**Festive Short Review** SEX, SNOW AND MISTLETOE by Laura Barnard

Sex Snow and MistletoeTitle: Sex, Snow and Mistletoe

Author: Laura Barnard

Genre: Holiday romance, short story

Date released: October 27th, 2015

Length: 34 pages

Blurb: Melinda is already having a crappy Christmas. Forced to attend some snotty bitch’s wedding is not the way to start out the holidays. But when a car crash pushes her into the path of a handsome stranger she’s glad to follow his snowy, sexy and seductive path. But is he too good to be true? And will she make it to the wedding before her best friend loses her mind with worry?

Please note this is a short story of 10k words.

BUY LINKS: Amazon UK, Amazon US

REVIEW 5* rating

Sex, Snow and Mistletoe is the perfect festive short that can be read in-between all those Christmas shopping sprees, present wrapping sessions and last minute preparations. If you’re a rom-com fan you’ll love this Christmas romance with it’s surprises and humour!

This is certainly my kind of romantic adventure; Melinda becomes trapped on the road, in the snow, with a cute, hot stranger! There seems no other answer for it, but for them to stay together in the car, keeping each other warm as the cold, night air takes it’s toll. Is it really that bad that she may not be able to attend a wedding of someone she doesn’t care about?

The closeness of these two strangers makes for some awkward moments, with plenty of suspense as sexual tension begins to creep in. The setting of them being stuck in the car together, along with some of the dialogue, put me in the mindset of the movie, 28 Dresses.

The pace is perfect throughout, albeit I found it ended quickly. This may be because I wanted to read more of these characters. Sex, Snow and Mistletoe will easily get you in the mood for a little Christmas romance!

Reviewed by Caroline Barker

*Book Tour* Hark: A Christmas Collection (short stories) by Justin Bog

hark banner

HarkOfficialCoverTitle: Hark: A Christmas Collection

Author: Justin Bog

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Festive

Release date: November 14th, 2014

Publisher: Booktrope

Length: 134 pages

Book Description: A beautifully written collection of short stories from critically acclaimed Pacific Northwest writer Justin Bog, Hark explores the range of emotions surrounding the holidays. From melancholy to madness, loss and despair to hope and forgiveness, these six tales shimmer with feelings, some we’d rather stuff away, that Christmas can evoke.

Set in colorful locations around the United States, from Anacortes, Washington, to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Sun Valley, Idaho, each tale focuses on people who struggle to make good choices, learn lessons, and maybe even find peace during the holiday season.

A bonus story, Poseidon Eyes, from Booktrope’s upcoming reissue of Sandcastle and Other Stories—The Complete Edition, is included.

Author Bio

JustinBogAuthorhHeadshotJustin Bog lives in the Pacific Northwest on Fidalgo Island. Justin Bog was Pop Culture Correspondent and Editor for In Classic Style. He enjoys cooking, lawn mowing not so much, and spends time walking and handing out treats to two long coat German shepherds, Zippy and Kipling, and two barn cats, Ajax The Gray and Eartha Kitt’n.

Follow Justin Online:

Justin Bog A Writer’s Life Blog: www.justinbog.com

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/JustinBog1

Twitter: @JustinBog

Purchase links

Amazon US

Amazon UK

*REVIEW* All I Want for Christmas by Amy Silver

All I Want for ChristmasTitle: All I Want for Christmas

Author: Amy Silver

Genre: Contemporary holiday romance, chick-lit

Release date: November 25th, 2010

Publisher: Arrow

Length: 325 pages

Blurb: It’s Bea’s first Christmas with her baby son, and this year she’s determined to do everything right. But there is still so much to do: the Christmas menu needs refining; her café, The Honey Pot, needs decorating; and she’s invited the whole neighbourhood to a party on Christmas Day. She really doesn’t have time to get involved in two new people’s lives, let alone fall in love…

When Olivia gets knocked over in the street, however, Bea can’t help bringing her into The Honey Pot and getting to know her. Olivia’s life is even more hectic than her own, and with her fiancé’s entire family over from Ireland for Christmas, she shouldn’t be lingering in the cosy warmth of Bea’s café. Chloe, on the other hand, has nowhere else to go. Her affair with a married man has alienated her friends, and left her lonelier than ever.

But Christmas is a magical time, and in the fragrant atmosphere of The Honey Pot, anything can happen: new friends can be made, hearts can heal, and romance can finally blossom…

REVIEW

This is a fab read for this time of year, not only due to the heart-warming and romantic storyline but also because of the layout, with each chapter being a date in December, beginning on the fourteenth and leading up to the big day!

It is written from Bea, Olivia and Chloe’s points of view and follows them through different times each day which really opens the characters up for the reader to get to know and enjoy.

