Singled Outby Trisha Ashley
Cass always dreamed that one day she and Max would be married and have children, but now she is waking up to reality. Not only is the prince missing,
Cassandra Leigh has a long-term lover who is handsome, charismatic, sophisticated--and married. Now Max has abandoned Cass and taken his wife off to America, leaving Cass all alone in her damp little cottage.
Cass always dreamed that one day she and Max would be married and have children, but now she is waking up to reality. Not only is the prince missing, there isn't even a half-way decent frog in the vicinity.
Meanwhile, Jason, one of her oldest friends, has developed a worrying crush on her--she's also had an encounter of a closer kind than she bargained for with Dante Chase, the new owner of the U.K.'s most ghost-infested manor house, a man even more haunted by his past than Cass is by hers.
Now, the vicar wants to sell Cass off to the highest bidder at the local charity slave auction, and Max, Jason and Dante are each determined to bid for her. And somehow Cass knows that they're all after more than a little light dusting . . .
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By Trisha Ashley
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2003 Trisha Ashley
All rights reserved.
Oh, Hell Again
Twisted Sister, Cass Leigh's debut novel, takes elements of both traditional Gothic horror and the fairytale, and weaves them into something altogether darker and nastier. While the horror genre is not generally noted for restraint, Cass Leigh drives her narrative along with the brakes of good taste permanently in the 'off' position.
By December, Max's luxurious trappings littering my cottage had ceased to be poignant and tear-provoking mementos of our love and more a reminder that I'd been discarded for the duration, too: an abandoned Abandoned Woman.
He'd left traces of his presence everywhere like he'd been marking out territory, yet when it came to packing his possessions up they made a pathetically small heap of boxes. (Or rather, Fortnum and Mason hampers, Max having profligate tastes in food and wine.)
When I came down from stashing them away in the attic the answering machine was frantically winking at me. Three messages. Three messages. Three messages.
'Play it cool,' I advised it, 'you know you're the best offer I've had all year.'
And no, loneliness has not reduced me to the depths of talking to inanimate objects because I've always done it, particularly with my worn (but still handsome) black leather Italian handbag, Guido.
When I pressed Play Messages, Pa's voice boomed with unchristian fervour: 'You'll burn in hell, girl!' Then he added on a rising note: 'Spawn of Satan! Seed of Beelzebub!'
'And the Season's Greetings to you, too,' I said, deleting him right at the start of what was clearly destined to be one of his longer, brandy -sodden rants.
Pa's phoned me at least once a month with the same message since I became Max's mistress, so Hell hath rather lost its sting over the years.
As you may have guessed, Pa (who converted to the Charismatic Church of God as a young man on a trip to the USA) has had quite a strong influence on my life, some of it good, some bad. Or maybe it was all bad, and I've turned it into good?
I mean, think about the way he frequently locked me in the cupboard under the stairs in order to force the devil out of me! (And had he never tried to take it out of me, I might never have known it was in there in the first place, although his habit of addressing me as 'Seed of Satan' and suchlike from my infancy onwards, should have given me a pointer.)
You know, I never realised he was crackers until I was sent away to boarding school and could compare him with other people's fathers? Mind you, I don't think he was quite so unhinged before the demon drink took hold of him, but even so my childhood experiences seemed to be pretty unique among my peers.
Still, it was great training for a horror writer, because I now know I'm invulnerable to ghosts, spectres, ghouls or any other supernatural manifestation. I often felt their inimical presence in the darkness of the cupboard, and if any of them had been capable of physically harming me they would surely have done so then when I was at their mercy.
... she heard others breathing a different rhythm in the darkness, and hearts pounded to a different beat to her own until sometimes the cupboard walls seemed to wildly pulsate ...
But sometimes now I wonder if such apparitions only exist because I let them escape from some Pandora's box in my brain, so that they owe their existence to me, their creator, La Frankensteina?
