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After the Break Penny Smith The brilliant second novel from GMTV’s Penny Smith. A sequel to ‘Coming Up Next’, Katie Fisher’s back in front of the cameras, but not exactly on the sofa.Katie Fisher, one-time presenter of breakfast TV show Hello Britain!, nearly has her life in perfect order. She's recovered from her humiliating dismissal, improved her relationship with the drinks cabinet and, most importantly, found a gorgeous new TV producer boyfriend. But her dream job as a chat show host has come to an end and there doesn't seem to be much work around - she's starting to get worried.Then she's offered a place on Celebrity X-treme - the latest celebrity-humiliating reality show. But is a reality TV program really a good idea? Will it save her career or be the final blow? And just how tempting are two weeks in a freezing cabin in Norway, with a group of people no one's quite heard of? Very tempting - when the pay check is that big.So Katie takes the risk - along with a page 3 model, an out-of-work soap actor, an old, failed comedian and some woman who had an affair with a politician. She's soon out of her depth, as scheming producers do everything in their power to get the show they want - it's going to take all Katie's good humour and bad puns to bounce back from this one. After the Break PENNY SMITH To my brothers and sister Table of Contents Chapter One (#u67e1b157-15d9-5443-97af-cc4e5ad4039d) Chapter Two (#ud08ef604-2245-5dd3-b999-5075c6c1a7d9) Chapter Three (#u2d021c28-f303-5f2e-85c8-6a7ec78e0819) Chapter Four (#ucf03dff8-f4de-5ab6-91c8-4ba58e2a8377) Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Sixteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seventeen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eighteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nineteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-One (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Two (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Three (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Penny Smith (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) CHAPTER ONE (#u9d3d0bab-f43e-53e7-b446-0a915d9f421a) It is a well-known fact that celebrity game shows are only for those who crave fame, more fame or fortune. The producers of Celebrity X-Treme had trawled the usual suspects for their new show, set in Norway. They were trying to get the last two people to sign up, but had already decided on a number of possible storylines. They wouldn’t be so much manipulating (an accusation they vehemently denied) as helping things along. A meeting of executive producers, producers and directors had been convened at the headquarters of the production company before many of them flew out. Siobhan Stamp, the striking woman who would oversee the entire thing, stood at the front of the room. She was slim, with translucent skin and deep-set blue eyes, which were always lined with kohl pencil. Today her strawberry blonde hair was tied back loosely, and a few tendrils had been teased in front of her ears. I know we’ve been through the list over and over again, whittling it down and discussing it ad infinitum, but I thought I’d just make sure we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet. So, let’s go…Denise Trench.’ A picture of her appeared on the screen behind. ‘Lead singer in Label. Two hits. Won the Eurovision Song Contest. Twice in rehab–alcohol and drugs. Single. Ageing woman-about-town.’ The picture changed to that of a page-three model who had been allegedly ‘comforting’ a Premier League footballer after his marriage split. ‘Crystal Blake,’ said Siobhan. ‘Tony Belt, of Arsenal, says he’s categorically not dating her, and never has. Which seems likely, considering she’s willing to do Celebrity X-Treme. Young, but not as dim as you might think.’ She turned to look at the next photo, of a woman who bore a striking similarity to Naomi Campbell. ‘Tanya Wilton. Has had a two-year relationship with Howard Elph, the shadow environment minister, who has since ended his marriage. But they are no longer an item. Seems to have no visible means of support.’ One of the male producers sniggered. Tanya Wilton was a natural G cup. Siobhan smiled at him. Little did he know it, but she had plans for him. She paused. Looked back to the screen. ‘Flynn O’Mara. Astrologer to the stars. Married to her manager. Two children. Columns in the Mail and various glossy magazines.’ The handsome face of a soap star filled the screen. ‘Peter Philbin. His contract hasn’t been renewed. He says it’s his choice. He wants to go travelling, possibly trace his real parents in Jamaica and Ireland.’ She had imbued that sentence with a degree of cynicism. ‘Dave Beal,’ she went on. ‘Comedian of the old school. Fifty.’ There was a sharp intake of breath–he looked at least fifteen years older. ‘Hasn’t worked on television for years. Mostly lives abroad. Did very well out of the property boom. Unlike Steve Flyte…’ The face of the man who had been in all the papers talking about his divorce from a renowned cocaine-snorting actress appeared behind her. ‘DJ. Confirmed heterosexual’ She left it there. Everyone knew that he batted for both sides. ‘Helping out when they’re busy’, as one member of staff had put it. ‘Paul Martin. Columnist/rent-a-quote, getting a higher profile by the week. Says he’s doing this to have an insight into the world of the celebrity. Often to be seen at premières, parties, nightclubs, et cetera. And…’ She turned to check. ‘Alex Neil. Clothes designer. Gay. Single. No long relationships. Finally, Katie Fisher,’ she said, trying not to sound venomous. ‘Katie used to be one of the main anchors on Hello Britain!. She got sacked. Did a late-night series called Start the Weekend. Currently dating Adam Williams, one of the owners of Wolf Days Productions.’ She looked down at her notes. ‘Now, as you know, Katie Fisher and Flynn O’Mara are not confirmed as yet, and a couple of others are waiting in the wings. In terms of stories coming out of the show, we do anticipate at least one relationship. And when I say relationship, I don’t necessarily mean one resulting in marriage. But if we can all keep our eyes peeled–you know the sort of thing we want. I don’t need to tell you that the success of this will rest on what keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. Will he, won’t he? Will she, won’t she? They’ve all got massive egos. That’s why they’re in this show. We want flirting, we want fights. We want confrontations, conflagrations. We want a soap opera. Let’s give the audience the best reality TV show they’ve seen in the last decade.’ Katie Fisher had not set out to be a television presenter. She had wanted to be a journalist ever since she could remember, and had been ecstatic when she had got a job as a cub reporter on a local newspaper. She had worked her way up from there to the job she had loved as co-host on the number-one breakfast show. When she looked in the mirror, she saw a woman in her forties with clear skin, wavy auburn hair and green eyes. On a good day, she felt passable. On a bad day, she felt almost too dreadful to approach the front door, let alone walk through it. What the men who fell in love with her saw was a woman in her prime with sparkling eyes and a body made for the bedroom. Katie had made enough money during her years on the prestigious sofa at Hello Britain! to have a flat in Chelsea overlooking the river, and a pretty cottage in Dorset, which she had bought after she’d done a chat show in a nearby village. It had seen a lot of use during her relationship, now ended, with landscape gardener Bob Hewlett. He lived in a beautiful house near her parents and was one of her brother’s best friends. He looked like a blue-eyed Richard Gere, had the most attractive forearms and a cat called Caligula. Months of bliss had been brought to an abrupt halt by a stray remark from a friend, who revealed that Bob’s protestations of faithfulness during a temporary split had been overstated. He had apparently indulged in a fling with a marine biologist called Clare McMurray, who continued to keep in touch. Katie discovered her jealous gene, which she had previously thought missing. One of her great friends, Dee–the weather presenter at Hello Britain!–wasn’t convinced that this was the end of Katie and Bob. She had never seen Katie as happy, funny, silly and full of the joys of life as she had been with Mr Hewlett. Katie and she met up at the gym they had joined in a drunken pact at New Year. They were now familiar with the café’s offerings, rather less so with the inside of the adjoining gym. They sat drinking herbal tea in their tracksuits, having done no more than change into them. Dee had (as usual) claimed fatigue from the early mornings. Katie had (as usual) pleaded idleness. The window was open, allowing an occasional waft of vaguely fresh air to blow through. ‘Yes, I know I did the dirty on Bob first,’ said Katie, taking an accidentally noisy slurp of her tea. ‘He lied to me, though, for months. And that is unforgivable.’ ‘To be fair,’ said Dee, ‘you probably wouldn’t have told him about that bloke, Krishnan Casey, if it hadn’t been in the papers.’ ‘How on earth can you remember his name?’ asked Katie, impressed. ‘He was very good-looking and I always remember very good-looking men.’ ‘Well. Anyway,’ said Katie, ‘the point is, I only kissed him. And kissing someone is not the same as going to bed with them. Not in my book.’ ‘But you’d split up. Bob was a single man to all intents and purposes. He thought he could go at it with impunity.’ ‘Her name was Clare.’ ‘Sorry?’ ‘You said he was at it with Impunity’ ‘If you don’t want to discuss it, then tell me to shut up. I don’t feel like dealing with your crap punning today.’ ‘Oooh,’ sang Katie, lips pursed. ‘No. Really. I’m knackered. Simon’s being a total tit and keeps hunting me down in corridors to tell me I’m shit and that he doesn’t know why I bother. Why can’t they get a different editor? I don’t believe the entire success of Hello Britain! rests on his skinny arse.’ Simon had been one of those responsible for Katie leaving the show. He was a vindictive man with sparse hair and a penchant for weak tea with sugar. ‘Try not to worry too much,’ said Katie, immediately solicitous. ‘He can’t get rid of you, you’re too popular.’ ‘You know that’s only as true as my last press cutting,’ Dee responded. ‘The only reason he wouldn’t sack me is because he sacked you. If he got rid of another presenter, it would look bad.’ ‘To lose one presenter is unfortunate. To lose two is careless.’ ‘Exactly.’ Dee smiled, reaching back to untie her dark hair from the elastic band she had shoved it into for the alleged workout. ‘It’s exhausting. I say something on air, then wait for him to come and tell me how rubbish it was. It’s doing my head in. It’s got to the stage where I start a sentence and then, because I’m worried, I don’t finish it. So it actually is shit. As he says it is.’ They sipped their infusions, contemplating the man they both disliked. ‘Which flavour is this?’ asked Katie. ‘Passionfruit and vanilla, I think. Why?’ ‘They all taste the same. Like tangy hot water. They always smell nicer than they are. What’s yours?’ ‘Mandarin and grapefruit.’ Dee offered it, and Katie took a sip. ‘Yup. Tastes like mine.’ She put down her own cup, pondering the infidelity question. ‘It’s about honesty. At any stage, Bob could have told me he’d shagged that woman. But he didn’t.’ ‘He only lied by omission.’ ‘No. He lied. I asked him what he’d got up to while we were in limbo–’ ‘Separated,’ corrected Dee. ‘Whatever. And he said he’d missed me–and that’s mostly what he did. Pined. Or some such tosh.’ ‘You can miss someone and sleep with someone else, can’t you? To get over it, perhaps?’ asked Dee, raising her eyebrows questioningly. ‘In that case, he should have told me,’ said Katie, emphatically. ‘Maybe he thought you wouldn’t understand. You can be a bit, erm…’ Katie smiled at her friend as she searched for the right word. ‘Yes, I know I can be stroppy. But he should have tried. It was much worse the way he did it. Anyway. It’s all over. For ever,’ she said, standing up and draining her cup. Dee reached for her bag and sighed. ‘Well, I think it’s a crying shame. You two were brilliant together.’ Katie looked arch. ‘I’ve got a date tonight.’ ‘Oh, yes?’ asked Dee, her eyes alight with enquiry. ‘With Matt Damon.’ ‘No. Really?’ Dee demanded disbelievingly. ‘No. Not really,’ Katie agreed. ‘The next best thing, though. Adam Williams.’ ‘Oh, God, he’s gorgeous,’ said Dee, elongating the word, and trying to zip up her overflowing gym bag. Adam Williams and Nick Midhurst were co-owners of Wolf Days Productions, the company that had produced Start the Weekend in Dorset. They were both extraordinarily handsome. If Adam looked like Matt Damon, then Nick bore more than a passing resemblance to Ben Affleck. ‘He’s not only gorgeous, he’s also very nice,’ said Katie, running both hands through her long hair, bringing it forwards over her face and peeping seductively through the strands. ‘And he isn’t a lying toe-rag,’ she added provocatively. ‘Bob isn’t a toe-rag,’ Dee asserted, rising to the bait. And this is all a bit quick, isn’t it? You finish with one, and another pops up before you’ve put the lid on the pen, or whatever the expression is.’ ‘Bonnet on the pig?’ ‘Whatever. So how did that happen?’ ‘He phoned me.’ ‘And?’ ‘And asked if I was free tonight.’ ‘And this was?’ ‘This morning.’ ‘And you’ve waited until now to tell me?’ ‘I was building up to it.’ ‘You were toying with me, is what you were.’ ‘I admit to a certain amount of toyness,’ said Katie, with a laugh. ‘And now I’m going to spend the rest of the day getting ready. Should I have my legs waxed and my bikini line done?’ ‘Absolutely not,’ said Dee, horrified. ‘Go out with your legs like a plucked chicken and walking in a funny way?’ ‘I don’t walk in a funny way after my bikini wax.’ ‘Well, they aren’t doing it right, then.’ ‘How can they do it in the wrong way?’ ‘Not taking enough off.’ ‘This is not,’ said Katie, ‘a top-trumps to see how much of a trim one gets. I refuse to have it bald, like some pre-pubescent schoolgirl. I’m an adult, with body hair. One doesn’t have to have an entire bush under which to shelter when it’s raining but one does need a little tidy-round from time to time.’ ‘All right,’ said Dee. ‘Don’t get your knickers in a twist. Talking of which, do you have to wear awfully big pants to cover up the, er, hedgerow?’ Katie smiled. ‘Enough already. If I can’t wax, I’ll have to go out as a scary hairy Mary. Which means trousers or a skirt and boots.’ ‘Well, while you spend many happy hours pondering your outfit, I’m going home to kip. Oliver and I are off to the cinema tonight.’ Oliver was a proctologist, and a great friend of Katie’s doctor brother Ben, who was now a consultant anaesthetist at a large London hospital. ‘Well, wish me luck, then,’ said Katie, putting on her coat and pushing the chair in towards the table. ‘Good luck–as if you need it.’ Katie was glowing. Her hair was shining, her green eyes glittering with anticipation. ‘How the bloody hell do you look so good, considering your vast age?’ asked Dee. ‘Oi. I’ll have you know that early forties is the new early thirties. And, in all seriousness, not getting up at sparrow’s fart every morning is one of the greatest aids to youth. I’m finally getting my beauty sleep. In fact, the only fly in my ointment is the lack of a job, and therefore a certain restriction on my spending.’ ‘Oh, OK,’ said Dee, with exaggeratedly weary acceptance. ‘I’ll stump up for the tea.’ She made a slow move towards the till, shoulders slumped. ‘Cheers,’ said Katie, picking up her sports bag. She caught up with Dee, gave her a kiss on the cheek and left her. As she got to the door, she turned. ‘Give my love to Oliver,’ she called. ‘I’ll ring you tomorrow and give you a blow-by-blow account.’ She made a suggestive face. ‘You are disgusting,’ said Dee, without looking up from her purse. Katie’s evening was everything she had hoped it would be–and more. Adam was charming, witty, and very, very flirty. He and Nick had both fallen for the presenter of their show the first time they had seen her. But Nick was away supervising filming in France, and Adam had stolen a march on his rival. He had absolutely no intention of letting his business partner know that he was seeing Katie for dinner–or that she was single. As soon as he had heard on the grapevine that Katie and Bob had split up, he had begun his campaign. He was enough of a hunter to let her think he knew nothing of the separation and was merely after a discussion of future projects in a ‘more comfortable environment than the glass box that is my office’. It had been an unnecessary subterfuge. Katie considered dinner with any man to be a prelude to intimacy. ‘They may say it’s about work,’ she bragged to her friend Kirsty, whom she’d phoned from the back of a cab on the way home from the gym, ‘but if it was, they’d do it where I couldn’t pounce on them.’ ‘Aren’t you going to let him do the pouncing?’ asked Kirsty, who was pregnant with her second child and couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to pounce anywhere. ‘We may do a double pounce,’ Katie pronounced. ‘With a triple salchow?’ ‘Absolutely. Followed by a…erm…’ ‘Ha. Stumped, my little fat friend,’ said Kirsty, triumphantly. ‘I think you’ll find that you are going to be my little fat friend before too long,’ said Katie, sliding to the other side of the cab as the driver swung round a bend too fast. ‘How’s it going?’ ‘Vomiting a lot, which isn’t great. Actually, I wouldn’t mind so much if I thought I could eat more without putting on too much weight. But I’m eating dry biscuits to keep it down, and I’m going through two packets a day. And then I’ve got this awful craving for pickled beetroot. I get up, throw up, eat biscuits, throw up, eat pickled beetroot, get heartburn, go to bed and start the cycle all over again. And I have the midwife saying I’ve got to hold off on the biscuits and not eat so much beetroot. At the moment I’ve got spots round my mouth from being sick, got red pee, red poo and Fred has left a deposit of something on one shoulder.’ ‘You poor thing,’ said Katie, solicitously. ‘Nothing I can do, I assume?’ ‘Take Fred off my hands occasionally?’ ‘If you’re desperate enough to ask me to take him, you must be in a bad way. Of course I will. But you know I’m not that good when they’re little. In a couple of years’ time I’ll be taking him out and about all over the shop. Tea at the Ritz. A tour of the National Gallery. Whatever.’ ‘He’ll be three in a couple of years’ time.’ ‘Well, the Science Museum, then.’ ‘He’ll be three.’ ‘You see? I’m hopeless when they’re like overgrown foetuses. I mean, honestly, what do you do with a one-year-old?’ ‘Play with him?’ ‘He’d get bored.’ ‘You mean you’d get bored. Enjoy your dinner. The idea of flirting with anyone in my current state makes me feel sick. You know, I always wondered why they called it morning sickness when it can strike at any time of the day or night. I’ve taken to chewing a nub of toothpaste to take away the taste.’ ‘Do you spit or swallow?’ asked Katie with interest. As you know, one swallow doesn’t make a girlfriend.’ ‘You are rude, crude and disgusting. I am now putting the phone down.’ ‘Enjoy your beetroot,’ said Katie, pressing end call and putting the phone into her bag. Back home, she had a shower and washed her hair, making sure that the conditioner was the nicest-smelling one she had. She let it dry naturally as she padded round the flat, slowly getting ready. With the towel wrapped round her waist, she opened her wardrobe doors and surveyed the contents. First things first, she thought, and took out her brand new, vertiginous, purple Gina shoes. They were not exactly practical. She could barely walk the length of the sitting room before she needed a rest–but they were beautiful. It wasn’t often you got such a jewel-like colour. As soon as she had slipped them on in the shop, her head had buzzed with the busy refrain, ‘Neeew shoooes.’ She put them on now and stood in front of the mirror, admiring the way they made her feet look so small and elegant. She dropped the towel. Hmm. Probably better with clothes. She took out a little black dress with discreet fringing, which she had been thinking would be perfect. Had it always been so snug a fit, she wondered, as she tugged at the zip? She flicked back her hair from her now slightly sweaty face and stood up straight. Omigod, she thought. I look like a singed woodlouse. Over the next hour, she became more frantic as she realized that virtually everything was too damned tight. Hot and bothered, she eventually chose a stretchy silk shirt, stretchy black skirt and large stretchy belt, all bought when she was going through a fat phase. Or, at least, she’d thought it was a fat phase. It was bloody annoying how, as you got older, the phases became more frequent and longer-lasting. And how you could put on three pounds in a day, but a month later, you were still struggling to take it off. Life, she thought. A constant battle to keep everything in place. If only steamed vegetables and pineapple were enough to keep the soul alive. She applied the bare minimum of makeup and, having checked that she looked as good as she could under the circumstances, she left the flat. She usually tried to be a smidge late for dinner, but a taxi pulled up immediately, so she was–as usual–bang on time. Adam, who was used to his ex-girlfriend sometimes forgetting to turn up at all, was pleasantly surprised to find Katie sitting at the table when he arrived. She was drinking a glass of tap water. ‘I know. Not exactly racy, is it?’ she said, after kissing his cheek, rather self-consciously. To kiss or not to kiss? Too late now, she thought, gulping water to cover her confusion. First dates–if this was a first date–were always a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Not unlike opening a packet of fig rolls… The restaurant was expensive, with heavy white damask tablecloths and elegant wine glasses. She assumed it had been chosen because it shrieked neither seduction nor business deal, but rather the quiet confidence of a platinum card. Adam had also chosen his outfit carefully. He had started with his tan Longines watch and worked outwards. He was wearing a navy Paul Smith suit with a lilac shirt. Katie could barely look at him, he was so handsome. After an initially shaky start, when he had talked vaguely about some of the projects he was working on, there had been an unspoken agreement that they were not there to discuss what he could offer in the way of programmes, but more about what he could offer in the realm of a merger. As the dinner progressed, and the wine bottle emptied, they covered the gamut. Katie heard herself telling Adam how to cook aubergines: ‘Slice in half, face down on a non-stick tray, bake for half an hour. Lovely with honey.’ And Adam was surprised to find himself telling Katie how he had always coveted a pair of X-ray spectacles he had seen in the Beano: ‘I wanted them originally to see through this ant-house I had, and then, latterly, women’s clothes.’ ‘Of course.’ Katie had nodded understandingly. At one point, she deliberately brought in Bob’s name, making it clear that she was no longer with him. ‘Oh, I wasn’t aware that was all over,’ he lied. ‘Sad,’ he lied again. ‘Not for me, I hasten to add,’ finally being truthful, ‘but I remember he came down to Dorset on that first evening of the chat show. On his motorbike, wasn’t he?’ he asked, knowing full well he had been. He and Nick had gone to look (and drool) over it. Not only did he know that Bob rode a motorbike, he knew what model and even the state of the tyres. The bastard obviously raced it. ‘Yes. But it’s definitely over,’ said Katie, making sure she hadn’t been misunderstood. He got it. ‘Well it’s always horrible when it doesn’t work out,’ he said, his fist balled into a valedictory salute under the table. The restaurant was warm and cosy, the candles were guttering, the glasses empty. It was time to get the bill. Katie was feeling as smooth and melting as the chocolates that had come with her coffee. Outside, she shivered, despite her coat. ‘Cold?’ Adam asked, wrapped in his cashmere jacket. ‘A bit.’ ‘Let’s see what I can do about that,’ he said, and enveloped her in a warm hug that turned into a tentative kiss. Her response was everything he had hoped it would be. She almost fizzed with electricity. Katie was in heaven. In stumbling words, between kisses, she invited him back to her flat, where cloud nine was superseded by clouds ten and eleven and eventually every silver lining in the sky seemed to be lying in front of her. A few months’ later when she had introduced him to her parents, they had been cautiously complimentary. They had driven up to Yorkshire in Adam’s Jaguar, a sleek car with a throaty purr that was incredibly sexy. Just the feel of her thighs on the leather seat made Katie feel in the mood. It had been a balmy evening, with the scent of grass cuttings wafting through the open window. It had all gone well until Adam had left half of his pot au feu of braised pork belly, as though it had been a restaurant. All attendant members of the Fisher family were horrified. Katie’s father, Jack, was an enthusiastic chef who spent hours poring over recipe books and watching television cookery shows. He didn’t approve of leaving food. You took what you wanted and ate it all. Unless you didn’t like it–in which case, you shouldn’t have taken so much in the first place. Katie’s mother, Lynda, who was more than happy to let her husband do all the work in the kitchen, had been brought up by parents who had struggled to make ends meet, and she didn’t approve of waste. And Katie was a pig, who couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t eat every single mouthful of her father’s delicious food, then go back for more. By the end of the weekend, Adam had partially overcome their distrust of a man who could leave food on a plate, and had charmed them. His major Brownie points had been accrued when he had praised a painting in the dining room, which he had correctly identified as a posy of peonies. It had been executed by Lynda during her artist phase, and derided by her family as reminiscent of the rear view of a family of baboons with their heads down a well. ‘Mum is what we call, a keen…erm…trier,’ Katie explained, as Adam admired a pottery vase in the kitchen while they were making coffee. ‘That was originally a milk jug but, as you can see, its handle melted in the kiln. If you look closely, you’ll also notice a small hole in the bottom where she failed to supply enough clay. Hence the dried flowers. It’s like living with an overgrown primary-school child.’ ‘Oi,’ said her mother, coming up behind them as they considered her creation. ‘I’ll have you know that was modelled on one by a famous arts-and-crafts exponent.’ ‘Called Slipshod,’ said Katie. Her mother smiled. ‘I’ve left it to you in my will,’ she said. ‘Gee, thanks, Mum. Just what I’ve always wanted. Do hope you’ve left Baboon Anuses on a Summer’s Day to me as well. Or does anus become ami in the plural?’ ‘You are a rude and ungrateful girl. If I were you, Adam, I’d have nothing more to do with her.’ He nodded. ‘You’re absolutely right. No one could ask for more than a beautiful painting of peonies and an homage vase,’ he said, rhyming homage with fromage. ‘Homage vase!’ puffed Katie. ‘What are you like? It’s a piece of clutter.’ ‘My daughter, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, considers everything to be clutter,’ said Lynda. ‘She would probably live in a sterile lab, given the choice. Every home she’s had, you feel like you’re sitting in a show house. Can’t put your tea down without her tidying it away. And never anything in the fridge. Prisoners make their cells more homely.’ ‘Hey, Mum,’ said Katie, a bit hurt by her mother’s comments. ‘I’m not that bad. Honestly. Just because I can’t be doing with all the dust. Do you know, we shed an entire outer layer of skin every two days? That’s a whole human. This vase has probably got one of Mum’s legs and Dad’s ears on it.’ Adam smiled. ‘Actually, I’m afraid I have to blot my copybook and confess that I, too, live a slightly minimalist life.’ He made a face of apology. Lynda harrumphed and put the vase back on the windowsill. ‘Shall we have coffee in the garden since it’s such a nice day?’ They took the tray out to where lack was pinning back some of the trailing roses, which were threatening to swamp, rather than cascade over, a small wall near the greenhouse. ‘It looks lovely out here, Dad,’ said Katie, gazing about her and sniffing appreciatively. She loved coming home to the grey-stone house, even if her mother did sometimes make her feel unwelcome by using her old bedroom as a repository for the detritus from her discarded hobbies. ‘Incidentally, Mum,’ she said, pouring milk into her coffee, ‘I think Hercules may have rolled in some fox poo. He was smelling very ripe when I passed him.’ Hercules was their ageing Labrador. ‘Wretched dog,’ said her mother, without heat. She took her coffee, raised her voice and, without looking round, said, ‘lack. Your dog has been rolling in fox poo.’ He was lost in contemplation of a hollyhock and didn’t respond. ‘lack. Hercules smells,’ she said, louder this time. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I’ll get on to it. Excellent. Coffee. Have you poured me one?’ Katie passed him his cup and he took a big gulp. ‘Your mother’s turning into a right old cantankerous trout,’ he said quietly, but with feeling. ‘Was she ever different?’ asked Katie, who had always had a difficult relationship with her. He didn’t answer but put his cup back on the table and went off to get some secateurs. ‘Are you going to wash the dog, Jack?’ asked Lynda, annoyed. ‘I’ll do it in a minute,’ he responded curtly. Later, when Katie phoned to let them know they had got back to London safely, her father told her that he had taken up fishing to get out of the house more. And, in passing, he mentioned that Bob was a frequent companion. She hadn’t said anything at the time, but that night, lying between crisp sheets and reading Private Eye, Katie acknowledged a twinge as she thought of her father and the handsome landscape gardener casting their lines into the cool waters of the river. All her friends loved Adam, but Dee had expressed reservations. ‘He seems just a teensy-weensy bit self-obsessed,’ she told Katie, during a drunken night out with the girls. Now, eight months on, Katie had to confess that she was beginning to feel she came a poor second to his business. He was expanding Wolf Days Productions, and they were taking on new staff. He did invite her to some of the business dinners, but they were dull, involving talk of editing suites and cabling. She had tried to lighten one up by brightly announcing that coconuts killed 150 people a year. Adam had had the temerity to tell her to be quiet. In front of everyone. It had taken her so much by surprise that she had immediately phoned her friends to discuss the state of her relationship. She met her perennially single friend Kathy at their favourite budget café, its gay plastic tablecloths covered with garish pictures of vegetables. They ordered enormous frothy cappuccinos. Katie took all the foam and chocolate sprinkle off the top of hers and ate it before she addressed the matter in hand. ‘He seems really keen one minute, then cools off the next,’ she said. ‘I know he’s busy businessing at the moment, but it’s making me feel needy. And I hate feeling needy.’ ‘Maybe it’s because you don’t have a job,’ said Kathy, who was juggling two, and still not earning enough to make ends meet. ‘Thanks for reminding me.’ ‘Well, you are what you do, and you’ve done bugger-all of any consequence for rather a long time.’ Katie had been limping along by writing for newspapers and magazines, hosting awards ceremonies and standing in for people on local radio. ‘There’s not much about,’ she said ruefully. ‘I was offered Celebrity Masterchef, but I hate cooking anything that’s not vegetable soup. And I couldn’t do the meat thing. A mate of mine, who was training to be a chef, gave it all up after he had to debone a whole pig. Apparently shot the shoulder ball, or whatever it was, into an enormous trifle made by the head pastry chef. Nobody saw it happen, but he was convinced that if he confessed the pastry chef would kill him. And that if he didn’t, he’d be up before the beak for killing a trifle-eater with E. coli or whatever you get from uncooked pork.’ ‘Tapeworms.’ ‘Nope. Don’t think it was a tapeworm. Anyway, he said he felt sick, drove home and never went near the place again. He presents some show on BBC4 now.’ ‘Food?’ ‘No, thanks. Unless they have one of their special lemon meringue pies. Why? You hungry?’ ‘I meant, does he present a programme about food?’ ‘Oh. No. I think it’s vaguely intellectual. He was telling me something about Einstein’s brain being bigger in one area than another and scientists trying to work out whether it developed like that or had always been that way. It seemed to me that it was a bit difficult to prove. I mean, it’s not as though you can cut the top off people’s heads to look at their brain–like peering into a boiled egg–to find out whether nature or nurture is responsible for what’s going on in it.’ ‘What was his answer?’ ‘I don’t recall.’ The inside of the café was steamy. Katie rested her hands on her cup to warm them. ‘Hey, talking telly for a minute, did you see that beast Keera Keethley on Hello Britain! this morning?’ she asked. ‘Why do you watch that programme? It only annoys you,’ said Kathy, who had witnessed the hurt Katie had suffered when Keera had replaced her on the Hello Britain! sofa. The new presenter was exotically beautiful, with long black hair and blue eyes. She was also hugely ambitious, and employed publicists to make sure she was constantly in the public eye. She rarely drank alcohol, appeared at all the right events and in all the right places, and never left the house without checking in a mirror…unlike Katie, who had appeared in numerous periodicals and publications coming out of the wrong sort of places in the wrong sort of state. ‘So what did she do this morning?’ ‘She was interviewing this chap from some massive quango about what they were going to do for consumers. And then–because, as we know, she’s as thick as a Scotch pancake–she asked in that sugary little-girl voice she does, “But do you have any teeth?” And he looked bemused, smiled and said, “Of course I do.” And then she looked confused. And Rod Fallón rescued her with, “Yes, she obviously doesn’t mean it literally. What Keera means is what teeth does your organization have?” And then there was a two shot with Keera looking thunderous. It was hysterical.’ ‘You know, Hello Britain! suddenly sounds like it’s worth watching,’ said Kathy, rolling her eyes. ‘Yes. All right. Maybe you had to be there.’ ‘Anyway. As for the Adam stuff, I’m sure he’s in love with you, just as they always bloody are.’ ‘Being, as I am, the most gorgeous creature alive,’ said Katie, deadpan. ‘Frankly, I don’t know what it is. You’re an ugly muppet with no personality. It must be the smell of your feet,’ said Kathy, glancing at her watch and doing a double-take. ‘Damn. I really have to go. Enjoy your relationship for what it is. That’s what you tell me when I occasionally get lucky. See you.’ She grabbed her things. CHAPTER TWO (#u9d3d0bab-f43e-53e7-b446-0a915d9f421a) All was not well at Hello Britain!. The ratings were down, and the editor was blaming everyone but himself. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his fault. He had had a new male presenter foisted on him by The Boss. Rod Fallón had all the presence of a sock. He had been brought in as a safe pair of hands to replace the previous male presenter, who had been unveiled as a kerb-crawling sex pervert. Mike had been the consummate breakfast-television host. He had looked good, sounded good, and could do a good interview. He had been able to turn a difficult situation into must-watch television with a sense of aplomb. Rod could do a passable interview–period, as they would have said in the States. He was grey in every sense of the word. And that, coupled with the easy on the eye, but essentially dim Keera Keethley, was not pulling in the viewers. Simon gazed out of the window, his hands shoved deep into his trouser pockets, pulling the thin material tight over his bony haunches. As he waited for the news editor and the producers to come in for their morning meeting, he mulled over what was needed to give the show a boost–something that everyone would be talking about. He turned as they walked in. ‘Morning,’ he said nastily. ‘Not a good one, frankly, was it?’ The news editor, Colin, was taken aback. ‘Oh. I thought it was. Bounced along. Lots of content,’ he said. ‘Flat as a tea-tray and about as inspiring,’ said Simon, sitting down and tapping some of the keys on his computer. ‘There was nothing that would have got me tuning in. We could start with some intelligent bloody conversation. What the hell was Keera doing asking what a potato clock was when Rod quite clearly said he’d got up at eight o’clock?’ ‘I think she thought it was funny’ ‘We both know she doesn’t think,’ said Simon, bitchily. Colin was surprised. What he couldn’t have known was that Keera could no longer be bothered to flirt with the programme’s editor. Knowing that she wouldn’t be sacked now that Katie and Mike had gone, she had no further use for the little tête-à-têtes she’d had when she’d first got her feet tucked firmly under the famous Hello Britain! sofa. Consequently, Simon’s view of her had altered. The stirring in his loins was still there when he caught the glimpse of thigh and panties she flashed so regularly on the show it had almost become her trademark, but her lack of intelligence grated. That morning, she had called some starving Africans ‘emancipated’. You could get away with that sort of mistake if you were seen as innately clever. People assumed you knew the right word. The problem was that Keera probably didn’t. ‘Right,’ said Simon, clenching his small buttocks in the pale blue trousers. I have decided that we need one of our presenters out and about. Next week we’ll go on the road. We’ll do OBs every day’ There was a subdued groan. Outside broadcasts were a recipe for disaster. There was disruption, chaos…and that was just the presenters’ and crew’s home lives. There was so much to organize, so many things to go wrong, and therefore more reasons for bollockings from Simon, who relished them. ‘I want a different town every day. You can forget about Northern Ireland, but I want one morning in Wales and one in Scotland. One in the north, one in the south-west, the other wherever. But not London. And I want a proper reason for us to be there, not some made-up crap. Now. What have we got for tomorrow?’ The rest of the meeting was conducted in the usual bear-pit manner, with one person being picked on for a special mauling. Afterwards they spilled out in silence. ‘I don’t see why it’s so awful to do OBs,’ Kent, the producer, said to Heather, wrinkling his nose in confusion. ‘I’ve never been on one, but they sound like good fun.’ Heather was a senior producer, and had been there long enough to have seen knee-jerk reactions to low ratings before. They never worked. Only one thing did, in her opinion. Good content. Good interviewees. And good interviewers. She couldn’t be bothered to explain that to Kent. He was besotted with Keera and would have been happy to watch a three-and-a-half-hour programme of her applying her lipgloss. Mind you, she thought wearily, it would be a damn sight cheaper than going on the road. She wished she’d taken the job at the BBC when it had been offered five years ago. It had been a lot less cash, but she wouldn’t now be dreading going on the road with Keera. She was difficult enough to nursemaid when she was at the end of a button hard-wired into her ear… In his office, Simon sat at his keyboard and rattled off an email to Rod, Keera and Dee. He smiled. Sending emails that he knew would disrupt his presenters’ lives was one of the delights of the job. He wondered how long it would be before he got the phone calls, and in which order they would come. He looked at his watch. Keera was having a meeting with her new agent. At least, she was hoping he’d be her new agent. She had accidentally sacked the first one. She really didn’t like it when things were unplanned. She had phoned to tell him to pull his finger out. ‘I really should be doing better than I am,’ she had said. ‘I’m a high-profile presenter but what have I been offered? Nothing that I want to do. You need to get out there and be hustling on my behalf. It’s up to you to make it happen. I said I wanted my own show, and I see no sign of it happening.’ She always liked to hear herself sounding firm. In control. Serious. She even drummed her burgundy-lacquered nails on the table as she was talking, admiring the way they looked. But he had told her that if she felt like that, perhaps it was time for them to part company. Taken by surprise, she had agreed. The agent had not been unhappy. He was relieved to see her go, despite the money she brought in for his company. She was high maintenance, constantly demanding more meetings, more action, more show reels sent to more people who couldn’t possibly have anything to offer. He could do without her running his staff ragged in pointless exercises. So Keera had phoned Matthew Praed, who was considered one of the best. He also charged a punitive commission, and demanded his clients follow his advice even if they felt it was against their morals, principles or best future interests. For her first meeting with him, she had chosen a slim-fitting black suit and high red stilettos. ‘Obviously, most people know me as a war correspondent and journalist,’ she said, to his amusement, since most people knew her for the naked photo shoot she had done shortly after joining Hello Britain!. ‘But I don’t really see myself as a newshound.’ She crossed her immaculately stockinged legs, giving him a flash of black-lace panties. ‘I want to be more famous than the people I interview. Actually, I probably am more famous than most of them. But I want to be someone whose name is so well known that I’m just Keera, no surname required. I know that sounds a little, perhaps, ridiculous…’ She tried out the latest smile she had been practising, which involved a shy look up through her fringe, then polished it off with the laugh she felt she had almost perfected. As it rang out, she wondered whether there should be a touch more bass. ‘But if you can’t be honest with your agent,’ she finished, ‘then who can you be honest with? I suppose my dream job would be my own show. Michael Parkinson, only younger and more female.’ Matthew was not surprised that she wanted her own show. Every presenter did. And he liked her sheer determination and naked ambition. It was what had driven him from his first job in a relative’s nascent porn-film business to the über-agency he now ran out of a smart address in London’s West End. He had many famous names on his books, and was well aware of the money that could be made at the high end of television. Normally he would have turned over a breakfast presenter to one of the five agents who worked for him, but he decided that until he had added her to his burgeoning number of bed notches, Keera would be under his aegis. Matthew Praed was a renowned philanderer, and few women had not succumbed. He was a committed collector, and a commitment phobe. Today his well-honed body was clothed in an Ozwald Boateng brown suit, with a thin orange stripe, and a white T-shirt. Absolutely,’ he concurred. ‘One should always be honest with one’s agent. Best to set out your stall straight away. What else are you doing at the moment apart from Hello Britain!? And I assume you’d leave the programme if the right job came up?’ ‘Too right I would,’ she responded with alacrity. ‘And as for other things that I’m doing, well…all I keep getting offered are programmes where I have to strip off.’ ‘Hmm. Perhaps that’s understandable, considering that you’ve done a number of photo shoots where you’ve appeared naked.’ ‘Yes, but I don’t have to tell you how different it is doing a photograph naked and being naked doing a television programme.’ ‘Of course not,’ he said soothingly. Before their meeting he had enjoyed looking through the magazines and newspaper articles featuring Miss Keethley. She was a very knowing model, he thought. ‘So where would you draw the line?’ Keera pursed her lips. Then, worried that she might not look very attractive in that pose, she relaxed them. She made sure her voice was well modulated and began to explain. ‘As I said, I don’t want to be seen only as a journalist. But I’m aware that the news side of it does carry a certain, erm…What’s the word?’ ‘Cachet?’ he supplied. ‘Yes. Probably,’ she said. She had thought a cachet was something you kept your jewellery in. But obviously not. And I don’t want to lose that entirely by prancing about in my swimwear.’ ‘I see,’ he said, smiling encouragingly and glancing towards her short skirt as it edged up slightly. She was delighted to notice that. Apart from hosting my own show, I think what I would like to do,’ she said, wriggling slightly in her seat, ‘is to keep that journalistic allure, as it were, while actually going more entertainment-based. You know that I got the job on the sofa because of my war reporting.’ It had been something of a standing joke in the newsroom. Her first report had been so unutterably bad that the producers had had to write the rest and fax them to her so that she could rehearse them. What she had done well was deliver the words. And obviously no one could dispute that she had actually been in a war zone–albeit a very well-protected part of it. ‘So I’m talking more…Oh I don’t know…more University Challenge than Love Island.’ Matthew was enjoying this meeting. He liked Keera’s chutzpah, no matter how misguided she was. He tried not to let his face show his incredulity. University Challenge! ‘I think Jeremy Paxman’s got that pretty well wrapped up,’ he said, ‘but I get where you’re coming from.’ He leaned back in his chair and crossed his ankles, admiring the soft leather of his Italian brogues. ‘I’m sure we can get something brewing. If you’re OK with our terms and conditions, I’ll get my secretary to send over a contract. And in the meantime I can start setting up some meetings. I have quite a good relationship with Wolf Days Productions, who are big players in the television world, as you know,’ he said. She nodded. ‘They were one of the ones who wanted me to do a programme wearing nothing,’ she said, with a complicated sigh that was supposed to indicate it was understandable that everyone wanted a piece of her. ‘Yes, well, they’ve always got something on the go, and it doesn’t hurt to put your name out there,’ he said, then dragged a large desk diary towards him. ‘How are you fixed at the moment date wise?’ She reached into her Chanel bag for her BlackBerry. She noticed that an email was waiting from Simon, and quickly read it. Damn, she thought, as she scrolled through to her diary. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘if we’re talking about a one-hour meeting, max, I can do a week on Monday straight after the show. It’ll get me out of the morning meeting at Hello Britain!, which is always tedious.’ ‘Better give me a few more days, just in case. And maybe tell me your free afternoons and evenings. Sometimes they can be more productive.’ He jotted down the dates she gave. ‘Good. I’ll come back to you when I’ve firmed things up. And, as I said, I’ll get that contract written up with our terms et cetera. It’s all pretty standard. On the assumption that you sign, welcome aboard,’ he said, standing up and holding out his hand. She stood up, too, aware that her skirt had ridden up and was nudging the top of her thighs. She pulled it down a little. ‘Thanks very much,’ she said, taking his hand. Look at me being all businesslike, she thought. I’m like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde. Only better, because I’m taller and, though I say it myself, better-looking. Better-sounding in the name department, too. Witherspoon. That is just so…so…withering. She made sure her handshake was firm, but not too firm. Matthew, meanwhile, was contemplating how attractive she would look spreadeagled on his leather bed. Outside, on the pavement, Keera phoned Simon. She was skilled enough in the politics of office life never to let her annoyance show. ‘Hello, Simon,’ she said, ‘Keera here. Are you busy?’ ‘Not for you,’ he said, adjusting his trousers and checking his watch. He was out by an hour. Must be losing his touch. Although he’d been right that she would be the first to ring. ‘Just to let you know that obviously I’m delighted we’re going on a little roadshow,’ she said. ‘Brilliant idea. I was just wondering whether it was worth one of us staying in the studio because, as we know, with the best will in the world, things can go wrong and you could do with a safe pair of hands to anchor it.’ She really didn’t want to be traipsing round the country meeting the hoi polloi and being pawed by local dignitaries. It was so depressing. ‘Hmm,’ said Simon, pretending to think about it. ‘So we’d have Rod back in the studio, you mean?’ Keera laughed her new laugh. Only lower. Finally, she thought. Absolutely pitch perfect. ‘Whatever,’ she said, pertly. ‘Although, as the main presenter, I was actually thinking that perhaps it should be me…’ She tailed off. ‘Oh,’ said Simon, examining the chewed cuticles on his left hand and smiling to himself. ‘I saw the main presenter as the one who was going to be at the hub. And the hub will be wherever we’re going to be. The other person will be the co-anchor, and there’ll be less for them to do. Which was why it was going to be you. But if you’re happy with Rod being main presenter for the week…’ Keera had been caught out. She had insisted on being described in all correspondence as the main presenter. How very annoying. ‘Keera?’ ‘Yes, still here. Sorry. I couldn’t hear you. I’m standing on the street and a lorry just went past.’ ‘I said that the main presenter…’ ‘Yes, I heard you,’ she snapped. ‘Oh. I thought you said you hadn’t,’ he said, pretending he’d believed her. ‘I meant I hadn’t quite heard you. Or wasn’t sure I’d heard you correctly. The thing is…well, to be honest, I have a number of evening corporate events, which I’m hosting.’ ‘Well, I’m sorry about that,’ he said, not sounding even remotely sorry, ‘but you’re going to have to sort that out yourself. I’m sure you’ll be able to get to one or two. You won’t be on another continent, after all.’ She realized she had been comprehensively snookered. That idiot Rod would get the cushy job of sitting on the sofa, while she trailed round Britain staying at hideous hotels with the camera crew, interviewing the general public. Hateful. And she would be losing money. There was no way she’d be able to get to and from the corporate gigs if she was in the wilds of bloody Wales, for bloody example. At least it wouldn’t be annoying for her new agent because they’d been set up by the previous one. She phoned Matthew to see if Hello Britain! could force her to go if she decided to put her foot down. ‘Moot point,’ he said, moving his chair back from the desk and imagining her in lingerie. ‘You could push it if you wanted. But it’s a high-risk strategy. It might result in them not only sticking to their guns but demanding a change in your contract–and you really don’t want that. On balance, I think you’ll have to grin and bear it. As soon as we know where you’re going to be, we can book cars or flights or whatever. And those corporates you absolutely can’t do–well, I’ll have a word with your previous agent. Since he arranged them, it’s up to him to farm them out to someone else. I can always help him with names from our books, too.’ How annoying, Keera thought, as she hailed a cab home. She’d earmarked that money for a new car. A Mercedes SLK convertible in silver. Or possibly black. She’d have to check which one looked nicer with her hair–silver might be a better contrast. Her co-presenter was also annoyed about the arrangements for the week of outside broadcasts. Rod had assumed that he would be the one going on the road, and had told his wife and daughter. He had been looking forward to getting away from home. And, to complete the hat-trick, Heather was annoyed, too. Simon had decided that there was to be a plastic-surgery strand the week after the OBs and that, to save on health and safety issues with the public, producers would volunteer to undergo the procedures. He already had candidates for Botox, fillers and ears pinning. He had persuaded Heather to have her eyebags done. It had been a double whammy for her. Number one: she didn’t fancy going under the knife, even though it was a local anaesthetic and she’d be straight out. Number two: she didn’t think she needed it. But when she’d told a friend how she’d been press-ganged into having her eyelids sliced off, her friend had told her she was lucky. Lucky! Katie Fisher caught up with all the gossip late that afternoon when she saw her senior producer friend, Richard, who had finished his stint of overnights and was about to have four days off. She caught the tube and an overground train to Twickenham, then went into a delicatessen where she bought a bottle of white, a bottle of red, some cheese, olives and a box of chocolate-covered ginger, to which she knew he was partial. ‘Provisions,’ she declared, as he opened the door. ‘Thank goodness for that,’ he responded, with a smile. ‘We were down to our last weevil.’ ‘You look like shit,’ she said, giving him a hug and moving a small dumper truck off one of the chairs. ‘Why, thank you, kind lady. I wish I could say the same for you, but sadly you look great. Have you done something new to your hair?’ ‘Washed it. It’s probably shrunk. You know how it is.’ Richard ran his hand through his receding hairline. ‘That’s not kind. Mine’s not so much shrinking as disappearing. I’ve got to the stage where I talk about past events as “when I had hair”.’ ‘I’d feel sorry for you, except you’re such a damned fine figure of a man that you look more handsome without it,’ she declared. ‘I knew I liked you. Let’s open the first bottle of wine and have all our week’s units in one fell swoop. When do you have to go?’ he asked, opening the tub of olives and putting them on the table. She looked at her watch. ‘I’ve got a few hours. Enough to do at least six or nine units, I’d have thought. Where are the children?’ ‘Oooh! Are these chocolate gingers, you naughty young lady?’ he asked, picking a piece of sticky tape from the side of the container. ‘They’re out with Louise. We have a very small window of opportunity before we have to escape to the shed to continue drinking in peace and quiet.’ ‘How are they?’ ‘Oh, you know, a chippy thirteen-year-old, a clingy ten-year-old, and a noisy three-year-old, whose new lorry you almost sat on. Sometimes I wish I’d had the snip.’ ‘You love ’em.’ She laughed and poured the wine. ‘Cheers.’ They chinked glasses and there was a companionable silence as the liquid eased its way to the right places. Richard and Louise had met as producers on Look West–and, in the throes of new love, he had swiftly given in to her demand for impregnation. Then she had quite reasonably said she didn’t want to leave it too long for another. He really couldn’t remember the third occasion, which had resulted in Brett. He claimed she had got him drunk on his birthday and the next thing he knew she was handing him the white plastic stick with a line through the middle of the window. ‘I do love them,’ Richard confirmed ruefully, getting up to go and get a board and a knife for the cheese, ‘but they’re knackering. It would help if we didn’t both work. What with me doing mostly nights, and Louise doing mostly days, we should have it all covered. Instead we’re always trying to sort out the gaps. God knows how single parents do it. I’d have to build some sort of cage to stop the children getting out. I thought it was bad enough when they were little and keeping us up all the time or getting into trouble. Now, we’re just a glorified taxi service. Daisy and Andrew have a bigger sporting and social life than we ever did. Even Brett gets out more than I do. Does life have to be this hard?’ ‘You could try being sacked as the anchor of Britain’s foremost breakfast-television station and finding another job that paid as well’ He smiled. ‘Can’t Adam give you a job?’ ‘He’s got me in to do voiceovers here and there. But all the things he’s been working on since we’ve been together have needed a different presenter from me. Or he puts my name down and the commissioning editor says they want someone else. I could do with losing about fifteen years and eight stone.’ ‘Don’t be silly.’ ‘Television companies demand young flesh. Or less flesh, more youth.’ ‘Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the National Debt,’ he said. She grinned. ‘Very funny’ ‘I think a comedian said it.’ ‘It’s so annoying when they say it first. I like the one that George Burns said about how when he was young the Dead Sea was only sick.’ She picked out one of the larger olives. ‘Anything at all in the pipeline?’ She sighed and puffed out her cheeks. ‘The usual. I get by on articles for newspapers and magazines and hosting corporate events.’ ‘At least you haven’t got a thirteen-year-old stomping round the house, telling you she hates you and shutting herself up in her bedroom and picking her spots, or whatever she does.’ ‘Aaah. Bless her little cotton socks. I remember Daisy when she was a sweet girl who adored her daddy. I still use her expression when I’m blow-drying my hair and it goes static’ He raised his eyebrows questioningly. ‘This hairbrush is making my hair ecstatic,’ she reminded him. ‘Oh, I’m sure she’ll come out the other side,’ he said. ‘After all, it’s puberty, not a life choice. It’s predictably tedious, though.’ ‘Andrew hasn’t started it yet, has he?’ ‘No. Something to look forward to. And Brett, when he’s not banging his head on the walls and developing his lunge technique, is adorable.’ ‘Takes after you. Oh dear. I think my glass has got a hole in it.’ ‘It’s a trick one. It always does that. I think mine’s got a slow leak, too.’ He leaned over and topped up the glasses. ‘There’s also the smell. Did you have a bedroom that needed a public-health warning slapped on it when you were a teenager?’ She looked horrified. ‘Do you know to whom you’re talking? Little Miss Tidy! My mother used to ask me to give a room a lick and a polish and she’d come in to find me behind the sofa trying to get the pile up on the carpet where the feet had been.’ ‘Daisy goes berserk if you so much as suggest she wouldn’t get so many spots if she washed more often, put her clothes in the laundry basket and didn’t live in a pit.’ ‘I hate to break confidences, but Dee’s still like that. I once found a cheese sandwich welded to the underneath of a fake Tiffany lamp.’ He laughed. ‘Talking of which, how are things at the funny farm?’ she asked. ‘Rod Fallon’s the dullest man on earth. He’s so dull, that I almost long for Mike to be brought back.’ Katie made a face. ‘I know,’ he said. I kept telling you he wasn’t what he seemed.’ ‘I still can’t quite believe it, though. I didn’t think he had much of a sex drive.’ ‘Hey, that’s a good one. A new version of kerb crawling. Get it?’ ‘Yes, I get it. Doesn’t take a genius to get it,’ she said, in a quelling tone. ‘Yes, but I got it first.’ ‘I wasn’t aware it was a competition,’ she said stiffly, and took a big slurp of wine. Then she smiled. ‘But ’oo would’ve thought, eh?’ ‘Do you remember where you were when you heard he’d been arrested for kerb crawling?’ ‘I was doing my first programme in Dorset for Wolf Days Productions, if you recall’ ‘Of course. Do you keep in touch with him?’ ‘You are joking? He was the one who wanted Keera in and me out, if you remember!’ ‘Oops. Sorry. I plead breakfast-television lag.’ ‘Talking of jet lag…did you know that it’s worse if you travel west to east because it’s easier to stay up late than get up earlier? And that in hamsters Viagra improved recovery by fifty per cent?’ ‘Where do you get all this bollocks from?’ ‘Wikipedia. Amazing what you find to do with your time when there’s lots of it. Strange thing, time. When you’re young birthdays take for ever and ever to come round. And now I’m…erm…thirty-six,’ she said carefully, both of them nodding at the lie, I feel like I’m on a time-travelling escalator. It’s like being at Yo Sushi! with them rushing towards you on the conveyor belt before you’re even done with the first one. My mum used to tell me I’d get to the point where I wouldn’t celebrate birthdays. I thought she was absolutely bonkers. Mad as a box of frogs. Off her chuff.’ ‘Oh, those simple days, when all you had to worry about was whether you were going to get picked for the football team. And whether you were going to have sex with Jackie Fenter.’ ‘Attractive, was she?’ ‘No. Available.’ He cut another slice of cheese. ‘Whoops. My glass appears to be empty again. It requires more units,’ she observed. ‘Help yourself. My arm’s getting repetitive strain injury.’ She reached for the bottle. ‘You were telling me about Rod Fallón. The man with the charisma of plankton.’ ‘Dull. Dull. Duller than any dishcloth. As dull as a smudge. I know they wanted to make sure we didn’t get another Mike, but he’s like a wet blanket, extinguishing any spark. Manages to render an exciting story dreary within a minute. And, as I predicted, Keera walks all over him. She’s become a monster.’ Katie loved hearing Keera bad-mouthed. ‘What’s she been doing?’ she said, eyes sparkling. She put her elbows on the table and leaned forward for the full gory details. Richard smiled at her obvious relish. ‘You are so bad,’ he admonished her. ‘However. You know I told you she’d insisted it was written into her contract that she was the main presenter?’ Katie nodded. ‘So she nabs whichever interview she wants. Talks all over him. And she’s taken to wilfully mishearing him because she thinks it’s funny Today she talked about a potato clock when he said he’d got up at eight o’clock. And she wouldn’t shut up. One interview had to be slashed to a minute and a half because she overran so much. Oh, and–you’re not going to believe this–Rod was taken out a fortnight ago by Derek in Wardrobe, to brighten him up.’ ‘Fantastic. I wondered why he was beginning to look like a fruit salad.’ ‘And then they waste all this money by dragging him to Savile Row. I ask you.’ ‘Must have cost them a fortune.’ ‘And he’s not happy.’ ‘Bless.’ ‘And neither is Keera. She says it makes her look like she’s a backing singer.’ ‘Bless.’ ‘Exactly We’ve stopped it now, because it’s boring, but we started having a verbal sweepstake on what fruit he’d resemble next.’ She looked at the big clock on the wall. ‘How long have we got before we get swamped by children?’ ‘I’ll give Louise a ring,’ he said, and stood up to get his mobile phone out of his pocket. He had a short conversation/Half an hour,’ he announced. ‘So drink up. And tell me more.’ He shook his head. ‘You’re an addict. OK. Another Keera story, then. She was telling us she’d gone to see Swan Lake. She’s been trying to up her cultural quotient. So she said to Heather, “And then the owl died at the end.’” Katie laughed. ‘She did not!’ ‘She did. And Heather said, “Are you sure you don’t mean the black swan?” Keera looked at her in that way that you know the penny’s suddenly dropped, and said, “Whatever.” I tell you, it was one of the funniest things. It’s a shame she didn’t say it on air.’ ‘Talking of daft things to say,’ said Katie, ‘did I tell you about my appearance on Saturday Morning Kitchen, or whatever it’s called? Afterwards, they asked me if I could do a few random statements, like what’s my favourite ring tone or whatever. So I said yes. And they asked me about my favourite snack to have in front of the telly. I said, “Are you rolling?” They said yes. So I said, “My favourite snack to eat in front of the television is cock porn. Sorry. Did I just say cock porn? Can I do that again?” So they said yes and I started again. “My favourite snack to eat in front of the television is cock porn. Did I say cock porn again? I did? I mean popcorn. Obviously.” And I had to do it three times. Three times. I hadn’t even got the excuse that I was knackered from the early mornings.’ As Katie and Richard broached their second bottle–and the children arrived back to find them giggling uncontrollably at the kitchen table–Dee, the weather presenter, was getting ready to have a bath…and was about to make a splash both literally and figuratively. Later, she blamed it on the tiredness that afflicts all breakfast-television presenters. She had taken the tube to Highbury and Islington, then hoofed it to Oliver’s house. Feeling hot and sweaty, she had given him a big kiss and belted upstairs to go and wash her feet. With hindsight, she should have had a shower. But at the time it had seemed eminently sensible to stick them in the bath. After all, it was only her feet that needed a freshen-up after running about in thick nylon tights. She couldn’t explain how it had happened. She had washed one foot in the high, clawed-foot bath, then lifted the other and fallen backwards. Scrabbling to keep her balance, one foot had gone into the loo, beside the bath, and then there was a funny sound as it went round the Liberia. Boy, did it hurt! She yelped, tears came into her eyes and she collapsed onto the floor. Oliver, while trying to be comforting, couldn’t help laughing. ‘What an idiot,’ he said, gently cradling the ankle in his hands. ‘You know what? I think you’ve broken it.’ And she had. He had driven her to A and E, where she had been put in plaster and sent home with painkillers. She phoned the television station from the car to warn them that she was going to be on crutches for a bit. The next morning in the makeup department, Dee was explaining what had happened. ‘I can’t believe how stupid it all was. You couldn’t make it up. One minute I’m washing my feet, the next I’m upside-down with one of them stuck in the toilet. I would have laughed if it hadn’t been so painful. What a thoroughly thick thing to do. Thicker than an Aran sweater.’ ‘Ah. They’re lovely and warm, though,’ said Vanda, the makeup artist. ‘Just like you,’ she said, cloyingly. ‘Creep,’ laughed Heather, who had come in to tell Dee that there was a problem with her weather graphics. ‘Whereas you,’ said Vanda, with a sidelong look at Heather, whom she liked, ‘are like a sweater from a pound shop. Not very warm at all’ ‘And an odd shape,’ added Heather. ‘Or maybe a jumper made out of different yarns. Mixed up, confused and liable to fall apart on a cold wash!’ They all laughed as Keera floated in. It was her new way of walking. She had been watching an Audrey Hepburn film and decided that languid was the new black. ‘Something funny?’ ‘No,’ said Dee, her grin still lingering. ‘Well, you’re all laughing.’ ‘Just deciding what kind of jumpers we are. I’m a thick Aran sweater,’ she began. ‘Well, I’ll be a superfine cashmere with a hint of silk, then,’ said Keera. There was a small silence. ‘Yes. Good. Excellent choice,’ said Dee. Keera sashayed out of the room to check her outfit. ‘“Excellent choice,” mimicked Vanda. ‘What are you like?’ She shook her head. ‘Well, I hadn’t explained why I was thick, had I?’ ‘She didn’t give you a chance. And she’d never have got it, anyway’ ‘No. If anything, she’s a double-ply thick jumper with moths.’ ‘Or maybe a big hairy sweater!’ said Vanda. They giggled. Keera swayed back in. ‘Oh, my God! What’s happened to your leg?’ she shrieked, as she suddenly noticed the plaster on Dee’s ankle. Her voice was much higher than she’d meant it to be, so she added another sentence in a lower range. ‘Are you going to be out of action for long?’ ‘Broke my ankle washing my feet.’ ‘I assume you’re kidding?’ ‘Nope. One foot in the bath, one foot out of the bath. Staggered about, foot went in the lavvy, broke my ankle in the U-bend.’ ‘You’re making that up,’ said Keera, aghast. ‘God’s honest,’ said Dee. ‘Well. How, erm…’ ‘Idiotic?’ smiled Dee. ‘Um. Yes,’ said Keera. If she had put what she thought into words, she would have said, ‘How weird. And how incredibly annoying, because that is so going to make it into the papers.’ It wasn’t that Keera was short of column inches, but she absolutely hated it when anyone else got them. She’d have to phone her publicist and see if there wasn’t something he could do. CHAPTER THREE (#u9d3d0bab-f43e-53e7-b446-0a915d9f421a) In a minimalist flat in Chelsea, the radio alarm clicked. Ten o’clock. It was the most beautiful crisp, wintry morning. The sun was shining in a pale blue sky, there was a light wind, and a bird was chirping somewhere nearby. There was no reason for Katie to put an alarm on, but she felt that grown-ups ought to have some sort of structure or things would start to go wrong. Not that she had always believed that. In the weeks and months following her sacking from Hello Britain!, she had relished the shapelessness of her days. Afternoons running into evenings, late evenings running into two days later…the strangeness of looking at her watch and not having a clue whether it was five in the morning or five in the afternoon. But that had become boring in itself. Boring and, much worse than that, it had made her fatter and spottier. Eating outside normal hours resulted in endless snacking from nearby fast-food outlets–and organic chocolate was still chocolate. She stretched and eventually pulled herself away from Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 to make herself a pot of tea. She clicked her computer on, and as it hummed into life, she pulled a couple of eyelashes out as she contemplated the day. For some reason, gently pulling on eyelashes until one gave itself up made her feel happy. She examined them closely. Good thick bulbous roots. ‘I feel heppy,’ she said out loud, in an upper-crust accent. ‘Oi feel ’appy,’ she said again, using a really bad East End accent. ‘Eye feel haffy,’ she said, stretching her lips really thinly, and keeping her teeth together. She spooned loose leaves into the teapot and put a mug, a strainer and a nice milk jug onto a tray. Even at her most slovenly (and slovenly, for Katie, meant socks worn two days in a row), she liked a proper tea tray. She went back to bed, pulled the duvet up and grabbed her laptop as her tea mashed. ‘Je suis heureuse,’ she said huskily, with her head on one side as she clicked on her emails. ‘Ich bin happy,’ she reiterated, with her chin jutting forward. A number of little boxes popped up, and Katie (happily) went through them. ‘Hmm,’ she said, as one opened with a job offer, passed on from her agent’s office. She read it thoroughly, then went back to the beginning to read it again. On Woman’s Hour, they were discussing wages. ‘Because of the difference in wages for men and women, basically for one month of the year, women don’t get paid,’ someone was saying. ‘Oh, yes, they jolly well might,’ Katie said to the radio, getting out of bed to find her phone. She called her agent. ‘Jim Break.’ ‘Katie Fisher,’ she announced. ‘Well, hello, Ms Fisher. I can only assume you’re calling about the offer from Celebrity X-Treme that I sent you on email last night.’ ‘That I am,’ she said. ‘And what are your thoughts?’ ‘Well, my first thought is what a lot of money. My second is…what is everyone else being offered? My third is…who is everyone else? My fourth is…has it bloody well come to this? Because we both know that unless I get an offer of a job pretty damn smartish, I’m going to run out of savings. There’s a limit to how many articles I can write about being a woman in her forties on television. Or a woman in her forties off television, to be more accurate. And guesting on shows where they’ve run out of guests.’ ‘Well, going through those questions in no particular order…I agree that you haven’t exactly been inundated with offers. But you need to think very hard before taking on something like this. It could be the worst career decision you’ve ever made. You know as well as I do what the producers will be hoping to get from you. And they’ll be doing all they can to make sure you either do the things they’re expecting…or look like you’re doing them.’ ‘If you’re talking about the drinking and the men, I think we can safely say that I’m over that. I haven’t been hammered for months, and I am, of course, going out with the scrummy Adam, thank you very much.’ ‘Well, my advice–for what it’s worth–is not to do it. Yes,’ he pressed on, sensing her interruption, ‘I know you need the cash and it is a large sum, but is it large enough to live on for the rest of your life? Even if you do get a few things off the back of it, you’ll soon find them drying up if you’ve ruined your credibility’ ‘That’s all well and good but I need to eat in the meantime. Do you know anyone else they’ve asked? And what they might have been offered in the filthy-lucre department?’ ‘I think they’re doing a trawl at the moment. I know some of the names. Not people you’d probably want to spend a fortnight with. As for the cash, no idea. It’ll depend on profile, obviously.’ ‘When do they need to know by?’ ‘As soon as. But I honestly do think you’d be wise not to. You know, the other thing is that if you go into this, people will think your career’s on the skids.’ ‘It kind of is.’ ‘No, it’s more in the doldrums.’ ‘Doldrums, skids, whatever. The one thing it’s not is on the up.’ ‘One programme offer, and you’d be on the way up. That’s all it takes,’ he said. ‘Which is sounding suspiciously like what actors say. And that is not why I became a journalist.’ ‘It’s hardly a journalistic job, this one.’ ‘But I could use it as one. Maybe write a book off the back of it. Or something,’ she said lamely. ‘Hm. I’d bet you a pound to a bunch of grapes that at least one other contestant will claim the same reason. Anyway, you asked for my opinion, and that’s it. Don’t do it. Enjoy the fact that they’re willing to pay such a lot of money for the dubious pleasure of watching you make a complete tit of yourself and say no.’ ‘OK.’ ‘OK yes or OK no?’ ‘OK, I’ll think about it.’ ‘All right. What are you up to?’ ‘Drinking tea.’ ‘As one does. Well, have a good morning, and I’ll speak to you later.’ Katie put the phone down and took a long draught of tea to warm up her nose. The air was positively frosty. Then she picked up the phone again, and dialled Adam. He answered on the first ring. ‘That was a very speedy response,’ she said, putting her mug down on the bedside table and snuggling under the duvet. ‘That’s because I saw who was calling.’ ‘Oh, good,’ she said coyly. ‘What are you wearing?’ ‘Is this a dirty phone call?’ ‘Only if you make it one. I like to know what you’re wearing, so I can imagine it.’ ‘A navy suit, a cream shirt and a tan watch.’ ‘A tan watch?’ ‘Yes. Why? You don’t like tan watches?’ ‘I’d have thought a silver one would go better.’ ‘You know nothing. Are you still in bed?’ he asked suspiciously. ‘No,’ she said briskly, sitting up. ‘Yes, you are,’ he said, laughing. ‘I can hear the sheets rustling.’ ‘I was up,’ she said guiltily, ‘but then I got back into bed because I was cold.’ ‘Yes. Of course. I believe you.’ ‘Anyway. Listen. I know we weren’t supposed to be seeing each other tonight, although I’ve forgotten why. Was it one of your meetings? But could we, at some stage?’ ‘Hold on a second,’ he said, and she heard him leafing through what she imagined was his diary. She slurped some tea. ‘Nice,’ he drawled. ‘Sorry Got my lips in the wrong order,’ she said. ‘Is ten o’clock too late?’ he asked. ‘No. That would be brilliant. How about going to that new bar that’s opened in Soho in that street that’s erm, sort of perpendicular to the one that runs parallel to Regent Street? Or do I mean adjacent?’ ‘Journalism is so good for the communication skills. I assume you mean The Rag Room?’ he asked. ‘That’s the one. Oh, good. Something to look forward to.’ ‘Nothing in the diary until then?’ he asked sympathetically. ‘Tons. I really ought to get on. There’s a bit of dusting needs doing behind one of my books,’ she said, with dignity. ‘Well, don’t be late for The Rag Room,’ he admonished, I know how dusting can drag on. You start with one book and before you know it you’re dusting behind another.’ ‘Am I ever late? Of course I won’t be. And, in all seriousness, I do have a meeting at twelve. See you later.’ She pressed the little red phone icon. Won’t, she thought. Won’t. Funny word. Even funnier when you consider that it’s the short form of ‘will not’. Why don’t we say ‘willn’t’? I will marry you or maybe I willn’t. She grimaced. Maybe I willn’t because I haven’t been asked. Would I say, I will,’ if I was? That’s a difficult one. She wriggled further under the duvet, and pressed her non-phone ear into the pillow to warm it up. Maybe I should put the heating on. Or maybe I willn’t. She smiled. She might ask Adam later if he knew why it was ‘won’t’. She didn’t have a meeting, but she didn’t like to think of him picturing her lying in bed all day like some latter-day Hollywood starlet. ‘Ooh, ’ark at me, Hollywood starlet,’ she muttered to herself, as she sat up again and drank the rest of her tea, making exaggerated lip-smacking noises for the sheer hell of it. ‘Hollywood tartlet, more like. Or Stollywood tartlet. Hey, maybe I will have a vodka martini tonight. A nod to the old days.’ Since she’d been stepping out with Adam, as she liked to describe it, she had cut down drastically on the alcohol consumption, but there was nothing in the world like a vodka martini. The oil from the two olives lying on the meniscus. The smell of the vermouth. The way it almost crept into your mouth and past your throat, coating it with a glow. She started to salivate at the memory. She tried to conduct an internal debate about the pros and cons of doing Celebrity X-Treme, but large wads of money kept hanging over the proceedings so she gave up. She could not have known just how much Siobhan Stamp wanted to get her on the show–that she had been given a big budget for the fee by Lamplight, the production company. And that she was already laying the groundwork for a spot of skulduggery by seducing one of the confirmed contestants, Paul Martin–not that she needed much of an excuse to seduce a handsome man but the prospect of killing two birds with one stone was delicious. Siobhan was facing a late night working on Celebrity X-Treme. She would have been pleased to know that not only was Katie more than halfway to accepting the company’s kind offer of £150,000 for three weeks’ work, but that she was going to appear in the newspaper the next day in a very unflattering pose. She found it therapeutic seeing a woman who had bested her–even if she was unaware of it–not looking her best. The Hello Britain! roadshow was on its fourth day and Keera had had enough. As she had predicted, Dee had been hogging the headlines with her broken ankle. She’d been an ‘…and finally’ on the late news, and had appeared on two afternoon chat shows. It wasn’t exactly Anklegate, but Keera had been relegated to a supporting role in both senses of the word–not only a shoulder to lean on as they were making their way to the outside broadcasts, but once at them people were all over Dee and virtually ignoring the star presenter. She opened a bottle of water from the minibar and elegantly sipped. She had been sent the duty officer’s log from the morning, with all the calls that had been received, and looked through it as she sat on the bed, her suitcase open at her feet, its contents immaculately folded. A man called Kevin Drayton had rung in: I watch your programme regularly. Obviously I’m not well’ What a rude man, she thought, before reading on. ‘I’ve been housebound for some years now. Could I please have Keera’s autograph?’ Oh, she thought, not as rude as all that, then. Miss Pam Franks had called: ‘When are Girls Aloud coming in?’ Girls Aloud. She didn’t think they’d been booked to come in any time soon. She’d have to have a word with the head of entertainment. On a need-to-know basis, she did need to know these things. Dave Gilbert: ‘Could I please come and visit because I love everyone on the show. Apart from Dee, who is very annoying. She always says it’s going to rain and then it doesn’t. Her hands are too big.’ Excellent. She’d make sure Dee saw that one. She wondered if there was any way of making the last two sentences disappear, since it somehow made Dave sound less sensible. Four doors down the corridor, Dee had found one of the Sunday supplements from the week before in her suitcase. She was searching for a particular shirt that she could have sworn she’d put in. She wanted to wear it for her appearance on a local television station. The bed was piled high with clothes, makeup, hair-drying paraphernalia and a vase. Oliver had threatened to send flowers and it was best to be prepared. She swept the vase and an odd sock to one side and sat down to read her stars: ‘Capricorn. A decision you make in the next few days could have a major effect on the rest of your life. Don’t rely on other people to make it, even if you trust them. The planets are promising much–but will only deliver if you take the initiative.’ Ooh. I wonder if I’m going to be offered a new job. Or maybe Oliver will propose. Or perhaps I should. She had another look. Yes, that would work. Or was it only a decision when you had to make a choice between two things? As in accepting something offered. Because otherwise, surely, you made decisions every day from the moment you got up to the moment you went to sleep. As in should I put this magazine down now and get on with the packing? As in; should I make sure I haven’t missed something interesting in this before I get on with the packing? She looked through the rest of the magazine, ending up at the problem page. ‘I love my husband,’ she read, ‘but I have been having an affair since we got married. My mother-in-law is very rich. If I stay with my husband, I can get some of the inheritance when she dies. But if I stay with him, my lover says he will leave me. What should I do?’ Dee was horrified. That was exactly what was wrong with marriage, these days, she thought. Her own husband had had a fling with an au pair. Then she had found her new boyfriend in bed with a male hairdresser. People were disgusting, she thought. Claiming they were in love with one person, then going off with another. She put the magazine in the bin. Was that the decision that would make the rest of her life different? She put the vase and the sock in the suitcase–forgetting to check where the other one was–then chucked everything else in haphazardly, along with a seriously full hairbrush. She leaned firmly on the bulging case and clicked the fasteners with difficulty After a cursory look in the bathroom, she dragged the case out of the door, and let it close behind her. At eleven o’clock, as the maids entered the hotel bedroom to find Dee’s cleanser, mascara, nightie and one pink sock, Katie was indulging in one of her favourite activities. Tidying. She had got up an hour earlier and eaten four pieces of toast with sliced apple and Marmite, then decided that she was going to do a pre-emptive spring clean. Unlike Dee, she had not read her stars. They shared a sign, but she rarely read it, and paradoxically put that down to being a Capricorn. An earth sign. Sensible. No time for that namby-pamby nonsense. She couldn’t see how one twelfth of the planet would be having a good day, no matter where they were. Capricorns around the world were being tortured, becoming single parents, being put in jail, discovering they were ill, losing socks…yet apparently they were all about to travel or meet the perfect person. It didn’t help that her birthday was three days before Christmas, so generally people bought her a birthday-cum-Christmas present. It made you feel rather bitter about birthdays and birth signs. Although Adam had given her a beautiful Cartier watch. She spent a blissful day cleaning and de-cluttering. There were few things more satisfactory, she thought, as she sat cross-legged in front of a cupboard, than looking round and seeing a mountain of items to be disposed of at charity shops or in the bin. And then there were the surprises. She had found a picture of herself, which she had believed long lost, with an Olympic weightlifter. She had interviewed him when she had been on the newspaper. It made her smile. She had written an article full of innuendo, which the news editor had threatened to spike unless she rewrote it. The trouble was that the name of virtually every lift had a double meaning, and for a girl who liked a pun, it had proved irresistible. The snatch. The jerk. How on earth did sports commentators do it? ‘What a magnificent snatch. What a superb jerk.’ She remembered Mike, the pervert co-presenter on Hello Britain!, once saying, ‘Congratulations on your Brazilian,’ to the manager of a football team that had bought one of the world’s best defenders. She’d had to explain to him later why she had barked with laughter. If you were a Brazilian, could you have a close shave? she wondered. She put the black-and-white photograph into a packet with a few others. And that, she thought, is that. She stood up, and went to get a whole load of bin-liners. She checked her watch. Perfect. Enough time to get to the Oxfam shop before it closed, then to Marks & Spencer for some groceries. By the time she got home with her food, she was feeling too weary to do much. She put the vegetable curry into a pan and tried to work out a way of not dirtying another for the rice. In the end, she had it with toast. Later, in the bath, Katie pondered life’s conundrums. Why do the English call condoms ‘French letters’ and the cap the ‘Dutch cap’? Why do the French call syphilis the ‘English disease’? Who makes up jokes? What is a homonym? She squeezed an in-growing hair on her leg and was then worried that it would look spotty later. Hopefully, Adam will be so busy elsewhere that he won’t notice, she thought rudely. Hair and hare. I’m sure that’s a homonym. Or is it a homophone? There were days when all her English grammar lessons came back to her. And other days, like today, when she would be hard pressed to tell her oxymorons from her synonyms. If you’re bald, put a rabbit on your head because from a distance it looks like a hare. She wished her bath was bigger. If she sank down until her chin was in the water, her knees were chilled and if she put her knees in, her shoulders got cold. She ran the hot water, moving her knees to one side to avoid scalding them. By the time she got out of the bath–swaying and holding on to the radiator because of the rush of blood to her head–she was cranberry-coloured. She opened the bathroom door to a welcome blast of cool air. When she could stand unaided, she went into the bedroom, opened the wardrobe doors and perused the contents for fifteen minutes, deciding what to wear. She pulled out a soft brown dress that didn’t need much ironing. Anyway, the heat emanating from her body would get rid of the creases. She matched it with a pair of high suede boots. The underwear choosing took four times as long. If underwear was going to be seen by a man, it had to produce no bulges and it had to go with the stockings. And that was another dilemma: stockings or tights? Stockings always went down well, in every way, but tights gave a smoother line. And then there were hold-ups, which some men found more attractive than stockings and suspender belts. It was all bloody exhausting. Katie loved young relationships, but you wasted an inordinate amount of time on clothing. The only good thing about a comfortable old relationship was comfortable old clothes. Otherwise it was boring. It was like having cheese for the rest of your life–there would come a moment when you simply had to have something else. Katie liked it when men held the door open for you and gave you flowers and gifts and wanted to kiss you all the time. She loved the electricity that flowed as your lips were about to touch. She could have lived on it for ever. She was a romantic who, deep down, was holding on to the hope that if she found the ‘right’ man, she would stop feeling like that. Was Adam the right man? He was bloody handsome. Funny. Intelligent. Good taste in music. Fit as a robber’s dog. Ticks in all the right boxes…but was he Mr Right? Her soul-mate? Her sole mate for the rest of her life? God, that was scary. For the rest of her life. She went over to the CD player to put on some loud music to stop the voices in her head. Muse. Black Holes and Revelations. She sang along to the words she could remember. Excellent. She went back to the underwear drawer. Brown silk with a turquoise ribbon threaded through, and Wolford hold-up stockings. So much easier to decide when death and destruction were coursing out of the speakers. Katie did a mental bit of air guitar, and then, with her head bobbing in rhythm to ‘Starlight’, she picked out a sheer petticoat to iron out the bumps. She checked in the mirror. Dress. Boots. Gold earrings. Perfect. Or as perfect as it was going to get, she thought, peering at herself again. Getting older was a nightmare. Every day another crow’s foot. There must be no crows left with feet. Stop it, she remonstrated. Like there’s an alternative to getting older. She gave herself an imaginary shake, tied her hair back loosely (to make it easier to loosen later), turned Muse off and set out. She would have been gratified to know that Adam had been unable to concentrate fully on his meeting because he was thinking about her. Katie was unlike any of his previous girlfriends. He had always gone for women who were high maintenance. He hadn’t known they were high maintenance until it was too late. They had seemed normal. Then they had half moved in with clothes, toothbrush and bags, and he had discovered that they took absolutely hours to get ready, that there was a drama if the manicurist couldn’t fit them in, that one wrong word brought on a crisis. It was exhausting. Katie was refreshing. She was beautiful, made him laugh, and was sexy–in fact, sexier because there were no tantrums. There was none of the rowing that had marred his other relationships. She had joie de vivre in spades. And the peachiest of bottoms. Just thinking about her was making him hot. He dragged his mind back to the meeting–Nick was staring at him. Was he supposed to have said something? He brought his attention fully into the room. ‘Would you agree to that?’ asked the man from BBC Factual. Adam thought quickly. ‘What do you think, Nick?’ Nick slightly raised his eyebrows. They were talking about an antiques project Adam had masterminded so it was basically up to him to sign it off. ‘It sounds fine to me,’ he said. ‘Good. Then that’s what we’ll do,’ Adam said, and looked at his watch. ‘Tell you what, I have to go now. Any odds and ends, we can discuss on the phone, yes?’ As they left, Nick asked mildly, ‘What were you thinking about when you were supposed to be making the deal?’ ‘Suddenly remembered there was some stuff I’d got on the computer, and I’d forgotten to save it. Debating about whether I should go back to the office and sort it.’ ‘Cool,’ said Nick, who clearly didn’t believe him. ‘See you tomorrow, then.’ Much, much later, between cotton sheets, the decision was made. Adam and Katie lay tangled together. She was snuggled down, with barely the tip of her nose showing, while he had most of his torso and one leg on top of the duvet. ‘How can you bear to have so much flesh exposed to the elements?’ she muffled. ‘I think you’ll find it’s tolerably warm out here. We have this new-fangled contraption called a boiler, which is linked to something we modern-day humans call central heating.’ ‘It’s freezing.’ ‘There’s something wrong with your thermostat.’ Katie giggled. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘When I was growing up, we had a really dodgy boiler,’ she replied. ‘Called your grandmother,’ he interrupted. ‘Cheeky No she was not. We had this really dodgy boiler–’ ‘Can’t believe you call your mother that.’ ‘Stop it. If you’ll let me finish…We used to have this really dodgy boiler.’ She lifted her head and gave him a hard look, as if she was daring him to speak again. ‘And periodically it would have to be riddled. When I look back at the winters at home, they were punctuated by shouts of “Has anybody riddled the boiler?,” which is just ripe for comedy. But either we weren’t as crude, rude and disgusting as we generally are now, or that expression was not in our lexicon.’ ‘It was a more innocent time.’ ‘Maybe.’ ‘Well, you only have to look at children’s television programmes then and now,’ he said. ‘They’re more knowing today’ ‘Teletubbies wasn’t knowing.’ ‘SpongeBob SquarePants? It’s filth. Pure, unadulterated filth.’ ‘SpongeBob SquarePants?’ She laughed. ‘Or are you talking in the cleaning sense?’ ‘I was watching it last night. It’s sheer pornography. This bloke Bob sponging down a woman with square pants on.’ She chortled and put her nose below the duvet. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked, with a throaty growl. ‘Warming my nose up,’ she muttered, through the feathers. ‘I think you’re the one with a dodgy thermostat.’ ‘How the hell would you cope in the cold weather in Norway if you decided to do Celebrity X-Treme?’ ‘Good point. I assume there’ll be central heating,’ she said, hopefully. ‘What? The Norwegians have mastered the art of centrally heating their countryside?’ ‘It’s called global warming. We’re all helping,’ she responded, wriggling onto her front and propping her head on her hands. ‘You are awfully handsome,’ she said, gazing at his chin from close range. Adam smiled down at her and kissed the tip of her nose. ‘You’re rather scrumptious yourself. But, really, on a purely basic level, are you up for Celebrity X-Treme in terms of the chilliness of the environment? If you find this cold, how on earth are you going to cope with minus thirty, or whatever it could be?’ ‘I’m sure they’d provide me with adequate clothing. They wouldn’t have us freezing to death. ’Elf and safety would have something to say about that.’ ‘And what about playing the game?’ Adam looked down at her, as she lay in the crook of his arm. ‘You really do have one of the best profiles of anyone, ever,’ she said, caressing his emerging stubble. ‘Is that a profile when you can only see my chin?’ ‘Well, what else could you call it? An anti-file?’ ‘Idiot,’ he said, stroking her shoulder. ‘And you have the silkiest skin of anyone, ever.’ ‘Why, thank you kindly, sir.’ ‘But you haven’t answered the question.’ ‘What was it again?’ ‘Do you think you can manage to do a reality show without coming a cropper?’ ‘I don’t know. It depends who the other people are, I suppose. I’ll probably hate them all and look like a narky git.’ ‘“Git”. What a very elegant word,’ he commented. ‘Onomatopoeic, I would say. Gittish behaviour. Just saying it makes your mouth into a long, disapproving line. Try it,’ she prompted. ‘Gittish behaviour,’ he obliged her. ‘I concur. It’s probably impossible to say with your mouth any other way’ He tried it. ‘Goatish. Ah, interesting.’ ‘You see? Anyway…it’s impossible to know whether I can play the game or come out of it in a muppetish way.’ ‘You do make up some interesting adjectives. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you have to be prepared for them to edit the programme in a way that’s not in your favour. And it seems to me that those who come out of these things best are the people who are perhaps the most innocent–to come back to what we were talking about earlier and those innocent times. And innocent is possibly the last adjective I would ever use in your general direction.’ ‘I open my nostrils upon you. I spit in your general direction,’ she misquoted, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. ‘Your mother smells of elderberries and your father was a hamster,’ he continued. ‘Hmm. I do see what you mean, though.’ There was silence for a while. ‘The thing is…’ she said slowly ‘…that there is also the matter of the money…’ ‘Yes. It is quite a lot. But not if it’s the end of your career.’ ‘That’s what my agent says. But could it really be the end of it?’ ‘That’s a million-dollar question. It could radically alter how people view you, and therefore have a radical effect on the sort of jobs you get offered. But you know all the pros and cons, you don’t need me to tell you. What’s your gut feeling?’ ‘I wish people wouldn’t ask me that. I don’t have gut feelings. Unless I’ve had a large dish of chillies. But it could be fun. I could maybe get a book out of it.’ She felt him smile. ‘What?’ ‘You could, of course,’ he said, ‘but if that’s an excuse for why you want to do it, it’s a pretty poor one. You might as well be honest and say you’re doing it for the cash. If the money was less, how much of a difference would it make?’ ‘I don’t know. I’ve done that in my head already. Obviously it would make some difference, particularly if they were offering bugger-all. I’d just say no. Funnily enough, the thing that would make the biggest difference is if I could find out who else was going.’ She thought for a moment, then sat up abruptly and looked directly at him. ‘Hey. Do you think you could?’ He put his leg under the duvet and gave a little shiver. ‘Ha. Told you it was cold.’ ‘It was an involuntary shiver such as one gives when a tickly hair gets up one’s nose.’ ‘Was not. You’re cold. Let me feel that leg.’ She reached out and caressed his firm thigh. ‘Mmm. Nice,’ he said. ‘Couldn’t agree more,’ she concurred. ‘I could try to find out,’ he said slowly, thinking about who he knew at the production company. ‘But you know how they treat these things–like they’re covered by the Official Secrets Act. And sometimes they honestly don’t know until the last moment.’ He paused. ‘I get the impression you’re more tempted than not.’ ‘Yes, I think that would be fair.’ He hugged her to him and dropped a kiss on her hair. ‘Mmm, you smell good.’ He closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of her hair. Katie melted and curled herself round him. The duvet sighed. And so it was that Katie found herself in northern Norway at the beginning of March, in a hut, on the first night of filming for Celebrity X-Treme. There were bunk beds and bedrolls on the floor. It was the luck of the draw as to who had been assigned what, and Katie had pulled a short straw. She tried to get comfortable in her sleeping-bag as she listened to the snoring coming from the one on her left. She stifled a giggle. A bag in every sense of the word. Denise Trench was the singer in a pop band that had had a couple of hits and won the Eurovision Song Contest before disappearing from view. The band had been about as trendy as a pair of pale nylon slacks. Their fan base was an army of women of a certain age, who smelled faintly of wee. Nowadays, Denise was more famous for her colourful sex life, and her occasional forays into bottles of Jack Daniel’s followed by stints in rehab. Katie sighed and wriggled around in her sleeping-bag again. Whichever bit of her ended up touching the bedroll became instantly chilled and started to hurt. This is ridiculous, she thought. If I hadn’t bought that bloody cottage in Dorset, if I hadn’t spent my money on holidays, if I hadn’t taken my eye off the ball, if I hadn’t trusted Mike and he hadn’t stitched me up and got me sacked from Hello Britain!, I could have been coasting towards a happy early retirement instead of lying here in a ruddy shed with a draught and a whole load of people I’d rather see shot and mounted. On a wall. Obviously. She thought back to the conversation with Adam. He had warned her, but she hadn’t listened. She had been seduced by the noughts on a cheque. Had thought she’d be able to cope with it. Oh, God, she groaned inwardly. I used to think people were numpties to appear on these wretched programmes. And now I’m one of them. How has it come to this? She wriggled again, and merely succeeded in twisting her thermal pyjamas so far round she felt like a human Mr Whippy. She raised her bottom, unscrewed her pyjamas and humphed back down. She was freezing. It was no good. She was going to have to get out and put some more clothes on. She rolled the sleeping-bag down, wriggling like a caterpillar, and crept out, instantly alerting the producer on duty in the gallery, who was watching the bank of television monitors in front of him. He pointed it out to the director, who mixed from a shot of Denise Trench snoring like a warthog and gently breaking wind. Mark, the producer, was bored already, and hoping he could wangle a move to daytime. Nights were so tedious. So far this evening he’d got barely five minutes’ worth of good stuff. The best bit had been some kind of movement going on in Peter Philbin’s mid-region. The girls would like that. Particularly since one of the camera angles had got his fully muscled-up chest emerging in all its glory. That would go into the storyline they were hoping to manipulate in which the handsome soap star would end up in some way, shape or form with Crystal, the model. He checked on the camera which was pointing at her to see what she was doing. Sleeping prettily, with her lipgloss surprisingly intact. She was so much better-looking without all her usual makeup, he thought. He watched Katie as she tiptoed past the others, and boosted the sound. ‘Who’s that?’ whispered Tanya Wilton, who was close to the door. The woman more infamous than famous after a fling with a politician was having a fitful night. ‘Sorry,’ murmured Katie, ‘I’ve got to get more clothes. My head feels like an ice cube.’ ‘Mine too,’ said Tanya, quietly. ‘Do you want me to pass you something? I’ve got a spare hat.’ ‘Could you? That would be great, thank you.’ Katie tiptoed to her suitcase, which she could see in the dim light of the moon, shining through the uncurtained windows, and rummaged through its contents. Her years as a presenter on breakfast television had stood her in good stead for pitch-of-night rummaging. Even at home in the flat, she hardly ever put the lights on if she had to get up in the dark, preferring instead to move around partially blind. So here in Norway, at three o’clock on a frozen spring morning, she was in her element, mentally logging where everything was. She found her hat and then, buried underneath, discovered a balaclava. Lovely, lovely balaclava. Thank goodness her chin was going to be warm. She also found a scarf and her sheepskin mittens and crept back past the sleeping bodies to Tanya. ‘There you go,’ she whispered, handing over the hat. She snuggled back into her sleeping-bag, and pulled on her balaclava, wrapped the scarf firmly round her neck and slid on the mittens. Within half an hour she was finally warm enough to sleep. Up in the viewing gallery, Mark peered closer at the camera. As daylight cast a gloomy glow, it was quite clear that the erstwhile queen of the breakfast sofa had crammed an enormous pair of green pants on her head, the stout gusset protecting her nose from the cold, her closed eyelids nicely framed by one of the leg holes. The producer and director shared a smile. That would definitely go in. At six o’clock, they handed over to the early birds. The story producer was the glorious strawberry blonde Mark rather fancied. ‘Morning, Siobhan,’ he said, unfurling himself from the seat. ‘Hi, Mark. Anything happening?’ ‘Not a huge amount. Peter having an early-morning fumble. Katie with a pair of knickers on her head.’ ‘Really? May I ask why?’ ‘Think she mistook them for a hat.’ ‘Ah. Yes. Easily done. Same number of holes. Not.’ ‘No, seriously. She was rooting around in her case in the dark.’ ‘Why didn’t she use a torch?’ ‘Probably trying not to wake the others.’ ‘You don’t think she did it hoping for air time?’ ‘Watch the tape. It didn’t look like it to me.’ Siobhan went over to talk to the director as Mark gathered up his belongings. ‘What do you think?’ she asked. ‘Looked genuine to me,’ he answered, yawning and stretching. ‘Actually, even if she did it for effect, it’s still pretty funny And not much else has happened. I think we’re going to have to stop wearing them out during the day. Four hours on that ice assault course yesterday–I was exhausted just watching them.’ ‘I’ll have a word with the activities people,’ she said, ‘but they seem keen on distancing us from other reality shows by having them out and about. Otherwise it’s just Big Brother Does the Jungle in a cold place. It seems to be holding up well so far, ratings wise. As soon as we start the voting next week, the senior executives will probably have another look at it. I’m going to get a coffee–do you want anything?’ ‘No, thanks. I’m whacked. I’m going to get straight off as soon as we’ve done the handover.’ Mark picked up his holdall and walked over to the desk to join the other overnighters as they ran through the storylines that were emerging. Page three’s Crystal was being flirty with Peter Philbin. Denise Trench was doing lots of ranting at columnist Paul Martin. Alex Neil, the outrageously gay designer, was getting very close to the DJ Steve Flyte, who appeared to be enjoying the proximity. Tanya Wilton was continuing to spill the beans about her fling with the politician to Flynn O’Mara, ‘astrologer to the stars’. Katie Fisher was falling over a lot. And Dave Beal, the alleged comedian, was still telling jokes that failed to raise a laugh. Mark straightened up from where he was leaning on the desk. I also think it might be worth keeping an eye on Katie Fisher and Paul Martin. There might be something going on there.’ He turned to lob his plastic water cup into the bin and failed to notice Siobhan’s slight smirk. Siobhan was a man’s woman. She dressed for men. She studied men. She hunted men. She hated women. She particularly hated successful women. It didn’t matter that to Mr and Mrs Average, as she thought of them, with their drudge-end jobs, she was successful in the exciting world of television. She was a bitter woman. She had chips on her shoulder. And they were well-nurtured chips. Many years ago, when she had cherished dreams of being a presenter, she had been beaten to her ideal job of hosting Hello Britain! by Beatrice Shah. She had been covering holiday shifts, and had thought it was a done deal. After finding out that her position had been usurped, she had stormed into The Boss’s office to demand an explanation. He had looked surprised and said she had never been considered. That under no circumstances would she ever be considered after research had shown her to be out of touch with the viewers. ‘Out of touch with the viewers?’ she had shrieked. ‘What do they mean “out of touch”?’ ‘Apparently you sound snotty, for want of a better word,’ he had said. The Boss was not an unkind man, but he hadn’t taken to Siobhan. She was too ballsy for his liking. He preferred a more emollient woman. She did an efficient job, but her predatory nature meant that some of his male staff had confessed they felt hounded. ‘Look, I’m sorry if you were under the impression that you were a shoo-in for the job. But I was told Simon had said there was no point in you applying for the post.’ Siobhan had gritted her teeth. Simon hadn’t told her. And she had been given the impression that she was a shoo-in for the job. And she knew exactly why he hadn’t seen fit to let her know. She had literally been sleeping with the enemy. What a fool. What a waste of her unquestionable talents. She wouldn’t have minded so much except that he was such a very inadequate lover, with an unattractive pouch of fat under his stomach and rather girly pink nipples. She curled her lip derisively. Lover! No love involved on either side. A business arrangement that had worked out well for him. He would pay. She would make him pay. A week later, she had gone into his office and told him she was pregnant. If an etiolated man could have been said to blanch, then he did. ‘I don’t know whether you and your wife,’ she imbued the word with venom, ‘would be prepared to bring up the child as your own?’ She let the sentence hover for a moment. ‘No. I thought not. Well, in that case, I suggest you hand me a cheque for the abortion at a private clinic. If you need the bill for your records, I will obviously supply it.’ She raised her eyebrows. She was hoping he wouldn’t demand proof, but if the worst came to the worst, she was fairly sure she could cobble something together. He had been only too keen to write her a cheque–it seemed a small price to pay for the months of illicit sex he had been enjoying. Sex with attractive women had been in short supply. His wife–a woman of limited intelligence–had married him in haste after a threat of deportation. If he had been single, Simon would have been bragging to all and sundry that he had been bedding Siobhan Stamp…possibly even that she was pregnant with his super-sperm. He handed over the money and watched her departing figure with regret. She had left the station, and reported from various windy locations up and down the country for smaller and smaller television companies. Her failure to be nice on the way up the presenting ladder had contributed to her descent and, eventually, with hatred in her heart, she had taken a job as a producer for a company called Wolf Days Productions. In the year that she had been there, she had made no friends. Her colleagues–mostly women–were either slightly scared of or loathed her. They recognized a vulture when they saw one, even one in sheepskin clothing from Joseph. She had, to her delight, managed to ensnare one man. She had been proud to announce her seduction of Nick Midhurst, one of the bosses. Keeping her claws sheathed, she had managed to charm him into her bed. Not for her the tenet of discretion being the better part of valour. That had been her downfall. Nick had faced such a barrage of fury from his staff that he’d had a rethink and brought the blossoming romance to a swift end. ‘Very wise,’ said Adam, when informed. ‘Apparently she’s poisonous. Good worker, and very easy on the eye but, according to virtually everyone here, not the most pleasant of people.’ The company was a friendly one, and everyone was encouraged to air grievances to stop the backbiting that was endemic in the industry. There had been a steady stream of people going in to complain about their latest recruit. She had seemed to accept the end of the affair with equanimity, and continued to work hard. But she had blotted her copybook irretrievably by trying surreptitiously to add Adam’s scalp to her belt. She had sent him a flurry of explicit texts, which he had shared with Nick. And that had sealed her fate. Her contract had not been renewed. ‘She has a circular bed and black satin sheets,’ revealed Nick, darkly, after she had cleared her desk. ‘Urk,’ said Adam, making a face. ‘Or was that pleasant?’ ‘No. Very slippy. And you know…she’s not quite as beautiful without all the makeup. To be honest…sort of eel-like. And,’ he added, ‘she makes quite a lot of noise.’ Adam raised an eyebrow. ‘It begins with a miaow, then works up to a full-throated roar,’ he said. ‘Goodness,’ remarked Adam. ‘I have neighbours,’ said Nick. ‘Albeit a field away. I was worried they’d come round to see whether I was setting up a safari park.’ They left their office to find everyone breaking out bottles and biscuit barrels of celebration. ‘I hadn’t realized she was that unpopular,’ murmured Adam, taking a small plastic cup of champagne. Siobhan, re-entering an hour later to collect a contacts book, had found a full-scale party going on. There had been a hideous silence as she stalked across the office, opened a drawer and extracted her property. She had nodded at the revellers, strode back across the office and slammed the door behind her. There was an explosion of noise as it shut. ‘Phew,’ said Gemma, one of the young producers. ‘I thought for one awful moment that she was going to put some kind of evil spell on us.’ ‘I know,’ said another producer, Rose. ‘She’ll no doubt be casting nasturtiums upon us as we speak.’ ‘Aspersions, I think,’ muttered Adam. ‘That too,’ said Rose. ‘And that isn’t the same as casting spells, anyway,’ added Gemma. ‘Whatever,’ said Rose, flicking the ‘what’ and ‘ever’ signs using her middle three fingers. Siobhan, meanwhile, was walking determinedly out of the building. ‘I will prevail,’ she muttered under her breath. ‘I will get back at them. All of them.’ And, earlier than expected, she had found her chance. At Celebrity X-Treme, she was the producer in charge of following up possible storylines and, boy, was she going to manipulate them. After the names of the contestants had been finalized, and before a frame had been shot, she had taken Paul Martin out to dinner. She had Googled him. Thirty-seven years old. Columnist. Handsome with thick, sandy hair and blue eyes. Single. Rich enough. Obsessed with television and football. One thing she had discovered during her career was that few men would turn down the offer of free sex from an attractive woman. Within a week, she was manoeuvring him just where she wanted him. ‘Could I call this being in the pole position?’ she asked, as she shimmied into the bedroom where he had been waiting. She had made one fatal mistake. She had taken off her makeup before emerging from the bathroom. Her deep-set eyes receded, and her translucent skin became blue. Her pale lips looked like a snake’s. Paul Martin was keen to make his mark on this game show. He wanted to get into television, and that meant staying in the contest as long as was feasibly possible. Preferably, he wanted to win. He knew what Siobhan’s role was, and how useful she could be. And it helped that she was a cracking-looking bird. Until that moment… Still, if he had to have sex with a woman who, without makeup, looked like a gonk, then so be it. He could have done without the black satin sheets. He hadn’t thought they existed outside the pages of his porn stash. But here they were. It was enough to put you off your stroke. And what was it with the baby-doll nightie and the high-heeled fluffy mules, which were click-clacking on the back of her heels as she sauntered towards him with a sultry smile? Generally, he went for exotic, dark-haired beauties like Keera Keethley from Hello Britain! who, he felt sure, would never have bought a carpet with flowers etched into it such as the one he was looking at. He took a deep breath. Right, he thought. Here we go. Concentrate. He closed his eyes and threw himself into the breach. The next-door neighbours looked at each other over their glasses as they sat in bed, reading. ‘The cat’s out again,’ said Mrs Smith, wearily, as the miaowing grew to a crescendo from the other side of the shared wall. CHAPTER FOUR (#u9d3d0bab-f43e-53e7-b446-0a915d9f421a) Katie blew gently on her fingers as she listened to the morning briefing. Dog-sledding. Excellent. This was what she had worked towards all her life. The very pineapple of her career, as Mrs Malaprop said in The Rivals. Sheridan. Or Sheraton? No. That was a hotel chain. Concentrate. Concentrate. Which is a strange word when you come to think of it. Because it can mean undiluted orange juice. Why did the man sit looking at the carton of orange juice? Because it said concentrate. Is undiluted concentration a tautology? Oh, no, she thought, now I’ve missed more. If I wasn’t so tired…It can’t be that difficult. Stand on the ruddy sled. Unhook snow anchor. Foot off snow brake. Collect items en route in return for treats for your team. Hardly rocket science. If my fingers haven’t dropped off from frostbite, that is. That would be vaguely amusing, handing over a trinket and a dead finger. She wondered if it would come away like a scab…a slight sucking noise, and then a bit of a pop? ‘Sorry?’ she said, as the trainer asked her a question. ‘I asked if you were OK. You appear to be sleeping standing up. Did you hear what I said?’ ‘Yes, yes,’ she said hurriedly. ‘What was it?’ ‘It was…It was…Actually. No. I didn’t hear. Sorry’ ‘Right,’ said the trainer. ‘This really is important. I’m not here for my own benefit. I’m trying to make sure that you don’t injure yourselves. Or the dogs. So, to recap for those who have dozed off, make sure you keep your foot on the snow brake when you go downhill so that you don’t catch the dogs’ paws. Keep your feet on the brake when you bend down to release the snow anchor. And always have your snow anchor thus…’ He hooked it over the side of the wooden shopping-trolley-shaped sled ‘…so that you don’t take anybody’s head off if you go careering past them. Not that you should. Because we’ll be docking points for silly, stupid or dangerous riding. In the worst case, we’ll send you home. All the items to be picked up are heavily wrapped with two stiff handles sticking up to make it easier. The enterprise will be timed. But it’s more important that you do this safely. And since it will all be filmed we can even retrospectively ban anyone who has flouted those safety rules. The routes are clearly marked. Team A will follow the blue flags. Team B will follow the red flags. You nominate three members from your team. I’ll give you twenty minutes.’ Katie stamped her feet in her enormous Arctic boots. One of her toes had been dead when it went in and it wasn’t about to kick into life any time soon. ‘One hoof beat for yes, two for no. Good horse,’ said Paul, nodding at her feet as he went past. ‘Are you in my team today?’ she asked. ‘Only I get so confused with this Team A and B stuff. Why can’t we all be on the same team?’ ‘They want competition. Frrrriction.’ He rolled the r, and made a suggestive face. I just want to be voted off and get home so I can read a bit of friction at home in my comfortable bed,’ she replied. I cannot believe you’re saying that already. It’s two weeks out of your life. Get over yourself. I’m going to nominate you to do the trial. Give you something to think about instead of dreaming of home. Aren’t you enjoying any of it?’ ‘My favourite things so far are: the snoring of my female companions every night, the loud guffing coming from your room and the deadly stench coming into ours, the smell of the drop loos and the stalactites of poo in them, the cold, the hat hair–oh, and the pointlessness of most of it.’ ‘Well, tell them you’re going home and give them back the money,’ he said caustically. ‘Ay, there’s the rub,’ she said ruefully, tripping over a rock. ‘Mind that rock,’ he said, deadpan. ‘Thanks. It’s because of my dead toe.’ ‘Do you want me to give it the kiss of life?’ She barked a laugh. I think it needs more than a kiss.’ I give very good foot.’ ‘And that means?’ ‘Well, it’s like good head, only with feet.’ ‘Saucy,’ she said appreciatively. ‘I hope they’re not tuned into our mikes.’ ‘We’ll never know,’ he said, lying. Siobhan had told him what they’d be looking for, and he knew that he and Katie would be heavily featured. ‘I wonder if they’re watching us at home, or if we’re the final nail in the “celebrity-”–he made quote marks in the air–‘reality-show coffin. Would you watch if you were at home?’ ‘I suppose I would if I knew someone in it,’ she said, after thinking for a moment. ‘Or if I saw clips of it somewhere and it looked good. I was hooked on the ice dancing. And the dancing, for that matter. On the other hand, they did go on for ever and ever. I’d grown a beard by the time it was over.’ ‘An interesting use of your time. Big beard?’ ‘Full Captain Haddock.’ ‘Nice.’ He nodded appreciatively as he held open the door to the central hut for her. She stamped her boots on the doormat to get rid of the snow, and put them neatly to one side. She then removed her enormous snowsuit and hung it on a hook. They opened the interior door to a wall of warmth coming from the newly stoked fire. ‘Why can’t it be this cosy at night?’ She groaned. ‘Because someone would have to keep it going–and make sure we weren’t all burned to a crisp by a stray faggot,’ said Denise Trench. ‘Are you talking about me?’ asked Alex Neil. Katie shook her head and went to stick her toes on a piece of warm slate. ‘Shall we get this sorted, then?’ she asked. She looked around. ‘I’m only being bossy because…because, as you all know, I am bossy. Does anyone actually want to do this task?’ Four people nodded. ‘Remind me. Whose team are you all on?’ Paul and Crystal were Team A. Peter and Tanya were Team B. ‘In which case, we need one more of each. Who can we bludgeon into this? Denise? You fancy it?’ ‘No. I’ll do the washing-up.’ There was a slight groan. Denise was the kind of washer-upper who merely moved the dirt around. A dog would have licked the plates cleaner. ‘Flynn?’ ‘I’ll do dog feeding and dog-poo shovelling afterwards. Those lovely ickle doggies are so bliss,’ said the astrologer to the stars. ‘Dave? You’d be great,’ Katie said sarcastically. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/penny-smith/after-the-break/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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