Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Available Now: One Night in Washington, D.C. by Jordan Monroe

City Nights series, #30
Jordan Monroe


(99c/99p through 2 July)
Lauren and Adam are two professional musicians living in Washington, D.C. One night after performing together, Adam admits to Lauren that he's been interested in her for a long time. The two share a passionate evening at her apartment in Waterfront SW. However, though they like each other a great deal, their long term desires don’t match up: he believes his next step is to have a family, and she is wedded to her performance career.

After their final performance together, will they be able to, as they say in D.C., reach across the aisle and come to a resolution?

• • •

They sat in silence for a moment, each searching for something to say. Lauren kept sipping her wine while taking stock of her companion.

She and Adam had known each other for about four years, but merely as occasional stand partners; their fingers would sometimes touch as they both reached to turn the pages of music, and Lauren would always momentarily lose her concentration. Gigs would come up in the District on short notice which required professional musicians. They’d met at a senator’s daughter’s luxurious wedding at the Ritz, as members of the small brass ensemble hired to serve the cocktail hour entertainment. Like now, Adam hadn’t been wearing his scarlet Marine Band uniform, opting instead for the standard concert dress of all black. It suited him nicely: he was tall, well-built, with dark hair in the standard crew cut, and had the most piercing blue eyes Lauren had ever seen. It surprised her that even now, at thirty-one years of age, she could succumb to the grips of a crush.

“Can I ask you something, Lauren?”

She blinked, jerking herself from her train of thought, which had steamed into the territory of whether or not Adam would be interested in tonguing parts of her, as opposed to his mouthpiece. “By all means. You know this is a judgment-free zone.”

“Right. Okay then.” He set down his glass and turned to face her. She shifted in her chair; those eyes were unnerving. “You’re single, right?”

She raised her eyebrows. “Wow, just want to get right to it then?” He nodded; she blinked. “Fine. Yes, I’m not seeing anyone. And you?”

“Well, I’m currently seeing you.” His face cracked into a wide grin.

She laughed and gently pushed his shoulder. “How did you know I love silly jokes like that?”

“It was honestly a lucky guess.”

“Well, you got lucky.”

He turned away, reaching for his glass. About a third of his drink was left. “I hope to continue getting lucky, Lauren.”

Lauren nearly spat out her wine. Is he serious? I doubt it; he’s probably talking about gambling or something. She gulped down her mouthful, then attempted to channel her inner coquette. “Lucky at what, Adam?”

He turned back to her. She found it impossible to look away from his eyes. “Essentially, getting to know you better. Spending time with you while not buried in music. Not waiting until the next wedding or gala to see you. Does that make sense?”

Lauren took a deep breath in an attempt to calm her nerves. She hadn’t expected to hear this from Adam. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that she hadn’t been expecting to hear this kind of talk from anyone, not recently at least. Fighting for a chair in the National Symphony Orchestra had eaten up much of her post-Master’s degree life. Now that she had her chair, she’d been trying to settle into a routine. “Frankly, this comes as a surprise.”


“Well, I mean…I’ve kind of been wedded to this whole NSO thing, remember?”

Adam reached over to take her hand. She became stiff, but didn’t move her hand away. “I know you have, Lauren. And it’s completely paid off, right?”

“Sure, but—”

“Wouldn’t you say it’s about time you let loose a little?”

He slowly moved his thumb across the top of her hand; this gesture alone was enough to awaken parts of her that had lain dormant for quite a long time.

Entirely too long. She blushed again, finishing her glass of wine.

“Would you like another?” he asked.

She shook her head, tossing out a twenty-dollar bill onto the counter. Facing Adam straight on, she mustered the courage to be completely honest with him. “All right. You think I need to let loose a little? Perhaps I do. Maybe I’m reading you wrong, but I get the sense that you want to fuck me.”

• • •

Jordan Monroe is delighted to be using her English degrees. She enjoys both listening to and playing music, watching Sherlock while anxiously waiting for new episodes, and buying too many books to fit on her bookshelves. She lives within twenty-five miles of Washington, D.C.

