A Million Dreams by Dani Atkins / Blog Tour + Extract

A Million Dreams by Dani Atkins

 

Publisher: Head of Zeus 46041732._sx318_

Publishing Date: 14th November 2019

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 464

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book:  Kindle | Hardcover | Paperback (out on 07.05.2020)

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Beth Brandon always dreamed of owning a florist, but today the bouquets of peonies and bright spring flowers are failing to calm her nerves. Because today, Beth has a life-changing decision to share with her husband.

Izzy Vaughan thought she and her husband would stay together forever, but sometime last year, their love began to fade. They both find such joy in their young son Noah – but is he enough to keep them together?

Eight years ago, something happened to these two women. Something that is about to bring them together in a way no-one thought possible…

Thought-provoking, emotional and uplifting, this is a gripping love story for fans of Jojo Moyes and Amanda Prowse.

Rating: four-stars

 

Beth Brandon has always loved flowers and together with her husband Tim worked hard to make her dream of having her own Florists shop come true. However, no matter how hard they try, the baby they also dream of so much, doesn’t appear, so eventually they decide to try fertility treatments. It doesn’t happen immediately, and they’re devastated, but then something happens that makes Beth’s world collapse. And it’s not only this that’s going to change her world forever because something else happens.
Izzy Vaughan and her husband Peter are incredibly happy when their baby is born after IVF. They love their son Noah more than anything in the world but their marriage starts to show the first cracks and misunderstandings and they separate. But one phone call is going to change everything for them.
Eight years ago, something happened – something that is going to bring Beth, Izzy and their families together, but not in a good way.

To be honest, I felt angry with Beth. I mean, I also sympathised with her, and felt sorry for her, but in my eyes she shouldn’t let the things go so far. I was more Team – Izzy, I couldn’t imagine being in her situation, trembling and fearing, not sure about the future. Don’t get me wrong, I fell for Beth as well, she was altogether full of empathy and she was always there for others, even though life didn’t treat her too well and she had already lost so much. But still, as a mother myself I was completely on Izzy’s side. Nevertheless, they both, as well as the other characters, were really well crafted, given personalities and no matter what your sympathies are, you’re going to feel the pain, desperation and hope of all of them.
The relationships in this book, no matter what kind, were beautifully written. The bonds between wives and husbands, parents and children, friends were captured with a lot of love and feeling. They felt so normal, they were full of ups and downs but there was always this feeling that the characters respect and support each other.

Of course I was incredibly intrigued how the things are going to end. Not so long ago I read a book with very similar topic though tackled in a rather different way, not so poignant and emotional like “A Million Dreams”, and the way things ended there waw a bit disappointing. As much as I think there is not a right way out of such situation, I really wanted to see which way did Dani Atkins choose and whose heart she’s going to break – because no matter what, no matter how, a heart or two are going to break. And… well… I wasn’t so sure about the court thing, and the way Beth was needed to help felt just this little bit too clichéd.

The writing style is very gentle, emotive and simply beautiful and it’s impossible not to find yourself emotionally invested in the book, impossible not to ask yourself questions “what if”. The author touches upon the most hidden feelings, bringing them to the pages of the novel, reaches to the deepest parts of the characters’ hearts. She can also so beautifully capture all sorts of emotions, making shock, horror and devastation a part of the reader as well. And even though the story is about very serious matters, it doesn’t feel too gloom or desperate, no, the writing makes it lighter and there is hope somewhere between the words, and enough humour contained within the pages. The pacing is perfect, everything has its place and even though there is quite a lot happening in the story, it never feels confusing, you always know where you are.

But maybe because of the fact that there isn’t a right way to decide about such situation, and because the author did take some easier ways out, this book, as much as I adored it, didn’t wow me as much as I thought it’s going to, and this is why I rate it with 4 stars instead of 5. Nevertheless, it held me captive and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I also truly recommend it to you all. It was sublime, moving and thought – provoking, a wonderful read that’s going to have you hooked immediately. Truly recommended!

 

EXTRACT:

‘The sooner we begin your treatment, the better the chances for a successful outcome.’

The words that reshaped our future –reshaped everything –were softly spoken. I looked across the desk, beyond the files and X-ray envelopes, at the doctor who was patiently waiting for our world to stop spinning as we absorbed the news.

I was gripping Tim’s hand so tightly I was probably crushing bone against cartilage, but my gaze was fixed on the oncologist, whose eyes revealed far more than I think he knew. Behind the rimless glasses, I saw the glimmer of a truth he was not prepared to share with us on that first black day. The chances of success were small. My ability to read faces, to pick up on tiny nuances others failed to see, had always been an asset in my work. On that day, it felt more like a curse.

‘I see from your file that you and your wife don’t have children, Mr Brandon.’

Tim shook his head, and I felt the tremors racking his body begin to spread to mine. I was shaking in both body and voice as I answered for him.

‘We’ve only been married for two years. We were planning on waiting a little longer before starting a family.’ I looked at the doctor, whose face was beginning to swim behind my tears.

‘I know this is a lot for you to take in, but without wishing to add to the decisions you are now facing, I have to urge you to think about safeguarding and preserving your fertility.’ Perhaps Tim understood instantly what the oncologist was talking about, but I was several pages behind him. ‘There is a strong possibility that your treatment will affect your ability to father a child in the future, so at this point we would recommend you to consider freezing your sperm.’

For one crazy moment I imagined he was talking about doing so at home, where it would sit on the shelf beside the packets of pork chops and Birds Eye peas. It took a few moments for the image to disappear.

‘There are several fertility clinics that we can refer you to. They will be able to explain the various options open to you. These can range from freezing sperm to even freezing embryos, if you should choose.’

‘Embryos?’ Tim asked, his voice ringing with confusion.

‘It’s one option to consider. There are excellent statistics for successful pregnancies resulting from cryogenically stored embryos. For couples your age and in your situation, it is definitely something worth thinking about.’

 

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Magic Under the Mistletoe by Lucy Coleman / Blog Tour

Hi there. Today I’m taking part in the blog tour celebrating the release of Lucy Coleman’s new novel, Christmas Under the Mistletoe. The book sounds fabulous and original and I am looking toward reading it, a bit closer to Christmas. Nevertheless, a short extract won’t do any harm, right, and so make yourself comfortable and enjoy!

 

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EXTRACT:

After another brief chat with George, I dig out my business card and we do an exchange. His bears the company name Proof Positive. Then it’s time to assemble my thoughts and get to work. George’s nose is in his book again and I leisurely glance through myhastily scribbled notes. I see that the first half of the page is covered with stray lines where my arm kept shooting across at an angle from a shove or a kick. Oh well, at least now I can write without threat of stabbing the pen into my own leg.

As the hours pass my eyes grow weary so I pack my notebook away and nestle back into my seat.

Unable to sleep, my thoughts wander. Cary Anderson is a very attractive man, I will freely admit that. Annoyingly, he has an inherently broody yet enigmatic appeal that, to me, is dashed the moment he begins speaking. It’s the tone he uses that comes across as arrogant and demanding.

With his short, curly brown hair and hazel eyes with a hint of green to them, he turns heads. He doesn’t tower over me at around five-foot-ten, some four inches taller than I am, but he carries himself with a sense of purpose. It makes him stand out in a crowd.

Or maybe it’s his passion for his work that gives him that air of absolute confidence; even though he’s probably only in his mid-thirties and young for a CEO. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Or people who won’t step up when it matters, and he is demanding, I can vouch for that fact. The other side to that, though, is that he makes things happen and expects those around him to do the same.

When his assistant at SPS –Solar Powered Solutions–initially made contact to arrange a meeting at their London office, the first thing I did was to look the company up online. They are one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of solar panels and remotely controlled wireless thermostatic controls. The SPS website was impressive and their mission statement grabbed my attention: profit from securing a cleaner future, today.

They have re-designed the whole heat exchange and absorption cooling system to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Apparently, it’s a game-changer as the installation consumes significantly less energy than anything else currently available. The resultant power savings mean that even a modest-sized home could expect a very good return, over and above the amount saved on their domestic usage, from day one

As with other systems currently on the market their combined installation can be controlled from a phone, iPad or PC. But they are offering a real option aimed at the mass market –the average man in the street who can now benefit significantly in the same way that the bigger users have in the past.

I will admit I was impressed and that was before I had the benefit of the many presentations Cary made at the Sydney Self-Build Exhibition.

He’s passionate about the need to reduce greenhouse gases and the damage it does to the planet, which is very commendable. If only he would climb down out of that tower of his occasionally, it would be easier to warm to him as a person. But maybe that’s the whole point. Keeping everyone at arms’ length is a clever way of remaining firmly in control and getting your own way.

I will be honest and admit I’m not looking forward to the eight-hour stopover at Doha Airport in Qatar. Cary and I will just be hanging around at the airport while we wait for the connection. That means making general conversation and, from what I’ve seen so far, that’s not something Cary’s inclined to do.

I find myself shaking my head at the thought.Settling back against the curve of the seat I feel too tired to sleep.

That wired feeling gives everything an edge and it’s hard to shut down. I figure that closing my eyes might help and while resting isn’t sleeping, it’s better than nothing.

 

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If You Were Here by Alice Peterson / Blog Tour + Extract

Alice Peterson has let us wait two years for her new book but guys, the waiting was so worth it! She’s back with another cracker, heart – wrenching but also uplifting story that I loved from the beginning to the end. Thank you so much Alice for having me on the blog tour, it’s always such an honour! Today, next to my (a bit gushing, even if I say so myself) review, I also have an extract from the book – enjoy!

