Fiction General Adele Parks Playing Away

ISBN 13: 9780140290653

Playing Away

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9780140290653: Playing Away

It's sexy. It's roguish. It's hilarious. It's a sensational debut novel from London, a joyously comic take on modern marriage and its fallout. Single people may feel they have it rough...but wait until you see what happens when married folk fall in lust.

Connie Green's life should be perfect. She has a hot career, her wonderful husband Luke, and a bunch of great girlfriends. But Connie has a big problem. She has just met overwhelmingly sexy John at a business conference. Her head and her heart said, "no way," but her traitorous body shrieked, "yes, YES!" Now Connie's deep into a tawdry affair, which is destroying her peace of mind and her grand plan for Happily Ever After. Maybe John is her destiny. After all, she's losing weight. It can't be a bad thing if she's losing weight. Can it?

Connie longs to confide in her girlfriends. They've always discussed their sex lives before, preferably over cocktails. But this infidelity thing makes it a trifle awkward. Rose would be horrified. For her, it's pretty clear-cut; nice girls don't have affairs. And Daisy is too busy being in love. Sam knows about John but she doesn't want to believe it. How could and why would Connie cheat on her lovely husband? Sam's working hard to ignore the fact that Connie's shagging John every chance she gets. Maybe Lucy would understand; she's bonking a married man herself. Connie just wishes Lucy would be a little less cynical about the whole thing. What Connie wants is...Well, Connie's not quite sure what she wants. And that's exactly the trouble.

A novel for every woman juggling the untidy mix of work, romance, sex, and marriage, Playing Away shimmers with equal parts comic relief and penetrating insight. As Connie and her brave, silly, colorful friends search for answers along the precarious paths of love and lust, we glimpse more than a little bit of ourselves. With bold strokes both moving and outrageously funny, Adele Parks has crafted a stunningly revealing portrait of the lives of hip, urban women, poised at the cusp of a millennium.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Adele Parks is the author of the London Times bestsellers Playing Away, Larger Than Life, and Game Over. She lives in London with her son.
Visit her website: www.adeleparks.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

"Happy anniversary, darling."

I struggle to open my eyes and sit up, as Luke carefully lays the breakfast tray on the bed. Pain au chocolat, fresh orange juice, coffee, cards and lilies. Anniversary fare.

"Oh, thank you," I smile. My lazy, sexy, contented smile which I keep especially for wedding nights, anniversaries, birthdays, nights of seduction and other distinguished occasions. Since I married I've extended the usage to weekends, weekdays, sunny days, wet days, days with an r in the month and days without. I can't help it. I'm so happy. Delirious. I know it's a cliché, I know it's sick-making and I know single people or people in crappy marriages take an instant dislike to me. But it's just like that.

He puts the tray on our bed and I clap my hands and shout, "How wonderful." We kiss, slowly, gently. "Thank you."

"No, thank you for the best year of my life," smiles Luke.

"No, thank you," I insist. I love this conversation, which can carry on indefinitely, both of us arguing over who's the most lucky to have married the other. I am. But this time, before we get too carried away, Luke jumps up.

"Don't move," he instructs. As if. He dashes downstairs and returns with a bottle of Bollie and two champagne flutes. "De rigueur," he laughs.

We open our cards, drink champagne and make love; the usual kind of things that couples celebrating their first wedding anniversary do. We keep asking each other, "Are you happy?"

"Delirious. Are you happy?"

"Never more so."

This is another one of our favorite sketches. These words are so often repeated I answer without thinking. The truth of them is indisputable. We are wild about each other.

I've never been happier, more content or more confident in my life. I had been fairly disdainful when my three younger sisters all rushed down the aisle before me. Although my mother and father had the opposite reaction. They were delighted and mollified; more so when my siblings settled in Sheffield, within a three-mile radius of our parental home. I had confounded my mother by insisting on "gallivanting off" to London, where, she advised me, "I could expect nothing but trouble." Therefore I labored under the knowledge that every year that ticked by, I further disappointed her. I wore the cloud of shame quite stylishly, mostly in cocktail bars and nightclubs. Although my mother thought I had terminal china stamped on my arse, top shelf city, it surprised my friends that I got engaged so young. That I got engaged at all. I was not blushing bride material. Before I met Luke I'd positioned myself as the absolute Cosmopolitan woman. I had always been an outrageous flirt and when flirting became frustrating I had hurried to be a good soldier of the sexual revolution. Like many women I was desperate to shake off the embarrassment of not knowing, and desperate to be known. I rushed and jostled and queue-jumped, then carelessly shrugged off my innocence. I left the image of one Madonna behind and took on the pop star version as a role model. No reserve. No trepidation. There wasn't a position in the Kama Sutra I didn't try (except the unappealing up-the-bum). On scores of occasions I indulged in a number of extraordinarily romantic and sexual liaisons.

I thrived on the challenge.

I lived for the hunt.

I died for the kill.

