This is where you can catch up on all my news, and find an exclusive short story written just for this website.
I’ll be updating the newsletter and short story regularly, so keep watching!
As to what’s happening at the moment…my seventh novel, THE TWO MRS ROBINSONS, hit the shops a few weeks back, but I haven’t had time to crack open the champagne yet as I’ve been too busy finishing my next book, THIS IS YOUR SONG, LOLA ROSE, which is set in the world of rock’n’roll. I’ll be adding an exclusive preview extract as soon as I can.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my summer short story!
All the best
By Donna Hay
I had a bad feeling what Sheila Baxter was going to ask me long before she stuck her head over the garden fence and uttered those fateful words.
‘Why don’t you come on holiday with Gordon and me?’
I smiled vaguely and tried to think of an excuse. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the Baxters. They were a well-meaning pair, if a bit on the pushy side. But I was Sheila’s pet project. Ever since I’d moved in, six months before, and made the mistake of telling her I was newly divorced, she’d made it her mission to look after me.
‘We can’t have you sitting at home brooding, can we?’ she’d say brightly, as she dragged me along to her aqua-fit sessions and Italian cookery classes. Never mind that after four disastrous years of marriage I actually wanted some time alone. As far as Sheila was concerned, if I was left to my own devices it would only be a matter of time before I started hitting the cooking sherry – or worse still, eyeing up her Gordon.
‘Your Mr Right will come along one day,’ she’d sigh. And just to prove it, she’d line me up with various spare men at dinner parties, then look disappointed when I failed to take them home with me after the coffee.
So the idea of spending two weeks being palmed off on every likely-looking bloke this side of Fuengirola didn’t exactly appeal.
‘I can’t,’ I said hastily. ‘I’ve already made other plans.’
‘Oh yes?’ Sheila looked disbelieving. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Er…abroad.’ I felt my mouth go dry. ‘Somewhere hot. I can’t remember its name.’
Sheila looked disappointed. ‘Shame,’ she said. ‘Oh well, can’t be helped. I’ll ask Mum to come round and water your plants, shall I? It’s no trouble,’ she assured me breezily, when I opened my mouth to argue. ‘She’ll be coming round to feed Mr Pickles anyway. I’ll give her your spare key.’
That lie became the first of many. From then on, I had to make sure I was out whenever Sheila’s mum dropped round. This meant long hours at work, and even longer ones spent sitting in the park under an umbrella with the cold rain dripping down the collar of my mac, wondering whether I wouldn’t have been better off on the Costa Fortune with Sheila and Gordon. Surely it wouldn’t have been worse than pneumonia.
But, inevitably, one night I happened to be in when Sheila’s mum dropped round. I heard her key in the door and immediately flicked off the lamp and threw myself down behind the sofa.
Which is where she found me crouching a few minutes later.
‘I’m looking for my contact lens,’ I explained weakly.
‘In the dark?’ She turned on the lamp so I could see her disbelieving face. ‘What are you doing here, anyway? Sheila said you were going away.’
‘I was.’ My mind raced wildly. ‘My flight was cancelled…The resort was washed away…a flash flood.’
She frowned. ‘I don’t remember seeing that on the news. Still, you needn’t be on your own. We can keep each other company, can’t we?’ She sidled up to me cosily. Sheila must have told her I needed watching.
‘I can’t,’ I lied. ‘I’m leaving on Friday.’
‘But I thought you said – ‘
‘Last minute cancellation.’
And so it went on. Because then, of course, I had to go away whether I wanted to or not. I dashed to the travel agent’s in my lunch hour the following day and grabbed the first late deal they had. It happened to be a week in southern Spain, but it could have been Shanghai or Stock on Trent for all I cared. Just as long as it was away from Sheila’s mum, who’d taken to watching me through binoculars from the kitchen window.
But as it happened, she did me a favour. Once I arrived, i realised that the hot Spanish sun was exactly what I needed. Lying by the pool sipping a cold glass of wine and getting stuck into the latest Joanna Trollope was better than moping at home.
There were other compensations, too. Like Matt the handsome holiday rep. I saw the gleam in his eye and the promise of a holiday romance in his smile, and my frozen heart began to thaw just a little.
Then it happened. Two days into the holiday, I was coming home from the beach to get ready for dinner. As I strolled across the hotel forer I heard a voice that struck fear into my heart.
‘Don’t talk to me about reservations, young man. You’ve not just seen half your hotel go up in smoke!’
I froze. Surely fate couldn’t be that cruel? But as I edged closer and peeped around the pillar, there were Sheila and Gordon at the front desk, wearing matching baseball caps, lobster red from the sun, making a scene.
I tried to sneak away but Sheila suddenly turned around and pinned me with her gaze.
‘It’s you! Look who it is, Gordon!’ She strode over, flip flops flapping.
‘Sheila!’ I managed weakly. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘You might well ask.’ Sheila said darkly. ‘We were meant to be enjoying five star luxury at the Hotel Paradiso, until Gordon plugged his electric shaver into a faulty socket. Talk about an inferno!’ She rolled her eyes heavenwards. ‘There were no other hotels available in the resort, so they sent us over here.’ She beamed at me. ‘It must be fate!’
‘It must be,’ I muttered through gritted teeth.
