The Happy Endings Book Club
The Happy Endings Book Club-PROLOGUE
Three weeks after Christmas
Paige flipped the open sign on her bookshop door to closed. Happy Endings was shut for the day, so let the festivities begin. Everyone was here. And early, which was unusual, but it was the book club’s first meeting of the year, so everyone was excited to see each other.
Paige stared out her shop window. London, resplendent in Christmas decorations only a few weeks before, was now weighed down by the bleakness of winter. Normally, she’d find that depressing, but tonight she had other things on her mind. She straightened a few books on the shelf near the door and made her way back to the counter. She tidied a pile of bookmarks that were sitting next to the register, free for the taking, and closed down her computer. She could hear everyone else laughing and talking at one hundred miles an hour.
“Come on, Paige,” called Michi in her Aussie accent. “Let’s get on with it.”
“I’ll be with you in a minute.” Paige unwrapped the tulips Tilda had given her. They were beautiful and for a moment tears threatened to erupt again. Fortunately Tilda appeared by her side with a vase and shooed her away.
“You finish up here so we can start,” Tilda said, and gave Paige’s hand a quick squeeze.
Paige made her way around the shop, quickly tidying and finishing up for the day. She switched off the main lights, leaving some sidelights on, which filled the store with a warm glow. She loved her shop, with its wood floors and oak shelves crammed with books. In one corner there was an unusual collection of sofas and coffee tables all on top of a rug she’d picked up cheap in Turkey. The reading corner, she called it.
In the opposite corner her assistant, Clementine, was tidying the children’s section, which was always in disarray by closing. With her cherry-red ponytail and rosy cheeks, Clementine looked barely older than a child herself.
“That looks good, Clem. Time to sign off,” Paige said. “Can you grab the wineglasses?”
Paige looked across at her friends, lounging on couches and chairs. They’d spent the past year getting together, initially to discuss books, but life and love and a lot of laughter had quickly crept into those meetings. Before long, many of them were catching up for coffee or a movie outside of their book club gatherings. They’d just immediately gelled.
Book clubs were tricky. Strangers came together, and no matter how compatible they seemed, if they didn’t like the same books—or at least respect what the other members liked—then the club would die a quick and often painful death. Put the wrong people together and books made them bitchy.
“I’m not judging you for it, but I don’t read romance.”
“You haven’t read In Search of Lost Time?”
“Did you hear her pronunciation of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky?”
Paige found it very tedious indeed. Paige’s last book club experience had turned sour when Norma, the woman who ran it, constantly vetoed everyone else’s suggestions. The group read Wuthering Heights, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and The Age of Innocence. Finally, on the evening they got together to discuss The Road, Paige broached what everyone had been thinking.
“Can we have a happy ending?”
Norma looked at Paige as if she’d just farted. “What do you mean?”
“Norma, I enjoyed revisiting some of the books we’ve read. But I think everyone here agrees, we’d like a happy ending.”
Everyone did agree, which angered Norma even further.
Norma pulled at the gloves she was wearing. Norma always wore gloves. “If you’re finding these classics challenging …”
Paige shocked everyone in the room when she rolled her eyes and said, “Are you saying Pride and Prejudice, A Room with a View and To Kill a Mockingbird aren’t classics because the reader feels hopeful afterward?”
“Literary fiction, by its very nature, is rather dark.”
“Excuse me?” Norma was visibly seething.
“Who says that literary fiction needs to be depressing?”
Norma seemed lost for words. Paige felt sorry for her. She knew Norma struggled with depression. But in Paige’s opinion she didn’t do herself any favors with the way she spent her time, swallowing antidepressants and curling up with Sylvia Plath. Something funny or hopeful would do her good.
“Perhaps we just have different taste,” Paige said kindly.
“And how would you describe your taste, Paige?”
“I prefer to focus on the positive.”
“How Panglossian.” Norma gave Paige a look that would wither steel. “Life is difficult. Books that end happily are misleading.”
“I disagree.” Paige was over it. She stood and straightened her skirt. “I’m working on having one in real life. But in the meantime … I’ll have them in books.”
Paige never went back to that book club, but the incident with Norma was what motivated her to follow through on her life-long dream of opening her own bookshop in Muswell Hill.
The Happy Endings Bookshop.
Well, that was what she was going to call it until her husband Tim put a stop to it.
“Christ, it sounds like a massage parlor.”
“It’s a great name for a bookstore.”
“Yeah, an adult bookstore with a little room out the back providing extra services,” he said. “I was wondering how you’d make this little business of yours work. Promote happy endings and they’ll be lining up down the street.”
Turned out he’d know. But at that stage she was still taking his advice and decided to name the shop Paige’s Pages instead. She went ahead and had the signs and website made. Then, two weeks before she was due to open, she discovered her husband was having an affair. It was her fiftieth birthday. His timing always had been dreadful. She packed her bags and moved out that night. The next day, she ordered new signs and renamed her shop Happy Endings. The shop was going to be her happy ending, or a least a part of it.
It was also what she promoted. Yes, she sold books of other genres, just as she read books of other genres, but her specialty was romance, and any story that had a happy ending. She knew that was an ambiguous category. A happy ending for one person might not be so happy for another. Or it might not be a happy ending, but a beginning, or even both, because they’re often the same thing.
Paige was too old and had been hurt too badly to ever think again that a happy ending meant meeting someone and riding off into the sunset. As much as she enjoyed her romance novels, she knew that was unrealistic. Waking up one day and knowing you were okay and able to live life alone—that was a happy ending. It was certainly hers.
Paige’s shop stocked an interesting and upbeat mix of titles. She regularly held author signings and talks, always with a positive theme. It was why, in a time when little independent bookstores were a dying breed, Happy Endings was doing okay. It filled a need.
A year ago Paige had decided to form the book club she’d always wanted to belong to: the Happy Endings Book Club. She asked a few of her regular customers to join, starting with Eva, who seemed lost, and Sadie, who came across as sexy and funny yet often hung around the store as though she needed someone to talk to. Paige’s assistant Clementine brought her roommate Michi along. She also invited a couple of the local shopkeepers she’d become friendly with, like Tilda, who ran the florist up the road, and Amanda from the lovely little boutique opposite. Muswell Hill had a real community feel to it.
Everyone got together at their first meeting and agreed the club should have the same name and purpose as Paige’s shop. And yes, there had been many jokes about that name over wine on that first evening:
“Who said going to bed with a book wasn’t satisfying?”
“Get some real action under the covers.”
“The fictional boyfriend always has a spine.”
“The romantic hero: pick him up when it suits you.”
“With a well written book, there’s no premature ending.”
The women had spent the first book club meeting laughing hysterically, which immediately secured their friendship. They all had a similar sense of humor, but they all got it, too. They all wanted it. They all yearned for their own happy endings, both in real life and in the pages of the books they read. But mostly, there was just that added magic that some groups have when they meet.
As Paige finished tidying the shelves, she couldn’t help but smile. Magic. She saw it in a million different ways now.
“C’mon, Paige. Come tell us how you’re holding up.”
