Authors: Ali McNamara
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General
Ali McNamara attributes her over-active and very vivid imagination to one thing – being an only child. Time spent dreaming up adventures when she was young has left her with a head bursting with stories waiting to be told.
When stories she wrote for fun on Ronan Keating’s website became so popular they were sold as a fundraising project for his cancer awareness charity, Ali realised that not only was writing something she enjoyed doing, but something others enjoyed reading too.
Ali lives in Cambridgeshire with her family and two Labradors. When she isn’t writing, she likes to travel, read, and people-watch, more often than not accompanied by a good cup of coffee. Her dogs and a love of exercise keep her sane!
To find out more about Ali visit her website at
or follow her on Twitter: @AliMcNamara
From Notting Hill with Love… Actually
Breakfast at Darcy’s
From Notting Hill to New York… Actually
Published by Sphere
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © Ali McNamara 2013
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.
The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London, EC4Y 0DY
Table of Contents
For ‘All the Lonely People’
As always, I must start by thanking those without whom books like this just wouldn’t happen.
Everyone at my fantastic publishers Little, Brown, who work so hard with me on producing and promoting my books. Huge thanks to you all, especially Rebecca, my editor.
My agent, Hannah, and everyone at the Marsh Agency who help sell my stories around the world. Hannah, I’m running out of nice things to say about you with each book! You are one of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever met, and if you weren’t my agent I’d be very jealous of the authors whose books you looked after!
My family, Jim, Rosie and Tom – I just wouldn’t be able to do this without your never-ending love and support. I know it’s not easy living with this writer sometimes, but having you all around me makes it very easy for me to do this thing I call work!
Lovely, wonderful readers! Thank you for embracing the madness that spills forth from my imagination onto the page by continuing to buy my books! I love hearing from you too. The emails, Twitter and Facebook messages I get mean so much to me. Thank you for letting my make-believe worlds become a part of yours.
A special thank you to Lisa Devlin who was my font of all things Take That for the nineties part of the story. Thank you, Lisa!
During the writing of this book, I could happily have Stepped Back in Time quite a few times to try to change a number of things that happened to me. But as a character from one of my other books says, and Jo-Jo discovers during this story: good or bad, ‘everything happens for a reason’.
It really does, I promise you!
‘Watch it, love!’ the London taxi driver calls from his black cab as I dash across the busy road, weaving in and out of the congested lunchtime traffic, and into the nearest coffee shop to order my much-needed caffeine fix.
I should have waited and crossed at the pedestrian crossing, I know, but I’m in a hurry, and I haven’t got time to wait for some silly green man to start flashing. You encounter enough fully grown ones doing that when you’ve lived in London as long as I have.
London. Full of noise and people and traffic – lots and lots of traffic – but I adore it and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Of all the cities I’ve visited across the world it’s still my favourite, and I’ve been to a few. We travelled a lot when I was growing up. My father had a good job with an international banking firm, and my mother, the quintessential businessman’s wife, made it her duty to travel with him. My two sisters and I got used to travelling across the globe with them, so moving home and country every few years became second nature to us. But London, our original home, has always remained my favourite city to this day.
‘Skinny caramel latte for Jo-Jo!’ the barista calls, as I’m jolted from my trip down memory lane.
‘Yes, that’s me!’ I shout. Thanking him, I grab my coffee from the counter and dash out on to the King’s Road.
I love my coffee. Actually, I’d be lying if I said it’s only that; it’s probably more of an addiction. But when you live the kind of life I do, you need to be firing on all cylinders at all times of the day and night, and caffeine gives me that ability.
That’s another thing I love about London these days – you’re never more than a few steps away from a Starbucks, a Costa, a Nero’s, or many of the other fine coffee houses opening up every day. I sigh with pleasure at the thought of all that variety, and take another sip from my latte.
Striding briskly along the King’s Road I slip on my sunglasses while I continue to drink my coffee. I’m good at multi-tasking, always have been and I wouldn’t have got where I am today if I wasn’t. I smile proudly to myself as I think about exactly where that is: my own accountancy firm, with a small set of offices out in Ealing. It had taken long hours and many years of work – and occasionally kowtowing to the type of people you wouldn’t want to wipe your feet on, let alone make a cup of tea for. But I’d got there in the end and earned what I’d always wanted.
I’ve adored numbers since I was a child and have a very mathematical, logical brain. I take after my father in that. I much preferred science and maths lessons to English and history at school – I never had enough imagination to think up stories, and I could never see the point in dragging up the past. I much preferred to concentrate on the present, on what was going on in my life at that very moment. Black and white and clear-cut, that’s how I liked my subjects, and it’s just how I like my life to be today. No complications.
I don’t have time for those.
