The Perfect Valentine’s Day: Part Two by Linn B. Halton

DAY 2 VRR

Linn B. Halton carries on where Alison May left off yesterday and – as expected – Sophie’s Valentine’s Day isn’t going quite the way she hoped it would … 

Read right until the end for details of a competition! In order to enter, you will also need to make sure you have read the first extract by Alison May, which you can find HERE, as well as the rest of the extracts leading up until Valentine’s Day (look out for those over the next few days!) 🙂

When Sophie caught sight of Josh standing in the corner of the wine bar, she was a little surprised. In her head he’d be there waiting for her with a bouquet of flowers in his hands and wearing one of his very smart, hand-tailored suits. Instead he was … well, smart-casual she’d call it. Feeling a little flustered, she offered up her cheek for the enthusiastic continental kiss, and Josh always did the three air kisses greeting. Which was definitely a sign that they were progressing from the less familiar, two air kisses. Of course, she fantasised about French kissing with him, but she wasn’t complaining. Their parting kiss on the last date had been on the mouth and her feet had almost left the floor. She’d had to throw her arms around him to anchor herself.

‘You’re looking very sophisticated, tonight, Sophie. I wish I’d worn a suit, now.’

Sophie’s mind reeled. Hello. It’s Valentine’s Day and we’re on a date. What did you expect? Calm down, Sophie, maybe you are a little over-dressed, but by the look on Josh’s face he’s certainly appreciating every little detail.

She could almost feel that first passionate embrace that would signal the end of the evening and the start of the next phase of their relationship.

‘Those heels might be a bit of a problem, though.’ Josh looked down appreciatively at the five-inch, strappy heels. ‘We’re going ten pin bowling, but it’s OK, they provide shoes.’

Sophie nearly fainted on the spot! She’d just blown her entire pampering allowance for the next six months and they were going bowling? Adjusting her face to reflect a pleasant smile, rather than the initial look of horror, wasn’t easy. And then she remembered the dress. How on earth was she going to bend in it? The idea was to sit elegantly at the white, linen-covered table, looking totally gorgeous as Josh gazed longingly into her eyes.

‘Bowling?’ She could hardly get the word out from between her gritted teeth, but managed what was, she hoped, a rather playful smile.

‘I thought it was time you met my friends. I can’t wait to show you off, although in that dress I really want to keep you all to myself.’

Sophie paused. This was good. This was very good, but she needed to re-think her strategy.

‘Oh, Josh, that’s great. I’ll just pop home to change into something a little more appropriate. It’s just that it’s Valentine’s Day and …’

‘It is? Ah, I meant to get you a card, but I’ve been snowed under at work and chained to the desk. I’m afraid if we don’t leave now we’re going to be late and they won’t start without us. Anyway, you look wonderful, Sophie, and I must admit that when you first walked in you took my breath away!’

Sophie didn’t know whether to stand there and glow, elegantly, in response to his heart-warming comment, or burst into tears. She was going to look like a complete fool if everyone else turned up suitably attired. But then, maybe this could work in her favour. How hard was it to throw a ball, not that she’d ever tried, and do it in a style befitting her outfit? She could end up looking cool and sophisticated. Her eyes gleamed. Josh was hers and tonight was going to seal the deal!

Walking into the bowling alley, Josh steered her towards a group of people sitting in a cluster at the head of one of the lanes, and her heart instantly spiralled downwards towards the floor. Yes, she was greeted by an array of smiling faces, but to her utter dismay it was clear that these people were competitive. All of the ladies were wearing the same, admittedly cool, T-shirt and leggings. This was a ‘guys versus gals’ game and as soon as the intros were done, she knew she was being evaluated. If only her dress wasn’t quite so short, or quite so snug … This wasn’t just about winning their approval and working her way into Josh’s heart, this was about proving she could fit in and match their expectations.

If I can pull this off, she thought, trying her hardest to wrestle on the awful shoes Josh had handed her, then this will be the best Valentine’s Day ever. The day you finally fall into the arms of Mr. Right and hear him say those magical words – but first things, first.

Sophie threw off all thoughts of romance and prepared for battle.

Wine and chocolate

Poor Sophie! Let’s see what plans Kirsty Ferry has in store for her tomorrow. Something tells us it might get worse before it gets better, but you’ll just have to wait and see … 

COMPETITION TIME!

