Read the first three chapters of Paradise Pride!

Chapter 1 – Meghan

“Remind me never to take a shuttle bus again.” Meghan felt clammy and tired from sitting in the stuffy vehicle for over two hours. The hotel wasn’t even that far from the airport, but it had stopped off at fifteen other hotels before they finally arrived at their destination: Paradise Hotel. Waiting for their luggage to be unloaded, she glanced at the entrance of the tall, rather unappealing building and frowned. “What’s with all the rainbows?”

“What?” Her friend Kim was panting as she joined Meghan with their suitcases.

“The rainbows.” Meghan pointed to the rainbow flags in the pineapple palms by the door and over the entrance.

“I don’t know.” Kim sighed. “And I don’t care. I just want to shower, get changed and have a drink by the pool before I meet Andres.” She looked over her shoulder as the shuttle drove off. “Seems like we’re the only ones who got off here.”

“Hmm…” Meghan grabbed her case and followed her friend into the reception area. From previous experience with packaged holidays, she’d expected chaos at check-in, but there was no one. “Hello?” she yelled, only to be answered by the echo of her own voice. “Hello, is anyone there?”

“Hi, can I help you?” A man came out from the office behind the reception desk and stared at their suitcases. “I’m afraid we’re not open. We’re preparing for an event, so if you have tickets, you can come back tomorrow.”

“No, that can’t be right,” Kim said in an irritated tone. “We’ve booked an all-inclusive holiday with you. I have the confirmation right here.”

“Maybe you got the date wrong?” The man took the confirmation Kim had printed and furrowed his brow as he looked it over. “Did you not get a follow-up email from us, offering you an upgrade in one of our other hotels?”

“No, we never got anything,” Kim said, sounding like she was close to panicking. She was here to see her Spanish boyfriend, Andres, whom she’d met on holiday last year, and she’d asked Meghan to tag along so she wouldn’t be alone during the day, when Andres was working. She’d been unbearable for weeks, talking non-stop about him and speculating whether he would introduce her to his family. Because Kim was only here with one goal in mind: she wanted a ring.

“Okay, my apologies.” The man backed away. “Please give me a moment. I need to start the system so I can check the facts. Take a seat. I’ll be right back.”

Meghan dragged her case along to the reception seating area and slumped in a chair. “I didn’t get anything,” she mumbled as she scrolled through her emails. “I’m sure of it.”

“Me neither. If anyone’s been double and triple checking the facts, it’s me.” Kim groaned and covered her face with her hands. “Oh God, this is a disaster. He’s not lying. It looks closed, and even if they offer us an alternative, we won’t be as near to Andres’ bar as we are now. I only booked this place because it was walking distance.”

“Don’t worry. They’ll come up with a solution. They have to.” Meghan couldn’t have cared less where they were staying as long as there was a pool and the drinks were included. Being thirty-four and single, it was hard enough to find people who wanted to go on holiday with her. Most of her friends were married with kids, and the few single friends she had were too wild for her to spend more than a night with. When Kim had suggested going to Spain together, she’d immediately said yes because it seemed like the perfect solution. During the day, they would sunbathe, gossip and have cocktails by the poolside, and at night, Kim would see her boyfriend, which would give Meghan space to go out, explore and maybe meet new people. After all, what was the point of being single if she didn’t chase opportunities?

“Now I’m going to be late, and I’ll look like shit,” Kim said. “And my ankles are still swollen from the flight. I need to put my feet up ASAP. I was hoping I could do that by the pool.”

“I’m sure Andres will understand if you’re a little late.” Meghan turned to her friend, who was about to lose her temper. “He loves you, and he’ll be happy to see you. He won’t care if your ankles are swollen.”

“He says he loves me,” Kim corrected her. “I’m here to find out if he really does, or if he’s just some lothario who still sleeps with tourists on a regular basis. But if he does love me… If he really does love me, then I want to look my best for him, so he’ll realise we should be together forever and—”

“Ever and ever,” Meghan interrupted her. She’d heard this so many times before, and although she was happy for Kim, it was getting old, especially after a ten-hour journey during which Kim had talked about Andres non-stop. “There he is,” she said, relieved to see the man come out of his office. He was clearly not on official duty, as he was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but at least he seemed helpful.

“Apologies for the wait, ladies. There was a glitch in our system. We sent an email to everyone who had booked for this week, but for some reason, yours wasn’t sent, and it’s still pending.”

“Great.” Kim tilted her head as she looked him over. “So, how are you planning on solving this? I have somewhere to be in two hours, and I’d really like to get ready.”

“Of course. My name is Robert, by the way, and I normally work behind reception—when the hotel is open,” he added with an apologetic smile. “I’ve just called my manager. The good news is I’ll be able to give you an upgrade and check you in, and we’ll give you a refund for tonight. The bad news is that we can’t provide food for tonight, but there will be a member of staff behind the pool bar to serve you.” He hesitated. “Unless you’d rather go to one of our sister hotels? I can find out which ones have availability.”

“No, that works for me,” Kim said, getting up. “A room is all I need. Are you okay with that, Megs?”

“Fine with me.” Meghan was surprised at how quickly the problem had been solved, and she, too, was dying to get changed.

“Oh, one more thing.” Robert slipped back behind the reception desk and picked up a flyer. “As I said, there will be an event here this weekend. It’s a Pride event. Women only,” he added, holding it up for them to see. “I just need to check you don’t have a problem with that.”

“No problem at all.” Meghan smiled. “As long as the bar is open.”

Chapter 2 – Florence

“You want me to work the bar tonight?” Florence stared from the pool bar to Robert and frowned.

“Only until midnight—if you don’t mind,” he said. “I’ll stay on reception. I can sleep in the back.” He sighed. “We screwed up with their reservation, so it’s the least we can do, but I understand if you can’t at such short notice. I can ask someone else.”

“No, it’s fine. I could actually do with the overtime, and with only two guests it’s easy money.” Florence picked up a rainbow garland that had fallen off one of the palm trees and reattached it.

The preparations for the women’s Pride festival were finally done, and most of her colleagues, including Stella, her manager, had left. A few were still hanging around, smoking a cigarette before heading into town for a drink.

“Hey, guys. Just go without me,” she yelled at them. “There was a fuck-up with a reservation, and a couple of people just arrived, so I’m staying here tonight.” Her announcement was met with some protests, but the boys would be secretly relieved she wasn’t coming. They loved hitting on the ladies, and even though she did too, people always assumed she was dating one of them.

She waved them off and turned back to Robert. “So, how does this work? Do I turn the music on? The lights?”

Robert shrugged. “Honestly, this is a first. I have no idea, but I don’t want to bug Stella again. I just called her, and she was already in bed. I’d say do what you would normally do, apart from the announcements over the speakers.”

“Yeah, that would be weird.” Florence chuckled as she imagined her voice blasting through the silence, aimed at only herself if these guests didn’t come down to the poolside tonight. “Well, I’ll get the bar ready. Do you want a beer?”

“No, I’m good,” Robert said. “I’m technically on duty, so I’d better not.” He gave her a pat on her shoulder before he headed back into the building. “And no drinking for you either. Thanks, Flo. This should be an easy one.”

“Sure. Easy-peasy,” Florence muttered to herself as she turned on the pool lights and the string lights that adorned the tiki bars and the plants around the pool. Paradise Hotel wasn’t the best or the prettiest hotel in Benidorm, but with the rainbow decorations and the lights, it looked pretty charming tonight. She connected her phone to the speakers and put on her own playlist instead of the standard corporate one. If she was going to be here all night, she might as well enjoy herself, but first, she needed something to wake herself up. The hotel’s new coffee machines that had replaced the old, noisy ones were a blessing.

As she made herself a cappuccino, she heard one of the balcony doors above her open and looked up to see two women staring down at her. Unable to resist, she turned on the microphone. “Hey, there! The bar is open, ladies. Special one-on-one service, tonight only.” She smiled when she heard them laugh.

“Thank you!” one of them yelled back at her. “I’ll be down in a bit!”

Florence leaned on the bar and scrolled through her dating app, grimacing at most of the men and women who had ‘liked’ her. With the local dating scene being limited, she usually looked out for tourists, but there wasn’t much choice this week. She was excited for tomorrow, though: working at a women’s only weekend was right up her street. Personal relationships with guests were off-limits, but a little flirting was innocent and just what she needed.


Florence jumped and almost dropped her phone in the sink. “Oh, hey! Welcome to Paradise.”

“Welcome to Paradise? Is that what they make you say?” The woman laughed. “It looks pretty cute out here, but I can assure you, our room is far from paradise, even though your boss gave us an upgrade.”

“Robert?” Florence chuckled. “He’s not my boss. He just happened to be here when you guys showed up, so they put him in charge.” She winked. “I don’t think it’s gone to his head yet, but let’s see what the night brings. And as far as the rooms are concerned, I agree with you. They’re not great.”

“It’s fine. I’ll be outside most of the time anyway.” The woman took a seat at the bar. “Are you here just for me?”

