Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – Saving Baby Amy by Annie Claydon

The cover fairies are always gracious, but sometimes I just can’t stop looking at a cover.  I do love a good sunset, and this cover has to be one of my favourites!

SBA cover  CHAPTER ONE

Hospital gossip was a bit like the wind: unpredictable and prone to sudden gusts in one direction or another. Information could easily end up at the furthest corner of the hospital before it came to the notice of the people involved. So it was no particular surprise to Chloe Delancourt that she’d walked all the way over to the canteen before hearing a piece of news that quite obviously pertained to her.

‘So what’s all this about your boyfriend and a baby?’ One of the other junior doctors joined her at the end of the queue.

‘My boyfriend?’ Jake was long gone, and if he did have a baby it was nothing to do with her.

Petra grinned. ‘All right, so he’s not your boyfriend. Since he’s good looking, single and living with you, that might be classed as an omission on your part.’

‘You mean Jon?’ Chloe had only seen Dr Jonathan Lambert for a total of about ten minutes since he’d moved in two weeks ago.

‘How many good-looking men are you living with currently?’

‘Just the one…’ The ten minutes had been more than enough to notice that he was good looking. And that he had a delicious smile. But apart from that all she really knew about him was that he was a good friend of her brother’s and he kept the bathroom tidy. He’d started his new job at the hospital six weeks earlier than anticipated and had needed a place to stay because the renovations on his own house weren’t finished yet.

‘Glad to hear it. If there was more than one of them, I’d be looking for an invitation to come over for dinner at the weekend.’

Chloe shrugged. ‘Come over anyway, I’m not doing anything tomorrow. It’ll be just the two of us, though, he’s not exactly made his presence felt.’

‘If he’s working nights then I suppose you wouldn’t see much of him during the week…’ Petra was obviously turning the idea over in her head.

‘Or the weekend. He spends every waking hour over at his place. I’ve hardly seen him.’ Maybe Jon was avoiding her. Or maybe he just took the promise that she’d hardly know he was there very seriously. Whatever. It suited Chloe not to get too involved with a face as handsome as his.

‘Well, he’s here now. With a baby.’

‘What kind of baby?’

Petra rolled her eyes. ‘Two arms, two legs…the usual. A little girl, he was calling her Amy…’

‘What?’ Chloe almost dropped her tray and instead thrust it into Petra’s hands. ‘Where is he?’

‘He was in A and E about five minutes ago. Someone said he’d asked for directions up to Orthopaedics—.’ Petra broke off as Chloe turned, running for the doors of the canteen.

*

Chloe had sprinted across the courtyard and up three flights of stairs, back to her own department. Jon had been up to Orthopaedics and left a message that he was going back downstairs to A and E. By the time she got down to the Paediatric A and E department she could hardly breathe so it was just as well that the receptionist knew what she wanted without Chloe having to say so.

‘That was quick, I’ve only just paged you. They’ve just gone through. Consulting Room Three.’

The pager in Chloe’s pocket buzzed suddenly and she jumped, switching it off. Taking a deep breath, in an effort to slow her racing heart, she thanked the receptionist and walked slowly towards the consulting rooms.

If Amy was here, then where was Hannah? And if Hannah had left her child with Jon that posed a whole slew of other questions that Chloe really didn’t want to think about until she was sure of the situation. She knocked and turned the handle of the consulting-room door before whoever was inside had a chance to answer.

Jon was lifting Amy out of her car seat. He’d obviously dressed quickly, because his shirt was buttoned up wrong, leaving one red checked tail slightly longer than the other at the front. Amy fretted a little, and then seemed to decide that the strong cradle of Jon’s arms was a safe place.

‘What…?’

She hadn’t noticed how blue his eyes were before, or how tender. Or that his light brown hair, falling across his brow, gave him a slightly boyish look. Or that his hands seemed so large and capable next to Amy’s tiny fingers.

‘Sit down.’ Amy stirred slightly at Jon’s words, and then snuggled back against his chest. For a moment it seemed the best place in the world to be. Held in his arms without a care in the world.

But if Amy didn’t seem concerned about the whereabouts of her mother, Chloe was. ‘Where’s my sister?’

‘Hannah’s at your place.’ The tenderness in his eyes seemed reserved just for Amy, and he gave Chloe a more dispassionate look. ‘Sit…’

Clearly something was up, and he wasn’t going to tell her until she was sitting down. She bit back the temptation to tell him that she was a doctor too, and that she’d been working at this hospital a good deal longer than he had. Even if she did feel far more like a slightly panicky aunt than a doctor at the moment.

The dark blue windcheater on the chair next to him had been hanging in her hallway for the past two weeks, and was probably the most familiar thing about him. Chloe moved it, draping it over the backrest. When she sat down, an elusive hint of his scent halted the clamour of her senses for a moment, as if they’d paused to appreciate it. This wasn’t the time, or the place…

His eyes and the slight curve of his lips invited calm. No… Actually, they invited surrender, and that wasn’t something that Chloe was prepared to give. ‘Tell me what’s happened.’

‘Hannah was worried about Amy and she took her to her own doctor this morning. He told her that Amy just had a virus, but Hannah thought it was something more so she brought her to you.’

‘And…?’ Chloe reached across to feel Amy’s forehead. She was a little feverish, and her cheeks were flushed.

‘I agreed with Hannah. So I brought Amy here, where she could be examined and treated properly.’

‘But where’s Hannah?’ Chloe couldn’t keep the frustration from her voice.

‘She’s at your place. She was…a little distressed.’

‘A little distressed?’ Chloe frowned at him. Jon didn’t need to play the situation down for her benefit.

‘She was crying her eyes out, and she insisted on staying behind while I brought Amy here.’ Chloe’s eyebrows shot up and he flashed her a cool smile. ‘It’s okay. I got to know Hannah quite well when she was staying with James. She wasn’t entrusting Amy to a stranger.’

So, however distressed Hannah was, she was still thinking straight. That was something. James had mentioned that a friend of his had helped out a lot with Hannah, spending time with her and letting her talk, but Chloe hadn’t realised it was Jon.

But if Hannah had found someone to talk to in Jon, then Chloe couldn’t see how. He seemed somehow distant, as if Amy was the only person in the room he could trust with an unreserved smile.

‘Then you’ll know that Hannah’s…vulnerable.’ Chloe twisted her lips. Vulnerable wasn’t quite the right word. Hannah could be surprisingly strong and very determined. But she was young. Troubled sometimes.

‘I know that she’s almost ten years younger than you, and that she was only nine when you lost both your parents. That you and James have done your best to look after her, but it hasn’t always been easy.’

‘No, it hasn’t.’ Chloe hadn’t made it any easier. Hannah had always wanted to live with her, and Chloe had worked hard, saving every penny she could and adding to her third of the money from the sale of their parents’ house so that she could afford a home for the two of them. She’d bought the house, and then two months after they’d moved in Chloe had fallen ill. Hannah had gone to live with James instead, but had never really settled.

‘Look, Hannah’s okay for the moment.’

Okay for the moment. Most people had learned to settle for that where Hannah was concerned, but Chloe wanted more for her sister.

‘You do know that Hannah’s still only eighteen? And that Amy’s father isn’t on the scene?’ Hannah had run away two weeks before her sixteenth birthday. Chloe had been too ill to do anything but worry, while James had moved heaven and earth to find their sister. When he had, she’d been living with a boy of nineteen, who had been more than eager to give her up when James had wondered aloud whether Hannah’s queasy spells might be morning sickness.

‘Yes, I know. She’s all right.’ It seemed that Chloe was going to have to take his word for it, because Jon’s face showed no evidence that he really understood the gravity of the situation. His whole attention was focussed on Amy.

‘I’d just feel a bit better if she were here and I could see for myself.’ Her words sounded rather more accusing than Chloe had meant them to.

‘I felt that Amy needed to be looked at sooner rather than later, and that was my first priority. Hannah calmed down when she saw I was taking her concerns seriously and promised to stay put while I was gone.’

‘Yes… I’m sorry. Thanks.’ None of this was Jon’s fault. Hannah had put him in a difficult position and he’d taken the only decision he could. Chloe stretched her arms out towards Amy. ‘I’ll take her now.’

He didn’t move. ‘Why don’t you let me examine her? I can do it now—my shift won’t be starting for another three hours.’

