When I realised we had the chance to publish the first 3 books in K.A. Laity's Chastity Flame series it took me all of 3 secs to get a contract in front of her to sign.
I love these books. They're like the very best of Lauren Henderson, mixed up with a spoonful of Villanelle, a pinch of Modesty Blaise and a large dash of James Bond just to bring the whole mixture together.
As you'd expect from Kate Laity (a tenured professor of literature) these books are beautifully written and devilishly clever. They're also light and funny and smart and sexy - oh yes, sexy - did I mention they're sexy too?
Chastity Flame is a smart, empowered, sensual woman - she enjoys sex - revels in it in fact - and these books don't shrink away from the erotic possibilities this side of Chastity offers.
We all know how most authors struggle with sex scenes in their books right?
Often sex in novels is just toe-curlingly embarrassing (I think crime/thriller novels are often the worst offenders in this respect) so as a publisher it's a genuine joy to come across and author who can 'do' sex.
These books have genuinely hot sexual episodes, they add to the plot and help drive the traditional spy thriller aspect of the book along but they never sink into cliche or swing the other way towards pornography.
If you read these books and don't give you a tingle in all the right places you probably need to borrow some jump-leads.
Frankly with everything that's going on in the world right now I'm pretty sure these are the books we need in our lives right now.
They're perfect escapism - taut spy-thrillers with a large dose of fun, sexiness, humour, and a hero who's going to engage you from the word go.
Here's an extract from Chapter One to whet your appetite - things get pretty steamy pretty quickly after this part so if you want to read more you're gonna have to grab the book and carve yourself out some 'me-time'.
I'm predicting these books are gonna fly so get in quickly and bring the sexy back to your lockdown lives.
Chastity Flame by K.A. Laity
Chastity Flame stood in front of Les Grandes Baigneuses, waiting for her contract to arrive. The National Gallery was nearly empty. Of course, it was a beautiful day. It figured that Monitor would send her here for the contact. She looked at the bathers and envied their frolic. It would feel marvelous to strip and relax with a few friends on the beach.
Except, her line of work guaranteed that she had no friends to speak of anymore. No one knew her real name, no one even knew her favourite drink. Chastity lived in a building with corporate owners. Monitor took care of the bills—rent, discreet dry cleaning and regular hampers of food from Harrods whenever she was in town.
She could almost hear the laughter of the women in the painting. They were probably discussing their lovers. Chastity sighed. Maybe that was all she needed. It had been days.
"Cezanne is so sensual," a deep voice murmured beside her. Chastity turned to see a tall young man with mocha skin of velvety softness that made her at once long to touch his cheek. His warm smile matched well with his deep brown eyes. He wore a green linen shirt that looked casually elegant under his grey jacket.
"Or else, he just liked to paint naked women," Chastity responded, guessing this was her contact, more was the pity. He was definitely a fine-looking guy. She would definitely like to explore that torso for an afternoon or evening.
"Oh, look at the way he shapes those bottoms," he insisted, chuckling at her remark. "He's caressing them with the colors."
"I prefer Van Gogh's bold ambition," Chastity said, hoping to bring the conversation to a close rather than prolong her sense of disappointment. Contacts, after all, were off limits. But he failed to respond to the contact script.
"Van Gogh is wonderful, but you shouldn't overlook the nuances of Cezanne's brush. Look at the flow of the blue skies. He wants you to fall into the scene and share the warmth." He gestured to the sky, the smile still on his face, and Chastity realised he was not the contact. So it was all right to enjoy him. Well, well, the day was improving.
Chastity considered the painting more seriously. "I can see the warmth, all right. A bunch of girls talking about their lovers, complaining about or praising them."
"The sacred female space," her companion said with another warm chuckle. "The safety of that privacy, the comfort of that familiarity."
"I envy them," Chastity said simply.
"You need more female friends." It wasn't a question.
"My job keeps me moving." She shrugged.
"It's good to stay connected." He looked at her with frank interest, judging her receptiveness. Apparently he liked what he saw.
"I like connecting," Chastity said, looking him in the eye. "What do you do?"
"I'm an historian. Damien Michelet." He stuck out his hand.
Chastity took his hand in hers and enjoyed its warmth. Definite possibilities here, she thought. But before she could offer him one of her many pseudonyms, another hand reached for her arm.
"There you are!" The contact was a pale bureaucrat with damp hands and an adenoidal whine. "You've got to see the Gaugins, they're quite exciting."
"I prefer Van Gogh's bold ambition," Chastity said dryly, feeling her irritation rise swiftly.
