My contemporary romance novel If You Only Knew will be one year old on 1st February - can a book have a birthday? Anyway, for a little celebration, I wanted to introduce the characters Faith and Zane and the pretty little cafe which Faith runs - and fills with delicious cakes!
Here's a little bit about the book, followed by all of chapter one, just in case you feel like getting to know Faith and Zane (and that cafe!) a little better.....
Keeping secrets is asking for trouble.
Faith’s not looking for love. Not anymore. She’s focussed on running her busy coffee shop.
Zane, the new co-owner of the Carrdale Extreme Sports Centre, has put everything into his business. He doesn’t have the time, or the heart, for relationships.
When Faith and Zane meet there’s a spark they’re both struggling to ignore. Are they each prepared to take the risk and allow themselves to get involved?
Then Matt arrives in town to complicate things even further.
Matt is Zane’s business partner and his best friend.
He’s also Faith’s first love.
With Zane keeping secrets and Matt up to no good Faith’s reminded why letting a man into her life is asking for trouble.
But what if one of them turns out to be the love of her life?
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Here's chapter one....
“I guess that’s the man you’ve been waiting for.”
Sophie nudged Faith, almost knocking the fresh-from-the-oven apple pie from her hands, and pointed towards the door.
Faith chose to ignore the double meaning behind her friend’s words. She wasn’t waiting for any man, not in the romantic sense anyway, and certainly not a guy who reminded her of Aaron. Her café, which she had created from scratch six years ago, was hosting the meeting of the local Tourism Association. And the guy currently making his way towards her was Zane Ferguson, one half of the new ownership team of the Carrdale Outdoor Activity & Extreme Sports Centre. She’d reluctantly phoned him a few days ago when he’d arrived in the UK and invited him to the meeting to give everyone an update on the Centre.
“Faith, right?” he said, extending his hand and hopping onto one of the stools in front of the café’s counter. The hand was firm, slightly rough to the touch and warm. It was strangely comforting. “I’m Zane. Good to get to put a face to your name at last.”
Faith nodded, even though she was anything but pleased to put a face to the name of Zane Ferguson. What kind of a name was Zane anyway? It sounded all-American, as though he should be something like a baseball player, a superhero, or a cowboy – certainly not an English extreme sports instructor. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Sophie giving Zane the once-over. Sophie knew all about Aaron, knew every detail of what had happened. No doubt she too was now silently making comparisons between Zane and Aaron.
“So, how are you settling into our little community, Zane?” Sophie wandered over and leaned on the counter, smiling up at him.
Faith noticed that before Sophie had draped herself provocatively across the café’s counter between the plates of scones and cupcakes, she had surreptitiously undone the top two buttons on her shirt. Subtle.
Faith watched Zane closely, and he instantly earned a brownie point with her; he didn’t seem to have fallen for Sophie’s feel-free-to-look-down-my-shirt ploy. Or if he had, he must have done it swiftly and discreetly. He smiled at Faith and Sophie as he replied.
“Settling in very well, thanks. Haven’t had much chance to get my bearings yet though. Since I got back to the UK it’s been all about sorting things at the Centre and finding myself somewhere to live. For starters I was camping on the office floor in a sleeping bag.”
“You’ve been living in Austria, I heard,” Faith said as she arranged cakes on plates.
“I have. Been out there for several years.” He laughed and rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “I forget how quickly word gets round in small communities.”
“Oh, the gossip around Carleton is faster than high-speed broadband,” Faith replied. Meeting his gaze she added, “You’ll get used to it. Even if you haven’t done much worthy of the gossipmongers, don’t think you get to escape. If people can’t find out all your secrets they will happily speculate and just make things up anyway. When you live in a little village miles from anywhere on the edge of the hills of the Peak District, people get quite adept at making their own entertainment.”
“Sounds interesting.” He paused, then added, “And a bit sinister too, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Do you have any secrets to hide then, Zane?” Sophie asked mischievously.
“Er, no, not really,” he replied, looking away and fiddling with a pile of serviettes on the counter.
Faith thought he looked a little uncomfortable with Sophie’s question.
“Can we get you something to drink before we start the meeting?” she asked.
“Thanks. Coffee. Black, please.”
“Coming right up. Help yourself to anything you fancy,” Sophie said, pointing at the array of cakes and pies on the counter, though the way she said the words hinted that the ‘help yourself’ and ‘fancy’ part of the offer included herself as well as the cakes.
“Thanks I’m starving. I didn’t have chance to get anything to eat between leaving the Centre and coming down here for the meeting.”