Paige made her way over to the group. She needed this tonight. She needed the support of these women. She needed to share her sadness and joy. She hadn’t seen some of them since before Christmas. And while a couple of the women had been particularly supportive of her over the past couple of weeks, no one knew the whole story. She certainly did have a story to tell. She just wasn’t sure they’d believe it.
Eva handed her a wine. “The floor is yours, my friend.”
The Happy Endings Book Club-PAIGE
The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
One week before Christmas
Paige stared at the bottle of blood-red nail polish on the table in front of her and then turned back to her elderly mother.
“You want your toenails painted?”
“That’s what I said.”
“No, next week, when I might be dead.” Jean propped a bare foot on her daughter’s knee. Her toes looked as surprised to see the light of day as Paige was to see them.
Paige finally picked the bottle up. “Did you buy this?”
“One of the nurses bought it. I gave her the money.”
“You don’t think this color is a bit … bold?”
“That’s exactly why I chose it.” Jean gave her daughter a wink, which almost knocked Paige from her seat. “I haven’t always been this dull, you know.”
Paige found that hard to believe. She’d often looked at her mother and thought, like many people did, that Jean would be beautiful, if only she put some effort into it. But it wasn’t Jean Macintyre’s style. She was the type of woman who bowed her head and walked faster if a man dared whistle her way. She wore high-buttoned blouses and sang loudly in the church choir. She never wore make-up, never painted her toes, and her hair, while neat and clean, was always cut efficiently short.
So who was this woman who suddenly wanted a pedicure?
“How’s your hip today, Mum?”
“Good as new.”
“Well, technically it is new. That’s what a hip replacement is.”
“They’re telling me I could be back home by Christmas.”
“That’s only a week, Mum. We don’t want to rush things.” Paige didn’t add that she also wanted her mother well enough to go back to her own apartment. She didn’t think she’d cope living with her. “I think I should speak to your doctor.”
“I told you, that’s not going to happen. I’m not a child.”
“I just think they should investigate what caused the fall, Mum.”
“I told you, it was a little turn.”
“And that’s the proper medical term for it? A turn?”
“That’s right.” Jean stared at her daughter. “You should do your own nails after you’ve finished with me. You haven’t made an effort for quite a while.”
Paige ignored her mother and shook the nail polish. It was true. She hadn’t made an effort now for more than two years. She’d given up the day she left Tim. She’d tried to stay attractive for her husband, and in the end it didn’t matter. He left for a younger version of her anyway. And all Paige could think was why did she bother?
“Which foot do you want me to do first, Mum?”
Jean wiggled the toes on her left foot and Paige started painting. They sat in silence for a long time. Usually Jean chatted nonstop. Not about anything personal or important, but about the weather, local news. It was the type of conversation you had briefly with a neighbor, not over a period of hours with your only child. Paige always left with a headache. But today Jean was quiet.
“Something wrong, Mum?” Paige asked as she painted Jean’s big toenail.
“Are you feeling unwell?”
Paige put her mother’s foot down and lifted the next one. “You’re awfully quiet today,” she said as she shook the polish again.
“I’m thinking about your father.”
Paige looked at her mother in shock. She never, ever mentioned Paige’s father. Paige had been told he’d died when she was very young, that he’d been a perfectly nice man, but that it was best not to dwell on it. The few times Paige had tried to broach the subject of her father, she’d been firmly rebuffed. She’d learned early on not to speak of him.
“What about my father?” Paige spoke quietly. She didn’t want to scare her mother into silence, for she knew this was a rare opportunity to glean some information about him.
“He was a dreadful shit.”
Paige was so shocked she dropped her mother’s foot. Jean didn’t seem to notice and carried on talking.
“Couldn’t keep it zipped. Had such a wandering eye. Probably still does.”
Paige felt sick to the stomach. “Still?”
“The most magnetic man to ever walk god’s earth. And handsome!”
Paige could feel her heart pounding. Handsome? She’d never seen a photo. What did her mother mean by still? Could she … could her mother … be losing her marbles? Was Alzheimer’s setting in?
Jean smiled. “We met in Cornwall, where he lives … It was quite unexpected. And love at first sight, for both of us. Ridiculous … I knew from the beginning that it was an impossible match. But lord how I loved him.”
Paige was gobsmacked. Was her uptight mother speaking this way about love? About her father?
Jean turned to her daughter and looked her square in the eye. “I don’t think I’m long for this world, Paige, so I was thinking … perhaps you should look him up.”
“B … but my father is dead.”
“No, I lied. He’s alive and well, and given who he is, he’ll probably outlive you.”
“What do you mean? Who is he?”
“Paige, dear, don’t be shocked, but your father is a fairy.”
Paige stumbled out of her mother’s room and made her way to the empty visitors lounge nearby. Had her mother just told her that her father was gay? Is that why they split up? Is that why she never mentioned him?
She stared around the room, as if the answers would be there, in the generic framed landscape that decorated the white wall, or in the corner with the cheap Christmas tree covered in candy canes.
She put some money in the vending machine and bought herself a Coke, then sipped it while she tried to make sense of what her mother had just told her. Perhaps the strangest thing of all was the cheery, matter-of-fact manner in which she’d told her.
Paige shook her head. Impossible. Her father was not gay and he definitely wasn’t still alive. She would have known. No one could keep such a secret without giving something away at least once. Certainly not Jean Macintyre, who found it difficult to keep secret what she’d bought someone for Christmas.
“I’ve just bought you a lovely nightgown, Paige. I know I shouldn’t ruin the surprise, but I’m so excited. It was sixty percent off.”
“Hi, Paige. Penny for your thoughts.”
Paige looked up into the impossibly handsome face of Jean’s physiotherapist, Arley Douglas, and immediately blushed, as she always did when she saw him. She was certain he noticed, but she comforted herself with the fact that Arley Douglas probably had this effect on most women, so he’d be used to it.
“Oh, hello, Arley, I was just …” Paige let her words drift off and tossed the Coke can into the trash. “Pondering … I guess.”
“Is there a problem with your mother?”
“We can discuss it later. I know you’re busy.”
Arley sat on one of the lounges nearby. He stretched his legs out in front of him and cocked his head to one side as he searched her face. “No time like the present.”
Paige had the urge to throw herself into his lap. Arley Douglas was the sexiest man she’d ever set eyes on. He had black hair, peppered gray at the edges, and blue eyes that crinkled slightly when he smiled, which was often. Every time she ran into him, she’d look into those eyes and strange feelings and memories would stir but not quite surface. He seemed familiar, and yet he was like no one she’d ever met. He was larger than life, and when he turned his focus on you, you felt like the only person in the world. He seemed to care. And as much as Paige reminded herself that he treated everyone the same way, it was truly nice to be in his company, even occasionally, because Paige was rarely around a man who seemed to care.
“I’m worried that my mother might have … ah … dementia or something.”
Arley looked concerned. “What makes you say that?”
Paige fingered the locket around her neck. “Well, to cut a long story short—”
“Why cut a long story short?”