Who knows? The denizens of my novels certainly owe their existence to me, though on paper my monstrous creations have a more tangible presence in order to better curdle the blood and chill the spines of my readers, who do not believe in ghosts and their like but are afraid of them anyway.
Of course with me it is quite the reverse: I believe but I am not afraid – or not afraid of physical harm, anyway, though I do admit to an unnatural fear of birds and have a terrifying recurrent nightmare about cupboards.
Still, I believe I am a walking example that good can come from bad, though if you read some of my book reviews or listened to Pa, you might think that bad was coming from bad.
Emerging from my reverie, I listened to the second message, which was from my sister Jane and just as predictable in content as Pa's. After briefly gloating over her immaculately conceived verse, life, and marriage to her adoring spouse Gerald, she proceeded to plant as many wasp-like stings as she could into my quivering flesh.
Max's leaving me for a year's sabbatical at a Californian university, taking his wife Rosemary with him, has given her fresh ammunition. She can sense vulnerability, and his absence has left me feeling strangely exposed, especially since his communications have slowly dwindled to sporadic and unsatisfactory phone calls.
Jane is erroneously considered by many, including Ma and Pa, to be the nearest thing to an angel in human form, so she needs to say these things to me, because her pedestal would probably corrode and crumble under her if she couldn't drain the poison from her fangs occasionally.
I deleted her pretty swiftly, then listened to the third and last recording.
'Hi, Cass, it's Orla. Guess what, I've got a Perfect Partner tonight! I'm meeting him at a restaurant, but if he's as useless as the last one I'm climbing out of the back window and coming home.
Oh well, hope springs eternal in the female breast.
I wiped that, too, hoping against hope that Mr Perfect Partner would at least be approaching human this time, for poor Orla was getting desperate.
Could this be me all too soon? Old banger, high mileage, one careful owner from new, reliable and in good running order?
It was an unsettling thought: but then, when had I ever had any other kind?
I dialled the familiar vicarage number and impatiently waited, imagining Charles waking up from a light snooze, working out what the ringing noise was, and then plodding across to answer it.
'Charles, there wouldn't be a lot of virtue in giving Max up if he'd already discarded me first, would there? I mean, I'd still be damned even if I did the sackcloth and ashes for ever thing that Pa's so keen on?' I demanded without preamble.
'Yes, Cass my dear, but God is love, don't forget,' he said, then yawned. 'Good heavens, is that the time? I must have dozed off in my chair.'
'Pa's God isn't love, it's punishment and vengeance and retribution and stuff.'
'Love takes strange forms, and possibly your poor father is not always in his right mind. But I sincerely believe his phone calls to you are a manifestation of his paternal love.'
'You do? What about the locking me in the cupboard to drive the devil out episodes when I was a child, though? Was that a manifestation of his love?'
'In his own misguided way, I believe it was. He perceived your physical resemblance to an ancestor he thought evil, and took the Bible's message that sin was handed down the generations too literally. Didn't you say that he punished your brothers and sisters also?'
'Not Jane – never Jane. She couldn't do any wrong,' I said bitterly. 'But the boys were physically punished if they misbehaved.'
'Well, dear Cass, he was misguided, and the law would intervene on your behalf should such a thing happen these days, for which we must be thankful.'
'But Charles, even my mother doesn't like me!'
'I have told you of the many examples I have come across of families where one child is less regarded than the rest, for no discernible reason: it is not your fault.'
'But am I innately bad?'
'Of course not: you have many good qualities. But you have sinned, as you yourself realise, in your relationship with a married man. Yet God will understand how needy of love you were, and at any time you can repent and start afresh, the one lamb that was lost and is found again.'
You know, I might not always follow what Charles is on about (or want to do what he suggests), but I always feel better after talking to him.
'You should come into the church sometimes,' he suggested.
'I couldn't come to a service – I haven't been in a church since I left home.'
'I didn't mean a service, although you are always welcome. I meant just come in, in order to meditate in the house of God. The door is always open.'
