Today I have the pleasure of sharing the prologue for The Christmas Cake Café, by Sue Watson, which is published today by Bookouture!
Happy publication day!
The Christmas Proposal
It was Christmas Eve, the champagne was cold and sparkly, the tree was twinkling, and Bing Crosby was tinkling across the restaurant, filling the air with festive warmth and glitter. It was also the eve of my fortieth birthday, so it was extra special, and I was feeling particularly emotional looking at Tim across the table. The time was right. At last. He looked gorgeous. Not only was the candlelight warming his face, softening his big brown eyes, it was also rekindling our love. Despite the sparkle of the season I had to admit we’d been a little lacklustre on the love front recently.
‘Yes, I wanted us to spend tonight together,’ he said. ‘It’s been ten years now, and I think it’s time we talked about the future.’
A frisson of excitement bubbled up in my chest – though it may have been the champagne.
‘Yes, ten wonderful years,’ I said, smiling, gazing into his eyes and thinking of the good times. It had taken a while, and there’d been doubts along the way. It hadn’t been a bed of roses, and Tim had a tendency to put work before our relationship, coming home and burying his head in the computer, and often forgetting our anniversaries because he was so busy. But here, by the glittering light of candles, it seemed Tim was finally ready to put us first. He knew Christmas was my favourite time of year, and I’d often talked of a wedding in December, so perhaps we could organise it in time for next year? It was my childhood dream to be a winter bride, dressed in icy white, crystals and fur. I’d imagined being delivered to my soul mate by horse and carriage, cutting through a white landscape of snowy mountains and shimmering fir trees. And it looked like that dream was just about to come true, so I sat back and waited for the confetti to fall.
Tim lifted the champagne bottle from the ice bucket, tutting slightly at the drips on the table. I wiped them away with my napkin then folded it again, pushing the creases with my fingers, desperately trying to make it smooth.
‘The waitress should have brought a cloth,’ he sighed. ‘I wasn’t sure about buying this fizz anyway… it’s an inferior brand.’ He scrutinised the label then screwed up his face in that way he often did.
I smiled indulgently. How like Tim to want everything about the ‘surprise proposal’ to be perfect. We were quite alike really – both wanted a nice home, clean, tidy with a perfectly manicured lawn and a kitchen stuffed with high-end white goods. My friend Storm said we were in a rut, but as I pointed out to her, one girl’s rut was another girl’s life of domestic bliss. We both knew where we were and what the other was doing at any given time, nothing wrong with that – and we were both in bed by 9.30 p.m. every night, asleep by 9.35 p.m. I was happy; I felt safe with Tim. He wasn’t what you’d call spontaneous, but if spontaneity meant he’d run off with the first good-looking woman he saw, then give me predictable. Given our routine and the fact I knew him inside out, the proposal wasn’t going to be a surprise because I’d seen all the signs. There was mistletoe above the table, champagne in the ice bucket and deliberately vague references to it being time to ‘talk about our future’.
He’d also insisted I meet him at 6.30 p.m., which meant I had to miss taking part in the annual carol service at the hospital. My half-sister Jody was a nurse there, and I’d felt really torn about backing out – and Jody hadn’t helped with her emotional blackmail. ‘Don’t worry about the hospital charity, Jen. I mean if Tim wants an early dinner then sick patients will have to come second,’ she’d said sarcastically. For God’s sake, this was my Christmas proposal. It was everything I’d ever wanted and still she didn’t get it. I put Jody and her anger from my mind. It was my birthday tomorrow, and I was having a special Christmas Eve birthday dinner with my future husband. I looked round at the glittery lights, the mistletoe, the sparkling champagne and the man with twinkly blue eyes. I was a lucky girl.
As Tim lifted the bottle to pour our drinks, I discreetly checked the bottom of my glass flute to see if he’d popped the engagement ring in when I wasn’t looking. Tim wasn’t really a romantic – he always said grand gestures were just a desperate attempt for attention, or a cover-up for infidelity. I suppose that’s why he never bought me flowers and didn’t want to get engaged, until now. If I ever made vague suggestions about getting married (which I did, sometimes once a week) he’d always reject them quite strenuously: ‘Isn’t it enough that I come back to our shared home every evening?’ he’d say. But I knew if I waited long enough it would happen. And here we were, champagne on the table, Bing Crosby in the air – my moment had arrived.
‘So… to us,’ I said, raising my glass, looking into his eyes, offering him the moment. ‘And to love,’ I added, for good measure.
‘Whatever love is,’ he said in his best Prince Charles voice, which stung a little, but now wasn’t the time to compare our love to that of the doomed prince and princess, so I pushed forward.
‘I wonder what our future holds?’ I said, with a questioning but coquettish look, along with another rather blatant cue.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Oh.’ I put down my glass, still smiling. Was he teasing me? It wasn’t like Tim to tease – he was usually very serious.
‘I’ve been thinking a lot lately and tonight I want to share my thoughts with you,’ he started.
