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Authors: Talli Roland

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BOOK: Watching Willow Watts
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And with Jay by her side, how bad could it be?

 

*

 

As he knocked back his drink, Jay let himself relax. The bird was finally going to sign the bloody contract. Well done, Jay, he congratulated himself. He’d got her in record time, too. Obviously, he hadn’t lost his touch.


I’ll need you to sign this.’ Jay whipped out a sheaf of papers he’d stashed in his pocket for just this moment.

Willow squinted at the document in the low light of the pub. ‘What is it?’


Just a normal agency contract,’ Jay said. ‘Some agents work on verbal agreement, but I like to be more professional. Now then, let me take you through it.’ Flipping the pages, he spoke as quickly as he could, throwing in every bit of industry jargon he could think of. The more confusing he made it, the fewer questions there’d be.


Sound good?’ he asked
, leg jiggling under the table with impatience.

Willow nodded, looking as baffled as he’d hoped. ‘I guess so.’ He held his breath as she scanned the first page, which he’d packed full of legalese to discourage her from reading on. ‘I just need to know when I’ll get the first payment?’

Good luck
with that one, baby.
‘Oh, it says right here.’ He stabbed his finger at a clause on the second page. ‘Let me break it down for you. Basically, you get paid on a job by job basis, after I take my cut and we recoup any costs incurred.’ Something like hesitation flashed across Willow’s face, and Jay added: ‘But don’t worry. There won’t be many costs to cover.’


Great.’ Willow sipped her champagne.


So just tick here to show you’ve read and understood everything’ – he pointed to a box – ‘then sign here.’ He handed her a pen, feeling beads of sweat break out on his brow.

Willow ticked then scrawled her signature and Jay added his, a broad grin growing on his face. Finally, he was on his way back. No-one could stop him now. Not even Willow herself.

Smirking, he thought
of the genius clause he’d inserted, locking Willow into the agreement for ten years or until he said otherwise, with a five-hundred thousand pound penalty if she backed out before then. Not that he’d need her long-term – he’d ditch her once he moved on to
real
performers – but at least it gave him a safety cushion.

At the moment,
though, he had to make Willow as saleable a commodity as possible – and fast. She’d need a complete makeover from head to toe: hair, clothes . . . anything and everything to erase all traces of Plain Jane Willow. Thank God for Bunny’s money, although the remaining two hundred pounds wouldn’t stretch very far.

Right, first things first: hair.
Maybe he could sweet-talk that broad at the salon to bleach Willow’s hair for free. As for clothing, he’d hit the charity shop on the high street. Everyone here seemed to have blobbed out in old age, so there were probably some choice cast-offs from the skinny days.

A boob job and arse implants were out of
the question, but Willow could just use some extra padding to fill her out until she porked up on the diet of burgers, chips and sugary treats he’d force feed her from now on.

The only thing he would really have to pay for was singing lessons. But wait: Willow didn
’t actually have to sing. He could play a back-up track and she could mouth along to the music like so many pop ‘artists’ did today. No-one would know the difference.

S
orted. Marilyn makeover at minimal cost. By this time tomorrow, Willow would be a new woman and his prize commodity. And then he’d really throw the Marilyn machine into top gear. He couldn’t wait to get started.

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

 

 

BETTS HUMMED A CHEERFUL little tune as she tidied away the lunch dishes. It was her third day in Belcherton, and she couldn’t remember a happier time in recent history. She’d met some wonderful people over at the campsite and after helping out in the shop, she was discovering a talent for selling. Stock was flying off the shelves!

But
best of all was Dickie.

After her disastrous marriage to
Gord – the first and only man she’d ever been with – Betts hadn’t thought someone could be so caring and kind. Not only had Dickie taken her in that first night in town, but he had offered his hospitality for as long as she wanted to stay. She’d heard the Brits were a little colder and more formal than people back home, but he couldn’t have made her feel more welcome. And Betts had even become friends with Krusty, who crooned lovingly each time he laid eyes on her. Dickie had said he’d never seen the creature like that.

