Read on for an exclusive extract from Will They, Won’t They by Portia MacIntosh
‘I know,’ he says simply – almost menacingly.
‘Know what?’ I reply.
I sound innocent enough, but my eyes tell a different story.
Lying here, in bed with him, with just a thin sheet barely protecting my modesty, I wriggle slightly under the weight of his scarily muscular arm.
He’s lying next to me, on his side, I can see him staring at me out of the corner of my eye. He isn’t holding me; he’s holding me down.
‘I know,’ he says again.
The light from the flickering candles creates creepy little shadows that dance on the walls. It’s distracting, watching them, my eyes playing tricks on me as I try to make sense of the shapes.
I try to ignore it. I need to focus. He knows…
‘Ed, my love, I don’t know what you mean,’ I start. ‘I’m just—’
‘Spare me your false protests,’ he snaps.
He sits up in bed, lifting himself onto his elbows as his biceps bulge and his abs ripple – he has to be doing that on purpose.
‘I swear to you…’
I try to sit up too, but he pushes me down flat on my back.
‘Did you ever love me, Adelina?’ he asks. ‘Or was it all a lie? I knew in the depths of my stomach that I shouldn’t trust you, but you convinced me that you loved me and I fell for it.’
‘Ed, of course I love you,’ I insist. ‘I never thought I would find love, but love found me, you found me. When we happened upon each other in the forest, and we knew it was wrong, but we knew we were meant to be…’
‘But it was all an act, wasn’t it?’ he says angrily. ‘To infiltrate my family, to do what? How far would you go? Would you—? No… no…’
The realisation hits him hard, like a ton of bricks, and you can really see it on his face. He almost looks constipated.
‘It was you,’ he says. ‘My brother… you were the one who…’
‘Ed, I love you,’ I say again – like I mean it this time. ‘Make love to me again, right now, and tell me you don’t feel it.’
I roll my eyes, but only in my head, careful not to let my face slip, not even for a second.
He whips the covers from me and presses his naked body down on top of mine. Christ, he’s heavy. Like lying underneath a Ford Fiesta. It’s about as thrilling too. It’s not that he isn’t gorgeous. He’s practically an Adonis. Perfectly chiselled muscles, big dark eyes permanently fixed in a brooding stare, a jaw so tight it’s almost painful to look at. He just isn’t my type at all. I’m definitely not going to miss kissing him.
He moves me to the edge of the bed, dangling my head off the side as he kisses my neck. He moves up to my lips where he promptly slips his tongue in my mouth. I just need to act like I’m enjoying it for a few more seconds until…
‘This is for Varitan,’ he announces solemnly.
Tears flood his eyes as he reaches under the bed and grabs a small axe. He raises it up above his head, gathering strength, ready to chop my head clean off.
I stare at it, frozen in horror like a rabbit in the headlights, as he swings the axe down towards my face.
‘And cut,’ a voice calls out.
Everyone springs to action on the set around us. A young woman runs towards me with a dressing gown, to cover my nearly naked body. For the sex scenes, I get a skin-coloured modesty patch and a genital guard, which is sort of like a big plastic shoehorn that they attach to you with latex glue. But it never really feels like they do all that much to actually protect your modesty.
Alex Forbes, the actor who plays Edrym opposite me, pretty much just wears a sock fixed in place with some wig tape, but let’s just say he overacts his sex scenes just as much as he does his regular scenes, and it usually slips straight off. I’d say thankfully we have a closed set for scenes like this, but Alex clearly doesn’t mind. Right now, he’s just standing there, talking to the director, as naked as the day he was born.
Jane, my agent, is the next person to approach me. It isn’t usual to have your agent on set with you, but today isn’t a normal day.
‘Is that it?’ I ask her.
‘That’s it,’ she replies with a big smile. ‘Your final scene. There’s just one thing left to do.’
‘God, they don’t need me to do any reshoots with him, do they?’ I reply, nodding towards Alex, who appears to have found a reason to flex a bicep as he watches the scene back on one of the monitors. He’s pointing something out to the director, probably just to use his arm.
‘Nope, no more reshoots,’ Jane says. ‘They’ve got everything they need for your brutal murder.’
‘Fab,’ I say sarcastically.
‘You just need to shoot your exit interview,’ she reminds me.
Ah, that’s right. When anyone dies in this show they interview them for the discussion show that airs after each episode. They have a live studio audience for the discussion, but not for the interview, not since someone threw an egg at an especially mean elf from Season Two. Bragadon Forrest fans are nothing if not passionate.
‘Ergh, fine, let’s get it over with,’ I say.
