Never Say No
"I loved this book! It hooked me from page one and I couldn’t put it down… Relatable… mesmerising and so cute. I highly recommend you add this to your must-read list!"Goodreads Reviewer
I thought I’d have a lot to show for myself at thirty. But while everyone else is buying their first home and planning a destination wedding, I can’t keep a houseplant alive.
Hailey is freaking out.
She keeps telling herself that thirty is just a number. But right now it doesn’t feel that way. It seems like everyone else spent the last decade partying up a storm, going on ten first dates a week and climbing the career ladder. While she’s spent her evenings at home on the sofa with Netflix, her high school boyfriend and has only just managed to decide what job she definitely doesn’t want to be doing for the rest of her life.
But all of that is about to change. Because life is too short to keep missing out. This year she will say yes to anything, no matter what it is, and then finally Hailey will have it all.
Turns out, this is easier said than done.
She’s been relegated to Assistant Number Two at her new job and is pretty sure her boss doesn’t even know her name.
There are four weeks left to get in shape for the marathon she’s signed up for and she can’t remember where she last saw her running shoes.
Then she finds something hidden in her boyfriend’s wardrobe. It’s platinum, sparkly and comes in a small velvet box. This should be the easiest yes she’s ever said, but are they really ready for this?
Saying yes sounded simple in practice. But it turns out Hailey still has some big decisions to make after all…
Fans of Mhairi McFarlane, Holly Bourne and The Devil Wears Prada will adore this funny, heart-felt and honest look at navigating those moments in life where you reach a crossroads and have to decide who and what it is you want to be.
Release date: September 4, 2020
Print pages: 358
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Never Say No
Some moments split time in two. The moments where you experience something so monumental that for a brief period the past and the present cease to exist and all that remains is before and after.
I saw her bare shoulder before I saw her breast. Her cascading hair before I saw her face. Grey strands laced within expensive blonde fell onto the torso of a man half her age. A man who looked nothing like her husband, nothing like the man who had smiled beside her in every glossy feature in every magazine.
I knew I should look away. But the light escaping from her glass sanctuary through the gap in her blinds and out into the dark open-plan office kept beckoning me in, like a moth to a flame. I’d never seen anyone else have sex before. Not in real life. This looked nothing like I expected. Not loving and tender but hungry and hurried; not so much stealing a moment as mugging it, taking it for all it was worth.
The man laid beneath her had long brown hair that clashed against her own with every bite and kiss. The table they lay on was as transparent as the shard of glass I could see through, the blinds failing to block them from the empty office floor surrounding. The almost empty office. I looked down at the papers in my hand, the only reason I had passed by here in the first place, the heading on the document taking on new meaning right before my eyes: confidential. I needed to walk away, to forget about everything I’d just seen. She had a reputation to uphold. For herself, for the firm. For every young woman who had looked at her life and thought she had it all. Turned out she had more than that.
I took one last look at them, bodies fused together in frenzy, just to check I hadn’t imagined it, and took a step back into the darkness. For a second, my heel caught on a cable underfoot, tripping me so I had to catch myself on the printer.
‘Shit.’ My whisper was no louder than the crash I had just made. I didn’t want to look back, I didn’t want to see them again, but I was desperate to check that they hadn’t heard I was here. Looking through the blinds, it only took a moment to wish I hadn’t.
Lifting the brass door knocker, I take a step back to gaze up at the freshly painted Pimlico townhouse, spring-pink blossom climbing its four stories. I expect to be greeted by a housekeeper or personal assistant, but no – a face as welcoming as the weather, fresher than a woman half her age, greets me at the door. ‘Come in, come in,’ beams Vivian Jones, Senior Partner at luxury family law firm, Taylor, Laters and Jones. Soon I am pulled into her force field of high ceilings, French pieces and artwork adding colour to every inch of the walls. Just like Jones’ outfit – an orange cashmere chunky knit by Amanda Wakeley atop Moto leather leggings from The Row – on anyone else this décor would look too much, but on Jones? It looks Goldilocks-just-right.
‘Green Tea? Cappuccino? Champagne?’ Jones offers in a flurry as she ushers me into another room, a vision of peach and gold. The floor-to-ceiling windows invite me to gaze upon a lush green garden that few in Central London would be lucky enough to afford. And yet, as Jones is about to tell me, luck has little to do with it. ‘Finally,’ she says, laughing, referring to her promotion as the first female senior partner at the firm almost a decade ago. ‘It’s a travesty that I’m still the only one.’ Jones looks into my eyes earnestly. ‘As a firm we pride ourselves on our progressive outlook, and yet there are so many hidden boundaries that hold us women back. That’s why I launched my initiative to support aspiring female lawyers.’
If anyone were qualified to do so, it would be Jones. A woman responsible for ending some of the most high-profile marriages in the country, Jones and her husband, Jason, a fund manager at Todd and Morgan, have themselves just celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary and raised three successful women of their own.
‘My family make me proud every day,’ Jones gushes. ‘None of this was laid out on a table, just ours for the taking, we had to work for it. We had to win.’ For a moment, ambition replaces the devotion on her face. And it is this blend of devotion and ambition that makes us proud to crown Vivian Jones our Woman of the Year for 2019.
There are many reasons people go into Law. The money, the prestige, the power. My own reason just looked straight through me.
‘Vivian Jones.’ Her voice cut from behind as I stashed my copy of Elire back in my bag before anyone could see it. I turned to glance at her, her iconic face seeming to scream: Don’t you know who I am? She slammed some papers down on the desk in front of a startled young man. His sheet-white face stared back at hers. I could bet my annual trainee wage the accused knew her name, the name of her husband, her children and her second cousin once removed; everyone did.
‘I don’t know if you can see my name on the document,’ she said, pointing a manicured nail to the papers in front of him, his eyes unable to look at anything but her. ‘But I’m the partner overseeing this case, so you’d better be looking after my client.’
My eyes darted to the other person in the reception area, who was waiting a couple of seats away from me. His eyes caught mine, but he didn’t smile, too busy hanging on her every word.
‘I appreciate your help, I really do.’ Vivian’s voice softened. It was this sharp but sweet persona for which she was known, the one that kept every man on his toes; that told every aspiring female lawyer: you can. You can get to the top without injecting yourself with testosterone. You can win every single case you take on and still make it home in time to make love to your husband. I studied her figure, slighter in person but carrying more presence than the image on the pages of the magazine I had just held in my hands.
‘Yes?’ I turned to see a young woman standing before me, struggling to breathe in her pencil skirt, struggling to smile through her tiredness. In her defence, it was only eight a.m.
‘Good.’ She nodded, her grin looking more like a grimace. ‘Daniel?’ She turned to the other figure sat in the open-plan reception area. The man looked up at the mention of his name, managing to offer her a smile. ‘Welcome to Taylor, Laters and Jones.’ Her eyes darted from us to Vivian. ‘Follow me.’
Rising to my feet, I turned to the guy again – Daniel, apparently – to find his blue eyes fixed on me.
‘I’m Hailey,’ I said with a smile, pulling my new handbag closer to my chest.
‘She said,’ he muttered before proceeding to step in front of me, following the woman who had just welcomed us. I had clocked him as soon as he had walked in: long legs, broad shoulders, dark hair, mid-twenties. Despite being a good few years younger than me, I would have never guessed he’d be a trainee too. From his ensemble and entitlement, I’d guessed he was a client. Maybe he looked too young, or I felt too old? Either way, I knew I was missing something.
As we traced our way across the busy twelfth floor, London’s iconic skyline humbled us from all sides. An orange autumnal sunrise kissed Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater, and glittered across the Thames below. I breathed deeply, bullying my imposter syndrome back into place. I had just as much right to be here as anyone.
‘Vivian’s office is just through here.’ The woman looked over her shoulder to smile at Daniel; for him, she managed a real one.
‘Great. This view is—’ I began
‘This view is stunning,’ he said, oozing over me, as the woman grinned all the more.
Moving across the floor as quickly as her pencil skirt would allow, she steered us past hyped-up hot-deskers and cornered-off glass offices full of partners and their clients. Only one or two heads bothered to look up: a rotund man dressed in a well-cut suit; a plastic-pumped blonde, diamonds dripping from every limb.
The sound of busy inboxes and hurried chatter clashed against the clean sweeping lines of the office’s minimalistic chic, all curving glass-topped desks and black leather chairs. The walls were bare, the windows high; but then, who needed art when London looked like that? As we were ushered to the back of the floor, one or two more people looked our way: they all knew we were heading to the best room in the house.
