I know this novel has been a long time coming. A VERY long time, in fact.
For someone who is used to writing short sexy stories, writing my first novel has been an enormous learning curve, and it has not been plain sailing. Not even close.
A combination of personal circumstances, the agony of rewriting and general self-doubt about my value as a writer have all contributed to the delays and anxiety I have struggled through to get this far.
However, I have an army of support behind me: friends, family and fellow authors have all been cheering me on (some probably don’t even realise how they’ve done this, but they have), and I am thrilled to be able to announce that the finish line is in sight.
However, I really didn’t want to keep you guys waiting any longer for a quick excerpt, so here is my first chapter. Feedback is very important to me, so I would be very grateful if you could leave your comments below.
I do hope you like it…
In The Beginning
“There you go, four pounds and thirty-one pence change, your receipt and your money-off coupons. Have a nice day.”
Leah Bennett faked a smile for the supermarket cashier and shoved the coins and all the slips of paper into her purse. When did people start saying that? “Have a nice day!” How could a complete stranger know whether or not it was an appropriate thing to say to someone? As it happens, I’m having a fucking awful day, thanks very much, she felt like saying.
It wasn’t the girl’s fault. She was eighteen, maybe nineteen, probably just working a few shifts to pay for college tuition fees. She had her whole life ahead of her. She found herself hoping that the girl wouldn’t make the same mistakes she had. Mumbling something to herself about trying not to become too bitter and twisted, she picked up the bags of shopping and made for the automatic doors but something stopped her in her tracks.
A little girl, perhaps four years old, stood alone, looking dazed and bewildered. Commuters on their way home from work, in a hurry to collect convenience fayre, likely hadn’t even the time to register her presence.
The girl turned, apparently unaware of Leah standing and staring at her. Her blonde curls bounced and her wide eyes were questioning. A finger went up to her open mouth and the other reached an eye, almost a reflex action before the inevitable onset of tears.
Still, Leah stood and stared, transfixed to the spot by this angelic illusion. Her pretty, innocent face dissolved into a flood of sobbing. The busy customers continued to bustle past until eventually an elderly lady, not a great deal taller than the child herself, stopped and took her hand.
“Have you lost your mummy, sweetheart?”
The spell was broken and Leah hurried back to her car, the image haunting her all the way home. All those selfish people, too engrossed in their own lives, too busy to see a small child in need, possibly even in danger.
What about me? Leah thought, driving home. I saw her but did nothing. Surely that makes me just as bad. She knew all too well what that little girl was feeling. Lost.
She closed the front door behind her, put the bags in the kitchen, and, kicking off her shoes, dashed upstairs and flung herself on the bed. Some sort of social restraint prevented her from breaking down in public but now the tears came thick and fast, just like that little girl. Thank god she had managed to hold it all in and retreat somewhere private to unleash her emotions.
Leah envied the child her limited abandonment. The old lady would no doubt have ensured that her parent or guardian had been summoned and all would be forgotten soon enough. Problems are like that are easily solved for children; not so for adults.
It was only a few days since Simon had packed his bags and left. Leah felt she had been torn in two and the human half was missing. When she saw that little girl at the supermarket, it was as if she were looking at the personification of how she felt. Utterly and totally bereft.
They had been so happy and been through so much together. So many memories. Their wedding day had been packed with glorious sunshine – something of a rarity in Northern England. The Italian honeymoon had been blissful and romantic. She remembered choosing sofas together, bouncing round on different ones in the shop until they found the ones which felt just right, in true Goldilocks fashion. Their life had been just like a fairytale. Or so she thought.
Simon had been her soulmate, her best friend. In times when she was down, he was her anchor, her harbour in a storm. And she was his. Leah thought she had found her Happy Ever After.
But, life isn’t like that. It doesn’t come packaged with glittering bows and the Walt Disney logo on the side. It’s grey and overcast at times, often dark and downright dismal. Frankly, at times, it sucks.
She knew all this, but being a romantic at heart, and having overdosed on saccharin Hollywood rom-coms in her formative years, she thought that when she found love, it would withstand anything.
When she thought she could cry no more, and dehydration giving her a headache, she dragged herself off the bed and shuffled downstairs. She hung up her coat, cast off during the rush, placed her shoes on the rack and picked up a trusty old pair of slippers. The shopping carefully stacked away in the cupboard and fridge, she switched on the gas fire and settled on the sofa with a book.
It seemed like your average chick lit thing about some woman’s love life. Enough distraction for Leah for the time being – she was in no mood to embrace the classics. She hadn’t had sex with anyone in months, and the desire to use her toys had long gone, so she figured that by reading about someone else’s exploits, it might just arouse her enough for the odd battery-operated play session. If nothing else, maybe she would get a decent night’s sleep after a good healthy orgasm.
The main character was portrayed as experiencing many of the same emotions Leah was feeling. She, too, felt rudderless after a marriage breakup. But she certainly wasn’t moping at home in a scruffy pair of slippers. She was assertively going round different websites looking for fun. She was on a mission to get laid by as many men as she could handle. She had turned into a fuck machine, and as she turned the pages, Leah began to envy the woman’s boldness and straightforward approach. She didn’t want or need a relationship any more, just like her, but she was seeking no-strings attached liaisons and finding at least some comfort from her endeavours. A small seed of an idea began to germinate in her mind.