‘Just one thing,’ she starts.
I can tell from the look on her face that I’m not going to like it. And then I notice the make-up girl hovering close by with the fake blood.
‘Oh, seriously?’ I moan.
‘You’re supposed to look fresh from filming your final moments,’ Jane reminds me. ‘And you have just had your head chopped off.’
‘The fans do know this is a TV show, right?’ I say. ‘I mean, they must, if they’re watching me do my exit interview.’
I sigh. It’s almost all over with.
‘Fine, cover me in blood.’
Just another day at the office.
I should just be grateful I’m allowed to wear a dressing gown for the interview. But it wouldn’t be unlike the show to have me do it in the nip. After all, they do love their sexposition scenes, where they’ll shoehorn in shagging and nudity just to keep the viewers’ attention, while they explain the more boring aspects of a plot about fairies and elves fighting for the throne of Bragadon Forrest. Take it from someone who played a fairy princess – it’s astounding how little they wanted me to wear and how often. Fairies are all small, slim, pretty and always scantily clad creatures. The elves are all big, muscular types – the men and the women – and they’re always flashing their muscles, at the least. I never knew fantasy was so sexy, until I joined the cast of one of the biggest shows on TV.
After six seasons, it feels like forever ago since I started. And now I’m on my way out.
I’m ushered from one set to another, where a makeshift stage is set up with two chairs facing each other. Mikey King, the host of the Bragadon Forrest Talk Show, is waiting for me with a big smile on his face.
‘Hey Emmy, fresh from filming your final scene?’ Mikey asks me as I sit down opposite him.
‘I just felt the fake blood drip down from my neck into the piece of plastic glued to my crotch,’ I say, like it’s the most casual thing in the world. ‘I couldn’t be fresher.’
‘Great, let’s get straight on, shall we?’ he says.
Mikey makes the introductions while I shift awkwardly in my seat. I wasn’t lying about that fake blood.
‘So, here I am with Emmy Palmer aka Princess Adelina. Emmy, how are you feeling?’ he asks.
Obviously, I’m not going to answer that completely honestly.
‘Erm, yeah, just kind of weird,’ I reply. ‘To have been doing this for six seasons, and playing such an important character in the show, Bragadon Forrest has been a huge part of my life. I’ll always have fond memories of my time on set.’
‘Obviously yours and Alex Forbes’ characters, Adelina and Edrym, were sort of like the Romeo and Juliet of the series. Do you think it was always bound to end in tragedy for those two?’ Mikey asks curiously.
Another question I don’t think I should answer in too much detail. Well, the reality is that it’s more a case of me having some personal issues with the showrunner – who unfortunately is the person who is pretty much in charge of everything – and him having me killed off prematurely. The character arc doesn’t really come into it in that case, does it? But I can’t say that.
‘I guess when you have two people from warring families trying to make it work in the crossfire then someone is bound to get hurt,’ I say.
‘Well, then fans will be shocked, I’m sure,’ Mikey says. ‘You were the show’s true hero. Do you think this signals the start of a difficult time?’
‘Oh, absolutely,’ I reply. Now that is an honest answer – both on and off screen.
‘I imagine Edrym will miss Adelina, even though it was him who killed her,’ Mikey continues. ‘And I’ll bet you’re going to miss working with Alex, huh? I bet there are plenty of people out there who would have killed you sooner to roll round in the sheets with Alex.’
Mikey laughs. I cringe a little but smile politely. I can’t let my game face slip yet.
‘Oh, those scenes are nowhere near as sexy to shoot as they appear when you watch them back,’ I insist. ‘They’re so carefully choreographed and, to be honest, more like exercise than anything else. My core has never been stronger.’
Mikey laughs that same laugh again, right on cue.
Sometimes, I get this feeling we’re all just wearing our game faces, going through the motions.
‘I guess the question on everyone’s lips is this: what is next for Emmy Palmer?’ Mikey asks finally.
I smile as I stall for time, searching my brain for a few words to throw together, but the truth is that I don’t know. I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do now.
There are two types of northerners: those who think London is amazing and those who think it’s a shithole.
My uncle, for example, always talks about how he’ll only be happy when we hack England off just below Sheffield and ‘send the rest of ‘em off to France’. I don’t think it’s a trait exclusive to Yorkshire men, or even northerners, it seems as though lots of people outside London think it’s the polluted, rat-infested, overrun heart of capitalism where people in the street wouldn’t pee on you if you were on fire, never mind say hello. Not like up north where, by the time you’ve tipped your flat cap to someone they’ve already folded your ironing and popped an apple pie in your oven, obviously.
