Three years ago Bella Castle left her home town nursing a broken heart over Dominic Thane, the man she fell in love with but couldn't have .
Now she's made a new life for herself in the country, working as an estate agent.
Bella loves her job and she loves her boyfriend Nevil. But recently he's been preoccupied, and she's starting to question if his future hopes and dreams are a perfect match for hers.
And when Dominic turns up unexpectedly in search of his dream house, she begins to wonder if home is really where the heart is. But she's over him, isn't she?
Below I have an exclusive extract introducing main character, Alice and the chance for two lucky winners to get themselves a copy of their own. Enjoy!
Alice settled back into her seat on the train with a happy sigh. She had her Kindle, her things about her, and shortly someone would bring her a cup of tea. Or even a glass of wine. First-class travel – at least on the train – was within her budget at last and she loved it. When she turned sixty, Alice had resolved that she would stop suppressing her itchy feet and travel more. She just needed to work out how. Going up to London more often was a start.
As the train had obligingly been ready for boarding early, she was well into this month’s book-group choice before people who didn’t share her idea of punctuality began to board the train.
Alice had arranged her bags so she wasn’t taking up much space and carried on reading. She didn’t look up until she became aware of someone plumping down in the seat opposite and a briefcase landing on the table. Then she glanced up and smiled to indicate she didn’t feel she owned the entire four seats before returning to her book.
The man took a bit of time to settle and Alice stopped reading in order to look at him properly. She was an inveterate people-watcher and, she soon discovered, he was well worth a glance. He was, she reckoned, younger than her – fifties probably – but had an energy about him that was more youthful. He wore a very nice suit and a tie that challenged the suit with its flamboyant colours and slightly skewed angle.
Alice wondered if, at sixty, one was expected to stop looking at the opposite sex with interest. Probably, she concluded, which was rather a shame. Not that she was constantly on the lookout for attractive men or anything, but felt that if she did notice one, she should probably leave the looking to younger women.
Yet the man opposite kept drawing her attention away from her Kindle. He was restless, opening his briefcase, taking things out, shutting it again, looking at his watch. He caught her glancing at him and smiled apologetically.
‘I wonder when the trolley will come round,’ he said.
‘We probably have to set off for that to happen,’ said Alice, ‘but that’s due any minute now. Ah, here we go.’ She looked out of the window, enjoying the moment when you couldn’t quite tell if it was the train moving or the platform.
It was a while before the trolley did come, and when it rattled to a halt beside them, Alice’s travelling companion seemed excited. The attendant looked at Alice expectantly but as she wanted time to consider her options, this seat-side service being new to her, she suggested the man went first.
‘What can I have for nothing?’ he asked.
Impressive, thought Alice. She’d have been much more circumspect.
‘Tea or coffee, hot chocolate, cake, biscuits, crisps,’ said the man in charge.
‘Not a sandwich and a bottle of wine?’
‘No, sir,’ the attendant said firmly. ‘You have to pay for those.’
‘But I left my wallet in the office and I haven’t much money.’
Alice retired behind her Kindle. In spite of his insouciance it must have been embarrassing for this man wanting to stock up on free food and drink like this.
‘I’m sorry about that, sir, but I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do.’
‘And you’re sure I can’t have a sandwich if I don’t have any of this other stuff?’ he asked, gesturing towards the biscuits, cake, fruit and crisps with a disparaging hand. ‘The value of them put together must come to the same as the cost of a sandwich.’
‘I’m sorry, sir. Only the free things are free. The rest has to be paid for.’
‘But the sandwiches have a very short shelf life – you probably have to chuck them at the end of the trip. The other stuff lasts ages.’
‘I said I’m sorry—’
Alice could bear it no longer. ‘Can I buy you a sandwich and a bottle of wine? I’ve got my wallet.’
The man looked at her with eyes she now saw were blue. ‘I couldn’t possibly let you do that.’
‘Why not? It’s not exactly a four-course meal at the Ritz. The bottles of wine are tiny. Let me pay.’ Alice tried to sound authoritative. She felt her age should give her a bit of gravitas. Although maybe her newly highlighted hair would detract from that.
The man looked longingly at the sandwiches and then back at Alice. ‘No. It would be wrong.’
Alice decided not to argue any more. ‘OK.’
Relieved to be no longer dealing with the man who wanted everything for nothing, the trolley attendant turned to Alice.
‘Right, I’ll have two sandwiches, two bottles of wine’ – she glanced up at her companion – ‘red, I think. Oh and some crisps and a bottle of water.’
Once she had paid and the trolley had rattled off, she handed a sandwich and bottle of wine to her companion. He sighed.
‘I give in,’ he said, ‘because I’m starving. But I insist on introducing myself. I’m Michael McKay.’
