Also by this author: One Hundred Proposals, One Hundred Christmas Proposals, The Sentinel, Tied Up with Love
Published by Bookouture on 30th October 2015
Genres: Chicklit, Christmas
Libby Joseph is famous for her romantic Christmas stories. Every December, readers devour her books of falling in love against the magical backdrop of the Christmas season. If only Libby believed in the magic herself…
Struggling to finish her current novel, Libby turns to her best friend and neighbour George Donaldson to cheer her up. But George also needs a bit of support himself. Nervous about getting back into the dating saddle after splitting from his wife, he and Libby strike a deal. She will teach George how to win over the ladies, and Libby will in turn be inspired to inject her novel with a good dose of romance.
As Libby and George explore the beautiful White Cliff Bay on a series of romantic Christmas-themed dates, Libby finds herself having more fun than she’s had in ages and…discovers feelings that she never knew she had for George.
But is it too late? Will George win someone else’s heart or can Libby act like the heroine in one of her stories and reach for her own love under the mistletoe this Christmas?
Snuggle up with a piece of Christmas cake and mulled wine, and spend the festive season at White Cliff Bay. You won’t want to leave! Christmas at Lilac Cottage also out now.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueakBang, SqueakSqueakBang, SqueakSqueakBang, SqueakSqueakBang, SqueakSqueakBang.
Every morning, without fail, Libby had been woken in the same way. Every morning since three weeks earlier, when the newlyweds, Rosie and Alex, had moved into the flat above her. Then Alex would race out to work, clearly late and with a huge grin on his face. At six Alex would arrive home and two minutes later the same noises would be heard again, occasionally peppered with ‘Harder Alex, harder,’ or ‘Rosie, God I love you.’
Weekends were worse. They’d do it all day. And as today was Sunday Libby was expecting an encore any time soon.
Urgh. Libby decided she hated newlyweds. Only a few more weeks and she would be gone and she wouldn’t have to be woken by the horny alarm clock any more.
She padded through to the kitchen and switched on the dancing Santa who twisted and jived to some seventies Christmas tune. He made her smile. Her best friend George had given it to her because he didn’t think her tiny tree that sat and twinkled feebly in the corner of her flat was enough in terms of decorations to celebrate Christmas. A singing reindeer, a dancing tree and a serenading snowman had also found their way into her flat in the last few weeks. He had tried to persuade her to take a four-foot-high inflatable musical snow globe the day before, but she drew the line at inflatables. George, it seemed, didn’t have this issue.
As Santa launched into another song, she made two rounds of bacon sandwiches and two mugs of tea. Loading the whole lot onto a tray, she took it over to the table by the lounge window and looked out on the glorious view.
It was that view that had made her move to White Cliff Bay in the first place. She had spent years travelling the world but, although she had sworn she would never stay in the UK again, White Cliff Bay had appealed to her in more ways than any other place had. Today the sea mirrored the first time she had seen it, the weak winter sun glistening on the water in front of her as if jewels were buried beneath the waves. Light snow had fallen overnight, dusting Silver Cove beach with a sprinkling of talcum powder. She leaned her hand on the window and closed her eyes, trying to capture the image in her mind. She would miss this place when she left.
Reluctantly she turned from the view and went to the fridge, reaching for the ketchup. It was obligatory to cover the bacon in a thick layer of it. Then she remembered she had finished the bottle the night before.
Stepping over the newspapers on her front doorstep, she walked across the hallway. Without knocking, she let herself into the flat opposite. She stopped when she walked into the lounge; impossibly it looked even more crammed with Christmas decorations than the last time she had seen it. It wasn’t just the large tree that nearly blocked out the whole window, the room was filled with almost a whole herd of life-size reindeer, a seven-foot inflatable snowman, tinsel, garlands and an army of dancing, singing Christmas characters along with the garish snow globe she had rejected. Christmas music filled the flat as she moved to the festively strewn kitchen and went straight to the fridge to get the ketchup, then followed the sound of music to the bedroom.
