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 Five by Rhoda Baxter


Choc Lit is 5 today! We’d like to say a HUGE thank you to our wonderful authors who write the best romance out there!  We’d also like to thank our dedicated Tasting Panel, who continue to select the best stories of the bunch. Our 10 awards are in recognition of their excellent taste and the many hours of reading they do for us all. And last, but by no means least, we want to thank our fabulous readers and book bloggers – without your continued cheerleading and love for Choc Lit novels we would not be here. Enjoy the last instalment of the story!

Kate had never seen Meg so hysterical as when she heard the news. It was almost as though something had snapped her inner cool. She collapsed in a tearful heap. Stunned herself, Kate lowered herself onto the arm of Meg’s chair and watched as the news anchor described how the plane was returning to England because almost everyone on board – including the pilot – had succumbed to an infection ‘caused by a contaminated batch of vol au vents.’ The logo of the catering company Kate had used flashed up on screen.

Marcus and Kate looked at each other, both going pale. ‘We had those…’ Marcus said.

And suddenly Kate was furious. Her brother could be seriously ill and she needed someone to blame. Megs gave a wail. ‘Oh Mark! My Mark.’

‘Megs,’ Kate snapped. ‘Pull yourself together. I didn’t know you cared so much about Mark. He’s MY brother, not yours.’

‘But I l…love him!’ Meg wailed. ‘I’ve just never had the chance to tell him and now I never will!’

That pulled Kate up short. What? Meg? In love with her brother? Oh.

Another glance at the screen and the anger was back. She would have to worry about Mark and Meg later. Right now, she had a catering company to shout at.

As soon as she gave her name, the woman on the phone launched into an apology and an explanation about how the diamond story was a ruse. ‘We don’t think that batch is contaminated, but we can’t be sure—’

Kate’s voice sank to a hiss. ‘Not only have you poisoned an entire flight, you’ve poisoned me as well.’

‘It’s only a tummy bug, Miss Walton. Have you…eaten the vol au vents?’

‘Yes. I have. And so has my… er… friend.’

‘Are you experiencing any… amorous feelings?’

She glanced at Marcus. He smiled and her stomach did a little flip. Amorous feelings? ‘Well…’

‘That happens immediately. Then within about 30 minutes, there will be…um… gastrointestinal issues.’

30 minutes. It had been at least an hour. Kate took a deep breath. Apart from a small tug of excitement whenever she looked at Marcus, her stomach seemed to be fine. ‘No, no stomach problems.’

‘Are you sure? They’re usually quite severe…’

‘No, I’m fine.’

The woman let out a sigh of relief. ‘Oh thank goodness for that. Listen, Miss Walton, we would advise that you don’t eat any of the food we supplied, just in case. We will, of course, refund you in full.’

Once she’d hung up, Kate rubbed her eyes. She needed a moment to make sense of all the information.

 ‘Oh my god! Mark!’ Meg’s shriek made Kate rush back to the TV where Mark’s photo, clearly taken from his passport, was on screen. Underneath, the scroll said: ‘Have a go hero’.

As Meg burst into tears again, Marcus passed her the tissues. ‘Your brother’s a hero,’ he said. ‘He and the steward are bringing the plane home.’

Once they knew where the plane was going to land, Marcus drove them to the airport in the cake delivery van. With a bit of pushing and shoving Kate and Meg managed to get to the front of the waiting crowd just as the camera flashes of the waiting journalists went off. There, in the middle of the melee, looking shaken, but otherwise perfectly well, was Mark.

‘Mark!’ Kate ducked under the barrier to get to her brother, but Meg beat her to him. She flung her arms around Mark and buried her face in his shoulder. A rather stunned looking Mark wrapped his arms around her.

‘Mark,’ said Kate.

Mark opened one arm and gathered Kate to him as well. ‘You idiot,’ she muttered into his ear, ‘the lengths you go to to avoid my party.’

But Mark was too busy looking at Meg to answer.

‘It was awful,’ said Mark, as they finally walked back to the van.

‘Must have been terrifying, piloting a plane,’ said Kate.