For Bea, she wants to have her first Christmas with her young son. She has been through so much and deserves a fantastic year. After losing her husband two years before, she is now running the café, the Honey Pot, that her and her husband had started together. The previous year was quite a low point for Bea as she sunk into depression and drink, with her mother looking after her son. Which is why this year is so special. As well as this, Bea wants to hold a Christmas party at the Honey Pot on Christmas evening for the people of the neighbourhood, friends and for the lonely to have somewhere to go.

We meet Olivia early on in the story when she gets knocked over outside the café and Bea goes out to assist, bringing Olivia into the Honey Pot and having a chat over a nice, hot drink. This is really the beginning of a great friendship between these two characters. I feel that the author has taken great care with her writing to build these characters up and create a closeness between them. It is written well and is a flowing read which is easy to follow.

Olivia is about to get married to her boyfriend, Kieran. However, when his family comes over from Ireland in the run up to Christmas, she finds that she is having a stressful time feeding and entertaining them, as well as working. Not only this but when Kieran’s family begin suggesting wedding ideas and their future together, i.e. kids, when to have them and how many, Olivia begins to get a little cold feet and doubts whether she is doing the right thing. And, has she really slept with enough men yet?

It is a demanding time for her and she just wants things to remain the same for Kieran and herself. If she pleases him and his family her wishes will never be met. Plus, she knows she will never go through the getting-to-know-you stage again and is this just all too much to bear?

Meanwhile, one of Bea’s best friends, Sam, begins to really get to her. Sam has always been popular with the ladies and it isn’t unusual for him to have a new girl on his arm every week or so. Bea doesn’t really know why he is bothering her so much. They have always been close – only being next door he has looked after Luca, her son, and been there to talk to, lend things to, etc. And she has always known he was one for the ladies. But, Sam seems to be turning up recently when she’s in the middle of something, he seems to be getting closer to her and he gets under her skin at times.

It becomes apparent that Sam has feelings for Bea. This creates a brilliant will-they-won’t-they storyline. Bea knows that Sam has always been there for her, but does she feel that strong about him? And even if she does, she cannot betray her husband, Marco.

And then there’s Chloe. Chloe is introduced as a cold and rude character, having an affair with a married man and not really having much thought for anyone else. When it is first realised by Olivia and Bea that Chloe is in a relationship with a married man, they react quite judgemental towards her, which in turn brushes her up the wrong way. She retaliates by speaking harshly to Bea about her husband, as she sees Bea as the married man’s wife. However, she really doesn’t know Bea’s truth and has judged her completely wrong. But, despite this shaky start, is it possible for a friendship to blossom?

Surprisingly, Chloe was a character I really enjoyed. Even though she has been involved with a married man and comes across quite cold and haughty to begin with, I felt her character made the longest journey and she really is quite nice underneath it all. She seems to come to her senses and realise just how lonely she really is. She doesn’t fit in with her family and excludes herself to an extent from their visits as she is her own person really. I really admire this about her, as it does take strength to go your own way especially when you know it will be a lonely venture.

All I Want for Christmas is a perfect festive, heartfelt and relaxing read, and a reminder that people do have problems but that they also get through them. It is touching, but at the same time leads you into an excitement for the holidays, at the same time as being a relaxing read.

All I Want for ChristmasAll I Want for Christmas is available at Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Reviewed by Caroline Barker

Review Round Up December ’14

Hi readers, we hope that you’re Christmas preparations are going well and that you are not too stressed with all of the arrangements, shopping and wrapping to do! Here is the last Review Round Up of 2014! As usual, there are quite a few genres with the fourteen books that we have reviewed, and we do hope that they pique your interest. (For the full review please click on the titles.)

You may be pleased to hear that we will both be doing our Top Reads of 2014 over the holidays. We have had the pleasure of reading many great reads and look forward to sharing them!

Enjoy!

Caroline & Tina ❤

Invasion Earth (Delroi Connection #1) by Loribelle Hunt, erotic/sci-fi romance (reviewed by Tina)

In the distant future, Earth has been ravaged by war and famine, and after generations of bloodshed settles into peace only to be invaded by the alien Delroi. General Alrik Torfa needs a mate and his seers promise mates for many of his people on the distant planet Earth. He doesn’t expect her to come easily, but is more than a little surprised to find her leading an enemy army. Outmanned and outgunned, there is no way the Earth forces can win.Sergeant Major Laney Bradford has always played her part and served her people well, but the demands of the Delroi’s surrender are a bit extreme. Marriage? To one of them? Not likely. But she’s fought for peace her entire life and when surrender talks are threatened by a conspiracy led by her people, Laney must choose. Will she submit to the alien invader or lead the fight against him?

