As the snow flutters down in the little village of Linnetford, escape to a cosy farmhouse kitchen, scented with the rich aromas of fruitcake and gingerbread, where a love of baking is about to unite two lonely hearts… Cathy cooked at her mother’s side her whole life and could bake a fairy cake before she could ride a bike. Now she is facing her first Christmas without her beloved mother, she’s determined to use her memories for something positive. She decides to organise a weekly cooking class, sharing her mother’s precious recipes with other lonely souls. There’s just one small spanner in the works: teenager Tansy, who attends Cathy’s classes even though she’s rude to everyone there and seems to hate every minute. Cathy is poised to ask Tansy to leave, but her uncle, physiotherapist Mat t, begs her to give the teenager another chance. And Cathy can’t resist Matt’s sparkling hazel eyes and incredibly kind heart… But just as Cathy is feeling she might find joy again, her ex returns to Linnetford, desperate for a second chance. With Matt becoming distant as his life gets more complicated, it seems so easy to return to the safe embrace of someone she knows so well. Can Cathy avoid the temptation of falling back in love with the man who broke her heart and let Christmas bring her the greatest gift – that of happiness? Filled to the brim with sweet Christmas treats, Cathy’s Christmas Kitchen is the perfect book to enjoy curled up by the fire. An emotional feel-good read packed with heart and hope. What everyone’s saying about Cathy’s Christmas Kitchen: ‘I’ve yet to find a book by this author which doesn’t warm my heart and leave me with a big soppy smile!!... was delightful… had me completely hooked and, once started, I couldn’t put the book down!... plenty of laughs… storyline was perfect, holding my attention and mesmerising me with Cathy’s story. A fabulous festive read, which I would definitely recommend!’ Stardust Book Reviews, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ One of my first Christmas reads of 2020 and I just adored this book… This is such a delightful read with great characters. It kept me wanting to turn the pages and I loved all the baking. A perfect Christmas read.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘What a wonderfully charming holiday themed book… fills you with Christmas cheer and warms your heart. The story really tugs on your heartstrings and has you feeling as warm and gooey as one of Cathy's baked treats. I enjoyed how the book was filled with love, compassion, friendship and, especially, the spirit of Christmas. A beautiful holiday read…’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘A fabulous real Christmas book full of fun Christmas thoughts and baking can highly recommend.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'What a treat! Perfect cozy little read-right up my alley! I was a huge fan and will definitely be reading more from this author!’ Goodreads Revivewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘A nice feel good love story… I enjoyed it. Perfect for a curl up read on a cold weekend’ NetGalley Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ This is a really cosy read and the story felt very fresh. … I really enjoyed the varied characters and the gentle storyline, the teenage character Tansy added a great depth to the story and a little good for thought.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘Such a delightful read for the holidays, with everything going on in the world. Cathy Christmas kitchen it a hear warming feel good book. I highly recommend this book 5 star read…’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘This is such a good read, full of joy, the smell of cakes, friendships and possibly a little love? A delight to devour in a few short hours.’ Goodreads Reviewer
Release date: October 1, 2020
Print pages: 345
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
Cathy's Christmas Kitchen
Flour, eggs, butter, baking powder… all the usual ingredients, but Cathy knew there was a secret ingredient – if she could just remember what it was. But the days of her mother writing it down were long gone, along with the days when Cathy could have watched more carefully and made notes. There were other recipes, of course – there were books and books, recipes all over the internet – but they wouldn’t be the same. They wouldn’t be her mother’s recipe.
With a heavy sigh she went over to the kitchen table and sat down. Her eyes were drawn to the window, where the November sun streamed in and lit the room with the sort of clean, fresh daylight that came only with the brightest and coldest of winter days. The tiny kitchen of her even tinier cottage was a little dated and in need of redecorating, but it was as welcoming as any, and right now it was warm and cosy, while outside a hard frost glinted on the ground.
