The prized possession you value above all others…
My laptop. It’s not just the tool without which I couldn’t be a writer, it’s also where all my friends live (the real ones on social media, the imaginary ones in my stories).
The temptation you wish you could resist…
Chocolate, and pizza, and all the other really tasty things that are bad for you.
The book that holds everlasting resonance…
There are many books that have affected me in my life, but if I had to pick the one that’s stayed with me the longest it’s The Stand by Stephen King. I read that first when I was twelve and have reread it many times. I find King’s way of taking our deepest fears and weaving them into horror stories absolutely fascinating.
The film you can watch time and time again…
The Normal Heart. It tells the story of the AIDS outbreak from the point of view of a gay rights activist in New York, and it makes me bawl my eyes out no matter how many times I watch it.
The unfulfilled ambition that continues to haunt you…
I dreamed about studying medicine and I still wish I’d had the guts to do it. I guess I’d find it a pretty hard life, and I probably romanticize it, but it still often crosses my mind, what if…
Your early recollections of writing fiction…
I wrote some pretty terrible Star Trek fanfiction when I was small (around ten or 11) and around the same time I started many fantasy and SciFi stories, none of which ever got finished.
The way you would spend your fantasy twenty-four hours, with no travel restrictions…
I think I’d finally go to New Zealand and beam myself to all the different locations from the Lord of the Rings movies.
The pet hate that makes your hackles rise…
When people are slow. Slow walkers in particular. I live in London, and it’s an obstacle course dotted with tourists just to get into the office. And seriously, standing on the right on the escalator is not a suggestion, people. If you want to piss off a Londoner, stand on the left – at your own peril (we’ll glare at you very forcefully).
The figure from history you would most like to buy a pie and a pint…
Any of the wives of Henry VIII, but especially Anne Boleyn. I’d love to know what that time was really like.
The crime you would commit knowing you could get away with it…
Any crime I choose. Because I’m a writer; as long as I made it plausible I could just write myself getting away with murder.
The philosophy that underpins your life…
Pay attention to the little things. You can’t change the big things in life, but if you do your best with the little tasks the whole will look so much better.
The character you enjoyed writing the most…
It’s hard to say, I’m fond of all of my characters. I think I’d say Liam from Tainted Life. He’s the first character I ever wrote that has a sense of humor.
The character you found difficult to write…
Vivienne, from He is Mine. She’s a nasty piece of work and that really was a challenge. It was also interesting and often liberating, but my instinct is to write nice people, so I often had to go a bit over the top with her to make her different. I reined her back in during the edits, though, and I’m happy with how she turned out.
The book you enjoyed planning/writing the most…
I think it’s the one I’m writing right now. It’s M/M historical romance set in the 1950s, and all the research I have to do for it is so much fun. Also, it feels like a bigger responsibility to get it right, which is an interesting challenge.
And the promo…
He is Mine is a psychological romance novel. It has some suspense elements, and it’s quite dark in places. The story revolves around Vivienne Aubert, who is a Hollywood actress who falls in love with her colleague Damien. Damien doesn’t return her feelings, though. It’s also the story of Brad Moretti, a detective with the NYPD, who’s just coming out of a very bad breakup. He and Damien meet, which makes the whole situation messy and painful, and pushes Vivienne down a dark path.
It’s a story of fatal attraction. There’s betrayal, emotional blackmail, stalking, delusion, the works. But another strong theme is mental health, and the struggle those of us face who are caring for someone suffering from mental health issues. It wasn’t an easy book to write because those themes are close to my heart.
About He is Mine
For you, it was just a fling. For me, so much more…
NYPD detective Brad Moretti’s life is in tatters. A relationship destroyed by his boyfriend’s bipolar disorder has left him feeling guilty, inadequate and emotionally scarred.
Vivienne Aubert seems to have it all – a Hollywood career, supermodel looks, and a director husband about to make it big. And yet, a one-night-stand with rising superstar Damien Thomas makes Viv wonder if she hasn’t settled for second-best. Used to getting her way, she embarks on a ruthless quest to make Damien hers.
