New houses, old bookshelves …

My lovely mum, who turned eighty in May, is moving this week (to be closer to me) after Kathryn Freeman portraitliving the last 45 years in the same house. It’s been a week of hard work, tears and above all memories. It’s the house I grew up in; where I waited for Father Christmas, drank my first glass of wine, left to get married from. I even lived there with my own family for nine months (husband and two young sons aged 5 weeks and 2 years) when we were between houses. Our bedroom was the dining room. Umm, perhaps nostalgia has helped me forget a lot of the angst of that particular scenario, though I can remember battles about the central heating.

It’s been years since I took a proper look around my old bedroom, which still looks uncannily how it used to be when I lived there. I was struck by how many books there were on the shelves.  All books I’d eagerly devoured as a teenager: Mills and Boon, Winston Graham Poldark series, Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins (who provided most of my sex education…), Catherine Cookson (my mum’s favourite). Also some less predictable books – like my Geoff Boycott autobiographies. For those of you who don’t know who he is, I’ll leave you to look him up and perhaps then wonder…why on earth?! He might not have had the good looks of a typical teenage heartthrob, but I admired him because he was such a strong character. I’ve always loved a man who speaks his own mind. A bit of a rebel who’s not ready to conform.

Maybe that’s why the hero of my first paperback (Do Opposites Attract?) has a dour, stubborn streak in him. Mitch McBride hasn’t had an easy life and this makes him wary of people who have (like my heroine, Brianna Worthington). Geoff Boycott was the son of a miner, playing much of his cricket with men who’d been through public school. He must have found that hard, too.

But there the comparisons end. Do Opposites Attract? is set in a refugee camp, not a cricket pitch. Mitch is a doctor, not a sportsman. And while he manages to bowl one maiden over, and she definitely hits him for six, there are no other cricketing analogies. Honest.

Who was your first fictional crush?

Kathryn’s novels include: Too Charming and Do Opposites Attract?

Website:  http://kathrynfreeman.co.uk

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/kathrynfreeman

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/KathrynFreeman1

Follow A Star … and Bill, by Christine Stovell

 

FAS_hires smallThis week’s brought the official publication day for Follow A Star for me and Do Opposites Attract for my fellow Mrs July, Kathryn Freeman (and no, we’re not going to get our buns out in any shape or form!).

Follow A Star is set in Little Spitmarsh, the faded seaside town trying to reinvigorate itself that’s the location for my novel, Turning the Tide.  I missed the place and the people when I left it behind so I had to return to see what some of the familiar characters had got on in my absence.  That said, you don’t have to have read Turning the Tide to read Follow A Star as both May and the book’s hero, Bill, are new characters.

Little Spitmarsh takes elements from many of the seaside harbours Tom and I visited sailing from the east coast of England round to west Wales.  Thinking about those voyages made me dig out my sailing diaries where I relived moments like this…

“Well, I certainly get to see Land’s End.  It’s a brilliant, sparkly blue day with sunshine lighting up the waves … the big wild waves which become bigger and wilder as we turn to the wind.  Even though I trust Veryan [our boat] and Tom, I can see the boat’s getting hard to steer.  Our normally dry cockpit takes a wave that tears a stanchion out the deck and I start to think that this beautiful summer day will be my last.”

After those kinds of experiences, it’s perhaps not surprising that I decided that the best place to begin with May and Bill - neither of whom need any further complications in their life - was the confined space of a little boat. By the time they tie up at the old boatyard in Little Spitmarsh the tension between them has reached boiling point – and that’s when they discover their problems have only just begun.

I, however, had several surprises writing this book, I didn’t realise, for example, that May was hiding a secret until a good third of the way through the first draft. The biggest shock came though when Bill stepped out in front of May for the first time and I saw his red hair – I didn’t think for one moment I’d be writing about a ginger hero, nor that I’d grow so fond of him. After much debate about casting (I wish!) Follow A Star, my editor, Rach and I came up with a couple of suggestions of actors to play Bill. But one woman’s ginger dream is another’s ginger horror so what do you think?   Red-haired heroes hot or not - and if ‘yes’ then who?

You can see some of the images and inspiration behind the book on my Pinterest Board here and if you’re in the mood for some music, there’s a Spotify list of the tracks I played writing the book here.

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Only True In Fairy Tales

OHIF.Kindle_150dpi copySeeing my name on the cover of a book still feels like a dream come true, especially when it’s one as gorgeous as that of my third full-length novel, Follow A Star which is published in paperback on Monday.  However, this week’s been particularly special because it’s brought a first for me; the e-release of my first novella Only True in Fairy Tales. As the cover gradually appeared on my screen, I had a real ‘Oh, WOW!’ moment – and I still have to keep staring at it!

