Happy Holidays! - Surprise #SampleSunday

#SampleSundayProof Of Their SinBlame The MistletoeChristmas Romance

How is your December? Mine has been a roller coaster with the latest dip and curl being that my daughter missed her flight home yesterday. Fortunately, she was able to get the next flight, four hours later, but for a while things were pretty anxious. At least I was stuck in a mall for those four hours and got the last of my Christmas shopping finished!

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On the writing front, I turned in my next Harlequin Presents this week, which I think will be titled Vows of Revenge. It will likely come out late 2015. I still have revisions for that one, so blurbs and cover are a long way off.

I also finished revisions on my next Montana Born book this week, which stars Meg, sister of Blake, the hero from Blame The Mistletoe. The details on this one are not written in stone, but I believe it will be called The Bachelor's Baby and will release March 13th. I'm really excited about this one.

The tail end of the year is always a time when I look back to count my blessings (seven titles turned in, nine titles published, among other things) and start planning my next year. Along with a Bride novella for Montana Born, I'm putting together a proposal for a duet I'd like to write for Harlequin. Details for all of those will follow once I get the go ahead.

In short, I cleared my desk for Christmas, then piled a bunch of stuff on it. I'm a workaholic and I'll admit, my brain is tired. It's been a very busy, successful year and I'm very ready for the pace to slow for a couple of weeks before I ramp up for an equally busy and successful (fingers-crossed) 2015.

SampleSunday

I mentioned in other posts that I'm going into reruns with my #SampleSunday excerpts. Well, I just went looking for my posts from Proof Of Their Sin and they were not migrated to this blog (if I actually posted them. Honestly, I can't recall if I was doing #SampleSundays yet.)

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But look at that Paolo! Sexy as sin, right? And the book opens at his family's annual White Christmas Charity Ball. So I thought this would be a nice story to revisit this time of year.

Here are the opening pages:

~ * ~

Not for the first time in the last several weeks, Lauren Bradley wondered where the line was drawn between becoming the bold, independent woman she’d always wished she could be and behaving like a shameless, demanding radical. Words like licentious, brazen and embarrassment trickled through her mind with increasing frequency as she walked that blurry border.

Unsurprisingly, when those hurtful words echoed in her head, they were always pronounced in her mother’s thin, distressed voice.

Flicking one long, brunette braid over her shoulder, Lauren silently told her mother to pipe down while she regarded the woman behind the counter of this exclusive hotel salon. The woman had just given Lauren the most excruciatingly polite brush off and habits of a lifetime urged Lauren to slink away in quiet disgrace.

But her heart was beating for two these days, knocking hard against the wall of her breastbone and bouncing back on a spine that had to harden to contain it.

Dare I? she wondered with a shiver of apprehension.

Oh, she knew she appeared to be just one more hick tourist come to New York looking for a posh hairstyle to take home as a souvenir, but this was so much more than that. Lauren stood on the threshold of taking control of her life in a way she’d never imagined, but to do so meant shoving past the old Lauren who always smilingly took a back seat to everyone. If she didn’t dig deep and find her true spirit right now she might as well collect her luggage from upstairs and retreat to the empty rooms of her grandmother’s mansion where she could raise her baby with all the fear of drawing attention its mother had suffered most of her life.

No. Lauren locked her knee, surreptitiously putting her foot down.

Then allowed the salon receptionist to finish the call she’d used to try to dismiss her. Ingrained manners were a pain that way. Besides, Lauren needed the extra seconds to gather her courage and manufacture a gracious smile for the woman who gave her a strained Still here? smile as she hung up.

“I believe there’s been a miscommunication,” Lauren said with the most warmly modulated yet implacable tone she could muster. “I’m attending the Donatelli Charity Ball this evening.”

The woman, a little younger than Lauren’s nearly twenty-five, widened her eyelash extensions with a fraction of respect. Exactly. Paolo Donatelli was a man who made every woman stand taller and suck in her stomach.

