Only You’s Mags Hollinger – The Sister from Hell?

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Sisters, Jane and Mags Hollinger couldn’t be more different. Jane is reserved while Mags speaks before she thinks. Jane teaches family history evening classes while Mags is a journalist on a fashion magazine. Jane is divorced and quite happy to continue living a quiet life while Mags is single and goes to fashion shoots and gets to interview sexy actors.

But under the brash exterior, Mags loves her sister and wants to see Jane happy again. So, she and best friend Carol, buy Jane a subscription to a dating website. But, on discovering that the man of her dreams – actor Robert Armstrong – is one of her students, Jane not surprisingly abandons the dating website.

Reluctantly, Jane does her best to keep her friendship with Robert a secret from Mags knowing her mega mouth sister would blab to all and sundry. Jane dreads her sister ever finding out because Mags knows that Jane has a serious crush on Robert and Jane knows she’ll never hear the end of it.

When Mags does find out about Jane and Robert, she’s furious, hurt and madly jealous. Wisely, Jane allows her sister to vent her anger and once Mags has calmed down, she proves invaluable to Jane. Mags protects and supports Jane when she needs it most and even moves in with her sister to help pay the mortgage. But Mags will always be Mags and Jane knows that sharing a house with her will never be dull!

 

Jane Hollinger is divorced and the wrong side of thirty – as she puts it. Her friends are pressuring her to dive back into London’s dating pool, but she’s content with her quiet life teaching family history evening classes.

Robert Armstrong is every woman’s fantasy: handsome, charming, rich and famous. When he asks her to meet him, she convinces herself it’s because he needs her help with a mystery in his family tree. Soon she realises he’s interested in more than her genealogical expertise. Now the paparazzi want a piece of Jane too.

Can Jane handle living — and loving — in the spotlight?

Read An Excerpt:

“Right, come on, shout and swear at me, let’s get it over with.”

Jane stood back and folded her arms.

Instead, Mags just shrugged. “Robert Armstrong, eh? You always like to think that you’re in with a chance, don’t you? It doesn’t do much for your self-esteem to find out that you’re too late, that he already prefers your bloody sister. You are one lucky bitch.”

“Carol said the same.”

“Not one to mince her words, Carol.”

“No. Look, um, Robert apologises for sending the DVD via you. Not one of his best ideas, he said. He’s going to write you a note and apologise properly.”

“I can’t wait. You slept with him yet?”

Heat flooded her face. “Mags, that’s none of your business. This is not a story. Do you understand?”

Mags’ eyebrows shot up. “Is that how little you think of me? That I’d run off toThe World on Sunday and sell them a story about my own sister?”

“I’m sorry.”

“If I did that, I might as well throw you to the wolves. I mean, there are women out there who would tear you limb from limb if they knew that you were Robert Armstrong’s girlfriend. There’s one particular fan site on the net some of the postings even make me blush, and that’s saying something.”

Jane couldn’t remember when she’d last seen Mags blush. “I don’t think I’ve been on that one.”

“Yeah, well, don’t look at it. Not now. This bloke I’m seeing on Friday better be something spectacular.”

“Please tell me that you don’t hate me?” Jane begged.

Mags pulled a face. “I don’t hate you. I’m insanely jealous, but I don’t hate you.”

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Only You’s (Other) Dramas

IMG_0468Only You’s Jane Hollinger loves watching drama, especially television period drama. She loves them so much that she has a huge DVD collection to help her escape from the routine of every day life. She has almost every period drama the BBC has ever produced and is also a huge Johnny Depp fan!

Despite all the period dramas, Jane certainly isn’t a prude. She first notices actor, Robert Armstrong, in The Lady of the Woods – a sexy modern remake of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It doesn’t hold back on sex or nudity and, according to her sister Mags, Jane practically wears out her DVD by going through most of the series frame by frame!

Jane’s favourite novel is an historical called The Hunger set in Ireland at the time of the Great Famine of the 1840s. She knows the period of history inside out – having studied it at university – and she is of Irish descent through her mother, whose family emigrated from Connemara in the west of Ireland during the Famine.

Jane has always imagined Robert as The Hunger’s main character, a landlord called Edward Rowley, and can’t quite believe it when he lands the leading role in an epic TV adaptation. She helps him with all the background research for the role but can’t help but worry as she sits down to watch the preview DVD Robert sends her. What if the adaptation is awful? What if Robert as Edward Rowley isn’t how she pictured him to be? What if she can never read her favourite novel again? You’ll have to read Only You to find out what her reaction is!

Read An Excerpt:

“I had some good news today from Marie,” Robert said.

“Oh?”

When I finish The Will, my next part is in The Hunger.”

Jane almost dropped her knife and fork.

“The William Simpson novel about the Irish Potato Famine?”

He nodded. “You know it?”

It’s my favourite novel. Will you be playing the landlord? Edward Rowley?”

“Yes, why? What’s the matter? You don’t think I’m right for the part?”

“No! I mean, yes.” She put her cutlery down before she did drop them. “Oh, God. Ever since I read it for the first time, you were the only man I could see as Edward Rowley…” She tailed off and blushed furiously. She hadn’t meant to say that much.

“Thanks very much,” he replied dryly. “He’s not exactly a happy chappie, is he?”

“No. Sorry.”

“Do you think about me a lot, Ms Hollinger?” he asked. Jane met his eyes. They sparkled with mischief. “Because when I read the script, and no matter which actress plays the part, you are the only woman I will see as Edward Rowley’s wife.”

“But she doesn’t love him,” Jane whispered.

“No. But he loves her. Very much.”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever worn a corset?”

Jane caught her breath and began to cough.

“No?” he continued. “Might have to remedy that sometime!”

“I look forward to it, Mr Armstrong,” she retaliated and he laughed. “Is it film or TV?”

“TV. A six-parter. The BBC and RTÉ, the Irish state broadcaster, are really going to town on it. It’ll be one of the most expensive dramas they’ve ever done.”

