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This page is intended to give you a taster of DIANA BRADLEY's first novel, CAPPUCCINOS.

Below is an extract from the opening Chapter...
Excerpt

He had been warned many times not to take the short cut through the narrow track at the side of the white cottage. But, as far as Vincent was concerned, rules were only made to be broken. He turned off the lane and onto the gravel track – the ground crunching beneath his running shoes as he ran alongside the garden with its neatly trimmed lawn and vegetable patch. As he reached the orchard area a Doberman raced at the other side of the fence barking loudly and its teeth visible as it snarled angrily. It made several attempts to jump the wire fence but eventually gave up. As Vincent reached the end of the track a window opened and a voice cried,

‘I won’t tell you again. This is private land. I’ll call the police next time.’

Vincent smiled to himself as he turned onto the canal path. He didn’t bother to look round and just casually held up his middle finger in the air. The old man waved his fist in defiance before slamming the window shut with a resounding thud, his face crimson and creased with irritation.

Once on the tow path Vincent quickened his pace, the perspiration on his t-shirt displayed the energy he’d put into the run on the early September evening. A woman with a black Labrador was approaching and stood to one side to let him pass. He nodded in acknowledgement and the dog, held by the collar in the woman’s grip, waited patiently before being released on its walk. As Vincent neared the end of the towpath he quickened his pace for the last half mile, then turned right onto the country lane and crossed the bridge. His apartment block came into sight with its glass exterior glinting in the sun.

He crossed the car park and came to a stop. He leaned forward, and placing his hands on his knees, he panted and drew in deep breaths. He was just about to stand straight when he saw two grey kittens emerge from beneath his Porsche – he kicked out at them and they ran off. He scowled as he entered the foyer of the apartments and walked across the black and white tiled floor. Henry, the elderly concierge, was behind his desk reading a newspaper. He saw Vincent approaching. ‘Good evening, Mr Bellini,’ he said, placing his newspaper beneath the counter.

‘Evening, Henry. Any messages?’

Henry turned to look at the pigeon holes behind him. ‘No, Mr Bellini. Nothing today.’ He placed his hands on the desk. ‘I believe tonight is a celebration for you? Party at Cappuccinos?’

‘That’s right,’ replied Vincent. ‘Been trading for exactly a year now. And it’s the best coffee house in Loxley.’

‘Yes. You’ve been lucky with that business.’

Vincent paused before speaking. ‘Yes, that’s right, Henry. But isn’t it strange that the harder I work the luckier I become.’ He crossed the foyer with a triumphant smirk on his face, and pressed the button for the penthouse. He was just about to enter the lift when he held the door and glanced back at the desk. ‘Do me a favour, Henry. Those cats have been near my car. I don’t want to see them again. Understood?’

‘Right,’ replied Henry. He glanced towards the car park and saw the two kittens scuffling together. The one underneath freed itself by using the strength of its back legs and then pounced on the other. ‘That bastard, Bellini, he said to himself as he picked up the phone to make the call that would ensure the kittens were never seen again.

 

 

Vincent turned the key in the lock of his penthouse and let himself in. The smell of Chanel filled the hallway.

Zoe, dressed in a white robe, appeared. ‘Hi,’ she said, placing a kiss on his lips. ‘You’ve just got time for a shower then we must set off.’

‘No rush,’ he said, taking her in his arms and feeling her slim waist beneath her robe.

She pulled away playfully. ‘Vincent, you employed me to organize the party for Cappuccinos – we don’t want to be late.’

He held up his arms in submission. ‘Okay, okay. I can take a hint.’

‘Go and take that shower,’ she said, ‘while I get dressed.’

In the shower he let the hot water run over his body, soothing his aching muscles. Then, in his dressing room, put on a grey suit and a pale blue shirt.

‘Now this,’ said Zoe, holding up a grey and silver tie, ‘will complete the outfit.’ She slipped it under his collar and tied it in a double knot. ‘There,’ she said, stepping back and admiring her choice.

