The Accidental Mother

( 20 )

Overview

Sophie and Carrie were childhood best friends, but in the last few years they've lost touch. While Carrie chose motherhood in a small town, Sophie is powering up the London career track. She's a corporate manager poised for her next promotion. Sure, she doesn't have much time for men, but she has a great shoe collection and a cat who's never going to let her down.

And then Sophie is told that Carrie has died, with nobody left to care for her ...
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The Accidental Mother

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Overview

Sophie and Carrie were childhood best friends, but in the last few years they've lost touch. While Carrie chose motherhood in a small town, Sophie is powering up the London career track. She's a corporate manager poised for her next promotion. Sure, she doesn't have much time for men, but she has a great shoe collection and a cat who's never going to let her down.

And then Sophie is told that Carrie has died, with nobody left to care for her two daughters, Bella and Izzy, aged six and three. Their father, who left before Carrie's death, is nowhere to be found; their grandmother is moving into assisted living. Sophie once promised Carrie she would take care of her children if the worst ever happened...and now that day has come.

Witty, wise, and filled with genuinely powerful emotion, The Accidental Mother is the heartwarming, heartbreaking story of a woman who is woefully under-equipped to be suddenly thrown into motherhood, but who through the eyes of two little girls learns more about loss, commitment, and true love than she had ever realized existed.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brilliant...moving and funny." — New Woman Magazine
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416532705
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 9/4/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 988,841
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Rowan Coleman worked in bookselling and publishing for seven years during which time she won the Company magazine Young Writer of the Year award. She is the author of Runaway Wife, The Accidental Mother, Another Mother’s Life, Mommy By Mistake, The Accidental Family, The Home for Broken Hearts, and Lessons in Laughing Out Loud. She lives with her husband, daughter, and sons in England.

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Read an Excerpt

One

Sophie considered the question Jake Flynn had just asked her.

It wasn't a difficult question. It didn't require a degree in anything to understand it, or any special knowledge of semantics. No, it was much more tricky than that. Jake Flynn had just asked her out to lunch, but that wasn't really the question. The question was — what kind of lunch had he asked her out to?

As Jake waited on the other end of the line for her reply, Sophie sat back in her desk chair and swiveled it so that she could see out of her office window and down onto the plaza below where the wind swept an errant piece of brightly colored litter in whirls and swoops across the near-empty expanse. One of Sophie's main difficulties in life (not a problem, she refused to admit that she had a problem despite her personal assistant, Cal, constantly assuring her that she did), was knowing when men were attracted to her. Other people, other women and most of her friends — okay, all of her friends — seemed to have an innate intuition that kicked in at least a month before Sophie's did. While her friends had frequently planned short engagements and long marriages based solely on thirty seconds' worth of eye contact in a nightclub, Sophie was far too afraid of getting it wrong to wait for anything less than large bouquets of flowers delivered to her desk and an invitation for a romantic break in Venice as signs that a man was interested in her. And because only one man (Sophie's ex-boyfriend, Alex) had offered these in the last decade, her relationship experience was somewhat limited to him and a handful of hopefuls that friends and colleagues had lined up for her. All of whom admitted defeat at the first obstacle.

The first obstacle having been Sophie herself.

In this instance the confusion arose from the fact that Jake Flynn was a client. Sophie's newest and most important client in some weeks and the one she hoped was going to help give her the edge she needed to secure a hotly contested promotion when she wowed her boss, Gillian, with the lucrative long-term contract she was planning to negotiate with the Madison Corporation, Jake's company.

Cal had declared after the very first meeting they'd had together almost three months ago that Jake fancied her.

"He does not," Sophie had told him. "He's just being friendly and, you know — American. Americans are very friendly."

"Not that friendly," Cal had retorted. "Not unless they want a lawsuit slapped on them." Sophie had shot him one of her best silencing glances and told him that the most important thing was persuading Jake Flynn that McCarthy Hughes was the best corporate events company to organize his organization's first U.K. event. And showing him that Sophie's ideas, plans, and budgets knocked all the competition into a cocked hoop, as her mother would say.

And she had.

"I've never met a party planner quite as serious as you," Jake had told her after he left their first meeting. "You could be a general in the army!" Sophie had laughed politely and shaken his hand (and wondered if his comment had anything to do with her forgetting to wax her top lip the previous evening) and walked him to the lift.

"That was called flirting," Cal had informed her as she got back to her desk.

"Cal," Sophie had warned him. "He wasn't flirting, and even if he was — which he wasn't — I wouldn't date him because he is my client."

"You're a party planner, not a lawyer," Cal had said. "I don't think it's against the rules."

"It's against my rules," Sophie had retorted.

"Everything's against your rules," Cal had told her.

The trouble was that Sophie was not good at working out if a man was attracted to her. In fact, she was terrible at it, so mostly she didn't bother trying to think about it. But as soon as Cal had told her so bluntly that even she could understand it that he thought Jake liked her, she couldn't stop speculating about whether he was right. It was like part of a crossword puzzle that she could not solve.

