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London • New York • Sydney • Toronto • New Delhi

Delhi

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For Cian and Hughie, find your song and sing it loud

THE RIGHT GIRL First published in Australia in 2018 by Simon & Schuster (Australia) Pty Limited Suite 19A, Level 1, Building C, 450 Miller Street, Cammeray, NSW 2062 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 A CBS Company Sydney New York London Toronto New Delhi Visit our website at www.simonandschuster.com.au © Ellie O’Neill 2018 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher. A catalogue record for this book is available from the National Library of Australia

Cover design: Christabella Designs imprint portrait white 17mm wide Shutterstock Cover images:

Typeset by Midland Typesetters, Australia Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press The paper this book is printed on is certified against the Forest Stewardship Council® Standards. Griffin Press holds FSC chain of custody certification SGS-COC-005088. FSC promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.

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Dublin, five years from now

M

ason slid his hand across the pressed linen tablecloth and rested it on mine. The candlelight flickered in his eyes as he gazed hopefully at me. Somewhere in the

background, Frank Sinatra was crooning about the moon. I made eye contact with the waiter, who looked exactly like he should be cast in the role of ‘waiter in a romantic French restaurant’: pencil-thin moustache, high cheekbones, centreparted dark hair. He placed a chocolate mousse parfait in front of me; the perfect delicious combination of chocolate and clouds, with a spoonful of cream. There was a huge lump in my throat and my voice came out in a whisper: ‘Thank you.’ I moved to pat down my fringe, forgetting that it was swept to the side. I found a curl behind my ear to twiddle excitedly instead. My dark hair fell to my shoulders in perfectly arranged waves. I’d had a minor eyeliner incident that evening

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and decided to settle for a sweeping sixties-style that made my wide blue eyes look almost sleepy rather than sexy, which was the effect I’d been aiming for, but the combination of nerves and adrenalin caused my hand to tremble and the inky pen swooshed upwards. I shifted a little in my seat and adjusted my dress: red, low cut and contrasting starkly with my pale skin (I am vampire pale; sunshine and I have a longstanding disagreement). The dress came with tremendous pressure to suck it in, lift it up and stick it out. I’d never been much of a strutter but this dress demanded that I channelled my inner diva. It was the only dress in my wardrobe that would qualify as sexy. When it popped up on my BBest feed, I felt a giddy sense of anticipation that something big might be about to happen. Mason had told me I looked beautiful quite a few times, which was typically sweet of him. ‘Dig in, Freya.’ Mason spoke with a charming, laid-back Australian drawl. His handsome face erupted into a massive smile, his perfect teeth gleamed like the keys on a piano. He raised his hand to his head and rubbed the bristles on his shaved crown, a move that I had seen him make countless times when he was anxious. Was this it? I was twenty-eight; we’d been together six months. We were officially perfect for one another. BBest had matched us at ninety-three per cent. We were destined for a secure and happy life together. We were so lucky, and we both knew it. My spoon hovered over the chocolate. I took an excited breath and plunged it right down to the base of the glass. There was a heavy clunk as it hit against something metal.

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I scooped out a big gooey chocolate mess, aware that I had stopped breathing. I felt my mouth open and close, cod-like. This was it. Mason had fallen to his knees and was shuffling towards me. ‘Freya, would you do me the honour of becoming Mrs Williams?’ Your mother? I thought. You want me to become your mother? What? Focus, Freya, focus! I must have looked confused, because Mason reached across to my spoon and took the chocolate-covered ring, which he wiped clean on a napkin. I could see a modestly sized diamond; not too flashy, but does the job, kind of like a Volvo. He took my hand and started to slip the ring on my finger. ‘Will you be my wife?’ He had asked me twice now. I should really answer. I felt my head roll forward into a nod, as if I’d just been poked between the shoulder blades. ‘Yes . . . Yes . . . Yes.’ He positioned the diamond in place, just so; locked and loaded. A polite clapping sound started like a swarm of birds about to take flight. Other couples dotted around the restaurant smiled adoringly at us. Somewhere I heard a champagne cork pop, and the waiter arrived with glasses. Yes. I’d just said yes.

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‘C

ONGRATULATIONS!’ I swear the walls shook. I’d say the shrieks from Mam in particular caused the neighbours to creep

out of their houses to check their car alarms. There stood my nearest and dearest – and some others – in my sitting room with flushed faces, cans of Guinness and bowls of crisps on the table. You always know it’s a party when the crisps get taken out of the packet and put into a bowl. Posh, like. They jumped up and down, waiting for permission to pounce, and then they did, like a cheetah on a carcass. Mason and I were attacked limb by limb, covered in kisses and congratulations and bear hugs. Mason was punched repeatedly, put in a headlock, and then my brother rugby tackled him to the ground, while shouting, ‘You’re family now.’ My finger was pulled from its knuckles and my arm from its socket. ‘It’s gorgeous. Jesus! It’s gorgeous.’