He glanced at his watch. ‘We’ve plenty of time. Let’s have a drink on the balcony,’

‘Wonderful,’ she said. ‘I’ll just change into my outfit. Make mine a G and T.’

He saluted. The ice cubes in the glasses crackled as he poured out the gin. He slid open the wall to wall glass doors and stepped out on to the balcony. He was looking over the railings when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw Zoe dressed in a short sparkly black dress. He looked her up and down, noting her slim waist and long legs in dark stockings. ‘Wow,’ he said, ‘you look magnificent.’ He stepped back for a better look. ‘This dress is certainly made for you.’

‘Thank you,’ she said, picking up her drink and moving to look over the marina below. ‘Do you know people would spend a fortune for a view like this.’

‘I do,’ he said. He leaned with his back against the railings and stared at the apartment. I’ve got 2400 square feet of heaven here. Enough space to do whatever I like.’

‘I presume,’ she said, clinking the ice in her glass, that being in the property game you also see this place as an insurance policy?’

‘Of course. Property can only appreciate in price. But, I don’t see myself selling the penthouse in the foreseeable future. I feel far too comfortable here.’

‘I feel the same way every time I stay over,’ she said. ‘Hard to believe we only met a month ago when I took on the planning of the party for Cappuccinos. Now look at us. A proper couple.’

He frowned, creating deep furrows on his brow, as he picked up the glasses and took them through to the kitchen.

She followed. ‘Did I say something wrong?’

‘No,’ he said, placing the glasses in the dishwasher, knowing that tonight was not the moment to mention he was beginning to feel stifled by her company. He shut the machine door with a thud. ‘I think we ought to get moving. As you say, we don’t want to be late. Not tonight.’

 

 

By eight o’clock the party was in full swing. Guests were enjoying champagne and canapés. The mayor and lady mayor drew up in a black chauffer driven car and stepped out to be greeted by Vincent and Zoe. But they were somewhat upstaged by the entrance of Jonathon Daley accompanied by a glamorous blonde in a red dress. Two photographers from the national Press stepped forward and snapped as they entered Cappuccinos. Vincent stepped forward. ‘Jonathon,’ he said, offering his hand and shaking the footballer’s palm firmly. ‘It’s so good of you to come to my little soiree.’

‘It’s a pleasure,’ he replied. ‘Oh by the way I’ve some complimentary tickets for a box for Saturday’s game.’ He reached in his jacket and presented them to Vincent.

‘Cheers,’ said Vincent, looking at the tickets before placing them in his pocket. His glance then went to the young lady. ‘And who,’ he said, ‘is this charming creature?’

‘This is Felicity,’ said Jonathon.

She offered her hand which Vincent took and kissed letting his lips linger for a few seconds. She smiled. ‘Hello, Vincent. I’ve heard such a lot about you.’

‘All terrible I hope,’ he replied, still holding on to her hand which felt soft and smooth within his.

‘On the contrary,’ she said. ‘All good. I believe you are big in property.’

‘I like to think so,’ he said, reluctantly releasing her hand.

Jonathon was suddenly surrounded by guests.

Vincent took Felicity’s arm. ‘Come with me and I’ll get you a glass of champagne. They walked to the counter. He picked up a glass and handed it to her. ‘So,’ he said, ‘what do you do, Felicity? Now don’t answer, let me guess,’ he paused, watching her smile display perfect white teeth. ‘I think you must be a model. Or, maybe in show business?’

‘No. Completely wrong,’ she answered. ‘In fact I clean pictures.’

‘Clean pictures? How do you mean?’

‘Restoration. Pictures get damaged. They fade. I take them back to their former glory.’

‘Oh, I see,’ he replied. ‘Sounds fascinating. So do you need any qualifications for your picture cleaning?’

‘Yes, I have a degree in fine arts.’

Vincent smiled and winked. ‘So,’ he said, ‘brains as well as beauty.’ In his mind he suddenly had a vision of Felicity leaning over an old master in a very short skirt, but he then brought himself back to the present.

