About the book
Things don’t always run smoothly in the game of love…
As her Christmas wedding approaches, a trip back to snowy England for her ex’s engagement party makes her wonder if those are wedding bells she’s hearing in her mind, or warning bells. She longs for the excitement of her old London life – the glamour, the regular pedicures. Can she really give that all up to be…a fishwife?
There’s nothing for it but to throw herself into bringing a little Christmas magic to the struggling village in the form of a Christmas fair. Somewhere in amidst the sparkly bauble cakes and stollen scones, she’s sure she’ll come to the right decision about where she belongs…hopefully in time for the wedding…
Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie Johnson. Don’t miss the Christmas Wedding of the year!
Extract (Chapter three)
‘And that,’ said Henrik, ‘was how we undercut our competitor’s bid.’
He dabbed his mouth with a napkin, having cleared a plate of Georgios’ delicious lamb stew. Henrik, Niko and I sat in a corner of the taverna, catching up on the last few months. Our table stood near a small Christmas tree that Sophia had already put up. The first in the village, according to several bemused locals who attended today’s meeting.
‘ThinkBig is going from strength to strength, then?’ I said.
Henrik nodded. ‘The accountants have just been in and couldn’t speak highly enough of the company, once they’d been through our profit and loss report.’
Boring you, are we? Sorry, but the mathematician in me was thrilled to be back on familiar ground. Henrik and I chatted a while longer about one of the government’s new fiscal policies.
‘I bumped into your friend Charlotte at a new bistro in Soho,’ said Henrik. ‘Seems like it was just as well you left your job at the bank.’
‘Do tell.’ I leant forward.
Cue gasps from me as Henrik described accusations of insider trading and fraud. I pumped him for every detail as we then discussed the implication of the bank’s illegal activity for the whole of the City of London.
Eventually Niko cleared his throat. ‘Um, ’scuse me, Henrik, Pippa – I help my parents tidy up. It’s been a long evening.’
Heat flooded my cheeks and I put my hand on his arm. ‘Sorry, Niko – all this business talk must sound about as interesting as an empty fishing net. It’s just that it’s been so long since–’
Niko’s mouth quirked up. ‘No problem. I understand.’
‘Apologies, mate. Very rude of us. So…how is the seafaring business going, now the colder weather is here?’ Henrik yawned. ‘Bet you get to put your feet up for a few weeks. Lucky chap.’
Niko bit his lip as if suppressing an unsavoury reply and I glanced at Henrik. No. He wasn’t being sarcastic, I was sure of that. My eyes roved across his frame, taking in the sharply cut suit and those long, long legs. Then I gazed at Niko’s ruffled black curls and slightly creased white shirt, rolled up to his elbows. Feeling a tiny bit disloyal for a second, I wondered if Henrik would think I’d let myself go. My hair was no longer straightened. Make-up free, my face shouted freckles, those little ginger spots Niko was so fond of. I glanced down. Gone were the tailored trouser suits, replaced with jeans or comfy blouses and skirts.
I twisted a strand of hair. Well, who cared what Henrik might think? Towards the end of our relationship, his pristine appearance had niggled anyway. I was happy. My life here in Taxos would be a dream for most people caught up in the rat-race. Although city-loving Henrik looked ultra relaxed and as self-assured as ever. He’d shaken hands with many of the villagers, recalling most of their names, and charmed the shawls off the local women, be they aged nineteen or ninety.
Niko explained the challenges of fishing during the winter, and was just about to move onto sponge-diving when Henrik cut in.
‘Good on you, mate, for making the most of difficult circumstances. Hopefully next winter life will be easier.’
‘It’s great that work is progressing on the Marine Museum,’ I said and gave Niko a small smile. Under the table my fingers intertwined with his.
Henrik drained his wine glass and sat more upright. ‘Agreed. I think it was clever of us, back in the summer, to decide sealife was the theme that might attract visitors to this village – the fact that Caretta Cove used to be a nesting site for the endangered loggerhead turtle certainly makes it special.’
Niko shrugged. ‘Yes, the end-of-season tourists loved Demetrios’ pottery sea animals and Pandora’s iced sponge turtles. Things could start to take off next year. We keep our fingers crossed that holidaymakers keep coming here.’
‘Georgios has incorporated seabirds into the bird walks he organised,’ I added.
‘Plus Cosmo planned his cycle tours near the cliffs, where the gulls and shags live.’
‘Shags?’ Henrik glanced at me and we both chuckled. Niko’s brow furrowed.
‘Oh, it’s nothing, Niko…’ I grinned and rolled my eyes. ‘Just me and Henrik being childish.’
Niko fiddled with the cuff of one of his sleeves.
‘Talking of preserving the future of the turtles, I’ve learnt a little more about these animals lately,’ said Henrik, and leant back with his hands behind his head. ‘As you know, they migrate to North Africa over the winter. Part of the problem is that when they head back here to nest, tourists have invaded their beaches.’
