Headline News: Proof Of Their Sin is on sale for £0.99 in the UK until January 5th!
Are you as confused as I am about what day it is? I gave my husband a panic attack yesterday asking if he had to work today. I thought there was an extra Friday after Boxing Day that was a regular work day.
Meanwhile, as my husband takes five days off, I only took the 25th. There is nothing like a messy house to drive you to your computer to start a new book! I also have a list of other tasks, like publish Hustled To The Altar on GooglePlay, that I am ignoring. The GooglePlay thing probably isn't that complicated, but it sounds like work and I am so in love with this new project...
More on that after the proposal is accepted. I owe you a #SampleSunday, don't I?
Here you go.
Last week we saw the opening pages where Lauren prepares to tell Paolo that she's pregnant. Here he sees her for the first time since that night.
Get comfy. I couldn't find a good place to break off without going all the way to the end of the chapter so this is a generous excerpt.
~ * ~
Paolo Donatelli surveyed the charity benefit his mother had begun hosting on an annual basis when his father had still been alive. Whichever country they happened to occupy in December became the location of a White Tie Ball complete with full orchestra, champagne fountains, and a midnight supper. The Donatellis could then retreat to Italy for a family Christmas confident they’d done their duty by the local economy, their position in society, and the cause-du-jour.
His mother rarely left home in winter these days, but Paolo strove to do her credit by continuing the tradition abroad. In his hypercritical opinion, he’d pulled off one of the most successful events to date. If there was a flaw, it was the lack of a proper wife to hostess, not that anyone would dare say so. If his cousin Vittorio had an opinion on the subject, he wisely kept it to himself. And Paolo was working on repairing that deficiency. Isabella Nutini was his companion tonight and she was nothing if not proper.
He nodded an acknowledgment when Isabella excused herself to the powder room, thinking she could easily repair more than one blemish in his life. She was Italian, not one of these mixed-breed Americans as his first wife had been. Isabella had been raised Catholic so treated marriage with the respect it deserved. She seemed to have a grasp on concepts like loyalty and duty to family—something he saw in very few people these days, man or woman.
Best of all, aside from the requisite level of physical attraction and a modicum of intellectual interest, he felt little for her. He was a man of very deep emotions and controlling them was a daily struggle. Best to have a wife who wouldn’t put him through an emotional wringer. As long as she provided him the children he required and did not shame him before his family, Isabella was ideal.
“Your date left you and now so will I,” Vittorio said with cheerful insolence. “Excuse me, cousin, while I seduce my future wife.”
Italian heritage and male curiosity demanded Paolo catch a glimpse of the female that had drawn another man’s interest. He turned his head and—
A pendulum of suppressed sexual need that he’d pushed far into his subconscious swung through him and exploded, nearly bringing him to his knees in a rush of heat and primitive hunger. Paolo slapped his hand onto the ruffled front of Vittorio’s shirt, freezing him in place. Iron congealed in his arm while his gaze swept like a raptor, ensuring no one else dared approach her before he locked onto her again and took in the vision of her.
She’d gained back a few pounds, but her cheekbones still stood out under eyes that were wide and overwhelmed as she searched the crowd. Despite her height, she projected an intrinsic vulnerability that struck him the way it had when he’d entered the house of Ryan Bradley’s family in Charleston. His protective instincts rose like hackles, but she wasn’t nearly as helpless as she appeared. Lauren Bradley knew how to take care of herself. Like most women, she turned on the damsel in distress act to get what she wanted.
Ryan has disappeared, Paolo. No one will tell me anything. Please help me.
She had known how to get right at his heart, plucking at his deep allegiance to his friend despite playing them off each other for years. With one phone message, she’d invited him onto an emotional rollercoaster that had taken him weeks to recover from. A man in his position couldn’t afford inner turmoil. She ought to understand and respect that, but she was too self-involved.
Dio, she was beautiful, though. He vaguely took in a dress of white silk swirled with pearlescent design. A slash of dark purple was tangled over creamy shoulders and pale arms, but his gaze ate up the other details: the swell of her pale breasts. The hourglass shape nipped at the waist and flared to wide hips that had cradled his like they’d been made to lock together the way they had. Her neck had been a slender arch under his rapacious mouth, her ears so sensitive his breath on them had made her quiver. And those lips, those plump, edible lips had roamed his chest and abdomen and—
“Are you forgetting you brought a date, Paolo?” Vittorio’s voice held the same amused mockery Paolo had heard all too often from family after his marriage had fallen apart. How could you not have suspected it wasn’t yours?
