Authors: Carole Matthews
First published in Great Britain in 2016 by Sphere
Copyright © Carole Matthews 2016
This edition published by Carole Matthews INK Ltd 2016
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Hope you’re going to enjoy the further adventures of the Chocolate Lovers’ Club ladies. Every time I finish a chocolate lovers’ story, I think it will be my last, but these characters just keep on giving.
I love spending time with Lucy, Autumn, Nadia and Chantal. As a writer, when I come to the end of some stories, I know that I’ve finished with those characters – not so with these ladies. They seem so real to me now, that I worry what’s happening to them when I’m not writing about them. I always keep thinking what if this happens or what if that happens to them. I feel as if I’m part of their gang and I hope that you will too.
They also enable me to do lots of fun things in the name of research! Mainly eating chocolate, it has to be said. But what’s not to love?
So please enjoy
The Chocolate Lovers’ Wedding.
Make sure that you have plenty of chocolate to hand – I don’t want you to have to do any of those late night runs to the petrol station in your PJs for chocolatey goodies. Happy reading!
In London you are never more than ten feet away from a Twix. True fact. There is one, right now, in my desk with my name on it. Third drawer down. Back left-hand corner. It’s now twelve thirty and its siren song has been calling me for the last hour.
I’m holding strong. And there’s a very good reason for it. I, Lucy Lombard, aficionado of all things chocolate-based, am a recently engaged person and, as such, am of course on a diet. No one wants to sashay down the aisle at their wedding with the congregation sniggering ‘lard arse’ into their hands, do they?
I sigh with happiness. Not about the diet. I’m not a weirdo. I’m happy because I’m actually to be married to the love of my life, Mr Aiden ‘Crush’ Holby. After years of unsuitable boyfriends – Marcus Canning in particular springs to mind – and one previous abandonment at the altar – due to Marcus Canning – I am betrothed to someone who is not only undeniably handsome, but is kind, loving, can cook, likes small animals and, most importantly, is willing to overlook my various foibles and flaws to make me his wife. To the point that he wouldn’t
mind if I was packing a little more punch in my wedding frock. Hmm.
Right. That’s it. The Twix gets it.
Guiltily, my fingers snap back from the drawer. My boss.
‘Did you get those figures for me from the finance department?’ he growls.
Oh, right. That. ‘Ah, no.’
‘I’m sorry to interrupt your daydreaming. Again. But they are quite important.’
In the short time I have worked here at Green Information Technology, or GIT as the employees call it, I have found that Mr Robert Simmonds gives great sarcasm. Sometimes – quite often – he does have a point.
‘Sorry. Sorry.’ In fairness, he asked me ages ago to get his figures or whatever and I’ve completely forgotten. I got a bit sidetracked Googling wedding favours and such on the internet. I’m thinking of heart-shaped chocolates or personalised chocolate lollies. It’s tough. What would you do?
My boss drums his fingers on the filing cabinet. Mr Simmonds likes to make out that he’s a laid-back hippy. He brings a quinoa salad in for his lunch, for heaven’s sake. But he’s
not a hippy. He’s old, grumpy and a total stress bunny. He wears a suit and tie when everyone else in this office favours faded jeans and open-necked shirts. My easy-going approach to my job is totally at odds with his uptight, starchy nature. We are terminally unsuited and I should discuss this with my temp agency.
My eyes slide back towards the chocolate bridal favours.
More drumming. ‘And you’re waiting for?’
‘Right. Right.’ Must. Stop. Thinking. About. My. Wedding. And. Chocolate. ‘I’m on my way.’
With a theatrical tut that’s not even necessary, Mr Simmonds – never Rob – slams back into his office. This is a company that is supposed to care about the environment and the planet and all that but, frankly, doesn’t give a toss about its employees.
Wearily, I push myself from my desk and head towards the finance department. I could probably just call them, but this will help to fill my endlessly dull day and also burn off some calories to balance out the imminent Twix consumption.
Before I depart, I ease open the desk drawer and take a sneaky peek at it. ‘Wait for me, baby,’ I coo. ‘Mummy won’t be long.’
Then I head off to . . . where was it again? Finance. Finance. That’s where I’m going.
I’ve been working here at Green IT for three months. Three months since Marcus Canning – dastardly ex-fiancé and serial cheat whom I may have already mentioned – only went out and bought the best café and chocolate emporium in the whole of London: Chocolate Heaven. This was my sanctuary, my home from home, my life. Beyond my wildest dreams, I had become the manager. And I was good at it. Bloody good. Then, beyond my worst nightmare, the owners sold it to said ex-fiancé, the lowdown dirty dog, and I had no choice but to leave. I thought I’d be serving behind the counter of Chocolate Heaven until I was old and grey. But Marcus spoiled it all.
I vowed then and there, as long as Marcus was calling the shots, that I’d never darken the door of that blessed place again. True to my word, I haven’t entered its hallowed halls ever since. Three months. It makes me feel quite dizzy to say it. In all that time, the good ladies of the Chocolate Lovers’ Club – Chantal, Nadia, Autumn and my good self – have been wandering the hinterlands of north London like nomads. Having our favourite haunt cruelly snatched from us, we’ve been meeting at a variety of inferior, less chocolatey cafés across the capital city to indulge our cravings and finding that nothing really floats our boat in quite the same way. No wonder I’m depressed.
