she was female and had blonde hair — but she didn’t like to point this out to Mr Davis. Meg knew his first name was Clive, but neither she nor her mum had ever called him that. Always the formality of Mr Davis.
Just in the nick of time, her mum, Olivia, appeared with his flowers.
“Here you go, Mr Davis,” she said, handing him a fat bouquet dressed with silver ribbons. “Seasonally bright and gorgeous. Sheila’s going to love them.”
“Perfect — they look beautiful, just like the two of you.”
Meg could never quite work out who Mr Davis flirted with more — her or her mum. She hoped it was her mum but she could never be sure.
Olivia waved his comment away, smiling. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
He bid them both farewell and left the shop, the bell over the door ringing as he did so.
“I swear he gets more flirtatious by the week,” Meg said.
“He’s a solid, regular customer, so he can flirt all he wants,” Olivia replied. She disappeared into the back of the shop and came back with a cup of coffee for both of them: hers white, one sugar, Meg’s pitch black. Meg liked her coffee like she liked her martinis – straight up and minus the olives.
“I might shoot off after this.” Meg blew on her coffee and took a sip.
“Sure — you doing anything special? Moving perhaps? Getting rid of that good-for-nothing ex of yours?”
“Mum…” Meg shot her mum a warning glance, but Olivia chose to ignore it.
“Wasn’t that your birthday resolution in June? Turn 32, sell the house and move on? Only, now it appears to be September and you still haven’t even got the house on the market. And don’t get me started on you going back on the dating scene and meeting someone new.”
Olivia held Meg’s gaze, but Meg couldn’t take it and looked away.
Meg knew the drill, she’d heard it many times before.
“And don’t give me that look. After the year I’ve had — surely that should be a warning to you. Live life now. Live it to the max. Get rid of the dead wood.”
Meg smiled. “Mum, I know. I know I have to change things, but you’re beginning to sound like a never-ending stream of those terrible positive-thinking slogans people frame and put on their walls.”
They both laughed at that.
“Actually, I’ve got to catch up on the accounts, so I thought as you said Anya was available this afternoon, I’d do that at home.” Meg paused. “She is still coming?” Anya was their part-time help in the florist.
Her mum nodded. “As far as I’m aware.”
Olivia took a sip of her coffee and stared at Meg once more. “But you will think about what I said?”
Meg nodded, looking down into her coffee as if it might hold the answers. “I think of nothing else every minute of every day, believe me.”
“Good.” Olivia paused, before putting an arm around Meg’s shoulders and giving her a squeeze. “I’m your mum, it’s my job to worry. And I want my only daughter to be happy. Is that such a crime?”
You can read the full book when This London Love is released in June. Follow this blog to keep up to date!