When 73 year old Jen announces that she is going to marry Eddie, a man she met just a few months previously on a beach on Boxing Day, her four best friends from aqua aerobics are flabbergasted.
The wedding is booked and, when the groom decides to have a stag trip to Las Vegas, the ladies arrange a hen party to beat all others -a week in the city of love, Paris.
From misadventures at the Louvre, outrageous Parisian cabarets, to drinking champage with dashing a millionaire at the casino, Paris lives up to all their hopes and dreams. But a week can change everything, and the women that come home have very different dreams from the ones who got on the plane just days ago.
The table in the café was a mess: Rose wouldn’t have allowed the polished wooden one in her dining room to get in such a state. Tess covered her lips as she smiled – there were cake crumbs, paper wrappings, slops of coffee across the plastic surface. She imagined Alan’s face if he came home and their oak table was in such a state of disarray. Della swept crumbs into her hand. Pam was more concerned with finishing the contents of a second bottle of sparkling water and, when she dumped the empty container back on the table, it toppled over on its side, spattering little puddles in its wake. Rose wondered if Pam’s house was as untidy. She supposed since Pam had always been single, as far as she knew, no one had been around to complain about untidiness. But then, Pam had never had anyone to keep the house nice for either, she thought. Jen was unusually quiet, staring at her fingernails.
Della dabbed her mouth with a paper napkin and dropped it on her plate. ‘That was such good cake. Nearly as good as I make myself.’
Pam sank her teeth into her slice. ‘We deserve a treat.’ She thought for a moment. ‘It’s a shame we haven’t got a bottle of wine or two. I haven’t had a good celebration in ages.’
‘Are you thinking of a girls’ night out?’ Tess chewed at a fingernail. ‘What a lovely idea. We could get all dressed up, go somewhere nice…’
‘Dancing…’ Della suggested.
‘Clubbing,’ Tess offered. ‘There are some really great places for a rave-up in Exeter.’
‘Rave-up?’ Pam spluttered, wiping her mouth. ‘What decade are you in, Tess?’
Tess winked. ‘I don’t care as long as there are plenty of drinks flowing and some fun to be had.’
Rose pulled a thoughtful face. ‘What about a birthday? Who’s next? I’m not until December.’
‘A girls’ night out would be fab.’ Pam drummed her fingers on the table. ‘Do we need an excuse?’
‘We could just go out and party – without any excuse at all.’ Della chuckled.
Jen took a breath. It was time. This was her cue. She held out her left hand to reach for a slice of cake, wiggling her fingers exaggeratedly. Light caught the diamonds and they winked, shooting flashes of rainbow colour. Della sat up straight. ‘What’s that on your finger, girl?’
Three voices trilled at the same time. Tess leaned forward. ‘Oh my God, no! Tell me she hasn’t…’
Della sighed. ‘It’s a diamond ring. How beautiful…’
Pam screeched. ‘When did that happen?’
Jen’s face broke into a wide smile she couldn’t hold back. ‘Two days ago. Valentine’s night. Eddie asked me… and the next day, I said yes.’
Rose frowned. ‘It’s a bit quick, isn’t it? You’ve only known each other since Christmas. It takes me longer than that to decide which cut to get at the butcher’s.’
‘I think it’s lovely,’ Tess breathed. She was thinking of the emptiness of her own life when Alan was at golf, and how the walls held cold silence in them every day.
‘Congratulations.’ Pam banged a fist on the table. ‘Well, here’s our excuse for a night out.’
Della grabbed Jen’s hand. ‘What a wonderful ring. The diamonds are huge. Where did you buy it, Jen?’
Jen waved her hand for all to examine. ‘Eddie chose it. He just sprang it on me. He came in for coffee…’
‘Coffee…’ Della laughed.
‘I bet he did.’ Tess snorted.
‘… and he asked me to marry him and produced the ring. Of course, I did the sensible thing and asked for more time to think about it.’ She wiggled her finger again. ‘Then the next morning, I said yes and Eddie took me to breakfast to celebrate. It was really lovely.’
Pam leaned back in her seat, stretching out long legs in jeans. ‘Well, how exciting. Congratulations, Jen. So, when’s the big day?’
Jen giggled. ‘We’ve been talking about it. Eddie thinks we should get married in six weeks or so. Late March, early April. A spring wedding…’
‘I hope we’re going to be your bridesmaids,’ Tess butted in.
‘Oh, we’ll probably just have a simple do. No fuss. A few friends – you’re all invited – and a quiet meal somewhere – probably the Olive Grove. Eddie wants us to live in my house. He said he can rent out his place and we’ll get a good income from it. He’s written all the figures down on a piece of paper.’
‘He sounds like a sensible man.’ Rose thought for a moment. ‘But there’s no fun in maths – what about the exciting bits like the honeymoon?’
Pam fluffed her short hair, making it stand up. ‘Eddie certainly sounds like he has it all worked out.’
‘And how do you feel, Jen?’ Della leaned forward. ‘Are you all excited?’
‘It’s like being caught up in a whirlwind…’
Tess grimaced. ‘Oh yes, it’s like that at first. All lovey-dovey. Then after a year or so, it’s smelly socks to wash and “the chops are a bit tough, Tess” and golf clubs in every corner of the room.’ She noticed Jen’s anxious expression and laughed, too high. ‘Oh, but that’s just Alan. I’m sure your Eddie will be completely different.’
‘Does he snore?’ Della asked, wrinkling her brow.
Jen pouted. ‘I’ve no idea. We haven’t…’
‘You haven’t sampled the goods yet?’ Tess giggled. ‘Is that a good idea?’
‘Eddie’s very proper… and respectful,’ Jen insisted. ‘We talked about a honeymoon. A long weekend in Lyme Regis. We’ll wait until then.’
‘Oh, I’d want to know he was man enough for the job before I married him.’ Tess winked.
Della’s face was serious. ‘I think you’re all missing the point.’ She met everyone’s eyes in turn, then she smiled at Jen. ‘It’s a wonderful thing. Our friend Jen is getting married. And we should all rejoice for her.’
Rose nodded. ‘Yes, congratulations, Jen.’
‘To years of happiness,’ Pam murmured.
‘I’ll drink to that.’ Tess nodded. ‘And that means a party.’
Thank you, Judy Leigh and Boldwood Books
About the author
Judy Leigh is the bestselling author of A Grand Old Time and The Age of Misadventure and the doyenne of the ‘it’s never too late’ genre of women’s fiction. She has lived all over the UK from Liverpool to Cornwall, but currently resides in Somerset.
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