What happens after your dreams come true?
Patisserie-Chef Stevie is stuck in a rut. Her beloved Great Aunt Peggy has passed away and she’s lost both her job and the love of her life. Then she gets the call from the solicitor's office about Peggy’s will, and everything changes.
When Stevie sees a quirky tea shop up for sale in the beautiful village of Tanglewood, she decides to take Peggy’s advice and turn her life around.
But the village isn't as idyllic as it may at first have seemed, and when the gorgeous but grouchy local stable-owner, Nick, shows up he seems like just another fly in the pastry batter…
This laugh-out-loud romantic comedy is perfect for fans of Daisy James and Holly Martin.
About the Author
Lilac Mills writes feel-good romantic women's fiction, and is the author of Love in the City by the Sea, A Very Lucky Christmas, Summer on the Turquoise Coast, and Sunshine at Cherry Tree Farm. Lilac spends all her time writing, or reading, or thinking about writing or reading, often to the detriment of her day job, her family, and the housework! Home for Lilac is Worcester, England.
Read an Excerpt
Stevie didn't do black. It didn't suit her. She was far more comfortable in white – chef's whites to be exact – but she could hardly have worn those to a funeral, could she? Although she suspected Great Aunt Peg would have seen the funny side if Stevie had worn them.
Tears threatened, and she tried to push them away as Peg's last words drifted into her head.
'Don't be sad, my dear,' Peggy had said. 'I'm ready to go. I've had a long life and a good one. Life is for living and for dying, Stevie – you don't get one without the other.'
'Shh,' Stevie replied. 'You're not going to die, I won't let you.'
Her aunt had wheezed out a feeble laugh. 'You're not going to get any choice in it, my lovely. Now, don't mope and do me a favour?'
Stevie, with tears streaming down her face, said, 'Anything.'
'You only get one chance at it, so live it your way, otherwise I'll come back and haunt you.'
After that, Peg seemed to sink into herself and slowly faded away.
'How could I not be sad?' Stevie wondered, for the twentieth time since that awful night. Peg had been like a grandmother to her, much more than her own had ever been. It was a pity her mother didn't see it the same way though, she thought, stealing a glance out of the corner of her eye at the woman standing next to her. No one could accuse her mother of being sad, more like bored if she were honest. Hazel regarded Peggy's funeral as a duty, nothing more, something which had to be got through and then moved on from.
For a moment, she quite disliked her mother. And right now, she wasn't too keen on her sister, either. None of her relatives wanted to be here (not that anyone ever actually wanted to be at a funeral) but those two, in particular, hadn't felt any real need to pay their respects, and she suspected they were only doing so for the sake of appearances. After all, neither of them had bothered with Aunt Peg while she was alive, so why Stevie expected them to behave any differently now the old lady was dead, was beyond her.
Karen leaned into her side and Stevie gave her a watery smile. At least her friend had cared for Peg, and she hadn't even been related to the old lady.
Karen whispered, 'It's a beautiful service. You've done your Aunt Peg proud.'
This time a tear did fall. She had done her aunt proud, hadn't she? The nursing home where Peg had lived for the final six months of her life had recommended holding the service at the chapel next door to them. Stevie had wondered more than once if the care home had been built next to the chapel for the express purpose of providing the reverend with a steady stream of clients. But Stevie had chosen the little church near her aunt's old house. The old building tended to get lost among the blocks of flats and offices, but she knew Peggy used to go there once in a while, and always at Christmas. Besides, there were still one or two people who remembered the old lady and had wanted to attend her funeral without having to trek halfway across London to do so.
All her mother had done was to gripe about the cost of the funeral cars, which Stevie found hard to understand – they weren't exactly being charged by the mile, and Hazel wasn't paying for them out of her own pocket. Peg had left enough money to cover the cost of her funeral. Her mother was at least being consistent, Stevie conceded, because she had grizzled about the cost of everything, especially the flowers. Even now, Stevie swore her mother was giving the simple, yet effective withering look. But Stevie had been adamant – Peggy had loved flowers, and so she was determined not to skimp. It was the only thing she could do for her aunt, except for scattering her ashes. But she didn't want to think about that right now ...
