For those who have been eagerly awaiting the publication of my next novel, as promised, I have a little something to whet your appetite.
I hope you enjoy my cover reveal/blurb/first chapter and may I remind you to make a note of the following dates:
10th June - available to pre-order on Amazon
17th June - published on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback at Lulu.
Take 1 single mum
1 hunky male housekeeper
1 new love interest
2 cute kids
1 randy neighbour
2 feisty OAPs
2 recently dumped broken hearts
Lightly toss in a reality TV show.
Add a spoonful of salsa and a liberal sprinkling of rumba.
Leave on a slow simmer and watch it bubble.
* * * * *
Fancy yourself as a bit of a whizz in the kitchen?
Want to see yourself on TV?
Contestants needed for the popular cooking show
‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’
Five nights, five hosts, five menus.
The guests mark each meal out of 10 and
at the end of the week the winner walks
away with a thousand pounds.
Contact RealLife TV now!
* * * * *
‘It’s absolute madness, Krista! You can’t even boil an egg without setting off the smoke alarm.’
Alfie was ironing my crisp, white work blouses and looking at me as if I was in dire need of psychiatric help.
I slipped out of my cripplingly high heels and sat rubbing the balls of my stockinged feet.
‘Well thanks for that vote of confidence Alfie, but I don’t actually pay you to pass judgment on my lack of culinary skills so I’d be grateful if you could keep your opinions to yourself.’
‘Fine. I’ll say no more on the subject,’ Alfie shrugged as he expertly pressed a collar and then placed the finished shirt on a hanger, ready to take to my en suite dressing room. ‘By the way, there are some letters from the school on the breakfast bar and Harry’s got a school trip next week followed by a football match on Saturday. You need to sign the forms.’
I stood to flick through the paperwork, feeling a little mean that I’d snapped at him. We worked well together and my life had never been easier since he’d interviewed for the position of housekeeper. His thoughts on my madcap idea to take part in a cookery programme did matter because he wasn’t just an employee - he’d become a good friend too.
When Joss and I divorced, I was a mess. I’d had no idea that all his late nights at the office had meant that he was banging his secretary - not terribly original, huh? Ironically, the reason I hadn’t twigged was because I’d been too busy working actual overtime myself. You don’t become a hot-shot music lawyer without putting in the hours and, looking back, I couldn’t really blame Joss for popping out for a juicy steak because the boring old hamburger clearly wasn’t on the menu at the time.
Harry was four when we split and had been nursed by more au pairs and nannies than I cared to remember. I wasn’t proud of this appalling record, or appearing to abandon him into the care of others at such a young age, but it was just the way it had worked out. We couldn’t afford the huge house, holidays, private education or any of the finer things in life if I didn’t graft and, with Joss living in Hong Kong with a new family to support, this had become even more apparent. I had to work.
But what hadn’t worked was the endless stream of young girls who floated through my house to look after Harry. The majority of them, I chose to forget - to blot them from my memory bank - but some would haunt me forever.
There was Olita, a sullen Lithuanian who I found borrowed my clothes and shagged my (now fired) gardener in my bed.
We moved on to Felina - she was great with Harry but I ended up spending most of my time clearing up after her or cooking (Read: burning) meals for us all. It was like having two children.
Marguerite was the one I still had nightmares about. She broke the door off the Aga, left Harry in the park, threw up all over my prized Persian rug after ‘over-celebrating’ her new job the night before and made an overseas call to her mother that cost thirty quid - all on Day One.
I soon found that I was working more and more days at home or dragging Harry into the City where he’d cause havoc in the office, purely because the poor kid was bored witless.
My life was a mess and I was failing in just about every aspect. I needed reliable help before my career suffered and we lost everything.
‘You need a housekeeper,’ Justine, my neighbour told me. ‘Someone with a bit of maturity who looks after Harry and you. Stop going down the au pair route and all your problems will be solved.
And she was right. When Mrs Withers moved in, my life became … smoother. Smoother but a little regimented. Harry would eat at six pm - not a moment later - he would spend no longer than ten minutes in the bath and I would call by four if I wasn’t returning for supper.
It was like living with my mother and, although I could go to work knowing that my son was safe, my cupboards filled and my laundry clean, it was a little stifling.
