Free Stuff

Let’s be honest here, I want you to buy my stuff. I’m not gonna lie to you, that’s my main aim. I absolutely love writing. I love it! But I want you to love it too and one of the best ways I know of to give you a chance to love it is to give you a little sample for nothing.

So here goes, the first couple of chapters of Poppy’s Proposal, I hope you like them.

11

 

Acknowledgements

Props to those who’ve assisted me in the production of this book. Cover art images are all taken from Open Clipart and Public Domain Vectors. Also check out what Derek Murphy has to say about publishing and marketing your books on CreativIndie.

Dedicated to my girls, who put up with me being a misery guts who’s often incapable of simple, day-to-day interactions. Love you all.

Got something to say? Email me at gavin.ough@yahoo.com

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Chapter 1

Is there any chance we can book in today, Poppy?” The diminutive, red-faced man demanded. I took in his balding head, the angry set of his mouth, the bored looking, overdressed wife behind him and his glare which had been directed at my breasts.

Typical of the summer guests who booked into the Helmsman, this couple was middle-aged and miserable. They came to Old Hampton in droves to lie on the golden sands, go as red as boiled lobster, spend most of their holiday drunk, try out a swingers party or two and either go home better for it or separately.

Yes, of course, sir,” I said in my most obsequious, subservient voice. “If you would be so kind as to write your name and address down here, I can find your booking,” I added, watching the sweat break out on his forehead and balding pate. He snatched the Bic from my hand and scribbled something barely legible on a piece of card. “Please feel free to relax in the hotel bar…” he cut me off with an angry grunt.

Oh I see how it is, Poppy. You can’t find,” he twitched his fingers in air quotes, “our reservation but we can go and spend money in the bar.”

Where I’ll arrange some complimentary refreshments,” I said, making him look and probably feel stupid. “Feel free to leave your luggage, it’ll be perfectly safe here.”

The pair strode off with the wife falling obediently into step behind her husband who stamped off like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

No, thank you, sir,” I whispered as they disappeared through the lounge doors. Grabbing the phone I called the barman who I was disappointed to find wasn’t Aussie Greg.

Awright Pops?” Jimbo Danes’ Cockney accent crashed into my ear. “Whachoo after?”

Don’t call me Pops, Jimbo,” I said. “It makes me feel like I’m in an American sitcom. I’ve got a heads up for ya,” I warned him. “I’ve just sent you a pair of morky buggers for some freebies while I get Techno Alan to fix the PC again.”

Cheers, dorlin,” Jimbo said.

I tapped a couple of keys on the old phone and called Techno Alan. He answered on the third ring.

Miss Peters, I assume,” he said in his high-pitched, feminine voice. Alan was so familiar with the Helmsman’s number and who was on reception by now he knew it’d be me.

Morning Alan, you’ll never guess what?” I said in a falsely chipper voice.

Don’t tell me,” Alan said, playing along. “You won the lottery, bought the hotel and you’re going to knock the place down to make room for your new meditation centre?”

Shockingly not,” I said. “Can you come and rescue me, Alan?” I whined. He laughed.

You know I’m only sitting here waiting for your call, Poppy, gimme a sec and I’ll be round.” I hung up, thanking the Gods of PC World that Alan only lived about five minutes down the road.

As I was flicking through the frayed pages of an antique book, attempting to decipher the scrawled hieroglyphics misery-guts gave me in the vain hope someone actually wrote down the booking, I heard the falsely cheerful voice of Sheila Masters.

Morning Poppy.”

One half of the Laurel and Hardy duo that owned the Helmsman, Sheila was, unfortunately, Oliver. Short and round with a ruddy complexion and one of those bottoms that stuck out, almost at right angles, making it look like she was wearing Victorian skirts.

Computer’s packed up, again,” I said to her uninterested face.

Call Alan!” Sheila said as she whisked past the reception desk in a cloud of Avon Rose perfume.

Christ did she buy it in bulk?

Already have!” I said in the same high-pitched voice Sheila used.

