A SURPRISE CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL
In the last few weeks, several of my backlist books have been re-released as eBooks. Instant gratification at the touch of a button no matter what eReading device you use.
I'm going feature them over the coming weeks and giving away a paper copy of the book to one lucky reader. First up - seasonally - is A SURPRISE CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL.
The heroine, Sophie, had already featured in a minor role in two earlier books - City Girl in Training and The Billionaire Takes a Bride as a slightly irresponsible, maybe a touch spoiled young woman, but with an unexpectedly moral centre in the first and a kind heart in the second, as she tries to set up her best friend with "the boy next door".
In A SURPRISE CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL, it's Sophie who's in trouble. With no job, nowhere to live and no money - her father wants her to come home and look after him - she is thrown entirely on her own resources. Jobs are hard to come by when you haven't got much in the way of qualifications - free-form flower arranging and the ability to make cup cakes in large quantities do not impress the lady at the employment agency - but she is offered a few hours dog walking, which is a start. Things do not, however, start well.
I WAS late.
It wasn’t my fault, okay?
People kept phoning me to see what I was doing to celebrate my birthday. No one believed me when I said “nothing”. They just laughed and said, “No, really, what are you doing?” and in the end I’d relented and promised I’d meet Tony down the pub at 9 o’clock.
Then my mother phoned from South Africa wanting to tell me about everything she’d been doing – well obviously not everything -- and I could hardly say I had more important things to do, could I? Anyway, it was hardly a matter of life or death, dogs couldn’t tell the time and I didn’t have to rush off anywhere else. They’d get their hour. Start twenty minutes late, finish twenty minutes late. Sorted.
Gabriel York’s address proved to be a tall, elegant, terraced house in a quiet cul de sac untroubled by through traffic. Its glossy black front door was flanked by a pair of perfectly clipped bay trees which stood in reproduction Versailles boxes; no one in their right mind would leave the genuine lead antiques on their doorstep, even if it would take a crane to lift them. The brass door furniture had the well worn look that only came from generations of domestics applying serious elbow grease, a fate, I reminded myself, that awaited me unless I gave some serious thought to my future.
The whole effect was just too depressingly perfect for words. Like something out of a costume drama where no one was interested in the reality of the mud, or the smell of nineteenth century London.
This was a street made for designer chic and high, high heels and I felt about as out of place as a lily on the proverbial dung heap.
I’d stupidly forgotten to ask what kind of dogs Mr York owned and, since there was no way I was going to call back and ask Miss Frosty to enlighten me, I’d gone for the worst case scenario and assumed something large and muscular times two and dressed accordingly. At home that would have meant one of the ancient waxed jackets that had been hanging in the mud room for as long as I could remember and a pair of equally venerable boots. The kind of clothes that my mother lived in.
Had lived in.
These days, as she’d told me at length, she was to be found stretched out poolside in a pair of shorts, a halter neck top and factor 60 sun block. I didn’t blame her: she was undoubtedly entitled to a bit of fun after a lifetime of waiting hand foot and finger on my father for no reward other than an occasional grunt.
I just didn’t want to be reminded of the difference between her life and my own, that was all.
Here in London it was doing something seasonal in the way of freezing drizzle and although I’d stuffed my hair into a pull-on hat, I hadn’t been able to find a pair of gloves and my fingers were beginning to feel decidedly numb.
Anyway, without the luxury of a help yourself selection of old clothes to choose from I’d had to make do with my least favourite jeans, a faux-fur jacket - a worn-once fashion disaster that I’d been meaning to take to the nearest charity shop - and a pair of old shoes that my sister had overlooked when she moved out. They were a bit on the big side but with the help of a pair of socks they’d do. They’d have to. I wasn’t wearing my good boots to plough through the undergrowth of Battersea Park.
But now I realised that I looked a total mess for no good reason. I needn’t even have bothered to change my shoes. I only had to take one look at those pom-pom bay trees to know that Mr York’s dogs would be a couple of pampered, shaved miniature poodles, with pom-pom tails to match. They’d undoubtedly consider a brisk trot as far as Sloane Square a serious workout.
So, I asked myself, as I mounted the steps to his glossy front door, what kind of man would live in a house like this? My imagination, given free reign, decided that Mr York would be sleek and exquisitely barbered with small, white hands. He’d have a tiny beard, wear a bow tie and do something important in “the arts”. I admit to letting my prejudices run away with me here. I have a totally irrational dislike of clipped bay trees – and clipped poodles.
I rang the doorbell and waited to see just how well my imagination and reality coincided.
The dogs responded instantly to the doorbell, one with an excited bark, the other with a howl like a timber wolf in some old movie. One of them hurled himself at the door, hitting it with a thump so emphatic that it echoed distantly from the interior of the house and suggested I might have been a bit hasty in leaping to judgement based on nothing more substantial than a prejudice against the owners of any life form that had been tortured into an unnatural shape.
If they were poodles, they were the great big ones, with voices to match.
Unfortunately, the dogs were the only ones responding to the bell. The door remained firmly shut, with no human voice to command silence. No human footsteps to suggest that the door was about to be flung open.
Under normal circumstances I would have rung the bell a second time, but considering the racket the dogs were making my presence could hardly have gone unnoticed, so I waited.
After a few moments, the dog nearest the door stopped barking, the howl died down to a whimper but, apart from a scrabbling, scratching noise from the other side of the door as one of them tried to get at me, that was it.
Seriously irritated – I wasn’t that late and the dogs still needed to be walked -- I raised my hand to the bell to ring again, but then drew back at the last minute, my outstretched fingers curling back into my palm as annoyance was replaced by a faint stirring of unease.
‘Hello?’ I said, feeling pretty stupid talking to a dog through a door. The scrabbling grew more anxious and I bent down, pushed open the letterbox and found myself peering into a pair of liquid brown eyes set below the expressive brows of a cream, silky hound. ‘Hello,’ I repeated, with rather more enthusiasm. ‘What’s your name?’
He twitched his brows and whined sorrowfully. Okay, I admit it was a stupid question.
‘Is there anyone home besides you dogs?’ I asked, trying to see past him into the hallway.
The intelligent creature backed away from the door, giving me a better look at his sleek short coat, feathery ears and slender body, then he gave a short bark and looked behind him as if to say, “Don’t look at me, you fool, look over there…" and that’s when I saw Gabriel York and realised I’d got it all wrong.
His dogs were not poodles and he wasn’t some dapper little gallery owner in a bow tie.
Gabriel York was six foot plus of dark-haired, muscular male. And the reason he hadn’t answered the door when I rang, was because he was lying on the hall floor. Still. Unmoving.
This is a Christmas book and to have your name put in the draw for a copy of A SURPRISE CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL to add to your own stocking, leave a comment sharing your own favourite Christmas traditions. I'll get the Best Beloved to pick a name out of the hat on 31 October.
A SURPRISE CHRISTMAS PROPOSAL is available for all eBook readers, including the Mobi and any other device you use - even just to download to your computer for a sneaky read when everyone thinks you're working!
This is for Amazon US and here is a link for Amazon UK