She sipped her champagne. ‘So,’ she said, ‘how did you get into the coffee business?’

‘I’m half Italian. As a boy my father sent me to my uncle’s coffee house in Verona during the summer holidays. I learnt the trade from the bottom up. The science of coffee making.’

‘Coffee making is a science?’

‘Of course.’

‘In what way?’

‘Well for a start you have to learn how to slow roast the beans to deliver the true flavour. You learn how to develop a rich taste without losing the natural oils.’

‘And you were a waiter in Verona?’

‘Yes. Or, as we Italians say. A barista.’

‘I imagine you were very good at it,’ she said.

‘I was. You see what customers expect is charm.’

‘And you had it by the bucket load.’

‘Exactly,’ he said, finding it difficult to keep his eyes off her cleavage. The red dress she wore had a slit at the side and, when she perched on a stool, he could see a great expanse of leg. He moved closer to her as a member of the Rotary club squeezed by. Her long blonde hair touched his face. ‘So, Felicity, how long have you and Jonathon been going out together?’

‘She laughed. ‘Actually, this is our first date. We only met at a party last weekend.’

‘I see,’ he said. ‘Well I hope you won’t think me forward but I’d like to take you out for dinner one night. I could tell you a bit more about the coffee business. And you could tell me more about your pictures.’

She reached in her evening bag. ‘Here is my business card. Give me a call.’

Vincent placed the card in his pocket and took two glasses of champagne off the tray that Lucy offered as she passed.

Jonathon made his way through the crowded room and took Felicity’s hand. ‘I see you two are getting to know each other.’

Felicity flushed slightly and avoided Vincent’s gaze.

‘Look you two,’ said Vincent, ‘enjoy the party. If you’ll excuse me I must circulate. He crossed the room shaking the occasional hand and kissing the cheeks of lady guests. He watched as Lucy and Tiffany finalized setting out the buffet. Now, he thought, is a good time to say a few words. He picked up a fork and tapped it on one of the tables. ‘Ladies and gentlemen. Could I have your attention please.’ A hush gradually descended on the room and all eyes turned to him.

‘Firstly, I’d like to thank you all for coming tonight. Cappuccinos, as you know, is celebrating its first birthday. It hardly seems a year since we opened our doors – and what a successful year it has been too.’

‘Here, here,’ shouted a male voice at the back, followed by a short round of applause. Vincent raised his hand in response.

‘Little did we know at the time just how popular Cappuccinos would turn out to be.’ The sudden flash of a Press camera did not disturb his flow. ‘I am,’ he said, ‘immensely proud of my Italian roots and to have been given this opportunity of opening my very own coffee house in the town. There was another round of applause and Vincent put up his hands in gratitude. ‘Now this is not going to be one of those long speeches but I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks to everyone for their support over the last twelve months. And I mean everyone – from the architects who came up with the design, the builders who knocked down walls and transformed the place we are now standing in, to Zoe who arranged this party with military precision, and last but not least our waitresses on duty tonight, namely Lucy and Tiffany. Now without further ado,’ he added, picking up his glass of champagne, ‘I’d like you all to join me in a toast.’ He held up his glass. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Cappuccinos.’

The guests raised their glasses. ‘Cappuccinos’.

He took a sip of champagne and smiled. ‘Now, let’s get on with the party. Food is being served. So enjoy.’ Across the room he spotted Zoe. She was deep in conversation with the mayor’s wife and several others using her hands to reinforce some technical detail. She looked up and caught his eye. He crossed the room and took hold of her arm, apologising to the group for taking her away.

‘You’ve done an excellent job, Zoe,’ he said, placing an arm around her waist. This place has really come alive tonight.’

‘Thank you, Vincent. But don’t forget it is my job – planning events.’

‘I know, but you’ve really pulled out all the stops on this one, haven’t you.’