Unaware of Viv’s fatal attraction, Damien returns to New York, where a chance encounter with Brad sparks a prompt and rapidly growing affinity between the two men – which Viv is determined to terminate.
Can Brad head off her delusional desires before she destroys his newfound happiness, or will he fail to protect yet another lover?
Available at: Amazon
Exclusive Excerpt from He is Mine
The lights flash right in her face, a cacophony of visual explosions, burning into her retina, blinding her. Robbed of one sense, her hearing makes up for it. She knows how this works; it’s her world.
“Vivienne, over here!”
“This way, Viv!”
“Over the shoulder, that’s it!”
“Miss Aubert!” “Viv!” “That’s it!” “Brilliant!” “Here!” “Yes!” “Wonderful!”
She smiles, widely, brilliantly. She turns, first this way, then that. She stretches her neck, imagining a string pulling up through the crown of her head, until she can feel the vertebrae crack. Comme une cygne, she hears Mademoiselle Pelier’s voice. Like a swan, yes! She remembers; she still knows!
One slender foot in the fifteen-hundred dollars Manolo Blahniks stretched out before her, then a half step to the side. The silk of her dress, cream and pink, glides cool and smooth against her hip bone. Her arms look like they just hang by her sides, but in reality they’re poised, almost bras bas, getting ready for the first position. She cocks her head to one side; she knows how beguiling that looks. She drinks in the shouts, the clamor for her attention.
Yes, this is it. She’s alive here. She’s herself.
Her husband’s voice cuts in sharp over the clamor. Viv looks around, finding Victor a few steps off to the side. His face is a tense mask in the harsh light. There’s impatience in the creases on his high forehead and boredom in his light blue eyes behind the wireless glasses. Usually, his receding hairline and salt and pepper coloring make him look distinguished. Tonight, he looks like a deranged, menacing professor. His gaze is colored with some other emotion. Distaste? Jealousy? Viv’s smile falters, but she hitches it back up before anyone can notice.
He beckons. “Enough of that. C’mon already!”
With one last smile, evenly distributed for the benefit of the bank of photographers, and a little curtsy, Viv saunters along the red carpet and catches up with Victor under the huge screen opposite the press pen that reads “Hollywood Philanthropic Association’s 15th Annual Benefit Gala – February 18, Beverly Hills Hotel.” He turns and glares down at her for a moment, then walks in long strides toward the entrance to the Crystal Ballroom.
Viv is now put out for real. What’s wrong with him tonight? He knows how important this bit is, to be seen and photographed from all angles. He’s the one who taught her. Has he forgotten? “If a week goes by without your face in at least one major celebrity column, you might as well be dead.” That’s the mantra he taught her while walking the red carpet during the press circuit of their first blockbuster together.
To everyone’s surprise, Queen of the Underworld was the most critically acclaimed Sci-Fi movie of the previous year. So his strategy works. The success of that movie, Victor’s most ambitious project, in which Viv played the title character, opened their door into the highest echelons of Hollywood. When Harlan Chow, media mogul and one of the richest movie producers in town, suggested they share a table at the benefit gala tonight to discuss the possibility of financing Victor’s next movie, Viv and Victor knew they were in.
She loves being seen in her glamorous dress, her slender body jealously whispered over. She might’ve turned thirty last month, but she still cuts a better figure than many of those starlets barely out of high school. That’s what Victor married her for, her beauty and her ability to capitalize on it. He loves beautiful things. It follows that he loves her. But he doesn’t love this event, despite the glamor and the possibilities. He hasn’t ever been this camera shy before. Maybe it’s nerves. After all, this evening is make or break for his new, ambitious project.
“I hate this shit,” he murmurs on cue under his breath. He stalks past more photographers without acknowledging them, hands stuffed deep into his pockets, his shoulders hitched up as if to make his narrow, six-foot-two frame less conspicuous. “And why do they call you Miss, anyway?”
Viv presses her lips together to refrain from snapping at him. They’ve been over this so many times. He wanted her to keep her maiden name after their marriage, but the correlating fact that the press will consider her unmarried, at least as far as addressing her goes, has failed to sink in. They can’t call her Mrs. Aubert, since there’s no Mr. Aubert to go with that.
