Introducing A Town Called Christmas

Very excited that I have two books out this winter set in a town called Christmas.182df12d-e3de-4b7d-a350-b82073443629

Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky came out in September and Christmas Under a Starlit Sky is out this Wednesday (19th October).

But why are there two books? Why is the sky cranberry coloured? What does it all mean? I’m here to put your mind at ease and answer all your questions.

What are the books about?

Both books are set in a town called Christmas on the tiny Juniper Island in Scotland. Gabe Whitaker owns Stardust Lake Hotel which is a winter resort based on the island. To encourage people to come he persuades the island inhabitants to turn their little village into a permanent Christmas market selling festive foods, clothes, jewellery and treats, reinventing themselves as a town called Christmas. There are log cabins, glass igloos to view the Northern Lights, reindeer, huskies and Santa himself. It is here in this magical winter wonderland that Gabe meets his childhood best friend and girlfriend, Pip again after twelve years apart and in book 2 where Gabe’s sister Neve fights for love with Hollywood superstar Oakley Rey. Here are the blurbs.

 

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Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky

Curl up with this gorgeously romantic tale and let the glistening snow and the roaring fires of Stardust Lake Hotel get you in the festive spirit this Christmas.

Piper Chesterfield lives a glamorous life travelling the world and reviewing the finest hotels. She calls nowhere home, she works alone and that’s how she likes it. For long ago Piper decided that to protect her heart she should lock it away.

So when Piper’s next assignment brings her to the newly opened Stardust Lake Hotel for the festive season, the last person she expects to face is Gabe Whitaker, the man who broke her heart so completely she could never love again.

But Piper isn’t the only one who has been frozen in time by heartbreak. Gabe hasn’t forgotten the golden-eyed girl who disappeared from his world without a trace.

Now fate has reunited them on Juniper island, can the magic of Christmas heal old wounds? And can this enchanting town be the one place Piper can finally call home?

Get your copy here

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Christmas Under a Starlit Sky

Step inside a beautiful winter wonderland where love, laughter and cosy nights by the fire will make this Christmas one to remember.

Neve Whitaker loves managing the Stardust Lake hotel. She gets to work alongside her wonderful family and she’s spending Christmas on the most enchanting, snow-covered island in Scotland. So why is her heart so heavy this festive season?

It might have something to do with the gorgeous actor Oakley Rey, the man she finished with before he left for California and the man she loves more than anything. With Oakley’s career in Hollywood soaring, Neve is convinced she’d only hold him back. She had to end it with him – at least that’s what she keeps telling herself.

But now she has a secret she’s struggling to keep, and when Oakley arrives on Juniper Island determined to win her back, Neve is thrown off balance. Will Neve’s fear of having her heart broken again push Oakley away for good, or is it time for her to take a leap of faith?

Get swept away by this deliciously sweet and heartwarming tale, and spend an unforgettable Christmas on Juniper Island.

Get your copy here

And here are the answers to your other questions

Do I need to read any of your other books before I start this series.

No, this series is completely separate from my last series set in White Cliff Bay with brand new characters and a different location. In fact the White Cliff Bay series is set on the borders of Devon and Cornwall in the very south west of the country and the town called Christmas is set on Juniper Island, the northernmost island in the UK.

Do I need to read the Town Called Christmas books in any order?

No, they can be read in any order. They are completely standalone but if you do want to read them both and you do want to read them chronologically then I’d suggest you read Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky first as that introduces you to the island and all the characters followed by Christmas Under a Starlit Sky.

Are the two books in the series actually just 2 parts of 1 long story?

Nooooooo they are completely separate, with different characters and different stories. Each book has a proper beginning, middle and end. Book 1, Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky, follows Gabe Whitaker and his childhood best friend and girlfriend Pip. Book 2, Christmas Under a Starlit Sky follows Gabe’s sister Neve and Hollywood star Oakley Rey.

Are they novellas or short stories?

No both books are full length stories.

Why is the sky the colour of cranberries?

The northern lights play quite a big part in both stories. The Scottish, particularly those from the Shetland Islands where the fictitious Juniper Island is set, call the Northern Lights the Merry Dancers and in this story the colours of the lights mean different things. A very rare red sky is a foretelling of love.

I loved Luke in Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky, will he get his own story?

I love him too and I’ve had so many requests for his story, sadly he won’t get his own story but his story is resolved at the end of Starlit Sky. I’d really like to write more about him though. If I get time, I may write a short novella for him and put it here on my blog.

I don’t really read chicklit, I prefer murder and mayhem, does anyone die in your book?

Sadly not, everyone is healthy, no one gets sick, no heads are dismembered

I prefer my romances with a bit of an edge, just how sweet, cute and romantic is this book?

There are no edges in this book apart from soft, squishy ones that you can cuddle up to. It’s very sweet and cute, there are practically puppies gambolling across every page

What if I can’t find my Kindle?

It’s also available in paperback

What’s next for you?

I have three books out next year in a brand new series set on a little island off the coast of Cornwall. It follows three cousins, Rome, Eden and Bella and they will all get their own story.

Introducing Summer at Rose Island

Rose Island HI RES~2Summer at Rose Island is out on Friday and I’m so excited for you to read Riley and Darcy’s story. You can get your copy here

It’s the third book in the White Cliff Bay series so naturally people have concerns. I’m here to put your mind at ease and answer all your questions

Do I need to read the other two books in the series first?  

No, all the books in the series are completely standalone, they are simply set in the same seaside town, they follow the lives of different couples in the town, but if you do read them all you’ll get to see other characters cropping up in all the books.

Do I need to read them in any order?

No, they can be read in any order but if you do want to read them all and you do want to read them chronologically then I’d suggest you read Christmas at Lilac Cottage first followed by Snowflakes on Silver Cove as both of those are set in the same week leading up to Christmas. Summer at Rose Island is set six months after these two books, so you’ll get to catch up with the couples in the first two stories as they do appear in the background of this story.

Are the three books in the series actually just 3 parts of 1 long story?

Nooooooo they are completely separate, with different characters and different stories. Each book has a proper beginning, middle and end with no cliffhangers. The only link is the town of White Cliff Bay and the background or secondary characters

Are they novellas or short stories?

No all the books are full length stories.

What if I want to read all the books and I want to read them in the right order but I don’t want to read about Christmas books in summer?

Don’t panic. This is not a problem. Our weather is so unpredictable, wait for a cold blustery day and put the heating on, snuggle up with a blanket and pretend its Christmas.

I don’t really read chicklit, I prefer murder and mayhem, does anyone die in your book?

Sadly not, everyone is healthy, no one gets sick, no heads are dismembered

I prefer my romances with a bit of an edge, just how sweet, cute and romantic is this book?

There are no edges in this book apart from soft, squishy ones that you can cuddle up to. It’s very sweet and cute, there are practically puppies gambolling across every page

What if I can’t find my Kindle?

It’s also available in paperback

What if I can’t read??

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Summer at Rose Island is also available as an audio book from Audible.

I can’t decide what to have for lunch 

Fish and chips of course, the staple meal for all days out at the seaside.

 

If you’re still not sure whether Summer at Rose Island is for you, here is the blurb and the first chapter

Blurb

Fall in love with the gorgeous seaside town of White Cliff Bay this summer and enjoy long sunny days, beautiful beaches and… a little romance.

Darcy Davenport is ready for a fresh start. Determined to leave a string of disastrous jobs and relationships behind her, she can’t wait to explore White Cliff Bay and meet the locals.

When Darcy swims in the crystal clear waters of the bay, she discovers the charming Rose Island Lighthouse. But it’s not just the beautiful building that she finds so intriguing…

Riley Eddison doesn’t want change. Desperate to escape the memories of his past, he lives a life of solitude in the lighthouse. Yet he can’t help but notice the gorgeous woman who swims out to his island one day.

Darcy is drawn to the mysterious and sexy Riley, but when it seems the town is trying to demolish his home, she soon finds herself having to pick sides.

She’s fallen in love with White Cliff Bay. But is that all Darcy’s fallen for?

Pull up a deck chair, sink back with a bowl of strawberry ice cream and pick up the summer read you won’t be able to put down.

 

Chapter 1

An endless world of blue stretched out below Darcy. The sandy seabed lay about ten metres beneath her and she smiled as she saw fish of every colour and size swimming lazily between the rocks and seaweed. Starfish and sunstars littered the seabed, and with the sun’s rays penetrating the water and gently caressing their outstretched arms, it was as if they were sunbathing on a tourist-filled beach. Giant stalks of seaweed moved and swayed gently as if they were trees caught in a breeze rather than the constant roll of the waves and the tide. There was something so tranquil and serene about this underwater vista, she could look at it for hours and never get bored.

The fish didn’t have jobs to worry about or bills to pay and she was pretty sure that the starfish didn’t have parents to try to please – or, as in her case, constantly disappoint. Life continued here as it always did, an almost worry-free existence where the only dark cloud was when something bigger than you was looking for something to eat.

As she bobbed on top of the waves, her head face down in the water, Darcy could pretend, just for a minute or two, that she was part of this world. A tiny fish in a big pond.

She rolled onto her back and took a deep breath of salty, tangy sea air. The sun shone down on her, glinting off the droplets on her goggles. As the waves lapped over her fingers, she felt a sense of contentment fill her almost like a great sigh of relief. Although she had been in the town only a few hours, she knew that moving from London to White Cliff Bay was the best decision she had ever made.

Her love for the sea had been with her as far back as she could remember, but it was here in White Cliff Bay on many childhood holidays staying with her aunt that her love had blossomed. Swimming in the sea every day, she spent her evenings reading every non-fiction book about the water and its wildlife she could get her hands on. Her aunt had taken her scuba diving when she was twelve, opening up a whole other world she had never known before. The sea was in her blood. Coming back here felt like coming home.

A bark nearby disturbed her tranquil reverie and she moved so she was treading water, rather than floating, and looked around.

Her beautiful black Labrador, Ben, had come back for her, clearly wondering why she was just floating there, staring at the sky rather than swimming. He shoved his wet nose in her face and, happy that she was OK, he turned and swam off in the direction of the island. Darcy laughed and swam after him.

As Darcy reached the rocks surrounding Rose Island Lighthouse, Ben swam on ahead. He pulled himself out of the water, turned round and started barking at Darcy to hurry up. The sea birds nestled on the rocks took off in a grey cloud, squawking their annoyance at the evil, black dog. Ben clambered over the rocks, wagging his tail as he chased the last few birds away.

‘Leave them be,’ Darcy laughed as she climbed out onto the rocks beside him; she pulled him towards her and tugged playfully on his silky ears. He sat down on her so she could continue her stroking more thoroughly.

‘Oof! Ben, you are not a lap-sized dog. You do not fit on my lap. Do you think you’re a Chihuahua or something? You’re a Labrador and a fat one at that, get off,’ Darcy moaned, half-heartedly trying to push Ben off her. He continued to sit on her lap, wagging his tail in her face.

Darcy pulled her goggles onto her forehead and looked over the golden-crested waves at the tiny town of White Cliff Bay. The late afternoon sun was just starting to make its descent, painting the sky a candyfloss pink. From her position on Rose Island, about three hundred yards out into the bay, she could see almost the whole town in all its glory. The quieter part of Silver Cove, where she now lived, the main shops and the hodgepodge of cute little houses that cascaded down the steep hills of the main town centre. She smiled. She knew she was going to be happy here. Despite her parents’ misgivings and looks of disapproval when she told them she was packing up all her worldly goods and travelling hundreds of miles from her home to take up a new job, she knew she had made the right decision. It didn’t matter that she didn’t completely know what her new job entailed or that she knew no one down here, this gorgeous little town was going to be a great new chapter in her life.

Everything seemed slower here, more laid-back and relaxed; it felt cleaner, safer, but despite this her parents couldn’t understand why Darcy had wanted to leave London, with its high-powered jobs, multi-billion-pound companies, and the prestige of living and working in the capital. She didn’t want restaurants that stayed open until after midnight or the constant hum of traffic and voices that never seemed to stop, no matter what time of day it was. Since she had lost her perfect job a few years before, and moved back to London with her dreams in tatters, she had felt almost claustrophobic, as if the buildings were too close. She had been a face in the crowd that no one cared about. The city had slowly chipped away at her soul until she was no more than another suited drone heading off to work every day. Here it felt like she could finally breathe again.

Part of the problem with her relocation had been her choice of White Cliff Bay itself. A place that was entirely to blame, at least as far as her parents were concerned, for her aunt’s spectacular drop-out from society. Aunt Ginny had been a highly paid solicitor in the City until she had sold her house, bought an old-fashioned horse-drawn gypsy caravan to live in, and spent the rest of her life living off the sale of the odd painting and homemade jars of jam and apple sauce. She had always been spoken about in hushed tones, if she was spoken about at all, and Darcy strongly suspected she was going to end up that way too. She couldn’t help smiling at the thought.

She leaned back to look at the lighthouse, the sun glinting off the glass at the top. It was a beautiful, old building, painted in traditional red and white colours, with the multi-faceted lantern at the top. She had always enjoyed swimming in the sea, but this had to be the most picturesque swim she had done in a long time. The lighthouse had been deserted for many years; certainly when she had swum round the island as a child no one had ever lived there. New-fangled technology meant the days of the lighthouse keeper were a thing of the past. So her heart leapt from shock when her eyes cast down the tall tower and she saw a man standing at one of the windows watching her and Ben.

He was wearing a faded blue crumpled shirt hanging loose over dark jeans. His black hair was equally messy in an unkempt just-got-out-bed look. The man’s tanned arms were folded angrily over his chest. Easily reaching the top of the leaded windows that were flung open either side, the man’s height seemed to add to the anger he was projecting. She supposed he was quite good looking, if you liked the tall, dark, mean and moody type.

Darcy suddenly became aware of the first impression she was making on him. In her skin-tight, show-every-lump-and-bump wetsuit, with her long red hair matted against her head and today’s make-up smeared across her face like a Picasso painting gone wrong, she was a sight to behold. She stood up, tipping Ben off her lap as she did so, then belatedly realised she was showing her body in its full glory; at least sitting down Ben had been covering her modesty.

‘Great. What a brilliant view of my wobbly bits he’s getting right now,’ Darcy muttered, sucking in her belly and wringing out her hair.

The man started shouting at her. Gesturing with his hands, he pointed at the sea, then her and then Ben. Whatever he was yelling – furiously, it would seem – was lost in the sound of the wind and the waves crashing against the rocks.

‘Hi, nice to meet you, would you like to come in for a cup of hot chocolate and some great sex?’ Darcy mumbled under her breath. ‘I’m sure that’s what he’s saying. That and: Great body, by the way. No one looks good in a wetsuit but somehow you manage to pull it off. How about that great sex?’

Mystery Man continued to shout and then, getting frustrated at not being heard, he left the window, no doubt on his way downstairs to yell at her face to face.

‘Time to go, Ben,’ Darcy said, climbing down the rocks. She turned to make sure Ben got down OK. As Ben drew level with her, she took one last look at the lighthouse to see that Mystery Man had arrived at the door, still shouting. She pulled her goggles over her eyes and dived into the sea. The water closed in over her head and seconds later she felt Ben beside her. Darcy surfaced about ten metres from the rocks and looked back at Mystery Man, who was continuing to yell at her from the shore.

‘Sorry, can’t hear you,’ Darcy shouted and then, confident he couldn’t possibly hear her, she added, ‘But I’ll be back soon for that great sex.’

Mystery Man looked momentarily confused and stopped shouting for a second before continuing his tirade. Darcy turned and swam back to the shore.

As she clambered out onto the beach, she looked back across the bay to the lighthouse. He was still standing there watching her. She grabbed the bag she had left by some rocks, pulled out a towel, patted herself dry. Dragging her T-shirt over her wetsuit, she then pulled another towel out to dry Ben. As she flipped Ben over onto his back to dry his belly, Ben’s favourite bit to have dried, she could still feel Mystery Man’s eyes on her. She stood up and, sure enough, he was still standing there, as the waves crashed theatrically onto the rocks around him.

She turned away and looked down at her wetsuit and sighed. It wasn’t the greatest first impression. She had inadvertently done something to upset him too, and that certainly hadn’t been her intention.

She walked back to Sea View Court, the old house at the end of the beach that had been converted into four flats.

She let herself in and Ben ran on ahead of her, but she stopped suddenly when she heard a noise from the flat opposite hers.

She had briefly seen her new neighbours when she’d been unpacking the last of her belongings from her car earlier that day. A young married couple, they had introduced themselves as Libby and George, but Libby had seemed so tearful that George had quickly ushered her into their flat and closed the door behind them.

She listened now and heard a crash, as if something had been thrown and smashed. It was quickly followed by a loud thud and a cry of pain. She heard George shout something and then another thud, and another moan from Libby that made Darcy’s heart crash into her stomach.

God, he was beating her up. She felt sick. As another wail of pain resounded from the flat, she marched straight up to the door and banged on it with her fist. The door flew open under her weight and she stormed in.

She froze at what she saw. Libby and George were stark naked and she was clinging to him, her arms and legs wrapped around him as he made love to her against the wall of their flat. Her head was thrown back in obvious ecstasy as he kissed her breasts.

Shit. She couldn’t have got it more wrong.

They hadn’t noticed her yet, too wrapped up in each other to be aware of anything else. She could just sneak out and they would be none the wiser. But, as she took a step back towards the door, Ben burst in and before she could grab him he launched himself at George’s bare backside, shoving his wet, cold nose up where the sun didn’t shine.

George let out a scream of shock and looked around to see what it was that had attacked him so inappropriately. If Darcy had thought she could get away without being seen, she’d been sorely mistaken, as first George’s eyes then Libby’s found hers.

For the longest moment, nobody moved or said anything, George still pinning Libby to the wall with his weight. There was only one way to get out of this with any shred of dignity left intact. Darcy was going to have to brazen this out.

‘I just came round to borrow some sugar. I probably have some somewhere in one of the many boxes but I thought you might have some . . . I can see this isn’t the best time.’ This was a terrible excuse and they all knew it. Libby stifled a giggle as she buried her face in her husband’s neck. ‘The door just came open when I knocked on it. I’m not a pervert or anything.’ Her feet frozen to the ground seemed to contradict that statement, as she continued to stare at them in horror. Oh God, what was she doing? She should have just apologised and left, grabbing her perverted dog on the way out.

George didn’t say anything. Probably wondering why she was still standing there. She was wondering that herself.

‘Erm . . . There’s sugar in the kitchen if you want to help yourself. I, erm . . . have my hands full or I’d get it for you myself,’ George said, as Libby’s giggling went up an octave.

‘Right, well. Maybe I’ll pop by later and get it if I don’t find my own before then. Carry on. I mean . . .’ She gestured lamely to the door and George nodded numbly.

She grabbed Ben by the collar and walked out, quickly closing the door on Libby’s laughter a moment later.

Wow. She was really going all out to make a good impression on the residents of White Cliff Bay today.

She scurried back to her own flat, to see she had a text from her best friend Carmel.

How’s it going? You unpacked yet? Have you found the kettle? Are there any hot single men?

Darcy smiled. Carmel had married her childhood sweetheart and though she was blissfully happy she always said she’d missed out on the dating scene and had to live her life vicariously through Darcy.

She considered carefully how to answer. Was Mystery Man hot? Of course he was, anyone could see that, but he certainly wasn’t worth mentioning when he was obviously a grumpy hermit.

She opened up a new text to reply.

Haven’t found the kettle, though I haven’t looked. Just been for a swim. It’s so pretty here. No hot single men. Though I did just see a man naked.

The reply was instant.

WHAT?? Was he fit? Did you see his willy? Why was he naked? Have you moved to a nudist beach? I want pictures!!

Darcy laughed.

Sadly it’s not a nudist beach. I just walked in on my neighbours having sex. Very embarrassing.

The phone beeped back at her almost immediately.

Hahahaha, only you Darcy, only you.

She smiled and put the phone down. She had some unpacking to do.

*

There was a knock on her door a while later, just as Darcy was hanging a large photo of a beautiful hammerhead shark on her wall.

She went to answer it, only to find Libby standing on her doorstep with a bunch of flowers in one hand and a bag of sugar in the other.

Darcy blushed and laughed, stepping back to let her in. ‘Can I get you a . . . tea?’ She looked around hopelessly at all the boxes, one of which housed the kettle and another that probably held the coffee and teabags. ‘Or a glass of juice?’

Libby smiled. ‘Juice would be great.’

Darcy moved to the kitchen and Libby followed her. Darcy really did owe her an explanation for earlier.

‘I’m so sorry about before. I thought George was beating you up. I heard thuds and groans and, coupled with seeing you so upset earlier, I jumped to the wrong conclusion.’

Libby’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. ‘Is that why you came bursting in? Ha. George hasn’t got a mean bone in his body. I was upset before because . . . Well, I’m pregnant and everything is making me cry lately. Yesterday George bought some fresh bread from the shops because I wanted beans on toast and I wailed for over half an hour because he’d brought the wrong type of bread.’

Darcy laughed. ‘Oh no. How does George cope with all the tears?’

‘He’s amazing. I married my best friend and when I cry he just holds me until the tears pass. I’m sure the tears must be so frustrating for him, but he seems to have endless patience for it all. I really am incredibly lucky. Do you have a boyfriend, Darcy?’

Darcy shook her head. ‘No, the last few men I dated were from work, and when the jobs came to an end, the relationships seemed to as well.’

‘Well, there are lots of lovely men who live in White Cliff Bay. Are you staying here long?’

Darcy noticed Libby looking hungrily at a packet of doughnuts she had bought from the shops that morning. She offered her the packet and Libby gratefully took one.

‘I have a new job down here, so I hope I’ll be staying for a long time.’

‘Oh how lovely, what is it you’ll be doing?’ Libby asked, through a mouthful of doughnut.

‘I’ll be working for the local council. The office is in Apple Hill but it covers the areas of White Cliff Bay and Port Cardinal too. You’re looking at the new Community Development Liaison Manager,’ Darcy said, proudly.

‘Ooh, that sounds like a fancy title, what does that involve?’

Darcy hesitated for a moment. ‘Honestly, I have no idea. The job description was very woolly. I somehow bluffed my way through the whole interview and miraculously got offered the job. I know it’s something about working with the community on new local projects. I’m very excited. I love meeting new people, so it sounded right up my street.’

She’d told anyone who would listen how excited she was about her new job. It wasn’t true, but if she kept repeating it then she hoped she would start to believe it.

‘Sounds fab. When do you start?’

‘Ten days. A week on Monday.’ Darcy poured out two glasses of juice.

‘And was it just the job that brought you to White Cliff Bay or do you have friends down here?’

Darcy paused as she thought about how to answer that. She could at least partly tell the truth.

‘It was the sea, mainly. I love it. I used to be a marine biologist and though that chapter of my life is over, I still want to be by the sea. I used to holiday in White Cliff Bay as a child and I always wanted to live down here. Life seems to have held me back from fulfilling my dreams, but I’m here now.’

Libby cocked her head slightly as if she knew Darcy wasn’t telling the whole story.

Darcy sighed. ‘My parents are . . . difficult. When I lost my last job, I ended up living with them while I was searching for a new job. It was hell. The looks of disappointment, the little comments about how I’d let them down. I couldn’t bear it. They’ve been like it all my life but I’ve always put up with it before. My aunt Ginny died recently and I came down here to sort out her stuff.’ She paused, not sure why she was telling Libby all of this when they’d only just met, but the story was half out now. She pulled the locket she was wearing over her head. It was antique silver and the front was decorated with beads of sea glass. ‘This was in a box with my name on it.’

She passed it to Libby and watched as she opened it and read the inscription that she knew off by heart:

Don’t let anyone tell you your dreams aren’t good enough.

Libby smiled and passed it back.

‘I don’t know whether she had it specially made for me or just found it and thought of me, but I knew she was right. I’d been letting my parents dictate my life for far too long. Living down here had always been a dream that I’d convinced myself would never happen. So I made sure it did. I found a job and . . . here I am.’

‘Well, the people of the town are very friendly, I’m sure they will make you very welcome,’ Libby said, finishing off the doughnut and licking her fingers. ‘We’ll take you to the pub tonight, introduce you to some of the locals.’

‘That would be great, thank you. I’ve only met a few people so far and I didn’t exactly make the greatest impression on the lighthouse keeper.’

‘Riley Eddison? You met him?’ Libby took the proffered juice and followed Darcy into the lounge. Darcy threw herself down on the sofa and tiny motes of dust flew up and sparkled in the light of the late evening sun.

‘I swam out to Rose Island. I had no idea anyone lived in the lighthouse. Let’s say the welcome was not a warm one.’

Libby sat next to her, resting her hand protectively over her tiny bump. ‘Riley’s a funny one. He’s been here about six months, moved into the lighthouse just after Christmas. He’s American and the women seem to love his accent. Whenever Riley comes into town he’s like the Pied Piper with the women that follow him around, though none of them get anywhere with him. He’s terribly polite, has gorgeous manners, but keeps himself to himself. He comes to the Bubble and Froth sometimes, sits in the corner with his dog and doesn’t really talk to anyone. He’s never rude but not exactly friendly either. George rescued Riley earlier this year when he slipped on the rocks around the lighthouse, knocked himself unconscious and fell into the sea.’

‘Oh God,’ Darcy gasped.

‘He was fine. Luckily the lifeboat crew were nearby on a training exercise and George saw the whole thing happen and they were able to get to him in record time. He gave a hefty donation to the lifeboat station after that. He is Suzanna’s grandson, the lady from the chemist. She’s fab but she tells it like it is, no beating around the bush, though she keeps her cards very close to her chest about Riley. He was in the local paper a month or so ago after he rescued a stray puppy from the sea, who he then adopted. You could tell from the photo that the last thing he wanted was the attention, whereas Suzanna couldn’t have been prouder.’

‘So he has a soft side?’

Libby pulled a face as she sipped her juice. ‘I wouldn’t say soft, but some of his edges are perhaps not as hard as he would like people to believe. So you two didn’t hit it off?’

‘Well, he came out of his lighthouse and started shouting at me, so . . .’

‘I’ve never seen him lose his temper before. He may be very quiet, but he’s definitely not the angry, nasty type. What on earth did you do?’

That didn’t fill Darcy with a good feeling. Five minutes in the town and she had pissed off a man who never got angry. ‘I don’t know. I just swam out to the lighthouse, climbed up on the rocks for a rest and the next thing he appears, waving his arms in the air like a madman.’

‘Oh, I wonder if he was scared you might hurt yourself on the rocks. After his fall, he had steps built into the rocks round the back where he keeps his boat so it’s safer for him and any visitors to traverse the rocks to the door.’

Had that been it? He was concerned for her safety?

‘I feel really sorry for him, actually. He must have spent thousands doing up the inside of the lighthouse with all the new furniture I’ve seen being delivered over there. There were builders and decorators coming and going for months when he first moved in. Anyway rumour has it, two days after the final lick of paint had dried, he was served with some kind of compulsory eviction notice. Rose Island Lighthouse is to be pulled down – a new, more modern lighthouse has just been built a few hundred yards up the coast on Dagger’s Point. At the moment he is refusing to leave, but he has very little choice.’

‘That’s terrible, they can’t kick him out of his home.’

‘Apparently, they can. I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, but he has been told he has to leave. Oh, maybe he thought you were one of the people trying to evict him.’

‘Unlikely when I turned up in a wetsuit and with a fat dog in tow.’

Libby nodded to concede this, as she glanced over at Ben lying upside down and snoring loudly on the opposite sofa.

‘Well, you’ll just have to go back and ask him,’ Libby smiled, mischievously.

‘Maybe I should just leave him be. If me being there upsets him so much, then maybe I should just find somewhere else to swim.’

‘Maybe you should go back and show him that he can’t boss you around.’

Darcy laughed. ‘Are you trying to set me up with him?’

Libby shrugged as she stood up. ‘I’m a romance writer. I want everyone to find their happy-ever-afters, just like me and George. Anyway, I’ll leave you to unpack. We’ll pick you up at seven and take you to the pub then.’

Darcy nodded.

As the door closed behind Libby, Darcy glanced over Silver Cove to Rose Island Lighthouse.

Maybe she would go back and apologise for any misunderstanding. Then she shook her head. Maybe she really should just leave well alone.

You can pre-order your copy of Summer at Rose Island here and it’s only £1.99 at the moment.

I’m giving away a signed paperback copy of the first two books in the series, just share this post on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll put you in the draw to win. Don’t forget to tag me in the share so I can add you to the draw, I’m on Twitter as @hollymartin00

Introducing the White Cliff Bay series

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I have two books out this Christmas in the White Cliff Bay series so let me introduce you to them.

What are they all about? Why are there two books? Are they linked? Are they novellas? Which order do I need to read them in? Are you a machine? How do you boil an egg? All very good questions I’ve been asked over the last few weeks and I hope to answer them here.

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Christmas at Lilac Cottage and Snowflakes on Silver Cove are completely separate stories following the loves and lives of two different couples who live on opposites ends of the tiny seaside town of White Cliff Bay. You can read them in any order and as two separate standalone full length books (yes full length not novellas or short stories). The cool thing about these two books is they are set in the same week in the lead up to Christmas as preparations for the Christmas Eve ball get under way. This means that the key events that happen in the town, the ice carving competition, the storm, the snow, the ball are all seen from the different points of view of both couples. You may even spot some of the same characters in both books too. I loved doing this because I know the readers who read both books will get a real kick out of seeing the tiny links between the two stories.

So what are they both about?

tmp_photo_1440600386149Christmas at Lilac Cottage

Welcome to the charming seaside town of White Cliff Bay, where Christmas is magical and love is in the air…

Penny Meadows loves her home – a cosy cottage decorated with pretty twinkling fairy lights and stunning views over the town of White Cliff Bay. She also loves her job as an ice-carver, creating breathtaking sculptures. Yet her personal life seems frozen. 

When Henry and daughter Daisy arrive at the cottage to rent the annex, Penny is determined to make them feel welcome. But while Daisy is friendly, Henry seems guarded. 

As Penny gets to know Henry, she realises there is more to him than meets the eye. And the connection between them is too strong to ignore… 

While the spirit of the season sprinkles its magic over the seaside town and preparations for the ice sculpting competition and Christmas eve ball are in full swing, can Penny melt the ice and allow love in her heart? And will this finally be the perfect Christmas she’s been dreaming of? 

Like a creamy hot chocolate with marshmallows, you won’t want to put this deliciously heartwarming novel down. 

Spend the perfect Christmas in White Cliff Bay this year. 

‘Christmas is not yet around the corner, but I feel all-things-Christmassy right now, devouring this beautifully-written novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, smiling and giggling throughout the story, it’s simply beautiful! It is the first time reading Holly Martin’s works and I have fallen in love with it and her adorable characters.’Lilac Diaries 

‘This was a fun and fabulous book to curl up with under the blanket and with a fire blazing. In a way it make me yearn for those cosy winter nights in…And best of all it made me excited for Christmas!’ Escapades of a Bookworm 

Totally adorable and very entertaining…In short this is more than an entertaining romance.’ Shelly Back Books 

I loved this sweet and gentle holiday love story and the descriptions of the cottage and the village made me feel like I was in White Cliff myself.’ For the Love of Books 

This is out on September 25th but you can pre-order it here  http://amzn.to/1Kv0dzO

received_10207221838645016Snowflakes on Silver Cove

Come and spend a picture perfect romantic Christmas at White Cliff Bay.
Libby Joseph is famous for her romantic Christmas stories. Every December, readers devour her books of falling in love against the magical backdrop of the Christmas season. If only Libby believed in the magic herself… 

Struggling to finish her current novel, Libby turns to her best friend and neighbour George Donaldson to cheer her up. But George needs a bit of support himself. Nervous about getting back into the dating saddle after splitting from his wife, he and Libby strike a deal. She will teach George how to win over the ladies, and Libby will in turn be inspired to inject her novel with a good dose of romance. 

As Libby and George explore the beautiful White Cliff Bay on a series of romantic Christmas-themed dates, Libby finds herself having more fun than she’s had in ages and…discovers feelings that she never knew she had for George. 

But is it too late? Will George win someone else’s heart or can Libby act like the heroine in one of her stories and reach for her own love under the mistletoe this Christmas? 

Snuggle up with a piece of Christmas cake and mulled wine, and spend the festive season at White Cliff Bay.

This is out October 30th but you can pre-order it here so it pops onto your kindle just a few minutes after midnight. http://amzn.to/1NS1K9ss

 

So what comes next in the White Cliff Bay series? I have another book coming out in the spring. I don’t have the title yet but you will get to meet sweet, exuberant Darcy Davenport and sexy American Riley Eddison. And Riley lives in a lighthouse out in White Cliff Bay!

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What about the other questions? Am I a machine? The first two books in the White Cliff Bay series will be my third and fourth book published this year with my fifth book, the next installment in my Sentinel Series, out just before Christmas. This is the first year that I’ve written full time without having to write around a job with ridiculously long hours and I am loving every second of it, which makes writing so much easier. So yes, I am a machine, a smiley, sparkly, ridiculously happy machine doing something that I absolutely love. 

How do you boil an egg? I think you better ask Delia that one.

Happy Publication Day to Amelia Thorne

Tied Up in Love 05-09aIt’s publication day for Amelia Thorne and the gorgeous Tied Up With Love. I’m absolutely thrilled to be sharing with you the first chapter. So here it is.

Izzy watched as the grey van skidded round the corner and tore down the street towards her. The driver definitely seemed to be in a rush. The van had blacked out windows, a foreign plate and was being driven really badly. It careened across the empty road, mounted the pavement right in front of her and stopped just before hitting a lamppost.

She was standing outside a recording studio and for one deliciously exciting moment, Izzy thought someone famous might step out, with mirrored shades and a huge entourage. Admittedly, the recording studio was generally used for making advertising jingles, but allegedly Chesney Hawkes had once been there.

Izzy inched closer. Nothing exciting ever happened in her sleepy little town of Greater Chessingburyford. Maybe today…

The van doors were suddenly thrown open and out stepped the biggest man she had ever seen in her entire life. His elf ears were huge and stuck out into comical points, his enormous eyes were magnified behind thick rimmed glasses. He looked friendly, kind of sweet, like a big puppy. So it came as the biggest shock in the world when he yanked a cotton bag over her head, threw her over his shoulder and bundled her into the van.

Izzy heard the van door close, plunging her into darkness. As the van took off, Izzy’s brain finally caught up with what had just happened. She had been kidnapped.

She was lying on the floor of the van – it was dusty and she could see a pair of black boots out the bottom of the bag. The legs attached to them knelt by her side.

‘We’re from KMW. Do exactly as you’re told and you won’t get hurt. Put your hands in front of you.’

Izzy obeyed, suddenly feeling a sick wave of panic consume her.

Rope was tied around her wrists, and although it wasn’t tight it immediately chafed her skin.

KMW? Who the bloody hell were they? Like KGB or FBI? What did they want with her? More importantly, what were they going to do with her? Would she be beaten and tortured? Would they kill her once they were finished?

Her throat was dry but she managed to find her voice. ‘What do you want?’

‘Someone wants to see you. We’re taking you to Oakwood House now. It’s in the middle of nowhere so no one will hear you scream,’ Black Boots said.

Izzy heard herself take a deep shuddering breath.

‘I don’t have any money.’

‘I don’t think it’s your money he’s after.’ Another male voice, which somehow Izzy associated with the huge man who had abducted her. He laughed and the lewdness of it sent shivers down her spine.

‘Leave it out Gizmo,’ Black Boots said.

Strong hands were suddenly around her arms and she was pulled up and sat in a chair. ‘When we get to the house, we’ll take you in and down to the basement. It’s been requested that you’re tied to the bed. After that you’ll be left alone.’

Izzy felt physically sick, her heart was racing in her ears, cold sweat prickled down her back.

‘She’s shaking,’ Gizmo said.

‘I know,’ Black Boots said, with a note of worry in his voice. ‘Look we’ll be there in a minute. We need to gag you.’

The bag was pulled from her head and she blinked in the muted light, getting her first glimpse of Black Boots. He was young, maybe early twenties. He was good looking and had brown eyes and warm skin of Mediterranean colouring. He proffered the bandana and she flinched away from him. Gizmo, she noted, was calmly reading the paper.

‘Please, let me go. I’m rubbish in bed, your boss or client will be very disappointed.’

Black Boots narrowed his eyes as he looked at her. ‘You don’t know what this is about, do you?’

Izzy shook her head.

‘Crap, he’s supposed to tell you. We say it time and time again, they have to tell them.’

‘We’re here,’ called the driver and she looked over to see the back of a shaved head in the driver’s seat. Izzy felt the van come to a halt.

Black Boots pushed his hair from his face and sighed. ‘Dave asked us to bring you here, you don’t need to worry.’

‘Dave?’ Izzy asked and Black Boots nodded. Who the bloody hell was Dave?

The door to the back of the van was suddenly thrown open, bright sunlight temporarily blinding her. As she opened her mouth to speak, Black Boots slipped the bandana in her mouth and tied it round the back of her neck.

Gizmo stood up and ducked to get out the van, then turned round and in an easy movement lifted her carefully back over his shoulder again.

She had never been as scared in her life as she was right then. She had read about this sort of thing in the papers, but never thought for one moment it would ever happen to her.

They were quickly inside and she had a chance to see dark wood flooring before Gizmo was carrying her down some stone stairs. He walked into a dimly lit room and laid her on the bed. Black Boots knelt on the bed next to her and lifted her arms above her head to tie them to the headboard.

Something snapped inside of her, there was no way she was going to let this happen. She lashed out with her feet, kicking Gizmo in the side of the face. He leapt back with a wail, she elbowed Black Boots in the nose and blood spurted from it satisfyingly. She leapt up and ran but only managed to get two feet before Gizmo had grabbed her and dragged her, kicking and wriggling back to the bed. Black Boots quickly held her feet down while Gizmo tied her hands proficiently to the headboard.

‘Jesus,’ Gizmo rubbed his head. ‘Anyone would think she doesn’t want to get shagged.’

Black Boots touched his nose. ‘This is exactly why she should have been told. I don’t get paid enough for this.’

Izzy wriggled against her restraints, pulling on the rope so hard it made her wrists sore.

‘Good luck to her husband, that’s all I can say, she’s going to skin him alive,’ Gizmo said.

There were footsteps on the stairs and Black Boots looked towards them. ‘Why the hell didn’t you tell her? That’s part of our agreement. She’s petrified.’

‘I did,’ said a voice, veiled in the darkness.

Izzy strained her eyes to look at her kidnapper and slowly he emerged into the light. A thin, scrawny looking man with glasses peered at her.

‘Who the hell is that?’

‘Your wife,’ Gizmo said.

‘No she bloody isn’t.’

Black Boots looked back at her, his tanned cheeks suddenly going pale. ‘That’s not your wife?’

Scrawny Man shook his head. ‘I’ve never seen her before in my life.’

They all stared at her. Maybe there was some little ray of hope. They’d clearly kidnapped the wrong person and now she would be set free.

‘Hang on a minute,’ Scrawny Man said. ‘If she’s here, who the hell has got my wife?’

‘No one, there are no other teams. Your wife is probably still standing at the pick-up point. Or gone home, bored of waiting.’

‘Bloody hell, I’ve paid four hundred pounds for this and you can’t even pick up the right woman. I bought Viagra and everything.’

‘Look, Ethan will be in touch with you. We’ll arrange a full refund or an alternative date but right now we have the very small matter of abducting a complete stranger off the street to deal with.’ Black Boots gestured to Izzy in exasperation and Scrawny Man nodded.

‘Right, of course. If the press get hold of this I want full anonymity.’

‘The press won’t get hold of this – besides, you’re not actually doing anything wrong.’

Scrawny Man nodded again. ‘I better call my wife.’

Izzy watched as he retreated back up the stairs. Gizmo and Black Boots continued to stare at her.

‘What are we going to do now?’ Gizmo asked.

‘I can’t believe you grabbed the wrong woman.’

‘Me? You told me it was her.’

‘The boss is going to kill us,’ Black Boots said.

‘We could not tell him.’

‘How do you suppose that’s going to work? We let her go now, she’ll go straight to the police. The police will come straight to Ethan with your description, you’re hardly inconspicuous.’

Gizmo paled. ‘I’m not going back to jail, no way.’

Izzy moaned against her gag and Black Boots approached her like she was a caged wild animal.

Carefully he removed the bandana from her mouth.

‘Please, let me go. There’s obviously been some terrible mistake. I promise, I won’t go to the police. I won’t tell anyone.’

Black Boots looked back at Gizmo. Gizmo shook his head, ‘She’s seen our faces. There’s no way I’m letting her go.’

‘Are you insane? We’re not criminals. What are you going to do with her, kill her and dump her body where no one will ever find her?’

Izzy’s heart, which had been slowing when she realised she wasn’t the intended target, started galloping again.

‘Please. Please don’t hurt me.’

‘We’re not going to hurt you.’ Black Boots leaned over to untie her from the headboard. But as she sat up Gizmo marched over and pulled the bag back over her head.

‘What are you doing?’ Black Boots said.

‘We’ll take her to the boss, he’ll know what to do.’

‘Jesus, Gizmo, we’re just making this situation worse.’

But Gizmo, it seemed, wasn’t to be talked out of this. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder again. She saw the stone steps and then the gravel outside, and she was back inside the darkness of the van a moment later

*

The van journey was quite short but Gizmo and Black Boots were silent.

They surely weren’t going to kill her.

But she had seen their faces, she knew the van’s number plate off by heart. Why would they let her go?

How had it come to this? Her day had started so normally. Since being fired from her job two weeks before, she hadn’t had to get up too early, but her beloved cat Pete had woken her up demanding to be fed. She’d studiously ignored the first trickle of bills that had arrived on her doorstep. There were bound to be many more to come. She’d fed the cat, fed herself the remains of the cereal, gone for a run and spent three hours applying for different jobs. Bar maid, waitress, secretary, cleaner, bin man – or in her case, bin lady – sports coach, carpenter and driver’s mate, she’d applied for them all. She came across well on the phone, she had good experience and was never sick. She worked hard and most people seemed interested until they asked the fateful question. ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ Being fired for breaking her boss’s nose was not a selling point. Most people rapidly lost interest after that.

She’d wandered down to the college to see if there were any more free courses she could sign up for but she’d already done most of them. She’d just been on her way to meet her Aunt Sophie for coffee when Gizmo and Black Boots had crashed into her life.

The van stopped and she heard them climb out, leaving her alone in the darkness.

‘WHAT?’ roared a voice nearby as no doubt their boss, Ethan, was just informed they had kidnapped the wrong person.

‘WHAT?’ roared Ethan even louder as he was no doubt told she was still tied up in the van with a bag over her head. He sounded like a man not to mess with and Izzy found herself shaking again.

She heard running footsteps and the van door was thrown open. The bag was yanked from her head and she looked into the fierce blue eyes of the most freaking gorgeous man she had ever seen. He was huge, not quite as big as Gizmo in height but certainly the same broadness. He had curly dark hair and the same Mediterranean skin tone as Black Boots, which made the azure blue eyes stand out even more. In fact his eyes didn’t belong in someone so dark and they made him look interesting and unusual. He stared at her for a moment. Was he checking her out? Izzy nearly laughed at this crazy thought – she was dressed in tatty leggings, an oversized hoodie and battered knee high boots, there was definitely nothing sexy about her, but the look in his eyes was undeniably hunger, as if he wanted to eat her.

He moved forward to grab her and Izzy flinched away from him.

‘I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I’m Ethan Chase. I’m so sorry about all this. Let me make you a cup of tea and I will explain everything.’

He took her arms in surprisingly gentle hands, pulled her to her feet and helped her down from the van.

Her legs were shaking and she wasn’t sure if she could stand.

‘Are you ok to walk? Here, let me help.’

Before she could answer, Ethan swept her up into his arms and carried her like a baby into his office. Gizmo and Black Boots were standing to one side, looking sheepish.

‘Get out, both of you.’

They hurried out and Ethan placed her in a chair. He knelt next to her and started to undo the rope around her hands. The office was a mess. There was a big desk with a phone that was ringing quietly. Paperwork was strewn everywhere, in piles on the floor, even on the big comfy sofa in the corner. There was a very swish looking computer with some kind of diary on the screen and mouldy coffee cups in various degrees of decay were all over the floor, windowsills and on top of the filing cabinet.

Sunlight was spilling through the open door and Izzy looked out at the fields and trees stretching as far as the eye could see. She tried to pick out landmarks so she knew where she was, but apart from a distant church, it was a landscape of green.

She would escape. She was a fast runner, she knew this. When she went jogging, she could run for very long distances and barely break into a sweat. Gizmo and Black Boots were lurking by the van but she could run in the other direction, leap over that fence and be down the hill before they could get anywhere near her. She looked at Ethan. He was very strong though. The shirt he was wearing did seem to be bulging at the arms. Even his exposed tanned forearms were muscular. The element of surprise would help her. With her hands released she put her head in them and pretended to cry.

‘Now, there’s no need to cry, I know it was scary for you, and I’m really sorry for that…’ he leaned in to comfort her and she punched him as hard as she could in the face, sending him sprawling on the floor.

She leapt out of her chair and ran through the door.

‘Jesus, not again,’ Black Boots said.

‘Gizmo, stop her,’ roared Ethan.

She ran towards the fence, but her legs were shaky with the adrenaline that was coursing through her and she couldn’t run as fast as she needed to. Gizmo lumbered towards her, she swung her fist in his direction but he caught both hands and threw her over his shoulder again. She fought against him but with one strong arm round her legs she could do very little to stop him. He plonked her back in the chair again, grabbed the rope that Ethan had taken from her hands and tied her to the chair.

Ethan had a blue ice pack pressed to his eye, making him look like an obscure pirate. With his thin lips and his dark eyebrows slashing downwards across his forehead, he was definitely pissed.

‘Now you will listen to me…’ Ethan started, his voice sounding like a growl.

‘HELP!’ Izzy screamed. ‘SOMEBODY HELP ME. HELP!’

Ethan rolled his eyes and moved into the little kitchen. As Izzy continued to scream, she watched him pour two mugs of tea and put a splash of whisky in one of them, then he came round and sat on the desk in front of her. He waited patiently for her to stop screaming, but if she screamed for long enough someone was bound to come.

After yelling for help for a good minute or two with no sign of anyone coming to her rescue, Izzy flopped back in the chair, exhausted.

‘Finished?’ Ethan said.

Izzy nodded in defeat. He clearly wasn’t going to hurt her, and with her not being the intended target she might actually get to go home tonight with all her fingers still attached.

‘Good. Now you’ll listen to me. We’re a company called “Kidnap My Wife.” We offer a service to couples who want to spice up their sex life by staging a kidnapping. We agree a time and place with the couple for the wife to be waiting at, we turn up in our van, kidnap the wife and take her to our house down the road where the husband is waiting. What happens next is a variation on a theme, the wife can be tied to a bed, or a chair, the husband normally acts out some kind of fantasy for him or her, and they end up having sex. It’s all above board and legal and hugely popular. We’ve been operating for about five years now. With the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey our list of clients has gone through the roof. It seems all women like to be tied up and threatened. Claire Reynolds was our client today, you look a lot like her I’m afraid and were in the right place at the right time. She must have been running late. You have my complete and utter apologies. I can assure you this type of thing has never happened before.’

Izzy blinked at him. It all sounded very plausible. She looked around the office for any evidence to this and sure enough she could see several headed sheets of paper with the ‘Kidnap My Wife’ logo on the top.

‘Now I’m going to untie you, you’re going to drink this tea and we can talk about some kind of compensation before I take you home.’

He knelt next to her and untied the rope with skilful fingers. The bruise on his eye looked painful.

‘I’m sorry I punched you,’ Izzy said, quietly.

He didn’t say anything as he shoved the cup of tea into her hand.

She went to take a sip but the smell of whisky was strong and she pulled a face.

‘Drink it.’ Ethan glared at her and she quickly took a big gulp. The whisky burned the back of her throat but at another scowl from Ethan she took another big sip.

‘Here.’ He passed her the ice pack. ‘Put this on the back of your hand, it will be sore tomorrow.’

She obliged and watched him go back round the other side of his desk. He shifted a big pile of papers from there onto the floor and sat down watching her.

‘So how much to make you forget about this?’

Compensation? That hardly seemed fair, yes she had been terrified but it had been a genuine mistake. All three men were going to have bruises to show for their accidental brush with her. Surely that made them even.

‘Shall we say two thousand pounds?’

Izzy choked on her tea and she saw the small smug smile of satisfaction from Ethan, knowing she had been bought.

Two thousand pounds. Bloody hell. That would give her spending money for her trip to Australia. If she was careful, it would pay for her bills and her food too, for the next five weeks until she left.

Ethan rifled through the papers on his desk until he found the cheque book. He quickly filled it in and offered it across the table towards her.

She looked at the three zeros, shining temptingly with their wet ink. Why shouldn’t she take it, she had been traumatised after all. But a small business like this, two thousand pounds could be the make or break of it. What if this money was the difference between paying their bills and putting food on their table? What if giving her money would bankrupt them? She wouldn’t take it.

The phone rang incessantly between them and suddenly an idea formed in her head. It was mean and underhand but right then she didn’t care.

‘I don’t want your money.’

Ethan looked confused by this.

‘I want a job.’

His eyebrows shot up. ‘Are you kidding?’

‘That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.’

‘I’m not giving you a job.’

‘I’m sure the police would be very interested in my story. Taking you to court and suing you for traumatisation would be long and messy. Poor Gizmo out there could end up behind bars again. The papers get wind of this and it’s all over for your company.’

His eyes flashed. The cheque was crumpled in his tight fist. He stood up, towering over her. ‘That’s blackmail.’

She stood up too, though this did nothing to diminish the height difference between them.

‘That’s correct, it is. I’m good though. I can type a hundred and twenty words per minute, I did events management as part of my business studies degree, so something like this is perfect for me. I have years of secretarial experience in various different roles. I work hard, I will be here nine to five every day to answer your phone. I’ll clear up all this mess and establish some proper system round here. You’re obviously good at what you do to run this company for five years and still be standing, but I’m guessing you’d be better suited in the field. If I’m here dealing with the paperwork and the phone calls then you can have two teams out doing the kidnapping. You and Baldy in one van and Gizmo and Black Boots in the other. And most importantly I can implement procedures that will assure this kind of thing never happens to anyone else ever again.’

Izzy could see the vein in his neck pulsing away but he didn’t say anything so she pushed home her trump card.

‘I’ll be going to Australia in just over five weeks, so even if you hate me being here, in five weeks I’ll be gone.’

‘How long are you gone for?’

‘Six weeks initially, maybe longer. I may get a job out there so I’m not sure if or when I’d be coming back. I wouldn’t expect you to hold my job open for me when it could be months before I return.’

‘You’ll need good references.’

Izzy shook her head. ‘No references.’

He narrowed his eyes.

‘You gave Gizmo a job despite his criminal record, you can give me a job on face value too.’

‘Gizmo is my brother. I don’t know you.’

‘Six weeks.’

‘Three. Then if I’m not happy you leave without a word.’

‘Fine, but you’ll still pay me for those three weeks. Six hundred pounds a week.’

‘Three hundred.’

‘Four hundred and fifty or I walk out of here now and go straight to the police.’

He glared at her, breathing heavily through his nose. ‘I want you here at eight-thirty tomorrow morning.’

She nodded, barely able to believe her luck.

‘And you’ll dress a lot smarter than you’re dressed now.’

She nodded again.

‘Now get out of my sight.’

She hurried out the door into the warm welcome sunshine and Gizmo straightened from leaning on the van, ready to catch her again if need be.

‘Gizmo,’ Ethan called over her shoulder. ‘Take her home.’

Gizmo opened the van door for her chivalrously and she ran towards it before Ethan could change his mind.

‘Wait.’ Ethan appeared in the doorway. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Isabelle Franklin.’

Ethan nodded and walked back inside, slamming the door between them.

*

The Frog and Sausage was warm and cosy, with little booths under turret type roofs and winding stairs that led to further seating areas. It was one of Izzy’s favourite places in the world. The food was amazing, the customers friendly and laidback and right now she was sitting next to a roaring fire listening to the rain howling outside.

It didn’t sit right with her, blackmailing Ethan into giving her a job. She just wasn’t that sort of person. Being underhand and conniving was not part of her make-up. She would just have to prove to Ethan that she was a hard worker and that he hadn’t made a mistake in hiring her.

The door slammed open and amongst the leaves and rain that blew in, so did a bedraggled yeti, hair like a bush, struggling with her umbrella. The yeti forced the door closed, dumped the now broken umbrella in a stand near the door and planted a wet kiss on Izzy’s cheek before sitting down at the table and taking a big glug of cider.

Izzy smiled at her. Bex always made a dramatic entrance. Bex swept the tangle of blonde hair out of her face, ran her fingers through it and seconds later the effortless beauty that Bex so easily pulled off had returned. Izzy always thought that Bex could be a supermodel, being so tall. She had big pouty lips that many women would pay good money to have, flawless skin, big blue eyes and a great pair of breasts. She was stunning. Unfortunately the fashion industry didn’t see beauty in size twenty women, which was their loss, Izzy thought.

‘Good day at the office?’

Bex shrugged. ‘My teeth fell out when I was with a visitor. It was hardly the professional image I was going for.’

Bex’s job was as far removed from the glamour of the catwalk as it could be. Working for The London Dungeon as one of the historical characters meant she spent most of the day wearing filthy clothes and looking as ugly and hideous as she possibly could be.

‘I’m sure teeth falling out works quite well with what you do, adds to the gore.’

‘When your fake black teeth fall out leaving behind a perfect set of white gnashers, it kind of lacks the authenticity my job requires. I couldn’t find my teeth this morning so I had to borrow someone else’s and of course they didn’t fit and kept falling out. For the most part I managed to hide it, but during one big speech they fell out, straight onto the floor. The visitors all just burst out laughing, I was gutted. I had to quickly pick them up and put them back in, but they were already covered in ten tons of fur and dirt. It felt like I was chewing on fluff for the rest of the day. But I did scare the crap out of a few grown men and made a few children cry so yes, it was a pretty good day.’

‘You’ll miss it when you leave.’

‘Yes I will. How was your day?’

Izzy felt the smile stretch on her face. ‘I’ve got a job.’

‘That’s fantastic, well done Iz, doing what?’

‘Have you heard of a company called, “Kidnap My Wife?”’

Bex’s face fell. ‘Isabelle Franklin, what have you got yourself involved in?’

‘It’s nothing dodgy. It’s a fantasy role play thing. We kidnap men’s wives and take them to some big house and the husbands tie them up and have sex with them.’

‘How is that not dodgy?’

‘It’s not, the wives know about it. Think Fifty Shades of Grey on a lesser scale.’

‘So people pay to be kidnapped and tied up?’

‘Yes.’

‘And what’s your job in all of this sordidness, you better not be the one being tied up.’

‘No – office work, answering calls and all that.’

Bex was clearly still not happy about it. ‘Who do you work for?’

‘Ethan Chase.’

Her eyes widened. ‘Ethan Chase? Oh god honey, you don’t half pick them. Couldn’t you get a nice sensible job in a library or somewhere safe like that, working for some eighty year old man that loves poetry and bird watching?’

‘What’s wrong with Ethan?’

‘What’s right with him? His family have a terrible reputation, if you’d grown up round here you would have heard of him. He’s a total womaniser too, different woman every week. He lays on all the charm, wines and dines them and they’re putty in his hands. Then he shags them and never speaks to them again.’

‘Well that’s ok then, I don’t plan to sleep with him – just work for him.’

‘Or under him.’

‘Bex…’

‘Is he fit?’

Izzy shrugged. ‘If you like that sort of thing.’

‘And what sort of thing is that?’

‘Big, muscular, blue eyes that look inside you.’

‘So yes then. Just don’t be another notch on his bedpost. My friend’s sister went out with him. He took her to dinner, shagged her and she never heard from him again. She did say he was like a god between the sheets though and if she had the chance to do it all over again she would in a heartbeat.’

Izzy stared at her glass, not quite sure what to do with this information.

‘Good with his tongue too, if you know what I’m saying.’

‘I think everyone in this pub knows what you’re saying. He’s my boss. I’m not going to sleep with him. How awkward would that be once it turned sour – which it sounds like it would do. And he would have to be a complete idiot to sleep with one of his employees. Rule number one, don’t mix business with pleasure.’

‘So you’re not attracted to him at all?’

‘No.’ That was a lie. She knew it and Bex knew it.

‘Does he have a nice arse?’

‘I hadn’t noticed.’ Though Izzy knew Bex had seen her blush. Thankfully she was momentarily saved by the arrival of a cowboy, wearing jeans over beaten brown boots, a blue shirt rolled at the sleeves and a black Stetson.

‘Mmm, now that’s a rump I’d like to get my teeth into,’ Bex said, her eyes suddenly dark with lust.

She stood up and stalked over to the unknowing cowboy, sank her talons into his behind and nipped at his ear. To his credit, he only jumped a little bit, then he whirled round and gathered her close, kissing her so deeply it was almost pornographic.

‘Put her down,’ called Brian the landlord as he plonked a pint down on the bar. ‘You don’t know where she’s been.’

Bex parted from her conquest and he whispered into her ear. Bex giggled. ‘Give me half hour.’

He whispered in her ear again and her eyes widened. ‘Ten minutes then.’

Clearly satisfied with this response, he dipped his hat in Izzy’s direction and walked back out.

Bex stared after him for a moment, and then finally recovering herself she re-joined Izzy at their table.

‘I’m in love with my fiancé, did I ever mention that?’

‘Only a few thousand times. You should have asked Gabe to join us for a drink.’

‘He’s gone home to sort a few things out.’ Bex ran her tongue across her teeth unconsciously and Izzy tried to block out from her mind what exactly Gabe had gone to sort out.

Izzy quickly changed the subject. ‘So apart from the womanising are there any other reasons I shouldn’t work for Ethan?’

‘Well rumour has it he’s a drug dealer.’

‘Come on, I don’t believe that for a second.’

‘I’m just saying what I’ve heard. Whenever things get stolen in this area, everyone points to his family. They’ve never had any money or real jobs but they all live in nice houses. He’s got a hell of a temper.’

Izzy had already borne witness to some of that, she could cope with grumpiness.

‘Quite violent, I hear.’ Bex took another big gulp of cider.

‘With women?’

‘No, I’ve not heard that, but he’s got into quite a few punch ups in his time.’

‘Maybe wrong place, wrong time.’

‘Wrong man more like. He hit a policeman when he was younger.’

Although Izzy was not surprised about this, she still felt like she needed to defend him. ‘I prefer to judge people on the type of person they are now, not who they were in the past. We all have a history, ours is hardly squeaky clean.’

Bex had the good grace to blush, but it was only fleetingly. ‘A leopard never changes its spots.’

‘You’re so cynical for someone so young.’

‘And you’re so naïve for someone so old.’

‘Eight months Rebecca Dale, eight months older than you does not make me old.’

‘Look, your decrepitness aside, the whole Chase family is a bad lot from what I hear, one of them went to prison.’

‘Gizmo. Ethan’s brother. He’s been in prison.’

‘Sexual assault. I’m sure it was.’

Izzy felt affronted on Gizmo’s behalf. ‘That definitely wasn’t Gizmo. He’s not the type to do anything like that.’

‘So rapists are all a type are they, tall, white, brown hair, evil look in their eyes?’

‘No, but Gizmo is … kind of innocent.’

Izzy had chatted to him when he had driven her home earlier and it had become obvious very quickly that he had a sweet childlike naivety. He loved Ethan with a fierce loyalty that was incredibly endearing. He loved his job, loved the frost on the trees that clung to the bare branches like fur. He loved his dog Sampson so much that there were fifteen photos in Gizmo’s wallet that Izzy had seen. After ten minutes in the van with his exuberant enthusiasm Izzy had fallen a little bit in love with him too. There was no way he could be a rapist.

‘Of Mice and Men, that’s all I’m saying,’ Bex said.

‘He’s not stupid Bex, nor is he violent.’

‘You always like to see the best in people.’

‘And you always like to see the worst.’

‘I’m a realist.’

‘I’m an optimist.’

Bex smiled. ‘And that’s why I love you. Just be wary of him, both of them, and if they lay one finger on you – you tell me and Gabe, we’ll sort them out.’

Izzy decided, then and there, that she wouldn’t tell Bex how she had met Ethan and Gizmo in the first place.

Bex fished around in her bag and pulled out a pot of green cream. She stuck her fingers in and scooped out a dollop which she rubbed into her hands. It stank of a peculiar combination of coriander and green tea. Bex was always carrying these homemade concoctions around with her, but her skin always looked radiant and blemish free so it must have some benefits. Bex had made cures for dry skin, spots, scars, burns and chapped lips to name but a few. Izzy was sure she probably had a truth telling ointment and one for eternal life somewhere up her sleeve. Five hundred years before, Bex would have been burned at the stake.

‘Do you have anything for sweat spots?’ Izzy sniffed at the green gloop.

‘Where are the spots?’

‘On my bum. I bought some new jogging pants and I wore them once and they made me sweat so much I came out in spots. Most of them have gone but one little bugger remains.’

‘You’re such a classy bird, I do wonder why you’re still single. Please tell me you’ve done something about your scary bikini line. Last time I saw it, it was like some kind of terrifying swamp monster was trying to escape from your pants.’

Izzy blushed. ‘Admittedly I have let things lapse a bit lately. It’s hard to find the motivation when the only person that sees it is me.’

‘And me. And to be honest darling, that’s not something I ever want to see again. Come on then, show us your spot.’

‘I’m not pulling my jeans down in the pub for all and sundry to see.’

Bex stood up and frogmarched Izzy into the nearest toilet. ‘Drop them.’

Izzy rolled her eyes. She had known Bex since before she could walk. There were no secrets between them. Izzy unzipped her jeans and slipped them down a bit so Bex could inspect the spot.

‘Bloody hell, Iz, that’s huge. It’s got a life of its own that one. It probably has its own brain cells, its own thoughts. We should give it a name. Bert.’ Bex prodded it and Izzy winced. ‘Hello Bert.’

Just then the toilet door swung open and a very glamorous women walked in. The Frog and Sausage had a very strict dress code. Jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, trainers, wellies and the occasional cowboy hat were all welcome. This lady looked like she’d come straight from Ascot with her tailored suit jacket and matching silk dress.

She took one look at Izzy with her bum out and Bex bent over to inspect the spot up close and hurried back out again.

Bex burst out laughing and Izzy groaned.

‘I’m going to the loo whilst I’m in here, get another round in will you?’ Bex handed Izzy a tenner.

Izzy walked out into the pub and saw Ethan with the Ascot Lady. His eyes caught hers and Izzy felt something shift inside her.

‘I just walked in on two lesbians about to have sex.’ Ascot Lady was saying, pulling her jacket tighter around her as she looked around The Frog with disgust. ‘It’s obviously some kind of sordid gay bar. I’d like to leave.’

Ethan still didn’t take his eyes off Izzy and Ascot Lady turned round to see what he was looking at. ‘That’s one of them,’ she hissed.

Great. Just great.

Ethan put his arm round Ascot Lady’s shoulders and ushered her out. He glanced back over at Izzy as he walked out and she was sure there was a smirk on his lips.

*

 

Tied Up With Love is out today and it’s only £1 at the moment http://amzn.to/1xJPpra

 

Amelia’s hilarious original cover

 

I have Amelia Thorne with me today talking about her cover for her new story Tied Up With Love. When Amelia said she wanted to do a blog post titled Willygate, I couldn’t possibly say no.

Amelia over to you.

I love the beautiful covers that Carina produce for their books, they are absolutely stunning, everyone always comments on them and the designers do an amazing job. So when I received an email from my editor with my new cover I was beyond excited to see it.

This was the original cover before any amendments.

original cover

My first reaction was ‘ohhhhhhh its so beautiful’ I sat there smiling at it for thirty seconds and then I received my next reaction. ‘what is that between the couple?’

I stared at it and stared at it and although in my head I knew it was his arm, with his hand on her waist, I couldn’t escape the fact that it looked like something else.

Maybe I was going mad. I do think about sex a lot especially in my writing, I was obviously seeing something in this picture that wasn’t really there.

So I turned to my fellow Carina authors for some advice.

“Is there anything in this picture that you think looks a bit… odd?” I asked.

These are a sample of the replies I received.

  • Oh, eek!!!
  • I can see it as well haha
  • It’s right there
  • haha!
  • Showed my husband who fell off his chair laughing
  • Its frigging hilarious, I can’t take my eyes off it?
  • Woah.
  • He looks like he’s impaling her on it
  • Hahahahahaha!!!! At least he’s pleased to see her PMSL
  • Omigosh!
  • haaaaa snigger snigger. I feel like you should email back with just one word. Excited? Impaled? Turgid? So many options!
  • Ooh er, missus!
  • Looks like something’s come up during their kiss…lol.
  • He might have a gun in his pocket:-)
  • Oh my. He’s very excited, isn’t he?
  • ooh er!!
  • Oh my!!!!
  • It almost looks like she is giving him a hand job
  • Yes if its not his… Excitement, her hand is definitely in the wrong place
  • This made me laugh so much!
  • Is that a rabbit in his pocket or he just happy to see her? That is so funny.
  • Just woke up to see this… you have just, at 7am, put my day on the brightest path imaginable! OMFG!!!!
  • Hahahahaha OMG

It seems that the Carina authors, like me, have a school kid’s sense of humour when it comes to things like willies.

So then I had to send an email to my editor explaining the erm… problem.  I have never been so embarrassed before in my life. I write quite saucy sex scenes quite happily which my editor obviously reads, but I could not bring myself to say penis or willy or any other appropriate word in a letter to my editor. After much deliberation this is what I settled on:

I love this cover so much apart from one Very Big… Oh my God no!!!

I’ve showed this to a few of my friends and a few Carina authors to make sure it wasnt just me, and completely unprompted here is a selection of their replies.
‘oh my god, is he pleased to see her’
‘he looks like he is impaling her with it’
‘is that his hand or his…’
‘It looks like something came up during the kiss’
‘Oo er missus’
‘Snigger, snigger’

I can’t let that cover out with that between them, i know its supposed to be his hand but it really doesnt look like it.

If this couple is final and can’t be switched for another couple, can we give her a big skirt or dress to cover it up. There is a scene in the book where they go to a party on a rooftop bar and they dance out on the roof patio alone overlooking the london skyline, this cover could totally be that scene, she wears a long dress in that scene, so you could give her that to cover up the erm… Unwanted bits. I do realise, with a couple in white and a long white dress it might look like a wedding dress but rather that than people laughing at the inadvertent porno element.

Diplomatically done, I thought. Then I sat back and waited. Meanwhile word started to spread on Twitter. A few of my friends who had been privy to it started talking about the willies. I lost a few followers who clearly weren’t willy fans, I gained a lot more followers who clearly were. It became a mini event that soon became known as Willygate. I was dying to see my editor’s response, but also dreading it with equal measure. What if she didn’t understand my email, what if she asked me to elaborate on the problem. Finally I got a reply:

We genuinely were crying with laughter this morning. How did we NOT see that? It’s hard to miss! Attached is the new version, although I have to say, purely for entertainment purposes I think we all prefer the original….!

Phew, crisis averted. Here is the lovely new cover, minus the willy.

Tied Up in Love 05-09a

But some were not happy with the new cover. When I showed the new improved cover to the Carina authors one male author said:

* I’m afraid the operation brought a tear to my eye. Snip. Ouch!

Other Carina authors tried to reassure him

*Don’t worry, the graphic designer probably just painted the offending appendage blue

But he was not convinced

*I’m not sure that makes it any better.

I have to say I’m delighted with my new non-offensive cover, I think its beautiful but I do miss the willy just a little bit.

Caption Competition

I am offering a £10 Amazon voucher, but only to the brave. Will you go on Twitter and talk about willies?

To be in with a chance of winning, tweet the original offending cover with the hashtags #CaptionComp #WillyGate and your own funny caption about his erm…problem and I’ll put you in the draw to win.

