Fiction Adele Parks Game Over

ISBN 13: 9780140290660

Game Over

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9780140290660: Game Over

Cas Perry doesn't want a relationship. When her father walked out on her and her mother she decided relationships, love, marriage, the whole shegang, simlpy weren't worth the heartache. But is Cas, immoral most of the time and amoral when it comes to business, going too far with her new TV programme, "Sex with an Ex"? Unfeeling and unscrupulous, she ruthlessly manipulates everyone she comes into contact with. Until she meets Darren. A babe. Trouble is, he's a highly principled babe. He believes in love, marriage, fidelity and constancy, so can he believe in Cas? Is it possible the world is a better place than she imagined? And if it is, after a lifetime of playing games, is this discovery too late?

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

About the Author:

Adele Parks lives in West London. This is her second novel; her first, PLAYING AWAY, was published in March 2000.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

What an inauspicious start to married life," Josh comments.

"Is there such a thing as an auspicious start?" I ask. He grins at me and Issie scowls. She likes weddings. The rain is falling so hard it's bouncing off the pavements and up my skirt. I'm bloody cold and wish the bride would stop hugging her mother and simply get in the car. I look closer. Maybe she isn't so much hugging as clinging. Maybe the seriousness of what she's done has hit her and she's having second thoughts. Issie shakes the remnants of confetti from the blue box but misses the bride and groom. The confetti settles on the grubby road. The filthy street is a stark contrast to the finery of their clothes, the car, the flowers, the smiles that radiate.

"Josh, what's the proper name for a squashed cube?" I ask, pointing to the little blue box of confetti. "They should redesign this packaging," I add.

"No!" Issie looks horrified, as if I'd suggested exposing my bikini line to the vicar. "Weddings are about tradition."

"Even if tradition means tacky and predictable?" Two big sins in my book.

"By definition," she defends. Then she leaps forward to jostle for a front position to catch the bouquet. She nervously hops from one foot to the other, her sleek, blonde, shoulder-length hair brushing her right shoulder, then her left, then her right again. Issie is a fidget. I am a still person. She continually rubs her hands together, taps her feet, jerks her knee. She once read that this constant nervous activity uses thirty calories an hour, more than a Mars bar a day, pounds in a year, a whole dress size in a lifetime. Her constant unfocused activity strikes me as a fairly accurate metaphor for how she lives her life.

I don't try to catch the flowers. I don't try for two reasons. One, Issie will lynch me if I catch them. She's spent the entire reception spiking the drinks of single women, in the hope that this will diminish their co-ordination. And two, it's bollocks.

No really, the whole marriage thing is bollocks. I mean I'm as happy as the next one to have an excuse to wear a hat and drink champagne. Generally, wedding receptions are a laugh, a big, fun party. But that's as far as it goes for me. Beyond that, it's bollocks. I'm not a man. And I'm not a lesbian. I'm not even a man hater -- Josh is one of my best friends and he's a man. I'm a single, successful, attractive, thirty-three-year-old, heterosexual. I just don't want to get married. Ever.

Clear?

Issie doesn't catch the flowers and she looks as though the disappointment will break her.

"A drink, Cas? Issie?" asks Josh, in an effort to cheer her up. He doesn't wait for a response but turns back to the hotel and heads directly for the bar. He knows that we'll willingly join him for a drink Martini-style: any time, any place, anywhere. We elbow through the elegant crowds. This morning they sat demurely in church pews but they have now abandoned any semblance of civilization. The exit of the bride, the groom and the oldies leaves the rest of the guests free to indulge in what brought us to the wedding in the first place. The opportunity for some hedonistic, no strings attached, unashamed sex.

I selected my target in the church, before the "I dos." I relocate him. He's tall, dark and handsome. Admittedly, he doesn't look that bright. Rather too in love with himself to allow room for anyone else. Perfect. Deep and meaningful is an overrated phenomenon. Shallow and meaningless but well endowed gets such a hard press.

It's important to pick out a target early on in the proceedings and it's important to let him know he's it. I smile. Directly at him. If at this point he looks around and tries to locate the recipient of my smile, I'll instantly go off him. I like my men to be arrogant enough to know that I'm flirting with them.

He passes the test by grinning back at me. Only turning to catch his reflection in the mirror that hangs behind the bar. He grins again. This time at himself. The difference in appreciation is fractional. I don't mind. Vanity is a safety net. I flick my hair and turn away. Job done.

Issie and Josh are still fighting their way to the bar. I call them back.