There was George Donaldson, topless, dancing round the bedroom with a six-foot inflatable candy cane as his dance partner. She smiled, affection for him filling her heart. He was miles away from the alpha males she wrote about in her books and maybe that’s what she liked about him. There was nothing mean and moody about George Donaldson, he made her laugh a lot. His hair was a messy mop of black curly hair that jiggled as he moved, his body was tanned from days out on the beach. He didn’t have the cut abs and six-packs her heroes always had, but he had a wonderful body with strong arms that gave the best hugs in the world, making her feel safe and adored. She would miss him more than anything once she had gone. She giggled as George took his partner in his arms and moved in to kiss her.
She must have made more noise than she thought, as he abruptly let go of the candy cane, looking guilty and embarrassed.
‘Libby Joseph! Does a man not have any privacy any more, did you not knock?’
‘Of course not. Now did you want your breakfast or not?’
‘Ah Libby, you will make someone a goodly wife one day.’ He walked past her, planting a big wet kiss on her forehead, grabbed a paper bag by his door and then stopped to scoop up the newspapers on her front doorstep before sitting down at her table, his mug of tea in his hand.
Libby sat down opposite him, smothering her bacon sandwich in ketchup, and then tucked in. George flicked through the paper for a while before turning his attention to his own breakfast.
‘So,’ he said, through a mouthful of sandwich, ‘newlyweds wake you up again?’
She rolled her eyes and nodded. He smiled sympathetically and turned his attention back to the paper. They sat in silence as they ate. There was no need to make polite conversation; George was her best friend. They could sit like this for hours without feeling the need to force a conversation. Other times they would talk non-stop, only drawing breath to eat some of the delicious food that he cooked for them. And her bacon sandwiches were amazing, if she did say so herself, although it was pretty much the only decent thing she could cook. In the first few weeks of their friendship, she had invited George to take part in several dried-out pasta dishes, numerous cremated roast dinners with unrecognisable meat and, once, some homemade soup that looked and tasted like vomit. After that, they had mutually agreed that he should do most of the cooking.
She looked across at George and found it hard to believe she had only met him for the first time six months before, the day when she was moving into the tiny block of flats. She had known instantly he was gay. As he came rushing out the flat to help her with her boxes, dressed in a garish pink t-shirt, she had done that thing that all single women do when they meet a nice-looking bloke for the first time. Wedding ring? No. Straight? Definitely not.
And knowing he wasn’t a potential boyfriend and that she didn’t have to try to impress him eased the transition into their friendship very quickly. He was loud, funny, kind and sweet. Over the first few days, as she had got to know him, she became convinced that her suspicions about his sexuality had been right. He had a huge collection of musicals, like Grease, Joseph and The Sound of Music. And instead of a collection of boy movies like Die Hard or Pulp Fiction, he had a vast repertoire of old classics such as Some Like it Hot, Brief Encounter, The Seven Year Itch and Operation Petticoat, dividing his love of Marilyn Monroe and Cary Grant almost equally. His dubious taste in music did nothing to change her mind.
She remembered the conversation they’d had about his sexuality very vividly. They had known each other for about five weeks and had almost been inseparable since she had moved in. Over dinner one night he had quizzed her about past boyfriends. After a thorough grilling she’d turned the tables on him.
‘So are you seeing anyone at the moment?’ she’d asked, biting into the delicious lasagne he had cooked for them.
‘Nah, perpetually single me.’ He’d laughed.
She nodded. ‘I guess it’s tricky though, what with White Cliff Bay being such a tiny town.’
‘Well yes, and most of the residents of White Cliff Bay are over the age of fifty.’
‘No, I mean that there isn’t much opportunity to meet the right sort of person round here, you should try Brighton, that’s got a great nightlife.’
He arched an eyebrow. ‘The gay capital of Britain?’
‘Exactly, there aren’t exactly a lot of gay bars round here, I bet there aren’t even any in Apple Hill.’
