Wednesday, 14 March 2012


pub Carina Press, October 2011

Finding your boyfriend in the shower with another woman isn't high on Deborah Kemerton's "best birthday presents ever" list. Her life in London shattered, she retreats to her sleepy hometown to heal her broken heart. There, she's quickly swept up in planning a pageant to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the village church. Tasked with casting the perfect Samson, Deborah may have found her man in Josh Lancaster—onstage and off…
Fellow committee member Anne Lindsay is convinced a 12th-century crusader is buried under St. John's. As the story goes, Hugo left for the Holy Land after his true love Maude was given in marriage to his brother. Professor Toby Duggan is equally convinced Anne is wrong, and is determined to prove it. Neither of them counts on their mutual passion for history turning into a passion for each other…
When romantic entanglements and small-town dramatics come to a head, local legend proves to be more than just a story…


“Um—excuse me?”
Deborah jumped, pulled out of her reverie by the words uttered close behind her. She turned to find herself looking up into a pair of deep brown eyes, rich and dark as plain chocolate. Their owner was smiling, a friendly, lopsided grin that drew an answering smile from Deborah.
“I know two-thirty’s a bit late, but can we get something to eat?”
She looked past him at his companions, three young men—unusual for the Yew Tree, whose regular midday clientele was what her father termed the blue-rinse brigade. The young men also seemed unfamiliar with their surroundings and Deborah remembered her job.
“Oh yes, of course. If you’d like to pick a table…” She flushed and smiled. “There’s plenty to choose from, most of our customers like an early lunch.”
She took their order and passed it through to her father in the kitchen.
“Just in time.” He smiled at her. “Another five minutes and I’d have finished for the day.” He squinted at the order. “And who is this for? None of our regular lunch-timers, I’ll bet.”
“No, Dad. Four lads—students probably.”
He grinned. “Very likely—gammon steak, Cumberland sausage—give any of our regulars that sort of food at this time of day and they’d end up with raging indigestion. Okay, love, you lay up, and I’ll get cracking. Tell ’em it’ll be ten minutes.”
Having relayed this message, Deborah went back into the restaurant. As she cleaned one of the tables by the window, she glanced up and noticed a white minibus parked on the forecourt. She stopped wiping. The minibus was pulled across the window and she had a clear view of the side panel, with its silhouette of four male figures and the words Four Front emblazoned in black and gold beneath it. She looked across at the four young men waiting for their meal. Could they be the male strippers Clara Babbacombe had suggested? There was no one else around, it must be them!
As she continued to tidy up, she surreptitiously studied the group, searching for some sign of celebrity. They relaxed in their chairs, elbows resting on the table, drinking their cola direct from the can. There was nothing to distinguish them from any other young men she had seen in the town.
One appeared to be doing most of the talking. His bleached, spiky hair, snub nose and round face gave him a cheeky look. Nice enough, but not Deborah’s idea of a hunk, unlike the guy on his right. He was a square-jawed Adonis with sun-streaked dark blond hair that was probably not natural. But who would care, thought Deborah, smiling to herself. She could only see his profile but guessed his eyes would be deep blue.
She moved to another table, giving herself a clearer view of the other two members of the group. One had a thin, sensitive face with blond hair that fell forward over his brow. He looked intelligent, studious, although the broad shoulders beneath his soft linen shirt hinted at the athlete—she could easily imagine him in a blazer and straw boater, punting on the Cam.
She turned her attention to the final figure at the table, the one who had spoken to her. He was quietly listening to the others, his dark eyes set beneath black brows that were drawn together now as his intense gaze flicked from one to another of his companions. Olive-skinned and with a small gold earring peeping out from beneath a mass of gleaming dark curls, Deborah was reminded of a gypsy. Even his clothes reinforced the impression: a white shirt, sleeves rolled back, and a waistcoat of soft black leather—Deborah found herself wondering if he had a red-spotted neckerchief tucked away somewhere. It would certainly complete the theatrical effect. She became aware that he was watching her and she blushed, realising she had been staring. Hurriedly she finished wiping the table and disappeared into the kitchen.

“Gammon?” When she put the plates on the table, she screwed up her courage to ask if they were appearing at the country club.
“That’s it, love. Tomorrow night. We had just a day between bookings, not worth splitting and going home, so we thought we’d come along early, have a look at the place, know what I mean? You coming to see us?” The snub-nosed one grinned at her, before she was dazzled by a smile from the Adonis. She had been right; his eyes were a deep blue.
“That’s it, Spike, build up our audience.” He winked at his friend before turning his blinding smile back upon her. “Will you be coming?”
“Um—no, probably not. I’m working. Are—are you staying locally?”
The one named Spike nodded. “Yeah. We’re booked into the Dog and Sardine. Is it any good?”
“What? Oh—yes. Very comfortable.”
“And is it far from here?”
“No-o, about half a mile. Over the bridge and through the High Street. It’s on the green.”
Spike was still grinning at her. “Tell you what, love, why don’t you come and turn the beds down for us?”
They all laughed except the gypsy. Deborah smiled back and shook her head. She was not offended and wished she could think of a quick retort. At such times she hated her reserved nature, the shyness that made her tongue-tied in front of strangers.
“We are what God made us,” her father would say. “We can’t all be the life and soul of the party.”
But how she wished that just sometimes she could be—perhaps if she had been more outgoing, Bernard would have been more faithful to her. Shaking off this lowering thought, Deborah went off to set the tables for the evening while the group settled down to their meal.
She was clearing their dishes when idea came to her. It seemed a joke at first, but then, as she picked up the last dish from the table, a quiet voice inside her said why not?
I hope you enjoyed your meal. Can I get you anything else, dessert?”
Adonis looked around at his companions and shook his head. “No, thanks. Just four coffees, love, please.”
She stood her ground. Come on, girl, what have you got to lose? They can only say no.
“I—um, that is—it’s a pity you’re not staying.” She hoped her voice sounded casual, but to her ears the words came out in a squeak.
The thin-faced blond was texting something on his phone but he looked up, flicking back the curtain of hair from his eyes. “Oh?”
“We—we’re having an audition in the village and—um—you’re just the type we’re looking for.” She dashed over to the notice board by the door and tore off the poster she had printed for the committee.
“It’s for our local pageant,” she said, putting the poster on the table. “It’s going to be the biggest event the village has ever held—biggest in the county this year.” Four pairs of eyes looked at her and Deborah’s courage deserted her. “I’ll get the coffee.”
She hurried into the kitchen and shut the door.
“Yes!” She punched the air.
“Well, lass, what are you up to?”
She grinned at her father and turned to peer through the small glass window in the door.
“I’ve given them the poster—you know, the Samson auditions.”
Mr. Kemerton laughed.
“Good for you, lass. But do you really think they’ll be interested in a little local carnival?”
“No, I suppose not, but it was worth a try. The rest of the committee would never forgive me if they found out I’d had a group of male strippers in here and not even mentioned it to them.”
“Is that what they are? That group that’s at the Westhaven tomorrow, is it?” He looked over her shoulder. “Hmm, can’t say I fancy any of ’em myself, but I don’t doubt it’ll give the women a bit of a laugh. Do you want to go?”
“Me?” She was surprised. “No, of course not. That’s not my scene at all. Besides, you need me here.”
She served the coffee, noting that the poster still lay in the centre of the table. She didn’t mention it, neither did she make any attempt to move it. Later, coming back into the restaurant, Deborah saw that the group had gone, leaving their payment in cash and a generous tip along with a coffee stain on the audition poster.

©  Melinda Hammond

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