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Take a look at Black Country author Miranda Dickinson's new book
1:00pm Friday 25th October 2013 in News
THE News is inviting chick lit fans to read a free extract from Black Country author Miranda Dickinson’s new novel.
Kingswinford-schooled Miranda, who made her literary debut with Fairytale of New York in 2009, saw her fifth romantic read hit book stores across the country yesterday (Thursday).
The 40-year-old Lower Gornal based author’s latest offering, Take A Look At Me Now, sees feisty Nell Sullivan fighting back and heading off to San Fransisco after being dumped and made redundant on the same day.
In her temporary California home she meets a host of colourful characters including a new love interest – Max, but when a return home beckons she is forced to choose between her past and her future.
The book is available from High Street and online retailers but publishers Avon (part of HarperCollins) are offering News readers chance to read a free extract below.
Miranda Dickinson – Take A Look At Me Now.
When the thing that was going to change my life arrived, it didn’t look anything like I’d expected.
Had you asked me before – say, for instance, when I was wedged into the unfamiliar armpit of a fellow commuter on the bus into work that morning, trying my hardest not to retch at his unique aroma of onions soaked in B.O., and wishing for something in my life to change – I’d have predicted it to look like a priceless object. And I would have expected it to arrive with a Hallelujah chorus and a dramatic, edge-of-your-seat voiceover by that bloke from X Factor:
‘Nell Sullivan has been waiting for something to change her life. And NOW. This. Is. IT . . .’
What I didn’t expect was for it to be a three-line message scribbled on a lime-green sticky note, stuck to the screen of my computer at work. Especially not from Aidan Matthews – my line manager in Islington Council’s Planning Department and, perhaps more importantly, the man who had been the on-off love interest (and nearest thing to a steady relationship) in my life for the best part of five years.
Hi Nell Any chance you could find an excuse to pop into my office this morning? Things I need to tell you. A x
As soon as I saw it, I knew my wish from the B.O. bus seat that morning was about to bear fruit. Aidan wanted me back. Until now I hadn’t realised quite how much I wanted to resolve things with him. When we had broken up last time it had been a mutual decision – both of us tired of navigating the problems we’d never been able to solve. But as my finger traced his familiar handwriting on the note, my heart began to race. Maybe we’d both known this would happen: it always had done before. We were destined for each other; it was evident in the chemistry that still sparked between us even when we weren’t together. It had been building for a while: with the lime-green message I now held his intentions were obvious.
Avoiding the suspicious stare of Connie Bagley, the sour-faced secretary who perched like a bitter owl at the desk next to mine (and would happily run to management with the merest whiff of accusation against me), I sauntered nonchalantly across the grey carpet to see Vicky Grocutt, Assistant Planning Officer – and my best friend.
‘Morning, Vicky,’ I said, making a point of raising my voice enough for Cranky Connie to hear.
‘Do you mind if we go over the applications for Domestic Works?’ I saw her eyes light up at the promise of potentially salacious gossip.
‘No problem, Nell. I’m afraid there’s quite a few to get through.’ She gave a knowing smile and stood, grab¬bing a large armful of files. ‘Perhaps we’d better take this into the meeting room?’
Smiling innocently at the repressed rage of our colleague, Vicky and I barely managed to keep our giggles at bay until we were safely behind the closed meeting room door.
‘I’ve got to hand it to you, Nell,’ Vicky laughed, tossing the files on the oval beech meeting table and flopping into a leather office chair, ‘you certainly know how to wind that woman up.’
‘She’s her own worst enemy. If she didn’t take so much pleasure in ratting on everyone it wouldn’t be as much fun to annoy her.’ I filled two mugs from the coffee machine, which was permanently on duty to satisfy the caffeine needs of the department.
‘And you do it so well.’
I grinned as I joined her at the table. ‘Thank you.’
Vicky sipped her coffee and shuddered as the thud of caffeine hit her. ‘My life, who’s on percolator duty this morning?’
‘Terry, I think.’
‘Oh well, that explains it. He’s trying to give up smoking. Again. Must need caffeine to fill the gap.’ She pushed her mug aside and squared herself at me. ‘So come on, what’s the real reason for our meeting?’
‘This.’ I enjoyed the shiver of anticipation as I pulled Aidan’s note from my suit jacket pocket and handed it to her. ‘It was waiting on my screen this morning.’
Vicky picked it up and screwed up her eyes to scrutinise it. I smiled to myself. Even though everyone around her insists she needs glasses, Vicky Grocutt remains a defiant squinter, the thought of visiting an optician’s just too horrific to consider after being brought up in a family of them.
When she realised who the note was from, she blinked at me.
‘Nell . . .’ she breathed. ‘Do you think . . .?’
I shrugged and it was all I could do not to squeal out loud. ‘I’m not sure. But what else could it be?’
She appeared to be as excited as I was, having become an expert in my love life by living it vicariously over the years. ‘I knew it! I told you he was giving you the eye yesterday in the briefing meeting. I knew I hadn’t imagined it!’
