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Calling mrs christmas, p.1
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       Calling Mrs Christmas, p.1

           Carole Matthews
 
Calling Mrs 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

  With Love at Christmas

  A Cottage by the Sea

  COPYRIGHT

  Published by Sphere

  978-0-7481-2365-0

  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 © Carole Matthews 2013

  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.

  SPHERE

  Little, Brown Book Group

  100 Victoria Embankment

  London, EC4Y 0DY

  www.littlebrown.co.uk

  www.hachette.co.uk

  Calling Mrs Christmas

  Table of Contents

  Also by Carole Matthews

  COPYRIGHT

  Dedication

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Chapter Forty-Six

  Chapter Forty-Seven

  Chapter Forty-Eight

  Chapter Forty-Nine

  Chapter Fifty

  Chapter Fifty-One

  Chapter Fifty-Two

  Chapter Fifty-Three

  Chapter Fifty-Four

  Chapter Fifty-Five

  Chapter Fifty-Six

  Chapter Fifty-Seven

  Chapter Fifty-Eight

  Chapter Fifty-Nine

  Chapter Sixty

  Chapter Sixty-One

  Chapter Sixty-Two

  Chapter Sixty-Three

  Chapter Sixty-Four

  Chapter Sixty-Five

  Chapter Sixty-Six

  Chapter Sixty-Seven

  Chapter Sixty-Eight

  Chapter Sixty-Nine

  Chapter Seventy

  Chapter Seventy-One

  Chapter Seventy-Two

  Chapter Seventy-Three

  Chapter Seventy-Four

  Chapter Seventy-Five

  Chapter Seventy-Six

  Chapter Seventy-Seven

  Chapter Seventy-Eight

  Chapter Seventy-Nine

  Chapter Eighty

  Chapter Eighty-One

  Chapter Eighty-Two

  Chapter Eighty-Three

  Chapter Eighty-Four

  Chapter Eighty-Five

  Chapter Eighty-Six

  Chapter Eighty-Seven

  Chapter Eighty-Eight

  Acknowledgements

  To all my lovely readers, particularly those who take the time to brighten my day on Facebook and Twitter. Your support, kindness and humorous comments are very greatly appreciated.

  Merry Christmas, everyone!

  Since I started writing Christmassy novels, I’ve really grown to love this season to the point of obsession. I’m now one of those annoying people who begins organising Christmas in August. My favourite things are dressing the Christmas tree, wrapping presents and all the baking. I did wonder, if I wasn’t an author, whether I could have a career as a Christmas planner and that’s what gave me the first kernel of inspiration for Calling Mrs Christmas.

  It was fabulous to research. Part of the book is set in Swedish Lapland and we spent a fantastic week there, trying different winter activities. What a place! I realised that dog sledding with a bunch of exuberant huskies is the most fun you can have while wearing an arctic thermal suit, two jumpers and six pairs of socks.

  My partner, Lovely Kev, and I were also blessed with seeing the most stunning display of the Northern Lights. We spent four hours outside in minus thirty-six degrees just watching them in awe. What a sight! We only came in because Kev’s camera completely froze up and we were worried we might be next! Spending a night in the Icehotel was another truly memorable experience. I hope this book manages to convey some of the stunning scenery we saw; Swedish Lapland is a place of unbelievable beauty and mind-numbing cold.

  Have fun planning your own Christmas! And if you need help with your tree-dressing or gift-wrapping, just think of Calling Mrs Christmas.

  Love, Carole xx

  Chapter One

  Perfume ads on the telly. First it’s Charlize Theron, strutting and stripping her way through some mansion until she’s wearing nothing but J’Adore and an alluring smile. Next it’s Keira Knightley overacting ‘fun’ for Coco Mademoiselle. Finally, for Chanel No. 5, it’s the stylised Red Riding Hood advert that’s been doing the rounds for years with the best-looking wolf you’ve ever seen. It’s only when these luscious advertisements grace our screens that you know the giddy, helter-skelter rundown towards Christmas has finally begun in earnest.

  All three advertisements have been screened in a row and it’s barely mid-morning. I missed most of the ads last year. At least, the daytime ones. I hear myself sigh. It’s a bad habit and I’ve been doing it a lot lately. This year, as I am an unemployed, redundant couch potato, I am running the entire gamut of Christmas commercialism. It’s the first week of October and already Stacey and Jason are extolling the virtues of Iceland’s pre-prepared party food.

  There is much laughter, much over-indulgence in these adverts, much that is red and gold and glittering. Which is all very lovely. I’d usually buy right into it. Except there’ll not be much partying at our house this Christmas. Very little, if any, party food from Iceland – or elsewhere – will be bought. Our table will not be replete with
festive delights. Our Christmas tree will not be surrounded by half a ton of presents. It will be a big contrast to last year. I stop the next sigh that threatens to escape.

  ‘Budget’ is the watchword of the moment. Closely followed by ‘cutbacks’. Last Christmas we had a great time. As is expected, the table groaned with food, the booze flowed, we force-fed ourselves an excess of Quality Street. All the usual things. Wonderful. But last year I had a job. This year I don’t. And there’s the rub.

  This Christmas, any tightening of the belt will be entirely down to our dwindling finances and not, for once, caused by the calorie overload of the festivities. I have now been out of work for a grand total of eight months, four days and, checks watch, three hours. It’s fair to say that no one seems to be missing the great contribution that Ms Cassie Smith, age thirty-five, of Hemel Hempstead in the fair county of Hertfordshire has made to the cut-throat world of commerce.

