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Authors: Pippa Wright

Tags: #General, #Fiction

Unsuitable Men

BOOK: Unsuitable Men
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For Cath and Lisa,
my ideal readers

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

1

I’d only ever had one day off sick in my seven years working at
Country House
magazine, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that my return to the office the
day after I split up with my boyfriend of eleven years occasioned some notice. Although my boss, Amanda, knew why I’d been absent, to the rest of the staff my unexpected Wednesday no-show was
a fascinating and intriguing mystery, which should tell you everything about what passed for excitement in the daily life of the magazine. I’m not some glowing paragon of health, believe me;
I just have a superstitious conviction that if I take time off when I’m not actually near death, I am somehow inviting serious illness to strike me. The way I see it, to take a day off
watching reruns of
Come Dine with Me
for a mere sniffle is practically begging the universe to hit you with the cancer stick: not worth it. My office-mate Ticky always complains that it is
unfair of me to bring my germs to work, but since I don’t see her rushing to pick up the slack, as far as I’m concerned she can just keep on wearing that surgical mask and wiping down
her desk with Dettol whenever I cough.

In another office, one with up-to-date technology and remote access, it might have been possible for me to have claimed to be ‘working from home’, even though everyone knows that is
just a euphemism for hanging out in a cafe all day eating cake while occasionally remembering to glance at one’s emails. But at
Country House
(established 1886, read by approximately
1886 people, as the ancient office joke went) a blackberry was nothing more than the autumnal soft fruit that appeared in every September issue with a headline such as The Blackberry: Fact or
Fiction? or Bramble Jelly: Your Mould Solutions.

The frisson of interest caused by my reappearance would no doubt have delighted someone like our contributing editor Noonoo von Humboldt, who took being the centre of attention as her
long-legged, swishy-haired,
Hello!-
photographed due. She strode our office corridors as if they were a catwalk, tossing her head and flicking her pashmina over a shoulder with a nonchalance
that must have taken years of practice. But I had always tried to keep my head down at
Country House
, both metaphorically and literally, and today I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the carpet
as I hurried past my shared office straight to the staff kitchen. I hoped I might be able to hide there for a few restorative minutes before being interrogated by anyone, but I should have realized
that any true gossip hound would have recognized this as prime stakeout territory. And so it proved. Leaping out from behind the fridge, her nostrils flaring as she bore down on me, was features
assistant and self-appointed shoulder-to-cry-on-whether-you-like-it-or-not, the Honourable Ticky Lytton-Finch.

‘Aurora Carmichael, oh my Goouurd, what the faahrk is going on?’

‘Oh, hi, Ticky,’ I said resignedly, unwrapping my scarf from around my neck. There was little point in trying to escape. The most I could hope for was to get away without letting her
goad me into complete hysterics. The way I felt right now, it wouldn’t take much.

‘Don’t “Oh, hi” me, Rory. Where were you? Don’t go saying you were sick, I know you’d never miss an opportunity to cough your vile germs all over my
desk.’

‘No, I wasn’t sick,’ I conceded.

‘But you do look faahrking terrible,’ said Ticky, moving closer. ‘What’s going on?’

‘I had a fight with Martin,’ I said, feeling my throat constrict. I clamped my lips together so my chin didn’t wobble, determined not to cry in front of Ticky, the emotional
vampire of the office. Other people’s misery and drama were her sustenance. Her beady brown eyes lit up at the very suggestion of tears and she could sniff out a sobbing assistant in the
ladies’ from fifty paces. For the two years she’d worked here I’d watched her pump her unsuspecting victims for every detail of their emotional lives. Little did they know that
her interest in every tiny incident had nothing to do with friendly concern and everything to do with her own vicarious thrills.

‘Martin the-youngest-board-director-at-the-accountancy-firm Martin?’ asked Ticky, moving still nearer as she detected the possibility of weeping. ‘Martin Mr Excel Spreadsheets
Martin? Martin your-boyfriend-of-eleven-years Martin? Martin your-only-boyfriend-
ever
Martin?’

She peered into my eyes, which I knew were bloodshot and swollen enough to offer her ammunition for a full-on assault on my personal life, and I poured all my energy into not cracking in front
of her. I just nodded a silent confirmation.

‘But, like, what kind of fight? A splitting-up kind of fight?’ she demanded.

‘Yes – no, I mean, I’m not sure,’ I stammered.

‘You’re not sure? How are you not sure? Either you have split up or you haven’t.’

‘I’ve moved out for a bit,’ I muttered. ‘It’s just temporary.’ Of course it was just temporary. This was a moment of madness from Martin. He hadn’t
meant any of it, I was sure of that. In a few days, when he’d calmed down, I’d be moving straight back home where I belonged.

‘Moved out? Where?’ Ticky pressed. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d whipped out a sheaf of paper and started taking notes to pore over later, rubbing her hands
together and cackling.

‘Just with my aunt,’ I said.

‘Your aunt in Clapham?’ said Ticky, with impressive recall. ‘Isn’t her house, like, some random hostel full of nutters?’

‘It’s a boarding house for actors. She’s had all sorts of famous people staying there over the years, actually,’ I said, stung into defending my aunt’s home.
Although it is true that I had myself referred to it as a hostel full of nutters in the very recent past, I’d had to swiftly change my tune when I arrived there yesterday with my overnight
bag.

‘Yah? Who’s staying there now, then?’ asked Ticky, her eyes narrowing with interest.

‘Well, no one especially,’ I admitted. ‘Half of the actors have had to move out because of some plumbing problems. That’s why there was a room free for me.’ I could
see Ticky’s eyes begin to glaze over as soon as she realized I wasn’t about to reveal that George Clooney was hiding out in my aunt’s attic bedroom.

‘Like, whatever, Roars. Forget the plumbing, get back to Martin. This is totally totally major.
Majorama
. How does it make you
feel
?’ She clasped my forearm with both
of her hands – you might think in sympathy, but I knew better. It was a well-practised restraining hold designed to stop me from moving away.

‘How do you think it makes me feel?’ I snapped, trying to pull away.

Ticky held firm. Protected by the thick skin of the supremely posh, she would not doubt for a moment that her interference was, if not wanted, then at the very least necessary.

‘Terrible, miserable, awful, dejected. Like your life has ended,’ she prompted. ‘Unable to eat, lying awake all night sobbing, vomiting at the thought of him with other women .
. ’

‘This isn’t helping, Ticky,’ I said, wresting my arm out of her grasp. Trust Ticky to think the worst of Martin. She’d never held back from declaring him to be Mr Boring
Spreadsheets Accountant in the past, but now we’d split up she somehow had reimagined him as a treacherous man-whore. ‘There is no other woman.’

‘Hmm, that’s what you think,’ she said, with an infuriating air of knowingness for someone who had met Martin once, six months ago, and seemed barely aware of his existence
since.

I rolled my eyes. She didn’t understand the kind of stress Martin had been under since he’d been promoted to the board. He’d been working late nights and weekends, coming home
exhausted and falling into bed without even uttering a word. Like he had time for another woman.

‘Don’t keep it all inside, Rory,’ Ticky urged, correctly divining that I was not sharing all of my thoughts with her. ‘It’s so unhealthy. You’ve got to, like,
share it with people? Express yourself?’

‘To you?’ I asked. In the entire time we’d been working together Ticky and I had never so much as shared a KitKat from the corner shop, yet now she expected me to expose my
deepest feelings to her?

‘I am, like, a raaahlly raaahlly good listener, actually,’ Ticky persisted. ‘And, I mean, you need to talk about it because this is maybe the biggest thing ever to happen to
you. Isn’t it?’

She cocked her head to the side speculatively. I didn’t answer. I knew it wasn’t a rhetorical question. Ticky would have been utterly thrilled if I had chosen this moment to tell her
that there had been a worse time in my life for her to dissect and pore over.

‘Isn’t it? It’s got to be. I mean, wow, breaking up with your first love is hard when you’re, like, sixteen, but breaking up with him at twenty-nine? Preparing to turn
thirty alone and unloved? Your biological clock going into overdrive? Ovaries shrivelling with every day that passes? That’s got to be majorly agonizing.’

I tried to move towards the door with my tea but Ticky barred the way, one hand on either side of the door frame.

‘What is
agonizing
, Ticky,’ I said through clenched teeth, ‘is this conversation. Could you please just leave me alone?’

She paused and looked down at the ground, shaking her head in apparent sympathy. When she looked up she said, as if it were entirely her own idea, ‘I think you probably just need to be
left alone for a bit, Roars.’

‘Thanks
so
much for that.’

‘That’s okay. I like, totally understand your need for space right now. But when you’re ready to talk about it, I am here. Any time. For as long as you like. You can tell me
everything.’

As I walked down the corridor to our shared office I saw the editor, Amanda Bonham Baillie, lean out of her office momentarily. Her eyebrows moved fractionally towards each other in a barely
perceptible frown –
Country House
was officially anti-Botox, being more a publication read by hearty rural ladies of a certain age whose clothes were always covered in dog hair, but
Amanda’s inability to express deep emotion on her face had long made me suspect that her cosmetic influences were more West London than West Country.

‘Everything all right now, Rory?’ she asked, as if it took a mere twenty-four hours to dismantle a long-term relationship, move out of one’s shared home, and get over a broken
heart.

‘Yes, Amanda,’ I said dutifully, knowing that she, unlike Ticky, would be appalled if I were to break down and wet her Marni-jacketed shoulder with my tears.

‘So sorry about Matthew,’ she said kindly.

‘Martin. It’s Martin, Amanda.’

‘Martin, of course,’ she said. Her minuscule frown deepened by an atom. ‘And Rory, do please try to call me Maaahn.’

No matter how hard I tried, I had never been able to call Amanda ‘Maaahn’. The rest of the staff did, but somehow I just couldn’t manage it. Not because it felt disrespectful
to my boss, but because I wasn’t sufficiently posh to get enough vowels into her name. I just ended up saying ‘Man’, to rhyme with ‘can’, which always made her wrinkle
her nose in polite displeasure. To have tried at all would have felt like putting on a foreign accent, as if I was one of those horribly showy-offy types who calls Paris ‘Parrree’ and
hoicks up the back of their throat when pronouncing any word in German. I simply couldn’t manage ‘Maaahn’ to rhyme with – God, what would it rhyme with? No word in English,
that’s for sure.

BOOK: Unsuitable Men
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