Review -A Knightsbridge Scandal by Anita Davison

a-knightsbridge-scandal
Having read and loved the first two titles in this series, I was naturally delighted to be asked to review the third Flora Maguire novel: A Knightsbridge Scandal.
Once again, the indomitable Flora launches herself into a world of intrigue and deceit, lies and danger… this time becoming embroiled in the conflicting worlds within the Women’s Suffrage movement, and the discovery of the body of one of its leading lights. Flora’s powers of deduction are at full stretch on this one; dark alleyways contrast with the glitz and glamour of high society, but danger lurks equally in both.  Clues are not always what they seem, and characters keep you guessing right to the end.
The descriptions in this book are fully as beautifully written as in the previous two; Ms Davison’s deft touch with a verbal paintbrush is evident in everything, from the weather to a fine china cup. Food leaps off the page and into your hands; the damp fug of the street leaves its smell in your hair; and the chilly air of a pre-Christmas London brushes your skin. You are absolutely in the moment.
 With the delightful, and often amusing, addition of her maid, Sally, Flora’s newest adventure becomes a sparkling and witty two-hander. The men lurk pleasantly enough in the background, offering sage advice and trying not to get in the way, while the women just straighten their shoulders  and get on with the job.
I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Mrs Harrington, nee Maguire, and I very much look forward to reading her next adventure!
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Why I Could Never Be A True Grammar ‘Nazi.’

Sometime over the past year or so I was accused of being a “Grammar Nazi.” I disputed this, and was told: “You ARE, because you’re always picking people up on mistakes.”

I was a bit taken aback at that bald statement, because I absolutely NEVER pick up anyone’s typos and questionable grammar simply for the sake of it. I want that on record here and now, and if you know me, and you really think about it, you’ll know that’s true. Granted, I have been known to find some typos funny, and have pointed out why they amused me; it’s always because they have turned something into a joke. ALWAYS. And I do have a low irritation threshold for careless grammar on public notices, but these people are paid to get it right.  I don’t believe that, in all my time on social media (going back to the early 1990s when I first started visiting forums etc)  I have ever ridiculed anyone — particularly a friend —  for iffy spelling, or dodgy grammar, unless it’s either been funny/ironic, and my comment has been accompanied by all the right smileys, or else they’ve had a pop at me about something and have tripped themselves up during a spat. (Then I’m all over it, because, y’know, why not?)

The reason for this is very simple: I don’t know much about grammar. Surprised? Maybe not! But the thing is, I read a lot, and I write a lot, and I see an awful lot of very clever conversations going on about various parts of speech, and rules pertaining to dangling participles (I don’t even know what they are, but it sounds like something that should be attacked with some sharp scissors and a tube of Germolene.)  I can string together the kind of sentence people generally enjoy reading, when I want to; I can write formal letters; I’ve written 8 complete novels and published 6, and I still don’t know what a modifier is, (or even if that’s a grammar thing, but it sounds like one, so I’m going with it!) I know the basics that any primary school-age child knows: yer verbs, adjectives and wotnots, but when you start getting into subjunctives and… see? I can’t even think of another one. Those kind of things make me blink and go, “huh? Yeah, but did you like the story?

(Knowing the correct form of to/two/too and there/their/they’re isn’t grammar, it’s spelling. I know spelling, mostly.)

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not asking for advice or information about these things, because I actually don’t care. I really don’t. I write by instinct; if something sounds right, I’ll leave it. If it doesn’t, *zzzip* out it comes. But it won’t be because I’ve looked at it and thought: “ooh, that’s a (insert grammarly stuff here) I mustn’t do that.” It’s because I’ve read it and thought, “blimey, that stinks.” I have the Oxford Style Guide to hand for checking things I’m unsure about, and the required style alters between publishers, and even between editors, so I’ll never get it absolutely right. But my point is that instinct is not to be sniffed at; it can work. You don’t have to be a grammar fiend, or an English graduate, to write a good sentence. You just have to read a lot and work out what sounds right.

I just wanted to set the record straight on this whole “You’re a Grammar Nazi” thing,  because it’s been burning in the back of my mind since this person, who I used to be quite matey with, (or, with whom I used to be quite matey?!) let me know what she really thinks of me. If you’re thinking: well, actually, she’s right, I want to ask you to think hard about that for a minute. People expect it of me, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. I think you’ll find most writers are so terrified of making mistakes on public posts, because of the glee we know would result, that we wouldn’t dare pick on someone else even if it was in our nature to do it. I pointed this out to my decrier, but it cut no ice. Ho hum.

If you spot any typos and/or grammar mistakes in this post, please feel free to never mention them.

😉

Thanks for reading! As always, comments welcomed either here or on the FB link when it’s posted.

Blooms, Books, and the Great Launch Party That Wasn’t!

As many of you know, I’ve been gearing up for the event that would have marked the proudest moment in my writing career: the launch of the paperback edition of Maid of Oaklands Manor. However, due to a glitch at the despatch hub, the books were delayed and not marked as event items, so they didn’t arrive at the Waterstones branch where the party was to take place.

At the time I was hugely disappointed — and embarrassed (as they say, pride goeth before a fall) —  but once I’d put the word out, and had some lovely responses and encouragement, I stopped being a whinge-bucket and thought about it rationally: it was the party that was cancelled, not the launch, and although there has been some delay, still, in getting the books onto shelves, it WILL be there. Me! My book, my dream, in my favourite shop, for me to grin at whenever I walk past. My beautiful author copies arrived that afternoon, and yes, I cried a bit more.

Oaklands front back and stack

 

Plus, I’ve been left with almost (ahem!) a full case of the most delicious Prosecco I’ve ever had. Laithwaites, I love you.Fili

Clouds, silver linings, all that happy stuff. You know how it goes.

I also received these gorgeous flowers from Piatkus on release day. That was completely unexpected, it was always just something that happened to other people!

Piatkus Flowers

So what’s next? Well, I’ve been asked to re-schedule, and I probably will, but of course it will be re-billed as a book-signing event, not a launch party. Which feels a bit pretentious, if I’m honest, but an awful lot of people have said they’d like it to happen, so I’ll swallow this feeling of the faintly ridiculous, and buy myself a new pen. Watch my Twitter and Facebook feeds for dates/times – and if you haven’t followed and/or friended me yet, please do, I’d love to hear from you. 

In other news: I’m working on book 2 in The Penhaligon Saga. Book 1 (Penhaligon’s Attic) is with the publisher, and currently has a paperback release date of December 1st. It’s available for pre-order now, but there is no blurb, and no cover, so tread warily! 😉  

Also exciting, is that large print and audio rights to Maid of Oaklands Manor were recently picked up by Magna, who are part of Ulverscroft.  I hope they’re able to do something with those rights, so stay tuned and I’ll let you know when I hear more.

