Emma would do anything to work for the woman who has the job she wants. Carrie is at the top of her game, with a dream career, a baby on the way, and a handsome screenwriter husband. For Emma, with parents who don’t understand her ambition and a serious misstep behind her, this temp position might be her last chance.
Carrie has given up more than anyone knows to get to the top of a ruthless business. She won’t give up this baby too. But with Emma filling in for her at the office, her perfect life starts to unravel. Her bank account is inexplicably overdrawn, her husband seems strangely distant and colleagues are all too happy to take Emma’s creative direction. Carrie finds herself dying to get back to work . . . until a letter left at her door changes everything.
Trust and fear trade places in a love triangle that defies readers’ expectations at every turn.
“An outstanding psychological thriller. . . . Frances, who keeps the suspense high as the action accelerates toward the shattering finale, reinforces her position as a writer to watch.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“The push and pull of characters who work to succeed from different angles create a story abounding with mysteries, revelations, and lies, making this novel one of a kind.”
“Another solid psychological thriller from Frances, herself a former script editor and producer.”
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Sunday, May 14
"EIGHT'S YOUR LUCKY NUMBER," MURMURED CARRIE IN ADRIAN'S ear, making sure her lips were hidden from the TV camera that was pointing at them. She kept her expression humble and nonchalant while she gazed up at the screens showing clips from the shows nominated for Best Screenplay. This was a live broadcast and you never knew when the director might cut to your face.
Adrian replied without looking at her. "And?"
"We're in the eighth row."
He glanced down at the seating in front of them, rows of the cream of the British television industry in the Royal Albert Hall. Carrie saw him mentally count and followed suit. They both automatically looked at the people sitting in front of them — on their seats! The A-list writer of a very successful crime show and, next to him, his leading man, who played a ruthless yet charming killer.
Suddenly the screen flicked back to the British Academy Film Awards logo and onstage the actress presenting the award stepped forward.
"And the winner is ..." said the actress in a candy-colored, figure-hugging dress (Roland Mouret, the online newsfeed had declared the second she put a foot on the red carpet), "Adrian Hill for episode one of Generation Rebel!"
Carrie turned and flung her arms around him as he stood, looking dazed and smiling. She couldn't take her eyes off him as he made his way to the stage.
He's done it.
He took the golden mask from the actress, accepting a kiss on each cheek as he did so. The applause subsided.
"Er ... well, that was unexpected," started Adrian, then made a joke of having to adjust the microphone lower so it fitted his small stature. The audience laughed. He ran his free hand through his tufty hair, and the familiarity of this gesture warmed Carrie further. "Seriously, I'd just realized I wasn't sitting in my lucky seat and was about to oust the most infamous murderer of all time when I realized it might not be in my best interests ..." He paused while the titters rippled across the auditorium and the cameras cut to the killer leading man, who was doing his best to look amused and not seriously pissed off that his show had just lost.
"Thank you to BAFTA, the cast and crew, my excellent producer, Elaine Marsh, and most of all to my beautiful, clever wife, Carrie."
She quickly quashed the embarrassment and smiled as he looked down at her, shielding his eyes from the lights.
She watched as he was led off the stage to the obligatory photo session. He won. He won, he won, he won ! Her delight was genuine. But deep in the pit of her stomach fluttered the nerves that had been growing there the last few days. There was something she needed to tell him. Perhaps his win might make it easier for him to hear.
* * *
Carrie milled through the after-party crowd, knowing that many a conversation would be the start of a new project, a deal struck, a negotiation finalized. She had lost Adrian a full twenty minutes ago, his ear "borrowed" by several people who wanted to congratulate him, attempt to lure him with the next brilliant drama idea, or just bask in the force field of his winning power, perhaps in the hope that some of it might rub off on them.
She spotted him finishing a conversation and made a beeline, carrying a fresh drink.
"A friendly face amongst the sharks," he said as she handed the glass over, then immediately poured a good third down his throat. She didn't touch her own.
"Better get used to it now you're a BAFTA-winning writer," she said. "Although, I hope you're not fraternizing with the enemy."
