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Tales from The Split Worlds: Good Enough

I’m thrilled to be hosting a tale from the latest project by talented writer friend, E J Newman today. Emma has previously published a brilliantly dark short story collection From Dark Places, and 20 Years Later, a post-apocalyptic YA novel.

This is the twenty-second tale in a year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds.  If you would like Emma to read it to you instead, you can listen here.  You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here.

Good Enough

Lydia walked past the dining room table, checking the position of the cutlery and inspecting the white linen. Her mother emerged from the kitchen and found her removing a speck of dust from one of the charger plates.

“You’re nervous,” she said and Lydia nodded. “The caterers are the best in Bath, I chose the menu myself, the house is spotless and you look beautiful. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“What if it’s not good enough?” Lydia said, fiddling with her bracelet, squeezing each black pearl in turn.

“If he can be put off by something trivial, then he isn’t the one,” her father said, resting a hand on her shoulder. “And I know you love him and I know you want it to be perfect, but there’s no point getting yourself into such a state that you won’t enjoy the evening, is there?”

Lydia forced a smile. “Nathaniel likes sherry before dinner,” she said. “And don’t mention anything about how wealthy his family is.”

“Lydia,” her father shook his head. “We’re not exactly peasants, are we?”

“His is old money though, you know what I told you about his ancestry.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve found something out about ours that’s bound to impress him,” her father replied and then the doorbell rang.

Her father opened the door, Nathaniel stepped inside and began to take off his coat. He wore a dinner jacket and black bow tie, the black satin strip on the outer seam of his trousers made him look even taller than usual. His wavy brown hair was perfectly coiffed, his large brown eyes made her stomach flip over.

“We meet at last Nathanial,” Father said.

Nathaniel’s eyebrows shot up, Lydia realised her father had been mistaken for the butler they didn’t have. “Ah, you must be Lydia’s father,” he said, shaking hands, a broad smile pushing the embarrassment from his face. “A pleasure to meet you Mr Dunstone.”

“May I introduce my wife, Phillipa and you know my daughter already of course.”

Nathaniel kissed her mother’s hand and then hers, Lydia smiled at him. “Would you like a glass of sherry?”

“Please,” he said, and then whispered something about how lovely she looked as they followed her parents into the living room.

As her father poured, Lydia searched Nathaniel’s face for any signs of disappointment. He was scanning the room with a detached interest, his eyes lingered over the photographs on the mantelpiece, then he took the glass with thanks.

“Did you have far to come?” Father asked.

“No, I live very close to Bath,” Nathaniel replied and walked over to the mantelpiece. “Are these members of your family?” he asked, pointing to the sepia portraits.

“Yes,” Mother replied, joining him. “Mostly my side of the family.”

“I can see the resemblance,” Nathaniel said, studying them closely. “Now I know where Lydia’s beauty comes from.”

Lydia blushed. If anyone else had said that, she’d have groaned, but his compliments just made her melt.

“I understand you’re a keen genealogist,” he said to her father, who beamed at the prospect of being asked about his favourite topic, rather than having to shoehorn it into conversation.

“Yes, I’ve turned up something rather interesting only this week in fact, haven’t even had a chance to tell Lydia, but I think you will both like it. Lydia told me that your family has some royal roots.”

“It’s not something we usually talk about,” Nathaniel replied and she knew she shouldn’t have told her parents. “It’s distant.”

“I understand the surname “Iris” comes from the Old French, meaning “from Ireland”, is that right?”

Nathaniel looked horrified. “There is no Irish blood in my family sir,” he said, then seemed to calm himself. “But my family does have French roots, a long way back.”

“Shall we go through to dinner?” Lydia said, wanting to end the conversation so clearly making Nathaniel uncomfortable.

“It isn’t ready yet,” her mother said and whispered; “the caterer will call us through.”

“From the Norman conquest, I imagine,” Father continued, oblivious to Nathaniel’s discomfort. “Well, I uncovered a marvellous fact yesterday. We’re descended from royalty! If it hadn’t been for a couple of quirks of fate, we could have been having dinner in Buckingham Palace!”

Nathaniel set down his sherry glass. “Really?” he leaned closer, fascinated.

“It turns out we’re related to William himself.”

“The conqueror?”

