FOREVER YOURS – Out 26 December 2018
After Carmen finds her fiance in bed with another woman, she’s devastated. The only thing she’s got going for her is her singing career, which thanks to her well-connected family, is on the rise. Then she meets devastatingly handsome but brilliant music agent, Jet Anderson, who will be managing her career at her new PR company. Despite their obvious attraction, Jet is lethal with women, and Carmen is determined not to fall under his spell. But will he fall under hers?
Carmen heard the crunch of car tyres on the gravel drive and went outside. Her half-sister Floria bounced from the taxi, her face flushed from the heat and the long drive.
“God, you weren’t exaggerating. This is amazing.” She looked around, her eyes wide, then took a deep, satisfying breath of mountain air. “I love it.”
The sweaty taxi driver unloaded her suitcase and dumped it on the ground next to her. Floria turned to him, “Gracias Señor,” and handed him some money. He gave a satisfied grunt, climbed back into his cab, and sped off down the dusty lane.
“What do you think of my Spanish?”
Carmen laughed, she couldn’t help it. Floria was a breath of fresh air, and she sorely needed that right now. “It’ll do. Come inside.”
Floria followed her sister into the house. “It’s much bigger than I expected. When you said cottage, I pictured an English country cottage. This is more like a farmhouse.”
“It’s called a finca,” Carmen explained. “My father bought it from an old farmer shortly before I was born.” She nodded across the wide expanse of weathered grass. “He used the outbuildings for his sculptures and we lived in the main house. It’s fallen into disrepair, I’m afraid. He didn’t have the money to keep it up.”
Floria looked around the interior. A thin web of cracks had appeared in the white-washed walls and it desperately needed a coat of paint. The floor was covered in terracotta tiles but several had broken from years of use or had corners missing. The ceiling was crisscrossed with worn, wooden beams which gave it an authentic, rustic appearance. “It’s charming,” she said kindly.
“It needs a lot of work.” Carmen traced her finger along a crack in the wall. “Now I’ve got the money, I want to do it up.” She sighed. “But my heart isn’t in it at the moment.”
Floria gave her an impromptu hug. Surprised, Carmen fought the urge to withdraw. It had taken her a long time to get used to her sister’s affectionate nature but the gesture was welcome and after a second, Carmen relaxed and hugged her back. It was weird to think that six months ago they hadn’t even known each other existed. Well, that wasn’t strictly true. Carmen had known about Floria, just not the other way round.
Floria shook her head. “I’m so sorry about Pedro, Carmen. He’s an absolute idiot and that tramp Paloma is no better. I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and found them in bed together.”
Carmen’s face crumpled. It had only been two weeks since she and Pedro had split up. The cheating bastardo. She took a shaky breath and tried to keep her voice steady. “I’m glad it worked out for you, though.”
Floria glowed with happiness. “Yes, I suppose it was fortunate that it was Josh’s Paloma that he was fooling around with. I’m only sorry it came at such expense to you. I wouldn’t have wished it like this, you know.”
Carmen sniffed. “I know. It’s not your fault. I blame Pedro. He’s always had a wandering eye. Even when we first met, I used to see him checking out other models. It was bound to happen one day. Occupational hazard.”
“Yes, photographing beautiful women all day can’t be easy,” said Floria, not without a touch of sarcasm.
“At least you and Josh are happy now?” Carmen steered the conversation away from herself. She didn’t want to pick over the bones of her doomed relationship, not even with her sister. She wasn’t ready to talk about it. It was still too raw.
“Yes, he’s wonderful. He said he fancied me from the first moment we met, but he couldn’t see a way out of his relationship with Paloma. He’s very loyal, you know. So she did him a favour by… moving on.”
“I’m glad.” Carmen smiled sadly. Somehow, Floria’s incandescent happiness made her sorrow seem much more acute. “You guys are perfect together.”
Carmen showed Floria to the guest room, then they met downstairs on the terrace for a drink. It was a balmy Spanish evening. The heat of the day hung heavily in the air despite the sun having sunk beyond the distant hills. They sat down on rickety straw chairs and gazed at the largely undeveloped Catalonian countryside. Only a few houses could be seen scattered over the dried green felt of the landscape, and those were bathed in an apricot tinge, thanks to the setting sun.
“I could so get used to this,” Floria sighed in ecstasy. “It’s exquisite.”
Carmen knew what she meant. The view never got old. Every time she came here she feasted her eyes on the surrounding hills dotted with trees, the sparse countryside and the magnificent sunsets. “Are you going to crack open the bubbly?” Floria turned to her, dragging her eyes aways from the view. “I know you don’t feel like it, but we’ve got some celebrating to do.”
Carmen tried to muster a smile. “Yes, it’s chilling in the fridge. I’ll just go and get it.”
She knew she ought to be more excited about her contract with the up-and-coming boutique opera artist agency, Adagio, but yet she couldn’t seem to dredge up much enthusiasm. Her heart was so raw from Pedro’s abandonment that her recent good fortune seemed to pale in comparison.