Entropy by Robert Raker, dark crime drama, thriller suspense (reviewed by Caroline)

When a series of child abductions and murders disrupt the life of an economically blighted community, the consequences have far-reaching implications. The brutal crimes take a different toll on a disparate group of individuals; the scuba diver who retrieves the children’s bodies; the disfigured cellist who thinks he knows who’s responsible; the undercover federal agent; and the mother of one of the victim’s.
United in a situation not of their choosing, they are forced to take a deep, introspective look into their intersected, yet isolated lives.

To Avenge Her Highland Warrior (Highland Fae Chronicles #3) by Samantha Holt, historical romance, fantasy (reviewed by Tina)

Lorna lost everything to war. Her home, her wealth… her lover. And now she wants revenge. When her hasty plan throws her at the mercy of her enemy’s men, she holds little hope of returning to her kin and fears death is around the corner. But could her salvation lie in the arms of her dark captor? Logan has little time to be dealing with a stubborn noble woman. His orders are to prepare for war. His laird—the man he owes his life to—intends to join forces with the Norse and bring a battle to Scotland that will see the fate of the country forever changed. Scarred, and with no memory of his past, Logan is determined to forge a new future for himself as well as prove his loyalty to the laird. But the beautiful lass has him questioning his previous life and his goals. When she starts claiming he once loved her, he knows he’s being manipulated and she’s taking advantage of his memory loss. So why is it so hard to resist the idea of having once been her lover? With the threat of impending war—a battle that promises to bring slaughter to her family—can Lorna persuade Logan to believe her, and is the bitter man he’s become even worth saving? Whatever the outcome of the battle, a certain interfering faery is resolved to see fate back on its correct path. And that means forcing Lorna and Logan together—no matter their differences.

COLD CALL BOOK COVER - with blood SAFE COPYCold Call by Colin Llewelyn Chapman, dark crime drama, thriller (reviewed by Caroline)

Wealthy entrepreneur Robin Bradford had it all – the house, the cars, the fine dining – and he lost it all. All except Lizzie, his perfect, loving girlfriend. Down on his luck and with no immediate prospects in business, Robin’s energies found another outlet, Just a little something spicy to bide his time until his financial world recovered, leading him down a very seedy path, onto a very rocky road. Time however was all he had, and all he was going to get.

Due to violence, drug references and sexual content, readers are recommended to be of 18yrs+.

Benddontbreak_front_coverBend, Don’t Break (Irrevocable #2) by Skye Callahan, dark erotic romance (reviewed by Tina)

I thought I was done.
my End
I couldn’t take my eyes off her as the bullet tore through me, leaving me with nothing but the hope that I had done enough to save her. The darkness tried to engulf me—to brand me as its own and drag me to my fate.
my Darkness
Waking to see her tear-stained face above me was enough to make my heart stutter. I was alive and free from that place—but not from the toll it had taken on my mind and body.
my Strength
My story should have ended, but one woman kept standing in the way of that. The only way I could have her was to find a way to put the darkness to rest.

Boots Beneath My Bed (Miranda's Story)Boots Beneath My Bed (Miranda’s Story) (Duty & Desire #4) by C.J. Pinard, contemporary military romance, romantic comedy, chick-lit (reviewed by Caroline)

Miranda Cates finally graduates from college and is excited to begin her dream career in law enforcement. After the final betrayal and heartbreak of her college boyfriend, Chris, she moves back home with a firm plan in place for her life.

However, the life she has carefully mapped out for herself takes a serious left turn. Miranda finds she not only has to be strong for herself, but for the daughter who hadn’t been part of her plan.

Determined to still believe in true love, life throws Miranda one more wicked curveball. She meets Jace Lawless, a hot minor league baseball player, whose warm aqua eyes and big dimple have her unraveling her carefully laid plans. A man who may be just be too good to be true.

Boots Beneath My Bed (Miranda’s Story) is book 3 in the Duty & Desire series, and while it is recommended to read the books in order, it’s not necessary.

An Autumn CrushAn Autumn Crush by Milly Johnson, contemporary romantic comedy (reviewed by Caroline)

In the heart of the windy season, four friends are about to get swept off their feet…

Newly single after a bruising divorce, Juliet Miller moves into a place of her own and advertises for a flatmate, little believing that, in her mid-thirties, she’ll find anyone suitable. Then, just as she’s about to give up hope, along comes self-employed copywriter Floz, and the two women hit it off straight away.

When Juliet’s gentle giant of a twin brother, Guy, meets Floz, he falls head over heels. But, as hard as he tries to charm her, his foot seems to be permanently in his mouth. Meanwhile, Guy’s best friend Steve has always had a secret crush on Juliet – one which could not be more unrequited if it tried…

As Floz and Juliet’s friendship deepens, and Floz becomes a part of the Miller family, can Guy turn her affection for them into something more – into love for him? And what will happen to Steve’s heart when Juliet eventually catches the eye of Piers – the man of her dreams?

