Halloween at Hargreate Hall: Part 1 by Morton S. Gray

Happy Halloween! It’s time for this year’s Halloween Round Robin. And this year we have not one but TWO fabulously spooky tales written collaboratively by eight talented Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction authors to share with you 👻 We shared one yesterday (click HERE to begin reading it) and today we’re starting again with a new bunch of authors! 

Morton S. Gray starts us off today, taking us to the very atmospheric Hargreate Hall where we’re sure there’s potential for spooky surprises aplenty! Come back every hour until 2pm to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes. Alternatively you can wait until all parts have been put up and read the story in its entirety! 

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more 😉 

Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition! 

HALLOWEEN AT HARGREATE HALL – PART 1 BY MORTON S. GRAY 

Meredith had no idea why Joe had been so against her suggestion of a Halloween trail around the house and grounds of Hargreate Hall, but then he seemed pretty anti anything she suggested these days.

She was sure he hadn’t been like this when she’d first joined the staff at the hall as events co-ordinator two years ago. Having carefully analysed every time she could remember being in conversation, or a meeting, with Joe she still couldn’t decide what on earth she’d done to upset him. The atmosphere when they were in close proximity had become so frosty that she was even considering looking for another job just to get away from the man.

He was the head groundsman and in charge of anything outside of the main house. It didn’t help Meredith’s confusion that he was six feet of gorgeousness, broad shoulders and hair that flopped over his glinting blue eyes. His lips were full and expressive. Lips you could imagine kissing. Lips she’d studied often in boring meetings. Unfortunately these days those lips were usually turned down in an unhappy frown.

Joe’s objection to her Halloween idea wasn’t helpful when Hargreate Hall needed to increase visitor numbers just to keep afloat. Lord Warren had been open about the financial difficulties at the end of August, when it became clear that summer visitor numbers were the lowest ever recorded. He had asked everyone for any income generating ideas which could be put in place for the last quarter of the year. Her employer’s voice had contained a warble of desperation that made Meredith feel sad.

‘Why don’t we open the house and grounds after dark in Halloween week? With the hall lit by candles and part of the garden by lanterns, it would be magical and attract the crowds. Kids always love finding clues on a trail, Halloween-themed of course, and we could have a few surprises set up along the way – spiders, skeletons, ghosts, strange noises … and we could sell hot chocolate and toffee apples,’ Meredith had suggested.

‘A lot of work. Difficult to supervise after dark too,’ Joe had replied grumpily.

Lord Warren was positive though, so Joe was overruled. Hargreate Hall Halloween After-Dark Trail had been put into the programme, hastily blogged and tweeted about.

Now with a week to go and her article about the Halloween trail on page three of the free local newspaper, Meredith was in a panic. She’d been collecting props for the ghostly displays, pumpkins, lots of cotton wool, a few plastic skeletons and a huge spider. Could she pull this off? The downside of the hall being in financial difficulty was that she didn’t have the two assistants she’d had in previous years. She really needed Joe on her side to help set everything up in the grounds.

She knocked on the door of his office in the old stable block.

‘Come in,’ boomed his deep baritone.

It felt like entering the headmaster’s study at school after some misdemeanour.

‘Oh, it’s you.’ He greeted her with a sour expression on his handsome face.

Meredith decided not to challenge him about his attitude, although she knew that day was long overdue, but she’d hold back until after Halloween as she desperately needed his help. With her mind screaming ‘What on earth have I ever done to you?’, she smiled sweetly and plonked herself down in the chair opposite to his, pushing her long blonde hair behind her shoulders. ‘As you know, we have the Halloween trail evenings starting next Monday and I could really do with your help setting everything up.’

‘Humph …’

Oh dear, Joe didn’t look keen or helpful.

‘What exactly is involved?’

Meredith laid her newly printed trail map on the table between them. It was an adaptation of the one that had been used for the Kings and Queens and the Alice in Wonderland trails in the summer. She’d had the help of Colin and Mary for those two, but Colin had recently retired and Mary had left and in the current dire circumstances neither had been replaced. ‘I have everything ready.’ She crossed her fingers under cover of the desk. ‘It just needs to be put in place.’

Joe pulled the piece of paper towards him, sighing. Despite his obvious reluctance, Meredith was distracted by the flex of his bicep as he moved the trail leaflet closer and the spark of physical attraction she felt made her blush.

Her interest was quickly drowned by his next comment. ‘Load of rubbish. Who’s going to pay to walk around an old damp house by candlelight and stumble across the muddy grounds in the rain to find plastic skeletons draped in cotton wool?’

She bit her lip as her hackles rose, but she replied in a calm voice. ‘Look, Lord Warren supports the event. I don’t need you to approve, just to help me set things up. Pretty please. It will have to be done on Sunday though, after we’ve closed for the afternoon I’m afraid.’

‘I suppose I can help, but I’ll have my daughter with me on Sunday.’

A daughter? That was news to Meredith. She hadn’t known he was involved with anyone, let alone a father.

She smiled, whilst wondering how old his daughter might be. ‘I’m sure I can find her a few jobs too.’

He leaned back on his chair, crossing his arms over his broad chest.

As he stared straight at her, she felt her cheeks colour yet again, despite her willing them not to.

His next words surprised her.

‘Why are you trying so hard?’

We love the idea of a Halloween after-dark trail but why is Joe being so mean to Meredith?! Maybe we’ll find out in the next instalment by Angela Britnell – up in the next hour! 

If you enjoyed Morton’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers – and her new Christmas book, Christmas at Borteen Bay, will be released in November! Click the image below for purchasing options. 

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Morton S. Gray paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What were Meredith’s two former assistants called? 

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Morton S. Gray comp’ by Friday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 5th November.

A Rocky Horror Halloween: Part 2 by Caroline James

It’s time for this year’s Halloween Round Robin! And this year we have not one but TWO fabulously spooky tales written collaboratively by eight talented Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction authors to share with you 👻 We’ll be sharing one today and one tomorrow – keep an eye on the blog so you don’t miss out! 

Lynda Stacey wrote the spooky start of our Halloween tale and now it’s Caroline James’s turn! Come back every hour until 2pm to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes. Alternatively you can wait until all parts have been put up and read the story in its entirety! 

