Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Final Part by Kirsty Ferry

Birthday Round Robin PT 5

Thank you to everyone who has messaged us to wish us happy birthday. We have been absolutely overwhelmed by your kind words – and we hope that we’ve shown our appreciation with this birthday Round Robin written by our fabulously talented Choc Lit authors!

But all good things come to an end and it’s Kirsty Ferry who is drawing our birthday celebrations to a close – no pressure, Kirsty! 

Lynda Stacey’s Part One is HERE

Kathryn Freeman’s Part Two is HERE

Lisa Hill’s Part Three is HERE

Jane Lovering’s Part Four is HERE

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

The Birthday Surprise – Final Part by Kirsty Ferry

‘Magda?’ Declan looked at Ralph, astonished. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Looks like her!’ said Ralph ‘Maybe she’s had a change of heart?’

‘Good grief. I hope not!’ Declan looked down at Anna, his face haunted. ‘My ex. Took it badly when I left her.’ He shook his head. ‘What a nightmare. The blokes will be her brothers. Thanks Ralph.’ He pulled a face. ‘Sorry Anna, I’ll have to go and sort it out. She’ll most likely be drunk, and her brothers like to think they’re all that, but they’ll back down as soon as I shout at them. Always have done. Forgive me?’

He looked so apologetic that Anna just nodded, imagining him squaring up to something like the Russian Mafia, taking on the role of an action hero in a movie. She dipped her head and blushed as she imagined him in a ripped vest with his muscles all exposed. By the time she looked up again, he was running over the grass, back towards the house.

‘You okay there?’ asked Ralph, eyeing her up. ‘You look a bit – damp.’

Anna looked ruefully at her disgusting shoes and scrubbed at her cheeks again. ‘Damp and grubby. I’m not fit to be at a party, really. I think I’ll head back myself and call that taxi. I’ll leave you and Helen to have fun and just go home.’

‘I’ll walk back with you.’ Ralph fell into step beside her. ‘I have a confession, anyway. I did set this up, you know. Me and Helen between us. Dec never forgot you – Magda was the biggest mistake of his life. When Helen and I made the connection, we sort of concocted it all and this seemed a good way of doing it.’ He shrugged. ‘You know, at least get you back in touch with each other. Dec’s a miserable sod at times, and I remember Prom Night was the happiest I’ve ever seen him.’ He looked up and suddenly grinned at the house. ‘Oh here we go. Right on cue.’ A dark shape came around the corner. It paused, and then started running back towards them.

‘Ralph! Where were they?’ It was Declan

‘Ah no! Are they already inside?’ Ralph’s face fell and he swore. ‘I felt sure we’d headed them off!’

Declan shook his head. ‘Fantastic. I should have guessed she’d sabotage this, I should have guessed.’

‘Maybe we’d best go in through the French doors?’ suggested Ralph. ‘Look, it’s dark enough to sneak in through the ballroom. I’ll go ahead and check.’ He melted away and Anna heard a soft click as he apparently opened the door.

‘Hold on!’Anna stopped and reached a hand out, touching Declan’s arm. She wasn’t prepared for the little jolt of electricity it sent around her body, even fourteen years later. She tried to sound more in control than she felt. ‘D’you think I’m going to creep around in the dark when there are potentially Russian Mafioso around?’ She left her hand on his arm, not wanting to pull away from him. It had taken all these years to touch him again and she was damn sure she was going to enjoy it while it lasted.

‘You’re right.’ Declan stopped. ‘They’re very much not Russian Mafia, though. Magda’s from Barnet. No. You stay outside if you want. In fact.’ He grinned and reached a hand out. He put his fingertips gently under her chin and tilted her face towards his. ‘If it’s all right with you, would you consider giving me a kiss for good luck?’

‘Declan!’ she felt her cheeks colour, but she didn’t, couldn’t resist and leaned in towards him. She closed her eyes and as their lips touched, she felt the years roll back and she was sixteen again and there was still the hope of a bright shiny future with the boy she was certain she loved …

Then a light flooded the terrace and the French doors flung open and there was a huge, happy shout: ‘Happy Birthday, Declan!

There was the sound of party poppers and cheering, and there they were, frozen in the light, in each other’s arms for all to see.

Anna sprung away first and stared, horrified at the doorway. Helen was standing there, Ralph’s arm slung around her shoulders and she was smiling quite ridiculously widely.

‘Helen!’ Anna blushed again.

‘What?’ Helen giggled and hugged Ralph. ‘Don’t you think that was just the best idea? We had to get Dec back up here and Magda turning up was all Ralph could come up with! People have been waiting ages to see him and wish him happy birthday! There’s loads more people than we told him there was!’

