This is the first chapter of my planned novel. It is a character driven drama containing family sagas and past ghosts returning to haunt people. They also face new threats from those supposed to be allies.
Andrew Millen opened the Prague hotel room door, excitement shining in his hazel eyes. That knock signalled the arrival of a champagne Valentine's breakfast for him and Kayleigh.
An oddly familiar English voice called from outside. "Mr Millen, Miss Greenwood?" Andrew thought of how the couple would be Mr and Mrs Millen on their next foreign hotel stay.
Andrew opened the door to find another tall, dark haired man standing there. Gavin Westbrook.
"What the bloody hell are you doing here?" both men asked each other.
"Yes, Andrew — what the hell are you doing here?" demanded Kayleigh. She'd got up from the bed, her long black hair cascading over the red silk bathrobe. "You know this room's for me and Gavin. Go to the honeymoon suite in Mexico — you'll have a bigger mini bar all to yourself there..."
The knocking was actually on Andrew's front door and came from his best friend Michael Curtis. Michael's girlfriend Maxine Duncan peered through the front window to see Andrew slumped across the sofa.
"I said he'd have been on the booze all night, didn't I?" she said in disgust. "Probably Pils, Bud and anything else Czech just to make himself feel even more tragic!"
"No — those new Invisible beers!" Andrew and Michael's In The Market colleague Lynsey Bretnall glared at Maxine. "Do you see any bottles or cans in that sitting room?"
The emotional dynamo within this petite, delicate featured ash blonde always amazed people. The willowy Maxine regained her composure by looking down on Lynsey with steely dark blue eyes. She then remarked perhaps there was a bottle of whisky behind the sofa.
"One from Scotland because of the imprisoned and dead relatives up there nobody else has,” she added. She tossed her fair, wavy locks with the same disdain.
"Maxine — you don't have to be here!" snapped Michael, as ruffled as his windswept light brown hair. The smoky grey eyes beneath blazed with a rare anger.
"I do if I'm to see anything of you before tonight!" retorted Maxine.
"You were the one who wanted to go away next weekend, not this!" said Michael wearily. "You expect me to delay that further for your friend who's been through a bad time! Because of something that happened in the Alps as well, I might add!"
Michael and Maxine were going on to London for three nights after spending Friday in Richmond. Maxine's friend Cassie was holding a party to celebrate the end of treatment for serious ski-ing accident injuries. Ones sustained near the Swiss resort where Andrew's cousin Robbie went for that fateful Christmas break ...
"Shut up, both of you!" said Lynsey, nodding towards the window. Andrew was now stirring on the sofa. "Today's meant to be about Andy and reminding him what he's still got here! If it's just people forgetting what he needs he'll have no reason to stay!"
Andrew had ruled out the return to Edinburgh suggested by his family. Nonetheless, South Cambridgeshire wasn't feeling like a happy home, either. Perhaps he should make a completely fresh start somewhere with no back history.
Everybody agreed staying in the house he'd shared with Kayleigh wasn't a good idea. However, nor was Andrew removing himself from a support network's range. Holmesbridge could offer a new beginning among the old friends best placed to guide him there.
Andrew didn't see them when he first woke up and noticed he was on his own sofa. So him and Kayleigh in Prague for a long Valentine weekend really wasn't happening. The July wedding and Mexican honeymoon had both been cancelled, too.
Lynsey's calling of his name outside the house brought Andrew back to reality. His friends were here to help him get through Valentine's Day. So time he returned the favour and started helping himself make the best of it as well.
Andrew opened the window with profuse apologies and almost a concussion to Lynsey. He must have dropped off after Match Of The Day. He'd a lot of sleep to catch up on what with — one thing and another. Maxine held back from suggesting two bottles of brandy at bedtime rather than just the one.
She couldn't stop herself from remarking upon the Baileys coffee in Caffe Belissimo, though. Lynsey sighed. She'd only just been able to show her face again after Paninigate. That had earned In The Market's loose cannon Keiran McAleevey a life ban. Now Lynsey was back with another troublemaker.
"Shall we make these take outs, Maxine?" suggested Andrew cheerily. "Then you can buy some Baileys from the little Tesco to keep topping up your coffee! Maybe after that you could volunteer to take Keiran's dog Bailey out for a walk!"
An A grade response to an A grade bitch, thought Lynsey with a grin. Annoyed at seeing this and hearing nothing from Michael in her defence, Maxine launched a stealthy attack.
