The very moment Sheldon Trent leapt back into her life, Daisy Thorne knew he was the man for her. The guy was straight out of a sizzling romantic novel; a hypnotic duet of hazel eyes, a chaos of wax-messed chestnut locks and the athletic physique of a guy who knew exactly how to work himself into a hot sweat in the gym.
Before he was famous, Sheldon chose to kiss Daisy’s soft and willing lips.
Before he was famous, Sheldon cocooned Daisy’s petite frame within the solid warmth of his muscular arms.
And before he was famous, Sheldon almost, yes, get this, he almost became her official boyfriend.
But then she lost him.
Now he was famous, Sheldon Trent was no longer available.
Now he was famous, the man was strictly off-limits to the heart-fluttering, bosom-heaving desires of all rival women.
And now he was famous, Daisy’s almost-but-not-quite boyfriend belonged to somebody else.
Reality TV star Melody Diamond.
For the last three days, Daisy had shuffled around in her pyjamas and dressing gown like a zombie/hermit hybrid. She hadn’t washed, she hadn’t dressed, she hadn’t once left her shoebox of a one-bedroom London flat. Actually, “London flat” was too kind a phrase for the place. “Bottom of the pile London hovel” was a far more fitting description. Still, in comparison, it was (fairly) cheap to rent, a rarity amid the city’s eye-wateringly over-priced property letting market.
During these three depressing days, Daisy had couch-potatoed her way through hour upon hour of god-awful daytime television. Yes. Daytime TV. It was a wonder she hadn’t gone mad. Or maybe she had, but didn’t know it yet. Furthermore, her diet had consisted of any random species of tinned goods she could forage from the deepest, darkest depths of the kitchen cupboards. And get this. She’d spoon-scoffed her foraged foodstuff straight from each can. Eeeewww! The girl had even devoured the tin of pilchards she couldn’t recall purchasing. Yes. Pilchards. She detested pilchards.
This time last week, Daisy enjoyed existence as just another average twenty-two-year-old London girl; plastic maxed to the limit, way too many shoes, chaotic cascades of flyaway hair refusing to be tamed, a waist two sizes social-legally too big, a pair of boobies three sizes social-legally too small and a sheer-drop canyon of an overdraft. Yet despite all that, life was (or at least had been) essentially good.
But now look at her. Melody Diamond had turned the lass into a hopeless feral wretch.
What was Daisy thinking?
Why had she let herself get like this?
Huh, in Daisy’s opinion, no way was that airhead bitch Sheldon’s ideal match. She couldn’t work it out. What the hell did he see in her?
What was Sheldon thinking?
Why had he let himself get like this?
Again... God knows.
Melody Diamond was a nobody. The most famous nobody in the world. Never before had such a nobody rocketed towards the dizzy, vertigo-inducing heights of super-stardom. But she’d somehow managed it. Oh, yes, there was no denying it, this total nobody was a massive somebody.
With the proverbial world at her feet, Miss Diamond had everything. Money. Notoriety. An ultra-massive fan-base. And now she had Sheldon Trent.
In comparison, what did Miss Thorne have?
Easy. A broken heart.
Daisy considered hitting the town and losing herself in a one-woman pub crawl. The insatiable sinking of way too many vodka and cokes, sickly cocktails and vile-tasting shots seemed like the greatest idea of the century. Yes. Drown her sorrows. Drink to forget. But no. Journeying beyond her front door meant facing the outside world, a definite no-no. Instead, in an attempt to distract herself from the heartache, Daisy powered up the TV.
Sod’s law kicked in with an advert for Melody Diamond’s brand new autobiography.
‘Two years ago,’ an uber-enthusiastic narrator boomed out to Livingroomland, ‘an unknown twenty-three-year-old hairdresser from Essex stepped into the Fly On The Wall villa. From that day onwards, everything changed. Forever.’
