We are so excited to share with you the adorable cover and exclusive excerpt of Christmas for Commitmentphobes by Rhoda Baxter, out December 1st!
At Christmas time, the last thing you need is;more commitments.
Lara is so busy trying to get her fledgling software company off the ground that she’s up in Yorkshire, pitching for business, just before Christmas. When bad weather sees the trains cancelled, the only place she can find shelter is a small pub called the Trewton Arms.
Thilini (‘Tilly’) loves that her art helps feed her travel addiction. She’s back in England for Christmas after two years away and can’t wait to be on the move again.
When they meet their attraction is hard to deny. But what happens when the trains are running again and they have to go their separate ways?
Excerpt / Chapter One:
Lara clicked onto the last slide. “In conclusion,” she said. “I think we would be able to provide you with a bespoke logistics solution that would cut your fuel costs and reduce downtime between stages, saving you both time and money.” She smiled at the room.
Her audience, four men, did not respond for a moment. They caught each other’s eyes.
“Have you got any questions?”
One of the men leaned back in his chair and hooked his thumb in his belt. “I have a few questions about the software,” he said.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “No offence love, but it’s quite technical.”
Lara forced down her instinctive response. “The research the software is based on is, is mine. I often instruct the technical guys. I should be able to help.” She drew a breath. “If I can’t answer, I can certainly get you the information from someone who can.”
He exchanged a glance with his colleague, the corner of his mouth twitching. “It’s about the way it tracks how long the boys have been driving and logs it. How do you ensure it’s secure and compliant with GDPR? You know, the general data protection rules.”
She knew what GDPR was. She also knew that the software was processing the data only for the purposes of allowing the drivers to carry out their jobs. She had already explained their data safety protocols. There was no real conflict here. The fact that these people assumed she would be confused by any of this annoyed her beyond measure. She had helped design this software. Technically, her role was fundraising and coordination, but as a co-founder, this was as much her product at her colleague Toby’s.
Still, sexist clients were part and parcel of this business. She stuck on a smile and launched into an explanation. It might have been a tiny bit more technical than necessary, but he had wanted technical.
“Does that allay your fears?” she said at the end.
“Er…” The first guy looked at his colleagues, one of them was nodding, the other two looked baffled.
“Basically,” she said. “We don’t interfere with your employee management software. The limited amount of information that comes to our system is kept secure. There is no issue with GDPR.”
There was a silence in the room. Lara could tell how this was going to go. They were interested in the results, but would feel more comfortable if a man had delivered it. There was nothing wrong with the product. If Toby had delivered the pitch, they’d be shaking hands and inviting him to the pub by now, but Toby was off on paternity leave and new sales person didn’t start until January, so she had to do it by herself. She could tell that she wasn’t going to be able to swing the decision now, so she went for plan B.
“It’s a fairly big decision, so why don’t I email you the information and the quotation and you can take a bit of time to think about it. Get back to me next week?” It took effort not to grit her teeth. “You’ll probably have to talk to my colleague Toby, rather than me, but I’m sure he’ll be able to process this for you.”
It was nearly Christmas. These guys would probably leave it until after the holiday anyway, so she’d chase them next month. By which time, Toby would be back from pat leave and he could do that thing where he made the client laugh and then somehow closed the deal.
The shift in the mood of the room was subtle, but they seemed happy with that. It was only a little white lie. She opened her folder and extracted a few sheets. “I’ll just leave you copies of the projections.” She slid the papers to each of the men, then quietly packed up her laptop.
“Have you got far to go to get home, love?” said another man. They had all called her ‘love’ so far. It was so irritating.
“London,” she said. “So a few hours on the train.”
“Doesn’t look nice out there,” he nodded towards the window. It was already getting dark, even though it was only four o’clock.
Lara peered out of the window and saw swirling white flakes. “It’s snowing?” Oh great.
Tilly looked out of the window at the motorway signs and wondered how to say no to her friend Diane’s suggestion without being rude.
“Why don’t you take a bit of time to think about it? Get back to me after Christmas,” Diane said, as she took the jeep into the right lane.
