Friday, 30 March 2018

Release: The Choice (Doms of Her Life, Heavenly Rising)

Heavenly Young doesn’t have time for romance. The innocent nursing student is struggling to care for her ailing father, keep a roof over their head, and start a new career. But fate decides to complicate her life even more by dropping two very different men in her lap and forcing her to make a choice that will change her life forever.

Dr. Ken Beckman—vascular surgeon by day, sadist by night—has three hard-and-fast rules: Never date where he works, never touch vanillas, and never get tangled up with a virgin. But the moment he meets Heavenly, he aches to toss his scruples aside and claim the untouched beauty. She’s not ready for a man like him, but he can’t seem to walk away—even when he discovers he’s not the only man caught in her spell.

Seth Cooper, ex-cop turned private eye isn’t looking for a happily ever after, just a hot-and-sweaty good time. And the minute he claps eyes on Heavenly, he’s all for coaxing the angel into his bed. But soon, she’s so deep under his skin that he’s willing to put his broken past behind him and turn his life upside down for her. Then he realizes he’s got competition…

When it came to helping friends, Beck and Seth were as close as brothers. But when it’s clear they’re vying for the same girl, the games get vicious—until they realize that Heavenly is keeping secrets from them both. Will they call a truce and work together again before they lose her for good?

About Authors

Shayla Black
Shayla Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than sixty novels. For nearly twenty years, she’s written contemporary, erotic, paranormal, and historical romances via traditional, independent, foreign, and audio publishers. Her books have sold millions of copies and been published in a dozen languages.

Raised an only child, Shayla occupied herself with lots of daydreaming, much to the chagrin of her teachers. In college, she found her love for reading and realized that she could have a career publishing the stories spinning in her imagination. Though she graduated with a degree in Marketing/Advertising and embarked on a stint in corporate America to pay the bills, her heart has always been with her characters. She’s thrilled that she’s been living her dream as a full-time author for the past eight years.

Shayla currently lives in North Texas with her wonderfully supportive husband, her daughter, and two spoiled tabbies. In her “free” time, she enjoys reality TV, reading, and listening to an eclectic blend of music.

Jenna Jacob
USA Today Bestselling author Jenna Jacob paints a canvas of passion, romance, and humor as her alpha men and the feisty women who love them unravel their souls, heal their scars, and find a happy-ever-after kind of love. Heart-tugging, captivating, and steamy, Jenna’s books will surely leave you breathless and craving more.

A mom of four grown children, Jenna and her alpha-hunk husband live in Kansas. She loves reading, getting away from the city on the back of a Harley, music, camping, and cooking.

Meet her wild and wicked fictional family in Jenna’s sultry series: The Doms of Genesis. Become spellbound by searing triple love connections in her continuing saga: The Doms of Her Life (co-written with the amazing Shayla Black and Isabella LaPearl). Journey with couples struggling to resolve their pasts and heal their scars to discover unbridled love and devotion in her contemporary series: Passionate Hearts. Or laugh along as Jenna lets her zany sense of humor and lack of filter run free in the romantic comedy series: Hotties of Haven.

Isabella LaPearl

Isabella LaPearl is a USA Today bestselling author known for her collaboration with Shayla Black & Jenna Jacob for the Doms of Her Life Series. She enjoys writing sexy, erotic romance. A wife, mother, writer, reader and a love for riding motorcycles.

To say it's been an extraordinary journey thus far would be an understatement… what a rush! What a thrill to realize dreams and see them go from a seed to fruition. So for all you aspiring Authors, who like me, have a fire inside that burns brightly and demands to be sated by writing… Never give up.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

New Release: One Night in Inverness by Charlotte Howard

New Release: One Night in Inverness by Charlotte Howard #EroticRomance #CityNights #eBook

In order to save their marriage, Des and Frankie decide to mix business with pleasure when they attend a literary festival in Inverness. But once they arrive, Frankie soon discovers Des's long-kept secret, and has left her questioning whether she can ever trust him again. Des isn’t the only one with secrets, and Frankie wonders if it's all worth the heartache. As the night wears on, they are both forced to face the truth about their marriage.
Can Frankie accept the truth about Des?
Can Des forgive Frankie's past?
Can one night in Inverness fix their marriage?