I was grateful that women had chained themselves to railings for me. I enjoyed being a "more than five less than ten girl." After all, they were all nice blokes, or gorgeous-looking, or I thought I loved them, or at least one of the three. I quickly became a "more than ten less than twenty girl." I was more often the ditcher than the ditchee. I'd done it all: one-night stands, long-term commitment, sleeping with men because everyone else wanted to, sleeping with a man because no one else wanted to, because they were fit, or cool, or captain of a sports team, because they were older than me, because they were younger, to help me get over a disastrous affair, to help them get over their last lay, because they wore their hair longer than anyone else, because they wore it shorter, because I was too tired to get a cab home and, on one occasion, because he did a clever trick with the wrapper of an amaretti biscuit. It was then that I stopped counting and began to wonder if shagging around was really what the suffragettes had had in mind. Even variety became boring.

Then I met Luke. At a wedding. He was an usher and took the opportunity to flirt with me as he led me to my pew. He is over six feet with straight, floppy blond hair that simply demands fingers are run through it; he has this huge enveloping smile, and naturally he was wearing tails. I instantly fell in lust. I couldn't take my eyes off him. I watched as he handed out song sheets, chatted to aunts and grannies, making them feel important and interesting. By the time Rose had cut the cake I was deeply in like. As she threw the bouquet I was in love.

Luke.

Luke had an altogether distinct seduction technique. A walking Time Out guide, Luke's fun to be with. Eternally unfazed and with an inability to do anything half-heartedly, he's one of those guys who will give anything a go: ceroc, body painting, mountain climbing, radio debates, canoeing, roller skating, greyhound racing.

"Fancy a game of squash?"

"I can't play squash," I'd replied, cursing my hand-to-eye-to-ball coordination, or rather, the magnificent lack of it.

"I'll teach you." And he did. Because suddenly, when I was with him, I could do things that had previously seemed impossible. He approached everything with steady confidence and patience and although my approach was more haphazard and impatient, the confidence was infectious. We never went to pubs or sat in front of the TV, instead we did exciting, extraordinary, wondrous things on our dates. He always "just happened" to have tickets for the Comedy Club or opening nights for some obscure fringe performance, played out at venues with funny names like Onion Shed or Man in the Moon. We were always busy: swimming, windsurfing, visiting galleries or throwing dinner parties. We did everything together; he became my new best friend. My best, best friend. Pretty sharpish, I realized that he was the man I looked forward to looking back with.

I felt a distinct release and relief. I was delighted to rediscover sex really could be game free, pain free, shame free. Within months of our meeting Luke offered me a beautiful diamond ring, which I confidently accepted. It was love. Loving Luke just made sense. I thought the speed was romantic; perversely, my mother thought it suspect and insisted on a three-year engagement to quell rumors of visits to Baby Gap.

With Luke I feel shrouded and protected and decent. I've never been able to explain this to any of my friends, married or otherwise, drunken or sober. We discuss calorie intake, childhood experiences of shoplifting, the number of tampons you need for a heavy period and just about everything you can imagine.

f0

We loll around in bed for ages. I'm thrilled to be spending time with him. Recently, Luke has been working a regular fourteen-hour day because, despite being an ostensibly normal bloke, he likes his job. When he's not working we "do things around the house." The eternal battle with cracked walls, and a garden that insists on growing. Fringe theaters and windsurfing are luxuries we can no longer afford. Today's a holiday, so we talk. We talk about our past, remembering films we've watched together, places we've visited, rows we've roared through and reconciliations we've run to. We plan our future, which is unquestionably coruscating. I moan about my job at Looper Jackson, saying that I am bored. Luke reminds me that it pays well and that perhaps the upcoming merger will offer me new challenges. It is sweet of him to try to make me feel valued and worthwhile but I remain unconvinced. Loving his work as he does means that he has no comprehension. It's not his fault. Talking about my work depresses us both, so I change the subject. I tell him the washing machine is leaking and he responds with a funny story about the neighbors' cat peeing on our herb garden. Unreasonably, this story makes us laugh so much (it must be the champagne) that he can hardly finish it and I have to run to the loo. He won't let me, but holds me down until I'm forced to shout playful threats. We drift in and out of intensity as we are firmly embedded in intimacy. It's sunny. He covers my body with little butterfly kisses and I give him the king of all blow jobs, then we fall asleep.