‘And you’re better qualified than me?’ There was something he wasn’t saying, and Chloe guessed it might be that. It was true, after all. Jon’s speciality was paediatric emergencies, and even though he’d only been here a couple of weeks he was already gaining something of a reputation as an excellent doctor.

‘Yes, I am. And I’m not Amy’s aunt.’ He said the words dispassionately. ‘I dare say you’re a lot better at dealing with Hannah than I am. Why don’t you give her a call, while I fetch my stethoscope?’

Maybe he was just giving her something to do to keep her quiet, because it seemed that he had already come to some kind of agreement with Hannah. But he was right. Chloe nodded and Jon delivered Amy into her arms.

‘She’s two years old. All of her immunisations are up to date and she’s on no medication.’ If she was going to take up the role of concerned aunt then she may as well give Jon all the relevant information. And ask the relevant questions. ‘What do you think?’

‘I don’t know anything for sure yet.’ He got to his feet and walked out of the room, without looking back.

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Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

A postcard from London

Last month, wasn’t my turn to blog.  Which was as well, really.  In the wake of the then most recent terrorist attack on my home city, I didn’t have the words to express how I felt.  Kate Hardy put many of the ideas that were running through my head into words, in her blog Love is the Answer.

So what now?  Isn’t it a bit late to talk about all of this?  So much has happened in the last few months, and since the London Bridge incident there’s been more tragedy, more anger and more grief.  When I say that it’s not over yet, it’s not because I’m a pessimist, or I accept all that’s happened as just one of those things.  It’s because disaster and strife, of one kind or another, have been constant themes of London’s 2,000 year history.  There have always been challenges, of all kinds, and that’s no different for the almost 9 million Londoners today.

I hope you’ll forgive me a little bias, here.  For me, London’s the most beautiful and greatest city in the world.  I would say that, wouldn’t I?  There are so many other wonderful places in this world of ours, but London’s the one I call home 🙂

But I also know that we have our share of problems, and in the right quarters I can be just as vocal about those as I am about the joys of living here.  It’s because I haven’t forgotten about those who have been killed and injured, that I want a future for my city that holds something better.  And it’s with that in mind that I ask those of you in our worldwide community, whose most recent picture of London might be what you’ve read in the paper, to take a look at London through my eyes.

Please see the open, blue sky above the Thames, the crowds on both sides of the river, enjoying the sunshine and the sights.   The Tower, The London Eye, The Globe, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Palace of Westminster… the list goes on.  You’re never short of a sight to see in London, and after living here all my life, I haven’t run out yet.  Please see a city which welcomes people from all parts of the world, and benefits from what they bring us.  One where people like to disagree, on practically every issue under the sun, but where freedom of expression is defended.

20161220_180256 copy

There are changes, of course.  But please see past the newly erected barriers protecting the pavement, on London Bridge and in other parts of the city.  Please see the hundreds of messages that ordinary people left at London Bridge – Love not Hate.  Please see the multi-coloured banners, floating high over Regent Street – London is Open.  These messages were in response to recent events, but the Carnaby Street lights last Christmas were on the same theme.  Love and Hope. 

 

Please see the flowers and green spaces, street performers, pavement artists and a city that just doesn’t know how to stay down.  And when you see all that, please smile.

So that’s my postcard!  What would you like to send from your home?

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – English Rose for the Sicilian Doc by Annie Claydon

9781474051507 This book almost didn’t get written!  I so loved doing the research that I would have quite happily spent all my time on that 🙂  But – as you can see – I did manage to tear myself away, and start to write.  And I was glad I did, because my archaeologist heroine gets to explore the beautiful island of Sicily, and solve a mystery.  And, to complete my writing bliss, she does so with the help of a handsome doctor!

Chapter One

The building shone white in the sunshine, a line of tall palm trees announcing that this was a place of some importance. Rose Palmer gripped her son’s hand, walking through the wide entrance doors and into a spacious reception area, refreshingly cool after the heat of the afternoon.

A building like this showed intent. Any archaeologist would tell you that buildings gave an insight into what a community thought was important, and Rose was no exception. The high ceilings and clean lines were a clear statement that the work that went on here was both vital and serious.

She hung on tight to William’s hand, for fear of losing him in amongst the melee of people who criss-crossed the space. She couldn’t see a reception desk, and she supposed the best thing to do was to ask someone. Easier said than done. Everyone seemed too intent on getting wherever they were going to stop and give directions.

‘Scusi…’ A woman in a white top that bore the insignia of the hospital stopped, and smilingly asked her something in Italian. Hopefully she wasn’t in need of directions too.

‘Inglese.’ Rose proffered the piece of paper that her friend Elena had given her, with details of William’s appointment, written in Italian.

‘Ah. Sì…’ The woman scanned the paper and shot a brilliant smile at William. Rose was getting used to the way that Sicilians always reserved their brightest smiles for young children, and so was her son. William reached up, and the woman took his small hand in hers.

‘Terzo piano…’ The woman gestured towards the lift and then thought better of it. Taking a pen from her pocket, she walked over to a water dispenser, leaning on the side of it to draw on the paper, smiling at William as she did so. Then she proffered the hand-drawn map, holding up her thumb and two fingers and pointing to the lift to indicate that Rose should go to the third floor.

Third floor, turn right and then the second on the left. She got it. Rose nodded and smiled and thanked the woman falteringly in Italian. William waved goodbye, and the woman responded cheerily, watching her all the way to the lift.

Upstairs, the corridors were less grand and more utilitarian. Rose followed her map, and found herself in a small, comfortable waiting room. A receptionist scanned her written directions and waved her towards the rows of chairs, before picking up her phone.

Rose made her way to the far corner, and sat down. She would rather have flown back to England to do this, but Elena and her husband would have none of it. All of the visiting archaeologists working at the dig were covered by private health insurance and this hospital was one of the best in the world. They would make the appointment for her and request a translator, and William would be in good hands. She was a guest on the island, and anything less would be considered as a lapse in hospitality.

And the one thing that Rose had learned very quickly was that you faulted Sicilian hospitality at your peril. So she’d accepted the offer and driven here, privately deciding that if the language barrier turned out to be more than she or William could cope with, she’d find an excuse to be on the first plane back home for a couple of days.

Someone laughed, and Rose looked up to see a man chatting with the receptionist. Her face was animated, smiling up at him in the way that women did when someone they liked also happened to be breath-catchingly handsome.

And even by the rigorous standards of the island this man was handsome. Straight, dark hair, grazing his collar. Smooth olive skin, high cheekbones and lips that were meant to smile. Rose couldn’t see his eyes, but she imagined them chocolate brown.

Only a man so immaculate could have got away with that jacket. Dark cream, obviously linen—on anyone less perfect it would have looked rumpled. But on him it seemed as if every crease had been carefully chosen and styled, to make the most of his broad shoulders and the slim lines of his hips.

Suddenly he turned, looking straight at her. His eyes were brown. Dark, seventy per cent cocoa, with a hint of bite. Rose dropped her gaze, embarrassed to be caught staring.

‘Mrs Palmer?’ He’d walked over and dropped into a chair opposite her. His voice was like chocolate, too.

‘Ms Palmer.’ It was a convenient halfway house for a single woman with a child. ‘Um… Parla Inglese?’

He grinned and Rose felt her ears start to burn. ‘Yes, I speak English. I’m Matteo Di Salvo, and I’m here to translate for Dr Garfagnini. He’s the paediatric specialist who’ll be seeing William today.’

Perfect. His English was clear and almost unaccented, although the slight difference in tempo made it sound seductive. Or perhaps that was just the way he spoke. Seductive just about summed him up.

Rose took a breath, trying to concentrate on the practicalities. ‘Thank you. You’re the interpreter here?’

‘No, I’m a doctor. Our interpreter is busy with some English tourists in the emergency department…’ He gave a shrug, which indicated that the matter shouldn’t be given a second thought. ‘Dr Garfagnini is running a few minutes late, and I wondered if I might take the opportunity to get to know William a little.’

Handsome and kind. And he spoke English. This man was a bit too good to be true.

‘Thank you so much, Dr Di Salvo. I appreciate it.’ Rose remembered that a handshake was usual in these circumstances and held out her hand.

‘Matteo, please…’ The caress of his fingers was just as alluring as the rest of him.

‘Rose.’ She snatched her hand from his, feeling her cheeks burn, and curled her arm around her son.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Together and Out Loud

Many years ago now, when I was studying English Literature, I arrived at the door of a tutor’s office with a friend.  We could hear the sound of a raised voice inside, and the scrape of a chair indicated that someone had leapt to their feet.

Reckoning that the tutorial had already started, and preparing ourselves for the embarrassment of being late, we knocked on the door.  But when we were called inside, we found our tutor alone.  In response to our puzzled looks (Had he just pushed someone out of the window??  The question was of some concern, since we were on the 14th floor…) he told us that when he was alone he often read aloud to himself, and with actions if possible.

The idea sounded a little outlandish to my inexperienced mind.  But when I tried it out, a lifelong love of reading aloud was born.

Reading aloud isn’t necessarily a solitary pursuit.  I used to read to an elderly lady, who shared my love of whodunits.  Together we worked our way through the exploits of Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes, stopping from time to time to compare notes on who we thought might have committed the horrible crime in question, or to discuss some of the finer points of the plot.  Sharing these stories made us firm friends.

I find it a different experience from audio books.  Don’t get me wrong – I love audio books – but having someone in the room with you, maybe stumbling over a few sentences or adding gestures to the mix, is more personal.  Re-capping together on the story so far.  Watching someone’s face, as they read or are read to.

So when a friend asked whether I might read one of my books to her mother, whose failing sight means she can’t read for herself, I agreed willingly.  Little did I know what a merry-go-round of emotion I’d let myself in for!

I read for about an hour each week and have a very vocal audience.  I love the way my friend and her Mum have a tendency to shout You go girl! whenever the heroine sticks up for herself, or Noooo! when the hero decides he must leave.  They spur me on by telling me which parts of the book they liked best, and by sending up a resounding cheer when we get to the happy ending.

But it’s not all plain sailing.  I always read my manuscripts aloud to myself, but reading the finished book to an audience is an entirely different prospect!  The writer in me always comes across a few bits that I’d change if I had the chance, and I have a tendency to laugh in all the wrong places, and to grimace during the more light-hearted parts of the story, because I know what’s coming next.  Watching their faces gives me line-by-line feedback, which is always a little scary!

It’s their kindness that keeps me going.  When my friend and her Mum say that they feel good after hearing the latest episode of the story, it makes the work that went into writing it pale into insignificance, next to the rewards.  And the feedback they give me helps me in the writer’s constant quest, to make the next book better than the last.

So – writers, am I alone in finding reading my own books aloud both a scary and rewarding process? And readers, do you prefer the professionalism of audio books, or the flawed warmth of an amateur?

And finally – let me share the covers of my latest release, out this month.  I’ve long wanted to write an archaeologist hero, but I find that whatever a hero can do, a heroine can do just as well!

9781474051507  31231  medical6

Burned in love, Dr. Matteo Di Salvo knows he should stay away from single mother Rose Palmer. But as he gets to know the beautiful English archaeologist, he longs to chase the shadows from her eyes… 

Rose is drawn to the handsome radiologist, though after her disastrous marriage, getting emotionally entangled is out of the question! But as the sun-drenched island of Sicily works its magic, she wonders if she’s finally found a man she can trust…with her heart and her son.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Quit while you’re still winning?

I was reminded the other day of a friend of mine.  When asked why he was moving on from a great job that he loved, his answer was, ‘I want to quit while I’m still winning’.

So what brought this particular piece of wisdom to mind?  I’d just finished my latest manuscript ( 🙂 ).  I was happy with the plot ( 🙂 ).  And I had a warm feeling in my heart for both the hero and the heroine ( 🙂 ).  Oh… and the manuscript was 63,000 words long  (Gulp!)

A few days later, after having some very stern words with myself and wielding a freshly sharpened red pencil like a sabre,  I was back down to 50,000 words – give or take a few.  And, although I’d just edited out quite a few of my darlings, I had to admit to myself that I was a lot happier with the finished product.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it.  You can have not enough of a good thing, but you can also have too much.  (Chocolate springs to mind.)  We’ve all watched TV shows that we loved for the first two or three seasons, but by Season 5 the magic had vanished.  I’ve never actually been on holiday for too long, but I’m told it’s possible 🙂  And I’ve come out of more than one film, wishing that it had been half an hour shorter.

[EDIT… and with my apologies for not making myself clear:  Some things in life are just too precious to quit, though.  For me, writing Medical Romance is one of them 🙂   ]

It’s a fine art.  Knowing when there’s still more to do and you need to keep going, balanced with knowing when this is the best something’s going to get and it’s downhill all the way from here.  And it takes nerve to quit while you’re still winning.  Last week I was very grateful for that 50,000 word limit, because it dragged me back into line and made me submit a better manuscript than if I’d been given free rein to ramble on for another 13,000 words.

So I’m starting to come around to the idea of quitting while you’re winning.  Not too soon – my optimism tells me that there’s always something good waiting around the next corner.  But maybe there are a few things which are better done in smaller measures.  What do you think?

I don’t have any new English language covers to show you this time around, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to show off a few recent covers from around the world, because it’s always such a thrill for me to see them.  Right to left, the French translation of my duo ‘Rescued by Dr Rafe’ and ‘Saved by the Single Dad’, the Italian translation of ‘Discovering Dr Riley, and the Polish translation of ‘Discovering Dr Riley’.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Some more steps!

swansLast March I blogged about my resolution to walk 1,000 miles in 2016 (and posted this picture of some swans I’d met on the way).  The comments I received in reply showed me what a popular form of exercise walking is, and I promised to post an update on how I was going.  I was hoping that by now I’d be able to share my success with you but…  Well maybe this time next year 🙂

I started off with good intentions and some trepidation.  By March I’d worked through the initial aches and pains, and by the summer I’d made the 500 mile mark.  The weather was fine and using my feet to take me where I wanted to go, instead of travelling by bus or car, was a joy.  I was beginning to be quietly confident about completing the 1,000 miles by the end of the year.

Then, suddenly, someone threw a spanner into the works.  (Actually, that someone was me…)  After a morning’s writing, and still half in the world that my hero and heroine inhabited, I got to my feet and stubbed my toe.  Not such a disaster, but when I’d finished hopping around and cursing a bit, I looked down at my foot and saw that it was already swelling, and one of my toes was sitting at a very unlikely angle.

So, cutting a long story short, a kind and very no-nonsense nurse pulled my dislocated toe straight again and I was given a special shoe to wear for a couple of weeks.  After six weeks, I was ready to slip my foot back into my walking shoes.  Compared to the difficulties that so many people face, the hill in front of me was barely a bump in the road, but still the next 50 miles felt slower than the last 500.  My foot was getting better though, and the world was once again beginning to shrink.  With a bit of luck and a following wind, I still reckoned I might make my 1,000 miles.

But it wasn’t to be.  I never really gave up on the walking, but I couldn’t do as much as I’d hoped.  I Rested, Iced, Compressed and Elevated, treated myself to a good pair of walking socks and memory foam insoles, but I’d done more damage to my foot than was apparent straight away, and it was going to take its own sweet time in getting better.  After being able to trek six or seven miles every day without getting tired, it was frustrating to have to stop after the first mile or so and, needless to say, I didn’t make my 1,000 miles.

Failure?  Looking at it quantitively, yes.  But I did my best, which feels like a different kind of success.  And this year I’m trying again, even if my foot still isn’t 100% and I’m told that I must still work my way back up to the longer walks.  Because writing has taught me a couple of very important lessons.  Learning what you can and can’t do isn’t failure, and there’s always a next time. And, of course, the swans and ducks in the park still need to be fed… 🙂

When I last blogged about walking Amy Ruttan made a comment which sparked my imagination – how far would I have got if I’d been walking in a straight line and not round in circles?  So far this year, I reckon I’ve got as far as the Eurotunnel terminus at Waterloo Station.  Which isn’t much to write home about, but look at all the places I can go from there!

Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year!  And may all of your New Year’s resolutions be a learning experience 🙂

Excerpts, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Excerpt – The Doctor’s Diamond Proposal by Annie Claydon

Some time ago now, I had a conversation via Facebook with the very lovely Lynne Marshall and the equally lovely Kate Hardy.  Lynne had managed to include Zombies into her latest Medical Romance, and we were reminded of Kate’s venture into the world of Plague Squirrels.  In an attempt to keep up, I mentioned that I’d included a little Space Opera in my latest work-in-progress 🙂

I had enormous fun with this first chapter of The Doctor’s Diamond Proposal which is available from all the usual outlets from 1st January.  (And for those of you who aren’t fans of space opera – may I reassure you that my hero and heroine come back down to earth with a bump in Chapter Two!)