“Oh, in that case you can’t survive on just cakes tonight.” Sophie glanced at the steamed-up windows of the café and the rain hammering against them. “The weather is awful today, you need something to warm you up. Let me make you a toasted sandwich. Cheese OK?”
“Yes. Thanks. Much appreciated.”
Sophie disappeared into the kitchen.
“So, this is a great café, it’s all your own business isn’t it?”
Faith busied herself with slicing up the now cooled apple pie.
“I see you’ve benefitted from the gossips yourself then, getting the lowdown on all the locals.”
“I called into the corner shop the other day. By the time I’d left twenty minutes later, I not only had milk, eggs and bread, but also a potted history of most of the inhabitants of Carleton.”
“Ah. That would have been from Martha, gossip extraordinaire. In return for filling you in on all of us I’m sure she must have given you her twenty-questions interrogation.”
“She definitely did. From where I grew up right through to marital status.”
“I’ll look forward to hearing all about you the next time I call in at the shop then,” Faith smiled before taking a sip of her coffee.
“You don’t need to do that.” He propped his elbows on the counter and rested his chin on his hands. “I’d be happy to tell you anything you want to know myself.”
“One cheese toastie.”
Sophie reappeared bearing a plate piled high with twice the amount of toasted sandwich they usually gave as a portion. It was also garnished with extra salad on the side. Sophie was clearly a believer in the old adage about the way to a man’s heart.
“Thanks. This looks great.” He took the proffered plate. “How much do I owe you?”
“On the house,” Faith replied. “Welcome to Carleton,” she added, even though she wasn’t sure she entirely meant it. Then she felt guilty. She knew next to nothing about this guy and shouldn’t be making assumptions about him. He seemed nice enough. But then, so had Aaron when she’d first met him.
“Cheers, thanks.” He started on the sandwich, using his fingers rather than the knife and fork wrapped in a napkin that lay on the edge of the plate.
“We’ll make a start on the meeting once you’ve finished your toastie,” Faith said, slipping out from behind the counter. “Sophie, can you give me a hand please?”
Sophie held the tray as Faith cleared tables, swiftly scrunching up used napkins, stacking plates and dropping cutlery into the tub.
“Suddenly the scenery around here just improved no end,” Sophie sighed, her gaze travelling to where Zane was making short work of the toasted sandwich.
“You’re incorrigible, Sophie Marston!” Faith looked towards the counter and allowed herself a quick glance over the new guy in town. Tall, solidly built, with chocolate-brown hair curling around the collar of his shirt, heavy stubble, a nice smile.
“Oh come on, you’ve got to admit I’m right.” Sophie tilted her head to one side to better assess the back view of Zane. “Nice ass as well! If you don’t want to try, then I will.”
“Forget it, Sophie. I’m not interested.”
“But he’s totally hot in a rugged kind of way,” whispered Sophie. “And let’s face it, hot guys are in pretty short supply in these parts.”
“True enough. But that kind of guy, all macho-man outdoorsy, I can well do without, thanks very much.”
“Faith, just because things went wrong with Aaron and he was ‘that kind of guy,’ that doesn’t mean they’re all like it.”
“I know that.” Faith sighed and allowed herself a few seconds of ogling Zane. Sophie slipped an arm around her shoulders.
“Anyway, best go and do the welcome committee bit I suppose.”
Faith quickly topped up the cake supply then walked over to get the meeting started.
Thirty minutes later all of the must-sort agenda for the meeting was complete. Now it was time to invite Zane to stand up to introduce himself, and outline the plans that he and his business partner had for the Carrdale Centre.
“Right, well,” Faith began, “as you all know, the outdoor activity centre has new owners. Of course the Centre is a key part of village life, and pulls in lots of visitors to the area.”
She beckoned Zane to come forward and join her.
“I’d like to introduce Zane Ferguson. He’s one half of the business team who have purchased the Centre. Zane, would you like to say a few words?”
As he started to speak Faith found herself strangely reluctant to move away from him. Not only did he – OK, she admitted it – rank pretty highly on the old attraction scale, but there was something else, something almost magnetic. Yes, that was it: she felt drawn to him. He seemed to be one of those people you felt instantly at ease with, and that worried her. He smelt great too. Most likely, she thought, a mix of aftershave, shower gel and the great outdoors.
