The Summer Swap

THE BOOK CLUB HOTEL out in the US and Canada today!

Today is the day! My latest novel, THE BOOK CLUB HOTEL, is out in the US and Canada today! Readers in the UK have to wait another month, and the UK title is THE CHRISTMAS BOOK CLUB.

I had so much fun writing this book. It’s a cosy, feel good read about friendship, family, books and of course romance! I hope you’ll love reading it.



SUMMER WEDDING is a 99p deal in the UK!

UK readers can snap up Summer Wedding for just 99p at the moment. It’s available from all ebook retailers, including Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books and Google Play so snap it up while the price is low!

Happy reading!



The Christmas Book Club

“Maple Sugar Inn, how may I help you?” Hattie answered the phone with a smile on her face because she’d discovered that it was impossible to sound defeated, moody or close to tears when you were smiling, and currently she was all those things.
“I’ve been planning a trip to Vermont in winter for years and then I spotted pictures of your inn on social media,” a woman gushed, “and it looks so cozy and welcoming. The type of place you can’t help but relax.”
It’s an illusion, Hattie thought. There was no relaxation to be had here; not for her, at any rate. Her head throbbed and her eyes pricked following another night without sleep. The head housekeeper was threatening to walk out and the executive chef had been late two nights running and she was worried tonight might be the third, which would be a disaster because they were fully booked. Chef Tucker had earned their restaurant that coveted star, and his confit of duck had been known to induce moans of ecstasy from diners, but there were days when Hattie would have traded that star for a chef with a more even temperament. His temper was so hot she sometimes wondered why he bothered switching on the grill. He could have yelled at the duck and it would have been thoroughly singed in the flames of his anger. He was being disrespectful and taking advantage of her. Hattie knew that, and she also knew she should probably fire him but Brent had chosen him, and firing him would have severed another thread from the past. Also, conflict drained her energy and right now she didn’t have enough of that to go around. It was simpler to placate him.
“I’m glad you’re impressed,” she said to the woman on the phone. “Can I make a reservation for you?”
“I hope so, but I’m very particular about the room. Can I tell you what I need?”
“Of course.” Bracing herself for a long and unachievable wish list, Hattie resisted the temptation to smack her forehead onto the desk. Instead, she reached for a pad of paper and pen that was always handy. “Go ahead.”
How bad could it be? A woman the week before had wanted to know if she could bring her pet rat with her on vacation—answer: no!—and a man the week before that had demanded that she turn down the sound of the river that ran outside his bedroom window because it was keeping him awake.
She went above and beyond in her attempts to satisfy the whims of guests but there were limits.
“I’d like the room to have a mountain view,” the woman said. “And a real fire would be a nice extra.”
“All our rooms have real fires,” Hattie said, “and the rooms at the back have wonderful views of the mountains. The ones at the front face the river.”
She relaxed slightly. So far, so straightforward.
“Mountains for me. Also, I’m particular about bedding. After all, we spend a third of our lives asleep so it’s important, don’t you agree?”
Hattie felt a twinge of envy. She definitely didn’t spend a third of her life asleep. With having a young child, owning an inn and grieving the loss of her husband, she barely slept at all. She dreamed of sleep but sadly, usually when she was awake.
“Bedding is important.” She said what was expected of her, which was what she’d been doing since the police had knocked on her door two years earlier to tell her that her beloved Brent had been killed instantly in a freak accident. A brick had fallen from a building as he’d been walking past on his way to the bank and struck him on the head.
It was mortifying to remember that her initial reaction had been to laugh—she’d been convinced it was a joke, because normal people didn’t get killed by random bricks falling from buildings, did they?—but then she’d realized they weren’t laughing and it probably wasn’t because they didn’t have a sense of humor.
She’d asked them if they were sure he was dead, and then had to apologize for questioning them because of course they were sure. How often did the police follow we’re sorry to have to tell you…with oops, we made a mistake.
After they’d repeated the bad news, she’d thanked them politely. Then she’d made them a cup of tea because she was a) half British and b) very much in shock.
When they’d drunk their tea and eaten two of her homemade cinnamon cookies, she’d shown them out as if they were treasured guests who had honored her with their presence, and not people who had just shattered her world in one short conversation.
She’d stared at the closed door for a full five minutes after they’d left while she’d tried to process it. In a matter of minutes her life had utterly changed, the future she’d planned with Brent stolen, her hopes crushed.
Even though two years had passed, there were still days when it felt unreal. Days when she still expected Brent to walk through the door with that bouncing stride of his, full of excitement because he’d had one of his brilliant ideas that he couldn’t wait to share with her.
I think we should get married…
I think we should start a family…
I think we should buy that historic inn we saw on our trip to Vermont…
They’d met in England during their final year of college and from the first moment she’d been swept away on the tide of Brent’s enthusiasm. After graduating, they’d both taken jobs in London but then two things had happened. Brent’s grandmother had died, leaving him a generous sum of money, and they’d taken a trip to Vermont. They’d fallen in love with the place, and now here she was, a widow at the age of twenty-eight, raising their five-year-old child and managing the historic inn. Alone. Since she’d lost Brent she’d tried to keep everything going the way he’d wanted it, but that wasn’t proving easy. She worried that she wasn’t able to do this on her own. She worried that she was going to lose the inn. Most of all she worried that she wasn’t going to be enough for their daughter. Now Brent was gone she had to be two people—how could she be two people when most days she didn’t even feel whole?
She realized that while she’d been indulging in a moment of maudlin self-pity, the woman on the phone was still talking. “I’m sorry, could you say that again?”
“I’d like the bedsheets to be linen because I do struggle with overheating.”
“We have linen bedding, so that won’t be a problem.”
“And pink.”
“Excuse me?”
“I’d like the linen to be pink. I find I sleep better. White is too glaring and drab colors depress me.”
“I’ll make a note.” She grabbed a notepad and scribbled Help followed by four exclamation marks. She might have written something ruder, but her daughter was a remarkably good reader and was given to demonstrating that skill wherever and whenever she could, so Hattie had learned to be mindful of what she wrote and left lying around. “Did you have a particular date in mind?”
“Christmas. It’s the best time, isn’t it?”
Not for me, Hattie thought, as she checked the room occupancy. The first Christmas after Brent had died had been hideous, and last year hadn’t been much better. She’d wanted to burrow under the covers until it was all over, but instead, she’d been expected to inject festive joy into other people’s lives. And now it was the end of November again and Christmas was just weeks away.
Still, providing she didn’t lose any more staff, she’d no doubt find a way to muddle through. She’d survived it twice, and she’d survive it a third time.
“You’re in luck. We do still have a few rooms available, including one double facing the mountains. Would you like me to reserve that for you?”
“Is it a corner room? I do like more than one window.”
“It’s not a corner room, and there is only one window in this particular room, but it has wonderful views and a covered balcony.”
“There’s no way of getting a second window?”
“Sadly not.” What was she supposed to do? Knock a hole through the wall? “But I can send you a video of the room before you make your choice if that would help.”
By the time she’d taken the woman’s email address, put a hold on the room for twenty-four hours and answered the rest of her questions, half an hour had passed.
When the woman finally ended the call, Hattie sighed. Christmas promised to be a nightmare. She made a note under the reservation. Pink sheets. Linen.
How would Brent handle it? It was a question she asked herself a million times a day and she allowed herself to glance at one of the two photographs she kept on the desk. This one was of Brent swinging their daughter high in the air. Both were laughing. Sometimes, she’d discovered, remembering the best of times sustained you through the worst.
She was about to search the internet for pink linen sheets when someone cleared their throat in an exaggerated fashion.
She looked up to find Stephanie, the head housekeeper, glowering at her.
Stephanie had been another of Brent’s appointments. Almost all the staff had been Brent’s choice. Before Brent had recruited her, Stephanie had been head housekeeper at a renowned hotel in Boston. Her credentials are impeccable, he’d said after he’d interviewed Stephanie, and she’s ferociously organized and capable.
Hattie had agreed with the ferocious part. She’d pointed out that Stephanie’s manner had bordered on rude and that she might be difficult to manage, but Brent had dismissed her concerns and assured her that he’d be handling the staff so it wouldn’t be her problem. Except that now she was handling it, and it was her problem. Everything was her problem.
“Do you have a sore throat, Stephanie?” She knew she shouldn’t have said it, but she was ground down by the woman’s relentlessly negative attitude. Dealing with her was energy sapping. Stephanie had respected Brent—there had been moments when Hattie had wondered whether she’d been feeling something more than respect—and responded to his unbridled enthusiasm for everything, but clearly found Hattie’s more gentle nature nothing but an irritation.
“I have bigger problems than a sore throat. That stupid girl somehow gathered up a red item with the bed linen when she was dealing with The River Room.”
Hattie pretended to be clueless. “I’m not sure who you mean.”
“Chloe.” Stephanie’s mouth was a tight line. “She’s a disaster. I have lost count of the number of times I have warned her to shake out the linen to make sure guests haven’t left anything in the bed. I warned you not to hire her and I have no idea why you did. And now this has happened.”
Hattie had hired Chloe because she was friendly and enthusiastic, which she believed to be important qualities. An establishment like the Maple Sugar Inn survived on its reputation, and that was only as strong as its staff. Chloe made people feel nurtured and important. Stephanie was more like a Doberman guarding a compound.
“Chloe is warm and helpful and the guests love her. I’m sure she won’t do it again.”
“Brent would never have hired her.”
Hattie felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach. “Brent isn’t here.”
Stephanie had the grace to flush. “I do realize the last few years have been hard for you, Harriet, and you’re not a natural manager, but you have to be firm with staff. You’re the innkeeper. You’re the one in charge now. Your problem is that you’re too nice. A good manager should be able to fire someone.”
Hattie had no intention of firing Chloe. She was one of the few members of staff who didn’t bring tension into the room with her.
“This is her first job,” Hattie said. “She’s learning. Mistakes happen.”
“This is supposed to be a quality establishment. Quality establishments don’t tolerate mistakes.”
The whole venture was a mistake, Hattie thought wearily. What were you thinking, Brent? “I’ll talk to her. Where is she?”
“In the laundry room, crying. I just hope she’s not blowing her nose in the sheets.”
Maybe they could cry together, Hattie thought as she made her way through the welcoming reception area and past the open door of the library. She gave the well-stocked bookshelves a longing look, wishing she had time to snuggle down in an armchair in front of the flickering log fire and escape for a while. The library was her favorite room and nothing pleased her more than seeing someone curled up on one of the sofas with a book.
Occasionally, she envied her guests, who were pampered and cared for, their every need anticipated, their every wish granted. Her guests did seem happy and most of them booked again, so maybe she wasn’t doing such a bad job as an innkeeper even if she was a terrible people manager. Was she a terrible people manager? Or was it just that she wasn’t good at managing terrible people?
She headed downstairs and found Chloe exactly where Stephanie had said—in the laundry room.
Her eyes were red and she scrubbed her face with her hand when she saw Hattie.
“I’m sorry,” Chloe muttered. “She told me I had to change the bed in four minutes, so I was going for speed. I messed up, I know I did, but Mrs. Bowman frowns so much that she makes me nervous and flustered and then I make mistakes.”
Hattie wondered if she should confess that Stephanie Bowman had the same effect on her.
“Don’t worry about it.” She patted the girl on the shoulder. “Everything is fine.”
“No, it isn’t. The bedding is ruined.” Chloe’s face was scarlet. “It’s supposed to be snow-white, and now it’s pink. And not pale pink, but pink. I’m going to try washing it again, but I think the color is stuck fast. It will have to be thrown away.”
“It really doesn’t—” Hattie let her hand drop. “Wait a moment. Did you say pink?”
“Yes. It was a hat. I think it was part of Mr. Graham’s Santa suit. He hired it, and it obviously wasn’t colorfast.” She frowned. “And it’s weird, because I could have sworn I’d packed the whole suit away for them, including the hat. I was very careful, but somehow the hat was mixed up with the laundry so I guess not.”
Hattie blinked. “Santa suit?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Graham from Ohio. They spent two nights in the Cider Suite. He told me that Mrs. Graham’s fantasy was to spend a night with Santa, so he hired a suit to surprise her.”
“It’s November.”
“I don’t think he cared about that. He also bought a festive-themed sex toy, but I didn’t ask for details. I thought it might ruin Christmas for me.”
“Indeed.” Hattie was so fascinated she momentarily forgot how tired she was. “How do you know all this?”
“People talk to me,” Chloe said, “which can sometimes be a little alarming, to be honest, but it does lead to interesting revelations.”
“And pink sheets.” Hattie grabbed a box of tissues from the shelf in the laundry room and handed her one. “Stop crying, Chloe. You might just have done me a favor.”
Chloe took the tissue and blew her nose. “I have?”
“Yes. There are guests who would apparently love to sleep in pink sheets. They’re soothing, didn’t you know?”
“No—” The girl looked dazed. “I didn’t know.”
“Well, now you do. Put the pink sheets to one side. Do not throw them away.” Hattie hurried back to the reception desk where Stephanie was tapping her foot.
Hattie took a deep breath and smiled, hoping to reduce the tension and soften her mood. “All sorted.”
Stephanie paused the foot tapping but didn’t look remotely softened. “You fired her?”
“No, I didn’t fire her. It was a mistake.” Or was it something else entirely? Something Chloe had said niggled in the back of her brain. “Odd, really, because she seemed convinced that she’d packed the red hat away with the rest of the Santa suit Mr. Graham brought with him. She couldn’t figure out how it got mixed up with the rest of the laundry.”
Stephanie’s expression didn’t flicker. “Probably because she’s careless. You’re far too lenient. Brent would have fired her.”
There was no way Brent would have fired Chloe, but he would have found a way to manage Stephanie.
She had a feeling that Stephanie wanted her to fail.
“We’re a team,” Hattie said, “and our job is to support one another.” Fortunately for her, Gwen and Ellen Bishop, two sisters in their eighties who had been regular guests since the inn had opened, chose that moment to wander into reception. Hattie had never been so relieved to see anyone. “Excuse me, Stephanie. I need to attend to our guests.”
She hurried across to the Bishop sisters and greeted them as if they were a lifeboat in stormy seas. “How was your breakfast?”
“Delicious as usual.” Gwen beamed. “The maple syrup is the best we’ve tasted anywhere. Everything here is just perfect as it always is, and it’s all down to you, dearest Hattie.”
If only everyone were so good-natured and easily pleased.
“We’ll give you a bottle to take home, Miss Bishop. I’ll arrange it right now.”
“I’ve told you so many times to call me Gwen, honey.” Gwen patted Hattie’s arm gently. “You’re looking tired. You’re not sleeping?”
“I’m fine,” Hattie lied and Gwen gave her a compassionate look.
“Keep going,” the older woman said softly. “One day at a time, one step at a time. That’s what I used to tell myself when I lost my Bill.”
“I used to tell you that, too,” Ellen said and Gwen nodded.
“You did tell me that. Daily. I wanted to tip my breakfast on your head.”
“It’s what sisters are for.”
Hattie felt a pang of envy. It would have been nice to have a sister, but her mother had died a week after Hattie was born, and her dad had never married again. She and her father had been close and she still felt the loss, never more so than when Brent had been killed. I need you, Dad.
She especially missed him at Christmas. Her dad had always made Christmas special.
“The problem,” Gwen said, “is that people are sympathetic at the beginning, and then they think it’s time for you to move on. They don’t realize that grief never leaves you.”
Hattie nodded. Usually, she saved her tears for when she was alone in the shower or walking the dog, but Gwen’s kindness had loosened the bonds of her restraint and for a moment she was afraid she might howl on the spot. Emotion gathered in her throat and bumped against her self-control.
“That’s true. I still miss my dad,” she confessed, “and he died seven years ago.”
Gwen reached out and squeezed her arm. “The people we love never leave us, not really.”
People said that, but it wasn’t true, was it? Brent had definitely left her. And he’d left her with a ton of problems to handle.
“The weather is looking good for our trip home.” Ellen briskly changed the subject. “But before we leave, we have a little something for that treasure of yours.”
“Delphine,” her sister said as if Hattie had numerous treasures to choose from.
“We’d love to say goodbye to her.”
She pulled herself together.
“She’s reading a book in my office, with Rufus. I’ll find her.” Rufus, their four-year-old Labrador, had been one of Brent’s better ideas. As well as proving himself to be a dedicated and reliable babysitter, he was also a source of unconditional love and affection. Hattie had shed so many tears into his sleek golden coat over the past two years that he barely ever needed a bath.
“Delphi?” Hattie popped her head round the office door and saw her daughter lying on her stomach, carefully turning the pages of her book while Rufus lay next to her protectively. He lifted his head, ever watchful, and thumped his tail on the floor. Delphi looked up, too.
Her face brightened. “Did you know that a T. rex had sixty teeth?”
“I did not know that. You are always teaching me something.”
“Did dinosaurs go to the dentist?”
“No, they didn’t go to the dentist.” She had no idea where Delphi got her obsession with dinosaurs but it made for non-stop entertainment.
Hattie’s heart suddenly felt full. The child was her whole world.
She was lucky and she needed to remember that.
It seemed like only yesterday she’d discovered she was pregnant. Her daughter was growing up so quickly it was scary. “You can tell me more about the dinosaurs later, but right now the Miss Bishops would like to say goodbye to you.”
“They’re leaving? No! I don’t want them to go.” Delphi scrambled to her feet, her skirt sticking to her tights. “I hate it when people leave.”
Hattie felt her chest ache. “Me, too. But they’ll be back in a month. They’re coming for Christmas, remember?” Providing life didn’t have a nasty shock in store for them, like a brick falling from a building onto their heads just as they were walking past.
She had to stop thinking like that.
She was turning into a catastrophist, and she didn’t want her daughter going through life afraid of everything, anticipating disaster at every turn.
Delphi sprinted out of the office and hugged the Miss Bishops tightly.
“Don’t go. I want you to stay forever.”
“Things move on, honey. That’s life.” Gwen stroked Delphi’s hair gently, and Ellen’s eyes grew misty.
“Dear child. We’ll be back soon and in the meantime, we have something for you. A gift.”
The sisters took it in turns to hug Delphi and then gave her a prettily wrapped package.
“A gift?” Delphi’s eyes widened and she took the package carefully. “But it’s not Christmas yet.”
“This isn’t a Christmas gift,” Ellen said. “In fact, it’s hardly a gift at all. It’s a book, and my sister and I think of a book as a necessity rather than a luxury.”
“What’s a necess-ary?” Delphi stumbled over the word.
“A necessity is something you need,” Gwen said, “like food or water.”
“Sometimes Rufus thinks books are food.” Delphi fiddled with the ribbon. “Can I open it?” She looked at her mother for permission and Hattie smiled.
“How very kind. Yes, you can. And what do you say to the Miss Bishops?”
“Thank you.” Delphi tugged at the ribbon and tore the paper. “Thank you, thank you.”
“I know you love books, dear,” Gwen said and Ellen nodded.
“Books can take you to a different world.”
A different world would be nice, Hattie thought. She’d like to be in a world that still had Brent in it, and also her dad. And with luck, her alternate world wouldn’t include Stephanie or Chef Tucker or anyone who used shouting as their primary form of communication.
She helped the Bishop sisters with their luggage and when she returned to reception the phone was ringing again.
She was about to reach for it when Stephanie stepped in front of her.
“This issue is not resolved. Either Chloe goes, or I go.”
Hattie resisted the temptation to say Go! Right now. She couldn’t afford to lose anyone, and besides, firing Stephanie would make her feel disloyal to Brent. She was trying to hold together what he’d started, not let it unravel.
The phone was still ringing, and her insides tightened with stress. If she moved to answer it, Stephanie would think she wasn’t taking her seriously.
“I hope you know how much I value you, Stephanie.” Her palms itched to pick up the phone. “You’re an important part of the Maple Sugar Inn family.” She shuddered. The thought of Stephanie as family was a step too far.
“Then something needs to change or I’m going to have a meltdown.” With that warning, Stephanie stalked away and Hattie stared after her.
I’m going to have a meltdown, too.
She turned to answer the phone but Delphi reached it first. “Maple Sugar Inn, Delphine Maisy Coleman speaking,” she spoke carefully, enunciating every word. “How may I help you?”
She glanced guiltily at her mother. She knew she wasn’t supposed to answer the phone but that didn’t stop her doing it.
“Mrs. Peterson!” A smile spread across her face. “I’ve got books! New books.”
Hattie listened as Delphi told their neighbor about her latest gift, stumbling over the words in her excitement.
“Mommy can’t talk now because she’s having a meltdown.”
Hattie winced. Had she actually said those words aloud? She needed to be more careful, particularly in front of Delphi, who was like a sponge, soaking up everything around her. Everything she overheard was stored away and then repeated at the worst possible moment.
She held out her hand for the phone and Delphi handed it over, slid off the chair and headed back to the office, where Rufus was waiting patiently, his head on his paws.
“Hello, Lynda. How are you?”
“I’m fine, honey, but how are you? We haven’t seen you for a while. Delphi said you were having a meltdown.”
“She misheard. It’s a new dessert we’re trying in the restaurant.” Hattie improvised wildly. “It’s a chocolate pudding filled with melted chocolate. We’re calling it a meltdown.”
“Sounds delicious. I can’t wait to try it. I know I say this all the time, but Delphi is a delight. You’re a wonderful mother, Hattie, and you’re coping so well. Brent would be proud.”
Would he?
Was she coping? She was surviving, but was that the same thing?
She knew she was lucky to have neighbors like the Petersons. They owned the farm adjacent to the inn and supplied produce to the kitchens, and also the Christmas trees that Hattie used to decorate for the holidays. What had started as a business relationship had turned into a deep friendship.
Lynda had once mentioned how much she would have loved to have a daughter, and Hattie had been tempted to reply, Adopt me, I’m available.
“Hattie?” Lynda’s voice was gentle. “Are you doing okay, honey?”
“Yes. Absolutely. Brilliant.”
“Because if you need help, you know we’re here. Noah can be over there in a flash if there’s something that needs fixing.”
She grew tense and her heart pumped a little harder. “He doesn’t need to come over. Everything is good.”
Noah was the Petersons’ son, and he worked the farm with his father.
He’d been a good friend to Hattie, until a few weeks earlier when she’d ruined everything. It had been the night of the Halloween party that the Petersons held every year on their farm for the local community. The children dressed up, there were ghost hunts and spooky experiences and plenty of sugar-loaded treats.
And there was Noah.
She closed her eyes. She’d promised herself she wasn’t going to think about it again. It was just a kiss; that was all. She’d been having a really bad day, feeling lost and lonely and a little afraid of the future and he’d been there, broad shouldered and solid, kind and yes—she was going to admit it—sexy. She was a widow—she hated that word so much—and Noah was single, so there really wasn’t an issue except that now she felt embarrassed, and horribly awkward and not at all sure what she’d say when she saw him again.
Worst of all she felt guilty. She’d loved Brent. She still loved Brent. She’d always love Brent. But she’d kissed Noah, and that single, earthshattering, mind-blowing kiss had been the best thing that had happened to her in the past two years, and also the most confusing.
“Don’t send Noah. Nothing needs fixing, Lynda.” Except her. She definitely needed fixing. Why had she kissed Noah? She could blame the dark or being spooked by the ghost noises the kids made in the forest, or the glass of “witches’ brew” that had turned out to be a great deal more potent than she’d imagined and guaranteed to knock the most hardened witch right off her broomstick. But mostly she blamed herself. “Are you calling for a reason?”
“Yes. Noah wanted to know if you’ve decided on your Christmas tree order for this year. He’ll want to reserve the best for you.”
The fact that he hadn’t called himself told her he regretted their encounter as much as she did.
“I need to have a think, Lynda, but I’ll email Noah soon.”
“Email?” Lynda sounded mildly bemused. “You could just tell him in person, honey.”
She could, but that would mean actually looking him in the eye and she wasn’t ready for that. She was pretty sure he wasn’t, either. She knew little about his relationship history. He’d lived in Boston after he graduated and had worked for a digital marketing company. Seeing how comfortable he was working outdoors, she struggled to imagine him in a glass-fronted office staring at a screen, but apparently that was what he’d done until his father had crashed one of the tractors and narrowly escaped with his life. Noah had returned home and he’d worked the farm with his parents ever since, spending any free time he had converting one of the barns into a home for himself.
“He’s busy, and I’m busy and I could call obviously, but email might be easier.” Also less awkward for both of them.
Lynda paused. “Whatever is best for you, of course. When you decide, just let us know. And you and Delphi should come up here that first weekend in December like you did last year. We’ll be doing sled rides and snowshoeing. The two of you could help me make some of the wreaths and garlands and then you can head out into the forest with Noah and pick a special tree for your own living room. I’d love to see you, and it would be fun for Delphi. Remember when she used to call Noah ‘the Christmas tree man’?”
“I do. She still thinks of him that way.” Maybe she could somehow arrange for Delphi and Noah to choose a tree together and she could help Lynda in the kitchen.
“The Maple Sugar Inn is always a picture at Christmas. I know it’s a busy time, so you’re to promise me you’ll reach out if you need anything.”
“I will.” Hattie was touched by Lynda’s kindness. “Thank you.”
“It has been tough for you, I know. Life has pulled the rug out from under your feet, that’s for sure, but there’s some comfort in knowing that you’re living your dream.”
No, Hattie thought, she wasn’t living her dream. She was living Brent’s dream, and it wasn’t the same thing. But she couldn’t possibly tell anyone that. This place had meant everything to Brent, and all of their savings had gone into making it what it was today. In the beginning she’d had a few ideas of her own, but Brent hadn’t thought they would work so they’d followed his plan. She was the caretaker of his dreams and the pressure was crushing.
What if she messed it all up? She loved the guests and enjoyed making their stay special but managing the staff was killing her.
Perhaps that was why she’d kissed Noah. For a brief time she’d wanted to throw off the weight of life and feel young, and light and lost in the moment instead of weighed down by responsibility and anxiety for the future.
She was twenty-eight, and most of the time she felt a hundred.
Having assured Lynda again that she absolutely did not need help, she ended the call and felt Delphi’s arms wrap around her legs.
“Mommy, are you sad?”
Hattie pulled herself together. “I’m not sad. This isn’t my sad face. It’s my thoughtful face.”
“Are you thinking about Christmas? I think about Christmas a lot.”
“Yes, I was absolutely thinking about Christmas.” Not Noah, or the seductive pressure of his mouth, or that fleeting moment when she’d felt that maybe, just maybe, life might be good again one day if she could just hold on. “Can’t wait.”
“Can we get a tree tomorrow?” Delphi gazed up at her hopefully and she stroked her daughter’s hair, feeling those soft curls tickle her palm.
“Not yet, honey. We have to wait until the first week of December, otherwise the tree will be—” She paused. Dead wasn’t her favorite word right now “—tired. It will be tired by the time Christmas Day comes.”
And the tree wasn’t the only one who would be tired.
As the Bishop sisters would say—that’s life.
She needed a miracle, but those were thin on the ground so she was willing to settle for a chef who didn’t have anger-management issues, a housekeeper who didn’t have a permanent sense of humor failure, and friendly guests.

