by Alison Brodie
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Just released: January 2016
Publisher: Clipboard Press
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Women's Fiction
Carlos felt more at home in this small room than anywhere else in his penthouse apartment.
A night she can’t remember. A week she won’t forget.
Beth is mistaken for rock star, Sonita La Cruz, and ends up on a billionaire-dollar yacht. As a shift-worker in Glasgow, Beth has only known hardship. Now she's in a world of uniformed stewards, French cuisine and rows of gorgeous designer frocks. Beth keeps quiet about the mix-up, determined to wear every outfit in her wardrobe before she's sent home. What's wrong with a little play-acting? Beth takes to the role of rock diva like a duck takes to water.
The captain arrives. Aleksandr sees a raven-haired girl in tiara and diamond-studded bikini lying on deck issuing orders through a megaphone. Aleksandr realises what’s happened: His smuggling pals, knowing he needs to speak to Sonita about a kid’s crisis, have grabbed this lookalike and brought her here to meet him. Sadly, the girl is not Sonita. Aleksandr is desperate. Sonita promised to help the children but she’s disappeared.
Beth rises to the challenge. She looks like Sonita, so why not BE Sonita? Beth does a magazine interview for one million dollars, and ransoms herself for another million. Beth saves the children but can she save herself? Too late, Beth discovers the reason why Sonita disappeared.
A full-bodied romance that sweeps across the globe, from a civil war in the Eastern Bloc, to a luxury yacht on the Côte d'Azur, to a poor housing estate in Glasgow.
I was in for a fun wild ride with this read. There was more than one storyline to follow and each proved to be as engaging as the other. Serious issues are also presented and addressed along with the fun stuff.
The mix of mystery, thriller and romance intermingle through the story in an even flow which kept me glued to get to the end. It was interesting to see how things intersected at the end to either create havoc or resolution.
The characters were colorful and varied which also added as fun elements of this story. The Scottish accent from some of the characters caught my attention as I love listening to it.
The travel and location setting descriptions provided some entertaining arm-chair traveling.
Overall, this story got me thinking about doppelgangers.
About the author:
Alison has a criminal record for busking/disturbance of the peace in Piccadilly Circus; speeding in Spain and hustling in Athens. She lives in Biarritz, where she can be found speaking unintelligible French.
Her latest novel – ‘THE DOUBLE’ – is out now on Amazon Kindle. “…another addition to Brodie’s body of work and proof of her genius in writing fiction.” ~San Francisco Book Review
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Like sparkling diamonds on shimmering blue silk, the sea stretched to the distant shore of whitewashed houses. And the smell … she sniffed, savouring elusive fragrances mingling on the warm salty air. Was that oregano? Tangerine? Chinese five-spice?
Tottering in high-heels, she hurried to catch up with Boris; pausing to step over a coil of old rope, side-stepping an oil spill, while her hand held on to the rusty railing. Then she was out of the shadow of the wheelhouse and into the blinding sun on the front deck. As she went to shade her eyes from the glare, she gasped.
There, floated a vision of vast majestic splendour. This was the biggest, the most beautiful boat she had ever seen. Boat? This wasn’t a boat! This was a floating palace in wedding- cake white, the hundred tinted windows glinting like the iridescent green of an oyster shell. Two motorboats sat just inside the back of the vessel, like babies cradled in the arms of their mother. Higher up was a helicopter, and a radar thing.
She scanned the decks hoping to catch a glimpse of some fabulously rare person. A row of uniformed stewards standing to attention. A shiny metal staircase was now being lowered to a floating platform, which meant someone was just about to arrive! Excitedly, she looked towards land knowing that whoever it was, would come from that direction.
She looked back at the vessel, saw the nameplate: Kazka. Below this, a filigree of bright reflective light danced across the shadowed hull. She was surprised they were allowed to sail this close …?
‘Boris!’ She grabbed his sleeve and pointed. ‘We’re going to hit-!’ She fell silent. No, they were not going to hit it, they were going to … park … next … to … it. She pointed up at the massive white structure looming overhead. ‘Zhivago?’ she whispered.
