I'm a Harlequin Mills and Boon author. I'm married with four kids, two dogs, five cats and still have my sanity. I walk my dog and get to make up stories all day, whilst having tea breaks when I like and getting to surf the net looking at all kinds of stuff and call it research.
Their passionate fling… Has given them a gift to last a lifetime!
When pediatrician Merry Bell turns up at his hospital in Iceland, Dr. Kristjan Gunnarrson’s quiet Christmas is shaken up. After a hot fling together in Hawaii, they both agreed to walk away. But now Merry has brought him life-changing news – she’s pregnant! Commitment phobic Kristjan will not waver from his responsibility, but is his bruised heart ready for a family?
I’d always wanted to set a book in Iceland, after we had an unexpected visit there many moons ago.
In the January after the 9/11 disasters, my husband and I had a flight booked with our eldest son (then 14 months) to go to Clearwater in Florida. We boarded the plane (my first ever flight!) and set off. Six hours into the journey, we discover, we’re turning around and being rerouted to Keflavik airport in Iceland, as there was a bomb threat on our plane. Out of the windows we saw two fighter jets escorting us out of American airspace.
We landed at Keflavik and were told to deplane and we came down the stairs we noticed guards armed with sub-machine guns. We were freezing, only wearing tee shirts and jeans, having expected warm weather at Florida, rather than the freezing January cold of almost midnight in Iceland!
They fed us, made each of us do a handwriting sample (the bomb threat had been left on a toilet airplane mirror that Osama Bin Laden was a hero and we all deserved to die, so it was someone on the plane that had written it.) At 3am, we were finally allowed to hotels, with a new flight set for the morning at 9am.
We arrived at the airport, only to be told that we were going to be put on the same plane and that no-one had been arrested yet. Well, neither my husband nor I wanted to get back onto a flight with a suspected bomber, no matter how unlikely a threat there was of a bomb, or not, so whilst everyone else chose to fly on to Florida, me, my husband and our fourteen month old son, stayed an extra two days in Iceland, whilst we waited for a London flight.
Iceland was constantly in the dark, except for maybe two hours of semi-daylight between two and four pm, but we explored when we could and tried to enjoy ourselves. It was expensive, the food was lovely and the showers smelt of sulphur as the water came up through volcanic rock.
All the Icelandic people were kind and generous and spoilt us rotten, knowing how we’d ended up there and I knew that one day, I wanted to set a story in such a beautiful country where at least one of my characters gets stranded on Iceland for different reasons, of course!
I waited a long time for the right story to come along and when it did, Dr Kristjan Gunnarsson appeared in my head, looking exactly like Lasse Matberg. You can see a picture of him here on Pinterest. I hoped my cover hero would look as close to Lasse as they could get!
The Icelandic Doc’s Baby Surpise is due out this September. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I enjoyed writing it! Buy/Pre-order links are below.
Hello everyone. Today I thought I’d share an excerpt of my new release, Healed By His Secret Baby. This was the first book I wrote after having a year off, due to various reasons and this story came to me almost fully formed.
I hope you enjoy the excerpt!
Hey, you. So, this is it. My final wish. And I’m sorry I’m asking you to do this, but I truly have no one else. You’re the only one I trust, and you’ve always been there for me, and now I’m asking you to be there again. But this time it’s for Tori and that way you can’t say no! I never told her father. You know why, and it was the right thing to do at the time, but as I get closer to going, I can’t help but think of my darling little girl having no one in the world she’s related to. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And it’s a lonely place. She’ll have you, her godmother, but…she has a father out there and he could be amazing! So, I’m tasking you with this. Find him. His name is Cole Branagh and he’s a doctor. A GP. And if he’s a doctor then surely he cares about people? I’m hoping he has a good heart. I’m hoping he can be everything she needs. I want you to find him, and if you think he’s a good man then let him know about Tori. I need you to find her daddy. I know you’ll make the right decisions. Much love to you, always and for ever, Skye xxx
LANE PUT DOWN the note and exclaimed, ‘Why are you making me do this?’ She went to scrunch it up in frustration but then stopped, thought better of it, and instead stared with defeat at the Liberty Point Surgery, a small general practice nestled in the village of Bourton-on-the-Water. As if just staring at the building long enough would make this whole sorry mess disappear. He was in there. Cole Branagh. Dr Cole Branagh. The man who’d slept with her best friend when he really ought to have known better than to take advantage of a woman whose inhibitions were in question because of her alcohol intake. Lane knew exactly what type of man he’d be. A charmer. A user of women. The type to hang around in bars looking for lonely easy pickings. This Cole Branagh bloke had got exactly what he wanted from Skye and nothing more. Just like Simon. And here she was, sitting in her car, feeling trepidation about going in there because a man like that wouldn’t want to know about his dead one-night stands, or babies they didn’t know they’d fathered. Men like that didn’t care. Lane had uprooted her own life just to find this slime ball and have her theories proved right! Surely this was going to be a waste of time? Skye had told Lane all she needed to know about this Cole Branagh! It had been quite easy to find him on the internet. Liberty Point Surgery’s website helpfully had a staff page with a smiling photo of each member of staff and a short paragraph explaining a bit about who they were. Probably to make them seem human. Who would want to have a go at medical receptionist Mary when they knew she knitted hats for the preemie babies up at St Luke’s? Cole was the only one who had no photo and his paragraph was missing. There was just his name and a list of his qualifications.