“No, William the third, or William of Orange as he’s often called,” father replied. “I finished the family tree last night, thought you might be interested to see it.”

Nathaniel looked at Lydia, the warmth gone from his eyes, the colour from his cheeks. “Yes, I’d be very interested.”

Her father unlocked the bureau, an antique that had been in the family for at least four generations. Lydia’s nervousness had evolved into nausea, she had the terrible feeling that family was more important to Nathaniel than she’d realised.

“Here we are,” her father unrolled a large sheet of paper, covered in neat lines and writing. As he talked Nathaniel through the details Lydia excused herself, needing a moment alone in the hallway to fight the panic. She drifted over to Nathaniel’s coat, stroked the cashmere and tried to tell herself all would be well as her hand felt a bump in the pocket. She reached inside and felt a small square box covered with velvet. Her breath left her, she pulled out her hand and looked up at the ceiling, hoping her family would pass this test.

Nathaniel came into the hallway, closely followed by her parents and she moved away from the coat.

“I’m dreadfully sorry, I hate to be impolite but I think this is the best for Lydia and myself.”

“Nathaniel?” she took a hesitant step towards him. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m afraid I have to leave.”

“But, the dinner…” her mother said, but her father put an arm around her and steered her back into the living room, leaving Lydia in the hallway staring at Nathanial.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as he headed for the coat stand.

“It wouldn’t work, I’m sorry.”

“Is this because of that stupid genealogy stuff?”

“It isn’t stupid. It’s very important to my family, they would never approve of you.”

“But they haven’t even met me, how can you know?”

He put his coat on, avoiding eye contact. “It’s… it’s just the way things are. It was always going to be difficult, to get them to accept you, but now it’s impossible.”

He reached for the door handle, she stepped into the way. “Wait… are you dumping me?”

“I would never call it anything so crass, but I can’t see you again. I’m sorry.”

“But weren’t you going to propose?”

His eyes widened slightly. “It doesn’t matter. It’s best that you forget about me. And let me leave before this gets any more difficult.”

He gently pushed her to one side, opened the door and left. She watched him stride down the path and step out into the street without looking back. Her bottom lip wobbled, she bit down hard. If he was so shallow, she wasn’t going to waste any tears on him.

“You alright love?”

“Seems he’s not ‘the one’ Dad,” she said, fighting the tremble in her voice as she closed the front door. “Let’s have dinner, shall we?”

Thanks for hosting Kath!

I hope you enjoyed the story. If you would like to find out more about the Split Worlds project, it’s all here: www.splitworlds.com – you can also sign up to get an extra story and get each new story delivered to your inbox every week. If you would like to host a story over the coming year, either let me know in the comments or contact me through the Split Worlds site. Em x

 

99 Reasons Why by Caroline Smailes

Author Caroline Smailes publishes her new novel today. 99 Reasons Why is a book with a difference. It is only being published as an ebook and comes with 9 different endings which readers can navigate using multiple choice questions on their Kindle or via a spinning story wheel on their iPad or iPhone. There are also two additional endings. One will be handwritten by Caroline and auctioned for charity, the other is being shared here for you to read…

 

99: the reason why I was only worth ninety-nine quid

It’s been six days since the little girl in the pink coat went missing and me Uncle Phil’s in me bedroom.

We’ve been watching the little girl in the pink coat’s mam on the news. She was appealing to the public for witnesses.

‘Didn’t realise she had a mam,’ I says, looking at me telly.

‘Everyone’s got a mam, pet,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘She sold her story to The Sun,’ I says, looking at me telly.

‘Got a few quid,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I nod.

‘She wanted nowt to do with that bairn before all this,’ me Uncle Phil says, looking at me telly.

‘Do you know where she is?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘Belle?’ me Uncle Phil asks me.

I nod.

‘She’s safe,’ me Uncle Phil says to me. ‘Your mam’s keeping an eye on her.’

‘Can I be her mam?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘No, pet, you’re a filthy whore,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I nod.

‘Can you make Andy Douglas come back, Uncle Phil?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

Me Uncle Phil shakes his head.

‘I love him,’ I tell me Uncle Phil.

‘Andy Douglas is your brother, pet. You didn’t seriously think Princess Di was your mam, did you?’ me Uncle Phil asks me.