“I can’t wait to see it. I did nineteenth-century Irish history at university. Mum’s ancestors were from Ireland. They came to England to escape the Famine. I realised that I knew little or nothing about Ireland so I chose that module. I shouldn’t say that I loved it because it was such a terrible tragedy, but—” She stopped. She was rambling, but it was Robert gazing at her with a gorgeous smile on his face which really stopped her in her tracks.

“You’ll give me a hand with all the background, then?” he asked. “My maternal grandmother was Irish. I know a little bit of Irish history, but what I do know probably only scratches the surface. My great-grandfather’s brother fought in the Irish Civil War, but I know little or nothing about the Famine.”

“Won’t there be researchers or something?”

“Yes, but it’ll be much more interesting coming from you. I mean, if it weren’t for you, what would I know about genealogy?”

“You could have gone out and bought a book,” she teased.

“No, I needed to see why people get so addicted to it and, thanks to you, I have.” 

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The Inspiration Behind Only You

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Wouldn’t it be amazing to be in a relationship with someone famous? It would be great, wouldn’t it, with parties and premiers, and seeing your picture splashed across the papers and gossip magazines?

But what would it be really like to be in a relationship with someone famous but you wish they weren’t because you are a private person who prefers to live a quiet life? Could you love that famous person enough to be able to put up with the invasion of your privacy? It’s a dilemma and that’s why I created Jane Hollinger so she can try and come to a decision.

Poor Jane. Her self esteem is at rock bottom because her husband had an affair with and then left her for a client. She lives alone with her books and huge DVD collection and doesn’t know if she ever wants to date again. It’s been so long since she’s been on a date that she’s not quite sure if she even remembers how to do it properly and the prospect of going out with someone from the dating website her sister and best friend subscribed her to terrifies her.

Jane wishes that Mags and Carol would just leave her alone. She does go out in the evenings to meet new people – but it’s to teach family history evening classes at the local Adult Education Centre. Little does Jane know that romance will strike when she least expects it. But will she be able to cope with being in a high-profile relationship with a man she’s only dreamed of and the British press?

Read An Excerpt:

Fifteen minutes later they were seated at a corner table in The Red Lion, raising glasses of champagne.

“Happy birthday!” Mags produced an envelope with a flourish.

Jane opened it, half expecting a voucher for a beauty salon or a health spa or something subtle like that. Instead, she saw a confirmation e-mail.

Dear Ms Hollinger

Thank you for becoming a member of LookingForLove.com.

Her heart plummeted. “A dating agency?” She just managed to keep the dismay out of her voice.

“An online dating agency,” Mags squealed. “There are thousands of men on there just waiting for you. I mean, look at this one here.” She fished a printout from her bag and thrust it at Jane.

It was the details of a man named Bryan, aged thirty-four, six feet tall, brown eyes. Jane’s eyes were drawn to the photograph. She had to admit he wasn’t bad looking in an I’ve-played-one-too-many-rugby-matches type of way. He had a wrinkly forehead and his nose needed a good bit of reconstructive surgery. “He’s probably used a photo of someone else and doesn’t look anything like this in real life,” Jane muttered.

“People who lie about themselves are thrown off the website.” Carol was solemn as she pulled out another sheet of paper. “This is what we’ve said about you.”

“What?” She grabbed the sheet of paper, almost tearing it.

There she was; Jane Hollinger, aged thirty-one, divorced, five feet eight inches tall, blue eyes, brown hair. Likes history, cinema, reading and socialising. Looking for a man aged thirty to forty for friendship and possibly more.

It could be worse, she supposed, putting it down and taking a sip of champagne. It didn’t make her sound like a complete charity case.

“And you’ve already had some interest,” Mags told her.

“Why didn’t you just auction me off on eBay?”

“Jane, there hasn’t been anyone since Tom,” Carol argued.

“I’ve been busy,” Jane was defensive. “I have to pay a full mortgage now.”

“Okay, fine, we’ll cancel the membership.” Carol began to fold the sheet of paper.

“No, Carol, wait.” She held up her hands apologetically. “It’s just that I thought I was going to be married to Tom forever.” She found a smile from somewhere. “And I’m now in my thirties and single, whether I like it or not. I didn’t mean to sound like such an ungrateful cow. I’m sorry.” Inwardly she cringed when both women smiled sympathetically.

“I know what we’ll do,” Mags announced. She sprang out of her chair, startling the woman at the neighbouring table. “We’ll buy a couple of bottles of wine and we’ll go and surf the net, try and find you the man of your dreams.”

“You’re on!” Jane picked up her glass and drained it.

 

Jane Hollinger is single, divorced, and the wrong side of thirty – as she puts it. Her friends are pressuring her to dive back into London’s dating pool, but she’s content with her quiet life teaching family history evening classes. 

Robert Armstrong is every woman’s fantasy: handsome, charming, rich and famous. When he asks her to meet him, she convinces herself it’s because he needs her help with a mystery in his family tree. Soon she realises he’s interested in more than her genealogical expertise. Now the paparazzi want a piece of Jane too. 

Can Jane handle living — and loving — in the spotlight?

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Living in the Public Eye

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I must admit that I only read celebrity gossip magazines in the doctor or dentist’s waiting room, oh, and in the Chinese takeaway! I only actually buy one when there is a royal wedding. I don’t even do what Only You’s Jane Hollinger resorts to doing, and start to use the local newsagent as a research library!

Would I like to be featured in one? No, absolutely not, and neither does Jane. It is awful for someone as private as Jane to see her photograph in one of these magazines and it must be equally terrible for her to see someone she knows and cares about being harassed and provoked by paparazzi photographers.

Actor, Robert Armstrong, was in a high-profile relationship but now he craves privacy. Most of the publicity was orchestrated by his actress girlfriend but he didn’t like it and it was one of the reasons why he ended their relationship. But it doesn’t alter the fact that he is a famous actor who is in the public eye and, therefore, the paparazzi see him as fair game.

It’s something Jane can’t quite understand, even when it is explained to her in simple terms by her fashion journalist sister, Mags. In Only You, Jane has to ask herself whether she can give up some, if not all, of her privacy to be with Robert. Is it something she is prepared to do? You’ll have to read Only You to find out!

Jane Hollinger is divorced and the wrong side of thirty – as she puts it. Her friends are pressuring her to dive back into London’s dating pool, but she’s content with her quiet life teaching family history evening classes. 

Robert Armstrong is every woman’s fantasy: handsome, charming, rich and famous. When he asks her to meet him, she convinces herself it’s because he needs her help with a mystery in his family tree. Soon she realises he’s interested in more than her genealogy expertise. Now the paparazzi want a piece of Jane, too. 

Can Jane handle living — and loving — in the spotlight?

Read An Excerpt…

This evening she was spending time with Mags for a change. She’d been neglecting her sister a bit lately. The magazine on the top of the pile was Total Gossip. Total Crap, more like. She picked it up and flicked through it before stopping at one article. Gillian Jacobs on exes. God, how many did the woman have besides Robert?

Read the Gillian Jacobs interview in Total Gossip!” Mags ordered from the kitchen as Jane sat down on the sofa and placed the pile of magazines on the coffee table. “Her split from Robert wasn’t quite as amicable as was made out at the time. A lot of jealousy on both sides by the sound of it.” She came into the living room with the bottle of wine and two glasses, closing the door with her foot. “I suppose he didn’t mention anything?”

Why do they do this?” Jane asked instead of answering. “These awful interviews?”

“It keeps up people’s interest in them.” Mags passed her a glass of wine, kicked off her shoes, and curled up at the other end of the sofa.

“Well, not my interest.” Jane tossed the magazine onto the floor, picked up the next one and read, “I can’t play the perfect gentleman all the time.” It was Robert on why he chose to play East End drugs baron Mitch Burns.

Oh, not Mitch Burns. She discarded it and reached for another. It was the ‘At Home with Gillian Jacobs and her new beau John Davis’ feature in Total Gossip. Except it looked like a posh hotel.

Next was a copy of Spilling the Beanz. A post-it note was sticking out and she went straight to the page. ‘Robert Armstrong and Mystery Brunette leave Vincent’s.’

There was a double-page spread with a huge photograph and ‘a Sally Read exclusive’ printed alongside it. Her heart did a somersault. Oh, God, she was now ‘Mystery Brunette’. How corny was that?

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Writing Genealogy Fiction

Family History Evening Classes

Genealogy is the fastest growing hobby in the United Kingdom and North America. So I find it surprising that there aren’t more novels with a family history theme to appeal to this vast and ever-expanding market. Is it because people have a preconceived idea in their heads that all genealogists are nerds and geeks and only want to interact with dead people? I hope not because in the many libraries and archives I have undertaken research in, I have seen genealogists, both amateur and professional, of all ages and from all walks of life. So the clichéd image of the nerdy genealogist is something I want to try and do away with.

I have always enjoyed reading thrillers and mysteries, but I didn’t want to write a predictable police procedural. A novel featuring a genealogist, or someone who teaches family history evening classes in Jane Hollinger’s case, is a great way of offering a new perspective on romantic fiction as it combines mystery with history. It also gave me the chance to write about what I know.

Just as in police detective work, researching family histories involves interviews, collecting evidence, following clues, piecing together puzzles and finding missing links. To keep this vital part of the story accurate, I drew on my experience researching my own varied family history. Only You will appeal to romantics, genealogists and mystery fans, combining the obsessions of this compelling hobby with a dark, outwardly impenetrable mystery in a unique way.

The Romance Review

Jane Hollinger is divorced and the wrong side of thirty – as she puts it. Her friends are pressuring her to dive back into London’s dating pool, but she’s content with her quiet life teaching family history evening classes.

Robert Armstrong is every woman’s fantasy: handsome, charming, rich and famous. When he asks her to meet him, she convinces herself it’s because he needs her help with a mystery in his family tree. Soon she realises he’s interested in more than her genealogical expertise. Now the paparazzi want a piece of Jane too.

Can Jane handle living — and loving — in the spotlight?

Read An Excerpt:

The telephone rang and she jumped. The number displayed was unfamiliar and she closed her eyes, hoping that it wasn’t yet another double-glazing salesperson.

“Hello?”

“Jane Hollinger?” a male voice asked.

“Yes.”

“This is Robert Armstrong. I hope you don’t mind, I found the number for your old genealogy research service in an old Yellow Pages.”

Mind? Her heart began to thump. “Er, no, not at all.”

“It’s just that I actually did start on my family tree and I’ve come across something a bit weird.”

“Weird?”

“Yeah, I found the birth, marriage, and death indexes on the net and it looks as though I had a twin brother I knew nothing about.”

“Are you sure?” She managed to sound calm.

“Positive. There was another name on the list above mine, a Michael David Armstrong. My full name is Robert David Armstrong, so I thought it was a bit weird and I ordered the birth certificate.”

“You’ve known nothing about a twin at all?”

“Nothing. No one’s ever said that I was a twin. It says nothing about me being a twin on my birth certificate.”

“Did you check the death indexes? Maybe he died soon after he was born?”

“No, I haven’t had time yet. What do you think? Strange, eh?”

“It is strange,” she admitted. “I think you should have a chat with your parents.”

There was a long silence and she began to squirm. She took the phone into the kitchen and sat down at the table.

“My parents and I don’t see eye-to-eye, actually. They didn’t want me to become an actor. We haven’t spoken in years.”

Blimey, how did he manage to keep that out of the press? “Oh, I see. Well, what about grandparents? Aunts, uncles?”

“I was close to my maternal grandparents, but they’re both dead now.” She heard a wry laugh. “I’m not making this very easy for you, am I?”

He could say that again. “Well, the first thing you should do is to try and see whether Michael David Armstrong is still alive.”

“Yes. But if he is, he could be anywhere.”

“I know. I’m more used to tracing dead people!” she laughed.

“You think I should make contact and speak to my parents?”

“That’s not for me to say.”

“You get on with your parents?” he asked.

“Yes, very well. Do you have any other brothers or sisters?”

“No, I don’t, that’s why this is so weird. I had no idea I had a twin brother.”

“Search forward in the General Register Office death indexes when you’ve time.”

“Yes, I will. Look, thanks, Jane.”

“No problem.”

“Mitch Burns is well and truly dead now, by the way,” he continued.

“I won’t say I’m sorry to hear that!”

