top of page
  • Writer's pictureSuzy K Quinn

Love or Your Money Back - Pre-Publication Sample

Updated: May 10

Love of Your Money Back

Is marriage about love? Or marketing?

 

By Suzy K Quinn

 


 

Prologue

A good brand can be summed up in three words.

Apple is unique, innovative and cool.

Coca Cola is fun, refreshing and classic.

Rex Stark is rich, charming and ruthless.


As a marketing expert, Rex believes in brand consistency. Which is why he strides into the shabby offices of Little Affair Publishing totally on brand. There is a charming smile on his face, a limited-edition Rolex on his wrist and a list of staff redundancies in his pocket.


‘Good morning, Little Affair.’ Rex slaps his large, tanned hands on the round meeting table. He assumes the table is round for ‘inclusivity’ reasons. What a waste of time. Human beings are like monkeys. They need to know who their leader is or they start throwing shit at each other.

Rex analyses the tired-looking bunch of misfits before him, naming them as his eyes progress around the table:


Baldy fat computer nerd

Mad cat lady

The oldest gay in the village and …

Hello there.


Rex’s gaze settles on the woman at the end of the table. She’s interesting, despite the home-spun woollens and hair that looks like she’s rubbed it with balloons. Something about her eyes –  a sort of fiery intelligence. She also looks like she wants to kill him, which is fun.

‘So for those of you who don’t know,’ says Rex, ‘I am Rex Stark, the new owner of T&C Media. I am a marketing guru and rebrand king. I take low-profit companies, evaluate, rebrand and market them to make them successful. I can market anything. And I am here to turn Little Affair Publishing into a much bigger affair.’

Rex likes the words ‘guru’ and ‘king’. They are listed on his Wikipedia entry so they must be true. He waits for a round of applause. Surprisingly, he doesn’t get one. The interesting woman catches Rex’s eye again – perhaps due to the sheer fury on her face.

‘Excuse me.’ The woman stands, pulling her woollen cardigan around herself. ‘I’m Kat Friedman, CEO of Little Affair Publishing. I don’t know why we haven’t been introduced yet, but you don’t need to change anything around here. We made half a million pounds last year.’

‘Turnover or profit?’

Kat looks cagey. ‘Turnover. But the point is, we’re in the black with ten-thousand pounds in the bank and doing just fine. We might have enough for a new coffee machine this year –’

Rex makes a sound. Somewhere between a snort and a cough. Ten thousand pounds barely covers the cut-flower bill at his New York office.

‘Listen.’ Rex throws Kat a charming smile. ‘You’re doing great work here with your worthy little books that no one reads. The nation salutes you for your services to literature and all of that. Literature is great. It gives us access to a lot of legal loopholes and tax reducing strategies. But I’m here to make a profit. Profit means millions. Don’t you want to make more money?’ His eyes drop to Kat’s dangerously trade-mark infringing supermarket running shoes. ‘Think of all the pretty high heels you could buy.’

There’s a collective intake of breath.

‘Mr Stark.’ Kat crosses her arms. ‘Little Affair is a small, independent publisher. Our job isn’t to make money. It’s to win awards.’

‘Well, that changes right now.’ Rex claps his hands, making a very satisfying, manly noise. ‘I have a few restructurings to make before we get onto the fun stuff. Anyone I let go will have a great renumeration package, a good reference –’

‘What are you talking about?’ Kat shrieks. ‘You can’t lay off my staff.’

In spite of himself, Rex smiles. ‘I beg your pardon? Your staff?’

‘Yes, these are my staff.’ Kat gestures around the table. ‘My team. And don’t even think about raising your hand to cut me off.’

‘I wasn’t going to –’

‘Because the last person who did that ended up with broken fingers.’

‘Kat.’ Rex throws her another charming smile. ‘Can I call you Kat?’

‘No.’

‘I just bought out T&C Media. Little Affair Publishing is part of the package –’

‘No, it isn’t,’ Kat interrupts. ‘T&C Media own fifty percent of Little Affair. I own the other half.’

Rex is a little wrong footed, which is surprising considering how expensive his shoes are.

