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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

DELETED SCENE: 'Hangover' from A Girl Called Malice

Sometimes when you are preparing a story for publication, it becomes necessary to cut exchanges or entire scenes from books to improve the flow of a story. It's just the way it goes, and one of the many things that happen during various rounds of editing, but that's not to say it's easy. It can be heartbreaking when you have to bid good bye to a character, no matter how much sense it makes.

There is one particular scene from A Girl Called Malice that I was particularly sad to see go, and it involved a secondary character who I really enjoyed writing. While he did at least get to stay in the story and keep a couple of his scenes, my favourite scene with him never made it past the cutting room floor. Seeing as a whole year has now passed since its release, I thought I would share the scene here with you today.

Please bear in mind this is a scene that never made it past the second round of edits, so is relatively unpolished, and was subsequently rehashed to become the version you'll find in the final, published, version.

So, are you ready?

Then allow me to re-introduce Craig...


Chapter thirteen: Hangover
(taken from an early draft of A Girl Called Malice)


All too soon, the morning after the night before arrived and it struck with a vicious punch. True to their word, the guys hadn't let me pay for anything. And there was definitely champagne involved. I tried to open my eyes but the jackhammers drilling inside my brain morphed into a choir of pneumatic tools so I clamped my eyelids shut again. Feeble and weak, my whimper got stuck in my parched throat.

Welcome to my first legal hangover.

At some point during the early hours, I vaguely recalled stumbling out of the club and into the pre-dawn chill. I didn't remember tripping and splitting my head open though. Nor did I remember getting flattened by a bus but my body definitely hurt enough for both events so I didn't think it right to rule them out. My mouth had a vile fluffy feel to it, as if I'd eaten the balls of cotton wall I generally used to remove my makeup.

The stale taste of booze and cigarettes confirmed that I hadn't brushed my teeth before falling into bed. Whose bed was it though? It certainly wasn't mine; that much I could tell without opening my eyes: the pillow was too hard and the linen didn't smell of summer blossom fabric conditioner. The harder I pushed to remember, the worse the pounding intensity in my head so I called a temporary ceasefire.

Without warning, the mattress creaked and dipped immediately behind me and then a hand grasped my hip, hot and heavy against my skin. I jerked fiercely unleashing a wave of nausea with the force of a tsunami. Movement really wasn't good and I groaned mournfully, barely clinging onto the contents of my stomach. Cold sweat broke out on my forehead and my heart rate tripled. I didn't dare let out the breath I was holding for fear it would open the floodgates yet the thumb stroking the curve of my waist was strangely soothing.

I should probably just be grateful I was safe and warm in a bed as opposed to slumped in a bush or shop doorway somewhere. No way could I go back to sleep though. Not until I knew where I was, and more importantly, to whom the gentle fingers belonged. By process of elimination, it had to be either Craig, Matt, Warren, Ian, or Danny since they were the ones I left with. At least I didn't think I'd left the club with them and then hooked up with somebody else afterwards; that would be bad even for me.

I risked opening one eye and peered through the narrow slit to look for clues. The room was blessedly dark so I opened both eyes then waited for the battering to subside and for my eyes to adjust. Light filtered around the edges of the thick curtains, enough for me to make out wallpapered walls that had seen better days. It looked too formal and high quality to be a regular guy's bedroom—and I'd seen a few bedrooms—plus the room didn't have a homely vibe about it at all.

Admittedly neither did mine but I hoped my situation was the exception rather than the norm. Too smart to be a bedsit, it had the feel of a hotel room. Finally, something made sense. We all worked in the same hotel and since none of the guys knew where I lived, going back to the hotel was the obvious choice. The decor looked too shabby for it to be a room in use but it could easily be one of the staff rooms.

A-ha. 

Danny and Warren both lived at home with their parents which ruled them out and Ian shared a flat with his best mate. That narrowed it down to either Matt or Craig. Which one though? My gaze settled on a dark wooden dressing table pushed into the corner with a stool perched beneath it. Draped over the stool was a waistcoat; the same sort of waistcoat all bar staff and waitresses had to wear as part of their uniform. I had one just like it and there wasn't an apron or paper hat in sight.

Mystery solved.

I peeked over my shoulder to confirm my suspicions and sure enough, I found Craig fast asleep right behind me. Something else to be grateful for, considering some of the creeps and cling-ons I'd ended up with in the past. Craig was a mate, nothing more. Last night alone proved I wasn't looking for a boyfriend, and he hadn't shown any signs of jealousy so I had nothing to worry about. Better still, my car was parked in the car park where I'd left it ready for my discreet getaway.

Ever so carefully, I lifted Craig's hand off my hip and placed it on the mattress. I grabbed the edge of the quilt and tucked it behind me to prevent a draft from waking him as I slipped out. Cold air whipped around me in a frenzy until my skin goosed and made my nipples hard as bullets. Butt naked, a shiver started in my legs and rapidly worked its way up to my teeth.

What the hell?

I clamped my lips together to muffle the insane chattering sound and scanned the floor for my clothes. Another shiny foil wrapper lay on top of a heap next to the bed implying the party had continued once we'd got back. Shame I couldn't remember any of it. Maybe. Beneath the wrapper and intermingled with Craig's shirt and trousers, I finally spotted the hem of my skirt poking out and moved gingerly towards it, hoping to avoid another drumroll in my head.

