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Playing by the Rules
By Rosa Temple
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2017 Rosa Temple
All rights reserved.
On the 3rd of August 2015, I died. I was in the London offices of solicitors Bartholomew and Tooke, along with my family: Mother, Father and my three sisters. It was no ordinary death. After losing control of all my bodily functions, my eyes rolled back in my head and I stopped breathing altogether. I crashed to the floor and heard the high-toned, continuous beep of a heart monitor and imagined the great big flatline across the screen, confirming the inevitable. I was dead.
But I wasn't attached to a machine; there was no beep and no flatline. In fact, I wasn't actually dead. But I could easily have been. One minute the incredibly handsome (for a sixty-year-old) Mr Bartholomew was reading Nana Clementine's last will and testament, saying I'd just inherited £250,000 and in the next breath he was saying that I couldn't actually have it.
In a matter of seconds, I'd gone from exhilarated at having landed a vast sum of money for doing absolutely nothing and then back to being flat broke and desperate. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved and adored Nana Clementine and couldn't have been more heartbroken when we lost her, but she was far too astute for a ninety-year-old for my liking. You see, if there was one member of my family who knew me well, it was Nana Clementine – and that's why the will reading hadn't gone to plan.
Nana had come to England from Ireland as a six-year-old with wild flaxen hair and rosy cheeks. She came from strong, Northern Irish stock and a family who knew how to work hard and get ahead. Her father, Damon Burns, also knew that if his beautiful Clementine was ever going to do well in England and be able to rub shoulders with English gentry, she'd have to get rid of the thick accent and smooth out that hair.
Damon Burns signed Clementine up for elocution lessons and had the Queen's English drummed into her until she could pass for a member of the royal family. Damon worked as a handyman in a women's underwear factory and his wife was a seamstress in said factory. Damon worked an additional two jobs so that their only daughter could go to private school.
He didn't stop working until he and his wife eventually bought out the underwear factory and, in years to come, thanks to some astute business sense from the Irish couple, the small factory became one of the largest women's lingerie designers and wholesalers in Europe. When Nana Clementine took over the company at age twenty-one, she made it a global success.
Unlike Nana Clementine and her Irish family, I hated to work. A fact she was fully aware of. But yet here she was, and from beyond the grave I might add, trying to drum some of those hard-nosed, workingclass family values into me.
In her will she had left her estate to Mother, her only child, and to each of her granddaughters she'd left a tidy sum of £250,000. My sisters – Amber, Indigo and Ebony – all got away scot-free with their stash but there was a proviso attached to my payout. As Mr Bartholomew put it: 'Magenta Clementine Bright will take possession of her inheritance at age forty-five; but at any age prior to her forty-fifth birthday, she may take possession of the inheritance if she has been in continuous employment for the same employer for exactly 365 days.'
The mention of waiting to get hold of the money until age forty-five had caused the failure of my bodily functions; that is, I felt faint and I needed to wee. I was twenty-eight for crying out loud. The words 'continuous employment' had caused my eyes to roll back in my head. The loss of breath occurred straight after he'd said, 'same employer', and I'd crashed to the floor as if dead when I heard him say, '365 days'.
By 365 days Mr Bartholomew meant a year. A whole year of work. Since I was twenty-three and had left university, the longest I'd held down a job was two months. In between jobs there'd been months of unemployment – not a good look for any curriculum vitae. Five years of living precariously doesn't look good for anyone but I'd been consistent in the type of job I'd had. I'd always been a PA of some description. I can't organise myself for shit but I'm brilliant at organising other people. Well for two months at a time, it would appear.
'Magenta, get off the floor,' my mother said as I lay prostrate on the Persian rug in Mr Bartholomew's office, which smelled of Shake 'N' Vac.
'Ignore her,' Mother said to the solicitor. 'Just carry on.'
My sisters sniggered.
Mr Bartholomew cleared his throat. 'Any monies owed will be authorised for payment and all contracts to transfer properties to the beneficiaries will be drawn up. You'll have to allow several months for completion of the transfers, especially the foreign ones, but it will all be in hand.'
My family made a combined sound as they prepared to leave the office, shuffling in their seats and gathering their jackets and handbags.
Just to give you a little background about my family. My mother and father were divorced. My two older sisters, Amber and Indigo, were both married and worked for one of the family businesses: the lingerie company, now owned by Mother. My younger sister, Ebony, was single like me but unlike me, she had a career outside the realms of the family empire and was doing very well indeed.
The four of us girls looked pretty much alike, but in varying dress sizes. We had all acquired the same sandy brown complexion – a combination of my Jamaican father and Irish mother's genes – black-brown hair of varying wave texture and very posh accents after having attended the same private boarding school as Mother and Nana Clementine. The school was supposed to have made us well-balanced, well-educated, ambitious young ladies. For my sisters that had worked well – for me, not so much.
Nana Clementine had wanted my mother – her only child, Scarlett – to marry well. Mother had been worth a considerable amount of money since before she was conceived so, of course, nothing but an appropriate suitor would do. Fortunately for Nana Clementine, Mother met Father, the son of a rich and influential businessman, at Oxford University.
As a young man, my father, Carl Bright, was destined to inherit a large amount of land and two thriving guest houses in his native Jamaica, which he later developed into a chain of hotels in various islands in the Caribbean – the second of our family businesses. Father was as posh as Mother because of his upbringing: prep school, Eton, Oxford – the whole shebang. Father sounded a bit like Trevor McDonald reading News At Ten but he broke into his Jamaican vernacular when he was upset or angry. We heard a lot of Jamaican patois in the lead-up to their acrimonious divorce, five years ago.
'Mavis will see you out,' said Mr Bartholomew as they all left, most of them having to step over me to get to the door. Completely ignoring my dire situation, none of them cared that I might choke down there with all the Shake 'N' Vac I'd inhaled.
'You'll have to get up now, Magenta. I have a meeting in ten minutes.'
I heard Mr Bartholomew tapping documents into a neat pile on his desk.
'How can I get up?' I asked from the floor. 'You just signed my death warrant. I have to work for a full year before I get to spend a penny of my inheritance.' I proceeded to rise from the dead; that is, I sat up and tried to arrange my big hair into the smooth, presentable style I'd arrived with. I blinked large, hazel eyes at Mr Bartholomew but he was sorting out files and papers and missed my 'with-these-eyes-I-can-get-anything' look, which worked like magic on Father when I was a little girl.
'Mr Bartholomew, isn't there anything you can do?' I was on my knees and peering at him from the other side of his desk. 'Do you understand what it means to hold down a job for a whole year?'
'I've been a solicitor for thirty years.' He got up and dropped a file into one of the wire trays on his desk, walked to the mirror on the far wall and began straightening his tie. I followed him, put my arms around him from behind and fixed his tie.
'I mean a year for a normal person,' I said. His hairline was receding and his suit was terrible but he was still handsome. 'You don't understand,' I went on. 'Nana loved me the most. There's no way she'd give Amber, Indigo and Ebony all that money for nothing and make me work for mine.'
He unwound himself from my vice-like grip on his shoulders.
'I don't have the power to alter your grandmother's will, Magenta. You know that.' He put papers into a thin case, fastened it and held his hand towards the door where Mavis had just come in to hurry her boss along.
My shoulders slumped down like they used to when I was thirteen and someone in my family had ruined my life. I picked up my Hermès Vintage Tote and left the office just ahead of Mr Bartholomew. We walked out onto Lancaster Gate together and he waved his hand in the air to hail a taxi.
I stopped to watch him get into the back seat and wondered for a moment if he had any jobs going back at Bartholomew and Tooke. Realising very quickly I hadn't exactly led with my best foot forward and there was no way he'd ever employ me, I waved at him. He waved back and I gave him the thumbs up sign. He gave me a puzzled look as the taxi shot off.
I was left holding the tote bag in front of my legs with both hands, rocking backwards and forwards on my Manolo Blahniks and wishing I'd asked if I could use his toilet before we'd left.CHAPTER 2
Back at my Holland Park flat I stood on the balcony outside the bedroom window. It was probably the hottest day of August and the heat made my head ache. The traffic trundled past at street level, three floors below, each of the drivers oblivious to my recent run of bad luck and the horrendous fate that awaited me if I gave in to Nana Clementine's crazy condition and actually worked ... for a whole year.
All of a sudden my head began to spin. My life was falling to pieces around me. Mother had already lived up to her threat and had stopped giving me money for rent and clothes whenever I was out of work.
'It's the only way you'll learn to stand on your own two feet, Magenta,' she'd told me over breakfast one morning when I'd come to borrow £2000 for the rent arrears. 'If you don't learn to look after your finances you'll have to come back home and live with me and get a job alongside your older sisters.'
She'd seen the look of terror in my eyes. Mother had retired as CEO to the lingerie business and my older sisters both held high positions within it. Amber was head of marketing and Indigo was the business lawyer for the firm. Ebony had gone straight from university into a job as an assistant buyer for Harrods and hadn't looked back.
'But, Mother,' I'd pleaded. 'I'm not business-minded; I'm an artist. I'd never last in the dizzying heights of high finance and corporate management.'
'Magenta,' Mother had sighed. 'You haven't produced a single piece of art since you left art school. Why don't you at least try to finish your degree? You were very good, you know?'
Mother was right. I was good at art but I was hardly the best. I realised a long time ago that in order to succeed one had to be competitive. And I wasn't. There didn't seem to be a competitive bone in my body. My sisters had been direct products of my parents' ambitious natures. Their power-mad gene was missing from my DNA.
I leaned on the rail of the balcony and sighed. I was an artist who no longer owned a sketch pad and who didn't have an HB pencil to her name. My talents lay elsewhere as I kept trying to tell everyone. I was an expert in where to get the best cosmopolitan in town, how to dress well and how to get invited to all the good parties in London, Paris, New York and at least four other cities in the world. With those credentials how was I ever going to get a job that lasted a year and what on earth did working for a year actually feel like?
