I was in Lincoln for the book festival, much earlier this year and I can vouch for Lincoln having hot weather because I was roasting and sweating cobs by the time I got to the top of Steep Hill (it's not called that for nothing) to get to my hotel that day. In the evening I met up with some of the TEB crew and Serena Yates and Liz Coldwell. We had a lovely meal in a Thai restaurant with reindeer and angels dangling from the ceiling...kind of random really. When we went back to the hotel later all the bushes outside were lit up with lots of twinkling white lights and Liz said:
"It's always Christmas in Lincoln."
I joked that there was a story in that at the time but that night I actually got a story idea and thumbed it down on my phone. Always Christmas in Lincoln, which released on Monday this week, is the final version of the story that came from that idea. Cool eh?
So, what's it all about? Here's the blurb to explain.
It isn’t really always Christmas in Lincoln but when Felicity gets her man it feels like it.
Felicity hates Christmas. It reminds her of a traumatic event from her childhood. She thinks the Permanent Christmas shop is tacky, with its windows full of trees and tinsel all year round and would rather it disappeared from her picturesque home town.
When she discovers that Carl, who she lusts over every time she sees him in the tea rooms, is in fact the owner of Ho, Ho, Ho! She’s not quite sure what to think. It takes a sexy meeting in the middle of a fake winter wonderland to make her realise the advantages of Christmas in the middle of summer.
As time passes, Carl and Felicity indulge in more sexy liaisons but as Christmas approaches Felicity doubts whether she is anything more than a sensual distraction for the festive shop owner and when her handsome ex, Sean, sweeps into town on a quest to win her back she finds she has a tough decision to make.Can Carl and his Christmas cheer win over her hardened heart?
Now you know what to expect do you fancy an bit of an excerpt? You do. Oh, go on then, it is Christmas after all.
There was just no space on my side of the café. There was nothing for it—I would have to sit on the table beside Hot Guy. The pensioners had taken all the others. I know to you this is all going to sound so stupid. People do not understand my peculiarities. But my heart banged in my chest when I placed my tray on the available table and, taking a deep breath, I pulled out the chair to sit down. Once I had taken my seat I was determined to enjoy my treat, even though it’d changed into a strawberry-flavoured hell.
Mary had been right—my drink was cold, creamy and refreshingly fruity, and it helped to coo
l me down after such a busy day. The strawberry tart also worked well to ease my strung-out mind. I love being a shopkeeper—I adore answering questions and chit-chatting to customers, but after a day of, ‘Nice weather, isn’t it?’ and, ‘Lovely or unusual insert-stock-item-here’ conversations, I do feel a little drained.
Hot Guy had his face buried in the newspaper. I guessed he was trying to avoid the pensioners. I was okay—the red streak through my black, wavy hair and the piercing in my nose, although a topic of conversation amongst themselves meant they weren’t actually attempting to hold a conversation with me.
Hot Guy would have no such luck.
Blond-haired, bright-eyed and always ready with a smile, he would have been eaten alive by the cackling gang of ladies opposite. They were all obviously too old to care what people thought and too young—in mind at least—to sit quietly in a corner watching the world go by. Not long after my third bite of tart, a general rumbling and grumbling accompanied them as they exited the premises. The tea room suddenly became very quiet and Hot Guy finally peeked out from around his paper.
“Phew,” he exclaimed. “Thank goodness they’re gone.”
I nodded and smiled and thought really hard about something to say, but nothing jumped to mind. So I just kept smiling and nodding until he looked away.
A few moments later, he spoke again.
“You’re Felicity aren’t you? From the vintage shop, right?”
“Yeah,” I managed to reply, with my head still nodding. I must have looked ridiculous. “I’m Felicity.”
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“No, not at all.”
He scrambled over from his table to mine. He was dressed smartly, as always, with a plain white shirt and light grey trousers. His collar was unbuttoned and I could see the odd strand of manly hair beneath his shirt when he moved.
“I was just wondering if you could help me with a stock problem I’ve got,” he said, and I nodded. Again. I’m surprised my head didn’t fall off.
“Well, I want to do a real retro fifties feel for my window display, but I can’t get anything like what I want from my suppliers.”
“Oh, I can probably help there,” I said. “I know lots of places that stock nothing but fifties retro.”
“Brilliant,” he exclaimed. “Would you be able to get me some retro deer and Christmas trees and maybe a Father Christmas, as well, if that’s not too much to ask?”