 

If You Were Here by Alice Peterson

 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster 44589427

Publishing Date: 22nd August 2019

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 464

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

‘I can toast to my future, but the thundercloud over my head, the threat of a storm, will follow me like a shadow wherever I go. The truth is, I have a potential bomb in my bag, and who knows when or where it will go off’

When her daughter Beth dies suddenly, Peggy Andrews is left to pick up the pieces and take care of her granddaughter Flo. But sorting through Beth’s things reveals a secret never told: Beth was sick, with the same genetic condition that claimed her father’s life, and now Peggy must decide whether to keep the secret or risk destroying her granddaughter’s world.

Five years later, Flo is engaged and ready to pack up her life and move to New York with her high-flying fiancé. Peggy never told Flo what she discovered, but with Flo looking towards her future, Peggy realises it’s time to come clean and reveal that her granddaughter’s life might also be at risk.

As Flo struggles to decide her own path, she is faced with the same life-altering questions her mother asked herself years before: If a test could decide your future, would you take it?

An emotional, inspiring and uplifting novel about living life to the fullest, IF YOU WERE HERE will break your heart and put it back together. The brand new novel from the acclaimed author of A Song for Tomorrow, perfect for fans of Hannah Beckerman, Dani Atkins and Jill Mansell

Rating: five-stars

 

“If You Were Here”, another life – affirming story by Alice Peterson, introduces us to three generations of women. Peggy lost her husband to Huntington’s Disease, after years of caring for him and watching him deteriorate, both mentally and physically. Her daughter Beth, who we hear from through her diary entries after learning that she’s dead, following a road accident 5 years ago, was aware that her chances of inheriting the disease was fifty – fifty and who has done the test but kept it in secret, and who has been left in turmoil, not being able to decide if/when to tell about it her own daughter. And Flo, twenty seven years old, loving her life, setting to move to America following her new fiancé there. However, her life is shattered after discovering that her granddad and mother had Huntington’s Disease, and what consequences could this information have for her: she could also be a carrier and must decide whether to take the test telling her her fate. Flo is about to learn, not only about her family, but who her real friends are and, most importantly, about herself and her limits. 

Let me tell you right at the beginning – it was a beautiful, realistic story that had me hooked from the first page – I couldn’t put it down, to be honest, and was cursing life getting in the way, as I didn’t want to leave the characters’ world for a single second, and you’ll also not want to put the book away. 

The story is told from three perspectives, from Flo, her grandmother Peggy and through Beth’s diary entries, and I loved each of the voices, so strong and so distinctive. Alice Peterson’s heroines are always inspiring, and Flo is not an exception. It was heart – breaking to see the battle the two women, Peggy and Beth, had to endure, wanting to protect their beloved Flo, never finding the right time to tell her the truth, filled with mixed feelings and emotions. They were all so brave and strong, had their ups and downs, made wrong decisions and they simply felt so down to earth realistic, as well as the background characters. Each of them experiences the disease in another way but all of them are affected, and the author gives us a wide and deep glimpse into it. The feelings and emotions jump out of the pages, you laugh with the characters and you cry with them, I’ve kept everything crossed for them all and simply lived their lives together with them. Great part of this book focuses on heartbreak and guilt of not telling the truth, but you never judge the characters for it, you simply start to understand them and their choices, as the author gives them their own point of view. I loved how much the characters in this book supported each other – boy, you need such a group of friends and family in your life even when life doesn’t challenge you!

 It was again a book that made me think, and there were many moments when I found myself wondering, but especially one scene made me so pensive, when the first research study led to the possibility of real HD treatments in December 2017. Flo and Beth, sobbing on the phone with joy, their friends sharing the news – it actually gave me  goose bumps. For me it was such a normal day, I’ve probably haven’t even apprehended the news, and for people like our characters, and for real people all over the world, it is life changing information, giving hope. Here I am, sitting and enjoying my good health with exception of few bumps perhaps, not appreciating it enough, and here they are, crying from joy. I’ve been constantly asking myself what would I do if I were in the characters’ shoes, what decisions would I made, and I still am not sure. I was always thinking that I would like to know what future is going to bring me but now, after reading the book, I am really not certain. Actually, I am torn. Would I change the way I am if I knew I have some genetic disorder? Or would it make me back away from life? It really isn’t an easy decision to make!  

I totally loved the way the author has chosen to tell about all the pros and cons of being tested to find out if you have Huntington’s. She isn’t judging but she allows us a deep glance into all the possibilities, describing how many feelings and emotions are involved in it, how, in fact, hard and difficult decision it is. It so much depends on the person itself, while many live their lives without the need to know, there are others who simply must find out what fate has in store for them. Also, how much this decisions affects family and friends – written with so much understanding, gentleness and heart. 

The writing is, as always, beautiful but not too sentimental, and I loved it. It is also full of humour and the way the author balances it with the more poignant moments is absolutely perfect. It’s written with compassion and sensitivity, right from the heart and the amount of research that went into this book is clear, and I love the fact that Alice Peterson has again found a case to raise awareness of. She writes with such warmth and love, care and empathy and the novel, even though touching about serious issues, feels chatty and uplifting, even when she tells things how they really are, not sparing us any details about the facts and reality of HD.

“If You Were Here” was full of hope. It’s this kind of novel that make you look at the world differently again, start to appreciate all the little things again. The telling is so rich and vivid, oozing in feelings and emotions of courage, faith and strength, also showing the great importance of having the right network of people around you to help you get through the most difficult times. I loved every single moment of it and will be highly recommending right and left!

 

EXTRACT:

Prologue

Peggy

 

July 2012

 

I clutch the letter, my hand shaking.

Deep down I always knew. I was just waiting for Beth to tell me, gearing myself up to be strong for us both all over again.

There were times when I sensed she was distant and anxious. Often I wondered why my daughter hadn’t married since any man would have been lucky to have her by his side. Yet I allowed myself to believe her excuse that she simply hadn’t met the right person, that she wanted to focus on her art, her teaching career and being a mother to Flo.

I have skated around the subject for years, too much of a coward to ask the question I dreaded the answer to. I locked my fears in a box and threw away the key, instead forcing myself to believe she’d escape the odds.

Looking back over the pas few years, I was beginning to notice signs, small things, like Beth forgetting our regular weekly call. Once, she locked herself out of the house and had to drive over to get my spare set of keys. I was determined to put it down to her being scatterbrained. Yet there was this persistent voice inside my head.

She could have it.

A voice I chose to ignore.

I look down at the letter once more.

It would kill me.

I wish now with all my heart that I could take back those selfish words. All I wanted was to protect Beth – and myself – from further pain.

I wipe the tears from my eyes.

Right now, I’d give anything to be able to hold my daughter one last time and tell her how sorry I am for letting her down. And what I wouldn’t give to be able to ask her the questions I need answering now like never before.

Did she ever intend for her daughter Flo to see this letter? Maybe, in the end, Beth agreed that none of us should know our future, that we’re better off letting fate take its course.

I can’t tell my granddaughter.

She is far too fragile, not only to discover that this has been kept a secret from her, but to understand the impact it could have on her own life. She is grieving for her mother and it’s taking every ounce of her strength just to get through each day. Showing her this letter would only rake up the past and make Flo fear her future. Yet the decision to keep on hiding the truth doesn’t rest easy either.

I tear a small corner of the letter, tempted to rip it into shreds and pretend I’d never seen it.

I wish in so many ways I hadn’t.

If I show Flo the letter it could break her heart. But if I don’t . . .

What a fool I have been to think that the past never catches up with you.

1

Flo

 

Five years later

 

As I walk down Fifth Avenue, to the mystery place where I’m meeting Theo tonight, I think back on the past week, wishing  Ididn’t have to pack my bags and return to London tomorrow, back to my job and familiar oldroutine.

My boyfriend Theo has been based in New York  for  sixmonths.

‘Long distance relationships can work, Flo, if we see it as an opportunity,’ he’d said, when he broke the news that he was needed over here for a year, possibly more.

And he was right. There is something magnetic about this city. It buzzes with energy, like a party that never stops.The first time I flew over to see Theo, we visited all the major sights and did all the things you’re supposed to, like taking a trip to the top of the empire State Building and hopping on a ferry over to Staten Island. Now I’m happy to do my own thing, whiling away the hours with my sketch- pad in Central Park, or finding hidden gems off the beaten track, like the original piece of the Berlin Wall I discovered in a small plaza at MadisonAvenue.

Each time I visit – mainly for long weekends – Theo takes me to a new exhibition or restaurant that has justopened.

Nothing stays the same here. Nothing stands still.

And everything is so tall. Theo works in just one of the thousand dazzling skyscrapers that grace the Manhattan skyline.

I dodge out of the way of a group of tourists taking pic- tures of the empire State Building. Another thing I love about this place is it keeps me fit. There’s no point hailing a cab and spending a fortune sitting in traffic. Everyone here walks for miles.

As I continue down one of the most famous and elegant streets in the world, I think of Granny, hoping she’s all right.  It’s the anniversary of Mum’s death today and it’s the first time we’ve spent it apart. When I called her earlier this evening, she told me she was fine and that she’d laid some flowers on Mum and Granddad’s gravestone and would later light a candle.

I promised to light one too.

In many ways Mum’s death feels a lifetime ago, but in others as if it were only yesterday. What tormented me most is the fact I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. My last conversation with her was over the phone, while I was at the airport in Venice about to board a plane. I was blissfully happy in a steady relationship and I’d just been offered a job designing sets for a small theatre company in Copenhagen. The only problem was my scatty old mum.

