How do you read?

Ten years ago, maybe even five, this wasn’t even a question. Books were books and you read them. Now people read via ereaders, tablets, phones and all sorts of other techy ways. And paper, of course.

My medium of choice is my kindle. I really, really love it. It’s light, small, easy on the eyes, and doesn’t have the inbuilt distraction of the internet. If you desperately need the internet, it does include an experimental browser, but it’s hard work. It’s like reading a paper book but much more convenient.

My second choice option is my phone. Mostly I only use this if I’m waiting somewhere and didn’t bring my kindle. I can access all my kindle books and read them on it. The screen is small and bright. It’s easy to use for short periods of time but not as a primary reading device.

Third choice is paper books. I am shocked by this. I thought I would be a die-hard paper book fan, and indeed there are a fair number of paper books in my house. Almost all my new purchases are digital, though, and I actually find reading on the kindle easier. I only need one hand and turning pages is less intrusive if I’m knitting or something.

What I don’t have and don’t want is a tablet. I have a laptop for work and a netbook that I like to use for travel or in bed, and so on. It’s small enough to fit in my handbag, but has a proper keyboard and all the normal software that I use. I often use it, rather than the big laptop, for writing on, because it doesn’t require me to be sitting at a desk.

Sadly, it seems likely that both the ereader and the netbook are going to become victims of the tablet’s success. And in theory, I can see why. It would fulfil many of the functions that my kindle and netbook have. But I can’t see myself enjoying using one as much as I enjoy them. The kindle is designed for only one thing – reading books – and it is brilliantly designed for that. The netbook is multi-functional and more useful to me than a tablet. I don’t want the compromise option that does everything a little bit worse.

What about you? How do you prefer to read?

The Photographer’s Irresistible Model

Hattie Bell is beautiful, brilliant and bigger than your average plus-sized model. For top fashion photographer Tom Metcalfe, Hattie is the muse he needs to help him break into the art world.

Working with Hattie is going to send his career rising into the stratosphere.

Falling in love with Hattie is going to bring his life crashing down around his feet.

The Photographer’s Irresistible Model is a 40,000 word novella previously sold as Flirting with the Camera.

photographers-irresistible-

Excerpt

The last of the models pulled on her jacket, slung her satchel over her shoulder and grunted in response to Tom’s automatic, ‘I’ll be in touch.’

It would be a no. He’d seen more than enough six-foot-tall sulky teenagers to know that wasn’t what he needed for this shoot. They might appear fragile with their stick-thin limbs and barely-formed features, but their eyes were hard as nails. They had to be, to survive in the fashion industry. Not all of them survived, of course.

He cut that thought off before it could take hold. Today wasn’t about Lianne. Today was about moving on. After fifteen years photographing girls who got younger and thinner each season, Tom Metcalfe knew exactly how to find the provocative glint in the eye of the dullest coat-hanger of a model. But this wasn’t a fashion shoot. He wasn’t taking pictures to sell clothes, or perfume, or make-up, or any other overpriced and unnecessary frippery. This time he was selling himself. His own vision of the world. He had no idea whether anyone would want to buy it.

The gallery for his first exhibition was already booked. Most of his portfolio was ready, but there was something missing. Initially, he had decided not to include any portraits. Everyone already knew he could shoot women. Where was the challenge in that? But when he had shown the preliminary portfolio to the gallery owner, she had skimmed through it and shaken her head.

‘It’s too pretty.’

‘Pretty?’

‘Shallow. Decorative. Pretty. But there’s nothing of you in here, Tom. You can’t just be a spectator, dispassionately observing pretty bits of the world. Not for this kind of show.’

As soon as she said it, he knew she was right. He needed more depth, more emotion. For him, that meant people. Faces hiding feelings. Eyes telling stories.

That was the reason Tom preferred to be the spectator. He stayed behind the camera while the attention was on the girls in shot, and that was how he liked it. No one ever interviewed the photographer, asking awkward questions or intruding into matters he would much rather keep hidden. No one could see into his eyes and find out what he really was.There was no way he would be taking any self-portraits for his exhibition, but the world he was trying to portray needed to be more than pretty and shallow. It needed to show depth. Complexity. Humanity.

For that, he needed a model. He had to find someone with that depth and complexity in a way he could capture in a photograph. He’d advertised an open casting, hoping to find someone a bit different from the girls he usually worked with, but none of the models who’d turned up had caught his eye.

‘Am I too late?’

The woman who was leaning against the door of his studio was more than a bit different. Bright, dyed-red hair, heavy dark make-up, a scarlet jacket that swirled out around her hips. She grinned at him, her blue eyes twinkling in a way that made him suspect she wore coloured contact lenses.

‘I had to leave work early, but I still missed the bus. Isn’t it odd how the one you miss is always exactly on time, while the one you have to wait for is always running late?’

Tom nodded, though she didn’t pause long enough for him to speak. He watched her instead. She had a natural grace to her movements and a charm that would be a fun challenge to capture in her face. He’d take close-ups to catch the depth of expression in her eyes and the allure of that wide, mobile mouth.

‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘I’m Hattie Bell and I’m here about the modelling job. You said you were looking for someone out of the ordinary, so I thought it was worth a shot. You wouldn’t believe the amount of castings I’ve been to where they wouldn’t even let me through the door. And the samples!’ She threw up her hands in horror. ‘Made to fit a Barbie doll. No, that’s not right. Barbie dolls have breasts and hips. So do I.’ She gestured at her body.

‘I can see that.’ She had them in abundance, along with thighs, stomach and bum, in a gloriously voluptuous shape that invited further exploration. More than that, she had presence. Personality by the bucket load. He couldn’t tear his eyes away.

‘So, what do you think?’ Hattie gave him a twirl. ‘Have you already found someone? You have, haven’t you? Oh, well.’ She made as if to leave, disappointment written all over her expressive face.

