For readers of Mhairi McFarlane, Beth O’Leary, Lindsay Kelk and Sally Thorne comes this utterly charming and delightfully funny love story where opposites attract – or do they?
By day Miles Franklin, named after the famous author, is a successful lawyer. By night, in secret, she writes historical romance novels under the pen name Emma Browning. When ‘Emma’s’ novels win one of Australia’s biggest literary awards, Miles’s perfectly ordered life begins to unthread at the bindings. Especially when Lars Kristensen, CEO of the publishing company contracted to publish the prize-winning books, insists on meeting the author.
Besides mutual antipathy and sexual attraction, socially anxious Miles and supremely confident Lars have nothing in common. Nothing. But the more time they spend together, the more blurred the lines between fact and fiction and love and hate become.
Miles is determined to both protect her privacy and to keep writing-even if it means mastering pole dancing, choreographing a love scene in the back of a horse-drawn carriage, and confronting the prejudices of her parents and publishers.
Like the heroines in her books, Miles has the grit to stand her ground. But Lars has the smouldering looks, arrogance and pride of all her romantic heroes rolled into one. And he is good at reading between the lines. Who is going win this battle of wills? Can Miles and Lars ever be on the same page?
‘Endearingly quirky and utterly charming. Funny and sweet and wonderful.’ -Amy Andrews, USA Today bestselling author
My briefcase flies out of my hand and whacks him in the knee.
‘Christ!’ he says, grasping my arms above the elbows, steadying me.
If I look up I’ll blush, so I keep my chin down. Navy suit, burgundy tie, white shirt. He has broad shoulders and narrow hips. And he smells nice.
‘Are you all right?’ His voice is deep. English accent? He squeezes my arms.
‘Yes. Sorry about …’ I look up. Early thirties, well-defined jawline, determined chin. Remarkably blue eyes with steel-grey flecks. He has a perfectly shaped mouth to match the rest of his face.
He reaches for my briefcase at the same time I do, but he gets there first. As I straighten, I hit him in the chin with the top of my head.
He rubs his chin. Our gazes lock. I’m vaguely aware of people walking around us. Of exhaust fumes and the rumble of a bus engine. A car horn blasts and I jump. He pushes me off the road backwards, hesitating briefly as I negotiate the kerb to the footpath. When he smiles into my eyes, I’m so busy gazing into his that I don’t notice he’s trying to give back my briefcase. Our hands touch. His fingers, long and lean, tangle up with mine as I take the handle.
A flush warms my chest and moves up my neck to my face. I’m suddenly breathless. And I know exactly how I’ll look. Like a giant red condom’s been pulled over the top of my head.
‘Oh!’ I snatch the briefcase out of his grip. ‘Sorry again.’
When I take a step sideways, he holds out his hand. ‘There’s no need to apologise. It was unintentional.’
‘I was in a rush.’
He opens his mouth as if he’s going to say something else, but then he shuts it. His lips firm and he takes a step back. Has he only just realised I’m red like a beetroot? That my briefcase may have crippled him and his jaw might be broken? He nods. Is this a dismissal?
I turn sharply right and walk quickly along the footpath, as if I actually want to go in this direction. It would be foolish to turn around to take one more look. I must be imagining he’s following me with his eyes. Even so, I will not turn around.
I turn around. He’s at least twenty metres away. I can’t possibly see the colour of his eyes from here. Can I? He swipes his dark-brown fringe off his forehead as he continues to stare. Why is he staring?
I spin on my heel and continue along the footpath, crossing the road at the next set of lights. Then I walk until—five minutes later—I’m directly across the road from where I started. It’s lunchtime now and people at the cafés along Enmore Road crowd onto the footpath. It takes another few minutes of dodging and weaving before I reach my building.
My nameplate hangs in the foyer, near the staircase to the first floor. Miles Franklin & Associates, Lawyers. The sign is a little misleading because I’m a sole practitioner, and my PA, Pippy, is the only employee I have. I kick off my heels and walk up the stairs in my stockings, only putting my shoes back on when I get to my door. And it’s only then I realise I forgot to pick up lunch.
I squeeze past Pippy’s pot plants in the reception space to get to my office. It’s at the back of the building and overlooks a laneway lined by tiny shops—a coin trader, two barbers and three takeaway stalls. The sound of main-road traffic rumbles louder when I push open the window. I sit behind my desk and reach for the folder at the top of the pile. I’ve only done one calculation when I hear the crinkle of shopping bags.
‘Hi, Miles,’ Pippy says, appearing in the doorway. She straightens her pencil skirt. ‘When did you get back?’
‘Not long ago. The meeting at the Copyright Council finished early.’
‘Is that one of Emma’s files?’
‘Yes. I’m working out this month’s royalties.’
Most of my clients, like the writer Emma Browning, are romance authors, but I also look after a gardening writer named Clinton, an expert on orchids and bees, and a reverend who writes philosophy texts.
