A life on the river with Sheryl Browne

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It’s Sheryl Browne on the Choc Lit blog today, chatting about The Rest of My Life, research and houseboats! 

When Adam came into my life he was living on a houseboat, living an apparently carefree bachelor existence on his boat, I might add, intent on bedding every woman in the vicinity. Not instantly likeable then, despite outward attractive appearances. There was something more to him, though. It was there, in his smile, in his eyes, a loneliness, a longing? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but beneath the cocksure exterior, the confidence in bed, was it possible the man was actually lacking in self-esteem? Obviously, Adam needed further investigation.

And that was where the story began. My books tend to turn around the hero, looking at the fragility of love life and relationships. I always seem to start off with a nicely formed man (which isn’t a bad place to start, you have to admit). Whether he’s good or bad, or a dangerously heady mixture of both, my hero is always right there; his features, his hair, his clothes, his mannerisms, his conflicts. The heroine actually grows from him, as in what kind of woman would be attracted to him? What if she was attracted but couldn’t/wouldn’t admit it? What if a relationship between them was unacceptable – to society, to family, to themselves? You can see how a story might grow. The premise for The Rest of My Life was that Adam isn’t your usual hero material. He’s a womaniser, drinks too much, and is seemingly on a road to destruction. It’s going to be a very special woman who realises he’s actually frightened, not just of getting hurt, but of hurting others, to make him realise his past is colouring his future, to peel back the veneer and see the good in him.

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The moral: don’t give up on your hero, even if he is determined to give up on himself.

So, I had the basic story, bar the actual writing. But what about the setting? I have no idea why Adam arrived on a boat, but he did. And that’s where he was staying stubbornly put. Luckily, being a boater, I have a fair amount of experience of boatyards, but it had to be the right one. More a marina, on a river, that would cater for luxury yachts, as well as narrowboats. Most marinas have chandleries (a shop selling boatware), some have workshops, but not all cater for live aboard boats. It had to have a summery feel, a bright holiday appeal: lots of shiny boats bobbing on the water – apart from Adam’s, which is a bit of an eyesore. It also had to have holiday cottages, so more holiday resort than a working boatyard. Research involving physical location, therefore, involved cruising the River Avon and Severn, which was a real hardship, I can tell you, stopping off at various pubs, mooring up in idyllic surroundings, eyeing up single men who happened to be cruising … Ooops!

I had fun with Adam (ahem). I loved writing Adam and Sienna’s story, though I must admit even I despaired of Adam at times, wondering whether he would ever turn himself around. Next came the worry of submitting. I mean, would anyone really take on board Adam, a hero who isn’t likeable? Thank goodness Choc Lit saw that Adam’s attractions were more than skin deep, as did Sienna, who simply would not give up on him. To say I was thrilled when Choc Lit contracted The Rest of My Life would be a bit of an understatement. I was ecstatic when the book was shortlisted for the 2015 Love Stories Awards. For a story I wasn’t so sure about, the reception has exceeded my hopes and inspired me to write on! Thank you to all those lovely readers and Book Bloggers who have been so fabulously supportive. Thank you also to Choc Lit Publishing and Matt Bates at WH Smith Fiction for believing in me.

Boat montage

The South Stratford Canal, part of the Avon ring, is worth the cruise alone. The eye candy is definitely a bonus.

The Rest of My Life is now available in paperback. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK   Amazon US  

For more on Sheryl follow her on Twitter @SherylBrowne 

Love Me for a Reason by Angela Britnell

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Hands up those of you with a weakness for a smartly dressed man – yes, I’m talking to you! Nathaniel Dalton, my gorgeous new Choc Lit hero, fits the bill perfectly and he’d be thrilled to hear me say so. When I first “saw” him in his beautiful designer suit, handmade shirt, silk tie and gleaming wingtip shoes I had a little swoon, but when I picked myself off the floor I discovered why appearance meant so much to him and a niggle of sympathy crept in.

When you’ve grown up as the son of hippy goat farmers in rural East Tennessee you either follow the same path or make a one hundred and eighty degree turn in the other direction like Nathaniel. When the story begins he’s achieved most of his goals with a top notch accounting job, a fancy condo in the most sought after part of Nashville and the financial security to help out his eccentric family. When the time is right he’ll select one of the elegant Nashville socialites he routinely dates to be his wife. But we all know what happens to plans don’t we?

In Nathaniel’s case it’s Daisy Penvean. Daisy of the flowing tie-dye clothes and laid back artistic lifestyle, whose iron has been gathering dust forever. Nathaniel shouldn’t be attracted to her but can’t seem to help himself. Daisy hates the fact she fancies a man whose shoes are so shiny she could fix her make up in them. But she can’t help it either.

Outward appearance. It says a lot and yet it’s often the unsaid that means more. Maybe that’s why so many romantic heroes are men in uniform – whether it be military or fireman’s uniforms, or their own version like Nathaniel. It says something about them but leaves a layer of intrigue out there as to whether the man underneath matches the outer persona.

You’ll have to read Love Me for a Reason to discover Nathaniel’s “uniform” secrets and whether he has left the past behind as much as he thinks, or whether he ever really wanted to in the first place.

