#SampleSunday - The Secret Beneath The Veil

#SampleSundayharlequin presentsMills & BoonThe Secret Beneath The Veil

For once I'm actually doing a #SampleSunday on a Sunday, mostly because my blog was down all day yesterday. Not sure what happened, but I'm back now so let's get on with it! This is from my upcoming September release, The Secret Beneath The Veil. Available now on Mills & Boon!

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Blurb - The Secret Beneath The Veil:

“You may kiss the bride”

With five little words, Mikolas Petrides secures a vital business merger, and finally repays his grandfather for rescuing him from the horrors of his childhood. But when he lifts his new bride’s veil, it’s not the woman he is expecting!

Viveka Brice will do anything to protect her little sister, even pretend to marry a stranger. Her deception revealed, she flees the wedding, but is soon confronted by Mikolas. He is a man who always get what he wants, and if the marriage is off, Viveka will have to compensate him – by becoming his mistress!

~ * ~

If you belong to my newsletter, you will have seen this ages ago. (Feel free to subscribe now for other sneak peeks and your free download of Cruel Summer!)

If you're just stopping by on a whim, welcome! Please enjoy the first chapter of The Secret Beneath The Veil. I'll have a few more excerpts over the next few weeks and please read all the way to the bottom for a chance to enter my Goodreads giveaway. There are three signed copies of this book up for grabs.

SampleSunday

Fun Fact: I keep referring to it as The Secret Under The Veil. Shhh.

CHAPTER ONE
THE AFTERNOON SUN came straight through the windows, blinding Viveka Brice as she walked down the makeshift aisle of the wedding she was preventing—not that anyone knew that yet.

The interior of the yacht club, situated on this remote yet exclusive island in the Aegean, was all marble and brass, adding more bounces of white light. Coupled with the layers of her veil, she could hardly see and had to reluctantly cling to the arm of her reviled stepfather.

He probably couldn’t see any better than she could. Otherwise he would have called her out for ruining his plan. He certainly hadn’t noticed she wasn’t Trina.

She was getting away with hiding the fact her sister had left the building. It made her stomach both churn with nerves and flutter with excitement.

She squinted, trying to focus past the standing guests and the wedding party arranged before the robed minister. She deliberately avoided looking at the tall, imposing form of the unsuspecting groom, staring instead through the windows and the forest of masts bobbing on the water. Her sister was safe from this forced marriage to a stranger, she reminded herself, trying to calm her racing heart.

Forty minutes ago, Trina had let her father into the room where she was dressing. She’d still been wearing this gown, but hadn’t yet put on the veil. She had promised Grigor she would be ready on time while Viveka had kept well out of sight. Grigor didn’t even know Viveka was back on the island.

The moment he’d left the room, Viveka had helped Trina out of the gown and Trina had helped her into it. They had hugged hard then Trina had disappeared down a service elevator and onto the seaplane her true love had chartered. They were making for one of the bigger islands to the north where arrangements were in place to marry them the moment they touched land. Viveka was buying them time by allaying suspicion, letting the ceremony continue as long as possible before she revealed herself and made her own escape.

She searched the horizon again, looking for the flag of the boat she’d hired. It was impossible to spot and that made her even more anxious than the idea of getting onto the perfectly serviceable craft. She hated boats, but she wasn’t in the class that could afford private helicopters to take her to and fro. She’d given a sizable chunk of her savings to Stephanos, to help him spirit Trina away in that small plane. Spending the rest on crossing the Aegean in a speedboat was pretty close to her worst nightmare, but the ferry made only one trip per day and had left her here this morning.

She knew which slip the boat was using, though. She’d paid the captain to wait and Stephanos had assured her she could safely leave her bags on board. Once she was exposed, she wouldn’t even change. She would seek out that wretched boat, grit her teeth and sail into the sunset, content that she had finally prevailed over Grigor.

Her heart took a list and roll as they reached the top of the aisle, and Grigor handed her icy fingers to Trina’s groom, the very daunting Mikolas Petrides.

His touch caused a zing of something to go through her. She told herself it was alarm. Nervous tension.

His grip faltered almost imperceptibly. Had he felt that static shock? His fingers shifted to enfold hers, pressing warmth through her whole body. Not comfort. She didn’t fool herself into believing he would bother with that. He was even more intimidating in person than in his photos, exactly as Trina had said.

Viveka was taken aback by the quiet force he emanated, all chest and broad shoulders. He was definitely too much masculine energy for Viveka’s little sister. He was too much for her.

She peeked into his face and found his gaze trying to penetrate the layers of her veil, brows lowered into sharp angles, almost as if he suspected the wrong woman stood before him.

Lord, he was handsome with those long clean-shaven plains below his carved cheekbones and the small cleft in his chin. His eyes were a smoky gray, outlined in black spiky lashes that didn’t waver as he looked down his blade of a nose.

