Choc Lit Mother’s Day Round Robin – Part Three by AnneMarie Brear

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When we left off yesterday everything was about to kick off in our Mother’s Day Round Robin with the arrival of Mike at Jenny’s Mother’s Day lunch. Let’s see where AnneMarie Brear leaves our poor characters today ;) Read carefully so you can enter the competition at the end!

To enjoy this story make sure you read the other parts first:

Part One by Margaret James HERE 

Part Two by Jane Lovering HERE

PART THREE BY ANNEMARIE BREAR

I opened the door to Mike who smiled at me. ‘Surviving?’

‘Just!’ I melted a little as he kissed my cheek. ‘I’m glad you have come, but nervous too. My mother is in fine form today. Please don’t be offended by her attitude. I swear she would have an opinion on the Queen herself if she called for lunch.’

‘I’ll be fine.’ He held up a supermarket bag. ‘I’ve brought wine and chocolates.’

‘She’s started on the gin already.’ I led him through to the dining room, my stomach in knots. My mother and Lucy looked expectantly at us as we entered. ‘Mum, Lucy, this is Mike.’ I turned to Mike, hoping my fear didn’t show. ‘Mike, this is my mother, Diana, and you’ve met my daughter, Lucy … briefly.’

In trepidation, I watched the three of them size each other up.

‘Hello Mike. I believe you are a builder or something?’ My mother asked immediately in a cold tone as though Mike was bank robber. Lucy sat next to her as the two of them waited for him to speak, or make a mistake they could pounce on like a school of sharks on Nemo.

‘I am, Diana. I like working with my hands. Construction is a rewarding job.’ Mike smiled. ‘Jenny tells me you have a lovely bungalow in the next village. Apparently, your garden is much admired?’

Diana preened, a self-appreciating expression on her face. ‘I do my best. This summer I plan to enter my garden into the village competition for best garden. I’ve been told I stand a chance of winning, or at least achieving a medal of recommendation. I do believe my garden is my greatest achievement.’

‘Not your only daughter?’ I murmured under my breath. I gave Mike some wine glasses as he opened the bottle of red he’d brought.

‘That’s very impressive. Maintaining a garden is time consuming.’ Mike poured the wine and passed a glass to Lucy, who took it without comment.

‘Yes, well, being on my own is rather difficult when there are big jobs to do, but one must not complain.’ Diana’s look of innocent suffering was lost to everyone but Mike.

I couldn’t believe my mother had not sniffed once yet.

Sipping his wine, Mike sat at the table. ‘My father says hard work always pays off in the end.’

‘Your father?’ Diana tried and failed to hide her interest.

‘John Philips. You might know of his shop, Philips Timber?’

Diana’s eyes widened. ‘Indeed I do. There are two shops now aren’t there? That is your family’s business?’

‘It’s my father’s, yes.’ Mike chuckled. ‘Dad would have three shops if I went into the business, but I enjoying working for myself. The shops keep him busy since my mother died a few years ago.’ His blue-eyed gaze grew tender as he mentioned his mother. ‘You must let me know, Diana, if there is any building work you need doing. I’m happy to pop around and have a look for you.’

My mother glanced at me before giving Mike her full attention. ‘Well, my summer house needs a new roof, and the side fence near the garage is a bit loose …’

‘Mother!’ I quickly stepped in, knowing she would have Mike over every weekend fixing and building things for the next five years.

‘Mike offered, Jenny!’ She sniffed, her disapproval of my interference clear.

Mike took my hand, his gaze loving. ‘I don’t mind, Jen. I’m sure Diana will keep me topped up with tea and cake while I did a few jobs for her.’ He turned back to Diana. ‘I bet you can make grand cakes as well as great gardens?’

Diana relaxed in her chair, a genuine smile on her face. ‘Wait until you try my lemon drizzle cake. You’ll not have tasted better.’ She gave me a glare. ‘Can I make Mike a cake, Jenny, or will you stop me from doing that too?’

I rolled my eyes. ‘I need to check on lunch.’

Lucy’s phone rang and she glanced at the screen before looking up quickly. ‘It’s dad.’

It was all going so well! What could Lucy’s dad possibly want? Find out tomorrow when Kirsty Ferry takes over :)  

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If you enjoyed AnneMarie’s writing, check out her debut Choc Lit novel Where Dragonflies Hover. Also keep a watch out for a new release coming soon ;)  

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What is the name of Mike’s father’s shop?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin AnneMarie Brear comp’ by Monday 27th March. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Tuesday 28th March.

Choc Lit Mother’s Day Round Robin – Part Two by Jane Lovering

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It’s Jane Lovering‘s turn on our Mother’s Day Round Robin today! Will Jenny’s Mother’s Day lunch be a success or a complete disaster? Let’s see ;) Remember to read right until the end for a competition. 

To enjoy this story make sure you read the other parts first:

Part One by Margaret James HERE 

PART TWO BY JANE LOVERING

Sunday dawned, and the heavy skies mirrored the feeling in my stomach. What on earth had I been thinking? Three generations of my family, plus … well, plus Mike, it was almost as though I was willing disaster on myself.  Even the leg of lamb looked vaguely accusing as it lay in its red wine marinade and I found myself patting it reassuringly, as I’d used to pat Lucy’s nappied bottom when she’d cried as a baby. She’d been such a lovely child, all blonde ringlets and a slight look of Felicity Kendall about her, we’d been close through her childhood and even her teenage years had been more spirited attempts to get her up, washed and to school on time than the slammed door slanging matches that my peers all seemed to indulge in.

I gave the lamb another pat and popped it into the oven just as the doorbell rang.  I tidied my hair (in case it was Mike), checked the level on the gin bottle (in case it was my mother) and assumed a suitable air of situational control (in case it was Lucy), then went to answer it.

‘Ah, there you are,’ said my mother, as though she’d been waiting on the step for half an hour. ‘I do hope it’s not going to rain. I left the sheets on the line, you know, they simply don’t smell clean when they’ve been in the tumble drier, do they?’

‘Happy Mothers’ Day, Mum,’ I said, a little weakly.  ’Come on in, Lucy should be here in a minute and … well, there’s someone else coming who I’d like you to meet.’

Somewhere on the horizon thunder rumbled. I crossed my fingers that the weather wasn’t being metaphorical.

My mother sniffed.  She had a whole series of sniffs, eloquent as a curse at one end of the spectrum and resigned admiration at the other.  Suffice it to say that her ‘disapproval’ sniffs got far more of an airing.  ’Yes,’ she said. ‘Lucy mentioned something about you having A Man.’

I poured her a glass of wine in the kitchen and bustled her through to the dining room, where the table was neatly laid for four.  ’I haven’t really got him, mum, he’s …’  How to sum up what Mike was to me?  More of a companion, more affectionate, more concerned for my wellbeing than Lucy’s father ever had been? Also considerably better in bed, but I certainly wasn’t going to mention that to my mother … ‘He’s a very nice man,’ I finished, inadequately.

The sniff this time told me that she was reserving judgement.

‘This wine’s bitter,’ she said.  ’Haven’t you got any gin?’

Just as I reached for the bottle I heard the rattle of hail against the window, mirrored by a rattling sound as Lucy’s car drew into the driveway, it sounded as though something had come loose somewhere underneath.  Probably exactly what she thought about me, I mused, opening the front door so that she could run straight in out of the apocalyptic weather that was breaking above us.  Hailstones clanged and battered off the roofs of the cars, flattened the clumps of daffodils that Mike and I had weeded so assiduously last week and laid a slippery mat on the doorstep.  Lucy hurtled in through the door, like a ghost of who she had been.

‘I hope you’re not taking to gin,’ she said, seeing the bottle in my hand. ‘It’s bad enough with … hello Granny!’

The sniff this time passed judgement on the length of Lucy’s skirt, the shortness of her hair and the redness of her lipstick. ‘That car doesn’t sound right, Lucy,’ she said, despite never having driven in her life and having a knowledge of cars that stopped at ‘four wheels’.  ’Can’t your father have a look at it for you?’ She hugged Lucy quickly, disentangling herself in favour of the gin I held out.

‘Dad’s too busy these days, I think Megan and Luca keep him occupied,’ Lucy said a little too brightly and I wondered if she’d already asked Jack to take a look at the car. ‘But it’s fine, Granny. Happy Mothers’ Day, Mum.’ She held a bowl of blue hyacinths out like a peace offering.  ’These are for you.’

I took them and buried my nose in the shell-like flowers, inhaling their sweet smell and hiding my face at the same time.  Hyacinths had always been my favourites. She’d remembered.

‘Never liked those things. Smell like old ladies,’ said my mother, who only ever smelled of Chanel No 5.

The noise of the hail had drowned out any sounds from outside, so when the doorbell rang again it made us all jump.  Mike had arrived.

Now that Mike’s arrived, the fun can really begin (or possibly not!) Let’s see where AnneMarie Brear takes it tomorrow ;)  

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If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, make sure you keep an eye out for a new release, coming soon! Until then, you can check out her existing novels HERE

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning one of Jane’s novels and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What is Jenny’s mum’s drink of choice?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Jane Lovering comp’ by Monday 27th March. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Tuesday 28th March.

Read Part Three by AnneMarie Brear HERE.

Choc Lit Mother’s Day Round Robin – Part One by Margaret James

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It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday and what better way to celebrate than a Round-Robin romance written by five talented Choc Lit authors? We’ll be sharing a part of the story every day until Mother’s Day and there’ll be a competition a day too! 

Margaret James is starting us off today. Read right until the end to take part in the competition! 

‘Mum, he isn’t right for you. He’s a jobbing builder on zero hours contracts and you’re a grammar school deputy headmistress. I can’t believe my mother’s sleeping with a bricklayer and everybody in the village knows about it. They’ll all be laughing at you behind your back. You really shouldn’t see him any more.’ Lucy dumped her Prada handbag on the kitchen counter and gave me that particular look, the one I guess I must have given her myself when she’d brought unsuitable boyfriends home in the past.

