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With love at christmas, p.1
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       With Love at Christmas, p.1

           Carole Matthews
 
With Love at Christmas


  With Love at Christmas

  Carole Matthews

  WITH LOVE AT CHRISTMAS

  Copyright © Carole Matthews (Ink) Ltd 2012

  The right of Carole Matthews to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by photocopying or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage or retrieval systems,without permission in writing from both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  ISBN: 978-0-9567331-7-7

  First Published as an ebook in 2012 by

  Carole Matthews (Ink) Ltd

  www.carolematthews.com

  Carole Matthews is an internationally bestselling author whose unique sense of humour has won her legions of fans and critical acclaim. As well as appearing on the USA Today and Sunday Times bestseller lists, several of her novels have been sold to Hollywood.

  In The USA, the hilarious For Better, For Worse was selected by Reading With Ripa on LIVE with Regis and Kelly as their book of the month. She has also co-edited two editions of the hugely popular Girls' Night In charity series with all proceeds going to War Child.

  Previously very unlucky in love, she now lives happily ever after with her partner, Lovely Kev, in a minimalist home with no ornaments or curtains. She likes to drink champagne, eat chocolate and spends far too much time ‘social networking’.

  When she’s not writing novels she enjoys trekking in the Himalayas, rollerblading in Central Park, taking tea in China, or being cajoled up the Andes by Lovely Kev. More often than not, she can be found daydreaming in her garden shed in Milton Keynes which is in Buckinghamshire, England.

  For more information visit www.carolematthews.com or chat with Carole on Facebook and Twitter.

  Praise for Carole’s other books:

  ‘It’s a big five points for humor.

  The most charming book yet. I adored it!’

  Kelly Ripa, Live with Regis and Kelly

  ‘Matthews is one of the few writers who can rival Marian Keyes’ gift for telling heart-warming tales with buckets of charm and laughs.’

  Daily Record

  ‘Think Marian Keyes with a splash of Jane Green. If you’ve never read any of Carole’s books, you are definitely missing out.’

  Vito Magazine

  ‘A treat that’s sure to entertain.’

  Romance Reviews Today

  ‘A natural for the beach, it will charm Bridget Jones fans on both sides of the Atlantic.’

  Library Journal

  ‘She entertains her readers with serendipitous trysts and near misses.’

  Publishers Weekly

  Praise for With Love At Christmas

  ‘The writer who excels at family relationships looks at how they affect a chaotic family Christmas’

  The Bookseller

  ‘The perfect Christmas read snuggled up with a hot cuppa and a blanket. Once again Carole Matthews pulls the hat out of the bag!’

  Best books to read

  ‘Carole Matthews has excelled in her storytelling. This is one to put on your Christmas list!’

  Reading in the sunshine

  ‘An incredibly fun book to read which has a heart-warming underlying message.’

  Goodreads

  What does it take to have the perfect family Christmas?

  Juliet Joyce is a Christmas addict. She loves everything about it - the presents, the tree, the turkey, the tinsel. She can’t wait for Christmas to come. Which is just as well as this Christmas is shaping up to be a busy one.

  Her son Tom is unemployed and keeps bringing home unsuitable partners. Pregnant daughter Chloe and her little boy have moved back in. Juliet’s father is getting over a heartbreak of his own and her mother, eccentric at best, is behaving more erratically every day. Then Juliet finds texts from another woman on her husband’s phone and wonders has the chaos all got too much for Rick?

  With 25th December fast approaching, Juliet hopes that she can hold everything together because the only thing she wants is her family all around her and her home to be filled… WITH LOVE AT CHRISTMAS

  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

  The Chocolate Lovers’ Club

  The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet

  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

  Summer Daydreams

  Chapter One

  You can tell that Christmas is just around the corner. Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ is belting out of the speakers, filling the busy supermarket aisles with festive cheer. That’s a pension-fund song if ever there was one, and it never fails to get me humming along. I ask you: what would Christmas be without the dulcet tones of Noddy Holder?

  I love this time of year. Even something as mundane as the weekly food shop is transformed into a magical experience. I’m at the bread counter in Tesco, squeezing the loaves to check their freshness. Cheery Santas hang above my head. Silver tinsel and colour-coordinated balls spiral down from the ceiling. I wish it could look as jolly all year round. Someone at head office has put a lot of effort into planning this. Perhaps I could borrow their theme and refresh my decorations this year. My husband, Rick, would have a fit. He’s considerably more ‘bah humbug’ than I am when it comes to Christmas – the original Scrooge. Every year the expense of it all nearly gives him a heart attack. Every year I vow to cut back. And every year, I don’t. Maybe, for the sake of marital harmony, I’d better get out the ‘old faithfuls’ one more time.