Good luck

 

Beneath the Moon and the Stars – Sneak Peek

Beneath the Moon

 

I’m thrilled to be sharing the first three chapters of Beneath the Moon and the Stars by my very good ‘friend’ Amelia Thorne. Here’s the Blurb

Home, sweet home…

Joy Cartier has been to some of the most beautiful places in the world – but none of them have ever felt like home. So moving into a tiny cottage in the idyllic village of Bramble Hill, walking distance from her childhood home, seems like the perfect plan.

That is, until she gets there. The surly inhabitants of Britain’s Friendliest Village are anything but welcoming. Even her neighbour, reclusive Hollywood star Finn Mackenzie, takes one look at her and walks in the other direction

But when the village animosity steps up a gear, it is the infuriatingly brooding Finn who keeps coming to her rescue. Slowly Joy begins to realise that maybe a happy home isn’t about where you live, but who you’re with…

And here are the first three chapters of her gorgeous story

Prologue

Joy crouched down behind the bush, her heart hammering against her chest. Someone had called the police and now, after two years, she was finally going to get caught.

Her car was hidden in the dark trees behind her and she glanced towards it, trying to decide whether to make a run for it. It was quite far, maybe a hundred metres or more. She peered through the leaves at her would-be captor. He was a lot older than she was and held a bit of weight on his stomach. She was certain she could outrun him. But running would draw his attention, as would the noise of the engine.

She couldn’t get caught, her life would be over.

The policeman walked slowly towards where she was and she tried to make herself as small as possible. He was only a few metres away now. If she was going to run, now was the time to do it.

Suddenly another policeman came round the edge of the house with a dog; a great, snarling Alsatian.

‘Come on Phil, there’s nothing there,’ the dog handler called. ‘There’s no sign of a break in, no damage, it was probably just kids messing about. They’ll be long gone by now. Or shall I release Tiger; he’s dying for a run around?’

Tiger? Joy swallowed as she felt cold sweat prickle her neck.

‘Keep that savage beast on the lead, you know we don’t see eye to eye,’ Phil called back, rubbing his bum as he obviously remembered his last run in with the evil hound.

Tiger and his owner disappeared back round the house and with a last look in her direction Phil turned away too.

Just then her stomach gurgled loudly and Phil whipped back to face her, grabbing his baton like it was a loaded gun.

‘Colin!’ called Phil.

Her heart in her mouth, she leapt up and ran.

‘Oi! Police!’ yelled Phil. ‘Stay where you are.’

Joy leapt over a log and tore through the trees. Behind her she heard Tiger bark and she pushed herself faster. The branches caught her clothes and hair, like fingers dragging her back.

Black metal gleamed in the moonlight and she ran for it. She threw her rucksack into the passenger seat as torchlight danced through the trees towards her.

She quickly started the car, threw it into reverse and seconds later she hit the road. Thanking her brother for teaching her the darker side of how to drive, she slammed her foot on the brake and spun the wheel, executing a perfect J-turn manoeuvre, before tearing off up the road.

The road stayed empty behind her.

She took the first turn off and her wheels screeched as she took several other corners in quick succession. She turned the engine off as she parked outside a quiet, unassuming row of cottages and threw herself across the passenger seat.

A minute later she heard the sound of the police car tearing along the main road. The siren faded into the distance and she knew she was safe.

With a shaky hand, she pushed her hair from her face and waited for her heart to stop pounding. That was close, too close.

 

 

Chapter One

‘Please let me lick it,’ Joy said.

‘Uh uh, no way, not in my car,’ Alex said. ‘I’m driving as fast as I can. Bloody stupid country lanes, could you have picked anywhere more remote than this to live?’

She smiled as they passed the village sign: “Bramble Hill; Voted Britain’s Friendliest Village for the Last Nine Years.”

‘I love that it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s so cute and quiet. Fifty-six people live in this village Al, can you imagine. Pretty soon I’ll know them all by name. There’ll be Mrs Twinkly Eyes who will invite me in for a slice of homemade lemon drizzle cake whilst she regales me with stories from her youth. Mr Silver Hair who will come round to offer advice on my garden, and lovely mummies who will invite me round for coffee and we’ll chat in the garden whilst the angelic little cherubs play quietly nearby. And there’s a local pub, a proper local. Do you know how long I’ve wanted a proper local? Somewhere the landlord knows your name, knows your usual tipple and has it waiting for you on the bar as soon as you walk in. There’ll be cake sales and village fairs and people will give me eggs and fresh vegetables in return for my delicious apple pies. I can’t wait.’

She surreptitiously licked a tiny droplet of chocolate ice cream off her hand and looked up at Alex who was smiling at her.

‘What?’

‘What’s it like in your head Joy, is everything slightly rose-tinted? Your glass is permanently overflowing isn’t it? When it rains you smile because it’s good for the garden. Joy by name, Joy by nature.’

She smiled at the turn of phrase he had used for years as he pulled up outside the house.

He leaned over her looking out on the tiny whitewashed cottage. ‘Are you sure about this place? It’s quite close to Blueberry Farm.’

She frowned slightly. ‘I know. That wasn’t my intention. When I agreed to move here, I had no idea it was so close. Maybe it’s fate though; maybe it’s time I came home.’

His face darkened at this. It was the same disagreement they’d had for the last few years. He put his fingers to his heart. ‘Home is in here, you know that, it’s not a much-revered bunch of bricks. And you shouldn’t allow fate, tradition or sentiment to dictate where you live. You just need to open your heart to new possibilities.’ He brushed a stray hair from her face. ‘This is a fresh start for you; I hope you get everything you want from this.’

‘I’ve had a lot of fresh starts and none of them worked. But I have a good feeling about this place.’ She ignored the protest that Alex was quickly forming and pressed on. ‘It’s not just its proximity to Blueberry Farm. There’s something about here that feels like coming home.’ She negotiated the door handle with her little finger and carefully clambered out, holding the two ice creams precariously in her hands. ‘You’ll see. Moving here will be the best thing that has ever happened to me.’

She ignored the look from Alex. Admittedly, she’d said that for the previous eight places she had lived in over the last few years, but this time she hoped it would be different. She turned back towards the house and walked straight into someone.

‘Oh sorry.’ Joy leapt back and to her horror realised that the man now had two large round chocolate stains on his gleaming, white shirt – almost as if two fake breasts had been painted on. An expensive shirt too, she recognised the little logo on the breast pocket.

‘Oh god, I’m so sorry, I…’

He glared down at her and then down at his shirt in shock. She balanced the ice creams in one hand and fished a tissue from her pocket. But as she started to wipe away the ice cream, all she succeeded in doing was mushing the chocolate stain into a larger area across his shirt. He stood watching her as she desperately tried to get some off but made the stain bigger every time she touched him. Now tissue bits were sticking themselves to the shirt too. She abandoned the tissue, which was now hanging off him, and used her hand instead. As she felt his heart thud against her fingers, he suddenly caught her hand and moved it off him.

Joy’s mouth went dry. The man was huge, the largest man she had ever seen in her life. He was almost like a bear in terms of size and build, the hand that had pushed her own hand away was like a giant paw. His hair was a shaggy, dirty blond mess that fell across his eyes. Slate grey eyes, like thunder clouds.

In stark contrast to the angry bear before her, a shaggy grey mongrel stood at his side, wagging his tail, his tongue falling out of his mouth in what looked like an amused grin.

Emboldened by the dog’s smile, she tried one of her own. ‘I really am very sorry. I’ll pay to have your shirt cleaned of course and…’

Suddenly Alex was by her side, obviously sensing there was trouble brewing.

‘Hey, there’s no harm done here – we’ll pay to have your shirt cleaned or for a new shirt, and as it was obviously an accident it would be a shame to start off on the wrong foot. This is Joy, your new neighbour, and I’m Alex, her brother.’

Joy watched as the big man tore his glare away from her and his eyes slid to Alex.

‘Brother?’ he asked, deliberately ignoring Alex’s outstretched hand.

Alex nodded.

‘For Christ’s sake,’ he muttered as he stormed away.

‘Well you certainly know how to make a good first impression,’ Alex said.

‘I’m sure I can win him round.’

‘I’m sure you can. You’re my favourite person in the world and if he can’t see how fantastic you are, then he’s blind.’

Joy passed Alex his rather squished ice cream and followed him into the house. She glanced back at the large man disappearing down the road and tried to ignore the butterflies that were fluttering with unease around her stomach.

*

The sun was setting over Bramble Hill as Joy drove down towards the tiny village with the last load of her stuff. She had picked it up from Alex’s house, nearly an hour’s drive from her new home, and waved away offers for him to spend the first night with her.

Next to the village sign she’d just passed was another that she hadn’t noticed before. It was weather beaten, decorated in tiny delicate flowers and said; “Bramble Hill, Home of Finn Mackenzie.” She wondered who that might be; the village founder perhaps, or some old scout leader who had taken boys camping and taught them how to make fires since before she was born. She was sure she would find out over the next few days.

The village looked beautiful basked in the rosy glow of the sun as she drove down the hill towards the cluster of whitewashed cottages. It was peaceful and quiet. There was a tiny duck pond, glinting pink and gold as the little white ducks bobbed on the water, an old beamed pub, called charmingly The Peacock’s Pride, a tiny shop, and that was it. Life here would be as idyllic and quiet as the village itself.

She drew up outside her house and sighed. Home, sweet home.

Opening her boot, she hefted her large chainsaw over her shoulder, picked up a smaller one and grabbed a bag of some of her other power tools.

‘Hey, would you like some help?’ came a voice from behind her.

She turned to see a man hurrying towards her. It was the smile she saw first – an honest, genuine smile that spread to his denim blue eyes. He was quite broad in the shoulder, and wearing very tight jeans. His dark hair was floppy over his eyes, in a sexy, unruly, unkempt kind of way.

Although she had carried the large chainsaw many times over the years and she was used to the weight, she wasn’t about to turn down an offer of help from someone, it might appear rude. Besides, he was the first person who had actually spoken to her since she had arrived.

‘Sure, that would be great.’ She carefully passed the chainsaw into his waiting hands.

‘This isn’t the twelve tonnes of makeup and hair products I was expecting,’ he said, following her into the house.

She smiled at the dig. ‘I’ve already unpacked that.’

‘Now if my detective skills haven’t let me down, you must be Jo Carter.’

‘I’m afraid they have. Joy Cartier, my landlord is Joe Carter.’

He was clearly thrown by this.

‘I know, weird isn’t it? Similar sounding names, but no relation.’

‘This could be a problem,’ he mumbled, clearly more to himself than to her. She looked at him waiting for clarification but his lovely smile quickly returned and he changed the subject. ‘I’m Casey Fallowfield, my brother Zach lives next door. This place looks great.’

They walked through the house and towards the shed. ‘Thanks, though I can’t take any of the credit. Joe did all the decorating. I’m just renting from him. Just put that on the shelf up there.’

The shed was very small and Casey leaned up over her to put the chainsaw on the shelf, revealing a flash of brown, toned belly. She swallowed. He was standing so close and his fresh citrus smell made something clench in her stomach.

He flashed her a grin as he let go of the chainsaw and she blushed. He knew she had just been staring at his stomach.

‘So the chainsaws, what are they for?’

‘Cutting wood,’ she said.

‘This is a very expensive chainsaw though, and are those your initials engraved onto the side?’

She brushed past him as she headed out the shed.

‘You’re not… The Dark Shadow are you?’ He grinned, clearly not believing she was.

She laughed. ‘Isn’t he supposed to be some eight foot tall alien, or a time traveller, or a demon from the underworld?’ Some of the conspiracy theories surrounding The Dark Shadow were ridiculous.

‘I heard it was animals, trying to send us a message. Or fairies, definitely fairies.’

‘I heard…’ she looked around to make sure no one was listening, ‘that it was a Scotsman.’

Casey gasped theatrically. ‘Nooooo.’

‘A nine foot Scotsman with a twelve foot long red beard, eyes of coal, arms of steel, teeth made from razor blades.’

‘Those Scotsmen are savage.’

‘Well I’m sure the Scottish are perfectly wonderful people, it’s just this one that’s savage. Some say he’s actually a vampire and he’s hundreds of years old. Can I offer you a beer?’

‘Sure, then you can tell me about the chainsaws.’

She smiled at him over her shoulder. ‘You’re nosy aren’t you?’

‘People interest me – you interest me, Joy. Where have you come from? Why did you come here? Was it to run away from something or towards something? What do you do for a job? Though it must be something good to afford the rent in this place… and what’s with the hulking great autographed chainsaw in your shed?’

‘Wow those are a lot of questions.’ She passed him a beer and came back to stand on the decking, watching the sun sink behind the hills. ‘Maybe one day I’ll tell you the answers.’

‘Ah a woman of mystery. I suddenly like you a whole heap more.’

She chinked her beer against his. ‘To friendship then, and to sucking out all the gory details of each other’s personal lives.’

‘I like it, that’s what true friendship is all about; being beholden to each other over our deepest darkest secrets.’

She smiled. ‘So what are yours?’

‘I’ll need more than just a sip of beer inside me to tell you that.’

She turned back to the view.

Just then the large man, who she had literally bumped into earlier, walked out into his garden. Her heart leapt. He wasn’t wearing a top and his whole body seemed to shout muscles. He was so tall, nearly two feet taller than her tiny five feet. He was filthy and sweaty and Joy had never been so turned on in her entire life.

She watched him pick up a large tree, as easily as if he was picking up a daffodil, and place it carefully into a large hole. He patted the soil gently around it, as if the tree was made from china. More soil was added until the tree was secure. He stood up and drank long and deep from a bottle of water. As he moved, the sunlight caught a piercing in his nipple. Joy tried to swallow but realised her throat was now parched. She took a long swig of beer and suddenly remembered Casey standing next to her.

She quickly turned to him, blushing furiously at the thought that he would have caught her gawping so avidly. To her surprise his attention was well and truly caught by the beautiful man next door as well. His eyes, as she imagined hers were right now, were dark with lust and desire.

Joy took another sip of beer, whilst she pondered this, watching the man next door pick up his tools and take them to his shed. As he turned back, he caught them watching, scowled first at her and then broke into a huge grin when he saw Casey and waved at him before going back into his own house.

Casey took a long sip of beer, which he had clearly forgotten about whilst he had enjoyed the show, and then looked at Joy in what he clearly hoped was a nonchalant way.

She arched an eyebrow at him and he sighed.

‘That… was Finn Mackenzie, my best friend and the man I’ve been secretly in love with for the last fifteen years.’

Joy smiled at him in sympathy. Unrequited love was the worst.

He chinked his beer against the side of hers, dryly. ‘Come inside and we can start on at least one of my dark and gruesome secrets.’

She followed him in, and sensing this unburdening was going to need a bit more than cheap beer, she grabbed a bottle of wine from the fridge and a huge slab of chocolate. She went through to the lounge where Casey was already sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands.

‘You saw it didn’t you, the way I looked at him,’ he said.

‘What, the same look of desire that I had on my face? Yes, I saw it.’

Casey looked up with a sheepish smile. ‘He is beautiful isn’t he?’

Joy shook her head with admiration and sat down next to him. ‘He’s magnificent. If we’re sharing secrets, I might as well share mine with you. When I saw that pierced nipple, I wanted nothing more than to run over and lick it.’

Casey laughed, loudly. ‘Oh, I know. I went with him when he got that done. It gave me a good excuse to touch it, you know, purely out of curiosity.’

She grinned. ‘Of course.’

Darcy, her great, beloved Newfoundland, hauled herself up from the cool tiled fireplace to finally greet the new visitor. Casey stroked her absently, but his smile faltered as he thought. ‘Do you think he saw how I was looking at him?’

‘I doubt it. Men are blind to these things. Besides, he waved at you. All I got was a scowl.’

‘Yeah I clocked that. It’s your hair, he has a thing about redheads, can’t stand them.’

Joy felt her mouth pop open. ‘That’s a bit… hairist.’

Casey smiled again. ‘To be fair, he’s anti all women at the moment.’

‘Oh… so he’s gay as well?’

Casey laughed even louder at this. ‘Oh god, I wish. That would be all my Christmases, birthdays, dreams and wishes come true in one fell swoop. No Finn is straight. He just hates women after his ex-wife cheated on him. He hasn’t been with anyone since. Though not from lack of offers from the entire female population of Bramble Hill and the other local villages. They were queuing up once Pippa left, but he hasn’t shown a flicker of interest. He has been sullen to the point of rude and still they fancy their chances.’

‘Maybe his marriage broke up because he was gay.’

‘You’re just saying that to cheer me up. No he’s definitely straight. But it’s not just women he has a problem with. He’s rude to everyone; well he has been for the last eighteen months. So don’t take it personally. He says very little, keeps himself to himself, never gets involved with village life. Never gets involved with anyone. You’ll be no different. Well except that you have red hair. He’ll hate you for that.’

Joy frowned.

‘Pippa was a redhead so now he has tarred all redheads with the same brush,’ Casey explained as he finished his beer and opened the wine.

‘And how do the villagers take to his rudeness?’

‘They love him.’ Casey obviously saw the look of confusion on her face. ‘You know who he is right?’

She shook her head.

‘Finn Mackenzie, the actor?’

She shrugged, still none the wiser.

‘He was in that vampire trilogy years ago – In The Darkness, The Taste of Blood and, my personal favourite, The Spoils of War. God, that bit when he bathes naked in the moonlit lake… I think I ruined my video by pausing it so often in the same place. I should have realised back then that I was gay, when all my friends were drooling over the beautiful Scarlet Rome and all I could see was Finn.’

He must have seen the blank look on her face.

‘You haven’t seen them, really? You must be the only living woman not to. What exactly were you doing twenty years ago?’

‘I was nine, so…’ She trailed off as she realised exactly what she was doing twenty years before.

‘You might have been a bit young to appreciate the first film, but the second and the third? How could it have passed you by?’

She shrugged. ‘I guess it did.’

‘He was fourteen when he filmed the first one and nineteen by the time the last one came out. Overnight he became this Hollywood sensation, the press followed him around everywhere. He hated it. I don’t think he had any idea what it would be like for him to be suddenly famous. After Spoils was finished he withdrew from public life. He had so many offers to do so many different projects, but he wasn’t interested at all. He hasn’t done anything for the last fifteen years.’

She smiled at Casey’s enthusiasm for Finn. ‘I guess it’s safe to say, you’re his biggest fan.’

‘I am yes, but we’ve been friends since we were both knee high to a grasshopper. It wasn’t the fame thing that attracted me. Hell, you’ve seen him – the man’s a god.’

‘I take it you haven’t told him how you feel?’

‘Good Lord, no, definitely not. No one knows I’m gay. You’re the first person I’ve told, and I wouldn’t have told you if you hadn’t caught me drooling. I’m normally better at disguising it than that. Well I hope I am.’

Joy frowned slightly. ‘You’ve been gay for fifteen years and never told anyone?’

‘No. Not really. I mean yes, my inappropriate crush on my best friend has lasted fifteen years but I guess I never really accepted I was gay until recently. A year, maybe two.’

‘But why haven’t you told your parents? Would they be awful about it?’

Casey poured two large glasses of wine, broke off a huge chunk of chocolate and shoved it in his mouth. It took him a few moments to answer whilst he chewed on it.

‘Honestly, I think they would have been ok with it. I come from a very loving family and all they’ve ever wanted was for me and Zach to be happy. But I think their friends would give them hell over it. They’re… Mum’s incredibly wealthy and there’s always social gatherings – balls, seven course dinners, big charity events that they used to attend with Lord and Lady Chalsworth, the Earl of Menton Hall, and Sir Ronald Chase-Matthews.’ He affected a posh voice as he reeled off his fellow socialites. ‘I’ve always shied away from it myself, which I think disappointed them slightly. Zach is more into the social networking, keeping up with the Joneses malarkey than I am. As the oldest son, they would have loved nothing more than if I attended these functions with some beautiful lady on my arm. If I were to turn up with a beautiful man on my arm instead… Well, I don’t think their friends would be as understanding.’

Joy broke off a chunk of chocolate and chewed on it, thoughtfully. ‘So you’re never going to tell them?’

‘I suppose, if I found someone I loved, truly loved and who loved me too, then perhaps I would be brave enough to say, “this is the man that I’m going to spend the rest of my life with”. But it’s hard to find that man when no one knows I’m actually gay.’

‘My brother’s gay,’ Joy said and then laughed at the look on his face. ‘No, don’t worry. I wasn’t trying to set you up with him. I hate that when people do that to me, “oh you’re single, he’s single, why don’t the two of you get together?” No, you’re not his type at all. Alex prefers big men, just as you do it seems. No I just meant maybe he could take you out to some gay bars, give you a chance to meet some men that are in the same boat.’

‘He’s… openly gay?’

She nodded.

‘And how did your parents take to that?’

‘They didn’t. They were both killed in a car accident when he was seventeen. I’m not sure if he had even figured it out by that point. He came out to me a few years later.’

‘Oh god Joy, I’m so sorry, that’s terrible. Your parents being killed obviously, not your brother being gay.’

She swallowed the lump in her throat that was always there when she spoke about her parents. ‘It’s fine. It’s been twenty years.’

‘You were nine?’

She nodded again.

‘That’s what you were doing twenty years ago. I was fawning over my best friend dressed in leather and you were mourning the loss of your parents. I’m sorry. Who raised you after they’d died?’

‘Al did. He was three weeks away from been eighteen. He lied about his age, told the authorities he was eighteen and as such was my legal guardian. By the time they checked, he was eighteen.’

‘He raised you on his own?’

She smiled. ‘I know, looking back, I just took it for granted that he was there. He had always been there, always would be there for me. I didn’t think until I was eighteen myself what he should have been doing – that going clubbing, getting drunk, going to parties should have been a way of life for him. He wanted to go to university, train to be in the film industry. He put it all on hold to look after me. He did a superb job too. He wasn’t just my brother, he was my dad, my mum and my friend. Can you imagine, when all his friends were graduating university, or coming back from travelling the world, he was sitting down with me explaining to me about periods. He was amazing.’

‘Sounds like someone I’d like to meet.’

‘You should, just so you have at least one gay friend to talk to about all this stuff. Maybe he can help you to come out to your family. Or at least help you find someone other than Finn to set your sights on.’

Just then there was a loud knock on the door.

Casey stretched back into the sofa. ‘Well I don’t think we’ve done too badly in the sharing of our deepest, darkest secrets for one night. Maybe we’ll stop there before I discover that the chainsaw is for hacking up bodies.’

‘Damn it, now I’m going to have to kill you too.’ She moved to answer the door and Darcy followed.

Joy opened it and the man standing on the doorstep was so obviously Casey’s brother, Zach. He had the same washed denim eyes, the same black floppy hair, but where Casey’s unkempt style had probably taken seconds to achieve, Zach’s unruly “I don’t care about my hair” look had probably taken hours of styling. He had the sexy designer stubble in comparison to Casey’s clean shaven face. But feeling horribly disloyal to her new friend, she had to admit that Zach had the edge when it came to sex appeal.

