Would you risk everything for love?
Independent, straight-talking Trix Allen wouldn’t. She’s been in love once before and ended up with nothing. Now safely single, Trix is as far away from the saccharine-sweet world of hearts and flowers as it’s possible to be.
Ben Messina is the man who broke Trix’s heart. Now he’s successful the only thing rational Ben and free-spirited Trix see eye-to-eye on is the fact that falling in love isn’t part of the plan. But when Ben’s brother sets out to win the heart of Trix’s best friend, romance is very much in the air. Will Trix gamble everything on love and risk ending up with zero once again?
Read an Excerpt
'Right, then.' Claudio has come back from the bar and is sounding suddenly businesslike. I sit up to attention. 'If this is our first date, there are certain conventions that must be adhered to.'
This is a little bit worrying. Actually, this is a massive bit worrying. So far we are having a perfect day. We met at the Minster and then walked from town along the River Ouse, all the way out to Rowntree Park, and then to Fulford to this pub for lunch. It's the sort of day that reminds me why I love living in York. I love being able to see the buildings and think of all the Romans, and Vikings and Tudors and Victorians who lived here before us. It makes me feel safe. It makes me feel part of something bigger.
Our plan was to walk back home this afternoon. It's after five and neither of us has suggested moving. Claudio is straddling the bench so he can face me. His tall, dark, slightly stubbled proximity and his unexpectedly practical tone are starting to make me nervous.
He leans closer to me. 'Certain topics that must be discussed on any first date.'
Oh dear. I think he's going to ask about my ex-boyfriends, which is fine, I suppose, but there haven't really been any, well none worth mentioning anyway. And I'm twenty-three so that's really embarrassing; not that I'm still a virgin, because I'm not. I just feel that by my age I should have had at least one proper ex I could tell a sad story about. Could I make one up I wonder? I bet he's had lots and lots of girlfriends. Do I really want to know? I look back at him.
'The topics are as follows: number one – first single ever bought, number two – favourite movie, and, of course, favourite kids' TV programme.'
The relief must show because he asks me what I thought he wanted to talk about. I pretend not to know what he means, but when I think about it this is worse. Now I have to come up with cool answers to his questions so he won't go off me. I need more time, 'You go first.'
'OK. Easy. First single Oasis, Some Might Say, I think. Favourite movie Star Wars, no Empire Strikes Back, no Star Wars.'
'Kids' TV programme?'
'Fireman Sam. Loved Fireman Sam. Your go.'
Oh no. His answers are not embarrassing, even Star Wars, he's a boy so I think that's basically compulsory – either that or The Godfather.
'OK. Favourite movie – probably Dirty Dancing.'
That's on the same principle as him picking Star Wars. I'm a girl so it has to be that or Pretty Woman. And I do love Dirty Dancing. I love it when he comes back at the end and saves her, well not exactly saves her, but you know what I mean. I take a deep breath. 'Can I say Fireman Sam too? I think they still make that.'
He nods. 'Quite right too. The Fireman rocks. First single you ever bought?'
I don't want to tell him, but I can't think of anything cool to say. I mutter the answer into my sleeve.
He looks at me. 'I'm sorry. Didn't quite catch that?'
I mutter it again.
'Once more for the people at the back?'
'Don't Stop Moving.'
'I'm not moving.'
'It was S Club 7.'
I can feel myself blushing.
He shakes his head 'Oh. That's bad. That's very bad indeed.'
'Really? I thought S Club was retro now. So bad it's good sort of thing?'
My tummy quivers. I knew I wasn't cool enough for him. A tremble edges across my bottom lip and waits there a moment.
Then he smiles. 'Really, no. We must obliterate all memories of this moment.'
'And how do we do that?'
'We replace them with new memories.'
The tremble subsides as he kisses me for the first time, and it's perfect, and I will keep hold of this memory forever.
One Year Later
The doorbell rings again.
Henrietta is pulled up on tippy-toes on self-imposed lookout duty at the end of the bay window. With her tiny frame, sandy hair and lemon skinny jeans, she looks like an unusually perky pastel-coloured meerkat. 'It's them.'
'Well, answer the door then.'
