Really thrilled to announce that my new lesbian romance, Nothing To Lose, is almost ready to launch! The book is with my proof-reader and the cover is nearly done, so I hope to have my new lesbian fiction novel for sale by the end of June. To get you in the mood, here’s a first chapter reveal – hope you enjoy!
It was 4am when Scarlet woke up to the insistent banging on her blue wooden front door. It came in great, thumping thuds, making her eyelids spring open with fear. She rolled over and reached for her lamp. There was shouting now, too.
Scarlet’s heart began to gallop as she flung back the duvet, grabbing her red dressing gown which was in a huddle on the floor. Who the heck was at her door at this time in the morning? Whoever it was, they wanted to tell her something urgently, and that thought made her hurry all the more. What if something had happened to her twin brothers, Fred and Clark?
Ice crackled in her veins.
Not after mum and dad.
Please don’t let anything have happened to Fred or Clark.
The banging got louder.
“Okay, I’m coming!” Scarlet snapped on the hallway light and squinted as her eyes adjusted to the harsh glare. She’d been meaning to get a shade to house the bulb, but that task had got swamped on her never-ending to do list.
She ran up the stairs as the shouting came into sharp focus in her ears.
“Hello! Police! Open up! Is anybody home?”
Scarlet fumbled with her door keys, goosebumps breaking out all over her skin. It was cold enough to snow in her flat, never mind outside. She took a deep breath, pulled her dressing gown tighter and opened the door.
On the other side was a police officer, helmet under his arm. He looked about 12. Then again, as she was nearing 40, everyone was beginning to look young to Scarlet these days. His face was creased with concern and when he exhaled, she could see his breath all around him.
“Sorry to wake you, but they’re about to open the flood barrier and I’m afraid you’ve got to get out.” He paused, apparently searching for the next words. They eventually came. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but the likelihood is your flat will be flooded, so take what you want with you. You’ve got half an hour.”
Scarlet blinked at him. Fear bunched in the back of her throat, quickly followed by confusion and nausea.
What did he just say? Flat. Get Out. Half An Hour. Flooded.
Her brain couldn’t compute any of the words, much less put them anywhere near each other. Not when it came to talking about her and her flat. This was her haven, the only safe place she had left in the whole, wide, disastrous world.
What the fuck was he talking about?
“Sorry?” she said, her forehead scrunching as she tried to make sense of the situation. “I don’t understand — wouldn’t the flood barrier stop us being flooded?”
She’d been promised when she bought the flat that it hadn’t flooded in over 60 years.
“Even though you’re right by the river, it’s very unlikely,” her estate agent had said at the time, handing over his red shiny pen. He’d been especially proud of that fact.
The police officer shrugged, his eyes apologetic, baring his yellow teeth in a pitying smile.
“I’m just the messenger, madam. The barrier’s electrics have flooded and they can’t risk it getting stuck and flooding more, so the environment agency has ordered it be opened to save as many homes as possible. They’re trying to limit the damage to hundreds of homes and businesses, rather than thousands. Unfortunately, yours is one that might be sacrificed. We’re preparing everyone for the worst case scenario.”
Scarlet shook her head. There must be some mistake. This couldn’t be happening. The estate agent had said so. Her body was frozen to the spot, her brain stalled. She’d thought her life couldn’t get any worse than the previous weekend, but now this? If there was such a thing as a god, he or she was having a ruddy good laugh.
“So you’re telling me I’ve got to get out now? Right now?” She pointed a finger to the floor.
He nodded again, turning to his right.
She could hear one of his colleagues telling the same story to her neighbour, Ben, who had two dogs. He was going to be even less happy than her.
“Afraid so. Take what you want and get out. Get to the community hall and you’ll be sorted out from there.”
She gripped the doorframe to steady herself. Wooziness swamped her brain. “And there’s no chance you could be wrong? You said this was just a possible scenario?”
He winced, then ran a hand over his stubbled chin. Scarlet reckoned there was at least three day’s growth. “It’s a worst possible scenario, but if they’re opening the flood barriers and you’re a basement flat by the river, I’d say the likelihood of you being affected is 100%. If I were you, I’d take everything that’s valuable or irreplaceable with me now.” He paused, looking past her, his eyes kind and sympathetic. “Will you need help with children or animals?”
His words stung, even this early.
“No, it’s just me.” Scarlet didn’t have a child or a pet: it was just her, like always. Unworthy, unloveable, all alone. And even when her life had suddenly turned into a disaster movie, it was still being brought up to twist the knife that little bit further.
