I Won't Be Home For Christmas: A sparkling festive treat from the number 1 bestseller

I Won't Be Home For Christmas: A sparkling festive treat from the number 1 bestseller

by Amanda Prowse

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784974930
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 10/20/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,106,409
File size: 5 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

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

I Won't Be Home For Christmas


By Amanda Prowse

Head of Zeus Ltd

Copyright © 2016 Amanda Prowse
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78497-493-0


CHAPTER 1

As the boiler knocked loudly, doing its very best to pump heat into the chilly November morning, and the frost lingered on the inside of the single-glazed kitchen window, Vivienne rinsed her cup under the tap, preparing for her second cup of tea of the day. She'd already been for a quick march around the block and was dressed in her straight-leg jeans, walking boots and the blue micro fleece that she wore to death.

'Don't look at me like that. You've had your breakfast and you heard what the vet said: you need to lose weight.'

Bob stared at her, unblinking, his gaze occasionally wandering to the biscuits that sat on a little plate next to the kettle.

'I've told you, it's no use looking at me like that. It's for your own good.' She poured hot water onto the tea bag and did her best to ignore him. Which was relatively easy, until he started whining mournfully.

As ever, she felt her resolve weakening. As she snapped a digestive biscuit and lifted a crumbly shard to her mouth, his pleading eyes were more than she could bear. 'Oh, go on then.'

She threw the nibbled edge into the air. Quicker than you could shout 'Fetch!' the collie-cross sprang up and angled his head just so. It always amazed her how Bob, who was now in his middling years, could move with the agility and energy of a puppy whenever he was in sniffing distance of a treat. It was a trick she wished she could master.

The biscuit fragment landed in his open mouth. Vivienne laughed as he slunk back to his soft, sheepskin-lined bed in the corner and gave her a look of pure adoration. He ate his snack then placed his pretty head on his extended paws and closed his eyes, as if the exertion of biscuit catching had quite taken it out of him and another nap was required.

'I don't know, you live the life of a king. You've got me wrapped around your finger, or should that be paw?' She smiled at the dog she loved, then looked up at the sound of the letterbox snapping into place. 'That'll be the postman.'

She did this, gave a running commentary on her day, for whose benefit she wasn't sure – Bob certainly paid no attention. Maybe it was simply for the joy of talking, of filling the Victorian bay-fronted terrace with noise, trying to line the rooms that had once echoed with her daughter's music, her son's shouts, her mum's burbling and her grandma's tuneless singing, the noises of life. Now that it was just her and Bob, the idea of living in silence terrified her. Background noise helped keep any negative thoughts at bay.

She trod the intricately tiled floor to the solid wooden front door of the house her parents had bought back in the late fifties for the princely sum of two thousand pounds. Sixty years on and the area was now on a fast track to gentrification. The ornate wooden spindles of the staircase and the original fireplaces, mouldings and ceiling roses meant that her family home was now worth almost three hundred thousand. Three hundred thousand pounds! The amount staggered and frightened her. Such a huge sum, and a wonderful return, of course, but it was all relative. Prices were rocketing right across her postcode. Not that she had any intention of selling, despite the numerous glossy flyers from estate agents trying their luck that were repeatedly poked through her door with the local paper.

The idea of selling the only house she had ever called home, where her memories and ghosts also lived, was unthinkable. Aaron, her son, had suggested that it might be wise to sell up and buy a small flat. 'Easier for you to manage, Mum, and great for future-proofing against any problems you might have getting up and down stairs.' She'd nodded, feigning interest, suspecting that the sale of their family home would be more about future-proofing his wife's Botox, holidaying and handbag habit. But rather than say this, she'd simply nodded, as if it was all going over her head; it was often easier that way.

Vivienne stooped low and gathered the pale grey envelope from the coir welcome mat embossed with doggy paws. The postmark revealed it was from New Zealand. A letter from Emma! Her heart leapt.

This was it, the big reveal.

Emma had told her three weeks ago on the phone that she had 'big news' and Vivienne had been mulling over the possibilities ever since. Pregnant? No, that didn't seem likely; she'd have told her there and then, far too excited to keep that a secret. Moving on, changing both her job and her location? Quite possible, as this was a regular occurrence and to Emma was always 'big news'. And then, a couple of days ago, as she was dusting off the advent candle ready to pop it on the mantelpiece on December the first, it struck her. Emma's coming home for Christmas! Her spirits soared at the prospect. Her daughter, back home for the first time in four years, with stories to tell and adventures to share. The thought of Emma asleep in her old room upstairs filled her with happiness.

She longed to hear the familiar creak of the floorboards overhead while she pottered through her chores in the kitchen, and it would be a dream come true to have Emma on tap for a chat whenever she felt like it. Oh, that would be the finest Christmas present ever.

