I’m excited to announce that Xavier’s story, The Bet, is now available to buy from Amazon. You can also read it for FREE in Kindle Unlimited:

If you have read The Billionaire’s Love Story, you will remember that Xavier Stone is Tobias’s brother. This is his story. This is a standalone book and contains no cliffhangers. You’ll also get to meet your favorite characters from The Billionaire’s Love Story :-)

I hope you enjoy reading it!

I’m still editing The Bet, which is a spin-off from The Billionaire’s Love Story, and features Xavier, Tobias’s brother.

Here is an unedited version of Chapter 1 to whet your appetite :-)

 

The Bet – Chapter 1

 

“One woman, for life. Hell, that sounds as boring as fuck.”

Xavier had waited until Tobias was well out of earshot to state his observation. They were sitting outside on leather couches, on the rooftop terrace of The Oasis, the bar his friend Luke owned.

Tobias was flying the lucky son-of-a-bitch to his wedding on his private island in Fiji. Luke and his staff were taking care of the drinks for the 4-day wedding extravaganza.

“He’s your brother. Be happy for him,” Luke drawled.

“I am happy for him,” Xavier insisted. Tobias seemed more relaxed these days, and it was all down to Savannah and Jacob. “It was about time he met someone. I could say the same about you.” He glanced at his friend but Luke kept pretty quiet on that front.

“Not me.” Luke shook his head. “I’m too busy to be dealing with women.”

Girlish laughter bubbled around the room making Xavier glance over his shoulder. Even though it was late evening and the night sky had darkened to a rich navy-blue, the soft lights from the lamps made it easy to see everyone. He raised his glass to the group of women who sat around a table scattered with jewel colored cocktails. A couple of them acknowledged him with an interested smile.

“Know them?” he asked his friend. Luke seemed to know everyone who came here.

“Lawyers and legal eagles, celebrating an engagement. That’s all you need to know.”

Xavier eyed them slowly, his eyes lasering in on a woman with long wavy hair and a big pair of breasts. Her hard-to-miss nipples pointed through her silk dress. There was a touch of fall in the air in this last week of September, but with the heaters Luke had placed all around the terrace, it wasn’t cold at all. Or maybe she wasn’t cold and was just excited to see him. He flashed a smile at her, appreciating the view.

“Quit bugging my clientele.”

“I don’t see them complaining.” Xavier lifted his beer bottle to his lips. On second thoughts, it was probably better not to risk anything while Tobias was around. With his wedding to Savannah a week away, his brother could sometimes get easily irritated. In fact his family, especially his parents, seemed to get annoyed when it came to Xavier and his love life. He didn’t understand why. He was young. Okay, not so young. But 27 wasn’t exactly old.

Tobias was going to celebrate his 30th birthday the day before he got married. Talk about hitting two major milestones one after the other.

“That’s because they don’t complain to you.”

“Bullshit.” Xavier looked at his friend dubiously. “Nobody’s ever complained to you about me. You’re just making that shit up.”

Luke’s gaze drifted to the table of women before returning to him again. “Is Xavier-the-stud-Stone in action again? Won’t your girlfriend mind?”

“I’m only looking.” Gisele wouldn’t like him ogling other women, but she wasn’t here, and he wasn’t about to do anything silly. He wasn’t that much of a douchebag.

His fingers curled around the glass bottle. “You all set for the wedding?” he asked. “Think of the shit ton of publicity you’re going to get from it.”

“That’s not why I’m doing it,” said Luke.

Xavier snorted in disbelief. “It’s not as if you could do any better.” It was Tobias Stone’s wedding, for fuck’s sake.

“Tobias doesn’t want any press,”

It was true. Tobias was an intensely private person. “My brother’s anal like that.”

Luke leaned forward. His sleeves had been turned up, revealing hard, tattooed forearms that had Xavier wondering if he should get a couple of tattoos himself. Chicks loved that stuff. And that, along with the four or five bars and clubs Luke had in and around New York, made him a babe magnet. Xavier envied him a little, and for having a business which didn’t seem like such hard work, and which seemed to be thriving.

“I can see why. He wants no paparazzi and nothing leaked. I respect that, and I haven’t told anyone outside of me and my team. My staff is discreet and they won’t leak anything to the press. I’m honored that Tobias asked me.”

“He’s asked you based on my recommendation.”

“He’s been here plenty of times without you.”

Xavier scratched his jaw. “When?” Tobias wasn’t a party-animal. “He’d rather watch the stock market than hang out in a bar.”

“He’s been here a few times with Savannah.” Luke’s eyes twinkled. He seemed to be enjoying the telling of this news. Xavier angled his head. Yeah, well, things were slightly different now that his brother had met Savannah. These days Tobias was a changed man who had gone from spending most of his time in the office, to actually having a life outside it.

Another shriek of laughter bubbled across from the table behind him, forcing him to cast another look over his shoulder. He quickly scanned around the table and zeroed in on the same woman again. His gaze settled on her a moment longer than usual, until she returned the stare, and then he turned his back on her.

Show interest, but not too much. Raise their hopes, get them excited, and then pull back.

“His fiancée seems like a nice girl,” Luke said. “And he looks happy.”

“He is. He never used to go out much. I had to drag him out just so he could mingle and get some pussy.”

Luke slanted an eyebrow. “That was considerate of you.”

“I thought so, too.” Xavier leaned in, eager to know, “Are you getting any?” Luke narrowed his eyes, his mouth twisting as if he was trying to formulate an appropriate reply. “For a 27 year old, you still talk like a teen.”

“I’m being serious, dude.”

“I am too. Quit the pussy talk.”

Quit the pussy talk? It made him wonder. “Are you batting for the other side?”

“You idiot.” Luke gave him one of his you’re-a-shithead-looks. “Some of us don’t like to talk about it as much as you do.”

“Where were we?” Tobias rejoined them, slipping his cell away.

“You were about to order a glass of whiskey,” Xavier replied, then raised his hand to summon a server. He should have ordered Tobias a drink while he was taking his call.

Tobias turned to Luke. “Do you have everything under control?”

“It’s all taken care of,” Luke assured him. “I’ve met with your security guys.  We arrive the morning of your birthday and I’ll be there to oversee everything. You don’t have to worry about a thing.”

The server placed the whiskey glass down and Xavier slid it over to Tobias. “Here you go, bro.”

Tobias dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “No thanks. I’m good.”

“Since when did you give up drinking?”

Tobias gave him a hard stare. “I haven’t. I just don’t need one now. Get me a Coke, will you?”

“Coming up.” He caught the server’s attention again and ordered the drink before turning to Tobias. “You need to loosen up.”

“I still have work to do before we fly out. We can’t all work from home in our PJs.”

Luke sniggered. “What is it that you do again? I’ve never been able to figure it out.”

Tobias grinned. “Let me know when you find out because I still can’t work it out myself.”

“He drives a 488 Spider, though,” Luke remarked casually. “He can’t be doing too badly.”

It ground on his nerves, the two of them talking about him like this. “I’m here, guys. I’m right here. And I’m doing just fine.” Xavier raised his bottle and waved it at the two of them for ganging up on him. “Not all of us get Daddy’s trust fund.” This was aimed at Luke.

“I gave my old man the middle finger,” Luke shot back. “And I’m building my empire with my own blood, sweat and tears. I haven’t taken a cent from Daddy.”

Tobias listened and nodded his head. He didn’t need to say anything because he was a self-made billionaire who counted politicians and captains of industry as his friends. Not particularly close friends, Xavier assumed, but close enough that he could call them up if needed.

It wasn’t that Xavier was jealous, but he knew he couldn’t rival that. He had never been as smart, or as astute as his brother, and he was painfully aware of the fact. “Laugh all you want, but I’ve been creating and running businesses ever since I quit high-school,” he said, a little too defensively. “And I can afford the Ferrari just fine.” He lifted his chin in defiance.

“To confirm,” said Tobias, completely ignoring him and turning to Luke again. “Have you got the agenda?”

Luke nodded.

“And you’ve signed the agreement?”

“Yes. No talking to the press, no pictures, no exclusives for any of the papers or magazines. Understood and noted.”

Xavier suppressed a breath. His brother’s paranoia bordered on OCD at times. He took a swig of his drink and listened to Tobias and Luke discussing the wedding details. He felt like a third party in a business meeting for two.