Love Me for a Reason is now available as an ebook on all platforms. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK   Amazon US  Amazon CA  Amazon AU

For more on Angela, follow her on Twitter @AngelaBritnell

Judging a Book by its Cover

Is judging a book by its cover always a crime? Laura E. James explores the reasons why it might not be in today’s blog post. Make sure you read right until the end if you’d like to find out how you could get your hands on a FREE copy of Laura’s new book, What Doesn’t Kill You … 

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Judge: The charge is that judging a book by its cover is a crime. What say you?

Defendant: Your honour, I ask is it a crime to be drawn by the colours, the images and the hint of the treats and secrets in store when browsing online or roaming free from bookshop to library? I am attracted to a book by its cover, but isn’t that the point? If I haven’t become aware of a novel through personal recommendation, a good-looking book is going to turn my head. What can I say? I’m flesh and blood. And surely if covers weren’t important, all books would start at the title page. That would be the equivalent of me strolling in here in my underwear, instead of this smart, skilfully tailored business suit. First impressions count. But it’s not only that. The experience that is reading begins with the intrigue and awe a cover can incite.

I submit my evidence and present the Chesil Beach Book covers.

Truth or Dare? – a fabulous love story without the soft edges.

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Notice the light and shade, the carved initials in the bench, the closed, theatrical, red curtains waiting to swish open and expose the secrets lurking behind. I want to know what’s going on back stage. Red is for danger, right? Red traffic lights, red alert, red hot …

The etched heart tells of a romance, but it is crudely scratched into the back of a church seat. A youthful expression of love or a silent prayer? And observe the clarity of the title. It’s bright, it’s white, it’s stark. It’s challenging the reader. Your honour, I ask you, would you tell the truth or take the dare?

Book 2 – Follow Me Follow You – can a first love last forever?

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The black cover is eye-catching. It stands out from the crowd. It’s individual, it goes against romantic conventions. Are these characteristics the reader can expect from the hero or heroine, or does it suggest an overall feel of the story? A beautiful shooting star arcs across the top, but does it signify wishful expectation, or represent a sudden descent? The white silhouette of a woman occupies the corner. She’s checking her mobile phone ‒ an important clue. She could be searching for answers or awaiting a call. What or who is she hoping to find? And let’s take a moment to appreciate the colours of the lettering. A blue ‘follow’ and a pink ‘follow’. Your honour, my son explained his understanding of these colours to me and for him the blue symbolises the hero, and the pink, the heroine. I love that idea. For me, the spectral colours bring vibrancy to the dark night, like neon signs showing the way. And I wonder if that shooting star is heading for a place somewhere over the rainbow?

For my final piece of evidence, I give you What Doesn’t Kill You – an intense, emotional, heartbreaking story.

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Your honour, I urge you to look at this cover. I mean, really study it. Zoom in. It’s stunning. At first glance, the reader is trapped inside, stranded, their window to the world obscured by rain and condensation. The frame is old, flaking and in desperate need of care and attention. It needs a loving hand to bring it back to life. These are threads of the novel keenly observed and understood by the cover designer and beautifully illustrated. Dark? Yes. Stormy? Yes. Coastal? Unmistakably. Notice the white houses in the distance. They’re out of reach for now, but the yellow glow from the top windows proves there’s life inside, and as the maxim goes, where there’s life, there’s hope. Finally, I draw your attention to the lighthouse. It stands tall, silent and strong, keeping watch, shining its light into the fog, desperate to guide lost souls safely home. Is this a metaphor? Does it relate to a character or does it suggest to the reader that after sailing pages of stormy seas, they’ll finish the book, moored, anchored and sheltered in the harbour? It’s a wonderfully crafted and intelligent cover that speaks volumes and sets up the story in one magnificent image. From out of the darkness, there comes light. Or, in other words, your honour, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

In this digital age of downloads and ebooks, which I appreciate are not on trial today, but which I acknowledge have a place in this world, we forgo the pleasures of touching and smelling the book, of flicking through random passages, seeking out a gem of a line, of hearing the soft flap as we turn the page. But we are still able to indulge our sense of sight. We can still gaze upon the beautiful, thrilling, saucy, bright, dark, emotional, telling covers that hint and tease and excite our imaginations and invite us to explore, consider and share others’ opinions, other lives and other worlds.

Your honour, I cannot speak for everyone, but I speak from the heart. I believe judging a book by its cover is not a crime.

It is an adventure, a pleasure, and a joy.

Judge: Case dismissed.

We have FIFTY copies of What Doesn’t Kill You to give away but there is one condition – if you claim a copy, you will need to read the book and write an Amazon review for it. What Doesn’t Kill You is the first book in our ‘Dark Choc Lit’ range – an intense, emotional, heartbreaking story. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, simply email info@choc-lit.co.uk to request. 

For more on Laura, follow her on Twitter @Laura_E_James

How do women survive in the mad, bad world of politics and spin?

9781781892770Sarah Waights, author of Never Marry a Politician, talks about the inspiration for her novel, and about the plight of the strong, capable women who are often behind the rise of the world’s most powerful men …

Long before Hillary Clinton decided to stand for the presidency herself there was a joke doing the rounds and it went like this:

Hillary and Bill drive into a gas station. As the attendant is filling their car, Bill says, “Look Hillary, isn’t that the guy you used to date at college?  Just imagine, if you’d married him not me you’d be the wife of a gas station attendant.”

