The Failed Marriage
Table of Contents
‘WE’RE really interested in running a series of these books,’ the man sitting across the desk from Joanna told her. ‘If you can write others as good as this first one.’
Joanna shrugged. ‘I’m not sure that I can.’
The man’s smile of confidence seemed to say he was used to dealing with temperamental authors—and that he was usually the victor. He was a man of middle age, his kindly exterior belied by the sharpness of his icy blue eyes, a sense of purpose about him that told the young woman seated across the desk from him that he could be a very shrewd businessman.
Joanna had never been to a publishers before, and the image of a sterilely white and chrome-painted office, modern in the extreme, had given way to a cluttered room that looked more like a lawyer’s office, with manuscripts and books littering the desk-top.
She had guessed when she received the written summons to see James Colnbrook that there had been a favourable reaction to the children’s book she had submitted to him several months ago about a playful boxer dog called Billy. But a series of books could be quite cut of the question.
‘I’m not sure I have the time to write any more,’ she told him smoothly. ‘It’s taken me months just to sit down and write this one.’
‘And sometimes it takes years, even when you have all the time in the world,’ he dismissed easily, obviously not taking her objections seriously. ‘But I’m sure you can do it, Miss Radcliffe,’ he encouraged softly.
She met his gaze with steady blue eyes, a coldness coming over her. ‘Mrs,’ she corrected abruptly. ‘Mrs Radcliffe.’
She could see James Colnbrook mentally reassessing the situation, knew that with her cap of blonde curls, gaminly attractive face, and small slender body, she didn’t look old enough to be married, not even the obviously expensive clothes she wore, the black silk blouse and fitted black skirt adding the maturity expected of a married woman. But she was married, very much so. At twenty-three years of age she was locked in a marriage that meant nothing to her, as she felt sure it meant nothing to her husband.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise.’ James Colnbrook was smiling once again, having correctly assessed the expensive engagement ring and diamond-studded wedding band he had just noticed for the first time on the slender finger as having cost a small fortune.
Joanna shrugged. ‘It isn’t important, is it?’
‘No. No, of course not,’ he dismissed lightly, noticing more and more about her as the meeting progressed. When Joanna Radcliffe had walked into his office half an hour ago he had placed her as a career woman, someone with the style and elegance of an executive secretary, possibly an executive herself. Now he noticed the vulnerability that hadn’t been there until her marriage was mentioned, the cool detachment in steady blue eyes, the almost wistful twist to her mouth, her body so thin she looked almost boyish. And lastly he noticed the pain etched into a face too young and beautiful to have known the agony that had put the fine lines beside her nose and mouth. Joanna Radcliffe was a woman who had known deep misery in her young life, and while she seemed to have survived it, it had not been unscathed. ‘Does your husband mind the idea of your working?’ James Colnbrook gave a forced laugh, feeling compassion for a woman he barely knew, and as his reputation as one of the toughest bastards in publishing hadn’t been undeserved it was a strange and alien emotion for him. It made him feel uncomfortable. ‘Some men have their macho image to protect,’ he mocked.
She seemed to stiffen. ‘Joshua has no reason to worry about his macho image,’ came the cool reply. ‘It’s perfectly intact.’
Joshua Radcliffe—the name meant something to him. And yet he was sure he didn’t know the man personally. ‘So he won’t mind if you spend several hours a day working?’ he spoke absently, still puzzling over where he had heard the name Joshua Radcliffe before. And it had been lately too.
‘When I said I may not have the time to write further books I didn’t mean my husband would object,’ this time her voice was even icier, ‘I simply meant I wouldn’t have the time. I don’t really see what my husband has to do with any of this, Mr Colnbrook. Either you want to publish the book or you don’t, regardless of whether or not there’ll be others.’
‘Oh, we do,’ he said swiftly, then cursed himself for revealing too much. The mad escapades of a lunatic dog made a good book, and it would probably sell well, but he had to admit that Joanna Radcliffe intrigued him more—more than any other woman he had ever met.
She was obviously a young woman of breeding, her coolly detached tones acquired through private schooling, the casual clothes she wore most probably having the same designer label his wife’s did. Only they would never look this good on Moira! Joanna Radcliffe wasn’t the usual type of female author he had in his office, he realised that now. She looked as if she should be spending her time at tea-parties and socially select events, arranging charities, idling the hours away while her husband went out and earned the money, even the mention of the word a vulgarity to her. But Joanna Radcliffe gave the impression of being a very self-possessed young lady, of having only contempt for such useless activities. James’s curiosity about her grew by the minute.
‘Yes, we would like to publish the book, Mrs Radcliffe,’ he was cool himself now. ‘But we do like to know a little about our authors.’
‘Why?’ He was beginning to wonder which one was the publisher and which the budding author! ‘We usually like to put a little section about the author on the back of our books,’ he explained.
She had begun shaking her head before he had even finished. ‘I don’t want that,’ she informd him haughtily. ‘And the book will not be published under my real name.’
‘Not under—Why?’ he frowned his surprise. Most people longed to have their name on the front of a book, although not everyone was blessed with a name as acceptable as this woman’s, as he had once had to explain to one Agnes Snotty!
Cool blue eyes looked at him steadily. ‘I would just prefer it that way.’
‘But—–’ he stopped as he saw the light of determination in her eyes. ‘Okay,’ he sighed, ‘I’m sure we can come up with something else you like, but I—–’ Joshua Radcliffe! Of course, it had come to him now.
He looked at the woman sitting opposite him with new eyes. Surely this young woman couldn’t be married to that