All good things must come to an end – and that includes Valentine’s Round Robins! But Sheryl Browne has her turn today and there’ll still be one more competition to enter too – if you read until the end Let’s find out what happens to Harriet at her Valentine/birthday ball…
To enjoy this story make sure you read the other parts first:
Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE
Part Three by Morton S Gray HERE
Part Four by Rhoda Baxter HERE
She’d known that last slice of chocolate cake had been a mistake. With the final batch of cupcakes safely delivered to the pub, Harriet was attempting to slip into her dress, a snip-in-the-sales, strappy russet satin mini dress, which frustratingly no longer seemed slippable into.
Much heaving and tugging later, the dress was on, possibly permanently. Harriet glanced forlornly at her reflection in the wardrobe mirror. ‘What do you think, Luna?’ she asked her sooty black cat, who wove a figure of eight around her ankles.
Luna meowed and padded off to jump on the bed and settle down with a contented purr.
Taking that as approval, Harriet surveyed herself again. ‘Hmm, you might be right,’ she conceded. She might have to use scissors to remove it, and she might have to keep breathing to a minimum, but the dress at least flattered in all the right places.
Realising she was going to be late for the ball, Harriet turned to kiss the cat, probably the only being she’d be kissing and cuddling up to anytime soon, and dashed down to grab up the last half-dozen heart-shaped balloons from the hall and then fly through the front door.
‘Ooh, I say,’ Vera looked her pointedly over, as she all but fell into the function room, ‘we have undressed to impress, haven’t we?’
‘Oh no …’ Harriet followed Vera’s gaze worriedly down to her cleavage. ‘Is it too much?’
‘Well, it’s certainly an eyeful,’ Vera said jollily, causing Harriet’s cheeks to flush a complementary russet coloured red. ‘But if you’ve got it …’
With which, Vera leaned in. ‘I think Tony’s appreciating the view,’ she whispered, nodding over her shoulder towards the bar, where Tony, looking just as edible out of uniform as he did in it, was indeed staring intently in her direction.
Harriet’s heart did a little flip in her chest and then drooped, as the designer dressed striking brunette at his side, placed a hand on Tony’s arm, turning his attention back to her. This was Jamie then, Harriet assumed, who was no doubt asking who the barely-dressed floozy was.
Smiling wanly as he glanced again in her direction, Harriet lowered her balloons to discreetly chest-level. The woman might not be his girlfriend, but judging by the body language she was certainly laying claims on him.
Harriet sighed inwardly as Vera, obviously oblivious, gave her one of her coy winks and moved off to join Felicity and Moira to catch up on the village goss.
Zack, dressed in a black shirt – minus dog-collar – and thigh flattering jeans, was definitely challenging the stereotypical vicarly image, Harriet noticed, as she headed across the room to unburden herself of her balloons. She could almost feel the heat radiating from his smouldering grey eyes as he yanked Tammy into a tight hold on the dancefloor.
Well that was obviously a match made in heaven. Harriet couldn’t help but smile as Tammy, clearly as smitten as he was, beamed at her over his shoulder and gave Harriet a thumbs up.
Two down, one to go, Harriet thought disconsolately, still holding onto her balloons, which she’d become strangely attached to. Where was her sister, she wondered, scanning the room for signs of her, along with the mysterious blind date who would probably turn out to be predictably utterly inappropriate. The last one had been a head shorter than her and, while Harriet wasn’t short-ist, the man regaling her with rugby jokes all evening and suggesting she might wear flat shoes next time did put her off a bit.
Paul didn’t seem in evidence either. So much for her at least one dance with a man this evening. Obviously Paul wasn’t going to be a her saviour.
Wine, Harriet thought, heading for the bar. Prosecco and a chocolate cupcake would cheer her up. Who cared if she had to live in the russet-red dress for the rest of her life? And then she would dump her balloons and strut her stuff on the dancefloor with the stalwarts of the Women’s Institute. She didn’t need a man to have a good time. A handbag would do. She laughed as she passed Vera and co, who were practising some risqué moves around a strategically placed clutch bag.
‘Harriet!’ Someone yelled over the music, as she ordered her drink, making brief eye contact with a pair of lovely blue eyes, as she did. Did Harriet detect a little bit of wistfulness as Tony looked at her? No. Noting again the undeniably beautiful woman at his side, she doubted Tony would want to be practising any self-defence moves tonight.
‘Harriet!’ her sister called loudly again as Harriet turned. ‘Quick!’ she shouted, gesticulating wildly towards the door now.
‘What?’ Harriet quickened her step and hurried towards her. ‘He’s not that hot, is he?’ she asked, glancing amusedly past her sister for signs of the blind date.
Her sister’s eyes were wide, and frightened, Harriet noted, apprehension tickling its way down her spine.
‘It’s …?’ Harriet knitted her brow, confused. ‘Charlotte, you mean Paul’s my—’
‘Tony!’ Charlotte shouted past her. ‘You need to come! Quickly.’
With which, her sister turned urgently back to the door, throwing, ‘Harriet’s cottage is on fire!’ over her shoulder.
It wasn’t about the heroics. Tony had tried. Zack, Tammy, Vera … Everyone had been a hero tonight, helping to dampen the flames until the fire engine arrived. Paul had been her saviour though. He’d been desperate to ask her out. In love with her since they’d been at school, Vera confided. Everybody knew this except, it seemed, Harriet. Everybody knew, also, that Harriet hadn’t fancied him, including Paul, who’d remained hopeful that one day she might learn to love him a little, even though he was just an ordinary man with no impressive credentials. He had been her blind date tonight, she’d learned. His last ditch attempt to attract her attention before someone else stole her away. She was the one who’d been blind, though, not seeing what was right under her nose. That Paul was there. That he’d always been there.
‘He’s okay. A bit startled, but…’ Paul assured her, passing a very sooty black cat into her arms. ‘I’d, er, better go home.’ He shrugged awkwardly. ‘Clean myself up. There’s a spare cat bed if you need it.’
Brown, his eyes were brown, the colour of rich caramel mocha latte, soft, warm and comforting. He had a scratch on his cheek. His hair was dishevelled, his clothes ruined and reeking of smoke. Harriet didn’t speak. Couldn’t.
‘Harriet?’ Tony said softly, now by Paul’s side. ‘My sister’s driving home tonight. There’s a spare room at Lilac Cottage if you’d like.’
Harriet looked from his lovely blue eyes back to Paul. ‘Thank you,’ she managed, ‘but Paul has already offered.’
Aww! What a perfect end to a perfect Valentine’s Round Robin. As always, the Choc Lit authors have outdone themselves and we hoped you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed organising it! Let us know what you think
If you enjoyed Sheryl’s writing in today’s extract make sure you keep an eye out for her two upcoming thriller releases, After She’s Gone (out Feb 21st) and Sins of the Father (out Feb 24th) . Click the image above for pre-order information.
To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Sheryl’s first Choc Lit novel The Rest of My Life and some chocolate simply answer this question:
What is the name of Harriet’s cat?
To enter, send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Sheryl Browne comp’ by Sunday 19th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.