9781474051262CHAPTER ONE

Ten years ago…

The party had got off to a slow start, but by eleven o’clock the house was packed with people and Leo Cross was beginning to feel hot and uncomfortable in his costume.

It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Orion Shift was less of a TV show to the six medical students who shared the sprawling house in West London and more of a Friday evening ritual. The one hour in the week that didn’t belong to study, girlfriends or the urgent need for sleep. So what better way to celebrate their third year exam results than decorate the living room with as much tinfoil as they could get their hands on and suspend inflatable planets from the ceiling?

Dressing up as the crew of the interstellar spacecraft Orion Shift had been the next logical step. But a hot summer’s evening wasn’t really the time to be wearing a heavy jacket with a high collar, and Leo was beginning to wish that personal temperature regulation fields really had been invented.

A girl in blue body paint and a leotard sidled up to him. ‘Captain Boone! You look particularly delicious tonight.’

‘Maddie. How are you doing?’

‘You want a Tellurian cocktail?’ Maddie draped her arms around Leo’s shoulders. Clearly she and Pete had been arguing again. It was only a matter of time before the inevitable reconciliation, but at the moment Pete was on the other side of the room taking a great deal of interest in a red-haired girl dressed as a Fractalian hydra and Maddie had clearly decided that she was going to give him a taste of his own medicine.

Leo disentangled himself from Maddie’s grip. ‘No. Thanks, but…’ Just no. If Pete and Maddie wanted to play games that was fine, but Leo knew better than to get involved.

‘Leo…!’ Maddie stuck out her lower lip in a disappointed pout as he retreated quickly through the press of people.

He pushed his way to the kitchen, avoiding the usual group around the beer keg, and slipped outside into the back garden, sighing with relief as the warm breeze brushed his face. The paved space at the back of the house was packed with people, drinking and talking, and Leo made good his escape, dodging across the grass and into the pool of darkness that lay beneath the trees at the end of the garden.

He bumped into something soft and sweet-smelling and saw a flash of silvery-green luminescence. A shadow detached itself from the other shadows and stumbled into a pool of moonlight. It was Lieutenant Tara Xhu to a T.

‘Another fugitive?’ A smile played around her lips.

‘You could say that. So how did you manage to make it out of there?’

Tara—or whatever her real name was—shrugged. ‘I’m not sure. I’ve only watched one episode, and that was to get the costume right, so I don’t really know what Tara’s strategy might be.’ Her mouth twitched suddenly into a flirtatious smile. ‘So you’re Captain Boone?’

Leo’s eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness and the more they did so, the more he liked what he saw. She was dressed all in black, thick leggings, boots and an off the shoulder top that followed her slim curves and displayed the green scales which spread across Tara’s shoulder. A fair replica of an immobility gun was strapped to her thigh and twisted metallic strands ran round her fingers and across the back of her hands. Her dark hair was streaked with green and anchored in a spiky arrangement on the top of her head with Tara’s silver dagger pins.

Leo had been in love at first sight before, but suddenly the other times didn’t seem anything like the real thing. She raised one jewelled eyebrow and Leo realised that his gaze had been following the path of the scales that ran down the side of her face and neck and disappeared beneath her top.

‘Um… Great costume. Your scales look…really lifelike.’ Captain Thomas Boone would undoubtedly have managed something a bit more urbane, but then he had more experience of the galaxy than Leo.

‘Thanks. Iridescent body paint. I felt a bit of an idiot on the bus, on my way here.’ She grinned at him and moved back towards the old picnic bench which stood under the trees. ‘So are you really escaping something, or do you just want some fresh air?’

‘A bit of both.’ Leo sat down next to her, stretching his legs out in front of him. This replica Tara had a lightness about her movements, a kind of joy about her, which broke through the warlike quality of the real Tara’s appearance. Even though she was sitting a good two feet away from him, Leo could almost feel her warmth.

‘You live here?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then you must be a medical student.’

‘That’s right. Starting year four in a couple of weeks, so this’ll probably be the last party we have for a while.’

‘I hear it’s a tough year. An interesting one, though…’

That was exactly how Leo felt about it. He knew that his clinical attachment was going to be hard work, but he couldn’t wait to start putting all that he’d learned into practice. ‘What do you do?’