Floria took the bottle from her when she returned and popped the cork, which flew out across the field in front of them. Foam sizzled out of the spout, but Floria grabbed a flute and expertly directed the champagne into it.
She handed it to Carmen then poured another for herself.
“Cheers,” she said, holding up her glass. “Here’s to the start of a long and illustrious career. I’m so proud of you, sis.”
They clinked glasses.
“I couldn’t have done it without you,” Carmen admitted.
“Rubbish. It was you who sang at mother’s funeral and caught his eye, you who aced that performance in Oviedo last week – despite having a broken heart – and it is you he is salivating over. I heard he told an EMI record exec that you’re the best thing he’s seen since Montserrat Caballe.”
Carmen shook her head. “It’s so overwhelming. I don’t think I’ve processed it yet.”
“It’s not surprising with everything going on in your personal life, but when you get over Pedro, you’ll start to feel excited. Trust me. It’s just going to take some time.”
Carmen hoped Floria was right. At the moment she couldn’t see past the faded, white-washed walls of her father’s house. Ever since the split, she’d been hiding out here, keeping her head down and speaking to no one. The rustic, slightly dilapidated building reminded her of her childhood, a time when she’d felt safe and nurtured. It was only when she gazed out at the cobalt blue sky above the rolling hills lined with trees that she felt any peace.
“You’re on the right path now,” Floria said. “Being with Jet Anderson’s agency will open many, many doors. It’s a bit like Donna getting into the London Philharmonic. I hardly ever see her anymore, she’s so busy with performances and recordings.”
Donna was their other half-sister, a talented violinist, who had moved to London from Austria, where she was born, to play for the prestigious LPO.
“What’s he like, this Jet Anderson?”
Next week Carmen had to fly to London to sign the papers confirming her contract with his agency, Adagio. After that, things would get busy. In a way she was looking forward to it, there’d be less time to mope, but on the other hand, she was terrified. As a professional opera singer, she was putting all her faith in her talent. No more modelling jobs, no more waitressing – only training and auditioning and singing her heart out. What if she couldn’t cut it?
No, she mustn’t think like that, she couldn’t let her insecurities get the better of her. She needed to suppress them, ignore the voices in her head that told her she wasn’t good enough. She had to have faith in herself. After all, singing was everything to her. It was her release and her salvation. When she was on stage belting out an aria or a finale, she felt like the world was at her fingertips and everything was dazzling and beautiful and perfect. She needed more dazzling and beautiful and perfect in her life.
“He’s very dynamic and well-connected,” Floria was saying. “He knows everybody who’s anybody in the music industry. My contact at EMI said he’s quite dashing too. Can charm the pants off anyone – and does by all accounts. You’ll have to watch yourself with him.” She laughed.
Carmen didn’t. The last thing she needed was another womanising asshole making moves on her. Suddenly, the glimmer that had been forming on her new venture began to dim. As if sensing this, Floria said quickly, “But he’s extremely good at his job. His singers are well looked after, and he gets all the best gigs. You’ll be in excellent hands.”
“I hope so. I hadn’t heard of Adagio until Jet Anderson approached me at the funeral, but then that’s not surprising living in Barcelona.”
“Have you done any other auditions?” Floria wanted to know. “You know, for Spanish agencies?”
“No, I was waiting to hear the outcome of this one.” Or that was the excuse she’d used. In reality, it was because she’d found the Adagio audition so hard – what with her heart in pieces, and all – that she’d almost faltered and botched the whole thing. After that experience, she’d decided to let some time pass before she sang for anyone again.
“Well, now you don’t have to. Adagio is reputed to be the best in the business, right now. You’ll be a star before you know it.” Floria beamed at her. Carmen relented and smiled back. This was her dream after all and she shouldn’t allow Pedro to ruin it for her. Wallowing in self-pity would have to wait. He’d bailed on their relationship, but that didn’t mean she had to bail on her life. Despite her heartbreak, the universe was conspiring to take her on a new path, an exciting adventure, and she wouldn’t let Pedro jeopardise that. He’d already done enough damage.
It was overcast and chilly when Carmen landed in London, despite being mid-summer. The contrast to the stifling Spanish heat made her shiver. Luckily, she had packed a daffodil-yellow cardigan into her carry-on case, which she wrapped over her shoulders as she exited the airport to call a cab. She gave the driver an address in the upmarket suburb of Primrose Hill where Adagio’s offices were located and sat back to enjoy the ride. It wasn’t an area of London she was familiar with and as they got close, she marvelled at the neat terraced streets with their pastel-coloured houses, the myriad of small cafes and boutiques, and a beautiful old church surrounded by crab apple blossoms that the cabbie told her was called St Marks.
Forty minutes later, she was dropped off outside an elegant four-storey Victorian building with a smart black awning on which ‘Adagio’ was written in a stylish gold font. At the entrance stood two rows of tall, black pot-plants with bushy green foliage sticking out of the tops like soldiers in green busby’s standing to attention. It all looked extremely professional and serious.