Good old Granddad came to the rescue and, for once, I praised his incorrigible ways. Granddad, or Ernest as he prefers me to call him, lives at the end of the garden in the summer house - painted in shocking pink, surrounded by gnomes and with a wooden plaque on the door telling all visitors that they are about to enter ‘The Love Shack’.
Yes at eighty-five, Ernest is a bit of a character.
So the third time he pinched Mrs Withers’ bottom and chased her around the breakfast bar saw an end to my problem of how to dispose of her.
And a return of my old problem. As she packed her bags with pursed lips and hefty tuts, I was left without help again.
Until Alfie appeared.
Looking back, I can’t believe that I very nearly didn’t offer the job to him. Why would I want a strange man and his daughter living under my roof?
Yes, he came with baggage in the shape of a shy nine year old called Nancy. Of course she’s now a chatty pre-teen and I love her to bits. It’s great having a bit of female company around and we often have girlie days or sit sobbing over romcoms and munching on our guilty secret of ice cold Maltesers.
But … it so nearly didn’t happen. Alfie’s CV and experience were perfect, his manners impeccable, his demeanour easy - and yet I just couldn’t envisage myself having a man work for me. He’d be washing my knickers for heavens sake! He’d know my bra size!
‘OMG! He’s gorge!’ Justine had popped in for coffee when she’d seen him leaving on the day of the interview. ‘Lucky old you, eh? Cor! I wish I had an excuse to take on a housekeeper but I don’t think Rod would agree to one when he knows I do sod all every day as it is.’
Yes. Alfie was gorgeous. That was another reason why it hadn’t sat well with me. How could I have a hunk of a man under my roof as I flitted about in PJs or rollers and face pack?
Fate forced my hand though. A HUGE meeting cropped up in town, just as Harry came down with measles and so I made a frantic call to Alfie. He was still available and had moved in to the top floor of our town house with Nancy and their belongings by the end of that day.
That was three years ago and we’ve never looked back. He does wash my knickers. He does know my bra size. He’s even brought me pain killers and camomile tea when he knew I had crippling period pains.
But I only ever saw him as just … well, Alfie - the man who ran my house, cared for my son, brought order to my life and went on to become a confidante.
And now it’s virtually impossible to imagine how I managed without him.
‘Oh that is funny!’ Nancy was tucking in to her supper and looking at me, shaking her lovely dark hair and laughing. ‘Krista? Cooking? Seriously?’
I noticed Alfie stifling a chuckle as he shot his daughter a ‘Ssshh’ look.
Harry wriggled and fidgeted, picking at his food and desperate to join in the ribbing.
‘Mummy won’t cook. She’ll order pizza. It’s what we lived on before you came here.’
‘Oh ha ha!’ I pouted and looked at each of them in turn. ‘You can mock all you like but I’m doing this. I am going to cook and, furthermore I’m going to meet a man in the process. My friend Georgie says it’s the ideal way to get your face out there as a singleton. Nothing else has worked for me, so what have I got to lose?’
‘A few fingers as you chop your veg? The kitchen when it goes up in flames? A law suit when the other diners sue you for food poisoning?’ Alfie quipped back at me.
My withering look was enough to silence him and he offered an apologetic smile before continuing, ‘So Georgie’s part of the production team is she?’
‘Yes’, I nodded enthusiastically. ‘She said it’s amazing how many of the contestants find love after appearing on the show - either with another guest or through viewers getting in touch when it goes on air. It’s so exciting!’
‘How come she doesn’t go on it herself then? She’s single, isn’t she?’ Alfie asked as he heaped more carrots onto Harry’s plate.
‘Oh no, she … you know … she’s not into men.’ I pulled a face at Alfie and tipped my head surreptitiously in Harry’s direction.
‘Is she a Thesbian?’ my son piped up.
Spluttering a mouthful of pasta across the table, I wiped my mouth and smiled. ‘No darling, she’s not an actress - and it’s thespian, by the way. No, she works on putting the show together.’
‘I know she’s not an actress,’ Harry spoke through a mouthful of food. ‘I meant is she a lady who loves other ladies?’