She shrugged. ‘Nothing at the moment. I’m just back from a year in Australia.’

‘Yeah? What’s it like?’ All Leo wanted to do right now was sit here in the darkness and listen to her talk.

She laughed. ‘Bit too big to describe in one sentence. I loved it, though.’

Leo imagined that she’d taken every moment of the last year and squeezed the very most out of it, in the same way that she seemed to be draining every drop of potential from these moments. It was infectious.

She was fiddling thoughtfully with the bright silver strands across the back of her hand. ‘Did you always want to do medicine?’

‘Yeah. My uncle’s a doctor, and when I was nine I saw him save someone’s life. That settled it for me, and there’s never been anything else I wanted to do.’

She nodded quietly. ‘So you have a calling. A mission in life.’

Sometimes, poring over his books late at night, it didn’t seem so. But Tara made it all sound like something special.

‘Yeah. Guess I do.’

‘I’m still looking for mine. There are so many possibilities and I don’t think I can settle on just one. So I’m going to be helping out on my dad’s farm for the next year while I think about putting in my university applications.’

‘You’ll find the right thing.’ Leo applied all of the weight of his twenty-one years to the problem. And all of the certainty from the last five minutes, that whatever she decided to do she’d do it wholeheartedly.

‘I suppose I will.’ She seemed to ponder the idea for a moment, then smiled suddenly. ‘Nothing like mucking out to concentrate the mind on your aspirations for the future.’

‘Would you like me to go and get you a drink?’ Leo hoped she’d say yes. That they could continue this conversation alone, out here, rather than going back to the heat and noise of the party.

‘Thanks, but no. I tried one of those blue cocktails and it was too sweet.’ She hesitated, then seemed to come to a decision. ‘That coffee bar around the corner. Think it’ll still be open?’

‘It’s open all night.’ Sweet promise stirred in Leo’s chest.

‘You fancy making a break for it, then?’

*

Theirs weren’t the most outlandish costumes amongst the coffee bar’s customers that night, but she had still tugged awkwardly at her green hair and silver jewellery. Leo had laughingly persuaded her to stay just as she was, saying that since he was dressed as a spaceship captain, it was practically expected that his First Lieutenant should be accompanying him.

They’d talked all night, fuelled by coffee and then ham and cheese toasties at three in the morning. At six, she’d refused to allow him to see her all the way home and he’d had to content himself with walking her to the bus stop.

‘May I call you?’ Leo made a silent wish that the bus wouldn’t come just yet.

‘I was hoping you would.’ She smiled at him, reaching into her jacket for her phone and reeling off the number. Leo repeated it over in his head, his fingers shaking unaccountably as he pressed the keys. He hit dial, and her phone chimed. Even her ringtone seemed fresh and full of joy.

‘That’s it.’ She rejected the call and gratifyingly saved his number.

‘Lieutenant Tara.’ Leo grinned, spelling out the words as he typed them into his phone. ‘What’s your real name, though?’

‘Alex…’ She turned as a bus drew up at the stop. ‘This one’s mine. You will call, won’t you…?’

‘Yes.’ Leo wondered whether it would be appropriate to kiss her goodbye and decided that he’d already missed his chance. The night had been perfect as it stood, a meeting of minds that had nothing to do with any alien powers, and when he kissed her he wanted enough time to do it properly. She got onto the bus, pressing her ticket against the reader, and turned to wave at him.

The bus drew away. Calling her now would be too soon. He turned to walk back home, and his phone buzzed.

May we meet in other worlds.

Her text mimicked Tara’s habitual farewell.

And get some sleep.

Leo grinned, texting back his reply, watching until the bus turned a corner and disappeared.

*

He called that evening and she didn’t reply. Perhaps she’d decided to have an early night. The next day she didn’t reply either.

Leo counted the number of calls he made, knowing that each one would show up on her phone. Half a dozen was beginning to look a little stalkerish, so he sent a text instead.

No answer. He left it a week and called again, leaving a carefully scripted voicemail and resolving that if she didn’t reply this time he’d take the hint and give up. Clearly, the gorgeous, vivacious Lieutenant Tara had decided that, of all the glittering possibilities she saw ahead of her, he wasn’t one of them. It was time to retreat gracefully and get on with the next chapter of his life.

CHAPTER TWO

Time warp to the present day…