I nod.

‘You’re a cradle snatcher just like your mam,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I nod.

‘Your mam miscarried when she found out I’d been banging Betty Douglas. Betty was expecting you,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I don’t speak.

‘When you was born, your mam went mad and I ended up buying you from Betty Douglas for ninety-nine quid,’ me Uncle Phil says.

‘Ninety-nine quid?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘I paid a hundred but got a quid change for some chips for your mam and dad’s tea,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘You bought me?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

I’m a little bit sick in me mouth.

‘It was the right thing to do,’ me Uncle Phil says to me. ‘I got Betty Douglas pregnant straight away with Andy.’

‘I’m pregnant,’ I says to me Uncle Phil. ‘I’m pregnant with me brother’s baby,’ I says, and then I throws up on me purple carpet.

‘You’re a filthy whore,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘What am I going to do?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘You’re going to have the baby,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘Have me brother’s baby?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.

‘Then I’m giving it to Betty Douglas to bring up,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘You what?’ I says to me Uncle Phil.

‘It’s the right thing to do,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

‘I can’t—’ I says to me Uncle Phil.

‘It’s either that or I’ll make you disappear,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.

I don’t speak.

I’m thinking, they’re all a bunch of nutters.

 

99 Reasons Why is available as a Kindle edition and an iBook edition.

Caroline Smailes is the author of Like Bees to HoneyBlack Boxes and In Search of Adam. You can find out more about Caroline and her books on her Author Website, her Blog or by following her on Twitter: @Caroline_S.

Visiting Jim

He dislikes lying to matron. She is, after all, a decent enough person. But if he told her the truth, she would never let him go. She would probably force him to join in more of the activities at the nursing home. He thinks activities a strange choice of word when the home only really has a dimly-lit television lounge, a large, light sitting room filled with green high-backed chairs and another activities area with card tables and board games.

Bill spends his time meandering between these three rooms in the daytime, sitting for a while, watching and listening, before he moves on. He suffers the odd game of draughts or chess with one of his fellow inmates, listening to their wheezing chest, whistling nose or slapping jaws. He dreads an invite to the TV room, as it means enduring the soaps or talk shows that dominate the  schedules.

Despite the constant noise around him, of television, nursing staff, coughs, moans and clicking joints, he sometimes finds the silence of his world suffocating. If it is warm enough, he likes to sit on a bench in the garden. He chooses one halfway across the lawn under some birch trees where he sits and listens to the leaves rustling overhead and the wood pigeon’s plaintive call.

He used to like Sundays, the main day for visitors at the home. Not that anyone ever visits him. His friends are either too frail to travel or gone now. He has no children of his own, only nieces and nephews. They send cards at Christmas and on his birthday but they don’t visit. He used to hover nearby when others had visitors, surreptitiously sharing in their conversation and family. That was until one woman complained and he was told not to bother people any more, which had annoyed him. It’s not as if he’d been doing any harm.

Now he dislikes Sundays most of all. In order to avoid them, he has to lie to matron. He doesn’t like doing it but every last Sunday of the month, he visits his old friend Jim Harris in the seaside town where they used to live. Jim is too frail to travel to see Bill. That’s what he tells matron anyway. So she allows him a day pass once a month and he gets the train on his own. To see Jim. He enjoys those visits but is finding them harder. His body aches for a week now after making the trip and he wonders how long he can continue his jaunts.

When his train pulls in at the station, he opens the door and stands for a moment on the step, inhaling the salt air and smell of grease from the chip shop. Those behind him expect him to take his time getting off the train. Those getting on wait awkwardly, not knowing whether or not to help him off. He walks towards the esplanade and sits for a while on a bench, watching the waves rise and fall. If the weather is bad, he doesn’t stop but instead walks on past the arcades and gift shops until he reaches the bright green and orange canopy of the restaurant.

He always chooses a table at the back, looking out over the restaurant and onto the seafront beyond. To his right is the bar and to the left the kitchens. He knows the menu verbatim but he and the Head Waiter go through the ritual of him studying it each time. He sucks on a bread stick, as he considers the choices. He reads the Italian first, pronouncing it perfectly in his head, then savours the description in English underneath.

