- May 2009 -
MILLS AND BOON ROMANCE
- May 2009 -
Australia & New Zealand
- June 2009 -
"A solid plot, multifaceted characters and a truly touching central situation add up to a strong story. There's plenty of humor to balance things out too."
Romantic Times, 4 stars
Lost: one love. Found: one family!
One thing was clear from the start.
Mandy Jenkins and Renzo Ruffini were fated to be combatants: to tease, taunt and infuriate each other, to jeer and bang their heads against the wall in mutual exasperation. And then to laugh and forget everything. Until the next time.
The truth was there the night they met, if either of them had been able to see it: the instant attraction hiding behind antagonism, the meeting of minds that took them both by surprise.
The only thing missing was the tragedy. That came later.
It was an evening in late February when Mandy arrived in Chamonix, on the French-Italian border, and booked into one of the city's best hotels. It was slightly more than she could afford, but she was about to spend the next week living tough in the mountains and she reckoned she was entitled to spoil herself.
Everything was perfect, starting with the view from her bedroom window, of the mountains rearing up, shimmering white in the darkness, right down to the delicate French cuisine in the restaurant.
She took her time over the meal, occasionally glancing around at the other diners. One couple in particular claimed her attention. The woman was roughly in her late thirties, done up to the nines, evidently with the intention of attracting a conquest.
Laying it all out, Mandy mused.
If so, the woman was successful. The man with her was entirely focused on her ripe beauty, holding her hand, fixing his eyes on her as though the rest of the world didn't exist. He too seemed to be in his thirties, with a face that was attractive rather than handsome. But the attraction was intense. His features were lean and sharp, the eyes brilliant with intelligence and devilment.
He smiled, and it was beaming, dazzling, all enveloping.
Hmm! Mandy thought.
Many women would have been seduced by that smile, even at this distance. But not her. She'd seen something that didn't ring true. Despite his fervour, the passionate intensity in his gaze, this man wasn't in love. He was simply doing what was expected of him in the situation, heading down a well-worn road to a predetermined end. And there were no prizes for guessing what the end would be.
Her impression was confirmed a few minutes later when the couple rose and headed for the lift, his arm around her waist, her head on his shoulder, their gazes locked in mutual adoration.
After drinking her coffee, Mandy retired to her own room to prepare for the next day when she would join an expedition up the mountains, led by professional climber, Pierre Foule. She was looking forward to it, knowing herself to be physically well equipped with a strong, young body, slim and lithe. Her black hair was cut short in a neat crop.
Efficient, she thought. Just what's needed.
What she didn't take into account was her deep green eyes. To her they were just eyes, useful for their perfect vision, but not special, so she entirely missed their beauty and the effect they could have on other people.
The shower felt unbelievably good, and when she'd finished and put on a towel robe, she felt invigorated and ready for the climb she would start tomorrow.
The thought filled her with the desire for one last look at the mountains, and she slipped out onto the wrought iron balcony to stand enraptured. She was about to go back inside when a commotion reached her from two windows along. A man was cursing in French, a woman was screaming.
The window was at an angle and she had a clear view as the curtains parted and a man rushed out onto the balcony.
It somehow came as no surprise to discover that he was the same man she'd been studying downstairs. Before her startled gaze, he climbed onto the wrought iron railings, took a deep breath and launched himself towards the balcony of the next window, landing easily.
But there his luck ran out. There was only darkness inside and his tapping on the window produced no response. The noise from the place he'd just left was growing louder and Mandy saw him eye her own balcony with intent.
He was mad, she thought. The leap he'd just made was across a corner angle and relatively easy, if you were into that kind of thing. But the balcony where he stood now was straight across from hers, a good six-foot jump and a forty-foot drop if he missed it.
'You're out of your mind,' she called.
'Can we talk about that later?'
Aghast, she retreated into her room, just peering out far enough to see the moment when he launched himself into space, clearing the gap with ease and only just having to cling on to the railings as he landed, muttering, 'Grazie dio!'just loud enough for her to hear. Italian, then.
But she'd called to him in English and she had to admire the aplomb with which he switched back to her language.
'Let's go,' he said hastily, hustling her inside and closing the window firmly.
'Hush,' he said urgently. 'Don't make a sound.'
'Who are you giving orders to?' she demanded, drawing the edges of her robe together. 'Just who are you?'
'A man who's throwing himself on your mercy,' he said quickly. 'Don't be alarmed; I'm not going to hurt you. I just need a place to hide until he gives up the hunt.'
'He? Who's he?'
'The husband, of course,' he said, in a tone that implied inevitable consequences. 'I didn't know there was one. She swore she was divorced, and how's a man to know?'
'She being the woman you had dinner with downstairs, I suppose?'
'Oh, you saw her? Can you blame me for losing my head?'
'You didn't lose your head,' she said, standing back and regarding him cynically. 'You knew exactly what you were doing at every moment. All that passionate gazing—' She made a gormless face to indicate what she was saying and he flinched.
'That's a wicked slander! I never look like that.'
'Look? Present tense? Meaning not with her or any of the others?'
'How do you know there are others?'
'Guess! You looked like a lovesick duck!'
A duck? May you be forgiven!'
'But there was nothing lovesick about you. You were in control all the time.'
'It seems like it, doesn't it? A man who was in control would hardly be on the run. She just made my head spin.'
'And that's your excuse for acting like the hero of a bad Hollywood movie? Who do you think you are? Douglas Fairbanks?'
'He was always doing that athletic stuff in his films and— Why am I telling you this? How dare you just barge in here like some second-rate Lothario?'
'I thought I was Douglas Fairbanks,' he said with an expression of innocence that didn't fool her for a minute.
'Get out! Get—'
The last word was silenced by his hand over her mouth.
'Hush, for pity's sake,' he begged. 'Ow!'
'Now will you let go of me?'
'You bit my hand.'
'I'll bite you somewhere a lot more painful if you don't leave my room. Go back to your lady friend.'
'I can't, her husband will kill me.'
'Good for him! I'll help him dispose of the body.'
'You're not very kind,' he protested plaintively.
She stared at him, bereft of speech long enough to hear a knock at her door.
'Mademoiselle, I am police. Please to open at once. This is for your own protection.'
From the book ITALIAN TYCOON, SECRET SON by Lucy Gordon.
Copyright 2008 by Lucy Gordon
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
~ a taste of italy at home ~