Dreams are often rooted in reality and although both of these stories contain elements of my own life, it was growing up on the edge of Epsom Downs which really inspired Only True in Fairy Tales.  Eloise, the heroine of my novella, lives in a house which is very like the small Victorian cottage we lived in.  From the front bedroom, the one I shared with my sister, I would sit for hours staring out the window, watching the thoroughbred horses in the racing stables opposite being put through their paces.  Eloise is similarly gripped by the shadowy Gothic house opposite her and is rather put out when gritty crime writer Ross Farrell moves in to ‘her’ dream castle.

Ross’s house is based on one I knew from walking our very sweet, but rather naughty miniature dachshund, Zorba (my mum was in her ‘Greek island’ period).  It always felt like a fairy tale castle to me, with its turret suddenly rising from the thickets of what seemed such a wild, remote place.

When I put the images together on a Pinterest board, I had a Victorian cottage, a Gothic folly and a miniature dachshund, but the spark that brought the story to life came in the form of another dog, Gracie, a black rescue greyhound who kept dancing across my mind’s eye.  What if, I wondered, Eloise was a reluctant Sleeping Beauty, someone who has a very good reason to believe love is only true in fairy tales and is determined to concentrate on her rescue greyhound and her tapestry design business?  Add a handsome stranger, one who keeps coming to Eloise’s rescue and then ask a question, ‘is he a prince or a beast in disguise?’  And those are the foundations for my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales!

Literal Freedom: Laura James on Rheumatoid Arthritis

This week, 16th – 22nd June 2014, is Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, often debilitating auto-immune disease, which causes laura handinflammation, stiffness and in most cases, chronic fatigue. I’ve been diagnosed with the condition for near on thirty years. It’s indiscriminate, and not as some may think, restricted to older people. I was eighteen when I first noticed a dirty red hue and swelling to my knuckles. My mother had been diagnosed five years prior, so as soon as I showed her my puffy fingers, we were off to the hospital.

That was a long time ago, and treatment was vastly different then to now. Technology, science and medicine have come on in leaps and bounds, and one of the reasons I am able to type this post is because of the amazing hand surgery I’ve undergone in the last few years. My rheumatology and orthopaedic teams are incredibly skilled, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be under their care.

My debut novel, ‘Truth or Dare?’ started life when my left wrist had been partially fused and plated. I had a minimum of six weeks in a cast, followed by a couple of months in a splint. With a head full of ideas and an unshackled right hand, it was the perfect time to write the novel I’d always said was ‘in me’. I took out my A4 notebook, warmed up my favourite pen and posed the question, ‘Is it ever acceptable for a person to do the wrong thing for the right reason?’ At that moment, Kate Blair and Declan O’Brien entered my world. Declan has the best hands.

Hands 3Technology has also provided me with an alternative way to read. I am not always able to hold a physical book, as much as I love them, so on ‘bad’ days, I switch on my e-reader and lose a few hours living vicariously through the characters. It’s the same when I’m creating and writing books. Distraction is a well-known technique for fighting pain. Lately I’ve been distracted by my new hero in my second Choc Lit book, ‘Follow Me, Follow You’. Gorgeous Chris Frampton bears an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp.

I am often preoccupied with the characters in my head.

I’m often preoccupied with Johnny Depp.

It’s pain management, you understand.

I think it’s fair to say that with or without a condition such as RA, the human body has itsphysical limits, but there’s more to us than skin and bone, or in my case, metalwork and plastic. We have our minds, imaginations and creativity, and when inspired, even if it’s for the shortest time, we are free.

For further information on rheumatoid arthritis, please click on the link for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. https://www.facebook.com/nationalrheumatoidarthritissociety?fref=ts

http://www.nras.org.uk/stories/writing-with-rheumatoid-arthritis

9781781891872

Birthday Celebrations: Part Five by Rhoda Baxter


Choc Lit is 5 today! We’d like to say a HUGE thank you to our wonderful authors who write the best romance out there!  We’d also like to thank our dedicated Tasting Panel, who continue to select the best stories of the bunch. Our 10 awards are in recognition of their excellent taste and the many hours of reading they do for us all. And last, but by no means least, we want to thank our fabulous readers and book bloggers – without your continued cheerleading and love for Choc Lit novels we would not be here. Enjoy the last instalment of the story!