"Not allowed. Not now you've shackled me to your exceptional producing talent for the next three years."
"You make it sound like you're a man in chains."
"I am. Solid gold ones." He grinned and kissed her. "Seriously, though, I can't wait. Working exclusively with you as well as being married to you. I'm the luckiest man alive."
"Here he is. My favorite writer." A loud, gravelly voice from her twenty-a-day habit cut through the crowd.
"Elaine, how lovely of you to come and congratulate me," said Adrian.
"I haven't yet." Bangles jangling, she smoothed her mane of bottle-red hair and gave him a Cheshire cat grin through plum lipstick. "Nice speech."
"Good to see you haven't totally forgotten who I am."
"Could I ever? You're such a dynamic and persuasive producer."
"Can't compete with the woman who's screwing you, though." Elaine smiled at Carrie, who did her best not to let her mouth fall open. "Still, at least I got one BAFTA out of you before you buggered off."
"I'll never forget you for giving me my big break," said Adrian.
Elaine nodded approvingly. Cocked her head.
"And nurturing my writing into such a successful show."
Another nod. She pushed her pink-framed glasses up her nose in a prompt.
"I think that's enough, isn't it?" "It's never enough, darling. As you well know." And then Elaine strode off into the crowd.
Carrie felt Adrian squeeze her hand. It seemed she'd made an enemy by being married to the hottest writer in town. And signing him up to an exclusive deal with the reputable production company she'd recently started working at. They'd already come up with what she thought was a brilliant idea for Adrian's next show — about a movie star who'd been at the top of his game but through decades of extravagant spending had recently filed for bankruptcy; his latest girlfriend, twenty-five years his junior, had dumped him in disgust and he was alone, broke and struggling to function in the real world. They'd discussed it with the drama boss and channel controller at the BBC, both of whom had been very keen to meet them. A few weeks later it had been given the green light and was about to be officially announced.
Adrian nuzzled her cheek, his beard tickling her skin. "Hey, you and me. It's exciting."
She smiled and felt the nerves return. "Yeah ..."
"You're not upset by Elaine, are you? Don't take any notice. Nothing's going to get in our way. We're going to develop this one together. I'm going to have one hundred percent access to your fantastic story brain; then I can go off and try to write something that isn't a load of tosh — you'll have to keep an eye on me, and hey, wake me up in the middle of the night if you get a brilliant idea —"
"Adrian, it's not me who's going to wake you up in the night."
"What? It's certainly not Elaine." He pulled a face as a less-than-savory vision floated through his head.
"I'm having a baby."
She watched as his face froze in the "in bed with Elaine" expression, then dropped.
"What?" he repeated, more slowly this time.
"I'm pregnant. Fourteen weeks pregnant."
"Four ... fourteen weeks?" "I only found out three days ago."
He looked so lost she almost felt sorry for him. But it would be okay. It will be okay, she mentally rallied.
"Right. But ... you're ... I mean, we always said, we decided that ... we weren't going to ... A family wasn't for us, right?"
She gave a small, hopeful smile.
He visibly paled.
He was thinking of his career right now and part of her didn't blame him. The timing was awful. Everything had been going so well: the new job, signing Adrian, the green light! It was the worst possible time to be having a baby.CHAPTER 2
Sunday, May 14
EMMA SAT WITH HER PARENTS IN THEIR PALE-GRAY AND WHITE LIVING room, her feet tucked under her. Her chair was some way back from where they were on the sofa so she was able to watch them as well as the television, which was broadcasting the BAFTAs live on the flat screen on the back wall.
"Oh, it won!" exclaimed her mother, Alice. They all watched as the writer, Adrian Hill, got up to receive his award.
"Good show, that," her father, Brian, said approvingly. He was on his obligatory after-dinner whiskey over ice. Her mother was nursing a glass of wine, the Telegraph folded on her lap, alternating between filling in the cryptic crossword and watching the TV. They were settled, immovable, their habits and opinions long since die-cast. Not for the first time, Emma felt as if she didn't belong. Home, which had never been particularly welcoming, had become stifling.
