Take one sea-view villa, add two dates with a Greek God, a few glasses of wine, a dash of accidental nudity, and a heavy dose of sunshine. Recipe for a perfect getaway… or an absolute disaster?
Small, shy, safe. That’s how Becky lives ever since her last romantic calamity landed her in hospital. Her comfort zone is as confining as her tiny bank balance, and fiercely guarded by her totally over-the-top mum. But the news that her ex is back sniffing round is the final straw. In a very un-Becky move, she packs her bags for the Greek island of Skiathos. Maybe the setting of her favourite ABBA movie will be just the break from reality Becky needs…
Stepping aboard the Mamma Mia! boat tour, Becky leaves her fear in the port as she sings… out loud… in public, and cries Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! to everything the Greek life has to offer. She befriends locals young, old, and absolutely perfect (hello, sizzling hot restaurant-owner Kyros!), dines on freshly baked bread drizzled in golden olive oil on a starlit date, and walks barefoot along silky sandy beaches.
When Kyros asks her to stay longer, Becky is stunned. Could she really create a new life for herself here, and trust her heart with this smooth-talking charmer? But just as she’s thinking about putting down roots, her troublesome ex makes a dramatic return, begging for her back. Will she go back to playing it safe, or will she take a chance on Greece and embrace her true dancing queen?
An absolutely laugh-out-loud summer rom-com guaranteed to give you THAT holiday feeling! Perfect for fans of Carole Matthews, Jenny Colgan and Sophie Kinsella.
Readers adore Sue Roberts:
‘I absolutely LOVED, no make that ADORED, reading it… I was hooked… I stayed up reading the book until the early hours of the morning.’ Ginger Book Geek, 5 stars
‘Wow, where to even begin with this book? I loved it… Hollywood, let’s see this as a movie!… I gorged on this book in two sittings… I can’t recommend this book enough.’ Celebrating Authors, 5 stars
‘Oh my God!!!!… I really loved this book… so good and sweet that it is very hard to leave behind.’ The Nerdy Bookarazzi
‘So delightfully funny that I found myself laughing out loud… A lovely heart-warming romantic comedy… Would definitely recommend.’ Stardust Book Reviews
‘I loved this book… Sue’s descriptions had me yearning to get back on a plane… I was hooked from page one and completely devoured each page. A wonderful five star read.’ NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars
‘A laugh-out-loud, feel-good, amazing book… One of my top reads of the year…
Release date: August 13, 2021
Print pages: 350
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My small shop is pretty well stocked at the moment, which although it makes the interior look inviting, also means that sales have been a little slow. When times were busier, I managed to save a little money each month, although my bank balance is not quite so healthy now. The recession and customer preference for shopping in retail parks and online has taken its toll on our little high street. I’m just about holding on to my shop, Love The Skin You’re In, which is down a tiny, cobbled alley just off the market square in Ormskirk, a pretty town in Lancashire. I sell all manner of home-made skin products, from rose-scented body butter, wildflower soaps and soothing Himalayan bath salts infused with everything you can think of.
My passion for soap making began as a young child, when I would gather slivers of my mum’s colourful soaps from the bathroom and compress them into a tin to make a block of new, rainbow-coloured soap. I also experimented with perfumes made from various flower petals and concoctions of fragrance in bottles of various shapes and sizes, lined up on my bedroom windowsill. Creating new soaps is still my main passion, although I also sell goods made by local suppliers, including hand-made candles and pretty scarves. I opened my shop almost three years ago when I’d managed to save enough money from weekend fairs to secure the rental.
When the council raised the rents, one by one the shutters came down on a lot of the local shops and ‘For sale’ signs went up. I’m keeping my head above water with stalls at Sunday craft fairs, which means I’m sometimes working seven days a week, but I love what I do. Frustratingly, some days, customers only enter the shop to shelter from the rain, vaguely browsing the merchandise and commenting on the delightful smells but not actually buying anything. Sheila, who ran the wool shop next door, finally closed her doors last month, unable to compete with the huge bargain discount store that opened up a few streets away next to the bus station.
‘It won’t be the same quality wool,’ she lamented. I’d bumped into her in town when I’d closed up for the day, and we were grabbing a coffee. ‘That cheap wool isn’t good to knit with, but I guess people like a bargain.’ She sighed.
‘Surely that’s good news for you,’ I suggested. ‘If the customers start itching with the cheap stuff, they’ll return to buy from you. In fact, that could be your selling point. You could make a big sign to have on the market stall. “Buy Sheila’s wool, don’t risk a rash.”’
She spluttered her coffee out and laughed.