So while Lizzy is out there doing her thing, the two sequels are trundling along, still being ignored by their publisher, but getting fantastic reviews. I’ve asked about the chance of a print run for them, and basically been told it’ll never happen. Sagas (mine, at least) are apparently destined to be digital-only, and, according to Carina UK, are only worth about £2 each. Ho hum. 

One thing is absolutely certain: I’ve learned to never again split a series between two publishers. If the subsequent books in the new Cornish series aren’t picked up by Little, Brown, I will self-publish them. They feature some familiar characters, and will eventually meet up with the Oaklands story once they pass the time frame set out in that series (1917.) 

On the — much larger — plus-side: my self-published Lynher Mill series is still being appreciated by its readers, so I’m more than happy there! I still love this series SO much, and I can’t wait to write more of it. I feel a bonus novella coming on 😉 

LMC

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to read your comments, either below or on the FB link. 

 

 

On Turning Down That 3-book Deal…

I have a couple of bits of spiffy (if a tad old) news I’ve just realised I’ve not yet blogged about, but first: why I turned down a three-book deal, and why I don’t feel the slightest twinge of uncertainty that I’ve done the right thing.

My most recent publishers offered me this deal way back this year, and for a day or two I thought my reaction was delight. However,  I quickly realised it wasn’t, at all. It was relief that they wanted me to write more, because they liked what I wrote. I still feel gratified, and I’m still pleased to have been asked, but I’ve known for some time that this was utterly the wrong publisher for me, and I’m the wrong writer for them; I don’t fit their ideal list. Not even sideways, squished up, and with a good hard shove. Nope. Not happening.

I think, what I’m getting at here, is that while a three-book deal sounds like the holy grail, if it’s with the wrong people, you WILL regret it, eventually. So tread carefully, do your homework, and check with other authors IN YOUR GENRE who write for the same publisher.  

Anyway, that said, I now have a paperback deal with Piatkus Books (part of the Little, Brown Book Group) for my new series, currently known as The Penhaligon Saga. It’s only for the first book in the series, but I would take a single-book contract with this publisher over that 3-book one any day of the week… and not only because the other deal was a digital-only one! I have a new editor, a male one, and I can’t help hoping that’s really going to help with the deeper characterisation of my male protagonists.

Aaaaand, Good News the Second: Daughter of Dark River Farm, the last in the Oaklands Manor series, has been short-listed in the Love Stories Readers Award, in the Best Historical category. This means all three books in the series have now been short-listed in the same category, for the past three years –  I can’t adequately express my delight at this! I’m up against some real heavy-weights though, including Saskia Sarginson, who I admire SO much, so I have no illusions that this year will be any more successful than it is now. But the third nomination, for this last book… absolutely bloody magic!

Onward and upward… going to have a launch party in Waterstones next March, for the paperback release of Maid of Oaklands Manor (also with Piatkus Books.) Proper excited!

Guest Post: Rebecca Raisin – Cover Reveal!

I’m delighted to have been given the chance to host a cover reveal today, for the fabulous Rebecca Raisin! Her new book, The Little Bookshop on the Seine, (book one in the Little Paris Collection) will be released on October 16th. 

The Little Bookshop on the Seine.

Bookshop Seine

Le Vie En Rose

Bookshop owner Sarah Smith has been offered the opportunity to exchange bookshops with her new Parisian friend for 6 months! And saying yes is a no-brainer – after all, what kind of a romantic would turn down a trip to Paris…for Christmas?

Even if it does mean leaving the irresistible Ridge Warner behind, Sarah’s sure she’s in for the holiday of a lifetime – complete with all the books she can read!

Imagining days wandering around Shakespeare & Co, munching on croissants, sipping café au laits and watching the snow fall on the Champs-Élysées Sarah boards the plane.

But will her dream of a Parisian Happily-Ever-After come true? Or will Sarah realise that the dream of a Christmas fairytale in the city of love isn’t quite as rosy in reality…

A deliciously feel-good Christmas romance perfect for fans of Debbie Johnson and Julia Williams

The Little Paris Collection:

The Little Bookshop on the Seine

The Little Antique Shop under the Eiffel Tower

The Little Perfume Shop off the Champs-Élysées

Also by Rebecca Raisin

The Gingerbread Café trilogy:
Christmas at the Gingerbread Café
Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Café
Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café

The Bookshop on the Corner
Secrets at the Maple Syrup Farm

Amazon  UK http://amzn.to/1LfJJzO

Amazon US http://amzn.to/1KR2Wck

iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/little-bookshop-on-seine-little/id1022785186?mt=11

Nook http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-little-bookshop-on-the-seine-rebecca-raisin/1121263193?ean=9781474030786

Kobo https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-little-bookshop-on-the-seine-the-little-paris-collection-book-1-1

Sainsbury’s

https://www.sainsburysentertainment.co.uk/ebooks/The-Little-Bookshop-On-The-Seine-The-Little-Paris-Collection-Book-1-/Rebecca-Raisin/9781474030786

 

Rebecca Raisin

is a bibliophile. This love of books morphed into the desire to write them. She’s been widely published in various short-story anthologies, and in fiction magazines, and is now focusing on writing romance. The only downfall about writing about gorgeous men who have brains as well as brawn is falling in love with them – just as well they’re fictional. Rebecca aims to write characters you can see yourself being friends with. People with big hearts who care about relationships, and, most importantly, believe in true, once-in-a-lifetime love.

Follow her on twitter @jaxandwillsmum

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaRaisinAuthor

Website rebeccaraisin.com

 

 

 

On Notes, Swearing, and Letting Go.

Yesterday I sent the last book in The Lynher Mill Chronicles out into the world. Today I went and had a look through the notes I’d made for the first book, The Dust of Ancients. Oh, my word! I don’t remember exactly when I started, but evidently it was prior to 2002, and I suspect it might actually have been in the late 90s. That’s how long this story has been waiting to be told.

This is a short extract, from a notes document that ran to over 41,300 words – and that wasn’t the end of the book, either, I was still puzzling it out at that point! Some of the character names are different, but it was fun to watch the process of the plot being teased out of the mess of ideas I’d been struggling with. (caution: some profanity included in this extract!)

__________________________

2002 reworking…

Big emphasis on Westcountry fairy legends…

Main change, introduce “SPRIGGANS” to guard the treasure that they have found. Use Folklore.doc to get ideas.

Also, does Laura need to be in America…probably, yes. She needs to be away from Jonathan.

But still need to know what/who the spirit is that’s inhabiting Jonathan, and why him – what’s the connection, is it using him as a weapon…and if so, for what and against whom?

Play up the images of “cutesie” fairy combined with utterly awful horror scenes. Lots of cackling, viciousness and tiny prickly terrors. Let’s have even the pretty fairies act as baddies somewhere along the line. Maybe the Spriggans turn out to be goodies after all? How about The Knockers? Maybe they’re the real baddies in this, they sound even uglier than the Spriggans, that’s for sure.

Is there something that Richard isn’t telling Laura? Maybe somehow he’s connected with all of what’s going on ~ maybe descended from whoever the spirit has a grudge against… too much of a coincidence, or all part of fate and her whacky sense of humour?!

How would that work?

How would the spirit have known Richard and Laura would get together?

Crap.

Subplots needed; a whole take on the Spriggans and their job of guarding the treasure. The jar? What was in it? And why did it matter so much that the sodding thing got broken?

Dunno. It just did.

More subplots, involving Jim? Or some other families from the area on Bodmin Moor where the mine was? Maybe both?

Jim has to be involved somewhere along the line, as he’s the one who knows all about that kind of thing. Why would he have become an expert in that knowledge if he didn’t have a vested interest? Okay, so it doesn’t matter about Richard and Laura getting together, the factor that brings them to the end of the book in this situation is Jim and HIS history.

But isnt it a bit of a coincidence that hes Richards best friend?

Where is Jim from?

How did he meet Richard and when?

Maybe he’s the one who sought out Richard, knowing something about his history, but then the coincidence would be Laura. Shit. This is fucking awful.

Ooookay! Having written the short story version [The Guardians] here’s a thought: The jar which broke was the same as the one in The Guardians – ie: holding souls in torment. Naturally then, one or more may have gone into Jonathan, right?

Okay, so – Jonathan is now ‘hosting’ the soul of someone, we don’t know who, or how old, so we can play with that and change the events which scare him as a boy. Maybe he starts behaving oddly, feeling some kind of empathy with miners etc, etc. Becomes one himself maybe?

___________________

So, as you can see, I can get a bit sweary when I’m working things out! The entire document is in that same vein; gradually the story I recognise as The Dust of Ancients fights its way out of the morass, but it’s a long struggle!

Later, I wrote a blog post which you can find here, in which I muse over whether or not the story is finished, mostly because I’ve loved writing it so much that I can’t quite bear the thought of never visiting that world, and those characters, again.

There are now three books in the series, but now I’m faced with the same sense of loss – except that this time I know there will be more. I don’t think there’s another novel in it, but there will be stories, and maybe a novella or two, and I think these will be given away as either free e-books, or straightforward downloads from my website.

LMC

The short story mentioned above, The Guardians, is currently available on The Dark Archive blog, along with a short piece about the series and its origins.  You will need to scroll down to see it.

The Dust of Ancients is, until tonight (Sunday August 2nd) free to download from Amazon.

The Battle of Lynher Mill has begun!

Weather/News. And some happy-dancing.

It’s a sunny Saturday in my home town of Plymouth… wait, no, it’s raining. Wait. Sun’s out again… should I put the washing out? What if… Oh, who cares? I HAVE NEWS!    type

Yes, news from the sofa/office, and it’s GOOD news. You might recall a little post I made some time ago, called I’m No Hypocrite, But…  (in essence, it’s a bit of a foot-stamping post about how no-one will take me seriously in my home town as I’ve only had 3 books published, and in digital format so they don’t count. Also in the not-counting category are my self-published paperbacks. They must be rubbish, right?) 

Well, earlier this month Piatkus, the Little, Brown imprint who published my debut novel, Maid of Oaklands Manor, announced to the world that they are sending the book to print! PRINT, dammit! On paper (one assumes) and even in bookshops – Waterstones and Smiths have been mentioned – but even if that part of it falls through, it will be available to buy, and you’ll have to check the delivery options on this one!

maddancermaddancermaddancermaddancermaddancermaddancer  Beavis-02maddancermaddancermaddancermaddancermaddancermaddancer

I know I already have two paperbacks out, and a third about to launch. But those are my self-published ones, and it’s a whole different kind of a thrill. When I look at my Lynher Mill books I feel all this immense love for them, for the characters, the world I’ve helped them build (or they’ve helped me build) and the gorgeous, solid reality of them is a feeling unlike any other. (So, just because I can, I’m going to post the covers here, with further thanks to the magical combination of cover designer Jeanine Henning, and artist Sean Ryan, who between them took my rather dull photographs, of Cornish tin mines on a non-descript kind of a day, and turned them into the beauties you see here.)

                                                                       

TheLightningandtheBlade_SMALL

DustOfAncients_Small

This blog isn’t about the selling, so these are not links, simply images.     However, if you’re interested in reading more about this Cornish Mythic Fiction series, please visit my website where you’ll find a few more details, and information on how to buy, or download a free sample.                           

But now onto Maid of Oaklands Manor. This one is also very, very special to me, and that’s mostly because it was inspired by the stories told to me by my late maternal grandmother Mary Nixon, nee Deegan (whose name you might recognise if you’ve read the book.) The story is not hers, although some of the events within it are true, but all the way through I had her in my head, talking to me in her slight, lilting Liverpudlian accent. I dedicated the book to her.

The difference between my self-published paperbacks being available, and the decision to send this one to print, is that this time someone else has decided it’s worth the financial cost – the book will print at over 430 pages – and that it’s fit to sit on the shelves alongside some of the greatest names in the world of books.

Piatkus have designed a gorgeous new cover for it, to tie it in with the second and third books in the series, and so, with a grin of utter delight, I give you the final, the perfect, Lizzy Parker:

Oaklands Paperback

“This blog isn’t about the selling,” she says! Well of course I’m going to have to leave a link to the pre-order page for this paperback, aren’t I? But the bonus of having had it available as an e-book for two years already, is that you can check out the reviews, and even view a free sample, before you decide whether you think it’s worth ordering the paperback. 

‘Look Inside’ the e-book here.

Pre-order the paperback here.

Thank you for reading, and, as always, please feel free to comment here or on the shared post on my Facebook  page. 

Guest Post – A L Michael – If You Don’t Know Me By Now.

Dickhead Quote

I’d like to welcome to my bog today, super Carina author A L Michael, whose new book: If You Don’t Know Me By Now, has just been released. This quote makes me laugh every time!   

Want to win a coffee-themed goodie bag? There’s a super prize draw, through Rafflecopter, HERE.

About the book:

IfYouDontKnow_FINAL

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Imogen has come to London to make it as a writer. At least, that was the plan. Finding herself in a dead-end job serving coffee to hipsters was not on her to-do list. And even if gorgeous colleague Declan does give her more of a buzz than a triple-shot cappuccino, Imogen can feel her dreams evaporating faster than the steam from an extra-hot latte.

Until her anonymous tell-all blog about London’s rudest customers goes viral – and suddenly, Imogen realises that landing the worst job in the world might just be the best thing that’s ever happened to her! As long as she can keep her identity to herself…

Buy the book on Amazon UK

Buy the book on Amazon US

About the author:
Author Image - Andi

A.L. Michael is a twenty something writer from London. She works as a creative facilitator, running workshops in creative writing, writing for wellbeing, and children’s lessons. She has a BA in English Literature with Creative Writing, an MA in Creative Entrepreneurship, and is working towards an MsC in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. She is not at all reliant on her student discount card.

When she’s not writing or talking about writing, she bakes, runs, plays with her puppy, and gets continually distracted by shiny things on Pinterest. 

Striking a Balance

Today I went to the first in what I hope will be a series of “indie bookshop crawls,” in Totnes, Devon. While there, I was talking to a fellow Plymothian (during which conversation it emerged that the collective noun for Plymothians is “an excellence.” Okay, I might have made that up…) who was asking me who I knew, and which clubs and reading nights I frequented. I had to admit to not taking part in many at all, and explained that, because I work full-time, the weekends and days off I do get, I have to spend writing as opposed to talking about writing.

Which led me to ponder, on the way home; how much time should we spend at open-mic nights, readings, groups, etc? Are we doing ourselves a disservice if we shun 90% of these, in favour of actually writing? Does it make a difference that our agent is calling for 40k words towards our new novel a.s.a.p, or is that only an excuse?

I’m finding it hard striking a balance between trying to mingle with other writers –getting myself known locally, and spending time listening to their work–and actually nailing those damned words to the page. I was met with a surprised look today, when I said I hadn’t been to such-and-such a group, didn’t know this or that person, and didn’t really get out to many of these reading groups, but then the person to whom I was talking said he’d be lucky to get 40 thousand words out in a year.

With so much writing time already taken up with marketing online, preparing and posting updates and tweets, learning from other writers in Facebook groups, updating the website, and generally scattering myself all over Facebook in the hopes of scoring a couple of extra sales, can I really afford to take time out to sit in a room and listen to poems and short stories, in order not to be seen as distancing myself?

Where’s that balance, and how do I avoid coming over as aloof and/or non-committed if I ultimately come down on the side of producing work instead of talking about it?

Answers on a postcard please… or in the comments here or on Facebook 🙂

Tied Up With Love – A Guest Post from author Amelia Thorne.

Hello, my lovelies!
I’m proud to be hosting a first-chapter sneak-peek at Tied Up With Love, the new book by Amelia Thorneauthor of Beneath the Moon and the Stars.
The book is released on Valentine’s Day (the day after tomorrow! What do you mean, you’d forgotten? Go and get a card, quick!) and promises to be a best-seller in double-quick time. So be ahead of the game, and you’ll be able to say you were one of the first to buy it!
 Tied Up in Love 05-09a
‘We’re from KMW. Do exactly as you’re told and you won’t get hurt…’
Being grabbed off the street, blind folded, tied up and thrown into a van was not what Izzy expected to happen when she stepped out the door that morning. But when an accidental kidnapping at the hands of the sexy Ethan Chase and his ‘Kidnap My Wife’ sexual fantasy business leads to just that, Izzy seizes the chance to turn her misfortune into a brilliant new job opportunity…

Since then, life has been one big tangle of new client meetings, fake kidnapping pick-ups, and handling the temperamental, but drop dead gorgeous ‘bad boy’ Mr Chase. But, as liberating as being tied up in Ethan’s life is, Izzy knows the time is fast approaching when she must make some decisions and take charge of her future. The only question is: will Ethan allow himself to be a part of it?

Chapter One

Izzy watched as the grey van skidded round the corner and tore down the street towards her. The driver definitely seemed to be in a rush. The van had blacked out windows, a foreign plate and was being driven really badly. It careened across the empty road, mounted the pavement right in front of her and stopped just before hitting a lamppost.

She was standing outside a recording studio and for one deliciously exciting moment, Izzy thought someone famous might step out, with mirrored shades and a huge entourage. Admittedly, the recording studio was generally used for making advertising jingles, but allegedly Chesney Hawkes had once been there.

Izzy inched closer. Nothing exciting ever happened in her sleepy little town of Greater Chessingburyford. Maybe today…

The van doors were suddenly thrown open and out stepped the biggest man she had ever seen in her entire life. His elf ears were huge and stuck out into comical points, his enormous eyes were magnified behind thick rimmed glasses. He looked friendly, kind of sweet, like a big puppy. So it came as the biggest shock in the world when he yanked a cotton bag over her head, threw her over his shoulder and bundled her into the van.

Izzy heard the van door close, plunging her into darkness. As the van took off, Izzy’s brain finally caught up with what had just happened. She had been kidnapped.

She was lying on the floor of the van – it was dusty and she could see a pair of black boots out the bottom of the bag. The legs attached to them knelt by her side.

‘We’re from KMW. Do exactly as you’re told and you won’t get hurt. Put your hands in front of you.’

Izzy obeyed, suddenly feeling a sick wave of panic consume her.

Rope was tied around her wrists, and although it wasn’t tight it immediately chafed her skin.

KMW? Who the bloody hell were they? Like KGB or FBI? What did they want with her? More importantly, what were they going to do with her? Would she be beaten and tortured? Would they kill her once they were finished?

Her throat was dry but she managed to find her voice. ‘What do you want?’

‘Someone wants to see you. We’re taking you to Oakwood House now. It’s in the middle of nowhere so no one will hear you scream,’ Black Boots said.

Izzy heard herself take a deep shuddering breath.

‘I don’t have any money.’

‘I don’t think it’s your money he’s after.’ Another male voice, which somehow Izzy associated with the huge man who had abducted her. He laughed and the lewdness of it sent shivers down her spine.

‘Leave it out Gizmo,’ Black Boots said.

Strong hands were suddenly around her arms and she was pulled up and sat in a chair. ‘When we get to the house, we’ll take you in and down to the basement. It’s been requested that you’re tied to the bed. After that you’ll be left alone.’

Izzy felt physically sick, her heart was racing in her ears, cold sweat prickled down her back.

‘She’s shaking,’ Gizmo said.

‘I know,’ Black Boots said, with a note of worry in his voice. ‘Look we’ll be there in a minute. We need to gag you.’

The bag was pulled from her head and she blinked in the muted light, getting her first glimpse of Black Boots. He was young, maybe early twenties. He was good looking and had brown eyes and warm skin of Mediterranean colouring. He proffered the bandana and she flinched away from him. Gizmo, she noted, was calmly reading the paper.

‘Please, let me go. I’m rubbish in bed, your boss or client will be very disappointed.’

Black Boots narrowed his eyes as he looked at her. ‘You don’t know what this is about, do you?’

Izzy shook her head.

‘Crap, he’s supposed to tell you. We say it time and time again, they have to tell them.’

‘We’re here,’ called the driver and she looked over to see the back of a shaved head in the driver’s seat. Izzy felt the van come to a halt.

Black Boots pushed his hair from his face and sighed. ‘Dave asked us to bring you here, you don’t need to worry.’

‘Dave?’ Izzy asked and Black Boots nodded. Who the bloody hell was Dave?