“I thought not. Look, can I buy you a drink sometime as a thank you?”

“There’s no need,” she heard herself tell him and pulled an agonised face. “You bought me the lovely roses.”

“I heard Diana tell Dave they were probably stolen.” He laughed. “Mitch Burns was a bastard and probably would have stolen them. From a cemetery, I’d say!”

“Why play someone like that?” Her curiosity got the better of her.

“To see if I could. And to make sure that I’m not typecast. I’d hate to be offered the same type of roles all the time.”

“So the sex-mad genealogist is next?”

“Yes. In a couple of weeks. Which might give me enough time to try and solve the mystery of the missing twin.”

“Look, about that drink…” she began.

“I’ve got you curious now, haven’t I?” He chuckled. “I can gather all my stuff together and meet you in The Crown sometime?”

“Yes.” It came out as a squeak. She quickly covered the mouthpiece and cleared her throat. “When would suit you?”

“Tomorrow? I can’t do Tuesday because I have an interview with a journalist.”

“Tomorrow’s fine. Eight o’clock?”

“Eight o’clock it is. I’ll see you then.”

She ended the call and put the handset down on the table. She had almost talked herself out of a drink with Robert Armstrong. “You stupid, stupid cow.”

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On Your Own? – A Short Story by Lorna Peel

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On Your Own? is a short story loosely connected to ONLY YOU but can be read as a standalone read.

For the first time Meggie Joyce goes on holiday on her own. In Malta, she meets the mysterious Edward Rowley. He has the same name as the hero from her favourite television series – and is just as handsome. Could this be a coincidence which leads to romance? Meggie hopes so. Until she finds out why Edward has also been holidaying alone…

Meggie had only been in Malta half an hour and she had been asked the question five times already. Well, okay, she’d been asked once at Heathrow Airport and twice on the plane but that wasn’t the point. What on earth was wrong with going on a week’s holiday on your own? It was quite a brave thing to do, especially when you were doing it for the first time.

She wheeled her suitcase from the airport out to the car park, handed it over to the driver, and watched as he hauled it into the boot of the coach. She climbed aboard and slid into the row of seats behind the driver’s cab. So far so good. Reaching up, she turned the air conditioning on, then watched the others destined for the Paradise Hotel emerge from the airport into the sunshine.

They appeared to be the usual suspects – families and couples, both old and young, eager for a break in the September sunshine on the Mediterranean island – but nobody else on their own. Unless, yes, the man at the back; he seemed to be alone. Tall, but whether he was also dark and handsome she couldn’t yet see, thanks to the black baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. He wheeled his large black suitcase out to the coach then disappeared from view.

The holiday representative climbed on board, clutching a clip board. She smiled at everyone, then had to make way for the straggler. He’d taken the baseball cap off and both Meggie and the rep stared. Wow. Tall, dark and handsome.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” He indicated the seat beside Meggie.

“Oh. Oh, no, of course.” She had been staring even more rudely than the rep. “Sorry.”

“Thanks.” He sat down, his thigh touching hers, and rubbed his knees. “More leg room here,” he explained.

“Yes, there is.”

She struggled to think of something else to say, but the warm feel of his leg alongside hers was far too distracting. The rep launched into her introduction and they were soon on the last leg of their journey to the hotel. His thigh rubbed deliciously against hers each time the coach rounded a corner and she forced herself not to glance down in case he moved.

Two other coaches arrived at the same time as Meggie’s and she lost him in the mêlée in the hotel foyer. But once she settled into her room, unpacked, and changed her clothes, she would try and bump into him again without making it look pathetically obvious.

Her room contained two narrow single beds and was painted a cool cream. It had tea and coffee making facilities, a small flat screen TV, a telephone, and a hair dryer. A table and two chairs stood in a corner and a sliding door opened onto a small balcony with another table and two chairs. She lifted her suitcase on to the spare bed, opened it, and began to take her clothes out.

Twenty minutes later, Meggie gazed at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The navy blue dress with thin shoulder straps only emphasized how pale and haggard she had become. Oh, God, how she needed this holiday. She turned the light off, went out onto the balcony, and smiled. The view really was lovely. The hotel sat on a hill overlooking St Julian’s Bay, just north of Malta’s capital, Valletta. She watched a group of teenagers shrieking as they jumped off the rocks into the sea, then closed her eyes and let the breeze blow though her hair. Until the shouting began.

Her eyes flew open and she squinted against the sun as she hurried to the front wall of the balcony. Looking down, she saw that houses backed onto the hotel, and the back yard of one of them lay right below her. In it, a man and a woman were having an almighty disagreement over a basket of laundry.

“I don’t believe it.” She heard a half annoyed, half amused voice from the next balcony. The wall separating the two sloped down from the ceiling to waist height and she saw a shadow approach. It was Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome and her mouth went dry. He’s in the room next to mine.

He seemed to have just come out of the shower, as he was securing a towel around his waist and his dark hair stood on end. Open-mouthed, she gazed at his broad, tanned chest and then was treated to a great view of his back as he went to the wall and leaned over. He took a long look down into the back yard before glancing at her.

“Oh, hello again.”

“Hi,” she squeaked, then cleared her voice. “Hi.”

“They’re clearly not in the mood for a siesta, are they?” He nodded to the couple below them.

“Doesn’t sound like it, no.”

Down in the back yard, a door slammed, and all was quiet again.

“Hallelujah.” He gave her a grin and disappeared from view.

Reluctantly, Meggie returned to enjoying the scenery beyond the balcony’s front wall.

* * * *

The hotel complex boasted an Italian Restaurant, so Meggie decided to go there that first evening and check out other local eateries the following day. She chose a table outside near the swimming pool. It was only set for one, so she didn’t have to wait until the waiter asked the inevitable before taking away the offending place setting. She ordered a spaghetti carbonara and a glass of white wine then settled back in her chair in the evening sunshine to wait for her meal.

