Happy Hour

By Anne Mitchell All Rights Reserved ©

Romance

Blurb

Jane Anderson has always been happy for her husband Paul, a handsome garden designer, to take the spotlight while she looks after their son Jeremy. But when Paul wins a gold medal at the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show, he catches the eye of glamour-puss Elizabeth – and it’s not just his horticultural skills she’s interested in. Jane’s oldest friend Susie invites her to New York for a little therapeutic shopping and sightseeing, but in Manhattan Jane finds she bears an amazing likeness to TV's Rosie Reynolds, ultra-glamorous host of the popular news and talk show Happy Hour, and that's when her troubles really begin. After Rosie’s botched face-lift Jane is offered the job of emergency stand-in on Happy Hour. But here she meets Lou, a dangerously charming man who also happens to be Rosie’s husband... For Jane, it’s the hour of truth.

Chapter 1

‘And there you go, honey,’ announces Kelly, finally snapping shut her NARS powder blush compact and swinging my chair round so I can see myself in the mirror.

Oh. My. God. I stare at my reflection in stunned silence. It’s incredible. I am completely, utterly transformed. This isn’t simply a new, improved version of me I’m looking at: it’s a whole different woman. It has to be the make-over of all make-overs. My body’s stiff, tired and almost welded to the chair – the entire metamorphosis has taken over three and a half butt-numbing hours - but my face is amazing.

‘It’s a damn good job too, even if I do say it myself.’ Kelly pats an invisible hair into place and peers again at my features through narrowed eyes. ’If I can’t hardly tell, I don’t see how… No, damn it; it’s good. It’s really good. Okay! Benny! Where is that sonofa…?’ She leans out of the door and yells down the corridor. ‘Benny! Tell Al to get his big ass down here! She’s ready!’

Thirty seconds later at least fifteen people are jostling round my chair, all straining to get a good look at the new me.

My wavy red hair is straight and glossy and strawberry-blonde. My lips are cherry red, my cheeks rose pink, my chin and forehead matt beige. My freckles have disappeared; my sandy, sparse lashes are coated in thick black gunge: only my eyes, staring back at me with a frightened, rabbit-in-the-headlights stare, are recognisably mine.

A collective sigh goes up, and the tension evaporates.

‘It’s fan-fucking-tastic, Kelly!’ exclaims Al, flinging an arm round her delighted shoulders. ‘Remind me to recommend you for a raise. No – shit – you deserve a medal. That is one helluva job. She looks just like the real deal.’

A murmur of agreement goes round. A beaming Kelly stands holding her brushes, basking in the praise being heaped on her from every side. The whole crew is whistling, whooping, slapping each other’s backs and giving each other high fives, the mood a febrile mix of exhilaration and relief.

Al looks at his watch. ‘Okay people, we’ve got precisely seven minutes before the First Daughter and her fiancé arrive in hospitality. Let’s go!’

On his way out of the door he suddenly remembers that I’m still sitting in the make-up chair. ‘You all right, babe?’ he says anxiously. ‘No second thoughts? There’s nothing to worry about, you know; you look totally amazing, and the run-through was perfect. Nothing can go wrong.’

I laugh, rather artificially. ‘Al, I made you a promise, and I’ll stick to it. Don’t worry about me.’

He grins, relieved. ‘Okay, then. Great. I’ll see you on the floor.’

Left on my own, I stare back at the face in the mirror. I’ll admit it: I do look good. I look groomed, attractive, confident. I look like a woman who means business. I look like Rosie Reynolds, successful New York businesswoman and the ultra-glamorous host of Happy Hour, the syndicated NYTV show rated fifth across the entire nation in last quarter’s rankings.

I smile. Yes: it’s the warm, friendly I-may-be-super-successful-but-really-I’m-just-a-down-home-girl-from-Tennessee smile that contributes so much to the show’s massive appeal. But something’s not quite right. I lean forward, examining myself carefully. There is a problem. The mouth is smiling, but the eyes are still scared. That has to be fixed: I can’t go on live television in front of – at a conservative estimate - fifty million viewers, looking like a frightened rabbit.