  I’m happy to say for the record that I’m the complete opposite of my husband. My name is Juliet Joyce. I’m a forty-five-year-old woman with one gorgeous grandchild, two troublesome, supposedly grown-up children, an annoying mother, a gay father, a very grumbly husband and a rather stinky dog. I am also a shameless Christmas addict. And I’m not the slightest bit interested in a twelve-step plan to cure me of it.

  Slade slides seamlessly into Wizzard and ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day’. Heartily agree with that! We all need a bit of escapism from the daily grind of life, don’t we? Jesus picked a lovely time of year to be born into the world, as it really cheers up the long winter months. It just wouldn’t be the same if he’d been born, say, in July.

  Skipping down the ‘seasonal produce’ aisle, I slip a Christmas pudding into my trolley, rapidly followed by some mince pies and a panettone, which has somehow become a must-have. None of the family is that keen on it really, but, like Brussels sprouts, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without it. I put in an extra box of mince pies – just in case. You can never have too many mince pies, can you? I don’t like to be caught out without some nibbles in case people drop in. I’d better get some Eat Me dates, too, and some assorted nuts.

  I’d like to tell you that I make my own pudding, Christmas cake and all that – but I don’t. I’m working full-time now in the office of a busy estate agent, and with t
hat and the demands of the family, I hardly get time to breathe, let alone anything else. I aspire to producing a completely home-made Christmas, but every year it seems to slip further beyond my reach. I love the thought of creating a decadent Nigella-style celebration, with a bit of Kirstie Allsopp thrown in for good measure but, at this rate, that will have to wait – possibly until I retire. Even for a modest Tesco-based affair like my own, you have to start early. That’s the key. I was very organised and bought my Christmas cards in the January sales. What’s the point in paying full price when you don’t have to? I picked up a couple of great presents at craft fairs in the summer. It’s nice to find the perfect gift, isn’t it? And, of course, you never do when you’re looking too hard. Like middle age, perfect presents just sneak up on you. The special napkins were safely secured in August, as were the crackers for the table. The only thing I have to do now is find the ‘safe place’ where I can put them all. It will mean a trip into the loft for Rick, which he’ll be cross about.

  Since the first week of September I’ve been putting a few seasonal bits and bobs of food in the back of the cupboard but now, at the beginning of December, the Christmas food-shopping must start in earnest. I’ve got a few things in here for Dad and his partner, Samuel, too, just to help out, as I know how busy they are. Queuing at the checkout, I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’. In front of me, a harassed-looking woman is berating her child, who’s whining for sweets.

  ‘I’ve no money for naffing sweets, Beyoncé,’ she shrieks as she shakes her little girl by the arm more roughly than is right. ‘If you don’t start bloody behaving right now, Santa won’t come to visit. He’ll throw your Wii out of the sleigh and it will break into a million pieces. Then what will you do?’

  The child screams. I think I would too. I should step in and remind them both about the true message of Christmas but, before I can, she’s through the till and out, dragging the sweetless and still screaming Beyoncé behind her.

  Would they both think I was mad if I’d told them that at Beyoncé’s age I was given one of my dad’s old knitted socks – washed, I hope – filled with an orange and some nuts? That was it. Sum total of Christmas present exchange. I couldn’t eat the nuts because Mum could never find the ancient pair of nutcrackers needed to open them, and the orange went straight back into the fruit bowl where it had come from. I couldn’t ever buy presents myself because I was never given pocket money. But I was given some paper, glitter and some Gloy glue with which to make Christmas cards.

  Times were different then. We had so little. Our family Christmases were always cheerless, meagre affairs. We never had any visitors calling. My mother put the moth-eaten tree up for as short a time as possible. Sometimes it didn’t appear until Christmas Eve, late in the afternoon when I was almost beside myself with longing, and only then with much sighing. It was usually gone again shortly after Boxing Day. My dad used to do his best to liven things up. He’d laugh too heartily at the Christmas shows – Morecambe and Wise was his favourite. Tears would roll down his cheeks, and I used to find that funnier than the programme. But Mum was never a Christmas person. To her, it was absolute torture every year and, consequently, we all had to suffer. Perhaps that’s why I like to make Christmas so special now. I like my home filled with laughter and love, overflowing with presents and food. If you can’t go completely over the top at Christmas, when can you?

  ‘One hundred and forty-seven pounds and thirty-two pence,’ the checkout girl says when she’s rung through my shopping. Even I wince as I hand over the money. It’s going to be yet another bill that I’ll hide from Rick.