The people who are not like my uncle are more like me. The kind of person who sees London as a city of opportunity. I’m not saying nothing else happens anywhere else ever, but when you grow up in a small coastal town in Yorkshire, dreaming of being an actress, you can’t aim much higher than Emmerdale if you plan on staying local, so you don’t really have much choice but to move, and everything that’s anything happens in London.
I moved to London right after I finished sixth form, working various jobs here and there, until I got my first big break – the role of Adelina. I don’t think anyone knew at the time just how big the show was going to be, but as shows like Game of Thrones grew in popularity, people’s appetite for fantasy grew until our show was huge as well.
Of course, the lifestyle appeals to me too. I love the bars, the shops – the Tube is incredible. And then there’s my apartment…
I have a two-bed, two-bath duplex in Soho. The front of the building looks quite traditional, boasting huge sash windows that let in tons of light, and on the other side of the building, I have floor-to-ceiling windows and bi-folding doors that open out on to my teeny-tiny terrace. The period façade balances Edwardian character with a contemporary approach to light and space, and the ultra-modern interior gives me the best of urban loft living. Maybe I know what I’m talking about, or maybe that’s the pitch the sales girl gave me, but the beautiful thing about acting is that, if your delivery is right, no one really knows when you’re faking it. Well, that’s what I like to think, at least, because as good as I may be at pretending, I do often find it hard to hide what I’m feeling if I feel strongly enough about something.
God, it’s good to be home. After washing off all the fake blood, hopping into my own clothes, and having those impossibly heavy, long blonde hair extensions removed, I left the set finally feeling like myself again, whoever that is. I’ve been playing Adelina for so long now and the show is so big I haven’t been able to escape it for a minute. I can’t even buy milk without someone yelling one of my fake names at me. And by fake names, I mean either Adelina, my character name, or Emmy Palmer, which is actually my stage name.
To make a long story short, no two actors can have the same working name, so when you come to register your name if someone else is already working under that name, you have to come up with something else. Well, I was born Emma Watson, and despite being four years older than her, the Emma Watson got quite the head start on me on screen, so I had to improvise. I figured, my family and friends always called me Emmy growing up, and I just liked the sound of Palmer, so that was that. Emmy Palmer was born.
I ditch my keys in the bowl I keep on the chest of drawers just through my apartment front door. A mirror hangs above it and the sight of my hair causes me to double take. I wear my insanely long blonde hair extensions for extended periods of time, so by the time I have them taken out, I can never quite get over how different I look. I find it fascinating when people crave super-long hair because I can never get rid of it quick enough. With my fairy hair gone, I have a stylish blonde lob, just a little bit past shoulder length, and that suits me just fine. I ditch the oversized sunglasses I hid behind on the way home to reveal my tired eyes.
I finally feel as though I can relax. I know it sounds like I complain a lot, but it’s not all bad, playing a fairy princess for so many years did buy me this apartment.
I kick off my shoes, let my coat fall to the floor and slip off my jeans, making it look a little bit like I’ve just vanished into thin air leaving nothing but a pile of clothes behind. I flop down onto the sofa, letting the large, soft cushions swallow me whole. I close my eyes. It’s so quiet here. I can’t hear the city outside, nothing in my apartment is making a noise – the only thing I can hear is the sound of my own breath, which seems to get louder the more I focus on it, and now I’m doing that my heartbeat has joined the party, thudding in my ears.
Suddenly, I don’t feel so good. My breathing changes, it’s as though I’m no longer doing it on autopilot, I’m having to think about each breath, my brain telling my body to take in oxygen and push it out again. As a funny feeling in my stomach kicks in and I wonder what on earth could be wrong with me, it makes sense all of a sudden. I’m having an anxiety attack. I think now that I’m home, now that I’m me again, now that my crazy world seems to have calmed, the reality of the situation has finally hit me. I no longer work on Bragadon Forrest. And without Bragadon Forrest, my life feels sort of empty.
My agent has been trying for months, ever since I found out I was being killed off, to find me some work, but I’ve wound up frustratingly typecast after being in a fantasy show for so long, so the good roles aren’t exactly coming in thick and fast. As Jane keeps reminding me, the moves I make now will define my career. She says that if I accept the crappy sci-fi and fantasy gigs I’m being offered, that will be it, that’s all I’ll ever get. I’m not saying I won’t accept less than a Marvel movie or to be main cast on the next Netflix drama that makes it big, but I can’t imagine spending the rest of my days wearing next to no clothing and getting my head chopped off. I don’t want that to be my thing.
