AN INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER
NAMED A TOP 10 DEBUT AUTHOR TO WATCH BY POPSUGAR A PARADE.COM DEBUT NOVEL EVERYONE WILL BE READING
His first mistake? Thinking she'd let him go.
Juliette finally has it all. Great friends. An exciting new job that sends her to exotic locations all over the world. Best of all, she has a good, decent man who loves her, who wants to spend the rest of his life with her…
He just won’t admit it.
But Juliette’s not worried. After all, fate brought them together in the first place. If she and Nate are meant to be, they can weather any storm—even this break-up they’re going through now. Nate thought things had been moving too fast, getting too intense. All he needed was some space, though. Now that six months have passed since that awful night, it’s time for Juliette to put her plan into action.
It takes some convincing: cleaning his apartment while he’s out, leaving behind his favorite foods…little things to make him realize how badly he misses her. Once he sees Juliette has this perfect new life—and broken free from her dark past—he won’t ignore her anymore. Especially now that she’s working for his airline.
She’s not going to let him go so easily. Because their love is like a dream that never dies.
Even when it turns out to be a nightmare.
“Funny, creepy, surprising, scary, and exhilarating.”—Publishers Weekly
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|Publisher:||Graydon House Books|
|Product dimensions:||8.90(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
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I apply fuchsia lipstick to complete my transformation. All the best ideas are so brilliantly obvious, once you've thought of them. My ref lection in the water-splashed mirror is of someone with thick make-up and dark-brown hair, but my own eyes. The polyester necktie scratches my skin and, although it feels alien to wear the uniform, the starchy trouser suit with eighties-style shoulder pads allows me to morph into an anonymous airline employee. My expression is neutral and professional; calm and controlled. A new year, a new me.
Amy, her ref lection beside mine, wrinkles her nose. "The stench of these toilets reminds me of school."
I wrinkle mine back. "The cheap loo roll and miserable sound of dripping water doesn't help."
We both pause for a second or two, listening.
She glances at her watch. "We'd better go, we don't want to make a bad impression."
I follow her out. Her auburn hair is woven into a bun so neat, it doesn't look real. Her perfume is floral and understated.
Mine is too strong, the sickly smell has been irritating my nostrils all morning. As we merge with the other eighteen trainees filing back into the classroom, Brian, one of our instructors, raises his hand, palm outwards.
Silence falls. I wonder if anyone else feels like me, suffocating the desire to scream because — seriously — how hard can the work be? I intend to show up, take off, chuck out a tray of food, whip it back, job done. I expect passengers to be capable of entertaining themselves with the in-f light entertainment system once fed and watered. After landing, I imagine I'll have plenty of time to chill by a hotel pool or explore local markets.
I realize that Brian is still speaking. I force myself to listen.
"There's no need to sit down as we'll be heading into the mock-up area for an examination of the training equipment."
We traipse out and gather in the corridor, before being herded along by Brian's partner in crime, Dawn. We follow her downstairs and through the main reception area. Dawn jabs a code into a keypad and we enter a small room. The walls are lined with pegs, hanging off which are mounds of dirty-looking overalls.
"Listen, please, everyone. We'd like you to wear an overall over your uniform. Place your shoes on the racks at the bottom and put on the white feet-protectors."
I freeze. Everyone but me starts lifting overalls off the pegs and checking them for size. God, I can't do this. They are filthy. They look as though they haven't been washed since ... ever.
"Juliette? Is there a problem?" Brian's expression is of exaggerated concern.
"No. No problem." I smile.
He turns away. "Now, ladies, for those wearing skirts, make sure your legs are properly covered. Velcro on some of the equipment wreaks havoc with your tights."
Crap. I'm going to have to do it. I slide my arms in before doing up the buttons. I don't know why I bothered to get my suit dry-cleaned. I look ridiculous in the baggy jumpsuit, complete with elasticated material around my ankles. All that's missing is a face mask and I'd look like I'm about to investigate a crime scene. Even Amy looks less immaculate than usual. "This is going to be fun," I whisper under my breath to her.
