8

My computer died…

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bigstock-Illustration-of-a-girl-writer--41090128Yesterday my computer died. I pressed the button to start my day and the screen stayed dark. The normal response to this is panic, but most of my files are backed up to an external hard drive and the little I lost I’ll recreate in an hour. That wasn’t what made me sad.

This computer is old – by hardware standards. It’s still running an old Word program that I get along with happily. I do not like the unnecessary overcomplication of Word 10 although I put up with on my laptop. It’s never been on the internet so has never given a moment’s concern about viruses.

I have no idea how many books I’ve written on it, but it’s a lot. Plus all those blogs and articles and ideas that have grown in the symbiotic relationship between fingers, keyboard and screen. It also had a diskette drive so that I could reclaim those early books that were stored that way. Thankfully, they have all been rescued and are on the external hard drive.

The End Of Story Flat IllustrationI won’t be rushing out to buy a new machine. The dh has a spare, bought to run programmes on the television (in the days before the Apple TV and Sky Go) which will do perfectly well for getting the words down, so no drama, no big outlay at that time of year when the bills have to paid. Just goodbye to an old, much loved friend.

5

Mummies! by Kate Hardy

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Kate HardyI had a sneaky trip away at the weekend – to London – which involved food for the soul and food for the mind (and, um, cake).

Friday night, we went to see Gerard Way at Brixton Academy. He was fabulous. And, better still, my daughter and her best friend had won the chance to meet him backstage in the green room after the show. (How cool is that, actually meeting their big hero? Cue two very excited teens – actually, the 20 girls who won the chance were all glowing with happiness, and the staff at Brixton Academy were lovely and really looked after them.)

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On Saturday, we visited one of my favourite places in the world – the British Museum. And we saw the mummies. Now, the very first time I did this was in the early 1970s, when I was very small and my mum took me to see the Tutankhamun exhibition. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by Egypt. I haven’t yet visited Luxor or the Pyramids (we had planned to do that a couple of years back, but then the troubles blew up and the Foreign Office advised tourists not to go), but I do go and visit the mummies in London when I can. I also took my teens to see the Tutankhamun exhibition last time it came to London, and I think they will remember the incredibly bright colours.

So. This is the Great Court of the British Museum. I love this place and I love the roof (and it features in the book I’m writing right now, actually – so I could claim that I was working on Saturday, right?).

jan bm great court

In the Egyptian section, the mummies aren’t just human. There’s a cat (the wrapping fascinates me).

jan bm mummy 1 cat

And an ibis.

jan bm mummy 2 ibis

And a falcon.

jan bm mummy 3 falcon

And bits of the Book of the Dead.

jan bm mummy 4 book of dead

And obviously beautiful mummy cases (this one’s my favourite).

jan bm mummy 5

And a mummy covered with a net of faience.

jan bm mummy 6Oh, and the cake? That was in the café in the Great Court. I thoroughly recommend their St Clement’s cake – very moist, orange and lemon and almond. Just yum.

So have you ever been to Egypt and seen the Valley of the Kings or the Pyramids? Are you an Egyptophile?

baby to heal their heartsKate’s next up-and-coming release is A Baby to Heal their Hearts – it’s the follow-up to Plague Squirrels. You can find out more about the book, and Kate, on her website (http://www.katehardy.com/) and her blog (http://katehardy.blogspot.com/) – or find her on Facebook

6

Which Doctor is in the House?

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After more than two decades as a nurse, I’ve party to a very common conversation among nurses Sitting at the nurse’s station on a calm (yes, calm, never used the word ‘quiet’ around nurses) evening, the discussion begins: If you could have any doctor walk through that door, who would it be?

In the 90s, it was George Clooney and Noah Wyle. Then it was Patrick Dempsey and Kevin McKidd. Not too long ago, it was Patrick Wilson from A Gifted Man.

When I write a medical romance, I love casting the hero. I even keep a little Pinterest board of celebrities I want to play ‘doctor’ in my books. Though, to be honest, I tend to steer away from actors who’ve already portrayed one.

 

My top choice by far is this ‘The Office’ actor. He is my guy in waiting as Dr. Miller in a current work.

Krasinski1

 

 

I love this picture of John Kransinski playing the attentive doctor who listens to all of your concerns – big or little.

Next up is his best friend, Ben.

 

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Then there’s the doctor with more than a little humor and charm.

 

Cooper1

The casual doctor who brings his first cup of coffee of the day in with him.

 

JoshJ1

 

Doctor McSerious who just needs a nice smile to let his guard down.

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And, finally the doctor that will have you wondering, “How did he come up with that?”

 

Tennant1

 

 

 

So, back to the question, if you could have any doctor walk through your door, who would it be? I expect there will at least one vote for Antonio Banderas and Jamie Bamber.

 

Abbi :-)

2

Snippet Sunday, ROCK SOLID excerpt, by Samantha Hunter

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Below I have included one of my favorite scenes from my new Blaze, ROCK SOLID — I have several favorite scenes in this book, but this one always makes me smile, as it did when I was writing it. I hope you enjoy!

Blurb:

Opposites ignite… 

Champion stock car driver Brody Palmer’s bad-boy reputation has forced him into early retirement. What no one knows is that his “retirement” is actually a publicity stunt. All Brody has to do is clean up his act and settle down. Unfortunately, every single woman with a pulse is now gunning to become the new Mrs. Palmer. 

Hannah Morgan needs to shake things up, and Brody is the best way to do just that. So they strike a deal—a fake relationship…with all of the sexy strings included! Brody gets his improved image, and Hannah gets a whole lot more of Brody’s unpredictable wildness. Hot days, hotter nights—it’s the perfect plan! Provided, of course, they don’t do something to wreck it, like fall for each other… 

Excerpt:

rocksolid

“Hannah?”

He walked farther into the house and discovered her sitting on his sofa, quiet, staring at her laptop. There was a bottle of wine—half-finished—and an empty glass on the table next to her. When he came in, she just looked up at him.

“Oh, hi,” she said, her brow furrowed as she turned her attention back to the computer screen.

That was all.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“No. I’m boring.”

Brody didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t that. He assumed she’d be ticked off or concerned or whatever, but this threw him. So he went over and sat next to her, and saw on the screen, a page about…

“Why are you reading about alligator wrestling?”

“Because it’s exciting and dangerous. Meaning, all of the things I’m not. A decent photojournalist needs to take risks. So I found this place that teaches people to alligator wrestle, and it’s not far from here. Do you know about it?”

“Hold on a second. You mean you’re actually considering learning how to wrestle an alligator?” Brody’s tone was incredulous, but he couldn’t help it.

Wait. Photojournalist? Hannah was an accountant. Wasn’t she?

“How much wine did you have, Hannah?”

“Only a few glasses. See on the website, they take you through it step-by-step. Here’s a picture of a woman doing it, so it’s not just for men,” Hannah said, pointing.

Brody looked at the screen. “She’s twice your size—and a game warden, according to the caption, Hannah. Have you ever seen a real alligator?”

“No, but I have to do something, and soon. You can’t help me, and people aren’t going to look at my blog for pretty pictures of ocean waves or…hey, wait. Do people surf down here? There are sharks, right?”

Brody put up a hand, interrupting her. “Let’s back up a few steps. One, why do you think you’re boring? Two, why are you trying to commit suicide by wildlife? And, three, what’s this about being a photojournalist?”

She took a deep breath and poured some more wine. Brody suspected she’d had enough, but she was a big girl.

“I quit my job,” she said after a swallow, and then told him the whole story, showing him her blog and some pictures of oyster farmers and kids in a decrepit playground in Atlanta. She was pretty good, and he was about to compliment the pictures, but she slammed the laptop shut.

Brody was stunned at her ferocity. He was also somewhat ashamed of himself for having had no clue that Hannah was going through all of this. He was so busy focusing on his own issues that he’d assumed everything with her was status quo—which was how she always liked it.

But apparently there had been some big changes. That had to be why she had come here. Out on the road, on her own, she’d been looking for a friend, and instead he had… Brody rubbed his temples with his fingers, completely disgusted with his previous actions and how he’s spoken to her.

She was worried that he wasn’t okay, even though she was having her own professional crisis.

“I don’t know what else to do,” she said in frustration, standing, albeit unsteadily, as she walked over to his display case.

His grandparents had started the case, keeping everything he acquired since the time he was a kid, and Brody added to it after he bought the house. Some of the things he’d thought about donating to some fundraisers, but he found most of the items were too difficult to part with. They represented the life he loved. The one he hoped he hadn’t left behind him.

“You see? All of this? All the things you’ve done? You know how to live adventurously. I do not,” she said, sounding totally disgusted with herself.

Brody ran a hand through his hair, unsure what to say. He’d had a plan, but with Hannah three sheets to the wind and obviously in the middle of a personal crisis, all bets were off.

“Hannah, take it from me, you are not boring,” he said, trying to find some foothold in this weird situation. “You’re…exciting in your own way.”

As he heard the words come out, he regretted them instantly.

“No,” she argued. “I’m not. The only time I’ve ever done anything exciting was with you.”

She walked back over, standing a few feet in front of him, her eyes taking on a softer quality. “Do you remember how exciting some of it was, Brody? Like that time at the track, with all of those people around—”

Brody swallowed hard, remembering all too well. Vividly, in fact. How he’d kept the pretty sounds she made quiet with his mouth as his nimble fingers made her come behind the bleachers. It had been after a great qualifying race, and when he’d gotten out of the car, all he could think about was making his way to her and celebrating. They’d done that a lot, and it had been one of his best seasons.

“Why did you retire?” she asked bluntly.

“Um—”

“I knew it. You’re sick, aren’t you? How bad is it?”

Her eyes welled and her lip quivered and Brody stood, pulling her in close and wrapping his arms around her.

“No, honey, I’m not sick. I promise.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Except for my back, which is getting better every day, I’m healthy as can be.”

She pushed back, looking up into his face.

“Then why? And why are you here, so unhappy and not cleaning up?”

Brody shook his head, fighting a small smile at her focus on the mess. His cleaning lady had moved, and he wasn’t motivated to find another one. But that was unimportant.

“It’s complicated. Let’s focus on you right now.”

She made a noncommittal noise, her eyes dropping to his mouth. She licked her lips, and Brody had to hold back a groan.

He and Hannah had had some pretty good times now and then after they’d both finished a bottle of champagne, or the like, but this was entirely different. He wasn’t about to take advantage, though it was really tough to keep his head straight as her hand slipped down over the front of his pants, squeezing.

“Hannah, oh, um, hon. Let’s get you to bed.”

“Be adventurous with me again, Brody,” she said, pushing up on her toes to drag her tongue along his lower lip as she touched him in a way that made his head spin.

“Hannah, this isn’t a good, um, idea,” he managed, closing his eyes as she touched and kissed him as he walked her to the stairs.

“I’ll show you how good an idea it is,” she responded in a purr.

Brody helped her up the stairs, his body liking what she was up to way too much for his own good.. She was testing his control.

He deftly steered her into his room, and set her down on the bed.

“Aren’t you going to take my dress off?” she asked prettily.

Brody looked down at her, his entire body hard, wanting. Her hair was mussed, her lips parted in the most delicious way. The dress she mentioned was pushed up on her thighs, and Brody knew how soft she was underneath.

He walked over to the other side of the bed, lowering himself down, fully clothed.

“Come here, Hannah. We have time, there’s no rush,” he said.

He gathered her up next to him, torturous as the contact was, since he had no intention of giving her what she thought she wanted.

“You feel so good. I missed you,” she murmured against his chest, and Brody closed his eyes.

He didn’t say another word, but kissed her hair and stroked her shoulder, until her breathing evened and eventually, something he’d forgotten, she offered a soft Hannah snore.

Extracting himself quite gently, he pulled the sheet up over her and left, closing the door. He’d sleep —after a very cold shower—and hopefully by morning he could figure out what the heck he was going to do.

————————————-

Romantic Times Review:

“ROCK SOLID (4) by Samantha Hunter: In order to improve his image, bad-boy stock car racer Brody Palmer is forced into an early temporary retirement by his biggest sponsor. When Hannah Morgan, the good girl he had an affair with a year ago, shows up looking for adventure, she gets a fake relationship with Brody. But as Brody’s reputation improves, thanks to Hannah, and publicity surrounding their relationship grows, things begin to feel real, causing a maelstrom of trouble for the “couple.” This well-fleshed out story works as both a stand-alone and as a fun continuation from the last time we saw Brody and Hannah. Their growth, personally and together, is admirable.”

 

23

Cooking Advice

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Yesterday, on a routine doctor’s appointment, I discovered my high blood pressure is back. Given that I exercise, diet and take a low-dose med, this confounded me enough I went in search of answers on the Internet. And guess what? The very thing that was supposed to help me lose weight (pre-packaged diet meals) is probably what’s driving my blood pressure up.

So, okay…this means I have to cook. But, you know what? I don’t know how. Oh, I know my way around a stove. But I’m not one of those people who can toss things in a pan and end up with something edible. LOL

I also don’t have good luck with complex recipes. So I’ve decided to appeal to the Chocolate Box blog readers for recipes.

 

Here are the rules/helpful hints:

1. Can’t be too fattening. (LOL!)

2. Can’t be too complicated.

3. I own a crock pot…so crock pot recipes welcome. :)

4. I LOVE chicken, tuna, salmon, salad, cabbage and tomatoes. And lots of other things too, but those are my top loves.

So save me from my bad eating habits of frozen diet meals (and/or restaurant cooking)!

Give me your best not-too-fattening, kind-of-easy-to-make recipe and I’ll give a $10 Amazon gift card to someone I choose (randomly–I’ll put the names in a hat) from the people who submit.

susan meier

Unplugging with Michelle Douglas

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MichelleD I’ve been looking at ways to head off burnout recently and one of the things I’ve been thinking of doing is disconnecting from the Internet for 24 hours. In fact, I don’t want to switch my computer or iPad on at all during that time (and if I used a mobile phone I’d be wanting to turn it off too).

Seriously, how hard can that be?

And yet I find myself hesitating.

I can’t explain my weird addiction to checking my email. However, while I mightn’t be able to explain it, I can tell you it’s seriously detrimental to my productivity. First, it stops me from doing the things I should be doing or it interrupts the things I should be doing. Second and perhaps most important of all, it doesn’t allow me to quieten my mind—and that’s bad news for my creativity.

The thing is, I need a quiet mind to develop story ideas, to catch those golden flashes of inspiration that are here one moment and gone the next…I need that quiet to dream my books.

ManageYourDaytoDayIn an interview in Managing Your Day to Day filmmaker Tiffany Schlain talks about the benefits of “judiciously disconnecting.” She and her husband decided to take unplugging seriously and every Friday night they turn off every screen in the house—computer, TV, phones—and they don’t get switched back on until after sunset on Saturday night. She says, “The idea is that one day a week you need to get your mind in a different mode, you need to not work. Every week your brain—and your soul—needs to be reset.”

According to Schlain, this has changed her life. It has made her feel more present, grounded and creative.

Yes, please! I’ll have what she’s having. :-)

So, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to turn my computer and iPad off on Friday nights at 7pm, and I’m not going to touch them again until Sunday morning when I wake up.

And now that the decision is made, I feel oddly freer. I can’t wait for Friday night to roll around. Picture me with a beer on my front veranda in the summer twilight with a whole technology-free Saturday spread before me.

Bier

Photo courtesy of Wolfgang Sauber

 

Anyone care to join me? :-)

 

www.michelle-douglas.com

 

Deadline craziness! — Donna Alward

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Today I have deadline craziness. I’ve actually had it for over a week now. I had my time budgeted judiciously. The story was ticking along. It all should have worked out fine…

And then last weekend, when I planned to write both Saturday and Sunday, I ended up with a set of “author alterations” – aka AA’s which is where we get the manuscript before it goes to production, and it’s our last chance to make any changes or correct any errors before it’s printed. So I did those and sent them back to my editor. But if I worked REALLY hard this week I could still make my deadline.

Monday I got up feeling odd. Then I ached all over. I was cold. I was tired. I managed SOME writing but not all that I needed to. By Tuesday the aches had gone, except for my lower back. And my stomach was A MESS. I had to face it, I was sick. And my deadline of Friday was still looming. But maybe it was a 24 hour thing. RIGHT? I kept repeating that as I went for yet another nap.

Another set of AAs hit my inbox.

I was writing between naps. And eating applesauce and cup of soup and trying to not be super dehydrated. Ugh. Oh and no caffeine, because of my tummy. Add one withdrawal headache to that list then…

By Wednesday I think I e-mailed my editor to ask if I could have the weekend to finish the ending. I was still sick. Thursday I managed a short walk and, later, worked at the library while my daughter performed at the school next door. My back was (and is) still out. And still I’m writing, and writing… oh yes and a doctor appointment on Friday afternoon.

I’m sooo close. I have worked through the manuscript from the start to the last 10,000 words, so that it’s where I want it and the ending will be “right”. I added scenes. I broke down and bought muscle relaxants. They’re helping. Not fixed, but helping.

I just am not quite sure why everything seemed to pile on in the 7 days before deadline. It’s like a variation of Murphy’s Law or something, but things inevitably get a little crazed near the end (and so do I). And then the book will go in, and I’ll heave a big breath, sleep, finally clean my house, and tackle the next thing on my to-do list, grateful that it’s finally handed in.

But for today, it’s deadline crazy, and I’d better get back to it. Right after I take the car in for its maintenance appointment.

Happy Monday!

 

Donna

www.donnaalward.com

 

2015 Check-In on Resolutions? by Samantha Hunter

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So, twcalo weeks in to the New Year, how go the new goals, resolutions, changes, whatever you want to call them?

I started the year with a few small changes: to drink some water with lemon in the morning, to read one newspaper a week, and to keep only one social media window open with the other open to my foreign language learning service.

Two weeks in, this is what I’ve found:

I don’t really like drinking water first thing in the morning – it’s difficult some mornings to make time for it before breakfast without having to chug it down, so I have my glass of water with lemon after coffee and breakfast, usually by 10am, when I am sitting down to work or read. This works.

I do like reading the newspaper, and one a week is enough, or even one every two weeks. I don’t read it all in one day, but it sits on the table for several days, and my husband and I will reach for it and grab different sections or stories at various times, which also means less time looking at our phones and more topics for conversation. But after about 3-4 days of news, I need a break from it. I quickly hit a saturation point and need at least 2-3 days between before I get another paper to read. Also, the selection of newspapers at places like Wegmans is very narrow, so I need to go to different stores in the area to try to find things like The Guardian, etc. so that makes it a bit more of a chore, but it’s worth it.

I have kept only one social media window open, and I think my social media time has been reduced, which is good. However, just because the other window has my language service in it doesn’t mean I use it. I need to refocus on that a bit. However, I think this is a result of spending less time at the computer in general. I am reading much more, which was a change I also wanted to make in 2015, so that is a larger “resolution.”

I’ve discovered it takes some practice to spend 3-8 hours a day reading, instead of just reading a rocksolidbit before bed, because I had to fight the feeling that I should be doing something more “productive.” But for a writer to think of reading as a luxury is backward, IMO — it’s part of our creative work. The more I read, books, newspapers, anything, the more creative ideas and perspectives I have.