It is busy today and he eats even more slowly than usual. He hears laughter and the crack of one of those tiresome party poppers: he guesses they are a hen weekend from their high heels, bare legs and short skirts. He is distracted by a squeal as sundae glasses of multi-coloured ice-cream sail towards another party, a family this time. One of the ices has a sparkler in it for the birthday girl with flushed cheeks, cowering in the middle of the table. To his right, he can hear a father rasping commands to a child, sit up, finish your pizza, stop banging the table leg, or we leave right now and go home. A line or two of ‘O sole mio’ rises in a crescendo from a table of lads by the window. He watches the waiter collect their glasses, smiling patiently and bowing his head when they finish, before moving off towards the bar.

At the other window table sits a young couple: she has long blonde hair that she flicks over her shoulders while she talks; her skin is pale and clear and squeezed into a one-shouldered black top; he sits forward awkwardly in a stiff grey shirt and scuffs his feet while he talks. The first date in a proper restaurant, Bill thinks. Her nervous giggle ripples through the restaurant and his embarrassed cough gives them away as the children they still are.

Bill orders an espresso at the end of his meal, although he knows he will pay for it later. He has had such a good evening of people-watching that he feels like rebelling. There will be another month of insipid tea when he gets back to the home. He thinks he deserves a treat. He pockets the mints for the train ride home. The coffee is sharp and hot, so he lets it cool off, as he watches the parties break up and tables clear. Jim would like it here, he thinks to himself. He realises that he has hardly given poor old Jim a thought this evening. But this would be Jim’s kind of place, he is sure. That is, it would be, if Jim actually existed.

Choc Lit Easter Bunny Blog Tour

Sophie’s in trouble. Must be Tuesday. 
Sophie Green’s an ex-spy, or trying to be. You wouldn’t believe the trouble she’s in. An MI5 officer has been shot with her gun, her fingerprints all over his office. And no, she didn’t kill him.
But she has gone on the run.
Now Sophie’s desperately seeking whoever’s trying to frame and kill her. She’s being forced to work with the least trustworthy man in Europe, MI5 is following her every move, and she’s had to leave the tall, blond, god of a man she loves behind.
Luke Sharpe works for MI6. Or did, until his girlfriend became a murder suspect.
Doing nothing wasn’t an option, so he started investigating. Who cares if it means jeopardising his career ? Sophie’s everything he used to say he never wanted. Young, irresponsible, bright and mad. Now she’s just everything – and she has to live.
She will live, won’t she?

Welcome to the Nut Press, Sophie Green! Run Rabbit Run is the first of your books to be published in the UK but is the fifth Sophie Green adventure.

You sound like a girl who gets herself into a lot of scrapes and dangerous situations. What made you decide to become a spy in the first place, and how long have you been one for?
Well, it was only about a year. As for the why…er, well no one’s really worked that out, least of all me. My previous job involved working terrible hours for an airline. Badly paid, boring, and the rest of my life stretched ahead of me with the same badly paid boredom. When Luke recruited me…well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. As for why he chose me…the current theory is that he wanted to sleep with me.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your past adventures? 
There’s not a lot to tell. Up until Luke recruited me I did absolutely nothing of consequence with my life. I followed my first boyfriend to university, where he cheated on me, and I quit and got the airport job. Then one day, I crossed paths with a wanted criminal, and Luke showed up, and, er, I may have ended up travelling down the baggage belt to catch the guy. And somehow, this convinced Luke I should be a spy.
The first case I got involved in was an inside job: one of my colleagues had teamed up with a madman who blew planes up. Being that the only training I ever had was how to walk in high heels and barely know which end of the gun is which, it was a bit of a wild ride.

For those reading about you for the first time, do we need to have read about any or all of your previous outings?
I shouldn’t think so. All you need to know is that I’m probably the worst spy the British Service has ever seen, that I have a really hot boyfriend and that I’ll make your sarcast-o-meter bounce off the scale. But, you know, if you want to read about my adventures, you could start with I, Spy?

You look in terrific shape on the cover of Run Rabbit Run. How do you manage to look so good in the profession you’re in?
Aw, thanks. Er, my exercise regime could be thus summarised: wear high heels, get chased by criminals, and never do any exercise except that which requires two people and a bed.

