Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Pearl Locket

... is now published!

Take a look at my other blog for more details and some exciting news.

Friday, 13 February 2015

People's Friend latest requirements

Blog post here from Shirley Blair re latest requirements.

Now scroll down for a fabulous first chapter of a novel by a friend, published today!

Tied Up In Love

I promised you a first chapter - here it is! The book is by Amelia Thorne, and is due for release tomorrow. It sounds absolutely amazing, so if you are looking for a good, unusual read, look no further!


The Blurb

‘We’re from KMW. Do exactly as you’re told and you won’t get hurt...'
Being grabbed off the street, blind folded, tied up and thrown into a van was not what Izzy expected to happen when she stepped out the door that morning. But when an accidental kidnapping at the hands of the sexy Ethan Chase and his 'Kidnap My Wife' sexual fantasy business leads to just that, Izzy seizes the chance to turn her misfortune into a brilliant new job opportunity…
Since then, life has been one big tangle of new client meetings, fake kidnapping pick-ups, and handling the temperamental, but drop dead gorgeous 'bad boy' Mr Chase. But, as liberating as being tied up in Ethan's life is, Izzy knows the time is fast approaching when she must make some decisions and take charge of her future. The only question is: will Ethan allow himself to be a part of it?


Chapter One
Izzy watched as the grey van skidded round the corner and tore down the street towards her. The driver definitely seemed to be in a rush. The van had blacked out windows, a foreign plate and was being driven really badly. It careened across the empty road, mounted the pavement right in front of her and stopped just before hitting a lamppost.
She was standing outside a recording studio and for one deliciously exciting moment, Izzy thought someone famous might step out, with mirrored shades and a huge entourage. Admittedly, the recording studio was generally used for making advertising jingles, but allegedly Chesney Hawkes had once been there.
Izzy inched closer. Nothing exciting ever happened in her sleepy little town of Greater Chessingburyford. Maybe today…
The van doors were suddenly thrown open and out stepped the biggest man she had ever seen in her entire life. His elf ears were huge and stuck out into comical points, his enormous eyes were magnified behind thick rimmed glasses. He looked friendly, kind of sweet, like a big puppy. So it came as the biggest shock in the world when he yanked a cotton bag over her head, threw her over his shoulder and bundled her into the van.
Izzy heard the van door close, plunging her into darkness. As the van took off, Izzy’s brain finally caught up with what had just happened. She had been kidnapped.
She was lying on the floor of the van it was dusty and she could see a pair of black boots out the bottom of the bag. The legs attached to them knelt by her side.
‘We’re from KMW. Do exactly as you’re told and you won’t get hurt. Put your hands in front of you.’
Izzy obeyed, suddenly feeling a sick wave of panic consume her.
Rope was tied around her wrists, and although it wasn’t tight it immediately chafed her skin.
KMW? Who the bloody hell were they? Like KGB or FBI? What did they want with her? More importantly, what were they going to do with her? Would she be beaten and tortured? Would they kill her once they were finished?
Her throat was dry but she managed to find her voice. ‘What do you want?’
‘Someone wants to see you. We’re taking you to Oakwood House now. It’s in the middle of nowhere so no one will hear you scream,’ Black Boots said.
Izzy heard herself take a deep shuddering breath.
‘I don’t have any money.’
‘I don’t think it’s your money he’s after.’ Another male voice, which somehow Izzy associated with the huge man who had abducted her. He laughed and the lewdness of it sent shivers down her spine.
‘Leave it out Gizmo,’ Black Boots said.
Strong hands were suddenly around her arms and she was pulled up and sat in a chair. ‘When we get to the house, we’ll take you in and down to the basement. It’s been requested that you’re tied to the bed. After that you’ll be left alone.’
Izzy felt physically sick, her heart was racing in her ears, cold sweat prickled down her back.
‘She’s shaking,’ Gizmo said.
‘I know,’ Black Boots said, with a note of worry in his voice. ‘Look we’ll be there in a minute. We need to gag you.’
The bag was pulled from her head and she blinked in the muted light, getting her first glimpse of Black Boots. He was young, maybe early twenties. He was good looking and had brown eyes and warm skin of Mediterranean colouring. He proffered the bandana and she flinched away from him. Gizmo, she noted, was calmly reading the paper.
‘Please, let me go. I’m rubbish in bed, your boss or client will be very disappointed.’
Black Boots narrowed his eyes as he looked at her. ‘You don’t know what this is about, do you?’
Izzy shook her head.
‘Crap, he’s supposed to tell you. We say it time and time again, they have to tell them.’
‘We’re here,’ called the driver and she looked over to see the back of a shaved head in the driver’s seat. Izzy felt the van come to a halt.
Black Boots pushed his hair from his face and sighed. ‘Dave asked us to bring you here, you don’t need to worry.’
‘Dave?’ Izzy asked and Black Boots nodded. Who the bloody hell was Dave?
The door to the back of the van was suddenly thrown open, bright sunlight temporarily blinding her. As she opened her mouth to speak, Black Boots slipped the bandana in her mouth and tied it round the back of her neck.
Gizmo stood up and ducked to get out the van, then turned round and in an easy movement lifted her carefully back over his shoulder again.
She had never been as scared in her life as she was right then. She had read about this sort of thing in the papers, but never thought for one moment it would ever happen to her.
They were quickly inside and she had a chance to see dark wood flooring before Gizmo was carrying her down some stone stairs. He walked into a dimly lit room and laid her on the bed. Black Boots knelt on the bed next to her and lifted her arms above her head to tie them to the headboard.
Something snapped inside of her, there was no way she was going to let this happen. She lashed out with her feet, kicking Gizmo in the side of the face. He leapt back with a wail, she elbowed Black Boots in the nose and blood spurted from it satisfyingly. She leapt up and ran but only managed to get two feet before Gizmo had grabbed her and dragged her, kicking and wriggling back to the bed. Black Boots quickly held her feet down while Gizmo tied her hands proficiently to the headboard.
‘Jesus,’ Gizmo rubbed his head. ‘Anyone would think she doesn’t want to get shagged.’
Black Boots touched his nose. ‘This is exactly why she should have been told. I don’t get paid enough for this.’
Izzy wriggled against her restraints, pulling on the rope so hard it made her wrists sore.
‘Good luck to her husband, that’s all I can say, she’s going to skin him alive,’ Gizmo said.
There were footsteps on the stairs and Black Boots looked towards them. ‘Why the hell didn’t you tell her? That’s part of our agreement. She’s petrified.’
‘I did,’ said a voice, veiled in the darkness.
Izzy strained her eyes to look at her kidnapper and slowly he emerged into the light. A thin, scrawny looking man with glasses peered at her.
‘Who the hell is that?’
‘Your wife,’ Gizmo said.
‘No she bloody isn’t.’
Black Boots looked back at her, his tanned cheeks suddenly going pale. ‘That’s not your wife?’
Scrawny Man shook his head. ‘I’ve never seen her before in my life.’
They all stared at her. Maybe there was some little ray of hope. They’d clearly kidnapped the wrong person and now she would be set free.
‘Hang on a minute,’ Scrawny Man said. ‘If she’s here, who the hell has got my wife?’
‘No one, there are no other teams. Your wife is probably still standing at the pick-up point. Or gone home, bored of waiting.’
‘Bloody hell, I’ve paid four hundred pounds for this and you can’t even pick up the right woman. I bought Viagra and everything.’
‘Look, Ethan will be in touch with you. We’ll arrange a full refund or an alternative date but right now we have the very small matter of abducting a complete stranger off the street to deal with.’ Black Boots gestured to Izzy in exasperation and Scrawny Man nodded.
‘Right, of course. If the press get hold of this I want full anonymity.’
‘The press won’t get hold of this besides, you’re not actually doing anything wrong.’
Scrawny Man nodded again. ‘I better call my wife.’
Izzy watched as he retreated back up the stairs. Gizmo and Black Boots continued to stare at her.
‘What are we going to do now?’ Gizmo asked.
‘I can’t believe you grabbed the wrong woman.’
‘Me? You told me it was her.’
‘The boss is going to kill us,’ Black Boots said.
‘We could not tell him.’
‘How do you suppose that’s going to work? We let her go now, she’ll go straight to the police. The police will come straight to Ethan with your description, you’re hardly inconspicuous.’
Gizmo paled. ‘I’m not going back to jail, no way.’
Izzy moaned against her gag and Black Boots approached her like she was a caged wild animal.
Carefully he removed the bandana from her mouth.
‘Please, let me go. There’s obviously been some terrible mistake. I promise, I won’t go to the police. I won’t tell anyone.’
Black Boots looked back at Gizmo. Gizmo shook his head, ‘She’s seen our faces. There’s no way I’m letting her go.’
‘Are you insane? We’re not criminals. What are you going to do with her, kill her and dump her body where no one will ever find her?’
Izzy’s heart, which had been slowing when she realised she wasn’t the intended target, started galloping again.
‘Please. Please don’t hurt me.’
‘We’re not going to hurt you.’ Black Boots leaned over to untie her from the headboard. But as she sat up Gizmo marched over and pulled the bag back over her head.
‘What are you doing?’ Black Boots said.
‘We’ll take her to the boss, he’ll know what to do.’
‘Jesus, Gizmo, we’re just making this situation worse.’
But Gizmo, it seemed, wasn’t to be talked out of this. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder again. She saw the stone steps and then the gravel outside, and she was back inside the darkness of the van a moment later
*
The van journey was quite short but Gizmo and Black Boots were silent.
They surely weren’t going to kill her.
But she had seen their faces, she knew the van’s number plate off by heart. Why would they let her go?
How had it come to this? Her day had started so normally. Since being fired from her job two weeks before, she hadn’t had to get up too early, but her beloved cat Pete had woken her up demanding to be fed. She’d studiously ignored the first trickle of bills that had arrived on her doorstep. There were bound to be many more to come. She’d fed the cat, fed herself the remains of the cereal, gone for a run and spent three hours applying for different jobs. Bar maid, waitress, secretary, cleaner, bin man or in her case, bin lady sports coach, carpenter and driver’s mate, she’d applied for them all. She came across well on the phone, she had good experience and was never sick. She worked hard and most people seemed interested until they asked the fateful question. ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ Being fired for breaking her boss’s nose was not a selling point. Most people rapidly lost interest after that.
She’d wandered down to the college to see if there were any more free courses she could sign up for but she’d already done most of them. She’d just been on her way to meet her Aunt Sophie for coffee when Gizmo and Black Boots had crashed into her life.
The van stopped and she heard them climb out, leaving her alone in the darkness.