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‘You’ll have to get that insured.’ ‘A few million what, Mason? What?’ ‘Drinks, get them some driiiiiiiiiiinks.’ That was Mam, shouting at no one in particular. A glass of champagne found its way into my hand and I promptly knocked it back, barely even tasting the bubbles as they went down. I grabbed Cat, my housemate, by the arm. ‘What are you all doing here?’ ‘Mason organised it,’ she said, and then held onto my shoulders and shook me like a jackhammer, her eyes popping with excitement. ‘You’re getting married.’ ‘I know. It’s amazing. I think I’m in shock. Seriously.’ I scanned the room for another drink. There were multicoloured balloons blowing around the floor, and a ‘Congratulations’ banner looped along the back wall. A glass bowl that we normally used for salads was packed to the brim with party poppers. And another bowl with nachos, and hummus in its plastic pot on top of a doily – a doily, where had that come from? Somebody had pulled out all the stops. This was no run-of-the-mill get-together. ‘Congratulations, darling.’ Mam slid her hand around my waist and squeezed me into her. ‘Best news in a long time.’ She swayed a little, a bit drunk. She’d obviously had her hair done for the occasion – it looked freshly blowdried, all glossy chocolate brown with auburn highlights. ‘Thanks, Mam.’ ‘Did he do the chocolate mousse?’

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‘How did you know about that?’ ‘He was just filling me in, it was BBest’s suggestion. We know how much you love chocolate. I’m sure it was absolutely perfect.’ ‘That’s so Mason, isn’t it? To want everything perfect.’ I smiled at Mam as I angled the hand with the ring on it towards her, admiring the sparkles catching the light. I’d have to get used to peacocking it around. ‘Perfect. Like the two of you – just perfect for each other.’ Mam drained her champagne glass. ‘Look at him, so handsome.’ Mason was propped against a wall, Guinness in hand, beaming his winning Hollywood smile, his eyes twinkling happily. He brought his hand to his neck and honestly he looked like he’d fallen off a ‘Visit Ireland’ poster. Which would be false advertising, what with him being Australian and so handsome. Not that Irish men aren’t attractive, but Mason was in a different league, and to be fair, most Irish men win you over with their self-deprecating humour, love of their mammies and drinking stories, not a chiselled jaw and a disarming smile. ‘I tell you, Freya, it’s a good thing you snapped him up when you did. If he’d been on the market much longer, well, I might have had a go myself.’ Mam winked a bloodshot eye at me. This party had definitely been going a good few hours before we arrived. ‘Mam. That is disgusting, he’s your future son-in-law, you can’t say things like that.’ I hip bumped her away from me.

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‘Ah, shush, I’m only joking.’ She was and she wasn’t. I’d heard regularly about what a great arse Mason had, and she bet he was tanned all over. I loved that Mason was so handsome but I also loved that he was kind and passionate: he loved rugby, his family, his job. I loved that he always placed his hand on the small of my back when we were in public places, very gentlemanly. I found it endearing that he could never remember the lyrics to even the most famous songs but it didn’t stop him singing at the top of his lungs: Billy Jean is not my mother. He thought he was rebelling against society when he didn’t shave first thing in the morning and referred to his prickly shadow in the third person: ‘Me and my beard are just cooking breakfast.’ Mason left me little post-it notes with romantic messages in places where I didn’t expect to find them; like yesterday, peeping out of my wallet was YOU ARE LOVED. I spotted the glow of a laptop open on the coffee table, and the cheery heads of Mason’s parents, who must have videoed in for the occasion. Mason had thought of everything. ‘Mase!’ I shouted across the room, and tilted my head to the table. He promptly left his group of friends, who didn’t miss a beat. ‘She’s already got you jumping on command!’ Simon, one of the guys from his cycling club, who looked more than a little pissed, shouted. ‘Hop to it, Mason.’ That was Tony, an older man who Mason had befriended at a chess club.