Dr Cole Branagh, BM, MRCGP, DGM, DFFP, DRCOG
Such an impressive array of letters. She’d had to look them up to see what they meant. Bachelor of Medicine. Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners. Diploma in Geriatric Medicine. Diploma of the Faculty of Family Planning. Diploma of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists… She’d laughed cynically at those last two. This man who knew so much about the best way to have a baby, was a man who had no idea he had an eight-month-old daughter. Wasn’t that ironic? Sighing with irritation, she folded Skye’s letter and slipped it back into her bag as she stared once more at the surgery building, delaying for just a few more moments. It looked quite nice, as surgeries went. Modern. Redbrick. It even had hanging baskets filled with flowers in glorious pinks and greens. She’d been lucky they’d needed a temporary healthcare assistant. Lane had registered with an agency in order to get the post there and her mum had stepped in to babysit Tori whilst she discovered if this Dr Branagh could be trusted to know that he had a child. She flipped down the visor to see the photo she’d tucked there. It was of her and Skye. Tori’s mother was blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, with one arm around Lane, wearing a silly paper party hat. It had been taken just one year away from a diagnosis that would change everything. ‘I can’t believe you’re making me do this, Skye,’ she said out loud. ‘Who am I to be judge and jury?’ You’re Tori’s legal guardian, that’s who. It was as if Skye’s voice came to her. You made me a promise. On my deathbed. You can’t break it! She could almost hear the devilish chuckle in her friend’s voice. No. She wouldn’t break it. She’d sworn it, holding Skye’s hands, squeezing them tight as her best friend in the whole wide world had taken her final breaths. She’d almost lost herself afterwards. The intense grief had pulled her towards an unimaginable darkness. She and Skye had been friends for ever. Since infants’ school. Skye had seemed strange to Lane at first. Someone without a mum? Or a dad? But they had bonded instantly and stuck by each other’s side through everything. Until the very end. Only baby Tori had kept Lane going. Going through the courts to get official guardianship. The little girl laughed and smiled just like her mummy! Tori was all she had left of Skye. And now she had to decide if some man—whom she didn’t even know!—could be a father to that precious little girl. That some sleazeball from a bar would have to be in their lives. It wasn’t fair. She hated him already. But Skye, bless her heart, had thought that he deserved a chance to know his daughter. That he deserved a chance to show that he could be a good man and a good father. ‘He’d better be some kind of unbelievable saint,’ she said out loud to the photo. ‘That’s all I’m saying.’ Five minutes later, she was walking inside the surgery, headache brewing, with her backpack over her shoulder, trying to look as if she wasn’t an undercover spy on a secret mission, but just an ordinary agency healthcare assistant, ready to start her new posting. But when she got inside, she saw a crowd of people huddled around a person lying on the floor, and her instincts immediately kicked in. She dropped her bag. ‘Let me through! I can help!’ she said as she barged her way through, pushing and shoving, desperate to give assistance. Only she burst through to the front of them to see a woman lying on the floor, looking up at her with curiosity, whilst kneeling beside her was a very handsome man who had clearly been in the middle of some kind of demonstration. ‘Hi,’ he said, one eyebrow raised in question. Lane glanced again at the ‘patient’. A woman who seemed to be totally unhurt, with a big smile on her face. A woman who was conscious. Breathing. Absolutely fine. She could only blush as around her one or two people chuckled. ‘What—what’s going on?’ she stammered. The man smiled. ‘First aid demo. I’m showing our patients how to put someone into the recovery position.’ He pointed at one of the walls. ‘There are posters.’ She followed his finger and noticed that every wall, and even the door through which she’d walked, had a large poster on it, stating that all were welcome to attend an emergency first aid demo to be held at the surgery today. A demo that would be run by Dr Cole Branagh. How had she not noticed? Had she been so absorbed in trying to look normal? Lane swallowed hard and turned back to face the man who had now taken the hand of the ‘patient’ and was helping her gently to her feet. Tori has his eyes. He didn’t look anything like the charming Lothario weasel she’d pictured in her head. Annoyingly, he had the audacity to be extremely handsome, and she could understand how Skye might have fallen for his charms. The females all around him seemed to be gazing at him with appreciative eyes and he clearly thrived on their attention. Their adulation. He was probably used to having women throw themselves at his feet. Well, not me, Dr Branagh. ‘Right. Okay. Sorry I interrupted.’ She grimaced and turned away, trying to control the heat flaming in her cheeks, and pushed back through the assembled throng to get to the reception desk, where she introduced herself in a low, embarrassed voice. ‘Lane Carter…agency HCA.’ The woman on Reception was Mary, knitter of preemie hats—she recognised her from her research—and she smiled at her. ‘Oh, yes, we’ve been expecting you. You’re in Treatment Room Two. This is your card for the computer.’ She passed over a temporary locum ID card that hung from an NHS lanyard. ‘Let me show you where everything is.’
An unexpected baby made him a father…
But she’ll make them a family
GP Cole Branagh’s cozy Cotswolds surgery is all he wants and needs. Which is why he’s determined to help beautiful new nursing assistant Lane Carter get settled quickly! Until she rocks his world by introducing him to her baby goddaughter, who she’s caring for…and reveals he’s the father. Cole knows he’ll need Lane’s help navigating unexpected parenthood—he’d just never planned on needing her, too…
Can I first say just how lucky I am with this cover? The cover fairies were more than kind. How CUTE is this baby???