For a chance to win a mystery romance & chocolate prize, simply read the extracts as they are released each day and answer the questions we ask at the end. When you have all five answers, simply send them in to us for a chance to win (more details will be given when the last part of the story is released on Valentine’s Day). Today’s question is …

What are Josh’s female friends wearing when Sophie meets them at the bowling alley?

As well as the main competition, we will also be running a competition each day to win a book. To enter this competition, simply comment with what you think of the story so far, either below in the comments section or on Twitter/Facebook. Good luck!

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If you enjoyed Linn B. Halton’s writing, you can order her book A Little Sugar, A Lot of Love HERE

The Perfect Valentine’s Day: Part One by Alison May

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 Alison May kicks off our Valentine’s Day Round Robin in style! Look out for the other four parts of the story coming over the next few days and finishing on the big day itself. Make sure you read each part of the story right until the end so you can take part in our competition for a mystery prize of chocolate and romance 😉 

Sophie Morris had a dream. It was a dream of coming home to find her flat filled with red roses. It was a dream of chocolate and perfume delivered to her desk at work. It was a dream of a mountain of cards on the mat after the postman had been. It was a dream of her perfect Valentine’s Day.

In reality Valentine’s Day had always been a bit of a nightmare. There’d been all the years at school when she’d watched the cards pile up on the desks of the prettier, more popular girls. There’d been one particularly awful year at university when she’d ended the Valentine’s Ball not in the arms of her intended Romeo, but crying in the toilet with half the contents of the punch bowl down her previously white dress.

But this year was going to be different. This year she had her fourth date with Josh Tyler. Josh Tyler. Tall. Blond. Former professional swimmer, and now an almost very nearly fully qualified solicitor. Brawn and brains. Just the sort of man, in fact, that Sophie had been building her Valentine’s fantasies around for years, only Josh was real. She’d first seen him three months ago getting coffee across the road from her office. Two months ago he’d been behind her in the queue and picked up her drink by mistake. By Christmas, they’d been on nodding terms. And a month ago, she’d plucked up the courage to suggest that they ‘take a proper break’ and drink their coffee together.

If you counted that coffee, as Date One, and Sophie did, then tonight was Date Four and Date Four on Valentine’s Day meant, to Sophie’s deeply romance-focused mind, that this was a Proper Relationship.

Her perfect Valentine’s Day was planned down to the last minute. Unfortunately, it did still involve going to work, but that was fine. She had to give her quarterly presentation to the sales team just before lunch, but then, the plan was to take the afternoon off and get herself fully Valentine’s ready. She had appointments for hair, nails, facial eyebrow wax, leg wax, and ahem … well other waxing – she had very definite plans for Date Number Four.

Then she would head home, all newly scrubbed and buffed and get dressed in her brand new Perfect Date Outfit. She’d tried on no less than forty-seven potential outfits in preparation for this date. She’d gone through everything in her wardrobe and her sister’s wardrobe before dragging her sister round the shops until she’d found the perfect little red dress. Short but not too short. Tight but not too tight. It seemed to suck bits of her in and pop other bits of her out again in all sorts of good ways.definite plans for Date Number Four.

And then, taxi into town to meet Josh. He was keeping their destination secret, which was exactly as it should be – a little mystery, Sophie felt, added to the romance. And actually she had a pretty good idea where they were going. She’d spent the last three weeks casually mentioning the new French style bistro that had opened opposite the cathedral, and Josh was a smart boy. She had no doubt he’d have picked up her hints.

So, for the first time in her life, Sophie Morris left for work on Valentine’s Day full of confidence. This year really was going to be her year. This year she was going to finally win at Valentine’s Day. Nothing and nobody was going to spoil her perfect day.

Wine and chocolate

We’re already rooting for Sophie to have her perfect Valentine’s Day … but something tells us it might not go completely to plan! You can now read the other four parts of the story:

Click HERE to read Part Two by Linn B. Halton

Click HERE to read Part Three by Kirsty Ferry

Click HERE to read Part Four by Angela Britnell

Click HERE to read Part Five by Sheryl Browne

And now for our COMPETITION! In order to enter you will need to read each part of the story carefully and answer FIVE questions. Please only enter once all parts of the story have been released and you have answered all the questions. Today’s question is …

Where is Sophie hoping that Josh takes her on Valentine’s Day?

