Hello everyone and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all doing well. Today, I’m super excited to be taking part in the blog tour for Cathy Bramley’s latest novel, ‘White Lies and Wishes’ and I’m posting an exclusive extract from the novel! It’s actually released tomorrow (26th January 2017) with Penguin Random House. Thanks so much to PRH for this opportunity! So, here goes…
What happens when what you wish for is only half the story…?
Flirtatious, straight-talking Jo Gold says she’s got no time for love; she’s determined to save her family’s failing footwear business.
New mother Sarah Hudson has cut short her maternity leave to return to work. She says she’ll do whatever it takes to make partner at the accountancy firm.
Bored, over-eating housewife Carrie Radley says she just wants to shift the pounds – she’d love to finally wear a bikini in public.
The unlikely trio meet by chance one winter’s day, and in a moment of ‘Carpe Diem’ madness, embark on a mission to make their wishes come true by September.
Easy. At least it would be, if they hadn’t been just the teensiest bit stingy with the truth…
With hidden issues, hidden talents, and hidden demons to overcome, new friends Jo, Carrie and Sarah must admit to what they really, really want, if they are ever to get their happy endings.
About the Author
Cathy Bramley is the author of the bestselling romantic comedies Ivy Lane, Appleby Farm, Wickham Hall, The Plumberry School of Comfort Food and Conditional Love. She lives in a Nottinghamshire village with her husband, two daughters and a dog.
It was the last Monday in January. ‘Blue Monday’, according to the newspapers. The most miserable day of the year. The sky was miserable, too: charcoal clouds scudded angrily over the rooftops and a mean wind rattled at window frames and snapped weak branches from trees.
How apt, thought Jo, rubbing her hands together for warmth.
Frédéric Lafleur’s funeral had already cast a shadow over the day but now, at three o’clock, the thin light was fading from the afternoon and the little village of Woodby in rural Nottinghamshire was descending into gloom. Jo shuddered, dragged her gaze away from the steamed- up window of the village hall and blinked away tears that had been gathering since before the service.
Coffee. She needed coffee. It would warm her up and give her something to do. She pushed her way through the crowd towards the refreshments and was vaguely aware of a petite young woman with a cloud of pretty red curls hopping up and down, trying to hang a brightly coloured coat on a peg out of reach.
The room was muggy and Jo felt hot and restricted in her tight black skirt suit. She undid the button of her jacket and grimaced at the noise around her. The conversation, at first a respectful whisper, had risen to a more sociable hum as the mourners, with pinched faces and frozen fingers, thawed over tea and sandwiches.
A searing flash of fury gripped her and she had an urge to scream.
For God’s sake, it’s not a bloody party.
She took a deep breath and reminded herself that this was how people dealt with death in England; a nice cup of tea and a muted chuckle over shared memories. The hall was packed; tons of people had come to see him off, there was bound to be noise. Besides, Fréd had been a noisy bugger; he’d have hated a quiet wake.
She braced herself as Abi stumbled blindly into her arms.
‘Hello, you,’ said Jo, returning the hug.
Abi had lost so much weight this past year; Jo could feel every bone in her spine.
If anyone were to ask Jo how she was, she would probably smile through gritted teeth and reply that she was fine. She wasn’t, though. Jo was angry. So furious, in fact, that she wanted to punch something or someone really hard. God, probably.
This was all wrong. Funerals were for old people. Abi and Fréd were still young. Or was, in Fréd’s case. They should be popping out more babies left, right and centre, enjoying life, planning for their future. Fréd should be here, arm draped round his beautiful wife, knocking back the red wine and making jokes about English food.
Jo could feel her breath rattling against her ribcage, her throat burning with the effort of keeping her own emotions in check. She kissed Abi’s hair and released her, dabbing the tears from her friend’s face with a tissue that had seen better days. What do you say to your thirty-fouryear-old friend who has just lost her husband to cancer?
‘Thanks for doing the reading in French, Jo,’ Abi murmured.
‘Yeah, cheers for that,’ said Jo, twisting her mouth into a smile. ‘As if I wasn’t stressed enough, you make me wheel out my rusty old French.’
At least now the service was over she could start to breathe normally again.
‘It was brilliant; you still sound fluent.’ Abi swallowed.
Jo shook her head. Abi was amazing, even now she managed to see beyond her own pain. ‘Old Maman Lafleur didn’t think so, she was giving me daggers.’
Abi winced. ‘Sorry about my mother- in- law, I think she still blames you for introducing us at uni. If it’s any consolation, she looks at me like that all the time.’
‘Poor you.’ Jo smiled in sympathy. Her eyes roamed the room until she located Fréd’s parents queuing for food. ‘Fréd’s dad Henri is lovely, though. Handsome devil. Obviously where Fréd got his looks from.’
Abi’s face crumpled.
Shit, wrong thing to say. Jo pulled her friend close again, cursing her own stupidity, as Abi cried softly into her neck. At the buffet table the French relatives were examining a pork pie as if it were a suspicious parcel, curiosity and distrust on their faces. Henri picked up a slice, sniffed it, then nibbled the edge. Showing every bit of his Gallic origins, he shrugged and pulled the corners of his mouth down. The others shook their heads and moved along.