‘What now?’ I’d snapped, annoyed at having to repeat the conversation we’d literally just had about what time my plane landed and whether I’d be home in time for supper.

I never saw her again.

I didn’t even tell her I loved her.

That’s what I miss most: picking up the phone to talk to her; hearing her voice.

Her death had seemed so avoidable.One moment she was alive, but the next . ..

‘It was an accident,’ Granny had stressed. ‘A tragic accident that makes no sense.’

Losing Mum will be the hardest thing I’ll ever go through. At one point I didn’t even want to live, oblivion seemed preferable. Idon’t know what I’d have done without Granny picking me up and piecing me back together again, especially when her grief must have been just asraw.

I can’t tell you when I began to feel less broken. I don’t recall a turning point. All I know is that food began to taste of something again. Slowly I noticed the sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. I heard the birds sing. My steps began to feel lighter.

And then along came Theo.

We met eighteen months ago in the business lounge at Gatwick airport, when I was heading out on a work trip to southern Spain. I was busy stocking up on all the food and glossy magazines the business lounge had to offer, when I sensed someone watching me. Discreetly, I turned to see an older, fair-haired man drinking a cup of coffee, a flicker of amusement in his eyes. Everything about him spelt success, from his designer suit to his leather briefcase and expensive watch. I returned to my seat, thinking he must have been looking at someone else, or recalling a funny joke he’d just been told.

But then he approached my table.

‘Theodore Holmes,’ he said, sitting down opposite me,as if it were the most natural thing in the world to introduce oneself to a stranger. Before I could say a word, he continued, ‘I don’t know your name yet, but what I do know is I’m going to spend the rest of my life withyou.’

It’s not often I’m lost for words. I felt out of my depth, and as if he could read my mind he leaned closer towards me and said quietly ,‘Listen,I’m sorry to come on so strong. You don’t have to agree to spend the rest of your life with me just yet, but how aboutdinner?’

He handed me his business card. We parted with a hand- shake, almost as if we were in a boardroom.

‘Deal,’ I was tempted to say.

For the next few days, I imagined our perfect first date with flowers and champagne, the conversation flowing freely, the evening ending with a romantic goodnight kiss. When I returned home, however, I began to lose my nerve, that little voice of doubt creeping in.

After Mum died, I broke up with my long-term boyfriend and I hadn’t been in a serious relationship since. Ifelt out of practice.

As if he’s really going to be interested in you, Flo. It meant nothing. He probably says the same thing t oevery woman he meets and he won’t even remember you.

But despite that voice in my head, I couldn’t throw away his business card.

James – my flat-mate and best friend’s brother – looked him up online with me one evening afterwork.

‘Good-looking,’ he said when we saw a picture of Theo smiling broadly into the camera, ‘but knows it.  Mind you, I’d be smiling like that too if I had his teeth and his bankaccount.’

James is a vet, which, according to him is ‘not a job you do for the money’.

He urged me to give Theo a call. ‘What’s the worst that can happen? It’s one night, and if he’s a knob, move on.’

I smiled. James always had a way with words. Anyway, I took his advice and called.

Theo picked up instantly, and when I said my name, asking nervously if it was a good time for him to talk, he replied, ‘I’ve been waiting for days. ever since I first set eyes on you.’

I was still hesitant to go on a date. I wasn’t sure I trusted his smooth talk, but I listened to James again, who told meI hadnothing to lose except one evening of takeaway, Netflix, and James’s charming company.

On our first date, Theo booked a table at a restaurant on the 32nd floor of the Shard, and over dinner I discovered he left school without any qualifications, but through hard work and self-belief he was now CeO of a company called ASPIre, one of the biggest global marketing agencies in the world.I tried to ignore that little voice again that wondered why he’d want to go out with someone like me, a mere travel agent, when surely he could have the pick of anyone in thisrestaurant.

When Theo asked me for a second and a third date, that voice stillwouldn’t go away. I kept expecting something to go wrong; I was waiting for the fall. Yet my fear has been pointless, and after eighteen months together that little voice has almost disappeared.

Almost.

I rummage in my handbag to retrieve the note Theo left on my pillow this morning, with the exact address of where I’m supposed to meet him.

‘It’sasurprise,’he’dinsisted.He’sawareit’sMum’sanniversary today and wanted to do something to honour it, so I suggested we do something fun: drink cocktails, go to a nightclub and dance until the early hours of themorning.

‘Mum loved dancing,’ I said. ‘She used to dance in the kitchen and sing in the shower.’

I told  him I wanted to remember all the happy times we’d shared and celebrate her life tonight, because for the first time in five years I haven’t only been thinking about Mum today. This morning, when I woke up in Theo’s apartment and read his note, I realized that time does slowly heal, and that right now, despite everything, I am truly happy.

As I arrive I see no sign of a restaurant or bar. I glance at my watch. It’s past seven o’clock.

Theo’s late. He’s never late.

For a split second I feel uneasy. I wish I knew why he was being so secretive. He knows how much I hate surprises. But my worries vanish the moment I see him across the street, and soon I’m in his arms, welcoming his kiss.

‘Are you ready?’ he asks.

‘Ready for what? Where are we —’

‘Trust me,’ he says, a smile spreading across his face as he holds his hand out towards mine. I know more than most how happiness can be taken away from us as quickly as it was found. But I know,too,that it’s time for me to let go of my past and trust in my future once and for all. It’s what Mum would have wanted.

I take his hand.

Maybe I’m allowed to be this happy without a catch afterall.

 

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The Cairo Brief by Fiona Veitch – Smith / Blog Tour + Extract

Hi guys, I’m very thrilled to be hosting Fiona Veitch – Smith’s blog tour stop here today. I adore Poppy Denby Investigates series and it’s only because of the lack of time here that I haven’t read “The Cairo Brief” yet – but keep your eyes peeled for my review as I’m going to read it sooner rather than later! In the meantime, though, I have a great long fat extract from the book (2 whole chapters!), so make yourself comfortable and enjoy!

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Chapter 1
10 April 1914, El-Amarna, Egypt