Boris agreed happily. ‘Da.’
‘Nyat,’ she whispered, horrified to realise that the metal staircase that was being lowered, was being lowered for her.
Boris swept his hand towards the rail, a silent message for her to cross the deck and disembark. ‘Boris!’ she hissed. ‘This is insane!’ At that moment, the line of uniformed stewards on the Kazka raised their hands in salute. Who were they saluting?
Boris was still gesturing her forward. She pointed back at the horizon. ‘Boris! I want to go home. Home!’ She stuck out her arms like aeroplane wings and circled the deck. He gave her a look of fond amusement, but it was obvious he hadn’t a clue what she was saying. Christ, she had to speak to someone who understood English or she’d be sailing the seas forever.
She looked up at the Kazka. She looked down at the elegantly-dressed man waiting on the pontoon. Who was he? Zhivago?
Swearing under her breath, she put her foot on the first rung and began to descend. As her feet touched the pontoon, she paused, and still gripping the ladder, she took a deep breath, building up the courage for battle. Would Zhivago be outraged – or worse – embarrassed?
She pivoted, chin up in defiance. ‘I am furious-!’
‘A terrible, terrible mistake has been made, mademoiselle.’ The man bowed, his thin expressive hands clasped together. Silver streaked his dark hair. Although he spoke with a French accent, his English was impeccable. She was relieved that he spoke English, relieved that he immediately accepted full blame.
She darted a look up at the line of stewards. ‘So you understand,’ she growled, ‘I am not Sonita La Cruz.’
‘I understand, completely. But, please, how would you like me to address you?’
‘What name do you use?’
‘Beth. Beth Skiffington.’
‘Skiffing-ton,’ he said slowly, as if imprinting it to memory. ‘Mademoiselle Skiffington, may I welcome you aboard the Kazka.’
She paused, softened by his old-word courtesy. Then she remembered her fury. ‘I realise why I was brought here,’ she said stiffly. ‘At first I was fine with it, but now I’m angry.’ She flung a hand up at the enormous hull of the Kazka. ‘I haven’t got time for this … nonsense!’
‘Mr Shtcherbatsky Zhivago will be devastated to learn of this terrible incident-’
‘Are you not Mr Schetter- Schitch-?’ Unable to pronounce it, she went for the easy option. ‘Zhivago?’
‘No, Mademoiselle. My name is Gerrard and you may look upon me as the butler. Mr Shtcherbatsky Zhivago has yet to arrive, but if you would care to follow me …’ He moved to the shiny metal staircase, her coat over one arm, Boris’s white bag over the other.
If the butler looks like a millionaire, she thought, what’s Zhivago going to look like?
Now, as she neared the level of the first deck, she saw a line of black shoes polished to a mirror finish, white uniforms - blinding white in the sunshine - metal buttons winking against black epaulets. Eyes front, the crew men stood stiff like statues. They might give her respect now, but once they were told she was not Sonita, they’d snigger behind their hands.
The butler gave a command in Russian and the line of stewards dispersed. He turned to her. ‘May I assure you that discretion is paramount aboard the Kazka. These men never question the identity of our guests.’
He was wrong. She knew about gossip. These men would be chattering like budgies as soon as they were behind closed doors.
A blast of a horn made her turn. It was the Lodashka. Leaving!
Fuck. That was her ride home.
Panicking, she swung to the butler. ‘I need tae get back to Glasgow-’
‘Of course, of course,’ the butler said quickly. ‘Please, do not be anxious. We have a private jet ready at your disposal. I will arrange everything.’
Her panic gave way to stunned surprise. ‘Well … err … that’s fine … then.’
She looked back at the Lodashka. Boris and Dimitri stood at the rail, watching her sadly. She hadn’t said goodbye! She waved, sweeping both hands high above her head. They instantly waved back, grinning. With a pang she realised she would never see them again.
‘That Boris is a buffoon,’ the butler muttered, eyeing the departing trawler.
As with all of Beth’s friends, her loyalty to them was unshakeable. For a moment, she remembered how Boris had stirred the cream in her coffee to look like a smiley face, and how he had shown her photos of his daughter, Trina, a little girl with Downe’s syndrome.
‘Boris is the kindest man I have ever met,’ she said stiffly.
The butler inclined his head. ‘I apologise, Mademoiselle Skiffington. As I do not know him, I bow to your better judgement.’
His deference gave her a surge of confidence. ‘Right,’ she said, ‘I’m just going to have a quick chat with your Mr Schet- Zhivago as soon as he arrives, yeah? Then I’m off.’ Her hand cut the air to demonstrate the speed with which she would go.
‘I cannot tell you at what time he will arrive. But I know he will want to talk to you urgently, and somehow make amends for this unfortunate event.’
‘OK.’ She nodded, while mentally upping her compensation demand to two thousand quid. It wasn’t like they couldn’t afford it. ‘I can wait an hour or two.’
‘Wonderful. May I suggest that in the meantime, you might care to freshen up? A shower, perhaps?’
She gazed up over the gigantic boat, unnerved by all this opulence. She had hoped to be on and off this thing in five minutes - now she was being asked to use the facilities.
‘And a little breakfast?’ the butler added.
‘Well … OK, then.’
The butler moved off. ‘May I lead the way, Mademoiselle La-’ He quickly corrected himself, ‘Mademoiselle Skiffington.’ He chatted as they walked across the deck, ‘The Kazka has been in dry dock for two weeks, and once the captain arrives we shall depart.’ He led the way up a flight of narrow metal steps and opened a door for her to enter. She stepped into a softly lit corridor with wood panelling, blue carpet and oil paintings. ‘This is the gymnasium,’ the butler explained, opening a door. ‘And, here, is the audio-visual room.’
This was a small theatre with blue-velvet seats facing a screen. It’s all very impressive, she thought, but why’s he giving me a guided tour when I’m only staying for coffee?
‘This is the Fleur de Lys State Room.’
Beth stepped into a cocoon of mouth-watering luxury. The décor was a medley of sumptuous, tactile fabrics in peach and ivory. A chiffon tent floated from the ceiling to fall on either side of a big bed. The cream-coloured carpet felt like sponge under her feet. There were perfume bottles with silk tassels, candles in ornate silver candlesticks, a crystal chandelier, and an elegant marble statue of cupid with his bow and arrow.
‘This is an internal telephone,’ the butler informed her. My number is zero.’
‘Actually, I do need to call a friend.’
‘Bien sûr. We have a ship’s satellite phone, which will be at your disposal as soon as the communication system is functioning.’ He gestured to a door. ‘That is the salle de bain where you can shower or take a bath and in here, is the dressing room.’ He stepped forward and slid open two sets of slatted wooden doors. She stared. There were dresses, evening gowns, trousers, skirts, suits; in white, sable, pink, orange, red, yellow, turquoise, black; in satin, lace, silk, linen, cotton, gauze, chiffon. Hats lay on shelves: nautical, garden tea-party, Ascot, beach, rodeo, and wedding. There were sunglasses: big, small, wing-shaped, lozenge-shaped, diamond-studded, silver, gold.
As the next set of doors slid open, she gasped.
Shoes. Row upon row, supported by thin parallel bars of stainless steel and illuminated by tiny spotlights. She yearned to touch the lilac kitten-heels - the ones with the tiny bows - wanting to brush the soft suede against her cheek, to smell them, to feel them slip onto her feet.
Oh, but look at those! Black leather, the stiletto-heels studded with tiny jewels, straps as thin as vermicelli. Her gaze moved swiftly, matching them up with the black silk trousers hanging in the adjoining wardrobe.
‘Everything on board is for the convenience of our guests,’ the butler said. ‘Please, wear anything you wish, Mademoiselle …’ the butler hesitated. ‘Skiffington. I shall return in half an hour to escort you to breakfast.’
Wear anything you wish. Was the man mad?!
She touched the gown of lemon-yellow chiffon. Well … if you thought about it, this was the least they could offer her.
But what should she wear? What about this lilac satin robe with appliquéd peacocks, with the lilac plunge-neck blouse and the 1930s style trousers? With the kitten-heel shoes.
She had come to the end of the rail when she stopped, transfixed by the gold lamé gown protectively covered in clear plastic. This was Oscar night! This was Marilyn Monroe and Lily Savage rolled into one.
Making sure the butler had gone; she undressed and slipped into the dress. The material poured over her body like liquid gold, flowing seductively with every movement, over her hips and dipping low to her buttocks. But this creation was wasted on someone like her, because the woman who wore this would have to have an all-over tan.
Hey! The red silk cocktail dress would be perfect for breakfast.
She stopped, stunned by this fevered madness. What was she thinking? There was no point in getting dolled up because she’d only have to change again. There was nothing for her here: no dresses, no shoes and no champagne. Instead, it would simply be: hello Mr Zhivago, thank you for the cheque, goodbye Mr Zhivago.
Beth followed the butler across the deck, her damp hair drying in the heat of the morning sun, her skin tingling after a power-shower. Clean and fresh, she’d been reluctant to climb back into her leather trousers.
Suddenly, the reality of her situation brought her to a standstill. She gazed over the vast deck, the lifeboat that was big enough to have a Caribbean cruise in, the sparkling blue sea, the distant port. No-one was going to believe her when she got home; not even Heather. ‘In yer dreams, hen,’ her friend would say. ‘In yer dreams.’
And it was a dream.
The only time she’d peeked into the world of the mega rich was when she flicked through glossy magazines the patients left behind. All those photos of luxury yachts and stuff hadn’t seemed real, and now she was “living” it, it still didn’t seem real.
The top deck opened out, providing a panoramic view of the ocean. Two cushioned wickerwork chairs had been arranged around a dining table. Two chairs, she noted, her heart hammering with dread. She looked towards the port, expecting to see Zhivago’s speedboat knifing through the water towards them but, as yet, the sea lay empty.
The table was laid with a crisp white tablecloth, gold-trimmed china plates and a bouquet of pink roses; alongside stood a trolley loaded with silver-domed dishes. All this perfection, this richness, made her cringe in embarrassment. She didn’t belong in a place like this. Before she’d been put in foster care, she’d had to wash in the school sinks to keep clean; she’d had to fish out left-over sandwiches from the canteen bins to keep from starving. She’d been brought up in a filthy basement room with its overflowing ashtrays, piles of empty Special Brew cans; and her mum hunched over the six-bar electric fire toasting a slice of Mighty White.
As the butler pulled out a chair for her, she glanced at the row of stewards. They looked so complacent, so superior. I might be way out of my depth, she thought grimly, but you lot aren’t going to know it. She lifted her chin and sat with an air of stupendous boredom, as if exhausted with climbing on and off billion-dollar boats. A napkin appeared over her lap as the silver-domed lids were lifted to reveal slices of razor-thin hams, melon balls on crushed ice, bread rolls and pastries.
‘Unfortunately, in the circumstances,’ Gerrard told her. ‘We only have a skeleton crew.’
She heaved a monumental sigh - a woman who knew all about the inconvenience of skeleton crews. Then she saw the swimming pool below. It was blue, the bluest blue she had ever seen. A pink inflatable armchair floated motionless on the surface, hinting at the long, hot, lazy day ahead - a day that would never be hers.
‘Mademoiselle? Mademoiselle?’ A steward held up a fork above the silver salver of food.
She jerked. ‘Um … a Danish pastry, please.’ Should she say, “Please”? Surely the mega-rich didn’t have time to be polite?
She bit into her pastry, blushing as the crumbs showered the tablecloth. How could anyone relax with all these servants hanging about? It wasn’t like she couldn’t pick up her own pastry. She continued to eat while glancing down at the pool. If she’d been alone, she would have stripped off in an instant and hurled herself over the railings.
