The Great Garden Heist (free short story)

The Great Garden Heist (free short story)

Mysterious disappearances are rocking the well-tended flowerbeds of Kettlewick. Could there be more to handsome newcomer Callum than meets the eye?

First published in the Sunday People‘s Love Sunday magazine on 8th April 2018.

***

Abby squinted through the peephole of her front door. Her elderly neighbour Mr Hunter beamed back, his head distorted to mammoth proportions by the glass.

‘Is everything ok, Mr Hunter?’ she asked when she’d opened up.

‘Fine, fine. Sorry to call so early. It’s about this business in the village.’ He glanced warily around the sleepy cul-de-sac. ‘The robberies,’ he mouthed.

‘Yes, I heard,’ Abby said. When you lived in a community like Kettlewick, average age of seventy-five and pension day the highlight of the social calendar, a spate of garden thefts was big news.

‘First Ethel Clutterbuck’s hardy perennials. Then Doreen’s prize sweet peas. Molly’s favourite gnome, the one in the Union Jack swimming trunks. And Sarah swears she saw a strange man making eyes at her busy lizzies.’

Abby suppressed a smile.

‘This modern world,’ she said, shaking her head soberly. ‘It’s come to something when old ladies have to start alarming their gnomes.’

‘Quite. That’s why I popped round. Young girl like you, all on your own… well, I thought these might prove useful.’

Mr Hunter reached into his pocket and yanked out a pair of huge white Y-fronts.

Abby blinked. ‘Wow.’

‘They’re mine,’ he told her proudly. ‘All washed and pressed.’

‘Do you mind if I ask why you’ve brought me your pants, Mr Hunter?’

He lowered his voice. ‘Police believe the thieves are deliberately targeting ladies who live alone. And it can only be a matter of time until they take the next step. Housebreaking!’

‘So… I should garrotte them with your undies?’

‘Hang them on your washing line. Then if they come for your begonias, they’ll think you’ve got a man about the house.’

Mr Hunter looked so pleased with this cunning plan of his, Abby didn’t have the heart to send him and his undercrackers packing.

‘Thank you,’ she said, taking the pants gingerly. ‘That’s… very thoughtful.’

‘You’re more than welcome, dear.’

He headed back next door, leaving Abby blinking at the baggy Y-fronts.

‘Not really your colour, are they?’ a deep voice observed. She looked up to see a young man with laughing eyes leaning against a removal van parked across the road.

Abby hastily stuffed the pants in the pocket of her dressing gown. ‘My neighbour. He, um… has these ideas.’

‘Racy neighbourhood. The best I’ve ever been offered is a cup of sugar.’

Her cheeks flamed. Something about the twinkle in the man’s dark eyes – not to mention the fact he’d just caught her in her dressing gown, manhandling an OAP’s tighty-whities – seemed to have brought on her blush reflex.

He came over and held out a hand.

‘Callum Beresford.’

‘Abby Samson,’ she said, shaking it. ‘So you’re this grandson Mrs Beresford loves to boast about. The landscape gardener, right?’

He smiled. ‘Shameless, isn’t she?’

Abby glanced at the removal van outside Number 35.

‘Your grandmother isn’t moving out, is she?’

‘No, I’m moving in,’ Callum said. ‘Nana’s been struggling a bit since my grandad passed away. She gets… confused. It was a choice between me coming to help out or a care home, so, here I am.’

Abby was impressed. Callum Beresford must have a pretty 50-carat heart beating underneath the roguish grin to drop his old life just like that.

‘Well, nice to meet you, Callum,’ she said. ‘Welcome to Kettlewick.’

***

‘Sal. Wait,’ Abby panted, clutching at a privet hedge.

Every muscle in her body was aflame. It was safe to say she wasn’t one of nature’s joggers.

‘Lightweight.’ Her friend Sal grinned. ‘I thought you wanted to get in shape.’

‘Not… this… badly,’ Abby gasped.

Sal laughed. ‘Go on, we’ll take a breather then.’

As Abby recovered and her breath returned, her hazy vision started to clear. They were on Wisteria Lane, the balmy air drenched with violets and pollen. Further down the road she could see a figure in one of the gardens, sidling furtively.

Suddenly she threw herself down behind the hedge, pulling Sal with her.

‘Ow! What did you do that for?’ Sal said, rubbing her arm.

‘It’s him!’ Abby hissed.

‘Him who?’

‘Callum Beresford. He  just moved in across the road.’

‘And we’re hiding from him because…?’