"Must give you a bit of inspiration, Emma?" Her father turned to look at her, the badly hidden disappointment ever present in his eyes. "This fellow, Adrian Hill, good writing, wouldn't you say?" His words were loaded with expectation.
Emma bristled. She could sense her mother waiting for her response and she forced herself to stay calm, to extricate herself from her misery. She should have taken up a shift in the bar she worked in at nights, instead of staying home to watch this agony.
"Yes, he's good." There was so much more she could say, but now wasn't the time.
She immediately sensed her father's annoyance at the inadequate answer, but she felt too depressed to elaborate. It was her dream to write for television, but so far she hadn't gotten a lucky break. She couldn't even seem to secure herself an agent, and her spec script — not the one she'd originally wanted to write, that one was impossible now, but the next one — well, even she knew it wasn't her best work.
"Maybe you need to get yourself out there more," said Brian, "instead of being cooped up in the house. What are you doing all day, anyway?"
It stung. Emma knew the rest of his sentence remained unspoken: "... while your mother and I are at work in real jobs." Her father was a dermatologist and her mother a senior manager in the National Health Service. Proper jobs. Well-paid jobs. Jobs with status and a definite career ladder.
Emma took a steadying breath. "Writing, Dad. I'm in the house because I need to be at my computer to write." But the truth was, most days, especially recently, she'd felt completely uninspired. It wasn't for want of trying — God alone knows she'd started all sorts of things, but none of them was working.
"Well, it seems to me you need to change something," said Brian; then he looked back at the television, dismissing her, burying his irritation. On the screen, Adrian was holding a graciously victorious hand up to the audience as he walked offstage. Emma inwardly cursed; she'd missed the cameras cutting to his wife, something she'd wanted to see.
She stood. She couldn't bear to be in the room anymore and went up to her bedroom and closed the door. Outside the window, darkness had fallen over the salubrious south London street. She drew the curtains, then went to her desk, switched on her laptop, and loaded up her latest screenplay. She sat there, her fingers poised over the keys.
She jumped at a knock on the door. It opened before she could answer. Alice came into the room and sat down, placing a magazine on the bed.
"You know, your father only said the things he did because he cares."
Yeah, cares about the 217, 000 pounds he spent on boarding school, thought Emma. An amount that she knew he — both of her parents — felt was a phenomenal waste of money. A wasted investment. For her whole life she'd felt like some sort of asset: acquired at birth and then invested in, trained, and groomed like a Thoroughbred racehorse, which was now failing to pay dividends.
"It's been two years since you graduated. And I know we agreed it was good for you to go traveling for one of those years, but since then all you've had was that short-term intern thing — three months — and they wouldn't even pay you."
Emma could tell by the tone of her mother's voice that she thought that if her daughter had been of value, she'd have been kept on and found something paid. Alice was so far removed from what it was really like for people Emma's age, particularly in the competitive, exploitative world of television, that she couldn't grasp the reality no matter how many times Emma tried to explain it. No, Alice was from a generation that was out of touch with today's graduates and she believed if you really were any good, you would've been noticed by now.
She briefly wondered what her mother would think if she knew the real reason the internship had ended.
"Only three months unpaid work in nearly a year. Perhaps it's time for a rethink?" prompted Alice, gently.
Emma's heart sank even lower.
"You've got a good degree. I can help, so can your father. We can introduce you to some people."
"But you know I don't want to work in medicine, Mum. I want to work in television. Anyway, I don't have the right degree."
"You would have the right degree if you'd taken up the offer at Oxford."
Here we go again, thought Emma. All her life she'd been channeled into being someone her parents wanted her to be. She'd taken the A Level subjects they'd wanted her to take, reluctantly agreeing to focus on sciences, on her own condition her last subject be English. Then her father had pressured her to apply to his old college at Oxford University, even writing a letter to the college master. She'd been offered a place to study medicine, and he'd never forgiven Emma for turning it down and defiantly going to pursue English Literature at a lesser institution instead.
Frustration fizzled between them like electricity, back and forth, each stinging the other.