We could have blue-eyed children, she had thought when she’d first clicked on his photo. It was one of those silly facts of genetics that had caught her imagination when she had been young enough to believe in perfect matches. To this day it was an attribute she thought made a man more attractive.

She had been tempted to linger over his image and speculate about a future with him, but she’d been on a mission from the moment Trina had tearfully told her she was being sold off in a business merger like sixteenth-century chattel. All Viveka had had to see were the headlines that tagged Trina’s groom as the son of a murdered Greek gangster. No way would she let her sister marry this man.

Trina had begged Grigor to let her wait until March, when she turned eighteen, and to keep the wedding small and in Greece. That had been as much concession as he’d granted. Trina, legally allowed to marry whomever she wanted as of this morning, had not chosen Mikolas Petrides, wealth, power and looks notwithstanding.

Viveka swallowed. The eye contact seemed to be holding despite the ivory organza between them, creating a sense of connection that sent a fresh thrum of nervous energy through her system.

She and Trina both took after their mother in build, but Trina was definitely the darker of the two, with a rounder face and warm, brown eyes, whereas Viveka had these icy blue orbs and natural blond streaks she’d covered with the veil.

Did he know she wasn’t Trina? She shielded her eyes with a drop of her lashes.

The shuffle of people sitting and the music halting sent a wash of perspiration over her skin. Could he hear her pulse slamming? Feel her trembles?

It’s just a play, she reminded herself. Nothing about this was real or valid. It would be over soon and she could move on with her life.

At one time she had imagined acting for a living. All her early career ambitions had leaned toward starving artist of one kind or another, but she’d had to grow up fast and become more practical once her mother died. She had worked here at this yacht club, lying about her age so they’d hire her, washing dishes and scrubbing floors.

She had wanted to be independent of Grigor as soon as possible, away from his disparaging remarks that had begun turning into outright abuse. He had helped her along by kicking her out of the house before she’d turned fifteen. He’d kicked her off this island, really. Out of Greece and away from her sister because once he realized she had been working, that she had the means to support herself and wouldn’t buckle to his will when he threatened to expel her from his home, he had ensured she was fired and couldn’t get work anywhere within his reach.

Trina, just nine, had been the one to whisper, Go. I’ll be okay. You should go.

Viveka had reached out to her mother’s elderly aunt in London. She had known Hildy only from Christmas cards, but the woman had taken her in. It hadn’t been ideal. Viveka got through it by dreaming of bringing her sister to live with her there. As recently as a few months ago, she had pictured them as two carefree young women, twenty-three and eighteen, figuring out their futures in the big city—

“I, Mikolas Petrides…”

He had an arresting voice. As he repeated his name and spoke his vows, the velvet-and-steel cadence of his tone held her. He smelled good, like fine clothes and spicy aftershave and something unique and masculine that she knew would imprint on her forever.

She didn’t want to remember this for the rest of her life. It was a ceremony that wasn’t even supposed to be happening. She was just a placeholder.

Silence made her realize it was her turn.

She cleared her throat and searched for a suitably meek tone. Trina had never been a target for Grigor. Not just because she was his biological daughter, but also because she was on the timid side—probably because her father was such a mean, loudmouthed, sexist bastard in the first place.

Viveka had learned the hard way to be terrified of Grigor. Even in London his cloud of intolerance had hung like a poison cloud, making her careful about when she contacted Trina, never setting Trina against him by confiding her suspicions, always aware he could hurt Viveka through her sister.

She had sworn she wouldn’t return to Greece, certainly not with plans that would make Grigor hate her more than he already did, but she was confident he wouldn’t do more than yell in front of all these wedding guests. There were media moguls in the assemblage and paparazzi circling the air and water. The risk in coming here was a tall round of embarrassed confusion, nothing more.

She sincerely hoped.

The moment of truth approached. Her voice thinned and cracked, making her vows a credible imitation of Trina’s as she spoke fraudulently in her sister’s place, nullifying the marriage—and merger—that Grigor wanted so badly. It wasn’t anything that could truly balance the loss of her mother, but it was a small retribution. Viveka wore a grim inner smile as she did it.

Her bouquet shook as she handed it off and her fingers felt clumsy and nerveless as she exchanged rings with Mikolas, keeping up the ruse right to the last minute. She wouldn’t sign any papers of course, and she would have to return these rings. Darn, she hadn’t thought about that.

Even his hands were compelling, so well shaped and strong, so sure. One of his nails looked… She wasn’t sure. Like he’d injured it once. If this was a real wedding, she would know that intimate detail about him.

Silly tears struck behind her eyes. She had the same girlish dreams for a fairy-tale wedding as any woman. She wished this were the beginning of her life with the man she loved. But it wasn’t. Nothing about this was legal or real.

Everyone was about to realize that.

“You may kiss the bride.”

*

Mikolas Petrides had agreed to this marriage for one reason only: his grandfather. He wasn’t a sentimental man or one who allowed himself to be manipulated. He sure as hell wasn’t marrying for love. That word was an immature excuse for sex and didn’t exist in the real world.