The cottage stood on the outskirts of the northern town of Linnetford, a small path through a rose garden leading to its wisteria-garlanded front door, and had once been the dwelling of the tollkeeper in the days when travellers had to pay to use that stretch of road. The road that ran alongside was now covered in tarmac rather than cobbles, and it was far quieter these days as most people travelled through Linnetford and the surrounding Staffordshire countryside on the motorway or ring roads. In fact, it wasn’t often the road outside Tollkeep Cottage was troubled by much traffic at all, and it was certainly never troubled by the tailbacks that plagued the nearby A road.
Cathy had been for a brisk walk early that morning, soaking up the views, marvelling at how much prettier their grimy old canal path looked with an azure sky above it. And every so often she’d almost make some comment along those lines to her mum, but then she’d remember that her mum wasn’t there and the loneliness would threaten to overwhelm her again. But of course it was silly anyway because her mum’s wheelchair wouldn’t have made it along the towpath – they hadn’t been walking that way for years, not since her mum had been confined to that chair. Still, she would have liked it.
She turned back to the ingredients lined up on the worktop.
‘Nutmeg!’ she said with a sudden smile. ‘See, Mum, I worked it out after all.’
But then her smile turned into a vague frown. She was talking to her mum as if she was here again and that really had to stop. Spending her days talking to an empty house wasn’t good for her. She needed to get out, make new friends, find new things to do with her time now that her duties as a carer were over – but what? She’d spent so long caring for her mum she hardly remembered what sort of things she’d liked doing before.
There was cooking, of course. They’d both liked cooking. They especially liked baking and had often baked together, right from when Cathy had been a little girl barely old enough to reach the tabletop. She’d stood on a chair, tongue poking from the corner of her mouth as she mixed the batter, her mum hovering close, soft brown eyes the exact same shade as Cathy’s own watching every tiny wobble, ready to catch her if she fell. Cathy’s arms would ache and the batter would be lumpy but her mum would put it into the oven for her anyway and they’d eat the cake together and Cathy’s mum would pretend it was delicious. And then, one day, Cathy’s practice paid off and what she made started to become delicious for real.
She pushed herself up off the chair and returned to the worktop, reaching into a high cupboard to look for the nutmeg. ‘Come on, Cathy – snap out of this!’ she admonished herself. She knew her mum wouldn’t want her moping around forever.
And the truth was, Cathy was sick of moping, even though she didn’t know how to stop. It had been three months since her mother’s death but it had been no shock, and she’d had plenty of time to prepare herself. Even so, it had still caught her off-guard, still left her with a hole that she didn’t know how to fill. She’d got herself a little job now on the flower stall of a local market, but it was only for a few hours a week and it still left her alone a lot.
Relatives and acquaintances had all offered advice on how she could fill her time, ranging from joining a gym to putting herself on Tinder, but none of it had particularly appealed, and some of it had sounded downright horrifying. As for friends, she didn’t have many of those – tending to her mum’s every need hadn’t left a lot of time for socialising over the last few years. At thirty-eight she was almost beginning to feel too old to be starting again like this, rebuilding a social life and forging new friendships at a time when most women her age would have had all that firmly established. And as for hobbies, she wasn’t much good at anything really.
She weighed out the flour and tipped it into the same stoneware mixing bowl her mother had used for all the years Cathy had lived in that house with her. That mixing bowl was older than Cathy herself and she certainly had no idea where it had come from. Her mother had always said it made the best cakes and Cathy was inclined to agree. Then she measured out the baking powder and the butter and counted out the eggs before putting the oven on to heat.
That was when she heard the letterbox clatter the arrival of the post and went to look. She was still getting letters to do with her mother’s estate, not to mention various other official documents that she had to deal with, so she’d found it was better to go through the post as soon as it arrived in case she needed to make any lengthy phone calls before office hours were over for the day. She’d had to do all that alone too, and at times the sheer volume of official things she’d needed to sort had felt utterly overwhelming. She’d found she could cope slightly more easily if she didn’t let it build up.
