Cover Reveal! Timeshaft – Stewart Bint

Today is cover reveal time for my good and amazing barefoot author friend – Stewart Bint.  He is funny, caring, a brilliant autbor (many of his books scared the living daylights out of me) and very supportive to other authors, including humble little me.

Booktrope are shortly publishing a revised edition of Stewart Bint’s time travel novel, Timeshaft…and here’s a sneak preview of the dazzling new cover created by Booktrope designer Troy Johnson.  Originally published on Smashwords in 2013, the new edition features a new beginning and ending, along with a number of new scenes.

Blurb

By the twenty-seventh century, mankind has finally mastered time travel—and is driving recklessly towards wiping itself out. The guerilla environmentalist group WorldSave, with its chief operative Ashday’s Child, uses the Timeshaft to correct mistakes of the past in an effort to extend the life of the planet.But the enigmatic Ashday’s Child has his own destiny to accomplish, and will do whatever it takes within a complicated web of paradoxes to do so. While his destiny—and very existence—is challenged from the beginning to the end of time, he must collect the key players through the ages to create the very Timeshaft itself.

“Do our actions as time travellers change what would otherwise have happened, or is everything already laid down in a predetermined plan?” he asks. Stewart Bint’s Timeshaft is an expertly synchronized saga of time travel, the irresistible force of destiny, and the responsibility of mankind as rulers of the world.

Stewart Bint  Stewart Bint is a novelist, magazine columnist and PR writer. He lives with his wife, Sue, in Leicestershire, in the UK, and has two grown-up children, Christopher and Charlotte.

He is a former radio presenter, newsreader and phone-in show host, but always wanted to become a fiction writer — a dream that came true when his first novel was published in 2012 at the age of 56. Now the author of five novels, a collection of short stories and a compilation of his early magazine columns, he was signed by Booktrope in 2015, who published a revised edition of his paranormal novel, In Shadows Waiting, in August.

They are publishing a revised and re-edited edition of Timeshaft shortly.

As a member of a local barefoot hiking group, when not writing he can often be found hiking in bare feet on woodland trails and urban streets.

Stewart Bint online:

Website and blog
Facebook
Twitter
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

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The Phoenix Project – DM Cain

The brand new edition of dystopian, psychological thriller The Phoenix Project by D.M. Cain will be re-released on December 11th. Originally published in May 2014, this new Booktrope edition has had a complete editing overhaul plus a stunning new cover design.

The book will be available to buy from a wide range of digital and paperback distributors, including Amazon:

US or UK

Author: D.M. Cain
Title: The Phoenix Project
Genre: Psychological thriller/Dark thriller/Dystopian
Book Content: Occasional adult language, graphic violence, and mild sexual content.
Original Cover Design from the first edition:  

Synopsis:
How can you fight to the death, when you’ve given up on life?

A thought provoking and compelling dystopian world that will change the way you view justice…

A man fights for life—and redemption—in D. M. Cain’s riveting re-released novel, The Phoenix Project.

Britain has descended into chaos as violence and terrorist attacks seethe across this once-peaceful country. Outraged by the steady stream of lawlessness, citizens demand a harsher penal system, and the Phoenix Project is born.

In prisons across the country, inmates fight to the death in a weekly bloodbath while the nation cheers them on.

Raven Kennedy, a prisoner who has never forgiven himself for his unspeakable crime, struggles against his own guilt and self-loathing. But even as the real war wages on within himself, Raven is forced to battle some of the prison’s most ruthless killing machines. Can he survive long enough to unravel the anger and regret that shackle him—and one day find the forgiveness he seeks?

‘The Phoenix Project by D.M. Cain is a superbly written debut, soaked in tension and intrigue,’ Jack Croxall, author of the ‘Tethers’ trilogy.

An interesting fact about The Phoenix Project: The horrifying ‘dark room’ in The Phoenix Project (a pitch-black sensory deprivation cell) was inspired by D.M. Cain’s visit to the Terror Haza in Budapest—a museum dedicated to the fascistic and communistic regimes that operated from the building. In the cellar of the Terror Haza are the old cells used to imprison and torture inmates. D.M. crawled inside a very low cell and shut the door, casting herself into total darkness. It was terrifying and claustrophobic, and she only lasted five minutes in there!

Special treat!!!!! 
Listen to DM Cain as she reads from the first chapter of The Phoenix Project! D.M. Cain Biography
D.M. Cain is a dystopian and fantasy author working for US publisher Booktrope. She has released three novels: The Phoenix Project – a psychological thriller set in a dystopian future, Soren – a middle-grade fantasy, and A Chronicle of Chaos – the first in a dark fantasy series. She is currently working on the next novel in the series, ‘The Shield of Soren’, and a novella to accompany it.

D.M. Cain is also a member of the International Thriller Writers and is one of the creators and administrators of the online author group #Awethors. Her short story ‘The End’ was published in Awethology Dark – an anthology by the #Awethors.

Cain lives in Leicestershire, UK, with her husband and young son, and spends her time reading, writing and reviewing books, playing RPGs and listening to symphonic metal.  Links:
Website
Mailing List
Amazon
Facebook 
Twitter
Google+
Goodreads
Youtube
 

Cover reveal! Simmering by S.E. Rise

As Beltane is fast approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to give some attention to a slightly more ‘steamy’ book. After all, this is the time of passion, fertility, the union between the god and goddess. My author friend S.E. Rise is not only a superb horror author, but also quite adept in the erotica genre. 

It is my great pleasure and honour to reveal his new cover for Simmering! So without further ado, here it is, folks! I’m getting flushed cheeks just by looking at it!

  
Blurb

Who would you rather find in your bedroom, a steamy hose-wielding fireman or a dangerously obsessed ex-boyfriend? What if you found both?  Romance writer Allison Fairchild is growing frustrated with her first attempt at Erotica until she reads a well-timed magazine article. What working man makes the best lover? The article sparks an idea and her eyes are irresistibly drawn to the top-ranked firemen just across the street. It might be coincidence or driven by fate but it is all the motivation she needs.

 Ali has herself assigned to a firehouse and is committed to doing her job; getting incredible sex stories from actual firefighters and, in the process, try not to become one. At least that’s her intention until she meets the Captain, a by-the-rules professional with an enticing off-duty wild streak. Ali and the Captain put their wills to the test to resist the chemistry heating up between them. But unbeknownst to Ali, her cheating ex-boyfriend has set his eyes upon her again and if he can’t have her, no one can.

Will Ali break “the rules” with the Captain before she can finish the book or will her ex’s frightening obsession inevitably destroy them all?


Booktrope Publishing- Republished Date May 16, 2015


About the author


 

 S.E. Rise attended Austin Peay State University on a Track scholarship. Later in life, he became a captain of an ALS ambulance. On his off time he enjoys salmon fishing and strives in achieving the impossible. He has the ability to find four leaf clovers with the simplest of ease. They pop out at him and that’s why he sees them. He now lives in Alaska with his wife and two children. In 2007 he published his first novel and he continues to write gripping and enticing stories, leaving his readers breathless.


You can still order the old version here or wait for the new one! 

  


Follow S.E. Rise on his websitetwitter or facebook.

 

Amelia Thorne releases Beneath the Moon and the Stars. Chapter 3!

Due to a technical glitch Publication Day will be tomorrow instead of today. Be sure to check back here, because you can win great stuff!! Yesterday you could read chapter two from her novel Beneath the Moon and the Stars, which is published by Carina. To refresh your memory, here is the blurb.

Home, sweet home…
Joy Cartier has been to some of the most beautiful places in the world – but none of them have ever felt like home. So moving into a tiny cottage in the idyllic village of Bramble Hill, walking distance from her childhood home, seems like the perfect plan.
That is, until she gets there. The surly inhabitants of Britain’s Friendliest Village are anything but welcoming. Even her neighbour, reclusive Hollywood star Finn Mackenzie, takes one look at her and walks in the other direction.
But when the village animosity steps up a gear, it is the infuriatingly brooding Finn who keeps coming to her rescue. Slowly Joy begins to realise that maybe a happy home isn’t about where you live, but who you’re with…

IMG_1396.JPG

Now, without further ado, chapter three!

Chapter Three

Finn was standing at the bottom of his garden, staring at the heather covered hills that swept up from his back fence. It was early morning and the sun, if it had bothered to come out at all, was currently hiding behind heavy rain clouds. He had never minded the rain. In fact he loved it, it was always so peaceful. The only noise he could hear was the soft thud of raindrops hitting his hood. That was until he heard a wailing behind him.
He turned quickly, wondering if someone had been hurt, and immediately saw Joy dancing around in her bedroom window, seemingly singing or rather shrieking her version of ‘It’s Raining Men’. She was wrapped only in a towel, a tangle of red wet hair hanging down her back. She spun around and as she did the towel fell away. His eyes drank her in. In a flash, his hands were caressing her pale, milky skin, feeling the fire of her hair between his fingers, pulling her warm body against his.
Unashamed, she carried on dancing. If it could be called that. Every part of her seemed to be wiggling as if she was attached to strings and controlled by a very drunk puppeteer. Her arms were punching up and down, her hips going side to side and her knees knocking together. But none of this detracted from the incredibly beautiful body. The innocent enthusiasm was incredibly endearing. After the night before, he expected her to be moping around, but it seemed nothing could keep Joy in a bad mood. He couldn’t help but smile at her.
The music obviously changed, because the next thing she was screaming along to ‘Lady Marmalade’ by All Saints. He didn’t need to be fluent in French to know the lyrics meant ‘Do you want to sleep with me tonight.’ Every teenage boy on his university trip to France made sure they knew those words if nothing else. The terrible dancing had changed too. It was still terrible but was now what could only be classed as provocative, as she ground her hips round in slow circles.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her. What an absolute creep he was. But no matter how much he despised himself, he could do nothing to stop it.
Suddenly anger flooded through him. She knew he was out here, that’s why she was dancing like this. How could she not see him? He was wearing a bright yellow hoodie; it’d be pretty hard to miss. She was either trying to turn him on, or she was just teasing him to wind him up.
Either option was not pleasing in his book.
He stormed back into the house, out onto the street and hammered on her front door.
It took a few moments for her to answer, when she did she was thankfully wrapped in a white robe. Her face was flushed with happiness, which immediately vanished as soon as she saw him.
‘Let’s get one thing straight, I don’t like you, and I certainly don’t fancy you. That little show you’ve just put on for my benefit only made you look ridiculous.’
Her mouth fell open, her face going a bright shade of red. She’d clearly had no idea he was out there. But he’d started now, so he was damned sure he was going to finish.
‘I suggest if you want to dance, badly may I just point out, that you put some bloody clothes on or draw the curtains. That way I won’t see something I really don’t want to see.’
With that he marched back to his house.
But she was hot on his heels.
‘You arrogant, conceited, jumped up little shit. I was not dancing for you. I didn’t even know you were there. And you know what, if I want to dance naked in the privacy of my own home, I will. I suggest if you are offended by my nudity, you look away, instead of perving on me like the disgusting creep that you are.’
She flounced away.
He caught her arm and span her round.
‘Hey!’ came Zach’s voice, protectively, though he was wise enough not to come any closer.
Finn stared down at Joy, his jaw clenched. Her eyes, currently filled with hatred, were an intense olive green, tiny freckles covered her nose and shoulders. Her lips…
He let her go, taking a step back before he closed the gap between them and kissed her. What was wrong with him? She infuriated him; he certainly didn’t like her in that way.
He flashed Zach an obligatory filthy look, looked back to Joy, at her wet hair dripping down her neck, at the swell of her breast that was peeping out the top of her robe, and then stormed back into his own house.
*