‘We completely lost him,’ added Ralph with a grin. ‘When you ran off, he didn’t want to be in here at all with us.’

‘Really?’ Anna looked up at Declan, and saw that he was blushing, and his expression was sweetly embarrassed.

‘It’s true,’ he said. ‘Ralph’s a pain and I looked at the options – him and a party I didn’t want; or you, and your pretty shoes and lovely face. They couldn’t keep me in there at all, after I saw you again.’

She laughed and shook her head. ‘And Magda? Is she really likely to turn up and spoil things?’

‘No! That’s why it threw me. She’s living down south with my ex-best friend and their child. It’s why I finished things with her. It was devastating, but I always thought there had to be a reason it happened; there had to be something better coming along.’

‘And?’ She was teasing now, giddy with relief and trying not to cry happy tears and run the risk of spoiling her make-up even more.

‘And it did. In a pair of soggy shoes, looking like Marilyn Manson. Anna, can we try again, d’you think? Properly? Like adults?’

‘I think so – I don’t see why not. Not if you don’t mind kissing someone who’s absorbed most of your lake into her party outfit.’

‘I don’t mind at all,’ he replied softly. And he kissed her again, in full view of the guests who cheered even more loudly that time.

And Anna thought it was quite possibly the best thirtieth birthday party she’d ever been to in her entire life.

You couldn’t ask for a sweeter ending! What a wonderful end to a lovely day. Here’s to another year of fabulous books, talented authors and amazing readers like you :) Thank you all so much!

The Girl in the Painting

     If you enjoyed Kirsty’s writing, you might like to check out her recent papeback release The Girl in the Painting. Click HERE for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

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

Where is Declan’s ex, Magda, from?

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

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Four by Jane Lovering

Birthday Round Robin Pt 4

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, Kathryn Freeman and Lisa Hill have had their turns and now it’s time for Jane Lovering to step up. 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

Lisa Hill’s Part Three is HERE

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

The Birthday Surprise – Part Four by Jane Lovering 

Anna stomped. There was no other word for it, she stomped her way across the driveway, passing groups who threw her puzzled looks that made her cheeks burn like beacons.  How could I?  How could I have been so stupid to think that he would invite me? And does Helen really not think I know a set-up when I see one?

Aware that the heels of possibly the most expensive shoes she’d ever owned were sinking into mud now, Anna stopped.  She was standing by the lake. No, not a lake. A pretentious puddle. Look, he’s even got a rowing boat! Just how pathetically bourgeois Declan is these days! She wondered for a moment how that sweet, shy young man could have turned into the sort of person who would have allowed himself to own a mansion and let her fall for a trick like Helen had played on her …

It was quiet out here.  Anna rubbed her hands over her cheeks, smearing the make up she’d so carefully applied to make her look closer to her dewy-skinned sixteen-year-old self, so that Declan would recognise her, and gave herself a talking-to. Yeah. He fancied me when I was sixteen.  But that was a long time ago, and we’re different people now, and besides, he didn’t even care enough to send a card when mum died, so just how much did he really like me? Or was he disappointed that I didn’t rip my knickers off for him on prom night? She rubbed her face again and let an image of ‘what might have been’ skip across the surface of the lake in front of her – glorious sex with Declan. Teenage pregnancy. Minimum wage jobs, to keep the kids fed and life in a too-small flat … no. It was probably better that they’d parted that night with their illusions and virginities intact.

‘Are you all right?’ The voice came from behind her and she turned slowly round to see Declan standing on the bank above the lake shore.  ‘What’s happened to your face?’  He sounded shocked.

‘Well, fourteen years, for a start! Did you really think I’d look the same as I did on Prom Night? Am I not allowed to have aged?’ Anna took a step back, indignation flaming into her cheeks again. ‘I suppose you still don’t shave and have a poster of the Spooks cast on your wall?’  Another step back as he started to approach down the bank, his shiny evening shoes reflecting the moonlight.

‘I meant … you’ve got black stuff everywhere. You look like a bad Marilyn Manson impersonator.’

The dawning horror as she realised that her mascara must now be equally distributed over her entire face was matched by a slow-creeping cold that told her she’d backed away so far that she was now up to her ankles in the lapping water of the lake.  Anna decided there was nothing else for it, and she gathered her dignity beneath her and stood on it firmly.  ‘If you were a gentleman you wouldn’t have mentioned it. And you wouldn’t have followed me. You’d let me have my moment of misery in peace.’