“Nonsense, Bill,” said Hillary, “If I’d married him instead of you, he would be the President of the United States.”

And therein lies the truth that inspired my novel Never Marry a Politician.  Behind every successful man is a very clever woman and the cleverest women of all may well be the ones who wield their power covertly, using their man as a puppet to achieve their own ambitions. Shakespeare was fascinated with the concept; What was Lady Macbeth if not quite literally the power behind the throne? Poor old Macbeth didn’t have an idea in his head other than the ones she put there and – boy – did she have some big ideas. Incidentally, Shakespeare also portrayed her as a raving, hormonal lunatic and ensured she came to a sticky end but – hey ho – feminism had a long way to go back then.

Not that we have come as far as we would like to think, as I peek between my fingers at Hillary Clinton’s current presidential campaign. Despite the social progress that allowed Obama to get into power, there has still never been a female president. In the UK’s political system I watch with horrified fascination as those handpicked female members of our elected parliament – the brightest of the bright – have to run the gauntlet of press and parliamentary preoccupation with their legs, cleavage, shoes and marital status before they are allowed to express a view or table a policy. Even then, the apparatchiks are far more likely to hand them a brief concerning childcare provision than, say, defence policy. I feel even more sorry for the women who – quite by chance – happen to be married to a man who is ambitious for a career in politics. That is what happened to my poor heroine, Emily, who quickly learns that – despite it being the 21st century – her role is to stand meekly in the background gazing at her husband admiringly.

“I do have an opinion of my own,” she protests to her lover, Matt.

“Sure you do,” he replies, “but only when your husband’s advisors have told you what it is.”

The ‘gazing admiringly’ thing, by the way, is one I felt Nancy Reagan did awfully well and that made her an excellent President’s wife.  The UK equivalent would probably be the ‘wife’ of our one and only female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher; her spouse, Dennis, was stalwart, supportive and above criticism. Always. When he died all anyone could remember him doing was chatting amiably about golf and mixing a killer gin and tonic. Could she have done it without him? Personally, I doubt it.

One would like to think that women signing up to the husband’s job to the detriment of her own autonomy was an outdated idea. When I was a child, my father was in the diplomatic corps which involved lots of making polite conversation with his opposite numbers from other countries. My mother’s role – it was made quite clear – was to play the Nancy Reagan to his Ronald, taking the wives out shopping and giving them tea and cake while the men got down to the real business of – well – being diplomatic. But that can’t be how things work now, can it?

I actually think it isn’t.  I think it’s worse.  I have built a career and raised a family in an era where women were not just supposed to ‘have it all’, they had to somehow ‘do it all’ too. Achieving the role of the perfect wife and mother at the same time as having a ball-breakingly successful career is now less of a freedom and more of a moral obligation. We owe it to our mothers and grandmothers who were left entirely without bust support after all that bra-burning so that we – the newly empowered (and exhausted) generation – could rule the world. In the general election in the UK last year, the media was fascinated by the wives of the political leaders. It was clear that, the female vote was being courted. In order to have any respect for the husband, we had to admire the wife. Here, wearing a pinny and churning out perfect cupcakes was key but not, in itself, enough. Instead, the politician’s wives, with their perfect, smiley children in tow, had to bake, smile, be immaculately dressed AND have impressive careers (but no opinions, mind). Two are high-flying lawyers and another is ‘something very clever’ in product development for a really classy stationery design company – phew, nothing controversial about notepads, thank heaven. The high (or low) point of the entire campaign was the week when all the leaders were photographed in their own kitchens, drinking coffee with their wives – cue pages and pages of coverage analysing the political significance of everything from the mugs they were drinking out of to the brand of olive oil sitting next to the stove.  Honestly!  I know… madness.

Actually, the scariest thing I ever did was to marry. Although I knew almost as soon as I met him that I loved my husband-to-be – and that I trusted him – my mind whirled with terror at the thought of how being a wife and having children, would make me vulnerable, financially dependent, that I would somehow lose myself, that I would feel compelled to become a mirror of my husband to justify his protection of me … I needn’t have fretted. My husband has never wanted me to become anything other than a more developed, fulfilled, version of myself. We have taken turns, over the years, to be the breadwinner, raise the children, take time out to follow our dreams (get me! A published novelist no less …) and just be whoever we felt we needed to be. Of course that has meant being supportive to each other, being loyal, being the person who is always on side – even when you’ve made a right royal  tit of yourself – but it has never had to mean turning into a person who exists purely to show our partner in a better light.

And so – just like my poor character Emily, we all struggle on – walking the tightrope of career versus family, spin versus substance, truth versus diplomacy and wine versus waistline. Thank God for the escapism of other people’s stories.

Never Marry a Politician is now available in paperback. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK   Amazon US  Amazon CA

For more on Sarah, follow her on Twitter @SarahWaights

Mother’s Little Helper: Final Part by Kathryn Freeman & Happy Mother’s Day from Choc Lit!