‘Where on earth have you heard …’
Thankfully any further discussion was thwarted by the arrival of Ernest as he came through the back door, closing it behind him and wiping his feet on the mat.
‘Evening troops!’ he bellowed as he twiddled his handlebar moustache. If you imagine the Major in Fawlty Towers, you’ve more or less got my paternal grandfather!
‘What fine looking tucker have you conjured up tonight, my good man?’ he asked Alfie as he slapped him heartily on the back.
‘There’s plenty of pasta bake and veg, Ernie. Grab yourself a plate and join us,’ Alfie offered as he pulled out the chair next to him.
‘No no. Can’t stop. Just pour me a quick snifter and I’ll be off. Got a date with a little dame. Wouldn’t do to keep her waiting, eh?’
I loved my grandfather dearly but sometimes I just wished he’d slow down a little. He was always out with a different woman, went to the gym with Justine and basically had a more eventful social life than I did. With my parents also living in Hong Kong and seeing more of my ex-husband and his kids than they saw of me and Harry, I felt responsible for him and worried that he overdid it sometimes.
‘Hey! Listen to this, Ernie.’ Alfie poured him a glass of red wine and continued, ‘Krista’s going on that cookery programme. You know the one we watch at five on weekdays. Can you believe it?’
Ernest’s laugh boomed out as he wheezed and wiped at his rheumy eyes with a silk hankie retrieved from the top pocket of his blazer. ‘Heavens to Mergatroyd! That is the funniest thing I’ve heard in a while. She cooked me a shepherd’s pie once. On the karzie for days, I was! Now if you’d told me she was going on that dancing programme, I might have understood. But cooking? Krista?’
‘Well I’m delighted that you all find the whole thing so amusing,’ I told them as I sat back and crossed my arms defensively. ‘Yes. It would be better if I’d been invited on that ballroom show but as I’m not a celebrity that’s never going to happen. I’m doing this show, no matter what you may think. And by the end of it, I’ll have a man. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have my dance class to go to - I’ll leave you all to have a jolly good gossip about my inadequacies while I’m out, shall I?’
As I left the kitchen, I heard Harry say, ‘Alfie? If Mummy gets a new husband, what will happen to you?’
I didn’t stick around to hear the response because it had been a question that had been hovering unanswered in my head for a while.
Originally the dance classes had been Justine’s idea as a way for me to meet single men and for her to flirt with them while Rod was away. What we didn’t know was that the class was filled with women with the same idea - and gay men.
We might not have continued had we not grown to love Paulo, our teacher, and I found that I had a real flair for dance. After a stressful day in the office, I loved to simply let my hair down, put on a swishy skirt and some sexy shoes and just let rip on the dance floor.
Justine struggled a little, though. Her curves and blatant sexiness were more suited to pole-dancing or burlesque but she persevered, partly from boredom at being stuck in a huge house alone and partly because we found we really enjoyed it.
‘Oooh! Krista! Loving the cleavage tonight, girlfriend. Look at those tatas!’ Our friend Felix commented as he saw me practising my rumba with his boyfriend Neil.
‘She’s just been telling me she’s gonna be a TV star,’ Neil said, turning to his partner. ‘Our Krista’s gonna nab herself a bloke on that dining programme.’
‘Sheesh! Really? The last time she tried to cook for us we were laid up in bed for a week! Remember, Honey?’
As I strutted and sashayed, I found myself questioning my sanity. Just what was I thinking of? My friends and family were right - I couldn’t cook if my life depended on it. Tea and toast were my speciality and once, when Alfie had been struck by a bad case of the flu, I’d even stuffed that up. The toast was burnt on one side, still bread on the other and I’d even forgotten to put the teabag in the cup.
If the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, I was destined to be single for the rest of my life.
But … as Felix swung me in to a sexy dip, the blood must have rushed to my brain and given me a light bulb moment.
There was still a week until the show started filming - and an extra four days after that until I was scheduled to host my own dinner party. Alfie was a master in the kitchen - he was a trained chef, for heaven’s sake. He could teach me everything he knew - well maybe not everything, that was a bit ambitious, but he could teach me enough to get me through the ordeal.
My housekeeper was going to help me cook my way to a man.