"I was actually thinking it'd make a good third and fourth meal course combined," she said. "You know — coffee and liqueurs." Her flat tone had just enough sharpness to imply Andrew would know nothing of fine dining.
"What I'd like for now," continued Maxine, "is the hazelnut or pecan latte. Which do you prefer, Lynsey — or didn't you try them before you went to The Coffee Cup instead?"
Whose owner is your new boyfriend and an ex, embittered employee of this place. Maxine had managed to say it all without uttering one of those words.
The duty manager raised his blond mopped head from cutting a huge red velvet cake. His gaze then pulled Maxine into the depths of his dark brown eyes.
"Well, I can make one recommendation — this cake with totally natural colouring," he eventually said. "We use the blood of people foolish enough to think it's a free market economy."
Maxine went as red as the sponge to a chorus of sniggers down the queue.
The pecan latte with a comforting crown of cream soon erased the painful memory. Unfortunately one was now coming back to Andrew before his very eyes.
"It's a text from Natasha," he declared sadly. "Hoping I'm OK because she knows it's a difficult day for me."
Robbie had also been due to marry in the summer. Natasha's selflessness in the worst of times showed just why she'd given him his best. Not to mention why Andrew shouldn't be throwing himself a pity party.
No, you shouldn't, thought Maxine grimly. She knew Gavin and she knew Kayleigh was a damn sight better off with him. She knew reverse psychology when she saw it, too.
Andrew wanted everybody to give him the OK for throwing the king of pity parties. Of course his way too soft best bezzy would fall headlong into that trap.
"Would you have told me not to mourn the end of my marriage because Zoe didn't die?" Michael then answered his own question. "Unless you wanted to reach the middle of next week early by getting knocked there, no! And you're grieving for Robbie, too — he was like the brother you never had!"
"No — one of three brothers," said Andrew, clasping Michael's shoulder. "I've still got you and Leon. I've got a second sister in Lynsey. So I've got every reason to honestly tell Natasha I've a wonderful day with wonderful people lined up."
Maxine doubted this included her but really didn't care. It wouldn't end up meaning that much to Lynsey, either. She'd soon be back in The Coffee Cup thinking only of Declan, Keiran and where the pair of them could get Lynsey Bretnall.
Look at her now, being Andrew's super sugary arm candy on the way to the pub. Maxine thought she might need an insulin jab. No doubt Lynsey wouldn't want to be seen with Andrew at all after he'd drunk half the beer cellar.
However, Andrew didn't wash down the roast lamb dinner and apple crumble with a drop of alcohol. His friends had fortified him enough — to the point where he felt he could manage without them. They'd given up enough of their days for him already.
"I'll be with my boys on the sofa and Facebook at home, too," he grinned. By the boys he meant his two silver tabbies, Logan and Fyvie. The brothers were named after Hibs players. "Then I'll be off to the cinema — as a frugal Scot I don't want to waste my advance booking money!"
"Well, I love watching the action from Easter Road too, remember?" said Michael. The pair had seen quite a few Hibs games with Andrew's younger sister Kirsty and her partner Leon. Well, the four since Kayleigh and Robbie were both big football fans, too.
Michael was about to kick himself for mentioning it when Andrew thanked him.All but one of his visits back home had been for happy reasons. Wouldn't Robbie want him to start living it upamong his living family again? Andrew was Skyping Kirsty and Leon after today's match. How about Mikey chatted with them too and they all arranged another Edinburgh get together?
Lynsey wasn't keen on football but she wanted to see more of Andrew at his bubbling best. Like she said, a play date with Logan and Fyvie was a bit overdue as well. This gave her a mischievous idea ...
"Why don't we stop off quick at ASDA on the way to Andy's?" Lynsey suggested merrily. "Then I can get the cats a replacement for that ball with the bell."
Toys from Aunty Lynsey — round about a tenner. The look of horror on Maxine's face — priceless.
After curtly requesting a puzzle book, Maxine put herself in silent solitary confinement at the dining room table. In a less comfy chair than the sitting room ones and nearer the back garden cat games. Well, God forbid she should actually enjoy one minute here, thought Michael in resentful embarrassment.
Maxine barely heard a peal of either toy's bell from the garden. The cheering down the other end kept drowning that out. Lynsey wanted to share in the celebrations, too.The Andrew she knew and loved was back.
It seemed somebody up there could read Lynsey's mind as five minutes later the heavens opened. She went inside to enjoy the Hibs victory like it was an England World Cup win. In fact she asked to be at the Skype after show party with Kirsty and Leon.
Kirsty was delighted by the prospect of Andrew's first homecoming since their cousin's funeral. She recommended following up the football with a meal at the new Thai restaurant in town. It was a firm favourite of hers and Leon's already — Andrew would see why when Kirsty texted its menu link.
"That's a point!" said Lynsey. "I need to look at The Gondola's dessert menu again to make a final decision!"
Maxine looked up from the puzzle pages submerged under the long fair waves of her hair. "I'm feeling like a gooseberry fool myself," she announced. Her dark blue eyes looked pointedly at Michael.
He decided to make the point that actually he did prefer his friends' company right now. After coming off Skype, Michael suggested Andrew kept the laptop on for some Hibs match clips.
Maxine was first out of the door after bidding Andrew the coolest of farewells. She'd got halfway down the path before realising Michael was still in Andrew's hall. The two friends shared a warm embrace before agreeing tomorrow morning's arrangements. While Andrew's car got MOTed, he was sharing Michael's for work journeys.
Maxine seemed in a much better mood for getting Michael to herself again. She smiled at him before drawing her body close to his and drawling seductively.
"Maybe you can be here for quarter past eight without having to get up early." Maxine only lived two roads away from Andy and Michael was driving to hers later. So this sounded like an invitation to stay overnight.
Maxine made her intentions even clearer as she went on. "You could have a longer night and longer in bed than usual, if you get my drift ... " Taking the lapels of Michael's shirt, she snarled ferociously: "Just go back in and stay — you know you want to!"
She shoved him away before flouncing off. To Splitsville, most probably, Andrew thought in his sitting room. Hoped as well, part of him had to admit.
Of course Andrew was delighted at Michael moving on from his divorce. He just didn't think it was in the right direction or with the right person.
Maxine wanted the high flying high life with other ruthless go getters. Andrew couldn't see how a principled, down to earth family man tied in with that vision. He certainly couldn't see Maxine playing stepmother to Jake long term. That involved thinking of somebody else for more than thirty seconds.
On the flip side Michael and Jake could be the making of Maxine. Michael did bring out the best in people. Jake was the most loveable little boy. Maxine's hardnosed selfishness might result from feeling incomplete. A lot of people weren't truly fulfilled until they'd a life partner and family.
Plenty of career girls wanted those, too.Kayleigh would have raised children alongside running her hand crafted jewellery business. It being home based gave her flexible working hours.
Would have — those two words said it all. Kayleigh had a different home and a different boyfriend now. Move on, Andrew — there's really nothing to look at here, he chided himself.
Being a typically houseproud eastern Scot, he soon noticed Maxine's dining table debris. The puzzle book and a coffee cup bearing traces of a pink lipgloss just like one Kayleigh wore..
Andrew took the cup through to be washed up later. Unfortunately putting it out of sight didn't put the associations out of mind. Perhaps a Sudoku or cryptic crossword would help.
Flicking through the book, Andrew could see most of its puzzles had been done already. They'd helped to pass the long, lonely winter's nights without Kayleigh, he recalled.
Exactly, he chided himself. Those evenings were in the past and yet still post Kayleigh. So what connection did she really have to the here and now?
A surprisingly strong one as her logic grid puzzle notes leapt off the page.Of course — Andrew always left those puzzles for Kayleigh. Ironic that one he'd not touched could still send his head round in circles.
"Only if you let it," Andrew told himself sternly. Not wanting to give himself any opportunities for self sabotage, he took the book to the bin. Opening its lid in the strong breeze sent a sheet of paper sailing towards him.Andrew caught it with lightning reflexes — and his left hand.
Still got it after all these years, he thought proudly. He'd made some brilliant catches in the rounders games of his schooldays. Dreamt of becoming a superstar fielder for the New York Mets.
Well, Andrew's ambitions might be different now but he was still young enough to fulfil them. He was only 26 with an impressive marketing CV already. In the words of that great philosopher Del Boy, the world was his lobster.
What were the words in front of him, though? They looked like complete gobbledegook. Then Andrew saw "Czech" on the link description and understood perfectly.
He threw the printout and book in the bin like they were on fire. How could he not think of the past when it lay at the bottom of the bloody garden? The answer came the minute he entered the kitchen. Sensing Dad's sadness, Logan and Fyvie rubbed their heads against his legs.