'Not at night, though, surely?'
'Yes, even at night. Of course I lock the vestry, and there's a CCTV camera in the gallery, but I would only look at the film if something was taken, which praise the Lord hasn't happened yet,' he said practically.
'Well I might try that, Charles, if you really think a bolt of lightning won't crisp me on the threshold, even if I am still a married man's mistress.'
'I am sure it won't. Oh dear!' he added, sounding alarmed.
'Mrs Grace left a shepherd's pie in the oven for my supper, and I'm afraid I fell asleep and forgot about it! It smells a little singed ...'
'Like me, really,' I said, but he'd gone.
* * *
After this somehow soothing conversation, instead of going down to the village pub for dinner as I generally do, I heated up my second pizza of the day (garlic chicken), poured a glass of red wine, and settled down to consider the whole Max's Mistress situation, which is not something I've bothered to do for a considerable number of years.
But in his absence I'm slowly starting to wake from Max's thrall (and he has a lot of thrall) like a somewhat aged Sleeping Beauty, and question just where my life is heading. If anywhere?
Who hung the 'Gone To Lunch, Back In Two Decades' sign out?
Look how we've all jogged comfortably along for so many years, Max and his two women in their separate, non-interlocking worlds, once long habit had dulled my initial feelings of guilt; a guilt that now seems to be slowly seeping back in.
Max once assured me that Rosemary tacitly accepted our affair, since she was not interested much in the sexual side of marriage even before her dreadful accident, and at least I was sharing him – I mean, I hadn't taken him entirely away from her, as I might have done.
But now that golf (once merely his face-saving excuse for frequent weekends away) has become more of a passion than I am, I'm wondering if perhaps he could get by quite nicely with that and Rosemary?
Am I extraneous? Suddenly surplus to requirements?
Vague daydreams of the 'poor Rosemary hasn't got long to go, and then we can marry and have a family' kind have sustained me over the years, but suddenly here we are a good twenty years down the line, and every cheery sundial is saying: The Time is Later Than You Think.
But strangely enough, all this sudden angst seems to be doing wonders for my writing.
Is this another example of good coming out of bad?
Whenever Orla has a big problem she writes down the reasons for and against doing whatever it is she is worrying about, so I settled down to compile a list of the pros and cons of being Max's mistress:
1) Lots of time to write in.
3) Don't have to wash his dirty underwear.
4) Do not have to look wonderful all the time.
5) Max is tall, handsome, clever, charismatic, and distinguished. (And sexy.)
6) My brothers are all still in contact with me.
7) Have my friends for company when he isn't there.
1) Guilt, because of his invalid wife, Rosemary.
3) Max not interested in horror writing.
4) He's never there in an emergency.
5) When he is there, he expects me to look great and be in the mood for lurve, like I've got an On and Off switch.
6) I now play second fiddle to his new love, golf.
7) Max resents my sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to write and visit graveyards.
8) Max adamant about not having children until we can marry, which looks like being never.
9) Having committed to the relationship with Max, have to remain faithful due to inbuilt Puritan streak. (But haven't been terribly tempted by anyone else for years, anyway.)
10) Max spooked by my mind-reading skills, even though I've promised never to do it to him ... again. (And all I read was exasperated affection, lust and guilt, which figured.)
11) Ma hasn't spoken to me since, and Pa only rings me up to curse me.
12) My sister Jane is always phoning me up or dropping in uninvited.
13) Max jealous of my longstanding strong friendships with Orla Murphy and Jason Shaw (and his wife Tanya, until she took off a couple of years ago.)
Clearly, the game is not worth the candle!
But then, no one else has tempted me seriously in all these years, so even were I to ditch Max I would still have most of the disadvantages. Besides, whenever I get fed up with things as they are I only have to see him again and I'm putty in his hands.
This charisma, Svengali touch, or whatever you want to call it, is not something that works well via occasional transatlantic phone calls.