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more 😉 

Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition! 

A Round Robin is best enjoyed if you read each part in order. If you missed the beginning by Lynda Stacey, read it HERE

A ROCKY HORROR HALLOWEEN – PART 2 BY CAROLINE JAMES

Bella was motionless as she watched the man go into the house. His bulky frame was dwarfed by the large entrance, a menacing silhouette that disappeared into the candlelit hallway. She shuddered. Her instinct told her to turn around, get back in the car and drive away as quickly as possible but the man had her suitcase and she had no choice but to follow. As she climbed the stone steps, forcing one foot in front of the other, Bella had a sudden flash back. Her heart hammered as she remembered the final curtain call of the Rocky Horror Show. The cast had bundled off stage, giggling with anticipation as they raced ahead to guzzle on bottles of cider smuggled into their dressing room. As she’d turned to follow, Bella felt a push as two strong hands shoved her forward and she tripped. Pain tore through her ankle, and she’d turned to see who had viciously attacked her but there was no one in sight and alone, without assistance, she’d hopped to the side of the stage. Suddenly, without any warning, she’d felt fingers grip her shoulders, pinning her arms as she was pulled into a darkened corner. Hot breath circled her throat like an invisible noose and unable to see her attacker, Bella was paralysed with fear. But, as quickly as she’d been taken, she was released and she’d spun around. The assailant had gone and Bella could only make out the ghostly shape of a tall bulky figure, shrouded in what appeared to be a long dark cape.

Now, Bella stepped into The Old Rectory and forced herself to follow the man. Her heart hammered as it had that night but she took a deep breath and told herself not to be so stupid. After all, this was a party and she was here to enjoy herself! As she was led through a long corridor the candlelight grew dimmer, casting flickering light and Bella struggled to see the discernible shapes of furniture, which she darted to avoid. A cat, black and inky, leapt out and Bella almost tripped over it. ‘What the…’ she cried out and thought that the animal must be following her.

‘Don’t mind Riff Raff.’ The man turned, his eyes glinting as he led Bella out of the corridor. ‘Do come through,’ he said, ‘everyone is in here.’ Bella forced herself to smile as she stepped into the kitchen.

‘It’s Bella!’ several voices chimed. A group of people stood around a vast inglenook where a roaring fire blazed. Above the fireplace a banner had been strung and written in red paint, Bella could make out the words: The Rocky Horror Class of 2008Reunion. The dark red wording had bled into the white fabric, dripping like blood clotting on pale skin. Bella shuddered.

A drink was thrust into her hand. ‘Remember Ben?’ Their host asked as he made introductions, ‘and Chloe, and of course you must remember Katie …’

Bella gripped the silver goblet and took a sip of a warmed mulled wine. ‘Yes, of course,’ she replied and wracked her brains to place the weirdly dressed characters who nodded in greeting. Everyone had come as the characters they’d played in the show but now, a decade later, Bella hadn’t a clue who was who as she stared in fascination at the macabre sight.

‘Great to see you again, Bella,’ the woman introduced as Katie, smiled and gave a little wave.

‘I’ll show you all to your rooms, just as soon as we get back the power back.’ The man placed Bella’s case with a row of bags, lined up to the left of the fireplace, ‘Drink up.’ He reached out to a cauldron shaped pot by the fire and grabbed a ladle. ‘How’s the ankle?’ he asked and topped up Bella’s wine. ‘You had your foot in a cast for quite a while as I remember.’

‘Er, it’s fine, thanks, just the occasional twinge,’ Bella replied and flexed her foot. She’d broken her ankle in two places on the night of the show and even now, occasionally felt sharp stabs of pain.

‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ the man asked. His pearly white teeth glinted in the firelight. ‘My name is Justin, or Dr Frank N. Furter,’ as I was then.’ He leaned in and Bella felt warm, moist breath brushing across her cheek.

‘Of course,’ Bella nodded, ‘hard to put faces to the names after all these years.’

‘I thought we’d have a murder mystery throughout the weekend.’ Justin stood back and turned to the rest of the party. ‘Everyone is up for it and I’m sure you are too?’

‘Oh, yes, it sounds like a lot of fun,’ Bella mumbled and took a swig of her drink. Nothing had prepared her for this weird party and she was already wondering how the hell she could retrieve her case and make a bolt for the door.

‘We’re waiting for the others to arrive,’ Justin said, ‘but you can all get into character now if you like?’

‘Just like the old days,’ the guests giggled as they swigged their wine.

Justin produced a little coffin-shaped box. ‘Pick a card,’ he said.

Everyone reached out and Bella felt her fingers wrap around an oval-shaped card. The edges appeared to be black, matching the dark ink of the hand-written wording. Bella’s hand began to shake and she closed her eyes as she recognised the name.

What the hell had she let herself in for?

Who else is spooked? We certainly are! We honestly don’t know what’s going to happen next but we’re on tenterhooks to see where Victoria Cornwall takes this story! Keep an eye for her part coming up very soon!

If you enjoyed Caroline’s writing, you can find her book, The Best Boomerville Hotel, available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers – and it’s out in paperback very soon as well! Click the image below for purchasing options. 

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Caroline James paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is the name of the black cat that Bella almost trips over? 

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Caroline James comp’ by Friday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Monday 5th November.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Final Part by Kathryn Freeman

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Jane Lovering set us up for the perfect ending with a mysterious note left in a borrowed book. Will Kathryn Freeman deliver and finish our wonderful birthday story with a bang? Let’s see! 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE
Part Four by Lynda Stacey HERE
Part Five by Jane Lovering HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the last competition of the day. All competitions on all extracts will be open until next Tuesday so there’s plenty of time left to enter all of them!

The Forgotten Birthday – Final Part

As Lauren started to read the note, her heart began to pound. She recognised it. Her mind swimming in disbelief, she skimmed over the childish writing.

Happy birfday Laura. Will you be my girlfriend? Hugh xx

It couldn’t be the same note. That had been over twenty years ago. And the boy who’d written it had been called Hugh Webster, not Peacock.

But the more she stared at it, the more the memories came flooding back. It was addressed not to Lauren, but to Laura. The name she’d gone by all those years ago, before she’d decided Lauren sounded more elegant.

