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Pillow Talk

Pillow Talk

3.4 477
by Freya North

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"Darkly funny and sexy-literary escapism at its finest." -Independent

By day, Petra Flint is a talented jeweler working in a lively London studio. By night, she's a sleepwalker troubled by a past she can't put to bed and a present that leaves her clinging to an unsuitable boyfriend. Arlo Savidge was once a budding heartthrob musician. Then tragedy struck and


"Darkly funny and sexy-literary escapism at its finest." -Independent

By day, Petra Flint is a talented jeweler working in a lively London studio. By night, she's a sleepwalker troubled by a past she can't put to bed and a present that leaves her clinging to an unsuitable boyfriend. Arlo Savidge was once a budding heartthrob musician. Then tragedy struck and he chose to forsake stardom and all future affairs of the heart for a quiet life in the countryside as a music teacher.

Petra and Arlo haven't seen each other since they were teenagers-when their feelings ran deep but the timing wasn't right. Now, seventeen years later, they run into each other once more. Might first love get a second chance-or will what keeps them up at night keep them apart forever?

Praise for Pillow Talk
"I defy anyone who doesn't fall in love with it." -Glamour

"Warm, sexy, satisfying." -Heat

"North charts the emotional turmoil with a sexy exactitude." -Marie Claire

"Another North gem."-OK

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A couple gets a second chance at love in this contemporary romance set in London. Jewelry designer Petra Flint is surprised to hear a song on the radio written by Arlo Savidge, the boy she once sweetly loved. Arlo, now a music teacher, also hears the song and is reminded of Petra. When their paths cross and they reconnect, their reminiscing blossoms into a new, deeper, more meaningful romance, but their happiness is threatened by the secrets that they try to keep from each other. The slow-building story, inconsistent writing style, and mishmash of random topics—music, sleepwalking, tanzanite—make it hard to initially connect with the characters, but readers who make the effort will be rewarded with a sentimental and satisfying story. (July)
From the Publisher
"[Freya North] does a brilliant job of telling the tale with heart and soul. 4 Stars" - RT Book Reviews

"I loved this book. I found Petra and Arlo to be such an utterly charming couple and North walked the line between humor and romance very well." - Books Like Breathing

"While this book is deemed chick lit, it's not all bunnies and bows. It has depth and meaning laced with light and laughter. A truly enjoyable read that will leave you thinking about the characters long after the last word has been read." - Royal Reviews

"Pillow Talk is a warm passionate contemporary romance starring two flawed people who as teens were in love and now as adults remain in love." - Genre Go Around Reviews

" This is an awesome romantic story that will help you escape for the day. It is a wonderful story of love, romance, tragedy, and enduring love. The storyline is so well written it moves flawlessly from the beginning to the end." - Eva's Sanctuary

"Pillow Talk was an interesting read for me. Overall, I enjoyed the book." - Urban Girl Reader

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Pillow Talk

By Freya North

Sourcebooks, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Freya North
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4022-5447-5


The first Wednesday in March was going to be a peculiar day for Petra Flint but it would take another seventeen years for her to consider how seminal it had been. Usually, school days were utterly dependable for their monotony, with daytime plotted and pieced into fifty-minute periods of quality education. The reputation of Dame Alexandra Johnson School for Girls and its high standing in the league tables was built on courteous, bright girls achieving fine exam results and entry into Oxbridge and the better Red Bricks. The school was sited in a residential street just off the Finchley Road, east of West Hampstead. It occupied four Victorian houses, somewhat haphazardly interconnected, whose period details sat surprisingly well with blackboards, Bunsen burners and the students' adventurous artwork. All members of staff were upright and eager, and it was as much the school's edict to impart a similar demeanour on the girls as to teach them the set curriculum. The headmistress, Miss Lorimar, was of indeterminate age, looked a little like an owl and could swoop down on misconduct or mess in an instant. She infused the girls and staff alike with a mixture of trepidation and respect. Ad vitam Paramus, she'd often proclaim, in morning assembly or just along the corridors, Ad vitam Paramus.

Petra liked school. Miss Lorimar had only ever had cause to bark praise at her. Petra wasn't staggeringly bright, nor was she tiresomely popular but in keeping a naturally quiet and amicable profile, she was well liked by her teachers and classmates. She liked school because it provided respite from home. On her fourteenth birthday last year, she had been summoned to Miss Lorimar's office.


Petra had sat. She had sat in silence glancing at Miss Lorimar who was reading a letter with great interest.