She finished the chapter and took herself off to bed, thrusting the idea out of her thoughts, although her mind remained full of the images skilfully woven into the pages. Usually, she slept naked, although this was more about habit than anything remotely sexual. She and Simon had slept in separate rooms for the last couple of years of their marriage. She parted her legs at the sound of the vibrator’s buzzing, musing at the Pavlovian conditioning. She was wet already.
Her fantasies were always the same lately: girls. She couldn’t even picture herself with a man right now, let alone be turned on by one. The images that crept into her mind, caressing her libido, were always girls. Scantily-clad, porn-star style girls with fake breasts, fake tan and fake acting. They were the only girls she had ever seen having sex together and she had memorised scenes from porn films of years before. They played over and over until her orgasm overwhelmed and washed over her body. She lay breathless and panting, the sheets soaked with sweat and stickiness. The intensity of the release brought tears to her eyes and she hugged the cool pillow on the other side of the bed until sleep finally came.
Heath McCullough watched the thick brown liquid dripping into his mug in tantalising fashion. He tried to remember the last time he had drunk instant coffee, and how his passionate move to The Real Stuff had made his life so much better.
The stainless steel and copper contraption he had purchased many years previously, when his company had made its first million pounds, was a marvel to behold. As a proud Scotsman, it pained him to admit that coffee wasn’t something that they did very well. Thank god for the whisky. He also thanked Providence for the fact that, even at such a young age, he had had the intelligence to purchase his house outright, this designer coffee maker, and some other luxury items, before it all collapsed around his ears. Very few people could say they could afford to pay cash for a house; fewer still for their very first property.
Yes, on reflection, he did have some things to be thankful for, after all, and not just material possessions. Being packed off to boarding school from a young age made boys grow up more quickly, his father had said, perhaps to excuse the fact that he hadn’t really wanted children at all. In truth, Heath had an old head on his shoulders from a relatively young age and this had enabled him to be wary of women who would seek his wealth over his affections. It was partly the reason he chose to wear vintage or period clothes so often. It made it much more difficult for others to judge his status if he rocked up to a party wearing an outfit which looked to have come from the seventeenth century.
He drained his coffee cup and pondered the merits of washing his hair as he went to take a shower. His long, black, lustrous locks were unruly at the best of times, which added to his eccentricity, but today he was off to visit his lawyer. It would pay to appear smart, even though the guy was an old university chum. He wanted to make sure he had the best possible start to the day; there was a possibility things could descend into chaos.
Grant Foster tapped his pen on the desk.
“You’re stalling, mate,” Heath said. “All this reminiscing is all very well, but just tell me the current status. For fuck’s sake, let’s get it over with.”
He sat back and waited for his learned lawyer friend to spill the beans. He knew it was bad, from the way Grant couldn’t now meet his gaze across the imposing mahogany desk. This was a plush office and no mistake. Since their university days, since Heath went out with Grant and their friends, partly to make sure they all got home in one piece rather than end up sleeping in street gutters, Grant had really cleaned up his act. Who knew he would now be one of the most notable criminal lawyers in the country?
“She wants her day in court, my friend. She wants her pound of flesh.”
Heath rose out of the large leather chair and went over to the window, staring at the view.. From the outside, this particular tower block didn’t look anything special. The top two floors were dedicated to the firm in which Grant had now become a senior partner, and the vista across the greener areas of the UK’s second city was impressive.
“She didn’t accept the offer?”
“Her counsel informs me that she didn’t even read the letter, but instead relished the drama of tearing it up, still in the envelope, right in from of him. I have no reason to disbelieve him; he’s an old friend.”
Heath turned back to Grant.
“So, what now?”
“Your best bet, by some way, is to let her have her moment. Any reticence on your part could sway a jury against you. You have to be seen to be amenable in every way to everything she wants.”
“How long could this take?”
“It’s up to her to apply for a date, but I get the impression she wants to move quickly.”
Heath let out a low whistle, as if he had been holding his breath for some considerable time. This would mean yet another obstacle to letting go of the past, something he was keen to do as soon as possible, but if this was the only way to do it, he had to trust in Grant’s legal expertise.
“Fair enough. Let’s give her what she wants. What do you need from me?”
“Well, I know you’ve already told me everything that happened, but let’s go over it one more time, in as much detail as you can remember.”
Life trudged on over the next few days. Leah rose in the mornings and went to work, throwing herself into into the tasks in hand. Her boss knew what had happened and made sure she had plenty to keep her occupied. Piles of administrative tasks had come her way, nothing too taxing but distracting enough for her to immerse herself and forget her heartbreak for a good few hours each day. On the evenings she was hungry enough to eat, she grabbed a takeaway and often a bottle of wine on the way home. It was a desperate existence and she knew it but she was getting by. At the moment, she couldn’t expect more of herself that that.