She had just begun to eat when Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome walked past and sat down at a table two away from hers. He acknowledged her with a smile and she smiled in reply. Lovely brown eyes. She felt him glancing at her occasionally, so the pasta took on a life of its own, sliding off her fork, just as it reached her mouth. The sauce dripped and splashed onto her dress, and she felt a complete fool when the waiter discreetly brought her another napkin. In the end, and so that she wouldn’t be there all night, she cut the pasta up into small pieces and ate it with a spoon.

“Did you enjoy your meal?” the waiter asked as he took her plate away.

“Yes, I did, it was delicious. Thank you,” she mumbled, watching as Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome made short work of his spaghetti bolognaise, his khaki-coloured T-shirt remaining annoyingly pristine throughout the procedure.

She returned to her room to change out of her splattered dress and into a t-shirt and shorts, then decided to brave the cocktail bar. She bought a Piña Colada and brought it out onto the poolside terrace opposite the Italian restaurant. The cocktail was adorned by no less than three umbrellas and she had begun to extract them when Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome sat down with a pint of lager at the next table.

“They’re not stingy with the umbrellas, are they?” he commented and she flushed. “Piña Colada, is it?”

“Yes.”

“The food’s good here, isn’t it?”

She glanced suspiciously at him as he took a long sip of the lager. What was that supposed to mean?

“I’m Edward Rowley.” He put his glass down and leaned over, holding out a hand.

“Edward Rowley?” she echoed as Piña Colada began to drip onto her hands from the end of one of the umbrellas. “Like, from The Hunger?”

He looked puzzled and withdrew his hand. “The Hunger?”

“Yes. It’s a novel about the Irish Potato Famine. It was adapted for TV and shown last autumn.”

“Oh, I see. Sorry, I didn’t see it.”

“It’s not really the sort of thing a bloke would watch, really.”  

She cringed. Bloke? He was anything but a bloke. She glanced down at her hands. Her fingers were covered in drying Piña Colada and she automatically brought them up to her mouth. She was busily licking them when she realised he was watching her intently, his lips twitching a little, trying not to smile.

“Do you have a name?” he enquired, taking another sip of lager.

“Oh, er, yeah.” She began to search the pockets of her shorts for a tissue, trying not to cover them in the sticky liquid.

“Here.” He pulled a packet of wet wipes from the plane out of a trouser pocket and passed it to her.

“Thanks.” She tried to open the packet, but it refused to tear.

“Shall I?” Taking the packet from her, he moved into the seat beside hers, and tore it open. “Hold your hands out,” he instructed, extracted a couple of wipes, and began cleaning her fingers.

“Thanks,” she replied, just managing to speak calmly. “I used all mine up on the plane.”

“Am I allowed to know what it is?” he prompted with a smile. “Your name? Or are you a spy working undercover?”

“Oh, er, yeah.” She continued watching him wipe her hands, acutely aware that he was probably wondering whether, ‘Oh, er, yeah’ was all she was capable of saying. “Sorry, I mean no, I’m not a spy.”

He put the wipes down on the table. She wriggled her fingers to dry them, then reached out a hand.

“I’m Meggie Joyce.”

“Meggie?” He shook it. “Meggie as in “The Thorn Birds?”

The Thorn Birds? Sorry, I-” She broke off as two teenage boys jumped into the pool in front of them, showering them with water.

“Hey!” They both shouted at the same time. She met his dark eyes as they gave each other an awkward smile. She looked away, feeling heat creep across her cheeks, and saw one of the waiters from the restaurant telling the boys to get out of the pool.

“You all right?” he asked and she turned back, watching as he brushed droplets of water from his muscular arms. He had borne the brunt of the splash and his black cotton trousers were soaked and sticking to his legs.

Don’t stare. She reached for her glass and gulped from it. “Yes, thanks. You?”

“Oh, I’ll dry off soon.”

Not too soon, I hope. “So, um, you were going to tell me about The Thorn Birds?”

He nodded, leaned across to the neighbouring table for his pint of lager, and took a sip. “It’s a TV mini-series. I think it was based on a novel. My Mum has it on DVD. She has a thing about Richard Chamberlain.”

Who? Meggie opened her mouth to say something along the lines of, ‘Oh, er, yeah’ but picked up her drink again instead.

Dr Kildare?” he prompted.

“Oh, Dr Kildare, yes. I’ve heard of that series. From the sixties, isn’t it?”

“Yes. So, tell me about this The Hunger and how it’s not really a bloke thing?”

Meggie quickly put the glass down before she dropped it. He wasn’t chatting her up, was he? She couldn’t be that lucky. “Oh, you wouldn’t have liked it.”

“Well, try me?” He sat back crossing his wet legs. “I’ve managed to sit through The Thorn Birds umpteen times.”

“Your Mum must be very proud of you.”

He laughed and she couldn’t help but stare this time. “I’m very proud of me. Most of it is toe-curlingly awful. The things we do for our parents, eh?”

Parents. Meggie’s heart lurched. She just about managed to smile politely but didn’t reply.

“I’m sorry, have I said something wrong?” he asked with a sudden frown.

“No, not at all.” She reached for her glass and got up. “Excuse me, please.”

She finished her drink in the hotel lobby, then retreated to a chair on her balcony with her Kindle. She put the eReader down after less than five minutes, unable to decide which of the five books she had downloaded to read. She wasn’t in the mood to concentrate on reading something, anyway. She sighed and watched the sun slide down behind the horizon instead. She heard Edward Rowley’s balcony door slide open about half an hour later and felt a sharp pang of regret. Maybe she shouldn’t have been quite so rude to him. He didn’t know.

* * * *

In the morning, Meggie paused with her breakfast tray and gazed around the vast dining room. Her heart sank. It was eight o’clock, and the room was crowded with guests eager to get away on early excursions before it got too hot, but Edward Rowley wasn’t amongst them. She ate her breakfast of pancakes with chocolate sauce, barely tasting them, downed a cup of black coffee, then took a bus to Mdina.

Wishing she had seen him and apologized for her rude behaviour, she spent what should have been an enjoyable two hours wandering miserably around the hilltop village. She explored its cathedral, narrow medieval streets, and gift shops before returning to St Julian’s and consoling herself with a sandwich and coffee in a nearby café.

She idled away the afternoon in and beside the hotel pool, but if Edward Rowley was around, he was avoiding her, and she couldn’t really blame him.

* * * *

On her second morning in Malta, Meggie delayed going down to breakfast by an hour. She helped herself to scrambled eggs on toast and a glass of orange juice at the breakfast buffet, before turning to face the already half-empty dining room. Her heart leapt when she spotted Rowley’s dark head. He was either a late riser or he deliberately came down at nine o’clock in order to avoid the crowd. He sat at a table in a far corner with his back to her and she wound her way through the tables, then stopped as though she had only just spotted him.

“Oh, hi.”

He glanced up at her from a simple breakfast of coffee and toast. “Morning,” he replied crisply.

Uh oh. Apologise, quick. “I’m sorry if I was rude to you the other day.”

“Well, I clearly put my foot in something.”

“Sorry.”

“Would you like to join me?” he offered politely.

“Thank you.” She put her tray on the table and sat down opposite him. It was time to explain her rude behaviour. “Look, I don’t want to embarrass you, but.” She took a deep breath. “Both my parents are dead. That’s why I was a bit…”

He winced. “Oh, God.”

“No, it’s all right.” She leaned forward and was squeezing his hands before she realised what she was doing. “You didn’t know.”

“No.” He glanced down at their hands and she reluctantly let him go. “But all the same, Meggie, I’m very sorry.”

“Thank you.” Lifting her plate, cutlery and glass off the tray, she put the tray on a neighbouring table. “It’s still a bit raw. I must try and learn not to be so touchy about it. Are you going on any of the excursions?” she added brightly, beginning to cut her scrambled egg into squares.

He smiled and shook his head. “I’ve been on them all.”

All of them? “Oh? How many times have you been here?”

“This is my fourth trip.”

“Fourth?”

He shrugged and smeared low fat spread onto a slice of brown toast. “I try to come every spring and autumn. I love it here. I might buy a place and retire here eventually.”

“So where would you recommend I go on an excursion?” she asked, eating a forkful of scrambled egg.

“Mdina. It’s a town on a hilltop with fantastic views over the island. Very middle-eastern looking. You can get there on the bus so you can stay as long as you like. Actually, make good use of the buses. They go just about everywhere.”

“I went there on the bus early yesterday morning before it got too hot,” she told him. “It’s an interesting place.”

“It is. I was very disappointed when the vintage buses were done away with a couple of years ago. It was a bit of a shock to see the new ones everywhere on my next visit. You get used to it after a while,” he added, taking a bite of toast.

“The new buses?”

He chewed and swallowed. “No, being asked, ‘Are you on your own?’ all the time.”

“I see,” she replied, wondering whether she should risk asking him why he was holidaying alone on a regular basis.

“Oh, and go on a trip to the Blue Grotto,” he continued. “It’s a boat trip to some sea caves and the water is incredibly blue. Actually, I might go there again myself.” He picked up his cup of coffee, then put it down again. “Look, Meggie,” he added, sounding quite nervous. “Say no if you want, but would you like to go there with me today or?”

“Yes, that would be lovely, thank you,” she replied, not too quickly, she hoped.

“Good. And I might even get to hear what this The Hunger is about?” he went on with a raised eyebrow and a little smile. “I was here last autumn, otherwise I would have been glued to the television.”

She laughed. “All right. Now, concentrate. It’s set in 1847 in the west of Ireland and is about a landlord called Edward Rowley. The potato crop has failed again and his tenants are unable to pay their rents. Many are dying. Rowley’s land agent tells him he is in big financial trouble because he has received little or no income from rents for over a year. The agent also tells him it would cost him half as much to send his tenants to America than it would cost to keep them on the estate. So Rowley pays for them to emigrate to America rather than evict them, even though he knows that many people will accuse him of clearing his estate and of doing it to consolidate it and move it away from labour-intensive crops to cattle and pasture.”

“You know your history.”

She flushed and took a sip of orange juice. “Well, I have read the book it was based on quite a few times…”

“I take it that it doesn’t end well for Rowley or his tenants?”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly tell you that,” she replied, realising and not caring that she was flirting with him. “You’ll just have to buy the DVD.”

“I might just do that, but it had better be good.”

“I can guarantee that it’s very good.”

“Are there lots of extras?” He smiled. “Because I only buy DVD’s with lots of extras.”

“’Bit of a tight-wad, are you?” she teased and cringed as soon as the words were out of her mouth but, luckily, he just laughed.

“You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Yikes. “So, The Thorn Birds?” she prompted.

“Oh no, please..?” He sighed and scratched his head. “Okay. It’s about a girl called Meggie, who meets a Catholic priest when her family moves to the Australian outback. She loves him from the moment she meets him until the day he dies. She spends her whole life pining for a man she could never have, as he always chose God above her. But secretly he is also in love with her…you get the idea?”

“Yes, but it sounds like a bit of a cryathon.” Which I can do without at the moment.

“Yes.” He laughed. “Give me a bit of action any day,” he added with a wink.

* * * *

They took a bus to the Blue Grotto, bought their tickets, and were soon climbing into a small boat with outboard motor. The boat set off along the cliffs, winding its way in and out of the caves.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“It’s lovely. I’ll just take a couple of photographs.”

She went to stand up, wobbled, and sat down with a bump which rocked the whole boat. That’s it, Meggie, she told herself as a couple seated opposite glared at her, turn a simple boat trip into Titanic.

“Stand up, I’ll hold onto you?” he offered.

She pretended to fiddle with her camera. It would be very nice but she didn’t know anything about him. But this wasn’t the 1840s and she would have a boatful of tourists as witnesses if he tried anything. And hey, he did have very nice hands…

“Okay, thanks.” She got up and felt his long fingers closing around her waist.

“It’s all right, I’ve got you.”

She took two photographs of the caves. Whether anything would come out was another thing as his hands tightly clasping her waist was far too distracting. She sat down and smiled. “Thank you.”

“Just look down there.” They peered over the edge of the boat into the bluest, clearest, water she had seen outside of a swimming pool. “Amazing, isn’t it? I wish I could dive.”

“Can you swim?” she asked.

“Yes, I can. I must take diving lessons.”

