How to Get Hitched in Ten Days: A Novella Samantha Tonge ‘How to Get Hitched in Ten Days was lovely from start to finish… a gorgeous novella.’ – Reviewed the BookHow not to get the girl…Meet Mikey, every girl’s best friend – he bakes the creamiest cheesecake, loves movie nights and is a great dance partner.For Jasmine, Mikey is the perfect flatmate – he owns a 50s diner that turns out the best food around, gives the best bear hugs and amazing romance advice – after all they’re scoping out the same hot guys! So when her boyfriend proposes in the worst possible way, Jazz knows her best friend will be there to pick up the pieces with gourmet popcorn, Pinot sleepovers and a shoulder to lean on.But Mikey isn’t about to let Jasmine give up on love, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to mend her broken heart – even if it means helping the one person who sees him as the enemy…Because at the end of the day, all’s fair in the pursuit of true love… right?What reviewers are saying about How to Get Hitched in Ten Days‘This is a fabulous short story of true friendship, and about not letting your own personal feelings towards someone, get in the way of helping them get their happy ending.’ – Rachel’s Random Reads‘It was a joy to read and it would make the perfect film to watch on a night in with your best friend’ – M’s Bookshelf‘It's heart-warming, funny and romantic- filled with great friendships, more complex relationships and topped off with Mikey's wonderful diner that I'd quite like to visit please, as it sounds delicious!’ – Little Northern Soul‘I highly recommend this heartwarming story.’ – Suze on With Love for Books How not to get the girl… Meet Mikey, every girl’s best friend – he bakes the creamiest cheesecake, loves movie nights and gives amazing advice. For Jasmine, Mikey is the perfect flatmate– he owns a 50s diner that turns out the best food around, gives the best bear hugs and amazing romance advice – after all they’re scoping out the same hot guys! So when her boyfriend proposes in the worst possible way, Jazz knows Mikey will be there to pick up the pieces with gourmet popcorn, Pinot sleepovers and a shoulder to lean on. But Mikey isn’t about to let Jasmine give up on love, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to mend her broken heart, even if it means helping the one person who sees him as the enemy… Because at the end of the day, all’s fair in the pursuit of true love… right? Also by Samantha Tonge (#ulink_34cb64a9-ebab-5b15-bc0b-c37dead4b0ca) Doubting Abbey From Paris with Love Mistletoe Mansion Game of Scones My Big Fat Christmas Wedding How to Get Hitched in Ten Days Samantha Tonge Copyright (#ulink_39fbda3b-38a8-56a0-835a-b98246d6c7e8) HQ An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF First published in Great Britain by HQ in 2016 Copyright © Samantha Tonge 2016 Samantha Tonge asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. E-book Edition © February 2016 ISBN: 9780008182663 Version date: 2018-06-12 SAMANTHA TONGE lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat who thinks it’s a dog. Along with writing, her days are spent cycling, willing cakes to rise and avoiding housework. A love of fiction developed as a child, when she was known for reading Enid Blyton books in the bath. A desire to write bubbled away in the background whilst she pursued other careers, including a fun stint working at Disneyland Paris. Formally trained as a linguist, Samantha now likes nothing more than holing herself up in the spare room, in front of the keyboard. Writing romantic comedy novels is her passion. Her summer 2015 novel, Game of Scones, reached #5 in the UK Kindle chart and won the Love Stories Awards Best Romantic eBook category. http://samanthatonge.co.uk/ (http://samanthatonge.co.uk/) https://twitter.com/SamTongeWriter (https://twitter.com/SamTongeWriter) https://www.facebook.com/SamanthaTongeAuthor (https://www.facebook.com/SamanthaTongeAuthor) Thanks first and foremost to my lovely editor, Victoria Oundjian, for making me see sense when my plot ideas venture into cray cray land. Thanks Victoria, for your wise words – even if they do send me running into a dark room, for a few hours! I’m also grateful to the whole Carina team, for their expertise and support. Thanks to my supportive agent, the lovely Clare Wallace. And, as always, to my fellow Carina authors – you are the best – and my writing, reading and blogging friends within the literary community. Your interest, generosity and camaraderie are so appreciated. A big thank you to the fab Jenny in Neverland for her support. Martin, Immy and Jay, I couldn’t do any of this without the back-up of Team Tonge. There are not enough words to describe how much I love you. A big thank you to the very lovely and talented Daniel Riding - writer, blogger and artist. Thanks for putting up with my questions, Dan, and always having the time to share your knowledge or a joke. And thanks, Frank de Jong. Without you, this story wouldn’t exist. For Jay, a very special, kind, loyal, funny young man. Thanks for your teenage