The Honey Trap, a contemporary romance set in London, is MJ’s debut novel. It’s due to be published by HarperImpulse on 19th August 2016. Read the first chapter below.
WARNING: some strong language.
Angel Blackthorne’s dream job wasn’t turning out quite how she’d pictured it.
She lurked behind a Corinthian column in the ornate gilt-and-ivory lobby of the Hotel D’Azur, tugging at the barely buttock-covering Little Black Dress her boss Steve had made her wear. Don’t forget, love, tits and teeth. And then… whatever it takes. She could smell the mint and nicotine breath lacing the gruff Yorkshire accent, gravelled with old fags, as he leaned towards her and spat out lesson one of Entrapment for Dummies.
Not for the first time that night, she wished she was wearing proper underwear. The thin, lacy strips of silken fabric covering her breasts and nether regions seemed far from up to the job of keeping everything in – which was the whole point, of course. How exactly was it she’d let Emily convince her to buy them?
The receptionist behind the white marble front desk, crisp and professional in her gas-blue two-piece and bobbed hair, was starting to eyeball Angel with suspicion. Probably wondering if I’m a ‘working girl’, she thought with a sour half-smile. She pulled again at the hemline of her almost-there cocktail dress and shook a mental fist at Steve, the source of all her woes.
Christ, Angel, grow a pair. Remember, you signed up for this. To the breach…
Steeling herself, she walked over to the heavy mahogany door leading to the hotel bar, gripped the brass rail and leaned her weight against it. It swung open noiselessly. Thank God for the unknown caretaker and his can of WD40!
Angel slipped through and ducked into one of the huge, high-backed armchairs immediately to her left. She noted with relief that not one of the handful of punters had looked up from their drinks.
The chair was vast enough for her to get lost in: a highly polished Chesterfield in quilted red leather that would really require a smoking jacket and fat cigar to be truly enjoyed. Not to mention a penis… The whole bar reeked of a very masculine, gentlemen’s club-style opulence, all carved walnut panelling, cut-glass chandeliers and plush red damask.
Glancing around the room, Angel sought her prey.
She soon spied her man seated at the bar, watching some sort of sporting event on a wall-mounted plasma screen; the one modern touch in the place. She’d only seen one photo, but yes, she was certain that was him: notoriously private Sebastian Wilchester, film-making wunderkind.
The editor of The Daily Investigator had waited a long time to corner Wilchester in a public place so he could spring a honey trap. Tonight was the night – and Angel was the bait.
‘I really don’t know what you’re worrying about,’ Emily had said earlier that day while they shopped through their lunch break. Trust her flatmate, Miss Hump-’em-and-dump-’em, to completely miss the point. For Em, sexual hang-ups were something that only happened to other people.
Emily held up a pair of sheer red knickers and eyed them critically. ‘Honestly, Ange, only you could fret yourself to death over an all-expenses-paid night out with a sexy man in a swanky hotel. Lighten up and enjoy yourself. I mean, this is your first big assignment in six months. Isn’t this what you wanted?’
‘I’m not sure what I wanted, except to write,’ Angel admitted. ‘Bedding married strangers certainly wasn’t top of my list, world-famous directors or otherwise. I thought they’d have me on WI flower show write-ups and tea-making for the foreseeable, if I’m honest. I’m only an intern, Em, even if I am a good five years older than the other foetuses on the programme. Honey trapping just doesn’t seem… right, somehow.’
‘Well, if he goes along with it then the sleaze has got it coming. It’s a public service,’ Emily said, brandishing the red knickers like a victory flag from the peak of Mount Moral High Ground. ‘You’ll be doing his missus a favour, Ange, trust me. No one can make a cheater cheat if he doesn’t want to. And if he doesn’t take the bait, then his oh-so-perfect wife’s a lucky mare and we can all hate her in peace. Anyway, it’s not like you’ve got to sleep with him, is it? I thought you were just supposed to get him down to his birthday suit and go.’
