Here's chapter two:
Friday, 22 February 2013
The Love Programme Launch Party - Read The Book Chapter Two
Launch Day Party
Today I will be posting several chapters of my novel The Love Programme on my blog so you can have a little read if you so wish!
First, here's a little bit about the book:
My novel, published by Astraea Press, is called The Love Programme, here’s the details:
Thanks to an embarrassing incident involving a wedding and her ex-boyfriend Marcus, Lucy has to leave her home town in a hurry and needs a place to escape to for a while.
Best friend Fiona is convinced now would be a good time for Lucy to get herself a new life with some potential for romance thrown in. Fate seems to agree when Lucy is given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to star in a TV show and be a contestant on The Love Programme - two weeks of luxury living on a grand Highland estate coupled with, she hopes, fun and romance in wildest Scotland.
When Lucy meets Paul - the young, handsome owner of the Highland estate - she thinks she may have found the love of her life but who is the mysterious Hannah and what part does she play in his life? When she discovers that Marcus is planning to follow her to Scotland to win her back Lucy has some serious soul searching to do. Does she have a future with Paul, with Marcus or is she yet to find the man of her dreams?
There’s a sneak peak at chapter one on my earlier blog and the book can be downloaded now on Amazon
“Just sit on this suitcase, will you, Fi? I can’t get the stupid thing shut!”
Fiona, obligingly perching her bottom on the bulging case so Lucy could tug the zipper to close it up, said, “I can’t believe you’ve agreed to do this. You’re going to be on a TV show about love! Won’t you be embarrassed having everyone know all your business?”
Her face red from doing battle with the suitcase and, thankfully, managing to win, Lucy shook her head. “No, it’s all for a good cause. Where else could I get a few extra weeks off work and live the life of luxury whilst a man tries to impress me with extravagant dates? Plus, I’ll be getting relationship coaching from a top expert.”
Lucy checked around the room to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything. “Do you think I’ve packed the right clothes?”
Fiona lay back on the bed, stretching and spreading her arms out around her as though she was making the duvet version of a snow angel. “How should I know?”
“Mel said the programme is being recorded at the home of some Scottish laird. It’s a real mansion with a spa and acres and acres of land.”
Fiona pushed herself into an upright position, suddenly all attentive. “A laird, eh? Sounds interesting. What else do you know about him?”
“He’s not going to be one of the dates so don’t get all excited. He’s just rented his home out to the TV production company. Apparently he’ll be away on business most of the time we’re there, so we probably won’t even get to meet him.”
Fiona shook her head. “Shame, how exciting would it have been? Meeting a real life laird would be amazing.”
“He’s probably about sixty, balding, as round as he is tall and arrogant to boot.”
Fiona slapped Lucy on the arm. “Don’t spoil it for me. I was just picturing him as about our age, the classic tall, dark and handsome type. Big brown eyes…” She sighed happily. “Is it just me or do you find all those green wellies and Barbour jackets the country gents wear incredibly sexy?”
“No, it’s definitely just you!” Lucy shook her head despairingly.
As Fiona stared into space, no doubt continuing her little country gent fantasy, Lucy flopped down onto the bed. “Do you think I’m doing the right thing?”
“Of course you are. This could be a life-changing opportunity.”
“I’d like to be able to go on dates without feeling guilty about Marcus all the time.” Sighing, Lucy added, “I want to be free to have relationships like everyone else does.”
“I know you do. So, how can you doubt if you’re doing the right thing? You have to go to Scotland. You know you do.”
“I suppose so but will you be okay? I hate leaving you with your wedding just weeks away. There’s still some preparations to do and I am chief bridesmaid. Maybe I shouldn’t go. This is all crazy, I won’t go. I must be mad even contemplating it.”
“You’re going! End of story! The wedding is being perfectly managed by my mum and by Luke’s mum, so no worries there.” Fiona hauled Lucy to her feet. “What time’s your train?”
“I’m getting the overnight sleeper up to Inverness and then Craig, the TV guy, is going to meet me at the station and drive me to the country estate.”
“I’m so envious.” Fiona sulked, folding and unfolding the corner of the duvet around her fingers.
“I thought you were happy with your Mr-Not-So-Perfect?”
“I am.” Fiona sighed. “But a girl can dream, can’t she?”
