Clara is a production assistant for a TV film-making company and she’s got a new project. Romance: Fact or Fiction is make-or-break for Clara’s future, and her first challenge is to get Simon Valentine, financial guru turned prime-time pin-up, to front the programme. But Simon’s got no time for romance, real or fictional, and it’s going to take all Clara’s powers of persuasion, not to mention a broken wrist, to get him on board.
I was going to explain the premise of the programme, but why don’t I let Clara tell you for herself?
Apart from directions to the flat she shared in a shabby street in south-west London, the journey passed in silence. Clara folded her lips together and heroically refrained from reminding Simon of his mother’s promise, but she knew that he was thinking about it. Whenever she peeped a glance at him from under lashes, she could see a muscle jerking in his jaw.
Miraculously, Simon managed to find parking space only a little way down the street from Clara’s flat. He switched off the engine, but neither of them moved.
|Clara and Simon film a segment of the programme on the Pont Neuf in Paris|
The silence lengthened. His jaw was still working, Clara noted. It would be a mistake to say anything, but he could do with just a tiny push.
Lifting her arm in its sling, she winced. Not too much. Just enough to suggest great pain, bravely borne, but not so bravely that he didn’t notice. It was a delicate balance.
‘Oh, all right!’ Simon ground out as if she had been nagging him for the entire journey.
Clara opened her eyes at him, all innocence. ‘What?’
‘I’ll do your bloody programme, all right?’ he snarled. ‘There’s no need to keep going on about it!’
‘I didn’t say a word,’ protested Clara, careful to conceal her jubilance.
‘You didn’t need to. I know perfectly well you registered what my mother said. You must promise to let us know if there’s ever anything we can do for you,’ he mimicked Frances savagely. ‘One of these days I’m going to wring her neck!’
‘It won’t be that bad, honestly.’ Now that he was on the point of agreeing, Clara perversely began to feel a little sorry for him. ‘We’re not asking you to take part in any stunts or cheap tricks. Ted is a brilliant director. MediaOchre has won several awards for documentaries we’ve made, and we’re expecting this one to be just as successful.’‘Oh, don’t do that! She’s so lovely.’
Far from agreeing, Simon blew out a breath and glowered through the windscreen. ‘You’d better tell me what she’s let me in for,’ he said heavily.
|Clara and Simon sit on a beach just like this|
She could hardly believe she was getting to do the speech she had practised so carefully at last. This was worth a broken wrist!
‘Romance: Fact or Fiction? will be a serious examination of romance,’ she assured him. ‘We’re going to look at what it is and how it works and why it’s so popular around the world, but we want to get beyond the clichés.’
‘Right.’ Simon’s voice dripped disbelief.
‘Your presence will give the programme real gravitas,’ Clara went on, ignoring his scepticism. ‘Stella Holt is incredibly popular at the moment, so she’ll represent the ‘romantic’ idea while you would be in the ‘anti romance’ camp, if you like. I know Stella is very keen to work with you on this,’ she added. ‘We think the contrast between the two of you will make for intriguing television.’
‘Intriguing television … ye gods.’ Simon rubbed a hand over his face. ‘I can’t believe I’m even listening to this!’
Clearly she wasn’t converting him to the idea. Clara ploughed on. ‘The plan is to shoot the film in three classic “romantic” locations. One will be Paris, obviously.’
‘I thought you were going to avoid clichés?’
|Benn Eighe, Dec1994, or the view Clara wakes up to!|
‘We’re testing the clichés,’ she said firmly. ‘After Paris, we’ll film on a tropical island, and for the last segment, Ted wants me to find somewhere wild and stormy – a cottage in the Highlands, for instance.’ She looked at him hopefully. ‘What do you think?’
‘I think it’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard,’ said Simon, not mincing his words. ‘What’s it supposed to prove?’
‘Well, for a start, we’ll consider whether those places are romantic or not – will you feel more romantic when you’re there, and do they make you behave differently?’
‘I can tell you now that I won’t,’ he said, his mouth set in an implacable line ‘I don’t do romance.’
‘Then that’s what you’ll say.’ Clara kept her voice calm. It was like dealing with a skittish horse. Having got this close, she didn’t want to spook him now, before she’d slipped that bridle over his head and got him to finally agree. She was almost there. Already her fingers were itching to pull out her phone and call Ted with the news.
Simon sighed again, rubbed his hand over his face again. Reluctance incarnate.
‘So it would just be those three trips?’
‘Three short trips, which we would accommodate those to your schedule, of course. For you it’ll mean free trips to Paris, the Indian Ocean and Scotland,’ Clara added, still in economist whisperer mode. ‘That can’t be bad, can it?’
Oops, wrong thing to say. ‘If there’s one thing people need to understand about the economy, it’s that there’s no such thing as “free”,’ said Simon quellingly. ‘Everything has to be paid for somewhere along the line.’
‘I can assure you we wouldn’t be asking you to pay anything.’
‘I’d be paying with my professional reputation. And my time.’
Personally, Clara would have thought the chance to go to the tropical island of St Bonaventure alone was worth the trade, but she bit her lip on the comment.
‘We’d make all the arrangements,’ she said, trying another tack. ‘You wouldn’t have to do anything but turn up and do your piece to the camera.’
‘And if I agree, will you shut up and leave me alone?’
‘No more phone calls, no more emails, no more throwing yourself at muggers?’
‘Well, I’d need to get in touch with you about travel arrangements, but other than that, you won’t even know I exist,’ promised Clara. **
I had great fun writing this story. Simon is one of my favourite heroes, quiet, restrained, and driven to distraction by Clara with her zest for life and her ability to sing all the words to The Sound of Music.
And of course, I got to write about some of my favourite places in the world. I've just spent a happy afternoon going through my photo albums (cue much wistful sighing) in search of some pictures of Paris, tropical islands and the Highlands in winter, but I realised that there were so many other wonderfully romantic places I could have used as settings for Clara's programme instead.
The Australian outback is high on my list of romantic places, and what about listening to the rain on a tropical verandah, or watching the feluccas on the Nile as the sun sets? And don’t even get me started on Africa or deserts or the combination of hills and sea anywhere in the world …
|The Nile at Luxor|
We’ll Always Have Paris is out in the UK in January (I’m still waiting to find out when it’s released in North America). I’ve got three free copies to give away. If you’d like to win one of them, leave a comment below letting me know the place you think is most romantic, and I’ll put you in a draw for Friday 16th December. Don’t forget to check back then to see if you’re a winner!
By: Jessica Hart
**From the book: We’ll Always Have Paris
Imprint and series Harlequin® Romance™
Copyright © 2012
By: Jessica Hart
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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