Joy watched him go, her heart pounding.
‘You ok?’ Zach stepped up to her a fraction too late.
She nodded, aware that her hands were shaking.
‘What was that about?’
‘Er…’ she tore her eyes away from Finn’s front door and looked at Zach instead. ‘Just Finn making it very clear he doesn’t like me.’
‘Oh that. Don’t take it personally, he doesn’t like anyone.’
She noticed Zach’s eyes travelling down her body, his pupils widening with lust. She looked down to see that her wet hair was making the robe damp and see-through. Folding her arms across her chest she moved back towards the house.
‘I’ll see you later.’
His face fell slightly as she closed the door.
How strange to be so desired and so hated within a matter of seconds. Her heart was still pounding furiously. In part it was down to anger at Finn’s arrogance and comments, but she knew mainly it was down to a wave of desire and need that had crashed over her when he had grabbed her and spun her around. If he had thrown her over his shoulder and carried her back to his cave right then, she would have only protested out of principle.
Suddenly a disgusting smell hit her nose. She looked around to find the source and saw a piece of paper, with what could only be dog poo on it. Scrawled across the paper in large angry capital letters was the word BITCH. It had clearly been posted through her letterbox that morning, but because she had opened the door, she had dislodged half the poo and it had mushed into the carpet and underneath the door.
Retribution for Mrs Kemblewick was swift indeed. She stomped into the kitchen to get a bowl of hot soapy water to clean up the mess and knew she would have to come up with a plan and quick.
*

Casey let himself through Finn’s back door and helped himself to a bottle of beer from the fridge before moving through to the front room. Finn was sprawled out on his sofa, reading a book and he looked at Casey over the top of it when he walked in.
‘Could have got one for me while you’re raiding my fridge,’ Finn said, marking his place in his book and throwing it onto the coffee table. He stood up and stretched, showing the toned muscles in his stomach for a brief second. If Casey didn’t know better, he’d think Finn was deliberately torturing him.
Casey sat down, picking up the book as Finn went to get a beer for himself.
‘Any good?’ he waved the book in the air as Finn returned.
‘I have no idea,’ Finn sighed.
Casey smiled. ‘Yeah, I thought you might say that. Are you doing ok?’
‘Not really.’
‘Joy’s incredibly beautiful.’
‘She’s not my type.’
‘Oh come on, are you saying that to convince me or yourself?’
Finn sat down. ‘Me, obviously. If I say it enough, I might start to believe it.’
Casey stroked the head of Billy, Finn’s straggly dog. His heart went out to Finn. For him to have his heart broken twice by the same woman must have been horrendous. Finn’s child would have been a year old now and Casey wondered how often Finn must think about that.
‘Admittedly Joy has red hair like Pippa but that’s where the similarities end. She’s lovely. You’d really like her if you gave her a chance.’
Finn stared at Casey as if he’d just suggested he should chop off his own head.
‘I can’t do a relationship again, I just can’t. Pippa hurt me spectacularly and I never want to be hurt like that again.’
‘Mate, I’m not suggesting you marry her or even jump into bed with her, I’m just saying be nice. Don’t treat her like scum just because she has the same hair colour as your ex-wife. She’s had a bit of a rough life…’ He hesitated in telling Finn about Joy’s parents, but there was a vulnerability in Joy that he wanted to protect. ‘Her parents were killed when she was a kid. I feel like she’s come here for a fresh start and now the villagers are all giving her grief over this stupid Mrs Kemblewick fiasco – which has nothing to do with her, by the way. Her landlord is Joe Carter, the man that kicked Mrs Kemblewick out, she just has a similar name.’
‘You’re kidding?’
‘No, she has no idea who Mrs Kemblewick is. Look, she needs a friend and if you can’t manage that, then at least be civil to her.’
Casey put the empty bottle of beer on the table. ‘I’m going next door to see if she’s ok after last night. Anything you want me to say to her?’
Finn shook his head as he stared at the floor. Casey smiled sympathetically at him. Finn had gone through a rough time too, but Casey was damned sure he wasn’t going to let Finn take his anger out on Joy just because he was still messed up over his own heartbreak.
*

Finn watched Casey go and groaned. Joy’s parents were dead. That made things so much worse. He had this innate need to protect, to comfort. That was how he had met Pippa. She had driven her car into a ditch at the side of the road and although she was unhurt, she was very shaken and tearful when he had pulled over to see if he could help. Her tears, her clinging to him as he held her, was what had done it. He had been lost, beyond redemption from that point on.
Now he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms round Joy and hold her.
An orphan. She could only be about thirty and she had lost both parents. He would be distraught if he lost his, he couldn’t even begin to think what that would feel like. And she had moved here and the welcome party was well and truly out.
He would have to try to be civil to her from now on. He wouldn’t be friends with her, that would lead to trouble, but at least he could be polite.
*

There was a knock on her door as Joy was knee deep in tissue paper and pretty lilac notelets. The kitchen smelt delicious and Darcy had moved downstairs in the hope of scrounging some morsels. She should have taken poor Darcy for a walk ages ago, though she seemed happy to sleep on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor at the moment.
She hurried to the door; Casey was standing there, looking lovely and dishevelled.
‘Hi, how you feeling today?’
‘I’m good, come in, you can help me.’ She turned back down towards the kitchen and Casey followed her.
She watched him look at the chaos and mess across the breakfast table and then at her with amusement. She tried to look at it through his eyes; the desperation of a mad woman.
‘What are you doing?’
‘These are my friendship cakes. I’ve made one for each house in the village. I’m wrapping them in tissue paper and putting a note in with each one explaining who I am and inviting them all to a housewarming barbeque this Sunday. Here, read the note and tell me what you think.’
He picked up one of the lilac notelets and read it. It explained that she was Joy Cartier and was renting from Joe Carter, that though their names were similar she was not related to him or the previous owner. It said she was very sorry for what had happened to Mrs Kemblewick, but it really had nothing to do with her. It was brief, friendly but to the point, and had taken her hours to construct those few little lines.
‘It’s fine,’ Casey said. ‘But I don’t know if it will work. They seemed to be quite irate when I was in the village shop this morning. I tried to explain to them who you were, but they practically shooed me out of the shop, telling me it was village business and as such was none of mine.’
She stopped in the middle of wrapping up another cake in red tissue paper. ‘You don’t live here?’
‘No, I live in Ashton Woods, the next village.’
‘Oh.’ This bothered her more than it should. She thought that she had at least two friends in the village, now it was down to only one – and Zach was only friends with her because he wanted to sleep with her. ‘Well, it’s clear they’re never going to be my best friends but maybe I can persuade them not to push me in the pond again or post dog poo through my letterbox.’
‘What?’ Casey’s eyes widened as he picked up one of the cakes and artfully arranged the tissue paper around it in a way that she could never achieve.
‘Found it this morning, with a note telling me I’m a bitch.’
He shook his head. ‘Well then, you certainly can’t make it any worse. I’ll give you a hand.’
They worked diligently between them for a while until all the cakes were wrapped.
She sat down, her back aching a bit, and looked out the window at the rain that hadn’t stopped all morning. The hills looked dramatic, silhouetted against the grey sky.
‘It needs to stop raining by tonight, I really need to go out to work,’ she said, then wished she hadn’t as that was bound to lead to questions.
‘A lady of the night are you?’ Casey’s eyes gleamed with excitement. ‘A prostitute? A spy?’
‘Yes to both. Spying doesn’t pay well, so I supplement it with a bit of prostitution.’
‘Noble.’
‘I thought so. Oh that’s what I meant to ask you,’ she quickly changed the subject. ‘When Chloe was threatening me to keep away from Zach, she also said that I couldn’t have you because you were with one of her friends.’
Casey picked up a crumb of cake from the baking tray. ‘Umm… yes, Arielle.’
She waited for more details but clearly none were forthcoming. ‘You’re dating a girl?’
‘Yeah, well not really dating, sort of…’
There was another knock on the door, interrupting what Casey was clearly finding embarrassing to tell her. She presumed it was Finn or Zach and found herself straightening her hair as she moved to answer it, then cursed herself for doing it.
Opening the door, Joy came face to face with a spaghetti thin blonde, her hair scraped back in a very severe looking French roll. She was dressed in a very expensive, very short dress with matching jacket and her face had that look of someone who had sucked a lemon. She was pretty, Joy supposed, and would be even prettier without the excessive makeup and angry pursed lips. She was holding an umbrella over her that matched the colour of her dress suit exactly.
‘Is my fiancé in there with you?’
Joy felt like she’d just received a smack to the face with that news, but quickly collected herself. Clearly this woman had come to the wrong house.
‘Arielle, hi,’ came Casey’s voice behind her.
There was a silence as Joy processed this information and Arielle cast her beady eye over her.
‘This is Joy, she’s just moved in next to Zach,’ Casey said.
‘Evidently,’ said Arielle, icily.
‘Er…’ Casey fumbled for something to say. Gone was the happy, relaxed Casey – he had rapidly been replaced by someone who was clumsy, awkward and clearly petrified of his fiancé. ‘Joy is my cousin. Remember me telling you about Uncle Raymond, well this is his daughter.’
Arielle stared at Joy vacantly for a moment as well she might. Joy was feeling equally confused. Finally Arielle nodded and stretched out her hand for a delicate and formal handshake. ‘Of course, Cousin Joy, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. You’ll be coming to the wedding next week?’
‘Yes, we invited her ages ago, she RSVP’d straightaway. We were quite close growing up.’ Casey squeezed past Joy who seemed to be frozen in the hallway.
Arielle cast her eyes over her again. ‘Of course, well if I don’t see you before, we’ll see you then. Casey do come along, we must meet with Jules to discuss the flowers. Apparently I can’t change the roses to daffodils as they aren’t in season. You need to talk to her.’
Without waiting for an answer, Arielle marched down the path to a little red convertible that was gleaming on the street. Casey glanced at Joy as he followed.
‘I can explain, I promise,’ he said and hurried after Arielle.
‘I can’t wait,’ Joy shouted after him.
But whether he heard or not, she didn’t know because her voice was lost in the noise of the engine as the car roared up the road.
*

Joy delivered the cakes to each doorstep in the village, though she hadn’t quite been brave enough to knock on the doors. Then it was time to take Darcy for a walk.
She intended to trek along the hill range past Menton Hall. She had a job to do there that night, if the rain stopped, and she wanted to get an idea of the lay of the land.
That’s what she was telling herself, it wasn’t at all because the hills held sentimental attachment to her.
When one of Alex’s friends had mentioned that his cousin was doing up a place in the country with a view to renting, Joy had taken it as a sign that it was time to move on from the busy town of Milton Keynes. She had been a face in the crowd there and had no more than a nodding acquaintance with her neighbours of three months.
It was only as she had driven round to see the house that the village names started to sound familiar. She had rounded a corner and was suddenly met with the striking hills that bordered the cluster of villages, the same hills that she had trekked over every weekend with her dad, right up until the weekend before he died.
Even before she saw the house, she knew she was going to say yes. Maybe she could never go back home, but maybe walking these hills with Darcy, as she had done many years before with her dad, would be all she needed to feel at home.
Joy sighed as Darcy left her side and went galloping up to greet Finn’s straggly dog. Seemingly, in the dog world, you just had to shove your nose up the other dog’s bum and you were best friends for life. She wondered what Finn’s reaction to that would be if she tried it. She hung back a little, hoping Finn would try to avoid her, but he was obviously on his way home now, so their paths had to cross if she intended taking Darcy on the walk she had planned. Finn called his dog away from Darcy, but Billy, tongue hanging out, stupid grin in place, was very interested in her. He had that demented look about him when a dog smells a bitch in heat. Damn it. Darcy had been a bit listless the day before, but Joy had put it down to the move. Still they wouldn’t be here long enough for Billy to get lucky. Hopefully Finn would pass without a single word.
He drew closer. He always looked so cool, even today tramping over the rain sodden fields with his dog, he looked like he’d just stepped out of a clothes commercial. He was wearing a simple baseball cap and a waterproof hoodie, but he still looked sexy. And also, as he drew closer, she saw he was wearing a sneer just for her. Her heart sank. Well attack was sometimes the best form of defence.
She marched up to him. ‘Why is it you hate me so much? It can’t possibly be about the ice cream, that would be unbelievably petty. And as you don’t get involved with village matters it can’t be about Mrs Kemblewick either, which by the way had nothing to do with me. So it’s either like Casey said, you hate me because I have red hair, which would be very shallow and small minded or it’s just that you’re a bastard for no other reason than you like to make people’s lives a misery. So tell me, which is it?’
He glared at her but when there was clearly no answer forthcoming, she turned away from him. ‘I’ll take that as the latter then. Darcy, heel!’
She walked away from him, her hands clenched into fists in her pockets, and refused to look back.
*