Was she really going to do this? It broke all her rules. It was everything she avoided.
Maybe turning forty had blown something in her brain.
Erica lay on her stomach on the bed, feeling as if she was about to step over a cliff edge. Her laptop screen displayed an image of a picture book-perfect inn, surrounded by snow and bathed in a holiday glow. Lights shone from the windows. It was described by reviewers as magical and romantic. Erica didn’t believe in magic, and she wasn’t romantic. She stared at it and felt her heart start to pound. Doubts burrowed into her brain and nudged at her resolve. Once she did it, that was it. There was no changing her mind. No rowing back on the decision.
Muttering under her breath, she stood up and paced to the window of her hotel room. Beyond the windows the city was alive with activity. People walked quickly, heads down, wrapped up against the bitter cold. In the square below people seemed to be setting up some sort of market.
She leaned her head against the glass.
What was wrong with her? She was a decisive person, and she’d made this decision the same way she made all her decisions, by considering pros and cons. There was no logical reason to feel stressed. And yet, here she was, stressed.
On impulse, she reached for her phone.
If she was doing this, then she needed her friends there.
Feeling shaky and a little unsteady, she tried Claudia first but it went straight to voice mail, which worried her a little. Claudia’s ten-year relationship had imploded six months earlier and she’d been having a difficult time. Erica called her frequently to check on her, and usually she picked up right away.
But not today.
She tried calling again, and this time considered leaving a message, but decided against it. What would she say? Hey, it’s Erica and I need you to stop me doing something I’m going to regret. Claudia had enough problems of her own.
She called Anna instead.
Her friend answered almost immediately.
“Erica! I didn’t expect to hear from you today. I thought you were traveling.” There was a clatter in the background. “How does it feel to be forty? Is it any different? I’m not sure whether I should be dreading the day or not. Will I need a therapist? I can’t wait to get together so I can celebrate with you.”
Erica waited until her friend paused to take a breath. “Forty feels no different from thirty-nine.” That wasn’t quite true, but she didn’t intend to dwell on it. “Thanks for your birthday message. Your singing is still awful, by the way. Took me right back to college and having to use earphones whenever you took a shower.”
“Pete would sympathize with you, but I love singing so I’m not going to stop for anyone. So what’s wrong? Tell me.”
“Why would anything be wrong?”
“Because you don’t normally call me at breakfast time,” Anna said. “You’re usually in a meeting.”
“I’m in Berlin. It’s lunchtime.”
“Berlin? I’m envious. Are you visiting the Christmas markets?”
Erica glanced back toward the window, wondering if that was what was happening in the square below. “Of course I’m not visiting the Christmas markets. This is me you’re talking to. I’m working. There’s a conference. Also, it’s November.”
“Christmas markets are often open in November. You could sneak out, surely.”
How could two people who were so different be such good friends?
“I could sneak out, but why would I?”
“To enjoy yourself? To get in the Christmas mood? Any of those things ringing bells? No, I guess not. Never mind. Claudia and I have long since given up trying to fill you with festive joy. So if you’re not calling to make me jealous with talk of gingerbread and handmade crafts, why are you calling?”
“I’m calling because I’ve found the perfect place.” She sat back down on the bed and stared at her laptop screen. It wasn’t a lie. It was the perfect place.
“Perfect place for what?” Anna’s voice was suddenly muffled. “Hold on—”
Erica winced as a loud crash came down her headphones. “What’s that noise? Do you have intruders in the house?”
“Do my kids count as intruders?” Anna sounded distracted, as if Erica’s call was just one of ten things she was doing simultaneously. “If so, then yes—wait a second, Erica, you’ve called at crazy hour.”
Was there a moment in Anna’s household that wasn’t crazy hour? It seemed to Erica that whenever she called, her friend was neck deep in something. Supporting with homework, supervising music practice, washing sports kits, cooking dinners, making packed lunches. Her friend was basically a one-woman room service.
She heard laughter down the phone and then Anna’s voice, slightly distant.
That’s brilliant. So funny, Meg. I love it. But just because you’re a talented artist doesn’t mean you’re allowed to leave your bowl on top of the dishwasher! I know your father does it. That doesn’t mean you have permission to do it. Now go—I’m catching up with Erica.
Conversations with Anna were always the same—noisy and disjointed, punctuated by a background of family activity and interruptions. Part of her found it frustrating—how did Anna stand it?—but another part of her was grateful for moments like this because they made her feel better about her life decisions. Not that she often questioned herself, but occasionally she did. To be in Anna’s house was to be engulfed by warmth, wrapped and supported by those closely intertwined threads of family love. It made Erica feel unsettled. It made her question decisions she didn’t want to question. It made her wonder if she’d made all the wrong choices.
But she knew she hadn’t. Everyone thought that having a family was the best thing. But was it, really? Would she want what Anna had?
No, she would not. Yes, there were occasions when she envied her friend her warm, stable family and at other times—and this was one of them—she was grateful for her independent, uninterrupted single life where her only real responsibility was to herself.
She felt a pleasurable rush of anticipation as she contemplated the afternoon and evening ahead. After this call she’d do the work she needed to do, then she’d be heading to the hotel spa for an indulgent massage before dining alone at the table with the best view in the restaurant.
She didn’t have to cook her own meal—someone would do it for her. She didn’t have to launder clothes—the hotel would do that, and return them perfectly pressed. She didn’t have to worry about loading the dishwasher. And as for being alone—well, alone didn’t worry her. She’d been alone for most of her life. She knew that some people pitied her, and their sympathy made her smile because they had no idea just how good alone could feel.
In her case it was a choice, not a curse. Right now, listening to her friend trying to extract herself from domestic demands, it felt like the best possible choice.
In her life she was her number-one priority and for that she had no intention of apologizing.
“Are you still there?” Anna was breathless. “Sorry about that.”
“Bad time?” She said it lightly. “Shall I call back?”
“No! It’s been ages since we talked. I really want to catch up. But Meg just drew this brilliant cartoon—I’ll send it to you. Oh, wait a minute—Meg, don’t forget your art project!”
Erica sighed. She probably had time to check over her presentation while she waited. Or maybe even write a novel. And why was Anna reminding Meg not to forget her art project?
She knew nothing about raising children, but she did know that encouraging dependence helped no one. Her mother had never reminded her about anything. If Erica forgot something then she was expected to take the consequences, and if those consequences were harsh then it would serve as a reminder not to forget next time.
Erica’s father had walked out on them when she was born, apparently after seeing Erica for the first time—she tried not to take it personally. He’d left Erica’s mother with heartache, a baby and a bundle of stress and anxiety. Although she had no memory of him, Erica had, over the years, witnessed the impact of his behavior. She’d watched her mother struggle, and understood and admired her determination to never again rely on anyone.
She also understood that her mother’s experience had impacted on the way she’d raised Erica. She’d insisted that Erica do everything herself, from homework to tying her shoelaces. If she fell over, then she had to figure out a way to get up again. Her mother refused to pick her up. If she failed an exam, then her mother told her to work harder. If Erica had a problem, then it was up to her to find a solution. Her mother never solved anything for her.
And it seemed like a good upbringing to Erica. After all, she’d turned out just fine, hadn’t she? Thanks to a powerful work ethic, she was financially independent. She didn’t have to clear up after anyone, or share the controls of her wickedly indulgent media system. There were no fights about laundry or homework. No putting herself last as women with children so often did. She didn’t expect anyone to do anything for her. And she didn’t need a man to make her life complete. She’d seen her mother work herself to the point of burnout to compensate for her father’s deficiencies. She’d played the role of both parents, thus proving to Erica that men were like candy. Fine as an occasional treat, but not necessary for survival.
Thinking how right her life was made her wonder why she was about to do something that felt so wrong.
“I’m still here! Don’t hang up.” Anna’s voice was barely audible above the sound of running water and multiple conversations. “Do not feed that to the dog or our next trip will be to the vet! Wait a moment. I’m going to lock myself in Pete’s study.”
Erica reflected on the fact that the only way her friend could have an uninterrupted conversation was to lock herself in her husband’s home office.
Anna was nothing like Erica’s mother. Anna was one of those mothers you read about in books. If her kids fell over, not only did she help them up, but she also gave them hugs, kind words and cookies. If they needed help, she offered it willingly. She considered it her job to cushion her family. Erica had no doubt that Anna would fling herself in front of a car if it meant saving one of her children. It was all very nurturing and safe, but it was a world far from Erica’s experience.
“Where’s Pete?”
“Not in his study, fortunately. He’s back in the office three days a week. I miss not having him around, to be honest.” The clattering and banging faded and then a door slammed and Anna sighed. “Peace. Finally. I don’t suppose you want to swap lives?”
Erica tried not to shudder.
“We both know you love your life. So…what’s going on with you?”
“Wow, where to start?” Anna sounded breathless. “It’s been busy here. Pete got a promotion, so that’s good but he’s working longer hours. Meg won an art prize and—get this—she’s started knitting. She says it relaxes her. Expect a new sweater for Christmas. I’ve already told her that I’ll tolerate reindeer, but I’m not wearing a giant grinning Santa. Daniel is doing fine, although he’s been a bit quiet lately. I’m sure something is going on but so far I haven’t been able to persuade him to talk about it. If something is wrong with Meg she just lets it all out, but boys are different. I really encourage him to express his feelings—I don’t want him to be one of those men who just won’t talk—” Anna rambled on for another five minutes and eventually, Erica interrupted.
“What about you? What’s happening in your life?”
“I’ve just been telling you about my life.”
“No. So far, I’ve heard about the kids and Pete. Nothing about you.”
“This is my life. The kids and Pete. And the house, of course. And the dog. Don’t forget the dog. I know, I know, you think I’m boring, but honestly I love it.”
They both laughed and Erica wondered whether if she’d met a man like Pete on her first day in college, her life might have turned out differently. “You’re not boring. And you two are ridiculously cute together, even after all these years.”
Anna herself wasn’t boring, but Erica had to admit that sometimes her life seemed boring. She tried to imagine a day without international travel, the buzz of work, the high she got from securing a deal or being called in to handle a crisis situation when everyone else was floundering.
“Well, thank you, but that’s enough about me—I want to hear about you. I want to know more about your birthday. And what are you doing in Berlin?”
“I’m speaking at a conference on crisis management this afternoon.” Erica glanced at the stack of papers on the table by the window.
Anna gave a moan of envy. “I shouldn’t have asked. You’re no doubt staying in a five-star hotel with room service and an incredible spa.”
Erica thought about the massage awaiting her. “The spa is good.”
“Tell me all about it, but start with your birthday. Please tell me you spent it with a gorgeous man.”
Erica smiled. “I spent the evening with Jack.”
“Sexy Jack the lawyer?” Anna gasped and then laughed. “Tell me! And do not leave out a single detail.”
“Nothing to tell. Jack and I often hook up if we both happen to be in town and have an event to attend. You know that. It’s not serious, and it’s how we both like it.”
“Erica, you’re forty. Hooking up is for twenty-somethings. And you’ve been sleeping together for at least two years. It’s time sexy Jack started leaving a toothbrush at your place.”
It was such a typically Anna response that Erica rolled her eyes. “I’m not sure who would be more horrified by that idea, him or me. And could you stop calling him sexy Jack?”
