When Poppy’s boyfriend Harrison proposes the week before Christmas and gives her twelve days to decide, she doesn’t know what to do. With the festive season in full swing, it’s make or break time for the couple and the clock is ticking…
Meanwhile, Poppy’s best friend Erin is desperate for the pair of them to fulfil their dream of setting up a dinner party catering company – and when an opportunity arises at a luxury log fire cabin, the girls take their chance to impress.
But they hadn’t bargained on the owner of the cabin being quite so attractive – or having quite such a sexy voice. As the twelve days tick on, will Poppy realise that Harrison is the one for her? Or will it be love in the lodge when the new year comes?
Lose yourself this Christmas in the new novel from the brilliant Catherine Ferguson, perfect for cosying up with by the fire.
‘Problem customer!’ murmurs my colleague, Maxine, halfway through our Friday-lunchtime shift.
‘Really?’ My heart sinks. I’m so tired. This afternoon, I’ll find out who will be the new restaurant manager, and I’ve been up half the night feeling anxious about it. I’ve been trying to throw myself into my work, as if it’s just another shift, but as my meeting with Mr Hastings at three-thirty creeps nearer, my stomach is growing more and more jittery by the minute.
The last thing I need is a tricky diner using up my last reserves of strength.
Maxine flicks her eyes across the room and I peer over, pretending that I’m checking to make sure everything is looking as it should.
‘She’s complained about everything from the temperature in the room to the flowers on her table not being entirely fresh – and that’s even before she’s started eating!’
As we look on surreptitiously, the woman summons eighteen-year-old Ellie with one imperious finger raised in the air. It’s Ellie’s first week in the job and she’s quite shy and terrified of making mistakes. (I can so empathise with her. I was just like her when I started.)
Ellie darts forward helpfully.
It’s clear that something else is wrong. The woman is frowning and speaking rapidly, and as we watch, Ellie’s face falls.
I catch her in the kitchen and it’s obvious from the tension in her face, she’s desperately trying to hold it together.
‘What’s wrong?’ I ask.
Ellie swallows and looks down. ‘She said I must be stupid because I didn’t bother to find out the soup of the day before I came on shift.’
‘Right. I’ll handle her.’ I walk calmly back into the restaurant, only to be immediately summoned by our difficult diner. Pasting on my best polite and helpful smile, I walk over to her table. ‘Can I help?’
She looks at me frostily. ‘I certainly hope so. This fish is staring at me.’
‘I beg your pardon, madam?’ Feeling slightly wrong-footed, I glance at the contents of her plate.
‘The mackerel. It’s staring at me. I don’t like it. It’s putting me off my lunch.’
‘I’m so sorry.’ Carefully, I turn the plate a half-circle. ‘Is that better?’
‘Are you being funny?’ She peers at me suspiciously.
‘No. Definitely not. I just thought if the fish wasn’t facing you …’
‘Yes, but I’ll still know they’re there, won’t I?’ she snaps. ‘The eyes.’
‘Of course, madam. Would you like me to take it away and remove the head for you?’
‘But then it won’t be a “whole mackerel”. It’ll be a “headless mackerel”, which isn’t quite the same thing, is it?’
‘Um … no, I suppose it isn’t.’ It’s an effort to keep my tone upbeat. What on earth is she talking about?
‘I want a “whole mackerel”, like it states on the menu.’
I clear my throat, stalling for time. I’ve had tricky customers to deal with before, but this one takes the biscuit. I get the sneaky feeling she’s being deliberately awkward just to see how I’ll react. I don’t mind her leading me a dance, but upsetting Ellie by calling her stupid has made me really annoyed. But I persevere with the polite and attentive manner. ‘What would you like me to do, madam?’
‘Sort it out!’ she snaps. ‘Stop that fish staring at me!’
A wave of disbelief and exhaustion washes over me and I almost laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Nothing I do for this diner will be right. Suddenly, tiredness takes over and I do what I never, ever do with customers as a rule.
I resort to sarcasm.
My smile is bright and cheery. ‘Right, well, if you don’t want me to take the rude little chap away, perhaps we could make him a teeny-tiny little blindfold? Out of a basil leaf? Or maybe two slices of lemon tied together with a sliver of anchovy?’
If looks could kill, there’d be two corpses on her plate. She looks as if steam is about to rush out of her ears as she comes to the boil.