"I see it is your birthday," the headmistress announced, "and I see you are having a rotten time at home." She brandished the piece of paper which Petra then recognized as coming from the pad of light blue Basildon Bond that was kept in the console drawer in the hallway at home. "Your mother has disclosed the situation with your father." Petra's gaze fell to her lap where she saw her fists were tightly clenched. "I shall circulate this information in the staff room," Miss Lorimar continued, as if referring to a case of nits. There was a pause during which Petra unfurled her fists and worried that her fingernails weren't regulation short. Miss Lorimar didn't seem interested in them. "Happy birthday," she said, her bluntness at odds with the sentiment. There was another pause. When Miss Lorimar next spoke, the steely edge to her voice had been replaced with an unexpected softness. "Let school be your daytime haven, Miss Flint," she said. "You can be happy here. We will care for you."

And Petra was happy at Dame Alexandra Johnson School for Girls and she did feel well cared for and now, a year on from her parents' divorce, home was no longer a place to trudge reluctantly back to.

* * *

That first Wednesday in March, double maths, first break and double English were blithely pushed aside as Miss Lorimar strode into the Lower Fifth classroom after assembly.

"I wanted to call it Task Force," she bellowed and no one knew what she was talking about, "but the governors thought it sounded too military." She narrowed her eyes and huffed with consternation. Twenty-eight pairs of eyes concentrated on the dinks and notches in the old wooden desks. "So we are calling it Pensioners' Link instead. One lunchtime each week, you will go in pairs and visit pensioners in the locale. You will do odd jobs, a little shopping and, most importantly, you will provide company." She looked around the class. "The elderly have started to become forgotten, even disposable, in our society," she said darkly. "It's an outrage! They are the cornerstones of our community and much is to be learned from them. You will sit and you will listen. Thank you, ladies." A spontaneous hum from girls desperate to chatter erupted, though a withering look from Miss Lorimar soon silenced it. With a tilt of her head towards the classroom door, a group of people filed in. "We welcome members of social services who will be your chaperones today. You will be back in time for final period before lunch — and the concert."

The concert. Oh yes, the gig. Noble Savages, the band made up from Sixth Formers at nearby Milton College Public School for Boys, were playing in the hall at lunchbreak. What a strange day for a school day. Rather wonderful, too.

* * *

Petra had been paired with Darcey Lewis and they'd been teamed with Mrs. McNeil who was eighty-one years old and lived on her own in a flat in the mansion block above the shops near Finchley Road underground station.

"I didn't know people even lived here," said Darcey.

"God you're a snob!" Petra said.

"I didn't mean it that way," said Darcey ingenuously. "I meant that I haven't ever bothered to look upwards beyond McDonald's or the newsagent or the sandwich shop."

"It is pretty spectacular," Petra agreed, as she and Darcey craned their necks and noted the surprisingly ornate brickwork and elegantly proportioned windows of the apartments sitting loftily above the parade of dog-eared shops.

"This is such a skive!" Darcey whispered as the lady from social services led them into the building. "Missing double bloody maths to chat with an old biddy." Darcey's glibness was soon set to rights by the dingy hallway and flight after flight of threadbare stairs. "Why do you make someone so old live up here?" Darcey challenged social services.

"Mrs. McNeil has lived here for twenty years," was the reply. "It is her home and she does not wish to move."

The walls were stained with watermarks from some long-ago flood and from the scuff and trample of careless feet. The building smelt unpleasant: of carpet that had been damp, of overheated flats in need of airing, faint whispers of cigarette smoke, camphor, old-fashioned gas ovens, a cloying suggestion of soured milk. Mrs. McNeil's front doorknob was secured with a thatch of Sellotape, the ends of which furled up yellow, all stickiness gone.

"She won't let us fix it," the social services lady told the girls, as she rapped the flap of the letter-box instead.

"Bet she smells of wee," Darcey whispered to Petra.

"Shut up," Petra said.

Mrs. McNeil did not smell of wee but of lavender cologne, and her apartment did not smell of sour milk or mothballs. It did smell of smoke but not cigarettes, something sweeter, something more refined. Cigarillos in cocktail colours, it soon transpired. She was a small but upright woman, with translucent crêpey skin and skeins of silver hair haphazardly swooped into a chignon of sorts. "Hullo, young ladies," her voice was a little creaky, but her accent was cultivated and the tone was confident, "won't you come in?"