Pippy blows her breath upwards to get her long blonde fringe out of her eyes. Then she holds out a stack of folders. They’re coloured pink and I’m sure I haven’t seen them before. All of a sudden, I have butterflies in my stomach.
‘What are they?’ I ask.
She grimaces as she puts the folders on the desk. ‘It’s about Emma.’
‘What about her?’
She points to the folders. ‘Read all this, then you’ll know.’
‘You’ve used your initiative again, haven’t you?’
‘I’ll make you a cup of tea and then you can tell me off.’
Within five minutes my hands are shaking so much I can barely turn the pages. Pippy has forged my signature, numerous times, and entered Emma Browning into the Stapleton Prize, a literary award presented to an Australian author who has written and published at least three novels to critical acclaim. I take a few deep breaths and re-read the letter from the president of the Publishers’ Association, which regulates the Stapleton.
Dear Ms Franklin,
Please extend to your client, Ms Browning, our sincere congratulations. The five judges of the Stapleton Trust have placed her on the shortlist of six authors for the Stapleton Prize.
As you are aware, Ms Browning has entered into a conditional contract with Iconic International Limited, the renowned global publisher and sponsor of the Stapleton Prize. If she wins the prize, the contract will become unconditional, and Iconic will re-release her backlist, and the novel she is currently writing.
The Chief Executive Officer of Iconic, Mr Lars Kristensen, is in Australia this week, and pursuant to the terms of the conditional contract, requires a meeting with all authors prior to the public announcement of the shortlist …
There are a number of problems associated with Emma’s shortlisting for the Stapleton Prize.
One, she doesn’t exist.
Two, she’s my pseudonym.
Three, I don’t want anyone to discover I write her novels.
I put my head on the desk and tightly shut my eyes. It can’t really be over, can it?
I started writing in secret after my mother, reading over my shoulder, saw my story about a princess and a prince. I was about to write the happily-ever-after ending when she snatched my pencil out of my hand and sent me to my room. An hour or two later, Dad opened my door and explained the significance of being a Franklin. He reminded me that the Miles Franklin I was named after wrote My Brilliant Career and endowed Australia’s most famous literary prize. Then he pulled a volume of Mum’s poetry from a bookshelf and read the words on the cover, Margaret Finch Franklin, esteemed poet and Nobel Laureate. Dad took my hand and led me to his study. He showed me the twelfth edition of his first novel and told me it was considered to be one of the country’s top-ten works of literary fiction—ever. He told me stories about princes and princesses, stories about falling in love, were trite and cliched and could never be good or important. He said stories with happy endings didn’t matter. He said they didn’t count.
Six years later, when I was thirteen, I went with Mum and Dad to a writers’ festival at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains. I came across a bookcase in the guests’ lounge filled with the usual collection of books. Spy stories, a few classics, biographies of cricketers and footballers. I was thinking about picking up Tess of the d’Urbervilles when I saw Stephanie Laurens’s Devil’s Bride. It had a badly bent spine and was horribly dog-eared, but something about it made me flick through it. Perhaps it was the cover illustration, a dark-haired man holding a woman against his chest. I was captivated immediately, and by the time I’d finished reading it, I was determined to write historical romances. I wanted to create courageous and passionate women, and the men destined to love them.
No matter what my parents think, love stories, and happily-ever-after endings, do count.
The letter from the Publishers’ Association confirms what I’ve already read in the documents. If Emma wins the prize she’ll be contractually bound to Iconic. They’ll have the rights to republish all of her previous novels, Cupid’s Trap, Cupid’s Arrow and Cupid’s Revenge, and the novel she’s working on now, Cupid’s Chariot. They’ll also gain control over marketing and distribution. And they’ll determine advances and royalty rates and when these amounts will be paid. The meeting with the president and Lars Kristensen is scheduled for four o’clock this afternoon.
She walks into my office and perches on my desk, swinging her long legs back and forth. Then she starts tidying, picking up a pen and putting it into my I Love Mr Darcy mug with the other pens. I put my elbows on the desk and my face in my hands. My words are muffled.
‘How could you do this?’
‘Readers love Emma’s books. She deserves a prize.’
‘You went behind my back.’ I push the folders away before bringing them close again. I swallow the constriction in my throat. ‘You’ve risked everything.’
‘I didn’t mean to upset you.’
‘I’m not only upset, I’m furious. I feel sick and…’ I take a shaky breath. ‘Short of dragging you to the police station to be charged with fraud and forgery, I have no idea how to fix this.’
‘I didn’t mean to cause problems.’ Her voice wobbles. ‘I just wanted a prize for Emma.’
‘It’s not only a prize though, is it? If Emma did win, her books would go to Iconic. She’d lose control over her backlist, and the book she’s writing now.’
Pippy wrings her hands. ‘Can’t you tell them Emma only wants the prize and nothing else? There’s a statuette, Miles, just like an Academy Award, and—’
‘There are legal ramifications to winning. And you know as well as anybody that Emma hates being in the limelight. She likes things as they are.’
‘That’s why I didn’t email her about the shortlist.’