‘I haven’t found anyone. Yet.’ He’d found her the moment Hattie had appeared at the studio door. But the cautious, professional side of him insisted that he needed to take her through the audition first, just to make sure. He hadn’t even seen her through the camera lens. He had to check that what he saw he could recreate for others.

‘Really? Well, great.’ She grinned at him and took off her jacket. ‘Where do you want me?’

Tom picked up his small camera and pointed to the backdrop. ‘This is just a test. To see how you look on film. Relax. Smile. Move around. Whatever you want.’

Under her jacket, Hattie was wearing a clingy floral top and a neat black skirt. She looked comfortable in front of the camera, smiling at Tom, blowing kisses and laughing as she posed in traditional – and some not-so-traditional – ways. He took shot after shot, entranced by her total lack of self-consciousness and her evident delight in the process.

Sex, he realised suddenly. That was what made her different. Hattie was sexy. She wasn’t a faux-innocent teenage Lolita. She was a grown woman; she was in tune with her body, and she was intensely sexy with it.

‘Turn your back to me and look over your shoulder,’ he suggested. ‘Yes, like that. Smile.’

She did more than smile. She winked. Then she laughed and tossed her head back, sending that extraordinary hair flying. Without thinking, Tom dropped his hand so that he could watch her without the filter of the lens. She was gorgeous. Sexy and alluring and incredibly sensual.

What would she be like in bed?

Come-to-bed eyes were such a cliché, and yet there was no other way to describe Hattie’s expression. She would only have to crook her finger and Tom would be there, kissing those luscious lips, ripping away her clothes, revelling in the generous curves of her body. It was clear that Hattie enjoyed sex as much as she was enjoying modelling for him now.

‘Are you just going to watch, or do you want to take more photos?’ Hattie confronted him with her hands on her hips. Tom stared down at the camera in his hand.

He swallowed, finding his mouth unexpectedly dry. ‘I, um, I need to find a new memory card.’

He turned back to his case, searching for the unnecessary memory card, while he took a moment to compose himself.

‘No problem. You know, if you’ve already decided you don’t want me, you only have to say so. No point wasting both our time.’

He fitted the new card and stood up. ‘I want you.’ He deliberately kept his voice calm. He wanted her more than he was prepared to admit.

‘Really?’ A huge smile spread over Hattie’s incredibly expressive face.

‘Really.’ Tom nodded. She wasn’t what he’d had in mind. She was better. Different, interesting, intelligent, unexpected. He would never have found her on a fashion shoot, but for what he was planning, Hattie was ideal.

She threw her arms around him. ‘Thank you! I was beginning to think no one would ever give me a chance. I mean, look at me.’ Hattie stepped back and waited until Tom did as she instructed. ‘Do I look like I should be working in an office all day?’

‘No, you don’t.’ Tom had limited experience of working in an office, but he couldn’t imagine colourful, vibrant Hattie in that kind of bland environment any more than he could stand it himself.

‘Exactly. I always knew I should be in front of a camera. But I can’t act to save my life. Or sing. So it had to be modelling.’

‘Right.’ He knew he was shaking his head. Her logic was incomprehensible.

‘I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I don’t have the figure for modelling.’

‘You could do plus-size modelling,’ he offered.

She shook her head. ‘Those castings I told you about? They were all for so-called plus-size models. When the fashion people say plus-size, they mean average in the real world. I’m too fat.’

Tom didn’t bother to contradict her. None of the plus-size models he’d worked with had breasts like Hattie’s. They didn’t have double chins, either, or fat which spilled over the top of their skirts. On the other hand, none of them had ever fizzed with energy the way Hattie did. And none of them had ever made him want to break through the invisible barrier of the camera lens to touch them. But now his fingers were curled into fists against their longing to stroke the ivory-pale skin exposed by the deep ‘V’ of Hattie’s neckline. She’d be soft and warm… And just that one, relatively innocent thought was enough to make him catch his breath.

He dragged his brain back to the conversation. ‘What about life modelling?’ She’d make an incredible model for an artist. Renoir or Rubens would have killed to have a Hattie as their inspiration. She could have been a Venus for Botticelli, or… Oh God, Titian would have made her his Eve, an irresistible temptation of red-gold hair and creamy skin, embodying all the pleasures of the flesh.

‘Done that. It’s not bad, though it doesn’t pay too well. I couldn’t make the rent. Besides, they don’t like you to talk while you’re doing it and I’m not very good at keeping quiet for hours on end.’

‘I can see that,’ he said wryly. A chattering Venus would ruin the image.

‘But I just knew that I would get a break eventually. And now I have.’ She beamed at him.

‘Look, Hattie.’ Tom ran a hand through his hair. ‘Don’t get too excited. I can only offer you a few days work. A week at the most.’

‘Brilliant. I’ve got some holiday left. Just let me know when. And with this on my CV, who knows what could come of it? I mean, you’re seriously famous, right? All the girls want to have a shoot with Tom Metcalfe. Vogue, Marie-Claire, Elle…’ She waved expansively. ‘The sky’s the limit.’

‘I’ll do you some portfolio shots, if you like,’ said Tom. ‘But this isn’t going to be a fashion shoot.’

‘What kind of shoot is it? The advert didn’t say.’

‘Art.’ Tom cringed inside as he said it. The decision to expand outside his commercial work had been a hard one and he still hadn’t quite got used to the idea of calling himself an artist.

‘Does that mean naked?’

‘No!’ Tom stared at Hattie, a vision of her naked form burning itself onto his brain. ‘No, it doesn’t. Probably not. It just means art. In an exhibition. At a gallery.’

‘Okay. But just so you know, if it did mean naked, that would be fine with me.’

‘Right.’ He took a deep breath and tried not to think of Hattie reclining on a couch, one arm flung back and the other pretending to cover her breasts but actually drawing the eye directly to them. She’d make men’s jaws drop and the rest of them rise to attention. ‘Right.’

‘I did life modelling, remember.’

‘So you did.’ Tom busied himself with packing his camera gear away. He wasn’t going to bother with any more shots today.

‘I’m not embarrassed by my body.’

‘Good to know.’ None of the models Tom worked with were. At least, not after their first shoot. It was hard to hold onto any modesty when make-up artists were brushing bronzer in every crevice of your body.

‘You know, you’re nothing like I was expecting.’

‘Uh huh.’ Neither was she.

‘Aren’t you going to ask what I was expecting?’

‘No.’ The deflection came instinctively after all these years. He didn’t get into conversations about himself.

Hattie laughed. ‘You don’t give a lot away, do you?’

‘There’s a reason I like to be behind the camera.’

She stepped closer, head tilted to one side, and examined him. ‘I wonder if you’ll ever tell me the reason, Tom Metcalfe.’

Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | Kobo | iTunes | Smashwords

September 2013
Self-published
40,000 word category romance

Previous cover:
FFC-COVER lying-cover

The Boss’s Temporary Secretary

In a dramatic encounter at the racecourse Fliss Merrick erupts into the calm, orderly life of racehorse trainer, Luke Caldecott. While he attempts to hold her at arm’s length, Fliss charms her way into his home and his heart. Now, if only he can work out how to persuade her to stay…

 

tempsec-cover

Previously sold until the title: Reckless Runaway at the Racecourse

What readers are saying
“This short little book is delightful. …It is a warm, frequently funny romance. Overall, a nice light read!” – Barb at Sugarbeats Books

“This book was a thoroughly enjoyable light read, perfect for traveling. Felt like I was reading Dick Francis, without the dead body.” – sylviagrace on Amazon

Excerpt
There was someone on the track.

Luke’s blood ran cold.

There was someone on the track.

A slip of a girl in a vivid cornflower blue dress and long chestnut brown hair flying around her shoulders was stuck right in the middle of the bright green turf with nine tons of thoroughbred horseflesh galloping straight at her.

Including the top horse in Luke’s stable. The Derby horse. The one that would finally set the seal on his already glittering career.

Devastating images flashed through Luke’s head in a brief, nightmarish instant – horses rearing, jockeys tumbling, hooves kicking, ambulances, vets, big white screens to hide the horror from public view…

She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t running to safety.

She was going to ruin everything he’d worked so hard for.

Luke wasn’t going to let her.

He shouldered his way through the heaving crowds, ducked under the white fence and sprinted out onto the grass. He didn’t bother to stop as he hoisted the girl over his shoulder and flung them both to safety on the far side of the track. Just a few feet behind them, nine horses with their tiny jockeys perched high on top thundered past at over thirty miles an hour.

Breathe.

Breathe.

Luke held on to the rail as if it were a lifebelt while he struggled to get air back into his lungs.

Stupid. So stupid.

He’d known it since he was a small child: never, ever cross the track while the race is on. Never.

He could have been killed.

Luke felt the blood throbbing in his veins as he stared down the course, each pulse a rhythmic reminder that he was still here. Still breathing. Still alive.

Gradually, he became aware of something beating against his back and a weight hanging over his shoulder. A woman. The one who’d nearly ruined everything. Luke had one arm around her thighs and the other down by her ankles, holding her firmly in place. Nicely turned ankles, he noticed with the tiny part of his brain that was still functioning normally. Soft thighs. Loud voice.

‘Let me go, you bastard!’

Loud voice yelling right in his ear.

‘Put me down right now or I’ll.. I’ll…’ She hit him again, hard enough to hurt.

The sheer elation of survival quickly subsided, giving way to deep anger as Luke began to comprehend the full extent of her folly. Did she even realise how many lives she’d put in danger? He let her slide down to the ground, automatically taking note of her hourglass waist. Her perfectly rounded bosom. Her tousled hair. Her wild face, red with rage. Or possibly red from hanging upside down for the last few minutes.

Luke shook his head dismissively. It didn’t matter that she looked like an angel. She’d acted like an idiot. Luke had a few things to say to this woman and he wasn’t letting her go until she’d heard them.

‘What the hell did you think you were doing?’

Luke blinked. Wasn’t that supposed to be his line? But the girl in front of him was stamping her foot and looking decidedly disgruntled at having been rescued. Oh God, she wasn’t a protestor, was she? Mind you, she didn’t look like a typical Animal Libber, not in that short clingy blue dress and those spiky black heels.

‘That was a Manolo Blahnik!’

She was still shouting at him and Luke still had no clue what she was talking about. ‘That was a what?’

‘My shoe!’ She held up her right foot to show him. The heel dangled by a thread. Typical woman, Luke thought, with vicious fury, only worried about her precious designer accessories. ‘It was caught in the grass and I was pulling it free when you came along with your Neanderthal manoeuvre.’

‘So it’s Neanderthal to want to save lives, is it?’ Luke gripped her arms even more tightly. Someone needed to shake some sense into this woman and he was quite happy for it to be him.

She rolled her eyes at him. ‘Don’t be silly. I had plenty of time to get out of the way.’

‘Funnily enough,’ he bit back, ‘it wasn’t your life I was worried about.’

‘Well, no one asked you to come running out onto the track.’

Luke gritted his teeth and spoke very slowly and clearly. ‘There were nine horses out there. Any one of which could have been spooked by the sight of you, or swerved dangerously to avoid you. At the speed they travel, those kind of incidents can easily be fatal to the horses. Not to mention the jockeys.’

‘The jockeys?’ Her voice was thin and she had begun to shake visibly.