Blinding lights flashed behind my eyes and the room pitched and swayed. The slightest movement proved too much and standing still was a challenge. Ignoring the fact that I was a death's door, I had to be miles over the drink-drive limit. I'd be a fool to get behind the wheel of a car when I couldn't get dressed without falling over. Even if I walked I'd never make it all the way home, especially in heels, and crawling was simply out of the question. There was nothing else for it, I'd just have to wait it out and deal with the repercussions later. Ideally much later...like never later.

Home?

My brain chose to drip feed the major highlights of the day before, the ones I'd spent the night running from without success. It hadn't been a bad dream; I had nowhere to call home anymore. Out of options, I peeled back the quilt then climbed back into the warm nest. The mattress creaked again but this time when Craig's hand reached for me, I gladly accepted it and let him pull me against the firm contours of his body. Hot enough to double as a radiator, his body heat soon saw off the last of the chill.

Snuggled up tight against him, I gave in to the drowsiness and let sleep come. When I next opened my eyes, it wasn't nearly as painful. No jackhammers, no overwhelming urge to puke, just a ravenous thirst and a gurgling tummy. Exploring the rest of my senses, I realised Craig no longer lay curled behind me. I sent my hand out to investigate but found nothing so I rolled over and discovered the bed was empty.

Artificial light shone beneath a doorway and the sound of running water came from behind the wall along with the faint scent of bodywash. I couldn't be bothered to move so I just lay there, waiting. Two or three minutes later, the shower cut off and a damp Craig emerged from a door in a cloud of steam. He came to a stop next to the bed and glanced in my direction.

"Sorry, did I wake you?" he asked, upon seeing my eyes open.

"No-no, I was awake." I sat up and pulled the duvet with me, dragging it up to my chin. The snarky voice in my head laughed at my delayed attempt at modesty. It had a point so I released my vice-like grip and crossed my arms loosely over my abdomen. "Turn the light on if you like."

Craig leaned forward and reached for a switch on the wall. "Are you sure?" he asked, hesitating.

"Yeah." I squinted, waiting for the glare of the full lights. "Go on, go for it."

"OK." He flicked the switch for the lamp instead with its much softer glow then sat on the edge of the bed. "How's your head?" he asked, sounding far too perky as he studied me.

"Um...better than it was earlier."

"I bet." Craig let out a low chuckle that sent stray drops of water running down the nape of his neck. The drops trickled across his collar bone then gathered pace as they ran down his chest and past his navel before getting snagged by the towel wrapped around his waist. "There's some Alka Seltzer in the bathroom, d'you want me to fix you some?"

"Oh yeah, that'd be great."

He nodded and got off the bed but returned seconds later. "That was a pretty wild night last night," he said, handing over a fizzing, hissing, glass of water. "I'm amazed you're awake, let alone able to form a sentence."

"You're telling me," I said, faking a laugh. "To be honest, I can't even remember half of it." And the half that I could remember, I would much rather forget.

"I can't say I'm surprised. I think I'd still be in a coma."

Not sure what else to say, I faked another laugh and raised the glass to my mouth. The bubbles tickled my nose as I downed the foul tasting water in one go. Craig pressed his index finger against the corner of my mouth to catch an escaping drip. Apprehension coiled in my stomach ready to strike. We were getting into awkward territory and a change of subject was in order.

"What time is it anyway?" I asked, making a show of looking around. "It looks like it's getting dark out."

"It is," he said, removing his hand as I'd hoped. "It's half-five, and I'm due behind the bar at six but stay as long as you need."

"Half five?" My shriek combined with my sudden jerk threatened to set off the pneumatic tools again. "How can it be half five already?" I said more calmly. "What happened to the rest of the day?"

"Well we didn't get in 'til nearly five and even then we didn't go straight to bed. Well, not to go to sleep, I mean." A grin played over his lips and a hot flush filled my cheeks. "It was probably gone six when you crashed."

"Crashed? That doesn't sound so good."

"Nah, it was brilliant," Craig said, laughing at the memory. "One minute you were awake and the next you were out cold. The fire alarm could have gone off beside your ear and I reckon you'd have slept through it."

"Oh. Well I was pretty tired." At least one of us could find it funny.  "Didn't you say you have to get ready for work?"

"Shit. Yeah, good point." He stood and let the towel fall to the floor, clearly having no modesty issues in front of me. "There's not much in the way of food I'm afraid, I usually get my meals in the staff room," he said, shoving his legs first into his boxers and then into his black trousers.

At the mention of food, hunger replaced the twisting knot in my gut, eliciting a growl to echo the sentiment.

Craig grinned. "I'm sure the kitchen would rustle something up for you and send it up. Do you want me to ask?"

"No, it's fine, I'd best get going." I'd figure out the 'where' part later but after the last night's performance, sleeping in my car was preferable than staying in the hotel.

"You sure?" he asked, sliding his arms into his shirt

I nodded.

"OK. Well there's some biscuits on the shelf there," he said, dipping his head towards a bookcase. "Just help yourself."

"Thanks, Craig." I shuffled to the edge of the bed then swung my legs out. The draft was a stark reminder that I didn't have a stitch of clothing on and I hesitated, torn between dragging the sheet with me or bolting for the bathroom.

Craig paused mid-button and surveyed me using the reflection in the mirror. "Please tell me you haven't gone all shy?" Amusement danced in his eyes. "Not after last night's performance."

True.