I turn my face up towards the bright afternoon sun and feel the rays immediately begin to warm my skin. I should really try and get out of the office more often. I’d noticed this morning when I was getting ready for work how pale I was starting to look, even for me. But it isn’t surprising considering how many hours I spend at my desk every day. Long work hours and a healthy outdoor glow aren’t usually the best of friends. So even though, as usual, I’m pushed for time today, it is a joy to walk through London on this gorgeous summer’s afternoon.
I’m on my way to return some yearly accounting books to a second-hand record shop. I make it a rule that we personally deliver accounts back to our clients if we can; it adds an individual touch to the business and makes us accountants seem more human and friendly to our clients. This was something I’d done regularly when I was a junior, but as I moved further up the hierarchy of the firm, eventually becoming a partner, and then sole owner of the business when my partner sadly passed away, my outings during the day have become rare. I’m lucky if I stop for lunch these days, let alone leave the office during work hours.
Even though I shouldn’t, I stop to browse in one or two shop windows as I walk along the road. They’re all trying to tempt customers in with goods guaranteed to make their summer that little bit better, and an outfit in the window of the Peter Jones’ department store in particular catches my eye. The mannequin is wearing a dark navy French Connection leather jacket, white T-shirt, red Ted Baker jeans and matching bright red Miu Miu
pumps. I really like the whole outfit, but it’s not at all what I’d normally wear. It’s completely impractical for work, and that’s what most of my wardrobe consists of these days – work-based clothes, mainly suits in practical, neutral shades suitable for an accountant. When would I wear bright red trousers? I rarely have time to go out and socialise. When I get home at night I’m either too tired, or still too busy with paperwork to go out dressed like that.
So I use the glass of the window to straighten my charcoal grey jacket, and smooth some stray pieces of hair back into the low ponytail at the back of my head. Then I leave the window and the outfit for someone much more deserving, with a much more exciting life than me.
My iPhone rings in my bag. It’s Ellie, my PA.
‘Hello, Ellie, problems?’
‘Yo, Jo-Jo.’ Then she giggles at me. ‘Ha! Yo Jo-Jo, funny, that is.’
I roll my eyes. Ellie has only been with us since the beginning of the year – this is her first job since she moved to London from Liverpool. But she came with excellent references and what she lacks in etiquette she certainly makes up for in efficiency and, I have to admit, bags of personality.
‘Ellie, is there a problem at the office?’
‘Err, no. I was just ringing to tell you your mam phoned again and could you call her back. She was pretty insistent I pass the message on immediately, this being the fourth time she’s called, ’n all.’
I sigh. My mother is very old-fashioned and still won’t call me on my mobile number. ‘I don’t trust the things, Jo-Jo,’ she says. ‘It just isn’t right carrying a phone around in your handbag.’
‘It’ll be about their party again,’ I tell Ellie. ‘She’s still harassing me about it. I almost missed a family party once because of work and now my mother doesn’t trust that I’ll show up for anything.’
I’d been really late to my father’s sixtieth birthday celebration because a meeting with a new client had run on much longer than expected. But what nobody knew was that that particular meeting was fundamental to me becoming a partner in the firm at such a young age. It was incredibly important. But no one other than me seemed to appreciate that. Certainly not my mother – she hadn’t spoken to me for a fortnight afterwards. But even now, I still felt bad about spoiling their night…
‘Just agree to go, then,’ Ellie suggests. ‘A fancy dress party – that sounds awesome. My folks would never do something like that for
‘It may sound like great fun to you, but it’s hell on earth to me, Ellie. I hate dressing up. Why can’t my parents just hold a civilised drinks party for their fortieth wedding anniversary like normal people of their age?’
‘Aw, Jo-Jo, I think it’s fab that your parents are still partying. I bet they were right goers in their time, eh?’
I cringe at the thought of my parents being called ‘goers’. But Ellie’s right; from the stories I’ve heard they were quite, er… free-spirited when they first met.
‘I’m not sure I’d describe them as
, Ellie, but they were very passionate about their music.’
And I should know. My sisters and I have had to live with their Beatles obsession all our lives. My older sisters were christened Paula and Georgina after Paul McCartney and George Harrison, and I was expected to be a boy (because of the way my mother was carrying me, apparently) and was going to be called John, after John Lennon, of course. But within minutes of my birth that swiftly had to be adjusted to Jo-Jo, for obvious reasons. But I’m still stuck with Lennon as my middle name. Something I never reveal to anyone! I’m just glad they stopped at three children – I didn’t fancy having another sibling called Starr, or heaven forbid, Ringo.
‘Is that why the party has a music theme?’ Ellie asks. ‘Your mam was telling me all about it on the phone. Oh, wow, think of all the costumes you could wear for that!’
I screw up my face. The thought of dressing up as some has-been pop star makes me feel physically ill; it’s just not my thing at all. But Ellie, unaware of my torment, continues.
‘If it was me, I’d go as Rihanna, or Lady Gaga, or even Madonna.’
‘Madonna?’ I ask in amusement. ‘Isn’t she a bit before your time, Ellie?’ In theory, she was a bit before my time too, but Ellie, at twenty, makes me feel much older than my twenty-nine years.
‘No, Madge is retro these days. Retro is cool, Jo-Jo, don’t you know?’
I lost touch with what was cool many years ago. In fact, I’m not sure I was ever
touch with it.
‘If you say so, Ellie. Look, much as I’d like to stay and chat with you about how to be cool, I have to get these accounts back to George at the record shop.’
‘Oh yeah, sorry. Say hi to George for me, won’t you, and be sure to call your mam as soon as you’re done!’
Really, Ellie was far too informal for an employee. I’d have to speak with her when I got back.
‘There’ll be plenty of time for that later.’
‘No time like the present!’ Ellie sings cheerily down the phone. ‘Ta-ta for now!’
‘Goodbye, Ellie,’ I say seriously, but I have to smile as I end the call. You just can’t be in a bad mood when Ellie’s around.
I continue down the road, past all the modern high street shops, until I come to an area of the King’s Road commonly known as World’s End. George, the owner of the shop I’m about to visit, once told me it was named after the pub I’m standing opposite now – the World’s End Distillery – while I wait to cross on a zebra crossing.
The pub is an odd-looking building, completely detached from the other shops and houses that line that side of the King’s Road. While they are all scrunched together in long terraces, it stands proudly isolated from the rest, like a king watching over his subjects. Even the shape of the building is regal, with its pointy apexes reminiscent of the spikes of a crown. I bet that building has seen some changes over the years, I think, as at last the traffic pulls to a stop so I can be allowed over the crossing.
I never get this type of pedestrian crossing. I can handle the pelican type with its red and green man. That’s easy, it’s self-explanatory what you do and when. But this zebra type with its flashing orange beacons always confuses me; when do you step out and what are the orange lights supposed to be doing before you’re allowed to cross?
But I have no time right now to worry about the rules of zebra crossings or I’ll be late. And I hate being late. I admonish myself for pausing to browse the shop windows as I did, but it was so enjoyable for once being out in the sunshine. Hurrying past Vivienne Westwood’s famous boutique, I see the huge clock on the front of her shop that runs backwards. What is the point of a clock going backwards? I wonder, stopping to look at it for a moment; life is about moving forward, not back. Then, a few more steps down the road and I’ve reached my destination – Groovy Records. I smile every time I read that name; George has owned this shop since the sixties, and back then that might have been a cool name for a record store, but now it just sounds dated and wrong. But, surprisingly, George is still keeping the shop running all these years later, and with a small profit again this year, as I’m about to tell him.
I open the door to the shop and, as always, a small bell rings over my head.
‘Hi, George,’ I say as I see him bending over behind his counter sorting through a box of old records.
He straightens himself up slowly and with care. ‘Jo-Jo,’ he says, looking surprised. ‘Golly, is it that time already?’ He looks at an old wooden mantle clock behind the desk. ‘Well, so it is, 2 p.m. on the dot. How are you, my girl?’
‘I’m good, thanks, George. I have your accounts.’ I hold up his battered old account book. ‘All present and correct, and I’m pleased to say you still turned over a profit again last year.’
George nods knowingly as if that was never in doubt. ‘Good, good,’ he says distractedly. ‘Now, have you time for a cup of tea, child?’
‘Of course I do,’ I say, smiling and quickly hiding my Starbucks cup behind my back. ‘You make the best cup of tea in London.’
George nods again in agreement. ‘That I do. Take a seat, I’ll be right back.’
I sit down on a wooden chair that stands in the corner of the shop and wait. Even though I’ve just downed a large cup of coffee, I wouldn’t want to disappoint George and so I’ll always take a cup of tea from him. I may barely have time to set foot outside the office these days, but this is one lot of accounts I always take the time to return myself. George loves nothing more than for someone to sit and take a cup of tea with him, so he can recall one or two of his many stories about the past.
As I look around the shop, the familiar rhythmical ticking of the clock behind the desk immediately begins to calm any panic I felt about being late. The shop never changes that much. It has always had the same décor for as long as I can remember. George always arranges his stock in exactly the same way, and he always keeps a vase of bright, cheery sunflowers on the counter next to his till. I glance up at the posters on the wall showing pop stars and rock bands through the ages. Classics icons such as the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and David Bowie take their place on the wall next to more modern artists like Take That, Madonna and Coldplay. George even has a One Direction poster up now, although I very much doubt he has much call for their music in here amongst the records, cassettes and the few CDs that he keeps in stock. Most kids these days download their music to their iPods and smartphones, don’t they?
Some music starts to play in the shop. Ah, what is it George is playing for me today? I wonder. He always likes to try and educate me about some old band or other when I’m here. But today I happen to know this tune. How could I not? It’s a Beatles track, ‘Hello Goodbye’.