- About the Book
- About the Series
- About the Author
- Christmas Cravings
- Recipes in this Episode
- Reading Sample
About the Book
How could everything that seemed so right suddenly have gone so wrong for Mia? Snow is on the ground and Christmas lights twinkle in the German Christmas market. The warm, spiced wine is just right, but there’s still one key ingredient missing from her romantic dream. Will Mia’s Christmas turn out to be sugar and spice and all things nice — or a deflated soufflé of loneliness and regret?
Christmas Cravings is a festive romance standalone episode from the Greedily Yours series.
About the Series
Mia Maxwell loves food. She loves it so much that she’s made it her career. She owns a food PR business that fills her days, and by night she's a food blogger with a burgeoning audience. With her ‘Culinary Confessions of a Greedy Girl,’ Mia takes the reader on a delicious quest for top dishes and the perfect love.
About the Author
Emma Hamilton is the pen name for a journalist and writer who loves food. She was a staff producer and freelance reporter for the BBC, CBC, and Deutsche Welle. Emma has written for a number of magazines and newspapers, including The Guardian, BBC Magazines, The Mail on Sunday, Four Four Two, and Italy Magazine. She has worked on numerous series and documentaries, including one about food and culture around the world. Emma spent six years reporting from Italy and has made radio programmes in many other countries including Lebanon, Ethiopia, the USA, France, Germany, Russia, and Cameroon. When she’s not cooking, reading about food or eating it, she splits her time between radio presenting, producing, and writing. She loves yoga, running, gardening, and chilling out with her husband, friends, and family.
This isn’t how it was meant to be, thought Mia, looking up at the snow falling all around her from the dark sky. Tom should be standing next to me right now, and why isn’t he? Mia sighed. It had only been a few weeks since things had appeared to dissolve with Tom, but to Mia, it felt like forever. At that moment, Lizzie broke into her thoughts, exclaiming at how romantic the snow was and gave Mia a big excited hug. In spite of herself, Mia felt momentarily happy for the first time in a few weeks. Urged to by Lizzie, she breathed in; delighting in the snow on her tongue, just like when she was a little girl. What a lot has changed in a year! thought Mia wryly to herself — before turning her attention back to pushing her way through the crowded Christmas market in Cologne. She tried not to think of Tom. Lizzie was just ahead of her, making her way to the front of the queue for mulled wine. The bare trees were filled with lanterns and sparkling paper stars, fairy lights glistened and swayed in the breeze, and if it wasn’t for the distant hum of traffic, Mia would have imagined she had been transported back in time to some medieval village, Christmas circa 1450.
Mia couldn’t stop staring at the bright lights and breathing in the warm spicy smells coming from the tents serving hot, spiced wine. People were packed into the market, making it difficult to take in all the sights and sounds and smells and foods. Gradually the magic of being on holiday in the build-up to Christmas was working, and Mia was beginning to relax and forget about her troubles with Tom. Lizzie had been right; a trip away was just what she needed to take her mind off things. Mia smiled gratefully at Lizzie’s back, marvelling at how her friend was always right and always knew the best thing for her — even when she had been determined to lie on her bed and cry her eyes out at the dream that had turned so sour.
Mia tried to shake herself free of the negative spiral that seemed to overtake her constantly in the last few weeks. She concentrated on looking up at the brightly lit Ferris wheel that stood over the Christmas market, sedate and glittering in the cold night air. She made herself watch as it slowly turned. She let the jingly Christmas music that was blaring out of the brightly lit stalls sooth her as she concentrated on breathing — calmly and slowly. She tried not to cry and waited for Lizzie to show up with the next colourful mug of dark red, spicy mulled wine.
“Are you okay Mia?” asked Lizzie, concerned as she noticed her friend’s eyes shining with the tears that seemed to be ever present at the moment.
“Yes, I am, I had a bit of a moment there, but then I just concentrated on the here and now, like you told me, and all those churned up emotions started to settle again,” Mia said, taking another deep breath, beaming her best smile back at Lizzie and taking a sip of wine — grateful she had somewhere else to look.
“Okay, good,” said Lizzie, giving Mia a big hug. “Remember what we said, this is about you and me, and a bit of research, so you have something to concentrate on — but most of all it is about enjoying Christmas and getting you to relax. If you need to cry, you can, but I think most of all, we need to use this time for you to tell me what exactly went so wrong when it all seemed to be going so well.”
“Thanks, Liz, and thanks for coming with me at the last moment and persuading me not just to throw away my booking as I’d been about to do.”
“Ah, Mia, you’re welcome. It had been far too long since we went on a trip together anyway, I think it was about time,” replied Lizzie.
The two friends hugged and giggled, sipped their wine and enjoyed watching the people bustle all around them. There were big groups of what looked like colleagues having a drink after work and friends, gathered around the high barrels and tables set out beside the hut serving drinks. Everyone was talking and laughing and busy getting merry.
Normally — with all that enforced jollity around her — Mia would have felt even more alone and sad, but she loved Christmas so much. She took in the magic of the market and relaxed. Gradually the sad frustration at things with Tom not working out was being pushed to the back of her mind.
She wrapped her hands around the warm mug and let her eyes half close in the alcoholic fog the steam was creating around her. She took a deep breath …
In her mind’s eye, she could see the glistening waters of Cornwall as Tom and she floated on Greedily Yours way back in February. Those few hours out on the water seemed to be the last still time they had before they were plunged back into the chaos and sadness of Tom’s father’s illness and commuting, which seemed to have taken over their lives in the last nine months. She involuntarily mmmhed as she took another sip of the wine, and Lizzie, sensing that Mia was off on one of her reveries, turned her attention to her own wine and let Mia dream for awhile.
It seemed to Mia as though magic had hung around that day in February, too. She’d arrived thinking she was in for a freezing week, tramping through wintry Cornish mud, and shivering beside open fires, and instead she’d been greeted by wide blue skies, milky winter sun glinting with the promise of spring, and even the faint aroma of summer floating to her on light winds. Tom had unveiled his reconditioned boat, named in her honour, and the long wait to see him whilst his father recovered had suddenly seemed to make sense. They were meant to be together, Mia had remembered thinking in the deep recesses of her brain. Then — immediately after acknowledging that thought — she tried to bring herself back down to earth with a bump so that the moment couldn’t run away with her.
Sheltered by the high cliffs, just outside the mouth of the river, Tom had taken her through the rudimentaries of sailing. She’d start proper lessons later that week, but she couldn’t say no to the chance to be out alone with Tom on a boat. They had tacked up and down the coast, before setting the sea anchor and indulging in their picnic. Champagne, pasties, sandwiches, and lots and lots of foreplay before the main course. It had been a day of bliss. As they sailed back up the river and back to the harbour the sun had started to sink, reminding them that this was, after all, only February. The afternoon darkened and as they motored back into the boathouse, clouds gathered as they made the boat ready, blown in by the wind from the sea; the light went grey. In the gloom of the boathouse, in order to keep warm, Mia worked as hard as she could, flitting lightly around the deck, tying knots under Tom’s instruction and coiling ropes so everything was left shipshape before they headed home. Tom’s faithful Chocolate Labrador, Django, sat quietly on shore until they’d finished, his tongue beating a lazy rhythm, before he, too, followed them back into the Land Rover and up to the house.
“I’ll just check on my father before we head to the cottage, okay?” Tom asked as he hesitated in the lane between the turning to his cottage and his father’s manor house.
“Of course,” Mia replied, smiling at Tom.
In the back, Django lifted his head as he heard the crunch of tyres on gravel and the creak of the iron gates as they opened. He let out a quiet yelp. The house looked emptier, less lived in, than Mia remembered it, but she presumed that was just because it was dark and the last time she’d seen it was in the full throws of a summer festival. Weird, she thought, does Lord Trelawney like sitting in the dark? Could he have gone to bed already? As long as she’d been involved with his annual festival, the tall Lord Trelawney with his wispy white hair and long aquiline nose was always at the centre of the action. Whether it was striding around the grounds of the manor directing his annual food and literature festival or bringing the community together, and welcoming guests to his house; even after he’d started to become a little frailer, he exuded energy and enthusiasm and kindness — the heart and soul of any event. “Do you want me to come in with you,” she asked. “Or shall I just wait here?”
“I’m sure my father would love to see you Mia, he always enjoyed whenever you came in the past, but we won’t stay long tonight, so it’s up to you,” replied Tom.
Mia was keen to see Lord Trelawney. In a weird way, he’d helped throw herself and Tom together, after she and the lord had embarked on a sailing (mis)adventure the previous summer at the end of the annual food and literary festival. Mia unbuckled her seatbelt and followed Tom out, whistling to Django as he opened the back of the Land Rover so he could leap out, too. Presumably Django found the darkened house strange as well, because he crouched low on the ground and whimpered slightly before following Tom and Mia towards the kitchen door, his ears flattened and his tail hanging low between his back legs.
Seeing Django’s reaction, Tom started to look worried, as if he, too, had just noticed how dark and lonely the house appeared. Tom quickened his pace towards the kitchen door. He turned the handle, but it had been locked, the kitchen behind the glass was dark, too. Tom reached into his pockets for some keys and unlocked the door, flinging it open and striding through the kitchen into the hall. He quickly pushed open the doors, calling his father’s name louder and louder as he walked through each room. But the house met him with silence.
He pulled out his phone to call his Aunt Ag and his face went white as he realised, now they were back on dry land that he’d missed several calls from both his father and his aunt. Tom’s unease deepened and Mia started to fear the worst.
“That’ll teach me,” he muttered to himself. “First time I go out on the boat in months and then something happens.” Tom shook his head as he quickly pressed to redial Aunt Ag, but her phone was switched off, as was his father’s.
Next he called Silvia, Seth answered. “Seth, it’s Tom, I can’t get through to my dad or Aunt Ag. We’ve been out on the boat, do you know what’s happened? I just dropped by the manor house and there’s no one home.”
Tom’s face went a shade whiter as Mia stood there, her hand uselessly on his arm, trying to provide comfort, whilst her mind raced through all the possible scenarios. What could have befallen Lord Trelawney to make Tom look this worried? She waited patiently, rubbing Django’s head absent-mindedly as he intermittently let out low whimpers.
“Okay Seth, yup, we’re on our way. Yup, okay, thanks for letting me know. Bye.”
“Dad’s had a fall; he’s been taken into intensive care again. I’m sorry Mia, this was not what I was planning for your first day here, but I need to go to the hospital again in Truro.” Tom looked ready to cry and Mia pulled him towards her in a quick hug before pushing him back towards the kitchen and the door, which they had left open in their mounting panic. Tom locked up with fumbling hands and jogged back towards the Land Rover. He opened the back door for Django who was whimpering more loudly now, and then they quickly walked around to their respective sides of the car and hurriedly climbed back in.
The engine choked back to life, and Tom spun the wheels as quickly as he could on the gravel and back out into the lane, leaving the gates wide open behind them as they went. They bounced along as fast as they could, down the narrow high walled lanes towards the main road and Truro.
When they arrived at the hospital, night had properly fallen. Mia stayed outside with Django, walking him around the vast floodlit carpark whilst they waited for Tom. The big sixties-built concrete buildings all looked the same, only the occasional sign pointing to histopathology or accident and emergency distinguished one walkway from another. Mia had begun to shiver and when Django seemed tired of traipsing around the sea of tarmac, they got back into the car to warm up. Mia let Django sit up front with her and he proved to be the perfect comfort blanket. His trusting head lay against her, his heart thumping warmly inside his chest as he sat patiently, whimpering occasionally at Tom’s empty car seat beside them. Reaching behind her, Mia pulled forward the blankets Tom had brought to keep warm on the boat while they were out at sea and she wrapped them both up in the scratchy wool and turned on the car radio for a bit of distraction.
In the hospital, Tom and Aunt Ag were gathered yet again at Lord Trelawney’s bedside. He looked frail in the big bed, a huge ripe purple bruise developing around his eye. Tom had to bite his lip and remind himself not to cry seeing his father in the hospital bed. Aunt Ag gave Tom a big hug and tried to make light of the situation.
“This scene is becoming a bit of a habit lately, isn’t it?” she said, pulling Tom to her as he held onto his father’s cool hand gently so as not to disturb the taped needle which was sticking out of the veins on the back of his hand.
Tom could only dumbly nod.
“I feel awful Aunt Ag,” said Tom, burying his face in her shoulder. “I feel like every time I go away something bad happens to him. I thought he was doing so well since Christmas, and I’d been so looking forward to Mia coming down and showing her the refurbished boat.”
“Tom, I know it looks bad, because of his eye, but this time he just fell. We don’t know why he fell yet, but at least he hasn’t had another heart attack. The doctor’s checked for that already. He knocked himself out and the doctor said since there are no serious symptoms of concussion yet, they will just monitor him overnight and see how he is tomorrow. There’s nothing much we can do tonight. Have you left Mia outside?”
“Then you’d better go back to her. I can stay here; the nurse said that they’d make up a bed for me next door. You can come back tomorrow. Hopefully then he’ll be able to tell us a bit more about what happened, okay?”
Finally Tom re-emerged, visibly deflated. “They’re keeping him in overnight for observation, he’s sleeping at the moment,” he gabbled. “It seems all the drugs he’s started taking for his heart might have disagreed with him or need a bit of readjustment. From the bruise on his eye, they think he must have just keeled over. They don’t know how long he’d been there before Aunt Ag popped through and found him on the kitchen flagstones. He’s got a huge black eye and he wasn’t awake so I can’t even talk to him …”
Mia gave him a big hug and held his head in her arms, smoothing down his curls, made stiff with sea salt; she breathed in his warm comforting smell and the cold air.
“Oh, Tom, I’m so sorry,” she soothed tentatively.
“Aunt Ag told me to come back tomorrow to see how he is, but there’s nothing I can do tonight, which is so frustrating. She said we should get home and eat something.” Tom bent down to pat Django who was looking up at them both expectantly and the dog responded with a short happy bark and a lick of Tom’s face.
As if revived by Django, Tom’s spirits improved a bit. “Shall we pick up some fish and chips on the way home?” asked Tom.
“That sounds perfect!” replied Mia, who suddenly realised that her stomach had been rumbling for a while and was also keen to play along and try and make Tom feel better. This fall has really shaken him up, she thought. They drove in silence initially, Tom obviously needing some time to process everything and Mia feeling too tired to talk; she laid her head against the car’s window and allowed the passing hedgerows, lit up briefly by the headlights as they drove by, to calm her down. The sea air and the drama had taken its toll and the comforting chug of the engine and the warmth of the heaters were starting to make her doze.
Tom pulled up outside the fish and chip take away, and Mia popped in to place their order. “Two haddock and chips and mushy peas, please,” she said, smiling at the girl behind the high stainless steel counter, her hair tied back with a white cotton headscarf. The little shop was filled with the smell of frying and vinegar and Mia leant against the counter whilst she waited for the fish to emerge, ...