"Excellent." -San Francisco Book Review
5* "Wonderful. It made me feel the same way I do when I watch Pretty Woman (a total favorite)." -Lauren Sapala, Book Reviewer and Writers' Coach.
5* "Spectacular." -Star Angels Reviews.
4.5/5* "This is the first book of Alison Brodie's I have read and I can say with sheer certainty that it won't be the last because I absolutely loved it."
5* "Perfect." -A Readers Review blog.
5* "Left me wanting to read more." -David Carraturo, author of Cameron Nation
"Fantastic. So unique! Alison is a great writer." -Aimee, Hello Chick Lit
5* -United Indie Book Blog
"A really good read, a page-turner with good characterization and a splendid plot."
~Dinah Wiener, Literary Agent at Dinah Wiener Ltd.
(Review of The Double, formerly entitled Famous Last Words)
Beth saw the launch heading towards the Kazka. The Beauty Editor of one of the most prestigious magazines in Europe would be here any minute. Too nervous to sit, Beth stood up then, realising her knee-caps were shivering uncontrollably, she sat back down, oh so grateful that her sunglasses covered half her face. She lay back on her sun-lounger and struck a regal pose. She wore a sensational 1930s Hollywood-style robe in tangerine silk. The problem was, the trim of ostrich feathers filled her mouth every time she inhaled.
She prayed that the Beauty Editor would offer to wire the fee immediately, because once the money was safely in Beth’s Co-op bank account - and untouchable - she could relax. No-one would ever be able to trace it, not even the police. How had Gerrard described it? ‘Transnational money laundering.’ Beth imagined how the one million would hop - in a split second - from the Cayman Islands to Bolivia, Latvia, Pakistan and into her account in Glasgow.
‘Miss la Cruz!’ An elegant woman in a slim beige suit and carrying a briefcase strode across the deck, her hand outstretched. ‘I am Chantelle de Montfort. Thank you so much for granting Marie-Hélène this opportunity. It is a great honour for our magazine.’
Beth stood up her sweaty palm making contact with the French woman’s cool dry hand. This was it! Beth tried to smile but it was as if her facial muscles had turned to concrete.
‘May I introduce my team?’ The Beauty Editor presented the shaven-headed man in combat uniform who was unpacking camera equipment. ‘Nicco Vetucchia. A new and talented artist. And his assistant, Agnes.’
Beth watched as Nicco grimly slid, slotted and clicked metal sections onto his camera - like a sniper assembling his rifle for a hit. This was going to be a disaster. Alone aboard the Kazka, Beth had easily assumed the air of rock diva. Now, faced with a French magazine editor and an international photographer, all her newly-built confidence began to dissolve. She gazed at the editor. Please, she thought desperately, just wire the money.
The woman made no mention of it. She sat on the chair that Gerrard offered and swung her briefcase onto her lap, ready for business. Beth sat opposite, her brain too fogged with fear to know what to say.
Gerrard lifted the bottle of white wine from the ice bucket and began to fill their glasses. ‘Mademoiselle la Cruz,’ he said, ‘Tiffanys have telephoned to inform you that your gold necklace is ready. When would you like it delivered? He was reminding her who she was, endorsing her character, giving her encouragement, but still she was unable to speak. He nodded as if she’d answered him. ‘Of course, Mademoiselle La Cruz, I will tell them you cannot think about it at present.’
Beth’s sunglasses slid down her nose. Even her nose was sweating. I’m allowing myself to be intimidated by this mere reporter, she thought indignantly. She reached for her wine glass and drained it. Yet, who’s the one with the billion-dollar yacht?
For the sake of the children, I must not fail. I just have to take this interview step by step and remember my list of topics:
For six days Beth had acted like a rock goddess. All she had to do, now, was continue the charade for one more hour. Not only would she be raising money to save the children; she would also be giving Sonita’s reputation a much-needed injection of PIZZAZZ! Afterall, Sonita was up against major competition: Carmel with her cocaine parties, ruby clitoral stud, and Mexican bullfighter lovers.
Sonita needed to be planted back in the spotlight.
And Beth was about to put her there!