“Victor,” she hisses out of the corner of her mouth, trying to keep up without rushing. Her dress is cut so tightly, she’s short of breath even standing still, and she can’t run. And what does that look like, hurrying down the red carpet after her husband at a fundraiser? Sometimes, she despairs of Victor. He has no decorum.
She slows her pace as they draw level with the next clump of reporters. This is where the interviews happen, and she has practiced the most endearing answers to a whole bunch of questions they might have for her. How much she loves children, and that’s why she and her husband support tonight’s event. How grateful she is to Prabal Gurung, who has provided these beautiful evening gowns they’re all wearing.
“No way,” Victor growls. He reaches for her hand, and his grip is so tight she winces. With a grimace in the general direction of the press people, he waves them off. “Never mind that now, Viv. I need a drink.”
There’s no way to extract herself without making a scene. She can only sidle past the hungry microphones with a regretful smile. Maybe she can come back later, when she has deposited Victor near the bar. Or maybe someone will seek her out, keen to get her thoughts on record. That happy little fantasy sustains her all the way into the darkened ballroom.
“Let’s find our table.” Victor wends his way amongst the spindly, gilded chairs that are grouped around white-and-gold-covered round tables seating eight people each.
Viv follows, letting her gaze wander. She needs to get the lay of the land, know who’s here, but not appear curious. It looks like not many guests have made it this far yet. Viv pushes away her envy at the thought of all those people giving the interviews she’s been denied. She spots Fern Monahan and her entourage in one corner. If the gossip is true, the pale young man by her side is her latest lover. Viv rolls her eyes. He looks barely half Fern’s age. But Viv doesn’t dare let her gaze linger. She’s been wary of Fern since the last Oscar party, where Viv spilled pink champagne down her ivory-colored dress, and the famous actress had chuckled at her expense. Victor keeps saying he wants to cast her in a movie soon. Viv hopes that never happens.
Fortunately, Victor hasn’t looked in Fern’s direction. He’s zooming in on someone near the front, and now he makes a beeline for a table right before the stage, where a white-haired, balding man has just risen from his chair.
“Harle!” Victor calls out.
It’s Harlan Chow, his ruddy face creased in a smile. Viv hitches her smile back onto her face. This is the only reason they’re here tonight. Victor wants Harlan’s money. He needs a big backer for his outrageously expensive screenplay, and he needs Viv’s help with that, as always. They’ve paid through the nose for seats at the top table. The thought of mentioning the fifteen-thousand dollar charity check in an interview tonight has been cheering Viv up all week. Now it looks like she won’t get an audience for that story, or any other. Never mind. Menton, poitrine. Chin up, chest out. In her mind, Mademoiselle Pelier is shouting that phrase across the ballet studio.
“Good to see you, Victor,” Harlan says.
He’s in a good mood, and Viv relaxes. Harlan is already half sold on Victor’s project. They’ve been exchanging emails for a few weeks. Maybe her job tonight will be easier than anticipated. Switching on the charm for Victor’s budget isn’t one of Viv’s favorite pastimes. It always leaves her feeling used and dirty when rich, ugly men paw at her with their gaze, all under Victor’s eyes and with his full approval.
Not that Harlan Chow is all that gross. Mostly he’s just boring. He pats her arm, and she beams at him.
“Viv, sweetheart, you look lovely tonight.” She lets him kiss her cheek and hold her hand in his dry, warm ones while he gives Victor a wink. “You did very well there, my boy. Very well.”
Victor preens. “Sure did, didn’t I?”
The glance he gives Viv probably appears full of approval and fondness from the outside. But Viv knows her husband, and right now she could be an animated plastic doll for all he cares. His mind is on his next blockbuster, and the money they’ll make with it. He’s deliberating the strategy for the evening, and Viv features only as a pawn that will get him closer to his goal. Whether he finds her desirable is beside the point. Viv gets it; she doesn’t judge him. It’s her career too, after all. They make an efficient team.
