Hi everyone – we thought we’d give you a peek at the beginning of our new book TIMES LIKE THESE, a contemporary romance that will be available around Christmas. Here’s the blurb:
Merren Hardy is delighted when her thirst for new experiences turns into a holiday job for an attractive older woman. She’s more than happy to be muse, model, assistant, and lover – especially lover – for brilliant and successful Bianca Graves. After all, Merren’s smart with a big-picture view of the world and a practical streak wide enough to deal with Bianca’s difficulties. She’s a problem-solver. Except there’s one problem Merren’s never had to solve before – what happens when you fall in love with a woman who can’t see you properly?
Bianca’s an artist losing her sight, desperate to find a way to continue painting and keep her career and sense of identity. She needs more than a muse, more than a young woman to model for her. She needs someone to reach out and touch her when everything’s going dark – and help her find the way back to her life. Which surely means Merren’s too young, too different, worlds apart in experience. Bianca knows a summer fling at such a difficult time is one thing – but it can’t go any further.
As it turns out, however – there’s more than one way to be blind.
‘This your first time?’
They were in a back room, and it was cold. Merren shivered as she tossed her sneakers and socks aside and put her feet on the bare floorboards. ‘You’d think they’d heat this room,’ she said.
The other woman laughed, already undressed, lounging untidily against the door. ‘Definitely your first time.’
Merren drew in a breath and shucked off her jacket, peeled her tee shirt over her head and dropped it on the growing pile of clothes. The woman grinned.
‘And the rest.’
Merren shook her head, snorting a laugh. ‘I’m getting there. Give me a minute.’ Her belt buckle was cold under her fingers and she fumbled with it before pulling down the zip on her jeans and taking another deep breath and pushing them down over her hips, cursing the woman watching her. There was just no dignified, yet alone elegant, way to take off a pair of jeans. She sat down again and pulled them off, one leg at a time.
There. Down to underwear. Bra and knickers. Sports bra and boy leg pants.
‘Nice colour,’ the woman cackled. Merren looked up at her, mouth twisting a little in amusement.
‘You know, we really should know each other’s names,’ she said, and spread a hand to gesture at her discarded clothes. ‘Considering.’
The woman straightened and stepped forward, holding out a hand. ‘Beverley,’ she said. ‘Beverley Canton.’
Merren reached for the fingers, clasped them for a moment, averting her eyes from the way Beverley’s robe fell open to reveal stretches of nut-coloured flesh.
‘I’m Merren,’ she said. ‘And yes, definitely my first time.’
Beverley turned away. ‘Ah, you’ll be fine, don’t you worry. You’ve a nice figure for it. Interesting. They don’t like perfect, when it comes to our figures.’ She laughed and tapped herself on the chest. ‘As you might find obvious, to look at me.’ She had a throaty laugh that Merren quite liked. And despite what was under the white terry-towelling robe now, Beverley must, at one stage, have been quite the beauty.
‘Still,’ Beverley carried on, confirming Merren’s thought. ‘When I started out, I was something, all right. In demand, I was. Passed from one to the other for a while.’ She sniffed and smiled happily at the memory. ‘All round the country, I went.’ She dropped a wink. ‘Got to see all sorts of things.’
Merren didn’t doubt it. She nodded, and checked the Apple watch on her wrist, supposing that she ought to take it off. Still, looking around at the bare and dusty room, she didn’t like to leave it here. Not a secure spot.
‘Where do we stash our valuables?’ she asked.
Beverley turned away and snatched up a robe off a hook and passed it to her. It was the twin for her own, which she belted securely around her waist at last.
‘We lock them in there,’ she said, lifting her chin to point at a row of lockers, the varnish on their wooden doors nicked and scarred.
Merren looked at them, wrinkling her nose, dubious. ‘And then where do we put the key?’
That laugh again, and Merren wondered if Beverley still smoked. She should try vaping instead. Better on the lungs and wallet. ‘Pop it in the pocket of your robe, love. There’s nowhere else unless you’re thinking of sticking it where the sun don’t shine.’
That wasn’t a place Merren was comfortable putting any foreign object that wasn’t attached at least in some way to a person. She stood up.
‘Right then; I guess we’re doing this.’ She put the robe on the chair.
‘Yup,’ said Beverley. ‘That we are.’ She was back lounging against the door, watching Merren shamelessly, a smile on her face that said she was just tickled pink to be party to Merren’s first time.
For a brief moment, Merren considered asking her to look away while she stripped down to bare, cold-stippled skin, but really, what was the point? You didn’t get into this line of work to be shy in front of one person.
‘How old are you?’ Beverley asked as Merren pulled off her bra, dropped it in the untidy pile of her clothes, then tugged down her underpants.
‘Twenty-four,’ she replied, reaching for the robe.
‘Yeah? Just a spring chicken then. You a student?’
Merren nodded and threaded her arms into the robe, pathetically grateful for the insulation the thick cotton provided. She cinched it tight and stooped to pick up her clothes. ‘Yes,’ she said.
‘Bit old to still be a student, aren’t you? Twenty-four? Aren’t you kiddies usually done by then?’
There were six lockers all in a row and Merren picked one at random. It had a couple shelves and she shoved in her clothes, not bothering to fold them. It was too cold to worry about a few wrinkles on the other end of what she was about to do.
