An irresistible festive treat from million-copy bestseller Amanda Prowse.
Amanda Prowse is the author of The Coordinates Of Loss and the no.1 bestsellers Perfect Daughter, My Husband's Wife and What Have I Done? Can you ever find love twice?
As a child, Meg always dreamed of the perfect Christmas...
This year, she can make it come true for her own little boy. There will be turkey and all the trimmings, a glittering tree, and a stocking hung up by a roaring fire. Who cares if there's no devoted husband in the picture? She and Lucas will be just fine on their own.
But then a chance meeting with a stranger in New York unravels everything she's planned. Will Meg finally get everything she wished for? Or will she be alone this Christmas after all?
Reviews for Amanda Prowse:
'If you love Jojo Moyes and Freya North, you'll love this. There's no shortage of books with Christmas in the title, but this family-focused story stands out from the rest' CLOSER.
'Magical' NOW MAGAZINE.
'A lively romance with emotional depth' MY WEEKLY.
'A heartwarming novel to read in the run-up to Christmas - hot, balmy beaches to herald the festive season on one side of the world, and light dustings of snow on the other side' TRIPFICTION.
'A sweet, humorous snapshot of a romance ... will elicit a sigh and a smile' NEW YORK JOURNAL OF BOOKS.
About the Author
Amanda Prowse is the author of several novels including the number 1 bestsellers What Have I Done?, Perfect Daughter and My Husband's Wife. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide, and she is published in dozens of languages.
Described by reviewers as 'the queen of family drama', Amanda's characters and stories are often inspired by real life issues. The research for her books has led to partnerships with ITV and Femail among others.
Amanda lives in Bristol with her husband and two sons. As her many twitter followers know, she almost never switches off. But when she does, she can be found drinking tea in her favourite armchair, scribbling ideas for her next book.
Amanda Prowse is the author of several novels including the number 1 bestsellers What Have I Done?, Perfect Daughter and My Husband's Wife. Her books have sold millions of copies worldwide, and she is published in dozens of languages. Described by reviewers as 'the queen of family drama', Amanda's characters and stories are often inspired by real life issues. The research for her books has led to partnerships with ITV and Femail among others. Amanda lives in Bristol with her husband and two sons. As her many twitter followers know, she almost never switches off. But when she does, she can be found drinking tea in her favourite armchair, scribbling ideas for her next book.
Read an Excerpt
Christmas for One
By Amanda Prowse
Head of Zeus LtdCopyright © 2014 Amanda Prowse
All rights reserved.
Meg stood in the middle of the pavement and stared at the display in the tall glass window. She had been with Plum Patisserie, working for cousins Pru and Milly Plum, for four years, yet continued to be wonderstruck by the incredible confections that creative director Guy Baudin and his team produced.
She beamed and held her scarf against her throat. It was December the first and the window conjured thoughts of snow and sparkle. The single-tier cake sat on a silver and glass podium within a vast glass snow globe. Long shards of crystal hung from invisible wires and caught the light, sending dazzling miniature rainbows out into the grey December day. The cake itself was a foot wide and two feet deep, its sides and edges shaped into a brilliant white snowscape of jagged icing and fondant peaks. In the crevices and dips there was the faintest tinge of grey. On top of the cake, glistening inside this snowy crater, was a frozen pond of the palest blue, made from the smoothest, most blemish-free icing that Meg had ever seen. It was glass-like in its perfection, complete with tiny ice fissures at the edges where a slightly darker blue icing shone through from below. Atop this perfect pond skated a male and female figure. Dressed in silver lamé and white fur, they swirled and glided in intricate animatronic loops around each other, their arms outstretched, missing each other by a hair's breadth. Where their skates had touched the ice there were left the tiniest scratches, fine flecks of icing sitting like dust to either side of the needle-like tracks, as if kicked up by a flashing blade. Delicate snowflakes danced and fluttered around the two, hitting the roof of the snow globe then falling to the floor before being lifted once again by a gentle wave of air.
Guy's 'Winter Fiesta' was nothing short of magical and Meg found herself instantly transported into Christmas. She pictured roaring fires and warm mulled wine held between chilly palms; thick socks and brisk walks; hot buttery toast; the smell of pine and cinnamon; and beautifully wrapped presents nestling under a fat Norway spruce. She saw herself in her beautiful Mayfair flat, serving a lovely Christmas dinner to her family, carrying the plates to the table and putting them on a clean white cloth.