‘Alice Aster,’ she said and took his hand. He looked at her intensely for a moment and she realised it had been a while since a man had really looked at her. She found she liked it.
‘Do you mind if I start?’ he said.
‘Not at all.’ She responded to the warmth of his smile and decided this sort of thing was not forbidden for women over sixty. Seventy might be another matter.
Michael McKay ripped open the package and consumed the sandwich in three bites. Alice, who had had lunch, didn’t open hers. She suspected Michael would want that too. She did open her wine though and a packet of crisps.
‘I can’t tell you how grateful I am,’ he said, accepting the second sandwich when she handed it to him. ‘I was so hungry. I realised as soon as I got to the front door of the office I’d left my wallet in my desk drawer, but I’d have missed the train if I’d gone back for it.’ Then he made a face. ‘Actually, I probably wouldn’t have missed it but I’d have worried that I would.’
Alice nodded. ‘I like to be early for trains too. We have that in common.’
‘So, where are you headed? Reading? Or the Far West?’
Alice chuckled. ‘Well, not the really far west but beyond Swindon. Stroud, actually.’
‘I get off at Kemble.’
‘Oh, posh Kemble,’ said Alice laughing. ‘Such a pretty station.’
‘The scenery around Stroud is lovely too,’ he said politely.
‘It is indeed. I’ve lived there on and off for over thirty years.’ She realised this made her sound terribly old but that didn’t matter. Did it? Briefly she wondered if buying French beauty products off the internet in order to look younger – as she did – was a bit pointless if you more or less told everyone you’d reached bus-pass age.
‘So, can I have your address?’ he asked.
Alice was not a fearful woman. She believed in people and felt that most of them were well meaning. But she knew that if she let slip to anyone she knew – particularly her god-daughter Bella, who had a slightly maternal attitude towards her godmother – that she’d given her address to a man on a train she would be in big trouble.
‘Why are you asking?’
He looked at her as if she was mad. ‘So I can send you a cheque.’
‘You’re surely not suggesting you write a cheque and post it to me for the price of a sandwich and travel-sized bottle of wine?’
‘But of course I am.’ He paused significantly. ‘It was two sandwiches.’
Alice couldn’t help laughing. ‘That’s ridiculous. Tell me how you’re going to get back to London tomorrow if you haven’t got your wallet.’
‘You’re changing the subject.’
‘Yup.’ She laughed gently. ‘You must see it’s ridiculous to worry about such a small amount.’
His blue eyes pierced hers. ‘I can’t owe money to people. I’m constitutionally incapable.’
‘Well, that’s just silly!’
She could tell instantly that he was not in the habit of being laughed at much, but felt it was good for him to experience it, all the same.
‘Is it? Most women I know are only too delighted to be paid for.’ He had stopped looking affronted and a small smile was gathering at the corner of his eyes.
‘And some are perfectly happy to pay for themselves and for other people – men even.’
‘So you’re one of these modern women?’
It was rather lovely to be described as being modern. She smiled warmly at him.
Just then the ticket inspector arrived at her side and – being law-abiding and unsure of the rules – she felt obliged to produce her Senior Citizen railcard, which Bella had insisted on referring to as her Old Person’s railcard in a very disrespectful way. This would teach her to flirt with younger men, she told herself.
‘Well, at least you’ll feel better about me buying you a snack,’ she said, ‘now you know I’m old enough to be – well, your aunt, at least.’
The intense blue gaze was back. ‘Oh I could never think of you as an aunt.’
Alice found herself blushing. It had been a while since anyone had chatted her up, and she wasn’t even sure he was. As she didn’t know how to respond she picked up her Kindle. ‘I think I ought to carry on reading now. It’s my book group soon.’
‘Are you enjoying the book?’
Alice thought for a moment. ‘Not awfully.’
‘Then don’t read it!’
‘That would be taking anarchy too far,’ she said sternly and turned her attention to the least accessible of last year’s Booker Prize long list. Inside, she was smiling.
Bella was there waiting for Alice when the train pulled into Stroud a little later than scheduled.
Bella waved as she caught sight of her godmother amongst the small crowd coming out of the station. Alice was easy to spot in her drapey turquoise silk outfit that managed to be elegant and casual at the same time. With good bone structure and well-cared-for skin, she was someone Bella felt proud to be associated with.
She kissed her godmother on the cheek. ‘Good day? Oh, no need to ask. I can see you had a lovely time! I’m afraid I haven’t cooked. Fancy fish and chips?’
‘So how was travelling first class?’
‘Brilliant!’ Alice said.
Bella frowned slightly. Had Alice done something different with her make-up, or was she actually blushing?
You can follow the rest of Katie's blog tour at these brilliant blogs over the next few days (click on the image to enlarge)
Courtesy of Katie's Publishers at Random House, I can offer two copies of The Perfect Match to two lucky winners.
To enter, simply fill in the form below.
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