Picking up the little bundle, she took it back to the kitchen and sat at the table for a moment while she opened everything. It was all fairly routine and boring – nothing to worry about today. But right at the bottom of the pile was a leaflet from a cancer charity advertising a coffee morning at St Cuthbert’s – the local church – and asking for attendees, as well as donations of cake and hot drinks.
St Cuthbert’s… it was funny. Cathy had fond, if rather vague, memories of that old church. She hadn’t been there for years, but before his death, her dad had been a regular. He’d even persuaded Cathy’s mum to go to the odd service too, which had been some feat because, as she’d got older, Cathy had come to realise that religion was one thing her mum was no great fan of. After the death of her father, neither Cathy nor her mum had ever set foot in there again, but Cathy still had those flashes of memory – of holding her dad’s hand as they filed in, the tuneless singing of hymns, the feeling of the smooth cold wood of the pews as they took their seats, and the smiles of old ladies after the service as they patted her on the head and told her dad what a pretty little thing she was.
Those memories gave her a melancholy smile now, as they always did, though she thought less and less of them the older she got. Nowadays, she wondered whether half of what she remembered was even true at all. She’d been five years old when he’d died and so five years old the last time she’d been to that church service, and memories that old couldn’t always be reliable.
Cathy read the leaflet carefully, glanced back at her mixing bowl and then put it down again. She wouldn’t know anyone and it would be terribly awkward. What if everyone there already knew each other? What if nobody talked to her? What if she spent the whole time sitting alone and watching everyone else chat? It would be horrible and certainly wouldn’t do much to make her feel better.
But then, what if the people there were lovely? What if, by going, she helped someone, even if it was only in a small way? Wasn’t helping the one thing she did really well? She’d cared for her mum for all those years, after all, and if she didn’t know how to do anything else, she at least knew how to do that. Wouldn’t that give her the sense of worth she was so sorely missing now that her mum – her reason to get up in the morning – was gone? Wasn’t it worth the risk? Surely the people who went to the coffee morning couldn’t be that dismissive and uncaring that they’d sit by and see her there alone without coming to talk to her? They must be nice people if they were there for charity, surely?
She glanced at her mixing bowl once again and smiled slowly. She’d cared for her mum and she’d done a decent-enough job, but maybe that wasn’t the only thing she was good at. She didn’t have fancy qualifications, but everyone had always said she sure could bake.
‘Not that I’d ever want you to leave me, of course…’ Fleur dumped a large vase of carnations onto the display stand currently positioned at the entrance of her market stall, French for Flowers. She’d called it French for Flowers because her name was Fleur, and someone had once pointed out the irony that she ran a florist. Before that it had been called Moody Blooms but then someone in the next town had decided to call their florist Moody Blooms and, on a whim, Fleur had decided to change hers. That was a long time before Cathy had started working for her. ‘But you could do a lot worse than set up your own stall in here,’ she continued. ‘There’ll be one coming up when Ernest retires and closes his key-cutting business.’
Wiping her hands on her apron, she turned to face Cathy.
‘I couldn’t do that.’ Cathy glanced around with more than a touch of anxiety in her expression – even though it was unlikely anyone would be listening in on their conversation. The other stallholders were busy setting up for the day themselves or chatting to staff and early customers; they certainly didn’t have time to stop and strain to hear what Fleur and Cathy were talking about. She lowered her voice anyway. ‘I’d be in competition with the cake stall that’s already here.’
Fleur hauled another vase filled with pink roses to the display. ‘So?’
‘They’d hate me.’
‘I reckon there’d be room for the two of you. Anyway, if their cakes are as good as yours then they’d have no reason to hate you. Half the time they sell out before the end of the day so I think there’s trade enough to go round.’
