Choc Lit 2017 Halloween Round Robin: The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall, Part Two by Christina Courtenay

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Readers beware! It’s time for another Halloween Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a wonderfully spooky short story – The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Halloween (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

The second author to contribute is Christina Courtenay! Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition. 

A Round Robin is best enjoyed if you read each part in order. If you missed yesterday’s beginning by Jane Lovering, read it HERE

THE GHOSTS OF MAPLEWOOD HALL – PART TWO BY CHRISTINA COURTENAY

‘Need a hand?’

A wicked chuckle sounded right next to Martine’s ear and a white hand appeared beside her own. Sure, a bit of help would have been welcome, but not when the hand offered seemed to be floating on its own without the rest of the body it should have been attached to.

She tried to echo the kitchen scream, which had just sounded again, high-pitched and feminine, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was a small, strangled squeak. She knew she ought to make a run for it – if nothing else, to check what was the matter with Kate – but her legs were frozen to the spot and she simply couldn’t make them work.

‘Here, let me hold one end of the that and you take the other.’

The cheerful voice didn’t have the effect it obviously expected on Martine. This time she managed a proper scream to rival Kate’s, but it was cut off abruptly by the hand. Its touch on her mouth was light, but firm, and cold. So very cold.

‘Shhh, please, there’s no need for hysterics. I’ll protect you, I promise.’

As soon as the hand was removed, she swivelled her head around, glancing wildly into the more or less complete darkness that surrounded her. ‘P-protect me? Wh-what … who?’ she managed to stammer, although her voice was vibrating with fear.

‘Oh, I do beg your pardon. Did I forget to introduce myself? Lord Maplewood, at your service. Or Sebastian to my friends.’ The hand did a sort of swirl in front of her, as if it was accompanying an old-fashioned bow. ‘As I seldom have such delightful company here, I think we can safely count you as one of those.’

‘One of those what?’ Martine whispered.

‘Friends. You may call me Sebastian.’

Was she supposed to be grateful? A disembodied hand had just given her permission to call him by his – its? – Christian name. She swallowed hard. This was insane.

‘No, this isn’t happening,’ she muttered. Kate’s scream had just spooked her and now she was having hallucinations. She should never have come, no matter how much her best friend fancied James. There had to be a better way of impressing the guy.

‘I say, you weren’t expecting to walk into a haunted mansion and not encounter any of the residents, were you?’ That chuckle again, even closer now. And was that a cold breath she felt near her left ear? Martine shuddered and finally managed to take a step to one side.

‘Go away. You’re not real. You can’t be.’

‘Why not?’ He – Sebastian – sounded mildly interested.

‘There’s no such thing as gh-ghosts. I can’t even see you. All of you, I mean.’

‘Ah, apologies. There, is that better?’

Martine almost choked on her hasty intake of breath. In front of her, still holding one end of the tape, stood a man. A very good-looking man, it had to be said, but it was hard to notice that when he was mostly see-through and there was a kind of lit-up aura surrounding him. ‘I … I … Jesus!’

‘No, no, I’m not even a saint.’ Sebastian laughed and winked. ‘Not even close. Might I suggest you concentrate on my face, then the rest of me won’t be quite as disconcerting.’

She did and he was right. Sort of. It was still hard not to notice that he was transparent, but looking at his handsome features definitely had a calming effect. His smile was infectious and if he hadn’t been so see-through – or so dead – she could have fancied him, for sure.

‘So what brings you here?’ he asked, conversationally. ‘Do carry on with this taping business, by the way. It is obviously important.’

Martine wasn’t so sure, but she realised she wasn’t as scared any longer. Perhaps it was the fact that her brain told her this couldn’t be real, and if it was just a dream or hallucination she had nothing to fear. Or maybe that Sebastian wasn’t threatening in the slightest. If she’d ever imagined ghosts, they had been of the vengeful, moaning, chain-clanking type, not one whose laughing eyes she couldn’t seem to stop looking at. And look on the bright side – at least he’s not a carp! On automatic, she picked up the tape and carried on putting it on the door frame. It was actually easier now because Sebastian’s aura threw some light and she could see better.

‘Uhm, thank you.’ Martine closed her eyes for a moment, wondering if she would wake up and find she’d dozed off, or if the vision next to her would just disappear, but he was still there when she opened them again. Disturbingly close, smiling, and with his head slightly to one side.

‘I’m glad I found you first. I’m honour bound to tell you that there will be some competition for your favour tonight, but hopefully you will give me a chance to prove that I’m more worthy of your attention than any of the others.’