“Why? I’ve seen his photo. Claudia and I looked him up. He could defend me in court any day. So you’re saying he didn’t stay the night?”
“He stayed until about three in the morning and then took a cab home.” She didn’t confess that he’d suggested staying and that she’d almost agreed. Force of habit and relentless discipline had stopped her, but the impulse had shaken her.
Turning forty had definitely affected her brain. She and Jack had an understanding, and staying overnight and enjoying leisurely breakfasts was an intimacy neither of them wanted. They’d met when she’d needed legal advice for one of her clients, and had enjoyed each other’s company sufficiently that they’d started seeing each other casually. A dinner here. An event there. There was no routine to it and no assumptions of commitment.
“You should invite him to stay. Go away for a weekend or something.”
“Anna, stop.”
“What? I like Jack. Jack is perfect for you.”
“You’ve never met Jack.”
“I feel as if I have. And I love the fact that the two of you have a relationship.”
“We don’t have a relationship. We’re both too busy to nurture a relationship with anyone, which is why if he needs a plus-one for a work event, he calls me. If there’s a play I want to see and I feel like company, I call him. He has a quick brain so occasionally I’ll talk through a work issue with him. That’s it.”
“You’ve missed out the sex part.”
“Yes, we have sex. Great sex. Happy?”
“Very. And so are you, by the sounds of it.” Anna still had the same filthy giggle she’d had when she was eighteen, and Erica couldn’t help smiling. Deep down Anna was the same person she’d always been. Maybe they all were. Age didn’t change that.
“Calm down. Jack and I are strictly casual.”
“Don’t. You’re breaking my heart. You’re forty, Erica.”
“Could you stop slipping that into every sentence?”
“Sorry, it’s just that I want a happy ending for you.”
“This is my happy ending. This is how I want my life to look.”
Anna sighed. “How long are you in Berlin?”
“Two nights.” Erica glanced at her laptop and felt a twinge of guilt. She probably ought to be working. On the other hand, she could give her presentation in her sleep. She’d built up a good team and started to delegate more, giving herself the opportunity to pick and choose how she spent her time.
“I could give a talk on crisis management,” Anna said. “My life is one big crisis, although never of the exciting sort. Yesterday the freezer broke, and the day before that the car died. Anyway, you don’t want to hear about that. You said you’d found the perfect place. For what?”
Erica kept her voice casual. “For our book club meetup in December.”
“Oh.” Anna’s tone changed.
“What? We talked about this. We reserved the date.”
“Provisionally. But that was back in the summer because Claudia was a mess so we couldn’t make our usual week. No one mentioned it again so I thought we’d all agreed it wouldn’t work.”
“Why wouldn’t it work? The basic ingredients are all the same. We are the Hotel Book Club. This is the point where I remind you that I wanted to call it the Luxury Hotel Book Club just so that there could be no confusion about where I wanted to be staying, but the point is all we need is a hotel, a book and the three of us. That’s it.”
“It’s not the book club that’s the problem. It’s the time of year. It feels weird going away so close to Christmas. Christmas is family time. Buying the tree, wrapping the presents, decorating the house. We have a routine. Traditions. Sorry, I know you don’t do any of that. Am I being tactless?”
“Why would that be tactless? You know I’m not sentimental about the holidays.”
“I know, but that date you picked is when we head to the forest to choose our tree. We’ve done it every year since the kids were born. It’s their favorite tradition. I’d hate to disappoint them.”
Erica tried to relate and failed. For her, Christmas was just another day of the week. Growing up, her mother had encouraged her to fly the nest and live her own life as soon as possible. Never once had she suggested they choose a Christmas tree together.
“You just had Thanksgiving together.”
“Christmas is different.”
“Get your tree at the beginning of December. That way you’ll be able to enjoy treading on fallen needles for longer. Your kids can’t be your life, Anna. That puts pressure on them, and on you. And they’re adults now.”
“Ha! You wouldn’t always know that,” Anna said. “Do you have any idea how complicated a teenager can be?”
No, of course she didn’t know. She’d never been in a position where she’d contemplated having children, and she had no regrets about that. Her career was exciting and constantly stimulating. Would she have been prepared to sacrifice that to stay at home and argue about loading a dishwasher and feeding the dog? No way.
“We’re talking about one week, Anna, that’s all. You’ll be back before Christmas, so you’ll have plenty of time to deck the halls or whatever it is you do. Friend time and family time. Best of both worlds.”
“I need to think about it,” Anna said. “It’s my favorite time of year and I really want to feel Christmassy. No offense, but Christmas stuff makes you shudder.”
“I promise not to shudder.” Erica didn’t have much clue what feeling Christmassy involved, but she was willing to do some research and provide whatever was needed to keep her friend happy. Surely you could book these things as extras in a hotel? “And if you want Christmassy, then you’re going to love the place I’ve found. It’s idyllic. Quaint.” Her heart beat a little faster. “Even Santa would drool over it.”
“I don’t believe you. You choose sophisticated boutique hotels that make me want to redecorate my home. You don’t do quaint.”
“This time I have, but fortunately I’ve done it without sacrificing luxury. It’s the perfect compromise for everyone.”
“Mmm.” Anna clearly needed convincing. “What about the book? Have we decided what we’re reading? These days I fall asleep standing up so reading takes me a while. Did you talk to Claudia about doing book club in December?”
“I tried. She’s not picking up. I’ll call her later. She sounded really down when I spoke to her a few days ago so I want to check on her. After everything that has happened this year, a week away somewhere might be just what she needs.”
“You’re right. It’s time to help her get back on her feet,” Anna said. “But much as I love Claudia I do not want to plough my way through another biography of a chef or a politician as our book choice.”
Trying to find a book that appealed to all of them was always a challenge. Anna loved romantic fiction, Erica enjoyed thrillers and true crime, while Claudia preferred nonfiction.
“I was going to suggest the new Catherine Swift. It’s called Her Last Lover.”
“What?” Anna choked with laughter. “I’m officially worried. First, you tell me you’ve found somewhere Christmassy to stay, and now you’re reading romance? Is this what hitting forty has done to you?”
“This isn’t a romance.”
“She’s a romance novelist. I’ve read every single book she has written, most of them more than once. And you said the book is called Her Last Lover. That’s romantic. The last man she ever loves.”
“It’s not romantic. He’s her last lover because she kills him.”
“Oh!” Anna’s shock reverberated down the phone. “Are you sure you have the right author? Catherine Swift?”
“I think she’s writing this one under L.C. Swift or something. But the book is a thriller. The reviews are excellent and the movie is already in production.”
“I didn’t know she’d switched genres,” Anna said. “You’ve just broken my heart. Her last book was brilliant. Made me cry. That ending. Is this one scary? You know I don’t do scary.”
“I haven’t read it yet, but I promise we can keep the lights on if you’re scared. I’ve ordered you both a copy. Arriving tomorrow.”
“Does it have blood on the cover? I hate books that have blood on the cover.”
“No blood. Just a wedding ring and a very sharp-looking knife.” She could almost feel Anna’s shudder. “I’ll cover it in snowflake paper if that helps. Aren’t you a little intrigued as it’s Catherine Swift and she is your favorite author?”
“I don’t know. But I’m a little relieved you haven’t had a personality transplant overnight. I was starting to worry. Now, tell me more about this place you’ve found for us to stay.”
Erica felt something uncurl inside her. “I’ve sent you a link. Check your email.”
There was a pause and a sound of keys being tapped. “Okay, now I’m sure you’ve had a bang on the head,” Anna said. “This is—wow. It looks like something from a fairy tale.”
Fairy tales often had grim endings, Erica thought, and felt another stab of doubt.
“You approve?”
“Yes, although—” there was another pause “—this really doesn’t seem like you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re a city person,” Anna said. “This place will be all about snowshoeing and cozy nights in front of the fire with hot cocoa. I’m the one who loves fresh air and walks in the country. You’re all about bright lights, cocktails and designer shopping.”
“That’s true, but I do that all the time. This is an escape.”
Escape? Who was she kidding?
“But you don’t usually want to escape. Nothing frustrates you more than being in the middle of nowhere. Remember that summer we booked that hotel in the Catskills? You left a day early.”
She’d forgotten how well Anna knew her.
“There was a crisis.”
“Mmm. I seem to recall that the crisis was that the phone signal was unreliable, which is why we’ve done city breaks ever since. This place you’ve found looks amazing, but it’s not you. What’s going on?”
For a moment she considered telling her friend the truth. All of it, including the real reason she’d chosen this place. But if she told the truth, Anna would ask her lots of probing questions that Erica wasn’t ready to answer.
She wanted to tread cautiously. Anna would dive right in like an out-of-control puppy, creating havoc, and Erica would risk losing control of what happened next. She didn’t want to lose control. Whatever happened, or didn’t happen, she wanted it to be her decision.
“Nothing is going on. I knew the only way to tempt you from your nest at Christmas was to produce the perfect Christmas getaway complete with all the festive trimmings. Instead of the No-Phone-Signal Hotel Book Club, it’s the Christmassy Hotel Book Club. Do you want to come or not?”
“We’ve known each other for twenty years, Erica. I know when you’re keeping secrets.”
“Twenty years? There you go again, reminding me of my age. Pretty soon we’re going to be the Retirement Hotel Book Club.” Her phone beeped with another call and she checked the screen.
Her heart jumped. That, she had not expected. Why was he calling her? He knew she was traveling this week.
She had a brief flashback to the night of her birthday, the long, leisurely dinner in a restaurant with jaw-dropping views over Manhattan. The food had been memorable, the wine delicious, but best of all was the company. Jack had made her laugh, and he’d made her feel fabulous. As if being forty was the beginning of a whole new exciting stage of her life. After dinner they’d gone back to her apartment…
She frowned, remembering. The sex had been different. Slower, more intense, more—intimate?
She stared at her phone. If Jack needed her company at an event he would have mentioned it when they were together. Or maybe it was something that had just come up, in which case he could leave a message.
She let the call go to voice mail and turned her attention back to Anna, who was still questioning Erica’s choice. “How did you even find this inn?”
She could imagine her friend’s reaction if she told the truth.
A private investigator.
“I was reading a feature on cozy winter stays.” And now she was beginning to wish she hadn’t suggested it. She could have gone on her own for a weekend to find the answers to the questions that were buzzing in her brain. She didn’t have to involve her friends. “I can find somewhere else if you prefer.”
“Don’t you dare! This place looks perfect,” Anna said. “Special. And we both know Claudia will approve because it has an award-winning restaurant and that’s the only bit that matters to her.”
Deep down had she been hoping her friend would express a preference for somewhere in the city? Or decide that she didn’t want to do this at all? That she would somehow stop Erica making what could turn out to be a huge mistake?
But far from talking her out of it, Anna seemed won over by the place.
“They have three rooms vacant. I just checked. Would they reserve them for a short time while I talk to the family? I want to see if they’re okay with it and I don’t want to lose those rooms in the meantime.”
Erica tried to imagine having to get three people’s permission before doing anything. Total nightmare. Apparently, hitting forty hadn’t changed her that much.
“I can call, but it’s only a couple of weeks away so no guarantee they will hold the rooms.”
“Your powers of persuasion are legendary. Twenty-four hours,” Anna said. “That’s all I need. And anyway, we can’t confirm until you’ve spoken to Claudia.”
“Fine, I’ll call them.”
She felt like Pandora, about to open the box.
If they lost the rooms, then that would be it. Decision made.
But if the rooms were available then this was actually going to happen, and in a few weeks she’d be checking in to the Maple Sugar Inn.
Which might turn out to be the worst idea of her life.

