cover image of A Cup of Ambition

The Lemon Tree Café

Cathy Bramley


61–63 Uxbridge Road, London W5 5SA

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First published in Great Britain as four separate ebooks in 2017 by Transworld Digital

an imprint of Transworld Publishers

First published as one edition in 2017 by Corgi Books

an imprint of Transworld Publishers

Copyright © Cathy Bramley 2017
Cover illustration by Kate Forrester

Song reference: (Everything I Do) I Do It For You – Bryan Adams (B. Adams/R. J. Lange/M. Kamen)

Cathy Bramley has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

This book is a work of fiction and, except in the case of historical fact, any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Every effort has been made to obtain the necessary permissions with reference to copyright material, both illustrative and quoted. We apologize for any omissions in this respect and will be pleased to make the appropriate acknowledgements in any future edition.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Version 1.0 Epub ISBN 9781473542884

ISBN 9780552172097

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

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About the Book
Title Page
Part One: A Cup of Ambition
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
A Storm in a Teacup
About the Author
Have You Read


A Cup of Ambition

Chapter 1

The executive office of Digital Horizons had an amazing view right across Derby city centre, but I wasn’t looking out of the window. I was staring at my boss and he was staring right back, waiting for my response. The low March sunshine wasn’t helping matters either; lovely as it was, it was shining directly into my eyes and making them water. I hoped he didn’t think I was crying because I was a long way from that.

I shifted my chair but there was nowhere to hide in this glass box. Even the internal walls were see-through.

‘No means no.’ I crossed my legs and eyeballed him defiantly.

My boss, Robert Crisp, the managing director, sighed and loosened the collar of his shirt. As well he might. I wasn’t backing down; some things were worth fighting for and this was one of them.

‘A few quick strokes, Rosie,’ he pleaded. ‘Two minutes and it will all be over. No one outside this room need ever know, if it bothers you that much. You’re the best at this sort of thing.’ He paused for dramatic effect. ‘That’s why I hired you.’

A thinly veiled threat; I looked away, disappointed in him.

The only other person in the room, sales director Duncan Wiggins, tutted.

‘Bloody feminists,’ he muttered, so quietly that only I heard.

Duncan was a prematurely balding thirty-something with a penchant for brightly coloured socks. I’d learned early on to rise above his sexist twaddle. If I argued back, it simply fanned the flames. Nowadays I didn’t give him oxygen.

And yes, I was a feminist. Funny that, really; in my early twenties I’d probably have said I was your classic fun, flirty female. I’d taken equality as read, assumed that women had the same power as men; I thought feminists were just making a fuss about nothing. I’d also thought I was never wrong; I was wrong about that too.

Ignoring Duncan, I tried to appeal to Robert’s better nature. He was, on the whole, a nice man; a father of two teenage girls.

‘Sorry, boss,’ I said, ‘but it’s wrong on so many levels. Surely you can see that?’

I pointed at the image on the computer screen, which had been angled so that all three of us could see it. I couldn’t believe that they wanted me to manipulate the picture of Lucinda Miller to make her thinner. Lucinda was a pretty young actress and soon to be the face of the online campaign against teenage domestic violence that we were launching at noon today. She had a halo of copper curls, a naturally friendly smile and a feisty sparkle in her eyes. She was also currently in possession of boobs, a tiny rounded tummy and – shock, horror – no thigh gap.

Lucinda had overcome a difficult childhood to become a successful actress and as far as I was concerned, she was the ideal role model to be the face of this campaign. Exactly as she was.

The client, however, had asked for a bit of airbrushing to make her tummy and legs slimmer. Not that she was fat, they’d been quick to add, just that it would give a smoother line to the finished image. The boobs could stay, though. Surprise, surprise.

Duncan had already referred to Lucinda as ‘the cuddly one from Raw Recruits’, the gritty police drama she was currently acting in. Which was ridiculous: she was a size twelve, well below average weight and certainly not in need of any digital enhancement by me and my editing software.

‘Have a cake.’ Robert slid the plate of cinnamon pastries across the meeting table.

I leaned forward to take one and my black bobbed hair swung forward over my eyes. I hooked it behind my ear and gave him a slight smile. ‘Buttering me up won’t change my mind.’