'Here.' Her mother thrust a hankie into her hand. 'Try to stop snivelling.'
Stevie took it with a scowl, and Karen slipped her arm around Stevie's shoulders as the service drew to a close and the final hymn was sung. Lord, but Stevie was going to miss the curmudgeonly old lady dreadfully. What else was she going to do on a Saturday morning? Ever since Peg had been forced to live in the nursing home due to her increasingly poor health and frailty, Stevie had visited on Saturdays. She always took the old lady a treat or two, and renewed her library book (she only had one out at a time, because with her eyesight failing Peg had been forced to rely on others to read to her), and Stevie had always given her a bunch of flowers.
'At least I don't have her house to worry about,' Stevie thought. It had been bad enough having to sort out the few possessions which Peg had taken with her to the nursing home. To be fair to the old woman, when Peg understood she could no longer care for herself (Stevie had offered to move in with her, but Peggy was adamant she didn't want Stevie nursing her), she had sorted out her own affairs with remarkable efficiency.
It was one of the things Stevie had loved about Peggy – her independence. If the old woman could do it herself, then she did. 'I don't want to be a burden,' was her favourite expression, and it used to exasperate Stevie no end. As if Aunt Peg could ever be a burden!
It was just a pity the rest of her family hadn't viewed Peg in the same way. Neither her mother nor her sister seemed to have had any time for the old woman. Admittedly, her mother used to invite her round for lunch at Christmas and Easter, but that was about it – token gestures, nothing more. And since Peggy had moved to the nursing home, her mother had only visited once and Fern hadn't visited at all as far as Stevie was aware. In fact, her sister seemed to have completely forgotten their great-aunt existed.
There – it was over. Stevie had been dreading this day ever since the nursing manager had called to say Aunt Peg was slipping away and if she wanted to say goodbye she needed to get there quickly. And Stevie had been glad to have been there at the end, holding her aunt's hand and telling her she loved her as the old woman took her last breath.
The only regret she had, was that she hadn't been able to do more. What with working the unreasonable hours chefs were expected to put in, and the restaurant being on the other side of London, it had been hard to get to see Peg more often than each Saturday.
At least Peggy knew how much Stevie loved her, and she took comfort from that.CHAPTER 2
'How much?' It came out as a strangled yell as Stevie spluttered tea down her chin. She dropped the cup back into its saucer with a loud clatter. 'You can't be serious!' Her eyes widened in shock. 'Can you?'
The rather elderly gentleman staring at her over his equally elderly desk nodded once, his eyes twinkling. Was it because he was having her on, or because he enjoyed imparting good news? She desperately hoped it was the latter. Please let it be true!
'You're sure you've got the name right? Peggy Langtree?' Stevie asked.
'But she didn't have any money – only enough to bury her. She used to keep her "funeral funds", as she called them, in a vase on the windowsill.' Stevie smiled fondly.
'She clearly had more than you thought,' the solicitor pointed out, dryly.
'What about Mum and Fern? Don't tell me she left the same amount to them, too?' Stevie gulped at the thought. 'She must have been loaded.'
Mr Gantly shuffled forward in his chair and steepled his hands together, elbows on his desk, a faint whiff of mothballs emanating from his direction.
'No,' he said solemnly, after a dignified silence.
Stevie waited for him to elaborate, but he made no move to speak again.
After tapping her fingers on the desk and swinging her crossed leg, she asked, 'No, she didn't leave the same amount to Mum and Fern, or no she wasn't loaded?'
'The first option. She left differing amounts to your mother and your sister.'
'Oh, I see,' Stevie thought, still in shock, but thankful Aunt Peg had left them something, too. Whoever would have thought the old lady was worth so much?