Luke held her firm. ‘Imagine being trampled underfoot by nine horses running at thirty miles an hour.’

Her eyes widened at the realisation of what she had done began to sink in. As they gleamed in the pale spring sunshine, Luke saw that they were the most extraordinary green-gold colour.

‘I didn’t think…’ she began.

‘No,’ Luke interrupted savagely. ‘You didn’t think at all, did you? This is all just a playground to you, isn’t it?

A place to drink and flirt and have a good time and show off your expensive designer shoes. Not a place where people’s lives and livelihoods are at risk. It’s all very well being sorry,’ he went on, determined to drive the lesson in, her wide-eyed guilt notwithstanding, ‘but you should never have done it. It was thoroughly irresponsible and…’

Fliss listened with shivery detachment to the cut-glass upper-class accent, accepting the tirade her rescuer was throwing at her. Deep down she knew she deserved it. She had been irresponsible. Reckless. Impulsive. All the things her school reports had always accused her of and all the things her mother had tried to stamp out of her.

If she’d taken even a moment to think about it, the last thing she would have wanted was to endanger the horses or their jockeys. But when Jack had touched her, she hadn’t been thinking at all. Pure terrified instinct had made her dash forward and duck under the rail, born out of a desperate impulse to get as far away from her lecherous boss as she possibly could. Even now she didn’t know what else she could have done. Was she supposed to have stood there quietly and just let him assault her?

Oh God. As if the thought of him had conjured him up, Jack appeared out of the crowds. Fliss watched him crossing the track, not looking happy. It was obvious to her now just how drunk he was, with a half-empty plastic beer glass waving in one hand and a torn race card in the other as he stumbled across the turf.

Drunk or not, he was still bigger and stronger than Fliss. And he was still her boss. Though not for much longer, Fliss decided. Her temporary contract finished at the end of the month and she wouldn’t ask for an extension.

He had trapped her. In the middle of a crowd of thousands gathering to watch the next race, he’d pressed up behind her, his breath hot and acrid against her neck. Fliss jabbed her elbow in the direction of his stomach and tried to get away but there were too many people and she couldn’t force her way through the mass of bodies quickly enough. Jack caught one hand around her waist, dragging her back against him. Fliss opened her mouth just as he bellowed into her ear, loud enough for her to hear over the roars of the crowd.

‘No one will hear you scream, darling.’

For Fliss, the world had shuddered into slow motion. She could sense every one of Jack’s fingers separately crawling up the inside of her thigh as his words sank in and his intentions crystallised into perfect clarity. Calmly, deliberately, she stepped backwards, stabbing the sharp stiletto heel of her precious Manolo Blahnik into Jack’s foot.

And then she’d spotted a gap in the crowd and made her run for it.

Fliss hadn’t thought about the horses, hadn’t even noticed that the race had started. She hadn’t thought about anything until her heel caught in the grass and she’d been thrown ignominiously over someone’s shoulder.

Someone who was now taking great pleasure in tearing strips off her for her behaviour. It was never fun being told off with such caustic incision, but Fliss was used to it. She’d spent her whole life falling into trouble, and she’d never worked out how to extricate herself without impunity. Still, she’d rather take any amount of censure from a man who wouldn’t try to stick his hand up her skirt than deal with the alternative. Even if it did feel as though she’d jumped out of a frying-pan and into a funeral pyre.

Jack was only ten yards away now. Near enough for Fliss to see his reddened cheeks and the wild eyes of a man who had drunk himself out of control. A tiny part of her felt pity as she watched him come closer. Most of her was angry and afraid.

Her instinct was to run away again, to find somewhere to hide. She looked around her but there was nothing on this side of the track, no buildings, no crowds, no ladies loos with comforting locks on the insides of the doors.

She took a deep breath. There was only one thing left to do. One way to make sure she would be safe. Desperately, she turned to the man in front of her, ignoring the irate lecture he was continuing to give her, and urgently interrupted him.

‘You’re right. I was stupid and thoughtless and an idiot, and I’m really, really sorry.’ He didn’t look as though he was impressed with her apology, but Fliss pressed on. ‘But this is serious. I need you to rescue me.’

Briefly, she checked his left hand. Bare, with no telltale tan line round his fourth finger. Nothing that could make Jack suspicious.

He was tall and lean but Fliss had felt the ease with which he’d lifted her up over his shoulder. She’d been in close proximity to his broad, muscular back under his elegant dark grey suit. He’d already risked his life once to save hers. This wasn’t the sort of man to stand aside while Jack did whatever he wanted with her, she was sure of it.

He raised an arrogant eyebrow and curled his lips mockingly at her. ‘Didn’t I already do that?’

‘Not like this,’ Fliss told him and took her chance, crossing her fingers that he would respond as she hoped. She reached up on her tiptoes, slid her arms about the man’s waist and pressed her mouth to his.

She was completely crazy, Luke realised. Certifiable. And he was still angry with her. But she was a beautiful girl and a damn fine kisser, and he was a red-blooded man who had just survived the most reckless few minutes of his life: kissing her back was no more than a reflex reaction.

Her lips were soft against his, but not tentative. She kissed as though she meant it, demanding that he give as good as he was getting, meeting his every move and matching it with her own. There was no slow, deliberate exploration and exchange, only violent clashes of teeth and tongue and the raw emotions of relief, anger, and euphoria at having survived.

Luke’s hands slid savagely down her arms, then curled around her deliciously curved waist as he pulled her roughly towards him. If she wasn’t going to listen to his words, he’d make her listen to his body. Her eyes darkened and for an instant Luke’s breath was taken away by an image of this woman sprawling wantonly on his bed, her incredible golden eyes rendered dark with passion as he made love to her.