Where should she start? Sophistication. ‘The wine is Le Montrachet, 74,’ she began, giving silent thanks to Gerrard and all his tuition. ‘But my favourite drink is Champagne. Cristal, of course.’
The editor raised her manicured eyebrows. ‘I must reprimand my researcher. She informed me that you did not drink alcohol.’
‘Well, I …’ Suddenly, Beth was confronted with a microphone, the woman’s knees inches from her own.
‘May I record our interview?’
‘Aye, I mean, yeah, sure.’
‘Miss La Cruz. The world is buzzing about your disappearance. What can you tell me?’
Beth didn’t know what to look at; the small flashing device the photographer was holding to her face, or the microphone in the journalist’s hand. Giving herself time to think, she glanced at Gerrard, who was re-filling her wine glass. ‘I just wanted a … a break, to spend some time on my yacht.’ She circled a hand to encompass the Kazka.
‘It is a beautiful vessel.’
Beth saw the woman’s envy and felt her confidence flower. ‘It gets me from A to B.’ She lifted her glass. ‘Santé,’ she said, ticking Sophistication off her mental check-list.
The woman took a sip and placed her glass on the table. ‘Now, let us talk of your childhood.’ Beth tensed. She didn’t know anything about Sonita’s childhood. The Beauty Editor glanced at the notebook on her lap. ‘You were born in Brazil, that much is known, but where did you grow up?’
‘In Brazil?’ Beth shrugged nonchalantly. ‘Here and there.’ How was she going to steer this woman away from the intimate stuff? She turned to the table, folded back her voluminous sleeves and made a show of choosing an oyster.
‘And you never knew your father?’
‘What’s to know?’ Beth picked up an oyster, squeezed lemon juice over the white flesh, lifted the shell to her lips and swallowed.
‘Could you tell us something about your early years?’
‘Sure.’ Beth, stalling for time, reached for another oyster, concentrating on shaking Tabasco and squeezing lemon. ‘Yum, yum,’ she murmured busily.
The French woman watched for a while then asked. ‘Do you have brothers and sisters?’
‘Oh, you haven’t met Pookie!’ Beth picked up the little dog. ‘He’s so pretty. Look.’
‘Ah, yes, adorable.’
‘I feed him caviar by hand. Not by hand,' Beth hurriedly corrected herself. 'I mean on a silver spoon.’ She parted his fur to reveal his necklace. ‘And he wears diamonds, too.’
The woman gazed at the dog collar. Then she gazed at Beth. Emboldened by the woman’s obvious fascination, Beth was off and away. Why had she been so nervous? This was a piece of cake.
‘And I only bathe in Vichy spring water,’ she announced grandly.
‘Even though you have been in dispute with the Nicaraguan government over the peasant’s water rights?’
‘Yip.’ Nothing could stop Beth now. Holding Pookie to her cheek, she looked into the camera and gave a dazzling smile. She would show Sonita how it was really done. ‘I might give the impression that I’m ordinary but I’m not. I wear jeans and T-shirt only because my PR machine tells me to, but to be truthful, I prefer to wear raw silk, Lapsang Souchong silk-’
‘Lapsang Souchong?’ The woman queried.
Beth continued to smile while her brain worked frantically. Fuck. That’s tea, isn’t it? ‘I meant Souchong silk from Shanghai.’ Christ, now I sound like I’m sloshed. She continued airily. ‘And I only sleep on satin sheets - wearing pearls, of course. Naked.’ She flicked her curtain of hair back over one shoulder. ‘And men? You can’t begin to imagine, Chantelle, the problems I have being the most desirable woman on the planet.’
The Frenchwoman murmured her sympathy. ‘And William Stratton? Why did you break off your engagement with him?’
Beth, remembering Stratton’s verbal attack, was tempted to say: Because he’s a tight turd with an IQ of a dead whelk. Instead, she smiled enigmatically over the rim of her glass. ‘We simply needed breathing space. Let us say I am involved with someone of greater importance.’
The woman’s eyes sparked with curiosity. ‘Is he a singer, perhaps?’
Beth sipped her wine. What if I make him a politician? No, boring. An actor? No, boring. Bloody hell, how can I compete with Carmel's Mexican bullfighters?
‘He’s an astronaut.’
‘An … an … astronaut?’ the reporter stuttered.