Aren’t you worried about your adventures being made public record by Kate? Is there anything that you won’t let her include in the Sophie Green mysteries?
Yeah, she doesn’t get all the details of my sex life!

You’re now an ex-spy, or trying to be an ex-spy? What’s made you decide to leave that world?
It’s a bit embarrassing actually. I got fired. Basically, as I said, I was rubbish at it. Well, I mean I tracked down the bad guys and everything, but I have a slight habit of leaving a trail of burning buildings, exploded cars, and dead bodies behind. It was kind of a lot for the Service to clear up, not to mention expensive. I’m a PR disaster. So when they started cutting back…I got cut. To be honest, it wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened. I was getting quite tired of being shot at.

What’s been your favourite part of being a spy, and what was your least favourite moment?
Well, I did get to do cool stuff, like calling in the military. And even though I’m bloody terrified of my gun, I have to admit it’s cool. And, of course, it was through my old agency, SO17, that I met Luke, and it’s probably safe to say he’s the love of my life. And he is hot. I mean HOT.
Ahem. As for the worst… well, I don’t realy like being shot. Or stabbed. Or burned. Or set upon by a hive of bees. (Yeah. That happened once. Did I mention my life is really weird?)

Your boyfriend, Luke Sharpe, is in MI6. How would you describe him, and is it difficult maintaining a relationship when you both work in the intelligence services?
Is it difficult…? Honey, you have no idea. People like Luke don’t have relationships. I mean seriously, I think I’m the first actual girlfriend he’s ever had. He’s about as comfortable having emotions as most people are having stomach flu. Probably that’s because he had a very posh, rich upbringing that was entirely devoid of actual affection. In fact, having met some of his family, I have to say he’s surprisingly normal. Of course, he’s got used to using his looks as a sort of commodity, the way you might use a skill with languages or music. He really is gorgeous. Tall and blond and lean and… oh my. Is it hot in here? But he’s also very, very clever, cool in a crisis, and while he can sometimes be a bit cold, he can also be unexpectedly kind when you really need him.

I understand that you already have a special man in your life but any fantasy men out there who you’d like to volunteer your services to as their protection detail?
Luke knows he’s always second in my heart to Spike from Buffy, and that should Johnny Depp turn up at my door, especially in Captain Jack Sparrow guise, then I’d be off in a flash.
He also knows that I have my own real-life protection detail, albeit one I never asked for. My best friend’s husband Harvey is most women’s idea of a fantasy: handsome, smart, funny and a great kisser (it was before he met her, all right?). And then there’s Docherty, who looks like a vampire with a hangover and has a mysterious attachment to me that manifests itself by showing off in flashy cars and repeatedly saving my life. Needless to say, while Luke is quite happy about the life-saving part, he’s madly jealous of Docherty’s role in my life. It’s quite sweet, really.

And finally, if you’re leaving the service, what’s next for you? Will there be more Sophie Green mysteries, or will you be retiring and settling down with Luke?
Settle down? Don’t scare me like that! The only think Luke has ever made an overt emotional commitment to is his gun. Settling down…no, I don’t think it’s for either of us, regardless of how much we love each other.
I’d like to say I’d get a normal job where I don’t get shot at, but even when I worked in a bookshop—a freaking bookshop!–I still ended up framed for murder, so I dunno, I think trouble just follows me. So yeah, there will probably be more adventures, whether or not I want them!

Thanks for visiting, Sophie, and all the best of luck with your latest adventure, Run Rabbit Run, which you can pre-order in paperback but is out now for Kindle at Amazon UK or Amazon.com

Kate Johnson lives behind a keyboard in Essex and belongs to a small pride of cats. She likes wine, shoes and dying her hair, can be found online most days talking about these things, or about how much she fancies Richard Armitage. Her first book with Choc Lit, The Untied Kingdom, is shortlisted for the Contemporary Romantic Novel of the Year 2012. You can find Kate online at her Author Website and on Twitter @k8johnsonauthor. You can also follow Sophie on her adventures on Twitter @TheSophieGreen.

We have a 200g Lindt chocolate bunny to give away… all you have to do to win it is to tell us what spy name or cover name you would use if you were a spy like Sophie. Squizzey’ll pick the winner on Monday 19th March 2012. 


 

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