I shimmered with excitement and, taking another gulp, I waited as he took a sip of his champagne. Now would be good, I thought – this would be the perfect memory with the candles and the musical accompaniment. Bing was reaching a climax – a few more festive lyrics and he’d be gone, leaving only cutlery clatter and murmured conversations. The Christmas proposal had to have a backdrop of good Christmas music, and I was worried about what would be piped through next, because I didn’t want this moment drowned by a shrieking Mariah Carey wailing about what she wanted for Christmas. I felt like a film director, longing to shout ‘Action!’ so it would all fall into place here and now – everything perfect, even the timing. You had to grab these perfectly framed moments so you could hold on to them forever.
And then he spoke. ‘We’ve had ten good years together… and the thing is… tonight I wanted to say… thank you…’
‘But… but I think we’ve reached the end of the road.’
And my Christmas world stood still. Baubles stopped sparkling, candles went out – and Bing Crosby left abruptly, taking his white Christmas with him.
This wasn’t in the script. Tim was now supposed to be on one knee placing the ring on my finger as the restaurant erupted around us in applause. My mouth was suddenly very dry, and I took a large gulp of champagne before asking, ‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m not happy.’
‘Happy? Not happy?’
‘No… I don’t want this life… with you.’
My throat closed up and I couldn’t speak, breathe or swallow – my whole world had crashed, taking my past and future with it. No sparkly ring in my glass, no flower-framed wedding photos of the two of us smiling, my bouquet thrown in the air, my life fused with his.
I looked into his cold eyes, a tiny cell in my body still hoping against hope this might be an elaborate joke. But Tim didn’t do jokes.
‘How long have you felt like this?’ I asked.
‘Yes… don’t shout, Jennifer.’ He looked over at the couple on the next table, giving them an embarrassed smile.
‘Oh I’m sorry, you’ve just thrown a bomb into my life, forgive me if I embarrass you by shouting,’ I snapped. ‘Tim, what the hell…?’
‘I’m sorry. I just haven’t felt… love… for you for a while now.’
This was a final stab to the heart. ‘But it’s Christmas… and it’s my birthday…’ I said, desperately searching for reasons for him not to do this, like it was illegal to dump someone at Christmas or on their birthday.
‘Why this… now?’ I asked, gesturing towards the champagne, the glittering candles, the perfect bloody setting for a perfect bloody proposal.
‘It’s your birthday. We always go out for your birthday. I wanted it to be pleasant…’
‘Pleasant? PLEASANT?’ I raised my voice again.
‘Ssshhh, you’re making a scene,’ he said, looking round furtively.
‘A scene? A SCENE? I yelled, aware I was simply repeating key words and saying them more loudly, but it was involuntary. ‘You dump me after ten years… my best years… We were on the cusp of marriage.’ He was shaking his head, but I wasn’t taking this on.
‘You’ve taken my youth, my fertile years – I wanted a baby, Tim.’
‘I’m sure you’ll meet someone…’ he started.
‘I WON’T. No one will want me. You’ve had the best years, the childbearing…’
‘Please stop shouting about fertility and childbearing in here.’ He was hissing, more concerned about how we looked to the rest of the diners than the fact my heart was splattered all over the table.
‘You’ve taken away my future, you bastard!’ I shouted this and in my rising fury picked up the bottle of champagne and hurled the rest of the contents at him. He yelped like a dog, and then the manager came over and asked if he could help.
‘Yes, kick him in the balls for me,’ I shouted, and grabbing my bag, I rushed out in a flurry of tears and heartbreak – just as Bing Crosby suggested we have ourselves a merry little Christmas.
Well, if that doesn’t leave you wanting more, I don’t know what will!
Buy your copy now on the links below…..
THE CHRISTMAS CAKE CAFÉ by Sue Watson out today! (14th October)
Heart-warming and hilarious, a story that will make you laugh, cry and bring a smile to your face. Get ready for another deliciously amazing Christmas treat from Sue Watson….
As the Prosecco chills and Bing Crosby croons, Jen Barker just knows that her long-term boyfriend is about to propose. But instead of a diamond ring nestled in her champagne flute, Jen finds cold flat rejection. Her once perfect life and dreams of a husband and family seem even further from reach.
A working holiday to the Swiss Alps with her younger sister Jody might not be the Christmas Jen had it mind, but it offers her the chance to recharge her batteries and recover from heartbreak.
When Jen meets handsome ski instructor Jon Zutter her hopes for a happy-ever-after seem within her grasp again. Jon is kind and gorgeous and as they bond over Sachetorte at the picturesque Cake Café, Jen thinks he might just be her perfect man. But a relationship with him comes with a catch – and there are some things even cake can’t fix.
As the snow falls and Christmas approaches, could this be the place that restores Jen Barker’s faith in love?
About the Author
Sue Watson was a journalist on women’s magazines and national newspapers before leaving it all behind for a career in TV. As a producer with the BBC she worked on garden makeovers, kitchen takeovers and daytime sofas – all the time making copious notes so that one day she might escape to the country and turn it all into a book.
After much deliberation and copious consumption of cake, Sue eventually left her life in TV to write. After a very successful debut novel, Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes Sue signed a three book deal with Bookouture.
Many thanks to Kim at Bookouture for letting me join in with todays publication celebrations! 🙂