Yesterday afternoon I hadn’t wanted to believe it, espe¬cially as things had been decidedly cool between Aidan and I over the last couple of months. But then I’d caught him glancing in my direction as our superiors droned on about planning objections and schedules, his stunning blue eyes causing the same army of butterflies to lay siege to my stomach as always. Gorgeous Aidan Matthews, with his closely cropped fair hair, square jaw and body to die for . . .
Aidan’s ability to melt my resolve with one look had long been my undoing since the first day I met him in the office kitchen, six years ago. I lost all power of rational thought when he was around. Over the years the effect he had on me had covered a multitude of disappoint-ments, broken promises and bad timings, leading me to reach the conclusion that we were probably destined to end up together. I believed that our other failed attempts had simply been a case of both of us not being ready: sometimes he’d backed away, sometimes I had. But we always ended up in each other’s arms, and that had to mean something, surely?
‘I don’t know what else it could be,’ I replied. ‘I think he wants us back together. And I think this could be it for us. We’re both tired of this stop-start thing going on. This could be where we get serious.’
‘And not before time,’ Vicky grinned. ‘Greg and I had met, moved in and were expecting Ruby by the time you guys were on your third round of “will-they-won’t-they”. You both need to stop being so feisty and settle down, in my opinion. But how do you feel about it?’
‘Good,’ I said, my mind still abuzz with the revelation. ‘I mean, it’s unexpected, for sure, but now I’ve had time to think about it, I think it could work.’ I could feel tears prick the corners of my eyes. ‘Oh who am I kidding? I love him, Vix!’
My best friend scooped me into a hug, knowing exactly what this development meant for me.
‘Oh babe, I know you do. I want you two to get back together, have lots of hot sex and babies!’
Since becoming a mother, just over two years ago, Vicky had decided that everybody’s life was more inter¬esting, sexy and exciting than hers. While I knew she loved her partner Greg and adored their daughter Ruby, it seemed that she still mourned for the excitement of her single days when she was the terror of bachelors across London and the Home Counties. She let me go. ‘So, when are you going to see him?’
I took a deep breath. ‘Now.’
When I’d wished for something to change on the bus that morning, the prospect of rekindling my relationship with Aidan had been the furthest thing from my mind. It wasn’t going to change my life – not in the way I expected – but it was a start. A more settled relationship might set me up to make the changes I really wanted to make, changes that might take a few years to bring them into being. For unbeknown to anyone – even my best friend – I had been cradling a dream for years. I dreamed of running my own business. It had begun as an idea for a restaurant but when Vicky and I visited New York for a Christmas shopping trip two years ago my dream had changed. Instead of a café or restaurant, which were ten-a-penny in the capital, I began to dream about estab¬lishing a truly authentic American diner, serving pancakes, waffles and French toast for brunch and all manner of burgers, calzone, pizza and BBQ cuts for dinner. Everything prepared fresh, everything made to order. I dreamed about it when stuck in boring Council meetings, sketching doodles of interior layouts and signs on my work memo pad. In my mind it was so clear: baking fresh bread, scone-like biscuits and cinnamon rolls every morning, and crafting banana cream pies, deep-dish apple pies and batch upon batch of pancake batter every day. All of my daydreams were a world away from the never-changing schedule of procedures, plans and paperwork that my current job entailed. When Aidan and I rekindled our relationship, maybe this time I would share it with him. Besides, Aidan was lovely and whenever we had been together, we’d always been happy. Our version of happy, anyway . . .
Vicky left the meeting room first, making an expert job of engaging Connie in conversation. Seeing the coast was clear, I ducked out and sprinted through the main office to Aidan’s door at the other end. Outside, I paused, checking my reflection in the darkened window of the empty office next door. Not bad, Sullivan, I told myself. My dark hair was neatly back from my face, making the most of my cheekbones and deep green eyes, and the suit I’d thrown on in a hurry after sleeping through two snoozes of my alarm that morning didn’t look too creased. Aidan wanted to see me, I reminded myself, not my choice of outfit. Straightening the hem of my jacket, I knocked.
I pushed the handle and peered around the door. ‘Hi. You wanted to see me?’ Play the game, Nell. Enjoy the chase . . .
Aidan’s blue eyes sparkled and he rose from his chair. ‘Yes. Yes, I did. You look . . . great, Nell.’
Yes I do, Aidan. ‘Thank you. As do you.’
‘Quick, come in and shut the door.’
I did as he asked, willing my heart rate to slow as images of the last time we’d got back together flashed across my mind – the passionate kisses, the locked door and the pot plant by his desk that never quite recovered from its sudden toppling . . . I took the seat opposite him and sat with my hands folded demurely in my lap. Aidan Matthews might want me back, but I was going to make him work for it. ‘So, here I am.’
‘Here you are . . .’ His lazy smile sashayed its way across his tanned features and I shifted a little to halt the forward route march of the butterflies in my stomach. Then he straightened and cleared his throat, the act so suddenly vulnerable that I had to fight the urge to leap across his desk and snog him for all I was worth.