Damn it. Finn watched her go, his hand on Billy’s collar, who seemed very keen to follow them. Just like his owner. She was right, he was a bastard. He felt beyond guilty for shouting at her that morning just for singing and dancing – and then as she walked towards him, he had been appalled by how turned on he was after seeing Joy dressed in her waxed jacket and cap. It was a waxed jacket and cap, how could it be sexy? The black dress she had worn the day before was sexy. Not a waxed jacket and a pair of battered walking boots. He was determined to be polite, regardless of these insane feelings for her slamming through him. He was going to say hello, that was as good a start as any but as his emotions clawed away inside him his face must have been a picture as he battled with a sudden fear of redheads, a fear of intimacy and a fear of what might happen if they got too close. And whatever she had seen in his face had not been good, going on the defence before he attacked her again.
So now not only did he have to be polite to a woman, a redhead none the less, but he was going to have to work on his facial expressions too. He practiced a smile, the feeling of his mouth turning upwards felt alien to him. He looked down at Billy with the rictus grin stuck on his face, Billy glanced up at him and whined with something akin to fear. Finn sighed and headed for home.
*

The sun finally decided to make an appearance late afternoon as Joy came back home from her walk.
Though would it ever be the place she could finally call home? She would give Bramble Hill a chance, just like all the other places she had tried over the years. Joe, her landlord, had said if she wanted to stay, permanently, he would sell the place to her, but he was quite happy to rent in the meantime. She could easily afford the asking price if she decided to buy it; her job paid her ridiculously well. But as with the other places, she rented first, in a “try before you buy” type way. So far, she’d not found anywhere that she had wanted to buy.
As she drew close to her house, she noticed a collection of flies and wasps around her front door. More dog poo? But then the wasps wouldn’t be interested in that.
She moved closer and realised, with a crashing wave of disappointment, that many, if not all, of her lovingly made friendship cakes had been deposited on her doorstep. Some had seemingly been stamped on and some had even been forcibly shoved through her letterbox. They either hadn’t bothered to read the notes once they spotted it was from her, or hadn’t believed the declaration that she’d had nothing to do with the ousting of Mrs Kemblewick. It did seem slightly implausible that she was Joy Cartier and her landlord was Joe Carter; she and Joe had laughed about it when they had first met. It was much more believable that she was lying about who she was.
She couldn’t even get through the front door, there were so many wasps. She had legal access to her back garden through Finn’s garden. There was a side gate that allowed her to walk through his garden and into hers. She hadn’t used it yet, though she had every right to do so. She thought that it would be the polite thing to do to check with Finn before she strolled across his land. But since the man was an arse, she certainly wasn’t going to extend that courtesy to him.
She opened his back gate, which legally had to be kept unlocked, and walked purposefully towards her own gate, biting her lip as she hoped she could get past unnoticed. She would just walk across his garden as if she had every right to do so, which of course she did. Five metres away, four, three… and if he had noticed her he hadn’t come out and yelled at her yet. Suddenly something in Finn’s downstairs window caught her eye, and despite her best intentions to be in and out in mere seconds, she couldn’t help but look.
There was Finn, stark naked, drying his wet hair with a towel.

If you enjoyed these chapters, you can buy your copy of Beneath the Moon and the Stars here.

Amelia Thorne releases Beneath the Moon and the Stars! Chapter 2!

Tomorrow is publication day for Amelia Thorne! Exciting times. Yesterday you could read chapter one from her novel Beneath the Moon and the Stars, which is published by Carina. To refresh your memory, here is the blurb.

Home, sweet home…
Joy Cartier has been to some of the most beautiful places in the world – but none of them have ever felt like home. So moving into a tiny cottage in the idyllic village of Bramble Hill, walking distance from her childhood home, seems like the perfect plan.
That is, until she gets there. The surly inhabitants of Britain’s Friendliest Village are anything but welcoming. Even her neighbour, reclusive Hollywood star Finn Mackenzie, takes one look at her and walks in the other direction.
But when the village animosity steps up a gear, it is the infuriatingly brooding Finn who keeps coming to her rescue. Slowly Joy begins to realise that maybe a happy home isn’t about where you live, but who you’re with…

IMG_1396.JPG And now, without further ado, here is the second chapter.

Chapter Two

The Pride was a rustic, country pub, with low beamed ceilings and a great fireplace which Joy could imagine sitting by in the winter months, chatting with her new friends. Zach and Casey were funny and friendly and the fact that she wouldn’t be getting involved with either of them made things very easy and comfortable between them. She would just have to ignore the way her heart raced every time Zach brushed against her or looked at her.
The unfriendliness of the locals didn’t seem to be a problem either. Chloe, standing behind the bar and serving them, was as overenthusiastic as a puppy. She was sweet and had a huge smile that lit up her entire face.
‘So you’re friends with Zach?’ Chloe said, finally diverting her attention from the man himself, as he chatted with her.
‘She’s my friend actually,’ Casey said and Joy was thrown by the slight protective tone to his voice.
Zach obviously picked up on the tone as well and he slid an arm round Joy’s waist, clearly trying to piss his brother off or make him jealous. Little did he know. ‘He’s always been the same Joy, never wanted to share his toys.’ He turned back to Chloe. ‘Joy’s just moved in next door, so I’m just showing her the sights, making her feel welcome.’
Chloe let out a girly, high-pitched giggle, twisting her hair round her finger.
Joy looked around at the scattering of customers. Was it her imagination or did the pub suddenly go quieter when Zach announced that she had moved in next door? They were bound to be curious about any newcomers to their tiny village, but the room seemed colder all of a sudden. Although a nearby pair of older men were seemingly focused on a game of chess, and three old ladies – all supping pints of dark coloured bitter and wearing thick woolly cardigans, despite the heat of the night – were chatting quietly in a small booth. None of them seemed to be interested in her. She must have imagined it.
Sitting in the corner, reading a paper, was Finn Mackenzie. And there it was, the huge tidal wave of desire crashing over her again. She could see why Casey was head over heels in love with him. The permanent scowl did nothing to detract from his appearance.
She hadn’t made the best first impression on him. But even if she wasn’t his type, they should at least be civil to each other for the sake of neighbourly relations. She turned back to Chloe.
‘Can I get a pint of whatever Finn is drinking?’
Casey and Zach sucked in their breath.
‘Seriously, you really want to go there?’ Zach said.
‘This is not going to be pretty.’ Casey shook his head in warning.
‘Look, I’m not chatting the man up. I just think we started off on the wrong foot after I got ice cream all down him earlier. If we’re going to live next to each other, it makes sense that we can at least be on talking terms.’
Chloe put a pint of bitter on the bar. ‘Good luck.’
‘When he shoots you down, we’ll be over in the corner.’ Zach gestured to the part of the pub that was the furthest away from Finn.
A smile and a free pint went a long way with most men, so she picked up the bitter and walked over to him.
‘Finn, hi,’ she said, gaining his attention. His eyes cast over her for a second, before he returned his gaze to the paper again. She was undeterred – determined to get one civil word from him, she pressed on. ‘Look I know we started badly, but I’m sure we can at least be polite when we see each other. I’m Joy Cartier and…’
‘I don’t care,’ he said, without even looking up.
Annoyed, she stepped closer. ‘I’m not hitting on you and I know I’m not your type but…’
He looked up, appraising her with what appeared to be a look of disgust. ‘You’ve got that right; you are most definitely not my type. Now I suggest you run along back to your friends.’
He turned back to the paper again and Joy felt her jaw clenching at the dismissal. She slammed the bitter down on top of his newspaper, so it splashed over the glass, soaking the article he was reading. ‘You’re welcome.’
With that she turned and stormed back to the warmer side of the pub.
*

Finn watched her go. The girl could certainly flounce. The black dress she was wearing seemed to flounce as well; it shook dramatically around her bum and legs as she moved. Damn it. He didn’t like short women. He was so big that kissing someone small was always a problem. And redheads? No way, not again. He would just ignore the flash of heat that surged through him when she had walked over.
Joy Cartier though, not Jo Carter as everyone thought. Joy Cartier from Ascot. So she was rich. She probably had a pony called Princess and a butler called James. Even the way she said Cartier screamed of wealth, not Car-te-er but Car-te-yay. She drove a Range Rover too, big flashy thing that had probably never seen a fleck of mud in its life. He didn’t like snobs.
As she walked, the eyes of every single person in the pub followed her. They weren’t friendly either, some glared at her with mistrust, but most eyes were filled with pure venomous hatred.
He pushed away the sudden need to protect her. He forced his eyes away from her and back to his paper. The ale stain was spreading slowly across the article about The Dark Shadow that he had been avidly reading. He tried to pick out the words through the watery mess. He would not get involved.
*

Joy knew she had a big, stupid grin on her face. Apart from the cretin in the corner, life in the tiny village had started just as she had imagined it would. She already had two friends and was sitting in her local, putting the world to rights. Zach was very funny and, as Casey said, very charming and attentive. Finn was a git, but she wouldn’t let that spoil her mood.
Casey got up to get another round in, coincidentally at the same time that Finn went to the bar. As the appreciative gaze from Zach returned, Joy excused herself to go to the toilet.
It was as she was washing her hands that Chloe came into the toilet behind her. Joy turned round to speak to her, but she was thrown by the look on her face. Gone was the giddy over exuberance and huge smile – her eyes were dark, filled with hate.
Chloe grabbed Joy by the scruff of the neck and threw her against the wall. Pain seared through her as something stabbed into the back of her shoulder. Joy reacted instinctively, without thought. Her self-defence teacher had taught her well and in that moment when the mind was still processing the attack, her body seemingly reacted by itself. She kneed Chloe hard in the stomach and as she staggered back, Joy kicked her legs out from under her and slammed her into the floor, pinning her down with her foot to her chest.
Shit.
She hadn’t meant to do that. But as Chloe struggled against her, she didn’t think it was safe to let her up any time soon.
‘What’s your problem?’ Joy said, concerned by the amount of blood that was pouring down her arm. She looked round to see some kind of nail or picture hook hanging out of the wall, which Chloe had inadvertently thrown her against.
‘Zach’s mine,’ Chloe growled.
‘Seriously!! You’ve just attacked me over Zach? Honey, I have absolutely no interest in Zach whatsoever. Casey has already warned me off him, says he’s with a different woman every week. I have no desire to be another notch on his bedpost. I’ve just moved next door to him, that’s all.’
‘He loves me. Those other women mean nothing to him. He’s just sowing his seed. When he’s finished, he’ll come back to me. You’ll see. He’s mine, so keep your filthy hands off him.’
Joy shook her head at the lack of comprehending on Chloe’s part. ‘And you’re welcome to him.’
‘And Casey is with one of my friends, so you can’t have him.’
‘He…? Erm… I’m not interested in Casey either.’ That was a turn up for the books.
‘Or Finn…’
‘The man’s an arse, I’m definitely not interested in him.’
All the fight seemed to go out of Chloe. ‘Zach does love me.’
Still not sure whether to let her up, Joy kept her foot on Chloe’s chest a moment longer. ‘I’m sure he does.’
The toilet door suddenly opened and another lady that worked behind the bar came in. Joy presumed she was the pub landlady. She was a large, short woman who would look right at home on a rugby field.
‘What the hell is going on here?’
Joy thought this might be an opportune moment to let Chloe off the floor. ‘Just a difference of opinion, right Chloe? I think we’ve sorted things out now.’
Chloe scrabbled up, clearly still winded by the knee to the stomach, and shot Joy a filthy look. ‘She attacked me Pam, said I was to stay away from Zach, she just threw me to the ground for no reason.’
Joy opened her mouth to protest, but stopped. The landlady’s face was like an open book. Joy could tell that Pam knew Chloe was lying, Pam clearly knew of Chloe’s inappropriate infatuation for a man who didn’t return her feelings, and she had already seen the blood trickling down Joy’s arm. But Pam had already decided whose side she was on, and it wasn’t the side where the customer was always right.
‘How dare you come into my pub and attack my staff like this. Get out now.’
‘But…’
Pam took a threatening step towards her and, recognising that that was one fight she certainly didn’t want to have, Joy held up her hands in a symbol of defeat and surrender. ‘I’m going.’
‘And don’t you dare show your face in this pub again.’
Joy scooted out, past Pam and into the pub. She hurried over to Zach’s table and grabbed her jacket.
‘Hey, where you going? I’ve just bought you a drink.’ Casey said, as he sat back down.
‘I’ve got to go. Sorry, you boys stay here, enjoy your evening. Don’t worry about me.’
‘Are you ok?’ Zach stood up, suddenly filled with concern. ‘You’re bleeding. Here, let me walk you back.’
She edged to the door. ‘No, I’m fine. My house is only a minute away. I’ll be fine. Stay here, please and finish your drinks.’
With concerned looks from both of them, she hurried out the pub.
*

