Title: The Secret to falling in Love
Author: Victoria Cooke
Release Date: Feb 9th, 2017
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Status Update: I’m going offline for a while… Wish me luck! xx
Lifestyle journalist and thirty-something singleton Melissa hashtags, insta’s and snapchats her supposedly fabulous life on every social media platform there is.
That is until she wakes up on her birthday, another year older and still alone, wondering if for all her internet dates, love really can be found online? The challenge: go technology free for a whole month!
Forced to confront the reality of her life without its perfect filters, Melissa knows she needs to make some changes. But when she bumps into not one, but two gorgeous men, without the use of an app, she believes there could be hope for love offline!
If only there was a way to choose the right guy for her…
Say Hello to author Victoria Cooke!
Victoria Cooke grew up in the city of Manchester before crossing the Pennines in pursuit of her career in education. She now lives in Huddersfield with her husband and two young daughters and when she’s not at home writing by the fire with a cup of coffee in hand, she loves working out in the gym and travelling. Victoria was first published at the tender age of eight by her classroom teacher in year three who saw potential in a six page story about an invisible man. Since then she’s always had a passion for reading and writing, undertaking several writers’ courses before completing her first novel in 2016.
Tell me what made you want to become a writer?
My love of reading fiction, coupled with the fact I’m an avid daydreamer meant writing a novel was something I always knew I wanted to do. I just wasn’t sure I actually could until I had a go.
What are you reading right now?
Beyond The Lens by Hannah Ellis. I’m only up to chapter six but loving it so far.
If you’re a TV watcher, what are you addicted to?
I’m a box set addict! I’m currently binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy.
What’s a hobby you have that’s got nothing to do with books?
I try to stay fit by either running or going to the gym, but usually, I end up watching TV with a glass of wine and some chocolate.
Tell me your favorite part of the writing process?
Editing was surprisingly enjoyable for me. I loved going back over the story once I knew my characters and their stories better. I felt able to modify actions and words to suit them better.
Now the writing process you hate the most?
I’m sure this is unoriginal (and not a planned part of the writing process) but writer’s block drives me mad.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on my second romantic comedy which is set aboard a cruise ship.
Coffee, Wine or something else?
Coffee and water in the day, wine in the evening – I’m not a very exciting drinker.
What type of scenes are your favorite to write?
I love writing up conversations, particularly if they involve witty or flirtatious banter.
What kind of writer are you when beginning a new story – pantster, planner or something entirely different?
I’m the type of writer that plans everything out fairly well and is then hopeless at reverting back to the plan (I tend to forget it exists).
What’s been your favorite line in a review of one of your books?
“It’s like Bridget Jones meets Sex and the City with a modern twist” or “I love Lindsey Kelk so this is definitely my genre, this book could rival any of Kelk’s fabulously witty novels.” Sorry, I cheated and picked two but you have to admit it’s a tough choice.
We all know authors shouldn’t read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, do you?
I opened my eyes with a start. A thin, bluish line of light crept in underneath the blind. It was morning. As my eyes adjusted, I scanned the room in confusion. I didn’t recognise it at all. I had no recollection of how I’d come to be there. It took a moment for me to recall the events of the previous evening. When I did, dread descended upon me. The true horror set in. I was suddenly wide awake. I had to escape. If I was going to get out without being rumbled, I had to do it quickly.
First, I needed to figure out where I was. I tensed my body, trying to keep it as still as possible, and slid a leg out of the bed into the cold, stark air. I felt around the floor with my toes until they found my handbag. Bingo. Slowly, I hooked my toe underneath the handle and bent my knee, bringing the bag up towards my chest. I unzipped it quietly.
Being careful not to make a sound, I slid out my phone. I had no memory of the end of the evening and hoped to find some clues, but a quick look through my messages and status updates was enough to draw a blank. Nothing there shed any light on what had happened or where I was. The sound of slow, shallow breaths close by refocused my attention. Panic set in. Time was not on my side. My heart started to beat harder, each beat pounding in my eardrums, trying to pull me into action. It was now or never.
I held my breath to keep myself silent as I carefully rolled over and slithered to the edge of the bed in a move that would have made James Bond green with envy. It was the second time in the space of a few minutes I’d been glad of my enduring commitment to Pilates. I stretched my left arm out so my hand could touch the floor, before pausing momentarily to check I was still operating under the radar. The coast seemed clear, so I brought my right leg over and down to the floor before heaving the rest of my body out of the bed.
So there I was, on the floor in some stranger’s bedroom, stuck in downward-facing dog, too afraid to move until I’d reaffirmed the bloke in bed was still asleep. It was hard to hear any changes in his breathing for all the blood pumping around my head, but he didn’t move, so I assumed he was still sleeping. Relieved, I allowed my knees to slump down to the floor and scanned the room for my belongings. Hanging from the lamp on the bedside table was my blue lacy satin bra. ‘Oh, God,’ I groaned under my breath as snippets of memory started slapping me in the face.
I didn’t dare put my clothes on for fear of being caught, so I scooped everything up into my arms. When I stood up, I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror on the wall. Even more horrifying than the predicament I’d found myself in was my hair; it looked like the perfect home for a tittering of magpies.
I didn’t have time to think about that. I scurried towards the door. As I was about to leave, I turned back to check he was still sleeping. My panic had subsided a little, so I could appreciate that no matter how compelled I felt to get out of there, he wasn’t actually too bad. The slow rise and fall of his toned, taut chest was the calm before the storm. At that moment, he was blissfully unaware he’d wake up alone – that his date would have sneaked off after a night of passion. (I’d concluded there had been passion from the location of my bra.)
To my shame, I felt quite excited about being the one to sneak off. On the rare occasions I’d had one-night stands, I’d always been the one to wake up alone without so much as a note, but there I was, holding all the cards. Of course, it was just logistical, as we were in his house and he couldn’t exactly sneak off and leave me here.
Although that did actually happen once, back in my university days. I’d had to suffer the embarrassment of a very forthcoming flatmate telling me the bloke of my beer-goggled dreams had gone into hiding and wouldn’t come out until I’d left. He’d said that it would be better for him if I hurried up about it too, so the elusive one-night stand could return home to his game of FIFA.
I contemplated leaving a note, but it would have increased the risk of getting caught. Instead, I left the room and crept down the stairs. The front door was locked, and there was no sign of a key anywhere. I tiptoed down the hallway to the kitchen, in search of another way out. There was a back door, which was also locked. Shit. I really didn’t want to go back upstairs and wake him.
Looking around, I could see no obvious place for a key to be kept. My own were on a big silly bunch of novelty key rings probably visible from the International Space Station, and I kept them on the floor, under previously worn clothing, but I have lower standards of organisation than most people. Think, Melissa! I gathered my composure, trying to channel the mind of a more resourceful person.
As I cast my eyes around the room, I realised there was another option. It wasn’t ideal, and perhaps a bit of a squeeze, but I’d run out of other options and by that point it felt quite welcoming, like Willy Wonka’s factory gates. It was a dog flap. In my haste, I hadn’t noticed a dog, but as I looked around I saw a dog bed. It was quite a big one too, which probably meant that I, being fairly petite, might actually fit through the flap.
I couldn’t see any alternative, so I slipped into my underwear and last night’s black skater dress and got on all fours. I pushed on the door. It was disgustingly sticky, but luckily it swung open – it wasn’t one of those fancy electronic ones. Ha, he was a cheapskate; the memory came back to me. Last night he’d refused to split the bill fifty-fifty and wanted to tot up each item individually because I’d had a mojito and ‘they’re expensive’. I knew there was something off-putting about him, that taut chest wasn’t fooling me.
Carefully, trying not to let the putrid dog residue touch me, I put my head through. My shoulders, however, were a bit of a squeeze. I couldn’t get them through; it was impossible. The door seemed to be taller than it was wide, so I precariously turned onto my side, jammed my shoulders in and wriggled like a worm, pushing with my toes. Once I’d finally got my elbows through I was able to free my hands and support myself.
I’d just taken a moment to let out a huge sigh of relief when I heard a low growl. Shit, the dog! I tried to work my way through faster, but my hips were posing a similar problem to my shoulders; I’d wedged them in and each push was only budging them a centimetre or so. Something was pulling me back. I realised in horror that the dog had my dress in its teeth and was tugging viciously.
Using my hands and feet together, I gave one big heave. There was a loud tearing noise, as I landed in a heap on the doorstep and slid into the soggy grass before it. Looking down at my dress, I saw it was a complete disaster. The skirt had detached from the waistband, transforming it into an ill-hemmed top and saggy skirt combo that exposed a less than appealing area of my stomach.
Urgh. Damn dog! A furry head appeared through the flap – not one of a ferocious Rottweiler or an Alsatian, but that of a cute golden retriever, panting playfully. Typical.
Once safely outside of the garden, I was struck by the icy January air and the shame of walking home in last night’s clothing – which was now torn, just like my hopes of the date leading to more than just someone’s bedroom. I walked sullenly to the end of the suburban street, taking in the identical red-brick terraced houses that lined both sides.
I couldn’t have changed my mind and sneaked back inside if I wanted to, since I’d no idea which one of them I’d just come from. Plus I didn’t fancy my chances against that dog again; I had very little clothing left to tear. The thought smothered me with shame, and I shuddered, wishing for the first time ever that I’d followed my mother’s advice and worn a bigger coat. The middle of my dress was flapping about, waving at each passer-by: ‘Hey look, walk of shame over here!’
I rummaged in my bag for my keys. After examining my key rings, I selected the one that said, ‘Keep calm, I’m single,’ and removed it from the bunch. My oldest friend, Amanda, had bought it for me because she’d ‘admired the irony’. I’d never asked her why it was ironic but assumed it was because I wasn’t calm about being single – I’d planned my wedding twenty-five years ago (scheduled for five years ago).
Whatever the reason, I hated it and it was about to meet its destiny. I worked the fob around the spiral key ring and removed it so I was left with the just the ring. Pulling together the two torn pieces of my dress, I prised the ring open just enough to slide the fabric in. I turned it a few times and voilà – I was reattached; though I must have looked hideous, I told myself it looked just like Liz Hurley’s safety pin dress circa 1994.
A mother and daughter walked towards me on the opposite side of the road. The girl appeared to be about five; she had a school uniform on and cute golden pigtails, each decorated with a navy-blue bow. Her little hand was wrapped tightly in her mother’s as she looked up at her, chatting away. I smiled to myself at the warmth of the image. The mother caught my eye, and I realised I’d been staring at them. She wrapped a protective arm around the girl and glared at me. I couldn’t blame her. I knew I hardly looked respectable.
When I eventually rounded the corner I was relieved to see the welcoming logo of the Metrolink station; at least getting back to my apartment would be easy enough. Seeking refuge in the corner of the shelter, I lowered my face, hiding away from the burning eyes of the morning commuters. I’d never felt so embarrassed, especially since the excuse of reckless youth was no longer on my side.
A bloody one-night stand had been the last thing on my agenda. That’s why I’d subscribed to eHarmony in the first place and didn’t just get one of those hook-up apps like some of my friends suggested. I wanted something more. I’d spent the last ten years wanting something more, watching everyone around me fall in love, waiting for my turn.
I felt a pang of guilt; it wasn’t Gavin’s fault the evening ended like it did. It takes two to sing a duet, after all, and I’d a vague awareness of suggesting ‘coffee’. Gavin, by the way, was his name; poor bloke, I fully anticipated that he’d wake up feeling as used as I had on those few occasions in the past. I didn’t think he was just after a hook-up, which made my actions worse. Probably just the result of a nice evening and plenty of Barolo! I told myself.
I tried to process the date. My urge to leave had been pretty strong, and I wasn’t sure why – would it have been so bad to have stayed? For the most part the date had gone okay. There was the bill issue of course but should that matter if I liked him? We’d eaten at a beautiful Italian restaurant, and mostly the conversation had flowed. It was sometimes a bit awkward: a few tense silences where I’d had to elongate the length of my usual ‘sip’ of wine. In fact, that may have been a catalyst for my situation. Despite the fact he was easy on the eye, I supposed there was just no chemistry, which was odd since eHarmony is supposed to be a ‘scientific’ match.
