This is how it began. My sister Anna, a brilliant and witty writer, suggested that we should try to write a romance novel according to the guidelines published by Mills & Boon. Not as easy as it sounds, apparently. She created a finely judged opening paragraph and sent it to me. And, intoxicated by the stylistic possibilities that are simply not offered by my usual literary output of press releases on Bedfordshire’s latest social housing project, I have taken up the gauntlet. The idea is that we will take it in turns to develop the story, in full view of you, dear reader.

We are taking this project seriously, but I am already acutely aware that writing about simmering desire with one’s own sister might be possible only with tongue tentatively in cheek. We have agreed not to discuss our plot ideas, so the novel will unfold as unpredictably to us as to our readers. This could lead to trouble later on, but for now it seems a very liberating way to start.

Who knows where this project will take us? To the dizzying heights of publication by the world’s leading romance brand? Probably not. But wherever we end up, it should be fun getting there…

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Part 21 – Seven for a Secret

Be careful what you wish for. The other day I admitted to a secret yearning for more tagging, and hey presto, the brilliant The Last Slayer at A Hell of a Woman came up trumps, even before I had outed myself as a closet egomaniac. So before we let Topaz get down to business, allow me to disclose a few things about myself – things you never knew you wanted to know, and that I never knew I wanted to share.

The Slayer told me to reveal seven secrets. With a name like that, I’d be foolish to refuse. Here goes.

1            I can’t open my eyes under water. That’s why I’m a great admirer of Esther Williams. Not only did she not need goggles, she smiled all the time – properly, with her mouth open. Like this:

2            I love cleaning the loo. Not the really nasty bits, of course, but putting the Harpic Power Plus down and then scrubbing and frothing with the brush. As my Twitter profile says, I don’t get out much.

3            A well-known television personality and dancer once copped a good feel all the way from my left buttock down the back of my thigh while he was appearing in panto at Richmond Theatre, where I was press officer. I was at a loss to know how to maintain a professional demeanor and get the hell out of there without offending the star of the show, who was going to be around for the next eight weeks.

4            I used to be able to put my foot behind my neck. Not very useful, but a good ice-breaker at parties.

5            I once fell through a mahogany dining table after being fed too many vodka jellies. I can still remember the thud of bottles raining down around my head as I wondered why the carpet was suddenly up against my cheek. Given the circumstances, I’m impressed that I can remember anything at all.

6            When I was 11, I wee-ed in a bottle and threw it into the Shenandoah River in Virginia. We didn’t care about green issues in those days. To this day I can’t hear that haunting song ‘Shenandoah’ without smirking.

7            I played Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard of Oz. It was a boys’ school. We didn’t get to choose our parts. I could sing ‘Over the Rainbow’ like you wouldn’t believe, in a piping treble. Still can, in a growly baritone.

There you are: so easy to write, so hard to live down. And if I can do it, so can the Ageing MatronKatetakes5 and Sazen. Go on, I dare you…

Do I get that badge now, Mrs Slayer?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Part 20 – The Ego Has Landed

I return refreshed, and looking at blogging with new eyes. Because the last post showed me a different side to blogging – the egotistical one.

I like to think that this blog isn’t all about me; I am but a humble servant to the literary muse, a conduit for the thoughts and emotions of others, even if they are fictional. And it really isn’t all about me – half of it is Anna’s contribution.

But of course, anyone who blogs is in it for themselves, otherwise we wouldn’t obsess about our viewing stats. And yesterday’s Musical Interlude was all about me. It’s an intoxicating feeling, even if it means that my self-esteem depends more than ever on those stats, and how many comments are posted.

So I scurry thankfully back to hide behind Topaz ’n’ Cleft, secretly hoping that someone might Tag me again so I have a good reason to talk about Me without looking as if it was my idea. Meanwhile, Mrs E-B shows her true colours, and I’m not talking about russet spray-tan and cerise lipstick…

Part 20 (by Anna)

The midday sun glared down on her as her kitten heels snapped fervidly down the muddy lane. Her breath came in ragged gasps, each one tearing at her throat and heart, yet she did not founder. Unconscious of the snakeskin uppers that bit into her tender foot, she tore onwards. Only when she reached the start of the driveway that curled between the lines of young conifers did she pause.

She leaned against one of the orange brick gateposts and gazed up at the stone folds of the pineapple that crowned it, and three male faces shifted before her; one pale and fretful beneath a sheen of damp, one worn with time and worry and one as brown as the leather-topped dining table in Brinkworth Place. It was the thought of this last face that caused her to falter, but only for an instant. Removing her chafing shoes, she padded wearily up the close mown verges of the driveway and into the house.

The fountain still tinkled heedlessly into its marble basin and yet the great hall with its glossy white flooring and gaping atrium had altered impercetibly; become alien, menacing even. The gold-framed portraits of her father and mother, once so cheery in their rainbow oils, stared coldly at her. Even her own likeness, painted for her twenty-first birthday, seemed a stranger’s face.