“I dunno…” She was sitting in the front of Diane’s dad’s jeep. The back of the vehicle was crammed full of Diane’s Christmas stuff, one small Christmas tree and Tilly’s backpack. “It’s not really the sort of thing I do. I do more painting than sculpting. Anyway, I feel uncomfortable working to a brief you wrote specifically for someone else’s skillset.”
Diane sighed. “I know, I know. But you could make it your own. All it said on the proposal was that it would be a landscape sculpture. We submitted the brief with Don’s drawings, but given the exceptional circumstances, they’ll let us substitute the artist, so we should be able to substitute your style for his. I’ve seen your stuff. It would work.” Diane threw a glance across to her. “And you did say that your mum complained that she hasn’t seen much of you. You’d be based in England. You could go home more often.”
Tilly laughed. “Yeah. Mum would like that. Not sure how well I’d cope though.”
“Aw. Your mum’s lovely,” said Laine. She scowled out of the window. “Bugger. It’s snowing or sleeting or something.”
In the yellow motorway glow, white flakes splattered against the windshield faster than the wipers could clear it off. Diane turned them up a notch.
“If the weather is going to slow you down, just drop me off in the next town and I’ll get a train to this place.” Tilly got out her phone and started looking up Trewton Royd.
“Don’t be silly. We’re in a four wheel drive. There’s nothing that we can’t get through in this old girl.” Diane gave the steering wheel a pat. “Besides, I’m not going to abandon you somewhere just because the weather is crap. What kind of a friend would that make me?”
“A … fair weather friend?”
Diane glanced over at her and laughed. “That’s a terrible joke.”
“I’ve missed you, I really have,” said Diane.
“Missed you too, mate.”
“No, I mean, genuinely. I love that you want to travel the world and stuff, but dear god, I miss having you around.”
Tilly smiled. “Aww. That’s … nice to know.” The search results popped up on her phone. “This pub looks nice,” She said. “Let’s hope my brother resists the temptation to lecture me about staying in one place.”
Diane didn’t take her eyes off the road. “How’s Vinnie getting there? I hope he’s not driving his little car in this weather.”
“He said he’s taking his girlfriend’s private car or something.” Tilly shook her head. “She’s some sort of internet millionaire person.”
“He always did like his high maintenance girlfriends,” said Diane.
“This one isn’t high maintenance, according to Vinnie. Even if she was, she’d be able to pay for it herself. She can’t drive, though. Hence the car and driver.” Tilly settled back in her seat. “Mum’s hoping he’ll stay with this one. She really likes her.”
“Your mum likes everyone.”
“No she doesn’t. She pretends she likes everyone.” She tilted her head and looked at the darkness sliding past outside. The chances of her mum approving of someone she brought home would be pretty slim. Her parents said they were okay with her being gay, but every time she went home, there were comments about her lifestyle. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what the problem was. She had never bothered to take a girlfriend home to meet them. What was the point?
“Tracey, that’s Vinnie’s girlfriend – Her aunt owns the pub we’re going to be staying at over Christmas,” Tilly continued. “I’m really looking forward to this. Not just seeing Vinnie, obviously, but you know, proper English Christmas. I haven’t had a good old fashioned roast dinner in ages. Vinnie says the village is proper idyllic too.”
“And just think, if you took over Don’s part of the arts council grant … you could see Vinnie all the time,” Diane said. “It’s tied to the ‘northern powerhouse’ region, so you’d be up this way anyway.”
“Seriously, Tilly. Why not? It’s paid work. You can definitely do a good job of it. What are you afraid of?”
“I’m not afraid of anything,” said Tilly. She folded her arms. “I just don’t want to rush into anything.”
“It’s a job, mate. Not marriage. You do it for a year. It’s not a long term commitment. We all know you don’t get on with those.”
“Don’t you start. I get enough of that from mum… and the big brothers.”
“Maybe they have a point?”
For a few minutes there was silence, apart from the hum of the engine and whump, whump of the wipers. Tilly stared sulkily out of the window. This was why she’d stayed away last Christmas. The holiday seemed to bring out the worst in people when it came to judging her. She liked having no ties. What was so wrong with that?