‘What have you done with my brother?’ asked Zach, his mouth twitching into a smirk. ‘I know he’s in there with you. I saw him carry that chainsaw into your house, and he hasn’t come out since. If you’ve chopped him up into tiny pieces you’ll have me to answer to.’

She fixed him with a dark look. ‘Why don’t you come down to the cellar and I’ll show you what I’ve done with him.’

‘Ha I’ve seen that film. I go down to the cellar with you and the next thing I’m manacled to a table as you cut out my innards. Not a chance. Unless it’s bondage you’re into, then I wouldn’t mind a bit of manacling.’

She laughed. ‘I’m Joy, you must be Zach?’

‘Ah he mentioned me did he, just before you brutally murdered him?’

Just then Casey appeared behind her. ‘Fret not little brother, she tried to kill me, but I fought her off. Are you ready to go down the pub?’

‘Yep, is the murderer coming with us?’

‘She sure is. We’ll introduce her to the friendly folk down The Pride.’

Joy couldn’t fail to miss the sarcastic way Casey had said friendly.

‘Hey, they’re ok… just not keen on newcomers,’ Zach said. ‘They’ll take a while to warm to you but I’m sure you’ll win them round.’ He moved closer to her, his eyes casting over her. She stroked Darcy, a useful prop to focus on as she found herself embarrassed by the sheer hunger in his eyes.

Casey moved to stand by her side, forcing Zach to move back a bit. ‘Go and grab my wallet would you, I left it on the coffee table.’

Zach nodded and with a last dark look in her direction, he scooted back to his house. Joy tried to calm her heart down before she turned back to Casey. What was wrong with her? Three times her pulse had quickened in the last half hour, each time with someone different. It had clearly been too long since she’d been with a man.

Casey closed the door behind Zach and turned to her.

‘I like you Joy, so let me give you one piece of advice. Don’t get involved with my brother. Women are like a game to him. He’ll lavish you with attention and charm but once he’s had you, he’ll move onto the next. If he had notches on his bedpost, he would’ve gone through several bedposts by now. I shudder to think how many women he’s actually slept with. Don’t be one of them. Now…’ he opened the door and offered her his arm, ‘… let me escort you down The Pride.’

Zach was already waiting with his dark looks of appreciation. Joy sighed inwardly; she really didn’t need to get involved with a serial womaniser. And with her definitely not being Casey’s type, and Finn hating the ground she walked on, it didn’t seem her dry patch would be ending any time soon.

Chapter Two

The Pride was a rustic, country pub, with low beamed ceilings and a great fireplace which Joy could imagine sitting by in the winter months, chatting with her new friends. Zach and Casey were funny and friendly and the fact that she wouldn’t be getting involved with either of them made things very easy and comfortable between them. She would just have to ignore the way her heart raced every time Zach brushed against her or looked at her.

The unfriendliness of the locals didn’t seem to be a problem either. Chloe, standing behind the bar and serving them, was as overenthusiastic as a puppy. She was sweet and had a huge smile that lit up her entire face.

‘So you’re friends with Zach?’ Chloe said, finally diverting her attention from the man himself, as he chatted with her.

‘She’s my friend actually,’ Casey said and Joy was thrown by the slight protective tone to his voice.

Zach obviously picked up on the tone as well and he slid an arm round Joy’s waist, clearly trying to piss his brother off or make him jealous. Little did he know. ‘He’s always been the same Joy, never wanted to share his toys.’ He turned back to Chloe. ‘Joy’s just moved in next door, so I’m just showing her the sights, making her feel welcome.’

Chloe let out a girly, high-pitched giggle, twisting her hair round her finger.

Joy looked around at the scattering of customers. Was it her imagination or did the pub suddenly go quieter when Zach announced that she had moved in next door? They were bound to be curious about any newcomers to their tiny village, but the room seemed colder all of a sudden. Although a nearby pair of older men were seemingly focused on a game of chess, and three old ladies – all supping pints of dark coloured bitter and wearing thick woolly cardigans, despite the heat of the night – were chatting quietly in a small booth. None of them seemed to be interested in her. She must have imagined it.

Sitting in the corner, reading a paper, was Finn Mackenzie. And there it was, the huge tidal wave of desire crashing over her again. She could see why Casey was head over heels in love with him. The permanent scowl did nothing to detract from his appearance.

She hadn’t made the best first impression on him. But even if she wasn’t his type, they should at least be civil to each other for the sake of neighbourly relations. She turned back to Chloe.

‘Can I get a pint of whatever Finn is drinking?’

Casey and Zach sucked in their breath.

‘Seriously, you really want to go there?’ Zach said.

‘This is not going to be pretty.’ Casey shook his head in warning.

‘Look, I’m not chatting the man up. I just think we started off on the wrong foot after I got ice cream all down him earlier. If we’re going to live next to each other, it makes sense that we can at least be on talking terms.’

Chloe put a pint of bitter on the bar. ‘Good luck.’

‘When he shoots you down, we’ll be over in the corner.’ Zach gestured to the part of the pub that was the furthest away from Finn.

A smile and a free pint went a long way with most men, so she picked up the bitter and walked over to him.

‘Finn, hi,’ she said, gaining his attention. His eyes cast over her for a second, before he returned his gaze to the paper again. She was undeterred – determined to get one civil word from him, she pressed on. ‘Look I know we started badly, but I’m sure we can at least be polite when we see each other. I’m Joy Cartier and…’

‘I don’t care,’ he said, without even looking up.

Annoyed, she stepped closer. ‘I’m not hitting on you and I know I’m not your type but…’

He looked up, appraising her with what appeared to be a look of disgust. ‘You’ve got that right; you are most definitely not my type. Now I suggest you run along back to your friends.’

He turned back to the paper again and Joy felt her jaw clenching at the dismissal. She slammed the bitter down on top of his newspaper, so it splashed over the glass, soaking the article he was reading. ‘You’re welcome.’

With that she turned and stormed back to the warmer side of the pub.

*

Finn watched her go. The girl could certainly flounce. The black dress she was wearing seemed to flounce as well; it shook dramatically around her bum and legs as she moved. Damn it. He didn’t like short women. He was so big that kissing someone small was always a problem. And redheads? No way, not again. He would just ignore the flash of heat that surged through him when she had walked over.

Joy Cartier though, not Jo Carter as everyone thought. Joy Cartier from Ascot. So she was rich. She probably had a pony called Princess and a butler called James. Even the way she said Cartier screamed of wealth, not Car-te-er but Car-te-yay. She drove a Range Rover too, big flashy thing that had probably never seen a fleck of mud in its life. He didn’t like snobs.

As she walked, the eyes of every single person in the pub followed her. They weren’t friendly either, some glared at her with mistrust, but most eyes were filled with pure venomous hatred.

He pushed away the sudden need to protect her. He forced his eyes away from her and back to his paper. The ale stain was spreading slowly across the article about The Dark Shadow that he had been avidly reading. He tried to pick out the words through the watery mess. He would not get involved.

*

Joy knew she had a big, stupid grin on her face. Apart from the cretin in the corner, life in the tiny village had started just as she had imagined it would. She already had two friends and was sitting in her local, putting the world to rights. Zach was very funny and, as Casey said, very charming and attentive. Finn was a git, but she wouldn’t let that spoil her mood.

Casey got up to get another round in, coincidentally at the same time that Finn went to the bar. As the appreciative gaze from Zach returned, Joy excused herself to go to the toilet.

It was as she was washing her hands that Chloe came into the toilet behind her. Joy turned round to speak to her, but she was thrown by the look on her face. Gone was the giddy over exuberance and huge smile – her eyes were dark, filled with hate.

Chloe grabbed Joy by the scruff of the neck and threw her against the wall. Pain seared through her as something stabbed into the back of her shoulder. Joy reacted instinctively, without thought. Her self-defence teacher had taught her well and in that moment when the mind was still processing the attack, her body seemingly reacted by itself. She kneed Chloe hard in the stomach and as she staggered back, Joy kicked her legs out from under her and slammed her into the floor, pinning her down with her foot to her chest.

Shit.

She hadn’t meant to do that. But as Chloe struggled against her, she didn’t think it was safe to let her up any time soon.

‘What’s your problem?’ Joy said, concerned by the amount of blood that was pouring down her arm. She looked round to see some kind of nail or picture hook hanging out of the wall, which Chloe had inadvertently thrown her against.

‘Zach’s mine,’ Chloe growled.

‘Seriously!! You’ve just attacked me over Zach? Honey, I have absolutely no interest in Zach whatsoever. Casey has already warned me off him, says he’s with a different woman every week. I have no desire to be another notch on his bedpost. I’ve just moved next door to him, that’s all.’

‘He loves me. Those other women mean nothing to him. He’s just sowing his seed. When he’s finished, he’ll come back to me. You’ll see. He’s mine, so keep your filthy hands off him.’

Joy shook her head at the lack of comprehending on Chloe’s part. ‘And you’re welcome to him.’

‘And Casey is with one of my friends, so you can’t have him.’

‘He…? Erm… I’m not interested in Casey either.’ That was a turn up for the books.

‘Or Finn…’

‘The man’s an arse, I’m definitely not interested in him.’

All the fight seemed to go out of Chloe. ‘Zach does love me.’

Still not sure whether to let her up, Joy kept her foot on Chloe’s chest a moment longer. ‘I’m sure he does.’

The toilet door suddenly opened and another lady that worked behind the bar came in. Joy presumed she was the pub landlady. She was a large, short woman who would look right at home on a rugby field.

‘What the hell is going on here?’

Joy thought this might be an opportune moment to let Chloe off the floor. ‘Just a difference of opinion, right Chloe? I think we’ve sorted things out now.’

Chloe scrabbled up, clearly still winded by the knee to the stomach, and shot Joy a filthy look. ‘She attacked me Pam, said I was to stay away from Zach, she just threw me to the ground for no reason.’

Joy opened her mouth to protest, but stopped. The landlady’s face was like an open book. Joy could tell that Pam knew Chloe was lying, Pam clearly knew of Chloe’s inappropriate infatuation for a man who didn’t return her feelings, and she had already seen the blood trickling down Joy’s arm. But Pam had already decided whose side she was on, and it wasn’t the side where the customer was always right.

‘How dare you come into my pub and attack my staff like this. Get out now.’

‘But…’

Pam took a threatening step towards her and, recognising that that was one fight she certainly didn’t want to have, Joy held up her hands in a symbol of defeat and surrender. ‘I’m going.’

‘And don’t you dare show your face in this pub again.’

Joy scooted out, past Pam and into the pub. She hurried over to Zach’s table and grabbed her jacket.

‘Hey, where you going? I’ve just bought you a drink.’ Casey said, as he sat back down.

‘I’ve got to go. Sorry, you boys stay here, enjoy your evening. Don’t worry about me.’

‘Are you ok?’ Zach stood up, suddenly filled with concern. ‘You’re bleeding. Here, let me walk you back.’

She edged to the door. ‘No, I’m fine. My house is only a minute away. I’ll be fine. Stay here, please and finish your drinks.’

With concerned looks from both of them, she hurried out the pub.

*

Finn glared at Joy as she ran out the pub. He felt annoyed by the protective feelings she provoked in him.

Chloe was about as unhinged as Kathy Bates’s character in Misery so when he had seen her stalking into the bathroom after Joy, he’d known it was going to lead to some confrontation. He had to physically stop himself from going into the bathroom after them. He was shocked to see Joy hurrying out of the bathroom a few minutes later, bleeding and shaken, but stunned that Pam had to physically help Chloe out of the bathroom seconds after Joy had left. Little Joy Cartier had obviously given as good as she’d got. But he still had this need to go after her to make sure she was ok.

He would not get involved. That would only lead down one path and he wasn’t going to let that happen again.

His eyes flitted to Mrs Brannigan who was hurriedly finishing her pint and heading out the door after Joy. Albert Cole, with a dark look of venom in his eyes, met her at the door and with a mutual nod of understanding between them they quickly left.

Finn was already on his feet as he slammed down the pint that he knew would now go to waste. He cursed Joy for making him care and stormed out of the pub after them.

*

Outside, Joy slipped off her shoes and leaving her jacket on top of them, she walked down to the edge of the small pond. Moonlight bathed the waters with silvery ribbons. The village was so quiet. There was not a single sound to be heard. It was a beautiful place and she was so desperate to finally find a place that she could call home. But now it seemed that Bramble Hill would go the same way as the other places she had tried, though she had never left because she had been involved in a fight before. She had thought the tiny little village would be the answer. London and the other big cities, where her neighbours had barely said two words to her for the entire time she had lived there, certainly hadn’t been.

She hadn’t even been here a day and she had alienated her neighbour by spilling ice cream down him, had a fight with a barmaid and been banned from her local. It wasn’t the rose-tinted start to village life she had hoped for. Suddenly she was pushed hard from behind and as she tumbled head first into the inky cold water she heard a man speak.

‘Piss off back to Ascot you little bitch,’

But then she also heard a far off shout that sounded like, ‘Oi, leave her alone.’

The coldness of the water was shocking against her hot skin, reeds closed around her like fingers, dragging her down as she fought against them to reach the surface. She gasped out as her head burst through the water and she struggled against the reeds to get to the side. She grabbed a log and pushed her hair out of her eyes, shivering against the cold.

Finn was standing on the edge of the pond, his expression thunderous and she wondered if he was capable of any other expression.

‘Oh very good, payback for me covering you with ice cream was it? A bit childish, but yes revenge is certainly a dish best served cold.’ She was trying to laugh it off, keep some dignity even though she looked like a drowned rat, but she had been shocked by the maliciousness of the push. She heaved herself out of the cold water and clambered up onto her knees, aware of pain in her ankle and shin. The heat of the night did nothing to stop the chill of the cold water on her skin.

‘It wasn’t me,’ he said.

She looked around; the village was quiet and deserted. ‘Well who then? The ghost of the pond perhaps. Oh was it Chloe?’

‘No she was still clutching her stomach when I left. People here are not going to take kindly to you after what you did.’

‘To Chloe? She attacked me, I just defended myself –’

‘I’m not talking about that nut job, everyone round here knows what’s she’s like – though beating her up certainly isn’t going to curry favour with the locals. I’m talking about Mrs Kemblewick.’

She looked up at him in confusion. He was a lot bigger than her, but from her position kneeling on the floor, the feeling of intimidation that seemed to seep from him was certainly more prevalent. She moved to get up, but quickly realised that the pain in her ankle was from a bad twist or sprain. She was determined that he wouldn’t know he had hurt her as well as soaking and embarrassing her, so she stayed where she was. She would wait till he had gone before she hobbled home. She shivered again.

‘Who’s Mrs Kemblewick?’

‘The lady you kicked out so you could move in. Classy, you don’t even know who was living there. Did Daddy’s solicitor handle everything for you?’

Her head was swimming with cold, confusion and pain and he clearly wasn’t going any time soon. She stood carefully, deliberately trying not to put any weight on her ankle. Her dress clung to her and she realised her bra had come undone at the back. To her absolute horror as she stood, one of her breasts fell out the top of her dress.

To her surprise, as she quickly scooped her breast back in, Finn’s coat was suddenly around her. It was huge, swamping her from neck to toe, making her feel like a child in her dad’s clothes. It was warm and smelt earthy.

She glared at him. ‘What the hell is wrong with you? You push me in the pond, then hang around so you can see how humiliated I am, give me some cryptic warning about some Mrs Kemblewick and then give me your coat because you suddenly feel guilty?’

‘As I said, it wasn’t me and if you don’t want my coat I’ll take it back.’

‘Fine.’ Joy shrugged out of it and passed it back to him, then wobbled a bit when she inadvertently put weight on her twisted ankle. Finn grabbed her arm to stop her falling back in.

‘You’re bleeding.’

Joy looked down at her shoulder. ‘I know, where Chloe attacked me, silly cow, threw me against a picture hook.’

‘I meant your shin.’

Joy glanced down and sure enough her shin was pouring with blood from a large gash just underneath her knee. Though the water was probably making it look worse than it was.

‘Just… go away Finn. You don’t like me; you’ve made that perfectly clear…’

Just then Casey came running down the banks towards them, closely followed by Zach.

‘What happened?! Joy, are you ok?’ Casey shrugged out of his jacket and wrapped it round her.

‘Someone pushed her in,’ Finn said.

‘Over Mrs Kemblewick?’ Casey said, rubbing her arms trying to get her warm.

Finn nodded then turned to walk away but stopped when he came face to face with Zach. If she thought the look of anger and hate that he had given her was bad enough, it was nothing in comparison to the look he gave Zach. It was pure venomous loathing. Zach stepped back under the weight of it, and with another filthy look in his direction, Finn stormed off.

Zach watched him go, then quickly moved to her side.

‘Are you hurt?’ he said, his arm round her shoulders.

‘No, not really – my ankle is twisted, I’ve cut my shin, but my pride is hurt more than anything.’

‘Here, lean on me, I’ll help you get back.’

Casey grabbed Joy’s shoes and jacket and with Zach supporting her she hobbled the short distance back to her house. On the way, she explained what had happened between her and Chloe and then with Finn and the pond.

‘It wasn’t Finn,’ Casey said, as he opened her front door for her. ‘I know he can be a moody sod, but there’s no way he would do that.’

Zach nodded. ‘Me and Finn don’t get on, as you no doubt saw, but I’d have to agree with Casey, Finn would never do something like that.’

Joy sighed as Zach helped her onto the sofa.

‘Then who, and more importantly why?’

Zach moved into the kitchen, probably to get some ice and Casey sat next to her.

‘My guess would be Albert Cole and Mrs Brannigan, they left the pub straight after you. I only thought it odd when Finn got up and went after them. He must have known something was wrong.’

Zach came back with a bowl of water and a towel. He knelt at her feet and started to clean up her cut. There was something about the way he ran the damp cloth up her leg that was incredibly intimate. His eyes were on hers as he moved the cloth over her and swallowing the desire to suddenly lean forward and kiss him, she tore her eyes from him and focused on Casey instead.

‘Who’s Mrs Kemblewick?’

‘A very sweet old lady that lived here for twenty years or more – so say the gossips.’ Casey said. ‘It seems she was the lover of the man that owned the house…’

‘Joe?’ That was a surprise. Her landlord was young, very good looking and had struck her as a bit of a ladies’ man. Who knew those ladies were of the elderly variety?

‘His father apparently, Eric Carter from Ascot. He would turn up two or three times a week, keep her entertained, so to speak. He died a few months ago, leaving the house to his child. Joe then gave Mrs Kemblewick notice that if she wanted to stay there she would have to start paying rent, seemingly paying rent in sexual favours for the last twenty years wasn’t going to cut it with the recently bereaved offspring. Mrs Kemblewick, having no income of her own, was forced into a retirement home. Something that the residents of Bramble Hill were less than impressed with. She died last week and I think the locals are baying for blood.’

Zach moved to sit on her other side, so he could clean up her shoulder.

‘We all thought that it was Joe Carter that was moving in. Or Jo as in Joanne. When you introduced yourself to me as Joy Cartier and told me you were renting, I knew we were going to have some problems. Though I didn’t expect this,’ Casey said.

‘Are you saying that my landlord Joe kicked out some old lady from her home and I’m now being punished for it?’

‘Sums it up, yes.’ Casey eyed his brother suspiciously over her shoulder.

Joy turned round to see what Zach was doing and regretted it immediately when she nearly clashed mouths with him. She shuffled away from him and he moved back as well.

‘Er… your cut to your shoulder is pretty deep and as it was a nail, I’d recommend getting a tetanus jab.’

She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘And what the hell is this thing with Chloe about?’

‘She is an absolute fruit loop. I slept with her, three, four years ago, just one drunken night. She’s been like my stalker ever since. I’ve made it clear that it was a one night only thing, that I’m not interested, but she won’t listen. Sorry about that. I’ll talk to her.’

‘So… that’s your thing is it, sleeping with a different woman each week, not worrying about the broken hearts you leave behind?’

‘No.’

‘Yes,’ Casey said. ‘She summed you up pretty quickly.’

‘With a little help from you no doubt.’ Zach glared at his brother. ‘I’m looking for love, Joy. It’s just very hard to find. And when you know that the person you’re with is not the one you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, there’s no point in continuing with it is there?’

His eyes were so honest and she suddenly felt like she’d found a kindred spirit. That’s what she had felt about all the places she had lived in over the last few years. She knew almost instantly that a place wasn’t going to be her home, so there seemed little point in sticking it out.

She felt her frown soften slightly. ‘I suppose not.’

She smirked when she heard Casey let out a sigh of exasperation behind her.

‘Listen both of you, get out. I need to think about how I’m going to persuade the village I’m really very lovely.’

Zach stood and with the sexy smile fixed back on his face, he moved towards the door. ‘I’m already persuaded.’

Casey rolled his eyes as he watched him go, then turned back to her. ‘You ok?’

She nodded.

He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. ‘I’ll probably see you tomorrow.’

She smiled as she watched him go. Damn his sexual preference.

*

Finn was lying in bed when he heard Joy come upstairs and start to move about in her room. He switched the TV off and listened.

The four houses in Blackberry Row used to be two larger houses and were converted into four smaller cottages, many years before. He shared floorboards with Joy. Zach shared them with Mr and Mrs Butterworth. The split had been done very successfully downstairs, so that you would never know that it once had been one large house. But up in the smaller back bedroom, they had either run out of time, money or patience and the dividing wall between his and Joy’s houses was so thin that he could hear everything. This hadn’t been a problem when Mrs Kemblewick lived there. Her bedroom, the one she shared with the previous owner of the house, was the front one, so Finn didn’t get to hear their sexual antics two or three times a week. But Joy, it seemed, preferred the amazing view that the back bedroom gave, which was the very reason he had chosen it to sleep in too.

The wall was so thin, or built so badly, that he could even see a thin sliver of light underneath the skirting boards. He rolled over to his side to watch the shadows move around the room as she did, finding it oddly comforting to have her there.

He heard her on the phone, putting the person she was calling on loud speaker as she no doubt got undressed.

‘Hello my lovely,’ said a man’s voice, which gave Finn an unexpected surge of jealousy.

‘Hey Al,’

Alex. That was her brother.

‘How’s your first night going?’

Finn heard the hesitation in her voice. She clearly wanted to tell Alex all about Chloe and the pond incident and the nasty man next door, but she didn’t.

‘Fine.’

‘Joy, I know that tone, what’s happened? Is it that moody sod that you spilt ice cream over, is he giving you grief?’

Little did Alex know that the moody sod next door was the least of Joy’s worries.

‘No, well I don’t think I’m going to win him round with my famous apple pie, but … everything’s fine. I’ve met some other people, there’s Casey, he’s lovely. I may give him your number actually; you might be able to advise him on a few things.’

‘Oh yes?’

‘Well I’ll let him tell you all about it, it wouldn’t be fair for me to tell you. And I’ve met his brother Zach who lives the other side of me.’

There was a pause from Alex and Finn could hear the laughter in his voice when he spoke.

