Life Pushes You Along

By: Emma Sterner-Radley

Heartsome Publishing is pleased to introduce a woman-loving-woman romance novella set in London.

Available in eBook and Paperback now.

The unchallenging and dull life of an assistant in a small London bookshop is where Zoe Achidi feels safe. Bored, but safe.

Frequent customer, Rebecca Clare, makes Zoe’s days a little brighter. But the beautiful, and impressive businesswoman in her forties seems unobtainable.

Zoe’s brother and her best friend are convinced that she is stuck in a rut. When they decide to meddle in Zoe’s life, they manage to bring Zoe and Rebecca together. It soon becomes obvious that Rebecca is bored with her own uneventful life as well. Unfortunately, their meetings seem to remain all business.

As they find the bravery and resolve to allow life to push them along, the question soon becomes – will it push them together or apart?

Zoe knew she shouldn’t be staring. Not only because it was rude, and borderline objectifying, but because Rebecca was way out of her league. And far too old for her. Zoe didn’t know how old Rebecca was but she was certainly older than her own twenty-six years.

– Life Pushes You Along

Zoe watched as one of her favourite customers observed her with what seemed to be desperation. She felt her heart twinge with sympathy.

“So, do you have it?” he asked.

She knew she was going to disappoint him.

“I’m not sure, Mr. Evans. A book with a bird on the cover that was based somewhere with a big forest … that doesn’t ring a bell, I’m afraid.”

The bookshop’s unpleasantly sharp fluorescent lights showed every crease on his wrinkled face as it took on an embarrassed look.

Zoe quickly added, “I know the feeling though. There’s lots of books I have been looking for and I can’t remember anything but the cover, or a piece of the plot, or half of the author’s name. It’s a pain.”

He nodded. “Yes. Yes, my dear, it certainly is.”

“Do you remember anything else about the book? Who was the main character?”

He looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “I suppose she was quite a bit like you, actually.”

Zoe felt her brow furrowing. She didn’t want to be rude but that didn’t narrow it down much. Did he, perhaps, mean that the main character was someone who worked with customers, someone who dressed like her, or someone who was in their late twenties? She hoped he wasn’t alluding to the fact that she wasn’t white because she wasn’t sure if a conversation with this elderly gentleman would stay politically correct if they got onto that subject. She liked Mr. Evans and wanted to continue liking him.

“I see. Um, how was she like me?”

“Young and likable,” he answered simply.

Zoe was relieved. It was still just as impossible to find the book he was looking for, though.

“I’m afraid that doesn’t give me much to go on. Tell you what, I’ll keep an eye out for a book with a forest setting and a bird on the cover. We have your contact details on file, so I can call you if we get it in?”

His face lit up. “That would be splendid! Thank you ever so much for your help.”

She smiled at him, happy to be able to help. Mr. Evans put his trilby hat back on, and she couldn’t help but smile at his posh, old-fashioned sense of style which perfectly matched his way of speaking.

“Goodbye. I hope to hear from you but if I do not, I shall come in to purchase another book instead.”

“You do that, Mr. Evans. Goodbye.”

Just as he was leaving the bookshop, he turned around and shouted, “Oh, by the way, it might have been something other than a bird, now that I think about it. I think it was something that flew. So, maybe t’was a bat, a moth, or perhaps a ferret? Anyway, cheerio.”

The door closed behind him and Zoe stared into space, puzzled.

Had he meant to say ‘ferret’? How the hell was that categorized as something that flew?

Zoe’s manager, and the owner of the bookshop, Darren, walked in with a small box under one arm.

He held out the box to her. “We’ve got a book delivery. Who was that?” He inclined his head towards the door.

“Oh, it was Mr. Evans.”

Darren’s bushy eyebrows met at the bridge of his nose. “Who?”

“Mr. Evans. You know, the retired bank manager who likes books about nature and sea journeys. Comes in here every week?”

Darren still looked like he was trying to do complicated arithmetic.

Zoe managed not to sigh. “The old guy with the big mole on his right cheek?”

“Oh, that crazy, posh old badger. Right. Anyway, here’s the new batch. Put them on the system and then shelve them, will you?”