"Look, admittedly, neither your dad nor I were thrilled when you announced you wanted to work in television, but we let you try it out. But it doesn't seem to be happening for you. Not in the way you want it to." Alice stood and sighed softly. "This is the time when you should be getting on the ladder. Building your career. Television is not a stable industry — you've said as much yourself. I worry you're frittering your life away." With that, she left.
Emma felt the remaining air go out of her as the door closed. She flung herself on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. She was talented; deep down she knew it. She looked over at the magazine her mother had brought up — Broadcast, the industry bible. Tearing off the plastic wrap, she flicked to the jobs page. It was usually pitiful, particularly in the creative, editorial area, but she'd apply for anything to get a foot in the door.
A tiny ad, almost hidden at the bottom of the single page of vacancies. Script editor on a long-running, tired series. She jolted as she noted the name of the production company.
Emma went back to her computer and started to compose a cover letter.CHAPTER 3
Wednesday, October 11 Five months later
HAWK PICTURES' OFFICES TOOK UP THE SECOND FLOOR OF A BUILDING in Soho. Carrie walked down the corridor into the meeting room and carefully lowered herself onto the sumptuous jacquard sofa, feeling, most definitely not for the first time in her pregnancy, decidedly queasy.
At thirty-six weeks she'd hoped it would have subsided, but she was still ambushed by a sense of nausea every now and then. The latest inconvenience was the pain in her hips at night as the bones shifted in order to make space to get her baby out, and she wondered, yet again, whether pregnancy would've been a whole lot easier if she'd been a decade younger. But when she was thirty-two, she didn't want a baby, she reminded herself, brushing aside the uncomfortable thought that she originally hadn't wanted this one and sometimes questioned what had made her change her mind. Work was everything then, as it was now, but an unexpected alarm had rung when she'd discovered this accidental pregnancy. She'd had a sudden panic it was her last chance and felt a startling urge to keep the baby.
Carrie felt enormous; the day was unseasonably warm, and she shuffled herself farther down the sofa to get out of the sun that was streaming through the window. She was tired from being woken by the hip pain, the huge, uncomfortable bump, and the kicks. This baby had invaded her body and her life in every way possible and it hadn't even arrived yet.
Through the glass doors she saw her boss wave as she approached. Liz — svelte, perky, able to work at a natural human pace. Mother of two boys, both now at secondary school, and she had only just turned forty. She had a reputation in the business for being a bit of a powerhouse, a dynamic force who put her ambitions above everything else. You could argue that was the only way to get anything done in this dog-eat-dog industry.
Liz sat next to her on the sofa and leaned over her bump for a peck on the cheek.
"You look amazing, as ever."
"No, I don't. I look large and exhausted."
Liz tutted. "Nonsense. Anyway, soon you're going to pop. Four weeks, isn't it?"
Carrie nodded. She was more apprehensive than she cared to admit about the birth. Not just the physical act of it, but the fact that this baby would then exist, in the real world. She'd have to ... do stuff for it. Look after it. Despite knowing it was going to happen, she couldn't quite imagine the scenario. Her life was still caught up in the day-to-day, well-known whirlwind of work. Sometimes, deep down, a thought fluttered that she never admitted to anyone. What if she'd made the wrong decision? And what if her temporary replacement couldn't cope or, worse, coped too well? She was counting on what so many of the articles on the baby websites said. She'd fall in love with her baby as soon as it arrived. Or at least stop guiltily thinking of it as an inconvenience, something to be managed before she went back to work, which she was planning to do when it was about three months old. She simply couldn't afford to take any more time off, especially not after she'd worked so hard to get this job in the first place. Up until recently she'd always been a freelancer, a producer for hire, and permanent jobs were very hard to come by. Now she had one and was taking advantage of the company's very generous maternity package, even though she'd not even been there a year. She was grateful to Liz for being so gracious about it but, despite all the assurances, couldn't relax. This was an industry in which going off sick was frowned upon, and you took your eye off the prize at your peril.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Temp"
Copyright © 2019 Michelle Frances.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Table of Contents
PART ONE - CARRIE,
PART TWO - EMMA,
PART THREE - ADRIAN,
PART FOUR - RORY,