Since that moment, Sophie had tried to push any thought of whether or not Jake Flynn had been flirting with her to the back of her mind, except occasionally while dozing off in the bath or lying in bed on a Sunday morning. Then she couldn't help but dwell on the fact that Jake Flynn was very handsome in a proper, square-jawed sort of way. And he was dreadfully polite and, Sophie noticed, had very fresh breath. But it would be disastrous to mistake good manners and good dental hygiene for attraction — she would never live it down. Also, Sophie thought it would be a really terrible idea to go out with Jake, her most important client. He really was out of bounds, which made him all the more intriguing. Not because Sophie was the kind of woman to throw caution to the wind and embark on an ill-advised affair with reckless abandon. But because she preferred her love interests to be off-limits. It was much safer and far less time-consuming.

A good five seconds had passed between since Jake had asked her out to lunch later that morning. Sophie did a split-second review of the available facts.

The party was planned, the date was set, and all the arrangements were made. There was more or less no reason for Jake Flynn to be in touch with Sophie now until just before the party itself, and that wasn't for nearly a month. Still, Sophie could not decide what kind of lunch Jake was asking her out on. But either way, she realized in a moment of clarity, she was going to have to say yes.

"Sorry, Jake," she said, efficiently covering the pause. "I was just looking at my diary, and there's nothing in at twelve, so...Oh, hang on, what's this?" The initials "T.A." had been penned into the twelve o'clock slot in purple ink. That wasn't Cal, he was far too organized to deface her diary in such a slapdash way. That was her executive trainee, Lisa. Sophie sighed. There were no other details, just the letters "T.A.," written in round, girlish letters. How many times did Sophie have to remind Lisa to ask Cal to put any new entries in her diary? The trouble was that Lisa was scared of Cal, and even though technically he was her PA too, she would rather tear out her eyes with rusty nails than ask him to do anything for her.

"Well, whatever it is, it can be moved," Sophie said, feeling uncharacteristically capricious for a second before feeling her stomach muscles clench and hoping that it wasn't something desperately important that might secure her the promotion she was working toward. It couldn't be that important, she told herself. If it was that important, even Lisa would have brought it to her attention.

"Great!" Jake said the word on an outward breath. "Okay if I swing by and pick you up at twelve?"

"Oh, well, you don't have to do that, Jake..." Sophie began before pausing to consider the ambiguity of the meeting. "But you can if you want," she finished a little awkwardly.

"I want," Jake said, with a laugh. "I'll see you at twelve."

"Super," Sophie said.

Jake hung up the phone.

Sophie looked at the receiver and decided that now was not the time to think about the fact she hadn't had sex for over a year, even if Jake innocently saying "I want" had brought the thought forward. Sophie hadn't really had time to miss sex, and besides, although she'd never admit it to her sex-obsessed friends, she'd never been that impressed by it. Even more, she worried if she ever ended up in bed with someone again, she would be really terrible at it.

Sophie tucked the worry neatly back in the darker corners of her mind and looked at her watch. Seeing she had five minutes until her next meeting, with Deutsche Bank, she glanced at the pointed toes of her new pink suede boots and smiled. It had taken a good ten minutes longer to get into work this morning simply because she had to take extra care as she picked her way through the puddles and remnants of last night's dirty, halfhearted snow in a bid to keep the suede pristine. And then, of course, there were the heels. It had to be said that it was tricky and probably even risky to run down a wet and crowded escalator in high heels, but still, as Sophie lifted her right foot and then her left, she felt it had been worth the risk. Of course she could have put her new boots in a bag and worn her sneakers to work, changing them under the desk the moment she got in. She could have, but she didn't. Sneaker changing was for wimps, and besides, Sophie felt the best thing about her new boots was actually wearing them, come hell or high puddles. Sophie may not have been the world's most adventurous or spontaneous person, but she was very hardcore about her footwear — all forty-eight pairs.

Cal had said once that her flamboyant love of shoes showed the inner diva in her struggling to break free from her puritanical, sexually repressed exterior.

Sophie had pointed out that she frequently wore skirts above the knee and so was neither puritanical nor sexually repressed, thank you very much. Cal had snorted in derision and said that, if there was a closet for straight people, she would be in it. He said she wore sexy shoes to cover up her total lack of sexuality. Sophie had told him that actually it was no such thing. It was just shoes. Shoes and boots and mules and pumps. Sophie loved shoes in all colors, shapes, and sizes; her reaction to seeing a new pair in Vogue or Glamour was almost visceral. It was a gut-wrenching longing that didn't abate until those particular shoes were safely nestled in their box and swinging from her wrist in an expensive shopping bag. And then there was a moment of perfect bliss and satisfaction followed by the anticipation of winning that day's shoe-off with her office rival and general all-around nemesis, Eve McQueen.

Cal often said that there were websites and magazines for people like her, but Sophie shrugged off his comments and told him that actually it was because her mum had made her wear clunky Clarks shoes to school until she was fourteen, even though her friends were wearing gray patent leathers with ankle straps and maroon bows on the sides.

