Laughter is the best aphrodisiac.
Comedian Wren isn’t laughing. Since her fiancé died three years ago, she’s been struggling to keep things together and she’s developed a debilitating phobia of water. When she’s offered a job on a cruise ship, she takes it, hoping it will help cure her phobia and allow her to move on.
Geologist Brett Fortescue knows a sweet deal when he sees one—take his mother on a cruise as part of her bucket list and give her a holiday to remember and, in return, his father will provide him with much-needed funding for his lab. It’s a no-brainer.
When Wren’s and Brett’s paths cross on the glitzy Serendipity, bound for Alaska, romance blossoms. But things aren’t what they seem… Brett realizes that his mother’s bucket-list tour is mired with hidden agendas and that he’ll have to turn his plans upside down to make her holiday memorable. Wren discovers that if she wants to keep her job, she’ll have to out-perform a rival entertainer. For her show to shine, she has to be funny. Problem is, she’s not sure how anymore.
Maybe Brett’s the one who can teach her how to laugh and—more importantly—to love again?
General Release Date: 23rd June 2020
“Are you ready?” Mike asked, standing on the walkway outside Wren’s condo.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replied. “Because I, my friend, was born ready.”
“Stop. You’re killing me.”
“What? It’s not funny? They would have lapped that up at the Comedy Cavern.”
“If you say so,” Mike replied. “So, Miss I’m Born Ready, are you ready to rock and roll?”
Wren ducked back into her apartment. For a second, she glanced at herself in the mirror by the coat rack. She’d tried to look her best for River’s party, not that a bunch of seven-year-olds would notice the lipstick on her bee-stung lips, or that she’d combed her long dark hair until it shone.
She grabbed River’s present of a tub of slime from the shelf in the hallway then, while Mike waited, locked her front door. They were heading to Mike’s son’s party. Mike was Wren’s manager and had always looked out for her, especially during those hard first days, three years ago, when she’d struggled to get out of bed.
They went down the steps of the fire escape, their footsteps ringing on the metal. The sky was gray and it was close to rain, which was typical Vancouver June weather. They crossed the tiny courtyard then stepped out onto the street, where Mike’s car stood parked at the curb. It was missing a hub cap, Wren noticed. It was also filled with helium balloons.
She turned to Mike as he fumbled with his keys. “So, run me through the drill.”
“Gloria’s already at the pool.”
Wren smiled. She liked Mike’s wife, Gloria.
“River’s got seven friends coming,” Mike continued.
“Wow, we’re in charge of seven seven-year-olds?”
“Yes, it’ll be a gong show,” Mike said cheerfully. “So the parents will bring their kids to the pool. Some will stay to swim. There has to be a ratio of one adult to two children in the water.”
“Wait. I’m not swimming, am I? Surely, you’re not expecting me to—”
“Of course not. Calm down. We thought you could be by the side of the pool.”
By. The. Side. Of. The. Pool. The words dropped like pebbles into a very deep well.
She hopped into the passenger seat and soon the car was rattling along Main Street. The helium balloons kept drifting to the front and Wren kept batting them back with her hand. Every time she did that, she and Mike would laugh.
The pool was near her place. She knew the route even though she never went there—a left on 29 then down the lane past the baseball stadium. By the time they reached the parking lot, her heart was racing. She couldn’t see the pool, not yet, but could sense it, waiting for her around the bend.
She and Mike got out of the car and trooped around the back to the trunk. He passed her the cake.
“What type is it?” She peered through the cellophane window of the cake box. “Oh, it’s Pokémon.”
Mike grabbed the balloons and knotted their strings together. “You’ve got this,” he said to Wren.
“Of course,” she said. “I mean, I’ve got to fight this. It’s got to stop. I’m even scared of ice cubes. I have to order my whiskey neat.”
“And my martini dry. Oh, come on.”
“Whatever gets you through.”
They set off across the parking lot, and Wren kept her gaze fixed ahead. Any minute now, they would turn the corner and she would see the pool. It’s only Olympic-sized. Pah, that’s nothing. It’s not like the ocean.
She started to whistle jauntily to prove to Mike that she was okay. Suddenly, she caught a waft of chlorine. The tips of her fingers went numb. She stopped and shifted the cake box into her left hand. She curled the fingers of her right hand into a fist then splayed them out again to help to stimulate her circulation.