These same long months I have also been back in the dreary, dead-end world of office temping. And, to tell you the truth, I feel as if I’m hanging onto even this poxy job by the skin of my teeth. This could, potentially, be a great company to work for. Saving the planet and everything is very fashionable, right? But the other problem is that, as a temp, I’m given No Responsibility. Therefore, I turn off my brain the minute I arrive at my desk. Then, when I am actually given something to do, I usually make a total cock of it. Vicious circle.
I think I’m skating on thin ice after putting together an important PowerPoint presentation for my boss on the Anthropogenic Effects on the Natural Environment, which he was giving to some bigwigs in the industry and which, somehow, mainly featured wedding dresses. Gah! I have no idea how that happened. Still, a lot of people found it amusing. Well, some people found it amusing. One in particular didn’t, though. Ahem. The proper presentation was
There are some upsides to being at GIT. This is a great building to work in. It’s an enormous, contemporary office block right on the river by Blackfriars bridge – prime location. It’s stuffed full of bright artworks and multi-coloured chairs. It has floor-to-ceiling windows and, because that makes it like an oven, we have the air conditioning pumping out all day. If you ask me – and no one does – that doesn’t seem all that green. Clearly, we prefer to tell other people how to cut back on their energy use rather than have the inconvenience of doing it ourselves. I have, however, connived to surreptitiously manoeuvre my desk further towards one of said windows so that I can admire the splendid view of the Thames at my convenience.
Before Mr Simmonds can come and chase me again, I scuttle out of the office. Normally, even in the face of adversity I’m a cheerful soul but I’m out of sorts today, restless and unsettled.
Out in the main corridor, where I’m alone, I hold up my hands and lean against one of the windows, resting my cheek against the cold glass. It’s March and it’s chilly outside. However, it’s one of those days that make you hopeful that spring is just around the corner. The Thames is a shimmering silver ribbon and trees along the Embankment are shyly coming into bud. The sky is a quite promising shade of blue.
I look down over the river and, on a bench, three floors below me, a figure looks up and waves.
‘Marcus?’ I jump back from the window and press myself against the wall. I’m sure it was him. Could I be hallucinating due to lack of chocolate?
My phone pings with a text and I glance at it, warily.
Hi, Lucy! Surprise, surprise. M xx
I summon up the courage to look again. Sure enough, it’s Marcus who’s down there and he’s waving at me again.
, I text back.
, he answers.
Come and talk to me
As I watch, he pulls his coat round him and lies down on the bench. He’ll freeze out there. When he sets his mind on something, he doesn’t falter until he gets the result he wants. He could be out there for days waiting for me to crack. I know Marcus only too well; I will not win this staring contest. I am always the one who blinks first.
With an exasperated sigh, I head downstairs and, after getting my security pass all in a tangle at the gate, flounce outside and into the cold. Marcus sits up, smiling triumphantly as I approach. His blond hair is tousled by the breeze coming from the river. He’s wearing a sharp grey suit and a black cashmere coat. As always, he looks devastatingly suave. This is the man who has broken my heart into a thousand pieces time and time again. I should never forget that.
‘I have nothing to say to you,’ I tell him firmly.
‘Shall we do it over a coffee?’ he asks. ‘Or I could buy you lunch?’
Lunch. My stomach growls. I check my watch. It is, technically, my lunch time. Sort of.
‘Just hear what I’ve got to say,’ Marcus pleads.
He turns those devastating china-blue eyes on me. The ones that I have loved so much. The ones he thinks always reduce me to a quivering wreck of compliance. Ha. Not today, Marcus Canning. Today, I am braced against your wily ways.
‘There’s nothing you can say that I want to hear.’ I hold up a hand. Talk to that.
‘I love you,’ Marcus offers.
‘Don’t be silly. You haven’t sat out here in the freezing cold just to tell me that.’ I shiver and Marcus, as quick as a flash, whips off his coat and wraps it gently round my shoulders.
‘I can’t manage without you,’ he tells me.
I purse my lips. ‘Emotionally or physically?’
‘Both,’ he admits, boyish smile giving it all it’s got.
‘Stop it, Marcus. I’m immune to your charms these days.’ But still my stupid heart remembers how much it once loved him. It’s like a favourite white blouse with a chocolate stain that always remains no matter how much Vanish you scrub it with; yet you still can’t bear to part with it.
‘Half an hour,’ he cajoles. ‘You owe me that.’
Despite my protestations, Marcus takes my hand in his and starts to walk in a determined manner towards the bridge. ‘This could change your life.’
‘Just hear me out.’
I make some show of resistance, pulling against him. But it’s futile. I so desperately want to know how things are going at Chocolate Heaven without me. I want to hear him beg me to go back.
I won’t. Obviously.
But I want to hear it all the same.
‘Oh, Marcus.’ I fall into step beside him.
I’ll hate myself for this. I know I will.