MD RR Part 5Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in the UK. We hope all the mums out there have lovely days and are thoroughly spoilt! For the first treat of the day, we’re happy to present to you the last part of our Round Robin by Kathryn Freeman. Find out what happens to Lily and Rob, as well as the star of the show – the little cat who’s just successfully delivered four kittens into the world :)  

Make sure you read right until the end so that you can find out the final question for our competition and the details to enter.

In order to make sense of the story, make sure you read all of the preceding parts, which you can find below: 

Part One by Berni Stevens

Part Two by Sarah Waights

Part Three by AnneMarie Brear

Part Four by Clare Chase

‘Bugger.’ A grimace fell across Rob’s handsome features as he looked down at his phone. ‘Sorry, I need to take this. I’ll be back in a minute.’

As he strode out Lily glanced at Jo, who nodded frantically in the direction he’d gone. ‘Go and listen,’ she hissed.

‘That’s rude.’

‘So? How else are you going to find out if he’s taken?’

‘I don’t care one way or the other.’

Jo gave her a knowing smirk and Lily gave up the pretence, sneaking out of the kitchen and through to the lounge next to the hallway where Rob was talking. Not wanting to be caught with her ear to the wall, she opened the top drawer of the sideboard and pretended to search through it.

‘Yes, look, I’m sorry I had to dash off.’ His deep voice permeated easily through the thin walls of their apartment. ‘No, I was delivering kittens this time.’ Lily stilled as he waited for the other person to talk. ‘I’ll ask her, if you like, though really I’m not sure we can manage any more animals in the house.’

Sighing, she pushed the drawer shut. She’d heard enough.

‘I’ll be home soon. Love you.’

And now she’d really heard enough.

‘Oh, there you are.’ Rob seemed understandably surprised to see her in the lounge, rather than watching over the kittens.

‘Yes, I came to find some, err, matches.’

Thankfully he didn’t ask her what she needed them for. Instead his gaze wandered over her face and he smiled. It was more than just friendly. It was interested. ‘So, I hope you don’t think this is inappropriate but …’ he trailed off, running a hand through his soft, dark hair. ‘Sorry, I’m pretty useless at this. I was wondering if, maybe, you fancied going out for a drink sometime? Christen the kittens?’

Five minutes ago she’d have been a mass of bubbling hormones at his suggestion. Now she just felt sad. ‘Umm, thanks but I’m not sure the woman you were just speaking to would like that.’ Before he had a chance to come up with a lame explanation she spoke again. ‘We should go and check on the kittens.’

She marched past him and back into the kitchen. Jo gave her a questioning look but Lily shook her head, bending down to the kittens. Rob crouched next to her, a frown on his face, before checking over the tiny balls of fluff with gentle – and very fine looking, damn it – hands. Afterwards he moved on to the mum, feeling his way over her shoulders. ‘They’re all absolutely fine. I’ll need to scan to see if she has a chip but there’s no collar so I believe she’s yours if you want her. They all are.’

Lily gulped, gazing down at the tiny cute faces. Mum was licking them diligently. A teenage mum perhaps, but who clearly loved her babies.

Rob’s brown eyes warmed a little as he studied her. ‘You want to take care of them all, don’t you, but you know it’s a huge undertaking.’  He stood back up, once more towering over her. ‘If it helps at all, I’ll waive my fee. And my mum said she’d love a couple.’

‘Your mum?’ Had she heard him right? ‘But how does she know about them?’

‘That was her on the phone.’

‘That was your mum?’

‘Yeah.’ He cocked his head, regarding her quizzically. ‘Why?’

‘Well, it’s just I thought … you talked about coming home and loving her. I thought it was your wife.’

He burst out laughing, deep grooves appearing on either side of his very sexy mouth. ‘She’ll enjoy that one.’

‘So she was the evening I interrupted? The slamming door?’

‘Yes and no. The slamming door was a disgruntled employee I fired for mistreating a stray pup. Mum was the phone calls. I’d promised to take her out for a meal, as it’s Mother’s Day.’ He shrugged. ‘That’s the evening you interrupted.’

Lily put a hand to her mouth, feeling terrible. ‘Oh no. I’m so sorry.’

‘Hey don’t be. I’m very happy it was interrupted. Very happy.’ His dark eyes glittered back at her, full of meaning.

‘Umm, I think this is my cue to leave.’ Jo shot her a wicked grin before slipping out of the kitchen.

‘So is that why you didn’t want the drink?’ Rob asked. ‘You thought I was married?’

‘Yes.’

He smiled, brown eyes lighting up. ‘So now you know I don’t have an angry wife waiting for me at home, though I do have a slightly annoyed mother, will you reconsider? And mum lives with me, by the way, not the other way round. She moved in when dad died, if that helps at all in your decision making.’

Lily felt her heart turn gentle somersaults in her chest. He loved animals and he loved his mum. ‘I’d be delighted to have a drink with you.’

Aww, lovely ending to our Mother’s Day story. We hope you all enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed putting it together – and a very big well done to our talented authors, who always manage to excel at these Round Robins regardless of subject matter! 

COMPETITION TIME!

Now that we’ve reached the last part of the story, it’s time to submit your answers from the last four days, along with one last answer from today for your chance to win a mystery prize! Here’s the question:

What does Lily pretend to look for when she listens in on Rob on the phone?