She beams. "I can't wait to try out the practical drills. I've been dreaming of this since I was small."
Why would anyone dream of becoming a waitress, albeit a f lying one, from childhood? When I was young I had plans.
Big ones. Proper ones.
"Any time today, Juliette." Brian is holding open a door. He is really getting on my nerves and yet I still have another five weeks of his company to endure. I follow him into a giant warehouse containing sections of various aircraft; some at ground level, some on raised platforms with stair access. We catch up with the others walking alongside the building. The front door of a plane bursts open and several overall-clad people fly out and down the slide. A male, uniformed crew member operates the door, barking instructions above a shrill alarm. "Jump! Jump!"
We whisk past until Dawn and Brian stop beside a blown-up, silvery-grey mass, not unlike a kids' bouncy castle. "Now, before we board the slide-raft, I'm going to talk you through the survival equipment. A landing on water will, from now on, be referred to as a "ditching" ..."
Dawn's voice fades as I zone out. I know the statistics. They can call it what they like, but the chances of surviving a plane crash on water are not good.
* * *
At five on the dot, we are released through the secure gated area and back into the real world; the airport perimeter road. The roar of low-f lying aircraft and rush-hour traffic is briefly disorientating. I inhale cold, crisp air. My breath mists as I exhale. The group divides into those going to the car park and the rest of us, heading for Hatton Cross. I only half-listen to their excited chatter. The group splits again; those catching buses head off first and the rest of us, including Amy, enter the tube station. I walk alongside her as we make for the platform.
"Not on the westbound side today?" she says. "I thought the train to Reading leaves from Heathrow?"
I hesitate. "I'm going to visit a friend. In Richmond."
"You've got more energy than me. I'm so tired, I don't think I could face going out tonight. And I want to go through my notes."
"It's Friday night," I say.
"Yeah, but I want to recap whilst it's all fresh," says Amy.
"Fair enough; I'll know who to sit next to in the exams." I smile.
I pretend to join in, then stare out the window; the light inside reflects us into the outside darkness.
Amy gets off at Boston Manor. I wave and watch as she walks towards the exit steps, tall and proud in her uniform.
After changing at Hammersmith, I am the only uniformed person among the crowd of passengers. Alighting at Richmond, I cross the road, pulling my coat around me tightly. My bag cuts into my right shoulder. I aim for the familiarity of the alleyway, my heels clicking and echoing with each decisive step. I avoid a broken bottle and head for the outskirts of the Green. Stopping outside a set-back period mansion block, I lean against the railings and pull off my heels, exchanging them for ballet pumps. I pull up my coat hood and let it drop over my forehead before treading along the path. My key slides into the communal door. I enter, checking for sounds. Silence.
Taking the steps to the third and highest floor, I let myself into apartment 3B. Once inside, I stand still and inhale the welcoming scent of home.
I rely on the glow of the fish tank instead of switching on any lights. Sinking down into the sofa, I remove clothes from my bag. I undress, folding my uniform carefully, then change into black jeans and a jumper. Using my phone as a torch, I pad, barefoot, into the kitchen and open the fridge. It is almost empty, as usual, apart from beer, some chillies and a readymade macaroni cheese for one. I smile.
Heading back to the living room, I risk switching on a side lamp. From my bag, I remove a photo and place it on the mantelpiece. In a perfect world, it would be framed, but I like to keep it close so that I can look at it whenever I like. In the picture, I am grinning happily, alongside Nate, the man I am to marry. I fold my uniform over my left arm and make my way to the bedroom. Next, I place the trousers, blouse and jacket on the bed and bend down, burying my face into his pillow. I inhale deeply before lifting my head and shining light around the room. Nothing has changed since I was last here. Good.