“For you and your girlfriend,” Florence said. “My name is Florence.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m Meghan. It’s just me tonight, and Kim is not my girlfriend.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed. I just thought you were here for the Pride event and—”

“No, no, no,” Megan interrupted, waving a hand. “My friend is here to see her boyfriend, who’s a local, and I’m tagging along. Neither of us is gay, nor are we here for the event.” She leaned closer and lowered her voice, even though there was no one else around. “Are we going to be the only straight women here over the weekend?”

“I’m afraid so.” Florence shot her an amused smile. There was something adorably innocent about this woman. “But it’ll be fun. There’s live music and a DJ, and everyone will dress up.”

“I don’t have anything to wear,” Meghan said.

“No problem. Just grab one of those garlands. They’re everywhere.” Florence pointed to the cocktail menu. “By the way, what can I get you?”

Meghan shook her head. “I can go somewhere else. I’m sure you’d like to go home.”

“Now that we officially have occupancy, even if it’s just one room, someone has to be here, so you might as well stay.” Florence shrugged. “The drinks are free, and I can be good company. I’d love to have someone to talk to while I sit out my shift, and besides the drinks on that menu, I can make you anything you like.”

Meghan ran a hand through her long, dark hair and smiled. “Okay. But only if you have a drink with me.”

“I’m not supposed to drink on duty.” Florence glanced at the building. Robert always took naps on his nightshifts, and with hardly any guests in the hotel, he was sure to be fast asleep by now.

“There’s no one here.” Meghan pointed to the empty poolside. “It’s just you and me. If there was ever a time to have a cheeky drink at work, it’s now.”

“You’re right,” Florence said after a moment’s hesitation. “As long as you don’t tell anyone.”

“My lips are sealed.” Meghan’s smile widened, and she tapped the bar. “So, what are we having?”

Chapter 3 – Meghan

“It’s good,” Meghan said as she sipped her margarita. She studied the attractive bartender, who was a little younger than her.

“Thanks.” Florence was petite, but she seemed to have a big personality. Her wild, dark, curly hair was loosely pinned up, framing her heart-shaped face. She had a deep tan from working in the sun and big, hazel eyes that sparkled in the dim light of the bar. Wearing nothing but a slinky, grey vest top, a pair of tiny jersey shorts and flip-flops, she looked like she’d jumped straight out of bed onto the job, and as the hotel was closed, Meghan suspected that might have been the case.

“It could be a lot better. Our tequila is not of the best quality, but it does the job.” Florence smiled widely and clinked her glass against Meghan’s. “So, you’re third-wheeling? Is that what’s happening this week?”

Meghan laughed. “Yeah, something like that. I don’t mind, though. I can entertain myself, and Kim will be here during the day while Andres, her boyfriend, is working.”

“Well, you have me tonight.” Florence pulled a chair behind the bar, propped her feet on the edge of the sink and sat back. “And tomorrow, you’ll have two hundred women fighting over you, so you won’t be short of company then either.”

“I don’t mind making new friends, but as I said I’m not—”

“I know, you’re not into women. I was only joking. Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No, I’m single. What about you?”

“Me too. Single and ready to mingle. I’m excited for the festival.”

“Oh, you like women?” Meghan blushed and felt silly for it. She often ended up in gay clubs on Saturday nights, and she’d even kissed a girl on a drunken occasion when she was younger, so her reaction made no sense.

“I’ve dated men too, but I prefer women.” Florence locked her eyes with Meghan’s as she sipped her cocktail. “Physically, I mean.”

Meghan nodded, a little uncomfortable under her intense stare. “Are you allowed to personally engage with guests?”

“No. I’m not allowed to drink on the job either.” Florence suppressed a smirk as she held up her glass. “What can I say? I’m easily tempted.”

“Then you must get in trouble a lot,” Meghan joked. Florence had a permanently mischievous look on her face, and that amused her.

“Not really. I keep myself entertained, but I know my limits, so I tend to get away with a lot. Where are you from?”

“London. It’s good to get out of the city for a bit, and we haven’t had much of a summer. It’s rained non-stop for weeks.” Meghan looked at her arms, which, like the rest of her, were terribly pale compared to Florence. “What about you? Do you live in Benidorm?”

“For now. I’m a seasonal employee. I’m here in the summer. In the winter, I work for a hospitality employment agency in London. It’s restaurant bar work, mainly, but they occasionally put me on events and weddings too.”

“That sounds fun.”

“It can be. What do you do, Meghan?”

“I manage a casino. A small one in Southwest London.”

“Cool.” Florence looked her over and frowned. “I find it hard to imagine you as a casino boss. You look so innocent.”

Meghan threw her head back and laughed. “You’ve been watching too many movies. I’m not a gangster. I just manage the day-to-day and the staff.”

“But you wear a black suit?” Florence asked with a chuckle.

“At work, yes.”

“Do you smoke cigars and drink whisky in your office?”

Meghan laughed even harder now. “No, I don’t smoke, and like you, I’m not allowed to drink on the job.” She shrugged. “But unlike you, play by the rules.”

“Hey, that’s not fair! You were the one who insisted I have a drink with you.” Florence’s eyes widened in amusement. “So, you never get up to anything naughty at work?”

“Never. I’m not involved with money laundering or blackmail, I’m afraid, and I don’t go around breaking people’s legs. Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Bummer.” Florence slapped her thigh with a comical grin. “What about office affairs? A bit of fun on your desk after hours?”

“Nope. I share an office with the head of payroll and the head of HR, and they’re both old enough to be my parents.” Meghan held up her hands in defeat. “I’m basically super boring.”

“We’ll see about that.” Florence pointed to her glass. “How about another margarita?”

Finishing her cocktail, Meghan already felt it going to her head. She hadn’t eaten anything yet, but she was enjoying having a drink with Florence and didn’t feel like venturing out in search of food. “I’d love another, but I need to eat. Do you know a good place that delivers?” She opened one of the international delivery apps on her phone and handed it to Florence. “Are you hungry? Please order whatever you like.”

“I do know of a place, but I don’t want you to buy me dinner. Let’s split it.”

“Please. It’s the least I can do when you’re keeping me company,” Meghan insisted. “And I’m a big casino boss, remember? You’re just going to have to do as I say.”

Florence arched a brow and chuckled. “Okay, big shot. How about tapas?”

Did you enjoy this sample? Paradise Pride, book 3 in The Resort Series, is available through the link below!

Read the first three chapters of Christmas in Heaven!

Chapter 1 – Helen

“Helen, your one-thirty is here.” Bette, Helen’s assistant stuck her head around the door and smiled. “It’s Matilda Braga.”

“Matilda?” Helen looked up from her laptop and frowned. “That must be someone else’s client, I don’t have a—”

“Matilda Braga from Braga Events,” Bette interrupted her. “She’s here to talk through some stuff for the Christmas party.”

“Oh.” Helen rubbed her temple and sighed. Why had she volunteered to organise the Christmas party again? At the time, it had seemed like a great idea, but now it was just causing her stress on top of her already existing mountain of stress. Being a matchmaker, this was the busiest time of the year. Christmas was nearing and people were desperate for a date. Wealthy people who paid Heaven, the company Helen worked for, up to twelve thousand pounds to find them The One. That was great in terms of commission but not so great for her time management. She hadn’t had a day off in three weeks, and working around the clock, even at home on weekends, she was getting more tired by the day.

“Send her in,” she said but then held her hand up as Bette was about to leave. “Wait. Was I supposed to prepare something?”

Bette stared at her and shrugged. “I have no idea. I haven’t been involved in the Christmas party, and you didn’t brief me on anything.”

“Sure. Of course.” Helen cleared her throat, cursing herself for taking this on. More to the point, why had she put off doing anything about it until her colleagues started asking questions? Where is it? Will there be a theme? What about the food? On top of all that, her boss had decided that this year’s Christmas party would double as a matchmaking event, during which they’d match up hundred people from their database who hadn’t found love this year. In a panic, Helen had called tons of venues, but they were all fully booked. Her last resort was to spend part of the budget on a party planner—the only one who was willing to take on the job last minute—and that was where she was up to.

Straightening her navy blazer, Helen stood to greet the extravagantly dressed, petite, dark-haired women who walked in.

“Hi! You’re Matilda, right? Thank you so much for coming in. I’ve been really looking forward to meeting you.”

Helen made it sound like she’d been waiting for the woman all morning, but it was part of her skill set. She was highly trained in making people feel special; that was a big part of what made her so good at her job. If her clients felt welcome and understood, they signed on, and if they signed on, Helen usually found their match. Perhaps not a forever match, but her ninety-two percent success rate alongside rave reviews told her they were happy with her work.

“Hi. Yes, it’s so nice to meet you too.” Matilda accepted Helen’s offer to sit in the chair opposite her, placed her handbag on her lap and pulled out an iPad. “I know you’re very busy, and so am I, so we can keep this short and sweet if you prefer.”

