Christmas cakes and mist.., p.1
Christmas Cakes and Mistletoe Nights, p.1Carole Matthews
A couple of years ago I wrote a book called The Cake Shop in the Garden which instantly became a firm favourite with my readers. I created, arguably, my most gorgeous romantic hero in Danny Wilde – slight pause for sighing – and, sometimes, a character is so strong that you just can’t get them out of your head. In the back of my mind, Danny and Fay would pop up every now and again, making me think of them and wonder what had happened to them.
We are very fortunate in having friends who own a narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal in Costa del Keynes, right in the place where The Cake Shop in the Garden was set. They regularly invite us out for the day and we have a lovely time on their boat. I have terrible narrowboat envy.
But it was one particular occasion when we were with them that made me think of how Fay and Danny’s story would continue. It was a magical moment and I knew then and there that I had to write it.
So thank you for choosing to read Christmas Cakes & Mistletoe Nights. I really hope that you enjoy it. If you do, please take a moment to review it on social media and share with your friends. It makes all the difference! If you want to chat to me about it on my author Facebook page or on Twitter, I’d be very happy to see you there. I’m blessed with lovely, supportive readers and we have a lot of fun. So grab yourself a bit of cake, kick back and enjoy another trip down the Grand Union with old friends and meet some new ones too.
Love, Carole : ) xx
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Also by Carole Matthews
Let’s Meet on Platform 8
A Whiff of Scandal
More to Life Than This
For Better, For Worse
A Minor Indiscretion
A Compromising Position
The Sweetest Taboo
With or Without You
You Drive Me Crazy
Welcome to the Real World
It’s a Kind of Magic
All You Need is Love
The Difference a Day Makes
That Loving Feeling
It’s Now or Never
The Only Way is Up
Wrapped Up in You
With Love at Christmas
A Cottage by the Sea
Calling Mrs Christmas
A Place to Call Home
The Christmas Party
The Cake Shop in the Garden
Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses
THE CHOCOLATE LOVERS NOVELS
The Chocolate Lovers’ Club
The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet
The Chocolate Lovers’ Christmas
The Chocolate Lovers’ Wedding
Published by Sphere
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017 Carole Matthews
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
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Also by Carole Matthews
About the Author
Carole Matthews is the Sunday Times bestselling author of thirty novels, including the Top Ten bestsellers Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses, The Cake Shop in the Garden, A Cottage by the Sea, The Chocolate Lovers’ Christmas and Calling Mrs Christmas. In 2015, Carole was awarded the RNA Outstanding Achievement Award. Her novels dazzle and delight readers all over the world. She is published in more than thirty countries and her books have sold to Hollywood.
To Karen and Kevin
We love our days out with you on your cheeky Beaver, getting shouty on prosecco and nearly getting off the wrong side into the Grand Union. What japes!
Thank you for the inspiration.
I watch a weeping willow dipping its branches into the canal, leaves ruffled by the breeze. Beneath it, a cow and her young calf are standing at the water’s edge where the bank has been trampled flat by many hooves. Delicate, spiky-headed teasels, crisp and brown now after their summer flowering, harbour the last of the dragonflies. Behind, a lush meadow stretches away and, in the distance, the spire of an ancient church peeps above the tall trees that have already turned golden this year, parched after our long, hot summer. A couple of swans glide elegantly by. It looks as if it’s been unchanged for hundreds of years. If I was an artist, I’d try to capture this scene in watercolour. But I’m not, so I take out my phone and snap a shot for posterity.
‘Fay! Are you planning on doing anything with that windlass?’
Danny’s shout brings me back to t
I’ve run ahead of him so that this would all be quicker and then wasted the time by standing here daydreaming for five minutes. I finish closing the top lock. Diggery, our little Jack Russell cross, runs up and down barking his own instructions. He’s wearing a skull-and-crossbones neckerchief today and looks very jaunty.
When I’ve finished my part, Danny steers The Dreamcatcher into the tight space, bumping the sides slightly as he does. The Dreamcatcher is a decent-sized narrowboat and takes some manoeuvring. Despite spending the last few months living on the canal together, we’re still very much novices. There’s no doubt that we’re learning quickly, though. Every day seems to bring some new challenge or obstacle to overcome – I can now unblock a loo with a certain degree of competence, light a stubborn woodburner, and fill the water tanks without giving myself an impromptu shower. All of these things are life skills I didn’t have a short time ago – or ever think that I’d need.