Finn glared at Joy as she ran out the pub. He felt annoyed by the protective feelings she provoked in him.
Chloe was about as unhinged as Kathy Bates’s character in Misery so when he had seen her stalking into the bathroom after Joy, he’d known it was going to lead to some confrontation. He had to physically stop himself from going into the bathroom after them. He was shocked to see Joy hurrying out of the bathroom a few minutes later, bleeding and shaken, but stunned that Pam had to physically help Chloe out of the bathroom seconds after Joy had left. Little Joy Cartier had obviously given as good as she’d got. But he still had this need to go after her to make sure she was ok.
He would not get involved. That would only lead down one path and he wasn’t going to let that happen again.
His eyes flitted to Mrs Brannigan who was hurriedly finishing her pint and heading out the door after Joy. Albert Cole, with a dark look of venom in his eyes, met her at the door and with a mutual nod of understanding between them they quickly left.
Finn was already on his feet as he slammed down the pint that he knew would now go to waste. He cursed Joy for making him care and stormed out of the pub after them.
*

Outside, Joy slipped off her shoes and leaving her jacket on top of them, she walked down to the edge of the small pond. Moonlight bathed the waters with silvery ribbons. The village was so quiet. There was not a single sound to be heard. It was a beautiful place and she was so desperate to finally find a place that she could call home. But now it seemed that Bramble Hill would go the same way as the other places she had tried, though she had never left because she had been involved in a fight before. She had thought the tiny little village would be the answer. London and the other big cities, where her neighbours had barely said two words to her for the entire time she had lived there, certainly hadn’t been.
She hadn’t even been here a day and she had alienated her neighbour by spilling ice cream down him, had a fight with a barmaid and been banned from her local. It wasn’t the rose-tinted start to village life she had hoped for. Suddenly she was pushed hard from behind and as she tumbled head first into the inky cold water she heard a man speak.
‘Piss off back to Ascot you little bitch,’
But then she also heard a far off shout that sounded like, ‘Oi, leave her alone.’
The coldness of the water was shocking against her hot skin, reeds closed around her like fingers, dragging her down as she fought against them to reach the surface. She gasped out as her head burst through the water and she struggled against the reeds to get to the side. She grabbed a log and pushed her hair out of her eyes, shivering against the cold.
Finn was standing on the edge of the pond, his expression thunderous and she wondered if he was capable of any other expression.
‘Oh very good, payback for me covering you with ice cream was it? A bit childish, but yes revenge is certainly a dish best served cold.’ She was trying to laugh it off, keep some dignity even though she looked like a drowned rat, but she had been shocked by the maliciousness of the push. She heaved herself out of the cold water and clambered up onto her knees, aware of pain in her ankle and shin. The heat of the night did nothing to stop the chill of the cold water on her skin.
‘It wasn’t me,’ he said.
She looked around; the village was quiet and deserted. ‘Well who then? The ghost of the pond perhaps. Oh was it Chloe?’
‘No she was still clutching her stomach when I left. People here are not going to take kindly to you after what you did.’
‘To Chloe? She attacked me, I just defended myself –’
‘I’m not talking about that nut job, everyone round here knows what’s she’s like – though beating her up certainly isn’t going to curry favour with the locals. I’m talking about Mrs Kemblewick.’
She looked up at him in confusion. He was a lot bigger than her, but from her position kneeling on the floor, the feeling of intimidation that seemed to seep from him was certainly more prevalent. She moved to get up, but quickly realised that the pain in her ankle was from a bad twist or sprain. She was determined that he wouldn’t know he had hurt her as well as soaking and embarrassing her, so she stayed where she was. She would wait till he had gone before she hobbled home. She shivered again.
‘Who’s Mrs Kemblewick?’
‘The lady you kicked out so you could move in. Classy, you don’t even know who was living there. Did Daddy’s solicitor handle everything for you?’
Her head was swimming with cold, confusion and pain and he clearly wasn’t going any time soon. She stood carefully, deliberately trying not to put any weight on her ankle. Her dress clung to her and she realised her bra had come undone at the back. To her absolute horror as she stood, one of her breasts fell out the top of her dress.
To her surprise, as she quickly scooped her breast back in, Finn’s coat was suddenly around her. It was huge, swamping her from neck to toe, making her feel like a child in her dad’s clothes. It was warm and smelt earthy.
She glared at him. ‘What the hell is wrong with you? You push me in the pond, then hang around so you can see how humiliated I am, give me some cryptic warning about some Mrs Kemblewick and then give me your coat because you suddenly feel guilty?’
‘As I said, it wasn’t me and if you don’t want my coat I’ll take it back.’
‘Fine.’ Joy shrugged out of it and passed it back to him, then wobbled a bit when she inadvertently put weight on her twisted ankle. Finn grabbed her arm to stop her falling back in.
‘You’re bleeding.’
Joy looked down at her shoulder. ‘I know, where Chloe attacked me, silly cow, threw me against a picture hook.’
‘I meant your shin.’
Joy glanced down and sure enough her shin was pouring with blood from a large gash just underneath her knee. Though the water was probably making it look worse than it was.
‘Just… go away Finn. You don’t like me; you’ve made that perfectly clear…’
Just then Casey came running down the banks towards them, closely followed by Zach.
‘What happened?! Joy, are you ok?’ Casey shrugged out of his jacket and wrapped it round her.
‘Someone pushed her in,’ Finn said.
‘Over Mrs Kemblewick?’ Casey said, rubbing her arms trying to get her warm.
Finn nodded then turned to walk away but stopped when he came face to face with Zach. If she thought the look of anger and hate that he had given her was bad enough, it was nothing in comparison to the look he gave Zach. It was pure venomous loathing. Zach stepped back under the weight of it, and with another filthy look in his direction, Finn stormed off.
Zach watched him go, then quickly moved to her side.
‘Are you hurt?’ he said, his arm round her shoulders.
‘No, not really – my ankle is twisted, I’ve cut my shin, but my pride is hurt more than anything.’
‘Here, lean on me, I’ll help you get back.’
Casey grabbed Joy’s shoes and jacket and with Zach supporting her she hobbled the short distance back to her house. On the way, she explained what had happened between her and Chloe and then with Finn and the pond.
‘It wasn’t Finn,’ Casey said, as he opened her front door for her. ‘I know he can be a moody sod, but there’s no way he would do that.’
Zach nodded. ‘Me and Finn don’t get on, as you no doubt saw, but I’d have to agree with Casey, Finn would never do something like that.’
Joy sighed as Zach helped her onto the sofa.
‘Then who, and more importantly why?’
Zach moved into the kitchen, probably to get some ice and Casey sat next to her.
‘My guess would be Albert Cole and Mrs Brannigan, they left the pub straight after you. I only thought it odd when Finn got up and went after them. He must have known something was wrong.’
Zach came back with a bowl of water and a towel. He knelt at her feet and started to clean up her cut. There was something about the way he ran the damp cloth up her leg that was incredibly intimate. His eyes were on hers as he moved the cloth over her and swallowing the desire to suddenly lean forward and kiss him, she tore her eyes from him and focused on Casey instead.
‘Who’s Mrs Kemblewick?’
‘A very sweet old lady that lived here for twenty years or more – so say the gossips.’ Casey said. ‘It seems she was the lover of the man that owned the house…’
‘Joe?’ That was a surprise. Her landlord was young, very good looking and had struck her as a bit of a ladies’ man. Who knew those ladies were of the elderly variety?
‘His father apparently, Eric Carter from Ascot. He would turn up two or three times a week, keep her entertained, so to speak. He died a few months ago, leaving the house to his child. Joe then gave Mrs Kemblewick notice that if she wanted to stay there she would have to start paying rent, seemingly paying rent in sexual favours for the last twenty years wasn’t going to cut it with the recently bereaved offspring. Mrs Kemblewick, having no income of her own, was forced into a retirement home. Something that the residents of Bramble Hill were less than impressed with. She died last week and I think the locals are baying for blood.’
Zach moved to sit on her other side, so he could clean up her shoulder.
‘We all thought that it was Joe Carter that was moving in. Or Jo as in Joanne. When you introduced yourself to me as Joy Cartier and told me you were renting, I knew we were going to have some problems. Though I didn’t expect this,’ Casey said.
‘Are you saying that my landlord Joe kicked out some old lady from her home and I’m now being punished for it?’
‘Sums it up, yes.’ Casey eyed his brother suspiciously over her shoulder.
Joy turned round to see what Zach was doing and regretted it immediately when she nearly clashed mouths with him. She shuffled away from him and he moved back as well.
‘Er… your cut to your shoulder is pretty deep and as it was a nail, I’d recommend getting a tetanus jab.’
She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘And what the hell is this thing with Chloe about?’
‘She is an absolute fruit loop. I slept with her, three, four years ago, just one drunken night. She’s been like my stalker ever since. I’ve made it clear that it was a one night only thing, that I’m not interested, but she won’t listen. Sorry about that. I’ll talk to her.’
‘So… that’s your thing is it, sleeping with a different woman each week, not worrying about the broken hearts you leave behind?’
‘No.’
‘Yes,’ Casey said. ‘She summed you up pretty quickly.’
‘With a little help from you no doubt.’ Zach glared at his brother. ‘I’m looking for love, Joy. It’s just very hard to find. And when you know that the person you’re with is not the one you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, there’s no point in continuing with it is there?’
His eyes were so honest and she suddenly felt like she’d found a kindred spirit. That’s what she had felt about all the places she had lived in over the last few years. She knew almost instantly that a place wasn’t going to be her home, so there seemed little point in sticking it out.
She felt her frown soften slightly. ‘I suppose not.’
She smirked when she heard Casey let out a sigh of exasperation behind her.
‘Listen both of you, get out. I need to think about how I’m going to persuade the village I’m really very lovely.’
Zach stood and with the sexy smile fixed back on his face, he moved towards the door. ‘I’m already persuaded.’
Casey rolled his eyes as he watched him go, then turned back to her. ‘You ok?’
She nodded.
He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. ‘I’ll probably see you tomorrow.’
She smiled as she watched him go. Damn his sexual preference.
*

