Monday, August 25, 2014

Written Fireside Blog Hop Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first instalment of my contribution to the Written Fireside August blog hop, and here's the second instalment.

Watch out for the complete collection of short stories from Harper Impulse this Christmas, and don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter contest below for a truly amazing prize: $70 in Amazon vouchers plus at least a dozen books.

Part Two:

Charlotte stared sightlessly out the window until rain began to spatter against the grimy glass. Just her luck. The one day she hadn’t brought an umbrella.
She climbed off the bus at her usual stop, raising her collar against the sleety rain and tucking her gloved hands deep into her pockets. Jingle Bells spilled out from a store, and the Christmas lights strung overhead reflected in the puddles. The pedestrians hurrying along the busy pavements all seemed to be heading in the opposite direction, an inexorable tide she had to fight against. Something she seemed to be doing a lot of lately.
No-one understood what she’d done.
Her parents thought this was just a blip and soon she’d come to her senses and move back in with Daniel. Their well-meant interrogations were a small price to pay for free room and board.
Her old friends hadn’t been so kind. They’d sided with Daniel and been voluble in their disapproval.
“Is this some sort of early midlife crisis?” Jenny had asked. “Or maybe it’s wedding jitters. We all had those.”
But it wasn’t wedding jitters. Charlotte had stared down the tunnel of her future and wondered how she’d ever come to this point. It wasn’t that she didn’t want marriage and motherhood. She just didn’t want them packaged up in a terrace house and a pocket handkerchief garden, with a daily commute to a job she didn’t enjoy, a week’s holiday in Tenerife every year, and a man she wasn’t passionately and hopelessly in love with.
When the date of their wedding had come and gone, and she still hadn’t gone back on her knees to beg Daniel’s forgiveness, even Jenny stopped taking her calls.
So she made new friends. Friends who knew her simply as ‘Charlotte’, not one half of ‘Daniel and Charlotte’.
She reached the stage door and shoved it open, feeling the same sudden rush of excitement she felt every time she stepped over the threshold. A rush that, weeks down the line, still hadn’t abated. This was what made all the heartache worthwhile. Here, in the musty, over-crowded bowels of the theatre, all the tears and if onlys and might have beens disappeared.
Amidst the panicked preparations, the smell of grease paint, the bright lights, there was no time for anything but magic.

“What are your plans for Christmas?” Brian asked, batting his fake eyelashes at the mirror to check they were firmly stuck on.
Charlotte finished painting her lips. “Turkey at home with my parents, I guess. We’ll eat too much, watch the Queen’s speech and fall asleep watching re-runs.”
“Sounds scintillating. You’re welcome to join me and Jack for dinner, if you like?”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” Their flat might be in the heart of Theatreland, but it was so tiny a person could almost touch both opposite walls at the same time, and it smelled strongly of the Indian restaurant downstairs. “Three’s a crowd and all that.”
Maybe she’d make up for the bad, bad girl she’d been this year by taking mince pies to old Mrs Johnson down the end of the street. Mrs Johnson usually went away to California to visit family who lived there now, but this year she was too frail to travel.
“You know what you need?” Brian turned laughing blue eyes on her. “You need a booty call. You need to spend your Christmas Day making panty melting sex with a handsome stranger.”
If only.
Charlotte pictured midnight dark eyes and a suggestive smile.
She shook her head. “I don’t think Santa is going to be leaving a hot date in my stocking any time soon.”
Brian shrugged. “You never know.”
“Five minutes to curtain up. Places everyone.” The stage manager’s voice crackled over the speakers.
Charlotte rose and gazed at herself in the mirror. Out with Charlotte and her hopes and fears, and in with Dandini. Wigged, powdered, and dressed in tights, she could just have fun.
She pulled her tongue out at her reflection. Cross-dressing for a Southend panto might not be the height of an actress’ ambitions but at least it was professional, paying work. And considering that this time last year she’d still been sat in an office listening to middle-aged housewives drone on and on about the lack of excitement in their lives, she’d come a long way.
Charlotte straightened the lapels of her blue satin coat and hurried up the narrow stairs after Brian. “What do you think Steve will have in store for us tonight?”
Their director loved improv. To keep his cast on their toes, every night he arranged some unexpected surprise for them. Fireworks at the end of the first act, a pizza delivery in the middle of the second act, a cell phone ringing live on stage.
Brian shrugged. “It’s going to be hard to top the Can-Can dancers.”
But Charlotte was sure Steve would find a way. Tonight was their last performance, after all. She swallowed the lump in her throat. She’d only made it through the day because she’d spent most of it wrapped in a fantasy that involved a certain dark-eyed stranger.
Tomorrow there would be no more show and no more reason to catch the Number 25 bus.
In the shadowy light they took their places. The lights dimmed, the music began. Beyond the curtain, the crowd hushed. Charlotte’s heart was in her throat, her pulse beating a wild staccato rhythm. Then the curtain started to rise, the audience began to clap, and something settled inside her.
This was the theatre. Everything would be alright on the night.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Written Fireside Blog Hop

Fifteen authors, 
Fifteen stories, 
One shared starting paragraph.
Read a taste of what's coming for Christmas...

