A Taste Of Love, the second book in the brand-new Village Romance Series, is out this week. Yippee! But if you can’t wait that long and would like a first chapter preview, step right this way. It’s out on July 24th. Not long to wait now…
A Taste Of Love: Chapter One
Natalie Hill loved many things about her Aunt Yolanda, but her culinary skills weren’t top of the list. Thankfully, Yolanda’s husband, Max, knew his way around a kitchen. Despite Yolanda’s constant threats that she would cook their weekly family dinner, Max normally won out. Just as he had tonight.
The aroma of lamb and rosemary was still coating the air as they finished their meals. Her aunt and uncle’s kitchen was one of those artfully distressed, country-style ramshackle affairs. It had a wooden table that could seat eight, an old fireplace, and copper pots and pans hanging on racks suspended from the ceiling.
Natalie ran her fingertips over the corner of the table. She’d had a fight with it, aged five. The table had won.
“I tried those new gin chocolates you’re thinking of trialling in the shop.” Yolanda scrunched her face like a five-year-old. “Did you taste them first?” She put the last mouthful of mustard mash into her mouth, never taking her eyes from her niece.
“I did. But judging by your face, you weren’t keen?” It didn’t take a seasoned sleuth to work that out.
Yolanda shook her head. Her short, blonde-streaked hair was cropped closer than usual. Had her aunt had it shaved? Was she entering a late midlife crisis? “I was not. The whisky ones were okay, but the gin ones were not quite right. Too chocolatey?”
“Too ginny.” That was Yolanda’s daughter, Fi, chiming in. She was on her phone, apparently dealing with orders. Yolanda had reminded Fi throughout the meal she should have done that in work time, but Fi worked to her own schedule. The plus points: she was a great brand manager and salesperson. The minus points: she hated being told what to do.
It looked like Natalie would have to find another chocolate supplier. “That’s not a ringing endorsement. I’ve got some in my bag if you want to give your opinion, Max.”
His face fell. “But I made a gin and tonic cheesecake for dessert.”
“It won’t go to waste. You can never have too much gin.” That was a statement from Yolanda, not a question. She owned the local gin distillery, so she was the expert. She turned back to Natalie. “But once we get these chocolates right, they’re going to sell like hot cakes. I can just hear the tills ringing, can’t you?”
“If we were living in 1985, when tills actually rang.” Fi put her phone down, arching a single styled eyebrow.
Yolanda flicked her daughter’s shoulder. “1985 was a vintage year. We got married, for one.” She leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on Max’s lips.
The way her aunt could swing from brash to romance was a skill Natalie wanted to master. “I reckon with the chocolates and the new candles we’ve just got in, the tills will be singing. Which is exactly what we want them to do.” Natalie paused. “Have you thought about the summer festival idea, too? If the distillery put the cash up to kick it off, it would be a great marketing opportunity. Plus, it would do wonders for our image.”
Yolanda sat back in her chair and patted her flat stomach. Her aunt ate like a horse, but never put on any weight. She was a wonder of modern science. Natalie put it down to her nervous energy and constant movement, something she’d passed on to Fi. Both mother and daughter were currently jigging one leg up and down, and Natalie could almost hear Yolanda’s business brain ticking.
“Does our image need work?” Yolanda frowned. “We’re well liked. We’re not the Carlisles, sitting in their big house with piles of cash.”
Natalie shook her head. “No, but you can never bolster it enough, can you?”
A curt nod. “Good point. I like the idea, too. Put a plan together and get back to me. Can you put it together and execute in time? We’re already into March.”
Natalie grinned. “Shouldn’t be an issue. Give me a week and I’ll get back to you.”
Yolanda sucked in air through her teeth, before turning back to Fi. “Why aren’t you coming up with these brand ideas, daughter dearest?”
Fi’s new Boxer, Rocky, was wriggling under the table. His paws were slipping on the polished concrete, causing everyone to look down. Fi pulled him into her lap, and received a face wash for her trouble. Natalie wasn’t sure it was the wisest move. Still being a puppy, Rocky was prone to bouts of impromptu weeing. Fi’s lap was as good a place as any.
