Summer loving, all year long.
On the surface, The Playboy of the Western World isn’t just a production Piers Neale had great success in—it’s the way he lives his life. But he’s not so much love ’em and leave ’em as it’s women loving his so-called ‘glamorous’ lifestyle…and leaving the ordinary, real man underneath. World-weary Piers never expected to fall for any woman, yet a closed-off accountant auditioning for the summer production entranced him at first sight.
Except…Cara wasn’t exactly there about a role in the play. She’s the external auditor appointed by the borough council to evaluate its assets, especially the non-performing kind—one of which is the theatre. The handsome, charismatic Piers simply swept her off her feet. The vulnerability beneath his façade calls to Cara, just as he brings out the long-buried woman in her. But can a true relationship bloom between a couple both wearing disguises? And what will happen when Piers and Cara shed their masks—if they can?
Reader advisory: This book contains references to anal sex and to adultery.
General Release Date: 25th August 2020
There couldn’t be many people, Cara reflected, who came face-to-face with a dinosaur as they went about their work. She hadn’t ever, before she found herself staring at— “Brian, you said?” she asked the gallery attendant who was giving her a tour of the small museum. The elderly man nodded, leaning against the information placard while Cara walked all around the brontosaurus skeleton, which had an entire room to itself. Or himself, should that be?
“I didn’t expect…” She gave up her comment halfway through calling it over to the guide—she’d realised he was hard of hearing as soon as they’d toured the first exhibits of Market Oakleigh’s town museum. But it was true. While palaeontologists, say, or Hollywood special effects gurus might well be confronted with dinosaurs as part of their daily tasks, by-the-book accountants didn’t really think they’d be looking over the bones of a prehistoric mammal. Well, okay, three bones, with the rest plastic, to reconstruct the exhibit, but she wouldn’t mention that.
Why Brian? she wanted to know, but kept it to herself. In her job, she was used to being cagey. Like here. The woman running the ticket desk and small shop in the foyer had asked if she were a visitor to the town, and Cara had replied yes, she was new in town, would be working there for a little while. She’d kept it vague, not saying she was there to undertake a project for the town council, to get an understanding of its balance sheet, to make a comprehensive list of the council’s holdings and glean a professional grasp of their market values. And God knew the stuck-in-the-past market town, for all it was the biggest in Montfordshire, needed a thorough overhaul of its portfolio of assets.
Accountancy as a profession had a lot of secrecy and guardedness, to ensure client confidentially, and in her branch of it, that extended to the actual nature of what she did, looking into and evaluating properties and resources that people took for granted. It didn’t take much to set people off, speculating and rumour-mongering, fearing the worst and sometimes bringing it to pass…
Tiny dark pink and bright yellow pieces lodged into a crack of the wooden floorboards caught her eye and, needing as always the fullest picture possible, she had to ask about that.
“Confetti?” Facing the guide, she pointed. “There are parties here?” She couldn’t imagine it, in this hushed, half-dark room with its smell of sawdust, rope and camphor.
“Mainly weddings!” the man replied, wiping at his greying moustache with a very white handkerchief. “Had one not long back, with the party in the garden out there.”
“Really?” She narrowed her eyes and appraised the room and its capacity, calculating the prices a unique space like this could command.
“Oh?” Her interest had caught the man’s attention. “Looking for a place to hold your happy event?” He peered at her ring finger, which was bare.
“Oh, no.” Cara shook her head, sending a long brunette tress of hair loose. Weddings tended to need a partner, and she didn’t have one. Hadn’t had one in a good, long while. Hadn’t had a boyfriend, even, in a long while. And when was the last time she’d had sex? A while… “I’m just curious, you know?” About what a wedding and reception venue adds to the value of this small, square brick Victorian building. Talking of… “I’d like to see the garden, if possible.”
He nodded, dabbing at his watering eyes with a thin hand before returning the handkerchief to his pocket. “I’ll show you before we go back to the main hall, Miss.”
Cara let him lead the way from the room, his slow pace allowing her to calculate the number of chairs that could be accommodated here. She could ask the woman on the desk for the information, of course. And the specs should be on file at the Market Oakleigh Town Council offices, where she’d be working for the duration of the project. Should be, but even a cursory look around earlier had shown her that up-to-date, logical organisation wasn’t the hallmark of the council.
Seeing other visitors in another room of the museum almost startled her. The Anglo-Saxon burial hoard and the area done up like an Edwardian grocer’s shop had been empty, as had the small garden, with its pretty borders of zinnias and geraniums, but the homage to the local manufacturing industry attracted people? Oh, not so much the hosiery looms or footwear frames but the man-made materials produced in the 1960s. Fashioned into brightly coloured and patterned minidresses, they were being studied as part of a project by two college-aged girls. Hmm…
“Thank you very much.” She smiled at her guide, who led her safely back to the foyer, or main hall. “Do you accept tips?”
He bristled at the sight of the pound coins in her hand and led her to the slot in the wooden counter of the shop, and its Contributions gratefully accepted sign. Thanking him again, Cara dropped a few coins in then studied the rack of postcards. There were more photos of Brian than anything else, even more than there were pictures of Queen Elizabeth visiting the town during its mid-nineteenth-century white-hot manufacturing heyday. Cara couldn’t resist buying a card of Her Majesty being presented with a floral minidress and white go-go boots as gifts for her then-teenage daughter, Princess Anne.
“Is there a café?” she asked the woman.
“In Market Oakleigh?” The woman looked confused. Of course there were, along with restaurants, hotels, pubs, stores…
“In here.” Cara pointed around the foyer. She didn’t think so. There was no whir of beans being ground, or any aroma of coffee or milk, and definitely no scent of muffins baking. “Some museums have them,” she finished weakly.
“What, like a Starbucks or a Costa? Here?”
Cara was still apologising as she headed out into the morning. Yeah, there wouldn’t be much foot traffic to provide clients for a chain coffee shop in the former schoolhouse building. It was hardly the heart of the town. She wriggled her nose to get rid of the dust she felt in it and, when that didn’t work, took out a tissue to blow it, reminding herself of her guide with his gleaming white hanky.
She hoped the resemblance ended there. Even stooped with age, he’d been taller than her five-foot-three. She wished she were taller, to stretch out her…not dumpiness—Cara was working on switching negatives for positives, like all the magazine articles and self-care books said—hourglass figure. And if it’s an hourglass, I know where most of the sand’s settled.
Not being in an office or at a desk on a weekday put her in a holiday mood, the sun helping it along. It made her drop herself down on a bench just outside the museum building and take out the postcards she’d just bought. Which would her mother like best? Probably the more colourful one, and, like Cara, she’d wonder how the Queen kept a straight face with all that she had to deal with in meeting her subjects. Yes, the picture of the museum itself Cara would keep as a souvenir. She collected them, from the places her auditing or holdings assessment jobs took her to.
Out of habit, Cara started to write her own address on the back of the card to her mother. Well, hardly surprising. Her mother had lived with her on and off until recently, and it took Cara a second to remember the address of the friend Lisa was sharing a house with now—now that she was sure she wasn’t going to try to make another go of it with Cara’s father. Cara forced her lips not to thin and fold, but it was hard not to feel a little resentful that Lisa was finally starting divorce proceedings now, and not, say, at any point during Cara’s childhood.
“Better late than never,” she said, lifting her head but not seeing the warm county town street or its trickle of pedestrians. She did focus on the middle-aged man staring down at her, though.