Excerpt: Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: February 11, 2020

Publisher: MIRA

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

Cousins by chance, sisters by choice…

After her cat toy empire goes up in flames, Sophie Lane returns to Blackberry Island, determined to rebuild. Until small-town life reveals a big problem: she can’t grow unless she learns to let go. If Sophie relaxes her grip even a little, she might lose everything. Or she might finally be free to reach for the happiness and love that have eluded her for so long.

Kristine has become defined by her relationship to others. She’s a wife, a mom. As much as she adores her husband and sons, she wants something for herself—a sweet little bakery just off the waterfront. She knew changing the rules wouldn’t be easy, but she never imagined she might have to choose between her marriage and her dreams.

Like the mainland on the horizon, Heather’s goals seem beyond her grasp. Every time she manages to save for college, her mother has another crisis. Can she break free, or will she be trapped in this tiny life forever?

Excerpt:

“Think of it as a rite of passage,” Kristine Fielding said cheerfully. “You’re twelve now. You deserve to take on more responsibilities.”

“You say that like it’s a good thing,” her twelve-year-old son, Tommy, grumbled. “I’m a really good kid, Mom. Maybe I deserve not to do laundry.”

“You’d rather I did it for you?”

“Well, yeah. Of course. Nobody wants to do chores.”

They were in Tommy’s bedroom, facing a massive pile of laundry. Kristine had been doing her best to convince her middle son it was time for him to learn a few life skills. As his older brother had before him, Tommy resisted. In the end, she’d had to threaten JJ with the loss of Xbox privileges before he was willing to take on the task. She was hoping she wouldn’t have to resort to anything that dire with Tommy.

So it’s okay for me to take care of this entire house, cook the meals and do your laundry, while you do nothing?”

Tommy grinned. “It’s your job, Mom. My job is school. Remember how I got an A on my last math test? Being a great student takes a lot of time.” His expression turned sly. “Whichwould you rather have? Me doing my own laundry or a super-intelligent kid who gets straight A’s?”

“It’s not an either-or proposition. You’re twelve now. It’s time to start doing your own laundry.”

“But I already help Dad out with the yard.”

“We all do that. Look at my face. Is there anything about my expression that makes you think I’m going to change my mind on this? Let us remember the sad summer from two years ago when JJ refused to do his laundry. Think about the layer of dust on his Xbox controller and how he cried and pouted and stomped his feet.”

“It was embarrassing for all of us.”

“Yes, it was. Now, you can either be an example to your little brother, or you can provide me with a very humorous story to tell everyone who’s ever met you, but at the end of the day, you will still be doing laundry. Which is it to be?”

“Maybe I should ask Dad what he thinks.”

Kristine knew that Jaxsen would take Tommy’s side—not out of malice, but because when it came to his kids, he was the softest touch around.

“You could and then you would still have to face me.” She kept her tone cheerful. “Am I wrong?”

“No.” Tommy sighed heavily. “I surrender to the inevitable.”

“That’s my boy. I’m proud of you. Now, collect your dirty clothes and meet me in the laundry room. You’re going to learn how to work the washer and dryer. I have a schedule posted. You’ll have certain days and times when you will have the privilege of using the washer and dryer. If you use them at other times, when they’re scheduled for JJ or when I want them, you will not enjoy the consequences.”

“No Xbox?”

“No skateboard.”

“Mom! Not my skateboard.”

Kristine smiled. Both her mother and mother-in-law hadtaught her that the key to getting kids to do what you wanted was to find out what they wanted and use that as leverage. For JJ it was his Xbox, for Tommy it was his skateboard and for Grant it was being outside. She tried to use her power for good, but she did absolutely use it.

“And on Saturday, you’ll change your sheets and wash those,” she said happily. “It’s going to be great.”

“It’s not fair.”

“I know. Isn’t it fabulous?”

“What if I don’t care about clean sheets?”

“I think you care about clean sheets about as much as I care about driving you into Marysville to that skate park you love.”

Tommy’s brown eyes widened in horror. “You wouldn’t not take me, would you?”

“Of course not. Any young man of twelve years old who has washed his own sheets deserves to be driven to a skate park.”

“Is that blackmail?” he asked.

“I think of it as persuasion.”

“I don’t want to grow up. It’s too much work.”

“Interesting. Someone should write a book about a boy who refuses to grow up. It sounds like a great story.”

“It’s Peter Pan.”

“Is it? Shocking!” She pointed to the pile of laundry on the floor. “I will be giving laundry lessons in ten minutes. If you’re not there, I will start without you. If I start without you, I will do so with your favorite skateboard in my possession.”

“When I have kids I’m letting them do whatever they want.”

Kristine pulled her son close and kissed the top of his head—something she wouldn’t be able to do much longer. He’d grown at least two inches in the past year. JJ already towered over her and he was only fourteen. In a couple of years he would be taller than his dad. Even little Grant wasn’t so little. When he fell asleep outside, studying the stars, she couldn’t carry him tobed anymore. She had to call Jaxsen to hoist him up and get him inside.

“I’m sure you will,” she said with a laugh.

“You don’t believe me.” Tommy shook his head. “You’re wrong. I’m going to be the best parent ever.”

“Uh-huh. I’m looking forward to that first panicked phone call.” She lowered her voice. “Mom, the baby’s crying and I don’t know what to do.”

“I would never make that call. I’ll be at work.”

“Oh, I think you’ll be a stay-at-home dad,” she teased.

He looked horrified at the idea.

Blog Tour: The Girl I Used to Know by Faith Hogan @GerHogan @aria_fiction

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: December 1, 2017

Publisher: Aria

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Blurb:

A beautiful, emotive and spell-binding story of two women who find friendship and second chances when they least expect it. Perfect for the fans of Patricia Scanlan.

Amanda King and Tess Cuffe are strangers who share the same Georgian house, but their lives couldn’t be more different.

Amanda seems to have it all, absolute perfection. She projects all the accoutrements of a lady who lunches. Sadly, the reality is a soulless home, an unfaithful husband and a very lonely heart.

By comparison, in the basement flat, unwanted tenant Tess has spent a lifetime hiding and shutting her heart to love.

It takes a bossy doctor, a handsome gardener, a pushy teenager and an abandoned cat to show these two women that sometimes letting go is the first step to moving forward and new friendships can come from the most unlikely situations.

I’m so excited to be the stop on the blog tour for The Girl I Used to Know today! I have an extract to share with you all.

Chapter 2

December 31 – Wednesday

‘It’s just a scrape, that’s all.’ Tess hated that her voice sounded so small here. It was the machines of course, buzzing, humming and occasionally beeping, eating up the static silence of her little cubicle. The A&E at St. Mel’s city hospital was hushed, ready for impending invasion by the Dublin City revellers, wounded in various, often-unaccountable ways for the sake of auld lang syne.

It was New Year’s Eve and this was not where she planned to spend it; not that she had any plan at all. It was a long time since Tess had anywhere she wanted to be for New Year’s, Christmas, or indeed her birthday. These days she told herself it suited her, but she was too wise not to remember what it was like to be part of something more.

Tess eyeballed the doctor. He was young, maybe a bit of a smart-arse, but she put him in his place when he mispronounced her name and again when he stumbled over her prescription. ‘I’m going home now. Either stitch me up, or give me a needle and I’ll do it myself.’ She swung her legs as smoothly as she could off the trolley that they had allocated to her almost three hours earlier. ‘For goodness sake, you’ll have all sorts in here soon.’

It was fuss over nothing. So, there was a bit of blood, but nothing broken on this occasion. Tess had tripped, that was all there was to it. A bloody cat wandering through her legs in the dark. It could happen to anyone. Of course, the fact that she had a broken wrist made her look as though she was always in the wars. The broken wrist had occurred just over a month before, but she had been sensible, had the X-ray, got the bandage and gone on her not so merry way. She blamed the damned heavy cast for throwing her off balance. It had made her feel a little light-headed. It had been dark and the last thing she’d expected was to have a cat in her little porch. That was how she’d ended up in here again. For the second time in the same emergency ward; same flipping cat, only this time when she fell she managed to land against the front door and shattered every last piece of glass in the long thin side panel. Nothing broken, this time, but there was plenty of blood and, Tess knew, you couldn’t be too careful with old glass.  She’d called the bugger every name under the sun; if she got her hands on him there was no telling what she might have done to him. In the ambulance, she’d groaned at her own stupidity and the zealous EMT began to check for everything from aneurism to zinc deficiency. She cursed under her breath, she was just a stupid old woman and there was no cure in this hospital for that particular condition.

‘So, you live on your own, Mrs, ah, Miss… Tess?’

‘On my own, of course I…’ then it dawned on her. They were treating her as if she was in shock, a head injury. They would never let her home if they thought she was on her own. It was the New Year, even if she wasn’t inundated with social invitations, she was damned if she was spending it in this place. ‘Of course, I don’t, my… husband will be so worried about me, so will you let me go home now?’ There was never a husband, but there might have been, once, long ago – but then he’d married Nancy and that was that.

‘Ah, Tess.’ A vaguely familiar-looking older man arrived, clipboard in hand. ‘You won’t remember me, Dr Kilker, I treated you last time round.’ He smirked at the hard plaster on her wrist. She disliked him instantly, had a feeling he knew something she didn’t and that just got up her nose. ‘So, you’ve been in the wars again? What was it this time, kissing the ground instead of kicking it?’ He moved closer to her, inspected the wound. He smelled of garlic mixed with a hint of tobacco, and aftershave clinging to survive on a ten-hour hospital shift, it drifted from him being so close.

‘No, for your information, I was the victim of an intruder,’ Tess snapped.

‘Half a dozen stitches should see you straight.’ He raised a sceptical eyebrow.

‘Finally,’ Tess grunted towards the younger doctor.

‘Now, be a good girl and sit still while I put it right.’ Dr Kilker silenced her while he tacked up the wound.

It was infuriating to be spoken to as if she were a child.

‘How did you really manage it, Tess?’ He asked as he stood back to admire his neat stitches.

‘There was a flipping cat in a dark porch; it could happen to the Pope himself.’

‘I suppose it could, but then, he’s not wearing a cast, is he?’ he said lightly. ‘No dizziness or blackouts? Nothing odd or strange going on that we should hear about?’

‘No, nothing like that.’ Tess glared at him. She wasn’t stupid. She knew when to see a doctor. ‘Maybe just a little too much seasonal cheer for my own good.’ She had just had a small nip before she went to lock up the flat for the night.

About the Author:

Faith Hogan was born in Ireland.  She gained an Honours Degree in English Literature and Psychology from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate Degree from University College, Galway.  She has worked as a fashion model, an event’s organiser and in the intellectual disability and mental health sector.

She was a winner in the 2014 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair – an international competition for emerging writers.

Website|Twitter|Facebook|Instagram

Extract: Murder on the Minneapolis by Anita Davison @aria_fiction

Goodreads|Amazon

Release date: October 1, 2016

Publisher: Aria

Genre: Historical Fiction

Blurb:

NEW YORK 1900.  A captivating historical drama on-board the maiden voyage of the S.S. Minneapolis featuring series character Flora Maguire. For fans of Downton Abbey.

Young governess Flora Maguire is on her way home from America on the maiden voyage of the S.S. Minneapolis with her young charge Eddy, Viscount Trent, when she discovers a dead body.

Unconvinced when the death is pronounced an accident, Flora starts asking questions, but following threats, a near drowning and a second murder, the hunt is on for a killer. Time is running out as the Minneapolis approaches the English coast.

Will Flora be able to protect Eddy, as well as herself?

Is her burgeoning relationship with the handsome Bunny Harrington only a shipboard dalliance, or something more?  And what secrets must Flora keep in order to stay safe?

Hey everyone, hope y’all are having a wonderful week. I have an extract from Murder on the Minneapolis to share today!

Extract:

Chapter 1

Saturday

Well-wishers stood four deep on Pier 39 in New York Harbour beneath a sea of colourful hats wide as sailboats, their owners waving handkerchiefs or sobbing into them. Horse-drawn carriages with crests on the doors lined up alongside hired hackneys to disgorge elegantly dressed couples and businessmen with their matronly wives, all of whom joined the clamour on the quayside taking farewell of friends and relatives. The clatter of hooves vied with shouts from newsboys and costermongers plying their wares to the waiting crowd, their voices combined in an inaudible concert.

Boisterous children darted between them, miniature flags held aloft on sticks; Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes in equal numbers. Harassed nurses made vain attempts to round them up, while their parents looked on with bored disinterest. Porters strained behind loaded trolleys calling out their warnings to make way, while imperious matrons issued braying instructions for the disposition of their luggage.