Make sure you note down your answer and come back tomorrow for the second question!

There will also be a prize each day for the best comment so please let us know what you think of the story so far in the comments section below!

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Alison May’s wonderful novel, Midsummer Dreams, is out in paperback on Valentine’s Day. You can pre-order your copy HERE.

 

Enjoy Good Friday and the second part of our Easter Round Robin!

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Happy Good Friday! We hope you enjoyed the first part of our Easter Round Robin by Jane Lovering (you can read it again HERE). Today, it’s Janet Gover’s turn. Has she helped Grace out of the very awkward situation she was in yesterday? 

Grace had to make a choice.

Should she stay in her hiding place and just hope HE left without seeing her? Then she could slink away and escape. Slink away – that sounded like a beaten dog. It felt like she was doing that far too often these days. That wasn’t an image she liked. Okay – next option.

She could reveal herself. She had every right to be here. In fact, someone had asked her to come and rescue them from their plague of Blatella Germanica. In her head, she saw herself leaping out from behind the fridge like some deranged rubber-clad superhero. It wasn’t a pretty sight. And when accompanied by eye-watering chemical smells … Definitely not the impression she wanted to make. There had to be another alternative.

‘Hello.’

Great. Caught cowering between the fridge and the Aga and surrounded by dead cockroaches. Was that worse than slinking out like a beaten dog? Probably.

There was nothing for it but to stand up. Except … She grunted with pain as her knees protested at the amount of time she’d spent crouched in her hiding place.

So she was now a grunting, rubber-clad, chemical-scented deranged superhero. Could things get any worse?

‘Can I help?’ A hand was extended towards her. She couldn’t help but notice the total lack of a ring on his third finger.

He’d always had beautiful hands. The sort of hands that could belong to a surgeon or a concert pianist. But those long slender fingers weren’t effeminate or delicate. They knew exactly what to do with a power tool … or the body of a girl who was naive and innocent.

It would be a sacrilege to put her chemical stained rubber glove into that beautiful hand – but she did it anyway. It was that or remain crouched behind the Aga until her knees seized permanently and they had to call in the fire brigade to extricate her.

He began to pull her upright with enough strength to compensate for her decidedly shaky knees.

The trousers above the ever-so-slightly mud-spattered Wellingtons were clean, with a razor sharp crease. The belt around the narrow hips looked expensive, with its understated shiny silver buckle. The shirt underneath what was obviously a tailor made jacket was pale pink, crisply ironed, and showed no sign of either mud or sweat. Who wore a pale pink shirt in a farmyard? And even more perplexing, how did anyone come out of a farmyard that clean?

The answer was simple. Someone who was perfect. Perfect in every way.

She raised her eyes to look at his face. Still drop-down-dead gorgeous. His dark hair was cut shorter than she remembered, and it looked like he hadn’t shaved that morning. The hint of stubble was terribly fashionable and suited him, damn it. His long straight nose was twitching slightly at the wave of cockroach killing fumes that had preceded her. His eyes were on her feet, slowly working up her rubber-clad form. At last they reached her face.

Grace braced herself. Maybe he wouldn’t recognise her. She was a very different woman to the girl she had once been. The girl he had known. Maybe she would escape after all.

A small frown creased his perfectly smooth forehead. He reached forward and carefully removed her baseball cap.

Waves of unruly, unwashed, unbrushed blonde hair cascaded down to her shoulders like the tangled string from an old mop.

His lovely dark brown eyes widened.

‘Oh my God! Grace?’

Who could this gorgeous stranger from Grace’s past be? Perhaps you’ll find out tomorrow 😉 

Janet Gover’s new book, The Wild One, is available to buy NOW on all the eBook platforms. You can follow Janet on Twitter here

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Kiss and Don’t tell (until the end) – why I love romantic mysteries

Clare Chase’s fast-paced and thrilling romantic suspense novel, You Think You Know Me, is out in e-book format today. Read about her love of mysteries and the inspiration behind the novel here on Choc Lit corner. Happy Publication day, Clare! 🙂

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To me, asking if I’d like mystery mixed with my romance is like asking if I’d like a glass of wine with my chocolate.  Either one alone is wonderful, but if I’m allowed to wolf down both at once, I’m a happy woman. Each genre brings its own tension, intrigue and pulse-racing moments, and a mix of the two is a powerful combination.