He killed the image as soon as it arrived. He didn’t need that kind of distraction. It was one thing to kiss a foolish, gorgeous woman in the heat of his rage and the relief of survival, but there was no way he was taking her home to his bed. Luke never took women home. It was easier to keep them at arm’s length that way.

One kiss hardly constituted a mistake. One kiss couldn’t do any harm.

Luke nipped at her bottom lip and heard the ensuing sharp intake of breath with satisfaction. He wanted her to know exactly how he felt about her. All his anger poured out into his kiss, untempered by any tenderness. But there was unexpected alchemy in the lips of this reckless, impetuous girl, who could take his rage and return it as red-hot passion.

She was utterly intoxicating. Luke groaned, recognising the danger but unable to stop himself from pulling her closer, and falling deeper into her temptation.

Oh.

Oh.

Fliss hadn’t bargained on this at all. Posh boy could kiss. Really kiss. What she had taken for haughty arrogance in his cool blue eyes now sparked with heat as he responded to her sudden kiss with blazing fire in his wide, mocking lips. She had planned to stay in control of the embrace, to make it convincing enough to fool Jack but no more than that. But the instant her lips met his, he took over and she willingly gave herself up to him.

Strong, shapely hands slid down her arms, leaving a hot trail of goose-bumps in their wake. Such clever hands, instinctively knowing the precise amount of pressure that would send Fliss’s nervous system skyrocketing. She sighed with sheer pleasure, closing her eyes and melting deeper into his embrace. If only all her impulsiveness led to consequences like this.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | Smashwords

July 2011
Self-published
40,000 word category romance

 

Previous covers: RRR-COVER
rrr2 rrr1

The Tycoon’s Convenient Wife

Fifteen years ago, Emily Standish and Guy Munro were friends. Until she fell in love with him and he married someone else. Now Guy needs an enormous favour from his old friend and Emily has a chance to see if love can strike twice.

TCW-COVER

 

What readers are saying
“This is a really sweet story about second chances and true love. Truly enjoyable.” Evie at In Love With Romance

“Tycoon(?) says”no strings” but spends too much time trying to get her in the sack! She’s a stupid woman. I would’ve taken the money & run! Really, don’t bother.” – Kathleen Bursaw on Amazon

The first page of this book featured on Dear Author’s First Page Saturday some years ago. Read what Laura Kinsale and Sarah Mayberry (among others) made of it here.


Excerpt

‘Em? Emily, is that you?’

Emily Standish sat down hard on the little wooden chair with its faded floral needlepoint cushion. She barely registered the small cloud of dust it gave out in protest. Her heart was racing and her breath was short. It couldn’t be. It must be nearly fifteen years – and this really wasn’t the moment for the kind of complex mental arithmetic needed to work that out. If someone had asked her, Emily would have claimed she barely remembered him. She certainly wouldn’t have expected that she could recognise his voice on the end of a crackling phone line in just five words.

‘Hello? Can you hear me?’

She could hang up, of course. For all he knew, she was on a train heading through a tunnel at just the wrong moment. Right moment. Whichever.

Or perhaps she could pretend he’d got the wrong number. He wouldn’t be able to tell if she changed her voice a bit, would he?

‘Emily, it’s Simon.’

‘Yes.’ She knew that. She didn’t have a clue what else was going on but she did know who it was who had got her phone number from somewhere and called her out of the blue.

‘It is you! For a moment there I wondered if I’d made a terrible cock-up and phoned some other Emily Standish.’

Simon sounded just like he always had. Charming and confident with a deep humour always lurking just beneath the surface. Emily couldn’t help herself: she smiled.

‘Hello Simon.’

He laughed. ‘Hello darling! God, it’s good to hear your voice again. You don’t sound as though you’ve changed a bit. Have you? No, don’t tell me, I’m coming to see for myself.’

Emily clutched at the phone more tightly and hoped that Simon couldn’t tell she was shaking. ‘You’re coming to see me?’ Wildly, she looked around the piles of magazines, the not-quite-abandoned knitting, and the tulips that were out of water and dropping petals all over her front room. She closed her eyes and prayed that he’d at least give her time to tidy up a bit.

‘Yes. There’s something I need to talk to you about.’

‘Well, I suppose…’

‘Great. Are you free on Saturday? I’ll pick you up at seven, shall I?’

‘Simon, I…’

He paused. ‘Is something the matter?’

Emily swallowed, wondering how her mouth had suddenly got so dry. Simon Lennox had phoned her. Was talking to her now, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Wanted to come and see her. To take her out for dinner on Saturday.

This wasn’t supposed to be happening.

This was only supposed to be a pleasant daydream to while away an odd lonely hour or two.

She took a deep breath. It was just dinner with an old friend. Nothing to get too excited about. ‘No. Saturday’s fine. Do you need directions?’

‘You’re still in the cottage, aren’t you? Park in the lane and come round through the back gate. I remember.’

And that, thought Emily, summed up her life over the last 15 years. Still in the same tiny village, in the same tiny cottage that her landlord had never bothered to have modernised. Still doing the same dead end job and still waiting for Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet.

‘Yes. I’m still here.’

‘Great. See you on Saturday, then.’

She listened to the empty buzz at the end of the line for a moment before replacing the phone on its base.

Simon Lennox.

Fifteen years ago, she had loved him.

Fifteen years ago, he had married someone else.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | Smashwords

August 2011
Self-published
45,000 word category romance

 

Previous covers: tcw1tcw2

Pretending it’s not winter

tulips

At least in this corner of my house, it’s spring. The vases were 49p each from IKEA a couple of weeks ago. I’d intended to buy fabric, but they had sold out of the purple velvet I was after. But IKEA is one of those places I find it impossible to come home empty handed from. These vases were irresistible. They are curved so they form a lovely shape when you stand them next to each other. They were a bit plain, but I have tarted them up by gluing ribbons and buttons on, and now they are gorgeous. I think they will be excellent for tulips which, though beautiful, do tend to droop a bit.