This book was written after a year’s hiatus and though I told my editor I needed a year off, my writer’s brain carried on working, even though technically I was supposed to be taking a break. But along came Lane Carter, my heroine, whispering insistently in my ears that she needed to find the baby’s father! Pronto!
I kept telling her to be quiet, but what can you do? And when I probed to find out who the father actually was, I discovered Cotswolds GP, Dr Cole Branagh and he had no idea he was a father! I mean, how are you supposed to break news like that?
My mind mused on the problem for a few weeks and I thought to myself, I’ll just write a few notes. No biggie, right? I’m not actually writing. I’m taking notes. Scribbling ideas. Scenes. Plot points. I mean, I was only trying to help them out, right?
And before I knew it, I was emailing my editor with a book proposal and boy am I so glad that these characters began talking to me, because I had so much fun writing them! These characters made me fall in love with them and I hated having to say goodbye. They were the sort of characters that I felt I could have continued writing about even after their Happy Ever After, just so I could keep an eye on them.
Only I couldn’t. I had to say my sad goodbyes. But I am cheered by the fact that all of you will get to spend some time with them! And I hope you love them as much as I do and always will.
An unexpected baby made him a father…
But she’ll make them a family
GP Cole Branagh’s cozy Cotswolds surgery is all he wants and needs. Which is why he’s determined to help beautiful new nursing assistant Lane Carter get settled quickly! Until she rocks his world by introducing him to her baby goddaughter, who she’s caring for…and reveals he’s the father. Cole knows he’ll need Lane’s help navigating unexpected parenthood—he’d just never planned on needing her, too…
I thought very hard over what to write for this blog post.
I considered creating a post about most romantic gifts you could give your other half on the big day; the most romantic gestures I’d ever experienced, which then led me onto thinking about when romance went wrong for me!
Most of these stories happened when I was still in my middle to late teenage years, so I can now blame youth for my naïveté, but thought if I share mine, someone else might share theirs! So come on, now! Don’t leave me hanging!
Experience 1 – When I was seventeen, I worked in a kiosk at a petrol station (this was the late 1980s, btw). Most of my customers were men filling up their tanks on the way to work and I soon got to know my regulars. There was this young man, maybe in his early 20s, who I saw often and he asked if he could take me out for a drink. Giddy with excitement, I said yes and he picked me up in his Ford Cortina a couple of days later. He was driving me to a country pub and we were chatting away quite happily, when I happened to glance into the backseat and saw two baby seats. I asked, ‘Whose are those?’
Mr Suave gave me a look and then said, really casually, ‘They’re for my kids.’
I asked, ‘Are you separated?’
His response? ‘Nah, I’m still married, but you know the score.’ And he winked at me!
I sat there, feeling awkward and embarrassed, with not much experience in dating and not knowing how to get myself out of the situation and worrying that technically, I was with someone I didn’t really know, in the countryside, with no way of getting home. So I said nothing, figuring when the date was over, I just wouldn’t see him again.
Did it end there?
Mr Suave thought that my silence was acceptance of the fact that he was married and when we got to the pub, he couldn’t stop slobbering kisses over me and winking at me from the bar when he got drinks.
When he finally dropped me back home, I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough! And for weeks afterwards, he stalked me, until his wife came into the petrol station to have a go at me for trying to steal her man!
When I protested my innocence, she seemed to believe me, but I was under the stark impression that he didn’t get off so lightly at home!
Experience 2 – Still at the petrol station, I swapped an evening shift with a colleague as I was going out with family to a birthday dinner. As we drove home, we had to pass the petrol station and found it filled with police cars. There had been an armed raid! (Never have I been so pleased to have swapped a shift!) I went to the kiosk to check on my colleague and got talking with a couple of the police officers (I’m sure you see where this is going)
One of the officers, let’s call him Paul, called in a few days later to the petrol station, to check on us and report progress to the owners. Paul chatted to me for a bit and offered to take me out for the day to Alton Towers.
I (Naively) thought, he’s a copper. He’s bound to be honest.
He offered to meet me one morning in his car at the top of my street and off we went to Alton Towers. Having a great time, going on all the rides, really funny guy, brilliant sense of humour, everything was going great, until it was time to drop me off at my house. He stopped at one end of my street, down a blind lane and said, “I’ll drop you off here, if that’s okay?”
Now, my street was a pretty long one. And it was dark and I was pretty scared about walking all that way on my own. “Can’t you drop me off outside my house?”
“I can’t be seen doing that.”
‘Because you’re a police officer?” I asked. See? Stupid, I know.
“Because I’m married.”
Ah. Well, at least he told me, I guess.
I never saw Paul after that. And updates on the crime were delivered by other officers.
I think my Mum was more upset than me that he wasn’t genuine. She’d quite fancied having a police car parked outside of our house most evenings, keeping our rowdy neighbours quiet for once.
After those? I’d like to say my dating experiences got better, but sadly they didn’t. Two more married men tried it on (this time I knew they were married, so turned them down) but I did meet a guy there who I ended up living with for five years, who turned out to be abusive.
Still. I learned from that, too.
Now? I’ve been married for 22 years, with four kids of my own.
And no married men have propositioned me since.
It could be because of the six-foot-two husband that walks by my side, that stops them.
So come on everyone! Want to share any of your dating disasters?
Yeah, I know. Some of you may be squirming right now at me even talking about the festive season, but I know that the next book I’m going to write is going to be a Christmas one and so that means, for me, a lot of Christmas preparation.
I’ve been making a Christmas Spotify playlist and though there’s only a few songs on there at the moment, it’s slowly building.
I’m also setting my story in Iceland, in a fictional town, but am very much enjoying researching Icelandic festive traditions and, of course, my hot hero! There are a few candidates and I thought you could help me choose my inspiration!
Now, because I don’t want to incur the wrath of copyright infringement on photos (which I have fallen foul of, in the past and it cost me a pretty penny, or two!) I’m going to put the link to pictures of my heroes on Pinterest, on my Which Viking? board. This link is safe.
My first hero that I’m looking at is Lasse Matberg. He’s your classic-looking Viking. Blonde. Blue-eyed, rugged. Broad and muscular. Yum!
The second hero that I’m looking at is Travis Fimmel (and he appeared int he show Vikings. He has lovely ice-blue eyes, but appears more rough and ready to me and I’m not sure he has the right appeal for me.
The third hero I’m looking at is Chris Hemsworth! I mean, he plays Thor, so I had to put him in, right?
And finally, my secret favourite, is Alexander Skaarsgard. He played Eric the vampire in True Blood and Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, for heaven’s sake! (sighs)
They all have their plus points for me! I’m not sure if I can choose between Lasse and Alexander.
I can’t think why …
Anyhoo! Tell me which one you like the best?
Who should be my Icelandic Paediatrician hero?
Or is there someone else I might have missed? Tell me all about it in the comments below. I can’t wait to drool over more pictures can’t wait to see what you suggest!
So, last December, when I still wasn’t receiving JK Rowling sized advances or royalty checks, I got myself a job. As much as I loved being at home writing all day, it wasn’t paying enough and so I got myself a job as a receptionist at a GP surgery.
I answered the phones to people who were usually less than pleasant most of the time (you wouldn’t believe the way people talk to GP receptionists!) until about May 2019, when it became clear that they needed a phlebotomist and as I had been trained in phlebotomy years ago, I put myself forward for this change of role and I’ve been doing that (unfortunately still being on reception a couple of days a week) ever since, until last week, when I booked myself a week’s holiday.
Here in the UK, we’d been enjoying a heatwave. Temperatures in the 30s, sweltering heat, gorgeous sunshine, UNTIL i took my week off work, when it decided to rain all week and accompany that delight with gusty winds.
Typical! So, as we were stuck in the house, I decided to enjoy myself as best I could. I rediscovered my love for crochet and tried my hand at my first amigurumi (a little sperm whale) and as that was a success, thought, as you do, that if I could do that, I could do anything and attempted a Freddy Kreuger doll (and yes, his bladed hand is missing, because I’m still doing that and it wasn’t ready for this blog!)
I picked up some books and had reading marathons. I engaged my children in chats and on Thursday, when the sun broke out ever so briefly, we had a day trip to Brighton, just to say we’d had some fresh air all week, after being cooped up inside.
Today, I go back to work (It’s Monday as I write this) and guess what? The sun is shining again and will do all week according to the weather forecast, but I never expected anything different. You see, ever since I’ve been married to Nick (22 years) every holiday we plan goes wrong somehow. Our cruise ship gets put into dry dock and our cruise cancelled. Our car breaks down. The weather ruins it. Our plane gets diverted because of a bomb threat. A family member gets sick. On two occasions, a family member died (grandparent) on the very day we were meant to leave for our holidays, creating a situation where our family now jokes that we’re never to take holidays ever again, as we’re dangerous!
Oh well. At least I got a week off, even if I didn’t go anywhere.
How about you? Got any funny holiday stories to share? I’d love to hear about them. Anyone who responds will be put into a draw and one person will win a copy of my book, Pregnant By The Single Dad Doc!
So, I’m currently in a year’s break from writing Medicals. I asked for a year off, from my fabulous editor, as there was a lot going on personally, stuff that I won’t go into here, but I asked for a break because I just felt like my writing brain needed one. Some time off to just chill, to not have to be endlessly coming up with plot ideas and twists and conflicts.
And so far, it’s going great!
Filling the Well, was a saying I heard the first time, from my great friend Kate Hardy. It was something she advocated for strongly and at the beginning of my writing journey I didn’t understand it, because I was so full of ideas and joy and enthusiasm. Only, as time wore on and I’d got my first fourteen books under my belt, I felt the need to take a break.
So I began reading. I began soaking things in. I binge-watched whatever I wanted to (The Haunting of Hill House was the first thing and currently it’s Game of Thrones) I walked the dogs on long, looooong walks, I breathed in nature, I listened to music, danced to music, did some cardio, some yoga. Took a masterclass. Anything and everything that took my fancy. And throughout it all, without fail, my brain kept returning to the thought that I needed to write.
Plots arrived. Characters began speaking. Scenes formed in my head, like mini-movies. It seemed no matter how hard I tried to relax, the writing was always there. Simmering away, even if I didn’t try. I put my fingers to the keyboard three months into my break and the ideas in my head, didn’t match the words on the screen and I got frightened that I’d taken such a big break and I couldn’t write again.
But slowly but surely, and with lots of stubborn determination and practice, the words are better again. They match what’s in my head and I’m back in the habit. I’m writing something new. Away from the genre of romance and I think that was part of the problem. I was trying something new. Something exciting. Something that wasn’t guaranteed to be published and fear was in there.
Fear of failure.
I still have that fear, but I can put it to one side now. The words are what’s important, the STORY is what’s important and I don’t have to get it right first time. That’s what revisions are for, after all! What matters is enjoying the WRITING.
I’m enjoying it again. It feels fresh. Filling the well, was what I needed to get some perspective, to think about what I want to be doing, that will make ME happy, as happy was sadly lacking last year, due to many personal things going on. Losing my beloved dog, Daisy, was one and things like that make you realise your own mortality and what you do with your own life and how you make yourself happy.
So, I’d like to hear from you guys. What do you do when YOU need to fill the well? What do you do to make yourself happy? What brings you joy? Perhaps there’s something you do, that someone else could learn from. You could inspire joy!
When Krystiana woke the next morning, the first thing she did was reach over and turn off her night-light. It was an automatic thing—something she hardly noticed doing—but today when she did so she stared at it for a moment, wondering if Crown Prince Matteo had one too.
For two years he’d been stuck in a cave. Was he now afraid of the dark?
Throwing off the bedcovers, she got up and threw open the double doors to the sun terrace. The fragrant air poured in and she closed her eyes for a moment as the warm rays from the sun caressed her skin. This was what she loved about living here. The warmth. The colour. The heat. The beauty of this treasured isle.
How fortunate that her aunt lived here. It had been exactly what she had needed after her experience at the hands of her father—to leave such an ugly existence behind and come to a place that only had beauty at its core. There had been a new language to learn, but wonderful, loving, passionate people to support her. New friends. A new life. Isla Tamoura had given her a new beginning, a new hope, and she loved it here so much.
Krystiana took a quick shower and braided her long hair into its usual plait, donned a summery dress and sat down to eat the breakfast that had been brought in on a tray. She was used to eating breakfast alone. She quite enjoyed it. But this time, before her day started, she grabbed her pad and pencils and began sketching the view from her balcony. This afternoon she would be going home again, so there was no time to spare.
Her sketch was vague. Outlines and shapes. She would fill in the colour later, allowing her imagination to take flight. She took a couple of quick photos using her phone.
She almost lost track of time, and when she did glance at her watch she saw there were only a few minutes until nine o clock—her scheduled time to give the Prince his yearly physical. She left her pad and pencil on the bed, finished her orange juice and then pulled the sash to call Sergio. She wasn’t sure exactly where in the palace the examination would take place.
Sergio arrived, looking as perfectly presented as always. ‘Good morning, Dr Szenac. I hope you slept well?’
‘Very well, Sergio, thank you. I have my appointment with His Highness Prince Matteo, to start his physical, but I’m not sure where I have to go.’
He nodded. ‘I believe you are expected in the private gym. Dr Bonetti always carries out the yearly check-ups there.’
‘Thank you.’ She’d had no idea the palace had its own gym—but, then again, why wouldn’t it? Matteo and his family could hardly pop out to the local leisure centre if they wanted to lift a few weights, could they?
Sergio led her through the palace, down long tapestry-filled hallways, past vast vases so big she could have climbed inside and not been seen even standing upright. They passed a coat of arms, a suit of armour, and fireplaces filled with flowers, until he brought her to a set of double doors.
‘The gym, Dr Szenac. All of Dr Bonetti’s equipment has been laid out for you, and the computer has been set up for you to enter the results of each test for the record.’
‘Thank you—that’s very kind.’
‘The computer isn’t likely to be difficult, but if you do have any queries we have an IT expert on hand.’
Sergio smiled and opened the doors.
The gym was filled with all types of equipment—treadmills, stair-masters, weight machines, free-standing weights, workout equipment, yoga mats. Anything and everything seemed to be here, and one wall was made of glass that revealed a room beyond filled with a full-length swimming pool.
But she didn’t have time to linger. The Prince would be here at any moment and she wanted to be prepared.
She was running her eye over what she needed to achieve today, reminding herself of the assessments, when she became aware of a presence behind her.
She turned and bowed slightly. ‘Your Highness.’
‘I’m ready, if you are?’
Smiling, she nodded. ‘Absolutely. Ready to begin with the basics? I’ll need to do blood pressure, pulse and SATs.’
‘All right. Take a seat.’
She began to set up her equipment—the pulse oximeter that she’d place on his finger to measure not only his pulse but the oxygen levels in his blood, and the arm cuff around his upper arm that would measure his blood pressure.
His basic measurements were perfect. Exactly what she’d expected them to be.
‘Okay, now I need to check your height and weight.’
‘I don’t think I’ve shrunk.’
She smiled. ‘Glad to hear it.’
Again, his weight was perfect for his height.
‘Now I’d like to set you up for a treadmill test. I’ll need to attach you to a breathing tube, so we can measure oxygen intake, heart-rate and lung capacity whilst you run up a slight incline for three minutes.’
He nodded. ‘Can I warm up first?’
‘By all means.’
She looked at his previous measurements and typed them into the computer, aware that Matteo was stripping off behind her and beginning to stretch.
When she turned around she noted that he was in excellent physical shape. Clearly he used the gym often to keep fit. His muscle tone was almost beautiful. His figure was sculpted, without being overly worked. It seemed almost wrong to look at him and admire him like that. Not least because he was a prince.
‘Right, I need to attach these electrodes, if that’s okay?’
Does my voice sound weird?
He stood still whilst she attached the electrodes to his chest and body, trying her hardest not to make eye contact, then attached the wires that hooked him up to the machine for a reading. She fastened a breathing mask around his nose and mouth, and suddenly there was that eye contact thing.
She could feel herself blushing. ‘Okay… For the first minute I want you just to walk at a steady pace and then, when I tell you, I’m going to increase the speed and I want you to jog.’
He gave her a thumbs-up and she started the treadmill and the EKG monitor that would read his heart’s electrical activity. The machine began printing out on a paper roll and she watched it steadily, keeping a careful eye out for any issues, but it all looked fine.
She glanced up at him as he ran with a steady pace, his body like a well-oiled machine as he tackled the jog easily. His oxygen intake was perfect; his heart-rate was elevated, but not too much.
When the three minutes were over she switched everything off and then laid a hand on his wrist to check his pulse. She felt it pounding away beneath her fingertips and kept count, then made a note of the result.
‘You’re doing brilliantly.’
He pulled off the mask. ‘Good to know.’
‘You work out a lot?’
‘Can’t you tell?’ He raised an eyebrow.
‘Well, I…er…yes… You look very…er…’
He laughed. ‘I meant can’t you tell from my results?’
She flushed even redder and laughed with him. ‘Oh, I see.’ She nodded. ‘Yes!’
‘I try to do thirty minutes every other day, alternating with the pool. Lifting weights. Half an hour of cardio… ‘
‘You do more than me.’
‘It’s easier for me. My life is scheduled to the minute, so I know when I can fit things in to get everything done.’
She was curious. ‘Is that a perk or a drawback?’ she asked. She wasn’t sure she’d want to be so regimentally scheduled each day. What about free time? What about spontaneity?
‘It depends on the day.’ He laughed again, wiping his face with a towel.
He shrugged. ‘Well, I have this, and then I get to spend some time with my daughter.’
‘Princess Alexandra? She’s beautiful. How old is she now?’
‘You must be very proud of her.’
‘I am. But I don’t get to spoil her as often as I would like.’
Of course not. She didn’t live with him. The Princess lived with her mother, at her family’s private estate.
‘That must be hard for you?’
He stared into her eyes. ‘You have no idea.’
Oh, but I do, she thought. I know how hard it is being away from those you love.I know only too well.
She blinked rapidly and turned away, forcing her mind back to the assessment. ‘Next test.’
‘I’m all yours.’ He did a mock bow.
Krystiana smiled and then indicated that he should move to the next machine.
They were just about finished with their testing when the doors to the gym opened and in walked Sergio, looking grave. It was the most solemn Matteo had ever seen him.
He finished towelling himself down and raised an eyebrow. ‘Sergio? What is it?’
‘I have some unfortunate news for Dr Szenac, sir.’
She looked up from her notes and frowned. Was it about Dr Bonetti’s wife?
‘I’m afraid there’s been an accident at your villa. A drunk driver tried to take the corner near your abode too fast and ploughed into your home. I’m afraid your living area and bedroom have been almost destroyed, and the property is not safe for you to reside in just yet.’
Matteo was shocked and looked to Dr Szenac. ‘I’m so sorry!’
Her face was almost white. ‘Is the driver all right?’
He was impressed at how her concern was immediately for the driver.
‘I believe he got away quite lightly, all things considered. He’s being treated by the medics now.’
‘Okay. Good. That’s good.’ She turned away, her thoughts in a distant place. ‘Oh, my God. What about Bruno?’
‘My dog. He’s a rescue.’
‘I believe your neighbour was out on a walk with him at the time,’ Sergio replied.
‘Oh, thank goodness!’
She sank down into a chair, her legs obviously trembling, and put her head in her hands. Matteo felt for her. Was her home ruined?
‘You must stay here with us. Until everything is fixed.’
She looked up, tears in her eyes. ‘I couldn’t possibly do that.’
‘Nonsense! It’s done. Sergio, could you arrange for Dr Szenac’s clothes and anything she needs to be brought to her quarters here in the palace? Including her dog, who I’m sure will bring her great comfort. We’re going to have a guest for a while.’
‘I don’t know what to say…’ she said, beginning to cry.
He smiled. ‘Say yes.’
She looked at him for a long moment and he saw gratitude. ‘Then, yes. Thank you. Yes.’
He nodded. ‘Sergio? Make it happen.’
‘I’m so lucky I was here when it happened, she said later. Otherwise I might have been injured!’
‘Well, you were here, and that’s all that matters.’
‘No buts. There’s no point in wondering about what mighthave happened. You just need to worry about what ishappening.’ He smiled. ‘I learned that in therapy. Look at me—spreading the knowledge.’
She smiled as she stroked Bruno’s fur. They’d had a joyous reunion when Sergio had returned with her dog, her clothes, her computer and some rather startling photographs of the damage to her villa.
‘That’s going to take weeks to repair,’ she’d said.
‘Let me take care of that,’ Matteo had offered.
‘I couldn’t possibly let you do that! It will cost a fortune!’
‘Are you insured?’
‘Then don’t worry about it. Let me do something good for you. You were kind enough to step in at the last minute and help me out when I needed a doctor—let me step in and help you out when you need a…’
‘A builder?’ She’d laughed.
He’d smiled back. ‘A knight in shining armour. Didn’t you see my suit of armour downstairs? It’s very polished.’
So of course she’d thanked him profusely, feeling so terribly grateful for all that he was doing to help her out.
‘I appreciate that. I really do.’
‘Nonsense. It’s what friends do.’
And she’d smiled. Were they friends?‘Thank you.’
Matteo had invited her to dine with him that evening.
‘You can bring Bruno. If he’s lucky we might be able to feed him titbits under the table.’
‘He’ll never want to leave this place if you do that.’
And now they sat on his sun terrace, awaiting their meal, staring out across the gardens below and watching the sun slowly set.
