A Merry Mistletoe Wedding

BOOK: A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
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About the Book

It is almost a year since Sean and Thea met and it's been a roller-coaster ride: they're getting married on Christmas Day!

Neither Thea or Sean want a big fuss – a simple wedding, with Christmas lights and just a few sprigs of mistletoe for decoration is all they need. But before they know it, things begin to get out of hand. Trying to manage a long-distance relationship in the build-up to their Christmas wedding is one thing, but as one challenge after another comes their way, the happy couple begin to wonder if they'll ever make it down the aisle . . .

With unforgettable characters, charming romance and lots of laughter,
A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
is the perfect Christmas read.

Contents

Cover

About the Book

Title Page

Acknowledgements

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

About the Author

Also by Judy Astley

Copyright

A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
Judy Astley
Acknowledgements

Twenty-three years'-worth of thanks to the brilliant Linda Evans, who took me on back in 1992, has been my editor for all this time and who retired just before I wrote this book. The best editor, friend and mentor any writer could have. ‘A glass? Well we could, but it makes more sense to have the bottle …'

For this book – thank you to my daughter Zelda for information on fabulous outdoor-based and alternative early years education. If only every child could experience this kind of school:
www.zeldaschool.co.uk

Thanks also to the patient and helpful Kiran Johnson at Richmond-upon-Thames register office for answering my questions about getting married on Christmas Day.

And as always, love and thanks to my writer mates: for the mutual encouragement, listening to each other's grumbles, proper laughter and huge fun. You know who you are.

ONE
August

There are some phrases, Thea considered, that immediately lift the spirits – ‘More cake?' and ‘It's my round' being two of them – while others tend to depress the mood every time you hear them. The dreaded ‘Back to School' was definitely on her heart-sink list, especially after such a blissful summer. Each year the phrase (almost always spelled as ‘Bak to Skool') turned up the minute the term finished in July and lurked like a nagging little background downer all through the holidays. Meanwhile, every shop that flogged uniforms cruelly reminded both pupils and teachers that the summer holidays pass far more quickly than the weeks of each term, and that you slack off and avoid the purchase of new grey socks at your peril.

Thea was lying in the sun's soft warmth on the pale, dry sand dune at the top of the beach, trying not to think about the next day's long drive back home to London from Cornwall. The last day of her holidays, last day – for a while, till they could grab a precious weekend – with Sean, was not to be wrecked by thinking ahead to autumn and the onset of winter's inevitable chill.

‘All this glorious beach, pretty much all to ourselves. Isn't it just perfect?' Thea leaned on her elbow and turned to look at Sean, who was dozing on a red and white Liverpool FC towel alongside her.

‘Mmm,' he murmured, briefly opening one eye and smiling at her, then returning to his snooze. Thea sat up properly and looked along the sand towards the far side where the ground started to rise up to the cliff top. A pair of walkers tramped in sturdy boots up the hill along the coast path and a wetsuited surfer clambered sure-footedly across the shoreline rocks, heading for the next bay to catch that ever-elusive better wave.

Today, now they were just past the August bank holiday, it felt to Thea as if half the world had vanished overnight. For several weeks, and until only a few days before, this beach below Cove Manor had been a busy, bright encampment of stripy windbreaks and lilos and gaudy towels spread on the sand. Families joined up together to play cricket. Frisbees were hurled about and small children dabbled in the rock pools with nets, catching tiny creatures in buckets and racing to show their parents what they'd found. Older children shrieked in the sea, whooshing up the surf on body boards and tumbling into the water. Even on the inevitable cold, damp days that any British summer has, there'd been many stalwart sorts huddled in cagoules against the rocks with flasks of warming tea, determinedly getting the most from their precious time off. Now, apart from a few scattered groups revelling in the luxury of so much deserted space, all was quiet. Where the tide had gone out and left the sand dark-glistening and wet, there were no footprints, no half-built castles waiting for the waves to demolish them. All school-age infants had been scooped up and taken home. Right now their poor parents probably had them queuing for pre-school haircuts or were stressing over shoes that weren't stocked in
that
width because ‘there's no demand'.

Sean sat up and put his hand on Thea's bare shoulder. It felt cool on her sun-warmed skin.

‘It's that great annual moment of peace,' he said. ‘The fabulous end-of-August exodus. Even though the holidaymakers earn me my keep, it's wonderful when they've all gone.'

Thea looked at him. ‘But soon I'll be gone too. It's back-to-school time for me as well as the children. I should be there now really, getting the classroom set up and making a start on the new term's endless admin.'

So much for avoiding the subject. She hoped she didn't sound whiny. She didn't feel it, just a bit wistful. It had been so much fun, such a huge delight to be living for the whole seven weeks' school break with Sean (and his Siamese cat Woody) in the converted stable block beside Cove Manor, playing at being properly domestic without having to rush back after their usual too-brief weekends together. She'd been able to unpack properly, claim wardrobe space. They'd relaxed into simply existing, had cooked non-special-occasion food rather than trying to impress each other as they tended to during their more usual rushed time together. She'd got to know people in the village and made a couple of friends to hang out with when Sean was working. As owner and landlord of the beautiful Cove Manor, a luxury, top-of-the-range, eight-bedroom holiday rental, he had to be on call for anything the clients might need. Thea and her parents, brother and sister and their families had been the first people to rent it the previous Christmas after Sean and his business partner, Paul, had renovated it. They had been able to do a stunning job, thanks to its hugely profitable appeal as a film location. She remembered being rather startled when Sean told her that the house was much in demand for erotica on the basis that, ‘The muckier the movie, the classier they want the set.'