‘Dad! Dad!’ Craving reassurance as her world seem to slide perilously around her, Topaz ran urgently through the white double doors into the living room. Music hummed softly from the small vents in the wall but the room was empty. Topaz noticed as she turned the wedding files scattered over the leather sofa and her mother’s magenta imprint on the drained sherry glass beside it.

Desperate now, she hurtled across the hall, the cold marble burning her bare soles. Dining room – no one. Sun room – the same. The air thickened. The house loomed. Topaz wrenched open the door of the sauna where her father sometimes lingered after a morning at the stables. Wet heat assualted her like a blow, but the wooden bench was empty.

‘Dad! Mum!’

She took the shallow stairs two at a time, banged open doors as she came to them, swept each empty room with pleading eyes and tore onwards. Her own bedroom came last and as she stumbled in she started at the figure on the bed. Her mother gazed coldly at her, her eyes almost menacing in their thick mascara frames.

‘Terence came round after you left,’ she said. ‘He told me what's been going on. About this brutish American who’s turned your head and goodness knows what else.’

Her scarlet fingernails stabbed at the peach silk counterpane and Topaz noticed that an object was clutched between them.

‘He also told me that you know the situation now. If you let yourself be led astray by some oafish stranger, all this’ – she gestured round the opulent chamber – ‘will be lost to us. I won’t let you do this to your father. I won’t let you do this to me.’

Topaz stood silent. She looked levelly at the woman seated before her – at the sculpted yellow hair, the coppered skin, the white slacks that stretched a little too tightly under their gold-leather moorings. And love turned to momentarily to pity and then to something harder.

‘It’s too late,’ she replied. ‘What’s done is done. The world knows now and all of us will be tainted with the shame of it. It’s worse for you – all this’ – and she echoed her mother’s sweeping gesture – ‘has become too much part of you, whereas liberty and love will be enough for me to live on.’

She swung round to leave the way she had come, but her mother, moving with startling swiftness, was too quick for her. She lunged at Topaz’s shoulder and Topaz saw that the item she clutched was a key; the gold-tasselled key that belonged to her bedroom door.

‘You will not leave this place until you are wed,’ said Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth. ‘I intend to make sure of that.’

With one powerful movement, she hurled her daughter towards the bed and darted onto the landing. The door crashed shut and Topaz heard the key turn in the lock.

Her breast heaving, she crossed to the window and clutched the swagged silk drapes. There was no doubt now in her mind. Her family had forefeited her loyalty and affections and she owed nothing to Terence who had been complicit in her sacrifice. Cleft, too, would see no more of her after his treachery.

But she remembered his velvet voice: ‘We are creatures of the sun and the sea and the maquis,’ and she knew it to be true. With or without him she had to return to the place where her soul could roam freely. The place where destiny had tapped her shoulder.

Without further thought, she hoisted one of the silk drapes out of the window, dangled from it for an instant then dropped ten feet onto the damp grass.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Part 19 – Musical Interlude

That adventurous Middle-aged Matron has Tagged me. This is the first time I’ve been tagged, and it’s not like it was when I was a lad, when it meant being chased and caught and then you’re ‘it’. No, Adventures of a Middle-Aged Matron has suggested that I share my most thrilling music, a jolly idea started by Mammywoo and passed on by Flossingthecat. So here goes: a bit of a rag-bag.

You want thrilling? I give you a 100-piece orchestra and an augmented operatic chorus in full flow. Not enough? Throw in a children’s choir. How about some visuals? Try serried ranks of slightly sinister-looking angels holding fairy lights. I give you the Prologue from Boito’s opera Mefistofele. It’s a bit slow-build, this one (which adds to the thrill when it all lets loose), but if you’re impatient, skip to about 5 minutes in and prepare to have your socks blown off by a combination of monumental music and a gloriously lavish, camp staging.

Now for something completely different: Hello (Turn Your Radio On) by Shakespears Sister. I never could make out what it’s about, but you don’t need to understand the words to be thrilled by great music, otherwise no one would listen to opera. The guitar solo is amazing; the video’s brilliant, too. This is as near to cool as I get.

This one’s all about carefree student days and early romance (Reader, I married her). The most thrilling days of one’s life.

Finally, this is what I listen to as I sit down with a whisky when the daughter’s finally gone to bed. As all you parents out there will know, that’s a truly thrilling moment.

Since I am new to this tagging game, I'm not sure of the etiquette of tagging people to whom I haven't been formally introduced. But as an avid admirer of the magnificent Mammasaurus and Crystal Jigsaw, I'd love to find out what they thrill to, musically speaking.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Part 18 – Beta Males

For a nasty moment at the end of the last post I thought I might have to make Topaz Gloriously Submit. But thankfully there’s no time for that sort of distraction; I’ve got to keep up the momentum of the plot, which is going places at last.

I’m not very good at writing man-to-man confrontations – I’ve never really had one myself, although I did once have a row with the marketing manager about brochure copy. And I don’t think any of my male friends, some of whom are quite alpha, have ever had to slug it out either.