Toughen up, woman. Think of the money. I speak sternly to myself, as I have had to many times in the past three frantic weeks. Whatever happens tonight, Jeremy’s going to be okay. And anyway, nothing’s going to happen, is it? Take a leaf out of Susie’s self-help books. Think of the money, clench your fists and your butt, and go out there and… Do It! Woo-hoo!! Yesss!!!

Cheesy perhaps, but on this occasion necessary. And, amazingly, it seems to work. I smile again at my reflection, and this time the eyes smile too.

Benny peers round the door. ‘They’ve arrived,’ he announces breathlessly. ‘They’re in hospitality now. When you’re ready, Miss Reynolds.’

My smile broadens. I pull off the protective tissues and slide out of the chair. ‘Lead the way, Benny.’

Outside the door to the hospitality room, I smooth down my suit and pat my stiff helmet of hair.

‘Don’t worry: you look great,’ whispers Benny reassuringly. But he has misinterpreted my actions. I’m not nervous about my appearance; I’m getting into character. I straighten my shoulders, push open the door and advance, hand outstretched, towards the young woman in the neat Calvin Klein suit who stands a little awkwardly, glass of hospitality champagne in hand. Her brand-new fiancé, who is lounging on the white leather couch, gets to his feet. He moves languidly, sinuously, like a sleek cat. I notice that he’s already finished his champagne.

‘Good evening, Miss Adams,’ I say to the daughter of the President of the United States. ‘I’m Rosie Reynolds, and it’s truly an honour and a pleasure to meet you.’

Straight, mousy hair; healthy, outdoors complexion: a nice, ordinary, unspoilt-looking girl. She smiles, a little nervously, and it occurs to me for the first time that tonight she might be nearly as scared as I am.

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you too, Miss Reynolds. I’m such a big fan of your show – and so is my mom of course.’

My shoulders tense. ‘Wow! Amazing! That really has made my day!’ I gush nervously. ‘The President of the United States a fan of the show? Well, I just feel so honoured!’

Wisely ignoring this guff, she gestures towards the young man. ‘Miss Reynolds, I’d like you to meet my fiancé, Thomas Mackinnon the third. Tom is an executive in his family’s company.’

As I shake Mr Mackinnon’s smooth, limp hand, I’m wondering exactly what is the nature of the contribution he is making to the multi-billion-dollar global enterprise that is Mackinnon Steel. I already know about his father, grandfather and great-grandfather: tough, hard-driving, no-nonsense types; all of them hard-working descendants of hard-working Scottish immigrant stock. This young man with his bespoke suit, silk tie, polished Gucci loafers and supercilious smile, is, I know from my research, a recent graduate of Harvard Business School - where, apparently, he was distinguished rather more for his enthusiastic membership of various drinking clubs than for his commitment to his studies. As I bid the couple farewell, telling them I’ll see them again on the set in half an hour, I feel a brief, unexpected pang of compassion for the First Daughter.

On the studio floor the audience, whispering excitedly, is already seated. I stand on one side with my clipboard, checking the running order once more and going through the questions for the thousandth time. Because tonight isn’t any old show: it’s the coup of the year. Happy Hour is the only nationally syndicated talk show in the whole of America to have bagged the interview everyone was after – the only daughter of the President and her billionaire fiancé, just hours after the public announcement of their engagement.

The happy couple had announced they would only do one live interview, and naturally everyone - everyone - was desperate to get it. Leno sent flowers and champagne, Ellen personally flew to Washington with a camera crew, it was rumoured that Oprah had offered to donate a vast sum to any charity the golden couple cared to name. And yet the interviewer the pair finally chose was none other than New York’s very own Rosie Reynolds. It’s the show’s highest-profile interview ever. No wonder everyone around me is, as Big Al would put it, shit-scared.

And I am the most terrified of them all, but for more complicated reasons.

I look round the studio. It runs like the proverbial well-oiled machine: everyone is busy; everyone has a job to do and knows exactly what they should be doing. Cameras, lighting, sound: every person here has done this before, probably hundreds of times. I feel slightly detached from the whole thing, as though it has nothing to do with me – which, in a sense, it doesn’t.