He had frowned in confusion but she had blindly carried on.
‘Oooh, my cover designer lives in Brighton, he’s gorgeous, hung like a horse apparently, or so says his ex-boyfriend. I could give you his number, get him to take you out to all the best gay clubs, show you a good time.’ She waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
George choked on his lasagne and when he didn’t look like stopping, she rushed to get him some water. She returned a few seconds later and passed him the glass.
He had drunk greedily, then put his glass down and eyed her across the table. ‘Libby,’ he’d said firmly, ‘I’m not gay.’
It had been her turn to choke on the lasagne then. ‘You’re not?’
He shook his head.
‘Oh God, George… I’m… I’m so sorry, I thought the clothes, the musicals, the old films…’
‘Well you thought wrong. Bloody hell, just because a bloke isn’t sitting around scratching his testicles and watching rugby…’ he laughed good naturedly. ‘It’s OK, though. You’re forgiven.’
She shook her head, laughing at her own narrow-mindedness, suddenly the laugh dried in her throat.
‘Oh God,’ she gasped, her hands going to her mouth. ‘You’ve seen me naked.’
He smirked. ‘Yes I have.’
‘But…’ she was aware she was now flapping her hands around, ‘I didn’t even think about walking from the shower to my bedroom without any clothes on when you were waiting for me in the lounge. I mean, I just thought you wouldn’t care, wouldn’t even notice.’
‘Oh I noticed all right, I just thought you were a very open person.’
‘Oh God.’ She buried her face in her hands.
He laughed, loudly. ‘It’s your own fault, Libby Joseph, that will teach you for judging a book by its cover.’
She had groaned in embarrassment as he continued to eat his lasagne.
She watched him now as he picked up the last crumbs of his bacon sandwich, and smiled.
‘Oh, I got you something,’ George said, passing over the brown paper bag, before he started singing his own version of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’. ‘Ten days before Christmas and my true love gave to me, a mug with a picture of the sea.’
Libby smiled. He had started this twelve days of presents two days before when he had presented her with a Christmas pudding onesie complete with a hood with a holly leaf and huge red berries sewed to the top. The day before he had given her a big bag of rum and raisin fudge when they had been shopping in the town, her favourite sweets in the world. She quickly tore apart the paper and pulled out a mug that must have held at least a pint of tea. It was the tackiest thing she had ever seen. It had a picture of White Cliff Bay on the side but it wasn’t tasteful, it was bright and garish in colour.
‘And look what happens when you pour hot water in it.’ George grabbed her tea and poured it inside. Straight away, lights started to flash all over the mug, including on the oversized lighthouse, and a tinny version of ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ drifted from some internal speakers.
Libby laughed. ‘I love it,’ she said, honestly.
‘Now you have something to remember us by,’ he said, glancing over at a few boxes in the hall and for a brief moment his face fell with disappointment before he slapped on a smile. ‘How’s the packing going?’
‘There’s not a lot to be honest. The flat came with its own furniture. There’s a few books and things I’ve acquired over the last few months that I’ll probably take to a charity shop. I don’t really have stuff, I don’t need it. I came with a suitcase of clothes and I’ll probably leave the same way.’
‘That’s a bit sad, isn’t it? To have no belongings other than the clothes on your back.’
Libby shrugged, happily. ‘Happiness doesn’t come from the things you own, it comes from experiences, the things you do, the places you go to, the people you meet. That’s what fills your life, not material possessions.’
‘And you’ve never been tempted to stay in all those beautiful places you’ve visited, you’ve never once found somewhere you could call home?’
She smiled. ‘It doesn’t work like that for me. I have to travel for work. Being an author means doing lots of research. Wherever my story is set I always immerse myself in that place, eat, drink, sleep, breathe it until the story is finished and I move on to the next place. I’ve always worked like that, I probably always will.’
Suddenly a noise from above them disturbed their conversation.
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueakBang.
They both looked up.
‘Twice!?’ she muttered. ‘Seriously? Do they not have a TV in their flat?’
SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueak, SqueakSqueakbang, SqueakSqueakBang, SqueakSqueakBang, SqueakSqueakBang, SqueakSqueakBang.
George chuckled. ‘They really are loud, aren’t they?’
She pulled a face.
‘Well come on, Lib, we can give them a run for their money.’ He stood up and pulled her towards her bedroom. Leaving her by the doorway he leaped onto her bed, jumping up and down on it like a trampoline. The bed made a satisfying squeaking sound and the headboard banged obligingly against the wall.
She laughed at him. ‘Oh George,’ she moaned loudly, from the doorway.
‘How long do you think my penis is?’ he hissed. ‘Get over here.’
She ditched her dressing gown and walked over to the bed.
‘Christ, Lib, we’re only pretending, you don’t have to get undressed.’ He stopped bouncing long enough to help her up onto the bed. They both started bouncing again.
‘Oh George,’ she shouted, ‘that feels so goooood.’
‘Oh Libby,’ he groaned.
‘George, harder George. Oh God that’s it George. GEORGE! Faster George.’
‘Libby, Libby, OH Libby.’ He started jumping faster.
‘Spank me George, spank me.’
He spluttered with laughter.
‘OHHHHHHHHH,’ moaned George, finally falling onto the bed exhausted. She fell down next to him.
‘Oh George,’ she called loudly, ‘that was the best sex ever. You’re amazing, big boy.’
‘Why thank you, Miss Joseph, glad you enjoyed it.’
‘No, you’re supposed to say something nice about me.’
‘Oh sorry, erm…’ He thought carefully. ‘Libby’ he said loudly, ‘you have great tits.’
‘Is that it?’
‘Well it’s true, you do.’
‘Pervert.’ She smirked. ‘I just said that was the best sex ever and all you can say is that I’ve got nice tits? Surely you can do better than that?’
He rolled his eyes. ‘Libby,’ he moaned loudly, ‘and Candy my beauty, that was the best threesome I’ve ever had.’
She could barely talk for laughing. ‘Great, now I’m some kind of sex-crazed porn star, excellent.’
‘Glad to be of service.’
‘And if they knew that Candy was that mannequin in your bedroom, they would be worried.’
They lay in silence for a while to see if there was any reaction from the newlyweds. But there was none. Clearly they had been outdone.
Libby rolled onto her side, propping herself on her elbow to look at him. She smiled at the self-satisfied look on his face, as if they really had just had sex.
‘Fancy a walk?’ she said.
‘Yeah of course.’
‘Well get out my bedroom then so I can get dressed.’
‘Aw, am I never going to get a repeat performance of your nudity?’ he said as he walked out.
‘Nope never.’ She laughed as she closed the door behind him.
‘That’s a shame,’ George said to the closed door, ‘because I really rather enjoyed it.’
Despite it being the middle of winter, the sun was making a desperate attempt to warm up the windy shore. Great gusts tore at their clothes and whipped their hair around them as they walked along the almost deserted beach nestled in Silver Cove. The only other person on there was Seb, throwing a ball into the surf for his beloved fat retriever Jack to collect. He waved at them as they walked.
George loved White Cliff Bay, with its tiny thatched cottages, the bigger townhouses, and the great Bubble and Froth, Seb’s pub, with the best-tasting ale in the world. He especially loved the quieter part of Silver Cove where he and Libby lived. It literally consisted of one straight road with houses on one side looking out on to the sea. There was a pub, a small shop and that was it. A five-minute walk up the hill and over the headland led to the main town of White Cliff Bay with all the local amenities.
He and Libby crunched over the pebbles towards one of the many rock pools that had formed on the beach. She crouched down and carefully lifted one of the big rocks to see what was under it. A small pearly grey hermit crab scurried out in protest at being disturbed and a pale yellow starfish, its legs struck out at odd angles to its body, pulsated against the mossy rock face.