‘It’s huge!’ Flora stood at the bottom of the gangplank, her foot tapping in time to the music from a brass band led by an enthusiastic conductor in a rendition of the ‘Washington Post’ march. She had seen ocean-going steamers before, even travelled on one, yet there was something awe-inspiring about the Minneapolis, with her gleaming black hull, bright red smoke stack and taut metal winch lines draped with multi-coloured bunting.’

‘This is her maiden voyage,’ Eddy shouted as he waved the shipping line brochure that had been his constant companion this past week under Flora’s nose: ‘Listen to this,’ he opened the booklet and read aloud. ‘She’s six hundred feet long, and 13,400 tonnes, which means she has the largest tonnage of any ship afloat, apart from the SS Oceanic.’

‘Which was the ship we came over on three months ago,’ Flora reminded him.

‘I know, but Minneapolis is a brand new ship.’ He looked up briefly from the brochure. ‘This is her maiden voyage, and she’s carrying only seventy-eight first-class passengers and a hundred and fifty five crew. That’s almost two crew members for each passenger. Just think, Flora we’ll be the first people to travel on her.’ He tucked the booklet back into his pocket, his gaze following a man who walked past with a boy of about his own age. The man pointed items of interest out to the boy, who laughed and chatted at his side, both intent on each other.

‘I’m sorry you have only me for company on the trip home.’ Flora caressed Eddy’s shoulder gently with one hand. ‘Your parents would have stayed to see you off, but they had a train to catch.’

‘I don’t mind being with you, Flora. For a governess, you’re a good egg.’ Eddy swiped a hand across eyes that looked suspiciously wet, then trained a morose glare on the emotional farewells taking place on the quayside. ‘Mama didn’t even bother to get out of the carriage.’

Although tall for thirteen, with well-defined features that promised to mature into male handsomeness in years to come, Edward, Viscount Trent, was still very much a child.

‘You’re very important to your father.’ Flora bit her lip at the disappointment in his voice. ‘You’re Lord Vaughn’s heir, remember.’

She tried to imagine how she would feel, if her parents had packed her off back to England while they toured the Eastern United States. The question was moot, for her mother had died when she was young and, as Lord Vaughn’s head butler, her father didn’t possess the resources to send her anywhere. Flora had resigned herself long ago to viewing the peripatetic lives of the English aristocracy from the shadows.

‘I would sooner be just his son.’ Eddy broke away from her and pounded up the gangplank.

Sighing, Flora prepared to follow, but was prevented by a young man in a shabby brown suit who stepped in front of her, a bulky camera raised to his face. ‘Photograph, Miss?’

‘Er no, thank you.’ Flora stood on tiptoe to keep Eddy in sight, he had reached the saloon deck and was on his way to the outside companionway. ‘Maybe later.’

Lowering the camera, the youth pressed a pasteboard card into her hand. ‘Printed in our own darkroom, and available throughout the voyage,’ his sales patter continued unabated. ‘Perfect to send to your loved ones as postcards.’

‘I’m sure.’ Thanking him with a smile, Flora shoved the card into a pocket without looking at it, and joined a queue of passengers further up the gangplank.

An officer saluted her with a smile, and flattered, she stood a little straighter before proceeding to the packed deck where a group of sailors held out baskets of tightly coiled paper streamers in pastel colours. Flora grabbed a handful, pausing to allow an elderly matron to totter past with a tiny white dog on a leash. With a sharp eye open for Eddy, she eased through the press of bodies, where a barrage of feathers and silk flowers batted her face, their owners with world-weary expressions oblivious to her repeated and increasingly urgent “excuse me’s”.

She spotted Eddy again on the promenade deck, where he strolled the row of doors of the suites where she guessed he was trying to find theirs. Flora started up the companionway to join him, forced to a halt at the top when a noisy family shoved past her. She stepped back to let them pass, where her attention was caught by an arrestingly pretty woman beneath the deck canopy. In a claret wool travelling coat with mutton leg sleeves and fox fur trim, she looked to be about Flora’s own age. Her features were set hard, eyes narrowed and her fists clenched at her sides in barely restrained anger.

The object of her fury was older, with slightly receding hair, olive skin and thick eyebrows that met in the middle. He accepted her tirade in silence, while he repeatedly eased his collar away from his throat with a finger.

Her message delivered, the lady shot him a final hard glare, swivelled on her heel and stalked away.

The man inhaled deeply from a lit cheroot, shot the smoke in a straight upward stream, turned and leaned both forearms on the rail, hunched forward as if the encounter had drained him.

Flora took in his yellow-stained fingers and badly cut hair as she passed, intrigued as to what someone like him could have to say to the immaculate girl in her expensive clothes.

About the Author:

Born in London, Anita has always had a penchant for all things historical.  She now lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, the backdrop for her Flora Maguire mysteries.

Anita’s Blog – http:thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.co.uk

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/anita.davison

Twitter – https://twitter.com/AnitaSDavison

Blog Tour: The Forgotten Child by Anita Davison @AnitaSDavison @Aria_Fiction


Goodreads|Amazon
Release date: November 1, 2017

Publisher: Aria Fiction 

Genre: Historical Fiction 

Blurb: 

The forgotten children of London are going missing, apparently being sold by their own families. Can she save them before it’s too late…


Flora Maguire’s life is perfect – a beautiful home in Belgravia teeming with servants, a loving husband, and new baby Arthur to enjoy. But when she is invited to tour St Philomena’s Children’s Hospital in deprived Southwark, she gets a harsh insight into the darker side of Edwardian London.


Shocked by the conditions people are living in, she soon uncovers a scandal with a dark heart – children are going missing from the hospital, apparently sold by their own families, and their fate is too awful to imagine. With the police seemingly unable or unwilling to investigate, Flora teams up with the matron of the hospital, Alice Finch, to try to get to the bottom of it.


Soon Flora is immersed in the seedy, dangerous underbelly of criminal London, and time is running out to save the children. Will they get to them in time, or was their fate decided the day they were born poor…

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Forgotten Children! I have an extract to share today. 


Extract: 

Chapter 1

London, September 1904


Flora tilted her hat over her left eye and pouted at her reflection in the mirror above the mantelpiece. Bunny appeared at her shoulder and plucked a sheet of pasteboard propped against the clock.

‘That’s the third time you’ve scrutinized that card in the last hour.’ She frowned as she returned the grey velvet confection to its original position.

‘Don’t you find it strange that we’ve been invited to tour a hospital neither of us has ever heard of?’ He tapped the card against his thumbnail. ‘Incidentally, I like that hat the other way.’

‘St Philomena’s Hospital is a charity founded by a wealthy philanthropist to provide medical care for children of the poor.’ Sighing, she adjusted the hat again.

‘An admirable endeavour, no doubt, but why have we been invited?’ He pushed his spectacles further up his nose with a middle finger and tucked the card into his inside pocket. ‘If Arthur became ill, we’re unlikely to take him to a hospital in Southwark.’

Flora suppressed a shiver at the mention of illness in respect of their infant son, who currently enjoyed chubby good health. ‘Charities are always looking for funds; maybe they regard Mr Ptolemy Harrington, Solicitor at Law, as a viable proposition?’

‘Trust you to get to the bottom of the thing.’ Bunny joined her by the front door being held open by their butler. ‘Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go in the motor car?’

‘No, and it’s too late to change your mind, the taxi is already here.’ She smiled at his downcast expression that was so like Arthur’s. ‘And Southwark is hardly a suitable place to leave your beloved Aster, no matter how many street urchins you pay to watch it.’

‘Taxi it is, then.’ Bunny handed her inside the motor taxi that idled at the kerb whilst giving the house a slow appraising glance through the window.

The façade of Portland stone that rose four floors from the street always sent a possessive thrill up Flora’s spine. A pair of Ionic columns flanked a shiny black-painted front door with a set of railed stone steps that descended into basement kitchens equipped with the latest innovations Flora had insisted upon. Aware of what life was like in the servants’ hall at her childhood home, Cleeve Abbey in Gloucestershire, with its outdated facilities, she had been determined to make her own servants’ lives a little easier. She had unwisely expressed this sentiment in the presence of her mother-in-law, the memory of whose contempt still made Flora’s cheeks burn.

The taxi headed east along Victoria Street, past the Catholic cathedral and around Parliament Square, past monumental buildings that represented the might of the British Empire.

On the far side of Westminster Bridge, Portland stone and red brick gave way to wood and steel of the industrial area of the city, deteriorating more with each mile. The taxi’s route took them in a wide circle and back to the river where the sparkling new structure of Tower Bridge reached into a darkening sky.

‘It’s hard to believe we’re only three miles from Belgravia.’ Flora wiped a gloved hand to clear the mist on the rain-streaked taxi window as they entered Quilp Street and passed beneath a wrought-iron archway that displayed the words St Philomena’s Hospital for Sick Children.

The hospital was a solid, rectangular building with a mansard roof that squatted amongst its less imposing neighbours like an elegant woman who had known better days; the red brick having faded to a dirty russet colour by forty years of coal smoke from the surrounding factories and tanneries.

‘Is that baking I can smell?’ She sniffed appreciatively at an enticing aroma of burned sugar that seeped into the cab.

‘Probably. The Peek Frean’s factory is one of the main employers in this area,’ Bunny said, handing her out of the cab. ‘They call this place “Biscuit Town”.’

Their heads down against a sudden rainstorm, they ran for the entrance, splashing through puddles that soaked their feet, and exploded into the entrance hall laughing delightedly. A group of ladies in wide-brimmed hats and black-suited gentleman gave the newcomers slow, appraising looks, some curious, others of bored disinterest, before going back to their conversations.

Bunny handed the porter who held open the door for them the printed invitation that had so perplexed him earlier.

‘Mr and Mrs Harrington, is it?’ He squinted at the square of pasteboard. ‘As you can see, we have quite a few visitors today, but someone will be here shortly to show you around.’

About the Author:


Born in London, Anita has always had a penchant for all things historical. She now lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, the backdrop for her Flora Maguire mysteries.

 

Anita’s Blog – http:thedisorganisedauthor.blogspot.co.uk

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/anita.davison

Twitter – https://twitter.com/AnitaSDavison

Extract: Broken Bones by Angela Marsons @WriteAngie @bookouture


Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK
Release date: November 3, 2017

Publisher: Bookouture 

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Blurb:

They thought they were safe. They were wrong. 

The murder of a young prostitute and a baby found abandoned on the same winter night signals the start of a disturbing investigation for Detective Kim Stone – one which brings her face to face with someone from her own horrific childhood. 


As three more sex workers are murdered in quick succession, each death more violent than the last, Kim and her team realise that the initial killing was no one-off frenzied attack, but a twisted serial killer preying on the vulnerable. 


At the same time, the search begins for the desperate woman who left her newborn baby at the station – but what looks like a tragic abandonment turns even more sinister when a case of modern slavery is uncovered. 


The two investigations bring the team into a terrifying world of human exploitation and cruelty – and a showdown that puts Kim’s life at risk as shocking secrets from her own past come to light. 
Happy Sunday everyone! One of my most anticipated releases this year is the seventh book in the Kim Stone series and it’s almost here! I have the prologue to share with you today to whet your appetite until November third when you can read the whole book. 

Extract: 

PROLOGUE

Black Country: Christmas Day


Lauren Goddard sat on the roof of the thirteen-storey block of flats. The winter sun shone a grid onto her bare feet dangling over the edge. The cold breeze nipped at her wiggling toes.


The protective grate had been erected some years ago after a father of seven had thrown himself over. By the time she was eleven she had stolen a pair of wire cutters from the pound shop and fashioned herself an access point to the narrow ledge that was her place of reflection. From this vantage point she could look to the beauty of the Clent Hills in the distance, block out the dank, grubby reality of below.

Hollytree was the place you were sent if Hell was having a spring clean. Problem families from the entire West Midlands were evicted from other estates and housed in Hollytree. It was displacement capital. Communities around the borough breathed sighs of relief as families were evicted. No one cared where they went. It was enough that they were gone and one more ingredient was added to the melting pot.


There was a clear perimeter around the estate over which the police rarely crossed. It was a place where the rapists, child molesters, thieves and ASBO families were put together in one major arena. And then guarded by police from the outside.


But today a peace settled around the estate, giving the illusion that the normal activities of robbing, raping and molesting were on pause because it was Christmas Day. That was bollocks. It was all still going on but to the backdrop of the Queen’s Speech.


Her mother was still slurring her way around the cheerless flat with a glass of gin in her hand. Her one concession to the event was the line of tinsel wrapped haphazardly around her neck as she stumbled from the living room to the kitchen for a refill.


Lauren didn’t expect a present or a card any more. She had once mentioned the excitement of her friends. How they had enjoyed presents, laughter, a roast dinner, a chocolate-filled stocking.


Her mother had laughed and asked if that was the kind of Christmas she wanted.


