New – a chapter a week of Desert Captive – follow the story as I write it…

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Hello my darlings!

I’ve been up the wall with a redevelopment project in the house that has grown into one hot mess. I’m in the middle of electrical cables, plumbing and joiners and tearing my hair out.

From today, and each Friday until the story is FINISHED, I’m sharing the first draft of DESERT CAPTIVE… It hasn’t been edited, which means the final version may be different from what I’m sharing now…. Here’s the first chapter… Enjoy!

Chapter One

Why did doing the right thing feel so,—wrong?

Dressed in flat pumps of black leather and a black soft pants suit, the jacket button straining over her burgeoning baby bump, Arabella Faulkner walked fast through a very posh part of London. A military man would have immediately recognized the way she held herself, tall and slim, her dark brown eyes tough and uncompromising.

Her long stride ate up the sidewalk.

For four long months, she’d lived in what could only be called a hormone apocalypse. Pregnancy, she’d learned the hard way, did that to some women. It turned them from thinking, sensible, sentient beings into crazed fools with a fragmented thought process. It left them unable to make the most basic decisions, like actually talking to her baby’s father.

Of course, once she’d escaped—make that run away—from Onuur, from the time she’d handed him her virginity on a plate, Prince Sarif El Habibe had been furious. He’d been even more furious when she’d refused to answer his calls, as his many letters proved.

The fact of the matter was, one did not run away, pregnant, from a desert prince and expect to get away with it.

See, that’s where the hormone apocalypse came in.

She’d not been thinking straight.

When she’d discovered her pregnancy, she’d panicked, and who could blame her?

After all, Sarif, he of the movie star good looks, rich beyond imagination—and powerful ruler of the state of Quarram—was not a man a woman misled.

Okay, lied to.

Yes, she’d lied.

And lied.

And lied.

Because, right from the get-go, she’d been in denial.

A state of refusal to admit that she, they, had done what they’d done without even the most basic protection.

And she blamed the hormone apocalypse for the whole sorry mess.

 

As she strode down Horse Guards parade, and past the officer’s barracks, the scene brought back happy memories.

Good times.

She recalled her previous life in the military.

On her very first tour in Helman, she’d been decorated for bravery.

Of course, she’d been scared shitless.

But like every other Buttercup, as the females in her unit had been affectionately called, she’d sucked it up and got on with what needed to be done. Thanks to gross political ineptitude and unnecessary delay, what should have been a simple extraction had turned into a messy, bloody, cluster-fuck.

Then after that, just for shits and giggles, she’d had a short stint in the special forces.

And then had come the middle of the night call ordering her to the tiny kingdom of Onuur to guard a Queen who’d looked like a real life Elsa from the kiddy movie, Frozen.

It hadn’t taken her long to discover Elsa had a backbone of titanium and a heart as big as the vast desert that was her home.

Arabella would have, if necessary, laid down her life for Queen Charisse El Haribe. However, after a short but messy adventure, she’d had the deep pleasure to put a bullet between the eyes of the sick bastard who’d kidnapped Charisse and put his filthy hands upon her person.

Good times.

She’d never been a crier, but right now Arabella’s eyes went all misty at the thought of Charisse.

She took a deep breath.

There went the hormone apocalypse again.

The young Queen was now blissfully happy with her new king, hotness himself, Khalid El Haribe.

Arabella grinned at the thought of him.

Khalid was a big handful of trouble of ever there was one.

Anyway, after escaping from the consequences of banging a Prince on the floor without the thought of protected sex, and too many weeks—make that months—of kicking her heels in Charisse’s swanky London apartment Arabella had opened her eyes this morning—and it was as if she had seen the light.

Hallelujah!

Instead of a mind filled with brain-fog and indecision, she clearly saw the road ahead.

The road of truth, honor and integrity.

Backbone.

Ethics.

Values.

Yeah, the time had come to tell Sarif the truth.

The whole truth.

And nothing but the truth.

After all, in a few short months their lives would be changed forever.

The guy might be a Prince, but he had a human right to be involved in the future of his child.

Rights that meant responsibilities.