Finn was lying in bed when he heard Joy come upstairs and start to move about in her room. He switched the TV off and listened.
The four houses in Blackberry Row used to be two larger houses and were converted into four smaller cottages, many years before. He shared floorboards with Joy. Zach shared them with Mr and Mrs Butterworth. The split had been done very successfully downstairs, so that you would never know that it once had been one large house. But up in the smaller back bedroom, they had either run out of time, money or patience and the dividing wall between his and Joy’s houses was so thin that he could hear everything. This hadn’t been a problem when Mrs Kemblewick lived there. Her bedroom, the one she shared with the previous owner of the house, was the front one, so Finn didn’t get to hear their sexual antics two or three times a week. But Joy, it seemed, preferred the amazing view that the back bedroom gave, which was the very reason he had chosen it to sleep in too.
The wall was so thin, or built so badly, that he could even see a thin sliver of light underneath the skirting boards. He rolled over to his side to watch the shadows move around the room as she did, finding it oddly comforting to have her there.
He heard her on the phone, putting the person she was calling on loud speaker as she no doubt got undressed.
‘Hello my lovely,’ said a man’s voice, which gave Finn an unexpected surge of jealousy.
‘Hey Al,’
Alex. That was her brother.
‘How’s your first night going?’
Finn heard the hesitation in her voice. She clearly wanted to tell Alex all about Chloe and the pond incident and the nasty man next door, but she didn’t.
‘Fine.’
‘Joy, I know that tone, what’s happened? Is it that moody sod that you spilt ice cream over, is he giving you grief?’
Little did Alex know that the moody sod next door was the least of Joy’s worries.
‘No, well I don’t think I’m going to win him round with my famous apple pie, but … everything’s fine. I’ve met some other people, there’s Casey, he’s lovely. I may give him your number actually; you might be able to advise him on a few things.’
‘Oh yes?’
‘Well I’ll let him tell you all about it, it wouldn’t be fair for me to tell you. And I’ve met his brother Zach who lives the other side of me.’
There was a pause from Alex and Finn could hear the laughter in his voice when he spoke.
‘And Zach, is he lovely too?’
Joy laughed. ‘Yes he is, but by all accounts he’s a complete tart. Casey warned me off him, so I’m staying well clear. We can just be friends.’
‘Men and women can’t be friends.’
Finn nodded in agreement. He certainly didn’t want to be friends with Joy, because then it would be friends who would hang out together, friends that would kiss, friends that would… No it would be better all round if he stayed as the moody sod next door.
‘Sure they can. You’ve got lots of women friends,’ Joy said.
‘That’s because I’m gay. That’s like being an honorary female. Besides they know they’re never going to get anywhere with me, so they don’t have to worry about impressing me or making me jealous, they can just be themselves. That’s the only time male/female friendships works. You can sort of be friends with the husband of a female friend, that’s ok as long as the female friend is laidback enough or comfortable enough in their relationship not to get all jealous and psycho every time the two of you speak. Other than that, being friends with a man doesn’t work, especially not when you’re both single and both attracted to each other.’
‘Well I’m going to prove you wrong. Absolutely nothing is going to happen between me and Zach.’
‘How much do you want to bet?’
‘A million pounds.’
‘Done.’
Finn sat up. Bloody hell. Was she that rich that she could so easily bandy about that kind of money?
‘Anyway, I’m going to sleep now, that’s if I can shift Darcy off the bed, she’s slept all afternoon, lazy sod.’
‘Joy, are you sure you’re ok?’
‘I’m fine, everything’s okay. Goodnight. I love you.’
‘Love you too, kid.’
There was a beep to indicate the call had finished and then there was a heavy sigh.
‘Yeah, everything’s fine Al, the moody sod next door hates me, the locals are going to run me out of the town with pitchforks and burning torches, I was pushed in a pond, had a fight with a barmaid and I’m now covered in so many cuts and bruises I look like I’ve had a run in with Mike Tyson. Yeah everything is absolutely fine.’ She sighed again. ‘Shift your arse Darcy, you big fatty.’
There was the sound of the bed creaking, the light went out and then silence.
Finn lay back on his pillow. She’d not had the best start to village life and he was part of the reason for that. He couldn’t help feeling guilty. The villagers were going to make her life hell; he didn’t need to add to it. In fact, he was probably the only one that could stop it. His position in the village as local celebrity should be able to afford him some weight in these matters. But then again, her moving out wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. Then he could just go back to his uncomplicated life.
Suddenly there was the sound of a really loud fart.
He sat up in surprise. Surely not.
‘Darcy, I swear, if that stinks, I’m shoving a cork up your bum.’
He smiled to himself. Maybe having her next door wouldn’t be so bad after all. Just as long as they weren’t friends.

If you enjoyed this chapter, check back here tomorrow to read chapter 3 or you can pre-order your copy here.

EXCLUSIVE! One Hundred Proposals by Holly Martin, part II

Today I promised you the second chapter of the best-selling author Holly Martin. Don’t forget to pre-order your copy at Amazon. And now, without further ado, chapter two. Enjoy!

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Chapter Two

I woke the next day with a start, being quite simply torn from a dream about Jack – a memory of playing with him on the beach as he tried to put wet seaweed down my back. As I became more conscious, the loss of losing him hit me all over again.
I knew immediately that someone was in the room with me. I was face down on my pillow and I leaned up and swept my curtain of tangled brown hair off my face. Harry was sitting next to me on the bed, sipping his coffee and reading my very dog-eared copy of The Hobbit.
I scowled at him. I wasn’t a morning person.
‘Do you not knock?’
Harry’s attention didn’t even waver from the page he was reading. ‘You gave me a key.’
‘I could have been naked.’
He put his book down and looked at me. ‘All the more reason for me not to knock.’
I blushed and climbed off the bed.
Most mornings I woke to this. I must admit, it was a lovely way to wake up. One night, after these early morning visits had become more regular, I went to bed in my sexiest lingerie in the hope that the following morning he would come in and be so turned on that he might immediately ravish me. But not only did he not even bat an eyelid when he saw me in my black, satin nightie, he was more excited about his McDonalds breakfast and the free hash brown he had been given by the girl flirting with him behind the counter than what I had to offer. To add insult to injury, as I tried to arrange myself subtly into a sexy pose on the bed next to him as he chomped through his Bacon and Egg McMuffin, I had simply slithered off the bed into a crumpled heap on the floor. Nowadays it seemed much easier and more comfortable to sleep in my regular pyjamas.
Harry handed me a coffee fresh from the café round the corner. I took a sip – it was made exactly how I liked it, with three sugars and a dash of hazelnut syrup. As I went to take another sip, I realised that a small heart had been drawn in the froth on the top. I smiled and hovered near his side, peering round him to the brown paper bag I could see tucked by his hip.
He was busy reading so I coughed loudly to gain his attention. When he glanced up, I looked deliberately at the bag.
‘How do you know this is for you?’
‘Because you always bring me nice things from the café. What is it this morning, an apricot Danish, ooh a walnut plait or…’
He whisked it out the bag and showed it to me, and the words dried in my throat. Iced into the top of my favourite cinnamon swirl were the words ‘Marry Me.’
I had almost forgotten about this silly hundred proposals thing. I’d hoped he’d forgotten as well. But now it looked like he really did mean to torture me. One hundred days. One hundred different ways to break my heart.
I looked at him and he was watching me hopefully.
‘It’s certainly unique.’ I took the bun from him, and picked a currant out of it, averting my gaze from his. I forced my voice to sound normal before I spoke again. ‘If I bite into this am I at risk of swallowing a diamond ring?’
He shook his head. ‘No ring. You said a ring was clichéd. Besides, why propose with diamonds when you can propose with cinnamon and coffee?’
‘You should take a picture of it before I eat it. Put it on the blog.’ I had a huge lump in my throat.
‘Good idea.’ He whipped out his phone, pressed a few buttons and pointed it in my direction. I held it out for him to get a good angle and realised my hands were shaking. Harry realised it too. To my shame, tears swam in my eyes.
Harry was off the bed in a second. ‘What’s wrong, what’s happened?’
‘Nothing, I’m fine. Just tired.’ I stepped away from him but he pulled me back, holding me tight and squashing the bun between us. I breathed him in, his wonderful earthy smell as he started to stroke my back.
‘Did something happen with Tiny Tim?’
I couldn’t keep up with the lie any longer and it had achieved nothing anyway.
‘We broke up,’ I said into his chest, hoping that would explain why I was soaking his shirt with my tears.
‘Oh honey, I’m sorry.’ His hand moved to my hair and my breath caught in my throat. ‘Had you been seeing him long?’
Oh what a tangled web we weave.
‘A few weeks. It wasn’t serious, but I really liked him. But obviously I liked him more than he liked me.’
‘Well then the man’s an idiot. Who wouldn’t love a girl in a cow print onesie?’
I giggled.
He tilted my face up to look at him.
‘Right, enough tears. Any man who makes you cry is not worth it.’
If only he knew.
‘Anyway, I have a day out planned for you today, so stop moping around and get yourself showered and dressed.’
He released me and we both looked at the squashed bun. Although it looked a bit worse for wear, the words ‘Marry Me’ were still very obvious on the top. Harry took a photo and I quickly ate it so I wouldn’t have to stare at the empty words any longer. It tasted good, despite the fact that with every mouthful my heart broke a little bit more.
‘So, as proposals go, is this what you imagined for yourself?’ Harry asked, when it was gone.
‘Undoubtedly. The perfect proposal. So you don’t have to bother with the other ninety-eight different ways now. Write on the blog that you bought me a cinnamon swirl and I caved. I’m a cheap date, easily pleased.’
Harry pulled a face. ‘It was a bit cheap and naff, wasn’t it? Ok, for my next one it will be something huge.’
‘Really, the cinnamon swirl was cute… and don’t underestimate the value of cute.’
But Harry was already walking away into the office, scrolling through his phone as he went.
‘Harry, are you listening? Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a personalised cinnamon swirl.’
‘Get in the shower, woman, I need to make some calls.’
I sighed. I had to sway him from this path. Ninety-eight heart-breaking days stretched ahead of me like an endless desert, with no respite from the sun.
I got in the shower and stuck my head under the stream.
No, I could do this. Proposals were my entire waking life. My dreams were plagued by them too. Something like this could only be good for business. I just had to become immune to the words. They were empty and meaningless. And now I knew that I was to expect it every day, I could prepare myself for it, pretend in my head the words meant something else.
I got dressed quickly and walked into the office.
‘Hey.’ Harry was busy typing. ‘Our blog has nineteen followers already.’
‘Our Proposer’s Blog? This hundred proposals malarkey?’
‘Malarkey? I’m offended.’ He smiled up at me briefly before returning his attention to the screen. ‘Yes, I guess they want to see what I come up with next.’
I leaned over him to see what he had written and caught a whiff of his wonderful clean earthy smell. There was the close-up picture of my squashed bun, and another picture I hadn’t realised he had taken – of me eating it, my hair a full bird’s nest, my face red and blotchy from the tears, dressed in my rather unflattering cow print onesie. Great!
Under the picture was Harry’s blog.

Proposer’s Blog

Day 2: The Cinnamon Swirl Proposal. Location: Suzie’s bedroom (I assure you, nothing saucy going on here).