Beth was delighted with the woman’s astonishment. ‘Yip. He’s Croatian. And I’m in training, too.’ She had no idea where she was going with this - it was like her mouth had been disconnected from her brain. ‘You’ve got to have training, lots of-’
‘You’re training to be an astronaut?’
Seeing the woman’s disbelief, Beth floundered; she’d pushed this too far. With a flash of inspiration, she arched an eyebrow. ‘Now, when we have sex, I can say it’s out of this world.’
The woman dutifully smiled, realising the joke, but her eyes remained intent. ‘Your lover is an astronaut, yes or no?’
‘Will you marry him?’
Beth was back on solid ground. ‘Que sera sera.’ You see, she thought complacently. Not only am I bilingual, I can also speak Latin.
‘Can you reveal his name?’
‘Not yet, but when I go public, your magazine will be the first to know.’
‘We would be eternally grateful, thank you. Now, let us talk about your music. You wrote the song, Emeralda. Where do you find your inspiration?’
‘Where do I find my inspiration?’ This was easy. Beth flourished her hands in artistic expression. ‘When I’m dancing the salsa in Molento Polento. When I’m swimming with leopard seals.’ The rapt expression on the woman’s face spurred Beth to greater heights. ‘Then there’s … raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, red sails in the sunset. Roamin’ in the gloamin’-’
‘Gloamin?’ the woman queried.
Beth stared. She’d got so carried away, she’d started talking Scottish. ‘It’s a Brazilian back-street dialect. It means: smog.’
‘Ah, you are speaking Portuguese?’
Beth smiled to hide her confusion. Who the hell speaks Portuguese in Brazil?
The woman gestured to the silver tureen. ‘May I?’ She picked up an oyster, holding a napkin under the dripping shell as she lifted it to her mouth. ‘Delicious,’ she said, dabbing at her lips.
Beth sat waiting for the next volley of questions. This was like dodging traffic on the M20.
The woman glanced again at her notebook. ‘Can you tell me when you will be releasing your next album?’
‘No … um … no.’ Beth put a finger to her lips. ‘It’s all hush-hush at the moment, but as soon as I can talk about it, you will be the first to know.’
‘Will it be similar to your present style?’
Beth punched the air. ‘Sex, drugs and rock and roll!’ She spat out a mouthful of ostrich feathers. ‘And it’s going to be called Sex Binge.’
‘Yet there are rumours that RMI may not renew your contract?’
Beth gave a mental pause. The wrong answer could harm Sonita’s career. ‘Rumours,’ she sighed. ‘Blah, blah, blah.’
‘So, you are stating that RMI will renew your contract?’
Beth had to deflect the question. Not knowing what else to do, she stretched a hand to the silver tureen, but changed her mind. The thought of eating another oyster made her want to vomit. Yet, somehow, she had to distract the editor.
‘I adore shoes.’ Beth pointed to her feet. ‘Did you know that?’
‘Perhaps we can talk about that in a moment. First, may I clarify your answer to my question? Are you saying that RMI will renew your contract?’
This was a tug of war. The woman was determined to stick to her agenda, Beth was determined to stick to hers. Beth lifted her left foot high and waggled it in front of the woman’s face. ‘I bet your readers will want to know all about my shoes. Aren’t they pretty? I have two hundred pairs.’
The woman would not be deterred. ‘To get back to the question of RMI-’
‘And I’ve got five hundred bikinis.’ Beth nodded heavily to emphasise this. As the woman opened her mouth to continue, Beth was quick to interrupt. ‘And a thousand thongs.’
Beth frowned in bewilderment. ‘Songs?’
‘You said a thousand songs.’
‘No! Thongs!’ Beth heard a snort and turned to see Aleksandr struggling not to laugh. God, he was handsome in that uniform.
The woman was also studying the tall swarthy captain with the dangerous gypsy eyes. ‘Is he a friend?’ she whispered.
Beth stiffened in outrage. ‘I never mix with the servants.’ She drained her glass and, wanting a top-up, nodded to Gerrard, who was also trying not to laugh.
Visibly disappointed, the woman continued. ‘Do you feel threatened by Carmel?’