Lauren had innocently nodded yes.


The woman had clicked the television to the Hallmark Channel and told her to ‘fill her boots’.


Christmas meant nothing to Lauren. But at least she had this. Her one piece of Heaven. Always her safe place. Her escape.


She had disappeared unnoticed up here when she was seven years old and her mother had been falling all over the flat pissed as a fart.


How lucky was she to have been the only one of the four kids her mother had been allowed to keep?


She had escaped up here when her mother’s drinking partner, Roddy, had started pawing at her groin and slobbering into her hair. Her mother had pulled him off, angrily, shouting something about ruining her retirement plan. 

She hadn’t understood it when she was nine years old but she had come to understand it now.


She had cried up here on her sixteenth birthday when her mother had introduced her to the family business and to their pimp, Kai Lord.


She’d been up here two months earlier when he had finally found her.


And she’d been up here when she’d told him to fuck right off.


She didn’t want to be saved. It was too late.


Sixteen years of age and already it was too damn late.


Many times she had fantasised about how it would feel to lurch forward onto the wind. She had envisioned herself floating to and fro, gently making the journey like a stray pigeon feather all the way to the ground. Had imagined the feeling of weightlessness of both her body and her mind.


Lauren took a deep breath and exhaled. In just a few minutes it would be time to go to work. Heavy rain, sleet, snow, Christmas – nothing kept the punters away. Trade might be slow but it would still be there. It always was.


She didn’t hear the roof door open or the footsteps that slowly strode towards her.


She didn’t see the hand that pushed her forward.


She only saw the ground as it hurtled towards her.

Ahh SO intense!! Stay tuned for my full review very soon.

Extract: The Secret Mother by Shalini Boland @ShaliniBoland @bookouture


Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK
Release date: November 9, 2017

Publisher: Bookouture 

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

‘Are you my mummy?’ 


Tessa Markham comes home to find a little boy in her kitchen. He thinks she’s his mother. But Tessa doesn’t have any children.  


Not anymore. 


She doesn’t know who the child is or how he got there. 


After contacting the police, Tessa comes under suspicion for snatching the boy. She must fight to prove her innocence. But how can she convince everyone she’s not guilty when even those closest to her are questioning the truth? And when Tessa doesn’t even trust herself… 


A chilling, unputdownable thriller with a dark twist that will take your breath away and make you wonder if you can ever trust anyone again. Perfect for fans of Gone Girl, Girl on the Train and The Sister. 


Happy Sunday everyone, I hope you’re all having a fantastic weekend! I have a fantastic extract from The Secret Mother to share with you today!

THE SECRET MOTHER

By

Shalini Boland

Chapter One

The street lamps flicker, illuminating the grey pavement mottled with patches of dirty snow and slick black ice. Slushy puddles hug the kerb, cringing away from the hissing, splashing car tyres. It takes all my concentration to keep my balance. My hands would be warmer if I jammed them into my coat pockets, but I need them free to steady myself on walls, fences, tree trunks, lamp posts. I don’t want to fall. And yet would it really be so terrible if I slipped on the ice? Wet jeans, a bruised bum. Not the end of the world. There are worse things. Far worse things.

It’s Sunday: the last exhale of the week. That uncomfortable pause before Monday, when it all starts up again – this lonely pretence at life. Sunday has become a black dot on the horizon for me, growing larger each day. I’m relieved now it’s almost over and yet I’m already anticipating the next one. The day when I visit the cemetery and stand above their graves, staring at the grass and stone, talking to them both, wondering if they hear my inane chatter or if I’m simply talking into the empty wind. In burning sunlight, pouring rain, sub-zero temperatures or thick fog I stand there. Every week. I’ve never missed a Sunday yet.

Sleet spatters my face. Icy needles that make me blink and gasp. Finally, I turn off the high street into my narrow road, where it’s more sheltered and the wind less violent. A rainbow assortment of overflowing bins lines my route, waiting for collection tomorrow at some ungodly pre-dawn hour. I turn my face away from the windows where Christmas tree lights wink and blink, reminding me of happier Christmases. Before.

Almost home.

My little north London terraced house sits halfway along the road. Pushing open the rusted gate, I turn my face away from the neglected front garden with its discarded sweet wrappers and crisp packets blown in from the street, now wedged among long tussocks of grass and overgrown bushes. I thrust my frozen fingers into my bag until they finally close around a jagged set of keys. I’m glad to be home, to get out of the cold, and yet my body sags when I open the door and step into the dark silence of the hall, feeling the hollow of their absence.

At least it’s warm in here. I shrug off my coat, kick off my boots, dump my bag on the hall table and switch on the light, avoiding my sad reflection in the hall mirror. A glass of wine would be welcome about now. I glance at my watch – only 5.20. No. I’ll be good and make a hot chocolate instead.

Strangely, the door to the kitchen is closed. This strikes me as odd, as I always leave it open. Perhaps a gust of wind slammed it shut when I came in. I trudge to the end of the hall and stop. Through a gap in the bottom of the door I see that the light is on. Someone’s in there. I catch my breath, feel the world slow down for a moment before it speeds back up. Could I have a burglar in my house?

I cock my ear. A sound filters through. Humming. A child is humming a tune in my kitchen. But I don’t have a child. Not any more.

Slowly I pull down the handle and push the door, my body tensing. I hardly dare breathe.

Here before me sits a little boy with dark hair, wearing pale blue jeans and a green cable-knit jumper. A little boy aged about five or six, perched on a chair at my kitchen counter, humming a familiar tune. Head down, he is intent on his drawing, colouring pencils spread out around an A4 sheet of paper. A navy raincoat hangs neatly over the back of the chair.

He looks up as I enter the room, his chocolate-brown eyes wide. We stare at one another for a moment.

‘Are you my mummy?’ the little boy asks.

I bite my bottom lip, feel the ground shift. I grasp the counter top to steady myself. ‘Hello,’ I say, my heart suddenly swelling. ‘Hello. And who might you be?’

‘You know. I’m Harry,’ he replies. ‘Do you like my picture?’ He holds the sheet out in front of him, showing me his drawing of a little boy and a woman standing next to a train. ‘It’s not finished. I haven’t had time to colour it in properly,’ he explains.

‘It’s lovely, Harry. Is that you standing next to the train?’

‘Yes.’ He nods. ‘It’s you and me. I drew it for you because you’re my mummy.’

Am I hallucinating? Have I finally gone crazy? This beautiful little boy is calling me his mummy. And yet I don’t know him. I’ve never seen him before in my life. I close my eyes tight and then open them again. He’s still there, looking less confident now. His hopeful smile has faltered, slipping into a frown. His eyes are now a little too bright. I know that look – it’s the one that precedes tears.

‘Hey, Harry,’ I say with false jollity. ‘So you like trains, huh?’

His smile returns. ‘Steam trains are the best. Better than diesels.’ He scrunches up his face in disgust and blinks.

‘Did you come here on the train? To my house?’

‘No. We came on the bus. I wish we did come on the train, the bus was really slow. And it made me feel a bit sick.’ He lays the sheet of paper back on the counter.

‘And who did you come with?’ I ask.

‘The angel.’

I think I must have misheard him. ‘Who?’

‘The angel brought me here. She told me that you’re my mummy.’

‘The angel?’

He nods.

I glance around, suddenly aware that Harry might not be the only stranger in my house. ‘Is she here now?’ I ask in a whisper. ‘Is there someone else here with you?’

‘No, she’s gone. She told me to do some drawing and you’d be here soon.’

I relax my shoulders, relieved that there’s no one else in my home. But it still doesn’t help me solve the problem of who this little boy is. ‘How did you get into the house?’ I ask, nervously wondering if I might find a smashed window somewhere.

‘Through the front door, silly,’ he replies with a smile, rolling his eyes.

Through the front door? Did I leave it open somehow? I’m sure I would never have done that. What’s going on here? I should call someone. The authorities. The police. Somebody will be looking for this child. They will be frantic with worry. ‘Would you like a hot chocolate, Harry?’ I ask, keeping my voice as calm as possible. ‘I was going to make one for myself, so—’

‘Do you make it with milk?’ he interrupts. ‘Or with hot water? It’s definitely nicer with milk.’

I suppress a smile. ‘I agree, Harry. I always make it with milk.’

‘Okay. Yes, please,’ he replies. ‘Hot chocolate would be lovely.’

My heart squeezes at his politeness.

‘Shall I carry on colouring in my picture,’ he says, ‘or shall I help you? Because I’m really good at stirring in the chocolate.’

‘Well, that’s lucky,’ I reply, ‘because I’m terrible at stirring in the chocolate, so it’s a good thing you’re here to help me.’

He grins and slides off the stool.

What am I doing? I need to call the police right now. This child is missing from somewhere. But, oh God, just give me ten minutes with this sweet little boy who believes I’m his mother. Just a few moments of make-believe and then I’ll do the right thing. I reach out to touch his head and immediately snatch my hand back. What am I thinking? This boy has to go back to his real mother; she must be paralysed with worry.

He smiles up at me again and my chest constricts.

‘Okay,’ I say, taking a breath and blinking back any threat of tears. ‘We’ll do the chocolate in a minute. I’m just going to make a quick phone call in the hall, okay?’

‘Oh, okay.’

‘Carry on with your drawing for a little while. I won’t be long.’

He climbs back up onto the stool and selects a dark green pencil before resuming his colouring with a look of serious concentration. I turn away and pad out to the hall, where I retrieve my phone from my bag. But instead of dialling the police, I call another number. It rings twice.

‘Tess.’ The voice at the other end of the line is clipped, wary.

‘Hi, Scott. I need you to come over.’

‘What? Now?’

‘Yes. Please, it’s important.’

‘Tessa, I’m knackered, and it’s hideous out there. I’ve just sat down with a cup of tea. Can’t it wait till tomorrow?’

‘No.’ Standing by the hall table, I glimpse Harry through the doorway, the curls of his fringe flopping over one eye. Am I dreaming him?

‘What’s the matter?’ Scott says this the way he always says it. What he really means is, What’s the matter now? Because there’s always something the matter. I’m his damaged wife, who’s always having some new drama or make-believe crisis. Only this time he’ll see it’s something real, it’s something not of my making.

‘I can’t tell you over the phone, it’s too weird. You have to come over, see for yourself.’

His sigh comes long and hard down the phone. ‘Give me twenty minutes, okay?’

‘Okay. Thanks, Scott. Get here as soon as you can.’

My heart pounds, trying to make sense of what’s happening. That little boy in there says an angel brought him. He says I’m his mummy. But he’s not mine. So where on earth did he come from?

I take a breath and go back into the kitchen. The air is warm, welcoming, cosy. Nothing like the usual sterile atmosphere in here.

‘Can we make hot chocolate now?’ Harry looks up with shining eyes.

‘Of course. I’ll get the mugs and the chocolate. You open that drawer over there and pass me the smallest pan you can find.’

He eagerly does as I ask.

‘Harry,’ I say. ‘Where are your parents, your mummy and daddy?’

He stares at the pans in the drawer.

‘Harry?’ I prompt.

‘They’re not here,’ he replies. ‘Is this one small enough?’ He lifts out a stainless-steel milk pan and waves it in my direction.

‘Perfect.’ I nod and take it from him. ‘Can you tell me where you live?’

No reply.

‘Did you run away from home? Are you lost?’

‘No.’

‘But where’s your house or flat? The place you live? Is it here in Friern Barnet? In London? Close to my house?’

He scowls and looks down at the flagstone floor.

‘Do you have a last name?’ I ask as gently as I can.

He looks up at me, his chin jutting out. ‘No.’

I try again, crouching down so I’m on his level. ‘Harry, darling, what’s your mummy’s name?’

‘You’re my new mummy. I have to stay here now.’ His bottom lip quivers.

‘Okay, sweetie. Don’t worry. Let’s just make our drinks, shall we?’

He nods vigorously and sniffs.

I give his hand a squeeze and straighten up. I wish I hadn’t had to call Scott. And yet I need him to be here when I ring the police. I can’t deal with them on my own, not after what happened before. I’m dreading their arrival – the questions, the sideways glances, the implication that I might have done something wrong. I haven’t done anything wrong, though. Have I?

And Harry… he’ll be taken away. What if his parents have been abusive? What if he has to go into foster care? A thousand thoughts run through my mind, each worse than the one before. But it’s not my place to decide what happens to him. There’s nothing I can do about any of it, because he’s not mine.

I don’t have a child. Not any more.

 Oohhh doesn’t this sound amazing?! I know it’s sure hooked me. 

Excerpt: The Good Mother by Sinead Moriarty @sinead_moriarty @bookouture


Goodreads|Amazon
Blurb:

WHEN A MOTHER’S LOVE MEANS DOING THE UNTHINKABLE …


Left devastated by her husband’s affair and the break-up of their family, Kate is struggling to keep it together for the sake of her three children. Though times are still tough, she’s finally beginning to move on with her life in Dublin.