There was only one person who could explain to her why she was reading a note given to her on her ninth birthday. She glanced at her watch. Was ten o’clock too late for a woman to knock on the door of a man she hardly knew?

Sober Lauren would have answered yes, but this version, on a high after the day, fortified by a few drinks, had the confidence to march right up to it.

Her jaw dropped when the door opened. ‘Hugh?’ He didn’t look like the man she’d met this morning. Wearing a T-shirt that moulded chest muscles she hadn’t noticed beneath the old jacket he’d worn, it was his face that shocked her the most. ‘You shaved off your beard.’

He shifted awkwardly on his feet. ‘Ah, yes, you noticed.’

His eyes crinkled. Deep brown eyes, warm and inviting as a mug of cocoa. How had she missed them earlier? More memories filled her head. A boy with a permanently creased blazer, scuffed shoes and dark hair that flopped into his brown eyes. Her heart began to race. ‘Why?’

‘I thought you might have more chance recognising me.’ His eyes held hers and she felt their pull. Just as she had all those years ago.

‘It is you,’ she whispered.

His freshly shaven cheeks flushed. ‘Afraid so.’

‘But … how? Is this just a coincidence?’

The flush deepened and he dragged a hand through his hair. ‘Yes, and no. You applying to be on the course run by my mum, yes. Me coming here in her place, no.’ When she simply stared at him, too shocked, too overcome to do anything else, he sighed and opened the door wider. ‘I see I have some explaining to do. Do you want to come in?’ His hand rose to his chin, then dropped again, no doubt realising he no longer had a beard to scratch. ‘Sorry, you probably don’t want to come into a stranger’s room. We can go to the bar, or—’

Lauren stepped inside. ‘You’re not a stranger, Hugh Webster.’

She caught his eye and he smiled. It was the same boyish smile she remembered, though this time it came from a man. A very attractive man. Somewhere inside her chest she felt a long-forgotten tug.

Moving to the end of the room she went to sit on the chair, leaving him to perch on the bed. Maybe it was the room, but he felt larger now. No longer the bearded, bumbling author, but a potent, handsome male.

‘So.’ He smiled sheepishly, and all at once he was the boy she knew again. ‘I help my mum out with the creative writing course she runs. Daphne Peacock is her pen name. Her real name is Daphne Webster.’

‘That’s why I didn’t recognise you. Plus, the beard.’

Again, he went to scratch it. Again, he dropped his hand. ‘Ex-wife hated beards, so when we divorced I grew one just because I could.’ He searched out her eyes. ‘Am I right in thinking you’re divorced, too?’

She grinned, feeling lighter, more carefree than she’d done in a long time. ‘My Chains piece did kind of give that away, didn’t it?’

‘It did.’ His expression sobered a little. ‘I’m sorry. It sounded like you had a bad time.’

‘I’m over it.’ And she was, she realised with a burst of pride. After today, she’d officially put that part of her life in the past.

‘Good.’ His smile returned. ‘And I wasn’t kidding when I said you might have a knack for poetry. It really was very good.’

‘Thank you.’ But much as she looked forward to turning her mind to new ventures, there was still something from her past she wanted to explore. ‘You were telling me why you’re here instead of your mum?’

‘Ah, yes.’ He glanced down to his clasped hands, then back up at her. ‘You’d sent a photo, and although the form said your first name was Lauren not Laura, everything else, including the date of birth, clicked and I knew, just knew it was you.’ She watched his throat move as he swallowed. ‘I thought, to hell with it, I’m running that course. I wanted to see you again. See if those feelings I had as a boy, were still there as a man.’

It was her turn to have to swallow as the emotion clogged her throat. ‘And are they?’

His dark eyes burned into hers. ‘God, yes. The moment I saw you, that was it. I turned into my bumbling nine-year-old self, desperately hoping the prettiest girl in the class would take notice of me.’

Her stomach flip-flopped and Lauren felt a prick at the back of her eyes. ‘Your note. Where did you find it?’

‘You left it on your desk at school. I picked it up, meaning to give it back to you, but I never screwed up the courage again. Until now.’

As his eyes pressed hers, her heart lifted. Slowly she rose to her feet and went to stand next to him. ‘What if I tell you that was the most romantic thing I’ve ever had happen to me?’

He smiled and his hands reached to clasp her face, sending tingles through her. ‘What if I ask you to have dinner with me tomorrow?’

Her heart jumped. ‘What if I tell you this is the best birthday I’ve ever had?’

His gaze dropped to her lips, and his eyes darkened. ‘What if I kiss you?’

Oh wow! Well done Kathryn – we certainly didn’t expect that and it really was the perfect ending to an amazing birthday story. 

Thank you to all our authors and to all of our supportive readers too! We hope you’ve enjoyed this story and continue to enjoy Choc Lit books for many years to come. Here’s to another year of fantastic authors and brilliant books! 

If you enjoyed Kathryn’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the images above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is Hugh’s mum’s real name?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Kathryn Freeman comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Four by Lynda Stacey

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Sue McDonagh left us on a bit of a cliffhanger. Let’s see where Lynda Stacey takes us … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Three by Sue McDonagh HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the fourth competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Four

‘Hugh …’ Lauren opened the door and glanced up and down the corridor. ‘Sorry, are you looking for someone?’ She turned, grabbed her bag, room key and slammed her door to a close behind her. She began walking down the deserted corridor and in the direction of Marion’s room.

But Hugh stood his ground.

‘Yes, of course. I … I was looking for you.’

Lauren turned as he made an attempt to smooth out the well-worn jacket and then moved his hand upward to scratch his bushy beard, while shuffling nervously from foot to foot.

‘I brought you something.’ He rummaged around in his shabby leather briefcase and pulled out an old battered book. ‘It was in my box of books, in the car.’ He blushed and held the book out towards her.

But Lauren just stood and stared. The book was dark grey with a white-ish writing. It was so battered, she couldn’t even make out the title. ‘What is it?’ She screwed up her nose.

‘Well…’ Hugh smiled and blushed all at once, ‘It’s a book of course. Walking on Alligators. I… well, I thought you’d like to read it. It might help, you know, with your writing.’