‘And yet here I am in a lingerie shop, buying pants that look like a Dairylea triangle attached to a bit of string…’
‘That’s just to give you confidence. You can’t honey trap in granny’s bloomers, sweetie.’
Angel let out a little snort of a giggle. She loved her lunch breaks with Emily, bringing back memories of their days at university. This one was certainly taking the edge off the ordeal ahead. Well, almost.
With her friend’s persuasion she settled on a lace-patterned black satin thong and matching push-up bra, consisting of not more than about five square centimetres of material and carrying the hefty price tag of £32.95. ‘I think we’re both in the wrong business,’ Angel muttered to Emily, watching the shop assistant fold her tiny purchases inside layers of silvery paper before placing them carefully in a glossy black bag bearing the store logo in embossed gold. ‘If we’d gone in for textiles at uni we could be multi-millionaire knicker tycoons by now.’ Her friend snorted appreciatively.
Back at the office, Angel stashed her purchases discreetly under her desk and wiggled the mouse to wake up her Mac. The brushed aluminium screen flashed twenty-three new emails, all face-achingly dull corporate press releases passed on to her to filter by ‘real’ journalists who had better things to do. Rock and roll…
‘Good lunch break?’ Savannah, her fellow intern, beamed at Angel from her desk in the semi-enclosed corner of the office they both occupied. She was tucking into a princely meal of what looked like two pieces of lettuce and a cube of feta. Angel thought about the eight-inch meatball sub she’d just eaten.
‘Nothing special, Sav. Just a bit of shopping and a sandwich, that’s all.’
Blonde, flawless, clever, twenty-one-year-old, cloyingly sweet Savannah: film studies graduate, hotly tipped to be a future high flyer. Now here was a girl who could spring a decent honey trap. Why would Steve give Angel this assignment when he had the perfect candidate right under his nose?
‘What do you know about Sebastian Wilchester, Savannah?’ Angel asked. ‘Have you seen many of his films?’
‘God, yes, I’ve seen them all! He’s incredible.’ Savannah’s reply was breathy and gushing with reverence. ‘A genius, I think. I chose my dissertation topic after I saw his first film, Unreal City. “Sin and redemption in the British Gangster genre.” Wish I could meet him.’
Don’t I wish you could too…
‘Oi, sugar tits!’ came a rasping voice from behind her. Angel spun in her chair to see Steve at the door of his glass-fronted office, jerking a thumb over one shoulder to indicate her presence was required. ‘In here for a briefing.’
‘Ever the charmer,’ she mumbled to herself, following him in and taking a seat at his curved IKEA desk. He sat down on the other side and swung his chair around to face her.
‘Right, my little honey trap, plans for tonight.’ Steve Clifton, editor of The Daily Investigator, didn’t do small talk. Now, as ever, it was straight to business. ‘Here’s a pic of Wilchester. Memorise it, but don’t take it with you. That could blow the whole gig.’
Angel squinted at the photo he’d handed her. It showed a tall, lean young man, good looking but apparently shy and nervous as he faced photographers on a red carpet.
She raised a quizzical eyebrow at Steve. ‘This is him? I thought he was in his thirties.’
‘That’s at the premiere of Unreal City eight years ago, couple of years before he married Beaumont. Man’s a bugger to get on camera, hates the press. Anyway, it should be good enough for you to identify him.’
‘If you say so, boss…’
‘We’ve booked you a suite at the Hotel D’Azur. I’ve emailed you the address and your reservation number. Classy place so tart yourself up a bit, Blackthorne.’ Steve took in her stone-washed jeans and yellow v-neck top combo with a sneer. ‘You can finish early and take your stuff over there to get changed. Don’t forget to chuck a few pairs of your undies around the room, make it look lived in. We don’t want him getting suspicious.’
‘Nothing sexier than a total slob, eh, Steve?’