That didn’t excuse my behaviour. If the roles were reversed and my one-night stand had snuck out on me, I’d have had an army of friends on hand, armed with Chardonnay and insults. I wasn’t sure the same went for blokes.
I took my seat on the tram and pulled out my phone. In an effort to regain my inner peace and ensure Gavin wasn’t hurting too much, I began typing out an email. The clicking sound of my nails on the screen seemed impossibly loud, each strike a disapproving ‘tut’ at my behaviour. I glanced up and had a quick look around the tram; luckily nobody seemed to be paying me the blindest bit of notice. I eased back into my chair to finish the message:
Thank you for last night, it was lovely. Sorry I had to dash off this morning without saying goodbye – I had to get to work and didn’t want to wake you. I hope you don’t have a hangover!
I felt a mild sense of satisfaction. I’d excused myself in a polite yet non-committal, no-indication-of-a-second-date manner. Hopefully he wouldn’t be left thinking that he’d done anything wrong – a courtesy that many men in the history of dating have failed to extend. I added an ‘x’ underneath my name but deleted it straight away. My knowledge of one-night-stand etiquette was limited to say the least, so I’d no idea how suggestive a kiss on the end of an email was.
Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure why I put kisses on any of my messages to people. Translated into real life it would be plain weird, a physical kiss after each single line of speech. On the other hand, messages looked weird without them – to me at least – almost cold and unfriendly. Perhaps I was just reading too much into it in an attempt to distract myself from the consuming guilt. I had kissed Gavin in real life, obviously, but I didn’t want to give him the impression I wanted to do it again. I opted for a smiley emoji as a compromise and hit ‘Send’ before I had time to mull it over any more.
I spent the last five minutes of the journey checking Twitter. It seemed I’d earned my 2500th follower, which was something I felt quite smug about. It was almost like being a celebrity, having such a large number of people interested in what I had to say. I had time to tweet a quick thank you to my new followers before we pulled into the station.
When I got off the tram at Piccadilly, Manchester city centre was already bustling with people seemingly eager to get to work. I felt like a slutty beacon in my ripped dress, a great advertisement for the red-light district. Luckily for me, I’d arranged to take today off as a holiday. Not that I’d expected to be sleeping out – the whole reason for arranging a Thursday night date was to keep it simple and pressure free – I just needed to use up the holiday . . . and the fancy matching underwear was ‘just in case’.
I supposed that because one of our declared mutual interests on eHarmony was alcohol (okay, socialising) any form of rational thinking was smothered by wine. I pulled out my phone and kept my head down, scrolling through my calendar for the following week. I didn’t have much on, except my thirty-fifth birthday the following day – a fact I was trying not to think about.
My phone buzzed to life, interrupting my thoughts. ‘Bugger off, Amanda.’
‘Ha! Date went well then? I knew you were off today, and I have a client no-show, so I thought I’d see how last night went. I wondered if your mum could finally buy her mother-of-the-bride hat, but I guess not,’ she teased. Amanda and I had been friends since she got me into trouble for swearing (read: repeating the ‘new word’ she’d taught me) in Reception class.
‘Firstly, do you think my mother would go to the expense of buying a new hat for my wedding?’ I joked back.
‘Er, probably not. She’d probably save her money to buy a fancy one for my wedding.’ It’s an ongoing joke in my family that my mum loves Amanda and would trade me in for her in a flash, and Amanda has spent most of the last thirty years winding me up about it. Amanda was always the chatty, polite child, and when she left to do her law degree my mum cried with pride, quite unlike when I left to study journalism. Fair enough, I stayed in Manchester and Amanda went away to Durham, but it was still an achievement.
I filled Amanda in on my date and my subsequent escape. I was quite glad she rang, as in the five minutes or so that we’d spoken, I hadn’t once noticed the judgemental glances of passers-by. ‘Ah well, your mum would be proud,’ was her sarcastic response.