Wordlessly she closed the door, sealing herself in her little cocoon of Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Heat and Hello magazines. I felt a sigh explode from me and wondered why Sheila even bothered coming in when all she did was hide in the office all day. The other owner, Jonathan Green had only ever made one appearance during my whole tenure of five years.

True to his word Techno Alan – all six and a half feet of him – slunk through the front door. Wraith-thin with a pale complexion and protruding Adams Apple, I thought he’d probably been called beanpole or something like it at school, kids being as inventive as they are. Acne scars marred his cheeks and chin making his face look a lot like the surface of the moon. Square-framed glasses and wild eyes completed his look and he smiled nervously as he almost tiptoed across to where I waited.

Morning Poppy, did you wind the mainspring?” Techno Alan asked, tittering at his standard joke. I must have heard it thirty, forty times and been unamused from the first but Alan still snickered every time.

You know it, Alan,” I said distractedly still flicking through the guest book for misery-guts’ booking.

Techno Alan slipped behind the desk and tapped the keyboard a few times, reset the system and generally fiddled with stuff. Afterwards he dropped to his knees and dragged the sepia toned, dusty tower system from under my desk. I stepped back a few paces, seemingly to give him room to work but actually because now he was knelt down, Techno Alan was at groin level with me.

I sat on my little chair and carried on searching for misery-guts’ booking. Eventually I saw something that looked a bit like what he’d scribbled. I grabbed the phone immediately and with PC guts around my feet, called Clive the Gopher.

“Yo!” He answered his little phone. “You on board with the Clive-ster, whaddup home-girl?” I smiled in spite of the stupid, faux-American voice he put on.

“I’ve got some bags need taking to room two-oh-four, Clive-ster,”

“And what about their luggage?” He asked laughing like like a sea-lion mating. “Be down in two shakes,” he said. I waited for the obligatory addition. “And more than two shakes is a wa…” I hung up.

Clive the Gopher did anything and everything round here. All the shitty jobs no one else wanted to tackle as well as repairs, portering and rolling the stinky bins out when they were due to be emptied, but he was always happy and joking. Just turned twenty, he lived with his parents and hadn’t really shaken off his teenage years yet so this was where he was stuck until he matured a bit. I couldn’t talk, I’d been here five years and there wasn’t much hope of anything else.

I called Cockney Jimbo to tell him he could send the miserable couple back through whenever they were ready.

She’s a goner this time,” Techno Alan said from my crotch. I looked down into his eyes as he shook his head. “It’s a new base unit or nothing unfortunately,” he actually looked sad that his techno-savantism or wizardry had failed and he had to admit defeat.

I’m in awe you managed to keep it going this long,” I said, trying to make him feel a bit better as the lift doors opened and Clive the Gopher appeared.

He had on painting overalls, white dungarees splashed with every colour the Helmsman was coated with and a grey t-shirt underneath which might actually have read ’Pornstar in Training.’ Thank God the dungarees covered most of the words, Sheila would have gone mad if she caught sight of it. Clive made some hand-gestures at me which I thought were supposed to be gangsta and pointed to the only luggage in the foyer with a questioning eyebrow. I nodded as Techno Alan started harvesting bits of green board up into a bag like he was picking Minecraft lettuce. Clive roughly handled the miseries luggage into the lift, kicking one of the bags so hard I heard it smack off the back wall. The doors closed and he was gone.

I can’t understand why you’ve never given Sheila a quote for a new system, Alan,” I said.

I did, about six months ago, cheapest price I could do on a year old base unit and installation. She said it wasn’t cost effective.” I shook my head.

No but spending all day sat on your big ass reading about celebrities is?

The stupid thing about it is, I’ve charged more in those six months, repairing this old thing, than the other one would have cost,” he shrugged. “But you can’t tell some people.”

Are you going to tell Sheila we need a new one?” A wicked little grin spread across Techno Alan’s face and with his proximity to my privates, something odd shot up through my belly.

WTF? Techno Alan!