Two brown-cloaked figures picked their way through the half- filled trenches and incomplete excavations of the ancient city. Without its centuries-old shroud of desert sand, Akhetaten lay shivering and exposed in the shameful moonlight, filtering down from the carved cliffs to the east. From the cliff face, hacked and hewn, the likenesses of the heretic pharaohs Akhenaten and Nefertiti stood sentinel over the valley where, three and a half thousand years before, they had built a city to worship Aten, the golden sun.
But tonight it was Iah, the silver moon, that ruled the shadowlands below, where the city of the dead was being reclaimed by the living. To the west of what the foreigners called “The Dig”, the Nile snaked through fields and farms, an artery of life to the villages dotted along the plain.
The cloaked, trespassing figures were a twin boy and girl of around seventeen who lived in one of the nearby villages: Et-Till Beni Amra. At least they used to. Now they were at boarding school in Cairo, far, far to the north, and only came home during the holidays. Their parents were the only people in the village able to afford to send their children away to school, an enormous expense and – so the villagers whispered as they tilled their crops – a wasteful one, particularly on the girl. But the twins’ illicit family business – secretly passed down from generation to generation – had been doing well in recent times, thanks to the Europeans swarming over the carcass of Akhenaten like pale flies. The children with whom the twins now shared dormitories in Cairo talked behind their backs and called them graverobbers. But their father preferred the title “antiquities dealer” and now, since he had been so well paid by the German professor, his children were able to write his profession in German, English, and French.
The girl had been reluctant to come on the moonlit adventure. It had been fun to dig around in the ruins when they were children, but now she understood the consequences of being found with reclaimed artefacts. She’d heard stories of locals being beaten and imprisoned for theft. The Egyptian Antiquities Service issued licenses to excavators on a seasonal basis. For the last seven years the license had gone to Professor Ludwig Borchardt and his team. No one else was allowed to dig there – no rival European archaeologists and most definitely not a pair of young Mohammedans. Never mind that the girl’s family had been digging and selling the fruit of their labour for a hundred years before Borchardt came. Her father had been hired by the German as a consultant and had sworn to stop his own black-market business in return for a substantial salary. But her brother refused to adhere to the agreement. “It’s our people’s heritage,” he had argued, “like the crops of the field and the fish of the Nile.”
So, on this weekend which the Christians called Easter, when her father was in Cairo with his German employer, her brother had coaxed her to join him in a little subsistence looting. “For old time’s sake,” he had grinned. Reluctantly, she agreed. After she helped her mother wash up and read her younger
siblings a bedtime story, she donned her cloak, preparing to join her brother for an evening walk.
The mother assessed her twin children. The boy looked as cock-sure as always. But the girl… there was something bothering her. “You don’t have to go,” the woman said to her daughter. “Not if you don’t want to.”
“I – well – I –”
Her brother interrupted before she could finish, putting his arm around her and ushering her to the door. “Don’t worry, mother, I’ll look after her. She’s just a bit out of practice, aren’t you?”
The girl couldn’t deny this. She nodded half-heartedly.
“Hmmm,” said their mother, wiping her hands dry on her apron. “If I didn’t know the Europeans were away I might be more worried.”
“Worried about what?” asked her son, as he too pulled on his cloak. “We are just going for an evening stroll. And if we happen to walk past the old city… well…” he grinned and kissed his mother on her forehead.
“Watch out for Mohammed and his dog,” said the mother. “He’s usually asleep on the job, and he owes your father half a dozen favours, but you never know…”
“We will,” said her son as he and his sister picked up their sacks – containing ropes and tools – and headed out into the night.
Half an hour later the twins were at their pre-selected destination: the remains of an ancient workshop that had belonged to a man called Thutmose, the personal sculptor of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti. Two years ago the German team, guided by the twins’ father, had unearthed the ruins of the sprawling facility and found a bust of the beautiful queen, with only one eye. The sculpture had now been sent to Berlin. But it wasn’t the only work of art retrieved. There were dozens of half-finished statues and bits of broken limbs in a series of storerooms and trash piles. And – so the twins knew – a secret underground chamber where the sculptor had kept his most precious work. Their father had declined, so far, to tell his new employers about the chamber. But rumour of its existence had been passed down in the family from generation to generation.
“I still don’t understand why Papa hasn’t told the Germans about it yet,” said the girl.
“Perhaps they haven’t paid him enough,” observed the boy. He struck a match and lit a small hurricane lantern he’d taken from his sack, then ranged the lamp in a wide arc over the trenches and roped-off squares of earth. “But it’s only a matter of time until someone finds it.”
“And you think you know where it is?” asked the girl.
The boy nodded. “And so do you. Do you remember that rhyme grandpa used to sing?”
The girl’s face lit up in the light of the lamp. She smiled, remembering fondly the old man with skin like dried parchment. “One palm, two palm, between the trees, there’s Old Tut’s treasure, so please don’t sneeze!” She giggled, just like she used to when she was a child.
The boy grinned. “The thing is, I don’t think it was just a rhyme.” He pointed to a small copse of palm trees about thirty paces west of the perimeter of the workshop dig. A pair of trees were set slightly apart from the rest. “What do you think?”
The girl’s almond-shaped eyes opened wide. “That’s a bit of a stretch.”
The boy shrugged and walked towards the trees. “Worth a dig, though, don’t you think? Won’t do any harm.”
The girl scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of the old
watchman and his dog. It was all clear. She sighed, shifted her sack from one shoulder to another, and followed her brother. “Can’t do any harm, I suppose…”
“Hey! Looks like someone’s already been here,” called the brother. The girl broke into a run and joined her sibling under the palms. He ranged his lantern over the area to reveal a hole in the ground, which had previously been hidden by rock and scree. The siblings both knew that this is how the entrance to Thutmose’s workshop had been found: under a pile of rubble. But around this entrance were footprints in the sand – human and animal. The girl got down on her knees and peered into the hole, gesturing for her brother to shed light on it. He did and the girl could make out a steep tunnel, wide enough for a medium- sized man to squeeze into, angled down into the darkness. “Do you think someone’s down there now?” she whispered.
“I doubt it,” said the boy. “If the Europeans had found it already, they would have blocked the area off and put guards on it until they came back from their Easter break.”
The girl nodded her assent and cocked her ear, trying to pick up any sounds that might be emanating from the underground chamber. “I agree about the Europeans. So that means it must be one of our people.”
“Yes, but I doubt they’re still there. Look, these footprints don’t look fresh. He poked at the faded tracks with his sandal, then grinned. “The Europeans wouldn’t be able to get a clear print from these,” he said, reminding his sister of the graverobber who had been caught and convicted on another dig by the famous archaeologist Howard Carter, who photographed footprints leading from the scene of the crime and matched them to a suspect.
“What do you want to do then?” asked the girl.
The boy put down his lantern on a nearby rock and shuffled his sack off his shoulder. “Go in, of course. Even if someone’s been here before us, there’ll still be lots to see. And good luck to them if they have! Better one of our people than a foreigner.”
The girl couldn’t disagree with that. So, with one more scan of the area above ground to prove they were most definitely alone, she helped her brother tie a rope securely to a palm tree and thread it down the hole. From experience, she knew that in all likelihood the entrance was not above a dead drop and was most likely a steep ramp. But also from experience – and family stories – she knew that the ramps could be treacherous. Great Uncle Kadiel had lost his footing at one of the tombs on the cliff face forty years ago and broke his back in the fall. So they tied a second rope and knotted it around her brother’s waist – as their father had taught them – and made him lean back to see if it held his weight. It did and before long he slithered through the hole and made his way down, using the first rope as a guide.
The girl waited in the company of the twin palms, standing sentinel beneath a canopy of stars.
“It’s too tight to stand,” a muffled voice called after a few moments. “But I can crawl. I’ll give three tugs when I reach the bottom. If there’s anything to see, I’ll give another three tugs; if there’s nothing here, I’ll only tug twice.”
“All right!” called the girl as loudly as she dared. They appeared to be alone, but old Mohammed and his dog were still unaccounted for…
It must only have been five or ten minutes, but it seemed like twice that before the rope between the tree and the hole jerked… three times. The girl let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. There’s something there… he wants me to come down…
She looked around once more – still no sign of the watchman and his dog. She wasn’t surprised; he was a known slacker. The
heavens only knew how he managed to keep his job. Some said he knew secrets the Europeans wouldn’t want divulged – secrets about questionable practices on the dig that didn’t quite align with the terms of license granted by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities in Cairo.
She tugged the rope three times to indicate to her brother that she’d got the message, tied a rope around the tree, and securely fastened it around her waist before approaching the entrance to the underground chamber. On her haunches she pulled up the hood of her cloak and tucked the stray hair from her plait behind her ears. She’d only just washed her hair that morning and didn’t want it full of muck from the tunnel. Then she sat on her bottom and worked her way, feet first, into the hole. There was no need to go head first; her brother had traversed the route before her and wouldn’t have called her down if there was any obstacle in the way. And besides, she was more confident keeping her head up, rather than down, just in case she needed to pull herself back up the rope with no one above ground to help her.
She held her breath and shimmied into the hole, then down the tunnel, which had sufficient clearance that the ceiling only intermittently brushed the top of her head. She stopped a metre or two below the surface, braced her ankles against the sides, and felt around with her hands. Someone, a long time ago – Thutmose himself perhaps? – had lined the tunnel with timber and overlaid it with compacted clay. The clay lining had cracked and crumbled in places but remained largely intact. The girl mumbled a prayer of thanks for the ingenuity and industriousness of her ancestors.
“Are you coming down?” A call from below.
“Yes,” she answered and continued her downwards shimmy, pushing herself up onto her hands and propelling her bottom forward to her knees in a caterpillar motion. “How far?” “About 20 metres! Can you see my light?”
Yes, she could; there was a dim glow below her. Her brother
had lit the lamp he had taken down with him. “Yes!” she affirmed, then: “What can you see?”
“Piles of stuff!” Her brother’s voice bubbled with excitement. “It’s not a tomb –”
“Didn’t expect it to be.”
“No. But it looks like this was where old Tut stored his funerary artefacts. The ones that would be used for burial.”
“Of Nefertiti and Akhenaten?”
“Possibly. We’ll see when you get down. I haven’t gone too far in… Ah, there you are. You’re getting slow in your old age.” The boy held out his hand and helped his sister upright at the bottom of the ramped tunnel. She took it then gave him a playful punch on the shoulder.
“You’re fifteen minutes older than me!”
“And always fifteen minutes ahead of you too!”
She punched him again.
“Ow!” yelped the boy but didn’t retaliate. Here, surrounded
by vases, chests, sarcophagi and amphora – with who knew what kind of treasure inside – they put their sibling high jinks aside.
The girl took the lantern from him and traced a wide arc around the chamber. She let out a long whistle. “It looks like there are other chambers leading off from this one.”
The boy agreed. “At least one; there’s an entrance over there. I haven’t been through yet. Thought we could start here.”
The girl nodded her agreement, put down the lantern on top of a carved stele leaning against the wall, and started to investigate. The stele – possibly a grave marker – was inscribed with hieroglyphics. The twins were learning to read the ancient script in their Classical civilization classes at the academy. The
girl traced her finger over the shapes, mouthing the words as she went: “The sun and the moon, the day and the night, wed forever in celestial splendour. Akhenaten and Nefertiti shine on your people, divine ones, shine.” The girl gasped and raised her face to her brother. “It is them! This will fetch a fine price on the black market!”
The boy grinned. “Of course we can’t take too much… we’ll never get away with it… but I don’t see why we can’t take a couple of small pieces and then let Borchardt know when he gets back with father… we’ll have to leave the stele, too heavy… besides it identifies the find… but something smaller…”
He lifted the lid on one of the painted wooden chests. Inside, in a bed of straw, was a set of gold-plated amphora, perhaps intended to hold sacred oil. “Hang on,” he said, his fingers raking through the straw, “this is fresh… it’s fresh straw!” He reached for the next chest and it contained statuettes – possibly by Thutmose himself. But these too were neatly packaged in fresh straw.
“Why’s it fresh?” he asked.
The girl’s stomach clenched. “Oh no…” She too opened a chest and came face to face with a burial mask of gold leaf, blue enamel, and black jet that looked very similar to the bust of Nefertiti, discovered elsewhere on the dig two years earlier. But what struck the twins more than the exquisite beauty of the pharaoh queen was the nest of fresh straw and modern linen wadding in which it lay. “Someone’s been here before us,” the girl whispered.
“Yes,” agreed the boy, “and it looks like they’re packed and ready to go.”
“We need to report it,” said the girl. “This doesn’t look like a casual looter. It’s organized. It’s… pssst! Where are you going?” The boy was picking his way through the treasure-filled chests heading to the back of the chamber. “I’m just going to stick my head in here.”
The girl stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t think we’ve got time. What if they come back?”
“Just a few minutes more,” said the boy and continued on his quest. As there was only one light the girl had a choice of staying there in the dark or following her brother. She sighed and, with a humph, joined her sibling. They had been right – there was another chamber, this too filled with chests, vases, statues, stele, and amphora. And in the middle was a stone sarcophagus. It was incomplete, with only the first layer of chiseling evident in what would eventually be an intricately carved design. The twins weren’t surprised. Thutmose had abandoned his workshop when the city itself had been evacuated after the death of Akhenaten. Much of the finds on the dig to date had been of unfinished or discarded pieces, though still of immense value to historians, antiquarians, and collectors of ancient art.
The boy took hold of the lid and heaved. It shifted slightly but didn’t budge. “Give me a hand, will you?”
The girl snorted. “You won’t find a mummy if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“I know!” said the brother. “But I’d like to see where one might lie. I’ve never seen inside one, have you?”
The girl admitted she hadn’t. There were a couple at the Cairo Museum, but she had never got around to visiting. When you lived a stone’s throw from an archaeological treasure trove, seeing the artefacts in the musty confines of a museum wasn’t quite so enticing. So she shrugged and leant her strength to her brother’s effort. With a few heaves and pulls the heavy stone lid began to pivot. When they’d moved it about 45 degrees they stopped and the boy picked up the lamp from the floor. He held it aloft and gasped. There, staring through the opening,
was the grimacing face of a dog, its teeth bared, its eyes wide and lifeless. The muzzle was matted with blood. The girl knew that if she reached out and touched it, it would still be sticky to the touch – it looked that recent. “It’s the watchman’s dog! Who would do this?”
The siblings stepped back from the sarcophagus and drew closer together. The girl slipped her arm around her brother’s waist. She was not a sentimental girl, but the thought of a poor animal being killed and hidden like this made her feel sick. Hidden… hidden… “And why would they hide it?”
“And where’s Mohammed?” The boy’s voice was hollow. He took a step towards the sarcophagus.
The girl knew immediately what he was going to do. “Don’t! Let’s call someone. The police at El-Hag Kandeel…”
But the boy was undeterred. He passed the lantern to his sister, then climbed up onto the edge of the stone coffin and positioned his backside on the rim. He pressed his heels against the edge of the lid and used the strength of his legs to push. The lid gave way and fell to the earth floor with a deathly thud. And there, as the siblings both feared, was the body of Mohammed the watchman under the corpse of his faithful dog.
The twins screamed, their voices merging as they had on the day they were born, and they ran from the chamber as fast as they could. The girl had the presence of mind to snatch up the lantern and was a step or two behind her brother as they fled towards the tunnel. But waiting for them, in the outer chamber, were two men, one an Egyptian police officer, the other a European.
“Mohammed! The watchman! His dog!” the boy cried in Arabic.
“Arrest them,” said the European in English.
“But we haven’t done anything!” cried the girl. Her protest was met with a blow to the head and the last thing she heard was her brother calling out her name.