The door to the back of the van was suddenly thrown open, bright sunlight temporarily blinding her. As she opened her mouth to speak, Black Boots slipped the bandana in her mouth and tied it round the back of her neck.

Gizmo stood up and ducked to get out the van, then turned round and in an easy movement lifted her carefully back over his shoulder again.

She had never been as scared in her life as she was right then. She had read about this sort of thing in the papers, but never thought for one moment it would ever happen to her.

They were quickly inside and she had a chance to see dark wood flooring before Gizmo was carrying her down some stone stairs. He walked into a dimly lit room and laid her on the bed. Black Boots knelt on the bed next to her and lifted her arms above her head to tie them to the headboard.

Something snapped inside of her, there was no way she was going to let this happen. She lashed out with her feet, kicking Gizmo in the side of the face. He leapt back with a wail, she elbowed Black Boots in the nose and blood spurted from it satisfyingly. She leapt up and ran but only managed to get two feet before Gizmo had grabbed her and dragged her, kicking and wriggling back to the bed. Black Boots quickly held her feet down while Gizmo tied her hands proficiently to the headboard.

‘Jesus,’ Gizmo rubbed his head. ‘Anyone would think she doesn’t want to get shagged.’

Black Boots touched his nose. ‘This is exactly why she should have been told. I don’t get paid enough for this.’

Izzy wriggled against her restraints, pulling on the rope so hard it made her wrists sore.

‘Good luck to her husband, that’s all I can say, she’s going to skin him alive,’ Gizmo said.

There were footsteps on the stairs and Black Boots looked towards them. ‘Why the hell didn’t you tell her? That’s part of our agreement. She’s petrified.’

‘I did,’ said a voice, veiled in the darkness.

Izzy strained her eyes to look at her kidnapper and slowly he emerged into the light. A thin, scrawny looking man with glasses peered at her.

‘Who the hell is that?’

‘Your wife,’ Gizmo said.

‘No she bloody isn’t.’

Black Boots looked back at her, his tanned cheeks suddenly going pale. ‘That’s not your wife?’

Scrawny Man shook his head. ‘I’ve never seen her before in my life.’

They all stared at her. Maybe there was some little ray of hope. They’d clearly kidnapped the wrong person and now she would be set free.

‘Hang on a minute,’ Scrawny Man said. ‘If she’s here, who the hell has got my wife?’

‘No one, there are no other teams. Your wife is probably still standing at the pick-up point. Or gone home, bored of waiting.’

‘Bloody hell, I’ve paid four hundred pounds for this and you can’t even pick up the right woman. I bought Viagra and everything.’

‘Look, Ethan will be in touch with you. We’ll arrange a full refund or an alternative date but right now we have the very small matter of abducting a complete stranger off the street to deal with.’ Black Boots gestured to Izzy in exasperation and Scrawny Man nodded.

‘Right, of course. If the press get hold of this I want full anonymity.’

‘The press won’t get hold of this – besides, you’re not actually doing anything wrong.’

Scrawny Man nodded again. ‘I better call my wife.’

Izzy watched as he retreated back up the stairs. Gizmo and Black Boots continued to stare at her.

‘What are we going to do now?’ Gizmo asked.

‘I can’t believe you grabbed the wrong woman.’

‘Me? You told me it was her.’

‘The boss is going to kill us,’ Black Boots said.

‘We could not tell him.’

‘How do you suppose that’s going to work? We let her go now, she’ll go straight to the police. The police will come straight to Ethan with your description, you’re hardly inconspicuous.’

Gizmo paled. ‘I’m not going back to jail, no way.’

Izzy moaned against her gag and Black Boots approached her like she was a caged wild animal.

Carefully he removed the bandana from her mouth.

‘Please, let me go. There’s obviously been some terrible mistake. I promise, I won’t go to the police. I won’t tell anyone.’

Black Boots looked back at Gizmo. Gizmo shook his head, ‘She’s seen our faces. There’s no way I’m letting her go.’

‘Are you insane? We’re not criminals. What are you going to do with her, kill her and dump her body where no one will ever find her?’

Izzy’s heart, which had been slowing when she realised she wasn’t the intended target, started galloping again.

‘Please. Please don’t hurt me.’

‘We’re not going to hurt you.’ Black Boots leaned over to untie her from the headboard. But as she sat up Gizmo marched over and pulled the bag back over her head.

‘What are you doing?’ Black Boots said.

‘We’ll take her to the boss, he’ll know what to do.’

‘Jesus, Gizmo, we’re just making this situation worse.’

But Gizmo, it seemed, wasn’t to be talked out of this. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder again. She saw the stone steps and then the gravel outside, and she was back inside the darkness of the van a moment later

*

The van journey was quite short but Gizmo and Black Boots were silent.

They surely weren’t going to kill her.

But she had seen their faces, she knew the van’s number plate off by heart. Why would they let her go?

How had it come to this? Her day had started so normally. Since being fired from her job two weeks before, she hadn’t had to get up too early, but her beloved cat Pete had woken her up demanding to be fed. She’d studiously ignored the first trickle of bills that had arrived on her doorstep. There were bound to be many more to come. She’d fed the cat, fed herself the remains of the cereal, gone for a run and spent three hours applying for different jobs. Bar maid, waitress, secretary, cleaner, bin man – or in her case, bin lady – sports coach, carpenter and driver’s mate, she’d applied for them all. She came across well on the phone, she had good experience and was never sick. She worked hard and most people seemed interested until they asked the fateful question. ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ Being fired for breaking her boss’s nose was not a selling point. Most people rapidly lost interest after that.

She’d wandered down to the college to see if there were any more free courses she could sign up for but she’d already done most of them. She’d just been on her way to meet her Aunt Sophie for coffee when Gizmo and Black Boots had crashed into her life.

The van stopped and she heard them climb out, leaving her alone in the darkness.

‘WHAT?’ roared a voice nearby as no doubt their boss, Ethan, was just informed they had kidnapped the wrong person.

‘WHAT?’ roared Ethan even louder as he was no doubt told she was still tied up in the van with a bag over her head. He sounded like a man not to mess with and Izzy found herself shaking again.

She heard running footsteps and the van door was thrown open. The bag was yanked from her head and she looked into the fierce blue eyes of the most freaking gorgeous man she had ever seen. He was huge, not quite as big as Gizmo in height but certainly the same broadness. He had curly dark hair and the same Mediterranean skin tone as Black Boots, which made the azure blue eyes stand out even more. In fact his eyes didn’t belong in someone so dark and they made him look interesting and unusual. He stared at her for a moment. Was he checking her out? Izzy nearly laughed at this crazy thought – she was dressed in tatty leggings, an oversized hoodie and battered knee high boots, there was definitely nothing sexy about her, but the look in his eyes was undeniably hunger, as if he wanted to eat her.