They shuffled after her, into the flat. Mrs. McNeil's sitting room was cluttered but appeared relatively spruce for the apparent age and wear of her belongings and soft furnishings. A dark wood table and chairs with barley-twist legs jostled for floor space against a small sofa in waning olive green velvet with antimacassars slightly askew, a nest of tables that fitted together from coincidence rather than original design, a tall ashtray from which a serpentine plume of smoke from a skinny pink cigarillo slicked into the air. On the walls, pictures of sun-drenched foreign climes hung crooked. Around the perimeter of the room, butting up against the tall skirting boards, piles and piles of books, all meticulously finishing at the same height. Petra thought they looked like sandbags, like a flood defence, as if they were protecting Mrs. McNeil and keeping her safe within these walls. Or perhaps they kept mice out. Perhaps the tatty patterned carpet simply did not fit properly wall to wall. Petra looked around her; there just was not the room for enough shelving to house that many books. And the walls were for those paintings of somewhere hot and faraway.

At that moment, surrounded by decades of life and so much personal history, Petra deeply missed having grandparents of her own. She took Mrs. McNeil's bony hand, with its calligraphy of veins and sinews and liver spots, in both of hers.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. McNeil," she said, looking intently into the lady's watercolour-pale eyes. "I'm Petra Flint."

"You may call me Lillian, Petra Flint," she said.

"Hullo, Lillian," Darcey said slowly and loudly with unnecessary stooping. "I'm Darcey Lewis."

"You, dear, can call me Mrs. McNeil," Lillian said tartly.

And so began a friendship between Petra Flint and Lillian McNeil which, though it would last less than three years, was deep in its mutual fondness and, for Petra in particular, long-standing in its reach. On that first visit, while Darcey sat on the green velvet sofa and helped herself to ginger snaps, Petra asked Mrs. McNeil if she would like her pictures straightened.

"I've never been abroad," Petra said. "Please will you tell me a little about them, as I straighten them?"

"Let's start here, in Tanzania," Lillian said, peering up at a painting. "I lived there forty years ago. I loved it. This is Mount Kilimanjaro at dawn. I sat beside the artist, under this baobab — or upside-down — tree as he painted."

After that, whenever Petra visited, often twice or three times a week, the paintings she had previously righted were crooked again. Invariably one was more skewed than the others and that was the one that Lillian McNeil planned to talk about that day. Darcey rarely visited Mrs. McNeil again. She swore Petra to secrecy, bunking off Pensioners' Link to meet her boyfriend for lunch at McDonald's instead.

From the tranquillity of Mrs. McNeil's flat, Petra and Darcey walked straight into an overexcited buzz back at school. There was usually something going on in the school hall at lunchtimes, but it was more likely to be drama or dance club or one of the classes practising a forthcoming assembly. In its hundred-year history, this was the first lunch hour in which the school had been put at the disposal of five boys and their impressive array of rock-band paraphernalia. Miss Golding the music teacher, a sensitive creature for whom even Beethoven was a little too raucous, looked on in alarm as if fearing for the welfare of her piano and the girls' eardrums. While she backed herself away from the stage, her arms crossed and her eyebrows knitted, other members of staff bustled amongst the girls trying to calm the general fidget and squawk of anticipation. It was only when Miss Lorimar introduced the members of the band that the students finally stood silent and still.

"These are very Noble Savages," their headmistress quipped, tapping the shoulders of the singer and the drummer. "First stop: Dame Alexandra Johnson's, next stop: Top of the Pops!" She made a sound unsettlingly close to a giggle before clapping energetically. The girls were too gobsmacked to even cringe let alone applaud. But before Miss Lorimar had quite left the stage, before Miss Golding had time to cover her ears, the Noble Savages launched into their first number and the varnished parquet of the hall resounded to the appreciative thumping of three hundred sensibly shod feet. Just a few bars in and each member of the band had a fan club as yelps of "Oh my God, he's just so completely gorgeous," filtered through the throng like a virus. "I'm in love!" Petra's friends declared while she nodded and grinned and bopped along. "God, I'm just so in love!"

"Nuclear no!" Arlo Savidge sang as Jonny Noble, on rhythm guitar, thrashed through powerful chords and Matt on drums hammered the point home.

Government you are meant
to seek peace
not govern mental.
Time to go! Nuclear no!

The girls went wild and the majority of them made a mental note to join CND at once. After thank-yous all round from the band, Jeremy skittled his fingers down the run of piano keys, took his hands right away for maximum drama and then crashed them back down in an echoing chord of ear-catching dissonance.

