Winter—spring? No—winter sparks!
Meet Hugo Winter, gorgeous fifty-something all-round perfect gentleman, and Alessa Marks, sexy late-twenties local journalist—and not really an elegant lady. While entrepreneur Hugo is at meetings with city luminaries and pitching venture capital ideas to fellow businessmen, Alessa’s probably chasing a reclusive rock star for an interview or sticking her nose into a local scandal for her column, Sparks, in the Montford Herald.
When an unexpected meeting just before Christmas brings never-the-twain Hugo and Alessa together, sparks combust. But can a winter–spring relationship, particularly one that starts out with passion hot enough to melt snow, really work out? Especially when Hugo’s reluctant to speak about his past, making Alessa determined to ferret out his secrets? Will their love wither in the frost or bloom with the spring?
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of spanking, references to anal sex, and references to adultery.
Publisher's Note: This book was previously released elsewhere. It has been revised and reedited for release with Totally Bound Publishing.
General Release Date: 18th February 2020
Friday morning found Alessandra Marks, Sparks to most people, in a pub, wondering why the stale Guinness smell that impregnated every pub carpet should be so prevalent in a hostelry with bare floorboards. Ten o’clock. Too early for a drink, even by the traditionally louche standards of a journalist, but she wasn’t there for the cask ale or the botanicals-enhanced ‘vodka for grown-ups’ gin bar. No, the first appointment in her diary for that day was for the pub’s annual exorcism.
“Are these licensed premises actually haunted?” she asked the Bishop of Montford, there to officiate and resplendent in his long white vestment and ceremonial mitre headdress.
“Shouldn’t be, or His Excellency here is slipping in his yearly duty!” quipped the Lord Mayor, there as official witness and a sight to behold with his black tricorn hat topping his chubby-cheeked face and his ermine-trimmed robes swaddling his tubby figure.
Alessa felt underdressed—she was one of the few, male and female, not wearing a skirt of some kind and was distinctly lacking in the accessories department, compared to the Lord Mayor’s heavy gold chain and seal and the bishop’s amethyst ring and matching jewel in the top of his staff, all glinting in the pub’s weak light.
In this bit of Montford’s Old Town, she wasn’t far from the Players Theatre and its costume hire service. Should she pop along and get something more splendid than her ‘uniform’ of straight-leg jeans, striped shirt worn with sweater and heavy-soled ankle boots? Nah. No time, even if she could be bothered.
She held out her digital voice recorder to capture the bishop’s practised tones, which swooped up to the timber-beamed roof and back down again to the wooden floor as he recounted the history of the alms paid to the nearby cathedral in perpetuity by every innkeeper of the Rose and Crown since the inn had been built in the sixteenth century, only to be interrupted by the Lord Mayor calling out that he betted the diocese wished the payment was index-linked to inflation, eh, eh?
Don Jackman, the current publican, probably glad the payment was still only four old pennies a year, grinned, showing off a gold tooth. Really, everyone has more bling than I do, Alessa thought. She inched back a little from the semicircle of dignitaries and worthies to join Don and his staff lined up in front of the crackling log fire. She didn’t need to hear that, in return for the alms, the diocese was charged with casting out unclean spirits from the hostelry, or the Lord Mayor’s quip that it didn’t just mean the sticky bottles from behind the bar, eh, now? Alessa preferred to cast out the December chill with the heat from the fireplace’s apple-scented flames, and hear what the publican and his staff were muttering about.
“Another square to me,” Don crowed, tapping the sheet of paper he held out for his bar staff. Alison Harper, bar manager, groaned as Don crossed off the square he’d indicated. He gave a nod to Alessa, a regular. “Hey, Sparks.”
“Damn! I had one about ‘spirits’ but not that exact ‘unclean spirits’ joke!” Alison slumped down into the cushioned recess at the side of the fireplace.
“Come on!” Kelvin, student and bartender, rallied Alison. “He’s bound to do the ‘watch out, mate, your handbag’s on fire!’ joke when the bishop starts up the incense in the censer. Then you’ll get a square!”
