Excerpt from At Risk by Stella Rimington, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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At Risk

By Stella Rimington

At Risk
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2005,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: May 2006,
    448 pages.

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She remembered every detail of the evening. On the way back from Paris, where he had been interviewing an actress, he had arrived without warning at Liz's basement flat in Kentish Town. She'd been in the bath, listening to La Bohème and trying half-heartedly to make sense of an article in The Economist, and suddenly there he was, and the floor was strewn with expensive white tissue paper and the place was reeking – gorgeously and poignantly – of Vol de Nuit.

Afterwards they had opened a bottle of duty-free Moët and climbed back into the bath together. ‘Isn't Shauna expecting you?' Liz had asked guiltily.

‘She 's probably asleep' Mark answered cheerfully. ‘She 's had her sister's kids all weekend.'

‘And you, meanwhile . . .'

‘I know. It's a cruel world, isn't it?'

The thing that had baffled Liz at first was why he had married Shauna in the first place. From his descriptions of her, they seemed to have nothing in common whatever. Mark Callendar was feckless and pleasure-loving and possessed of an almost feline perceptiveness – a quality which made him one of the most sought-after profilists in print journalism – while his wife was an unbendingly earnest feminist academic. She was forever hounding him for his unreliability, he was forever evading her humourless wrath. There seemed no purpose to any of it.

But Shauna was not Liz's problem. Mark was Liz's problem. The relationship was complete madness and, if she didn't do something about it soon, could well cost her her job. She didn't love Mark and she dreaded to think of what would happen if the whole thing was forced out into the open. For a long time it had looked as if he was going to leave Shauna, but he hadn't, and Liz now doubted that he ever would. Shauna, she had gradually come to understand, was the negative to his positive charge, the AC to his DC, the Wise to his Morecambe; between them they made up a fully functioning unit.

And sitting there in the halted train it occurred to her that what really excited Mark was the business of transformation. Descending on Liz, ruffling her feathers, laughing at her seriousness, magicking her into a bird of paradise. If she had lived in an airy modern flat overlooking one of the London parks, with wardrobes full of exquisite designer clothes, then she would have held no interest for him at all.

She really had to end it. She hadn't told her mother about him, needless to say, and in consequence, whenever she stayed the weekend with her in Wiltshire, she had to endure a well intentioned homily about Meeting Someone Nice.

‘I know it's difficult when you can't talk about your job;' her mother had begun the night before, lifting her head from the photo album that she was sorting out, ‘but I read in the paper the other day that over nineteen hundred people work in that building with you, and that there are all sorts of social activities you can do. Why don't you take up amateur dramatics or Latin American dancing or something?'

‘Mum, please!' She imagined a group of Northern Ireland desk officers and A4 surveillance men descending on her with eyes blazing, maracas shaking, and coloured ruffles pinned to their shirts.
‘Just a suggestion,' said her mother mildly, and turned back to the album. A minute or two later she lifted out one of Liz's old class photos.

‘Do you remember Robert Dewey?'

‘Yes,' said Liz cautiously. ‘Lived in Tisbury. Peed in his pants at the Stonehenge picnic.'

‘He's just opened a new restaurant in Salisbury. Round the corner from the Playhouse.'

‘Really?' murmured Liz. ‘Fancy that.' This was a flanking attack, and what it was really about was her coming home. She had grown up in the small octagonal gatehouse of which her mother was now the sole tenant, and the unspoken hope was that she should return to the country and ‘settle down', before spinsterhood and the City of Dreadful Night claimed her for ever. Not necessarily with Rob Dewey – he of the sodden shorts – but with someone similar. Someone with whom, at intervals, she could enjoy ‘French cuisine ' and ‘the theatre ' and all the other metropolitan amenities to which she had no doubt grown accustomed.

Excerpted from At Risk by Stella Rimington Copyright © 2004 by Stella Rimington. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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