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Now live!!!

10 Aug

Bailey’s Park – a magical place cut off from the world for centuries, is thrown into disarray when its new protector, Dan, a tech savvy young man inherits the mansion and all of the mythical creatures that surround it. The woodland utopia is thrust into the twenty-first century when Dan finally accepts that he isn’t going crazy and fairies, pixies, elves, even dragons really exist. He embarks on an adventure to rescue lost pixies, introduces them to online shopping and joins in their partying and drinking, something their previous protectors would never dream of doing. This is a story of freedom, ethics and conflict, set in the beautiful English countryside. Where else would you find madcap roller skating fairies who are chocoholics, or elves who talk to a Satnav?…

http://getbook.at/Tribe

Tribe

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Vote for my new book!

9 Jul

Hello, everyone. I have submitted my new novel, Tribe, to the Kindle Scout program in the hope of winning an exclusive Amazon publishing contract, and I NEED YOUR HELP! Amazon determines eligibility for the program by the number of votes a nominated book receives. To vote will only take a moment of your time, but if I win, you will automatically receive a FREE copy of the book from Amazon. I would be very grateful for your vote. Thank you in advance. To vote, please click on the link below.https://www.amazon.com/gp/f.html?C=3KRKL8BRA5K9I&K=A1NYKCLVKZ9NCW&R=1S4Y14H0OEH0E&T=C&U=https%3A%2F%2Fkindlescout.amazon.com%2Fp%2F1G7A46A1IOJ23%3Fref_%3Dpe_886810_126055510&A=7KFKFUQQ72DLHTEFKROEHOW0TNYA&H=LZTJZ8PONYLZ0OZTLWATDPAUJXOA&ref_=pe_886810_126055510

My latest project-a completely new genre-Chapter 1

17 Apr

Pandora didn’t know that Lara had died. At the moment Lara took her last breath, Pandora was swigging back a large mouthful of the cider that Bezos made every year after the apples dropped from the trees in the orchard. She’d been singing along to the Griblet band, a group of particularly talented musicians, as Griblets usually are, taking a break from the wild dancing she’d been doing a few songs prior. Eloise was still up dancing, her long, pale hair flaying as she boogied with the Pixies to the Griblet’s version of ‘All the single ladies’.It wasn’t their fault, Lara hadn’t told them that she was ill. They’d seen her shrivel with age, even resorting to using a stick to walk from the house down to the folly, but she’d never seen fit to enlighten them to the realities of being human, certainly never burdening them about the secret known as old age, or asking for their help in preventing it. In Pandora and Eloise’s world, nobody aged, thanks to them, only dying from disease or war, which never happened in Bailey’s Park, as it was isolated from the world by a high stone wall and Lara.

As the song drew to a close, Eloise flopped down next to her on the mossy seat, which the Pixies had fashioned into a sort of sofa shape. Pandora grinned at her, before pushing Eloise’s wild, white hair off her face. “The Griblets are great tonight aren’t they?” Pandora said. Eloise nodded enthusiastically. She always preferred their covers to the originals which they’d played on the wind-up radio that Lara had given them. The Griblets, although small and strange-looking had an impeccable sense of rhythm and could tweak almost any song to make it brilliant for dancing. They’d recently learnt to rap too, which was fun.

The campfire crackled merrily in the centre of the folly, which had half its roof missing, removed by the Pixies so that it didn’t get too smoky while they were burning the firewood that the Griblets collected for them each morning. As the flames leapt about, Pixies danced, drank and laughed at their own jokes, for they were the educated ones, the practical men and women who organised life in the woods. It was thanks to the industrious nature of the Pixie-folk that Pandora and Eloise were well-fed, had plenty of delicious cider and blackberry wine, and also the trappings of a modern, civilised woodland society.

As the sun began to peep across the horizon, Pandora took another slug of cider and got up to dance before it got too light and the Griblets would have to stop singing and start their morning chores. Her long black hair bounced as she danced around the fire, her jet black wings safely tucked into a black bow to stop them getting in the way, or worse, catching fire. It had happened to Eloise once, the edges of her snowy white wings turning brown and crispy when she’d danced too close to the flames. It’d taken ages to grow out.

They spun round and round, the beat from the drum surging through their slender bodies, commanding their movements, lifting their feet and forcing their arms into the air in tribute to its seductive bidding. As the music stopped, they both flopped down onto the ground to get their breath back. “I feel a bit sick,” Pandora admitted, “It must’ve been all that slug casserole I ate for dinner,” she said, ignoring the fact that she’d drunk eight cups of cider that night.

“Best sleep in the tree then,” Eloise suggested. “I don’t want you throwing up in the cabin again. Remember last time? It took ages to get poor Draco cleaned up.” They both began to laugh at the memory of Pandora being sick over their pet dragon. The Griblets had terrible trouble picking the glittery slime out from between his scales. He’d stunk too.

Bezos interrupted them by thrusting a plate of roasted beetles under their noses. Pandora waved it away, too nauseous to eat, but Eloise took a handful and crunched one between her teeth. “Where’s Lara?” Pandora wailed, “she hasn’t been back since the white box with the blue light took her away. That was three sleeps ago.” She’d sat and watched it happen from the top of the Tall Tree. Draco had flown her up there to get a better view.

Eloise simply looked sympathetic, being unable to reply with her mouth full of roast beetle, which was delicious. “What if she never comes back?” Pandora wailed. “We might never get a cheesy Wotsit again. Imagine that? Never again experiencing the cheesy, puffy goodness of a Wotsit. We’d have to survive on just the Pixie food.”

Eloise could only shrug due to the beetle being wrapped around her teeth. She sucked on them frantically. “I mean, who would supply us with treats? Fabric for new dresses? Chocolate?” Pandora went on as Eloise used her finger to prise the chewy inside of the beetle off her incisors. 

“She’ll be back,” she eventually managed to say. “Besides, didn’t she tell us that there was a prophecy? That someone else would take care of us?” She crunched another delicious beetle and led Pandora by the hand through the small opening of the folly and out into the woods, before undoing her wings and fluffing them out. With Draco already asleep, Pandora would need them to get up into the cradle of a branch.

She watched as Pandora began to flap, slowly at first, before screwing up her face to flap her little wings at a fast enough pace to lift her off the ground and into the bosom of an oak tree, where she flopped drunkenly into a place where a branch forked. “Sleep well,” she called out, before making her way back into the folly.

“Is Pandora alright?” Asked Fredlen, a senior ranked Pixie. He took his job of protector very seriously. It was an unwritten rule of the Woodland Constitution that Fairies should be well looked after by the other species, mainly due to their rarity, plus the fact that only they could manufacture the dust which made them all immortal. In fact, according to the Snorp tree and the nearby colony in Markyle Lane, Pandora and Eloise were the last of their kind, saved only by the fact that they were isolated in Baileys Park and hadn’t been struck down by the allegedly fatal Fairy flu which had decimated all the colonies across England.

Eloise nodded. “She keeps asking where Lara is. Supposing she never comes back?”

Fredlen sighed. “I don’t understand it either. We’re all worried. All we can do is keep faith that her prophesy will come true, that somebody else will come. In the meantime, we make do. We still know all the wisdom of the ancients, the Pixies which lived solely off the land. We can always Snorp the Markyle colony if we get stuck.”

“I don’t like them,” Eloise wailed. “Their Griblets stink and they’re all country bumpkins. They’ve never had a human pet and haven’t got a clue about modern life.” She smoothed the front of her silky white frock, which had been made out of an old dress that Lara had given them to cut up. She’d called it her wedding dress and said that it had never been worn. Brock, the tailor, had been delighted and after making her a dozen dresses, had carefully folded the remainder away for future use, calling it “good stuff.”

“How do you know their Griblets stink?” Fredlen asked, “You’ve never met them.”

“I was Snorping one of their wood sprites. He told me they don’t wash them every summer like we do. Their Griblets only get scrubbed down every five summers. Ours are bad enough, theirs must be gross.”

“Hmm,” Fredlen said, “well, best get some sleep. There’s a few busy days ahead. I’ve got to attend the council meeting later.” He puffed his chest out in order to make himself appear more important. “Lots of plans to make for the upcoming Solstice party, then we’re debating the motion that the Griblets tabled, claiming that they don’t need bathing this year.” Eloise wrinkled her nose. “We also need to discuss what we’ll do if Lara doesn’t come back. There’s every risk that another colony might try and invade if they think we’ve lost our human.”

Eloise gasped. “They know we’re here though? Pandora and I?” The thought that invaders might come, possibly exposing her and her sister to disease was terrifying. They’d been told that Fairy flu had claimed their parents as well as the rest of their colony. Fredlen nodded.

“I heard through the Snorp that the Markyle colony is under threat. There’s a rumour that their land is to be stolen by the humans. We’ve told them that they can’t come here, that they need to find another woodland, but they say that they don’t have many options. It’s a worry, but not something you need be concerned about.” He tipped his hat and strolled off back to his own cabin in the folly.