The sound of my husband swearing snapped me out of my mouth-watering daydream, and back into the dullness of reality. I put my book, and the sinfully delicious Nathan Mathers contained within its pages, down on the hotel bed and glared at him. “What’s happened?” I asked, trying to sound concerned and not irritated that he had ruined my fantasy.

“They want Roberta Hathaway to attend the festival,” he said, pacing the room and running his hands over his head, raking his fingers through his light brown hair, which was in desperate need of a trim, I noticed. I’d started doing that – picking up on little things about him that grated on my nerves. I gave myself a mental chastising. This was supposed to be a weekend for us to rekindle our long-lost spark. And it hadn’t been that long, after all. Some couples go years without sex. What were a few months? My stomach knotted as unwanted memories began to swim towards the surface of a very deep lake.

I grazed my teeth along my bottom lip and glanced down at the name on the cover of the book I’d been reading. “Is that a problem?”

I was secretly giddy at the prospect of finally meeting my favourite author, and didn’t understand why he was so stressed. Roberta Hathaway was a prolific, and best selling, erotic romance author. She’d achieved the top spot on numerous sought-after lists. The Sunday Times, New York Times, USA Today, Amazon… They all raved about her novels. But she was also famously reclusive.

In the ten years that Des’s company had represented her, she had never once attended a signing, festival, or book launch, leaving all the publicity down to him and his business partner, Peggy. In fact, the only time anyone saw her was when they looked at the rather dated black and white photo on the back of her books. My husband had been her agent for a decade, and I’d never met her. The idea of her finally attending a literary festival was immense! I mentally played out the conversations I’d have on the playground when the other mums found out that I had met Roberta Hathaway. They’d be insanely jealous.

I’d first discovered her through Des a few years earlier, when he’d handed me a copy of her first novel Sinfully Yours to glance over. He’d called it an Advanced Reading Copy. It hadn’t even had a front cover then, and was full of typos. It had been a good read, but hadn’t really been my thing at the time. I’d glanced over it, more than read it. Before Roberta, the most erotic thing I’d ever read was an old Jilly Cooper novel, tucked away and gathering dust in the school library when I was a teenager. It had felt naughty at the time – I was sure it had been put there by mistake. Probably a prank by one of the sixth formers. When I look back, I realise how tame it was in comparison to what I read now. Especially when compared to Roberta Hathaway. She had certainly improved since that first book I’d scanned all those years ago.

“Think of the publicity,” I said, trying to keep my tone smooth and unexcited, although I suspect he heard the eagerness seeping through my words. I wondered if that made me a sad and lonely desperate housewife. I spent my free hours lost in so-called Mummy porn, supposedly written and designed for women whose sex lives were lacklustre and boring.

Des ignored me, as he always did when I dared to make a suggestion regarding his business, and picked up his mobile. He pressed a button and held it to his ear. “Peggy? Did you get the email? Shit… Yeah, I know… I know. What the hell is she playing at? How the hell does she expect us to pull that off with no notice whatsoever?” He cast a glance at me before checking his watch. “Half an hour? Yeah, I could do that.” He hung up. “I’m really sorry, hon, but I have to go and meet with Peggy to sort this shit-storm out. Get yourself some room service or something, and I’ll make it up to you another day. I promise.” He leaned down and pressed a kiss to my forehead – more action than I’d had in weeks.

I clucked my tongue and frowned. Our trip to Inverness was supposed to combine business with pleasure; a book festival for Des to mingle at, sell some of Roberta’s new books, and make new contacts, and a dirty weekend away for the both of us to try and relight a flame that had been long extinguished. It was the first time we’d had more than a day to ourselves since our eldest son had been born, almost twelve years ago. And now I was being abandoned, yet again, so that he could go and discuss my favourite author with his business partner. So much for stoking dwindling fires. The guilt of a certain dalliance started to feel unwarranted, and the suspicions I’d been flirting with began to stain my vision once more.

Author bio:
British author, Charlotte Howard, was born in Oman and spent much of the first part of her life flitting between Oman, Scotland, and England. Now settled in Somerset, Charlotte lives with her husband, two children, and growing menagerie of pets.