When you’ve read every part of the story and collected together your answers, send all FIVE of them to info@choc-lit.co.uk. The winner (with five correct answers) will be picked at random. Deadline for entry is Wednesday 9th March and the winner will be announced on Thursday 10th March. Good luck!

If you enjoyed Kathryn Freeman’s writing, why not pick up a copy of her most recent book, Search for the Truth? It’s available as an eBook and will also be available in paperback from July HERE

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Mother’s Little Helper: Part Four by Clare Chase

MD RR Part 4

Clare Chase takes up where AnneMarie Brear left off yesterday for the penultimate part of our Mother’s Day Robin Romance. Let’s see how the ‘little mother’ is getting on- and Rob and Lily of course!

Make sure you read right until the end to see the next question for our competition.

To make sense of the story, make sure you read Part One by Berni Stevens HERE, Part Two by Sarah Waights HERE and Part Three by AnneMarie Brear HERE

Lily was fascinated to see the mother cat cleaning the new black kitten, doing all the things a well-trained midwife might, completely by instinct.

She caught Rob looking up at her, his face lit by a smile.

‘It took my breath away too,’ he said, ‘the first time I saw a cat produce a litter.’

Lily crouched down next to him as the mother prepared to deliver a second. ‘I just never expected it would come so naturally.’

Rob nodded. ‘That’s why I told you not to worry. They seldom have any trouble.’

She glanced at him. ‘I’m sorry I interrupted your evening.’

‘It is my job, after all.’ He turned towards her.  ‘Didn’t happen to be great timing, but I’m glad to see this now I’m here. I shouldn’t get blasé about the chance to watch something so special.’ And then he turned to look back at the scene, and his arm brushed hers.

Their eyes met again. ‘Sorry,’ he said.

But he didn’t look that sorry. She felt herself blushing. Gazing at a gorgeous man was one thing, but the unexpected physical contact sent a shiver down her spine.

At that moment, the second kitten arrived, and she used the distraction to get up and go back to the kitchen. He’d said he wanted plenty of coffee, and now might be the time to get it.

Jo took one look at her expression and rolled her eyes. ‘Blimey. I can see the sight of a cat’s afterbirth hasn’t cooled your ardour. You are so cut out to date a vet.’

Lily huffed as she went to fill the kettle. ‘It’s no use talking like that. He loves animals, so he’s glad he’s here, but he’d rather be back at home with the mystery woman. My call clearly came at an awkward moment. He mustn’t find out what I’m thinking, or he might take fright and leave before it’s all over!’

Back in the living room, the mother cat was at work again, tending to a third kitten that had arrived. Lily watched as its siblings snuggled up to try to suckle, whilst being nudged and bumped, due to the other activity in the box.

She re-filled Rob’s mug with coffee.

‘Thanks.’

In no time, it looked as though the mother was ready to deliver yet another kitten.

‘This might well be the last,’ Rob said.

It was only a minute before Lily sensed there was something wrong.  The mother cat was trying, but the next kitten didn’t appear. She watched as a frown traced its way across Rob’s face. He put his coffee down.

‘Might have to check her over,’ he said, reaching inside the box. ‘Have you got something extra to keep the kittens warm whilst I hold her? Be good if it’s clean. If it smells too much of you it might stop them bonding with mum.’

Lily dashed upstairs and grabbed a soft fleecy throw from a cupboard, ignoring Jo’s look of horror from the kitchen doorway as she wrapped it round the damp looking new-borns.

Rob was manipulating the mother cat’s abdomen.

‘What is it?’

‘There’s just one kitten left, but the position of its head’s wrong. If I was in the surgery I’d have the option of a C-section, but we’re just going to have to hope manipulation works. It often does. Or so I’m told.’ He looked at her. ‘I haven’t actually done this before.’

Lily bit her lip as he worked. Half-watching, she tried to make sure the fleece stayed snuggly round the other kittens.

And then suddenly Rob’s expression cleared. ‘I think we might be in business.’ He put the mother cat back in the box, leaving some space between her and the new-borns, and within a minute, a fourth kitten appeared, tiny, but very much alive.

Lily realised there were tears in her eyes, and when Rob looked up, she could see he was battling emotion too.

He shook his head, and turned to her. ‘Not the kind of thing you ever get used to. Thanks for finding that fleece so quickly.’

And then he put his hand on her arm. Maybe it was the fresh emotion, or the fact that it was deliberate this time, but full-scale rockets went off. Hell. She was sure he’d noticed.

And then his mobile went again.

 Aww, can’t get much better than that – newborn kittens and a spark of romance. But who keeps phoning Rob? We’ll reveal all in the final part of our Round Robin by Kathryn Freeman tomorrow! 

COMPETITION TIME!

If you’d like the chance to win a mystery prize in celebration of Mother’s Day, make sure you come back every day until Sunday so you can answer all five questions. You will need to read right until the end of each part to answer. We will give contact details of where to send your answers to on the final day of the Round Robin. Please wait until the end of the story to send in your answers.

The fourth question is: What does Lily fetch from the cupboard to help keep the newborn kittens warm?