Lauren Bradley had the ability to make him miss certain things and overlook the rest. Shame rose to burn his cheeks, mixed with embarrassment and anger. She’d seduced him into another dishonorable position and he would never forgive her for it.
“That’s Mrs. Bradley. Off-limits. To everyone,” he ground out, finally dropping the hand that had warded off his cousin. “Scusa,” he added from between clenched teeth, loathe to approach her, but what choice did he have?
Vittorio flicked him a speculative glance. Paolo ignored it, admitting to nothing. Everyone had wanted to know what had happened when he had stolen Lauren from the Bradley household and taken her to his penthouse on top of the Donatelli Bank Tower in Charleston.
Nothing, he’d lied.
He never lied, especially to family. Lauren had brought him to this level of disgrace and had the nerve to turn up at the grandest event his family sponsored. To gloat? To push him a few rungs lower than he already stood in his own estimation? Where did she find the audacity to dress like royalty and parade herself into public barely three months into mourning a man regarded by this nation as a saint?
Her searching gaze found him, causing an unwanted zing of electric excitement to pierce him. Instantly he was transported to the darkened bedroom and the rumpled bed. He felt again the ever-expanding brush of skin on skin as they struggled to peel away each other’s clothing, neither willing to break the kiss or stop touching the other. His blood heated and a weighted sensation tugged in his groin. Everything he’d suppressed and forced himself to forget rushed back with renewed power, exalting him with a conqueror’s strength and spirit even as it sickened him to want her like this.
While on her side, her plumped breasts rose as she caught and held her breath. Her shiny lips parted. She was a precocious little Bambi, wide-eyed and pinned by what looked like apprehension, so damned defenseless looking, but it was an act. A trick to trip him up and bring him to heel. She wanted something and he wouldn’t like it, that he was sure of.
They moved toward each other like drifting flotsam pushed by a tide then halted. He was able to see the subtle things now. The uncertainty trembling in her thick lashes, the way she forced her chin up because facing him wasn’t easy. Good. She ought to be burning in self-hatred the way he had been doing since betraying his personal code and his closest friend.
She lifted a hand in a way he’d surreptitiously watched her do a hundred times, but there was no tendril to tuck behind her ear. Dio, he should have noticed it first, not last.
“What the hell have you done to your hair?” he growled.
Lauren self-consciously touched the fine wisps Enrique had left against her neck, habitually about to apologize for daring to think she had the right to cut her own hair.
Fortunately, she was too dazzled by the sight of Paolo to speak at all. He was not a man who needed a white tuxedo to impress, but the one he wore added elegance and power to an already gorgeous man. His hair was on the darker side of brown, thick and threatening to curl. His olive skin held the remnants of a warm, summer tan. Beneath it, his face was carved in lines of supreme masculine grace, handsome without being pretty, strong to the point of ruggedness, but polished to urbane sophistication. He’d mastered aloof detachment but had every ounce of the seductively expressive eyes of his heritage.
Those eyes had been flipping her heart since the first time she’d seen them watching her from across that upscale bar five years ago, but he was Italian. He did that to women. It wasn’t personal.
Even though there had been something deeply personal between them for a few hours in his penthouse. She could feel the same magnetic draw he had exerted on her while he slept and fought not to shiver under the memory of giving in to that pull, pretending it was a dream to justify losing herself in her long repressed physical desire for this man.
As if he read the direction of her thoughts, he sharply averted his gaze then brought a cold glare back to rake it down her dress. She knew it to be flawless yet still sensed she was criticized and found wanting.
Was that her own baggage of insecurity or a genuinely harsh judgment on his part? After all, she was a grieving widow. What business did she have wearing something pretty, in snow white of all colors, showing up at his extravagant party?
Wrenching nausea, the kind that had nothing to do with physical illness and everything to do with anguished emotions, clenched in her stomach. She’d had months to sort through it all. She’d owned up to her part in this conception. Paolo only needed to be informed because it was the right thing to do. She hadn’t come here looking for love and devotion even if a tiny part of her had hoped...
He held her in contempt, though. She could see it. Like everyone else, he believed Ryan Bradley had been beyond reproach. Everything she did, every action she took, should be an honor to her fallen hero of a husband. What Lauren wanted or needed didn’t matter. She certainly shouldn’t look at other men. Sleeping with them was a crime worthy of a Scarlet A. And if that man happened to be her husband’s best friend? Well, that put her somewhere lower than a garden slug.