Lauren laughed. ‘Why on earth would I want to walk on Alligators?’ She rolled her eyes, turned and marched towards Marion’s door. She knocked and then stood staring at the number twelve that had been haphazardly screwed to the door.

Once again she wished for the ground to open. This was the second time in one day that a man had flirted with her and she wasn’t sure she liked it, even if Marion had said she was the youngest and prettiest on the course. She shook her head. She didn’t belong. She couldn’t write, that had been proven during the day with her chaotic list about chains.

‘I will write even if all I do is jot down some notes about my feelings. I’m storing up material for the future, without knowing what it is.’ Hugh read from the book. ‘It’s here you see, page a hundred and thirty-four. I honestly believe this is what you’re doing. You’re keeping all your emotions, all your words in a store somewhere up there.’ He pointed to her head.

Lauren sighed and smiled in appreciation. Maybe she’d been harsh. Maybe Hugh was just trying to be kind and maybe she really hadn’t given him a chance.

‘Thank you, I appreciate the book,’ she whispered as she reached up and gently kissed him on the cheek, just as Marion’s door swung open.

Awww! We’re starting to quite like Huge (despite the beard!) But what is Marion going to think when she spots the kiss? You’ll have to wait another hour to find out from Jane Lovering!

If you enjoyed Lynda’s writing, you might like to check out her books. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is the title of the book that Hugh brings for Lauren?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Lynda Stacey comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

Happy Birthday Choc Lit! Part Three by Sue McDonagh

We’re nine years old today! And we’re celebrating with a birthday Round Robin written by six of our talented Choc Lit authors. Morton S. Gray and Kirsty Ferry started us off and now’s it’s time for Sue McDonagh to take over. Let’s see what happens to Lauren next … 

In order to enjoy this story, you’ll need to read it in order, so make sure you read:

Part One by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Two by Kirsty Ferry HERE

Also, remember to read right until the end so you can enter the third competition of the day! 

The Forgotten Birthday – Part Three

Was it her, or was Ian coming on just a bit too keen? Even if he had got her name right. Flustered, Lauren glanced down at the notebook under her hand, and read her own words: Freedom – my first steps to freedom. Yes. She no longer had to be bullied into what other people wanted her to do.

‘Thank you Ian, that’s really kind of you.’ She swallowed and continued in one breath, ‘But I’ve come on this course to get to know people and so I think it would be lovely to see everyone for dinner and drinks later.’

There was a little ripple of ‘lovely’ and ‘what time will you be there?’ and Lauren smiled round the class, feeling as if she’d done the right thing. Until she saw Ian’s lowered brows. She hoped she hadn’t put his nose too much out of joint. But really, she wasn’t ready for a relationship. Or even a fling. She wanted to learn to write. She cursed herself. She should have said that instead. It was easy to edit words on the page. But once they were out of your mouth, that was it.

Hugh’s voice broke in on her thoughts. ‘Well, that’s the evening sorted, thank you Laur-‘ he paused, squinting at her label, ‘-en,’ he ended, on a positively euphoric note. Lauren beamed at him, and leaned back to listen to someone else’s prose. They all seemed so much better than hers, and she fought down the impulse to creep quietly out of the class and go back home. Gradually though, she forgot herself and enjoyed listening to Hugh setting artful questions that teased information out of people about their writing. There was so much more to it than she’d realised. ‘What if,’ seemed to be a phrase that he used a lot.

There were group exercises, and although Hugh mangled almost all their names, he got them all chatting and laughing until Lauren was surprised that it was the end of the day. It turned out that Marion was in a room not far from hers, and they walked there together.

‘You did well today,’ Marion said, with a nod.

‘Really? I’ve never been on a writing course before. I have no idea what I’m doing.’

‘I meant with that Ian.’ Marion sniffed. ‘He’s a shark, he really is. I’ve seen him on other courses. Picks on the youngest, prettiest girl. Thinks he knows it all.’ She nudged Lauren with a sharp elbow. ‘But you put him in his place, straight away.’

‘Oh, I think he was just being friendly,’ Lauren said quickly. ‘I didn’t want to give him the wrong idea, that was all.’ Youngest, prettiest girl? Her? Surely not. ‘This is me – see you later at dinner.’ She closed the door quickly behind her to forestall any more conversation.

What if?

What if Ian was just lonely, and found the older women intimidating?
What if Marion was just miffed because Ian had never hit on her?

What if Hugh shaved that dreadful beard off and wore clothes that he hadn’t slept in? There’d been that moment in the classroom, when he’d met her eyes, and she’d felt oddly as if he knew her.

She sank onto the bed, her mind reeling. Today’s writing exercises had made her look at everything in a different way. Her brain felt like a foreign country.

What if … Lauren shook her head to dislodge the thought but it bobbed back like an annoying fly. What if she gave up the job she hated, and found something she actually enjoyed doing? But what else could she do? She stared out of the window at the beautiful gardens, thinking, until her gaze fell on the clock. Heck! Twenty minutes before she was meeting everyone for dinner! She leapt into the shower, deciding what to wear. Halfway through drying her hair, there was a knock at the door.

‘Five minutes!” she called, concentrating on her thick, curly hair, which would look like a frizz-ball if she didn’t finish the job properly. It was probably Marion. A spritz of perfume, a speedy make-up and lip gloss and she was ready. Palming her earrings to put in on the way, she opened the door.

It wasn’t Marion.

A bit of a cliff-hanger there! Who could be at the door? Is Ian as sleazy as he seems? Will Hugh lose the beard? You’ll have to wait for Part Four by Lynda Stacey to find out – up in an hour!

 

If you enjoyed Sue’s writing, you might like to check out her debut novel, Summer at the Art Cafe. You can find details by clicking the image above. 

COMPETITION TIME!

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit book and some chocolate to go with it simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What sort of hair does Lauren have?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin Sue McDonagh comp’ by Tuesday 19th June. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday 20th June.

A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – Part Four by Victoria Cornwall

ValentinesRR4

Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day commence! It’s time for another Valentine’s Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a super sweet short story – A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

Victoria Cornwall has written a fabulous penultimate part today – but, before reading this extract, make sure you’ve caught up with Parts 1-3 of the story. 

Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE
Part Two by Morton S. Gray HERE
Part Three by Angela Britnell HERE

And, as always, make sure you read right until the end to find out how to enter an exclusive competition! 

A VALENTINE’S WEDDING FAIR – PART FOUR BY VICTORIA CORNWALL

Jess opened the fourth box. She breathed a sigh of relief. Her piece de resistance, a cake decorated with ivory lace icing, had survived, unlike her other creations which reminded her of last night’s news footage reporting the aftermath of a tornado in Nebraska. Jake arrived and she shot him an irritable glance.

‘What were you thinking, Jake?’ she said under her breath when Mark had left. How Jake got the Event’s Manager’s job she would never know. She suspected it had something to do with his habit of doctoring his CV.

Jake held up his hands in mock surrender. ‘I swear I wasn’t looking at her cleavage.’

Jess rolled her eyes. ‘I didn’t mean that, I mean putting Mark’s ex-wife’s stand next to ours. Today is turning into a disaster.  I haven’t even hung up all the bunting yet.’ Jake reached for a red sugared heart. Jess slapped his hand away. ‘This mess is your fault, Jake. If you hadn’t had your eyes glued to Harriet’s cleavage …’

Jake nodded knowingly. ‘I knew it was about the cleavage. It was difficult to avoid, Jess.’

A devious thought struck her, ‘I’ll forgive you, but only if you do me a favour.’

Jake eyed her warily, ‘What are you up to?’

‘Nothing much. I just want you to use your position as Events Manager to ask Harriet to move the stand for her chocolate cake a bit more to the left. It will give us more room.’ The sun will catch it nicely there, thought Jess. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the chocolate covering to melt.

Jake walked over to talk to Harriet and Jess returned to her boxes to see what she could salvage. Her first task was to set up the only cake that had survived. She had to admit, it was one of her best. She stood back to admire it. She had hoped to impress Mark. As if on cue, Mark reappeared carrying a box of wine.

‘I’ve had an idea,’ he said, opening a bottle and flashing her one of his sexy smiles. ‘We can give out free drinks and taster samples. If we slice up the broken cakes, no one will know what a mess they look now.’

It was a brilliant idea. Jess felt the urge to hug him. In fact she had the urge to hug him quite often these days, but had always resisted … until now. She was about to fling herself at him, when he turned round with the sharp end of a knife pointing at her. It killed the moment.

‘Here.’ He held the knife out to her. ‘You start cutting and I’ll get the plates.’

Deflated, Jess took the knife from him. She helped herself to a very large glass of wine as she began to slice up a squashed cupcake. She glanced over at Harriet’s chocolate cake. Either the wine was more potent than she had expected and it was distorting her vision or the top tier was already beginning to slide. She hoped it was the latter.

Unfortunately, Mark had noticed too.  He rushed over to rescue Harriet and arrived just as the top tier slid slowly forward and onto her dress. Jess downed another glass of wine as she watched Mark fuss around Harriet. She wasn’t sure what upset her most, that they appeared to be enjoying each other’s company or they were doing it amidst her favourite chocolate recipe. Could the day get any worse?

Oh no – poor Jess! And there’s only one more part of the story left for her to get her happily ever after. Let’s hope Jane Lovering is kind to her tomorrow … it is Valentine’s Day after all 😉 

If you enjoyed Victoria’s part of the story, you can find her novels on all eBook platforms – and The Thief’s Daughter is also out in paperback and can be ordered through your local book shop! Click on the cover images below for more details. 

Image of both books

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Victoria Cornwall paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What happens to Harriet’s chocolate cake? 

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 4’ by Thursday 15th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 16th February.

A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – Part Three by Angela Britnell

ValentinesRR3

Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day commence! It’s time for another Valentine’s Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a super sweet short story – A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

Before the weekend Kirsty Ferry and Morton S. Gray set the scene and left us in the midst of drama (Read Part One by Kirsty Ferry HERE  and Part Two by Morton S. Gray HERE). Where will Angela Britnell take us today? Read on to find out … 

A VALENTINE’S WEDDING FAIR – PART THREE BY ANGELA BRITNELL 

‘Oh, Mark how terrible! All your beautiful cakes are ruined. I’m dreadfully sorry.’

Jess ordered herself not to be a witch for thinking that if Harriet’s fake eyelashes fluttered any faster they’d take flight. Mark stood with his mouth gaping, sympathy for his ex-wife oozing from every pore and she itched to smack some sense into him. Seriously?

‘We’re mortified aren’t we, Armand? We’ll help you get all this cleaned up.’

‘But, chérie—’

Harriet rested one elegant hand, showing off her manicured blood-red talons, on Mark’s shoulder. Jess’s self-control strained with the effort of not swatting it away. ‘Being business competitors is one thing but it’s nothing personal.’

Jess snorted in disgust and the other woman’s mask slipped briefly before the practised smile returned. No one else noticed. Stamping her foot would be juvenile but Jess might as well be one of the blobs of pink icing oozing out of the upturned boxes for all the notice anyone was paying her.

‘Don’t worry.’ Mark’s soothing tone irked her. ‘I’ve got my secret weapon here.’ Jess’s back received a friendly pat. ‘She’ll work her usual miracles. You take care of your own display. We’re good aren’t we, JJ? Accidents happen.’

She grunted something he could take as agreement and Harriet’s smirk deepened. Before the ill-fated wedding Mark’s new fiancé buttonholed Jess and spelled things out in no uncertain terms.

You’re in love with Mark. I recognise it but he doesn’t because he’s a man and they never see the sweet, loyal girls who’re always there as anything more than a vaguely female version of their mates. I’ll make something of him that you never could. Stick to making cakes and keep your puppy dog eyes to yourself.

‘Armand, let’s get ready to amaze our customers.’ Harriet’s gaze swept over Jess’s faded pink vintage floral dress. ‘The whole shabby chic thing works well on you, dear.’

The sly dig reminded her of Pippa Warrington at primary school who pretended to admire Jess’s newly chopped off hair, courtesy of her older brother’s attempt to emulate Vidal Sassoon, while tossing her own enviously perky blonde ponytail.

‘You all right, JJ?’ Concern laced Mark’s deep voice and Jess forced on her friend/efficient employee smile. ‘We’ll make this work.’