A little girl shouted, 'Look! Mummy, look!' as she dragged her mother by the hand to stand next to Meg. 'Wow!' she mouthed as she placed her mittened palms on the glass and stared, transfixed. Meg smiled at her; this was exactly the reaction it deserved. It was a full minute before her mother, promising to bring her back another day, yanked her arm and they continued on their way.
Meg looked at the two miniature skaters and felt a familiar pang of loneliness. She bent low, peered into the faces of the little figures and began whispering to them. 'I envy you two. Nothing to worry about and nothing to do all day apart from smile at each other and skate around in your little boots. Must be nice. I shall call you Dimitri and Anna. I think you are madly in love, but your families disapprove and so you meet on the ice every day to conduct your romance.'
She shook her head. What's got into you, Meg? You've been reading too many stories. She leant closer to the window. 'Careful you don't fall, Dimitri and Anna,' she murmured. 'It looks bloody freezing in there – I hope you've both got your thermals on, my loves.'
Even though Meg had seen at least a dozen of Guy's showstopping display cakes, the feeling of wonder as she peered through the glass never diminished. She thought back to the first time she had seen one of his famous Plum Patisserie windows. She could still picture the cake perfectly: eight tiers of white icing, with one side covered in tiny red sugar-paste rosebuds and petals. The flowers had looked so real she could almost smell them. Pregnant with Lucas at the time, and raw with grief over the infidelity and death of her fiancé Bill, Meg had been in a terrible state. She had nowhere else to go. She had stood gazing at the dozens of candle bulbs that flickered around the display, wondering how much a cake like that might cost and how long it had taken to make. It had seemed like something from a different universe. With only a couple of quid in her pocket and no idea where she was going to lay her head that night, she had questioned the point of such a fanciful creation. What sort of life could possibly fit that sort of cake?
Four years on, Meg still pinched herself at the direction things had taken. Exquisite cakes had become the stuff of her daily life. All thanks to Pru and Milly Plum, who had taken her in and made her feel like family. They had been grieving too – it was their niece, Bobby Plum, who'd been Bill's other woman, and she'd died alongside Bill in the car crash. But instead of chucking Meg out, the Plum cousins had all but adopted her, giving her a home and a job in their fancy bakery. At the time, the extent of Meg's cake knowledge was limited to rustling up a flat Victoria sponge and on occasion treating herself to a fondant fancy. But with hard work, a keen eye and patient guidance from Pru, Milly and Guy, she had learnt fast, becoming very skilled at sugarwork and decoration. Since then, though, she had moved into a managerial role at Plum's, which left her little time to practise and improve. More often than not her fingers danced across pages of figures and spreadsheets rather than dough and sugar paste.
She smiled ruefully at the memory of that first day as she let herself in at the front door next to the café. Guy waved briefly at her from the window. It looked busy in there, which was good.
Meg climbed the stairs and opened the door to her flat. 'Only me!' she called as she kicked off her boots and shrugged her arms from her coat.
'Mummy!' Lucas came hurtling down the hallway on his red truck, powering it with his bare feet, Flintstones style, thumping against the marble floor. He steered with his right hand and in his left gripped a large plastic dagger.
'Hello, mate! How are you? Have you had fun?'
Lucas gave an exaggerated nod. Meg bent down and kissed her son on the face, smoothing his long, dark hair from his forehead. He gave her his signature smile, through eyes half closed and with his lips pursed, looking exactly like his dad. It fascinated Meg that even though Bill had died before Lucas was born, their little boy shared many of his habits and mannerisms. It was both comforting and heartbreaking to see this little reminder of the man she had loved. When she saw him asleep, sprawled face down with his arms above his head, in the favourite pose of his father, it made her ache with longing for the man that had left them too soon.
'Milly's stuck in the pirate ship!' He excitedly executed a three-point turn and scooted back the way he'd come. Meg followed him and poked her head into the beautiful Georgian sitting room. It looked like a burglary had taken place. The two wingback armchairs that usually sat either side of the fireplace had been tipped onto their sides and were covered with a large white sheet. A broom handle had been stuck through the middle of the sheet, and from it hung a rather limp skull and crossbones. A pile of 'treasure' consisting of mismatched buttons and beads was spilling from an old cardboard box and several blue towels had been placed around the 'ship' with plastic fish scattered on top of them.