He massaged his forehead and sighed. ‘We don’t have a lot of choice, love.’

My expression reverted to glacial. He held his hands up immediately.

‘Sorry. Rosie. Sorry.’

‘Robert,’ I held his eye, ‘there’s always a choice. We can refuse to do it. What sort of a message are we sending out to young women who are looking to this charity for support? It makes us as bad as the media who caused the problem of low self-esteem in girls in the first place. So no, I won’t make her thinner. She’s lovely as she is and frankly her not being perfect makes a much more powerful statement.’

Next to me, Duncan swore under his breath and I tried not to react.

‘Of course Rosie’ll do it.’ He reached for more coffee and raised a sleazy eyebrow at Robert. ‘Women always say no. They never mean it. Not in my experience, anyway.’

Especially when the question is: Do you find Duncan Wiggins utterly repulsive? No one could say no to that and mean it, I thought, taking a bite of my pastry.

‘Remind me again, Duncan,’ I said, dabbing the crumbs from my mouth, ‘when was the last time you went out with a woman who wasn’t your mother?’

He opened his mouth, evidently couldn’t remember and resorted to giving me a withering look instead.

‘And for the record, I do mean it,’ I continued, addressing Robert, who I noticed was starting to perspire. ‘Lucinda likes the picture as it is; I’ve got an email from her agent to prove it. Perpetuating the myth that women’s bodies are open to manipulation is against my principles and I’m not doing it.’ I popped the rest of the pastry in and mumbled, ‘Sorry.’

‘Business is tough at the moment, Rosie,’ Robert argued. ‘You know how important this client is.’

‘Yes. I do,’ I said, folding my arms. ‘They are important to young girls who are currently being bullied by their abusive boyfriends for allegedly being slags or being stupid or for having NO THIGH GAP.’

‘For God’s sake, Featherstone, will you clamber down from your moral high ground?’ Duncan groaned wearily, with a well-timed look at my fitted skirt and high heels. I resisted the urge to adjust my hemline, which wasn’t particularly short; I dressed for me, not for men. So he could go and do one. ‘Have you always been such a barrel of laughs?’

No. Not since one night when I realized that the world wasn’t full of gentlemen like my dad but, unfortunately, tossers like you.

‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ I said with eyes wide, ‘domestic violence is a joke to you, is it?’

‘He’s not saying that, Rosie,’ said Robert, shooting Duncan a warning look.

‘Enhancing Lucinda’s assets isn’t a crime, and even if it is, it’s not our crime,’ Duncan continued in his slimy voice. ‘We obey the client: we airbrush the chubby lass and launch the campaign at noon. End of story. Now let’s move on to something more important: the golf day for top clients. I’ve been looking into venues …’

He began droning on about eighteen holes and teams and trophies and corporate backscratching. I glared expectantly at Robert who squirmed in his seat and lowered his eyes.

At midday the social media campaign went live, spear-headed by a doctored picture of Lucinda Miller with a wasp-like waist, flat stomach and pipe-cleaner legs. God knows who did the airbrushing – probably Billy, the junior graphic designer, who, I knew, was desperate for an invite to that golf day. I didn’t see because I was too busy typing. Ten minutes later, I handed my resignation letter to my gob-smacked boss and quit my job as creative director for the largest social media agency in the Midlands.

It wasn’t just about Lucinda Miller’s thighs, I explained patiently, when Robert accused me of being oversensitive. It was the culture of everyday sexism that was so deeply ingrained in the company’s ethos that the few women who were employed by Digital Horizons simply seemed to accept it and the men didn’t even notice it.

Anyway, I for one wasn’t going to accept it any more. I left the keys to my company car with reception, walked out of the revolving glass doors and jumped on a bus feeling immensely proud of myself. I might have lost today’s battle, but I wasn’t about to lose my principles too.

The bus took me as far as Chesterfield and I jumped in a taxi to take me the rest of the way: I needed privacy to make an important phone call …

‘So I’m available right away,’ I said to Michael, the recruitment consultant who had headhunted me for Digital Horizons. ‘The sooner the better, really.’

