Happy Publication Day to Amelia Thorne

Tied Up in Love 05-09aIt’s publication day for Amelia Thorne and the gorgeous Tied Up With Love. I’m absolutely thrilled to be sharing with you the first chapter. So here it is.

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 today and it’s only £1 at the moment http://amzn.to/1xJPpra

 

Amelia’s hilarious original cover

 

I have Amelia Thorne with me today talking about her cover for her new story Tied Up With Love. When Amelia said she wanted to do a blog post titled Willygate, I couldn’t possibly say no.

Amelia over to you.

I love the beautiful covers that Carina produce for their books, they are absolutely stunning, everyone always comments on them and the designers do an amazing job. So when I received an email from my editor with my new cover I was beyond excited to see it.

This was the original cover before any amendments.

original cover

My first reaction was ‘ohhhhhhh its so beautiful’ I sat there smiling at it for thirty seconds and then I received my next reaction. ‘what is that between the couple?’

I stared at it and stared at it and although in my head I knew it was his arm, with his hand on her waist, I couldn’t escape the fact that it looked like something else.

Maybe I was going mad. I do think about sex a lot especially in my writing, I was obviously seeing something in this picture that wasn’t really there.

So I turned to my fellow Carina authors for some advice.

“Is there anything in this picture that you think looks a bit… odd?” I asked.

These are a sample of the replies I received.

  • Oh, eek!!!
  • I can see it as well haha
  • It’s right there
  • haha!
  • Showed my husband who fell off his chair laughing
  • Its frigging hilarious, I can’t take my eyes off it?
  • Woah.
  • He looks like he’s impaling her on it
  • Hahahahahaha!!!! At least he’s pleased to see her PMSL
  • Omigosh!
  • haaaaa snigger snigger. I feel like you should email back with just one word. Excited? Impaled? Turgid? So many options!
  • Ooh er, missus!
  • Looks like something’s come up during their kiss…lol.
  • He might have a gun in his pocket:-)
  • Oh my. He’s very excited, isn’t he?
  • ooh er!!
  • Oh my!!!!
  • It almost looks like she is giving him a hand job
  • Yes if its not his… Excitement, her hand is definitely in the wrong place
  • This made me laugh so much!
  • Is that a rabbit in his pocket or he just happy to see her? That is so funny.
  • Just woke up to see this… you have just, at 7am, put my day on the brightest path imaginable! OMFG!!!!
  • Hahahahaha OMG

It seems that the Carina authors, like me, have a school kid’s sense of humour when it comes to things like willies.

So then I had to send an email to my editor explaining the erm… problem.  I have never been so embarrassed before in my life. I write quite saucy sex scenes quite happily which my editor obviously reads, but I could not bring myself to say penis or willy or any other appropriate word in a letter to my editor. After much deliberation this is what I settled on:

I love this cover so much apart from one Very Big… Oh my God no!!!

I’ve showed this to a few of my friends and a few Carina authors to make sure it wasnt just me, and completely unprompted here is a selection of their replies.
‘oh my god, is he pleased to see her’
‘he looks like he is impaling her with it’
‘is that his hand or his…’
‘It looks like something came up during the kiss’
‘Oo er missus’
‘Snigger, snigger’

I can’t let that cover out with that between them, i know its supposed to be his hand but it really doesnt look like it.

If this couple is final and can’t be switched for another couple, can we give her a big skirt or dress to cover it up. There is a scene in the book where they go to a party on a rooftop bar and they dance out on the roof patio alone overlooking the london skyline, this cover could totally be that scene, she wears a long dress in that scene, so you could give her that to cover up the erm… Unwanted bits. I do realise, with a couple in white and a long white dress it might look like a wedding dress but rather that than people laughing at the inadvertent porno element.

Diplomatically done, I thought. Then I sat back and waited. Meanwhile word started to spread on Twitter. A few of my friends who had been privy to it started talking about the willies. I lost a few followers who clearly weren’t willy fans, I gained a lot more followers who clearly were. It became a mini event that soon became known as Willygate. I was dying to see my editor’s response, but also dreading it with equal measure. What if she didn’t understand my email, what if she asked me to elaborate on the problem. Finally I got a reply:

We genuinely were crying with laughter this morning. How did we NOT see that? It’s hard to miss! Attached is the new version, although I have to say, purely for entertainment purposes I think we all prefer the original….!