‘Of course we will. Let’s see how bad the damage is.’ She lifted the first box onto the table and prised off the lid, unable to suppress a sharp intake of breath.

‘You spent hours on those.’ The miniature fairy cakes were a smashed mess and all the spare icing and decorations they’d brought along couldn’t save them. ‘She manages to spoil everything doesn’t she?’

In spite of the cake disaster Jess’s heart did a little flip. Maybe Mark wasn’t a lost cause where it came to Harriet after all. A ring of steel settled around her spine. She’d overcome far worse than this in her life including a childhood spent in care and a dangerous drift along a bad path until baking saved her. ‘Only if we let her and we won’t.’ Mark’s expression softened and he rested his big competent hands on her shoulders. For a wonderful moment Jess was only aware of his deep brown eyes and warm smile.

‘The pièce de résistance. The star of the whole wedding show.’ Harriet’s gloating voice pierced Jess’s happy glow.

As she jerked around Mark’s fingers dug in, willing her not to grab his ex-wife by the throat.

The magnificent chocolate cake complete with cascading creamy white icing roses was a work of art. Jess’s own prized recipe in its full glory. She met the challenge in Harriet’s gaze. For some reason the other woman wasn’t giving up her claim on Mark anytime soon. Bring it on. You don’t know who you’re tangling with but you’re about to find out.

Well if Harriet didn’t annoy you already, Angela Britnell has certainly exposed her truly manipulative and scheming side. Poor Jess! We hope she gets the ending she deserves but there are still two parts to go, with Victoria Cornwall adding her part tomorrow. Anything could happen!

If you enjoyed Angela’s part of the story, you can find her novels and novellas on all eBook platforms.Click on the cover images below for more details. Also make sure you keep an eye out as we’ll be revealing further details about an exciting new release from Angela Britnell very soon!

AB

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is Jess wearing to the Fair?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 3’ by Thursday 15th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 16th February.

A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – Part Two by Morton S. Gray

ValentinesRR2

Let the countdown to Valentine’s Day commence! It’s time for another Valentine’s Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a super sweet short story – A Valentine’s Wedding Fair – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Valentine’s Day (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

Yesterday Kirsty Ferry started us off with Part One (which you can read HERE) and today Morton S. Gray takes over. What drama will unfold at the Valentine’s Wedding Fair? Read on to find out … 

A VALENTINE’S WEDDING FAIR – PART TWO BY MORTON S. GRAY 

Straight in front of Jess and Mark, parked to unload outside of Valentine Manor was a van emblazoned with the Bobbins logo. Harriet had arrived already.

Jess heard Mark sigh heavily. She guessed it wasn’t much fun being confronted on a regular basis by the biggest mistake of your life in the form of your ex-wife, who just happened to be a competitor for the same customers.

She turned to her boss. ‘Come on, let’s get unpacked. We’re going to be in the same room all day, so we may as well get the first meeting with Harriet and Armand out of the way.’

‘Guess so. I just felt my heart sink to my boots yet again.’

‘Look, if I’d said anything to you before you married her, you wouldn’t have listened to me … would you?’

‘They say love’s blind and it’s so true.’

It got worse when they got inside Valentine Manor. The beautiful ballroom, decorated in pink and white, where normally the wedding receptions were held was chaotically full of people and boxes. The wedding fair opened at ten and the retailers were rushing to get organised before the public arrived.

‘We’ve got stand twenty. It should be in the middle, opposite the main doors. Jess struggled to see past the boxes she was carrying. Mark followed behind her with an equally heavy load as they dodged past the other stall holders.

The awful truth dawned on her. Bobbins had been placed right next to the Buntings stand. Harriet must have spoken to Jake the Events Manager about prime positioning in the room too. Jess felt her own heart sink to her boots.

It wasn’t just the competition or the frosty relationship between Mark and Harriet after their divorce that worried Jess, but the fact that Bobbins had chosen bright red as the predominant colour for their display. Jess suspected that being right next to the tall red plastic shelving on Harriet’s table, Buntings’ display might look rather more shabby than chic.

She concentrated hard on smoothing the rosebud embroidered tablecloth on their own stand, trying to ignore that Harriet was watching her closely and was wearing a red apron with a heart-shaped top, showing an ample amount of cleavage at the V of the heart.

After piling up their food boxes on the table and pulling a have you seen that face at Jess, Mark went to park the van, leaving her to arrange the tasty delicate stock. She’d begun to assemble the cake stand centrepiece when Jake, her best friend Ellie’s dishy brother came walking towards her. Jess felt her heart rate accelerate.

‘All okay? Do you have everything you need?’ He appeared to be talking to Jess, but her smile was lost on him as his eyes were firmly fixed on Harriet’s cleavage. Hmm … maybe she wouldn’t be going for a drink with him after all.

Jess wasn’t the only one to notice Jake’s fixation with Harriet’s ample chest. Armand barged between the two stands to position himself in front of Harriet with a thunderous expression directed at Jake. As he pushed between the two stands, he didn’t seem to realise that his elbow had connected with the piled-up plastic food boxes on Buntings’ table. Jess watched with open-mouthed horror as her carefully prepared cakes, truffles and canapes went into an avalanche slide over the back of the stand with a sickening crash.

Having seen what had happened as he returned to the stand, Mark came flying across the room to confront Armand, who was still oblivious of what he had done and seemed about to challenge Jake for ogling Harriet.

Jess was frozen to the spot, torn between going to see if anything could be salvaged from the toppled food boxes and waiting to see if she needed to break up a fight.

Disaster! What a fabulously dramatic second part from Morton S. Gray. Question is, are you Team Buntings or Team Bobbins? We think we already know the answer! Come back on Monday when Angela Britnell will be taking over. Will punches be thrown? Will cakes be salvaged? You’ll have to wait and find out! 

If you enjoyed Morton’s story, you can purchase her debut novel The Girl on the Beach on all eBook platforms. It’ll also be out in paperback in April! Click on the cover image below for more details. Also make sure you keep an eye out over the coming weeks as we’ll be revealing further details about an exciting new release from Morton S. Gray. Stay tuned!