Chapter 2
London, Thursday 8 December 1921
“Miz Denby! What do you know about Queen Nefertiti?” Poppy looked up from her Remington typewriter – where she had been bashing out a theatre review – to see her editor stalking towards her with what looked like a press release in hand. Since returning from a trip to New York earlier in the year, the diminutive newspaperman had taken to walking around with a noxious Cuban cigar clenched between his teeth, adding to the already foul atmosphere of the fourth-floor newsroom. He clambered onto a spare chair near her desk, his short legs dangling a foot off the ground.
“Nefertiti,” he said again, pronouncing it “Nay-fur-toy-toy” in his New York accent.
“Hold on,” said Poppy, then swiped the carriage return twice, typed ENDS, and turned her attention to her editor.
“Who or what is ‘Nay-fur-toy-toy’?” she asked, reaching out her ink-stained hand to take the sheet of paper Rollo passed to her.
Rollo grinned at her attempt at a New York accent and then, in affected Queen’s English, articulated “Ne’er-for-tea- tea,” before slipping back into his usual drawl. “She was some Egyptian broad. A pharaoh queen. Married to a fella whose name I can’t pronounce.”
Poppy scanned the press release.
Dear Mr Rolandson, you are invited to report on the auction of the death mask of Queen Nefertiti at Winterton Hall, Henley-on-Thames, on Saturday 10th December. The auction will be part of a longer clay-pigeon shooting weekend – weather permitting – and will be attended by luminaries in the world of antiquities and archaeology, both local and international. Your readers might also be interested to know that on Friday evening, a séance will be held, led by Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle, at which an attempt will be made to contact the spirit of Queen Nefertiti.
The release then went on to give a brief history of Nefertiti and to state that the mask had just recently come to light, the general consensus being that it had been stolen from a dig in Egypt in 1914, under what were described as “murderous circumstances”.
Poppy raised her eyebrows. “Murderous circumstances? What does that mean?”
“Damned if I know,” said Rollo, and stubbed out his cigar in the soil around Poppy’s precious potted begonia. She glared at him. “Sorry,” he offered, then picked out the stub and plopped it into an empty tea cup. “You really should get an ash tray, Miz Denby.”
Poppy bit back her you really should respect other people’s property and said instead, “So, are you going?”
“It’s short notice, but yes. And I think you should come too. Technically, it falls into the art and entertainment brief – particularly with Conan Doyle in attendance; you might be able to get an interview.”
“What’s this about a séance?”
Rollo rolled his eyes beneath his shaggy red brows. “Another one of his spiritualist stunts, I suppose.”
Poppy pursed her lips. “Quite. I wish he’d stick to his detective stories. They’re far more sensible.”
Rollo grinned. “But not half as newsworthy. Which is why this Maddox fella thinks we’ll be interested. And he’s right.”
“Well, I’m not interested in the least.”
“Hocus pocus not Christian enough for you?” asked Rollo with a grin.
Poppy swivelled in her chair and looked Rollo squarely in the eye. “There are two ways of looking at this. Either they’re a hoax and people are being duped, or they are actually talking to the dead – which, in my book, is a very dangerous thing to do. Dabbling with the spirits can lead down sinister paths.”
“Spirits that don’t exist.”
“You have no evidence of that.”
“Neither do you.”
They held each other’s gaze. Poppy and Rollo had been over
this ground before. She believed in God. He did not.
“Well, Miz Denby, hopefully you can admit that whether it’s a hoax or real, anything involving Conan Doyle is newsworthy.
And you would be professionally remiss to ignore it.”
Poppy lowered her eyes. He was right. She had a job to do. She cleared her throat and then scanned the press release again. It was signed by Sir James Maddox, Baron of Winterton. “Do we know anything about Maddox?” asked Poppy, indicating
that she was most firmly back “on the job”.
Rollo leaned back in his chair, his plump belly straining
between the parallel lines of his scarlet braces. “I’ve heard the name. Yazzie has mentioned him before. He was a friend of her father’s, I think. Some kind of maverick archaeologist collector type. A bit like that Carnarvon fella.”
“The one that’s looking for King Tut’s tomb?”
“That’s the one,” said Rollo and took the press release back
from Poppy. “I think I’ll ask Yazzie to come as well. She might be able to give us some insight into the Egyptian angle. And she might want to bid on the mask… She’s got quite the art collection, as you know.”
Poppy brushed a stray blonde curl behind her ear and avoided meeting Rollo’s eyes.
“What?”
“Nothing. I just thought you and Miss Reece-Lansdale were no longer – er – well – no longer stepping out together.” She straightened a pile of notes on her desk.
Rollo cocked his head to one side. “I don’t know if we were ever ‘stepping out together’. But no, whatever you’ve heard, Yazzie and I are still friends. She’s a fine lady.”
What Poppy had heard was that the famous female barrister, the Anglo-Egyptian Miss Yasmin Reece-Lansdale, had been forthright enough to ask the editor of The Daily Globe to marry her. And he had turned her down. But it was none of her business. What was her business was a possible story involving Arthur Conan Doyle and a valuable Egyptian artefact that was somehow associated with a murder… A shiver ran down her spine. “Apologies Rollo. Yes, I’d love to come on the weekend with you and Yazzie – in a professional capacity, of course.” Annoyingly, she felt a slight blush creep up her neck.
Her editor laughed. “Goodo. And I’ll ask Danny Boy too,” he winked. “In his professional capacity, of course.” Rollo heaved himself off his chair and stood at Poppy’s side, his head barely reaching her shoulder. His eyes expertly scanned the typescript in her machine. “Is this the Ivor Novello / PG Wodehouse collaboration?”
“It is,” said Poppy. “At the Adelphi.”
“Any good?”
Poppy whisked out the sheet and passed it to him. “Very
funny, as you’d expect. Jolly music too.”
“I might give it a go. If you’re finished with this why don’t
you go down to the morgue and pull some jazz files on the main players at the Egyptian weekend. And I’ll telegraph Maddox to expect a group of us from the Globe.” He paused, his eyebrows furrowed. “Bet we’re not the only press he’s asked.”
“Lionel Saunders from the Courier?” asked Poppy as she stood up and straightened her calf-length Chanel grey skirt – all the rage in office wear for the working lady – and shrugged into the matching jacket.
“You can bet your bottom dollar on it,” observed Rollo. He wagged a finger at Poppy. “We’d better make sure we get the scoop on him. Do as much research as you can, Miz Denby, and I’ll see if Yazzie knows anything about these ‘murderous circumstances’. Her brother Faizal is with the Egyptian Antiquities Service, did you know?”
Poppy didn’t. She didn’t even know Yasmin had a brother. The editor and reporter parted ways, promising to touch base later in the day.
Down in the morgue, Poppy hung her jacket and matching cloche hat next to a huge black great coat, which had previously seen action on the Western Front. The coat belonged to Ivan Molanov, the archivist of The Daily Globe. Ivan was a refugee from communist Russia who had met Rollo Rolandson in a military hospital in Belgium during the war. At Poppy’s request, Ivan had dug out the jazz files on Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle, James Maddox, the archaeologist Howard Carter, and his backer, George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon. Poppy didn’t know whether Carter and Carnarvon were going to be at the shooting weekend, but as they were currently the most famous Egyptologists in the country, she thought their files might contain some useful background material. She also asked Ivan to look beyond the jazz files – which contained mainly celebrity gossip – to the subject clipping files.
“Do you have anything on Egypt in general? Or this Queen Nefertiti?”
“Nay-fah who?” asked Ivan.
Poppy wrote down the name on a piece of paper and gave it to him. Ivan held it in his huge paw-like hand and grunted. “Thees ees not a library, Mees Denby. Go to the British Museum. Beeg library there. Lots of Egyptian artefacts too. You ever see a mummy?”
Poppy admitted that she hadn’t. She was a frequent visitor to the British Library, but in the eighteen months she had lived in London she had never ventured into the bowels of the museum which shared the same premises. History did not interest her that much, and most of her time – work or leisure – was taken up attending art exhibitions, book launches or theatre and cinema shows. She was, after all, the arts and entertainment editor of the Globe, not a historian. However, this new story, which she had labelled “The Cairo Brief” in bold letters at the top of her notebook (she had initially called it “The Pharaoh Brief ” but wasn’t confident she could spell it), was about ancient art. She felt a little out of her depth.
“Yes, that’s a good suggestion, Ivan. I’ll head over to the museum when I’m finished here.”
Ivan left her to her research. First off she opened the file on Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle. Actually, it was two files in one, as the file of Jean Leckie, long-term mistress of the famous detective fiction writer, was slipped into her lover’s when they
finally married, the year after the death of Conan Doyle’s first wife. Sir Arthur, Lady Jean, and anyone close to them denied that they’d had a physical affair, but no one denied that they had been in love for at least a decade while the first Mrs Conan Doyle became increasingly infirm with tuberculosis. It was partly due to Jean, apparently, that Arthur became embroiled in spiritualism, which avid readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories struggled to understand. Conan Doyle had previously been a doctor and gifted his scientific mindset to the forensic genius of Holmes. However, as Poppy read on in the file, she realized that this was just a veneer. The real Conan Doyle was just as interested in the metaphysical as he was in the scientific, having become a freemason thirty years earlier. He had also written articles on psychic phenomena, which he claimed to have observed in his children’s nanny. When he married Jean in 1906 and she professed to have the gift of contacting the dead and communicating their messages to the living through automatic writing, Conan Doyle became increasingly active in the spiritualist movement. Poppy noted that his first published work on spiritualism was in 1916, the year after one of his nephews was killed in the war. Poppy swallowed hard. That’s the same year Christopher died…
Poppy’s brother Christopher had been a voracious reader of the Sherlock Holmes stories and had used his pocket money to buy The Strand magazine and kept it hidden under his mattress. Knowing their parents would disapprove of wasting good money on what they would have thought “bad literature”, he swore Poppy to secrecy. A few years later, when Christopher died, she felt she needed to continue keeping his secret. But when she went to his room to retrieve the stash, their mother was already there. She had pulled the mattress off the bed for beating and found the collection of story magazines. They now lay around her as she knelt on the floor, her shoulders heaving as she sobbed. One of the magazines was clutched to her breast as she wept out her anguish for her lost child. Poppy did not speak; she just turned around and left her mother to her private grief. Later, she returned to the room, but the magazines had all gone.
Poppy closed her eyes to suppress the tears that were beginning to well. Pull yourself together, old girl; there’s work to be done. Poppy turned a page in the file to find a clipping from The Strand dated December 1920. The article, written by Conan Doyle, was in defence of the girls from Yorkshire who claimed to have photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden. Poppy smiled as she looked at the whimsical photograph, considered a hoax by experts and academics, but widely believed by the general public. This article by the author of Sherlock Holmes had much to do with the popular acceptance of the fairy hoax, as the public seemed to struggle to differentiate the unimpeachable fictional detective – who could never be fooled – from his more fanciful creator.
The next page in the file held an article written by Rollo Rolandson, lampooning Conan Doyle for his defence of the photographs and quoting Daniel Rokeby, The Daily Globe’s resident photographer, who explained how the photographs had been staged and faked. Poppy remembered Rollo and Daniel working on the piece last December. Golly, had it been a year already?
Poppy trailed her finger along Daniel’s name. Last December Poppy had believed she and the handsome photographer might soon be married. But here they were, twelve months later, and there was still no ring on her finger. Their relationship ebbed and flowed like the tide, and for three whole months, when Poppy was in New York with Rollo, she thought it might be over forever. But on her return Daniel had been waiting for her…
Poppy pulled herself up again: stop daydreaming!
She read through her notes on Conan Doyle and decided
that she had enough to go on for now. She was fascinated to meet the man in the flesh – as well as his wife; although the idea of speaking to someone who spoke to the dead was a little troubling. Claims to speak to the dead, Poppy reminded herself. Surely, the whole thing was a hoax. Not to mention un- Christian! Nonetheless, she was intrigued to see what actually happened at a séance. Despite her qualms, Rollo was right: it would make for a fantastic article.
The next file was on Sir James Maddox, whom Poppy had never heard of before. There wasn’t much in the file, as Maddox appeared to spend much of his time abroad or on his country estate, Winterton, and did not come up to London much. There was, however, a photograph of Maddox and his wife, Lady Ursula, at the opening of an exhibit at the British Museum. He was a beefy, balding man, sporting a moustache and wearing one of those curious Ottoman hats – a fez, Poppy thought it might be called. His wife was more conventionally dressed, her unsmiling face giving nothing away. The notes added little to what Rollo had already told her. Maddox was a gentleman archaeologist and world traveller, with an extensive collection of Egyptian, Roman, and Greek antiquities. There was, however, one newspaper clipping that gave a hint of something slightly controversial. It was from the Times, dated August 1914, reporting that Sir James Maddox had been asked to step down from the board of the Egyptian Exploration Fund. A representative of the board had told the Times it was due to concerns that had been raised about Sir James’s “methods of procurement of certain antiquities”. The representative declined to give more specific details and Sir James was “not available for comment”. It was a short article, covering a mere three column inches. Poppy was very surprised the journalist hadn’t dug deeper. There was clearly a story there… but, perhaps the outbreak of the war that very same month had caused the story to be spiked – or it had been longer and the sub-editor had cut it for space. She checked the by-line on the article – Walter Jensford. She’d never heard of him but made a note of it.
Poppy closed the file and checked her watch – nearly one o’clock. Time for a spot of lunch then I’ll head over to the British Museum. She hadn’t had a chance to read the Carnarvon and Carter files. “Ivan,” she called out to the archivist. “Can I take these with me please?”
Ivan said she could and made a note in his meticulously kept record book as Poppy slipped her jacket over her white silk blouse. “You should wrap up warm, Mees Denby. I see it is starting to snow.” Poppy glanced out of the third-floor window, overlooking Fleet Street. Down below, horse-drawn vehicles jostled for space with motorcars, and pedestrians pulled up their collars against the cold. Ivan was right; it was starting to snow.