21473101Apartment 2B by K. Webster, Adult contemporary paranormal romance (reviewed by Tina)

Sidney has a rough life. Her mom is incredibly abusive both mentally and physically. One day, she’s awarded the escape she’s always wanted and thrust into a world she barely understands. Each day is a struggle to feel human and not terrified of everything around her.

Sidney has rules. Routines. Structure. It’s the only way she can cope

When a handsome, yet mysterious stranger inserts himself into her life, Sidney begins to come apart at the seams. She’s having trouble sticking to her habits and it’s threatening to shred any hope of a normal life to pieces. Will this stranger help her in ways no other person can, or will things get worse for her?

He comes with his own set of problems and secrets he’s unwilling to share. Will they work together through the mess of their pasts or will they get caught up enabling each other? Will their toxic relationship ultimately be destined for demise?

MistUnveiled_HiResMist Unveiled (Elemental Desire #1) by Nancy Corrigan, erotic paranormal romance (reviewed by Tina)

Cat has one love in her life—science. Facts rule her, not passion. At least it doesn’t until an unknown deadly virus claims her sister’s life. Cat’s quest for answers takes her to Greenland and drops her into the arms of the one man who sways her devotion from logic to passion. Rune stirs her lusts, ignites her desires and fuels her carnal cravings, but he isn’t simply a lover, nor is he human. He’s a weapon, one that has the potential to save or destroy her.

Rune, a child of the mist, awakens into a world hovering on the verge of destruction. Rising temperatures have released his enemies from their frozen prison without his knowledge. He searches for them but finds Cat, a human with the power to save him and the world. He hungers for her—blood, body and soul. Every moment of shared passion convinces him of the truth—she’s his greatest treasure, one he’ll die to keep.

Secret Confessions: Sydney Housewives (Virginia #1, Lana #2 & Nella #3) by Rhian Cahill, Cate Ellink & Cathleen Ross, erotica (reviewed by Tina)

Cool, collected, confident – those who know Virginia in her personal and professional life would never expect to find her in Boyd’s, a bar across town from her circle of friends and socialite world. But Boyd’s offers her something she can’t get among her rarefied acquaintances: sex. Rough, hard, mind-blowing, anonymous sex. In her casual clothes, she’s no one important. Incognito, unnoticed by everyone except one: the bartender who knows her drink order – and would like to know a whole lot more.

22584Lana by Cate Ellink: Lana lives her life by her own rules – and she has very few. What she wants, she goes for, and she very rarely fails. So when a young, handsome waiter at her favourite restaurant catches her eye, she has no hesitation in asking him to escort her home. But one night of passion opens up exciting new possibilities, and a chance for Lana to enact one of her deepest, most illicit fantasies.

23510826Nella by Cathleen Ross: Nella is one hundred percent in control of her life – all aspects of her life. She excels at knowing what everyone needs, and in meeting those needs. So when it comes to her husband, Michael, and his deepest desires and most fundamental requirements, she is committed, creative, and unswerving in her responsibilities. A strong man needs a strong woman, and Nella’s love is as strong as steel.

Cursed (Cursed trilogy #1) & Obsession (Cursed trilogy #2) by Georgina Hannan, young adult paranormal horror (reviewed by Caroline)

CursedCursed: Reality and Myths collide.
A young adult story about a group of four friends who embark on a holiday together to the gorgeous countryside of Dartmoor, Devon. Each of them hoping for an adventure, something they will always remember. However it isn’t long before they get what they want.

The group are plagued by noises after hearing the myths and legends of the area. Is it just their overactive imaginations or is there a visitor in the spare room who is trying to get their attention?

Join the group on a spectacular journey as they discover what Dartmoor has to offer.

Obsession by Georgina Hannan_1Obsession: There’s a fine line between Obsession and Madness.

After a strange and exciting holiday, Daisy is looking forward to the new start University life will bring.

A life changing assignment makes her question the fine line between Obsession and Madness.

Can she tell the difference?
Can you?

CANDY CAIN by C.L. Scholey - Click Image to CloseCandy Cain (festive short story) by C.L. Scholey, hot, contemporary romance, festive (reviewed by Caroline)

Candy is on top of the world. She’s a high priced corporate lawyer with expensive cars, time on her hands, and money to burn. Although, she has no one to burn it on, except for a yearly ritual of buying toys and treats for the needy at Christmas time.

Cain is an egotistical enigma. A very deprived and hurting enigma, who feels wishes are for fools. A car accident leaves them stranded together, and the two have no choice but to warm each other’s cold bodies, lest they freeze to death.

As the temperature dips outside, the heat begins to sizzle inside. Candy and Cain, though worlds apart in society, begin to feel perhaps they have more in common than either could ever wish for.

Will they both discover the miracle of Christmas wishes isn’t just for the very young?

A Way from Heart to HeartA Way From Heart to Heart by Helena Fairfax, contemporary romance (reviewed by Caroline)

After the death of her husband in Afghanistan, Kate Hemingway’s world collapses around her. Kate’s free time is spent with a charity for teenage girls, helping them mend their broken lives – which is ironic, since her own life is fractured beyond repair.

Reserved, ex-public school journalist Paul Farrell is everything Kate and her teenage charges aren’t. But when Paul agrees to help Kate with her charity, he makes a stunning revelation that changes everything.

But can Kate take a risk with her son’s happiness as well as her own?

6624391The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen, historical romance, religious (reviewed by Tina)

Believing herself guilty of a crime, Olivia Keene flees her home, eventually stumbling upon a grand estate where an elaborate celebration is in progress. But all is not as joyous as it seems. Lord Bradley has just learned a terrible secret, which, if exposed, will change his life forever. When he glimpses a figure on the grounds, he fears a spy or thief has overheard his devastating news. He is stunned to discover the intruder is a scrap of a woman with her throat badly injured. Fearing she will spread his secret, he gives the girl a post and confines her to his estate. As Olivia and Lord Bradley’s secrets catch up with them, will their hidden pasts ruin their hope of finding love?

Exclusive short story: Cinderella Boy (A Tom Mariner festive short story) by Chris Collett

Tina and myself are absolutely over the moon to be able to share with you, Chris Collett’s short festive story, following DI Tom Mariner. Chris Collett is a local author from the Midlands, UK, and you may remember our post of her crime thriller/police procedural series of Detective Inspector, Tom Mariner, and that her series is also based in the area.

Chris Collett 7 Dead of NightHere is a link to our post, which includes an author post and bio, an excerpt of her latest novel, Dead of Night (DI Tom Mariner series #7), as well as the blurbs and covers for each book of the series:-

Chris Collett promo post of the DI Tom Mariner series

We hope that you enjoy this heartfelt festive short, Cinderella Boy, just as much as we did. And, we would like to thank Chris Collett for this fantastic opportunity!

Enjoy!

Caroline & Tina 🙂

CINDERELLA BOY by Chris Collett

It’s done in seconds and the sleight of hand makes DI Tom Mariner cough with surprise. The boy looks up and as his gaze meets Mariner’s, the brown eyes, unnaturally large for his face, widen for a second, before he swivels and bolts for the door.

Mariner had been watching the kid over the supermarket shelves for several minutes. On his way into work he’d felt a sudden craving for chewing gum, so had gone into a local convenience store, which at this time of the morning was busy with a steady influx of customers. It was cold for November, with grey skies shedding the odd flurry of snow. The boy caught Mariner’s attention in the first instance because of his size. No more than about six or seven he seemed young to be out on his own. He was also woefully underdressed for the time of year; jogging bottoms, the knees shiny with wear, oversized black trainers and a thin short-sleeved football shirt.

But perhaps the boy has dressed for a purpose. Standing in front of the dry goods shelves, he picks up a can of baked beans. Clutching it to his chest he holds out his other hand and frowns at the assorted coins there. Satisfied, he pockets the money before casually moving towards the end of the aisle and a display stand of cheap, blister-packed toys. He stares at one of the dangling packs for a good couple of minutes, occasionally reaching out to lift it with a fingertip and watch it swing back. He gets out the coins and checks them again. Then with a furtive glance to either side, he unhooks the pack, and tucking the can of beans under his arm, lifts his shirt to stuff the toy into the waistband of his trousers, dropping the shirt to conceal it. That’s when his eyes meet Mariner’s and, as the beans clatter to the floor, he turns and scarpers. Mariner keeps pace with him along the parallel aisle, but loses valuable seconds as he’s blocked by an elderly woman pushing a wheeled trolley. Rounding the end shelves he sees the door of the shop swing open and a blur of red as the boy pushes out past an incoming customer.

Grab him-!’ Mariner yells, but too late. The boy is already out and disappearing across the street. There follows a horrible squeal of brakes and the blare of a car horn. Bursting onto the pavement Mariner sees a people carrier, stationary, the female driver white-faced, knuckles gripping the steering wheel. Fearfully, his eyes drop to the road, but somehow the boy has escaped and is making off along the opposite pavement. ‘Stupid kid,’ Mariner breathes, half with relief. 

Skirting around the car he gives chase, the icy air searing into his throat, but the boy is fast and has opened up a gap. Ten metres away, Mariner sees him stumble and hop a couple of steps. There’s a flash of bare foot before the lad darts into a tunnel cutting between the terraced houses. Turning into the passage and palming the wall for traction, Mariner feels the ripping of cloth as his jacket sleeve snags on an exposed nail. Ignoring it he keeps moving, but when he emerges at the other end, breathless, into the alley that runs along the back of the houses, the boy is gone and all that’s left is the discarded blister-pack containing a ninja turtle mask and black, plastic rectangle moulded to look like a cell-phone. Mariner strains his ears for footsteps or the slamming of a door, but when all that echoes back at him is silence, he bends down to retrieve the toy and retraces his steps to the street. At the entrance to the passageway he comes across the black oversized trainer lying on the ground and picks that up too. A cheap brand, it’s scuffed and worn to holes in places. A teenage mutant turtle logo grins up at him from the side panel. The laces, brown and frayed, are much too short for the lace holes and obviously recycled from elsewhere. It’s why the shoe had slipped off.

Mariner goes back to the shop to return the toy. ‘Sorry, he was too quick for me,’ he tells the young Asian man serving behind the counter.

The man shrugs. ‘Don’t worry about it. Probably not the first time, or the last. Little bugger.’

Not really knowing why, Mariner takes the shoe with him when he climbs the stairs to his office at Granville Lane. He lays it ceremonially on top of the filing cabinet, and is still dwelling on the incident when his sergeant, Vicky Jesson arrives. They’re a man down while DS Charlie Glover is off on some kind of pre-Christmas religious pilgrimage, and there’s a lot to get through.

‘What happened to you?’ Jesson asks, immediately noticing Mariner’s torn jacket sleeve. ‘Bit early in the day for fisticuffs, isn’t it?’

He tells her what happened.

‘Cheeky little sod,’ she says. 

‘I don’t know,’ says Mariner.

Jesson waits expectantly.

‘Well, what kid that age is out at eight o’clock in the morning buying baked beans?’ Mariner continues. ‘He should have been at home having his breakfast or on his way to school with his mum.’

‘You’re feeling sorry for him? I thought you said he was pilfering stuff.’

‘Only because he didn’t have the money. You should have seen the state of him. When he lifted up his shirt I could have counted his ribs; played a tune on them. It’s been snowing for Christ sake, and he’s wearing a football shirt; no socks. When he ran away his shoes were so big for him, one fell off.’ He indicates the trainer.

Jesson frowns. ‘Some kids are just skinny,’ she says. ‘And don’t feel the cold.’

‘He was more than skinny,’ says Mariner. He looks up at Jesson, the ice-chip eyes bluer than ever. ‘There was bruising.’

‘Where?’

‘On his torso; where no one would see it.’

Jesson is staring at him, trying to figure it out. ‘Why has this got to you?’

‘It’s happened before.’

‘When?’

‘Years ago, back when I was in uniform. I’d forgotten all about it till now. One weekend I was patrolling the high street. There were a handful of market stalls strung out. I saw the same thing – a scruffy kid pinched a pasty. I didn’t do anything about it that time. He looked like he needed it, so I just let him go. A couple of weeks later I saw him again, his face splashed all over the papers. Samuel Wright.’

Jesson frowns. ‘I know that name.’

‘He was beaten to death by his step father. Everyone told me I was mistaken. It couldn’t have been him; my mind playing tricks. But I know what I saw. This kid today; when our eyes met he was terrified.’

He’d been caught red handed,’ Vicky reminds him.

But he didn’t know I’m a copper. It was fear of an adult male. And he was going home empty handed.’

​’So what do you propose to do?’ asks Jesson, reasonably. ‘Knock on every house in the area to see who the trainer fits?’ She’s right; it is hopeless. Vicky Jesson, forty-something mum of three, has always had a slight crush on her boss. He’s not bad looking and she likes that, but mostly it’s because of the way he responds to situations like this.

On his way to work the following morning Mariner can’t resist going back to the supermarket, even though he knows it will be futile. Over the next few days he develops a serious chewing gum habit, but he doesn’t see the boy. At the weekend he takes one of his customary early morning walks; it just happens to be in that area.

‘You want to watch yourself,’ Jesson warns him on Monday when he tells her. ‘Hanging around the streets looking for small boys could get you arrested.’

Mariner phones the PPU. ‘Anyone on your radar?’ he asks. But the description he gives them doesn’t match anyone they know, which just makes him feel worse.

Christmas approaches. The toy shop where he goes to buy a Christmas present for DC Millie Khatoon’s baby is loud and chaotic, and at the checkout he stands in a queue behind parents and their demanding kids, who, judging from the stacks of boxes and packages, will have all their wishes, and more, fulfilled. He thinks of the boy, and knows that he won’t. Helping Suzy to put up her Christmas tree the boy seems to watch over him from the corner of the room, reminding him that not every child gets the cosy Christmas of the TV ads. Sometimes Mariner’s job is too much information. He carries the numbers in his head; fifty-five children a year die at the hands of their carers through abuse or neglect. Samuel Wright begins to creep back into his dreams.

Two weeks before Christmas Charlie Glover returns from leave. Coming into Mariner’s office his first morning back, his eyes are level with the top of the filing cabinet where the trainer still sits. ‘Where did you get that?’ Glover asks.

‘Don’t worry,’ Mariner reassures him. ‘I’m not planning to wear it; not my size.’

‘It’s not that,’ says Charlie. ‘I’ve seen it before; the laces-’

‘Where?’ He wants to grab Charlie by the lapels.

‘Our church runs a food bank. Back in the summer Helen and I helped out a few weekends when they were short of volunteers. We’d set up a couple of jumble sale stalls too, clothes and stuff. There was a pair of trainers exactly like them, in a similar condition. Some little lad kept pestering his dad for them. We were only asking a couple of quid, but the bloke wasn’t interested. He started to lose it, though he calmed down when he saw me watching. Helen intervened, said they could have the shoes. The kid had bruises, but the dad said he’d fallen off his bike.’

The lump of stone grows in Mariner’s stomach. ‘Did you believe him?’

‘Honestly? He didn’t look the sort of kid to even own a bike.’ Charlie shrugs. ‘But what could we do? There was nothing physical, just his dad’s tone of voice and the boy’s demeanour. You know.’

Mariner does. Charlie’s an experienced copper too. You developed a feel for these things. ‘Did you get a name, an address for the family?’

‘It’s not the way it works,’ says Charlie. ‘They have the vouchers, they take the food. It’s humiliating enough for most of them that they have to do it in the first place.’

But the next morning Charlie comes back to Mariner’s office. ‘I talked to Helen last night about that kid. She remembered him. She reckons he was wearing one of those school polo shirts. It was grubby and didn’t fit him properly, but she’s pretty sure it was for St Martin’s.’

Mariner sees a glimmer of light. He has a contact at St Martin’s; a teacher he came across during a case earlier in the year. He phones and asks to speak to Sam McBride.

Don’t know if you’d remember me-?’ he begins.

Of course I do,’ said Sam. And by lunchtime, having run the gauntlet of two hundred kids careering around the playground, Mariner is standing in the school foyer clutching the trainer. Sam takes it along the staff room, returning a few minutes later. ‘Sorry.’ Her disappointment is tangible. ‘No one recognises it. The kids are meant to wear plain black school shoes. Occasionally they don’t, but no one remembers seeing this before. I could take it and-.’

But while she’s talking, Mariner is distracted by the hordes of young children running around the compound outside. A face he’s seen before flashes across his line of vision, almost unrecognisable; grinning in delight as he runs with a gang of other boys. ‘That’s him!’ Mariner practically shouts. But he’s vanished into the crowd again and doubts kick in. Seething with frustration, Mariner stands beside Sam, straining his eyes to pick out that familiar face and hoping he wasn’t mistaken. But no: ‘There he is, there he is; brown hair; shirt hanging out!’ He tracks the child with his finger.

Milo,’ Sam says, eventually. She seems surprised. ‘Milo’s fine.’

He’s not at risk?’ That anxiety won’t let him go.

Not in the way that you think,’ says Sam. ‘He’s a much-loved little boy.’

But the bruises.’

Sam shakes her head. ‘Milo’s always got bruises; invariably acquired on this playground. He’s on intimate terms with our accident book,’ she says. ‘Mostly because he thinks he really is a ninja turtle. Sorry, I should have made that connection.’ She sees that he’s unconvinced. ‘Children in Need day he came in dressed as Leonardo; his hero. There’s a picture here, I’m sure.’ Sam walks Mariner over to a display board of colour photos and they scan them. After a moment he spots Milo standing in the middle of a group of kids. The others, without exception, are wearing perfect, commercially produced, replica outfits; Snow White, Spiderman, Robin Hood. Milo’s costume is improvised; a scarf tied round his forehead for a bandana, what looks like a woman’s shawl held with some sort of brooch for his cloak. ‘Shortly after that was taken, he hurled himself off the climbing frame and treated his TA to yet another unscheduled trip to A&E,’ says Sam.

‘So what’s his story?’ Mariner asks.

‘Milo’s mum’s got rheumatoid arthritis,’ says Sam. ‘It’s just the two of them and on the days when it’s bad she’s very disabled, so Milo is essentially her carer.’

Jesus; at his age?’ But even as he speaks, he knows he’s being naïve.

He’s got people looking out for him,’ Sam says. ‘You know how it is with these things though.., My guess is that when your friend at the church saw him, Milo was giving his harassed social worker a hard time. He has a tough life and sometimes it shows.’

‘It explains why he was out buying beans at eight in the morning. How will they get on at Christmas?’

‘Like I said, they have some help,’ Sam tells him. ‘Mary, our family support worker is brilliant. She’ll make sure that Milo gets presents, though given the budget cuts it won’t be much this year. Anyway,’ says Sam. ‘You can see that our Milo is very much alive and kicking.’

‘Yes.’ It was a relief. ‘Will you give him that?’ Mariner gestures towards the trainer.

‘Of course.’

After leaving the school Mariner takes the afternoon off. Bracing himself he braves the toyshop once again. A couple of days later he stops off at the school and seeks out Mary.

Christmas is far from peace on earth for Tom Mariner. In the early hours of 25th December he is called to a fatal stabbing outside a city pub; business as usual. Ten days later and into the New Year he is still in the throes of the investigation when an envelope lands on his desk. He opens it. Inside is a child’s drawing, a stick figure leaping through the air, with eyes peering out from a bandana, bright red cloak billowing out behind him. The caption underneath in bold, crooked letters reads: Milo Beckett my best presnt ever. It’s the first child’s picture Mariner has ever received. He tacks it to the wall above his filing cabinet, where the trainer had sat. He reads the accompanying note: To Tom, from one crime fighter to another. Thank you. Sam x

For more info on Chris Collett, here are her author links:-

Website: www.chriscollettcrime

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CrimeCrow

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Collett/585943991417531

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=128351834&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

And, please take a peek at our promo post, with lots of info on her DI Tom Mariner series:- PROMO POST

Chris Collett 1 Worm in the BudChris Collett 2 Blood of the InnocentsChris Collett 3 Written in BloodChris Collett 4 Blood of MoneyChris Collett 5 Stalked by ShadowsChris Collett 6 Blood and StoneChris Collett 7 Dead of Night

Chris Collett 7 Dead of Night

*Review* HOT Festive short story ~ Candy Cain by C.L. Scholey

CANDY CAIN by C.L. Scholey - Click Image to CloseAuthor: C.L. Scholey

Title: Candy Cain

Genre: Festive, Contemporary Romance, Erotica

Release Date: 02 December 2014

Publisher: Torrid Press/Whiskey Creek Press

Length: 55 pages (est)

Blurb: Candy is on top of the world. She’s a high priced corporate lawyer with expensive cars, time on her hands, and money to burn. Although, she has no one to burn it on, except for a yearly ritual of buying toys and treats for the needy at Christmas time.

Cain is an egotistical enigma. A very deprived and hurting enigma, who feels wishes are for fools. A car accident leaves them stranded together, and the two have no choice but to warm each other’s cold bodies, lest they freeze to death.

As the temperature dips outside, the heat begins to sizzle inside. Candy and Cain, though worlds apart in society, begin to feel perhaps they have more in common than either could ever wish for.

Will they both discover the miracle of Christmas wishes isn’t just for the very young? 

REVIEW

In this recently released festive short story we have a very strong conflict between the main two characters, Candy and Cain. But despite their differences, circumstances lead them to be stranded together and the result is some very hot, steamy moments of passion between them that will leave you hoping for more!

Candy has had a tough life, yet she has made a great career for herself in becoming a corporate lawyer. She is grateful for her upbringing, no matter how poor her family’s status was, and feels like she can now give something back to similar families and their children who appreciate her kindness and goodwill. But, the one thing that Candy doesn’t have in her life now is love – love from a family, love from a man. She is lonely, and the one wish she does have for Christmas is quickly taken from her mind with the thought that:

‘Christmas wishes were for children.’

Personally, this is something I have never believed and never will. But Candy, remaining realistic and mature pushes her fleeting thought to the back of her mind.

When she first bumps into Cain, although there was an initial attraction with this slightly dishevelled but handsome man, with a large, warm chest, there is instantly a love/hate relationship developing as they comment in adolescent ways to each other. The reader can sense both characters being a little irked with the other.

A little later, when they both become stranded together, the tension is and still there and Cain seems quite mysterious. His hard, outer shell displaying some annoyance with Candy and yet he does all he can (plus more!) to ensure that they both survive the freezing, cold night. It begins to get a little sexy between them as they only have a blanket and each other’s bodies to keep them warm in the cab of his truck, and while Candy’s thinking sensual thoughts, Cain begins carrying them out!

‘It was an odd mixture of entrapment and safety.’

During the time they have known each other, they have been judgmental towards each other, not realising the truth of their backgrounds and true feelings. But maybe they both have something in common. They have both experienced loss, and it can feel even worse at this time of year. But will they both realise this before they go their separate ways?

Candy Cain offers all you would want in a festive story: there’s the heart-warming moments of caring for the needy and their gratitude, the Christmas shopping, the presents, the snow and, of course, the romance. It is a fun and quirky read at moments, as well as being suspenseful in other instances. I am certainly looking forward to reading more from this author.

A copy of C.L. Scholey’s ‘Candy Cain’ was provided by Torrid Press for the purpose of an honest and fair review.

Reviewed by Caroline Barker

BUY LINKS

Torrid Press

Amazon UK

Amazon US