‘Others?’ Martine didn’t like the sound of that. ‘What do you mean, my favour?’

‘Well, tonight is Samhain, is it not? All Hallow’s Eve?’

‘Yes, and?’

‘It is the one night of the year when the spirits of the departed may return and mingle with those of you who are still alive. And for one lucky soul it means a chance to regain that which was lost. All it takes is … well, actually, I’m not allowed to tell you because it has to happen spontaneously, without prompting.’

Martine was starting feel like she’d stumbled into a movie set or something. The whole thing was definitely surreal. She snorted. ‘What is this, a fairy tale? I can give you back life with a kiss of pure love? Yeah, right.’

Sebastian raised his eyebrows and put a hand on his heart, pretending to look wounded. ‘Are you implying you could never love me? I’ll have you know, all the ladies fell over themselves vying for my attention back in my day.’

‘I bet.’ His expression brightened at her words, so she hastened to add. ‘But you probably had a real body then.’ A hot one, if the outline of his ghostly clothes was anything to go by, but she buried that thought. Not helping. ‘But how am I supposed to fall in love with someone I could probably stick my fingers right through? Let alone kiss you?’

‘Oh, ye of little faith.’ Sebastian grinned. ‘There is a little more to it than that.’

‘But―’

Martine’s words were cut off by the beam from a torch. ‘Are you okay? What happened?’ Patrick was coming down the stairs and she could just about make out his worried frown.

‘Well …’ She waved a hand towards Sebastian, but when she looked in his direction, the only thing she could see was the falling end of a piece of tape.

Well, if we have to meet a ghost, we wouldn’t mind meeting one like Sebastian ;) But is he as charming as he seems? We might just find out tomorrow when Victoria Cornwall adds to the story!

If you enjoyed Christina’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers. Click on the image below for purchasing options. 

JL

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Christina Courtenay paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Who disturbs Sebastian and Martine by coming down the stairs?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 2’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.

Choc Lit on holiday!

Choc Lit on Holiday

TAKE YOUR CHOC LIT ON HOLIDAY COMPETITION IS BACK!
Are you a Choc Lit reader and lucky enough to be going on holiday this year? 

Why not enter our summery competition? Here’s how:

1. Pack your Choc Lit paperback or load up that eReader.

2. Take a photo of your Choc Lit paperback or the front cover of your eReader (as shown above) by the pool, on the beach, in a French cafe, or up a mountain if that’s more your style!

3.  Send the photo to us at info@choc-lit.com with the subject heading ‘Choc Lit on Holiday’. Make sure you tell us where you are.

The best photo will win 12 Choc Lit paperbacks of their choice plus chocolate!. The closing date is September 30th 2017 so get snapping! We’re looking forward to seeing your entries :)

Full terms and conditions available from info@choc-lit.com

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Three by Lisa Hill

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It’s our eighth birthday today and we’re celebrating with a birthday story written collaboratively by our authors, competitions, prizes and a hefty slice of virtual chocolate cake! We invite you to join us :)  

Lynda Stacey and Kathryn Freeman have set the bar high and now it’s up to our new author Lisa Hill to continue the story. Let’s see what happens next! Remember to make sense of the story, you will need to read the parts in order:

Lynda Stacey’s Part One is HERE

Kathryn Freeman’s Part Two is HERE

If you read right until the end you might just find a competition to enter too! ;)  

The Birthday Surprise – Part Three by Lisa Hill

Anna folded up the crumpled, old letter and returned it to her clutch bag as Helen’s clapped out old Mini Cooper rattled through the front gates to the house.

Helen let out a low whistle. ‘The Dohertys have certainly done well for themselves.’

Anna followed Helen’s gaze as she looked up at the old, Georgian limestone house, covered in wisteria, shining like a beacon with all its windows lit up.

She frowned. ‘How did you know Declan’s got a brother?’

‘Oh, I just meant the family in general,’ Helen said, breezily as the Mini’s tyres crunched up the gravel driveway.

‘Thanks for giving me a lift,’ Anna said, absently, looking up at the house, in its own grounds with a lake, well more of a large pond, nestled at the foot of the front garden. As Helen steered the car up the inclining driveway, Anna’s mind returned to the letter and the night of the prom. Would he still look the same? She had never forgotten his face. Those deep, intense, blue eyes, that sparkly white smile, the smell of his sandalwood cologne. They had both been sixteen but had felt much older. He’d walked her home and they’d shared a lingering kiss on her doorstep before finally parting at one in the morning with promises of meeting up the next day. Only, life changed the moment she walked through the front door. The lights had all been on and mum wasn’t there. Neither was Dad. Or her sister. Nan was sitting on the stairs, waiting for her to come home, her eyes awash with tears, telling her how beautiful she looked instead of focusing on the fact mum had been taken to hospital.