‘WHAT?’ roared a voice nearby as no doubt their boss, Ethan, was just informed they had kidnapped the wrong person.
‘WHAT?’ roared Ethan even louder as he was no doubt told she was still tied up in the van with a bag over her head. He sounded like a man not to mess with and Izzy found herself shaking again.
She heard running footsteps and the van door was thrown open. The bag was yanked from her head and she looked into the fierce blue eyes of the most freaking gorgeous man she had ever seen. He was huge, not quite as big as Gizmo in height but certainly the same broadness. He had curly dark hair and the same Mediterranean skin tone as Black Boots, which made the azure blue eyes stand out even more. In fact his eyes didn’t belong in someone so dark and they made him look interesting and unusual. He stared at her for a moment. Was he checking her out? Izzy nearly laughed at this crazy thought she was dressed in tatty leggings, an oversized hoodie and battered knee high boots, there was definitely nothing sexy about her, but the look in his eyes was undeniably hunger, as if he wanted to eat her.
He moved forward to grab her and Izzy flinched away from him.
‘I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I’m Ethan Chase. I’m so sorry about all this. Let me make you a cup of tea and I will explain everything.’
He took her arms in surprisingly gentle hands, pulled her to her feet and helped her down from the van.
Her legs were shaking and she wasn’t sure if she could stand.
‘Are you ok to walk? Here, let me help.’
Before she could answer, Ethan swept her up into his arms and carried her like a baby into his office. Gizmo and Black Boots were standing to one side, looking sheepish.
‘Get out, both of you.’
They hurried out and Ethan placed her in a chair. He knelt next to her and started to undo the rope around her hands. The office was a mess. There was a big desk with a phone that was ringing quietly. Paperwork was strewn everywhere, in piles on the floor, even on the big comfy sofa in the corner. There was a very swish looking computer with some kind of diary on the screen and mouldy coffee cups in various degrees of decay were all over the floor, windowsills and on top of the filing cabinet.
Sunlight was spilling through the open door and Izzy looked out at the fields and trees stretching as far as the eye could see. She tried to pick out landmarks so she knew where she was, but apart from a distant church, it was a landscape of green.
She would escape. She was a fast runner, she knew this. When she went jogging, she could run for very long distances and barely break into a sweat. Gizmo and Black Boots were lurking by the van but she could run in the other direction, leap over that fence and be down the hill before they could get anywhere near her. She looked at Ethan. He was very strong though. The shirt he was wearing did seem to be bulging at the arms. Even his exposed tanned forearms were muscular. The element of surprise would help her. With her hands released she put her head in them and pretended to cry.
‘Now, there’s no need to cry, I know it was scary for you, and I’m really sorry for that…’ he leaned in to comfort her and she punched him as hard as she could in the face, sending him sprawling on the floor.
She leapt out of her chair and ran through the door.
‘Jesus, not again,’ Black Boots said.
‘Gizmo, stop her,’ roared Ethan.
She ran towards the fence, but her legs were shaky with the adrenaline that was coursing through her and she couldn’t run as fast as she needed to. Gizmo lumbered towards her, she swung her fist in his direction but he caught both hands and threw her over his shoulder again. She fought against him but with one strong arm round her legs she could do very little to stop him. He plonked her back in the chair again, grabbed the rope that Ethan had taken from her hands and tied her to the chair.
Ethan had a blue ice pack pressed to his eye, making him look like an obscure pirate. With his thin lips and his dark eyebrows slashing downwards across his forehead, he was definitely pissed.
‘Now you will listen to me…’ Ethan started, his voice sounding like a growl.
‘HELP!’ Izzy screamed. ‘SOMEBODY HELP ME. HELP!’
Ethan rolled his eyes and moved into the little kitchen. As Izzy continued to scream, she watched him pour two mugs of tea and put a splash of whisky in one of them, then he came round and sat on the desk in front of her. He waited patiently for her to stop screaming, but if she screamed for long enough someone was bound to come.
After yelling for help for a good minute or two with no sign of anyone coming to her rescue, Izzy flopped back in the chair, exhausted.
‘Finished?’ Ethan said.
Izzy nodded in defeat. He clearly wasn’t going to hurt her, and with her not being the intended target she might actually get to go home tonight with all her fingers still attached.
‘Good. Now you’ll listen to me. We’re a company called “Kidnap My Wife.” We offer a service to couples who want to spice up their sex life by staging a kidnapping. We agree a time and place with the couple for the wife to be waiting at, we turn up in our van, kidnap the wife and take her to our house down the road where the husband is waiting. What happens next is a variation on a theme, the wife can be tied to a bed, or a chair, the husband normally acts out some kind of fantasy for him or her, and they end up having sex. It’s all above board and legal and hugely popular. We’ve been operating for about five years now. With the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey our list of clients has gone through the roof. It seems all women like to be tied up and threatened. Claire Reynolds was our client today, you look a lot like her I’m afraid and were in the right place at the right time. She must have been running late. You have my complete and utter apologies. I can assure you this type of thing has never happened before.’
Izzy blinked at him. It all sounded very plausible. She looked around the office for any evidence to this and sure enough she could see several headed sheets of paper with the ‘Kidnap My Wife’ logo on the top.
‘Now I’m going to untie you, you’re going to drink this tea and we can talk about some kind of compensation before I take you home.’
He knelt next to her and untied the rope with skilful fingers. The bruise on his eye looked painful.
‘I’m sorry I punched you,’ Izzy said, quietly.
He didn’t say anything as he shoved the cup of tea into her hand.
She went to take a sip but the smell of whisky was strong and she pulled a face.
‘Drink it.’ Ethan glared at her and she quickly took a big gulp. The whisky burned the back of her throat but at another scowl from Ethan she took another big sip.
‘Here.’ He passed her the ice pack. ‘Put this on the back of your hand, it will be sore tomorrow.’
She obliged and watched him go back round the other side of his desk. He shifted a big pile of papers from there onto the floor and sat down watching her.
‘So how much to make you forget about this?’
Compensation? That hardly seemed fair, yes she had been terrified but it had been a genuine mistake. All three men were going to have bruises to show for their accidental brush with her. Surely that made them even.
‘Shall we say two thousand pounds?’
Izzy choked on her tea and she saw the small smug smile of satisfaction from Ethan, knowing she had been bought.
Two thousand pounds. Bloody hell. That would give her spending money for her trip to Australia. If she was careful, it would pay for her bills and her food too, for the next five weeks until she left.
Ethan rifled through the papers on his desk until he found the cheque book. He quickly filled it in and offered it across the table towards her.
She looked at the three zeros, shining temptingly with their wet ink. Why shouldn’t she take it, she had been traumatised after all. But a small business like this, two thousand pounds could be the make or break of it. What if this money was the difference between paying their bills and putting food on their table? What if giving her money would bankrupt them? She wouldn’t take it.
The phone rang incessantly between them and suddenly an idea formed in her head. It was mean and underhand but right then she didn’t care.
‘I don’t want your money.’
Ethan looked confused by this.
‘I want a job.’
His eyebrows shot up. ‘Are you kidding?’
‘That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.’
‘I’m not giving you a job.’
‘I’m sure the police would be very interested in my story. Taking you to court and suing you for traumatisation would be long and messy. Poor Gizmo out there could end up behind bars again. The papers get wind of this and it’s all over for your company.’
His eyes flashed. The cheque was crumpled in his tight fist. He stood up, towering over her. ‘That’s blackmail.’
She stood up too, though this did nothing to diminish the height difference between them.
‘That’s correct, it is. I’m good though. I can type a hundred and twenty words per minute, I did events management as part of my business studies degree, so something like this is perfect for me. I have years of secretarial experience in various different roles. I work hard, I will be here nine to five every day to answer your phone. I’ll clear up all this mess and establish some proper system round here. You’re obviously good at what you do to run this company for five years and still be standing, but I’m guessing you’d be better suited in the field. If I’m here dealing with the paperwork and the phone calls then you can have two teams out doing the kidnapping. You and Baldy in one van and Gizmo and Black Boots in the other. And most importantly I can implement procedures that will assure this kind of thing never happens to anyone else ever again.’
Izzy could see the vein in his neck pulsing away but he didn’t say anything so she pushed home her trump card.
‘I’ll be going to Australia in just over five weeks, so even if you hate me being here, in five weeks I’ll be gone.’
‘How long are you gone for?’
‘Six weeks initially, maybe longer. I may get a job out there so I’m not sure if or when I’d be coming back. I wouldn’t expect you to hold my job open for me when it could be months before I return.’
‘You’ll need good references.’
Izzy shook her head. ‘No references.’
He narrowed his eyes.
‘You gave Gizmo a job despite his criminal record, you can give me a job on face value too.’
‘Gizmo is my brother. I don’t know you.’
‘Six weeks.’
‘Three. Then if I’m not happy you leave without a word.’
‘Fine, but you’ll still pay me for those three weeks. Six hundred pounds a week.’
‘Three hundred.’
‘Four hundred and fifty or I walk out of here now and go straight to the police.’
He glared at her, breathing heavily through his nose. ‘I want you here at eight-thirty tomorrow morning.’
She nodded, barely able to believe her luck.
‘And you’ll dress a lot smarter than you’re dressed now.’
She nodded again.
‘Now get out of my sight.’
She hurried out the door into the warm welcome sunshine and Gizmo straightened from leaning on the van, ready to catch her again if need be.
‘Gizmo,’ Ethan called over her shoulder. ‘Take her home.’
Gizmo opened the van door for her chivalrously and she ran towards it before Ethan could change his mind.
‘Wait.’ Ethan appeared in the doorway. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Isabelle Franklin.’
Ethan nodded and walked back inside, slamming the door between them.
*
The Frog and Sausage was warm and cosy, with little booths under turret type roofs and winding stairs that led to further seating areas. It was one of Izzy’s favourite places in the world. The food was amazing, the customers friendly and laidback and right now she was sitting next to a roaring fire listening to the rain howling outside.
It didn’t sit right with her, blackmailing Ethan into giving her a job. She just wasn’t that sort of person. Being underhand and conniving was not part of her make-up. She would just have to prove to Ethan that she was a hard worker and that he hadn’t made a mistake in hiring her.