Parental responsibilities.

The words made her breath hitch and for the first time, her steps faltered.

What if Sarif didn’t want to know the baby?

Her timing was bad too.

The tabloids had been in a flutter for weeks about the whisper of his impending engagement. The woman concerned was one of those doe-eyed, dark haired, olive-skinned beauties that came from Sarif’s neck of the woods.

Protected.

Obedient.

Virgin.

 

Arabella took another deep breath—all the things she was most definitely—not.

Maybe she should have sent him a letter instead of speaking to him in person?

That would have been cowardly.

Same with texting or email.

No.

She had to break the news of their baby face-to-face.

Sarif had been camped out at the Quarram Embassy for a week—she still had her sources—and now was as good a time as any to do the deed.

To do the right thing.

Even if it was better late than never.

Mind busy, she lengthened her stride, crossed the road, and didn’t spot the purring black SUV with blacked-out windows keep pace behind her.

For once, her spidey senses deserted her until it was too late.

Everything, the rev of an engine, the way she twisted and threw herself to the side before being hurled into the air, happened too fast.

 

Bloody and broken, Arabella Faulkner lay face down in the tarmac between road and curb.

A pain in her shoulder made it hard to take a breath. It burned as if speared by a poker forged in flame.

Out of the corner of her eye blood, her blood, flowed slowly towards a drain.

The smell of blood, the sound of feet running echoed in her stunned brain.

Her last thought was for her unborn child.

She’d left it too long to do the right thing and now it was too late.

Too late.

The world went dark.

***

The next chapter from Sarif’s point of view comes next week, and it’s a doozy.

Until next week…..

And yes, the Ludlow Hall short stories will be back when this book is finished.

Hugs,

Christine X

 

Best friends… it’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

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Greetings, my darlings!

We have cloud and wind and rain.

Come on, Spring!

Here’s part two of the Ludlow Hall short story…

It’s the morning after the night before at The Dower House, and Emily finally gets her chance to talk to Rosie about the love of her life, Tonio.

Sophia and Emily, wearing soft blue jeans and their hoodies are sitting at the table in the kitchen-dining-living space with Rosie and the toddlers.

“How old were you when you knew Alexander was the one?” Emily asked Rosie in her soft, breathy voice.

Rosie, wearing black thermal leggings and an oversized T-shirt, her inky curls tied in a messy knot on her head, placed plastic bowls filled with cereal and sliced banana on the high chair tables for Mila and Eve. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Sophia’s here-we-go-again face and tried hard not to laugh.

Emily was a lovely kid, but her head was in the clouds much of the time, and Rosie reckoned her obsession with Tonio was not healthy.

“When I was your age I actually didn’t like Alexander very much, mainly because he treated me like his sister. Even Bronte would tell you that having an overprotective big brother is no fun. And things got even worse when we hit our teens. I cannot tell you the number of arguments I had with him over who I dated in high school for example.”

Emily’s blue eyes went wide. “Was he jealous?”

Rosie shook her head. “Nope. He didn’t ever see me as anyone other than part of the family, which he reckoned gave him rights to have an opinion.”

Clearly disappointed, Emily seemed to mull over that statement as she nibbled on her cheese on toast.

“I can’t stop thinking about Tonio,” she finally admitted.

Rosie buttered fingers of toast and set them on the toddler’s high chair tables.

The little girls were still dressed in their pink pj’s since Rosie reckoned there was no point in bathing until after breakfast. When Mila stroked sticky fingers over Eve’s dark curls, Sophia and Emily howled with laughter.

Rosie studied Emily’s little face before she answered.

“Have you ever considered Tonio’s feelings?”

Sophia, unusually for her, had been silent during this exchange, but now she turned to her friend. “You should ask him what sort of girl he likes.”

Emily blinked. “But what if he doesn’t like me?”

“He does like you,” Sophia said. “But not as a girlfriend because number one – you’re too young. Number two – you’re my best friend. Number three – I think auntie Rosie’s right.”

And on cue Alexander, Luca and Tonio entered the kitchen.