‘Here we are!’ Helen said, yanking on the handbrake, having reverse parked under a horse chestnut tree.

Anna’s stomach clenched. She’d gone with the black off the shoulder in the end, not wanting all eyes on her if she walked in wearing red. She could be a wallflower in black, appraise Declan from afar and try and work out his motivation for inviting her before she introduced herself.

‘Thanks,’ Anna said, finally taking in Helen’s attire for the first time this evening. She frowned. ‘You’ve got your face on; off anywhere nice?’

‘Oh, just into town. Want me to give you a lift back later?’

‘No, don’t worry, I can get a taxi,’ she said, silently adding that if she got cold feet the moment she stepped over the threshold she could at least call a taxi and go home and save herself the embarrassment of Helen finding out.

‘Okay, have a good night and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!’ Helen waved as Anna got out of the car.

Anna rolled her eyes as she tottered in her black Jimmy Choos over the gravelled drive. She looked at the house and had to concede Helen was right; wherever life had taken Declan, he’d done well for himself.

She made her way down some uneven York flagstone steps and along the path that led around to the front of the house. She stopped in the light coming from a sash window to take her compact out of her clutch and quickly check her make-up. She glanced at the letter again. She didn’t know what had made her bring it. She wasn’t sure why she’d kept it all these years; to remember that night perhaps? Mum never came back from hospital. It was decided that Anna and Helen should temporarily live with Nan but as Mum’s health deteriorated, Anna had to start Sixth Form at a school nearer to Nan’s. Dad had passed on the letter to her. It was short, sweet and to the point but it meant Declan was still thinking about her. She’d replied straight away, writing to the address on the letter, giving her Nan’s address but no reply ever came back. She’d never seen him again.

Until now.

She must have walked in a daydream around to the front of the house. Perhaps she was just eagerly awaiting their reunion. After all, he’d tracked her down, sent her the invite, he must want to see her. Of course he wasn’t gay! He was only thirty; perhaps like her he’d just not been very lucky in love? Perhaps he’d held a torch for her all these years like she had for him? After all, Facebook said he was single. Perhaps she should stop standing like a divvy at the front door with other guests brushing past her and actually get on with reintroducing herself to Declan Doherty.

She tentatively took the steps up the double fronted house and through the open front doors. The house was lively and chatty with classical music playing in the background. Glasses of champagne clinked, the chandelier overhanging the polished oak floor hallway glistened and there, engrossed in conversation with a taller, younger looking version of himself, stood Declan Doherty. He was slightly taller than Anna recalled but he was instantly recognisable with that slicked back dark hair and wide smile. She could see the boy she once knew standing before her but he was broader, taller and with the addition of stubbly jawline.

Anna swallowed hard.

‘Champagne Madame?’ A waiter asked.

‘I, er, um.’ She could feel her face flushing.

‘Anna?’ Declan’s distinctive voice called out sounding surprised. She plucked up the courage to look at him only to find he was striding towards her, encouragingly with a smile revealing those perfect, straight teeth.

‘Hi,’ she managed to squeak at Declan, suddenly feeling rather shy.

‘Ah, you found us then!’ The taller and equally handsome version of Declan marched up behind him extending his hand. ‘I’m Ralph.’

‘Ralph?’

‘Tah-dah!’ Helen suddenly appeared from a side room looking mightily smug with herself.

‘Helen?’

‘Surprise!’

‘Surprise what?’ Declan asked, looking as confused as Anna.

‘I’m Helen’s boss.’ Ralph put his arm around Helen.

Anna’s smile fell. She looked at Declan. ‘So, you didn’t invite me to your party?’

‘I, um …’ Declan faltered.

‘Never mind then,’ said Anna, turning on her heel. She pushed past an arriving couple and ran back down the steps.

‘Anna!’ Helen called.

‘Arrghh!’ Sobbed Anna, breathing in the cool night air. Flipping Helen; she’d even got changed into her red dress!

Love this addition from our wonderful new author Lisa Hill! Lisa doesn’t have a book out with us yet but that will change next Tuesday when we release Meet Me at Number Five. Keep an eye out on our Twitter and Facebook to catch a first glimpse of the cover! 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a book and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Which shoes has Anna chosen to wear?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Lisa Hill comp’ by Tuesday 20th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 21st June.