Written Fireside began as a series of round-the-campfire type tales, a serial story written by a number of different Harper Impulse authors. I had a huge amount of fun taking part in For Clara and His Way Home and I'm delighted to be taking part in the latest story.

But this time we're doing something a little different. This time fifteen authors have each written a short story starting with the same opening paragraph, which was written by Georgia Beyers, winner of Harper Impulse's Written Fireside contest. All fifteen stories have a Christmas theme and will be published by Harper Impulse as a free Christmas read.

BONUS: as part of this blog hop, you also get a chance to win, by entering using the Rafflecopter link at the bottom of this post!

So my apologies for the very unseasonal post, but here is the teaser for my contribution to the Written Fireside anthology:

Charlotte sat at the bus stop wondering whether she would make the naughty or nice list this year. Last year she had rescued a stray kitten and therefore considered herself most definitely ‘nice’. This year she had broken Daniels heart into a million tiny pieces, so ‘naughty’ seemed to be the only answer. There’d be no Santa Claus coming down her chimney anytime soon.
At least she’d left Daniel with Socks to cuddle up to at night. He would have been totally destroyed if she’d taken Socks too. Not that she’d had much choice – her father was allergic to cats.
She hadn’t really had much choice when it came to leaving Daniel either. He was the one who’d laid down the ultimatum: it’s either him or me.
He hadn’t expected her to choose her new agent over a six year relationship and a diamond ring.
But she had.
She pulled her coat closer and tucked her frozen hands beneath her arms. One day Daniel would thank her. He’d meet someone new, really fall in love, and realise what they’d shared had been nothing more than a friendship with benefits.
The benefits hadn’t even been that good. Not good enough to give up on her dreams or the hope that there was something more than a mortgage and okay sex out there for her.
Jenny put it down to her reading too many romance novels. Her former BFF said it led to unrealistic expectations and one day she’d regret leaving Daniel.
But as much as she’d hated hurting him, and as much as she missed Socks’ soft purr waking her every morning, she hadn’t regretted it yet. Not that her life had turned out like a romance novel either. She was now unemployed and living back in her girlhood bedroom in her parents’ house in Wickford, facing Christmas in a neighbourhood that seemed to consist entirely of old people these days.
The number 25 bus rolled to a stop before her, and she sat up straighter, watching with mounting anticipation as the doors wheezed open. Her heart hammered. Mrs Murtry appeared in the doorway, hauling her little basket cart packed full of Christmas shopping. The woman had more grandchildren than Queen Victoria who she increasingly resembled with each passing year.
“Good evening, my dear,” she greeted Charlotte.
Charlotte rose. “Good evening, Mrs Murtry.” And please get off the bus.
At last the old duck managed to get her cart onto the pavement, and Charlotte’s attention focused back on the bus’ entryway. The empty entryway.
Her heart sank. Where was he?
“You getting in or not?” the bus driver asked, impatient to be off.
“I’m coming.”
Charlotte stepped onto the bus, scanning the seated passengers. Weary commuters heading home from a long day at the office, shoppers weighed down by their Christmas shopping, and a group of teenagers making a racket at the back of the bus. No handsome stranger with midnight dark eyes.
She slid into a vacant seat. All week he’d got off the bus just as she got on. Five days of the brush of an arm, a melting smile, a frisson of delicious tension, and a few very naughty fantasies.
Yesterday she’d checked his left hand. No ring.
He’d caught her looking and winked.
Today was the day she’d decided to go for broke. Today she planned to say ‘hello’.
Except today he wasn’t on the bus.

There'll be another instalment tomorrow, so check back here, same time, same place.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Written Fireside's August Blog Hop has started!

Fifteen Harper Impulse authors are writing fifteen Christmas short stories all from one starting paragraph. We're sharing our story snippets throughout August and have a giveaway - 14 books/ebooks and a $70 Amazon gift card.

Any mentions on blogs, shares on Facebook, tweets, hollers over the fence to your neighbor about it, would be greatly appreciated. Come on by, bring some friends, enter our ‪#‎giveaway‬ and read the first snippet from Lori Connelly

You can enter the Rafflecopter giveaway here: