She’s given up on love. But one little letter might change everything… Single mum Bonnie is a born romantic. But she’s been seriously let down by love. Her good-for-nothing husband walked out on her and daughter Paige two years ago, and hasn’t been heard from since. Between trying to make ends meet, managing teenage mood swings and the serious lack of eligible bachelors in her small town, Bonnie has all but given up on finding her happily ever after. Although if real-life romance is in short supply, it doesn’t mean Bonnie can’t indulge in a harmless imaginary one. She’s started writing to her totally unattainable dream man, baring her soul before screwing up the pages and tossing them straight in the trash… But when fate intervenes and Bonnie actually meets the man she never thought she could have, events take an interesting turn. Envelopes addressed to her start mysteriously arriving on her doorstep. Although Bonnie never sent him any of the letters she wrote, he has now begun writing to her. Is Bonnie about to discover that dreams really do come true? A fabulously funny and warm romantic comedy that fans of Josie Silver, Holly Martin and Lindsey Kelk will absolutely love! Previously published as Hopelessly Devoted to Holden Finn. Praise for The Time of My Life : ‘ I laughed a lot… A fabulous, fun and tremendously addictive read that you will devour as if it were cake. Chocolate cake at that.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Had me giggling constantly… Laugh-out-loud… This book absolutely delivers! ’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Has you hooked from page one with its light-hearted comedy… Tilly really managed to weave magic with this book… I just could not put down and I was desperately sad when I reached the end.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ This book is just damn right perfect and a great easy read. You are going to laugh so much and will get hooked ever so quickly.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Absolutely brilliant read!… Bonnie is a very lovable character and you can't help hoping for a happy ending for her… unexpected twists… Funny, romantic… You won't be able to put it down.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Hilarious… Captivating, sweet and immensely addictive… I cannot wait to read more of her writing.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ I loved this book. Tilly Tennant has an amazing gift of story-telling.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘ Loved and couldn't put this book down… I just wish there was more.’ Goodreads Reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Release date: March 1, 2021
Print pages: 350
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The Time of My Life
Bonnie’s reflection offered no reply. She was right, though, because it was a stupid idea and even her reflection knew it. Holden Finn was no more going to visit her home than Bonnie was going to get a job with the FBI. She sighed and fastened her tabard, grimacing as a new grey in her fringe caught the light. At thirty-five she was already battling the silvers in her ash blonde hair; her mum hadn’t had to colour until she was well into her fifties. Bonnie winced as she tugged the offending hair out.
Her mind returned to her mission. So, a letter was not going to get Holden to notice her, but working quietly and anonymously in a greengrocer’s shop wasn’t going to either. She had already tried emailing his management company and the record company to no avail, had tracked his mum down on Facebook and sent her what she thought was a polite and perfectly reasonable request (which had got her blocked the next day) and had tweeted him, which got lots of questionable replies from his other followers but none from him. Perhaps that alone ought to tell her something.
Devoid of a better solution, Bonnie went to the drawer in the kitchen table to fetch the matching floral paper and envelopes she had bought the previous day.
Passing Paige’s open bedroom door, she noticed that her daughter had managed to turn the alarm off and go back to sleep. Paige hated going to her grandmother’s house for the day and had clearly ignored the alarm in a cunning attempt to make Bonnie so late that she would have to leave her at home. There was no way that was going to happen. Paige might have been fifteen but Bonnie still wasn’t comfortable with leaving her alone in the flat all day; she had, after all, been fifteen once too. And keeping this tiny flat and their meagre income meant Bonnie keeping her job at Applejack’s, and that was not going to happen if she couldn’t even turn in on time. Whether she liked it or not, Paige was going to have to get up.
Bonnie’s gaze travelled around the rest of the room with a deep sigh. The floor was littered with clothes – many of them obviously dirty – a plate full of toast crumbs peeped out from beneath the bed, a mug that Bonnie didn’t even dare look inside sat on the bedside table. It was just another teenage bedroom – Bonnie recalled her own being more or less the same, the décor and the styles of clothing the only clue that they were generations apart.
