As part of the blog tour for Karen Clarke's The Beachside Sweet Shop, I'm delighted to be bringing you an exclusive read of Chapter One, with thanks to Kim at Bookouture.
The Beachside Sweet Shop
Chocolate fudge, butterscotch and raspberry bonbons… treat yourself to some sugary treats, a big slice of friendship and a sprinkling of romance at The Beachside Sweet Shop.
When Marnie Appleton inherited a sweet shop from her grandfather she was determined to do his legacy proud. The shop has been a much-loved feature of the little seaside town of Shipley for years, but now Marnie needs to bring it up to date, and she’s recruited gorgeous new assistant Josh to help.
Marnie gets busy redecorating the shop and choosing delicious new sweets to stock, but things are never that simple: new neighbour Isobel, a fame-hungry blogger, is on a crusade against sugar, and she’ll go to any lengths to secure bad publicity for Marnie’s shop.
Marnie fights back with homemade sugar-free treats, but with her best friend Beth heavily pregnant, her grandmother Celia recovering from an operation, and her very recently ex-boyfriend Alex returning to Shipley with a new love, Marnie has a lot on her plate.
And then there’s Josh, with whom Marnie is struggling to keep her relationship strictly professional…Will both the sweet shop and love flourish?
A deliciously heartwarming read about family, friends and handmade coconut ice. Perfect for fans of Cressida McLaughlin, Debbie Johnson, and Tilly Tennant.
‘I’ve got a new product I think you’ll be interested in.’
‘Go on,’ I said, swapping a jar of mint humbugs with a jar of strawberry sherbets.
‘They’re made of liquorice,’ said Rob Hancock, my long-time supplier, fanning out a selection on the counter.
I already stocked liquorice allsorts, laces, wheels, and toffees with liquorice in the centre. I didn’t even like the stuff. ‘What are they?’
Rob shifted some phlegm in his throat. ‘Willies,’ he announced, as proudly as if he’d invented the word.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see his excited face was redder than ever. As long as I’d known Rob, he’d looked on the verge of a heart attack. Whenever he dropped off a delivery I tried to look away from his straining shirt buttons and sausage fingers, and to not say anything he could interpret as a come-on. He was old enough to be my father. And married with five children.
‘Liquorice-shaped willies?’ I added, for clarification, still switching jars around so I didn’t have to look.
‘That’s right.’ He warmed to his theme, and I heard him rubbing his hands together. ‘They’ll go down a treat for hen parties, you mark my words. The ladies will go mad for them.’
I closed my eyes and rubbed my brow.
‘It’s good to appeal to a broader market,’ he went on, perhaps misinterpreting my silence.
‘And . . .’ he did a drum roll sound with his tongue. ‘We’ve got some sticks of rock with rude words in the middle.’ He chortled. ‘Teenage lads will love them.’
I’m sure their parents will too.
I often had conversations with Rob that didn’t make it out of my head.
‘Not too rude,’ he added, preparing to be offended at the very suggestion. ‘Nothing that would make your grandmother’s eyes water.’
Nothing made my grandmother’s eyes water, so that wasn’t saying much. I resisted asking him which rude words he deemed suitable, but he was clearly keen to enlighten me.
‘Just your regular bollocks, motherf—’
‘I get the picture,’ I cut in, turning to face him at last, hating how at home he’d made himself, leaning on the counter as if he owned it.
‘And to keep the kiddies happy, we’ve developed a new sweet.’ Never let it be said that Rob wasn’t innovative.
‘Surprise me,’ I said.
‘It’s a chew with a fizzy centre that lasts all day.’ He paused for dramatic effect. ‘I’ve called it The Fizzer.’
‘I see,’ were the politest two words I could muster.
The sun that had slanted through the window when I opened up, making the sea in the distance glitter and dance, had vanished behind thick clouds, and the stretch of pavement outside reflected the grey sky. For the millionth time, I wished I was somewhere else.
New York for instance, with Alex. Why hadn’t I gone with him while I’d had the chance? Whatever he was doing now, I doubted it involved liquorice willies.
‘I thought they were usually chocolate,’ I said, wondering why I was bothering. ‘Willies, I mean.’
‘But that’s our USP.’ Rob pounced on my words like a rabid dog. ‘Chocolate’s what people expect, so why not ring the changes?’
‘Because people expect confectionery willies to be chocolate?’ I repeated.
‘Ah, but they haven’t tried my liquorice ones.’
‘So, what do you reckon, Mar . . . nie?’ He always stumbled over my name, as though it had twenty-four syllables.
He’d asked me what it meant once, dislodging a gingery strand of hair as he scratched his scalp. ‘I’ve often wondered, but didn’t like to ask Leonard.’
No, because it might have alerted Gramps to his lecherous tendencies.
‘It means rejoice in Hebrew, and in Latin it’s a variant of Marina, meaning “of the sea”,’ I’d explained automatically.
‘What, your mum thought you were a mermaid or something?’
‘It’s from an Alfred Hitchcock film, actually. My mother was a fan,’ I’d said, stepping away from his garlic-and-beer breath.
His face had flushed magenta as though I’d tricked him.
‘I don’t want any liquorice willies,’ I told him now, before he could launch into another sales pitch. ‘I know what my customers like, and so do they.’
‘But . . .’
‘We mostly appeal to young children and old people,’ I said, keen to get rid of him. ‘I don’t want to upset the locals.’
‘I don’t think it’s fair that you won’t even give them a chance.’ His voice held a veiled threat. ‘I bet Sweetums will snap them up,’ he said, referring to a large chain sweet shop in Weymouth. ‘They’re not scared to take a risk.’
Fury sizzled up. ‘You can supply Sweetums with liquorice bosoms, bums, and fingernails for all I care, Rob. I don’t want them.’
‘Just have a look,’ he wheedled.
On an exasperated sigh, I moved behind the counter, narrowing my eyes so I wouldn’t be able to see his products clearly, and as I drew closer Rob’s arm shot out and snaked around my waist. He yanked me to his side, his hot breath gusting into my ear. ‘Come on love,’ he muttered. ‘Make an old man happy.’
I didn’t know whether he was referring to me placing an order, or something else, but my heart misfired as I wrenched myself from his grasp, bumping my hip on the edge of the counter.
‘For god’s sake, Rob.’ I tried to calm my breathing. ‘I think you should leave.’
He stared for a moment, eyes bulging. ‘It was only a bit of fun,’ he said peevishly, swiping his samples back into his box. ‘Where’s your sense of humour?’
‘I’m saving it for something funny,’ I said, injecting my voice with steel. ‘Now go, and don’t come back.’
‘What?’ As he turned, one of his willies fell on the floor. He picked it up and stuffed it in his pocket. ‘Not ever?’
I shook my head. ‘You’re fired,’ I said.
When he’d gone, muttering under his breath, I stood for a moment, blood pumping through my veins. OK, so ‘You’re fired’ wasn’t quite the right phrase – I wasn’t Sir Alan Sugar – but hopefully he’d got the message.
I fist-pumped the air. Finally, I’d got rid of horrid, leery sex-pest, Rob Hancock.