Sheila was selling her wool online as well as at the twice-weekly market every Tuesday and Saturday, which by all accounts was being well received. ‘I just don’t like the cold weather. I’m such a wimp.’
With her pale skin and slight build, she looked as though she might blow over in a heavy gust of wind, so I was impressed with her determination to keep her business going in the outdoor market.
‘I might be joining you if things carry on as they are,’ I told her. ‘I can’t keep going for much longer with the high rent and hardly any customers through the door.’
‘Times are hard, that’s for sure, but there’s always a way to survive,’ she said, undaunted by the new way she was selling her wool. ‘You just have to diversify a little. I’ve got a Facebook page too; you should get one,’ she advised.
‘You know, you really are an inspiration,’ I told her before we departed. ‘And that might not be a bad idea.’
I guess I was missing out not being on Facebook but I didn’t want to be too visible on social media, as you never know who might be looking at your profile.
‘See you around. Take care of yourself,’ she said. ‘And remember, there are always stalls on the market for rent, you know, should the worst come to the worst.’
I pop out for a takeaway coffee – one of the few luxuries I allow myself – throwing the hood up on my jacket as a steady drizzle falls onto the glistening pavement. I manoeuvre around a couple huddled beneath a large red and white golf umbrella who are looking at a window display of a famous author’s latest crime novel in Waterstones, before heading inside.
The inclement weather means there are hardly any shoppers out today and some of the market stallholders stand under their canvas stalls, including Sheila, stoically sticking it out in the hope of a sale. It’s late June and despite yesterday’s sunshine, the rain shows no sign of stopping.
I think of Sheila’s comments and wonder how long it will be before I am joining the market traders, shivering on a stall beside Sheila throughout the winter months, in the hope of selling some goods. I guess the shop could do with some serious promotion, maybe a full-page ad in the local paper, but then, you never know who might be reading.
A short while later I’m back inside the shop with my caramel latte, pondering my future, when I’m jolted from my thoughts by the tinkle of the doorbell. The door is made of wood and glass, in keeping with the Dickensian-style windows, which wouldn’t look out of place in one of those old-fashioned sweet shops.
‘Morning,’ says the red-haired lady in a smart trench coat who enters the shop. She places her umbrella in a stand near the door. She’s probably someone else sheltering from the rain with no intention of buying anything.
‘Good morning,’ I say brightly, before commenting on the bad weather outside.
‘I know, it’s awful. I’m glad to be inside. Ooh, these are pretty.’ She lifts a gift set of tangerine soaps and hand cream, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a cream bow, from a wooden stand near the door. ‘It’s my daughter’s birthday soon; she loves the smell of tangerines.’
I open a sample pot of the hand cream and offer to smooth some over her hands and she closes her eyes as she inhales the scent. It’s a proud moment for me when I introduce people to my merchandise, especially when they give a positive reaction.
‘That really is delightful. My hands feel so soft,’ she tells me gratefully as she stretches out her hands, showing off her perfectly manicured nails that are painted the same shade as her hair.
I smile to myself thinking of how tangerine goes along with the orange-coloured theme.
‘I’ll take the set, and these as well.’ She selects two magnolia soaps and a vanilla body moisturiser.
As we head to the counter to pay for the purchases, the woman lifts her hand and smells the scent of the body lotion again, praising it once more.
‘You have a lovely shop here, I don’t recall it being here the last time I was in Ormskirk, although that was quite a few years ago.’
‘So you’re not local?’ I ask as I place her purchases into a brown paper bag made from recycled paper, with the shop logo on the front. I’ve never seen her around before and in a small market town, you get to recognise a lot of people.
‘No, I live in Lytham St Annes,’ she replies as she hands over her bank card. ‘I’m actually a journalist for Lancashire Life magazine. I haven’t covered this area for a while, so I thought I would do a piece about independent shops. I’d like to do a feature about you, if you’d consider it. Especially now I’ve been in and sampled the produce for myself. It could be really good for your business,’ she tells me brightly.
Suddenly I freeze. The thought of publicity does indeed sound good for business as, funnily enough, I’d only just been thinking about that, but I can’t risk being seen in a magazine.
‘I’m not too sure. There’s someone who I would rather didn’t know of my whereabouts,’ I tell her, not wanting to give too much away.
‘Oh right, I understand.’ She doesn’t push, but presses a business card into my hand and I read the name Melanie King. ‘In case you change your mind. And if this person lives outside of Lancashire, they’d probably be unlikely to view the magazine. Just a thought.’ She smiles warmly before retrieving her umbrella and leaving.