Andrew grinned and vowed to give both pets extra Dreamies as a treat. They still provided him with affection and company. His family and friends did the same even when they weren't under his roof. He could chat to them on Facebook before heading to the cinema.
Sure enough, Andrew was soon immersed in a post match discussion with his Edinburgh pals. Suddenly two familiar Holmesbridge faces popped up.
In the profile photo was Dean, the husband of Kayleigh's best friend Heidi. The timeline photo showed Heidi wearing a beautiful silver necklace dotted with dark red roses. Dean was thanking Kayleigh for having designed and made it. Heidi adored her Valentine's present from him.
In return, Kayleigh thanked Dean for the Barcelona recommendation and information. She was having such a wonderful time with Gavin. Her best break ever, according to the hashtag. The point was highlighted with carefree, loved up photos underneath.
Andrew now knew what a knife in the back felt like. It was just hard to say whose cut went the deepest.
He'd never expected Dean to declare war on Kayleigh and Gavin. He'd seen no reason to do that himself when they'd done nothing wrong. All they had done was fall in love and admit it before anything actually happened between them.
What Andrew had thought Dean would do after remaining a friend was to remain loyal. Notact like it to his face, then act as a travel agent to Kaygav.
Dean had never treated Kayleigh and Andrew's romantic breaks like royal fucking honeymoons. They'd always been left to make their own arrangements — hang on.
What was with Kayleigh's "Wish I'd not been there" attitude to those getaways? She'd had 50% creative input — and no complaints about Andrew's at the time. He'd planned all of the surprise Paris birthday trip Kayleigh had declared "perfect".
Andrew slammed down the laptop lid with shaking hands. He could hear his heart thumping and feel it racing. His head began whirling with dizziness as well as emotion.
He wasn't in a bad enough state to call 999. But then he wasn't in a fit enough state to remain on his own. Who could he call over, though, when everybody was off out? Did he want anyone to see him a nervouswreck without his babysitters?
Well, there was one friend who wouldn't be inconvenienced by Andrew calling upon him. Jack Daniels wouldn't mind it just being a flying visit, either. Whatever Andrew needed, he'd provide ....
Andrew opened his eyes to find a familiar figure shaking him by the shoulder. Honestly, Michael was only supposed to let himself in for holiday housekeeping and emergencies. Not for dragging Andrew off to work before the crack of dawn. It was still pitch bloody black outside.
"Mikey, why are you here already?" murmured Andrew vaguely. A horrible stench suddenly galvanised him. "Logan — have you made yourself sick again eating Fyvie's food as well as your own?"
"You've made yourself sick drinking," said Michael, emphasising his annoyance as well as the words. "It's just a good thing I was passing and wondered why the curtains weren't drawn. Or I could have found you choked to death in the morning."
Maxine's disapproving glare clearly said that would have been good riddance to bad rubbish. Michael picked up the mobile on the coffee table and made a frosty offer.
"I'll text a message to Tara as from you. It won't be a lie saying you've got vomiting and you're not well enough for work."
"But I can't be off tomorrow — I've to do that presentation," said Andrew.
"Well then maybe you should have thought of that before hitting the bottle!" snapped Michael.
"Perhaps Dean should have thought what he was posting to Kayleigh on Facebook!" retorted Andrew. "Perhaps she should have — "
"The only one who's set up the drunken pity party is you, Andrew!" said Michael crisply. That and the excuses ended tonight, he vowed.
After putting Andrew's shirt in the wash, Michael guided him to bed. Andrew was passed out on it when Michael came through to clean him up.
No way would Andrew be able to do the job for himself if further sickness struck. So Michael reluctantly decided to set up a camp bed nearby- much to Maxine's fury.
"Andrew can't choke — you've put him in the fucking recovery position!" she snapped. "He's a bowl by the bed in case he chucks up! Everything he needs except being made to deal with his own self inflicted problems! The one you do need to be here for is you! That's what today's been all about — St Michael of the pissed up lost cause!"
Maxine stormed out of the house, slamming the front door almost off its hinges. As he winced, Michael didn't know if it was the noise or the truth jarring on him more.
Maxine's words kept going round his head the whole of the endless night. They made more sense with every anxious awakening to Andrew's peaceful slumber.
"Make the most of it, while it lasts, so called mate," said Michael grimly. "You won't be staying oblivious to everything and everyone else any more."