He moved forward to grab her and Izzy flinched away from him.

‘I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. I’m Ethan Chase. I’m so sorry about all this. Let me make you a cup of tea and I will explain everything.’

He took her arms in surprisingly gentle hands, pulled her to her feet and helped her down from the van.

Her legs were shaking and she wasn’t sure if she could stand.

‘Are you ok to walk? Here, let me help.’

Before she could answer, Ethan swept her up into his arms and carried her like a baby into his office. Gizmo and Black Boots were standing to one side, looking sheepish.

‘Get out, both of you.’

They hurried out and Ethan placed her in a chair. He knelt next to her and started to undo the rope around her hands. The office was a mess. There was a big desk with a phone that was ringing quietly. Paperwork was strewn everywhere, in piles on the floor, even on the big comfy sofa in the corner. There was a very swish looking computer with some kind of diary on the screen and mouldy coffee cups in various degrees of decay were all over the floor, windowsills and on top of the filing cabinet.

Sunlight was spilling through the open door and Izzy looked out at the fields and trees stretching as far as the eye could see. She tried to pick out landmarks so she knew where she was, but apart from a distant church, it was a landscape of green.

She would escape. She was a fast runner, she knew this. When she went jogging, she could run for very long distances and barely break into a sweat. Gizmo and Black Boots were lurking by the van but she could run in the other direction, leap over that fence and be down the hill before they could get anywhere near her. She looked at Ethan. He was very strong though. The shirt he was wearing did seem to be bulging at the arms. Even his exposed tanned forearms were muscular. The element of surprise would help her. With her hands released she put her head in them and pretended to cry.

‘Now, there’s no need to cry, I know it was scary for you, and I’m really sorry for that…’ he leaned in to comfort her and she punched him as hard as she could in the face, sending him sprawling on the floor.

She leapt out of her chair and ran through the door.

‘Jesus, not again,’ Black Boots said.

‘Gizmo, stop her,’ roared Ethan.

She ran towards the fence, but her legs were shaky with the adrenaline that was coursing through her and she couldn’t run as fast as she needed to. Gizmo lumbered towards her, she swung her fist in his direction but he caught both hands and threw her over his shoulder again. She fought against him but with one strong arm round her legs she could do very little to stop him. He plonked her back in the chair again, grabbed the rope that Ethan had taken from her hands and tied her to the chair.

Ethan had a blue ice pack pressed to his eye, making him look like an obscure pirate. With his thin lips and his dark eyebrows slashing downwards across his forehead, he was definitely pissed.

‘Now you will listen to me…’ Ethan started, his voice sounding like a growl.

‘HELP!’ Izzy screamed. ‘SOMEBODY HELP ME. HELP!’

Ethan rolled his eyes and moved into the little kitchen. As Izzy continued to scream, she watched him pour two mugs of tea and put a splash of whisky in one of them, then he came round and sat on the desk in front of her. He waited patiently for her to stop screaming, but if she screamed for long enough someone was bound to come.

After yelling for help for a good minute or two with no sign of anyone coming to her rescue, Izzy flopped back in the chair, exhausted.

‘Finished?’ Ethan said.

Izzy nodded in defeat. He clearly wasn’t going to hurt her, and with her not being the intended target she might actually get to go home tonight with all her fingers still attached.

‘Good. Now you’ll listen to me. We’re a company called “Kidnap My Wife.” We offer a service to couples who want to spice up their sex life by staging a kidnapping. We agree a time and place with the couple for the wife to be waiting at, we turn up in our van, kidnap the wife and take her to our house down the road where the husband is waiting. What happens next is a variation on a theme, the wife can be tied to a bed, or a chair, the husband normally acts out some kind of fantasy for him or her, and they end up having sex. It’s all above board and legal and hugely popular. We’ve been operating for about five years now. With the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey our list of clients has gone through the roof. It seems all women like to be tied up and threatened. Claire Reynolds was our client today, you look a lot like her I’m afraid and were in the right place at the right time. She must have been running late. You have my complete and utter apologies. I can assure you this type of thing has never happened before.’

Izzy blinked at him. It all sounded very plausible. She looked around the office for any evidence to this and sure enough she could see several headed sheets of paper with the ‘Kidnap My Wife’ logo on the top.

‘Now I’m going to untie you, you’re going to drink this tea and we can talk about some kind of compensation before I take you home.’

He knelt next to her and untied the rope with skilful fingers. The bruise on his eye looked painful.

‘I’m sorry I punched you,’ Izzy said, quietly.

He didn’t say anything as he shoved the cup of tea into her hand.

She went to take a sip but the smell of whisky was strong and she pulled a face.

‘Drink it.’ Ethan glared at her and she quickly took a big gulp. The whisky burned the back of her throat but at another scowl from Ethan she took another big sip.

‘Here.’ He passed her the ice pack. ‘Put this on the back of your hand, it will be sore tomorrow.’

She obliged and watched him go back round the other side of his desk. He shifted a big pile of papers from there onto the floor and sat down watching her.

‘So how much to make you forget about this?’

Compensation? That hardly seemed fair, yes she had been terrified but it had been a genuine mistake. All three men were going to have bruises to show for their accidental brush with her. Surely that made them even.

‘Shall we say two thousand pounds?’

Izzy choked on her tea and she saw the small smug smile of satisfaction from Ethan, knowing she had been bought.

Two thousand pounds. Bloody hell. That would give her spending money for her trip to Australia. If she was careful, it would pay for her bills and her food too, for the next five weeks until she left.

Ethan rifled through the papers on his desk until he found the cheque book. He quickly filled it in and offered it across the table towards her.

She looked at the three zeros, shining temptingly with their wet ink. Why shouldn’t she take it, she had been traumatised after all. But a small business like this, two thousand pounds could be the make or break of it. What if this money was the difference between paying their bills and putting food on their table? What if giving her money would bankrupt them? She wouldn’t take it.

The phone rang incessantly between them and suddenly an idea formed in her head. It was mean and underhand but right then she didn’t care.

‘I don’t want your money.’

Ethan looked confused by this.

‘I want a job.’

His eyebrows shot up. ‘Are you kidding?’

‘That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.’

‘I’m not giving you a job.’

‘I’m sure the police would be very interested in my story. Taking you to court and suing you for traumatisation would be long and messy. Poor Gizmo out there could end up behind bars again. The papers get wind of this and it’s all over for your company.’

His eyes flashed. The cheque was crumpled in his tight fist. He stood up, towering over her. ‘That’s blackmail.’

She stood up too, though this did nothing to diminish the height difference between them.

‘That’s correct, it is. I’m good though. I can type a hundred and twenty words per minute, I did events management as part of my business studies degree, so something like this is perfect for me. I have years of secretarial experience in various different roles. I work hard, I will be here nine to five every day to answer your phone. I’ll clear up all this mess and establish some proper system round here. You’re obviously good at what you do to run this company for five years and still be standing, but I’m guessing you’d be better suited in the field. If I’m here dealing with the paperwork and the phone calls then you can have two teams out doing the kidnapping. You and Baldy in one van and Gizmo and Black Boots in the other. And most importantly I can implement procedures that will assure this kind of thing never happens to anyone else ever again.’

Izzy could see the vein in his neck pulsing away but he didn’t say anything so she pushed home her trump card.

‘I’ll be going to Australia in just over five weeks, so even if you hate me being here, in five weeks I’ll be gone.’

‘How long are you gone for?’

‘Six weeks initially, maybe longer. I may get a job out there so I’m not sure if or when I’d be coming back. I wouldn’t expect you to hold my job open for me when it could be months before I return.’

‘You’ll need good references.’

Izzy shook her head. ‘No references.’

He narrowed his eyes.

‘You gave Gizmo a job despite his criminal record, you can give me a job on face value too.’

‘Gizmo is my brother. I don’t know you.’

‘Six weeks.’

‘Three. Then if I’m not happy you leave without a word.’

‘Fine, but you’ll still pay me for those three weeks. Six hundred pounds a week.’

‘Three hundred.’

‘Four hundred and fifty or I walk out of here now and go straight to the police.’

He glared at her, breathing heavily through his nose. ‘I want you here at eight-thirty tomorrow morning.’

She nodded, barely able to believe her luck.

‘And you’ll dress a lot smarter than you’re dressed now.’

She nodded again.

‘Now get out of my sight.’

She hurried out the door into the warm welcome sunshine and Gizmo straightened from leaning on the van, ready to catch her again if need be.

‘Gizmo,’ Ethan called over her shoulder. ‘Take her home.’

Gizmo opened the van door for her chivalrously and she ran towards it before Ethan could change his mind.

‘Wait.’ Ethan appeared in the doorway. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Isabelle Franklin.’

Ethan nodded and walked back inside, slamming the door between them.

*

The Frog and Sausage was warm and cosy, with little booths under turret type roofs and winding stairs that led to further seating areas. It was one of Izzy’s favourite places in the world. The food was amazing, the customers friendly and laidback and right now she was sitting next to a roaring fire listening to the rain howling outside.

It didn’t sit right with her, blackmailing Ethan into giving her a job. She just wasn’t that sort of person. Being underhand and conniving was not part of her make-up. She would just have to prove to Ethan that she was a hard worker and that he hadn’t made a mistake in hiring her.

The door slammed open and amongst the leaves and rain that blew in, so did a bedraggled yeti, hair like a bush, struggling with her umbrella. The yeti forced the door closed, dumped the now broken umbrella in a stand near the door and planted a wet kiss on Izzy’s cheek before sitting down at the table and taking a big glug of cider.

Izzy smiled at her. Bex always made a dramatic entrance. Bex swept the tangle of blonde hair out of her face, ran her fingers through it and seconds later the effortless beauty that Bex so easily pulled off had returned. Izzy always thought that Bex could be a supermodel, being so tall. She had big pouty lips that many women would pay good money to have, flawless skin, big blue eyes and a great pair of breasts. She was stunning. Unfortunately the fashion industry didn’t see beauty in size twenty women, which was their loss, Izzy thought.

‘Good day at the office?’

Bex shrugged. ‘My teeth fell out when I was with a visitor. It was hardly the professional image I was going for.’

Bex’s job was as far removed from the glamour of the catwalk as it could be. Working for The London Dungeon as one of the historical characters meant she spent most of the day wearing filthy clothes and looking as ugly and hideous as she possibly could be.

‘I’m sure teeth falling out works quite well with what you do, adds to the gore.’

‘When your fake black teeth fall out leaving behind a perfect set of white gnashers, it kind of lacks the authenticity my job requires. I couldn’t find my teeth this morning so I had to borrow someone else’s and of course they didn’t fit and kept falling out. For the most part I managed to hide it, but during one big speech they fell out, straight onto the floor. The visitors all just burst out laughing, I was gutted. I had to quickly pick them up and put them back in, but they were already covered in ten tons of fur and dirt. It felt like I was chewing on fluff for the rest of the day. But I did scare the crap out of a few grown men and made a few children cry so yes, it was a pretty good day.’

‘You’ll miss it when you leave.’

‘Yes I will. How was your day?’

Izzy felt the smile stretch on her face. ‘I’ve got a job.’

‘That’s fantastic, well done Iz, doing what?’

‘Have you heard of a company called, “Kidnap My Wife?”’

Bex’s face fell. ‘Isabelle Franklin, what have you got yourself involved in?’

‘It’s nothing dodgy. It’s a fantasy role play thing. We kidnap men’s wives and take them to some big house and the husbands tie them up and have sex with them.’

‘How is that not dodgy?’

‘It’s not, the wives know about it. Think Fifty Shades of Grey on a lesser scale.’

‘So people pay to be kidnapped and tied up?’

‘Yes.’

‘And what’s your job in all of this sordidness, you better not be the one being tied up.’

‘No – office work, answering calls and all that.’

Bex was clearly still not happy about it. ‘Who do you work for?’

‘Ethan Chase.’

Her eyes widened. ‘Ethan Chase? Oh god honey, you don’t half pick them. Couldn’t you get a nice sensible job in a library or somewhere safe like that, working for some eighty year old man that loves poetry and bird watching?’

‘What’s wrong with Ethan?’

‘What’s right with him? His family have a terrible reputation, if you’d grown up round here you would have heard of him. He’s a total womaniser too, different woman every week. He lays on all the charm, wines and dines them and they’re putty in his hands. Then he shags them and never speaks to them again.’

‘Well that’s ok then, I don’t plan to sleep with him – just work for him.’

‘Or under him.’

‘Bex…’

‘Is he fit?’

Izzy shrugged. ‘If you like that sort of thing.’

‘And what sort of thing is that?’

‘Big, muscular, blue eyes that look inside you.’

‘So yes then. Just don’t be another notch on his bedpost. My friend’s sister went out with him. He took her to dinner, shagged her and she never heard from him again. She did say he was like a god between the sheets though and if she had the chance to do it all over again she would in a heartbeat.’

Izzy stared at her glass, not quite sure what to do with this information.

‘Good with his tongue too, if you know what I’m saying.’

‘I think everyone in this pub knows what you’re saying. He’s my boss. I’m not going to sleep with him. How awkward would that be once it turned sour – which it sounds like it would do. And he would have to be a complete idiot to sleep with one of his employees. Rule number one, don’t mix business with pleasure.’

‘So you’re not attracted to him at all?’

‘No.’ That was a lie. She knew it and Bex knew it.

‘Does he have a nice arse?’

‘I hadn’t noticed.’ Though Izzy knew Bex had seen her blush. Thankfully she was momentarily saved by the arrival of a cowboy, wearing jeans over beaten brown boots, a blue shirt rolled at the sleeves and a black Stetson.