At 11 A.M. we wake up suddenly and act out that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral. The one where Hugh Grant and his flatmate oversleep, then wake up and rush around shouting "Fuck!" Everyone in the cinema laughs at that. Not because the script is so witty but because it is so familiar. We've all done it. It's usually on the day that you have a job interview for the job of a lifetime, or when you've got a really hot date, or on the first day of the sale at Harvey Nichols, or when you are expecting fifty friends for a buffet lunch and champagne, in less than two hours. We dash in and out of the shower, up and down the stairs, in and out of the freezer, up and down the garden. We clean, dress, sauté, spice and set up deck chairs and umbrellas. We tidy magazines and strategically place nibbles. We arrange a hundred silver helium-filled balloons, we stack up film for the camera, polish flutes and dress in our Armani. We shout fuck a lot, too. Caterers have prepared and delivered the food; all we have to do is take off the plastic wrap. I like to feel I've made an effort. It looks fantastic, set out on our big wooden table (an investment -- both coming from large families we plan to have at least four kids). I look at the food with a mix of pride and amazement. Zucca gialla intere al forno con pomodori secchi (roasted peppers stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes), zucchini carpaccio (skinny bits of zucchini), insalata prosciutto e fichi (ham and figs -- you wouldn't have eaten it if your mum had put it in your sandwiches at school), then a whole load of pasta and polenta salads, a stack of vegetables that no one ever knows the name of, and piles of fresh summer berries (color coordinated). It looks just like something out of the BlueBird hyper-trendy supermarket on the King's Road, but that isn't so surprising because the caterers are from the BlueBird hyper-trendy supermarket on the King's Road. Frenzied activity is such fun, and I run around with my camera taking arty photos of food through champagne flutes, and food reflected on helium-filled balloons, and champagne flutes reflected on helium-filled balloons, and helium-filled balloons reflected on champagne flutes. Luke, rather more practically, remembers that we have four crates of champagne to chill and so while I am doing a good impression of Lichfield, he fills the bath with ice and about twenty bottles of fizz. As the food comes out of our huge, canyon-sized fridge the rest of the champagne goes in. Finally at five to one we congratulate ourselves on our indisputable hospitality, style and general success.

At five past one I check that the invite definitely says 26 July. No one has arrived. At seven minutes past one I check and re-check the doorbell. By ten past, I snap, "Nobody is going to turn up." Luke pours me a drink. "People don't enjoy our parties," I add. He hands me the drink and rubs my shoulders as I ask, "Do you think that we have a reputation for meanness?" He kisses the top of my head as I bitterly mutter, "It was stupid to think that anyone would give up a Sunday to celebrate our anniversary." At eleven minutes past one I start to rewrap the zucca gialla intere al forno con pomodori secchi and I console myself that we won't have to visit Sainsbury's for a month.

The bell rings. Luke stands up to answer the door. He smiles at me and resists saying anything stupid like "I told you so," or "Patience is a virtue," as I am forever being reminded. He knows that my retort would be: that above all virtues, patience is the most overrated. Our friends begin to arrive, literally pouring through the door. All of them say nice things about the house, the food, me. All of them look marvelous and are carrying even more booze.

Luke and I have great friends. Really brilliant. They are all successful, healthy, intelligent, fun, good-looking and nice-natured. Sure, why wouldn't you be nice-natured if you are successful, healthy, intelligent, fun and good-looking? However, none of them are all of these things, all of the time. Without exception, at one point or another, our friends have had their moments. They have failed at things: relationships, exams, jobs. They have been ill but (touch wood) nothing too awful: flu, and dodgy knees brought on by overtraining for the London marathon, are about the sum of it. There are times when each of them can be really dense, dull, irritating or spotty, just like Luke and me. But generally they are extremely fit, bright and beautiful. But then I'm biased, because they are my friends.

So when they all arrive with their young, tanned, hopeful faces, absolutely gunning for an afternoon of hilarity and frivolity, I can't help but feel very proud. Proud of Luke, proud of our life, proud of our friends, and proud of myself.

Names to love and hate. Because life's like that -- try as we might, and we all try to varying degrees, we can't like everyone. Wouldn't life be simple if we could? And a bit dull.

Luke, lovely, wonderful, kind, generous, clever Luke. Lucy and Daisy have been my friends since university. Rose, Daisy's sister, has come, too, with her husband, Peter. It was at Rose and Peter's wedding that Luke and I first met. And Sam, my closest friend at work.

Lucy is skinny (size two), tall, with clear skin, huge green eyes and long, straight, natural (ish) blond hair that swings down her back. She is by anyone's estimation a great beauty, a stunning-looking woman; small ass, large breasts, tiny waist and rib cage. It is not possible to say she is unaware of her looks. She would have to be deaf, dumb and blind, living in solitary confinement, not to have noticed that she is absolutely modelesque. To her credit, she doesn't rely on her stunning looks to get along in life and yet she does get along in life. She trades derivatives (whatever that is -- it's long past the time when I can politely ask), earning a ridiculously large amount of money and respect in the City. Not easy with her attributes. Both men and women assume that stunning women must be stupid. Both sexes want to believe this for different reasons. Men, because such affirmations of stereotypes save them from uncomfortable thoughts. Women because really, there has to be a God.

Lucy finds it hard to make friends. Men always say they want to know her more when what they mean is that they want to know more of her. Women find her too much competition. Lucy doesn't worry about this. It would be churlish to worry about being beautiful, clever, successful and rich. Instead she has adjusted to being alone.

She likes it.

To an extent.

Lucy comforts herself with the thought that few people are as interesting as her anyway. It isn't as if she is ever without company. There is always someone who wants to be her best friend, even if it's only long enough to find out if she diets or works out (moderately and moderately). There's always some man who wants to take her for dinner and invariably he is obscenely wealthy, with film-star looks and a lifetime membership in MENSA. The only thing is, it is never the ...

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