She told him her shoe collection was the little part of her that could be free and creative. Her shoes were what made her stand out from all the other women in gray or black business suits. Cal said it wasn't her shoes that did that. Sophie decided not to ask him what he meant.

It might even be, Sophie thought, biting her lip as she straightened her calf and stretched her toes to a point, that her shoes were what had made Jake Flynn ask her out to lunch, if indeed it turned out that he was asking her out to a lunch lunch and not a lunch lunch.

Sophie frowned. She had succeeded in confusing herself. Luckily, Cal snapped her out of the moment.

"The Germans are coming," he said, opening her door without knocking. Sophie surreptitiously tucked the booted leg she had been admiring behind her desk and sat up. "They're in the lobby on the way up. Do you want to meet them at the lift?"

"I want," Sophie said, allowing herself a tiny smile as she pushed her chair back and gathered up the notes she needed for the meeting. "Let's practice German on the way."

"Guten Tag, Herr Manners." Cal said it first, slowly and carefully. The fact that he was multilingual made him a real asset, as he never tired of reminding her.

"Guten Tag, Herr Manners." When Sophie said it, she sounded like her cat, Artemis, when she was coughing up a hair ball.

"Mmmm," Cal said. "Once more with feeling."

"Guten Tag — Oh, bollocks." Sophie hated it when she could not get a thing absolutely right, and she especially hated the fact that she was no good at languages. It wasn't the actual words so much (although she didn't really know any besides the ones Cal told her), it was the accent. She just couldn't let go of herself enough to really get the accent right.

"I don't think our German cousins use that phrase," Cal told her flatly. "Maybe just stick to English. Germans speak very good English. Most nations speak very good English, and while I approve of your attempts to be transglobal, I think in this case you should take advantage of that."

"I think you're right," Sophie said. "I know," she said, "I just like to pay — "

"Attention to detail." Cal mimicked her mantra with eerie accuracy.

Sophie laughed. She was really very fond of Cal, despite his insistence that his innate bitchiness was really more of a lifestyle-guru, tell-it-like-it-is attitude. They had been together for almost five years; it was Sophie's longest relationship with a man, and she knew she could rely on him absolutely. He was the best PA on the floor. In the early part of their relationship, she had once spent nearly three months being in love with him and wishing that he was straight. But then she'd realized that, if he was straight, she probably would not like him at all, because who likes a straight man who spends that much time reading girls' magazines? Since then, they had become closer and closer friends, and Sophie had fallen in love with an anonymous risk assessor in the building across the street instead.

"Anyway, where is Lisa? She knows we've got a meeting at eleven." Sophie scanned the open-plan area of the office for her trainee, the third and supposedly vital member of her team, although Cal cheerfully refereed to her as the "The Dead Weight." "She's got all the costings for this meeting, and they'll be here any minute — If she's crying in the ladies' room again, I swear to God I'm going to — "

"Be nice to her and tell it her doesn't matter?" Cal said. He had his own opinions on how useful Lisa was, and he wasn't afraid of sharing them. "You should just toss her, she's rubbish."

"It's her first job," Sophie said. "Everyone's crap at their first job. I was, and I bet you were. She just needs a bit of time to get into it."

"She's had eight months," Cal said.

"Just get her, okay?" Sophie asked him in her boss voice. Cal saluted her in the way he had a habit of doing whenever she resorted to using it and headed purposefully toward the ladies'.

Sophie watched the numbers on the lift creep up and sighed. She had been training Lisa for close to a year now. Sophie really liked Lisa; she could see she had potential, but Lisa just couldn't seem to separate her head from her heart; it was as if the two organs had been fused into one tumultuous mass. Lisa had such a dramatic love life that the average romance writer would have turned it down as too unbelievable. Sophie had tried to give her pep talks. She had tried to be firm but understanding.

The last time Lisa had had a crisis during office hours Sophie had even wiped Lisa's eyes and gently suggested that she might want to try to cut down on the number of men she dated or even stop seeing men for a while — since it didn't seem to be working out for her.

"Give them up completely like you, you mean?" Lisa had asked her with the typical wide-eyed tact of a twenty-one-year-old. "But what about sex? Don't you miss shagging?" Sophie remembered feeling her cheeks begin to color, and she'd decided against confiding in Lisa that in the eighteen months since her boyfriend, Alex, had left her via email she hadn't had sex once. It wasn't that she didn't miss it, she did in a sort of abstract, romanticized way. But she didn't miss it with anybody in particular. Not even with Alex, with whom she had nearly been in love, did the earth move for her. She suspected that the earth didn't move for any woman at all and that the whole thing was a massive conspiracy made up by women's magazines to make all women feel insecure. But then people like Lisa did sort of throw that theory out the window. Lisa, it was clear, really enjoyed having sex, even if it inevitably ended in emotional disappointment.

"I haven't given men up," Sophie had told her. "I'm just choosing to put my job first at the moment. I think you should do the same. Now is an important time for us. If Gillian decides to give up work, then someone will need to take over her job. Opportunities are opening up. I want the best out of my career, and so should you. I'm giving you a big chance here, Lisa, it's time for you to grasp it with both hands. Don't let me down."