I didn’t do ‘unemployed’ very well. I rarely even took my holiday entitlement and relaxing was anathema to me.

‘Gosh, darling! That’s very sudden. What went wrong?’

I had every faith in Michael. He knew how ambitious I was, how hard-working; I was sure he’d be on my side.

‘A difference of opinion, and theirs was wrong. So …’ I cleared my throat. No use dwelling on the past. ‘On to pastures new. What have you got?’

‘Hmm, nothing of your calibre springs to mind. Bear with, I’ll do some digging.’

I heard the drumming of his fingers on his keyboard and gripped the door handle as the taxi bounced over the Derbyshire hills towards Barnaby, hoping he’d strike gold before we came to a halt. I glanced out of the window just as we passed the ‘Best Kept Village 2012’ plaque on the big oak tree in front of the church.

Barnaby was a pretty village on the edge of the Peak District. Nestled in a valley surrounded by fields of sheep, it oozed olde worlde charm. The cottages were built from chunky buff stone with tiny white windows, a quaint row of shops edged the village green and a stream meandered merrily along, parallel to the cobbled main road.

We passed the end of my steep little street. I’d bought a tiny one-up-one-down cottage at the very top of it last summer with the intention of doing it up and selling it on. I’d had to completely gut it: new roof, dinky log-burning stove, hotel-style bathroom, kitchen with all the mod cons … In fact, I’d done such a good job that I couldn’t bear to part with it. And now it was home.

The children were outside in the playground at the little Victorian school as we passed by, busy with games of hopscotch and football; a few faces were pressed against the railings waving and shouting to attract the attention of passers-by. I smiled to myself as I waved back, remembering how my little sister Lia and I used to do that too.

Michael was still mumbling under his breath as he read through his notes.

‘Ooh, I do have a fab-u-lous vacancy for a new business director at a full-service comms agency in London. Exciting client list, great benefits package. Interested?’

I was interested. Or rather I would have been had it not been for the location. I’d spent a few months there after graduating from uni and it hadn’t ended well. But maybe I’d have to spread my wings a bit if I wanted to get further up the corporate ladder.

‘Possibly,’ I said vaguely. ‘Further north would be preferable.’

Michael sighed apologetically. ‘It’s fairly quiet at the moment in social media.’

‘Keep looking; I’ll go mad if I’ve got nothing to do.’

He rang off after promising to do his best and I dropped the phone in my bag. I slid back the glass screen between me and the taxi driver as we approached the village green.

‘Over there, please.’ I pointed to the building with the sunny yellow awning over its frontage and a pair of miniature lemon trees in terracotta pots flanking the door. ‘The Lemon Tree Café.’

The old-fashioned bell above the door chimed to signal my arrival and I stepped from one world into another. My grandmother’s café couldn’t have been more of a contrast to Digital Horizons.

Lunch service was over and most of the tables were empty. Doreen, who’d been here as long as I could remember, was rearranging sandwich fillings behind the counter and my seventy-five-year-old Italian nonna, Maria Carloni, was sitting in the toy corner, tidying wooden bricks into a crate. She looked up at the sound of the bell, adjusted her black-rimmed spectacles which magnified her eyes to the size of chestnuts and tucked a stray white curl back into her bun before recognizing me.

Santo cielo!’ she cried. ‘Rosanna!’

‘Surprise!’ I laughed as she scurried over, arms wide.

She planted loud kisses on my cheeks and I hugged her plump body tight. She smelled as she had done for decades: of lemon soap and almond hand cream.

The café was chock-full of happy memories for me, stretching right back through my childhood to when Nonna used to look after Lia and me after school: sneaking sweets from the jar on the counter, entertaining the customers with songs and made-up dance routines, and food, of course, lots of food. And after the morning I’d had, it was the perfect place to recharge my batteries.

Doreen waved, her pink cheeks dimpling with a smile as she held up a coffee cup. I gave her the thumbs up as Nonna led me to a stool at the counter and I breathed in the café’s unique aroma: the coffee, the fresh pots of herbs on each table, the sweetness of freshly baked cookies and, of course, the zingy lemons from the pots in the conservatory at the back. It all added up to a welcoming mix of warmth and love and a sense of community and I felt the tension ease from my shoulders for the first time today.