She gave a curt nod and took the box from him. There was no reason why he couldn’t do this himself–well there was one reason and that was simply that he was lazy. He’d stand at the counter and watch her put the books out, and as soon as she was done he’d slink back into the breakroom, leaving her to man the counter as always, while he drank his bodyweight in sweet tea. No wonder he always needs to use the loo, she thought as she unpacked the books. She put them on the system and looked at the packing slip to check the details as she did so.

Her job wasn’t the dream that most other book-nerds conjured up when she told them what she did. Yes, she worked in an independent bookshop. However, it was a lacklustre bookshop, where she was overworked, her boss didn’t care much about the running of the place, and the clientele was dwindling.

As Zoe began to shelve the books, she looked around at the cheap birch bookcases, faded beige walls, and harsh fluorescent lights and thought about how she had ended up here.

She had been in dire straits when she applied for this job. She had been out on the street since her parents kicked her out. She didn’t think she was focused enough for further education, she was down to her last twenty pounds and totally unqualified for any job.

Out of desperation, she had applied for this position and when Darren had asked her, in the interview, why he should hire her and not the other two applicants, who both had degrees and experience, she had broken down in tears. He had grumbled about not being able to stand seeing people cry and after a long chat about her situation, he had agreed to give her the job on a trial basis. She had never known how to thank him for that, and so she merely put up with him as a way of showing her gratitude.

She had just turned eighteen back then and she had stayed in the job for the following eight years out of loyalty, habit, and a feeling that there was no other job out there for her.

She sighed as she placed another book on the shelf. What was she qualified to do? Other bookshops were run a lot more professionally than Darren’s Book Nook. Her quick foray into wanted-ads told her that they would demand that she “showed initiative” and “managed her own workload.” She was sure she wasn’t ready for that. She figured that a trained monkey could do the job she was doing right now and so that was what she would stick with, no matter how much it bored her.

The little bell above the door rang out. Before Zoe had time to turn to see who their new customer was, she heard Darren’s sharp intake of breath. She knew immediately who must be at the door. Rebecca Clare.

Their favourite customer was shaking drops of water from her elegant brown coat and looked unfairly beautiful despite her red hair being wet and her glasses covered in little raindrops. Zoe stole as many glances as she dared while Rebecca rid herself of the worst of the rain. She admired the fancy high-heeled shoes, the black stockings, and what she could see of the knee-length black dress under her coat. And that was saying nothing about her face; those stunning eyes and the heart-shaped lips were truly mesmerizing. Especially this close up. Rebecca was near enough for Zoe to be able to reach out and brush her cheek. Not that she was daydreaming about that, of course.

Zoe knew she shouldn’t be staring. Not only because it was rude, and borderline objectifying, but because Rebecca was way out of her league. And far too old for her. Zoe didn’t know how old Rebecca was but she was certainly older than her own twenty-six years. Oh, and to make Rebecca even more of an impossible choice, she was Darren’s huge crush too.

Just as Zoe was dragging her gaze away, she saw Rebecca quickly remove her drenched her glasses. The water that had rested on them shot out in Zoe’s direction, some hitting the side of her face.

Rebecca looked mortified. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Are you all right, there?”

“Yeah, sure! I’m, uh, waterproof,” Zoe replied. She hoped her tone was light and jokey but worried that she sounded as terrified as she always felt when this woman spoke to her.

They had never had any long conversations, she realised. Zoe, and by extension, Darren, only knew Rebecca’s name because she had ordered books and they always took contact information to be able to call or e-mail the customer when their book arrived. Rebecca Clare,, Zoe repeated in her head, stopping herself before she reeled off the memorized phone number too.

The contact information, which showed that she must work in recruitment considering the company’s name, and Rebecca’s fondness for crime-fiction was all Zoe knew about this woman. Well, that and the fact that she had the sort of presence that you couldn’t miss. Despite Rebecca’s feminine looks and apparel, there was almost a masculine air to her behaviour. Zoe realised that what she saw as masculine could probably be boiled down to confidence, calm, directness, and a sense of power. Rebecca was polite and friendly but in a way that spoke of a person who you couldn’t take for granted.

Either way, Rebecca Clare demanded all the attention of her onlookers without having to fight for it. And that, combined with her obvious beauty, took Zoe’s breath away. Just as it was doing right now as she stood with droplets of water running down her cheek and Rebecca smiling politely at her.

Zoe wiped away the water from her face with her sweater sleeve and watched Rebecca dry her glasses on a tissue she had taken out of her pocket. Then she put the glasses back on. Zoe struggled to find something to say. Something normal. Something witty.

She heard Darren clear his throat and come rushing over.

“Mrs. Clare, isn’t it? Come to pick up your latest bloodcurdling chiller?” He grinned at Rebecca. Zoe realised that he probably thought it was a charming smirk. It wasn’t.

“It’s Ms. Clare,” Rebecca replied casually. “And yes, please. I got an email a few days ago and haven’t had time to pop in until today.”

“Terrible weather for it, though. You should have waited until tomorrow,” Darren said, his strange smile still fixed in place.

Zoe saw Rebecca raise an eyebrow for a brief moment.

“Well, it’s meant to rain all week, so planning to only go out when it’s dry seems futile. We’re Londoners, right? We’re experts at dealing with rain.”

Darren laughed, far too loudly and for far too long. Zoe wondered if Rebecca was suffering from second-hand embarrassment as much as she was right now. Deciding to rescue the other woman, Zoe put the books down and went behind the counter to pick up the book Rebecca had ordered and put it through the till.

When she was done, she handed Rebecca the thick tome. “Here’s your book. I’ve never heard of this author. Is she any good?”

“Very good. Or, at least, her last three books have been. Here’s hoping her latest doesn’t disappoint.” Rebecca looked down at the book and gave the front cover a quick pat. Then she looked back up at Zoe, with a smile.

Zoe felt herself freeze. She was meant to be telling Rebecca the total for the book, and asking if she wanted a bag but all she could do was stare. The charming smile was bad enough but Zoe had just ignored her own advice – never look this woman in the eye.

Rebecca Clare’s eyes were a common blue-green colour, but what made them so dangerous was that they always seemed to glimmer. As if Rebecca was constantly happy. Or constantly flirting. It was insanely distracting and Zoe had to force herself to ignore those gorgeous eyes and just say the total sum. She barely remembered to offer a bag for the book.

When Rebecca had paid and thanked her, she turned on her high heels and click-clacked back out into the rain and out of Zoe’s line of vision. Zoe sighed deeply and stopped herself when she realised that Darren could probably hear her.

It turned out that she didn’t need to worry about that. Darren was busy staring after Rebecca, looking like an abandoned puppy. Zoe looked around at the shop which suddenly looked ten times duller and knew how he felt.

This book certainly deserves more than five stars but five is the limit. I love both of the main characters. Zoe is such an adorable woman, she is strong and resilient but she is very unsure of herself and her low self esteem keeps her stuck in all areas of her life. Rebecca’s confidence and beauty held me captive from the moment she met Zoe.

I admired the way the writer used an important life lesson of making and embracing changes in life in her story. The story is adorable, funny and witty with a touch of real life situations to make your heart go out for both of the main characters.

– April Adams, Reviewer

Emma Sterner-Radley

Emma Sterner-Radley spent far too much time hopping from subject to subject at university, back in her native country of Sweden. One day, she finally emerged with a degree in Library and Information Science. She thought libraries was her thing, because she wanted to work with books, and being an author was just an impossible dream, right? Wrong. She’s now a writer and a publisher. (But still a librarian at heart, too.)

She lives with her wife and two cats in England. There is no point in saying which city, as they move about once a year. She spends her free time writing, reading, daydreaming, working out, and watching whichever television show has the most lesbian subtext at the time.

Her tastes in most things usually lean towards the quirky and she loves genres like urban fantasy, magic realism, and steampunk.

Emma is also a hopeless sap for any small chubby creature with tiny legs, and can often be found making heart-eyes at things like guinea pigs, wombats, marmots, and human toddlers.

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