I’m very excited to announce that today my latest release, Only a Taste (Chance Encounters #3) goes live! This is the third in the Chance Encounters series and follows Mandi Grewal as she tries to figure out life as a young adult, juggling her very traditional Punjabi family, as well as a guy, Callum, whom she’s convinced her parents will never accept. For your reading pleasure, I’m including an excerpt below.
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Chapter Two : Callum (for Chapter One, click here)
“Mr. Byrne, I can assure you that you won’t find a better location for your new restaurant in all of Brighton.” The estate agent flashes his extra-white teeth. He looks almost like a shark, readying himself to shred his prey to pieces – me in this case.
“The rent is too high, it won’t be viable,” I argue, while looking around the empty establishment again. A lot of decorating would be needed as well. It’s too much.
“Think of the footfall!” He points out the window which is currently partially obscured by white paint. Still, masses of day-trippers can be seen from where we stand.
“How about you speak to the owners again and let me know if the lease is negotiable. It will take a lot of investment to bring this property up to scratch.” I offer him my hand, signalling the end of the viewing, as well as the discussion. If he comes down enough, I may consider this property, otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board.
“Very well. Thank you very much for your time.” The estate agent shakes my hand slightly less enthusiastically than at the beginning of the meeting.
After leaving the empty shop, we say our goodbyes and go our separate ways.
It’s a beautiful day, deep blue skies with not a cloud in sight. Warm too, the surging temperatures of our current summer heatwave evident in the amount of exposed skin outside. Apparently I’m overdressed. Swimming trunks and bikinis, that’s Brighton’s dress code in the summer. I stand out like a sore thumb in my jeans and button-up shirt.
The footfall would be good here, though I’d expect my new restaurant to quickly become bookings-only once the new show airs. Perhaps I should consider a location that’s a little further away from the mad crowds, and hopefully more affordable. I don’t want to have to shutter up the place as soon as I’m no longer on TV.
Enough work for one day though. Today is too lovely to waste.
The beach is crowded, so much so I’m not at all tempted to go near it. Perhaps if I walk further out towards the western side of town I’ll find some peace and quiet. But not without sampling some of the local refreshments. The only establishment not selling Fish & Chips around here seems to be the ice cream truck parked up on the pavement. There’s a queue of people already waiting, but I can’t help myself. Gelato will do that to a person.
I join one of the two queues and wait my turn. It takes a while, but it’ll be worth it.
“One scoop of Rum & Raisin, please,” I say, shocked to find that the girl to my left has word-for-word ordered the exact same thing. The two guys behind the counter look at each other and pause.
“OK, you’re going to have to sort this out between yourselves,” my guy says. He seems to be in charge of the truck. “We’ve got one scoop left.”
Looking over at the girl I’m competing with, I’m struck by her exotic beauty. Big brown eyes gaze up at me, a mixture of disappointment and hope. Her full lips half-parted as if she’s about to say something, but something interrupted her. I find myself uncharacteristically reluctant to speak up first, but it looks like I have no choice.
“Let’s flip a coin for it,” I attempt a joke.
Her stare tells me I failed. My eyes are quickly drawn to her hand, clutching a purple leather wallet. No ring, no tan line where one might have been. She looks young, but not inappropriately so.
“I can just get something else,” she whispers at last. Her eyes are still glued to me. Did she recognise me and that’s why she’s staring? Or is it something else? Have I got something stuck in my teeth?
“I hope you won’t take this the wrong way,” I pause, while she raises an eyebrow. My guy, who decided to serve the customer behind me instead of waiting for us to resolve our gelato stand-off, pauses a bit too long, clearly listening in to our conversation.
The black-haired girl patiently waits for me to finish, but something in her body language has changed. I’m sure she gets this all the time. Fuck it, I feel like a sleaze for even trying.
“You have it.” I turn to face the chalkboard again, ready to pick another flavour. “I’ll have tiramisu,” I tell the guy behind the counter, who just shrugs. I guess he was looking forward to watching me get shot down by this girl, had I actually made a move.
Meanwhile, the younger guy hands the girl her scoop of Rum & Raisin in a cone, which she accepts with a smile. God, what a radiant smile. She takes her change and turns, walking off towards the beach. I quickly take my cup and impossibly tiny spoon and rush after her.
“Excuse me, miss,” I say, when I catch up with her a few steps ahead.
She turns and stares at me again. How the hell do I do this without coming across like a total douche bag? Funnily, coming across like a douche has never been much of a concern. You win some you lose some, and ever since the first season of my show aired, I haven’t really had to work hard to get female attention. But there’s something different about this one. I wonder if much of my interest in her is caused by how hard she’s making things?
“Yes?” she asks, sounding stand-offish. Her rich amber coloured eyes are too distracting, I almost forget what I was about to say.
“I was wondering if I could take you out to dinner?” I ask at last.
She scrutinises me from head to toe, as she considers the question. Perhaps she’s wondering if it’s worth the sacrifice to stick the ice cream in my face.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” she says finally.
Normally, I may have been more than happy to explain, but not this time. Oh yeah, I’m on TV, seems way too tacky. So I shrug. “Maybe I just have one of those faces?”
My answer makes her pause as she cocks her head and looks me right in the eye. Shit, she can tell I’m bullshitting her.
“Where would we go?” She has a lick of ice cream, rescuing some droplets that were about to dribble off the side of the cone.
I hadn’t thought ahead so far. What is it about this girl that she throws me off so much?
“That entirely depends on what type of food you like.”
A hint of a smile plays on her lips.
“I’m here with a friend, is she invited too?”
Finally a full grin does appear on her face. “No need to look so shocked, I’m only joking.”
I smile back at her, relieved to have not made a complete arse of myself. Yet.
“But I’d better let her know anyway.” The girl turns to scan the beach stretching out ahead of us, before facing me again. “So. What time and where?”
“Nine? Here? Unless you have a better idea.”
“Bear in mind I’m only here for the day, so I don’t have a change of clothes with me. What you see is what you get I’m afraid.” She glances down at herself, smoothing down the multi-coloured cotton summer dress that covers what appears to be a bikini.
“No matter, same here.” I suddenly realise I don’t even know her name. “I’m Callum by the way.” In the absence of a better idea of what to do, I stretch out my hand towards her.
She accepts the handshake, though the slight curl of the corners of her mouth suggests I did indeed just make an arse of myself at last. “Mandi. Lovely to meet you.” Yep, her tone confirms it. Ouch.
I try to think of something else to say to break the tension, or at least to distract me from the instant reaction I feel upon touching her hand. What is it about her? You’d think I’ve never interacted with a beautiful girl before. Why does she make me feel more like an awkward teenager than a successful and established thirty-year-old man?
“Perhaps we should exchange phone numbers, so we don’t miss each other in the crowds here,” I mumble, while quickly pulling my hand back and fishing my mobile out of my pocket.
“Sure,” she says, before giving me her number. When we say our goodbyes immediately after, I can’t help wondering if I’ll ever see her again, or she’ll decide she’d much rather vanish with her supposed friend. Only time will tell.