Just as she was about to shake Paige again, her gaze was drawn to the poster above her daughter’s bed, the young, impossibly attractive man posing on it smiling down at her with a cheeky yet seductive look in his eye. What did it matter if Holden Finn was almost young enough to be her son? There was nothing wrong in wanting to meet him, to say hello and tell him how much she admired his music… was there? It had nothing to do with the hair that begged to have her hands run through it… and the eyes that twinkled with barely-disguised sexual dynamism, perfectly controlled so that his teenage fans couldn’t yet identify what it was that stirred them to a frenzy at the mere mention of his name. Suddenly noticing that her mouth was hanging open, Bonnie shook herself. She had definitely been on her own too long, and if her brain was functioning as it should, she’d be able to do something about this ridiculous and not entirely appropriate obsession.
‘Paige, get up.’
Paige rolled over. ‘I am up,’ she replied groggily.
‘Looks like it. You know we have to leave for your gran’s house in half an hour and you haven’t even showered yet.’
‘I can shower there. There’s nothing else to do.’
‘She said last week that she was going to get some DVDs for you.’
‘That pile of crap she picks up from the market stall? Most of those films were made before I was born.’
‘Maybe they were, but they would be things you want to see if you’d give her some sort of clue what you’re into.’
‘Ugh.’ Paige pushed herself to sit. ‘It’s not my fault her voice turns into a boring noise after two seconds of speech.’
‘That’s my mother you’re talking about.’
‘Yeah, that’s where you get your boring voice from then.’
Bonnie’s eyebrows knitted together. The urge to smack her daughter’s legs still rose from time to time, despite the fact that Paige was far too old. But then she took a deep breath and gathered all her dignity. ‘Well… it almost certainly means you’ll have a boring voice too!’ She turned to leave, giving the frozen poster-Holden one last longing glance. ‘If you’re not at the table in ten minutes you’re going without breakfast.’
‘Whooo big deal…’ Paige’s voice faded as Bonnie trudged through to the kitchen.
‘So, what time are you going to rescue me from Jeanie’s?’ Paige mumbled through a mouthful of cornflakes.
‘Don’t call her Jeanie. It’s grandma or gran, or nan or something similar to you.’
‘She likes Jeanie; she says gran makes her feel like an old lady.’
‘No she doesn’t, you decided that.’
Paige looked up and flashed a lopsided grin. Dark brown eyes, olive skin, thick black hair, cheeks just a little too plump for the thinness of her face but somehow it worked. It was at times like this when Bonnie realised just how much Paige looked like her dad and not really like Bonnie at all. Maybe she had Cartwright in the build – curvy but just on the right side of slim – but everything else was Henri’s. She pushed the thought to the back of her mind. Paige’s dad had left them and gone back to France and he was never coming back.
‘Nanas are supposed to be all sensible, anyway, like bake you cakes and stuff,’ Paige continued. ‘Jeanie doesn’t do any of that, so why would I call her nana?’
‘There is no rule that says nanas have to do anything. They’re still people with their own likes and interests.’
‘Well,’ Paige continued stubbornly, ‘I don’t know anyone else at school whose nan moshes to Motorhead, or pulls out Ouija boards to contact dead rock stars.’
‘I bet all their grandparents have some unusual hobby or habit if you ask them. People aren’t always what they seem on the surface. Now eat your breakfast. I’m late enough as it is.’
The autumn winds swirled leaves up the drive and around Bonnie’s feet as she hurried to Jeanie’s front door, dragging a reluctant Paige behind her. She rapped on the door with an impatient fist, stamping and huffing as she waited.
Bonnie had always loved this house, and despite her annoyance at running late this morning, she couldn’t help a sweeping glance at the garden, noticing with affection the gnarled, stunted old pear tree that she used to play under with her dad, and that, much to her dad’s annoyance, never seemed to bear more than the stingiest handful of pears. And there were the same old rose bushes where she had collected the delicate pink petals to make perfume for her mum. It never smelt like any perfume that Bonnie had ever sniffed while out shopping with her parents, but her mum had always taken the reused shampoo bottle full of water and mushed up petals (not to mention the odd unfortunate squashed bug) with a fond smile.
Life had seemed so simple back then (apart from some of her mum’s odder hobbies) though Bonnie suspected, looking back, it was only her youth that had made it seem so. Then Henri had walked into her life one day – or rather, she had wandered into his while on a holiday to the Vendée as he backpacked across France – and it seemed that things had been complicated, in one way or another, ever since.
‘Hey, Paige! How’s my favourite granddaughter?’ Jeanie opened the door with a broad smile, pushing a blonde dreadlock from her forehead.