But when twelve-year-old Jessica is diagnosed with cancer, Kate’s resilience is put to the ultimate test. She has an eighteen-year-old son consumed with hatred of his father, a seven-year-old who is bewildered and acting up and an ex-husband who won’t face up to his responsibilities. And in the middle of it a beloved child who is trying to be brave but is getting sicker by the day.


Kate knows she must put her own fear and heartbreak to one side and do right by her children, particularly Jessica. But maybe doing the right thing means making a decision that no mother should ever want to make.

An emotionally gripping tearjerker, The Good Mother is perfect for readers of Jodi Picoult, Jojo Moyes and Nicholas Sparks.

I have something’s but different to share today, the first chapter from The Good Mother! This book sounds beautiful, I can’t wait to read it myself. 

Excerpt: 

THE GOOD MOTHER

by Sinead Moriarty

summer

 

Chapter 1


Kate stood in the empty hall and looked around. Nothing left but memories. She remembered moving in around ten years ago. Nick had carried her over the threshold, even though it was a long time since she’d been a blushing bride. He’d been like an excited little kid, running around, showing her the fancy fridge that churned out ice cubes, the Jacuzzi and the big garden where the kids could play football.

It was his dream house. Nick felt as if he’d ‘arrived’. Big house, big garden, fancy car. Things were good, really good. Nick was doing well and finally able to have the life he’d always dreamed of living.

They’d been happy then. Luke was eight and Jess was two when they’d moved in. Jess had taken her time to arrive. After three miscarriages and years of disappointment they had almost given up, but then Kate had got pregnant and gone full-term. The longed-for and beloved Jess had arrived, like a ray of sunshine, in their lives. She had been worth the wait. Gazing at her adoringly in the hospital, Nick said they now had the perfect family.

The house had been full of laughter and fun. They’d had lots of birthday celebrations and good times there. Kate had enjoyed it all, every minute.

She knew buying the house had been a stretch for them financially. She just hadn’t realized how much of a stretch. Nick had been vague about the deposit and repayments, and she’d been too wrapped up in the kids and the daily chores, and too naive to ask questions.

Or maybe she hadn’t wanted to know. The truth was, she’d stuck her head in the sand on purpose. Life was good, and Kate hadn’t wanted to know the details. Nick had said he had it under control and she’d gladly left him to it.

When the economic downturn had badly affected the big estate agent Nick worked for, Kate had just hoped for the best. She’d redoubled her efforts to create the perfect home, always having a meal prepared for Nick when he came in at the end of the day. She’d become a regular domestic goddess, trying to smooth over the cracks.

She’d wanted to make their home a haven for Nick, but it hadn’t been enough. And then, instead of bringing them closer, Bobby’s birth had pushed Nick even further away. When Nick had started to work late all the time and come home smelling of someone else’s perfume, Kate had ignored it … until it was too late.

She looked around at her home and bit her lip to prevent herself crying. Everything was so messed up. What the hell would her life be like from now on?

‘Muuuuuuum!’ Bobby shouted from the front door, hands on his hips. ‘I want to go now. It’s hot and sweaty in the car.’

Kate went over and kissed his hot little face. ‘I just need to get Jess. She’s upstairs.’

She found Jess in her bedroom. Her daughter had her back to her. Kate knew by the hunch of her shoulders and the quiet sniffles that she was crying. She went over and put her arms around her. Jess stiffened. ‘I’m sorry, pet.’

‘I’m fine, Mum.’

Kate turned her daughter to face her. Jess wiped away her tears roughly with the sleeve of her shirt. ‘I know this is hard, Jess, but I think living with Granddad will be fun.’ She tried to sound convincing.

Jess nodded. ‘It’s just … it’s just all so final. I thought that maybe Dad would come home, but now I guess I know he won’t. Will he?’

Kate hugged her. Poor Jess. She was the optimist in the family. The boys knew Nick was never coming back. Even at seven years old, Bobby knew. But here was Jess, the middle child, still hoping for the happy ending that could never be. ‘Your dad’s with Jenny now, pet. They have a new baby and a new life, and that’s not going to change. But he still loves you all very much,’ she added hastily.

‘Yeah, which is why he never comes to see us,’ Luke drawled from the doorway.

‘Luke,’ Kate said, in a warning voice. ‘Your sister’s upset.’

Luke came in and put a big muscly arm around his little sister’s shoulders. ‘Come on, Jess. I know Granddad’s house is a lot smaller and he’s a bit mad, but we’ll be fine.’

‘You don’t have to share a room with Bobby,’ Jess reminded him.

Luke grinned. ‘Yeah, it sucks for you. But I have to study for my Leaving Cert so I can’t have Bobby droning on about his facts all day long. Besides, I’ll probably move out next year and live close to whatever university I end up going to, so you can have my room then.’

‘But I don’t want you to move out. I’d miss you.’

Luke kissed the top of her head. ‘You’re too soft, Jess. You need to toughen up.’

‘She’s perfect just the way she is.’ Kate smiled at them.

They both rolled their eyes.

‘You always say that, Mum,’ Jess said, grinning at her brother.

‘It’s true. You three kids are my proudest achievement. And I know the last few months have been awful and I wish … well, I just wish that …’ Kate was choking up.

Luke put his hand on her arm. ‘It’s okay, Mum. You did everything you could. Dad’s just a selfish dickhead.’

‘Luke, don’t speak about your father like that.’

‘Daddy’s a dickhead,’ Bobby shouted from the door, giggling.

Kate glared at Luke.

He shrugged. ‘I speak the truth.’

‘You’re eighteen, Luke. You should know when to zip it. And as for you, Bobby, you’re supposed to be waiting in the car.’

Luke flung his arm around her and pulled her in for a hug. ‘Chill, Mum.’ To Bobby he said, ‘Don’t use bad words. It’s not cool.’

‘But you said it and you’re cool.’ Bobby frowned, trying to make sense of these conflicting statements.

Kate bent down to look her youngest in the eye. ‘Bad language is not okay. You know that and so does Luke. Now, come on, all of you, Granddad’s waiting for us.’ She ushered them downstairs and out of the front door, telling them to get into the car and buckle up.

Once they’d left, she allowed herself a few minutes for a final walkabout. It was stupid: she should just walk out of the door and not look back, but it was so hard to leave the place. You spent all your time creating a home, but you never really knew just how much it meant to you until it was taken away. This had been her sanctuary from the world, the place she most enjoyed being, an extension of herself and her hopes for the future. Now, it wasn’t hers any more, and she had no idea what her future held – stress, loneliness and financial worry, probably. Nick had taken everything from her, home, security and, most of all, her self-esteem. Leaving her for a younger model was so clichéd it should make her laugh. But it wasn’t funny. It hurt like hell. The pain of it kept looping out and around her, drowning her sense of self and self-worth.

Slowly, she forced herself to walk towards the front door. She didn’t want to go. She had a brief, crazy thought of staging a sit-in protest and forcing the bank to let her keep it, but she knew that was daft. Besides, this home and that future were gone now: the place was stripped bare, back to how it was when they’d first bought it. Just like me, Kate thought sadly. Right back to square one.

Her phone pinged and she pulled it out of her pocket. A message from Maggie. She opened it and smiled. Trust Maggie and her perfect timing! Today must be hell for you. Chin up! I’ll be over at the weekend to help you unpack and put manners on George! I’ll bring wine. Lots and lots of wine! You’ll be okay. Love you. M.

She pushed back her shoulders, took a deep breath and stepped outside onto the step. As she pulled the front door shut behind her, the finality of the lock’s click almost made her sink to her knees and cry. Instead, she waved to her waiting children, swallowed her grief and took her place in the driver’s seat.

Kate eased her battered old car down the driveway. She saw Jess’s lip quivering in the rear-view mirror and her heart ached. This was not the life she’d planned for her children. She’d never wanted them to come from a broken home. How had everything gone so wrong?

I’m a forty-two-year-old woman with three kids moving back in with my dad because I’m broke and homeless, she thought. She gripped the steering-wheel and tried to control her breathing. Now that Nick was preoccupied with Jenny and Jaden, the baby, Kate had to be even more mindful of the kids. She had to be more loving and patient and giving … but she was exhausted. All she wanted to do was lie down, pull the duvet over her head and cry.

*

George was standing at the gate when they arrived, wearing his navy apron with ‘The Village Café’ on it. His cheeks were flushed.

‘Uh-oh, Granddad has a cross face,’ Bobby said.

They climbed out of the car.

‘Lookit, Kate, I’m happy for you to move in, you know I am, but your removal men have left boxes all over the kitchen and I’m trying to run a business here. Besides, Sarah just called to say she’s not coming in today and that she’s found another job. The new French girl, Nathalie, is useless, so I’m pretty much on my own. I need a hand.’

Kate took charge. ‘Right. Luke, you and the others tidy up the boxes while I help Granddad in the café. Put all the boxes upstairs in my bedroom. Pile them up in the corner out of the way and I’ll sort them out later. When you’ve finished, come down and help. We’ll be busy for lunch.’

Kate followed her father through the hall into the big kitchen that served the café.

‘I’ll sort these out if you go and serve coffees,’ George said, as he began firing homemade quiches into the big oven.

Kate went through the kitchen door that led to the café. There were two tables waiting to be served. At the other three occupied tables, people were busy drinking coffee and eating scones. Five tables were empty, but not for long. The lunchtime rush would start soon.

Kate took the orders for the two tables and went back into the kitchen. She inhaled the scent of the fresh coffee beans and closed her eyes. The familiar scent of her childhood always calmed her. Kate knew the place like the back of her hand. She’d grown up behind the counter. As far back as she could remember she’d helped her mum and dad run the Village Café. Her mum had always been more front-of-house while her dad did a lot of the cooking. But after her mother’s death six years ago, that had changed. George had had to engage more with the customers and he had grown used to it. It didn’t come naturally to him, but he was much better at it than he had been.

Throughout her married life Kate had often received urgent calls whenever a staff member had called in sick or a big party was booked in. She liked helping her parents – as an only child she was close to both and the café was her home from home.

After her mother died, she had called in every day to make sure her father was coping. He had been utterly shattered by Nancy’s death, but with Kate’s help and the café needing to be run, he had muddled through. Having to get up and open it every day had kept him going, given him a purpose. Kate often wondered what he would have done if he hadn’t had the business. It had been a life-saver and kept him active and busy.

Her dad had been a rock to Kate when Nick had left her two years ago. He’d stepped in and given her money to get her through, and when the bank had repossessed the house, he had immediately suggested they all move in with him. Kate had wanted to weep with relief.

She knew it wasn’t going to be easy, given that her father was used to living alone, but they’d get through somehow. She’d make it work. She had to – she had nowhere else to go and the kids needed stability. As a new customer came to the counter, Kate put a smile on her face. She willed herself to be positive and hopeful for the future. Things would get better – for sure they couldn’t get worse. This was the lowest she had ever fallen. The only way was up. It was a new beginning.

 About the Author: 


aboutSinead was born and raised in Dublin where she grew up surrounded by books. Her mother is an author of children’s books. Growing up, Sinead says she was inspired by watching her mother writing at the kitchen table and then being published. From that moment on, her childhood dream was to write a novel.
After university, she went to live in Paris and then London. It was at the age of thirty, while working as a journalist in London that she began to write creatively in her spare time – after work, at lunch times … and, truth be told, during work hours.
After a couple of years toying with ideas, she joined a creative writing group and began to write The Baby Trail. The bitter-sweet comedy of a couple struggling to conceive hit a nerve in publishing circles. It was snapped up by Penguin Publishing in the UK and Ireland and has, to date, been translated into twenty-five languages.
Since writing The Baby Trail, Sinead has moved back to Dublin where she lives with her husband and three children and their little black cat, Minnie. Sinead also writes a weekly column for The Irish Independent newspaper.

Extract: The Big Dreams Beach Hotel by Lilly Bartlett @MicheleGormanUK

Hey everyone! I have something fun to share today, an extract from The Big Dreams Beach Hotel. You can read the first three chapters right here today!! I’m on the tour next week and I’ll have a review so stay tuned…


Release date: August 18, 2017

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Publisher: Harper Impulse

Blurb: 

Wriggle your toes in the sand and feel the warm breeze on your face when you check into the hotel that’s full of dreams…


Three years after ditching her career in New York City, Rosie never thought she’d still be managing the quaint faded Victorian hotel in her seaside hometown.


What’s worse, the hotel’s new owners are turning it into a copy of their Florida properties. Flamingos and all. Cultures are clashing and the hotel’s residents stand in the way of the developers’ plans. The hotel is both their home and their family.