The police officer nodded, already turning away. “I’ll be back in a bit to make sure you’ve left.” His boots squeaked on the pavement as he turned. Then he glanced back. “And I really am sorry about this.” He gave her a pained smile and ran along the road.
Scarlet peered out onto the street and held her hands up at her neighbour opposite, a balding man named Mark who always wore terrible animal-print fleeces. This morning was no exception, and he’d paired the fleece with some scruffy jeans and a bobble hat. In her two years living in the street, she’d spoken to him twice before.
“Can you believe this?” she said, rubbing her eyes.
Mark’s movements were in slow motion. “It was the reason I moved here, to escape the flooding. And now they’re opening the barrier. It’s beyond words.” He shook his head and walked back into his flat, kicking his doorframe as he did.
Scarlet stood on her front doorstep and glanced up and down the street, buzzing with flashing lights and shocked utterances as news spread. Every property’s front light was blazing, but the air was still, just like it should be. There was no great feeling that something major was about to happen.
But apparently, it was.
She stepped back inside and closed her front door with a heavy thunk. Then she rested her forehead against the cool hallway wall and listened to her elevated heartbeat in her ears.
Ba-doom. Ba-doom. Ba-doom.
Half an hour.
Given that option, what would you choose?
Scarlet stood in her lounge, staring at her possessions. Did she want any of them, honestly?
Last weekend, she’d read an article on suicide and idly contemplated what it might be like. Kicking away a stool; hanging herself with a belt; overdosing on pills. It’d turned out all of them required research, and she didn’t have the energy for that, so she’d parked it. Now, she was thinking that was a mistake. If she was dead, she wouldn’t have to deal with this, would she?
She could just stay in the flat and wait for the water. Would anybody miss her? She doubted it. At work, they’d probably put her absence down to the flood: within weeks she’d be forgotten, just somebody they used to know. And she hadn’t been in touch with her brothers for a couple of months. How long till they noticed she was missing?
The only place where her absence would be keenly missed would be on the touchlines at Dulshaw FC, her beloved local football club. Matt and Eamonn would miss her swearing, that’s for sure. Both of them approaching forty and still amused a woman could swear just as much as them.
Scarlet grabbed a rucksack from her wardrobe and began putting her essentials in it: wallet, passport, phone, tablet, laptop. She walked through to the living room and stared at her shelves, full of books and CDs, the story of her life. She couldn’t take them. The first stab of regret hit her, almost taking her breath away. She closed her eyes and waited for it to pass.
In her old life, in happier times, this had always been one of those questions her mates would ask after a few pints down the pub. Scarlet, Liv, Nancy and Sarah, three pints in down The Golden Lion. Crisps ripped open on the table to share, music blaring, cheeks red, senses dulled. It’d been their Sunday routine for well over a year: lunch, followed by a few pints and slurred, slanted chats about their future together.
“Your house is about to burn down and you’ve got minutes to get out. What would you take?”
Liv had always gone for their dog, Alfie, jewellery, and her photos. Nancy always said her record collection — she was a vinyl nut. Sarah never knew what she’d take, so they’d always surmised that Sarah would be burnt alive trying to make the decision. Scarlet had always been the one who said she’d just walk out and leave, not giving a thought to any of her possessions.
“It’s only stuff,” she’d said. “It’s replaceable. By the time you’ve collected all your records, you’re dead from smoke inhalation.”
But now, standing in her lounge on a peaceful January morning, she wasn’t so sure. She didn’t want to lose her books and CDs. Or her photos. She might not like her life, but did she really want it all washed away, like it had never happened?
Urgency overtook her now. She flung open her largest suitcase and began stuffing it full of things. Clothes, shoes, photos, toiletries. She ran from bathroom to bedroom to lounge like someone on a gameshow, trying to fill a case as quick as they could. If anybody had been watching, they might have thought she was late for a plane and packing everything but the kitchen sink. It was exactly what she wanted to do, only she couldn’t.
She ran to the kitchen — where was her mum’s favourite Silver Jubilee mug? She couldn’t leave without that: it was one of the only things she had left. She opened the cupboard above the kettle, moving mugs aside. Her gaze raked the shelf: she couldn’t see it. Scarlet scanned the draining board — not there. She wrenched open the dishwasher and spotted it, still stained with tea from the previous day. She didn’t have time to wash it up. She ran through to the bedroom and wrapped the mug in a jumper. Then Scarlet checked her watch — how long did she have? She bargained around ten minutes. Her case was nearly full, and in contrast, her mind was blank.
Real life didn’t work like the pub game. Real life had decisions and consequences.