She shakes her head.
'You're kidding?' She's leapt from the room every time the doorbell has rung in the last hour. The party guests who weren't an hour and a half late have been forbidden from touching the buffet until the guest of honour arrives, and now she won't answer the door.
I look at her again. She's peering out from under her fringe and she's actually blushing. I didn't honestly think women blushed any more. I thought it was phased out along with chastity belts and not having the vote.
'Well, is someone going to answer the door?' Our stand-off is interrupted by Danny Peters, my boss by day and drinking partner by night. The doorbell rings again. Danny points at me. 'It's your house.'
'But it's not my party,' I complain. 'Henrietta organised it.'
Even to myself I sound like a toddler. Danny shakes his head, and I trundle into the hallway, while Henri hides in the living room fussing over her vol-au-vents. I take an unhealthy swig of wine to lubricate my social graces and open the door. As expected, Claudio is looking perfect and chiselled on my doorstep. A year tour-guiding in Italy obviously agreed with him. He's tanned and toned and smiling. If I was five years younger ... well actually I still wouldn't go for him. He's a little too put-together for my tastes.
Also as expected, Benedict is lurking in his shadow apparently forgetting that you're supposed to do smiling and eye contact when you arrive at a party. Apart from their height, it's hard to believe they're brothers. Claudio got all the Italian colouring and sophistication of their parents' ancestral land. Benedict looks like the unfussiness of their adoptive Yorkshire home has seeped into his bloodstream. He seems, as always, slightly distracted.
I open, pointedly, with, 'You're late.'
'It was his fault.' Ben gestures at his little brother, who shakes his head.
'Well, if you'd told me you weren't going to drive ...'
'You could have driven.'
Claudio opens his mouth to respond, but doesn't actually get the words out because I grab him in a vigorous bear hug. I suspect I've reignited an argument that only finished when they arrived at the door. Perhaps pointing out the lateness wasn't the best welcome home anyway. I try again.
'It's lovely to have you home.' I direct the comment at Claudio, who politely hugs me back, although his apparent enthusiasm is somewhat undermined by the way he's looking over my shoulder for a better option.
I release him. 'You can go through.'
Claudio strides into the lounge and I'm left with Ben still on the doorstep. He nods at me, and steps inside. I watch him take his jacket off. He looks just the same. Hair still cropped short. Sideburns still there, probably because it's less face to shave, rather than to make a style statement. Eyes still dark chocolate brown, and, thankfully, not fully focused on me. Three months staying with Claudio in Naples doesn't seem to have affected him at all. You'd think he'd be tanned or have got fat on pizza and gelato. He could at least have had the good manners to get fat. I don't know why I thought he'd be any different. Every time I see him I peer for some sign of age or of the ravages of loss and broken dreams, or something, but he looks the same. I swallow. I probably ought to make conversation.
'Did you enjoy Venice?'
He frowns. 'We were in Naples.'
'Oh, were you?' I know he was.
We head through into the party. I can see Claudio standing with Henrietta by the window. Everyone else seems to be attacking the buffet like they've just come off hunger strike, rather than simply having been forced to stand staring at a table full of Marks and Spencer's party food for the last hour. Such is the lure of Marks and Spencer's party food - truly the highest form of food.
I'm about to join the throng when I feel a hand on my arm. I let Danny guide me into the kitchen.
'Look.' He holds out his phone. I read a text message off the screen:
R u still there? Might come if it's not too lame.
It's from John, Danny's on and off again boyfriend.
'Oh. I thought you'd ...' I don't have to finish the sentence. He knows I thought they'd split up. I thought they'd split up, because he told me they'd split up.
'Well, we did, but then ...' He waves an expansive hand in a way that signifies nothing in particular. I don't push the issue. Danny and I can say pretty much anything to each other. We've been friends since university, but all that seems to fade away where John's concerned.
I smile as brightly as I can manage.
'So it's OK if he comes round?'
'So long as it's not too lame for him.' My tone is light, but it's not hiding the edge in my voice.
'Oh, he didn't mean it like that.' There doesn't seem to be an obvious other way that he could mean 'lame' but I let Danny send his reply text while I open the fridge. I manage to dislodge a bottle of wine from the rammed-in alcohol options, and fill my glass.