‘Well yes. But I’ve had a more personal involvement with this event. Haven’t I.’

She helped herself to a glass of champagne and placing the glass to her lips took a sip.

‘I think,’ said Vincent, ‘that I’ve got a few deals on the table from tonight’s party. And of course the publicity will definitely bring in more punters.’

She placed her glass on the counter. ‘Honestly, Vincent. The problem with you is that money always comes first.’

He waved at someone across the room then turned his attention back to her. ‘That’s the name of the game, sweetheart.’

‘Correction!’ she said. ‘That’s the name of your game, Vincent.’

‘If you say so.’

She glanced at him with her dark eyes. ‘Will you ever stop wheeling and dealing?’

He sighed heavily, his forehead creasing into a frown. That will only happen when they hammer the nails into my coffin.’

She laughed loudly and then took another sip of champagne. ‘And you’re not joking are you.’

‘No, I never joke about money.’ He looked round the room and saw guests surrounding the food table. He tapped her on the bottom. ‘Now, back to work young lady.’

As he moved through the throngs of guests he was wondering whether Zoe would be of any further use to him once the celebrations were over. She had, he had to admit, done an excellent job. He couldn’t fault anything she’d done. And, as an added bonus, she was bloody hot in bed. But, he had a busy schedule ahead, and with new plans on the drawing board he’d be too occupied to be wining and dining anyone. He was just reaching the food table when an arm grabbed him. He looked round to see the short stocky man beaming at him.

‘Frank, you old bastard,’ he said, laughing loudly. ‘I didn’t recognise you without your old anorak and cap.’

‘Christ, Squire,’ he replied, ‘I’m a builder. I get my hands dirty for the likes of you.’

Vincent looked him up and down and grinned. ‘But I’ve never seen you in a suit before.’

‘Good reason for that, Squire. I hardly ever wear one.’

Vincent stepped to one side to let a couple pass. ‘Yes, I’d guessed that.’ He drew in a deep breath. ‘Is that mothballs I can smell?’

‘You cheeky sod,’ replied Frank. ‘Mind you,’ he said, stepping forward and feeling the material of Vincent’s lapel, ‘I notice we don’t have the same tailor. Where did you get this?’

‘Armani,’ replied Vincent.

‘An army what?’ said Frank, his fingers stroking the lapel again.

‘Let’s just say it’s expensive.’

‘Now why doesn’t that surprise me,’ replied Frank, moving to one side to avoid bumping into a guest who was busy in conversation. He stepped in closer and lowered his voice.

‘By the way, Squire. What do you think about the Express Coffee Company opening a branch in the town? Won’t it affect your business?’

Vincent stopped drinking his champagne. Tiffany, who was passing with a plate of canapés stopped to offer him one. He waved his hand and she moved on. ‘Express Coffee Company, you say?’

‘Yes. Planning to open on the High street. Good position too.’

Vincent’s jaw stiffened and he nervously checked his tie. ‘So how did you come across this information?’

‘Saw the drawings at the town hall. To be honest, Squire, I thought you’d know.’

‘No I didn’t. What with being so busy and the party I’ve not been down there for several weeks.’

‘Look, I’m really sorry to drop this on you at the party.’

‘No, its okay, Frank. Thanks for telling me.’

‘No problem, Squire. Look I’m off to get something to eat. I’ll catch you later.

’Vincent’s mind was suddenly racing. If the Express Coffee Company opened in the town it would hit him hard. They were a large concern. And they were good. Loxley was not a big town. He had captured the market, but for how long? Now, moving through the crowds shaking hands and chatting, there was in the pit of his stomach an enormous knot. He watched Zoe in the distance talking to Jonathon Daley. Lucy was behind the counter filling glasses. Tiffany was moving through the crowds with a tray of canapés. He glanced at his watch. In eight hours Cappuccinos would be up and running for its second year. The doors would be open and the coffee machines humming. But, if the Express Coffee Company moved into the town, Cappuccinos and his Italian dream could be gone forever.