Phew, crisis averted. Here is the lovely new cover, minus the willy.

Tied Up in Love 05-09a

But some were not happy with the new cover. When I showed the new improved cover to the Carina authors one male author said:

* I’m afraid the operation brought a tear to my eye. Snip. Ouch!

Other Carina authors tried to reassure him

*Don’t worry, the graphic designer probably just painted the offending appendage blue

But he was not convinced

*I’m not sure that makes it any better.

I have to say I’m delighted with my new non-offensive cover, I think its beautiful but I do miss the willy just a little bit.

Caption Competition

I am offering a £10 Amazon voucher, but only to the brave. Will you go on Twitter and talk about willies?

To be in with a chance of winning, tweet the original offending cover with the hashtags #CaptionComp #WillyGate and your own funny caption about his erm…problem and I’ll put you in the draw to win.

Good luck

 

Prize Blitz Day 3 with Surviving The Rachel

 

PhotoGrid_1421874669153~2I’m giving away another gorgeous Surviving The Rachel prize today, this lovely lined notebook.

In Surviving The Rachel there are lots of super romantic moments but Jack and Bree’s first kiss is probably the most romantic kiss I’ve ever read.

Here it is

We’re quiet for a moment, sipping wine and staring out over the garden. The fireflies are out again, their flashes of yellow light glowing in the darkness.

I look at Jack—my firefly—and see he’s already gazing at me.

“Double or nothing,” I suddenly say.

“What?” he asks, furrowing his brow.

I put down my wineglass and head toward the door that leads outside.

“I bet I can catch more fireflies than you—again,” I say, challenging him. “If you win, I default my title.”

A slow grin spreads across Jack’s face. “I don’t see you as one to relinquish the title, Bree.”

“That,” I say, opening the door, “is because I know I won’t have to.”

And then I sprint out into the chilly night air.

“Cheater!” he yells.

I can’t help it. I haven’t felt this happy, this excited, and this alive—in forever. I hear Jack coming up behind me, and I’ve already made it to the rose bushes, their fragrant scent filling the air. I’m just about to clasp my hand over a firefly when suddenly Jack’s hand is over mine.

I gasp at the sensation of his skin against my hand. He turns me around, his hand now wrapped over mine. My heart is slamming against my ribs. He’s staring into my eyes. Fireflies light up the sky around us, and Jack begins rubbing his fingers slowly across the top of my hand, his thumb gently gliding up and down my wrist.

Oh God.

He takes his other hand and runs his fingers through my hair, tucking some of the layers back behind my hair in a slow, sensual manner.

“‘Hilfe, die Babys kommen,’” Jack whispers as he gazes into my eyes.

I swallow hard, staring up into his gorgeous freckled face. Crickets serenade us in the background; fireflies provide a romantic glow. And I’m totally lost in this moment with Jack.

“What?” I whisper in the darkness.

“‘The One with All the Kissing,’” he says, closing his mouth over mine.

The second Jack’s mouth is on mine, every nerve in my body singes. His lips are warm and taste of cabernet, and his kiss is gentle at first, exploring me, teasing me. His hands lightly skim over my hair, to my face, and down my back, with Jack making each touch deliberate and slow as we kiss.

And with each touch I want more of him.

His hands find my waist, drawing me closer, into his chest. He begins increasing the kiss ever so slowly, torturously, as his fingertips move back up my back, to the nape of my neck, and glide up and down, dancing across my skin.

I match Jack kiss for kiss, aching for more of him and his sexy kisses. This kiss is steamy and teasing, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. I put my hands on his chest, touching his white shirt, feeling his strong chest underneath it.

“I know you’re getting over Alex,” he murmurs against my mouth, giving me another hot kiss. His fingers are still stroking my neck, which sends delicious shivers of delight down my spine.

Who?” I murmur back, winding my arms around his back.

He laughs softly against my mouth, and I laugh, too.

Jack lifts his head and stares seriously into my eyes. “I know Eric likes you.”

“Well, I don’t like Eric. I like you, Jack. I like you.”

I bring his face toward mine, cupping his handsome face in my hands, and give him a burning kiss that should reaffirm which Chelten brother I want to be kissing tonight.

Jack responds to my kiss, his lips rapidly moving against mine. I’m relishing every moment of this—the way his skin smells of sexy, clean cologne; the way he’s exploring my mouth with his; the deliberate way his hands move over my body.

I have never, ever, been kissed like this.

Finally, Jack breaks the kiss. “Did that really happen?” he asks, taking a breath and running his hands over my hair. “Or am I dreaming?”

My heart leaps at his sweet words.

“You aren’t dreaming,” I whisper happily, wrapping my arms around his back again.

“If I am, I don’t want to wake up,” he says, kissing my forehead.

Awwww!! if you want to read the whole of that story then you can buy it here

WIN!

To be entered into the draw to win the notebook, all you have to do is Tweet your favourite film or TV kiss with the hashtag #SurvivingTheRachel

I will pick a winner at random tomorrow.

Good Luck!

Prize Blitz Day 2 with Surviving The Rachel

received_10203701567363217I’m giving away another fab Surviving The Rachel prize today, you could win this gorgeous Surviving the Rachel mug, perfect for curling up with a good book this winter.

In Surviving The Rachel, one of the things that Jack and Bree have in common is their love for the TV programme Friends

To be entered into the draw to win this mug, all you have to do is tweet your favourite Friends episode with the hashtag #SurvivingTheRachel

Don’t worry about getting the titles correct just explain your favourite episodes as best as you can.  Enter as many times as you like.

We will announce a winner, drawn at random, tomorrow and the final giveaway in the Surviving The Rachel Prize Blitz

Good Luck!

Surviving the Rachel by Aven Ellis

Screenshot_2014-12-12-20-22-21~2

I am so excited about sharing my review of Surviving the Rachel by Aven Ellis today and to celebrate the end of the tour I have some fab giveaways over the next three days.

Here is my review

Awwww this book is just the most romantic, most gorgeous, sweetest book ever. I love Aven’s books so much but for me this is her most romantic book to date.

I love Bree, she is a sweet, kind, strong, ambitious woman who has had some setbacks in life but is determined to move past that and build a future for herself. Living with her parents is not the future she had planned but this provides some absolutely hilarious moments in the story. Her mom and dad are just lovely but highly embarrassing and some of the funniest scenes in the book come courtesy of Diva, Bree’s mom’s annoying yapping Pomeranian. Aven writes superb comedy that makes me laugh out loud and I fell in love with Diva a little bit in this story. The comedy and banter between Bree and Jack is just brilliant too. I love the deal breakers in their relationship.

That brings me to Jack, the sweetest, loveliest, kindest boy next door. I really loved Jack, he wasn’t a huge, drop, dead gorgeous a-typical hero, but thats what made me love him all the more. He was this normal boy next door, one who was good looking but with a beautiful heart.

It was the wonderful love story between these two characters that was the stand out thing for me. Their relationship was so tender and sweet and just an absolute joy to read. They both had insecurities from past relationships but the strength of their love was so heartwarmingly beautiful, it just left me with a huge smile on my face. Aven has some gorgeously romantic moments, some of my favourites involving fireflies.

Aven can write, there is absolutely no doubt about that, her characterization is flawless, even the sub characters are investing, engaging and well developed. I always look forward to reading Aven’s books, she is without doubt one of my favourite authors and I devour every word she has written.

Surviving the Rachel is superb, a wonderfully, sweet, deliciously romantic story to curl up with this winter and one of my favourite reads of 2014

To celebrate the launch of Surviving the Rachel I have some fab goodies which I will be giving away over the next three days.

Screenshot_2015-01-21-20-50-44~2Today I am giving away this gorgeous firefly necklace.

In the story Surviving the Rachel, Bree survives a dreadful Rachel haircut.

What embarrassing situation have you survived?

All you have to do to be entered into the draw to win this gorgeous necklace is tweet an embarrassing situation you’ve survived, with the hashtag #SurvivingTheRachel

For example ‘I survived having a hole in the bum of my swimming costume in a pool filled with people. #SurvivingTheRachel

I will announce the winner tomorrow along with a brand new giveaway.

Good Luck!

Cover Reveal for Dare to Dream

I am really excited to share with you the cover for Dare to Dream, the new book from Carys Jones.  I saw this blurb a few weeks ago and it’s definitely one I cannot wait to get my hands on. So without further ado here is the stunning cover.

dare-to-dream-front-cover

And here is the tantalizing blurb

The world was going to end. Of that, Maggie Trafford was certain.

Fourteen-year-old Maggie Trafford leads a normal life. Well, as normal as being crammed in a three-bedroom house with four siblings and a single parent can be, anyway. But despite being somewhat ignored at home, Maggie excels, earning top grades, a best friend who would do anything for her, and stolen looks from a boy in Maths.

It’s not until the dreams start that Maggie realizes “normal” is the least of her problems. Every night, she lives the same nightmare—red lightning, shattered glass, destruction. But nightmares are just that, right? No one believes her when she says it’s an omen. At least, not until the already mysterious pillars of Stonehenge start falling.

No longer alone in her fear, Maggie and the world watch with bated breath as one after another, the historic stones tumble, like a clock counting down. But only Maggie knows what it means: when the last stone falls, destruction will reign. And when the world ends, there’s only one option left—survive.

Horrifying and raw, Dare to Dream is equal parts tragedy and hope, detailing the aftermath of apocalyptic catastrophe, the quest for survival, and the importance of belief.

Pre-order DARE TO DREAM by Carys Jones today!

 

cary jones author photoAbout Carys Jones:

Carys Jones loves nothing more than to write and create stories which ignite the reader’s imagination. Based in Shropshire, England, Carys lives with her husband, two guinea pigs and her adored canine companion Rollo.

When she’s not writing, Carys likes to indulge her inner geek by watching science-fiction films or playing video games.

She lists John Green, Jodi Picoult and Virginia Andrews as her favorite authors and draws inspiration for her own work from anything and everything.

To Carys, there is no greater feeling then when you lose yourself in a great story and it is that feeling of ultimate escapism which she tries to bring to her books.

Find more of Carys Jones on her website, like her on facebook or follow on twitter.

 

 

Sneak Peek of Surviving The Rachel

Screenshot_2014-12-12-20-22-21~2Eeeee!!! I am so excited about this book.  I’ve been fortunate enough to read Surviving The Rachel by my lovely friend Aven Ellis and let me tell you, you are in for a real treat.  It’s the most gorgeous, romantic, sweet, cosy story and definitely one of my favourite reads of 2014.  Aven has a wonderful style of writing and I always devour everything she writes, but Surviving The Rachel is probably my favourite of hers so far and definitely her most romantic. You only have one more day to wait as it’s out tomorrow but in the meantime, here is a sneak peek of Chapter 1.

Chapter One

 

Drastic times call for drastic measures.

I wrinkle my nose as I stare at my reflection in my mirror. Okay, so that might be a wee bit dramatic on my part, but I do feel the need for a change.

Like a haircut.

A serious haircut.

I remove the rubber band holding my long, jet-black locks in place and shake out my hair, which I haven’t changed since college.

Nothing screams “I’m a woman ready for change” like an entirely new hairstyle.

And if anyone needs a change, it’s me, Bree Logan.

I study myself in the mirror. My green eyes stare back at me, and I think of how my summer can be recapped into three major events. First, I graduated with honors from the University of Arizona, but I can’t find an entry-level job in advertising. Next, my boyfriend Alex—who I thought was The One—dumped me after graduation and bailed on our apartment in Chicago. And due to lack of gainful employment and my stupid ex-boyfriend not giving me any money toward breaking the lease, I had to move back home with my mom and dad.

I bite my lip for a moment. Okay, yes, that’s my crappy summer. So if anyone needs a haircut to signal change, it’s me.

I’m ready to start over.

I’ll keep looking for a break in advertising while working as a cocktail server at the Bradley Scott Hotel downtown. I’ll pay off the money I borrowed from my best friend, Avery Andrews, to break the lease of the apartment in Lincoln Park. Then I’ll save up so I can move back to the city and have that post-graduate life I dreamed of and planned for.

Suddenly there’s a rap on my doorframe. I turn and see my mom standing there with a bottle of water.

“I thought you might need another one after unpacking these boxes,” Mom says, stepping around the boxes that I have piled in my room.

I turn and smile gratefully at her. “Thank you.”

Diva, my mom’s toy Pomeranian, is right on her heels and begins barking and growling at me.

“Now, Diva, Bree isn’t a guest, she’s home now,” Mom says soothingly, picking her dog up and cradling her to her chest. “You need to get used to that, Precious.”

I almost laugh. Leave it to the dog to remind me of my inability to pay rent and land a professional job.

“I’m thinking of cutting my hair,” I announce, unscrewing the cap on the bottle of water and taking a sip. “Maybe go into the city this afternoon and get it done by some cool professional.”

“Oh, Bree, are you sure, sweetheart? Maybe you should start with more layers or something? I don’t want you to do anything you’ll regret.”

“No, I’m ready for change in my life,” I say honestly. “I feel like this is symbolic of that change, you know?”

Mom sits down on my bed, next to a box of pictures. She puts Diva down and begins to sift through them.

“I can understand that,” Mom says. “Oh, I love this picture of you and your friends.”

I smile as Mom shows me a picture taken in July at Wrigley Field. It’s me and Avery, my best friend since middle school, our mutual friend, Emma Davenport, Avery’s boyfriend, Deacon Ryan, and his brother, Zach.

“That was a fun afternoon,” I say, smiling at the memory.

Mom sifts through a few more and then glances up at me. “I notice there are no pictures of Alex in here.”

I sit down on the other side of the box and frown. “I got rid of all of them,” I admit. “Looking at them was like being reminded how stupid I was to even think he could have been The One.”

“Sweetie, you were a young girl in love for the first time,” Mom says soothingly. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

I flop backward on my bed and groan. “Oh, but Mom, I was so blind. There were so many red flags. Like how he never wanted to do anything I wanted to do, we always did what Alex wanted to do. He was never interested in what I had to say. We always had to party when I wanted to go get a Starbucks some nights. And I was always driving him around because he got so drunk all the time. What did I see in him? How could I ignore all that?”

Mom drops the pictures back into the box. “You were in love with him. And sometimes that can make you blind, Bree. But you’ve learned from this, and that’s a good thing.”

I sit back up. “Oh, yes, I’ve learned all right. My next boyfriend isn’t going to be a selfish partying jerk.”

“So are you ready to date again?” Mom asks in a hopeful tone.

I see she’s grinning at the prospect, no doubt eager to start finding potential men for me.

“No. The last thing I need is to be dealing with dating when I’m trying to get my career off the ground.”

“Are you sure? Have you seen the Cheltens’ grandsons, Jack and Eric, yet? I keep telling you to go over next door and introduce yourself. They are such nice boys and they are your age, Jack is the older one, he’s twenty-five, and Eric is—”

“Oh no. No, no, no. I know what you’re thinking. No.”

“What am I thinking?”

“That I’ll end up dating one of them,” I say, giving my mom the suspicious eye.

“Well, Eric is very charming and available,” Mom declares.

I furrow my brow. “How do you know?”

“I asked.”

“Gah, Mom,” I wail, putting my hands over my face. “Please tell me you didn’t.”

“Of course I did,” she explains. “It’s called making conversation.”

No, it’s called scouting the field for your daughter.

“Well, I’m not interested. I’m not ready.”

“That’s too bad, because that Eric is so cute. Jack is, too, but Eric is just charming,” she says as she stands up. “Well, I’m going out to the garden. Lots of work to do. Oh, by the way, your father and I have plans for a movie and dinner tonight. If you are home by five, you can join us.”

Good lord. I thought being a third wheel with Avery and Deke was bad enough, but resorting to being a third wheel on my parents’ date?

That is a whole new level of hideousness I do not want to experience.

“Um, thanks, but I think I’ll just stay in tonight,” I say honestly. Which appeals to me. I haven’t had a Saturday night off in forever, and I want to order a pizza and have a movie marathon.

“All right,” Mom says. “Come on, Diva, let’s go outside.”

Diva barks happily and follows my mom out the door. I pick up my phone and do a search for some modern, hip, downtown Chicago salon. City chic, that’s what I want. I scroll through suggestions from Google until I see this:

Fringe Chic Spa & Salon—Modern Hair for Chicago’s Modern Woman

Perfect.

I call the salon, hoping against hope there might be a cancellation or opening today.

“Fringe Chic Spa & Salon, how can I help you?” says an utterly bored-sounding woman.

“Erm, yes, I’m calling to see if it is possible to get a haircut today?” I ask hopefully.

“Frederic is booked solid for months. So are Javier and Orlando,” she says as I hear keystrokes on her keyboard. “But you can have an appointment with Marcolo if you can get here in one hour.”

One hour? It takes about 45 minutes to drive there if traffic is awesome.

“Okay,” I say as if suddenly this haircut is the most important thing ever. “Um, how much is a haircut?” I ask as I realize I neglected to look at the prices on the website.

