I know I’ve mentioned before – several times! – that I’d love to read every single book published by those lovely people at Choc Lit, but there just aren’t enough hours in a day. I really love the look of Summer at the Art Café by Sue McDonagh, published as an ebook on 15th May and available in all major ebook formats. And it’s not just the beautiful cover…
From watercolours and cupcakes to leather jackets and freedom …
If you won a gorgeous purple motorbike, and your domineering husband said you were too fat for leathers and should sell it, would you do as you were told – or learn to ride it in secret?
Artist and café owner Lucy Daumier intends to do just that – but learning to ride is far from easy, especially under the critical eye of prickly motorcycle instructor, Ash Connor.
But gradually Lucy gets the hang of it, and in the process re-discovers the girl she used to be. So starts an exciting summer of new friendships and fun – as well as a realisation that there is more to Ash than meets the eye when she is introduced to his seven-year-old daughter, Daisy.
But can Lucy’s new-found happiness last when a spiteful family member wants to see her fail?
With thanks to Lusana at publishers Choc Lit, I’m delighted to share an extract…
‘Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing?’
The voice penetrated the window of Lucy’s van, just after she heard the horrible crunching noise behind her. She slammed on the brakes, scrambled out of the cab, and clapped a hand to her mouth as she realised what she’d just done … there was a red and black motorbike lying on the ground behind her.
Throwing herself flat, her eyes swept the expanse beneath the van for the bloodstained, broken body of her imagination. To her immense relief, there was nothing. No one. Except for a pair of tall, polished black boots, on their way around the van towards her.
‘It’s no good hiding. I can still see you.’ The voice was deep. It demanded attention. Leaping to her feet, Lucy followed the boots upwards with her gaze, over long legs encased in black leather, a bulky black jacket, to a ferociously cross expression rimmed with a bushy black beard.
‘I wasn’t hi―’ She hooked a finger into the neck of her thick sweater, feeling her heat rise along with the banging of her heart. ‘God, I thought I’d run someone over!’
‘Nope. Only one of the school bikes, luckily for you.’ The laser beam from his deep-set blue eyes burned into her and, feeling guilty, she looked away, but her artist’s eye caught his strong profile and aquiline nose behind the beard. Those startling eyes were the same colour as her favourite paint, cobalt. His thick black hair showed only the slightest signs of grey, which seemed to add to his air of authority. Everything about his stance spoke of decision and action.
‘I’ll pick it up.’ Anxious to make amends, she darted in front of him, gripped the handlebars of the fallen bike and heaved upwards with all her might. The bike didn’t rise but scraped horribly on the concrete instead. ‘Whoa – that’s heavier than I thought!’ She was shocked, and filled with a new respect for Nicola and her girls, moving their much larger machines around with such ease.
‘Leave it. You’ll only make it worse.’ Stepping in front of her, he righted it as if it were featherweight and stomped into the Better Biking office without looking back.
Lucy collected her belongings from her van, abandoned halfway into the compound. She decided to leave it there. She was already late, and didn’t trust herself to park it anywhere else. Blasted thing. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t have her name plastered all over it. Lucy Daumier, Artist, The Art Café, it proclaimed. She’d been really proud of it until now.
She hesitated outside the offices. Who was the bearded man? The owner? She groaned inside. She’d been desperate to explain before he’d stalked away. How could she have missed seeing that bike behind her? She was always so careful. But she knew why. She’d been ready ridiculously early so she could start the day fresh and then … Gerry. And so she’d been late, and rushing. She pushed her husband’s cruel words out of her head, or she’d never be able to concentrate.
‘Great start to the day. Not.’ She scrubbed her hands over her face. ‘Better go and face the music.’
The premises were a set of linked porta-cabins, and Lucy knocked on the open door of the office. ‘Good morning, I’m Lucy Daumier. I’m booked to do my compulsory, um … and I, er …’ Her mouth dried up and she licked her lips. She was a disaster. She should go home now and not embarrass herself any further.
‘Your CBT. Compulsory Bike Training?’ The woman smiled, and Lucy nodded. ‘I’m Angela. I booked you in yesterday.’
‘That’s the one. And, er, I’m so sorry, I seem to have …’ She made a falling over gesture with her hand, followed by ‘two hands on handlebars’. What was the matter with her? Her brain seemed to have melted and she couldn’t even string a sentence together. How on earth was she going to learn to ride a bike?
‘Whoopsie.’ Angela raised her eyebrows and smiled lopsidedly. ‘It was you that ran over one of our bikes?’
Lucy cringed. ‘Iʼll pay for the damage, obviously.’
‘Ah, well, theyʼre pretty bombproof. Iʼll get it over to the Bike Palace later, theyʼll sort it out. Anyway – ready for your course?’
‘What, youʼre still going to let me do it?’
‘Why not? If youʼre up to it? Try not to let it spoil your day.’
Lucy was grateful for her kindness. ‘Thank you.’
‘The others are in the room to the left, having a cuppa. The Ladies’ is to the right, you might want to have a bit of a brush up.’
The bathroom mirror reflected her face, pale apart from the mud smears. Grateful for the liquid hand wash, she bent over the basin, rubbing hurriedly. Finally, red-cheeked and lavender-scented, she headed to the room Angela had indicated. Her ‘Sorry Iʼm late’ died on her lips, for the room contained four men, and one of them was the black-bearded man. Surely he wasn’t her trainer for the day? She might as well go home now.
Sidling in, hot with embarrassment, she cringed as she saw the only empty chair was right at the front. A mug of coffee was handed to her by the youngest of the men, who told her his name was Rhod. She mouthed a ‘thank you’ at him, hoping no-one could see her hands shaking.
‘I’m Ash Connor, your trainer.’ The black-bearded man fixed her with his steely gaze and she nodded in his general direction, unable to meet his eye. The briefing continued and she tried hard to focus, but her mind was all over the place. Dwelling on her earlier disaster, all she could hear was the thump as sheʼd knocked the bike over, and the image of Ashʼs angry face glowering down at her was etched into her brain. How could she have been so stupid?
‘Lucy.’ Ashʼs voice broke into her gloomy preoccupations. ‘Are you joining us?’
Jumping up, she saw the rest of her class were now kitting up in jackets, gloves and helmets. She was sure that barely a word heʼd said had settled into her consciousness. She thought about going home and giving up altogether. Then she thought about explaining to Nicola and the girls, and how disappointed they’d be in her. How disappointed she’d be in herself. And how Gerry would think he’d won. Squaring her shoulders, she strode over to join her class.
Now doesn’t that make you want to keep on reading? I do hope I’ll get the chance to catch up with this one.
About the author
Sue McDonagh’s career as a policewoman for Essex Police was cut short when she was diagnosed at the age of twenty-four with ovarian cancer. After a successful recovery and a stint working as a Press Officer she moved to Wales.
In Wales her love of art evolved into a full-time occupation and she made a living teaching and sketching portraits at shows. In 2014 she was a regional finalist for the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year. She now works exclusively to commissions from her art gallery.
In 2009 she learned to ride a motorbike, and now helps run Curvy Riders, a national, women only, motorbike club. Her joy of motorbikes and her love of writing inspired her to write the Art Café series. Sue, granny of two little girls and proud mum of two stepsons, lives a mile from the sea in Wales. She can often be found with her border terrier, Scribbles, at her art gallery. Scribbles thinks the customers only come in to see him. Sometimes, Sue thinks that too.
When she’s not painting, she’s writing or on her motorbike. She belongs to a local writing group and the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Summer at the Art Café is Sue’s debut novel and the first in her Art Café series.