A Taste of Death by H.V. Coombs – #BlogTour / Extract

Hi guys, happy Friday! Another day and another blog tour, and today I have an extract from H.V. Coombs’s “A Taste of Death” to whet your appetite – I, for example, am desperate to read this book, as it sounds brilliant, and am already looking toward my holidays, hoping I’ll find some time. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the extract with me.

a-taste-of-death

Extract four – Chapter Four

I tried to kid myself that I liked this minimalist look, but, in truth, it was rather depressing and the carpet that Mrs Cope had bequeathed me – well, threadbare would be a euphemism. It was stained and moth-eaten. Frankly, it was nasty.

Well, I could always take my mind off the carpet by looking out of the window. I had a view across the common and in the daylight I could see Dave Whitfield’s house with the charred mess of his obelisk and behind it, trees and fields.

I finished my yoga, squared up in front of the mirror and did some shadow boxing. I had been quite good at boxing when I was young, as an amateur, and had come back to it in my late thirties, obviously just for fun. Far too old to compete. I did some basic simple combinations, left jab, straight right, left hook etc., using the timer on my phone for three-minute rounds. Then the front doorbell sounded. I rolled my eyes, pulled a tracksuit on and went downstairs to investigate.

‘Do come in, DI Slattery,’ I said, as I opened the door.

‘Thank you.’ He didn’t sound terribly thankful. I had forgotten his intimidating bulk, he filled the door frame.

Slattery was a big man. He looked at me coldly. His eyes were brown and hard. With his glossy black hair and slightly swarthy colouring he did look a bit like an over the hill romantic lead from a soap-opera. A modern-day ageing Heathcliff.

Perhaps I ought to hum a bit of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, as played a lot on Beech Tree FM ‘home of local radio, coming at you through the trees …!’

Heathcliff …

Perhaps it would relax him. I looked at his unfriendly face. Perhaps not.

There was no back room at the restaurant. Just the eating area, toilets and kitchen. We could have gone upstairs but there were no chairs and while I couldn’t speak for DI Slattery, I personally had no great wish to sit next to him on my mattress.

For a moment I envisioned the idea: it would be worth it, just to see the look on his face. ‘Do take a seat …”

Or, sinking sexily down on to the mattress and patting it suggestively, maybe undoing a button or two on my chef’s jacket in a saucy way.

Let’s make ourselves comfy, shall we—’ a seductive smile as I had no hair to toss alluringly back ‘—I can call you Michael, can’t I, Detective Inspector? Let’s not be formal …

I waved him to a table in the restaurant. I did not want to switch machines that had been cleaned on again. He would have to do without the offer of hospitality. No coffee or cake for you, Mr Policeman.

‘How can I help you?’

He sat opposite me, giving me a sardonic once over. It was such a classic policeman’s look, polite scepticism with a hint of amused contempt.

‘How long have you been here?’ he asked.

‘On this earth?’ I said innocently.

He rolled his eyes. ‘In this village.’

‘Since the first of January,’ I said. He knew that anyway.

He nodded. ‘And during this time we have had two crimes: a break-in and a fire bomb.’ There was something accusatory about his tone, as if it were my fault.

‘A bomb?’

‘Mm-hm, Mr Whitfield’s obelisk was set alight with an incen­diary device which was detonated with a timer made from a mobile phone. Are you good with electronics, Ben?’

‘No,’ I said, shrugging. ‘It’s unfortunate, the crimewave, but it’s nothing to do with me.’

Slattery looked at me sceptically.

‘Pure coincidence,’ I said firmly.

He nodded thoughtfully and then said, ‘Of course, you’ve been in trouble with the law before.’

There was the obvious implication that he had run me through the system because I was a suspicious blot on the landscape; the veiled threat of ‘I’m on to you, Sonny Jim’ and the implicit threat that he would make sure knowledge of my chequered past would return to haunt me.