Jailed for their thoughts
Caged for their beliefs
Imprisoned behind bars of bigotry
But still their spirits fly
Set them free
Set them free
We must
Set them free.

The older girls were shaking their heads, while hormones and concern for political injustice sprang real tears to their eyes.

"Free Nelson Mandela," Darcey said to Petra with a very grave nod.

Petra closed her eyes in silent supplication.

"Do you think the drummer would like to free me of my virginity?" Amy asked and her classmates snorted and laughed and gave her a hug.

"Do you think the one with the red-and-white guitar would like me in a big red bow and nothing else?" Alice asked.

"Shh!" Darcey hissed, beginning to sway. "It's a slowy."

"'Among the Flowers,'" the singer announced, his eyes closed.

While gentle chords were softly strummed by Jonny, Arlo caressed the strings of his guitar. The sweetest melody wove its way through the crowd as "Among the Flowers" floated like petals through the hall. The harmonies seduced even Miss Golding who tipped her head and appraised the band with a timid smile. When Arlo began to sing, it was without the strident, Americanized preach of "Set Them Free" and "Nuclear No!"; instead it was deeper and pitch-perfect, wrought with emotion and, one felt, his true voice.

I see her walking by herself
In a dream among the flowers
Won't she wake
Won't she wake
And see how I wait
See how I wait
For her
Is she walking all alone
Is she lonely in the flowers
Can I wake her and take her
Take her with me through the flowers
Out of her dream
And into mine
Out of her dream
And into mine.

He sang with his eyes shut, his mouth so close to the microphone that occasionally his lips brushed right over its surface. Arlo only opened his eyes when the piano solo twinkled its romantic bridge between the verses. All eyes were on the band but the focus was on Arlo who had eyes for one girl alone.

Is he looking at me?

No, he's looking at me!

Fuck off, it's me he's looking at.

* * *

It's me, thought Petra, he's looking straight at me. Aren't you. Hullo.

* * *

"Out of her dream," Arlo sang to Petra, "and into mine."


The morning after Petra sleepwalked towards Whetstone was the morning she would hear again "Among the Flowers" for the first time in seventeen years. But it wasn't the song that woke her, it was the telephone.

"Where are you? It's bloody Wednesday — it's your day to open up so I didn't bother to bring my keys. Your mobile is off. Bloody hell, Petra."

She clocked the voice: Eric. She noted the time. She had overslept and she still felt exhausted.

"I can't get hold of Gina or Kitty," Eric was wailing with a certain theatricality, "and I've been waiting bloody ages."

"I'll be right in, I had a bad night. I'll be there in an hour. Sorry."

Petra flung back the duvet and stood up quickly which compounded the fuggy nausea of having been awoken with a jolt. Physically holding her head, and with her eyes half shut, she shuffled to the bathroom to take a shower. It stung. Glancing down, she saw that her right knee was badly grazed. Carefully, she flannelled off the small sticky buds of blackened blood and bravely ran the shower cold over the freshly revealed abrasion. Scrubbing dirt from her fingernails, she observed a blade of grass whirl its way down the plughole. She gave a little shudder. She hated these hazy half-memories of the night before. She dried herself, dabbing gingerly at her knee, smoothing on Savlon and sticking a plaster lightly over the wound. Jeans felt too harsh so she pulled on a pair of old jogging bottoms, hurried into a sweatshirt and odd socks and shoved on the bashed-up trainers she favoured for work. But she had to clench her teeth and screw her eyes shut at a sudden scorch of soreness from her feet. Easing the shoes off, peeling her socks away, she inspected large blisters at each heel; one had burst and was red raw, the other bulged with fluid. If I cry now, Petra told herself, I won't make it into work at all. Bloody stupid sleepwalking — where was I going? What was I thinking?

She placed a pad of cotton wool on each heel, secured with Sellotape, slipped her feet into socks first stretched wide and then slid her feet into sandals. Sandals which she liked but which Rob referred to as "German lezzy abominations."

"If Rob could see me now," she muttered, giving her reflection a cursory glance before heading for the studio. "I hope he's OK."


Excerpted from Pillow Talk by Freya North. Copyright © 2011 Freya North. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Freya North gave up a PhD to write her first novel in 1991. She has written ten novels, all of which have been bestsellers. She lives in London with her family. In 2008 she won the RNA Award for Romantic Novel of the Year for Pillow Talk. Visit www.freyanorth.com

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