Guest: Natasha Blackthorne

“Grey’s Lady is the story of a wealthy New York merchant price, Grey Sexton, who falls for a poor but beautiful seductress, Beth McConnell. Yet, for all their social and economical differences, at their most basic level, Beth and Grey are very similar. This story explores how these similarities threaten to tear them apart before love can overcome the fear of being vulnerable.
Both Beth and Grey suffered isolation and emotional neglect in childhood. Grey grew up as a privileged only son, heir to Sexton Shipping, one of the fledgling nation’s largest mercantile fleets. Grey’s father was a stern businessman who did not understand his daydreaming son and held him at a distance. A child in this position might take solace in a closer relationship with his mother. However, Grey’s mother was chronically ill and unable to bear his childish energy. She kept to her chambers and died while he was still quite young. Later at age nineteen, Grey engaged in an emotionally scarring experience with a slightly older woman, something that is not covered in Grey’s Lady. All of these backstory issues and more are explored in more depth in the sequel, White Lace and Promises, which is scheduled for release Dec. 26, 2011.
In contrast, the focus of Grey’s Lady is on the immediate interaction between two wounded and self-protective people who feel an overpowering attraction to each other but who do not want to admit it to themselves or the other.
I will let my character, Beth, tell her story in her own words:
Why should men always have the power of choice when it comes to love? Is it right that we women have no choice but to sit and wait for a man decide to honor us with his declarations–usually uttered in the form of a demand? And all we as women may do is say “yes” or “no” and hope we have made a wise choice. The man still has the power to break his promises and it will be our good name and heart that bears the damage.
My mother fell into an adulterous affaire with an unknown man and as a result I was created. Her husband put her out of their house. I would have been born in the almshouse if not for the kindness of her employer. After my mother’s death, I would have gone to the foundling home without my kindly benefactress. My unknown father also had his power of choice, the choice to abandon me. How fair is it that men have all the power of choice?
Oh, you ask what about the gentlemen? Ha! The gentlemen. They are the very worst.
A gentleman once declared passionate love for me. He said this so ardently, his beautiful brown eyes shone with sincerity. I was young. I was naïve. I believed him. I trusted him and gave my heart wholly into his keeping. And as went my heart, eventually so went my virtue.
Do you what happened next? Surely, I don’t have to tell you. You know how these maudlin stories go. He married someone else. A lady. Someone of his own class. His took his power of choice. He became a respectable family man and I was left being a soiled dove. I had a good cry over it. I may have drank a little too much at his wedding celebration. What a pitiful little fool I was. But I did not wallow in my self-pity for long. So men have needs and desires? Well, I also have needs. I also have desires. Why should men have all the power of choice? Why should they have all the enjoyment in life?
I take my own power of choice now. I chose whom, when and for how long and I select only the most handsome, wealthy, and powerful of gentlemen.
Yes, I know you are asking do I not fear discovery? This is a worry and I take it seriously. Truly I do. I live with my half-brother and his family now. He is very protective and very touchy about matters of honor. Our mother was not faithful to his father. Now he takes such matters so seriously. Too seriously. If he had his way, I would stay home all the time, working in the backroom of his cobbler shop with one eye on the children. But honestly, though I love my nieces and my half-siblings, life there is dreary. It’s all work, work and more work. Everything is shabby, everything seems to stay gritty and grimy no matter how hard I work to keep things clean. There are always more shoes to repair. I swear my eyes shall go crossed trying to sew by candlelight night after night. I never get enough sleep or time to myself. If I couldn’t go out and seek my adventures, I should go mad. I have my mother’s wild blood in me and my desires can run so high I fear they shall consume me.
I could marry a nice man and he would carry me away from all of this. I would have my own cozy home and hearth. My benefactress has introduced me to a nice young minister and to a nice young but struggling legal clerk and a nice young medical student who trembled all over and went pale when I said good morning to him. I have no interest in nice young men. It’s the wealthy, powerful, arrogant gentlemen who fascinate me. I know they will never desire me for a wife but they shall burn for me. They shall remember me.
How do I protect myself from discovery? I limit my liaisons to one single meeting. I never meet with my gentlemen again, no matter how desperately they implore me. And they do implore me. Though I am poor, the child of adultery by an unknown man and powerless in my society, I have something gentlemen desire. I have beauty, and thanks to my mother’s wild blood, I understand their hot lusts better than the women of their class. I do gain a measure of satisfaction out of leaving them burning for more. Burning for me. No gentleman shall ever forget the one afternoon he spent with me.
Today is a special day for me. Mr. Asahel de Grijs, otherwise known as Grey to his friends, is coming to my favorite bookseller to give a lecture on privateering. He is a New York man, the owner of Sexton Shipping which has a fleet of over forty sea going vessels. He is rumored to be the wealthiest gentleman in America. I know this is not true. I know exactly who is the wealthiest man in America. But Mr. Sexton is among the top three wealthiest men in our nation. He is also politically connected and quite powerful. He would be the brightest feather in my cap. I think I shall wear my shabbiest dress because it is always more thrilling when these gentlemen cannot resist the tattered, poor little bastard girl. They are slaves to their own greed for beauty.
I don’t really deride gentlemen for their focus on beauty. I appreciate a handsome face and well-made masculine form. Well, if Mr. Sexton’s physicality matches his other attributes, then I shall be entertaining a gentleman today. In private. In his carriage. But only for today. Afterwards, he shall burn for me. He will never forget me.
Grey’s Lady
Carte Blanche, Book 1
By Natasha Blackthorne
Total-E-Bound Publishing
eBook ISBN: 978-0-85715-618-1
To Purchase click on links below:Total-e-Bound  | Amazon  | All Romance e-Books
To watch the book video: http://youtu.be/fHAaAZdH5bQ

Blurb:

Beth McConnell boldly seduces Grey Sexton, a self-controlled merchant prince from New York, she finds herself too fascinated by his ice-over-fire nature to stay away. His possessive determination to own her, body and soul, threatens to expose her secret erotic life to public shame.

Excerpt:

“Are you hungry?” he asked, his tone front-parlour-polite.
“No.” She couldn’t possibly eat. She’d been pent up with desire like a caged cat for two weeks. Now, so close to being beneath him again, she could barely keep herself from swooning from the excitement.
“You know, for a moment there, I thought you were about to bolt.”
“No, never.”
“That’s a relief.” He laughed without smiling and pressed something into her hand—a key. He whispered his room number. “Go up. I’ll follow shortly.”
“I haven’t much time.”
“Very shortly.” The edgy promise in his voice sent a bolt of desire twisting through her belly. Her knees melted to jelly and she wobbled.
“Careful.” His strong hands gripped her shoulders, steadying her, his face showing none of the emotion pounding through her own body. How could he remain so unaffected?
Impulse seized her and she caught hold of his lapels. “Kiss me.”
He leaned closer. Heavens, anyone could come along and catch them. Oh the risk… But her breath quickened and her nipples stiffened, straining against her stays. She closed her eyes, tilted her head up. Waited.
And waited.
“How many men since me?” He laid his large hand at the base of her throat and a thrill went chasing through her. “Look me in the eye.”
Her lids fluttered open and his gaze pierced into her with such intensity she gasped. “It has only been two weeks.”
“Answer me, Beth.”
Another thrill trembled through her. Fear or anticipation? She couldn’t say. “None.”
Still holding her throat, he studied her for several long moments. She set her jaw, refusing to waver under his scrutiny.
He bent and his mouth pressed hers, hard and hasty. Passion spiralled, took her soaring to the stars. Lassitude weakened her and wetness seeped between her legs. He lifted his head. She tightened her hands on his lapels, trying to pull him back. He resisted, his eyes trained on her like a stag with a doe.
Kiss me. Just kiss me, you arrogant jackanapes.
“Now, go.” He released her, set her veil back in place and left her there.
She gaped at his departing back, watching how he moved, so tall and proud. Over-proud. Did he have any idea what a rarefied class he found himself in? She didn’t go around asking just any man to kiss her. She had very high standards and she shared herself with only a select few. She was bestowing quite an honour on him and yet he reacted as if she were the one who ought to be grateful. And to add insult to injury, he hadn’t even kissed her. Not truly.
and a bit more…

Guest: Lux Zakari

Hello and welcome Lux Zakari to my site. She has so graciously agreed to be interviewed.  
So let’s begin… 
1) First, tell us a little about yourself so the readers know who you are.
I’m Lux Zakari, author of the erotic novels Coercion and Finale. Some say my work is pretty dark, controversial and kinky, but if one were to meet me in person, he or she would ask, “That little goof is writing erotica?” That being said, I enjoy keeping people on their toes. 
2) What made you decide to write? Was it something you accidentally began? Or what you wanted to do? Or an annoying character who refused to leave until their story was told? 
For me, there was never any decision. Writing was just always something I did. I liked telling stories and preserving ideas, and for me, even though I do dabble in visual arts, writing is the best way for me to effectively express what’s going on in my head. It’s so hard for me not to write; it’s like I can’t help myself. I’m perpetually jotting down fragmented ideas and pieces of conversation that I intend on immortalizing in some way at some point in time.
3) I love hearing about first acceptances as an aspiring writer and now that I am e-published, I still love hearing about them. So tell us about that first acceptance.   
Dorky, but true: When I learned my first novel, Coercion, had been accepted for publication, I danced around to Lionel Ritchie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling.” I’m pretty sure there were a few kicks and spins, and the lyrical supplements of “Fame! I’m gonna live foreva!”
4) Tell us about your current release? Where can readers buy it from?  
When music legend Jonathan Levant dies in a motorcycle accident, no one is more stunned than his former lover Olivia Gray, a hedonistic ex-celebrity who learns she’s been inexplicably named the guardian of his children. Olivia’s reluctant acceptance of the new parental role obliterates her hope of resurrecting her songwriting career as she faces sarcastic teenagers, suicide attempts and séances. The upset to her self-indulgent life forces Olivia to finally face the truth about the cruel decisions of her wild past, her now uncertain future and her secret, turbulent relationship with a man who, even in death, continues to upend her world.
5) What are you currently writing?  
The story I’m working on now is about an ex-teen idol who married young, is in the midst of a divorce and now has to use fan fiction written about him to glean insight on how to date. It’s an idea that began as a joke, but one I became very passionate about. It’s slow-going though; the magnitude of the project and its importance to me keeps psyching me out of actually writing it, but it’s coming along!
6) What inspires you most when you write?  
Usually everything, but lately, I’ve found inside jokes and other people’s quirks very inspiring, as could be derived from the aforementioned fan fic story. I’m notorious for doing things such as turning a simple gag into a full-blown, year-long project.
7) What experiences have you had working with your publisher/s? 
Like everything else in life, it’s been a mixed bag. Right now I’m enjoying my experience with Etopia Press, the publisher releasing my next novel, Secretly More. My editor and I seem to be on the same wavelength, and the publisher is very good about answering any questions that crop up on my end.
8) What are you reading now?  
Right now I’m trying to work my way through Game of Thrones, which is a daunting-sized book as it is. However, I’m not used to reading books where things actually happen! Usually, my tastes lean toward books about relationships, and Game of Thrones is a bit too exciting for me. I keep getting overwhelmed and having to walk away from it!
9) What are your guilty pleasures?  
Everything I enjoy is a guilty pleasure, to the point where they stop being guilty pleasures and start being just stuff I like! Some of that stuff includes singing Justin Bieber’s “Baby” (but for a cover band, so it helps soften it—I hope) and still watching my favorite childhood movies over and over.
10) What would be your advice, if any, for other aspiring authors?  
I mentioned this on Lucy Morgan’s blog, but I believe it whole-heartedly: Always write the story you want to tell exactly the way you want to tell it. There will be at least one person in the world who will be incredibly grateful that you did.
This is for you to talk more about yourself, leave your blogging details, site details and generally promote yourself. 
To learn more about Lux Zakari, visit www.luxzakari.com.

Guest: Siobhan Kinkade

Hello, world!
Nice to meet you all!  My name is Siobhan Kinkade, and I’m here today on Sam’s blog for some shameless self-promotion.  My next book, She-Wolf is set to release Thursday, September 29th, through Sugar & Spice Press, and will be available through the SSP Website, Amazon’s Kindle Store, All Romance eBooks, and various other eBook retailers..  Have a look below at the cover and excerpt, and enjoy the show!
Oh, yeah…everyone can find me in various places, such as Facebook, Twitter, and My Blog.

The Blurb:

It is almost the full moon, and werewolf Mira Winterborn is feeling restless. Research has failed her, and she is convinced that no matter what happens, there is no way to stop the change. But when her best friend invites her out for a late night on the town, she finds herself drawn to the bad-boy in the corner as a likely candidate for a final experiment. Unfortunately, he’s there to kill her.
Rune Morwyn is a hunter, working to repay a blood debt. Mira is to be his last mark, but she makes him a bizarre offer that seems too good to be true. Is the wild attraction between them enough to upset her curse, and what will happen if he lets his normally guarded heart go?

The Excerpt:

Mira had never seen the bar packed quite so tightly before. Their normally deserted hole-in-the-wall was hopping. Maybe the full moon was affecting more than just her tonight? Not likely, but she let herself believe it anyway to quell the frustration rising in her chest.
As soon as they were through the ID check, Tempest was gone into the crowd with little more than a peck on the cheek and a backward wave, leaving Mira standing in the doorway alone. The deep throb of industrial music filled her ears and her body, its heavy melody thumping all the way to her center. She had learned from experience that it was useless to try and fight the rhythmic bump of the drum machines. The beat took hold and she found herself swaying under its control, feeling the effects of her surroundings begin rip away her inhibitions and her anger.
Maybe Tempest was right…maybe Mira could find someone to take home. Even if the attraction wasn’t strong enough to stop the change, or if he wasn’t into the whole ritual sex-while-asking-the-cosmos-for-favors thing, at least she could have a little fun, scratch the itch building in her belly, and distract herself for a while.
Yeah…and frogs fell from the sky daily.
As Mira passed, the men around her turned to watch her, sizing her up with obvious appreciation as she slipped and slid against their sides and around other men and women. She watched them with equal interest, making determinations based on her gut instincts as she passed.
Too young…too old…too much hair…too fragile…BINGO.
She spotted him at the back of the building, close to the DJ’s pedestal. He leaned against the wall, a beer in hand. He looked like he was at the extreme edge of boredom as he turned that disinterested gaze toward her. The second their gazes connected, she felt the effect of his presence lash through her body. A shiver of delight wormed its way down her spine and seated firmly in her belly, sprouting tendrils of warmth that twisted around her insides and drew her forward.
He seemed to feel it too. The look of boredom disappeared from his face, replaced by an odd mixture of tension and amusement. He abandoned his station and his drink, and started toward her. The look on his face was feral; he appeared almost as wild as she felt.
Another were?
Not likely. She sniffed at the air and picked up no trace of her kind in the building. He had to be human, or she’d have known it already.
As he neared her, she realized how big he was…tall, broad-shouldered, with formfitting leather pants and a tight, black T-shirt that showcased a well-defined body, perfect for clinging to. Deep-set, silver gray eyes held her gaze with laserlike precision and shoulder-length black hair to match her own framed his face in a messy, I’m-a-man-and-I-don’t-care shag.
So this is animal magnetism, she thought as they met without a word and fell into step with the music. He did not ask her name, and she didn’t offer it, content only to be here with him in this moment, moving together in a time-old mating ritual. He towered over her; she was of average height, but the top of her head scarcely came up to his shoulder. The smell of aftershave curled around her, the familiar, sexy smell pinging against her senses and upping her pulse considerably. She wanted to reach up and draw her fingers across his jaw to test the give in those sinfully crafted lips. Mira couldn’t take her eyes off of him, and delighted in the fact that he seemed inclined to watch her as well. A dark, wicked smile curled his lips as he stared down at her.

Guest: Angelina Rain

Hello and welcome Angelina Rain to my site. She has so graciously agreed to be interviewed. 
So lets begin…
1) First, tell us a little about yourself so the readers know who you are?
I was reading a lot of books by my favorite authors and after a while it seemed like they were all the same story over and over. I started coming up with plot twists and characters that entertained me more then the books I was reading. So, I started writing.
2) What made you decide to write? Was it something you accidentally began? Or what you wanted to do? Or annoying character who refused to leave until their story was told?
Actually, all my favorite New York Times Bestselling author’s were starting to mass produce crap and I was in dire need for an entertaining story, so I wrote one for myself. It was crap, but I realized that I really enjoyed making up my own characters and plots. The more I wrote, the better I got.
3) I love hearing about first acceptances as an aspiring writer and now that I am e-published, I still love hearing about them. So tell us about that first acceptance.
I’ve been writing for pleasure for a while, but about a year ago, I decided to write with the intent of publishing. I figured that if it takes me a couple of years to get my first acceptance, I should start submitting now. As it happened, I wrote my first real story and sent it out to a few publishers. My goal was to get a revise and resubmit email. Imagine how shocked I was when I got a contract offer instead. I reread the email like ten times before I was certain that I wasn’t dreaming.
4) Tell us about your current release? Where can readers buy it from?
My current release (although not my first published book) is the first book I submitted and contracted. It’s entitled INTIMATE HEALING and it could be purchased from Sapphire Blue Publishing.
5) What are you currently writing?
Nothing really. The last couple of months in my life have been like a real soap opera so I haven’t had time to write. I have a lot of WIP’s started and many more brewing in my head so I’m sure you’ll see something from me soon.
6) What inspires you most when you write?
I do a lot of daydreaming and imagining. I call that plot development. Food helps too. When all else fails, I listen to music or stare at the painting over my computer desk. It’s of a log cabin on a lake, with mountains on the clouds. Very beautiful. It makes me think of authors like Nora Roberts (my idol) and really inspires me to write like her.
7)What experiences have you had working with your publisher/s?
I had a great experience. I’m published with two publishers. I can’t say much about Sapphire Blue as I haven’t had that much experience with them.
My other publisher, Evernight Publishing, has been a dream come true. They are so professional and author friendly. All their staff and fellow authors are super nice. I love that place!
8) What are you reading now?
I’m reading a book by a fellow Evernight Publishing author. After publishing with them, I started to read a lot of their books. They are all so good!
9)What are your guilty pleasures?
I love mint chocolate, animals, good Italian food (and men).  In books, my guilty pleasure is a second chance at love storyline along with hot kinky sex.
10)What would be your advice, if any, for other aspiring authors?
Write what you love and forget about the sales. There are so many authors that will concentrate on writing what sells, but they aren’t writing from the heart. I would rather read a book that’s original as opposed to a copy of another book that sold well. We can all follow trends, but what fun is that when you could set them instead. So set those trends and write that original book.
INTIMATE HEALING
It’s been fourteen years since Jordan Powell ended her relationship with Nate Thrillson and she is still not over him. She never expected to see him again.
Nate is hiding a deadly secret and plans to live out the rest of his life alone. When he is assigned as head investigator to a missing dogs case he doesn’t expect to be working so closely with the town veterinarian, Jordan.
 As they work together to discover who is kidnapping these dogs, old feelings are brought to the surface. Can they be together again or will other problems force them apart?

SNEAK PEEK:

“And another thing.”
She stood in front of him and crossed her arms over her chest. “What?”
He grabbed onto her forearms forcing her arms to fall stiffly to her sides and pushed her back against the wall. Her heart started to race and one look into his lust filled eyes, made her body warm. Her breath caught in her throat. Slamming his body into hers, Nate’s lips hovered over hers and he kissed her passionately. His hands traveled up to the back of her neck and caressed it softly as he deepened the kiss.
Heat exploded all over her body. She should stop him, stop herself. This was so wrong. They hadn’t seen each other in so long. It was too soon to share such a passionate kiss. But it felt incredibly right.
He pulled away slowly.
She panted, trying to catch her breath. Jordan couldn’t tear her gaze away from him. Nate stared back at her.
Nate smiled. “Miss me?” He winked at her and walked past her. Once he opened the door, Nate glanced back at her.
“Not a bit,” she lied. Oh, she had missed his kisses, and the way he made her boil with passion.

Guest: Paige Turner

Hello and welcome Paige Turner to my site. She has so graciously agreed to be interviewed. 
So lets begin…
1) First, tell us a little about yourself so the readers know who you are? 
Hi, Sam! Thanks for having me! I really enjoyed Office Hours, and I’m looking forward to your next release.
I’m a brand new erotic romance author. My first release, Temporary Trouble, a ménage contemporary with touches of humour, was released on the 12th of September. My next book, Bone Idol, a male/male Victorian romance complete with scheming palaeontologists, sabotage and some very saucy scenes, is due out in December.
I’m absolutely thrilled to join Total-E-Bound’s stable of insanely talented authors – what great company to be in!
SC: Thank you so much. I’m pleased you liked Office Hours and Temporary Trouble sounds amazing. 
2) What made you decide to write? Was it something you accidentally began? Or what you wanted to do? Or annoying character who refused to leave until their story was told?
I’ve always enjoyed writing everything from children’s stories to horror novels, and I’ve always been a big fan of the steamier side of romance. So writing erotic romance was a natural next step for me.
I love being able to lose myself in make-believe situations and explore the world through the eyes of a couple of very naughty boys, a nineteenth-century scientist, or a moody private eye. And I love the fact that, no matter what my characters go through, I can always give them a happily-ever-after.
SC: I’m addicted to writing and to happily-ever-after.
3) I love hearing about first acceptances as an aspiring writer and now that I am e-published, I still love hearing about them. So tell us about that first acceptance.
My first acceptance was actually for Bone Idol, which will be my second release. I didn’t stop grinning for at least a week!
Now, with my first release out, I’m having a whole different set of exciting new experiences. I can’t pretend it isn’t a bit scary, but it’s wonderful at the same time.
SC: I have to say it took some time for me to realise my editor hadn’t got the wrong email address but when it sunk in, it was the most amazing feeling. 
4) Tell us about your current release? Where can readers buy it from?
Temporary Trouble is about Ben and Aaron, who are bored of the same old temping assignments. Playing practical jokes makes the job a bit less boring and keeps them out of more serious trouble …until their female boss catches Ben on the photocopier with his trousers down, and sees very clearly the sexual tension between the boys they haven’t quite admitted to themselves.
A good boss has to discipline her staff, and Ben has been a very naughty boy indeed. And what better job for her other temporary office boy, Aaron, than to help her administer the punishment Ben deserves?
You can buy Temporary Trouble, part of Total-E-Bound’s Tempting Temps series, here: http://www.total-e-bound.com/product.asp?strParents=&CAT_ID=&P_ID=1391
And if you do, please submit a review!
5) What are you currently writing?
I have several projects on the go! A moody film-noir inspired thriller, a twisted fairytale, a collaboration on a horror story with a dear friend, and an epic historical that just seems to be getting longer and longer – not to mention about two dozen other ideas I’ve not had time to start on yet!
SC: I always like to keep several projects on the go. 
6) What inspires you most when you write?
Anything can spark off an idea – a conversation overheard on the bus, a daydream, mis-hearing or mis-reading something that leads to a double-take and an interesting “what if…?” I think history books and newspapers are the best sources for ideas – truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes.
7) What experiences have you had working with your publisher/s?
I can unequivocally say that Total-E-Bound are great people to work with. They’re friendly and helpful, committed to what they do, and their art department is absolutely fantastic. As far as I’m concerned, they produce the best cover art in the business!
8) What are you reading now?
At the moment I’m reading lots of research material for my epic historical WIP. It’s fascinating stuff.
9) What are your guilty pleasures?
Once upon a time I might have said romance novels, but now I get to read as many of them as I like and pretend they’re research! Other than that, chocolate, tea and afternoon naps – I lead a terribly exciting, rock-and-roll lifestyle.
10) What would be your advice, if any, for other aspiring authors?
Read a lot. When you’re reading, work out what you like and dislike about that book; what works and what doesn’t – then apply it to your own work. And write a lot! There are people who want to be writers but don’t actually want to write. That’s not going to work! You might not be writing to the standard you’d like. You might think you have a long way to go. But the only way to get there is to keep writing and getting better!
This is for you to talk more about yourself, leave your blogging details, site details and generally promote yourself.
Please follow my blog at www.paigeturnerwrites.wordpress.com for updates on my upcoming releases, musings from a fledgling erotic romance author, and the occasional anecdote about something endearing or infuriating my cat has done. I’m always happy to chat with anyone who drops by!
Temporary Trouble Blurb: 

When jokes in work time turn into serious playtime.

For Ben and Aaron, bored of the same old temping assignments, playing practical jokes makes the job a bit less boring and keeps them out of more serious trouble. That is, until their female boss catches Ben on the photocopier with his trousers down, and sees the sexual tension the boys haven’t quite admitted to themselves.

A good boss has to discipline her staff, and Ben has been a very naughty boy indeed. And what better job for her other temporary office boy, Aaron, than to help her administer the punishment Ben deserves?

Tempting Excerpt: 

reathless and giggling, Ben Taylor and Aaron Jones leaned against one another, gulping for air. Aaron peered around the corner, ducking back when he saw a head turn their way. The ear-splitting, mechanical clamour of the fire alarm drowned out the sound of the pouring rain—rain that splattered the pavements and drenched their co-workers, who stood in a sodden, miserable huddle in the car park.

Half of them had grabbed coats as they’d left the building—the other half were hunched in short-sleeved blouses or shivered in damp cotton.

Aaron maintained a solemn expression for half a minute, his lips twitching, then dissolved into laughter again.

Ben straightened up and clapped Aaron on the back. “Come on. Let’s get out there before someone starts to get suspicious.”

Aaron gave him a luminous, lop-sided grin that dimpled one cheek, and suddenly Ben felt a little breathless again. He didn’t think about it, but instead slipped around the corner of the building and began to slosh across the car park, leaving his friend to follow.

A sullen group of smokers had broken off and were trying unsuccessfully to light their cigarettes in spite of the relentless downpour and the wind whipping the flames of their lighters out. Ben directed a completely artificial look of fellow-feeling their way.

The fire officer, Doreen, an uptight, skinny woman from HR whose hairstyle had been reduced to a soggy, straggling rat’s nest, gave them a harried look as she spotted them, and checked her watch. She ticked their names off the list on her clipboard, the waterlogged paper tearing under the pressure of her ballpoint pen.

Muttered complaints sounded through the crowd and Ben heard ‘fire-drill’ and ‘faulty bloody alarm’, but what he didn’t hear, to his smug delight, was ‘practical joke’. He winked at Aaron, and worked on projecting an air of disgruntlement. He didn’t want to stand out from the crowd by looking too cheerful.

The fact that his socks squelched unpleasantly inside his soaked-through shoes helped with that. Perhaps this hadn’t been their brightest idea ever—but it was definitely a successful prank, and that was what counted.

Okay, so it was childish. And he and Aaron, both in their mid-twenties, were old enough to know better. But temps got all the dull jobs—filing, photocopying, fetching coffee. Temps were easy to blame if something went wrong. Temps were paid minimum wage. Temps were…well, they were temporary. Disposable. They had to have some fun.