"What? I was nearly at the front," Issie complains.

"Don't worry, drinks are on their way," I assure.

"Oh." She relaxes into the chintz chair. Josh lights a fag, trusting me. We are all familiar with my routine. Josh and Issie know all about me.

Josh is like a brother to me. We met aged seven over our suburban fences. It is this meeting that makes me believe in fate. We met when our families' stars were crossing. His in the ascendant. Mine spiraling downwards.

That summer we shared Rubik's cubes, cream soda and an uneasy sense of impending change. Our childish sixth sense told us that we were both powerless in the face of adult whim. The five-bedroom detached, in Esher, Surrey, that my mother and I had thought was a dream home turned out to be a temporary residence. That summer my father announced that he was in love with another woman and couldn't live without her. My mother showed rare wit and emotional honesty by asking whether he'd prefer cremation or burial. My father moved out immediately following his announcement. I was to see him three more times in my life. A week later when he came to collect his records and he brought me a Lundby doll's house (presumably to replace the real home he was destroying). A month later when he took me to the zoo (I cried the entire afternoon, saying that the animals behind the bars upset me. In fact, they didn't, but I was determined that both my father and I would have a terrible afternoon -- after all, my mother and I were having plenty of them). And the following Christmas (when I refused to open his present or sit on his knee). After that, he just sent Christmas and birthday cards, which petered out before I was ten. Josh's seventh summer wasn't great either: he was told that he was to be wrenched from his comfortable local primary school and prepped at the hallowed ground of Stowe. Thinking about it, perhaps it wasn't so much a sixth sense. The prep-school prospectuses and the endless rows were a giveaway. Although very nearly entirely submerged in our own terror, we settled into an uneasy mutual sympathy that passed as companionship. Sulkily learning to rollerskate and eating raw gooseberries has an enormous bonding effect. I still think he got the best deal. At that time we had lived in identical homes, distinguishable only by the color of the Formica on the kitchen units. I was never to live in anything so spacious again. He, in anything so compact. As a child I identified the difference. His father kept quiet about his affairs.

I suspect that our childish friendship, although intense in a sharing gobsmacker type of way, would have petered out except that we met again, aged twelve, at a county tennis tournament. Josh recognized that knowing a girl, any girl, would improve his standing at Stowe. I was attracted by his rounded vowels, and even at that early age had recognized that competition was healthy, a challenge that the boys at Westford Comprehensive rose to. It turned out that we still liked each other. We liked each other so much that Josh insisted on disappointing his teachers and parents by joining me at Manchester University. They'd had their sights set on an establishment that was a little older and altogether less red-brick. I was determined to go to Manchester; for the trendy bands, the radical students union, the men in turned-up Levis and DMs, but mostly for the outstanding media studies course.

Josh is tall, six foot two, blond. If I look at it objectively, I have to admit he is the most attractive man I know that I haven't slept with. Whenever I introduce him to my girl friends and colleagues, they unilaterally swoon, they go on and on about how fanciable he is. He is what's described as "handsome" or "dashing." Invariably, because they lack imagination, they assume we are an item. I explain that I like him far too much to complicate things by having sex with him.

In fact, I love him. He is one of the three people I love in the world. I love my mother in a no-nonsense, non-demonstrative kind of way. And I love Issie.

Issie and I met at Uni. In her first term she read biology, then chemistry and finally chemical engineering. It wasn't so much that she'd finally found her vocation, it's just that her tutor wouldn't hear of another change of direction. Issie is frighteningly intelligent and alarmingly optimistic. It's an unusual combination, which largely leaves her dissatisfied. She's a little taller than most women are (five foot nine) and a little thinner (U.K. size ten), achieved through the constant fidgeting rather than gym visits. Therefore she's slim but untoned. She bewails her wobbly upper arms and potbelly but hasn't, in the fifteen years I've known her, ever seriously considered stomach crunches or lifting weights (unless you count carrying heavy shopping bags). She's a natural blonde: eyelashes and brows prove it. Therefore she doesn't tan but has a sprinkling of freckles on her (wide) nose and (slim) shoulders. She has the sexiest mouth in the Western world. It's broad and red. Women describe her as stunning. Men are diametrically opposed; they either fail to notice her at all, her paleness rendering her invisible, or they want to be her knight in shining armor and put her on a pedestal. I don't think either of these responses suits her. Issie's fierce intellect and brutal honesty ought to be dignified with something more than indifference or insulation. But then there's a lot of things that ought to happen and won't. I don't hold much hope for Issie finding a man that is worthy of her. Especially since her optimism has overpowered her intelligence and she has spent her adult life in a stalwart but senseless crusade to discover hidden depths in the men she dates. I've explained on countless occasions that there isn't a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It's really Josh who is responsible for Issie's and my friendship. He spotted her at Freshers' Week and developed an intense crush on her. He begged me to befriend her. I did. By the time I discovered how much I liked her and how ethereal and fragile she was, Josh had slept with half of the students in Withington and Fallowfields. I decided that she was far too special to allow him to have his wicked and transient way with her. I discouraged both parties, in what I admit to be a Machiavellian manner. I pointed out his shortcomings to her and other women's attractions to him. It was a successful ploy.