‘I think you’ve made a mistake there, Kat. As far as I’m aware, it was a total buy out.’ Rex whips out his brand-new, not-even-available-to-the-public-yet, iPhone and checks the T&C takeover contract.

Little Affair Publishing, Little Affair Publishing …

Oh no. It’s right there in black and white: 50% share.

A 50% share won’t work. Not for the changes Rex needs to make. And T&C Media is nothing without the literature angle. It’s the key to unlocking so many big deals.

Rex isn’t a partnership sort of person. He is a lone wolf. Loan wolves don’t compromise. They eat people.

‘Well look at that, Kat.’ Rex quickly regains his composure. ‘We’re co-owners. Half each. I’ll tell you what. I’ll give you two million to sell me your half.’

‘No.’

This response surprises Rex. He’s never met anyone who turned down a ridiculous sum of money before.

‘Maybe you didn’t hear me right,’ says Rex. ‘I said two million. Pounds. You can buy yourself an awful lot of new shoes. Or cardigans –’

‘Mr Stark,’ says Kat. ‘I am not motivated by money.’

Rex stares at Kat, momentarily lost for words. Eventually, he asks: ‘So what are you motivated by?’

‘Looking after my team and creating books that make the world better.’

‘And getting married,’ pipes up Mad Cat Lady. ‘That’s on the vision board this year, isn’t it Kat?’

Kat reddens. ‘That’s a personal goal, Gloria. It shouldn’t really be on the team vision board.’

‘You put it there.’

Kat’s mild blush turns flaming red.

Rex feels no further need to ask questions. Kat Friedman has a screw loose. You can’t argue with crazy.

‘Okay then.’ Rex glances at his redundancy list. ‘We’ll do things the hard way. As a co-owner, I can make changes –’

‘No, you can’t,’ says Kat. ‘Not without my permission. And I don’t give permission.’

‘But Kat, it’s in your interests to streamline staff,’ Rex insists. ‘You’ll make more money and your staff will find positions more suited to their skills. A real win-win.’ He’s about to wink at her again, but thinks better of it. ‘Of course, your job is safe –’

‘I don’t have a job,’ Kat snaps. ‘I’m co-owner. You can’t fire me or anyone else. Not without my permission.’

Rex returns to the comfort of his trademark charm. He throws Kat a fabulous smile. ‘How about we talk business over dinner? You can tell me how you got those marks on your hand. I bet there’s a story there.’

Kat glances at her scarred fingers, then holds Rex in a steady death glare. ‘I have absolutely no interest in spending time with a man who wants to get rid of my loyal employees.’

‘In my defence, I haven’t gotten rid of anyone yet,’ says Rex. ‘But let’s get started. Is there someone called Alan here?’

The oldest gay in the village starts crying.

Rex pushes a box of tissues towards him, feeling unrepentant. He’ll get an excellent renumeration package. Enough to buy himself many more leather, studded caps. And frankly, given his attendance record, he’s unlikely to know the difference between working and not working.

‘Alan, stop crying,’ says Kat. ‘Mr Stark isn’t getting rid of anyone. To make any major decisions about this company he has to go through me. And I say no.’ She turns to Rex. ‘So take your cheap smile and your expensive suit and throw your weight around somewhere else.’

Rex is impressed. He almost wants to give Kat a round of applause. She is marvellous. But she is also in his way. She’ll have to go, just like the rest of her badly dressed, lack-lustre team.

Rex wants Little Affair Publishing. It’s an untapped gold mine and also the key to some previously tightly locked tax advantages. And Rex always gets what he wants. It’s just a matter of time.


 

Chapter 1

Women over the age of 35 are more likely to be shot by a terrorist than get married. 

Source: New York Times, re-quoted regularly (and probably inaccurately) by my Aunty Sylvia.

 

As a 34-year-old unmarried female, my ever-declining odds of marriage weigh heavily on me most days. But today, they are a steamroller. Why? Because I am attending my ex-boyfriend’s wedding to a much younger woman.

I expect awkwardness and humiliation. However, weddings are excellent places to meet future husbands and I refuse to miss out on a golden opportunity to find matrimony. When it comes to the omelette of success, eggs need to be cracked.

