Having discovered Jules Wake’s lovely writing when I reviewed Covent Garden in the Snow a couple of weeks ago (you can read the review again here), it’s a real pleasure today to join the blog tour for her new book. A Girl’s Best Friend is published in paperback tomorrow by Sphere (6th September – already available as an e-book and audio book), and I’d like to thank Millie at Little, Brown Book Group for inviting me to be part of the celebrations.
Welcome to your new cottage in the country – complete with grumpy vet, village gossip and a very muddy dog….
City girl Ella wants to take refuge in the country, lick her wounds and work out what she’s going to do with the rest of her life. She certainly doesn’t want to have a four-legged houseguest or anything to do with village life. Unfortunately, the inhabitants of Wilsgrave have other ideas.
Settling in to her godmother’s house for a few months of R&R, Ella finds herself the reluctant babysitter of a badly behaved Labrador – and her plans of staying mainly indoors scuppered. But as she’s forced into wellies and into the village’s way of doing things, Ella meets people who make her think again about what she really wants out of life and love, starting with her new furry best friend….
A gorgeously romantic tale set in an idyllic countryside village, from the author of best seller Covent Garden in the Snow. Perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley and Katie Fforde.
Perfect for me too, I think – but I’m so sorry I couldn’t read this one for the tour, just too many books waiting. I’m delighted though to be able to share an extract. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably, it’s a long one – but it’s a perfect taster for the book…
As the train rocked to a halt with a gentle thud, Ella rounded up nearly all her worldly goods. It seemed her life had come full circle, back where she started, except she really hadn’t been that far. Like an overloaded tortoise, rucksack on her back, pulling two cases and juggling the variety of mismatched bags, she struggled along the platform, but had to give in and make two trips up the flight of stairs before rumbling along the bridge to the car park, every step feeling more leaden than the last.
‘Ella, darling.’ Her mother darted across the car park. ‘Gosh, you do look tired. How are you?’ Her eyes, bird-bright, gave Ella an assessing look.
‘I’m fine.’ Her terse, brittle response elicited a quick worried frown. Ella looked away. One slight crack in her determined defence and her mother would prise her wide open, like a reluctant mussel, forcing everything out.
‘Let me help.’ Despite her diminutive size, her mother tried to take the larger case. ‘Good Lord, what have you got in here?’
‘Everything,’ muttered Ella with feeling, having dragged it from Shoreditch across London and then been wedged up against it from Euston to Tring for the last forty-three minutes. She’d packed as much as she could and brought along most of her art supplies and her clothes; everything else, not much at all, had gone into storage.
Her mother tutted. ‘I don’t know why you didn’t ask us to come and collect you, it would have been a lot easier.’
Ella gave a vague smile and managed to refrain from pointing out that it would have been far too much like being picked up at the end of a college term. An admission of failure. She settled into the front passenger seat of the little runaround, as pristine as the day it rolled away from the showroom with its little pockets and gadgets to keep everything in its place. Mints, de-icer, cloths, spare air freshener. For some reason all that neat orderliness irked her and she longed to run a streak through the slightly misted windscreen with one finger, just to leave a mark. Ella woz ere. Ella was somewhere. Ella was still in here somewhere.
‘Now,’ her mother started brightly, ‘your father’s going to meet us there. Magda’s left the house all ready for you and I’ve popped a few bits in the fridge. You’re to treat the place as your own, help yourself to anything you want and of course there’s—’
‘Mum, I spoke to Magda myself.’
‘Right. And how are you . . . er . . . you know . . . feeling?’
‘Mum, you can mention Patrick’s name without me bursting into tears.’ Ella tightened her mouth, schooling her face into an impassive mask. ‘We’re just taking a break, at the moment. Taking some time to assess things.’ Even-toned, her explanation sounded perfectly normal. Well thought-out. Logical. A grown-up way to do things.
Ella winced as her mother swung out of the car park, narrowly missing taking off the wing mirror of an oncoming car.
Conventional to the core, Mum and Dad had no idea about how relationships worked these days. Some days shewondered if she did.
Nausea rolled in her stomach as her mother speeded up along the straights, veered around corners and slowed to a snail’s pace when the country lanes narrowed.
‘Are you sure you’ll be all right on your own out here?’ Her mother jerked her head towards the village signpost as they passed it.
‘Mum, after living in London, I think the crime rate in Wilsgrave is considerably lower, unless of course there’s a serial killer on the loose that I hadn’t heard about.’ The first ribbon of small houses started to appear and Ella’s mother slowed down.
‘I meant being on your own. Not knowing anyone. You can always come back home.’