That’s going to make Rory’s job difficult when he arrives to enforce the changes. And Rosie isn’t exactly on his side, even though it’s the chance to finally restart her career. Rory might be charming, but he’s still there to evict her friends.


How can she follow her dreams if it means ending everyone else’s?


Extract: 

The Big Dreams Beach Hotel

Lilly Bartlett

Chapter 1

 

New York is where I fell head over heels for a bloke named Chuck. I know: Chuck. But don’t judge him just because he sounds like he should be sipping ice-cream floats at the drive-in or starring in the homecoming football game. Rah rah, sis boom bah, yay, Chuck!

Believe me, I didn’t plan for a Chuck in my life. But that’s how it happens, isn’t it? One minute you’ve got plans for your career and a future that doesn’t involve the inconvenience of being in love, and the next you’re floating around in full dozy-mare mode.

I won’t lie to you. When Chuck walked into our hotel reception one afternoon in late October, it wasn’t love at first sight. It was lust.

Be still, my fluttering nethers.

Talk about unprofessional. I could hardly focus on what he was saying. Something about organising Christmas parties.

‘To be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing,’ he confided as he leaned against the reception desk. His face was uncomfortably close to mine, but by then I’d lived in New York for eighteen months. I was used to American space invaders. They’re not being rude, just friendly. And Chuck was definitely friendly.

‘I only started my job about a month ago,’ he told me. ‘It’s my first big assignment, so I really can’t fuck it up. Sorry, I mean mess it up.’ His blue (so dark blue) eyes bore into mine. ‘I’m hoping someone here can help me.’

It took all my willpower not to spring over the desk to his aid. Not that I’m at all athletic. I’d probably have torn my dress, climbed awkwardly over and landed face-first at his feet.

Keep him talking, I thought, so that I could keep staring. He looked quintessentially American, with his square jawline and big straight teeth and air of confidence, even though he’d just confessed to being hopeless at his new job. His brown hair wasn’t too long but also wasn’t too short, wavy and artfully messed up with gel, and his neatly trimmed stubble made me think of lazy Sunday mornings in bed.

See what I mean? Lust.

‘I noticed you on my way back from Starbucks,’ he said.

At first, I thought he meant he’d noticed me. That made me glance in the big mirror on the pillar behind him, where I could just see my reflection from where I was standing. At five-foot four, I was boob-height behind the desk in the gunmetal-grey fitted dress uniform all the front-desk staff had to wear. My wavy dark-red hair was as neat as it ever got. I flashed myself a reflected smile just to check my teeth. Of course, I couldn’t see any detail from where I stood. Only my big horsy mouth. Mum says giant teeth make my face interesting. I think I look a bit like one of the Muppets.

‘Do you have the space for a big party?’ he said. ‘For around four hundred people?’

He didn’t mean he’d noticed me; only the hotel. ‘We’ve got the Grand Ballroom and the whole top floor, which used to be the restaurant and bar. I think it’s even prettier than the ballroom, but it depends on your style and your budget and what you want to do with it.’

Based on his smile, you’d have thought I’d just told him we’d found a donor kidney for his operation. ‘I’ve been looking online, but there are too many choices,’ he said. ‘Plus, my company expects the world.’ He grimaced. ‘They didn’t like the hotel they used last year, or the year before that. I’m in over my head, to be honest. I think I need a guiding hand.’

I had just the hand he was looking for, and some ideas about where to guide it.

But instead of jumping up and down shouting ‘Pick Me, Pick Me!’, I put on my professional hat and gave him our events brochure and the team’s contact details. Because normal hotel receptionists don’t launch themselves into the arms of prospective clients.

When he reached over the desk to shake my hand, I had to resist the urge to bob a curtsy. ‘I’m Chuck Williamson. It was great to meet you, Rosie.’

He knew my name!

‘And thank you for being so nice. You might have saved my ass on this one. I’ll talk to your events people.’ He glanced again at my chest.

He didn’t know my name. He’d simply read my name badge.

No sooner had Chuck exited through the revolving door than my colleague, Digby, said, ‘My God, any more sparks and I’d have had to call the fire department.’

Digby was my best friend at the hotel and also a foreign transplant in Manhattan – where anyone without a 212 area code was foreign. Home for him was some little town in Kansas or Nebraska or somewhere with lots of tornadoes. Hearing Digby speak always made me think of The Wizard of Oz, but despite sounding like he was born on a combine harvester, Digby was clever. He did his degree at Cornell. That’s the Holy Grail for aspiring hotelies (as we’re known).

Digby didn’t let his pedigree go to his head, though, like I probably would have.

‘Just doing my job,’ I told him. But I knew I was blushing.

Our manager, Andi, swore under her breath. ‘That’s the last thing we need right now – some novice with another Christmas party to plan.’

‘That is our job,’ Digby pointed out.

‘Your job is to man the reception desk, Digby.’

‘Ya vol, Commandant.’ He saluted, before going to the other end of the desk.

‘But we do have room in the schedule, don’t we?’ I asked. Having just come off a rotation in the events department the month before, I knew they were looking for more business in that area. Our room occupancy hadn’t been all the company hoped for over the summer.

‘Plenty of room, no time,’ Andi snapped.

I’d love to tell you that I didn’t think any more about Chuck, that I was a cool twenty-five-year-old living her dream in New York. And it was my dream posting. I still couldn’t believe my luck. Well, luck and about a million hours earning my stripes in the hospitality industry. I’d already done stints in England and one in Sharm El Sheikh – though not in one of those fancy five-star resorts where people clean your sunglasses on the beach. It was a reasonable four-star one.

There’s a big misconception about hotelies that I should probably clear up. People assume that because we spend our days surrounded by luxury, we must live in the same glamour. The reality is 4a.m. wake-ups, meals eaten standing up, cheap living accommodation and, invariably, rain on our day off. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?

But I loved it. I loved that I was actually being paid to work in the industry where I did my degree. I loved the satisfied feeling I got every time a guest thanked me for solving a problem. And I loved that I could go anywhere in the world for work.

I especially loved that last part.

But back to Chuck, who’d been stuck in my head since the minute he’d walked through the hotel door.

I guess it was natural, given that I hadn’t had a boyfriend the whole time I’d been in the city. Flirting and a bit of snogging, yes, but nothing you could call a serious relationship.

There wasn’t any time, really, for a social life. That’s why hotelies hang out so much with each other. No one else has the same hours free. So, in the absence of other options, Digby and I were each other’s platonic date. He sounds like the perfect gay best friend, right? Only he wasn’t gay. He just had no interest in me. Nor I in him, which made him the ideal companion – hot enough in that freckle-faced farm-boy way to get into the nightclubs when we finished work at 1 or 2a.m., but not the type to go off shagging and leave me to find my way home on the subway alone.

 

‘I hope you’re happy,’ Andi said to me one morning a few days later. The thing about Andi is that she looks annoyed even when she’s not, so you’ve got to pay attention to her words rather than the severe expression on her narrow face. Nothing annoyed Andi like other people’s happiness.

But I had just taken my first morning sip of caramel latte. Who wouldn’t be happy?

‘You’ve got another assignment,’ she said. ‘That Christmas party. You’re on it.’

‘But I’m on reception.’ My heart was beating faster. She could only be talking about one Christmas party.

‘Yes, and you’re not going to get any extra time for the party, so don’t even think about it. I can’t spare anyone right now. You’ll have to juggle. He’s coming in at eleven to see the spaces and hopefully write a big fat cheque, but I want you back here as soon as you’re finished. Consider it an early lunch break.’

Even though my mind warned me to stop questioning, in case she changed her mind, I couldn’t resist. ‘Why isn’t Events handling it?’

‘They would have if he hadn’t asked for you especially. It’s just my luck that it’s a huge party. We can’t exactly say no.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Then wipe that stupid grin off your face and next time try not to be so frickin’ nice.’

‘I need to use the loo,’ I told her.

‘Pee on your own time,’ she said.

I didn’t really have to go, despite the industrial-size caramel latte. I just wanted to put on some make-up before Chuck arrived. Instead he’d see my green eyes unhighlighted by the mascara and flicky eyeliner that I rarely remembered to use. Pinching my cheeks did bring up a bit of colour behind my freckles, at least.

Every time the revolving doors swung round, I looked up to see if it was Chuck.

‘You’re going to get repetitive strain in your neck,’ Digby pointed out. ‘And you know our workmen’s comp sucks, so save yourself the injury. Besides, you look too eager when you stare at the door like that.’

‘I’m putting on a convivial welcome for our guests,’ I said. ‘Just like it says in the Employee’s Manual.’

He shook his head. ‘There’s no way that what you’re thinking is in the manual.’

The weather had turned cold, which was the perfect excuse for woolly tights and cosy knits or, if you were Chuck, a navy pea coat with the collar turned up that made him look like he’d been at sea. In a suit and dress shoes.  

‘I’m so sorry I’m late,’ he said. ‘I hate wasting people’s time.’

‘It’s not a waste,’ I told him. ‘I’m just working.’ I caught Andi’s glare. ‘I mean, I’m on reception. I can show you the rooms any time you want.’

Anytime you want, Digby mimicked behind Chuck’s back. Luckily Andi didn’t catch him.

‘Thanks for agreeing to take on the party,’ he said as we shared the lift to the top floor. ‘Not that I gave your colleagues much of a choice. I told them I’d book the party if you were the one organising it. I hope you don’t mind. It’s just that you seemed … I don’t know, I got a good feeling about you.’

‘No, that’s fine,’ I said, willing my voice to sound calmer than I felt. Which meant anything short of stark raving mad. ‘Once you decide which room is most suitable, we can start talking about everything else.’

‘I knew you’d get it,’ he said.

The lift doors opened on the top floor into the wide entrance to the former restaurant. ‘As you can see, there’s still a lot of the original nineteen thirties decor,’ I said. ‘Especially these art deco wall sconces. I love them. Ooh, and look at that bar.’

I’d only been up there a few times, so I was as excited as Chuck as we ran around the room pointing out each interesting feature, from the geometrically mirrored pillars to the sexy-flapper-lady light fixtures.

‘I’m such a sucker for this old stuff,’ he said. ‘I grew up in a house full of antiques. Older than this, actually, in Chicago.’ Then he considered me. ‘You probably grew up in a castle from the middle ages or something, being English.’

‘That sounds draughty. No, my parents live in a nineteen fifties semi-detached with pebble-dash.’

‘I don’t know what any of that means except for the nineteen fifties, but it sounds exotic.’

‘Hardly. Let’s just say it looks nothing like this. Will this be big enough, though? You said up to four hundred. That might be a squeeze if we want to seat them all.’

‘My guest list has halved, actually,’ he said, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. ‘The company isn’t letting spouses and partners come. Isn’t that weird, to exclude them from a formal social event like that? It’s going to be black tie with dinner and dancing. They were always invited wherever I’ve worked before.’

The painful penny dropped with a clang. Of course he’d have the perfect girlfriend to bring along. A bloke that cute and nice wasn’t single.

‘Which company?’ I asked, covering my disappointment. ‘Your company now, I mean.’

‘Flable and Mead. The asset managers? Sorry, I should have said before.’

Of course I’d heard of them. They were only one of the biggest firms on Wall Street. No wonder Andi had to say yes when Chuck made his request. We were talking big money.

And big egos. ‘I’m not surprised that other halves aren’t invited,’ I told him. Surely he’d worked out why for himself. ‘They usually aren’t invited in the UK either. The Christmas do is your chance to get pissed and snog a colleague.’

Chuck laughed. ‘I’m really glad I’ve seen all those Hugh Grant movies so I know what you’re talking about. So maybe it’ll be everyone’s chance at Flable and Mead to snog a colleague too.’ When he smiled, a dimple appeared on his left side. Just the one. ‘And as you’re working with me to organise the party, I guess that makes you my colleague, right?’

Did he mean what I thought he meant? The cheeky sod. ‘Come on, I’ll show you the ballroom.’

But the ballroom had nowhere near the ambiance of the top floor, and I knew before Chuck said anything that it didn’t have the right feel. Whereas upstairs had character and charm, the ballroom had bling. I’d only known Chuck for a matter of hours, but already I knew he wasn’t the blingy type.

‘Definitely upstairs,’ he said. ‘So it’s done. We’ll book it. Now we just need to plan all the decorations, the food, the band, DJ. I guess the fee goes up depending on how much in-house stuff we use.’ He laughed. ‘I’m sorry, I really am in too deep here. I talked my way into my job. I have no idea how. My boss is a Northwestern alum like me and that must have swung it for me. Before I only worked organising conferences and a few parties at the local VFW hall. This is the big time.’

