Authors: Liz Fielding
Praise for RITA
The Bride, the Baby and the Best Man:
“A wonderful story with emotionally driven characters, cracking scenes and a fantastic plot twist.”
And Mother Makes Three:
“Ms. Fielding continues to delight me with her storytelling and rich prose. She is now on my automatic-buy list.”
âBookbug on the Web
Dating Her Boss:
“Liz Fielding pens a brilliant taleâ¦as she beautifully weaves together a strong emotional conflict, entertaining wit and two dynamic characters.”
We're constantly striving to bring you the best romance fiction by the most exciting authors, and in Harlequin Romance
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All our authors are special, and we hope you continue to enjoy each month's new selection of Harlequin Romance titles. This month we're delighted to feature another book with extra fizz! In Liz Fielding's fast-paced, witty novel, meet Philly and laugh along with her (and at her!) as she attempts to become a city girl in Londonâ¦.
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The house is on fire and you only have time to grab one item of clothing. Would you choose:
a. the kickin' hot purple leather miniskirt that turns heads in the street?
b. your expensive go-anywhere black suit?
c. a pair of washed-thin jogging pants that you were wearing when you first met the man of your dreams?
d. the designer skirt you bought in a sale? You'll never get a bargain like that again.
e. the sweater knitted for you by your grandmother?
you sure you don't want to take this sweater, Philly? Aunt Alice will expect to see you wearing it at Christmasâ¦' My mother looked up when I didn't answer and caught me looking at the quiz in the magazine she'd bought me on her last-minute dash to the shops. âSave that for the journey, dear,' she said, as if I were six years old, instead of nearly twenty-three, âor you won't have anything to read on the train.'
I heroically resisted the urge to tell her that while I was the baby of the family, the one who didn't get a starred first at university, I was quite capable of
buying myself a magazine, and instead gave her my full attention. Her question, however, had been purely rhetorical. She'd already unzipped the corner of my case and tucked away the sweater.
I'd been haunted by that sweater ever since my Great-Aunt Alice had knitted it for me. It was pale blue and fluffy and I loathed it. I'd planned on putting it in a carton of clothes to be stored in the attic, hoping that a moth would consider it a suitable home for her offspring.
âYou really should have bought a new case. I'm not at all happy about this zip.'
âThe zip is fine,' I said. At least it had been fine until my mother had added that sweater. âI'm catching a train to London, not flying to the other side of the world.' Unlike my parents who were abandoning me, throwing me upon the mercy of strangers while they went on a world tour visiting their far-flung offspring.
My father had taken early retirement and it was, my mother had told me, time for them to have a little fun visiting my three clever and adventurous brothers in New Zealand, California and South Africa, respectively. And my beautiful, and equally adventurous, clever married sister, and her new babies, in Australia.
Fun! They were
. Parents weren't supposed to have fun. They were supposed to stay home, do the crossword, play Scrabble and drink cocoa and I told them so.
They thought that was very funny.
I WASN'T JOKING!
But then, neither were they. They'd spent the last thirty-five years bringing up their family and now they were seriously intent on enjoying themselves. I was the only fly in the ointment. Twenty-two years old, still living at home. Still dating the boy next door. With no sign of a wedding any time soon.
Worse was to come.
I'd assumed they'd go on their extended holiday happy in the knowledge that I'd be there to take care of things while they were away. And the up side was that, with the house to myself, I'd have a real opportunity to move things along with Don. Get his mind out from under the bonnet of his car, away from his mother, and inject some physicality into our relationship.
I was getting desperate for some action while I was still young enough to enjoy it.
But my father's successor had been looking for somewhere to rent while he and his family found a house in the district. The deal had been done before I'd even heard about it. I'd appealed to my mother, but she'd said it was nothing to do with her. And thenâand here was an extraordinary coincidenceâmy boss (the one who played golf with my dad every Sunday morning) asked me if I'd consider a six-month secondment to the City. Working in a merchant bank. Honing my skills for the next step up the ladder. Promotion. Something I'd been avoiding for the last two years. Promotion meant moving.
But Maybridge was alive with the twanging of strings being pulled and, before I'd known it, my
mother had been on the old girls' network, finding me somewhere to live.
âIt'll do you good to have a change of scene,' she said, over my protests. âYou're stuck in a rut in Maybridge. Gone as far as you can at the local branch of the bankâ¦' Everything came in threes, and apparently ruts were no exception. âAnd Don takes you for granted. It will do you both good to stand back and look at where you're going.'
I knew where I was goingâI'd known since I was ten years oldâbut my mother had a look about her that warned me that any argument would be a waste of breath. An I-know-what's-best-for-you look. An unexpectedly knowing look that suggested a little enforced separation might shake Don into action.
Nearly twenty-three years old and still a virgin, I was getting desperate for some action.
All this talk of ruts was, however, a bit hard to take from a woman who'd lived with the same man, in the same house, for nearly forty years.
Not that I was criticising her for that. It was what I wanted, too. A lifetime with one man, in one house, raising a family. Just like my mother.
And Don wanted the same thing. Well, obviously he didn't want a
, he wanted me, he'd said so. He just wasn't doing anything about making it happen. Perhaps my imminent departure would jolt him out of his complacency.
I'd found him in his garage working on the small vintage car he'd been restoring for what seemed like for ever, told him my news and held my breath.
âLondon?' he said, with that sweet, puzzled expression that made him look as innocent as a baby. Okay, he was innocent. And sweet. If he'd been anything else, I'd have been beating off other girls since he was old enough to shave. But he'd only ever had eyes for me. He pushed back his floppy blond fringe, leaving a smear of grease on his forehead, to look at me with concern. âWhat on earth will you do in London?'
No, no, no!
He was supposed to leap to his feet, wrap me in his arms and tell me that I wasn't going anywhere without him.
âGoing for the promotion that's due to me,' I said, irrationally irritable. âSeeing the sights. Having some fun,' I added, hoping to provoke a little possessiveness.
Why would he be possessive when I'd only ever had eyes for him?
Don frowned but not, apparently, at the thought of me having fun. âYou mean you're going for good?' For one heart-stopping moment I thought I'd got through to him. That he'd finally realised that, unless he did something about it, I wouldn't be around to read his mind and put the right spanner in his hand whenever he needed it.
My imagination ran momentarily wild with anticipation that he'd leap to his feet, wrap meâ¦etc., etc.
âYes,' I said. That wasn't quite true, but if I were promoted I would have to move to a larger branch somewhere else. I should have done it a long time
ago, but I was comfortable in my rut. Unlike my siblings, I didn't have an adventurous bone in my body. I'd flown once and I'd been so frightened I'd been sick. Nothing would induce me to repeat the experience. Besides, I liked living at home. Next door to the boy next door.
âBut you've been working there since you left college,' Don said.
His concern about me moving on from my present job was wearing a bit thin. He was supposed to be shocked that I was leaving
âMaybe it's time to move on,' I said. And waited for him to do something to change my mind. Exclamations of heartbreak would be a start. Followed by a suggestion that we catch the next plane to Bali and get married right away. On a beach. In the moonlight.
What was I thinking of? I didn't want to go to Bali. That would mean getting on a plane. Two planes if I wanted to come home.
All this talk of travelling must have gone to my head.
I needn't have worried, however, because he did none of the above. Just did that thing with his fringe again, looking adorably helpless, so that I wanted to kiss him and tell him that I didn't mean it. That I wasn't going anywhere. I just about managed to restrain myself. âOh, well, I suppose I should say congratulations.' Then, âI'll really miss you.' That was marginally better, but my smile was a fraction too fast. âI'll have more time to work on the car, though.'
Er, when? He already spent every spare moment cherishing tender loving care on its engine, bodywork, upholstery, when it was my bodywork that was crying out for a little of that TLC.
âGreat,' I said. But through gritted teeth.
âLondon?' He repeated the word as if it were a strange and mythical place instead of a sprawling city a scant hour from Maybridge by train. âI'm sure you'll have a terrific time.'
BUT I DON'T WANT TO GO!
My scream of frustration was silent, however. A girl had her pride.
But why couldn't he see that I wasn't looking for a terrific time? That what I wanted was for him to tell me to forget all about London, suggest I move in with him and his widowed mother while we looked for a flat we could shareâ¦
I didn't bother to ask any of these questions out loud. I already knew the answer.