Oh. They were playing a Lord Mayor version of lingo bingo, were they? God knew she and her co-workers played a similar office-based version of it in management meetings at the Montford Herald, their slips on their knees under the table, crossing off clichés such as generate content, clickbait and downward impact.
“Did he make the same jokes last year?” Alessa asked Don, indicating the Lord Mayor. Ever since he’d became a town councillor, he’d treated every meeting like a club stage. Alessa should know—she sat through enough Town Hall meetings. The word was they’d made the man Lord Mayor to kick him into a more ceremonial role, away from their day-to-day work.
“And the year before.” Don nodded, a little weary-looking. Alessa understood that feeling of routine.
“Didn’t see you last night?” Don remarked, and Alessa shook her head, something she was able to do easily, being free of the usual Friday-morning hangover, the painfully dehydrated brain and thickly dry mouth that came courtesy of the Thursday Ladies’ Night cheap drinks.
“Keren came as usual. I got caught up in something.” She stopped. Last night hadn’t been the first occasion she’d cried off recently, and not because her private research was so very engrossing. Well, truth be told, she was looking deeper into writing about the county’s unexplored historical figures, whether as long reads for the Herald, or even articles to be pitched to other papers, or history or heritage magazines, or even publishers.
Her current fascination was Lady Elizabeth Latimer, of Sedley Castle out in Montfordshire county, whom some locals swore to be—and Alessa was slowly joining their ranks—the illegitimate daughter of Henry VIII’s last queen, Catherine Parr, and Thomas Seymour, conceived when Catherine was still married to Henry and born before she took Thomas as her fourth husband.
Alessa frowned, stopping and smoothing out her face when she realised what she was doing. At twenty-seven, she’d started to be cautious about wrinkles. She’d used to look forward to Thursday nights, the-weekend-starts-here night of the week, but lately—
“About time!” Alessa called down to Miguel Almeida, the Herald’s photographer assigned to this story, who was bounding in with his usual double-speed, long-legged stride. She couldn’t be annoyed with him—he’d probably covered at least two events before zooming here to photograph this one. Luckily, he had the energy and stamina of an overgrown Portuguese mountain dog puppy in these times when staff cutbacks had added to everyone’s workload.
“His Excellency’s lighting the censer!” hissed Kelvin, making the staff and Alessa rush away from the fire’s warmth and down the two steps into the bar proper where the ceremony, the exorcism, was about to start.
Miguel blotted sweat from his forehead with a tissue and took up position with his camera. Alessa threw back her thick blonde mane that no amount of layering seemed to thin out, only making it bounce around her face, and held out her recorder again.
“At least this job keeps you fit, gives you some ‘exorcise’!” called the Lord Mayor, who then looked hurt at the groans.
“Didn’t a publican die in here on the job, back in the nineteenth century?” Miguel asked, clicking away. “Just keeled over, working the beer pump? I read it in a book on Old Montford.” An incomer, he was interested in the town. He indicated the robed churchman asking for the intervention of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then, with a nod to Catholicism, Archangel Michael, to cast out demons. “So, this could be just as well!”
The bishop swung the censer on its chain, and the massive waft of cedar and musk, woody and peppery, took Alessa back to Mitch and the Armani Privé cologne he used to douse himself in. Wow. That had been a long time ago, and while things had run their course and she didn’t miss him—or his industrial-strength quantities of cologne—she sort of missed…someone. Missed intimacy, she supposed. Oh, and sex. She coughed and dabbed at her eyes.
“The frankincense is strong.” Miguel turned his head away from the smoking metal orb reeking of fumes and pine needles.
“It’s not myrrh?” joked Alessa.
“That tends to be more lemony.” Miguel grinned, showing even, white teeth. “Years of Catholic Mass. You can’t mistake the scents.”
The Lord Mayor chose that moment to yell, “I say, Bishop, your handbag’s on fire!”
Alessa groaned and the bishop began a prayer of deliverance. Timely.