The premise of Fly On The Wall (the most successful reality TV show ever in the entire known universe) was simple:
1. Bung ten ordinary people* for three months into a purpose-built Mediterranean villa peppered with hidden cameras. Offer them no TV, no radio, no internet, no mobile phones, no newspapers, no connection whatsoever with the outside world.
2. Unlike previous reality TV shows of a similar vein, DO NOT dish out dares, tasks, zany contests, the desperate need to couple up to stay in, the even more desperate need to get back with a nightmare ex to stay in, or any other form of stimulation to quash the grey onset of mind-numbing boredom.
3. Give them one luxury. Unlimited alcohol.
4. Light the proverbial blue touch paper and see what happens.
*The term “ordinary people” was a phrase intended to be taken loosely. Very loosely. Without fail, every season’s ten shortlisted auditionees were a far cry from regular members of the public. They were needy, narcissistic, egotistic, self-obsessed, practically brain-dead and (most importantly) ready to blow. In other words, TV gold.
The advert went on to display a noisy montage of Melody moments from the Fly On The Wall archives; her mega-tantrums, her riotous run-ins with fellow contestants and her (censored) flashing of body parts whenever she detected a distinct lull in her share of airtime.
The overblown narration then continued. ‘Everybody remembers where they were when Melody Diamond left the Fly On The Wall villa.’
Cue VT of Melody’s infamous ejection, greeted by the raucous adulation of hundreds of avid fans.
‘She may not have been crowned queen of the villa, but my word, she certainly went on to win the hearts of the entire nation.’
‘Not this bloody heart,’ growled Daisy to the TV, spooning the final remnants of cold baked beans straight from the can and into a mouth boasting tomato-sauce-stained lips.
A fast-paced sequence of documentary-style everyday happenings then showed the woman shopping, socialising, public-appearancing, whatevering. It was a wonder they didn’t show her peeing or (God forbid) taking a number two.
‘Since then, we’ve seen life through a lens of this reality sensation via her ratings-busting TV shows, Melody Diamond: After The Villa and Melody Diamond: Two Years In The Life. And now, for the first time ever, everybody’s favourite celebrity opens her heart about her meteoric rise to fame, her addiction to cosmetic surgery and the reason why she bared all as a top-shelf centrefold model.’
Next came a close-up still of the book’s front cover, dominated by the flawless, airbrushed headshot of the woman in question.
‘Melody Diamond: On Top. Her new autobiography.’
The advert concluded with a soft-focus shot of a seated Melody clutching her book. ‘In my own words, I hold nothing back,’ she stated, firm and resilient in a thick Essex accent. ‘I reveal all. And I mean all.’
Urrrrgggh, unable to take any more of this vomit-inducing pantomime, Daisy standbyed the TV.
Good news: The killing of picture and sound freed her eyes and ears from a certain nobody-turned-somebody. Well, for now at least.
Bad news: Said killing of picture and sound failed to offer respite to her tortured memory, her fractured mind, her heartbroken mess of a life. Like the idiot tattoo of an ex-lover’s name, that frigging nobody-turned-somebody was going nowhere.
It was then when her door intercom buzzy-buzz-buzzed again and again and again. Oh, great, the last headache she needed right now was a visitor. No, no, no, she’d ignore the persistent buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzzing, yes, that’s what she’d do. Whoever it was would soon get bored and leave the heartbroken girl to fester in peace.
There followed a long, lingering silence. Had the caller taken the hint and departed?
Buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzz!
No. He or she hadn’t.
Buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzz, buzzy-buzz!!!
Argh, FFS, she parked her now-foodless tin can and accompanying spoon upon the coffee table, then marched into the hallway. Lifting the door intercom receiver free of its wall-mounted cradle and placing it against her ear, she barked, ‘Who is this? And what do you want?’
‘Daisy. It’s your mother. Let me in. Now.’
Oh, FFS revisited. Of all people, why did it have to be her?
