Book six in the London Romance series – Made In London – is so close, you can almost taste it. In fact, you can do better than that by reading this sneak-peek of the first chapter to whet your appetite. Are you ready for the hilarious and romantic story of Heidi & Eden? Then read on…
Made In London: Chapter One
Heidi Hughes lowered her driver-side window and leaned out. A barrage of fat raindrops hit her cheeks. She pulled herself back into the car, glancing at the bright blue digits of her dashboard clock.
“Fuck.” Who got stuck behind a florist’s van on Valentine’s Day when they’d been single forever?
The florist gave her a what-ya-gonna-do smile as she got back into the van, the massive bouquet and garish red-and-white teddy bear safely delivered. There were plenty more squashed against the van’s back window.
Heidi ground her teeth together. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Swearing wasn’t going to teleport her to the photography studio for her family photo any quicker, but it made her feel better. Fuck was her very favourite swear word. Perhaps even her favourite word, full stop. It got people’s attention. However, now her daughter was talking, she was trying to curb her enthusiasm for it. It wasn’t easy.
The van moved finally, and Heidi pressed the accelerator. She eyed the clock again, guilt settling in her stomach. She wasn’t just late. She was next-level late. The kind of late that needed to sit in a chair and think about what it had done. The kind of late that made her mum talk about disappointment.
The original Maya Hughes was a laid-back woman. She’d had to be, having given birth to Heidi and her sister, Sarah. The only thing she didn’t tolerate was bad timekeeping. Heidi had been on board until she’d had her own daughter, Maya. Now, she had no idea how anyone with children got anything done on time. With her work and her daughter, Heidi’s life was one constant race against the clock, and the clock normally won. That excuse held no truck with her Caribbean matriarch mother, though.
Fifteen minutes later, Heidi parked and pulled the sun visor down. When she clocked the full extent of her make-up fail in the tiny square mirror, she shook her head. It had been perfect when she’d left her flat this morning. However, this morning’s engagement photoshoot — which had massively overrun — had also involved her clients’ cats, Laurel and Hardy. Who Heidi was massively allergic to. Hence now she looked like she’d been sobbing for a century. Her waterproof mascara hadn’t stood a chance.
Heidi flipped up the visor and got out of her silver Audi. She’d fix her face once she’d said hi to everyone. She pulled her coat up over her head in a bid to keep out the rain, inhaling the thick, damp air.
Heidi’s tardiness didn’t matter to her daughter. Maya greeted her with a shriek as she walked into Pippa’s studio. Heidi felt the heat of her mother’s glower, so decided not to look up and face it just yet. Rather, she was going to enjoy giving Maya a cuddle because she hadn’t seen her for four hours. The way Maya was grinning, it might have been four years, because that’s how kids measured time. Whenever Heidi was away from her daughter for anything longer than an hour, it was like she’d been on expedition to the Arctic for months.
“Hello, my little munchkin!” She picked up her daughter and spun her in the air, much to Maya’s delight. Her dark curls framed her face, her brown eyes sparkling as she let out her adorable cackle. At times like these, Maya was the perfect Sunday supplement child. “Were you a good girl for Aunty Sarah?”
Heidi glanced her sister’s way as she walked towards her. Maya wrapped her arms around Heidi’s neck, her hot cheek sticking to Heidi’s own. When she reached Sarah’s side, Heidi brushed her lips against her sister’s cheek.
“She was a perfect little girl for me, weren’t you?” Sarah gave Maya’s side a tickle and she wriggled in Heidi’s arms. “She went into Albert’s room and messed up his cards, which he’s still getting over. But I told him to clear them up, so he’s learned a valuable lesson.” Sarah paused. “And then we made cupcakes and Maya helped to mix the dough, didn’t you?”
Maya nodded, her smile slick with dribble. “Cakes!” She clapped her hands, before wriggling too much. Heidi put her down. She watched as Maya ran over to her cousin, Max, then glanced back to her sister.
“What happened to your face? You didn’t look like that when you dropped Maya off earlier.” Sarah wasn’t one to beat around the bush. It was a family trait.