‘Here on your own, are you?’ I don’t know if it was her pitying look or just the thought of having to spend the next five days in her company, but that was when I felt the next lie edging closer to my lips.
‘Actually, I’m with someone. A man.’
‘You’re a dark horse, aren’t you?’ She looked around.
‘Where is he, then?’
‘He’s…um…upstairs. We – were just about to have a siesta.’
‘Well, don’t let me stop you!’ Sheila nudged me. ‘I only wish my Gordon was that keen, but all he wants to do is check out the mini golf.’
I finally managed to escape, but only after I’d promised to meet them in the bar for drinks at eight. They were waiting expectantly for me, and I realised why when Sheila frowned and said, ‘Where is he, then?’
‘This mystery man of yours.’
‘He couldn’t make it.’
She sent me a sceptical look. ‘You’re being very secretive. Anyone would think he was married.’
‘He is.’ The words were out before I could stop them.
‘Oh! I see.’ Sheila looked disapproving. ‘Well, it’s your life, I’m sure,’ she sniffed. ‘Although I must say, I would never have thought you’d end up with a married man!’
As I sat in the bar, clutching a glass of sangria and listening to Sheila lecturing me on why Married Men were Trouble, I started to wonder how I’d got in such a mess. Why couldn’t I just be honest?
But having lied once, I just had to go on doing it. Each day I’d have to invent more excuses to Sheila and Gordon about why I always seemed to be alone. If they caught me on my own by the pool it was because Tony (he had a name now as well as a wife) had sunstroke. If he couldn’t join me for dinner, it was because he was on the phone to his kids (yes, he was a family man too). Once I even managed a few tears over a big row we’d had. After a while I even started believing in him myself.
But I’d forgotten all about him on the day we set off on a wine-tasting excursion. I’d been looking forward to the chance of spending the day with Matt. But when I got to the minbus and saw Sheila deep in conversation with him, a horrible feeling crept over me.
‘I’ve just been telling Matt, I don’t think Tony will be joining us,’ she said.
I caught Matt’s stony gaze and my heart sank.
‘I didn’t know you were seeing someone,’ he said.
‘I – ‘
‘You wouldn’t,’ Sheila supplied helpfully. ‘She keeps him very quiet. He’s married,’ she mouthed, just loud enough for everyone on the minibus to hear.
Matt didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. Neither did anyone else.
I didn’t get the chance to be alone with him until we were at the winery.
‘It’s not what you think,’ I said.
‘It never is,’ he snapped.
‘If you’d let me explain…’
‘I think I can work it out for myself.’ He cut me off abruptly. ‘Your married man isn’t paying you enough attention, so you get bored and start flirting with me instead. Married man learns his lesson, you get what you want, everyone’s happy. You don’t need to explain, it happens all the time.’ He slammed his clipboard shut. ‘Except I thought you were different,’ he muttered.
He ignored me for the rest of the day. But every so often I’d catch him giving me strange looks. I knew I’d hurt him, but not nearly as much as I’d hurt myself.
That night all I wanted to do was go to bed and cry myself to sleep, but Sheila and Gordon insisted I dine with them. I didn’t even try to hide my unhappiness as I joined them at their table.
‘So where is he tonight, then?’ Sheila asked waspishly.
I took a deep breath. Suddenly I didn’t care any more. My lies had cost me too much already. ‘Look, it’s time you knew the truth. He…’
‘He checked out this afternoon.’
The voice behind me made me jump. I spun round and there was Matt, looking gorgeous in faded Levi’s, his shirt crisp and white against his tanned skin. ‘Sorry to break it to you like this, but he got an urgent call from home. He left you this note.’ As he gave me the piece of paper, his brown eyes never left mine.
A note from a man who didn’t even exist? I opened it with shaking hands.
‘I know what you’re up to,’ it said. ‘Look shocked and let me do the talking.’
I didn’t need to be told to look shocked. Sheila took one look at my pale face and sent Gordon to fetch me a glass of water.
‘Is it his wife?’ she whispered. ‘She’s found out about you, hasn’t she?’ She clucked disaprovingly. ‘Didn’t I warn you it would end in tears?’
Matt put his arm around me. ‘I think I’d better take her up to her room,’ he said. ‘She needs to be alone.’
As soon as we were out of Sheila’s sight, I turned to him. ‘How – did you find out?’
He shrugged. ‘It wasn’t that difficult. I knew you’d travelled here alone, so I did some detective work and realised your mystery man wasn’t listed anywhere in this resort, let alone this hotel. The only Tony in this whole place is a pensioner here with his grandkids. I didn’t think you’d be that desperate.’ His dark eyes twinkled.
‘Thanks a lot!’
He grinned. ‘Then when I saw you stuck with those two, I finally twigged what you were up to.’
After that of course I had no choice but to tell him the whole story.
‘You must think I’m an idiot,’ I groaned.
‘Not at all.’ His face grew solemn. ‘I’m sorry it didn’t work out between you and Tony.’ You made such a nice couple.’
I smiled at him. ‘It was over anyway,’ I said. ‘Let’s just say he knew when he wasn’t wanted.’
‘Well,’ Matt said. ‘If there’s anything I can do to help you get over him…’
‘Oh, I’m sure there is,’ I grinned, moving towards him.