The door slammed open and amongst the leaves and rain that blew in, so did a bedraggled yeti, hair like a bush, struggling with her umbrella. The yeti forced the door closed, dumped the now broken umbrella in a stand near the door and planted a wet kiss on Izzy’s cheek before sitting down at the table and taking a big glug of cider.
Izzy smiled at her. Bex always made a dramatic entrance. Bex swept the tangle of blonde hair out of her face, ran her fingers through it and seconds later the effortless beauty that Bex so easily pulled off had returned. Izzy always thought that Bex could be a supermodel, being so tall. She had big pouty lips that many women would pay good money to have, flawless skin, big blue eyes and a great pair of breasts. She was stunning. Unfortunately the fashion industry didn’t see beauty in size twenty women, which was their loss, Izzy thought.
‘Good day at the office?’
Bex shrugged. ‘My teeth fell out when I was with a visitor. It was hardly the professional image I was going for.’
Bex’s job was as far removed from the glamour of the catwalk as it could be. Working for The London Dungeon as one of the historical characters meant she spent most of the day wearing filthy clothes and looking as ugly and hideous as she possibly could be.
‘I’m sure teeth falling out works quite well with what you do, adds to the gore.’
‘When your fake black teeth fall out leaving behind a perfect set of white gnashers, it kind of lacks the authenticity my job requires. I couldn’t find my teeth this morning so I had to borrow someone else’s and of course they didn’t fit and kept falling out. For the most part I managed to hide it, but during one big speech they fell out, straight onto the floor. The visitors all just burst out laughing, I was gutted. I had to quickly pick them up and put them back in, but they were already covered in ten tons of fur and dirt. It felt like I was chewing on fluff for the rest of the day. But I did scare the crap out of a few grown men and made a few children cry so yes, it was a pretty good day.’
‘You’ll miss it when you leave.’
‘Yes I will. How was your day?’
Izzy felt the smile stretch on her face. ‘I’ve got a job.’
‘That’s fantastic, well done Iz, doing what?’
‘Have you heard of a company called, “Kidnap My Wife?”’
Bex’s face fell. ‘Isabelle Franklin, what have you got yourself involved in?’
‘It’s nothing dodgy. It’s a fantasy role play thing. We kidnap men’s wives and take them to some big house and the husbands tie them up and have sex with them.’
‘How is that not dodgy?’
‘It’s not, the wives know about it. Think Fifty Shades of Grey on a lesser scale.’
‘So people pay to be kidnapped and tied up?’
‘Yes.’
‘And what’s your job in all of this sordidness, you better not be the one being tied up.’
‘No office work, answering calls and all that.’
Bex was clearly still not happy about it. ‘Who do you work for?’
‘Ethan Chase.’
Her eyes widened. ‘Ethan Chase? Oh god honey, you don’t half pick them. Couldn’t you get a nice sensible job in a library or somewhere safe like that, working for some eighty year old man that loves poetry and bird watching?’
‘What’s wrong with Ethan?’
‘What’s right with him? His family have a terrible reputation, if you’d grown up round here you would have heard of him. He’s a total womaniser too, different woman every week. He lays on all the charm, wines and dines them and they’re putty in his hands. Then he shags them and never speaks to them again.’
‘Well that’s ok then, I don’t plan to sleep with him just work for him.’
‘Or under him.’
‘Bex…’
‘Is he fit?’
Izzy shrugged. ‘If you like that sort of thing.’
‘And what sort of thing is that?’
‘Big, muscular, blue eyes that look inside you.’
‘So yes then. Just don’t be another notch on his bedpost. My friend’s sister went out with him. He took her to dinner, shagged her and she never heard from him again. She did say he was like a god between the sheets though and if she had the chance to do it all over again she would in a heartbeat.’
Izzy stared at her glass, not quite sure what to do with this information.
‘Good with his tongue too, if you know what I’m saying.’
‘I think everyone in this pub knows what you’re saying. He’s my boss. I’m not going to sleep with him. How awkward would that be once it turned sour which it sounds like it would do. And he would have to be a complete idiot to sleep with one of his employees. Rule number one, don’t mix business with pleasure.’
‘So you’re not attracted to him at all?’
‘No.’ That was a lie. She knew it and Bex knew it.
‘Does he have a nice arse?’
‘I hadn’t noticed.’ Though Izzy knew Bex had seen her blush. Thankfully she was momentarily saved by the arrival of a cowboy, wearing jeans over beaten brown boots, a blue shirt rolled at the sleeves and a black Stetson.
‘Mmm, now that’s a rump I’d like to get my teeth into,’ Bex said, her eyes suddenly dark with lust.
She stood up and stalked over to the unknowing cowboy, sank her talons into his behind and nipped at his ear. To his credit, he only jumped a little bit, then he whirled round and gathered her close, kissing her so deeply it was almost pornographic.
‘Put her down,’ called Brian the landlord as he plonked a pint down on the bar. ‘You don’t know where she’s been.’
Bex parted from her conquest and he whispered into her ear. Bex giggled. ‘Give me half hour.’
He whispered in her ear again and her eyes widened. ‘Ten minutes then.’
Clearly satisfied with this response, he dipped his hat in Izzy’s direction and walked back out.
Bex stared after him for a moment, and then finally recovering herself she re-joined Izzy at their table.
‘I’m in love with my fiancé, did I ever mention that?’
‘Only a few thousand times. You should have asked Gabe to join us for a drink.’
‘He’s gone home to sort a few things out.’ Bex ran her tongue across her teeth unconsciously and Izzy tried to block out from her mind what exactly Gabe had gone to sort out.
Izzy quickly changed the subject. ‘So apart from the womanising are there any other reasons I shouldn’t work for Ethan?’
‘Well rumour has it he’s a drug dealer.’
‘Come on, I don’t believe that for a second.’
‘I’m just saying what I’ve heard. Whenever things get stolen in this area, everyone points to his family. They’ve never had any money or real jobs but they all live in nice houses. He’s got a hell of a temper.’
Izzy had already borne witness to some of that, she could cope with grumpiness.
‘Quite violent, I hear.’ Bex took another big gulp of cider.
‘With women?’
‘No, I’ve not heard that, but he’s got into quite a few punch ups in his time.’
‘Maybe wrong place, wrong time.’
‘Wrong man more like. He hit a policeman when he was younger.’
Although Izzy was not surprised about this, she still felt like she needed to defend him. ‘I prefer to judge people on the type of person they are now, not who they were in the past. We all have a history, ours is hardly squeaky clean.’
Bex had the good grace to blush, but it was only fleetingly. ‘A leopard never changes its spots.’
‘You’re so cynical for someone so young.’
‘And you’re so naïve for someone so old.’
‘Eight months Rebecca Dale, eight months older than you does not make me old.’
‘Look, your decrepitness aside, the whole Chase family is a bad lot from what I hear, one of them went to prison.’
‘Gizmo. Ethan’s brother. He’s been in prison.’
‘Sexual assault. I’m sure it was.’
Izzy felt affronted on Gizmo’s behalf. ‘That definitely wasn’t Gizmo. He’s not the type to do anything like that.’
‘So rapists are all a type are they, tall, white, brown hair, evil look in their eyes?’
‘No, but Gizmo is … kind of innocent.’
Izzy had chatted to him when he had driven her home earlier and it had become obvious very quickly that he had a sweet childlike naivety. He loved Ethan with a fierce loyalty that was incredibly endearing. He loved his job, loved the frost on the trees that clung to the bare branches like fur. He loved his dog Sampson so much that there were fifteen photos in Gizmo’s wallet that Izzy had seen. After ten minutes in the van with his exuberant enthusiasm Izzy had fallen a little bit in love with him too. There was no way he could be a rapist.
‘Of Mice and Men, that’s all I’m saying,’ Bex said.
‘He’s not stupid Bex, nor is he violent.’
‘You always like to see the best in people.’
‘And you always like to see the worst.’
‘I’m a realist.’
‘I’m an optimist.’
Bex smiled. ‘And that’s why I love you. Just be wary of him, both of them, and if they lay one finger on you you tell me and Gabe, we’ll sort them out.’
Izzy decided, then and there, that she wouldn’t tell Bex how she had met Ethan and Gizmo in the first place.
Bex fished around in her bag and pulled out a pot of green cream. She stuck her fingers in and scooped out a dollop which she rubbed into her hands. It stank of a peculiar combination of coriander and green tea. Bex was always carrying these homemade concoctions around with her, but her skin always looked radiant and blemish free so it must have some benefits. Bex had made cures for dry skin, spots, scars, burns and chapped lips to name but a few. Izzy was sure she probably had a truth telling ointment and one for eternal life somewhere up her sleeve. Five hundred years before, Bex would have been burned at the stake.
‘Do you have anything for sweat spots?’ Izzy sniffed at the green gloop.
‘Where are the spots?’
‘On my bum. I bought some new jogging pants and I wore them once and they made me sweat so much I came out in spots. Most of them have gone but one little bugger remains.’
‘You’re such a classy bird, I do wonder why you’re still single. Please tell me you’ve done something about your scary bikini line. Last time I saw it, it was like some kind of terrifying swamp monster was trying to escape from your pants.’
Izzy blushed. ‘Admittedly I have let things lapse a bit lately. It’s hard to find the motivation when the only person that sees it is me.’
‘And me. And to be honest darling, that’s not something I ever want to see again. Come on then, show us your spot.’
‘I’m not pulling my jeans down in the pub for all and sundry to see.’
Bex stood up and frogmarched Izzy into the nearest toilet. ‘Drop them.’
Izzy rolled her eyes. She had known Bex since before she could walk. There were no secrets between them. Izzy unzipped her jeans and slipped them down a bit so Bex could inspect the spot.
‘Bloody hell, Iz, that’s huge. It’s got a life of its own that one. It probably has its own brain cells, its own thoughts. We should give it a name. Bert.’ Bex prodded it and Izzy winced. ‘Hello Bert.’
Just then the toilet door swung open and a very glamorous women walked in. The Frog and Sausage had a very strict dress code. Jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, trainers, wellies and the occasional cowboy hat were all welcome. This lady looked like she’d come straight from Ascot with her tailored suit jacket and matching silk dress.
She took one look at Izzy with her bum out and Bex bent over to inspect the spot up close and hurried back out again.
Bex burst out laughing and Izzy groaned.
‘I’m going to the loo whilst I’m in here, get another round in will you?’ Bex handed Izzy a tenner.
Izzy walked out into the pub and saw Ethan with the Ascot Lady. His eyes caught hers and Izzy felt something shift inside her.
‘I just walked in on two lesbians about to have sex.’ Ascot Lady was saying, pulling her jacket tighter around her as she looked around The Frog with disgust. ‘It’s obviously some kind of sordid gay bar. I’d like to leave.’
Ethan still didn’t take his eyes off Izzy and Ascot Lady turned round to see what he was looking at. ‘That’s one of them,’ she hissed.
Great. Just great.
Ethan put his arm round Ascot Lady’s shoulders and ushered her out. He glanced back over at Izzy as he walked out and she was sure there was a smirk on his lips.
*

Tied Up With Love is out on February 14th but you can pre-order your copy here http://amzn.to/1xJPpra


  

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Bits and pieces

I am not sure how this passed me by, but there's a lovely new, free, online magazine for writers - The Writer's Wheel. It's up to its 4th issue so really I ought to have found and promoted it before now!
One of its editors was previously with The New Writer, a magazine I enjoyed very much in the past, but which now, sadly, has closed. The Writer's Wheel offer services for writers as well. Definitely worth checking out!

Here's a competition for all you novelists, especially the romance writers. Three publishers, including my own lovely Carina UK, have joined forces to find new talent in three different areas. Go here for the details - you need to send a synopsis and 3 chapters before 1st March, and the prize is a publishing contract, no less!

If you're more of a short story or flash fiction writer, there are competitions from Tethered By Letters which might appeal more. Deadline is 28th Feb.

Kishboo online and Kindle magazine is going from strength to strength. The second issue is out now, and there are ongoing competitions for short stories. Do go and take a look!

That's it for now. Come back tomorrow as I have a first chapter of a fab new book to reveal!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Blogs about books

There are a number of marvellous book bloggers around, some of whom have been kind enough in the past to review my books and feature me on their blogs. Take a look here at all who featured my novel, The Emerald Comb, on their blogs last year! (Incidentally, that novel is currently on promotion on iTunes and on Amazon for just 49p Get it while you can!)

Book bloggers do a great job at spreading the word about new releases, and drumming up interest. And they do it for nothing - just for the love of the books they read!

Now there's a chance for them to be recognised in a small for what they do. The Book Blogger Awards allows anyone to nominate their favourite bloggers in a number of different categories. The prize is recognition and a badge for the blog - not much, but it'll feel great to those who win!