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1-7

A Little Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes / Blog Tour + Extract

Hi guys, hope you are doing well on this rainy Sunday – well, at least it’s rainy here, but it’s great, I’ve been missing rain so much. And what a better way to spend such a day than to curl up with a book or read an extract from one? Here I have the Prologue to “A Little Bird Told Me” by Marianne Holmes, debut novel that is already getting many raving reviews. Enjoy!

 

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PROLOGUE

They say I’ll never find her.

Kit says it doesn’t matter because we still have each other but not a day goes by when I don’t long for the truth.

I feel her absence aching and flowing through the gaps in our story where the pieces don’t mesh. I see her presence in the spatter of freckles on Kit’s nose and the straight curtain of hair I can’t keep out of my eyes.

They say no one knows where she is.

What they really mean is, they couldn’t find her. I know that’s true because I’ve read the news reports. But there is one person who knows where she is.

 ‘Family is blood and pain,’ he said, ‘and, one day, I will hunt you down and teach you the meaning of that.’

His breath was bitter with the smell of cigarettes, his eyes spilling sparks of fury and the scar on his cheek stretched and twisted as he spoke. Or it might have. I read about that too, long after Matthew took us far away from here.

I will hunt you down,’ he said, and I know he will.

If I’m ever going to find her, this is my last chance. But if I start looking, he’ll come looking for us. I can’t help that – there’s something I need to put right.

Besides, if you were one half evil, wouldn’t you want to know about the other half?

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (Blog Tour + Extract)

Hi guys! Today we’re celebrating the publication od “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate – out tomorrow, published by Quercus. This book sounds incredibly intriguing and I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, I have an extract from chapter 1 for you, and really guys, just have a look how beautifully it’s written! The story itself is about two families, generations apart, that are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice,  inspired by true story. Enjoy!

 

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CHAPTER 1

Avery Stafford

 

Aiken, South Carolina, Present Day

I take a breath, scoot to the edge of the seat, and straighten

my jacket as the limo rolls to a stop on the boiling-

hot asphalt.