Sliding a glass door open, she held out her arms to present two empty desks, the only desks in the anteroom to Vivian’s office. As if our sitting at them wasn’t self-explanatory. As if we hadn’t already passed about thirty legal reasoning tests and an extensive online induction just to set foot in here. Getting my training contract at the firm was unbelievable in itself, spending my first placement – my first ‘seat’ – with the reason I had wanted to retrain as a lawyer in the first place, was a dream come true. Trainees would never usually work for senior partners straight away, but Vivian was notorious for her fresh approach.
‘I’ll take this one,’ Daniel said, ditching his stuff atop the one marginally closer to Vivian.
‘Oh, okay,’ I replied, taking the other; passive, submissive. Damn it, Hailey, be aggressive. I couldn’t help the Bring It On chant from drifting into my mind, the one Dom had sung to me from our bed this morning as I dressed to kill for my first day. Well, I thought I had dressed to kill, until I had seen Daniel in a suit that I’d bet my dress was designer.
Before visions of me sitting here naked could fill my mind – wasn’t I supposed to imagine everyone else naked? – I looked around the space surrounding us, trying my hardest not to compare our two facing desks to the ones outside Meryl Streep’s office in The Devil Wears Prada. Or to imagine which one of us would play Anne Hathaway, which one would be Emily Blunt.
‘You alright?’ Daniel grunted over his computer monitor as he caught me looking in his direction again.
‘Yeah, thanks. Excited for our first day.’ I smiled across my own.
‘Sure,’ he replied, a stupid little smile turning up the corners of his mouth.
Reaching into my bag to get out my notebook, my pens, my glasses case and line them up across my desk, I couldn’t feel more first day at school if I tried. Daniel, on the other hand, looked entirely at ease, a smug raised eyebrow clocking my pencil case.
‘You brought a—’
‘Yes?’ I shot down his question before he could finish, my cheeks flushing red. It was a thin black cylinder and almost a carbon copy of the one Vogue claimed was one of the ‘Five Essentials’ in Vivian’s handbag. But it was still a bloody pencil case.
‘It’s just…’ Daniel began, his eyes moving from my case to my pinned-back hair, an inquisitive look on his face. Maybe the lucky scrunchy was overkill? But this was Taylor, Laters and Jones. I’d need all the help I could get.
‘Never mind.’ Daniel shrugged his shoulders, failing to hide his smirk. I tried my best to hold his eye, as shame filled my stomach. I belonged here. I would belong here if it killed me. But he had already turned away and following his gaze, I understood why.
Floating across the floor, Vivian’s high-waisted, flared suit trousers billowed as her presence grew bigger and bigger with each step in our direction. I fixed a smile to my face, ready for her approach as she slid open the first glass door, nodding at Daniel and then to me, her new shiny guard dogs. Gliding past us and towards the second door, I gazed through to her luxurious office, all golds and creams with French paintings on the wall. For just a moment, Vivian stalled, hand still pressed to the glass door, to study the brass letters beside it: Taylor, Laters and Jones, and grinned as if knowing they’d saved the best until last.
‘You take care now.’
I looked up from my empty inbox to see Vivian emerge from her office, her fifth client of the day in tow. I tried not to stare but it was impossible not to, given that this latest client was about six foot five, wearing not one but two floor-length fur coats and carrying a cane; he couldn’t be a day over twenty.
‘Thanks Jones,’ he said cockily, leaning down to kiss her on one cheek and then the other. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her rolling hers.
‘It’s Mrs. Jones,’ she corrected, smile unwavering, file clutched in her hands. I looked him up and down, mind whirling with reasons he could be here: he was adopted and trying to trace his birth parents? Under eighteen and wanting to be emancipated from his parents?
‘Oh right,’ he grunted, putting on his oversized sunglasses. Oh please, it was mid-September. He was indoors. ‘My wife makes me forget people actually like to be married.’
‘Ex-wife,’ Vivian assured him. He was married. He was getting divorced? But he was a child. I looked to Daniel to share in the surprise, but his gaze was fixed on her.
