Choc Lit is 5 today! We’d like to say a HUGE thank you to our wonderful authors who write the best romance out there! We’d also like to thank our dedicated Tasting Panel, who continue to select the best stories of the bunch. Our 10 awards are in recognition of their excellent taste and the many hours of reading they do for us all. And last, but by no means least, we want to thank our fabulous readers and book bloggers – without your continued cheerleading and love for Choc Lit novels we would not be here. Enjoy the last instalment of the story!
Kate had never seen Meg so hysterical as when she heard the news. It was almost as though something had snapped her inner cool. She collapsed in a tearful heap. Stunned herself, Kate lowered herself onto the arm of Meg’s chair and watched as the news anchor described how the plane was returning to England because almost everyone on board – including the pilot – had succumbed to an infection ‘caused by a contaminated batch of vol au vents.’ The logo of the catering company Kate had used flashed up on screen.
Marcus and Kate looked at each other, both going pale. ‘We had those…’ Marcus said.
And suddenly Kate was furious. Her brother could be seriously ill and she needed someone to blame. Megs gave a wail. ‘Oh Mark! My Mark.’
‘Megs,’ Kate snapped. ‘Pull yourself together. I didn’t know you cared so much about Mark. He’s MY brother, not yours.’
‘But I l…love him!’ Meg wailed. ‘I’ve just never had the chance to tell him and now I never will!’
That pulled Kate up short. What? Meg? In love with her brother? Oh.
Another glance at the screen and the anger was back. She would have to worry about Mark and Meg later. Right now, she had a catering company to shout at.
As soon as she gave her name, the woman on the phone launched into an apology and an explanation about how the diamond story was a ruse. ‘We don’t think that batch is contaminated, but we can’t be sure—’
Kate’s voice sank to a hiss. ‘Not only have you poisoned an entire flight, you’ve poisoned me as well.’
‘It’s only a tummy bug, Miss Walton. Have you…eaten the vol au vents?’
‘Yes. I have. And so has my… er… friend.’
‘Are you experiencing any… amorous feelings?’
She glanced at Marcus. He smiled and her stomach did a little flip. Amorous feelings? ‘Well…’
‘That happens immediately. Then within about 30 minutes, there will be…um… gastrointestinal issues.’
30 minutes. It had been at least an hour. Kate took a deep breath. Apart from a small tug of excitement whenever she looked at Marcus, her stomach seemed to be fine. ‘No, no stomach problems.’
‘Are you sure? They’re usually quite severe…’
‘No, I’m fine.’
The woman let out a sigh of relief. ‘Oh thank goodness for that. Listen, Miss Walton, we would advise that you don’t eat any of the food we supplied, just in case. We will, of course, refund you in full.’
Once she’d hung up, Kate rubbed her eyes. She needed a moment to make sense of all the information.
‘Oh my god! Mark!’ Meg’s shriek made Kate rush back to the TV where Mark’s photo, clearly taken from his passport, was on screen. Underneath, the scroll said: ‘Have a go hero’.
As Meg burst into tears again, Marcus passed her the tissues. ‘Your brother’s a hero,’ he said. ‘He and the steward are bringing the plane home.’
Once they knew where the plane was going to land, Marcus drove them to the airport in the cake delivery van. With a bit of pushing and shoving Kate and Meg managed to get to the front of the waiting crowd just as the camera flashes of the waiting journalists went off. There, in the middle of the melee, looking shaken, but otherwise perfectly well, was Mark.
‘Mark!’ Kate ducked under the barrier to get to her brother, but Meg beat her to him. She flung her arms around Mark and buried her face in his shoulder. A rather stunned looking Mark wrapped his arms around her.
‘Mark,’ said Kate.
Mark opened one arm and gathered Kate to him as well. ‘You idiot,’ she muttered into his ear, ‘the lengths you go to to avoid my party.’
But Mark was too busy looking at Meg to answer.
‘It was awful,’ said Mark, as they finally walked back to the van.
‘Must have been terrifying, piloting a plane,’ said Kate.
‘Oh no, that bit was okay. They gave me very clear instructions. No, it was after we landed. When we had to go back into the cabin to let the ambulance crew in. The plane was full and there were only so many loos…’ Mark paled. ‘That’s a sight I’m never going to unsee.’ He shook his head. ‘I may need therapy.’
There wasn’t enough room for everyone in the front of the van, so Meg and Mark bundled into the back.
‘I’ll drive very carefully,’ said Marcus. ‘If we get stopped pretend you’re made of cake.’
They pulled up outside the house. Kate looked at the window, where one banner she’d forgotten to take down still said ‘Happy Birthday’. She suddenly felt weary.
Marcus squeezed her shoulder. ‘You okay?’ When she nodded, he said: ‘Let’s go let those two out the back.’
But when they opened the door, Meg and Mark were wrapped tightly round each other, their faces apparently glued together. Marcus quietly shut the door again. ‘I don’t think they want to be disturbed.’ He grinned. ‘It’s a good job your brother didn’t eat the vol au vents. Mind you, what are the chances of the catering company losing a diamond and getting bacterial contamination in the same set of vol au vents.’
‘Ah, about that. They didn’t really lose the diamond.’ Kate briefly explained.
It took a moment for the implications to settle in. Marcus’s face fell. ‘So I don’t have to stay here overnight then.’
He wanted to stay. Kate felt the heat rising in her cheeks. ‘Well, not unless you want to.’
Marcus took a step closer to her. ‘Oh, I do,’ he said. ‘I really do.’
His lips met hers and forgot all about being tired as she abandoned herself to the delicious warmth of his arms pulling her closer. When they finally drew apart he said, ‘I must admit, I’m a little sad that I’m not carrying a huge gemstone in my guts any more.’
Kate laughed and laid her head against his chest. ‘Don’t worry. To me you’ll always be a real diamond.’
Rhoda Baxter writes contemporary romantic comedies. Her father’s engineering skills were in international demand, so her childhood was split between the UK, the Pacific island of Yap, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.
Rhoda studied at the University of Oxford and holds a DPhil in microbiology. When chosing a pen name, she got nostalgic about the bacteria she used to study, (Rhodobacter species) and named herself Rhoda Baxter after them. Now her day job involves protecting and commercialising Intellectual Property generated by University research. This allows her to stay in touch with cutting edge scientific research without having to spend long hours in the lab.
Rhoda is married and has 2 children. They live together in Beverley, East Yorkshire. Her novels include Girl on the Run and Doctor January.
Competition – NOW CLOSED!
If you haven’t already entered our free prize draw to win any 5 Choc Lit novels, including advance 2014 books, enter now! Simply answer the following question:
In part one of the story, how many balloons has Kate blown up for her brother’s birthday party? Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Birthday Competition’ as the subject line.