tagNovels and NovellasAshton Hill Valentines

Ashton Hill Valentines

byxelliebabex©

Prologue

"What is it?" Lara Collingwood looked at the small white pill. It could have been an aspirin for all she knew.

"It's just a special diet pill, darling, it will give you a pep in your step because, honey, you look dreadful," Gordon said, turning Lara's hand over and placing the pill on her palm before curling her fingers over it. "You can't keep partying the way you do and expect designers like Larios to keep hiring you for his shows. What time did you even get home last night?"

"Home?" Lara said as if confused. It was true, she was exhausted, but not from partying so much. Yes, she was at a party, but he, her lover and agent, had pimped her out as the date of some studio bigwig in the hopes of transitioning her from the catwalk to the big screen. The bigwig, however, expected more from her than just a date, a lot more, and she had locked herself in the bathroom for most of the night. She may have been ready to sell her image, as a date to get what and where she and Gordon wanted her career to go, but that didn't mean she had to sleep with every sleazy guy who demanded it when they had done nothing for her. 'God, how could Gordon have done that to her?' she thought to herself.

'No, she just had to get through today, then she could take a few days off and catch up on sleep.' She turned to look in the mirror and admitted Gordon was right, she looked dreadful. She had prided herself on not falling into the traps of the industry that chewed up and spat out so many girls, "But it couldn't hurt just this once, could it?" she asked herself, looking at the little white pill and sighing. Gordon wouldn't have given her something that was bad for her. After all, his career depended on her being at the top of her game. She'd just get through this, then she could take a break and maybe go home for a few weeks and rest.

'Home,' she thought swallowing the pill. 'Where was home for her now?'

*****

Chapter 1.

"Wow! Now that's a penis!" Poppy Wilde giggled. "It's a perfect specimen!" She exclaimed and giggled again as she gave said penis a careful inspection.

"If the guy was eight-foot-tall and built like a gorilla," Carly Carter laughed. "But it does look good, doesn't, it." she joined the inspection, her inner critic told her she'd used a tad too much glitter on the left side when she had tried to bring out the curve.

"Absolutely! Amazingly edible," Poppy licked her lips exaggeratedly as if she wanted to lean forward and give it a good lick from dimpled scrotum to the belled head, then dissolved into another fit of giggles.

The tiny tinkling bells above the bakery door chimed making both women instantly freeze and turn as one to see who had walked in on their lewd conversation. Carly had the presence of mind to grab the lid and loosely place it on the box as she turned her head.

"Hi," Carly said. "Lara, isn't it?"

"That's right. And you're Eric's little sister, Carly, right?" Lara asked, showing her uncertainty.

"You'd think at twenty-four I could have outgrown being Eric's little sister," Carly sighed.

"I'm sorry," Lara immediately apologised. "It's just that I haven't been back in town very long and I'm still getting my bearings again. You know, trying to match who goes with who and how we're all interrelated in that weird small town way. Not that Ashton Hill is a small town these days, but it still has that feel, you know?" Lara tripped over her words nervously. When she had come home to Ashton Hill after almost a decade, she had forgotten the pitfalls of insulting any member of this community. She sighed, she'd upset enough people since she'd returned without meaning to, she was becoming afraid to step outside.

"Don't take any notice of her, Lara. Eric's a big personality in this town; she can never escape being his little sister. Not unless she takes her Sweet Temptations to the masses instead of just us small town girls," Poppy flicked the lid off the box and giggled girlishly as Lara's eyes opened wide.

"That's a... a penis!" she exclaimed.

"Totally lick-worthy and totally edible!" Poppy gasped between giggles.

"It's chocolate mud cake covered in ganache and modelling chocolate," Carly explained. "It's for Poppy's hen party."

"Looks more vanilla than chocolate to me," Lara grinned, still eyeing the phallic cake.

"Oh, vanilla! Yummy!" Poppy gasped and exaggeratedly licked her lips again before collapsing onto the counter, her giggling not subsiding.

"What else can you make?" Lara raised an inquisitive eyebrow. This was the closest she had come to an enjoyable conversation with any of the girls in this town since she had returned home over a month ago, and she very much wanted to be friends with Carly. She had come to the bakery with a purpose, and it was going to be much easier to ask if they had the beginnings of a friendship happening.

"I've started trying to put a website together, it doesn't get much traffic though. Website building is not my forte, I'm afraid," Carly picked up her tablet and navigated to the page she had created and added photos as she created her Sweet Temptations for her friend's birthdays and special occasions, like Poppy's hen party.

The bell tinkled over the shop door again, and all three women acted swiftly, the lid went back on the box and the tablet got turned over in Lara's hands and placed on the counter.

"Hi, Eric. Aren't you supposed to be at work bossing people around, or whatever it is you do on the council every day?" Poppy asked.

"Where's your suit and tie? However will people know how uptight you are?" Carly quizzed him, noting the casual jeans and polo shirt.

"I've got festival stuff to do," he said, rolling his eyes at the three girls and walking into the shop. "Shouldn't you be getting ready to close out for the day and prep for tomorrows bake?" he questioned his sister.

"Didn't leave that stick up your butt at work, I see," Carly grumbled. She busied herself fixing the lid on the cake box with a ribbon she tied in a decorative bow, and then placed a sticker she printed out on her inkjet that proclaimed the cake was made with love by Sweet Temptations. "Thanks, Poppy, I promise I'll come up with some great little treats for tomorrow night as well."

"Lara, you should totally come," Poppy invited. "You said yourself you haven't been back in town long enough to reconnect with old friends, so come and make some new ones!"

"You totally should," Carly encouraged, "It will give me someone sane to talk to while Poppy is licking the cake," she laughed and added, "From her fingers," when Poppy scowled at her and looked meaningfully at Eric, who worked with her fiancé.

"That would be nice, but..." Lara began.

"Nope, no buts, I heard her say it would be nice. Didn't you, Carly?" Poppy asked.

"Sounded like she said yes to me," Carly agreed. "I'll give her the details, you go and get that cake into a refrigerator somewhere safe."

"Ciao, for now, girls, and Eric," Poppy sang on her way out of the door.

"I just came in for one of your awesome cupcakes, but it looks like I'm too late," Lara said, unsure of how she got roped into going to a party. She wasn't a party girl anymore. She'd worked hard to shed that image over the last year, most of that time in a rehab clinic. She guessed it wouldn't hurt to make a new friend or two, particularly Carly, and she couldn't imagine a hen party in Ashton Hill would be very wild or hold too many temptations for her.

"Eric! Why would you take the last one when I still have a customer?" Carly yelled at him as he stood with a box half full of cakes and pastries.

"What? How was I supposed to know she was a customer? It looked like you were all just standing around gossiping and laughing," he said defensively.

"I have more cupcakes out the back. I can frost one for you if you don't mind waiting," Carly offered.

"Sure, I had a craving, so I came by early before work. I have the time, if you don't mind making it for me," Lara said with a smile for both of the siblings. She would have to come back to talk to Carly another time if Eric didn't leave soon.

"So, how's it been since you've back?" Eric asked as he continued to fill up the box he held.

"Different," Lara shrugged, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. She was used to dealing with the men of this town while having a solid wood bar between her and them and the noise of the pub patrons to blame for not wanting to talk to the people she had gone to school with, and that included Eric Carter.

"I bet, big city living isn't for everyone. You're better off here, people care about each other in this town," he said in a friendly tone, not realising the crushing pain she felt at having to come home and moving into a tiny apartment she could barely afford the rent on after leaving her fall from grace behind her. Still, she wouldn't let it show. There was no way she was letting a man, especially a small-town bigwig like him, make her feel like a failure. She might not have anything left after the accident, but she still had her pride.

"It wasn't so bad," she said, and was amazed at how steady her voice was. "The bars are a bit more upmarket than Kelly's," she said about the place she currently worked. "There was always a bit more excitement in the air. This place is pretty quiet and predictable."

"Be careful what you wish for, the Delaney's are coming back this weekend for the wedding," he smirked. "The last time they were in town the nightlife at Kelly's was anything but boring," he chuckled.

"Let's hope they decide to give Kelly's a miss this time then," she said. "I can't imagine that sort of excitement leads to anything good." She dismissed his comment with a disparaging look, to his dismay.

"So, what were you girls looking at when I walked in?" he casually flipped over the tablet that still lay face down on the counter.

"Girl stuff," Lara said noncommittally, breathing a sigh of relief that the screen was black and it had put itself to sleep. She didn't really know Carly yet, but she didn't want to be the cause of any trouble for her. Eric wasn't deterred by the black screen and hit the button, making the website reappear showing the badly made website where his sister showed her talents with speciality cakes, including erotic designs.

"I thought we told you to give up on that stupid cake modelling stuff. You need to just stick to the tried and true stuff that works in this bakery," Eric said with a disapproving voice as he stood at the door to the kitchen. "Mum and Dad left you in charge here because they thought you'd given up all that nonsense. How long are they away anyway?" He asked.

"Another month to six weeks, depending on Aunt Mabel's recovery," Carly said as she re-emerged from the kitchen holding a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting and fine chocolate curls decorating it. "Here you go, sorry you had to wait, but as you can see, Eric's a pig, on more than one level. I don't know why Mum and Dad couldn't have given me a sister instead of a big brother," she rolled her eyes heavenward as if in prayer.

"Thanks, Carly, I appreciate it. I'll call by tomorrow and get that information from you," Lara said with a smile, and made her get away before Eric could ask her if she would be here for the Valentine Festival, or, worse yet, join a committee. She had every intention of ignoring Valentine's Day completely.

"Great, see you then," Carly smiled and waved, waiting until the door shut before attacking her brother. "Why are you even here, except to make my life difficult?" Carly asked her brother with a scowl once Lara had gone.

"I wanted to grab something nice for the committee meeting, and I wanted to make sure Mum would be back to do the orders for the festival. With all the extra work that week it will be better if the two of you were here. The committee has decided to run it as a series of events over the week leading up to festival since so many people have accepted their invitations to come home for the weekend," he told her.

"You don't think I have enough work already?" she sighed. What she really wanted to do was start on some Valentine's Day designs to display on her website. Chocolates were the number one gift, and she planned to make some scandalous ones, if she could just find the time. That would mean that her website should be running hot with orders before Valentine's Day, and she wouldn't want to get bogged down in doing all the catering for the festival activities.

"Maybe if you stopped playing around with that specialist cake idea you'd have more time," he snarked back at her. "Mum already said she'd do it, not my fault she had to rush off to help Aunt Mabel," he shrugged. "I just wanted to make sure she'd be back in time."

Carly knew the baking for the festival would be boring, probably just consisting of a slab cake with a stencil of hearts and flowers or a cupid shooting arrows. She could make something wonderful for them. She could sculpt a three-dimensional likeness of a cupid, but the boring, uptight people in this town would never appreciate it. She sighed.

"I'll take that as a yes," he fished a twenty out of his pocket and laid it on the counter. "Keep the change," he lifted the box in his hand as an explanation.

"You look far too happy to just be going to a committee meeting," she frowned at her brother.

"The old gang is getting back together tonight, before the wedding," he said. "We haven't all been in the same town at the same time in years."

"All of you?" she asked sceptically. She knew very well who her brother's old gang were. At three years older than herself they had practically ignored her existence, but her teenage fantasies had been fed by one of those friends in particular, and she itched to ask if he, too, was returning.

"Yup, even Jack and Harry have leave for the wedding," he grinned, reading her mind. "They should be here in the next hour or two. This wedding is going to be epic!"

*****

Jackson Delaney sped up the winding mountain road. Not that Ashton Hill was considered a mountain by the locals. He'd climbed mountains, flown over and around them, even rappelled down them or onto them, and he knew this was a mountain. Still, if the people in his hometown called it a hill, who was he to argue? He smiled as he thought about going home. His mother, sister and nephews would be there with a warm welcome, and this time even his brother, Harry, would be coming home. Life here was rarely boring with his brother around.

He'd swing by home; kiss his mother, promise to spend some time with her tomorrow and then head out to meet the guys. It was a workable plan. He knew his brother had already organised sleeping on their buddy Lance's couch, so he didn't have to stay at his parent's place. Having his mother cramp his style was definitely not Harry's thing, but Jack never minded letting his mother fuss over him when he was home. They weren't joined at the hip, after all, like everyone assumed twins should be. They'd gone out after school and made their own lives. It's strange how things work out though, and how many times their paths had crossed in their respective careers.

The road sign loomed, and he slowed to the speed limit as he entered the outer limits of his hometown of Ashton Hill. Little changed here over time, and the slower pace of life that irked Harry seemed a reprieve for Jack from the fast-paced life he led. He cruised down the main street that ran through the centre of town toward his family home which sat on the north end of town backing onto the forest in one of the four suburbs called Juliette Falls.

He'd left the Army two years ago after a second tour as a helicopter pilot and joined the pseudo-civilian life of Search and Rescue which offered a similar adrenaline-fuelled work environment to what he was used to. He loved flying, and couldn't think of anything better to do, but the added roles and responsibilities he had trained for with SAR over the last two years only added to his love of his new job, despite the high-stress environment.

Maybe his boss was right, and he was wound a little too tightly and needed this long weekend away from the stress. He glanced at the people on the street, some more appreciatively than others, and grinned. He should take his boss's advice and find something or someone to occupy his time while he was here and stave away the boredom of everyday life in a small town. It had been some time since his last real relationship, and he hadn't had the time or inclination to indulge his new-found freedom. Not that he'd ever been a player, that was Harry's domain, but he'd never had a shortage of offers from willing playmates had he wanted them.

He and Harry had dated a lot when they'd been at school. Harry more so than him, and being home now almost ten years later was different. While he was sure he could find someone new and exciting, who'd happily warm his bed for a few days, or because he was staying at home, let him warm hers, but he wasn't sure he wanted the potential for gossip and drama that came with small-town affairs. Not that the town was that small, in fact, it seemed to be growing bigger with every visit, and he certainly didn't know everyone in it, not even by half.

He pulled up at his mother's house and was surprised that his brother's motorcycle wasn't already in the driveway. He pulled out his phone and cursed. The bastard had been put on alert. How could Harry make him suffer through this wedding alone? He better make sure he came back for the Valentine's Festival, because there was no way Jack was coming home for that alone. He sighed and got out of the car.

"Hey there, Mumzy," Jack said, walking into the cosy kitchen and hugging his mother tightly. "Did you change your hair? Something's different, you look amazing." He schmoozed his way through his greeting.

"Stop that. One day your charm won't be enough to keep you out of trouble!" she warned her daredevil son with an indulgent smile.

"I'm in trouble? I've only just walked in the door!" He complained and looked at his sister, Annie, who sat smirking in his direction. "What did I do?" Jack saw his sister's eyes flicker to the newspaper cutting on the table. He cursed Harry again for not being there to deflect the heat from him.

"Mum, I've told you not to read that stuff. The media always sensationalises things. I was perfectly safe. I know what I'm doing," he said, despite the fact that he had fallen from a great height in the rescue of an elderly woman who had not wanted to leave her cat behind in the most recent flooding. There wasn't much damage done, and he'd managed to not only save the woman but her cat as well. Sure, it was dangerous, but he was good at his job in the Search and Rescue Unit. It was sure as hell safer than being in the SAS, except those missions were covert and didn't get reported on, and he didn't have to face the anxiety on his mother's face.

"I know you do, but it's a mother's job to worry. Your brother doesn't make me worry so much!" she admonished, and Jack cursed silently that Harry wasn't here so he could punch him. She was right, of course, but that was only because most of Harry's missions were covert and no one knew just how much danger he was constantly in. Except maybe Jack

"Really? You haven't seen me for months, and this is the first conversation we're having?" he scowled at his sister who seemed to be enjoying the moment.

"Unka Jack!" two little boys cried in unison and ran toward him from the back door, the smaller of the two grabbing his hands and scaling his leg like a spider-monkey, then he swooped down and gathered the other little boy up in his other arm.

"Your house is infected with midgets, Mum, you should do something about that," he grinned. "I'll just get rid of these two for you," he stepped out into the backyard and began a prolonged wrestling match with the two little boys as his mother and sister watched on from the kitchen window. Mercifully, his sister didn't let it last long before calling the boys in for dinner and bath.

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