‘Welcome to Chris and Minola’s fairy tale wedding!’ A jolly, overweight woman in an unflattering tutu waves a toy wand at me. ‘May you be blessed with fairy magic!’ She throws glitter over the rebellious brown frizz that is my hair.

I stand in quiet acceptance as handfuls of silver sparkles settle on my shoulders like ethereal dandruff. To be fair, my least-bobbly, navy work dress and lace-up vegan-leather DMs do need a little brightening up. In a woodland glade, surrounded by Tinkerbells and Maleficents, I need, at the very least, a pair of fairy wings.

‘Are you with the bride or groom?’ the fairy asks.

‘Groom.’

‘And how do you know Chris?’ She reaches for a second handful of glitter.

‘We slept together.’

The fairy’s hand hesitates mid-glitter removal. ‘Are you going to object to the wedding? Because between you and me, I think Minola can do better –’

‘Of course not.’ I try for a smile, which probably looks a little scary. ‘I want Chris to be happy. We were together for fifteen years. Engaged for three. It was an amicable breakup and we still get along well. Except for the excrement we post through each other’s letter boxes. Ha, ha, ha!’

‘I’ll put you on the bride side.’ The fairy leads me to an empty log on the right-side of the clearing, sprinkling fairy dust as she goes.

I sit, opening up my slumpy, patchwork bag and digging around for my mobile phone.

‘Oh!’ The fairy notices my folded walking cane, tucked among books, pens and notepads. ‘Are you disabled? Because if you are, I can offer you a plastic chair with better access to the portaloos –’

‘Not today.’ I pull my phone from my bag. ‘Today, my body will behave itself. It’s humiliating enough, watching my first love marry a woman 15-years younger than me. I’m not going to add spasms and shakes to my list of indignities.’ My eyes soften at the fairy’s confused expression. ‘I have MS. Multiple Sclerosis. Sometimes it means my legs start kicking people by accident. But today they will be good. I have given them a stern talking to.’

The fairy gives me an uncertain smile, then bounds away to glitter bomb more guests. I’m about to check work emails on my phone, when something frilly and pink appears at my shoulder.

‘Katerina! There you are. Hiding away on the bride side. When you’re a friend of the groom.’

I look up into the frantic, overly made-up eyes of my Aunty Sylvia. She wears her usual blend of pink, frills and sequins, and I resist the urge to comment on the many third-world workers who no doubt put her outfit together.

‘Hi Aunty Sylvia.’ I try for a smile. ‘Your stalking skills are excellent, as always. I didn’t even tell you I’d be here today and yet here you are. How did you find me?’

‘I saw the wedding invitation in your kitchen. Printed on cheap, flimsy paper and asking guests to bring their own fairy lights and booze.’ Sylvia shudders.

‘The invitation was actually in a drawer in my kitchen,’ I point out. ‘A closed drawer.’

Sylvia looks awkward. ‘I saw it when I was tidying.’

And it was in an envelope.’

‘Was it? I don’t recall.’

 ‘Is Aunt Caro here, too?’

‘Yes. And I’m not stalking you, darling. We’re here for support. After the way Chris treated you –’

‘Look, I know he treated me terribly. But he was still my first love.’ I grab a tissue from my bag and blow my nose. ‘How did you get yourself invited?’

‘I have my ways.’ Aunty Sylvia taps her nose.

‘Which are?’

‘Minola’s mother is a fellow Women’s Institute member and Let’s Knit events sometimes lead to the right conversations.’

‘Are you the only gay Women’s Institute member?’ I ask. ‘Or is there another?’

‘I’m not gay, darling.’ Aunty Sylvia gives a tinkling laugh. ‘I don’t know why you always call me that.’

‘Because you’re Aunt Caro’s girlfriend.’

‘Love doesn’t need a label.’ Aunty Sylvia reddens. ‘Now listen. I’m assuming you’re here to find a husband. You must have got my data sheet on the best occasions to find future partners, correct?’

‘I did, actually. Yes.’

‘Good girl.’ Aunty Sylvia pats me with a rose-fragranced hand. ‘I’ve already found a man you should meet. I wish you’d done something with your hair and worn a little colour. You’re a beautiful girl underneath all that baggy drab. There are no ugly women, just lazy ones. Come along!’ Sylvia clicks fragranced fingers.