News vans wait along the curb, accentuating the importance

of this morning’s seemingly innocuous meeting.

But not one moment of this day will happen by accident.

These past two months in South Carolina have been all

about making sure the nuances are just right—

shaping the inferences so as to hint but do no more.

Definitive statements are not to be made.

Not yet, anyway.

Not for a long time, if I have my way about it.

I wish I could forget why I’ve come home, but even the

fact that my father isn’t reading his notes or checking the

briefing from Leslie, his über-efficient press secretary, is an

undeniable reminder. There’s no escaping the enemy that

rides silently in the car with us. It’s here in the backseat,

hiding beneath the gray tailored suit that hangs a hint too

loose over my father’s broad shoulders.

Daddy stares out the window, his head leaning to one

side. He has relegated his aides and Leslie to another car.

“You feeling all right?” I reach across to brush a long

blond hair—mine—off the seat so it won’t cling to his trousers

when he gets out. If my mother were here, she’d whip

out a mini lint brush, but she’s home, preparing for our second

event of the day—a family Christmas photo that must

be taken months early . . . just in case Daddy’s prognosis

worsens.

He sits a bit straighter, lifts his head. Static makes his

thick gray hair stick straight out. I want to smooth it down

for him, but I don’t. It would be a breach of protocol.

If my mother is intimately involved in the micro aspects

of our lives, such as fretting over lint and planning for the

family Christmas photo in July, my father is the opposite.

He is distant—an island of staunch maleness in a household

of women. I know he cares deeply about my mother, my

two sisters, and me, but he seldom voices the sentiment out

loud. I also know that I’m his favorite but the one who confuses

him most. He is a product of an era when women

went to college to secure the requisite MRS degree. He’s not

quite sure what to do with a thirty-

year-old daughter who graduated top of her class from Columbia Law and actually

enjoys the gritty world of a U.S. attorney’s office.

Whatever the reason— Perhaps just because the positions of perfectionist daughter and

sweet daughter were already taken in our family—I have always been brainiac daughter.

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A Family Recipe by Veronica Henry / #BlogTour + Extract

Hi guys, hope you’re all doing great. Today is my stop on Veronica Henry’s blog tour that’s celebrating her newest release, “A Family Recipe”, and this book is a charming little gem of a novel, full of relatable characters and situations, and really guys, you should all read it. Next to my review I have a teeny tiny foretaste for you – an extract from the story. Enjoy!

 

A Family Recipe by Veronica Henry

 

39337351Publisher: Orion

Publishing Date: 17th May 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

The brand-new feel-good story from bestseller Veronica Henry –
a perfect mix of family, friends and delicious food.

What’s the secret ingredient to your happiness?

Laura Griffin is preparing for an empty nest. The thought of Number 11 Lark Hill falling silent – a home usually bustling with noise, people and the fragrant smells of something cooking on the Aga – seems impossible. Laura hopes it will mean more time for herself, and more time with her husband, Dom.

But when an exposed secret shakes their marriage, Laura suddenly feels as though her family is shrinking around her. Feeling lost, she turns to her greatest comfort: her grandmother’s recipe box, a treasured collection dating back to the Second World War. Everyone has always adored Laura’s jams and chutneys, piled their sandwiches high with her pickles . . . Inspired by a bit of the old Blitz spirit, Laura has an idea that gives her a fresh sense of purpose.

Full of fierce determination, Laura starts carving her own path. But even the bravest woman needs the people who love her. And now, they need her in return . . .

Rating: four-stars

Laura is just about to experience an empty nest syndrome – her youngest daughter Willow is leaving for university. The daughter that Laura focused on for so many years, and worried about for so many years when she was fighting against the life threatening asthma. Jasmine, the older daughter, the much more independent and – what’s more important – healthy one, has left home already to study. So Laura is now facing a question, what to do with her life – she didn’t have to work, she only needed to concentrate on her husband and daughters but what now?
Laura’s widowed grandmother has gave up the 11 Lark Hill to Laura and Dom and moved to a smaller house on the same property. Now Laura decides to do up and rent some of the rooms on Airbnb. It’s a great distraction, as there are things happening in Laura’s life that she’s never expected. Is her marriage going to survive? Will Willow stay healthy at the university?

I loved how effortlessly did Veronica Henry weave two – at first sight – different stories set in different times. One of the stories follows young Kanga – Jilly – living through the Blitz in WW2 in Bath, bringing back the memories of the severe destruction, of loss. It was a beautiful story bringing to life Jilly’s friendship with Ivy – the girls supported each other in their most dark moments and stayed friends for ever. Jilly has never forgotten Ivy’s support, the courage she has given her when Jilly discovered she’s pregnant and is going to be a single mum – she knows she wouldn’t be able to do it without Ivy.
The second story is about Laura and her world being shattered by discovering that her husband is having an affair. I admired Laura’s consequence and how firm she was in this situation but to be honest I also started to feel sorry for the poor Dom. Sure, as you make your bed so you must lie on it and I am not justifying him but there came a moment that I really wanted Laura to give him a chance to at least talk to her, and honestly I was surprised that he went for this whole charade, as Laura didn’t want to tell their daughters about them splitting up. I thought, hey, they’re grown up, they’re not children any more and using Willow’s asthma as a pretext can only work for a time. Nevertheless, this situation gave Laura the chance to find herself afresh, and what a better way than to dig out the old family recipes and start making jams and chutneys in her beloved but moody Aga?

The two leading female characters, Jilly and Laura, were brilliantly written by Veronica Henry. It was great to observe Laura standing again on her own two feet, coming to terms with her new life, being so strong and becoming independent. Getting to know Kanga and her history was great, her story was so poignant and heart – breaking, and I loved how determined she was. The relationship between them, between grandmother and granddaughter was unforced, natural and genuine and I loved that Kanga wasn’t one of those grandmothers that meddle in other lives. I also think that the author has managed to capture Laura at the best moment – this character could have gone two ways, as a spoiled, always leaning on somebody housewife, or a strong, determined woman who wants to do something useful with her life, and the author has she pulled it off in the best possible way. Laura was likeable and from the very beginning I warmed to her.

“A Family Recipe” was a lovely, down – to – earth family saga, with likeable and believable characters, warm and inviting. The writing style is so easy to follow, full of depth, emotions and feelings and I immediately felt a part of this story. Veronica Henry has – again – delivered a charming novel about family, friends, love, betrayal and forgiveness in challenging times. I truly enjoyed this book and I can only highly recommend it to you all, guys.

EXTRACT

2

September 2017

Willow had asked for nachos for her farewell supper.

Laura was pathologically incapable of doing

what most normal people would have done: plonked a

saucepan of chilli on the table with a packet of tortilla

chips and got everyone to help themselves.

Instead, by five o’clock the evening before Willow

was due to go to university for the first time, a huge

cauldron on the hot-pink Aga belted out a cloud of steam

scented with cumin and cinnamon and chilli. On the

worktop were bowls filled with grated cheese, soured

cream, guacamole, jalapeños, spicy beans, finely chopped

coriander and chargrilled sweetcorn salsa. Wedges of lime

were waiting to be stuffed into bottles of beer – ‘cerveza’,

Laura teased herself with a Spanish lisp.

She had stopped short of making margaritas because no

one would want to face the next day with a hangover: it

was a six-hour drive to York and it was going to be a difficult

enough day without a thumping tequila headache.

She’d put a row of tiny cactuses in pots down the

middle of the slate-topped island and empty milk

bottles filled with bright pink, yellow and orange gerbera.

A donkey piñata hung from one of the hooks in

the ceiling. She’d managed to refrain from filling it with

sweets. This wasn’t an actual party, after all, just a goodbye

to Willow from her family and her friends, and a few

neighbours, and . . . well, Laura didn’t know exactly who

else, but by eight o’clock the joint would be jumping.

That was how things rolled at Number 11.

It was Laura’s schtick to go to immense trouble, but her

efforts on this occasion were doubled, masking the fact

that tomorrow was the day she had been dreading more

than any other in her life – and there had been a few. She

stood for a moment in the quiet of the kitchen.

This kitchen was her safe place, where she felt love and

gave love. There was always a sense of calm underlying the

chaos. No one else knew how she did it.

‘How do you make it look so effortless? I always have

a nervous breakdown when I’m entertaining. Nothing

looks right, nothing tastes right, and I worry myself to

death.’ Her best friend, Sadie, was eternally mystified by

her entertaining skills.

‘Because I love it? Because I don’t have a career? Because

I don’t look as if I’ve just walked off the pages of Vogue?’

Laura teased.

Sadie owned La, the most fashionable boutique in

Bath, and always looked incredible. ‘But you’re naturally

gorgeous. You don’t have to spend hours making yourself

look ravishing. You just are,’ she complained.

It was true, with her eyes the colour of maple syrup and

her tousled dark mane. Laura, however, thought she was

overweight and unkempt, as it was all she could do to pull

a comb through her hair. She wore skinny jeans, because

her legs were like matchsticks, and had a selection of linen

shirts and sloppy sweaters that covered her embonpoint

and her tummy, about which she was unnecessarily selfconscious.

She didn’t see her own beauty.

‘I’m top heavy,’ she complained. ‘Like a robin – far too

big for my silly little bird legs.’

She felt distinctly unglamorous at this moment, her

hair tied up on top of her head with the elastic band the

postman brought the letters in, a blue and white apron

wrapped round her and a wooden spoon in her hand,

dishevelled and covered in tomato sauce. She was also

finding it desperately hard to stop herself from seeing how

Willow was getting on with her packing.