‘Oh no, that bit was okay. They gave me very clear instructions. No, it was after we landed. When we had to go back into the cabin to let the ambulance crew in. The plane was full and there were only so many loos…’ Mark paled. ‘That’s a sight I’m never going to unsee.’ He shook his head. ‘I may need therapy.’

There wasn’t enough room for everyone in the front of the van, so Meg and Mark bundled into the back.

‘I’ll drive very carefully,’ said Marcus. ‘If we get stopped pretend you’re made of cake.’

They pulled up outside the house. Kate looked at the window, where one banner she’d forgotten to take down still said ‘Happy Birthday’. She suddenly felt weary.

Marcus squeezed her shoulder. ‘You okay?’ When she nodded, he said: ‘Let’s go let those two out the back.’

But when they opened the door, Meg and Mark were wrapped tightly round each other, their faces apparently glued together. Marcus quietly shut the door again. ‘I don’t think they want to be disturbed.’ He grinned. ‘It’s a good job your brother didn’t eat the vol au vents. Mind you, what are the chances of the catering company losing a diamond and getting bacterial contamination in the same set of vol au vents.’

‘Ah, about that. They didn’t really lose the diamond.’ Kate briefly explained.

It took a moment for the implications to settle in. Marcus’s face fell. ‘So I don’t have to stay here overnight then.’

He wanted to stay. Kate felt the heat rising in her cheeks. ‘Well, not unless you want to.’

Marcus took a step closer to her. ‘Oh, I do,’ he said. ‘I really do.’

His lips met hers and forgot all about being tired as she abandoned herself to the delicious warmth of his arms pulling her closer.  When they finally drew apart he said, ‘I must admit, I’m a little sad that I’m not carrying a huge gemstone in my guts any more.’

Kate laughed and laid her head against his chest. ‘Don’t worry. To me you’ll always be a real diamond.’

The End

Rhoda Baxter writes contemporary romantic comedies. Her father’s engineering skills Rhoda Baxter author shotwere in international demand, so her childhood was split between the UK, the Pacific island of Yap, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

Rhoda studied at the University of Oxford and holds a DPhil in microbiology. When chosing a pen name, she got nostalgic about the bacteria she used to study, (Rhodobacter species) and named herself Rhoda Baxter after them. Now her day job involves protecting and commercialising Intellectual Property generated by University research. This allows her to stay in touch with cutting edge scientific research without having to spend long hours in the lab.

Rhoda is married and has 2 children. They live together in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Her novels include Girl on the Run and Doctor January.

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.

Alison May’s Top 5 Shakespearean Heroines

The Cobbe portrait

The Cobbe portrait

It’s Shakespeare’s 450th birthday! And in honour of the occasion I’m getting all Shakespearean and nominating my favourite heroines and heroes who have sprung forth from the Bard’s quill. Today it’s the turn of the ladies.

Cue the Top of the Pops style countdown music…

5. Katherina, The Taming of The Shrew

Ok, so to modern eyes there’s an awful lot that’s wrong with The Taming of the Shrew. Essentially it’s a story about domestic abuse which ultimately breaks the spirit of the main character, but that’s not to say that we don’t love that main character. It’s the fact that we love her so much that makes her humiliation so hard to watch. Katherina is outspoken, bolshy and engaged in a ferocious bout of sibling rivalry with her sister. She’s not a ‘nice’ heroine but she grabs the audience by the throat and shakes them, and she’s inspired a Hollywood teen flick and a classic musical. Straight into my top 5 for Katherina.

4. Hermione, The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale deserves an honourable mention in any rundown of Shakespeare plays, mainly because it includes the epic stage direction ‘Exit stage left pursued by bear.’ But this is my top heroines, not my top stage directions, so let’s get back to Hermione. She’s a wronged woman. Accused by her husband, the King, of infidelity, she’s thrown out of the palace and her child is dispatched into the wilderness. Hermione doesn’t let this get her down. She bides her time, and reappears years later, pretending to be a statue of herself. The King repents; the lost child reappears; and Hermione reveals herself to be alive rather than made of marble, simultaneously securing one of the least plausible happy endings anywhere in literature, and inspiring generations of fake statue street performers. Kudos to Hermione.