‘Ah well, it is she who’s desperate to have me married off. I’m merely trying my best to fulfil her dream.’ This, of course, was the same woman who admired Amanda for being a strong, single woman.
‘She may be, but you too are desperate to be married off, my love, all by yourself. You always have been, for some bizarre reason. Personally I can’t think of anything worse. I will, however, come and get pissed at your wedding.’
‘Well, that’s good to know.’ I smiled at Amanda’s usual bluntness.
‘So are you actually walking through town right now in your torn dress?’ she asked, laughing.
‘Yes, I am. I feel like a walking government health warning to teenage girls – don’t drink, kids, or you too will look like this!’ I sighed whilst Amanda continued laughing.
‘Look on the bright side – your “boring skater dress” is not so boring any more, and you can’t be the only person in Piccadilly gracing the streets in last night’s clothing. I’m sure you blend right in.’ She had a point.
The short walk from Piccadilly station to the Northern Quarter passed quickly, and before I knew it I was in the sanctuary of my apartment. I headed straight to my bedroom. The emotional roller coaster of the past twenty-four hours had taken its toll. I collapsed on the bed, falling sound asleep immediately.
I was awoken a few hours later by the harsh buzz of a message coming through on my phone. I checked the time; it was 11.15 a.m. I had planned on getting a little more sleep than that, but, unable to contain my sheer nosiness, I stretched across the floor to grab my handbag and pull out my phone. It was a group WhatsApp message from Gemma, my other close friend:
Gemma: Anyone fancy a late lunch? Working this morning but have a free afternoon xx
Amanda: Some of us have a full day of work to do, that’s how we win at life – ask Mel’s mum xx
Me: I’ll come. I have a day off. Amanda, I’ll be having a huge fry-up . . . Now who’s winning at life? xx
I was surprised to feel a slight twinge of disappointment at the fact it wasn’t Gavin replying to my email. A part of me wondered if perhaps he didn’t like me, or if the sex was bad. Still, I was new to this, and if I’d only just woken up, there was a good chance he was still sleeping, blissfully unaware I’d even left.
I checked Instagram whilst I came around; nineteen people had liked a photo I’d posted before I went out. Amanda had taken it when she’d popped round for a pep talk. My pre-torn dress was quite simple, but I liked it. My layered shoulder-length blonde hair looked sleek – clever use of a filter, I assumed, as I was in constant battle with the frizz. I had thought I was too old for Instagram until I figured out I was one of the only people I knew who didn’t have it, and before long I was addicted.
Later on, I met Gemma in a cosy little bar in the Northern Quarter that served breakfast up until 4 p.m. – evidently they know their local clientele well. ‘Mel, over here!’ she shouted, waving a hand in the air. She’d arrived before me and, to my relief, secured my favourite distressed brown leather armchairs by the window.
‘Hi,’ I managed wearily as I fell into the comfort of the chair. I picked up the menu and let out a small groan – as it wasn’t the weekend, I couldn’t order the much-needed and rather appropriately titled ‘Morning-After Breakfast’. The waitress approached to take our order, so I quickly decided on the ‘All Day Great Big Brunch’ and prepared to spill all to Gemma about last night.
‘Are you okay?’ Gemma asked. I felt rotten and looked rotten. Gemma, however, looked flawless as always; her skin was pale without a hint of imperfection, her big green eyes framed by trendy black Alexander McQueen cat’s-eye glasses. Her glossy dark brown hair was cut in a blunt chin-length bob, and a fringe framed her stunning face.
A stark contrast to my messy ponytail and blotchy combination skin. Even now, obviously concerned, her brow managed just the tiniest of furrows, as if it was not meant to crease. My brow always tends to furrow on its own before I even know I’m worried.
‘I’m fine,’ I lied, which is, of course, girl-code for ‘I’m really not fine’. Naturally, she picked up on it. She gave me a small smile and patted my hand.