He ignored her. ‘He’s flying back from filming in New Zealand today. Based on what we know about his habits he should be in the hotel bar some time between 7 and 8pm. Now, I don’t care how you do it or what you tell him, but whatever it takes you have to get him back to your suite.’
Angel wondered if she should be taking notes. Seduction techniques for absolute beginners.
A thought occurred to her. ‘Why’s he staying in a hotel anyway? He lives in Kensington, doesn’t he? Why not just go home to his wife?’
Steve shrugged. ‘Don’t ask me, love. All we know is, he always spends the night at a hotel when he flies back from filming. Trouble in paradise, maybe.’
The editor rifled around the pile of papers on his desk, pulled one out and thrust it towards her.
‘Here. Plan of the suite. When you get him back there, the most important thing to remember is there’s a hidden video camera behind this two-way mirror in the bedroom’s cupboard door. I’ll be watching the camera feed from the computer in my home office. No mikes so I won’t be eavesdropping.’
She cast a suspicious eye over the room plan in her hand. ‘And this is all legal, is it?’
‘Don’t be daft, it’s breaking every privacy law in the book. No need for you to worry though, it’s my sexy little carcass on the line, not yours.’ He broke into a wide, leering grin. ‘Now, before you leave that room, I want a couple of compromising shots and a solid full frontal to the camera I can montage on a front page. From him, not you, although if you fancy joining the peep show I won’t complain. When I’ve got what I need, I’ll send a text. It’ll just say ‘Done’. Then you’re free to make up an excuse and leave – or not, eh?’ He winked at her unpleasantly.
‘Do you really think I’d have sex while you’re perving at me through a hidden camera?’ Angel wrinkled her nose in disgust. ‘Bloody hell, it’s staggering the respect I get in here.’
‘Don’t know, don’t care. You do what you like, love. It’s no skin off my todger: just so long as you get me my story. Whatever it takes, remember.’ He reached under his desk, pulled out a parcel wrapped up in brown paper and handed it to her. ‘And while we’re on the subject, you’ll be wearing this. It’s your size, I checked with Leo.’
Angel tore open the parcel and pulled out something flimsy, black and slinky. One eyebrow jumped up as she unfolded the dress and held it against her.
‘This is a top, right?’
‘It’s a dress. Make sure you fill it. Remember, Princess, tits and teeth. And give him plenty of leg while you’re at it: I’m told he’s a leg man.’
Angel was seething now. She knew Steve was callous, misogynistic, morally bankrupt and generally a scumbag of the first order, but even by his standards this was skimming a new low.
‘Christ, Steve! Dressing me, seriously? What are you now, my editor or my pimp?’ She glowered across the cluttered desk at the smirking, overweight Yorkshireman, quivering with anger while she faced off against him. ‘And there’s one thing you don’t seem to have considered here, by the way: he might not fancy me! I’m no Carole Beaumont. She’s been voted sexiest woman in the world – twice. Why don’t you ask Savannah? She’d be perfect. She’s gorgeous, she’s bright, she’s ambitious, and she was just telling me what a big fan of Wilchester’s work she is. She wrote her dissertation on him.’
‘Yeah, yeah. She’s a fan, I’m a fan, my missus is a fan: the world and his bloody dog’s a fan. Of course they are, the man’s brilliant.’ Steve turned away from her, spinning his chair around to face the large window that looked out across the grey London cityscape. A recent fall of rain had mingled with the grease and oil of the metropolis, giving the streets a pearlescent sheen. ‘You know why I need it to be you, Blackthorne? Because you’re not a fan. Wake up, love. Sebastian Wilchester lives in a world where everyone’s blonde, everyone’s beautiful, everyone’s a fawning sycophant or yes-man just dying to hump his leg. I picked you because you’ve got a nice arse and a good pair, and because you’re not a part of his world. Trust me, I know people: that’s why I shift papers. And my hunch tells me you’re our best shot.’