I offer the bottle to Danny, who shakes his head. 'Find me something more interesting.'
I stick my head back into the fridge, and pull out a bottle of Pernod. I hold it up.
'Are you insane woman?' I laugh. 'Henri brought it.'
'What on God's sweet earth can have possessed her?' 'She kept saying the party had to be perfect.'
He takes the bottle off me and holds it between his fingertips. 'And offering people bottled evil to drink helps how precisely?'
I shrug. 'You know what she's like.'
That doesn't get a reply. It doesn't need one. We both work with Henri every day. She's like a very nervous tornado. Sometimes you just have to go along with it.
'Very well then.' He opens the bottle and starts pouring.
'I thought that was bottled evil.'
'It is.' He looks slightly offended. 'But that doesn't mean I won't drink it.'
'You know it's basically absinthe?'
Danny shrugs and tops his glass of evil up with lemonade and, worryingly, rosé wine – 'For colour,' he says – and we wander back into the party. The throng has moved away from the buffet now, and Danny heads straight into the busiest part of the room, people moving to let him through without him having to push.
I head towards the decimated buffet table and grab myself a spring roll, which I manage to stuff into my mouth sideways. Happily there's still a good selection of cake left, all provided for free by Henri's Dad, who runs a bakery. I lever a big piece of cheesecake on to my plate, and step away from the table. Well, I step slightly away from the table. I stay close enough to keep an eye out for people snaffling the rest of the good stuff.
My focus on the food has meant that I've let my guard down so far as the company I keep is concerned. I find myself standing between Henri's Dad and Ben. I opt for Henri's Dad. His actual name is Tony. Part of me feels that a thirty-year-old woman should be able to call their friend's parents by their actual names. I can't quite do it though, even in my head.
'So, do you think Henrietta's enjoying the party?'
He looks over towards Henri and Claudio in the middle of the group, and smiles.
'I would say so.'
He keeps watching her. It's weird watching him, watching her. I can't imagine what it must be like to raise a child right from a baby and then see that baby all grown up. Henri's mum had a brain haemorrhage when she was about three or four. I've only known them since Henri started at work, but I suspect that he's always let her have whatever she wants. If Henri wants cake for the party, Daddy will provide. I wonder if he sees her as an adult or still as that little girl who lost her mum.
'It must be strange seeing her all grown up.' For a moment I actually wonder if I said it out loud, but then I realise that it's Ben talking. Typical Ben, just wading into other people's private thoughts. I am mature though; I shall rise above it.
'I'm very proud of my little girl. She's done very well.'
I smile at him. 'She's a credit to you.'
He's nodding but he looks like he's welling up, which is not a good thing. Old people crying puts a dampener on any party.
'You know what else is a credit to you?' I pull him towards the buffet to lighten the mood. 'Your cakes.'
I turn to Ben for support on this issue, and find him staring up at the ceiling. I prod him hard in the ribs. 'Aren't the cakes great?'
He glances at the buffet. 'Yes. Lovely, I'm sure.'
The man who has an opinion on everything can't provide one when it's needed. Henri's Dad doesn't seem to mind though. 'Don't mind him. Men don't feel the same as women about cake.'
'Except you?' He nods. 'But I'm a rare and sensitive man. Don't get me wrong, pet; blokes'll eat cake but they don't have the love for it like girls do.'
'And I thought the way to a man's heart was through his stomach?' 'Oh it is, but you have to think savoury. Fry-ups, roast dinners, that sort of thing. Meat and potatoes.'
I smile at his clearly well-considered philosophy of love through food. 'So that's where I'm going wrong. My shepherd's pie isn't up to the job.'
I hear Ben snort behind me, but I ignore him, and talk to Henri's Dad. 'So did your cake win over the ladies?' 'Of course. It were the only reason Henrietta's mother married me. Bowled over by my éclairs.'
Ben must be sick of being ignored, because he takes the pause as an opportunity to interrupt. 'Well, cake is a better reason for choosing a partner than romance. At least there's some rationale behind it.'