“I meant to sort it out in traffic, but I gave up. It was too stop-start. Let’s just say this morning’s photoshoot involved cats.” Heidi nodded towards the bathroom. “Let me go and fix it before Mum frowns at me.”
She was going to do just that when her sister’s husband, Jason, arrived at her side. “Happy Valentine’s Day!” He studied her face.
“If you say I look like a panda, I’ll give you a different kind of black eye.”
Jason opened his mouth to speak, then promptly closed it.
“How about a raccoon?” Sarah offered, flashing her trademark grin.
“A sad badger?” Jason followed up, gaining momentum.
Heidi let a smile invade her face. “Fuck off, the pair of you.”
Both Sarah and Jason turned up their grins.
“By the way, I’ve made a decision about my birthday weekend.” Sarah paused for added effect. “I’ve found a festival we can go to, so that’s what we’re doing. Jason’s going to be the at-home dad to look after all the kids — Maya included — while we go and listen to music and get drunk. Sound good?”
“Free childcare and booze? Count me in.”
Footsteps walking across the laminate studio floor signalled Heidi was too late to move, and her heart deflated like a balloon. She’d failed at avoiding her mother. She blamed her sister.
“You’re late, Heidi Ray.”
Her mum was using both her names, so it must be bad. “I know, I’m sorry.” Even though she was 41, she still felt 12 at times like these. “The shoot ran over, and then I got stuck in traffic. The rain didn’t help, either.”
Her mum peered closer at her face. “Have you been crying?”
“Allergic reaction. The clients had cats.”
Her mum waved her away. “Go sort yourself out before the photo, then. We’re already far too late, so let’s get things going.”
Heidi gave her mum a nod, obeying immediately. She walked towards the bathroom, knowing exactly where it was because they’d been coming to this studio for their annual family photo for as long as she could remember. Only this year was special, because it was to be Maya’s first where she knew what was going on. Last year, she’d been eight months old. This year, she was approaching the grand old age of two.
Heidi rearranged her face the best she could, a sparse single radiator on the far wall not really doing enough to heat the space. She shivered as she balanced her makeup bag on the edge of the sink, wiping away the mascara on her cheeks, touching up her foundation and lipstick. She put a comb through her hair, practised her family-photo smile, then rolled her eyes. She’d have to do. Maybe Pippa could touch her up in the post-production. She’d have a word.
When she got back outside, Pippa was waiting. She gave her a hug. Heidi had always been close to Pippa. What’s more, her mum’s oldest friend had been an invaluable source of advice when Heidi had become a wedding photographer some years ago. Now she was older, Pippa mainly stuck to studio work, referring any wedding clients to Heidi. Without Pippa, Heidi wouldn’t have the thriving business she did.
“Come on, eldest child. We haven’t got all day!” That was her dad, his tone soft, his smile wide. Her dad never drove her as hard as her mum.
Heidi walked towards her family. Sarah and Jason standing behind their three children, Albert, Alex and Max. Her parents, Maya and Robert, to their left. Up until last year, she’d always been alone in the family photo. Just Heidi, year after year. None of her girlfriends had ever been permanent enough to make the shot. She’d never dreamed her child would make it before a partner, but life had a funny way of surprising you.
Now Maya was nearly two, Heidi was thinking about dating again. She missed sex. She missed romance. She missed regular adult conversation. She missed all of it. Maybe next year, she’d have a partner as well as a child. The full set.
Maya already had both hands in the air as Heidi scooped her up, kissing her curls as she settled in her arms. At times like this, she never wanted to let Maya go. Her dad squeezed her shoulder as Heidi settled next to him.
“You look lovely,” he whispered, giving her a smile. Heidi wanted to find someone just like her dad. But perhaps with more hair and less stubble. And female.
“Alright, everyone! Jason, could you scoot in a little. Get closer to Sarah, act as though you like her.” Pippa was in full-on directing mode.
Jason did as he was told.
“On my count, look at me, best cheesy smiles, and say Valentine’s Day!” Pippa held up a hand. “Three, two, one!” The camera clicked, and Heidi gave the best smile she could.
Maybe next year, she’d have someone standing to her left, too.
Made In London is out on October 15th.