The solicitor cleared his throat and the loose skin on his neck draped even further down over his knotted tie. Just how old was he? He reminded Stevie of a tortoise she'd had as a child. The reptile's extendable neck had been an endless source of interest as she poked at his head each time the wizened creature had risked emerging from his shell, only for him to pull it in again with as much speed as he could muster. Her mother had told her that Ralph, as Stevie had oddly called him, had run away. Crawled slowly was more like it, Stevie had thought at the time, but she got the picture. She didn't blame him. She'd have crawled away too, if she'd been in his shoes. Or shell.
A semi-hysterical giggle bubbled to the surface. She pushed it back down, resisting the urge to poke Mr Gantly on the nose to see what his head would do. She had visions of him retracting it down inside his shirt collar and popping it back out again.
Aware her mind was wandering (it must be the shock) she wrenched her attention back to the ancient solicitor, to find him patiently waiting, his chin still resting on the tips of his fingers, a faint smile on his face. She flushed, staring at him like a naughty schoolgirl facing the headmaster; a feeling she had once known very well indeed. The silence continued for a while until she realised he was waiting for her to ask a question. Not any old question – the question.
Stevie asked it. 'How much did she leave Mum and Fern?'
The solicitor shook his head sadly. 'Not nearly as much as you. One thousand pounds. Each.'
'Bloody hell!' Stevie's hand flew to her mouth. 'Er, sorry,' she added, wondering how soon her family would demand their share of her not-inconsiderable booty. She hadn't meant to swear, but he had said "each" as if it would make things any better. Her mother and sister would go ballistic. She'd have to split her inheritance precisely three ways else she'd never hear the end of it. Damn and blast. Not that she was greedy or anything, but in the current circumstances she could do with the money.
'It's so much to take in,' she said, trying to excuse her bad manners.
'No doubt,' Mr Gantly agreed calmly, picking up his glasses and wiggling the arms behind his large hairy ears. He flicked a page or two.
'Let me reiterate, in the interest of clarity,' he said. 'Peggy Langtree left you two hundred and sixty-three thousand and twenty-one pounds, and fifty-seven pence. Give or take,' he added. 'Mrs Taylor and Mrs Chalk were both left one thousand pounds. And if you try to give any of your inheritance to Mrs Taylor or to Mrs Chalk, then the cats' home gets it,' the solicitor added succinctly.
'But, but ... there'll be hell to pay,' Stevie wailed. 'Why did Aunt Peggy do this to Mum and Fern?'
Mr Gantly reached across the desk and patted her hand. 'I'm not privy to the late Peggy Langtree's reasons, but perhaps she thought you deserve it more than they do. Or maybe she thought you might benefit from it more.'
'She's not wrong,' Stevie said. 'I've just lost my job.'
'I'm so sorry. Your inheritance has come at an auspicious time, then,' Mr Gantly said.
'I was knocked down by a London double-decker bus. A red one.'
The old man's lips twitched.
'Yeah, yeah, I've heard all the jokes about getting run over by a bus,' Stevie said.
'Were you hurt?'
'I broke my leg.'
'That was lucky.'
'Lucky? Huh! I don't call being run over "lucky". There was nothing "lucky" about it.' Stevie knew she was ranting but couldn't seem to stop herself. It must be the shock still.
'I mean, it could have been much worse,' Mr Gantly added. He looked at his watch.
'No, it couldn't! I lost my job.' Her eyes filled with tears and she scrabbled around in her enormous handbag for a tissue, her fingers grasping a roll of toilet paper in lieu of a packet of the proper stuff. It would have to do.
Mr Gantly frowned when she broke a length off, and silently held out the box of tissues sitting on his desk. She took a couple – softer on the nose than loo roll. Although, with over two hundred and fifty thousand pounds in the bank, she could now afford to treat herself to a box or two of tissues.
She blew her nose. 'Corky said he had to let me go.'
'Corky Middleton. You must have heard of him?'
Mr Gantly shook his head. The soft folds of flesh under his chin wobbled and shook.
'Corky Middleton, owns The Melon, always on the telly?' Stevie persisted, ignoring the solicitor's second, more obvious look at the time.