All I Want For Christmas

Last night, Anna Gardner was the life of the office Christmas party—right up until she threw herself at gorgeous advertising executive playboy, Hugh Munro. Again. Last year, Hugh let her pretend their passionate kiss never happened, but this year he’s determined to make Anna admit she wants him as much as he wants her.

Except, Hugh doesn’t know the office party is the only night of the year his friend lets her hair down. That every hour she’s away from the office is spent caring for her sickly mother. That her mother’s condition, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, is hereditary.

When Hugh finds out what she’s been hiding, he’s forced to do some serious soul-searching. It’s not fair to Anna or her mother for him to get involved casually, but casual relationships are all he knows. Can he prove to himself—and to Anna—that she’s all he wants for Christmas?

AIWFC-500px-200x300

What readers are saying

“This was a wonderful story. Any book, no matter what length, that can make me cry is always a winner in my book. But this was exceptionally written and gives everyone a little hope that love can conquer anything.” – Shannon at Cocktails and Books

“It was so sweet and charming, heart-warming and very romantic. It’s a story about people you’d really want good things to happen to. A story that will make you go “awwwwwww”. For anyone who wants a short-read/pick-me-up, any time of year, you’ll love this little gem of a story. I kept picturing it as holiday film too, so someone please get on that. Okay??” – Lena on Goodreads. Totally on the film, Lena!

“…a cute love story where the characters are humorous and lovable. Moreover, their love for one another is endearing and everlasting. … [A] refreshing, well-written Christmas story that exemplifies the true spirit of the season and will put a smile on your face, as well as a tear in your eye” – AJ at Blackraven’s Reviews

Excerpt

Anna was never, ever going to the office Christmas party again.

With her head still thumping like a herd of elephants, she’d dragged herself into work. Now she had to face the knowing glances and smothered grins of her colleagues as she walked past them on the way to her office. Grateful for some privacy, she slumped into the cushioned leather chair behind her sleek glass-topped desk and checked her watch. Half an hour late. Half an hour wasn’t too bad after the night she’d had.

A quiet knock, and then her assistant slipped in, closing the door behind her.

“Coffee,” Jennifer said. She set a large paper cup on Anna’s desk, together with a blister pack of pills. “And painkillers.”

Anna raised her head and grimaced. “Is it that obvious?”

Jennifer cocked an all-too-perky eyebrow. “I went up to the second floor.”

The second-floor machine dispensed double-strength brew. Usually Anna stuck with a normal level of caffeine, but today she was grateful Jen had made the effort to go upstairs. She nodded her thanks.

Mistake. Bad mistake.

Anna closed her eyes and waited for the hammering in her head to subside. Within a few minutes, the sweet black coffee and the painkillers blessedly began to work their magic. She looked back at her assistant, who still waited patiently.

“It’s not good news, is it?” Anna asked.

Jen grinned. “Well, that depends how you look at it. I saw Mr. Munro while I was up there.”

Anna exhaled slowly. Hugh Munro was the shining star of the company’s creative firmament—and the star of all Anna’s most embarrassing memories.

“He said he was taking you to lunch,” Jennifer added.

Any other day, that would be good news. But not the morning after the office Christmas party. Anna groaned. “Please tell me you said I had a meeting.”

“I told him your diary was clear all day.”

Terrific.

“You’d better fill me in on what happened last night,” Anna muttered. “I remember there was karaoke.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“How badly did I embarrass myself?”

“You had everyone going,” Jen said with a smirk. “They all joined in on the choruses. ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day,’ ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.’ All the classics. And then you did your solo.”

Anna shut her eyes. She couldn’t have. Not again. Please say she hadn’t sung—

“‘All I Want for Christmas Is You.’”

“What did they put in that punch?”

Jennifer shrugged. It was all very well for her—she hadn’t made a fool of herself singing out of tune in front of the entire staff. And after the singing…

“I kissed him, didn’t I?”

“I think he kissed you, really. It was sweet.”

Sweet.

Anna laid her head on her desk. “I don’t want to see anyone today, Jen. If someone asks, tell them I’ve got something urgent to catch up on before the Christmas break and I can’t be disturbed.”

“Shall I bring you another coffee?”

“Please.”

No amount of caffeine would make this better. She’d drank too much and kissed Hugh Munro at the office Christmas party.

Again.

Last time she’d been so mortified, she’d managed to avoid him entirely until the New Year. Hugh had eventually tracked her down and asked her out for a drink after work, but when she’d refused, he hadn’t bothered to try again.

Bastard.

Still, his polite indifference meant she hadn’t needed to keep coming up with excuses. After a while, they’d settled back into a comfortable routine of occasional chats in the lift or by the coffee machine and semiregular lunches at the Italian restaurant around the corner from the office. As far as Anna was concerned, the kiss had been all but forgotten, and she was grateful for his friendship.

But after two glasses of punch, friendship just hadn’t been enough.

Next year she was definitely sticking to the apple juice. She shook her head. Next year she wasn’t going to the party at all.

Excellent plan.

This year, she would just have to hide again. Down here in finance, there was no reason to spend time with the advertising agency’s creative directors. No professional reason, anyway, and she always had work as an excuse to avoid anything else.

Anna picked up her phone and dialed Hugh’s extension. “Look, about lunch…,” she began.

“Good morning to you, too.” He was smiling. She could hear it.

Bastard.

“I can’t make it. I’m very busy today.”

“Doing what?”

“Well…” Anna cast around for a plausible excuse. “I’ve got to finish the end-of-year budgets.”

“You did them last week.”

Damn. “Yes, well, there are some, er, amendments. Urgent ones.”

He laughed. “Anna, I’m taking you to lunch. I already booked a table at Giovanni’s.”