Kate had never seen Meg so hysterical as when she heard the news. It was almost as though something had snapped her inner cool. She collapsed in a tearful heap. Stunned herself, Kate lowered herself onto the arm of Meg’s chair and watched as the news anchor described how the plane was returning to England because almost everyone on board – including the pilot – had succumbed to an infection ‘caused by a contaminated batch of vol au vents.’ The logo of the catering company Kate had used flashed up on screen.

Marcus and Kate looked at each other, both going pale. ‘We had those…’ Marcus said.

And suddenly Kate was furious. Her brother could be seriously ill and she needed someone to blame. Megs gave a wail. ‘Oh Mark! My Mark.’

‘Megs,’ Kate snapped. ‘Pull yourself together. I didn’t know you cared so much about Mark. He’s MY brother, not yours.’

‘But I l…love him!’ Meg wailed. ‘I’ve just never had the chance to tell him and now I never will!’

That pulled Kate up short. What? Meg? In love with her brother? Oh.

Another glance at the screen and the anger was back. She would have to worry about Mark and Meg later. Right now, she had a catering company to shout at.

As soon as she gave her name, the woman on the phone launched into an apology and an explanation about how the diamond story was a ruse. ‘We don’t think that batch is contaminated, but we can’t be sure—’

Kate’s voice sank to a hiss. ‘Not only have you poisoned an entire flight, you’ve poisoned me as well.’

‘It’s only a tummy bug, Miss Walton. Have you…eaten the vol au vents?’

‘Yes. I have. And so has my… er… friend.’

‘Are you experiencing any… amorous feelings?’

She glanced at Marcus. He smiled and her stomach did a little flip. Amorous feelings? ‘Well…’

‘That happens immediately. Then within about 30 minutes, there will be…um… gastrointestinal issues.’

30 minutes. It had been at least an hour. Kate took a deep breath. Apart from a small tug of excitement whenever she looked at Marcus, her stomach seemed to be fine. ‘No, no stomach problems.’

‘Are you sure? They’re usually quite severe…’

‘No, I’m fine.’

The woman let out a sigh of relief. ‘Oh thank goodness for that. Listen, Miss Walton, we would advise that you don’t eat any of the food we supplied, just in case. We will, of course, refund you in full.’

Once she’d hung up, Kate rubbed her eyes. She needed a moment to make sense of all the information.

 ‘Oh my god! Mark!’ Meg’s shriek made Kate rush back to the TV where Mark’s photo, clearly taken from his passport, was on screen. Underneath, the scroll said: ‘Have a go hero’.

As Meg burst into tears again, Marcus passed her the tissues. ‘Your brother’s a hero,’ he said. ‘He and the steward are bringing the plane home.’

Once they knew where the plane was going to land, Marcus drove them to the airport in the cake delivery van. With a bit of pushing and shoving Kate and Meg managed to get to the front of the waiting crowd just as the camera flashes of the waiting journalists went off. There, in the middle of the melee, looking shaken, but otherwise perfectly well, was Mark.

‘Mark!’ Kate ducked under the barrier to get to her brother, but Meg beat her to him. She flung her arms around Mark and buried her face in his shoulder. A rather stunned looking Mark wrapped his arms around her.

‘Mark,’ said Kate.

Mark opened one arm and gathered Kate to him as well. ‘You idiot,’ she muttered into his ear, ‘the lengths you go to to avoid my party.’

But Mark was too busy looking at Meg to answer.

‘It was awful,’ said Mark, as they finally walked back to the van.

‘Must have been terrifying, piloting a plane,’ said Kate.

‘Oh no, that bit was okay. They gave me very clear instructions. No, it was after we landed. When we had to go back into the cabin to let the ambulance crew in. The plane was full and there were only so many loos…’ Mark paled. ‘That’s a sight I’m never going to unsee.’ He shook his head. ‘I may need therapy.’

There wasn’t enough room for everyone in the front of the van, so Meg and Mark bundled into the back.

‘I’ll drive very carefully,’ said Marcus. ‘If we get stopped pretend you’re made of cake.’

They pulled up outside the house. Kate looked at the window, where one banner she’d forgotten to take down still said ‘Happy Birthday’. She suddenly felt weary.

Marcus squeezed her shoulder. ‘You okay?’ When she nodded, he said: ‘Let’s go let those two out the back.’

But when they opened the door, Meg and Mark were wrapped tightly round each other, their faces apparently glued together. Marcus quietly shut the door again. ‘I don’t think they want to be disturbed.’ He grinned. ‘It’s a good job your brother didn’t eat the vol au vents. Mind you, what are the chances of the catering company losing a diamond and getting bacterial contamination in the same set of vol au vents.’