My pleasure, Poppy,” he grunted, unfolding himself from the floor like a six foot pen knife. Knocking on the office door, Techno Alan let himself in and I prepared for the histrionic attack Sheila was about to throw.

A door opened to my left and the rotund, balding Mr Enthiss emerged still red faced, but with alcohol now, his wife in tow.

Jimbo told us we could check in,” he said to me in a much nicer tone.

Thanks Jimbo, you always manage to diffuse the live ones.

Certainly, sir,” I completed the registration and handed over the keys, telling them their luggage had already been taken up and how to get to their room. They both lumbered off towards the lift and disappeared into the upper levels of the Helmsman.

I spent the rest of the day fielding calls, trying to figure out who was supposed to be checking in to where and greeting guests. Techno Alan emerged from the office and gave me a thumbs up before grabbing the remains of the computer and telling me he’d try and dump the data from the hard drive but not to get my hopes up – whatever all that meant.

On time as usual, evening receptionist Lisa Clarke strode in, all model looks and perfect hair. Why she worked here was a mystery, apart from it giving her the opportunity to lounge around on the beach all day checking out the men who strutted about her in Speedo’s to display their wares.

Hi Lisa,” I greeted her. “You’re in for some fun today, the PC’s gone,” Lisa made her way round the reception desk and gazed down at the gaping hole left by the computer’s absence, screwing up her face.

You’ve had Techno Alan down there sniffing your frou-frou all day then?” She asked with a shudder. “He creeps me out.”

Lisa!” I gasped but had to giggle at her turn of phrase. “He’s not that bad,” she grimaced and shivered again. “Taxi Dave outside?” I asked.

Taxi Dave’s outside,” she confirmed.

Taxi Dave was like a big brother to me. A big, stocky, square-jawed rugby player of a man with short brown hair and green eyes. In a deal with the Helmsman, Taxi Dave had agreed to ferry some of the girls to and from work for free in exchange for us recommending him to guests. His big Mercedes was luxurious and comfy, like a living room on wheels.

Hi Dave,” I dropped into the passenger seat, belting in.

Poppy!” He said as if he hadn’t seen me for ages. He’d only dropped me off that morning. “Good day?” I grunted and regaled him with my day as we sailed through Old Hampton’s streets.

What about you, Dave, anything exciting happen?” He laughed.

What, driving round these harrowing streets?” His Welsh accent came through strongly as he talked. “No, nothing exciting. I had egg and cress salad for lunch, though.”

Careful Dave, living on the edge like that,” I said as he pulled up outside my house. “See you,” I said. He winked at me.

Bye, love,” Taxi Dave said before driving off.

Up the two steps and in through the front door. The scent of baking bread made my stomach growl. My house mate, Rhea, liked to bake and cook, so I counted myself lucky there was always a meal on the table – or near it at least.

What you making?” I asked without saying anything else. We’d known each other since school so Rhea knew I needed feeding before I made any kind of sense.

New lasagne recipe, babes and some French bread to mop up the juice.”

I started salivating like Pavlov’s German shepherds before I even got to the kitchen.

There she stood, petite and dark haired, which earned her the nickname Pixie at school. Rhea was in her element in the kitchen, the oven glowed and I could see the dish inside with short loaves underneath. Her plan was to buy her own restaurant so she was always coming up with some new version of classic dishes to serve there. Of course that meant she needed a taste tester which is where I came in. I was bravely resigned to the fact I would just have to take one for the team.

The downside of eating Rhea’s delights was that I had to do all the washing up while she relaxed with a glass of chilled wine behind me. I was up to my elbows in yellow Marigolds and soap suds as she interrogated me about the Techno Alan incident.

What,” Rhea said in her deep, sexy voice. “He was down on his knees and all he did was grin and you…?”

Yes,” I squeaked, so embarrassed I couldn’t turn round.

Techno Alan?”

Mm-hmm…”

Are you gonna…?”

Hell no!” I shouted. “Techno Alan? He’s a nice enough guy but no thanks,” I finished the dishes and dumped my gloves, poured myself a glass of wine, watching the last few drips land in my glass like sad tears. “Where’s all that gone?” I cried holding up the bottle. Rhea shrugged innocently.