“Oh.”

“The tiramisu is on me.”

She could never resist Giovanni’s lusciously rich, creamy tiramisu, and he knew it. “Hugh, I’m not sure—”

“I’ll pick you up at twelve.”

“But—”

“I’ve got a client on the other line. I’ll see you later, Anna. We’ll talk then.”

***

At five to twelve, Anna picked up her bag and coat and hid in the ladies’ loos.

Three minutes later, Jennifer followed her in. She grinned and said, “He says you’ve got two minutes, and then he’s coming in to get you.”

“He can’t!”

Jennifer glanced at the flimsy swing door. “He can, you know.”

“Ninety seconds!” Hugh’s voice echoed with amusement but did nothing to disguise his determination.

Anna whipped out her comb and tidied her hair. If she were going down, she’d do it with all guns blazing.

“Thirty seconds!”

She dashed on a streak of dark pink lipstick and pinched some color into her cheeks. Nothing could disguise her faintly bloodshot eyes. Resigned, she slipped her arms into her coat and picked up her handbag.

“Coming, ready or no—” Hugh cut off as she emerged into the foyer. “Good decision.” He winked.

Anna glared at him. How did he manage to look so good the day after the office party, anyway? “I’m not talking to you.”

He laughed. “Fine. You can eat spaghetti alla vongole and sip a delicious Montepulciano, and I’ll do all the talking.”

She shot him a dark glance, then turned away. “We’re not talking about last night.”

“No.”

Anna looked back, surprised by the stern tone of his voice. He had folded his arms and narrowed his eyes.

“Not again. This time we’re going to talk about it openly and honestly. Like adults, not teenagers.”

Ouch. That was below the belt.

“Couldn’t we just ignore it and move on like adults?” she muttered.

Hugh raised an eyebrow. “We should get going if we don’t want to lose our table.”

Outside, the pavement was slippery with frozen slush. Three days earlier, the freshly fallen snow had been pretty. Now, melted and refrozen several times, it was just ugly gray ice. Anna walked gingerly, careful to keep her balance. The last thing she wanted was to slip and give Hugh an excuse to catch her.

They paused, waiting for a chance to cross the busy road. Anna’s hand bumped against Hugh’s.

“You’re cold,” he said.

“It’s winter.”

“You need a pair of gloves,” he remarked as they crossed the street to the restaurant.

“I lose them.”

“Here. Get inside, where it’s warm.” Hugh held open the door for her.

Giovanni greeted her with a kiss on both cheeks. “Bellissima signorina!”

“Hello, Giovanni.” Anna couldn’t help but smile. Giovanni’s outrageous compliments were one of the reasons she loved coming here.

“Today I have a special for you,” he told Hugh. “Beautiful oxtail, cooked since yesterday so it will melt in your mouth.”

Hugh’s lips twitched into a smile. “I think I’ll take a look at the menu.”

Giovanni sighed dramatically and shook his head. “No soul. That is the problem with English men.”

“No heart, either,” Anna agreed, with a pointed look in Hugh’s direction.

“Come, then. I have your table here.” Giovanni handed them each a menu. “A bottle of wine?”

“Anna?” Hugh asked.

“I don’t think that would be a very good idea.”

He laughed. Bastard.

“We’ll have a bottle of sparkling mineral water, thanks.” Hugh raised a knowing eyebrow at Anna. “Still feeling it from last night, huh?”

“I thought we were forgetting last night.” She was not blushing. The heat in her cheeks was perfectly normal after the cold outside.

“No.” Hugh’s eyes twinkled. “You were forgetting. I was going to have an adult conversation about it.”

Anna hid behind the large leather-bound menu. “The penne sounds good. Or maybe I’ll try the chicken with dolcelatte and spinach.”

“Or maybe you’ll have the same thing you have every single time.” Hugh whipped the menu out of her hands.

Anna glared at him. “Maybe I’ve decided to start taking some risks.”

He let out a bark of laughter. “Risks like last night?”

She sighed. “Last night was a mistake. I’m sorry. Can we please move on from it now?”

“No.” Hugh shook his head decisively. “We can’t.”

Giovanni returned with the water. Hugh ordered the lasagna for himself and the spaghetti for Anna. She frowned.

“Sorry, did you want something different?” Hugh raised an eyebrow.

“For the signorina, it is always the spaghetti alla vongole,” Giovanni said with a cheerful nod. “The best spaghetti inLondon, no?”

“Yes,” she admitted. “And yes, I’ll have the spaghetti.”

Hugh poured them each a glass of water, then leaned back in his plush red chair, watching her. Anna glanced around the restaurant. Deep burgundy gilded ribbons had been twisted into classic bows and elegant festoons. Golden candles lit the windows, and fresh greenery scented the air. It was lovely.

And Hugh was still watching her.

One of them would have to break the silence. She didn’t see why it should be her. He was the one who wanted to talk. She shifted in her chair, then took a sip of water.

Fine. If he wasn’t going to say anything, he could listen to her. “Look…”

“I’m looking.”

His lips twitched until he was almost laughing, but not quite. She wished he wouldn’t do that. It always made her want to lean over and kiss his lips into a proper smile. Anna tightened her grip on the water glass to stop herself from doing anything so stupid.

“I like what I see,” he said.

“I thought this was supposed to be an adult conversation.”

“Sorry.”

“So am I. It shouldn’t have happened. It was unprofessional, and I’m sorry. Next year, I just won’t come to the office party.”

“That would be a shame.”

Anna shrugged. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“You could tell me why.”

“Why what?”

“Why you can’t keep your hands off me once you’ve had one drink too many.”

She reached for a slice of Giovanni’s delicious focaccia bread and began to crumble it on her plate. “People do the strangest things when they’re drunk.”