 If you enjoyed Clare’s writing, make sure you check out her NEW ‘Death by Choc Lit’ novel, A Stranger’s House, available as a Kindle eBook HERE

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Mother’s Little Helper: Part Three by Annemarie Brear

MD RR Part 3

Sarah Waights left off with a slightly grumpy (but intriguingly tall and handsome) vet delivering kittens yesterday. What does Annemarie Brear have in store for us today? Make sure you read right until the end to find out and to see the next question for our competition!

To make sense of the story, you will need to read Part One by Berni Stevens HERE and Part Two by Sarah Waights HERE

He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. ‘A coffee, would be great, thanks. White with no sugar.’

‘Right, got it. Won’t be long.’ Lily joined Jo in the kitchen and they both looked at each other with wide disbelieving eyes.

‘How gorgeous is he?’ Jo whispered, a tea towel in her hand but no intention of drying the plates on the draining board as she watched Mr Sexy Vet hunker down beside the cat’s box.

‘I’m assuming that’s a rhetorical question?’ Switching the kettle on, Lily took out cups and then opened the cupboard that housed all the ‘naughty’ food. She scanned the shelf, cursing her decision last week to go on one of those five day wonder diets. The result meant Jo and herself had a junk food binge eating movie night last Friday to get rid of all temptation before she started the detox and new diet. All that was left in the cupboard were half a bag of Haribo Starmix, the remnants of a packet of chocolate digestives and a solitary penguin bar.

‘Mr Sexy Vet doesn’t have a ring on his finger,’ Jo acknowledged with raised eyebrows, her expression like one of those detectives on TV who has just solved a mystery.

‘Aren’t you clever, Inspector Morse? It means nothing. Loads of men don’t wear rings even when they are married.’

‘He’s not married.’ Jo gave her a superior look. ‘I know these things.’ She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. ‘I don’t think he’s gay either.’

‘Jo! Will you shut up?’ Lily laughed.

‘What?’ Jo failed to appear innocent. ‘In the past you’ve done worse than Mr Sexy Vet out there, I can tell you.’ She paused. ‘Is a Mister or a Doctor? I think they are doctors, aren’t they? Dr Sexy Vet.’

‘Be quiet. You’re impossible!’ Placing the digestives, the ones not badly broken, onto a plate and quickly making the coffee, Lily took them back into the living room with a large smile to cover the embarrassment of her simple offerings. ‘How’s she doing?’

A frown creased his handsome features. ‘Actually, she’s struggling at the minute. Her breathing seems a bit laboured.’ He took the coffee from her. ‘Thanks.’

‘Is there anything we can do?’ Lily winced as the cat meowed, inadequately finding a comfortable spot in the box.

Before he could answer, Rob’s phone rang in his pocket. ‘Sorry,’ he said to Lily, and turned away to answer it. ‘Hello? Yes, I’m still here. I’ve only just arrived … I don’t know how long I’ll be … Okay, I’m sorry about that … Right okay, bye.’

Rob replaced his phone back in his pocket and turned back to Lily. ‘It might be safer to take her back to my surgery. I can keep an eye on her there. Is that alright with you?’ Taking another sip of his coffee, Rob gazed at her over the rim of his cup.

‘Right. Yes, of course.’ Lily nodded, unable to take her eyes off him. ‘She doesn’t even belong to me.’

‘I’ll can check to see if she’s been microchipped. If she doesn’t have a home to go to, do you want her?’

‘Oh, um … I don’t know.’ She thought of her limited finances.

Jo came to stand behind her. ‘Lily will take her. She’s kind like that.’

His phone rang again, but this time he ignored it. ‘There’s no pressure if you don’t want her, and her kittens. They are a huge responsibility.’ He gave her his card from the bag he had brought in with him.

Lily slipped his card into her jeans pocket. ‘Shall I come with you now?’

At that moment, the cat meowed loudly and to everyone’s surprise they watched a tiny black kitten emerge.

Rob bent down. ‘We can’t move her now.’ He glanced up at Lily with a cheeky grin. ‘I hope you’ve got plenty of coffee in the house.’

Oh dear, it sounds like the poor little cat might be struggling. But we hope she’s in good hands with Rob. Come back tomorrow to read Part Four by Clare Chase and find out whether the kittens are delivered safely – as well as whether Lily and ‘Mr Sexy Vet’ have a chance ;)  

COMPETITION TIME!

If you’d like the chance to win a mystery prize in celebration of Mother’s Day, make sure you come back every day until Sunday so you can answer all five questions. You will need to read right until the end of each part to answer. We will give contact details of where to send your answers to on the final day of the Round Robin. Please wait until the end of the story to send in your answers. 

The third question is: Why is there so little food in the cupboards in Jo and Lily’s flat?

If you enjoyed Annemarie’s writing, make sure you keep a look out for her debut Choc Lit novel, coming soon!

Mother’s Little Helper: Part Two by Sarah Waights

MD RR Part 2

Yesterday Berni Stevens set the scene with a heavily pregnant cat and a (potentially) handsome vet. Today Sarah Waights picks up the baton for the second part of our Mother’s Day Round Robin!

Make sure you read Berni’s extract first HERE and follow the story right until the end to find out about our competition :)  

They settled the little cat into the box where she industriously kneaded the thick layer of towels until they were to her liking before throwing herself onto her side with another plaintive miaow.  The two girls were watching her anxiously when they jumped in unison at the sound of the doorbell.

