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, 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!’


  1. I think we're in danger of straying into the Historical Romance category here. Didn't we start Modern - or was it Blaze?

  2. I lose track – maybe it was Silhouette. But we're developing our own hybrid style, which should appeal to thrice as many readers.