Ahead of its release, we have an exclusive excerpt from London, Can You Wait?, the sequel to Jacquelyn Middleton’s debut novel London Belongs to Me!
About ‘London, Can You Wait?’
Alex loves Mark. Mark loves Alex. But is love enough?
Since moving to London from the US, 24-year-old Alex Sinclair seems to have it all: a coveted job writing for the theatre, supportive friends, and the man of her dreams gorgeous Irish actor, Mark Keegan. But in the year since the acclaimed debut of her play, Alex and Mark’s lives have been turned upside down.
Thanks to his role on a smash-hit British TV show, Mark is catapulted to stardom. Alex couldn’t be happier until her boyfriend’s popularity and insatiable drive to succeed means they’re apart more than they’re together. Forced to share Mark with showbiz heavy-hitters, intrusive press, and unrelenting fangirls, Alex’s hopes for a stable and committed life with him start to fade. Her struggles with panic attacks, career uncertainty, and Mark’s increasingly worrisome behaviour make her wonder: how much more can she bend before she breaks?
A passionate tale of secrets, loss, and ambition, London, Can You Wait? is the eagerly-awaited sequel to Middleton’s debut novel, London Belongs to Me.
Alex and Mark meet comic con crowds in this exclusive excerpt from ‘London, Can You Wait?’
“I’m counting on you to save me from your fangirl kin.” Mark adjusted his belt and smoothed the front of his navy shirt. A final tuck into his skinny jeans, and his smiling eyes returned to Alex.
“You’ll be fine. They adore you.” Alex grinned, resigned. This comic con fell way short of her planned romantic weekend at home, but at least they were together…in between meet-and-greet sessions, autographs, photo ops, and panel discussions. They would make it work.
A loud chant of “Mark! Mark! Mark!” rose above the partition, his impatient fans urging him to make an entrance.
“Hear that? Bonkers.” Laugh lines gathered by his eyes. “Lex—”
“Ready to sign your life away?” A smiley BBC press rep barged in, slapping Mark on the shoulder.
Mark winced with a barely audible gasp. It passed his lips so quickly, the BBC guy didn’t clue in, but Alex did. Her heart kicked up its pace. What was that?
“I haven’t seen so many fans queuing for autographs since Cumberbatch.” The rep laughed. “Got your game face on?”
Mark’s posture was tense, but his smile suggested otherwise. He shot Alex a confident look. “Let’s do this!”
A bubbly con employee rushed over, his toothy smile and earnest eyes reminiscent of a children’s TV host. “Showtime, Mr. Keegan. Follow me, please.”
He pulled back the curtain and Mark ducked through, his beaming smile welcomed by a roar of voices from the surging crowd. He sat beside a con employee in a yellow t-shirt and with a simple hello and handshake, he magically turned her pale complexbecion bright pink.
Alex followed, lingering in the opened curtain, not sure where to go. The publicist stood beside her.
“Mark saved my neck, stepping in like this.” The BBC suit nodded. “I didn’t think we could get anyone to replace you-know-who on such short notice. When I called Mark Thursday, I really didn’t expect he’d say yes. If I were dangling from cable cars all week, I would be chilling on my weekend off.”
Alex sighed. “Exactly.”
He returned his attention to the line, now double in size. “Want a coffee, tea?”
“No, thanks. I’m going to wander.”
“Smart. These signing sessions are bum-numbingly boring.” He vanished through the curtain.
Alex’s furrowed gaze darted through the swarm. How would Mark deal with all of this? She had seen him handle a few fans on the street or a crowd of thirty or so program-clutching girls at a stage door, but nothing compared to this disorganized con chaos threatening to engulf his tiny table.
She tightened her grip on the strap of her bag. Is it hot in here? Her fuzzy black sweater stuck to her chest. She glanced at Mark—he wasn’t sweating—and then back at the crowd, her heartbeat echoing in her ears.
Never mind Mark—how would she deal with all this? The noisy, demanding mob, a beast boasting hundreds of prying eyes and just as many expectations rattled her like she was a cornered animal. Time seemed to slow to an unbearable crawl and yet, her chest pounded quickly as if in a race it was desperate to win. Each gasp from her lips grew short and increasingly shallow, mimicking a hectic response that was becoming all too familiar again.
Fuck! Not here! Not in front of all these people…how…how do I get OUT of here? She swallowed heavily as the room swayed around her.
Crap, everyone’s looking at me.
Texting ‘marmalade’ was no use here, not now.
Mark turned around and smiled sweetly, beckoning her forward.
Mark…thinks everything is okay. I can’t let him think it isn’t…I can’t do that to him. A false grin stretched her lips.
He didn’t see through Alex’s act and turned back to his Keeganites.
Everything will be okay, right? If Mark believes it, I should, too…
You…can do this…
She focused on her boyfriend, not the mob…perhaps it was her best chance at riding out this attack?
You can do this. She released her stranglehold on her bag’s strap, her knuckles so white they practically glowed.
Mark gracefully accepted fan art, not once stifling a laugh at how hideous a few of the portraits were. He was effortlessly charming, engaging…interested in every person without being superficial. Shy little kids dressed like Mark’s TV character hid behind their parents, too bashful to say hello. Mark leaned over the edge of the table with a welcoming “Hi, mate!” while coaxing them out from behind a thigh with high fives and compliments about their costumes. He held hands with girls all aquiver and lost for words. He was so good, so patient. His calm demeanour was contagious, even to Alex—her crazed heartbeat, gulps for air, impromptu sweats, now receding…
You can do this…you CAN do this…
You’re…going to be okay—phew!
Each fan arriving at the table left with much more than an autograph—they left feeling heard, understood, and appreciated. Mark’s ease with the fans, his kindness wasn’t something that could be taught. To him, it was as natural as breathing. To Alex, it was just another of his traits that she loved and made her heart swell with pride.
But witnessing fandom from the other side of the autograph table felt surreal, like she had hopped into a TARDIS and time travelled to a strange, parallel universe. Girls crying over her guy, the actor who wasn’t famous when they met, the one who, like a typical boyfriend, dropped clothes around their flat, ate Nutella with a spoon straight from the jar, and left whiskers all over the bathroom sink.
Alex slipped through the curtain and walked along the ‘back-stage’ hallway. She squeezed through a break in the perimeter’s bank of tall white panels where the roving rainbow of cosplayers, comic book aficionados, and pop culture purists on the floor of Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre swallowed her up anonymously. Alex completely relaxed. These folks were her people. Take away the theatre world’s plaudits, the now-celebrity boy-friend, and intrusive paparazzi buzzing around her relationship, and she was still a geek at heart.
She bought some greasy chips in a paper cone and strolled aisle after aisle, window shopping collectibles, superhero sketches, and sartorial offerings for cosplayers. A puckered face drew her in. It was a spooky, over-the-head latex mask of the Silence, one of Doctor Who’s scariest villains. In the Whovian lexicon, the Silence had the ability to make people who looked away from them instant-ly forget their existence. Alex always thought they resembled the freaky younger brothers of the tortured figure in Edvard Munch’s famous painting, The Scream: a bulbous head, narrow chin, protruding cheekbones, and deep-socket eyes. The only difference between the two beings was the Silence’s pinched mouth, and for the most part, they never uttered a sound, let alone an existential scream.
Alex hadn’t cosplayed for at least a year; her Wonder Woman outfit was balled up in the back of the closet she shared with Mark. Hmm. The mask was tempting, a chance to wade back in without a big commitment. She surveyed the crowd milling past: Spider-Man, or make that Spider-Men—ever so popular, Finnick from The Hunger Games, Catwoman…she’d always wanted to put together a Catwoman costume but had never got around to it. The cosplaying itch flared, but would her oversized sweater and dark jeans look too casual to pull it off? The Silence always wore black suits…
She stuffed several chips into her mouth, the saltiness making her salivate. A finger tapped her shoulder.
Her bulging cheeks turned towards the voice.
“You’re Mark Keegan’s girlfriend, Alex, right?” A freckled-brunette about Alex’s height and barely sixteen years old, dressed in a Hogwarts uniform, stared at her through round eyeglasses that pinched her button nose.
Alex raised a hand to her lips and swallowed the mouthful of chips. “Yes?”
“We thought so!” The girl giggled with her friend, a teen with wide-set eyes and scraggly dark blonde hair, the ends dip-dyed sea foam green. They eyeballed her from head to toe.
“You are SO lucky. You and Mark, I mean…talk about OTP.”
Aw, fangirl slang—one true pairing, a perfect couple. Alex always thought her and Mark were OTP, but then, she would.
“Can we have a selfie?”
This was new. “Ah…sure?”
The pair swooped around her, grinning for the smartphone.
“Thanks, Alex. You’re so cool!” They scampered off, eyes glued to the phone’s screen, reviewing the image just snapped.
Alex knew they didn’t really like her, not for the right reasons, anyway. Her only relevance to their world was the fact that she had bagged their favourite actor, a clear case of celebrity by proxy. She was a curiosity, nothing more.
She turned back to the latex Silence mask, promptly stuffing her credit card into the seller’s hand. Hidden underneath this getup, she could wander around incognito. The Hermione wannabe seemed harmless, but the encounter left Alex exposed and longing for anonymity.
About the author
Jacquelyn Middleton is an award-winning freelance writer with articles published by several of the most popular magazines, newspapers, and websites in North America including Canadian Living, Best Health, National Geographic Travel, the Toronto Star, Reader’s Digest, Chatelaine, Today’s Parent, and Flare. She previously worked in television broadcasting, and lives in Toronto. When she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out in London, waiting in a comic con line with her husband, or chasing after her bossy Schipperke. Her debut novel London Belongs To Me was released in 2016 and her second novel London, Can You Wait? is out October 26, 2017.
London, Can You Wait? hits bookshelves everywhere on Thursday, October 26, 2017, so make sure to preorder your copy today!