This Man

By: Jodi Ellen Malpas



For Big Pat and Bubbles





Acknowledgments




When I first self-published This Man, I had just a few people to thank, namely my family and the few friends who I eventually told about what I’d been up to. My appreciation is still huge and always will be, but my list of people to thank has extended considerably since October 2012.

The first person on that list is my attorney, Matthew Savare. Matt, I’d have been lost in New York without you, quite literally. You were the first one on board and have enjoyed this crazy ride with me. You also kept me sane when I thought I might lose my mind! I’ll never be able to thank you enough, but I’ll always try.

My agents, Andrea Barzvi and Kristyn Keene of ICM Partners, who just get me, knickers and all! When I arrived at your office for the first time, you hugged me and that was just what I needed amid the madness. The hugs followed by the passion with which you spoke about me and This Man sealed the deal for me. I’ve never looked back.

Beth de Guzman of Grand Central Publishing—you took a chance on an unknown author and her debut novel. My gratitude is immeasurable.

And Selina, my editor. I’ll always say “Bloody hell!” and I’ll smile every time I hear you say it too.

I had a story to tell, and I’m so glad I told it. This little British girl is on Central Jesse Cloud Nine.

Join me.





Chapter One



I riffle through the piles and piles of paraphernalia sprawled all over my bedroom floor. I’m going to be late. “Kate!” I yell frantically. Where the hell are they? I run out onto the landing and throw myself over the banister. “Kate!”

I hear the familiar sound of a wooden spoon bashing the edges of a ceramic bowl as Kate appears at the bottom of the stairs, her red hair piled high in a mass of curls. She looks up at me with a tired expression. It’s an expression that I’ve become used to recently.

“Keys! Have you seen my car keys?” I puff at her.

“They’re on the table under the mirror where you left them last night.” She rolls her eyes, taking herself and her cake mixture back to her workshop.

I dart across the landing in a complete fluster and find my car keys under a pile of weekly glossies. “Hiding again,” I mutter to myself, grabbing my tan belt, heels, and laptop. I make my way downstairs from the flat above Kate’s workshop, finding her spooning cake mixture into various tins.

“You need to tidy your room, Ava. It’s a fucking mess,” she complains.

Yes, my personal organization skills are pretty shocking, especially since I’m an interior designer for Rococo union   and spend all day coordinating and organizing. I scoop my phone up from the chunky table and dunk my finger in Kate’s cake mixture. “I can’t be brilliant at everything.”

“Get out!” She bats my hand away with her spoon. “Why do you need your car, anyway?” she asks, leaning down to smooth the mixture over, her tongue resting on her bottom lip in concentration.

“I have a first consultation in the Surrey Hills—some country mansion.” I feed my belt through the belt loops of my navy pencil dress, slip my feet into my tan heels, and present myself to the wall mirror.

“I thought you stuck to the city,” she says from behind me.

I ruffle my long, dark hair for a few seconds, flicking it from one side to the other but give up, piling it up with a few grips instead. My dark brown eyes look tired and lack their usual sparkle—a result, no doubt, of burning the candle at both ends. I only moved in with Kate a month ago after splitting with Matt. We’re behaving like a couple of university students. My liver is screaming for a rest.

“I do. The country sector is Patrick’s domain. I don’t know how I got stuck with this.” I sweep the wand of my gloss across my lips, smack them together, and give Kate a kiss on the cheek. “It’s going to be painful, I know it. Luv ya!”

“Ditto. See you later,” Kate laughs, without lifting her face from her workstation.





Despite my lateness, I drive my little Mini with my usual care to my office on Bruton Street, and I’m reminded why I tube it every day when I spend ten minutes driving around looking for a parking space.