The back of the car was already loaded up with everything

a new student could possibly want, mostly courtesy

of Ikea to keep the cost down. But Laura had spoiled

Willow with a few things. A luxury mattress topper, essential

for making a strange single bed comfortable. A fleecy

blanket to snuggle up in when it was cold and Willow

was missing home. And some Jo Malone bath oil, because

Laura believed in the power of smell to comfort you.

Willow, however, was a girl who liked to leave everything

to the last minute. Even now her favourite sweatshirt

was rolling around the tumble dryer because she’d only

fetched it from her friend’s house this morning. Laura,

who laid everything out on the spare bed a week before

they went on holiday, found it nerve-racking.

Dom told her not to worry. If Willow forgot anything

she could do without until she came back for the weekend.

‘I probably won’t come back till Christmas,’ Willow

had pointed out. ‘York’s miles and I won’t be able to

afford the train fare.’

Laura’s stomach lurched at the thought of three months

without seeing her daughter, but she squashed the feeling

down. Instead, she sat down at the island and picked up

her Berol pen. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d

written a proper letter, but she wouldn’t be able to say

what she wanted to say without blubbing. As she began to

write, in her best handwriting, she relished the satisfaction

of forming perfect letters, the ink running smoothly across

the paper, the loops and the circles and the curlicues.

Number 11 Lark Hill

Bath

My darling Willow,

Apologies in advance for doing one of those embarrassingly

sentimental mum things. You know how good I am at

those! But I wanted to send you off on your adventure with

something to remind you of home, and I couldn’t think of

anything better than these recipes. They all come from the

little recipe box I keep in the pantry. You and Jasmine have

used them often enough over the years because they still

have your sticky paw prints on them!

The oldest recipes go all the way back to your greatgreat-

grandma – the flapjack and the Yorkshire pudding

come from her (also good for toad-in-the-hole!). The

crumble and the tea loaf come from Kanga – she used to

cook them during the war for the people she had living with

her at Number 11. The avgolemono and the spanakopita

are from my mother, from her travels in Greece . . . I was

not the only thing she brought back!! You can taste the

sunshine in them – they are for when the wind is howling

outside and you want to feel warmed.

The rest are from me: things I have made for you over

the years. Brownies and pancakes and sausage rolls for

sharing. And your favourite suppers: spag bol and chilli

and Thai curry. I know you probably know how to cook

them, but I wanted you to have a keepsake, a little bit

of family history to keep with you. And I know you will

probably live on Cheerios and Cheesy Puffs and Chinese

takeaways, but maybe from time to time you might want

some proper home-made comfort food to share with your

new friends.

I’m so proud of you, darling girl. I know you will fly, and

make the most of this wonderful opportunity.

With lots of love and kisses

Mum xx

Laura looked down at the letter, the inevitable tears blurring

her eyes, then folded the sheet into three. She tucked

it inside the Moleskine notebook she had bought specially.

Each page held a different recipe, carefully copied. It had

taken her over a week to write it, as she’d had to hide it

from everyone. She wanted it to be a surprise, but she was

also a bit self-conscious. Was it too sentimental?

‘My goodness – it smells absolutely wonderful in here.’

‘Kanga! You made me jump.’ Laura put a hand to her

chest. ‘I was miles away.’

Kanga walked through the kitchen, lifting the lid on

the pot and smelling it appreciatively. She looked around

the room.

‘What is this? Fiesta time?’

‘You know me. I can’t help myself.’ Laura grinned, sliding

the notebook into a drawer. ‘I’m sure Willow would

much rather go to the pub with her mates.’

‘She did that last night. Tonight’s for family – she

knows that.’

‘Yes. I want it to be a good send-off, though.’

‘You’re a good mummy.’

‘I had a good role model.’ Laura smiled at her grandmother.

Kanga had brought her up from the age of four,

when Laura’s mum had died. The tiny, thoughtful Laura had

decided that she didn’t want to call her ‘Granny’ any more,

as she was so much more than that, and had christened her

Kanga, after her favourite Winnie the Pooh character.

At ninety-three, Kanga was still more than just a

grandmother – though she looked barely seventy-three.

She was in a pale-pink linen shirt and black trousers and

soft boots, her bright white hair cut close to her jaw, her

dark-grey eyes with their hooded lids missing nothing.

Of course Laura worried she was too thin, but Kanga

had laughed that her appetite had gone with her libido

many years ago, and she was much happier for it. ‘I have

so much more time now I don’t have to think about sex

or food,’ she claimed. Laura wasn’t sure what else there

was to live for.

‘No Dom?’ asked Kanga, taking a seat at the island.

‘He’s got a meeting with the quantity surveyor this

afternoon. So he’s bound to stop off at the Wellie on the

way home.’

The Wellington Arms was Dom’s favourite watering hole,

where he and his property mates cut deals and watched

rugby and sneaked in dirty pints on a Friday afternoon.

Kanga frowned. ‘Even on Willow’s last night?’

‘It’s fine. He’d only drive me mad if he was here. It’s

always much better if he turns up five minutes before

every one else and doesn’t interfere.’ Laura pulled the elastic

band out of her hair, wincing as it caught. ‘Can I leave

you to keep an eye on everything while I get changed?’

Of course.’

‘There’s wine in the fridge.’

In her bedroom, Laura tipped her head upside down

and sprayed dry shampoo onto her roots then ran her

fingers through her curls. There was no time now for a

shower. She pulled off the sweatshirt she’d been cooking

in and rifled through her wardrobe for something

to wear. Sadie was incredibly generous and always gave

Laura things from La for her birthday she would never

dare choose for herself. She pulled out a pearl grey shirt

with pintucks and pearl buttons, pulling it over her head.

It looked perfect – it fitted in all the right places, as expensive

clothes tend to.

‘Hey, Mum.’ Willow sauntered in. Laura’s heart

squeezed. Every time she saw her she wanted to hold

her tight. All her fears whooshed in – a runaway bus,

an insecure balcony, a virulent strain of meningitis . . .

Oh God, had Willow actually had all the jabs she should

have? Laura knew she’d checked a trillion times, but what

if she thought she’d arranged it but had forgotten? The

familiar dry mouth of anxiety hit her and she worked her

tongue to get some saliva.

‘Have you finished packing?’

‘I think so. I’m going to do make-up and stuff in the

morning.’ Willow flopped on the bed.

‘Are you excited?’

‘I don’t know about excited . . .’

Of course. Excited wasn’t cool. ‘Looking forward to it?’

‘It’ll be what it is, won’t it?’

‘Well, I think it’s exciting. York’s lovely. We can explore

tomorrow. Maybe an open-topped bus tour if it’s sunny.’

Willow laughed.

‘What?’ asked Laura, hurt.

‘You’re so funny, Mum.’

‘I’m not trying to be funny.’

‘I know. That’s why you are.’

Willow jumped up and put her arms round her. Laura

breathed her in. Sugary, powdery perfume and Wrigley’s

and the awful incense she insisted on burning in her

bedroom. Not like Jasmine, who was driving back to her

third year at uni in Loughborough by herself the next

morning, who smelled of chlorine and talc and muscle

rub.

Laura had always been grateful for Jasmine’s love of

sport. It had given their life structure at a time when

everything else was chaos. Asthma was nothing if not

disruptive. They had never really known when Willow

might have an attack. There’d been a team of mums ready

to help whenever she did: the netball mafia were fiercely

loyal and supportive, taking Jasmine home for tea or for a

sleepover or dropping her home. Laura could never repay

them as long as she lived, but they didn’t want repaying.

Of course not.

Jasmine could have told her she was going to Timbuktu

on a skateboard and she wouldn’t have worried. They were

close, but in a very different way. When Jaz had gone off

to Loughborough, Laura had treated them both to a day

at the spa in Bath, swimming on the rooftop and sitting

in the Roman steam room and the ice chamber and the

celestial relaxation room; a physical treat for the physical

Jaz, who rarely sat still for a moment and didn’t really

need nurturing.

But Willow . . .

She felt tears fill her eyes. She didn’t want to go down

to the kitchen and share Willow with everyone else. She

wanted to curl up on the bed with her, watch a few

episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, eat a bowlful of

M&M’s, let her daughter fall asleep in her arms, like they

always used to when she was recuperating.

‘Do you think I should take Magic?’ Willow asked.

Magic. The white toy rabbit whose fur had worn away

to nothing, he had been hugged so much. So called because

he was the Magic Rabbit who helped her fall asleep

in a plethora of strange hospitals. Laura felt fearful for

him. What if he got lost or stolen or thrown out of the

window as a student jape?

‘If you want to leave him here, I’ll look after him.’

‘I kind of want him, but I don’t know if you’re supposed

to take your cuddly animals to uni.’ Willow made

a face. ‘Of course Jasmine didn’t, but we all know Jaz

doesn’t need looking after.’

Jasmine’s teddy was as pristine as the day it had been

bought.

‘I’d leave him here,’ said Laura, not wanting to admit

that Magic had been as much a talisman for her as Willow.

‘You will look after yourself, won’t you?’

‘Mum.’ Willow sat up and fixed her mother with a

stern stare. ‘Will you stop worrying? I’m not an idiot.

And it’s been nearly eighteen months.’

‘That doesn’t mean you won’t have an attack. Anything

could trigger one.’

York, thought Laura. If something went wrong, she

couldn’t be there quickly. Even London would have been

nearer. But maybe Willow felt the need to escape. She

knew she’d been guilty of smothering, but what mother

wouldn’t?

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