Evaporated?” She asked flippantly. I pursed my lips. “Rob’s coming over later,” Rhea said. “Is that okay?” I fixed her with a look.

You’ve already arranged it and now you’re asking?” She grinned at me impudently. “Yes. Yes, it’s fine with me for you to get it on while I remain celibate,” I threw my hand up in front of her as soon as I heard her take a deep breath. “And don’t start about Techno Alan.” Rhea laughed her filthy chuckle as I escaped to the shower.

***

Hi, Poppy.” Rob greeted me later. “How’s things?”

All right I suppose. You?” I was comfortable with Rob. He’d been with Rhea for what seemed like forever so answering the door in my pyjamas was no problem.

Same old, same old, you know,” he said, following me in.

Your woman’s ready and waiting in her room, you know the way.”

Rob grinned and made his way upstairs. I cranked the telly up to drown out the sound of their antics. A sad twinge of jealousy cut through me at the thought of what they shared. It wasn’t that I fancied Rob or wanted to keep Rhea for myself, I just wanted a bit of what they had. There had been a few hints they might be talking about getting a place together too and a finger of fright crept into my chest when I thought about having to either move out or find someone else to share with.

Chapter 2

Bright morning sunlight warmed me as I walked to work the following day, wondering what it might bring. I liked the walk through Old Hampton, especially along the beach front, past the droves of hotels that provided competition with the Helmsman. The Narrowcliff Hotel and Hotel Bristol, the Cliffdene and the Marina. Most of them were small in comparison to the Helmsman, houses that had been converted into B+B style places or bigger buildings purpose built as hotels but they were in nowhere near the same league as the Helmsman.

The Dickensian, brick built, Victorian Helmsman came into view as I rounded the corner. It had been built on an odd, lone hill giving it incredible views over the land around it. Gothic features and dark gargoyles glared down at me making the old manor house look imposing and inhospitable. With its white painted window frames and well tended gardens – Clive the Gopher again – this place was like a second home to me. I came here straight from school with a smattering of crap GCSE’s and was welcomed into the building’s warm heart. The Helmsman was like a sinister great-aunt. At first look she was imposing and severe but once you looked inside she was warm, inviting and friendly.

I approached the hotel with a hint of trepidation gripping me. I loved it there but I was wondering if it was time to move on.

The black front door swung inward on silent hinges the size of my wrist and I stepped into the foyer. This was definitely a major attraction for the place, twin marble columns supported a pair of oak staircases so thickly coated with decades of wax they shone like mirrors. Wood panelling continued along both walls to about waist height and a green, marble effect wallpaper had been added above. Brass wall lights capped with milky glass shades cast light over everything chasing the shadows into the corners. I took a deep breath smelling the familiar, ever so slightly musty, scent of the place, letting it calm me.

I took over from Jane who worked the night shift when Lisa finished at midnight. I watched as she trotted off, shoulders slumped and whole body sagging. Home to wake her gaggle of children, get them fed and ready for school before cleaning up their mess and grabbing a few hours sleep then beginning the whole process again. I watched as she waddled through the foyer hoping I never ended up in the same situation. Dumped by her husband and left with three kids to look after, having no choice but to work two jobs, one at night here.

G’day, Poppy,” Aussie Greg said as he walked in from the lounge. The sound of his voice lifted me instantly and I turned to gaze upon his Antipodean God-like physique. I had something of a girly crush on Aussie Greg and made sure to examine his muscular body through his tight silk shirt and trousers.

Hi Greg, teaching today?” I asked. Greg had come here to give surfing lessons to the locals and holidaymakers here.

Sure thing, I’m off to catch some waves first though.” He was just that little bit taller than me and that would have made us a perfect fit. Tanned, with sandy-blonde hair and that muscular body that wasn’t stocky but really well defined.

I watched Aussie Greg’s perfectly sculpted bottom walk away and sighed a little. It had been a while since my last relationship and I thought maybe I should make a play for him.