As the client swaggered out of our office and across the floor outside, I tried to look busier than I was. Truth was, Vivian had been too busy to give us any actual work, emerging from her office only to welcome or see off her clients. But this time she lingered by her door, looking in my direction as I squeezed my legs tighter under the table. Two hours of sipping water at speed and I was in desperate need of a toilet, but Daniel hadn’t moved an inch and my bladder was sure as hell not going to be my first sign of weakness. I looked up at Vivian: was she finally going to give us a tour? Wasn’t someone supposed to give us a tour?
‘Can one of you help me with something,’ she said, looking down at the papers in her hand. It didn’t need to be a question. I looked at the document, mind flicking through what it could be, wondering whether I’d actually be able to put my law degree into practice in the real world – not that the clients Taylor, Laters and Jones served resembled anything like the real world.
I shot a brief look at Daniel and his eyes caught mine for a moment, his mouth forming an answer before I could interrupt. Vivian Jones was notorious for wanting women to speak up.
‘Of course.’ My words sliced across Daniel’s as his eyes narrowed in my direction.
‘Wonderful.’ Vivian smiled. ‘I need you to get these.’ She handed me the sheet of paper and I looked down at the list: Skinny Cappuccino, Green Tea, Soy Cortado… A v Z (CA 2019)_Doc 7, ditto Doc 8-24, 56-78…
‘Order some, print the others and bring everything up to the meeting room on floor fourteen.’
I nodded, trying to mask any disappointment that the task was so trivial whilst racking my mind to remember anything about the firm’s computer system from the induction. I was still working for the best woman in the business – doing her admin was like taking on the whole damn case at any other firm. Daniel’s eyes burnt into the papers and I couldn’t help but feel smug; it would take more than a designer suit to impress Vivian Jones.
‘Daniel, come into my office,’ Vivian said, as she began to walk away. Now it was his turn to look smug. ‘I’d like to bring you up to speed on a case I want to get you working on.’
Vivian pulled open the glass partition to her Parisian-inspired space, beckoning him inside, my bulging bladder the only thing threatening to displace my envy. My turn would come, but first I really needed to…
‘Vivian?’ I asked, as she turned her head to look at me. An inquisitive look spread across her perfectly proportioned features. ‘I was just wondering,’ I began, desperately searching for a more insightful question. ‘If you could show me where the bathrooms— ’
‘Thanks Hailey, they need these in ten,’ she said with a nod, choosing to ignore my question as I tried my hardest to ignore my desperate bladder and even harder to block out my desperate need to make her like me, use me, see me more.
Twenty-five minutes, six coffees and three trees of printing later, I finally found the meeting room on floor fourteen, full of people desperate for their caffeine and their documents. I was just desperate. Crap, I really needed to pee. Where the hell was the ladies?
Running down the two flights of stairs back to Vivian’s floor, I cursed the company’s contemporary design. It was one thing to be as chic as a fashion brand, it was another for your minimalism to make everything so hidden – where the hell was the entrance to the lifts? And where on earth were the toilets?
I looked around desperately, trying and failing to find the iconic cape-wearing silhouette of the toilet woman on any of the doors lining the corridor, until I locked eyes on two brandishing the letter ‘T’. T for toilet, right? Please God. I pushed one open, peering in.
‘Oh, sorry.’ A dark head of hair looked up from washing his hands, his well-cut trouser legs leading my eye down to a pair of black shiny shoes more expensive than all of Dom’s put together. Hell, put together with all of my pairs.
‘You, sex.’ He grinned, the kind of smile that would steal your sentences just before it stole your mind. If his strong-jawed face wouldn’t do it, his last word certainly would. ‘Unisex,’ he repeated, as I stashed my confusion before he could clock it. ‘Gender neutral,’ he said, shrugging, and then a little louder over the hand dryer, ‘Turns out law firms are pretty hot on discrimination.’
I should have known anywhere Vivian worked wouldn’t stand for doors boasting a dress-wearing woman opposite a power-stance of a man. I looked up at the one stood before me, his black eyes on mine, a wrinkle or two of wisdom etched around them. I’d guess early forties; distinguished, refined. I willed my mouth to open, my legs to move. Just do something, Hailey, say anything.
‘You’re new,’ he added. It wasn’t a question. I nodded, my words still held hostage as he held out a newly dry hand in my direction, a thick gold band around his fourth finger. He looked towards the stalls; yes, I was dying for the toilet, but no I wasn’t going to let him listen to me pee. I’d only just mastered that with Dom in the next room. ‘You’re with…’ he began, the intensity of his gaze melting me to the spot. I’m with Dom. Dom. My boyfriend Dom. ‘Vivian, right?’