D
espite the emotion Betts could feel stirring inside, she told herself to keep a clamp on it. Dickie might still be grieving the death of his wife, and poor Willow . . . the girl was so weighed down with responsibility and pent-up emotion, it was a wonder she could move a muscle. Betts didn’t know what Willow had given up to move back in and take care of her father, but she could see there was some unfinished business there.

Funny, now that she knew Willow
personally, Betts had a tough time picturing her as Marilyn. The two couldn’t be more different: Willow seemed happier in the background while Marilyn, well, you couldn’t have found someone more addicted to fame. In fact, Betts was beginning to wonder if that image of Marilyn in the YouTube video really
was
a ghost – it could just as easily have been airbrushing, like her kids had said. Desperate for a change, Betts had been happy to follow along with the rest of the believers.

But what did it matter? Marilyn’s ghost or not, Betts was here now – along with lots of Marilyn fans – and she was having fun.

And goodness knows
, after what she’d been through with Gord, she definitely deserved it.

 

*

 


That will be two
pounds fifty, please,’ Willow said to the German woman purchasing a set of Marilyn chopsticks while ogling her with cow-like eyes. Willow shook her head as she handed them over: a small plastic Marilyn adorned the end of each chopstick, and the words
Marilyn Makes Everything Taste Good
were emblazoned down the side in garish gold lettering. Why someone would want to eat their Chinese with such horrible things was beyond her, but she was just glad to see the back of them. It was only the first day since Dad had changed the stock, but so far, the shop didn’t seem any busier. The usual flow of curious punters were coming in to have a look at her, and some
were
buying the items. It would take forever, though, to shift everything. Thank God she’d signed with Jay.


Morning, Willow. Or should I say, the new Marilyn.’

Willow’s head snapped up from the chopsticks.


Hi, Jay,’ she said, breathing in his spicy cologne. In his immaculate dark suit and shiny tie, today he looked straight off the pages of
GQ
– even with the cheap paper bags in his hands.

He
bent down to kiss her cheek and Willow darted a glance around to see if Dad had noticed, but he was chatting to a Japanese customer. ‘Ready to get started?’ Jay asked.


Get started?’ What was he talking about?


We’re going to do a Marilyn makeover
, baby. We’ve got to capitalise on all your publicity and keep the momentum going. No time to waste.’

Willow gulped. ‘Marilyn makeover?’ What the hell was that? Jay hadn’t said a word before. ‘But I’m working.’ As much as she wanted to get money quickly, she couldn’t just leave her father here.

Jay touched
her shoulder and smiled. ‘Let me deal with that.’ Before Willow could say a word, Jay strode over to her dad. ‘Hello. I’m Jay Bellamy, your daughter’s agent. She’s going to need some time off in the next few weeks to launch her career as the new Marilyn. I’m sure you understand. And, of course, what she does will only help you in this establishment, and the village, too.’

Her father turned
to face her, eyebrows raised. ‘Agent? You never mentioned you were thinking about getting an agent.’

Willow shrugged. ‘I wasn’t. But then Jay approached me and I thought, well, being Marilyn right now just makes sense.’ She kept her answer deliberately vague. Little did he know how much sense it actually made, she thought grimly.


Well, I’m happy to see you doing something other than sticking in this shop with me.’ He shook Jay’s hand warmly. ‘It’s nice to meet you, Jay. And of course Willow can have whatever time she needs, she knows that. I’ve got Betts here to help me now, anyway. If this is what Willow wants to do, I’m all for it.’


Thank you so much, Mr Watts.’ Jay clapped him on the back
and turned toward her. ‘See? Sorted.’ He waved one of the paper bags. ‘I’ve got some bleach. We’ll do your hair first.’


My hair? Er, is that really necessary? I’d rather wear a wig.’

Jay
squeezed her hand. ‘I know it’s a big step, baby. But you trust me, don’t you? You’ve signed with me for my industry expertise, and if you really want to make an impact, this is what we need to do. People can spot a wig from miles away, and the more you take on Marilyn, the more invested people will be in you.’ He shot her a bright smile. ‘Anyway, you’ll look fantastic as a blonde.’