Which was a judgment she might have accepted if she had been the one incapable of fidelity, but Ryan was the adulterer, not her. That was the other reason she’d allowed herself to make advances on Paolo that night. Her marriage had been over months before Paolo confirmed Ryan’s death and made it official.
With a dignity she’d found somewhere between hating herself and feeling grateful to this man for the baby in her womb, she left off touching her hair, clutched her pocketbook to hide her nervous trembling, and said with a hint of challenge, “You look very nice, too. Thank you.”
His gaze slammed back to hers, sharp with disbelief at her subtle criticism of his manners.
Holding that hostile stare was hard, but she wasn’t as timid as she used to be. At least, she was trying not to be.
A light of reassessment altered his expression and she felt as though the charged air between them ramped up several notches.
With a lift of one brow that seemed to say, Is that how we’re playing? he offered his arm. “I didn’t see your name on the guest list. What a pleasant surprise to have you turn up anyway.”
By that she understood she was hideously unwanted here. It was almost enough to make her run barefoot back to Montreal.
“I’m making a point of doing a lot of things I barely dreamt of before,” she retorted lightly.
Avoiding the flash of warning in his gaze that asked, before what? she set a tentative hand on an arm that felt as hard as banded steel.
“Travelling alone, trying new styles...” She would have gone on, but touching him again made heat coil through her.
This arm had held her in a dozen ways three months ago. Protective across her shoulders. Comforting behind her lower back. Soothing when it tightened across her stomach and drew her into his spooned strength. Resistant across her chest when he’d tried to refuse her sexual invitation, then vital and possessive when he’d draped her thigh over his forearm, making her his.
Physical need, stronger than any she’d experienced in her life, made her falter, tightening her hand on his sleeve, leaving her weak and quivering and fighting to hide it. They’d only taken two steps and she couldn’t prevent herself from swaying against him as she fought to regain control of herself.
His arm turned to marble beneath her touch and he glared down at her. Everything in him gathered with rejection like she was a leper.
“May I?” A man with a camera stepped before them.
Lauren froze in a kind of preternatural fear while Paolo condensed into a statue of impatient tolerance, willing to put up with her closeness out of duty.
Appearances, she thought. Heavens yes, we can’t let down appearances.
Rather than smiling at the camera, she lifted her bitter gaze to Paolo’s, seeing yet one more person in a sea of them who hid authentic feelings behind a façade. How disappointing to find out he was like all the rest.
Incredulity flickered in his dark brown eyes. And challenge. He didn’t like being found wanting. Not at all. As their stare held, heat crept into his gaze, burning with knowledge. Intimate, sexual knowledge. He picked her apart and left her in pieces as the camera flashed, momentarily blinding her to Paolo’s final rebuff of all she offered.
“Beautiful,” the cameraman murmured, reviewing the camera’s screen.
“Grazie,” Paolo dismissed and drew her away. “Champagne?”
“After I’ve eaten,” she demurred, searching for a private corner where she could get this over with and disappear. Seeing him was far, far harder than she’d expected. He’d been incredibly remote the next morning as the press release was read. She’d been frozen herself, just trying to get through the days until the funeral. The Bradleys had closed ranks, creating a buffer that kept Paolo from approaching. At least, that’s what Lauren had thought at the time, when she’d spared a thought beyond her inward twisting of anguish, grief, and guilt. She’d been grateful not to speak to Paolo after the shameless way she’d behaved.
Now, however, everything was different. Or was it? She was still dying inside at her brazen behavior. Part of her was second guessing her decision to come here. She’d been a fool to imagine there’d been any emotion on his side that night. Obviously it had been nothing more than an exercise in physical gratification. He wasn’t showing any enthusiasm for seeing her. This was the same man who’d frozen her out most of the times she’d seen him. Best to cut to the chase and leave.
“Actually, I’m not here to wine and dine, Paolo. I need to speak to you. I tried to book an appointment through your assistant.”
He kept a bored look on his face while people around them cast curious glances their way. “With the death of your husband, cara, I thought my ties to you were finally severed and we’d never speak again.” Nice. He really did despise her to the core.
Because of Charleston? Or did it go back to her wedding day?
She had never understood Paolo except to liken him to Ryan: driven by his ego and masculine desires, slaying women without even trying because females eagerly set themselves up for the little death such potent men promised.
And delivered. She almost had to shut her eyes to beat back the memory of how beautifully Paolo delivered.