Her mind flitted to one of the best Christmases they had shared. The kids were eight and ten and Vivienne had pulled double shifts for three months to get them a Game Boy each. This was going to be a huge deal and certainly not what they were anticipating. Just for once, she wanted them to be the children who struck it big on Christmas morning, wanted hers to be the ones in the park that the other kids gathered around with their mouths forming envious O's, as they paraded their special presents from Father Christmas. The anticipation of seeing their faces on the day, as they ripped off the paper, was almost more than she could bear, but it made the long, long days and nights spent under the harsh strip light of the superstore, worth it. As she left work on Christmas Eve, she had grabbed a couple of flashing Santa hats from the bargain bin and these along with the usual and expected chocolate reindeer, warm socks and a Harry Potter book for them both, two different stories that they could then swap, meant their haul was complete.

She had watched, as each present was carefully taken from inside the pillow case in which the gifts were stashed, and smiled as they beamed their thanks at her, interested in the books, nibbling at the chocolate and putting the socks on their chilly feet. The three of them had laughed, as familiar Carols accompanied them on the radio.

'Ooh, just a couple more.' She had tried to sound nonchalant, as she first handed over the Santa hats. Aaron and Emma had immediately put them on their heads and with the lights flashing, laughed hysterically at each other. They then decided to put their heads under a duvet and in the darkness watch the other's flashing lights that bobbed this way and that, as they giggled and danced. The Game Boys had been much admired, but quickly discarded in favour of their new game, hide and seek in the dark, where they took it in turns to seek out the flashing lights of their hats in dark corners, the inside of the wardrobe and even behind the sofa. Their laughter filled the rooms, sweeping out the winter cold and creating Christmas joy.

She would never forget the sight of the Game Boys, nestling side by side on the swirly patterned carpet of the sitting room floor, representing hours and hours of extra work, while her kids laughed fit to burst and ran around the house, playing with the cheap hats she had grabbed as an afterthought.

Even now, the memory of it made her smile.

'Look, Bob, we've got a letter from Emma.' She nodded in his direction as she tore open the envelope and hastily pulled out a stiff, ornate card.

She stared at the lines of text and the fancy type, then wobbled backwards and sat down hard on the armchair by the kitchen fireplace. Resting her elbows on her knees, she studied the card again. Swallowing, she picked up her phone and called her best friend, who lived three streets away.

'Ellen, it's me. Meet me up the café. Be there in ten.'

Vivienne reread the nine lines once more, before grabbing her shopping bag and purse.

'Shan't be long, Bob. I'll take you out again when I get back. Be good.'

Her sturdy walking boots barely touched the pavement as she sped up Mendip Road and rounded the corner into Cotswold Road, where Shaun Lewis was tinkering under the bonnet of his Fiesta.

'All right, Mrs Lane? Bit chilly, innit?' He clapped his hands together, summoning warmth and exhaling vapour with every word.

"Tis, love.'

'I thought you were looking a bit thin, tell you the truth, Mrs Lane.' He sniffed.

'Really?' She ran her hand over her flat tum and wished, as ever, that she could put on a few pounds.

'Yeah, but then I realised it's cos you haven't got Mrs Nye with you. You two are usually joined at the hip and together you make a right hefty unit!'

'Shaun!' She tutted and laughed. He'd always been witty, that boy, even in primary school, when he and Emma had first become friends. 'I'm off to meet her now, in fact. I won't tell her that mind. How's your mum?' she added as she rushed past him, in too much of a hurry to stop and chat.

'She's all right, driving me mad, though. S'always the same, she gets in a right tizz over Christmas. I keep telling her, it's only one day, just a roast. A few extra spuds, an extended EastEnders and a bit of tinsel. How hard can it be?' He sighed, wiping the oil from the end of his fingers with an already dirty rag.

'I'll tell her you said that.' Vivienne chuckled. 'Give her my love!' she shouted over her shoulder, waving in the air behind her head.

She had a sudden picture of a whimpering Emma coming home one afternoon with her shoes and socks wet and covered in mud; she could only have been about seven. Shaun had dared her to walk on the frozen Malago and of course she'd gone straight through the ice. Vivienne smiled at the memory. He was a cheeky boy, that Shaun Lewis. He was also a kind boy and one with a heart of gold, who on more than one occasion, had been there for Emma to lean on, guiding her, as she stumbled home in her teenage years with a broken heart and a face wet with tears, as her current, temporary heartbreak sent her spiralling into sadness. She would then retreat to the furthest recess of her bedroom, only to surface when her mood had lifted, which usually took about three days.

'Thanks Shaun for bringing her home,' Vivienne would coo, as the boy who lived down the road consoled Emma with a hug and a promise that it would all turn out right in the end.

Stamping her feet on the mat as was her habit, mindful of the muddy residue that might be clinging to her boots, Vivienne pushed on the door of Pedro's, their favourite café, and slid into her seat. The smell of bacon crisping and the lingering scent of cooking oil mixed with freshly brewed coffee was most comforting. This was where she and Ellen met to chat when she wasn't working her shifts in Asda and Ellen wasn't at home doing the books for Trev's painting and decorating business.