‘And Zach, is he lovely too?’

Joy laughed. ‘Yes he is, but by all accounts he’s a complete tart. Casey warned me off him, so I’m staying well clear. We can just be friends.’

‘Men and women can’t be friends.’

Finn nodded in agreement. He certainly didn’t want to be friends with Joy, because then it would be friends who would hang out together, friends that would kiss, friends that would… No it would be better all round if he stayed as the moody sod next door.

‘Sure they can. You’ve got lots of women friends,’ Joy said.

‘That’s because I’m gay. That’s like being an honorary female. Besides they know they’re never going to get anywhere with me, so they don’t have to worry about impressing me or making me jealous, they can just be themselves. That’s the only time male/female friendships works. You can sort of be friends with the husband of a female friend, that’s ok as long as the female friend is laidback enough or comfortable enough in their relationship not to get all jealous and psycho every time the two of you speak. Other than that, being friends with a man doesn’t work, especially not when you’re both single and both attracted to each other.’

‘Well I’m going to prove you wrong. Absolutely nothing is going to happen between me and Zach.’

‘How much do you want to bet?’

‘A million pounds.’

‘Done.’

Finn sat up. Bloody hell. Was she that rich that she could so easily bandy about that kind of money?

‘Anyway, I’m going to sleep now, that’s if I can shift Darcy off the bed, she’s slept all afternoon, lazy sod.’

‘Joy, are you sure you’re ok?’

‘I’m fine, everything’s okay. Goodnight. I love you.’

‘Love you too, kid.’

There was a beep to indicate the call had finished and then there was a heavy sigh.

‘Yeah, everything’s fine Al, the moody sod next door hates me, the locals are going to run me out of the town with pitchforks and burning torches, I was pushed in a pond, had a fight with a barmaid and I’m now covered in so many cuts and bruises I look like I’ve had a run in with Mike Tyson. Yeah everything is absolutely fine.’ She sighed again. ‘Shift your arse Darcy, you big fatty.’

There was the sound of the bed creaking, the light went out and then silence.

Finn lay back on his pillow. She’d not had the best start to village life and he was part of the reason for that. He couldn’t help feeling guilty. The villagers were going to make her life hell; he didn’t need to add to it. In fact, he was probably the only one that could stop it. His position in the village as local celebrity should be able to afford him some weight in these matters. But then again, her moving out wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. Then he could just go back to his uncomplicated life.

Suddenly there was the sound of a really loud fart.

He sat up in surprise. Surely not.

‘Darcy, I swear, if that stinks, I’m shoving a cork up your bum.’

He smiled to himself. Maybe having her next door wouldn’t be so bad after all. Just as long as they weren’t friends.

Chapter ThreeBeneath the Moon

Finn was standing at the bottom of his garden, staring at the heather covered hills that swept up from his back fence. It was early morning and the sun, if it had bothered to come out at all, was currently hiding behind heavy rain clouds. He had never minded the rain. In fact he loved it, it was always so peaceful. The only noise he could hear was the soft thud of raindrops hitting his hood. That was until he heard a wailing behind him.

He turned quickly, wondering if someone had been hurt, and immediately saw Joy dancing around in her bedroom window, seemingly singing or rather shrieking her version of ‘It’s Raining Men’. She was wrapped only in a towel, a tangle of red wet hair hanging down her back. She spun around and as she did the towel fell away. His eyes drank her in. In a flash, his hands were caressing her pale, milky skin, feeling the fire of her hair between his fingers, pulling her warm body against his.

Unashamed, she carried on dancing. If it could be called that. Every part of her seemed to be wiggling as if she was attached to strings and controlled by a very drunk puppeteer. Her arms were punching up and down, her hips going side to side and her knees knocking together. But none of this detracted from the incredibly beautiful body. The innocent enthusiasm was incredibly endearing. After the night before, he expected her to be moping around, but it seemed nothing could keep Joy in a bad mood. He couldn’t help but smile at her.

The music obviously changed, because the next thing she was screaming along to ‘Lady Marmalade’ by All Saints. He didn’t need to be fluent in French to know the lyrics meant ‘Do you want to sleep with me tonight.’ Every teenage boy on his university trip to France made sure they knew those words if nothing else. The terrible dancing had changed too. It was still terrible but was now what could only be classed as provocative, as she ground her hips round in slow circles.

He couldn’t take his eyes off her. What an absolute creep he was. But no matter how much he despised himself, he could do nothing to stop it.

Suddenly anger flooded through him. She knew he was out here, that’s why she was dancing like this. How could she not see him? He was wearing a bright yellow hoodie; it’d be pretty hard to miss. She was either trying to turn him on, or she was just teasing him to wind him up.

Either option was not pleasing in his book.

He stormed back into the house, out onto the street and hammered on her front door.

It took a few moments for her to answer, when she did she was thankfully wrapped in a white robe. Her face was flushed with happiness, which immediately vanished as soon as she saw him.

‘Let’s get one thing straight, I don’t like you, and I certainly don’t fancy you. That little show you’ve just put on for my benefit only made you look ridiculous.’

Her mouth fell open, her face going a bright shade of red. She’d clearly had no idea he was out there. But he’d started now, so he was damned sure he was going to finish.

‘I suggest if you want to dance, badly may I just point out, that you put some bloody clothes on or draw the curtains. That way I won’t see something I really don’t want to see.’

With that he marched back to his house.

But she was hot on his heels.

‘You arrogant, conceited, jumped up little shit. I was not dancing for you. I didn’t even know you were there. And you know what, if I want to dance naked in the privacy of my own home, I will. I suggest if you are offended by my nudity, you look away, instead of perving on me like the disgusting creep that you are.’

She flounced away.

He caught her arm and span her round.

‘Hey!’ came Zach’s voice, protectively, though he was wise enough not to come any closer.

Finn stared down at Joy, his jaw clenched. Her eyes, currently filled with hatred, were an intense olive green, tiny freckles covered her nose and shoulders. Her lips…

He let her go, taking a step back before he closed the gap between them and kissed her. What was wrong with him? She infuriated him; he certainly didn’t like her in that way.

He flashed Zach an obligatory filthy look, looked back to Joy, at her wet hair dripping down her neck, at the swell of her breast that was peeping out the top of her robe, and then stormed back into his own house.

*

Joy watched him go, her heart pounding.

‘You ok?’ Zach stepped up to her a fraction too late.

She nodded, aware that her hands were shaking.

‘What was that about?’

‘Er…’ she tore her eyes away from Finn’s front door and looked at Zach instead. ‘Just Finn making it very clear he doesn’t like me.’

‘Oh that. Don’t take it personally, he doesn’t like anyone.’

She noticed Zach’s eyes travelling down her body, his pupils widening with lust. She looked down to see that her wet hair was making the robe damp and see-through. Folding her arms across her chest she moved back towards the house.

‘I’ll see you later.’

His face fell slightly as she closed the door.

How strange to be so desired and so hated within a matter of seconds. Her heart was still pounding furiously. In part it was down to anger at Finn’s arrogance and comments, but she knew mainly it was down to a wave of desire and need that had crashed over her when he had grabbed her and spun her around. If he had thrown her over his shoulder and carried her back to his cave right then, she would have only protested out of principle.

Suddenly a disgusting smell hit her nose. She looked around to find the source and saw a piece of paper, with what could only be dog poo on it. Scrawled across the paper in large angry capital letters was the word BITCH. It had clearly been posted through her letterbox that morning, but because she had opened the door, she had dislodged half the poo and it had mushed into the carpet and underneath the door.

Retribution for Mrs Kemblewick was swift indeed. She stomped into the kitchen to get a bowl of hot soapy water to clean up the mess and knew she would have to come up with a plan and quick.

*

Casey let himself through Finn’s back door and helped himself to a bottle of beer from the fridge before moving through to the front room. Finn was sprawled out on his sofa, reading a book and he looked at Casey over the top of it when he walked in.

‘Could have got one for me while you’re raiding my fridge,’ Finn said, marking his place in his book and throwing it onto the coffee table. He stood up and stretched, showing the toned muscles in his stomach for a brief second. If Casey didn’t know better, he’d think Finn was deliberately torturing him.

Casey sat down, picking up the book as Finn went to get a beer for himself.

‘Any good?’ he waved the book in the air as Finn returned.

‘I have no idea,’ Finn sighed.

Casey smiled. ‘Yeah, I thought you might say that. Are you doing ok?’

‘Not really.’

‘Joy’s incredibly beautiful.’

‘She’s not my type.’

‘Oh come on, are you saying that to convince me or yourself?’

Finn sat down. ‘Me, obviously. If I say it enough, I might start to believe it.’

Casey stroked the head of Billy, Finn’s straggly dog. His heart went out to Finn. For him to have his heart broken twice by the same woman must have been horrendous. Finn’s child would have been a year old now and Casey wondered how often Finn must think about that.

‘Admittedly Joy has red hair like Pippa but that’s where the similarities end. She’s lovely. You’d really like her if you gave her a chance.’

Finn stared at Casey as if he’d just suggested he should chop off his own head.

‘I can’t do a relationship again, I just can’t. Pippa hurt me spectacularly and I never want to be hurt like that again.’

‘Mate, I’m not suggesting you marry her or even jump into bed with her, I’m just saying be nice. Don’t treat her like scum just because she has the same hair colour as your ex-wife. She’s had a bit of a rough life…’ He hesitated in telling Finn about Joy’s parents, but there was a vulnerability in Joy that he wanted to protect. ‘Her parents were killed when she was a kid. I feel like she’s come here for a fresh start and now the villagers are all giving her grief over this stupid Mrs Kemblewick fiasco – which has nothing to do with her, by the way. Her landlord is Joe Carter, the man that kicked Mrs Kemblewick out, she just has a similar name.’

‘You’re kidding?’

‘No, she has no idea who Mrs Kemblewick is. Look, she needs a friend and if you can’t manage that, then at least be civil to her.’

Casey put the empty bottle of beer on the table. ‘I’m going next door to see if she’s ok after last night. Anything you want me to say to her?’

Finn shook his head as he stared at the floor. Casey smiled sympathetically at him. Finn had gone through a rough time too, but Casey was damned sure he wasn’t going to let Finn take his anger out on Joy just because he was still messed up over his own heartbreak.

*

Finn watched Casey go and groaned. Joy’s parents were dead. That made things so much worse. He had this innate need to protect, to comfort. That was how he had met Pippa. She had driven her car into a ditch at the side of the road and although she was unhurt, she was very shaken and tearful when he had pulled over to see if he could help. Her tears, her clinging to him as he held her, was what had done it. He had been lost, beyond redemption from that point on.

Now he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms round Joy and hold her.

An orphan. She could only be about thirty and she had lost both parents. He would be distraught if he lost his, he couldn’t even begin to think what that would feel like. And she had moved here and the welcome party was well and truly out.

He would have to try to be civil to her from now on. He wouldn’t be friends with her, that would lead to trouble, but at least he could be polite.

*

There was a knock on her door as Joy was knee deep in tissue paper and pretty lilac notelets. The kitchen smelt delicious and Darcy had moved downstairs in the hope of scrounging some morsels. She should have taken poor Darcy for a walk ages ago, though she seemed happy to sleep on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor at the moment.

She hurried to the door; Casey was standing there, looking lovely and dishevelled.

‘Hi, how you feeling today?’

‘I’m good, come in, you can help me.’ She turned back down towards the kitchen and Casey followed her.

She watched him look at the chaos and mess across the breakfast table and then at her with amusement. She tried to look at it through his eyes; the desperation of a mad woman.

‘What are you doing?’

‘These are my friendship cakes. I’ve made one for each house in the village. I’m wrapping them in tissue paper and putting a note in with each one explaining who I am and inviting them all to a housewarming barbeque this Sunday. Here, read the note and tell me what you think.’

He picked up one of the lilac notelets and read it. It explained that she was Joy Cartier and was renting from Joe Carter, that though their names were similar she was not related to him or the previous owner. It said she was very sorry for what had happened to Mrs Kemblewick, but it really had nothing to do with her. It was brief, friendly but to the point, and had taken her hours to construct those few little lines.

‘It’s fine,’ Casey said. ‘But I don’t know if it will work. They seemed to be quite irate when I was in the village shop this morning. I tried to explain to them who you were, but they practically shooed me out of the shop, telling me it was village business and as such was none of mine.’

She stopped in the middle of wrapping up another cake in red tissue paper. ‘You don’t live here?’

‘No, I live in Ashton Woods, the next village.’

‘Oh.’ This bothered her more than it should. She thought that she had at least two friends in the village, now it was down to only one – and Zach was only friends with her because he wanted to sleep with her. ‘Well, it’s clear they’re never going to be my best friends but maybe I can persuade them not to push me in the pond again or post dog poo through my letterbox.’

‘What?’ Casey’s eyes widened as he picked up one of the cakes and artfully arranged the tissue paper around it in a way that she could never achieve.

‘Found it this morning, with a note telling me I’m a bitch.’

He shook his head. ‘Well then, you certainly can’t make it any worse. I’ll give you a hand.’

They worked diligently between them for a while until all the cakes were wrapped.

She sat down, her back aching a bit, and looked out the window at the rain that hadn’t stopped all morning. The hills looked dramatic, silhouetted against the grey sky.

‘It needs to stop raining by tonight, I really need to go out to work,’ she said, then wished she hadn’t as that was bound to lead to questions.

‘A lady of the night are you?’ Casey’s eyes gleamed with excitement. ‘A prostitute? A spy?’

‘Yes to both. Spying doesn’t pay well, so I supplement it with a bit of prostitution.’

‘Noble.’

‘I thought so. Oh that’s what I meant to ask you,’ she quickly changed the subject. ‘When Chloe was threatening me to keep away from Zach, she also said that I couldn’t have you because you were with one of her friends.’

Casey picked up a crumb of cake from the baking tray. ‘Umm… yes, Arielle.’

She waited for more details but clearly none were forthcoming. ‘You’re dating a girl?’

‘Yeah, well not really dating, sort of…’

There was another knock on the door, interrupting what Casey was clearly finding embarrassing to tell her. She presumed it was Finn or Zach and found herself straightening her hair as she moved to answer it, then cursed herself for doing it.

Opening the door, Joy came face to face with a spaghetti thin blonde, her hair scraped back in a very severe looking French roll. She was dressed in a very expensive, very short dress with matching jacket and her face had that look of someone who had sucked a lemon. She was pretty, Joy supposed, and would be even prettier without the excessive makeup and angry pursed lips. She was holding an umbrella over her that matched the colour of her dress suit exactly.

‘Is my fiancé in there with you?’

Joy felt like she’d just received a smack to the face with that news, but quickly collected herself. Clearly this woman had come to the wrong house.

‘Arielle, hi,’ came Casey’s voice behind her.

There was a silence as Joy processed this information and Arielle cast her beady eye over her.

‘This is Joy, she’s just moved in next to Zach,’ Casey said.

‘Evidently,’ said Arielle, icily.

‘Er…’ Casey fumbled for something to say. Gone was the happy, relaxed Casey – he had rapidly been replaced by someone who was clumsy, awkward and clearly petrified of his fiancé. ‘Joy is my cousin. Remember me telling you about Uncle Raymond, well this is his daughter.’

Arielle stared at Joy vacantly for a moment as well she might. Joy was feeling equally confused. Finally Arielle nodded and stretched out her hand for a delicate and formal handshake. ‘Of course, Cousin Joy, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. You’ll be coming to the wedding next week?’

‘Yes, we invited her ages ago, she RSVP’d straightaway. We were quite close growing up.’ Casey squeezed past Joy who seemed to be frozen in the hallway.

Arielle cast her eyes over her again. ‘Of course, well if I don’t see you before, we’ll see you then. Casey do come along, we must meet with Jules to discuss the flowers. Apparently I can’t change the roses to daffodils as they aren’t in season. You need to talk to her.’

Without waiting for an answer, Arielle marched down the path to a little red convertible that was gleaming on the street. Casey glanced at Joy as he followed.

‘I can explain, I promise,’ he said and hurried after Arielle.

‘I can’t wait,’ Joy shouted after him.

But whether he heard or not, she didn’t know because her voice was lost in the noise of the engine as the car roared up the road.

*

Joy delivered the cakes to each doorstep in the village, though she hadn’t quite been brave enough to knock on the doors. Then it was time to take Darcy for a walk.

She intended to trek along the hill range past Menton Hall. She had a job to do there that night, if the rain stopped, and she wanted to get an idea of the lay of the land.

That’s what she was telling herself, it wasn’t at all because the hills held sentimental attachment to her.

When one of Alex’s friends had mentioned that his cousin was doing up a place in the country with a view to renting, Joy had taken it as a sign that it was time to move on from the busy town of Milton Keynes. She had been a face in the crowd there and had no more than a nodding acquaintance with her neighbours of three months.

It was only as she had driven round to see the house that the village names started to sound familiar. She had rounded a corner and was suddenly met with the striking hills that bordered the cluster of villages, the same hills that she had trekked over every weekend with her dad, right up until the weekend before he died.

Even before she saw the house, she knew she was going to say yes. Maybe she could never go back home, but maybe walking these hills with Darcy, as she had done many years before with her dad, would be all she needed to feel at home.

Joy sighed as Darcy left her side and went galloping up to greet Finn’s straggly dog. Seemingly, in the dog world, you just had to shove your nose up the other dog’s bum and you were best friends for life. She wondered what Finn’s reaction to that would be if she tried it. She hung back a little, hoping Finn would try to avoid her, but he was obviously on his way home now, so their paths had to cross if she intended taking Darcy on the walk she had planned. Finn called his dog away from Darcy, but Billy, tongue hanging out, stupid grin in place, was very interested in her. He had that demented look about him when a dog smells a bitch in heat. Damn it. Darcy had been a bit listless the day before, but Joy had put it down to the move. Still they wouldn’t be here long enough for Billy to get lucky. Hopefully Finn would pass without a single word.

He drew closer. He always looked so cool, even today tramping over the rain sodden fields with his dog, he looked like he’d just stepped out of a clothes commercial. He was wearing a simple baseball cap and a waterproof hoodie, but he still looked sexy. And also, as he drew closer, she saw he was wearing a sneer just for her. Her heart sank. Well attack was sometimes the best form of defence.

She marched up to him. ‘Why is it you hate me so much? It can’t possibly be about the ice cream, that would be unbelievably petty. And as you don’t get involved with village matters it can’t be about Mrs Kemblewick either, which by the way had nothing to do with me. So it’s either like Casey said, you hate me because I have red hair, which would be very shallow and small minded or it’s just that you’re a bastard for no other reason than you like to make people’s lives a misery. So tell me, which is it?’

He glared at her but when there was clearly no answer forthcoming, she turned away from him. ‘I’ll take that as the latter then. Darcy, heel!’

She walked away from him, her hands clenched into fists in her pockets, and refused to look back.

*

Damn it. Finn watched her go, his hand on Billy’s collar, who seemed very keen to follow them. Just like his owner. She was right, he was a bastard. He felt beyond guilty for shouting at her that morning just for singing and dancing – and then as she walked towards him, he had been appalled by how turned on he was after seeing Joy dressed in her waxed jacket and cap. It was a waxed jacket and cap, how could it be sexy? The black dress she had worn the day before was sexy. Not a waxed jacket and a pair of battered walking boots. He was determined to be polite, regardless of these insane feelings for her slamming through him. He was going to say hello, that was as good a start as any but as his emotions clawed away inside him his face must have been a picture as he battled with a sudden fear of redheads, a fear of intimacy and a fear of what might happen if they got too close. And whatever she had seen in his face had not been good, going on the defence before he attacked her again.

So now not only did he have to be polite to a woman, a redhead none the less, but he was going to have to work on his facial expressions too. He practiced a smile, the feeling of his mouth turning upwards felt alien to him. He looked down at Billy with the rictus grin stuck on his face, Billy glanced up at him and whined with something akin to fear. Finn sighed and headed for home.

*

The sun finally decided to make an appearance late afternoon as Joy came back home from her walk.

Though would it ever be the place she could finally call home? She would give Bramble Hill a chance, just like all the other places she had tried over the years. Joe, her landlord, had said if she wanted to stay, permanently, he would sell the place to her, but he was quite happy to rent in the meantime. She could easily afford the asking price if she decided to buy it; her job paid her ridiculously well. But as with the other places, she rented first, in a “try before you buy” type way. So far, she’d not found anywhere that she had wanted to buy.

As she drew close to her house, she noticed a collection of flies and wasps around her front door. More dog poo? But then the wasps wouldn’t be interested in that.

She moved closer and realised, with a crashing wave of disappointment, that many, if not all, of her lovingly made friendship cakes had been deposited on her doorstep. Some had seemingly been stamped on and some had even been forcibly shoved through her letterbox. They either hadn’t bothered to read the notes once they spotted it was from her, or hadn’t believed the declaration that she’d had nothing to do with the ousting of Mrs Kemblewick. It did seem slightly implausible that she was Joy Cartier and her landlord was Joe Carter; she and Joe had laughed about it when they had first met. It was much more believable that she was lying about who she was.

She couldn’t even get through the front door, there were so many wasps. She had legal access to her back garden through Finn’s garden. There was a side gate that allowed her to walk through his garden and into hers. She hadn’t used it yet, though she had every right to do so. She thought that it would be the polite thing to do to check with Finn before she strolled across his land. But since the man was an arse, she certainly wasn’t going to extend that courtesy to him.

She opened his back gate, which legally had to be kept unlocked, and walked purposefully towards her own gate, biting her lip as she hoped she could get past unnoticed. She would just walk across his garden as if she had every right to do so, which of course she did. Five metres away, four, three… and if he had noticed her he hadn’t come out and yelled at her yet. Suddenly something in Finn’s downstairs window caught her eye, and despite her best intentions to be in and out in mere seconds, she couldn’t help but look.

There was Finn, stark naked, drying his wet hair with a towel.

If you enjoyed these chapters, you can buy your copy of Beneath the Moon and the Stars here http://amzn.to/1sdZ0rw it’s only 59p!!!

 You can follow Amelia on Twitter @Amelia_Writes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Reveal of Beneath the Moon and the Stars

Beneath the Moon

This is the gorgeous cover for Beneath the Moon and the Stars, which is the brand new debut from Amelia Thorne and will be published by Carina on October 17th.

Here’s the blurb

Home, sweet home…

Joy Cartier has been to some of the most beautiful places in the world – but none of them have ever felt like home. So moving into a tiny cottage in the idyllic village of Bramble Hill, walking distance from her childhood home, seems like the perfect plan.

That is, until she gets there. The surly inhabitants of Britain’s Friendliest Village are anything but welcoming. Even her neighbour, reclusive Hollywood star Finn Mackenzie, takes one look at her and walks in the other direction.

But when the village animosity steps up a gear, it is the infuriatingly brooding Finn who keeps coming to her rescue. Slowly Joy begins to realise that maybe a happy home isn’t about where you live, but who you’re with…

It will be available on Amazon for Pre-order very soon.