As I roll back the mirrored sliding door to the wardrobe, a reflective f lash of my beam catches my eyes. I blink, whilst my sight readjusts. Nate's spare pilot's uniform, his jackets, shirts and trousers, all hang neatly, but not as neatly as I can hang them. I carefully space them out, each roughly three centimetres apart. I leave a gap as I hang my uniform next to his. The way it should be. I stand back to admire my work. Light catches the gold emblem on his hat. I slide the door closed.
My last stop is always the bathroom. I check the medicine cabinet. He's had a cold recently; the menthol inhaler and cough medicine are new.
Returning to the living room, I help myself to an apple from the fruit bowl. I press my forehead against the living-room window, crunching small bites whilst looking down below. I can't see anyone. Rush hour is over and, presumably, most people are at home, cosy and settled. Unlike me. I am on the outskirts of my life.
Waiting. That's what I do, a lot of waiting. And thinking ...
I know so many things about Nate: that he loves skiing and always smells fresh; the scent of citrus soap clings to his skin. I know that he wants to be promoted to captain before he reaches his mid-thirties.
I know his background inside out: the childhood holidays in Marbella, Nice, Verbier and Whistler; tennis, horse-riding and cricket lessons; the lack of approval from his father when Nate chose to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot instead of following in his footsteps as an investment banker.
His younger sister admires him, but she doesn't like me.
From social media photos, I can see that he could do with a haircut; his blond curls almost touch his collar.
But what I know, most of all, is that deep down he still has feelings for me. Nate just suffered a temporary fear of commitment. Although it was crushing at the time, I now understand things a little better. So, when the perfect time comes to disclose that I now work for the airline too — when he appreciates the lengths I've gone to, just to save us — everything will fall into place.
Until then, I have to be patient. It's difficult, though. Whenever I see a fresh image of him, I find it hard to eat for days afterwards.
My phone alarm reminds me that it's time to leave. I've had to train myself to do that, because the thing I've realized is that you get away with something once. Then twice. Then, before you know it, you are taking bigger risks. Time passes in a daze and gets cut too fine. I check to see whether Nate's flight from Chicago has landed. It has — five minutes early. I rush to my bag, and fumble. I wrap my apple core inside a tissue and pull out a packet of mini chocolate muffins. Nate's favourite. It's a habit I can't break — adding his preferences to my own food shopping. I open the freezer door, causing white light to illuminate the wall. I shove the packet towards the back, behind the meat that I know he will never defrost and the peas he never bothers with. I'd love to leave them somewhere more obvious, like by the coffee machine, but I can't, so this will have to do. When he finds them, hopefully he will take a moment to think of me. My shopping lists were always full of food he loved. I never forgot anything.
I retrace my steps to the bedroom and yank my uniform off the hangers which swing, then clatter, as they hit the back of the wardrobe. Returning to the living room, I take down the photo before reluctantly replacing it in my bag. I put on my ballet pumps and switch off the side lamp. The multicoloured fish stare at me as they complete their lengths. One, in particular, watches, mouth gaping. It is ugly. Nate named it Rainbow. I have always hated it.
I swallow hard. I don't want to go. This place is like quicksand, it sucks me in.
I pick up my bag and leave, closing the door quietly behind me, before returning to the station to catch the train to my shoebox, postage stamp, doll's house of a f lat in Reading. I can't call it home because being there is like hanging out in the departure lounge of life. Waiting, always waiting, until the gate to my proper life reopens.CHAPTER 2
I lie in bed and stretch. Thank God it's the weekend. Although the airline is a twenty-four-hour operation, training is structured around a normal working week. Tonight, I plan to attend a children's charity fund-raising event, at a luxurious Bournemouth hotel. It's an auction, with a seafood buffet and unreserved seating, and I'm looking forward to it, despite the lack of a formal invitation. It doesn't matter, as I've discovered at similar events; as long as I look and dress the part and don't draw unnecessary attention to myself (of course), people rarely question my presence and, with fund-raisers, surely it stands to reason that the more attendees, the better. I get up, shower, change and press the button on the coffee machine. I love the sound and smell of beans grinding. If I close my eyes, for a second or two each day, I can pretend I'm at home. It's the little things that keep me going. Bitterness brushes my tongue as I sip my espresso. In between mouthfuls,
I glance at my tablet. I scroll. Bella, the organizer of tonight's event, always posts plenty of photos of past events. She is in most of them, grinning, not a highlighted hair out of place, and her jewellery, usually gold or sapphires, looks expensive, yet not ostentatious. Faultless, as always. Bella excels at raising money for good causes, making herself look like a real-life Good Samaritan without having to dirty her hands. Anyone can organize a party and swan around drinking champagne, however if you really, truly meant to do good, you'd drink cheap wine and volunteer for something unpopular. But Bella's main life skill is being fantastic at making herself shine. My phone vibrates. A text.
