As part of #weloveromance with other Carina UK writers, I’m presenting an extract of my soon-to-be published novel The Last Word.
This is my first romantic novel, but if you’re interested in my previous book, (which was called ‘anti chick lit’ by Man Brooker Prize Judge Sarah Churchwell) Wine Dark, Sea Blue, you can buy it as an ebook on Amazon, or hardcopy from the publisher.
Anyway, here’s the extract! Don’t forget to keep tweeting #weloveromance and checking out some of the excellent other writers who are showing off extracts today!
So boring. So very, very boring. Tabby tapped the side of her vodka tonic with her nail and wondered why she’d even come out. Sure, when Chandra got chatted up, it was usually fun, something to joke about. But Tabby found a strange lump in her throat, and she didn’t know if it was loneliness or jealousy, or just how maidenly she felt sitting on a stool, swinging her legs back and forth. This was not her place.
‘What do you think I do?’ Chandra asked. This was always the kicker, and Tabby found herself focusing on The Suit, more out of habit than anything else.
‘I…are you a model? Or a dancer? You’re beautiful.’
Chandra turned back to Tabby and rolled her eyes. ‘Original’ she mouthed.
It took a few minutes more for The Suit to realise he wasn’t going to get anywhere, suddenly confused as to why the pretty girl who’d let him do his spiel wasn’t really interested.
‘You know, if a guy once guessed what I do for a living correctly, I might have to marry him.’ Chandra grinned.
‘And what do you do?’ A very familiar voice asked from behind them.
Tabby screwed up her eyes and didn’t turn around. ‘Hi Harry.’
When she did turn around, of course, she wasn’t lucky enough to be hallucinating, he was actually there. His white shirt glowing in the bar lighting, a little bit more stubble than during the week, there was no doubt he was painfully good-looking. Even Chandra looked a little shocked.
‘Of course, this is your scene.’ Tabby sighed, looking down. She noticed his expensive-shirt-and-jeans ensemble had changed slightly, the addition of what looked like pink Converse. For some reason, she felt a sudden rush of affection towards those trainers.
‘So…?’ Harry raised an eyebrow.
‘She’s an actuary,’ Tabby replied, unsure if that was where he was going. Harry surveyed Chandra for a moment before nodding.
‘I can see why no-one’s guessed correctly.’
He said it in such an easy, straightforward manner that it didn’t appear inappropriate. Chandra surveyed him, settling on a response that was half-hatred, half-approval. Please don’t flirt, please don’t flirt.
‘And you are?’ Chandra asked, though she knew perfectly well.
‘Harry Shulman, Tabby’s editor.’ He put an arm around Tabby and squeezed briefly. The natural ‘old maid’ feeling that came from sitting on a minimalist perspex bar stool in a hip bar was not improved by this contact. Tabby held back a glare.
‘Oh, you mean the editor who’s been making Tabby’s life a misery and has managed to convince her she’s a talentless airhead who should stick to beauty columns and pointless rants, you mean?’ Chandra asked innocently, sipping her drink.
Harry’s eyes widened and he ran a hand through his hair in what looked like embarrassment.
‘I suppose you calculated the risk of a comment like that.’
‘What do you think?’ She arched an eyebrow.
Harry gave Tabby an exasperated look, as if to ask, ‘Is your friend for real?’, to which Tabby only replied with a raised eyebrow of her own. Harry huffed, and grabbed the edge of her seat to spin her around so she was facing him. He had that determined look. Whilst only really having four face-to-face experiences with Harry, she felt that she could suddenly categorise at least ten different looks. And any one of them could be deadly when focused directly on you. Harry’s attention was a spotlight, and whilst most people seemed to bloom and come alive under his gaze, all Tabby seemed able to do was freeze like a rabbit in headlights.
‘You didn’t reply to my email.’ He said simply.
‘I haven’t checked my computer since-’
‘Since you sent me that article at stupid o’clock on Friday?’ His mouth twitched. ‘You know it was brilliant, that’s why you’re putting me through this. You knew I’d love it, and so you’re getting back at me for criticising you. But you took exactly what I said! I knew we’d be an excellent team!’
Enthusiasm seemed to shine from him, and he suddenly looked so boyish and excited that Tabby wanted to hug him.
‘David loved it, the whole department loved it. It was being forwarded throughout the office! I’m so glad you listened to what I was saying. I know I was hard on you-’
Here Chandra snorted, and Tabby widened her eyes at her.
‘-but really, it was because I knew what you were capable of.’ Harry smiled, suddenly so affectionate that Tabby really couldn’t bear it. She also couldn’t bear to tell him she was terrible at taking criticism and her only creative motivation was pissing him off.
‘So I’m not fired then?’
‘Fired? Fired!’ He settled into a gentle grin and leaned in, ‘You are far too excellent to be fired. Plus, we have a twelve-week contract. I can’t fire you. Whether you write shit or gold, you’re here. With me.’
Tabby sat for a moment, considering Harry, his wide grin, his eagerness. He’d said she was excellent. She sat up a little straighter in her chair and tried not to smile like an idiot.
‘So, no problem with the ‘praise’ part of the job then, just the criticism.’ Of course, he noticed her slightest movements, the twitch of her lips as she considered that, yes, maybe she was a bit excellent. Just a bit. And he liked it, really liked it. And when she stopped thinking about these things and focused on just how close Harry was, invading her personal space once again, his hands resting either side of her, she realised she needed to be at her wittiest. But nothing happened.