Eloise opened her door quietly, trying not to wake Draco, who was curled up asleep at the end of her bed. Their cabin was on the first floor of the old building, partitioned off, as were all the cabins, by a wooden screen that separated it from their neighbour’s quarters. There were two carved wooden beds, topped with moss and feather-stuffed mattresses. The pixies had woven beautiful green bedspreads for them and had filled pillows with feathers collected by the Griblets.

Draco stirred as she slipped into bed, winding his long green tail around her small body in a protective gesture. She cuddled into him, his scaly, shiny body comfortingly warm as she contemplated the things Fredlen had said. 

Pandora woke up just as the sun reached it’s mid point of the day, pushing itself through the leaves and shining, unwanted into her eyes. She stretched and yawned loudly, before sitting up and scanning the ground for evidence of anyone else. She spotted Draco waiting patiently, sitting on the grass like a guard dog, or in his case, guard dragon. His bluey-green scales shining in the dappled sunlight. He was a handsome dragon, a touch overweight perhaps, due to the Pixies feeding him too many treats, coupled with a lack of exercise. Dragons are built to fly long distances and given that Draco couldn’t leave the park, he’d developed a bit of a pot belly, which Pandora thought made him more cuddly. As he heard the leaves rustle above him, he twisted his long, elegant neck to see up into the branch. He watched as his mistress tried to fluff out her wings, which were as creased and crumpled as her hair, certainly no good for flying. She’d learned early on that her wings needed to be sleek and smooth for successfully getting airborne and staying that way. It was easier to hitch a lift on Draco, whose wings were strong and thick and never needed ironing.

Pandora waved to him. “Here boy,” she called out. She watched as his large wings unfolded from their usual nook on his back and began to flap. Within moments he was level with her, lazily doing half-flaps in order to hover next to the branch. She hopped onto him and held on to one of the scales that he helpfully popped up to give her something to hold on to. “Take me to the Snorp tree,” she commanded. He swooped down and flew along the line of the stream until they reached an ancient oak. He plopped down beside it rather haphazardly. “Not a bad landing this time,” Pandora said encouragingly. She patted his scaly head and slid down his back and off the end of his tail, landing on the grass with a plop.

At the base of the large oak was a honey fungus, shaped like a pair of lips. Pandora tapped it gently to wake it up. “What’s new?” She asked.

The lips began to move…

“Nadlia is preparing food for everybody at the cave kitchen. The menu today is grilled crickets, bread and apple pie for afters. There is a council meeting in the glade this afternoon when the sun has moved over the tall tree. The toadstools inform me that Eloise is already dining.” The snorp’s voice was deep and melodious.

“She’s no meal dodger,” Pandora replied. “Is Lara back yet?”

“There have been no sightings,” the Snorp said. Pandora pulled a face before setting off down the path towards the cave kitchen.

Eloise was on her second plate of crickets, having already scarfed down some bread and strawberry jam. She waved as she saw Pandora and Draco approach.

“Hey there,” Pandora called out.

“How’re you feeling?” Eloise enquired. She fully expected Pandora to be rather poorly.

Pandora grinned. “Never better. Where’s Nadlia? I’m starving.” She sat down at the long bench, opposite Eloise and grabbed a cheeky cricket off her plate.

“Hey,” Eloise yelled, “keep those grubby mitts of yours away from my food. You as well Dragon face,” she shouted at Draco as she spotted a claw creeping towards her lunch. He snatched it away before she could rap his knuckles with her fork. 

Nadlia bustled over bearing two metal plates, laden with crickets, still sizzling from the barbecue. “You want bread and jam?” She asked them.

“Yes please. Just plain bread for Draco though, you know how fizzy sugar makes him,” Pandora said. She watched as Nadlia sliced a long, crusty loaf, made from their precious stash of flour. “What happens when the stores run out?” She asked her.

Nadlia sighed. “I’m not sure. That’s what they’ll be discussing at the meeting today.” She concentrated on her slicing, unwilling to let the two fairies see how worried she really was. Placing the bread to the side of their crickets, she smoothed down the front of her green tunic and headed back into the cave kitchen to stir the pot of gruel she’d made for the Griblets.

That afternoon, the entire colony assembled in the clearing for a council meeting, with the most important Pixies in the centre, followed by a couple of rings comprising of the two fairies, Draco and the rest of the Pixie-folk as well as a gang of Elves and several Wood Sprites. The outer rings were made up of Griblets, most of whom were pretty sleepy. Three o’clock was usually their nap time.

Normally the meetings consisted of planning for the next party and new building projects in the park. This one was different. Pandora could sense the panic amongst the chief Pixies.

Bezos rapped his mallet on the speak-rock to get everyone’s attention. “Quiet please everybody,” he said in his rather commanding voice. All the voices petered out. “We have three items on the agenda for today. In fairness to the nap requirements of the Griblet-folk, I propose that we debate their motion first, so that they can go to sleep afterwards.”

Everybody nodded in agreement.

“The Griblets, led by Griblet Mank have requested that they be excused their yearly bath this summer, as they claim that they don’t need one,” Bezos said.

The crowd began to boo. Bezos rapped his mallet on the speak-stone to silence everyone. A wood-sprite called Ralph thrust his hand up to speak. “Ralph, come to the speak-stone,” Bezos said. Ralph made his way down the knoll, taking long, bouncy strides, in that way that Wood-Sprites do. He placed his hand on the speak-stone, as was required.

“They’re already starting to smell, and I have it on good authority that Griblet Ming pooed his pants the other day,” he said, before bouncing back to his seat. Pandora turned to stare at Griblet Ming, whose face was burning bright red. The other Griblets were scowling at him.

Brock was next at the speak-stone. “I’m not making them new tunics if they’re not clean,” he stated. “Griblet Mank cannot claim that they don’t need new tunics, we can all see the state of them.” He was right, their simple hemp tunics were torn and stained and needed to be replaced. “Anyway, it’s a tradition that they’re scrubbed down on new tunic day. If they don’t like it, perhaps they should take their chances with the Markyle Colony.”

There was a gasp from the top row. Everyone knew that a Griblet couldn’t just swap colonies. It would mean almost certain death.

Bezos returned to the stand. He addressed Griblet Mank. “Have you anything further to say on the matter?” The curious little grey creature shook his head. “In which case, motion denied. Now, next on the agenda is the solstice party. Nadlia has suggested a traditional frog roast, which will go lovely with blackberry wine…” Pandora began to doze slightly as various Pixies droned on. Solstice parties were always pretty much the same, so she wasn’t quite sure why they needed so much debate. Pike, the Scribe, who was a skinny, almost wiry Pixie, carefully wrote down the suggestions on the pad of paper, using the short, stubby pencil which Lara had given him. He’d sharpened it especially.

The tips of her pointy ears twitched when Councillor Fredlen stood at the speak-stone to discuss Lara’s disappearance. He puffed himself up as he began to speak. “It’s been four sleeps now since Lara was last seen. We’ve distributed toadstools at the front of the big house to report back to the Snorp tree if there are any sightings, but so far there’s nothing. We took the liberty of emptying the letter box at the gates, but it yielded no clues as to her whereabouts.”

Pandora felt the cold wash of dread run through her veins. Lara had never gone away. Even when she’d gone out for supplies, she’d always returned within a few tree lengths of the sun. She watched as Councillor Rosco took the stand.

He coughed slightly before starting to speak. “We have enough supplies of flour, yeast and oil to last beyond the solstice. Supplies of wine and cider are assured until the autumn when we commence the brewing process again.”

“What about chocolate?” Eloise yelled.

“And Wotsits?” Pandora added.

Rosco adjusted the belt covering his alarmingly wide girth. “We have none left,” he said. Pandora and Eloise looked at each other in horror. “There’s an old packet of Garibaldi biscuits left,” he offered.

“Even Draco doesn’t like them,” Pandora yelled, “That’s why they’re still knocking about.” There was a buzz of conversation as the woodland-folk realised just how bad the situation was. Bezos jumped up to bang the speak-stone with his hammer to quieten everybody down.

“Can I remind everyone that your hand must be in contact with the speak-stone. There’ll be no calling out. That goes for the two of you too,” he chastised, staring directly at Pandora and Eloise. Pandora’s mouth settled in a thin, grumpy line.

“I bet he ate all the chocolate,” Eloise whispered. Everyone quietened down when Fredlen stood to speak.

“If she doesn’t return, there is always the prophesy, that someone else will come,” he began. There were more boos. People didn’t know if it would happen, or if they should trust another human. “Failing that, we must begin farming again. There is still some seeds in the back of the cool-cave. We can Snorp the Markyle colony for advice if we need to.”

Councillor Rosco stood. “If we let them know we’ve lost our human, there’s every chance they’ll invade and set us all to work. They could turn the whole park into a huge farm.”

There was a collective gasp. The Baileys park colony hadn’t farmed for almost a hundred years, seeing it as beneath them. “I would propose that we up the Griblet breeding program, so that we have sufficient workers,” Fredlen said. Pandora watched as the sleepy Griblets perked up at that bit of news, a few of them even fist-pumped the air. She tutted at their unashamed show of glee and settled back to listen to the rest of the meeting, watching the sun move across the tops of the trees, marking time until it was over and she could go bathe in the pond and curl her hair ready for the evening’s festivities.