“Thank you, that would be great,” Helen said, subtly regarding her. Matilda was her age, she guessed. Dressed in red, thigh-high suede boots, a short, frilly, red skirt and a green, oversized Christmas jumper, Matilda reminded her of an elf. Her dark hair was long and framed by a hairpiece with baubles and tinsel that put Helen’s mother’s Christmas tree to shame, and she almost passed comment on Matilda’s outfit, but something told her it wasn’t meant as a joke, so she wisely kept her thoughts to herself. “What do we need to discuss?”

Matilda scrolled through her iPad. “I have a list we need to work through. Let me find it.”

“Anything. Just ask away.”

Still scrolling, Matilda crossed her legs, flashing a hint of black lace from underneath the hem of her skirt.

Hold-ups. Helen’s smile widened, with genuine enthusiasm this time. She was amused that someone who dressed like an elf bothered with sexy lingerie. It wasn’t just the lace that put her in a better mood, though. She liked Matilda’s to-the-point, no-nonsense approach; there was a good chance this meeting would be over in no time and Helen could get back to her clients.

Matilda typed something and swiped a couple of times. “Special dietary requirements.” She looked up to meet Helen’s eyes. “Did you get my email last week? I think I sent a reminder too.”

“I saw it,” Helen lied, shifting uncomfortably on her chair. She’d forgotten all about it and made a mental note to ask Bette to compile a document. “It’s not quite there yet, but if you give me a couple of days, I’ll get that to you.”

“That’s fine, but please make it a priority,” Matilda said, scrolling again. “After Wednesday, we’re not able to change the menu much, as the venue has to plan their order in this busy time of year. We were lucky to get the venue in the first place after they had a cancellation, so I don’t want to mess them about.” She looked up briefly before she continued. “Which brings me to my second point. What’s your final number on guests? The venue needs to arrange heaters, as they’ll open up their roof terrace so people can have drinks outside if they wish. As you know, the building is high and central, so I imagine most will want to enjoy the romantic view after dinner.” She paused and narrowed her eyes at her screen. “The entertainment is a priority too. There are currently only two available bands left in my portfolio, I’m afraid. But if you have any ideas, I’m happy to look into them.”

Fuck. Helen held her breath, then blew out her cheeks. She had a rough idea of the numbers, but not everyone had responded to the invite yet, and she hadn’t listened to the samples of the bands Matilda had sent either. “When do you need to know all of this at the latest?”

“Today, ideally.” Matilda arched a brow, but her polite smile remained. “Helen, I want to organise a fantastic party for you and your colleagues and clients, but I can only do that if we’re able to sign things off together. So far, I’ve had no replies to the twenty-three emails I’ve sent you, and frankly, I’m a little stuck here. The party is just over a week away.”

Helen felt a tinge of panic bubbling in the back of her mind. Why hadn’t she acted sooner? She’d never been bad at a job, ever, but this Christmas nonsense was getting the better of her. Sure, she’d seen the emails, but there were always more pressing matters to take care of, and working seven days a week, she had no idea where to find the time. This Christmas party was important too, though; it wasn’t just any old work-do. It had to be nothing short of spectacular, and clearly money alone wasn’t enough to make that happen. It needed consideration and time. Her time. Many of their clients would be there, her boss would be there, and some of her colleagues who were jealous of her success and would love to see her fail were watching her like a hawk, secretly hoping the Christmas party would be a total and utter failure.

“Fuck.” She buried her face in her hands. “I apologise. I’ve just been so busy, and I have no idea when to do all this, or even how to get the information as quickly as you need it.” To her surprise, her eyes welled up, and she turned away for a moment, composing herself. She never cried, and she wasn’t going to start now. Swallowing hard, she tapped her desk, all too aware that she looked vulnerable, no matter how hard she tried to hide it. When she finally looked up, Matilda was staring at her. Helen didn’t know what that stare meant, and she didn’t want to.

“Okay.” Matilda sighed and leaned back in her chair. “Do you have all the phone numbers for the guests?”


“Can you clear your schedule this afternoon?”

Helen hesitated. She was in over her head with open cases, but at least she didn’t have client meetings. “I suppose I could if, I take my work home tonight—”

“Good, then let’s get this sorted.” Matilda glanced over her shoulder through the glass doors. “And your assistant? Is she available?”

“I could ask her to help.” Helen felt a spark of hope at Matilda’s assertiveness. She hadn’t involved Bette, as everyone would’ve assumed she’d bummed the party planning off on her assistant. Which I’m about to do. But she had no choice because Matilda was right. With the party being next week, they had to get on with it. Everything else would have to wait today, and maybe, just maybe, the Heaven Christmas party wouldn’t be a total disaster. 

“Call her in,” Matilda said. “I can see you’re about to have a breakdown, so please leave me in charge.”

Chapter 2 – Matilda

Six hours in and Matilda felt a little calmer. Helen was making phone calls, and Bette, who had left an hour ago, had been very helpful, so she was able to tick things off her list. Ticking things off was good; it meant she could start planning the next stage of the party. Last-minute bookings were a challenge on their own, let alone one for three hundred people in Central London.

The security guard did his rounds, turned off the lights in the reception area and mumbled something through the open door about waiting for them downstairs.

“Sorry about this, Weston, we’re almost done,” Helen called after him. “I’ll bring you cake tomorrow, promise.”

“Should we leave?” Matilda asked. To her, the late hour didn’t matter. She’d just bill her time, and from their initial conversation, she had a feeling Helen was used to pulling long days too.

“Yes, we probably should. He’s been waiting for over an hour.” Helen collected the document from the printer and handed it to Matilda. “I think we have everything you need for now. RSVPs, plus-ones and dietary requirements. Well, not all. Seventeen people didn’t pick up or reply, but it’s close enough, right?”

“Out of three hundred, yes, that’s definitely close enough.” Matilda glanced over the paperwork and gave her an approving smile. “Excellent. I can work with this. Do you have energy left to talk music and decorations?” Noting she felt hungry, she added, “Maybe over food somewhere?”

“That sounds good. There’s a small Japanese restaurant on street level. They have sockets under the tables, and they don’t mind people working there.” Helen closed her laptop and slipped it into her handbag. “Shall we?”


“I sense you’re a regular here,” Matilda said as she wedged a piece of sushi between her chopsticks and dipped it in soy sauce. Helen knew the staff members by name and hadn’t needed to look at the menu before she ordered. “Do you always eat and work?”

“Not if I can help it, but it seems to be the norm lately, to be honest with you.” Helen shrugged. “Everyone wants a date for Christmas. They want someone to take home to their family, or sometimes they’re just lonely this time of year.”

“And you? Your plus-one isn’t on here.” Matilda picked up the guest list to double-check. “Do you want me to take it off?”

“No, leave it on. I’ll find someone.” Helen rolled her eyes and groaned. “Yet another time-consuming project to worry about before the Christmas break.” When she straightened herself to meet Matilda’s eyes again, she looked even more deflated and tired than she had this afternoon.

“So, you’re single?” Matilda asked, studying her. Helen had big, blue eyes, sharp, dark brows, and her blonde hair fell over her shoulders in waves. She wore little make-up and was naturally pretty, in a girl-next-door kind of way, but her presentation was all business, from the stylish black suit that hugged her in all the right places to her black, leather designer handbag, neither of which were cheap. Evidently, she received a nice salary in return for her hard work.

“Isn’t that ironic?” Helen chuckled. “I’m the best matchmaker in the UK and I can’t even find a date for the Christmas party. I’ve been single for four years.”

“I imagine it’s not easy meeting people when you work such long hours,” Matilda said. “Would it be so bad if you went alone?”

“Not necessarily, but as a matchmaker, that doesn’t look good.” Helen chewed her lip as she stirred a piece of sashimi through her soy sauce. “Also, I may have told my colleagues I was seeing someone,” she added, shrugging when Matilda’s eyes widened. “I know. It was an incredibly stupid move, but I am where I am, and now I must find a way out of this hole I dug for myself. Please don’t tell anyone.”

Matilda laughed. “Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me. I know a few single guys. Maybe I can help. What’s your type?”

“Anything but a guy,” Helen said dryly as the corners of her mouth pulled into a small smile.

“Oh.” Matilda cringed at her voice when it went up a notch. “Women. Okay. So what kind of woman are you looking for?”

“I don’t think I have a type, but since we’re talking about the Christmas party, they have to be presentable. I like women who dress well and hold their own in social situations.”

“Right…” Matilda frowned, wondering why on earth she hadn’t sensed Helen was gay. Her gaydar was rarely off, but she hadn’t seen this one coming. “In that case, I might have some single female friends for you.”

Helen, who had just taken a bite of sashimi, stopped chewing. “Wait. Are you…?”

“Yes, I’m gay too.” Matilda waved her hands with a grin. “Surprise.”

“Wow.” Helen laughed out loud for the first time that day, and she looked even prettier with a huge smile on her face. “I’m usually so good at reading people. I mean, it’s my job. How could I not…?” She shook her head. “I’m clearly in need of a break.”