But then, man-to-man confrontations are seldom very convincing. I can’t understand why old films show men being punched so hard you can hear the smack of flesh on bone, yet the puncher never breaks his knuckles and the punchee never has more than a tiny trickle of blood coming from the corner of his mouth. And while fights in modern films may be more realistic, they’re so yukky I never want to watch them closely enough to learn from them.

So this is probably as good as it’s going to get between Cleft and Terence.

Part 18 (by Oliver)

Faint with anticipation and desire, Topaz saw through cloudy vision the dark shape of Cleft’s massive frame poised above her, and as his mouth found hers, urgently yet with a certain questing gentleness, she moaned softly. But no sooner had the first electric pulses fizzed through their melding lips than a commotion sounded behind Cleft’s looming back. Topaz grappled to see, clutching at the marvellous tautness of Cleft’s shoulders. And ‘Terence!’ she gasped.

Terence looked stony. Languidly, almost lazily, Cleft turned on the bed, an easy smile stretching his wide, passionate mouth and his forehead corrugating in quizzical surprise.

‘Hello, Dunkley,’ he said. ‘Come to slug it out man to man?’

‘I’ve come for you, Topaz,’ Terence said quietly.

Topaz stared from one to the other: from the slight, pale figure standing in the doorway, shuffling slightly and plucking at its cuffs, to the huge, tanned form lounging beside her on the bed, black hair tumbling across its bronzed brow and muscles pulsing so close, so close.

She knew what Fate desired of her – knew that Cleft had been sent to make her truly a woman, truly whole. Yet she knew, too, that Terence had a prior claim. Yes, that claim was based on deception, but it was a deception that her father had made for the best of reasons: to keep her as she needed to be kept. Not for her the cracked ceilings and sagging mattresses of cheap inns; fate would not be so cruel. In a welter of indecision and confusion, Topaz’s eyes flitted from man to man.

‘I can’t, I can’t,’ she sobbed at last. ‘Terence, leave now. You cannot win any longer. It is too strong for me – he is too strong for me. Goodbye.’

‘One moment,’ said Terence. ‘Stone, I need to know: what are you going to do?’

Cleft gave a snort of contemptuous laughter. ‘Afraid I’ll wring your neck?’ he sneered. ‘It would be too easy. But you Dunkleys won't get away with this. I’m going to expose your sordid game for the world to see – yes, and your father too, Topaz. No one can treat you like a pound of meat and not feel the consequences.’

‘Cleft, no!’ Topaz’s lips, full and still blooming from Cleft’s thwarted kiss, were parted beseechingly. Her cheeks flushed, like the blush of roses on damask, she pushed her tumbling honeyed locks back from her face and clutched the sheet around her sun-bronzed shoulders. ‘Whatever Daddy’s done, not that! The shame, the gossip – he couldn’t bear it. For my sake, Cleft, say nothing! Please!’

Cleft picked up the phone. ‘Reception?’ he said. ‘Get me the number for Reuters – yes, that’s right, the international news agency. I’ve got a story that’ll blow their socks off!’

Topaz once again cried out. ‘Cleft! If you do this, I promise you now, you will never see me again.’

But Cleft merely dialled a number. ‘Put me through to the news desk,’ he said, looking sidelong at Topaz, hearing her fevered breaths yet unheeding of her desperation. And as he began to tell his story, Topaz let out a cry and grabbed her clothes from the bed.

Blood thundered in her temples; jagged stabs of coloured light flitted before her eyes. Yet she did not faint. She knew what she had to do, where she had to go: back to the one man who needed her now; back to Brinkworth Place and her father. With her heart throbbing in her bosom, almost blinded by her anguish, she pushed past Terence and ran through the door.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Part 17 – Corporate Failings

Anna’s given Cleft some great dialogue in this one. Dialogue is Good, according to the Mills & Boon guidelines, and I think perhaps we don’t have enough of it in Desire Be My Destiny. But then there is a lot in the guidelines that we don’t have much of: a strong, purposeful heroine, for one. And a fast-moving plot, presumably with no boxer-sniffing dead ends in it. And Sex, of course.

M&B also tells us to go easy on secondary characters, and what with Terence and Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth, who I feel are infinitely more vivid than Topaz ’n’ Cleft, I think we’ve failed on that score too.

Still, you’ve got to get your inspiration where you find it, and in my case that’s old films and Victorian sensation novels. I now fancy myself as the literary heir to Mrs Braddon, and am looking forward to more improbable lurches in the plot and pithy, film noir-esque dialogue. It may not be in the Guidelines, but it’s a lot of fun to write.

Part 17 (by Anna)

She awoke to a ceiling. An unfamiliar ceiling. It hung low and white and she found her gaze latching compulsively onto the stains and cracks that mottled portions of it.

‘Hey baby!’ The voice was also unfamiliar. And yet, and yet, she felt she had known it from birth. A hand clasped hers with a tenderness at odds with the sun-hardened skin and rock-like muscles that moulded themselves round her fragile fingers. Cleft stood there, his massive bulk stooped against the sagging eaves, a sardonic smile playing across his lips.

She shifted, bewildered, and found that soft pillows were heaped beneath her and a quilt covered her cashmere jersey.

‘Where am I?’ she asked, her own voice sounding curiously remote. ‘What are you doing here? Where’s Terence?’

With a ripple of sinews like a breeze through wheat, Cleft moved towards the bed and the mattress tipped her involuntarily towards him as he sat down on it.

‘Listen, baby,’ he drawled, and she could feel the heat of his body searing through the quilt as he leaned in. ‘Time enough for explanations. I’ve come to take you.’

‘Take me? Take me where?’

‘To Paradise, baby.’


‘Paradise Heights. Your little love nest. Only you won’t be nesting there with that knock-kneed loser. I’m here to take you away from all that.’

Topaz let her head fall back onto the pillows. She felt dizzy with the whirling tempest that her life had suddenly become.

‘Not there,’ she whispered feebly. ‘I can’t leave him. I want... I can’t!’

‘Listen, baby!’ Cleft thrust towards her, his breath hot and sweet against her porcelain complexion. ‘We don’t belong here.’ He gestured widely round the unknown room and the dripping greyness of Berkshire beyond the casement window. ‘We are creatures of the sun and the sea and the maquis, you and I. I know it and I know you know it too. I knew it from the moment I first laid eyes on you on that beach and I'm not going to let all this get in the way of Us.’

Topaz emitted a long shuddering sigh. She could not deny it. There was something that bonded her to this towering bronzed stranger, something stronger than words; stronger even than flesh.

‘I’ll go check us out of this goddam inn,’ said Cleft, rising, as though her silence were acquiecence. ‘We need to get out of here now before the little man makes trouble.’

‘I can’t, Cleft,’ Topaz sobbed, although her quivering flesh told otherwise. Terence’s words rolled like stones around her bruised mind. Her father had bartered her like a sack of meal and yet, and yet he was her father. He had seeded her in her mother’s womb, shaped her childhood, been there always, cheque book empathetically poised, when she had needed him. A memory came to her of his face reflected in the gold-plating of the Ferrari he had commissioned for her; his look eager and vulnerable, willing her to be pleased.

‘There are things you don’t know; things I can't tell you,’ she murmured at last. ‘I feel that we are meant, you and I, but some things just can’t be!’

In one easy stride Cleft was beside the bed and with a lunge so quick she barely noticed it he had torn of the quilt and wrenched her into his arms.

‘Don’t dice with destiny,’ he breathed. ‘And don’t dice with me.’

And Topaz understood that this perilous new current was carrying her too forcefully for resistance. Even as she heard the familiar screech of the Ford Escort braking outside the inn she knew that she could only, gloriously, submit.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Part 16 – Escape From Reality

Yesterday I spent most of the day in a dreary hospital room reading Woman & Home and Good Housekeeping while my wife awaited, then slept off, an operation. This, I thought stereotypically, is good research into my prospective readership profile, and could provide valuable material in the unlikely event that I write a medical romance.

It was also a good opportunity to take matters firmly in hand plot-wise, following the musky-pants debacle in the last post. Strangely, several hours in a dim room with only Topaz for company (my comatose wife did not really count) was not nearly as productive as sitting down in front of my laptop and simply writing. And writing.

But that could not happen until I had coped with a wildly irrational eight year-old who refused to understand why her still-anaesthetized mother could not read her a bedtime story. Having wrestled her into bed and snarled several horrible things to her, I was grateful for the company of a docile, personality-free girl who, I felt sure, would do exactly what she was told.

Topaz may not be the most vivid personality in literature, but she does provide me with something we all need now and then: an escape from Real Life. Thanks, Topes.

Part 16 (by Oliver)

Suddenly she froze; a noise had betrayed the presence of someone just outside the summer house. Then the handle turned and the door swung open.

In the fervency of her desire, her faith in destiny, Topaz half expected to see Cleft’s massive frame silhouetted in the aperture. But it was Terence, his usually mild face serious. Impulsively, Topaz clenched the boxer shorts behind her back, praying that Terence would not sense the lingering musk that seeped from their folds and seemed to enter Topaz’s very pores.

He didn’t seem to notice, nor even to wonder what she was doing in the summer house so early on this pearl-grey morning. Instead, ‘I’m glad I’ve found you alone,’ he said. They were the first words he had spoken to her since their stretch limousine had swept up the drive and stopped in front of Brinkworth Place three days before.

Topaz said nothing. What was there to say? She thought of his anger in the hotel room, those uncharacteristically vehement words. ‘This place is not big enough for the three of us,’ he had said. It was true.

And if Spain were not big enough, how could Berkshire be? For she recalled pulsingly that even now Cleft must be on his way, if he really had secured an invitation to the wedding in two days’ time.

‘There are things you don’t understand, Topaz,’ said Terence, his voice level yet strangely animated. ‘I want our marriage to be an honest and trusting one, so I’m going to be frank with you. But you must promise me that you will not react rashly to what I tell you.’

‘I can make no such promise,’ said Topaz, tempestuously. ‘But I will hear all you have to say.’ So Terence began.

‘Maybe you don’t know much about your father’s wealth,’ he said. ‘Oh yes, you appreciate the high-end properties in some of the world’s most exclusive locations, the limitless supply of designer clothes and the services of five house staff and 30 outside servants. And no doubt you’re glad of your trust fund, which provides you with a ring-fenced private income of £2 million a year. But have you thought about where all this came from?’

‘My father is a successful international racehorse owner.’ Topaz’s tone was defiant, frosty.

Terence paused, looking at her – was it sympathetically?

‘His wealth is fragile. Ten years ago, when you were 12 and I was 20, he faced ruin. A combination of high interest rates, the Saudi Arabian dominance of the thoroughbred market and hoof rot – you needn’t trouble yourself about the particulars. So he approached his old school friend – my father, Duncan Dunkley – for a £20 million loan. He got it, but on very particular terms. He was to offer as security the most precious thing he had, the one possession whose value would never lessen.’

‘What was it?’ Topaz almost whispered the words.


For a moment Topaz didn’t realise she had heard him. She dropped the boxer shorts, but did not heed their slithering fall. The blood throbbed in her ears, in her belly the bile writhed. Could this be true? Could such a horrid pact have been made without her knowledge? Then she heard Terence’s voice again, calm but hard-edged.

‘A year ago, things looked bad for my father’s business, and he called in his loan. There was no way your father could repay the money. That’s why my father had to call in the collateral – you, my dear.

‘But dad is not a cruel man; he agreed that the transaction should take the form of our marriage, allowing you the dignity of your own establishment on Paradise Heights, well away from business associates who might talk. And that is why our futures are one. That is why there is not room for three people in Paradise Heights. And that is why we must marry this week. But believe me, dear, I will make you happy; I will love you.’

Topaz heard none of his simple offering of love. The boom of her pulse filled her ears; her heart lurched. Blindly, she pushed past Terence and with a rasping sob ran across the garden, towards the house. Sold! Sold like one of Daddy’s thoroughbreds; pawned to honour a debt incurred when she was but a child!

Even in her jagged anguish, Topaz began to make sense of the puzzle. Her father’s millions may be in jeopardy, but her own income was untouchable. When she was married, that income would flow into the Dunkley coffers and in ten years the debt would be cleared. And what then? What had Fate in store for her after debts of honour had been paid?

Sobbing, the cold air ripping at her dry throat, Topaz ran blindly across the terrace and onto the great sweep of the drive, where the chips of white granite, caught in the glow of the mock gaslights that lined the route, glinted coldly against the jet-black tarmac. She did not see a figure approaching around the curve of the drive; did not hear her name called in deep, velvet tones. It was only when she felt herself caught by strong, sinewy arms, held close against a wide, hard chest, that she looked up and held, in her tear-softened gaze, the strong-hewn face looking down at her.

And, just before her swoon engulfed her, she gasped ‘Cleft! You’re here!’

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Part 15 – Up Against It

When I artfully set up Topaz’s secret summer-house cache in the last post, I was thinking of an incriminating letter, or maybe a long-lost will. What does she find? Read on, and see what I’m up against here…

Part 15 (by Anna)

Crisp they were. The crispness of expensive linen and of manly body proteins. Leaning forwards again, she lifted the coloured fabric from its secret recess and held it half bashfully against her cheek. The same fabric that had once caressed his cheeks.

At the thought of his cheeks something in her surged. With a low moan she laid them down, the pair of Armani boxer shorts which she had plucked from the pile on the beach that doomful morning which seemed now so long ago and was yet so searingly vivid in her memory.

She had watched from the hotel balcony as Terence, unusually distracted, had loped down to the shore and cast his outer clothing beside a small dark heap near the surf. Baffled, she saw him plunge into the smooth waters, sink briefly, then strike off towards a distant protruberance half way to the horizon.

For a long while he had vanished. She had peered urgently through the midday haze. A visceral part of her throbbed along with her damaged ankle. Her fate was poised, she could sense it. The minutes had trickled by with merciless slowness.

Then a dark dot had detached itself from the protruberance and advanced towards the shore. She looked at Terence's scattered wake of clothes on the sand and at the indomitable pile beside it, and at that moment she knew.

Barely registering her damaged ankle she had torn out of the hotel and down the beach and, lunging, she had grabbed the uppermost item from the pile that was not Terence’s and hastened back to the safety of her chamber. When Terence had returned rasping moistly to the suite, she was lying as he had left her on the couch, her ankle poised sculpturally on the arm rest and her guilty secret balled inside her washbag.

Terence had begun tearing clothes off their hangers and heaping them with uncustomary carelessless into a suitcase.

‘We're going,’ he told her. ‘This place is not big enough for the three of us.’ Once his fierceness, so unexpected, would have pleased her. But she gazed at his purpled face, his chin glinting with spittle, and she saw behind it a phantom face, as brown, firm and chiselled as cliff rock, and she saw too her future being bundled unceremonially into the Burberry trunk and she knew she should cry out, but no sound would come.

And the taxi had borne her remorselessly to the concrete wastes of the airport and a plane had cast her into the azure skies and she and Terence had sat almost unspeaking over untouched salted nibbles until fate deposited her at Luton.

And now here she was, cradling all she had left of him on the floor of the summer house, one last chance beckoning her into a terrifying unknown. How had his name reached the guest list? Would his feet soon tread the Berkshire soil? Would the sheer heat of her impulses perhaps somehow lead her to him whether here or on distant shores?

She inhaled once more the aroma of her memento then stood up, purposeful. The opportunity might not come again.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Part 14 – A Guilty Secret

Killing time at the school gates, I wonder how many of the thronging mothers (and they are mostly mothers) have a secret romance novel habit. Because it always is a secret habit, isn’t it? In women under 50, anyway.

And I wonder what they would say if they knew that the lone dad over there was not mulling over the multi-million-pound international deal he struck in the City that morning, nor thinking about the beers he was to have with the lads later on, but was pondering the permutations of passionate prose.

I consider turning to the mother I vaguely know who is sitting on the wall beside me and saying brightly ‘Did you know that I am blogging a romance novel with my sister?’. Then I think about how warped that sounds, and about how it would dent my daughter’s playground-cred. The jovial smile withers on my lips and I say nothing.

Which begs the question: if I am afraid to admit it to fellow parents in the social no-man’s land of the school pick-up, why am I willing to share it with the global blogosphere?

Part 14 (by Oliver)

‘Who’s this, dear?’ Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth’s voice splintered onto Topaz’s consciousness, rousing her from dreams of longing, piercing her sense of stifling oppression. ‘Cleft Stone. Do we know a Cleft Stone? I don’t remember inviting him.’

‘Nor me,’ said Topaz, resignedly. ‘Probably one of Terence’s.’

But then a thrill ran through her. Stone! Of course she knew the name; it had barely left her thoughts since arriving back at Brinkworth Place. The sheer unexpectedness of hearing it from her mother’s magentaed lips had taken her unawares. Cleft. Cleft. She ran the name round her mind, savouring it. At once that old longing surged back, washing Topaz in a wave of fresh yearning. Was he to follow her even to her wedding? Could it be as he had said? Could he really be her destiny?

And with a stab of realization, Topaz knew that she had to run to meet her destiny. She had felt the plucking hands of Fate ever since she heard Cleft’s voice saying ‘Gotcha!’ on that sultry, moon-washed shore. No matter how hard she had tried to cling to Terence – to security, to understanding, to honour – Fate had constantly tried to pull her away. So she would give in. She would embrace Fate in all its fascinating, unfathomable loops and twists. Who knew where it would take her in the end? But at the beginning, she knew, it would take her to Cleft’s arms.

She ran from the room, into the huge circular hall. For a moment the sound of the fountain sprinkling diamond fragments of water into the white marble basin, which stood in the middle of the lofty space, soothed her thoughts and she paused at the bottom of the staircase, lightly fingering the glossy chrome of the banister. Then, galvanized, determined, she turned, and instead of running up the shallow, white-carpeted stairs she slipped furtively through the dining room and through the glass doors into the garden.

No one saw her as she ran, she was sure of that. Along the terrace and down the steps to the parterre; across the sweep of lawn and past the pool, where the underwater lights still gleamed pink and blue in the burgeoning daylight; and so to the screening glades, where nestled the old summer house.

Panting now, her tender ankle all but forgotten, Topaz slammed the summer-house door behind her and peered through the gloom. Behind the table, under the bench: was the loose plank undisturbed? Heart beating, she slid closer. Yes, all was as she had left it the evening she had arrived home.

Gently, almost gingerly, Topaz slid a pearly, polished nail beneath the floorboard. It raised easily, and she felt in the void below. Thank God, it was still there, undiscovered. In her relief, Topaz, slumped backwards against the wall, and, relaxed now, caught once again the faint odour of musk, of Mediterranean heat. Of him.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Part 13 – Scene Shifting

A change of scene today. It’s a relief to be back in England, frankly, because up to now I’m not at all sure that Anna and I were picturing the story’s setting as being in the same location. I assumed it was Spain, purely because of an early reference to Mediterranean breezes. But on that evidence it could just as easily be Libya. Or Torquay, what with global warming.

What is it with my sister and random animals? Last time, a goat; this time a castrated cockerel – only on the television, thankfully.

I see she’s ducked the challenge of exploring Topaz’s murky past. I might have to get masterful and controlling, Cleft-like, if this story’s going to go anywhere.

Part 13 (by Anna)

The dawn was grey. Grey light on damp grey grass. Grey sky laced with grey trees. With a sigh Topaz turned from the window and went into the mosaic-tiled en suite bathroom that her father had installed for her. She laid a hand on the gold tap of the Jacuzzi bath, then paused and headed back into the bedroom.

She hadn’t washed since Terence had brought her back so abruptly from Spain three days ago. She couldn’t bear to. It seemed to her that her flesh still carried the aroma of memories that she dared not fully examine; sea salt, orange blossom and a lingering, heart-breaking muskiness that she must, she knew she must, extinguish once and for all with her pink rose bath blasters. Not yet, though. Not quite yet.

‘Yoo hoo!’ Her mother’s voice quavered shrilly up the curved marble stairs. Topaz sighed, pulled on an old cashmere jersey, and closed her bedroom door behind her. She caught a glimpse of the white sun frock crumpled in the linen basket as she did so and quivered.

Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth was perched on one of the cream leather sofas in the vast living room. A man in green overalls appeared to be attempting to sterilise a cockerel on the plasma screen above the white marble fireplace. Topaz sat down beside her mother and felt the leather cool and yielding beneath her denim thighs.

‘You look pale, dear,’ her mother said, almost impercetibly sniffing. Did she guess? Could she scent it? But Mrs Eversleigh-Brinkworth was already turning away and her scarlet manicured fingernails closed round a sheaf of papers on the smoked glass coffee table.

‘I’ve been having second thoughts about the seating plan,’ she said. ‘Oh, and the dress shop is sending round the frock for the final fitting at 11am so we’ve got work to do.’

‘Yes, Mum,’ said Topaz weakly. The two short syllables seemed to drain her last strength and she sank back on the sofa and with eyes closed heard the doomful rustling as her mother rifled the papers that charted her destiny. 

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Part 12 – Childish Plots

‘Daddy,’ says my daughter, ‘I really want to know what your story is about.’

‘Dunno,’ I reply, truthfully. It’s a relief to have this built-in excuse to give her, because it’s difficult enough confronting the Literary Sex Issue myself without having to explain it to an eight year-old.

Anyway, no looming lust today; I have subtly introduced the hint of a dark back-story in the hope that Anna will reveal All in the next post and save me the trouble of trying to work out what on earth could be making shallow, faceless Topaz so deep and dangerous.

Sometimes I think that we could learn a lot from children when it comes to plotting: my daughter is blithely unconcerned by the shackles of logic, motivation and credibility when creating her (usually unfinished) masterpieces. And spelling, but we’re working on that.

Part 12 (by Oliver)

His mind made up, Cleft rose to plunge back into the swell, but as he did so he saw a thin figure standing beside his pile of clothes on the beach, looking uncertainly in his direction. Then the figure gingerly undressed, revealing a pair of voluminous swimming shorts that reached below its sharp white knees. The figure picked its way into the foam and began swimming towards Cleft's rock. And as it drew closer, Cleft saw that it was Terence, his face screwed up against the spray but swimming surprisingly swiftly towards him.

Terence paddled up to the outcrop. ‘Ahoy!’ he cried, and tried to scramble up the slippery, brine-streaked rock. Twice he fell back into the glossy green water; only when Cleft’s hard, tanned hand clapsed Terence’s slender white wrist was he able to pull himself up out of the sea.

‘Honestly,’ Cleft mused. ‘Call yourself a love rival? What can that gorgeous creature see in him?’

Terence sprawled panting alongside, a small rope of saliva swinging from his chin. When he had regained his breath, he said: ‘A word, Stone, if you please.’

Cleft looked down at him, the beginnings of a quizzical smile curling the corners of his mouth and his forehead crinkled against the sun.

‘I don’t know what your game is,’ said Terence firmly, ‘but I’m no fool. Topaz will marry me next week, and, believe me, I am what she needs.’

‘You?’ said Cleft, his mouth breaking into a grin at last. ‘What have you to offer a girl like that? She needs a man, a proper man. She needs real, strong loving, and I’m the man to give it to her.’

He stood up to dive into the surging foam, his bronzed legs flexing just in front of Terence’s mild face.

‘One moment,’ said Terence. ‘There’s a lot you don’t know about Topaz Eversleigh-Brinkworth. Believe me, I know what’s best for her. The millionaire father, the five homes, the designer clothes, the glamorous international lifestyle – these are just a froth on top of the life she has led. Underneath are things that are best left undisturbed. Take my advice: leave well alone. I am the only one who can be the husband she wants, the husband she must have.’

Cleft stared at the little man at his feet. Then, with a snort, he flung himself into the water and struck out for the shore. He did not hear Terence’s voice shouting above the surge of the tide: ‘Stone! Leave well alone! You cannot win!’

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Part 11 – Losing the Plot

I realise from my research tool, The Greek Billionaire’s Love-Child’s Mother’s Revenge or whatever it’s called (no stepladders or clenched pages in that, so far, although it is pretty fruity), that tight plotting is essential for a bone fide Mills & Boone. In which case, we’re already losing the plot.

Today’s instalment is very good on internal conflict – a forensically perceptive analysis of the male psyche and the eternal question of the sexual urge, you could say. But I’m not sure it furthers the plot very far. And I’m not sure my train of thought is going to, either.

It could be something to do with the fact that neither of us has a clue about the storyline. That makes it great fun to write; I just hope it doesn’t impair the fun of reading it. I think I’ll throw in a mysterious reference in my next bit as a spur to our plotting creativity.

Part 11 (by Anna)

He lost all sense of time. His eyes, as blue as the Mediterranean that surged round his livid flesh, saw only inwardly. Almost furiously, his arms parted the pliant water, thrusting his body forwards and salting his set lips with foam. The beach, the hotel, his old life receded along with the Armani boxer shorts which crowned the reckless pile he’d flung onto the sands.

Ahead of him an eruption of milky white spray heralded a rocky outcrop. Cleft cleaved towards it. His strong arms, hardened by the years spent heaving breeze blocks around construction sites, did battle with the currents that tried to hurl him against the crags. Oblivious to all but the tempest that raged within him, he rode the swell, grabbed at a slimy overhang and, with a single mighty movement, hauled himself out of the water.

He lay there, breathless, foam drenching his body.

‘Damn!’ The word burst unbidden from him. ‘Damn, damn, damn!’

This wasn't supposed to happen. This searing, yearning, exposing flame that seemed to consume all within him except for the image of the lithe bronzed girl in the white sun dress. He hadn’t expected anything beyond a diverting hour or two when he had grabbed her passing shoulder. That triumphant chat-up line never failed to work. She had turned with the anticipation that he had foreseen and he had leaned forwards for the irresistible follow-up when his eyes locked into her molten brown ones and he had felt some secret part of him stir.

Too much sun probably. Get a grip. He’d watched her waver back across the sands to her hotel and hoofed it to the beach bar to calm himself. By next morning as he awaited his client at the base of the mountain he’d talked himself into believing that he’d imagined that sunset insanity.

But then she had appeared, fallen quite literally into his arms and at that moment he knew that the fun and games were over. This was it. And something had to be done about it.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Part 10 – Research Findings

Anna and I have been doing some field research. This involved skimming through a stack of Mills & Boons in the British Heart Foundation shop in search of inspiration for the sex scenes that I, for one, am currently far too repressed to write.

We were particularly struck by one surprisingly (to us) graphic interlude involving a stepladder – whether a literal or metaphorical one we were unable to fathom. And I saw the evidence of a truly successful sex scene: the page was crumpled, as if clenched in a spasm of passion, and two pages were stuck together. We hastily dropped the book. But I know that’s what I must aim for.

So I hope that today my readers will be transported into amorous ecstasies by the manly ruthlessness of Cleft’s behaviour. Well, it’s a start…

Part 10 (by Oliver)

‘I’m not surprised,’ said Terence. ‘You’re still not well, dear. Look how much you’re perspiring, and your face is flushed. Let’s get you back to the hotel. Sorry, Stone; I’ll be in touch.’ And he helped Topaz off the rock.

Clinging to his arm, Topaz gingerly tried her weight on her twisted ankle. Immediately a shot of acid pain flamed up. With a moan, she slumped against Terence. But the moan wasn’t simply one of agony: it was a shudder of desire scalding through her veins and finding release the only way it could.

She clasped Terence tighter. ‘I must hold on to what I have,’ she thought, ‘to what is right.’

But even as she did so – even as she felt the narrow softness of Terence’s shoulder through the flimsy stuff of her dress and reminded herself of his chaste, respectful kisses – the heat of Cleft’s gaze burned behind her while he followed them to the jeep. Silently, he swung himself into the driver’s seat while Terence tenderly lifted Topaz into the back, puffing slightly, before sliding in beside her.

Cleft drove fast with no thought for Topaz’s injured ankle. The jeep rocked and pitched, and all the while Topaz saw his ice-blue eyes fixed on her in the mirror, glinting. With each jolt, each lurch, Topaz gave a gasp, a moan, a whimper, but Cleft, clench-jawed and purposeful, did not slow.

Pain and desire mingled, coursing through Topaz’s being like lava, so that by the time the jeep squealed to a halt at the hotel she was too weak to move. Her dress clung moist between her breasts, between her legs, and little beads of perspiration gleamed on her lip and forehead. And as two doormen helped Terence lift her into the cool foyer, Topaz swooned.

Cleft sat rigid in the jeep, the air heavy with the musky scent of his manliness, his face still set as if hewn from the very rock of the mountain. Without looking back, he slid the jeep forward and drove to the beach.

He strode to the water’s edge, scuffling the silver sand that only the night before had slid like liquid between his toes as he devoured Topaz with his gaze. Then, careless of the hour, unheeding of other people on the beach, he tore off his clothes in a frenzy of frustration and plunged into the glistening sea. The water lapped around his sinews, against the tautness of his body, and only then did he feel some relief, some cooling of his fervid ardour.