But I’m not a teenager. I’m nearly forty-five, for heaven’s sake, not seventeen. Jack and I split up three years ago. I know Lucy loves her father, idolises him in fact, even though he’s married to someone who is Lucy’s age and now she has a half-brother who’s almost two. So aren’t I entitled to have a life as well? Who kidnapped my rebellious, free-thinking daughter and replaced her with this strict, judgemental snob who tells me how to live my life?

‘I don’t know why you’re so upset,’ I said. ‘Mike’s a perfectly nice man. He’s thoughtful, generous and kind. We get on very well. We have lots of interesting chats about all kinds of things. We both like gardening and we’re both alone, so what’s your problem?’

‘The fact he made a brilliant job of mending your old garden wall didn’t mean you had to go to bed with him. Does he even wash his hands before he touches you?’

‘Lucy, that’s enough.’ Okay, I could accept that Lucy might not want her mother to be sleeping with somebody and that it must have been a shock when she called unexpectedly last Saturday and found Mike in his dressing gown making coffee in the kitchen while I was still in bed.

‘Granny’s coming round on Sunday,’ I reminded Lucy. ‘It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve invited her for lunch. You’re welcome too, of course.’

‘I’ll check my diary,’ she said, clearly having forgotten that I’m a mother too and I might like to see my daughter on my special day.

As Lucy’s Clubman drove away, my mobile rang. It was Mike ‘Hello, beautiful. How are you doing today?’

I’ve just got home from work,’ I told him. ‘Do you fancy coming round for dinner later – half past six to seven?’

‘Sounds great. I’ll bring a bottle, shall I?’

‘Lovely.’

‘But you mustn’t go to any trouble, love. I bet you’ve had a busy day so you’ll be tired. Maybe I could cook?’

‘I was thinking M&S,’ I said, ‘and letting someone else do all the work.’

When Mike arrived he smelled of something citrus-based and altogether gorgeous. He was carrying a bunch of freesias and a bottle of Pinot Grigio. He’s not very tall and he’s not movie-actor handsome. But he’s solid, strong and capable, good to snuggle up against. He makes me feel secure, something Lucy’s father never did.

‘What are you doing on Sunday?’ he enquired as we drank the last of the white wine, lolling comfortably on the sofa. ‘I was thinking we could drive into the countryside, have lunch at some old country pub and then go for a ramble in the woods.’

‘I can’t.’ I twisted round to look at him. ‘It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve invited Mum for lunch. My daughter will be coming too, that’s if she’s free.’

‘Maybe I’ll see you later, then? We could still go out somewhere, have dinner, maybe?’

‘After the kind of Sunday lunch my mother will expect, I’m going to be stuffed. But we could walk into the village, have a drink. Yes, let’s do that. Lucy can drive her granny home. Come and call for me about half seven. Or maybe – ’

‘What?’

‘You could come to lunch. Yes, come and meet three generations of my family. It’s time you got to know them.’

‘But Jenny, didn’t you tell me Lucy isn’t keen on you having relationships? Didn’t you say she’s still upset about you and her dad splitting up? She might not want to see me.’

‘Lucy is twenty-three. She’s not a child, even though she often acts like one. It’s time she started to grow up. My mother’s getting a bit forgetful nowadays, but she’s very sweet and I’m sure she will like you. Mike, will you come?’

Oh dear! Sounds like Jenny’s Mother’s Day Sunday lunch could end up being quite an explosive affair. Come back tomorrow for Part Two by Jane Lovering to see what happens. You don’t want to miss it!

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If you enjoyed Margaret’s writing, make sure you keep an eye out in the coming months for a new release ;) Until then, you can check out her existing novels HERE

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning one of Margaret’s novels and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What does Mike bring for Jenny when he comes round for dinner?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Margaret James comp’ by Monday 27th March. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Tuesday 28th March.

Read Part Two by Jane Lovering HERE.

Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Final Part by Sheryl Browne

Round Robin SB 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.

‘Yes!’

Her sister’s eyes were wide, and frightened, Harriet noted, apprehension tickling its way down her spine.

‘It’s Paul!’

‘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 :)  

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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. 

COMPETITION TIME

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 info@choc-lit.co.uk 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.

 

Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Part Four by Rhoda Baxter

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Yesterday we left poor Harriet alone in her cafe after her friend snagged another potential date for the Valentine’s Ball. Will Rhoda Baxter be kinder to her? Let’s see ;)  

Come back each day until Friday 17th to read part of an amazing Valentine’s-themed story by five authors. Read right until the end so you can enter our daily competitions too!  All the competitions on previous extracts are still open so feel free to go back and read for details on how to enter.

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

Tuesday arrived and Harriet was exhausted by lunchtime. She’d baked and frosted until late the night before to get the display of pink heart-shaped cakes ready. They sat in boxes in the back. She would have to carry them across to the pub later. There were balloons to blow up and a decorations to tack to the walls. She hoped Tammy would be able to get there before the ball started to help her out.

Harriet sighed and raised the slice of chocolate cake to her mouth. She didn’t often eat the stock – she’d be huge if she did, but the ball was going to be a disaster anyway, so she may as well take solace in confectionery. Besides, it was her birthday.