The guy had seen me strip tease in front of an audience, shagged me in public, brought me home, stripped me himself and apparently screwed me again yet here I was playing Little Miss Bashful. Ridiculous. A flicker of my old attitude sparked within me and gave me the strength to fling the sheet aside and stand tall. "What do you think?" I asked, pouting back at both of him as I struck a sexy pose.

His eyes widened and he had to cough to clear his throat. "You're looking pretty good to me." He fumbled the next button into the wrong buttonhole. "Too good."

I answered with a giggle and pointed a finger at his shirt. "So I see."

"Huh?" He looked down to inspect his shirt and groaned. While he fixed the buttons into their correct holes, I risked a couple of steps towards my clothes. The world stayed on its axis and the thumping inside my head was bearable so I squatted down and snatched the scant pieces of fabric in my arms then tossed them onto the bed.

What was left of them.

Minus my knickers, I had no choice but to go commando which in a short skirt was nothing short of crazy. My clothing crisis got worse when I lifted my top over my head. It reeked of alcohol, cigarettes and stale perfume. The stench reached into my throat and made a grab for my stomach. I wretched and swayed, yanking the top off my head before drooping over the bed, palms planted onto the mattress as I fought to stay upright.

"Hey are you all right?" Craig raced around the bed with his arms out, poised to catch me if I fell.

"Yeah, it's just...this." I poked a toe at the fabric. Even from an arm's length away it had the power to amplify my headache and crank it up to super-strength.

"Fucking hell, that stinks." He picked up my top then launched it at the door. "Do you want to borrow a shirt of mine?"

"Yeah, I better had." I couldn't go walking around in nothing but a bra, skirt, and high heels. "If you're sure."

He nodded once and crossed to his wardrobe then rummaged through the hangers until he came across a pale pink shirt. "How about this one?" he said, holding the shirt out to me.

"Cheers," I said, stuffing my arms into the sleeves and pulling the oversize shirt on.

"No worries." Craig watched me fasten the middle buttons, leaving the rest open so I could tie the tails in a knot across my midriff. "It looks far better on you than it ever did on me anyway."

"More flattery, huh?" I said, flirting out of habit rather than consciously trying.

"Of course." Craig grinned then checked his watch. "Right, I'd better go. Are you sure you don't want anything sent up?"

"No honestly. I'm just gonna call a taxi and head...off." I'd almost said home.

"OK." Craig turned and walked away but then he pulled up short of the door. "And you're certain you'll be gone by the time I finish?"

"Why have you got a hot date?" I'd said it as a joke but the grin on his face told me all I needed to know. "Eww! Please tell me you're at least going to change the sheets first?"

He tipped his head back and laughed. "You're such a girl. Oh, that reminds me. Your money is in the bedside cabinet." He pointed to the drawer on his side of the bed. "I didn't want to leave all that cash lying around, you know, just in case. Your keys are in there too."

"Excellent, thanks. I'll er... You um..." I swallowed back the bile that made a bid for escape. "Have a good night, yeah?"

"You too." He reached for the door handle and twisted it, flooding the room with bright light from the corridor as he opened the door. "See ya."

"Bye, Craig," I called as he pulled the door shut between us. The moment the latch clicked into place, I sighed and dropped the tough girl routine.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Throwback...An Interview With Lena (Facing The Music)

Eighteen months or so ago, Lena, one of the characters from my Facing the Music series, got to go on tour with Popping the Cherry and had an interview with fellow Carina author, Katlyn Duncan. The original post is no longer available, so I shall share it here on my own blog instead.

Remember that this interview is from September 2013, so pre-dates the events in A Girl Called Malice...



Hi Lena! Tell us a little about yourself.


Hi Katlyn! I'm Valentina, but everybody calls me Lena. I'm seventeen and I'm in my first year at sixth form college, which I guess in a bit like your high schools in America, so I'd be what, a sophomore? Is that the last year before senior year?

Who are your BFF(s)?


Ah now that would be Gemma, my soul sister. She's been my best friend since I was about eight years old and I practically live at her house. It makes me cringe to say it, but if I'm allowed a second best friend, then that would be Flick, well, Felicity, but she's always been known as Flick. She's the calm, collected one, compared to Gemma's flair for the dramatics.

Who is your current crush?


Oh no... you're not going to catch me out with that one - jeez, I can't even admit it to myself - so I shall stick with Edward Cullen from the Twilight Saga.

Tell us your first reaction to Operation: Popping the Cherry?


Oh man, am I blushing? Talk about a shock. It was horrific, I just wanted the floor of the canteen to open up and swallow me and I very nearly stormed out of there, regardless of all the stares I was attracting with my shrieking.

What is your ideal perfect date?


Do you know what? I don't really have one. There's the tried and tested dates, like dinner or the cinema, but I'm just as content with a bag of chips and a healthy debate.

If you had a genie, what three wishes would you ask for?


Ohhh, that's a tough one. A crystal ball would be great, just so I had some clue as to what I'm supposed to do. Or maybe I could wish for some kind of 'Wizard of Oz' simulation game so I could play at being the tin man, the lion and the scarecrow? Love, courage and common sense could be handy right about now. My last wish is easy, I really really want to pass my driving test, especially as I have a car on the driveway taunting me and just failed my test because of the stupid examiner.

Where do you see yourself in five years?


Hey what's with all the difficult questions? I don't even know what I want to do after sixth form yet, let alone five years from now. Mum and Dad want me to follow them into Law, but it doesn't appeal in the slightest. If I do go on to University - that's College to you - then it would be to study something like English Literature. I might just go and get a job and skip the whole university thing though. I guess only time will tell but something tells me I've got some difficult decisions to make...

And that's it.


If you'd like to find out more about Lena and her crazy posse of friends - as well as her enemies - make sure you check out Popping the Cherry and then go straight into A Girl Called Malice, where Lena also has a huge part to play.

Facing the Music...


Book one: Popping the Cherry


Buy links/more info
 You only get one first time . . .

From driving tests to relationships, Valentina Bell thinks she’s a failure, with a big fat capital F. At this rate, she’s certain she’ll be a virgin for ever. So Lena’s friends plan Operation: Popping the Cherry to help her find the perfect man first time.

Yet somehow disastrous dates with bad-boy musicians and fabulous evenings with secretly in-the-closet guys aren’t quite working out how Lena planned.

Soon Lena’s avoiding Operation: Popping the Cherry to spend time with comforting, aloof Jake, her best friend’s older brother, who doesn’t make her feel self-conscious about still clinging to her V card. But could Jake show Lena that sometimes what you’re looking for most is right by your side?

A Forever for the twenty-first century

Book two: A Girl Called Malice


Buy links/more info
It’s not easy being the Queen Bee. Alice Taylor should know. 

You know that girl. The one that the whole school’s social life seems to revolve around. Alice used to be that girl until she decided to quit sixth form college. Suddenly her ‘friends’ aren’t so interested in following her around and her attention-grabbing behaviour is about to get her kicked out of home. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to, her world starts spiralling seriously out of control.

Only new friend Zac Newton seems to believe in her. Lifeguard and poolside hottie, Zac is quite literally her lifesaver. But then, he’s never met ‘Malice’, her mean-girl alter ego, and Alice wants to keep it that way. She knows this is her last chance for a fresh start until her sordid past catches up with her at the worst possible moment.

As everything Alice has worked towards comes crashing down around her, she realises that the hardest thing of all is being yourself…

You can keep up with all things 'Facing the Music' here:

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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Cover Reveal... Game of Scones by Samantha Tonge

The big day is here, and the cover for Samantha Tonge's latest novel, Game of Scones, can now be unveiled...


A story of icing and flour…and how love doesn’t always go to plan!
Growing up, Pippa Pattinson’s summers were spent in the idyllic Greek island fishing village of Taxos. There she spent many long hazy days determinedly ignoring thoughts of the life her parents had mapped out for her (a dreary-but-secure accounting job and obligatory sensible husband!) Instead she daydreamed of running her own tea shop – serving the perfect scones –with mocha-eyed childhood friend Niklaus by her side…
Arriving back in Taxos for the first time in years, with suave boyfriend Henrik, Pippa barely recognises the tired little town – but is relieved to catch glimpses of the quaint, charming village she’s always loved. Together Niklaus and Pippa put together a proposal to save Taxos from tourist-tastic ruin, and at the heart of their plan is Pippa’s dream project - The Tastiest Little Tea Shop in Taxos. It’s time for Pippa to leave her London life behind and dust off her scone recipe that’s guaranteed to win over both locals and visitors. And amidst the rolling pins and raisins, it seems romance is blossoming where she’s least expecting it…
If you’re a fan of Lindsay Kelk or Lucy Diamond then don’t hesitate to step into Samantha Tonge’s truly delightful tea shop.

Pre-Order Now...


Add to Goodreads

ISBN: 9781474034029
Release date: 20th April 2015

Amazon UK ¦ US ¦ AUS
iBooks UK ¦ US ¦ AUS
Nook UK ¦ B&N
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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Spotlight On... Under My Skin by Zoe Markham

It gives me great pleasure to introduce my fellow Carina UK author, Zoe Markham, on my blog today to celebrate the release of her debut YA novel, Under My Skin, so make yourself comfy and check out the prologue and first chapter...

**insert creepy music**


Inside we are all monsters…
Chloe was once a normal girl. Until the night of the car crash that nearly claimed her life. Now Chloe’s mother is dead, her father is a shell of the man he used to be and the secrets that had so carefully kept their family together are falling apart.
A new start is all Chloe and her father can hope for, but when you think you’re no longer human how can you ever start pretending?
A contemporary reworking of a British horror classic, Under My Skin follows seventeen-year-old Chloe into an isolated world of darkness and pain, as she struggles to understand what it really means to be alive.
Set against the familiar backdrop of everyday, normal teenage worries, Chloe's world has become anything but...

Prologue

Risen


You know that split second when you wake up and the line between your nightmares and reality is blurred? The darkness and the icy burst of fear in my stomach tell me it’s a dream; but the damp, decaying smell and the unfamiliar sound that I can’t quite put my finger on feel horribly real. I don’t move, and I try not to make a sound. I even hold my breath, and just listen. There’s a faint beeping noise close by, only it’s distorted somehow and I can’t focus on it. As I’m trying, I notice something else behind it, a harsh sort of rasping, rising and falling in the background. The more I try to isolate the sounds, the harder they get to hold on to. Maybe if I just lie still, and try not to panic, I’ll slip into a different part of my dream; a nicer part, one involving Tom Hiddleston reading to me in bed or... only I don’t know because I can’t lie still, I’m starting to shiver with the cold. The beeping sound is changing – it’s getting louder and faster now; uneven, frantic almost. I shiver harder, and then the rasping stops and the beeping switches down to just one, low, continuous tone and it’s panic one, Chloe nil. I shoot bolt upright in what doesn’t feel anything like my bed, and force my eyes open, except… I don’t. They don’t. I don’t move. My brain’s screaming: Up, UP! Get up! But nothing happens. I can’t move.