‘Why you not at work?’ Nonna’s eyes roamed my face, full of concern. ‘You working-holic, even weekends. You like your nonna,’ she added with a tinge of pride.

‘No, I …’ I paused to smile my thanks as Doreen set a cappuccino and a ham-and-cheese toastie in front of me. ‘I quit my job. Walked out.’

They listened, agog, as I filled them in on the morning’s events.

‘Dicky heads.’ Nonna scowled, and Doreen turned away to serve two ramblers who wanted tea and toasted teacakes to help thaw them out after their chilly hike. ‘You their top worker. What is wrong with them?’

‘They’re dicky heads. Obviously,’ I said, winking at Doreen.

I loved Nonna’s loyalty. She had no idea what social media was, had never even heard of viral marketing and hadn’t a clue what I did all day at work, yet despite that, in her eyes, I was the bee’s knees.

‘Eh.’ She flicked her ubiquitous cloth at me, sending a shower of crumbs into the air. ‘Language.’

I laughed, dodging the cloth, and she wandered off to clear tables and chat to her customers, leaving me to enjoy my late lunch alone.

‘Here.’ Doreen tutted, holding out her hand for my cup. ‘You can’t drink that now.’

‘Oh. I see what you mean,’ I said, peering into it. The cappuccino had acquired a layer of fluff and crumbs.

Doreen made me another and leaned in towards me conspiratorially.

‘Her and that flippin’ cloth. I spend half my time clearing up after her. I don’t want to speak out of turn,’ she whispered, her face flushing, ‘but I’m a bit worried about Maria.’

‘What do you mean?’ I looked across at Nonna who was leaning heavily on one of the tables and wiping an arm across her brow. ‘Do you think she’s ill?’

Doreen flushed and shook her head.

‘Not exactly …’ She glanced around her nervously. ‘I probably shouldn’t say anything. It feels wrong. Forget it.’

‘You can’t just stop there,’ I whispered. ‘You’ve got me worried now. Come on, spill the beans.’

‘It’s just … It feels like …’ She blew out a breath and twisted the corner of her apron round in her hands. ‘OK. The truth is I don’t think she’s up to the job any more.’

‘What – running the café?’ My eyes widened.

‘Hold on a sec—’ She broke off to serve some customers who wanted to pay their bill.

I sipped my new cappuccino and frowned.

Doreen was a hard worker and extremely loyal to Nonna. She wouldn’t complain without good reason. She shut the old-fashioned till with a clatter and came back over.

‘Take this morning, for instance,’ she said, checking over her shoulder that Nonna wasn’t within earshot. ‘She gave out thirteen pounds in change to someone, instead of three.’

‘Easy mistake,’ I said diplomatically.

‘And I caught her filling the salt cellars with sugar last week.’

I glanced over to where Nonna was seemingly wiping a clean table with her dirty cloth and making it ten times worse.

‘Perhaps she needs new glasses?’ I whispered back.

Doreen shook her head sadly.

‘I thought I’d lost her yesterday; I found her half an hour later fast asleep on an upturned bucket in the courtyard. No, it’s not new glasses. She’s seventy-five. What she needs,’ she said, ‘is a rest. A permanent one. Called retirement.’

My stomach plummeted. Nonna was as rest averse as me  and didn’t take kindly to advice, no matter how well intended.

‘Have you tried telling her?’ I said weakly.

‘She doesn’t listen to us.’ Doreen huffed. ‘I can’t even make her take a proper lunch break and she won’t let Juliet and me take over the evening cleaning, she sends us home at four and does it herself. We do bits when we can without her noticing. But the griddle is in desperate need of a deep clean and the loos …’ Her bottom lip trembled. ‘If the health inspector ever comes in, he’d have a field day. I can’t afford to lose this job, neither can Juliet.’

Juliet was the other part-time staff member who worked when Doreen was off. But Nonna had always kept numbers to a minimum, claiming that she did the work of two people. Perhaps those days were gone, but I didn’t want to be the one to break that to Nonna.

‘I understand and I’m sure it won’t come to that.’ I gave her a reassuring smile. ‘Er … shall I, er, mention it to Mum?’