"I won't, I won't," Lisa had promised her. But she had fallen in love with the watercooler deliveryman on the way back to her desk instead, and when he dumped her two weeks later, she was back to square one.

The lift had paused on the floor below Sophie's.

"She's here." Cal almost shoved Lisa at Sophie, who looked at her trainee with a critical eye. She had reapplied her makeup, but her eyes were red and puffy, and her nose swollen. She'd been crying again.

"Dave chucked you?" Sophie asked her in the final few moments as the lift reached their floor.

Lisa's tender eyes widened with distress. "All I did was ask him to meet my mum. Is that too clingy?"

Sophie sighed. "We'll talk about this later," she said. "Just stay focused and remember what you're here for."

And the lift doors slid open.

When Sophie and Lisa returned from the meeting, Sophie was feeling very pleased with herself. It had gone exceptionally well, she was going to look really good at the next new business meeting, and Lisa had made it from the meeting room back to her desk without becoming engaged. Things were looking up. Sophie even had time before lunch with Jake to catch up on her paperwork. Or maybe she should swing by Eve's office and tell her about her new contract, show off her new boots, and generally try to piss Eve off, which was difficult with the undead, because they tended not to be that emotional.

"You don't have to tell me it went well," Cal said, peering at her over the top of a copy of OK! "I can tell it went well just by looking at you; you've got that triumphant Boudicca look again. Sophie Mills, Warrior Queen Party Planner."

Sophie stopped dead in front of his desk and took the magazine from his hands. "Do some work," she said. "I've got some free time now, so I'm going to catch up on some — "

"Celebrity gossip?" Cal said, looking miserably at his magazine.

"Filing," Sophie lied.

She had barely made it to the exclusive celebrity wedding pics when Cal interrupted her. "Slight problem with you catching up on your filing," he said, glancing over his shoulder with a fastidious look. He lowered his voice. "Of the unscheduled variety. Elasticized waistband. Head scarf." Sophie blinked at him. "There's a 'lady' here to see you!" he exclaimed, as if his previous description had been more than sufficient. "Your twelve o'clock — the T.A.? Or Tess Andrew, I should say."

Sophie blinked at him. "But I told you t — — "

"I know!" Cal said," but I couldn't find anything anywhere and Lisa was in with you so I was waiting for Lisa to come out but she's in the loo again and anyway the woman's here now. She's eight minutes early. So it's not my fault."

Sophie thought about Jake, who might even at that very moment be about to "swing by" and "want," and a part of her was relieved by this obstacle that had presented itself even if she didn't want to let down her most important client.

"Can you cancel her? Tell her my diary's double-booked or something?" Sophie asked with the justifiable conviction that Cal could get most people to do most things.

Her PA stepped into her office and closed the door behind him, standing close enough for Sophie to smell Chanel Allure mixed with the slightly salty scent of his own skin. She wasn't sure if it was pour homme or pour femme.

He held out a graying and dog-eared business card. "She gave me this. She said could she have it back please as she's only got one. Budget cuts or something."

Sophie took the card and read it, "Tess Andrew, Highbury and Islington Social Services."

"But we deal only with private companies," Sophie said, looking confused.

Cal shrugged. "Obviously I already did tell her that. But she says it's personal business. She says she's got to see you — now." He paused for a beat. "Look, Sophie, I'm sorry, but she means it, and she is in the diary, after all. She says she phoned this morning and a nice young lady fitted her in and said it would be no trouble at all. She says it is really urgent." Any trace of Cal's habitual humor or sarcasm was gone.

"Urgent?" Sophie said uncertainly. What could a social worker want with her? Oh, God, she groaned inwardly. She hoped it wasn't the neighbors complaining about her mother's dogs again, not that she could blame them. It didn't do much for house prices, living next door to a kennel. However, Sophie was not her mother's keeper. She couldn't stop her breeding dogs if she wanted to — they were all looked after. Sophie could vouch for that. She had grown up in the dog-related chaos, and she'd frequently felt the dogs had taken precedent over her. She told as much to the community liaison officer from the council who'd been sent around to vet her mum. But after her dad had died, sixteen years ago, Mum had begun not only to breed dogs but to take in waifs and strays. She needed a farm in Surrey really, not a Victorian terrace in Highbury. Sophie couldn't think of another reason for a social worker to be here, and she could do without all that again, but Cal said she had to see her. If he couldn't persuade this Tess Andrew to leave, then nobody could. She must be one of the few rare humans who were immune to his charm.

"Okay, if I must," Sophie said, briskly managing the moment with her usual aplomb. "Maybe I can get her in and out before Jake gets here."

"Jake's coming here to pick up you up?" Cal asked, raising an interested eyebrow. "He so loves you."

Sophie found Tess Andrew sitting in Cal's chair anxiously clutching a large sequined bag.

"Miss Andrew." Sophie smiled at the pleasant-looking woman, who was probably in her fifties, amply proportioned, and with a kind of innate air of disarray, set off nicely by her hippie gypsy look. "How can I help you? Because I have to say, when it comes to my mum and her dogs — there's no logic there. She sees their 'little faces,' and all sense goes out the window. I don't get it myself. I'm a cat person."

