On the surface, Valerie Anthrope was happy with her life. She had her own brokerage with Sunny Oak Insurance and was financially solvent. But once asleep, she was plunged into a world of nightmares that reminded her she was cursed.
And that meant she couldn’t fall in love. Ever.
Lex Kendal was a multi-millionaire. Women flocked to him, preened and flaunted for his attention. But one woman, Valerie, knocked him back. Hard. It dented his pride and Lex set out to convince himself he still ‘had it’ by pursuing her.
Only he found himself being needed in a way he never, ever, expected and, for once in his life, money wasn’t the answer.
I risked a look at the tall man sitting beside me. His golden eyes were on the road. I took a chance to observe his ruggedly textured face and noticed a small scar on his left eyebrow, and the laughter lines that fanned out from his eyes.
My eyes slid over his dark-coloured dinner jacket; his body contoured to it as though it’d melted over him. And, no matter how hard I tried to stop myself, my eyes dropped lower still towards his groin. I brought my head up, shocked at my actions, and stared straight ahead with my hands folded in my lap.
He looked askance. ‘Have I passed?’
‘At least you’ve combed your hair.’
I watched his hands as they managed the powerful car. He really was a magnificent looking man – if you liked the arrogant feral type. I sniffed, and looked away.
The restaurant was in the heart of London, close to the London Eye. The city was alive with people, music and laughter. Both manager of the restaurant and the maître d’ were there to meet us, and reminded me how influential Lex was. He was greeted with firm handshakes, and a few courteous words about Ladwick. Lex answered politely, but kept a possessive hand firmly on the small of my back. Instead of feeling annoyed, I felt cherished. It was a nice feeling.
The maître d’ showed us to a small table for two in an alcove. A bottle of champagne on ice was waiting for us, and my place was set with a red rose lying across a side plate. The maître d’ lit the candle in the centre of the table, and then uncorked the champagne bottle with a bang. My nerves evaporated - it was obvious that Lex was trying to impress me. I almost laughed; probably would have too had I not been trying not to throw up at all the over-the-top sweetness and ickiness of it all. I watched the vapour rise from the top of the green bottle, then the maître d’ filled our glasses and finally left us alone.
‘Dear God,’ I said, as a violinist serenaded a blushing woman while her partner looked on. Lex handed me my glass of champagne.
‘Just call me Lex,’ he said.
I looked back at him. He honestly thought I’d be impressed? ‘Lex, be serious, are you sure about this place?’
He looked puzzled, but then winked and said with a grin, ‘It’s where I bring the ladies.’
I remembered the kissing and the female voice on the telephone and the spear of jealousy to my stomach shocked me. Keep it light, I reminded myself.
‘Your conquests,’ I said. I’d forgotten how nice champagne was as the bubbles hit the back of my throat. ‘Tell me, Lex, do you win them all?’
He frowned. ‘Not all, no.’
It wasn’t the answer I was expecting. To hide my confusion I picked up the menu. It was one of those restaurants where there were only a few choice dishes with the prices absent. I put it down again.
‘How was Dublin?’ I asked.
He pushed the candle to one side and the shadows danced against the wall. ‘Irish. How was your day?’
‘Fine. How’d the plans go for another Ladwick there?’
‘Do we have to talk about business? I’ve been talking about Ladwick nonstop for four days now. I want to talk about you.’
‘Short conversation,’ I said and he chuckled.
‘How do you like the champagne?’
‘I can take it or leave it,’ I said.
‘You’re a hard lady to impress.’
‘Why’d you want to impress me? We’re having a casual dinner, that’s all.’
He stared at me a moment. ‘What if I don’t want it to be casual?’
‘I wouldn’t believe you. You’re the country’s latest famous bachelor and enjoying every moment.’ I picked up the menu, but then put it down again. ‘There’s a little Greek restaurant around the corner. Fancy it?’
‘I thought women liked these types of places.’
I pushed back my chair. ‘Oh, you so need to be educated!’
Lex peeled off some notes and laid them on the table, and then, giggling like kids, we dashed from the restaurant. Leaving the car where it was, we walked across the road towards a sedate little taverna. It was quiet and the gentle music of Greek ancestry played. A dark-haired waitress escorted us to a small table at the rear, and gave us both a menu.
‘This is better,’ I said.
‘You always surprise me,’ Lex said. ‘I really thought you’d have liked the Coral.’
‘Did you now?’ I peek over the top of my menu at him. ‘You don’t know me at all, Mr Kendal. You just assume you do; like you assume you understand women.’ I dropped my gaze to the words on the menu, not paying them much attention, but feeling his burning gaze on the top of my head.
‘You’re right. I’ve underestimated you. I apologise.’
I raised my eyes. His hands were clasped in front of him on the table and he was actually looking contrite. ‘I was going to wine and dine you. Impress you with my fluent French –’
He smiled but said, ‘Oui.’
My face remained passive as I said, ‘Dites-moi que vous avez toujours été un idiot?’
He looked shocked, but then laughed. ‘Yes, I’ve always been an idiot, I guess. So you speak French too?’
‘A little,’ I said. I was smiling too, only my smile was hidden behind the menu. I didn’t want him to see me thawing – not yet. ‘So, supposing you’d impressed me by speaking French, then what?’
‘The French and champagne not enough?’
I shook my head.
‘Well, after dinner we’d have gone for a drive. It’s a nice starry evening, and what could be better than cruising along listening to Van Morrison? ’
‘You made up a CD especially, didn’t you?’
He pulled a rueful face, and I laughed.