The surprise must have shown on my face.
“Yeah, I’m the owner of Ho, Ho, Ho! Nice to meet you—I’m Carl.”
“Hi, Carl,” I gasped, then I held out my hand for him to shake. “And I’m Felicity, but then you already know that.” I giggled and looked down to where his strong, warm hand enveloped mine.
“So, do you think you could help me out?”
“Probably,” I answered. “I can certainly look into it for you.”
“Would you? I’d be awfully grateful. I need them as soon as possible, really—the current window settings have been up for a while now and I’m getting sick of them. I’m doing a winter wonderland one inside the shop, but I need something different for my main window display. I’d love to stock more retro-feeling ornaments and such, but all my stockists seem to provide are modern and ancient ornaments. It’s either Victorian or it’s contemporary and there’s nothing in between. ”
“I’ll look into it tonight,” I said. “Then I can pop in and show you what I’ve found tomorrow.” I spoke confidently, even though my insides felt like an old-fashioned jelly, unmoulded and wobbling like a possessed pyramid.
“That would be absolutely brilliant, Felicity, thank you.”
“You can call me Fliss, if you like—most people do.” I smiled weakly.
“Okay, Fliss. I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Tomorrow.” He scrambled out of his seat and left. The doorbell tinkled to signify his exit.
“I thought the two of you were never going to talk,” Mary exclaimed when she walked over to his empty table to clear away his cup. “I’ve noticed how you two have been looking at each other for months now.”
“I didn’t realise he was the guy from the Christmas shop,” I said. I was still in shock and hadn’t really registered her remark about him looking at me.
“Oh, yes, yes—Carl loves Christmas. He makes a killing with the tourists, too.”
“I bet his wife is well pleased.” I was blatantly fishing for information and felt no shame in it.
“Oh, no, dear. No, no.” Mary shook her fuzzy, be-curled head and her little Victorian mob cap nearly flew off. “No, he’s single. Very single—virtually every eligible girl in Lincoln has had a go at courting him, but he’s had none of it.”
“Gay?” I nodded sagely. It made sense—I fancied him. I had a habit of falling for inaccessible men.
“Dear Lord, no. He doesn’t bend that way. I remember him giving a very kind and measured rejection to a beautiful and well-dressed gentleman in here once. He said he was straight, but flattered. I thought he handled himself admirably, actually…” As Mary prattled on I tried to assimilate all the information I had just gained. He was single and not gay, but hard to seduce. He wanted me to find some stock for him and I had the opportunity to properly talk to him at last.
I thanked Mary for her wonderful baking and made my way home. I walked up Steep Hill and past the Cathedral, enjoying the reflection of the sun on its weathered stone walls. I was always struck by its beauty and grandeur. Its magnificence soothed me, somehow. As if nothing truly terrible could happen within the shadow fall of such a beautifully holy place. I walked on past closing shops and waved to people I knew, stopping to share a few words here and there. This time, when I walked past the Christmas shop I actually looked in through the still-open door to the Aladdin’s cave of wonders within. I couldn’t see Carl, but imagined him lovingly shining his baubles.
Now there was an image and a half. I shook my head before the sexual fantasy took over. I did not have a serious chance with him. He’d rejected all the others and I… Well, I am plump, strange and I hate Christmas. Hate it with a passion. A man who’s surrounded by festive frolicking all year round is not going to be at all impressed by Ms Bah Humbug l[ . I mean, I even hate decorating my own store at that time of year. I have to bring out the holly and the baubles and the jolly Santas, or I’d not get any of the Christmas Market trade. I keep it to a bare minimum, though, and many people actually tell me how much they appreciate not being bombarded by Christmas music and glittery fakery.
As I sat at home, laptop balanced on my knee in my little—I believe the estate agent called it ‘cosy’—living room, I looked through all my stockists to see if I could find what Carl wanted. I bookmarked anything I thought would be of interest and when there was nowhere else to explore I closed the laptop down and went to my bed. I tossed and turned in the heat of the night and dreamt about reindeer and snow that looked like freshly-piped icing and kisses from a snowman that looked a lot like Carl.
If you enjoyed that please be sure to check out my posts from Sunday and Monday on my blog as they contain other hot snippets from this story. And please, please, please join in with the fun of Blissemas. We're in the last week of it now but there's still plenty of time to enter to win yourself a kindle!