Glitterball is live!!!!

8 Feb

Do you love celebrity dance shows?Ever wish that you could see what really goes on between the couples, the contestants and the judges?

Glitterball is a fun, lively romp through a complete series of ‘Celebrity Glitterball’, a show where celebs are paired with professional dancers to perform ballroom and Latin dances each week.

It’s adults only, funny and irreverent. From the author of the ‘A Very Corporate Affair’ series.

Amazon Here 

Smashwords Here 

IBooks Here

Barnes & Noble Here


The blurb is:

Highbrow art show presenter, Adele Walton, never wanted to accept the offer to appear on ‘Celebrity Glitterball’, even though it was a hit TV show. Unfortunately, her former boyfriend ran off with her money, forcing her hand. The program pairs a range of celebrities with professional dancers to compete for the coveted Glitterball trophy, which brings with it not only extra publicity, but also a bumper payday.

It gets worse when Adele discovers she’s been matched with a notorious, tattooed womaniser called Luciano Bianchi. He’s arrogant, horribly blunt, and totally single-minded in his determination to win whatever the cost. Little does she know that his attitude will prove to be the least of her worries when faced with the bitchiness, sabotage and dirty tricks of her fellow contestants. He might even be her saving grace.

Glitterball cover and pre-order

11 Jan

Glitterball is available for pre-order at Smashwords Here

Adele Walton is a television presenter who heads a highbrow hit show called Art Challenge. When her boyfriend runs off with her money, she accepts an offer to appear on Celebrity Glitterball, a dance show where celebrities partner professional dancers to compete over twelve weeks to win the coveted Glitterball trophy. 

Luciano Bianchi is the bad boy of dance. Covered in tattoos and with a reputation as a womaniser, he’s the last person Adele would fall for. Only she does….

Sneak peek at my upcoming novel-Glitterball-out January

22 Dec

Chapter 1-Sign-up
The shrill ring of my mobile pierced my unconscious brain. I tried to reach it keeping my eyes closed, unwilling to stir from the delicious sleep I was enjoying. I fumbled around until I felt the cool, smooth screen of my phone. Sadly I had to open my eyes in order to find the right part to press to answer the damn thing.

It was my agent, Sean. Typical, I thought as I located the green button. “Hey Sean, what’s up?” I asked, my voice deliberately betraying the fact that I was still asleep. He might not have attended the end of series shindig the previous night, but I most certainly had and was paying for it with a thick head and a mouth that felt as though it was full of feathers. I almost wished that I was one of those lady-like girls who didn’t drink.

“Wake up chicken, I’ve got news for you.” The excitement was evident in his voice, which reverberated around my tender skull.

“Can it wait until I’ve had coffee?” I asked, rather rudely, I know. What can I say? My head hurt.

“No it can’t,” he snapped, displaying the reason why he was such a good agent. Sean didn’t pander to hangovers, egos or bad tempers. “I have a biggie. Are you sitting down?”

“Of course I am,” I replied. “I’m still in bed.” I glanced at the clock. “It’s only nine in the morning.”

He ignored me. “The Celebrity Glitterball producers called,” he said, sounding excited, “They want to sound you out, see if you’d be interested.”

“Riiiight. You know that I’ve no dance training?” I reminded him. 

“Of course,” he trilled, “It’s why they’re so keen on you. The public like the non-dancers better, gives the series more of a journey-type narrative.”

“No, I’ve had no dance training because I can’t dance,” I argued.

“I saw you dancing at the ‘Great British Art Challenge’ after party last year,” he pointed out, “although I’ll admit that you were very drunk at the time.”

“Let’s not talk about that,” I snapped. Sodding camera phones should never have been invented in my opinion. The incident in question had made its way onto YouTube, to my horror. I’d looked like a drunken female David Brent, standing on a table….twerking. It was shameful.

“Quite, well, they teach you to dance, so don’t worry about that. I mean, if old fatty, Ed Wallis can get over his embarrassment and cha-cha in front of the British electorate, then I’m sure you’ll manage, especially when I tell you how much they’re willing to stump up.”

“Go on,” I said, my interest piqued. Actually, it was probably fairer to say that my accountant’s interest was more important, especially after he’d informed me of my tax liability for the previous year, which was looming at the end of January. It was a case of either finding work during the eight month Art Show hiatus or live on plain noodles for the duration.

“It’s staged payments,” he said. “Twenty five grand for showing up, forty K if you stay in till Halloween, seventy five if you make it to the finals and a hundred grand if you win the thing.”

“Sign me up,” I told him. Twenty five grand would cover the tax bill and still give me a nice wedge for a holiday somewhere hot in the new year with the girls. 

“I’ll be in touch,” he squealed, a little too gleefully for my liking, before ending the call to go and suck up to the Glitterball gang. I let the phone drop onto my duvet. Unfortunately I was also wide awake, so swung my legs out of bed and pulled on my dressing gown. I needed a strong coffee.

My mother, rather predictably, was beside herself when I called to tell her the news that I might, repeat, might, go on Celebrity Glitterball. After her squeals subsided, she bombarded me with questions, none of which I could answer.

“Are you allowed to choose your partner?” She asked.

Me: “No idea.”

“Well, can you keep the dresses then?”

Me: “No idea, doubt it though, anyway, what would I want with sequined scraps of dresses?”

“For parties,” she said, “do they invite mothers of the contestants?”

Me: “Not sure.”

“Well, I’m available for moral support. Will I need to come every Saturday?”

Me: “Oh I doubt it.”

“Do you get a free spray tan every week?”

Me: Loud sigh.

“Hair extensions!” She squealed down the phone, making me lift it away from my ear. My mother had never quite forgiven me for getting my hair cut into a short bob when I was fourteen. It had been my sole act of teen rebellion, railing against her dream of a cute daughter who wore pretty frocks and put a full face of makeup on every day.

Me: “That’s enough mother. I’ll let you know if it comes off. It’s not signed yet, so you mustn’t tell anyone…At. All. I mean that.”

“Even Grandma? She’ll be so excited.”

“Even Grandma. Wait until it’s all a done deal. If it gets leaked I might lose the gig.”

“Gotcha,” she said. I wasn’t convinced.

I dragged myself into the bathroom to wash away the shame of the night before. As I brushed my teeth, I saw the black smudges of mascara residue and patchy foundation still clinging on. The night before, when Alex had finally called it a day, right in the middle of a party. Bastard that he was.

As the hot water of the shower washed over me, I ruminated on what had happened. I wasn’t sure if he’d done it just to spoil my night, as he often did when he wasn’t the centre of attention, or whether we’d simply run our course as a couple. Either way, I wasn’t as heartbroken as I should’ve been. In fact my overriding emotion at that time was relief. Even after he’d dumped me during the party, trying to make a big scene, I’d only felt relief at him walking, no, storming out of the door, in a big huff of indignation that nobody had taken any notice of him. It had probably done me a favour as I wouldn’t have even entertained doing the Glitterball if he’d been around. The sulks and histrionics I’d have had to endure as my own profile raised above his would’ve been unbearable. As it was, he made plenty of sly comments about my fronting The Great British Art Challenge, known as GBAC for short, telling me it was easy compared to his job presenting on a rolling news channel despite his slot being in the middle of the night when nobody was watching. He’d been almost apoplectic with envy when GBAC had been a huge hit, migrating from BBC2 to BBC1 for it’s last two series.

He’d also told me I’d looked fat in the dress I’d worn to pick up my television award. Bastard.

I felt a bit more human after I’d cleaned up and got dressed. I’d arranged to meet my friends Naz and Chelle for lunch near Naz’s office in Covent garden. It was a rare treat as often all three of us were too busy or wrapped up in our projects to get together to reminisce about our days sharing a ratty old flat in Camden, trying to get our big breaks. Naz was now an art editor for a woman’s magazine and Chelle worked for Sotheby’s. We didn’t do too bad with what Alex had liked to call ‘useless art degrees’.

I was the first one to arrive, so in keeping with tradition, ordered the first round of cosmos from the startlingly good-looking waiter and sat back to check my emails. There was one from Sean.

I’d got the gig. Gulp.

The producers wanted to meet the next day to sign contracts and start the ball rolling with pre-production commencing the following week. I’d be fully committed for the full fifteen weeks, unless the public voted me out before that. I was engrossed in typing out my reply when Naz rocked up wearing stupidly high heels and an all-in-one playsuit. Working for a fashion magazine had clearly had a detrimental effect. I wondered how she managed to use the loo whilst wearing it. The good-looking waiter was over like a shot, almost dribbling as he served our drinks. Shallow bastard.

We’d just done our air-kisses hello when Chelle turned up. If anything looking even more glamorous in her smart suit and expensive kitten heels. She spent her time with the super-rich, advising them which pieces to purchase for their collections, so had to blend into that world. It was a far cry from the skinny jeans and Timberlands that she used to wear as a student.

