Second Chances by Minna Howard

Second Chances by Minna Howard Published 1st July 2017

A comfortingly warm and wise novel about starting again and finding love when you least expect it. Succumbing to a rather clichéd midlife crisis, Dan Haywood swaps his family for an expensive red sports car and a younger woman. After 24 years of marriage, his wife Sarah is left to pick up the pieces. Trying her best to re-style her life, comfort hurt children, make time for ‘helpful’ friends and maintain her burgeoning career as a dress designer, Sarah feels pulled in a hundred directions. And it doesn’t help that obstacles – mostly in the form of other middle-aged men – seem to conspire against her.Proud of herself for moving house and starting to build an independent life, she is shocked when Robert Maynard, her rather dashing new next-door neighbour, insists that the house was promised to him. Now she is destined to be pulled into his life by events beyond her control. After one failed marriage, will she be able to find happiness again? And do second chances really come to those who wait? Perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley and Katie Forde.

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About the author: Minna has had an exciting career in fashion journalism and now writes full time, whilst enjoying time with her grandsons and working as an occasional film and TV extra. She lives in London. Follow Minna on Facebook: MinnaHowardBooks or on Twitter: @Adelica


‘Does this suit me?’ The middle-aged woman with the bulging thighs and bottle-blonde hair tugged at the delicate silk round her hips. She looked like a packet of meat straining from its plastic skin in the supermarket. Sarah couldn’t tell Mrs Bradshaw the truth. She must tactfully suggest something else, to play along with the illusion that this woman had in her mind. Traces of beauty clung to her like a fading rose, but every time she came into the shop, she wildly underestimated her dress-size. In her imagination did she still see the thin, young woman she once used to be? She was relieved when Briar appeared before she could think up something to say. An old friend, Celine had inherited this shop in a small street off the Fulham Road – which used to be a florist – from her aunt and they’d paired up to turn it into a clothes shop with beautiful clothes some of which Sarah designed made from luscious materials from India. Glowing silks embroidered with birds and flowers and butterflies inspiring Sarah to design exotic maxi dresses and jackets and exquisite trouser suits. Two women in the sewing room at the back of the shop made them up and did alterations so the clothes fitted each figure perfectly. Briar was a slight, grey haired woman of interminable age who’d wandered into the shop one wintery afternoon and said she used to work in the fashion department at Harvey Nichols. Now, being a widow and childless, she was bored stiff of sitting at home all day with only day time television to occupy her, and if there was a job going please could she have it. She was a marvel, straight speaking with the gift of being able to persuade the clients that the outfit she helped them choose did far more for them than the one they thought they wanted. ‘I think the green suits you better, Mrs Bradshaw,’ Briar said, holding up the green embroidered dress. It was a size bigger, and would not hug those hips quite so tightly. ‘But I love this blue, so rich…’ Mrs Bradshaw trilled, turning herself again, as if to hide the offending bulges. ‘Now, Mrs Bradshaw, I’d like to see you in the green, or even this raspberry pink.’ Briar said as she took the dress off the rack. ‘That blue drains your colour .’ Briar whisked her and the clothes she’d chosen for her into a changing cubical leaving Sarah feeling despondent. She felt hopeless at her work now, hopeless at everything. Celine had been wonderful when she’d heard of Dan’s leaving. She was so much easier to cope with than Linda was. ‘God, I’m sorry, Sarah. What a pig,’ she’d said, when she told her. ‘What can I do? Do you want time off?’ ‘I don’t know,’ she’d sniffed; tears she had once thought dried up came too easily now, like rain in the monsoon, especially when people were kind. They both got in early, a good hour before the shop opened and before the women who did the alterations. It was the best time to discuss the sales, the materials and the staff, while they were on their own. ‘I don’t want you to have time off, Sarah. It’s not long till Ascot, Henley, and there’ll be all those summer weddings, when people buy the most. Anyway, what will you do with time off, apart from mope, which will kill you?’ ‘I know. I want to work, I’ll have to anyway, and I only come in five days a week. I can manage that.’ Both of them usually took the weekend off, though the shop was closed anyway on Sundays. ‘Do you want to come in on Saturdays?’ Celine regarded her intently with her calm grey eyes. ‘No. I don’t want to change.’ She’d meant she didn’t want her life to change at all. She wanted Dan back where he belonged, so she could sink back in comfy relief into the niche she’d spent so much time and energy creating. ‘I’m glad now I never married,’ Celine said. ‘I know I wanted to when I was younger, but really only because everyone else was and I felt a sort of misfit not to have done it myself. But now I treasure my independence, and the feeling that no one can mess me about, hurt me as Dan has hurt you.’ The pain was as bitter as a bereavement, yet Dan was not dead. He was careering around in a red sports car with a girl young enough to be his daughter. It was hell thinking of that, thinking of him in bed with someone else. That was her trouble; she felt the act of sex was something special, something you shared only with someone you loved, someone who loved you. But it wasn’t like that today. Sex seemed to be on a par with a game of tennis, or a round of golf. You did it as a ‘need’, as your right to a normal life. Sex was used as a selling-point for everything, from jazzing up medieval fantasies on TV to selling chocolate bars. Seemingly everyone but her was at it. Had Dan felt left out too; felt he ought to join this libidinous bandwagon before he needed a prescription for Viagra? ‘I’m not the only one who’s been dumped,’ she said, wondering now if she’d been kind enough to other women she’d known who had been through the same shattering experience. In the general gossip after such an event, blame had often been laid on the deserted wives. ‘She never really bothered with her looks after the children were born’ or, ‘He worked far too hard, and she just spent all his money’. Various other failings were trotted out as if it were entirely the wife’s duty to keep the relationship going. What were they saying about her in the Crescent now?  Celine appeared from the back of the shop where she’d been chatting with the sewing women.


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