“That’s true.” His eyes narrowed. In the candlelight, they were almost golden.

Anna ducked her head. “So, that’s all it was.”

“Hm.”

The waiter arrived with their food. Anna asked for grated Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. If she took long enough, maybe Hugh would let her get away with changing the subject.

“Delicious,” she pronounced, tucking in hungrily.

“Good. Did you have breakfast today, by the way?”

“What?”

“Had you eaten anything this morning?”

“I had coffee.”

“That explains it. You’re always grumpy when you’re hungry.”

“I wasn’t hungry,” she replied automatically.

“Eat your lunch.”

She twirled her fork into the spaghetti. As the pasta warmed her from the inside, her irritation began to seep away. Maybe Hugh had a point.

“Better?” His voice was surprisingly tender.

“Yes. I needed that. Thank you.”

“My pleasure. Is there a reason you keep running away from me?”

He spoke softly. Anna’s cutting retort died on her lips. She closed her eyes and took a ragged breath. “I’m not running now.”

Hugh laid his hand over hers. “I’m glad.”

His hand was warm and oddly comforting. It took a considerable effort for Anna to draw hers away.

“This isn’t a good idea.”

“Why not?” He smiled. “I like you, Anna. You like me. Why isn’t this a good idea?”

“I’m not looking for a relationship. I’m happy just being friends.” She picked up her holly-patterned napkin and folded it between her fingers.

“Friends who can’t keep their hands off each other after a glass of punch?”

She shrugged, fixing her gaze on her empty plate.

Hugh leaned across the table. “I don’t believe you, Anna. I didn’t believe you last year, but you ran away so fast every time I tried to tell you how I felt. I told myself I’d read you wrong. I tried to believe it had been just a drunken mistake you didn’t want to repeat.”

His voice lowered. Anna instinctively moved closer.

“But then you did it again,” he murmured, and she shivered as if he had touched her. “Once might have been a mistake, but not twice. I know what I heard in your voice when you sang for me last night. I know what I saw in your beautiful brown eyes when you walked toward me, never taking your gaze from mine. I know whose name you whispered when you put your arms around my neck. My name, Anna,” he said savagely. “And then I kissed you. Because you wanted it, and so did I.” He leaned back in his chair, leaving her staring up at him, pulse racing wildly with desire. “So don’t tell me you’re happy being friends.”

Anna slumped in her seat. She wasn’t happy, but she couldn’t tell him why. She wasn’t ready for that. She couldn’t bear the inevitable pity. She didn’t want to hear his excuses. Neither of them needed that embarrassment. Much better to let him down gently.

“Fine,” she said in a bright voice that sounded false even to her ears. “I won’t tell you that. But we can’t be anything else. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry,” he repeated slowly. “For what, exactly? For kissing me like I was the only man in the world? For running away from me? Or for lying to me again?”

“I’m sorry for ever making you think we had a chance.”

Hugh gave her a long, measuring look, then called for the bill. She took her purse out of her pocket, but he dismissed it with an impatient gesture and handed his credit card to Giovanni.

“No tiramisu for the signorina?” Giovanni asked as he processed Hugh’s payment.

Anna mustered a smile. “Not today.”

He gave her a knowing look. “It is good for the heart, the tiramisu.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my heart,” she said sharply, then shook her head. “Sorry. I’m a bit on edge today.”

Hugh jabbed his number into the card machine and handed it back.

“She needs dessert,” Giovanni said with a nod toward Anna.

Hugh looked her up and down coldly. “So she does.”

Anna gritted her teeth. “Actually, I need to get back to the office. Maybe next time,” she added politely, for Giovanni’s benefit.

Hugh merely helped her into her coat and nodded farewell to the restaurateur.

They headed back toward the office, Anna half a step behind Hugh. At the corner he turned left instead of right and Anna, focused on the treacherous pavement, walked right into him. Hugh grabbed her arm before she hit the ground. He hauled her upright and grasped her shoulders.

When they were both steady on their feet, she said, “The office is the other way.”

“Jennifer said your diary was clear. I thought we might take a walk.”

“Because it’s such a nice day?” she said dryly. “And we’re enjoying each other’s company so much?”

He let her go and resumed walking.

“Next time, you could try asking me,” she shouted after him.

Anna paused on the street corner. She didn’t want to be back at the office all that much. She wouldn’t get any useful work done.

“Are you coming, then?” Hugh grunted over his shoulder.

She smothered her giggle at his bad temper. “Fine. Wait while I catch up.”

A few minutes later, they turned into a small square with a number of brightly lit shops and open market stalls, all strung with Christmas lights.

“We need to get you some gloves. Here.” Hugh walked over to a nearby stand. Patterned scarves in vivid jewel tones waved like banners in the chilly breeze. Chunky hand-knitted hats and gloves were piled high on the table: bright reds and greens in Christmas patterns for kids on one side and subtle, sophisticated shades in adult sizes on the other. Hugh picked up a pair of thick gloves and held Anna’s hand against them to check the size.

“Green or blue?” The soft cashmere gloves were warm against her skin, but it was Hugh’s casual grip that set her pulse racing.

“Blue. I mean, you shouldn’t be buying me gloves. I’ll lose them.”

“Tie them on a string.”

She looked up into his laughing eyes, and her heart skipped. She wanted to say yes to him. To everything. She nodded slowly. “Maybe I will.”

“Here, try this on.” Hugh handed her a matching woolly hat. “That should keep you warm.”

Anna pulled it on, but it wouldn’t fit over her neatly pinned knot of hair. Hugh raised a challenging eyebrow. She shrugged and took out the pins, letting her hair spill down below her shoulders.

He smiled. “Beautiful.”

“The hat?”

“You.”

December 2011
Entangled
12,000 word short story
Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | Books on Board | Kobo

1 33 34 35 36