More air-kisses, then a toast to ‘old friends’, despite us all being in our twenties. The good-looking waiter hovered around our table as we perused the menu, despite knowing full well that none of us would order anything more calorific than a salad. We still liked to look and dream about creamy sauces and big, fat deserts.

“I might have a huge steak and chips, with blue cheese sauce and extra onion rings,” said Naz.

“Really?” Chelle and I both said in unison.

“Don’t be daft, it’ll be a chicken salad with extra fresh air on the side, as usual,” Naz said despondently. We all laughed, which seemed to be the cue for the handsome waiter to slither over and try and look down the front of Naz’s playsuit as he took our orders. 

When it was my turn to request a meager chicken salad, I spotted the spark of recognition sweep across his face. “Are you the one off the Telly?” He asked.

“Yup,” I replied rather curtly.

“I love your show,” he said. “I’m trying to break into TV. I’m an actor really,” he went on. “Can you give me any tips?”

“Just keep trying,” was all I could say. I didn’t know the secret, having fallen into my role almost by accident. It would’ve been cruel to say that though and I always had a lot of sympathy for people who worked hard to follow their dreams. I liked a trier.

When he’d gone off to sort out our food, I leaned in and lowered my voice. “I have news.”

“Oh do tell,” Chelle whispered.

“It’s a secret at the moment,” I said, pausing for effect.

“Go on, spill,” Naz hissed.

“I’m signing to go on Celebrity Glitterball tomorrow,” I blurted. “Don’t tell anyone yet though.” I watched Chelle’s jaw drop open as Naz began to laugh.

“What?” I demanded.

“Do they know that they have to get you pissed before you’ll venture onto a dance floor?” Naz asked. Chelle smacked her hand.

“This is huge,” she said. “Do you know who you’re gonna get as your partner?”

I shook my head. “I won’t find out until the first show. That’s usually when it gets announced.”

“How ironic,” Chelle said, “after fronting a reality show, you end up a contestant on another.” She snort-giggled.

“It’s not a reality show,” I stated primly. The art challenge had been a competition open to amateur artists to perform a series of challenges over eight weeks. The projects ranged from recreating old masters in a contemporary way, through to the final which was to produce a piece of conceptual art. My job was presenting the show and also a bit of gentle coaching to help the contestants along. It beat working as an art teacher in a secondary school.

“Yeah it is,” Naz pointed out. “Classic format. Kick out the shit ones, have a grand final, give the winner a bunch of flowers and a crappy glass trophy, watch them cry with happiness.”

“Well anyway,” I began, desperate to change the subject. Thankfully the handsome waiter swept over with our sad little salads. “We’d better have another round of cosmos,” I said brightly, having noticed that Chelle had already drained hers. The waiter nodded and disappeared.

“What did Alex say about you doing the Glitterball?” Naz asked as she turned her salad over with her fork, looking forlorn. She clearly wanted a cheeseburger too.

“He doesn’t know,” I said. “He dumped me again last night during the ‘do’.”

“Again?” Naz asked. “Wasn’t he centre of attention enough?”

“Nope,” I said, popping the ‘p’. “I think it’s time I told him to get stuffed once and for all. He’s pulled that trick one too many times.” I took a bite of my salad. It tasted of healthiness. Not what I needed with a bit of a hangover. I slurped down the rest of my Cosmo, pleased to see the waiter returning with fresh ones.

“You need to kick that man to the curb once and for all,” Naz said, “Especially if you’re doing the Glitterball. You know what they say about it..”

“Oo yes, hot, sweaty dancers, the week away in Brighton. It’s a recipe for sneaky liaisons,” Chelle said. “Do you know who else is gonna be on this year?”

I shook my head. “I might know more tomorrow. I’m meeting the production team to sign the contract and sort out schedules and stuff.”

“Glittery dresses,” said Naz wistfully. She sounded like my mother. “And high heels.”

I flexed my toes, which were encased in a pair of comfy Converse. I hated heels and wasn’t convinced that I’d master dancing in them. I consoled my bad decision with another mouthful of Cosmo, telling myself that falling flat on my face in front of the British public was worth it for twenty five grand.

“So does this mean you’ll be able to come away with us in January?” Chelle asked. I knew they’d both been avoiding the subject during our last couple of lunches. The three of us had, for years, treated ourselves to some winter sun, usually in the Caribbean. We’d started it after leaving uni and embarking on our first jobs. It was extravagant, but worth it for the sheer loveliness of breaking up the horrible British winter. We used to save up for it, but as we’d gotten more successful, it was just a given that money wouldn’t be an issue…until I’d confessed that I was broke, having lent Alex money to do his flat up. The idea had been to both sell up and buy a place together…only he’d stalled, preferring to stay in his place, especially now that it had a swanky new kitchen and flashy limestone bathroom. I had zero chance of getting my cash back from him.

“Yep. I should have enough for a cheeky fortnight somewhere lovely,” I said with a smile.

“Yay,” They both said in unison.

“I’ll crack on and get something booked,” Chelle offered. “I’m thinking that the Bahamas might be nice.”

We all agreed that the Bahamas sounded like a plan. It made the tragic salads more bearable simply by dangling the prospect of bikini time in front of us all, particularly me. Both Naz and Chelle were fairly skinny. I had to work at it a bit more, which was unfortunate given that the cameras added at least ten pounds. It’s why they never scoffed nice food in front of me.

The rest of our lunch was taken up dissecting Chelle’s new relationship. She’d met Seb at work a few months earlier. He worked for some shady gazillionaire advising him on which artworks to buy for his collection, which seemed to take him all over the world. He was also proving rather secretive, which annoyed Chelle and sent our bullshit antennas into overdrive.

“Any clues yet as to him having a secret wife?” Naz asked. Chelle shook her head.

“Nothing as yet. His penthouse is completely sterile and believe me, I’ve checked every nook. On the surface he’s legit…but who lives in a place without ‘stuff’? Who doesn’t even have so much as a baby photo of themselves or their birth certificate?” We all agreed it sounded suspicious. I wanted to root for Seb, as he was a nice guy and clearly dotty over Chelle, but he made it difficult by zipping about on a private jet to unknown places and being shifty about his background. As per sisterhood rules, we’d employed our impressive investigative skills and discovered that he had indeed attended Eton, as he’d claimed and had gone on to study art history at St Andrews. His claim to know Prince William couldn’t be fully verified, although he’d been at uni at the same time, so we’d agreed that it was quite likely.

The following morning, I went over to the offices of Baboo Productions. They were housed in a rather swanky building in Hoxton, home of the hipster. Sean, my agent, was waiting outside, smoking a Marlborough lite. He ground it out as I approached, looking like a naughty schoolboy who been caught smoking behind the bike sheds. “Adele..darling,” he said as I approached. “Lovely to see you. Are you excited?” He gave me a stinky, smoky kiss on both cheeks, before holding open the door for us both to go in.

Baboo was situated on the fourth floor, we discovered from the receptionist. I pressed the button for the lift, much to Sean’s relief I suspected. He always groaned at having to take the stairs anywhere.

“I’m not sure about this,” I confided when we were alone in the elevator. “You know that I can’t dance?”

“Of course I know. We’ve all seen that footage,” he snapped. “This is your chance to right that wrong, let the public know that you’re not that clumsy twerking reprobate evidenced by that video. Think of it as revenge.”

I was just formulating a snarky reply when the door opened, revealing a bustling reception area, full of young people wearing seemingly identical black polo necked tops and fashionably distressed jeans. I wondered if it was company uniform. A young man sporting a huge beard that made him resemble Abraham Lincoln greeted us warmly, giving Sean that trendy man-hug/handshake thing that was the preferred form of greeting amongst the young. He shook my hand politely with a paw that appeared to be formed out of wet lettuce. He introduced himself as Luke, the series casting manager.

We were taken into a large, open-plan area. Luke explained that they all ‘hot-desked’ and as such, everything was done out in the open. He said it like it was a good thing. It took him a while to find a desk to put his tablet down and even longer to find two suitable chairs. 

“Loved you on the Art Challenge,” he said when we’d finally sat down and he’d perched on the corner of the desk.

“Thank you,” I replied. “Did you watch the whole series?”

He shook his head. “Not my thing I’m afraid.”

I tried to avoid catching Sean’s eye.

Luke outlined everything that would be expected of me. The production schedule was a lot heavier than I’d experienced on Art Challenge, what with costume preparations, dance coaching and all the segments which had to be filmed during the week for the spin-off programmes, as well as the live shows on a Saturday night. I’d need that holiday in the Bahamas afterwards.

I was glad that Sean was there, asking the questions that I’d forget to ask. I’d need to attend the studios on Monday to be measured for my first outfit and meet the rest of that year’s cast and crew. We would practice for the opening show, where we would be paired up with our dance partners, all professionals who’d dedicated their lives to dance. We’d then be given three weeks to learn our debut routine before the first live show in front of the nation. I began to tremble slightly.

“Does she get a say in who she’s paired with?” I heard Sean ask. Luke shook his head.

“We try and pair people of similar height if we can. No good pairing a pocket-sized poppet with the giant Anatoly,” he laughed, “or a matronly old bird with our young stud, Pedro. We want to make it look right.”