In the grip of a depression like a dank fog I resorted to desperate measures.
* * *
'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of over forty is in possession of a major defect,' Orla stated, walking past me into the cottage and flinging her coat and bag on to the nearest chair.
Then she stared glumly at her reflection in the mirror over the fireplace.
'Yes, just as I thought,' she said. 'Hair blonde to the roots, curves in all the rights places, minimal crow's feet, luscious lips, big, baby-blue eyes. What a waste!'
'Do I take it that your Perfect Partner wasn't?'
'Forty-six and still lives with Mummy. I've had every variety of unmarried man now: Divorced, for which read rejected by wife for a very good reason; Mummy's Little Boy, like tonight, and Widowed, Wizened and Smug, like last week's offering.'
'You haven't had Reclusive or Gay yet,' I pointed out helpfully.
'They don't join dating agencies – or at least, not Perfect Partners, What's that you're drinking?'
'Max's bottle of Laphroaig from under the sink.'
'I thought you didn't like whisky?'
'I'd never tried it before, because Pa's drinking spirits put me off the idea. But it's like gold: hot liquid gold.'
'Very poetic. I'll have some. Got any ginger?'
'You can't put ginger in good whisky!'
'You can if your friend's snooty lover isn't there to see you do it.'
She kicked off the stiletto shoes that had raised her to the level of my chin, then curled up on the sofa. 'Phew, that's better! You know, it's simply impossible to believe in the theory of evolution, because if it was true by now women's feet would naturally have pointed toes and thin, four-inch heelbones.'
'Mine wouldn't, I've been wearing those Nanook of the North knee -length suede moccasin boots all winter. And Max isn't snooty!'
'Of course he is, and he's getting worse the older he gets. He's turning into a boring old fogy right under your nose. Just think about it,' she added earnestly. 'The sudden passion for golf, imagining he looks good in Rupert Bear trousers, droning on about why expensive wine is the only sort worth drinking, trying to get you to write literary novels instead of the horror you're so brilliant at: I rest my case. Come on, let's be young and reckless and desecrate his whisky!'
'You're an idiot,' I said, pouring her drink. 'And Max isn't like that at all!'
But then I actually thought about what I was saying instead of letting my mouth run on automatic pilot and realised she was right: 'OK, yes he is – and selfish, too! Why hadn't I noticed that before?'
I took another swig of whisky, which was helpfully reconnecting parts of my brain that had long since stopped communicating with each other even by semaphore. Laphroaig Gets you Clean Round The Bend.
'Until he took himself off for this sabbatical thing, I'd just been drifting along never really questioning anything, Orla. I mean, I did all the agonising years ago when I fell in love with him and realised he couldn't leave Rosemary, and once I was committed to the relationship I suppose it was just like a long marriage, where the changes are so gradual you don't notice them.'
'Except it wasn't a marriage, and it's a bit significant that he took his wife to America with him and not you,' Orla pointed out helpfully. 'You're still only The Mistress even after all these years. Or maybe because of all these years? Your novelty's worn off.'
'Well, it's no worse than me, is it? Dumped for a younger model, and destined to be divorced, single and desperate for ever. I'm a Trade-in, and you're a slightly tarnished Spinster Of This Parish.'
Since we seemed to have empty glasses I poured us both another generous measure of peaty goodness.
'At least you still have parents who love you, Orla. Mine always treated me like a changeling or a cuckoo in the nest, just because I took after my gypsy great-grandmother, and then they cast me out entirely when they found out about Max.'
'Yes,' she conceded. 'Though Daddy can't always remember who I am these days.'
'I was an unwanted throw-back for the first half of my life, and I've been a married man's mistress for the second. That's not going to look good on my tombstone, is it?'
'No, but then, you're not going to pop your clogs yet, are you? You've probably got years left, and you can write your own epitaph before you go.'
'She dealt horror and death wherever she went?' I suggested.
Excerpted from Singled Out by Trisha Ashley. Copyright © 2003 Trisha Ashley. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Trisha Ashley was born in Lancashire, England, and has had a variety of jobs, including working for a stained glass maker and a plumber. She has reluctantly decided to give up her fascinating but time-consuming hobbies of getting divorced and moving and has settled down in North Wales.
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this book was very good and entertaining, i couldn't put it down. although i'm a college student and couldn't relate to the age thing, i still thought that the book was great. the characters were really developed and the book was well written. definitely check it out!
Cassandra 'Cass' Leigh is a famous horror writer. Writing horror novels is a way to purge herself of past demons that still haunt her nightmares. Nightmares that are courtesy of her parents' idea of punishment, being locked up under cupboards for hours on end. She has a long-term lover, who is married, named Max. Max has left Cass in the U.K. and taken his wife off to America for about a year, leaving Cass all alone. Cass has always thought Max and she would eventually marry, have children, and grow old together. Now she realizes that it's never going to happen. Being in her mid-forties, it is probably too late for her to even get pregnant. ................................ Jason, her long time friend, has developed a crush on her, due to the Vampirella costume she wears while she does crypt-o-grams (singing telegrams). He has told Cass in no uncertain terms that he would GLADLY let her use him to get pregnant! At the same time, Dante Chase, the new owner of the U.K.'s most ghost-infested manor house, Kedge Hall, has caught her attention. Now, THERE is a man even more haunted by his past than SHE is! ............................. Every year the vicar has a slave auction that Cass volunteers for. The public bids on the volunteers, and once their indentured servant is purchased, the winner has a slave for one day to do chores for them. (Nothing kinky.) Max, Jason, and Dante are each determined to bid for her. And Cass somehow knows that they are all after more than a little light dusting or palm reading. Oh, did I forget to mention about Cass's little talent? If she touches someone she can feel their emotions, sort of an empathy talent. ............................ Through it all is her crazy family. Her father calls often and leaves long rants on her machine calling her the spawn of satan and preaching brimstone. Her mother won't speak with her. One of her brothers climbs rocks for fun. The other brother is always stoned, and is quite a character through this whole book, and her 'sweet' sister, Jane, is anything but. ............................... ***** This book will have you chuckling out loud as you read. Never a dull moment in this novel. And I could not help but L-O-V-E Cass. She is a riot and so easy going. If the author of this little gem, Trisha Ashley, ever decides to give up Contemporary, she could go into horror! Cass is always daydreaming scenes for whatever horror novel she is currently writing. I found myself as fascinated with Cass's writing as I was with Cass herself! Author Trisha Ashley is an author to watch as she buds out with all her talents. Count me in as one of her new adoring fans. Highly recommended reading here! *****
Popular horror writer Cass Leigh believes that her personal life is an even bigger horror tale than her novels. For about two decades Cass had an affair with a married professor; she always dreamed that one day she would be his spouse instead of the other woman and raise children with him. Instead Max has crossed the Atlantic to America with his wife at is side leaving the middle aged Cass with regrets and sorrows. Already feeling like her poetry writing sister, two brothers, and her parents are right that she is the devil¿s offspring or at least his ¿Twisted Sister¿; matters become worse as men insist on new roles in her life. Her long term pal Jason suddenly desires her and Dante¿s past makes her past look like heaven. Finally, even the village vicar wants Cass as he wants to matchmake the former mistress to the highest bidder at a charity slave auction in which Max sans spouse competes with salivating Jason and brooding Dante for Cass.---- This engaging chick lit tale subtly pays homage to Jane Austen while offering a solid amusing contemporary story that chick lit fans will appreciate. Cass is the center of the novel as all relationships come and go with her whether it is her lover, her family, or the other men in her life. Trisha Ashley makes her champion a full person who wonders when and how life had begun passing her by. The rest of the cast provides support but pale in comparison to the incomparable Cass.---- Harriet Klausner