I forced my jaw not to drop open. Since when was Henrik so interested in conservation?
‘Down on the south of the island a protection plan seems to be working,’ he said. ‘It involves encouraging the turtles to return. Caretta Cove used to popular with them, so there is every chance they’ve been trying to establish themselves here again.’
‘Wouldn’t surprise me,’ said Niko. ‘A couple of fishermen swore they spotted a few earlier this year.’
Henrik tipped back his chair. ‘Down in the south a volunteer patrol team has been set up. Locals and tourists need to be off the beach late afternoon so that it is clear at night for the turtles. There’s also an information bureau. Visitors can find out more about the species and pick up leaflets encouraging them to adopt one of these animals. I have to say, I was impressed by the locals’ innovation.’
‘Perhaps the Marine Museum might instigate such a project?’ I said.
Henrik pulled a face. ‘Perhaps – although the turtles’ cause might be lost there, amongst all the other information about blue sharks and seals.’
And so he went on, talking about endangered species of fish and how some councils were looking into protecting the coral reefs that had been partially ruined by tourist sightseeing.
Wow. Henrik really seemed to care. What had happened to him in the last few months?
‘I didn’t think you were a wildlife lover?’ I said to him, as Niko left to make coffee.
Henrik yawned and leant forward. ‘People change, Pippa – even me. My time in Taxos last August…for the first time I appreciated your interest in the natural world. I’ve kept your tropical fish tank, you know. Dare I say, the little fellas are thriving. I even enjoy cleaning them out.’
I snorted. ‘You? Dip your hands into algae-ridden water? And what’s all this “little fellas?” You used to call them smelly bastards!’ We both laughed. Then he gave me a strange look.
‘It’s good that we can still share a joke, Pippa; that we can still talk…after everything. In fact, there’s something I must tell you – the reason I called by this evening, before I go home tomorrow.’
I popped a last mouthful of fried syrup dough into my mouth, as he took a deep breath.
‘I…I’ve been seeing someone, these last few months. Olivia. She’s a charity worker – on the fundraising side.’
I almost choked. Henrik patted me on the back and my eyes watered. He handed me a glass of water and I took a gulp.
‘That’s great news…really… I’m glad. It’s just…’ Oops. A giggle slipped out. ‘You, dating a charity worker?’ Where had my materialistic, sterling-inspired ex-boyfriend gone?
I know. That sounded terribly rude. Normally I’d never make such a personal comment. But Henrik? Going out with someone who had altruistic ambitions? This is the man who’d watch a whole evening of Comic Relief charity TV show and at the end of it not donate one single penny.
‘It gets worse, I’m afraid.’ He gave a sheepish smile. ‘I’ve just asked her to marry me. We’re engaged. So yes, capitalistic Henrik has pledged to build a future with someone blessed with more worthy intentions than himself.’
My mouth opened but no words came out. Niko returned with a tray bearing three coffees. He handed them around, sat down and gazed at the pair of us. Gosh. Henrik engaged. It was only a matter of months since he’d popped the question to me. Had I meant so little to him? My chest tightened but not for long and a wry smile crossed my lips. Listen to me, acting like a melodramatic teenager. I wouldn’t swap my fisherman fiancé for the world. Love didn’t always lead you to someone who was as attractive as him on the inside and out.
‘What’s up?’ said Niko and reached for the bowl of sugar.
‘It’s Henrik. He’s getting married,’ I said, feeling dazed, as if it was summer and I had the beginnings of sunstroke.
Niko’s brow relaxed and his eyes sparked for the first time this evening. He stood up. ‘Mama, Papa, Grandma – in here! Good news!’
Footsteps came downstairs and Geogios and Sophia appeared, Grandma following slowly. Even Apollo the cat appeared from nowhere, and sat expectantly.
Henrik’s face flushed. ‘I’m delighted to announce that I’ve just got engaged.’
Niko’s mum and dad clapped their hands.
‘Well done, boy,’ said Georgios and clapped him on the back. ‘This calls for ouzitos all around!’
‘Good idea, my little meatball!’ said Sophia and beamed. ‘What is her name? How old is she? What do her parents do? Will she work when you marry? Does she want children?’
‘Mama!’ said Niko and we all laughed – Henrik not as loudly as everyone else. Hmm, odd.
Georgios appeared with the mint, lemon and ouzo cocktails and we toasted Henrik and Olivia’s good health as the news sank in. I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. Olivia – I bet she was some immaculately groomed charity executive, who’d never hit the beach without her designer glasses and costume. I mean, people in her line of work were high-flying executives these days. Perhaps Henrik took her to our old favourite restaurant, the little Italian, where at weekends you could help the chef top your own pizza and they served the driest, bubbliest Prosecco ever.
Henrik caught my eye and smiled again as Grandma patted his shoulder and asked if she was a good church-going girl.
‘Pippa? You okay?’ murmured Niko and gave me a tender kiss on the cheek. ‘It is a shock, no?’
‘Yes. But I am pleased he has found someone – like I have.’ I smiled and raised my ouzito.
Henrik glanced at me and winked. I winked back with mixed emotions. I’d only left London a matter of months ago and so much had happened.
‘I do hope to meet her one day, Henrik,’ I said later, whilst Niko, Georgios and Sophia washed up all the cups and glasses from the Christmas fair meeting.
Apollo sat on his lap. I mean, what was that all about? As he tickled behind its ears, the cat even purred.
‘Funny you should say that, Pips, because…’ Henrik looked up from the furry head. ‘I’d like you – and Niko, of course – to come over to our engagement party. It’s on Friday the twenty-second.’
‘Oh…thanks. Of which month?’
‘This one. In a couple of weeks.’
‘Are you mad?’ I shook my head. ‘Henrik. I am getting married a few days after that, then there’s the Christmas fair and we’d never get a flight booked in time, plus—’
He held up his hand and laughed. ‘Where’s that positive, no-such-word-as-can’t woman I used to know, who never turns down a challenge – like transforming Taxos’ prospects? Look, I’ve got friends in the airline industry – with all the business ThinkBig sends their way, I’m sure we could work something out. And you only need fly out for two days.’
‘Don’t you miss the city lights?’ he said, and gave me a piercing stare. ‘I know how much you love the capital at Christmas – the intricate shop window decorations and illuminated London Eye. You should see the range of festive food already out in Selfridges – remember that toffee coal they sold last year? Worst of all…’ A smile flickered across his face. ‘You’ll miss the final of that god-awful Celebrity Jungle TV show you secretly watch every December.’
‘I do not!’
We both grinned.
‘In fact, talking of Christmas…’ Henrik opened his briefcase and pulled out a large red envelope. He handed it to me.
A surge of warmth ran through my veins. ‘Is this what I think it is?’
He raised an eyebrow.
‘You remembered?’ I mumbled.
‘How could I forget?’ he said softly, slate eyes crinkling at the corners. ‘I didn’t know whether they were a tradition out here.’
I slid the Advent calendar out of the envelope, admiring the specks of glitter on the quaint scene. When we’d first got together, I’d joked with Henrik that no one bought me Advent calendars any more. I loved the traditional ones, not those with cartoon characters in front of chocolates.
‘Although I still think you are too old to have one,’ he said and ran a hand through his slicked-back hair.
I got up and went to kiss his cheek, my lips almost landing on his nose instead, before sitting down again.
‘Come on, Pips – don’t you fancy a break from weather-beaten Taxos, its continual economic struggle and the distasteful refugee problem?’ He raised his eyebrows.
‘I’d have thought you’d be more sympathetic, now you’re engaged to a charity worker,’ I said, and playfully shook a finger. Clearly some things about him hadn’t changed.
‘I have a degree of sympathy, but wouldn’t want people migrating onto my doorstep.’
‘Henrik! Their situation is critical,’ I said and shrugged. ‘We have homeless in London.’
‘Yeah, a different class of homeless, if you ask me,’ he muttered. ‘Come on, Pippa. I know you’ve committed to living in this one-eyed place, but surely you could do with a break?’
‘It’s not one-eyed. There’s a lot going on here,’ I said, rambling.
Henrik folded his arms.
‘Anyway, I don’t think Niko would be happy at the prospect of leaving Taxos right now, you see there will be a lot of preparation for—’
‘Since when is Pippa Pattinson told what to do?’
I glanced away. ‘It’s not like that.’
‘But you want to come, don’t you?’
I looked back at him and opened my mouth but shut it with speed.
My mind, however, had no restrictions. London. Its diversity. The parks. Crossing the Thames at night. That ever-changing skyline. The frenetic pace of the rush-hour. And Henrik. Okay I admit it. He was good company, we had common interests. Love-stuff aside, I missed our friendship. That’s probably why the news of his engagement had unsteadied me for a while. I was probably the last, not the first, to know. It was a done deal. I hadn’t even known he was dating.
My chest squeezed. Yet my feelings for him couldn’t compare to the sensations Niko inspired. The very look of my fisherman fiancé echoed dimensions from the past. If he was cross it reminded me of the time I accidentally threw away his favourite pebble or ate the last biscuit from a childhood picnic. When he laughed I’d recall us catching crabs and shrieking as they snapped at our toes.
Yet Henrik represented security, everything that had become familiar – and fun – to me over recent years. He represented the doubt that had recently crept into my mind, about my future in Taxos. Could you ditch your life for a new one and have no questions, a few months afterwards?
Gently Apollo batted my knee several times. He cocked his head as if to say why not go to London? Just for a couple of days? What exactly are you afraid of?
About Samantha Tonge
Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Her summer 2015 novel Game of Scones hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart.