THE MAGNIFICENT MRS. MAYHEW by
On Sale: July 29, 2019
About THE MAGNIFICENT MRS. MAYHEW:
Milly Johnson, the Queen of Feel-Good Fiction and The Sunday Times bestselling author, is back with a "glorious, heartfelt novel" (Rowan Coleman, New York Times bestselling author) about a woman trying to find her own place in the world, who through love, loss, and the kindness of strangers, discovers everything she needs in a village by the sea.
Behind every successful man is a woman. Behind the fall of every successful man is usually another woman. Sophie Mayhew seems to have the perfect life. The glamourous wife of a rising political star who is one step away from the highest position in the government, she matches her husband in looks, pedigree, and money. But he has made some stupid mistakes on his way to the top, and some of those mistakes are just now threatening to emerge. Still, this can all be swept under the rug so long as Sophie the Trophy plays her part in front of the cameras. But the words that tumble out of Sophie’s mouth one morning on the doorstep of their country house are not the words the spin doctors drilled into her head. Bursting out of the restrictive mold that has been tightening around her since birth, Sophie flees to a small village on the coast, a safe haven from her childhood days, where she intends to be alone. But once there, she finds a community that warms her soul and makes her feel as if she is breathing properly for the first time in her life. Sophie knows she won’t be left in peace for long, though, so she must decide: where does her real future lie?
Please enjoy this excerpt from
The Magnificent Mrs. Mayhew
DOORSTEPGATE, 11 A.M.
As Sophie stood in the middle of them all, the moment strangely crystalized for her, as if time had frozen solid and she was able to study everything at leisure, appreciate how odd it was to be surrounded by familiar people in the house she had lived in for eight years and yet still feel as if she had been dropped from a great height into a roomful of strangers.
She saw her mother seated, holding a cup of tea in one hand and the accompanying china saucer in the other, talking to her father, who was standing, one hand slotted stiffly in his jacket pocket; his default pose, as if he were a catalogue model. Mother was talking to him and Father had a polite smile of concentration on his face. Standing next to him, her parents-in-law, Clive and Celeste, looking serious and focused as if they were building up to jumping out of a plane. Sophie’s husband, John, deep in conversation with the top pick of his aides: Parliamentary Assistant (London) Rupert Bartley-Green; Senior Communications Director and Press Officer Len Spinks; Chief of Staff Edward Mayhew, who also happened to be John’s eldest brother; and Executive Office Manager (Cherlgrove) Findlay Norris. Between his two governmental bases and the office that looked after his investment and property portfolio, John had more staff than the POTUS, although there was an opening for a girl Friday (London) now, since his last one was currently enjoying her fifteen minutes of fame. The “people” of breakfast and daytime TV, and every program that attracted those the media chose to concentrate its temporary but brightest lights on, were no doubt already negotiating appearance fees with her “people.” Why is it always someone in that junior assistant/intern/researcher role who topples the boss? thought Sophie. Weren’t there enough cautionary tales of littered corpses to warn any man in a high-profile position—who really should know better—what dark and treacherous waters he elected to dip into when he chose a pretty, young, ambitious swimming companion? A pond with a hundred signs around it, all lit up with massive red neon lettering and strings of exclamation marks: warning. danger. come any closer and you’re a bloody idiot!!!!!
It would have been easy for the other woman to fall in love with her husband, though; if that were what it was. John could sell ice to the Eskimos, coal to Newcastle, toys to Santa, and all the other clichés. Charm personified, absurdly handsome, moneyed, intelligent, refined—oh yes, John F. Mayhew was the full package. Sophie could guess how quickly Rebecca Robinson would have become ensnared in his net, even thrown herself into it willingly, because she had done the same thing fourteen years ago, when she was eighteen.
She’d met him at the Christmas Ball when she was in her first year at Cambridge University, studying French, and he was in his last year studying business and politics. He’d been absolutely wrecked on champagne and told her he was going to marry her, before his friends dragged him off for yet more alcohol. She didn’t think much about it until Valentine’s Day, when their paths collided again at a private party. She spotted him long before he noticed her, which gave her the luxury of studying him unseen. He wasn’t her dream type at all, but he was extremely magnetic, and from the way he held himself, it was more than obvious he knew what his best qualities were. He was long limbed and lean, and she imagined him as a human equivalent of a well-bred racehorse, something pampered and valued. Greek-statue profile, midbrown hair that flopped into his eyes— and what eyes they were: puppy-brown, intense, seductive. Eventually, as if detecting the heat in her gaze, his eyes swept around to hers, locked, and she felt powerless, as if she were a hen and he a fox. He sliced through the banks of students that stood between them, mouth stretching into a killer smile, and when he reached her, said:
“Well, if it isn’t you again. Where have you been hiding yourself?”
And from that moment they were a couple. Sophie forgot all about swooning over the rugby player who was in her class, which was a shame because he would end up captaining England and was a thoroughly nice chap, but John F. Mayhew engulfed her brain and was all she could think about.
John F. was going to be richer than Croesus and prime minister one day, he said, and she didn’t doubt that he would be. She could easily forecast his future: top of the tree in his chosen profession, women would adore him, men would want to be him, magazine reporters would queue up outside his door to take photos of the beautiful home he lived in. His children would be perfect and well behaved. Maybe they’d be her children, too. Maybe this was the man her old headmistress Miss Palmer-Price told her would be the one to carry her along in the grip of his force field.
The “F” stood for Fitzroy, he told her postcoitus in bed on the night he took her virginity. His great-great-great-grandfather— Donal F. Mayhew—and his best friend, Patrick, had decided to escape the great Irish famine by emigrating to America in the late 1840s. But an Irish heiress fell hook, line, and sinker for the strong and handsome—if impoverished—gypsy Donal and he changed his mind about going. Donal and his wife eventually moved to London, where his determination both to shake off the label of male “gold digger” and to better himself drove him to build up a fortune in his own right selling property, metal, alcohol, ship parts; anything legal or illegal to trade in order to make a profit. Across the pond, Patrick’s family’s fortunes improved with every generation, too. His great-grandson John F. Kennedy became president of the United States of America. The Kennedys, John said, had stolen the idea of using the “F” from the Mayhews, and in doing so had cursed themselves. As if he couldn’t get any more fascinating, traveler magic was thrown into the mix.
By April Sophie could not imagine living without John F. Mayhew; then in May she found that she’d have to, because he dumped her for the fabulously rich wild child Lady Cresta Thorpe. Sophie was heartbroken. John graduated with honors and spent a year touring the world with Cresta, who had dropped out of university, far preferring to indulge her habits of clubbing, cocktails, and cocaine. His life, so she gleaned from gossip, was shining and golden as hers slipped further into the dark and depressing. Her coursework suffered and she started self-medicating with alcohol to blot out the pain. She also realized that the girls she’d thought of as friends weren’t that hot in a crisis. She had never been good at gathering friends. The beautiful, insubstantial people were attracted to her, but the really nice people found her own good looks intimidating.
It took Sophie a long time to get over losing John F. Mayhew, partly because she didn’t have a group of hard-core pals to help chase him out of her heart. She buried her true feelings deep as she had been taught to at school, threw herself into her studies, never let anyone see how wounded she was. Her heart had just about healed by the time she graduated, give or take the scar he had left.
Months later, Sophie had been working as a temp at the London headquarters of the glossy magazine Mint when she heard that they were to run a feature on a young, successful investment banker, a high-risk taker and up-and-coming politician, at home in his recently acquired, stupidly expensive bachelor penthouse. His name was John F. Mayhew. Sophie’s heart started to race. She wangled it so she accompanied the reporter and the photographer, desperate to show herself off at her best to him: content, happy, preened, and perfect— unattainable and indifferent. Or so she thought.
He was overjoyed to see her, ridiculously so, and she was gracious enough not to dampen his delight with a long-overdue rebuke for dumping her so callously. He asked her out to dinner and she accepted, merely for old times’ sake, sure that if he asked to see her again, she would politely refuse, walk away, having shut the door firmly in his face this time.
He had never forgiven himself for the caddish way he had behaved, he said in Le Gavroche. He’d been glamoured by Cresta’s glitzy veneer, but it was mere infatuation. He hadn’t realized how much he felt for Sophie until he lost her. Sophie was in love with him all over again before the dessert menus had been delivered to them.
Six months after the photos of his bachelor pad had been published, John F. Mayhew had moved out and into Park Court, a beautiful, if run-down, country residence—a wedding present from his parents for himself and his new bride-to-be, the sublime Miss Sophie Calladine. She ignored that little voice inside her that warned her about the speed of all this, the worm burying into her happiness. Is this the real deal, Sophie, or are you just grateful to be loved?
To a woman starved for affection, the full spotlight of his attention was blinding, disorientating—of course she knew this. She had gulped it like air seeping through a hole in a vacuum. For that reason, it would be too easy to let that worm convince her that genuine love was not her primary reason for accepting John’s marriage proposal: but it was, it really was. It had to be said, though, that her heart was whooping considerably that she had also earned parental approval for her choice of husband, and she could even hear the echoes of applause from her old headmistress, nodding consent from the afterlife: I knew you’d be a credit to St. Bathsheba’s in the end, Sophie, like your sisters and your mother before you. But she did love him very much. Enough to have sacrificed her own wants and needs on his altar for the past eight and a half years. Enough to be standing here with her heart ripped open in this roomful of people who were looking at her to mend her marriage. Because by doing that, Sophie Mayhew would mend everything.
About MILLY JOHNSONMilly Johnson is The Sunday Times bestselling author of numerous novels about the universal issues of friendship, family, love, betrayal, good food, and the little bit of that magic in life that sometimes visits the unsuspecting. Milly is a columnist for her local newspaper and is also an experienced broadcaster on radio and TV. She can be booked via the Women Speakers Agency for motivational speaking events. Milly is patron of several charities, including Yorkshire Cat Rescue and The Well at the Core. Her publishers call her The Queen of Feel-Good Fiction, and together they are aiming to spread as much joy as possible with every book published.
Find out more at MillyJohnson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @MillyJohnson.