Beth, light-headed with wine, gave a disparaging sneer. ‘Who?’
‘Carmel Delfino. Her voice, by all reports, can reach high E over middle C.’
‘Well, my voice can reach high … F!’
‘But surely, at that pitch, it would shatter glass.’
Fired up by the woman’s awe, Beth leant into the microphone. ‘High F,’ she repeated loudly so there would be no confusion. ‘And ahm the Queen of Rock - for eternity!’ She put a hand to her mouth to smother a burp.
‘Bien sûr, yet Carmel had her first American tour sold out in two days.’
‘Well I had my first American tour sold out in two hours.’ Breathing heavily, Beth rubbed the centre of her chest to relieve the hard knot of indigestion. The French woman hesitated as if sizing her up and then continued.
‘Miss la Cruz, you have promised us an exclusive and revealing interview, therefore, may I ask a personal question?’ Beth tensed, wary, like a cornered juvenile delinquent. ‘Are you pregnant?’
How the hell does she know that? Beth was appalled. Jesus, don’t these rock stars have any privacy? But, thankfully, she was in a position to take the heat off Sonita. She opened her robe to reveal her bikini. ‘Do I look pregnant?’ she asked, smoothing a hand over her flat stomach.
Again, the French woman was disappointed. ‘Now, Miss La Cruz. If I may use an American term: how do you tick?’
‘Like a time bomb. If I was an alarm clock, I would niver be set to snooze. In fact, I would niver be an alarm clock cos I don’t know the meaning of sleep. Ahm buzzing twenty-four-seven. But if we’re talking time-keeping, then I’d be a stop watch in a pit stop and-’ Witnessing the dazed expression on the woman’s face, Beth told herself to ease up. She’d become over-confident. She was like a small boy in a swimming pool, who, having found the shallows not as terrifying as he’d first thought, throws himself into the deep end.
Gerrard stepped forward and placed the satellite phone on the table. ‘Mademoiselle La Cruz, a reminder that the hour is almost at an end.’ He turned to the Beauty Editor. ‘Perhaps, Madame de Montfort would like to telephone her office to complete the financial arrangements?’
Complete the financial arrangements. Beth held her breath, willing it to happen.
The woman smiled up at Gerrard. ‘Of course.’ She turned off the tape recorder. ‘My job here is done.’
Hearing this, Beth had to stop herself from punching the air with both fists and screaming, ‘I’ve fucking done it!’
The woman began packing away her things. ‘Now, Miss La Cruz. Nicco would like you all to himself.’
‘Nicco would like to photograph you.’
‘But … but … he’s just been photographing me!’
‘Yes, but he would also like you to stand up and move about the deck. Without the sunglasses, of course.’
Beth felt her stomach lurch. Without the sunglasses. She looked at Alexandr. She looked at Gerrard. But they couldn’t help her.
She’d been stupid, stupid, stupid to think it could have been this easy.
A night she can’t remember. A week she won’t forget.
Beth is mistaken for rock star, Sonita La Cruz, and ends up on a billionaire-dollar yacht. As a shift-worker in Glasgow, Beth has only known hardship. Now she's in a world of uniformed stewards, French cuisine and rows of gorgeous designer gowns. She keeps quiet about the mix-up, determined to wear every outfit in her wardrobe before the owner appears and sends her home. What's wrong with a little play-acting? She takes to the role of rock diva like a duck takes to water.
The captain arrives. Aleksandr sees a raven-haired girl in a tiara and diamond-studded bikini lying on deck issuing orders through a megaphone. Aleksandr soon realises what’s happened. His smuggling pals, knowing he needs to speak urgently to Sonita la Cruz about a kid’s crisis, have grabbed this girl by mistake. Aleksandr is desperate. The rock star promised to help him but, it seems, she’s disappeared.
Beth rises to the challenge. She looks like Sonita, so why not BE Sonita? Parading as the rock star, Beth does a magazine interview for one million dollars, and then ransoms herself for another million. Beth saves the children but can she save herself? Too late, Beth discovers the terrible reason why Sonita disappeared.
A full-bodied romance that sweeps across the globe, from a civil war in the Eastern Bloc, to a luxury yacht on the Côte d'Azur, to a poor housing estate in Glasgow.