‘You go,’ said Jo. ‘He’s going to be cross at being called out and it’s your fault.’

Lily was already on her way. She could see him through the frosted glass panel in the front door.  She had a general impression of dark, wavy hair, a black jacket and jeans.  Goodness he was tall.

‘Thanks so much for coming,’ she said breathlessly, as she opened the door. He ignored her, bending down to pick up his bag. ‘Does anyone ever tell you you’re really, really tall,’ she added, nervously.

‘Yes,’ he said, not bothering to meet her eye. ‘Often. Now, where’s this medical emergency of yours.’ He didn’t wait for a reply, but brushed past her in the narrow hallway, before striding towards the open door of the sitting room.

‘Did I interrupt something when I called?’ she added, trotting after him, keen to find out what she was supposed to be apologising for – it was obviously something quite bad.

‘Yes,’ he said again. ‘She’ll get over it.’

‘I’m Lily, by the way.’

‘Rob,’ he replied. ‘And who’s she?’ He cocked a thumb at Jo, who was skulking in the kitchen area, pretending to wash up.

‘The cat’s mother,’ quipped Lily, rather wittily she thought.

‘So she’s paying my bill then?’

‘Erm, well, no …’ stuttered Lily, glancing at Jo apologetically, ‘that would probably be me.’

Rob raised his eyes to heaven, and shook his head. ‘Right, let’s take a look,’ he said hunkering down to the box on the floor and shrugging off his jacket.

Strong thighs, noted Lily, inconsequentially, and broad-chested too – like a rugby player. She wondered who the woman was who would ‘get over it’. A glamorous girlfriend, no doubt.

Despite his obvious exasperation at the girls he examined the little cat gently and efficiently, running his hands over her ribs and peering into her ears.

‘Well, she’s a stray for sure,’ he said. ‘And you’re right about the kittens. Not long now, by the looks of it. She’s a bit underweight,’ he added, ‘and I doubt she’s even a year old. Too young to be a mother.’

‘A teenage mum,’ observed Lily. ‘Poor little scrap. She’s so tiny.’

‘Not fully grown,’ explained Rob. ‘This’ll stunt her growth, she’ll always be small now.’

‘Aaah,’ said Jo, coming out of the kitchen and looking at the cat more sympathetically before going to give her a stroke.

‘She’s got fleas, by the way,’ added Rob.

‘Urgh!’ Jo recoiled. ‘She’s not staying,’ she told Lily.

‘I’ll add a flea treatment to my bill,’ said Rob.

‘In for a penny, in for a pound,’ agreed Lily, getting a bit worried about the preoccupation with money. She was a bit broke at the moment.

‘Would you like a coffee?’ she asked. He looked like he needed something and perhaps she could soften his heart with a chocolate biscuit or two if they had any left.

Well, Rob certainly sounds gorgeous – but also a bit grumpy! Will those chocolate biscuits work to soften his heart? And who was it on the end of that phone? Find out tomorrow when Annemarie Brear takes over. 

COMPETITION TIME!

If you’d like the chance to win a mystery prize in celebration of Mother’s Day, make sure you come back every day until Sunday so you can answer all five questions. You will need to read right until the end of each part to answer. We will give contact details of where to send your answers to on the final day of the Round Robin. Please wait until the end of the story to send in your answers. 

The second question is: As well as being heavily pregnant, what else is the poor cat suffering from?

If you enjoyed Sarah’s writing, why not check out her debut novel, Never Marry a Politician, which is out in paperback on 7th March. Pre-order HERE

9781781892770

Mother’s Little Helper: Part One by Berni Stevens

MD RR Part 1

It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday here in the UK and to celebrate, we’re running another Round Robin romance featuring five talented Choc Lit authors. And, just like with the last story, make sure you read right until the end so you can take part in our competition

The first author up is Berni Stevens, and she begins with just a little twist ;)  

‘Did you hear that?’ Lily turned her head towards the front door of the small apartment.

Her flat mate, Jo, shook her head. ‘I didn’t hear anything.’

‘It sounded like a cat.’

They both listened again. After a few minutes, a faint miaow sounded.

‘There,’ said Lily.

She went to open the front door, and on the step sat a small black cat. It looked up at her, big green eyes glinting in the light from the hallway.

The cat miaowed again, sounding more plaintive this time. Lily knelt down to get a better look. She held out her hand and the cat nuzzled and butted her.

‘Is it a cat?’ Jo came to the door, and sighed when she saw the animal on their step.

Lily picked the cat up in her arms and stood back up.

‘She’s pregnant,’ she said.

Jo knew the signs, so she went off to find a cardboard box for a bed. ‘Animals in distress always find you Lily,’ she said. ‘And birds.’

Lily had always been the same, ever since junior school. A blonde angel of mercy, forever rescuing birds with broken wings, finding confused hedgehogs, and abandoned cats and dogs. Once she’d even brought an orphaned fox cub into school that she’d found alone and starving under a hedge. The cub’s pungent smell had infiltrated the classroom and most of the corridors by lunchtime, and their teacher had begged Lily to take it home.

When Jo came back with a cardboard box filled with old towels, the little cat was on Lily’s lap, purring happily.

Lily looked up, ‘I think she’s going to have her kittens soon.’