She’d give anything to be back in the pub in happier times.
When she brushed her teeth, tears pricked the back of her eyes. She swallowed down and nearly choked on her toothpaste. She spat, and eyeballed herself in her bathroom mirror she’d been meaning to clean for weeks.
It didn’t matter now.
None of it mattered.
In the back of her mind, Scarlet had always known that.
She was proud of her flat, kept it spick and span. It was the one thing that was hers now, after everything. After the split with Liv. After the ripping apart of their carefully woven lives and her delicate heart.
Scarlet took a deep breath, sucking it right into her lungs. One of the last she’d ever take in this flat.
There were the tears again, threatening to bubble up and out of her.
Scarlet blew out a long breath. Yes, she was losing her haven, but she wasn’t going to cry. She didn’t have time.
She dressed quickly in jeans, T-shirt and her favourite sweatshirt, then added her trainers and coat. She couldn’t bring all her coats. She couldn’t bring her mum’s fake fur.
The tears sprung up again.
Scarlet unzipped her case and crammed the fur in, sitting back on top of it to make sure it closed. It did. She was pretty sure a fur coat wasn’t going to be needed in a flood, but it was one of the only things she’d taken from her parents’ house after they’d died. That, and their crockery, but she wasn’t about to start packing that up. She had the mug, that would have to suffice.
Then her eyes fell on her guitar. Should she leave it behind? Scarlet stood over it, gazing at the life it used to represent: a better, more in-tune life. She ran her finger through the layer of dust coating its surface. She couldn’t leave it, even if she hadn’t picked it up in over a year. Scarlet got on a chair and grabbed its case from the top of her wardrobe, laying the guitar down carefully and snapping the case shut.
Maybe the flood wouldn’t be as bad as they were predicting. Then again, basement flats and water were the best of friends. She should anticipate the worst, she knew that. But the thought of never seeing her clock again that she’d bought in the flea market in Lisbon? But she’d also bought it with Liv. On second thoughts, maybe it was a blessing.
A banging on her door interrupted her thoughts. Scarlet wasn’t startled this time.
She went from room to room, checking if she’d left anything important. It didn’t feel any different to all those times she’d done the same thing when she was going away for a few days, checking she’d switched off lights, the oven, the iron. It didn’t feel different at all.
But it was. Who knew what she’d come back to? She had no idea at all.
Her feet were suddenly dead weights, not wanting to move. Her television stood quietly, as it always did, no idea what was about to happen. Her print on the wall, a shot of the surrounding hills, a shot she was proud of and had blown up.
She could get it done again.
She checked her bedroom. She’d tried to make it her sanctuary, but it hadn’t quite worked.
Her bathroom, with its double shower and mosaic tiles. Of all the things in her flat, this was the room she loved the most. Her boutique hotel shower. She’d modelled it on one she remembered from a visit to Milan, back in the day. She exhaled.
Maybe it would survive.
There was more banging and shouting. Scarlet grabbed her suitcase, backpack and guitar, then thudded slowly up her staircase, every step sealing her flat’s doom. At the front door, she turned and cast a glance backwards. Her eggshell-blue hallway. Her old-fashioned wooden hat stand. Her metal light fitting she’d looked everywhere for. She didn’t want to leave, but she had to.
When she opened the door, the police officer was there again, looking anxiously over his shoulder, then back to Scarlet.
“You ready?” he asked. “We’ve got a van if you want to put a suitcase in it. We’ll drop the lot at the community hall. Anything else, you can carry.”
Scarlet stared past his shoulder and saw a white transit van with doors open, and her neighbours filling it with suitcases in the chilled darkness. It was eerily silent, save for the bang of luggage and the slap of footsteps. Nobody was saying a word. Because really, what could you say? Scarlet nodded her head and handed him her case.
“That the lot?” said the PC: his tone and volume went up at the end. Scarlet got the feeling he’d asked that question a few times this morning.
She nodded again. “Yep.” Her life, her claimed possessions, all in one hard black suitcase, subtle and unassuming. Much like Scarlet.
“Okay,” he replied. “I need to see you’re out, too. We can’t have anybody drowning.” The policeman gave her a smile to go with his last comment.
Scarlet wasn’t in the mood for humour. She took a deep breath, checked her pocket for her keys, shifted her rucksack up on her shoulder. Then with a leaden heart, she picked up her guitar in its solid black case and pulled her front door shut with a final slam.
Nothing To Lose is due for release in June 2016. Keep an eye on this website for more, or sign up to my mailing list to get an email when it’s released!