Easter Round-Robin Romance – COMING SOON!

Easter Round Robin

 

Well, we weren’t going to let the Easter weekend go by without a Round Robin Romance! Come back next Thursday 13th April when we’ll be sharing the first extract of a five-part story written by some very talented Choc Lit authors. Berni Stevens will start us off, followed by Rhoda Baxter, Kirsty Ferry, Morton S Gray and, last but not least, Angela Britnell. We’ll be giving away books and Easter chocolate each day too!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY! Final Part of Choc Lit Mother’s Day Round Robin by Morton S. Gray

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A very happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there – we hope you are all thoroughly spoilt today, and that you have the chance to spoil your own mums too :) We’re sure your day will be full of treats but start off with this treat from Morton S. Gray – the final part of our Mother’s Day Round Robin. One final competition at the end too!

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 HERE

Part Four by Kirsty Ferry HERE

FINAL PART BY MORTON S. GRAY

I found myself enveloped in Mike’s arms. He rubbed circles on my back and I could feel his warmth dissolving my misery and drying my tears.

Lucy and my mother were sitting next to each other on the settee, as I peered over his shoulder. They both looked contrite.

‘So, Lucy, what’s wrong with your car?’ Mike asked. I could tell he was deliberately changing the subject.

‘I don’t know really. It’s just making a strange noise.’

‘What sort of strange noise and can you tell where it’s coming from?’

My mother piped up. ‘It sounded like a steam engine when she arrived.’

‘Something vibrates underneath me.’

With a feather light kiss on my forehead, Mike released me and walked to the window. ‘It’s stopped raining. Let’s leave your mum and gran to open the chocolates and you can start your engine and let me listen to this noise.’

The door had hardly closed when mum rounded on me. ‘He’s nice. You want to hold onto that one. So, useful to have a man who’s handy. He can sort out my garden and I’m sure Lucy will come around. You’ve done your best for her. Don’t ever believe any different. I hope Mike’s good in bed too.’

It was all I could do not to spit out the mouthful of red wine I’d just sipped.

Mum and I went to stare out of the window.

‘I always regretted not finding someone else when your dad died, love. Life is much better shared … I wonder if Mike could recommend me to his dad?’

When I looked askance at her, she said, ‘I met John once. He’s a good-looking man, a waste single. He might like a companion for concerts, or … or bridge, perhaps.’ I could swear she was blushing and her face took on a faraway look as if she was imagining a cosy tête-à-tête with John Philips.

Lucy was behind her steering wheel revving the engine. Mike circled the car, occasionally yelling instructions to my daughter as he peered beneath the car.

She switched off the engine and jumped out, handing a duster to Mike. He launched himself to the ground and put his duster-clad hand under the car. I couldn’t see what was in his hand when he got up. They stood talking earnestly to each other for a few moments. I worried about what Lucy might be saying. Was she warning Mike off? Extolling the virtues of her father?

Lucy got back into her car and started the engine again. The noise appeared to have miraculously disappeared.

Lucy was laughing as she and Mike walked back towards the house.

‘What was it?’ I asked.

‘Just going to wash my hands,’ said Mike, as he disappeared upstairs to the bathroom.

Lucy was beaming. ‘Mike is Liam’s dad.’

‘Liam?’

‘The guy I’ve fancied for ages. Mike says he’ll invite him to have a drink with us at the pub later. The noise was a piece of metal stuck above the exhaust. Mike says it was vibrating and making that awful noise. So, nothing serious or expensive after all, thank goodness.’

She walked over and gave me a brief hug, which I took as an apology for her earlier behaviour. ‘Mike’s nice,’ she whispered.

Mike came back into the room and looked at each of us in turn, a surprised expression on his face. I realised we were all grinning at him.

I shook myself and got up. ‘Right, if Lucy’s car is fixed, I’ll serve lunch. Mike, would you help me in the kitchen?’

He followed me and after a glance into the other room to make sure my mother and Lucy were occupied, he said, ‘Well, how am I doing?’

‘Wonderfully. Although I think you’ve got the role of matchmaker later. Lucy’s after Liam and mum has her eye on your dad.’

Mike came and hugged me from behind, narrowly avoiding launching the steaming lamb joint which I’d just extracted from the oven to the tiles.

‘Hmm … might make for a very complicated family tree when you agree to marry me,’ he laughed.

Maybe Mother’s Day wasn’t that bad after all.

What a truly gorgeous ending! The Choc Lit authors do it every time. We hope you’ve enjoyed our 2017 Mother’s Day Round Robin. Let us know what you think in the comments :) Happy Mother’s Day all!

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If you enjoyed Morton’s writing, check out her debut release The Girl on the Beach which is available to purchase in eBook format from all platforms.

COMPETITION TIME

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

What was the problem with Lucy’s car?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Morton Gray 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 Four by Kirsty Ferry

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It’s time for the penultimate part of our Mother’s Day Round-Robin and it’s Kirsty Ferry’s turn today! Yesterday AnneMarie Brear left off with a shock phone call in the middle Mother’s Day lunch preparations. Where will Kirsty take us? As always, make sure you 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 HERE

Part Three by AnneMarie Brear HERE

PART FOUR BY KIRSTY FERRY

‘Your dad?’ I burst out. ‘What on earth does he want? He doesn’t make a habit of ringing you, does he?’ I frowned at Lucy, who ducked her head, embarrassed. I noticed that she hadn’t managed to answer the call though. Jack had only let it ring a couple of times and then hung up. I felt a renewed sense of rage on my daughter’s behalf. He couldn’t even give her thirty seconds to answer a phone call?

‘I did ask him to come and have a look at my car,’ muttered Lucy. ‘But I asked him if he could come here to look.’ She compressed her lips and looked for all the world like the petulant little girl she had once been. She flicked her gaze up at Mike and scowled. ‘I didn’t know he would be here, you see. I thought Dad could come and have a look and fix it and have lunch with us.’

‘Your dad won’t want lunch with us!’ I said, horrified. ‘He’ll be doing something with … her. And Luca.’

Lucy glared at me. ‘I don’t see why he should. Luca’s only little and gets spoiled all the time, and Megan is so far up her own backside that she thinks every day and every occasion revolves around her anyway. I’m important too. I’m his daughter. And you’re my mum. And we should be together.’ A big, fat teardrop welled up in Lucy’s eye and she blinked it away. ‘I should ring him back. He’ll be worried.’

I bit my lip, but my own mother vocalised what I wasn’t going to say: ‘He’ll not be worried at all. He’ll be jumping for joy that you didn’t answer because that’s his excuse, you see. “You didn’t answer”,’ she waved her gin around dangerously, ‘“so it’s not my fault.” Nothing was ever his fault. Nothing. Mark my words …’ My mother leaned towards Mike who blinked at so much old-lady-face filling his vision. He could, I suspected, smell her face-powder and hairspray as well as the Chanel No.5.  ‘… he didn’t do a good job in the garden.’

‘Mother …’ I said weakly. Mother and gin were never a great combination.

‘Oh, shut up, all of you. I’m ringing Dad back,’ announced Lucy. She stomped into the hallway and huddled at the bottom of the staircase, stabbing the phone.

I closed the door gently and looked at Mike. ‘I’m so sorry. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Lucy doesn’t mean to be obnoxious.’

Mike grinned and filled my wine glass. ‘She’s fine. It’ll just take time. My son hated it when my ex-wife and I split up. He’s great now. He was only ten at the time.  Good grief, thinking about it, it’s fifteen years since we broke up.’ Mike shook his head. ‘We’ve been divorced longer than we were married. Imagine.’

I did imagine. Three years or so down the line and it was only now I was starting to feel a bit less raw – and a huge part of that was due to Mike loving me and respecting me the way he did.

The door opened and I turned to see Lucy come in, looking rather pale and red-eyed. ‘He’s busy,’ she said, her voice a little wobbly, ‘but he said he hoped I got it sorted soon. Because it’s Luca’s birthday next weekend and Dad’s asked me to drive over to drop off his presents, because Dad hasn’t got time to come to my flat and collect them.’

My mother opened her eyes wide and her mouth wider, but I put a restraining hand on her shoulder and Mike zoomed in with more gin to distract her. I didn’t need her opinions of Jack and Megan right at this minute. I was too busy screaming inside, myself.

‘Once again, I am so sorry,’ I said to Mike, my voice more controlled than I felt. ‘I wish we’d just gone to the pub like you said. I wish everybody had just stayed away. I think I hate Mother’s Day. It always makes me feel like the worst Mother in the world You’re meant to protect your children and look after them. And not feel so useless. And I’ve been useless to my little girl since her bloody father walked out on us, straight into that woman’s bed.’

And now my own tears did bubble up to the surface. Because being a mum really was the hardest job imaginable.

Awww, poor Jenny. We really feel for her! Can her special lunch be salvaged? You’ll find out tomorrow when Morton S. Gray takes up the reins for what will  be the final part of the story. It’s Mother’s Day too! We hope you’re all prepared ;)  

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If you enjoyed Kirsty’s writing, check out her new releases – The Girl in the Painting and The Girl in the Photograph, which are now available to purchase.

COMPETITION TIME

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

How long has it been since Mike separated from his ex-wife?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kirsty Ferry 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 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.

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.

Cow by the Mill Pond

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

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2017 from Choc Lit

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Merry Christmas everyone, Happy Holidays! Thank you for all your fabulous support in 2017. We look forward to sharing more exciting releases and fabulous Choc Lit books with you in the new year.

Love from the Choc Lit Team x
(Lyn, Lusana, Sarah, Jane O, Liz, Jane E, Marie, Jessamy, Paul, Bernie)

And now for some messages from our Choc Lit Santas …

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Santa - Rhoda Baxter Rhoda Baxter: Have a fantastic Christmas and raise a glass to a wonderful year in 2017! May you get lots of joy and chocolate and books.

 

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AnnMarie Santa photoAnneMarie Brear: “As 2016 draws to a close, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all the readers who supported me and my book, Where Dragonflies Hover, this year! Merry Christmas and a safe and happy 2017! ”

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Jan Santa photoJan Brigden: “Thanks for your fabulous support this past year. Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and much joy, peace and good health for 2017 (and the occasional choccie or two, of course …) Enjoy the festivities!”

 

9781781892572 Angela Britnell - Santa!Angela Britnell: “To all our wonderful Choc Lit readers here’s wishing you a peaceful and joyous holiday season and the best of everything for 2017 including all the books you can read and an abundance of chocolate!”

 

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Sheryl Browne Santa!Sheryl Browne: “Wishing all our lovely readers a very merry Choc Lit filled Christmas. Your support over the year has been wonderful. Thank you! I hope Santa is kind to you and that all your dreams and wishes come true. Cosy up and keep safe everyone!”

 

9781781892596Clare Chase - Santa!Clare Chase“Wishing you a very happy, cosy Christmas and a wonderful 2017!”

 

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Valerie Olteanu  - Isabeall Connor - SantaLiv Thomas - Isabella Connor - Santa!Isabella Connor (Liv & Val): Nollaig shona dhaoibh. Wishing all Choc Lit readers and their families, a wonderful Christmas, and a happy 2017.”

 

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Victoria  Santas2Victoria Cornwall: I hope you have a wonderful, laughter filled, Christmas which will leave you with memories to cherish for years to come.

 

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Christina Courtenay - Santa!Christina Courtenay: I wish you all a wonderful Christmas with everything and everyone you love, including of course loads of chocolate and plenty of time for reading your favourite books! Enjoy!”

 

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Kirsty Ferry - Santa!Kirsty Ferry: “Wishing you all a happy, healthy and wonderful 2017.Hope you wake up on Christmas morning to joy, peace and a Santa Sack full of books, chocolate and your favourite tipple!”

 

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Debbie Santa photoDebbie Flint: “Well it’s my first Devon Christmas, helping out at a writing retreat venue in Sheepwash and aiming to get the biggest tree ever! Here’s a xmas joke for you – what do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frost-bite! hehe! Have a lovely festive season!”

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Kathryn Freeman - Santa!Kathryn Freeman: “Christmas – a time to relax, to indulge. Whetheryou’re turkey or goose, chocolate or champagne, Christmas films or a sack full of books, I wish you all a very happy Christmas.”

 

9781781893067Janet Gover - Santa!Janet Gover: “I hope you enjoy the festive season. Take time to be with those you love.And don’t forget to treat yourself to something special – you know you deserve it. Thank you for all your support this year, and may 2017 be filled with peace and joy for you and yours.”

 

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Morton SantaMorton S. Gray: “Have a lovely peaceful Christmas and keep dreaming those dreams. Anything is possible in 2017.”

 

 

9781781890714Henriette Gyland - Santa!Henriette Gyland: “Happy Christmas, or Glædelig Jul which is what we say in Denmark. In the face of tumultuous and terrible events across the world wish to remember that Christmas is the time for love and kindness. And reading. Lots of it!”

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Linn's Santas photoLinn B. Halton: “I’ve asked Santa for snow this year – enough to allow us all to wake up to a white Christmas morn, but I’ve also asked that it doesn’t hang around long! If he can’t deliver a brief winter wonderland treat, then I’m sending you all a Christmas hug. I hope that it’s a time of great joy and happiness for one and all.”

9781781893012Liz Harris - Santa!Liz Harris: “2016 will soon be but a distant memory. Hopefully, it’s been a fabulous year for you all, and is leaving behind it nothing but good memories. And, equally hopefully, 2017 will be even better for you, with all the wishes that you wish for yourself coming true. A happy, healthy 2017 to you and your families, dear readers.”

 

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Laura E James - Santa!Laura E.James: “Wishing all our readers a happy and peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Thank you for reading, reviewing and enjoying our Choc Lit books. In my opinion, it’s the best gift an author can receive. xx”

 

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Margaret James - Santa!Margaret James:“A very happy, peaceful and contented Christmas to the friends of Choc Lit all over the world who support us in so many ways – by buying or borrowing our books, blogging, Tweeting, leaving posts on Facebook and reviewing, to name just a few. We appreciate all you do for us and hope to entertain you for a long time to come! Very best wishes for a great festive season and a wonderful 2017.”

 

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Jane Lovering - Santa!Jane Lovering: “Wishing everyone a happy HobNob dunking, marshmallow toasting, Tony Robinson watching day! Although if you don’t like any of these things, I wish you a Happy Christmas anyway…all the more for me!”

 

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Linda Mitchelmore - Santa!Linda Mitchelmore: ”Happy Christmas to you all. I hope you will have a wonderful time, spending Christmas in whichever way you choose. I also hope there will  be a little window of time to curl up with a Choc Lit novel – or two – somewhere warm with a glass of something festive.”

9781781892916Lynda Stacey Santa photoLynda Stacey: ”Wishing all my wonderful friends and readers, a very happy, safe and peaceful Christmas. xx”

 

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Berni Stevens - Santa!Berni Stevens: “Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, a happy healthy 2017, and many fabulous hours of reading.”

 

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Christine Stovell - Santa!Christine Stovell: “Wishing you love, kindness and generosity of spirit, not just for Christmas  but throughout the year.”

9781781890752Sarah Tranter - Santa!Sarah Tranter: “Merry Xmas and a fabulous 2017 to you all!”

 

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Evonne Wareham - Santa!Evonne Wareham: “Good wishes for a happy Christmas, with good food, good company and good books, and some time to read them! I’m aiming to have a fabulous year in 2017 and I wish everyone the same. See you then!”

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ONE AND ALL!

 

The Santa Dash: Final Part by Laura E. James

Round Robin LJ

We’re now at the end of our special Christmas Round Robin – we think the authors have outdone themselves, and hope that you feel the same! They are a talented lot ;)  

Victoria Cornwall left the story on a cliffhanger yesterday, and we’re really excited to share the ending written by Laura E. James. Let’s find out how the Santa Dash finishes and whether our hero is Jamie or Julian … 

Remember to read right until the end if you’d like to take part in the last competition of the season! Also make sure to read the other parts of the story before this extract so that it makes sense. You can find: 

Part One by Kathryn Freeman HERE

Part Two by Clare Chase HERE

Part Three by Jane Lovering HERE

Part Four by Victoria Cornwall HERE

The Santa Dash: Final Part by Laura E. James

Ellie nudged Jamie’s elbow. ‘We need to move.’

‘No. It’s fine. It’s about time I had this out with the pair of them.’ Jamie adjusted his feet, taking a wider stance, and having struggled to fold his arms over his rotund Santa stomach, clasped his fingers together and hooked his thumbs over his belt.

‘Jamie!’ Ellie tugged at the firefighter’s white-cuffed sleeve in an attempt to pull him from danger, but trying to shift the six foot plus Santa only resulted in Ellie pulling a muscle. She rubbed her shoulder.

‘Seriously. It’s okay.’ Jamie’s gaze was fixed on the advancing doctor. ‘He’s no threat.’

He isn’t, thought Ellie, casting a panicked look to the skies – Dave was descending faster than a goose-fat greased Santa sliding down a chimney. ‘It’s admirable that you’re standing your ground, but …’

‘No.’ Jamie frowned. ‘It’s high time I told Dr Julian Faulkner what I think of him.’

‘And what’s that?’ Julian halted a foot away from Jamie. He poked at his padding. ‘At least I’m a man of substance. You’re just full of …’

‘Stop it!’ Melissa joined the accident-in-waiting. She dived between the two men and separated them by pressing a palm to each chest. Her right hand bounced off Jamie. ‘I’m sure we can clear this up in a mature and adult way.’

Ellie shook her head in despair. There was no time for mature and adult. In a matter of seconds there were going to be four Santas sprawled along the promenade. And there’d be witnesses. A crowd was gathering – three mums with buggies were pointing up at the sky, two giant elves were gawping at Melissa, and a youth who’d climbed a lamppost was beckoning to his mates to come and watch.

As a shadow loomed over the posturing Santas, and Dave’s yells of ‘Heads up!’ reached the ears of the concerned party, Jamie looked heavenward.

‘Holy sleigh bells!’ He grabbed Ellie round her waist. ‘Faulkner! Help Melissa.’

But the doctor used the auburn-haired woman as resistance and pushed himself away from her and into safety.

With the dark shadow growing larger, Jamie apologised to Ellie, lifting her out of the way of danger, and then rugby-tackled Melissa to the pavement, a millisecond before Dave’s emergency landing.

‘I’m good. I’m good.’ Dave waved from his prone position, his chute floating serenely onto the railings that divided the beach from the promenade.

‘Everyone else all right?’ Jamie got to his feet, helped Melissa up, and brushed himself down. ‘Ellie? You okay?’

Ellie stepped forward from the crowd – the crowd that was applauding Jamie’s daring do. ‘Not a scratch,’ she said, a surprise to her as much as anyone. She watched as Jamie spoke quietly to Melissa, wondering what they were discussing. He was probably telling Melissa how much he missed her. How much he wanted her back. How good it felt to have her in his arms once again, albeit in the name of health and safety.

Being in his arms had been pretty special, Ellie reflected, a sigh of missed opportunity escaping out to sea.

‘So much for Dr Julian saving lives.’

To Ellie’s surprise, Jamie was striding towards her.

‘He only cares about his own. Poor Melissa. She’s seen his true worth.’ Jamie held out an open palm in Ellie’s direction. ‘At least she’s come out unscathed from this near disaster.’ His fingers waggled. ‘Don’t leave me hanging Nurse Ellie. I’d like to get back to that something more interesting I mentioned earlier – getting to know you.’ His blue eyes glistened.

‘But … Melissa.’ Ellie scanned the area ahead for Jamie’s ex-fiancée, certain her auburn hair would stand out against the mass of red and white merrymakers, but nothing. Nada. No sight of her.

Jamie laughed. ‘She’s gone to give the doctor a piece of her mind. I have a feeling he’ll be single before the evening’s out.’

Ellie pursed her lips. ‘At work, he led us to believe he already was.’ Dr Faulkner had tricked her and Sally. They’d both fallen for his fake charms. She’d make sure she told Sally everything, although judging by the grin Sally had given when she’d passed by with the two burly rugby players, there was no risk of a broken heart. ‘How do you know Dr Faulkner?’ Ellie slipped her hand into Jamie’s. It was warm, strong and safe.

‘From the gym. He seemed like a decent bloke. Friendly. Competitive. He liked to compare treadmill stats. Always added an extra weight to the bench press. Thrashed me on the rowing machines.’ Jamie shrugged. ‘Anyway, one evening, after my session, Melissa popped down to the gym to take me straight out for a meal …’

‘And that’s where she and Julian met?’

Jamie nodded and Ellie’s hand was given a gentle squeeze.

‘Three weeks later, Melissa broke off the engagement.’

What a horrid experience that must have been for Jamie. Ellie issued a pat of reassurance to his arm. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I’m not,’ said Jamie. ‘I mean, I was, but it’s Christmas and magical things happen.’

Indeed. Ellie reviewed the morning’s events. Out of the hundred or so Santas dashing along the prom, it was Jamie she’d crashed into and straddled; it was Jamie who’d pulled alongside her to exchange small talk and it was Jamie who’d rescued her from her stumble, lobbed her over his shoulder and carried her across the finish line.

And it was Jamie who’d saved her from Dave’s death-defying descent.

It was all magic as far as she was concerned. She tilted her head to study Jamie. He was magic.

‘Do you believe in Father Christmas?’ he said, his face edging closer to hers.

‘Oh yes,’ said Ellie, breathing in his cologne and closing her eyes at the touch of his lips. ‘And he’s very dashing.’

What a gorgeous ending! A perfect Christmas story from our Choc Lit authors :) We hope you loved it as much as we did and it’s got you into the festive spirit. There’s not much left to say except to wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for all of your support in 2016! But there is still time for one more …

COMPETITION!

If you enjoyed Laura’s writing, why not try and win a copy of her novel, What Doesn’t Kill You … we’ll even throw in some Christmas chocolate too!

To be in with a chance of winning, simply read Laura’s extract and answer this question …

Where did Julian and Jamie meet?

If you know the answer, email it to info@choc-lit.co.uk. The winner will be selected at random and will be announced at the end of today. Good luck!

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