I knew exactly how he felt. When I first started at the hotel I had to pinch myself. There I was, about to live a life I’d only seen on telly. All I had to do was not muck things up. Digby had been on hand to show me the ropes when I needed it. So the least I could do for Chuck was to help him as much as I could.

That’s what I told myself. I was paying it forward.

‘We’ve got a range of decorations we can do,’ I told him, thinking about how much I was going to get to see him in the upcoming weeks. I could really stretch things out by showing him one tablecloth per visit. ‘And we work with a few good catering companies, who I’m sure can arrange anything from a sit-down meal to a buffet. One even does burger bars, if you want something more quirky.’

‘What I’ll want is for you to help me, Rosie. You will be able to do that, right?’

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Whatever you need. It’s a whopping great fee your company is paying. That buys a lot of hand-holding.’

‘I was hoping you’d say that,’ he said. ‘The second I came in and saw you, I knew this was the right choice. We’re going to be great together, Rosie.’

I was thinking the exact same thing.

Chapter 2

 

Lill raises her tiny hands with a showbiz flourish that catches everyone’s attention. Lill is nothing if not an attention-catcher. Her platinum bob shines out from beneath her favourite black top hat, and she looks every inch the circus ringmaster with her moth-eaten red tailcoat over her usual thigh-skimming miniskirt and white go-go boots.

This wouldn’t look at all unusual if she wasn’t pushing seventy.

‘Happy anniversary to you, happy anniversary to you, happy anniversary, dear Rosie, happy anniversary to you!’

Lill’s voice soars clear and strong above everyone else’s and the Colonel calls me Rose Dear. That man hates a nickname.

They’re all bunched together in our hotel’s decrepit bar, directly under the lurid green banner we used last year when the Colonel’s biopsy came back benign. At his age, that kind of thing deserves celebrating. I was the one who tore it taking it down, so it reads CON RATULATIONS. Story of my life, really.

They couldn’t be prouder of their surprise, though. Even the dog looks smug.

It’s an ambush, though I suppose I’ve been half expecting it ever since Lill let slip that they knew the date was coming up.

Three years back in Scarborough. Who’d have thought it?

It’s touching that they’ve done this, although I’m not big on surprises, which has made me paranoid for days. I even double-checked the restaurant this morning, but everything was normal – Chef barking orders at Janey and Cheryl. Janey and Cheryl rolling their eyes behind Chef’s back. Chef acting like he doesn’t know they’re doing it.

I should have thought to check the bar. It’s just beside reception through double doors in the wide entrance hall, but it’s never open this time of morning, unless we have a stag party in. And that hasn’t happened in yonks. Not even the Colonel uses it before evening. He’s got his own private whisky stash up in his room. He says he likes to keep his loved ones close.

‘For she’s a jolly good fellow…’ The Colonel’s voice trails off when nobody joins in. ‘I didn’t realise you were married, Rose Dear,’ he says. The ice in his glass tinkles as he sips.

Everyone stares at him as if we don’t hear his gaffs every day.

‘She’s not married, Colonel. She doesn’t even have a boyfriend,’ Janey says.

Her tone isn’t unkind. Just matter-of-fact. But ta for that reminder, I think.

‘It’s her three-year work anniversary, Colonel,’ Peter kindly reminds him. ‘Not a wedding anniversary.’ Peter reaches down to pet Barry, who’s starting to look bored with the whole event. Though it’s anyone’s guess what better offers a basset hound might have at eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning at a seaside resort in the off season.

‘Righty-ho,’ the Colonel says. ‘Chin up, old girl, it might not be too late for you.’ He wanders out. We can hear the tap tap of his cane on the careworn parquet floor as it carries him off to his usual chair in the conservatory, where he likes to spend his mornings.

Colonel William Bambury always cuts a dashing figure, even when he’s half cut before lunchtime. Which is most days. His shirts are perfectly pressed and the crease in his trousers could slice through a joint of meat. After forty-five years in the Royal Marines, he knows his way around an ironing board. In summer his ensemble is khaki. He adds a green tweed jacket in cooler weather, and on occasions like today he pins his medals to the front.

Personally, I’d live in thermals and a winter coat if I were him, because I know he doesn’t put the heat on in his room. He says it’s because he likes the bracing air, but I know it’s to save money. We need whatever comfort we can spare for the guests.

‘Sorry about that,’ Cheryl says. ‘Janey can be a thoughtless arse.’

‘That’s rich, coming from you,’ Janey retorts.

‘She’s right,’ I say. ‘You’re exactly alike.’

And not only in personality. From the neck up, Janey and Cheryl could be twins. They wear their blonde hair blown out pin-straight and their make-up laid on with a trowel. If one tries a double eyeliner flick or a new set of false lashes, the other one does too. They claim to have their own lipsticks, but they’re all in the same shades.

It’s below the neck where the differences lie, though they wear identical faded black-and-white waitress uniforms. Janey is as athletically slender as Cheryl is plump, though they both hate exercise, which makes me love them all the more.

‘Can we have the cake now? I’m starving,’ Janey asks.

‘Oh, right, the cake,’ Lill says. ‘With my performance, I nearly forgot.’

Nobody points out that singing four lines of a trite old song isn’t exactly a sell-out show at Scarborough Spa.

Lill hoists a plain white cake onto the burnished bar top. I’m surprised she can get it up there with her scrawny arms. ‘We did ask Chef to add some colour to the icing, but he said you wouldn’t go in for that kind of frivolity.’

Chef means he doesn’t go in for that kind of frivolity. He’s cut from the same military cloth as the Colonel, though Chef’s cloth is ex-Army green.

‘Where is Chef? Isn’t he coming in?’ I ask.

‘Not when he’s getting ready for service,’ Janey says. ‘It’s fish and chips today.’

Peter’s eyes light up at the news. ‘With mushy peas?’

Cheryl nods. ‘And the home-made tartar sauce that you like.’

‘Can you believe our luck, Barry?’ He scratches behind his dog’s ear.

That’s a hypothetical question, though, since Barry was strictly banned from the restaurant after he made off with Chef’s crown roast two Christmases ago. He didn’t get far on his little legs, but dinner was ruined and Chef still holds a grudge. 

Kindly Peter Barker swipes the scant strands of his coal-black hair over his shiny dome. It’s a nervous habit, but necessary because his parting starts about an inch above his left ear.

His hair colour is probably as artificial as his surname, though he won’t admit to tampering with either one. But really, a dog trainer named Barker? Moreover, a fifty-something dog trainer named Barker with hair that black, when his face is crinklier than a sheet that’s been forgotten in the washing machine?

We’d give him a lot more stick about it if he wasn’t such a gentle soul. Believe me, we’ve got a lot of opportunity, with him living here at the hotel.

That’s the arrangement the Colonel has with the council: to house some of the people who need a place to live. They’ve been here for years and even though I’m the manager, I don’t know the exact details of the arrangement. They’re just our friends in residence. I guess they bring in a bit of revenue. Given how few paying guests we get, it might be the Colonel’s only steady income.

‘Will you have lunch with us?’ Peter asks me.

‘Yes, why not?’ Lill adds. ‘The guests leave this morning, don’t they? It’s been ages since you’ve sat down properly for a meal, and you are celebrating. Three years. Where does the time go?’

That’s a really good question, though I’ve been trying not to dwell too much on it lately. Otherwise it could get depressing.

I’m not saying that Scarborough itself is depressing, mind you. At least, I’ve never thought so. But then I was born and raised in a bungalow not a mile from the hotel, with the waterfront penny arcades, casinos, ice-cream shops, chippies and pubs a stone’s throw away. It’s a faded seaside town like many of the old Victorian resorts, but we’re hoping for a revival. With a little vision, we could become the Brighton of the north. I do love the grand old buildings, even if they’ve all seen better days.

Who hasn’t?

When I left at eighteen, I assumed I’d never come back, except for holiday visits to my parents. Yet, ten years later, my parents are living exotically in France while I’m back in the bungalow where I grew up.

See what I mean? Looked at in the wrong way, one could find that sad.

‘Rosie can have lunch off today, can’t she?’ Peter calls to the Colonel, who’s come back into the bar.

‘Don’t mind if I do,’ he says, refreshing his drink. He’s talking about helping himself to the bar rather than my lunchtime plans. ‘What?’

‘Rosie,’ Lill says. ‘She can have lunch with us today, can’t she?’

‘Of course, of course,’ he says. ‘The more the merrier, I always say.’

Actually, he never says that but, as he owns the hotel and is technically my boss, it’s not worth correcting him.

 

Given Chef’s refusal to indulge in a little food colouring, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that he’s also a stickler for punctuality. If everyone’s not sitting down for lunch between noon and two o’clock, they won’t get a morsel to eat. Not long after I got the job, I made the mistake of suggesting that we offer room service. Nothing fancy, just a selection of simple cold dishes for guests who arrive outside of Chef’s timetable.

You’d have thought I wanted him to don feathers and do a fan dance for the guests. He gave me dirty looks for weeks. Now I keep suggestions for the restaurant to a bare minimum.

Miracle Jones hurtles towards us through the dining room. Imagine the Titanic draped in a colourful dress and you’ll get the idea. ‘Darling baby girl, I’m so sorry I missed de surprise!’ she says in her sing-song Jamaican accent. It’s much stronger than that actually, so I’m translating.

Miracle is another of the hotel’s long-time residents. She’s also the mother amongst us. Large and regal, her black face catches every smile going and bounces it back at you tenfold. You can hear her throaty laugh all through the hotel.

‘I had to be at de church,’ she says, settling her bulk into the chair beside the Colonel and tucking her riotously patterned caftan around her. ‘Today is tea and sympathy day. It’s so sad how those poor souls have got no one.’

None of us can meet her gaze.

Unlike Peter and Lill, Miracle lives at the hotel thanks to her three grown children rather than the council. Every month the Colonel can depend on the fee for Miracle’s room and board. That’s more than Miracle can depend on when it comes to her useless offspring. None of us has ever actually laid eyes on them, so whatever they’re so busy doing, it’s not visiting their mother.

I don’t know how they can do that to such a giving lady. My parents drive me round the bend, but I still see them regularly. Granted, it’s not exactly a hardship when they live in a picturesque village not far from Moulins in France. But the point is that I’d visit even if they lived in a council flat in Skegness.

Nobody imagined they’d actually leave Scarborough. At first I thought they were joking about moving away from the water. Not only are they away from the water, they found the most landlocked village in France to live in. It is nice to visit for a few days, but then I miss the sea.

‘I’ll have to run off straight after lunch,’ Peter tells us as Cheryl and Janey bring our fish and chips to the table. Not that we ordered it. Chef doesn’t so much run a restaurant as a school canteen. We eat what we’re given. ‘I’ve got a three o’clock birthday and Barry and I have some lines to run through.’

We all nod as though it’s perfectly normal for Peter’s dog to run lines with him. Because, in a way, it is.

Peter’s had his trained dog act for decades and he’s well known on the children’s party circuit. Barry’s not your usual dancing dog, though. Well, a basset hound is never really going to be a great dancer, is he? But what he lacks in agility he makes up for in personality. He’s the perfect straight man for Peter’s act. When Peter tells his jokes, you’d swear Barry understands. His facial expressions are always spot on.

The Colonel clears his throat.

‘Have you got a fish bone, William?’ Lill asks. When she puts her hand on his arm, the Colonel blushes.

‘I’ve got something to say.’ Never one for public speaking, he shifts in his chair. ‘We’ve finally had some interest in the hotel.’

This is great news. ‘Was it the North Yorkshire Gazette advert?’ He wasn’t keen on spending the money, but I knew it would bring the punters in. And out of season too. If we keep up the publicity, imagine what we could do when it’s not rainy and cold. ‘We’ll have to open up some of the other rooms, though,’ I say. To keep the utility bills down we only keep the first floor open for hotel guests. We’re managing. Just.

‘It’s from a US hotel,’ he says.

I’m confused. Why would a US hotel send guests here? ‘Do you mean some kind of exchange?’ If so, we haven’t got many guests to send their way in return.

‘You don’t mean a sale, Colonel?’ Peter asks.

No, he can’t mean that.

‘It was a surprise to me too,’ the Colonel says. ‘You remember when we tried selling the place after we played ‘The Last Post’ for my sister. Couldn’t give it away with a free prozzie then.’

‘William.’

‘Sorry, Lillian.’

I do remember that summer. It was when I worked here in school, though I didn’t have anything to do with its management. I was under Chef’s tyrannical regime then. It’s hard to imagine the hotel more run down than it is now, but it was.

‘They approached me,’ he says. ‘Made an offer sight unseen.’

‘You’ve sold the hotel?’ Lill asks. It’s clearly news to her. ‘William, how could you?’

‘I thought you’d be pleased,’ he says. ‘You know how long I’ve wanted to get out from under the place. Now I’ll be free.’