Dragging her suitcase behind her because the wheels had snapped off in protest at the heavy load they were being forced to carry, Lucy headed for the ticket kiosk where she was to meet Craig who would be driving her to the Arknavie Estate. The journey up to Scotland hadn’t been the exciting and enjoyable voyage she’d imagined. Instead she’d hardly slept a wink. The bunk she’d reserved was unbelievably uncomfortable. The train was noisy, and she’d spent the time between two and four in the morning desperate to go to the toilet but too scared to climb down from her bunk bed. She could just imagine doing something stupid like falling and breaking an ankle. There seemed to be a knack to safely negotiating a ladder in the dark on a bumpy train ride and she hadn’t got it.
“Hi, I’m Craig. You must be Lucy?”
“Yes,” Lucy replied, turning around to see who had spoken to her, relieved she wasn’t going to be abandoned in Inverness after all.
Pointing across the platform, Craig said, “The exit’s just through the doors over there. Let me get your bags for you.”
As Craig struggled with the rebellious suitcase which was, once again, proving difficult to manoeuvre, Lucy walked slowly behind him. He was older than she’d pictured him. Probably in his late forties.
“Right, here we are,” Craig stopped beside a minibus and hauled the case into the back. “Hop in, Lucy. It’s about a two-hour drive from here to the estate.”
She’d always been a sun and beach kind of girl, but even Lucy had to gasp with delight at the scenery which unfolded before her as they wound their way around mountains and lochs towards the Arknavie Estate in the northern part of the Scottish Highlands.
“It’s so beautiful,” she breathed as they swept around a bend and a huge stretch of water appeared before them, glittering away in the summer sunshine. The loch had barren jagged mountains on three sides and appeared as though it had somehow been carefully positioned and framed by Mother Nature, creating the perfect Highland scene. There was even a large bird flying majestically over the water. She hadn’t a clue what kind of bird it actually was, but she imagined from its enormous wingspan it was probably some kind of bird of prey.
“Never been to Scotland before then? It’s absolutely gorgeous!” Craig enthused as he pulled the minibus into a small lay-by. Reaching for his mobile phone he said, “I just need to phone Arknavie and let them know we’re only about half an hour away now. They’ll need to have the cameras all set up.”
Lucy swallowed, her mouth suddenly feeling dry. “Cameras?”
“Of course. We need to record your arrival at the house, get your reaction to the place.”
Lucy nodded and reached for a bottle of water.
“Don’t look so nervous, it’ll be fine!” Craig said as he quickly selected the right phone number and hit the call button.
Once buzzed through the eight-foot high wrought iron security gates at the entrance to the estate, Lucy expected to immediately see the mansion which would be her home for the next few weeks. However, it was a full fifteen minutes later, spent driving along a single-track road flanked by dense forest, before the house eventually came into view.
“Wow! It’s huge! Lucy said, as they pulled up outside a grand entrance at which fierce-looking stone lions stood guard. The house — if you could call something quite so grand, a house — appeared to be several storeys high and built of grey stone. The building was topped with more turrets than you’d find in your average sandcastle competition, several of which were home to flagpoles with blue and white Scottish flags fluttering in the strengthening breeze.
Craig nodded, climbing from the vehicle. “Twenty five bedrooms, a formal dining room which can seat one hundred people, it’s even got its own ballroom and spa.”
“This laird must be extremely wealthy,” mused Lucy as she opened the car door and braced herself to face the film crew who were standing on the steps at the entrance to Arknavie. What on earth had she gotten herself into?
“Yep, he’s a city big shot. Took his money and came up here to buy his own estate and gain the title of Laird of Arknavie.”
“Big shot? How old is he then?” Lucy fiddled with her handbag, trying to delay the moment when she’d have to go over to where the TV crew was lying in wait for her.
“About thirty I think,” puffed Craig as he hauled the suitcase from the back of the minibus.
Her curiosity aroused, and remembering Fiona’s little laird fantasy, Lucy asked, “Married? Children?”
“Nah, he’s a workaholic. No time for relationships.” Craig paused meaningfully. “At least no time for a permanent relationship. I think he’s been known to break a heart or two here and there though. Right, are you ready for your TV debut?”
Lucy nodded, forced a smile onto her face and followed Craig across to the steps of the house.
A woman stood in the doorway. “Hi! I’m Zelda, the Love Programme psychologist, welcome to Arknavie, Lucy. I do hope you’ll enjoy your stay here and find the Love Programme to be of benefit.”