  I switch off the television and stare at the walls of the flat. This place has become my prison and my refuge all at once. I hate being trapped in here all day with nowhere to go. Yet now when I get the chance to go out, spread my wings, I’m frightened. My heart pounds, my mouth goes dry and my palms sweat at the thought of stepping out of my comfort zone. Do you think that’s how budgies feel? Do they desperately want to fly free, but as soon as that cage door is open, they freeze? If it is, then I feel so sorry for them. I used to be sure of my place in life, but my self-confidence has dwindled just as fast as our meagre savings.

  My job, I have to admit, wasn’t fantastic. I grumbled about it a lot. To anyone who would listen, really. But, my goodness, how I miss it. I would give anything to be complaining about hauling myself out of bed on a frosty morning, scraping the car windscreen, blowing on my fingers to keep warm, muttering about the crap office coffee. Instead, when Jim gets up for work, I simply turn over and go back to sleep. No need to get up. No need to rush. No need to do anything. No need to be here at all.

  I worked as a secretary and general dogsbody for a small engineering company specialising in component design and fabrication. The price I paid for daydreaming in school. But I was good at my job, efficient. People liked me. I was a dedicated and diligent dogsbody. I could turn my hand to anything and frequently did. Sometimes it felt as if I was running the flipping place. Jim and I went to my boss’s house for dinner. Three times. He opened champagne. I always went that extra mile, my boss said. He said I was indispensable. In fact he said it the very morning before he called me into his office and told me that, from the end of the week, I would be surplus to requirements. Not enough people, it seemed, needed components designed or fabricated.

  I push my misery aside and phone Jim. Just the sound of his voice can pull me out of a downward spiral. His mobile rings and rings. My other half, for his sins, is a prison officer based in the Young Offenders’ Unit at Bovingdale Prison. He can’t have his phone with him when he’s on duty, but I’m hoping that I might catch him on a break when he tries to go out to his locker if he can, snatching a few minutes to listen to his messages and look at his texts. He never used to go out to his locker during his shift when I was at work because I never had time to phone him during the day. We did all our catching up on the evenings when Jim’s shifts allowed us to fall exhausted onto the sofa together. Now I spend my entire life on the sofa – primarily alone – and Jim is conscious that he’s my lifeline to the world, so he checks his phone as often as he can.

  As I think it’s about to go to voicemail, Jim picks up. ‘Hi, love,’ he says, sounding harassed. ‘A bit busy right now. Just got a call on the radio. Can I ring you back later?’

  ‘Yeah.’

  ‘Was it anything important?’

  ‘No. I’m just bored.’

  ‘OK. Catch you when I’ve got a spare mo. Love you.’ He hangs up.

  ‘Love you,’ I say to the handset.

  And that’s the trouble when you’re not busy. Everyone else is. I switch the television back on. The John Lewis advert. Something sentimental to have you reaching for the tissues as usual. The Argos ad. Then Boots who seem to be trying to guilt mothers into excess present buying. No wonder vulnerable heartstrings are stretched to breaking point. Soon everyone but me will be wrapped up in Christmas. A time when all sensible spending goes out of the window and everyone racks up the debt on their credit cards to pay another day. Well, we can’t do that this year.

  To be honest, I didn’t particularly worry when I was made redundant although, equally, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed, as in my view I’d done my best for the company and I believed they were happy with me. But then I thought I’d get a job really easily. I’d waltz straight into another company who’d love me and appreciate me more. Who doesn’t need secretaries? What sort of company doesn’t have a dogsbody on which to dump all their most depressing and unwanted tasks? Who doesn’t want someone to mollycoddle and care for all the staff and their various crises? An office angel. I assumed that the local paper would be filled with opportunities for someone with my skills and experience. It seems that I was wrong.

  Chapter Two

  I stare at the clock. Nearly ten minutes have passed since I last looked at it. Jim still hasn’t called me back. In fairness, he has a very busy job. Unlike me, he works in a growth industry. No shortage of customers in Jim’s company. No chance of anyone saying that there isn’t enough demand for his skill set. The Young Offenders’ Unit at Bovingdale is already overflowing and there’s a steady stream of thieving, drug-dealing, car-nicking, housebreaking kids that they can’t even begin to accommodate.

  But no matter how much I hate being unemployed, I couldn’t for all the money in the world, for all the tea in China, do a job like that. My Jim is a saint among men.

  We’ve been together for five years now, meeting in a less than salubrious bar in Watford just after my thirtieth birthday and just after I’d decided that true love would never find me. There he was, standing with a pint of Magners in his hand, and for me – for both of us – it was love at first sight.

  Sometimes, you just can’t put your finger on what causes that strength of attraction, but you know that it’s there. It’s not that Jim Maddison’s an oil painting. I wasn’t bowled over because he’s a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey. He doesn’t have that kind of movie-star looks. His hair is cropped close, which makes him look a lot scarier than he actually is. From his time in the army, he’s got tattoos on his toned biceps. A heart and a rose entwined on one side. A skull with flowers growing through it on the other. Between his shoulder blades there’s a colourful phoenix and I love to trace the outline of them on his skin when we’re lying in bed. He’s stocky, not that tall, has a face that’s too pale as he spends his working days locked indoors and we haven’t had a holiday in the sun in years. But my Jim has the kindest eyes you’ll ever see. They’re soft, grey and always have a twinkle in them. He smiles much, much more than he frowns. When it comes down to it, Jim’s just an uncommonly nice guy and it radiates from every pore he possesses. Everyone adores him. Me included. Jim is the epitome of the word ‘solid’ and, since the day I met him, I know what it is to be loved, to be cared for.

 
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