So if you follow one or more book blogs, do go and nominate them for an award, as a way of paying them back for all their efforts. I'm going to have to think hard about this as there are so many great bloggers out there, and I appreciate them all!

And, while we are on the subject of book bloggers, one of my favourites, Becca's Boooks, is currently running a giveaway to celebrate having reached the milestone of 2000 followers. All you have to do to win some great book-related prizes, is to tweet or comment or post on facebook. Go here http://beccasbooooks.blogspot.co.uk/to take part!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Buses

You wait ages for a decent offer from womagwriter, then two come along at once.

My novel, The Emerald Comb, is currently selling for just 49p on iTunes and Amazon. Grab it while you can!

And my How To books are still only 99p each for a few more days. See last post for links.

In other news, my next novel, The Pearl Locket, now has its proper cover which I absolutely love. It's available for preorder now (at a little more than 49p) and will be released on 27th February. It is all happening here!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Quick - my How To books on special offer!


For the next few days, my How To books are on special offer - just 99p in the UK and 99c in the US.


Hurry, while stocks last!



Buy Short Stories from Amazon.co.uk
Buy Ghost Stories from Amazon.co.uk

Buy Short Stories from Amazon.com
Buy Ghost Stories from Amazon.com

Sunday, 18 January 2015

That's Life Fast Fiction change of editor

Thanks to those who've contacted me to say that the Australian magazine That's Life has a new fiction editor  - Katherine Davison. She takes over from Nikki Roberts. Submissions should be addressed to her.

Submission guidelines for this magazine are here and you can email stories to fastfiction@pacificmags.com.au

Good luck with all your submissions!

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

This and that

Firstly may I point you all at Della Galton's blog, where she has answered the three questions she's most often asked about short stories. Definitely worth a read!

Secondly, the photos from the November Romantic Novelists Association party are now up if you'd like to take a look. I'm in pic number 25, bottom left corner on the thumbnails. That's me in a grey dress, looking short and dumpy compared to Della who's standing beside me. Also in the pic are Wendy Clarke and fellow Carina author Karen Aldous, and a chap whose name has sunk without trace in the murky depths of my terrible memory.

Thirdly, I'm delighted with sales of my time management book, Give Up Ironing. If you've read it and liked it, I'd love a review! I have also recently given up vacuuming, as I had a bad back and then my hoover broke. Maybe I should write a sequel.

Finally for aspiring romance writers, here's a competition for you, run by Prima in association with Mills and Boon. Good luck!

I hope 2015 has started well for all my blog readers, and that you've hit the ground running with plenty of ideas and energy for all your writing projects. Please do keep in touch and keep sending me any links or snippets of news which would be of interest to womag short story writers to post on this blog.


Friday, 2 January 2015

Happy New Year!

Time for the annual declaration of writing resolutions for the year ahead. This year you'll find it over on my other blog kathleenmcgurl.com.

And if you need help to achieve your writing resolutions for 2015, my little book on time management might help. Give Up Ironing - you know you want to!

What are your aims for the year? Whatever they are, best of luck with everything!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

A quick post to wish all blog readers a very merry Christmas. I'm off on our annual ski holiday next week - a week off from the day job and the writing job, and this year I really feel as though I need it.

I'll be back renewed and rejuvenated (and in one piece, I hope) and ready to set next year's writing resolutions. If you think you might need some help finding time to write in 2015, do consider ordering my little book, Give Up Ironing, to help you! It will be released on 1st January, just in time to help you hit the ground running next year.

So, whatever you're doing, have a fabulous time and may Santa bring you everything you hoped for!

Monday, 8 December 2014

Catching up

Eek, nearly a month since the last update! What HAVE I been doing?

Well. A couple of things, really.
Firstly, a fairly major editing job on my next novel for my publisher, The Pearl Locket, which is due to be released in February.
Secondly, I've been completing a new non-fiction book, which is now available for pre-order. See below! It will be released on 1st January, just in time to help with your new year resolutions. Price just £1.53 at the moment - but this will go up on 1st January due to the EU VAT regulation changes. So, why not order it now, and it'll be ready for you on 1st January, so you can hit the ground running in 2015 and achieve loads!



Order from Amazon.co.uk 

Order from Amazon.com

If you enjoyed my How To books, you should like this one too, as it's written in the same light-hearted style, but making some serious points.











And now for a couple of other pieces of news as I am woefully behind.

Here's a competition - closing date is next week so you will need to hurry and I am SORRY I did not post about this sooner!
Tethered by Letters' Fall Literary ContestsWe are currently accepting submissions for our short story contest (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction contest (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry contest (max of three pages per poem). TBL strives to publish writers with engaging stories, vivid characters, and fresh writing styles. All winners will be published in Tethered by Letters’ Summer 2015 Quarterly Journal. All finalists will receive free professional edits on their submission and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $250 (USDA) for the short story winner, $50 (USDA) for the flash fiction winner, and $100 (USDA) for the poetry winner. Winners will be announced publicly in November. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Good luck to all our authors! Deadline: December 15, 2014
Prize: $250 for Short Story, $50 for Flash Fiction, $100 for Poetry
Entry Fee: $10 per Short Story; $4 per Flash Fiction OR $10 for three Flash Fictions; $5 per poem OR $12 for three poems
URL: http://tetheredbyletters.com/submissions/contest-submission
<http://tetheredbyletters.com/submissions/contest-submission
Contact Info: Joe Reinis, jreinis@tetheredbyletters.com


News from Kishboo magazine:
KISHBOO e-magazine is looking for volunteer article writers.
You can promote your kindle book/paper book/ blog/website in your article.
We also require volunteer book reviewers too.
We welcome reviews of kindle books and non- fiction books. (The non- fiction books must be about writing please).
1,000 words max please for both articles and reviews.
Please feel free to include images of your books, photos of yourself, links to your blog/ website ect.
KISHBOO is published on 3 digital formats – FREE on a website, FREE on an android app and on kindle. (77p)
KISHBOO holds an ongoing short story competition. £3 to enter. Readers decide on the winner and runner- up.
Kind Regards
Sharon, the editor.
KISHBOO e- magazine.
Please visit: www.kishboo.co.uk
Follow us on Twitter:@kishbooMag


Monday, 10 November 2014

Driving Home for Christmas blog tour and competition

You wait ages for a blog tour competition then two come along at once. Today I am delighted to welcome A.L. Michael to the blog, with her lovely Christmas book, Driving Home For Christmas (have you all got the Chris Rea song going round your head now? I have!)

Megan McAllister is home for Christmas…whether she likes it or not!
Christmas is about family…and for Megan family means two people: herself, and her daughter Skye. It doesn’t mean her parents who, ten years ago, saw her pregnancy as anything but a miracle. And it definitely doesn’t include her irresistible ex-boyfriend Lucas Bright.
So ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ has never been top of Megan’s festive playlist. But for Skye, she knows she needs to spend the holiday season with the people she’s left behind. She can do this. Even if the thought of meeting Lucas under the mistletoe still has her feeling like she’s drunk one-too-many Snowballs!

But somewhere between the hanging of stockings and the crackle of wrapping paper, Christmas starts to sparkle. And Megan begins to wonder if family could be bigger than her and Skye after all…Pop the buck’s fizz, stoke the fire and prepare to giggle the festive season away with AL Michael!
Find Andrea on Facebook
Find Andrea on Twitter
Competition
To win a Driving Home for Christmas goodie bag, including merchandise, festive treats and a £10 Amazon giftcard!




Teaser
Lucas Bright sat on the side of the road and watched the tour bus leave without him. They were somewhere less than glamorous, and he wasn’t even sure how to get home. If home was where he wanted to go. She’d gone, the mere months of their marriage drizzling out to this one moment, where she wanted a divorce and he didn’t care enough to stop her. Musicians shouldn’t marry. Trying to build a life on the road, from tour to tour, hotel to hotel, it just didn’t make sense. Plus he had the idea that Mike, that roadie who had been sniffing around had caught his wife’s interest. Ex-wife. Soon enough, anyway. May as well get used to using the terminology.

Being a rockstar wasn’t everything he thought it would be. Or maybe it had just been tainted by fighting every night about things that didn’t matter. Did he wink at that girl in the audience, did she steal those lyrics, why couldn’t they work together anymore.

Jess was talented, no doubt. She was going to make it big one day. One day soon, if she stayed single and used her ‘indefinable allure’ on the business execs. She’d been their opening act on the tour. They’d got closer, all those nights talking music, drinking too much, laughing until his face hurt. This was life, he thought, this was what people did. They never sang together, though. Somehow, that part was reserved for Megan, in some sort of misguided loyalty to her, and to what they’d had.