“Thanks,” muttered Lucy, conscious a man with a TV camera perched on his shoulder was circling them. At this moment he could be zooming in on her most unflattering features — did her bum look big in these trousers? Would all of the world be quick to notice she had bags under her eyes, thanks to the terrible train journey and a lousy night’s sleep?
Andrea, Craig’s assistant, pushed open a heavy wooden door and stood back to let Lucy explore the bedroom. “This is your room, there’s an ensuite bathroom and a great view of the mountains. There’s even a real fire, someone will come and make it up for you in the evening if necessary.”
Lucy ran her fingers along the edge of the carved oak mantelpiece. “A fire? But it’s the middle of summer.”
“I know, but these old houses can get cool at night even at this time of year.”
Andrea rolled her eyes in an aren’t-these-people-eccentric kind of way.
“There’s central heating too but the laird prefers not to use it till the first frosts. He thinks just the fires are better for the summer. Of course, come the winter, they need the fires and the heating.” She shivered as if to back up this statement.
“Anyway, make yourself at home. Everyone else is out this afternoon but you’ll be meeting them all at dinner. Be in the dining room at seven, and,” glancing across at the suitcase which was now spilling some of its contents onto the polished wood floor, Andrea added, “dress is formal.”
Up to her ears in deliciously scented bubbles, Lucy surveyed the bathroom. It was enormous with an incredibly high ceiling. At one end a window, which must easily have been ten feet tall, offered views out across the acres of forest. The glass in the window was clear — well, there was hardly any chance of people being able to spy on her was there? There weren’t any neighbours for miles around. From her position in the claw-foot bath, Lucy could see the bright blue sky and, in the distance, the curves of the mountains.
Lucy woke with a jolt. She’d fallen asleep in the bath and now the water was absolutely freezing. She wrapped herself in the supplied white towelling robe, the fabric blissfully soft on her skin, and went through to her room to contemplate what to wear for dinner.
She’d unzipped the case earlier and now clothes were scattered all over the floor, the bed, and a nearby Queen Anne chair. The room appeared as though some kind of fabric explosion had taken place. A pair of jeans, sprawled halfway across the floor between the bed and the door, looked, for all the world, as though they were trying to make an escape for it.
Lucy flopped onto the bed and chewed her bottom lip. What on earth was she supposed to wear to a formal dinner in a mansion house where she was going to meet a man she’d be dating? Not to mention the two women who would be kind-of love rivals for the attention of said man.
At five minutes to seven Lucy made her way downstairs, full of anxious anticipation, and followed the arrows on a temporarily erected blackboard which pointed the way towards the dining room.
“Lucy! You look the part!” Craig walked towards her, a clipboard tucked under his right arm. “Come through, the others are all in the lounge having drinks.”
Lucy tugged self-consciously at the hem of her knee-length, vintage black dress with its burgundy silk rose nestling on the belted waist as she followed Craig along the corridors where portraits of scary-looking people from history adorned the walls.
“Everyone, I want you to meet Lucy!” Craig stood to one side and ushered Lucy into the room.
Lucy felt her stomach go into a free-fall of nerves, and she gripped the doorknob to steady herself. Now that she was here, she was seriously wondering what on earth she’d let herself in for. She must be crazy agreeing to all of this.
Her dry mouth barely able to form the words, she said, “Hi, it’s great to meet you all at last.”
“Hi, Lucy. I’m Miranda.” An elegant woman with long auburn hair pulled back in a chignon stepped forward. She was wearing a slim-fitting emerald green dress, and you could easily have been forgiven for thinking she’d come straight off the catwalk. “Welcome to our little group.”
“Hi,” Lucy replied, sensing great waves of inadequacy creeping over her as she stood next to this statuesque beauty. If there was any real element of competition about this TV programme, then she may as well pack her bags and head home right now. There was no way any guy in his right mind would be more interested in spending time with Lucy rather than with the ultra-stylish Miranda.
“This is Alys.” Craig was now standing behind a high-backed chair, his hands resting on the shoulders of a woman with strawberry-blonde hair which corkscrewed out in all directions. Deathly pale and dressed in a long fitted black skirt and burgundy ruffled shirt which threatened to swamp her, Alys, her slim fingers entwined around the stem of a wine glass, glanced at Lucy nervously.
“Now, for the man, your potential love interest. He’ll be looking to charm you for the next week or so during the filming of The Love Programme,” Craig said as he walked over to the window towards a man, easily over six foot in height, dressed in a well-cut black suit which gave him an air of sophistication.