Her career as a writer began at an early age, with a poem being featured in an anthology for the East Midlands. Since then Charlotte has written many short stories and poems, and finally wrote her first full-length piece of fiction in 2010.

During what little spare time she has, Charlotte enjoys reading and writing (of course), spending time with her family, and watching action movies whilst eating curry and drinking tea.

Charlotte is an active member of Yeovil Creative Writers Group.
Social Media Links:
Buy Links:
Kindle USKindle UK

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Double Dominance: A Dark Wings erotic MC novella By Bella Jeanisse

Double Dominance: A Dark Wings erotic MC novella
By Bella Jeanisse

Hosted by Words Turn Me On

Steel is the Road Captain for the Dark Wings Motorcycle Club. Few dare to challenge this fearsome alpha. Those who do, regret it. He dominates everything in his life, including women. After all, women are for sex and nothing more.

By night, Fiona is an impressive guitarist in a local rock band. By day, she is a dominatrix. Music, her submissives, and her motorcycle have always been enough. The last thing she needs is a steady man in her life.

When these two dominants meet, an erotic, volatile test of strength and wills erupts. Will they destroy each other with their need to control, or can their dynamic work somehow? There’s only one way to find out!

Warning: For those 18 and over only. This short story is an explicit, dark, twisted romance with sex acts in almost every chapter. There are things some consider kinky, including BDSM, MFM, FF and punishment. May not be suitable for all readers.

Grab your copy for $.99 here:
Free with Kindle Unlimited!



Bella Jeanisse lives for rock music. Addicted to concerts, Avenged Sevenfold, fictional rockers, and blasting music in the car, she can’t get enough. After her father turned her on to Queen, there was no going back. Of course, it didn’t stop there. Playing guitar became a pastime, which didn’t turn into a career… until she started to pen her fantasies and publish them.

Originally from Brooklyn, New York City, she grew up with access to clubs like L’Amour and CBGBs, hung out in Greenwich Village, as well as had plenty of friends in bands. No wonder rockers stayed on her mind. Bringing her ideas to life was a long time coming.

She is now living near Tampa, FL with 3 kids and 2 grandkids, as a single mom. Her family supports her writing even when it seems to take up more time than they feel is necessary. Can’t stop the muse, ya know!

Besides erotic rock star romances, Bella also writes about wild bikers, hot college men and more.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Love, Laughter and Lots of Dogs is out! Read it free on KU and smile.

"A Sweet,Funny, and Adorable Romance" - Roxie's Reviews

💕💕Love, Laughter, and Lots of Dogs💕💕
A Pawsome Romance by Ellen Whyte 
A standalone novel
 50,000 words Price: $2.99

Kelly Taylor’s homemade pet treat business is taking off. Even better, utterly yummy Lord Cory Winthrop, the man she had a teenage crush on, asks her out for dinner.

Back on a lightning visit home, Cory Winthrop runs into his childhood friend, Kelly. Captivated by her happy nature, he becomes determined to win her heart.

However, finding true love is never easy. Kelly worries she may not fit into Cory’s spectacularly glamorous lifestyle. To complicate matters, Cory’s banking career is at a crossroads, and his evil ex is about to come rocketing back into his life.

Will Cory and Kelly be able to overcome their difficulties and live happily ever after?

A warm, light-hearted small town romance with a curvy girl and a very hunky billionaire banker. Featuring Hamish, the adorable rescue puppy.

#Wintrop #Romance

What The Reviewers Are Saying
"What an adorable cute even funny at times romance story" - Paula D on Goodreads.
"What a totally delightful read!" Miri on Goodreads.
"...who wouldn’t love them...I absolutely did" - 

Buy Links

About The Author

I'm Scottish-Dutch, I live in West Malaysia, and I like to keep busy. I'm dividing my time between several jobs I love because that's what makes me happy. 

I'm a newspaper columnist, a magazine feature writer, and a counselling psychologist. Novel writing is a hobby - or rather, a passion. I write sweet romance as Ellen but I also have a dark side as AJ Adams.  Come and say hello to me on Facebook, no friend request needed.

Stalking Links

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Strike by Toni Kenyon

Hosted by Words Turn Me On

Finding yourself has never been so much fun!

Paul's best friend.

