The Imperfect Proposal
The Imperfect Proposal
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The worse thing, that new colleague - she’s my estranged wife who’s been MIA for more than a decade.
Throw in the fact that neither of our families knew we were married in the first place and it’s safe to say, events maybe aren’t going as smoothly as planned.
Thea and I married ten years ago in Vegas, the day we both qualified as doctors. I knew plenty about her: the way she kissed, how she liked her coffee and the best way to make her see stars.
What I didn’t know was that she was the daughter of a Lord, was ridiculously wealthy and she’d signed up to Doctors Without Borders.
The morning after our wedding, she was gone.
For a decade, all I’ve had are postcards, sent to wherever I’ve been working, with no return address. Those, and a heart that no matter how good a doctor I am, I just can’t fix.
Now Thea’s back in London.
And she wants to be back in my bed.
Our first proposal wasn’t perfect. Would the second lead to the same fate?
- Secret marriage
- Second chance romance
- Medical/hospital setting
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
Chapter One - Catrin
I looked up from my phone, completely lost to what was actually going on around me, which was just plain rude. I stuffed my phone in my bag and focused on the barista, whose name was James.
“Please. I’m so sorry.” I pushed a stray strand of hair behind my ear and shook my head at myself. “Flat white, two shots, large.”
He grinned and gave a shake of his own. “Most people don’t look up from their phones for long enough to see who they’re talking to, so don’t worry.” He wrote on the side of a cup, already knowing my name, because I was here every morning, except Sundays and Mondays.
He was here too, taking the early shift so he had time in the afternoons to get to auditions.
I didn’t know if he knew who I was. I suspected not. I hoped not. Because if he did, that meant the kindness and charm he’d shown was an act, rather than genuine.
London was not New York, but neither was it its antithesis. The same frantic passion and ambition was still interwoven with dreams and the need to pay rent here as it was there; the sidewalks of Broadway were paved with the hopeful imprint of baby thespians’ feet, just like the pavements of Theatreland.
I was in a coffee shop in Theatreland, just around the corner from the Emperor’s Theatre in London’s West End. It was a ten-minute walk from the apartment I shared with my sister, Catrin, giving me the best journey to work that anyone could ever have.
I loved London. I loved its architecture and history and bustle. I loved the mix of people and the passion the city had for embracing everything from theatre and art to finance and business. I loved the tourists and the people who called this city home.
New York had been the same, but New York hadn’t contained my family. London did.
“I know. I just don’t want to be like most people.” I pulled my bag a little higher on my shoulder.
James laughed, showing off perfectly straight teeth. He was cute; dimples, high cheekbones, his barista uniform not hiding the toned shoulders and arms he clearly cultivated at the gym.
“Most people don’t have your taste in coffee.” He made a face, completely over the top. “Two shots and no syrup. How very dare you.” He passed over the cup.
“I need it strong.”
“Your face kind of gave that away when you were looking at your phone. Something come up?”
There was no queue behind me, mainly because it was stupid o’clock early and most of London hadn’t quite woken up yet. I was an early riser, which meant the late nights I had to put in threw my body clock at times.
Something had come up. Or come in. I’d had a message from one of the board of directors while I’d been asleep with some news I hadn’t been expecting.
I now had about four hours to kill before I met with them, four hours in which every thought — bad and good — that could possibly be dredged up from my imagination would collide around my head.
“Kind of.” I sipped the coffee. “You could say that.”
James smiled then pushed a hand through his hair. “Do you work in theatre?”
“Don’t most people who come in here? Or hospitality, or they’re tourists.” I really hoped James wasn’t going to burst the pretty bubble he was floating in.
He nodded. “Yeah, we get everyone in here. It helps being a bit off the main road, so some of the actors will come in here to not be recognised. Not that that happens.” He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up then down. “What do you do?”
So he didn’t know — or he really was playing a part. “I’m an assistant director for the Emperor Theatre Group.”
His brows raised. “That’s pretty amazing. You’re really young for that. How did you get to do that?”
“Luck and knowing people who could give me an opportunity. I studied theatre at college in New York, but my family had connections so I picked up a job straight after graduation. I’m also pretty fucking good at directing.” Because even if the connections could open the door, you had to have talent to keep that door open.
In most cases.
James looked like he’d just met a god. I’d gotten used to this over the last couple of years, baby actors finding out I was a director, or at one point an artistic director, which meant they swooned and offered me a kidney. Quite often it would induce an impromptu soliloquy or dance, or at the very least a drink.
“I need to pay for my coffee.” I pulled my phone out of my bag.
James started to shake his head, then stopped. “You really don’t want me to tell you it’s on the house, do you?”
“I definitely do not.” I flashed my phone at the machine-thing. “Ask me all the questions you want for free.”
“I kind of want to be cool and not ask anything.” His grin got shy. “But then there’s tons I want to know.”
“How about I start with the questions?”
“Excellent.” I slipped into director mode. “What auditions have you had so far?”
He swallowed. “Understudy roles since graduating. I had a few leading parts at uni and an unnamed but speaking part in A Christmas Carol that was on last season. I’m two years out and it’s —”
“It’s meant to be. Even with knowing people, I started off as an assistant to the assistant’s assistant.”
“You didn’t want to act?”
I shrugged. “Not really. I could — I did a couple of understudy parts when needed, but I prefer telling people what to do. I was artistic director for a season Off-Broadway.”
“So why are you here now?” He looked almost horrified, like I’d just confessed to murder, or at least putting sugar in my coffee.
I shrugged. “Family. My siblings pretty much all decided to move back over here, so I looked for an opportunity to come with them and found it. I tapped my phone. “But it looks like I've just been promoted to director."
That was the text message I’d slept through. The director who was down for Almost, Love had pulled out at the last minute. Literally the day before we cast the leading man role. Albie had recently started a new relationship and had fallen head over heels with a back flip for Miles, who wanted to locate to his home in Marrakesh, where he worked from — as a shoe designer. Albie had decided that his life was with Miles, and Almost, Love would have to be sans him, finding a clause in his contract that enabled him to be on a flight straight over to the Red City.
I was sorry to not be working with Albie, but I was in a state of overwhelmed, happy shock that I was now directing.
Directing was my happy place. This was what I’d been hoping for when I moved over from New York, and it was happening quicker than I’d imagined.
I laughed. “We’re auditioning again next week. I’ll put you forward to audition for understudy. Do I need to go through your agent?”
James shook his head. “No, I’ll let her know. But that would be amazing. What’s the role?”
“You probably should’ve asked that first.” It was never too early to toy with baby thespians.
Elena Knight had been made a dame a decade ago for services to the arts, and possibly services to life in general. She was a formidable woman, who grew up in a generation where you were expected to get married and have children, otherwise something was considered wrong with you. Elena had done neither. She had taken a string of lovers throughout her life, both men and women, and sometimes more than one at a time. I’d worked with her before when she’d been a patron of the theatre I’d been at, and I’d been lucky enough to meet her when I was studying, attending a speech she gave, and champagne and canapes afterwards.
I had no doubt that part of the reason I’d gotten the job at the Emperor’s was because of her, and now I was sitting opposite her in a café near to the theatre, both of us sipping at coffee that was strong enough to be illegal.
“This puts more on you.” She peered at me from over her coffee cup, her hair pinned into a neat chignon. “You can choose your own assistant director — I don’t recommend Holt as he’s a pretentious twat — but it’s a show that could be award nominated. You know all this, my dear.” She put the cup down. “We have auditions this afternoon for the role of Rafe.”
I nodded, swallowing the mouthful of coffee too hard and trying not to splutter. Originally, I wasn’t going to be involved in the audition process. Albie had asked me to work with the settings department as some of what he had in mind was a little out there, and the head of that was known for being argumentative and rather stubborn. He was overseeing the casting, only now he wasn’t going to be doing it.
“I’ve seen the list.” We had six actors shortlisted, and there was a name on it that I knew well, or had done several years ago.
Elena nodded and smiled. “Really it’s between Anthony Dewhurst and Leo Bateman-Hewett. You’d be insane to choose anyone else. Both of those would bring you a following.”
She was absolutely right. “I think Albie was favouring Leo.” I had hoped Albie was favouring Leo. What I’d been hoping to hear by end of the week was that Anthony wasn’t going to have anything to do with this production, which would mean I’d successfully put off seeing him again for another few months.
It was inevitable; at some point, I would be in the same room as my summer romance from over a decade ago. The one man — because he had been a man at that point — who’d never been equalled by any subsequent boyfriends, and it wasn’t like I’d held an embargo against finding one who surpassed the god-like superiority of Anthony.
“It doesn’t matter who Albie was favouring, my dear, Albie is no longer director — you are.” Elena scanned her nails, which were always immaculately polished.
Possibly sharpened too.
Albie had had ideas already about this play — Almost, Love — that I’d not entirely agreed with. I’d been forthcoming with my opinions, in a way that assistant directors knew how to own, and he’d pretended to consider them before confirming he was doing exactly what he’d suggested in the first place. I wasn’t offended; this was how it generally went.
“The goals for the play are ninety-five percent sold out across all performances and nominations.” Elena sipped her coffee.
I knew this — for that sort of theatre during summer and early autumn, those targets were exactly what I would’ve suggested. “Both Leo and Anthony would bring in their own following, like you’ve said. I can see who I think has better chemistry with Saffron.”
Elena nodded, studying me with curious eyes. “Are you happy with Saffron? If you’re not, we can terminate at this point.”
I’d worked with Saffron Curtis in New York on a production of Closer. She was a slightly quirky, quiet woman who came alive on stage, but also had horrific nerves, especially on opening night. On that production, her understudy had to step in as she really couldn’t leave the bathroom. The second night, she’d killed it. Saffy was now married with two kids and a husband who seemed to be away more than he was home, and this was her first production of any sort for a year. I was looking forward to working with her again.