‘Ah, about that. They didn’t really lose the diamond.’ Kate briefly explained.

It took a moment for the implications to settle in. Marcus’s face fell. ‘So I don’t have to stay here overnight then.’

He wanted to stay. Kate felt the heat rising in her cheeks. ‘Well, not unless you want to.’

Marcus took a step closer to her. ‘Oh, I do,’ he said. ‘I really do.’

His lips met hers and forgot all about being tired as she abandoned herself to the delicious warmth of his arms pulling her closer.  When they finally drew apart he said, ‘I must admit, I’m a little sad that I’m not carrying a huge gemstone in my guts any more.’

Kate laughed and laid her head against his chest. ‘Don’t worry. To me you’ll always be a real diamond.’

The End

Rhoda Baxter writes contemporary romantic comedies. Her father’s engineering skills Rhoda Baxter author shotwere in international demand, so her childhood was split between the UK, the Pacific island of Yap, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

Rhoda studied at the University of Oxford and holds a DPhil in microbiology. When chosing a pen name, she got nostalgic about the bacteria she used to study, (Rhodobacter species) and named herself Rhoda Baxter after them. Now her day job involves protecting and commercialising Intellectual Property generated by University research. This allows her to stay in touch with cutting edge scientific research without having to spend long hours in the lab.

Rhoda is married and has 2 children. They live together in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Her novels include Girl on the Run and Doctor January.

Competition – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

Birthday Celebrations: Part Four by Christine Stovell

Christine Stovell’s up next! Today we finally get to meet the elusive Mark.

In a plane somewhere above Bulgaria, Mark lifted his eye mask to a scene of wild, rowdy revelry reminiscent of a Bacchanalian rite.

‘What the—?’

All around him passengers had loosened inhibitions along with their seat belts. Some were embracing, others swayed in their seats and waved their arms above their heads looking blissed-out and a few – who he was sure had been strangers before they’d boarded the plane – were snogging as if they had only minutes to live. His mates, Dan and Robbie, wearing tearful smiles, clapped each other on the back and exchanged manly hugs whilst Tim and Adam, raising little plastic wine glasses, drank toasts to two hot blondes across the aisle whose beaming expressions radiated pure unalloyed joy.

What the heck was going on?  He must have dropped off after all.  He’d pretended to be asleep at first, but only because he didn’t want to field any teasing about Meg.  Especially not on his birthday.  Meg. What a cliché!  What a chimp he was! Of all the women in the world to choose from, why had he fallen for his sister’s best friend, the girl who’d witnessed every mistake he’d ever made and would only ever see him as Katie’s annoying brother?

Suppose he’d gone along with the ‘surprise party’ – what then?  Would Meg have agreed to dance with him or let him hold her?  Nope, more likely she’d have told him he had a stray nostril hair, rocked with laughter and disappeared with another man. She wasn’t even bothered by the mention of Lola-Rose, the stripper.  He didn’t want Lola-Rose though – even if she hadn’t been a made-up ruse to make Meg jealous – he wanted Meg.  And Meg thought he was a complete joke.  If only there was something he could do to impress her.

Suddenly Mark became aware that a frantic air steward was mouthing something at him and realised that not only had he been asleep for far longer than he’d reckoned, but that he was still wearing his headphones. He removed them and was instantly regaled by singing, laughter and new couples billing and cooing like reunited turtledoves.

‘You didn’t have the prawn vol au vent, did you sir? You were sleeping when they came round, weren’t you?’

‘What?’

The steward wrung his hands.  ‘That damned catering company.  First they spin us a line about one of the catering staff losing the five-carat diamond from her ring in the pastry and then we get the truth.  Turns out they used contaminated prawns.  We’ve got a major case of Vibrio lascivibundus on our hands!’

‘Vibrio what?’

The steward broke off for a moment to extricate himself from a middle-aged woman with a coquettish smile who was trying to remove his tie.

‘FPB – otherwise known as Frolicsome Poop Bug.  The symptoms present themselves initially by inducing feelings of intense well-being in the sufferer, an overpowering sense of affection towards others and a tendency to inappropriate flirting.’

As bugs went it didn’t sound too bad to Mark. Some inappropriate flirting would certainly take his mind off Meg.

‘And then comes the stomach pain, cramping, bloating, gas and—’ His words were muffled by a matronly passenger clasping him to her bosom and kissing the top of his head.

‘Let’s hope we get to Dalaman before those later symptoms arrive,’ Mark said, fervently.