‘Just a feeling. Can you see what he’s up to?’

Sal peeped through the topiary.

‘You sly mare,’ she said, smirking at Abby. ‘So he’s what the fitness kick’s in aid of, is he?’

‘Never mind that. What’s he doing?’

‘Picking something up.’

‘What?’

‘Can’t see. He’s putting it under his coat… getting into a car…’

Abby heard the purr of an engine as Callum sped away.

‘So what was that all about?’ Sal asked as they stood up.

‘Not sure.’ Abby shot a worried look after the car. ‘But I’ve got a bad feeling.’

***

It was 2.15am and Abby was staring at her bedroom ceiling.

‘The man’s a landscape gardener,’ she muttered. ‘So why shouldn’t he be in a garden? Abby Samson, you’re ridiculous.’

But he’d taken something…

Oh, this was silly. Landscape gardening couldn’t be so badly paid that Callum needed to flog pilfered gnomes on the side.

Maybe he was some sort of garden-obsessed kleptomaniac. Once he clocked an unguarded clematis, he couldn’t help himself. He just had to –

Abby stopped. There was a shuffling sound coming from outside.

Ugh, not Mr Hunter’s Yorkie digging up her flowerbeds again. The little bugger was a dab paw at escapology. She got out of bed and tramped downstairs.

When she reached the kitchen, she stopped short. In the faint orange glow of a nearby lamppost she could see a shadowy figure, armed with trowel and fork, digging in her begonia patch.

The garden thief!

She unlocked the back door and flicked on the porch light.

The silhouette looked up at once. It rose and walked towards her.

Well, we all have to go some time, Abby reflected, feeling light-headed. Some go quietly in their sleep, others get hacked to bits with garden implements.

‘Aha!’ she yelled when the figure reached her, snatching up an old dishcloth. She held it up in front of her like a matador, which seemed to make sense at the time.

Only it wasn’t a dishcloth.

‘What’re you planning to do, smother me with them?’ Callum asked in an amused voice.

Slowly, she lowered Mr Hunter’s Y-fronts.

‘You!’ she hissed.

‘Me.’

‘You’re the one who’s been preying on lone women’s shrubberies! Aren’t you?’ She raised the pants a little, feeling safer behind their broad expanse. ‘Mr Hunter said you’d be after my begonias.’

‘After your…’ Callum shook his head. ‘Abby, I swear, my intentions towards your begonias were entirely honourable.’

‘Yeah? I saw you on Wisteria Lane today.’ She gave Mr Hunter’s pants an accusing flap. ‘Sneaking something into your jacket.’

‘It wasn’t what it looked like, I promise. Look, can I come in?’ Callum glanced down. ‘And could you stop pointing those underpants at me in that threatening manner?’

***

Abby’s eyes were wide. ‘Your nana?’

‘It’s like she’s forgotten how things work,’ Callum said, morosely swirling his Horlicks. ‘Three times she’s been caught shoplifting.’

‘But I saw you take something.’

‘No, you saw me swap something.’ He sighed. ‘It started when Grandad died. He’d promised Nana her dream garden, but he passed away before he could finish it.’

‘So…’

‘…Nana’s finishing it. She sees something she wants, she takes it. Abby, she doesn’t realise it’s wrong.’

‘And you’ve been putting everything back.’

He nodded. ‘Then a quick trip to the garden centre, replace it before she notices.’

‘What were you swapping?’

‘Gnome mix-up. Mrs Callaghan got the lad in the Union Jack briefs belonging to Mrs Florizel.’ He shot her an anxious glance. ‘You won’t tell anyone, will you? About Nana?’

‘Course not.’ She looked up to meet his gaze. ‘I’m sorry I accused you, Callum.’

‘And threatened me with loaded pants.’

She smiled. ‘That too.’

‘You’re forgiven,’ he said, squeezing her shoulder. ‘I’d better go. Sorry about the scare, Abby.’

***

‘Abigail!’ Mrs Beresford said when she answered her door the next day. She was heavily made-up as always, in a flapperesque sequinned dress. ‘Dear girl! Come in at once and have a sherry.’

‘It’s a little early for me, Mrs B.’

‘Nonsense,’ she trilled. ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere.’

Overruling Abby’s objections, Mrs Beresford got them drinks. Abby claimed an armchair and sipped at the syrupy alcohol, feeling like Christmas.

‘So what brings you to see me?’ Mrs Beresford asked.

‘A present.’ Abby handed over the gift bag she was holding.