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Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future by Melissa Pimentel / #BlogTour

Guys! I am so, so thrilled to be kicking off blog tour for Melissa Pimentel’s new release, “Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future”, and on the publication day! Ms Pimentel is a new author to me but I can assure you that after reading Jenny Sparrow I will be looking for her previous novels and looking toward the new releases. I had a good feeling about this book from the very beginning – starting with the title, through the gorgeous cover and ending with the plot – and my gut feeling was again right – it was a great read! A brilliant read! I have a new favourite character – Jenny 🙂

Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future by Melissa Pimentel

34204297Publisher: Penguin

Publishing Date: 27th July 2017

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

Number of pages: 368

Genre:   Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Everything is going to plan – until she marries the wrong man . . .

‘Perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella . . . the feel-good book of the summer’ Cathy Kelly, Number One bestselling author

Jenny Sparrow can tell you her future:

1. Meet soulmate at 25
2. Move in with him
3. Marry him this year . . .

According to the plan Jenny made at thirteen, it’s time for her to get married. But when her boyfriend proposes a break instead of a wedding, a girls’ weekend in Vegas is the only solution . . . until she wakes up in a stranger’s bed, and discovers that this is the year she gets married – to the wrong man.

Jenny wants a quick divorce and her old boyfriend back.

But what if her accidental husband has other ideas?

Rating: five-stars

“Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future” is my first book by Melissa Pimentel, however this is this kind of book that you know, from the very beginning, deep inside, that you want to read. Firstly, this title is just brilliant, it’s so eye – catching and promising tons of adventures. Secondly, the synopsis – after reading the synopsis (when I’ve eventually stopped looking at the gorgeous cover and gushing over the brilliant title and got to read the synopsis) I was dead sure this book is going to be a cracker – I love people making plans, maybe because I am the one who can’t stick to a plan, as well as to to – do lists.

So, was it a cracker?

Hell, it was!

Jenny Sparrow wants to live her life according to a list that she created when she was 13 years old. You may not believe it, but she still has the list – the original one! – and it’s laminated. So, according to her list it’s time to get married now, and it looks really good but then Jenny’s boyfriend Chrstopher, instead of popping the question kneeled down only to do his laces. So Jenny, instead of planning a wedding, goes to Las Vegas with her best friend. As we all already know, going to Las Vegas isn’t often the best idea, because what happens in Las Vegas… you know the idea. Anything can happen there – you can lost all your money, or maybe incidentally get married…? To a total stranger…?

This whole story was actually one huge self – discovery lesson for our Jenny, and also for us. What happens when things don’t go according to what we plan or what we want? The author shows us that it’s ok, that life goes on! However, for our Jenny it was a shock to come out of her comfort zones, to deal with all the sudden changes, with all the surprises and with Jackson. I loved the way she dealt with those things – it was written in incredibly realistic way and when Jenny was scared, then she was scared, she didn’t try to hide it, and when she was unsure she also told it as it was. She was a very likeable character, our Jenny, sometimes too whingey, sometimes too chicken – hearted, sometimes too of a pushover, but oh my god, guys, nobody’s perfect, right, and she just felt so true and honest, and I just kept everything crossed for her.

This story is brilliantly observed and it is sharp about our reality. It shows the daily grind and battles but it also balances it with some grand gestures, and I really enjoyed this mix – it made impossible believable. The writing style was so light and modern, and the author truly knows her way with the words.
So altogether, “Jenny Sparrow Knows the Future” was a light – hearted, cheeky read with a lovely heroine and some troubles in paradise, yet it also dealt with some more serious issues but still, in a very light way. Showing it doesn’t matter if you stick to your plan or not, and that you can’t force love – it’s going to find you in the most unexpected moment, come and hit you hard. Honestly, I have maybe expected there to be more humour, and there were moments that the story dragged on a little bit, but still it was a great read to relax with and just have fun. I am already looking toward more from Melissa Pimentel and in the meantime – guys, go and grab “Jenny Sparrows” – it’s great read!

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Hot Mess by Lucy Vine

Hot Mess by Lucy Vine

34815016Publisher: Orion

Publishing Date: 13th July 2017

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

Number of pages: 304

Genre:   Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Hot Mess [n.] – someone attractive, who is often in disarray.