"I'm sorry, Miss Mills? It's not about dogs. Or...er...cats." The woman followed Sophie into her office.

"Sophie, call me Sophie. If it's not dogs, what is it? Drains?" Sophie speculated out of left field. She wasn't exactly sure what it was social workers did, and the downstairs drains were a bit iffy.

"Thank you so much for seeing me at such short notice," Tess Andrew said. "It must be odd, me, just turning up out of the blue, but it's all been a bit of a rush. I thought we had time — but then there was Christmas and New Year, and, well, it — just ran out, and suddenly, out of the blue — we found you." She beamed at Sophie and then switched off her smile abruptly. "I'm afraid I've got some bad news."

Sophie felt her stomach swell and buckle. Those were the words her headmistress had used on the day her dad died of a heart attack. She had called Sophie out of class and sat her down in her office and said, "I'm afraid I've got some bad news..." Sophie felt a cold fear drench her. Was it Mum after all? Was Mum ill or...? "Okay," she said, steeling herself. "Go on."

Tess Andrew composed herself. "I'm very sorry to tell you that your friend Caroline Gregory is dead," she said.

Sophie stared at her. She felt a bubble of relief burst in her chest, and she laughed.

Tess Andrew looked startled, and Sophie realized what it must look like. "Oh, I'm sorry, Ms. Andrew. But there's been some kind of a mix-up. I don't know anyone called Caroline Gregory. I thought you'd come to tell me my mum was ill." She took a breath and composed herself. "I'm sorry, but I think you've wasted your time. I think you've got the wrong Sophie Mills."

Tess Andrew looked puzzled and closed her eyes for a moment as she furrowed her brow. "Oh no," she said, looking awkward and uncomfortable. "Oh, look — I'm so sorry. I forgot. I have made a mistake, but not about you. Of course she didn't use her married name, did she?" Sophie gave her blank look and watched as the social worker composed her face again into its bad news mode. "I'm sorry, Sophie. I meant to say Carrie, Carrie Stiles of St. Ives in Cornwall. She was killed in a car accident, outright. Carrie Stiles is dead."

For a second Sophie remembered laughing with Carrie in the girls' room of Our Lady Catholic High School for Girls, folding the waistbands of their gray pleated skirts over and over as the hems gradually rose above their knees, and standing on the toilets smoking cigarettes out of the open windows.

Carrie Stiles was dead. Carrie, who had been her best friend once. Her sister and ally for a long time, until the friendship had eventually ebbed as old friendships do and dwindled to a phone call once a year or so, with Christmas cards and presents for Carrie's kids, Sophie's godchildren. But if someone had asked her, just out of interest, who her best friend was, Sophie would instantly have answered "Carrie Stiles." She struggled to remember how old the children were. Young, possibly even less than six, she thought. Cal always organized the birthday presents — he would know. She looked at Tess Andrew, who was watching her closely, holding a packet of tissues at the ready.

"I'm sorry — it is a shock," Sophie said, still not able to register the information that this Tess Andrew had given her. "We were close once. But thank you. Thank you for letting me know. I didn't realize Social Services did this sort of thing. I thought you were too understaffed and overworked for that. So — When's the funeral, do you know?" Sophie was aware that her voice sounded all wrong. As if she were making an appointment for a routine meeting. Not a funeral. Not Carrie Stiles's funeral. But Carrie had been alive somewhere else for so long, it seemed impossible that she was not still there, leading her life as usual, just out of view.

Tess squeezed the packet of tissues and twisted them. She looked more upset and uncomfortable than Sophie did. It was the shock, Sophie supposed. It didn't seem real yet. Not like the day Dad died. That had been real from the moment she had known. The truth was that, while Sophie still thought about her dad every single day, she hadn't thought of Carrie in ages. She tried to remember signing the last Christmas card she'd sent her, just a couple of weeks ago, but couldn't. Cal wrote out all her cards, including the few personal ones. Sophie just signed them one after another — her name and then three kisses, XXX.

"I'm afraid," Tess said uneasily, "that the funeral was some time ago. A little over six months ago, actually. From what I understand, it was quite an affair. Carrie had a lot of friends in the area. They organized it down there for her. Her mum went down; she was in better health then. She said it was exactly how Carrie would have wanted it, pagan I think was the word she used. They scattered her ashes in the sea, at a favorite spot of hers and the children's."

Sophie tried to picture a group of people she didn't know scattering Carrie Stiles's ashes in the sea. It didn't make sense to her. It was like a dream. "Oh," she said. It was strange to know that Carrie had not been in the world for six whole months now, that the Christmas card would have gone unopened. She was unjustly hurt that she had missed Carrie's funeral but not surprised. She did not know any of Carrie's St. Ives friends, and she'd hardly known Carrie's husband. Sophie took a deep breath and tried to bring the real world back into focus.

She had to get on, go to lunch with Jake, she decided. She had to do something now that was normal and that she could control and understand. She just couldn't understand Carrie being dead. She just couldn't think about it.

