Today's Reading

'Hardly,' I say, fiddling with a filter and making the photo look nice before hashtagging it and hitting share. 'I just thought it'd be nice to show everyone back home what it's like living in London.'

'And make a point of what a lovely time you're having even though they all think you're insane to give up a promotion in Bournemouth for a pay cut up here?' she says.

I nod, and pick up a tortilla chip, breaking it in half. 'That too,' I admit, making a face. 'And Nanna Beth is on there too—she's got herself an iPhone contract. I'm her only Instagram follower so far.'

'She's going to be sharing selfies with all the hot doctors in the nursing home, isn't she?' Becky snorts with laughter. I turn the phone so she can see it. @nanna_beth1939 has posted a string of photos of her new ground-floor flat in the sheltered accommodation unit she's moved into. 'Oh, bless,' says Becky, taking my phone so she can have a closer look. 'Look, she's got that wooden carving you bought her in Cyprus on the mantelpiece.'

I peer over her shoulder. 'Ahh, that's nice.' I'm hit by a wave of guilt that I'm going to be up here and she's going to be down there. I've spent the last year living in her house, ever since Grandpa died, and it's going to be weird not having her there every night when I get home from work.

'She'll be fine,' says Becky, as if reading my thoughts. She clicks the phone off and puts it down on the table. 'And it's not as if you're miles away. It's a train ride, that's all.'

'I know. Just feels weird leaving her to the tender mercies of Mum.'

Becky makes a face. 'Yeah, well, she's not exactly...well, she wasn't at the front of the queue when they were giving out the nurturing quota, was she?'

I snort. My mother is many things, but maternal is not one of them. I mean she's lovely, in her own way. But I'm not sure she'll remember to pop round every couple of days and check Nanna Beth's doing okay in her new place. Anyway. I square my shoulders and think of what Nanna Beth told me when she'd pressed a roll of twenty-pound notes into my hand yesterday morning. It was time for me to step out into the big world and let her do her own thing. Slightly odd role reversal, I know, but our family's always been a bit unusual.

In the kitchen, Becky's still singing out of tune and lighting the tiny tea-light candles that are scattered around. Even when we were living in university halls, she managed to make her room look good.

There's a clatter as someone opens the door, and a gust of air blows a couple of Christmas cards off the top of the fridge. I bend down and pick them up, catching the one-sided conversation that's going on in the hall.

'You said you'd be able to get away.' It must be Emma, the girl Becky's found to take another one of the rooms. There's a long pause and I hover by the kitchen door, wondering if I should pop my head round and say hello. Becky's stirring spiced chicken and peppers, filling the room with a smell that makes my stomach growl. I haven't eaten since breakfast.

'What about me?' Emma says. My eyes widen. I shouldn't be listening in, but I'm a sucker for a bit of drama. I fiddle with my phone, trying to look as if I'm busy and not just eavesdropping. Emma's voice is in that middle ground, somewhere between angry and upset.

'I don't care what she's doing,' she says, and this time she's not keeping her voice down. 'I'm not waiting around forever.'

Becky turns round, frying pan in hand. She raises her eyebrows and looks towards the door. 'Uh-oh, trouble in paradise by the sound of it.'

I nod, and lower my voice. 'What's the story?'

Becky puts a finger to her lips. 'Tell you later. But it's very Emma. It'll be all over and they'll be loved up before you know it.'

A moment later, Emma appears in the room, her eyes sparkling in that suspiciously bright way that mine do if I've been crying and I'm trying to look like everything's okay.

'Hi, hello,' she says, and leans over and kisses me on the cheek.

'Sorry, just had to take a quick work call. You know what it's like. They pay us nothing, and expect us to be on call 24/7.'

I smile in a way that I hope suggests I haven't heard a thing.

'Emma, this is Jess, the university friend I told you about. She's taking the room on the first floor.'

'Lovely to meet you, Jess. God I need a drink,' says Emma, picking up one of the little shot glasses of tequila. I'm about to pass her a lemon slice, but she's too quick for me. The whole thing is gone in a second, and she winces in disgust. 'Ugh. Revolting. I hate tequila.' She takes another one and downs it as well. 'Cheers.'

This excerpt ends on page 18 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book Forever My Duke by Olivia Drake.

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