Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Final Part by Sheryl Browne

Round Robin SB All good things must come to an end – and that includes Valentine’s Round Robins! But Sheryl Browne has her turn today and there’ll still be one more competition to enter too – if you read until the end ;) Let’s find out what happens to Harriet at her Valentine/birthday ball…

To enjoy this story make sure you read the other parts first:

Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE

Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE

Part Three by Morton S Gray HERE

Part Four by Rhoda Baxter HERE

She’d known that last slice of chocolate cake had been a mistake. With the final batch of cupcakes safely delivered to the pub, Harriet was attempting to slip into her dress, a snip-in-the-sales, strappy russet satin mini dress, which frustratingly no longer seemed slippable into.

Much heaving and tugging later, the dress was on, possibly permanently. Harriet glanced forlornly at her reflection in the wardrobe mirror. ‘What do you think, Luna?’ she asked her sooty black cat, who wove a figure of eight around her ankles.

Luna meowed and padded off to jump on the bed and settle down with a contented purr.

Taking that as approval, Harriet surveyed herself again. ‘Hmm, you might be right,’ she conceded. She might have to use scissors to remove it, and she might have to keep breathing to a minimum, but the dress at least flattered in all the right places.

Realising she was going to be late for the ball, Harriet turned to kiss the cat, probably the only being she’d be kissing and cuddling up to anytime soon, and dashed down to grab up the last half-dozen heart-shaped balloons from the hall and then fly through the front door.

***

‘Ooh, I say,’ Vera looked her pointedly over, as she all but fell into the function room, ‘we have undressed to impress, haven’t we?’

‘Oh no …’ Harriet followed Vera’s gaze worriedly down to her cleavage. ‘Is it too much?’

‘Well, it’s certainly an eyeful,’ Vera said jollily, causing Harriet’s cheeks to flush a complementary russet coloured red. ‘But if you’ve got it …’

With which, Vera leaned in. ‘I think Tony’s appreciating the view,’ she whispered, nodding over her shoulder towards the bar, where Tony, looking just as edible out of uniform as he did in it,  was indeed staring intently in her direction.

Harriet’s heart did a little flip in her chest and then drooped, as the designer dressed striking brunette at his side, placed a hand on Tony’s arm, turning his attention back to her. This was Jamie then, Harriet assumed, who was no doubt asking who the barely-dressed floozy was.

Smiling wanly as he glanced again in her direction, Harriet lowered her balloons to discreetly chest-level. The woman might not be his girlfriend, but judging by the body language she was certainly laying claims on him.

Harriet sighed inwardly as Vera, obviously oblivious, gave her one of her coy winks and moved off to join Felicity and Moira to catch up on the village goss.

Zack, dressed in a black shirt – minus dog-collar – and thigh flattering jeans, was definitely challenging the stereotypical vicarly image, Harriet noticed, as she headed across the room to unburden herself of her balloons. She could almost feel the heat radiating from his smouldering grey eyes as he yanked Tammy into a tight hold on the dancefloor.

Well that was obviously a match made in heaven. Harriet couldn’t help but smile as Tammy, clearly as smitten as he was, beamed at her over his shoulder and gave Harriet a thumbs up.

Two down, one to go, Harriet thought disconsolately, still holding onto her balloons, which she’d become strangely attached to. Where was her sister, she wondered, scanning the room for signs of her, along with the mysterious blind date who would probably turn out to be predictably utterly inappropriate. The last one had been a head shorter than her and, while Harriet wasn’t short-ist, the man regaling her with rugby jokes all evening and suggesting she might wear flat shoes next time did put her off a bit.

Paul didn’t seem in evidence either. So much for her at least one dance with a man this evening. Obviously Paul wasn’t going to be a her saviour.

Wine, Harriet thought, heading for the bar. Prosecco and a chocolate cupcake would cheer her up. Who cared if she had to live in the russet-red dress for the rest of her life? And then she would dump her balloons and strut her stuff on the dancefloor with the stalwarts of the Women’s Institute. She didn’t need a man to have a good time. A handbag would do. She laughed as she passed Vera and co, who were practising some risqué moves around a strategically placed clutch bag.