No, he felt nothing toward his bride. He felt nothing toward anyone, quite by conscious decision.

Even his loyalty to his grandfather was provisional. Pappoús had saved his life. He’d given Mikolas this life once their blood connection had been verified. He had recognized Mikolas as his grandson, pulling him from the powerless side of a brutal world to the powerful one.

Mikolas repaid him with duty and legitimacy. His grandfather had been born into a good family during hard times. Erebus Petrides hadn’t stayed on the right side of the law as he’d done what he’d seen as necessary to survive. Living a corrupt life had cost the old man his son and Mikolas had been Erebus’s second chance at an heir. He had given his grandson full rein with his ill-gotten empire on the condition Mikolas turn it into a legal—yet still lucrative—enterprise.

No small task, but this marriage merger was the final step. To the outside observer, Grigor’s world-renowned conglomerate was absorbing a second-tier corporation with a questionable pedigree. In reality, Grigor was being paid well for a company logo. Mikolas would eventually run the entire operation.

Was it irony that his mother had been a laundress? Or appropriate?

Either way, this marriage had been Grigor’s condition. He wanted his own blood to inherit his wealth. Mikolas had accepted to make good on his debt to his grandfather. Marriage would work for him in other ways and it was only another type of contract. This ceremony was more elaborate than most business meetings, but it was still just a date to fix signatures upon dotted lines followed by the requisite photo op.

Mikolas had met his bride—a girl really—twice. She was young and extremely shy. Pretty enough, but no sparks of attraction had flared in him. He’d resigned himself to affairs while she grew up and they got to know one another. Therein might be another advantage to marriage, he had been thinking distantly, while he waited for her to walk down the aisle. Other women wouldn’t wheedle for marriage if he already wore a ring.

Then her approach had transfixed him. Something happened. Lust.

He was never comfortable when things happened outside his control. This was hardly the time or place for a spike of naked hunger for a woman. But it happened.

She arrived before him veiled in a waterfall mist that he should have dismissed as an irritating affectation. For some reason he found the mystery deeply erotic. He recognized her perfume as the same scent she’d worn those other times, but rather than sweet and innocent, it now struck him as womanly and heady.

Her lissome figure wasn’t as childish as he’d first judged, either. She moved as though she owned her body, and how had he not noticed before that her eyes were such a startling shade of blue, the kind that sat as a pool of water against a glacier? He could barely see her face, but the intensity of blue couldn’t be dimmed by a few scraps of lace.

His heart began to thud with an old, painful beat. Want. The real kind. The kind that was more like basic necessity.

A flicker of panic threatened, but he clamped down on the memories of deprivation. Of denial. Terror. Searing pain.

He got what he wanted these days. Always. He was getting her.

Satisfaction rolled through him, filling him with anticipation for this pomp and circumstance to end.

The ceremony progressed at a glacial pace. Juvenile eagerness struck him when he was finally able to lift her veil. He didn’t celebrate Christmas, yet felt it had arrived early, just for him.

He told himself it was gratification at accomplishing the goal his grandfather had assigned him. With this kiss, the balance sheets would come out of the rinse cycle, clean and pressed like new. Too bad the old man hadn’t been well enough to travel here and enjoy this moment himself.

Mikolas revealed his bride’s face and froze.

She was beautiful. Her mouth was eye-catching with a lush upper lip and a bashful bottom one tucked beneath it. Her chin was strong and came up a notch in a hint of challenge while her blue, blue irises blinked at him.

This was no girl on the brink of legal age. She was a woman, one who was mature enough to look him straight in the eye without flinching.

She was not Trina Stamos.

“Who the hell are you?”

Gasps went through the crowd.

The woman lifted a hand to brush her veil free of his dumbfounded fingers.

Behind her, Grigor shot to his feet with an ugly curse. “What are you doing here? Where’s Trina?”

Yes. Where was his bride? Without the right woman here to speak her vows and sign her name, this marriage—the merger—was at a standstill. No.

As though she had anticipated Grigor’s reaction, the bride zipped behind Mikolas, using him like a shield as the older man bore down on them.

“You little bitch!” Grigor hissed. Trina’s father was not as shocked by the switch as he was incensed. He clearly knew this woman. A vein pulsed on his forehead beneath his flushed skin. “Where is she?”

Mikolas put up a hand, warding off the old man from grabbing the woman behind him. He would have his explanation from her before Grigor unleashed his temper.

Or maybe he wouldn’t.

Another round of surprised gasps went through the crowd, punctuated by the clack of the fire door and a loud, repetitive ring of its alarm.

His bride had bolted out the emergency exit.

What the hell?

~ * ~

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I finally got back into my garden for a few hours today. It was a cloudy day and I couldn't stand the sad peas. I had to pull them out and give the beets a chance to take over that little bed.

Now I'm going to put on dinner while I watch some Olympics. Are you watching any of it?