But so far, I’d say, it’s going well. I’ve learned that some resolutions are easier than others and that flexibility is key to making them work. Also, taking stock every few weeks to see what’s working and what’s not ensures that you can fine-tune your resolutions.

So what changes have you made, and how are you doing? What have you learned so far?

 

 

A Midnight Kiss by Fiona Harper

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I thought I’d give you a little New Year’s snippet from The Little Shop of Hopes and Dreams:

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 17.12.59‘What you need is another Cosmopolitan.’

Nicole Harrison swayed on her high heels and frowned at her best friend and soon-to-be business partner, who was starting to look a little fuzzy around the edges. ‘You sure about that?’
She squinted at the large clock behind the bar. Quarter to twelve. One more cocktail and she might not stay vertical until midnight, and she really wanted to be conscious when this the new year started. Next year was the year when everything was going to fall into place and all her plans and hard work paid off.

‘Course I’m sure,’ Peggy said, beckoning the bartender with an elegant wave of her blood red nails. ‘Best remedy for a broken heart.’

Nicole took a few seconds to unfocus from the clock and refocus back on her friend. She blinked slowly. For a moment she’d forgotten this was a fancy dress party. The sight of Doris Day sitting on the next stool had momentarily confused her. The real Peggy was loud and curvy, and while she often dressed in vintage, it was always something with a little more va-va-voom than this pastel frock. As Nicole stared at her, the white polka dots started to dance around on the pale pink background.

‘My heart’s not broken,’ she mumbled.

At least not any more. But it had been. Once. What she’d felt today had just been an echo of that.
‘It was just an engagement announcement,’ she said, absent-mindedly accepting the glass of ruby liquid that Peggy slid in her direction. ‘And Jasper and I were over a long time ago.’

It shouldn’t matter any more. It didn’t.

‘Well, he’s an idiot,’ Mia, her other best friend, muttered with her usual bluntness. ‘No matter how long ago he let you slip out of his fingers.’

Mia had been sitting so quietly sipping her drink that Nicole had almost forgotten she was there, although she was hard to miss in her Lara Croft outfit, complete with chicken-fillet enhanced chest and thigh holsters. She wasn’t in the best of moods this evening, seeing as her army fiancé was out of the country on active duty. Lots of women got soppy when they missed their other halves, but Mia just got feisty.

Nicole raised her glass. ‘To the idiot,’ she said and toasted her friend’s ineffable wisdom by downing the contents in one go.

Only she knew she was lying. Jasper hadn’t been an idiot. Not at all. He was the most wonderful man she’d ever known.

‘Steady there, Nic,’ Mia said. ‘You don’t normally put this much away.’

Peggy sighed and rolled her eyes. ‘She’ll be fine. And it was either this or sitting home with six gallons of ice cream in those tatty tracksuit bottoms of hers, and I know which one I’d rather watch her do.’

Mia frowned but nodded. ‘Forget the jerk,’ she said vehemently. ‘You were too good for him back then and you’re definitely too good for him now.’

Nicole saluted her with her empty glass. Too right. She’d worked really hard to become the woman she was today, the kind of woman who could bring the Jaspers of this world to their knees, reflected in her choice of costume this evening when she’d discovered she and the girls would be spending New Year’s Eve at Deja Vu, a trendy little bar not too far from Covent Garden. Who embodied effortless elegance more than Audrey Hepburn in her Breakfast at Tiffany’s little black dress?
Okay, maybe Holly Golightly herself hadn’t always been cool, calm and dignified, but it was the overall image that counted. It was iconic.

‘Stuff Jasper! May he marry the cow and have a brood full of boys as shallow and stuck up as he is!’ she said trying to slide onto the stool next to Peggy’s and missing.

‘Exactly,’ Peggy said and ordered another round of Cosmos.

Lara…or Mia…tapped Peggy on the arm. She nodded at Nicole. ‘I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.’

Peggy turned and studied her friend, pursing her lips. ‘Well, we’ve got to do something to cheer her up. My gran used to say the way you start a new year is the way you’ll end it, and I don’t want her moping around our brand new office for the next twelve months.’

Mia sipped beer out of the bottle. ‘You’re all heart,’ she said, giving her a very Lara look.

‘Of course, I want Nicole to be happy too,’ Peggy added, pouting a little.

Nicole listened to her friends debate the merit of a fourth—or was it fifth?—cocktail. She hadn’t kept count. Probably because she really hadn’t planned to drink much this evening.

She felt oddly detached, as if the room was swimming in and out of focus, sounds waning and then becoming magnified. She tried to fix her gaze on Peggy, but the spots on her dress were now involved in the complicated choreography of a Busby Berkley number, complete with split-second timing and terrifying symmetry. Nicole could have sworn, as she tried to tear her eyes away from the swimming mass of white-on-pink polka dots, that one of them actually winked at her.

‘It’s just because it’s been a while since you’ve had a man in your life,’ Peggy explained, ‘and that can always make you susceptible to the ‘if only’s.’

Mia snorted. ‘So that’s your excuse for not having more than a half hour break between relationships, is it?’

Peggy glared at Mia. ‘We’re not talking about me. We’re talking about Nicole. It’s been two months since she waved bye bye to the last boyfriend, and it’s about time she got back on the horse.’
Horse? Nicole didn’t think there’d been a horse that evening, but she’d drifted off for a moment there. Maybe there had been. She was starting to realise that whole swathes of New Year’s Eve were a complete blank. Probably because Mia was right—she didn’t usually drink much, if at all. She didn’t usually like the way alcohol fuzzied up her edges, made her lose control. She ended up doing things that really weren’t like her at all.

‘Having a conveyor belt of men in your life isn’t the answer to everything,’ Mia replied. ‘Sometimes a girl needs a bit of breathing space.’

Peggy waved a hand. ‘Breathing space, schmeathing space. There’s only one way to deal with a situation like this—she needs to find a cute guy to smooch at midnight and start the year in the way she means to go on.’

‘No,’ Nicole said, suppressing a hiccup. ‘I don’t do things like that.’

‘Then it’s about time you started,’ Peggy said, grinning at her, then scanning the room for a likely candidate. ‘Ooh, don’t look now, but…two o’clock…’

Already? Had she missed midnight? Those cocktails must be more lethal than she’d thought!

‘You’re hopeless,’ Peggy said, physically moving Nicole’s head so she dragged her gaze from the clock behind the bar and across the seething mass of party goers. ‘I mean two o’clock. The guy with the black T-shirt standing over there. He’s a dish. I think you should claim him for that midnight kiss.’

A dish? Peggy was really getting into character, wasn’t she?

Nicole shook her head. ‘I couldn’t.’

‘Why not?’ Peggy said, nudging her off her stool and in the right direction. ‘There’s no force field stopping you, is there?’

Nicole shook her head. But there probably should be. His black T-shirt clung lovingly to his broad chest and his hair was just messy enough to be sexy but just short enough to stop him looking foppish. It was as if the air pulsed around him, the molecules excited by his presence. Or maybe that was the fifth Cosmo messing with gravity… Whatever it was, there was a definite whiff of danger in the air, and if there was one thing Nicole knew, bad boys like him didn’t go for good girls like her.

‘Interesting choice of trousers,’ Mia said, looking him up and down, ‘but I suppose you can’t have everything.’

And while Nicole tried to work out what Mia meant, and if the soft fuzz of his jeans was something more than the delicious blurring effect of vodka and cranberry juice, Peggy leaned in and whispered in her ear.

‘Go on, Nicole. It’s almost midnight… I dare you.’

 

The Little Shop of Hopes & Dreams is available to buy here if you’re in the UK.

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