‘Mum, I can’t. I’m...’ The hermit thumbed with haste through her mind’s inventory of excuses, thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb, but her bullshit gene had clearly packed up for the day. All she could manage was a pitiful, ‘...busy with stuff.’
‘Oh, don’t give me that old codswallop. I’m not going anywhere, young lady, so you might as well open this door.’
It was true. Mum was no quitter. The woman had once camped overnight in the doorway of a department store during a Force 9 blizzard just to bag the best bargains in an end of season clearance sale. This meant that Daisy had no choice but to receive the visitor. And so, reluctantly, she buzzed her in.
Upon entry into the property, Mum tutted at the sight of nightwear at three o’clock in the afternoon. She then marched into the lounge, met in an instant by the sullen shadows of morose self-pity. ‘Oh, shame on you, Daisy. You haven’t even opened your curtains.’
The disgruntled parent swished aside the fabric barriers, allowing a brilliant white tsunami of sunlight to surge into the room, chasing away shadows and turning gloomy grey into vivid splashes of colour. As a result, the equally disgruntled daughter performed a rapid outbreak of blinks in a hasty attempt to adjust to the cold, harsh light of day.
Mum grimaced, taking note of the chaotic herd of empty tin cans gracing the coffee table, the carpet, both arms of the sofa, all over the armchair, everywhere. ‘Is this what you’ve been living on?’
‘Yesssssss,’ Daisy hissed, well and truly rumbled.
The parent then clocked the spoon. ‘Straight from each can?’
Daisy flopped her unpreened frame onto the sofa, the resulting tremor evicting its resident cans. ‘Guilty as charged.’
Mum rolled her eyes and sniffed the surrounding mustiness. ‘What this room needs is fresh air.’ She threw open a window, then turned to face her feral daughter. ‘How long have you been hiding away in this place?’
‘Three days? What about your job?’
‘I phoned in and pulled a sickie.’
‘This is what a broken heart has done to me.’
‘Oh, don’t be so melodramatic. You’ve been dumped before. Loads of times.’
‘Yeah, thanks for reminding me about my back catalogue of facepalm failures in the male of the species department.’
‘I’m doing this for your own good.’
‘It doesn’t feel that way on this side of the fence.’
‘Look, what I mean is, you always go off the rails a bit. Well, more than a bit.’ She then indicated to her daughter’s bedraggled hair, her food-stained nightwear, her current wretched existence as a whole. ‘But you don’t normally sink to this sorry state.’
‘Yeah, well, this time, it’s different.’
‘Because my boyfriend ran off with an airhead reality TV star,’ she blurted out. ‘There. I’ve said it.’ Daisy couldn’t help herself, she shook her head, she blew air through her nostrils, she balled both hands into knuckle-whitening fists, and out of her mouth spurted the inevitable rapid-fire torrent of denial. ‘Melody Diamond doesn’t love him. I know exactly what that plastic bitch is up to. Their so-called relationship is a total sham. A pairing of convenience for the benefit of the cameras. A fit guy by her side to make her look good and match all the other beautiful things in her life. Why can’t Sheldon see that? The guy is being taken for a ride. Melody’s wearing him around her cosmetically-altered form like the latest must-have fashion accessory. He’s nothing more to her than...’ She rifled through her brain for an apt phrase. And then she found one. ‘...an amusing pet.’
Mum was having none of it. ‘Right, that’s it. It’s high time you pulled yourself together. I never brought you up to act so pathetic and weak. You’ve clearly inherited far too many of your father’s genes.’
Fists unballed, Daisy surrendered, bowing her head in shame. ‘I can’t help it, Mum. She stole Sheldon from me and it hurts.’
‘For God’s sake, Daisy, he was hardy yours to begin with. You only had one date.’
‘So what? I’m still heartbroken.’
‘There’s a cure for that. It’s called getting back out there and finding yourself somebody new.’ Her mother dealt a tactical pause, then added, ‘Stephen’s still available.’
‘I don’t want Stephen, I want Sheldon.’
