#SampleSunday - Vows Of Revenge (2)

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My blog is back! I'm sorry if you've been getting that awful error page. In the words of my website designer, certain parts of the infrastructure took a 'dirt nap.' But all is good now! And I'm excited to report that Vows Of Revenge is:

Available Now from Mills & Boon

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I'm still unpacking from New York. It was a fabulous trip! I'll post your #SampleSunday in a moment, but first, I thought I'd share a few photos:

This was taken on our cruise around Manhattan. (MrC came along to see the Big Apple with me.) The day was so hot and humid. Being on the water was the only way to catch a breeze. We loved every minute!

Here I am at the Literacy Signing. That's always a fun evening.

And here I am with some of my Presents pals, Maya Blake, Tara Pammi and Jennifer Hayward. We had so much fun that evening. It started with making the cab driver laugh as we talked about our various secret baby plot twists. I tell the whole story in my next newsletter so please sign up! (You also get a free ebook. Details on the bottom of this post.)

Let's get to your #SampleSunday!

SampleSunday

If you missed last week's post, you can read the opening pages from Vows Of Revenge here.

~ * ~

“Perhaps you could show me where she’ll dress?” Melodie suggested and showed him her smartphone. “I wouldn’t mind taking note of suitable photo locations. The bridal preparations and procession to the groom are always an important part of the day’s record.”

“Are they?” If he sounded disdainful, he couldn’t help it. He had lived hand to mouth for long enough that he didn’t see the point in extravagant ceremonies. Did he pay for top quality now that he could afford to? Absolutely. But weddings were already given too much importance without turning them into a Broadway musical—then filming behind the scenes footage for others to ooh and ahh over. As much as he appreciated Ingrid for her all the skills she brought to her work, he was hosting this performance strictly for business reasons.

“I take it you’re not a romantic,” Melodie said as though reading his cynicism. “Or is it just that you wish you hadn’t agreed to having your private space invaded?”

Both, he admitted silently, and realized he would have to work on controlling how much he revealed around this woman. She was very astute.

Or very attuned to him, which was even more disturbing.

“I’m a dedicated realist,” he replied, motioning for her to lead the way from the kitchen up a flight of service stairs to a breakfast room. “You?” he drawled.

“Hopeless optimist,” she confessed without apology. “Oh, this room is gorgeous.”

It was the second time she’d forced him to take stock of the choices he’d made in his surroundings. Part of him had been willing to go with the sort of design she’d said she expected of him: glass and chrome and clean, straight lines. But he’d spent enough time in an institution—juvenile, so not quite as stark as real prison—along with houses that weren’t his own. He’d wanted something that felt like a real home. Of course, it also had to be a smart investment that would fetch a tidy profit if his world ever collapsed again and he had to sell it. Which wouldn’t happen, but Roman was a plan B and C and D sort of man.

So even though he ate in this sunroom every morning, he wasn’t as charmed as she appeared to be by its earthy tones and view overlooking the lemon groves between the road and the fountain in front of the house. He had agreed with the architect that having the morning sunlight pour in through the windows made sense, as did the French doors that opened to the upper balcony that ran the side and length of the house facing the pool and the sea, but it could rain every morning for all the notice he took.

“I once had a fortune cookie that told me to always be optimistic because nothing else matters.”

Her remark caught him by surprise. His mouth twitched as he processed the irony. He quickly controlled it, but couldn’t help bantering, “They should all read, ‘You’re about to eat a dry, tasteless cracker.’”

“Ouch.” She mock frowned at him. “I dread to ask what you think of weddings if that’s your attitude toward fortune cookies. Dry and tasteless?” she surmised with a blink of her wide eyes.

She was definitely flirting with him.

Time to let her know that if she went down that road it would be for short-term amusement, not long-term commitment.

“The ceremony does strike me as a rather elaborate shell for a piece of paper that promises something about the future but ultimately has no bearing on what will really happen.”