‘I didn’t know you were having a moment of misery.  Why would you be? Ralph invited you to my party, and you came, next thing you’re dashing off like a Cinderella who’s decided on an early night.  I haven’t even had chance to be rude to you yet.’  Declan came down to the lake shore and reached out an arm.  ‘Would you like a hand getting out of the water, or will you berate me for spoiling your paddle?’

There was nothing else for it.  Anna took the offered hand and found herself tugged up close against Declan.  He still smelled of sandalwood, her subconscious noted. She hoped she’d been wrong about the Spooks poster.

‘Why didn’t …?’ they both started to speak simultaneously, then stopped.

‘You still look good,’ Declan started cautiously again, as though waiting for Anna to shout him down.  ‘Apart from the black stuff, obviously. I heard about your mum, I’m sorry.’

‘Not sorry enough to write, though,’ Anna said, a touch tartly, but with a warm feeling starting to trickle down through her chest.

‘I was a sixteen year old boy! I had no idea what to say, “sorry your mum died, school is going well and we’ve got a new Head of English?” Not really…’ he tailed off.  ‘And I did write, once or twice. But …’ he shrugged.  ‘Why didn’t you give me your email address?’

Anna opened her mouth to answer, but couldn’t.  Why hadn’t she made it easier to get in touch? ‘I think, when mum died and Helen was so little – I had to look after her. Everything else sort of went out of my head.’

Declan gave her a smile. It was the smile she’d remembered most, she thought. A slow, cautious sort of smile that lit up his eyes.  ‘Then maybe we could try again …’ he started to speak, but was interrupted by a flurry of commotion at the top of the bank, and then a breathless Ralph was running towards them, his jacket flapping unbuttoned and his hair awry.

‘You’d better get here, Dec,’ he said, puffing slightly. ‘Magda has turned up with a bunch of blokes and she’s threatening to burn the house down.’

Trust Jane Lovering to leave things on a cliffhanger! Kirsty Ferry has her work cut out for her finishing off this story – but she will be in the next couple of hours. Keep an eye :) We can’t wait to see how it ends! 

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     If you enjoyed Jane’s writing, you might like to check out her recent release Can’t Buy Me Love. Click HERE for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Can’t Buy Me Love and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Who does Declan think Anna looks like with mascara all over her face?

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

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part Two by Kathryn Freeman

Birthday Round Robin Pt 2

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 started off our Round Robin in a very intriguing way and now it’s up to Kathryn Freeman 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, so read Lynda’s Part One first HERE

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

The Birthday Surprise – Part Two by Kathryn Freeman

Declan stared in horror at the fancy invitation card – the one announcing his birthday party, for crying out loud – before glaring over at his brother.

‘Tell me this is a joke. Tell me you haven’t sent this out to anyone.’

Ralph, of the dashing good looks and forever smiling face, had the good sense to at least look apologetic, even though Declan knew it was an act. ‘I thought you’d be pleased. Flattered. Excited?’

Declan wasn’t any of those things. ‘I’ll tell you what I am. Fed up. Annoyed. Ready to punch someone.’

Proving he had a strong sense of self-preservation, along with his modicum of good sense, Ralph took a few steps back. ‘Come on, it’ll be fun. A man doesn’t turn thirty every day.’

‘Exactly,’ Declan hissed. ‘I’m a thirty-year-old man. Not a three-year-old boy. I don’t want a frigging birthday party.’

‘Why not?’ Before Declan had the chance to remind him he didn’t do parties, didn’t do socialising. Didn’t do any of the normal things a thirty-year-old might be expected to do, Ralph was talking again. ‘You’ve turned into a recluse and I’m not prepared to sit back and let you waste your life any longer. If you don’t want to celebrate the milestone of thirty years, how about celebrating that it’s been two years, since … you know.’

Declan did know. He didn’t need a ruddy party to remind him of the fact. ‘Not a fact I want to remember,’ he answered curtly.

‘Eight years since you last flashed those dimples of yours?’ It was said with a smile, but the message was clear.

‘Eight isn’t a particularly significant milestone,’ Declan countered, ignoring the dig.

‘Every milestone is significant. Every one worth celebrating, especially if it makes you smile.’

‘I’ve had damn little to smile about for a long while.’

A brief flash of sympathy crossed his brother’s face. ‘I know. Which is why I wanted to do something to rectify that.’

Declan felt a tug of remorse. ‘Okay, I appreciate the sentiment, but a party? Seriously? Do you not know me at all?’ Maybe he no longer did, Declan thought with a wave of sadness.

‘I know you once liked to party,’ Ralph said quietly. ‘I remember your school prom. How you couldn’t stop smiling when you put on that suit. Slicked back your hair like some sort of second coming of Elvis.’

Declan felt his chest tighten as an image of a girl with dark red hair in a long green dress flashed through his mind. Next to her he saw himself, all wide-eyed, innocent and eager. No clue of what life had in store for him. ‘It wasn’t the thought of the party that had me smiling,’ he admitted gruffly.

‘I know. It was that girl you kept drooling over.’ Ralph paused, giving Declan a careful study. ‘What happened to her, do you know?’

Declan sighed, shoving his hands in his pockets. It all seemed a lifetime ago. ‘She moved schools, we lost touch.’ He’d written once, painfully scratching out attempt after attempt at a letter until finally ending up with something stilted and short. He’d never received a reply.

‘Umm.’ Ralph’s eyes drifted away from his and over to the window before finally glancing down at his watch. ‘Well, we’d better get ready. Guests are due to arrive in a few hours.’

‘How many guests, exactly?’

‘Well, let me see. If I’d gone with just the people you count as friends, there’d be  …’ Ralph held up his hand and started to count his fingers. ‘Two?’

Declan resisted the urge to throw something at him. ‘Two would be my sort of party.’

‘Yeah. And about as lively as a nursing home after lunch. So I also invited the family we still talk to, plus those of my friends who can tolerate you.’

‘Thanks.’

‘And a few people from work.’

Declan raised his brow. ‘How’s it going on that front? Didn’t you have a new apprentice starting?’

‘Yes, Helen. Lovely girl. She used to go to the same school as us.’

‘Oh?’ Was it his imagination, or was Ralph avoiding his eyes?

‘She’s eight years younger than me but it’s surprising how many connections we had in common.’

Declan narrowed his eyes. ‘Do you fancy this girl?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Then why are you staring at the wall behind me when you talk about her?’

‘I’m not.’ Ralph’s eyes swung back to his. ‘Just because you don’t have a love life, don’t think you have to help mine. I do perfectly well by myself, thank you very much.’

Anxious to avoid any further discussion on how sad Ralph thought his older brother’s life was, Declan nodded. ‘Fine.’

‘Right, I’ll leave you to try and make yourself presentable for your guests.’

As Ralph walked towards the door Declan sighed, pulling out his phone. What the hell? ‘Ralph,’ he shouted, stopping his brother just before he left. ‘Why have I got a whole load of requests to be friends with people on Facebook? I don’t have a bloody Facebook account.’

‘Ah.’ Ralph smirked back at him. ‘You do now. Consider it part of your birthday present, along with the party. My contribution to bringing Declan Doherty back to life.’

Oooh, the plot thickens! What’s led to Declan’s reclusive tendencies – and can a birthday party bring him out of his shell? We’ll find out in a couple of hours time when Lisa Hill takes her turn :)  

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     If you enjoyed Kathryn’s writing, you might like to check out her upcoming paperback, Before You. Click HERE for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

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

How many years younger is Helen than Ralph?

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

Happy Birthday to Us! Birthday Round Robin: Part One by Lynda Stacey

Birthday Round Robin pt 1

Can you believe Choc Lit have been around for eight years? We’re finding it difficult to believe too! We thought long and hard about the best way to celebrate and decided that a story written collaboratively by our wonderful authors, competitions, prizes and a big slab of (virtual) chocolate cake were the way to go! So here we have Lynda Stacey starting us off with the first part of a special birthday Round Robin story. The other parts will follow on throughout the day, so make sure you keep an eye out! 

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

The Birthday Surprise – Part One by Lynda Stacey

Anna sat on the edge of the bed in her dressing gown, tossed her long auburn hair over her shoulder and stared aimlessly at the gilt edged invitation. ‘I don’t get it, why on earth would Declan Doherty invite me to his party?’ She looked over her shoulder at her younger sister, Helen. She was leaning back against her pillows, with her leg in the air, while she painted her toe nails.

‘I don’t know, Anna. He’s probably desperate!’ She sat up higher against the pillows and straightened her leg. ‘Maybe he has no other friends. I mean, come on, how long is it since you saw him? Ten, twenty, thirty years?’ She smiled, pointed her toes and admired the nail polish.

Anna closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Helen was right, as always. The last time she’d seen Declan Doherty, had been at their high school prom. It had been a night of glitz, glamour and excitement, and a night of wearing the most beautiful dress she’d ever owned. It had been long, jade-green and off shoulder, and although she’d only been sixteen years old, she’d felt so very grown up and had beamed with pride when Declan had turned up at her door, ready to escort her to the ball.

She clearly remembered him standing before her in his dark suit, and white shirt. His bright blue eyes had sparkled with excitement, his dimpled cheeks had been tinged with a blush and his dark black hair had been slicked back, making him look much older than his years. He’d taken her hand in his and she’d barely been able to breathe, as they’d walked to the gate, where a taxi stood waiting.

It had been at that moment she’d thought to glance over her shoulder, at her mum, who’d waved from the doorstep with tears of joy in her eyes.

‘Fourteen years,’ Anna finally said as she stood up and flung open the wardrobe doors, ‘It’s been fourteen years. You’d have been just six years old. The same year that our mum died.’ She held back the tears and began flicking through her rail of dresses. ‘And for your information, clever clogs, I have no idea why he’d invite me, or what the hell I’m going to say to him.’ She tried to lighten the mood, ‘I mean, come on, what do you say to the birthday boy when you haven’t seen him for fourteen whole years?’

Helen laughed, ‘You could always reject the invitation. I mean, come on, he could be a real minger by now and you really don’t have to go, do you?’

Anna sighed. She knew that she didn’t have to go. But, something inside her wanted to. She wanted to know how he’d turned out. What he’d done with his life and how he looked. Was he still as cute as he had been? Would he still blush each and every time he looked at her?

‘Do you think he could be gay?’ Helen suddenly chipped in. ‘I mean, he could be, couldn’t he?’

Anna spun around on the spot, ‘Why on earth would you even think that?’

‘Well, he’s coming up to thirty. If he were straight and married, wouldn’t his wife be sending out the invites?’

Anna turned her attention back to the wardrobe and pulled out a black, chiffon, off shoulder dress. It was short, sexy and perfectly cut to show off her long legs and slim figure. ‘What do you think to this one?’ she asked, as Helen nodded.

‘Yeah, it’d do. But, I think the red one’s better,’ she said before turning her attention back to her toes.

Anna held the dress up to herself and stared at her reflection in the full length mirror. ‘I could wear it with the black stilettos.’ She once again she looked over her shoulder and stared at her sister, hoping for a reaction. An explosion of questions had suddenly flown into her mind.

‘Helen, what if he really is married. What if it’s a surprise party? What if his wife sent the invitation?’

Helen tutted and rolled her eyes, ‘Well, first, because it would say the word surprise on the invitation and secondly, think about it, why would his wife send you of all people an invitation?’

Anna flopped down on the bed, laughed and pulled her sister into a hug, ‘And, why little sister, are you always right?’

Helen squirmed, shrugged, and jumped up from the bed. ‘Well, maybe that’s because I took the trouble to look him up on social media. See, it says right there look, single.’ She began to giggle and held her mobile up in the air. But, Anna grabbed at the phone, to clearly see Declan Doherty’s profile, which now showed on the screen in front of her, minus a photograph.

Very intriguing start from Lynda – bet you can’t wait to find out more! And you don’t have to wait too much longer as Kathryn Freeman’s second instalment will be up in the next couple of hours! 

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     If you enjoyed Lynda’s writing, you might like to check out her upcoming paperback, House of Secrets. Click the image above for more information.

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning an exclusive advance copy of House of Secrets (well, it is our birthday after all!) and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What colour was the dress that Anna went to her Prom in?

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

Birthday Celebrations: Part Four by Christine Stovell

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

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

‘What the—?’

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

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

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

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

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

‘What?’

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

‘Vibrio what?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

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

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

 

Birthday Celebrations: Part Three by Linda Mitchelmore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus’s eyes started to roll in his head.

‘Heimlich,’ Kate said.

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

Marcus coughed and then, mercifully, he swallowed.

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

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

‘Found what?’ Kate asked.

‘The diamond.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then Meg fled.

‘So …?’ Marcus said.

Kate filled his glass up again.

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

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

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

‘Five minutes,’ Kate said.

She could wait five minutes.

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

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

 

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

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

Linda also won the Short Story Radio Romance Prize 2010.

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

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

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

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

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

Birthday Celebrations: Part Two by Angela Britnell

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

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

‘Gotcha!’

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

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

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

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

…find some other bloke called Mark…

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

‘Excuse me?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Angela on Twitter: @AngelaBritnell

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

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

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

Birthday Celebrations: Part One by Jane Lovering

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

Part One by Jane Lovering

‘He’s not coming.’shutterstock_137923343

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

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

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

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

‘But… everyone likes parties.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Open up, armed police!’

 

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

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

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

COMPETITION – NOW CLOSED!

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

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