‘I’m your only granddaughter,’ Paige said, pushing past her into the hallway before disappearing into the house.
Bonnie shrugged. ‘She’s a bit tired this morning.’
‘That’s because you let her stay up till all hours on chat rooms.’
‘Have you ever tried stopping Paige from doing something she wants to?’ Bonnie frowned.
‘You don’t show her enough authority; head in the clouds yourself all the time.’
‘What, like you did with me?’ Bonnie retorted, hands on her hips. ‘If authority means her hanging around at rock festivals while her mother flirts with band members then no, I don’t.’ She sighed. ‘I don’t have time for this, Mum, I’ll be late for work.’
‘What time will you be back?’ Jeanie called down the driveway after her.
Fred Black glanced up at the clock as Bonnie hurried through the doorway of Applejack’s, shrugging her coat off. ‘Just about, lass,’ he warned in a gruff voice. ‘One more minute and you’d have had a late mark.’
‘Sorry Fred. I’ll be with you in two ticks, just hanging up my bag,’ Bonnie said, ignoring the impulse to say something much more insulting to her vertically-challenged, overweight boss.
‘Fridges need emptying before we open, you know, I’ve been waiting for you to get the cold stock out,’ Fred continued.
‘Couldn’t Linda have done it?’ Bonnie called from the cramped staff room at the back of the tiny shop.
Applejack’s was one of those little backstreet places that every town has; it seemed to have completely missed the arrival of the twenty-first century. They still closed at lunchtimes and had the same sun-bleached advertising posters hanging in the windows as they’d had when they first opened. Faux dark wood panelling lined the walls and the floor was tiled in scuffed and chipped terracotta. Somehow, though, the people of the small town of Millrise loved it and the shop still managed to thrive in the face of the out-of-town supermarkets that squeezed the town centre a little more every year. Nobody could quite say why the people of Millrise viewed Applejack’s with such affection; it was a dump in anyone’s honest opinion.
‘She’s out back fighting with some cockroaches that arrived with a box of bananas this morning. Opened the blasted thing and there they were – scuttling like mad all over the place. The size of my fist, some of them,’ Fred huffed as he came through to the back room and stood in the doorway.
Bonnie glanced at him. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask why he couldn’t get the fridge stock out while he was waiting for her to arrive, but she thought better of it. ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I’ll do that first, then I’ll go and see if Linda needs a helping machete to take out those cockroaches.’
As she lugged out trays of peaches and crates of grapes, Bonnie’s mind wandered to the letter she was going to write as soon as she had five spare minutes at break time.
You don’t know me, of course, but I just wanted to let you know what a huge fan of yours I am. It would make me so happy to meet you…
No, too formal and not eye catching enough.
Do you believe in fate? I do, and I believe that although we have not met yet, and you don’t even know who I am, we are destined to meet…
No, too melodramatic and made her sound slightly unhinged. The only thing that letter would persuade Holden to do was double his security arrangements.
I know you don’t know me, but do you fancy a drink sometime? I wouldn’t tell a soul about it, obviously…
Too… well, just ridiculous. As if he was going to say yes no matter how much she promised not to tell.
My daughter is a huge fan. She’s had a really tough time lately, what with her dad abandoning us and everything, but meeting you would make her so happy…
It looked better, the favour being for Paige, and Paige would love it, but, in reality, what would he care about just another fatherless fifteen-year-old? The world was full of them. And it wasn’t really for Paige, was it? If anyone knew how ridiculous and juvenile her own obsession was, it was Bonnie. Even Paige, as much of a fan as she was, didn’t pine after meeting Holden Finn in the way that Bonnie did. But there was a part of her that couldn’t let it go. Perhaps, she and Jeanie, who had spent many of her prime years chasing after rockstars, weren’t that different after all. If nothing else, at least that thought gave Bonnie someone to blame. But she knew that her mum wouldn’t have developed an obsession this unhealthy, and even when she did get near to the object of her affections, she always went home to Bonnie’s dad satisfied with an autograph and a peck on the cheek. Bonnie pretended to herself that this was all she wanted, but deep down, she knew it wasn’t true.
Okay, so the letter was stupid, and being in love with a boy barely old enough to wipe his own nose was stupid, and writing actual letters to anyone these days was stupid. Bonnie knew all this. But who could tell where it might lead? If she could get him to notice she existed it would be enough. Since Henri had left her she’d felt invisible. It was all she wanted: just for someone to notice, just to feel young and sexy again.