She closed her eyes and savoured the generous chocolate icing melting on her tongue. Sometimes in life, you had to take the good moments where you found them. She let out an appreciative ‘mmmm’.

The shop bell made her jump. She looked up. Tony, in all his loveliness, stood in the doorway, staring.

‘Tony. Hi.’ She jumped to her feet. Had he heard her moaning over chocolate cake?

Tony gave her a smile that made her chest go funny. ‘You…er…’ He indicated vaguely to his chest.

Harriet looked down. The thump on her chest had been a dollop of chocolate icing falling on her. It was slowly sliding down her top. ‘Oh.’ Her face flaming, she tried to wipe it off with her forefinger. This merely flicked the icing so that it slid down further. She caught it, but it had left a long trail of brown on her top. Just as well she wasn’t trying to impress Tony any more. She wiped her chocolatey hand on her napkin and dragged up her most professional smile.

‘What can I do for you, Tony?’

‘I was… um…’ he seemed to be having trouble dragging his eyes away from the brown splodge on her chest. He cleared his throat. ‘I thought I might buy a cake.’

‘Well, you came to the right place.’ She dodged back behind the counter. ‘What would you like?’

‘The lemon drizzle, please. It’s Jamie’s favourite.’

Jamie. That’ll be the blasted girlfriend. She was careful to keep her smile in place while she wrapped up the cake. She handed it over to him. ‘I hope your girlfriend likes it.’

Tony frowned. ‘Girlfriend?’

‘Jamie,’ she said.

He gave a little laugh. ‘Oh no. Jamie’s not my girlfriend—’

The bell rang, interrupting whatever he was going to say. Harriet glared at the newcomer.

Paul stood in the doorway. His gaze flickered from Harriet to Tony and back to Harriet. ‘Hello,’ he said.

Bloody Paul. Brilliant timing. ‘Paul,’ she said, curtly.

‘I’d best get on,’ said Tony. He gave Paul a nod. ‘I’ll see you at the ball later?’

‘Yep. I’ll be there,’ said Paul. ‘Wouldn’t miss it for the world.’ There was a bit of scuffling around as the two broad-shouldered men manoeuvred around each other so that Tony could leave.  They were both around the same size. Odd. She’d always thought of Paul as skinny … when she thought of him at all.

Paul made his way up to the counter. ‘I was wondering if you needed any help with anything. I’ve got an hour off for lunch, so if you need any errands running, I can do them for you.’

She might have been annoyed with him for interrupting her chat with Tony, but she wasn’t about to turn down an offer of help. ‘Oh yes please! That would be lovely. Could you take two boxes of cakes over. That’ll mean less for me to haul across later.’

‘Sure.’

She brought the boxes out from the back and carefully lifted them up to the counter. Paul took them off her, his forearms brushing against hers. He had nice, big hands. Yet another thing she hadn’t noticed before. She hurried round and opened the door for him.

‘I’ll see you later then,’ he said, as he passed her, his arms full of cake boxes.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’ll see you at the ball.’

She shut the door behind him and watched him walk down the street, carrying the boxes with care. Paul was less boring than she’d thought he was … and Tony wasn’t bringing a girlfriend. Perhaps this ball wasn’t going to be a total washout after all.

 Things are looking up for Harriet it seems – but will she find her true valentine at the ball? Find out tomorrow when Sheryl Browne finishes the story. 

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If you enjoyed Rhoda’s writing in today’s extract make sure you check out her recently award-nominated novel, Girl Having a Ball (RoNA Romantic Comedy category). Click the image above for purchasing information. 

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What falls onto Harriet’s top just before Tony walks into the cafe?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Rhoda Baxter comp’ by Friday 17th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

Part Five by Sheryl Browne is now available to read HERE.

Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Part Three by Morton S Gray

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We hope you all enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s Day yesterday – but the romance and fun isn’t over! We still have three days of our Valentine’s Round Robin to go – three more days to spend in the village of Thistlethorpe AND three more competitions too!

Today, it’s Morton S Gray‘s turn – and you might remember yesterday that a certain handsome vicar was introduced. Who will be Harriet’s date to the ball now? 

Come back each day until Friday 17th to read part of an amazing Valentine’s-themed story by five authors. Read right until the end so you can enter our daily competitions too! 

To enjoy this story make sure you read Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE and Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE first. 

Harriet picked out two of her favourite vintage tea cups and placed them on the tray with the tea pot and milk jug. She glanced over at Zack. He had removed his dog collar and undone a couple of buttons on his shirt. As he stretched his shoulders, she glimpsed golden chest hair. Hmm, nice.

Putting the best iced bun, a muffin and a huge slice of chocolate cake on a plate, she carried the tray over to the table and set about making the tea.

‘Milk?’

‘Just a drop please.’

She pushed the sugar bowl over to his side of the table and then sat down carefully, arranging her limbs so as not to brush against Zack’s outstretched jean-clad legs. Did vicars wear jeans? He was sure challenging her stereotypical image of a minister of the church.

For once she found herself tongue-tied, so it was a good job Zack was bursting with questions about the village. He told her he’d already met Vera and been subject to an extensive interrogation about his credentials to take over at the church. Harriet became mesmerised by the flashes in his grey eyes and her tea went cold, as she filled him in about the movers and shakers in Thistlethorpe.

