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Authors: Marcie Steele

Stirred with Love

BOOK: Stirred with Love
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STIRRED WITH LOVE

 

By

 

MARCIE STEELE

 

Kindle edition Copyright 2011 © Marcie Steele

 

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form other than that which it was purchased and without the written permission of the author. This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the author.

 

Cover illustration by jstan

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

‘Would you like to be a waiter/waitress with a difference? Do you have the imagination and flair to help me set up a new business in Somerley and contend with the competition out there? Would you like a room of your own and money in your pocket in exchange for enthusiasm and pride in your work? If so, pick up the phone. Excellent prospects for the right people.’

 

CHAPTER ONE

‘Don’t you think it’s the perfect way out for you?’

Kate Bradshaw glanced up at her friend with a puzzled expression on her face. Louise Chatfield wasn’t laughing, she wasn’t grinning. In fact, she wasn’t even smiling. She seemed to be deadly serious.

Kate handed back the newspaper that she’d been given to read. ‘I couldn’t do that.’ She shook her head. ‘I want to leave Nick, not Brentside.’

‘But you won’t leave Nick, will you? So the other alternative is to leave Brentside so that you won’t be watching the main door like you are now in case he walks in and spoils your appetite.’

Kate hadn’t realised she’d been that obvious and looked away guiltily.

Although there were an abundance of empty tables in the window area of Charley’s Wine Bar, she’d chosen one further back where they wouldn’t be on display so much. Her husband, Nick, only worked two streets away. Often they’d meet for lunch, more recently trying to patch things up from the night before. Kate knew he wasn’t in town today, yet still she stayed hidden away while they waited for their lunch to arrive.

Wearily, she opened her handbag, searched around until she found her mirror and flicked open the cover. Almost at once, she wished she hadn’t bothered. Underneath the bright make up, her blue eyes had lost their sparkle and her lips couldn’t manage a pout. Her skin was flaky around her nose and she had a cluster of stress spots on her chin. She flicked the mirror shut again with a snap.

‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ Louise asked, watching as Kate stirred her drink aimlessly.

Kate nodded. She continued to stare through the window, her eyes locked onto a couple in their mid-thirties talking animatedly as they walked hand in hand towards their destiny.

Louise followed her gaze before speaking again. ‘You’ve got to leave him,’ she said.

‘You’ve been telling me that for months.’

‘And I’ll keep on telling you. Spare yourself the misery. He’s not worth it. What were you arguing over this time? You never did tell me.’

Kate shrugged. The truth was the slightest thing caused them to disagree nowadays.

‘It’s bullying tactics, if you ask me,’ Louise continues. ‘You know you can always crash at our place for a few nights?’

Kate gave Louise what she thought was a convincing smile, knowing full well that they’d known each other far too long for her not to see right through it.

‘Brentside is my home,’ she replied in answer to Louise’s earlier question. ‘Why should I leave?’

‘Oh, like you have everything to live here for?’ Louise scoffed. She pushed a blonde fringe away from her eyes. ‘It’s only forty minutes by train.’

‘But a waitress, Lou?’ Kate raised her eyebrows. ‘I don’t know the first thing about working in a café.’

‘Don’t be daft. I bet they’ll want management types too.’ Louise scanned the advert again, following the words with her index finger. She then tapped it twice. ‘It says here that help is needed to set up the business. You’d be good at that. And there are rooms provided so you don’t even have to worry about finding somewhere to live. Anyway, who said anything about a café? It could be a restaurant. Or a wine bar, like this one.’

Kate scanned the room quickly before picking up her cappuccino. Even midweek it was busy. Although she loved lunch breaks at Charley’s because of its friendly atmosphere and its bright flip-back-in-time-to-the-seventies décor, she wasn’t sure she’d want to work somewhere similar.

‘I can’t leave a permanent position,’ she said moments later. ‘It’s not as easy nowadays to stay in work. And I know my job is hard at times, but it’s challenging. And it pays well, with a company pension.’

‘Jeez, Kate!’ Louise waved to catch the waiter’s attention as he stood in the middle of the room, holding a plate of food in each hand. ‘You sound like you’re ninety. What’s that got to do with anything?’

Kate thought long and hard for all of three seconds before she replied. ‘I’d probably have to learn the ropes and somehow I can’t see myself doing what he’s doing. Besides, you know I don’t give up that easily. I don’t want to be a divorcee and I’m not about to leave Nick, so shut up and eat.’

‘Look, will you stop beating yourself up over nothing!’ Louise tutted, shaking her head in frustration. ‘Just because your parents divorced and you found it traumatic as a child to live through, it doesn’t mean that you should be chained to Nick for the rest of your life.’

‘Yes, but…’

Louise threw Kate a steely look.

Kate sighed. She bit into her sandwich instead of arguing the point but it was hard for her to switch off. Her parents divorce when she was nine had affected her deeply so when she’d married Nick, she’d been convinced she’d found her soul mate, and that they would be together forever. She’d put a lot of work into their relationship, knowing that she didn’t want to end up the same way as her mum and dad.