‘You thought I’d be pleased? How long have we known each other?’

‘Eight years, Lillian.’

I’ve only known Lill for three and even I can see that the Colonel’s news is about as welcome as a parp in a phone box.

‘And you think I’d be pleased to know you’re selling the hotel out from under us to strangers? Out of the blue?’

‘I’m not selling it out from under us! We’re all staying. It was part of the negotiation. I made sure, Lillian. Now we won’t have to worry about keeping the hotel running. Let it be on someone else’s watch. I did it for us, really.’ His bushy eyebrows are knitted together in concern. ‘All of us.’

Lill crosses her arms. ‘There is no us, William.’

The poor Colonel. His upper lip may be stiff, but his bottom one starts wobbling with emotion.

‘Rose Dear.’ The Colonel looks beseechingly at me. ‘Once we’re established with new owners here, you might be able to do a stint with them back in the US if you want. Wouldn’t that be nice?’

I want to make it better for the Colonel, I really do. But I’ve spent the last three years trying to forget all about my life in the US. The last thing I want is to go back there now.

Chapter 3

 

The mood at the hotel has been subdued ever since my party, when the Colonel dropped his bombshell about the sale. It’s not helped by the fact that Lill won’t speak to him. He’s moping around the place, every inch the lovelorn old man, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him. He still sits in the conservatory every day, but Lill won’t even set foot in there. If they do happen to be in the same room, she makes a big show of ignoring him. But then that’s not a surprise. Lill makes a big show of everything.

I would too, if I’d spent half a century in show business like she has. Between her gorgeous voice and flamboyant stage presence, she was a sensation once, nearly up there with the greats of the sixties and seventies. It must be hard to let that go.

I don’t blame her for being cross with the Colonel either. We’re all a little out of sorts, because it seems that the hotel sale isn’t just a possibility. It’s a done and dusted deal. Some company called Beach Vacations Inc. now owns the Colonel’s hotel, and what I’ve found on their website doesn’t exactly make me think this was a good idea.

Luxury island FIVE-STAR service at three-star prices!! it boasts all over the place. It’s got hotels on islands and keys in Florida and on a beach in Rhode Island – which isn’t an island, despite the name.

We’re not an island either, and that’s what’s got me worried. Every photo of their interiors and their staff look as if they’re kitted out in fabrics made from gaudy old Hawaiian shirts.

Our hotel couldn’t be more opposite. It’s Victorian and quintessentially British, ta very much. The public rooms have high ceilings, ornate cornicing and parquet floors. The floors might be dented and scratched, but that just gives them a fine old patina. The brass and glass chandeliers are originals, throwing a warm yellow light over the wide entrance hall, and the bar is really pretty spectacular, aside from the old pub carpet that’s coming away in places. And Peter was up on the ladder only last month painting over the water stains in the corners, so they don’t look too bad, considering all the holes in the roof.

My point is that some loud-shirted American company won’t do us any favours in the style stakes.

And worst of all, now we’ve got a transition manager coming to turn everything upside down.

‘I think that’s him coming!’ Peter cries from his lookout post in the conservatory. His announcement startles Barry, who’s been napping beside Peter’s chair. ‘He’s definitely from London. He’s got pointy shoes.’

And pointy horns, probably. I’ve never met a transition manager before, but the whole point of them is to change things, right? That’s the last thing we want around here. Ta very much again.

Tempted as I am to run to the window to see the bloke, we can’t have him thinking that we care that he’s here.

‘I think you’ll like him, Rosie. He’s a good-looking lad.’

‘He’s changing our hotel, Peter, not asking us out.’

‘Right. Still.’

I can see his smile through the wavy old glass of the door even before he reaches it. They must teach that at change management college. Introduction to Sincere-Looking Smiles.

I hate to admit it but, flippin’ heck, Peter’s right. This bloke is a looker, if you take away the thick specs he’s wearing. Tall and broad-shouldered, he looks natural in his fitted grey suit, like one of those arrogant Wall Street types. Only his hair isn’t slicked back. It’s stuck up with gel and there’s a lot of it. 

I let him push open the door instead of opening it for him. No reason to roll out the red carpet for someone who’s about to do us over. ‘Are you Rosie? I’m Rory Thomas.’

His accent throws me. I expected brash American, not posh English. Quickly I readjust my prejudices from one to the other. There, job done. Now I can resent him for being a poncy southerner. ‘Rosie MacDonald.’ I bite down the Nice to meet you and offer him my hand instead.

‘Will you be staying long?’ I ask. He hasn’t got any cases with him, just a khaki courier bag slung across his front, which clashes with his sharp suit.

‘Are you trying to get rid of me already?’ he teases. When his smile ratchets up a notch, his mouth looks almost as big as mine, but less muppet-like. Kind of nice, if I’m honest. ‘I’m at Mrs Carmody’s B&B on Marine Road. Do you know it?’

‘We’ve got a lot of B&Bs around here. The town’s not that small, you know.’ I don’t know why I’m defending Scarborough when I couldn’t get out of here fast enough myself. ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’, I guess.

‘It’s a reasonable size,’ he agrees. ‘I imagine that means reasonable competition, so it surprised me when Mrs Carmody made me leave for the day. I’m not allowed back till after four. I thought those days were over.’

I stifle a laugh. ‘Welcome to Scarborough, where time stands still. I’d have thought you’d just stay here. Is our hotel not good enough for you?’ I don’t know where this narky attitude is coming from. Especially since, technically, he’s probably my boss now.

‘It’s perfectly good enough for me, but I’d have to move out when we redo the rooms. It’ll be less disruptive to just hole myself up at the B&B while works are going on.’ His forehead wrinkles. ‘They did tell you about the renovation?’

‘No. We’ve heard nothing at all. Only that you were coming.’

‘God, I’m so sorry! That’s a terrible way to hear news about your hotel.’ He shakes his head. ‘Really, I can only apologise. I haven’t found the communications great with the company either, if that makes you feel any better.’

It doesn’t.

‘So you don’t know what they’re planning?’ His grey eyes are magnified by his thick lenses. ‘Have you got an office or somewhere for us to sit and go through everything?’

It can’t be good if he wants me to sit down. My tummy is flipping as we go into the oak-panelled office behind the reception desk.

‘This is nice.’ He’s running his hands over the panels. ‘The whole hotel is really something. I love these old places.’

‘Do you revamp them a lot?’ I make ditto marks just in case he misses the snark.

‘Me? No, never. It’s my first hotel assignment.’

‘But I thought you worked for the company.’

He shakes his head. ‘I’m a freelancer. They’ve brought me in to do this job. It’s the same process, though, no matter the industry.’

So our hotel is going to be ‘change-managed’ – ditto fingers – by someone with absolutely no hotel experience. ‘Where have you worked before?’

‘That sounds like an interview question. A slightly aggressive one. No, I don’t mind,’ he says, when he sees me start to object. ‘It’s natural to have concerns. After all, this is your livelihood. I’ve managed transitions for a biscuit factory and a couple of banks that needed integration.’ He’s counting off on his fingers. ‘An insurance company, and a long stint with Transport for London. Ah yes, and a handmade bicycle business in Leeds.’

Biscuits and bicycles. That’s great experience for running a hotel. If we never need advice on elevenses, Rory’s our man.

‘Rosie, if you don’t mind me saying, I don’t have to be clairvoyant to see that you’d rather not have me here. And I’m sorry about that, but I’m a necessary evil and this will all go a lot more smoothly if we can work together. I’m not here to do your job. And despite what you probably think, I’m not a ball-buster. The sale’s gone through. It’s going to happen now, whether anyone likes it or not.’

I’m a little taken aback by his directness. Rory doesn’t look like a ball-buster, but clearly he’s no pushover either. I might not want him here but, as a Yorkshirewoman, I’ve at least got to admire his straightforwardness.

‘My job is to make the transition as easy as possible for both sides,’ he continues, ‘and that means being the go-between and trying to keep everyone happy. So I’d like it if you could see me as an ally instead of an adversary. Because I’m really not. An adversary, I mean. I don’t have any loyalty to Beach Vacations –’

‘Inc.,’ I add. Something about that really irks me. It sounds so impersonal. The hotel I worked for in New York City was also an Inc. And look at how that turned out.

‘Inc., right,’ he says. ‘They’re paying me to transition the hotel as smoothly as possible, and a transition can only be smooth when everyone is happy. So I’m really here to make you happy.’

Dammit. I can’t help returning his smile.

‘We’re going to be colleagues, only I’ve got the boss’s ear,’ he says. ‘That should be useful to you, right?’

It would be, if it’s true. ‘I do understand what you’re trying to do,’ I tell him honestly. ‘We’re just not big on change around here. Your landlady is the tip of the iceberg, believe me. The Colonel’s family hasn’t changed anything here in years, not even paint colour on the walls. The staff aren’t going to like it.’

When I say ‘staff’, it’s Chef who pops into my head. When Cadbury ditched the Bournvilles from the Heroes chocolate tub, he was apoplectic. Not only is he originally from Birmingham, home of the Bournville, but substituting Toblerone (Swiss!) was unpatriotic. When Cadbury then dared to change its recipe for the Creme Eggs, it was the last straw for him. Now there’s a total ban on their products at the hotel. He won’t even touch a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and they’re his favourite. We have to hear him grumble about it every Christmas.

‘I’m sorry, but there will be changes with the new owners,’ Rory says. ‘So will you at least let me try to help? The transition is happening. You may as well have me on your team.’

‘Is that what we are? A team?’

‘I hope so. Should we meet the rest of the team?’

‘Please stop saying team.’

‘I’m sorry. The company uses it a lot. As you’d imagine.’

We share a very British smile at the Americans’ expense.

But I’m not laughing after he’s told me everything. It’s bad enough that there’s a whole refit planned for the building. We’ll also be reapplying for our own jobs. Those are the jobs we’ve all been doing perfectly well for years! Like anyone else would want them anyway. Rory claims it’s just a formality because everyone will get new contracts, but I don’t like the idea of jumping through hoops for a job I’ve already got. It sounds like a lot of useless bureaucratic box-ticking to me.

I shrug. ‘Anyway, if it’s definitely happening then there’s no use grizzling about it. So how long will the hotel be closed while it’s being refurbished?’

‘The company isn’t keen to lose any income it doesn’t have to,’ he says, clearly relieved not to discuss my potential job loss anymore. ‘I wish we could close it, but we’ll have to zone the building works so they can be done away from where the guests will stay. It should be okay if we do it in stages. Your occupancy isn’t above thirty per cent anyway at this time of year.’

Of course. The company would have done its homework before the purchase. Rory probably knows more about this place than I do. ‘What about the residents?’ I ask. ‘Will they work around them?’

‘Like I said, we’ll just keep them away from the works. The company might authorise a discount on room rates. We’ll see.’

‘But won’t their rooms need redoing too? I guess we can put them up in guest rooms in the meantime.’

Rory looks confused. ‘Which rooms do you mean?’

‘The residents’ rooms.’ Am I not speaking English? ‘The hotel residents: Peter, Lill. The Colonel, Miracle?’ Best not bring Barry into it just now.

‘The Colonel has a lifetime tenancy, so his room won’t be affected. It’s written into the contract. The company isn’t refurbing it, though. I don’t know who the other people are?’

Oh really? Well, this is interesting. ‘You don’t know about the council agreement? Or Miracle’s arrangement?’ He definitely isn’t going to welcome this news. ‘They’ve all got tenancy agreements with us. With the hotel.’

Rory’s eyes widen. ‘You don’t mean they’re sitting tenants?’

Sitting tenants. Now there’s a phrase to strike fear into the heart of any new owner. I’m glad.

‘I wonder if the company knows,’ he says, looking worried. ‘They’ve only ever mentioned Colonel Bambury’s agreement.’

‘Maybe they don’t know what sitting tenants are, being American. They might not have them there.’ If not, the new owners are in for a shock. I happen to know that the ink is hardly dry on Miracle’s new tenancy agreement. Three years. And the council isn’t going to be keen on having to rehouse anyone with the way the government is squeezing their budgets.

‘Between you and me,’ says Rory, ‘it doesn’t sound like they did much due diligence before the purchase. Did anyone even come for a site visit?’

‘No, not that I know of,’ I tell him. ‘But who in their right mind would buy an entire hotel without seeing it first?’

Rory leans closer. ‘I probably shouldn’t mention this, but I’m not so sure they are in their right minds. It’s two brothers who own the company, and they don’t speak to each other. I’ve only had Skype calls with them, separately, of course, but from what I gather they’re pretty eccentric.’

‘When you say eccentric …’

‘They’re mad as a box of frogs. You’ll see.’

‘And these are our new owners? Perfect.’