Ellie Knight is just like you. Her life isn’t turning out the way she thought it would. Some people might say she’s a hot mess but then who really has their s**t together anyway?

It’s Valentine’s Day and Ellie finds herself eating Nutella in the bar stockroom after a no-show date.
But single doesn’t have to be the loneliest number, does it?
She goes back home to her flatshare and weird flatmates.
It’s ok there’s black mould everywhere, right?
With a hangover from hell, she goes to the office job she thought she would have quit by now.
Doesn’t everyone hate their job?

Maybe Ellie isn’t following the *official life plan* but perfect is overrated. For fans of Fleabag and Girls, this is a fresh and funny coming-of-age story with a single-girl heroine that everyone will relate to – a modern Carrie Bradshaw meets Bridget Jones.

Rating: five-stars

Oh jeez, guys, Lucy Vine just went to the very top of my favourite authors list! I’ve no idea where she’s been hiding my whole life and I hope she’ll keep writing books – “Hot Mess” was one of the funniest novels I have ever read, full of “oh no, she didn’t do/say this” moments, cringing with embarrassment moments and I know that I say it in my reviews, but this time I really mean it – laughing out loud! It was like reading Kirsty Greenwood and Lisa Dickenson mixed together – abso – bloody – brilliant and fantabulous.

I’ll be honest with you, when I started reading the book I really didn’t know what to expect. I haven’t read the synopsis before, I only heard people talking about it and falling in love with it – and now I know why! It turned out to be different to what I think it’s going to be – I’ve never supposed it’s going to be THAT funny! Really, this book cheered me up ceaselessly and even though I am a little older than Ellie, and maybe this little bit serious about life than she is, I totally enjoyed her adventures and well, yes, there were moments that even I could relate to her and her awkward moments.

Yes, I get it – some may say Ellie was whiney, self – pitying, unhappy with almost everything in her life and not trying to change it, embarrassed about her lovely, lovely father, and what was the point of the story he was writing, and that Jenny was a real bitch – but I won’t! Nobody’s perfect, right, and all of this above mentioned just made Ellie so much more genuine, and the novel written by her dad was hilarious, guys, hilarious! I was really disappointed when he suddenly stopped sending the chapters to his daughters, to be honest. And Jenny… well, Jenny, yes, you have to get used to Jenny, but in my opinion she was really funny in all her smugness and arrogance, and I think it was because she took herself so seriously and I didn’t. Ellie was full of flaws, but she was also relatable, loyal to her friends, adored her family, and I simply loved her from the beginning.

What was absolutely brilliant and fresh is that it was a story about being single and not about looking for a boyfriend at any cost! Hats off to Ellie – sure, she was trying, and we accompanied her on many disastrous blind dates (YES! Finally a book where the blind dates DO really appear on the pages!) but not falling for the guys only to tell that she has a boyfriend now. Why shouldn’t you be choosy and selfish when it is about you and your life and your choices, right? And Ellie likes being single, even if others can’t believe it – hence she’s being literally forced by her best friends to go on those dates.

I loved all the characters – even Jenny! They were larger than life and so perfectly and realistically drawn, and oh my god, I think I fell a little in love with Alan, Ellie’s dad – he was so gentle and oh my word, so talented, ha! Really, even the most secondary characters, just like the bodyguards or the staff in the cocktail bar were personalities that added tons of humour but also a lot of depth, for example Ellie’s best friend Sophie, still adapting to motherhood, her 6 – years – old going on sixty niece Millie with questions about periods or work friend Maddie – all brilliantly drawn and jumping out of the pages.

But this book also has some emotional moments and a depth. For example Ellie is still trying to get over her mum’s death, and the whole situation with Jenny just went and showed that there is also a sensible side to her. And it is also about following your dreams, not forgetting about them.

