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3 It was 6.57 p.m. on the Thursday of the first ever Cafe Crumb book club meeting, and Estelle was standing to attention behind the counter, looking around anxiously. No one had arrived yet, and there was an unpleasant churning sensation in her stomach. What if this whole thing was a disaster? She knew that holding a book group wasn’t going to be the answer to all her financial woes, but it was a start, and Estelle was willing to work as hard as it took to see her little cafe succeed. Even if she could get a handful of new customers through the door, it was better than nothing, and if they brought their friends, who then brought their friends . . . From little acorns, mighty oak trees grow – wasn’t that how the saying went? But for that to happen, she needed people to turn up tonight. Perhaps she looked too formal, Estelle thought suddenly, like a soldier at the ready, beside her teapot. Perhaps she should go and sit down instead. Earlier that evening, she’d pushed the other tables back against the walls and set two together in the middle of the cafe, surrounded by half a dozen chairs. Estelle sat down on one of them, flicking casually

through her copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the text she’d chosen for their first session. No, this wasn’t right, she chastised herself. Now she looked too laid-back, or like she hadn’t read the book and was frantically cribbing at the last minute. It was much better to be doing something. She jumped up again, checked her watch (7.02 p.m.) and put a pot of coffee on to brew. There, that was better, she thought with satisfaction, glancing around once again to check that everything was in order. The counter was lined with a selection of cakes – squares of carrot cake, chocolate brownies, shortbread biscuits liberally dusted with sugar. Estelle hoped to goodness that someone turned up or else she’d look like a loony, stuck with an enormous pile of cakes going stale, like Miss Havisham in a pinny instead of a wedding dress. Where on earth was everyone? she wondered in exasperation. The replies to her email address had been positive enough – a few definites and a handful of maybes, not to mention an awful lot of spam. Estelle glanced up at the clock once again – 7.06 p.m. The silence in the little shop was deafening, and for once there was no thudding rock music coming from the flat upstairs. Joe had gone straight to his Dad’s after school tonight, and wouldn’t be back until later. Ted now lived with his new wife, Leila, in the Bedminster area of Bristol, a couple of bus rides from Estelle’s cafe in Clifton.

Funny how men could move on so quickly after a divorce, Estelle reflected sadly. It always seemed much harder for women – at least, it was for her. She was so busy running the cafe and looking after Joe that there never seemed to be any time for love . . . The bell clanged and Estelle spun round, startled. A very tall, lean, young man was standing awkwardly in the doorway. He wore wire-rimmed glasses with brown corduroy trousers and an old-fashioned overcoat. Despite looking like he was in his late twenties, he dressed like he was in his late sixties. ‘Oh! You’re here!’ Estelle exclaimed, a little too enthusiastically. ‘Am I in the right place?’ he asked hesitantly, running a hand nervously through his messy brown hair. ‘For the book club?’

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The Naughty Girls' Book Club  
The Naughty Girls' Book Club  

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