Fleur sniffed hard. It was always cold in Linnetford’s old stone market building, even during the summer, and Fleur’s nose was always running. There had been a brief but doomed campaign by a few stallholders to move the market into a newer and more comfortable location, but most of the townsfolk were so fond of the old place – which had been a commerce centre during the Industrial Revolution, where goods were bought and sold by the gentlemen of ‘new money’ and the town made its wealth – that the bid was quickly snuffed out. And so Linnetford kept its draughty old market building, complete with vast glass roof panels, scrolled iron joists where pigeons nested and constantly plagued the caretaker, and wheat-coloured stone walls. The few who had complained were invited to leave and find themselves shop premises if they didn’t like it.
‘Last thing they’ve usually only got the factory-made ones they buy in left over; nobody wants them like they want the fresh ones.’
‘I couldn’t bake enough in my little kitchen to last all day on a stall either.’
‘Maybe you could if you got help. Or even hire a kitchen space… I mean, I don’t know how you’d do that but you could look into it.’
Cathy shook her head. ‘Even if I wanted to, I don’t know the first thing about running a market stall. And I like working with you anyway.’ She paused, a worried expression casting a sudden shadow over her face. ‘Unless you don’t want me to work here anymore?’
Fleur started to laugh. ‘Of course I do, you daft lump! I was just saying people would queue round the block to buy your cakes!’
‘I don’t know about that…’
‘Trust me – they would.’
Cathy shrugged, though she was blushing from the compliment. ‘I like baking for friends, when there’s no pressure. If I baked to make a living I’d get so stressed about it, I’d end up cocking every recipe up and making everything taste horrible.’
Fleur poked a finger between her dark braids and gave her head a lazy scratch as she studied Cathy for a moment. And then she seemed to shake herself and shrugged. ‘You’d know that better than anyone else.’
Cathy wasn’t sure how to respond to this, so she didn’t. She guessed that Fleur was touching on a lack of confidence in her abilities that even Cathy knew everyone could see plainly. She wasn’t offended by the comment; if she was totally honest with herself, she felt it was probably a fair appraisal.
‘Do you want the gerberas out front too?’ she asked instead. ‘It won’t be too draughty for them?’
‘Oh yes, they’re hard as nails are gerberas. Stick ’em out – they won’t mind a bit of cold.’
‘It’s funny,’ Cathy said as she cut open a parcel of vivid orange flowers and dropped them into a large vase, ‘they look so tropical you wouldn’t imagine they’d survive a British winter.’
‘A bit like me then,’ Fleur said with a raspy laugh. ‘Looks can be deceiving. Although…’ she continued, ‘sometimes I dream of a nice mild Barbadian winter. I’ve got my dad to thank for that, moving us to England without even asking me.’
‘I thought they’d come to England when you were very little?’
‘Exactly!’ Fleur tipped a bag of coins into the till for the day’s float.
‘But you wouldn’t go back, would you?’
‘I don’t miss the hurricanes – that’s for sure,’ she said with a wry grin, ‘and I’m more British than anything else. No, cold or not, I’m happy enough in England. I’ve been here since I was five, after all, and I hardly know anything else.’
‘It must be lovely having such a gorgeous place to visit when you go to see family.’
‘I wouldn’t know; it takes me so long to get round to all the family, I hardly see any of the islands! I suppose it is though.’ She nodded at the vase Cathy was carrying. ‘Be a darling and straighten those out a bit, would you? They look like they’re having a fight in there.’
Cathy nodded and then set it down. ‘Talking of baking, I’m going to bake some cakes for the coffee morning at St Cuthbert’s next week.’
‘Oh yes, I had a leaflet through about that. It’s for cancer research, right?’
Fleur nodded. ‘You should make those gorgeous red velvet cupcakes you brought in last week – they’d go down well.’
‘I thought about those too. I’ll probably make a few different things – what do you reckon?’
‘Everything you bake would get a thumbs up I would imagine.’
‘I hope so…’ Cathy paused. ‘I wondered if you might come with me.’
Fleur reached for a pair of scissors with a frown. ‘To the coffee morning?’
‘I don’t know… I thought it might be fun.’
‘I’m sure it would but I’ll be here, won’t I?’
‘But couldn’t the Saturday girl… Jade, is it? Couldn’t she cover for an hour? Didn’t you say earlier she’d be off college that day?’
‘I also said she’d be off college all that week; she’ll be in Corfu – remember?’ Fleur said with a half laugh. ‘I think someone needs to go back to bed and start again this morning.’
‘Oh.’ Cathy smiled and twisted a gerbera so that its head faced the same way as all the others. The vase looked like a sunny little choir in the middle of the drab wintry building, and Cathy thought vaguely that Fleur was right – they would bring customers over to have a closer look because their little orange faces couldn’t fail to cheer. ‘I think I do – I clean forgot about that bit. Must have gone in one ear and out the other.’
‘Don’t worry about it, love. But I’m sorry I won’t be able to come.’
‘That’s OK. Ignore me; I was being silly.’
‘It won’t stop you from going, will it?’
‘No… of course not.’
Cathy forced a smile. It wasn’t that she was particularly shy, but sometimes social situations could overwhelm her, particularly when she was faced with lots of new people at once, and for some strange reason she had become particularly sensitive to this since her mum died. She could only imagine that it was perhaps because her world had changed so drastically now that she was on her own and it had made her so much less certain of herself than she used to be. Or perhaps it was because she had nobody to fall back on in the same way she did when her mum was around; even though her mum was physically disabled she’d always been able to offer moral support, encouragement and love whenever Cathy had needed it.
‘It’ll do you good,’ Fleur said with a shrewd look.
‘I’m alright, you know.’
‘I know,’ Fleur replied with very deliberate carelessness. ‘But even so. And they’ll love your baking.’
‘You think so?’
Fleur laughed. ‘You’ve tasted your cakes, right?’
Cathy’s smile was genuine now. ‘I know, but I don’t think… I mean, they’re quite nice, I suppose, but I don’t think they’re all that special, and if they are then it’s down to what Mum taught me, not any talent I have.’
‘Honestly, accept a bit of praise from time to time,’ Fleur said with the barest edge of impatience in her tone. ‘Take it where it’s due – it wouldn’t kill you to feel good about yourself for once.’
Before Cathy had the chance to think of the right reply Fleur was across the stall greeting a customer she’d just spotted approaching. ‘Alright, love, come to pick up that birthday arrangement?’
Cathy left them to it. Her gaze caught that of the woman on the cake stall across the aisle and she gave her a guilty smile. Cathy would never admit it but her own cakes were pretty good, and perhaps they were even better than theirs, as Fleur kept saying. Hopefully the people at the coffee morning would think so too.
Though Cathy had some recollections of attending church services at St Cuthbert’s with her dad, she couldn’t recall ever being inside the adjoining church hall. Those dim memories (along with the desire to do some good and share her baking) were part of the reason she’d been drawn to come today, because she recalled feeling happy and content during those visits. Even if they were false memories, she’d take happy and content right now over feeling lost and lonely.
It was funny, though, because her mother had forsaken religion completely soon after Cathy’s father had died and so Cathy shouldn’t have felt any kind of pull to this place at all, but strangely, today, she did, and it was strong. If there was a God, her mum had said, then why would he make people suffer like she was forced to? Why would he or she (probably he, she said) take husbands so suddenly and before their time and curse the grieving widow with a horrible illness?
Cathy had taken a more philosophical view of things – some people were just unlucky, God or no God – but she could understand why her mum would think that way. And even though she now found herself alone with no parents and no siblings and precious little other family, she still didn’t feel like she could blame anyone, least of all someone she couldn’t see or hear or prove the existence of in any way.
The church itself was fairly standard – a dark old building of grey stone and tall, heavily leaded windows in need of some repair, just like many churches in many towns across Britain. So Cathy had walked into the more modern church hall tagged onto the back in a separate building, expecting some draughty old space with peeling window frames and paint that had been on the walls since Margaret Thatcher had been in power. But the room she was sitting in now had a pink carpet with pretty handmade rugs strewn across it, lots of squashy armchairs and a pair of huge beige sofas. All the furniture was clearly old, but it would have been expensive when new and was still quite serviceable and very comfortable.
She was fairly certain that all church halls weren’t like this, but then, she hadn’t set foot in one for a very long time, perhaps twenty years or more. Perhaps churches had cottoned on at some point in those twenty years that people didn’t want to sit in freezing old rooms being stared down on by a tatty Jesus on a dusty crucifix; no, they wanted to be in a homely room where they felt welcomed and comfortable. Or maybe it was just this one.
On her way through she’d seen another, bigger room with a wooden floor and high ceilings. The lady who’d shown her and her groaning basket of cakes in had informed her that that was where the Brownies and Scouts met weekly. Cathy had been to Brownies once. She couldn’t remember where the meeting had been held and how old she’d been when she’d tried it out, but she’d never really settled and had spent the evening longing for her mum to come and pick her up. The other girls had all known each other and seemed so much more confident and clever than her, with badges for this and that achievement crammed onto every spare inch of tunic space. They’d played some elaborate game with beanbags and a whistle and Cathy had been awful at it, and then they’d discussed at length a camping trip that Cathy wasn’t altogether sure she wanted to go on. When her mother had finally come to reclaim her, Cathy had announced that she didn’t want to go back the following week.
Balancing a chintzy cup and saucer on her lap and longing for a good solid bucket of a mug, Cathy gave a polite smile to the woman who had just spoken to her, dredging her recent memory for the woman’s name. So many had been fired at her as she’d sat down and everyone had introduced themselves that she could hardly recall which one belonged to who – apart from Colin, who was the only man present, possibly in his seventies, with a thick head of white hair and the only person she’d ever seen in real life wearing a cravat. This was… she wanted to say Iris, but she couldn’t be certain.
‘We haven’t seen you at church before,’ the woman – possibly Iris – said. ‘We haven’t seen you at all. Don’t you go to church?’
‘I haven’t been for a long time,’ Cathy replied, dimly recalling that the last time she’d been to a church service (at a different church outside Linnetford) was probably for a family wedding when she’d have been about twelve. Her mum hadn’t wanted any religion at her funeral at all, so the service had been conducted in a forest clearing, her ashes scattered in that same forest. Some of their relatives had been horrified at the lack of tradition, which had annoyed Cathy a little because if any of them had bothered to pay the slightest bit of attention to her mum they’d have known that she was never going to take the traditional route to her final resting place. And why would she have embraced religion in death when she’d never done so in life? It would have felt like slapping her in the face, a smug dismissal of all she’d believed in, as if her daughter knew better. Cathy would never have insulted her in that way.
‘Perhaps you’d like to come now you know where we are?’ Iris said cheerfully, seemingly working on the twin assumptions that anyone who lived in these parts could somehow have missed the huge spire that rocketed into the sky, and that everyone of sound mind would want to give up all their other Sunday activities to sit inside it and hear someone drone on about kingdoms of heaven and how blessed meek people were. Cathy considered herself meek, but she hardly felt she was blessed. She didn’t feel cursed either, just somewhere in the middle – pretty much like everyone else was.
Still, Iris seemed friendly enough and that was one thing Cathy could appreciate – almost all the regular churchgoers she’d ever met had been very friendly. She certainly didn’t want to offend her, having just arrived and not even got started on the cake yet.
‘If I’m not too busy I might do,’ she said, hoping that would be enough.
Iris looked faintly stunned at the notion that anyone might be too busy to attend, but she nodded uneasily and turned to Colin.
‘You’ll be able to play organ for us this week, won’t you?’ she asked. ‘Only Mr Pettigrew still isn’t. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...