‘By the way, I don’t know if you’ve heard but Dr Bonetti’s wife has pulled through. She’s in a stable condition and expected to go home soon. He phoned from the hospital. Let my secretary know.’
‘That’s excellent news! Wow. So good to have such great news after earlier. And the driver who hit my home? Do we know about him?’
‘Already home. And already charged by the police for drink driving. He’s to attend court in a few days’ time.’
‘If it was an accident I’m sure he’s very sorry.’
Matteo sipped his water. ‘Unfortunately, from what I’ve discovered, the man is a known drunk. He’s already had his licence taken from him and the car wasn’t even his. It was his son’s and he’d “borrowed” it.’
‘We’ll get him into a programme.’
‘We?’ She raised an eyebrow.
‘My pack of royal enforcers,’ he said with a straight face, knowing there was no such pack at all.
He laughed. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t really have enforcers. I was just… Look, he needs help. Someone will go and visit him and make sure he enrols into a programme that will get him the help he needs. Before he kills someone next time.’
‘Maybe I could go and see him myself?’
‘Is that wise? You’re emotionally involved.’
‘Which is why he might listen to me. Meeting the actual victim of his crime might make more of an impact.’
‘Was hitting your wall not enough?’ He cocked his head to one side. ‘How do you know so much about crime and victimology?’
She looked down and away from him then, and he realised there was a story there. Something she wasn’t willing to share.
‘I’m sorry—you don’t have to answer that.’
She laughed. ‘Don’t therapists suggest that talking is good for the soul?’
He nodded. ‘They do. But only when you’re ready. Areyou ready?’
‘I don’t know.’
He sipped his drink. ‘You’ll know when it’s the right time. And, more importantly, if it’s the right person to talk to. You don’t really know me, so I quite understand.’
She stared back at him. Consideringly. Her eyes were cool. ‘I think you’d understand more than most.’
He considered this. Intrigued. ‘Oh?’
She paused. Looked uncertain. And then he saw it in her face. The determination to push forward and just say it.
‘I was six years old. And I was taken.’
‘Taken?’ His blood almost froze, despite the warmth of the sun.
When I was little, Christmas was a very low-key idea. My parents didn’t have any money, even though my Dad worked full time and my Mum worked a variety of part time jobs to make ends meet. Each year we’d drag the tatty Christmas tree and decades-old decorations down from the attic and try our best to make them look pretty. I remember paper lanterns in bright green and a weird orange colour held together by sticky tape (and sometimes staples!) hanging from the ceiling of our lounge. Every Christmas, we four kids would cut up strips of paper to make paper chains, as well as making snowflake designs to hang up to add to the cheer.
Presents were never anything extravagant. We all knew there was no point in asking for a bike or a computer or anything like that. We truly were the kids that were grateful for a chocolate bar, or a satsuma in our gifts. Talcum powder was a regular gift I received each year, which I would eke out all year until the next Yuletide when another tin would arrive!
But one year (I was probably around 10 years old) I can remember saying to my parents that I would love to have a typewriter. I’d been writing stories down on paper for ages, but thought the only way I would be a proper writer, would be if I had a proper typewriter. I felt it would make me ‘official’ and ‘real’. That somehow, my stories would be much better for having been hammered out on a machine, rather than flowing from my pen.
I didn’t hold out much hope. I’d looked in the Argos catalogue, I knew how expensive they could be. But I begged and begged my parents for one. When it got to my birthday in July, I told them not to get me anything, but to put it towards a typewriter for Christmas.
When Christmas arrived, I almost couldn’t contain myself. I kept telling myself to calm down. That I might get downstairs and only find the usual talcum powder and selection box and that I should be pleased I was even receiving those, but there was a small part of me that hoped more than anything that when I got downstairs there’d be a large present all wrapped and waiting under the tree.
And there was! And it was beautiful! A royal blue, Silver Reed typewriter, that came with a solid, black cover that clipped on over the top! I remember screaming and dancing with joy, doing a little jig in the front room, before finding a piece of paper to scroll into it, so I could start tap, tap tapping away!
It was second hand, but that didn’t matter to me. The ribbon barely had any ink left in it, but that didn’t matter either.
I loved that typewriter. And my parents house was filled with the sound of it, whenever I was home from school and at weekends as I wrote story after story after story, finally able to submit to magazines and newspapers because my work was typed and not handwritten.
That typewriter was the best present I ever received! I can still feel the joy, even now, of what it felt like, to open that gift! And that was the beginning for me. What I consider my ‘official’ beginning of me as a writer.
What was your best present ever? I’d love to hear all about it!
This December, I have a new book coming out, called Their Unexpected Babies. It returns to a favourite topic of mine and one I wrote about in my very first book – surrogacy.
I’m endlessly fascinated by surrogacy, the couples who choose it, the women who offer their womb for nine months, knowing that the child they carry is not for them. In my first book, I explored surrogacy from the point of view of the surrogate herself and in this new book, I’m exploring it from the point of view of a woman who can’t carry a child of her own.
I hope you enjoy this little excerpt!
Dancing was an art form. There were those who could do it well, who looked as if they’d been born to dance. And there were those who did it badly—and Leah was one of them. Dancing might even be a bit too fancy a word for the moves her body was able to perform. Fancy swaying might be more realistic.
She felt awkward trying to do anything more complicated than that, being all angles and long limbs, like a newborn foal, trying to stay upright. It wasn’t her favourite thing to do and, quite frankly, she couldn’t wait for this to be over.