As she pulled out a tray of plums, Fred popped his head around the doorway of the vast, walk-in fridge.
‘Are you nearly done in here, lass?’
‘Yep, almost, Fred.’
‘So I can open the doors?’
‘You could have opened the doors anyway. I can’t imagine we’d have a huge queue outside waiting for greengages and even if we did, I’m sure they’d wait for a moment or two without rioting.’
Fred grunted a reply, but as he lumbered away rattling the shop keys Bonnie failed to catch what it was.
Linda came through from the outside yard wiping sweat from her round and very red face. ‘My God! You should see the size of those buggers! You know what they say about cockroaches being the only creatures to survive a nuclear attack? Well, I think those ones outside already did!’
Bonnie laughed. ‘Alright, Linda?’
‘I will be as soon as I sweep up all those bug bits and get a cup of tea.’
‘I’m not sure Fred will let you do that, he’s afraid that we’re going to be overrun by a horde of rampaging shoppers desperate for leeks as soon as we open.’
‘Not let me have a cup of tea? After the act of genocide I’ve just committed for him out back? I’ve seen enough tropical banana box stowaways to last me a lifetime. Let him try and stop me!’ Linda disappeared into the staff room, scraping her shoe clear of insect legs as she went.
Break time came and Bonnie sat on her own in the dark and dank staff room with a cup of tea and a blank flowery page in front of her. She’d been staring at it for ten minutes, and her break was only fifteen; she’d have to think of something to put in this damn letter. Lunch was always taken up with Linda, so there wouldn’t be time to do it then without attracting unwanted curiosity. She began to write…
This is going to sound like a ridiculous request, and I’m sure you get a thousand like it every day, but I’d love to meet you.
There, I’ve said it and that’s it. I have no special reasons, no terminal illness, I’m no pillar of the community or doer of great deeds or talented or famous or rich. I have nothing to offer you but my affection and a wish to tell you face to face how I feel about you and how much just seeing a photo of you lightens my otherwise gloomy life.
I know that I will never get a reply to this letter, and you’ll never even get to read it, but I’ve written it anyway.
Love, Bonnie Cartwright.
Bonnie read the letter through again and sighed deeply before screwing it up and putting it in the bin.
Just then, Linda came in wiping her hands down her tabard. ‘Ugh, just put my fingers straight through a rotten satsuma.’
Bonnie wrinkled her nose. ‘God, you can tell by the stink!’
Linda went to the tiny sink and washed her hands. ‘I know, they’re the foulest smelling things known to man. Prisoner of war – rotten orange under his nose and he’d tell you anything.’
Bonnie drank the last of her tea.
‘And Fred says you’re due back out, by the way,’ Linda added.
‘I’ll bet he does,’ Bonnie mumbled. ‘He must have a stopwatch surgically implanted in his brain, and if he doesn’t, I bet he’s after a Harley Street specialist to do it.’
Linda wiped her hands on a tatty towel. ‘Fred would never pay Harley Street prices. I’m sure he’d know some Del Boy down the pub who could smash a watch into his brain on the cheap.’
Laughing loudly, Bonnie pushed herself up from the chair and took her cup to the sink. ‘I’ll rinse this at lunch,’ she said, putting it down. ‘Right now I’d better get back out before he blows a gasket.’
‘I’ll do it for you,’ Linda said, flicking the kettle on.
‘Thanks, Linda; I don’t know what I’d do without you.’
‘You’d still be chasing cockroaches around the back yard for a start.’
Bonnie, still looking back and laughing, almost bumped into someone as she made her way out from the tiny kitchen into the warehouse, beyond which lay the main shop.
‘Oh God, Max, I didn’t see you there!’
‘I’m pretty hard to miss.’ Max grinned down at her. ‘All six-foot-two of me.’
‘That’s true.’ Bonnie smiled. ‘Please don’t tell me you’ve got more stock to bring in, I’ve lugged enough Spanish strawberries to last me a lifetime today. And I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to reduce the buggers by the end of today, which always makes His Royal Fredness in there as grumpy as hell.’