Several more customers make their way into the shop throughout the morning, including a lady with a cute little girl of around six years of age. The lady tells me she wants to buy something to pamper her friend who has been feeling under the weather lately.
‘It’s my mummy’s birthday next week,’ says the girl, who has long brown hair and is clutching a little pink handbag.
‘Is it really?’ I say, and whilst her mum is browsing the merchandise, I slip a little tub of rose hand cream from a basket on the counter into her handbag.
‘Ssh. For your mum’s birthday.’ I wink and her eyes widen in surprise.
‘Thank you,’ she says, her cute smile revealing two missing front teeth.
She turns and waves when they leave the shop, after her mum has bought a gift for her friend. Thankfully, for the rest of the morning I’m so busy that I don’t have time to sit and think about the magazine article. Or dwell on thoughts of Scott.
It’s just after twelve thirty when I turn the door sign to closed and head into the small kitchen at the back of the shop to make myself a coffee, mulling over the conversation with Melanie from Lancashire Life. Normally I stay open throughout lunch, not wanting to miss a sale, but today I decide to close for fifteen minutes and enjoy an undisturbed coffee. As I flick the kettle on, my other hand instinctively moves to the slightly raised scar across my stomach and I think of how much my life has changed these past few years.
I’m sipping my coffee and pondering things, when there’s a banging at the front door of the shop. It’s my friend Paige. I became close to Paige very quickly when I ended up living here and she’s showed me nothing but kindness, her positivity propping me up when I’ve wondered where my life was going.
‘Open up, Becky. I’m dying for a wee.’ She heads straight to the back room, shouting over her shoulder that the toilets in the market are closed for cleaning.
A few minutes later she’s emerged.
‘Ooh that’s better. And I’ve come to give you this.’
She’s holding her bank card and I notice her long nails are painted navy today, to match the trouser suit she is wearing. I admire other people’s nails, especially if they’re natural as Paige’s are, as although my hair is thick and lustrous, my nails never grow to a decent length before they snap. Perhaps it’s because I spent so long anxiously biting them, a habit I’ve only recently managed to stop.
‘Just keep hold of it until the end of the month,’ she says, handing the card over. ‘I’m out of control. I’ve already gone into my overdraft and I’m out there buying stuff I don’t need. I wish shops didn’t have so many blinking sales.’ She sighs.
‘You need therapy,’ I tell her, only half-joking. ‘And what about internet shopping?’ I narrow my eyes as I take her bank card and relive a scenario we have near the end of almost every month. Paige spends a lot of her money on gifts for other people as well as herself, unable to resist a bargain in the sales. She recently bought our friend Abby’s twins chunky Aran cardigans that were drastically reduced in a sale, the fact that the twins are only two and the cardigans were for four-year-olds not deterring her, reasoning that a bargain like that was not to be missed, and that they’d ‘grow into them’.
‘I haven’t written the card number down, honest. There’s no way I could memorise it. I can barely remember my own date of birth.’ She laughs her infectious laugh that often has complete strangers laughing too.
‘That’s because you’re always changing it,’ I tease.
‘Cheeky. Right, I’m going to have a look around M&S Food Hall now. I’m going to treat Rob to a nice dinner, and a good bottle of Merlot. Maybe a chocolate dessert too.’
She opens her bag and pulls out a small mirror to reapply some pink lipstick.
‘It’s not Rob’s birthday, is it?’ I ask.
‘No, he just deserves a treat, he’s always fussing over me,’ she says, pressing her lips together and pouting into the mirror. Looking at Paige with her long poker-straight blonde hair and line-free face, she could pass for twenty-five even though she will be forty next year.
‘Won’t you be needing your bank card then? And why are you wasting money if it isn’t a special occasion?’ I ask, like the money police.
‘Ah, but I’m getting a dine-in-for-two meal deal. I drew twenty quid out of the ATM before I gave you the card, so I can’t spend a penny more,’ she tells me triumphantly.
I decide not to mention the fact that there’s a huge discount on boxes of Belgian chocolates near the checkout, which I happen to know are her favourites.
Paige and I met at the gym almost three years ago when I first landed here in Ormskirk. She helped me with some weights when I was clueless and we hit it off right away. She gave me the low-down on the local area and said she would help me find rented accommodation if ever I fancied a move, as she worked in an estate agent’s. Over the years she’s bought me flowers and taken me for cocktails when I’ve been feeling down, never failing to make me laugh, even when I was at my lowest. She quickly and generously introduced me to her best friend, Abby, and we soon became three. Paige lives with her husband, Rob, who’s a builder, in a three-bedroomed semi-detached house close to the park. She struck lucky with Rob, who is utterly devoted to her, although she’s something of a catch herself – apart from having a slightly out of control spending habit – but I guess nobody is perfect.