He's the drummer in the band.
You know him; he's the guy hanging round at the back.
The sensible one.
The caring one.
Todd's the one everyone can rely on.
But he hits things.
He's got an inked body that speaks of sinful things in the night.
And he's 24 years old.
Rose James-Spencer crashes into his life.
She's 34 years old and trying to find herself in New York.
With Todd she's found a hell of a lot more than she ever went looking for and she's not sure that she can handle him.

5 STARS “Another great book from this author!” ~ Stephanie

5 STARS “Totally fun and totally recommended.” ~ The Mysterious Amazon Customer

5 STARS “A great rock star romance. I really enjoyed it. it was so hot and sweet. I loved it” ~ Marbog

5 STARS “A really great, entertaining story.” ~ Karen Galloway

Brit rockers hit the US for the Get Rocked! In Vegas Festival

Sam MacAvoy’s a British rocker who has charted consistently at number one all over Europe since following in his brother, Julian’s footsteps. Now Sam’s been invited to Vegas to debut at the Get Rocked! In Vegas Festival and he’s brought his red hot band, Style Strike with him.
Ashley Jacobs can’t stand musicians, or over-the-top egotistical men. Somehow she finds herself in amongst dozens of them when she agrees—against her better judgment—to take a three day summer job at the Festival.
Paul Gray, Style Strike’s bass player and the star of his own social media channel, has women falling at his feet. What he can’t quite understand is why his charm isn’t working on the attractive and curvaceous, Ashley. She’s not interested in his social media stardom, nor does she care that he could have any woman he wants at the rock festival.

Or does she?

Amazon US:

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas—unless it follows you home.

All Ashley Jacobs wants to do is forget about the Get Rocked! In Vegas Festival and get on with her life. Unfortunately, the one night she spent in the arms of

British band, Style Strike’s bad boy bass player, Paul Gray makes that simple wish impossible. She’s brought home more than memories. What should have been a fun fling before she settled into her orderly life has gone awry. To her horror, Ashley’s entire life is turned upside down when she discovers that she’s pregnant. She’s literally about to be center holding the baby.

Paul Gray’s never forgotten that night in Vegas with the woman who wanted nothing to do with a rock star. Style Strike’s US tour has gone from strength to strength and his social media star is on the rise. Paul finds himself surrounded by everything he's worked so hard to achieve. His life is awash with women, fame and fortune—but all he can think about is the sensual woman who walked away from him that night in Vegas.

Knowing the tour's about to hit her hometown, Ashley makes the sensible decision to contact Paul. He needs to be told about the baby, doesn’t he?

Amazon US

Check out this video


Toni Kenyon lives in Auckland (New Zealand) with her husband (and their dog and cat) the goldfish is just squatting! She writes romance by day, sings in a band by night and in her spare (yeah, right) time she wrangles difficult heroes into line, so they can star in her next novel. Toni also loves the garden and has a special place in her heart for her fruit trees and her veggie patch. A keen amateur photographer, Toni posts “Mood of the Suburbs” shots across most of her social media profiles. She loves to hear from like-minded people, so pop on over and say 'Hi' any time.

Visit her website and sign up for her newsletter so you can stay informed about her new releases.

Toni can also be found at:

Website 論 Newsletter sign-up 論 Facebook 論 Romance from the Red Couch

Twitter: @Toni_Kenyon 論 Goodreads 論 Instagram

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Friday, 23 March 2018

Read the first chapter of Love, Laughter and lots of Dogs - free!