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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Available Now: Oppression by Dianne Noble

Dianne Noble


(99c/99p through 18 June)
When she tries preventing the abduction and forced marriage of 16-year-old Layla, Beth defies her controlling husband, Duncan, and travels to Cairo where she finds the girl now lives in the vast necropolis known as The City of the Dead. She’s hiding from her abusive husband, and incites fellow Muslim women to rebel against the oppression under which they live. Beth identifies with this and begins helping her.

Cairo is in a state of political unrest, and Beth gets caught up in one of the many protests. She’s rescued by Harry, who splits his working life between Egypt and England, and they eventually fall in love. When Harry returns home and Layla vanishes, Beth begins being stalked and threatened with violence. And then Duncan turns up...

Can Beth ever find peace, or will her hopes of happiness remain shattered?

Will Layla's ideals of freedom ever be fulfilled?

• • •

A solitary egg boiled furiously in the pan, billows of steam filling the kitchen. Duncan didn’t acknowledge her, just stared out of the window which ran with condensation, small pools gathering on the sill. Beth’s stomach clenched. The world had turned monochrome, the early morning optimism that today might be better, leeched away. What had she done – or not done – this time? Pointless asking. He wouldn’t answer. Yet another day of silence loomed, a day of sitting in separate rooms, eating at different times. Her gaze shifted from his rigid body to her dog, Jake, slumped in the furthest corner of the kitchen. His tail gave a half-hearted thump on the floor. He didn’t move, watched her with solemn eyes. She wrapped her arms around herself as the hall clock chimed the half hour and wondered how many days it would be this time.

Once she’d been able to focus on Duncan’s great sense of humour, his sensitivity, but now the good days were few. She couldn’t cope any longer with his suspicion if she left the house, the way he criticised, put her down. Was it her fault? Would things be different if she was different? Lost weight? Became a better cook? Went on top more often? She shook her head. When had they last made love? Her fault again, but desire wasn’t something that could be suddenly dredged up just because the other person’s mood had improved. It needed to be a slow build up and there was never enough time between his…episodes. Sex had come to resemble a fading newsreel.

She started as he got to his feet, the chair scraping on the tiled floor. He fished the egg out of the pan onto a plate and sat down again, his back to her. The sound of rasping filled the air as he buttered his toast before he cut it into quarters, the way he always did. He wore the navy blue bathrobe. She should have noticed the white one, the good mood one, had stayed on its hook on the back of the bathroom door. He hadn’t turned off the cooker. She watched the blue flower of gas, heard it hiss, listened to him tap the top of his egg with a spoon, then went into the hall and climbed the mahogany staircase, her feet soundless in the deep pile of the Axminster. Sitting on the edge of the bed, like a guest who has risen too early, she waited until she heard him go up to his studio on the third floor.

Jake rushed towards her, claws skittering on the tiles, when she came back down and opened the kitchen door. He pushed his head under her hand and tears stung her eyes. She dropped to the floor and hugged him, comforted by his warmth, the silkiness of his coat. It had been her sister’s suggestion to buy a Golden Retriever; she’d said they were loving and friendly dogs. Beth had never regretted her decision—she loved Jake to bits.

On the side stood the cast iron casserole dish containing last night’s lamb shanks, coldly congealed. She slid the dish into the fridge and took out a bottle of milk. Then she reached into the cupboard for the Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, wrinkling her nose at the neat columns of Duncan’s vitamins, his bowel-opening fibre bars next to her Kit-Kats. A nutritional Nazi, her sister Maggie called him, said he despised anything pleasurable. The red polka-dot cereal bowl seemed too frivolous for the gloomy house so she put it back and took down a dark green one, tipped out a handful of cereal and poured milk over it. Her throat closed and she couldn’t swallow it. All the silent hours, all his rages, settled in her stomach in a single burning spot. She couldn’t do this anymore.

Beth’s spoon clattered into the bowl, splashing milk across the table as she jumped up. Out. She had to get out. A sliver of sunlight angled through the stained glass of the fanlight above the front door, sprinkling a waiting Jake with lozenges of red and gold light.

Beth buttoned her coat, pushed her feet into boots and jammed on a woolly hat. ‘Come on, boy.’

The sun struggled to rise above the elm trees as they set out across the frost-starched field. All around them the Yorkshire Dales rolled out like a gently rumpled bed, the querulous bleats of sheep filling the air. Cold scoured her lungs and she turned up her collar. Jake stretched himself into an excited run, turned and barked, tore back to her. She ran with him, on and on, her boots cracking the skin of icy puddles until the tension left her body.

‘Morning. Bit parky.’ A fellow dog walker, muffled into shapelessness, clutched a pink plastic bag as his spaniel squatted on quivering haunches, its expression embarrassed.

‘Certainly is. A white Christmas, maybe?’


Over an hour later when her fingers and toes had become numb, she knew she would have to return to the house. She dragged her feet while Jake ran backwards and forwards, barking furiously at crows pecking between the cart tracks. She hesitated outside the front door, then took off her gloves and felt in her pockets. Did she still have the car keys with her? Yes!

‘Let’s go and see Dad. You up for it, Jake?’

He’d pushed his way on to the back seat of the car almost before she had the door open. She held her breath as she reversed out of the garage - if she clipped Duncan’s Audi there’d be hell to pay – and edged out of the drive on to the B road which the council never gritted. The light had a raw, sharp edge and frost covered every branch like fur. She drove with caution, slowing right down on corners, only relaxing when she joined the traffic on the main Ripon road, which had been gritted. Now she didn’t have the constant worry of skidding, Duncan came into her mind. Why did she let him terrorise her like this? Had she always been so timid?

• • •

Dianne Noble was on a troopship sailing for Singapore at the age of seven and hasn’t stopped travelling since. Her last trip was to Moscow but her favourite place remains India. The atmospheric settings of her novels reflect her experiences.

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Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Available Now: Daughter of Mull by Joan Fleming

Magic of Mull Series, #3
Joan Fleming


(99c/99p through 11 June)
When Anna Ballantyne is devastated by her birth mother’s refusal to meet her, Anna uses her job as a freelance researcher to fund her trip to the Scottish Island of Mull to investigate the story of the Lord of the Isles. While there, she also plans on tracking down her mother who lives there.

Anna quickly falls under the spell of Finn Ericson, the island’s unofficial tour guide. But complications arise when roommate, Robbie, arrives from Glasgow and his feelings for her are soon revealed more serious than she realised.

Torn between Finn and Robbie, Anna’s confused about pursuing a mother who doesn’t want to meet her. Anna has an important decision to make. And captivated by the island, she wonders if there’s a future on Mull with Finn, or is she ignoring the whispers of her heart that it’s Robbie she truly loves?

• • •

‘Anna, are you all right? I don’t know what you’re thinking about, but you haven’t been listening to a word any of us are saying.’

With an effort, Anna dragged her thoughts back to the conversation in the living room.

‘Sorry, Roddie. I was miles away. It must be the effects of all the wine I’ve been drinking.’

‘Jake asked you when you’re leaving for Islay.’

‘I’m not sure. I may decide not to go to Islay.’

‘Oh, you women, you’re always changing your mind about something,’ Jake said, trying to move even closer to Yvette on the sofa, if that were possible.

‘But what about your research?’ Roddie asked, taking a sip of his wine. He leant back, easily filling his armchair. Anna knew his bulk was all muscle, having seen him working out at the local sports centre several times a week.

‘Oh, I don’t know, Roddie,’ Anna said, more sharply than she intended. ‘It’s a bit late to discuss it tonight. I’ll decide tomorrow.’

Anna was aware of his scrutiny. He was looking at her in a puzzled way, as if he was sure there was an explanation for her possible change of plan, but she’d made it clear the matter wasn’t for discussion at this point.

‘Where exactly is Islay?’ Yvette asked in her rather thick French accent. Her guileless question succeeded in taking the tension out of the atmosphere.

‘It’s an island off the west coast of Scotland,’ Anna said. ‘In the Inner Hebrides. The job I’m doing is about The Lords of the Isles, and that was the centre of their operations.’

‘I don’t know much about the Lords of the Isles,’ Jake admitted.

‘They controlled parts of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland from around 1330 to the 1490s. The title still exists today, but there’s no power attached to it.’ This was Anna’s short version of a complicated era in Scotland’s history, but it seemed to satisfy her flatmate.

‘So, for this project,’ Jake said, pulling the conversation back to the subject under discussion, ‘don’t you have to go to Islay? To do your research and take pictures?’

‘Yes, I do. But… I may have to see to something else first.’

‘What’s your deadline?’ Jake asked.

‘I don’t have one. He’s a private customer, and he wants the information and the photos to use in talks he gives. He’s a public speaker, working with an agency in America. I don’t know much more than that about him. I usually email his secretary.’

‘I thought you were really keen to go to Islay,’ Jake said.

‘Oh, Jake, you can be so persistent at times.’ Roddie stood up to refill their glasses. ‘If Anna wants to talk about it, it’s up to her.’

Undeterred by the tone of Roddie’s remark, Jake continued with his questions. He even managed to take his eyes off Yvette for a moment.

‘So how did you land the commission?’ As a student of business administration, he was interested in small businesses.

‘My client’s name’s Mel MacDougall and he has Scottish ancestors. He’s always on the lookout for interesting topics to use in his speeches, but there are times when he’s unable to come over here to do the research himself. He’d seen some of my work on my website, and his secretary, Cindy, contacted me.’

‘So, you—’

Roddie interrupted at this point.

‘Jake, this is Anna’s birthday and we’re attempting to have a pleasant evening. Stop badgering her with questions, and let’s all relax.’

Jake shrugged and cuddled up closer to Yvette.

‘You look comfortable there, Anna. You’re not about to fall asleep in the chair, are you? Have you recovered from your mishap this morning?’ Roddie asked.

‘Mishap?’ Anna’s tone was sharp.

‘Yes, you banged your toe. How is it?’ Roddie had a cheeky grin on his face.

Anna felt heat rising to her face. In her teenage years, she’d become aware of her inability to conceal her embarrassment when she knew her pale skin could not hide her blushing. Although she loved her red hair, she wished she had the complexion of a brunette or a blonde. She’d even tried when she was in her last year of junior school to erase the freckles across her nose, using a product that promised to turn any hair colour to ash blonde. Needless to say, it didn’t work on the skin of her nose.

‘Oh…’ she mumbled. ‘It’s fine, thanks.’

‘Your toe? What’s wrong with your toe?’ Jake emerged from a tortuous position on the sofa.

‘It had a fight with the doorstop when the postman arrived this morning – and my toe came off worst,’ Anna said.

Jake burst out laughing. ‘Temper, temper,’ he said, wagging an admonishing finger at her.

‘She can’t help it,’ Roddie said. ‘It goes with her hair colour.’

Anna stood up. ‘If you think for one minute I’m going to stay here to be insulted by you lot, then you have another think coming. I’m off to bed.’ Her tone made it clear that she was used to the banter which was part and parcel of the relationship among the four residents in the flat.

Roddie stood up and swept her into his arms in a comforting bear hug.

‘Good night, birthday girl. You know we all love you… and your temper. Life would be pretty boring around here without it.’

‘Oh, I doubt that,’ Anna said, making her way to the hall.

A chorus of ‘goodnights’ rang in her ears as she left the room.

When Anna closed her bedroom door, she stood for a moment, leaning against the cool panelled wood. It was such a relief to be alone. She had spent the day pretending that her only concern was whether or not to arrange a trip to Islay. Now that she was on her own, she could let her thoughts roam over the real issue which was bothering her.

She lowered herself onto the edge of her bed and buried her face in her hands. How could she set off for the island of Islay when every instinct was pulling her to the Isle of Mull? The letter, which she’d received that morning, was on her bedside table; in her mind’s eye, it had become an object of ill-will, hinting she might burn her fingers if she touched it again. How she wished she hadn’t opened the letter as soon as it arrived, hadn’t read the contents, hadn’t faced the unforeseen rejection.

When Roddie’s gentle knock at her door interrupted her train of thought, she jumped up from her bed and let him in.

Almost falling into his wide-open arms, she surrendered to her pent-up emotions and wept.

• • •

Joan Fleming was born and educated in Edinburgh, Scotland. After university there, she became a teacher of French and German for a short period in the London area, then in the West of Scotland.

Since leaving education, she now concentrates on creative writing. She has had short stories and articles published in magazines in both the UK and America, and has won a number of awards for her writing.

Joan is a member of Erskine Writers, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors.

Her interests include: reading, walking, travel, islands (anywhere!) and the life and work of Robert Burns.

She now lives in a flat on the outskirts of Glasgow overlooking the West Highland Way.

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