We chat for a while longer before she leaves to head back to work.
‘Right, must go if I’m going to M&S. I’ve dashed out in between appointments. I’ve got a one thirty showing someone around a five-bedroomed house on St Helens Road.’ She glances at her watch.
‘Nice,’ I say, imagining her heels clipping along the parquet flooring in the hallway of a handsome house.
‘It really is. I love showing potential buyers around those big houses. See you later.’
Paige often tells me tales of the houses she shows people around in her role as an estate agent. She’s been asked out by blokes selling the family homes in the throes of divorce, been given a precious family heirloom by a confused old lady who thought she was her daughter – said item was returned to the actual daughter – and been surprised by a bloke walking out of a shower in a supposedly empty house. My favourite story, though, involved a dog with a flatulence problem that smelt so bad, the potential buyers almost rescheduled their viewing as it followed them around, farting in every room of the house.
‘I don’t know what the bloody hell the owners had been feeding that dog, but we all needed a gas mask,’ Paige roared as she told me the story. Luckily, the dog was banished to the garden and a sale was eventually agreed.
‘Would you believe a doctor lives on that road and his house is actually called Bedside Manor,’ she once told me, shaking her head. Paige loves her job and is very good at it.
After waving my friend off, I return to my coffee and think about the offer from Melanie again. What would be the chances of Scott seeing Lancashire Life magazine? And who doesn’t need a boost for their business during difficult economic times? I turn the card over in my hands and vow to give it some thought.
‘Uncle Henry, hi.’
I answer the phone sitting in the cosy lounge of the two-bedroomed house I’m renting near to the train station. The house has a cottagey feel, with its white-painted exterior walls, black front door and a pretty wildflower garden at the rear. I’m lucky enough to have a brilliant landlord too, who agreed a long-term let and is updating the kitchen in a few months. I must admit, though, there’s something comforting about the oak units and cream and terracotta wall tiles. I felt at ease here the second I moved in and don’t have any plans to move anywhere else.
It amuses Henry that I still call him uncle even though I’m thirty-three years old, but I wouldn’t feel right calling him Henry somehow.
‘I was just calling to ask if you had any holiday plans for this year?’ he asks brightly.
‘You’re joking. I can just about keep a roof over my head,’ I tell him honestly.
‘Really? I had no idea, your mum never mentioned anything,’ he says, a note of concern in his voice.
There is a reason for that. I never discuss my finances with my parents, as I don’t want them worrying about me. I feel guilty enough that they’ve moved their whole life here to be close to me, despite their reassurances that they have no regrets. Besides, I always manage to get through each day as sales can pick up as quickly as they can go into a slump, just like today.
‘I could always send you some money to tide you over, you only have to ask,’ Uncle Henry generously offers.
We’ve had this conversation before, but the truth is I don’t need a handout. And my finances have been slightly healthier since I’ve been selling at the specialist markets. I’ve come to realise that money isn’t everything. I’m slowly beginning to feel at peace here.
‘Thanks, Uncle Henry, but I’m alright, really,’ I assure him.
‘Well, okay, if you’re sure. Anyway, back to holidays, I was wondering if you fancied looking after the villa for a while? I’ll pay for your flights too, as you’d be doing me a favour. I’m going sailing around the Med in a couple of weeks and I don’t like the thought of leaving the place standing empty. I’d ask your mum, but you know how she is with planes,’ he says.
Uncle Henry owns a gorgeous villa on the Greek island of Skiathos, and spends most of his time sailing since my aunt Bea passed away suddenly two years ago. I close my eyes and picture the pale-yellow painted villa with the terracotta roof, high up in the hills with a view of the pretty harbour below. I imagine the gorgeous tavernas lining the port and the wonderful food. It does indeed sound very enticing.
‘It’s tempting, but I don’t like leaving the shop for too long,’ I explain.
‘Oh right. Is the shop busy then? I thought you hinted business isn’t so brisk,’ says Henry.
‘Not very busy, no. In fact, not at all, which is probably why I should stick around and try and put my energy into it,’ I tell him. ‘I also want to be ready for the next artisan market, although I suppose that isn’t until next month.’
Truth be told, I’m not sure what to do. I really ought to be ploughing all my energy into the business, and I wonder if it’s fair to ask Mum to look after the shop? I try to remember the last time she and Dad had a holiday, although I tell myself that they have the freedom to go on holiday whenever they like since their retirement.
‘Well, I understand how you feel, Becky,’ Uncle Henry says. ‘But perhaps having a break would do you good, maybe even give you the chance to t. . .
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