‘No worries,’ Danny says as he cruises past me on the boat and settles The Dreamcatcher into the lock. ‘We’re not in a hurry.’ He jumps off the back of the boat onto the towpath and together we manhandle the heavy lock gates into place.
I tell you, I have arms like Popeye now after all this physical work. The canals are not for wimps. No gym membership needed for me!
‘I was having a little daydream,’ I admit as we work the lock, watching The Dreamcatcher rise on the turbulent water to the next level. ‘This place is so lovely.’
Danny looks round and takes it all in. ‘We can stay up here as long as you like. Hopefully, I can get some more work.’
And that’s one of our main problems. The last of the gloriously hot summer has gone and we’re well into the cooler days of autumn now. Christmas will soon be upon us and the seasonal work that’s kept Danny busy on our travels is slowly starting to dry up as the days grow shorter and colder.
‘There’s enough to keep me busy on site for the next two or three weeks.’ Danny’s currently doing casual labouring on a building site, but as the weather worsens there’ll be less available. ‘But that’s about it. They won’t be taking on until after the new year. Maybe even spring, if we have a bad winter.’
His work has been bringing in some very welcome money, but only just enough to keep body and soul together.
‘After that, I’m not so sure what will happen.’ He turns his heart-warming smile on me. ‘But something will come up. You don’t need to worry about it.’
Yet, I do. I’m one of life’s worriers. The fact that I’m here at all is nothing short of a miracle. I’d never done a reckless thing in all of my forty-two years – until, of course, I left behind everything that I know and hold dear to run away with Danny Wilde for an itinerant life on the waterways of England. Even though I’m telling you this, I can still hardly come to terms with it myself. I waved goodbye to my old life, my friends, my family, my lovely little café in the garden without a backward glance. Well, not much of one. I could well be having a mid-life crisis but if I am, it feels really rather nice. Well, most of the time. It’s only when I look at my bank balance that I get the collywobbles.
‘We’ve got our love to keep us warm,’ Danny says.
‘And a dwindling supply of firewood.’
‘I’ll get some later,’ he promises. ‘It’s on my never-ending list of Things To Do.’
Life on the canal, as we’re both finding, certainly isn’t all about sitting back with a glass of wine and watching the world go by. It’s hard graft, that’s for sure. But, now that I’ve done it, I wouldn’t change a thing.
We’re in Wales on the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. It’s the most beautiful part of the country and the temptation to linger here is very strong. It’s taken us six weeks or more to work our way up here and the journey has been truly wonderful. I’ve never tried anything remotely like this before and I’m fully embracing the free spirit that’s slowly emerging from somewhere deep inside me.
Together we open the other gates, me huffing and puffing like an old train, Danny doing it with consummate ease.
‘Come on, Digs,’ Danny calls. ‘Back on board or we’ll leave you behind.’
Taking no chances, Diggery bounds onto the boat and sits by the tiller.
Expertly handled by Danny, The Dreamcatcher floats happily out of the lock. It’s a sturdy boat, getting on a little in age and slightly scuffed around the edges – much like my good self. A few bits are patched up and held together with string, glue, an extra coat of paint and crossed fingers which will need some attention when we eventually find some spare cash.
I close the lock behind the boat and climb on board too. I stand proudly beside Danny while he takes control of the tiller and steers us back along our route. Even now, there are times when I look at him and can’t believe that we’re a couple.
‘What?’ he says as I gaze at his face. ‘You’re looking all moony.’
I laugh. ‘I am all moony!’
‘Glad to hear it, Ms Merryweather.’ He puts his arm round my waist and draws me close. He smells of woodsmoke from firing up the stove this morning to take the chill off the boat.
I didn’t think my jaded, middle-aged heart was capable of containing this much love. But it does. Danny’s young – much younger than me – handsome, and the nicest man that you could meet, to boot. And he’s mine.
What can I tell you about him? He’s thirty-two – a full ten years my junior, though I have to say I’m the least likely cougar on the planet. He’s tall, skinny and muscular all at once. He never looks better than when he’s wearing a tight T-shirt and black jeans. His hair’s jet black, cropped at the sides but flopping every which way on top. I look at it now and think that it could probably do with a cut. Despite living frugally on the boat, Danny still likes to go to a barber rather than have me taking to it with the kitchen scissors. Today, because of the cool morning, he’s wearing a black beanie hat and a faded grey denim jacket. He hasn’t shaved yet and he subconsciously keeps smoothing the shadow of stubble on his skin. Originally, he’s from Ireland – near Belfast – and even though he’s lived in England for years now, he still speaks with a soft, sexy accent that makes my heart go all silly. He has dark, mischievous eyes and they make not just my heart but everything else go silly too. Actually, just take it as read that I’m as lovestruck as it’s possible to be.
