Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Believe in Me, Part 2 #freeread

As promised, here’s part two of my story for the Holiday Kisses anthology! 

Blurb
Leona Sharp and Ryan Lee have been friends forever, it seems. Although there’s an attraction between them, they've never acted on it. On New Year’s Eve, Leona finally allows herself to give into the temptation, but she vows that it will only be for one night and as soon as the clock strikes midnight they will put it in the past and go on as if it never happened. Ryan, however, has other plans…




* * * *
“Curiosity killed the cat, you know.”
Leo dropped the folder onto the desk and gaped at Rye. He slouched back in the executive chair, arms folded and legs crossed with that damn eyebrow quirked. He got her all hot and bothered, and it was the middle of winter!
“You know how I like to make sure Hair and Other is a cut above the rest.” Leo smirked and Rye grinned, flashing white, straight teeth.
“No one touches you, Leo.”
His words made her blood heat and her heart quicken. He’s on about the store, you plonker, not you! Leo mentally slapped herself and plastered a polite smile on her face.
“Thank you for saving me from The Jed Meister.” She shivered and Rye chuckled. “I dread to think what kind of party he had in mind.”
Rye bent down to a bag by his chair and she raised off hers a little, curiosity getting the better of her. He pulled a large box from House of Fraser out, followed by an unmarked shoebox. Leo’s heartbeat spiked. Goodness, how she loved shoes.
He slid both boxes across his mahogany desk. “For tonight.”
Leo frowned, but tore into the House of Fraser box first. An Emerald designer dress—sans price tag—was folded neatly in the box. The color took her breath away. She pulled it out and inspected the floor length, silk number with awe. Oh. My. Goodness. It was to die for!
“What do you mean?” she asked breathlessly.
Rye chuckled again. “For the party at the Med.”
Leo let the silk creation slip from her fingers and ripple onto the box. “I thought you were just giving me an excuse to say no to Jed.”
“I was, but I want you to come with me. I’ve missed you, Leona.” His shy grin melted her resistance and made her heart all gooey, like caramel sauce.
“Oh.”
“Here.” Rye lifted the lid from the shoe box, exposing the sexiest pair of black stilettos she’d ever seen.
The silver spiked heel made her mouth water, in a way that Rye’s chest often did. Like now, when it was covered in nothing but a crisp white shirt, a dark smattering of hair visible through the thin material. Leo shook away the thought and focused her attention on the glorious contents of the box. Where did he learn to shop like this?
“I took Eileen to the sales, she helped pick these out. Do you like them?” Rye asked.
Oh. His sister helped. Leo couldn’t stop the huge grin spreading across her face. “Love them,” she whispered. What’s not to love?
Rye rose, made his way around the desk, then scooped her up in a hug. She froze in his arms. He never hugged her, not even at Will’s funeral. What was going on?
“You should have come home for Christmas, Leo. Your parents missed you,” he whispered into her ear, but it sounded like he wanted to say something else. Maybe that was just wishful thinking on her part.
The tingles making their way through her body at his touch subsided as guilt hit her like a sucker punch to the stomach. Tears burned her eyes and her limbs unfroze. She wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled her nose against his spicy scented chest. She would not cry. She wouldn’t.
“I missed them too.” Her voice, barely a whisper, broke, and Rye hugged her tighter.
Oh, why couldn’t he be the man she needed, the man who wanted to marry her, stand by her side, and give her lots of babies? This question alone was enough to make the tears pour from her eyes, soiling his crisp white shirt.
* * * *
Ryan felt her tears dampen his shirt. His heart squeezed. “Leo, don’t cry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He ran his hand up and down her spine.
She tightened her vise-like grip. Christ, his body reacted to hers in a way that one’s body shouldn’t react to a friend. But when said friend was stuck to him like a limpet, he couldn’t deny his attraction.
He cupped her head to his chest and thought of football, his gran, the accounts on his desk. Anything to get his mind off the petite redhead stuck to him like she’d been glued. If the desire heating his blood darted to his groin, he’d embarrass them both.
“Leo,” he whispered and slid his arms down to her hips. “They missed you, but they knew you were booked up with appointments here.”
She removed her hands from his neck and backed away, swiping at her eyes. “I know. Sorry. I’m a mess this year. Spending Christmas alone sucked.”
His heart melted to mush.
Leaning back against his desk, he folded his arms in fear that he might pull her close again. “I know. I’ll make it up to you tonight.”
She blinked. “I’m not your responsibility, Rye. I’m not having this conversation again.”
As her eyes burned green fire, he guessed this wasn’t the right time to tell her she was—or at least that he wanted her to be. But it wasn’t just that. They spent Christmas together every year, and he’d noticed her absence this week more than he cared to admit. For years he’d treated her like his little sister, and it wasn’t because she felt like that to him. In fact, it was because he had thoughts about doing things to her that one didn’t do with a friend’s sister.
He sighed. “I don’t want to argue, Leo. How about I pick you up around eight?”
That would give them both time to finish up and get changed. Not to mention time to pull his sissy-self together in case he blew his ploy for the evening straight out of the water. He’d purposely waited to give Leo her Christmas present until he got home, and planned to give it to her tonight.
* * * * 

Make sure you pop over to Kaylie Newell’s Blog tomorrow for the second installment of her story, Winter Break. You can find Kaylie’s Blog here.
And Lacey Wolfe's also posting part two of her story, The Gift Beneath The Tree, tomorrow. You can find her Blog here.
I'll be back Wednesday 14th November for the third installment of Believe in Me!
xoxo

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Believe in Me, Part 1 #freeread

As promised, here’s part one of my story for the Holiday Kisses anthology! 

Blurb
Leona Sharp and Ryan Lee have been friends forever, it seems. Although there’s an attraction between them, they've never acted on it. On New Year’s Eve, Leona finally allows herself to give into the temptation, but she vows that it will only be for one night and as soon as the clock strikes midnight they will put it in the past and go on as if it never happened. Ryan, however, has other plans…
 
 
 
* * * *
“Who’s the lucky guy getting to kiss you at the bells?”
The pumice stone slipped from Leona Sharp’s fingers. She released Jed’s hand and picked up the instrument, frowning at the heat burning in her cheeks. Damn her pale complexion, and double damn his insistent flirting.
Leo would never date a guy who came by the salon for a manicure once a month. Usually in preparation for a hot date he’d picked up from somewhere or other. She reached for his outstretched hand.
“I don’t have a date,” she admitted, because she was a horrible liar. She continued to work on the rough skin around the nail of his index finger.
“Really?” Jed’s brow quirked, and his sleazy gaze turned her stomach.
Ugh, no. Please, please, no.
Jed removed his hand from hers, leaned forward, and rested his elbows on the table. His dark eyes bored into hers.
On the pretty scale of one to ten, Jed was an eleven. His dark hair and tanned, lean body ticked all the right boxes. But gorgeous or not, the guy screamed “hump ’em and dump ’em.” She needed a stayer.
“Come to the New Year’s Eve party at my buddy’s place tonight. I’ll make sure you get your kiss.” He grinned, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he made her skin crawl, she would have appreciated the beauty of the smile.
“Um…”
“Hey, Leo.”
Relief washed through her at the familiar voice. She turned toward the sound, a smile splitting her cheeks. Ryan Lee, her boss, stood a few feet away. Now his rugged sex appeal she could get behind.
“Rye! You’re back.” It had been a week since he’d left London to visit his parents at the border.
Jed straightened in his chair. Frick, she was supposed to be giving him a manicure. Leo picked up his hand and gave Rye a quick, apologetic smile. Jed looked miffed.
“So tonight?” he pressed.
Leo suppressed a shiver.
“We have plans,” Ryan said. She darted a look at him. A frown creased his brow and his blue eyes glinted like steel. “Leo and I are going to a party at the Med. Remember?” Rye looked at her, one black eyebrow cocked.
Gratitude swelled in her heart and she grinned at Rye. “I forgot.” Shallow excuse, but Rye was digging her out of a hole and she appreciated it. “Can’t wait.”
The smile he threw her way was dazzling. Leo’s heart raced and her skin tingled.
Jed cleared his throat. Leo returned her attention to him with a murmured apology. She focused on buffing instead of the Adonis sparking her inner fire. Dammit, she thought she’d gotten over all those mushy feelings for Rye. He was her friend.
“Are you staying long?” she asked Rye while keeping her attention focused on Jed’s hand. She fought back a sigh. The sleazeball even had pretty hands.
“I’m going over the books. I’ll be here all day,” Rye told her, then left.
“Thought you weren’t dating anyone,” Jed grumbled.
Leo’s cheeks heated. She and Rye weren’t dating, but that didn’t stop her from wanting him. Or rather, wishing he was a stayer, not a player. Instead of trying to lie, she just gave him a polite mind-your-own-bloody-business smile.
The morning flew by. Everyone booked something or other. The period between Christmas Eve and Hogmanay were the salon’s busiest days. After what felt like an eternity, Leo bid farewell to her last customer of the morning and headed for Rye’s office.
She paused and eyed her pale complexion in the mirror. Leo grabbed the nearest brush and tried to smooth out the frizzy auburn mess that had become her hair. Why hadn’t she put heels on this morning? Rye made her feel so tiny. At her height, she came face to melt-your-knickers-off chest with the man—and that didn’t help her get over his hotness.
She rapped on the door to his office then pushed it open. Rye was on the phone so she made her way to the chair opposite and picked up one of the leather folders on his desk marked Sales Figures. Leo plonked down, opened the book, and flipped through the pages.
Hair and Other was only one of his salons in London. He’d asked Leo to come down and manage the shop after Will, her brother and Rye’s best friend, had passed away in February. Leo leaped at the chance to leave Newcastle and move on. She had to keep busy, it helped with the grief. Though there were still times when she remembered, especially on her days off. Then again, she couldn’t not remember Will. He was a good guy. Rye and Will had been friends since she was a little girl, and as far as she could remember, she’d always had a silly crush on him.
Thank God, at twenty-six, she was well and truly over that now. But damn if he didn’t still make her tummy flip.
“Curiosity killed the cat, you know.”
* * * * 

Make sure you pop over to Kaylie Newell’s Blog tomorrow for the first installment of her story, Winter Break. You can find Kaylie’s Blog here.
And Lacey Wolfe's also posting part one of her story, The Gift Beneath The Tree, tomorrow. You can find her Blog here.
I'll be back Wednesday 31st for the second installment of Believe in Me!
xoxo

Monday, 22 October 2012

Author spotlight, Vaquero by D'Ann Lindun

Looking for something sizzling to heat up this drab, chilly Monday? Look no further!

Vaquero by D'Ann Lindun

 
When Cordero Ybarra and Aspen O’Hare meet, there is an immediate attraction. But he holds his secrets close, refusing to open up about the night racial prejudice almost killed him.
Aspen refuses to trust Cord—or any man. She’s been abandoned one too many times. When another woman lies and says Cord wouldn’t take responsibility for a child they created together, Aspen believes Cord is a deadbeat just like her father. It is only after she uncovers the truth that Aspen realizes Cord is nothing like the men who’ve deserted her before.

When an immigrant worker is hanged by the same two crazies who branded him, Cord sees the truth. The shame he’s carried about being the victim of a hate crime is going to cost him the woman he loves if he can’t let go of his past.
 

Excerpt:

She abruptly pulled out of his embrace and fastened her dress back together. “I need to get back. Daddy will be looking for me.”

Swallowing his disappointment, Cord said, “I’ll walk you back, chica.”

Her eyes were hard, or maybe it was just the moonlight playing tricks on him. “Chica? Don’t call me that. And you can’t tell anyone what happened between us. This was a mistake. I’ll see you around.” Before he could react, she vanished out the door.

“I’ll see you around.”Had she really just said that? He found his shirt on the floor and, after jerking it on, left the bunkhouse, slamming the door behind him. She teased him, got him hard as hell, then vanished? What the fuck had just happened here?

Just a few feet into the dark, someone stepped in front of him. In no mood to talk, Cord started to push by when the other man grabbed his arm. “You too good to talk to me, Mex?”

Buford LaDelle. Cord sighed. What was the guy’s problem with him? “No, just tired.”

“Worn out from work, or something else?”

Cord jerked his arm away from the bigger man’s grip. “Not that I feel like sharing my business with you, but yeah, I’m beat from roping all day.”

Another man moved out of the shadows. Buford grinned at him. “I think he’s worn out from that little joyride he just gave Shayla. How ’bout you, Spike? Think that’s it?”

“Yeah, I think that’s it,” Spike agreed.

Buford got so close Cord could smell the alcohol on the other man’s breath. “That it, Mex?”

“Get lost.” Cord moved to step around Buford, and the bigger man slugged him. Hard. In the stomach. Not expecting it, he doubled over, fighting to catch his breath. Before he could suck in enough air, one of the men slipped a lariat over his head, pulling it tight against his neck. The other one grabbed his wrists and bound them with a slick leather strap, a rein maybe.

What the hell? It was one thing to have a fistfight over a girl—all guys did it—but he’d never been attacked in the dark and roped like a wild steer before. Cord struggled, and the rope around his neck tightened until he feared passing out. Stars danced in front of his eyes, and his ears felt like they had cotton stuffed in them. He tried to speak, and his voice came out in a hoarse growl. “Let me go.”

Buford chuckled. “Not until you learn your lesson, son. I don’t know how things are done back where you come from, but around here, illegals don’t fuck our women.”

“I didn’t—” The rope dug into his neck, cutting off his words. He was as American as they were, the crazy bastards.

Like a prisoner being dragged to the gallows, Cord was hauled toward the corrals. Every time he tried to speak, one of them jerked the rope around his neck, making it impossible for him to call for help. At the branding pens, Buford yanked Cord up tight against one of the corral posts, securing him like a trussed hog. His nose pressed against the rough cedar pole. He turned his face so his cheek rubbed it instead. Spike pulled Cord’s hands around the pole and tied them, rendering him helpless.

“What now?” Spike asked.

Buford held up something that flashed in the dim moonlight. A knife. “I say we geld him. Cut off his nuts and feed them to him.”

The buddy chuckled. “Good plan. That’ll teach him not to go between the legs of decent white women.”

Cord struggled against the rope binding him until it cut into his neck. Warmth trickled down his neck, and he knew it had to be blood. They were only trying to scare him. No one in his right mind would do something so crazy.

Buford crowded up behind Cord, pinning him even tighter to the fence, and reached around and unbuckled his jeans. They slid down over his hips and thighs. He stood tied, half naked, his jeans and shorts pooling around the tops of his boots, as they discussed what to do next.

“We’re gonna need another couple of ropes to hold his legs apart,” the buddy said helpfully. “I’ll go get ’em. But you’re gonna have to do the cuttin’ ’cause I ain’t touchin’ no other man’s dick or balls.”

Buford considered that, turning the knife in his hands. “Yeah, you got a point about that. I ain’t no queer. But we gotta do something to teach this boy a lesson.”

Cord twisted his hands, desperate to get free, but the tie they’d used tightened with every move. He couldn’t catch a deep breath. Sweat beaded on his forehead and ran down his back. The joke had gone far enough. “Turn me loose and I won’t kick your ass,” he demanded in a harsh whisper.

“Oh my God.” A woman’s voice. Shayla. Out of the corner of his eye, Cord saw her take in the scene. Horror filled her voice. “What are you doing? This isn’t Deliverance. Let him go right now.”

A rough laugh rumbled out of Buford. “Not a chance. Your daddy told us to take care of the problem, and we have it handled.”

“I never agreed to this,” she said stubbornly. “Pull up his pants and turn him loose.”

“We’re just scaring him a little.” Buford’s tone changed to vicious, and he stepped toward her with his fist closed. “Now get on out of here.”

She turned and fled.  
Buy Links: BookStrand


About the Author:

Falling in love with romance novels the summer before sixth grade, D’Ann Lindun never thought about writing one until many years later when she took a how-to class at her local college. She was hooked! She began writing and never looked back. Romance appeals to her because there's just something so satisfying about writing a book guaranteed to have a happy ending. D’Ann’s particular favorites usually feature cowboys and the women who love them. This is probably because she draws inspiration from the area where she lives, Western Colorado, her husband of twenty-nine years and their daughter. Composites of their small farm, herd of horses, five Australian shepherds, a Queensland heeler, eight ducks and cats of every shape and color often show up in her stories!

Site      Facebook    Goodreads

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Hot Picks

I spend sooo much time searching the web and always come across some really cool stuff. I decided to start sharing the things I’m lusting after (or have bought already), two Sundays a month. I’ll call these posts Hot Picks :) 

Halloween’s coming… 
I’m not a fan of dressing up. As a kid I was awful at it. I did enjoy the trick or treating though, but that’s probably because the lovely folks of my hometown supplied us with lots of sweets! Still, I like to look at all the fabulous costumes and during one of my searches, I found this! Pumpkin Glitter nail polish!  

I absolutely adore this. The picture comes from Vampy Varnish’s blog and you can find out more here. The polish came from Rite Aid (I think it’s in the US) and I’m gutted I can’t grab myself a jar. More searching this week to find a UK store that has it is a must.
 

Era of the musician… 

It’s no secret that music is one of my loves, as are sexy musicians. Whether it be a rocker, Bono springs to mind (for the voice, people!), a solo-artist (Paolo Nutini *swoons*) or a band, (The Vaccines—the lead rocks white slacks), I just can’t get enough!  

So it made sense that I’d fall hard for the hero in Private Love In a Public Place. But I didn’t expect how utterly addicted I’d get to this book. Mags, the heroine, is Jules…well…everything. At the start of the book she’s married to a complete asshole and spends all her time on tour with Jules, away from the horrid hubby. They separate fairly quickly, and it’s easy to see Mags unable to resist Jules’ magnetism. Truth is, he is hard work, a little bit wild, but he steps up and takes control after something happens to threaten the tour and I could see from early on that he cared about Mags. He wants to take care of her. 

 
This book is fast paced, touching and as addictive as the drugs some members of the crew take. Private Love In a Public place gives an in depth behind the scenes look at rockers on tour and there’s so much going on I didn’t want to stop reading! If you fancy grabbing yourself a copy, you can find it here:- 

I want that dress…
Last week Tulisa rocked a white dress on the XFactor. I don’t know who the designer was, but can take a guess that its way out of my price range. I’ve hunted and searched the interweb for something similar since the party season’s coming up and this is what I’ve found.  

This little Adrienne Dress by Jones and Jones is half price in Top Shop just now (UK) and at £30 it’s a steal! If you live outside the UK ASOS has lots of gorgeous alternatives.
Happy shopping :)
xoxo

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Telma Cortez #spotlight


Biz Jet JumpSeat by Telma Cortez

Aerosexual series

 

Blurp: A blistering turnaround for Jana

After a risqué stunt gets her fired from her flight attendant job, Jana finds an even better position, as crew for Dominatrix Productions.

 

 

 

 

Excerpt:

The next morning, Jana checked out early, ready for her first flight with Dominatrix Productions. Cynthia had sent her a text message letting her know that she could wear anything she wanted, but the more skin she showed the better. Jana was taken aback by the message, but relieved she no longer had to parade around in khakis and polo shirts. She chose a thin, flowing tank top. The sparkles along the dark red fabric perfectly matched the hem of her black skirt that stopped short a few inches above her knee and revealed the murals painted into the sides of Jana's legs. Starting at her feet, the depiction of a beautiful vine wove around her ankle and up her leg, blossoming into bursts of flowers on her thighs before disappearing beneath her clothing. Jana felt sexy and capable when she looked herself up and down in the mirror. She went down to the lobby for the complimentary breakfast as she waited for her ride.
Not too long after she finished breakfast, her cell phone rang and she could see a limo pulling in front of the hotel. It was Cynthia, letting her know they were outside. As she stepped through the hotel doors onto the street, Cynthia emerged from the limo. She wore a tight blue dress that hugged her curves in all the right places. Cynthia smiled at Jana as she approached, nodding in approval at her appearance. During the short drive, Cynthia ran through what Jana could expect on the job. It was typical work as Cynthia explained.
She would mostly be responsible for beverages and food. Cynthia smiled. "The plane is stocked with small amounts of almost anything imaginable, so satiating the needs of executives shouldn't be too far out of your capability." There was a hint too, of something in Cynthia's voice that Jana couldn't quite put a finger on. It was something that Cynthia hoped Jana would understand without needing it spelled out for her. But, Jana wasn't scared. She was eager to experience something different, and confidant that she could handle whatever they threw at her.

They arrived at the airport and went through security. Cynthia already had an employee badge made up for Jana, and they got through pretty quickly. They turned from the main terminal and exited the building down a flight of stairs. The jet was parked on the tarmac, not too far away. Cynthia ushered Jana on board and she felt an odd sense of pride when she looked up towards the terminal windows of the airport, wondering how many pairs of eyes were on her at that moment.
She stopped in her tracks when she saw the aircraft cabin. There was a table situated in front of a curved couch, six full-length lounge chairs with fold over desks, and an amazing amount of open space in place of rows and rows of cramped seating. The décor was a modern mutation of seventies hues and angles. In the back of the plane in one of the plush lounge chairs sat Jana's new boss. Over dinner he had introduced himself as Thomas, but said he preferred to be called by his middle name, Anton, instead. He waved to the women and motioned for them to come over. Jana wore a look of amazement as she walked down the aisle.
He reached into a cabinet built into the wall of the plane and pulled out a box with the company's insignia on it. Anton handed it to Jana with a smile and welcomed her on-board.
On the ride to the airport she learned the company was the front for an adult entertainment empire. Anton had started the company out of college and built it to expand over websites, social media clubs, movie production and distribution; along with a slew of other small niche ventures. Cynthia had joined with him early and earned a generous salary to be his personal assistant. As the company was continuing to rapidly grow, Cynthia was finding she might be better off working during the flights instead of playing the role of his personal flight attendant. Cynthia had said to Jana during the ride that she was being trained to take Cynthia's place with Anton in the skies. "And believe me," she said, "you'll be flying way up there in the skies… if you catch my wind." Jana had only smiled in return, but was beginning to get the hint.

She opened the box in her hands and all of her suspicions were confirmed. Against a tiny, beautiful, black satin pillow sat a sterling pair of diamond nipple clamps.
Jana looked down at them. She was shocked, but enticed. Instead of being nervous, Jana took the opportunity to make an impression and establish herself as part of her new crew. She looked Anton in the eye, feeling Cynthia drink in every moment. She took one of the nipple clamps from the box and attached it to her pinkie, admiring the glimmer of the diamonds in the light of the plane. "Is this the entire uniform, or can I add a few bracelets to the mix?"


 

 

The Trailer:

 

About the Author:

Write what you know, they say. Telma Cortez is an author and a flight attendant.  She’s unzipping the sex lives of those working in the theater in the sky. ‘The Aerosexual Series’ is currently short erotic novels based on the sexual experiences of the aviation world from pilots to flight attendants, passengers to buziness jet owners. It might be hard to imagine, but the airline business is small. Word gets around from crew room to aircraft galley, overnight bar and hotel crew rooms where only airline crew are allowed to socialize. This is where she gets all of her juicy gossip and full on descriptions of crew antics for her stories
If you’ve read and liked 50 shades of Grey then you’re bound to like  Telma and ‘The Aerosexual series’. The mile high club is for pilot cadets, Telma’s stories are stratospheric…

 
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Friday, 19 October 2012

Sharing!


It’s Friday. It didn’t rain…much. Almost a week has passed since The Monster of Fame went live. I’m in a great mood! I want to share some of my good cheer with you and so today I’m posting the first chapter of Anna and Miles’ story! Hope you all have a great weekend!  

Chapter 1
The Audition 

Annabelle MacIntosh’s heart thundered in her chest and nerves turned her brain to mush.
“Anna, stop worrying. You’ll do great,” Jessica Hartley reassured her.
Anna looked back at her friend. Sweat beaded Jess’s ivory skin at her forehead and her dark eyes were wild with worry.
Just then, the door to the judging room was thrown open. A dark-haired girl burst from the room, stumbling in her haste, tears streaming down her cheeks. She ran into an older woman’s arms sobbing, “It isn’t fair! Miles Oliver is so mean.”
Anna had watched Do You Have What It Takes? for years. Miles Oliver, owner of Oliver Records and manager of some of the biggest names in show business, was the show’s most straight talking judge. He didn’t mince words, nor did he hold back his opinion. If a contestant couldn’t sing, he’d tell them—each time in a creatively insulting way. It was his opinion Anna dreaded the most.
“What if they don’t want anyone from Scotland?” Anna murmured to Jess. “What if they’re only looking for English singers?” Everyone she’d seen leaving the room today had faces contorted with various degrees of despair.
The show made people famous and more often than not, the finalists all received record deals. The winner of the show not only got a multi-million pound deal, but would have training and support from the biggest names in the industry along the way.
“That’s the most rubbish I’ve heard all day. If they weren’t looking for singers from Scotland, why hold auditions here at all?” Jess asked.
Anna reluctantly nodded her agreement.
The sobbing girl made her way out of the SECC where thousands had lined up at silly o’clock this morning to be heard. All with the hopes they would be noticed for their talent and put through to the next round. Anna was one of those people, although she wasn’t here for the same reason the others were.
“Number two thousand and eight to the audition room,” a base voice rumbled over the loud speaker. Anna’s heart raced faster and her palms were now so damp that they would leave wet handprints on her skinny jeans if she were to touch them.
She was number two thousand and ten. It wouldn’t be long before she too stood in front of the judges, singing her heart out and hoping they put her through to the next round. Only for the panic and frantic rehearsing to begin all over again.
“What if I’ve not got what they’re looking for? What will I do then?” Anna whispered so none of the other hundreds of waiting hopefuls could hear.
Jess was staring at a group of girls practicing in the far corner beside the soda machine. As she turned her attention back to Anna with wide eyes, she said, “It’ll be fine, Anna. Your mum said she can take on more shifts. Plus, Mrs. Donald said you could have extra shifts at the shop—”
Anna groaned, cutting Jess off.
More work.
It wasn’t like they both didn’t work hard enough already. Her mum worked two jobs while looking after Anna’s gran from her sorry excuse of a dad’s side.
Damn her dad for leaving them with so much debt.
“If I win this record deal, Mum wouldn’t have to work and I’d be able to get someone to help care for Granny Menzies,” she explained for the billionth time. If only wanting something got it. Anna learned a long time ago that wasn’t always the case.
“I know, Anna. Don’t worry, you’re working yourself into a tizzy over nothing. You can sing, girl, like an angel. Everyone says so.”
Everyone did. What if they were just being nice though? Before she decided to audition she’d done the math and figured out the odds—a skill she’d inherited from her gambling dad. Her odds on getting through were so much better than winning the lottery, but not so great that it was a sure thing. She knew it would take hard work and determination. If only she had the confidence that half the people in the room seemed to, she wouldn’t be such a nervous wreck.
“Check her out,” Jess whispered, nodding over to the far right hand corner of the room. A blonde-haired girl stood amongst a thrall of men, towering above most of them. A tiny skirt barely concealed the willowy figure beneath, showcasing drainpipe legs. Her top was cut so low it might be more appropriate for an audition at the Seventh Heaven Lap Dancing Club than a reality television show.
Anna frowned down at her boring skinny jeans and cotton stretch pullover, feeling a little deflated. Tall wasn’t something she’d describe herself as, neither was thin in any definition of the word. She was just a Plain Jane from Limekilns with drab mousey curls and pale skin. Although others often commented on her intensely blue eyes, there was absolutely nothing extraordinary about her.
“How can women think it’s okay to dress like that?” Jess went on, irritation evident in her harsh tone.
“Each to their own I suppose. If I had a figure like hers, I’d want to show it off too,” Anna replied wistfully.
“You have a lovely figure. Nice and curvy, like Beyonce’s or J-Lo’s. Size zero has been banned from almost every catwalk. No one wants skinny girls anymore.” Jess always said the right thing to make her feel good. Anna relaxed back into her chair, feeling a teensy bit better about herself.
“Thanks, Jess. There’s no way I could have done this without you here.”
“Of course you couldn’t. Who else would kick your nervous butt into that room when the time comes?” Jess’s grin spread wide across her face and Anna felt hers do the same.
“Not too hard now, I have to work the check-out later. Can’t sit at a till with a sore bum.”
Jess laughed and Anna joined in, forgetting for a moment where they were.
The doors flew open again and a boy, probably around sixteen years old, came out of the room punching the air. “Woohoo. Guess who’s through to eliminations?” A group of girls swarmed him like bees around honey, all of similar age and all keen to pass on their congratulations.
“See, I told you they’d put people through from Scotland. We’re an adorable nation, why wouldn’t they?” Jess smiled angelically while fluttering her lashes. She flicked her thick auburn curls over her shoulder and chuckled, as did Anna.
“You’re right.” Her pulse returned to normal. Not long now and this would be over. All she needed to do was win over two of the judges and get the majority vote. She just hoped like crazy Miles didn’t think she was terrible, she didn’t think she could stand his unedited opinion.
“And think, soon you’ll get to see Sander Chase in all his muscled-up glory,” Jess swooned, her dark brown eyes going all distant and dazed.
Anna wrinkled her nose. The older man seemed to draw every woman’s eye except hers.
Even seeing him on the television, she felt he was too huge and bulky, like an angel-faced grizzly bear. So not her type. Although, not having dated much—ever—in her twenty-four years, Anna supposed she didn’t have a ‘type’. Her dad made darn sure of that before he left.
“Do you think you could get me an autograph?” Jess asked hopefully.
“Maybe if I get through. I don’t want to ask if they tell me I’m awful and demand I never darken their doors again. They’d probably end up having security cart me out.”
Anna and Jess giggled.
“Then there’s Miles. He’s hot too, in an indie, bad boy kind of way.”
Blood boiled in Anna’s cheeks and she turned away to hide her blush from Jess. If Anna was honest, Miles had been her secret crush since he started the show three years earlier. He wasn’t gorgeous in an obvious kind of way, but his tall, lean physique and messy dark hair that always seemed to need a good brush was quite alluring—on him anyway.
The only problem was the man had ‘control freak’ written all over him. It was clear from the shows his decision on who got through and who didn’t was most listened to. He was obviously used to getting his own way.
Not that she’d ever have a chance with him romantically, but even if she did there was no way she’d fall into the arms of a man even remotely like her dad. Gorgeous or not.
Another girl burst from the room, tears streamed down her face and she ran straight into an older woman’s arms, sobbing, “It’s not fair.”
Anna swallowed. Would that be her? Would she fall to pieces like the girl in front of all these people? Her heart raced.
“Number two thousand and ten to the audition room,” the voice broke out of the speaker. Anna could barely hear it through the sound of the blood pounding in her ears.
“You’re up, Anna. Knock ’em dead, girl,” Jess said and hauled her up from the chair.
Anna allowed herself to be dragged across the carpet to the doors, not really feeling her body anymore. She was sure her palms must be sweating buckets by now and her face felt unusually cold, like all the blood had drained out of it.
“C’mon, Anna,” Jess said as they reached the door. Anna turned to Jess whose eyes were frantic with worry. “You can do this, for yourself, for your mum.”
“Right.” That was why she was here. Giving herself a mental slap, she pushed open the door to the audition room and marched through, leaving Jess behind.
* * * *
Miles Oliver had to make a concerted effort to keep his face from showing his internal torture. This young girl—Lucy, he believed her name was—genuinely believed she could sing, but, alas, she was awful. His eardrums were almost bleeding with the battering they were taking from her piercing rendition of Beautiful.
Finally, Sander raised his hand to signal for the girl to stop. Usually it was his job to cut people off and make a rude comment, but this audition wasn’t being filmed. The cameraman shut off the equipment the moment the girl started singing. Viewers wanted entertainment, not shattered eardrums.
“I’m sorry, Lucy, it’s a no from me,” Miles said. Tears welled in her eyes and he felt like a jerk. It was worse when they filmed the auditions. His contract stated that he had to appear rude for entertainment purposes. It was a tiring job at times.
“It’s a no from me too, Lucy,” Sander chimed in. Miles sighed in relief as the girl turned to flee from the room, not even waiting for their fellow judge, Safri Cantrell’s vote. Not that it mattered. Majority ruled.
“Who’s next?” Safri asked in her thick Brazilian accent.
Miles raked through the papers in front of him and pulled out the sheet for number two thousand and ten. There was a photo attached of a woman, young with bright blue eyes. She looked completely average. They were looking for original individuals, not Plain Janes.
“Annabelle MacIntosh.” Safri read the sheet aloud. “Twenty-four years old, from Limekilns in Fife. There’s a note from Dave here saying that she has an interesting story we can work with.”
Dave Campbell was the show’s director and Miles’s sometimes friend. Not so much during the months of Do You Have What It Takes?, but the rest of the year he was. If Dave wanted the girl through, there would be no stopping him—unless she couldn’t sing, in which case it was madness.
“Let’s get on with this, there’s still hundreds to see today,” Sander complained, raking a beefy hand through his cropped blond hair. Safri signaled to the cameramen and a member of the crew called the girl’s number over the loud speaker.
“Be nice, you two,” Safri whispered. “You’ve both acted like bears with sore heads all day.” Miles rolled his eyes before fixing them on the doors leading to the waiting room. Safri was right. He was in a foul mood. They’d been there all day, and the auditions had gone from bad to worse. So far, they’d only put one young man through, and his voice wasn’t anything spectacular. Miles doubted the boy would make it past eliminations.
The doors opened and Annabelle walked through. His eyes widened as he took in her curvy frame covered by very stylish skinny jeans and a well-fitted, yet understated, floaty pullover. Her mousey hair was styled into elaborate curls and the barest traces of makeup made her bright blue eyes sparkle from her china-white skin. Miles could hardly believe it was the same girl in the photograph.
Annabelle walked right over to the star in the middle of the floor, her high heels clicking on the wood, and turned to face them. She held her hands clasped in front of her and he noted they were trembling profoundly. In fact, on second glance, she was trembling all over. Her shoulders were hunched defensively, eyes were fixed on a point on the floor. Stage fright, or something else?
Unease coiled in his stomach and his shoulders tensed. The show, the judges, the makeup artists, the personal trainer, the army of people hired to make sure Annabelle shone like a star would change her. More than physically.
And what happened to those cloned people? The pressure to look thin made anorexia a fashion statement. Mental breakdowns and cocaine habits were assumed as part and parcel of the industry. The transformation made those who’d undergone it obsessed with beauty and fame. Paranoia and a way to escape reality came shortly thereafter.
Miles had seen it reflected in his clients. Those young stars he’d mentored over the years. And, before that, his wife, Cassie. Never again would he give someone who wasn’t strong enough the chance to make it big.
The last time resulted in his wife’s death.
“Annabelle, is it?” Safri asked.
Annabelle merely nodded and flicked her wary gaze to Safri. The lights reflecting off Annabelle’s skin illuminated a fine sheen of sweat coating her temples. Again, Miles wondered if it was just stage fright. Is that really a chance you’re willing to take? He had enough guilt to contend with. There was no room for any more.
“What are you going to sing for us today?” Sander asked curtly. It irritated Miles that he was using that tone with her. Couldn’t he see the girl was terrified?
Somewhere by Streisand,” Annabelle answered.
Shock jolted him causing his eyes to widen again. The song was a hard one to get right, but it was easy to murder. One thing was certain, he was definitely intrigued. Why would a young girl in her twenties sing an old song such as this?
“Please, go on,” Miles urged.
Her eyes darted to his for the first time and he curved his lips reassuringly. Rose tinted her cheekbones as she dragged her gaze away from him. A flare of heat reverberated through his body. He frowned at the reaction and decided to ignore it. Six years had passed since he’d felt any kind of attraction to another woman. Six years since Cassie died.
Before the grief of his memories could assail him, Annabelle started singing. At first, her voice stuttered. After missing several notes, she squeezed her eyes shut. Annabelle took a deep breath, then began again, her eyes still firmly closed.
This time, the first spellbinding note that left her lips snared his full attention like nothing else ever had. Her voice was a musical symphony in itself and she hit every advanced note to perfection.
At the chorus, her passion made her voice stronger, more powerful. He was vaguely aware Safri had leaned closer to him and was whispering in his ear, but he couldn’t hear her and didn’t particularly care what she was saying. Annabelle and her angelic, yet powerful voice were all that mattered at that moment.
No one interrupted her, not even Sander. They let her sing the song all the way through to the end where her voice hit all the high notes with a steadily increasing power, knocking the breath right out of him. She pulled off every one with intense emotion.
But could she survive the pressure of fame? Her terrified reaction to them when she first entered had to be more than just nerves. He’d seen the same reactions from Cassie before her first concert and every time thereafter.
Between the media and the pressure to ‘look’ the part, fame had destroyed his wife, making her turn to drugs and alcohol for weight loss and confidence. Both had killed her in the end. Miles couldn’t cope with the guilt if Annabelle fell into the same murky pit of despair. He was barely struggling with the blame for Cassie.
Panic clawed its way up his throat as the song neared its end. There was no doubt in his mind Safri and Sander would put her through to the next round. He would have to get in first and persuade them not to vote her through. After all, they usually listened to him.
The song finished and Annabelle’s gaze went straight to the floor as she stood there trembling, waiting on their verdict. A quick glance at his colleagues confirmed his suspicions; both sat there—wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Safri even had tears in her eyes, which was surprising in itself. Safri never, ever cried.
“Thank you, Annabelle,” Miles said, aware that this audition was being filmed. “I have to say you have a beautiful voice. It flows smoothly and you are able to hold a tune spectacularly well.”
The smile which spread across her pale face lit up her shiny eyes. She was dazzling. For a moment he forgot what he was trying to do.
Clearing his throat, he got to the hard part. “However, this contest is not just about singing. It’s also about finding stars and selling albums. Do I think you can sing? Yes. Very well. Do I think you can make it as a star?” He paused as her smile faltered and her eyes filled with moisture.
Just looking into those eyes made him want to promise her the world. An image flashed in his mind of his wife’s pale, lifeless face the evening he returned from work and found her dead. The guilt lay so thick in his stomach he thought he might throw up.
There was no way he would do that to Annabelle. “I’m sorry, but I don’t. Where your voice is amazing, you don’t have star quality nor confidence. You were only able to sing once you’d closed your eyes, which is unprofessional. It’s a no from me.”
His voice came out harsher than he intended with the painful memories of guilt and heart-wrenching anguish resurrected. He was aware of his fellow judges’ gazes on him, although he couldn’t drag his attention from Annabelle. Her face crumpled in an expression which he could only describe as agony. The pain in her eyes mirrored that and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
He felt like the biggest arse in the history of the world. If only he could take the words back and see her smile her bright, breath-taking smile again.
But if he did, how long would that smile last?
 

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xoxo