Today's Reading

"Right," says Michael, when he finally finishes. "I have to tell you before we start that Printex have offered us very competitive terms."

"Well, we—" Sam begins.

"And they say you won't have the flexibility now Grayside has been swallowed up by a bigger company."

"Well, that's not entirely true. What we have now is volume, quality and—reliability."

She feels faintly stupid as she speaks, as if everyone is looking at her, as if it is obvious that she is a middle-aged woman in somebody else's shoes. She stammers her way through the meeting, stumbling over her answers and flushing, feeling everyone's eyes on her feet.

Finally she pulls a folder from her bag. It contains the quote she has spent hours refining and laying out. She makes to walk across to hand it to Michael, but her heel catches on something. She stumbles and twists her ankle, sending a sharp pain up her leg. She turns her grimace into a smile, and hands him the file. He glances down at it, flicking through the pages, not looking at her. Eventually she walks away, slowly, trying not to wobble.

Finally, Michael looks up. "We're looking at serious numbers for this next order. So we need to make sure we're with a firm that can definitely deliver."

"We've delivered for you before, Mr. Frampton. And last month we worked with Greenlight on a similar run of catalogs. They were very impressed with the quality."

His whole face is an extended frown. "Can I take a look at what you did for them?" 


She flicks through her folder and remembers suddenly that the Greenlight catalog is in the blue folder on the dashboard of the van, the one she had thought she wouldn't need. And that that involves walking out of this loading area and across the car park, in full view of all the men. She looks meaningfully at Joel.

"Why don't I go and get it?" says Joel.

"What other samples have you got in the van?" says Frampton.

"Well, we did a similar run for Clarks Office Supplies. In fact, we have quite a few different catalogs from last month. Joel, could you—"

"Nah. I'll take a look myself." Frampton starts to walk. This means she has to. She sets off, a little more stiffly, alongside him.

"What we need," he says, thrusting his hands into his pockets, "is a print partner who is fast-moving, someone flexible. Fleet-footed, if you like."

He is striding too briskly. It is at this point that she turns her ankle again on the uneven surface, and lets out a yelp. Joel thrusts out an arm just as her knees buckle and she's forced to grab it to stay upright. She smiles awkwardly as Frampton looks at them, his face unreadable.

Later, she will recall, her ears hot with embarrassment, his muttered words to Joel. The last words he will utter to Grayside Print.

Is she drunk?


Nisha Cantor is running furiously on a treadmill. Music pumps in her ears and her legs are pounding like pistons. She always runs furiously. The first mile is the worst, fired by a choleric mix of resentment and lactic acid; the second makes her really, really angry; and the third is where her head finally starts to clear, when she feels suddenly like her body is oiled, like she can run forever, and then she's angry again because she has to stop and do something else just at the point when she's started to enjoy it. She hates the run, and she needs it for her sanity. She hates visiting this damn city, where there are people all over the sidewalks, meandering slowly, so the only place she can run properly is this crappy gym, to which the hotel has siphoned its guests while its own superior facilities are apparently being renovated.

The machine informs her that it's time for her to cool down, and she turns it off abruptly, unwilling to be told what to do by a freaking machine. No, I will not cool down, she thinks. As she pulls out one of her earphones she becomes aware of a ringing sound. Nisha reaches over to pick up her phone. It's Carl.


"Excuse me." 

Nisha looks up.

"You need to turn your phone off," says a young woman. "This is a quiet area."

This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book The Flames by Sophie Haydock. 

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