"Gaugin is really the master of bold color, though," the contact remarked with a flat tone of irritation. He looked like a man with a lot of errands to run, impatient that she was slowing him down. She could almost hear the list being ticked off in his thoughts. His head inclined toward the exit, as if to push her along.
"Excuse me a moment," Chastity said to Damien, who was looking a bit nonplussed by the abrupt exchange. She steered the contact toward the stairwell, continuing their stilted conversation with the remark, "Gaugin knew when to fuck off when he wasn’t needed, too."
"You have a job to do," the contact hissed as quietly as he could as they climbed down the white marbled stairs. "Monitor is concerned. There's been a breach of some documents on-line and we need to know how extensive the leak has been." They moved along toward the ArtStart room, blending into the gaggle of chatting espresso drinkers. He handed her a business card, palming a compact syringe along with it. "This one needs correcting, but we need to know how much he knows, where he is in the chain, before you do so."
Chastity nodded. Her mind, however, still lingered on Damien Michelet and whether he might like to get some espresso or, better yet, a drink. The job was old hat. Damien was something new and interesting.
"Top priority," the contact reminded her, as if he sensed her drifting thoughts.
"Yes, I see," she snapped and turned on her heel. Officious little prick! She climbed back up the stairs. Looking around the room at the top, she didn't immediately see the dishy Damien. Damn it! She looked at the card in her palm, tucked it and the syringe into her pocket, waited a tick and then walked through to the next room. Only a few minutes and then I'll give it up, Chastity thought. It's not a big deal.
She found him by a Degas. He was leaning in as if to catch a scent of the paint itself. Chastity couldn't help a smile and not just because the posture showed off his great ass. "Are you going to tell me about Degas' employment of color now?"
Damien returned her grin. "I'm always amazed at his controlled use of reds." The pleasure in his eyes was apparent.
"Are you a painter as well as an historian?" Chastity asked with genuine curiosity.
He laughed. "No, I appreciate it all, but I can't even draw, let alone paint. If I could, I know a brilliant subject I'd try." Damien let his eyes drift appreciatively down her frame. He definitely liked what he saw and she warmed to his scrutiny.
Chastity was charmed by his frankness. She didn't have time for slow movers or shy boys. "I've got a really boring meeting to attend that my colleague reminded me about, but I wonder if we might get together for drinks later?" If he was put off by blunt women, it was time to find out.
"That would be wonderful. Do you know the Greenman on St. Martin's Lane?"
They made plans to meet at five and Chastity turned to head toward the Trafalgar Square exit, her attention now focused intently on the man in chinos and a black jumper who had been following her since the contact. Damn! There was no hope but that she would have to deal with this. Best to get away from the crowds, but where?
Chastity pushed open the glass doors, pausing to leave a donation in the collection box outside, so she could cast her eyes back to check out the man tailing her. He was trying to blend in with the crowd of mums and kids, but his furtive glance in her direction only cemented her suspicions. She took the set of stairs down with rapid steps, crossing to the top of Trafalgar Square, which as usual was pullulating with tourists. The guy in the black jumper crossed diagonally and moved into a gaggle of Americans poring over a map trying to figure out where they might be.
After a second's consideration, Chastity headed across the square toward the stair that led into the tube station and the subway across to the rail station. Pushing past a knot of exiting tourists, she hesitated at the bottom of the step, then turned toward the passage leading to the railway. A homeless man, cuddled close to a very dirty dog, tunelessly sang, "oranges, lozenges, porridges, sausages" over and over as she passed, which distracted her for some reason. She wasn't herself today. Maybe it was just the thought of straddling the gorgeous Damien, which had suddenly leapt into her imagination.
Stepping to the end of the passage, Chastity went just far enough up the steps to be out of sight of anyone exiting the tunnel. She waited for a moment, listening. For a time all she could hear was the tramp still singing, but then she heard hurried steps and braced herself. As the man in the black jumper came around the corner, Chastity swung her arm up to clock him in the throat, leaving him gasping and choking as he grabbed his windpipe in agony.
"Who do you work for?" she demanded, ignoring the alarmed passersby who nonetheless, like all city dwellers, seemed to assume the matter was none of their business. "Who do you work for?" she repeated, nudging him with her booted foot.
"I work for BT!" he choked out at last. The man looked at her with genuine terror and Chastity realised she had made a mistake.
"Why were you following me?" she asked in somewhat less peremptory tone.
"I—I was going to see if I could hit on you," he said, gulping and continuing to rub his sore throat. "Don't worry, I won't." He looked angry now that he figured she wasn't going to kill him.