‘Can’t I just have a few moments more wallowing time before the wedding party arrives?’ I ask. ‘Chris and I were engaged for 10 years. Today is an ending of sorts.’

‘No, today is your lucky escape.’ Aunty Sylvia pulls me to my feet. ‘You could have ended up in this make-do-and-mend we-don’t-want-to-pay-for-a-venue woodland wedding.’

‘I wouldn’t have minded.’

‘Why on earth would you want to marry a man who has no career –’

‘Chris is an actor.’

‘Exactly. Now listen. I know you’re in your thirties and still unmarried. And Chris treated you terribly and kept putting off the wedding and cheated on you and broke your heart. And then you took him back, only for him to leave you for this beautiful, young woman who he’s now marrying. And you’re still single and alone and thirty-four years old and time is ticking. But do not give that a moment’s thought today, Katerina. Okay? Come and meet this man I’ve found for you. He’s a dentist. Completely bald, but sometimes the nicest gifts come in bad packaging.’ She looks me up and down. ‘How are your legs today?’

‘Fine.’

‘Because I know that stress can –’

‘I’m not stressed. I’m sad.’

‘Yes.’ Aunty Sylvia eyes my outfit. ‘You look sad. Like you’re attending a funeral, actually. A very shabby funeral.’

I look down at myself. ‘This dress isn’t shabby. It’s from Marks and Spencer.’

‘Wool isn’t the right fabric for a wedding, dear.’ Sylvia plucks sadly at navy weave. ‘You should invest in some new clothes, before everything drops. This is the decade when it all falls apart. Your bosom and … other areas. Do you know that educated women over the age of 35 are more likely to get shot by a terrorist –’

‘Yes, you’ve mentioned that statistic before,’ I say. ‘Many times. Frankly, I’m amazed you didn’t ice it into that borderline offensive cake you made me for my 34th birthday.’

‘It wasn’t borderline offensive,’ says Sylvia. ‘It was a Delia Smith recipe. And the fondant bride and groom were supposed to be inspiring. I wanted to show you that even though Chris was engaged to somebody else, you could still dream of your own big day.’

‘Don’t worry, Sylvia.’ I push my phone into my bag. ‘Getting married is one of my life goals. And I always achieve my life goals. I’m just … a little late to this one because I sat around waiting for Chris for too long.’ My eyes wander to the front of the clearing and a wooden altar hung with fairy lights. ‘But onwards and upwards, right?’

‘Exactly.’ Sylvia grabs my arm. ‘You’re a beautiful girl with a stunning bosom and still young enough to fall madly in love again.’

‘I’ll never love anyone the way I loved Chris –’

‘Nonsense! Come and meet this dentist. Lovely fellow. He was telling me that dental hoovers – you know the ones that suck out rotten, broken shards of teeth? Well, apparently, they’re very similar to my Dyson V15.’


 

Chapter 2

I follow Sylvia to the back of the woodland clearing, where I see Aunt Caro, perched on a bumpy log, looking as uncomfortable as I feel. Aunt Caro is overweight and wears it proudly, with a powerful bosom and a backside that doesn’t ask, but demands, extra space. She wears a white fedora, black suit, black tie and white shirt and looks like a friendly mafia boss. One who doesn’t do her own torturing.

‘Good to see you, Aunt Caro.’ I manage a smile.

Aunt Caro is basically a fat version of my dead mother, which is always a comfort. She has the wild, black hair of our Jordanian heritage and the chapped hands of an overly-sanitised germaphobe.

‘How have you been keeping, Kat?’ Aunt Caro gives me slightly-frantic, golden brown eyes. ‘Regular doctor visits? Have you had your –’

‘Yes, I’m up to date with my scans.’

‘Move along, Caro.’ Sylvia makes urgent gestures with her white gloves. ‘I want Katerina to meet –’  Sylvia scans the clearing with narrowing eyes. ‘Where did the dentist go?’

‘He said something about haemorrhoids and finding a plastic chair,’ says Aunt Caro.

Sylvia looks horrified. ‘You let him get away? He was single. You should have struck up a conversation with him –’

Some awful fairy tale castle music starts up, and Sylvia’s face takes on a delighted quality. ‘Oh! Isn’t that sweet? I think it’s Disney’s Aladdin soundtrack. The ceremony must be starting. Quickly, Katerina. Sit down or they’ll think you’re objecting to the wedding.’