I also really like the puzzle element. I love not knowing what hidden motives a character might have, and what secrets lie in their past. If I can’t sleep, I find wondering ‘whodunnit’ in the book I’m reading a lot more fun than counting sheep.

Not knowing who to trust ratchets up the tension for the protagonist too. In my novel, You Think You Know Me, the heroine, Anna, is faced with this dilemma. She feels an immediate and powerful connection with a man she’s just met, but finds within hours that he’s given her a false name. Torn between backing off and allowing him to explain, she gets drawn into a dangerous and unstoppable drama.

Romantic mystery is a classic sub-genre, and I was introduced to it quite young, when I first read Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I found it unbeatable: a passionate love story tightly interwoven with intrigue and danger.

Evocative settings mean a lot to me too. Du Maurier’s use of wild moorland was perfect. For my own story, set in the run-up to Christmas, the build-up takes place against the fast-moving backdrop of London, but the denouement makes use of the lonely beauty of the Lakes.

Once I’d got bitten by the romantic mystery bug, I lapped up Mary Stewart’s novels. Meanwhile books like Jilly Cooper’s Bella had me turning the pages so fast I ripped them. But the male thriller writers were just as inclined to pepper their stories with romantic intrigue. I remember finding Dick Francis’ novels quite educational on that front, when I first found them on my grandmother’s bookshelves.

Romantic mysteries are also the stuff of Hollywood, of course, from classics like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, (and indeed, Jamaica Inn), to the unfolding relationship between Jason and Marie in The Bourne Identity.

Sometimes the mystery is very much bound up with the romance, and resolving one leads straight on to the happy ever after in the other. But other authors follow relationship hurdles that are separate from the central plot. Nora Roberts, writing as JD Robb, uses this format in her novels about Detective Eve Dallas and her partner Roarke.

Like the books in its umbrella genres, the romantic mystery comes in many forms, but one thing it always promises is escapism and excitement. Wonderful though everyday often life is, I think there’s a huge benefit in that.

Twitter: @ClareChase_ 

Website: www.clarechase.com

Facebook: Clare Chase author page

Buy You Think You Know Me HERE today.

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Check out the awesome book trailer for You Think You Know Me here:

 

Magic Sometimes Happens … Happy e-publication day!

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Hooray! Margaret James is back with another feel-good love story. Magic Sometimes Happens is out in all eBook formats today, so relax and enjoy! To celebrate, Margaret’s stopped by to tell us a little bit about her new novel …

While I was planning Magic Sometimes Happens, I knew I wanted to write a story about two very different people who fall in love. Or at least they think they’ve very different. But, as in almost all romantic fiction, they find that although they might come from different backgrounds, have different agendas and live in different countries, in all the most important ways they are the same.

What attracted my heroine, fashion-mad PR consultant and very British Rosie Denham (who also appears in The Wedding Diary as Fanny’s assistant!), to my hero Patrick Riley, a married American college professor who hardly notices what he wears, is the father of two cute but exhausting children, drives a trash-mobile, and whose obsession with his cutting-edge research into thought-to-text technology has effectively destroyed his marriage? Who is not even remotely interested in cardigans, cupcakes or consumer durables?

Let’s ask Rosie’s best friend, Tess:

He’s clever, kind and funny, and he’s damn good-looking, too. You should see him with his children, Rosie, talk about a perfect father – and the kids, they obviously adore him.

Clever, kind, funny, good-looking and a perfect father – how could Rosie possibly resist him? Perhaps she won’t even try?

As for Patrick: a hero should always be prepared to take a few risks, shouldn’t he – with his money (as an academic, Patrick doesn’t have too much of that), with his job, with his own safety, perhaps even with his life? Of course he should! So, when Rosie loses something very precious, something which most people would write off as irrecoverable, Patrick moves several mountains in his determination to make Rosie smile again:

Patrick

I called a friend who had connections with the CIA.

   ‘Yeah, it might be possible,’ he told me, after I explained. ‘I might know a guy who knows a guy. But a private contract – it would cost a bunch of money. We’re talking big bucks here.’

   ‘What, thousands, millions?’

   ‘It would be ten thousand dollars minimum, and in cash.’

   ‘If you let me have some contact details, I’ll go on from there.’

   ‘No, I’ll meet you for a beer some time. I don’t want to put this stuff in emails or tell you on the phone. You never know who’s listening.’