"Well." She glanced at the business card she was still holding before handing it back as requested. "Tess. Thank you for letting me know. You're right, it was a shock, but I think the best thing is to get on with life as normal, so if that's all?"

Tess looked taken aback and shook her head. "Oh dear," she said, apologetically. "That's not the only reason why I'm here, Miss Mills. Sophie. I didn't come just to tell you Carrie was dead. Oh dear." She took a deep breath. "It's the children. Carrie's children. Bella is six, and Izzy is just three."

"Of course," Sophie said, shaking her head grimly. "It's terrible for them. Just terrible." She didn't quite understand what Tess wanted from her.

"Good, I'm glad you understand how difficult it's been for the poor little mites. That'll make everything so much easier for them."

Sophie was confused. "Make what so much easier?" she asked politely.

"For the girls to come and live with you." Tess studied Sophie's blank page of a face. "You've forgotten, haven't you? I was afraid that you might have — people never take these things seriously." She could see that Sophie wanted her to get to the point. "Carrie named you in her will, but we only just found it, you see, a couple of days ago. Her neighbor had volunteered to sort through her things before they got cleared out — to save anything special and important for the girls. They found it in the bottom of a box of paints, can you believe — " Tess switched her smile back on. "She named you as the girls' legal guardian, Miss Mills. You must remember you signed the agreement. She wanted you to look after them."

Copyright © 2006 by Rowan Coleman

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Introduction

Introduction

Sophie Mills has worked her Manolo Blahniks off to reach the top of her profession. She seems to have it all: a glamorous job as a corporate events planner, a designer apartment, and her cat Artemis for company. After all, relationships only get in the way of work, and as for starting a family — Sophie hasn't even begun to think about that yet. Until one day, an unexpected visitor brings the news that her best friend Carrie is dead, Carrie's husband Louis has disappeared, and Sophie is now in sole charge of two children under the age of seven. But child care can't be all that hard, can it? Sophie soon finds she is woefully underequipped to be suddenly thrown into motherhood. But through the eyes of two little girls she learns more about loss, commitment, and true love than she had ever realized existed.

Discussion Questions

1. The Accidental Mother opens with Sophie in her office, obsessing over Jake Flynn's lunch invitation. What is your first impression of Sophie Mills, based on this beginning? How does she handle her career? What is her approach to romance?

2. Discuss Sophie's relationship with her coworker Eve. Are the two women friends or enemies? Eve tells Sophie, "You didn't choose this career...it chose you." (See page 109.) What does Eve mean? Is she right about Sophie?

3. "There were a lot of things that Sophie was very good at.... She was extremely good at pie charts. But she'd always said that when she discovered her limitations, she'd be happy to admit them. That time had come." (See page 26.) Which of Sophie's personal "limitations" come to light, when Bella and Izzy arrive in her life?

4. When Sophie receives acopy of Dr. Robert's Complete Dog Training and Care Manual from her mother, she "tossed the book to the floor in disgust." (See page 66.) What unexpectedly handy lessons does Sophie learn from the dog manual? What do you think of this funny statement from Sophie's mother: "That's the trouble with you cat people. No imagination." (See page 66.)

5. The promise "Always, forever, whatever" comes up several times in the novel. What did this promise mean to Sophie and Carrie when they were teenagers? What did it mean for Carrie and her children? What does it mean to Sophie now?

6. Cal tells Sophie, "Taking risks is what life is all about Sophie...I thought you would have known that, wearing that shirt with that lipstick. Right out on a fashion limb." (See page 388.) How does Cal's bold sense of humor inspire Sophie?

7. Sophie's cat Artemis hasn't purred in years, until Bella pets her. Sophie thanks Bella "For making Artemis feel safe and happy." (See page 127.) What does Artemis teach Sophie about taking care of Bella and Izzy?

8. Sophie is fully aware that Jake is "practically perfect." (See page 378.) He's handsome, successful, and very interested in Sophie. So why isn't Sophie interested in Jake?

9. After her father died, Sophie learned from her mother, "you have to practice being happy, even when you're not, because otherwise you might forget how altogether." (See page 248.) How does Sophie help Bella and Izzy practice happiness? How do the girls help Sophie? Do you think Sophie has forgotten how to be happy, since her father's death?

10. What is Sophie's first impression of Louis? How does her opinion of Louis change over the course of the novel? Were you as surprised as Sophie at the real reason why Louis left Carrie? Why or why not?

11. "Carrie made choices decisively and rode them out no matter what happened. Sophie never chose what happened in her life — she let fate choose for her and never questioned how different things could be." (See page 339.)

Discuss Sophie and Carrie's different approaches to making choices. What are the advantages to Carrie's approach? What are the disadvantages? What does Sophie learn from her friend's example?

12. Sophie feels guilty about her attraction to Louis, as if she were trying to steal Carrie's life. But Cal believes, "If Carrie is up there right now, she's probably shouting at you, 'Go to him, you stupid cow!'" (See page 386.) Do you agree with Cal, that Carrie would be happy for Sophie and Louis? Why or why not?