‘I’m working on a second degree,’ she said, answering the question and taking off the watch, tucking that securely under her clothes. She shut the door, grasped the key in the flimsy lock, shrugged inwardly at the sight of it, then twisted it on a sigh and dropped it into the pocket of her robe.
Okay. That was that, then. If she wasn’t committed to this before, she sure was now, standing in the dim silence of this back room, nothing on but a robe that had a bald patch just under the right breast as though from years of self-conscious hands clutching at the fabric.
‘Ready?’ Beverley asked. ‘They’ll be waiting for us to get set, I reckon.’
Merren nodded. ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘You and I will be in the same room, right?’
‘Yup.’ Beverley laughed again, obviously the kind of person who didn’t take much seriously. ‘Needing some moral support, are you love?’
Merren looked down at her body, bare under the robe, and walked towards the door. ‘Well,’ she said. ‘I’m a bit lacking any other sort of support at the moment.’
Beverley chortled behind her and pulled the door closed, then tugged on Merren’s sleeve, pulling her down the corridor.
‘They’ll have the heating on in there, right?’
‘Oh yes,’ Beverley said, then pinched Merren’s elbow. ‘But not too warm, you know.’ Another pinch. ‘We want the nipples to stand to attention.’
Merren groaned. Thought about all the other places she could be. All the other things she could be doing.
She could be around on the Peninsula helping spruce up Suzette’s boat. It was sunny outside, even if in this old building it felt almost artic.
She could be getting underfoot in her Mum’s kitchen, swiping slices of whatever new batch of paleo bread was fresh out of the oven.
Hell, she could even be at the university library, stalking the stacks, pulling books out at random to see if they caught her eye, or heaven forbid, at home planning next year’s courses.
Beverley’s hand was on the door. Her wrinkled face turned an impish grin on Merren. ‘You ready?’
There was no answer to that. Merren’s throat was too dry. She gave a limp nod.
The art room was lit by giant windows, the morning sun streaming in through them like beams of gauzy gold. Beverley pinched her elbow again, and Merren padded forward on her bare feet, stepping between the empty easels set up in a big circle around the room.
‘Where is everyone?’ she hissed.
‘They’ll be here in a minute, don’t you worry.’
In the middle of the room, under the golden spotlights of sunshine, was a sheet-draped dais, and upon it like poor man’s thrones, two stools.
Beverley was suddenly business-like. ‘Right,’ she said. ‘Let’s get you into place. Check your pose – you’ve been told what to expect and everything, right?’
Merren looked around, counting the empty easels. There were twenty of them. ‘These are all going to be filled?’ she asked.
‘Every one of them,’ Beverley said, her tone dryly amused. ‘Have you decided on a pose for today? One you’re confident you’ll be able to hold for an hour?’
Forcing herself to focus, Merren nodded. ‘Yes, and they said not to try anything too difficult the first time. It takes a while to get used to holding the same position for so long, apparently.’ Merren flushed. ‘Well, you’d know.’
‘That I would. It’s an art form in itself, I reckon, being a good artist’s model.’ She stepped onto the dais. ‘So, let’s see what you have before everyone comes in.’
Nodding, Merren climbed up beside her, looked resolutely away from the waiting easels, and positioned herself on one of the stools.
‘You’ll have to take your robe off, love, so I can see what’s what. You can put it back on until everyone arrives, but let’s make sure you’re looking good.’
Merren slipped off her robe and arranged herself into the pose she’d practiced on a chair at home. Feet on the floor, one slightly ahead of the other, torso twisted slightly, head to the side, one forearm resting on a knee, the other arm behind her back. Now that she was here, she had no idea how she was going to hold the position, but there it was.
Beverley stood back, gazing at her, one finger pressed to pursed lips. Merren glanced at her, then looked away.
‘Can you stretch your spine a little more?’ Beverley asked.
Merren breathed in, stretched, looked at the older woman.
Beverley nodded. ‘That’s excellent. Nice, athletic body you’ve got. But still shapely. Everyone will like you.’ Her face split into a grin. ‘How’s it feel so far?’
‘Revealing,’ Merren said, and relaxed, picking up her robe and pulling it back on.
‘Yeah, well, you’d best get used to that.’ Beverley laughed and set herself on her own stool, perched there like a wizened bird. ‘We’re going to be a great contrast, you and I. Youth and Age. Excellent for the students.’
Merren nodded. ‘How long have you been doing this, Beverley?’
‘Since you were a babe in arms, love. Since you were just in your nappies spitting up on your mother’s shoulder.’
There was noise outside the other door and before Merren could answer Beverley, the door opened, and it spilled into the room a rush of bodies gossiping and laughing, only stilling to arrange themselves in front of the waiting easels, casting expectant glances in Merren’s direction.
The noise dimmed to rustlings. The scrape of stools dragged closer to the easels. Then there was hushed, waiting silence. Beverley took off her robe and dropped it off the edge of the platform before sitting down on the floor beside her stool, one elbow propped on the seat, knees bent, feet tucked under her. She looked at Merren and smiled.
Merren’s robe joined hers, and she sat down on her stool feeling everyone’s gaze upon her. She could hear her own breathing in her ears, forced it to calm. Stretched her spine, turned her head to the side, and gazed out at nothing, willing her skin not to turn pink with embarrassment.
A moment later, she heard the scrape of charcoal on drawing paper, and concentrated on watching the sun at the window, cursing herself for her absurd desire to try new things, experience new sensations.
Release date is set for December 19th! Subscribe to our mailing list for a reminder when it’s available –