Happy Valentine’s Day from everyone at Choc Lit!
Five of our fabulous authors have put together a romantic tale – they’ve each contributed to give you one fabulous romance.
Collect all five questions (found at the end of each story section) and send your answers to email@example.com to be entered into our Valentine’s Day giveaway!
Part One by Janet Gover
The hearts were everywhere!
The instant Shelly stepped outside her front door, the whole world seemed to be thrusting hearts at her. Roses too. She just knew that she’d be surrounded by pink balloons on the train and forced to watch a procession of red bouquets delivered to work. To everyone but her. Her friends would gleefully display cards and expensive chocolates, proof of a lover’s devotion – or at least existence.
Was there a Valentine’s Day equivalent of ‘Bah Humbug’? If there was, it would be her mantra for the day.
To make matters worse, Shelly had to walk past the florist to get to the train station. For eleven months of the year, she enjoyed seeing his flowers. Sometimes the smell of his displays alone was enough to make her pause in her busy day. But in February, the shop was a mass of Valentine’s Day promotions all specifically designed to remind her she was ALONE.
She would ignore it. Duck her head and walk past as quickly as she could.
The traffic lights conspired against her, and Shelly found herself waiting at the crossing staring at a sign urging passers-by to send flowers to the love of their life.
She was the love of no one’s life. She had been single for … well, longer than she cared to remember. Ever since … Shelly caught herself in a sigh. Go on, she told herself, be honest. You don’t date because you have found the love of your life. If only he knew it.
She could never tell him, of course. It wasn’t just the workplace thing. It was because she was just Shelly and he was … well … who he was.
Across the road, the florist opened his doors to catch the early morning trade. That’s when the craziest idea stopped Shelly in her tracks. Could she? Should she?
‘What would you think if a woman sent you flowers?’ she blurted out as she entered the shop. ‘If they were delivered to you at work. In front of everyone. Would you be embarrassed?’
He smiled, and his face glowed with good humour. ‘It depends who sent them. If they were from my mum, then yes. If it was you …’
But Shelly had stopped listening. If she didn’t do this now, she’d never do it. ‘What flowers should I send a man who …’ Her voice trailed off as she was overcome with her own fit of embarrassment.
‘Ah,’ the florist said in a gentle voice. ‘Unrequited love. I know it well.’ He turned away quickly to indicate a vast scarlet array on his shelves. ‘Well traditionally, it’s a red rose. Or more than one.’
She wasn’t sure. In fact, she was becoming less sure of this with every passing moment.
‘But, if you want something a bit, well, unique … how about this?’
He reached for a vase holding a single, long stemmed rose. It was creamy white with a faint hint of the palest pink. The petals looked like porcelain. In contrast to the overwhelming sea of red, it was pure and quite lovely.
‘It’s the Michelle Meilland rose,’ the florist said.
‘Oh,’ her heart fluttered. ‘My name is Michelle.’
He looked at her with a pair of sparkling green eyes. ‘In that case, it’s perfect.’
He was right. It was the perfect rose. Maybe, just maybe, it would change everything. She wrote the delivery details on a small white card and handed it to the florist.
His eyebrows rose as he read the name and address. ‘Okay …’ he said in a slightly shocked voice. ‘I think I will have to deliver this one personally.’
What type of flower does the florist recommend to Shelly?
Part Two by Kathryn Freeman
Ethan stared in horror at the name on the card and then cast his eyes back to her sweet face. If that’s who her ideal man was, he had about as much hope of catching her attention as he did catching a ride to the moon.
She cleared her throat. ‘Isn’t this the part where I pay?’
He flushed. It seemed he couldn’t stop impressing her. First he’d blabbed a corny line about her sending him flowers. Now he’d been caught gawking. ‘Err, yes, sorry.’ Quickly he rang up the amount on the till.
As she handed over the money, their fingers briefly touched. His heart hammered and he felt a zing through every cell in his body.
She was looking at the rose.
‘So, umm, do you work there too?’ he asked, acutely aware this was it: his last chance to unleash his wit and charm, heck, at least to find some, before she tucked the change into her purse and he never saw her again. ‘Is that how you met him?’
‘Yes.’ Her curls bobbed around her face as she nodded.
‘I thought so.’ She stared at him questioningly. ‘Oh, I mean, I thought that was where you worked. I see you walking by here every morning, heading in that direction.’ Shut your flipping mouth, Ethan. Now she thinks you’re stalking her.
Thankfully she laughed. ‘Right.’ She was still staring, almost wistfully, at the rose. ‘I’ve never done this before. Do you really think he’ll like it?’
Ethan ran a finger over the soft petals and then looked into her equally soft blue eyes. ‘If he doesn’t, he’s a fool.’ Her eyes widened and her cheeks tinged with pink. He smiled. ‘You look even more like Michelle now.’ Her embarrassment turned to confusion and he couldn’t blame her. How on earth was he going to get out of this one without making a further twit of himself? ‘I mean, you look like the rose. You know, your cheeks are creamy white, but slightly pink …’ Oh God, kill him now.
But she didn’t look horrified, or laugh in his face. She grinned, and his heart danced. ‘I’ve never been told I look like a rose before. Even if it is because my cheeks go red.’
‘No, it’s not just that …’ He ground to a pathetic stop. He didn’t have the words, or the confidence, to say any more. Unlike the man on the card. ‘Well, thanks for coming in. I’ll make sure he gets Michelle this morning.’
As soon as the real Michelle closed the door behind her, Ethan thumped his fist on the bench. What a total muppet. How on earth was he ever going to get the girl, if he couldn’t string two coherent sentences together in her presence?
Sighing deeply, he set about wrapping up the Michelle Rose. Frankly, it didn’t matter that he couldn’t talk to her. Not now he knew who she’d set her heart on.
It just about summed up his life. He now had to deliver an expensive rose to a guy he hated. Worse, the rose he’d have to grit his teeth and politely hand over to the git wasn’t from a faceless passerby. Oh no, it was an expression of love from a girl he, Ethan the flower boy, had a desperate crush on.
Not a good start to the day then.
But on the plus side, at least he now knew her name and where she worked. If only he knew what to do with that.
What’s the florist’s name? A) Ewan B) Ethan C) Evan
Part Three by Sue Moorcroft
Shelly used her pass to get into the huge glass and chrome building that housed Jake Starkey Holdings, tip-tapped her way over the black marble of the triple-height foyer and over to the staff lift.
As she pressed the button and waited for the doors to open, she gazed across at the sparkling glass tube that whizzed the executive lift up to the top floor, Jake Starkey’s domain. Jake Starkey who stalked through the building every day at the head of his retinue, dark eyes flashing, stubble hollowing his cheeks. And never looked Shelly’s way.
She’d never been invited up to the top floor but she’d heard about the suite of offices and the roof garden that led directly from Jake Starkey’s lair. According to rumour, he wasn’t always the calm and detached figure who strode into the building every day. Sometimes he burst out of his office and slammed the door behind him to pace the paving of the roof garden, pausing to stroke a petal or tweak off a dying leaf. When, a few minutes later, he returned to whatever meeting he’d abandoned, serenity would return with him and he would deal with the day’s frustrations.
The man liked flowers.
Shelly tapped her toes and tried to reassure herself that she’d done the right thing. He was used to women throwing themselves at him but her approach was subtle and intelligent. He would touch the waxy petals of the rose and wonder about the woman who had sent it, his interest piqued.
And then … Her daydream juddered to a halt. And then what? What then, Shelly? Just how did she propose to get herself up onto the hallowed top floor, into Mr Jake Starkey’s very own office, so that she could casually notice the perfection of the single cream rose and say, ‘Oh! A Michelle Meilland, I think? Fantastic, isn’t it?’ How could he be bowled over that she shared his botanical leanings and by the extraordinary breadth of her knowledge if she was locked away, as usual, in her little cubicle on floor 3?
She would find a way.
Even as the lift doors opened she whirled away, dashing back across the foyer, aware of co-workers jumping aside and raising their eyebrows at her flight. She skidded through the automatic doors and back along to the station, fairly dancing with impatience on the platform until the huge ungainly commuter train hissed to a halt. Clenching her fists through the ten minute journey, bouncing down onto the platform and running back through the barriers, she arrived back at the florist’s shop like a gust of wind, hair coming loose and streaming over her shoulder.
The man behind the counter stared as she slid to a halt.
‘When will it be delivered?’ she gasped. ‘The rose, the Michelle Meilland I paid for earlier and arranged for it to be delivered to—’
‘Yes, I remember.’ But he still looked at her as if she’d turned into an alien in the last half hour. ‘I suppose it would be about eleven o’clock.’
‘Perfect!’ She could have kissed him. Except she couldn’t, obviously, because he wasn’t the right man. But otherwise she might have done. ‘I’ll be waiting for whoever delivers it down in the foyer at eleven o’clock.’
His eyes narrowed. ‘It’ll be me who delivers it. Why do you want to meet?’
She felt a triumphant smile burn across her face. ‘Because when you’re shown up to his office – I’m going up with you.’
On what floor is Jake Starkey’s office?
Part Four by Evonne Wareham
Ten to eleven.
Ethan hurried towards the building, resisting the urge to yank at the tie he’d put on to make the delivery. His sister, Sandra, had laughed when she’d seen him but as she’d agreed to mind the shop while he was gone, she was allowed.
Shelly was waiting in the foyer, apprehension and excitement clear in the tense lines of her body. Ethan wanted to shout: ‘He’s not worth it!’ Instead he let her whisk him through the entrance procedure with what he hoped was a convincing smile.
A security guard hurried to intercept them as Ethan clipped his visitor’s pass to his jacket. ‘Miss James, you need to get up to the conference room on level 3, now. Mr Starkey is meeting your department there.’ The guard grinned, winking at Shelly. ‘Take your young man with you. He can wait with the receptionist. You can thank him properly for the Valentine after.’
Ethan had no time to explain that he was the delivery guy, not the boyfriend. Shelly was towing him towards the lift. The warmth of her hand, closed around his, drove out every other thought.
‘We don’t need to wangle our way into Mr Starkey’s office.’ Her voice trembled with anticipation as they hurtled upwards. ‘It must be fate.’
The lift doors opened. Two men stood in the otherwise deserted reception area. As Shelly and Ethan stepped out of the lift, one of the men stormed towards it, yelling over his shoulder. ‘Tell the staff yourself, Starkey. I’m not doing it!’
Jake Starkey shrugged and shouldered his way into the conference room. Shelly and Ethan exchanged a confused glance and slid in behind him.
The speech was short.
‘This department is terminated, as of today.’ Starkey looked at his watch. ‘Redundancy and notice payments were transferred to your bank accounts five minutes ago.’
The door banged behind him, leaving a stunned silence.
Twenty seconds to fire forty people.
Men in dark suits shepherded them to the main office. Each desk had an empty box and a brown envelope.
Combative, angry words whirled around – tribunal, legal proceedings. Ethan hoped, fiercely, that these people could challenge Jake Starkey for what he’d just done, but right now he was more concerned with the stricken look on Shelly’s face as she slumped in her chair. Jake Starkey was the most arrogant, egotistical … Ethan took a deep breath. Shouting names inside his head wouldn’t help Shelly. He pointed to the box. Shelly bit her lip.
‘Could you …?’
It didn’t take long to identify and pack Shelly’s possessions. Ethan dropped the rose on top.
They joined the queue of staff, tramping down the back stairs to a side door and a line of waiting taxis. Ethan helped Shelly into one, prompted her to give the driver her address and settled the box beside her. Her head jerked when she saw the rose. ‘Take it away, please. I don’t want it.’ He snatched it up as the taxi revved impatiently. Backing away, he slammed the door.
His last sight was her pale face, paler than the rose in his hand, staring back at him through the window, as the cab pulled away.
Ethan looked down at the bouquet he’d just made up – a dozen perfect yellow roses – friendship, concern, care.
‘Sandra – can you drop this one off on your way home?’ He scribbled down the address he’d recited to himself, over and over, all the way back from this morning’s disaster.
‘Of course.’ Sandra took the carefully wrapped package. ‘They’re lovely, more original than the red ones.’
Ethan nodded, unable to say any more as Sandra bustled around, collecting her coat and bag. At last the shop door clattered closed behind her.
‘And that may have been the stupidest thing you ever did. The last thing she’s going to want is a reminder of today – or you.’ He looked over at the white Michelle rose, standing in a tall vase on the counter. Its head had drooped, so that it was almost touching its stem. He knew exactly how it felt.
But he still couldn’t give up on a tiny glimmer of hope.
Ethan makes up a new bouquet towards the end of part four. What colour roses does he choose?
Part Five by Isabella Connor
In the kitchen, slumped over a mug of coffee, Shelly thought of roses and redundancies, of her lost job and her lost love.
Get a grip, she told herself. Jake Starkey had never been her love. Just an illusion. He didn’t deserve her devotion.
She looked at the bouquet on the counter, next to the empty bottle of Chardonnay. She’d found the flowers outside her door, after she’d ignored four long rings at the doorbell. They were the reason she’d drunk herself into oblivion last night, embarrassed that her mother had sent roses in an attempt to brighten up her Valentine’s Day.
‘Things might get better,’ Jan had clucked on the phone, probably tapping the side of her nose at the same time.
Nice idea, Mum, but it hadn’t made her feel better. Just reminded her she was a failure at relationships.
Jake Starkey had been the focus of her attention for the last four months. The hope, the dreams, the fantasies – they’d kept her going through a long cold winter. She’d not make that mistake again. No more unrequited love …
Unrequited love. She’d heard those words yesterday in the flower shop. The florist – Ethan – had seemed to guess by magic her sad situation. He hadn’t made her feel pathetic, though. Not then, nor after Jake had dropped his bombshell, reducing her daydreams to dust. Ethan had packed up her things and got her safely into a cab, staring through the glass, looking concerned. He had nice green eyes. And a head full of dark curls … You look like the rose …
She hadn’t even thanked him for being so nice. Well, she’d set that right as soon as she’d showered, and put some make-up on. Now, where had she put that pink pashmina …
Shelly entered the flower shop but there was an unknown woman behind the counter.
‘Can I help you?’
‘I was looking for … but he’s not …’ Shelly’s voice trailed off.
‘Ethan’s making a delivery. He’ll be back soon. Can I give him a message?’
‘No, it’s okay.’ About to leave, Shelly caught sight of the white rose in a vase on the counter. She remembered hissing at Ethan to take it away… ‘Could you tell him thanks for helping me out yesterday. I had a bit of a crisis.’
‘Are you Shelly?’
God, Ethan must have told her about yesterday’s fiasco.
‘I’m so sorry about what happened. Ethan was gutted. He used to work for Jake Starkey. Five years ago. He was made redundant too. That’s when he set up this shop. Decided to be his own boss.’
‘I see.’ It must have been hard for him to be reminded of all that, yet he’d seemed more concerned about how Shelly felt.
‘Did you like the flowers?’
‘The yellow roses. Ethan chose them specially. I tried to deliver them, but you weren’t at home.’
Roses … chosen specially for her … roses on Valentine’s Day …
‘Ethan will kill me for saying this, but I’m his big sister, so I’m allowed – he thinks you’re gorgeous.’
Gorgeous. Shelly was blushing, probably a deeper pink than her scarf. But the woman was smiling which gave her confidence. And a mad kind of courage.
‘I’d like to buy some flowers.’
Ethan trudged into the shop. His heart just wasn’t in it today. Thank God Sandra was there. She gave him a big smile. Probably a pity smile.
‘Any customers?’ he asked.
‘One. She bought something. For you.’
Ethan frowned. ‘Me?’
Sandra pointed to a vase on the counter. It had held only the Michelle rose, but now that was surrounded by a dozen yellow ones.
‘Oh my God … was it … did she …?’ His mind was reeling with possibilities, and his mouth was refusing to work properly.
‘She left a card.’
Ethan took it, staring in shock at the writing. The name of a restaurant with a date and time, and the words No more unrequited love.
And for once the leftover Valentine’s Day balloons and pink teddy bears didn’t seem even remotely out of place.
What colour are Ethan’s eyes?