Lucas shook his head, he was an idiot. His marriage breaks down, he quits his band, and he’s thinking about a girl he loved when he was seventeen?

‘Get a grip,’ he said to himself, standing up. Right, a plan. Call Claire, let her know everything’s alright. Get her to prepare their mum for him coming home. Was the little village ever really home? He’d always felt like an outsider. They moved there when he was a kid, Claire would only have been a toddler, and from the start he’d been seen as ‘that troublemaker boy from London’. He wasn’t meant for small spaces. But it didn’t seem he was made for the road, either.

He could have one last go at it, by himself, he thought. Call Derek, pay for some studio time, record an album. He’d made some money selling on his songs before, and whilst it was painful to hear someone else up there, singing the songs he wrote, it made good money, and it was what he was good at. It also meant he didn’t have to go back yet, tail between legs, proving them all right.

London, he’d go to London. Give himself a few more months to ‘make it’, to prove he’d done something real. And then he’d go back for Christmas. Just for Christmas, before he’d leave again. There was nothing really there for him since she’d left anyway.


Sunday, 9 November 2014

Mistletoe Mansion blog tour and competition

I'm delighted to welcome Sam Tonge back to the blog today. This lovely and prolific lady has another book coming out - this one's a Christmas romp called Mistletoe Mansion. She's sent me chapter 2 for this blog. Read chapter 1 first here.

There's also a fab competition to enter where you have to put together a Pinterest board showing your ideal Christmas party. All details below. I had a go - click here for my attempt. As you can see I probably missed the brief a bit. In my defence I'd have nothing to wear to a glittering Christmas party - oh, unless I win this competition of course!


About the book

Kimmy Jones has three loves: cupcakes, gossip magazines and dreaming of getting fit just by owning celeb workouts.
When Kimmy’s Sensible Boyfriend told her he didn’t approve of her longing for the high life or her dream of starting a cupcake company Kimmy thought she could compromise – after all, she did return those five-inch Paris Hilton heels! But asking her to trade in cake-making for a job sorting potatoes is a step too far.
So, newly single - and newly homeless – Kimmy needs a dusting of Christmas luck. And, masquerading as a professional house sitter, her new temporary home is the stunning Mistletoe Mansion. Soon she’s best buds with glamorous next door golf WAG Melissa, and orders are pouring in for her fabulous Merry Berry cupcakes! The only thorn in her side is handsome handyman Luke, a distraction she definitely doesn’t need. And talking of distractions, something very odd is going on at night…
Kimmy is finally living the life she’s always wanted. But will her glimpse into the glittering lifestyle of the rich and famous be as glamorous as she’s always imagined…?

About the Author

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family, and two cats who think they are dogs. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Its fun standalone sequel is From Paris with Love. Mistletoe Mansion stars a new set of characters and is for fans of cupcakes and Christmas!