‘You can’t have him. He’s her boyfriend now.’
No reply from her daughter. Instead, the young lady buried her face in both hands and delivered the absolute boss of distressed huffs.
As a result, Mum’s tone softened. ‘Oh, Daisy. Right now, it might seem like the end of the world. But time truly is a wonderful healer.’
‘Yeah, so they say,’ the girl mumbled through the narrow fissures between her fingers. ‘Pity I don’t have a thousand years to spare.’
‘You need to realise. Sheldon Trent is simply not worth all this pain and anguish.’
‘He is to me.’ And then, one drawn-out sigh later, she added, ‘Oh, God, what does he see in that bitch?’
Mrs Thorne parked her posterior on the sofa beside her daughter. ‘We all know this vile Melody wotsit doesn’t deserve somebody like Sheldon. The thing is, unless the lad works it out for himself, there is nothing anybody can do about it.’
Daisy’s palms fell from her face and her eyes inflated with acute realisation. ‘Mum, you are so right.’ She stood bolt upright, her entire body aglow with renewed hope. ‘Melody isn’t worth it. She doesn’t deserve him. I do.’
Mum’s face dropped. ‘Actually, that’s not quite what I meant.’
Too late. Daisy was already sold. Wearing the ear-to-ear grin of steely determination, she knew exactly what she needed to do next. ‘Melody Diamond,’ she cried out to an imaginary figure situated at the opposite side of the lounge. ‘The battle lines are drawn. This is it. This is war.’ The girl awarded herself a firm nod of self-approval, then turned to face a second imaginary figure situated in another part of the room. ‘Sheldon Trent. My new purpose in life is to help you come to your senses. And believe me, I won’t rest until I’ve got you back in my arms.’
FIVE DAYS AGO...
‘Daisy, have I introduced you to Stephen Baker?’
‘Yes, Mum,’ Daisy sighed, overly rolling her eyes. ‘Twice so far.’
‘He’s a self-made businessman. Launched his own recruitment firm from scratch.’
‘Yes, Mum. So you’ve told me. Three times now.’
‘All right, Daisy, less of the attitude, I’m only trying to help. A girl your age shouldn’t be on your own. It’s... abnormal.’
Her parents’ infamous garden barbecues were always like this. They began with the promise of sociable drinks and chatter amid charred sausages, hard-baked burgers and incinerated chicken drumsticks, but inevitably progressed into a relentless matchmaking bonanza whenever Daisy was an official member of the singledom club. Without fail, the poor lass found herself paraded in front of eligible bachelors in true debutante ball fashion. Embarrassing was an understatement. This was scarlet cheeks territory.
‘I happen to like being single.’ It was true. She did. ‘No man means no jealousy, no arguments over stupid subjects, no morning queue for the bathroom and thankfully no banal debates about football. Oh, and I get to claim all-night possession of the duvet.’
‘Oh, don’t be so silly. Nobody likes being left on the shelf.’
‘I’m hardly the only unsold toy in the shop.’
‘I think you and Stephen would make a lovely couple.’
‘Oh, Mum, please ration the matchmaking. Me and Stephen, no chance.’
‘Give me one good reason why not.’
‘Okay. One good reason coming up. The man is ancient.’
‘He’s only thirty-six.’
‘Yes. And I’m only twenty-two. If I ever feel the need to shack up with a sugar daddy, I’ll give him a call.’
The parent wasn’t giving up just yet. ‘Give me another good reason why not.’
‘Okay. Another good reason coming up. He’s got no oomph.’
Did she really need to spell it out? Yes, Daisy guessed she did. ‘He’s not exciting enough.’
‘You don’t even know the man.’
‘Never heard of first impressions? Gut instinct? I’m telling you, Mum, he is not the man for me.’
In response, her mother blew out the theatrical air of head-shaking disillusion. ‘For the life of me, I don’t know where you get that rebellious streak.’
‘Oh, really? I suggest you take a peek in the nearest available mirror.’