The butler, who had been called away, was now back. ‘Mademoiselle … Skiffington. We have been trying to radio Monsieur Shtcherbatsky Zhivago but it seems his ship is out of contact. Therefore, I cannot predict when he will arrive.’
Typical! she thought. Zhivago is too scared to confront me and wants me to scuttle away as if nothing’s happened. ‘So when do you suppose he’ll be here? Today?’ She knew what the answer would be.
‘I think not.’
‘Surprise, surprise.’ She laughed dryly. ‘So he just wants me to push off?’
‘Go! Leave! Vamoosh!’
‘On the contrary. He will very much want you to stay.’
She pointed down at the deck. ‘Here?’
The butler saw her look of horror and spoke in a rush. ‘I promise, Mademoiselle La- Skiffington, that we will do our utmost to make your visit extremely pleasant.’
She couldn’t stay here! The idea was laughable. ‘I can’t-’
‘The chef is preparing his speciality this evening: Lobster Thermidor, followed by Crepe Fourrées with strawberries and cream. Unfortunately, you will not have a dinner companion, but the food should more than compensate.’
For a moment, she imagined herself beneath a canopy of stars, eating lobster and wild strawberries and getting sloshed. But she had nothing to wear except these tight leather trousers.
The gold lamé gown!
She could wear that! Och, no, she couldn’t, because she didn’t have an all-over tan. She glanced down at the sunbeds on the pool-side deck. The butler must have seen the direction of her gaze.
‘The swimming pool is heated,’ he advised her.
I can use the pool!
The butler continued, ‘There is a bar area with a selection of champagnes, drinks and snacks, so you will not have the inconvenience of summoning a steward.’
‘Who else will be using the pool?’
‘No-one, Mademoiselle. You are our only guest.’
The meaning of this jolted her. She was the only guest. All this - everything - was at her disposal. This vast, Titanic battleship of mouth-watering luxury was all hers.
But why was the butler so anxious for her to stay? Why was he treating her like royalty? He could easily put her in a B&B in town. Perhaps, though, these people were worried she was going to sue? She had every right to! That’s why they were laying out the red carpet: to mollify her. Perhaps, Zhivago would want her to sign a confidentiality agreement. Wasn’t that what happened when a member of the public got too close to a star?
The butler sensed her hesitation. ‘I am confident that we can make the next day or two extremely comfortable for you.’
Day or two. She tried to imagine it: breakfast, sleeping in the sun, lunch, sleeping in the sun, dinner, sleeping in that big satin bed.
Aye, but what about work? She had a week of twelve-hour shifts. Fleming Ward couldn’t possibly do without her, not until the next batch of nurses arrived. And who would walk Mrs Baxter’s dog? Who would fetch Mr Beattie’s pension? And Andy? Andy would go fucking mental-
Her decision was made.
The butler smiled. ‘May I suggest, Mademoiselle Skiffington, that after your stressful journey you look upon your brief spell aboard the Kazka as an opportunity to untwist?’
Warmed by the butler’s deference, she felt her confidence blossom. ‘Untwist?’ She laughed delightedly. ‘Unwind, you mean.’
He laughed with her. He was a nice guy, she thought benevolently. She picked up the coffee pot and topped up her cup. ‘Gerrard, I have changed my mind. I would like scrambled eggs. With bacon.’
‘Bien sûr, mademoiselle,’ he said, hurrying away.
Her gaze flickered over the stewards. They knew she wasn’t Sonita La Cruz, but there was no way they’d find out she was a piss-poor Weegie with five quid in the Co-Op and fifteen years of hard-earned cash in a rusty tin above the kettle.
‘And fried bread, Gerr-ard,’ she called, raising an imperious hand.
* review copy courtesy of book tour sponsored by HCL Book Tours. Now booking tours for June/July. Also, HCL Author Services - Taking New Clients!