‘Okay, so I’m not so great at the criticism. But it’s not like you stuck to being constructive, is it? Some of it was pretty mean!’
‘Oh shut up, you love it,’ Harry said, back to his jokey, cocky self, but he at least let go of her barstool, so she felt a little more in control. Tabby just folded her arms and tipped her head to the side, questioning him.
‘I thought that’s what we were doing, the whole banter-insulting thing?’ He said, slightly unsure, ‘I thought that’s what you got off on.’
He smirked briefly, ‘Work-wise, mind-in-the-gutter. I thought you needed someone to argue with to get your best work. You’ve been writing great articles so far, but no-one’s pushed you to be better. That’s my job.’
Tabby considered this, and of course, he had his bloody earnest look on again, so if she cut him down he’d look like a beaten puppy. Bastard.
‘Well, I do like arguing with you.’ She conceded.
‘I like arguing with you too,’ he said, ‘I am honestly sorry if I upset you. But I’m probably going to do it a few more times.’
‘Oh, I have no doubt.’
‘And you’re probably going to call me a stuck-up prick or a self-invested arsehole, or whatever it was that you called your editor in that article.’
Tabby smiled innocently, ‘I have no idea what you mean, Harry. I’m a professional. It was just an article.’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ He rolled his eyes, and leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek. Her chest tightened briefly, and then he was back in his space, far away from her, ‘Speaking of people who want to argue, I seem to have angered another violent woman.’
‘Your calling in life, it seems.’ Chandra smirked as Harry shrugged.
‘Wish me luck,’ he said, before walking over to a delicate doll of a girl- tall, thin, with long blond hair pulled messily into a plait. She was wearing a strapless silver bodycon dress that clung to her non-existent curves, and just looking at her skyscraper heels made Tabby feel dizzy. She looked down at her own shoes, purple felt, stack heels, with bunny rabbit buttons. Okay, well she wasn’t his type, clearly. Like that mattered anyway, she wasn’t going to do anything. Just because someone gives you a much deserved compliment, doesn’t mean you suddenly forget their an arrogant twat.
As much as Tabby wanted to hate the girl on the dance floor, for being able to wear those shoes and that dress, and pull of the chic-party-girl-look, she almost had to pity her. She was staring uncertainly into Harry’s eyes as he convinced her she was the most important person in the world. And he was damn good at it, Tabby had to admit, watching the girl go from sullen, to unsure, to begrudgingly amused. By the end of whatever speech he’d given her, she was looking at him like he was the answer to her prayers. Which, Tabby was pretty sure, he certainly was not.
‘So-’ Tabby turned to Chandra, who simply held up a finger.
‘You know the rule, Tabs.’
Chandra’s Thirty Second Rule: After an important encounter with a member of the opposite sex (or in Rhi’s case, a member of either sex she was actually interested in) you had to wait thirty seconds before discussing it. Chandra said this was to allow information to properly sink in, and discuss things with a clear head. Tabby only adhered because it meant the person they were discussing was usually across the room by that point, and wouldn’t accidentally overhear.
‘It wasn’t an encounter!’ Tabby whined, ‘He’s my boss!’
‘Mmf!’ Chandra held her hand up yet again, ‘twenty-seven, twenty-eight…’
Tabby huffed and crossed her arms, purposefully not looking at the dance floor, where she was sure Harry was using his other skills to convince the girl of how important she was.
‘Thirty!’ Chandra paused, ‘EEEEEEP! So cute! Why haven’t you boinked his brains out yet?’
‘Ew, Chands, don’t say boinked,’ Tabby felt her stomach twitch, and gestured towards the dance floor, ‘and because, clearly, she is.’
‘Yeah, for tonight. What about tomorrow?’
‘I cannot casually sleep with my editor!’
Because been there, done that and it almost ruined my life? Tabby grasped around for an answer that wasn’t pathetic and grounded in self-doubt.
‘Because it’s unprofessional, I’m there to write.’
‘So write after a night of head-banging sex with a guy who looks like he knows what to do. Jeez. I’ve never met anyone so resistant to an orgasm.’
‘Mean!’ Tabby looked around at the surrounding tables, incase anyone had heard. Conversations with Chandra concerning sex always seemed to be louder than any other conversation she took part in.
‘Well, when was the last time you had sex?’ Chandra asked simply, eating the cherry from her cocktail.
‘You know when. You made me discuss it in painful detail the morning after.’
Chandra’s eyebrows disappeared under her fringe. ‘The clammy hands guy? That was ages ago!’
‘Well, it put me off for life, okay?’ Tabby knew she was getting defensive, but all this talk was making her crabby. Even if she liked him, which she didn’t, she wouldn’t do anything about it. ‘Look, I’m not sleeping with him, okay? I’m not doing anything with him except writing a bunch of articles. And even that is under duress. I’m just not interested in him.’
Chandra’s eyes moved past her to the dance floor, and of course, she couldn’t help but look. Harry had his arms around the doll-like girl, but looked across at Tabby, stuck his tongue out and winked.
‘Fifty quid says you don’t last a month,’ Chandra grinned.
‘Bad odds,’ Tabby sighed, breaking eye contact, and finishing the rest of her drink in one gulp.
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