Danny Wilde came into my life at a time when I felt I had so little to look forward to. I’d completely lost who Fay Merryweather actually was or the woman she’d once hoped to be. I’d been in a relationship of sorts with the same man for years but, if I’m completely honest, I wasn’t really in love. Anthony and I were together out of habit more than any great passion. He was more keen on his golf clubs than he ever was on me. My stepmother – a wicked one as it turns out – and her extensive range of illnesses had dominated my life. I was Miranda’s prime carer and, for my sins, she made sure that it was a role I filled 24/7. I’d been forced to give up my job because of it and ran a café from our home by the canal, Fay’s Cakes, that had developed out of necessity rather than any fabulously ambitious business plan. My ad hoc selling of cakes from our ancient canal boat, the Maid of Merryweather, became a success despite my daily struggle to hold it all together. Before long, I added light lunches and teas and my business grew into the garden when we put a few tables out under the apple trees. Then I took over the dining room and we had even more tables, so I hired Lija Vilks, my ill-tempered Latvian assistant, to help me keep my head above water. Lija turned out to be the most foul-mouthed and fastidious employee anyone could have and I have no idea how I would ever have managed without her. She’s as feisty as I’m timid, and as lovely as she is difficult, but she’s fiercely loyal to me and, well – just fierce, actually. Beyond all else, her cakes are flipping amazing. A slice of her lemon drizzle makes me overlook all h
Yet, despite loving running the café, I still felt that I wasn’t in control of my own destiny. Anthony and Miranda were controlling my life. When they said jump, all I did was ask, ‘How high?’ I got up, baked cakes, made beds, cleaned floors, pandered to Miranda’s needs, baked more cakes, ironed shirts and sheets, pandered to Anthony’s needs, fell into bed exhausted. Then got up and did the same thing the very next day. I was bumping along the bottom of my existence and that’s never a good feeling. I’m in my forties and I should have been in the prime of my life – yet I was going nowhere fast. Little did I know how that was all about to change. Now I’m still going nowhere fast, but for very different reasons!
Our life on The Dreamcatcher is as far out of the rat race as you can get. Now we work to live, not the other way round. Danny had escaped the corporate life, buying the boat on a whim and taking to the canals for a great adventure. He came to the café looking for casual work – much in the same way that he’s doing now. While Lija and I managed to stay on top of the daily upkeep of Fay’s Cakes, the garden and repairs around the house were going to pot, so I found Danny some gardening and odd jobs that had been on my To Do list for ages, unaware that this seemingly small decision would turn my staid little life upside down.
Every morning, I thank my lucky stars that I did. If I’d decided that my fence could stay unpainted, my trees unpruned, then I could quite conceivably have drifted into marriage with Anthony and would have spent the rest of my life as a downtrodden golf widow with a husband who thought having sex once a month was being rampant. Instead, I fell madly in love, embarked on a whirlwind romance with my young and gorgeous gardener, left Anthony, gave up the café, and ran away to join Danny Wilde on his travels. Go, me!
I couldn’t have acted any more out of character if I’d tried. Yet I’m so glad that I did. My new life is everything I’d hoped for and more. Danny and I have lived together in close quarters on the boat for a few months now and, so far, we’ve hardly had a cross word. Seriously, I have to pinch myself on a daily basis to check that it isn’t all a beautiful dream.
There are days when I wonder what Danny sees in me. I’m not one of those young, trendy forty-somethings that you see in the magazines. I’m no Kate Moss or Gwyneth Paltrow. No one would ever mistake me for a style icon. I haven’t even had my hair cut since I’ve been on the boat, so my low-maintenance bob has taken on a life of its own. I’ve got random waves and it’s longer than I’ve worn it in years. I might even grow it intentionally. I’ve also lost quite a few of my … ahem … curves since I gave up the café for a life on the water. Less cake and more physical work has done wonders for my waistline. Though I do miss the fact that I don’t have the opportunity to do as much baking now. I’ve got a tiny oven on the boat which isn’t really suited to my signature three-tier monster Victoria sponges.
Christmas Cakes and Mistletoe Nights by Carole Matthews / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes