Here it is! My first book from Tule is part of the Royal Wedding Invitation series, a quartet (although each book stands alone) set in the Cotswold village of Combe St Philip and San Michele, a small country with an Adriatic coastline and mountainous interior.
It all started just about a year ago when I was asked if I'd like to be part of a small series set in the Cotswolds with a wedding at it's heart.
The timing was perfect for me. I've known Sophie Weston, Jessica Hart and Anne McAllister for many years and I couldn't think of three authors I'd rather be working with.
We settled on our village in the Cotswolds - modelling it on Castle Combe - the prettiest village in England. Anne was coming to the UK in the spring and we decided that once we had broken the back of the writing, we would all spend the day there, getting the feel of the place. The books would be delivered by May and published in the summer.
The best laid plans...
Jessica, who with her Pamela Hartshorne hat on had a mainstream women's fiction novel to write, flew out of the traps and produced her first draft in record time. After that things went downhill fast.
Tule were understanding. The delivery dates were put back six weeks.
Jenny was next to be struck down - this time with a series of horrible of viruses. Other dramas followed, but eventually, the books were all delivered into the hands of the waiting editor.
Castle Combe. We walked the ground on which events took place and had lunch at the Manor House Hotel - which we had recast as Hasebury Hall - under a cloudless blue sky. And we had a fabulous lunch.
That wasn't the end, of course.
We might have hundreds of books between us but there were revisions. It's part of the process, a chance to tighten up the prose, put right the names of minor characters that had been changed (and which I'd forgotten). I'd missed the "s" of the end of the Crown Prince's name, my hero's name was changed from Jensson to Jansson in one of the books. Some scenes were cut, a few new ones were written, all perfectly normal - especially when four authors were writing crossover scenes from different points of view.
Here is the blurb for the series -
A baronet’s daughter is marrying into European royalty and the wedding is set to take place in her pretty Cotswold village, where she grew up. Each hero/heroine is providing a wedding service– catering, PR, security, best man. They aim to make the royal wedding an unforgettable one. Love finds each of them along the way.
And here's a taste from The Bridesmaid's Royal Bodyguard -
Ally Parker glanced at the clock and sighed. Jennifer Harmon, the landlady of the Three Bells and her temporary boss, never failed to find a last-minute job that would take her over her basic hours. Extra minutes for which she would not be paid.
Mostly, because she needed a job—even one that involved scrubbing the floors of a busy gastro-pub—she gritted her teeth and got on with it, but not today.
She had to get away promptly for the first test in the once-in-a-lifetime PR gig handed her by her BFF, Hope Kennard. Not that she could tell Jennifer the reason she had to leave on time.
Much as she’d enjoy wiping the superior look off Jennifer’s face by explaining that she was meeting Count Fredrik Jensson, Head of Security for the San Michele royal family, this morning at Hasebury Hall, Hope’s marriage to His Serene Highness Prince Jonas Reval was very much on a need-to-know basis. Family, bridesmaids…
“Ally!” The second summons was sung out so sweetly that she knew Pete must have joined his wife in the bar to set up for the lunchtime rush. That would make things easier, at least for today. Jennifer would dissect any excuse she offered with her scalpel of a tongue but Pete would wave her out of the door. It would give his wife even more reason to give her a hard time when he wasn’t around but right now she’d take it.
She gave the range of stainless steel sinks one last wipe down but kept on her pink rubber gloves when she walked into the bar so that she couldn’t be accused of not working every second she was being paid for.
“Oh, there you are, Ally. I was beginning to think you’d slipped away early.”
Jennifer looked her up and down, clearly enjoying the fact that, having lost her “glamorous” job in London, her working wardrobe now consisted of a wrap-around pinny that had belonged to her grandmother and the scarf she wrapped around her hair to protect it from the scent of cooking and ale that lingered in the air.
“No, still here—” she looked up as the bar clock clicked onto the hour, setting her free “—although I do have to leave promptly today,” she reminded her, pulling off one of the gloves to emphasize the point.
“Of course, my dear. I wouldn’t dream of keeping you a minute over your hours.” Her smile might have convinced anyone who didn’t have the misfortune to work for her. “The only reason I called is because you have a visitor.”
She turned as Jennifer gestured in the direction of a tall figure standing with his back to her in front of the fire.
He turned as if she’d spoken the word out loud and any number of words skittered through her brain
of the what-the-hell variety but her
over-riding thought was that Count Fredrik Jensson looked a lot more dangerous
in person than he had in the photographs she’d found online.
His thick, light brown hair, cut almost brutally short, looked as if it had been touched by the hard frost riming the hedges as she set out for work at dawn. His eyes were a matching icy grey and he had the hard-boned good looks that turned strong women to jelly.
Jennifer, gossip antennae twitching like the whiskers of a mouse scenting cheese, was simpering in expectation of an introduction.
The man might be dangerously sexy but he was also dangerously stupid. Fortunately, her three years working for a gossip magazine had given her plenty of practice in diversionary tactics.
Before he could speak she flung her arms wide and exclaimed, “Fredrik!” hoping he’d have the sense to follow her lead. “How wonderful! I wasn’t expecting to see you until later.”
The last, at least, was true. Plan A had been to present herself at Hasebury Hall on the dot of ten o’clock, city-smart and thoroughly professional in her “serious” suit and the Manolos she’d bought with a bonus when she’d been flavour of the month at Celebrity magazine.
She hadn’t anticipated the need for a Plan B but no one could accuse her of being slow on her feet.
Jennifer, agog at the arrival of a drop-dead gorgeous male, needed distracting. If she thought they had history, she wouldn’t be wondering what he was doing in Combe St Philip; her imagination would already be filling in the blanks.
Peeling off her other glove and stuffing them both in her apron pocket, Ally placed her hands on the sleeves of his coat and, leaning forward to brush her lips against his cold cheek, murmured, “Just play along.”
For a heartbeat nothing happened, but Count Fredrik Jensson was not slow on his feet, either. While she was distracted by the enticing scent of cold skin, tingly fresh air, leaves moldering beneath the bare canopy of winter woods, his hands encircled her waist and before she could blink he was crushing her against the soft cashmere of his coat and the hard body it concealed.
Never had her name sounded so desirable and, held by his penetrating grey stare, she only realized his intention a split second before he lowered his mouth to hers.
Her tiny mew of protest was obliterated by the touch of cold lips that sent a shiver to her toes. Her brain, seeking an appropriate response to the shocking experience of being kissed senseless by a man she’d only moments before set eyes on, floundered as the ice of his mouth combined with the heat of hers in an explosion of pleasure.
Her last coherent thought as she closed her eyes and kissed him back was more…