‘Harriet!’ Someone yelled over the music, as she ordered her drink, making brief eye contact with a pair of lovely blue eyes, as she did. Did Harriet detect a little bit of wistfulness as Tony looked at her? No. Noting again the undeniably beautiful woman at his side, she doubted Tony would want to be practising any self-defence moves tonight.

‘Harriet!’ her sister called loudly again as Harriet turned. ‘Quick!’ she shouted, gesticulating wildly towards the door now.

‘What?’ Harriet quickened her step and hurried towards her. ‘He’s not that hot, is he?’ she asked, glancing amusedly past her sister for signs of the blind date.

‘Yes!’

Her sister’s eyes were wide, and frightened, Harriet noted, apprehension tickling its way down her spine.

‘It’s Paul!’

‘It’s …?’ Harriet knitted her brow, confused. ‘Charlotte, you mean Paul’s my—’

‘Tony!’ Charlotte shouted past her. ‘You need to come! Quickly.’

With which, her sister turned urgently back to the door, throwing, ‘Harriet’s cottage is on fire!’ over her shoulder.

***

It wasn’t about the heroics. Tony had tried. Zack, Tammy, Vera … Everyone had been a hero tonight, helping to dampen the flames until the fire engine arrived. Paul had been her saviour though. He’d been desperate to ask her out. In love with her since they’d been at school, Vera confided. Everybody knew this except, it seemed, Harriet. Everybody knew, also, that Harriet hadn’t fancied him, including Paul, who’d remained hopeful that one day she might learn to love him a little, even though he was just an ordinary man with no impressive credentials. He had been her blind date tonight, she’d learned. His last ditch attempt to attract her attention before someone else stole her away. She was the one who’d been blind, though, not seeing what was right under her nose. That Paul was there. That he’d always been there.

‘He’s okay. A bit startled, but…’ Paul assured her, passing a very sooty black cat into her arms. ‘I’d, er, better go home.’ He shrugged awkwardly. ‘Clean myself up. There’s a spare cat bed if you need it.’

Brown, his eyes were brown, the colour of rich caramel mocha latte, soft, warm and comforting. He had a scratch on his cheek. His hair was dishevelled, his clothes ruined and reeking of smoke. Harriet didn’t speak. Couldn’t.

‘Harriet?’ Tony said softly, now by Paul’s side. ‘My sister’s driving home tonight. There’s a spare room at Lilac Cottage if you’d like.’

Harriet looked from his lovely blue eyes back to Paul. ‘Thank you,’ she managed, ‘but Paul has already offered.’

 Aww! What a perfect end to a perfect Valentine’s Round Robin. As always, the Choc Lit authors have outdone themselves and we hoped you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed organising it! Let us know what you think :)  

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If you enjoyed Sheryl’s writing in today’s extract make sure you keep an eye out for her two upcoming thriller releases, After She’s Gone (out Feb 21st) and Sins of the Father (out Feb 24th) . Click the image above for pre-order information. 

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Sheryl’s first Choc Lit novel The Rest of My Life and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What is the name of Harriet’s cat?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Sheryl Browne comp’ by Sunday 19th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

 

Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Part Four by Rhoda Baxter

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Yesterday we left poor Harriet alone in her cafe after her friend snagged another potential date for the Valentine’s Ball. Will Rhoda Baxter be kinder to her? Let’s see ;)  

Come back each day until Friday 17th to read part of an amazing Valentine’s-themed story by five authors. Read right until the end so you can enter our daily competitions too!  All the competitions on previous extracts are still open so feel free to go back and read for details on how to enter.

To enjoy this story make sure you read the other parts first:

Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE

Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE

Part Three by Morton S Gray HERE

Tuesday arrived and Harriet was exhausted by lunchtime. She’d baked and frosted until late the night before to get the display of pink heart-shaped cakes ready. They sat in boxes in the back. She would have to carry them across to the pub later. There were balloons to blow up and a decorations to tack to the walls. She hoped Tammy would be able to get there before the ball started to help her out.

Harriet sighed and raised the slice of chocolate cake to her mouth. She didn’t often eat the stock – she’d be huge if she did, but the ball was going to be a disaster anyway, so she may as well take solace in confectionery. Besides, it was her birthday.

She closed her eyes and savoured the generous chocolate icing melting on her tongue. Sometimes in life, you had to take the good moments where you found them. She let out an appreciative ‘mmmm’.

The shop bell made her jump. She looked up. Tony, in all his loveliness, stood in the doorway, staring.

‘Tony. Hi.’ She jumped to her feet. Had he heard her moaning over chocolate cake?

Tony gave her a smile that made her chest go funny. ‘You…er…’ He indicated vaguely to his chest.

Harriet looked down. The thump on her chest had been a dollop of chocolate icing falling on her. It was slowly sliding down her top. ‘Oh.’ Her face flaming, she tried to wipe it off with her forefinger. This merely flicked the icing so that it slid down further. She caught it, but it had left a long trail of brown on her top. Just as well she wasn’t trying to impress Tony any more. She wiped her chocolatey hand on her napkin and dragged up her most professional smile.

‘What can I do for you, Tony?’

‘I was… um…’ he seemed to be having trouble dragging his eyes away from the brown splodge on her chest. He cleared his throat. ‘I thought I might buy a cake.’

‘Well, you came to the right place.’ She dodged back behind the counter. ‘What would you like?’

‘The lemon drizzle, please. It’s Jamie’s favourite.’

Jamie. That’ll be the blasted girlfriend. She was careful to keep her smile in place while she wrapped up the cake. She handed it over to him. ‘I hope your girlfriend likes it.’

Tony frowned. ‘Girlfriend?’

‘Jamie,’ she said.

He gave a little laugh. ‘Oh no. Jamie’s not my girlfriend—’

The bell rang, interrupting whatever he was going to say. Harriet glared at the newcomer.

Paul stood in the doorway. His gaze flickered from Harriet to Tony and back to Harriet. ‘Hello,’ he said.

Bloody Paul. Brilliant timing. ‘Paul,’ she said, curtly.

‘I’d best get on,’ said Tony. He gave Paul a nod. ‘I’ll see you at the ball later?’

‘Yep. I’ll be there,’ said Paul. ‘Wouldn’t miss it for the world.’ There was a bit of scuffling around as the two broad-shouldered men manoeuvred around each other so that Tony could leave.  They were both around the same size. Odd. She’d always thought of Paul as skinny … when she thought of him at all.

Paul made his way up to the counter. ‘I was wondering if you needed any help with anything. I’ve got an hour off for lunch, so if you need any errands running, I can do them for you.’

She might have been annoyed with him for interrupting her chat with Tony, but she wasn’t about to turn down an offer of help. ‘Oh yes please! That would be lovely. Could you take two boxes of cakes over. That’ll mean less for me to haul across later.’

‘Sure.’

She brought the boxes out from the back and carefully lifted them up to the counter. Paul took them off her, his forearms brushing against hers. He had nice, big hands. Yet another thing she hadn’t noticed before. She hurried round and opened the door for him.

‘I’ll see you later then,’ he said, as he passed her, his arms full of cake boxes.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’ll see you at the ball.’

She shut the door behind him and watched him walk down the street, carrying the boxes with care. Paul was less boring than she’d thought he was … and Tony wasn’t bringing a girlfriend. Perhaps this ball wasn’t going to be a total washout after all.

 Things are looking up for Harriet it seems – but will she find her true valentine at the ball? Find out tomorrow when Sheryl Browne finishes the story. 

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If you enjoyed Rhoda’s writing in today’s extract make sure you check out her recently award-nominated novel, Girl Having a Ball (RoNA Romantic Comedy category). Click the image above for purchasing information. 

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What falls onto Harriet’s top just before Tony walks into the cafe?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Rhoda Baxter comp’ by Friday 17th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

Part Five by Sheryl Browne is now available to read HERE.

Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Part Three by Morton S Gray

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We hope you all enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s Day yesterday – but the romance and fun isn’t over! We still have three days of our Valentine’s Round Robin to go – three more days to spend in the village of Thistlethorpe AND three more competitions too!

Today, it’s Morton S Gray‘s turn – and you might remember yesterday that a certain handsome vicar was introduced. Who will be Harriet’s date to the ball now? 

Come back each day until Friday 17th to read part of an amazing Valentine’s-themed story by five authors. Read right until the end so you can enter our daily competitions too! 