“Are you having a break?”

“Yes, the office is closed for two weeks after the Christmas party, so I’ll have some time to recharge.” Helen tilted her head as she looked Matilda over, and Matilda was dying to know what she was thinking. “And you? Are you having time off?”

“Your party is my last event before Christmas. After that, we’re closed until New Year’s Eve, but I’ll probably do some work in the days leading up to that, as we have a huge event. So, all in all, I probably won’t get that much time to myself.”

“I’m sorry I’ve kept you today. I should have been prepared for our meeting, and instead I’ve wasted your precious time.”

“It’s fine, it happens all the time.” Matilda shot her a smile. “Really, don’t worry about it. I’m glad we have everything sorted now. Apart from the music, the decorations and the seating plan, but the seating plan can wait.”

“Would it be okay if I left you in charge of the decorations and music?” Helen asked. “You have a better idea of what works than me. I’m a novice when it comes to Christmas.”

“No problem.” Matilda unlocked her iPad, loaded a presentation and handed it over. “I’ve already put a proposal together. I just need you to approve it. Companies usually like to have their logo colours incorporated in the decorations, but since yours is black, I’ve kept it neutral, using white and gold for a cosy, wintry feel, and I’ve added hints of black to reflect your company identity. We could put your logo on the napkins and project it on the wall both inside and outside, but apart from that, I don’t want to over-brand the event, as this will be an elegant occasion.” She paused while Helen scrolled through the mood boards she’d created. “As your budget allows it, I’ve reserved crystal glasses, black velvet table runners, white China and nice silverware, and I suggest we go with the blues band.”

“I love it,” Helen said, her shoulders visibly dropping in relief as she sat back. “This party has been haunting me for months. I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to know it’s under control and that it will look spectacular.”

“Everything will be great, don’t worry about a thing. Despite a little setback this afternoon, you’ve actually made it easy for me too. You have no idea how many of my clients get involved in the details and keep changing their minds.”

“Hey, the less I know the better.” Helen pointed to her head. “It’s getting crowded up here and I need my storage for work.”

“Then that’s settled.” Matilda was pleased with their progress. She could move on to the fun part now, the part when everything came together. “Do you have time to meet up soon to go through the table plan? That’s the only thing I really can’t do for you, I’m afraid.”

“Sure. Could we do it over dinner?” Helen asked. “If you’re busy too, we might as well save ourselves some precious office hours. You pick the place though. I’ll come your way.”

“Okay, I’ll reserve a table.” Matilda hesitated. “Can I ask you something?” She continued when Helen nodded. “Why are youin charge of the party?”

“I’ve been asking myself the same question.” Helen shot her a comical grin. “Frankly, it was a silly idea to volunteer, but I honestly didn’t think it would be so much work. I guess I wanted to show off. I’m the golden child at work. I bring in the most clients and have the highest success rate in matching. Deep down, I guess I wanted a spectacular party to celebrate my achievements and prove I could throw a better party than last year’s, which was underwhelming in my opinion.” She paused. “But if it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t have been a party at all. I’m so glad you said yes. I must have called over twenty party planners and they were all fully booked.”

“I’m not surprised. I was only available because I had a cancellation myself.” Matilda put her iPad back in her bag and zipped it closed. “Anyway, enough work for today.” She pointed to the pot of tea on their table. “Would you like some more tea? Or I could order some sake while we discuss the last thing on the agenda.”

I’m always up for sake,” Helen said, gesturing the waiter over. “But what’s left to discuss?”

Matilda shot her a mischievous look and held up her phone. “My single friends, AKA your potential dates for the party.”

Chapter 3 – Helen

“You’re so picky. Beggars can’t be choosers, Helen,” Matilda joked as she showed Helen the fifth and final picture, which was of her friend, Sedi. “Sedi is thirty-six, she works in finance, and she has a lovely apartment in Belsize Park. She plays golf on weekends, and she loves to go to live music gigs. Do you like music?”

“Yes, but who doesn’t?” Helen was trying to be open about Matilda’s suggestions, but she wasn’t feeling it. Sedi was good-looking, and she had a cute smile, but Helen couldn’t imagine dating her, even if it was just for one night. “She sounds great, but she’s not for me.”

“Then I’m afraid I’m out of options.” Matilda topped up their sake. “Tell me, how do you approach this in your job? How do you find a match for your clients?”

“I interview them face-to-face and make sure I know absolutely everything about them. The questionnaire holds over three hundred questions. I ask questions that may seem irrelevant, but they give me a better picture of who my clients really are and what their values, aspirations and dreams are. Then I enter all the information into a programme that was developed especially for our company, the Heaven Databank. Based on this information, I usually get between twenty and forty hits on matching profiles, and I spend hours going through them one by one.” She sipped her sake, savouring the warm liquid that relaxed her after a long and stressful day. “This is where my psychology background comes into play.”

“You’re a psychologist?” Matilda arched a brow. “I thought…”

“You thought we were just a bunch of hopeless romantics playing with people’s hearts?” Helen winked. “Trust me, I’m far from romantic. There’s an actual science to this, believe it or not.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know why that took me by surprise.”

“It’s okay. You’re not the first to think that, so you’re forgiven.” Matilda’s embarrassed expression amused Helen. It was kind of cute, and she decided she liked this woman.

“Anyway, I interrupted you, so please continue,” Matilda said, eager to move on.

“Sure.” Helen grinned. “After I’ve vetted all the profiles, I select three matches and interview these people before my psychologist’s gut tells me which one is most suitable, then I call them and discuss the match, and if they agree to meet, Bette sets up a date for them on neutral territory.”

“And how much will your matchmaking set them back?”

“The membership fees are twelve thousand pounds a year. If they haven’t been on a date within a year of signing up, we’ll refund them or roll the fees over to the next year.”

Matilda whistled through her teeth. “That’s a hefty price to pay for a date.”

“Would you consider it a hefty price if you found The One?” Helen shot back at her. She smiled when Matilda remained silent. “See? You can’t put a price on love.”

“Hmm…” From the look on her face, Matilda wasn’t convinced. “How many people do you have in your database?”

“Thousands. We operate internationally, but we try to match people who live reasonably close to one another. I generally don’t have to travel much, my clients come to me, but if they’re celebrities, I may meet them in their home if they don’t want to be seen walking into Heaven.”

“Wow. That’s very cool.” Matilda narrowed her eyes. “So, why don’t you just pick someone from your own client base? Find yourself a match?”

Helen laughed and shook her head. “The membership requires proof of income. We only work with very wealthy people, and I don’t fall into that category quite yet. Even if my income was in seven figures, it would still be unethical as I’m an employee.” She was enjoying talking to Matilda and realised it had been a long time since she’d had a stimulating conversation over dinner. “What about you? Are you in a relationship?”

“No, I’m single,” Matilda said. “Like you, I don’t have time to date and I’m happy by myself.”

“Then maybe I have single friends for you.” Helen winked. Truth be told, she had only a handful of friends, and she didn’t think they’d be interested in dating someone who embraced Christmas with as much enthusiasm as Matilda, especially in the looks department. The woman was lovely, and Helen enjoyed her company, but she wasn’t into Christmas jumpers or bauble tiaras.

“Oh, you’re turning the tables on me now, are you?” Matilda had a humorous twinkle in her eyes. “Bring it on. Show me why you’re the most successful matchmaker in London.”

“I’d need to interview you first.”

Matilda crossed her arms on the table and leaned in. “Fire away.”

“Are you sure?”

“Come on. How bad can it be?”

For some reason, Helen couldn’t stop smiling. “Very well. Let’s start with a simple question. What’s your star sign?”

“Virgo.” Matilda chuckled. “Please don’t tell me star signs influence your matchmaking. That’s just—”

“Everything is important, including star signs,” Helen interrupted her. “Tell me about your family and the family dynamics.”

“Okay, let’s see… I was born and raised in London, and my parents divorced when I was four. I grew up with my mum, and I’m very close to her. Mum’s from Brazil, and most of my family from her side live there, including my grandparents. My father’s roots are Brazilian too, but he grew up in Ireland and moved back there after the divorce. I visited him a few times a year when I was younger, and nowadays we see each other even less. We’re not close, but we’re okay. I’m much closer to my mum—I think I still blame him for hurting her.” Matilda bit her lip as she sank into deep thought. “Our family’s small. I’m an only child, and I have an aunt, an uncle, three cousins and my grandparents in Rio, whom I visit once a year. I don’t know my family in Ireland that well because I’ve never spent much time with them.”

“What role did money play growing up?” Helen asked.

“It wasn’t easy. Although Dad paid some child support, Mum still struggled being a single mother and she worked long days at a dry cleaner’s Monday to Friday, so I learnt from an early age to be independent. I had my first part-time job doing dishes at a restaurant when I was sixteen, and I worked my way through university while I studied hospitality management. After I graduated, I worked in hospitality in London for a while. Then I got a job as crew manager on a charter yacht and spent seven years sailing around the world. The tips were generous, so I managed to save up a lot of money, and when I came back because I missed London, I started Braga Events.”