‘Mmm, now that’s a rump I’d like to get my teeth into,’ Bex said, her eyes suddenly dark with lust.

She stood up and stalked over to the unknowing cowboy, sank her talons into his behind and nipped at his ear. To his credit, he only jumped a little bit, then he whirled round and gathered her close, kissing her so deeply it was almost pornographic.

‘Put her down,’ called Brian the landlord as he plonked a pint down on the bar. ‘You don’t know where she’s been.’

Bex parted from her conquest and he whispered into her ear. Bex giggled. ‘Give me half hour.’

He whispered in her ear again and her eyes widened. ‘Ten minutes then.’

Clearly satisfied with this response, he dipped his hat in Izzy’s direction and walked back out.

Bex stared after him for a moment, and then finally recovering herself she re-joined Izzy at their table.

‘I’m in love with my fiancé, did I ever mention that?’

‘Only a few thousand times. You should have asked Gabe to join us for a drink.’

‘He’s gone home to sort a few things out.’ Bex ran her tongue across her teeth unconsciously and Izzy tried to block out from her mind what exactly Gabe had gone to sort out.

Izzy quickly changed the subject. ‘So apart from the womanising are there any other reasons I shouldn’t work for Ethan?’

‘Well rumour has it he’s a drug dealer.’

‘Come on, I don’t believe that for a second.’

‘I’m just saying what I’ve heard. Whenever things get stolen in this area, everyone points to his family. They’ve never had any money or real jobs but they all live in nice houses. He’s got a hell of a temper.’

Izzy had already borne witness to some of that, she could cope with grumpiness.

‘Quite violent, I hear.’ Bex took another big gulp of cider.

‘With women?’

‘No, I’ve not heard that, but he’s got into quite a few punch ups in his time.’

‘Maybe wrong place, wrong time.’

‘Wrong man more like. He hit a policeman when he was younger.’

Although Izzy was not surprised about this, she still felt like she needed to defend him. ‘I prefer to judge people on the type of person they are now, not who they were in the past. We all have a history, ours is hardly squeaky clean.’

Bex had the good grace to blush, but it was only fleetingly. ‘A leopard never changes its spots.’

‘You’re so cynical for someone so young.’

‘And you’re so naïve for someone so old.’

‘Eight months Rebecca Dale, eight months older than you does not make me old.’

‘Look, your decrepitness aside, the whole Chase family is a bad lot from what I hear, one of them went to prison.’

‘Gizmo. Ethan’s brother. He’s been in prison.’

‘Sexual assault. I’m sure it was.’

Izzy felt affronted on Gizmo’s behalf. ‘That definitely wasn’t Gizmo. He’s not the type to do anything like that.’

‘So rapists are all a type are they, tall, white, brown hair, evil look in their eyes?’

‘No, but Gizmo is … kind of innocent.’

Izzy had chatted to him when he had driven her home earlier and it had become obvious very quickly that he had a sweet childlike naivety. He loved Ethan with a fierce loyalty that was incredibly endearing. He loved his job, loved the frost on the trees that clung to the bare branches like fur. He loved his dog Sampson so much that there were fifteen photos in Gizmo’s wallet that Izzy had seen. After ten minutes in the van with his exuberant enthusiasm Izzy had fallen a little bit in love with him too. There was no way he could be a rapist.

‘Of Mice and Men, that’s all I’m saying,’ Bex said.

‘He’s not stupid Bex, nor is he violent.’

‘You always like to see the best in people.’

‘And you always like to see the worst.’

‘I’m a realist.’

‘I’m an optimist.’

Bex smiled. ‘And that’s why I love you. Just be wary of him, both of them, and if they lay one finger on you – you tell me and Gabe, we’ll sort them out.’

Izzy decided, then and there, that she wouldn’t tell Bex how she had met Ethan and Gizmo in the first place.

Bex fished around in her bag and pulled out a pot of green cream. She stuck her fingers in and scooped out a dollop which she rubbed into her hands. It stank of a peculiar combination of coriander and green tea. Bex was always carrying these homemade concoctions around with her, but her skin always looked radiant and blemish free so it must have some benefits. Bex had made cures for dry skin, spots, scars, burns and chapped lips to name but a few. Izzy was sure she probably had a truth telling ointment and one for eternal life somewhere up her sleeve. Five hundred years before, Bex would have been burned at the stake.

‘Do you have anything for sweat spots?’ Izzy sniffed at the green gloop.

‘Where are the spots?’

‘On my bum. I bought some new jogging pants and I wore them once and they made me sweat so much I came out in spots. Most of them have gone but one little bugger remains.’

‘You’re such a classy bird, I do wonder why you’re still single. Please tell me you’ve done something about your scary bikini line. Last time I saw it, it was like some kind of terrifying swamp monster was trying to escape from your pants.’

Izzy blushed. ‘Admittedly I have let things lapse a bit lately. It’s hard to find the motivation when the only person that sees it is me.’

‘And me. And to be honest darling, that’s not something I ever want to see again. Come on then, show us your spot.’

‘I’m not pulling my jeans down in the pub for all and sundry to see.’

Bex stood up and frogmarched Izzy into the nearest toilet. ‘Drop them.’

Izzy rolled her eyes. She had known Bex since before she could walk. There were no secrets between them. Izzy unzipped her jeans and slipped them down a bit so Bex could inspect the spot.

‘Bloody hell, Iz, that’s huge. It’s got a life of its own that one. It probably has its own brain cells, its own thoughts. We should give it a name. Bert.’ Bex prodded it and Izzy winced. ‘Hello Bert.’

Just then the toilet door swung open and a very glamorous women walked in. The Frog and Sausage had a very strict dress code. Jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, trainers, wellies and the occasional cowboy hat were all welcome. This lady looked like she’d come straight from Ascot with her tailored suit jacket and matching silk dress.

She took one look at Izzy with her bum out and Bex bent over to inspect the spot up close and hurried back out again.

Bex burst out laughing and Izzy groaned.

‘I’m going to the loo whilst I’m in here, get another round in will you?’ Bex handed Izzy a tenner.

Izzy walked out into the pub and saw Ethan with the Ascot Lady. His eyes caught hers and Izzy felt something shift inside her.

‘I just walked in on two lesbians about to have sex.’ Ascot Lady was saying, pulling her jacket tighter around her as she looked around The Frog with disgust. ‘It’s obviously some kind of sordid gay bar. I’d like to leave.’

Ethan still didn’t take his eyes off Izzy and Ascot Lady turned round to see what he was looking at. ‘That’s one of them,’ she hissed.

Great. Just great.

Ethan put his arm round Ascot Lady’s shoulders and ushered her out. He glanced back over at Izzy as he walked out and she was sure there was a smirk on his lips.

*

 

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