Chapter One

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‘You can’t be serious.’ My best friend Mel shoved up her glasses, peering at the newspaper ad I’d handed her. ‘A Museum of Broken Hearts? You working there?’ She snorted, and a crumb of cranberry muffin flew out from between pursed lips, landing on the small table in front of us. ‘You might as well stick Gandhi in a war museum.’

I shook my head and grabbed the ad. ‘No, it’s perfect. It’s in my field of expertise, and it’s a great chance for me to get involved in a project right from the get-go. Exciting new opportunity for assistant curator at London’s newest attraction,’ I read aloud, my excited voice echoing around the tiny coffee shop. ‘The ideal candidate will have a degree in sociology or anthropology, with experience coordinating and organising display materials.’ God, it really was ideal. ‘See?’

Mel sipped her espresso. ‘Sure, you’ve got the right degree and experience. But aren’t you forgetting something?’ Leaning back, she raised an eyebrow.

‘What? Oh, the notice period at my job?’ I made a face. ‘I wouldn’t worry about that. I could walk out tomorrow and no one would know.’ Stuck in a dusty room in the basement of the British Museum, I was more used to seeing arrowheads and fern fossils than actual human beings. I’d even started talking to Ernie, an ancient skull in the corner, for a bit of company. It was definitely time to move on.

‘No, no.’ Mel waved a hand in the air. ‘You, Rose, are the living, breathing definition of an incurable romantic. A poster child for happy endings. A—’

‘Okay!’ I interrupted. ‘I get the picture.’

‘For goodness’ sake, you almost didn’t pass your thesis defence because you didn’t want to downgrade the importance of romance in relationships.’

‘Mel, you’ve made your point.’ For once, I wished my friend didn’t feel the need to be so bloody direct all the time. My cheeks coloured as I recalled my thesis advisor’s words that while my paper was certainly one of the most creative they’d seen at the University College London, a little thing called biology undermined my theory that humans partnered primarily for romance. I’d barely scraped by, only just managing to graduate and land my horrendous job at the British Museum. Two years later, and I was still there. This position at a new museum could be my chance to escape Ernie and the arrowheads. Sure, I believed in happy endings. And yes, I thought romance was highly underrated. But so what? You didn’t have to believe in, um . . . the Berlin Wall to work at the Checkpoint Charlie museum, now, did you?  

I downed my cappuccino and pushed back my chair. ‘I’m going to apply.’

Mel sighed. ‘Fine. Just don’t come crying to me when you run across a broken heart that can’t be fixed.’

A few hours later, on the Tube back to the tiny flat I’d shared with Gareth, I turned Mel’s words over in my head while trying to avoid breathing through my nose – something you never wanted to do in the sweaty rush-hour confines of the Central Line. In my educated opinion (and after six years of university and two degrees, I was nothing if not educated), no broken heart or relationship was beyond fixing.

Okay, so my parents were still divorced. Dad was currently shacked up with a twenty-year-old hippie in a housing co-op (i.e., squat) after “tuning in, turning on, and dropping out” of the corporate rat race. Mum couldn’t even bear to utter his name. But I knew one day, Dad would miss his old life and return to the spacious home in the affluent London suburb of Virginia Water, where Mum still lived. She’d drop the defensive act, throw her arms around him, and that would be that. All it needed was a bit more time. All right, loads more time.

Men had to have their own little rebellious phase before truly settling down, didn’t they? Just look at me and Gareth. There we were, sailing along for almost three years in a wonderful relationship chock-full of flowers and chocolate. Well, the first year was chock-full of flowers and chocolate. The second was pretty much just chocolate, and by the third, I was lucky to get a half-eaten Gummi Bear. But that was simply the normal transition phase from romantic love to solid, unshakeable love – or so I’d thought. Turned out that for Gareth, it had been a transition from London straight to Vietnam, where he’d been inspired to build a community school and teach for the past year.

Despite the besuited man beside me pressing his willy against my leg, I couldn’t help a tiny smile as I thought of Gareth’s latest postcard, picturing a village in the midst of lush vegetation. Although it hadn’t said much (or anything, besides “Hiya”), Gareth had signed it “lots of love”, and even strewn a whole row of x’s under his name. Obviously he was starting to miss me; about time. Even though he’d stuck me with all the rent and bills – not to mention taking off without a proper goodbye – I knew that when he returned, our relationship would be back in that heady romantic phase once again. The two of us were a perfect match, despite Mel’s constant admonition that I’d be a fool to let “that bloody tosser” back into my life.

The Tube rattled into Queensway station. I unglued myself from Willy Man (really, if you did feel the urge to shove your groin against someone, at least have the decency to ensure it was a respectable size) and pushed through the packed carriage toward the exit. Out on the street, I drew in a deep breath of diesel-scented air, then dodged the tourists and souvenir stands for home. It was already seven, and Beano had probably ripped the sofa to shreds by now in retaliation for his late dinner. As much as I loved to complain about the ginger cat Gareth had also ditched me with, secretly I was glad for the company. I’d never admit it – I kept up a brave face, even with Mel – but that first month after Gareth leaving had been sheer torture. Eventually, my optimism had kicked in, but only Beano’s presence in our silent, echoey flat had kept me from going to pieces.

I turned the key in the lock and swung open the door to our one-bedroom, first-floor abode, with large sash windows overlooking the tree-lined street. I loved this part of the city. Even though the main drag was full of greasy Chinese restaurants, shops selling scarves for one pound, and dingy hotels, after turning onto any side street you’d be worlds away. Neat white Victorian terraces marched down the quiet leafy road, and lanterns cast a soft glow against the late November sky.

‘Hey, Beano.’ I kicked off my shoes, leaning down to give my kitty a quick scratch on the sweet spot under his neck. After pouring some food in his bowl, I cracked open the laptop and pulled up my résumé. A few tweaks and a spell check later, and it was ready to go. Holding my breath, I typed in the address from the newspaper ad and hit “send”. I didn’t want to get too excited, but I knew I was perfect for the position. Just perfect.

Right, now what to do? There was only one thing for it. I shoved An Affair to Remember into the DVD player, flopped onto the sofa, and let the sweet sounds of romance carry me away.