She carried on, following Mike, who was way ahead. Only now, she couldn’t quite bring herself to whistle. They rounded the corner and her gaze locked on the pool. The building seemed bigger than she’d remembered, all dark concrete and windows. It loomed like an impenetrable force.
What’s that sound? It’s splashing water. Her chest tightened, the muscles constricting. She took a gulp of air and tried to force the oxygen down into her lungs. Keep calm. Remember what Miss Raffety said. Breathe.
She stumbled on with leaden feet, making wheezing sounds. One side of the building consisted of windows, and now that Wren was nearer, she could see through them to the blue of the water. She leaned against a parked car, clutching her chest. Her ribs were like bands of iron. I can’t breathe. This is it. I’m going to die.
Mike raced back, alarm etched on his weathered face. His T-shirt had risen up over his paunch. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “We’re not even there. Shit, are you serious?”
Wren’s breath rattled.
He took her arm and guided her down onto the curb. Either that or she’d sat down herself. She put her head between her legs like Miss Raffety had told her to do and focused on her breath, holding the air in her lungs for as long as she could before exhaling again.
“I’m taking you home,” Mike said.
“No,” she wheezed. “I need to try again.”
“I don’t have time. Gloria will kill me if I don’t help her.”
Then before Wren had the chance to protest again, he’d bundled her into his car. He reversed, with speed, out of the parking space. She sank down lower in the seat and watched the tops of the buildings and the trees roll past against the dishcloth gray. This was really bad.
When Richard had died—after it had happened—everyone had agreed that Wren had needed to see a therapist to overcome her fear of water. Only she hadn’t been able to afford one, not with the wages the Comedy Cavern paid her. So Mike had taken her to his friend, Miss Raffety, who lived in a semi-derelict house with a more than sensible number of cats. Miss Raffety was studying for a Master’s degree in psychotherapy and had agreed to treat Wren for free so that she could clock up some clinic hours. The problem was that Miss Raffety’s ideas were as kooky as Miss Raffety herself.
So for the last two years, Wren had visited Miss Raffety’s place twice a week, where, over dandelion tea, they’d tried to work through Wren’s phobia, increment by increment. After a year, Wren had passed the first stage, where Miss Raffety had played Wren the sounds of waves then shown her sketches of rivers, then photos of big bodies of water like oceans and lakes, and Wren hadn’t felt like she was about to die.
The second stage had been to visit the pool. Miss Raffety had said that if Wren didn’t pass this stage, she’d switch things up for Stage Three. Wren wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but she sensed that it would be capital-letter drastic.
Soon, Mike was pulling up outside Wren’s house. Wren climbed out onto the curb next to a line of garbage bins. It had started to rain, a slow persistent drizzle, the type that could carry on for days.
Mike leaned across the car and spoke through the open passenger’s door. “I’m going to call Miss Raffety. Let’s all meet tomorrow at eleven a.m. at Hero’s café.”
Wren’s stomach dropped. “To talk about the next stage of my treatment?”
He nodded. “Don’t worry, love. It’ll be okay.”
That failed to console Wren, because it was his standard response to everything. She hung her head. “Good luck with the party,” she whispered.
She crossed the courtyard, trudged to the fire escape and climbed the steps. The higher up she got, the quicker she walked, because soon she’d be back with her Richard.
“I’m home,” she imagined calling to him, as she pushed open the door.
He’d always tried to greet her and had always waited up for her even if he’d worked an early shift at the fire hall.
“Had a good day, Ladybug?” she imagined him saying.
He’d nicknamed her Ladybug at their first date, when she’d rocked up to the ice rink in a fun fur red coat with black spots.
She opened her door, stepped over the recycling box then froze on the mat. He was standing farther down the corridor, leaning against the wall. He looked faded like a photograph that had been left out in the sun. But she could still make out the shape of his muscular body and the blond kiss-curls that trailed into the nape of his neck.
She continued to stand still because she wanted time to freeze and for the moment to last forever. But she must have blinked or done something wrong, because the next thing she knew, he’d disappeared. Her beautiful Richard had gone.
That night, when she went to bed, she brought out the light saber, her trusty vibrator. It made a buzzing sound when she switched it on. She closed her eyes and imagined that Richard was with her. She pictured him running his strong firefighter’s hands up the insides of her thighs. Now his hands were on her breasts and he was dragging his coarse thumbs over her nipples. Moaning, she slid the light saber inside her then brought it in and out, fast, until, with a cry, she came.