Hair damp from the shower, they wore jeans and T-shirts with soccer colors of their favourite team because they were attending a big match today.

They grabbed plates and headed for the mountain of bacon and eggs set on the worktop.

When they settled at the table and Rosie had poured milk for the boys and black coffee for her husband, Sophia gave Emily a very hard stare to get-on-with-it and ask Tonio the question.

Unfortunately, it was clear poor Emily’s courage had failed her.

“Emily wanted to know,” Rosie began, and sent a cheesy grin to the love of her life. “When you knew I was the one.”

Alexander blinked, sent Emily a smile that made her already pink face go nuclear.

“Yeah? Um—I’d always liked her, even when she drove me crazy. But it was when we became close and then she left me that it really hit me hard and I knew I couldn’t live without her.”

Tonio crunched a piece of crispy bacon, then said, “When I am a man I will live in Italy and marry a beautiful Italian girl.” He dug into his breakfast totally unaware that he’d just dropped a bombshell and broken a little heart.

Rosie studied her nephew.

“So, what’s wrong with British girls?”

Tonio glanced at her, then appeared to realize that every single female had her eyes, hard eyes, on him.

“Oops,” Alexander muttered.

It seemed Tonio had mastered the Ferranti smile, the one that could charm the birds off the trees. He turned it on full watt now. Then it slipped a little when there was no response.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said and added a little extra Italian accent for good measure. “But I like dark hair, long legs and girls with energy and good humor. Many British girls are like little mice and do nothing but stare at boys.”

“Well, you can’t blame them for staring,” Rosie said, very aware that a devastated and very pale Emily was gazing at her plate. “The Ferranti males are pretty to look at.”

At that, Luca raised his head from inhaling his breakfast, and stared at his aunt in disgust.

“I’m not pretty!”

Rosie turned to him.

“You’re the prettiest one of them all.”

Luca turned to his uncle Alexander.

“Can you not control your wife?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“I’m never getting married,” Luca told the room at large.

His twin, her face an expressionless mask, simply said, “Trust me, no one with a single working brain cell would want you.”

Luca, dark eyes flashing, leaned over the table and hissed,

“I hope your next poop is a pineapple.”

Silence.

 

Alexander, fighting a losing battle to keep a straight face, got to his feet.

“If we want to get to the kick-off in time we’d better get moving.”

In the scrimmage of hand washing, the hunt for Luca’s missing boot, tugging on coats and hats and goodbye’s Sophia simply sat at the table wearing a face that might turn milk sour.

“Well then,” Rosie said as she correctly read the expressions on two little faces. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Luca have the final word.”

Emily sniffed, and even though her big blue eyes looked suspiciously bright, she lifted her chin.

“I’m not Italian and I don’t have long legs or dark hair. I don’t have a chance with Tonio. Do I?”

Rosie sat at the table and desperately wanted to be kind.

“I don’t know. No one knows. Do you want my advice?” Emily nodded. “There’s a big wide world out there and a huge amount to learn, so if I were you I’d get prepared as best you can to explore the world.”

Sophia put her arm around her best friend’s shoulders and pulled her in for a hug.

“We’re starting dance classes soon, and I want to learn to horse ride.”

“Ponies are too big and scary,” Emily said, her little face the perfect picture of misery.

“It’s not just riding,” Rosie told her in a cheery voice. “You’ll learn how to look after a pony, to groom it and keep it’s stall clean and what to feed it and how much exercise it needs. Plus, ponies need company just like humans.”

“Do they get lonely too?” Emily asked.

Rosie nodded. “They do or they become stressed.”

Sophia made an ‘Aww’ face.

But before she could speak, the sound of her papa’s car rolling over the gravel on the driveway had her bounce out of her chair and heading for the door.

***

After catching her daughter in a huge hug, Bronte studied Sophia’s serious little face, those anxious and wary emerald eyes that held hers, and felt terribly guilty.

It was the first time in over eight years of marriage that her and Nico had had a major issue in their marriage, and she hoped it would be a long time before they had another one. Trouble was, at times they were both as stubborn as each other. If there was one thing they’d learned after talking into the wee hours, was that compromise was the name of the marriage game. Usually they were pretty good at compromising. However, on this particular issue, Bronte Ferranti had dug in her heels. Nico had got himself into one hot mess and it was up to him to get himself out of it.

Right now, she watched him as he caught Sophia in his arms and blew a huge raspberry on her cheek. The man only got better looking as he got older. Even dressed down in blue jeans, black boots and a casual black cashmere sweater, he looked good enough to eat. He didn’t have an ounce of spare flesh. His hair was still black as jet with the odd grey hair at the temple. Just looking at him right now with the strong manly jaw, the high cheekbones, and those eyes that turned her knees to jelly every single time, she knew she was a very lucky woman. Plus, he adored her. They might have had a blip in their relationship, but they’d worked through it. She hoped.

“Did you miss us?” he asked his daughter.

Sophia laughed and clung to him like a limpet.

“Of course I did.” Then her big emerald eyes studied his face. “Are you and mama getting a divorce?” she whispered.

“No!” Nico and Bronte said together.

“Okay,” she said, clearly accepting the tone and look of utter horror on their combined faces. Then her brows met as she caught her papa’s face between her little hands and squeezed. “Don’t let a mean girl be mean to my mama.”

Nico blinked, caught Bronte’s big eyes.

She shook her head because she had no idea where Sophia had got that idea from.

“I won’t,” he said.

Sophia squeezed his cheeks even harder and made him look her in the eye.

“Even grown ups need help with mean girls. Know what I mean?”

“I do.”

He placed her on her feet and held her hand as they strolled through the kitchen door of The Dower House.

As for Bronte, she was just happy to be home.

 

Once they’d greeted little Eve and Bronte had thanked Rosie for stepping into the breech and looking after her kids, everyone settled down at the table for a chat.

Bronte’s eye caught a sad looking Emily.

“You okay, Emily?”

Emily nodded.

“I’m good. Did you have a nice time?”

Nico shot his wife a wink that made Bronte blush.

“We did,” she said.

Emily sent them a sad little smile.

“Did you play the Pirate and the Maiden game?”

When Nico inhaled his coffee and a grinning Rosie threw him paper napkins, Bronte could only blink.

“It’s based on a poem,” Sophia said, correctly guessing that her mama had no idea what Emily was talking about.

Nico blew his nose, cleared his throat, and wiped his streaming eyes.

Dio mio, where on earth did you hear about that?” Nico asked Emily.

“It was something we heard at school,” she said.

Rosie clapped her hands and then shot an index finger at each little girl.

“I know, why don’t we have a pampering day?”

“What’s that?” Sophia wanted to know.

“We can make facial masks out of cool stuff that’s edible. They’ll hydrate and moisturise and refresh the skin.”

Emily perked right up, her big blue eyes sparkled. “Will they cure my freckles?”

Rosie made a sad face. “Nope. But they’ll make you even more gorgeous.”

“What stuff do we need?” Sophia asked, her little face pink and happy.

“Well, we’ll start with oatmeal, honey, banana and yoghurt.”

“That sounds really cool,” Bronte said and fluttered her eyelashes at a worried looking Nico.

He shook his head.

“Not for me. I’m off to the match.”

When he moved to hightail it out the door, Bronte had to laugh.

“Coward!” she yelled at his departing back.

 

Twenty minutes later, Emily, Sophia, Rosie and Bronte sat at the table all watching a kitchen timer tick down the seconds.

Sophia took a lick of mashed banana, yoghurt and honey from the edge of her mouth.

“This tastes really good.”

Emily giggled. “You’re not supposed to eat it.”

“Smells nice, too,” Bronte said. Then she eyed the girls. “Did Luca do his math homework?”

“Dunno,” Sophia said. “Probably not since he’s heart lazy.”

“Have you been arguing with him again?” Bronte asked.

“He told me he hoped I pooped a pineapple.”

Bronte bit down hard on her bottom lip.

Good Lord.

What next?

“Tonio only likes Italian girls. He broke my heart,” Emily whispered.