‘Ah, I’m afraid there’s a slight problem with that,’ said the steward coming up for breath.   ‘London’s the only airport equipped to deal with an outbreak like this. We’re turning the plane round.’

Bloody great, thought Mark. Not only was he not going to get his week in the sun trying to think about any woman except Meg, but any moment now the cabin air would be filled with something much worse than happiness.

‘You’d better tell the pilot to put his foot down,’ Mark said, trying to smile. ‘This could get messy.’

‘It already has.  The pilot and co-pilot both ate the vol au vent.  I’m afraid it’s all down to you and me now.’

 

Christine Stovell was born in Epsom, Surrey and now lives in Wales. Winning a tin of Current photochocolate in a national essay competition at primary school inspired her to become a writer, an ambition she neglected for far too long thinking she had to have a proper job. After graduating from UEA, she took various jobs in the public sector writing research papers and policy notes by day and filling up her spare drawers with embryonic novels by night. Losing her dad to cancer made her realise that if she was ever going to get a novel published she had to put her writing first.

Setting off, with her husband, from a sleepy seaside resort on the east coast in a vintage wooden boat to sail halfway round Britain provided the inspiration for her novel Turning the Tide. Christine lives on the beautiful west Wales coast where long-distance running helps her plan her plots. Half marathons, like novels, both begin with small steps. Christine’s novels include Turning the Tide, Move Over Darling and Follow a Star.

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

 

Birthday Celebrations: Part Three by Linda Mitchelmore

Today it’s Linda Mitchelmore’s turn. What’s she got in store for Kate and Marcus?

‘Urghh, um, urgghh,’ Kate said, a mouth full of vol au vent. Trust Meg to turn up now just as she was on the cusp of something with Marcus. He’d been dropped into her life, just moments ago, a little gift from the gods, and she was going to make use of the gift.

Kate slid her tongue around a piece of prawn, bit, swallowed.

‘Well, you can text them right back and say these are delicious, and…’

‘I’ll do no such thing!’ Meg yelled at her. ‘And who the hell is he?’

The ‘he’ in question’s eyes widened in surprise and Kate rushed to his defence.

‘Marcus. You did say to find another bloke called Mark and this is as close as I could get in the short time available. Marcus, this is my bestie, Meg.’

‘Pleased to meet you and all, Meg,’ Marcus said. ‘And before you admonish me for drinking alcohol with my delivery van outside, this was my last drop of the day and I can walk home from here, pick up the van on Monday.’

He was making his instant dislike of Meg obvious, wasn’t he?

Marcus took another vol au vent off the plate and popped it, whole, into his mouth. He made exaggerated ‘this is practically orgasmic’ faces as he chewed. And then he began to splutter. Only the splutter was rapidly turning into a choke now.

Kate poured champagne into a tumbler – it must have been at least half a pint – and ordered him to swallow it. He did. But still he spluttered.

‘Pat him on the back for God’s sake!’ Meg yelled.

Marcus’s eyes started to roll in his head.

‘Heimlich,’ Kate said.

‘Oh my God, oh my God,’ Meg said. ‘I’m too late …’

Marcus coughed and then, mercifully, he swallowed.

‘I don’t know what the hell – a ball-bearing or something? – that was …’

‘You found it!’ Meg said, sounding triumphant now, like Marcus had won a prize or something.

‘Found what?’ Kate asked.

‘The diamond.’

‘Diamond?’ Kate and Marcus said as one, instinctively moving closer to one another.

‘Yeah. That was what the text was about. Apparently, the woman who made all the pastry for your party stuff has just rung in to say the diamond from her engagement ring has gone missing. She was pretty sure it was there when she was doing the pastry, but when she washed her hands before going home it, like, wasn’t. It’s a stonker apparently. Zillions of carats and all that. Very valuable. And the catering company isn’t insured for that sort of loss. And …’

‘And now it seems to be in my personal waste disposal system,’ Marcus interrupted.

‘It does,’ Kate said. ‘And you know what that means? Well, apart from the obvious,’ she finished with a giggle.

‘I don’t know. Tell me,’ Marcus said. And then he winked at Kate.

Gosh, but that wink was doing very funny things to Kate’s insides.

‘It means,’ she said somewhat huskily, ‘that you aren’t going anywhere for the time being.’

‘And two’s company, three’s a crowd springs to mind,’ Meg said. ‘I’m out of here. I’ll text the catering company back and tell them the lady will have her diamond back in, um, due course.’

And then Meg fled.

‘So …?’ Marcus said.

Kate filled his glass up again.

There were mini pizzas, devils on horseback, chicken wings, and profiteroles for dessert to get through. They wouldn’t starve, would they?