She reminded herself she was one of many women who wished they knew him better, but honestly, she’d had so few occasions to try. He’d bought her a drink in a bar despite being engaged to another woman then sat back while his friend pursued her. He’d kissed her with unexpected passion at her wedding reception then snubbed her when Lauren tried to speak to him a few years later at Ryan’s birthday.
In Charleston he’d been solicitous and tender, then ardent and insatiable.
Then cold. Sub-Arctic cold.
She hadn’t exactly been impressed with herself at that point, making love to her husband’s best friend the night before his death was announced, so she ought to face his hostility without feeling as though a chisel was being hammered directly into her heart, but his enmity hurt. He didn’t have to be madly in love with her, but he did owe her a few minutes to tell him they had a tie between them that could never be severed.
A woman in midnight blue chose that moment to join them, forcing Paolo to drag his gaze with visible annoyance from trying to penetrate Lauren’s to the inquiring face of a woman with unmistakable Italian coloring.
“Isabella,” Paolo said in a tense tone. He slid a possessive arm around her and brushed her cheekbone with his lips, provoking a surprised widening of her eyes. “May I introduce Mrs. Ryan Bradley? An old friend.”
His tone was dismissive, emphasizing ‘old’. Former. A possession of his friend.
Isabella was twenty if she was a day and Lauren felt ancient before her. She was acutely aware of her status as a widow. A cynical and jaded one.
Nevertheless, she managed a courteous, “Call me Lauren, please. Since no one else seems to.” She cast that at both Paolo and the world, accompanying the request with an offering of her hand.
It trembled. She hadn’t let herself think of Paolo with a woman in his life. Seeing him touch Isabella made sharp talons rip into her from the souls of her feet right up to the base of her throat. Of course he had women in his life. They all did.
Isabella cast a look between them, trying to read what may have happened during the infamous disappearance of Ryan Bradley’s wife into the rarely used penthouse of his close friend the night before Captain Bradley’s death was revealed.
Paolo maintained a stoic expression. Nothing, his flat gaze said.
Lauren had perfected the same poker face and baldly showed it to Isabella.
While remaining burningly conscious that her waistline would soon reveal their big, fat lie.
“I can only stay a few minutes,” Lauren excused, thinking that must sound bizarre considering she’d obviously spent as many hours on her appearance as every other woman here. “Would you be very offended if I claimed a dance? I only wished to say hello to Paolo as I was passing through New York. He’s been so kind.” She choked a little on the adjective.
Had it been pity that had prompted him to make love to her? The thought had been lashing her like a whip since he’d given in with a shudder and a curse. Her hand longed to go to her waistline in an attempt to protect her developing baby from such a pitiable start.
“Of course,” Isabella said magnanimously. “And please accept my sincere condolences.”
Appearances again. It seemed Lauren was just as guilty as the rest of the world. Sickly guilty, if she let herself dwell on it, which she tried not to. She woke in a cold sweat too often, worrying her husband’s death was her fault. He hadn’t been happy about her request for a divorce. Had it made him extra reckless when foiling those terrorists?
Pressing the suspicion to the back of her mind, she accepted the condolences for the sake of Ryan’s family, squeezed Isabella’s hand with appreciation and avoided the delving look Paolo turned on her. Ten minutes, she swore to herself. Then she could wrestle herself out of this dress and all the other confines of her life. She would be a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, able to fly into places she’d never dreamed when she’d been a lowly silkworm tied by emotional threads to her grandmother’s estate of maple trees.
“Why here then?” Paolo asked as he steered her toward the dance floor, his tone growling with disapproval. “If you only wanted a few minutes of my time?”
“I—” She had to pull herself together as he set confident hands on her, leading her into a waltz. It had been years since she’d taken the lessons, imagining dancing with Ryan in Vienna when she joined him there, but the trip had never materialized. Nothing truly exciting had ever happened to her.
Except discovering she was pregnant with this man’s baby.
Lauren faltered, searching her memory for the steps and searching for a clear thought in the haze that closed in with Paolo’s disconcerting presence.
Wide shoulders filled her vision. His clean-shaven jaw tempted her lips to lift and taste. He’d been stubbled and masculine and hot, so unquenchably, passionately hot. Demanding when he took control. Skilled and confident and ravenous. Like a wild animal let out of his cage, running her to ground and feasting on her.