Find Sam on Twitter
Find Sam on Facebook

Mistletoe Mansion - chapter 2

The bus stop? Little privacy. The back of my old hatchback? No room to stretch out. The doorway of the Spoon & Sausage? I sat on my pink case, outside Adam’s flat. Where on earth would I sleep tonight? How dare Adam throw me out? What a jerk. See if I cared…Yet I squeezed my eyes shut, to trap any tears, and my throat felt tight and sore –as if I’d got the tonsil infection from hell.
Perhaps I could crash in some shop’s outdoor Santa’s Grotto. I’d packed as quickly as I could, just finding time to brush my teeth and hair. Plus I’d squashed in some baking utensils and my novelty pig oven gloves. Adam was probably still in the shower, singing “One potato, two potato, three potato, four…”
A nearby flowering weed caught my eye. It stood upright between two paving stones. I leant forward, tugged it out and one by one yanked off its petals – he loves me… he loves me not… If I were famous, I imagined the sad shot the paparazzi might take of me now, the drooping wild flower stuffed through my gold metallic parka jacket’s buttonhole. It would go with the headline: “Kimmy Shown Red Card by Love Rat Adam”, except my Adam was more of a love-bunny (he’d hate me calling him that).
Shivering from the bitter December air – or was it from shock? – I nevertheless put on my fake designer sunglasses, due to the odd bit of sun. Although when the clouds parted, Luton still looked as grey as an old pair of Y-fronts. The Greta Garbo “I-want-to-be-left-alone look” suited the occasion, don’t you think, after my dramatic morning? A man in uniform walked past, spiking litter. From behind I got a whiff of something pungent – Adam’s aftershave, smelt a bit like some cleaning product.
‘There was no need to leave without saying goodbye,’ he said to my back. ‘You haven’t even eaten.’
‘You ordered me out.’ I turned around, determined to look more cross than upset.
His hair was all wet. Like a white flag, he held up the cheap ready-decorated Christmas tree I’d bought – Adam had insisted stuff like advent calendars and fairy lights were a waste of money, so I’d had to compromise.
‘You forgot this.’ He gazed down at me with those metallic grey eyes. ‘This is silly. At least come back for lunch.’
‘Now I’m silly as well as irresponsible?’ Annoyed at the tremble in my voice, I stood up and dragged my case along the street, towards the pedestrian crossing on the left. However, secretly I wished he’d scoop me up and carry me back to the flat, saying that it was all just a big mistake.
‘Wait up!’ he called and I slowed slightly, willing him not to drop my ace little tree. The baubles looked basic and the branches were threadbare, but it was the ninth of December, for goodness’ sake, and right now my world needed a dollop of Christmas magic.
‘For God’s sake,’ he said and easily caught me up. ‘It’s not that I don’t understand.’
Chin trembling, I reached for my tree and gripped it by the metal base. We were in front of Clarkson’s Estate Agents. He steered me to the nearby blue painted bench, where I’d arranged to meet Jess.
‘I get it,’ he continued. ‘We all have dreams. Me, I’d kill to live like… like a top racing driver.’
I sat down, shoved my case under the bench and fiddled with a lacklustre piece of tinsel.
‘Sometimes,’ he continued and took a seat next to me, ‘when I’m travelling back from my night shift and the motorway’s empty, I hit the accelerator… But kidding myself that I’ll ever race cars for a living won’t pay the rent.’
‘Remember that Formula One leather jacket you bought when we first started going out?’ I stared across the road to the White Horse pub. ‘It cost a whole week’s wages.’
‘Now I know better.” He leant back to avoid a kid on a skateboard whizzing past, followed by a gaggle of giggling teenagers, cheap handbags swinging, not a care in the world. A group of women in burkas walked behind them and a souped-up car, bass volume on full, zoomed along.
‘There’s nothing I want more than you and me together,’ he said, huskily, ‘even though you stick your cold feet on me in bed and leave trails of flour around the flat like some MasterChef slug. But you’ve got to realise that dreams are just that. During the day, it’s about making the best of what you’ve got. This job at the factory won’t come along again – they’ve held back on recruitment for months. When that application form dropped through the letterbox this morning my heart leapt, babe. It’s the best Christmas present I could ever have, the thought that, at last, you and me would be moving our lives forward.’
‘But next week I’m baking cupcakes for my mate Nikki’s hen night. I even blagged some cut-price sugar from the corner shop that’s closing down. If I spend all day, every day with you, sorting spuds, I’ll never have the energy for cooking after work. You’re always knackered after a day at that place. And what if my business did, by some small miracle, take off and I left the factory? It wouldn’t look good for you. No. It’s best that we keep “us” and work separate.’
‘Sounds like more excuses.’ He glanced at his watch.
‘Don’t let me keep you,’ I muttered.
‘I said I’d drop round to Mum and Dad’s this afternoon; things to do before that.’
‘What will you tell them?’ My voice wavered. ‘About us?’
‘The truth, of course.’ He looked sideways at me. ‘You know Mum. She’ll blame me.’
I half-smiled. Barbara was great. Adam always joked that if he and I ever split up, she’d take my side and ask him what he’d done wrong.
‘She’ll have to take back her wedding outfit,’ he mumbled. ‘That’ll teach her to buy it before we even got engaged.’
Hardly believing his words, I nodded. Telling his parents about our split meant it was final. So this was really happening? How could my lovelife have crumbled around me within the space of one hour? I took his hand, which felt icy cold. ‘Just give me six months. Please. I can sense things are about to go my way.’
‘You’ve already been temping for weeks, Kimmy.’ He pulled away his fingers and blew on them with warm breath. He stood up and rubbed his hands together. ‘I won’t hold on for another half year.’ His voice broke. ‘Sorry, babe. It’s over.’ With that, he walked away.
I pulled the limp flower from my button hole and watched it tumble to the ground. In need of a ballad, I reached into my jeans’ back pocket. Great. I’d forgotten my iPod.
‘Adam! Hold on! Keep an eye on my luggage. I’ve left something in the flat.’
Without giving him much chance to answer, I rushed past, head down, as he sloped back to the bench. I didn’t want him to see my runny nose or tears trickling out from under my glasses. My phone rang and, slowing to a trot, I reached into my front jeans’ pocket. A repentant love message from Adam? No. He didn’t text that fast. It was from Jess. She was on her way over and said it was just as well we weren’t meeting at her place.
Hoping she was okay, I put the phone back in my pocket. Mrs Patel from the grocer’s smiled at me as I turned towards the flats. If I were famous, Elton John would lend me his French villa, or I’d flee to my Barbados hideout, or (how cool did this sound) I’d go into rehab.
I entered the red-brick building and climbed the two flights of stairs to number fourteen. New graffiti had gone up on the whitewashed walls overnight, featuring lewd cartoons of Father Christmas. It still brightened up the place, though, and drew attention away from the missing chunks of plaster. I unlocked our front door and went in.
Stupid, I know, but I expected it to already look different. It didn’t. On the left was the kitchenette, with its scratched worktop, on top of which was a Tupperware box of cranberry and orange festive cupcakes I’d made only last night, after baking Postie’s batch. They were next to the tiny electric cooker and sink where a tap dripped constantly. I’d been meaning to change the washer. Mum had always relied on me to do that sort of thing. Over the years I’d picked up a lot from her boyfriends – like how to change a fuse and put up shelves. One even taught me how to pick locks, another how to hotwire cars.
I headed into bedroom and ran a finger along the furniture as I went. Adam had made a real effort when I’d first moved in; skipped the pub for weeks, eventually spending his beer money on a beech effect flatpack wardrobe and a small cabinet for my side of the bed. We’d also made a special trip to St Albans’ market for that beige throw to cover the balding sofa. I lifted my pillow, picked up my iPod and slipped it into the back of my jeans. A photo on the windowsill caught my attention. It was me and Adam kissing behind two plates of curry. We’d celebrated every single one of our anniversaries at the same Indian restaurant.
‘Yoo hoo!’ warbled a shaky voice.
It was Mrs Burton. I took off my sunglasses and slipped them into my parka pocket. Then I left the bedroom, forcing my mouth to upturn. Her lined face peeked around the front door.
‘You shouldn’t leave this open, dearie,’ she said.
‘I was just going out,’ I said and grabbed the Tupperware box of cupcakes. We moved into the corridor. I closed and locked the door. Mrs Burton leant on her stick. Whatever the weather, she always wore her long woollen cardigan and secondhand Ugg boots.
‘Everything all right, Kimberley? I happened to see you outside with your luggage.’
Happened to? With her antique opera glasses and log-book, Mrs Burton took Neighbourhood Watch to the next level. She’d note when the number eighty-seven bus wasn’t on time and knew which paperboys were late because they’d spent the night necking cider on the street corner.
She held up her hand, translucent skin mapped with veins. ‘No need to explain. You and your young man have tread troubled waters for a while now.’
‘How…?’
She patted my hand. ‘Not as much laughter as there used to be. Just silence. My Bill and me used to argue a lot. Now that’s the sign of a healthy marriage. Better out than in, me dearie, that’s what I always say. But don’t you worry. Men often take a while to work out what’s best for them. He’s in for a shock as to how much he’ll miss you.’
‘Cupcake?’ I gave her a proper smile and took off the Tupperware lid.
Eyes shining behind pink-rimmed glasses, she lifted one out. ‘It’ll take a lot to improve on the walnut and fig ones you made last week. Those beauties have kept me as regular as a cuckoo clock.’
‘Thought they would.’ I winked and put back the lid. Jess would be outside any minute. I kissed the old lady goodbye and went down the stairs. When I got back to the bench, Adam was pacing up and down.
‘I’d better get going.’ He cleared his throat. ‘Where will you stay tonight?
‘Um… Jess’s.’ I sniffed and lifted my head into the air. ‘You needn’t worry about me. I can manage.’
He held out his hand.
I slipped my hand into his and squeezed it tight.
‘No,’ he said. ‘The key. I may as well have it back.’
‘But there’s no going back from that,’ I spluttered, the inside of my chest cold again. ‘Come on, Adam. This isn’t you. Work’s been demanding, lately. Perhaps you’re suffering from stress. It’s only a couple of weeks before Christmas, for heaven’s sake!’
‘Are you blind, babe?’ he said. ‘You haven’t seen this coming? Is this all really such a surprise?’
My throat hurt again, as if I’d eaten too much buttercream icing and had a bad case of acid reflux.
‘Just ring your mum, Kimmy. Ask if you can kip on the floor – she might surprise you and say yes. You can’t stay at Jess’s forever and we both know you’ll never get a flat without proof of a regular income.’
‘You’ve got to be joking. Her latest man’s got three Alsatians. They have the sofa now.’ Mum made it quite clear, as soon as I got a job at Best Buns, that I was to move out, permanently; find out for myself that life was hard. As if I didn’t know that already.
As Adam strode away, my stomach cramped but I held back more tears. Life had thrown crap at me before – I’d survived, and I’d survive now too. That was the best and worst thing about getting older – each tough experience taught you how to cope with the next. I mean, one minute I’d been shooting into Melissa Winsford’s ninth hole, the next I was well and truly lost in the rough…
I sat down and almost dropped the box of cupcakes. Outside the White Horse, over the road, a young couple walked along in scarves and hats, hugging each other tightly. Adam never held my hand anymore and would rather Chelsea football club be relegated than us snog in public. I used to slip soppy notes in his lunch box until he complained that they stuck to his sandwiches. Perhaps this break-up had been waiting in the shadows for a while.
It’s funny how the things that attract you to someone eventually lose their shine – like the way he threw an arm over me during his sleep; how he insisted on using teabags twice. And I knew my liking for bowls of potpourri drove him crazy. I’d become a fan of them since living above a chip shop. It was my first flat. Dirt cheap. It had to be, on my wages from Best Buns.
From the left, a flash of red caught my eye – Jess’s bobbed hair. Despite her small frame, she stood out in her tribal print duffle coat and maroon jeans. Jess didn’t use peroxide, hated fake tan and wore old women’s comfy shoes – in theory, we were a total mismatch. She didn’t watch my fave shows like The Apprentice and Keeping Up With The Kardashians, nor did she use whitening toothpaste. Yet at school we’d both bonded through a deep hatred of sport. Except I was the lucky one, with a mum always happy to write me a letter to get out of netball or swimming; anything for a bit of peace, so that she could get back to her fags and daytime telly. It was only when I met Adam that I got into fitness DVDs. Not that he minded my squishy bits – he liked my “soft curves”. It was my idea to battle my muffin top. You see, I often imagined what Adam and I would look like together, posing in one of my celebrity magazines. If I could just tone up we wouldn’t look half bad. We’d be the next Brangelina – the papers would call us Kimadam, perhaps. I shook myself and waved in Jess’s direction.
‘Kimmy?’ Jess hurried towards me, eyes goggling at the Christmas tree. She carried a massive rucksack. ‘Why are you sitting outside here with all this stuff?’
‘And what about you, with that rucksack? I said, brightly.
‘You first.’ She slipped the khaki bag to the ground and sat down.
‘No, you,’ I said, graciously delaying my dramatic announcement that Adam had brutally (okay, slight exaggeration) chucked me out. Plus I need a few more minutes to stem any tears that still threatened. I patted her arm. ‘Looks like you and Ryan have fallen out big time. Brothers… Who needs them, eh?’
She bit her thumbnail.
‘What’s happened?’ I said.
‘He called me a neat-freak; said it was worse than living with our mum.’ Her chin wobbled.
‘Ungrateful bastard!’ I said, for one nanosecond forgetting Adam. ‘You’ve transformed his house! Has he forgotten that his previous lodgers liked cheese and had tails?’
She offered me a stick of gum and I shook my head. Jess had taken up the habit about a month ago.
‘Guess I should have knocked, before going into his bedroom this morning,’ she said.
‘Huh?’
Her cheeks tinged pink and instantly clashed with her hair – and her red nose. Poor Jess always seemed to have a cold through the winter months, plus hayfever in the summer – not the best allergy for someone who worked with plants. ‘This morning, it being the weekend, I thought I’d do him a favour and tidy his room.’
‘That was a bit keen.’
‘I know, but I had this overpowering urge to clean.’
‘Was he still asleep?’
‘No. He, um, had company.’
‘Jess!’ My hand flew over my mouth. ‘Was she pretty?’
‘Boobs like grapefruits and a dead neat Brazilian.’
I caught her eye and we both giggled.
‘So, I was wondering…’ Jess glanced across at my case. ‘Any, erm, chance I can crash at yours? You should have heard Ryan. Apparently it’s been a nightmare for him, living with his kid sister, ever since Mum and Dad retired to Spain. He says he owes it to our parents to see that I’m all right, but that I cramp his style and he’s sick of not having a private life.’
‘What a cheek! I bet he’s already struggling to work out the washing machine.’
‘I shouted at him,’ muttered Jess. ‘Told him he was a joke and no other woman would ever move into his hovel.’
‘You never shout.’
‘I know.’ She sighed. ‘He even made some rude comment about my lentil cutlets. I mean, what decade is he in? No one makes vegetarian food like that anymore. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d criticised my bean burritos or tofu chow mein. He said at least now he could enjoy a guilt-free turkey dinner at Christmas.’ She nodded at my luggage. ‘Please tell me you’ve not moved out. Have you two had one of your disagreements?’
‘What do you mean?’ A lump returned to my throat.
‘Remember he gave you the silent treatment after your last trip to the salon?’
I’d forgotten that. He thought twenty pounds was a lot to pay for fifteen minutes eyebrow threading.
‘And he didn’t come out to the pub last weekend for that festive quiz.’
Nope. He was sulking because I’d turned down an interview for a permanent cleaning job.
‘Do you think my head’s stuck in the clouds?’ I asked, voice choked up. ‘Adam more or less said I’d treated his flat like a holiday camp.’ I could count on Jess to be straight with me. She’d always tell you if your bum did look big or your new haircut sucked. I pulled the lid off the Tupperware box. Sugar was great for low moods. A bloody good cake could sort out any problem.
‘You’re a… a….’ She sneezed and blew her nose – into a handkerchief, of course. Even tissues made from recycled paper, originally made from sustainable forests, were too environmentally unfriendly for her. ‘You’re a daydreamer, Kimmy; a romantic. No doubt about that. And who can blame you. Let’s face it, your mum hasn’t always–’
‘She’s done her best,’ I said and bit my lip.
‘I don’t know why you still defend her,’ Jess muttered and shook her head. She took a cake from the box. ‘Whereas Adam, I guess he just looks to his parents. Marriage, mortgage and kids; the daily grind paying off…’ She bit into the sponge and chewed for a moment – the only person I knew who could simultaneously munch on food and gum. ‘Face it, Kimmy: you two have less in common now – you’ve got different priorities and have grown apart.’
‘But you and me still get on, even though I hate gardening and you’d rather stare at a blank screen than follow Beyoncé on Twitter.’ I took a large bite of cake too.
‘But I’m not planning my future around you.’ She smiled. ‘No offence.’
‘You’d be better suited for him,’ I mumbled. Jess even had a savings account.
She shook her head. ‘Have you forgotten the argument we had about recycling?’
Jess sorted through all her rubbish, composted her peelings and washed out her tins. Adam said multi-coloured wheelie bins cost the government too much money and that they’d be better off investing it in nuclear energy.
Jess popped the last mouthful of cupcake into her mouth. ‘Really yummy,’ she said. ‘I trust it was suitable for vegetarians?’
‘Of course.’
‘Love that orange buttercream icing.’
‘It’s made with actual orange zest, instead of essence, which means…’ I smiled. ‘Ingredient geek alert. Ignore me.’
‘Shame you used paper cases. They contribute towards the decimation of rainforests.’ She opened her rucksack and tugged out a copy of the Luton News. ‘Is there anyone else we can stay with?’ Her mouth drooped at the corners. ‘It doesn’t get much worse than being homeless for Christmas. Plus I’ve got to get myself sorted for work tomorrow. The last thing I need, on top of this, is to lose my job. Maybe we can find a flat?’
‘This late in the day?’ I said. ‘Have we even got enough for a deposit?’
‘It won’t do any harm to look through the paper. In these arctic temperatures, I for one don’t want to spend tonight on the street.’ She pointed to a splat of congealed sick on the pavement. ‘That mess reminds me, I threw up just before I left Ryan’s. Last night I had a take-away veggie burger – it must have been contaminated with meat. So, I’m a bit peckish now.’
I jerked my head towards the White Horse. ‘What we need is a shot of caffeine. I might even splash out on a packet of crisps, seeing as I no longer have to justify my every financial transaction to Mr Stingy Purse Strings.’ 
Jess gazed at me. ‘Chin up, Kimmy,’ she said, softly. ‘Come on. I’ll treat you to a cheese toastie and chips.’
I gave a wry smile and nodded. We stood up, ready to haul our luggage to the pedestrian crossing. But then I stopped dead. What was that, stuck to the glass front of the estate agent’s? Leaving Jess to drag over my case, I carried the tree and cake box over to the window. I cocked my head. The house in that photo… Wow. It was everything I’d ever dreamed of: roman pillars either side of the red front door, massive gardens, a well cute pond… I leant forward to read the labels. Five bedrooms, a hot tub and (posh or what) croquet lawn. It even had its own games room and bar. And that kitchen! There was a big American fridge and an island to breakfast off.
‘Ready?’ said Jess. ‘The traffic lights are about to change.’ Puffing under the weight of her rucksack, she gazed at the picture. ‘Bet that place costs a lot to heat.’
Why wasn’t I that sensible? Instead, in my head, I was already clicking my fingers at servants whilst eating a delicious afternoon tea on the front lawn. As for that staircase! And those four-poster beds! And talk about privacy, there was room for a mid-terrace  house before you came across the neighbours. I was about to step away, when underneath the For Sale caption I noticed some bold writing.
“Live-in housesitter urgently required, to maintain gardens and house until property sold. Enquire within.”
‘What’s the matter?’ said Jess. ‘You look like you’ve just been given limitless texts.’
‘Do you believe in fate?’ I said.
She read the advert and stopped chewing her gum for a moment. ‘Are you completely bonkers? Us? Living in a place like that?’
‘Why not? Come on, you and I aren’t going to be beaten by our current situation. This is the answer. Think about it – your job at the garden centre is bound to impress. And I’m well nifty with a duster and vacuum cleaner. This could be my one chance to prove to Adam that I do have a practical streak.’ There’s no need for him to know how wicked the setting is – just that I’m prepared to scrub and clean and work hard to put a roof over my head; that I can do anything I put my mind to, including making a success of my cake company. If I slogged my guts out to do well at this job, he’d be impressed. Then I’d wow him with my “concrete business plans” (um, leaflets, cooking classes, entering cake contests). My mind raced.
‘You and me, together, we’ll have that place sold before you can say “Mulled Wine Muffin”.’ I beamed, a chink of hope breaking through the storm clouds of my lovelife.
‘But we haven’t any experience.’
I snorted. ‘You’re joking? The way we’ve kept house for Adam and Ryan? You don’t need a CV a mile long to know how to bleach a loo or polish a mirror.’ I pointed to the window. ‘Urgently required’, I quoted. ‘Sounds desperate.’ I scooped my hair back into a scrunchie, unzipped my gold parka jacket and smoothed down my sequinned jumper. ‘After a few days away, the two men in our lives will be pleading with us to move back.’
‘I don’t know, Kimmy…’ Jess wiped her nose. ‘What about references? How do we explain suddenly turning up like two lost tourists?’ She stared hard at the photo and pointed to the right hand back corner of the lawn. ‘Who do you think that is?’
I screwed up my eyes and examined the topless young man with floppy chestnut hair, leaning on a spade. He certainly had his work cut out – that garden was huge.

I fixed a smile on my face and held out my hand, flat, in front of Jess’s mouth, glad she got the message but didn’t actually spit her gum into my palm. Then she smeared on her favourite lipgloss – homemade of course, using Vaseline and food essence. I took a deep breath and pushed open the glass door. Jess caught my eye and I winked. A tiny bubble of hope tickled the inside of my chest. This dream house was going to help me win back Adam