I glance up at the gallery where Al sits gazing at the video monitors, massive shoulders hunched over the desk. He turns, sees me looking up and gives me a cheerful thumbs-up. I manage a smile.

The floor director calls for silence. I walk to my mark as Al’s voice comes clearly through my earpiece.

‘Okay, we’re on. I’m going to count you down now. Ready?’

Dry-mouthed, I nod.

Over the PA system the Happy Hour signature music fills the studio. The audience sit in hushed expectation: in my right ear Al’s voice counts steadily down towards zero.

A disembodied male voice fills the studio as the music fades out.

’Live from the NYTV studios here in New York, once again it’s… Happy Hour!’

The floor director cues the audience, who burst into rapturous applause. The voice continues, building up to a climax.

‘And now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your Happy Hour host. It’s New York’s very own… Rosie Reynolds!’

‘Two, One, Zero,’ says Al in my ear. ‘You’re on, baby.’

The audience is in a frenzy, whooping and cheering as though the Knicks had just knocked out the Bulls in the playoffs. I fix a smile on my face as a bright white light spotlights me. On autopilot I walk forward, towards the desk in the middle of the set. The audience continues to holler and yell, but the light is so bright I can hardly see them. I can’t see anything. I stop, suddenly panicking. Al’s voice is saying something urgently in my ear, but I can’t make out the words. The audience’s whoops sound distant, muffled, as if they are coming from far away, from under the sea even. Panic flows over me like a tsunami, my heart hammering agonisingly in my chest. I can’t do it. I told them I couldn’t, and I can’t. They should have believed me. Somewhere inside my head, a voice is screaming. I can’t do it!!!

And then I remember why I’m here.

‘Thank you so much! Thank you!’ I straighten my shoulders, turn to the camera with the red light on and give it a dazzling smile. ’Good evening! I’m Rosie Reynolds, and I’m here to welcome you to a very special edition of Happy Hour.’

‘My good Lord, girl,’ says Al. ‘I thought you were going to faint on me there.’

It’s the first ad break, seven minutes in. Miss Adams and her fiancé are sitting on the famous red Happy Hour couch, waiting for their interview in the second part of the show. So far, quite miraculously, everything has gone to plan.

‘But don’t worry: you’re doin’ great,’ Al continues, belatedly remembering that I might appreciate a little reassurance. ‘Just keep on the way you’re doing, and we’re going to have the ratings hit of the decade on our hands here.’

I relax a little. ‘Thanks, Al.’

‘Shut up, you dumb broad!’ he hisses in my ear. ’That was in a British accent! You’re Rosie Reynolds, remember? You’re from Clarksville, Tennessee! You do not speak with a British accent!’

Oh God. I knew it - it was bound to happen sooner or later.

You’ve probably never tried it, but take it from me: unless you’re a spy or something – I imagine they get lots of training – it’s extraordinarily difficult to pretend to be someone else for any length of time. I’ve managed it now for about five hours, and the strain is beginning to tell. Only Al has heard that lapse, thank God, but the next one... the next one could happen on air. On live television. In front of an audience of fifty million Americans, nearly all of whom know exactly what Rosie Reynolds looks and sounds like... and that will be the end.

Because I’m not the famous and glamorous Rosie Reynolds, queen of the early evening talk shows. I’m not even American. I’m an ordinary, middle-aged Englishwoman with the plain and ordinary name of Jane Anderson, and I live in a sleepy market town in deepest Sussex. I’m forty-two years old, I have a husband called Paul and a twelve year old son called Jeremy, and just days ago the mere thought of appearing on live television would have brought me out in hives.

As for Rosie, she is three years older than me, an inch shorter, ten pounds lighter and at least forty million dollars richer. And as I stand here wearing her clothes, her hairstyle and her make-up, the real Rosie is lying on an operating table somewhere in New York City with half her face missing.

And if you’re wondering how on earth I managed to get myself into this position, I’ll have to take you back a few weeks to Friday, the twenty-first of September. It’s a date etched in my memory for a very particular reason. That was the day my happy, cosy, ordinary little world suddenly imploded.

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