Chapter One

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It had finally happened. The vague corporate speak that had been floating around the office for a few weeks now had morphed into something more concrete, albeit just a two-line email from my boss at this stage. Requesting my presence to discuss 'organisational changes in light of recent negative growth at Bluewater Communications' UK office and the decision to streamline business operations,' it didn't give much away, but you certainly didn't need an MBA to decipher the hidden subtext. 'Negative growth,' it was fairly safe to assume, actually meant the company was haemorrhaging money, and 'streamlining of business operations' could really be better translated as job cuts. No matter how many times I re-read the missive, there was nothing to give me the slightest indication that the meeting would be anything other than a miserable experience. The ship was about to sink and we were all going to go down with it.

The only positive thing was that Sandra hadn't attempted to delay the inevitable, and as a result, I had only twenty-six minutes to wait until the designated meeting time of 9.30am. Twenty-six minutes, I realised only sixty, long seconds later, can feel like a lifetime. I felt sick with nerves and was unable to concentrate on the other new emails that were pinging into my inbox. They were mostly from my colleagues, and it soon became apparent that we had each been allocated a fifteen-minute slot. The general consensus was that the words 'pay cut,' 'reduced hours,' or 'contract termination' were expected to feature heavily.

As I watched the minute hand of the clock above my desk move to 9.22, my eye was drawn to the Polaroid of me and my boyfriend, Scott, stuck next to a photo from last year's Christmas party. Taken on graduation day at Warwick University, we both looked happy and carefree as we smiled into the camera in our robes and mortarboards, his arm slung casually around my shoulders, my hand slightly raised as if I were about to push my long dark hair out of my eyes.

Scott and I had met in our final year, at a toga party. I was reading French, and he Politics. Fresh from my year abroad spent 'studying' in Lyon, where I'd sat in cafes and daydreamed about moving to a crumbling farmhouse in the countryside with a dashing young Frenchman, I suddenly found it difficult to understand why intelligent people would want to dress up in ridiculous outfits, drink lurid alcoholic mixtures, and daub themselves in UV paint.

Don't get me wrong; I'd certainly fallen out of clubs at 3am with the best of them, waking up a few hours later variously curled around the toilet bowl, face down in a half empty box of takeaway pizza, or—the horror—next to an ex-boyfriend I'd sworn I'd never speak to again. But, I had definitely matured during my year abroad. This actually tied in quite nicely with the fact that I was supposed to be studying hard for my finals instead of spending the equivalent of Andorra's GDP on cheap student union drinks and clothes from Topshop.

So, on a rare occasion when the new me, who was now more likely to be found with my head in a textbook rather than downing shots at the bar, had agreed to be draped in an old bed sheet and dragged to the Students' Union, I'd spent most of the evening standing self-consciously at the side of the pulsating dance floor and praying that the strobe lights hadn't made the sheet see-through.

When ridiculously tall and good-looking Scott Mathews careered by in a conga line and pulled me into it, I immediately dismissed him as just another privileged idiot up for a laugh. Or rather, I suppose I'd salivated a little at the sheer attractiveness of him first, before quickly deciding that he was definitely out of my league and probably not very nice anyway.

I was so bewitched by his beauty that I'd become completely tongue-tied when, to my surprise, he'd steered me off to the bar to refill my plastic cup of beer. This led to us both enduring ten minutes of excruciatingly awkward conversation instead of the witty banter I had hoped for, and I was thankful that the dim lighting masked my flaming cheeks. Eventually I slipped away, lying about some essay I had to finish and slightly relieved that we'd never have to see one another again.

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