   ‘Maybe we could meet later today?’

   ‘Yeah, I guess,’ he said. ‘It’s been a while. So tell me – you mislaid the secret of eternal life?’

   ‘I want this data found.’

   ‘Okay, okay, but listen up – before you give your money to this guy, you need to know that he won’t offer any guarantees. Also, if he manages to track your data down, he could take his time to hand it over – might be months or even years. The fact is, he might never hand it over, but don’t even start to think you’ll get your money back.’

What has Rosie lost and why is Patrick so anxious to recover it? I hope readers will think it’s worth finding out.

Find out more about Magic Sometimes Happens and Margaret’s other novels:

www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268

@majanovelist

www.margaretjamesblog.blogspot.co.uk

Magic Sometimes Happens is available on all major eBook platforms:

Kindle Uk   Kindle US   Kobo   iBooks 

 

Exclusive short story: Sugar Coated by Angela Britnell

Woohoo! Sugar and Spice is the Kindle Daily Deal at only 99p! To celebrate, Angela’s written an exclusive short story to enjoy this bank holiday weekend.

Sam selected the last beignet from her plate and sunk her teeth into the soft squishy goodness, not caring when another puff of icing sugar stuck to her chin. The good side of her business trip to New Orleans in the sweltering summer heat sat right in front of her, in the form of the Cafe du Monde’s  hip-destroying doughnuts.

Today's Kindle Daily Deal!

Today’s Kindle Daily Deal!

‘Samantha?’

She jerked her head up and met Gareth’s shocked stare. Her ex-fiancé’s sweeping gaze ran down over her and Sam winced, acutely aware of her sticky, overheated skin, wrinkled dress and lack of make-up.

‘Fancy meeting you here.’

Just fancy.

‘This is Lucinda,’ he beamed at the tall, elegant blonde draped over his arm. ‘Lucinda Morecombe, my new wife. We’re on our honeymoon.’

Sam didn’t respond and she watched a rush of heat colour his face and neck. Even thick-skinned Gareth must realise his enthusiasm was tactless in the circumstances – she almost asked if he’d actually turned up and gone through with the ceremony this time. Sam experienced a violent urge to pick up the plate of leftover icing sugar and throw it all over his immaculate black golf shirt and crisp chinos.

‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend, Snugglepuff?’ Lucinda whined.

‘Yes, Snugglepuff, why don’t you.’ Sam teased and Gareth shifted from one foot to the other,  mumbling something which Lucinda immediately asked him to repeat.

‘This is Samantha Black. I told you about her. We were … um, engaged a long time ago.’

This is Samantha?’ Lucinda’s eyes narrowed. ‘You told me she was plain and you’d felt sorry for her.’

Sam couldn’t decide whether to smack Gareth for making derogatory remarks about her, or gloat because Lucinda obviously didn’t agree with his assessment. Jealousy made the other woman’s face pinched and shrewish. Good. Gareth deserved every miserable minute of what he’d have to endure when they left. She stared at him and waited as he weighed his options. If he denied everything he’d be calling his new wife a liar. Hurting Sam’s feelings was much better on the Protect Gareth At All Costs scale.

‘No one could match up to you, my angel,’ Gareth purred and Sam thought she might lose her beignets all over his glossy black shoes. He flashed Sam an apologetic smile. ‘No offence intended.’

‘None taken,’ she replied through clenched teeth.

Gareth cleared his throat. ‘We ought to be going.’

‘Of course,’ Sam agreed, casually raising her left hand to push back her hair.

‘What’s that?’ Gareth snapped, pointed at her finger.

She smirked at the glittering two-caret diamond. ‘What do you think?’

‘Who’s the, er, lucky man?’

Sam gave what she hoped was an enigmatic smile. ‘No one you’d know.’

‘I hope you’ll be very happy.’ Gareth’s grudging tone was beyond satisfying. ‘Come on, Lucinda.’

Sam chuckled to herself as they left. Discreetly switching the ring from her right hand had been a touch of genius. She’d bought it from her lottery winnings, the obscenely large jackpot Gareth missed out on by leaving her standing at the altar a year ago.

Sometimes revenge really was best served sugar coated.

 

Angela enjoying a plate of beignets in the Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

Angela enjoying a plate of beignets in the Cafe du Monde, New Orleans

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.