“HAMISH, no!” But I was too late. Hamish jumped higher than Steve Smith and unlike the Olympic athlete who kept to a nice clean track, the German Shepherd pup had been running wild in the reeds by the park pond. “Oh, you dreadful boy!”
I was gazing ruefully at myself. My favourite rose patterned top was colourful enough to disguise the coating of fur but nothing in the world could cover the streaks of filth that now ran all the way down my front. Also, Hamish’s sharp claws had torn a triangular tear in my leggings. At crotch level, of course, so the world could see my ancient Paddington Bear knickers.
“Hi, Kelly!” Julia Sackville-Smythe was gazing at me, eyes wide with horror. “Oh, what happened to you? Are you all right?”
I had to laugh because the contrast between the two of us was just too funny for words. You see, Julia is perfect. I’m not kidding. She’s everything I’ve always longed to be: sophisticated, successful and skinny. The three Ss that spell the difference between glamour and - well, mundane me.
Even when out for a stroll in the village park, Julia was dressed to kill. While I looked like a mud dipped horror dressed from the reject bin, she was sporting a beautifully cut tweed blazer and an exquisitely simple mustard yellow wool dress that clung in all the right places. Even her polished leather boots were just lived in enough to be the epitome of country chic.
It didn’t stop at the clothes, either. Julia’s shining blonde locks drifted elegantly around her shoulders, whereas the fresh breeze had whipped my dirty straw hair into a rat’s nest. Add to this that Julia is so trim you might miss her if she stood sideways, whereas me, well, let’s say that if we were in ‘Beauty and the Beast’, she’d be Belle and I’d be Mrs Potts.
“You’re all muddy,” Julia said concerned. “Did you trip and fall? Are you hurt, Kelly?”
On top of the glamour, she really was sweet. Annoying right? You’d think a beauty like her should at least be catty if not an outright bitch, but Julia was well-known for being a total darling.
“I’m fine, thanks.” I brushed at the mud, spreading it rather than eliminating it. “I’m taking Hamish for a run before his training lesson and as you can see, we’ve not reached the bit where I teach him not to jump up.”
“He’s filling out,” Julia was examining the bouncing Hamish critically. “You’ve made such a difference to that dog.”
Hamish looks like a superb pedigree German Shepherd, but the poor pup was rescued from a mill, one of those awful farms where they breed purely for profit and they don’t give a damn about the dogs.
When the police closed the place down, our village vet Dr Gill was called in to help. Hamish was so sick with ticks, fleas and cage fever that he was almost put down. Thankfully, she persuaded the police to let me have him.
It had been touch and go but Hamish had pulled through, so I was misting a little as I watched him run around being happy. “He is looking good, isn’t he? How are you, Julia?”
“I finally sold that Hepplewhite chair so I thought I deserved a break,” she explained. “And how are you doing? Not that I have to ask. Everyone is saying you’re doing great!”
I’m totally invested in my work so that made me smile. “Thanks!”
“You must be so happy, being a business owner. Much better than being a tiny cog in a giant corporation, right?”
She meant well, but it caught me on the raw. You see, I turned entrepreneur after I was let go by Hearts Unlimited, a publishing company specialising in romance novels. It wasn’t anything I did, I was actually very good at my job, but Hearts was sold to an American conglomerate. Being super efficient, they slimmed the organisation down, and I was one of the trimmings.
Although it was just economics, it hurt to be fired. My pride ached even months later. Also, starting a business is roller coaster scary. I mean, so many good ideas just don’t make it, right?
Julia’s well-meaning comment hit some panic buttons but I didn’t let it show. “Pawsome is awesome! I’m having a blast.”
“So I see,” Julia said excitedly. “Everyone’s talking about how you’re training in the park. It’s fun to watch.”
Which is why I was there, of course. Hamish was as cute as a button, and being very visible helped me to spread the word about my business. Even people who weren’t keen on dogs smiled when they saw him.
“Idling away the afternoon, girls?” Mrs Mowbray was marching up the path. I wasn’t happy to see her. As the owner of the sweet shop, she’d always featured largely in our lives when we were little. Unfortunately, she’d always been judgemental and some of her comments bordered on poisonous. Still, in a small village you have to get along, so I nodded politely and braced myself.
“Kelly’s training Hamish,” Julia said peaceably. “Isn’t he adorable?”