When the boat returned to the quay, she stepped out and made a beeline for a kiosk, where she bought a bottle of ice-cold water.

“Want a drink?” she asked him as he approached.

“No, I’m fine, thanks.”

She enjoyed a long and satisfying drink of the water, feeling him watch her.

“Meggie, can I buy you dinner tonight?” he blurted out as soon as she lowered the bottle and it almost slid out of her fingers. He sighed. “Sorry. Look. Confession time. I saw you for the first time on the plane when you went to the toilet. I watched you walking up then down the aisle and.” He gave a comical shrug. “On the coach from the airport I did have to sit beside you at the front because my knees were killing me after the plane but I wanted to anyway. Then, that first evening, I watched you with the spaghetti carbonara and…”

“You thought it was the funniest thing you’d ever seen?” she finished.

“No, I was watching you, I admit it, and you were struggling a bit. But did you really have to go and ruin my evening by cutting the stuff up and using a spoon?”

Meggie couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes. Otherwise I’d probably still be there now.”

“That’s true.”

“Did you really have to watch me?” she asked as they walked back to the bus stop. “I was doing quite well up to then.”

“And the cocktail umbrellas?” he teased. “They were my fault as well?”

“Of course. I’ve never been given three umbrellas before in my entire life. If you hadn’t been there, I’d only have had one and wouldn’t have made a complete fool of myself.”

He gave her a solemn nod before roaring with laughter. “Is that a yes to dinner with me?”

Oh, yes. She smiled and nodded.

* * * *

Thankfully, the white summer dress she had brought with her wasn’t too skimpy and she appeared quite presentable when she joined Edward in the hotel foyer that evening. He looked good enough to eat, in a white cotton shirt and black trousers.

Taking her hand, he brought her to a seafood restaurant overlooking the bay only a few minutes walk from the hotel. A waiter handed them a menu each and they sat silently for a few moments contemplating what to order.

“I don’t know anything about you,” she began and he lowered his menu.

“I’m Edward Rowley, I’m 35, I’m a computer programmer, and I’m from London.” He smiled. “Sorry, that sounds very Blind-Date-ish.”

“It does, a bit, but go on.”

“I don’t believe it.” A male voice shouted from a nearby table and they both jumped. “Eddie Rowley.” Edward twisted around in his chair and Meggie peered over his shoulder at a man of about fifty in a yellow short-sleeved shirt seated alone. “How the hell are you? And is that your lovely wife, there?”

Your lovely wife? Meggie felt the blood drain from her face as Edward turned back to her, his face equally white. She got up as the man began to shout good-naturedly at Edward again.

“When exactly were you going to mention a wife?” she hissed, flinging her menu down onto the table. She grabbed her handbag from the back of her chair and left the restaurant.

* * * *

Meggie hurried along the pavement until she saw a bus and ran to catch it, not caring where it was going. It brought her along the coast before depositing her in a small fishing village. She found a bench on the promenade, sank down onto it, and burst into tears. She cried until no more tears would come, then sat watching the brightly-coloured fishing boats and the fishermen mending their nets.

Why did she always choose men who let her down? Mark, her ex boyfriend, had left her less than a month after her father had died suddenly of a heart attack just before Christmas. He had been so good when her mother had died the previous year and she had almost fallen apart. Clearly, he couldn’t – more likely, wouldn’t – do it a second time, but at least he hadn’t been keeping a wife a secret like some pseudo Mr Rochester.

“Madam?” A voice shouted from behind and she jumped. “Hoi? Last bus.”

Meggie pushed herself up from the bench, feeling an ache in her behind from being seated on the hard surface for so long. Climbing aboard the bus, she was transported back to where she had begun her journey.

“Excuse me?” Another voice, this time English, shouted at her from across the street as she made her way up the hill to the hotel.

She swore under her breath. What was this? Shout at Meggie Joyce Evening?

“Yes?” She stopped, shaded her eyes, and bit back a groan. The man from the restaurant was crossing the street.

“I owe you an apology,” he began.

“Oh?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, the sun was in my eyes, and I thought you were Edward’s wife. I’m terribly sorry, you look nothing like poor Ann.”

Poor Ann?

“It was such a dreadful thing to happen. I really had no idea that she had died. I’m very sorry for my blunder. Edward’s a good chap. Look after him, won’t you?”

Meggie forced a smile and watched him walk away. Oh, God, Edward’s wife is dead. She covered her face with her hands and let out a groan before continuing up the hill to the hotel.

“Has Mr Rowley come in, please?” she asked the woman at the reception desk. “Room 304?”

“Yes, he has.”

“Thank you.” She took her own key and headed for the lift.

She knocked at his door before she had even begun to work out what on earth to say to him. The door opened slowly and she stared. His white shirt was undone, as was one of his cuffs. Oh, no, had she interrupted him getting ready for bed? She felt a deep flush race across her cheeks.

“I, I er, I saw the man from the restaurant just now.” She found herself stammering. “There seems to have been an enormous misunderstanding.”

An eyebrow rose. “A misunderstanding?”

“About your wife,” she mumbled, lowering her eyes. “Your late wife.”

“Yes. Will you come in?” he asked and her head jerked up. “Meggie?” He held the door open.

“Thank you.” She went inside and he closed the door. Like in her room, a suitcase lay open on the spare bed.

“Come onto the balcony, it’s cooler out there.”

They went outside and he turned to face her. His open shirt flapped in the breeze and, despite her willing him not to, he did up a couple of buttons. “Until this evening I hadn’t seen Alan Jones for two years,” he explained. “The last time was at some function or other in London. I was there with Ann. A week later, she was dead. Hit and run.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, knowing it sounded feeble.

“Thank you. I was going to tell you, if you’d given me a chance,” he went on and her flush deepened. “It’s not really a subject that can be just brought up ‘by the way’.”

“No,” she whispered.

“I came here in the beginning to try and come to terms with it all, but I slowly fell in love with the island.” He turned, rested his arms on the front wall, and looked out over the bay. “It certainly beats London weather-wise.”

“I know.”  

He looked back at her and frowned. “You’re from London?” She nodded. “You don’t have a London accent?”