'Mills? Are you in there?' Meg crouched down and peeked beneath the sheet.
Milly was lying on the floor between the two chairs. Her head was crooked at a rather unnatural angle and she was wearing a pirate bandana and a patch over her left eye. She tilted her neck back and peered at Meg. 'It's Cap'n Mills to you and I can't come out, I am surrounded by shark-infested waters.'
Meg looked down at her feet, which were on a blue towel. 'Oh dear, I think I must be shark bait.'
Milly scrabbled her way out from under the sheet. In the light, Meg could see she had drawn a natty cavalier-style beard on her chin and a matching moustache.
'Nice tash!' Meg said.
'Urgh, thanks! We have a slight problem with my facial hair.'
'Oh?' Meg watched as Milly rubbed at her face with her cutlass-free hand.
'I picked up the wrong pen and accidentally used this.' Milly pulled from her pocket a black marker with the words 'INDELIBLE INK' stamped on the side.
Meg laughed loudly. 'You nutter!'
'I'm supposed to be playing bridge tonight,' Milly huffed. 'How can I turn up looking like the love child of Charles the bloody First?'
Meg snorted her laughter.
'Lucas, I've been rescued, I'm going to have a tea break with Mum and then we can go back to pirating, okay?'
'Aye aye, Captain!' Lucas shouted from his truck. Milly had him well trained in pirate-speak.
'You're early!' Milly moaned. 'We've still got a damsel in distress to rescue and a dragon to slay.'
Meg grinned. 'Aren't you confusing knights' tales with pirate adventures?'
'Blimey, who are you, the fairy-tale police?' Milly tutted. 'I think you'll find we can be whoever we want to be, isn't that right, Spiderman-Pirate?' she called into the hallway.
'Aye aye, Captain!' Lucas replied.
'We weren't expecting you until after tea. Not that I'm complaining – you can be the dragon.'
'Can't I be the princess?' Meg asked.
Milly shook her head as she filled the kettle. 'Definitely not. You don't just turn up at the eleventh hour and get the best role of the day. I need commitment! We've been playing for four hours and Lucas started off as cabin boy and has only recently been appointed first mate.'
Meg's eyes began to well up with tears. Milly set the kettle on the side and put her arm across her back. 'All right, all right, no need to go all wobbly on me. I didn't realise it meant that much to you. You can be the princess if you like!'
Meg shook her head. 'It's not that. I've had a shitty day. Piers and I have finished.' She looked up in time to see Milly placing her palms together in a silent prayer of thanks, her eyes skyward.
'I know you didn't like him, Mills, but I did.'
'No you didn't, not really,' Milly said matter-of-factly. 'And it's not that I didn't like him; I liked him very much actually. I just didn't like how you became when you were with him. I hated seeing you having to try so hard; it shouldn't be like that. You weren't yourself and that's no good, love.'
'Oh God, I know!' Meg covered her eyes with her palms and sighed. 'I know. You're right.'
'Come and sit down.' Milly removed her bandana and led Meg by the hand until the two slumped down on the soft sofa. 'Here you go.' She handed her a tissue.
'Thank you.' Meg sniffed and blew her nose.
'Darling, you can't beat yourself up. You were still properly grieving for Bill when you met him. I reckon you weren't firing on all cylinders and if he in some small way helped you move forward, then it wasn't all bad, was it?' Milly tried to be serious, but her beard and moustache were quite distracting.
'I guess not.' Meg considered. 'I just hate the idea that I've upset him. Piers didn't deserve that. He was busy making plans for Christmas and wondering how to make it perfect for Lucas —'
Milly tutted. 'What were you supposed to do, marry him because you didn't want to hurt his feelings? Now that would be bonkers!'
Meg bit her lip and didn't confess that she had actually considered this. 'I know you're right and at the end of the day it boils down to one thing. I didn't love him, Mills, and I don't think he really loved me, not the real me.'