Yeah, and what’s he gonna see in you? Especially when he’s surrounded by bikini clad girls all day throwing themselves at him?

I sighed again and began my day. There were a few scribbled notes from Lisa and Jane letting me know vital bits of information. One from Lisa read.

Morning babes,

Keep an eye out for the new guy in room 104 – he’s a hottie and single by the looks of things. Maybe you should have a crack at him, eh? He looks rich too, find out what he’s in town for. If you don’t want him, let me know and I’ll have a go. Catch you later,

Lisa x x

I smiled as I read her note, wondering if Jane had had a look and what she thought about it. I was curious to see who was in room 104 now and had a look in the resurrected guest book to find out his name. Andrew Castleton.

I know that name, where from? Where from?

It eluded me at that moment so I carried on with my day, catching up on paperwork and dealing with guests until Techno Alan pushed through the door with a big box.

Looking at it with interest, I assumed it must be a new computer and wondered how he’d managed to persuade Sheila to part with the cash for a new one.

Hi Alan, is that what I think it is?” He offered me a wide smile as he strode towards me.

Believe it or not, it is,” he said, chattering about gigs, ram and CPU speed. I had no idea what music, sheep or resuscitating someone had to do with it though. I used computers but had no idea how they worked.

He dropped to his knees next to me and opened the box, almost reverently removing the big white chunks of polystyrene as he did. Even I watched as he pulled out a sleek, black plastic box and set it gently on the floor. Once he’d plugged a few things in the back he pushed the shiny new PC into the hole where the other had come from and I saw it was half the size.

Alan pinched my chair and flicked the computer on. I noticed there wasn’t a new screen to go with the base unit but beggars couldn’t be choosers. He turned the screen on and I watched in awe at the Windows logo already bidding me a welcome. The old one gave me time to make a coffee and drink it before I could even think about moving the mouse. A few icons flashed up down the left hand side of the screen and Techno Alan clapped his hands once, grinning like a teenager that was about to get laid.

I’ll have to set up the programs, Poppy, but I reckon I can have you up and running by this afternoon.” He said.

That’s good, Alan,” I said, getting why Lisa thought he was creepy. “Will all the bookings be on there?” His face fell a little bit then.

Ah, no. I couldn’t retrieve any of the files from the old hard drive, sorry.”

It’s okay, Alan, we’ve got it all written down,” it still looked like he was going to cry and I thought about patting him awkwardly on the back when I got the sense someone was watching me.

My head snapped up and I found myself looking into the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, just staring back at me. The owner was an incredibly gorgeous looking man with strong cheekbones and a serious haircut. He oozed businessman but his look pinned me in place unlike all the other businessmen who treated me like I was invisible. I could see he was well put together under his expensive suit, muscular and fit, and all I wanted to do was peel him out of it. We stood looking at each other in silence for at least a minute until I recovered my wits.

Good morning, sir, i-is there anything I can help you with?” A slight curving of his lips let me know he knew I was flustered.

Good lord but he’s hot.

Morning,” His gaze hovered over the name tag pinned to my jacket for a moment longer than necessary to read it and I wondered if he was deliberately staring at my breast. “Poppy,” he added. His voice deepened when he said my name and I felt my face heat in a blush. “Castleton, room one-oh-four,” he had a classic English voice, not plummy but with no trace of an accent. “I was wondering whether you have a lost property box?” All I could do was nod mutely. “Ah, excellent,” he breathed and my confusion grew. It felt as if I was being pulled towards him, as if he was a magnet and I was a lump of metal.

Andrew.

Yes, Andrew. He was incredibly good looking with a mischievous little smirk on his mouth. His kissable mouth. He had bright red lips – without any lippy – they were plump and as he approached I could smell him too. An expensive mix of citrus undertones and spices which awoke a memory in me.

I’d sneaked into one of the rooms a couple of years ago, when I knew the guests were out, because the room service maid, Helena, told me there was a bottle of aftershave in there worth more than two hundred pounds. I’d had to have a sniff. I found a small, jade green bottle in the en-suite and read the name ’Clive Christian 1872’ the smell of it woke my senses and I knew the man before me wore the same scent.