Mrs Cooper, a vapid hypochondriac who'd never recovered from the fact that her husband had decamped with his secretary, was always very sweet to my face. I had a strong suspicion, however, that beneath the saccharine exterior she hated me playing with Don just as much now as when he'd been a clever twelve-year-old and I'd distracted him from his homework. There was no way she'd want me so dangerously close to her precious son.
I was seriously tempted to strip off and seduce him, right there and then in the garage, just to spite her. But the floor was bare concrete, the temperature freez
ing and Don's hands were covered with motor oil. Only an idiotâor a desperate womanâwould remove her thermals under such unpromising circumstances. Okay, so I was desperate, but, short of experience as I was, I suspected that, shivering and blue with cold, I wasn't going to light anyone's fire.
âI do rather envy you, to be honest,' Don said, distracting me with an odd hint of longing in his voice. âAll those museumsâ¦'
Museums? That was his idea of a terrific time? Sweet, trusting soul that he was, I could have hugged him. But his overalls were covered in oil, too. Of course if I'd been wearing that fluffy sweater I'd have made the sacrifice.
âActually,' he said, with more animation than he'd shown all evening, âwhen you go to the Science Museum you might take a look atâ¦'
The Science Museum? He thought my idea of a fantastic time was an afternoon at the Science Museum? I might take a turn around the V&A to look at the jewellery and fashions butâ¦
âPromise?' he said.
Promise? Promise what? Oh, heck, I should have been listening. âWhy don't you come up and spend the weekend with me?' I suggested, suddenly seeing the possibilitiesâ¦ âWe could go together.'
He looked slightly uncomfortable and, concentrating on wiping his hands on a rag, he said, âI don't think I could leave Mother on her own overnight. She suffers so with her nerves.'
So she did.
She managed to get through the day well enough, while he was at work. She saved up her attacks to coincide with any plans I had for Don. Which was why, on Friday, having waved my parents off on their great adventure, I had to haul my own case aboard the London train. He'd taken the afternoon off to drive me to the station, but his mother had had one of her âlittle turns' just before we'd been due to leave.
I'd considered having a turn of my own. Flinging myself on the floor and drumming my heels on the hall carpet. But Don had looked so miserable that I'd told him to go back to his mother and wait for the doctor, while I called a taxi and put myself on the train.
As Maybridge disappeared into the icy rain of a November afternoon I settled down with a cheese and pickle sandwich and a comfortingly large hot chocolate drink and, since I had an hour to fill, I took out the magazine.
âAre You a Tiger or a Kitten?' screamed at me from a cover flash. I didn't need a quiz to answer that one. I was nearly twenty-three years old, I had a mother who was still treating me like a child and a boyfriend who'd apparently mislaid his libido.
I was a kitten, right?
Having worked my way through the multiple-choice questions, I discovered that I'd been wildly optimistic.
I was a mouse. Or maybe an ostrich.
That, according to the quiz, was why I was sitting
on a train for London when I wanted to stay in Maybridge.
That was why my boyfriend put his mother first. (And because he was sweet and kind and she was a manipulative old witch.) Why I was going to spend Christmas pulling crackers with Great-Aunt Alice instead of getting pulled by Don.
I was too easygoing. Too undemanding. My expectations were so low, they barely registered. I picked up my cheese sandwich and then put it down again quickly. Cheese. A mouse
choose a cheese sandwich.
I should have chosen the fashionable roast vegetables in sun dried tomato bread. But, mouse that I was, I
I should be wearing designer label jeans with high heels, instead of an old pair that had once belonged to the last of my brothers to leave homeâshortened to fit my pathetically short legsâwith a pair of cheap trainers I'd bought from the market. (I was saving up to get married, okay?)
I should have my nails professionally manicured. I should at least have painted them with something more exciting than the pale pink nail polish I'd borrowed from my mother.
I might never have wanted to be a tiger, but surely I should at least aspire to be a kitten?
Unfortunately any attempt to change my character would only raise a patronising smile in Maybridge. I'd lived there all my life. Who would take me seri
ously if I changed into a scarlet-nailed temptress overnight?