So altogether, “Hot Mess” was bloody brilliant! The humour was ah – mazing. The characters were ah – mazing. The storyline was – yes, you guessed it! Ah – mazing. You could easily relate to Ellie and her antics – she is like a Bridget Jones for younger women. It was laugh out loud from start to finish, it was quirky, sexy, filthy and just fabulous read and I can’t wait to see what Lucy Vine has in story for us next – I hope more such stories like this one – refreshing, original, like a real breath of fresh air. It was sharp – observed, fast – paced without any flat moments, abso – bloody – lutely very highly recommended as an entertaining, easy read.

The Cotswolds Cookery Club: A Taste of Italy by Alice Ross

The Cotswolds Cookery Club: A Taste of Italy by Alice Ross

35525872Publisher: HQ Digital

Publishing Date: 21st July 2017

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review!

Number of pages: 115

Genre:  Romance,  Women’s Fiction

 Buy the Book: Kindle

 

 

 

Synopsis:

…where the ingredients to happiness are found.

Connie has had enough. Enough of the city, enough of her job – and most importantly, enough of her cheating husband! So, when her best friend jets off to sunny Australia and calls on Connie to house and dog-sit, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

When Connie arrives at the gorgeous Cotswolds getaway, she can’t resist opening the doors to the town, offering up cooking lessons – and a lot of wine! Cue the three – very different – women who respond to Connie’s cookery club advert. But it’s soon clear they will need more than a glass of wine to overcome their problems…

Can Connie conjure up the right ingredients to help her new friends? And with two gorgeous men thrown in the mix, Connie may have just ended up with a recipe for disaster!

Rating: four-stars

Having read and enjoyed Alice Ross’s some previous books, I didn’t hesitate to request “The Cotswolds Cookery Club: A Taste of Italy”. I can’t seem to have enough books about cooking, and lately also set in Cotswolds, and those two together do sound promising, no?

The story introduces us basically to Connie, who right now is at the crossroads with her life, and so when her friend is off to Australia for six months and asks Connie if she’d like to look after her house in this time, Connie jumps at the chance. She has no problems to settle in the gorgeous Cotswolds, in the lovely house and quickly she reawakens her passion of cooking. And this is when the idea of the Cotswolds Cookery Club is born, and Connie sets her mind on Italian cuisine this time. But club wouldn’t exist without its members, right, so there are some other characters who take it in turns to cook delicious, mouth – watering Italian dishes – and when I say delicious, I really mean delicious, guys! There is Eleanor, who runs the local newsagent, Melody, who’s also new to the area and Kate, a local vet with three children, husband and an au – pair.

So when the girls chop, stir, taste, cook and bake, they also share their stories, and so we relatively quickly get to know their background and what makes them tick. They were all relatable, believable characters, they had their problems and I quickly felt a part of their group. It was lovely to see how quickly their friendship was growing and how they all were starting to gain confidence.

Altogether, it was a light – hearted, very easy read. What bothered me personally was the end – it seemed so very abrupt and rushed, and I had a feeling that the story was chopped in the middle. It was a promising end, sure, but just too rushed and it put me off stride a little. But really, it was a lovely, cute story with mouth – watering descriptions of food, down – to – earth characters and brilliant romance – and not only human one! The author has spot on caught Connie’s passion to food and cooking and brought it to the pages and really, it made me want more, so it’s a pure luck that this novella is the first part in the series. Already looking towards the next one! Recommended!

Cocktails and Dreams by A.L. Michael – #BlogTour / Guest Post

Hi guys. After a very exhausting Monday (and actually, the whole week is going to be like this, boo) it’s time to relax. And what better way to do it than with a cocktail in hand, reading about The Magic of Cocktails? Because today, as a part of the blog tour (and this is my first stop on this blog tour. I have another one. Ha. Please come back on Friday for my review) for A. L. Michael’s “Cocktails and Dreams”, I have a brilliant guest post – so put your feet high, be sure to have your cocktail at hand, and enjoy!

The Magic of Cocktails

 

 

I have to admit – I was not the biggest cocktail fan. I’m from London – cocktails are expensive, flashy and probably not as good an investment as a large glass of wine. It wasn’t always this way.

 Cocktails remind me of being eighteen. We used to drink tequila sunrises at Los Locos in Covent Garden, where ‘Nobody is ugly after 3am’. (I can attest to the fact that that is not true). The next year we would hit the buy one get one free deals during happy hour at B@1. I always had two boozy oreo milkshakes. The idea of this now makes me feel queasy. Although, I’m disturbed by freakshakes and unicorn-themed food, so I’m not really on trend.

 Later, in the summer before university, and when we returned for group meet ups in the holidays, we would do what I called ‘the circuit’. I had it down exactly once – how to hit all of the happy hours in five different bars in Covent Garden. You had to time it right, and go in a specific order, but I had it worked out perfectly. And of course, you picked the most alcoholic drinks, the ones that were the best value. Or the ones that were the prettiest, with sparklers and umbrellas.

 So after that, cocktails to me just tasted like sugar and disappointment. Wine was where it was at. Wine could be sipped elegantly, or with a meal. The problem is, when you’re a wine drinker who goes out partying, you end up feeling sleepy with a sore head the next day.

 As I’ve grown, found new, fun places to go in the capital, I have found a new appreciation for cocktails. They’re not to be glugged, or thrown back in a hurry. They’re to be savoured – the balance to be enjoyed. I like to taste and search for each ingredient, identify what makes it taste the way it does. I have had cocktails set on fire and served in bunsen burners, and I’ve explored the simple and classic ones that make your eyes burn, but look good with an instagram filter.

 I think what I like about them now is that they’re individual – cocktails are an expression of personality, both for the creator and the consumer. They tell time and define eras – the same way we will always associate Carrie Bradshaw with a Cosmo or James Bond with a Martini. I especially like that the Bellini, a simple and elegant drink, pretty and sparkly, was allegedly created by Ernest Hemingway in Harry’s Bar, Venice. I like the stories behind the drinks, and the stories people share whilst drinking them.

 That’s what Cocktails and Dreams is about – a bartender who starts to get crazy with her flavours, who is inspired by food and friendship and a different way of life, and starts to see the world differently. She wants to create things that get people excited and inspired.

 So I’m going to ask you: if you were a cocktail, which would you be?

(I’d probably be something very, very spicy right now 🙂 )

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The Summer of Second Chances by Maddie Please

The Summer of Second Chances by Maddie Please

35229298Publisher: Maze

Publishing Date: 17th July 2017

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review!

Number of pages: 400

Genre:  Women’s Fiction, Romance

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

The Summer of Second Chances is the perfect feelgood summer read.’ Chrissie Manby, author of What I Did On My Holidays

Lottie is about to discover that even when you think you’ve lost everything, hope and romance can be just around the corner . . .

It takes time to build your life. To get into a long-term (OK, a bit boring) relationship. To find a job (you don’t completely hate). Lottie might not be thrilled with the life she’s put together, but it’s the one she’s got.

So when in the course of one terrible evening, it all comes crashing down around her, Lottie has a choice: give herself over to grief at being broke, single and completely lacking in prospects.

Or, brick by brick, build herself a new life. And this time, with a little help from friends, a crumbling cottage in Devon and a handsome stranger, maybe she can make it the one she always wanted.

The Summer of Second Chances is an irresistibly funny read about never giving up, whatever the world throws at you. Perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan, Jane Costello and Christie Barlow.

Rating: five-stars

Wow, what a gorgeous, cute little story “The Summer of Second Chances” was! I truly didn’t know what to expect from this book but it really wow-ed me, with the light – hearted writing style, interesting plot and lovable characters, and the last few sentences at the end were just brilliant and a perfect end to this book. OK, I admit, there was one thing that bothered me, namely for me it looked as if this book was written by two different authors – why, I hear you ask? Well, you know, so the story and narration flew steadily and then suddenly, like the impossible to see icebergs, the narration was starting to turn incredibly hilarious, the events ridiculously funny and I was finding myself laughing out loud at Lottie’s antics, and it lasted for a few pages and then the story telling was back again to this normal, steady one. It happened a few times and while it didn’t make me confused or something, oh no, I enjoyed those moments incredibly, it just made me think. But that’s me. My problems. Don’t pay any attention and just read this book because it’s great. And it has a stunning cover – so summery!