“Dogs belong on farms,” Mrs Mowbray snapped. “That animal should be working.”
“Pets give people a lot of pleasure,” I pointed out. “Many of us think of dogs are our family.”
“You never did have any sense,” she responded rudely. “So you’re still wasting your time, pretending to run a business?”
At that, Julia gasped. She might have spoken up for me, but I frowned her down. I like the quiet life, and if that means ignoring the odd nasty barb, that’s fine with me. Mind you, I can be lethal if I want to. But I prefer not to rise if I can help it.
“I’ll arrange some restaurant hours at the Three Swans for you,” Mrs Mowbray took my self-controlled silence for being soft and thought she was on a roll. “You’re not qualified, of course, but they’ll take you as a favour to me.”
Great. I was stupid and incompetent. I took a breath and held on to my temper, “No, thanks.”
“It’s good money, waitressing. And you get tips.”
“I have a business of my own to run.”
Mrs Mowbray scowled. “Right, well suit yourself.” Then she added spitefully. “You’ll pipe down when you go bust.”
At that, I was seeing red but she was marching off before I could blast her.
“Don’t mind her,” Julia comforted me.
“Thanks, I won’t.”
Julia was shifting from foot to foot. “You’re doing okay, though, aren’t you?”
“Of course!” A new business survives as much by its reputation as its products, so I was firm about talking myself up. “I love what I do and my customers are giving me rave reviews.”
At which point Hamish bounced back, feathered paws filthy, and cheerfully leaped on me again, brushing my face with a courtesy mudpack. I was still wiping the muck from my eyes, when I heard Julia exclaim, “Oh lord, I hope that comes off!”
I was holding on to a wriggling Hamish as I fumbled for the leash in my pocket. “Sweetheart, you’re a terror.” But I was petting him as I spoke. The dog was so full of the joys of life that he was irresistible. As I stroked the soft ears, he licked my face, tore himself out of my grip and dashed off again.
“Eeeew,” Julia moaned. “You’re covered in mud!”
“Talk about an impromptu makeover,” I laughed. “Think Hamish would make it as a personal stylist?” From the noises of horror behind me, though, I wasn’t the dog’s only victim. “Sorry, Julia. Were you splashed too? Is it very bad?”
But as I finally wiped the dirt out of my eyes and turned around, I just stood staring in surprise. It wasn’t Julia who’d been spattered; it was Cory Winthrop.
“I’m okay but this suit isn’t.” Julia was fussing, brushing his jacket with long sweeps of her elegantly manicured hand. “I have a magic little velvet roller thing in my shop if you want a quick spruce up.”
I should have said something, but I was tongue-tied. Tall, golden-haired and handsome, he was a vision straight from Hearts Unlimited. He even had a title, being in fact, Corwyn Holbrook Norman, tenth Viscount Winthrop. I know, yummy, right?
Better still, unlike the conventional romances, he wasn’t one of those nasty Byronic heroes filled with dangerous power and sneering alpha male arrogance. Being around Cory meant being enveloped in a bubble of warmth and laughter.
Even now, with his purple silk tie splodged with mud and his steel grey suit jacket, definitely Armani, sprinkled with little spots of dirt, he was smiling. “It doesn’t matter. I never liked the tie, and the rest will brush off when it’s dry.”
Yes, Cory hadn’t changed one bit. I’d had a crush on him when I was sixteen and he was still utterly gorgeous.
Julia was pink with excitement, “It’s been ages, Cory. I almost didn’t recognise you!”
She got a hug right away. “I spotted you straight off. You look even more amazing than usual. Wow!”
Standing together, they looked as if they’d stepped off a novel cover. Hearts would have snapped them up in a heartbeat.
“My jeans and tee days are gone,” Julia said brightly. “I dress pretty to snare customers into paying exorbitant prices for my antiques.”
“I’d pay anything you asked,” Cory replied promptly, adding another, “Wow!”
Julia might have morphed from scruffy student to glam fashion model but Cory had always been pin-up material. You could have dressed him in a dustbin bag, and it wouldn’t have disguised the long cheekbones, sculpted lips, and startlingly blue eyes, the colour of cornflowers and summer skies.
Now those heavenly eyes were smiling down at me. “Kelly Taylor! It’s so good to see you again.” The charm was flowing over me like caramel. “It’s been ages. Five years? Six?”
“More than that, I think.” I looked again and realised he looked better than ever. The lean hips were the same, as were the long legs, but he’d been working out. Drinking in the deep chest and the powerful shoulders, I felt myself blush. To my horror, my crush came rocketing back.
Desperate to hide the tide of red that I knew was sweeping over me, I whipped a pack of wetties out of my pocket and rubbed away at my muddy face. Suddenly I was wishing for a little more of those three Ss. Or at least a muck free face.
“You’ve always been handsome. You know I’ve lusted after you forever, don’t you?” Julia was holding his hand, looking soulfully up at him as she flirted shamelessly.
“You were my first crush,” he responded instantly. “When our eyes met, it was perfect love.” He paused a second and added wickedly, “Or it might have been because you had a choc ice. I’ve always been partial to those.”
“Oh lord, St Edmund’s Church charity picnic,” Julia giggled. “We must have been, what, six years old?”
As they laughed away like the old friends they were, it came home to me that this was really too much like a scene from a Hearts novel. Except I wasn’t the heroine, damn it. I now knew exactly what it was like to be a wallflower at a debutante’s ball.
“You were there too, weren’t you, Kelly?” Cory was chatting happily. “I think you two must be my oldest friends.”
In a way, that was true. Julia, Cory and me were all village born and bred, and as Silverdale is small, we all went to kindy and primary school together. The three of us had been best friends in those early years. But after that, I went to the local comprehensive while Julia went to Cheltenham Ladies College, a hugely expensive private school, and Cory went to Eton, which is even more exclusive.
From that point, we lived separate lives. During the holidays I spent my time earning Girl Guides badges and then as working as the vet’s kennel cleaner and assistant while Julia and Cory hung out at various stately homes between trips to Corfu and Tuscany.
“It’s like old times, isn’t it?” Julia squeaked. “I feel as if we’re back at school again! Oh Kelly, do you remember how Mrs Twickerton made us perform scenes from the Odyssey? We were Sirens, remember, and Cory was Neptune.”
“Mrs Twickerton got it right on the button,” Cory grinned. “You two are irresistible.”
I wanted to sparkle, or at least say something interesting, but as the crush rolled back, it brought along my teen shyness. I was horribly aware of my over-abundant curves and muddy clothes.
Of course, Julia was chatting away. “Where did you spring from, sweetie? I thought you were in London.”
“Mum’s charity ball,” Cory said easily. “I came up to help.”
I’d been to the Hearts galas and Cory was acting as if we were still as close as the days were shared buckets and spades in the sandpit but I was thinking that the only way I’d be invited to Winthrop Hall was as a waitress. It shouldn’t have bothered me, I wouldn’t know a soul who was going, but somehow it just underlined how difficult the year had been.
I’m usually confident but for a split-second, I wondered if I was kidding myself. Was I building my own business and being my own boss, or was I wasting my time and squandering my savings? Every penny I had was invested in my venture. Would I come out of this completely broke?
Julia’s ecstasy pulled me out of my temporary funk. “A charity ball? But I’ve not heard a word!”
“It’s a bit sudden,” Cory said vaguely. “As soon as it’s sorted, I’ll send you tickets. And you too, of course, Kelly.”
Sweet, right? Told you he was lovely.
“I haven’t been to a fun do in ages,” Julia sighed. “Any celebs coming?”
Cory grinned. “There may be a few. If I know Mum, she’ll have London and Paris turning out.”
“Yes!” Julia squeaked. “Oh, I love your mum!”
“Save a dance for me, Julia,” Cory said warmly. “And you too, Kelly.”
I finally got my voice back. “It sounds lovely. But Cory, about that mud -”
“It’s no problem,” he said quickly. “How have you been, Kelly?”
“Great.” As scintillating was out of the question, I went for the obvious. “You walked up from the station?”
“That’s right,” he smiled. His eyes went to Hamish who was now frisking about the reeds again. “That’s a good-looking dog. Yours?”
“Yes. I’m training him.”
Cory gazed at the German Shepherd who was now running around like a lunatic. With a tree branch in his mouth and leaves sticking to his muddy sides, Hamish looked like he was training at the Attila the Hun School of Discipline. “He looks very happy,” Cory ventured.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh lord, you are kind. But really, he’s only four months old. He needs to run off his energy before his lesson.”
“He does have a lot of that,” Cory agreed. But the heavenly eyes were thoughtful. “You’re with Hearts Unlimited, right? Are you back for a holiday?”
Ouch again.
But before I could answer, Julia was chatting. “Didn’t you hear? Kelly moved back in with her mum and dad. She’s the village dog whisperer now!”
That term was one I loathed, so I stepped in quickly. “Mum and Dad were in an accident, and as my job disappeared when Hearts was sold, it made sense to come home.”
“I heard the company changed hands,” Cory frowned. “But not about your job or your parents. I’m so sorry, Kelly.”
“They’re both much better and it’s given me the opportunity to start my own business.”
“Dog breeding?”
“Luxury pet treats.” I wasn’t even thinking as I dug into my pocket and handed him a flyer. I’d been boring on to anyone who’d listen for months, so my elevator pitch was perfect. “If you’re worried about salt, sugar, and additives in commercial pet treats, try Pawsome. It’s fresh, home-made and packed with goodness. Pawsome treats for pawsome pets.”
“Very slick,” Cory smiled. “I love it!”
Success breeds confidence, so I didn’t hesitate to talk myself up. “I’m also a positive reinforcement dog trainer. If you have a pup who needs to learn company manners, I’m your girl.”
“You must be doing great, seeing the village is obsessed with their pets.” He was being nice but I could see him trying not to look at my ripped leggings.
Cory Winthrop wasn’t just titled and rich; he was also a very successful banker. He’d skipped university, going straight into the family bank from school, and swiftly transformed the small private corporation into a hugely successful investment bank that rivalled Lloyds and Goldman Sachs. The serious newspapers were filled regularly with details of the multimillion pound deals he did before breakfast.
Faced with all that success, I was suddenly certain my fledgling business enterprise was a childish dream. Maybe Mrs Mowbray had been right. Maybe I should be looking for hours at the Three Swans.
For a second my confidence wavered but then Julia went into support mode, “We all thought Kelly was crazy when she first started handing out her flyers, but she’s a red-hot hit. Everyone is raving about her.”
While she gushed, I stepped away from them both and called Hamish. Much to my relief, he came bounding over. He was absolutely filthy now and tired enough not to jump up.
“Sit, Hamish.” Yes, he was eager to please. I rewarded him immediately with a treat and praise. “Good boy.”
I clipped the leash to his collar, and tried to look cool, calm, and collected as I said my goodbyes. “I have to go back to work. Sorry about the mud, Cory. It’s nice to see you again. Please give my best to your mum.”
“Of course.” Those wonderful eyes were looking straight into mine. “Do you have to go?” He had tiny laugh lines and they were crinkling at me. “Sorry, but it’s so good to be back home. After grey claustrophobic London, I feel like I can breathe again.”
“Has it been foul?” Julia asked sympathetically.
“Oh, you know how it is,” Cory replied. “It’s always interesting but it’s not home.”
Julia shook her head but I knew what he meant. “It becomes stifling after a while,” I agreed.
Cory nodded. “Exactly! Hey, how about we all meet tonight? I left my bag at the Three Swans so I’m driving down there later to collect it.”
“I have a dinner with the Ellingtons,” Julia said regretfully.
“How about you, Kelly?”
That came totally out of the blue. I just gawped at him. “Erm, me?”
“You’re at Old Yew Lodge, right? I can swing by and collect you.”
I thought I’d misheard him. There was no way that Cory Winthrop, the country’s nicest, most handsome and probably most eligible bachelor to boot, was asking me out. Unless it was a Candid Camera prank.
He was standing so close to me, that I could smell his aftershave. It was fresh and clean, like a newly mown lawn after rain. In the blink of an eye, I was thinking how it would feel to be hugged by him. I knew that snuggling into those arms meant being enveloped in a cloud of loving warmth. I was a split second away from doing a Hamish and just going for it.
“They have a Pinot Grigio there that’s very good,” Cory said.
Julia was looking a bit down, but she nodded, “Yes, but Kelly likes cider.”
I preferred wine but I wasn’t going to admit I drank local scrumpy by the glass because I couldn’t afford to spend a fortune on an imported award-winning wine that was sold by the bottle. “I like both.”
The laughter lines were nothing compared to the brilliant smile. “Great. They do excellent roast beef and the duck’s fantastic too.”
Not just a drink but dinner. Was I dreaming? I almost pinched myself.
“Shall I pick you up at eight?” Cory asked.
Putting myself in his way would lead to nothing but trouble. He wasn’t just out of my league; he was from a different universe. I should walk away and spend the night planning a promotion schedule or working out a new recipe for dog biscuits.
“Yes, please,” I heard myself say.

Love, Laughter, and Lots of Dogs

A standalone novel
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