This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
The first entry of our Top 20 Undiscovered Shortlist is Dancing Queen by Chloe Kent.
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Over to Chloe Kent…
DANCING QUEEN (BLURB)
Library assistant, Claire Bishop, is down on her luck when she receives an inheritance from her elusive, Great-Uncle Basil. The bad news is he’s invested the money for her – in a run-down cottage and a dance school in deepest Cornwall.
She must leave her family and artist boyfriend, Joe, and get the dance school up and running, despite not having a business bone in her body.
What’s worse is, she’ll be sharing the cottage with washed-up salsa champion, Adam Flynn, whose grandmother once had a fling with Great-Uncle Basil.
Claire’s determined to sell the cottage and school and go back to her life in Oxford, but finds herself being pulled into the sleepy community, where the locals are mostly out of work and have nothing to do but gossip.
Then Adam drops a bombshell.
As well as helping her run the dance school, he must train her to national level so they can enter the upcoming championships as a couple.
Claire goes into panic mode. She has two left feet, a dodgy ankle, and can’t bear to be the centre of attention. If she goes along with it, her relationship with Joe may be over.
If she refuses, the dance school will close and Adam won’t be able to claim his share of the inheritance.
Can Claire overcome her confusion, her embarrassment, her fury with Great Uncle Basil – not to mention her intense dislike of glitterballs – and transform herself from clumsy librarian to red-hot dancing queen?
READ THE FIRST 3000 WORDS OF DANCING QUEEN OVER THE CUT!
Dancing Queen by Chloe Kent
“That machine doesn’t give change,” said the woman behind me, her face all scrunched and grumpy looking.
I shoved my ten pound note back in my purse, eyes expertly skimming the ground for the glint of a coin.
I couldn’t believe it had come to this – grubbing for pennies like a beggar.
The woman sighed noisily as a queue started building up. We were approaching a bank holiday and the car-park was full, as if the whole country had decided to shop in preparation.
“Does anyone have change for a ten-pound note?” I appealed brightly, knowing I couldn’t afford to waste it or I’d have no money to buy groceries. I’d foolishly cut up my credit card, to avoid temptation, and my overdraft was groaning under the strain. I wouldn’t get paid for another few days so my ten pounds had to last.
“Shouldn’t you have thought this through?” said a man the back, and I resisted the urge to kick him in the shins and burst into noisy tears.
“I know,” I said instead, rolling my eyes in a way I hoped implied I was being typically blonde – even though my natural mud-brown roots were peeking though. I hadn’t been near a salon in ages. “I was in a bit of a hurry,” I added, biting a trembling lip.
There was a half-hearted rustle as people began fidgeting in purses and tentatively patting their pockets.
“Look love,” wheezed an elderly woman, stepping out of the line. She was wearing a furry hat and matching boots, despite the warm May sunshine. “Why don’t you could go and see the attendant?” She pointed to a booth at the opposite end of the car park. “He could probably change it for you.”
It made sense, but I hesitated. If I had to go to the end of the queue I’d be later than I already was, thanks to a meeting running over at the library, eating into my lunch-break. I didn’t fancy coming back after work. I was almost out of petrol as it was.
“Here have this, love.”
I wheeled round to see a grizzled old man peeling away from one of the urine-stained pillars supporting the second floor of the car-park. He shuffled over, his baggy trousers bunched at the waist with string, holding out one hand. In his filthy palm was a single, shiny two-pound coin. “It should buy you an hour,” he gurned, his toothless gums smacking together.
“Are you sure?” I breathed, and a grumble of disapproval swelled immediately.
“Taking money from a tramp!”
“How low can you go?”
“Oh shut up, Mum. If it gets her out of the way, let her take it.”
“Blimey, times must be hard love.”
They were – that was the trouble. “I’ll give it you back, just as soon as I get paid,” I promised, tears of gratitude stinging my eyes as he palmed the coin into mine.
“Don’t you worry about that, darling.” He ran his tongue round his lips in a way that made me feel nauseous, and eyed my chest with a leer. “A nice big kiss will do.”
“What’s for dinner, babe?” Joe wandered out of the bedroom, blinking and yawning like a bear emerging from hibernation.
“Don’t tell me you’ve just got up.” I shrugged off my jacket, still smarting from my car-park encounter.
“Okay I won’t.” He planted a kiss on my cheek and I recoiled from his coffee breath. “You know I was up late working on Morning Glory.”
I assumed an encouraging expression. “How’s it going?”
“It’s getting there, babe, it’s getting there.” He shoved a hank of wavy dark hair from his eyes and scratched his nose. Everything about Joe looked sharp, from his cheekbones to his elbows, and his nose was no exception.
“Can I see it?”
He shook his head, as I’d known he would. “Not ‘til it’s finished,” he said. “I don’t want to jinx it, babe.”
Sometimes I thought he’d forgotten my name was Claire.
“Is it a sunrise?” I said hopefully, foraging through cupboards in the kennel-sized kitchen. We’d moved from our spacious flat when my hours at the library were cut, and Joe had failed to sell any of his paintings at his last exhibition. “I love your landscapes,” I added, praying it wasn’t one of the porno images he’d been experimenting with.
When I’d met Joe two years ago, browsing the art section at the library, I’d been blown away by his enthusiasm for painting, and his passion for teaching it to sixth-formers at the local college, but he’d suddenly decided his artwork was too ‘prosaic’ and threw in his job to pursue ‘artistic integrity.’
This involved stumbling out of bed at noon, getting high on caffeine and sampling different techniques, colours and styles: or buggering about as I preferred to call it.
He used to sell his work on a regular basis, and even had his own spot at a big restaurant in town. People had started commissioning him to do portraits, but he wasn’t interested any more. He couldn’t shift his paintings now, and the restaurant had banned his latest attempts.
“So what if old ladies like scenery?” I’d said baffled one evening, watching him shred a canvas of ducks on a lake. “At least they buy them. No one wants a picture of a giant penis with eyes above their fireplace.”
He was tracking my movements around the kitchen now, through narrowed eyes. “It’s not a sunrise, I’m done with sunrises,” he said adding, “I’m happy with beans on toast,” as if sensing my growing exasperation with the empty state of the cupboards.
“There aren’t any.” I indicated the depleted shelves with a frustrated hand gesture.
“Cheese on toast?”
“Nope,” I said, poking my head in the fridge. Even Delia would have struggled to make a meal with a jar of pickled eggs and a courgette.
“Your hair looks nice, sort of curlier and shorter and I like your top, is it new?” Joe said, going into distraction mode as I slammed the fridge door perilously close to crying.
“I can’t afford to have my hair done, Joe. It’s gone curly because it started pouring with rain, in case you hadn’t noticed, and this top is ancient, which is why it’s tight round my hips because, and in case you haven’t noticed there’s a ladder in my tights and a rip in this stupid skirt, which is at least two seasons out of date, and I’m wearing a pair of your bloody boxers because the washing machine’s broken and we can’t afford to get it fixed and I’ve run out of bloody pants.” I paused, chest heaving.
“Okay, okay. Jeeee-sus,” Joe said, advancing slowly as though I was a hand grenade somebody had lobbed through the window. “I happen to like your homeless-chic look, and you could always take the washing round to your Mum’s. Or my Mum’s.” He tried to grab my hand, but I folded my arms and give him a filthy look.
“You know my mum doesn’t have a washing machine, she gets her clothes dry-cleaned, and your mum lives at the opposite end of the country, remember?”
He frowned and scraped at his chin, reminding me briefly of the man at the end of our street, who was always waving a bottle of whiskey and predicting the end of the world. “I keep forgetting my folks have moved to Outer Space,” he said.
He shrugged. “Anyway don’t worry Hairy-McClairey,” I suppressed a scream, “I’ve got a bag of Haribo somewhere that’ll keep me going.” He gave my shoulder a sympathetic squeeze before backing away. “Maybe you can nip to the corner shop when the rain stops.”
Unlike a lot of men, Joe had an under-developed sense of responsibility. He claimed to be so secure in his masculinity he didn’t mind me earning more money than him, which I hadn’t minded when I was, but now worried me rather a lot.
“I’ll do the washing up then shall I?” I said, hating that I sounded like a nagging wife when we weren’t even close to engaged.
“Oh sorry, I meant to do that earlier, hun, but the light was just right and I got carried away with Morning Glory.”
“I bet you did,” I muttered, savagely squirting washing up liquid into the sink. It was a cheap brand, which meant I had to use three times as much to get any bubbles. “You carry on faffing with your paints while I try and think of a way to pay this month’s rent, why don’t you?”
“Oh, by the way there was a phone call for you.” He was back, hands pressing each side of the door-frame as if it was about to cave in. “Some solicitor bloke called Perkins. Wants you to call him urgently.”
“Oh?” My heart did a somersault.
“Maybe some distant relative’s died and left you a fortune.” He grinned, revealing his endearingly crooked front teeth.
“Don’t be silly,” I said on a sigh. “That sort of thing doesn’t happen in real-life.”
I turned back to the dirty dishes and rolled my sleeves up. The bubbles had already vanished.
“Could – could you repeat that please, Mr. Perkins?”
The solicitor smiled briefly, as if he’d anticipated my response. “Miss Bishop, you have been bequeathed a quite considerable fortune by the late Basil Tremayne, formerly Sir Basil of Lyndebourne, to the sum of two million pounds.”
I blinked rapidly. “I don’t understand.”
Mr. Perkins’ eyebrows meshed together. He was small and slight with sparse grey hair, and a manner that suggested he’d seen things he’d rather forget.
“Your great-uncle Basil has passed away and left you a lot of money, Miss Bishop.”
“Claire,” I said automatically, my heart breaking into a gallop. I couldn’t quite process what he was saying.
“Claire.” He folded his hands on a cardboard folder in front of him, his gold signet ring winking in the light. “Your great-uncle was made a Sir in the seventies for services to business, but rejected the title a decade later when he went to live in the -”
“Scilly Isles,” I breathed, my mind working overtime. “We went to visit him once, years ago. I must have been about six.”
A memory popped up of a smiling, ruddy cheeked man with a head of off-white curls like a sheep. “We called it the stupid isles. We thought it was hilarious. My brother and sister and I,” I added, racking my brains for more information and coming up blank.
“Well you clearly made a good impression, Miss Bishop. Claire,” said Mr. Perkins, eyes briefly digesting my appearance.
Unsure what to expect I’d pinned up my hair in a bun, exchanged my contacts for thick-rimmed glasses, and slipped on a sober trouser-suit unworn since my interview at the library.
I looked like a prison warder.
“I didn’t realise he was rich,” I confessed, blinking more than was necessary.
“He was in property for a long time and made some shrewd investments that paid off. He was able to retire at fifty.”
“Mum never said anything.”
“I believe there was a falling out.” Mr. Perkins’ tone implied there usually was in these situations.
“That’s right! I remember now.” We’d gone there after Mum had one of her rows with my father, even though they were long divorced by then. She’d claimed to need the sun on her face – or had I imagined that? “There was a lot of shouting one night and we left the next day. I forgot to pack Binky,” I blurted.
Colour stung my cheeks. “My stuffed rabbit. He posted it back to me, though. I’ve still got him,” I waffled, trying to get back on track. “How did my great-uncle die?”
“Heart attack. It was very sudden, and there was no suffering apart from to his lady-friend.”
My head twitched up. “I’m sorry?”
Mr. Perkins had wiped his expression clean. “His … girlfriend took a while to get out from under him and concussed herself on the bedside table.”
“I understand she’s made a full recovery,” he added, as if I might be worried about her.
“But – but …” I was still struggling with the image. “Wasn’t he ancient?” I managed.
“Nearly ninety, but still very, ah, active by all accounts.” Mr. Perkins lowered his gaze respectfully.
“I see.” I cleared my throat. “Well I suppose there are worse ways to go.”
I tried to locate some grief for Great-Uncle Basil, but couldn’t summon more than a fleeting sadness for a man I’d never known. Besides, it sounded like he’d lived his life to the full.
“Has – has he left anything to Tish and James?” I ventured, wondering why my siblings hadn’t been summoned – though it would have been difficult with Tish on tour with the National Ballet, and James somewhere in the Amazon, overseeing the construction of a shelter for drug-addled single mothers.
Sometimes I think I was born into the wrong family.
“I’m afraid not.” Mr. Perkins glanced at the folder and shifted in his chair. “You are the sole beneficiary,” he said, meeting my eyes.
“Oh dear.” It was stuffy in the office, which had a view of the River Thames, and seeing the ribbon of glinting water in the distance I licked my lips.
“Could I have a drink, please?” I said, undoing a button on my shirt. The walls seemed to be closing in.
“Of course.” Mr. Perkins leapt up and pressed water into a plastic cup from a cooler by the door. “Are you all right, Miss Bishop, Claire?”
“It – it’s the shock,” I said, between grateful sips.
“I’d open a window, but they’ve been painted shut for years.” He smiled apologetically, and slid back behind his desk.
As the walls shrank back, I was gripped by a sudden image of myself careering round Selfridges Food Hall, stuffing a silver trolley with olives and grapes and wine, and Stilton and foie-gras … hang on. I couldn’t stand olives. Caviar!
Did Selfridges sell caviar? What if I hated it? It didn’t matter!
I fidgeted with mounting excitement. It didn’t matter that Tish and James hadn’t been left any money – I could easily afford help them out now. And my mother, who was struggling to keep her little magazine empire afloat in the recession.
I wished I’d asked Joe to come with me now, and tried to picture his reaction. I could buy us a bigger flat! He could have his own studio to paint his penises in. Penises? Peni?
I was dying to tell my best friend, Lou. I’d treat us to a shopping spree! We could run riot in Topshop, or … or somewhere more exclusive, and I’d finally be able to treat myself to a new handbag and a laptop, and perhaps book a holiday. I hadn’t had a holiday in ages. Oh my God! This was the best news ever!
I refocused, aware Mr. Perkins was watching me keenly, lips twitching as if he could read my mind.
“Now as I said your money …”
“Two million,” I prompted, picturing heaps of notes stacked up like a cartoon bank robber’s booty. I’ve never seen that much money in real life.
My parents weren’t exactly destitute, but were in no position to splash the cash or bail out their youngest daughter when she was down on her luck, and anyway they firmly believed in forging your own path through life and not relying on handouts.
Not that I’d dream of asking.
“The thing is …” Mr. Perkins paused, and for the first time I saw doubt creep over his face.
“What is it?”
“Basil was of the opinion that you were special.”
“Oh?” I frowned. “That sounds a bit creepy, actually.”
“No no, not like that,” said Mr. Perkins, pressing the air with his hand. “He never had children of his own – saw something in you that was a little like him, apparently.”
“How did you know him?” I frowned, wondering if it was going to turn out to be some sort of hideous hoax.
“He picked my name off the Internet, and we chatted on the phone a few times.” Mr. Perkins’ face relaxed into a pinched smile. “It turned out our grandfathers attended the same university and he seemed to trust me.”
“Go on,” I said crossing my legs, my excitement dimming a little.
“Well -,” the smile faded. “He thought that giving you the money outright would be a mistake.”
“WHAT?” I lowered my voice. “Look, given the opportunity I can be very sensible with money. I’ve got a cookbook at home called 100 Ways with Mince.”
“I see.” Mr. Perkins started flipping through the folder in front of him, eyes scanning the pages inside as if searching for the recipes himself.
“I mean, I might have a bit of a spend to start with just to celebrate. Who wouldn’t?” Hysteria ripped through me and I sat on my hands to stop myself waving them about. “I’ll probably invest most of it anyway,” I added, striving for a sensible voice, and Mr. Perkins’ head shot up as if he’d been prodded with a stick.
“Good! Well that’s good to hear, Miss … Claire,” he said, relief sweeping over his face. “But you won’t need to invest the money, because – you see, your great uncle has already invested it for you.
In a dance school.”