All my contemporary romances are set in the town of Framlington St. Mary, a fictional country market town in the far north of England. The stories are linked by place rather than characters but people from previous novels do appear or get mentioned so you might find spoilers if you read them out of sequence. Not a problem at the moment since only one is available!
Lizzie Braithwaite's Last Chance; available now from Amazon. Read the first chapter below.
Lizzie Braithwaite stretched and moved away from her easel. The light was still strong even though eight o’clock had passed. Summer in the highlands brought endless days and an extended twilight, it was easy to forget how long she had been working. The light had been wonderful today and she had got a fair bit done. Cleaning her brushes over the small sink Lizzie thought again about the possibility of an exhibition. The Hethrington was a very small gallery in Framlington St. Mary but from there the paintings could go on to a gallery in Edinburgh. She didn’t want to think about Framlington, not yet and anyway, she still hadn’t agreed to the exhibition.
Stepping out into the light evening, Lizzie strolled across the yard to the farmhouse where she hoped the kettle would be on. Meggy would be expecting her so there might be cake as well. Meggy and her husband Findlay were trying to get a holiday business off the ground as well as scraping a living from the farm but at the moment there were no guests. Lizzie rented their tiniest barn as a studio and the flat above it which provided a small but comfortable home to her at a reasonable price.
Meggy looked up from a pile of papers heaped in front of her on the big kitchen table as Lizzie stepped into the room.
“Bloody red tape.” She swore vehemently. “Anyone would think they wanted us to go out of business.”
She pushed the kettle across to the hotplate of the Aga while Lizzie looked at her own post.
“That looks an interesting one,” said Meggy as Lizzie tore open a thick creamy envelope, “almost certainly an invitation.”
She busied herself with mugs and tea while Lizzie sat and read the card and letter. Letting out a sound between a groan and a growl Lizzie hurled the papers onto the table.
“No. What is it?” Meggy hurried to the table and snatched up the card from where Lizzie had thrown it, her corksrew curls bobbing over her shoulders as she bent to retrieve it.
“It’s an invitation to my sixth form reunion.” said Lizzie.
“Blimey,” said Meggy, “they must be keen to find you if it came up here.”
“Aunt Grace has sent it on,” Lizzie replied, “and before you say anything I’m not going.”
“Oh. Okay,” said Meggy. “Here, I made you a sandwich since I’m pretty sure you didn’t have any lunch.”
“Thanks,” said Lizzie “I’m starving.” she looked at her friends’ calm expression, her innocent clear blue eyes.
“So have you decided about the exhibition yet?” Meggy asked
“Not yet” Lizzie replied. “I still have a few days.”
“Well I think you’d be mad not to,” said Meggy. “It might mean you could spend less time painting dogs and more time painting those fantastic angels and anything else you wanted to do. I know the dogs are a living but really Lizzie, you’re an artist and you’re really good. You need to let your spirit soar.”
Lizzie chewed her sandwich slowly waiting for what she knew was coming next. She and Meggy had met at University where she was studying Fine Art and Meggy Textiles. They had fallen into best friendship during freshers week and had remained so ever since. Lizzie made a small living painting pets and sometimes houses, largely from photographs, but whenever she could she worked on her own stuff. At the moment, a series of energy paintings of angels.
“Of course, if you went to this reunion you could go and see the gallery in Framlington, kill two birds with one stone as they say.”
Lizzie sighed deeply. “Meggy please don’t give me the “you’ve got to get out more” speech again. I’ve told you, I’m perfectly happy here and I have no intention of having any more relationships. I’ve learned my lesson there.”
“But Lizzie, not all men are abusive and unfaithful. I know you had a horrible time with Kev but it’s been five years and you’re still only thirty four. You can’t retire from life completely and anyway you didn’t meet Kev at school. You could go to your sixth form reunion, find the sexy naughty…
“Just stop right there.” Lizzie held the palm of her hand towards her friends face. “I know that you and Fin are blissfully happy and you want everyone else to feel the same way but I can assure you there is no-one from my school days I would want to live happily ever after with.”
“What?” said Meggy incredulously “you didn’t have a crush on anyone?”
She lengthened the last word as though it was an entirely impossible idea.
“I didn’t say that,” said Lizzie” but it was seventeen years ago and nobody, including me is the same as they were then.”
Meggy held up the card again looking puzzled. “Seventeen years. That’s a strange gap for a reunion isn’t it. You would think it would be fifteen or twenty.”
Lizzie snatched the invitation from her friends hand, tore it in half and threw it into the bin.
“Read my lips. I am not going and that’s the end of it.”
“Okay.” said Meggy again. “What was he like then?”
“Who?” now Lizzie was puzzled.
“The bad boy crush?”
Lizzie laughed. “What makes you think he was a bad boy?”
“Oh they always are.” said Meggy airily. “Leather jacket, motorbike, the sort of reputation that would make Aunt Graces hair curl.”
“Aunt Grace already has curls.” Said Lizzie dryly, “and you clearly know nothing about my school.”
“So tell me.”
“It was, still is in fact, a posh, fee paying independent school that had entrance tests and a code of conduct and attracted wealthy parents who expected their little darlings to do well and go to Oxbridge, not tear around the county on motorbikes.”
“Oh.” Meggy was clearly disappointed. “Do you know I never knew you went to boarding school even though I’ve known you all these years.”
“I only boarded for three years. I was a day girl before that.” After my parents died was the unspoken part. After Aunt Grace took me but didn’t want me.
“What was he like then? A bespectacled would be scientist who walked everywhere or occasionally rather daringly rode a bike?”
Lizzie burst out laughing. She tried to picture Daniel Frobisher like this but it was impossible.
“No,” she said, “he was the school golden boy. He was handsome, athletic, clever and what Aunt Grace referred to as “rather fast”.”
“Ooh,” said Meggy, “he sounds like Rupert Campbell Black.”
“Not quite,” said Lizzie “but he did go through girls at quite a rate and he had his pick. I don’t think anyone ever said no to him. He did also nearly get expelled a couple of times for various pranks while drunk but his parents always managed to smooth things over with a set of equipment for the cricket team or part of a science wing or something. He got a Porsche for his eighteenth birthday.”
“Gosh, they must have been rich. He sounds perfect for an affaire.”
Lizzie almost spat her tea. “Woman what are you drinking?”
“Well you could go to your reunion, have a torrid affair with him and not die wondering.”
Lizzie raised an eyebrow and swallowed another mouthful of tea.
“In course you’re forgetting Miss Matchmaker, I lived with Kev for six years and he was my second lover. I’m hardly going to die wondering.”
“I bet you’ve wondered what RCB would be like though.”
“Well, maybe in the past, “Lizzie mused, “but I haven’t thought about him for years. I’ve only thought about him now because you’ve brow beaten me into it.”
“Then I’ve done you a favour. You’re in danger of becoming an old lady with twenty cats and only the turps fumes for pleasure.”
“I don’t mind. I’m happy single and I really don’t know why you’re so concerned about it.”
“I’m concerned because you’re denying yourself something fundamental to life.”
“And love. Waking up from a bad dream and feeling the warmth of someone there with you. Companionship through troublesome times.” Meggy frowned “and wonderful times. Babies for goodness sake.”
“Babies! I don’t see you and Fin in any hurry to reproduce.”
“No, not yet,” said Meggy more serious now, “but we will or at least we hope so. What will you be then? Godmother and live in babysitter? I think you’ve cut yourself off for too long. You’re even thinking of saying no to the exhibition and that’s crazy.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Lizzie shifted uncomfortably “I probably should say yes to that. It’s just fear of being found not good enough.”
“Oh love,” Meggys hand covered hers, “you are most definitely good enough. You were easily the best in our year. So, go and check out the gallery and while you’re there…”
“He’s probably married.” Said Lizzie
“Hah, not him. If he has been he’ll be divorced now.”
“And have a supermodel dangling from his arm.”
“Nah, we’d have seen him in Tatler.” They both laughed at that. “Tell me what he looked like,” said Meggy, “My imagination is running away with me.”
“Tall,” said Lizzie remembering, “somewhere over six feet. Broad shoulders, athletic build.”
“Bald, eyeless.” Said Meggy.
Lizzie pushed her, “He had wheat blond hair and cornflower blue eyes and he always seemed to have a tan.”
Meggy looked incredulous, “Did you just make that up?”
“No,” said Lizzie, “except maybe the tan. I remember him as bronzey but that might be a trick of the mind. He was very attractive and he knew it.”
“So what happened to him?”
“Dunno. Went to Oxford I think. I wasn’t exactly part of his circle. He was a year older, in the upper sixth when I was lower.”
“And he was your one true love,” said Meggy in a mock breathy voice.
“Yeah right. Me and thirty others.”
Claire Bishop, she remembered. She had been the one he slung his arm around after he helped her to the nurse. She hadn’t been too pleased to trail down a corridor after her boyfriend and a nobody who had been hit by a bag coming over a wall.
“I don’t suppose he remembers me so it really doesn’t make any difference. I didn’t have boyfriends at school, I was too swotty and they thought I was mad because I didn’t dress in the latest fashions although the hippy look was still a bit fashionable then. I always had paint or charcoal on my hands. He was totally unobtainable so I suppose I sort of fixed on him. He was gorgeous though.” She sighed “He probably is bald now.”
“And no doubt toothless and bent to boot! Don’t be daft he’ll only be thirty five, he’s probably still quite fit.”
“He might not go to the reunion.”
“Aha so you are considering it?”
“No,” said Lizzie, “I am definitely not going.”