3. Helena, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Helena is a heroine for any girl who’s ever felt that they were destined to always be the sidekick. For all of us who’ve ever thought we were just the plain friend who was never going to get the guy, Helena is the one to watch. Obviously she ends up blissfully in love with her man, with only a tiny bit assistance from fairies and magic potions, and she also gets to participate in one of the best cat fights ever written, where she describes her rival with the classic line ‘And though she be but little, she is fierce.’ It turns out that, once she gets going, quiet, compliant, sidekick Helena can be pretty fierce too.

2. Juliet, Romeo and Juliet

Oh Juliet. Poor unfortunate Juliet. You’ve made it to number two on this list for your appealing mix of impulsiveness, passion and quite a sensible head. Although when I say ‘sensible head’ that’s only really in comparison with Romeo, who is all passion and impulse with hardly a moment’s thought. Anyway, for passion, pure romance and taking a chance on love Juliet makes it into my top five. If she’d only had the good sense to think a little bit harder about the practicalities of the whole ‘faking her own death’ plan, she might have made it all the way to the number one.

1. Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing

No competition for the top spot in my list. For me Beatrice is the funniest, cleverest, and most passionate of all Shakespeare’s heroines. She’s a brilliantly loyal friend, and a very modern woman. She advises her cousin not simply to marry in line with her father’s wishes, but to find a husband who pleases her, and she out and out rejects the idea of getting married herself, which makes her confusion and horror when she realises that she is actually completely, utterly, irredeemably in love with Benedick all the more endearing.

So that’s my top five heroines. Come back on Friday when I’ll be running through Shakespeare’s top leading men.

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“I think this is a marvellous updated retelling of [Much Ado About Nothing] … fresh and modern.” – Dear Author

Sweet Nothing by Alison May is available on Kindle.

Happy Birthday, Jane! by Juliet Archer

austenbdaysoireepicture-1Today’s a very special occasion – Jane Austen’s Birthday Soirée! Around the worldwide web, 31 Austen enthusiasts are celebrating her 236th birthday and showering her with cards, gifts and letters. We’re also showering you, dear readers, with giveaways.

I’ve written a letter to Jane, and I’m giving away a signed copy of The Importance of Being Emma and a signed copy of Persuade Me – open worldwide.

Dear Jane,

When you described your books as your children, did you ever imagine that they would be the start of an ever-expanding dynasty of prequels, sequels, modernisations, mash-ups and other ‘what-ifs’?

Two hundred years after your ‘eldest’ was first published, you have thousands of ‘descendants’ inhabiting every continent. Although the world you knew has undergone huge changes, your stories, characters and humour are timeless. You understood all the magic ingredients of comedy romance long before anyone else did.

Thank you for believing in your writing and persevering to get published. Little did you know how many readers would enjoy your work.

Happy Birthday!

Love,

Juliet Archer

To win a prize, leave a reply to the question below, giving your email address and indicating whether you’d like a copy of The Importance of Being Emma or Persuade Me. Giveaway closes at midnight on 23rd December.

Question: if a lost Austen novel was discovered, what do you think its title would be?

I’d like to thank the ladies who thought of this Soirée and organised it so beautifully – Maria Grazia – My Jane Austen Book Club and Katherine Cox – November’s Autumn (who also did the fabulous images). Finally, here’s the full list of participants and giveaways – feel free to drop by:

1. Sharon Lathan  Blog: Sharon Lathan Giveaway : Miss Darcy Falls in Love

2. Emily SnyderBlog: O! Beauty Unattempted Giveaway: Letters of Love & Deception

3. Laurel Ann Nattress Blog: Austenprose Giveaway: signed copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It

4. C. Allyn Pierson Blog: SemiTrue Stories Giveaway: Mr Darcy Little Sister (open worldwide)

5. Cindy Jones   Blog: First Draft Giveaway: a signed copy of “My Jane Austen Summer” and a package of Lily Berry’s Pink Rose Tea by Bingley’s, Ltd.

6. Farida Mestek   Blog: Regency stories set against the backdrop of Regency England Giveaway: I was Jane Austen Best Friend by Cora Harrison

7. Marilyn Brant    Blog: Brant Flakes Giveaway : A canvas ACCORDING TO JANE tote bag and a pair of A SUMMER IN EUROPE luggage tags.

8. Prue Batten  Blog: Mesmered’s Blog Giveaway : Anna Elliot’s “Georgiana Darcy” (Kindle book)

9. Erin Blakemore Blog: The Heroine’s Bookshelf Giveaway : a set of Potter-Style Pride and Prejudice notecards

10. Velvet    Blog: vvb32 reads Giveaway: Jane Austen’s Little Instruction Book (Charming Petites) By Jane Austen Edited by Sophia Bedford-Pierce, Illustrated by Mullen &

Katz, Introduction by Barbara Paulding

11. Karen Doornebos  Blog: The Fiction vs. Reality Smackdown Giveaway: 2 Jane Austen Candles and 2 signed DNMD books plus drink coasters and tea!

12. Regina Jeffers ReginaJeffers’s Blog Giveaway: An autographed copy of “Christmas at Pemberley “

13. Alyssa Goodnight    Blog: Alyssa Goodnight Giveaway: Jane Austen Action figure

14: Deb  Blog: Jane Austen in Vermont Giveaway: JASNA 2012 calendars from the Wisconsin JASNA Region

15: Laura Hile,  Susan Kaye, Pamela Aidan, and Barbara Cornthwaite Blog: Jane Started It! Giveaway:

· One copy of Young Master Darcy: A Lesson in Honour by Pamela Aidan

· One set of Frederick Wentworth, Captain (Books 1 and 2) by Susan Kaye

· Two copies of Mercy’s Embrace: So Rough a Course (Book 1) by Laura Hile

· George Kinghtley, Gentleman (Books 1 and 2) by Barbara Cornthwaite.

16 . Juliet Archer   Blog: Choc Lit Authors’ Corner Giveaway: a copy of “Persuade Me” and one of “The Importance of Being Emma”

17. Jane Greensmith   Blog: Reading, Writing, Working , Playing Giveaway: a copy of “Intimations of Austen”, and Sense & Sensibility (Marvel Illustrated)

18. Jenny Allworthy Blog : The Jane Austen Film Club Giveaway: a copy of Northanger Abbey DVD starring Felicity Jones and JJ Feild (The winner will choose region 1 or 2 DVD)

19. Sitio Jane Austen    Blog: El Salón de Té de Jane Giveaway: - Spanish edition of Sense and Sensibility for the 200th Anniversary + A DVD package with adaptations of Jane Austen

(It’s only zone 2, but it’s in Spanish and English ) + blu-ray of the BBC’s Emma with Romola Garai

20. Kaitlin Saunders    Blog : Kaitlin Saunders Giveaway: “A Modern Day Persuasion”

21. Becky Rhodehouse     Blog: One Literature Nut Giveaway: selection of Austenesque Reads

22. Patrice Sarath Blog: Patrice Sarath Giveaway: A copy of The Unexpected Miss Bennet

23. Adriana Zardini Site: Jane Austen Brasil Giveaway: DVD – Sense and Sensibility (1995) – English / Portuguese subtitles

24. Jane Odiwe Blog: Jane Austen Sequels Giveaway: a mug with one of Jane Odiwe’s illustrations and a copy of her “Mr Darcy’s Secret”

25. Courtney Webb Stiletto Storytime Giveaway: Noble Satyr by Lucinda Brant (Regency Romance)

26. Jennifer Becton    Blog: Jennifer W. Becton Giveaway: An ebook of the Personages of Pride and Prejudice Collection, which contains all of my Austenesque works: Charlotte Collins, “Maria Lucas,” and Caroline Bingley. The giveaway will be open internationally.

27. Vera Nazarian    Blog: Urban Girl Takes Vermont Giveaway: a copy of Vera Nazarian’s gift hardcover edition of her inspirational calendar and diary, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

28. Abigail Reynolds   Blog: Pemberley Variations Giveaway: a signed copy of “Mr. Darcy’s Undoing”

29. Blog: AustenAuthors Giveaway: Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

30. Katherine Cox   November’s Autumn Giveaway :$10 B&N Gift-card (US only)

31. Maria Grazia  My Jane Austen Book Club Giveaway : A selection of Austenesque reads