‘For me?’

Abby smiled. ‘I thought you’d appreciate him.’

Mrs Beresford peeked into the bag and squealed.

‘Handsome devil!’ she breathed, taking out the garden gnome in his red smoking jacket. ‘Oh, I must see how he looks with the others.’

Abby followed her out to the garden, where Callum was planting sweet peas. He wiped dirty hands on his jeans and joined them.

‘Callum, look what darling Abigail brought!’ Mrs Beresford held up her new gnome proudly.

‘How kind of darling Abigail,’ Callum said, smiling. ‘He’ll fit right in.’

He nodded to a cluster of garden gnomes around a little pond.

‘Go on, Nana, do the honours,’ he said, giving her a squeeze. His grandmother tottered happily off down the crazy paving.

It wasn’t what you’d call a tasteful garden. Gnomes and colourful ornaments abounded. Mismatched flowers in yellow, pink and blue socialised with joyous energy, but no real harmony. Yet it was obvious that to Mrs Beresford, her jolly, haphazard little garden was a slice of paradise.

‘So is this revenge then?’ Callum muttered to Abby.

‘It was supposed to be an apology.’

‘Seriously? Do you know the pain it gives a landscape gardener, all those gnomes?’ He smiled as he watched Mrs Beresford select a spot next to a coy Marilyn Monroe gnome for her new addition. ‘They make her happy though. Thank you.’

‘I really am sorry I accused you of shrub theft.’

‘And I’m sorry I interfered with your begonias.’ He turned to face her. ‘Let me make it up to you?’

As if reading their expressions, Mrs Beresford finished gnome-matchmaking and turned her attention to them.

‘Do you have lunch plans, Abigail?’ she called. ‘Callum’s taking me to the Black Heifer.’

‘Will you join us?’ Callum asked. ‘My treat? I do feel really bad about those begonias.’

Abby smiled. ‘I’d like that.’

He was looking at her keenly, dark eyes sparkling.

‘So would I,’ he said. ‘Very much.’

In her garden sanctuary, Mrs Beresford smiled.

A Question of Us wins romantic comedy award

I’m thrilled, honoured and frankly astounded to announce that A Question of Us has won the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Romantic Comedy of the Year 2020 Award!

The trophy was presented at a glitzy ceremony in London on 2nd March, by comedian Jenny Eclair.

I’m so proud that A Question of Us was chosen by the judges from such a strong shortlist, and very grateful to the Romantic Novelists’ Association for their efforts in supporting romance novelists and recognising excellence in the genre over the last sixty years. I could only have dreamed of winning a RoNA back when I started writing in 2015, and it’s going to take a very long time for it to sink in. It really is a dream come true!

 

A Question of Us shortlisted for romantic comedy award

I’m delighted to announce that one of my books has been shortlisted for the Romantic Novel Awards (RoNAs) in the Romantic Comedy of the Year category for the second year in a row.

A Question of Us centres around a West Yorkshire pub quiz team, the Mighty Morphin’ Flower Arrangers, as they compete in their town’s inter-pub quiz league. The stakes are raised when team captain Clarrie accepts a bet from her best friend Simon that if they win, she’ll go on a date with him. As victory looks increasingly likely, Clarrie is forced to question what she really wants out of life – and love…

A Question of Us is one of five finalists to make the category shortlist for romance novels that are consistently funny, with 500 entries submitted for the awards overall.

The awards ceremony will take place at the Leonardo Royal London City Hotel on 2nd March, when shortlisted authors will find out who has won in their categories. Awards will be presented by comedian Jenny Eclair. Other nominated authors include Jojo Moyes, Sophie Kinsella and Strictly Come Dancing star Anton du Beke.

Mary Jayne says: ‘I’m thrilled and honoured to see my name on the shortlist alongside so many talented people, and can’t wait to raise a glass or two to the diamond anniversary of the Romantic Novelists’ Association at the awards event. The RNA is a wonderfully supportive organisation for its members and I’m proud to be a part of it.’

Since its inception in 1960, the RNA has promoted excellence in romantic fiction. RNA Chair Alison May commented: ‘The shortlists this year show the fantastic range of romantic fiction being produced by hugely talented authors. In the RNA’s 60th year it’s heartening to see the genre in such good health, and to see such an exciting mix of established and up-and-coming writers taking romantic fiction forward into the next sixty years.’

Previous winners of the Romantic Comedy Award include heavyweights Milly Johnson, Jenny Colgan and Jill Mansell.