Lucy, wishing she could have conjured up something more glamorous to wear from the depths of her suitcase, tried to control her nerves. The man, her date for the next two weeks, crossed the room towards her now, and taking her right hand in one of his, lightly brushed his lips against it.
“Hi, Lucy. It’s great to meet you. I’m Isaac.” He bowed, ever so slightly, as he took a step back from her. “I look forward to our dates.”
“Er, me too,” muttered Lucy. Wow, this man was to be her date? He was simply gorgeous. She’d never be able to relax and enjoy dates with a man who was this attractive, would she?
Over by the drinks table Craig raised an empty glass questioningly towards Lucy. “What can I get you to drink?”
“Red wine would be great, thanks,” replied Lucy, making her way across to a sofa by the fireplace.
“I should probably explain more about what will be happening for the next couple of weeks. After you’ve completed your personality test with Zelda, the psychologist, we’ll attempt to analyse your issues relationship-wise. Then Zelda and Isaac will plan out three dates they think will appeal to you. Probably one daytime date, one informal date outdoors, and one formal evening date, but we’re completely flexible,” Craig said.
Lucy nodded and forced herself to sip the wine rather than gulp it down in one go as she’d much prefer to do right then.
Out of the corner of her eye she could just about manage to discreetly look over Isaac without making herself go too cross-eyed in the process. His hair, the colour of dark chocolate, had a slight wave to it and curled lazily around the collar of his shirt. Soft brown eyes were set in what could be called a ruggedly-pretty face and his skin had a definite Mediterranean colour to it, making him look more French or Italian than English.
Craig poured himself a drink and sat down opposite Lucy. “The idea of the Love Programme is each of you women get to spend time with your ideal male companion for, what we hope, will be your three perfect dates. Then, from analysing your reaction to each date afterwards, we can learn about your dating habits, wants, and needs. We can help you to grow and see what you want from your future relationships.”
Isaac, from his position sitting on the edge of a dark wood and gold velvet sofa, said, “I’ll be giving feedback to Zelda too, and of course, I’m here to do all I can to keep you ladies happy.”
Lucy shivered. There was something about Isaac which had an effect on her. Okay, so he was attractive in a way which made your legs go all jelly-like, but she couldn’t help feeling there was something else…
“Of course, you young ladies and Isaac are all free agents, so should a real romance blossom then,” Craig paused, clearly relishing the prospect of this occurrence and what it might do to boost the viewing figures, “well, it would be just terrific.”
Miranda sidled across to perch on the edge of a chair. She sat down in what seemed to be a well-practised lady-like manoeuvre, lightly crossing her long, tanned legs at the ankle.
“When will we be going in to eat, Craig?” Miranda asked. “I’m ravenous.”
I bet you are, thought Lucy. From your figure you look as though you barely eat more than a stick of celery in a day.
“We’re just waiting for Zelda and for the laird, then we’ll go through,” answered Craig. “Can I get anyone another drink?”
“The laird?” quizzed Lucy. “I thought he wasn’t going to be around.”
“Oh, he rescheduled a couple of things so he could be here for dinner. He wanted to meet you all and welcome you to his home.”
“Yes, he did.”
“Laird!” Craig quickly got to his feet and headed for the doorway to shake hands with the man standing there. “So glad you could join us. Thanks for letting us use your spectacular home.”
“You’re welcome. Sadly, it doesn’t get used enough with me off travelling so much on business. It’s good to have some people about the place.”
Lucy noticed he had pale blue eyes which sparkled with mischief.
“Hi, I’m Paul, and you are?”
“Lucy Stokes.” Lucy realised this man would fit rather nicely into Fiona’s little fantasy about lairds. He was rich, successful and definitely ticking the handsome box as well. The suit he was wearing which, by the cut of it was probably by some top designer, skimmed easily over his tall frame. His air of confidence was unmistakable and, she had to admit, more than a little sexy. Yes, he’d been at the front of the queue when the good looks were being dished out, that was for sure.
“I’m delighted to meet you, Lucy,” he said, leaning forward and lightly kissing her cheek. “I hope you’ll enjoy your stay at Arknavie.”
“Thanks,” Lucy managed to reply. His kiss, the lightest brush of his stubble-free cheek against her face, had made her feel a little strange, but in a good way. No wonder Paul had a bit of a reputation as a heart-breaker, she thought as he made his way around the room, welcoming everyone to his home, shaking hands with the men and kissing the cheeks of the women.