The peace and quiet is interrupted by my phone ringing. Refusing to get up from my ‘relaxing’ spot, I dangle my upper body off the sofa and walk my hands a little across the floor, managing to reach my jeans with my little finger, pull them close and retrieve my phone from the pocket.
It’s my friend Laura – Laura Jade, yes the Laura Jade, the one who hosts You Should Meet, the dating TV show where single contestants meet potential matches on behalf of their single friends, but if they want them for themselves they can steal them. It’s so simple but it’s so explosive every single week. It’s amazing how willing people are to ditch their friends for someone hot whom they met half an hour ago. Recently Laura has been trying to get me to sign up for the celebrity version, but it sounds like my worst nightmare. I’m happy being single but, even if I weren’t, a reality TV show is not the way I’d go about finding a meaningful relationship.
‘How is my favourite fairy princess?’ Laura asks when I finally answer.
Everyone who works on the show has to sign a strict confidentiality agreement. Other than my agent, I’m not allowed to tell anyone that I’ve been killed off.
‘Can’t complain,’ I lie. ‘How are you?’
‘Yeah, I’m great, just finished filming some promos for Celeb YSM,’ she replies. ‘We’ve got Fabrizio Napoletano on board – are you sure I can’t tempt you into taking part?’
Fabrizio Napoletano was one of the winners of Love Island a couple of years ago (you won’t be shocked to hear that he didn’t stay with his partner for much longer than it took them to bank the prize money) and has been on the romance reality TV circuit ever since. He’s good looking – of course he is, or he wouldn’t be a popular regular on all of these shows – but he’s not exactly a catch in my eyes, not only because of the sheer volume of women I’ve watched him plough his way through on various TV shows, but also because just like I’ve been typecast as a fantasy princess, Fabrizio’s entire identity is dating TV shows. Once he finds love, that’s it, his career is over, and with so many girls throwing themselves at him regardless, he’d be crazy to cash out now.
‘Oh, so tempting,’ I reply sarcastically. ‘But no thanks.’
‘OK, big shot,’ she teases. ‘But, you never know, one day you might be begging to be on my show. Until then… fancy drinks tonight?’
I feel so emotionally and physically drained (getting beheaded will do that to a girl) and, in a way, the last thing I want to do is go out on the town. On the other hand, my celebrity stock is sure to plummet once people realise I’ve been killed off, so it makes sense to keep my face out there. Every now and then there is a member of the paparazzi lingering around outside my building. I once made the showbiz pages for walking home with two takeaway coffees instead of one, which resulted in the headline: ‘Does Emmy Palmer have a secret fairy prince?’ when, in reality, I was only carrying two cups because they gave me a free sample of some coffee beans to try at home, in my fancy new machine, which I still haven’t used. In my line of work, when you’re at home and bored during the day, sometimes walking for that takeaway coffee is the only way you’ll see signs of life. It’s all or nothing. Manic days on set and celebrity parties, or days home alone filled with nothing other than what you can think to fill them with, which for me is shopping and coffee.
‘Sure, why not?’ I reply. ‘Where did you have in mind?’
‘There’s a new restaurant, Encounter, throwing a swanky launch party tonight, and we’re on the list,’ she says excitedly. ‘So, go get tarted up, I’ll text you the address, and I’ll see you there, yeah?’
‘Yeah, OK, sounds good,’ I reply, trying to match her enthusiasm. ‘How long have I got?’
‘Not long, actually,’ she replies. ‘I said we’d be there early, to pose in some of the promo shots. All exposure is good exposure. But, yeah, I’d probably start getting ready now. And make sure you get yourself in the party mood, will you? You sound miserable.’
Aww, isn’t it nice to have friends who care?
Sometimes – and it is only sometimes – I feel like I’m working when I go out with Laura. Well, it almost sounds like she’s booked us a gig, having us turn up at Encounter before the launch to take pictures that will be plastered all over social media. Still, it’s a reason to get dressed up and have fun, which beats a night of sitting on the sofa, trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life, and eating every beige food I can get my hands on, because now I don’t need to worry about being nearly naked for the camera for large chunks of the year, all I can think about is making the most of all the things I’ve been denying myself for the past six seasons. Actually, I can think of no better place to do that than a restaurant.
We’ve no sooner said goodbye and I’ve dragged myself to my bathroom when I hear my phone ringing again. I dash back to the coffee table where I left it.
‘Hello,’ I say, after answering the number I don’t recognise.
‘Hello, it’s your Amazon delivery, I’m knocking on the door but no one is in,’ a voice on the other end of the phone says.
‘You’re at my door?’ I say.
‘Yeah, with the green garden gate,’ he replies.
I’m confused for about four seconds.
‘Oh, right, yes, sorry,’ I babble. ‘It’s a gift for my granddad. Is he not in?’
‘No one is answering but it says I need to see some ID, so I can’t just leave it,’ he explains.
My granddad, Tony, is without a doubt my favourite family member. I know, you’re not supposed to have favourites, but in my family the competition isn’t all that stiff. Don’t get me wrong, they’re my family, and I love them all, but Granddad is the only one who gives me absolutely zero hassle. I miss him so much, living in London, when he’s back home in Yorkshire. I don’t get to see him as much as I would like so the least I can do is make sure he always has plenty of his favourite tipple – Glenmorangie whisky.
‘Could you leave it with the neighbour?’ I say, offering my best solution, but I can’t help but think about how unusual it is that Granddad isn’t home.
‘Sorry, love, I can’t, not if I need to see ID. We can try again tomorrow,’ he replies.
I always have Granddad tell me when he’s running low, so that I can get a bottle to him before he completely runs out, so I’m sure he’ll be fine waiting another day. He’s not dependent on it but with his arthritis being really bad these days he doesn’t get out of the house much, so if he likes to spend his evenings having a glass of whisky and watching episodes of old sitcoms like Fawlty Towers and Only Fools and Horses, then I’m happy to oblige. While eighty-eight might be a ‘good age’ (whatever the hell that is), it doesn’t mean he’s on the scrapheap just because his knees and his wrists don’t work as well as they used to.
It is odd, that he isn’t in, given how little he goes out. Perhaps my mum has taken him to a doctor’s appointment or something. I drop her a quick message, asking her to give me a ring when she’s got a minute, just to make sure everything is OK there. It would be nice to hear her voice today, even if I can’t tell her why.
My heart feels a little heavy, thinking about my granddad. He’s not only the greatest granddad in the world (I’m sure everyone says that, but in my case, it’s true) but he was more of a dad to me than mine ever was.
Ha! So much for getting myself in the party mood, I’ve wandered down a path that is growing increasingly dark, haven’t I?
Showering away any remnants of my beheading makes me feel a little better and as I begin to style my newly shortened hair and paint on my game face, I feel much better and, dare I say it, excited about a night out with Laura.
As if my hair didn’t suddenly feel short enough, wrapping it around the large barrel of my curling tongs has only made it seem shorter still, but at least it doesn’t take half as long to style as the long extensions did. By the time I’ve slipped on a pair of black trousers, over-the-knee black boots, a bright red silk vest, my trusty leather jacket, some silver accessories and my Alexander McQueen black, white and red skull scarf I actually look like myself again. Adelina has left the building.
I’ll head out into the cold November air, book myself an Uber, and then enjoy my last few moments of calm on the drive there, because these things are usually pretty non-stop all evening.
I can’t really say why, but I get this sense of something not being quite right the second I step outside my building. My uneasy feeling is soon explained by the paparazzi waiting outside for me. Not one – the usual one – not two, but five. Five photographers all shouting my name, trying to take my photo, barking questions at me but I can’t pick one whole question out of the chaos. The explosion of noise makes my ears ring, blocking out almost all other sound, and I feel so overwhelmed by the giant camera lenses, the big dark eyes hiding the photographer behind them, that for a moment, my eyes just dart back and forth between them, almost as though I’m posing on autopilot.
I might have been doing this job for a while now, but let’s face it, I’m not that famous, that I should have five photographers waiting for me. Something must have happened. Could news have leaked about me being killed off? They wouldn’t put that in the news though, would they? A spoiler like that and the fans would destroy whichever news outlet leaked it.
I don’t know what else to do other than quickly lift my clutch bag up to hide my face while I fiddle with my door fob, trying to get back inside my building. I’m safe as soon as the external door closes, but I don’t slow for a second until I’m in my own apartment with the door closed and locked behind me.
I shrug off my jacket and whip off my scarf, suddenly roasting hot, before taking out my phone. I’ve typed my own name into Google before my bum has touched the sofa. As soon as I see the headlines, I slump down in my seat, wishing once again that it would just swallow me up, eat me alive, or at least let me hide inside it for the foreseeable future.
I’m in the news. I’m in the fucking news. And it is absolutely mortifying.
I need to call my agent, but first I need to call Laura, tell her I’m not going to be able to make it tonight. She’ll be annoyed, unless she’s seen the news, in which case she probably won’t mind. I have a strong feeling no one is going to want to be seen with me for the foreseeable, not now I’ve been branded a homewrecker.
We hope you enjoyed this extract. To read more, purchase the full novel here: https://amzn.to/3AYdgvm