My new co-written lesbian romance, One Golden Summer, is due out on June 16th. It asks the question: would you trade fame for love? Want to read the first chapter? Read on…
Kirsty McBride looked up at her shop sign: ‘Wine Time’ stared back at her. It had seemed so jaunty when she’d named it ten years ago. Now, it just needed repainting. The windows could do with a shine, too. But if you tilted your head and squinted in the right light (after dark), it’d do. Sort of. Up above, the seagulls squawked as they did every day by the Kent coast, and this fresh mid-June morning was no exception. Sandy Cove’s High Street was so close to the sea Kirsty could almost taste the salt on her tongue.
Kirsty’s commute to work was from the flat above. Short, sweet, and environmentally friendly.
She glanced down at her feet. The pavements were pristine after an early morning clean from the council. Plus, she’d remembered to put shoes on. Twice last week, she’d come down in her slippers and had to go back upstairs. Helena had taken the piss mercilessly.
“What’s the verdict?”
Kirsty turned to where Donald from Donald’s Menswear was shouting from across the road. She stepped back as the number 340 bus drove past along the High Street, sending a barrage of diesel fumes up her nose. Not the best breakfast. Three more cars buzzed by in succession before she could speak. Or rather, shout. Donald was hard of hearing.
“About what?” Her voice broke when she spoke. She hadn’t had her first coffee yet.
“The sign!” Donald was wearing his brown cardigan again. He wasn’t exactly an advert for fashion.
“It’ll do.” Kirsty gave him a grin. Compared to Donald’s sign, hers was positively vibrant. Donald was closing up in three weeks to enjoy his retirement and seemed keen to spend most of his final days on the street shouting at people over the traffic. He gave her a double thumbs up, then turned and went back into his shop.
Kirsty did the same. Her business partner, Helena, sat behind the counter, leafing through a copy of Homes & Gardens magazine that she got on subscription. When she heard the door, Helena looked up, her dark hair framing her angular face. The radio was playing a summery song that Kirsty recalled from her teenage years. Something about being head over heels. She’d been exactly that at age 17 with Tracey Staples, right about when this song came out. It hadn’t been reciprocated.
“We need to paint the front of the shop and touch up the sign.”
Helena held up the magazine, her index finger pressed into the image of a door. “We could paint it this colour.” She twisted the magazine towards her face. “Elephant’s Breath, apparently. Sort of stone-coloured?”
“I was thinking something winey. Perhaps a claret? Maybe an accent of sauvignon blanc inside?” Kirsty dropped her phone on the counter and stood beside her friend. The spice of Helena’s Opium perfume tickled her nose.
“I do like a nice sauvignon blanc.”
Kirsty gave her a grin. “I know. How was the one you took home last night?”
“Divine. Hugh loved it. He cooked a gorgeous seabass to go with it. We should employ him as our chef; he’s that good.”
“You’re a little biased, seeing as he’s your husband.”
Helena put the magazine down and picked up her mug of coffee. “All true, I am.” She paused, tilting her head. “Can we afford a paint job?”
Kirsty twisted on the ball of her foot and sat down at the large wooden tasting table that was the star of the space. It was surrounded by walls of dark wooden shelves lined with bottles of wine from all over the world. A wine library. If you were going to sit a wine exam, it would be the perfect place to study. “If any of my side ventures take off, perhaps. Plan a few more weddings, birthdays, anniversaries. We’ve got the team-building wine tasting tonight. That could lead to a whole new cash stream.” Wine sales were steady, but rents were rising. They needed to diversify. Getting online sales up and running would help so much. It’d been on Kirsty’s to-do list forever.
“How many are coming later?”
“Around 30, so we might have to move the table back.”
Robbie Williams came on the radio. Helena hated him. True to form, she turned him off with a scowl. She walked over to the table and sat down opposite Kirsty, drumming the tips of her fingers on the varnished, solid oak. “As well as weddings, birthdays and all that jazz, you remember what I went to a few months ago?”
Kirsty furrowed her brow. “Rehab?”
“Shut your face.” Helena gave her a look. “A divorce party. Hugh’s friend. Ironically, it was like a bloody wedding. Could be something to look into.”
Kirsty folded her arms and sat back. “Aren’t they for the rich and famous? I never had one when I got divorced.” She’d just drunk wine, eaten too much cheese and played Whitney Houston non-stop like you were meant to.
“They weren’t so big seven years ago. Now, they’re all the rage.” Helena shrugged. “Plus, we’re in the right age bracket. Our forties. It’s when life disillusionment truly sets in. I read a study the other day that the most miserable age is 47.”
“It passed me by in the blink of an eye.” Kirsty could barely remember how she felt last week, never mind two years ago. She and Helena were both 49 now. The big five-oh looming next year.
“Me, too. No bloody time to be miserable with a business, husband and a teenage son.” Helena paused. “But if we need to raise more income, it could be another string to our bow. I’m full-time now, so we can expand our side gigs. If they take off, Anton can be roped into helping out. We’re in this together, partner.” Helena said the last bit like she was John Wayne.
Kirsty couldn’t help but smile. “Divorce parties.” She picked up her phone and typed it into her notes app.
You never knew.
It could become a thing.
Kirsty knocked on the door to her parents’ cottage and stood back to admire the outside. Ian and Ruth would never wait until their house needed painting: they were proactive about such things. The freshly painted New England-style white boards shone even in the early evening light. Dad had offered to come and paint the shop. Kirsty had resisted so far, because even though he looked young for his age and was handy with a paintbrush, he was still in his early 70s. Plus, she wanted to be able to sort out her own life and not have to rely on her parents.