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‘You’re whipped already,’ my brother Colin said, then looked over at me, threw his hands in the air like he’d given up and mouthed the word, ‘Sorry’. Mason looped his hand in mine and kissed my ear; I assumed he was going for my cheek and had missed. We fell on our knees in front of the laptop and found ourselves waving frantically. Mrs Williams had a perfect blonde bob and a deep tan, and even through our pixellated connection, I knew she was wearing her raspberry lipstick. Mr Williams raised a can of unopened Guinness. ‘We’re going to toast your good health and many years of happiness together.’ He cracked the can open and Mrs Williams jumped slightly at the pop. ‘We are delighted for you.’ ‘Show us the ring, dear.’ I splayed my hand out and wiggled my fingers in front of the camera. ‘So beautiful.’ She made all the oohs and aahs. ‘Did you know he was going to do it?’ she asked, practically jumping through the screen. ‘Well, I thought maybe . . . I mean, I hoped, and then BBest had me dress up to the nines tonight so I thought that might be a clue.’ ‘I wonder if it’s an Australian diamond? Do we have diamonds here, Freya?’ I’d only met Mason’s parents in the flesh once, very early into our relationship. Mr Williams had business in London – that’s what they’d said, business, followed by a closed mouth and short sharp nod of the head. I had no idea what he did

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for a living but it had sounded serious, almost terminal. Mrs Williams had accompanied him on his business trip, and they’d hopped over to Dublin to see their son and meet his new girlfriend. I wasn’t officially officially a girlfriend at that stage, I was still at the constant checking of make-up stage, the never ever blowing my nose in front of him for fear that he could recognise that I was mortal stage. The night before we met his parents, I went online and read everything I could about Australia but for some reason the only thing that really stuck in my brain was all this information about the mining industry. So when we sat down for lunch at this lovely seafood restaurant overlooking Dublin Bay, I nervously started to rabbit on and on about iron ore and uranium and natural gas. Since then, Mrs Williams, in an act of familial bonding, regularly sent me links to articles about mining. Excellent. ‘I think there is, but I don’t know if this one is Australian. Mason?’ I elbowed him. ‘It is.’ Mason grinned happily. ‘I wanted Freya to have a little piece of home.’ ‘Perfect.’ ‘I want to watch cartoons.’ My chubby-cheeked nephew Harry rocketed onto my lap, hopping up and down in front of the laptop. ‘Please, Freya, please. Put on cartoons.’ I planted a big kiss on his cheek. ‘I didn’t even know you were here, Harry. Is your mum here?’ Harry pointed a finger to the couch, where Mardi, my sister-in-law, was cradling a sleeping toddler, her shiny blonde hair falling in front of her face. I could see that she was

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nodding off too. The curse of being a mum to two small boys, I thought. You can’t even stay awake at a party. ‘Cartoons,’ Harry shouted. Mason stepped in. ‘Mum, Dad, we’re going to go. Love you.’ ‘Bye, Mr and Mrs Williams.’ I will have to stop calling them that, I thought. Mason started to fiddle with the laptop and some cartoon dinosaur on a train appeared. Harry threw himself in front of it ecstatically. ‘Yes! Dinosaurs.’ Mason helped me up off the floor. ‘You okay?’ ‘Absolutely, fiancé,’ I said, just to try it out. ‘Everyone’s pretty pissed, aren’t they?’ We looked around the room just as someone turned up the music and the dancing started. Cat pirouetted straight into the TV, but was quickly rescued by Colin. Mason’s rugby team had lined up bottles of beer on the ground and the smallest one of the group, the winger, Phillip, was being hoisted by his ankles over them by one of the bigger, beast-like rugby players. ‘I might sort that out.’ Mason ran over to the beer chuggers, and I spotted Jay, my other housemate – well, actually, my landlord. I could see that he had shaved and pulled his sandy, straggly hair into a man bun. He was not the biggest fan of personal grooming at the best of times so I thought it was very sweet of him to make the effort. ‘Did you know we had a doily?’ I plonked down beside him on a kitchen chair that must have been pushed in for the guests.

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He raised an eyebrow at me. ‘It’s over there under a hummus pot.’ He shook his head. ‘Your boyfriend – sorry, fiancé, has been planning this for weeks, there have been strict instructions.’ Jay did a half-eye roll and then quickly stopped himself. ‘Sorry.’ I gave a weak smile. Unlike pretty much everyone else in the room, Jay was not a Mason fan, probably because Mason had tried to let him know about the downside of gaming countless times. All Jay ever did was game. Well, that’s not strictly true; Jay was originally a games programmer. He built a game called Blazemachine eight years ago that was a prototype for The Blaze series of movies, games and books. He owns all that intellectual property, so any time anything with a Blaze logo is bought he collects two per cent. Considering it’s now in its eleventh series, that’s a lot of two per cent. ‘He is organised, he likes things done just so.’ Jay made a face at just so. ‘Oh come on.’ I lowered my voice to a whisper. ‘He is a great guy, I am really happy.’ ‘I am happy for you, I am. Maybe I’m just a bit sad that I’m going to lose my favourite housemate.’ He pulled his mouth downwards into a look of misery. I rocked my shoulder into him and gave him a little nudge of appreciation. ‘You’ll never meet a better match, you’re ninety-three per cent. He’s the yin to your yang, baby, you are soul mates.’ ‘I swear, I am so lucky.’ My cheeks were beginning to hurt from smiling so much.