‘Nell, there’s something I have to tell you. I’ve known since yesterday, and I have to say it came as somewhat of a shock to me. I honestly couldn’t have predicted this.’
You’re not the only one . . . ‘Really?’
His eyes were intent on me. ‘Really. I just – Nell, I don’t know how to say this, what words to use . . .’
My heart went out to him. ‘Aidan, I know. Just say it.’
A flash of confusion traversed his face. ‘You know? H-how do you . . .?’
Full of confidence, I smiled and leaned towards him. ‘I just do, Aidan. It’s written all over your face. So don’t worry about the right words: just say it.’
‘Wow.’ He looked bewildered but relieved at my invi¬tation. ‘You’re being incredible about this – you are a wonderful woman . . .’
My smile broadened as I cast a quick glance in the direction of the not-so-healthy yucca plant by his desk. Prepare for another re-potting, plant . . .
‘. . . That’s why it’s such a tragedy we’re going to lose you.’
I don’t know what happened then: it was as if what Aidan said was usurped by the words the Aidan Matthews in my mind was at that moment expressing: I love you, Nell. I can’t fight it any more. Will you take me back . . .? For a while the two Aidans faced off: one uttering irresistible words of love, the other retorting with – well, whatever it was he was saying that I couldn’t comprehend.
‘Nell? Say something, for heaven’s sake.’
I scrabbled my way back to the here and now. ‘I just . . . I thought . . . Sorry, what did you say?’
Aidan’s shoulders dropped and guilt stained his face. ‘I didn’t want you finding out at the same time as every¬body else. Like I said, I only knew for definite yesterday and I almost told you after the briefing meeting. But we’ve been through so much together, you and I, that I just couldn’t bear the thought of you hearing it from anyone other than me. I care about you, you know that . . .’
His mouth was moving, but none of the words made any coherent sense. And then, slowly, like a pinprick of light piercing the darkness of a tunnel, the truth began to dawn.
‘You’re sacking me?’ ‘I wouldn’t have put it like that, but . . .’
‘How else would you have put it, Aidan? You’re taking my job away!’
‘It’s not me personally, Nell . . .’
‘Well it feels like it.’
‘Of course you’ll feel that way. But at least it isn’t just you, honey . . .’
Rage pulsed through my body. ‘Oh that’s OK then! As long as I get to share the ignominy of redundancy with my colleagues! What kind of stupid, cruel logic is that?’
‘Try to keep your voice down, OK? I’m not meant to be telling you this.’ I snorted. ‘Well, lucky old me.’
He leapt from his chair and was suddenly beside me, his hands on my shoulders. ‘I know this is difficult. Believe me, I didn’t sleep last night agonising over how to tell you. But don’t you see, Nell? It’s out of my hands! I tried to speak up for you, but they’re rearranging the entire department. It’s come from top level – budget cuts and the recession have forced their hand. There’s nothing I can do.’
I bit back tears as I looked into his beautiful blue eyes and hated myself for even caring what he thought of me. ‘What am I going to do?’ I begged him, my voice disgust¬ingly weak and needy. ‘What about my rent? My car? How am I going to find another job that pays like this one? Nobody’s hiring at the moment.’
He stroked my cheek with his hand. ‘At least you’ll have your redundancy pay. They have to acknowledge the service you’ve given for six years. At least it’ll pay the bills for a couple of months . . .
Believe me, there are people in a far worse situation than you in this department.’
This news did anything but comfort me. I glared at him. ‘Who else?’
‘Beg your pardon?’
‘Who else is being sacked, Aidan?’
He swallowed hard and I hated the shame I saw in his face. ‘Almost everyone. Nick will stay on as Chief Planning Officer, I’ll remain as Head of Department and Connie will be asked to become office manager for Parks and Recreation as well as Planning.’
I let out a hollow laugh. So all of Connie’s sucking up to management over the years hadn’t gone unnoticed . . . ‘Right. I’m going now.’
He wobbled backwards as I stood, and I suddenly realised how pathetic he looked, stripped of his work-related bravado.
‘Please don’t say anything to anyone. We’re calling them all into the meeting room in half an hour.’
Part of me wanted to grab the ailing yucca and ram it down his traitorous throat, but despite my fury I walked steadily out of Aidan’s office and back to my desk, where for the next thirty minutes I hid behind my computer screen, feeling like the biggest traitor in the world as the regular banter of my colleagues tore my heart to shreds.
I am losing my job . . .
The words felt alien, cold, jagged. No matter how many times I repeated them in my head I couldn’t recon¬cile them to my life. I had never been made redundant, not in all the years I’d been working. In the three posi¬tions I’d held since graduating from university, I’d always been promoted, or resigned when a better job came along. The carefully mapped-out schedule for my life hadn’t accounted space for a ‘redundant’ block. My home, my car, my career – and even my secret future dream of running my own business – were all nothing without money, without stability.
I stared at my reflection in the dark screen of my computer monitor and saw pure, hollow-eyed fear glaring back at me.
I’m losing my job. What am I going to do?
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