9781781893142

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Choc Lit paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

What is the colour of Bobbins’ stand?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 2’ by Thursday 15th February. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 16th February.

Choc Lit 2017 Halloween Round Robin: The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall, Final Part by Berni Stevens

Halloween FINAL

Happy Halloween! It’s time for another Halloween Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a wonderfully spooky short story – The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Halloween (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

Our very own Queen of Spookiness Berni Stevens is rounding off our Halloween story today. We’ll leave you to decide whether our Round Robin this year has been a trick or treat. We know what we think!

A Round Robin is best enjoyed if you read each part in order. 

Read Part One by Jane Lovering HERE
Read Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE
Read Part Three by Victoria Cornwall HERE
Read Part Four by Kirsty Ferry HERE

The shadowy figure of Bella shimmered and dissolved back into Kate, who staggered and would have lost her balance if Martine hadn’t rushed to catch her. The sounds of the ball stopped, and doors banged shut with ferocity.

‘Kate …’ Martine gave her friend a gentle shake.

Kate didn’t answer.

‘Not yet,’ Sebastian moved between them. ‘The demon is still here.’

‘Bella …?’ Edward looked at Sebastian, using the name for a question.

‘Is not … was not a demon or a witch. That was not Bella.’

‘How do we get whoever it is out of Kate?’ Martine’s head hurt.

James was staring at her and Kate as if they’d sprouted horns, and perhaps they had. She felt anything could happen here tonight.

‘Marti … what the hell are you talking about?’ His face was ashen.

‘It’s Samhain,’ she said. James still stared at her blankly.

‘The night when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest,’ Sebastian said. ‘And the boundary can be crossed.’

Martine repeated Sebastian’s words to James, who now looked as if he might be sick. He was probably regretting finishing off the pizza everyone else had rejected.

‘Can you see the ghosts yet?’ She asked him.

‘I don’t believe in ghosts.’

That would have been funny under any other circumstances. Here they all were on a ghost-hunt in a haunted house – on Halloween – or Samhain – and the leader of the expedition didn’t believe in ghosts. Perfect.

Sebastian held his arms away from his body. ‘What am I? Scotch mist?’

‘Pretty much,’ she agreed. ‘Still see-through anyway.’

‘Now you’re talking to yourself.’ James muttered.

The sound of scuffling and cursing came from the doorway, as Patrick elbowed Ollie out of the way, and tumbled into the room. How come she’d never noticed the weakness of Patrick’s chin before?

‘Get away from my sister!’

James turned to glare at Patrick, ‘Get lost you stupid git,’ he said.

‘Guys, you’re a couple of wimps,’ said Martine rolling her eyes, and was rewarded with laughs from both James and Sebastian, which was actually a little weird. ‘We still need to get this whoever or whatever out of Kate,’ she said again to Sebastian.

‘I will assist you, Lara.’

“That would be Martine.’

It was Sebastian’s turn to look confused, which was a good trick for someone who was mostly transparent. ‘The other man calls you Lara.’

‘It’s kind of a joke,’ Martine began patiently. ‘Never mind. Can we do an exorcism or something?’

‘Exorcism?’ James looked horrified.

‘No need. Please light a fire to cleanse away the demons,’ said Sebastian, and began to chant in a lilting foreign language.

Martine emptied out her rucksack, picking out the rubbish that had probably lived at the bottom for years. Tissues, old receipts, a pair of fluorescent green socks (so that’s where they went) various sweet wrappers, and a very fluffy extra strong mint. Discarding the mint, she stuffed the rest of the rubbish into the fireplace.

‘James, got any matches?’

Still frowning, he handed her a box of matches, and she lit the little mound of rubbish.

Bright flames leapt up at once, as Sebastian chanted louder.

The temperature in the room dropped suddenly and disembodied voices joined in the chanting.

Suddenly Kate slumped to the floor, and black smoke curled out from her mouth and nostrils, as the chanting got louder and louder. Unfortunately this was the time both Ollie and Patrick decided to take a proper interest in the activity, and seeing Kate and the smoke, they both shrieked in a high falsetto, and pelted from the room still screaming.

The only thing missing was the tinkling soundtrack from The Exorcist. Mike Oldfield had a lot to answer for.

When the boys’ screams had faded in the distance, the chanting stopped abruptly as if someone had thrown a switch. The silence was deafening.

James went to kneel behind Kate and gently cradled her head. Martine could hear him talking softly to her as he stroked her hair back from her face. Deciding her friend would be safe now, she turned back to look at Sebastian. He held out his hand to her, and it looked pretty solid, so she took it.

‘Are you here … or somewhere else?’ she asked.

‘Where do you want me to be?’

‘Here, in my time.’

‘So shall it be.’

Hand in hand they turned to look at Edward, just in time to see him walking away with a pretty dark-haired girl on his arm. Martine blinked as they became fainter – then they faded away altogether.

We knew we could rely on Berni Stevens to finish off our Halloween tale in spooky style. We hope you enjoyed the story! Choc Lit authors are a talented bunch 🙂 Now it’s time for the Halloween festivities to begin but not before a final competition! Remember you can still enter all of the competitions listed on each extract until Thursday 2nd November.  

If you enjoyed Berni’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers. Click on the image below for purchasing options. 

JL

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Berni Stevens paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Which items does Martine use to start the fire? 

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 5’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.

Choc Lit 2017 Halloween Round Robin: The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall, Part Three by Victoria Cornwall

Halloween P3

Readers beware! It’s time for another Halloween Round Robin from Choc Lit, back by popular demand. Five talented Choc Lit authors have been working collaboratively on a wonderfully spooky short story – The Ghosts of Maplewood Hall – which we will be sharing in five parts in the run-up to Halloween (with the final part falling on the big day itself!) Come back every day to read a new extract AND enter competitions to win chocolate & book prizes.

Each author taking part has no idea where their part of the story will go, which leads to a few spooky surprises along the way. But you’ll need to read on to find out more ;)  

The third author to contribute is Victoria Cornwall. Remember to read right until the end to find details of the competition. 

A Round Robin is best enjoyed if you read each part in order. 