Snowed in For Christmas is a 99p deal!

Snowed in For Christmas is 99p for readers in the UK! If you’re looking for something to put you in a festive mood, then snap it up quickly from your favourite retailer (it’s available on Kindle, Apple Books, GooglePlay and Kobo). And if you’re too busy to read right now, download it for later – you can hide behind the Christmas tree with your book and a hot chocolate (or a glass of something stronger!)
Happy reading



Summer Wedding


For the first time in her life she was planning to kill someone.

She never would have thought herself capable of such a thing—she was a romance novelist! Romance novelists didn’t kill people, but she was now forced to consider the unsettling possibility that perhaps she didn’t know herself as well as she’d thought. Perhaps she wasn’t, after all, a person with a kind and gentle disposition. She’d always thought of herself that way, and yet here she was typing a variety of decidedly ungentle questions into her browser and feeling a thrill of interest. Her fingers shook on the keyboard.

How to kill someone and leave no trace.

Best way to kill someone

Murders that remain unsolved.

It had to look like an accident, she’d decided. People would be sad, and probably shocked because death is always shocking even when it is expected. The one thing they wouldn’t be was suspicious, because she was going to be clever. It would be called an “accidental death.” No one would know the truth.

But was the truth really so bad? Was it truly wrong, when she was delivering justice?

The man deserved it, after all.

In fact, if she were truly giving him what he deserved, her search would read how to kill someone in the most painful way possible.

She stared through the window at the smooth calm of the Mediterranean Sea, so many shades of blue and dazzling in the sunshine. She’d decided long ago that the island of Corfu was her paradise. Sun-baked olive groves, soft sand, ocean waves, leisurely days, slow delicious dreams—those, surely, were the ingredients for a perfect life. It was a place where problems were suspended; a place for happiness, for relaxation, for nothing but good things. But expecting nothing but good was a fantasy. She knew that now, just as she knew that light and dark could coexist. The dark often lay hidden, simmering undetected beneath the surface, ready to take a bite out of the unwary, the trusting, those who believed in happy endings. She’d been that person. She’d made so many mistakes.

Lost in the view and her own thoughts, she didn’t hear him enter. She wasn’t aware of his presence until she felt his hand on her shoulder and the sound of his voice.


She jumped and slammed the lid of her laptop shut. Her heart hammered like a fist against a punching bag.

How much had he seen? She was annoyed with herself for not having had the foresight to lock the door. She’d been so absorbed by her thoughts that she hadn’t heard him enter the room.


She needed to up her game if she was actually going to do this. She needed to think like an assassin. She needed to be inscrutable and reveal nothing.

She turned with a smile (did assassins ever smile? She had no idea). “I didn’t know you were awake. It’s early.”

“I didn’t mean to surprise you. I know you hate being disturbed when you’re working, but I woke up and missed you. I came to offer you strong coffee.” He brushed his fingers across her jaw. “You look tense. Is something wrong?”

So much for being inscrutable.

She wasn’t built for a life of crime, but fortunately she wasn’t considering a whole life, just this one teeny tiny murder. That was it. She had no expectations of enjoying it and didn’t intend it to become habitual.

“Nothing’s wrong.” She couldn’t even lie without feeling guilty, which didn’t bode well.

They shared everything—well, almost everything—but there was no way she was sharing this. Not yet. One day, maybe, if she actually went ahead with it. If it all went as planned, then of course he’d find out, but until then she had to keep silent. This was something she had to do by herself.

What would he say if he knew what was really going on in her head?

Would he try to talk her out of it? Tell her that her plan was foolish and dangerous? Or would he preach acceptance and tell her that she just had to let it go. That this wasn’t the answer. He’d probably tell her to move on.

And that was what she was doing, of course.

This was her way of moving on. And not before time.

He bent to kiss her. “I love you, Catherine Swift.”

She felt the brush of his lips and the answering warmth that rushed through her body.

It felt jarring to go from death to love but that was life, wasn’t it? Brutal in its extremes. And assassins were people too. They were allowed a love life.

For the first time in weeks, she felt optimistic and hopeful. She’d been smothered in a dark cloud of gloom, fueled by bitter resentment. She’d felt like a failure for letting it reach this point. She hadn’t been able to see a way forward, but now she could.

The future was clear to her. All she needed was courage.

It was time to make a fresh start. Time to put the past behind her and reinvent herself.

It was a just a shame that someone had to die.




Adeline Swift was on a call with the features editor of Woman Now when the letter was pushed through the door of her apartment.

“The thing is,” Erin was saying, “your advice column has the highest readership of any section of the magazine. People really seem to connect with it. With you. The market research we did recently suggests that seventy percent of people would rather ask you for advice than their best friend. Can you believe that?”

Yes, she could believe that. Few people reached adulthood without suffering some degree of emotional hangover from the past. Hurt. Resentment. Shame. Disappointment. Grief. Regret. Life left scars and you had to find a way to live with those scars. Some people chose denial as a strategy. Ignore it. Leave it in the past. Move on. Others confronted those emotions and spent hours in therapy trying to understand how the past affected the present, in the hope of reaching a point of acceptance. Most just struggled along by themselves, striding and occasionally stumbling, handling the ups and downs of life as best they could. After a few too many drinks they might confide in a friend, but more often than not they’d stay silent because revealing those deep secrets and fears, those most personal parts of yourself, was a risk. It said this is who I really am, instead of this is who Im pretending to be.

It was those people, alone with their fears, who often wrote to Adeline.

Dear Dr. Swift

They poured out their problems in the hope that in a few well-chosen words she would help them resolve their crisis, or at least feel better about their situation.

Adeline delivered calm analysis, sympathy, and the occasional pep talk. She employed a mix of empathy, experience, and plain speaking when crafting her answers. It was a combination that worked for people. She fulfilled the role of a sympathetic stranger, someone who would listen without judgment and respect anonymity. But that role meant she existed in a world of problems. In her working day, she was buffeted by the challenges of life, drenched in the pain of others, required to ponder at length on everything from infidelity to unemployment. When people asked how she coped with it, she pointed out that it was easy to cope with a drama that wasn’t your own.

When the drama was hers? That was different.

She stared at the envelope.

It rested innocently on the floor, dazzling white against wide oak planks. Even without picking it up, she could see that the paper was high quality, and embossed. Her name and address were written out in a bold script that was instantly recognizable.

Her heart beat a little faster. Emotions rushed her, buffeting her like a gust of wind. She placed her hand on her diaphragm and forced herself to breathe slowly. She was an adult with her own life, a good life, and yet this small inanimate object had ruined the calm of her day.

And she hadn’t even opened it yet.

Her first impulse was to tear it up without opening it, but that would be immature, and she tried very hard not to be immature and to always exercise self-control.

She tried to be the person she pretended to be in her advice column.

“Adeline?” Erin’s voice wafted into her conscious. “Are you still there?”

“Yes. Still here. I’m listening.” But her focus wasn’t on Erin.

She should open the envelope right now. Or she could simply drop it into the recycling without opening it. She imagined what “Dr. Swift” would have to say about that approach.


With a sigh, she picked it up. She could put it to one side and open it later, but then she’d be thinking about it all afternoon. If she was advising someone in this situation, she’d say that no good ever came from delaying the inevitable and that the anticipation was often worse than the reality. That no matter what lay inside the envelope, she had the tools and mental fortitude to handle it.

Did she though?

Still holding the envelope, she walked across her apartment, opened the French doors and stepped onto her small balcony. The tension in her neck and shoulders drained away. She breathed in the rich scent of honeysuckle, the sweetness of jasmine. Bees hummed around slender spikes of purple lavender. The space was small, but she’d chosen the plants carefully and the end result was an explosion of bloom and colour that felt like an oasis of calm in the busy, noisy city she’d made her home. She loved London, but she appreciated being able to retreat from the blare of car horns, the crush of people and the frenetic pace. Sometimes it felt to her as if everyone was living their lives on fast forward.

In creating her balcony garden, she’d followed the advice she’d given to a reader who had moved to the city from a rural area and was struggling with anxiety as a result.

Adeline had interviewed a horticulturist and compiled her answer accordingly.

Dear Sad in the City, you may not live in the country, but you can still welcome nature into your life. A few well-chosen houseplants can add calm to the smallest living space, and a pot of fragrant herbs grown on a sunny windowsill will bring a touch of the Mediterranean into your home and into your cooking.

After she’d finished researching her answer, she’d gone out and purchased plants for herself, acting on the advice she’d just given her reader. She’d also written two features for other publications on the same topic. It was how she made her living.

She’d trained as a clinical psychologist and had been in practice for six months when a chance meeting with a journalist had resulted in a request to give an interview on a morning chat show on managing stress in the workplace. That interview had led to more requests, which in turn had led to a writing career that she enjoyed more than practicing as a psychologist. Writing enabled her to maintain a level of detachment that had been missing when she’d seen clients face-to-face.

Adeline preferred to be detached.

She put the envelope down on the small table and forced herself to concentrate on the conversation.

“I’m glad the advice column is working out, Erin.”

She was glad, and not only because the column kept her profile high and led to more work than she could handle. The popularity of the column pleased her. It was gratifying to know that people were finding it useful.

She knew how it felt to be lost and confused. She knew how it felt to struggle with emotions that were too ugly and uncomfortable for public display. She knew how it felt to be alone, to be drowning with no lifeboat in sight, to be falling with no cushion to soften the landing.

If the skills she’d learned to help herself could be used to help another person, then she was satisfied. When she was writing her column, she thought of herself not as a psychologist, but as a trusted best friend. Someone who would tell you the truth.

The one truth she never shared was that there were some hurts that no therapist in the world could heal. That knowledge she kept to herself. People assumed she had her own life sorted, and she had no intention of destroying that image. It would hardly fill people with confidence if they knew she was wrestling with problems of her own.

“Good? It’s better than good.” Erin was buoyant, euphoric, proud, because she was the one who had originally had the idea for the “Dr. Swift Says” column. “You’re a hit, Adeline. The suits want to give you more space.”

Adeline deadheaded a geranium and removed a couple of dead leaves. “More space?”

“Yes. Instead of answering one question in depth, we were thinking four.”

Adeline frowned. “It’s important to give a full answer. If someone is desperate, then they need empathy and a full response. They don’t need to be brushed aside with a few lines of platitudes.”

“You wouldn’t be capable of producing an answer that wasn’t empathetic. It’s your gift. You write so beautifully—I suppose in that way you’re like your mother.”

Adeline clenched her hand around the leaves. “I’m nothing like my mother.”

“No, of course you’re not. What you write is totally different. But Adeline, this is huge. I don’t need to tell you what’s happening to freelance journalists right now. Everyone is scrabbling for a slice of a shrinking pie, and here you are being offered a big fat slice of your own. They’ll pay you, obviously.”

She was nothing like her mother. Nothing. Her mother’s life was one big romantic fantasy, whereas hers was firmly rooted in reality.

And more work was definitely reality.

Did she want to do it? Money was important up to a point, but so was work-life balance. Even though she mostly worked from home, she set clear boundaries. The first half of the week, she focused on her advice column. Thursdays were set aside for her freelance work. Friday mornings were spent catching up on admin, and then at two o’clock precisely she switched off her work laptop and went swimming. She swam exactly a hundred lengths, loosening up her muscles and washing away the tension of the week. After that, she walked to the local market and picked up fresh fruit and veg for the weekend.

Saturday and Sunday were entirely her own. She intended to keep it that way.

And maybe her life wasn’t exciting, exactly, but it was steady and predictable and that was the way she liked it.

Did she have time to expand the column? Yes. Did she want to expand the column? Maybe.

“I’d want full editorial control.” She bent down and tested the moisture of the soil in one of the planters. “I don’t want my answers edited.”

“As long as you keep the page within the word count, that won’t be a problem.”

“I choose the letters I answer.”

“Goes without saying.”

“I’ll think about it. Thank you. Have a good weekend, Erin.”

She ended the call and finally faced the only letter that mattered to her right now.

She picked it up and opened the envelope carefully. In these days of emails and messaging, only her mother still wrote to her. Adeline pictured her seated at her glass-top desk in the villa, reaching for her favorite pen. The ink had to be exactly the right shade of blue.

She pulled out the pages and smoothed them.

Dearest Adeline

She winced. Everything about her mother was overblown, flowery, exaggerated. The endearment held as much meaning as one of those ridiculous air kisses that people gave each other.

Im writing because I have some exciting news that I wanted to share with you. Im getting married again.

Adeline read the words, and then read them again. Married? Married? Her mother was getting married for a fourth time?

Why? If you failed at something repeatedly, why would you do it again? This wasn’t how relationships were supposed to work. Her mother treated marriage like a game show, or a lottery. She seemed to believe that if she did something enough times, maybe one of those times would work out.

She wanted to scream, a feeling she only ever experienced in relation to her mother. Fortunately for her neighbors, she’d trained herself to keep her frustration inside.

She tipped her head back, closed her eyes and breathed slowly. In, out. In, out.

How could anyone ever think she was even remotely like her mother?

The world would see it as romantic, of course. Catherine Swift, writer of romantic fiction and global bestseller, was once again taking a chance on love.

Give me a break.

Who was she marrying this time?

Adeline opened her eyes and carried on reading the letter. Her mother wanted Adeline to join her on the island of Corfu for two weeks in July (total heart-sink. Adeline couldn’t think of anything worse). All travel would be arranged for her, no expense spared (of course, because her mother lacked many things, but money wasn’t one of them).