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Jay smirked. ‘And at least this way you don’t get to die alone.’ ‘Oh come on, Jay. Here, have a crisp.’ I grabbed a bowl and slid it under his nose. He shook his head. ‘Too much salt. I’m under orders – I went for a BBest health check. They’re watching my blood pressure.’ ‘Fair enough.’ I pulled the bowl back, understanding that it was the very best decision for Jay to make, thanks to BBest. ‘You need to find someone who’ll play bingo in your old folks’ home, watch midday movies and eat early bird suppers with you.’ ‘Why wait til the old folks’ home? That sounds pretty good now.’ ‘What about him? He looks gay.’ I pointed to one of the rugby club guys, the only one with a nice haircut and without cauliflower ears. Jay sipped on a beer. ‘He’s straight, he’s been eyeing Cat up.’ ‘Oh, I should tell her, he’s cute.’ Cat was single too but she dated a lot. She’d moved into the house eighteen months ago. Like me, she liked to watch medical dramas and loved to shout at reality TV. Unlike me, she was a big sports fan and would hog the TV on a Saturday afternoon to scream at some game or other. An Indian father and an Irish mother sufficiently mixed up her gene pool to make her look exotic while still managing that whole approachable girl-next-door vibe. She had a touch of the Miss Worlds about her, absolutely gorgeous, and then she’d open her mouth and reveal the brain

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of a neurosurgeon, and the raw ambition of the lead singer in a girl band: all fist pumps, twerks and not opposed to pouring itching powder down the shirts of the other girls to make sure she was the twinkliest star. Cat and Mason worked at BBest but in different departments. ‘Your gaydar is broken.’ ‘I know, but there are men here, some of them look okay,’ I said enthusiastically. Jay needed to get back out there. Since he broke up with George the Terrible, who we were not allowed mention without a bottle of tequila and some matches, a year ago, he had had a few random shags but no second dates. ‘Jay, you’re a catch. If you’d stop gaming for half a minute you could meet someone. You’re a homeowner, do you know how attractive that is?’ And not just any home either, a Victorian red brick homeowner – Jay had completely modernised it. Our house was straight out of a home improvement show, lots of light and sliding doors. We lived just off Merrion Square on the south side of Dublin’s city centre. Merrion Square is a two hundredyear-old, well-manicured park, with curved sunken paths and contoured grass. When the daffodils are in full bloom, I always imagine it would be the perfect spot for a picnic with a baguette poking out of a wicker basket and a bottle of wine and smelly cheese and peppery crackers. I suggested it to Mason once but he really doesn’t care for the outdoors. ‘I should ring Dad.’ I half-heartedly scoped the room for my handbag. ‘Thank God he’s not in the country at the

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moment, it would be a nightmare having him and Mam here together.’ They’d divorced eight years ago, not friendly, not pretty. ‘Where is he?’ ‘A lecture tour in the US.’ ‘Oh, is this for that new book that none of us will ever read?’ Jay sniggered into his beer. ‘It is: The Choice of Freedom. I scanned the first chapter and saw the word polemical and quickly threw it away.’ Jay pretended to shiver. ‘Way too intellectual for our tiny, pea-sized brains.’ ‘You’d think I would have inherited some of his genius,’ I joked. ‘Well, we can’t all be high-flying sociologists, some of us need to be gamers and some of us need to be florists.’ Jay smiled at me and raised his bottle for a cheers. ‘Congratulations, by the way. Here’s to not dying alone.’ ‘Thanks, I am so happy, you know.’ The party went on until the birds came out, someone lost their shoes, someone vomited at the foot of our blossom tree in the front garden, and fourteen glasses were smashed. It was a roaring success.

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THE RIGHT GIRL by Ellie O'Neill  

Freya has the best life – she’s officially in love and her floristry business, Blooming Brilliant, is going from strength to strength. Two...

THE RIGHT GIRL by Ellie O'Neill  

Freya has the best life – she’s officially in love and her floristry business, Blooming Brilliant, is going from strength to strength. Two...