I nodded, all my sentences crumbling under his stare.
‘She got you on any cases yet?’
‘Kind of.’ I lied, not knowing why I felt the need to. If delivering files and flat whites counted as working on a case… ‘It’s only my first day.’ I shrugged, forcing a smile.
‘Never too early to make a good impression.’ He cast a brief wink my way. On anyone else it would have looked like they were trying too hard; on him it looked effortless. Make a good impression? That’s what I was trying to do.
I pressed my legs further together, my mind searching for something clever to say, cheeks growing pinker still.
‘And we like to throw people in at the deep end,’ he pressed on.
That’s what I wanted; I wanted to be thrown in at the deep end. I’d waited so long to be thrown in at the deep end.
‘Actually, I think I have something interesting on the horizon. Billionaire marriage, multiple affairs.’ He looked at me, passion oozing through every fibre of his ‘big money’ suit. ‘Oh, and a really big trust issue…’
‘No, offshore accounts, ’ he started to explain, before clocking my grin, noting my sarcasm. ‘Quick.’ He laughed. ‘Very quick. If Vivian doesn’t snap you up, I’ll get you on something.’
My cheeks warmed again. So, he had the power to decide who worked where. I could tell he was senior here. But was I really ready? This is what I had trained for; to push myself out of my ordinary, everyday life, the one that had got so, well, comfortable. I might not be ready, but I wanted to be and wasn’t intention ninety percent of the law? Or wait, maybe that was possession.
‘You’re not fresh out of uni, right? You’re what, twenty-six, twenty-seven?’ Senior at the firm and knew to guess low; this guy was smart in more ways than one.
‘Twenty-nine,’ I confirmed. ‘But you can’t ask that.’ I shook my head, letting a hint of a smile escape. ‘It’s age discrimination.’
‘Yes, but it’s positive discrimination. Most of the trainees who come in here are babies, they’re not nearly as—’
‘Mature?’ I grinned.
‘Sharp.’ He smiled down at me. ‘I was going to say sharp.’
‘I didn’t go straight into it after graduation.’ I shrugged; an answer not nearly as satisfying as he would have liked. I went through the motions, trained as a teacher because my best friends did, taught primary school for a while, was happy drifting along. Then suddenly it didn’t fit, like wearing clothes never meant for you in the first place. Not that I wanted him to know that. I wanted him to think I was decisive, in control. ‘Anyway, I really need… ’ I gestured to the stalls, not knowing whether this particular control would last.
‘Sure, sure.’ He smiled, cocking his head to look at me, trying to work me out. ‘I should get back to work.’ He turned to pass me, pushing the door out into the office, turning around to look at me one last time. ‘See you around, Kidd.’
I smiled as the door shut behind him. I hadn’t even told him my name.
My key caught in the lock as my eyes caught on my watch: 10.12 p.m. I guessed this was my new normal? I yanked the key left then right and kicked the bottom of the door, dented from its repeated abuse. That hadn’t felt normal when we had first moved in two years ago either. Now the sticky lock was as familiar as the view that greeted me. Dom, beer in one hand, remote in the other, tired hair flopping in front of his thick-rimmed glasses, his tired eyes visible beneath. He smiled as I tottered across the wooden floor of our small apartment towards him, the formality of my attire all of a sudden clashing against the worn but welcoming green sofa that we had found on Gumtree – even though Dom still maintained that the sofa had found us. I sat down, both my outfit and my face much less fresh than the ones that had left for work this morning.
‘You look nice.’ His face creased at the eyes as he smiled, the way it always did; deeper with every passing year. I didn’t, but he had a habit of seeing the best in me.
‘Thanks.’ I reached across him for an unopened beer can beckoning me from the coffee table. ‘How was your day?’
Dom shook his head, still smiling. ‘How was your first day? Take Taylor, Laters and Jones by storm?’ He opened an arm as I snuggled beside him, savouring the hiss of a freshly opened can. Taking a sip, I placed it back on the stack of law and teaching books – our past, my future – that acted as a second table, bookending the arms of our sofa.
‘Define storm?’ I roll. . .
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