Is the way to a woman’s heart through her stomach?
Our Suzie McKenzie has a very sweet tooth and so I thought to charm her with a sweet proposal of her own. Nadia’s Bakery, St Patrick’s Road makes the best Cinnamon Swirls in the world and it’s one of Suzie’s all-time favourite things to eat for breakfast. So when I explained the situation to the lovely Nadia this morning she was more than happy to provide me with a personalised one along with a heart-topped latte.
So what was Suzie’s reaction? She seemed a bit blasé about it actually. Wolfed it down and barely registered the words.

That wasn’t true of course, but it was better he wrote that than writing that I burst into tears.

I always thought those proposers that pop the question with a ring at the bottom of the champagne glass were silly – who wants to fish the diamond ring out of the toilet a few days later? Though now Suzie’s eaten my proposal, there’s nothing left of it apart from the icing on her lips.

I immediately checked my lips and I saw Harry smirk out of the corner of my eye.

Next time, I will do something grand. Something she can’t possibly miss. Plus, who would really say yes over a 59p Cinnamon Swirl?

‘That makes me sound shallow,’ I said, squeezing past him to log on to my own computer.
‘Not shallow, just greedy. And don’t bother logging on, we’re going out.’
‘I can’t, it’s our busiest time of the year, you know that. Three days before Valentine’s Day, all those last minute Larrys will be phoning us up for support.’
‘I’ve already diverted the calls to your mobile and you can still pick up your emails, besides today is completely work orientated – we’re sourcing new locations, so stop making excuses and get your boots on.’
When I hesitated, he grabbed my hand and pulled me out the office.
I laughed. ‘Where are we going?’
‘First stop, we’re going to buy you some decent pyjamas, so the next boyfriend won’t be scared off by seeing you in that onesie.’
I stopped dead and when he turned to look at me, his eyes were kind.
‘Jack bought it for me,’ I said, quietly.
‘I know.’
‘I’m not getting rid of it.’
‘I’m not saying throw it out. But I know Jack, he had a wicked sense of humour and you know as well as I do that he bought it for you as a joke because you used to take the piss out of onesies and people that wore them. You know that he never intended for you to wear it at all let alone every day since his death. If you want to keep it, keep it. All I’m talking about is options. Something else you could wear that would show off that fabulous figure of yours.’
I opened my mouth to protest as the last words he said slammed into my brain. Fabulous figure?
He moved his hands to my shoulders and when he spoke his voice was soft.
‘I know you’re trying to keep your brother alive, keep him close, but he would be cringing if he could see you wearing that thing and you know that. Keep him close with your memories of him, not by compromising who you are.’
I blinked. That was very profound for half nine on a Thursday morning.
‘I’m just saying, the Suzie McKenzie I know and love wouldn’t be caught dead in something like that.’
‘I think it’s funny.’ I knew I sounded like a petulant child.
‘Yes, for about five minutes after you opened your present – it’s not quite so funny eight months later.’
He had a point. I’d washed it so many times that the white patches were now grey and the udders were looking decidedly limp.
‘And while we’re on the subject. You can stop wearing black as well. We’re not in the Victorian times anymore.’
He pulled me into the bedroom and I followed, still in shock over his brutal honesty. He opened my wardrobe and pulled out my favourite scarlet jumper dress. ‘You can wear this today with those purple leggings.’
They would clash horribly. I smiled
‘And you can wear them with those Barbie pink boots you love so much and…’ He rooted around in one of my drawers, finally found what he had been looking for, pulled it out and thrust it into my face. ‘This. You’ll wear this.’
‘But –’
‘No buts. Get changed. You have five minutes.’
I stared after his retreating back and then down at the black shirt and black trousers I had put on out of habit. In the months after Jack’s death my taste in bright and garish clothes had seemed disrespectful somehow. Was one month too soon to return back to my colourful spots, stripes and swirls? Was two months? But now it had been eight months and I had seemingly been wearing black ever since. My bright clothes even seemed to have a thin layer of dust on them as they hung forgotten in my wardrobe. Harry had a point. Again.
I came downstairs a few minutes later, dressed in my purple leggings, scarlet jumper, pink boots and my red and gold spotted sequinned beret that I adored and Jack hated because he said I looked like a toadstool. I felt lighter already.
Harry grinned when he saw me. ‘You look beautiful.’ He offered me his arm. ‘Now let’s go.’
I leaned into him and walked out into the early morning sunshine.
*

‘No way. I’m not doing that,’ I said, staring at the scene before me in horror. ‘There’s nothing romantic about that.’
‘Who says proposals have to be romantic?’ Harry said as he bent down to forcefully remove my boots.
‘It’s the rules. Flowers, fireworks, chocolates. A stuffed teddy with the words emblazoned across a red heart. Not this. Never this.’
‘I disagree.’
‘You would,’ I said as Harry pushed me gently but forcibly forwards in the queue.
‘I think proposals can be weird, funny or in the case of this little adventure, adrenaline filled.’
I was next.
‘If I die –’
‘I’ll wear a cow print onesie to your funeral. Now get up there.’
My phone rang in my pocket.
‘Oh I have to get that, shame I’ll miss my turn.’
But to my annoyance, Harry had already wrestled my phone from my pocket and had answered it. He was more than capable of dealing with our customers and he knew I knew that.
‘Are you going or what, love?’ asked a big gruff man whose face looked like it had been punched several times. His nose was bent in two places and he had a huge scar across his forehead. Had he sustained these injuries doing this? I shrunk back but Harry pushed me forward.
‘Yes she is, and send her as high as you can.’
The man nodded, somewhat evilly I thought.
I climbed the steps to my doom and they attached thin rubber cables to my harness. I kept my eyes on Harry as the man bounced behind me for a few seconds, causing me to bounce as well. A moment later I was propelled some ten feet into the air, a scream tearing from my throat. I fell back to the earth but no sooner had I touched the ground than I was sent back into the air again, this time even higher than the last.
We had been walking along the Thames when the sounds of screams had attracted us. As we rounded the corner, we saw the bungee trampolines and watched with amusement as we saw people screaming, being bounced higher and higher in the air. My amusement had quickly turned to horror when I realised Harry had paid for me to have a go, and that we had come here deliberately for this reason.
I screamed again as I flailed in the air, kicking my legs helplessly in the hope that it would slow my descent. Each time I thought I was going to crash into the ground, I came to a slow stop, bounced gracefully off the trampoline and was propelled back into the air again. As I was thrust into the air for the fifth time, a bubble of laughter escaped my throat. It was a rush – a terrifying, brilliant rush. The man bounced with me, sending me higher, and I roared with joy.
All too soon the experience was over, and the man slowed me down and stopped me. He unhooked me and I quickly clambered down the steps and ran straight into Harry’s arms, still laughing uncontrollably.
Finally my laughter subsided.
‘Thank you.’
‘You’re very welcome,’ he said, into my forehead. ‘You see, at this point, while your heart is still pounding furiously and with the grin plastered on your face, I would propose.’
‘And I would say yes.’
I felt him smile into my hair.
‘So one we can definitely add to our repertoire?’
‘Yes, I take it all back. I love it.’
‘They’re not here all the time, but the guy is going to give me his card as they go all round the UK. We can phone them up if need be and find out where they are.’
‘Excellent, it’s great to get contacts like this.’
‘Are you ready for the next part of our day?’
I pulled back, intrigued. ‘There’s more?’
‘Yes.’ He chivalrously picked up the bag containing the pyjamas he had bought me earlier. Very simple, very elegant satin pyjamas. I’d liked the black but Harry put his foot down and we’d eventually agreed on a dusty rose.
‘Was the phone call anything good?’
‘I’ve emailed over to him our basic package.’
I sighed. ‘That’s the fourth today.’
‘Hey, the basic package is a good little money earner. You know – on average – half the customers that buy the twenty pound package from us, come back and spend ten times that on a big extravagant proposal.’
‘I know, but at this time of year I kind of expect to get more big proposals rather than so many basic packages.’
Harry was right, we earned quite a bit from our basic package. For twenty pounds, we sent our customers a brochure of our top fifty proposals. Ideas ranging from the romantic to the ridiculous, top class restaurants to tiny little tucked away cafés strewn with fairy lights. We included days out, fun experiences and romantic getaways. We also included vouchers for discounts and special offers at these hotels and restaurants and if our customers went there, we also got ten percent of their final bill from the companies for introducing our customers to them in the first place. It also gave brief details of more elaborate proposals, something only we could organise, with the promise of a refund of the twenty pounds if they were to book one of the grander proposals with us.
‘Romance isn’t always about big gestures though,’ Harry said. ‘Sometimes it’s the words the man finds or the effort that he has gone to. It doesn’t have to be something expensive.’
‘I know that, the smaller gestures are sometimes the best, a message written in the sand on a favourite beach or a personalised cinnamon swirl.’ I nudged him as we walked along the road and he smiled. ‘But from a business point of view I’m not sure people paying us twenty pounds to send them to propose elsewhere is the best idea. They could spend a hundred pounds or more at these posh places. That’s a hundred pounds they could have spent with us.’
Harry switched sides with me and I wondered why as he put himself between me and two men who were arguing, placing his hand on the small of my back as he nudged me round them. I felt embarrassed by the goose bumps that suddenly exploded over my body at his touch.
Harry continued on as if he hadn’t noticed my heart leap out of my chest. ‘Most people have in their mind what kind of proposal they want to do before they contact us. For most of them it would involve some kind of romantic meal, so they’re not likely to spend their money with us anyway. By providing them with a list of romantic places to eat, not only do we get the twenty pounds but also any kickbacks from the restaurants too. We’ve probably earned more money from the basic package than we have from the big proposals – so I wouldn’t knock the smaller gestures if I were you. Come on, through here.’
Harry ducked into a tiny alleyway that wound round the corner out of sight. He knew London like the back of his hand and very rarely went on the underground. There was always so much more to see when on foot. I followed him, his hulking frame almost filling the alley wall to wall. The walls were covered in graffiti and chewing gum, but some of the pictures sprayed on the bricks were very skilful. As we came to an old boarded-up window, he stopped and as I drew near he pulled me to his side, with his hand at my waist, sending delicious shivers down my spine.
‘There’s a place called Bubblegum Alley in California, and a Chewing Gum Wall in Seattle, where millions of pieces of gum have been stuck on the walls. It’s so bright and colourful that what started as something gross has now been declared an official tourist attraction. People travel from miles around to see it and to add their own gum to it. Some have even created little works of art amongst the thousands of globules.’
He stood back a bit and pointed to the wall. There in a heart made from pink chewing gum were the words ‘Annie, marry me,’ also made from chewing gum.
‘Love can be found in the most unlikely of places, you just have to look for it.’
He stared down at me and for a moment I wasn’t sure if he was talking about him, or about me and him.
‘It doesn’t need to be about romance, just little heartfelt gestures.’
I smiled. ‘I wonder if she said yes.’
Harry pointed to the green letters written in globules of chewing gum underneath the heart. In big proud letters, the word ‘Yes’, stood out.
‘I like it.’ I grabbed my phone from my pocket and took a few shots. I had to put this on the website.
‘I knew you would.’
‘You see, I don’t need big gestures, so whatever you have planned for our next proposal, it doesn’t need to be a big yacht or a trip to the moon.’
He walked away, heading towards the sunlight that was piercing our gloom.
‘I’ll cancel the space rocket then.’
‘Harry, I’m serious. Don’t waste your money on me.’
He ignored me as we stepped out into the sunlight. He was incredibly generous with his money and he had a lot of it. He didn’t get a very good salary from me but he didn’t really need it. Years before, whilst travelling around America, he’d had the foresight to invest in a tiny little up-and-coming online social media site called Connected. He’d given a thousand dollars at the time, money he had won at a casino, and years later, when Connected had been the biggest social media site in America and probably the world, he had sold his shares for a huge sum. He’d never told me how much he got from that little endeavour. But it was enough that he could afford the huge house on the other side of the green from me, bought when the property prices had plummeted. And he always seemed to have enough money for little gifts and meals out.
‘Spending money on you is never a waste. And we’re running late now so we’re going to have to run.’
He grabbed my hand and started jogging through the streets, winding his way expertly through the other people.
‘We could catch the tube,’ I whined, as I tried to keep up with his long-legged pace.
‘Running’s much more fun,’ Harry said, without breaking his stride.
*

The Glade at Sketch was like nothing I’d ever seen before. With its white bricked front, Sketch looked like a simple townhouse – and we’d actually walked past the place before we’d realised it was there. But down the darkened staircase and to the left, a tranquil wooded glade had been transported from some fairy tale forest to this seemingly unassuming restaurant in central London. Trees covered every wall and surface, the leaves of which were painted in every shade of green and gold imaginable. A huge chandelier dominated the ceiling, casting delicate lights over every surface from its tangle of branches. Tiny gold fireflies danced around the walls and floor. Mirrored panels near the roof moved slowly, catching the light from the huge sun roof above us and sending its rays across the room as if the sun was moving through the trees. Wicker chairs, tables and sofas with huge green embroidered cushions were placed casually throughout the room as if they were garden furniture and we were all just simply sitting out in the garden somewhere, enjoying the sun.
‘Harry Forbes, we have a reservation for afternoon tea.’ Harry said to the beautiful waitress who looked like a woodland nymph with the plaits and twists in her hair, and her floaty dress.
The waitress showed us to our table and we quickly placed an order for tea. Breakfast tea for me, something that sounded like a rare tropical disease for Harry.
‘Harry, this place is beautiful.’ I couldn’t stop looking around, until my eyes met with his and I realised he’d been watching me. ‘Thank you for today.’
‘My pleasure. I just wanted you to have some fun. You’ve been so down lately.’ He paused, awkwardly, while he rearranged the cups on the table. ‘The food here is amazing.’
I reached across and squeezed his hand. ‘Thank you.’
The afternoon tea arrived just as Harry was poised to say something else. I reluctantly let him go so there was room for our cake stand on the table.
Harry was right, the food looked and tasted amazing. The sandwiches were all topped with extras like quail eggs and caviar, bringing a simple egg mayonnaise sandwich alive with an assault of different flavours.
There was an array of cakes, all tiny, mouth-watering bites of pure pleasure, some kind of trifle and of course delicious fresh fruit scones.
‘So tell me,’ Harry said around a mouthful of something chocolaty, ‘Tiny Tim, did you and he…?’
Oh God, Tiny Tim was going to come back and haunt me forever.
I picked up some kind of pink meringue that literally dissolved as soon as it touched my tongue. I licked my lips as I played for time.
‘Did we what?’ I smirked as Harry shifted uncomfortably, waving his hands around in what I presumed was some kind of representation of the act. The man had no problem discussing his sordid sex life but he was still awkward when discussing mine. I wanted to play him at his own game.
‘He liked to dress up,’ I said as I popped some kind of fruit tart in my mouth. The fruit was crystalized and was like an explosion on my tongue.
Harry’s eyes widened. ‘Like air hostess, police woman, cheerleader, that kind of thing?’
I shook my head. ‘Lots of different things really. One of my favourites was dressing up as a unicorn and he was a lion. He liked to take me from behind and he would roar when he came.’
Harry stared at me, his face unblinking. I picked up a tiny coffee éclair and caught the eye of a tiny little old lady sitting at the next table, her fruit tart poised halfway to her mouth. I blushed, realising she had heard every word.
Still, there was no going back now.
‘He liked to dress up as one of the flower pot men, Bill normally, I’m not sure why. I was always the flower, Weed. Then Bill would come at me with his big hose.’
The old lady leaned over to me. ‘Dear, do you have the name of the shop where you bought these costumes?’
‘I don’t I’m afraid, Tim always brought them with him. I will miss his big hose.’
Harry was still staring at me. ‘I didn’t realise you were into all that weird stuff.’
I licked the icing off the top of the éclair and popped it in my mouth, trying desperately to suppress my laughter but it was to no avail. I snorted so hard that a bubble of snot burst from my nose and I quickly had to wipe it away on my beautiful cotton serviette.
‘You’re joking?’ Harry looked almost relieved.
‘Of course I am.’
‘So you guys… didn’t…’
‘It’s none of your business. Just because you like to talk about all your sexploits, doesn’t mean the rest of us do.’
‘That’s a ‘no’ if ever I heard one.’ He smiled smugly. I wasn’t going to let him get away with that.
‘It’s a ‘yes’ actually, but it was just regular sex.’ I wanted to expand on that, regular sex sounded so boring. ‘Well as regular as three hour sex marathons can be. He had the stamina of a horse. We’d do it all over the flat. On the dining table, up against a wall, in the shower, in the kitchen, on top of the washing machine, backwards, forwards, sideways, doggy style.’
The old lady choked on her fruit scone.
‘Sideways?’ asked Harry.
‘Yes. You should try it, it’s great fun. Can you pass the sugar?’
I stared down at my tea. Sideways, how exactly would that work?
‘Tell me about your plans for the summer. You said you were thinking about going to New Zealand.’
Harry recovered himself well. ‘The land of the hobbits. I would love to. Maybe hire a camper van and drive from North to South. There’s so many things I want to do, but it’s more fun doing them with someone else.’
‘Sexy Samantha not keen?’
‘She’s definitely not the camper van sort. She’s more of the ‘five star hotel with daily spa treatments’ kind of girl. We should go.’
‘I would love that, I want to see the world, every tiny little pocket of it, but no girlfriend of yours is going to be happy about you taking another woman off on holiday. Sleeping together in the back of the camper van.’ I blushed as Harry’s eyebrows shot up. ‘I meant actually sleeping – not having sex.’
The old lady leaned in closer again, ready to catch the next instalment in my sex life.
‘I should hope not,’ Harry said, his tongue licking seductively up the side of his éclair. ‘I don’t have a lion costume.’
*

I sat back and watched the gold fireflies chase each other up the walls. I was so uncomfortably full, but everything was so hard to resist, that I’d had to eat it all.
We’d had a lovely time, chatting all afternoon, but one of the main topics of conversation from the other guests was the toilets and how funny they were. I had to check them out myself.
I excused myself from the table and, following the directions of the woodland nymph waitress, I walked through another restaurant to a very white room on the other side.
The stairs leading up to the toilets were a brilliant opulent white – looking like they led to somewhere much grander than just some toilets. I walked upstairs to a brightly lit room, the ceiling decorated with beautiful rainbow tiles, but as I reached the top I stopped in my tracks. Several pods sat in a white chamber at the top of the stairs, looking like white cocoons from an alien spaceship. They were about seven foot tall and tapered off like eggs at the top.
I looked around for the toilets but there was nothing else up here. On the other side of the room were several more pods. These pods were clearly the toilets and were obviously the reason for such amusement from the other guests.
I opened the door on one of them, expecting to hear some kind of space age whoosh and was slightly disappointed when I didn’t.
Inside was the weirdest toilet I had ever seen. There was no seat at all. I walked in and closed the door behind me. It was obviously some foreign kind of toilet where you stand. A long ceramic oval hung from the wall jutting out at the bottom to catch the waste. I stared at it – how on earth was I supposed to pee in that? Backwards seemed the only safe option. With a bit of negotiating I pointed my bum in the right direction and leaned forward into a sort of half squat. I quickly finished and after redressing I left the pod, dying to tell Harry about the very weird toilets. He was standing right outside and looked shocked to see me coming out of one of the pods.
‘What?’ I said
‘These are the boys’ toilets.’
I laughed. ‘No they’re not, the waitress pointed me up these stairs.’
‘Yes, the girls’ pods are over there.’ He pointed to the other side of the stairs where several pods were bathed in pink lights in comparison to the pods where I was that were bathed in blue.
Harry peered over my shoulder and burst out laughing. ‘Did the urinals not give you a clue?’
I looked back and gasped in horror. I had just peed in a urinal. Now he had pointed it out to me it was obvious. It wasn’t some weird foreign type toilet at all, just a bog standard urinal. I felt my cheeks glow crimson.
‘I’m intrigued. How exactly did you manage to pee in there?’
I quickly hurried to the sinks and washed my hands. ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
I heard Harry go into one of the pods, his laughter so loud I could hear him from the outside.

To see the rest of the story pre –order your copy of One Hundred Proposals now. Amazon link One Hundred Proposals

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EXCLUSIVE!!! One Hundred Proposals by Holly Martin

This is the first chapter from best-selling author Holly Martin’s new novel One Hundred Proposals. And tomorrow there’s more! Be sure to come back here for chapter two!!

Enjoy folks!

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Prologue

‘Ok, you can open your eyes now,’ Harry said.
I blinked in the gloom of the cave. Moonlight tumbled through the opening above us, reflecting off the waterfall as it cascaded into the pool below. We had been in Australia for just a few days but I knew it would never cease to amaze me. Dancing in the pockets of the cave walls were hundreds of fireflies, sparkling like fairy lights.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
The fireflies started to gather together and slowly a shape was formed. I frowned in confusion and then within seconds the words, ‘Suzie, Marry Me,’ stood proud against the cave walls, written by the fireflies.
I whirled round to face Harry in shock. ‘How did you do that?’ I looked back at the fireflies, not wanting to miss anything. Would they perhaps move to form the lyrics of my favourite song? Were they super trained fireflies and in a minute they’d all whip out their mini cheerleader pom-poms and start some kind of dance where they would balance precariously on each other’s backs?
‘It’s some kind of fruit juice, they love it.’
I fumbled in my bag for my camera. ‘We have to get a picture for the website.’
I fired off a couple of shots and I could see a few other tourists had entered the cave and were clearly waiting for my answer. They’d be waiting for a long time.
‘So what do you think?’ Harry said. ‘Is this the perfect proposal?’
‘It’s definitely one of your best, very romantic.’ I focused my attention on the photos I was taking. They were going to look fantastic with the waterfall in soft focus in the background and the fireflies in sharp detail set against the inky blue light of the moon.
‘But still not the perfect proposal?’
‘Not for me, but someone else would love it.’ I watched the faces of the other tourists fall at my callous response. ‘We’re not together, we just work with each other.’ One couple looked at me dubiously, so I pressed on. ‘Our company creates the perfect proposal, this kind of thing is our bread and butter.’
I resisted the sudden urge to rush over to them and start handing out business cards. As if reading my mind, Harry slung an arm round my shoulder, restraining me with his hand.
I looked up at him innocently but he didn’t seem convinced.
The tourists moved further down the cave, leaving us alone.
‘You always do that,’ Harry said.
‘What, promote our business? I know, I can’t help it. I’m just so proud of what we’ve achieved that I want to tell anyone that listens and anyone that doesn’t.’
‘No, not that. You always say our company, our business. It’s yours, you started it. I’m just the tech guy.’
It was just me to start with. I created the.PerfectProposal.com over two years ago when my boyfriend at the time proposed drunkenly to me over a greasy kebab. It struck me that maybe the menfolk of this world might need a little helping hand to create a proposal their girlfriends would remember forever. Although the greasy kebab is not one I’m likely to forget.
Harry was my web designer. When the business first started he would come by my office, the back bedroom in my home, every day to help update the website with my new ideas, photos and special offers. In the end it made sense to make him a permanent feature. Our website looked fantastic and as an online company this was integral to our success.
But Harry wasn’t just the geeky IT guy, far from it. He was the biggest man I had ever seen in my life, with large thighs and big feet. He had stubbly, dark hair and chocolate eyes. But he also had a vivid imagination – where I was organising the logistics for a champagne helicopter trip, he would be the one that would come up with something completely unique like using fireflies.
‘And you always put yourself down. We’re equal partners now, you helped to make the company a success too,’ I said.
He shrugged, never keen to accept that he played such an important part in it. He gestured to the fireflies that were starting to break formation now. ‘Is it too sickly?’
I let my camera hang round my neck and leaned into him, I loved the way I fitted against him. ‘I love it, I really do, it’s… magical. But there’s still something missing.’
Was there really such a thing as a perfect proposal? Three months ago, just before Valentine’s Day, Harry had made it his mission to provide me with one. But deep down I knew what I wanted and I doubted Harry would be able to deliver it. I should have told him that when he first started this wild goose chase. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.