Paige was thrown. “I don’t want to bore you.”
“Why would you bore me?”
“I … just might.”
“Because you think I find you dull? Or do you think I have a short attention span?” Arley pretended to be offended.
“No … I mean … I don’t know you very well, but I presume your attention span is perfectly fine.” Why did he always turn her into an inarticulate fool?
“So why do you think the long story would bore me?” Arley grinned at Paige. “I’d prefer the long story.”
Paige stared at him in surprise. He was a most unusual man. Her ex, Tim, used to get extremely impatient with her if her stories went on for more than a minute.
“Okay, the long story it is …”
For the next forty minutes, Paige found herself telling Arley things she’d never discussed with anyone, certainly not Tim. She told Arley about her childhood, her mother, how she felt about never meeting her father, how in many ways she chose Tim because at first his controlling ways seemed quite fatherly. And then, finally, she recounted the conversation she’d just had with her mother. She left out the bit about her father being a fairy, without quite knowing why, but she told him everything else.
“And so,” she finished, “I can only conclude that she must be losing her mind … to suggest that my father is still alive … and would in all likelihood outlive me.”
Arley nodded, as he’d done countless times since her tale began. “She may be a bit confused after the anesthetic, but that doesn’t imply something as sinister as dementia. I work with a lot of dementia patients and I’ve certainly never seen any warning signs with your mum. She’s as sharp as a tack.” He paused for a moment, and then added, “And a dreadful flirt.”
Paige blinked a couple of times. Had he mixed his patients up?
“My mother is Jean Macintyre in room 76. With the hip replacement.”
Arley’s eyes twinkled. “Even if I’d forgotten your mother, Paige, I’m certain I wouldn’t forget you.”
Paige felt her cheeks flush again. Damn them! “It’s just when you say she’s a flirt … that’s not normal behavior for her.”
“Is that so? She seems awfully good at it.”
“Do you think it’s tied in with what she said to me?”
Arley didn’t seem to be concerned. “It’s not like she said anything completely outrageous.”
“There was one more thing she said that’s rather … outrageous. One thing I haven’t yet told you.” Paige was embarrassed now. “She told me that my father is … gay.”
Arley’s eyebrows shot up. “She said he’s a homosexual?”
“Well, no, the exact word she used was fairy, which is so typical of her narrow-mindedness, to even use that word. She said, Paige, your father is a fairy and lives in Cornwall.”
Arley stared intently at Paige for what seemed like an eternity, his sea blue eyes searching deep into her own. Finally he said, “Why don’t you go back in and ask her more about it? The very fact that she’s even mentioned it, after all this time, means she wants to talk.” Arley stood and smiled reassuringly. “Then, afterward, drop by and see me. And if you’re still concerned, I’ll talk to her doctor.”
“I appreciate that. She won’t let me speak to her doctor.”
“Fair enough. She’s elderly, but wants to remain independent.”
“Well, that won’t happen if she has dementia, will it?”
“Go and talk to her, Paige. Ask questions. And be open to what she says.’
Paige nodded. Arley was right. She needed to find out as much as possible while her mother was in the mood to talk. “Thanks for listening.”
“No, thank you for sharing.” And with that he sauntered out in such a sexy way that it was impossible for Paige to not check out his butt. For a moment she almost felt young again. Then she remembered her own butt and the feeling passed.
Paige returned to her mother’s room to find Jean flicking through a copy of Vogue.
“I thought you’d left.”
“I was talking to Arley.”
Jean’s face lit up. “He’s a sexy man.”
Good lord, was this her mother or an impostor planted by aliens?
“He’s about your age too,” Jean added. “And single … so I’m told.”
“By him, when I asked him.”
Paige shook her head. How had her buttoned-up mother ever become relaxed enough to ask her physiotherapist such a question?
“I think you two have an awful lot in common. Perhaps more than you realize.”
“Well, unless he spends most nights alone eating Marks & Spencer dinners while flicking through book release catalogues, that’s unlikely.”
“You could ask him out,” Jean suggested.
“Pigs will fly first.”
“There are stranger things out there than flying pigs, dear.”
Paige decided to ignore her mother and take control of the conversation. “I need to know, Mum, what makes you think my father was—?”
“Well, yes, I guess … for want of a better term. I’m not sure that’s appropriate, but yes.”
“He told me,” Jean said
“He told you?”
“Yes. I didn’t believe him at first. As you can imagine, I was shocked. But then he introduced me to all the other fairies. I went to some fairy parties with him. I had fun … everyone so happy and gay.”
Paige yanked at her collar. The room was so stuffy. “So how long before you left him?”
“Two years. Around the time you were born.”
Paige looked at her mother in horror. “You stayed with him, and fell pregnant, despite what you knew about him?”
“I know, but I was in love. The reality only hit home when I became pregnant. I knew having a little half-blood—”
“Well, you’re half his, Paige, whether you like it or not.”
“Yes, but that doesn’t make me half gay … or bisexual … or anything.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Jean was completely baffled.
“Having a gay father doesn’t make me half homosexual.”
“Who said your father was a homosexual?”
Jean looked at her daughter as though she was nuts. “I did not.”
Paige began to panic. Her mother really was losing her marbles. “You did. All afternoon you’ve been saying that my father was a fairy.”
Jean shook her head at her daughter’s stupidity. “Honestly, Paige, you’ve never listened to me, have you? I didn’t say your father was gay. I said he was a fairy. One of the little people that live under the hills in Cornwall.”
Paige’s hand shook as she knocked on Arley’s door. How cruel old age could be. Her mother had always been the most sensible woman she’d ever met. For her to be reduced to this babbling, delusional creature was almost more than Paige could bear.
“Come in,” Arley called.
Paige entered the room and he waved her into a chair.
“So how did it go?”
“Not as well as I …” And with that Paige burst into tears. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I feel like I’ve been such a bother all day. But I’m dreadfully worried about her. She’s completely lost her mind.”
Arley pushed a box of tissues toward Paige and waited patiently for her to stop crying. Then, once her eyes were dry, he continued.
“What makes you think she’s lost her mind?”
“When she told me my father was—is—a fairy, she didn’t mean gay. She meant …” Paige’s eyes opened wide. “She believes he’s a fairy.”
Arley nodded. “Yes.”
“A fairy,” Paige said again.
“A fairy. As in pixies, goblins and fairies.”
“Three completely different races, but yes, I understand what you mean.”
Paige was bewildered. Arley either didn’t understand at all, or he didn’t think it was that shocking. “I think my mother has dementia,” she said.
“There’s only one way to find out,” he told her.
Paige nodded. A meeting with the doctor. A round of tests, no doubt.
Arley’s eyes twinkled. “You’ll have to find out if your father is alive.”
Paige spotted Eva at their regular table in the far corner of the small Indian restaurant. She still did a slight double-take when she saw her friend. Eva had only recently decided to stop dying her hair and embrace the gray. She now had a silver pixie cut that, if anything, made her even more beautiful. She was one of those knockout women at any age, with curves in all the right place, incredible eyes and cheekbones to die for.