‘You’ve been so helpful, thank you. The problem with moving to a new parish is the immense possibility of putting your foot in things and upsetting parishioners before you’ve even taken a service. Vera terrified me. Shall I see you on Sunday?’

‘Erm …’ Harriett wasn’t a regular churchgoer, more a christening, wedding and funeral type of girl, apart from the annual carol service, although intense staring at the new blond vicar in action might make sitting on the hard, wooden pews more appealing.

She was trying to decide how to reply, whilst simultaneously indulging in a fantasy about joining the flower arranging committee to have Zack admiring her flowers, when the café door bell sounded and her friend, Tammy bounded in accompanied by Paul.

‘Harriet, you’ll never guess … Oh … Ooooh.’

Harriet found herself blushing at her friend’s obvious excitement at finding a new attractive man in the café. She needn’t have worried. Zack was staring at Tammy open-mouthed, desire dripping from every pore. He appeared to be instantly besotted with her friend. Maybe there wasn’t a Mrs Vicar after all.

Harriet sighed. Another man off the list. What with Tony bringing unknown Jamie to the Valentine’s Ball and Zack only having eyes for Tammy, her sister’s promise of a blind date was looking like her only chance of a slow dance on her birthday.

‘What’s this I hear about a Valentine’s Ball?’ She’d forgotten Paul was even there as she’d been too busy watching the interaction between Tammy and Zack. ‘Put me down for a ticket, oh and at least one dance, of course.’ Paul winked. He’d been at school with Tammy and Harriet. It was almost like your brother asking you to dance. Great! Why Paul? Why was it always the ones you didn’t fancy who came on to you?

Paul had recently taken over his father’s business. He was an optician and wore designer specs on his aquiline nose. She realised she’d never seen him without glasses, as he’d worn them even at junior school. In fact, she hadn’t ever studied him at all, he’d just always been around.

Zack stood up and was talking animatedly to Tammy. She introduced the two men as they made their goodbyes and left Harriet sitting alone in the café. Tammy hadn’t even told her why she’d come in and Zack had left his chocolate cake uneaten.

She picked up the plate and tucked into the delicious gooiness, knowing that if she was going to look sylph-like in her dress for the ball, it wasn’t a good idea. In fact, the ball didn’t feel like such a good idea any more. She’d have to watch Tony dancing with Jamie, Tammy with Zack and make do with jiving with Paul or the unknown blind date her sister was supplying, not quite how she imagined the evening going at all.

What could she do to make the Valentine’s Ball her dream event?

Aww, poor Harriet. We really thought Zack might be the one. But anything could happen on the night – and there’s always that blind date! Looking forward to the next instalment by Rhoda Baxetr tomorrow. 

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If you enjoyed Morton’s writing in today’s extract make sure you check out her stunning debut novel, The Girl on the Beach. Click the image above for purchasing information. 

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What slightly ‘unvicarly’ item of clothing is Zack wearing?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Morton Gray comp’ by Friday 17th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

Part Four by Rhoda Baxter is now available to read HERE

Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Part Two by Christina Courtenay

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Happy Valentine’s Day all! We hope you have a lovely day planned with a special person that will involve plenty of chocolates, flowers and pampering. Enjoy! 

Yesterday Kirsty Ferry introduced us to the village of Thistlethorpe and Harriet, who was organising a Valentine’s Ball with a little bit of an ulterior motive in mind! Today Christina Courtenay picks up where Kirsty left off. Will Harriet be successful in her attempts to encourage Tony to the event? Read on to find out …

Come back each day until Friday 17th to read part of an amazing Valentine’s-themed story by five authors. Read right until the end so you can enter our daily competitions too! 

Remember to read Part One by Kirsty Ferry before starting on this extract. 

Talk about bad timing. Of course it had to be the object of their discussion, Tony himself, and Vera turned to wink at Harriet. Not in a subtle way, but a big comical sort of wink, which the policeman couldn’t fail to see. Harriet felt her cheeks burn. Well, if he didn’t know about her crush before, he certainly did now.

But her mortification didn’t end there. Vera took another sip of her tea and called over to Tony, ‘We were just talking about you. Harriet has something to ask you.’

Well, thanks a bundle. Harriet sent Vera a death glare, but the annoying woman just giggled.

‘Oh?’ Tony’s blue eyes twinkled, but he appeared not to have noticed the wink or any undertones. Or if he had, he was gentleman enough not to let on.

Harriet took a deep breath. What was the worst that could happen, after all? He could say no and that would be that. ‘I’m organising a Valentine’s Ball at the pub and I just wondered if you’d like to join us? Everyone else will be there and you are, after all, part of the village now. I … uhm, thought it might be nice for you to get to know us a bit better.’

Ha! How was that for diplomatic? That should show Vera and hopefully Tony wouldn’t read too much into the invitation.

He nodded. ‘Sounds great, thank you. I’ll have to check whether I’m on duty, of course, but I should be able to pop in at least for a while.’ He hesitated. ‘Actually, I have a visitor coming to stay that weekend. Do you mind if I bring someone?’

Harriet’s heart plummeted. Oh God, she was such an idiot. Of course a man like him would already have a girlfriend. He must have had a life before he came to Thistlethorpe. And he certainly didn’t look like he’d been a monk. Six foot two-ish, broad shoulders, muscles, lots of muscles, and those eyes … She cleared her throat. Yeah, goodbye to that dream then. ‘Of course.’ She managed a smile. ‘As I said, everyone is welcome.’

‘Oh, good. I’m sure Jamie will fit right in.’

Jamie. Unusual name for a girl, but still …

Harriet pulled herself together. She had a job to do. She plastered on an even wider smile. ‘So, what can I get you? The iced buns are on special price today.’

‘Then I’ll have half a dozen, thank you.’

When Tony had paid for his buns and left with another bone-melting smile, Harriet glared at Vera. ‘Don’t. Say. A. Word. Okay?’

Vera held up her hands as if surrendering. She actually looked quite sad, as if she cared about Harriet, but the latter didn’t feel up to discussing her love life. Or lack of it.

She’d have to implement Plan B – getting her sister to bring that blind date she’d been threatening. How bad could he be? Actually, knowing Lil, very …

Vera left, with a tiny wave and a grimace of compassion – at least that’s how Harriet interpreted the face the woman made – and Harriet concentrated on unloading another tray of iced buns into the display counter.

When the bell over the door rang again, heralding another customer, she prepared to act professional. She didn’t have time to mope around. And her life was fine as it was – a great job, a lovely little cottage all to herself, a cat and enough money to do most of the things she wanted. Who needed a man? They were nothing but trouble anyway. With a welcoming smile, she looked up and nearly dropped the tray in her hands. In front of her stood yet another gorgeous male – blond this time, and with eyes like a grey, stormy sky, in his early thirties maybe and … a dog collar. She swallowed a gasp.

‘Er, hello, what would you like?’

Instead of just giving his order, the man held out his hand across the counter and gave her a big grin. ‘Hi, I’m Zack, the new vicar. It’s my first day so I thought I’d celebrate with something nice for tea. Any recommendations?’

‘Er, right. I’m Harriet. Buns. Iced buns or … or maybe a piece of the chocolate cake? The frosting is to die for. I mean …’ She stopped. Did one say things like that to a vicar? A vicar named Zack? It didn’t seem a very ‘vicarly’ sort of name, if there was such a word. And having two handsome men move into the village at the same time was unheard of. Still, she wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. No matter how good-looking Zack was – and although he wasn’t quite as big and brawny as Tony, he seemed to be in pretty good shape and those cheekbones of his were quite simply amazing – she wasn’t falling for him. There was probably a Mrs Vicar. Or if not, he was celibate. She bit her lip and tried to collect herself.

‘Do you know, I think I might just have one of each,’ he said. ‘I don’t suppose you’d care to join me? My treat. It would be nice to get to know my parishioners a bit. But only if you have time. If you’re allowed …’ He tailed off and looked behind her as if he was wondering if she had a horrid boss who was going to come out and tell her off for fraternising with the customers.

Harriet relaxed. There was no harm in talking to the man and business was always slow this time of day. ‘Sure, I’d like that, thanks. As long as you’ll excuse me if anyone comes in to buy something.’ She gestured towards one of the tables. ‘Take a seat and I’ll be with you in a minute.’

As she made the tea, she wondered if one could invite a vicar to a ball?

The plot thickens! And now Zack the vicar has been added to the mix, the possibilities are endless. Come back tomorrow to find out what happens next when one of our debut authors Morton S. Gray takes her turn.

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If you enjoyed Christina’s writing in today’s extract make sure you check out her most recent book, The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight, which is set in and around the historic Raglan Castle in Wales and has recently been nominated for a RoNA award in the Paranormal/Speculative Romance category. Click the image above for purchasing information. 

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning one of Christina’s books and some chocolate simply answer this question:

How many iced buns does Tony buy?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Christina Courtenay comp’ by Friday 17th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

Part Three by Morton S Gray is now available to read HERE

Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Part One by Kirsty Ferry

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The day has finally arrived and we can’t wait to share this year’s Valentine’s Round Robin with you. As always, the Choc Lit authors involved have excelled themselves :) Hopefully you’ll be spoilt with wine and chocolate tomorrow, but treat yourself with the first part of our story today!

Come back each day until Friday 17th to read part of an amazing Valentine’s-themed story by five authors. Read right until the end so you can enter our daily competitions too! 

Kirsty Ferry starts us off today … 

The trouble with living in a small village was that everybody knew everybody else’s business. Harriet had discovered this to her cost when she had decided to organise a Valentine’s Ball in the function room of the local pub.

Harriet worked in the local cafe, and as such, everybody knew her prowess with buns, cakes and pots of tea. As she was also quite a chatty person – and her best friend Tammy was a barmaid and was also quite a chatty person – everybody knew that Harriet from the cafe harboured a deep desire for Tony, the new policeman who had just moved into Lilac Cottage. It was generally agreed that Harriet was arranging the Ball in order to entice Tony there. Everybody knew this except, it seemed, Harriet, who stared at Vera, the head of the Women’s Institute as she smiled at her over a sticky bun.

‘Tony is a very nice chap,’ said Vera. ‘I must say, we invited him for an informal meeting with us all two weeks ago. We decided that we needed some advice on staying safe in the village, and he seemed the perfect person to discuss it with us.’ Vera blushed and lowered her eyelids coyly. Harriet felt that in a village such as Thistlethorpe, where the greatest scandal of the twenty-first century had occurred when “someone” stole the star off the village Christmas tree five years ago, advice on personal safety wasn’t exactly a great excuse to get Tony into the Village Hall on a Tuesday evening.

She did wonder, however, whether his lovely blue eyes had crinkled up at the corners when he smiled at the ladies as they went through some basic self-defence moves; and whether his unruly chestnut-coloured hair had been as mussed up as usual—

But her thoughts were interrupted when Vera continued: ‘I do hope you get him to your Ball, Harriet. He’s a lovely boy. Lovely! You could do worse.’

‘My Ball!’ Harriet blushed as scarlet as the glace cherries in her scones. ‘I’m not arranging the Ball to get Tony there!  I mean, if he’d like to come, it would be lovely to see him, but—’ She blushed again. ‘The reason I’m doing this is just so we can all have a bit of fun. I think Christmas seems so far behind us and summer isn’t for months yet, and we need something in between to cheer us all up. Anyway, it’s my birthday as well, so I wanted to do something special for it!’ It was indeed her thirtieth, and it seemed a perfect opportunity to get all her friends together and have champagne and cupcakes and giant heart-shaped balloons. There was nothing nefarious to that at all – nothing.

‘Well, Tammy mentioned your little fancy to Felicity, and Felicity told Moira, and Moira told me and, well, he’s lovely.’ Vera sipped her tea looking smug and Harriet felt sick. It was one thing arranging a party on the pretext of birthdays and champagne and balloons – but in reality, yes; she would have to admit (if push came to shove) that the main reason for the party was, indeed, Tony. But the problem now was clearly going to be issuing him an invitation, without looking completely and utterly desperate. Because he obviously knew how she felt – how cold he not with the Gossip Train in motion – and she had no idea how she could face him without her getting incredibly embarrassed and him, quite possibly, running away screaming in the opposite direction.

‘Vera, I have to say—’ Harriet began; but then she was interrupted by the bell over the door as someone entered the cafe.

A little bit of a cliffhanger there. I wonder who could possibly be coming into the cafe? ;) Find out tomorrow when Christina Courtenay takes up the reins for Part Two!

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If you enjoyed Kirsty’s writing in today’s extract make sure you check out her books, Some Veil Did Fall and The Girl in the Painting. Click the images above for purchasing information. Kirsty’s new book The Girl in the Photograph will also be out in March, and there’ll be a special Valentine’s cover reveal tomorrow – keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook for that!

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Kirsty’s first book Some Veil Did Fall and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What was the ‘great scandal’ of Thistlethorpe?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kirsty Ferry comp’ by Friday 17th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

Part Two by Christina Courtenay is now available to read HERE

A Stranger’s House Blog Tour: A Perfect Day in Cambridge

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Clare Chase’s gripping crime novel A Stranger’s House is out in paperback today and to celebrate Clare is kicking off her blog tour by sharing her ‘perfect day’ in Cambridge – the city where the novel is set. Keep your eye out for a few of these locations when you’re reading the book! 

To celebrate the paperback launch of A Stranger’s House, my first Cambridge-set mystery, Choc Lit invited me to share my idea of a perfect day in the city. This is actually quite a tough call – there’s plenty to fill at least a week! However, here are a few highlights. If you ever head over in my direction, you might like to give them a go!

Breakfast at Clowns

Okay, it hasn’t got quite the same ring to it as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but it’s where I’d start! Everyone refers to Clowns as a Cambridge institution, and as far as I’m concerned it is, so feel free to believe the hype! It’s a quirky, cosy family-run Italian café on King Street. The coffee’s great and there’s a lovely range of things to eat throughout the day and late into the evening, all very reasonably priced.

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The University

It’s everywhere in Cambridge: from the academic departments and colleges, to a range of university-owned museums and galleries. On a sunny day, I’d probably wander round a college or two – but most charge unless you’re a member of the university or a Cambridge resident, so it’s worth picking and choosing. King’s College is hugely impressive of course, but I also love St John’s.

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You can see the Bridge of Sighs by visiting St John’s College, or by punting underneath it!

Further out of town, Churchill College is well worth a visit. The main buildings are modern and brutalist – which may or may not be to your taste! – but the grounds have a variety of sculptures – including by Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth – and the chapel has stained glass windows by John Piper. Confession time – I met my husband at a college bop at Churchill, so I will always have a soft spot for it!

The university’s Botanic Gardens are also lovely on a sunny day, and perfect for anyone with young children who want to tear around. There’s a good café there too, so you can refuel.

In wet weather I’d choose Kettle’s Yard – but be warned, it’s currently closed for building work. When it’s open, it consists of a serene and beautiful house full of lovely furniture and decorations, as well as artworks by the likes of Alfred Wallis, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. It’s far more than a museum though – you’re allowed to go in, sit down and relax with a book! Next to the house is a gallery – very light and bright with high ceilings. Until it reopens, I’d take in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. It’s home to countless curiosities from around the world, including a soaring totem pole. (And a Balinese mask donated by my grandmother!)

Lunch

After all that walking I’d visit The Eagle pub on Bene’t Street for a rest. It’s famous as the hostelry where Watson and Crick celebrated after working out the structure of DNA, but it’s also home to the RAF bar, with its graffiti-covered ceiling. The words were written using wax, lipstick and charcoal by World War Two airmen. The place is full of atmosphere, with good food and beer too.

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Ceiling at The Eagle pub.

 

Punting

After lunch, I’d go punting. When I say, I’d go punting, I actually mean I’d persuade someone else to punt me. The punt is a flat boat, with a pole that you use to push yourself along and then to steer, by angling it like a rudder. I’m damned if I can get it right. If you haven’t got a willing volunteer in your party, you can hire a chauffeur punt, and be regaled with Cambridge history as you relax and let a professional take the strain.

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Countryside

Cambridge is a city, and it’s crammed full of restaurants and all the shops you’d expect. However it’s actually quite a small place, and if you want a county walk, complete with cows, horses and the like, you can head off along the river. One direction will take you towards Ely, the other towards Grantchester. The latter is do-able in a day and you can go and peer at the Old Vicarage, the former home of the poet Rupert Brooke. The village’s Orchard Tea Rooms are also wonderful, with a timeless feel and idyllic gardens.

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You get cows in the centre of town too!

 

Quirky Cambridge

I’d also make time to simply stroll around and soak up the atmosphere. There are plenty of quirky sights around the city. The centre is quite swanky and pricey but if you want a more alternative feel, try Mill Road.

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Evening

I’d round off the day with a meal out, and in town, the options are vast. On this occasion, I’ll plump for La Margarita, a lovely Italian restaurant on Bridge Street (as visited by Ruby and Nate my latest Cambridge mystery, One Dark Lie)! But the Fort St George, by the river on Midsummer Common, is also atmospheric – a grade II listed timber-framed building with a cosy interior. When Ruby takes a break from her work in A Stranger’s House she escapes there for chips!

Fort St George (1024x768)If I had any energy left I’d take in a show. The Footlights would be fun; I’d see if I could spot the comedy stars of the future!

So – that’s my ideal day. If you read A Stranger’s House, I hope you enjoy the descriptions of Cambridge, and if you visit the city, have a wonderful time!

A Stranger’s House by Clare Chase is now out in paperback. For buying options, click HERE

For more on Clare, follow her on Twitter: @ClareChase_

Visit her website: www.clarechase.com

Who is the Girl on the Beach?

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In January we released Morton S. Gray’s fast-paced and suspenseful The Girl on the Beach, which is set in the fictional seaside town of Borteen. Today on the blog, Morton talks about her love for the seaside – and who ‘the girl on the beach’ might be … 

I do like to be beside the seaside … It’s quite apt that my debut novel is called The Girl on the Beach. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved being by the sea. A walk along the sand, especially with incoming waves, is good for the soul like nothing else on earth.

We used to holiday at the beach when I was a child, Tenby, Saundersfoot, Woolacombe, being amongst some of the resorts I remember. I’m the blonde one in the picture with my sister – didn’t I look sweet? I must be about nine here.

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Ironically, I probably live as far from the sea as you can get in England, but then maybe that is why it’s special for me to go to the coast.

There is nothing I love better than beachcombing, trawling the edge of the surf for interesting stones and sea glass. I’m fascinated by those who produce jewellery incorporating things found on the shore and I want to learn to set stones and glass into silver jewellery sometime very soon.

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Llandanawg, near Harlech, North Wales – Morton Gray with little white dog.

My favourite beaches these days are Bamburgh in Northumberland, Llandanawg, near Harlech in North Wales and Barricane Bay Beach at Woolacombe.

My fictional seaside town – Borteen, from The Girl on the Beach is an amalgamation of many seaside places I have visited. When we first meet my hero, Harry, he is disappointed that Borteen doesn’t have a surfing beach like those in Devon and Cornwall he’s used to. Ellie, the heroine, has her gallery in one of the alleyways off the High Street in the town and she loves the beach. A lot of the action in the book takes place on or around the sands and the promenade behind the beach.

I’m busy writing more books centred around this fictional seaside town and its beach, so I do hope my readers like the setting too. The sound of the waves and the wind near the shore, the smell of the sea, the soothing feel of the sea and sand on bare feet – I’m sighing just thinking about it!

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Bamburgh Sands, Northumberland

One of my favourite memories is sitting on the café steps above Barricane Beach in Woolacombe, sipping hot tea and watching the sun go down. That moment when the sun merges with the water is truly magical.

Who is the real girl on the beach? It’s me! In my heart, anyway.

The Girl on the Beach is available as an eBook on all platforms. Click HERE for buying options. 

 For more on Morton visit:

Website: www.mortonsgray.com

Twitter: @MortonSGray