Read Part One by Jane Lovering HERE
Read Part Two by Christina Courtenay HERE

THE GHOSTS OF MAPLEWOOD HALL – PART THREE BY VICTORIA CORNWALL

Patrick lowered his torch beam as he approached her. ‘Martine? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.’ He touched her hand and frowned. ‘You’re shaking,’ he said, giving her hand a mild squeeze. ‘James was an idiot for suggesting you stay here alone. ‘

‘Yes, he was … and I was an idiot for doing what he told me.’ Martine withdrew her hand from Patrick’s and fumbled with the end of the tape. Patrick was right – she was shaking, although she had a sneaking suspicion it was not only Sebastian’s apparition that was the cause of it.

Patrick attempted to help her, but Martine brushed him off and set about criss-crossing the door with a web of sensory wires. To her surprise she achieved it with amazing speed. Haunted houses – and a strong desire to leave a challenging situation – often turned her into an efficient worker.

‘I should have said something,’ said Patrick as he watched her work.

Martine stood back to admire her wired door that no person could pass through without setting off an ear-splitting alarm. ‘Not bad for a ghost hunting newbie,’ she said brightly, only too aware Patrick was standing just behind her. She felt much braver than only a few minutes before. Ghosts weren’t that scary, particularly if they were handsome and flirtatious too. ‘It was sensible of James to have someone posted by the door,’ she wittered on. ‘It just happened to be me.’

‘I don’t mean that,’ said Patrick. Martine’s senses switched to high alert and she stiffened. ‘I mean why I didn’t turn up at the restaurant the other night.’

The memory brought back the familiar flush of humiliation to her cheeks. She had spent the evening waiting for him to arrive, while the diners sitting around her threw sympathetic smiles in her direction and gossiped in hushed tones behind their hands. It had been their first date. The date she had dreamt of since she was ten. And it had turned into a disaster.

‘You didn’t even text,’ she mumbled.

‘I know.’ He touched her arm, but she immediately withdrew, hating herself for showing his non-appearance still bothered her. He reluctantly let his hand fall. ‘When I heard you scream just now I was …’

It was the diversion Martine needed. How could she have forgotten about Kate? ‘I wasn’t the only one who screamed. Kate did too!’ She grabbed Patrick’s torch. ‘We’d better go to the kitchen to see if she is alright.’

Patrick raised an eyebrow in surprise. ‘Who is this new brave Martine ready to take on the spooks?’

‘I’m not sure,’ replied Martine over her shoulder. ‘I am just finding out myself.’

They headed in the direction of the kitchen. Floating dust, illuminated by the beam of their torch, swirled around them as they passed through. At the far end of the passage they found two large doors. Martine felt Sebastian’s chilled breath on her neck as he whispered into her ear. She glanced at Patrick, who seemed oblivious to the ghost’s presence.

‘Which door do you think leads to the kitchen?’ asked Patrick.

Sebastian had told her and she had no reason to not believe him.  ‘The left,’ she replied confidently as she reached for the handle.

Sebastian had been right. Beyond the old oak door was the derelict kitchen of Maplewood Hall – the alleged epicentre of all the paranormal activity reported over the past century.  Martine and Patrick stepped into the gloom. The room was disappointingly quiet and empty. The moon shone through rain-stained windows, casting a harsh bright light onto the dusty tables, mottled copper pans and something dead and furry by the far wall. The floor was scattered with debris – a strange mix of autumn leaves, twigs and long abandoned kitchenware. A sudden movement in one dark corner startled them both. Martine automatically raised her torch as a weapon, but Patrick halted her in mid-swing.

‘Steady there, Lara Croft,’ laughed Patrick. ‘It’s only James.’

James walked briskly towards them, raking a hand through his tousled hair. ‘Kate’s gone. She said she felt someone tap her on the shoulder. One minute I was teasing her for being scared and screaming like a banshee. The next minute she was gone.’

‘Gone? Gone where?’ Patrick grabbed James’s shirt, ‘Where is she, James? If you have locked my sister in a cupboard as a joke I’ll …’

‘Why would I do that? What kind of bloke do you take me for?’

Martine left the men to their posturing and turned away. They were scared for Kate, but arguing about her wouldn’t help. Besides, Sebastian was talking to her again and his soft soothing tone, laced with a quiet chuckle, was enticing her to enter the pantry. She did not have the will to disobey. Patrick and James’s voices grew muted as she left them behind in the kitchen and entered the enclosed space of the inbuilt cupboard. At the far end was a small door. It seemed as if it was waiting for her.

‘Open it,’ whispered Sebastian’s seductive tone. She reached for the handle. It felt cold, yet turned easily in her grasp and the old rusty hinge silently opened. She stepped into an opulently furnished room basking in the white, hissing gaslight of numerous bronze wall lamps. Her friend stood in the middle of the room and at her side was a man. He was handsome, with a gentle curve to his lips and in his hand was Kate’s. He wore the same clothes as Sebastian, which were more in keeping with a time long gone by, whilst the room itself was as fresh and clean as if it was still used today. This part of the house was a stark contrast to the rest of Maplewood Hall, which relied on flapping tarpaulin to cover the holes in the roof and felt constantly chilly and damp due to the absence of electricity and a warm fire.

‘Can you see him too, Martine?’ whispered Kate, hopefully. Martine nodded slowly. Kate sighed with relief. ‘Thank goodness. I thought I was going mad. He wants me to—’

‘Help him cross over to the mortal world.’ She felt Sebastian’s presence beside her and tilted her head towards him. ‘So does he,’ she replied. As if she had asked him to, Sebastian grew more visible. ‘What are we going to do, Kate? What on earth are we going to do?’

Oooh, it’s beginning to get more than a little spooky now! Just what will Kate and Martine do? Kirsty Ferry will be telling us more tomorrow in the penultimate part of our Halloween Round Robin.

If you enjoyed Victoria’s writing, you can find her books available to purchase from all good online book stockists and retailers. Click on the image below for purchasing options. 

Image of both books

COMPETITION TIME! 

To be in with a chance of winning a Victoria Cornwall paperback and some chocolate simply answer the question below (we hope you’ve been reading carefully!):

Where does Sebastian lead Martine as James and Patrick are arguing?

To enter, send your answer to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Round Robin comp 3’ by Thursday 2nd November. The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday 3rd November.