Willow
tried not to make a face. She already knew what she looked like as a blonde, and it was far from fantastic. But maybe Jay was right: if she was going to do this, she might as well go the whole way. It
was
only hair. ‘Okay, should I call Paula? She’s the best hairdresser in town.’ Her friend had spent years praying to the Gods of Rock for Willow to change her look. She’d be ecstatic to hear they’d finally granted her wish.

Jay shook his
head. ’I just came from the salon and I couldn’t even get through the door, there’s so many people. We need to get you sorted straight away, Willow. No time to waste.’


But Paula’s an expert
. . .‘ Willow let her voice trail off; she didn’t want him to think she was going to be difficult. ‘Fine.’ God, Paula was going to kill her. Willow had never gone anywhere other than RockIt, even when she lived in London.


And after the hair, I’ll bring over some new clothes. Then, I want you to memorise a few of Marilyn’s songs.’

Willow’s eyes widened. ‘Songs? But I don’t sing.’


Don’t worry,’ Jay said confidently. ‘It doesn’t matter – we can just use a recording and have you mime the words when you’re onstage. The important thing is that you look and act the part. If you do that, people won’t care about anything else.’

Willow nodded slowly, trying to get her head around the idea of going onstage. If she didn’t have to actually sing, maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. And Jay would give her plenty of time to learn any lyrics, she was sure. ‘So what’s on the cards for the next few days?’ she asked, envisioning a few turns around the village shaking hands, maybe a merchandise signing session to shift some stock. And perhaps Jay could get some of those revenue streams started, whatever he’d meant by that.

Jay
squeezed her hand again and Willow’s heart jumped. God, those dark eyes were gorgeous. ‘We’re going to stick around town, get your Marilyn persona perfect, then we’ll really ramp things up. Now, here.’ He rooted around in another paper bag and shoved something at her.


What’s this?’
Willow eyed the grease soaking through the paper bag with distaste.


Sausage rolls, donuts, and cakes. Your breakfast.’ Jay leaned against the counter. ‘Tuck in.’


I can’t eat all this!’ Her gut clenched as she carried the bag filled with food over to the corner away from the customers.


Willow, I think you’re perfect as you are. But have you ever heard of a skinny Marilyn?’ Jay asked, following closely behind. ‘We can stuff your bra – even Marilyn did that – and maybe put some padding in your rear, but the more genuine it is, the better. Remember what I said about investing in your persona.’

Willow
nodded, her face flaming at Jay’s intimate words. Maybe he was right. And maybe being transformed into such a sexy woman would give her the extra boost she’d need to get up in front of people and play the role. It would be just like a fancy dress party, where you could hide behind a mask and be whoever you wanted for a night. Granted, this was for longer than a night, but still. God knows she could do with gaining a few pounds, too. Since moving home, the weight had melted off her.

Almost gagging, Willow
forced herself to take a giant bite of a sausage roll. Ugh, it tasted as bad as Mrs Greene’s kumquat marmalade. Jay stood over her, watching as Willow munched her way through the food. Finally, when she could eat no more and the bag was empty, Jay held up the packet of bleach. ‘Ready?’

Willow’s stomach moaned loudly and she put a hand to her belly. It was just the grease, she told herself.


Ready.’

 

*

 

Cecilia Havering slammed the door of her old, fa
ded farmhouse and sagged onto the sofa in relief. It was the first time she’d left the house in days, and she couldn’t
believe
what was happening in the village. People from everywhere clogged Belcherton’s narrow high street, and it had taken her at least ten tries to hunt down someone who spoke enough English to explain. Cissy sniffed, recalling the overexcited Australian man’s account of how the new Marilyn Monroe had been spotted in some tourist video, right here in Belcherton. It wasn’t enough that Marilyn had hogged the limelight when she’d been alive, but now she had to interfere with Cissy’s old age, too?

BOOK: Watching Willow Watts
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