Caroline Roberts shares an excerpt from her festive novel, The Cosy Christmas Chocolate Shop.

Chapter 1

Five o’clock, their usual closing time, came and passed. There were still customers milling about in the shop and Emma didn’t want to lose any business – she needed all the income she could get – so kept going. She offered Holly the chance to leave but her assistant said she’d stay and help until the last customer had gone, bless her. Holly was nearly seventeen, eager, bubbly, and friendly with the customers. Since she’d started a few weeks ago, on Saturdays and the odd day in the holidays as she was still in the Sixth Form at school, the young girl had proved to be a bit of a godsend. Emma had been managing on her own up until that point, trying to keep to a budget and do everything herself, but as her chocolates were becoming more popular, and the shop better known, it was hard to keep up with the chocolate­making as well as serving behind the counter. It was lovely to have some company in the shop too.

The Christmas Eve queue continued. It was always a bit crazy, this last­-minute Christmas Eve rush, as though no one was going to be able to buy chocolates ever again, or that the Christmas break would last a month. But she’d be open again in a few days’ time! Oh well, she certainly wasn’t going to complain; though it was tiring working all hours, Emma enjoyed the buzz and the build­up to Christmas, loved crafting the chocolates and thinking of new festive flavours to mix up with the traditional favourites, and she needed every last penny. It had been a bit of a poor year, profit­wise, even with the shop getting busier, as costs seemed to be going up all the time, and January was a desperately slow month, so December’s takings were going to have to see her through until Valentine’s Day at least.

It was twenty to six when the last customer, a woman in her twenties who was on holiday with friends, picked up her bag of festive goodies, thanked Holly and Emma very much, and wished them goodnight and a Merry Christmas.

‘Have a great break and Merry Christmas!’ Holly sang. Emma followed the lady to the exit, thanked her, then popped her head out to check there was no one else on their way. The street was clear, and the winter chill swept in. She shut the door, turning its little wooden sign to ‘Closed’. Phew – she rested her back against the door for a second.

‘Well done, Hols. That was one busy shift. Thank you. I’d never have managed without you.’

She took the young girl’s wages for the day out of the till and gave her an extra twenty­-pound note.

‘Oh, thank you so much!’ Holly gave her boss a little hug.

‘And hang on.’ She dashed to the back kitchen to find her assistant’s Christmas gift, some special bubble bath and matching body lotion, with a hand­picked box of Holly’s favourite chocolates.

‘Aw, Emma, thanks. I didn’t expect anything as I’ve not been working here that long. I feel awful now as I haven’t bought anything for you.’

‘Hey, no worries. There’s no need. It’s a thank you for working so hard for me. You’ve settled in really well.’

‘Thanks, Em, and honestly I am soo happy to be here. It’s the best thing I ever did, leaving that horrible chip shop in Seahouses. I smelt of chip fat all day and my hair was always greasy. This is like working in heaven. Chocolate heaven. It’s like my all­-time ideal job.’

All was quiet. Holly had gone and Emma cashed up and just stood for a few moments taking in her little shop in all its twinkly, cosy Christmas glory: the two bay windows that looked out over the quaint village street of stone cottages, the wooden shelving stacked so prettily, the reassuring hum of the refrigerated counter, the rows of chocolates she had worked so hard to create . . . And to think, seven years ago she wouldn’t have even known how to make a truffle or how to temper chocolate – hah, back then she’d have thought that meant getting mad with it, which in fact did happen very occasionally!

She loved her little chocolate shop, her business, her life here. It really had saved her, given her back a purpose in life, when things were at rock bottom.

Right, then, she shook herself from her thoughts; she mustn’t dwell on that for there was one very eager spaniel upstairs no doubt desperate to get out.