A couple of lads wearing paint-spattered white overalls over jeans and aged, holey sweatshirts were tucking into gargantuan fried breakfasts. Shiny fried eggs, fat sausages and mountains of beans fought for space among slices of black pudding, hash browns and strips of bacon. Their plates were so crowded, the requisite toast had to sit separately on side plates, next to their mugs of tea. The men ate with their heads down, staring doggedly at the plates and gripping their cutlery with silent determination, as if getting through the feast was a job in itself.

Vivienne sat with her back to them, in her usual spot, keeping her eyes on the large picture window. A peeling vinyl transfer dominated the far corner of the glass, depicting pizza, spaghetti and milkshakes spiked with stripy, colour-coordinated straws. She thought about the envelope nestling in her bag that had winged its way from the other side of the world. Her girl had drifted from job to job, acquiring friends and hobbies as she went: dog groomer, reiki healer, aromatherapist, life coach ... The list was long. Although how she hoped to coach someone else when her own life was littered with unfinished jobs and so lacking in direction was quite beyond Vivienne. As usual, though, she'd chosen not to say anything.

Emma's unique way of looking at the world, her bouncy enthusiasm and disregard for convention, had thrilled Vivienne when she was younger and she'd convinced herself that this fearless free-spiritedness would lead to great things. But with every passing year she found herself hoping that her daughter might find a little stability, a routine, a way of life that Vivienne could relate to: a job, a permanent home, even children. She smiled at the idea but then quickly reminded herself that Emma was now thirty-one and unlikely to change her ways any time soon.

Aaron's wife of eight years had made her views on motherhood quite clear. With a small measure of sadness, Vivienne had long ago consigned the kids' stuffed toys, family heirlooms of a sort, to a box in the loft, not wanting to jinx her dreams of becoming a granny.

'How long are you going to be away for?' This was the question she had asked four years ago with false brightness to her voice. She often pictured that chilly November morning as Emma spoke of her plans to go and see the world. Vivienne could recall the detail: Emma, perched cross-legged on the chair like a yogi, wiggling her ringed toes while daintily eating yoghurt from the pot and licking the foil lid. To Vivienne, the idea of leaving the streets that contained everything and everyone she had ever known was quite alien. She felt a mixture of envy and fear at the prospect.

'Don't know,' had come the truthful if unnerving reply, followed by a shrug of Emma's tanned, tattooed shoulders.

Vivienne looked again at the rain-spattered window of the café and sighed; she finally knew the answer, confirmed via nine lines printed on a piece of fancy card. Forever. That was how long Emma was going to be away for. She was never coming home.

Vivienne swallowed the emotion that gathered in her throat and scanned the shoppers, who even at this early hour were weighed down with grocery bags in the grey gloom of the dark, winter morning. Their stooped forms cast grainy shadows up the graffitied walls, concrete lampposts and shabby shopfronts. She watched the procession of young women, without make-up, hair a little mussed and with scarves slung over worn coats, and thought back to herself at their age.

It was a lovely time in her life. On mornings like this, she used to drop Emma and Aaron at Parson Street Primary and then pop to the shops on the way home, stocking up on milk, bread for sandwiches and something for supper. That something was usually coated in breadcrumbs and accompanied by peas. Her repertoire might have been small, but she was unfailingly diligent; the kids never went without a cooked meal, come rain or shine. Just as her mum had done for her.

She would then meet up with Ellen and they'd while away the afternoon chatting over the laundry, tackling the tangle of weeds in their gardens or planting flowers and mowing grass. There were various hobbies, too, that consumed them for a bit – scrapbooking, crochet, Sudoku, aerobics – discovered, obsessed over and then discarded, the chief pleasure being in doing them together. It always made her chuckle when she stumbled across a box full of bits and bobs that had been her passion before being consigned to the attic where all her hobbies and fads went to die. It was the shadow of these shared memories, lurking on street corners and along every road she trod that made the place so special.

'What'll it be, Viv? Or are you waiting for her ladyship?' Pedro, the cook, waiter and proprietor interrupted her thoughts and wiped the already immaculate tabletop with a soft cloth before sliding it back into the pocket of his striped half-pinny.

'I'd better wait, love.' She smiled. It felt nice to share this little connection, this admission of Ellen's sometimes pushy nature, with the wonderfully scented Pedro. He always gave off a floral whiff. 'A gentleman should be well groomed. Expensive cologne, my one extravagance,' he'd trilled way back in the summer. She knew, however, that this was a lie. He had lots of extravagances.

'How's my friend Bob today?' He stepped back, hands on hips.

'Getting older, like me. But he's good company.'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from I Won't Be Home For Christmas by Amanda Prowse. Copyright © 2016 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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