‘I do love the starfish. They’re so beautiful, like a little bit of magic washed up on the beach.’ She put the rock down gently, and picked up another one.
He watched her with a smile, her dark hair streaming behind her like a banner, her large green eyes filled with a continual wonder at the varied sea life that ended up on Silver Cove beach every day.
‘If you like starfish, you’ll love the sunstar, now they’re beautiful. I’ll have to take you scuba diving one day, Lib, there’s so much more beauty out there under the waves.’
She stood up. ‘I’d love that. Would we find seahorses? I’d love to see one.’
‘I doubt it – there are some breeds that live round Britain, but they’re so shy and timid I doubt we would spot any. But there’s loads of other things we would see, the visibility round here is quite spectacular.’
‘But doesn’t it take ages to learn?’
‘I can teach you the basics, and I’d look after you. Besides, we wouldn’t be going that deep, only six or eight metres, so if anything went wrong you could just come straight back up.’
‘That would be so exciting, do you have the gear?’
‘No but a mate of mine runs a dive shop in White Cliff Bay, he’d lend me what we need.’
‘Be a bit cold though, would we wear wetsuits?’
‘Are you kidding, in these waters? We would die. It’d have to be a drysuit, and a thermal undersuit and your clothes under that.’
She laughed. ‘I’d look like a Michelin Man.’
‘Yeah. It’ll be better in the spring, warmer and the visibility is nicer too. If you stay until then I promise to take you.’
‘Maybe I can come back and visit you when it’s warmer.’
‘That would be great,’ George said, knowing in his heart that once she left at the end of the year he’d never see her again. They never spoke about that though. She insisted that they would stay in touch, but there were no friends in her life, no one she spoke to from her travels. When he had put his number in her phone all those months before he had been stunned to see her contacts list consisted of her agent and her publisher. It was easier to pretend they would still be friends than confront it, it was easier to ignore that when she left it would completely and utterly break his heart.
He carried on with the façade. ‘You have to spit in the mask to stop it from steaming up too.’
Her face fell. ‘Spit in my mask?’
He wiped a tiny splash of muddy water off her face, then quickly stuffed his hands in his pockets as he walked away from her. ‘Yeah, and no matter if you get the best-fitting mask in the world, you always get a bit of water that seeps through, which means when you take the mask off you’ll be left with a snotty residue across your face.’
She caught up with him, picking up a good-shaped pebble for skimming. ‘I get the feeling scuba diving isn’t the sexiest sport then?’
‘No definitely not, still keen?’ He turned to face her.
He loved that about Libby: her spirit of adventure, her boundless energy. In fact he loved every little thing about her, and had been completely in love with her ever since he first set eyes on her.
Unrequited love, he was quite the expert. As it turned out even his ex-wife hadn’t loved him.
Libby, of course, had no idea about his inappropriate feelings for her, how he loved her with everything he had.
He glanced over at her, her smile lighting up her face, her eyes reflecting the colour of the sea. It was about time he got over Libby. She just didn’t see him that way. Nothing was ever going to happen there, she was leaving in just over two weeks. By the end of the year he was determined he would be over this silly little crush and he could watch her leave without her ripping out his heart on the way out.
They walked back towards the flats, a large old house that had long ago been converted into four separate apartments and given the rather original name of ‘Sea View Court’.
George spotted a small van parked up outside. An older man was lifting a box out the back.
‘Giselle?’ the man called. ‘Giselle? Where do you want this one to go?’
A blonde girl ran down the steps wearing leggings, which showed off her wonderful long legs, and a tiny knitted jumper, which showed off her tiny waist. George swallowed. Her hair was cut short with a long fringe that swept over her eyes, but it gleamed in the sun, like gold. Her eyes were huge, an amazing intense blue. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He knew without a doubt this was the woman he was going to marry. The easiest, quickest way to fall out of love with one unobtainable woman was fall in love with another.
‘Oh thanks, Dad,’ the blonde vision said, ‘just put it in the lounge. I’ll sort it out once it’s all in.’
