Gorgeous Geordie Leo arrives in Clayton-on-the-Bream with a mission to make his mark. When he reveals his ideas for a bespoke bookshop and chocolate-themed cafe, struggling writer Mab can’t resist his plea for help.
However, Leo’s timing is disastrous. Engaged to flighty, super-thin Sophie and knowing that Mab is up to her neck in a mysterious scheme of her own, Leo fights hard to ignore the warm, sensual friendship that is growing between them. When their eclectic mix of family and friends weigh in to help, the dream seems almost possible, but can Leo ignore Mab’s shady past? As they battle with sabotage, jealousy, vindictive neighbours and unpredictable relationships, Mab and Leo find that even chocolate can’t always make miracles happen . . .
In this extract, Mab is in her favourite writing place – Beattie’s Bakehouse, the local wholefood cafe where her best friend jess works as a waitress. Mab’s day has not gone well so far and she is ready for some serious calories, but is hoping that she won’t need to see the cafe owners. Beattie and Edward Crabtree figure high on her list of people who make life complicated and she has even more reason than usual for not wishing to see them at the moment.
‘Table six, four toasted teacakes and Earl Grey for two,’ shouted a voice, ‘Hi Mab, I’ll be in as soon as I’ve loaded the dishwasher – I think they’re eating cups today.’
Mab felt her tense shoulders begin to relax – only Jess and the part-time waitress were here by the sound of it. Beattie and her husband rarely waited on tables and she couldn’t hear Edward’s voice echoing from the kitchen. Mab, Jess, Beattie and Edward had been at primary school together, but it was Jess and Mab who had always shared the strongest bond.
The tiny room was packed, all the tables but one were taken. Mab squeezed into a seat, took a few deep breaths and rummaged for her notebook and pen. Maybe this wasn’t a very classy sort of office for an aspiring author but since the opening of the cosy café with its seventies-style macramé hanging baskets, bamboo furniture and checked cloths, Mab had felt more at home every day, even if Edward did make her a bit uncomfortable at times. She supposed it was his artistic temperament. He was a less abrasive Gordon Ramsay in the making, but his food more than made up for it although his taste for healthy eating sometimes made Mab long for sugar.
The walls were covered with old photographs and posters of Venice, and Mab’s thoughts often wandered to the day when she’d go there for the first time. There was no worry that couldn’t be soothed by an imaginary gondola ride down the Grand Canal in the springtime. She seethed as she remembered that she’d planned to surprise Pete with a trip there for his thirtieth birthday. Well, he’d be able to go there now, with her money. Tears prickled her eyelids. Would she ever get her savings back? When would she see Venice? If only someone would publish her book.
Bustling through from the kitchen, Jess gave Mab a thumbs up, pleased to see that her usual ploy to save a place had worked. For some reason, nobody seemed keen to sit at the tiny corner table surrounded by heaps of dirty crockery and screwed-up napkins.
‘Morning Mabel,’ Jess boomed, beginning to load a tray with pots.
‘I wish you wouldn’t call me that,’ Mab replied, ‘I don’t call you Jezebel, do I?’
‘Good job too – I wouldn’t answer.’
‘Well, pack it in, then. It’s not funny.’
Ever since they’d met at the age of five, Mab and Jess’s names had been a burden to them. Jezebel – wicked biblical harlot – had been a feature of one of their religious education lessons, and Jess had never lived it down. As a teenager, Mab endured several limericks composed in her honour. She remembered the cleanest one.
There was a young slapper called Mabel
Who was quicker to lay than a table.
This wasn’t in any way accurate, but the idea had stuck, and caused much amusement in the boys’ toilets. Jess had experienced similar problems with her bad-girl namesake, and soon substituted Jessica for Jezebel. She was sad when her new name soon got shortened – Jessica sounded cool and elegant, but Jess was always going to carry a hint of Postman Pat’s cat.
‘Thought you weren’t coming; it’s nearly half past eleven,’ said Jess, as she crashed the cups around, splashing tea dregs onto Mab’s shirt.
Mab flinched and glanced down at the spreading stains in annoyance. The day was not going well at all. This morning the postman had delivered yet another large brown envelope, self-addressed to Ms M. Millington, which meant that her manuscript had been returned with the standard response ‘. . . but we didn’t feel the necessary level of enthusiasm for your work.’ Mab’s novel was turning into the most faithful kind of homing pigeon. Then her landlord had called round at the crack of dawn to remind her that the rent was overdue again.