Chapter One

Three Months Before

I put the phone down on another excited client and sighed. It was February 11th and we’d had a surge of customers all desperately wanting to propose on top of the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day. I felt like screaming. It was only by careful planning that I’d arranged that my customers weren’t going to be there at the same time. That’s just what a girl wants to feel special, to see other girls being proposed to at the same place and time that she was. Was there no originality anymore? Harry was brilliant at coming up with unique proposals, but no matter how many times I had tried to sell Harry’s ideas to them, they wanted the traditional and that was that.
‘Another Eiffel Tower?’ asked Harry as he absentmindedly uploaded photos to our rolling gallery.
‘He wants a dozen red roses delivered to the observation deck at eight.’ I rubbed my head in defeat. ‘What about something different, going to the ballet or proposing over a bag of chips at the end of Brighton Pier?’
He swivelled in his chair. ‘What would be your perfect proposal?’
I looked at him and had a sudden flash of him holding me in his arms and asking me to marry him.
‘I don’t know, the perfect guy would definitely be a bonus.’
‘Ok so you have your perfect guy and it’s not greasy kebab boy –’
‘Let’s be clear, it was the kebab that was greasy not the man.’
He waved away the details. ‘So Orlando Bloom or some other non-greasy hunk is asking you to marry him, how would he do it?’
I took a sip of tea whilst I pondered this. If one of my customers phoned up at a loss for inspiration I had a hundred ideas. But for me, my mind was blank.
‘I have an idea.’ Harry’s eyes were suddenly bright with excitement. He whirled round on his chair and started tapping away furiously on his computer. I peered over his shoulder at our website.

Proposer’s Blog
How Do You Propose to a Proposer?
Over the next hundred days I intend to find out. I will find one hundred ways to propose to our Chief Proposer Suzie McKenzie, and post the results here for your enjoyment. One thing’s for sure, not one of my proposals will be on top of the Eiffel Tower with a dozen red roses.

‘You can’t put that, we’ve had fifteen customers who want to propose like that over the last week,’ I said, ignoring the sudden thundering of my heart that Harry was going to propose to me.
‘Then maybe they’ll have a rethink.’ Harry was already uploading a picture of a diamond ring onto the blog.
‘Or ask for their money back.’
But Harry was still writing.

Day 1: The Traditional Proposal. Location: Our office.

He stood up and got down on one knee – yanking the snake ring off his thumb, he held it aloft to my shocked face.
‘Suzie McKenzie, you are my best friend and I cannot imagine finding anyone I would rather spend the rest of my life with. Marry me.’
The world stopped. My mouth was dry. How unfair was it that the one thing I wanted most in the world was happening right in front of me and it was as real as a pair of breasts on Sunset Boulevard.
I wanted to snatch the ring off him, stuff it on my finger and march him down to the nearest registry office. But I didn’t.
I cleared my throat of the huge lump. ‘Too clichéd, wrong location, wrong ring.’
He grinned as he appraised his ring and stood up, clearly not fussed by this rejection. He started typing.

Crashed and Burned. Apparently a snake ring with evil red eyes and the beige walls of our cramped office isn’t good enough for her. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Surely not. A hundred days of this torment? I didn’t think I could bear it.
He looked at his watch. ‘Oh, I’ve got to go, hot date with Sexy Samantha again tonight.’
Samantha was his first girlfriend in nearly a year. When I first met him he seemed to go through a different girl each week, so I wasn’t sure why he’d gone through the sudden dry patch. But Samantha was definitely the type to tempt him out of it.
I’d had the pleasure of meeting Sexy Samantha the night before. Suspicious of Harry’s relationship with his best friend, she’d barrelled into my home and demanded that Harry introduce me. I came downstairs in leggings and an oversized black hoodie – I knew I was hardly dressed to impress. And impress her I didn’t. The look of relief when Samantha saw me was palpable. She, on the other hand, was a vision of heavenly loveliness. She was almost as tall as Harry, with long blonde hair and curves everywhere. My eyes were immediately drawn to a big pair of breasts, squeezed between an overly tight top. Harry was definitely a breast man. All of his girlfriends were very well-endowed in the breast department. Some of the breasts, I suspected, weren’t even real – though Harry didn’t seem to mind. I was more in the straight up, straight down department, definitely no curves and not really any breasts to speak of.
I watched Harry log off his computer with haste and obvious excitement about what Sexy Samantha had in store for him that night.
‘I have a hot date too,’ I blurted out, watching for any flicker of jealousy. Of course there was none.
‘That’s great Suze.’ He looked genuinely pleased. ‘You haven’t seen anyone since Jack…’ He trailed off. My life was defined into two segments. Before Jack and After Jack. I wondered if Jules felt the same. He grabbed his jacket, averting his eyes from me, perhaps knowing that he had said something he shouldn’t. ‘It’s about time you got back on the horse again. We can swap notes tomorrow.’
‘Or not.’ I couldn’t bear thinking about that conversation. The literal ins and outs of Harry’s date would be something I really didn’t want to hear. I’d changed the subject twice that morning already when he started giving me explicit details that would be right at home on the pages of an erotic fiction novel. Sexy Samantha was far kinkier than those baby blue eyes might suggest. Besides, what did I have to contribute to that conversation? My hot date consisted of a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a night in with the beautiful Brad Pitt. I logged off my own computer, keen to show him I also had something exciting to run off to.
‘Where did you meet him?’
I racked my brain as I fluffed out my hair in the reflection of a photo showing me and Harry covered in snow and grinning ear to ear after sledging at the indoor Snow Zone. Before Jack.
‘Skiing,’ I said, then wished I hadn’t.
He stopped in his hasty exit. ‘Skiing? When have you been skiing?’
‘I go every Sunday, skiing lessons, he’s my ski instructor.’ I was making it worse.
‘You hate skiing.’
I had said that hadn’t I. Because this photo was taken when we had our first and last skiing lesson a year before. I had spent forty minutes falling on my bum – as kids as young as five glided effortlessly past me – and the last twenty minutes of the lesson, after Harry had been upgraded to the adult slopes, trying to get up and rolling around on the floor with my skis in the air, looking like an oversized beetle stranded on its back. Harry had felt sorry for me that I had failed so spectacularly and had taken me sledging instead. Much more up my street. There was no skill at all involved in sliding down a slope in a red plastic sledge.
‘I like it now. I’m very proficient. Obviously just needed the right instructor.’
‘Well that’s great, maybe we can go together sometime.’
I fixed a smile onto my face. ‘Maybe.’
‘What’s his name?’
I cast around for a suitable name and a suitable adjective to describe him, something comparable to Sexy Samantha. I had nothing, no names in my head at all. The only name in my head was Harry and that would be too weird. He was staring at me, waiting for me to come up with a name, the silence stretched on. I had to say something.
‘Tim.’ I almost shouted out with relief. ‘Tiny Tim.’
Great. Just great.
Harry’s face fell. ‘Tiny Tim?’
‘Yes.’
‘As in…’ he waggled his little finger at me.
‘No, no, of course not, he’s very big in that department. Big all over in fact. Huge. It’s kind of an ironic name.’
‘Big like me?’
‘Well I have no idea how big you are in that department.’ My eyes cast down to the sizeable bulge in his jeans and I felt my cheeks burn as he clearly saw me checking him out.
‘I meant in height,’ Harry said. I’m sure I saw his mouth twitch as he supressed a smile.
‘Oh yes, he’s very tall.’
‘Good. That’s good. I have a friend who’s a ski instructor at the Snow Zone, he might know your Tim. What’s his surname?’
‘Timmings.’
I was a terrible liar.
‘Tim Timmings?’
‘That’s right.’
A horn tooted outside and Harry peeled back the net curtain to wave at Sexy Samantha as she leaned on the bonnet of her sexy red convertible. I didn’t think I’d ever be so relieved to see her again.
‘Well have fun.’ Harry threw me a cursory wave as he thundered down the stairs. A second later I heard the front door slam.
I peered out the window, hoping not to be noticed as Harry swept Sexy Samantha into his arms and swung her round as if he hadn’t seen her in months. As he deposited her on the floor she waved up at me and I was forced to wave politely back.
With a wheel spin and the stereo blaring out something young and hip, the red convertible roared up the road, taking my heart with it.
I’d been in love with Harry for two long, painful years and we were further away today from getting together than we had been when we first met. We were now firmly in the friend zone and there was never any coming back from that.
Two years was way too long for unrequited love. It was time I moved on with someone else. I would just fall out of love with him, simple as that.
I sighed as I walked into my bedroom and got changed into my cow print onesie. I flicked through some songs on my iPod until I found something suitably rousing and as Gloria Gaynor started belting out ‘I am what I am’, I turned up the volume, leapt up onto the bed and danced and wiggled my bum in time with the lyrics. I was highly skilled in the playing of air drums and as Gloria reached a crescendo so did my frenetic drum playing. As the instrumental kicked in I leapt off the bed, doing the splits mid-air. I pulled a muscle in my groin and as I flicked my hair theatrically out of my face I saw Harry’s eyes widen in horror as I landed on top of him, one leg somehow hooked over his shoulder as my other foot kicked him square in his crotch.
He screamed in pain. I screamed with embarrassment as he staggered back and landed hard on his bum, my leg still wrapped round his neck.
Gloria was still singing loudly in the background as we stared at each other. Finally I managed to speak.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘Currently, wondering if I’ll ever be able to have sex again. Can you please get off my lap?’
I quickly climbed off him, kneeing him in the face as I tried to stand up. He slowly staggered to his feet, doubled over in obvious pain.
‘I forgot my wallet,’ he said, by way of explanation.
I swallowed. ‘You saw me dance?’
He lifted his head and this time there was no mistaking the grin. ‘From the very beginning to the dramatic finale.’
I groaned.
‘I better go, Samantha will be wondering where I am. Nice onesie by the way. Does Tiny Tim have one too? A horse or a pig perhaps?’
I stared down at myself, at the pink udders hanging limply from my stomach, and wanted the ground to swallow me up. ‘He’s not coming round till later.’
‘Of course not. And I imagine he thinks you look quite cute in it.’
Cute? Puppies were cute. Is that how he thought of me, as a cute little puppy?
He moved to the top of the stairs and I followed him.
‘Do you think I look cute in it?’
He turned and walked back up a few stairs, kneeling on the stair below me so we were eye to eye. ‘Yes.’
My heart dropped. I was so far in the friend zone I was now categorised as cute. He’d be patting me on the back next and telling me he saw me like a sister.
‘Sexy cute?’
‘No.’
My heart sank into my feet.
‘I bet Samantha would look sexy in it?’
‘I doubt it. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to look sexy in it.’
I felt slightly better at this.
‘And don’t underestimate the value of cute, it’s a great quality to have.’ He leaned forward and kissed me on the nose. ‘And don’t stay up too late, I have a big day planned for you tomorrow.’
He ran down the stairs and was gone a second later.
I touched my nose, still feeling the softness of his lips. He thought I was cute. I smiled as I fell in love with him all over again.

To see chapter 2 check back here tomorrow or pre –order your copy of One Hundred Proposals now. Amazon link