Sean pulled her close to him. ‘Ah yes – this year there's the gigantic downside to September. My woman done left me … I should write a song.'

‘Actually, I think you'll find that one's been done,' she said, laughing in spite of the gloom starting to creep up on her as the reality of returning to what she thought of as Real Life took its place in her head. It had made her start to fret about things she might have forgotten to do, but she mentally instructed such thoughts to bugger off, along with the melancholy at the thought of separation from Sean. There was the phone, there were emails, Skype, weekends and half-term: it wasn't as if they really had to be apart
that
much. All the same, mostly she'd be waking up alone in the mornings, coming home after a day's teaching to her cute but empty little house in south-west London. At the moment, much as she'd always loved it, its best quality was definitely its closeness to the M3 and the road to Sean.

‘No, really, I'll miss you so much. It's been brilliant having you here all this time, the best-ever treat. Just give me a while to deal with the last of the paying punters and I'll come up to your place for a few days. We got through the last couple of terms OK on long-distance love; we'll get through the next one.'

‘I know, I know. Can't have it all and all that.'

‘Now that
was
a great song, “Long-distance love”,' Sean said. ‘And back when that came out, keeping it all going over a distance was all about payphones and letters. They sure had something to grumble about then.'

‘And long distance to an American wouldn't mean a mere hop of under three hundred miles.'

‘Exactly.' Sean kissed her. ‘It'll be fine. And then in a blink or two it'll be—'

‘Ah, no, don't!' Thea warned, putting a hand over his mouth before he could say any more. ‘Don't mention the X-word! Not before the first of December.'

‘The X-word? Do you mean Christmas?' Too late, the dreaded word was out.

‘Aaaagh!' Thea put her hands over her ears. ‘No, not yet!' Even though that season now had a special place in her heart since that was when she'd met Sean, Thea couldn't be doing with the long, long run-up. It seemed to start earlier each year.

‘But that's what autumn is really, isn't it? The great commercial run-up to … er … the X-word.'

‘If I had my way, all mention of it would be banned till after the fifth of November at the very earliest. Or – at a pinch – after Halloween,' Thea told him firmly. ‘It should be an actual
law
. And in the same legislation I'd also outlaw any talk of going back to school after summer till at least halfway through the last week of August and any features about getting that “essential” bikini body before … Well, no mention at all. They should just be off limits for ever. Who needs it?'

‘You certainly don't. You can't improve on perfect.' Sean ran his fingers down her spine. His touch on her skin never felt anything less than thrilling. In fact not even just touch: his smile across a room full of people could light her day.

‘I should say something like “Yuck, that's too cheesy” but actually just thank you,' she said. She was surprised to feel a bit tearful suddenly. She stared out to sea, blurrily watching two surfers lying on boards, waiting to catch the next promising wave. The sea was too flat today for good surfing but some, as Sean did, went into the water daily as if to check on the sea's mood. He'd been out there that morning, early. Thea liked to sit on the headland in front of Cove Manor, watching with the day's first mug of tea, as he jogged down the sand with his board before doing a few warm-up stretches and then racing to the water and plunging into the waves. After he came out he'd shake his head like a dog and his longish sun-streaky hair would dry in spiralled tendrils that were slightly salt-scented, even after a shower. ‘I can't
not
surf,' he'd told her once back in January, soon after they'd first got together last Christmas, when she'd questioned whether it was too crazily cold to be clambering out of a warm bed to put on a wetsuit and head for the freezing sea. It was as if she'd asked him if he'd considered taking a break from breathing. When he'd been up to London to stay with her, she'd sometimes caught him looking at the sky, noting the direction of the scuttering clouds, as if thinking about how good or otherwise the faraway surf would be that day. It wasn't surprising, she supposed. For years he'd been one of the world's top surfers, spending much of the year competing all over the globe. If you cut him, he'd probably bleed salt water.

This time last year, she'd thought, as she lay back down on the sand, life couldn't get much worse. The baby she'd been delightedly surprised to be expecting had given up on her at only twelve weeks of pregnancy and she'd been distraught at the loss. Then shortly after, Rich, her fiancé of ten months, had packed up his possessions and his poodle and left. So much grief had clouded the months following all that. And yet now …

‘What are you thinking about?' Sean's shadow fell across her face and she opened her eyes. He leaned down and kissed her. ‘You look miles away.'

‘I was just thinking about how awful last summer was and how brilliant this one has been. I'd never have imagined this could happen.'

‘That you'd hook up with someone as gorgeous and wonderful as me?'

BOOK: A Merry Mistletoe Wedding
2.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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