I went back inside and put on some music. Before flopping onto the large red sofa in the middle of my spacious living room I grabbed the phone and called my younger sister, Ebony. Ebony was the most serious of us all and the most sensible. She was three years younger than me but seemed to have at least thirty years of common sense built into her anatomy and I admired her for that.
'I was expecting your call,' she said when she picked up.
'Can you talk? Where are you?' I said. I was upside down on the sofa, thick hair almost touching the wooden floorboards and feet crossed over the headrest. I could see I was due a pedicure. 'You sound like you're on the move.'
'I am,' said Ebony and I pictured her in the power suit she'd been wearing earlier today. A dark red skirt and jacket with a brilliant white shirt underneath. She wore an amber brooch on the collar of her jacket, one of the treasures Nana Clementine had given to her. Each time we went to see Nana in her sickbed she would point a long, thin finger at her jewellery box and present us with some precious gem or ring or bracelet. I had a box full of Nana Clementine treasures and there had been times, desperate ones of course, when I'd thought about taking them to the pawnshop on Notting Hill Gate.
'I've got a meeting in ten minutes,' said Ebony. 'I'm just getting into the car but I think I have the solution to your financial predicament.'
I sat up quickly, the blood rushing away from my head, and I swooned.
'Oh, Ebony, you're a sweetheart,' I breathed. 'Are you sure about this?' 'Sure about what, Magenta?' I heard her car start up.
'Well you're going to loan me some cash, right?' I said casually. Because, after all, what's the point in having a favourite sister if she didn't give you money when you needed it?
'Better than that,' said Ebony. 'I'm going to put you onto someone who can give you a job.' Ebony had started driving. I could hear traffic from her end but I had suddenly lost the ability to focus on the David Hockney lithograph on the wall opposite me. Its vibrant colour scheme was nothing but a blur before my eyes.
'Magenta, are you still there?' Ebony shouted.
'I am, but for a moment I thought you said you might have found me a job.'
'Welcome to the world of the grown-ups, Magenta. My neighbour's son is taking over from him and is hiring. Just yesterday Arthur told me that his son, Anthony, is interviewing for a new PA. I called Arthur a second ago and he called Anthony. You need to see Anthony tomorrow morning at ten-thirty at his office in Mayfair.'
It was all happening too fast. An interview? A job? Who the hell was Anthony and why would he hire me?
'Look you've been a PA before, Magenta. It's more or less in the bag. Anthony won't know what he's looking for in a PA because he's new to the game. You just have to go and convince him that you're the one for the job. You know how to do that.'
'I don't. I haven't got a clue.'
'Yes, you have. You know exactly how to manipulate people. How else could you get Mother and Father to keep you in the lifestyle you lead without having to lift a finger?' 'That's not manipulation, Ebony, that's a mother and father's genuine love for their daughter.'
'They've spoilt you and you know it. Now get off that sofa of yours and get practising your interview technique. I'll text the details.'
'But I ...' With a click the line was dead and Ebony had probably zipped off in her sports car without a single thought as to how having to go for an interview would affect me.
It wasn't until a little while later, when I was mixing an emergency margarita, that I realised I didn't even know what the company I would be interviewing for actually did. A text came through from Ebony with the details of the job interview and I was none the wiser.
My interview was with Anthony Shearman. The company was called A Shearman Leather Designs. I supposed the 'A' stood for Arthur, Ebony's neighbour, and quite fitting that his son, Anthony, another 'A', was taking over. The office was in Mayfair, classy, so that was fine but as for leather designs, well, that could be anything. Hopefully Ebony hadn't lined me up for a job in anything kinky and the leather might mean shoes and handbags – two of my favourite words. I'd never heard the name Shearman in top fashion so they obviously weren't a designer label, but with an office in Mayfair they must be doing well.
I decided to Google 'A Shearman Leather Designs'. I opened my laptop on the coffee table and sat on the floor, my back against the sofa, a second margarita beside the laptop.
Excerpted from Playing by the Rules by Rosa Temple. Copyright © 2017 Rosa Temple. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Magenta is a 28-year-old woman, who hasn’t held a job longer than a few months. Her parents and sisters have helped her and she didn’t find anything wrong in that situation. It all changed, when her grandmother passed away and left money for all her granddaughters, but Magenta was the only one, who didn’t get the money that easily, she gets the money when she has had the same job for a year or when she turns 45. Magenta finds the situation unfair, but she needs the money and therefore has to find a job. That’s when her sister comes to the rescue and got Magenta a job interview. The job is absolutely perfect for her, as the boss is new to the job as well. Anthony took over the business after his father, even though he had other career choices in his mind. Magenta and Anthony start working together to build up the firm, because it wasn’t in a good place. Magenta and Anthony have a great work relationship, but they both feel attracted to each other as well, although there’s one problem-Anthony is engaged! Can Anthony and Magenta save the firm and will they eventually learn that they are meant to be together? It was a funny and well written book that keep you turning the pages. I have to admit I didn’t really like the main character Magenta very much at the beginning, but she grew so much throughout the book that I ended up liking her a lot. All in all it was a lighthearted and fun book that keeps you entertained.