13. When Bella and Izzy first come home with Sophie, she thinks, "A passion for chocolate and an eye for shoes. Maybe she did have something in common with the girls after all." (See page 47.) Besides a sweet tooth and good fashion sense, what else does Sophie have in common with Bella and Izzy by the end of the novel?

14. The ending of The Accidental Mother is romantic, but also open to interpretation. What do you think the future holds for Sophie, Louis, Bella, and Izzy? What new challenges could they face?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. According to Sophie, "shoes were like fashion magnets. The right clothes would simply be drawn to them." (See page 82.) Find a picture of your ideal pair of shoes in a magazine or catalog and bring a copy to your book club meeting to show off your fantasy "fashion magnets!"

2. Sophie, Bella, and Izzy bond over Carrie's favorite song, "Motorcycle Emptiness" by the Manic Street Preachers. Play the song at your book club meeting to set the mood for The Accidental Mother. You can find "Motorcycle Emptiness" on www.itunes.com or pick up Manic Street Preachers' greatest hits album, Forever Delayed, at your local music store.

3. In the book, Louis worked at a charity for homeless children in Peru. Do some online research to find an organization that helps homeless children in a community you care about — it can be in your town, or halfway around the world. Bring information to your book club meeting and discuss how your club can volunteer or contribute to a children's charity.

Rowan Coleman worked in bookselling and publishing for seven years, during which time she won the Company magazine Young Writer of the Year award. She lives in England, where she is working on her next novel.

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Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Sophie Mills has worked her Manolo Blahniks off to reach the top of her profession. She seems to have it all: a glamorous job as a corporate events planner, a designer apartment, and her cat Artemis for company. After all, relationships only get in the way of work, and as for starting a family — Sophie hasn't even begun to think about that yet. Until one day, an unexpected visitor brings the news that her best friend Carrie is dead, Carrie's husband Louis has disappeared, and Sophie is now in sole charge of two children under the age of seven. But child care can't be all that hard, can it? Sophie soon finds she is woefully underequipped to be suddenly thrown into motherhood. But through the eyes of two little girls she learns more about loss, commitment, and true love than she had ever realized existed.

Discussion Questions

1. The Accidental Mother opens with Sophie in her office, obsessing over Jake Flynn's lunch invitation. What is your first impression of Sophie Mills, based on this beginning? How does she handle her career? What is her approach to romance?

2. Discuss Sophie's relationship with her coworker Eve. Are the two women friends or enemies? Eve tells Sophie, "You didn't choose this career...it chose you." (See page 109.) What does Eve mean? Is she right about Sophie?

3. "There were a lot of things that Sophie was very good at.... She was extremely good at pie charts. But she'd always said that when she discovered her limitations, she'd be happy to admit them. That time had come." (See page 26.) Which of Sophie's personal "limitations" come to light, when Bella and Izzy arrive in her life?

4. When Sophie receives a copy of Dr. Robert's Complete Dog Training and Care Manual from her mother, she "tossed the book to the floor in disgust." (See page 66.) What unexpectedly handy lessons does Sophie learn from the dog manual? What do you think of this funny statement from Sophie's mother: "That's the trouble with you cat people. No imagination." (See page 66.)

5. The promise "Always, forever, whatever" comes up several times in the novel. What did this promise mean to Sophie and Carrie when they were teenagers? What did it mean for Carrie and her children? What does it mean to Sophie now?

6. Cal tells Sophie, "Taking risks is what life is all about Sophie...I thought you would have known that, wearing that shirt with that lipstick. Right out on a fashion limb." (See page 388.) How does Cal's bold sense of humor inspire Sophie?

7. Sophie's cat Artemis hasn't purred in years, until Bella pets her. Sophie thanks Bella "For making Artemis feel safe and happy." (See page 127.) What does Artemis teach Sophie about taking care of Bella and Izzy?

8. Sophie is fully aware that Jake is "practically perfect." (See page 378.) He's handsome, successful, and very interested in Sophie. So why isn't Sophie interested in Jake?

9. After her father died, Sophie learned from her mother, "you have to practice being happy, even when you're not, because otherwise you might forget how altogether." (See page 248.) How does Sophie help Bella and Izzy practice happiness? How do the girls help Sophie? Do you think Sophie has forgotten how to be happy, since her father's death?

10. What is Sophie's first impression of Louis? How does her opinion of Louis change over the course of the novel? Were you as surprised as Sophie at the real reason why Louis left Carrie? Why or why not?

11. "Carrie made choices decisively and rode them out no matter what happened. Sophie never chose what happened in her life — she let fate choose for her and never questioned how different things could be." (See page 339.)

Discuss Sophie and Carrie's different approaches to making choices. What are the advantages to Carrie's approach? What are the disadvantages? What does Sophie learn from her friend's example?

12. Sophie feels guilty about her attraction to Louis, as if she were trying to steal Carrie's life. But Cal believes, "If Carrie is up there right now, she's probably shouting at you, 'Go to him, you stupid cow!'" (See page 386.) Do you agree with Cal, that Carrie would be happy for Sophie and Louis? Why or why not?