Viv married Victor because she’s ambitious, loves money, and wants the life he can give her. He knows that. Victor married Vivienne because of her market value in Hollywood. Growing up mostly in Europe, she’s exotic, and she’s a rarity – a classic beauty in her best years. He’s in love with her, in his own way. And he’s handsome enough – tall and slender, with a narrow face and angular features. She likes his round professor glasses and doesn’t mind the receding hairline. Both make him look distinguished and powerful beyond his thirty-eight years. He’s pretty good in bed, too.
His eyes are calm now; his plan is going well. Viv can even feel the wetness of arousal start between her legs as his gaze lingers. They’ll make love into the early hours when they get home, she has no doubt. The thought of money makes Victor horny like nothing else.
But right now, she’s playing second fiddle. Victor gives her a wink, pats her on the butt, and sits down. Turning his back on her, he focuses on Harlan. Viv sighs and takes a chair, too.
She might as well not be here now. Victor won’t need her much tonight, after all. Could she slip away, maybe find one of those reporters and do a quick interview? Earlier, she saw that girl from E!Online out of the corner of her eye. But when Viv looks around she can’t locate her again. Ah well! Victor wouldn’t like her chasing the press, anyway. He’s made that clear enough.
Viv flags down a liveried waiter and takes a glass of champagne from his tray. She doesn’t plan on eating anything tonight, so she’ll need to pace herself. Victor won’t be pleased if she starts acting drunk so early in the evening.
As Viv takes tiny sips of champagne, she looks around. The tables are filling up, but nobody else has joined theirs yet. Those seats will have been bought by the real big wigs, and they all like a grand entrance, after having their photo taken out on the red carpet every which way. Viv tries not to be resentful.
There’s nobody nearby that Viv is on speaking terms with. She recognizes most faces, but as much as she’d like to believe they recognize her too, she’s not brave enough to just walk up to them. What if they ignore her or don’t know who she is? She already has the uncomfortable feeling that some of them avoid her gaze on purpose. She gives herself a shake. Nonsense, why would they?
Bored and a little uneasy, Viv reaches into her clutch, which is studded with semi-precious stones. She practically went onto her knees for it in front of Angelo, the designer who made this beauty for Dior and whom she first met at last year’s New York Fashion Week. He got her a sample just in time for tonight, months before the bag’s release. Viv paid through the nose for it, which Victor doesn’t know. He thinks she got it for free and even praised her for making such an excellent connection herself.
Her iPhone, lipstick and credit cards are all that the little bag can hold. Viv pulls out the latest model phone, another release they got their hands on early. Hers and Victor’s match – Viv’s is pink, his gunmetal blue, with their initials engraved on the backs. It was Victor’s gift to them both on their one-year wedding anniversary a few weeks ago. The phone’s camera is amazing and has also replaced Viv’s compact mirror. She turns on the phone and brings up the camera app.
Checking her face always calms Viv. Victor likes to tease her that she can’t go ten minutes without making sure her makeup is as it should be. “You’re your own biggest fan,” he sometimes says. Viv knows it’s not meant as a compliment. She doesn’t understand what’s wrong with being your own champion. Why not enjoy that she was born beautiful? But she’s not stupid enough to say that out loud. Other people find that attitude stuck up. Viv has learned that the hard way.
Tonight, she worked extra hard on her looks. It took two hair and makeup people three hours to get her waist-long blonde hair into just the right, softly-layered shape, and the subtle, nude makeup look applied. For once, Victor didn’t think the bill for the stylists was excessive. “That night’s an investment in our future,” he said as he signed the invoice for their accountant a few days ago. Even more of a shame that he’s in such a camera-shy mood.
Viv suppresses a smile as she studies her petal-shaped lips, accentuated with the expensive pearl-sheen lipstick, which, despite the champagne, looks untouched. Her large, sapphire-blue eyes sparkle, enhanced by the natural hues the Chanel makeup girls used. A mere hint of blush on her cheeks highlights her blemish-and-wrinkle-free skin.