Amelia is a bit of an enigma and seems to be keeping information about herself close to her chest.  This is her bio.

‘International woman of mystery, owns a goat and rides a penny farthing, has a secret identity. Some of the above may not be true.’

Follow her on Twitter @Amelia_Writes and see if you can find out any more information about her

The Prophecies, Book 2 of The Sentinel Series

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000446_00070]

Here is the stunning cover for The Prophecies, Book 2 of The Sentinel Series, which will be published October 1st. For those of you who read the first book, you might remember Eve finding out about her destiny to save the world, how she trained to master her powers, the car chases, amazing stunts and the many dramatic attempts on her life.  You might also remember that tantalizing extract from book 2 where Seth is beating up his beloved Eve.  Find out why  and what happens next for our fiery heroine in The Prophecies, out a week today.

Here’s the blurb

The world is a big place, will Eve really be the one to save it?

Eve grows stronger and more powerful every day as she strives to ensure she is ready to face her destiny. But some of her gifts are unwelcome. Eve’s visions of the future become darker and those she loves are in terrible danger. But when her actions result in tragedy, Eve is called before The Oraculum, the council that created her

When she is summoned to their castle she becomes aware of a rift between the council members that not only could endanger her life, but could put the whole planet at risk. Would The Oraculum really turn against her and risk everything?

But in the darkness, a light burns bright. Her love for Seth is stronger than any of her powers.

But as she battles against a new threat, can she really forsake those closest to her in order to save the world? Will everyone Eve loves survive?

The Sentinel, Book 1 of the series is only 77p/99c so if you haven’t read it yet you can download it here http://myBook.to/TheSentinel

Sneak Peek of One Hundred Proposals

9781472097927_cover.jpgToday is publication day for One Hundred Proposals, so here is a little sneak peek of my gorgeous new story.

Prologue

‘Ok, you can open your eyes now,’ Harry said.

I blinked in the gloom of the cave. Moonlight tumbled through the opening above us, reflecting off the waterfall as it cascaded into the pool below. We had been in Australia for just a few days but I knew it would never cease to amaze me. Dancing in the pockets of the cave walls were hundreds of fireflies, sparkling like fairy lights.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

The fireflies started to gather together and slowly a shape was formed. I frowned in confusion and then within seconds the words, ‘Suzie, Marry Me,’ stood proud against the cave walls, written by the fireflies.

I whirled round to face Harry in shock. ‘How did you do that?’ I looked back at the fireflies, not wanting to miss anything. Would they perhaps move to form the lyrics of my favourite song? Were they super trained fireflies and in a minute they’d all whip out their mini cheerleader pom-poms and start some kind of dance where they would balance precariously on each other’s backs?

‘It’s some kind of fruit juice, they love it.’

I fumbled in my bag for my camera. ‘We have to get a picture for the website.’

I fired off a couple of shots and I could see a few other tourists had entered the cave and were clearly waiting for my answer. They’d be waiting for a long time.

‘So what do you think?’ Harry said. ‘Is this the perfect proposal?’

‘It’s definitely one of your best, very romantic.’ I focused my attention on the photos I was taking. They were going to look fantastic with the waterfall in soft focus in the background and the fireflies in sharp detail set against the inky blue light of the moon.

‘But still not the perfect proposal?’

‘Not for me, but someone else would love it.’ I watched the faces of the other tourists fall at my callous response. ‘We’re not together, we just work with each other.’ One couple looked at me dubiously, so I pressed on. ‘Our company creates the perfect proposal, this kind of thing is our bread and butter.’

I resisted the sudden urge to rush over to them and start handing out business cards. As if reading my mind, Harry slung an arm round my shoulder, restraining me with his hand.

I looked up at him innocently but he didn’t seem convinced.

The tourists moved further down the cave, leaving us alone.

‘You always do that,’ Harry said.

‘What, promote our business? I know, I can’t help it. I’m just so proud of what we’ve achieved that I want to tell anyone that listens and anyone that doesn’t.’

‘No, not that. You always say our company, our business. It’s yours, you started it. I’m just the tech guy.’

It was just me to start with. I created the.PerfectProposal.com over two years ago when my boyfriend at the time proposed drunkenly to me over a greasy kebab. It struck me that maybe the menfolk of this world might need a little helping hand to create a proposal their girlfriends would remember forever. Although the greasy kebab is not one I’m likely to forget.

Harry was my web designer. When the business first started he would come by my office, the back bedroom in my home, every day to help update the website with my new ideas, photos and special offers. In the end it made sense to make him a permanent feature. Our website looked fantastic and as an online company this was integral to our success.

But Harry wasn’t just the geeky IT guy, far from it. He was the biggest man I had ever seen in my life, with large thighs and big feet. He had stubbly, dark hair and chocolate eyes. But he also had a vivid imagination – where I was organising the logistics for a champagne helicopter trip, he would be the one that would come up with something completely unique like using fireflies.

‘And you always put yourself down. We’re equal partners now, you helped to make the company a success too,’ I said.

He shrugged, never keen to accept that he played such an important part in it. He gestured to the fireflies that were starting to break formation now. ‘Is it too sickly?’

I let my camera hang round my neck and leaned into him, I loved the way I fitted against him. ‘I love it, I really do, it’s… magical. But there’s still something missing.’

Was there really such a thing as a perfect proposal? Three months ago, just before Valentine’s Day, Harry had made it his mission to provide me with one. But deep down I knew what I wanted and I doubted Harry would be able to deliver it. I should have told him that when he first started this wild goose chase. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.

 

Chapter One

Three Months Before

I put the phone down on another excited client and sighed. It was February 11th and we’d had a surge of customers all desperately wanting to propose on top of the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day. I felt like screaming. It was only by careful planning that I’d arranged that my customers weren’t going to be there at the same time. That’s just what a girl wants to feel special, to see other girls being proposed to at the same place and time that she was. Was there no originality anymore? Harry was brilliant at coming up with unique proposals, but no matter how many times I had tried to sell Harry’s ideas to them, they wanted the traditional and that was that.

‘Another Eiffel Tower?’ asked Harry as he absentmindedly uploaded photos to our rolling gallery.

‘He wants a dozen red roses delivered to the observation deck at eight.’ I rubbed my head in defeat. ‘What about something different, going to the ballet or proposing over a bag of chips at the end of Brighton Pier?’

He swivelled in his chair. ‘What would be your perfect proposal?’

I looked at him and had a sudden flash of him holding me in his arms and asking me to marry him.

‘I don’t know, the perfect guy would definitely be a bonus.’

‘Ok so you have your perfect guy and it’s not greasy kebab boy –’

‘Let’s be clear, it was the kebab that was greasy not the man.’

He waved away the details. ‘So Orlando Bloom or some other non-greasy hunk is asking you to marry him, how would he do it?’

I took a sip of tea whilst I pondered this. If one of my customers phoned up at a loss for inspiration I had a hundred ideas. But for me, my mind was blank.

‘I have an idea.’ Harry’s eyes were suddenly bright with excitement. He whirled round on his chair and started tapping away furiously on his computer. I peered over his shoulder at our website.

 

Proposer’s Blog

How Do You Propose to a Proposer?

Over the next hundred days I intend to find out. I will find one hundred ways to propose to our Chief Proposer Suzie McKenzie, and post the results here for your enjoyment. One thing’s for sure, not one of my proposals will be on top of the Eiffel Tower with a dozen red roses.

 

‘You can’t put that, we’ve had fifteen customers who want to propose like that over the last week,’ I said, ignoring the sudden thundering of my heart that Harry was going to propose to me.

‘Then maybe they’ll have a rethink.’ Harry was already uploading a picture of a diamond ring onto the blog.

‘Or ask for their money back.’

But Harry was still writing.

 

Day 1: The Traditional Proposal. Location: Our office.

 

He stood up and got down on one knee – yanking the snake ring off his thumb, he held it aloft to my shocked face.

‘Suzie McKenzie, you are my best friend and I cannot imagine finding anyone I would rather spend the rest of my life with. Marry me.’

The world stopped. My mouth was dry. How unfair was it that the one thing I wanted most in the world was happening right in front of me and it was as real as a pair of breasts on Sunset Boulevard.

I wanted to snatch the ring off him, stuff it on my finger and march him down to the nearest registry office. But I didn’t.

I cleared my throat of the huge lump. ‘Too clichéd, wrong location, wrong ring.’

He grinned as he appraised his ring and stood up, clearly not fussed by this rejection. He started typing.

 

Crashed and Burned. Apparently a snake ring with evil red eyes and the beige walls of our cramped office isn’t good enough for her. I’ll try again tomorrow.

 

Surely not. A hundred days of this torment? I didn’t think I could bear it.

He looked at his watch. ‘Oh, I’ve got to go, hot date with Sexy Samantha again tonight.’

Samantha was his first girlfriend in nearly a year. When I first met him he seemed to go through a different girl each week, so I wasn’t sure why he’d gone through the sudden dry patch. But Samantha was definitely the type to tempt him out of it.

I’d had the pleasure of meeting Sexy Samantha the night before. Suspicious of Harry’s relationship with his best friend, she’d barrelled into my home and demanded that Harry introduce me. I came downstairs in leggings and an oversized black hoodie – I knew I was hardly dressed to impress. And impress her I didn’t. The look of relief when Samantha saw me was palpable. She, on the other hand, was a vision of heavenly loveliness. She was almost as tall as Harry, with long blonde hair and curves everywhere. My eyes were immediately drawn to a big pair of breasts, squeezed between an overly tight top. Harry was definitely a breast man. All of his girlfriends were very well-endowed in the breast department. Some of the breasts, I suspected, weren’t even real – though Harry didn’t seem to mind. I was more in the straight up, straight down department, definitely no curves and not really any breasts to speak of.

I watched Harry log off his computer with haste and obvious excitement about what Sexy Samantha had in store for him that night.

‘I have a hot date too,’ I blurted out, watching for any flicker of jealousy. Of course there was none.

‘That’s great Suze.’ He looked genuinely pleased. ‘You haven’t seen anyone since Jack…’ He trailed off. My life was defined into two segments. Before Jack and After Jack. I wondered if Jules felt the same. He grabbed his jacket, averting his eyes from me, perhaps knowing that he had said something he shouldn’t. ‘It’s about time you got back on the horse again. We can swap notes tomorrow.’

‘Or not.’ I couldn’t bear thinking about that conversation. The literal ins and outs of Harry’s date would be something I really didn’t want to hear. I’d changed the subject twice that morning already when he started giving me explicit details that would be right at home on the pages of an erotic fiction novel. Sexy Samantha was far kinkier than those baby blue eyes might suggest. Besides, what did I have to contribute to that conversation? My hot date consisted of a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a night in with the beautiful Brad Pitt. I logged off my own computer, keen to show him I also had something exciting to run off to.

‘Where did you meet him?’

I racked my brain as I fluffed out my hair in the reflection of a photo showing me and Harry covered in snow and grinning ear to ear after sledging at the indoor Snow Zone. Before Jack.

‘Skiing,’ I said, then wished I hadn’t.

He stopped in his hasty exit. ‘Skiing? When have you been skiing?’

‘I go every Sunday, skiing lessons, he’s my ski instructor.’ I was making it worse.

‘You hate skiing.’

I had said that hadn’t I. Because this photo was taken when we had our first and last skiing lesson a year before. I had spent forty minutes falling on my bum – as kids as young as five glided effortlessly past me – and the last twenty minutes of the lesson, after Harry had been upgraded to the adult slopes, trying to get up and rolling around on the floor with my skis in the air, looking like an oversized beetle stranded on its back. Harry had felt sorry for me that I had failed so spectacularly and had taken me sledging instead. Much more up my street. There was no skill at all involved in sliding down a slope in a red plastic sledge.

‘I like it now. I’m very proficient. Obviously just needed the right instructor.’

‘Well that’s great, maybe we can go together sometime.’

I fixed a smile onto my face. ‘Maybe.’

‘What’s his name?’

I cast around for a suitable name and a suitable adjective to describe him, something comparable to Sexy Samantha. I had nothing, no names in my head at all. The only name in my head was Harry and that would be too weird. He was staring at me, waiting for me to come up with a name, the silence stretched on. I had to say something.

‘Tim.’ I almost shouted out with relief. ‘Tiny Tim.’

Great. Just great.

Harry’s face fell. ‘Tiny Tim?’

‘Yes.’

‘As in…’ he waggled his little finger at me.

‘No, no, of course not, he’s very big in that department. Big all over in fact. Huge. It’s kind of an ironic name.’

‘Big like me?’

‘Well I have no idea how big you are in that department.’ My eyes cast down to the sizeable bulge in his jeans and I felt my cheeks burn as he clearly saw me checking him out.

‘I meant in height,’ Harry said. I’m sure I saw his mouth twitch as he supressed a smile.

‘Oh yes, he’s very tall.’

‘Good. That’s good. I have a friend who’s a ski instructor at the Snow Zone, he might know your Tim. What’s his surname?’

‘Timmings.’

I was a terrible liar.

‘Tim Timmings?’

‘That’s right.’

A horn tooted outside and Harry peeled back the net curtain to wave at Sexy Samantha as she leaned on the bonnet of her sexy red convertible. I didn’t think I’d ever be so relieved to see her again.

‘Well have fun.’ Harry threw me a cursory wave as he thundered down the stairs. A second later I heard the front door slam.

I peered out the window, hoping not to be noticed as Harry swept Sexy Samantha into his arms and swung her round as if he hadn’t seen her in months. As he deposited her on the floor she waved up at me and I was forced to wave politely back.

With a wheel spin and the stereo blaring out something young and hip, the red convertible roared up the road, taking my heart with it.

I’d been in love with Harry for two long, painful years and we were further away today from getting together than we had been when we first met. We were now firmly in the friend zone and there was never any coming back from that.

Two years was way too long for unrequited love. It was time I moved on with someone else. I would just fall out of love with him, simple as that.

I sighed as I walked into my bedroom and got changed into my cow print onesie. I flicked through some songs on my iPod until I found something suitably rousing and as Gloria Gaynor started belting out ‘I am what I am’, I turned up the volume, leapt up onto the bed and danced and wiggled my bum in time with the lyrics. I was highly skilled in the playing of air drums and as Gloria reached a crescendo so did my frenetic drum playing. As the instrumental kicked in I leapt off the bed, doing the splits mid-air. I pulled a muscle in my groin and as I flicked my hair theatrically out of my face I saw Harry’s eyes widen in horror as I landed on top of him, one leg somehow hooked over his shoulder as my other foot kicked him square in his crotch.

He screamed in pain. I screamed with embarrassment as he staggered back and landed hard on his bum, my leg still wrapped round his neck.

Gloria was still singing loudly in the background as we stared at each other. Finally I managed to speak.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘Currently, wondering if I’ll ever be able to have sex again. Can you please get off my lap?’

I quickly climbed off him, kneeing him in the face as I tried to stand up. He slowly staggered to his feet, doubled over in obvious pain.

‘I forgot my wallet,’ he said, by way of explanation.

I swallowed. ‘You saw me dance?’

He lifted his head and this time there was no mistaking the grin. ‘From the very beginning to the dramatic finale.’

I groaned.

‘I better go, Samantha will be wondering where I am. Nice onesie by the way. Does Tiny Tim have one too? A horse or a pig perhaps?’

I stared down at myself, at the pink udders hanging limply from my stomach, and wanted the ground to swallow me up. ‘He’s not coming round till later.’

‘Of course not. And I imagine he thinks you look quite cute in it.’

Cute? Puppies were cute. Is that how he thought of me, as a cute little puppy?

He moved to the top of the stairs and I followed him.

‘Do you think I look cute in it?’

He turned and walked back up a few stairs, kneeling on the stair below me so we were eye to eye. ‘Yes.’

My heart dropped. I was so far in the friend zone I was now categorised as cute. He’d be patting me on the back next and telling me he saw me like a sister.

‘Sexy cute?’

‘No.’

My heart sank into my feet.

‘I bet Samantha would look sexy in it?’

‘I doubt it. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to look sexy in it.’

I felt slightly better at this.

‘And don’t underestimate the value of cute, it’s a great quality to have.’ He leaned forward and kissed me on the nose. ‘And don’t stay up too late, I have a big day planned for you tomorrow.’

He ran down the stairs and was gone a second later.

I touched my nose, still feeling the softness of his lips. He thought I was cute. I smiled as I fell in love with him all over again.

**********************************************************************

To see the rest you can buy One Hundred Proposals here http://amzn.to/1ouP9w0 or read on for chapter 2

Chapter Two

I woke the next day with a start, being quite simply torn from a dream about Jack – a memory of playing with him on the beach as he tried to put wet seaweed down my back. As I became more conscious, the loss of losing him hit me all over again.

I knew immediately that someone was in the room with me. I was face down on my pillow and I leaned up and swept my curtain of tangled brown hair off my face. Harry was sitting next to me on the bed, sipping his coffee and reading my very dog-eared copy of The Hobbit.

I scowled at him. I wasn’t a morning person.

‘Do you not knock?’

Harry’s attention didn’t even waver from the page he was reading. ‘You gave me a key.’

‘I could have been naked.’

He put his book down and looked at me. ‘All the more reason for me not to knock.’

I blushed and climbed off the bed.

Most mornings I woke to this. I must admit, it was a lovely way to wake up. One night, after these early morning visits had become more regular, I went to bed in my sexiest lingerie in the hope that the following morning he would come in and be so turned on that he might immediately ravish me. But not only did he not even bat an eyelid when he saw me in my black, satin nightie, he was more excited about his McDonalds breakfast and the free hash brown he had been given by the girl flirting with him behind the counter than what I had to offer. To add insult to injury, as I tried to arrange myself subtly into a sexy pose on the bed next to him as he chomped through his Bacon and Egg McMuffin, I had simply slithered off the bed into a crumpled heap on the floor. Nowadays it seemed much easier and more comfortable to sleep in my regular pyjamas.

Harry handed me a coffee fresh from the café round the corner. I took a sip – it was made exactly how I liked it, with three sugars and a dash of hazelnut syrup. As I went to take another sip, I realised that a small heart had been drawn in the froth on the top. I smiled and hovered near his side, peering round him to the brown paper bag I could see tucked by his hip.

He was busy reading so I coughed loudly to gain his attention. When he glanced up, I looked deliberately at the bag.

‘How do you know this is for you?’

‘Because you always bring me nice things from the café. What is it this morning, an apricot Danish, ooh a walnut plait or…’

He whisked it out the bag and showed it to me, and the words dried in my throat. Iced into the top of my favourite cinnamon swirl were the words ‘Marry Me.’

I had almost forgotten about this silly hundred proposals thing. I’d hoped he’d forgotten as well. But now it looked like he really did mean to torture me. One hundred days. One hundred different ways to break my heart.

I looked at him and he was watching me hopefully.

‘It’s certainly unique.’ I took the bun from him, and picked a currant out of it, averting my gaze from his. I forced my voice to sound normal before I spoke again. ‘If I bite into this am I at risk of swallowing a diamond ring?’

He shook his head. ‘No ring. You said a ring was clichéd. Besides, why propose with diamonds when you can propose with cinnamon and coffee?’

‘You should take a picture of it before I eat it. Put it on the blog.’ I had a huge lump in my throat.

‘Good idea.’ He whipped out his phone, pressed a few buttons and pointed it in my direction. I held it out for him to get a good angle and realised my hands were shaking. Harry realised it too. To my shame, tears swam in my eyes.

Harry was off the bed in a second. ‘What’s wrong, what’s happened?’

‘Nothing, I’m fine. Just tired.’ I stepped away from him but he pulled me back, holding me tight and squashing the bun between us. I breathed him in, his wonderful earthy smell as he started to stroke my back.

‘Did something happen with Tiny Tim?’

I couldn’t keep up with the lie any longer and it had achieved nothing anyway.

‘We broke up,’ I said into his chest, hoping that would explain why I was soaking his shirt with my tears.

‘Oh honey, I’m sorry.’ His hand moved to my hair and my breath caught in my throat. ‘Had you been seeing him long?’

Oh what a tangled web we weave.

‘A few weeks. It wasn’t serious, but I really liked him. But obviously I liked him more than he liked me.’

‘Well then the man’s an idiot. Who wouldn’t love a girl in a cow print onesie?’

I giggled.

He tilted my face up to look at him.

‘Right, enough tears. Any man who makes you cry is not worth it.’

If only he knew.

‘Anyway, I have a day out planned for you today, so stop moping around and get yourself showered and dressed.’

He released me and we both looked at the squashed bun. Although it looked a bit worse for wear, the words ‘Marry Me’ were still very obvious on the top. Harry took a photo and I quickly ate it so I wouldn’t have to stare at the empty words any longer. It tasted good, despite the fact that with every mouthful my heart broke a little bit more.

‘So, as proposals go, is this what you imagined for yourself?’ Harry asked, when it was gone.

‘Undoubtedly. The perfect proposal. So you don’t have to bother with the other ninety-eight different ways now. Write on the blog that you bought me a cinnamon swirl and I caved. I’m a cheap date, easily pleased.’

Harry pulled a face. ‘It was a bit cheap and naff, wasn’t it? Ok, for my next one it will be something huge.’

‘Really, the cinnamon swirl was cute… and don’t underestimate the value of cute.’

But Harry was already walking away into the office, scrolling through his phone as he went.

‘Harry, are you listening? Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a personalised cinnamon swirl.’

‘Get in the shower, woman, I need to make some calls.’

I sighed. I had to sway him from this path. Ninety-eight heart-breaking days stretched ahead of me like an endless desert, with no respite from the sun.

I got in the shower and stuck my head under the stream.

No, I could do this. Proposals were my entire waking life. My dreams were plagued by them too. Something like this could only be good for business. I just had to become immune to the words. They were empty and meaningless. And now I knew that I was to expect it every day, I could prepare myself for it, pretend in my head the words meant something else.

I got dressed quickly and walked into the office.

‘Hey.’ Harry was busy typing. ‘Our blog has nineteen followers already.’

‘Our Proposer’s Blog? This hundred proposals malarkey?’

‘Malarkey? I’m offended.’ He smiled up at me briefly before returning his attention to the screen. ‘Yes, I guess they want to see what I come up with next.’

I leaned over him to see what he had written and caught a whiff of his wonderful clean earthy smell. There was the close-up picture of my squashed bun, and another picture I hadn’t realised he had taken – of me eating it, my hair a full bird’s nest, my face red and blotchy from the tears, dressed in my rather unflattering cow print onesie. Great!

Under the picture was Harry’s blog.

 

Proposer’s Blog

Day 2: The Cinnamon Swirl Proposal. Location: Suzie’s bedroom (I assure you, nothing saucy going on here).

 

Is the way to a woman’s heart through her stomach?