I have something I believe a former guest left under the bed,” he said.

Oh?” I wondered, drawn back into the present by his words.

At least I am sure it’s not mine.”

Well, thank you for bringing this to our attention, sir,” I said.

My pleasure,” he said. It was then I saw Andrew Castleton – why did I know that name? – had one hand behind his back. I looked up to see the mischief had spread to his eyes and his smile was even larger than before.

What is this, some kind of wind-up? If Lisa’s put him up to…

My thoughts were completely scattered as he brought his hand round to show me the longest, thickest, dildo I’d ever seen. I felt my jaw actually drop as I took in the sight. Sensibly he’d wrapped the thing – looked like a bludgeon – in loo roll but there must have been a good three inches of thick rubbery plastic jutting from either side of his fist! Oh and it was green too. I swallowed, completely mortified.

I’m gonna kill you, Helena, you’re supposed to check under the beds!

As Castleton brought it forward, I could see thick veins running up and down the evil looking thing.

“May I leave this with you, Poppy?” I could tell by his voice he was amused by this find and my reaction. I had to fold my lips between my teeth to stop the laugh that was threatening to explode from my chest.

Of course, sir,” I managed to squeak and his expression turned into a devilish grin as I grabbed a box from under the desk.

Yes! I’ve done i…oh!” Techno Alan piped up from behind the desk. His eyes widened as he saw the implement Castleton was offering me and looked quickly back down at the screen.

Castleton placed the dildo in the lost property box almost reverently and I got it out of sight as quickly as I could.

I am so sorry, sir,” I said. It came out muffled fingers as I’d clamped my hand over my mouth.

Oh, it’s perfectly understandable, though I did need it gone as it took up so much room beneath the bed I wasn’t able to stow my suitcase.” I couldn’t help but laugh at that and he smiled warmly at me.

Still, if there is anything I or the Helmsman can do to make this up to you?” I offered and his eyebrows rose.

Anything, eh?” He said. “Would you let me take you out to dinner?”

For some reason I descended into girly mode and looked up at him through my eyelashes. Inside I was in turmoil.

Shit! What do I say? He’s way out of my league! And a guest! But he did ask me and I’m not supposed to disappoint a guest.

I’d like that, sir,” I said, surprising myself. He smiled again, half pleased, half amused and my tummy flipped at the sight.

Maybe you should call me Andrew,” he said. I blushed again, but nodded. “So, how about tonight?”

God NO! I need a week to prepare!

Yes,” I heard myself say.

Shit! What? Why?

Around seven?”

Okay.” I said shyly. We arranged to meet and I called Taxi Dave to take him to whatever meeting or conference he was in town for. Stupidly, I had a spring in my step all day.

***

Taxi Dave dropped Lisa off later and I jumped in next to him.

All right Poppy, how are you?” His Welsh was really coming through today and I smiled, loving his accent.

Great thanks, Dave, what about you?”

Good, good. Looking forward to the match this weekend.”

Rugger training going well?” He nodded and grinned at me.

We’re going to steam roll those boyo’s, Sunday,” he said. I didn’t suppose you should tell a rugby player to break a leg so I went with a simple,

Good luck.”

We fell silent as Tesco slid by on our right and I tried to be smooth when I asked him about Andrew.

Oh, did that guest make it to his meeting on time?”

Which one?” Dave asked.

First of the day,” I said. “Quite tall, black suit.”

Oh, you mean Andrew,” my stomach fell as I thought they must have been talking about me. “He weren’t going to no meeting, though, wanted me to take him right out to Penpol Mansion for some reason. Said to leave him there and he’d call me when he wanted picking up. Left him a card, I did,” Taxi Dave shrugged. “Whole place looked empty to me, unkempt like, but he give me a big tip so I left him with it. Nice bloke, bit distracted though, like as if he had something on his mind. Kept smiling to himself, you know?”

I do, Dave. At least I hope I do. Was he smiling about me?

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