Eva saw her and gave a wave. Here they both were well past middle age, yet Paige often felt like they were two kids, always so thrilled to see each other. She needed to see Eva tonight. She was so wound up about her mother.
Jean had been a devoted parent, but not a warm one. She’d always kept Paige at arm’s length. There were times Paige would catch Jean watching her and she’d have the strange feeling that the look in her eyes was one of regret. Their relationship was built on habit and responsibility rather than affection, but even so, she was filled with fear at the thought of her mum disappearing into the abyss of dementia. As frustrating as Jean could be, she was the only mother Paige had, and it was a comfort to know she was there.
Paige gave Eva a kiss and relaxed as she took off her coat. It was cold outside, but nice and warm in here.
Paige glanced at the menu. “Have you ordered for us?”
Eva nodded. “All sorted. Masala mushroom, aloo jeera and some samosas for starters. Now tell me about your mum.”
Paige gave her an update. She gave her all the details, including the bit about her father being a fairy and living in the hills of Cornwall. Eva nodded and asked a few questions, and a couple of times reached across the table and patted Paige’s hand.
“So have you spoken to Jean’s doctor?” Eva asked.
“No, Mum doesn’t want me to. She said children should only take over dealing with their parents’ doctors when those parents are in adult nappies.”
“She’s got a point. So what did this sexy physiotherapist say?”
“Did I say he was sexy?”
Eva laughed. “No, but I could tell you think it by the way you blushed when you said his name.”
Paige rolled her eyes. “I’m so pathetic.”
“Au contraire, my friend. It’s a charming quality, and I’m sure the physio agrees.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter how sexy he is, I think he’s as mad as my mother.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because his solution is for me to go and find my father.” She gave her friend a look that said, Can you believe it?
“Your real father who’s been dead for years, or the fake fairy one?”
“Arley says it won’t do any harm, and will show my mother that I’m supportive of her.”
“He has a point. I had an uncle with dementia and it’s incredibly hard to diagnose. They deteriorate so gradually, over time. And the early stage dementia patient can feel frightened by their lack of recall.”
“So you think I should follow his advice and go hunting for fairies?”
“Darling, what harm will it do?” Eva said.
“I have a bookshop to run.”
“I’m sure fairy hunting can take place outside of trading hours.”
Paige was quite surprised by her friend. “You don’t believe all that supernatural stuff, do you?”
Eva stared at the wall behind Paige for a moment. “I don’t know. Sometimes I have this overwhelming sense that Geoff is with me. Once or twice I’ve caught something in the corner of my eye, but when I’ve turned my head, nothing was there.”
Paige gave Eva’s hand a squeeze. They’d met not long after Eva’s husband had died, when Eva joined Paige’s book club, and had become fast friends.
“What surprises me each time is … how dreadfully disappointed I’ve been when I turn and nothing’s there. Like deep down I do believe Geoff’s spirit could drop by and comfort me. And here I was thinking I was a skeptic.” Eva blinked away the tears and smiled. “I don’t know what I believe anymore … but the world is a much nicer place with the possibility of magic. Don’t you think?”
“I’ve never thought about it. I just think what you see is what you get,” Paige said.
Eva nodded thoughtfully. “And I think that’s our problem.”
Paige turned around the see Arley striding down the hall toward her. Her hand instinctively shot up to check her hair.
“I’ve been thinking about your mother,” Arley said.
I’ve been thinking about you, thought Paige, but nodded.
“Why don’t you drop by after you’ve seen your mum? I have someone you should talk to.”
Arley gave her a mysterious smile. “Yeah, she’s a specialist. In her field.”
Paige nodded. “That would be great. Thank you.”
Arley cocked his head to the side. “By the way, your hair looks lovely today.”
Paige willed herself not to blush, and despised herself when she did. “Thank you. It’s nice of you to notice.”
She quickly turned and walked away toward her mother’s room. She prayed he wasn’t watching her. She felt almost certain that he was, but she’d rather eat bugs than turn around to see.
Paige was completely stunned to find her mother wearing lipstick. She couldn’t ever remember her mother wearing lipstick before.
“Where did you get a lipstick?” Paige asked.
“One of the nurses bought it for me.”
“I would’ve bought you some, Mum. All you had to do was ask.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, dear, but do you even know what lipstick is?”
Paige felt miffed. She knew she didn’t spend much time or money on make-up, but it wasn’t as though she made no effort at all. “I wear mascara,” she said, sounding slightly defensive.
“You do, and your eyes are all the better for it.”
“Mum, we need to speak. About what you told me yesterday.”
Jean glared at her daughter. “Fine … just don’t use that tone with me.”
“The tone you’re using now. People use that tone with toddlers and dementia patients. And usually for the same reasons. They don’t want them throwing tantrums and soiling themselves.”
Paige readjusted her tone. At least, she hoped she did. “Okay, Mum—I’m sorry. But what’s this about my father being a fairy from Cornwall? It just doesn’t make sense.”
“Very few things in life do.”
“Mother, fairies aren’t real.”
“Says … I don’t know, me and every other sane person.”
Jean sighed. “You think I’ve gone mad. I can see it in your eyes. Alzheimer’s fear. You don’t want to look at me in case you fall into the same abyss.”
“You seem sane, Mum, but surely you can see the changes.”
“The nail polish. The lipstick.”
Jean propped herself as high as she could and held her chin in the air. “I was quite a looker once, you know.”
“I’m not suggesting that you weren’t. Or aren’t.”
“I was the most stunning woman in Cornwall. And I have no problems admitting that. A man like your father would never ever cross over for anything but the best.”
Paige let her bulging eyes do the talking.
“After I left your father, I went into hiding. I don’t kid myself. He could’ve found me. But I made sure he wouldn’t want me. That man was like a drug … and the only way out was to go cold chicken.”
“It’s cold turkey. Not cold chicken.”
“Whatever. To make the break, I made myself look … fowl.” Jean laughed at her own joke. “What’s up, you didn’t find that funny?”
“No, I didn’t,” snapped Paige. “I’m too busy trying to wrap my head around all this.” She massaged her temple. “So why the sudden change? Why now?”
Jean’s voice verged on hysterical. “Firstly, I’m sick of being a bloody frump. It’s not me, and it’s never been me. I miss dressing up. I miss it, I tell you.”
Paige was completely taken aback by her mother’s outburst. “Mum, I had no idea.”
“I did it to protect you. I don’t have to now. You’re old enough to know. And I’m old enough to wear lipstick again. Because quite frankly … even if your father walked through that door now, he wouldn’t look twice at me. I’m too old.”
Paige glanced over at the door. She couldn’t help herself.
“Don’t worry. He won’t walk through it.” Jean sounded disappointed.
“I wasn’t expecting him to,” Paige said, feeling foolish. For a moment she had almost expected a strange man to come striding in. Everything else was strange and crazy and upsetting. Who knew what would happen next?
“All these years, Mum, and you’ve never said a thing.”
“It was never my intention to tell you. I figured I’d go to my grave with it.”