His denunciation had her shoulders dropping in dismay. “That would be poetic if it wasn’t so depressing,” she informed him. “Weddings are as much a celebration of the happiness that has been achieved thus far as they are a promise of happily ever after.”

“You promise that, do you? Sounds like you’re taking advantage of the gullible.”

“Meaning that people who fall in love and make plans to share their lives are suckers? On the contrary, they haven’t given up hope,” she defended, lifting her chin with pretended insult.

“For?” he challenged, secretly enjoying this lighthearted battle of opinion.

“Whatever it is they seek. How far would you have come with your company if you hadn’t dreamed beyond what looked realistic? If all you’d done was aim low?” She gave him a cheeky smile as she walked past him into his private sitting room, meeting his eyes as though sure she had him. “See? Being an optimist, I believe I can convert you.”

“I’m not that easy to manipulate,” he stated, confident he’d maintained the upper hand. “But go ahead and try,” he added with significance.

CHAPTER TWO

“OKAY— OH.” THE sitting room took up the corner of the house facing the water. More French doors opened to both the side and front balcony. The rest of the area was clearly the master bedroom.

Melodie had been so caught up in trying to be clever she hadn’t realized where she was going. She blushed. “I didn’t realize.” Why hadn’t he stopped her?

“There’s a guest room down the hall that Ingrid can use to dress,” he said dryly.

She should have hurried to find it, but her feet fixed to the carpet as she took in the luxurious room in varying shades of blue. The bed was obscenely huge and was backed by mirrors to reflect the view. The wall on to the balcony was made of glass doors that doubled back on themselves so many times they ended up tucked into the corners. The partition between outside and interior had essentially disappeared.

Filmy curtains hung in tied bunches at the corners of the bed, presumably to afford some privacy to the occupant—occupants? Plural?—if they happened to be in the bed with the doors open.

With that thought Melodie became acutely aware of the fact that she was a woman and Roman a man. He was tall and broad and his bed would accommodate his strapping body easily, along with any company he brought with him. She swallowed, trying not to betray the direction her thoughts were taking, even as she felt heat creeping through her, staining her cheeks.

As far as what he might be thinking, it was hard to tell whether he was attracted to her or just amusing himself at her expense.

“Oh, that’s very beautiful,” she said, letting the view draw her on to the balcony and away from the intimacy of his bedroom. She set her purse near her feet and used two hands to steady her phone while she took a snap. Her faint trembles grew worse as Roman came to stand next to her.

“How do you know Ingrid?” he asked.

Uncomfortable remaining where she could smell the traces of his aftershave, Melodie moved along the upper balcony, trying to pretend her dazzled state was caused by the band of turquoise just beyond the white beach before the blue of the sea deepened to navy. An indolent breeze moved through her sweater and hair doing little to cool her. It was more of a disturbing caress, really. Inciting.

“Our mothers went to the same prep school in Virginia.” Looking for cool in the wrought iron rail, Melodie grasped only heat, but she let the hard cut of metal into her palm ground her as she added, “My mother passed away recently and Evelyn came to the service. It was auspicious timing, with Ingrid recently becoming engaged.”

Melodie’s father had been instrumental in this new job of hers, of course, not that she intended to broadcast that. After insisting they invite Evelyn to say a few words about Melodie’s mother—a request that had surprised the woman when she hadn’t spoken to her old friend in years—Garner had insisted Melodie go talk to her. Ask her about her daughter. Melodie had realized after the fact that Garner had been fishing for info on Roman through his PA, but she didn’t know why. She’d taken her time following up with Evelyn a couple of weeks after the service and kept it to herself. Her father and brother didn’t even know she was here. Heck, they didn’t know she was alive. She preferred it that way.

“Helping with the arrangements has taken my mind off things,” she provided with a faint smile. “Weddings are such happy occasions. Far better than organizing a funeral.”

A pause, then he asked a perplexed, “Are you saying the funeral was so impressive it prompted this woman to ask you to arrange her daughter’s wedding?”

Melodie chuckled, even though the subject was still very raw for her.