She went on to talk about the garden, and how beautiful the villa was right now and how good it would be for Adeline to spend some time relaxing because she worked so hard. She mentioned that Maria, who managed the villa for her, was well. Maria’s cooking was as spectacular as ever, and she’d already planned a delicious menu for the wedding. Her son Stefanos was back on the island running the family boat business and maybe Adeline would enjoy catching up with him as they were once such good friends.


It was a remark typical of her mother, who managed to spin romantic scenarios in the most unlikely of places.

Adeline remembered exactly when she’d last seen Stefanos. She’d been ten years old. He was a couple of years older. For a while, he’d been her best friend, and she’d been his.

It had been two decades since they’d seen each other. What exactly were they going to catch up on? Their whole lives?

The information Adeline really wanted—who her mother was marrying—seemed to be missing.

There was no mention of a man anywhere in the letter. Adeline checked and then checked again. Flicked through the pages. Nothing. No clue.

She’d actually forgotten to mention the name of the man she was marrying. Unbelievable.

She gave a hysterical laugh. Had her mother remembered to invite him to the wedding?

Maybe there wasn’t a groom. Maybe her mother was marrying herself. She was, after all, her own biggest supporter.

My books are my babies, she’d once purred into the camera during an interview on prime-time TV. I love them as I love my own children.

Probably more, Adeline thought savagely as she dropped the letter back onto the table. In fact, definitely more. She’d been ten years old when she’d discovered that painful truth.

Youre going to live with your father, Adeline.

The ache in her chest grew. Old wounds tore open. But this wasn’t only about her. She wasn’t the only one with wounds.

What would this do to her father?

Did he know yet? Had her mother told him?

Hands shaking, dread heavy in her stomach, she reached for her phone and dialed his number. It was just after six in the morning on Cape Cod, but she knew her father would already be awake. He rose early and was often to be found on the beach at dawn, taking photographs or sketching, eager to make the most of the morning light and the solitude. Once other people started to appear, he’d return to his little clapboard beach house tucked behind the dunes, brew some of the strongest coffee known to man and head to his studio to paint. Or maybe today was one of those days when he made the trip into town to teach aspiring artists.

Her father had changed his life after the divorce. He’d given up his job in the city and spent his days focused on Adeline and his hobby, painting. He turned one of the bedrooms into a studio and spent all day splashing paint onto canvases while she was at school. Adeline didn’t know much about art, but those paintings had seemed angry to her. Part of her envied the fact that her father had an outlet for his misery. It had been an awful time.

Originally from Boston, her father had stayed in London for the duration of Adeline’s childhood, but the moment she’d left for college, he’d sold the family home and with the proceeds bought a small apartment so that they had a base in London, and a beach house on Cape Cod. He’d made that his home.

It had been a strange, unsettled childhood, but through all of it she’d never doubted her father’s love. It had been her father who had helped her with homework; her father who had cheered her on at the school sports day and tried to make her a costume for a Halloween party. Her father was the one constant in her life and even though they were no longer living in the same house, or even the same country, she always felt close to him.

Unlike her mother, he’d never married again, and that made her sad. She desperately wanted him to find someone special, someone who deserved him. But he’d stayed resolutely single, and she couldn’t blame him.

Being married to Catherine Swift was surely enough to put a man off marriage for life.

Still, she hated the idea that he’d never recovered from his relationship with her mother.

That was the reason she didn’t want to make this call. However she phrased it, this news was going to upset him. She was about to rip a hole in the life he’d carefully stitched together again.

She waited, holding her breath, and was almost relieved when he didn’t answer because she had no idea what she was going to say.

How was she going to tell him that her mother was getting married yet again?

How could she break the news in a way that wouldn’t cause him pain?

He’d been divorced from Catherine for more than two decades, but Adeline knew he still felt the hurt keenly. He still talked about her mother. Whenever he saw one of her books in a bookshop, he’d pause, pick it up and read the back.

“You can’t switch love on and off, Addy,” he’d said to her once when she’d asked him how he could possibly still have feelings for a woman who had treated him so badly.

Adeline hadn’t pointed out that Catherine seemed to have no problem switching it off.

And here was more evidence to support that. Another wedding. Another victim.

She ended the call without leaving a message. On impulse, she grabbed the letter from the table, stepped back into her apartment and dropped it into the trash on top of a pile of potato peelings and yesterday’s empty yogurt container.

One of the advantages of being an adult was that you could make your own decisions. And she’d made hers.

She wouldn’t be going to the wedding.

There was no way, no way, she was spending two precious weeks of her summer watching her mother making another huge mistake. It would be too difficult. It would unravel everything she kept tightly wound inside her. And the one thing she didn’t need in her life was another stepfather.

She’d send a regretful note, and her good wishes to the bride and groom, even though she didn’t even know his name.

His identity didn’t matter.

Whoever Catherine Swift was marrying this time, she felt sorry for him.

Snowed In For Christmas out in the US and Canada today!

My new book SNOWED IN FOR CHRISTMAS is out in the US and Canada today! I wrote this story last winter, and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed quite so much during my writing day. This book includes three of my favourite things – a sizzling romance (several sizzling romances in fact!), a big, loving complicated family, and Christmas. I fell in love with the characters, and I hope you will too. Most of all I hope this story makes you smile. You can read an extract on my website!

If you’re already a reader of my Christmas books, then I hope you’ll add this one to your list. If you’re new to my stories, then I hope you’ll give this one a try. It’s definitely up there with my favourites.



Snowed In For Christmas


Lucy Clarke pushed her way through the revolving glass doors and sprinted to the reception desk, stripping off her coat and scarf as she ran. She was late for the most important meeting of her life.

“There you are! I’ve been calling you. I’ll take that—” Rhea, the receptionist, rose from her chair and grabbed the coat from her. “Wow. You look stunning. You’re the only person I know who can look good in a Christmas sweater. Where did you find that one?”

“My grandmother knitted it. She said the sparkly yarn was a nightmare to work with. Feels weird wearing it today of all days, but Arnie insisted that we look festive so here I am, bringing the sparkle. They’ve started?” She’d hoped she might just make it, but the desks around her were all empty.

“Yes. Get in there.”

Lucy replaced her running shoes with suede boots, hopping around as she pulled them on. Her fingers were so cold she fumbled. “Sorry. Forgot my gloves.” She thrust her bag toward Rhea, who stowed it under the desk.

“What was it? Trains not running?”

“Signal failure. I walked.”

“You walked? You couldn’t have grabbed a cab?”

“Everyone else had the same idea so there wasn’t one to be had.” She dropped her scarf on Rhea’s desk. “How is the mood?”

“Dismally lacking in festive joy given that we are all waiting to lose our jobs. Even the Christmas sweaters aren’t raising a smile, and there are some truly terrible ones. Ellis from Accounts is wearing what looks like a woolly Christmas tree and it’s making him itch. I’ve given him an antihistamine.”

“We are not going to lose our jobs.”

“You don’t know that,” Rhea said. “We’ve lost two big accounts in the last month. Not our fault, I know, but the end result is the same.”

“So we need to replace them.”

“I admire your optimism, but I don’t want to raise my hopes and then have them crash around me. I love my job. Companies always say were a family and it’s usually a load of rubbish, but this one really does feel like a family. But it’s not as if you really need to worry. You’re brilliant at what you do. You’ll get another job easily.”

She didn’t want another job. She wanted this job.

She thought about the fun they all had in the office. The laughter. Late-night pizza when they were preparing a pitch. Friday fizz when they had something to celebrate. The camaraderie and the friendship. She knew she’d never forget the support her colleagues had given her during what had undoubtedly been the worst couple of years of her life.

And then there was Arnie himself. She owed him everything. He’d given her back all the confidence that had been sucked from her in her first job, and he’d been there for her at her lowest moment. She’d worked for Arnie for six years and she still learned something new from him every day. She had a feeling she always would, because the company was small and nimble and everyone was encouraged to contribute, whatever their level of seniority. That wouldn’t happen if she moved to one of the major players.

“Do I look okay?”

Rhea reached out and smoothed a strand of hair out of Lucy’s eyes. “You look calmer than the rest of us. We’re all in a state of panic. Maya has just bought her first flat. Ted’s wife is expecting their first baby any day.”

“Stop! If you keep reminding me of the stakes I’ll be waving goodbye to calm.” Lucy pressed her hands to her burning cheeks. “I ran the last mile. Tell me honestly, does my face look like a tomato?”

“It has a seasonal tint.”

“You mean green like holly, or red like Santa?”

“Get in there—” Rhea gave her a push and Lucy sprinted toward the meeting room.

She could see all of them gathered around the table, Arnie standing at the head wearing the same red sweater he always wore when he wanted to be festive.

Arnie, who had set up this company over thirty years ago. Arnie, who had left his family’s Christmas celebrations to be by her side in the hospital when her grandmother had died two years earlier.

Lucy pushed open the door and thirty heads turned toward her.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t worry. We’ve only just started.” Arnie’s smile was warm, but she could see the dark shadows under his eyes. The situation was hard for all of them, but particularly him. The unexpected blow to their bottom line meant he had difficult decisions to make. The thought of it was obviously giving him sleepless nights.

She’d seen him working until midnight at his desk, staring at numbers as if willpower alone could change them. It was no wonder he was tired.

She sat down in an empty seat and tried to ignore the horrible burn of anxiety.

“It’s a Christmas campaign,” Arnie returned to the subject they’d been discussing before she’d interrupted. “Think festive sparkle, think Christmas trees, think snow. We want photographs of log fires, luxurious throws, candles, mugs of hot chocolate heaped with marshmallows. And fairy lights. Fairy lights everywhere. The images need to be so festive and appealing that people who think they hate Christmas suddenly fall in love with Christmas. Most of all they need to feel that their Christmas will not be complete unless they buy themselves and everyone they know, a—” Arnie looked blank. “What is the product called again?”

Lucy’s gaze slid to the box on the table. “The Fingersnug, Arnie.”

“Fingersnug. Right.” Arnie dragged his hand through his hair, leaving it standing upright. It was one of his many endearing habits. “The person who advised them on product name should rethink his job, but that’s not our problem. Our problem is how to make it the must-have product for Christmas, despite the name and the lack of time to build a heavyweight campaign. And we’re going to do that with social media. It’s instant. It’s impactful. Show people looking warm and cosy. Has anyone tried the damn thing? Lucy, as you were the last one in through the door and you always forget to wear gloves, you can take one for the team and thank me later.”

Lucy dutifully slipped her hand inside the Fingersnug and activated it.

They all watched her expectantly.

Arnie spread his hands. “Anything? Are you feeling a warm glow? Is this life changing?”

She felt depressed and a little sick, but neither of those things had anything to do with the Fingersnug. “I think it takes a minute to warm up, Arnie.”

Ted looked puzzled. “It’s basically a glove.”

“Maybe—” Arnie planted his hands on the table and leaned forward “—but running shoes are running shoes until we persuade the public that this particular pair will change their lives. There are few original products out there, only original campaigns.”

The comment was so Arnie. He was a relentless optimist.

Lucy felt the lump in her throat grow. Arnie had so many big things to deal with, but the client was still his priority. Even a client as small as this one.

“It’s warming up,” she said. “It may even cure my frostbite.”

Arnie grabbed one from the box. “It would be the perfect stocking filler. I can see it now, keeping hands warm on frosty winter nights. Does it come in small sizes? Can kids use it? Is it safe? We don’t want to damage a child.”

“Children can use it, and it comes in different sizes.” Lucy felt her fingers grow steadily warmer. “This might be the first time in my life I’ve had warm hands. It might be my new favorite thing.”

“We need photographs that appeal to kids, or more specifically parents of kids. All those activities parents do at Christmas. Ice skating, reindeer—the client specifically mentioned reindeer,” he floundered and glanced around for inspiration, “doing what? I have no idea. Where does one even find a reindeer, apart from on the front of Alison’s sweater, obviously? And what do you do when you find one? Maybe someone could ride it. Yes! I love that idea.” One of the reasons Arnie was such a legend in the creative agency world was because he let nothing get in the way of his imagination. Sometimes that approach led to spectacular success, but other times…

There was an exchange of glances. A few people shifted in their chairs and sneaked glances at Lucy.

She looked straight at him. “I think using reindeer is an inspired idea, Arnie. Gives us the potential for some great creative shots. Maybe a child clutching a stack of prettily wrapped parcels next to a reindeer, capture that look of wonder on their face, patch of snow, warm fingers—” she let her mind drift “—aspirational Christmas photos. Make it relatable.”

“You don’t think someone should ride it?”

She didn’t hesitate. “No, Arnie, I don’t.”

“Why not? Santa does it.”