‘So, we’ll have to find something to do while we wait for the diamond to, er um, see the light of day again, won’t we?’ Kate giggled. It was obvious from the way Marcus was looking at her now, that food was the last thing on his mind …

‘I couldn’t switch that thing on for a few moments, could I?’ Marcus asked, pointing at Kate’s state-of-the-art flat-screen TV. Only it’s the World Cup and England’s playing at the moment.’

‘Five minutes,’ Kate said.

She could wait five minutes.

But when the screen popped into life it was to see a news flash.

‘Reports are coming in that a British Airways flight to Turkey has been

 

Linda Mitchelmore has had over 200 short stories published worldwide. She has also won,

Linda Mitchelmore_landscapeor been short-listed for, many short story writing competitions – Woman’s Own, Woman & Home and Writespace to name but three. In 2004, Linda was awarded The Katie Fforde Bursary by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and has a story in their 50th Anniversary Anthology, ‘Loves Me, Loves Me Not’.

Linda also won the Short Story Radio Romance Prize 2010.

Linda’s books include To Turn Full Circle, Emma: There’s no Turning Back, Hope for Hannah, Grand Designs and Red is for Rubies.

“Linda Mitchelmore has a gift for making you feel right there, in the story, with her lovely warm characters.”  Bestselling author Sophie King.

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

Birthday Celebrations: Part Two by Angela Britnell

What’s a girl to do with over 400 prawn vol au vents? Sugar and Spice author Angela Britnell picks up the story today and introduces an interesting twist …

Armed police? As if her day wasn’t bad enough already. This had to be a joke. Kate approached the door and cautiously opened it, half expecting it to be kicked from her hands.

‘Gotcha!’

Her gaze travelled upwards and met a pair of bright blue eyes. The first thing she registered was that the exceptionally tall young man grinning at her had a. the reddest hair she’d ever seen, b. no police uniform or gun, and c. was holding out a massive white box.

‘Cakes Galore at your service.’ He thrust the box towards her with a wide grin.

‘Are you a bloody nutcase?’ Kate glared. ‘Were you trying to give me a heart attack?’

‘Hey, why don’t you try approaching a house that sounds like World War III is in progress, armed with only a cake box. Seemed a good idea at the time.’ He shrugged. ‘The name’s Marcus.’

…find some other bloke called Mark…

This must be an omen. ‘Do you like prawns?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘It’s a simple question,’ she said, exasperated.

‘So it may be, but not one I regularly get asked when delivering cakes,’ he teased. ‘Dare I birthday cakeask if you want to explain all this?’ He gestured around the room and Kate realised the full extent of her meltdown. ‘Most people hang the balloons up instead of massacring them.’

Before she could stop herself the whole sorry story poured out. All the plans she’d made. Her errant brother’s disappearance. Finally she ended with her irrational reaction.

‘Heck. So I’m guessing you won’t want this?’ Marcus pointed at the huge chocolate cake. Kate peered in through the plastic cover of the box and blinked back tears. She’d found an old photo of her brother as a baby and Mark’s toothy grin smiled up at her amid decorations all in his favourite red and white Arsenal colours. Was she such a bad sister that he had to flee to Turkey to escape her well-meant plans?

‘What will you do with it?’ she asked.

‘We’ll take it to one of the old people’s homes nearby. They do pretty well out of our rejects,’ he said with an easy smile and Kate found she couldn’t stay mad at him. ‘Back to the prawn thing. The answer’s yes and I haven’t had lunch so bring them on.’

Being pathetically grateful to anyone wasn’t in Kate’s DNA but she almost flung her arms around Marcus’s neck. ‘I’ll get us some.’ She ran into the kitchen and loaded a big plate with vol au vents before grabbing a bottle of champagne and two glasses. ‘There we go. Eat up. Only three hundred and fifty left to go.’

His eyes widened. ‘Were you expecting a hoard of marauding Vikings?’

Kate bristled. ‘The etiquette books all say to allow ten per person per hour if it’s replacing dinner, which this is – or rather was. Plus my brother’s friends don’t go in for RSVP’s much so I wasn’t sure how many were coming.’

‘Sorry. All the more for us.’ He picked up one and bit into it with obvious pleasure. ‘These are good.’

She opened the champagne and poured them both a glass. ‘How about a toast to my absent brother? To Mark!’ Kate relaxed back in the chair and thought how much nicer this was than dealing with a house full of people.

‘Kate! I just got a text from the caterer…’ Meg burst in through the door and stopped, staring at them both in horror. ‘Stop eating those things right now!’