Danny, John and Claudio come over as Ben is talking. Danny laughs. 'Ben's views on romance. Never heard this before. Please go on.'
He adopts a posture of faux academic appreciation and gestures to Ben to continue.
Ben tries to protest. 'I don't go on about it.'
Danny looks at him. 'Really?'
'Really.' Everyone waits. No one speaks. Ben gives up. 'It's just that, well, love is like an illness, isn't it? That's been proven. Romantic love is the serotonin equivalent of having the flu. Deciding the direction of your life based on love is like deciding the course of your time on earth based on the unpleasant after-effects of a bad curry.'
Another silence. Danny looks at him. 'Are you done?'
'No. Actually ...' Ben tails off under Danny's unsympathetic glare, and nods. 'OK. You know I'm right though.'
The group starts to split off again but I can't let it go. I have no idea why I can't. Henri says that if I can't say anything nice to Ben, I shouldn't say anything at all, and I try. I really try. My brain orders my mouth to shut, but it doesn't; it won't. I step towards Ben. 'You don't like love because you can't explain it.'
He glances at me. 'And you can?'
'No one can. And that's what you can't stand.'
'I don't see what's wrong with basing your judgements on things that you can understand.'
'But you can't understand everything. What about beauty and love and art and literature and ...'
'Literature? How does literature help you understand the world?'
He's exasperating. 'That's not what we're talking about.' I point out.
'It is now. Come on. How do hobbits and the fires of Mordor help you interpret the world around you?'
We're toe-to-toe now and I'm very aware that the rest of the conversation in the room is dying away. We are in danger of becoming the main event.
'Hobbits? Is that the only book you can think of?'
I can see that he's fighting back a smile as he shrugs slightly and nods.
'Well, The Lord of the Rings teaches that co-operation is preferable to fighting ...'
I take a breath to give thinking time. It doesn't help. 'And that it's important to look after your jewellery.'
'Important life lessons.'
I nod. I think I might be a little bit tipsy.
Ben tilts his head to one side. 'I thought you said we weren't talking about literature anyway.'
He's right. We weren't. What were we talking about though? I remember.
'We were talking about your inability to deal with love, because you can't explain it.' Yeah. That was it.
'I just think deciding who to spend your life with based on cake is far more sensible than basing it on chemicals misfiring in your brain.' I don't respond, which is a mistake, because he takes my silence as an invitation to continue. 'Anyway, when did you become a great fan of love and romance?'
This is more familiar ground. Dangerous, unstable ground, but more familiar. 'I can't be doing with men. They think they know it all.' I gesture around my living room. 'And they take up so much space.'
'Ok. Not a full grown man then. What about a boy?' He makes a great show of looking around for a boy under the table and behind the bookcase. 'Trix's secret toyboy, out you come!'
He looks silly. I'm not going to laugh. 'Boys are worse than men. They take too long to train.'
He calls off the search and moves to stand in front of me. 'Boys take too long to train? What about girls?'
The iPod has shuffled to a quieter track; the conversation around us has definitely lulled and I'm trapped in a conversation with this ridiculous, impossible man. He's had three months away for me to forget precisely how annoying he can be, and how unaware he is of personal space. He's close enough for me to hear his breathing. I force a smile from somewhere. 'Women are perfect already.'
Excerpted from "Sweet Nothing"
Copyright © 2015 Alison May.
Excerpted by permission of Choc Lit Limited.
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.
Table of Contents
21st Century Bard series,
Chapter One: A Beginning,
Chapter Two: One Year Later,
Chapter Seven: Ten Years Earlier,
Chapter Fourteen: Ten years earlier,
Chapter Twenty-Two: Five months earlier,
Chapter Twenty-Four: Nine Years Ago,
Chapter Twenty-Six: Thirteen Years Earlier,
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Sixteen years ago,
Chapter Forty-One: Four weeks later,
Chapter Forty-Six: Twenty years earlier,
Chapter Forty-Eight: Twelve years earlier,
Chapter Fifty-Four: Ten years earlier,
Epilogue: Three months later,
About the Author,
More Choc Lit,
Introducing Choc Lit,
Preview - Midsummer Dreams,