‘Hey, do you want some help?’ George asked, quickly leaving Libby’s side.
‘Oh, that’d be great, thanks.’ Giselle broke into a heart-stopping smile.
‘I’m George.’ He held out his hand. ‘I live at number two.’
‘I’m Giselle, and I’m on top of you.’ She tucked a strand of golden silk behind her ear. ‘I’m moving into number four.’
He ignored the innuendo for the sake of future relations. ‘Excellent.’ He took the hand that was now extended towards him and shook it warmly, just as Libby arrived at the back of the van.
‘Hi, I’m Libby, I live at number one, here let me take those,’ she said indicating the pile of books tucked under Giselle’s arm and he watched her take them, and then she was gone. He wondered what they looked like standing there, him and Giselle, smiling at each other awkwardly. Well, Giselle was smiling awkwardly, he was grinning like a Cheshire cat. A Cheshire cat on Ecstasy.
For the next half an hour, they worked diligently between them to get all of Giselle’s stuff into her flat on the second floor. There wasn’t a lot, but what there was, he noticed, was very tasteful. There was also a lot of weird cooking paraphernalia which Libby found out was used for making different kinds of sweets for her online business.
Eventually, the van was empty and Giselle’s dad left.
‘Thank you so much,’ Giselle said warmly, ‘you’ve both been very kind. But now, well, I guess I better go and unpack. I’ll see you around.’
She disappeared up the stairs and George stared after her in wonderment. He heard her flat door close and then quickly bundled Libby into her flat.
‘George, what are you doing?’
‘Oh Lib, she’s beautiful.’ He leaned against the inside of the door and sank to the floor.
‘Yes she is, very.’
‘Libby, I think I’m in love.’
She sat down next to him and gave him a playful nudge. ‘Then go and ask her out.’
‘Are you mad, have you seen me?’
She frowned. ‘George, you’re lovely.’
‘Lovely is a polite way of saying fat.’ He absently patted his belly.
‘No, it’s not, you’re lovely and funny and incredibly attractive, ask her out.’
‘No, I need to lose some weight first, and get a haircut, maybe some new clothes.’
‘But then you won’t be you any more. This is you, and you’re perfect the way you are, anything else will just be a disguise. If she’s going to fall in love with you, she needs to fall in love with the real you. You above anyone else should know the pitfalls of false advertising.’
Writing radio adverts for a living, George knew how to sell chocolate to the Easter bunny, if only he himself could be presented in such an appealing way.
‘You’re right, Lib, she should fall in love with the real me.’ He looked down at himself, despondently.
‘Hey! You’re the loveliest, most wonderful, sweetest, kindest person I know; if she can’t see that then she’s blind.’
He kissed her head. ‘Thanks Lib.’
She stood up and pulled him to his feet. ‘Go on then, ask her.’
He paled. ‘Now? No, I can’t ask her now.’
‘Yes you can.’
‘Well what do I say?’
‘You say, “Hi Giselle, I figured you might be tired after all this unpacking, do you fancy coming to the pub for something to eat? The Bubble and Froth does a mean steak and kidney pie.”’
He nodded, yes he could do that. That was easy. Very casual, very simple. He opened the door and walked purposefully up the stairs and caught Libby doing a little giddy victory dance for him before she shut the door.
He climbed to the top of the first flight then hurried back down again, but before he reached the bottom stair he forced himself to turn around. He climbed four stairs this time, stopped, climbed one more stair then ran back to the safety of Libby’s flat.
Her face fell as he came back in. ‘What happened?’
‘Yeah, I couldn’t do it.’
‘Well what if she said no?’
‘What if she didn’t?’
He shrugged. ‘Maybe I’ll leave it a few days, you know, let her settle in.’
‘Maybe you should get in now before someone else swoops in. Why don’t you practise on me?’
‘Close your eyes and ask me out, imagine I’m a beautiful woman.’
George smiled wryly – he really didn’t need to imagine that – but he closed his eyes anyway. He could still see her though, in his mind, looking pretty in her jeans and hoodie, and funky purple boots. She had a quirky style. When she was writing her romance stuff she always had at least one pen in her hair. And though the hoodie she wore today was an old grey one, she had pinned to it the most beautiful emerald sequinned flowered brooch. It matched her eyes exactly. Though this was not helping him to prepare for asking Giselle out.
He opened one eye and looked at her expectant face. When nothing was forthcoming, she rolled her eyes and ushered him out of the flat.
‘Knock on my door and ask me out.’
‘OK, role-play, I like it,’ he grinned, ‘though I’ll get changed first, smarten myself up a bit.’
She shrugged. ‘If it will make you feel more comfortable.’
As George disappeared back to his flat, Libby switched on her laptop and smiled at the tiny snowman that had been placed next to it since the day before. George was clearly determined to Christmassify her, whether she liked it or not. The computer pinged to life and she opened up her current story, set in a rural seaside town at Christmas. Her publishers had expected it to be handed in months ago but for some reason this story had stagnated on her laptop. She had no desire to finish it and she didn’t know why. She was famous for her romance stories, especially Christmas ones with snow, glitter, handsome heroes and gorgeously cosy love stories, but it was the romance parts she was having trouble with the most.
There was a knock on the door and she went to answer it, ready to be seduced.
George was standing there in a full tuxedo with black tie, and gleaming cufflinks. She nearly laughed except he looked so vulnerable.
He cleared his throat, straightened his shoulders, fixed her with a sultry stare. ‘Hey little lady, fancy getting out of this hellhole and hitting some gin joints with me?’
She suppressed a laugh, but he had already seen the smirk.
‘Very cheesy. Humphrey Bogart?’
‘No, that was all me.’
‘You’re overthinking it.’
‘What about the suit?’
‘You look fantastic, really suave, really sexy, but a tiny bit overdressed for a pint down the Bubble.’
He arched an eyebrow. ‘Sexy, eh?’
She smiled. ‘Yes, if we were going to Royal Ascot together, I’d be proud to have you on my arm.’
‘Right, I’ll remember that next time I get offered free tickets for Royal Ascot. You can be my date.’
‘Definitely, though you should know I’m a terrible loser and a really bad gambler.’
‘I’ll hold the purse strings that day then.’
She nodded. ‘Probably wise.’
‘Shall I try on something else?’
‘Yes, please do.’
‘Good, this collar is killing me.’
‘I’m impressed that you can do up a bow tie though, it’s not something many people can do.’
He took it off to show her it was a clip-on. She laughed, as she closed the door.
She walked back to the computer, her fingers hovering over a rather bland description of the sea. It wasn’t just romance scenes that were taking a battering, all of her latest writing lacked sparkle. Because she had no enthusiasm for the romance, the rest of it hung limp and flaccid on the pages too.
There was another knock on the door just as she was poised to write something descriptive and wintery about the trees that lined the beach.
This time George was dressed in a black suit, with a black shirt and tie.
‘Going to a funeral?’
‘Right of course,’ he said, looking a little apologetic.
‘How about something that shows your sporty side?’
‘Right, OK.’ He trudged off.
She closed the door again – not that it normally stopped George, but making him knock was all part of the role-play.
She went back to the computer, looked over the last paragraph she had written and sighed.
Another knock on her door. She doubled over with laughter when she opened it.
‘What?’ mumbled George, though she could see that he was trying not to laugh as well. He was dressed in a skin-tight wetsuit which accentuated every gorgeous curve of his strong body, with a mask and snorkel in his mouth and flippers on his feet.
‘George, it’s perfect,’ she said, clapping her hands together, trying really hard to keep her eyes above his waist. ‘Now let me see you manage the stairs in those things.’
He waddled carefully to the foot of the stairs and carefully placed his left flipper sideways on the step. With great effort he managed to put his right flipper sideways on the next one up, looking like a very bizarrely dressed Charlie Chaplin.