I still think I made the right decision.

If they'd wanted each other so much, they'd have found a way to make it happen.

We settled into a healthy flirty relationship where we often confused who fancied whom. Instead of any of us sharing each other's beds, in the second and third years, we shared a student house. Just the three of us, loath to let anyone else into our inner sanctum. This was sensible, as arguments over who bought the last loo roll and put an empty milk carton back in the fridge put a full stop to any romantic notion any one of us harbored.

We were typical students. We avoided lectures, joined clubs and societies -- rugby (Josh), Literary Soc. (Issie), wine appreciation (me); we drank copious amounts in the Uni. bar, relied on last minute cramming for exams and shagged relentlessly. We were atypical in that none of us fell victim to the statistic that says one third of all graduates meet their long-term partner at university. We were all hopeless at anything long-term. Issie fell in love with every man she shagged. It was a warped attempt at respectability. She shagged until the men she was shagging got fed up of her reading metaphysical poetry as foreplay. Josh fell in love with every woman he screwed, at least until he'd eaten breakfast and sometimes for days on end. He was forever breaking hearts. I never fell in love and often got bored before the first post-coital cigarette.

This youthful pattern set us on the path we would follow throughout our twenties and, likely as not, until we draw our pensions. This thought doesn't bother Josh or me. The law chambers which he so successfully wafts around offer enough intelligent and willing women for him to fall in and out of love ad infinitum. The same can be said of my job in the media. The abundance of loose-moraled young men is a necessary criterion for any job offer I accept. I have no illusions about commitment, which makes me a deeply attractive proposition to men who have no intention to commit -- 99.99 percent of them. So I use and abuse. It's easier all around. Actually, I don't do too much abuse. To abuse someone they have to be emotionally involved and in my experience men are happy to forgo this nicety if good head is on offer. So when I leave their beds failing to leave my telephone number on the empty fag packet or when I shoo them out of my flat with the empty promise that I'll call, no one really minds that much.

Issie is a lab technician at a huge pharmaceutical company. Her white coat is quite fetching but I know Issie is still looking for something more than a quick game of doctors and nurses. I'm always telling her it will be a fruitless search and she wants to count herself lucky that we have each other to love.

"Can I offer you a drink?" I never say yes to this question without first checking out the origin, however busy the bar is. I look up and see Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome. On cue. He is presumptuously holding a bottle of Bollie and a fistful of glasses. I like presumption, extravagance and the recognition that my friends will want a drink too. He has sparkling green eyes and the floppy-haired look that was all the rage when I was nineteen. I resist telling him that since Brideshead Revisited, no man (other than Hugh Grant) has ever successfully pulled off this look. I resist because besides the height, eyes and cheekbones, I like his suit.

"Fine." I grin.

He does the usual stuff: he asks me my name, and I tell him it's Cas and he says, "Oh, what's Cas short for?" And I explain it's short for Jocasta and I grin and add, "I was named after my father's mother, very Oedipal." And sometimes they get this reference and sometimes they don't but it doesn't matter because either way they grin maniacally. Because usually by this time the men I talk to are well and truly in lust with me. They may not be interested in references to Greek plays but they are extremely interested in the possibility of steamy foreplay. They are checking out my full, pert tits or my long, brown, muscular legs, depending on whether they are breast or leg men. And, if their tastes are more sophisticated and long, black, glossy hair, or clear skin, or slim hips, or blue eyes, or straight white teeth turn them on, I can offer all these things too.

Believe me, I know I'm blessed.

I wear my hair long, because it drives men wild. They look at me and see a sexy bitch or a nineteenth-century heroine, whichever is their bag. Strictly speaking, I think my personality would suit a razor-sharp, chin-length bob, but I work in television and "give them what they want" is my war cry.

I ask his name and try to commit it to memory. I ask what ...

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

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