As Luke and Sean sniggered, I wondered what they’d label me. At twenty eight I was hardly an old biddy and at five foot seven, pretty average height for a female. I’d be labeled the blue-stocking, I realised, the intellectual, the boring one. I’d be competing against impossibly glamorous starlets and models. I began to regret my short haircut.

As I signed the contract, I had that sense of unreality that people sometimes get, as though I wasn’t really there. The hand holding the pen wasn’t really mine, more a hand that I was watching through a window that did an identical signature to the one I used.

It was only after I’d signed that Luke admitted that the reason it had all been so last minute was because their first choice, a pop starlet from a well-known girl band had pulled out two days before, citing ‘personal reasons’. Luke shared that he discovered she’d checked in to rehab.

As Sean and I stepped out onto the street, I began to gasp in great lungfuls of air, like I’d been underwater for two long. “Oh do stop being melodramatic,” Sean scolded as he lit up another fag. “If you fall flat on your arse, it’ll be lauded as great Telly. The public love an underdog.”

“Easy for you to say,” I replied, “It won’t be you making a fool of yourself for the whole of the country to see.”

He took a long draw on his cigarette and exhaled before admitting; “I’ve done worse.” He grinned. “Well, enjoy the rest of your week off. Don’t forget to get an early night on Sunday. You need to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for Monday morning.”

I gave him a hard stare.

My much-needed week off was ruined by the knowledge that I had to report for dancing boot camp on Monday morning. I’d planned to give my apartment a good clean, which was much needed after being relatively neglected during the Art Challenge run. I’d also been looking forward to doing some painting again.

Having a studio in my apartment probably sounded flashier than it was. My flat was part of a large Victorian property, with high ceilings and impressively sized rooms. I’d bought it after the first run of Art Challenge mainly because the second bedroom was large, airy and flooded with enough natural light to paint by. As my profile had raised on TV, so had the amount I’d been able to charge for my works, which was all very well, but I’d just not had the time or inclination to paint much. For me, creating art required mental clarity. I just couldn’t do it if I was tired or pre-occupied. I’d been working on the same still life for the entire run of Art Challenge and it remained unfinished. I’d long since eaten the apples that I’d used for the subject. An empty bowl and a vase just wasn’t very exciting to look at.

Monday morning arrived way too quickly and a car duly arrived to whisk me over to the studios at Elstree. A clipboard-wielding production assistant met me at the door and directed me to the second floor, room 3A. With no small amount of trepidation, I headed in.

The door to 3A had been propped open. Thankfully I wasn’t the first to arrive. Several people were standing in a group around a table bearing jugs of coffee and plates of pastries. I wandered over to say hello. As I approached, the group opened up and revealed that a reality star, Matt Bromley was one of the contestants. I also recognised a gymnast, Steve Bucknam, who’d competed in the Rio Olympics. My heart sank a little more. Compared to those two, I was a nobody.

“Hello and welcome,” Matt said, beaming an impossibly white smile. “Have you met anyone here before?” I noticed a beautiful, willowy girl standing next to him who I recognised as Delia Monroe, a model who was also featured in ‘Rich Kids of Mayfair’, a favourite show of mine.

“No I don’t think I have,” I said, smiling back at him. I held out my hand. “Adele Walton.”

“We all know who you are my love,” said a man at the back as Matt shook my hand. I glanced over to see a rather rotund older man. I sort of recognised him, but couldn’t have named him. He thrust his hand towards me. “Anthony Bland,” he said as I shook his hand. He must have seen my confusion. “Former Home Secretary,” he clarified.

“Lovely to meet you,” I said, “Does anyone know how many of us there are?” I asked nobody in particular as I poured myself a cup of coffee and added two pots of cream.

“Fourteen I think,” said Delia. I noticed that she took her coffee black. “I think they usually have a couple of extra contestants in case people drop out.”

“Does anybody know who the other contestants are?” Steve asked. I shook my head.

“I heard that one of them will be a soap actor,” Matt ventured, “and there’s a rumour that Lola Texan flew into Heathrow yesterday. Maybe she’s taking part?”

“Hard to dance with those giant airbags strapped to her chest,” Delia said. A few of us sniggered. Bitchy comments delivered in a cut-glass accent always sounded much funnier.

We all looked up when three more people wandered in, the same frozen expression of fear on their faces as I suspect I walked in with. Cue more hellos, air kisses and fake camaraderie as they introduced themselves as:

Monty Pererra, TV chef extraordinaire and heartthrob for millions of British women, mainly due to his prowess at making baked goods.

Faizan Khan, newsreader on morning Telly and impossibly beautiful with dark flowing hair and flawless coffee-coloured skin. Even Sean, who wasn’t into women, had a crush on her. 

And

Subi Desouza, a businesswoman who regularly appeared on Dragon’s Den. I wondered why she’d put herself through the Glitterball, seeing as I doubted that she needed the money. I wondered if it was more of a weight loss attempt.

I watched quietly as they helped themselves to coffee and pastries, chatting easily with the others. Soon enough we heard more footsteps as another three arrived.

None of us could help but notice the Nubian beauty of the next man to walk in. He was tall, muscular and had skin as dark as ebony. He walked with such elegance and grace that he could’ve been one of the professional dancers. As he neared, a wide smile broke across his face. “Odie Ganyu,” he said as he stretched out his hand to shake mine. I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t have a clue who he was. A moment later I heard him explain to Anthony that he was a DJ with Kiss.

The next one in was more straightforward. I recognised Donna Blair. She was one of those famous for being famous girls, who most recently had ensnared a premiership footballer. Flirty and pretty, she was the type of vivacious blonde that the public loved. She also had the sort of tiny waist that would look amazing in a sparkly dress. As she teetered over, I saw Anthony suck his stomach in and stand up a little straighter.  

Standing behind her was a lady I recognised from my childhood. Penelope Decker had starred in a famous sitcom from the eighties and nineties, which had made her a household name and national treasure. She was a bit plumper now, but still had the same flicky hairstyle and red lips that were her trademark look. Anthony was over like a shot, kissing her cheeks and generally being a bit of a fanboy.

A few members of the production team arrived. I knew they were crew because all of them were wearing the requisite black tops and distressed jeans. “Just waiting for a few more, then we’ll get started,” one of them announced.

The next person was already over at the table by that point, helping himself to a pastry. I overheard him telling Subi that he was in the boyband ‘Code Red’, which was one of the few bands that I actually liked. I really should have known who he was. Odie clearly did, slapping his back before doing one of those complicated hand grip/man hug things that young people do. I also heard Odie call him Leon, which helped.

Skulking by the doorway was an older gentleman who rose to fame as an antiques expert. I’d seen him on daytime telly during my ‘off’ season, and also on the roadshow, where he was a pottery expert. He spotted me smiling at him and made his way over. “Hugh Prentice, it’s Adele isn’t it?” He thrust his hand out to shake mine, before leaning in to whisper conspiratorially “I haven’t got a clue who most of these people are.”

“Me neither,” I admitted, “although I’m sure the public will.”

The production man clapped his hands to gain everyone’s attention. “Only one to go and I gather that she’s on her way. In the meantime, would everybody help themselves to a drink and come and take a seat for the presentation please.

As I’d already re-filled my cup, Hugh guided me over to the chairs, which were placed in neat rows facing the front. We sat on the second row, and watched as people who clearly already knew each other chatted happily, not in any rush to comply with the crew’s request.

“Like herding cats,” Hugh whispered in my ear. I had to agree.

“Take a seat please,” yelled the producer. I noticed that Delia and Matt ignored him and carried on yapping until a crew member went up to them and pulled them over to the chairs.

“First of all I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Phil and I’m the lead producer and director of the Glitterball.” We all clapped politely. At that moment the door flew open and a statuesque brunette stood posing in the doorway for effect. Her boobs had entered almost a full two minutes before she did.

“Did you start without me?” She purred.

“Who’s that?” Hugh whispered.

“Lola Texan,” I whispered back. “She’s an American pop star. Bit of a has-been.” 

He sniggered. “Sounds like a porn name.”

It was my turn to giggle-snort.

Lola strode over to the chairs. “Am I late?” She drawled. “The traffic was terrible coming to this godforsaken outpost. This should’ve been done in central London.” She marched past us and took a seat right at the front.

“Well, great, everyone got here ok?” Said Phil. Nobody really answered. Clearly we’d all got there. “Super, well, first of all can those who’ve never watched Celebrity Glitterball please raise their hand.” He looked around. Nothing. “Excellent, so you’re all familiar with the format? Yes? Good.”

He went on to explain that we would indeed be told who our partners were ahead of the ‘reveal’ show on Saturday night, primarily so that we could practice our ‘surprise’ in advance and avoid any awkward moves. We would also practice our dance moves as we came out onto the dance floor as a group. The rest of the week would be spent filming singles, which were the little segments that were shown before each celeb was introduced and in the opening credits of the show. We would also have numerous sessions with wardrobe and hair/makeup. It all sounded pretty straightforward. Sean had already sent over my vital statistics which were in my resume.

Phil droned on for another half an hour about health and safety before announcing that we would all go to the practice studio to meet the pro’s. He promised that after lunch we’d all be measured for our costumes and issued with our first pair of dancing shoes. It was starting to get quite exciting.

We all trooped dutifully along the corridor behind Phil, who was carrying his clipboard and leading the way like a holiday rep shepherding a bunch of tourists. He took us through a set of double doors, past a cafeteria, which smelt of fried breakfasts and through to a large, open room, which I immediately recognised as the set of Celebrity Glitterball. It was missing the lights, cameras, audience and set decoration normally seen on the finished show, but the twin staircases were there along with the judging area.

“Who’s judging this year?” Asked Anthony.

“Not finalised yet,” was the reply.

The professional dancers were waiting in the audience seating. Even in their casual clothes they resembled a pack of thoroughbred horses, all sleek, muscular and shiny. In contrast, the majority of us celebs (and I use that term loosely) were more akin to the Pilsbury dough boy, all whey-faced and puffy.

I saw Phil pull a sheet of paper out from the bottom of the pile on his clipboard and move it to the top. “Right, I’m going to call out the pairings. When I call out your names, I’d like you to come to the front to meet your partner, then seat yourselves together in the audience area please.

We all held our breath, collectively. A hush descended. Even Matt Bromley shut his yap for once.

I cast my eye along the line of male dancers. A little shamefully I knew who they all were, being quite a fan of the show. I wondered which one I’d get. The tallest one would probably get paired with the Amazonian Delia, I guessed, and the older ballroom expert, Barry, would no doubt get either Penelope or Subi. Beyond that, it was hard to call.

It was quite gratifying being correct about Delia and Penelope. Both seemed delighted with their partners. There was a lot of hugging, so much so that it began to resemble a day out on a sunshine coach, minus the window licking of course.

Phil called out my name. I froze.

Luciano Bianchi.

Damn.

Six foot of honey-skinned, tattooed muscle walked to the front. My slightly jellied legs propelled me forward to receive my obligatory kiss on the cheek and hug.

He smelt…amazing.

Holding my elbow in the sort of gentlemanly gesture that dancers do, he guided me towards a pair of seats. “Nice to meet you Adele,” he said in that accent.

Oh. My. God.

“And you too Luciano,” I replied, remembering my manners.

We sat and watched the rest of the pairings. A few minutes later he leaned in and whispered in my ear; “I’m glad I got you and not Subi or Penelope.” I could feel his breath caressing my skin. He smelt as though he’d just sucked on a mint.

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t get Barry,” I confided as Phil came to the end of his list.

“Go get some lunch everybody and I’ll see you back here in an hour. Don’t be late, and remember, no blabbing to the press or anyone else.” Phil called out. We all started making our way towards the cafeteria.

“Join me for lunch,” Luciano said. “We have lots to discuss.”

“Sure,” I replied. I wasn’t certain if we’d all eat on one big table or stay with our respective partners. Luciano had done a few seasons of the show, so clearly understood how it all worked. 

I grabbed a tray and stood in line, scanning the blackboard behind the counter to see what the special of the day was. “Try the chicken salad,” his voice was quiet but unmistakable. I was about to protest and demand to know if he was suggesting it because he thought I was fat when he went on; “It’s good protein and won’t make you feel sick when we’re dancing this afternoon.”

I watched Anthony choose the cannelloni in front of me. It smelt delicious, but I meekly asked for my salad, as did Luciano behind me. He also picked up several bottles of water. I really wanted a cup of tea. Thankfully he didn’t comment on that.

We carried our trays over to a quiet table by the window and sat down. I noticed most of the others stayed with their pro partners too. Only Matt, Delia and their partners sat on a table of four.

“So, Adele, we need to make you a dancer, yes?” He opened one of the bottles of water and drank.

“Got a bit of a job on your hands,” I confessed.

“Didn’t you go stage school?” He asked.

I shook my head. “I’m a presenter, not an actress.” I watched the tattoos on his arms move as he flexed his muscles, each of which appeared to be perfectly defined.

“Can you dance..at all?” He asked.

“When I’m drunk,” I told him. He smiled. His teeth were like the rest of him-perfect. 

“Ok, well, I suppose I should ask now, do you want to win this competition?”

“Oh yes,” I said. Personally I didn’t think it was likely. There were a few pop stars in the line up as well as a couple of models. All of them were likely to have more of an idea than I would. Hugh and Monty were both national treasures, who’s large fan bases would probably vote for them. The only thing I had going for me were art fans and a tenacious personality.

“Good. I’ll tell you now, I go into this to win,” he said. “I’m not interested in just being fun or entertaining. I’m intensely competitive and I’ll work you like a dog.”

“Bring it on,” I murmured. “I like a challenge.” That part at least was true. I’d never shied away from activities that were difficult or beyond my sphere of knowledge. At uni, I’d learnt to rock climb (Ok, I’d had a crush on the instructor) which required concentration and skills that I didn’t know I even had.

“I organised for you to be first up to wardrobe this afternoon,” he said. “They’ll measure you properly and sort you out some practice shoes. We will look at your figure and decide the best type of dress for Saturday night.”

“You’ll look at my figure?” I squeaked. I was sure that wasn’t in the contract I signed.

He nodded. “Of course. I’ll have input into every outfit they make for you.” He smiled at my horrified expression. “Each dress has to be right for each dance. It’s no good them making you a long flouncy ball gown when we do an Argentine Tango, now is it?”

I took a bite of salad as I thought about it. He was right-of course. The best thing that I could do would be to put myself solely in his hands. “Do you get a choice of partner?” I asked.

He shook his head, “Not really,” he avoided my eyes as he answered. I suspected that he’d been rooting for either Delia or Donna, although the way he stared at Lola’s chest as she walked by with her new partner James, I couldn’t be sure he hadn’t been angling to get up close to those bazongas.

“Our first dance will be a waltz. It’s fairly slow, better to break you in gently,” he said, “although it’s quite technical, with a lot of steps to learn. There’s also no lifts, which is good for your first attempt.”

“I have to learn how to do them at some point though,” I pointed out.

“You’re a little heavy right now. In four weeks time, when we start the second dance, you’ll be much lighter.” He said it without any sort of judgemental inflection, but even so, I was horribly insulted. Nobody had ever pointed out that I was fat, not to my face like that.

“I’m a size ten,” I snapped. “Not thin enough?”

He smirked. Bastard.

“I’m not so strong,” he said. “Anatoly would’ve had no problem lifting you.” He was referring to the six foot three giant who’d been paired with the beautiful Delia. “Although he’d have looked quite stupid in hold with you, like a man walking a poodle.”

We ate the rest of our lunch in mostly silence, apart from a little stilted conversation about practice timings, having discovered that we lived fairly close to each other. Luciano told me he had a good studio in a nearby dance school, which would be far more convenient than schlepping over to Elstree every day that we weren’t filming.

Sneak peek at chapter one of A Very Corporate Affair Book 5-Breaking the bank

28 Aug

Available for pre-order at Amazon, iBooks and Smashwords. Links are at the bottom.

A Very Corporate Affair Book 5-Breaking the Bank

Chapter 1

Oscar watched Lucy while she slept, the knowledge that she was second-best saddened him a little, but not enough to do the right thing and let her go and find a man for whom she’d be first choice. He knew he was a selfish man. She slept deeply, blissfully unaware of his torment. The false sense of security that Oscar had woven allowed her to believe he was unaffected by attending Elle and Ivan’s wedding. A hint of a tropical breeze caused the white muslin curtains to flutter gently.
Oscar eased himself silently out of bed and padded out onto the balcony. He swept his hand along the marble balustrade and gazed out at the Caribbean Sea, glittering in the moonlight. He had an almost irresistible urge to run away, to escape this paradise and the knowledge that he’d just delivered the woman he loved into the arms of a man who had already damaged her. 

He’d pretended to be enthusiastic, of course, even giving her away at the ceremony, covering up how he really felt. It was a novel experience for him, disguising his devotion. He didn’t normally feel very much for women. He didn’t feel that much for Lucy. He wished it’d been her he’d been delivering into Ivan’s possession. He’d have been happy for them. Instead, Lucy was destined to be second-best for the rest of her life, which was a shame.

On paper, she was perfect. Well, nearly. Her father was big in shipping, wealthy and went by the title of ‘Sir.’ It wasn’t quite the Dukedom his mother had wanted, but it was enough to appease her. They had a decent family fortune, a heraldic crest, and were Jewish, albeit not quite as pure a lineage as the Goldings. Lucy was also beautiful enough to be considered “a catch,” and a far better option than Lucinda Rothschild, also affectionately known as Shrek.

He knew he’d have to propose soon. They’d been seeing each other some months, enough time to make a decision. He was fond of her, although her propensity for social media irritated him, and her large circle of friends seemed to have enormous influence and take up a lot of her time. He wondered if they’d still be around so much if he installed her at Conniscliffe full time. On the up-side, she would be described in their circles as a “gal,” not a “girl,” the distinction being that she knew what was expected of her within a marriage. She’d put on her wellies, roll up her sleeves and join in with life at the castle without complaint. His life wouldn’t need to change too much.

She’d be a good hostess, exemplary corporate wife, and diligent mother, he felt. The arguments for making her Lady Golding were stacking up. He liked the fact that she was well educated. Until Elle, he’d always gone for the pretty-but-dim types. Elle had opened his eyes to how much fun a bright, intelligent woman could be.

Elle.

His heart had broken watching her say her vows on the beach, promising to love another man until “death us do part.” She’d looked beautiful, of course, barefoot, young, and carefree, just as she should have done. Her hair had shone, glossy with the golden strands that permeated through it. She’d smiled all day long.

Oscar thought back to the last family wedding he’d attended, when one of his cousins had married a very minor European Royal. It had been a stiff, rather glum affair, with everybody in uncomfortable costumes and protocol dictating that all the guests sit for a three-hour ceremony, thus rendering the entire congregation desperate for the loo. His mother had been almost puce by the end. Only years of rigid discipline had prevented her from sneaking out to find the ladies’ halfway through. The reception had been tedious too, with everyone frozen into their restrictive clothes, too hot and uncomfortable to enjoy themselves. The poor bride had barely been able to move all day, her dress had been so heavy, encrusted with glittering stones. It had been an effort for her to smile for the hours of photographs. At the end, she’d looked ready to burst into tears.

Oscar stepped back into the bedroom and padded past Lucy’s sleeping form. He needed a drink. Downstairs, in the large kitchen, he began to relax as he pulled a beer out of the fridge and deftly opened the cap. Careful not to make any noise and wake her, he opened the door and stepped out onto the terrace. It was a hot night, the temperature hadn’t dropped enough when the sun had gone in to cool it down enough for sleep. He hated air conditioning; the noise and the dryness. Most places cooled down when it got dark. He took a long swig, hoping that the beer would anaesthetise him as well as quench his thirst. He was more of a wine drinker, so beer was a little alien, but he liked it. It made a change.

Lucy woke as he slipped back into bed. “You ok?” She asked sleepily, putting Oscar on alert. He wondered if his inability to sleep had betrayed his feelings. 

“I’m fine, was just thirsty and hot,” he muttered quietly. She didn’t answer. He heard the deep breathing associated with sleep. He relaxed and turned onto his side, determined to conquer the regrets that plagued him.

The following morning, Lucy sat by the pool enjoying the early morning sunshine. She’d let Oscar sleep in, as he’d not gone to bed until late the night before and had been restless. She sipped her freshly-squeezed orange juice and contemplated the previous day. She wasn’t sure how she’d have felt about getting married on a beach with only two guests. Elle had been quite happy, she was sure of it, but the idea of letting a nouveau-riche Russian organise everything wouldn’t have gone down well with her. Lucy fully expected her wedding day to be the biggest day of her life, eclipsing her degree and getting her first full contract. She wondered if attending the ceremony yesterday would make Oscar all romantic. He’d certainly seemed a little misty-eyed afterwards.

The butler interrupted her by placing a tray of tea beside her. She thanked him and watched him retreat back into the kitchen. She poured the tea from the little Villeroy and Bosch pot into the equally stylish teacup and added milk from the small jug that nestled in its crushed ice bed. Taking a small sip, she reflected on how lovely Mustique was, especially given that decent tea could be found. She liked the villa that Oscar had rented too, with its pristine pool and modern interior, which was a world away from the Golding holiday home in Tuscany. 

Oscar pulled on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt before joining Lucy at the pool. He kissed her gently on the cheek before flopping down on the lounger next to her. “What would you like to do today?” He asked.

She smiled at him. “We could explore the island. Bunty McKendrick told me that Basil’s Bar is a lot of fun.”

“I thought you weren’t meant to tell anyone you’re here,” he said, frowning.

“She’s sworn to secrecy,” Lucy replied, waving her hand airily. “I told her by text this morning. Thought the blackout was only pre-wedding?”

He grunted, not sure whether she was correct or not. Even so, he felt it wasn’t unreasonable to expect her to keep quiet for a few days. He hoped nothing would come of her indiscretion, and they wouldn’t have reporters swarming around on jet skis bearing long lenses.

They both enjoyed a long, boozy lunch at Basil’s Bar, punctuated by Oscar being recognised by a shipping magnate he knew from London and bumping into yet another of Lucy’s old school friends whose husband had a villa on the island. Not for the first time, he marvelled at the sheer number of friends she had, mainly, it seemed, due to her involvement with every single school sports team from her time at Marlborough school.

He sat back and observed her chatting to her friend, noting that she could be relied upon for effortless small talk. Lucy had a way of putting people at ease, of fitting into every social situation. The school friend’s husband was a hedge-funder, richer than Croesus, yet Lucy chatted easily, unintimidated by extreme wealth. She’d also got along with his friends, the titled establishment, people who held positions of real power. Even his mother had liked her from the moment she’d met her.

“I really, really like Mustique,” she exclaimed when they were alone again. “We should totally look for a place here. I don’t suppose the house we’re staying in is up for sale?”

He shook his head, “I doubt it, besides, how often would we use it? I barely get over to Tuscany as it is.” The thought of maintaining yet another house really didn’t appeal to him. It seemed as though he spent most of his time marshalling builders as it was. Conniscliffe required so much care and attention that he couldn’t bear the thought of taking on another property.

Lucy pouted prettily. “You don’t take enough holiday.” She was fully aware of the perks of his position at the bank. Being chairman, he didn’t have the same restrictions as ordinary workers. Even his work at the Lords was flexible. It wasn’t as though he had to show up every day like Pearson Hardwick demanded she did. 

She enjoyed her job, she’d worked hard to get it, but working 9 to 5 had its drawbacks, the primary one being restricted holidays. The days of long, uninterrupted summer holidays, plus skiing in Klosters, as well as Christmas breaks in Barbados, were just a distant memory. She’d done a few years of the career thing and discovered it was nothing like Cosmopolitan magazine had promised. She was ready for a break, and Oscar could provide the best way out. 

She, too, watched him in Basil’s; the easy way he had with people, learned through years of public school and careful training. She loved the way people naturally looked up to him, his superiority stamped onto his face by the ingrained knowledge that he was born to rule. Lucy was informed enough to understand that the bankers did indeed run the world, regardless of what governments liked to pretend. Money and power were quite the aphrodisiac in her book, and she knew he was in need of a wife, Lady Golding had said as much.

That night, after a delicious dinner of curried red snapper and saffron rice, prepared by the villa’s chef, they sat out by the pool enjoying the remainder of their bottle of wine. Lucy decided she needed to push things along a little as Oscar had been a little distant all that day. She drained her glass and excused herself for a minute. Back up in their room, she slipped off her clothes and found the underwear she’d packed specially. She’d discovered by accident that Oscar preferred her to be a little more traditionally attired when he’d turned up unannounced at her house and caught her wearing her “bigs” due to it being that time of the month. They’d had quite the profound effect on him. She slipped them on, followed by a rather matronly cotton bra which had broderie Anglais around the cups. Satisfied, she quickly text him *Can you come upstairs pls*.

A frisson raced through Oscar as he read her text. There was one area that Lucy excelled, and that was the bedroom. He finished his wine, gulping it down greedily, and set off upstairs. Opening the bedroom door, he could see the room was almost dark, just a side light cast a low glow over the large, white bed. Lucy was standing by the window in the shadow.

She stepped forward, revealing that she was just wearing bra and knickers. He cast an appreciative eye over her lean, lithe figure, clad only in white cotton. The way it hugged her derrière, concealing so much, yet teasing him with its innocent facade. “I’ve been a very naughty girl,” Lucy whispered, “I texted Bunty when you told me not to.” She held her hands behind her back as though she were cuffed. He swallowed noisily and walked into the room.

“You know what I’m going to do?” He asked. She nodded. Oscar sat down on the bed and beckoned her towards him. She sashayed over, crossing her long legs as she moved.

She was wearing red Laboutins, his favourites. His eyes swept her up and down, from head to toe, settling on her feet. She stopped just in front of him. “You know what to do,” he said, a stern edge to his voice. She knelt at his feet and smiled at him before reaching to undo his shorts. He leaned back a little to give her better access as she freed his erection. Within moments, her tongue was caressing the head of his cock with lush, slow licks. Oscar stayed silent, just watching her as she worshiped him.

He let her carry on for a while, until she was sucking him hard. Without preamble, he thrust his hands under her arms and threw her onto the bed. She landed on her front, and before she could protest, Oscar’s hands were roaming her cotton-clad derrière. “You dirty, naughty girl, pretending to be all innocent,” he hissed. “I know what you want.”

“I want your cock, sir,” Lucy murmured, enjoying the game.

“Are you just a slutty girl with a greedy cunt?” He barked.

“Yes sir,” she replied as his hands delved between her legs, feeling how saturated the cotton was. He tutted.

“I think you’re dirtier than you’re admitting. Sluts need a good spanking. Over my knee.” He sat down on the edge of the bed while Lucy crawled over and draped herself over his lap. He stroked the cotton of her knickers before bringing his hand down with some force onto her buttocks. She squealed. It had hurt a bit, more than usual.

