EXCLUSIVE: Chapter One: Fairytale Beginnings – Holly Martin

EXCLUSIVE: Chapter One: Fairytale Beginnings – Holly Martin

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Milly drove up the steep, curvy, cliff top lanes with the warm sun on her back and the wind in her hair. From up here, she could see the sparkling blue of the sea below her stretching out for miles into the horizon. It was a beautiful day, made even lovelier by the endless yellow fields of rapeseed on the other side of her. It smelt wonderful but she wished it was clover instead as that might be some indication that she was going in the right direction.

She was hopefully heading towards Clover’s Rest. The satnav had, of course, stopped working half an hour ago and all she was left with was a flashing question mark on the screen, indicating that the satnav had no idea where she was. Nothing seemed to be known about the village of Clover’s Rest or Clover Castle which presided over the tiny dwelling. It didn’t appear on any maps, and bizarrely there was no record of it on any kind of historical documentation. That in itself was a mystery and one Milly was keen to solve.

Dick, her beaten up old Triumph, was having trouble with the steep gradient of the inclines and she had spent most of the last fifteen minutes barely coming out of first gear. Her brother, Jamie, had begged her several times to buy a new car but her beloved white Triumph TR2 was her pride and joy.

Up ahead, on the very summit of the hill, she suddenly saw a flash of a blue-topped turret from behind the trees and her heart soared. But no sooner had it appeared, it had gone.

Dick whined as she pushed him round a very steep corner and she leaned forward and gave him a little pat of encouragement. He spluttered and coughed, but thankfully didn’t cut out. The handbrake wasn’t the best and she wasn’t hopeful that Dick could cling to the road surface without sliding back to the foot of the hill again.

Steam started to appear from under Dick’s bonnet as she floored the accelerator and crossed her fingers and toes. She glanced down at her multi-coloured star bracelet and absently made a wish that she would make it to the top of the hill.

Just a little further, Dick, come on.

Dick was barely moving at all now, Milly could get out and walk quicker. As she begged and pleaded with Dick to just last a little bit longer, a kid on his bike rang his bell and scooted round her, disappearing into the trees up ahead.

How insulting to be overtaken by a kid on a BMX. And Dick obviously thought so too as he suddenly found a last bit of energy and groaned and coughed up the last few metres, where the hill finally levelled out.

They shuffled into a tunnel of trees, which swallowed her up, shutting out all the bright daylight behind her and overhead so she was driving through a canopy of total green. It was very dark, with just a tiny pinprick of light ahead of her that she pushed Dick towards. Movement swirled in her rear view mirror; as she glanced up it almost seemed like the trees were closing the gap behind her, covering the road with their tangle of branches so there was no escape.

Dick finally burst through the trees to the other side. Daylight temporarily blinded her, she briefly saw some houses and a village green and then a thick plume of white smoke burst from the engine and the village vanished from view. Dick let out what sounded like a really big fart and then died, smoke still pouring from underneath the bonnet.

Milly sighed. She had asked too much of him, she knew that. It had seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up; going out in her convertible along the seafront when the weather was so hot,

and Clover’s Rest was only supposed to be an hour and a half away from where she lived. But Dick was over twice her age and was only really capable of short flat journeys, nothing like the mountainous terrain she had just traversed.

It’s ok Dick, you can have a few days to have a little rest and maybe we can find someone to tinker under your bonnet before we go home. And it’s all downhill from here so worst case scenario, we can just roll you home. Plus we’re on holiday next week, I promise you can stay at home every day. I intend to sit in the garden and do nothing but read for the entire week.’

Dick let out a sigh of relief and the smoke slowed and then stopped, revealing the most gorgeous, picturesque village she had ever seen.

Milly quickly got out and gazed across the village green, staring at the whitewashed cottages like a kid in a sweet shop. The roofs were topped with yellow thatch that glinted like gold in the sunlight. They were a hodgepodge collection; the nearest ones to her were timber framed and the ones on the far side were made from stone. But all of them came with their unique lumps and bumps, jutting out bits of stone or bent bits of timber indicating that these houses were hundreds of years old.

She quickly grabbed her suitcase, gave Dick an affectionate pat, and abandoned him on the edge of the green as she walked in awe along the cobbled road.

The historian in her picked out key features in the houses straight away. Of course without certain dating tests it would be hard to be specific, but the first house on the green had to be at least four hundred years old, which meant it should be a listed building. But there had been nothing in any historical documents or files that even indicated this place existed, let alone had listed buildings.

Her toes curled with pleasure at the prospect of what this mysterious Clover Castle looked like. Was it possible that she was going to round the corner of the green and see a sixteenth century undiscovered jewel?

She approached the nearest house and ran her hand appreciatively up the oak timber frame. There was something incredible and humbling about touching something that had been around for hundreds of years. What had this building seen and heard, what stories could it tell?

She leaned closer to the wood and sniffed it. The rich smells of smoke, wood and earth engulfed her and she smiled.

She suddenly realised she wasn’t alone. Milly looked up from the wood into the bulbous eyes of an old man, dressed in a tatty suit. His skin seemed to have shrunk against his bones, making his eyes seem more bulging and protruding. He was chewing on what looked like a small stone, rolling it around his mouth and back again as if he was trying to work out what it tasted like. His white hair stuck out making him look like he was a crazy scientist but he was looking at her as if she was insane, which she supposed she was, standing on someone’s front lawn stroking and smelling the side of the house.

He took a drag of his cigarette and then flicked it into the nearby bushes. She winced at the desecration of such a historic place but chose to ignore it as he still had the moral high ground at the moment, being the slightly saner one of the two.

You can’t leave your car there, said the man, indicating poor Dick, who looked so deflated and exhausted that even his headlights seemed to be drooping. It’s double yellow lines.

Sure enough, double yellow lines covered the roads on both sides, as if it was a main road

through a busy city rather than a tiny remote village with probably no more than thirty houses. But closer inspection showed the lines to be very wobbly and most likely hand painted. Who would do such a thing? Traffic clearly wasn’t a problem up here, there wasn’t even another car in sight and Dick wasn’t blocking up the road, which was wide enough for two cars to pass easily in both directions.

Well unfortunately my car broke down, so it will have to stay there until I can get someone to have a look at it.

The man sucked air through his teeth and shook his head. Igor won’t like that. It’s likely the car will be towed.’

Igor? Wasn’t that the name of Dracula’s assistant?

‘Sorry, what did you say your name was?’ Milly asked, deliberately.

‘Danny.’

‘Danny, I’m sure Igor will understand that a broken down car is not my fault. I’m a guest of Lord Heartstone, so if there’s any problem Igor can come and see me at the castle.

Milly hoped that using Cameron’s name and title would be enough to get Danny to leave her and Dick alone, but that wasn’t the case. Danny’s face suddenly filled with disdain.

He isn’t exactly Mr Popular round here at the moment. He’s only been back here a few months and he’s sacked all the staff already. Grumpy sod, too, keeps himself to himself.

Well it’s a big responsibility to suddenly inherit a castle, I’m sure it will take a period of adjustment. I’m here to see if I can help him.

She spotted a flag flying above the trees and grabbed her suitcase and started walking towards it, hoping that Danny wouldn’t follow her, but he did.

‘It’s the Summer Solstice this weekend, we always have a big celebration and he won’t even be a part of it.

Well maybe I can talk to him.

She squinted at the flag, it wasn’t like any she had ever seen before. It was hard to see from this distance what was on it, but it looked like a dragon eating a heart.

Are you staying up there? Danny yelled after her, finally giving up following her.

Yes, for a week.

You’ll never leave. Those that stay there never leave.

She stared at him. These sinister words sent shivers down her spine.

‘And whatever you do, don’t go out after midnight. The Oogie will get you.’

‘The Oogie?’

‘A sea monster who eats unwanted visitors.’

‘That’s a local myth, surely.’

Danny shook his head. ‘The village has lost lots of victims to the Oogie. Just don’t go out after midnight and make sure you keep all the doors and windows locked at night.’

He was clearly joking or just insane. Danny wandered off and she stared after him, realising he was only wearing one shoe. Definitely insane. She looked around at this calm, tranquil little village. With the bright sunshine beating down on the little houses, the scent of the roses that twisted round all the doors, she wasn’t going to let some crazy nonsense about a sea monster bring her down.

She had a castle to look at and she couldn’t wait to see it.

Milly walked round the corner into the trees. Up ahead she could see some large, highly decorative wrought iron gates, with swirls and flowers. The gate was probably Victorian or Edwardian. It was very pretty but her heart sank a little bit. It didn’t necessarily mean that the castle was from that era, but she hoped it wasn’t. Castle Heritage, who she worked for, would have nothing to do with the castle if it was from the Edwardian era. They were only interested in ancient relics, particularly those from the medieval period.

She wanted to help Cameron, she really did. She had spoken to him a few times on the phone and he’d sounded desperate. He had this deep, rich, voice that sounded velvety and she guessed he was about fifty years old. She had a way of accurately estimating people’s ages too, not just the age of houses.

It was the stuff of dreams to wake up one morning and find that not only were you a Lord but one that owned a castle too, yet from speaking to Cameron it seemed it was more like a nightmare than a dream.

He’d spoken to her about burst pipes, broken windows, rotting walls, crumbling masonry and a severe damp problem. It wasn’t the inheritance that he had hoped it would be.

If the castle was old enough, Castle Heritage would probably buy it off him or, at the very least, pay to have these things repaired and maintain the upkeep of the place. They might even make it into a tourist attraction if they thought it was a viable option. If she thought it was a viable option. That’s what she was here to assess. The steep incline of the hill was definitely a negative point. Thousands of people every year visited the big castles in the UK. The road she and Dick had driven up earlier couldn’t sustain that many visitors, nor could the tiny village. But if the property was worth it, her company would pay to improve the road too.

She ran her fingers over her multi-coloured star bracelet, as she always did when she wanted something really badly. Most of the time the bracelet let her down but occasionally her wishes came true. Singing the first few lines of the song ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ in her head, she closed her eyes and made a wish. ‘Let the castle be something truly spectacular,’ she whispered.

She opened the gate and it creaked in protest. Clouds skittered across the sun, casting long shadows across the curved drive. As she stepped through the entrance, a cool wind whipped around her, dragging her blonde hair into her face. The wispy summer dress she was wearing hardly seemed appropriate all of a sudden, she should at least have worn a jacket or a cardigan. English weather was always so unpredictable.

She shivered and walked round the corner, pushing the hair out of her eyes so she could get her first glimpse of Clover Castle. And suddenly there it was.

Her heart soared. For someone who had grown up obsessed with all things Disney, and still loved Disney now, years after it was socially acceptable for her to do so, seeing what was quite obviously a real life Cinderella’s castle in front of her was something out of her wildest dreams. Turrets jutted out from all parts of the castle, some protruding out of other turrets. There were four towers, all topped with conical blue spires. From her position at the foot of the drive, she could see twentythree blue spires, some of which topped the turrets, some that were simply large conical topped pinnacles that didn’t seem to have any purpose other than for decoration. Each spire had a long, gold flagpole on the top with a scarlet banner, apart from the large flag in the middle that had

that weird dragon design. She stared at the flag for a moment, although very different in its design, the theme of the dragon wrapped protectively around the heart was eerily similar to the tattoo she had on her right side.

The castle was beautiful but her heart had already plummeted into her shoes. This couldn’t be any more than a hundred years old. It looked Bavarian in its design and was built purely for enjoyment and certainly not to protect.

There was a splendid drawbridge in the middle of the front castle wall but as she walked up the drive she could see there was no moat for the drawbridge to go over.

It seemed as though, at some point over the last hundred years, someone had decided to build a castle, looked at what features other castles had and decided to have one of everythingwhether it was needed or not. Or in the case of the spires, twentythree of them.

Standing on the hilltop with the sea framed dramatically behind it, the castle was an incredible sight. It was magical and arrogant and wonderful all at the same time and … Castle Heritage wouldn’t come anywhere near it.

She might as well turn round and head home now. Her birthday was later this week, and she didn’t really want to be working on her birthday. If she left now she might even be able to start her holiday a few days early. But she had promised Cameron she would stay for a week to do all the tests and surveys. He had already paid Castle Heritage quite a significant sum for her time and services and although she could refund the money there must be something she could do to help him. At the very least she could stay for a couple of days in order to get a feel for the place.

She couldn’t feel too disappointed at her wasted trip, the place was spectacular and she got to sleep here, hopefully in a room fit for a princess in one of the tallest towers.

As she stared up in wonder at this thing of beauty, she heard two deep barks. She turned in time to see a heap of black, shaggy fur before she was knocked to the ground.

Gregory, NO! a deep voice yelled out.

But Gregory, if that was indeed the beast’s name, was not to be dissuaded. Standing over her, Gregory started bathing her face in pungent wet licks, his coarse tongue tickling her face and making her giggle.

Suddenly the dog was snatched from over her and she was yanked to her feet. She slammed into a hard wall of muscle and looked up into a pair of eyes that were so dark they were almost black. Dark, curly hair topped his head, but she was too close to see any other features. He smelt amazing though, all woody and earthy and wonderful.

Oh God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realise I pulled you so hard. He took a step back and Milly stared up at him, aware that her throat was completely dry. This guy was frigging hot. Dark stubble lined his jaw bone. He was huge too, muscles screaming from every single part of him. He was wearing a suit that was very tight around his broad, muscular shoulders. She felt very under-dressed all of a sudden in her beach dress and sparkly pink Converse trainers.

Oh God, your dress, I’m so sorry. He stepped forward and brushed her breasts, trying to wipe off the two muddy paw prints that had been imprinted onto the material. His face immediately turned pale as he realised what he had done. He leapt back, looking horrified.I’m so sorry. I God, I’m so sorry.

Milly couldn’t help but take pity on him.

It’s not the usual greeting I get, normally a handshake would suffice.

He stared at her for a moment, then laughed, a deep, booming laugh. He offered out his large bear paw of a hand, and she shook it. ‘I’m Cameron Heartstone.’

This gorgeous man was Cameron Heartstone? She had expected someone so much older, probably smoking a pipe and wearing tartan slippers.

Milly Rose. We spoke on the phone. It’s good to finally meet you.

Yes of course, come in. He bent down to pick up her discarded suitcase.Gregory, Sit! Stay! He commanded the black, hairy beast by his side. Gregory was so big Milly thought she might be able to ride him. His eyes were lost under a mass of fur, his pink tongue lolling out the side of his face. He gave a wag of his tail before running off and disappearing round the side of the castle. Clearly very obedient. Cameron sighed and ushered her through a small side door, with his hand in the small of her back. ‘He’s not my dog, he sort of came with the castle. The first day I arrived he turned up and hasn’t left since. He doesn’t belong to anyone in the village, so I guess I’m stuck with him.’

He was clearly nervous, though she wasn’t sure why. He pulled at his collar, obviously not comfortable wearing a shirt and tie. Had he dressed up for her?

She stepped through into a warm kitchen, with a large wooden table standing in the middle and wooden benches either side. The walls were painted a cosy terracotta. Delicious, tangy smells reached her and her stomach gurgled appreciatively. An Aga stood at one end of the room and something was bubbling away in a huge pot on top.

I’ll make us some lunch. Will your boss be joining us soon?

My boss? I don’t really have one. Well, the board of directors at Castle Heritage are sort of my bosses, but I mainly work for myself.

Her heart sank a bit. He had been expecting someone older, too.

Oh, well, the science people, the historians, the ones who will do all the tests?

That would be me.

He stared at her, disappointment registering on his face. He looked her up and down disdainfully.They’ve sent me a child, is this someone’s idea of a joke? Your idea of history is probably what happened in EastEnders last week.

Milly felt her mouth fall open. She was used to getting some prejudice when she turned up at these historic places. With her long blonde hair, large blue eyes and Mary Poppins style rosy cheeks, no one thought she was capable of having any knowledge of history at all. She knew she didn’t help these first impressions by having pink tipped hair and sparkly clothes and shoes, but generally the comments she got were little jokes. That remark about her historical knowledge hurt. And she had never been called a child before. This man couldn’t be any more than five years older than she was, although, being so short, she knew she looked a lot younger than her actual age.

She drew herself up to her full height, which did nothing to diminish the height difference between them.

I am not a child. I’m twenty-eight years old. You judgemental ass. You see the blonde hair and the pretty dress and automatically assume that I’m some kind of bimbo. I have a Doctorate in Archaeology and Historic Architecture. I have a Master of Science degree in Heritage Conservation and a Bachelor of Science degree in Medieval History. I have extensive experience in

dendrochronological and geophysical surveying and my PhD studies required detailed research into archaeological remains, excavation and historic building construction. I guarantee I know more about this castle than you could possibly ever know but if that isn’t good enough for you, I will quite happily leave right now and take every chance of you ever working with Castle Heritage with me.

She stormed to the door but he beat her to it, slamming it closed before she’d only opened it an inch.

You can’t leave.

Just watch me. She tugged at the door but he leaned against it, so it didn’t budge. She tried again.

I’m sorry.

She stopped tugging, but didn’t let go of the handle.

I really am.

She looked up at him and his eyes were honest and concerned.

I’ve hurt you and it really wasn’t my intention to do that. It’s been a really bad couple of weeks, well, a bad couple of months if I’m honest. Since my dad died and I inherited this place, it’s been one problem after another. He was in so much debt and that debt doesn’t appear to have died with him. There is no money in this estate, none at all, and he was still paying all the staff here right up till he died but I can’t see how or where the money came from. I’ve had to let them all go, which means everyone in the village hates me and I’ve been going through all his paperwork and keep uncovering more and more problems. Without the staff the place will fall into ruin. I have no money for any of the repairs or to pay any of his debts and quite frankly the idea of selling the place to Palace Hotels and making it into a five star resort is looking very appealing right now. You are my last hope. I looked at you and thought

‘You thought wrong.’

I know, I’m sorry, I had no right to judge you by your appearance. I’m a terrible judge of character, I really am. I should have learned my lesson by now, not to judge a book by its cover. The people I’ve trusted have sold me out and betrayed me. I’ve had my share of model girlfriends, the types that look good on your arm but with not a lot else going for them and I … Well, I’m really sorry. Please stay, at least have some lunch whilst I beg your forgiveness some more.’

Milly felt all the fight go out of her. She couldn’t hold a grudge for long. Besides, she was starving and the soup that was bubbling on top of the stove smelt amazing.

Ok. I’ll stay for lunch, but it depends how good the soup is whether I stay longer.

His mouth lifted up into small, cautious smile and he gestured for her to sit down.

There’s a hell of a lot riding on this soup then. If I’d known that perhaps I would have thought about the recipe a little more carefully instead of just throwing everything into the pot with a bit of seasoning.

She sat down on the bench and watched him fill two big bowls. There was nothing graceful about him. The soup splatted into the bowl and over the sides and he didn’t seem to care. There were big chunks of meat, large slices of potato, whole florets of cauliflower, all of which should have been blended or at least chopped smaller. He grabbed a large round loaf and tore it into chunks. He plonked the bowl down in front of her and left her half of the loaf on the table next to her bowl, not

even on a plate. The man really had no finesse. He sat down opposite her and took a big bite of the bread. He was like a caveman and strangely she found his raw masculinity a bit of a turn on.

Do you normally have such gay abandon with your food?

He paused with the spoon halfway to his mouth.It seems to work.

He gestured for her to try it and she took a small sip from her spoon. It was incredible, so thick and full of flavour. It’s really good. Did you make the bread too?

He nodded, before biting off another huge chunk from his loaf. It’s potato bread.

She took a small piece and bit into it. It tasted delicious. You’re actually really good at this throw it all into the pot and see if it works method.

He shrugged shyly. It’s kind of how I write my books, too.

What kind of books do you write?

Children’s books, with magical forests and super powers and fantasy adventures. But I never plan anything or follow any set rules. A lot of my author friends will have post it notes and charts and character interviews or CVs but I never do any of that, I just sit down and write. People seem to like it. I mean, I have enough to live off and pay the bills but I’m not going to be buying an island in the Caribbean any time soon.

Well if you have enough money to write full time, you must be doing something right.

He shrugged again, obviously not keen to admit that he was any good.

I’d like to read them.

He shook his head.They’re just kids stuff, not your thing at all, I’m sure.

As we’ve already established, my thing is very different to what you think my thing is.

Right, of course. He swallowed a big lump of bread and didn’t look up at all after that.

She sighed. She didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable around her. She already regretted her little outburst earlier, she was normally much more professional than that.

‘Thank you for letting me stay, there was nowhere else anywhere near here apart from the tiny B&B I booked and when their pipes burst and flooded the house, I was at a bit of a loss for what to do.’

It’s fine,’ Cameron said, in a way that said it really wasn’t fine.

‘Don’t feel that you have to cook for me or anything. This is lovely,’ she gestured to the soup. ‘But I can look after myself. I presume the village has a shop. I can buy some food and make my own meals. You don’t have to worry about that.’

‘I have food here, it’s silly for both of us to be cooking separate meals, unless you’re on some weird diet,’ he glanced briefly at her slender frame. People always assumed she ate really healthily when the truth was miles apart.

‘I eat anything.’

‘Then we might as well eat together.’

‘I don’t want to be in your way.’

‘You won’t. I have work to do and you’ll have tests and measurements to do so I hope … I mean I guess we won’t be getting in each other’s hair too much.’

He didn’t want her there and her heart sank even more at this. Well, if he didn’t want her to stay and she probably couldn’t help him anyway, maybe she would only stay one night after all.

Tell me about the castle.

He looked across the table at her.I don’t know a lot. I used to live here when I was very young, but my mum took me away when I was about six. I never saw my dad after that and I never came back here either. They were always arguing, mainly about the lack of money, even back then. Mum wanted to sell the place and move, my dad refused, so she left. I know it’s been in the family for hundreds of years, hence the rather obnoxious title of Lord that I’ve been bequeathed.

Milly sat up straighter. The castle she had seen from the outside was not hundreds of years old, but that didn’t mean there hadn’t been some recent modifications to the original structure. Perhaps the Cinderella façade was hiding something far more exciting and mysterious.

***

If you enjoyed the first chapter of Fairytale Beginnings, you can download the whole book here. Its only 99p for the next few days.

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Don’t forget to check out our stop on the blog tour:

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Biography

616aYVleV4L._UX250_
Holly lives in sunny Bedfordshire in a house with round windows. She studied media at university which led to a very glitzy career as a hotel receptionist followed by a even more glamorous two years working in a bank. The moment that one of her colleagues received the much coveted carriage clock for fifteen years’ service was the moment when she knew she had to escape. She quit her job and returned to university to train to be a teacher. Three years later, she emerged wide eyed and terrified that she now had responsibility for the development of thirty young minds. She taught for four years and then escaped the classroom to teach history workshops, dressing up as a Viking one day and an Egyptian High Priestess the next. But the long journeys around the UK and many hours sat on the M25 gave her a lot of time to plan out her stories and she now writes full time, doing what she loves.Holly has been writing for 6 years. She was shortlisted for the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance. Her short story won the Sunlounger competition and was published in the Sunlounger anthology. She won the Carina Valentine’s competition at the Festival of Romance 2013 with her novel The Guestbook. She was shortlisted for Best Romantic Read, Best eBook and Innovation in Romantic Fiction at the Festival of Romance 2014.

Follow her on Twitter @hollymartin00

Fairytale Beginnings
Holly Martin
Bookouture
10/07/2015
320

A deliciously enchanting read that will delight fans of Rachael Lucas, Lucy Diamond and Miranda Dickinson or anyone who has ever blubbed at a Disney movie. Who says real life can’t be a fairytale?

Love is an open door…except when it keeps slamming in your face

Hopeless romantic Milly Rose has had her fair share of heartbreak. Obsessed with all things Disney, she refuses to give up on finding her Prince Charming – he’s out there somewhere, isn’t he?

When Milly is given a job to investigate the origins of a historical building in the village of Clover's Rest, she’s not sure what to expect. What she discovers takes her breath away - a beautiful real life Cinderella castle, complete with turrets, a magnificent drawbridge AND a very handsome owner…Cameron Heartstone.

As Milly and Cameron begin to unearth the secrets of Clover Castle, they can’t ignore the intense chemistry building between them. But they’ve both been hurt badly before. Can they take a big leap of faith and find their own happily-ever-after?

EXCERPT: Surviving The Rachel – Aven Ellis

EXCERPT: Surviving The Rachel – Aven Ellis

It’s what you have all been waiting for……….

Now it’s just me and Jack.

“Firefly,” he says, breaking the silence.

“What?” I laugh.

“Right there, hold on a second,” Jack says, pointing near the pond. “There!”

And I see it. A firefly lights up the darkness for a brief second, a flash of yellow in the dark sky.

“I condemned many fireflies to a sad death in a Cool Whip container in my childhood,” I admit, laughing.

“Did you poke holes on the top?” he teases.

“Of course! I didn’t try to suffocate them on purpose.”
Murderer.”

“I was not,” I giggle.

“Challenge for you,” Jack says. “Can you still catch one?”

Absolutely I can.”

“Prove it.”

“Oh, okay, you’re on. First one to catch five wins,” I say, throwing down my own challenge.

“I’ve so got this,” he declares.

So we both get up and begin catching fireflies. We’re laughing and teasing each other and before I know it, I have bested Jack.

“That’s five,” I declare happily, snatching the fifth firefly. I open up my palm to reveal it to him, and then I release it to the night sky.

And in a way, I feel released, too. I’m releasing the negativity about the job search, and I’m starting new tomorrow with Jack’s help. I gaze at his profile, and I know this German-speaking boy

next door has something—if not everything-to do with this newfound feeling I have.

He turns and catches me looking at him. We don’t say anything for a moment, and another firefly flashes light between us.

“I guess I should be heading home,” he says softly.

“Okay.”

“So I’ll see you tomorrow for sushi?”

“Yes,” I say, smiling back at him. “And I’ll send you my resume right now.”

Jack nods. “Okay then. I’ll see you tomorrow. And thank you for tonight.”

“I should be thanking you,” I say softly.

He turns and begins walking across the grass. I cross my arms over my chest, his sweatshirt still keeping me warm. Jack suddenly stops and turns to me.

Hochzeit mit Hindernissen,” Jack says.

I begin laughing. “What?”

The German title for ‘The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding,” Jack says, grinning at me. “That’s one of my favorite Friends episodes.”

Another firefly lights up in front of me as I watch him walk away. And then I realize that’s what Jack is to me.

He’s like a firefly who has lit up the darkness.

And I find myself drawn to his light.

Check out our review of Surviving The Rachel.

Surviving The Rachel Book Cover Surviving The Rachel
Aven Ellis
Soul Mate Publishing
19/12/2014
262

Life after college graduation is not at all what twenty-one-year-old Bree Logan expected. Unable to find a professional communications job, dumped by the guy who was THE ONE, and stuck with a pricey city apartment she can’t afford, Bree ends up moving back home with her parents in the suburbs and working as a cocktail server at a posh Chicago hotel.

In a desperate attempt to get a fresh start, Bree goes to a hip salon and requests that the first available stylist chop off her long dark hair. Alarmed when the stylist suggests “The Rachel,” after the famous haircut from the show Friends, Bree is hesitant, but decides to go for it when she is assured it will be a “fresh, modern adaptation” of the infamous 90’s cut. Unfortunately for Bree, it turns out to be exactly the same cut, but with horrific heavy bangs added to it. Hideous doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Bree is convinced nothing will ever go right when she meets neighbor Jack Chelten, a twenty-five-year-old German translator. Not that Bree is looking to date anyone, but there's something quirky and intriguing about his freckle-splashed face and blue eyes. And suddenly Bree finds herself seeking out different opportunities and challenges . . . as well as the boy next door.

In her new adult life, Bree learns that sometimes you have to go through crises to get to where you need to be. And if you can survive The Rachel, you can survive anything, right?

Chapter One exclusive: Surviving The Rachel – Aven Ellis

Chapter One exclusive: Surviving The Rachel – Aven Ellis

Drastic times call for drastic measures.
I wrinkle my nose as I stare at my reflection in my mirror. Okay, so that might be a wee bit dramatic on my part, but I do feel the need for a change.
Like a haircut.
A serious haircut.
I remove the rubber band holding my long, jet-black locks in place and shake out my hair, which I haven’t changed since college.
Nothing screams “I’m a woman ready for change” like an entirely new hairstyle.
And if anyone needs a change, it’s me, Bree Logan.
I study myself in the mirror. My green eyes stare back at me, and I think of how my summer can be recapped into three major events. First, I graduated with honors from the University of Arizona, but I can’t find an entry-level job in advertising. Next, my boyfriend Alex—who I thought was The One—dumped me after graduation and bailed on our apartment in Chicago. And due to lack of gainful employment and my stupid ex-boyfriend not giving me any money toward breaking the lease, I had to move back home with my mom and dad.
I bite my lip for a moment. Okay, yes, that’s my crappy summer. So if anyone needs a haircut to signal change, it’s me.
I’m ready to start over.
I’ll keep looking for a break in advertising while working as a cocktail server at the Bradley Scott Hotel downtown. I’ll pay off the money I borrowed from my best friend, Avery Andrews, to break the lease of the apartment in Lincoln Park. Then I’ll save up so I can move back to the city and have that post-graduate life I dreamed of and planned for.
Suddenly there’s a rap on my doorframe. I turn and see my mom standing there with a bottle of water.
“I thought you might need another one after unpacking these boxes,” Mom says, stepping around the boxes that I have piled in my room.
I turn and smile gratefully at her. “Thank you.”
Diva, my mom’s toy Pomeranian, is right on her heels and begins barking and growling at me.
“Now, Diva, Bree isn’t a guest, she’s home now,” Mom says soothingly, picking her dog up and cradling her to her chest. “You need to get used to that, Precious.”
I almost laugh. Leave it to the dog to remind me of my inability to pay rent and land a professional job.
“I’m thinking of cutting my hair,” I announce, unscrewing the cap on the bottle of water and taking a sip. “Maybe go into the city this afternoon and get it done by some cool professional.”
“Oh, Bree, are you sure, sweetheart? Maybe you should start with more layers or something? I don’t want you to do anything you’ll regret.”
“No, I’m ready for change in my life,” I say honestly. “I feel like this is symbolic of that change, you know?”
Mom sits down on my bed, next to a box of pictures. She puts Diva down and begins to sift through them.
“I can understand that,” Mom says. “Oh, I love this picture of you and your friends.”
I smile as Mom shows me a picture taken in July at Wrigley Field. It’s me and Avery, my best friend since middle school, our mutual friend, Emma Davenport, Avery’s boyfriend, Deacon Ryan, and his brother, Zach.
“That was a fun afternoon,” I say, smiling at the memory.
Mom sifts through a few more and then glances up at me. “I notice there are no pictures of Alex in here.”
I sit down on the other side of the box and frown. “I got rid of all of them,” I admit. “Looking at them was like being reminded how stupid I was to even think he could have been The One.”
“Sweetie, you were a young girl in love for the first time,” Mom says soothingly. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
I flop backward on my bed and groan. “Oh, but Mom, I was so blind. There were so many red flags. Like how he never wanted to do anything I wanted to do, we always did what Alex wanted to do. He was never interested in what I had to say. We always had to party when I wanted to go get a Starbucks some nights. And I was always driving him around because he got so drunk all the time. What did I see in him? How could I ignore all that?”
Mom drops the pictures back into the box. “You were in love with him. And sometimes that can make you blind, Bree. But you’ve learned from this, and that’s a good thing.”
I sit back up. “Oh, yes, I’ve learned all right. My next boyfriend isn’t going to be a selfish partying jerk.”
“So are you ready to date again?” Mom asks in a hopeful tone.
I see she’s grinning at the prospect, no doubt eager to start finding potential men for me.
“No. The last thing I need is to be dealing with dating when I’m trying to get my career off the ground.”
“Are you sure? Have you seen the Cheltens’ grandsons, Jack and Eric, yet? I keep telling you to go over next door and introduce yourself. They are such nice boys and they are your age, Jack is the older one, he’s twenty-five, and Eric is—”
“Oh no. No, no, no. I know what you’re thinking. No.”
“What am I thinking?”
“That I’ll end up dating one of them,” I say, giving my mom the suspicious eye.
“Well, Eric is very charming and available,” Mom declares.
I furrow my brow. “How do you know?”
“I asked.”
“Gah, Mom,” I wail, putting my hands over my face. “Please tell me you didn’t.”
“Of course I did,” she explains. “It’s called making conversation.”
No, it’s called scouting the field for your daughter.
“Well, I’m not interested. I’m not ready.”
“That’s too bad, because that Eric is so cute. Jack is, too, but Eric is just charming,” she says as she stands up. “Well, I’m going out to the garden. Lots of work to do. Oh, by the way, your father and I have plans for a movie and dinner tonight. If you are home by five, you can join us.”
Good lord. I thought being a third wheel with Avery and Deke was bad enough, but resorting to being a third wheel on my parents’ date?
That is a whole new level of hideousness I do not want to experience.
“Um, thanks, but I think I’ll just stay in tonight,” I say honestly. Which appeals to me. I haven’t had a Saturday night off in forever, and I want to order a pizza and have a movie marathon.
“All right,” Mom says. “Come on, Diva, let’s go outside.”
Diva barks happily and follows my mom out the door. I pick up my phone and do a search for some modern, hip, downtown Chicago salon. City chic, that’s what I want. I scroll through suggestions from Google until I see this:
Fringe Chic Spa & Salon—Modern Hair for Chicago’s Modern Woman
Perfect.
I call the salon, hoping against hope there might be a cancellation or opening today.
“Fringe Chic Spa & Salon, how can I help you?” says an utterly bored-sounding woman.
“Erm, yes, I’m calling to see if it is possible to get a haircut today?” I ask hopefully.
“Frederic is booked solid for months. So are Javier and Orlando,” she says as I hear keystrokes on her keyboard. “But you can have an appointment with Marcolo if you can get here in one hour.”
One hour? It takes about 45 minutes to drive there if traffic is awesome.
“Okay,” I say as if suddenly this haircut is the most important thing ever. “Um, how much is a haircut?” I ask as I realize I neglected to look at the prices on the website.
“$70.”
Wow? That’s not bad at all for a downtown salon.
“For the cut,” the receptionist says haughtily, interrupting my thoughts. “If you want it dried and styled, as I am sure you do, that will be an additional $120.”
Shit.
“Of course,” I say, mentally calculating cut + style + tip + parking downtown and the slim availability left on my MasterCard . . . and I’ll just make it.
By five dollars.
The receptionist takes my name, says they’ll see me at two o’clock, and hangs up. I frantically toss on a coral-colored maxi dress. I slide into my flip-flops and hesitate as I glance down at my toes. Crap, my pedicure looks like hell. I ditch those shoes and put on some espadrilles instead. Better.
I grab my purse and dash down the stairs. I slide the patio door open and pop my head out. As soon as I do, Diva begins barking and growling at me again.
“Mom,” I say over the barking, “I’m going into the city to get my hair cut.”
My mom glances up from the rose bush she’s pruning. “Okay, good luck.”
“All the way to the city for a haircut?” my dad asks. “That sounds extreme.”
“I want it to be chic,” I explain.
“They can’t cut chic hair in the suburbs?”
“Dad, I want it done in the city. So I’m going now,” I yell over Diva’s yip-yap-yip-yapping. “See you later.” And with those words, I bolt out the door.
Luckily traffic into the city isn’t bad, and I pull up to the valet stand with a few minutes to spare. After I hand over my keys, I step inside the posh salon. It’s all black and white and silver, with funky light fixtures hanging down from the ceiling. I see Chicago’s elite drinking champagne and being fussed over by stylists all dressed in black. The music is edgy sounding. Everything, in one word, is incredibly hip.
Hip. That is who the new Bree is going to be. Edgy and hip and ready to reclaim her life.
I approach the receptionist, who appears just as bored in person as she sounded on the phone. She is texting on her iPhone and only looks up after I clear my throat.
“Hello, I’m Bree. I have an appointment with Marcolo,” I say.
The girl nods. She punches a button on her headset and speaks into her mic. “Marcolo, your appointment is here.” She disconnects and shifts her attention back to her iPhone, not even glancing at me. “He will be right up.”
Alrighty then.
I take a seat in a sleek black and chrome chair and restlessly tap my foot. I’m excited about this. I haven’t deviated from my style much since college, and this will give me just the boost of confidence I need to go out and attack the advertising job front again.
I see a young man with a bright pink Mohawk approaching me. He’s very tall—about 6’4—and rail thin. He is wearing all black, of course, and has piercings in his nose. And tattoo sleeves.
Perfect, I think happily. He’s cool and young and will totally be able to give me an awesome new hairstyle.
“Bree?” he asks in a high-pitch feminine-sounding voice.
I stand up and smile. “I’m Bree.”
“Hello, I’m Marcolo,” he says, extending his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Bree. Come on back.”
I nod and follow Marcolo to his station. I slide into the chair, and he lifts up my hair. “What can I do for you today?”
“I need a change,” I say. In more ways than one. “I’m open to anything.”
“Ooooh, I love that,” Marcolo says excitedly. “Tell me about yourself. Your interests, what you do, so I can create a vision for you.”
Wow, Marcolo is going to create a vision? I totally lucked out getting in to see him today!
“Well, I recently graduated from the University of Arizona,” I start out, meeting Marcolo’s eyes in the mirror. “I want to work in advertising, as an account representative.”
“Mmmmmmm, what about your interests?” Marcolo says, playing with my hair.
“I like being outside,” I say. “I like taking nature walks. I love good conversations, whether over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. I love shopping. And I’m obsessed with the show Friends. I know every episode by heart.”
Marcolo stops playing with my hair. “Interesting. Who is your favorite Friends character?”
“Oh, easy. Rachel. I love Rachel Green.”
Marcolo spins the chair around, so I’m facing him. “I’m inspired. I have a brilliant idea.”
Yes! I’m going to look fabulous when he’s finished; I can just tell.
“Really?” I ask, smiling at him.
“Let’s give you a modified Rachel cut.”
I pause. “Do you mean The Rachel?” I say, referring to the haircut that exploded during the 90’s when Friends came on the scene.
“Yes. But with an edge.”
I bite my lip. “But . . . that cut was popular a long time ago. I’m not sure about all those layers.”
“This is not going to be that cut,” Marcolo explains excitedly. “Fewer layers, some bangs. It will be fresh and sexy.”
“I don’t know.”
“Bree, you said you wanted a change. I’m offering you something fresh and familiar at the same time. What do you think?
​Marcolo works at one of the best salons in Chicago. He wouldn’t lead me wrong, right?
I take a deep breath and nod excitedly. “Let’s do it. Give me the modern Rachel.”
And with those words, I put my faith in Marcolo’s vision—and his scissors.
***
I sit in my car and stare at my reflection in the mirror on the driver’s side visor.
My hair does not look like a fresh, modern, version of The Rachel.
It looks exactly like The Rachel.
Which might be awesome if it were 1994.
But it’s not.
Arrrrrrrrrrrgh! Oh, but I don’t just have The Rachel. I have one with heavy bangs cut in, Marcolo’s “modern” twist.
My beautiful black hair is now in that infamous, choppy cut. Looking incredibly old and dated. And the bangs make it extra hideous.
Why, why, why, did I agree to this? Why?
I slam my visor up. I hear a driver leaning on the horn behind me, so I need to focus and move.
Anger fills me as I think about my hideous new hair. New, hip, edgy woman, my ass! If I were to slap a denim vest on over a floral dress, I’d be a perfect specimen from the Central Perk set on Friends in the 90’s.
I groan aloud. Of course, I want to work in “Image is everything” advertising. Who the hell is going to hire me with this outdated haircut?
Hmmm, let’s see . . . Nobody!
I fume as I navigate my way toward the expressway. And not that I’m remotely ready to think about dating, but no guy is going to ask me out with this shitty hair either.
A bit of my anger dissipates with that thought. I guess that’s a bonus. Maybe by the time all these freaking layers have grown out, I’ll be ready to go on a date.
There is more traffic on the way back, but I don’t care. I have no plans for tonight, other than to sit around with hair clips and try to figure out if there is any way to fix Marcolo’s disaster of a haircut. Oh, yes. And maybe I’ll get a bottle of wine and down a few glasses. Along with a box of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies that my mother keeps stashed in the freezer. Crappy haircuts call for a crappy dinner.
I park in front of the garage, then I make my way up the front steps and thrust the key into the lock. Diva is already growling and yipping at the door. Ah, yes, the perfect ender to the evening. Diva will probably bark more now because I look scary with this stupid outdated hair, too.
I open the door, and before I know it, Diva shoots in between my legs and down the steps, and across the lawn to the Cheltens’ house.
“Diva!” I scream, taking off after her. “Diva, come back here!”
I watch in horror as she runs up to the neighbor’s porch. A young man is coming outside and stops when Diva moves straight toward him.
“Stop her,” I plead.
The guy goes to shut his door, but Diva shoots right past him—and into his house.
“Hey, hey, come back here,” he says, heading back inside after Diva.
I sprint up the steps and bound into his house after him, only to find Diva running around in circles around his living room.
“What is wrong with her?” he asks.
“She’s insane,” I cry. “Diva, stop!”
Diva jumps on a chintz couch to avoid me. I dive toward her, but she leaps down onto the floor and under a dark, cherry-wood table. Now the guy is trying to catch her, but he misses as she dodges around a white Queen Anne style chair to avoid his grasp. Finally, she stops. And pees all over his hardwood floor, narrowly avoiding the floral rug that is the centerpiece of the living room.
“Oh no,” I gasp, my hand flying over my mouth. “I’m so sorry!”
I turn to the guy, who is gazing back at me. For a brief second, I’m distracted from the disaster at hand. His dark-blue eyes flicker at me, and I stare back into his face, one filled with freckles. It’s an interesting combination—the reddish-brown hair, tousled with gel, the dark-blue eyes, and the freckled face . . .
Then I realize I need to clean up after Diva.
“Please, let me get some paper towels so I can blot it up,” I say in an embarrassed rush. “Then I’ll take Diva home, and I’ll come back to clean the floor for you.”
He’s silent for a moment. I’m waiting for him to explode, but then he simply clears his throat.
“So is this,” he says, sweeping his arm out toward Diva and her puddle, “how you planned to introduce yourself to me, Breanna Logan?”

Surviving The Rachel Book Cover Surviving The Rachel
Aven Ellis
Soul Mate Publishing
20/12/2014

Life after college graduation is not at all what twenty-one-year-old Bree Logan expected. Unable to find a professional communications job, dumped by the guy who was THE ONE, and stuck with a pricey city apartment she can’t afford, Bree ends up moving back home with her parents in the suburbs and working as a cocktail waitress at a posh Chicago hotel.

In a desperate attempt to get a fresh start, Bree goes to a hip salon and requests that the first available stylist chop off her long dark hair. Alarmed when the stylist suggests “The Rachel,” after the famous haircut from the show Friends, Bree is hesitant, but decides to go for it when she is assured it will be a “fresh, modern adaptation” of the infamous 90’s cut. Unfortunately for Bree, it turns out to be exactly the same cut, but with horrific heavy bangs added to it. Hideous doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Bree is convinced nothing will ever go right when she meets neighbor Jack Chelten, a twenty-five-year-old German translator. Not that Bree is looking to date anyone, but there's something quirky and intriguing about his freckle-splashed face and blue eyes. And suddenly Bree finds herself seeking out different opportunities and challenges . . . as well as the boy next door.

In her new adult life, Bree learns that sometimes you have to go through crises to get to where you need to be. And if you can survive The Rachel, you can survive anything, right?

EXCERPT: City Hospital Book 1: New Blood by Keith Miles

EXCERPT: City Hospital Book 1: New Blood by Keith Miles

Join five young trainee medics as they learn about life and love on the wards of City Hospital. Suzie, Mark, Karlene, Gordy and Bella share a house, and the ups and downs of being a medical student in a busy teaching hospital. 

In City Hospital Book 1: New Blood… 

An accident leaves a young life hanging in the balance. A guilty Suzie holds the key to catching the culprit. 

A party goes horribly wrong when an argument has unexpected and far-reaching consequences. 

Karlene discovers why it’s never a good idea to get too close to a patient. 

The City Hospital series is perfect for fans of medical dramas like Casualty, Holby City and Doctors.

Excerpt 1

Kevin Higgs’ parents sat in the waiting room sipping their cups of coffee. They hardly tasted the liquid. Since their son had been rushed into hospital, they had not slept. Their faces were white and drawn, their bodies listless. They were dazed.

Geoff Higgs was wearing a donkey jacket and jeans. His wife, Lisa, was still in her old mac. Her hair was untidy and she hadn’t bothered to put on any make-up.

She put her cup down on the table.

It was my fault, Geoff,’ she whispered.

Don’t be silly, love.’

I should’ve been there with our Kev.’

You were at work,’ he reminded her. ‘His Gran was supposed to be looking after him.’

I’m his mother. It’s my responsibility.’

You can’t be there every hour of the day, Lisa.’

She began to shudder violently. ‘Why him?’

Now, calm down, love.’

But why, Geoff? That’s what I want to know. Why Kev?’

He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

He was on a zebra crossing,’ she cried. ‘Just like we always told him. You’d have thought he’d be safe there!’

Putting his own cup down, he slipped an arm around her.

Our Kev!’ she was sobbing now. ‘Nicest kid in the world. What sort of person could do a terrible thing like that?’

The coppers’ll get him, love.’

To knock down a little kid then drive away!’

They’ll get him,’ promised Geoff Higgs with his eyes smouldering. ‘And if they don’t, I will!’

He pulled her close and she leant against his shoulder and cried. Lisa’s despair was matched by her husband’s deep anger. They held each other until fatigue finally got the better of them and they fell into an exhausted sleep.

When the swing doors opened they both woke, startled, scrambled to their feet and stepped anxiously towards the consultant in charge of the case.

Well?’ gasped Lisa.

Has Kev opened his eyes yet?’ asked her husband.

The consultant broke the news as gently as he could.

Your son is still in a coma, I’m afraid,’ he said. ‘He hasn’t stirred since he was brought in here. The operation was an additional strain on him. Kevin has been holding his own throughout the day. Until now.’

The woman blanched. ‘Has something gone wrong?’

Complications have arisen, Mrs Higgs.’

What sort of complications?’

We’re not quite sure,’ he admitted. ‘That’s why Kevin has to go back into theatre.’

Geoff Higgs was aghast. ‘Another operation?’

‘Do you have to put him through that again?’ pleaded his wife. ‘Kev was in there for hours last time. You had to give him pints of blood. Isn’t there any other way?’

The consultant shook his head. ‘Unfortunately not. We have to relieve the pressure on Kevin’s brain. Surgery is the only answer.’

‘What are his chances?’

‘Impossible to say, Mrs Higgs.’

‘Can’t you give us any hope?’ she begged.

The consultant weighed his words carefully. ‘We’ll do all we can for Kevin,’ he promised. ‘But his condition is critical. His life is hanging by a thread.’

And while you’re here take a look at our review of City Hospital Book 1: New Blood by Keith Miles.

City Hospital Book 1: New Blood Book Cover City Hospital Book 1: New Blood
City Hospital
Keith Miles
Corazon Books
01/07/2014
Kindle
148

City Hospital: One busy hospital, five medical students, plenty of drama... 

Join five young trainee medics as they learn about life and love on the wards of City Hospital. Suzie, Mark, Karlene, Gordy and Bella share a house, and the ups and downs of being a medical student in a busy teaching hospital. 

In City Hospital Book 1: New Blood... 

An accident leaves a young life hanging in the balance. A guilty Suzie holds the key to catching the culprit. 

A party goes horribly wrong when an argument has unexpected and far-reaching consequences. 

Karlene discovers why it's never a good idea to get too close to a patient. 

The City Hospital series is perfect for fans of medical dramas like Casualty, Holby City and Doctors.

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