True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop (#2)

By: Annie Darling


Dedication


Dedicated to my beloved Mr Mackenzie.

He would like you to know that he’s appalled at any similarities between himself and Strumpet and he intends to sue.







1


‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

Peter Hardy, oceanographer, was the god of boyfriends.

He was good-looking: blond and tanned from all that time spent diving into oceans in exotic locations, his eyes as blue as those deep seas he mapped, but not ridiculously, intimidatingly good-looking.

He was also clever. After all, you couldn’t be an oceanographer without a clutch of A-levels and at least a couple of degrees. He had a great sense of humour too – a little bit dry, a little bit goofy, and was particularly skilled at sourcing hilarious cat videos on YouTube.

But don’t think Peter Hardy’s perfect boyfriend credentials ended there. He always remembered to call his mother on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, was punctual to a fault and if he was going to be more than five minutes late, not that he ever was, he sent an apologetic text. He was also both attentive and enthusiastic in bed, but not into anything too weird. Peter Hardy would never ask a girl to dress up in a pink rubber catsuit or slap him around the face with a wet sock.

Whichever way you looked at it, Peter Hardy was a prime catch, a paragon of boyfriendly virtue, and Verity Love, though she was a vicar’s daughter and meant to lead by example, was going to have to kill him off at the first opportunity.

No time like the present, Verity thought as she clutched a glass of vinegary Pinot Noir and smiled weakly at her friends, who were still fangirling Peter Hardy, boyfriend extraordinaire.

‘He sounds so lovely. Sweet but manly,’ Posy said enthusiastically. ‘Now, when are we actually going to meet him?’

‘Well, you know how it is. He’s so busy with his job. I mean, he’s hardly ever around. That’s starting to become a problem when …’

‘We get it. You want to keep him all to yourself.’ Nina nodded. ‘We’ve all been there, but Very, it’s been months and months. You can’t keep your hot oceanographer boyfriend locked away indefinitely.’

‘Has it really been that long?’ Of course it had. It was now the end of June and Peter had conveniently come along at the end of the previous November to save Verity from flying solo for the Christmas party season. In fact, she’d been a no-show for most of the festivities but who could blame her for bailing when she was feasting on prime oceanographer goodness after a three-year dry spell? ‘Gosh, it’s been over six months! Wow!’

‘Don’t be so coy. I bet you’re still in the first throes of mad shagging, what with him being away so much,’ Nina said. She tucked her currently platinum-blonde hair behind her ears then sighed a little. ‘Oh God, I miss being in the first throes of mad shagging, before you start arguing about whose turn it is to take the bins out or why he’s physically incapable of putting the loo seat down.’

Verity took another fortifying gulp of wine. They were sitting in the pub just around the corner from the Bloomsbury bookshop formerly known as Bookends where they all worked, and now known as Happy Ever After since Posy had inherited it a few months before and transformed it into a ‘one stop shop for all your romantic fiction needs’.

Many an evening after a hard day’s bookselling, the staff retreated to The Midnight Bell. It was a tiny pub, which still had its 1930s Arts & Crafts wood panelling intact and art deco tiles in the loos. You could also get a bottle of wine and two grab bags of crisps for under a tenner before eight so who cared that it reeked of chlorine from the swimming pool of the health club a couple of doors down and they could never put their bags on the floor because they’d get slobbered on by Tess, the pub dog? Tess could sniff out half a bag of Bombay mix or an apple lurking at the bottom of a bag at fifty paces.

‘Actually, talking of Peter, I don’t think we’re going to last much longer,’ Verity said hurriedly then drained the last sour dribble left in her glass and forced herself to look at Posy and Nina, who had both assumed matching expressions of goggle-eyed dismay.