‘I’ll be fine.’ This already felt enough of a defeat. Thank God, she’d have the use of Magda’s car. She could be back within Central London in forty-five minutes at a push.
Her mother pulled smartly into a space right outside a pretty double-fronted end of terrace house.
‘Here we are, then. I’ve got the keys. No sign of your father yet. He’s going to miss Tess.’
Was that his new chiropractor? A tamer version of Miss Whiplash? Releasing herself from her seatbelt, Ella took the proffered keys and got out of the car. Daffodils, tulips, crocuses, and anemones danced in the dappled light cast by overhanging trees. They lined the narrow brick path leading to a front door painted in a tasteful National Trust shade of pale green, their scent perfuming the air.
For a moment Ella paused. Sunshine yellow contrasted with brilliant blue. If only she had the ability or the skill to capture the hope and promise of those spring colours, the shapes and textures, that fabulous fractured light or even the essence of the season, new life, new hope. A pang filled her chest, blooming with a fierce emptiness. Focusing on the front door, she averted her gaze and marched up the path.
Juggling with the keys her mother had handed over in the car, she stepped into a roomy hallway with a flagstone floor. She’d been to her godmother’s plenty of times before to know that to her left was a big kitchen, pretty enough if your taste ran to French provincial, and large enough to house a huge central table. To the right a door led into the wood beamed lounge with its focal open fireplace which took up most of one wall and an eclectic mix of furniture which shouldn’t have worked together but did, all of which made the room seem smaller than it was. Ahead steps led up to one large master bedroom, a second smaller bedroom and the bathroom. Beyond that the loft conversion, a long white room, almost bare of furniture, lit by skylights through which the light flooded, making it the perfect studio. This was just about the only reason she’d agreed to come and house-sit for six months. Well, that and having nowhere else to go. Work had been impossible of late, she was so behind. Incarceration in the country with nothing else to do might focus her mind and force her to address the blank pages of cartridge paper.
‘Ah, your father’s here.’ Her mother’s voice held a touch of nerves – or was it uncertainty?
Carrying what looked like his own body weight in a sack which read complete dog food on the front, her father shouldered his way in through the front door, straight into the kitchen.
‘Phew, that was heavier than I thought,’ he said, dumping the bag on the flagstone floor. ‘Hello, love.’ He gave her a cheerful smile now he’d released the load.
‘What’s that?’ Ella’s voice echoed in her head, sounding overly sharp.
‘I can see that.’ She hated herself for using the tone with Dad, ever the sweetheart and as laid back as they came. ‘I meant, what is it for?’
He instantly looked sheepish and turned towards her mother for support.
‘I thought you said you’d spoken to Magda,’ said her mother, suddenly developing a fixation with rubbing away some mark on one of the kitchen counters. ‘She said you wouldn’t mind.’
‘What? Storing dog food for people?’
Her mother flashed an over-bright smile. ‘I’ll just get the rest of Tess’s things.’
With that, she bustled back out of the tiny cottage hallway.
‘Mum . . . ’ Too late. She was already halfway down the long skinny garden to Dad’s trusty Mercedes. Who the hell was Tess? Was Ella expected to run some kind of storage facility?
A clatter from the hall moments later made Ella jump, setting her heartbeat racing a thousand miles an hour.
‘What the hell?’ The angry snap escaped before she could stop it.
Her mother’s over-apologetic, sparkly isn’t-everythingpeachy smile pricked all Ella’s guilt buttons as she watched her carry in some large oval of foam and fabric and a leather and metal chain-choker-dog-lead thing. At Ella’s feet, the metal bowls she’d dropped were still rattling and vibrating to a final standstill on the floor.
‘Here.’ Her mother thrust the lead into Ella’s hand. Definitely a dog lead. What the hell did she want with a dog lead? Paws skittered across the stone floor and she heard the snuffle of excited dog.
‘What’s that?’ Ella backed away, staring down at a tubby black Labrador, sniffing furiously around the skirting boards, its tail thud-thudding against the wall.
Mum tried to hide her snigger. ‘A dog, dear.’
‘I can see that. What’s it doing here?’
‘It . . . er,’ – her mother and father exchanged a look – ‘lives here.’
‘No way on earth.’ Ella folded her arms, her shoulders rigid as tension gripped them. ‘You are not leaving that thing here.’
Fear skittered in the pit of her stomach; she couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t be responsible for anything right now.
‘She’s not going to be any trouble.’ Mum lifted her chin, standing resolute. ‘Besides, it will do you good.’ She gave Ella a sharp-eyed up and down, her mouth wrinkling.
Dad chipped in. ‘She’s lovely. Great company.’
‘You have her, then.’
‘We can’t. You’re at home all day.’
‘Mum . . . ’ Her mother wasn’t paying a blind bit of notice. Instead she unloaded another bag in the kitchen. ‘Poo bags.’ She screwed up her nose. ‘I brought you a scooper. Sorry, but I’m sure it’s no worse than babies’ nappies.’
Ella’s head jerked up, panic-spiked adrenaline roaring through her veins.
‘You’ll get used to it.’
‘And you would know, how?’ Ella asked, spitting sarcasm like hailstones. They were not an animal family. She’d never even had a hamster. She was not a dog person. The dog had moved away from the wall, head in the air as if scenting new prey.
Her mother ignored her, wearing an air of busy-busy like some kind of armour, impervious to Ella’s objections. Dad had made himself useful shifting the bag of food to the pantry.
With the precision of an Exocet missile on target, the dog headed towards her, snuffling, and her hand received a fulsome wet slurp.
‘Eeeuw! Seriously Mum, you can’t leave it here.’ Ella wiped her hand furiously on her jeans, itching to wash it immediately.
‘It’s a she and she’s lovely, aren’t you? She’s called Tess.’ To make up for Ella’s obvious uselessness with dogs Mum patted Tess with a great show, although Ella felt pretty sure the pats were vertical, carefully pushing the dog away from her immaculate cream wool trousers.
‘Mum,’ she whined, with all the grace of a petulant toddler sensing defeat.
‘It’s easy, darling. You won’t know she’s here.’
‘Mum, I can’t have a dog.’ She sighed, she certainly didn’t want one. She didn’t want anything, anyone. Was being left alone too much to ask?
‘Of course you can. You’re here all day. It’s easy. Honestly, I don’t know why you’re making such a fuss. All you have to do is feed her twice a day. Once in the morning, once in the evening at six o’clock. One scoop only. Put water in the other bowl. Take her out for a walk once or twice a day.’ Her pasty cheeks received another narrow-eyed look. ‘Fresh air and exercise will do you good. You look so tired and . . . ’
Ella waited to see how she might diplomatically mention the pounds she’d mislaid recently.
‘And,’ her mother puffed herself up like a pigeon, ‘she’ll be company for you and your father won’t be quite so anxious about you being here on your own at night. We’re worried about you.’ Her mother’s mouth quivered.
Ella sighed. ‘Mum, I’m fine. Honestly. I’ve been busy, working really hard. I’ve got a deadline.’ One that, currently, had as much chance of being met as her and this thing entering Crufts. ‘I’m fine.’
Her mother tilted her head, turning away, but not before Ella spotted the slight sheen in her eyes. Shit. That’s what mothers did. They worried. Cared. Maternal instinct preprogrammed. When did it kick in? Hard and fast, from conception? Birth? Or did it settle in with serene grace, bedding in as the mother–child bond grew?
Crossing the kitchen, feeling a tender whip of shame, she touched her mother on the shoulder. ‘All right, I’ll take the damn dog.’
‘That’s wonderful. It’ll do you good, get you out of the house. In fact,’ she said brightly, ‘Dad only took her for a short walk earlier.’
‘Actually Shirley, it was—’
She shot him a look. ‘A dog like this needs lots of walks – don’t you, sweetheart?’ She gave the dog another vertical pat. ‘Why don’t you take her to Wendover Woods once you’ve settled in?’
I just love that extract – book on my kindle, and I’ll look forward to finding out how Ella and Tess hit it off…! Here are the other stops on the blog tour…
About the author
Jules Wake’s earliest known declaration that she planned to be a writer came at the age of ten. Along the way she was diverted by the glamorous world of PR and worked on many luxury brands, taking journalists on press trips to awful places like Turin, Milan, Geneva, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam and occasionally losing the odd member of the press in an airport. It gave her the opportunity to eat amazing food, drink free alcohol as well as providing opportunities to hone her writing skills on press releases and to research European cities for her books.
Eventually the voices in her head persuaded her it was time to sit down and write the novel she’d always talked about. Her debut novel, Talk to Me in 2014, was quickly followed by the bestselling From Italy With Love, published by HarperImpulse, which reached the top ten in the Amazon Kindle charts. Jules’ book Covent Garden in the Snow was a Kindle Top 2 bestseller. She also writes cosy romantic fiction as Julie Caplin and her next book in the Romantic Getaway series, The Little Paris Patisserie, will be published as an e-book by HarperImpulse in September, with the paperback to follow in November.