Angela Britnell was born in St. Stephen, Cornwall, England. After completing her A-Levels Angela_author pictureshe worked as a Naval Secretary. She met her husband, a US Naval Flight Officer while being based at a small NATO Headquarters on the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. They lived together in Denmark, Sicily, California, southern Maryland and London before settling in Franklin, Tennessee.

Angela won Choc Lit’s Search for an American Star competition. Her novels include Sugar and Spice and What Happens in Nahsville.

Follow Angela on Twitter: @AngelaBritnell

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:

In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.

Birthday Celebrations: Part One by Jane Lovering

To kick start our birthday celebrations, 5 brave Choc Lit authors have been working on a birthday-themed round-robin. Stop by the Choc Lit blog each day to see where a different author will continue the story, with the conclusion on Sunday 15th. We’ve no idea where the story will take you! Great fun and not to be missed. 

Part One by Jane Lovering

‘He’s not coming.’shutterstock_137923343

Kate stopped, napkin half folded into what she was devoutly hoping was going to be a swan shape, even though it currently resembled an illustration from The Joy of Sex. ‘What do you mean, he’s not coming?  Meggie? Where is he?’

Her friend Meg gave a deep sigh and turned her wrist to look at her watch in a theatrical fashion.  ‘Right now, he’s probably somewhere over Bulgaria.’  Then, with a grin, ‘Well, you did say you wanted to give your brother a surprise party – maybe you should have just given him a little hint and then he wouldn’t have flown off to Turkey with four of his best mates and a stripper called Lola-Rose.’

Kate looked at Meg, then at the fifty-seven balloons, all bearing the slogan ‘Happy Thirtieth, Mark!’ which bobbed around near the ceiling of her front room.  ‘I thought someone would tell him,’ she wailed.  ‘I mean, that’s what happens, isn’t it, with surprise parties?  They’re never real surprises!’

Meg gave her a look.  It was a look that Kate wasn’t sure she liked.  ‘Have you considered that maybe someone did tell him?  And that he didn’t want a party?’

‘But… everyone likes parties.’

The look intensified.  ‘It’s just… sometimes, Katie, you can be a bit…bossy, you know?  And all this’—a waved hand took in the decorations, the balloons, the sexually ambiguous table linen—‘it might be a bit much, don’t you think? You could have just put a hundred quid behind the bar at his local.’

Kate slumped onto the sofa arm. ‘What do I do now, Meg?’

‘Try to find some other bloke called Mark who’s got thirty of something to celebrate?’  Meg picked up her bag.  ‘And possibly spend all afternoon on the phone cancelling everyone?’  She gave Kate a quick wink and headed for the front door.  ‘Right.  Now I’ve delivered the bad news I’m popping down to my spiritual home of the off-licence and telling them that the Sale or Return booze is no longer required, okay?’

Kate nodded sadly.  I just wanted something fun.  Everything is so boring these days.  She swept the half-folded napkins into a black rubbish sack.  Birthdays are supposed to be parties and balloons and cake… A sudden thought made her jump to her feet.  ‘Cake!  Oh God, Meggie, I’ll have to cancel the cake!’

The only reply was the slamming sound of the front door. Meg had already gone.

There’s four hundred prawn vol au vents in the fridge.  What can I do with four hundred rapidly ageing prawn vol au vents? Take them to the cats’ home?  Knock yourself out, guys… And what did Meggie mean, ‘bossy?’  Kate formulated a ‘The Party’s Off’ text and started sending it to everyone in her address book.  I’m not bossy, I’m just organised.  Someone has to be, after all…

A balloon, adrift from its moorings, bounced gently off the top of her head, its trailing party ribbon and destined-never-to-be-seen cheery message brought a brief flood of tears to Kate’s eyes.  I wanted to put on a nice frock and dance to 80’s pop music, that was all.  A party, just a little thing… something to keep my mind off the fact that I’ve been dumped yet again by another waste of space…

Filled with a sudden fury, and fuelled by the knowledge that those vol au vents hadn’t come cheap, Kate seized the balloon by its string and stabbed it savagely with a cake knife.  The resulting ‘Bang!’ was surprisingly therapeutic, and she found herself jumping around the room, catching at ribbons and dragging the balloons down to the floor to meet a very motivated and curiously healing, if somewhat stabby, end.

‘There!’  She flopped back onto the sofa, now decorated with shiny slivers of plastic.  Shreds of the ex balloons hung around the room and made her erstwhile tidy front room resemble an extra-terrestrial ground zero.  Her vision was still smudged by tears but she felt better.  Sufficiently recovered, anyway, to answer some of the return text messages that had been pinging onto her phone while she danced the helium-tango.

