Published: Lightning Books (February 2019)
The number one bestseller
‘A sunny, funny, lovely story guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart’ – Milly Johnson
Rosa Larkin is down on her luck in London, so when she inherits a near-derelict corner shop in a quaint Devon village, her first thought is to sell it for cash. However, while the identity of her benefactor remains a mystery, he or she has left one important proviso: the shop cannot be sold, only passed on to somebody who really deserves it.
Rosa resolves to get the shop, in the small seaside community of Cockleberry Bay, up and running again. But can she do it all on her own? And if not, who will help her succeed – and who will work secretly to see her fail?
A handsome rugby player, a sexy plumber, a charlatan reporter, a selection of meddling locals, and a dachshund named Hot Dog, together with a hit-and-run incident and the disappearance of a valuable engraved necklace, all play their part in an unpredictable journey of self-discovery in this runaway bestseller from chick-lit publishing phenomenon Nicola May.
‘Are you sure you’ve got the right person?’
Rosa took off her bright blue woolly hat and scratched the back of her head, causing her dark brown curls to become even more unruly.
The tall, pinched-faced solicitor nodded. ‘Yes, of course we have. Evans, Donald and Simpson do not make mistakes. You, Miss Larkin, are now the official owner of the Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay.’
He handed the bewildered twenty-five-year-old a battered leather briefcase and pointed to a small combination padlock on its brass clasp.
‘Here. The will stated that you – and only you – can open this, using your date of birth.’
‘This is all very strange,’ Rosa said. ‘And where exactly is this Cockleberry Bay?’
‘Devon, dear, Devon.’ The solicitor looked under his rimless glasses. ‘I take it you know where that is?’
‘I may have a cockney accent, Mr Donald, but I’m not stupid.’
‘Well, open it then.’ The solicitor was shifting from foot to foot in anticipation. He confided, ‘We’ve been wanting to know what’s in there for days.’
Showing no emotion, Rosa gazed at him with her striking green eyes and asked coolly: ‘Is there anything else I need?’
‘Er, no – but are you not going to . . .?’
‘I need to get to work.’ Rosa put her hat and scarf back on, zipped up her fur-lined bomber jacket and headed for the door. ‘Thank you so much for your help.’
And she was gone.
The solicitor peered crossly out of the window of the offices in Staple Inn and watched as the young woman, the briefcase in her arms, strode across the frosty cobbled courtyard and out into the bustle of London’s ancient legal quarter.
‘You’re late again, Rosa. This is a discount store, not a charity shop.’
‘Oh, turn that frown upside down, Mr Brown. I’m here now, aren’t I?’
But there wasn’t even a glint of the usual smile from her now reddening supervisor.
‘I’m going to have to let you go, Rosa. I need committed staff and to be honest, I don’t think you know what that word means. You’ve had all your warnings. I will speak to Head Office, and they will settle your final pay.’
Rosa sighed. ‘Really?’ When Mr Brown said nothing, she picked up the briefcase from the floor and added: ‘Whilst you’re at it, maybe you could tell them I’ve been wanting to stick this shitty, unfulfilling job right up their pound-coin-shaped backsides for weeks anyway.’
Rosa’s elderly neighbour was putting a holly wreath on her front door when she arrived at home, mid-morning.
‘You’re back early, dearie.’
Rosa murmured under her breath, ‘And Ethel Beanacre wins the award for the Nosiest Neighbour of the Year.’
‘What was that, love?’
‘Nothing, Ethel, just talking to myself.’
The sight of the worn briefcase secured further interest.
‘Robbed a bank, have you?’
Ethel’s awful cackle reminded Rosa of Catherine Tate’s ‘Gran’ character.
Rosa scrabbled for her key. ‘Don’t tell anyone, will you.’ She put a finger to her lips and winked.
‘So, are you going back to work later?’ The old lady pursed her lips. ‘Can’t be doing with that dog of yours barking until you come back at lunchtime.’
Ignoring her, Rosa shut the front door, put her back against it and slid down to the floor. An excitable mini-dachshund charged up to greet her and began licking her face with gusto.
‘It’s not a good day, Hot Dog,’ Rosa told him. ‘Mamma’s got the sack again.’ She stroked his smooth brown coat. ‘However, all is not lost, since I am now apparently the owner of a shop somewhere miles away. What do you think of that, eh?’
‘What are you on about?’
‘God, Josh, you made me jump! What are you doing here?’
‘Well, I do live here.’ He yawned. ‘Needed a lie-in. Big Christmas drinks last night – you know what us rugby boys are like.’ He smiled. ‘No rent again this month then, I take it? It’s a good job I like you.’
Josh, six years older than Rosa, was rather handsome in a big bear way. He was tall, broad and this morning sporting sexy stubble. With his job in the City, she was sure he earned enough not to need a lodger. Rosa reckoned he just liked having the company. She knew his terraced house in a street off the Whitechapel Road in the East End, once a poor area but now a very desirable neighbourhood, must have cost him a pretty penny – and her £400 per month rent was very cheap for London.
Josh took her arm and pulled her up from the floor in one easy movement. ‘Come on, let’s have a cuppa, and you can tell me what’s happened this time.’
Hot started barking again.
‘Shut up!’ the two of them shouted in unison and walked through the dining room into the kitchen.
Sitting at the table with steaming mugs of tea, they gazed at the unopened case, which stared back at them like some unwanted guest.
‘So, you must have some idea who left it to you?’ Josh said eventually.
‘What – little old Rosa Larkin, with no family to mention? Being brought up in children’s and foster homes doesn’t give me a lot to go on, really, does it?’
