Synopsis (from Goodreads):
‘I invited her in… and she took everything.’
When Mel hears from a long-lost friend in need of help, she doesn’t hesitate to invite her to stay. Mel and Abi were best friends back in the day, sharing the highs and lows of student life, until Mel’s unplanned pregnancy made her drop out of her studies.
Now, seventeen years later, Mel and Abi’s lives couldn’t be more different. Mel is happily married, having raised her son on her own before meeting her husband, Ben. Now they share gorgeous girls and have a chaotic but happy family home, with three children.
Abi, meanwhile, followed her lover to LA for a glamorous life of parties, celebrity and indulgence. Everything was perfect, until she discovered her partner had been cheating on her. Seventeen years wasted, and nothing to show for it. So what Abi needs now is a true friend to lean on, to share her grief over a glass of wine, and to have some time to heal. And what better place than Mel’s house, with her lovely kids, and supportive husband…
“I knew there was something wrong the moment I went into the house. I could smell her.”
I glance nervously at the girls. Ostensibly they are playing with their Aquabeads, making coasters or something, caught up in their own worlds, but I’m never certain—they both have big flappy ears and love eavesdropping on my conversations. I throw a significant nod in their direction to give Abi a warning to be careful of what she says in front of them,
“I could smell her perfume. And there was music playing. Unfamiliar music. Rob usually listens to Oasis or Blur, stuck in the 1990s, hasn’t bought a track since, but I could hear this heavy pounding beat. Hip-hop or something. I didn’t call out, I carefully closed the door behind me and crept up the stairs. Knowing what I was going to see but praying that I was wrong.”
“But you weren’t wrong,” I murmur gently. I reach for the cake plate and offer her a chocolate brownie. I hope that’s enough for today—she can tell me more later. I’m dying to hear more, I’m so flattered that she’s being open with me, but I’m also terrified that she doesn’t have a filter and the girls are going to hear too much.
“I sneaked up the stairs, like a criminal in my own house. The bedroom door was open, and I could see clothes on the floor. They were at it like animals.”
I glance at the girls again. It’s unlikely they understood that.
“He was taking her from behind.” Or that. “Her breasts were swinging, practically in my face.” But that I think they got. “He didn’t even notice me until after he climaxed.”
“How about another glass of wine?” I say, jumping to my feet.
Abi’s eyes follow me. Dejected. Distraught.
Hearing about Rob’s infidelity isn’t pleasant but it isn’t a surprise to me, as it is to her. I’ve long since thought that he’s an arrogant, untrustworthy creep. One of the reasons Abi and I haven’t stayed in touch is that I really didn’t like being around Rob. I get no pleasure in being proven right.
The girls have abandoned the coaster making and migrated towards Abi and me. I can’t decide if it was the lure of the brownies or if they did hear enough of her conversation and feel curious. It’s awkward. Obviously, Abi isn’t used to being around kids and self-censoring. They stare at her, transfixed, somehow able to sense—even at their young ages—that they are in the presence of something, someone, truly exciting.
Abi watches them as they cram cake into their little pink and pouty mouths. She can’t help but be enchanted, too. Even in their little sweatshirts, grubby from a day at school, they are adorable.
“I should have brought gifts,” she says with a sigh.
“No, no,” I insist. I didn’t expect gifts. Although the girls might. They shouldn’t. It’s not something I approve of or encourage. However, we are pretty lucky. On the whole, when people turn up for dinner or lunch, they invariably arrive with a bottle of wine for me and Ben and chocolates or sweets for the kids. It doesn’t matter that Abi hasn’t thought to bring a little something. Yes, she’s staying with us for—well actually I’m not sure how long she is staying for, it hasn’t been discussed—some time at least, but that doesn’t mean we should expect gifts.
All that said, the girls hover, none too discreetly, over her handbag. They are clearly hoping she’s bluffing and that she might produce something any moment now, like a magician produces a rabbit from a hat. She does seem rather magical.
Abi sees them loiter with intent and takes the hint, but it’s obvious to me that she really hasn’t brought anything. She roots around her handbag, pulls out a half-eaten packet of nicotine chewing gum.
“I was trying to quit. Until all this happened,” she explains. For a moment, she seems to consider gifting the gum to them but then thinks better of it. “Ah, here we go!” She pulls out a duty-free plastic bag and then passes Lily a Clinique lipstick and hands Imogen a bottle of Chanel No. 5.
The girls look stunned, not because of the brands, which mean nothing to them, but because someone has just handed them make-up.
“Oh no, they couldn’t accept those,” I say hastily.
I don’t know how to reply. I can’t explain that the gifts areinappropriate and clearly unintended for the recipients; those objections seem rude. Nor can I say they’d be more greatly appreciated if she gifted them to me. I get new perfume once a year, Christmas, off my mum and dad. They buy me Eternity by Calvin Klein. They’ve bought the same one for years. I love it but can barely smell it on myself anymore, I’m that used to it. I suddenly imagine the excitement of wearing a new scent and want to grab the box off Imogen.
But the objection that the gifts might be more dearly appreciated by me is null and void, since Imogen and Lily are openly ecstatic. They are both wearing a gash of scarlet lipstick somewhere in the vicinity of their mouths. Imogen has ripped the perfume box open and is liberally spraying the scent around the room as though it’s air freshener.
“Don’t waste that, Immie. It’s expensive.”
“Oh, they’re happy,” says Abi. Again, I can’t quite compute her tone. Maybe she’s making a delighted observation or she could be inferring I’m a nag and that I should leave them alone.
“What do you say, girls?” I hate it that I have to prompt them. They are normally quite well mannered but I think the adultness of the gift has overwhelmed them. They mumble none-too-convincing thank-yous. Embarrassed, I mutter, “You know how kids are.”
Read all the excerpts Here, courtesy of TLC Book Tours.