This is the perfect moment to commemorate the evening with a selfie. She tilts her face in a practiced move that will result in the best angle to admire it. Her too aquiline nose—her one flaw looks elegant this way. She hates that from the side it looks more like a beak and goes to great lengths to get her selfies just right. She’s just about to take the picture when a familiar face appears behind her in the little phone screen. At the next table, his features a little blurry in the gloomy ballroom, sits Tom Hanks with his wife.
Viv glances to her left, where Victor and Harlan are still in animated conversation, not paying her the slightest attention. Usually, right about now, that would start to annoy her. But at the moment, buoyed by her own beauty, her spirits are high. She tilts her head again just right, making sure Tom’s profile is over her left shoulder. Then she takes a quick half dozen selfies.
When she’s certain that one of them has turned out well she lowers the phone into her lap. It’s not exactly frowned upon to do selfies at charity events, and her Instagram followers love these kinds of posts, but she’d still rather not be observed as she amuses herself with her social media. Viv shifts around so that Victor can’t see her phone if he happens to look her way. After a fortifying sip of champagne, Viv opens Instagram and flicks through the possible filters.
Victor doesn’t understand her obsession with the app. He doesn’t believe people care about the minutiae of a celebrity’s day-to-day life. “It’s boring shit; they have their own lives. They want glamour and gloss, not a picture of you in the grocery store.” He doesn’t get it, but Viv ignores him. She follows the biggest celebrities on Instagram, and the most interesting pictures are those that don’t look like an official photo shoot. But Viv makes sure that her fans still get the real glamour while she does day-to-day stuff. That’s the secret. Like tonight: There’s nothing fake about her selfie. This is her life. And people love to see behind the scenes.
The filters help to make an ordinary photo special. Tonight, with all the make-up on, she doesn’t need a filter, but she’s so used to the process by now. She recently got caught adding filters to an outtake from a photo shoot that had already gone through the professional editing process. Someone called her out on it in the photo’s comments section, and she made a self-deprecating joke about the incident. Her fans like that she can make fun of herself, but the memory still makes Viv bite her lip in frustration.
She’s tried to explain to Victor why she loves to tell stories about herself with Instagram pictures. “You’re in full control; you can show your fans what you want them to see,” she told him. “And you call the shots.” He looked almost angry at that, and Viv had given up. The thought that Viv, and not he as her husband and director, controls her narrative seemed to hit a nerve.
She pushes the thought away. He’ll eventually thank her for keeping her fans engaged. Tonight, they’ll see her glamourous and radiant, surrounded by famous people in a beautiful setting. And it’s all for charity, so that’s an added bonus. Viv chooses her filter—called Helena, which makes her think of glamorous supermodels—then selects a heart and a kitty emoji as caption, adds the hashtag for the charity they’re here to support, and tags the Beverly Hills Hotel in the picture. Then she taps Share.
For a moment, she watches the Like notifications from her nearly four-hundred-thousand followers start to pop up. But then she forces herself to turn off the phone. It won’t look good if she has it out for too long.
Just as she slides the phone back into her clutch, Harlan leans forward in his chair and opens the button on his smoking jacket. He and Victor are shaking hands, and Harlan claps her husband on the shoulder. “Deal, my boy,” he says with a wide smile. Then he turns to Viv. “Now, then, Vivienne, how will you approach the biggest role of your career?”
About Mel Gough
Mel was born in Germany, where she spent the first twenty-six years of her life (with a one-year stint in Los Angeles). She has always been fascinated by cultures and human interaction, and got a Masters in Social Anthropology. After finishing university she moved to London, where she has now lived for ten years.
If you were to ask her parents what Mel enjoyed the most since the age of six, they would undoubtedly say “Reading!” She would take fifteen books on a three-week beach holiday, and then read all her mom’s books once she’d devoured her own midway through week two.
Back home in her mom’s attic there’s a box full of journals with stories Mel wrote when she was in her early teens. None of the stories are finished, or any good. She has told herself bedtime stories as far back as she can remember.
In her day job, Mel works as PA and office manager. No other city is quite like London, and Mel loves her city. The hustle and bustle still amaze and thrill her even after all these years. When not reading, writing or going to the theater, Mel spends her time with her long-time boyfriend, discussing science or poking fun at each other.
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