‘At least if they didn’t bother coming over to see what they were buying, they probably won’t bother us much now after the fact. They seem to like to dictate from afar. Over Skype.’ He pulls a grimace. ‘You will let me help you navigate through all this, won’t you?’

‘It doesn’t sound like I’ve got much choice, given what might be ahead.’

‘That’s the spirit!’ He raises his hand for a high-five.

I’m sure I slap it harder than he’s expecting.

 

It’s late afternoon by the time we finish and I, for one, am exhausted. I never realised how much work I do till I had to explain it all to Rory. Hopefully that’ll count for something when I reapply for my own job.

‘What is that smell?’ Rory asks.

‘Oh, that’s the goat. It starts out a little pongy but ends up really nice.’

‘Do you serve a lot of goat at the hotel?’ A smirk is playing at the corners of his mouth. He seems to find a lot of things funny.

‘Only on Caribbean night.’ I push my chair back and stretch my back. We both hear the cracks of my spine. ‘Come on, you can meet Chef and Miracle. It’s her goat.’

‘Her…?’

‘Recipe. It’s her goat recipe. Not her goat.’

As if we’d let Miracle keep a goat in the hotel. We’re going to have enough trouble when Rory sees Barry.

Chef and Miracle aren’t alone in the dining room when we get there. Lill is sitting with them. She’s got her vape in one hand and a martini in the other.

‘She’s not smoking indoors, is she?’ Rory murmurs.

‘No, Mister Health and Safety.’ But I know why he’d think so. Lill’s vape looks like a twenties-style cigarette holder. It’s rarely out of her hand. ‘Just in time for drinkies!’ she cries when she sees us. ‘Oh, hello there.’

Rory’s greeting is friendly and polite, but I catch the look of confusion on his face.

I guess I’m so used to seeing Lill that her drag queeny false eyelashes, feather boas and white go-go boots aren’t such a shock. It’s not the boots, actually, that throws people. It’s the sight of her scrawny arms and legs in a vest and miniskirt. She looks like sixties Twiggy has spent way too long in the bath.

‘You’re the henchman,’ Chef says. Like Lill, he’s most comfortable in a vest. Unlike her, Chef’s vest is always white and sometimes stained, and he’s got tattoos all up his beefy arms. He’s left the Army, which may account for the slip in uniform standards, but his haircut is still regulation. And his manner is as exacting as his haircut.

‘Well, I’m only here to ensure a smooth transition,’ Rory explains.

‘Said the SS guard at the camp gate. Call it what you like. How long are you staying?’

‘Don’t be harsh on the bloke, Chef,’ I say. ‘He’s just doing his job.’

Rory smiles his thanks, though I’m not sure why I’m sticking up for him when he’s just told me I’ll have to apply for my own job. Maybe it’s because he seems like an alright person. Maybe because he’s the only buffer between us and our new owners.

‘Rosie tells me you’re making goat. It smells … good.’

Miracle’s laugh rings out across the dining room, and that’s saying something because the room is vast. In its heyday our hotel would regularly seat a hundred and fifty people for buffet lunches or fancy dinners. There are old black-and-white photos hung all around the hotel that I love to look at. ‘My, isn’t he a charming liar? No, it don’t smell good, petal, but it will. It will.’ Miracle’s chins nod for a few seconds after she stops. ‘My babies always brag about their mama’s goat curry,’ she says, wiping her hands on the bright-yellow apron that’s covering her batik-print dress. ‘They can’t get enough of it. All three begged for de recipe before they moved from home but they say I still make it better.’ She laughs again. ‘I say I do.’

‘You can’t beat a family recipe,’ Rory says. ‘And I know how your children feel. My dad was the cook in our house, and I’ve never been able to make his recipes as well either. There’s something about the way a parent makes it.’

‘It’s de love they put in,’ Miracle says. ‘Come along, boy, I’ll show you.’

‘I don’t want strangers in my kitchen,’ Chef barks.

‘Calm yourself, Chef,’ she says. ‘It’s not your kitchen today. As long as it’s my curry in there, it’s my kitchen.’ Ignoring Chef’s thunderous look, she hoists herself from the table. Then she leads Rory to the industrial kitchen, leaving Lill and I to smooth over Chef’s ruffled feathers.

Isn’t this fun?! If you would like to read the rest you can preorder a copy on Amazon US or Amazon UK

Blog Tour: Love at the Italian Lake by Darcie Boleyn @DarcieBoleyn @canelo_co

Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK

Release date: July 31, 2017

Publisher: Canelo

Genre: Romance

Blurb:

On the shores of Lake Garda, a beautiful romance unfolds. But is it only for summer? Don’t miss this gorgeous, heart-warming novel from Darcie Boleyn, bestselling author of 2017 smash-hit Summer at Conwenna Cove.

Sophia Bertoni discovers her boyfriend in bed with another woman, and realizes her life is going nowhere. Leaving her high-pressure job, she travels to Italy to stay with her grandmother while she figures out her next move.

When Sophia – quite literally – bumps into devastatingly handsome Joe Lancaster her plans are turned upside down. As the two realize they’re both spending the summer in the same town, a love affair seems on the cards.

But Sophia and Joe are both burdened by family secrets. Despite their attraction, will the sun set on Sophia and Joe’s romance – or will they find love at the Italian lake?

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Love at the Italian Lake. I have an extract to share today.

Extract:

Chapter 1
Sophia Bertoni let herself into her apartment then picked up the post from the hall table and began leafing through it. Lee must have collected it from their mailbox in the lobby; at least that meant he’d done something today.  
There were a few credit card statements, but nothing interesting. There were always more bills to pay but that was the downside of her chosen lifestyle. She sighed. For a short while, when she was at work, she was able to forget how empty her life sometimes seemed, but as soon as she arrived at the luxury apartment she shared with Lee, her misgivings loomed like grey clouds. Particularly after the day from hell that she’d just had.
But a hot bath and at least five hours’ sleep would help. Seeing as how she’d got home before nine, she might even get more than six hours in bed.
All she wanted to do was kick off her shoes, soak in some jasmine-scented bubbles, crawl under the Egyptian cotton duvet cover, then sleep.
She’d tried to explain how exhausting and unfulfilling her job was to Lee on numerous occasions, but he’d looked at her as if she was mad for questioning their main source of income, then followed up with, ‘Did you pick up milk on the way home?’
Lee: Mr Sensitivity. Not!
They’d been together for three years but sometimes – well, most of the time – Sophia wondered why they stayed together. A mutual acquaintance had introduced them at a cocktail party in the Tower of London, and after too many Espresso Martinis, Sophia had ended up taking Lee back to her apartment. Somehow, he’d never left. The next day, when she’d got home, she’d found him waiting in the lobby with a bag and soon he’d moved all of his belongings in. They hadn’t even had a conversation about it; Lee had just gatecrashed her life. She was so assertive at work, so aloof and focused, but for some reason – possibly the fact that it was nice to have another human being in her home – she’d allowed him to assume the role of boyfriend.
And so it had been for three years. If she started to question why they’d stayed together, she supposed it could be attributed to habit, apathy and, possibly, a lack of belief that another relationship would be any better and that the grass was not, in fact, greener elsewhere.
Sophia shook her head. She’d been far too busy proving herself within a male-dominated environment at work to give her relationship much thought, and whenever doubts about Lee did creep in, she pushed them away for a day when she was less tired, less busy, less…  
What was that?
She’d heard a noise from their bedroom. It sounded like a groan, as if someone was in pain. Her heart fluttered.
‘Yes… just like that… yes, more…’
That didn’t sound like it hurt! And who was that? Her brain frantically tried to place the voice. Was it Ben, the twenty-four-hour concierge, come to deliver a package that Lee couldn’t be bothered to carry up to their apartment? Even though there was a lift. Besides, that would mean that Ben had beaten her from the lobby and she doubted he could have run up seventeen flights of stairs.
Was it Lee’s sister come round to try to bully him into attending some family function that he’d conveniently tried to forget about?
Why would she be in my bedroom?
Then who…
 

Blog Tour: The Inheritance by Angie Coleman @Aria_Fiction


Goodreads|Amazon US|Amazon UK
Release date: May 1, 2017

Publisher: Aria

Genre: Romance

Blurb: 

Twenty-four-year-old Ashley Morgan thinks her future is guaranteed when she takes over the reins of her family business. What could go wrong?


But when her father decides to give the job to Jamie Standley, his right-hand man, Ashley feels cheated and breaks off all ties with her father.


Three years later at the reading of her late father’s Will, she discovers to her horror that Jamie will continue to be director of Morgan & Hall, while she will only receive a small share in the business. But on one condition: that Ashley and Jamie work together and live under the same roof for a whole year…


Once again Ashley feels betrayed and cheated. To her, Jamie is an impostor and she is determined to make him pay. But forced cohabitation can sometimes have unpredictable consequences…



Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Inheritance. I have an extract to share with you today. 


Extract: 

Prologue

The taxi is stopping just outside the front door – my home address is 37 Long Street.

Grief, how much I’ve missed home! It’s been six months since I left – it’s a record for someone like me who’s so fond of her home and home town. I lived away from home for five years while studying Economics, the most tedious discipline ever, at university. My only objective during these five years has been to keep afloat, and now I’m glad to be back. I wouldn’t have made it without Alex. I have a degree now and I still have all the energy to show Dad that I can live up to his expectations. I made it.

The air is cold outside, although I can’t help but stand still in front of the door for a few seconds, staring at the building like it’s for the first time. It feels so good to be back that I’m worried I might wake up and realise it’s all a dream. Dad has insisted that we should all celebrate my degree with a dinner tonight because he couldn’t be there at the graduation last month. He has invited Jamie – his business partner – to the dinner, and I sense that he wants to take this opportunity to make an important announcement. I know what he wants to say. That’s why I can’t wait for tonight: Dad is going to announce the new head of Morgan & Hall, the biggest, most important sweet-producing factory in the city, which is also our family business. I have always suspected that Dad cared a little more about his business than about me. I used to be jealous of the fact that Morgan & Hall always had my Dad’s attention, whereas I struggled to get it. When I was little, he used to enjoy sitting in his favourite armchair and telling me how he started the business. He and his best friend Milton Hall, a skilled pastry chef, had enjoyed success from the very beginning. Their recipes are original and have remained a trademark of their business, even after Mr Hall had retired due to unspecified health reasons. When Dad talked about his friend, his eyes shone with the fullest admiration and I have grown up with deep respect for the man who made my Dad’s business so great.

After Hall resigned, Dad carried on working even harder to improve his business. When he began to achieve great results all by himself, Dad taught me the secrets of being a good business manager. Looking back, I have to be honest: he was constantly supported by three older men, who were probably far too lenient with me. Dad is extremely proud of his business and he sponsored my university course for one reason only: he wants me to take over the administrative side. Well, here I am now: I’m ready.

I have the brightest smile as I push the front door open. Gregory, the good old caretaker is sitting on a chair reading his favourite newspaper.

“Good evening, Gregory!” My greeting is full of excitement.

“Good evening, Miss Morgan, welcome back home!”

“Thank you. Is Dad upstairs?”

“Yes, he’s waiting for you. Mr Standley is here with him too.” He hasn’t changed – nosey as ever. Still, he does his job very well.

“I know, it’s a great day today, Gregory!” I said to him, then I rush to the lift. On my way upstairs, I can’t avoid reminiscing about how handsome Jamie was. Will he have changed? I don’t know why, but I have the feeling that he belongs to the category of men who look better and better with time. He’s five years older than me, so he must be twenty-nine now. His hair is black – it gives him a somewhat wild look – and very curly. It covers most of his forehead and, sometimes, his eyes. He’s an excellent pastry chef, and that is why Dad has given him a job. I would have given him a job just for his looks… especially his eyes, which seem to penetrate my soul. He’s also a gentleman, I hope he hasn’t lost this quality over the years.

The lift doors open to let me out, I wonder if it’s better to use the key or ring the bell. It’s crazy how being away for six months makes you feel like such a stranger. Still, most of my memories are tied to this apartment: the nights spent listening to Dad’s stories; the occasional visits from my mother, who’s always travelling. My mother brought me so many souvenirs from around the world that I had to devote a whole bookcase to them in my room. My mother and I are very different: the only things we have in common are our passion for books and our hair colour. All the rest is from Dad: my eyes, my temperament. I could never travel around the world forever without a place to settle in – she is a news reporter first and foremost, a wife and mother second. She’s in Brussels right now, if I remember correctly; she might have a new love affair. This must be the fourth man that she’s had since her divorce from Dad, about ten years ago. It’s difficult to keep up with her life, because she rarely ever calls home.

I choose to use the key, eventually.

“Dad?” I shout at the front door, then I pull off my coat and hang it on the stand next to me. “Dad, I’m home!”