A Question of Us: English slang glossary!

As a reference for US readers and others from outside the UK, I thought it might be helpful to produce a glossary of English/British slang terms and cultural references in my Yorkshire-set book A Question of Us. Some of these are specific to the north of England, others are used throughout the country. And yes, I know what you’re thinking: we Brits certainly have a lot of euphemisms for sex and drunkenness. I’m not sure what that says about us as a nation!

  • A-Levels – exams taken at age 18
  • afters – dessert
  • all right? – greeting. Means “are you well?” but doesn’t necessarily require an answer!
  • Argos – British shop where items are ordered from a catalogue
  • arse over tit – head over heels
  • arse – bottom
  • backhander – bribe
  • bagsied – staked a claim to something
  • Baltic – very cold
  • banging (exclamation) – great
  • Bash Street – reference to The Bash Street Kids, a long-running school series in British children’s comic book The Beano
  • bawdy – loud; raucous
  • beanie – warm knitted hat
  • bellend – an insult
  • The BillBritish police drama
  • bird – woman
  • biscuit – cookie
  • bitter – a type of beer
  • Blockbusters British quiz show
  • bloke – man (informal); guy
  • bloody – mild curse word
  • boffed – had sex with
  • (to) bollock (verb) – to tell someone off; give them a bollocking
  • bollocks (exclamation) – expression of frustration. Can also mean “bullshit”, as in “talking bollocks”
  • bollocks (noun) – testicles
  • bonking – having sex
  • boobs – breasts
  • booze – alcohol
  • bouncer – nightclub doorman
  • boxers – boxer shorts (male underwear)
  • brew up – make hot drinks
  • bugger (exclamation) – mild curse word
  • bugger (noun) – mild insult
  • bugger all – nothing
  • buggering up – screwing something up; making a mess of something
  • bugger off – get lost
  • bum – bottom
  • butty – sandwich (northern English slang)
  • cadge – scrounge; beg (northern English slang)
  • can’t be arsed – can’t be bothered
  • Carling – a brand of lager beer
  • Carlsberg – a brand of lager beer
  • (to) chat someone up – to talk to someone in a flirtatious way
  • cheers – thanks. Also used as a drinking toast
  • The Chippendales – male stripper act
  • chips – French fries
  • chuddy – chewing gum (northern English slang)
  • chuffed – pleased; happy
  • cig – cigarette
  • cop off with – make out with
  • coppering up – counting out amounts of money in small change
  • copper – policeman
  • Countdown British quiz show
  • cracking (exclamation) – great
  • crisps – potato chips
  • cuppa – cup of tea
  • daft – silly; foolish
  • Dear Deirdre – agony aunt column in British newspaper The Sun
  • (to) deck someone – to beat them up
  • dicking about – messing about
  • did a bunk – ran away; split
  • dim – stupid
  • div/divvy – idiot
  • a dive – a dump; a dirty or unpleasant place
  • dogging – sex with strangers in a public place
  • doing it – having sex
  • do one – get lost; go, leave
  • Eton – prestigious English private school for boys
  • fag – cigarette
  • (to) fancy someone – be attracted to them
  • fanny – vagina
  • fannying – messing about
  • fib – a lie
  • Fifteen to OneBritish quiz show
  • fit – sexually attractive; hot
  • fiver – five pounds
  • (to) fob someone off – make an excuse
  • GCSEs – exams taken at age 16
  • geezer – man; cool person
  • Gents – men’s public toilets
  • get off with – make out with
  • (to) get one’s end away – to have sex
  • (to) get one’s leg over – to have sex
  • getting you done – telling a tale on you
  • git (noun) – mild insult
  • give him/her one – have sex with him/her
  • give over (instruction) – stop
  • give up (instruction) – stop
  • gob – mouth
  • going off on one – displaying a fit of anger
  • going out with someone – dating them
  • Gold Run – a round in British quiz show Blockbusters
  • hammered – drunk
  • (to) have someone on – to attempt to fool someone
  • head/headteacher – school principal
  • heyup – hello (informal; northern English)
  • hiya – hello (informal)
  • HP – a brand of brown sauce
  • jelly – jello
  • johnny/rubber johnny – condom
  • knackered – tired; exhausted
  • knee-trembler – orgasm
  • knickers – female underwear
  • knobbing – having sex
  • knob – penis
  • knockers – breasts
  • knockout (exclamation) – excellent
  • Ladbrokes – chain of UK betting shops