“Santa is a special case. And he’s generally in the sleigh.” Were they seriously having this conversation?

There was a moment of tense silence and then Arnie laughed and the tension in the room eased.

“Right. Well…” Arnie waved a hand dismissively. “Get creative. Whatever you think will add that extra festive touch, you’re to do it, Lucy. I won’t tell you to impress me, because you always do.”

“You want me to take on the account?” Lucy glanced round the room. There were twenty-nine other people in the meeting. “Maybe someone else should—”

“No. I want you on this. Getting influencers on board at this late stage is going to be next to impossible, and you’re the one who makes the impossible happen.” He rubbed his chest and Lucy felt a flash of concern.

“Are you feeling all right, Arnie?”

“Not brilliant. I had dinner with one of our competitors last night, Martin Cooper, CEO of Fitzwilliam Cooper. He was boasting about having too much business to handle, which was enough to give me indigestion. Or maybe it was the lamb. It was very spicy and I’m not good with spicy food.” He stopped rubbing his chest and scowled. “Do you know he had the gall to ask if I could give him your contact list, Lucy? I told him it would do him no good, because it’s your relationship with those contacts that adds the magic. The whole thing works because of you. You have a way of persuading people to do things they don’t want to do, and definitely don’t have time for.”

Lucy chose not to mention the fact that a recruiter from Fitzwilliam Cooper had approached her twice in the last month about a job.

She thought it wise to change the subject. “Finding a reindeer in the middle of London might be—”

“There are reindeer in Finland and Norway, but we don’t have the time or the budget for that. Wait—” Arnie lifted a hand. “Scotland! There are reindeer in Scotland. I read about it recently. I’m going to ask Rhea to track down that article and send it to you. Scotland. Perfect. I love this job. Don’t you all love this job?”

Everyone grinned nervously because almost without exception they did love the job and were all wondering how much longer they’d be doing it.

Lucy was focused on the more immediate problem. How was she supposed to fit a trip to Scotland into her schedule?

“It’s only two weeks until Christmas, Arnie.”

“And you know what I always say. Nothing—” He put his hand to his ear and waited.

“Focuses the mind like a deadline,” they all chorused and he beamed like a conductor whose orchestra had just given a virtuoso performance.

“Exactly. You’ll handle it, Lucy, I know you will. You’re the one who always swoops in and saves the day and you’re always great with everything Christmas.” Arnie waved a hand as if he’d just gifted her something special. “The job is yours. Pick your team.”

Lucy managed a weak smile. His enthusiasm and warmth swept you along. You couldn’t say no to him, even if you wanted to.

And what would she say, anyway?

Christmas isnt really my thing anymore. No, she couldn’t say that. She’d leaned on them hard at the beginning, when the agony of grief had been raw and sharp. But time had passed, and she couldn’t keep being a misery, no matter how tough she found this time of year. She needed to pull herself together, but she hadn’t yet figured out how to do that. There were days when she felt as if she hadn’t moved forward at all.

But her priority right now was the company, which meant she would have to go to Scotland. Unless she could find reindeer closer to home. The zoo? Maybe she could persuade the client to switch the reindeer for a llama. Alpaca? Large sheep? Her mind wandered and then someone’s phone pinged.

Ted jumped to his feet in a panic, sending papers flying. He checked his phone and turned pale. “This is it! It’s coming. The baby I mean. The baby is coming. My baby. Our baby. I have to go to the hospital. Right now.” He dropped his phone on the floor, bent to retrieve it and banged his head on the table.

Lucy winced. “Ouch. Ted—”

“I’m fine!” He rubbed his forehead and gave a goofy smile. “I’m going to be a dad.”

Maya grinned. “We got that part, Ted. Way to go.”

“Sophie needs me. I—” Ted dropped his phone again but this time Alison was the one who bent and retrieved it.

“Breathe, Ted.”

“Yes. Good advice. Breathe. We’ve done lots of practice. I mean obviously it’s Sophie who is meant to be doing that part, but no reason why I can’t do it, too.” Ted pushed his glasses back up his nose and cast an apologetic look at Arnie. “I’m—”

“Go.” Arnie waved him toward the door. “And keep us updated.”

Ted looked torn. “But this is an important meeting, and—”

“Family first.” Arnie’s voice was rough. “Go and be with Sophie. Call us when you have news.”

Ted rushed out of the room, then rushed back in a moment later to collect the coat he’d forgotten, and back again a moment after that because he’d left his laptop bag.

“Also,” he said, pausing by the door, breathless, “I have a train set arriving here today. Can someone take the delivery?”

Maya raised her perfectly sculpted eyebrows. “A train set?”

“Yes. It’s a Christmas present for my son.” His voice cracked and Arnie walked round the table and put his hand on Ted’s shoulder.

“A train set is a great choice. We’ll take the delivery. Now go. Ask Rhea to call you a cab. You need to get to the hospital as fast as possible.”

“Yes. Thank you.” Ted sped out of the room, knocking into the doorframe on his way out.

Maya winced. “Can they give him a sedative or something? And is a cab really going to be quicker than taking the train?”

“It’s going to be quicker than Ted getting flustered and lost,” Arnie said. “At least the cab will deliver him to the door, hopefully in one piece and with all his belongings still about his person.”

“A train set?” Ryan, the intern, grinned. “He does know that a baby can’t play with a train set, doesn’t he?”

“I suspect it will be Ted playing with the train set,” Arnie said. “Now, exciting though this is, we should return to business. Where were we? Fingersnug. Lucy? Are you on it?”

“I’m on it, Arnie.” She’d find a way to show it at its most appealing. She’d put together a last-minute Christmas campaign. She’d find a reindeer from somewhere. She’d pull in favors from her contacts, content creators with high profiles and engaged followings who she’d worked with before. She’d find a way to handle it all and try not to think about the fact that her job was occasionally ridiculous.

Arnie cleared his throat and Lucy glanced at him.

It was obvious from the look on Arnie’s face that they’d reached that point in the meeting everyone had been dreading.

“Now for the tough stuff. You all know we lost two big accounts last month. Not our fault. One company is downsizing because they’ve lost so much business lately, and the other is trying to cut costs and decided to go with someone cheaper. I tried telling him that you get what you pay for, but he wasn’t listening. It’s a significant blow,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend otherwise.”

“Just give us the bad news, Arnie. Have you made a decision about who you’re going to let go?” Maya, always direct, was the one to voice what they were all wondering.

“I don’t want to let anyone go.” He let out a long breath. “And not just because you’re a fun bunch of people when you’re not being annoying.”

They all tried to grin.

“Thanks, Arnie.”

“And the truth is that to win accounts, we need good people. To staff accounts, we need good people. But I also need to be able to pay those people and unless we bring in a significant piece of business soon, we’re in trouble.” He rested his hands on the table and was silent for a moment. “I’ve never lied to you and I’m not going to start now. This is the most challenging time we have faced since I started the company thirty years ago, but all is not lost. I have a few new business leads, and I’m going to be following those up personally. And there’s something else we’re going to try—speculative, but worth a shot. It’s major. If we could land that, then we’d be fine.”

But what if they weren’t fine?

Lucy thought about Ted and his new baby. She thought about Maya and her new flat and how scared she’d been taking on the responsibility of a mortgage. She thought about herself, about how much she loved this job and how badly she needed to keep doing it. In the early days after she’d lost her grandmother, work had given her a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Her job was her source of security, both financial and emotional.

It was the most important thing in her life.

She felt her chest grow tight.

She couldn’t handle more change. More loss.

She gazed through the glass of the meeting room, forcing herself to breathe steadily. From her vantage point twenty floors up she had an aerial view of London. She could see the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the River Thames winding its way under Tower Bridge. Three red London buses nosed their way through traffic, and people scurried along, heads down looking at their phones, always in a hurry.

A lump formed in her throat.

If she had to leave the company, would it mean moving?

She didn’t want to move. She’d been raised here, by her grandmother, who had loved everything about London and had been keen to share its joys and its history with her granddaughter.

Do you see this, Lucy? Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London started in 1666.

They’d visited the Tower of London, Lucy’s favorite place. They’d strolled through the parks hand in hand, picnicked on damp grass, fed ducks, rowed a boat on the Serpentine. Her annual Christmas treat had been a visit to the Royal Opera House to watch a performance of The Nutcracker. Every street and every landmark, famous and not so famous, were tangled up with memories of her grandmother.

She loved London. She belonged here. Sometimes it felt as if the city had wrapped its arms around her, as her grandmother had in those early days after her parents had died.

This time of year was particularly tough. It was impossible not to think about her grandmother at Christmas. Impossible not to wish for one more day with her, walking through the city looking at the sparkling window displays, and then sipping hot chocolate in a warm café. They’d talked about everything. There wasn’t a single thing Lucy had held back from her grandmother, and she desperately missed that. She missed being able to talk freely, without worrying that she was a burden.

Unconditional love. Love that could be depended on. That was what she missed, but that gift had been ripped away from her, leaving her feeling cold, exposed and alone.

She sat, made miserable by memories, and then caught sight of Arnie’s face and felt guilty for being selfish and thinking about herself when he was going through hell. He was worrying about everyone’s futures.

They had to win a big account, they had to.

Arnie was still talking. “Let’s start by looking at the positive. We are harnessing the power of social media and changing the way brands reach their customers. We are experts in influencer marketing. We are changing consumer habits—”

Lucy made a few notes on the pad in front of her.

In less than a minute she had a list of about ten people to call who might be able to help her with the Fingersnug. People she’d built a relationship with. People who would be only too happy to do her a favor, knowing that they’d be able to reclaim it in the future.

“We are raising our profile. And on that note, a special shout out to Lucy, our cover girl.” Arnie gestured to the latest edition of the glossy marketing magazine stacked on the table. “The Face of Modern Marketing. Looking good, Lucy. Great interview. Great publicity for the company. If any of you still haven’t read it then you should. Lucy, we’re proud of you and for the rest of you—let’s have more of this. Let’s get ourselves noticed.”

There was a chorus of “Go Lucy,” and a few claps.

Lucy gave a self-conscious smile and glanced at the cover. She barely recognized her own image. She’d spent an hour in hair and makeup before the photoshoot and had felt completely unlike herself. On the other hand, feeling unlike herself hadn’t been a bad thing. The Lucy in the picture looked as if she had her life together. The Lucy in the picture didn’t stand in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning hyperventilating, worrying that her control was going to shatter and she was going to lose it in public. She didn’t stand there feeling as if her emotions were a ticking time bomb, ready to explode without warning. Anxiety had plagued her since she’d lost her grandmother. She felt as if she was on the edge, navigating life with no safety net.

And now it was almost Christmas, and if ever there was a time designed to emphasize the lack of family, it was now. The worst thing was that she’d always adored Christmas. It had been her absolute favorite time of the year until that horrible Christmas two years before when she’d spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a vigil by her grandmother’s hospital bed. Now Christmas wasn’t tinsel, and fir trees and wrapping up warm to listen to carol singers. It was beeping machines, and doctors with serious faces, and her grandmother’s frail, bruised hand in hers. Massive stroke, they’d said, but she’d hung on until December 31, before finally leaving Lucy to face the new year, and all the years ahead, without the person she loved most. The person who had taken on the role of both parent and grandparent. The one person who knew her and loved her unconditionally.

The previous year she’d forced herself to celebrate Christmas, although maybe celebrate was the wrong word. She bought herself a tree, and she decorated it with all the ornaments she and her grandmother had collected over the years. Im doing this, Gran. Youd be proud of me. But it had been hard work, the emotional equivalent of running a marathon uphill in bare feet. Christmas had always been a magical time, but now the magic was gone, and she didn’t know how to get it back. The truth was she was dreading it, and given the choice she would have canceled Christmas.

Panic rose, digging its claws into her skin.

“This is the point where I’m going to challenge you all,” Arnie said. “Do I believe in miracles? Maybe I do, because I have my eye on one of the biggest prizes of all. One piece of new business in particular that would solve all our problems. The biggest fish in the pond. Any guesses?” He glanced around expectantly. “Think sportswear brands. Think fitness and gyms.”

And now she had a whole new reason to panic.

Not sports. Anything but that.

She was intimidated by gyms and she had no reason to wear sportswear. Her exercise regime involved racing round London meeting clients and influencers, and scoping out new cool places to include in their visual campaigns.

Wishing Ted was here because it was right up his street, Lucy scrolled through the big brands in her mind, discarding the ones she knew were already locked into other agencies.

One stood out.

“Are you talking about Miller Active? The CEO is Ross Miller.”

“You know him?”

“Only by reputation. His family own Glen Shortbread.” Her grandmother had described it as comfort in a tin and it had been her favorite treat at Christmas.