‘It’s a disaster.’
‘It might be a good opportunity for Emma to get out more,’ Pippy says hopefully.
‘On the other hand,’ I say quietly, ‘Emma might be paralysed by fear and never go out again. Maybe she suffers from anxiety like I do?’
‘At least you try.’ Pippy’s smile shifts from wobbly to encouraging. ‘Do you think Emma will win?’
‘Being shortlisted is bad enough. Even though she’s never been seen or heard from in public before, they’ll want her to do interviews and publicity to promote the prize.’
Pippy jumps off the desk. ‘Emma wouldn’t like that.’
‘The other nominees won’t want her on the shortlist, either.’
‘They’re jealous because Emma sells more books than they do.’
I open the folder on the top of the pile. ‘I have to take Emma’s place at the meeting with the Publishers’ Association and the Iconic CEO this afternoon.’
‘I knew Emma wouldn’t go. And I can hardly go by myself. That’s why I had to come clean.’
‘You’ve been forging my signature for weeks, Pippy. Anything else to say?’
‘You’re a very good lawyer, aren’t you Miles?’ She nods rapidly, as to convince herself. ‘If Emma wins, you’ll find a way to get out of the contract. You will, won’t you?’
When I took over Mr Lucas’s practice five years ago, I was twenty-three and had only just graduated. My friends from law school thought it was a brave thing to do, but I didn’t see it that way. I didn’t have to go to job interviews, and I could work on my own and select my own clients. Mr Lucas was seventy and happy to work part-time until I was qualified to practise on my own. In the early days, I only wrote Emma’s novels on weekends and in the evenings, but as the books became more and more popular and the royalties went from subsidising my income to representing over half of it, I started writing at work as well. Often, it’s like I have two jobs. And I need both of them to pay my expenses, Pippy’s wage and the rent for my office and apartment.
‘I’ll have to extricate Emma somehow,’ I finally say, ‘because she would never put up with a publishing company telling her what to do. Not only that, given the royalty rate and schedule of payments they’ve outlined, she’d be broke by Christmas.’
Pippy bounces on the balls of her feet. ‘Should I get you some lunch?’
I flick through pages. ‘Please.’ When Pippy stays precisely where she is, I look up. Her wide blue eyes are solemn.
‘Don’t tell me there’s something else?’
‘Well … Lars Kristensen may be a little bit,’ she lines up her thumb and index finger a centimetre apart, ‘cross.’
‘He’s been calling all week! He wanted to talk to Emma, but when I told him he couldn’t do that he wanted to talk to you. But if I’d let him talk to you, you would’ve found out about Emma’s nomination and stopped her being shortlisted.’
‘So, you haven’t returned his calls or replied to his emails and he came over specially this morning when you weren’t here, even though I told him you would be. I was out doing my shopping and—’
‘I get the picture.’
‘But I’m sure he’ll like you once he gets to know you.’
My hair is long and unruly, so I wear it in a bun for work. I put stray strands behind my ears and resist the temptation to swear.
‘Hurry up with my lunch,’ I say. ‘And call the Publishers’ Association and let them know I’ll be attending the meeting for Emma.’
Half an hour later, when Pippy tiptoes into my office and puts a bowl of chicken laksa on my desk, I don’t look up from my laptop because I’m busy checking out Emma’s co-nominees. They all write literary fiction, and if they’re not tied up with other publishers they’ll be keen to sign with Iconic—particularly as it’s willing to republish and promote out-of-print backlists.
Next, I consider the five Stapleton Prize judges. One is a poet I’ve never heard of, so I reluctantly call my mother to ask for details.
‘I was acquainted with him in my youth, before I met your father,’ she says. ‘When he’s not inebriated he has a truly marvellous mind. So much so that other poets are the only people who really understand his work.’
Emma’s books are perfectly well written, but I don’t think they’ll attract the vote of the poet. The second judge is a professor from Tasmania with a postmodernist bent. He’s bound to dislike Emma’s sentence structure and careful punctuation. I don’t think the literary editor from The New Yorker will be a supporter either. And the head librarian at the National Library wouldn’t dream of putting Emma on her shelves. Lars Kristensen is the fifth judge and he won’t rate Emma; Iconic’s list is equal to Faraday Publishing for literary fiction.
The Miles Franklin Literary Award is probably Australia’s most prestigious award. The Stapleton Prize runs a close second. Five of the shortlisted authors want to win the Stapleton and are eminently qualified to do so. Emma doesn’t want to win and, unless thousands of five-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads count as critical acclaim, she may not even qualify. I tell myself I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to worry about. When I join Pippy in reception, she’s applying lip gloss.
‘We’re going to be late,’ I say.
She puts her bag over her shoulder. ‘I thought nominating Emma might be the sort of surprise you’d be happy about after it had happened.’
‘Unfortunately, it isn’t.’ I tug on her sleeve. ‘Come on. We’d better walk quickly or we’ll miss the bus.’
Release date: 1st April 2022