Max pushed a hand through his wind-tousled locks. His cheeks were a little ruddy from the autumn chill. Along with his golden hair, naughty smile, and lean height, his current flush made him look like an over-grown and mischievous schoolboy. ‘I’d hate to be the cause of that. You’ve no need to worry, though; I’ve just come to drop off an invoice.’ He leaned closer and dropped his voice. ‘Unless, of course, you’ve changed your mind about that drink?’
Bonnie laughed. ‘No I haven’t. I’m sure I couldn’t keep up with you.’
‘Probably not,’ he said, grinning and straightening up. ‘You are, like, a hundred years old.’
Bonnie slapped his arm. ‘That’s no way to persuade me either.’
Every week Max asked her and every week she gave the same reply. They always laughed it off. But today, Bonnie thought she caught something else in his expression, something sad. She shook the thought away. This was Max, the wise-cracking, whistling delivery driver. She didn’t think he would know sad if it slapped him in the face. Not like Bonnie, of course, she and sadness were best friends these days.
‘Linda’s on the hunt for a man,’ Bonnie said. ‘Her John is driving her mental and she’s looking for a younger model.’
Max laughed. ‘And I’m on the hunt for a woman. But much as I like Linda, there’s only one that I want.’
‘I bet you say that to all the girls.’
‘I do. Just ask in Cherry Ripe across town, they’ve all been subjected to the Delaney charm. It takes years of practise to come across this desperate.’
‘Max.’ She smiled up at him. ‘I’m sure there are girls queuing around the block for you.’
‘Queuing around the block to get away from me, more like.’
Bonnie’s reply was cut short by Fred’s sweaty face at the doorway. ‘Any chance of a hand out here?’
He disappeared again and Bonnie looked at Max, shrugging apologetically. ‘I’d better get back in. Anyone would think it was the first day of the Harrods sale in there. I bet he’s got old Mrs Simkin asking for the plums on top of the display that he can’t reach. He hates that, makes him feel all emasculated.’
Max chuckled. ‘In that case, I’ll just leave this on his desk and sneak out. I’m sure an invoice won’t improve his mood.’
‘Probably for the best,’ Bonnie said as she made her way back out to the shop. ‘See you later, Max.’
‘Yeah,’ Max replied as he watched her go. ‘See you later.’
Linda turned the closed sign on the shop door and locked it as Bonnie waited on the pavement. The day was cold and blustery but the late autumn sun on their backs was warm and comforting.
‘So…’ Linda asked as she and Bonnie made their way to the delicatessen down the street for lunch. ‘Did Max ask you out again?’
‘Not really.’ She looked across and caught Linda’s raised eyebrows. ‘Okay, sort of. It was a bit half-hearted though.’
‘It’s not going to be anything else if you keep saying no.’
‘I know; but he’s not really my type… and I don’t think it’s such a good idea anyway, with him being in here every day. What if it didn’t work out? I’d still have to see him all the time and that might be very awkward…’
‘You know Henri is not coming back, don’t you?’ Linda asked serenely.
Bonnie looked at her sharply. ‘I’m not stupid.’
‘I didn’t say that. What are you waiting for then?’
‘I have to say yes to the first man who asks me?’
‘When he’s that nice and asks that often, maybe you should at least think about it.’
‘He’s too young. And there’s Paige to consider too.’
‘He’s about six years younger than you, but I don’t see how that’s a problem. And Paige is going to hate whoever you bring home, because Paige hates everyone, so that’s no reason to stay single. You’re making excuses.’
Bonnie shrugged and looked away, unable to hold Linda’s questioning gaze.
Linda plunged her hands into her coat pockets and shot a wry glance at her friend. ‘Henri has been gone for two years. He wasn’t that much of a catch when he was here…’ Linda didn’t flinch under the sour look that Bonnie gave her. ‘I’m just saying…’
‘And you think our delivery driver is?’
‘He’s lovely. And he’s not just a delivery driver, is he? He owns the firm.’
‘That wasn’t what I was getting at. It doesn’t bother me how much money he earns.’
‘Clearly, as Henri was quite content to laze around and let you bring in all the money and you were happy to let him get away with it.’
‘He had… issues. Being French and all, it was hard for him to get a job. You know he didn’t get many clients for his language lessons either. And there was his depression too.’
‘Made everyone around him depressed, that’s for sure.’
‘It’s true. Bloody cock.’
They arrived at The Bountiful Isle delicatessen and sandwich shop, a place that was referred to locally simply as ‘The Bounty’. As they walke. . .
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