“Interesting,” Helen said, genuinely intrigued by Matilda’s life story. She’d struck her as ambitious from the moment they’d met, and knowing she’d done all that by herself was admirable. “Do you miss travelling?”

“Yes, but my time is limited, and when I take time off, I tend to go to Brazil with Mum to visit family.”

“Okay. And do you like your job?”

“I love my job,” Matilda said without hesitation. “I’m proud of what I’ve built. That moment when my client walks in and sees the venue is so rewarding. I always come in for the first half hour to make sure they’re one hundred percent happy.”

“You don’t stay during the event?” Helen asked.

“No, I leave it to my event managers to handle the event. I used to be a control freak and micromanage, but over the years I’ve learnt to trust my staff. If I worked nights too, I wouldn’t have a life at all.”

“Of course.” Helen poured them the last of the sake from the ceramic jug and sipped it. “What about relationships? Your dating history? Sexuality?”

“There’s not much to tell, really. I came out when I was sixteen and my parents never made a fuss of it. I’ve only ever dated women over the years and was in two short-term relationships, but they didn’t work out.”

“Why didn’t they work out?”

“I think because I always put my business first.”

Helen nodded and noted talking to Matilda was like holding up a mirror. She saw so much of herself in her, it was almost scary. “Do you want love? Do you want children? A family?”

Matilda hesitated and focused on her sake cup, running a finger over its uneven surface before she answered. “I don’t know,” she finally said. “I don’t know if I want love. I think I do, but something’s holding me back. And as far as children are concerned…I’m honestly not sure. I’m thirty-five and I don’t feel an itch, if you know what I mean.” She downed the rest of her drink and sat back, subconsciously telling Helen she was getting too close and that she was done answering questions. “So? What’s the verdict, Helen from Heaven? Do you have a match for me in your circle of friends? Or do you need another hour of interrogation?”

Helen smiled. “I didn’t even touch on the sex questions yet, but I think I can do this, as you’re pretty easy to analyse. How honest do you want me to be?”


“Very well.” Helen took a deep breath before she fired away. “I think you’re single because you’re afraid of commitment, and before you tell me that’s a cliché, hear me out. You’ve worked hard to get your company off the ground, and you’re worried a relationship will stand in the way of work, not the other way around. Therefore, you use work as an excuse not to date. You tell yourself you don’t have time, and it would never cross your mind to make time.

“Your parents’ divorce caused you to be sceptical about love, and I think it’s safe to say you’re not a romantic at heart. You’re also a Virgo, and Virgos tend to be pragmatic, detail-oriented perfectionists—traits I feel are very much in your character from the short time I’ve known you—so if someone isn’t close to perfect for you, you will discard the idea of a relationship before you’ve even tried. Simultaneously, if someone is perfect for you, you’ll panic and pull away.”

Helen waited for Matilda to protest or burst out in laughter; it was often the initial reaction when she went through this with her clients. There was no reaction, though. Matilda simply stared at her stoically, so she continued.

“Your ideal partner would be the opposite to you. A homemaker, or someone whose life does not evolve around work. They have to be safe and reliable, and always be willing to fight for you when you start expressing your doubts about the relationship. Someone who is emotionally intelligent and will understand why you feel the way you feel when you become distant at times because of that internal panic related to commitment. My guess is that you tend to go for the opposite because then you already know it’s not going to work out and you feel more comfortable with the idea of short-term. Short-term means you can keep your lovers at a distance. Short-term relationships are mostly physical, and something tells me you’re not shy in the bedroom.” She chuckled when Matilda let out an exasperated gasp. “Wait, wait, let me finish. You confuse sex with intimacy. Deep down, you do want to commit, and you do long for a deeper connection. You just haven’t figured that out yet.”

“Are you done?” Matilda asked. The little elf looked adorable when she was annoyed, but from the nervous tapping of her fingers on the table, Helen knew that she was on to something.

“Yes. And now is the moment you tell me I’m wrong and that it’s all bullshit. But over time, you’ll remember what I told you and you’ll realise I was right.” Helen shot her a cheeky grin. “Also, if you’re pissed off with me, that’s okay, but please don’t quit as my party planner because I really need you.”

Matilda’s expression softened a little, and she met Helen’s gaze with a smirk. Her walls were up; that much was clear. “Well, I’ll need some time to digest this, but you were right about one thing,” she said, never breaking eye contact. “I’m definitely not shy in the bedroom.”

“At least you’re giving me something. Something’s better than nothing.” Helen remained calm and indifferent on the surface, but inside she was burning because now she was picturing Matilda in bed, naked, and that was ridiculous. The woman sitting opposite her couldn’t be further from her type. The way she dressed for one, was far from attractive to her—apart from the hold-ups, of course. Those were always welcome in Helen’s world. Christmas jumpers and silly hairpieces, however, were things she steered clear of.

An amused twinkle flashed in Matilda’s eyes as she leaned in again, much closer this time. “I need to know one thing, though. Why did you think I was so easy to read?”

Helen’s palms went sweaty hard as multiple plausible answers ran through her head. “Because you’re like me,” she said, baffled by her honesty. Why had she said that? Did she feel like she owed Matilda after bombarding her with all those personal questions?”

Matilda’s smile widened. “How so? Tell me.”

“My parents divorced when I was young, and I grew up with my mother, who remarried twice and she’s currently single. I never knew my father, and we struggled financially. I paid my way through university by working several jobs. I studied psychology, but I never really enjoyed working in the field until one day, I was approached by a headhunter who was looking for psychologists to join a new matchmaking company. I love this job, but the road leading here wasn’t easy. I got to where I am with sheer determination and a one-track mind. Creating a better life for myself was always at the forefront of every step I took, and love was never a part of the bigger plan.” Helen shrugged. “And believe it or not, I’m a Virgo too.”

“Huh.” Matilda’s eyes were fixated on her as she picked up her cup and brought it to her lips. Realising it was empty, she put it back down, then continued to stare at Helen. “That’s some really good self-reflection right there, even for a psychologist. Did you work that out all by yourself?”

Again, Helen’s first reaction was to come up with a lie, but she found herself blurting out the truth again. “No,” she said with a chuckle. “My therapist did.”

Like this sample? Get Christmas in Heaven here!

The Little Black Book by Lise Gold

“Will this take long?” Beth Spencer fidgeted with her wedding ring while Arnold Snow, the attorney, checked her passport. His office on the top floor of a seven-story building in Downtown Brooklyn was basic at best and nothing like she’d imagined. The brown carpet smelled moldy, the white walls showed cracks and damp stains, and the furniture had seen better days. “It’s uncomfortable for me to be here since…” Her eyes darted around the room before she finally met his gaze. Arnold reminded her of a toad, the way his fat head seemed to be attached directly to his shoulders, rather than his neck, and his bulgy, almost yellowish eyes peered at her from behind round, black-rimmed reading glasses. “Well, since you were the last person to see her alive,” she finally said.

“I was, and I’m very sorry for your loss.” Arnold’s voice sounded croaky. “I can assure you that your wife did not seem suicidal when she was here. If I felt she appeared distressed, I would have alerted the police as it’s not uncommon for people to make a will when they’re planning on taking their own life.” He gave her back her passport along with a form to fill in. “As her sole beneficiary, you will receive the sum of $20,000.” Sliding another form across the desk, he added: “And you’ll need this when you go to the police station. The items found on Mrs. Spencer’s body are ready for you to pick up.”

“Twenty-thousand?” As she sat back, Beth needed a moment to process the information. “But as far as I was aware, Sammy didn’t have any savings.”

“This amount represents the latest royalties from her crime novels,” Arnold clarified. “We may need to arrange a follow-up meeting to make sure these go directly to you from now on.”

“Right.” Beth was feeling an array of emotions, torn between relief and a deep inconsolable sadness. Coming into an unexpected large sum of money was a welcome surprise as she’d been struggling to keep up with the rent since Sammy had jumped off the roof of Mr. Snow’s building, four months ago. How had she not known how unhappy she was? She’d been on mild anti-depressants and she’d suffered from writer’s block from time to time, but not once had she seen her low enough to worry about her mental health. In fact, Sammy had seemed inspired in the weeks leading up to her death, often writing until the early hours. She signed the form and sighed, knowing it was unlikely she’d ever find the answers she was looking for.

“I think that concludes our business. The money will be in your account shortly.” Arnold stood up to shake her hand. “Chablis and sushi tonight?” he called after her as she left.

“What did you just say?” Beth stalled and turned in the doorway, meeting his grin. It gave her chills; not just because the question felt inappropriate, but also because he had appeared to read her mind.

“Chablis and sushi. Isn’t that what all New York women have on Friday night?”

“Oh…” She managed a smile and shrugged. “Yes, I might. Thank you and I’ll give you a call to set up that meeting.” Even after she’d closed the door behind her, she could still feel his eyes on her.


Later that night, Beth slumped down on her couch with a bottle of Chablis and two California rolls. Arnold Snow was right; she was pretty predictable when it came to take-out. On the couch next to her was the envelope she’d picked up from the police station after work, containing Sammy’s wedding ring and her leather wallet. The one thing that was missing though, was her little black notebook. Being a writer, Sammy always carried one around in the back pocket of her jeans, and Beth had desperately hoped there might be something in there that could help her understand why she’d killed herself.

Her notebooks not only contained ideas for her novels, but also her most private thoughts, and Beth had gone through all of them with a fine-tooth comb. It had felt like a betrayal at first, but she was looking for clues as to what she’d been feeling and thinking so she could stop blaming herself. If Sammy hadn’t carried it with her on the day she died, then where was it?

Something drew her attention to the bookshelves. An indistinct flash of light moving so fast she’d barely registered it. She’d seen it a couple of times recently, but it was always when she was drinking wine by herself in the dark, so she’d put it down to the alcohol. Narrowing her eyes, Beth continued to stare but it had disappeared. Could it be the sign from Sammy she’d so desperately hoped for? Was she trying to reach out to her? She’d never believed in the afterlife but her desperation for answers had caused her to act out of character lately, so she turned on the reading lamp and walked over to the spot where she’d first observed the light.

Beth gasped when she saw Sammy’s missing notebook. Sitting on the second shelf, it had been there all along in plain sight, folded open with its black Moleskine cover facing her. The edge of the cover was tucked under the shelf above, as if she’d strategically placed it there for her to see. But she hadn’t seen it. Looking at Sammy’s precious books had been too hard, and she’d ignored the layer of dust that had settled over them in the past months.

“Sammy are you there?” she whispered, then waited while her heart thumped violently in her chest.

The room remained silent, and Beth internally scolded herself for her irrational behavior that was bordering on insanity. After long moments, she hesitantly picked up the notebook, terrified of what she might discover. Sitting back down, she randomly opened pages to read Sammy’s notes and look at her sketches. Sammy had always been a talented artist. A couple of years ago, she’d asked Beth to take art classes with her, but Beth had laughed it off, knowing she’d hate it. What she wouldn’t give to take one of those stupid classes with her now. 

Just like the other notebooks, this one not only contained ideas for storylines, but also short diary entries, and once again, she felt like an intruder.

‘Had a fight with Beth. She wants a baby but I’m not ready. How can I support a child if I barely make enough money to pay the rent? Feel like a failure sometimes.’

Tears rolled over Beth’s cheeks as she held onto her stomach. It had never been her intention to make her feel like a failure; she’d simply suggested she think about getting a part-time job to substitute her meagre income from writing as they’d talked about starting a family. Caressing the pages one by one, she traced Sammy’s messy handwriting while she cried. Title suggestions, plot ideas and chapter numbers with key words followed, but she didn’t take much in until a character drawing made her pause. The man looked familiar, and as she studied the sketch, a sense of foreboding coursed through her. ‘Reptile neighbor’, it said. Beth frowned, taking in the bald, neckless figure with intense bulgy eyes that Sammy had colored in yellow, then read her notes next to it.

‘Our neighbor, The Reptile, as I like to call him, is a strange man. I saw him for the first time outside the apartment block today when the fire alarm went off.  He told me he was an attorney, then asked me if I had a will. After a short chat he offered me his services for free, which seemed crazy. Who works for free these days? He also asked me how Beth was, but Beth has never mentioned meeting him. I’ll keep an eye on him as he made me feel uncomfortable and I got the impression he’d been watching us. Won’t tell Beth about it as it will only worry her. He’s great material for a character though, and I’m suddenly feeling very inspired.’

Reading the paragraph once more, Beth told herself she was being paranoid, but the coincidence was too haunting to ignore. On the next page was something about a murder weapon and a couple of scribbles about a crime scene, the text boxed and connected with arrows. Although they were clearly just a figment of Sammy’s vivid imagination, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong, and her hand trembled as she flipped to the next page.

‘I visited The Reptile today while Beth was at work, using the excuse that I wanted to take up his offer regarding a will. It was slightly awkward, and he didn’t invite me in, but we talked in the doorway for quite some time. He asked me about my writing, and even though I don’t recall telling him my profession, I found myself opening up to him. I’m not sure why I felt the need to see him again. Perhaps because I haven’t been able to stop thinking about those strange eyes. He’s inspired me to write, and that feeling is addictive. There’s something evil about him that fills me with dread, yet words and ideas flow when I picture him in my mind. I told him I’d drop by his office on Thursday afternoon, so I’ll have another chance to observe him up close. The Reptile is going to make an excellent killer in my new novel.’

Beth slammed a hand in front of her mouth, her mind spinning with contradictory thoughts. Their neighbor had never been mentioned in the suicide investigation and as far as the police was aware, Sammy did not personally know the attorney who last saw her alive. But then again, neither her, nor the police knew they were the same person. Her first thought was that Arnold Snow should have mentioned living next door, her second was the fact that he hadn’t, and that made her fearful. Why keep quiet about something so significant?

Shaking on her legs, Beth got up, closed the curtains facing the street, then glanced into the hallway and around the living room. Lingering in a corner of the room, as far from the window as possible, she fought to stay calm. There was only one more entry in the little black book before the pages turned blank.

‘I found a hole in the wall behind one of the books when I was looking for something to read, and when I looked through it, I could see right into The Reptile’s living room. It was definitely not there before we moved in. Time to go to the police. Or perhaps I should confront him about it tomorrow?’

Even before Sammy’s death, Beth had never looked closely at the bookshelves that were mounted on the wall. She didn’t have many books herself and just saw them as clutter. But now, she held her breath as she studied the shelves closely, noticing every detail, every screw, every mark on the timber. There was a significant gap between the books on the second and the third shelf where smaller paperbacks were stored; a gaping mouth warning her off. Kneeling in front of the shelves, Beth spotted the hole even before she’d swept the books to the floor. It was big enough to see through from a short distance, and despite fear twisting in her gut, she leaned in. What she saw made her freeze in horror. Staring back at her, was a bloodshot, yellow eye. She recognized his croaky voice too.

“Hello, Beth.”

Read the first three chapters of ‘Cupid is a Cat’ by Lise Gold

Chapter 1 – Nora

“Are you sure this is the right bar?” Melanie grimaced as she scanned the camp tiki bar that was adorned with phallic, rainbow-colored Christmas decorations. “I definitely sense a gay energy in here, but not of the female kind.”

Nora checked the address on her phone again and nodded, her eyes darting to the sign above the bar that said I love anal. “Hmm.” She chuckled. “Yes, it’s here, according to my email, but it does seem like a strange choice of venue.” A man in a cowboy hat was sleeping on a stool, his head resting on the bar next to an empty glass. A group of men clad in sparkly purple tank tops were crammed into one of the booths, and male couples were scattered around the standing tables. Apart from them, she counted three women who all looked equally lost. “Women-only speed-dating event. Seven-thirty p.m.,” she read out loud. Jumping at the excuse to get out of it, she turned back to the door. “It looks like there’s not much happening. Shall we go for a drink somewhere else?”

Melanie took her wrist when she turned to the door. “No. You promised me speed dating and I want speed dating. This was your idea, not mine. You got me all excited and now you want to leave?”

“But I don’t see any women, and anyway, I’m not feeling it anymore.” Nora groaned. “I should never have told you about the invitation. It was a stupid idea.”

“Nonsense. You need the distraction, not me. It’s Thanksgiving, after all, so what better way to say fuck you to your ex than go speed dating on the night you were supposed to meet her family?” Melanie clapped her hands together when four women entered the bar. “See? Women. We were just early.”

Nora regarded the women with little interest. She wasn’t in a place to date yet, she knew that, but Melanie was right. She did need the distraction tonight. Two months ago, Barbara, her ex in Seattle, had ended their long-distance relationship. Apart from the fact that they were living on separate continents, she’d used just about every excuse under the sun to break up with her. Difference in interests, age, life stages… Nora didn’t blame her, but that didn’t make it any less painful. Some days were filled with hurt and regret, and she so desperately wanted to feel normal again. After she’d cancelled her flight to the US, Thanksgiving felt like a cursed date looming before her, so when she had gotten the invite for a speed-dating event taking place on that very same day, she’d taken it as a sign, even if it was only to stop her from thinking about her ex for a couple of hours.

“These guys seem to know where they’re going.” Melanie took Nora’s hand and followed the women to the back of the bar, where a semi-closed-off area sloped down into a cozy, long, and narrow makeshift living room with a fireplace, a big sofa, and small tables and stools scattered around. “Come on.”

“Hi, guys. Are you here for the speed-dating event?” A woman with a flipchart walked up to them. “I’m Sally. Sorry about the last-minute change in venue. The original bar flooded, so we had to find an alternative.” She pointed to the huge, wooden penis statue next to the fireplace. “Just ignore all the dicks. This is a men’s bar, and we didn’t have time to redecorate our little nook.”

