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.