I sit just as Chris and his very young fiancée begin their smug journey between the log pews.

Chris smiles and waves like visiting royalty. He still has that confident sparkle I fell for as a starry-eyed teenager, but now with slightly receding hair, a shaggier beard and red-rimmed blue eyes.

Minola wears a wicker crown and an ethereal, flowing dress, both covered in fake flowers and leaves. She is very pale and white blonde, like she’s been through the wash for too long. But she also looks joyful and in love. And I’m happy for her. Honestly.

Chris gives me a wink as he passes.

I stiffen and look away.

I still love him. There’s no getting over that one. But he’s getting married and I wish him all the best.

Aunt Caro reaches for my hand and squeezes it. Aunty Sylvia takes my other hand.

I give them both grateful smiles.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Chris reaches the wooden altar, then turns and bows like he’s on stage. ‘FRIENDS! Nobles. Countrymen. And people I’ve never met before.’ He gives a confident chuckle. ‘Let’s do this thing. Let’s get married. Woo!’

There’s a smattering of whoops from the younger, stupider guests.

I feel tears coming.

Aunty Sylvia squeezes my hand tight, hissing: ‘Don’t waste your tears. You’re worth ten of him!’

‘People keep saying that,’ I whisper, blinking quickly. ‘But if I’m so great, why did he leave?’

‘Because he’s immature and weak,’ says Aunt Caro. ‘And having a mid-life crisis –’

A young woman dressed as Maleficent whirls around on the log in front.

‘SHUSH!’

I tune back into Chris. He’s giving Minola the same eyes he used to give me, and it hurts.

‘Before we kick things off …’ Chris rubs his overgrown, red-brown beard. ‘I have a surprise for Minola. Hey baby, you know the gorgeous VW camper we drove to the church in?’

Minola’s smile shows signs of tension. ‘That bus thing? Yes, that really was a surprise. I was expecting a limousine and I think my family were too –’

‘Well guess what?’ Chris clasps Minola’s hands to his chest. ‘I bought it for us! To live in!’

Minola’s smile fades entirely. ‘What? You want us to live in that old van?’

‘It’s not a van, darling,’ Chris laughs. ‘It’s a vintage VW. Worth tens of thousands of pounds! After the wedding, we’ll take off around the country sleeping in fields and glens like real fairies and flower folk.’

‘Aren’t we going somewhere sunny on honeymoon?’

‘England can be sunny,’ Chris declares, as grey cloud shadows the clearing. ‘Okay! Let’s get married.’

A pagan priestess appears, dressed in flowing purple robes.

As Chris and Minola have their hands tied together with black ribbon, a figure appears beside me.

‘Hey Kat. Room for one more on that log?’

I look up, then give a horrified shriek.

Rex Stark stands over me, all dirty blonde hair and square jaw, dressed in a perfectly fitting tuxedo that is extremely out-of-place at this rustic, hipster wedding. He looks like a Ken doll, only with a smattering of extra-coarse, manly brown stubble.

‘What in Jesus’s name are you doing here?’ I hiss. ‘This is a family wedding, not business mingling.’

‘I was invited,’ says Rex.

‘How? Why? This is a wedding of fairies and flower people. No one wants a Rolex watch model –’

‘I came to see you, actually,’ says Rex. ‘Since you won’t talk to me at work, I thought a social occasion would be better. It turns out I’ve done some business with the bride’s father. All it took was a LinkedIn message and a small donation to the happy couple.’

Sylvia throws herself over me to shake Rex’s hand. ‘Hello, young man. I’m Katerina’s aunt. Are you single?’

‘Of course he is,’ I say. ‘He’s far too disloyal to settle down with anyone. His main occupation is stripping company assets and putting people out of work so he can make millions.’

Sylvia turns to me. ‘Do you know this tall, handsome blonde millionaire, Katerina?’

‘Yes.’ My teeth feel like they’re glued together. ‘This is Rex Stark. The man who’s trying to ruin Little Affair publishing.’

276 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Commentaires


bottom of page