It’s the worst kind of nightmare, the kind where you’re trapped inside your own head, only I don’t think any nightmare could feel this real, for this long. I should’ve woken up screaming by now. And someone should be here: Mum, turning the light on, telling me it’s all right; or Dad, shouting What’s all the noise about. Only there’s no one.

And then the beeping stops, and I think maybe it’s over.

In the sudden, brief silence that follows I hear Dad’s voice after all, and he is shouting, and the relief is almost as intense as the panic was, but it’s hard to make out what he’s saying. I don’t know if it’s Chlo, or No, and then after a few seconds of him saying it over and over I’m not even sure it’s really him at all. I don’t know what to feel any more, until light explodes around me, light a million miles away from the warm yellow glow of my bedside lamp, and I get my answer: Pain. I feel pain. It’s everywhere, all at once, and I don’t know where I end and it begins. I don’t know how I’m going to feel anything but pain ever again. The light’s coming from inside me, ripping me into a thousand burning pieces and I don’t know who or what I am any more, only that I don’t want to be.

My mind must have been the last thing to shatter. A tiny of piece of it comes back with the same, steady beeping. The voice is there too – closer, clearer this time: a voice as torn and as broken as what used to be me. It’s Dad, but it’s not Dad.  

‘I can’t do this,’ it says. ‘I can’t do this on my own.’

Chapter One

Moving 


I’ve been lying on the backseat of the car, hidden under a heavy blanket, for over an hour now – and all he’s worried about is the kettle. I’m not entirely convinced he’s got his priorities right.

I can’t feel my legs and I’m shaking with cold even though it’s the middle of summer and roasting outside. For anyone else it would be unbearably hot in here; a death sentence even. For me? Well, sore subject. Don’t think about it. Don’t.

So, apparently I was supposed to pack the kettle and all the tea stuff in an easy-to-get-at box. To be honest, given the fact that we had to move under the cover of darkness, like thieves in the night, I really think he should give me a break. It’s not like any of this is my fault. Not directly, at least. Anyway, how does he think it feels, having to hide in here like some kind of dangerous freak that people need protecting from? Don’t, don’t think about it. Be angry, take the mick, do anything but think about it.

‘It’s for your own safety, Chlo,’ and ‘I’m doing all of this for you, Chlo,’ is all I’ve heard all morning – but it doesn’t feel like it’s ‘all for me’ at the moment.

‘The one thing I ask you to do,’ he hisses, as he slams the door.

‘Wait!’ I hiss back. ‘Dad! How much longer are they going to –’

Too late. He’s gone.

I genuinely don’t see why it’s such a problem. If I was a removal man, well, woman, I’d bring a flask if I was that bothered. And what the hell is taking them so long?

I roll over onto my stomach to try and get more comfortable, but fail.

‘It was not the “one thing” you asked me to do,’ I mutter angrily. Anger is good. Anger means you don’t have to think.

You need to pack up your room, Chloe … You can help with the rest of the house, Chloe … Most of this stuff up in the loft is yours, Chloe. It’s been endless. There was hardly any stuff in the basement flat, packing up there took less than an hour. Our old house, though, that was a different story. Seventeen years’ worth of memories flooded out as soon as he opened the front door. I could still smell Mum’s perfume when we went inside. You’d think he might have realised how much something like that would hurt. It’s only been six months. I still cry every day; still have the nightmare every night. The sodding kettle was the last thing on my mind.

He didn’t even want me to go with him at first, ‘If anyone sees you, Chloe…’ Yeah, it would have been Game Over for both of us. But I wanted to say goodbye to the place. I had to practically beg him. In the end, he took me when it was dark; when all our old neighbours, who we never knew anyway, were fast asleep and dreaming sweetly. Government agents too, I imagine, if they even sleep (they never sound human when he talks about them.) I sat in the shell of our old living room, where everything felt damp and musty from being empty for so long and nothing like the cosy, family space it used to be. And I thought of all the nights me and Mum had sat on the sofa under a blanket, armed to the teeth with Pringles and Coke, watching vampire flicks. The cheesier and sillier the better. Mum even liked the ones that sparkled.

He never thought about that, did he? He actually expected me to be thinking about tea bags. Bloody men.

It’s another half hour before the lorry starts up and I finally hear it roll away down the drive. I can hardly pull myself up from the seat, I’m so cold, and Dad has to help me out of the car like I’m a toddler, not a teenager, dragging my blanket along behind me. Both my legs are numb, and walking is agony. I catch sight of my reflection in the window as I stagger into the cottage, and get a painful reminder of just why I had to stay out of sight.

I look … well, let’s face it … I look like some kind of dangerous freak that people need protecting from.

Don’t. Don’t think.

I look away fast, but not fast enough. The image of the dangerous, unthinkable stranger in the window stays with me.

Dad doesn’t say anything, he just goes straight through to the big fireplace in the living room and starts artfully arranging logs, like he knows what he’s doing; like we’re the kind of people who’re comfortable with large open fires and not the sort who regularly deal with crappy economy seven night storage heaters.