“Because I’m busy starting a family. You said you wanted grandchildren. Here he is.” She held up Rocky’s paw and gave Yolanda a wave. Fi had dyed her short hair grey recently. Yolanda still wasn’t down with it. At 56, she was doing everything she could to fight the ageing process, covering her grey with blonde streaks.
“Talking of chocolate. You know where I had some delicious ones recently?” Fi didn’t wait for an answer. “The Chocolate Box. Whoever’s taken it over has a great supplier. You should ask who it is.”
Natalie folded her arms across her chest. “I heard it was someone from London looking to make a quick buck.”
The old owners, the McManns, had let the shop go a little towards the end of their tenure. Both well into their 60s, when Elijah McMann’s health had deteriorated, they’d sold under market value for a quick sale. It still rankled with Natalie. Big city types coming into small towns always got her back up.
Fi shrugged, pushing away her not-quite-cleared plate. “I don’t know, but you should go in there. They’ve ripped everything out, and it’s very smart now. Modern. Plus, they’re selling all manner of sweets.” She raised a single eyebrow. “Candles, too.”
Of course they were. “We’ll just have to make sure ours are better, won’t we?”
“With Natalie in charge, I have no doubt they will be.” Max gave her a wink, as he cleared the plates. If Natalie ever got into another relationship, she’d like it to emulate her aunt and uncle. They were the blueprint, unlike her parents.
“Did Dad come into the office today?”
Yolanda shook her head, sipping her glass of merlot. Her diamond wedding ring glinted as she lifted her glass. Yolanda had a passion for gin, as well as a passion for bling. Luckily, she could afford both. “He didn’t, called in sick again. But he was still working from home, you know what he’s like.”
Natalie did. His marriage had collapsed around him, and he hadn’t taken even a single day off to deal with it. As far as Dad was concerned, work always came first. Which was part of the reason Mum had left. “I’ll stop by and see him tomorrow. I texted him earlier and he said he was okay, just a little under the weather.” It wasn’t like him, but she’d get to the bottom of it. She’d fix the chocolate issue, too. She didn’t want to let her aunt down.
“Did Fi tell you she’s downloaded a Cotswolds dating app?” Yolanda’s hazel eyes lit up as she placed a hand on her daughter’s arm.
A blush crept onto Fi’s cheeks. She wriggled under the spotlight as three gazes fixed on her. “No luck yet, so don’t get your hopes up.” Fi sat up straight, glancing at Natalie. “It’s slim pickings around here, as Nat and I both know.”
“How could anyone resist you?” Yolanda squeezed Fi’s cheek between her thumb and index finger.
Fi flicked her head, dislodging her mother from her face. At least Natalie didn’t have to put up with her mum doing that, seeing as she lived a four-hour drive away.
“You should try it, too. Little Miss All-Work-And-No-Play.”
Now it was Natalie’s turn to blush. “I play plenty.”
“No, you don’t. You’re in your 30s, you should be playing far more. Instead, you’re always working.” Yolanda sat forward. “The problem is, you give too much of your time to Upper Chewford and too much to Yolanda Distillery.”
“I don’t mind, it makes me happy.”
“I mind.” Yolanda pressed her index finger to her chest. “Have you thought about doing that Blind Date thing at the pub? It would mean you’d meet some local women, plus you’d be doing Eugenie a favour.”
Natalie sighed. She knew Eugenie, the landlady of The Golden Fleece, was Yolanda’s friend. However, they’d been over this before. “I don’t want to date Harry, I’ve told you. Plus, doesn’t she have a thing with Josie?”
“Not now Josie’s back in the US.” Fi glanced up when she spoke.
“Sloppy seconds aren’t my style. Plus, you know I don’t like public speaking.” Ever since a particular incident in school, Natalie had shied away from the spotlight.
“This isn’t public speaking. You’d be asking pre-prepared questions. It’s a snip. Plus, there are two other women there as well as Harry.”
Natalie closed her eyes. Should she do it? Should she say yes to get her aunt off her back? It wasn’t on a stage, so it wasn’t her biggest fear. Plus, it was at the pub, a safe space. She bit her lip as she pondered. “If I say I’ll think about it, will it get you off my back?”
Yolanda gave her a supremely cheesy grin. “It will. That’s all I need to hear.” She winked. “I’ll tell Eugenie it’s almost in the bag.”
A Taste Of Love is out on July 24th.