  Outside, the sky is white and heavy. A few flakes of snow are starting to fall, drifting, drifting down into the car park. The first this year. I smile inside. I love snow, too. Though I realise that I’m in the minority, as everyone else grumbles about how difficult it is to get around. And it’s fair to say that the country does usually grind to a halt once there’s anything more than a sprinkling on the ground. Me, I’d be happy to be trapped indoors and let it cascade down until it was three feet deep. Holding out my hands, I let the flakes settle. They’re delicate, lacy and land on my upturned palms like filigree butterflies before instantly melting away. I shake snow from my short brown bob and remember that I need to wear my hat. It would be lovely if we had a white Christmas this year. A bit of snow makes everything look so much better, the icing on the cake.

  Someone honks their horn in a bad-tempered manner. I glance up from the joy of snow on my hands. The car park is heaving now, and it looks like there’s a dispute over a parking space. One driver winds down his window. A carol blares out: Peace on earth, goodwill to all men.

  ‘Oi, arsehole,’ he shouts at the other man, ‘I was here first.’

  The other driver, who has a sticker stating that ‘Santa Does It With Reindeer’ in his back window, clearly doesn’t agree with his opinion and shouts back: ‘Fuck off. This space is mine.’

  I push my heavily laden trolley, which wants to go in the other direction, towards my trusty little Corsa. Heaving out the bags, I load them into the boot.

  Both drivers jump out of their cars and shake their fists at each other. One has an aerial with a star and some tinsel on it. The other driver snaps it off and stamps it into the sprinkling of snow.

  I sigh to myself. Not everyone, it seems, enjoys Christmas as much as me.

  Chapter Two

  I pull into the drive of number ten, Chadwick Close and kill the engine. What I need now is a restorative cup of tea and perhaps my first mince pie of the season. They’re possibly my most favourite festive food. I know that the shops start selling them in earnest in July now, but I like to put off the moment for as long as is humanly possible so that I can really savour it. This year I have excelled myself. I hope it also means that I won’t have to spend as long on a diet after Christmas as I usually do.

  My family and I live in a lovely part of Stony Stratford, a pretty market town in the heart of Buckinghamshire, a stone’s throw away from the ever-encroaching city of Milton Keynes. We’ve been here for years, and have brought up our two children in this solid 1970s home. I suspect this is where we’ll see out our days.

  Rick is up the ladder, busy draping the front of the house with Christmas lights. That’s good: I like to have them up nice and early to make the most of them. All my husband’s abhorrence of Christmas disappears when – and only when – it comes to decorating the house with lights. It’s a job he relishes. Every year Rick likes to adorn the place until it looks like Santa’s grotto. It’s the one trip of the year that he doesn’t mind making up to the loft. He disappears in there for hours, searching out and sorting, and then he lifts down the lights gently, like treasured children.

  We now have LED icicles with changing patterns dangling down from the rafters. We have a string of coloured bulbs across the garage that flash on and off at regular intervals. The front of the house has a sleigh and reindeer in white above the porch. The big cherry blossom in the front garden has its own string of lanterns. On the lawn, we have a wire reindeer covered in tiny lights. The rest of our neighbours don’t bother much at all. Though number two do, on alternate years, throw a sparkling net of lights over their cotoneaster bush. We’re the one and only house in the close that attempts to create a Christmassy spectacle. I don’t quite know when or why this started, but I’m glad that Rick enters into the spirit at least in this one small area.

  I climb out of the car. Rick comes down the ladder. My husband is one of those men who’s grown more attractive as he’s aged. At least he has to me and, I guess, that’s all that matters. His long, lean frame is all knees and elbows – always has been. We seem to have so little quality time together now and, somehow, it seems even harder to find time for ourselves once the Christmas frenzy is upon us. Every year I vow that it will be different, and every year it isn’t. I smile as he comes towards me, but he seems to be in a hurry and somewhat red in the face.


  ‘Have you seen that?’ he rages without preamble. A finger shoots out and points in an accusatory fashion at the house opposite.

  Chadwick Close is a very staid neighbourhood, quiet. There’s never any excitement to be had. That’s why we like it here. Any scandal that there has been has in the past mostly emanated from the Joyce household anyway.

  ‘Look,’ he reiterates.

  I look.

  Across the close, directly opposite our house, is the sight that’s offending him so much. Our good friend, Stacey Lovejoy, used to live at number five, but last summer she moved out. Now she’s in Gran Canaria living the high life with Rick’s old boss, Hal, and they’re both having a lovely time according to the intermittent email updates she sends. The new people weren’t here last Christmas, so Rick could hardly have expected to see this.

  Our new neighbours, it seems, also like Christmas lights on their house. There’s no one in sight, but it’s clear that, like Rick, Neil Harrison has been very busy this morning. They have a display that far outshines ours.

 
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