“But then you decided to go to your grave wearing lipstick.”
“It’s more than that.” Jean looked pensive. “I made a mistake. I should’ve told you, when you were young. It might’ve made a difference.”
“To what, Mum? I don’t understand.”
Jean stared at her daughter and then blurted, “You’re so much like me.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Paige innately knew it wasn’t a great thing.
“It’s my fault. I stripped the world of all its magic, thinking I was protecting you. But now I’m not so sure. You’re so …”
“A bit dull,” said Jean. “You’re smart, and you certainly did the right thing divorcing Tim. What an insipid excuse for a man he was. You need to fall madly in love. That’s what you need.”
Paige’s mouth was open in disbelief. “You think I’m boring?”
Jean reached out and took her daughter’s hand. “No. I think your view of the world is boring. There’s so much more to it, but I stood in the way of you exploring that. I was trying to protect you from your father’s world. But that might be the exact thing you need, Paige.” Jean smiled sadly at her daughter. “Do you see what I mean?”
“No, I don’t.” Paige was confused.
Jean sighed. “Exactly.”
Paige didn’t stop by Arley’s office after talking to her mother. She was too upset. And after all, he was her mother’s physiotherapist, not her doctor or shrink. She shouldn’t really be talking to him about anything that didn’t involve her mother’s hip or aged care rehabilitation. All these conversations about fairies! The guy must have thought she was mad.
She went straight home instead, to her flat above her bookshop. She felt like the world was out of kilter and her little flat was the one place she still felt safe.
Tim had originally bought the building as an investment. (Tim liked investing in property, just not in marriage.) The intention had been to open the bookstore and run it without rental overheads, and to lease out the flat above it. During the divorce, Tim had been an utter bastard. He wanted the house, and the investment properties in Hounslow and Lewisham, and the three in Spain. Paige had agreed, but only if he signed over this building, which he had. Grudgingly.
Some of her friends were amazed that she didn’t demand more, but she didn’t need more. She didn’t want more. Paige renovated the apartment upstairs for herself. She had her shop and her apartment and she had her freedom.
The flat was small, but lovely, with large bay windows in the lounge that captured the sun. There were wood floors throughout, with high ceilings, and French doors opening to a small patio, where she grew herbs. There were two bedrooms and the bathroom had a claw-foot bath. She had plenty of cupboard space and, importantly, shelves for her books. She had central heating, a reasonably modern kitchen, and her own entrance. It was home, it was hers and she loved it. It was usually a very comforting space. Usually, but not tonight.
Paige tossed her keys and phone on an entrance shelf. She noticed a text from her daughter, Linda. “Just wondering if you’ve made a decision on spending Christmas here? I need to order the turkey.” She’d reply tomorrow. Paige adored her daughter, but their relationship had been strained since she’d left Tim. Of all people, she’d expected her daughter to support her. But Linda, a professor of criminology at the University of Cambridge, had taken her mother’s inability to forgive her father as a personal insult. She felt the divorce and the bookstore were Paige’s midlife crisis, conveniently ignoring Tim’s affair and much younger new wife.
I wonder how she’d feel about having a fairy grandfather? thought Paige.
Paige paced up and down, pausing to stare out the window at regular intervals. She tried to eat, but couldn’t. She opened a bottle of wine and had a glass, but it didn’t help. Eventually, she grabbed the keys to the shop and made her way downstairs, into the shared entrance, and opened the back door of the shop. She’d always thought it was like entering a fairyland at this time of year, with the shimmering, twinkling Christmas lights she’d installed. But this time, for just a moment, she wondered if that was what fairyland really looked like.
“Perhaps my father can tell me,” she muttered as she switched on the main lights overhead.
She began to search the shelves and found a book on dementia. She scanned a few pages, but it wasn’t her mother she was reading about. The symptoms weren’t familiar. Memory loss. Jean seemed to be remembering things rather than forgetting them. She read down the whole checklist. There was nothing there that indicated her mother was in the early stages of dementia—but instead of bringing comfort to Paige, this realization filled her with terror.
If Jean didn’t have dementia … then …
She placed the book carefully back on the shelves and walked around to the new age and spirituality section. There, she pulled out a couple of books she’d stocked on a whim: A Real History of Britain’s Fey Folk by Rebecca Morris (an Oxford scholar) and Cornish Folklore by Wendy Newbury (a Cornwall-based psychic). Paige pulled up a small reading stool and perched herself on it, the books on her lap.
“I can’t believe I’m even considering this … and I can’t believe I’m talking to myself.”
She opened the history book and read the first few pages. While interesting, it was rather dry and academic—not quite what she was after. She slid it back onto the shelf and opened the book on Cornish folklore. She read about giants and mermaids, knockers and piskies, and King Arthur. But while the book was beautifully illustrated, it was as helpful as the book on dementia.
Zap! The light flickered off. Paige had just enough time to tell herself that the bulb must’ve blown before it came back on. She shivered. She suddenly felt very cold, despite the heating. An icy breeze tickled the exposed skin on her neck. She knew it was just her imagination, but she felt frightened and wanted to get back upstairs.
As she put the book back in its place on the shelf, she noticed a small, battered little book beside it. She knew immediately that it hadn’t been there earlier. She’d never seen it before and felt uneasy. She considered leaving it, and praying that tomorrow it would be gone. But curiosity got the better of her and she drew it out anyway.
The book was slightly larger than the palm of her hand and bound in worn brown leather. There was a small title on the front in gold lettering, but in an unfamiliar alphabet.
Paige tentatively opened the cover. There was no imprint page, or any way to tell when it had been published or who had published it. It appeared to be handmade. The pages seemed to be made of fine gold. She turned another page to discover a sketch of a woman in an unusual type of ink. The woman was breathtakingly beautiful and dressed in what appeared to be royal garb. On the next page was another drawing, of a man, equally attractive. The next page contained a drawing of them both together, holding a child. More pages, more drawings, more faces and people, each page becoming more and more fantastical with strange creatures and worlds.
Paige’s body filled with an icy dread. Where had this book come from? And why did she feel like she was being watched?
She flipped the book over and on the back cover was one word in gold lettering: Paige.
Paige usually had more restraint but this morning she couldn’t wait for a suitable time to visit. She was up. Hell, she hadn’t slept. So why should her mother? She marched into her mother’s room at 7:30 am, expecting to find Jean asleep. Instead, she was in the chair beside her bed. She was fully dressed, her hair had been styled, and she had a visitor. It was Arley, sitting in another chair he’d pulled up to face her. They were deep in conversation and he was holding her hand.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence when Paige entered. “Am I interrupting something?”
Arley stood. “All good. I was just leaving.” He gave Paige a warm smile as he left.
Paige breathed his scent in as he walked past her. God, he made her dizzy. She realized her mother was watching her with interest.
Paige stalled. “You’re wearing lipstick at this time of the day?”
“I leave it on. I’ve decided I’ve wasted too many years looking like death, so when I actually do die, I want to be wearing Revlon Really Red.”
“So you’re sleeping in it?”