The story introduces us to Lottie, who’s been through some dramatic moments in her life recently – she’s homeless, money – less, jobless, single – and is now looking for a fresh start. It seems that she can find it in a little cottage belonging to one of her friends – in return for redecorating it, Lottie can live there next, and she jumps at the chance. After living a comfortable life, with no financial troubles and a partner on her side, it was a change for Lottie, wasn’t it? But maybe it was this what Lottie needed right now? Well, this and a new neighbour, Bryn?

I have seen many accident prone characters in my life but Lottie overdone them all! Guys, it was incredible, really, those situations and troubles she was getting herself in – this story abounded in many awkward, embarrassing situations. I loved Lottie, she was such a positive personality, even though she had to cope with so many awful things in her life. She was this kind of character that grows on you and you keeps everything crossed for her. And I loved to see Lottie changing, spreading her wings despite all new troubles and worries and turning into almost a different person. She was honest and told us about things how they really were, and I really didn’t have any problems to connect with her and to understand her.
And of course, let’s not forget Lottie’s new neighbour, Bryn. Not broody nor moody, like many other characters yet incredibly interesting and colourful and hmmm, I wouldn’t say no to such a neighbour and his jacuzzi.

It wouldn’t be a rom – com without the “rom” part, of course, and I loved this aspect of this story! Sure, there were the necessary ups and downs, the road to happiness was bumpy and not too straightforward but it never felt too cheesy or forced, if anything it was fresh, funny, adorable and honest. It was not too rushed, which was also great, because moving into a new man too quickly would make it too unbelievable, and it also gave the heroine time to come to terms a little with the new situation.

Altogether, “The Summer of Second Chances” was a lovely and easy read that made me feel relaxed and I finished it grinning from ear to ear. There were characters that you quickly start to root for and relate to, and it was a light take on new beginnings and – yes! – second chances. It also makes you think about life, about figuring out what it is you really want, but not in a too serious way, nono, no worries. However, there is also so much to this story than meets the eye, there is depth, it touches upon some sensitive issues but it’s perfectly mixed with light – heartedness and really some best one – liners and situations in history. So if you are in need of cheering up, picking yourself up and seeing how not to give up, try this book – I can only highly recommend it to you!

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The Summer of Second Chances by Maddie Please – #BlogTour/Extract

Hi guys! A new day, a new blog tour! I am very excited to hosting “The Summer of Second Chances” by Maddie Please and I have a lovely extract from this lovely little novel for you. I am currently reading it and guys, what can I say? It is a light – hearted read with some heavier issues as well and it sounds really, really promising – keep your eyes peeled for my review in the next few days! And in the meantime, enjoy the extract.

[Extract 3 from Chapter 1 ]

I stood outside Holly Cottage, lost in thought. Just about every­thing I had taken for granted had gone wrong. Now I had to take this chance and focus on the future because I certainly couldn’t change the past.

I got out, locking the car behind me although, to be honest, it didn’t feel as though there was a living soul for miles. I wandered around to the back of the house, my heels catching between the broken paving slabs. I wondered if the ‘huge and bear-like’ Bryn was around to watch the homeless idiot arriving. Might he be lurking in the shadows under the trees down the lane? For some reason I pictured him standing, shoulders hunched like Lurch from The Addams Family, knuckles dragging on the ground. Fortunately there was no sign of him. But he had left the back door key under an upturned bucket in the porch as Jess had assured me he would. The key stuck for a heart-stopping few moments and then turned in the lock with an unwilling squeak. I let myself in to the hall.

The stale scent of wet dog, mingled with something even more unpleasant, hit me. The smell of damp carpet, neglect and, unmistakably, fish.

I left the door open and made my way into the sitting room, one hand over my nose. The room was flagstoned with a large rug over the top, which was soaking. Someone had flung a plastic bucket plus water into the middle and my shoes squelched as I took a hesitant step into the room. They had also enhanced the décor by chucking around a few shovelfuls of ash from the fire. The walls were pale and marked with squares of grime where pictures had been removed. Underneath one windowsill the paper had been pulled off altogether and someone had drawn stars in pink and purple felt tip pen on the wall.

The smell was stronger here, pungent and eye watering. Trying not to gag, I pushed back the curtains and opened both the sash windows. The crispness of the evening air was welcome. I hurried back outside for a moment to refresh my lungs and then went upstairs to explore further, finding a small bathroom and two bedrooms.

There was evidence in the expensive wallpaper and the sisal carpet that this place had once been very pretty, but now it was neglected and extremely dirty. There were stains on the floor and muddy fingerprints around the china light switches, and someone had been free with wax crayons on the walls of the landing.

In the corner of the bathroom was a huge web, the spider still busy in the middle with a struggling bluebottle. I shuddered. On the mirror, in coral lipstick, was scrawled Bitch. It neatly crossed over the reflection of my cold, pale, frightened face.

Jess had wanted me to clean and decorate, that was the deal, but it was obvious this place wasn’t just in need of a flick round with the antiseptic wipes and a lick of paint; it needed pressure washing. The stink from downstairs was curling up the stairs so I opened all the windows and re-buttoned my coat.

In the larger of the two bedrooms was a mahogany wardrobe that had once been highly polished and beautiful, but was now scratched, covered with globs of Blu-Tack and propped up with a brick at one corner where one of the feet had been lost. There was a sink in the corner filled with scummy water and dead flies.

‘Bloody hell!’ I said.

My words echoed around the room.

‘What on earth’s been going on here?’ asked a voice from behind me.

I spun round, squeaking with shock. There was a silhouette of a man in the doorway, his shoulders almost filling the space. I yelped again.

‘Well, if you don’t want people to walk in you shouldn’t leave all the doors open,’ he said, unapologetic.

‘And you shouldn’t just wander in to someone else’s house uninvited,’ I said, my voice shrill with fright. I flapped my hands at him to shoo him back down the stairs.

He turned and went, his movements unhurried and careful in the confined space of the stairwell. I followed him downstairs and into the kitchen, trying to calm the thudding of my heart.

‘What’s happened here?’ he said. ‘It wasn’t like this the other day. And what’s that terrible smell?’

‘How would I know?’ I replied. ‘I’ve only just got here.’

‘Hang on,’ he said and went into the sitting room, ducking his head under the lintel. He searched around for a few minutes and then retrieved a rotting fish wrapped in newspaper from behind a radiator.

‘Jesus!’ I clamped my hand back over my nose and watched him take it outside into the garden.

He reappeared, framed in the kitchen door. ‘I’ve no idea where that came from. I’m assuming it’s nothing to do with you?’

‘Of course it isn’t. Why the hell would I do a thing like that?’

‘OK, calm down. All I know is it didn’t smell like this when I last called in. Nor was there a pond on the sitting-room floor. Perhaps the Websters are responsible?’

‘The Websters?’

Oh yes the Websters. What had Jess said about them? I should have paid more attention.

‘The last tenants. Two years without a problem and then Mr Webster discovered skunk and scratch cards. They left a few days ago. Spent all his money on things other than his priorities. But I know he left his house keys behind when he left. I can’t think how he could have got back in. I’ve been here, Webster had a beaten-up old camper van. Red and white. I’m sure I would have noticed…’

I stood watching him for a moment wondering who he reminded me of.

‘It needs a bit of a sort out,’ he said, his blue eyes flicking from the piles of junk mail behind the door to the chocolate handprints on the wall. At least I hoped they were chocolate.

‘A bit of a sort out?’ I said, incredulous. ‘Never mind the smell, it’s absolutely filthy and disgusting.’

‘Ah well.’ He shrugged his shoulders. They really were very broad. ‘I’m Bryn Palmer, by the way.’ He held out a hand and I shook it.

‘I’m Charlotte Calder. What do you mean “ah well”? Would you want to live here?’

He stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans and rocked back on his heels. ‘Nope.’

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