A zing of empowerment swept through Lauren. She was name dropping, sure, but she’d never before had the gall to try it. Over her mother’s gasp of horror, she heard her grandmother say, Good girl! Clenching her fingers on the strap of her carry-all purse, Lauren added daringly, “You’re certain you have nothing for Bradley? Mrs. Ryan Bradley?”

Her mother would have a stroke over such audacity, but Lauren stood her ground, pronouncing the name with delicate precision because, honestly, what was the use in being Mrs. Bradley if she shrank from all it afforded her?

“Mrs. Bradley…” The salon hostess searched her book while her plucked brows came together in concern. “It sounds familiar—”

A stiletto thin man appeared from behind the privacy wall of translucent bricks. Groomed to perfection right down to his buffed fingernails, he greeted Lauren with the warmth of an old friend, even though she’d never seen him before in her life.

“Mrs. Bradley, of course we have time for you. So good to see you out during what must be a very difficult time. May I express on behalf of myself, my staff, and in fact our entire country, how sincerely sorry we are for your loss. Captain Bradley was a true hero. If there is anything we can do to ease your pain and make up for his sacrifice, we are at your service.”

Now Lauren did feel like the most conscienceless snake oil salesman in the world, allowing the man to sweep her into the interior of the salon, minions scampering before him to remove traces of previous clients.

Guilt rose to tense her shoulders, but there was still time to go back. All she had to do was turn and leave. People would stare though.

She swallowed and allowed confident hands to seat her. The elastic hoops were peeled off her two thick braids and then her new BFF was fanning his hands through her hair, picking up the strands that fell to her waist.

“This is your natural color, isn’t it? What a treasure. Your husband must have adored this mane.”

Lauren had thought he had adored her. Don’t ever cut it. Promise me, he’d said a thousand times. Everyone in her life had encouraged her to keep her hair long and Lauren, always the good girl, had complied.

“You’re not going to hide it by putting it up? What are you wearing tonight?” He weighed the kinked strands.

“I have a vintage Lanvin-Castillo. And no, I don’t want my hair up. I want you to cut it. Off.” New life. New Lauren.

He sucked in a gasp, meeting her gaze in the mirror with disbelief that slowly dawned into awe. “My dear, if I were straight, I would ask you to marry me.”

Lauren smiled as if men fell for her all the time, which was the furthest thing from the truth. “Sir, if I was the least bit interested in marrying again, I’d say yes.”

..

Three hours later, Enrique was the best friend Lauren had never had. He insisted on coming to her room with one of the stylists from his salon where they helped her dress and put finishing touches on her hair, nails, and make-up.

“I cannot wait to tell people I dressed Frances Hammond’s grand-daughter. Look at you! It’s like it was made for you.”

Considering it was the last dress made for her grandmother and that she’d also been three months pregnant at the time, it didn’t surprise Lauren that it fit so well. The boned bodice that flattened her tender breasts was severely uncomfortable, but it did wonders for her usually modest bosom. She hid her wince and stepped into the matching satin heels. They weren’t as tall as current fashion dictated, but they were stitched to match the amethyst embroidery on the white silk of the dress and positively adorable.

Enrique carefully draped the dark violet stole over her bare shoulders, shaking his head with wonder. “Look at this detailing. What a time to be alive.” He set familiar hands on her hips, taking in the pink and blue pastes studding the elaborate chenille and floss that ended at her waistline. He didn’t seem to notice she was disguising a pregnancy behind the structure of the dress.

Good. The whole purpose of this exercise was to let the father of her baby know about his child’s existence before the rest of the world found out.

As Lauren absorbed the reality that she would be seeing Paolo again, a flood of excitement sent a subtle rush of heat and color under her skin. She saw it happen in the full-length mirror as she turned for a final look. It made her squirm internally with chagrin that she couldn’t stop the reaction. Always, always she reacted to that man and it was so wrong. Her thoughts of him almost tipped into memories of their night in Charleston and the sting in her cheeks ached with shame.