“$70.”

Wow? That’s not bad at all for a downtown salon.

“For the cut,” the receptionist says haughtily, interrupting my thoughts. “If you want it dried and styled, as I am sure you do, that will be an additional $120.”

Shit.

“Of course,” I say, mentally calculating cut + style + tip + parking downtown and the slim availability left on my MasterCard . . . and I’ll just make it.

By five dollars.

The receptionist takes my name, says they’ll see me at two o’clock, and hangs up. I frantically toss on a coral-colored maxi dress. I slide into my flip-flops and hesitate as I glance down at my toes. Crap, my pedicure looks like hell. I ditch those shoes and put on some espadrilles instead. Better.

I grab my purse and dash down the stairs. I slide the patio door open and pop my head out. As soon as I do, Diva begins barking and growling at me again.

“Mom,” I say over the barking, “I’m going into the city to get my hair cut.”

My mom glances up from the rose bush she’s pruning. “Okay, good luck.”

“All the way to the city for a haircut?” my dad asks. “That sounds extreme.”

“I want it to be chic,” I explain.

“They can’t cut chic hair in the suburbs?”

“Dad, I want it done in the city. So I’m going now,” I yell over Diva’s yip-yap-yip-yapping. “See you later.” And with those words, I bolt out the door.

Luckily traffic into the city isn’t bad, and I pull up to the valet stand with a few minutes to spare. After I hand over my keys, I step inside the posh salon. It’s all black and white and silver, with funky light fixtures hanging down from the ceiling. I see Chicago’s elite drinking champagne and being fussed over by stylists all dressed in black. The music is edgy sounding. Everything, in one word, is incredibly hip.

Hip. That is who the new Bree is going to be. Edgy and hip and ready to reclaim her life.

I approach the receptionist, who appears just as bored in person as she sounded on the phone. She is texting on her iPhone and only looks up after I clear my throat.

“Hello, I’m Bree. I have an appointment with Marcolo,” I say.

The girl nods. She punches a button on her headset and speaks into her mic. “Marcolo, your appointment is here.” She disconnects and shifts her attention back to her iPhone, not even glancing at me. “He will be right up.”

Alrighty then.

I take a seat in a sleek black and chrome chair and restlessly tap my foot. I’m excited about this. I haven’t deviated from my style much since college, and this will give me just the boost of confidence I need to go out and attack the advertising job front again.

I see a young man with a bright pink Mohawk approaching me. He’s very tall—about 6’4—and rail thin. He is wearing all black, of course, and has piercings in his nose. And tattoo sleeves.

Perfect, I think happily. He’s cool and young and will totally be able to give me an awesome new hairstyle.

“Bree?” he asks in a high-pitch feminine-sounding voice.

I stand up and smile. “I’m Bree.”

“Hello, I’m Marcolo,” he says, extending his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Bree. Come on back.”

I nod and follow Marcolo to his station. I slide into the chair, and he lifts up my hair. “What can I do for you today?”

“I need a change,” I say. In more ways than one. “I’m open to anything.”

“Ooooh, I love that,” Marcolo says excitedly. “Tell me about yourself. Your interests, what you do, so I can create a vision for you.”

Wow, Marcolo is going to create a vision? I totally lucked out getting in to see him today!

“Well, I recently graduated from the University of Arizona,” I start out, meeting Marcolo’s eyes in the mirror. “I want to work in advertising, as an account representative.”

“Mmmmmmm, what about your interests?” Marcolo says, playing with my hair.

“I like being outside,” I say. “I like taking nature walks. I love good conversations, whether over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. I love shopping. And I’m obsessed with the show Friends. I know every episode by heart.”

Marcolo stops playing with my hair. “Interesting. Who is your favorite Friends character?”

“Oh, easy. Rachel. I love Rachel Green.”

Marcolo spins the chair around, so I’m facing him. “I’m inspired. I have a brilliant idea.”

Yes! I’m going to look fabulous when he’s finished; I can just tell.

“Really?” I ask, smiling at him.

“Let’s give you a modified Rachel cut.”

I pause. “Do you mean The Rachel?” I say, referring to the haircut that exploded during the 90’s when Friends came on the scene.

“Yes. But with an edge.”

I bite my lip. “But . . . that cut was popular a long time ago. I’m not sure about all those layers.”