“One can never be too careful at my age. Every night some poor bugger dies around here. When it’s my turn, I’m checking out with red lips.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic. This is a rehabilitation clinic, Mum, not a nursing home.” Paige thrust the book at her mother. “What’s this?”
Jean refused to take it, so Paige poked her with it a few times.
“Get that away from me,” Jean squealed.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know, but I sense that I don’t want to touch it.”
“You sense you don’t want to touch it? What do you mean by that?”
Jean looked wary. “One must be very careful what one accepts, when it’s from those bloody Fey folk.”
Paige thrust it at her mother. “Take it!”
This time, Jean did as she was told. She held the book like it was the hand of a leper, and carefully opened it, landing on the page with the illustration of the man, woman and child. She stared at it for a moment, then slammed the book shut and thrust it back at Paige. “No idea. Never seen it before in my life.”
“You’re lying.” Paige eyeballed her mother. “Don’t you dare tell me my father is a bloody fairy and then clam up when things start to get even weirder. Where does this book come from?”
“I don’t know. Where did you find it?
“In the shop, and I didn’t put it there.”
“They have a way of being everywhere. It’s a sign. He’s reaching out.”
“How do you know?”
“Because that drawing is of us. Of him.”
Paige closed her eyes for just a moment to regain her balance. “That’s my father?”
Jean nodded. “Holding you. Me beside him.”
“I told you I was a looker,” her mother said defiantly.
Paige studied the picture with great intensity. “My father?”
“Yes … your father. Cadoc,” Jean’s tone softened slightly. “You have a father, and you should go find him. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Paige looked her mother in the eye, something she hadn’t done for a very long time. “The worst that could happen? I could find out you’re right.”
Paige marched straight over to Arley’s office. Despite her resolve yesterday not to involve him in her problems, she wanted to see the specialist he’d told her about.
“Everything okay with your mother?”
“Yes, she seems fine, in her red lipstick. My world has been completely turned upside down though.”
“What fun.” Arley’s blue eyes twinkled.
Paige looked at him as though he too must be mad. He might be the most magnetic man she’d ever met, but he also said some rather odd things. She knew it should put her off, but instead it stirred a pool of excitement in her gut. It was as though his presence offered the promise of adventure, and she was both excited and terrified by that.
“You mentioned there was someone I could talk to. A specialist.”
“Yes. You’d like to see her?”
“Yes … can you refer me?”
Arley gave her a nod. “Okay, you’re referred.”
“I just referred you.” Arley laughed. “You don’t need a referral, Paige. You just need to show up. How about I take you and introduce you to her?”
“I’d appreciate that.”
“Her work hours are a little odd. Why don’t you meet me here at nine and we’ll head on over.”
Paige glanced at her watch. “Okay, that gives me just under an hour.”
“No, I mean 9 pm.”
“Tonight?” Paige was thrown. What the hell would she wear? Her next thought was that perhaps she was regressing, not her mother. She was acting like a teenager. It wasn’t a date. As much as she’d like it to be.
She nodded in a way that she hoped indicated that she knew it was a professional meeting. “I’ll see you back here at nine this evening.”
“Great.” Arley gave her a wink. “It’s a date.”
Paige knew it wasn’t really a date, but she still wanted to look fabulous. She discarded one piece of clothing after another. Too dressy, not dressy enough, mutton dressed as lamb. Her wardrobe was a wasteland.
She grabbed her bag and keys and bolted out of the house. She couldn’t do this alone. She needed advice, so she headed for the Pantry, across the road from her shop.
The Pantry was a gorgeous little boutique, owned by Amanda. Paige had watched Amanda come and go every day for a year before she’d finally introduced herself. Amanda was an immaculate brunette who was probably about forty but looked younger. She had class. She had style. Paige had found her intimidating until one afternoon when Amanda had come into Happy Endings and headed straight for the romance section. What Paige discovered that afternoon was that Amanda was also warm, and funny, and a little lonely after her divorce. Paige invited her to join the book club and friendship quickly followed.
Amanda’s face lit up when Paige entered the store. “Hello, love.”
They exchanged kisses and Paige plopped her bag on a chair. “I need your help. A whole outfit. Style me.”
“Do you have a date?”
“No … but I want to dress like it’s one.”
Amanda gave Paige a nod. Challenge on. She swept around the shop, pulling clothes off racks. Not lots. Just a few pieces that together formed one outfit. Then she handed everything to Paige and ushered her into the change room.
Amanda chatted to Paige through the dressing-room door.
“What are you doing for Christmas?”
Paige slid a sweater over her head. “No idea. Linda has asked me to spend it with her and her husband, but I’m waiting to see if Mum will be allowed home. How about you?”
“I asked Peter and his new girlfriend over.”
“No! Are you comfortable with that?”
“Christ, no. I totally regret it, but it was one of those moments where the kids were pushing for it, and I was put on the spot.”
“Can you cancel?”
“I wish,” Amanda said. “I’ll probably just drink too much instead. That’s what Christmas is for anyway, right?”
Five minutes later, Paige barely recognized herself.
Black wool pants and ankle boots, a gray and blue striped sweater and a well-cut dark gray tweed blazer. She knew it was a great outfit. It suited her, although she’d never have pulled it together herself. Thanks to Amanda, tonight she was going to embrace being fifty-something and fabulous.
“What do you think?” Amanda asked with the confidence of someone who already knew the answer to her question.
Paige beamed at her. “I think I’ll take the lot.”
A few hours later, Paige dug around her bathroom and found her make-up bag. It hadn’t seen the light of day since she’d moved in. She applied some make-up, keeping it natural, but accentuating her eyes. She thought of her mother as she did, and smiled. Jean would be pleased.
Next she took a good long look at herself in the full-length mirror on the back of her bedroom door. She wasn’t bad—still slim, though she had always been short—and her dark hair was glossy, although that now came from a bottle. Her skin was good, her eyes probably her best feature. She had been quite beautiful when she was younger, not that she’d ever appreciated it, or taken advantage of it at the time. It’s often only as beauty fades that it becomes apparent it was ever there, she thought ruefully.
But something sparkled back at her in the mirror tonight. It was her mother, or at least a glimmer of her. Not the version of Jean she’d grown up with, but the real Jean, the Jean who, if everything she said was true, had sacrificed herself to protect her daughter.
For years Paige had been petrified of turning into her mother. Now, for the first time in her life, she felt that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Paige was surprised to discover that this specialist worked out of a pub in Highgate. Alarm bells immediately rang, but she followed Arley into the King & Mistress anyway. The specialist could’ve worked in a Taliban training camp and Paige would’ve followed Arley there.
It was warm inside, and quite packed. A bluesy version of some traditional Christmas carols played in the background, and a Christmas tree shimmered in the corner. It was a quirky pub, welcoming and cozy. And Arley obviously knew the place well. He marched across the room and gave a woman behind the bar a friendly wave.
She blew him a kiss. “Arley, love, good to see you.”
“You too, Batty.”
Arley led Paige away from the main bar and through myriad smaller rooms. She felt like she should drop a trail of breadcrumbs to help find her way out. Then she looked at Arley’s broad shoulders and firm ass and decided she’d rather follow those.
And so she did, through a corridor and down a set of stone steps into a small basement bar. A sign at the door said: Calypso’s Cauldron. Anyone who says alcohol never solves anything has never been here before.
Now Paige was starting to worry. Surely this was a professional visit and not a date. It was a bit late to ask him now. Instead, she looked around, to see if she could spot a dementia specialist, or at the very least a GP.
The room was lovely, with oak-lined walls and a stone floor. It had low ceilings and was dominated by a large, ornate bar. The lighting, while dim, was welcoming. There were candles and lanterns scattered everywhere and the glow from an open fireplace. Two long, rustic tables were surrounded by stools and by the fireplace were a couple of Empire armchairs paired with genuine Victorian footstools. Groups were seated at the tables and a few people milled together by the open fire. Others crowded around the bar, mesmerized by something hidden from Paige’s view.
She followed Arley toward the front of the room and saw what everyone was looking at: the most stunning woman she’d ever laid eyes on. Flaming red hair, alabaster skin, green cat’s eyes. Paige stood on her tiptoes and looked across Arley’s shoulder. The woman was making a cocktail. Jesus! He’d brought her to a cocktail bar. This was a date.
As if he could read her thoughts, Arley turned to her. “Just in case you’re wondering, this is work.”
Just as disappointment flooded her face, he leaned forward and whispered in her ear.
“However, if it’s a date you’re after, I’m certainly available.”
“Isn’t that unprofessional?” Paige looked at him from under her lashes. She could almost feel the heat crackle between them.
“It would be if I asked your mother out. She’s my client. Not you.”
Paige surprised herself by saying, “I think I’ll take you up on it.”
For once, it was Arley who seemed embarrassed. Paige gave him a mischievous smile and turned her attention back to the redhead behind the bar.
The whole room stood still while the woman mixed. She grabbed a lemon, deftly sliced it in half and gave it a quick squeeze. Her hand slipped into a jar and returned with a pinch of something that filled the room with the smell of August rain. Her lips moved slightly, as if reciting an incantation, as she sprinkled it into the glass.
Paige watched her, transfixed. She was tall, with endless creamy limbs, her hair a tumble of burgundy waves. Paige glanced over at Arley, who seemed as dumbstruck as everyone else by the woman, and she suddenly felt a surge of jealousy.
God, to have him watch me like that!
Finally the redhead slid a cocktail across the bar toward a man, who tossed it quickly back. Paige looked around again. What on earth was going on? What was everyone waiting for?
After what seemed like an eternity, the man turned to the crowd with tears in his eyes. “It’s gone. Totally gone. My fear of public speaking … even talking to you all now, it’s not a problem.” He threw his arms around a woman beside him, who looked equally thrilled.
The redhead clapped her hands. “See, and you were thinking of quitting your job over it. All it took was a little bit of fairy dust.”
Paige felt sick. Was that why Arley had brought her here? To talk to this woman about fairies?
The redhead hadn’t finished. She teased the man. “Before long your wife will probably bring you back in for a drink to shut you up.”
“Never,” laughed the man’s wife.
People cheered and clapped and then returned to their own groups and conversations. Paige thought the whole scene was completely bizarre. She watched as the redhead surveyed the room, until her eyes rested on Arley. Her face lit up and, if it were possible, became even more beautiful.
Paige noticed Arley motion toward her, and the woman’s green eyes suddenly met her own. The woman watched Paige for a moment, motionless, and then, with a nod, she reached up to a bell over the bar and gave it a sharp clang.
“Closing time, folks. It’s been grand, but please make your way upstairs.”
Everyone did as they were told (Paige had a feeling this woman always got her own way), but Arley took Paige’s arm and guided her up to the bar. He pulled out a stool for her and then opened the bar gate and stepped into the woman’s embrace.
Paige had the sudden urge to stab the woman with a cocktail umbrella. How the hell could she compete with someone so young and stunning? Just as she was thinking of ways to make a graceful exit, the woman moved over to her, and embraced her too.
“Hello, Paige, I’m Calypso Shakespeare. It’s always lovely to meet a friend of Arley’s.”
Paige felt quite tongue-tied, and for want of anything better to say, mumbled, “Your bar is nice.”
“I’m glad you like it. Let me make you both a drink.”
Calypso returned to her spot behind the bar and grabbed a cocktail shaker. Then she sliced an apple, grabbed a handful of frozen blueberries and a sliver of ginger and threw the whole lot in. Next in went a shot of rum and something else Paige didn’t recognize—a blue liquid that seemed to glow. She gave it all a shake, and poured it into two highball glasses. Then, finishing it off, she placed a couple of cinnamon sticks in each glass and slid them across the bar.
“This is what you need.”
Without thinking, Paige blurted out, “How do you know what I need?”
Calypso didn’t seem the least bit offended. “Because it’s my job.”
Paige took the glass and sipped. Calypso was right. It was exactly what she needed. But the woman was still annoying.
“So Calypso, how’s your dad?” Arley asked, breaking the tension.
“He’s doing well. His tests have all been clear. He and Mum have a new lease on life. I can’t tell you what a relief it is.” She gave him a beatific smile.
Paige watched them chat over the rim of her glass. Oh, get a bloody room! She suddenly felt old and ugly in her new outfit. How could she compete with a woman who was clearly not wearing a bra?
“You’ve closed already?” a voice called from the door.
Paige watched as Calypso’s eyes lit up. She turned and saw a man enter and suddenly felt like a fool. This man, this absolutely stunning man, was obviously Calypso’s partner.
“Darling, look who’s here,” Calypso called.
The man strode across the room. “Arley. Good to see you.”
The two men embraced and then Arley turned to Paige.
“Taran, this is a friend of mine, Paige.”
Paige shook Taran’s hand. She knew who he was—who didn’t? She’d read all about Taran Dee, the artist from New York, but meeting him in real life packed a punch. He was tall, dark and beyond handsome. His face was perfect: chiseled, masculine, and yet beautiful. He had jet-black hair, a haughty nose and intense blue eyes. And from the way he looked at Calypso, Paige could tell he was a man in love.
She suddenly felt completely stupid. She had no right to be jealous. Arley and Calypso were just friends—and besides, Arley was only her mother’s physiotherapist. She just wished she knew why he’d brought her here. Calypso asked the question for her, almost as if she’d read Paige’s mind.
“So Arley, what’s going on?”
Arley glanced at Paige, who wondered what he was going to say. Perhaps he was about to ask for a cocktail for early stages of dementia. Maybe Calypso didn’t just make cocktails. For all Paige knew, she was a certified naturopath, or a neurosurgeon.
“Paige has just found out she’s half Fey.”
Paige almost fell off her stool. She waited for the laughter, but it didn’t come. Instead, both Calypso and Taran nodded, as if they understood what a shock that would be for her.
Paige felt it best to explain herself. “My mother had a bit of a turn recently. She fell and broke her hip. Since then, she’s been saying all sorts of things. I don’t think she hit her head in the fall, but she might’ve.”
