Today, it’s all about Chapter 3 in my Sunday serialisation of The Fifth Wheel.
Portugal – watch out! The girls are coming 😉
Search for “Sunday serialisation” to find previous chapters.
One chapter each week – so ten in total, before moving onto the sequel Casualty of Court. I’m currently working on the next in this series (Heiresses & Heirlooms) and hope to have that ready for mid 2019.
Of course, you can still purchase a copy (links at the end)- but if you like your stories in short bursts, then stick around. After all, as winter draws closer, you can enjoy a touch of summer sunshine instead.
Here’s the summary:
Fern Mortimer has mastered the art of being invisible. Since a hit and run accident five years ago left her wheelchair-bound, she has become a recluse in her parents’ home.
After finally venturing back into the real world, she struggles to make friends and trust anyone. Getting the nickname of The Ice Queen at her new place of work does little to build her confidence.
However, one young woman, Nessa Sullivan, sees through Fern’s mask and is determined to be her friend. A mission that only months later sees Fern joining Nessa and three others on a well-deserved and much-needed holiday to the Portuguese Algarve.
During the holiday, Fern is seduced by a handsome restaurant manager, raising her mood and her hopes of a romantic entanglement whilst also robbing her of her usual common sense and sound judgement.
So, why is her wheelchair now lying capsized in the infinity pool when a body is spotted out at sea? Where is Fern Mortimer?
The day of departure dawned. Nessa collected Fern and they travelled to the airport together. With Nessa pushing the luggage trolley, they headed for the designated meeting point. Nessa stood on her tiptoes and caught sight of her friends, waving to get their attention. When they spotted her, she abandoned both the trolley and Fern and ran screaming towards them, flapping her arms madly before they all collided into one huge huddle, giggling and screeching like a colony of bats. Gnawing at her fingernails, Fern shuddered as she observed their boisterous energy which both scared and overwhelmed her, and she felt more than ever like an interloper, an outsider.
When the caterwauling receded, Nessa ran to Fern’s side, eyes sparkling and her ever-present smile in full force. The chatter ceased as, one by one, their posture stiffened and they stared incredulously. Fern recognised the look instantly and swallowed back the lump forming in her throat. No matter how accustomed she had become to that look, it still distressed her each time, chipping away at her self-confidence. She prided herself on masking her true feelings, but sometimes the pain won through.
The auburn-haired girl was first to recover her composure and detect Fern’s discomfort. She strode over, her arm outstretched and an uneasy grin on her freckled face. “Hi Fern, I’m Audrey. Nice to meet you.” Fern shook her hand with a stiff formality and gave a quick, awkward smile in return.
Finally, Harriet and Raven approached too, offering lukewarm handshakes whilst casting questioning glances at Nessa, who was quickly grabbed by the arm and frogmarched across to the check-in desk.
Audrey felt compelled to fill the silence, “We were chuffed when Nessa said you’d be joining us.” Her gaze ping-ponged from Fern to Nessa and back again.
Fern stared at her. “Did she forget to mention my wheelchair would be coming too?” The bitterness in her voice was unmistakable.
Audrey forced a shallow laugh, but an atmosphere of extreme awkwardness now hung over them like a thick, debilitating fog, leaving them both rooted to the spot and gazing into space.
Meanwhile, Nessa was otherwise engaged, fending off a stream of questions from Raven, whilst Harriet hovered with embarrassment between the two groups. Raised voices were muzzled as Nessa shook her head repeatedly and, with a dismissive shrug, broke free from Raven’s hold and strolled back to Fern. In silence, they proceeded to the check-in desk. Audrey joined them and, seconds later, a sheepish-looking Harriet and a sullen Raven followed suit.
In the departure lounge, Harriet and Audrey strove to redeem themselves by involving Fern in their chatter. Raven continued to sulk, but the offer of wine and olives soon lured her into joining them in the cramped bar. Moods improved as the alcohol lessened the tension, so when Fern’s name was called for priority boarding, they accompanied her to the boarding gate. Not having realised that they could board with her, they cheered with appreciation when they had their pick of seats, having avoided the usual cattle-market jostling that came with the territory on budget airlines.
The flight passed without any further drama. Most of them slept, although Audrey did try to engage Fern in her crossword puzzle, with limited success.
Upon landing at Faro airport, they were asked to stay in their seats as the plane emptied. Raven huffed, “I knew it was too good to be true!” But the others were too excited and ignored her ill-tempered comment.
When they exited the plane, an attractive young man awaited Fern, helping her into a nearby buggy. He gestured for the others to climb in behind, and he zoomed off with them on-board, passing the other tourists on the moving walkway. Nessa whooped enthusiastically as the handsome driver came to a sudden halt at the luggage carousels; even Raven cracked a smile. Fern couldn’t resist laughing with them, their humour was infectious and even Raven’s frostiness seemed to be thawing.
After collecting their bags and Fern’s chair, they headed outside to wait for Nessa who went to collect the hire car.
The air, hot and still, hit them full on. “Phew!” moaned Audrey, fanning her face with her hand, and then rummaging in her bag for sunglasses. “I know they’re in here somewhere.” Minutes later she pulled them from her bag with a jubilant shriek, only to then spill half the contents onto the floor. “Oops,” she giggled and bent down to stuff everything back in.
“This is what we came for,” said Harriet, glaring at the cloudless sky, “Sunshine, come to Mama!” she beckoned, and then set about spraying sun-cream onto her pale skin.
A flustered Audrey, beads of sweat now forming on her brow, reached for Harriet’s hand and, like cheeky schoolgirls, they skipped across the road and plonked themselves down on the grassy verge, turning their exaggerated, childish grins towards the sunshine.
Raven stayed with Fern and the luggage mountain, shaking her head at their antics and looking everywhere but at Fern, who was on the verge of speaking when Raven lifted up a hand to halt her.
“I’m sorry, Fern. I’ve been a brat. Let’s start again, eh?” She offered her hand and the two exchanged mutual, yet genuine smiles.
A tooting horn broke the silence as Nessa pulled up in a huge people-carrier, beaming like the Cheshire Cat.
“One, two… ninety-nine,” joked Harriet as they loaded their bags.
Nessa lowered the automatic ramp and Fern drove into her allotted space. “How cool is that?” she said as the others clambered in and they set off for the villa.
“Great choice Nessa,” admitted Raven and began to twiddle with the in-built radio, much to the others’ displeasure.
“No! Not country music, please Raven, show some taste!” Audrey’s laughter filled the vehicle and at last everyone was in the holiday mood.
Once off the motorway, they marvelled at the passing coastline; a blur of white-washed houses, red, orange, and purple bougainvillea contrasting perfectly against the backdrop of the vivid Mediterranean sea and azure sky. Narrow streets peeped through the hilly countryside, winding up towards imposing village churches, like arteries leading to the heart.
The utter peace and tranquillity was mirrored in the girls’ sudden stillness.
Driving down a steep incline, they spotted their villa below and hoots of joy rang out, one after another, like contagion, until Nessa stopped the car outside the property.
Raven jumped out first, the keys already in her hand, and sauntered up to the ornate, white gates as if to the manor born. “Follow me ladies,” she said in her poshest accent, unlocking the gates and opening them wide. Her refined approach fell by the wayside though, when she proceeded to run through the well-manicured gardens, leaping over the flowerbeds and, after kicking off her shoes, jumped straight into the swimming pool.
Closely on her heels were Audrey and Harriet, whilst Nessa assisted Fern out of the car and came up the rear, towing a suitcase in each hand. Shrieks came from the pool as they splashed water in Nessa’s direction and begged her to join them.
“What are you waiting for?” Fern said to Nessa, who grinned back and ran to the edge of the pool, then sprang off the terracotta tiles into the water almost landing on top of Harriet, the unwilling recipient of a sudden dunking.
“Fern, the keys are in the gate still. Sorry!” Raven shouted, and then disappeared under the water.
Fern turned round to fetch them and made her way into the house. The temperature inside made her shiver, and the darkness of the hallway exacerbated the chill. She reached for the light switch and flicked it up, seeing before her the most tastefully decorated villa imaginable. On a slim table, just inside the doorway, lay a collection of instructions and brochures: how to open the automatic blinds, how to use the air conditioning units, where to shop and so on. She found the remote control that operated the blinds and, within seconds, the room was flooded with daylight. Knocking the lights off, she drove into the kitchen; the smooth, marbled floor made navigation easy for her chair, something that had weighed on her mind during the flight over. On a large, oak table sat a huge basket of fresh fruit and vegetables, beneath it a note confirming that the fridge was fully stocked and champagne was in the cooler, as per Nessa’s instructions. Fern clapped her hands; the holiday was improving by the minute. She spotted a tray, already laden with glasses, grabbed a bottle from the cooler and, balancing everything carefully on the front of her chair, she rode out to the pool, calling, “Champagne anyone?”
A mish-mash of positive retorts came back at her and the girls clambered out of the pool to join her on the terrace. Dripping wet, but totally uncaring of their appearance, they raced to pop the cork and enjoy the cool bubbles in the shade.
“Great job, Fern!” said Raven, causing the others to share a few raised eyebrows amongst themselves.
“Thank Nessa, everything here is because of her, even the fridge is full to bursting.” Fern sounded happy for the first time since their meeting and Nessa chuckled, acknowledging that her mission was going to plan.
They chatted for a while, taking pleasure in everything the villa had to offer them and discussing how they were going to spend their first evening. Fern said very little, content to listen for the time being. Nessa watched her attentively, her mind whirring as she considered her next move.
See you next week for more 🙂
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