Yet for months now, as she’d sat crying on her own after Nick had stormed out following another bitter exchange of words, she’d been working out if she could afford to pay the bills on her salary alone. The feeling of coming home to an empty house that wouldn’t be invaded by world war three at least twice a week was extremely tempting.

Except that, despite her watery threats, she knew she didn’t have the courage to go it alone. And if she was truthful to herself, she was more frightened of that than of staying with Nick.

Covertly, she eyed the young couple at the next table. They were hunched forward sharing a menu, their heads barely an inch apart. The boy whispered something to the girl. The girl giggled, before moving nearer for a kiss. Kate lowered her eyes, embarrassed by her interest in something so intimate.

Louise folded over the newspaper so that she could see the advert in full before tucking into her food. ‘Would you like to be a waiter slash waitress with a difference?’ she asked.

Kate looked up after a moment’s silence and frowned. Louise was waiting for her to talk.

‘Not really,’ she humoured her.

‘Would you like a room of your own and money in your pocket in exchange for enthusiasm and pride in your work?’

‘The room and the money parts sound very appealing, especially at the moment.’

And you always take pride in your work –’

‘But of course.’

‘– sucking up all the time, swot.’

Kate pretended that she was about to stab Louise in the hand with a fork.

‘Self-motivated and energetic staff required for new business opening in Somerley.’ Louise looked over at Kate. ‘Yeah, I’ll give you self-motivated. And energetic, definitely. You’ll wear that bloody treadmill out one of these days.’

‘Allows me to eat these though, doesn’t it?’ Kate reached over and pinched a chip from Louise’s plate.

‘Experience isn’t essential.’ Louise sniggered as Kate dropped it when her fingers began to burn. ‘But imagination and flair to help establish a successful business are a necessity.’

‘Where is it?’

‘Somerley, it’s in Hedworth. It says there are excellent prospects for the right people too. Surely it’s got to be better than Brentside?’

Inwardly, Kate disagreed. She could think of far worse places to be raised and a thousand reasons why she shouldn’t leave. And, she
did
like her job. After years of not knowing what she wanted to do or indeed, what she was good at, trawling around from one office junior position making tea to another involving the intricacies of filing systems, just before she’d met Nick she’d landed a job as a research assistant for Brentside Housing Association. Three years later, a policy officer called Yvonne had decided to try her luck in Spain and Kate had been earmarked for her post.

‘So,’ said Louise, interrupting Kate’s thoughts and making her visibly jump. ‘Is it Brentside or beyond?’

‘What?’

‘‘Come off it. I can hear your brain whirring from here. You’re actually giving it some thought, aren’t you?’

Kate smiled, at the same time shaking her head in amusement. ‘Listen here, Miss Entrepreneur!’ she teased with a pointed finger. ‘Don’t think I haven’t worked out what you’re up to. You’ve been after my job for ages now, you cheeky cat!’

 

While Kate Bradshaw spent time worrying about the state of her marriage, Chloe Ward seemed in no rush to start her day. Even though it was lunch time, she’d only been out of bed for an hour. She sat in the kitchen, head resting on the table, willing herself to wake up.

There was a noise behind her and her brother, Ben, barged into the kitchen.

‘You haven’t skived off another class?’ he questioned as he threw down his car keys next to her.

‘Mmmphwa,’ was all Chloe could reply.

Moments later, he slid a mug over in her direction, moved a mass of her red curls away from her ear and shouted loudly. ‘Coffee!’

‘Frigging hell, Ben!’ Chloe flinched. She lifted her head and promptly put it back down again.

‘You young ones are always trying to burn the candle at both ends,’ Ben mocked as he retrieved a cardboard box jammed with papers and folders from its hiding place in the larder unit. ‘When I was eighteen, I never got into that much of a state.’

‘You’re only five years older than me.’ Chloe lifted her throbbing head again, this time resting it gently in the crook of her hands. ‘And it seems you’ve conveniently forgotten last Friday night.’

Chloe and Ben had gone along to their local, pub, The White Lion, to join a group of mutual friends. It had started out as a regular night but as it drew to an end, no one had wanted to go home. Instead they’d gone on to a club, finally leaving there at two-thirty the following morning.

‘Unplanned nights are always the best,’ Ben had to agree. ‘But now I’m working, I can’t afford the time to party often. You’ll understand when you have to get a job.’

Glancing at her brother, Chloe envied how fresh he looked. Full of the morning sun, their dad would say. Taller than her by a couple of inches, unless she was wearing heels, Ben had inherited the Ward stick-insect profile, as well as blond hair from his father. It was cut short and spiky to hide the fact that it was receding rapidly. Chloe still felt proud when she saw how smart he looked in collar, tie and tailored trousers instead of his usual jeans and trainers.

Pulling a face at him as he emptied the contents of the box out onto the table, Chloe took her coffee through into the conservatory and relaxed back into the wicker settee, her eyes vaguely wandering over the garden. The late spring weather looked promising as the sun shone brightly – too brightly for her – through the remainder of a few wispy clouds. With a flick of her wrist, she closed the vertical blind nearest to her and pulled her legs up, stretching them out along the length of the settee. Thankfully, her dad was away on a conference today – at least
he
wouldn’t be able to catch her bunking off.

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