'I'm afraid not,' he said, rising creakily from his chair. With considerable effort, he got to his feet, wobbling unsteadily for a few seconds.
'It's only the most famous Michelin star restaurant in London,' she said, twisting in her seat to watch the old man walk to the door. 'When I landed the job, I was stupid enough to think I'd finally got it made. Oh, that must have made the gods laugh,' she added bitterly. 'I'm a pastry chef and a damned good one too, but bloody Corky sacked me just because I broke my leg!' Stevie made no move to leave.
'I'm sorry, but I have another appointment.' The solicitor opened the door, then tutted. 'Forgive me, but I nearly forgot.' He trundled back to his desk and rifled through the various items lying on it, peeking under envelopes and lifting up flyers advertising pizza delivery. Stevie wasn't sure whether it was his skin making the dry, rustling noise or the assorted papers.
'I really miss her,' Stevie said, blowing her nose again on the now-sodden clump of tissues. 'I'm sorry, I don't mean to cry, but I just can't help it. It creeps up on you, you know?' She paused, screwing up her nose, and peered at him over the tissue. 'Are you sure she left it to me?'
'Quite sure. Here.' He found what he was looking for and handed it to her.
She stared at the pristine cream envelope in her palm. 'Is this her last will and testament?' she asked, baffled. Surely he needed to hold on to that?
'It's a letter from your aunt.'
'Ah. Of course. It would be.' Stevie was unsurprised. 'Did she write it before or after she died?' For a minute there, Stevie had the insane thought her aunt might have kept her threat to haunt her.
Mr Gantly raised his tufty eyebrows.
'Sorry,' Stevie muttered, coming to her senses. 'Thank you for your help.'
'I'll have the documents ready for you to sign in a few days and we can transfer the money to your account,' he said.
All at once the solicitor was pure business and Stevie was dismissed. Clutching the letter to her chest she got to her feet, but before she left, she turned back to look at the elderly man in his dusty old office and hesitated.
'Yes,' he confirmed, knowing what she was about to ask. 'Two hundred and sixty-three thousand and twenty-one pounds, and fifty-seven pence. Enjoy.'CHAPTER 3
My dear Stevie, the letter began. I'm dead.
'I know,' Stevie thought sadly. 'I went to your funeral.'
You're getting nearly all my money.
'I know that, too. The solicitor told me, but what he didn't say was why,' she mused.
You're wondering why.
'Got it in one, Aunt Peg. You always were a canny old lady.' Stevie smiled, recalling her favourite image of her – long white hair, purple lace-up boots, bright pink denim jacket (where on earth had she managed to get that from?) and pushing a supermarket trolley with a stuffed cat in the child's seat. Bless her, but she had been rather eccentric. Or mad, depending on one's point of view.
It's because you deserve it, and you need it, too. Now, I know what you're thinking, that money won't make you happy, but at least it might just make things easier for you. All I ask is that you spend it wisely and don't fritter it away on baubles and geegaws.
'Geegaws? What the hell are geegaws? And who said money can't make you happy? People with loads of it, that's who.'
Do something with it you would never have the chance to do otherwise.
'Yeah, like backpacking around Australia, or spending three months in the Caribbean, or buying a BMW convertible, or ...' the possibilities were endless. For the first time since the funeral, excitement rolled in her stomach, sending little flutters up through her chest.
Oi! I know exactly what is going through your mind and I call that sort of thing frittering. You'll have nothing to show for the money once you've spent it.
Stevie looked up from the letter with a sigh. 'Riiiight ...' as if a whole load of drunken memories, a new car, a great tan and a designer wardrobe were nothing. 'Hey, perhaps Steve will be interested in me again,' she thought, now she didn't have a reason to be miserable anymore. Steve and Stevie – she'd always thought they'd sounded like a drag act.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Tanglewood Tea Shop"
Copyright © 2019 Lilac Mills.
Excerpted by permission of Canelo Digital Publishing.
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