“This is not going to be that cut,” Marcolo explains excitedly. “Fewer layers, some bangs. It will be fresh and sexy.”

“I don’t know.”

“Bree, you said you wanted a change. I’m offering you something fresh and familiar at the same time. What do you think?             Marcolo works at one of the best salons in Chicago. He wouldn’t lead me wrong, right?

I take a deep breath and nod excitedly. “Let’s do it. Give me the modern Rachel.”

And with those words, I put my faith in Marcolo’s vision—and his scissors.

***

I sit in my car and stare at my reflection in the mirror on the driver’s side visor.

My hair does not look like a fresh, modern, version of The Rachel.

It looks exactly like The Rachel.

Which might be awesome if it were 1994.

But it’s not.

Arrrrrrrrrrrgh! Oh, but I don’t just have The Rachel. I have one with heavy bangs cut in, Marcolo’s “modern” twist.

My beautiful black hair is now in that infamous, choppy cut. Looking incredibly old and dated. And the bangs make it extra hideous.

Why, why, why, did I agree to this? Why?

I slam my visor up. I hear a driver leaning on the horn behind me, so I need to focus and move.

Anger fills me as I think about my hideous new hair. New, hip, edgy woman, my ass! If I were to slap a denim vest on over a floral dress, I’d be a perfect specimen from the Central Perk set on Friends in the 90’s.

I groan aloud. Of course, I want to work in “Image is everything” advertising. Who the hell is going to hire me with this outdated haircut?

Hmmm, let’s see . . . Nobody!

I fume as I navigate my way toward the expressway. And not that I’m remotely ready to think about dating, but no guy is going to ask me out with this shitty hair either.

A bit of my anger dissipates with that thought. I guess that’s a bonus. Maybe by the time all these freaking layers have grown out, I’ll be ready to go on a date.

There is more traffic on the way back, but I don’t care. I have no plans for tonight, other than to sit around with hair clips and try to figure out if there is any way to fix Marcolo’s disaster of a haircut. Oh, yes. And maybe I’ll get a bottle of wine and down a few glasses. Along with a box of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies that my mother keeps stashed in the freezer. Crappy haircuts call for a crappy dinner.

I park in front of the garage, then I make my way up the front steps and thrust the key into the lock. Diva is already growling and yipping at the door. Ah, yes, the perfect ender to the evening. Diva will probably bark more now because I look scary with this stupid outdated hair, too.

I open the door, and before I know it, Diva shoots in between my legs and down the steps, and across the lawn to the Cheltens’ house.

“Diva!” I scream, taking off after her. “Diva, come back here!”

I watch in horror as she runs up to the neighbor’s porch. A young man is coming outside and stops when Diva moves straight toward him.

“Stop her,” I plead.

The guy goes to shut his door, but Diva shoots right past him—and into his house.

“Hey, hey, come back here,” he says, heading back inside after Diva.

I sprint up the steps and bound into his house after him, only to find Diva running around in circles around his living room.

“What is wrong with her?” he asks.

“She’s insane,” I cry. “Diva, stop!”

Diva jumps on a chintz couch to avoid me. I dive toward her, but she leaps down onto the floor and under a dark, cherry-wood table. Now the guy is trying to catch her, but he misses as she dodges around a white Queen Anne style chair to avoid his grasp. Finally, she stops. And pees all over his hardwood floor, narrowly avoiding the floral rug that is the centerpiece of the living room.

“Oh no,” I gasp, my hand flying over my mouth. “I’m so sorry!”

I turn to the guy, who is gazing back at me. For a brief second, I’m distracted from the disaster at hand. His dark-blue eyes flicker at me, and I stare back into his face, one filled with freckles. It’s an interesting combination—the reddish-brown hair, tousled with gel, the dark-blue eyes, and the freckled face . . .

Then I realize I need to clean up after Diva.

“Please, let me get some paper towels so I can blot it up,” I say in an embarrassed rush. “Then I’ll take Diva home, and I’ll come back to clean the floor for you.”

He’s silent for a moment. I’m waiting for him to explode, but then he simply clears his throat.

“So is this,” he says, sweeping his arm out toward Diva and her puddle, “how you planned to introduce yourself to me, Breanna Logan?”

Surviving The Rachel is out tomorrow, a gorgeous, cosy, read to curl up with this Christmas.