She tried forcing herself back into the cone of denial she’d occupied since the Morning After, but it was tighter than this dress. The lovemaking shouldn’t have happened, but it had. There were consequences. She had to face them.

Which meant facing Paolo.

To combat her reaction at the prospect of seeing him, she took a hard look at her appearance. Where her grandmother had been blond elegance, Lauren was dark with elfin features accentuated by her new hair.

What would Paolo think? Of the hair and the news?

She never knew what to expect from him. The first time she’d met him, at a bar here in New York five years ago, he’d been warm and admiring. The second time, at her wedding to Ryan half a year later, things had gone so wrong it had been nothing but chilly brush offs after that. She’d been convinced he hated her and, after his nasty set-down at Ryan’s thirtieth birthday party, she had returned his antipathy. When Ryan had disappeared three months ago, however, she’d made one despairing call from Charleston and Paolo had materialized before her. He’d revealed an incredibly tender side when he’d broken the news about Ryan with sincere regret, so protective of her he had whisked her to the privacy of his nearby penthouse.

Where he had made love to her with unexpected and abject passion.

So would he regard this baby as exciting and wonderful? Or would he be the iceman about it? Would he blame her? Or see her as something he wanted?

Oh God, was that what she was doing? Trying to make herself into something that could fit into his world? Suddenly she saw herself as she was: a rube playing dress up, sidling out of her element with the intention of taking life by storm without possessing the capacity to actually do it. Her confidence plunged.

“Don’t look so terrified,” Enrique scolded. “You have every reason to hold your head high.”

Lauren couldn’t think of one person who would agree. Not her mother, certainly not her mother-in-law. Paolo hadn’t said a word to her since. That didn’t bode well.

Her stomach rolled with anxious fear and she automatically lifted a protective hand to her abdomen.

Enrique’s gaze followed.

Too revealing. She was falling apart.

“I haven’t eaten,” she excused, which was true. The baby deserved better. She ought to take off this costume and stay here for a proper meal and an early night.

“They’ll have a buffet at the ball, but will this tide you over?” Enrique’s assistant offered a candy from a roll of them.

Lauren stared with bemusement at that particular candy appearing before her at this particular instance. With a tremulous smile, she took one. As the O-shape and scorched caramel flavor landed on her tongue, Mamie’s spirit came into the room.

Do it, chere. Take a chance. Live your life.

Lauren’s flagging confidence took a deep breath and rallied. She couldn’t let Mamie down.

She secured the antique earrings weighing her lobes then adjusted her grandmother’s diamonds across her collarbone and, with all the terrified dignity of Marie Antoinette approaching the guillotine, made her way to the Grand Ballroom.

~ * ~

Next weekend we'll check in with Paolo and see his reaction. Hint: Not thrilled.

This is from one of the five star reviews on Amazon:

This story had powerful, all consuming passion, emotions, and chemistry. I've passed by this book for months when I [was] looking for a good romance. I'm so glad I bought it, and gave it a chance. I'm afraid my review will do this book a disservice. The book was Awesome. I wished I knew how to write a review that would tell just how much I loved this book!

Buy Proof Of Their Sin on Amazon now or check the buy links at the bottom for other retailers.

Giveaways

I am not nearly as organized as I'd like to be with my giveaways. I did have the following two anthologies up on Goodreads and those have now closed. Congrats to the winners!

Christmas in Montana which contains:

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Want a sample? Read #TeaserTuesday - Blame The Mistletoe here

Montana Homecoming which contains:

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Read #SampleSunday - Hometown Hero

For now I'm happy to send you a signed bookmark in lieu of a bigger giveaway. (I always like to reward my blog readers who make it this far. I'm grateful you're still with me!)

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That's the front and back. Aren't they pretty? To get one of your very own, just email me with your postal address and I'll mail you one, signed by yours truly. It's that easy!

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Buy Links

March 2015! Pre-order The Sheikh's Sinful Seduction now.

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Off to get the Christmas groceries, then I'm not leaving the house again unless it's for fresh air or free drinks.

Have a wonderful holiay season,
Dani