Dragging herself to bed hours later, she would pick up the book and turn it over, daring herself to read more but, in truth, she felt uneasy. There was something about the story within those pages which haunted her. Perhaps it was uncovering emotions and desires inside of her that she wasn’t yet ready to face.
It was on an evening such as this that she received a surprise message from Alex, an old lover from before she was married. She was stunned that he had kept her number, especially as he had married around the same time that Simon and she did.
She couldn’t believe her eyes. A smile crossed her face, and her heart beat just a little faster, perhaps the first genuine sign of anything approaching happiness in many weeks.
How long had it been since she’d last seen him? At least a few years, surely, although every time they met it was just like they were back at university again. She smiled as she recalled his rugged charm and his public school accent. For a brief moment, Leah wondered about Alex’s relationship with his wife, but then pushed her out of her head. She’d long made peace with it. It was his conscience carrying the burden, not hers.
She’d stopped seeing him when she married Simon, of course. At least one of them should take their marriage vows seriously. But now she felt her heart lift slightly. Perhaps Alex was just what she needed. She just had to respond immediately.
Hey yourself. How are you?
It turned out he was very well indeed, thank you, and so they arranged to meet up for a catch up drink at a pub near to where Leah was working. She hoped the next few days would fly by.
Despite trying not to appear too keen, she turned up early and sat nursing a lemonade until he marched in through the door and spied her.
“Well, look at you!” he exclaimed, folding his arms around her in an affectionate bear hug.
She studied the man in front of her. A little less hair, a few laughter lines appearing around the eyes and mouth and perhaps, just the hint of a little excess weight around the midriff, but he was the same old Alex. She sighed with relief. It was heartening to know that some things in her life hadn’t changed. Seeing him again after a gap of nearly eight years – she’d sat down and worked it out, to her amazement – brought a lump to her throat. He reminded her of a time when she was carefree; broke, but happy.
As they reminisced about the days of their youth, the people they used to know and the drunken escapades they used to get themselves into, Leah felt a warm, cosy feeling drifting through her body. Just being in the pub with Alex felt familiar and safe.
As it turned out, his marriage wasn’t going so well either, and he had been thinking about her. Well, that, and he had a milestone birthday on the horizon so wanted to get in touch with old friends. She found herself smiling with him, pleased for the opportunity to forget her own troubles, if only just for a little while.
Memories flooded back of some of the times they had spent together. Alex had been such good fun, a good-looking guy with a great sense of humour, and an even greater ability to bring her to orgasm. The sudden memory made her smile and blush slightly.
“What’s the smirk for?!” Alex looked taken aback.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Leah replied. “I wasn’t really listening. I was, you know… Remembering.”
Now it was Alex’s turn to grin.
“Care to elaborate?” He made a point of sliding along the couch so their arms were now touching. Leah blushed and averted her eyes, unsure whether she was ready for such an obviously flirtatious step. It had been so long since she had received such attention.
Luckily, Alex took the hint and steered the conversation back to safe and more comfortable territory. She was glad he wasn’t the type to want to delve into her emotional state. Alex was a great guy on many levels, but he was rubbish at listening to problems. Inevitably, however, the questions came.
“How is it you haven’t aged in all these years?” he said, taking a large gulp from his pint of Guinness.
“Well, I haven’t started drinking shit like that, for a start!” She nudged him playfully.
“I guess married life must suit you better than me,” he mused.
“Well, no, actually.” Leah paused as she tried to collect her thoughts. She was in public, yet again, and she didn’t want to become overwhelmed, like the experience in the supermarket.
She struggled to compose herself. Time stood still. “He’s moved out.”
In his unforgettable style, Alex gently laid a hand on her arm and then removed it, just as suddenly. That was the sum total of any sympathy he ever showed about anything.
After a quiet shrug of the shoulders, he said, “Well, you need a bloody good night out! And, I would be honoured if you’d let me take you somewhere and we can both get drunk and forget everything together.”
She sat for a moment and took in his flamboyant suggestion. Maybe it was exactly what she needed. Alex sure knew how to party at any rate, and she had spent far too many nights home alone, indulging her feelings of hopelessness.
“Okay. You’re on.”
“Good.” He glanced at his watch. “I have to shoot off, squash club beckons.”
“My god! Squash?” Leah gaped at him. He had definitely joined the conventional middle class set. Part of her envied his lifestyle but another part of her despised it. All those expectations, an unhappy marriage but staying together for the sake of his son and whole ‘keeping up appearances’ thing. Her marriage may have failed and Simon had broken her heart but at least she wasn’t living a lie.
It was then she made a decision – there and then. Whatever she did, wherever life might take her, she would always be true to her heart. Leah Bennett would never be stuck in a relationship where she was unhappy. Either she would sort it out or she would leave.
It took her around an hour to drive home from the pub. She smiled and giggled the whole way. Alex had brought her out of the doldrums and back into a bright, more colourful colourful world. He still desired her, that much was certain, and she hadn’t had that for a very long time.
Tumbling into bed a little while later, she picked up the erotic novel again and continued reading. A spark had been reignited inside and the story held a new relevance that she hadn’t seen before.