“So is Raphael straight or gay? I don’t get it. He’s lusted over everyone so far. Anyone got any views on this?”
To which I answered:
“It’s possible to fancy both men and women you know. Welcome to the 21st Century.”
“But in a romantic novel? I’ve never heard of a bi romantic lead?”
I was still composing my response when someone else suddenly chimed in.
“I like it. Give it a chance. It’s traditional that you don’t know whether the hero and heroine get it together at the end. This version is even more tantalising.”
They’re very articulate, the members of the Chapter by Chapter online community. I wonder why I haven’t considered writing like this before. When you know you have someone actually waiting for the next instalment, you like to surprise.
Then someone called JaneyBee chipped in: “Loving Harriet! She’s so proper and English and old-fashioned and such a contrast to Raphael. Two worlds colliding. Am I right?”
I couldn’t resist diving back in. (It’s all going to go wrong anyway. You and I both know that.)
“I’m so glad you like Harriet. I love her. She’s so good and moral and decent. I wanted to create someone who was genuinely, thoroughly likeable. Someone we can all get behind.”
“Are there really people as decent as Harriet in this world?” asked JaneyBee.
“God yeah!” I told her. “There really, really are.”
Kate Knorr-Windlass, the junior partner in the tax department, looking sweet and unaffected in a plain grey suit and red, polka dot silk scarf, came over to my desk and leant down so that her left cheek was almost flat against my right.
“We all think you’re a wonderful asset,” she told me, and she sounded thrilled to tell me so.
My heart was bursting. It meant so much from someone like her.
“Thanks very much,” I said.
“I’ve recommended you for a bonus.”
“That’s… that’s very kind. Wow.”
Her perfume was rather headier than I’d expected from such a sensible, down-to-earth kind of girl, rather sultry, far too much jasmine in it. It made my nose run.
She turned herself round so that she could face me and gave me a swift but huge and maternal hug.
“Excellent,” she said.
“Thanks,” I told her.
She didn’t move.
“Great, thanks,” I said, waiting. “Was there anything I could do for you?”
“Since you’re asking,” she said at once, before I’d even ended the ‘oo’ of ‘you’. “There is a job you could do for me and right now please.”
I watched the fascinating transformation of her expression. She didn’t seem so maternal any more.
“Fire away,” I said.
She was writing something on the pad beside my phone.
“Here’s the number for my partner Geoff’s work place. Ring him up right now and tell him that I’ve been called away urgently to finalise a deal abroad and can’t come home tonight. Then call him from your home tomorrow and tell him that you’ve just heard that my flight has been delayed and that I’m staying on an extra day.”
“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” I said.
“So? You can call from home can’t you?”
“But can’t you call him and tell him?”
“No I can’t. I want you to do it. You want that bonus, don’t you? Then the odd bit of work at the weekends is worth it.”
“I’d rather not have the bonus,” I told her.
“Yeah, right. Like someone in your position would turn down some cash. It’s not like you have much else going for you. I heard you live with your mother.”
“What do I tell him when he asks why you can’t call him?”
“Earn your bonus,” she said with crisp authority and was off.
The impossibly good Harriet is about to show her true colours.