‘So where would you have taken me on the drive?’
‘A place where we could walk along the Thames just by ourselves; it’d be beautiful watching the silver moon dance on the surface. I’d have taken your hand…’
‘Yes?’ My heart was thumping; the menu – my guard - was lowering from my face.
‘Kissed each one of your fingers, and told you how beautiful you looked.’ His honey-coloured eyes were watching me intently. ‘I’d lean in, you’d lean in and we’d kiss. Gently. Softly. You’d look shocked, maybe embarrassed, and then I’d say, let’s walk. And we’d walk along the river bank. My coat around your shoulders. We’d hold hands, you’d relax. Then, beneath the moon, I’d stop, pull you against me and kiss you again. This time you wouldn’t be embarrassed.’
I couldn’t believe this. He was doing it again!
‘Did you have lessons?’ I asked, breathless.
His mouth twitched. He sat back, and picked up the menu. ‘Admit it, Velvet, you were falling for it.’
Insufferable, but correct, man. He was good, I’d give him that. Playboy at his best. I’d have to stay alert. Maybe I shouldn’t drink anything alcoholic tonight. Just in case.
Ooh, they had cocktails! I love cocktails. I snatched up the cocktail menu and, yep, they had my favourite – Fuzzy Navel.
One wouldn’t hurt.
DNK: You originally entitled your book "The Fall of the Misanthrope". How do you define misanthrope?
LW: A misanthrope is a pessimist, a cynic and someone who doesn’t get on with others. She, Valerie Anthrope, is the misanthrope. She doesn’t cope well in groups of people, but the title conjured up literary or ‘serious’ and the book is anything but, so a title change had to be done and Oh no, I’ve Fallen in Love! sums up Valerie’s dilemma perfectly.
DNK: You describe your book as dark, and others have described it as "funny" (although maybe darkly so) and having a bit of "magical realism". That's a lot in one book! What motivated you to write that kind of story?
LW: I like realism and as you know life has a habit of being funny. There is dark in the book and that’s down to Valerie’s realisation that her behaviour is due to her being depressed, but because the book is a romantic comedy I’ve written it in a fun and chatty way, but by no means am I laughing at the illness. Depression is a serious condition and very misunderstood, as is Valerie.
I’m not sure what the motivation was, I’d like to say I was doing it for the depressive society (is there one?) but I’d be lying. I just wanted Valerie to be as damaged as she possibly could be.
The magical element is a matter of what the reader will take from the story. It is magical or a coincidence? I’ve left that up to the reader to decided and going by reviews, they’ve decided on the magical element.
DNK: Not to give too much away, but mental illness is a theme in this novel. How difficult was it to write from the point of view of someone suffering from that?
LW: I work in medicine (pharmaceutical) so was able to research the drugs well. Also, mental illness seems to run in our family. I have members of my (not immediate) family who have all suffered, but all find the illness an embarrassment. It’s something to hide from and never admit to, just like Valerie. So in answer to your question, I didn’t really find it difficult, in fact I think it’d be easy to switch off, withdraw and allow the world to pass me by so I could ‘get into character’ very easily. Maybe I’ve the depressive trait…? Personally, I don’t think there is enough being done to treat the illness. It’s far more common than anyone thinks.
DNK: Money is a bit of a theme here too, particularly the ways in which can protect us (to a point). What made you write along those lines?
LW: In chick lit it’s usually the rich man helping out the poor defenceless female. I wanted them equal but still have that ‘typical’ theme. Lex was rich and Valerie, although not poor, wasn’t as well off as Lex. And in the end, Lex’s money couldn’t help Valerie. It’d protected him all through his life, from childhood (expensive schools) to opening doors at work and climbing the ladder to where he is now as a director at Ladwicks, until it couldn’t protect him from the devastation of love.
DNK: What can you say about another theme: not growing up?
LW: [Lex] was a rich kid and grew into a rich adult. Spoilt rotten and treated women like fine clothes (to be worn and discarded for something new).
DNK: Isn't there an extent to which Valerie is also trapped by her childhood?
LW: She is trapped. By her upbringing, her memories and her own perception of this 'curse' that she thinks she has. It's all a bit tragic really, but she sees no way out and Ellen is truly her fairy godmother by realising in time that Valerie needs professional help. I think we could all do with an interfering friend from time to time!
DNK: What are you hoping people walk away with after they read this story?
LW: I want them to walk away wondering about the so-called magical element at the end of the book. Was it something paranormal/magical going on, or pure coincidence? And then I'd like them to take away that mental illness isn't all about tortured people sectioned in institutions, but everyday people like you and I.
Married, with four children, Louise Wise lives in England. She is a pharmacist technician by day and a writer by night. She was educated in an ordinary state school and left without achieving much in the way of qualifications; you could say she was the result of a crap school. Hungry for knowledge she enrolled in an Adult Education centre and studied English, maths and creative writing. Whereas other young girls asked for makeup and clothes for their birthdays, she asked for encyclopaedias!
Louise Wise used her general love of romantic fiction and interest in astronomy to write her first book. The book received many rejections stating the novel was too original for the current market, until finally, an agent took the book on but subsequently failed to find a publisher for it. Instead of becoming despondent, it made Louise realise that becoming a published writer WAS possible. She turned her back on traditionally publishing, threw herself into the indie world and went on to publish her first chick lit book, A Proper Charlie and then Oh no, I’ve Fallen in Love!
As for the ‘too original’ Eden it has been such a hit that Louise has now followed it up with the sequel, Hunted. So far, they are both selling well.