Her breath shortened and sexual heat suffused her, making her quiver, filling her nostrils with his familiar scent. It had only been the one night. How could she know his dark, espresso scent so well she could find him blindfolded in this heavily perfumed crowd?
“You’re making a fool of yourself,” he muttered.
The words sliced through her, withering a very sensitive nerve. She knew she lacked experience and sophistication. Why else had her husband cheated on her? Paolo didn’t need to rub it in, though.
Lauren flashed him a livid glance from eyes that burned, but he wasn’t looking at her. He wasn’t aware she was melting under his touch.
“Be a merry widow for your next husband,” he said scathingly. “Ryan deserves better.”
Ryan had lived a double life.
“He had his mail delivered to his mother’s,” she said, shying at the last moment from shattering Ryan’s precious image. He was dead and he’d died with honor even if he hadn’t entirely lived so. “The invitation was forwarded in a packet they sent to me.”
It had been post-marked the day Ryan had gone missing. The engraved envelope was one she’d seen annually and always wound up throwing away because her husband had never been home to take her.
“Initially it only meant that you’d be in New York. I wanted an appointment to see you in your office, but your schedule was booked and my grandmother’s closet is full of dresses like this. When else would I wear one?”
Pride had made her do this. Pride and a perverse desire to thumb her nose at expectations and propriety. Frances Hammond had come home pregnant with her head held high. Lauren Bradley intended to leave the same way.
She lifted her chin, daring him to take that away from her.
Nothing. Not one iota of reaction. Only a disinterested, “Why did you want to see me?”
The moment of truth. She waited until he’d spun her so her back was to the majority of the crowd, making lip-reading from across the room less likely. “I needed to tell you that I’m...” She found the Italian word she’d looked up special. “Incinta.”
If the language switch caused him any confusion, he didn’t show it. In fact, he showed little reaction at all, beyond one contemptuous glance down his nose.
“Congratulations. Whose is it?”
~ * ~
I'll have another excerpt next week, since it will still be on sale in the UK. And then maybe one more after that or I might switch up to my March Harlequin Presents, The Sheikh's Sinful Seduction. I have two books out in March, so I have to figure out how to handle the excerpts. You might see The Bachelor's Baby turn up on #TeaserTuesdays.
Meanwhile, if you haven't read The Russian's Acquisition, you might still find one on the shelves of your local grocery or drug store.
Did you miss the #SampleSundays for this one? Read the #SampleSunday for The Russian's Acquisition here. It links to all six excerpts.
I promised myself a break at the end of December to organize the promotion side of my writing life and figure out things like giveaways. Now I've started a new book and the glow of that blinds me to everything else, it really does.
Tell ya what. If you've read this far, thank you!! Now pop me an email here off my website and tell me which one of my books you've been wanting to read. Use the subject line Blog Giveaway. I'll throw all the responses into a hat and send a digital copy of the requested book to one lucky respondent. Maybe all of you, if I don't get many responses, lol.
Now a quick plug for my Montana Born books, since my Christmas book is still available.
They're also available as print anthologies on Amazon:
Christmas in Montana which contains:
- Oct 13 - Blame The Mistletoe by Dani Collins
- Oct 16 - Mistletoe Wedding by Melissa McClone
- Oct 20 - Her Mistletoe Cowboy by Alissa Callen
- Nov 7 - Cowboy It's Cold Outside by Katherine Garbera
Want a sample? Read #TeaserTuesday - Blame The Mistletoe here
Montana Homecoming which contains:
- Sept 22 - Sing Me Back Home by Eve Gaddy
- Sept 25 - Finding Home by Roxanne Snopek
- Sept 29 - Hometown Hero by Dani Collins
- Oct 02 - Long Way Home by Kathleen O’Brien
- Oct 06 - Home For Good by Terri Reed
And I'm always happy to send a signed bookmark. Just ask! The latest ones look like this:
That's the front and back. Aren't they pretty? Email me your postal address and I'll mail you one, signed by yours truly. It's that easy!
And if you like free books, please remember, you'll always be entered in a draw for my new release if you join my newsletter.
Want to see what you'll get for your subscription? Read Dani's last newsletter.
March 2015! Pre-order The Sheikh's Sinful Seduction now.
If you'd like to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest...etc, Click here for Dani's Social Media links.
Next time I post, it will be 2015. A new year! Thank you, Dear Readers, for the time you've given to me and my stories this year. I love writing romance and I absolutely could not do it without you.
Have a wonderful wrap up of 2014 and I will be back in January. Hugs,