I'm really excited to have a special Christmas exclusive for all of you today! The past year I've been lucky enough to have had the chance to read and review several of author Sophie King's novels; books which I always thoroughly enjoy. Sophie has also released a collection of three Christmas stories, perfect to get into the festive holiday spirit. Thanks to the lovely people at Corazon Books, I've got an excerpt from one of these short stories for all of you today, namely from 'A Christmas Decision'!
Excerpt: 'A Christmas Decision'
‘It’s natural to have nerves, love,’ says Gran as I open another bottle. Usually, I’m a couple-of- glasses-at-the-weekend kind of girl but today is different. This is the day before Christmas Eve. It also happens to be the evening before my wedding.
What kind of man suggests getting married at this time of the year? My kind of man, that’s who. Andrew’s sense of romance and his – let’s face it – childishness is what drew me to him in the first place. Other men are simply boring besides my strapping six foot four, broad-chested hero who swept me off my feet (literally) when I almost got caught in the doors of a tube train on the way to work one sunny July morning.
When Andrew got down on his knee, barely two months later, the sensible side of me said ‘Don’t be daft. It’s far too soon.’ Yet for once in my life, I did something that wasn’t sensible. I heard myself say ‘Yes’.
And now, here I am, about to pledge my troth to a man whom I hadn’t even known last Christmas. Am I right to let my heart rule my head? Or am I making the biggest mistake of my life? And – this is the killer question – why is marriage and commitment so complicated now? After all, in my parents’ day and in my grandparents’, they just went ahead and got on with it.
I glance across at my grandmother who’s come down all the way from Skye for the wedding. Gran and I have always had a special bond even though we live so far apart. When I was a child, my dad used to put me on a train up north to stay with her and we’d spend long days walking the hills, collecting different types of heather. As a special treat, we’d take the boat out with Calum, the local fisherman, to spot seals and then make our way back to Gran’s cosy cottage to make scotch pancakes for tea. As we ate them, dripping with honey, I would stare at the black and white photograph of my grandfather – long dead – on the mantelpiece. ‘He’d have loved you,’ my grandmother often said. But whenever I asked her to tell me stories about him, she would simply smile wistfully and say ‘Another day, love. I’m a bit tired now.’ Then she’d draw me to her and we’d have a cuddle.
That’s what I want to do right now. Of course, I’m too big to sit on Gran’s knee but somehow I find myself sitting at her feet next to the Christmas tree while she pats my shoulder. ‘There, there. Like I said, it’s natural to have nerves.’
I raise my head and look into her blue eyes; the same colour as mine. Mum’s were exactly that shade too, apparently, but of course I can’t remember now. ‘Were you nervous when you married Granddad?’ I ask.
There’s a strange silence. Instantly, I know I shouldn’t have asked. After all, if Gran hadn’t wanted to talk about granddad when I was little, she’s hardly likely to do so now. But wait. She’s getting up and walking across the room to shut the door. (Very independent is my gran.) Then she hobbles back and takes her seat next to me again.
‘Lizzie, there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time,’ she says, looking across at the wall as if talking to someone else. Someone who isn’t there. ‘You’re old enough now. And if you’re really having doubts about your young man, my story might help you make up your mind.’
Everything happened so fast nowadays, thought Grace as she stood on the platform, waiting to see Johnny off. Despite his steamed-up glasses and sticking out ears, he looked almost handsome in his uniform as he leaned out of the window trying to touch her hand. Desperately, she tried to do the same but the crowds in between them were too dense. Everyone wanted to say goodbye to their sweethearts before this awful war tore them apart. Perhaps that was why so many of the other girls had a ring on their left hands, just like hers.
‘I know we haven’t been stepping out for long,’ Johnny had said the night before when he’d gone down on one knee by the back gate after taking off his glasses. ‘But thanks to Mr Hitler, we don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next. And it would make me so happy knowing that you were here, waiting for me.’
Gracie had had to lean on the gate for support. Johnny’s words had fair taken her breath away. She liked him well enough but not like that. To be honest, it had been his very tall friend Mac whom she’d fallen for at the Christmas dance last month. But Johnny – who was barely her height – had approached her first and she hadn’t liked to say no. It wasn’t fair to reject one of those poor lads who were going off to fight for them all.
So she’d allowed him to buy her a drink and then take her to the flicks the following Saturday even though the film had to end early because there was another raid. ‘I really like being with you,’ Johnny had whispered as they’d sat together in the air raid shelter.
‘It’s comforting, isn’t it?,’ she’d whispered back. And then, a few weeks later, came the proposal. The one she couldn’t turn down because Johnny was going off to war and needed all the encouragement he could get.
‘You will write, won’t you?’ She heard his voice call out above the noise of the train and the other couples around them.
‘Of course,’ she called back. Could he hear her? She hoped so. The train was moving now; roaring as if keen to reach the battlefields. Johnny’s smiling face grew further and further away until it was gone and the train was now a speck on the horizon of an uncertain future.
‘I’ve done the right thing for now,’ Gracie told herself, twisting her tiny solitaire diamond which felt so strange on her finger. But when this awful war was over and he was back safe (God-willing), she’d have to summon up the courage to tell Johnny that as much as she cared for him, she couldn’t marry him.
Yet as the letters came back and forth from the frontline, she began to wonder if she’d underestimated her too-short suitor. ‘Your young man’s a keen writer,’ remarked her mother one winter’s evening as Grace sat by the candle with the black-out curtains fully closed. Gracie smiled as she covered up Johnny’s latest poem, written in a hasty scrawl on a scrap of paper. It wasn’t easy to find something to write on: that much he’d told her. He’d also told her lots of other things too – too personal to tell anyone else! Who would have believed that someone like shy Johnny could be so bold and dashing on paper?
Click here to get your own copy of 'A Christmas Decision' on Amazon.co.uk; between the 9th and the 15th of December you can get the short story collection for FREE, so be sure to download it as soon as possible! :)
Be sure to also check out Sophie King's new release 'Do You Take This Man?', now available on Amazon.co.uk!