To enjoy this story make sure you read Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE and Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE first. 

Harriet picked out two of her favourite vintage tea cups and placed them on the tray with the tea pot and milk jug. She glanced over at Zack. He had removed his dog collar and undone a couple of buttons on his shirt. As he stretched his shoulders, she glimpsed golden chest hair. Hmm, nice.

Putting the best iced bun, a muffin and a huge slice of chocolate cake on a plate, she carried the tray over to the table and set about making the tea.

‘Milk?’

‘Just a drop please.’

She pushed the sugar bowl over to his side of the table and then sat down carefully, arranging her limbs so as not to brush against Zack’s outstretched jean-clad legs. Did vicars wear jeans? He was sure challenging her stereotypical image of a minister of the church.

For once she found herself tongue-tied, so it was a good job Zack was bursting with questions about the village. He told her he’d already met Vera and been subject to an extensive interrogation about his credentials to take over at the church. Harriet became mesmerised by the flashes in his grey eyes and her tea went cold, as she filled him in about the movers and shakers in Thistlethorpe.

‘You’ve been so helpful, thank you. The problem with moving to a new parish is the immense possibility of putting your foot in things and upsetting parishioners before you’ve even taken a service. Vera terrified me. Shall I see you on Sunday?’

‘Erm …’ Harriett wasn’t a regular churchgoer, more a christening, wedding and funeral type of girl, apart from the annual carol service, although intense staring at the new blond vicar in action might make sitting on the hard, wooden pews more appealing.

She was trying to decide how to reply, whilst simultaneously indulging in a fantasy about joining the flower arranging committee to have Zack admiring her flowers, when the café door bell sounded and her friend, Tammy bounded in accompanied by Paul.

‘Harriet, you’ll never guess … Oh … Ooooh.’

Harriet found herself blushing at her friend’s obvious excitement at finding a new attractive man in the café. She needn’t have worried. Zack was staring at Tammy open-mouthed, desire dripping from every pore. He appeared to be instantly besotted with her friend. Maybe there wasn’t a Mrs Vicar after all.

Harriet sighed. Another man off the list. What with Tony bringing unknown Jamie to the Valentine’s Ball and Zack only having eyes for Tammy, her sister’s promise of a blind date was looking like her only chance of a slow dance on her birthday.

‘What’s this I hear about a Valentine’s Ball?’ She’d forgotten Paul was even there as she’d been too busy watching the interaction between Tammy and Zack. ‘Put me down for a ticket, oh and at least one dance, of course.’ Paul winked. He’d been at school with Tammy and Harriet. It was almost like your brother asking you to dance. Great! Why Paul? Why was it always the ones you didn’t fancy who came on to you?

Paul had recently taken over his father’s business. He was an optician and wore designer specs on his aquiline nose. She realised she’d never seen him without glasses, as he’d worn them even at junior school. In fact, she hadn’t ever studied him at all, he’d just always been around.

Zack stood up and was talking animatedly to Tammy. She introduced the two men as they made their goodbyes and left Harriet sitting alone in the café. Tammy hadn’t even told her why she’d come in and Zack had left his chocolate cake uneaten.

She picked up the plate and tucked into the delicious gooiness, knowing that if she was going to look sylph-like in her dress for the ball, it wasn’t a good idea. In fact, the ball didn’t feel like such a good idea any more. She’d have to watch Tony dancing with Jamie, Tammy with Zack and make do with jiving with Paul or the unknown blind date her sister was supplying, not quite how she imagined the evening going at all.

What could she do to make the Valentine’s Ball her dream event?

Aww, poor Harriet. We really thought Zack might be the one. But anything could happen on the night – and there’s always that blind date! Looking forward to the next instalment by Rhoda Baxetr tomorrow. 

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If you enjoyed Morton’s writing in today’s extract make sure you check out her stunning debut novel, The Girl on the Beach. Click the image above for purchasing information. 

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What slightly ‘unvicarly’ item of clothing is Zack wearing?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Morton Gray comp’ by Friday 17th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

Part Four by Rhoda Baxter is now available to read HERE

Choc Lit Valentine’s Round Robin 2017 – Part One by Kirsty Ferry

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The day has finally arrived and we can’t wait to share this year’s Valentine’s Round Robin with you. As always, the Choc Lit authors involved have excelled themselves :) Hopefully you’ll be spoilt with wine and chocolate tomorrow, but treat yourself with the first part of our story today!

Come back each day until Friday 17th to read part of an amazing Valentine’s-themed story by five authors. Read right until the end so you can enter our daily competitions too! 

Kirsty Ferry starts us off today … 

The trouble with living in a small village was that everybody knew everybody else’s business. Harriet had discovered this to her cost when she had decided to organise a Valentine’s Ball in the function room of the local pub.

Harriet worked in the local cafe, and as such, everybody knew her prowess with buns, cakes and pots of tea. As she was also quite a chatty person – and her best friend Tammy was a barmaid and was also quite a chatty person – everybody knew that Harriet from the cafe harboured a deep desire for Tony, the new policeman who had just moved into Lilac Cottage. It was generally agreed that Harriet was arranging the Ball in order to entice Tony there. Everybody knew this except, it seemed, Harriet, who stared at Vera, the head of the Women’s Institute as she smiled at her over a sticky bun.

‘Tony is a very nice chap,’ said Vera. ‘I must say, we invited him for an informal meeting with us all two weeks ago. We decided that we needed some advice on staying safe in the village, and he seemed the perfect person to discuss it with us.’ Vera blushed and lowered her eyelids coyly. Harriet felt that in a village such as Thistlethorpe, where the greatest scandal of the twenty-first century had occurred when “someone” stole the star off the village Christmas tree five years ago, advice on personal safety wasn’t exactly a great excuse to get Tony into the Village Hall on a Tuesday evening.

She did wonder, however, whether his lovely blue eyes had crinkled up at the corners when he smiled at the ladies as they went through some basic self-defence moves; and whether his unruly chestnut-coloured hair had been as mussed up as usual—

But her thoughts were interrupted when Vera continued: ‘I do hope you get him to your Ball, Harriet. He’s a lovely boy. Lovely! You could do worse.’

‘My Ball!’ Harriet blushed as scarlet as the glace cherries in her scones. ‘I’m not arranging the Ball to get Tony there!  I mean, if he’d like to come, it would be lovely to see him, but—’ She blushed again. ‘The reason I’m doing this is just so we can all have a bit of fun. I think Christmas seems so far behind us and summer isn’t for months yet, and we need something in between to cheer us all up. Anyway, it’s my birthday as well, so I wanted to do something special for it!’ It was indeed her thirtieth, and it seemed a perfect opportunity to get all her friends together and have champagne and cupcakes and giant heart-shaped balloons. There was nothing nefarious to that at all – nothing.

‘Well, Tammy mentioned your little fancy to Felicity, and Felicity told Moira, and Moira told me and, well, he’s lovely.’ Vera sipped her tea looking smug and Harriet felt sick. It was one thing arranging a party on the pretext of birthdays and champagne and balloons – but in reality, yes; she would have to admit (if push came to shove) that the main reason for the party was, indeed, Tony. But the problem now was clearly going to be issuing him an invitation, without looking completely and utterly desperate. Because he obviously knew how she felt – how cold he not with the Gossip Train in motion – and she had no idea how she could face him without her getting incredibly embarrassed and him, quite possibly, running away screaming in the opposite direction.

‘Vera, I have to say—’ Harriet began; but then she was interrupted by the bell over the door as someone entered the cafe.

A little bit of a cliffhanger there. I wonder who could possibly be coming into the cafe? ;) Find out tomorrow when Christina Courtenay takes up the reins for Part Two!

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If you enjoyed Kirsty’s writing in today’s extract make sure you check out her books, Some Veil Did Fall and The Girl in the Painting. Click the images above for purchasing information. Kirsty’s new book The Girl in the Photograph will also be out in March, and there’ll be a special Valentine’s cover reveal tomorrow – keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook for that!

COMPETITION TIME

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Kirsty’s first book Some Veil Did Fall and some chocolate simply answer this question:

What was the ‘great scandal’ of Thistlethorpe?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kirsty Ferry comp’ by Friday 17th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 20th February.

Part Two by Christina Courtenay is now available to read HERE