Our Suzie McKenzie has a very sweet tooth and so I thought to charm her with a sweet proposal of her own. Nadia’s Bakery, St Patrick’s Road makes the best Cinnamon Swirls in the world and it’s one of Suzie’s all-time favourite things to eat for breakfast. So when I explained the situation to the lovely Nadia this morning she was more than happy to provide me with a personalised one along with a heart-topped latte.

So what was Suzie’s reaction? She seemed a bit blasé about it actually. Wolfed it down and barely registered the words.

 

That wasn’t true of course, but it was better he wrote that than writing that I burst into tears.

 

I always thought those proposers that pop the question with a ring at the bottom of the champagne glass were silly who wants to fish the diamond ring out of the toilet a few days later? Though now Suzie’s eaten my proposal, there’s nothing left of it apart from the icing on her lips.

 

I immediately checked my lips and I saw Harry smirk out of the corner of my eye.

 

Next time, I will do something grand. Something she can’t possibly miss. Plus, who would really say yes over a 59p Cinnamon Swirl?

 

‘That makes me sound shallow,’ I said, squeezing past him to log on to my own computer.

‘Not shallow, just greedy. And don’t bother logging on, we’re going out.’

‘I can’t, it’s our busiest time of the year, you know that. Three days before Valentine’s Day, all those last minute Larrys will be phoning us up for support.’

‘I’ve already diverted the calls to your mobile and you can still pick up your emails, besides today is completely work orientated – we’re sourcing new locations, so stop making excuses and get your boots on.’

When I hesitated, he grabbed my hand and pulled me out the office.

I laughed. ‘Where are we going?’

‘First stop, we’re going to buy you some decent pyjamas, so the next boyfriend won’t be scared off by seeing you in that onesie.’

I stopped dead and when he turned to look at me, his eyes were kind.

‘Jack bought it for me,’ I said, quietly.

‘I know.’

‘I’m not getting rid of it.’

‘I’m not saying throw it out. But I know Jack, he had a wicked sense of humour and you know as well as I do that he bought it for you as a joke because you used to take the piss out of onesies and people that wore them. You know that he never intended for you to wear it at all let alone every day since his death. If you want to keep it, keep it. All I’m talking about is options. Something else you could wear that would show off that fabulous figure of yours.’

I opened my mouth to protest as the last words he said slammed into my brain. Fabulous figure?

He moved his hands to my shoulders and when he spoke his voice was soft.

‘I know you’re trying to keep your brother alive, keep him close, but he would be cringing if he could see you wearing that thing and you know that. Keep him close with your memories of him, not by compromising who you are.’

I blinked. That was very profound for half nine on a Thursday morning.

‘I’m just saying, the Suzie McKenzie I know and love wouldn’t be caught dead in something like that.’

‘I think it’s funny.’ I knew I sounded like a petulant child.

‘Yes, for about five minutes after you opened your present – it’s not quite so funny eight months later.’

He had a point. I’d washed it so many times that the white patches were now grey and the udders were looking decidedly limp.

‘And while we’re on the subject. You can stop wearing black as well. We’re not in the Victorian times anymore.’

He pulled me into the bedroom and I followed, still in shock over his brutal honesty. He opened my wardrobe and pulled out my favourite scarlet jumper dress. ‘You can wear this today with those purple leggings.’

They would clash horribly. I smiled

‘And you can wear them with those Barbie pink boots you love so much and…’ He rooted around in one of my drawers, finally found what he had been looking for, pulled it out and thrust it into my face. ‘This. You’ll wear this.’

‘But –’

‘No buts. Get changed. You have five minutes.’

I stared after his retreating back and then down at the black shirt and black trousers I had put on out of habit. In the months after Jack’s death my taste in bright and garish clothes had seemed disrespectful somehow. Was one month too soon to return back to my colourful spots, stripes and swirls? Was two months? But now it had been eight months and I had seemingly been wearing black ever since. My bright clothes even seemed to have a thin layer of dust on them as they hung forgotten in my wardrobe. Harry had a point. Again.

I came downstairs a few minutes later, dressed in my purple leggings, scarlet jumper, pink boots and my red and gold spotted sequinned beret that I adored and Jack hated because he said I looked like a toadstool. I felt lighter already.

Harry grinned when he saw me. ‘You look beautiful.’ He offered me his arm. ‘Now let’s go.’

I leaned into him and walked out into the early morning sunshine.

*

‘No way. I’m not doing that,’ I said, staring at the scene before me in horror. ‘There’s nothing romantic about that.’

‘Who says proposals have to be romantic?’ Harry said as he bent down to forcefully remove my boots.

‘It’s the rules. Flowers, fireworks, chocolates. A stuffed teddy with the words emblazoned across a red heart. Not this. Never this.’

‘I disagree.’

‘You would,’ I said as Harry pushed me gently but forcibly forwards in the queue.

‘I think proposals can be weird, funny or in the case of this little adventure, adrenaline filled.’

I was next.

‘If I die –’

‘I’ll wear a cow print onesie to your funeral. Now get up there.’

My phone rang in my pocket.

‘Oh I have to get that, shame I’ll miss my turn.’

But to my annoyance, Harry had already wrestled my phone from my pocket and had answered it. He was more than capable of dealing with our customers and he knew I knew that.

‘Are you going or what, love?’ asked a big gruff man whose face looked like it had been punched several times. His nose was bent in two places and he had a huge scar across his forehead. Had he sustained these injuries doing this? I shrunk back but Harry pushed me forward.

‘Yes she is, and send her as high as you can.’

The man nodded, somewhat evilly I thought.

I climbed the steps to my doom and they attached thin rubber cables to my harness. I kept my eyes on Harry as the man bounced behind me for a few seconds, causing me to bounce as well. A moment later I was propelled some ten feet into the air, a scream tearing from my throat. I fell back to the earth but no sooner had I touched the ground than I was sent back into the air again, this time even higher than the last.

We had been walking along the Thames when the sounds of screams had attracted us. As we rounded the corner, we saw the bungee trampolines and watched with amusement as we saw people screaming, being bounced higher and higher in the air. My amusement had quickly turned to horror when I realised Harry had paid for me to have a go, and that we had come here deliberately for this reason.

I screamed again as I flailed in the air, kicking my legs helplessly in the hope that it would slow my descent. Each time I thought I was going to crash into the ground, I came to a slow stop, bounced gracefully off the trampoline and was propelled back into the air again. As I was thrust into the air for the fifth time, a bubble of laughter escaped my throat. It was a rush – a terrifying, brilliant rush. The man bounced with me, sending me higher, and I roared with joy.

All too soon the experience was over, and the man slowed me down and stopped me. He unhooked me and I quickly clambered down the steps and ran straight into Harry’s arms, still laughing uncontrollably.

Finally my laughter subsided.

‘Thank you.’

‘You’re very welcome,’ he said, into my forehead. ‘You see, at this point, while your heart is still pounding furiously and with the grin plastered on your face, I would propose.’

‘And I would say yes.’

I felt him smile into my hair.

‘So one we can definitely add to our repertoire?’

‘Yes, I take it all back. I love it.’

‘They’re not here all the time, but the guy is going to give me his card as they go all round the UK. We can phone them up if need be and find out where they are.’

‘Excellent, it’s great to get contacts like this.’

‘Are you ready for the next part of our day?’

I pulled back, intrigued. ‘There’s more?’

‘Yes.’ He chivalrously picked up the bag containing the pyjamas he had bought me earlier. Very simple, very elegant satin pyjamas. I’d liked the black but Harry put his foot down and we’d eventually agreed on a dusty rose.

‘Was the phone call anything good?’

‘I’ve emailed over to him our basic package.’

I sighed. ‘That’s the fourth today.’

‘Hey, the basic package is a good little money earner. You know – on average – half the customers that buy the twenty pound package from us, come back and spend ten times that on a big extravagant proposal.’

‘I know, but at this time of year I kind of expect to get more big proposals rather than so many basic packages.’

Harry was right, we earned quite a bit from our basic package. For twenty pounds, we sent our customers a brochure of our top fifty proposals. Ideas ranging from the romantic to the ridiculous, top class restaurants to tiny little tucked away cafés strewn with fairy lights. We included days out, fun experiences and romantic getaways. We also included vouchers for discounts and special offers at these hotels and restaurants and if our customers went there, we also got ten percent of their final bill from the companies for introducing our customers to them in the first place. It also gave brief details of more elaborate proposals, something only we could organise, with the promise of a refund of the twenty pounds if they were to book one of the grander proposals with us.

‘Romance isn’t always about big gestures though,’ Harry said. ‘Sometimes it’s the words the man finds or the effort that he has gone to. It doesn’t have to be something expensive.’

‘I know that, the smaller gestures are sometimes the best, a message written in the sand on a favourite beach or a personalised cinnamon swirl.’ I nudged him as we walked along the road and he smiled. ‘But from a business point of view I’m not sure people paying us twenty pounds to send them to propose elsewhere is the best idea. They could spend a hundred pounds or more at these posh places. That’s a hundred pounds they could have spent with us.’

Harry switched sides with me and I wondered why as he put himself between me and two men who were arguing, placing his hand on the small of my back as he nudged me round them. I felt embarrassed by the goose bumps that suddenly exploded over my body at his touch.

Harry continued on as if he hadn’t noticed my heart leap out of my chest. ‘Most people have in their mind what kind of proposal they want to do before they contact us. For most of them it would involve some kind of romantic meal, so they’re not likely to spend their money with us anyway. By providing them with a list of romantic places to eat, not only do we get the twenty pounds but also any kickbacks from the restaurants too. We’ve probably earned more money from the basic package than we have from the big proposals – so I wouldn’t knock the smaller gestures if I were you. Come on, through here.’

Harry ducked into a tiny alleyway that wound round the corner out of sight. He knew London like the back of his hand and very rarely went on the underground. There was always so much more to see when on foot. I followed him, his hulking frame almost filling the alley wall to wall. The walls were covered in graffiti and chewing gum, but some of the pictures sprayed on the bricks were very skilful. As we came to an old boarded-up window, he stopped and as I drew near he pulled me to his side, with his hand at my waist, sending delicious shivers down my spine.

‘There’s a place called Bubblegum Alley in California, and a Chewing Gum Wall in Seattle, where millions of pieces of gum have been stuck on the walls. It’s so bright and colourful that what started as something gross has now been declared an official tourist attraction. People travel from miles around to see it and to add their own gum to it. Some have even created little works of art amongst the thousands of globules.’

He stood back a bit and pointed to the wall. There in a heart made from pink chewing gum were the words ‘Annie, marry me,’ also made from chewing gum.

‘Love can be found in the most unlikely of places, you just have to look for it.’

He stared down at me and for a moment I wasn’t sure if he was talking about him, or about me and him.

‘It doesn’t need to be about romance, just little heartfelt gestures.’

I smiled. ‘I wonder if she said yes.’

Harry pointed to the green letters written in globules of chewing gum underneath the heart. In big proud letters, the word ‘Yes’, stood out.

‘I like it.’ I grabbed my phone from my pocket and took a few shots. I had to put this on the website.

‘I knew you would.’

‘You see, I don’t need big gestures, so whatever you have planned for our next proposal, it doesn’t need to be a big yacht or a trip to the moon.’

He walked away, heading towards the sunlight that was piercing our gloom.

‘I’ll cancel the space rocket then.’

‘Harry, I’m serious. Don’t waste your money on me.’

He ignored me as we stepped out into the sunlight. He was incredibly generous with his money and he had a lot of it. He didn’t get a very good salary from me but he didn’t really need it. Years before, whilst travelling around America, he’d had the foresight to invest in a tiny little up-and-coming online social media site called Connected. He’d given a thousand dollars at the time, money he had won at a casino, and years later, when Connected had been the biggest social media site in America and probably the world, he had sold his shares for a huge sum. He’d never told me how much he got from that little endeavour. But it was enough that he could afford the huge house on the other side of the green from me, bought when the property prices had plummeted. And he always seemed to have enough money for little gifts and meals out.

‘Spending money on you is never a waste. And we’re running late now so we’re going to have to run.’

He grabbed my hand and started jogging through the streets, winding his way expertly through the other people.

‘We could catch the tube,’ I whined, as I tried to keep up with his long-legged pace.

‘Running’s much more fun,’ Harry said, without breaking his stride.

*

The Glade at Sketch was like nothing I’d ever seen before. With its white bricked front, Sketch looked like a simple townhouse – and we’d actually walked past the place before we’d realised it was there. But down the darkened staircase and to the left, a tranquil wooded glade had been transported from some fairy tale forest to this seemingly unassuming restaurant in central London. Trees covered every wall and surface, the leaves of which were painted in every shade of green and gold imaginable. A huge chandelier dominated the ceiling, casting delicate lights over every surface from its tangle of branches. Tiny gold fireflies danced around the walls and floor. Mirrored panels near the roof moved slowly, catching the light from the huge sun roof above us and sending its rays across the room as if the sun was moving through the trees. Wicker chairs, tables and sofas with huge green embroidered cushions were placed casually throughout the room as if they were garden furniture and we were all just simply sitting out in the garden somewhere, enjoying the sun.

‘Harry Forbes, we have a reservation for afternoon tea.’ Harry said to the beautiful waitress who looked like a woodland nymph with the plaits and twists in her hair, and her floaty dress.

The waitress showed us to our table and we quickly placed an order for tea. Breakfast tea for me, something that sounded like a rare tropical disease for Harry.

‘Harry, this place is beautiful.’ I couldn’t stop looking around, until my eyes met with his and I realised he’d been watching me. ‘Thank you for today.’

‘My pleasure. I just wanted you to have some fun. You’ve been so down lately.’ He paused, awkwardly, while he rearranged the cups on the table. ‘The food here is amazing.’

I reached across and squeezed his hand. ‘Thank you.’

The afternoon tea arrived just as Harry was poised to say something else. I reluctantly let him go so there was room for our cake stand on the table.

Harry was right, the food looked and tasted amazing. The sandwiches were all topped with extras like quail eggs and caviar, bringing a simple egg mayonnaise sandwich alive with an assault of different flavours.

There was an array of cakes, all tiny, mouth-watering bites of pure pleasure, some kind of trifle and of course delicious fresh fruit scones.

‘So tell me,’ Harry said around a mouthful of something chocolaty, ‘Tiny Tim, did you and he…?’

Oh God, Tiny Tim was going to come back and haunt me forever.

I picked up some kind of pink meringue that literally dissolved as soon as it touched my tongue. I licked my lips as I played for time.

‘Did we what?’ I smirked as Harry shifted uncomfortably, waving his hands around in what I presumed was some kind of representation of the act. The man had no problem discussing his sordid sex life but he was still awkward when discussing mine. I wanted to play him at his own game.

‘He liked to dress up,’ I said as I popped some kind of fruit tart in my mouth. The fruit was crystalized and was like an explosion on my tongue.

Harry’s eyes widened. ‘Like air hostess, police woman, cheerleader, that kind of thing?’

I shook my head. ‘Lots of different things really. One of my favourites was dressing up as a unicorn and he was a lion. He liked to take me from behind and he would roar when he came.’

Harry stared at me, his face unblinking. I picked up a tiny coffee éclair and caught the eye of a tiny little old lady sitting at the next table, her fruit tart poised halfway to her mouth. I blushed, realising she had heard every word.

Still, there was no going back now.

‘He liked to dress up as one of the flower pot men, Bill normally, I’m not sure why. I was always the flower, Weed. Then Bill would come at me with his big hose.’

The old lady leaned over to me. ‘Dear, do you have the name of the shop where you bought these costumes?’

‘I don’t I’m afraid, Tim always brought them with him. I will miss his big hose.’

Harry was still staring at me. ‘I didn’t realise you were into all that weird stuff.’

I licked the icing off the top of the éclair and popped it in my mouth, trying desperately to suppress my laughter but it was to no avail. I snorted so hard that a bubble of snot burst from my nose and I quickly had to wipe it away on my beautiful cotton serviette.

‘You’re joking?’ Harry looked almost relieved.

‘Of course I am.’

‘So you guys… didn’t…’

‘It’s none of your business. Just because you like to talk about all your sexploits, doesn’t mean the rest of us do.’

‘That’s a ‘no’ if ever I heard one.’ He smiled smugly. I wasn’t going to let him get away with that.

‘It’s a ‘yes’ actually, but it was just regular sex.’ I wanted to expand on that, regular sex sounded so boring. ‘Well as regular as three hour sex marathons can be. He had the stamina of a horse. We’d do it all over the flat. On the dining table, up against a wall, in the shower, in the kitchen, on top of the washing machine, backwards, forwards, sideways, doggy style.’

The old lady choked on her fruit scone.

‘Sideways?’ asked Harry.

‘Yes. You should try it, it’s great fun. Can you pass the sugar?’

I stared down at my tea. Sideways, how exactly would that work?

‘Tell me about your plans for the summer. You said you were thinking about going to New Zealand.’

Harry recovered himself well. ‘The land of the hobbits. I would love to. Maybe hire a camper van and drive from North to South. There’s so many things I want to do, but it’s more fun doing them with someone else.’

‘Sexy Samantha not keen?’

‘She’s definitely not the camper van sort. She’s more of the ‘five star hotel with daily spa treatments’ kind of girl. We should go.’

‘I would love that, I want to see the world, every tiny little pocket of it, but no girlfriend of yours is going to be happy about you taking another woman off on holiday. Sleeping together in the back of the camper van.’ I blushed as Harry’s eyebrows shot up. ‘I meant actually sleeping – not having sex.’

The old lady leaned in closer again, ready to catch the next instalment in my sex life.

‘I should hope not,’ Harry said, his tongue licking seductively up the side of his éclair. ‘I don’t have a lion costume.’

*

I sat back and watched the gold fireflies chase each other up the walls. I was so uncomfortably full, but everything was so hard to resist, that I’d had to eat it all.

We’d had a lovely time, chatting all afternoon, but one of the main topics of conversation from the other guests was the toilets and how funny they were. I had to check them out myself.

I excused myself from the table and, following the directions of the woodland nymph waitress, I walked through another restaurant to a very white room on the other side.

The stairs leading up to the toilets were a brilliant opulent white – looking like they led to somewhere much grander than just some toilets. I walked upstairs to a brightly lit room, the ceiling decorated with beautiful rainbow tiles, but as I reached the top I stopped in my tracks. Several pods sat in a white chamber at the top of the stairs, looking like white cocoons from an alien spaceship. They were about seven foot tall and tapered off like eggs at the top.

I looked around for the toilets but there was nothing else up here. On the other side of the room were several more pods. These pods were clearly the toilets and were obviously the reason for such amusement from the other guests.

I opened the door on one of them, expecting to hear some kind of space age whoosh and was slightly disappointed when I didn’t.

Inside was the weirdest toilet I had ever seen. There was no seat at all. I walked in and closed the door behind me. It was obviously some foreign kind of toilet where you stand. A long ceramic oval hung from the wall jutting out at the bottom to catch the waste. I stared at it – how on earth was I supposed to pee in that? Backwards seemed the only safe option. With a bit of negotiating I pointed my bum in the right direction and leaned forward into a sort of half squat. I quickly finished and after redressing I left the pod, dying to tell Harry about the very weird toilets. He was standing right outside and looked shocked to see me coming out of one of the pods.

‘What?’ I said

‘These are the boys’ toilets.’

I laughed. ‘No they’re not, the waitress pointed me up these stairs.’

‘Yes, the girls’ pods are over there.’ He pointed to the other side of the stairs where several pods were bathed in pink lights in comparison to the pods where I was that were bathed in blue.

Harry peered over my shoulder and burst out laughing. ‘Did the urinals not give you a clue?’

I looked back and gasped in horror. I had just peed in a urinal. Now he had pointed it out to me it was obvious. It wasn’t some weird foreign type toilet at all, just a bog standard urinal. I felt my cheeks glow crimson.

‘I’m intrigued. How exactly did you manage to pee in there?’

I quickly hurried to the sinks and washed my hands. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

I heard Harry go into one of the pods, his laughter so loud I could hear him from the outside.

To see the rest of the story buy your copy of One Hundred Proposals now. http://amzn.to/1ouP9w0

Happy Publication Day Sunlounger 2!!!!

Sunlounger2CoverSunlounger 2 is out today!!!!!!!

I cannot tell you how excited I am that this book is out.

I have been part of this amazing project ever since I entered my short story One Hundred Proposals into Belinda Jones’s short story competition at the very last minute in March last year. Unbelievably, my little story won and one of the most amazing moments of my life was publication day of Sunlounger 1 last year when I finally got to see my story published alongside the stories of my favourite authors.

I’ve stayed in contact with Belinda ever since, she has been my rock through the tough times of getting rejected and celebrating my success when I finally got a publishing deal.

When the ball started rolling on Sunlounger 2 I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to be a part of it again.  I wrote my little story ‘Beneath the Bay Bridge’ and sent it off, excited that I would be rubbing shoulders with the glorious talent of Belinda Jones, Tracy Bloom, Alexandra Potter, Milly Johnson, Hannah Beckerman, Rosie Blake, Lisa Dickenson, Lucy Robinson, Nigel May and many, many more.

But the best part was this time round, I was proofreading all the stories, I have a bit of an eagle eye when it comes to things like that.  So back in January, when there was ice on the ground I started reading glorious sunshiney stories from the likes of Louise Marley, Chrissie Manby and Carrie Duffy, the early birds in our little collection.  It’s been a weekly treat to see another story pop into my inbox, the final one being Belinda’s glorious cherry on top of a great big sundae of sparkly goodness. You are going to love this book so much.

These gorgeous stories have made me laugh, they’ve made me cry, I got angry, I’ve been left in open mouthed shock and hugged my kindle with huge heartwarming affection.  There were tales of friendships, new loves, newly engaged couples and those that have been in love for more years than I’ve been alive. Plus one story of murder and intrigue which I absolutely loved. I’ve been on a journey to Australia, cycled in Tuscany, explored Bruges, found love in Paris, went on safari in South Africa, scuba dived in the Cayman Islands, experienced the pretty fairy castles in Germany, felt the elements in Crete and got soaked in the Baltic sea in Denmark. Each place has been a tantalizing snapshot of these wonderful locations, perfectly encapsulating the passport in the pocket.

The Sunlounger short story competition ran again this year, to showcase new and exciting talent.

I even got to read the top 12 stories in this year’s Sunlounger Competition, there are some seriously talented people out there and I want to hug them all and say ‘Well done for entering, you are brave and brilliant and I can’t wait to one day share the Sunlounger anthology pages with each one of you.’ But the four winners, Ella Fairlie, Emma Heard, Cressida McLaughlin and Katie Stephens are incredible, you are in for a real treat when you read them. I’m sure a bright and glittery future is just around the corner for them.

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With 44 fabulous stories from around the world and priced at £2.98 this is a bargain that you can’t miss.

Catch more details about this gorgeous book, the authors, the locations and sign up for a newsletter too to get up to date information on the authors you love.  www.sunloungerstories.com

And if you want to buy the book, and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?  Here it is http://amzn.to/1uMg7xO