Abi pulled away and rubbed her face dry with the back of her hands. ‘Anyway, it meant a lot to me. You read at our wedding and Fréd would have liked the poem. I miss hearing his voice, hearing him swear in French.’
They looked at each other and shared a smile; Fréd had been bilingual but he always swore in French.
Jo nodded. A sudden longing for the day to end, to leave all this sadness behind, sent guilty shivers through her body. She ran a hand through her short, blonde hair distractedly. At times like these it was so much easier being single – no ties, none of this heartache.
Abi looked round the hall. ‘I suppose I’d better go and mingle.’
Jo gripped her hands. ‘Bugger them. You do exactly as you like. People don’t expect you to make polite conversation. Get yourself a coffee and let them come to you. And make sure you eat something.’
Abi nodded half-heartedly. ‘What about you?’
Jo wrinkled her nose and pulled a single, slightly bent cigarette out of her bag. ‘Not hungry. I’m going out for a fag.’
Abi frowned. ‘Thought you’d given up?’ Jo shook her head, gave Abi a swift kiss and wiped away a smear of red lipstick on her cheek with her thumb. ‘Not today.’
Carrie set down the heavy teapot, shook out her arm and wiped the sheen of perspiration from her brow. It was going well so far. Perhaps ‘well’ was the wrong word under the circumstances.
She bit her lip, flushing in case people could hear her thoughts. What she meant was that everyone had had a hot drink, and no one had asked for something she didn’t have. In theory, they could help themselves from now on. She supposed she would have to come out from behind the table at some point. But not yet. She felt safer here, less conspicuous. Or at least as inconspicuous as someone of her size could ever be.
Still, she had been really good today. She’d only had one sausage roll all afternoon, even though her mouth was watering and her stomach wouldn’t stop rumbling. Her eyes scanned the trestle table. There had been plenty of food in the end; she needn’t have worried. Not very French, though, unless you counted vol- au- vents. And quiche, maybe. That sounded French. Doing the catering on her own had been hard work, but it had been the least she could do for poor Abi, plus, if she was honest with herself, she had enjoyed being busy, feeling useful for once. Was that really self-centred?
A blonde middle-aged woman in a long navy raincoat brought her teacup over for a refill.
‘Lovely spread, Carrie.’
‘Oh gosh, Linda. Thank you.’ Carrie blushed and looked down shyly, noticing crumbs on her chest. How did they get there?
‘Did you do the altar flowers too?’
She nodded. ‘Not bad for supermarket flowers, are they?’
‘Goodness!’ Linda pulled the corners of her mouth down in surprise. ‘No, not bad at all.’
Carrie could have kicked herself. Why did she always make a joke of things? Of course she had done the flowers. She had been to the wholesalers at five this morning to collect the blooms. Long-stemmed roses, masses of them: white for youth, red for courage and pink for love. Not chrysanthemums. She shuddered. She hated them: the symbol of death.
Linda leaned forward and lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘I think you’ve got jam on your chin.’
How did that get there?
Carrie was still scrubbing at her face with a napkin as Fréd’s mother approached the table and handed Carrie her paper plate.
‘Thank you,’ said the elegant Frenchwoman, ashen-faced and stooped under the weight of her grief.
Carrie’s heart sank as she took in the barely touched food. Fréd’s mum had hated it. She should have listened to Alex, perhaps she should never have offered to do this at all; her cooking wasn’t up to catering standard.
‘I’m so sorry. For your loss. And for the food,’ she stammered.
Madame Lafleur didn’t smile, but nodded and swept away to rejoin her husband.
Carrie regarded the remains of the buffet with dismay. It struck her as rather macabre now; chicken drumsticks, sandwiches, cake . . . like some sort of sick joke. It looked like the sort of food you’d do for a birthday party, or a wedding anniversary.
Strange how you had a wedding breakfast but a funeral tea. Or was it? If your whole life were to be crammed into one day, you’d want your wedding in the morning, save the funeral for the end of the day.
But some people didn’t make it to the end of the day, did they? And some had their lives taken before they had even begun. A massive lump threatened to block her throat.
Today is not about you, Carrie Radley.
She shook her head to banish the memories, and without a thought of the calories she selected the largest slice of quiche and took a mouthful.
Oh my Lord! She had died and woken up in savoury pie heaven.
She took a second bite. The salty bacon, crumbly pastry and creamy custard disappeared in seconds.
She closed her eyes and then snapped them open, automatically checking to see where her husband was. He was easy to spot; Alex was one of the tallest men here. And the most handsome. As she brushed more crumbs from her bosom, he looked over and caught her eye.
‘All right?’ he mouthed.
She nodded. Damn. She felt guilty enough for eating without him catching her raiding the buffet. She couldn’t stick to her diet today. Today she was too het up.
Patches of sweat prickled under her arms and her face felt hot, it would be as red as a beetroot, she just knew it. Her dark hair would be a mess too; the steam from the hot-water urn would have turned it to frizz. Fresh air was called for, perhaps with a snack. She grabbed a couple of chicken drumsticks and made for the door to the car park.
Happy reading 🙂