“I was born in Manchester,” she told him. “I’ve lived in London since university. My father retired three years ago and he and my mother moved down to London to be nearer to me. It was not long before Mum died, actually. Then Dad died just before last Christmas and my boyfriend decided to dump me. I came out here to try and come to a decision on whether to stay down south or go back up north.”

“It seems to me,” he said, turning around and leaning back against the wall. “That between us, we could have an entire series of Jerry Springer to ourselves.”

“You watch Jerry Springer?” Her nose wrinkled.

He shrugged comically. “I used to, with my Mum.”

The Thorn Birds and Jerry Springer. She must be some woman, your mum.”

“Want to meet her when we go back?”

When we go back? “You don’t live with her, do you?”

“Not anymore.” He tilted his head to one side and she followed his gaze as a couple, considerably the worse for wear, all but fell out of the balcony doors two balconies down from them. They picked themselves up, the woman gave the man a sloppy kiss, and they staggered back inside. He gave a brief shake of his head, then turned back to her. “I did live with her for a bit after I sold the house. I couldn’t live there after Ann. I’m in an apartment now. I can make as much mess as I want and watch what I like on TV.” She laughed. “And do you know something else? I rang her just now and she saw The Hunger last year. She says that Robert Armstrong, the leading man, is a bit of all right.”

“How old is she?” Meggie asked.

“Sixty-eight. She’s made quite a few friends on the internet, apparently, all fans of this actor. And do you know what else she told me?”

Meggie dreaded to think, if she’d been on the internet. “What?”

“The heroine’s name, which is Margaret Joyce.” She felt her cheeks burn. “She becomes Rowley’s love interest, after the departure of his wife. I take it that your full name is Margaret?”

She nodded and he smiled.

“Well, in that case I think we were made for each other, don’t you?” He lifted a hand and touched her cheek. “You’ve been crying,” he whispered, then bent and gently kissed her eyes.

Oh, God. “I’ve just one question?” she managed to croak.

“Oh?”

“You don’t own, work in what used to be, or have anything to do with landed estates or farms, do you?”

He began to laugh. “My apartment. I did a bit of research into it when I moved in. It’s in a converted townhouse, which belonged to an Irish landowner about a hundred years ago.”

What? Her mouth fell open and she stared at him. “No?”

“Yes. Dare I ask whether your father was a farmer, like Margaret Joyce’s?”

“He was a landscape gardener. I’m a garden designer. Will that do?”

“Oh, yes.” He grinned. “Mum also mentioned something about cravats. I’m sorry, but I have to draw the line at cravats. They’re awful things. I mean, old men wear cravats.”

“Not the kind Edward Rowley wears. The other Edward Rowley, I mean.”

“No? So you think I’d look good in a cravat, do you? Maybe you’d like to elaborate on that over some room service?” he suggested, and she couldn’t help but notice that he seemed a little nervous. His hands were gripping the back of one of the balcony chairs so hard his knuckles were white.

“That would be lovely,” she told him softly and he gave her a relieved smile. “Shall I sit here?” She indicated the chair.

“In a minute.” Taking her hands, he pulled her gently towards him. Bending his head, he kissed her, pulling at her lips, until she clasped her hands around his neck and pressed herself against him. “Stay, Meggie,” he whispered, his fingers sliding around her waist just as they had done in the boat. “Stay here with me tonight? Will you stay?”

“I’ll stay.” She smiled and his face lit up.

“Thank you.” He kissed her lips again. “Hungry?” he asked. “For food?” he added with a wink.

“Yes, I am.”

“Good.” He held the chair for her as she sat down. “I’ll get the room service menu and see if it includes spaghetti carbonara.”

Meggie laughed as he went inside. ‘On your own?’ a voice in her head asked. ‘No, I’m with someone,’ was her jubilant reply.   

© Lorna Peel 2014

Buy ONLY YOU at: TIRGEARR PUBLISHING  AMAZON  SMASHWORDS  iBOOKS  BARNES&NOBLE  KOBO

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My Only You Dream Film or TV Cast

There are bits of me in Only You’s Jane Hollinger but, sadly, not enough to cast myself as her and as my acting ability only stretches to a very unconvincing angel in a nativity play, the apple tree in the Garden of Eden, and a peasant dying of the Black Death – which made the audience laugh – I’d better pick a better actress! andrea-riseborough_zps04353247 Andrea Riseborough has played roles as diverse as Wallis Simpson and Margaret Thatcher and I think she’d be great as Jane. RichardArmitage_zps7453208e If I could find a mad scientist who could create a hybrid of Richard ArmitageDavid Tennant and Michael Fassbender in their laboratory then we’d have Robert! But if that proves to be unethical, then Richard Armitage would be my first choice. He’s tall, dark, and handsome, ideal for Robert! I’m not sure what he’d look like with badly dyed blonde hair and weird contact lenses, though! sheridan-smith_zps7df02521 Jane’s fashion journalist sister, Mags, is nuts so apologies to Sheridan Smith, from Cilla, Jonathan Creek and Love Soup, but I think she’d be great as her! Sally-Hawkins_zpsa1039000 Jane and Mags’ best friend, Carol, is Sally Hawkins who is in Paddington and won a Golden Globe for Happy Go Lucky in 2009. RichardCoyle_zpsab224d4c Robert’s best friend, Vince, is Richard Coyle who was in the comedy Coupling way back when, and the sadly short-lived supernatural drama, Strange. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a job as an extra, or the tea lady!

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Jane Hollinger is the wrong side of thirty, divorced and struggling to pay the mortgage her cheating ex left her with. As a qualified genealogist, teaching family history evening classes is a way for her to make ends meet. But she begins to wonder if it’s such a good idea when a late enroller for the class is a little… odd. “Badly-blond Bloke” both scares and intrigues Jane, and when she discovers he is her all-time favourite actor and huge crush, Robert Armstrong, she’s stunned. Even more stunning to Jane is the fact that Robert is interested in her romantically. He’s everything she ever dreamed of, and more, but can she overcome her fear of living in the public eye to be with the man she loves?

Buy from: TIRGEARR PUBLISHING  AMAZON  SMASHWORDS  iBOOKS  BARNES&NOBLE  KOBO

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