  • Ladies – women’s public toilets
  • lad – boy
  • lager – a type of beer
  • lager lout – drunken, badly behaved person
  • lairy – loud; raucous
  • landlord/landlady – the manager of a pub
  • Landlord – a brand of ale
  • lass – girl
  • launderette – laundromat
  • leathered – drunk
  • lippy – lipstick
  • the local – your local pub
  • loo – toilet
  • love (noun) – term of endearment (northern English)
  • lunchbox – slang for male genitals when covered by clothing
  • Lynx Africa – a brand of deodorant
  • manky – dirty or gross
  • mardy – miserable; sulky (northern English slang)
  • mate – friend (informal); used in a similar way to US “buddy”
  • mobile/mobile phone – cellphone
  • Nessie – the Loch Ness Monster
  • Newky Brown – Newcastle Brown ale
  • (to) nick something – to steal it
  • nits – head lice eggs, common in young schoolchildren
  • Nobby’s Nuts – a brand of salted peanuts
  • on a promise – having a guaranteed offer of sex
  • on the job – having sex
  • on the pull – trying to find someone to hook up with
  • Oxfam – charity that runs a chain of second-hand (thrift) shops
  • pack it in (instruction) – stop it
  • pants – male or female underwear
  • papers – newspapers
  • Penguin – brand of chocolate biscuit
  • pet (noun) – term of endearment (northern English)
  • pictures (as in “going to the pictures”) – cinema
  • pillock – idiot
  • pissed – drunk
  • pisshead – drunken person
  • pissing about – messing about
  • PointlessBritish quiz show
  • poorly – sick; ill
  • posh – upper-class; sophisticated
  • primary – primary school (age four to eleven)
  • pub crawl – a walk from pub to pub, stopping for a drink in each
  • pud/pudding – dessert
  • (to) pull – to successfully hook up with someone; score
  • punch-up – a fight
  • quid – a pound
  • Rag Week – fundraising week at UK universities in which stunts and pranks are staged to raise money for charity
  • randy – lustful; horny
  • Reception – the first year of primary school (age four to five)
  • RE – Religious Education
  • Rich Tea – brand of biscuit (cookie)
  • roasties – roast potatoes
  • round (noun) – when you buy a drink for everyone in your group
  • (to) scoff – to exhibit disbelief; also, to eat greedily
  • scuffer – scruffy or low-status person (northern English slang)
  • secondary – secondary school (age eleven to sixteen or eighteen)
  • settee – couch
  • shagging – having sex
  • sixth form – the last two non-compulsory years of secondary school (age sixteen to eighteen)
  • skint – short of money; poor; broke
  • slag – sexually promiscuous person; slut
  • slammed – drunk
  • slap (noun) – make-up
  • slaughtered – drunk
  • smack (noun) – heroin
  • smartarse – person who is smugly or ostentatiously knowledgeable; clever clogs, smarty pants
  • smashed – drunk
  • snog – French kiss
  • snug – small, semi-enclosed area in a pub, historically used by those who didn’t want to be seen in the public bar
  • sod (noun) – mild insult
  • sod off – get lost
  • soppy – overly sentimental
  • the spit of you – the spitting image of you (i.e. looks just like you)
  • squaddie – soldier
  • stag do – bachelor party
  • stroppy – argumentative; having an attitude
  • swotting – studying hard
  • swot – a studious or clever person
  • taking the mickey/the Michael/the piss – mocking; making fun of someone (also “ripping the piss”)
  • ta – thanks (northern English slang)
  • tea – as well as the drink, in the north of England this refers to the evening meal
  • telly – television
  • tenner – ten pounds
  • Tesco – British supermarket
  • thick – stupid
  • thump – punch
  • Top GearBritish car review TV show
  • trackie bottoms – sweatpants
  • trollop – promiscuous woman
  • tuppence – two pence
  • twat – an insult
  • University ChallengeBritish quiz show for teams of university students
  • uni – university
  • V-sign – a rude gesture made with two fingers
  • wacky baccy – cannabis
  • (to) wang something – to throw it
  • wanker – an insult; unpleasant person or idiot
  • Waterstone’s – bookshop chain
  • weed – cannabis
  • wendy house – children’s play house
  • willy – penis
  • wind-up merchant – someone who frequently mocks or teases
  • (to) wind someone up – to tease or attempt to fool someone
  • WipeoutBritish quiz show
  • Yorkshire pudding – savoury batter pudding served with a roast dinner
  • Z-CarsBritish police drama