Emma leaned on the stone harbour wall, watching the street lights catch on the water, the gentle waves lapping the sides of the boats that were moored up. It was a small harbour that had been used for centuries for fishing. There weren’t as many boats now, she’d been told, but some still went out daily, weather permitting, for their catch of herring to take to the smokehouse to turn them into kippers, a local speciality, or maybe some cod, or crabs. From July to September they’d be out checking the lobster pots which were now stacked on the shoreline next to an old coble­style boat, along with colourful buoys and thick rope and nets.

A small group of people walked past; Alfie perked up to greet them and Emma smiled. They were heading up the small rise, seemingly to the pub. Soon afterwards its heavy wooden door opened as they went in and she could hear its noisy chatter spill out along with the beat of music as the light spilled across the pavement. She could sense its vibrancy: the log fires would be lit, the Christmas decorations up, and several of the villagers as well as holidaymakers would be gathered noisily. She loved the community feel there, but it was not for her tonight.

‘Come on then, Alfie.’ They headed the opposite way, past a row of cottages, and then down to the beach. It was dark, but there was enough moonlight to make her way through the dunes, to stand and hear the hush of the sea as it lapped against the shore. She wasn’t afraid of the dark, she’d been there many an evening like this. She couldn’t stop the memories, but that was fine. In a way, that was what she was here for. It didn’t matter if she needed to cry, or write his name in the sand, or to scream at the seagulls that life was bloody unfair. Alfie just loved the freedom of the beach, where he could run his loopy circles and make leaps at seaweed sticks of kelp. But it was chilly; Emma could see her breath misting and she was glad of her thick woollen coat and her hat and gloves. She wouldn’t stay too long; it had been a hard day and she was ready for an easy supper, would find herself some Christmas film on the TV to settle in front of and then an early night – she’d just let Alfie have five more minutes.

They wandered back towards the harbour, passing a couple, arm in arm, who nodded a friendly hello at them. She climbed the small hill, reaching the front of The Chocolate Shop, which was an end­of­row, sand­coloured stone cottage, converted many years ago into a shop. There were two bay windows with a wooden door in the middle. Emma stood staring at her little shop for a few seconds. She had left the fairy lights on, and with all the festive decorations it looked rather enchanting at night. ‘’Twas the night before Christmas . . . ’ Her mind wandered back to the magical stories and that bubbling feeling of excitement of the Christmas Eves of her child­ hood, which seemed so far away right now.

Tomorrow was Christmas Day and she was heading over to her brother James’s house to spend time with his family, as they’d kindly invited her for Christmas dinner. Of course it would be lovely to see her twin nieces opening their gifts, and enjoy the magic of the day with them. Chloe, her sister­-in­-law, was going to cook a traditional roast turkey meal with all the trimmings, and Emma’s parents were coming across too. It would be great to catch up with them all, especially after having been so busy in the shop of late.

But it was always another year where someone was missing.

The snow is falling, the hot chocolate’s warming, and hearts are melting…
Emma is the proud owner of The Chocolate Shop by the Sea, nestled in the heart of the cosy seaside village that’s become her home. With Christmas right around the corner, she and her assistant Holly are busy cooking up the locals’ festive favourites.

From cinnamon hot chocolates to reindeer lollipops, Christmas wouldn’t taste the same without a little cocoa magic. And for Emma it’s the perfect distraction from her romantic pains of the past. So when the shop’s miserly landlord threatens to hike up the rent, Emma’s Christmas and New Year suddenly look a lot less cheerful. With the whole village rallying behind her – and loyal spaniel Alfie by her side – Emma’s determined to hold onto her chocolate-box dream.

The chocolate calendar countdown is on. Can Emma rescue her business and her broken heart?

Family, friends, food, a glass of bubbly and, of course, a good book make Caroline Roberts smile. She loves writing emotional stories about love, loss, betrayal and family, which explore how complex and yet beautiful love can be. She also likes to write romantic comedy, letting the characters have a bit of fun too! Caroline believes in following your dreams, which led her to HarperImpulse and a publishing deal after many years of writing. Stunning Northumberland is her home – sandy beaches, castles and gorgeous countryside have inspired her writing.

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