She’d just pressed ‘Send’ on a message to the only one of Mark’s friends who’d bothered to get back to her expressing any sympathy, when a sudden, loud crack at the front door made her jump.

‘Open up, armed police!’

 

Jane Lovering was born in Devon and now lives in Yorkshire.  She has five children, four Jane with award copycats and two dogs. She works in a local school and also teaches creative writing. Jane is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and has a first class honours degree in creative writing.

Jane writes award-winning romantic comedies and articles for newspapers and magazines.  Please Don’t Stop The Music was her first novel to be published in the UK and it won the 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year Award as well as the Best Romantic Comedy Novel. Her other novels include Star Struck, Vampire State of Mind (Otherworlders: Book 1), Hubble Bubble and Falling Apart (Otherworlders: Book 2).

For more information on Jane visit www.janelovering.co.uk and follow her on Twitter: @janelovering

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

To be in with a chance of winning any five Choc Lit novels – including advance 2014 titles – simply answer the following question:

How many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to info@choc-lit.com to be entered into a prize draw.

 

Ladies of the Road by Henriette Gyland

Recently I wrote a guest post on Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell about highwaymen in general and why they make excellent heroes in a work of fiction. In my latest novel The Highwayman’s Daughter the heroine, Cora, holds up a carriage belonging to the hero and gets more than she bargained for.

I chose to make her a highway robber because I wanted to create a heroine who was both gutsy and bold and wouldn’t shy away from what was generally perceived as a male domain. However, while I was doing my research for the book, I discovered that it wasn’t actually that unusual for women to turn to the road and a life of crime in this way. Throughout history, a number of notorious female highway robbers have made their mark, and here are a few of them.

Moll Cutpurse, whose real name was Mary Frith, was born in 1584. After driving her

Moll Cutpurse

Moll Cutpurse

parents to distraction for being a “rumpscuttle”, an old word for “tomboy”, they decided to put her on a ship to America, but she absconded as it was setting sail and ran away to the infamous rookeries in St Giles in London where she set herself up as a fence.

An astute businesswoman with a reputation for integrity in the wicked world, she became an institution, not least because she wore men’s clothes and smoked a briar pipe. She was caught after holding up General Fairfax but managed to buy her freedom for £2000, and died of natural causes in 1659 – a relatively long life for that period and despite her exploits.

Ann Meders born 1643 was another female highway robber, and she added fraud and bigamy to her portfolio. Obsessed with the idea of achieving high social and financial status, she regarded marriage to a wealthy man as one way and married three times in rapid succession without dissolving her previous marriages. She worked her way through a number of wealthy lovers but no matter how much money she received, she was always broke. She turned to the road and carried out many robberies, but was eventually arrested for stealing a silver plate.

At the Old Bailey she caused a stir by wearing a low-cut dress, however, when that didn’t provide her with the sympathy she needed from the jury, she claimed to be pregnant. A new jury, consisting of women only, was sworn in, but they found her claim to be false, and she was hanged at Tyburn in 1673, aged 30.

456px-Katherine_Ferrers

Lady Katherine Ferrers

Perhaps the most famous female highway robber was Lady Katherine Ferrers, born in 1662. Her marriage at 16 to a much older man proved to be a bit of a disappointment to her as her husband seemed far more interested in the running of his estate than in his bored, young wife. To add some spice to her life she turned to highway robbery where she enjoyed the sense of power from seeing men lose their bluster with a pistol pointed at them.

Her career on the road could have come to an abrupt end when she held up a celebrated highwayman named Jerry Jackson, but he saw the funny side, and they became lovers. Catherine Ferrers ended up adding murder to her list of crimes, and her partner was later hanged at Tyburn. What happened to end her career is less certain, but she may have sustained a wound during a robbery and died from that.

Her adventures were the inspiration for two films both entitled The Wicked Lady.

Is it a crime to steal a heart? 
Hounslow, 1768. Jack Blythe, heir to the Earl of Lampton, is a man with great expectations. So when his carriage is held up by a masked woman, brandishing a pistol and dressed as a gentleman of the road, he wholly expects to have his purse stolen. And when he senses something strangely familiar about the lovely little bandit, Jack also expects to win his cousin’s wager by tracking her down first. 
But as Jack and the highwaywoman enter into a swashbuckling game of cat and mouse, uncovering an intricate web of fiercely guarded family secrets, the last thing Jack expects to have stolen is his heart.

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