‘Sorry, Rosa. I didn’t mean . . .’
‘Don’t be silly, Josh, it’s fine. Even the solicitor doesn’t seem to know who’s behind this. It’s all very odd. The briefcase was simply delivered to his office with a letter containing my details and enough cash to pay their fee for contacting me. Goodness knows how that mystery person tracked me down, being as I am of no fixed abode and most frequently jobless. And I haven’t done anything to deserve a legacy like this. In fact, I’m surprised I haven’t been struck down already for stealing Hot.’
‘But he was being beaten outside the shop! You did exactly the right thing.’ Josh lifted the tiny sausage dog onto his lap. ‘Poor little fella. I can just imagine you stuffing him in your rucksack and then running like the wind.’ He laughed. ‘You’d be great at scoring a try. Maybe you should join our team – we could do with someone like you.’ He put another sugar in his tea and groaned. ‘God, I feel rough, but but come on, let’s open this case. It’s not like you to be holding back.’
‘For some reason I’m a bit scared.’ Alert to her change of mood, Hot looked at Rosa and gave a little whine.
Josh put his hand on hers. ‘Don’t be. We’re here with you. Now, go on.’
‘Whoever left it to me knew my date of birth – that’s so weird.’ Rosa took a deep breath and turned the rusty dials of the combination lock.
Inside the case were three brown envelopes. Rosa began to rip them open.
The first contained the deeds to the said property in Cockleberry Bay, plus a variety of paperwork to do with the services, council tax, et cetera.
Josh took them from her. ‘Here we go. The deeds should give the name of who the registered owner is . . . mystery solved. Oh.’
‘It’s blank – the information we want is blank. God, this is so strange and I’m not sure that it’s legal, but let’s go with it for now. The bills are in the name of a Ned Myers though. Hmm . . . He could have just been renting it though. Does that name ring any bells?’
Rosa shook her head.
Josh took a slurp of tea. ‘Anyway, carry on.’
The second envelope contained a set of keys on a starfish keyring. There was also a note written in a shaky hand.
Don’t question this gift, for your soul and fortune it will lift.
Allow your angels to guide, then peace will be by your side.
Rub your keyring if unsure; the energy it holds is free and pure.
I will be by your side, however high the tide.
‘What a load of bloody crap!’ she exclaimed.
‘I think it’s beautiful, Rosa.’
‘Oh Josh, you are such a wuss sometimes.’
‘Thanks. There’s gratitude for you.’
‘Look, to whoever was thinking of me as they shuffled off this mortal coil, I guess I have to be grateful. This place might be a shack though, so let’s not get too excited. It could also be some bloody awful joke – who knows. It all seems a bit too good to be true.’
‘But it’s bricks and mortar, Rosa – you have been given your very own property. It really is amazing.’
‘I will probably just sell it anyway. What do I want a shop for? And why would someone want to leave me something good, anyway?’
‘I don’t understand you sometimes, I really don’t. Here, open the last one. It might give us more of a clue.’ Josh handed her the last bulky envelope.
‘Oh my God – look!’ Rosa started tipping bundles of notes out onto the table while Hot barked in excitement. ‘I can buy those boots I’ve wanted for ages now.’ When another letter in shaky handwriting flew out, she said, ‘Oh, not more sentimental tosh. You read it, Josh. I’m going to start counting.’
‘You don’t need to. It says it all here.’ Josh began to read out loud.
This sum of £2000 will allow you to move down to Devon and help get you started.
One proviso of my gift to you is that you must NEVER sell the Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay. When you feel the time is right, it can only be passed on to someone you feel really deserves it, and only then.
‘Oh, that’s scuppered that plan then. But how would they know if I sold it anyway?’
As she spoke, the TV in the kitchen suddenly came on. Hot opened one eye, whimpered, then snuggled back into Josh’s lap.
‘Did you just sit on the remote, Josh?’ Rosa said nervously.
‘No, it’s on the fridge. Maybe “they” are by your side eh, Rosa?’
‘Don’t you start. It’s hard enough being in the real world, so why come back as a ghost? It was probably just an electricity surge.’ She counted out £500 from the cash and handed it to Josh. ‘Here’s this month’s rent – and I’m sure I’ve stolen more than a hundred quid’s-worth of food out of the fridge before now.’
Josh put it straight back in the envelope. ‘Keep it, with my best wishes. I’m so happy for you, Rosa. However, this doesn’t take away the fact that you’re going to be leaving me now, does it?’
‘You’ll manage,’ Rosa grinned.
‘I’ll bloody miss you, you crazy bitch.’
‘You’ll miss the best drunken BJs you’ve ever had, you mean.’
‘And that.’ It was his turn to grin. ‘Do you want me to come with you to check everything’s legit? The place may not even have running water. And you’ll need to find somewhere to live.’
‘No, I need to do this on my own,’ she told him. ‘You’ve helped me enough, and I’ll have Hot to keep me company, of course.’
‘But surely you’ll wait until after Christmas to go, won’t you?’
‘No, I hate Christmas. You’ll be with your parents anyway and it will take my mind off the usual shit. I’ll pack some things and leave tomorrow. I take it trains go down as far as Devon?’
Josh laughed. ‘You’re amazing.’
‘I wish to be.’ Rosa smiled.
Josh straightened his tie. ‘Look, I’d better get to work. I’ll pick up a take-out on the way home and we can look at your route down later.’
‘Best be fish and chips, I reckon, seeing as I’m moving to the seaside.’
‘A sunny, funny, lovely story guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart’
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That Thing She Reads
Nicola May is interviewed by Anne Diamond on BBC Radio Berkshire shortly after the publication of her first novel.
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