Just keep smiling! Pretend you’re having a great time.
Everyone else was. One or two had even paired off with a couple of guys who had bought them drinks. Thinking of which, she was beginning to get a little thirsty. She looked over at the bar, to see if there was much of a queue, and instead met a steady pair of beautiful blue eyes gazing back at her.
He was at the bar—the man in question. Holding a tall glass with what looked like water in it, condensation dripping down its sides. Black shirt, open at the collar. Black trousers.
She couldn’t look away. She wanted to, but he held her gaze, and somehow, before she knew it, he was standing in front of her.
‘May I have this dance?’
The old-fashioned request was charming. If he’d said anything else, come out with a cheesy line, then she would have raised a sardonic eyebrow and turned away, but his question—polite, gallant, charming—hit all her buttons.
She could feel her cheeks flushing and was thankful he wouldn’t be able to see that in the darkness. But the terrible thing about being in the dark was that it also made you throw a bit of caution to the wind. It created intimacy. And she couldn’t help but laugh.
‘You’ve seen me dance, right? The flailing?’
He smiled. ‘It was utterly charming.’
He leaned in. ‘Adorable.’
And she liked him. He smelt great. She didn’t know what it was, but she just felt secure with this guy. What was one more flail? They were in a public place. Nothing was going to happen.
She bit her lip as he led her to the centre of the dance floor, and just as she was about to begin the music changed. It was almost as if this man and the DJ were in cahoots, because the music switched from a frantic, heated rhythm to something slow and soulful. The kind of music that begged couples to dance in each other’s arms. Bodies pressed close. Intimate. Knowing.
She smiled and stepped shyly into his embrace, draping her arms over his shoulders as he pulled her to him.
He smelt delicious. Edible. A musky heat. And she closed her eyes as they swayed in tune together, sensing him inhale the scent of her shampoo as he lifted a tendril of her hair up to his nose. It was such an intimate gesture she felt shivers tremble down her spine, and her breath hitched in her throat as she wondered what he’d do next.
But he was a perfect gentleman. His hands didn’t wander and she found herself wondering about this man in her arms. Who was he? Where had he come from? What was his name?
Why was he so hot?
She let him have the next dance. And then the next. And when she had to sit down, to give her feet and ankles a rest from the vertiginous heels she had unwittingly chosen for that evening, he walked her over to a place to sit and helped her slip them off. He massaged her feet for her whilst she squirmed in delight on the banquette and thanked the heavens that she’d had a pedicure two days ago.
He looked at her and smiled. ‘Are you ticklish?’
‘Then I’ll be careful.’
She liked the way he held her feet firmly, determined not to tickle her, but to give her the maximum benefit of his strong, capable hands.
‘You know your way around a woman’s foot.’Leah cringed once the words were out.
But he didn’t raise an eyebrow. ‘I know my way around many parts of the female anatomy.’
She blushed. The foot massage already had her biting her lip, trying her hardest not to moan and groan in delight at what was happening to her flesh, and his words made her wonder what magic he could cause in other places, with other parts of his anatomy?
But the thought was fleeting and quick. That wasn’t who she was, so she knew she didn’t have to worry about that. But somehow they got talking and chatting, and his name was Ben. So simple. So wonderful. It suited him.
She discovered they liked a lot of the same things—old movies, reading, and the exact same brand of salted caramel chocolates—and when he learnt how close she lived, he offered to give her a piggyback home.
‘A piggyback?’ she asked in amused disbelief. They weren’t kids.
‘You can’t dance in those shoes and you certainly can’t walk in them. I’m amazed you didn’t break an ankle just getting here.’
The idea of him walking her home thrilled her. She didn’t want to part company with him yet. But she didn’t want to do this alone. Just in case. He could be anyone.
Hannah offered to accompany them for safety. Her friend lived in the block opposite her own. As good as his word, Ben carried her all the way back, like a groom carrying his new bride over the threshold of their new home, telling them jokes and making them laugh, paying attention to both women fairly, though it was clear his interest was in her. And when he gently set her down on her feet, her soles pressed against the chilly pavement, she impulsively offered him a coffee or a nightcap, not yet willing to say goodbye.
He’d smiled. ‘Coffee would be nice.’
Hannah waved them both goodbye, giving Leah a big thumbs-up sign in secret, when Ben wasn’t looking.
She smiled and fished her keys out of her bag.
What am I doing? I don’t do this. I don’t invite random guys back!
But another voice in her head said, Go for it! When are you going to get another chance?
So she made him coffee. And they sat together on the couch, drinking it until it was gone, and the tension in the room was palpable.
‘I should go.’ His voice was loaded with regret. ‘It was lovely spending a few hours with you, but I have an early start in the morning.’
She nodded. ‘Me, too.’
She wasn’t kidding either. She started a new job tomorrow. Going to the club had been in celebration of that.
He stood up and she stood with him. They were so close! Millimetres apart. Leah gazed up at his face, his mouth, and then he pulled her gently towards him and lowered his face to hers.
The kiss was perfect. Gentle.
And then it wasn’t. And they couldn’t remove their clothes fast enough.
From irresistible attraction… To ready-made family!
After her best friend agrees to be her surrogate, Dr Leah Hudson’s dream of being a mum is finally coming true! But throwing caution to the wind for one night with sexy Dr Ben Willoughby has shocking consequences… Leah’s pregnant! Now, with two babies depending on her, Leah must push her feelings for committed bachelor Ben aside—unless he proves that Leah and the babies can depend on him