Jo looked worried. ‘Do you know what to do?’

‘I’m hoping she will.’

‘What if something goes wrong?’

Lily stroked the tiny ears gently. ‘Where’s the nearest vet?’ She asked.

Jo pulled her iPhone from her jeans pocket. ‘No idea,’ she said. ‘Let’s have a look.’ She plonked herself in the other armchair and began scrolling through likely surgeries. The nearest veterinary practice was half a mile away.

‘Wychwood Veterinary Practice, Orchard Road. Shall we call them?’

Almost on cue, the cat howled and they both jumped. Lily scooped her up and put her carefully in the box. ‘Call,’ she said. ‘I think we need help.’

Jo held the phone to her ear, listening to a recorded message, and suddenly began opening drawers frantically. ‘Pen!’ She shouted. ‘And paper!’

Lily found an old envelope and a stub of a pencil. ‘Okay.’

Jo read out the number and Lily started to write it down. The pencil broke and the cat screeched at the same time. Muttering the number to herself, she tipped her handbag upside down and shook it frantically. Her phone skidded out amongst the debris, and grabbing it, she jabbed at numbers on the keypad.

A deep voice answered immediately. ‘Wychwood. Rob Daniels speaking.’

‘It’s the cat,’ said Lily.

‘Your cat?’

‘No, she just – sort of – turned up.’

‘What’s the problem?’

‘She’s having kittens.’

‘She’ll be okay. Cats are good like that.’

‘Please come.’

A muffled discussion could be heard between the vet and what sounded like an extremely angry woman. Lily was sure she heard a door slam. Then he came back on the phone. ‘Give me your address.’

Lily sighed with relief. Help was coming.

 We’re already a little intrigued by this vet and very much looking forward to meeting him! Look out for Sarah Waights’s Part Two coming tomorrow. 

COMPETITION TIME!

If you’d like the chance to win a mystery prize in celebration of Mother’s Day, make sure you come back every day until Sunday so you can answer all five questions. You will need to read right until the end of each part to answer. We will give contact details of where to send your answers to on the final day of the Round Robin. Please wait until the end of the story to send in your answers.

The first question is: What is the veterinary practice that Lily rings called? 

If you enjoyed Berni’s writing, you’ll be pleased to know she has a new book (the second in her London Vampire Chronicles series) coming out in April. Until then, why not check out her first novel with Choc Lit – Dance until Dawn. Available HERE

Dance until Dawn

You can now read Part Two by Sarah Waights here.

The Girl in the Painting by Kirsty Ferry: Release

The Girl in the Painting

Kirsty Ferry celebrates the release of her new novel, The Girl in the Painting, and tells us a little bit more about this intriguing and ghostly tale …

Here I am again at the beginning of another exciting journey – the launch of my second Choc Lit novel, The Girl in the Painting. It’s a kind of linked sequel to Some Veil Did Fall in the fact that it takes the characters and picks their story up a couple of years into the future. I shan’t give away any spoilers, but the main characters in The Girl in the Painting are a new couple, Cori and Simon, who are linked with Becky and Jon from Veil through the irrepressible Lissy – Jon’s sister and Simon’s colleague at the Tate Britain.

Well, to be honest, Lissy has taken Simon on as a project after his relationship with a horror called Sylvie broke up, and The Girl in the Painting tells the story of Simon and Cori and a peculiar set of circumstances involving an old diary and a Victorian laudanum addict.

Daisy, the Victorian heroine of The Girl in the Painting, is one of the best, most colourful characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. She leapt off the page and basically directed me in what I had to write and how I had to portray her. I guess it just proves how strong a character she was, as her story is very much unaltered from my initial manuscript, whereas edits have hopefully taken care of the rest of it – picking up on the weak spots, the inaccuracies and the plotholes. I try very hard not to have anything like that lurking within my work, but these things do happen, which is why editing is one of my favourite processes. It’s maybe a little odd to admit but, to my mind, once the story is written, the proper fun begins!

Many of the characters in Daisy’s world, however, are real people – and I loved the research involved to find out about their lives and discover things which I could take away and fictionalise. I now have a mountain of books about the Pre Raphaelite artists and, like Cori, I can easily lose hours skimming through them. In fact, Lizzie Siddal – the model for Millais’ Ophelia, Rossetti’s muse and lover and the person who Daisy wants to emulate at any cost – was so fascinating I’ve gone on to write about her in other pieces of work, for example a three hundred word flash fiction piece which was one of the winners in the London TubeFlash competition, and a two thousand word piece I’m creating for my Masters in Creative Writing, about Victorian Celebrity Culture.

In fact, when I think about it, I’ve grown to love all my characters from Veil and The Girl in the Painting – and I hope you grow to love them as well. It was hard to say goodbye to them when I finished each book and moved on – so maybe, just maybe, I might have to write book three … because I think Lissy deserves a story of her own. And as Rossetti says in his poem, The Portrait:  “It seems a thing to wonder on.”

So I guess I’ll just have to see where my own muse takes me next!

The Girl in the Painting is now available on Kindle. Click on one of the links below to purchase.

Amazon UK    Amazon US    Amazon AU    Amazon CA

For more on Kirsty, follow her on Twitter @Kirsticupcake.