This was it. She was really doing it!
Except her feet wouldn’t carry her forward. She stared at the entrance, suddenly feeling like a fraud. What was she really doing here? She was a nobody, an unknown. The only reason Adagio was interested in her was because of her famous mother.
She shivered, more with panic than cold. This was beyond her. What if she made a complete fool of herself? No, she couldn’t go through with it. She wasn’t ready. A few more years in Barcelona, singing local gigs and then maybe she could try again. Yes, that was a much more sensible idea. She was about to turn and bolt when the door opened and a smartly dressed lady with short, spiky blonde hair stepped out.
“Good morning. I take it you’re Carmen Levanté? I’m Jet Anderson’s P.A. We’ve been expecting you.”
Carmen forced her lips back into what she hoped was a smile and shook the woman’s hand. “Yes. I–I’m pleased to meet you.”
“Come in.” The woman stood efficiently aside to let her through the glass doors. “Mr Anderson is finishing up with a client, then he’s all yours.”
Carmen exhaled and walked into the building, pulling her suitcase behind her. The waiting room was cavernous with grey marble floors and twisted, metallic lighting that made her stomach tense up just by looking at it. There were two leather sofas positioned at either end of the room with a low glass table in the centre. On the table, stood a vase containing an enormous bunch of freesias. The flowers offered the only burst of colour in the whole room. Even the walls were a pale shade of charcoal.
“You can leave your suitcase behind the desk,” the woman told her. Relieved not to have to drag it into the meeting with her, Carmen did as she’d suggested, then took a seat.
It was chilly in the waiting room, even chillier than outside. The aircon must be on full blast. She shivered and pulled her cardigan tighter around her shoulders. Her bare legs squeaked on the leather sofa as she sat down. She suddenly wished she’d worn tights.
“Would you like some mineral water?” Jet Anderson’s P.A. had intelligent blue eyes framed by black-rimmed glasses that Carmen bet didn’t miss a trick.
“Please.” Warm herbal tea would be better, but at least the water would help soothe her dry throat. She’d run out of lozenges on the plane.
The nervous tension that had been mounting since she’d boarded in Barcelona threatened to rise up and choke her. What if Jet Anderson had changed his mind and didn’t want to sign her after all? Was this meeting his way of letting her down gently? What would she do then? Go back to Spain, her tail between her legs, and carry on singing at local festivals and charity events in obscurity? Now that she was here, she couldn’t bear the thought. Floria had been right, once she’d put her broken heart aside and considered her options, this was by far the best one. The doors Adagio could open for her were phenomenal, and London was the gateway to Europe as far as opera was concerned. From here she could sing in Italy, Germany and France, and attend the great operatic festivals all over the world. The thought made her giddy.
Her thumping heart drowned out the soft classical music playing in the background. The anticipation was brutal. The receptionist returned with her water, a slimline bottle with bubbles attached to the sides and a glass. “There’s only sparkling, I’m afraid.”
“It’s fine.” Carmen took the bottle and poured the water into the glass. It hissed and sprayed her face with vapour as she took a thirsty sip.
“He shouldn’t be long,” said the woman, before disappearing behind the large desk just inside the entrance. It was very quiet in the waiting room, apart from the music, which she now recognised as Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A minor. Where were all the other clients? She glanced at her watch. It was ten minutes past eleven.
At quarter past, a large man with a barrel chest and a tastefully trimmed beard walked in. He had a word with the receptionist, laughed loudly, then sat down on the sofa opposite her. He immediately took out his phone and began tapping away on it.
What was taking Mr Anderson so long? Inactivity had never suited Carmen, particularly when she was nervous. It was hard not to fidget, but every time she shifted position, the couch would squeak in protest and the man would glance up.
Oh, for goodness sake! If she didn’t go in soon she was going to have a full-on nervous breakdown right here in the waiting room. She pictured the bearded man opposite giving her mouth-to-mouth and shuddered.
Finally, a door opened and the sound of laughter drifted down the staircase. A woman’s voice purred, “I’ll see you tonight.” Shortly afterward, a busty blonde in four-inch stilettos and a tight leather skirt clacked her way across the waiting room.
“Auf Wiedersehen,” she called in a sing-song voice as she exited the office. Dior wafted across the room.
“Mr Anderson will see you now,” the receptionist told Carmen, coming into the room. “Just up the stairs and it’s the first door to your left.”
Carmen ascended the stairs feeling like she was going to the doctor, unaware of what the diagnosis was going to be. Her heart, which she’d managed to get under control in the waiting room, suddenly began beating frantically again, so she forced herself to take two slow, deep breaths like she did before she went on stage. It helped take the edge off her panic, and she took a moment at the top of the stairs to run a hand through her hair and compose herself.
This was it.
Her future awaited her inside that room.
She knocked on the door. A deep baritone voice said, “Come in.”
Carmen twisted the brass knob on the door and went inside.