It was true, Angel had never seen a Wilchester film. She knew she must be one of the only remaining people in the world who hadn’t. He’d been notching up awards and critical acclaim ever since Unreal City, but he only made gangster movies. She hated gangster movies. Snuggling up with something vintage and classic was much more to her taste.
Still she resisted. ‘Flattered as I am you put such faith in my sex appeal, boss, aren’t there professionals who do this sort of thing? Private investigators? Escort girls?’
He shook his head. ‘It needs to be a journalist, one I can trust. I need a report to go with the pics, and I need someone with a keen eye for detail who knows what’s worth reporting.’
Even through the red mist of her anger, she felt a twinge of pride. So he did rate her journalism skills – and whatever else he was, he knew his stuff there.
‘Why are you so desperate to set Wilchester up? Just out of curiosity. Is this a personal vendetta or what?’
Steve grinned, showing stained, yellowing teeth through his grizzled beard. ‘I’ve been a newspaper man a long time, pet, and I know what the public wants,’ he said with a touch of triumph, rubbing the overspilling belly under his striped shirt. ‘I started in newspapers as an office boy, fifteen and straight out of a secondary modern in Bradford. Twelve years later I was deputy editor of this rag – youngest ever. I’ve been thirty years in the editor’s chair now. I doubt anyone knows what sells a paper better than me.’
Angel wondered where he was going with this extended pat on the back. He was clearly building up to a big finish.
‘You know what people love even more than a rags-to-riches success story, Blackthorne?’
‘I’ve got a feeling you’re about to tell me.’
‘A riches-to-rags plummet. A failure, and a spectacular, crashing failure at that. They adore seeing someone built up only to be torn down.’
Angel curled her lip, appalled. ‘Lovely picture you paint of human nature, boss.’
‘Not just my opinion, love, the stark truth. And you know it. That’s why we have the highest circulation of any national daily. I sell to the darkness in people – their schadenfreude. And this scoop is going to sell me a lot of papers.’
‘God, you’re a piece of work, aren’t you?’
‘I’ve had my eye on Sebastian Wilchester and Carole Beaumont for a long time,’ he went on, ignoring her. ‘The so-called saviour of the British film industry and his beautiful A-lister wife, childhood sweethearts, six years married with never a whiff of scandal? I mean, come on. No one’s life is that perfect. And I’d bet my right bollock there isn’t a man alive who can keep his trousers on when sex is offered up on a plate by any half-attractive bird.’
Seeing her shocked expression, Steve manoeuvred his bulky frame to where she was sat and put a plump, sweaty arm around her shoulders, leaning in close in a manner he probably thought was reassuring.
‘Relax, love, just be a professional about it. Look, we all had to start somewhere in this business and it wasn’t pretty for any of us, believe me. Enjoy yourself tonight. Have a few drinks, let your hair down. You’re not doing anything wrong. If he doesn’t want to betray his wife, he won’t. And if he does then he deserves all he gets, and Beaumont’s better off for knowing the truth while there’s still time for her to chuck him out on his arse and move on.’
Angel remembered Emily’s words in the lingerie shop: no one can make a cheater cheat if he doesn’t want to…
‘Do a good job on this and I’ll see if I can get you some decent assignments in the next couple of weeks, a few byline pieces for your portfolio.’ Steve massaged her shoulder, sensing she was weakening. ‘And next time a staff job comes up, you can be sure your name will be top of the shortlist. For someone with next to no experience, that’s not something to be sniffed at.’
She heaved a resigned sigh. ‘Okay, Clifton, you pervy old bastard. This once, I’ll do it. But this is the last time. Next time you can do your own dirty work.’
‘Not got the legs for it, love. The tits, maybe,’ he said with a grin. ‘Just remember, Blackthorne: relax, have fun and give it all you’ve got. You’ve all the makings of a great reporter. I know you won’t let me down.’
But the editor’s words couldn’t quite calm the sickening feeling in her stomach as she left his office.