My flatmate decided to throw a party tonight. If you can't beat them ... Fancy it? I'll invite others off the course too. Amy x
I am torn. The more friends I make within the airline, the better things will be for me. And I do need friends. There is hardly anyone left from my old life — apart from those I keep in touch with on social media and a handful of drop-outs from my film extra days — thanks to putting my life on hold for Nate Goldsmith. Being near Bella is like picking at a scab. But ... the closer I am to her world, the more of her luck and fortune is bound to rub off. I stare at my phone, un decided, listening to the rain trickling down the gutters out-side the window.
A fortnight after Nate's bombshell, he'd stood over me whilst I packed my belongings.
"I've paid six months' rent on a super place in Reading. As a gift. I'll even drive you there and help you sort out everything you need in order to settle."
"I lived there briefly during my training and it's a fantastic place for a new start. Full of life."
He wouldn't let it drop, which, given how tight he could be financially, was a hurtful indication of how keen he was to bin me. At least it had stopped him banging on about me moving back to my delusional mother's. The f lat was basic, clean and contained all the essentials to lead a bland, functional life. I had surveyed the living room, in which we both stood rigid, in awkward silence. I think he was waiting for me to thank him.
Elizabeth, indeed, for fuck's sake! What had happened to Lily, babe, darling, sweetheart? He kissed me on the forehead and let himself out, shutting the door quietly behind him. Silence echoed. I gazed out the window, through a blur of raindrops, and watched as his tail lights disappeared, bubbling with fresh rage and humiliation. I loved him and yet I'd been unable to stop him making the biggest mistake of his life. He was mine. As I sat there — mentally deflating on the hard-backed sofa — it was then that my Plan of Action had been born. Elizabeth/Lily was disappearing into her cocoon and waiting to emerge as Juliette — my middle name — to complete a metamorphosis into a social butterfly.
Hmm. So now ... Amy? Bella? Bella? Amy? Eeny, meeny ... I reach down under the coffee table for my handbag, fumble around for my purse and take out a coin. I f lip it. Heads Bella, tails Amy. The coin wobbles on the table and settles on tails. Bella has lost out to someone else, on this occasion. I message Amy back: Love to come xxx.
She sends me her address. The only problem now is that it leaves me with an entire day to fill. I don't have to bother with my appearance as much, now that I am only going to a small house party. It's so grey, it's almost dark. I pace the tiny room. Outside, I can see car lights illuminate stabbing rain in their beams. I should learn to drive. Then, I could head over to Richmond right now. I could sit outside Nate's. He wouldn't even know I was there. It would be so comforting to be near him. I shower, pull on some jeans and a black jumper, grab my trainers and coat, then speed-walk to the station.
Rain, it turns out, is a serious godsend. Who'd have thought, after so many soggy summers, that I would find it such a luxury to hide beneath a hood loitering anonymously in shop doorways and alleyways. Mother Nature is on my side. During this miserable late January day, people are distracted, heads down, shoulders hunched, umbrellas up. Cartwheeling water sludges from car tyres. No one takes any notice of me.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Perfect Girlfriend"
Copyright © 2019 Karen Hamilton.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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