In typical Gemma fashion she didn’t press me and instead just waffled animatedly about work. She knew I’d tell her when I was ready, and that wouldn’t be until the risk of the waitress interrupting had passed. I nodded and smiled at her work stories as I admired her outfit. She was sporting an orange suede-fronted shift dress with thick black tights and black biker boots. She completely rocked the look, unintentionally succeeding in making me feel rather drab in my jeans and pale-blue T-shirt.
‘Now that is a breakfast,’ Gemma said as the waitress placed down our mid-afternoon feast. My stomach growled as I studied the delicious plate of sausages, bacon, black pudding and all the usual trimmings. Absent-mindedly, I snapped a quick picture of my colossal breakfast and uploaded it to Facebook with the caption: ‘Something to help the hangover’, adding a winking emoji face for good measure.
Once I’d started tucking in, and my stomach was lined to prevent nausea, I was ready to tell all about my date. I started with the beautiful restaurant and ended with my walk of shame. I didn’t leave any detail out. Gemma ummed and ahhed in all the right places; I couldn’t yet tell if she thought I was an utter cow who should have given him more of a chance.
‘You know, if it’s hook-ups you want, Mel, you need a Tinder account.’ She chuckled, nudging me.
‘It’s all right for you, Gem, you haven’t even hit thirty yet. Once you do there’s more pressure to settle down. In your twenties, when people ask if you have a partner and you reply “no”, people just say: “Ah well, you’re still young.” But once you’re over thirty, the same people say: “Have you tried online dating?” or worse: “My friend has a colleague/brother/friend . . .” Eek!’ I wrinkled my nose.
‘Look, you had a good night with a nice guy, but there was just no chemistry. Life’s too short to dwell on the past; move on. You’re a hot lady; someone will snap you up soon, so don’t worry.’ She clicked her fingers to emphasise the ‘snap’, and suddenly I felt like an auction piece.
‘So you don’t think I was cruel sneaking off this morning?’ I had to know.
‘God, no! He’s probably glad you left. No offence, but he’d have just been gagging to tell his mates.’
‘He wasn’t a twenty-year-old student, Gem.’ I sighed at her youthful tunnel vision.
‘Oh come on, Mel, he was a dude!’ She picked up her coffee and sat back in her chair as if that settled the matter. I still didn’t know how to feel about it all, but it was nice to know Gemma didn’t think any less of me. ‘Here, let’s just do a bit of “online shopping”, for fun.’
She slid her chair around so she was squashed up next to me, pulled out her phone and opened the Tinder app. We ordered extra coffee and spent a serious amount of time going through scores of pictures of poor, unwitting local men, judging them mainly on their photographs and semi-consciously on their one-sentence self-evaluations. It seemed kind of wrong, shallow at the very least, but it was a laugh, and one I needed at that. Soon the reasons for dismissing men became silly.
‘I will not let you date a man who wears tracksuit bottoms to a bar,’ Gemma declared, firmly swiping left.
‘And I would never date a guy with scruffy trainers on!’ I declared, as we both fell into fits of laughter.
I let the laughter die down before continuing, ‘Do you think I should’ve given Gavin a second chance? I’m not exactly overrun with offers.’ I twisted the corner of my mouth in anticipation.
‘Nah. If there was no chemistry on your first date it won’t get any better.’ She was probably right.
My phone vibrated, and I instinctively reached into my bag to check it. My breakfast picture already had eight likes and a few comments from envious ‘friends’ who I hadn’t seen in the seventeen years or so since I left school. A small smile formed on my face.
I was preparing to reply when Gemma snatched my phone, turned away and hunched her shoulders so I couldn’t see what she was doing. In less than a minute, she handed back my phone and I was fully active on Tinder. That must have been a world record.
‘Yeah, thanks for that, Gemma,’ I said in my most sarcastic tone.
‘You’re most welcome.’ She grinned triumphantly.
Thank you, Victoria, for allowing me to feature you and your fabulous new release on The Secret to falling in Love. Your cover is absolutely stunning & I can’t wait to read it, it sounds just fab. I just love your gym time! (wine and chocolate are my favorite workout too! lol)