Forcing herself to step away, Faith watched as Zane easily fielded all the questions fired at him. The Tourism Association might be small – twenty or so people – but it was a strong group and an effective one. She loved Carleton – always had, she’d grown up here and had returned straight out of university to set up in business as she’d planned. Unfortunately, whilst her business life had met all her young expectations, her love life hadn’t. Still, she never let herself dwell on that fact. She was perfectly happy concentrating on her business and on village life. Wasn’t she?
She glanced around the café that she was so proud of. Slate floor, beech tables with metal legs, a feature wall painted in deep red, the log burner (working tonight because there was a hint of autumn in the air), the leather sofas grouped near the fireplace. The air was filled with the aroma of baking. She loved this place. No, she didn’t need men like Aaron or Zane in her life. It was hectic enough without adding those kinds of complications.
Out at the front, Zane appeared relaxed as he chatted about the Centre. Faith listened as he talked about the activities they’d be running up at Carrdale. His hands were expressive, his face animated. Clearly he loved his work.
There was something intriguing about Zane Ferguson. The thought was there, pushing its way to the front of her mind before she knew it: I wonder if he has a significant other.
Where the hell had that come from? She’d only just met him and already she was debating if there was a girlfriend, fiancée or even, maybe, a wife, soon to put in an appearance. Wife? She glanced at his left hand. No ring, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything, did it? He could still be married; not all men chose to wear a wedding band.
She felt pretty sure he’d be involved with someone though. There must be an equally attractive girlfriend – or several of them – hanging on his every word. Was Faith being unfair to him because of his line of work? Judging him without having all the details? Yes, she probably was. After all, she hardly knew the man.
Over by the counter, Sophie was listening to Zane – and watching him – intently. Typical. The females of Carleton were already lining up to flirt with Zane Ferguson.
Reaching for a slice of ginger parkin, Faith stared out of the windows at the rain, now battering at the doors as though it wanted to be let in. Thinking about the weather seemed far safer territory than thinking about Zane Ferguson.
Soon the meeting of Carleton Tourism Association had drawn to a close. Well, the official business part of it anyway. Now the social part of the evening began, with people up and about, mingling, chatting, exchanging ideas and gossip, and helping themselves to yet more cake.
“Thanks for speaking to everyone and explaining what’s going on with the Centre.” Faith found herself at Zane’s side again. “I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, addressing a roomful of strangers. Meeting you and hearing about your plans has helped set people’s minds at rest. So thanks for agreeing to come along tonight.”
“I admit meetings aren’t my favourite way to pass the time, but I know the Centre is a big part of the local economy, and I appreciate that. We need to be a part of the community. So,” he shrugged, “here I am.”
“Well, we’re a friendly bunch. Anything you need just give us a shout.”
“The weather is very un-summer-like for August,” Faith added, glancing again towards the large picture windows at the front of the café. It was still raining heavily. This kind of weather was only to be expected when you lived in the hills of the Peak District. At almost one thousand feet above sea level, there were, sadly, many more days like this than there were of sunshine and blue skies.
People started to pull on their coats as the evening came to an end. Faith was glad she wouldn’t have to brave the weather; she lived in a flat above the shop.
Zane, she noticed, had brought a coat with him. It was one of those expensive-brand waterproofs that managed to also be windproof and breathable and folded down into a lightweight bundle not much bigger than one of the Coffee Pot’s scones. Still, it probably wouldn’t have bothered him if he’d got soaked. No doubt he was used to it when he led kayaking adventures down swollen rivers.
“The weather up here can turn in a second. One minute sunshine, the next it can be snowing.” She shivered to emphasise the point. “Still, I guess you’re used to that, living in Austria, up in the mountains.”
“Yeah.” He pulled on his jacket. “Always be prepared for anything, the motto of the outdoor sports instructor.”
“I’ll see you around the village no doubt. Like I say, if you need any help with anything, just ask.”
“Thanks.” He zipped up his coat and beamed a smile at her. “I’ll be taking you up on that offer.”
He was the last to leave the café so she followed him to the door, ready to lock up. Outside he pulled up the hood of his jacket and turned back to Faith.
“Thanks for the coffee and toasted sandwich.” He paused, looking, she thought, as though he was debating saying something more.
“And for the great welcome,” he eventually added. “I already feel at home in Carleton.”
“I’m glad,” she replied, realising she actually meant it.
After locking the door she stood for a moment, watching as everyone dashed for their homes or cars in the pouring rain. Everyone, that is, except Zane Ferguson, who strolled along High Street, hands in his pockets, as though it was a pleasant summer day rather than a stormy wet night.
Was there more to him, she wondered, than the easy-going guy she’d met this evening?