Bronte held out her arms. “Come here, sweetheart. A cuddle makes a broken heart all better.”

Meanwhile, Rosie used a muslin cloth soaked in warm water to gently remove the home made facial from Sophia’s face.

“Ooh, your skin looks all fresh and lovely,” she cooed at her niece.

“Why do we have eyebrows?” Sophia wanted to know as she poked her skin.

“To protect our eyes, I guess,” Emily said as she slipped from Bronte’s lap and lifted her face for Rosie to clean her skin too.

“There we go,” Rosie said when she was all finished. “Two gorgeous girls.”

 

 

Later, in Sophia’s bedroom, the girls shared a Fat Boy beanbag, their eyelids drooping.

“I’m gonna wish upon a star,” Emily said in her soft breathy voice.

Sophia, her eyes heavy, turned to look at her bestie.

“Stars,” she said. “Are made of gas.”

“That’s science,” Emily said. “I’m talking about making a secret wish while looking at the biggest star in the sky.”

“Cool!”

“I bet you can’t guess my wish.”

Sophia rolled her eyes. “Bet I can. You’ll wish that Tonio falls in love with you when you’re both all grown-up.”

But Emily shook her head.

“Uh-uh. I’m gonna wish my mummy and daddy have a miracle and have a baby.”

Sophia threw her arm around her bestie and pulled her close.

“I think that’s a lovely wish.”

“Then I won’t be lonely,” Emily said.

Sophia rubbed her soft cheek against Emily’s.

“You’re never gonna be lonely because you’ll always have me for ever and ever.”

Emily turned big blue eyes on her friend.

“For every and ever.”

“For ever.”

“I love you, Sophia.”

“Love you, too, Emily.”

 

The End….

 

Aw, that’s what friends are for…

Until next time, be kind, peeps, be kind.

ChristineX

Can you help?

My friend, thriller author extraordinaire, Mark Dawson has reached out to his author friends for help for a great cause. Here’s what Mark has to say.

Can you help?

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Emma Johns is the wife of my son’s godfather and has been battling with breast cancer for five years. In the middle of her gruelling treatment she found out that she was pregnant (the chemotherapy was supposed to make her infertile but, to her surprise, it didn’t).

And then, in December, she gave birth to her own little miracle: baby Phoenix.

Emma’s condition is worsening but there is hope: a trial immunotherapy drug called Pembrolizumab has shown amazing results for women with incurable triple negative breast cancer (like her). But, due to her pregnancy, Emma missed out on being eligible for the only trial available for this drug. Her best option now is to pay for it privately for the eye-watering sum of £40,000.

I’ve written a short story – called PHOENIX – and I will be giving all of the proceeds to her and her family. The book is available for preorder right now and it is priced as low as I can make it while still attracting the highest royalty from the online retailers. For every $2.99 purchase of Phoenix, Emma and her family will receive $2.

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PHOENIX is available for preorder at these links:

AMAZON   iBOOKS   KOBO   BARNES & NOBLE  GOOGLE PLAY  

She does Britain’s dirty work, but this time she needs help. Beatrix Rose, meet John Milton…

Beatrix Rose has a knack for making the British government’s problems go away. When the assassin is sent to Venezuela to track down a missing scientist, she meets a contact who knows the lay of the land: none other than John Milton…

As the state-sanctioned assassin and the special forces soldier team up in South America, they’ll do more than capture a missing scientist. They’ll discover a secret that will change Beatrix’s life forever…

Phoenix is a short story that unites two landmark thriller characters in a single tale. If you like ruthless assassins, fast-moving plots, and Jack Reacher-style action, then you’ll love USA Today bestselling author Mark Dawson’s latest short.

Buy Phoenix to witness the thrilling team-up today!

All proceeds from Phoenix will go to fund breast cancer treatment for superhero mother Emma Johns and her family.

Thank you,

Mark Dawson.

As all of you who follow my blog know, I’m a breast cancer survivor who dodged a bullet and lived to tell the tale. I wish Emma Johns and her family all the luck in the world and hope they raise enough to fund Emma’s treatment.

Christine X