13. When Bella and Izzy first come home with Sophie, she thinks, "A passion for chocolate and an eye for shoes. Maybe she did have something in common with the girls after all." (See page 47.) Besides a sweet tooth and good fashion sense, what else does Sophie have in common with Bella and Izzy by the end of the novel?

14. The ending of The Accidental Mother is romantic, but also open to interpretation. What do you think the future holds for Sophie, Louis, Bella, and Izzy? What new challenges could they face?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. According to Sophie, "shoes were like fashion magnets. The right clothes would simply be drawn to them." (See page 82.) Find a picture of your ideal pair of shoes in a magazine or catalog and bring a copy to your book club meeting to show off your fantasy "fashion magnets!"

2. Sophie, Bella, and Izzy bond over Carrie's favorite song, "Motorcycle Emptiness" by the Manic Street Preachers. Play the song at your book club meeting to set the mood for The Accidental Mother. You can find "Motorcycle Emptiness" on www.itunes.com or pick up Manic Street Preachers' greatest hits album, Forever Delayed, at your local music store.

3. In the book, Louis worked at a charity for homeless children in Peru. Do some online research to find an organization that helps homeless children in a community you care about — it can be in your town, or halfway around the world. Bring information to your book club meeting and discuss how your club can volunteer or contribute to a children's charity.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 20 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2012

    Great book!!

    Finshed in 3 days! Loved it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Accidental Mother, Breathtaking

    When I first saw the book and read the descripiton, I thought it would be another stupid book with annoyingly unpriginal events. My friend convinced me to get it anyway and try it. I am so greatful that they did. It was an absolutly breathtaking book that made me cry at a few moments (I am NOT a cryer.) You get to know the characters really well and start to get attachted wich makes it just that much better when someone does somthing completely out of their element. It wasn't a romantic story all that much wich was good if your getting a little bored of the love storys and just want to try somthing else for a little while. I thought it was a beautifully written story.
    It's about a girl who was once crazy and had tons of fun with her wild best friend, but as they grew older, she straightened out and became less crazy and kind of lost herself. She gets a call from a social worker telling her that the old friend has died and that the father of her children is nowhere to be found. The children where left to her. So, for a few weeks she has to take care of the kids until they find the dad. I thought it was going to go the same way as every other story with this plot does, but it didn't and it was a very very touching and heartfilled story. Even the kids will make you feel something. They are truely one of the best parts of this amazing book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2009

    Earnest effort

    The premise is a sound one: a career woman carelessly agrees to be godmother to her one-time best friend. As teens the duo were inseparable, but as adults, their paths crossed very infrequently, but the business woman agreed to be godmother to her friends two children without realizing the inevitable consequences.

    When the young mother dies, a social worker tells the career woman she's inherited two little girls, aged 3 and 6, at least, until they can locate the dead-woman's errant ex-husband.

    Accidental Mother is readable, and probably could even be described as engaging, but ultimately the book is burdened by two factors that just can't be ignored.

    Firstly, Coleman gives her three- and six-year-old characters dialog and sensibilities that rival those fantasy erudite teens of "Dawson's Creek."

    Since Coleman is a mother herself (it says so on the dust jacket), she no doubt has actually experienced how (in)articulate and in(eloquent) kids really are. They're also mercurial -- and Coleman's kids are mecurial where it suits her plot line, and only in those situations.

    Coleman's dream children are thoughtful and affectionate -- good traits, both -- but they are so profoundly insightful to the point of the reader having to take a massive leap of faith to continue reading.

    Coleman tries to pepper the story with "believable" kid mishaps -- her make-up is raided, her couch is ruined by curries, costumes are inappropriately donned. But these are still not real children and the fact that they are unquestionably a figment of Coleman's fervently chatty imagination is ultimately the novel's biggest problem.

    Coleman must have had an outline and idea of how the book was to develop, and the basic plot could be credible and engaging had it been even a little more realistic.

    Secondly, from the minute the businesswoman inherits the children, the reader instantly knows where this is going. Her lack-of-experience with kids, her exasperation, her crustiness, her devotion to work, her attraction to a high-powered American businessman -- these will all undoubtedly go the wayside, when she invariably falls in love with the children.

    What's more important? Power, promotion, and success or a loving home life? Guess which one she chooses?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2008

    Wonderful Book

    I am a mother of three young sons, It is hard for me to find time to read. I made time for this book. It was a book I had a hard time putting down. I finished it in 4 days, I was proud of myself. This book is one of my favorites. Thank you for writing it. I loved every minute!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2010

    couldn't finish it

    I hated this book. I always finish my books and felt guilty not finishing this one but I just couldn't read another word. I disliked Sophie (loved Cal, however) and couldn't wait around to see what happened. I just didn't care.

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    Posted October 25, 2008

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    Posted June 29, 2009

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    Posted July 25, 2010

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    Posted August 19, 2010

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    Posted November 7, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2009

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    Posted March 30, 2010

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    Posted November 15, 2008

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    Posted October 29, 2009

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    Posted April 26, 2011

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    Posted November 2, 2008

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