Despite her sudden change of mood, Nora couldn’t help but laugh. “That’s okay. I didn’t even know there was a change in venue. Is this the Cupid event?”

“You could call it that if you like.” Sally smiled widely. “What’s your name?”

“Nora. Nora Bloom. And I’ve brought a plus-one. Melanie McDermott.”

“Nora Bloom…” Sally frowned as she scanned the list of names. “I don’t have you on the list. Can I see the confirmation email, please?”

Nora opened the email and handed her phone to the woman. “I received this yesterday.”

“Hmmm. The Cupid Event? I thought you were joking when you said that. That’s definitely not from us. We’re called LGBTQ Speed Dating London.” Sally shrugged. “It looks like a mix-up, but since we’re a little low on numbers tonight, we’d be delighted if you both joined. We’re expecting about twenty women, and we generally like to have a few more than that.”

“Sounds good to me,” Melanie said, taking the clipboard the woman handed her before Nora had time to change her mind again.

“Perfect. I just need your name, number, and email.” Sally pulled a sheet of blank labels out of her shoulder bag and scribbled their names on them. “You’re number twenty-one,” she said, sticking one of the labels onto the chest of Melanie’s top. “And last but not least…Nora, you are number twenty-two. Are you ready to find love?”

Nora let out a sarcastic chuckle as she stuck the label onto her shoulder. “Sure.”

“Hey, you need to take this seriously,” Melanie whispered when it was Nora’s turn to fill in her details. “Who knows, you might meet The One.”

Nora stopped what she was doing for a moment and stared at her friend. “Mel, I’m not here to find love. I’m done with that. I’m here to have a drink and talk to strangers so I can stop my mind from churning. We might as well go bowling or see a movie, it’s all the same to me.”

“Whatever. But we’re not going bowling and we’re not watching a movie. Tonight, we’re going to flirt.” Melanie’s eyes darted to a woman by the bar. “See that blonde over there? She’s totally my type. A little tough, natural, good smile, nice teeth… What about you?”

“I don’t have a type,” Nora said.

“I know that, but isn’t there anyone here you find attractive?”

Nora looked around and shook her head. “No. But as I said, that’s not the point. I’m sure we’ll have a good time.”

“That’s the spirit.” Melanie tapped her purse. “Now, first things first. I’ll get a round of drinks if you grab that couch by the fireplace.”

Chapter 2 – Cupid

Cupid observed the crowd, amused by the ignorance of the women in the pub. If only they knew what was coming. Were they ready? Some were, but others would need more time. For them, this was just the initial encounter, the catalyst of many encounters that would lead them to the right person eventually, because like love, heartache was part of life. The mistakes people made, and their failed relationships taught them valuable lessons and prepared them for meeting The One. Happily ever after wasn’t meant to be easy; it had to be earned, and Cupid’s interference was the ultimate reward.

Ranking directly under The Almighty—the maker of the universe and holder of higher powers that controlled destiny—Cupid followed orders and spread the love. Cupid wasn’t a cherub with a bow and arrow, and they weren’t male nor female. They didn’t have any physical form for that matter, but they were able to infinitely multiply and morph into any creature to help earthlings find love. They manifested in many ways, and tonight, in this obscure bar in South London, they were a chubby, ginger cat called Toby. The name was engraved on a silver tag attached to their sparkling, blue collar, and they looked too comfortable and well fed for anyone to worry about them just yet. The guests assumed Toby belonged to the pub owners, and the staff, who had never seen them before, was delighted to have some furry company. They’d discussed finding the owner but there was no phone number on Toby’s tag, so they’d left them to it for now. By the time the event was over, they would probably try to find their rightful owner, but by that time, Cupid—or Toby as they knew him—would be gone.

Cupid liked being a cat, and they were having fun with it. Out of all creatures, cats were the most comfortable skin to live in. They’d tried them all—dogs, insects, birds, and reptiles—but more often than not, they came back as a cat. Cats were able to adapt and blend in, so they could get close to people. They didn’t need to be in the presence of an “owner,” like dogs, and they were fast, agile, and experts at climbing trees and jumping walls.

Toby was purring, delighted with the premium spot on the sofa by the fireplace, and the petting was nice too, especially the scratching behind their ears. Cupid didn’t need to take on a form: they could simply be nothing; but earthlings needed help, and apart from being excellent conversation starters, animals tended to make them feel comfortable. Besides that, the old cliché was true. Lesbians loved cats, and this was a women-only speed-dating event.

“Oh, look at you. You are so cute,” a blonde woman cooed as she sat next to them. She leaned in to read their name on the tag. “Toby. You’re such a pretty boy. Yes, you are a very, very handsome boy.”

And you are about to have a very, very meaningful encounter, Nora. Toby purred louder, thoroughly enjoying the soft strokes of her hand. It was funny how women always put on high-pitched voices when talking to animals. They were perfectly able to understand them without the drama.

Nora was wearing jeans, a black sweater, and white Nikes, and her long hair was pulled into a messy top knot. People didn’t tend to “dress up” for speed-dating events, but they did spend hours in front of the mirror attempting to look like they’d made no effort at all. Earthlings were strange creatures; no one dared admit this was important to them, but Nora was an exception. She’d come straight from work to meet her friend here, and looking her best genuinely wasn’t important tonight because she had no desire to find love. None of that mattered, though, because The Almighty had spoken, and free will was debatable. So here she was, unknowingly ready for someone to leave a lasting impression on her.

Toby turned to the door as Yael walked in. As expected, she didn’t look too keen either. Tall, lean, dark-haired, with striking, almost black eyes, many heads turned her way, but she was on her phone and had no idea all attention was upon her. Following her friend to the registration table, she was still on the call as she scribbled down her details. Nora looked up at her but only for a second. She was too busy fussing over Toby to really notice her, and that was fine. They would soon have their three minutes of conversation; the catalyst that would change their lives forever.

“Have you made a new friend?” Nora’s friend Melanie, put two large gin and tonics on the table and joined them on the couch. “Oh my God, you’re so fluffy.” Again, the high-pitched voice, but Melanie was a good scratcher, so she was forgiven.

“His name is Toby,” Nora said.

“Toby, you are a chubby little boy. I just want to eat you.”

Please don’t. Your friend needs me. Toby licked her, then stopped themselves when they tasted the bitter liquid Melanie had spilt over her hand. Yuck. Gin. Why do people like alcohol? Their attention turned to the bar, where two men shared a portion of chicken wings. That would be nice, though. Or a bit of cream or some steamed salmon.

“What a good boy. Yes, you are the best, best, bestest boy,” Melanie continued, stroking Toby’s tummy when they turned on their side.

You have no idea how good I’ll be to you, Melanie. But your time has not come yet.

“It’s strange…” Melanie furrowed her brows as she studied Toby. “From the way he looks at me, I’d almost think he understands me.”

Nora chuckled. “Have you already downed one of those by the bar by any chance?” She pointed to their drinks. “They’re huge.”

“Animals understand more than you think, and no, I didn’t. But I did order a triple shot for liquid courage.” Melanie picked up her glass and took a sip. “Better have some before the first round starts.”

Chapter 3 – Yael

“We received your down payment, I’ll get back to you tomorrow with a delivery date.” Yael hung up on her client, then glanced at the women around her as she ordered beers at the bar. Her friend Jess had gone to the bathroom to check her hair for the second time since they’d arrived, and Yael suspected she was more nervous than she was letting on. But that was why she was here; for moral support. She’d practically dragged Jess along, insisting it was time she put herself out there after being single for three years.

“There you are,” she said when Jess reappeared. “Stop hiding and smile at people. Make eye contact.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re just my wing woman.” Jess looked terrified as she took a sip from her beer and followed Yael down into the lion’s den, as she called it. “I think I’ve forgotten how to look women in the eyes.”

“How about those two on the couch by the fireplace? They look friendly and approachable. And they’re fussing over a cat. You like cats, so that’s already one thing you have in common.” As if she could feel Yael’s eyes on her, the blonde looked in her direction, and so did the cat. The two heads turning simultaneously was such a comical sight it made Yael chuckle, and the blonde, who assumed she was smiling at her, smiled back.

“Everyone likes cats. It hardly classes as common ground.” Jess pursed her lips, then let out a long sigh. “Fuck, I’m so nervous.”

“Don’t be. You’re the most interesting person I know, Jess, so just be yourself,” Yael said. Again, the blonde’s attention turned to her, and their eyes locked. Hers were light, almost icy gray.

“Hey, the buzzer just went.” Jess nudged her.

“What?” Yael turned to her friend. “Oh. So, what do we do now?”

“We go to our allocated starting table, and we circle around. Three minutes each.” Jess looked at the list on the wall. “You’re number four, so you start by talking to number five, over there at that table.” She took a long sip of her drink and squared her shoulders. “Okay, wish me luck.”

“You can do it, charmer.” Yael grabbed her drink, stood up, and patted Jess’s shoulder, then went to her table to meet a petite woman with shoulder-length gray hair. Although the woman was already sitting down, Yael guessed she’d probably reach up to her chest with their difference in height. She was also the only one wearing a mask, and it was hard to read people’s expression when their mouths were covered. Not that it mattered; Yael wasn’t here to find a date, but perhaps she’d make some new friends. She didn’t feel like she was doing anything wrong by being here. A lot of people went to speed-dating events to support their friends, and the woman she was currently seeing knew where she was tonight.

“Hi, I’m Yael,” she said, reaching out to shake the woman’s hand as she took a seat.

“Sorry, I don’t touch,” the woman said in a strong German accent, leaning back before she adjusted her mask over her mouth. “Emma.”

“Hi, Emma. Sorry about that. How are you tonight?”

“I’m good.”

Yael waited for Emma to elaborate, but she remained silent. Okay. This is a bit of a rusty start. “Where are you from?”

“I live in London,” Emma said, staring at her stoically.

If she’s trying to be charming, she’s not going to have much luck tonight. “I mean your accent,” Yael said. “Are you German?”


“Okay. I’m from Israel, but I’ve lived in London for twelve years. What about you?”

Emma mumbled something Yael couldn’t understand. It wasn’t her accent but rather her whispering way of speaking that made it close to impossible to work out what she was saying, and with the mask, she couldn’t lip read either.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

Again, something vague, but Yael was pretty sure Emma was asking about her age.

“Oh, okay,” she said. “I’m thirty-four. How old are you?”

“Does it matter how old I am?” Emma said, loud enough for Yael to hear her this time, and she sounded irritated. “Because it shouldn’t matter.”

Oh boy, this isn’t going well. Yael braced herself for a long night, and she was relieved when the buzzer went. “Well, it was lovely to meet you, Emma. Have a good night.” She slid off her stool without waiting for a reply and headed for the next table, where a butch-looking woman was waiting for her. Eyeing her hungrily, the woman introduced herself, and Yael felt mildly uncomfortable as she held on to her hand for way longer than necessary.

“I’m Jackson.” She looked Yael up and down. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes? I think we’re going to get along.”

“Uhm…I’m sure we will,” Yael said, shifting on her stool. “So, tell me about yourself.”

“Why don’t you start?” Jackson suggested. “That way, I’ll know where to find you in case I blabber on too much and our three minutes run out. Where do you live? Where do you work? Where do you hang out?”

“Oh, I’m actually quite private, so I’d rather not go into specifics, but I live in London and I’m in the jewelry business,” Yael said, trying to keep her information as vague as possible. Already regretting coming here, she reminded herself that she was here for Jess, and that she would just have to suck it up.

Did you enjoy this sample? Cupid is a Cat is out on 25/09/2022 and available for pre-order:

Travel tips!

Hello, hello! Lise Gold here with travel tips.

I’m writing this blog because I’ve had lots of emails and messages from people asking me how I’m able to travel so much as a self-published author. The simple answer is that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. I love to travel, and I love to explore. Although the places I visit are beautiful and fascinating, you’ll be surprised at how affordable traveling can be if you’re willing to be creative and open-minded. Luxury hotels and organized tours may be convenient, but they won’t give you a real taste of your destination’s culture, and they will cost you an arm and a leg. However, you’ll have to be healthy and able-bodied when exploring the globe without the help of tour companies, and I appreciate that not everyone can do that. My secret for affordable travel is that I never pay much for hotels. I find real gems for a fraction of the price of a commercial hotel but with way more charm. As traveling is different for every country, I’ll use Thailand as an example.
So, here are some tips that will make a trip through Thailand very affordable.

Flights and transportation

Now that I work for myself, my days of airmile upgrades are over, so I fly economy. When flying long-haul, certain airlines provide super low fares in return for nothing but getting you from A to B. Scoot, for example, does not provide food or entertainment but will get you a return UK-Thailand for £350. For a direct, 13-hour flight, that’s really good. The amount of legroom is the same as with other airlines, and the luggage allowance is almost the same. Make sure you download entertainment (for example, Netflix) on your phone or tablet, bring headphones and an extra battery pack, and bring plenty of water and snacks. In Asia, domestic flights are very cheap, so don’t book them in advance. You may want to stay longer in one place before heading to the next. Use local airlines and fly on the cheapest days.
Be open to different forms of transportation. I love to take motorbike taxis as they’re fast and fun, and if someone offers, I’ll happily jump into the back of an open truck. Alternatively, you can rent a motorbike or a bike. Taxis in Thailand are cheap, but unless I use Bolt, I like to negotiate a price upfront as the meters are often rigged. Bolt provides both taxis and motorbike taxis here. Another great way of traveling in Thailand are night busses. They are very comfortable and air-conditioned, so you can sleep. When you’ve arrived at your destination, walk and get lost. Walking is the best way to soak up the culture, and you’ll find gems you wouldn’t see when driving past in a closed vehicle. If you get lost, there’s always Google maps or just ask away. Check out 12Go for transportation in Southeast Asia. It’s the best website by far. Don’t rent a car. In case of an accident, the foreigner is generally charged, no matter whose fault it was.


If you want a super affordable trip, don’t book everything upfront. You may want to book something for the first two nights while you acclimatize, but while you do that, look around and find your favorite neighborhoods. Also, ask other travelers as they may have great tips. My favorite website is; you can search on location, price, amenities (if you struggle with heat, you’ll probably want a pool), and rating. Hostels are not scary and not only for backpackers in their teens and early twenties. For £10 a night, I stayed in a lovely hostel in Bangkok. I had my own room with a private bathroom, a spacious balcony, and the place was located in a lovely part of town in a quiet courtyard. They had great food and breakfast, and even air-conditioning in the rooms, and the staff was very friendly and helpful. I generally pay between £10 and £15 per night for two people, including breakfast, a chain hotel will cost you ten times as much. Our hotel in Pai was a lovely boutique hotel with beautiful rooms, surrounded by green. It was walking distance from the village, and they even had bikes for us to borrow. The pool was clean and lush, and it was very quiet (apart from dogs, crickets, geckos, frogs, and tropical birds who form a choir at night). I wouldn’t recommend Airbnb in Thailand. There are plenty of places available, but it’s illegal, so it’s not worth the sneaking around pretending you’re the owner’s friend. Here are some pictures of places I stayed for $15 a night.


Don’t be afraid to try new things and eat local dishes. Local food is super cheap in Thailand and so, so good. In an average restaurant, you’ll pay between £2 and £8 for a nice meal, but the best places to sample food are the markets and food trucks. Watch the queues. If the locals go there, it’s generally good, and the reason why is because these food trucks sell only one thing, and they’re specialized in it. So, if you want sticky rice and mango, go to a sticky rice and mango truck with long queues, and you won’t be disappointed. If you’re too tired to go out, download one of the many food delivery apps. Foodpanda and Grab are both excellent here, and they’re incredibly cheap.


Unless you have limited time, don’t book excursions upfront. Excursions booked online can be up to 10 times more expensive than when you book them locally. Check out the different providers (you will spot them along the road in touristy areas), and book them on the spot. Don’t expect an English-speaking tour guide but you will see breathtaking sights and meet new people. Always take plenty of water. Alternatively, you can ask for a taxi or tuk-tuk driver’s number and negotiate a price for them to take you around for the day. The going price is 1100 Baht for ½ day (approximately 5 hours) or 2200 for one day (that’s 60 USD). They’ll drive you anywhere you want and wait for you while you do your thing. They are locals, so they might take you to more exciting places than tour companies would.


Travel light. If you’re traveling through Thailand, it’s unlikely you’ll dress up, so pack light. Have you ever packed an entire suitcase and only found yourself wearing a third of what you brought? You’ll find that in hot climates, you may only wear a fraction of that. Because of the heat and humidity, you’ll want to wear your lightest and most comfortable garments, so think about that before you pack. I always try to travel with hand luggage only. It’s quicker, cheaper and it ensures I never lose my luggage. Bring a hat or a cap for sun protection. If you’re stuck somewhere without much shade, you’ll be glad you did, and you’ll also need a cover-up for your arms and legs if you visit temples. In Thailand, you can do your laundry for £1.50, and no one will care if you wear the same clothes all the time. Don’t waste weight on shampoos or hair products. In humid climates, your hair will look shit, and nothing is going to change that, so use what your accommodation provides. Packing light means you won’t have to pay for check-in luggage on internal flights, and you’ll never have to wait for your luggage.

Work (a little)

If you can, work. For those who work remotely, get permission to work while you travel. In hot climates, it’s easy to get up early or stay up late, so why waste precious holidays when you can work in paradise? It’s a win-win, and that way, you can stay longer. Make sure your accommodation has good WiFi, and if not, there will be plenty of coffee shops that can function as office space. I like to get up at 6/7 am and write, then spend the afternoon doing whatever I feel like, or the other way around. I’m inspired when I travel, so I’m more productive, even if I work half the hours I usually do.

Hope this was helpful, if you’d like to know specifics, feel free to ask!