perspective. Love you Four- ever… Contents Cover (#u1b26c0de-b56f-5141-85ad-7816a983621e) Blurb (#u85ec4da8-92c7-591f-ac3c-d1df07d06979) Book List (#ulink_4f3573b8-747d-5d81-92cc-7a88ebf77437) Title Page (#u241e9fc1-a8be-52f1-95cf-301dd87ad0d1) Copyright (#ubb76394f-5382-53ed-bd54-989af16bc5c1) Author Bio (#u74d3b21a-b6f6-55c1-b186-3aa62a7dd800) Acknowledgement (#u1ac5710f-f3c8-5f4b-bd75-ff6418488789) Dedication (#ua2bec5f2-1b79-5554-ad7e-89cfb7b89c06) Chapter One (#ulink_221d0673-c144-524d-b996-e4c6b4f1384b) Chapter Two (#ulink_f9b51ba6-103b-506d-b449-5420044c1392) Chapter Three (#ulink_090be213-7b9b-5a0b-a23f-49c8ce1a04b0) Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Excerpt (#litres_trial_promo) Endpages (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One – Mikey (#ulink_77741c97-4ef8-556e-b3db-ee07d78f02cd) I stepped back as Kate crossed the black and white check tiled floor. Due to the speed of her roller skates, her red dotted skirt swished from side to side. ‘Careful how you go,’ I said and smiled. New staff always took a while to get used to wheels instead of feet. ‘Big thumbs up for getting through the lunchtime rush. Any problems?’ ‘No. That woman in the purple top was really impressed with the gluten-free burger and fries – said she’d definitely come back next week.’ Kate jerked her head towards a man in the corner. My stomach twisted. The ruffled brown hair. Slumped demeanour. That casual coat I was always telling him to bin and replace with an Italian cut jacket. ‘He’s sat with his head in his hands for over fifteen minutes, Mikey,’ she said, in a low voice. ‘I don’t like to disturb him.’ I cleared my throat. ‘Leave him to me. It’s Dave – my flatmate’s friend.’ ‘Nice…’ Her twinkling eye caught mine and she blushed. I threw my hands in the air. ‘What is it with you guys? What’s Chef been saying? Honestly, I’m singularly happy being single and don’t need matching up with any old bod that walks in here, waving the testosterone flag. Plus let me clarify, Dave is actually the partner of my friend.’ I beckoned to the diner’s head cook to come over. ‘John. For the umpteenth time – stop encouraging employees to hook me up. And for your information, Kate, Dave is straight – my flatmate is a fabulous woman called Jasmine.’ ‘You? Happy?’ John snorted. ‘Don’t believe a word, Kate. He’s been unattached for almost a year now and it’s made him right cranky – especially since he turned thirty last month. In fact my missus has got a new hairdresser – says he’d be right up your street and–’ I raised an eyebrow. ‘The benefits office will be right up your street, too, if you don’t get back to work.’ Uneasily I shifted and gave Kate a small smile. Her eyes crinkled as she grinned and headed off to clear a table. I had a feeling she and I were going to get on. With John, after all these years, I talked about anything, but at the grand old age of thirty, I was still wary about discussing my private life with anyone who didn’t know me well. With a sigh, John headed back to the fryers, scooting behind a glass counter. He glanced over and I winked at him. John smiled, winked back and, shaking his head, turned around to clean up before dinnertime customers trickled in. On the other side of the glass cabinet a couple of teenagers sat on chrome stools, guzzling milkshakes, feet tapping to Grease music that blared out from my gorgeous gilt jukebox. I gazed around the restaurant, taking in the red and silver chairs at each table and the bright walls decorated with fifties American memorabilia. Not many customers realised this was a genuine diner exported from Kansas in the seventies by my entrepreneurial parents. Plus they’d found the perfect location for it, near a town and not far from a petrol station. I couldn’t believe my luck when they signed Polka Dot Diner over to me, last year, before heading off to travel the world as part of their dream retirement. To the sound of John Travolta lamenting lost summer love, I wiped my hands on my black apron and walked over to Dave’s table, by the window. Hmm. They could do with a polish. I’d get onto that after the evening rush. He looked up as I sat down. ‘Mikey.’ ‘Dave.’ ‘She told you?’ ‘Not really. Didn’t want to talk much last night. Said she was tired. We drank hot chocolate together in silence.’ I sighed. ‘Look, first things first, let’s order pie and coffee.’ Dave shrugged and I called over Kate. Due to his rugby player build, it twisted my stomach even more to see him suddenly look so fragile. The Dave I knew was robust, with shoulders broad enough to carry a responsible job, to manage a local football team for underprivileged kids and look after his mum who’d been ill. Ten minutes later, caffeinated steam rose between us. There wasn’t a lot in the world a slice of cherry pie with a dollop of ice cream couldn’t put right. However, Dave only took one mouthful before pushing away his plate. What was wrong? He’d never come into the diner before, on his own. ‘I’ve messed up big time,’ he grunted. ‘What an arse. Jasmine must be really upset.’ A rich fruitiness satisfying my taste buds, I wiped my mouth with a napkin. ‘Guess so. She left for work before I got up this morning – Jazz never does that. I heard you’d booked a great restaurant for Valentine’s Day…’ My eyebrows rose. ‘What happened? Couldn’t she find a vegetarian option? Or did you argue over the bill? I know she always insists on paying her half. Wouldn’t she let you treat her for once?’ Dave’s cheeks flushed. ‘Ah. So she really didn’t tell you anything.’ He swigged his coffee. ‘Get this: I proposed.’ Heart thumping, a gasp escaped my lips. My Jazz and him married? Wow. For some reason I hadn’t seen that coming. Dunno why. I knew Jazz wanted to settle down and her face still went all squidgy when she spoke about Dave. But weddings, mortgages… it all seemed so final. A shard of coldness pierced my chest. Soon I really would be on my own. I shook myself. Okay. Enough with the selfish reaction. ‘That’s… great news.’ We both sat in deep thought for a moment. ‘But why the long faces?’ I managed eventually. ‘She was happy, right? I mean, it’s clear to me that, ultimately, Jazz wants the white picket fence and two point four kids.’ Dave leant back in his chair, dark circles under those chestnut eyes, cheeks half-shaven. Mind you, rough and ready Dave never managed to attain a really smooth look, even on those days he tortured the world with his out-of-tune whistling. ‘I’m not so sure, now. She’s always hesitated when we’ve talked about commitment. I know we’ve not been together two years but I just thought that, yesterday, the time was right. It’s… It’s what I’ve wanted from the first time I saw her,’ he added gruffly, and fiddled with his teaspoon. My chest glowed. Bless. That was the nearest Dave had ever got to expressing his feelings in front of me. He was a strange one. I had several straight male friends who only needed the smallest of shoves to open up a little about their emotions. Whereas Jazz’s boyfriend… privately I called him Dinosaur Dave – except he’d be one of those cute herbivore species that wouldn’t harm anyone intentionally. I chewed another mouthful of pie and swallowed, enjoying the sensation of vanilla ice cream drizzling across my tongue. ‘Look, angel-face–’ ‘Don’t call me that.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘Okay. Dave. Do you know how many wedding fairs me and Jazz have visited over the last couple of months?’ His brow furrowed. ‘But that’s only because she’s going to be bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding next year.’ ‘Think again. She’s hoarded a whole bundle of bridal catalogues recently. You don’t do that unless you’re fantasizing about your own special day.’ Dave rubbed his chin and said nothing. ‘So didn’t she accept? What’s the ring like? Bet she loved it.’ Well done moi, managing to suppress a doubtful tone. Dave’s presents hadn’t always hit the spot. Take the sexy underwear he bought her for Christmas. Executive human resources manager Jazz is one classy lady. A clichéd black and red lacy set was never going to cut it. Not that she let on. Up until now she’d found Dave’s clumsy attempts at romance endearing. Like the pair of knitted ducks he’d found on a market stall. Not the prettiest ornaments but adorable due to their sentiment that ducks mate for life. So last night he really must have blown it big time. ‘There was no ring.’ Cue a sheepish look. ‘I hadn’t planned anything. It was spontaneous.’ ‘Uh huh… well, spontaneous is good. You could have both gone shopping for diamonds together, this weekend.’ I said, aware that this was one of the longest conversations we’d ever had. You see – Dave and me, as you’ll soon come to understand, have never really… gelled. He kept his distance. I’d given up trying to figure out the reason why. Dave’s mouth drooped at the corners and I longed to lean over and give him the tightest of hugs. Yet I didn’t. Over the months I’d learnt to respect his personal space. Dave wasn’t touchy feely – not with me, anyway. I’d linked arms with him once and he’d jumped away as if I’d scalded him. I tried to get to know him better, but the sentiment had never been reciprocated. He coughed and stared at his colourful, donut-themed placemat. ‘Spontaneous may be good – but not if you’re absolutely plastered.’ I put down my cup. ‘You were drunk?’ ‘Bladdered. Hadn’t prepared a word. The urge to propose just came to me. I can’t hold down champagne at the best of times and seconds afterwards I had to run to the toilets to throw up.’ I stared at him. ‘How exactly did you word this proposal?’ His cheeks flushed. ‘Hard to remember. I just blurted out that neither of us were getting any younger and that we should get hitched. Think I mentioned something about a registry office and not making a fuss.’ I opened my mouth but no words came out. ‘Like I said, she’s always shied away from talking about us settling down. I didn’t want to scare her off with fanciful ideas,’ he muttered, rambling now as he ran a hand through those unruly curls. My jaw stayed open. ‘When I got back to the table, she pointed out that I had vomit down my shirt.’ I squirmed. Ew. I’d have been compelled to immediately demand he strip off so that I could take it to the bathroom for a damn good wash. ‘Then she got up, said I could pay the bill and left me to it. She hasn’t answered my texts all morning.’ Dave sniffed. ‘Not even when I suggested we meet for cocktails after work.’ I couldn’t help smiling. Dave, prepared to drink cocktails? He couldn’t stand their sickly sweet flavours, cute umbrellas or brightly coloured straws. ‘Glad you find it funny, Mikey. Go on, call me a jerk. Over the last year or so you’ve made it obvious you don’t like me much. Bet you’re well pleased.’ Huh? ‘Now hold on a minute, that’s not–’ With a clatter, Dave let his teaspoon drop onto the saucer. ‘So rub my nose in it. I don’t blame you. Tell me how gym-buffed you would have planned a special proposal weeks ahead, with violins playing, homemade quiche for breakfast the next day, her favourite chick flick waiting to watch when you got home from dinner.’ ‘Yeah, spot on Dave,’ I said dryly. ‘All those stereotypes so apply to me.’ His cheeks flushed. ‘Well, you have got a six-pack. And you make quiche – from scratch.’ ‘I also play Call of Duty till the early hours and my favourite all-time film is The Bourne Ultimatum.’ I pulled a face. ‘Although I draw the line at watching that TV channel named after you – giant go karts or extreme-sized fish really don’t do it for me.’ ‘Whatever.’ Dave scraped back his chair and started to get to his feet. ‘I’d better go. The office will be wondering where I am.’ Yet he stalled before fully standing up and shot me a weird expression. My heart squeezed. Vulnerability wrapped up in a bristly exterior – I could see why that killer combination drew in Jazz. My brow furrowed. ‘Hold up. You don’t owe work anything. As Jazz says, if they can’t value their top accountant then it’s no wonder you’re looking for another job.’ He grimaced. ‘True. No promised bonus for three years has finally pushed me to put together a new CV.’ ‘So you can spare ten more minutes. Sit back and tell me – why did you come here today?’ Lips pursed into a firm line, he slouched into his seat. ‘I’m not begging. See it as a favour to Jasmine but… if anyone can help me salvage something from this, and propose again in the right manner, then it’s you.’ I snorted. ‘Dave. I’m the last person you should ask. I haven’t had a proper relationship for months now and what do I know about asking for someone’s hand in marriage?’ My heads spun for a few seconds. What a dilemma. Me, help the person who disliked me most in the world become a permanent fixture in the life of the person who liked me the most. ‘You know Jasmine,’ he said, in a tight voice. ‘Whenever it’s her birthday, your presents always outshine mine.’ ‘I don’t do it on purpose,’ I said, in a measured voice. ‘I get it. It’s a gay thing.’ ‘Dave, just for one second try not to talk in clichés. Perhaps I’m simply a more thoughtful human being, had that every crossed your mind? Take John, our head chef. For his last wedding anniversary, he had a bespoke music box made for his wife – when you lifted the lid it played their wedding dance song. You don’t get more thoughtful or romantic than that.’ Dave let out a sigh. ‘Look – will you help me or not?’ Wounded eyes stared straight at me, as if he were some loyal Labrador who’d lost his owner and faced a future on the streets. His lips might have been set in a firm line, but I noticed the muscle flinch in his cheek – saw the way he wrung his hands. Inside my chest felt heavy. I didn’t like to see him upset. And in my heart there was no question – I had to help, as I couldn’t blank the memories of Jazz’s shiny eyes when she first used to mention a great guy she’d met called Dave, a bloke who brought security and confidence to her life. ‘How long have we got?’ I mumbled and scrunched up my forehead. ‘Doesn’t she leave for New York in ten days’ time?’ Dave nodded. ‘The night before she flies out I want to propose again. I don’t want her going with bad feelings between us. That gives me time enough to plan and get the proposal just right.’ ‘Yeah, good idea, especially as they are pressing for her to move there permanently.’ ‘What?’ My cheeks burned. ‘Oh, um, didn’t Jazz tell you? Apparently Chemi-Vate has set up its largest number of laboratories in any one location. The human resources department is the biggest in the company’s history. With her experience, Jazz is lined up to become the New York HR manager.’ Dave’s head dropped into his hands again. ‘Nothing stopping her now then…’ My chest squeezed and I held out my hand to a passing Kate. Almost free-wheeling straight into the next table, she unsteadily passed me her waitress’ notebook. ‘Never took you for a quitter, Dave.’ He looked up and I took out a pen from my apron. ‘Let’s do it, angel-face,’ I said with an innocent smile. ‘You’ll really help me?’ he said, eyes wide. ‘I thought… I mean – this is a great opportunity for you to get rid of me, once and for all.’ ‘And why would I want to do that? Jazz’s happiness is what matters, no?’ I shrugged. ‘Sure. You’ve been a right bozo but – God knows why – Jazz loves you with every soppy cell of her being.’ A quizzical look crossed his face. The lines on his forehead dissipated. My brow relaxed too and my breathing slowed as his mouth almost upturned. ‘Now, take off that damn awful coat, Dave McCrory…’ Pen poised, I straightened up. ‘… and let’s see if we can get you hitched – or at least engaged – in ten days.’ Chapter Two – Jasmine (#ulink_5061fcd9-1c8b-50f3-85f8-3e132f92c6c1) ‘Angel-face! Get in here this minute!’ With a sigh I took off the turban of towel around my hair and, cheeks still hot from the shower, padded towards Mikey’s bedroom in my comfiest pyjamas. His private space in the flat was lush, with shiny purple floral wallpaper and a matching velvet bedspread. It provided quite a contrast to the black and white colour theme of the lounge and open-plan kitchen. I yawned. It was only half-past eight but I’d had a challenging Monday at the office, having to sack someone and investigate a claim of sexual harassment. Then last night, my Valentine’s Day date, well… less said about that the better. A lump rose in my throat. ‘Hurry up, slowcoach!’ With a roll of my eyes, I passed through the doorway and… oh, what a welcome sight: Mikey, in his night-time shorts and T-shirt, sitting on the far side of his huge king-sized bed which stood opposite a widescreen telly. Next to him was a bottle of wine, large bowl of popcorn and an array of DVDs. I pursed my lips to trap a sob I could feel rising as he folded down the duvet and patted the mattress. I let my towel fall onto the floor. ‘Hop in, Jazz. We haven’t had a sleepover for a while.’ I bit my lip. Unexpected acts of kindness shot straight into the heart, didn’t they? My chin trembled. ‘Oh, darling.’ Mikey turned to face me and stretched out his arms. I hurtled towards him, squidging across the sheets to fall into the warmth of his embrace. Enveloped in those biceps, my facial muscles relaxed and I leant my head on his chest. We hugged for the longest moment, me squeezing my eyes tight, so as not to cry. ‘You aren’t going to dribble, are you?’ he said, softly. With a sniff, I slipped my left arm across his abdomen and poked him in the ribs, as he lay down. ‘Oi!’ I lifted my head and we exchanged smiles. ‘So. Are you finally going to tell me what happened last night?’ he said, as I rested my head again. ‘You haven’t said a word all evening.’ ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ I mumbled and blinked rapidly. ‘Fair enough.’ He squeezed me tight. ‘But I’m here if you need me. Right, DVD time – you like romance, I’m an action fan, so how about we compromise with a James Bond movie that combines both elements?’ I nodded, sat up, limbs feeling heavy as I crossed my legs. I grabbed the bowl, scooped up a handful of popcorn and offered it to Mikey, who slipped two pieces into his mouth. ‘Mmm. You’ve tossed it in liquid toffee,’ I said and reached for one of the napkins by the bowl. ‘With just a touch of salt added,’ he said and nipped out of bed to pick up my towel and hang it over his radiator. He came back and picked up two glasses from his bedside table. ‘Pour the Pinot.’ ‘Bossy boots.’ Although that was the kind of order I would never refuse. A glugging noise, from the bottle, filled the room as he clambered back into bed. Five minutes later, we sat, both leaning against the headboard, hips rubbing next to each other as we snuggled up, crunching on the scrumptious snack. ‘So, which James Bond?’ I said, in between mouthfuls. Must focus. Dave being a moron wasn’t going to leave me in bits. My throat ached. One thing Mum’s death had taught me was never to let a man dictate how happy I was. ‘Let me guess…’ I cleared my throat. ‘Daniel Craig, seeing as you’re such a fan of six-packs and fake tan.’ ‘Huh? Haven’t you ever taken a close look at my boyfriends?’ I thought hard. ‘Hmm. Not many of them have been gym bunnies. In fact, that Steve hadn’t an ounce of muscle.’ ‘Believe it or not, sometimes personality counts as well.’ ‘Unless you’ve lowered your standards, due to recently letting yourself go. I mean, just how much pie have you been scoffing at the diner lately?’ With a grin I slipped my hand under his T-shirt and my fingers slid over taut, waxed contours. ‘I know. Irresistible aren’t I? As ripped as ever.’ ‘Don’t flatter yourself,’ I muttered, hand back in the popcorn bowl. ‘Okay… I reckon you prefer Timothy Dalton – out of all the Bonds, he’s a little rougher around the edges, yet the most sensitive.’ ‘Ten out of ten, darling – but tonight’s all about you, so come on, choose the film.’ Mikey cocked his head. ‘I think you’ll either go for Roger Moore who makes you laugh or… well yes, Daniel Craig – the perfect gent.’ Unable to talk for a moment, I nodded – it must have been the time of the month. You see, I didn’t really do crying. Blame that on a childhood where weeping resulted in a clip around the ear. Mikey was right – a man who made me laugh yet treated me with respect, in other words the opposite to my dad. ‘Octopussy it is.’ Quickly I sipped my wine. Heaven. Next to Mikey I always felt… safe. Cared for. In fact pure bliss, an hour later, when my head lay on his chest again and, lights dimmed, he stroked my hair. I imagined this was how it must feel as a child, to have your dad’s arms wrapped around you when things went wrong; to know he was there, whatever the circumstances, whilst other people in your life would come and go. ‘Dave came into the diner, today,’ he said quietly. I swallowed, stomach tingling at just the mention of my boyfriend’s name. Dave had the sexiest lopsided smile and kisses that sent me to a place where sad memories or stressful work problems never got in. ‘Good for him.’ ‘Wearing that God awful coat. He’s… really sorry – about last night.’ So Mikey did know exactly what was the matter. Almost knocking his chin, I sat up. ‘Since when are you Dave’s defender? You’ve hardly spoken to him the last year.’ ‘Yeah, I have!’ His cheeks flushed. I raised one eyebrow. Dave and my flatmate were hardly best mates. I didn’t get it – as well as having me in common, they were both kind and compassionate. Dave also liked action movies and Mikey watched football sometimes. He sighed. ‘Okay, look… can you blame me? He jumps a mile high if I touch him and judges me as if I’m some stereotypical camp gay character out of a Hollywood movie.’ ‘Not always!’ Good old Mikey simply pursed his lips. He no doubt had plenty of harsher things he could say about Dave, but had probably bitten them back over recent months, for my sake. ‘Okay, so Dave’s, um, not quite as in touch with his feminine side as you.’ Mikey snorted. ‘That’s got nothing to do with it. Straight guys I know give me a hug. Dave’s just… just…’ ‘Reserved? Very British?’ ‘Socially awkward, more like – but only in my company.’ ‘You always were special,’ I said, in an attempt to raise a smile. ‘Anyway, I thought tonight was about me? How typical to make it all about yourself.’ ‘Jazz!’ I grinned, the ache in my heart forgotten for a nanosecond. Is there anyone better than a best friend who can help you laugh your way out of a dismal situation? He shrugged. ‘Okay. Fair comment. So, Dave explained how he’d messed up.’ ‘That’s putting it mildly. I just hope he’s got the sense to keep his distance before I leave for New York where I can cool off.’ An odd expression crossed Mikey’s face and he busied himself topping up our glasses. ‘So he was drunk – that’s not the worst crime in the world.’ Seconds later his face fell. ‘What I mean is…’ He shook his head. ‘Crap. When am I going to learn to take my foot out of my mouth?’ ‘Don’t worry.’ I forced my mouth to upturn. ‘Clearly I’m so well balanced, it’s hard to remember I had an alcoholic for a dad.’ Despite everything, I half-chuckled. ‘Perhaps Dave should be more like you Mikey. We’ve always got on so well.’ ‘You’re forgetting that little matter of you having women’s equipment…’ He shuddered and I couldn’t help laughing. ‘Plus you are possibly the untidiest person in the world. And eat the most God-awful vegetarian food.’ ‘You’re OCD about cleanliness,’ I replied. ‘And there’s nothing wrong with being a veggie. You even serve chickpea burgers at the diner now.’ ‘Excuse me for not being a fan of germs.’ He glanced at me. ‘And yes. Agreed. Thanks to you the diner’s menu rapidly moved into the twenty-first century. I have to admit those Quorn tacos you made the other night were awesome. I guess, all in all, we’re a good match.’ I nodded. But me and Mikey as a couple? I couldn’t think of a funnier idea. Although hands up, when we’d first met, whoosh, the biggest crush hit me out of nowhere. With his protective manner, well-groomed looks and love of white wine, cooking and dancing, he seemed like the ideal man. But after a few weeks living together, I soon realised there would definitely never be any romance. We both fancied the same movie heroes, I liked rugged, hairy chests and he wasn’t into soft fleshy curves. ‘Remember when we first met, exactly… four years ago this March,’ he said, as if reading my mind. ‘Only you could move two days before a new job, and magically expect to find lodgings, just like that.’ ‘Ah ha, but I did, what with you just having split up with your boyfriend. You were mesmerised by my explanations of the latest food tests at Chemi-Vate labs and couldn’t believe how many E-numbers existed.’ Poor Mikey. Talk about being in pieces after his break-up. Yet he didn’t talk about it much at first and had taken months to really open up. My flatmate didn’t exactly suffer from trust issues, just… well, talking openly about his personal life had lost him friends in the past. ‘And you couldn’t get over me serving onion rings in cute baskets and hotdogs pierced with mini American flags.’ I smiled. ‘Every morning for a week I visited your diner for pancakes, or eggs easy over with hash browns on the side, and bombarded John with ideas for vegetarian burgers. Then he suggested you rent me your spare room – almost as if it were meant to be.’ Mikey sipped his wine. ‘And maybe it’s fate that you and Dave should be together – why not give the poor bloke another chance?’ ‘I just need time.’ Hand trembling slightly, I put down my glass. How could Dave propose to me whilst pissed? Say on our wedding day, we shouldn’t make a fuss? Like I wasn’t special… like our love didn’t deserve a special ceremony with family and friends, with carefully chosen food and music that meant something to both of us? My throat constricted. If he was like that now, what would he be like ten years down the line? Taking me for granted? Cheating on me? Knocking me around, like Dad did Mum? And it wasn’t as if I’d ever thought about marrying him. Not really. Because getting married in her twenties, before any career was established, had proved to be the undoing of my mum. ‘But Jazz–’ ‘Mikey! Enough already. Don’t pressurise me. Let me recover from the shock of last night. Okay – he’s great bloke and, and I…’ Thoughts whizzed around my mind. Perhaps secretly I had really thought Dave was the one. Oh God. Here came that sob once more. Inhale, exhale… I sipped my wine. Get it together Jasmine Jarvis – Dave was nothing like your dad. ‘Despite his gruff exterior, he is the gentlest soul and….’ I gave a wry smile. ‘I love his indignation when I tease him about his obsession with Instagram. Do you know his latest thing is taking photos of his feet, in different shoes?’ Mikey pulled a comical face. ‘God help Instagram.’ He wrinkled his nose. ‘At least followers can’t scratch and sniff…. look, despite his dose of weirdness, you’ve always thought Dave’s a special guy, right?’ His voice wobbled very slightly. ‘People like that only come along once in a while.’ ‘Like the man who’s stolen your heart?’ Poor Mikey. It had killed me over the last few months, to slowly witness his heart break. Mikey turned away. ‘I love Dave, but… I don’t know. Marriage? At our age? After this, perhaps the shine will start to wear off,’ I said. ‘In fact I’m seriously considering taking that permanent position in New York. I reckon a change of scenery will do me good.’ ‘What?’ He turned to face me again and the corners of his mouth dropped. Leaving Mikey would be as hard as anything. ‘I can’t rely on you to pick up the pieces, every time life throws a tripwire my way.’ My eyes tingled. ‘I’ll miss you like anything but… last night – it’s made my mind up.’ ‘It’s my privilege to be your safety net,’ he mumbled and took my hand, lifting it to his lips. ‘Who will I watch trashy documentaries with? And no one makes a mojito like you.’ He stared at our intertwined fingers for several seconds. ‘Okay. Enough with my pity party – it does actually sound fab-u-lous. Sex and the City for real, no?’ We gazed at each other and he gave what looked like a forced smile. I’d made my decision and needed to stick with it. ‘With me gone, the freedom could spice up your love life. And it’s not like you need the rent money any more. Perhaps it would be an opportunity for you to have some fun and move on from your mystery unrequited love.’ ‘I’ll just go and get more popcorn,’ he said quietly and wiped crumbs from the duvet cover. ‘Oh, and by the way – sorry, Jazz, I might have let slip to Dave that Chemi-Vate wants you to move to the States full-time.’ ‘What? Oh, great. I haven’t even worked out the details yet. Although I guess he has to know sooner rather than later…’ As Mikey went to slide out of bed, for the thousandth time my curiosity felt piqued. Was this object of his affection married? A customer at work? Much older or younger than him? I never liked to push too hard as his eyes went dull and whole body kind of drooped. It had to be serious as when Dave was in a funny mood recently, and practically interrogated him about it, Mikey hadn’t been ready with his usual quick-witted retorts. Yes, the person did live locally. No, they weren’t in the restaurant business. On it went, Mikey answering the questions but actually revealing very little. I sighed. Last night, he’d even spent Valentine’s Day all alone. Life and soul of the party Mikey – it wasn’t right. A change on the domestic scene might do him good as well. I held out my hand and pulled him back. ‘You know I love you.’ My vision went all blurry. ‘I just think it’s time I challenged myself. Whatever happens, you’ll always be my best friend.’ His fingers tightened around mine. ‘Love you too, Jazz. Forever and for always. I’ll support whatever decision you make. We can text… Skype… and you won’t be able to stop me from visiting the Big Apple. But don’t let last night result in a knee-jerk reaction you might regret.’ I nodded and as he left the bedroom, switched the DVD back on, knowing that tonight, snuggled up in Mikey’s reassuring arms, I still wouldn’t get a wink of sleep. Indeed, several hours later, warm in my flatmate’s embrace, I was still thinking about Dave – how we’d lie talking for hours at night, about the stuff that mattered. How laughing, I’d come back from the bathroom and slide my icy hands down his back. Then, once his hollers had abated, his soft lips would find mine and know exactly what to do, to turn my blood into streams of heat. Stomach tingling again, I sighed into the darkness. Why did Dave have to ruin everything, by popping the question? I’d be mad, right, to even consider losing any independence, before my career made me really financially strong; before it gave me the means to get out of a marriage that might end up like…? I swallowed, an image of Dad’s cold eyes creeping into my head. Mikey ruffled my hair and turned over, within minutes snoring slightly. Dave loved my hair and its natural mouse colour. I’d dyed it until meeting him, due to my father’s words ringing in my ears “mouse by colour, mouse by nature”. He often used to mutter that to my brown-haired mum. It made me determined to stand out boldly, so over the years I coloured my tresses an array of colours – until Dave once said mouse shouted confidence and not caring about anyone else’s opinion. Not that he suggested I stopped my trips to the salon. I smiled. In fact he’d act all amorous if I came home with a different colour – joked it was like having a different girlfriend, every few months. Yet slowly, I grew out all the dye and now Dave called it a particularly tasty shade of fudge. I stared ahead at the bedside table. My eyes pricked. Yet when it came to his wedding proposal, Dave couldn’t have been less flattering. Mikey gave a loud snore. I snuggled into my pillow. My best friend meant well, but nothing or no one would change my mind. Jasmine Jarvis was moving to New York New York in ten days and that was that. Chapter Three – Mikey (#ulink_afb8486f-a05b-520d-8635-586efa2bf58c) ‘I’m Not The Marrying Kind’ came onto the jukebox, a song from one of my fave Elvis films, Follow That Dream. He sings it to Anne Helm, a gorgeous actress with long brunette hair. Yep. I admit it. Thanks to my parents, I’m a complete Presley Geek. Their retirement trip was to Memphis first, to visit The King’s home, Graceland. What a pity Jazz wasn’t planning to move there. I looked up as the door swung open. Awkward. This song had to be playing just as Dave walked in, hair curled tight due to the rain. I glanced at the clock. Ten to eight. The last customer finished buttoning up his mac and waved goodbye before heading outside into the black February night. My chest squeezed. Jim had eaten here every weekday evening for the past two weeks, since his wife died. I’d patted his back when he’d told me and, to my amazement, old-school, tweed-cap wearing Jim had leant in for a hug. As for his visits here, whilst I’m a huge fan of fast food, that’s on the understanding that it’s part of a balanced diet. Therefore I’d instructed John to surreptitiously start including a free portion of vegetables alongside his fries and a dollop of fruit on top of his favourite cheesecake. Sheila, Jim’s late wife, always used to order the same thing when they ate in the diner on a Saturday lunchtime – veggie burger with sweet potato wedges and a strawberry milkshake. She reckoned that meal made up most of her five-a-day. Jazz took full credit for my increasing number of vegetarian customers. ‘You’re late.’ Dave shrugged, raindrops flecked across his cheeks. ‘Tuesdays mean team meetings – always a long day in the office. Then I had to pick up the ingredients.’ No apology from those deep tones but his eyes darted towards the floor. That would do me. I could forgive a lack of manners, due to his current turmoil. Plus I was simply flabbergasted that detached Dave had agreed to meet me alone – that was a first. In the past he’d seemed to avoid my sole company at all costs. Me paranoid? Sometimes, perhaps. But not over this. And… and it hurt. Finally Elvis’ voice petered out but then aarghh! The next song was ‘America’ from West Side Story – hardly a song to cheer up Dave. He put down a full plastic supermarket bag, took off his coat and sat down at one of the tables. I poured two coffees and joined him. ‘Got nothing stronger than that?’ Dave met my gaze for a brief moment, one eyebrow raised. Then he sighed and looked away. ‘She’s still not replied to my texts or phone calls. Perhaps this plan is stupid. Now it’s nine days and counting until Jazz leaves – that’s not much time.’ ‘It’s more than enough,’ I said in a bright voice and shifted in my seat. Loyalty was a right bugger sometimes. It meant I couldn’t tell Jazz that Dave was going to try his very best to win her back; I couldn’t reveal to Dave that Jazz had definite plans now, to move to the States. ‘Stop with the negativity.’ I reached into my apron pocket and took out a notepad and pen. ‘Right, let’s see what we wrote down yesterday, before you dashed off… Jazz’s main interests are dancing and cooking. That’s what we’ve decided to work with, to make her feel special over the next week.’ I cleared my throat. ‘So, what are you going to cook me, as a trial run for dinner with her tomorrow night? And we need to crack on with those dance lessons you agreed to take, so that you can take her out to her favourite salsa bar with a degree of confidence. In fact I’ve–’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/samantha-tonge/how-to-get-hitched-in-ten-days-a-novella/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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