Meg closed her eyes briefly and replayed the previous evening in her head. They had been about to walk into the restaurant to meet Piers' school friend and his new fiancée when Piers had turned to her and casually remarked, 'By the way, I told them you're an orphan – thought that would be easier than mentioning the whole being in care thing.' He'd then grimaced. Meg had stood in front of him and it was as if a veil had been lifted. 'Easier for who, Piers?' she'd asked.
'Oh, Mills, I feel so stupid for letting it go on so long.'
Milly sighed. 'Well, you've found the courage now and I bet Piers will be hooked up with some suitable young filly before the New Year's invites go out.'
Meg ignored the churn to her stomach, unable to explain that even though she didn't want him, she didn't want him hooking up with someone else quite so soon either, especially not someone from the right background, with the right contacts. Someone his mother would adore and fawn over, someone that wasn't like her.
'I guess.' She fiddled with the fringe of the scarf that lay in her lap. 'And what about Christmas?' she groaned. 'We were supposed to be staying in town together and going up to his parents' house on Boxing Day.'
'Well at least you don't have to endure that now!' Milly grinned.
Meg smiled. Piers' parents hardly approved of her single-parent status or the fact that their son was smitten with someone who had gone to a comprehensive school.
'Why don't I look at flights for you both to come out to Barbados? The villa sounds plenty big enough; Pru and Christopher would love it! Just think,' Milly chirped, 'Christmas by the pool, a fancy lunch – lobster, the works – and a large cocktail. It'll be fab.'
'Barbarbados!' Lucas shouted as he scooted by the open door.
Meg shook her head. 'Thanks, Mills, but I'd like to stay here. I love him waking up in his own bed on Christmas morning ...' Meg let this trail, unable to explain that it was the aspect of her childhood that irked her the most: no warm memories of Christmas morning with presents and a glowing fire. No afternoons on the sofa with full tummies and charades. She was determined to give Lucas a bucketful of traditional festive memories to last him a lifetime. She also wanted to take him to see Bill's mother, Isabel, in Oxford. It was important that he retained links to his dad's family.
'The offer's there if you change your mind.' Milly smacked the arm of the sofa.
Meg looked at Milly. 'Truth is, Mills, I'm scared of being lonely.'
'Lonely? Don't be ridiculous. How can you be lonely when you've got Lucas? And besides, you're at the threshold of life, about to jump in. Take it from one who knows about loneliness, you're just starting out.' Milly folded her arms across her chest as if to emphasise her sixty-nine years on the planet as a single woman. 'There would be nothing more 'orrible than being saddled with someone you didn't love or who didn't love you exactly the way you were.'
Milly let this point linger. Meg cringed a little. Had it been that obvious that Piers had tried to mould Meg into his ideal woman?
Milly continued. 'It wouldn't have been fair on either of you. If you had stayed with Piers it would have been a half life and that is no life at all, not for you or the boy.'
Lucas, having abandoned his scooter, ran into the room on cue. Meg smiled at her son.
'I know you're right. I keep telling myself to man up and get on with things, but I quite liked being someone's girlfriend. It wasn't like it was with Bill, not cosy or special, but it made me feel good nonetheless.'
'And you will feel like that again.' Milly patted her leg. 'But next time, don't settle for someone just because he makes all the right noises and is perfect on paper. Go for someone who knocks your socks off and gets your knickers in a spin.'
'A bit like Dimitri and Anna,' Meg muttered to herself.
'Knocks your socks off!' Lucas shouted loudly as he charged around the room with his dagger held high.
Meg looked at Milly and laughed, relieved that Lucas had chosen that part of the phrase to repeat.CHAPTER 2
Meg walked briskly along Piccadilly, blowing out foggy breath into the crisp, cold day. Nearly home. She now felt entirely comfortable in this postcode, where, years ago, she had felt like an interloper, looking over her shoulder in case she got turfed out and sent back to her cousin's grim flat in Marylebone. Home was still the apartment above Milly's, and Meg wondered, as she did on occasion, whether she should spread her wings and move from the safety of Curzon Street. But with Milly on the floor below and her friend Guy in the bakery, always ready to natter over a cup of coffee or amuse Lucas at a moment's notice, there was nowhere she'd rather be.
Excerpted from Christmas for One by Amanda Prowse. Copyright © 2014 Amanda Prowse. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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