“Perfectly. We need a strong understudy, but it would be nice to give a newbie a chance to shine.” Being an understudy on London’s West End was often someone’s big break.
Elena smiled, but she still looked curious. “Have you worked with Anthony or Leo before? Or with Anthony since you were involved in that summer production?”
I shook my head. “I’ve met Leo Bateman-Hewett a few times — he was in a production of Romeo and Juliet on Broadway, but I wasn’t involved in that.”
“How about Anthony — did you keep in touch?”
I had been hoping she wouldn’t ask for details of that.
“No, we didn’t. I only knew him when we were a bit more than kids. Just on the summer programme together.” One summer. Eight weeks. That was all it had been. Twelve years later and he still wasn’t out of my head.
“I remember it. There was a performance of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream at the Donmar afterwards. It was exceptionally good. I think Anthony ended up picking up roles straight after that.” Her eyes misted over.
Elena championed young actors, and that was where the OBE had come from. She’d invested in charities that supported the arts in deprived areas and sponsored scholarships for talented teenagers so they could have the opportunity to study on the prestigious courses. She’d created charities to help restore theatres and workshops across the country, always looking for new talent to champion.
I hadn’t needed a scholarship — my parents had actually created one for someone else to be able to attend the same course I did at the same time as paying my fees — but I had benefitted from Elena’s kind words and recommendations.
“He did. He’d just graduated from college. He could only do the summer programme because he wasn’t twenty-one until the end of August, and that was the cut-off age.” He’d done it the previous year, when I’d been seventeen and unsure of what part in the theatre I wanted to play. I’d noticed Anthony even then and tried not to stare at him, because my crush had been so very, very real. He’d been nineteen, old enough to drink and vote, and I hadn’t even done my A-levels then. The following summer I was eighteen; I’d passed my driving test, could handle some alcohol and I’d found confidence from somewhere — enough to make Anthony notice me from the crowd of girls who gazed in his direction.
Elena nodded, downing the rest of her coffee. “He’s done well, even without the backing of his family.”
There it was. I wondered how long it would take before Anthony’s background was mentioned.
I thought of Noah, my sister Imogen’s now husband, who was the third son of a lord and therefore had no duty to attend whatsoever. Only Noah’s eldest brother, Angus, had decided on a career in medicine, and he wasn’t going to be doing the family bidding any time soon.
Anthony had been the same. He’d told me that summer that it didn’t matter that his father was a baronet with an estate that was presided over by the eldest son, he wanted to follow his dreams.
So he had.
He’d won an Olivier for his performance in Rent and been nominated for a Tony. I read the interviews he’d given and noticed that not once had he mentioned his parents, or anyone else in his family.
“He has. Do you have a preference as to who’s cast?” I tried to push the conversation away from just Anthony, aware that off the stage I was an even poorer actress than when I was on it.
Elena beckoned over the waiter. “Two more coffees, please. And one of your strawberry tarts. Do you want a cake, Maven, or is it too early?”
“I’m good, thank you. Just a latte.” Hopefully the latte wouldn’t be as hair-stripping as the coffee.
Elena gave a genteel laugh. “Strawberry tarts are a very reasonable breakfast, Maven, so the calories don’t count.”
I shook my head. “My sweet tooth doesn’t kick in until I’ve hit mid-afternoon.” Which was true, although my vodka tooth might be kicking in before the auditions.
Elena smiled and shook her head. “Eat the sweets in the morning and fuck off the calories in the afternoon. That was always my motto.”
I had no doubt that she was telling the truth.
“Are you seeing anyone, Maven? I know it hasn’t been that long since you’ve moved over here, but I can’t see you being short of dates?”
In any other industry, your boss would probably end up on the wrong side of HR for asking that, but this was Elena and she loved a love story — she’d had enough of her own.
“No. Just a couple of dates but they didn’t lead anywhere.” Because like always, they didn’t measure up to the memories I had of Anthony, even though I was certain that, by now, they were coated in fairy tales and fantasies.
Elena shook her head again. “Want me to fix you up? It’s so long since I had that first flush of lust. I’ve taken to pairing up people I like.”
I laughed because that was so Elena. “Who’ve you matched so far?”
She shrugged and looked coy. “I’m not giving away my secrets so easily. You’ll need to come to my house for dinner on Saturday. Then you’ll get to meet some of my success stories.”
“And make it so your party has an even number of guests?”
Her smile contained the secrets of the universe, or at least pretended to. “Of course. Saturday. It isn’t an ask, it’s a direction, as your patron.”
I rolled my eyes because I knew well enough that Elena would understand if I already had something on. I hadn’t; my only single sister was currently on her way to the country estate of some artist and I’d been too wrapped up in my previous production to have made friends outside of work. There was always the option of going out with my brother, but seeing as I’d end up watching him go home with at least one woman, I’d rather stay in and watch repeats of reality TV where wannabe famous people were hooking up on an island. “I’ll be there. Shall I bring wine?”
“No, just gin. And maybe whoever you cast as your leading man.”