Miranda moved to stand next to Paul, a proprietorial hand resting lightly on his shoulder to get him to turn and look at her. “I’m Miranda. I do hope we’ll get to see more of you over the next few weeks.”
Paul smiled then moved away, stopping at the chair where Alys was still clinging to her now-empty wine glass. “That means you must be Alys. Craig kindly let me have details of each person who would be staying at the house. I do hope you’ll enjoy your stay and get to see plenty of the estate whilst you’re here.”
Alys blushed slightly. “Thank you, Laird.”
He took the wine glass from her and laughed. “Please, it’s just Paul. Can I get you another drink?”
“I’d better not,” Alys replied, seeming to relax a little in his company.
Miranda, now standing at the fireplace in what was no doubt another one of her carefully planned poses designed to show off her attributes to their absolute best, asked, “Don’t you like being called laird, then? I have an uncle who’s a sir and he loves everyone calling him by his proper title.”
“He does?” He shrugged. “I just prefer people to call me Paul.”
“Didn’t you pay good money to buy this estate and the title of laird? Why not use it?” quizzed Miranda, a puzzled expression on her face.
Paul sipped at his glass of brandy and ran a hand through his short dark hair. “I’m not sure you could call it good money, and the title just came with the estate and with the responsibility to look after any tenants on estate land. It wasn’t my life’s ambition to be a laird.”
“Hi, everyone! I’m starved, can we eat yet?” Zelda, bustled into the room, helped herself to a generous measure of brandy and flopped down on the sofa next to Craig.
Spotting Lucy, she said, “I’d like to arrange a proper meeting for us first thing in the morning so we can go through the personality tests and talk about your past relationships. Would ten o’clock be okay with you?”
Nervously Lucy nodded. “Sure. Okay.”
Zelda flapped her hands excitedly. “Brill! We’ll go straight through to my office after we’ve had breakfast tomorrow then.”
At the unmistakable sound of bagpipes, Zelda squeaked. “Oh, bagpipes! That means dinner’s ready, thank goodness.”
“Lucy, Alys, I’d be delighted to escort you through to the dining room,” Paul said, offering a hand to Lucy and smiling across at Alys.
“Escort?” Lucy asked, taking Paul’s hand.
He nodded, a self-deprecating smile on his face. “Yep, a bit embarrassing I know, but I’m afraid tradition around here dictates we go into the dining room as they did in the old days, as a formal procession behind the bagpipe player.”
The stylish little group made its way down the corridor, Paul, Lucy, and Alys at the front, followed by Craig, Andrea and Zelda and lastly, Miranda and Isaac.
“Why didn’t he offer to walk me into dinner?” Miranda asked, as Isaac hid a smile.
As soon as everyone was seated around the dining table, a fire flickering invitingly in the grate, the bagpipe player stopped performing the surprisingly catchy tune he’d piped them into dinner with. Amidst the brief moment of silence before general conversation took over from the music, the beeping of a mobile phone echoed around the cavernous room.
Realising the insistent “you have a message” tone was emanating from her black clutch bag, Lucy apologised. Finding the phone was easy in the slim bag whose only other contents were a lipstick and some tissues. Before turning it off she sneaked a quick look to see who had sent the text message. It was probably Fiona, eager to hear all the gossip. When the name of the sender flashed up on the screen Lucy felt a burst of irritation. Marcus. Knowing she should just delete the message she found herself opening it instead. R U SURE U DON’T WANT TO FLY TO PORTUGAL TO C ME? I’D PAY. STILL LVE U. M.
Slipping the phone back into her bag Lucy tried to concentrate on the conversation going on around her. Here she was in a gorgeous home, living the high life, the almost-too-good-looking Isaac smiling at her from across the room and the handsome laird chatting easily at the head of table. This was her chance to sample a new kind of life, however fleetingly, to embrace opportunities and attempt to sort out who she was now and what she wanted to be in her future.
The starters were being served by a young woman with a friendly face. As Lucy took a bite of the delicious smelling Camembert and caramelised onion tartlet which had been placed before her, she wondered, not for the first time, if it was possible for her to ever be truly free of Marcus. She chewed thoughtfully on another forkful of tart as a sense of unease crept over her. Did fate know something she didn’t? Was she meant to be with Marcus after all? Was she to have a life in which Marcus was destined to haunt her and any attempts she made at future relationships, forever?