I just hope he gets it going quickly. I’m freezing.

There’s a wide, expensive looking rug right in front of the fireplace, and I awkwardly kneel down on it as I try to wrap the blanket back around me. There are boxes piled high to the side of me, and I send one of them flying as I swing my arm around. Dad flies off the handle. Again.

‘Chloe! Can you try to be careful – Oh, Christ,’ he bellows, fumbling with the firelighters before petulantly throwing the whole packet into the fireplace. He storms out of the room and starts noisily clattering around with boxes somewhere else.

And I thought it was supposed to be us teenagers who were the stroppy ones?

I don’t say anything, there’s no point, he’s not exactly in a listening mood right now. I shuffle forward and grab the matches from where they’ve fallen on the rug, and with a shaking hand I set light to the crumpled newspaper sitting temptingly underneath the greasy pile of firelighters. A bright, dancing inferno forms in front of me as they quickly catch, and I feel the intensity of the heat slowly starting to come through. I close my eyes and bask in the warmth, like some kind of freakishly oversized, domesticated lizard.

When I can finally feel my extremities again, and when I think Dad might have had enough time to calm down, I part company with the blanket and shuffle down the hallway to look for him. I find my way through into the kitchen, taking two more boxes down with me en route. I’m wearing two XL hoodies which seriously bulk me out, and still limping hard on my left leg; it’s a wonder I don’t take a load more out for good measure. I wait for fresh shouting, but when none comes I shove the fallen boxes to one side with my good foot, and stumble further into the room.

There’s no sign of Dad, but the back door’s wide open and I slam it shut against the unwelcome coolness of the air. ‘It’s warmer out than in!’ he’ll say when he sees it. Well, not to me it isn’t.

There are at least a million boxes stacked up in here, and it looks like I’m on my own. I suppose I’m going to have to get used to that. I sigh, and aim a boot at one of them, which doesn’t help. I’m wearing my classic black, eight-hole DMs. My ‘shit kickers’ Tom used to call them, Watch out, Chlo’s got her shit kickers on! I’m not good for kicking much of anything any more, I don’t have the balance. I still like wearing them though. I suppose they remind me of how I used to be.

I miss Tom so much. That seems to be all I do these days, miss people. Oh and cry; I do a lot of crying.

I have a quick look around to try and distract myself, and end up thinking how much Mum would’ve loved this room. This is what she always dreamed of: a big, detached cottage out in the country, far away from all the noise and hassle of London. She would’ve been so excited, even though it’s just a rental. Dad would never have considered renting when she was alive, ‘dead money’ he always called it. I bet he wouldn’t call it that now. It’s a bit too close to home.

Mum would’ve kept the kettle and the mugs and everything out too. She probably would’ve even made a little picnic for everyone – sandwiches, sausage rolls and crisps and what have you. Everyone would’ve been laughing and joking and drinking tea. No one would’ve been shouting, or swearing. Or crying.

I rub my eyes with my sleeve, furiously trying not to dissolve into tears and then wincing as I get a painful reminder that I’ve got my new contact lenses in. I can’t stand the things; the cringe factor of actually putting something on my eyes like that totally freaks me out, which is pretty ridiculous considering everything that’s happened. That’s me though: ridiculous. I’m part tragedy, part freak show, and my whole situation is just too unbelievable for words.

Be angry. Take the piss. Don’t think.

I make a half-hearted effort to focus on the unpacking, but it feels pointless. We’re only going to be here for a couple of months, and I’m not really sure why we’re even bothering.

If Tom was here, he’d be legging it out back to the wood Dad told me about, the one at the end of the garden. He’d scope out the best spots for camp fires, like we were ten-year-olds; or he’d be up in the attic Dad mentioned, going crazy over the view and trying to climb out of the skylight to take a selfie with all the sprawling fields in the background. We’d have a box-unpacking race, and whoever finished last would have to order the pizza. Then we’d eat our way through mountains of it, burning the boxes in the fireplace as we went, and I could catch up on six months’ worth of school gossip in one glorious all-nighter.

But I’m never going to see Tom again.

Come to think of it, I’m probably never going to eat pizza again either. So it’s a pretty pointless line of thought, all things considered.

I pick at a thick line of packing tape on the biggest box, and try to guess what Dad might have done with the scissors.

*

I lose myself in slowly emptying the boxes until early afternoon. I don’t have a watch, and I haven’t unpacked the clock yet, but I’m going by the noises emanating from my stomach. I can’t see anything of outside because Dad’s pulled all the blinds and drawn all the curtains, and I daren’t touch them. We’ve got the fire, the heating, and the lights on, all in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer. He’ll have a fit when he gets the bills. Or, I suppose he won’t, not any more.

‘You need to keep out of sight at all times, Chlo.’ ‘Don’t draw attention to yourself, Chlo.’ Like there’s any way I’d actually go out of my way to draw attention to myself, looking like this. To be honest, I’ll be quite happy if no one pays me any attention ever again.