Calypso smiled kindly at her. “You must have been frightened.”
Her empathy threw Paige, who suddenly felt like crying. “It’s certainly been a difficult few days.”
Calypso looked deep into Paige’s eyes. “I guess the question is … what if she’s right?”
“She can’t be.”
“But what if?”
“Impossible,” Paige said.
“Nothing’s impossible,” Calypso said simply. “What if your mother is right?”
Paige felt her chin tremble. “Then everything I’ve ever known and ever believed will be completely challenged.”
Arley threw his hands up and looked ecstatic. “Isn’t that great?”
Paige ignored him and instead focused on Calypso. “Are you saying you believe in fairies?”
“Yes. I work with them.”
Paige glanced around the bar, half-expecting to see a drunken elf in the corner. “Here?”
“Usually in their realm.”
Paige turned to the two men. “And you both believe in fairies?”
They answered in unison. “Yes.”
Not a hint of doubt. They were both certain.
She turned on Arley. “How can you possibly believe in … this?”
Arley took a moment before responding. “I have my reasons, Paige. I brought you here because Calypso not only believes in fairies but also has a good working relationship with the Fey folk around Cornwall.”
“How convenient.” Paige turned to Calypso. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to mock you. I just feel very confused at the moment.”
And vulnerable, in this room of strangers.
Arley reached out and took her hand. It was a gesture that was meant to comfort her, and it did. She gratefully linked her fingers through his.
“So your father is Fey?” Calypso asked.
“That’s what my mother says. She was madly in love with him.”
“Fey men are certainly charming.”
Calypso gave Arley a wink. A few minutes before it would’ve turned Paige green, but now it didn’t bother her. It was her hand he was holding. And the heat from it was giving her strength.
“Do you have any more information about him?” Calypso asked.
“I came across an unusual book last night that … and this will seem crazy … appeared from nowhere.”
The other three just nodded. They didn’t seem to think she was crazy at all. She reluctantly withdrew her hand from Arley’s, reached into her handbag and showed them the book. Calypso took it from her, her eyebrows raised as she searched through it. She paused at the drawing of Paige and her parents.
“That’s my father, apparently.”
Calypso turned the book around and showed Arley the image. Paige witnessed an unspoken conversation.
“Do you know him?” Paige asked.
Calypso nodded. “Everyone knows your father. This is Cadoc. King of Cornwall’s royal Fey family.
“Lucky there’s a doctor in the house.”
The room swung back into view and Paige realized she was lying on the floor. Arley was leaning over her, a look of concern on his dangerously handsome face. Paige had the urge to reach up and kiss him, but then she remembered where she was … and that urge was replaced with the need to run.
“You’re not a doctor, you’re a physiotherapist.”
Arley smiled. “Good, you remember who I am.”
As if I could forget. “Did I faint?”
“I caught you,” Arley said.
“How chivalrous.” Paige sat up, annoyed with herself. “Just so you know, I’m not in the habit of fainting into the arms of men.” She stared at him for a moment. “I haven’t eaten much for a few days.”
Arley helped her to her feet. “You’re not the classic swooner type. You’re in shock.”
Calypso was on the phone. She replaced the receiver and started to fuss over Paige. “That was my sister. She’s going to bring you something to eat from upstairs. My father runs a restaurant in the pub.”
“Truly, I’m fine.”
“How can you possibly be fine? You’ve just found out your father is Lord Cadoc.”
“I don’t even know what that means, Calypso.”
“Not only that you’re half Fey but that your father is the head of one of the most important royal households in all the Otherworlds.”
Paige looked like she wanted to cry. “I’m just wrapping my head around the fact that I might have a dad.”
“You need to catch up,” Arley teased.
“Why do I get the sense that you’re enjoying this?”
Arley reached out and brushed a lock of hair off her face. “Because I am.”
“How does silverbeet with salmon rotolo, lemon cream and pine nuts sound?”
Paige didn’t care how it sounded, because it smelled fantastic. She noticed her waitress looked a lot like Calypso, with the same color hair and porcelain skin. But this Shakespeare was much smaller, she wore glasses, and her hair was cropped short.
Paige recognized her. She was a customer from the bookstore.
The woman placed the dinner and a serviette on the bar and then tilted her head to one side. “I’m Nell. You own the bookshop down the road, don’t you? I bought Travels with My Aunt from you last week.” She handed Paige some silverware.
“That’s right. I remember.” Suddenly Paige was behind her bookshop counter again. “Did you enjoy it?”
“I loved it. I first read it years ago, but it was so nice to revisit.” Nell touched Paige’s arm, ever so lightly. “I hear you’ve had a big week.”
“No doubt you believe in fairies too.”
“Yes, I do,” Nell said gently.
Arley nodded at the plate. “Eat, Paige.”
She did as she was told, because the last thing she wanted to do was faint in front of everyone again.
While she ate, Nell looked at the book. She turned it over a few times in her small hands. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
“Nell works for the British Museum,” Arley explained.
Paige paused mid-mouthful.
“Not any more,” Nell said, “I’ve just left and gone back to work for the British Museum of Romance.”
Paige was doubly impressed. “I love that museum.”
“Me too,” Nell said. She ran her fingers over the gold lettering on the cover.
“What does it mean?” Calypso asked.
“I think it’s a Fey language, perhaps even a local dialect.” Nell placed the book back down on the bar. “That’s all I’ve got for you. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“What about the pages?” asked Arley. “What are they made of?”
“I don’t know.” Nell took a guess. “Fey gold?”
“It’s a fairy photo album,” Calypso chuckled.
“Maybe,” Nell said. “Paige, I know someone who has studied Fey languages. Would you mind if I show it to him?”
Paige placed her cutlery on the plate and wiped her mouth with the linen napkin. Food was exactly what she’d needed. “I’d appreciate that, Nell. Thank you.” Then she took a deep breath and looked at the others. “And in the meantime, how do I find my father?”
This Christmas, the women of the Happy Endings Book Club are about to uncover a world of love and magic as they discover how to have their own happy ending or beginning, as they’re often the same thing.
Once a month, seven very different women come together to discuss books. They all love a happy ending, but have lost sight of how to get their own. Paige misses glimpsing the magic in the world. Sadie doesn’t see the beauty inside people. Amanda wonders what she ever saw in her ex husband. Tilda literally can’t see herself. Michi can’t bear looking at her family, while Clementine is blind to what’s right in front of her. And Eva looks for romance in all the wrong places.
But things are about to change …
Meet the women of the Happy Endings Book Club as they celebrate Christmas, and themselves, in London, Paris, Vienna, New York, Sydney and in love.
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Jane is the author of The Happy Endings Book Club, as well as three novels in the Shakespeare Sisters series: Forecast, Trouble Brewing and Hamlet’s Ghost. She has over twenty children’s books published in Korea, and runs a children’s travel publishing company called Itchee Feet. She lives with her partner Dom and their four sons in Sydney. Jane can be contacted via her website: www.janetara.com.