The door opened and her mum greeted her with a customary hug. “There’s my gorgeous girl who needs a haircut!” Her mum squeezed, then held Kirsty at arm’s length. “Do you need me to call Simon for an appointment?” She ushered her into the hallway.
Kirsty shook her head. “I can make my own hair appointments, thank you.”
“Okay!” Mum gave her a pointed look. “You look less tired than you did the other day, though, so that’s good.”
Visiting her parents was rarely an uplifting experience for Kirsty’s ego.
The smell of roasting meat coated the air, along with an underlying sweetness. Shortbread? Apple pie? Kirsty would find out soon enough. Her mum didn’t care it was over 70 degrees outside. She loved a roast dinner any time of the year, not giving in to summer salads easily.
Kirsty walked through to the lounge. Her dad was in his favourite armchair, doing his daily crossword puzzle. He’d recently declared The Guardian’s “too easy,” and had moved on to The Times.
“How’s it going, Dad?”
He looked up, giving her a smile. “I’m stuck, so that’s good, right? But you’re just the person. One down. Californian grape derived from the same origin as primitivo. Nine letters.”
“Zinfandel.” She sat on the sofa opposite.
Dad snapped his fingers. “I knew you could help!” His eyes landed on the bottle of red she was still holding.
Kirsty put it on the floor beside her.
“Anything good?” Dad asked, as Mum sat on the sofa beside her.
“Chilean merlot. Solid.”
“Wonderful. It’ll go well with the lamb we’re having.” Mum patted Kirsty’s knee.
“Your hair looks nice, too.” Dad pointed a finger. “Shiny.”
Kirsty gave her mum a triumphant smile.
She ignored it. “Talking of wine, how are things at the shop? Has Helena been up to any mischief of late?”
Kirsty’s smile didn’t last long. “Helena is just fine. More than fine. She was in before me today. You should see her plans for the festival table.”
Her mum’s eyes narrowed. “I’m just uneasy, after what happened.”
“That was two years ago, so give her a break. She wants the business to succeed, just like I do.”
They’d been over this. Her mum’s dislike of Helena stemmed from their friendship at school, where Helena had been something of a hell-raiser. She’d done her time in London’s financial district, before coming back and investing in Wine Time when Kirsty’s ex, Anna, had taken her money out. Yes, there had been an incident two years ago where Helena had done a wine deal that sounded too good to be true. It had been, and had blown a hole in their profits, but she’d made amends since.
Kirsty put an arm around her mum. “I’m a big girl who can book her own hair appointments and look after her own business, okay? Without Helena, the shop wouldn’t have survived my divorce or the downturn. Plus, she had some good ideas today for getting new business, so give her a break, okay?”
Her mum gave her a look, but also a tacit nod of understanding.
Kirsty already needed a drink.
Her dad put down the paper. “Come through to the kitchen, and we’ll get the wine open.” Kirsty and her mum followed.
Her parents had recently had their kitchen redone, and it looked fabulous. Kirsty would be lying if she said she didn’t have kitchen envy. Her parents had an island, fancy bar stools, sleek white counter-tops and cobalt-blue units. Stepping into it was a far cry from her kitchen’s shabby-chic look.
Her dad pulled the cork on the wine with a satisfying pop, and Mum lined up some glasses. Not the posh ones. It was only Thursday, after all.
Her parents shared a kiss before he poured. They were cute. Everyone told Kirsty that. They were the relationship she’d tried so hard to emulate, but had failed with quite some panache. It was a constant source of dismay for her mother.
“Stop being so adorable, you two.” Kirsty took the offered glass from her dad and swirled her wine around, breathing in the bouquet. She took a sip and let it sit in her senses, smiling as she did. Wine always made her happy. In an instant, her muscles went from tense to relaxed.
“You’ll find your adorable, too. You just have to get out there again and look.” Her mum tapped her watch. “Time’s ticking on, and it’s been too long since Anna. Don’t waste your best years; that’s my advice.”
Kirsty couldn’t help her eye roll. “We’ve touched on Helena, the shop, and now my lack of a relationship. I’ve told you already I’m open to meeting someone, but I can’t just magic a woman out of thin air.”
“You wouldn’t even meet up with Shirley’s niece.”
Her mum had been trying to set her up with her best friend’s niece for weeks. Kirsty knew four women who’d slept with said niece, so she wasn’t about to go there.
“Can we move on to a topic that won’t wind me up, please?” Kirsty swallowed down a sigh with another sip of wine.
Her dad bumped her mum’s hip. “Leave her alone, Ruth. And your mother’s just looking out for you, that’s all. We both want the best for you.”
“Just saying,” Mum added.
“Keep your just saying to yourself.” But Kirsty couldn’t stay mad at her parents for long. They were always on her side.
She took a deep breath and decided to start again. “Were you at the festival meeting this morning? I couldn’t make it.”
Sandy Cove’s annual Oyster Festival was taking place in five weeks. It drew crowds from near and far, and was a big deal for the local economy. Kirsty had wine and oyster tastings planned, along with a couple of other events at the harbour.
Her dad nodded. “It’s all systems go. As well as the parade, there’s going to be a music stage, an art trail and of course, the oyster eating competition.” He paused. “Are you planning on eating one this year?”
Kirsty shuddered. “I know I’m a Sandy Cove native, but that’s a step too far. You know my feelings on oysters. Nice to look at, terrible to eat. However, I am looking forward to the festival putting a boost in trade.”
“It might bring a flock of new women to town, too,” Mum added, a glint in her eye.
She was incorrigible, wasn’t she?
One Golden Summer is due out on June 16th.