I unbox our battered old microwave and struggle to haul it over to the countertop. I’m out of breath when I drop it down; I definitely need to work on strengthening my muscles. I’m still so feeble, almost embarrassingly so, if today’s anything to go by. Dad says in an ideal world I should join a gym, do a proper induction and work out a tailored fitness plan with some skinny, Lycra-clad dictator, but that’s never going to happen. I mean, he won’t even let me out of the cottage. But even if he would, there’s no way I could face the thought of being somewhere like that – a room filled with noisy machines, loud music and sweaty people – it’s my idea of hell. I wouldn’t even have gone before this all happened – back when I was a normal (ish), confident, cheery soul who pretty much wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone. A lifetime ago, it feels like. Anyway, I’m really not equipped to sweat heavily in public any more; it plays absolute havoc with my skin. I’d terrify all the hordes of toned souls clean out of the building. It’s a pitiful thought, really, but it does kind of make me smile at the same time. Teenage zombie sends yummy mummies flying.

When Dad finally reappears with armfuls of logs for the fire, he’s still muttering on about the kettle.

I keep my head down and start to get things semi-organised in the kitchen, and when I limp back through it looks like he’s already pretty much got the living room sorted. The empty cardboard boxes are neatly folded and stacked, presumably ready for when we leave. And I realise I’m going to be in trouble because I just kicked in all the ones from the kitchen and chucked them by the back door. I’m tired, and I ache, and I really don’t care any more. If it’s that big a deal then I don’t get why we’re unpacking in the first place.

My arms are feeling almost as heavy as my legs now, and I slump down onto the new sofa. The fire’s blazing, and I lie back as I watch Dad plug the TV in and monkey about with the settings.

I want to close my eyes for a bit, but I don’t want to fall asleep with my lenses in, and I daren’t ask him if I can take them out just yet. He’ll do the resigned parental sigh, and then tell me I need to get used to them, and I’ll ‘never get used to them if I don’t wear them.’ So I look around the room instead, and try to understand why he’s rented a place this big just for the two of us. I know money isn’t a problem now, not after his ‘keep quiet or else’ pay-out from the government, but the cottage is immense. There are no neighbours for a mile or so in any direction, there’s an actual wood at the end of the back garden, which may or may not contain a Magic Faraway Tree, and out front there are two double garages (ideal for our one car), and an epic driveway, which is basically half a mile of twisty private dirt track leading up to the cottage. All it needs is a moat, and we’ve got our very own castle.

It’s mad that it’s actually ours; until Dad finds out what he needs to know.

If I’d been younger, if Mum had been with us, if our lives hadn’t somehow turned into a surreal, waking nightmare, this place would’ve been the most amazing thing ever; like actually waking up in the middle of an Enid Blyton novel. Even as a cynical, broken teenager I’m still half expecting Dad to bump into Silky and Moonface when he takes the bins out. It’s not home though, for all its storybook qualities. I don’t think anywhere can ever really be home again.

Dad heads upstairs, and I know I should be helping him, but the heat in here is delicious and I can’t make myself move. I stare hard at the flames, trying to find patterns, images, anything that I can lose myself in. It’s like one of those 3D magic pictures, I stare until my eyes water but I don’t see a thing except orange. My eyes were pretty ruined by what happened. I can see a lot better with Dad’s drops, and my contacts in, they’re way better than the clunky glasses he got me, but it’s never going to be like it was before. Nothing’s ever going to be like it was before.

Muffled swearing drifts down from somewhere above, and footsteps thunder down the stairs before Dad bursts into the room waving two mugs and a box of tea bags at me.

‘In the box marked ‘Bathroom’! Honestly, Chlo!’

Well, I don’t know what he expected, to be honest. I’m not exactly organised at the best of times, and it hasn’t been the best of times for a long time.

‘They both have sinks in,’ I tell him. ‘I wasn’t that far off. Give me a break.’

That earns me raised eyebrows and a pointed look. I suppose I’ve been on a break for a while now. At least he’s not shouting at me. That’ll be the thought of imminent tea working its magic.

‘How many boxes are left in the kitchen?’ he asks.

I shrug, and slowly, painfully unfold myself from the sofa to follow him through. He starts rummaging through the impressive layers of mess that I’ve heaped onto the kitchen table. He’s going to whine at me any minute now about – yep – here we go …

‘Oh Chloe, how hard is it to collapse the boxes and stack them? This lot are useless now.’ He starts flinging the crushed boxes over his shoulder like some kind of deranged terrier. ‘They’ll have to go out for the recycling. I need this all cleared by the morning. I’m going to have to leave early until I can figure out the traffic, and the best way in, and I don’t want to be tripping over all this lot in the dark.’

I want to make a comment about the wicked sorcery of electric lights, but I stop myself just in time.

‘Come on then,’ he sighs. ‘Pull your finger out Chlo and let’s get this lot cleared between us. The sooner it’s done, the sooner we can settle down and have a rest.’

He sighs as he starts straightening out all the crumpled newspaper that I’ve flung about. Like they won’t recycle it unless it’s in mint condition. Why does he do that?

This has all got to be crazy for him too, I know that. But it’s no picnic for me, and this was all his choice when it comes down to it. His fault – although I’d never say that; not to his face anyway. He’d say it wasn’t a choice at all, and that any parent would’ve done the same in his shoes. I don’t know about that. It’s not something your average parent would think of. Thank god. All this time together, and I can easily have our conversations in my head now. We barely used to speak, before.

We’re both throwing stuff into drawers, and getting in each other’s way, and the silence outside of my head starts to feel oppressive. Dad cracks first.

‘Just… finish up in here as best you can, will you. It’s almost done.’ he snaps, rubbing red-rimmed eyes heavily underlined with dark shadows. I feel bad, noticing for the first time just how tired he really is. It was a long drive down, and we left before it was even light. He’s got to be running on fumes now.

‘I’m going to go up and put your bed together,’ he says, heading for the door, but then he turns back to look at me. I suppose I must look pretty rough too, even more so than usual, because his voice softens as he says, ‘Once I’ve got that done, I’ll find us the nearest Chinese and order in a massive takeaway, ok?’

I’ve been meaning to ask ever since he first told me about the cottage, but I kept forgetting and it looks like I’ve run out of time now, so I just blurt it out and hope for the best. ‘Can I have the attic room?’

He sighs, and I know I’ve already lost. ‘Chloe, it’s just an empty shell up there. There’s no storage space, or heating even, and you need the en suite. I had the removal men put all your things in the master bedroom. You’ll be much better off in there. And it’s the nicest room in the house.’

I sigh back.

‘I’m not saying you can’t go up there, but you’re going to struggle with that ladder, and you need to be warm.’ He rubs his eyes again. ‘We’ve got those fan heaters you could use up there, but I haven’t unpacked them yet and god only knows where they are. I picked you the room that’ll be easiest on you.’

He’s trying, I know he is. And I’m trying too, mostly. He’s risked everything for me, and I know I need to meet him halfway, but it’s hard sometimes. And I can’t help thinking that if he’d been like this before – this caring, protective figure who’s always around, instead of the work-obsessed, distant parent who never came home – none of this would ever have happened in the first place. It’s all his faul– Don’t, don’t think.

He crosses the room and pulls me into a bear hug, and I can’t think of a thing to say.

‘Can we just try and make the best of it?’ he asks. ‘As soon as I get settled in at the hospital I’ll be working on the vaccine every spare minute I can find. It could only take a few weeks, Chlo, if I can just catch a lucky break. As soon as I can get you some long-term supplies made up, we can think about getting out of the country and really starting over. We just need to get through this bit first, and keep our heads while we’re at it. I know it’s not going to be easy, but we’re so close, Chlo. We’re almost there.’

He goes to kiss my forehead but I flinch and pull back. I’ve been by the fire with both my thick hoodies on, and I’m so self-conscious like this. I don’t feel like I’ve been sweating, and he always says there isn’t any smell, but… when I think about what I am… I mean, there must be. You never think about… them… being fragrant. I can’t bear the thought of it. He gives me a sad smile and squeezes my shoulder before heading off up the stairs.

I work hard at sorting out the last of the kitchen things, and there, right inside the very last box at the bottom of the pile, is the kettle. If kitchen implements could talk I swear this one would be laughing at me. As I pull it out, I spot the UHT milk tucked in neatly underneath it.

I get the kettle on at last, hoping that tea will maybe go some way towards an apology for how whiny and useless I’ve been today. I wrestle the last of the cardboard and newspaper over to the back door while it brews, and then head slowly and awkwardly upstairs with a full mug in each hand. I don’t know where anything is up here yet, but I follow the swearing to the room where Dad’s attacking a bed frame with a screwdriver, and park his mug on the windowsill before flopping onto the mattress lying on the floor with mine. I take slow sips, and try to get my breath back. I’m so unfit now. I’ve done way more today than I have since it happened, and I’m really struggling now. It makes me tired just watching Dad. He doesn’t stop until my bed is bed-shaped once more, and then he drains his mug in one go, and sighs in appreciation.

‘Oh, god, that’s better,’ he says, and I can actually see him starting to relax right in front of me. As if someone’s released a valve somewhere, and he can breathe again. I wish tea could do that for me.

‘Up you get then,’ he tells me, and as he hauls my mattress up onto the frame he catches sight of the longing look I give it. ‘Go on then,’ he says kindly. ‘Why don’t you lie down and have a nap, while I try and find somewhere we can get ourselves an enormous takeaway. I think we deserve it.’

He pulls a contact lens case from his pocket and hands it to me, and I fire him a grateful smile in return. I couldn’t remember to put the kettle in the right box, but he somehow remembers to keep everything I could ever need close to hand at all times.

He pulls my duvet up over me, and I’m asleep before he’s even left the room.

Buy It Now...


To carry on reading - and I'm sure you'll want to - you'll need to exercise your 1-click finger and buy yourself a copy, so here are the links you will need...

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ISBN: 9781474031974
Release date: 31st March 2015


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Monday, 16 March 2015

FREE BOOK... Popping the Cherry *updated*


Big news!!

Popping the Cherry has been picked up by Apple/iTunes has part of their 'first in a series' promotion which means you can pick up the first book in my Facing the Music series for absolutely nothing.

Yep, it's FREE!

If you've got an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch or Mac, go and grab your copy HERE.

Oh, and fear not, Kindle and Kobo users, the promotion has been price-matched by Amazon and Kobo too but I'm not supposed to shout too loud about that.

UPDATE: Now free on Google play and NOOK as well!


Go, tell your friends and help spread the word.

And as if that wasn't exciting enough, allow me to unveil the brand new trailer...


Thursday, 12 February 2015

Sneak Peek... Tied Up With Love by Amelia Thorne

It is my great pleasure to welcome Amelia Thorne back onto my blog today, to share a tantalising peek at her new release, Tied Up With Love, which is out on Valentine's Day.

That's THIS Saturday, folks!

If you haven't yet discovered this warm, witty, and downright funny author, then what are you waiting for?


Add to Goodreads
‘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.

*


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