When I completed and submitted my thirtieth book, I decided to celebrate by offering a taste from each one. Enjoy!
The Secret Beneath The Veil is one of those books that surprised me. I had a vision of the bride running away, but didn't know what was going to happen after that. The hero began as a Russian but changed to a Greek.
Keep reading after the excerpt for links to read the first two chapters and the first kiss.
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Mikolas always slept lightly, but tonight he was on guard for more than old nightmares. He was expecting exactly what happened. The balcony in Viveka’s stateroom wasn’t the only thing alarmed. When she left her suite, the much more discreet internal security system caused his phone to vibrate.
He acknowledged the signal, then pushed to his feet and adjusted his shorts. That was another reason he’d been restless. He was hard. And he never wore clothes to bed. They were uncomfortable even when they weren’t twisted around his erection, but he’d anticipated rising at some point to deal with his guest so he had supposed he should wear something to bed.
He’d expected to find release with his guest, but when he’d gone to her room, she’d been fast asleep, curled up on the love seat like a child resisting bedtime, one hand pillowing her cheek. She hadn’t stirred when he’d carried her to the bed and tucked her in, leaving him sorely disappointed.
That obvious exhaustion, along with her pale skin and the slight frown between her brows, had plucked a bizarre reaction from him. Something like concern. That bothered him. He was impervious to emotional manipulations, but Viveka was under his skin—and she hadn’t even been awake and doing it deliberately.
He sighed with annoyance, moving into his office.
If a woman was going to wake him in the night, it ought to be for better reasons than this.
He had no doubt this private deck in the bow was her destination. He’d watched her talk to his porter extensively about the lifeboat and winch system while he’d sat here working earlier. He wasn’t surprised she was attempting to escape. He wasn’t even angry. He was disappointed. He hated repeating himself.
But there was an obdurate part of him that enjoyed how she challenged him. Hardly anyone stood up to him anymore.
Plus he was sexually frustrated enough to be pleased she was setting up a midnight confrontation. When he’d kissed her earlier, desire had clawed at his control with such savagery, he’d nearly abandoned one for the other and made love to her right there at the table.
His need to be in command of himself and everyone else had won out in the end. He’d pulled back from the brink, but it had taken more effort than he liked to admit.
“Come on,” he muttered, searching for her in the dim glow thrown by the running lights.
This was an addict’s reaction, he thought with self-contempt. His brain knew she was lethal, but the way she infused him with a sense of omnipotence was a greater lure. He didn’t care that he risked self-destruction. He still wanted her. He was counting the pulse beats until he could feel the rush of her hitting his system.
Where was she?
Not overboard again, surely.
The thought sent a disturbing punch into the middle of his chest. He didn’t know what had made him throw off his jacket and shoes and dive in after her today. It had been pure instinct. He’d shot out the emergency exit behind her, determined to hear why she had upended his plans, but he hadn’t been close enough to stop her tumble into the water.
His heart had jammed when he’d seen her knock into the side of the yacht, worried she was unconscious as she went under.
Pulling her and that whale of a gown to the surface had nearly been more than he could manage. He didn’t know what he would have done if the strength of survival hadn’t imbued him. Letting go of her hadn’t been an option. It wasn’t basic human decency that had made him dive into that water, but something far more powerful that refused, absolutely refused, to go back to the surface without her.
Damn it, now he couldn’t get that image of her disappearing into the water out of his head. He pushed from his office onto his private deck, where the rain and splashing waves peppered his skin. She wasn’t coming down the stairs toward him.
He climbed them, walking along the outer rail of the mid-deck, seeing no sign of her.
Actually, he walked right past her. He spied her when he paused at the door into the bridge, thinking to enter and look for her on the security cameras. Something made him glance back the way he’d come and he spotted the ball of dark clothing and white skin under the life preserver ring.
What the hell?
“Viveka.” He retraced his few steps, planting his bare feet carefully on the wet deck. “What are you doing out here?”
She lifted her face. Her hair was plastered in tendrils around her neck and shoulders. Her chin rattled as she stammered, “I n-n-need a l-l-life v-v-vest.”
“You’re freezing.” He was cold. He bent to draw her to her feet, but she stubbornly stayed in a knot of trembling muscle, fingers wrapped firmly around the mount for the ring.
What a confounding woman. With a little more force, he started to peel her fingers open.
The boat listed, testing his balance.
Before he could fully right himself, Viveka cried out and nearly knocked him over, rising to throw her arms around his neck, slapping her soaked pajamas into his front.
He swore at the impact, working to stay on his feet.
“Are we going over?”
He could hardly breathe, she was clinging so tightly to his neck, and shaking so badly he could practically hear her bones rattling. He swore under his breath, putting together all those anxious looks out to the water. This was why she hadn’t shown the sense to be terrified of him today. She was afraid of boats.
“Come inside.” He drew her toward the stairs down to his deck. She balked. “I don’t want to be trapped if we capsize.”
“We won’t capsize.”
She resisted so he picked her up and carried her all the way through his dark office into his stateroom, where he’d left a lamp burning, kicking doors shut along the way.
He sat on the edge of his bed, settling her icy, trembling weight on his lap. “This is only a bit of wind and freighter traffic. We’re hitting their wakes. It’s not a storm.”
There was no heat beneath these soaked pajamas. Even in the dim light, he could see her lips were blue. He ran his hands over her, trying to slick the water out of her pajamas while he rubbed warmth into her skin.
“There doesn’t have to be a storm.” She was pressing into him, her lips icy against his collarbone, arms still around his neck, relaxing and convulsing in turns. “My mother drowned when it was calm.”
“From a boat?” he guessed.
“Grigor took her out.” Her voice fractured. “Maybe on purpose to drown her. I don’t know, but I think she wanted to leave him. He took her out sailing and said he didn’t know till morning that she fell, but he never acted like he cared. He told me to stop crying and take care of Trina.”
If this was a trick, it was seriously good acting. The emotion in her voice sent him tumbling into equally disturbing memories buried deep in his subconscious. Your mother died while you were at school. The landlord had made the statement without hesitation or regret, casually destroying Mikolas’s world with a few simple words. A woman from child services is coming to get you.
So much horror had followed, Mikolas barely registered anymore how bad that day had been. He’d shuffled it all into the past once his grandfather had taken him in. The page had been turned and he never leafed back to it.
But suddenly he was stricken with that old grief. He couldn’t ignore the way her heart pounded so hard he felt it against his arm across her back. Her skin was clammy, her spine curled tight against life’s blows.
His hand unconsciously followed that hard curve, no longer just warming her, but trying to soothe while stealing a long-overdue shred of comfort for himself from someone who understood what he’d suffered.
He recovered just as quickly, shaking off the moment of empathy and rearranging her so she was forced to look up at him.
“I’ve been honest with you, haven’t I?” Perhaps he sounded harsh, but she had cracked something in him. He didn’t like the cold wind blowing through him as a result. “I would tell you if we were in danger. We’re not.”
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Fun fact: The working title for this book was Runaway Bride. If you've seen my #SampleSunday posts, you'll know why. They're here if you missed them:
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