"You should know better than to follow women down dark corridors," Chastity said with a laugh. "You never know what you might find." Moron, she thought. At least maybe he'd think better of trailing after another woman that way. He looked like he would recover momentarily, so she turned on her heel, climbed up the steps and crossed over the Strand. The guy might try to call a policeman, but she doubted it. The world may have changed in many ways, but it was a rare man who could admit to being hit by a woman, let alone complain about it.
She glanced at the card once more as she walked toward Waterloo Bridge. The name on it meant nothing to her, but she recognized the address as one of those ugly corporate piles. Bit of a risk to enter, as they always kept a close watch on their employees—thieves never trusting anyone, after all—but people paid no attention to what they didn't think they saw, and anyway, no face recognition software would ever be able to identify a woman who didn't really exist.
Chastity had a distinct advantage there.
A memory bubbled up from that lost past, something she usually tried to keep buried, but it had surfaced before she had a chance to think better of it. It might have been her tenth birthday, or even ninth. Her parents had brought her up to London from Devon, where they were visiting her mother's family. While she enjoyed being the adored child among all those women (in her recollections the only men ever there were her father and grandfather), Chastity had been most happy alone with her parents in the swirl of the city. She had not been Chastity then, of course, but no passing nostalgia could make her pronounce her true name even in her own mind.
The day that swam into her thoughts had been a perfect one: afternoon tea at the Savoy. The waiters were especially kind, her parents happy and loving, and the cakes absolutely and indescribably delicious. She was too young to know that a painter, as her father claimed to be, could not afford teas at the Savoy without some sort of backlog of royal commissions. Chastity only knew that his Castilian accent never failed to charm all who met him, yet he never had eyes for anyone but her mother. Her mother had been so plain, Chastity could never understand how he had become so smitten, particularly when she saw some of the international beauties who tried to flirt with him. As an adult, however, she recognized the power of that devastating wit and intelligence her mother had wielded, both in conversation and in her columns. Chastity had been lucky to inherit her mother's intelligence if not her wit, as much as she had been blessed by her father's good looks. They were useful tools in her work, Chastity thought bitterly.
She did not look at the Savoy as she walked past it. Time to concentrate on the job. The card led her to one of the monotonous office blocks which, as anticipated, had a security desk at the front. No problem that.
Chastity fished in her pocket for a well-used press pass. "Hello there," she said, flashing a winning smile at the receptionist. "Eleanor Brown, Financial Times. I have an appointment to interview, ah, let's see…" she pulled out the card for the full effect. "James Clark Hall, acquisitions."
"Do you have an appointment?" the young woman asked, her eyes on the computer screen rather than on Chastity's face.
"Yes, my office made it last week." Would she go for it? Or were they strict here?
"Fifteenth floor, see the receptionist."
"Thanks ever so," Chastity said with genuine warmth.
Up the lift and another desk waited. The woman behind this desk looked more fierce and far more harried than the one in the lobby. She would not be as easy to blow past. Chastity counted on the ego of the "interviewee" to get her where she needed to be, particularly if he looked out here. Most men—and not a few women—found her appealing. Chastity knew her curvy figure didn't appeal to everyone, but many seemed to think it promised luscious rewards. She was fit, if not skinny, and her olive skin and chestnut tresses radiated the glow that good health brings. Few could resist remarking on her amber eyes, a rare enough color, but years of training had made them even more expressive—when she chose to have them reveal anything.
"Eleanor Brown, Financial Times. I'm here to see John Clark Hall—"
"What time?" The reception did not look up or meet her gaze.
The woman flipped a page in one of the six diaries on her desk. Impressive, Chastity thought. "No, sorry, not here."
"Oh, but it must be! My PA made it last week and she's an absolute wonder. She would never steer me wrong."
"Sorry, not here." The receptionist looked up only to emphasize the fact that Chastity was wasting her time.
"Is there any chance—"
"He's booked up the rest of the afternoon." The receptionist turned back to her diaries, implicitly dismissing Chastity, but she wasn't willing to throw in the sponge yet. She sensed that the "we're all working girls in this together" wasn't going to fly with this overworked woman, so she tried another tack.
"Pity. Well, I'd like to re-book now, but chances are by the time he has a free spot, my editor will already have asked me to move onto the next name on the list. Perhaps you shouldn't mention it to him…"
The receptionist tapped her fingers for a few seconds then resignedly offered, "His three o'clock hasn't turned up yet, but he is back from lunch. I could buzz him and see if he's got five minutes."
"That would do nicely," Chastity purred.
(Continued in Chastity Flame : Book One...)
You can find out more about Chastity Flame here.