“Not exactly. It was a grand affair,” she allowed, trying to keep the disdain out of her voice. Her mother had wanted something small and private. Her father had wanted publicity shots. Melodie had wanted her mother’s ashes. She’d done what she had to and the urn was now in her home, where she’d keep it safe until she could complete her mother’s final wish, to have her ashes scattered in Paris. “But I think Evelyn was being kind to me, suggesting I get into this sort of thing as a career—”

Oops. She hadn’t meant to reveal that. Shooting a glance at Roman, she saw his brows had gone up with that detail.

“Which isn’t to say I’m not qualified,” she hurried to assure him. This wouldn’t be amateur hour with monkeys stumbling around his home overturning his life, if that’s what he was thinking behind that analytical expression. Melodie intended to repay Evelyn’s faith in her by ensuring each detail of her daughter’s wedding went off perfectly and with the utmost taste. “I’ve done a lot of this type of thing, just hadn’t seen it as a career possibility. After she said what she did, I contacted her and we came to an arrangement.”

“So you’re just getting your company off the ground. There must be substantial investment up front,” he commented. “Flying here to scout the location. That sort of thing.”

“Some,” she replied with suitable vagueness. Complaining about money problems would not inspire his confidence. But the small policy she’d managed to take out on her mother’s behalf had merely paid for the worst of her health care bills. Pretending she could afford a weekend in the south of France was pure bravado and something Melodie would build into Ingrid and Huxley’s final bill.

“Your office,” she assumed as she moved away from that topic and along the balcony, arriving in front of a fresh pair of open doors. The interior of the room held a desk free of clutter surrounded by large, clear screens she previously had thought were an invention confined to sci-fi movies. “You’ll want to secure this on the day, obviously.”

A door led off one wall back into his bedroom. The opposite wall was completely covered in large flat screens. A single image of his company logo took up the black space on them.

Melodie stepped into the room, drawn by its spare yet complex set up. A blip sounded and Roman followed to press his thumb pad to a sensor.

“You’re quite the secret agent, aren’t you?” she teased.

“I like to consider myself the man who stops them,” he rejoined dryly.

She bit back a smile at his supreme confidence and said, “This would be a stunning angle for a photo, with the water in the background. Would you stand in for Ingrid?”

“Not likely,” he dismissed. Then smoothly turned things around with, “You’d make a prettier bride. I’ll take the photo.” He held out his hand for her phone.

She hesitated, far more comfortable behind the lens than in front of it. She always had been, but she really didn’t want to cause even the smallest ripple in such a big commission.

“If you prefer,” she murmured with false equanimity and readied her camera app, walking back outside again as she did so. “We’ll do a series of shots from when the father of the bride fetches her from her room and all the way down the stairs. I had thought she’d come down the interior ones, but these ones are better. The guests will see her approach and all this wrought-iron is so gorgeous. We’ll take some couple shots on the inside stairs after the ceremony.” She was thinking aloud as she went to the rail and turned to face him.

He fiddled with her phone, then said, “Ready.”

After a few of the app’s manufactured clicks, he lifted his gaze and commanded, “Smile. You’re getting married.”

Caught off guard, Melodie laughed with natural humor, then clasped an imaginary bouquet and channeled her best bridal joy, as if the man of her dreams was awaiting her.

Despite being mocked mercilessly through her teens, and suffering a self-imposed disaster that had put her off dating into her adult years, she had been telling the truth about being a romantic. She liked to believe a real life hero existed for her. She needed to believe it, or she’d become as depressed as her mother had been.

Her mother’s illness had held Melodie back from looking for him, but now, despite the grief abrading her heart, she was open to possibility. Willing to take a risk. For just this one moment she let herself imagine Roman was the man made for her. Her soul mate.

Roman’s intense concentration lifted sharply from the phone, pinning her in the steely needle of his hard stare.

~ * ~

I should have posted all of Chapter One last week. I don't know why I didn't. Too distracted preparing for New York, I guess.

Are you wanting more than a peek into Melodie and Roman's story? If so, you can get it now fromMills & Boon or pre-order here:

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