He smacked her again, the noise splitting the silence of the silent room. Lucy held her breath as his palm struck her again. “Bit hard, that one, Osc,” she muttered.

“Then I’ll fuck you instead,” he told her, rolling her off his lap and laying her on her back on the edge of the bed. In one swift movement, he pulled her knickers down and lifted her legs so that her Laboutin-clad feet were on his shoulders, as he thrust into her. She yelped, surprised by the force with which he entered her. As he began to move, she placed her high heel near his mouth for him to suck on. Lucy knew his “quirks” and accepted them. She watched as he licked and sucked on the shoes, enjoying the fact that such a small, insignificant fetish made him as hard as steel and as wild as a lion. He slammed into her again and again, seemingly oblivious, as though he was in his own world, focused purely on the shoes.

As her orgasm hit, Lucy tried to curl her toes, tensing her calves in the process, which sent Oscar over the edge too. As he emptied himself into her, he gave the quivering shoes one final lick and turned his attention to the real-life woman laying in front of him. A post-orgasmic flush had turned her chest a most appealing shade of pink, he noted, which was perfectly framed by the white edge of her “nanny” bra. He smirked as he recalled the origin of that particular quirk; the secret observation of Nanny Jenkins undressing in the nursery bathroom. He’d found a little hole in the ceiling above while exploring the attics. As a seven-year-old boy, it had been almost impossible to resist shoving a pillow under his bed covers to make it appear as if he was fast asleep and creeping up to the attics to satisfy his burgeoning curiosity. Nobody had ever found out, and it had stopped when he’d been sent away to school.

Lucy sighed, breaking his reverie. She dropped her legs down and kicked off the shoes, separating their bodies. Sex was the only area where she felt that she had any sort of power over Oscar. She understood his quirks and accepted them, although she missed cunnilingus. She was trying to convince him to give it a go, but he wasn’t keen. “That was… mmmm,” she said, gazing up at him adoringly.

“Sure was, you sexy little minx. Are you trying to drive me crazy dressed like that?” His voice had a teasing tone. He flopped onto the bed next to her and traced his finger around the edge of her bra. He’d been glad of the diversion, and it had pulled him out of the funk he’d been in, if only for a little while.

“I don’t want to go home tomorrow,” Lucy whined. “Can’t we stay a bit longer?”

“I thought you had to be back at work?” He asked. It had been the only reason he’d booked such a short stay, that and not wishing to be around during Elle and Ivan’s honeymoon. He really didn’t need Ivan’s triumph rubbed in his face, which he knew was going to happen.

Lucy pouted. “I’m sick of only getting five weeks off a year. There’s never enough time to relax properly.” He kissed her pursed lips. Oscar wasn’t stupid, he knew what she was angling for. 

“Let’s make the most of our last evening here then. Walk along the beach?”

She smiled. “We can walk up to that beach bar, see who’s there.”

“Sure.” He masked his irritation. She didn’t understand that sometimes he needed it to just be the two of them. After spending the afternoon rolling the idea of proposing around in his head, he needed a time and place to ask her, preferably without an audience. He already had a ring, one that had been in the family a long time, which his mother had deemed suitable for the woman he chose to be the brood mare for his children.

He felt surprisingly nervous as they strolled up the beach, not because he thought Lucy might decline his proposal, more the thought of the permanence of his decision. He told himself over and over in his head that Elle was gone. Marrying Lucy might take the sting out of his loss. It would be a new life to go with the new year, a time for fresh beginnings.

The bar was quiet that night, almost subdued, possibly because the raucous partying had taken place the previous night. They found a table and ordered a bottle of wine from the small list. Lucy scanned the terrace to see if there was anyone she knew. Staying off her phone and away from social media for a few days had killed her. She liked being connected to people and as lovely as Oscar was, he could be a bit quiet at times. “We should have asked Ivan and Elle to join us,” she said, hoping that Oscar had brought his phone with him so he could give them a call. 

“They’re on honeymoon,” he reminded her. “I should think they’ll want to be alone.” He didn’t know if that was true or not, but he really couldn’t face seeing them and having to put up with Ivan when he had that horrible smug look that he sometimes had. His mother had been correct when she’d called him Podunky. Just thinking about him made Oscar’s blood pressure rise. He switched his attention back to Lucy. “Anyway, our last night here should be about us.” It sounded more romantic than he’d really meant. Lucy beamed at him, her face bright and expectant.

He chickened out.

He’d fully intended to propose, but somehow his mouth wouldn’t form the words. Instead he decided he needed to warn her. It was only fair. “I really like it here,” he began, “away from all the pressures. Being chairman of the bank isn’t all perks and privilege you know.” She stayed silent. “There’s a huge amount of duty too. Everything has to be done properly, according to protocol. I couldn’t get married barefoot on a beach.”

“I’m fully aware of the restrictions you face,” Lucy said, thrilled at the way the conversation was going. She’d taken Lady Golding out for lunch at Claridge’s just before Christmas, and had been fully briefed on the downsides of joining the ranks. She knew she’d be at Conniscliffe full time and would be expected to produce an heir immediately. Being a bit broody, it hadn’t sounded bad at all, plus she had quite a few friends in Sussex, so she wouldn’t be lonely.

Oscar looked around the bar. There was only a pair of old-timers seated on one of the rustic wood tables on the far side, not like the previous time they’d visited when it had been rammed. It struck him as a little odd that a place catering to such a wealthy clientele would be so basic, with its straw roof and rickety furnishings. They sold Cristal champagne though, he noted. “You seem very pre-occupied,” Lucy said. “Is there something on your mind?”

“You need to understand what you’re getting into,” Oscar said, as if he’d already proposed and she’d already accepted. “I can give you a life free from worry, but it brings its own issues, namely the loss of your autonomy. If there’s a function we have to attend, then there can’t be any excuses. Just because you won’t need to work doesn’t mean you’d be free of duty.”

“I know how it works,” Lucy said. “Hugo was a Duke remember? I had plenty of practice.”

He hated being reminded about her ex. In an ideal world, she’d have no dating history at all, but unless he was willing to settle for a spectacularly ugly but well-connected girl, there was always going to be that problem. He didn’t really like very young women anyway, and Lucy was far too pretty to have not had other men chasing her. Idly, he wondered if their offspring would be tall and slender with golden skin and hair alongside an ox-like constitution. She was certainly gifted with good genes.

“Do you want to get married? It’d mean giving up an awful lot of the things you’re used to, like your job, your freedom and your anonymity,” he asked.

“Are you trying to propose?” She asked rather bluntly. He nodded, knowing that he’d fluffed it. “In that case, the answer’s yes. I’ll marry you.” Lucy tried to conceal her eagerness but failed. “Am I allowed to tell people?”

“I think we need to tell our families first. I haven’t formally asked your father’s permission yet,” Oscar reminded her. He smiled at Lucy’s beaming face, pleased that he’d managed to make her so happy.

“I can’t see that being a problem, my father thinks you’re wonderful,” she told him. Both her parents had thoroughly approved of him when she’d taken him to stay at their weekend house in the Cotswolds. Her family wasn’t as grand as his, but her father had earned a knighthood for services to the shipping industry and her mother was on the boards of a couple of charities. The Elliots and the Goldings would merge quite nicely. “We can call them when we get back to the villa.”

“It’s the middle of the night back home,” he reminded her. She pulled a face.

“My mother will want to know.”

“So will mine,” he said, grimacing. “She’ll completely take over the wedding preparations, so be prepared.”

Lucy laughed. “Your mother has impeccable taste, so I’m sure any interfering will be done with the very best of intentions, plus of course she’s an expert on protocols, which I’m not.” With just that answer, Lucy reminded Oscar exactly why he’d known she’d be a good choice of wife. She understood exactly how the politics of the aristocracy worked, how allegiances were formed and when to acquiesce gracefully. Whether it was instinctive or from her education at a top public school, he didn’t know, but in his heart of hearts he knew she’d fit into his world far better than Elle would’ve done.

They walked back to the villa along the beach. The evening had had a surreal quality for Oscar, from proposing in a ramshackle beach bar to finally admitting to himself that he’d truly lost the love of his life, none of it was what he’d envisaged for himself. In his inner daydreams, he’d have done a grand proposal at Conniscliffe in the white garden, to Elle, in May when the garden was at its best. He’d have been romantic and well-prepared. She’d have accepted, tearful with happiness at such a wonderful gesture. Instead, he’d been clumsy and awkward, having left the ring at home. It had been more like a business discussion than a love match, as though they were planning a merger rather than a life together.

Lucy, on the other hand, was ecstatic. Just the thought of becoming Lady Golding sent a thrill right through her. She genuinely adored Oscar, even when he was a bit distant or grumpy. She regarded him as a truly good man, handsome and refined. In the lottery of husband-catching, she’d hit the jackpot.
Hope you enjoyed it. 

Amazon link is Here

iBooks Here

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It’ll be released worldwide on the 15th September 2016 

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