“Is Glen Shortbread the one in the pretty tin?” Maya chewed the end of her pen. “The one that changes every year? Last year was snowy mountains and a loch? I love it. Delicious. I buy it for my mum every year. Just looking at it makes me feel Christmassy.”

“That’s the one.” Lucy still had three of the empty tins in her apartment, even though she didn’t have room for them. She couldn’t bear to throw them away, so she used them as storage. Two were full of old photographs, and the third held the letters her grandmother had written to her during her first year of college when she’d been homesick and tempted to give it up.

“Same Miller, different business.” Arnie rubbed his chest again. “Son Ross went a different route.”

“Rebel Ross,” Lucy murmured and saw Arnie glance at her with a question in his eyes. “I read an article—last year, I think. That was the title. ‘Rebel Ross.’ All about how he was the first generation not to go into the family business. He wanted to strike out on his own. The implication was that he and his father were like two stags fighting over their territory, although given the way Miller Active has grown I’m assuming he has proved himself by now. There was a lot about the family. Grandmother—can’t remember her name. Jane, maybe? No, it was Jean. His father is Douglas, still at the helm of Glen Shortbread. His mother is Glenda, she’s been involved with the business from time to time, although I’m not sure she still is. There are three children—Ross, obviously. He’s the eldest. Then Alice, who is a doctor, and Clemmie, who—I don’t know what she does.”

Maya was staring. “How do you remember all that?”

“I have a good memory for useless facts.” She wasn’t going to tell them the truth. That the article had stuck in her mind because she’d had serious family envy.

There had been photographs of the family estate in the Scottish Highlands, showing ancient trees and herds of deer and their baronial home, Miller Lodge, with its gardens sloping down to a deep loch. There had been glossy photos of the whole family gathered around a roaring log fire, their world-famous shortbread piled on an antique plate on a table in front of them. Who had been in that photo? She couldn’t remember. She’d been too busy gazing at their big, perfect family and envying their perfect life. They’d all been smiling. Even the dogs had looked contented. The message was that no matter what happened in life they had each other, and their gorgeous home. After she’d salivated over the picture, she’d ripped out those pages and thrown them away because no good ever came from wanting what you couldn’t have. Now she wished she’d kept them. It would have been a good place to start with her research.

“I’m impressed.” Arnie seemed cheered by her response. “Background is important, we all know that. Context. Where does a client come from? What does he need? These are the questions we ask ourselves. They’re the questions you’re going to be asking yourselves when you come up with ideas for a campaign. That’s the challenge. I’m hearing a rumor that Ross Miller has reached out to a few agencies. He wants to shake things up.”

“He’s invited us to pitch?”

“Not exactly.” Arnie shuffled some papers. “But he would, if he knew how good we were. We need to grab his attention. We need to find a way to do that. We need to be the ones to give him what he needs.”

Lucy thought back to that article. It seemed to her that Ross Miller already had everything he needed.

“Doesn’t Miller Active use Fitzwilliam Cooper?”

“Yes, but their last campaign was uninspired. That’s just my opinion, obviously, but that doesn’t mean I’m not right. Miller Active has a strong customer base, but seem unable to expand beyond that. They’re going to be shopping around in the New Year. They need us. And it’s our job—” Arnie waved a hand at the team seated around the table “—to persuade them of that fact. Over the next few weeks, I want you to come up with some ideas that will blow them away. Then we need to find a way to get those ideas in front of Ross Miller. It will be our number one priority for the New Year.”

“This is one for Ted,” Lucy said. “He lives at the gym.”

Maya leaned back in her chair. “He’s not going to be going to the gym for a while or Sophie will kill him.”

“We have to assume that Ted is out of the picture, but we can handle this without him.”

“I love their yoga pants, if that helps,” Maya said. “They’re the only ones that don’t move when you do downward dog. But somehow I don’t think I can build a whole campaign out of that.”

“We’ll figure it out.” Arnie gathered up his files and his laptop. “The timing is good. Everyone thinks about fitness in January, right? We’ve all stuffed ourselves over the festive period. Turkey. Multiple family meals.”

If only…

Lucy kept her expression neutral. “It’s true that there is a focus on health and fitness in January.”

“All we have to do is find a unique angle, and that’s what we’re good at.”

Maybe. But a sports client? Why did it have to be a sports client?

If gym membership was what it was going to take to save Arnie’s company, she was doomed.


An idea exploded into her head out of nowhere. Maybe the perfect idea.

She opened her mouth and closed it again. Maybe it wasn’t a perfect idea. She needed to think about it, work it through in her head. But still…

She was definitely onto something.

Ross Miller hadn’t built a successful business in a competitive space by being predictable. When he’d started out there was no way he could outspend the big brands, so he’d chosen to outsmart them and that approach had seen his business grow faster than all predictions.

Arnie was right. Whatever they came up with, had to be creative and the idea bubbling in her brain was certainly a little different.

People started to file out of the meeting room, except for Arnie, who was checking his phone.

Lucy stood up and headed to the coffee machine. She poured two cups and took one to him. Now that she was close, she could see that his face was pale. “Have you taken something for that indigestion? Maybe I shouldn’t give you this coffee.”

“Give me the coffee. The indigestion will pass, I’m sure.” He took the coffee and caught her eye. “What?”

“I’m worried about you.”

“Why? I’m fine. Never better.”

It was tough, Lucy thought, keeping up an act. No one knew that better than she did.

“Everyone has gone. It’s just you and me. You can be honest.”

His shoulders sagged. “There’s no fooling you, is there? I’m worried, that’s true. But all we can do is our best. I’m going to reach out to a few more contacts this afternoon. It will be all right, I’m sure it will. Next year will be better. It has to be better.”

“About Ross Miller—”

“Don’t worry. I know sport isn’t your thing,” Arnie said. “It was just an idea. Grasping at straws. Even if we came up with an idea that was a game changer, Ross Miller is a tough cookie. I doubt he’s going to give us a meeting or agree to hear our pitch. He has always used the big names. We’re not on his approved agency list.”

“Then we need to get ourselves on that list.”

She was not going to give up. And she wasn’t going to let him give up, either.

“We can do this, Arnie.”

“That’s the spirit.” He managed a smile. “You’re not to worry. If the worst happens, I can make some calls and you’ll be in another job before the day is out.”

“I don’t want another job.”

“I know.” He put the coffee down untouched. “You and I go back a long way, Lucy. And frankly that makes me feel worse. We have so many loyal and wonderful people in this company and I’ve let you down. We should have spread our net wider. We relied on a few big accounts, instead of taking on multiple small ones. It has left us vulnerable, and that’s on me.”

It was typical of Arnie to take responsibility. Typical of him to blame himself and not others.

“You’re not responsible for the economy and world events, Arnie. You’re brilliant.”

“Not so brilliant.” He gave a tired smile. “Anyway, enough of that. How are you doing, Lucy? I know this is a difficult enough time of year for you without all these additional worries.”

“I’m doing fine, thanks.” Now she was the one putting on an act, but that was fine. The last thing he needed was to listen to her problems on top of everything else. “You’ve been working too hard. Maybe you should go home.”

“Too much to do.” He rubbed his hand across his chest again. “I need to make some calls. Start putting together some ideas ready for January.”

“Right.” But if major agencies were going to be pitching to Miller Active in the New Year, they needed to get in front of Ross Miller before that. He was known to be a workaholic. Surely he wasn’t going to waste time partying around the Christmas tree?

She left the room and when she glanced back she saw Arnie slumped in a chair at the head of the long empty table, his head in his hands.

Feeling sick for him, she headed to the watercooler. She was going to do whatever she could to fix this, and not only because this job was the one thing in her life that was good and stable.

Maya was leaning against the wall, swallowing down an entire cup of water. “Sorry.” She stood to one side when she saw Lucy. “Fear makes me thirsty. I’m pretending this is gin. What are we going to do?”

“We’re going to go after new accounts, starting with Miller Active. What we’re not going to do is panic.” At least not outwardly. She was keeping all her panic carefully locked inside.

“If you’re serious about Miller Active then you should be in a panic. Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with? Ross Miller has a black belt in three different martial arts. He can ski. He’s a killer in the boxing ring. He sailed across the Atlantic. He has muscles in all the right places.”

“When have you ever seen his muscles?”

“In photos.” Maya put her cup down. “He did some fitness challenge for charity last summer—trust me, I would have handed over my credit card happily.”

“You have nothing but debt on your credit card. And what does any of this have to do with pitching?”

“I love you to bits, but your exercise program is couch to kitchen. Is there any chance I can turn you into an exercise fanatic before January so we can increase your credibility? Or give you any credibility at all?”

“I don’t need to be an exercise fanatic.”

Maya frowned. “Why? This is a fitness account. Sportswear. The brief is to expand their customer base. No offense, Lucy, but do you even own yoga pants?”

“No. But in this case it’s going to work to my advantage.” Lucy helped herself to water. “Think about it. Ross Miller wants new customers. What is the profile of a new customer? Not someone like Ted, who is already a convert. It’s people like me, who would never go near a gym. What would it take to make me buy a pair of sexy workout leggings and show up for a morning weights session?”

“I honestly can’t answer that,” Maya said. “Knowing you, I’m guessing it would take something major.”

“The Miller account is major.”

“Lucy, I’m your biggest admirer but be realistic. The major agencies are pitching. This is the big time. How would you begin to compete?”

“By being smarter than they are, and by getting ahead of them.”

“But it’s Christmas.”

“Exactly. It’s the perfect time to work.”

“For you, maybe, but not for most people. And probably not for Ross Miller.” Maya hesitated. “Look, about Christmas—I’ve already told you, you can come and spend it with Jenny and me. It’s our first Christmas in the new place. Jenny’s mother is joining us, and her brother. Not her dad because he still can’t bear seeing the two of us together and I don’t want to spend Christmas with a knot in my stomach.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’ve never been happier, that’s the truth, and if some family tension is the price I have to pay then I’ll gladly pay it. And we’d love to have you.”

“It’s a kind offer and I appreciate it, but no thanks.” She knew Christmas would be rough. She didn’t want to inflict her misery on anyone else, and pretending to be fine when you weren’t fine became exhausting after a while. Her Christmas gift to herself would be to give herself permission to feel horrible.

Maya sighed. “Lucy—”

“I’m fine, honestly. I’m going to be busy with work.” She didn’t mention her conversation with Arnie. If the team knew how worried he was, they’d worry even more than they already were. What was the point of ruining everyone’s Christmas? It would be better for the team to return from their holidays well rested and optimistic. “I’m going to come up with a plan to get us in front of Ross Miller.”

“I can’t bear to think of you on your own and working over Christmas.”

“I’m thrilled to be working. It will make the whole thing so much easier.”

This would be her second Christmas alone. Third, if you counted the one she’d spent with her grandmother in hospital although Arnie had been by her side for that one. She’d survived the others. She’d survive this one. Work would be just the distraction she needed.


“Christmas is just one day, Maya. This year I’m going to be too busy even to notice it.” She’d been dreading Christmas, but at least now she had a purpose. “I’m going to find out everything there is to know about the Miller family and Ross Miller in particular, and I’m going to secure a meeting with him before the other agencies have even swallowed their first helping of turkey. And then we are going to knock him dead with our brilliance.”

“I’m assuming you don’t mean that literally.” Maya didn’t look convinced. “The competition are big players. They’re motivated.”

Lucy thought about Arnie, sitting with his head in his hands. She thought about Ted and his new baby. About Maya spending her first Christmas in her new flat. She thought about her own situation. “I’m one step further on than motivated. I’m desperate.” Desperate for Arnie. Desperate for her colleagues. Desperate for herself.

“That’s all very well,” Maya said, “but how are you going to get yourself in front of Ross Miller?”

“That’s something I’m—” Lucy stopped as she heard Rhea shout her name. She turned. “What?”

“Come quickly!” Rhea was breathless and pale. “Arnie has collapsed. The paramedics are on their way. Oh, Lucy, this is terrible!”

UK cover reveal for BEACH HOUSE SUMMER

Take a look at the gorgeous UK cover for my next book, BEACH HOUSE SUMMER, out in May! I had so much fun writing this story, and I hope you’re going to love it. Get ready for a trip to California and a story full of drama and romance. Don’t forget to put your sound on for the full beach effect!
To pre-order and read and extract, you can go straight to the book page BEACH HOUSE SUMMER



The Christmas Sisters is now a movie!

I’m excited that The Christmas Sisters is now a movie from Hallmark! The movie is called NORTH TO HOME, and although it’s not set at Christmas it is a great adaptation of the novel so if you enjoyed the book, give it a try! At the moment the movie is only available to readers in the US and Canada but hopefully it will be showing in other countries soon so keep an eye open!

Click the link for more information, view a trailer, and meet the cast!





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