He was happy for Tobias. Of course he was, and it was about time things turned around for him, especially after what had happened with Ivy. But honestly, apart from that huge life-changing event, things had always gone pretty smoothly for his brother.

Unfortunately, for himself, things weren’t so easy. Business had been slow lately. He didn’t have the smarts and the genius to run a hedge fund, but he’d had to find his own way.

He wasn’t living off of Tobias’s generosity, nor did he want to. The problem with starting and running lots of little businesses, trying and failing many times over before finding a few that worked, was that it wasn’t consistent. He was always looking for new business opportunities. But when he made money, and sold a business off, or made good with the stock market, he did pretty well. Well enough to afford a Ferrari and his loft conversion in Tribeca. Well enough to easily afford thousand dollar bottles of champagne when he needed to impress.

But right now was a dry spell and had been ever since he and Petra had broken up. She had been his lucky mascot but ever since the split, at Tobias’s party back in July, he hadn’t seen her. A week later he’d heard that she’d fucked off with a Formula One driver.

Not that he’d been lonely for long. Shacking up with Gisele, a cute B-list actress, had relieved him of too much wrist action.

He looked up as a gorgeous woman swept past their table, then stopped and stepped back, placing her hand on Luke’s shoulder and greeting him. Xavier eyed her butt as she talked to Luke, flirting with him like a nymph. Her hand slid down his arm, fingering his skin and tracing over his tattooes. “Come on over and say ‘hi’, when you’ve finished, stranger.”  Her pomegranate red nails squeezed his friend’s bicep as a parting gesture.

“Sorry.” Luke apologized, and Tobias continued as if the intrusion hadn’t even occurred. Xavier watched her until she was out of sight, then turned his attention back to the conversation just as the two men were shaking hands.

“Thanks,” said Tobias.

“Thank you, for the opportunity.” Luke looked chuffed as he slid off his stool then excused himself.

“Lucky son-of-a-bitch,” Xavier sniped, watching Luke and the woman talking. “He probably has everyone’s number.” It seemed like a waste because for all the phone numbers Luke might have had, Xavier hadn’t seen him with anyone for a long time.

Tobias gave him another one of his steely looks. “You’re like a walking hard-on.”

“This place is full of beautiful women, what do you expect?” The brunette on that table was giving him the come on. His mind was already in the gutter, and he could see by the way she licked her lips that hers wasn’t far behind.

“You haven’t confirmed if your girlfriend is coming.”

“Would you mind if she did?”

“I don’t care if she does or not, but if her coming stops you from hitting on all my guests, then go for it.”

“You have the wrong impression of me, bro.”

“Do I?” Tobias sounded testy. “If she comes, she’d better stick to my privacy policy.”

That’s what he was worried about. He wasn’t sure Gisele could keep her mouth shut. She was easily impressed, and a little too text-happy. Each time they went out she’d take pictures and post them to her social media accounts before they’d even had dessert.

“If she’s not on Vivian’s list, she’s not getting in.”

Tobias and his goddamn lists. This ‘small’ wedding was turning out to be a security nightmare, and he didn’t envy Vivian, Tobias’s new PA, the task of organizing the list of attendees.

Xavier was still none the wiser as to what had happened to Candace, Tobias’s previous PA. He’d had her in a small room in The Vault once; Luke’s club in the basement. He’d had her up against the door with her legs wrapped around his waist. Maybe he shouldn’t have, what with her being Tobias’s PA, but the girl was a flirt, and she’d wanted it. And he was single at the time.

It had been a simple case of supply and demand.

Maybe it was just as well that she had left, or had been fired, or whatever. Even Matthias, who had been a close friend of his brother’s for as long as he could remember, had gone at the same time, and Xavier was still none the wiser as to what had happened to either of them. Tobias refused to discuss it. He ventured another try, at the risk of getting shot down, as he had on the other occasions. “Are Candace and Matthias coming?”

“No.” The tone of Tobias’s voice warned him against probing further.

He could take the hint. He knew that if someone pissed Tobias off, his brother would cut them off and be done with them.

“You’re flying with mom and dad, right?” Tobias asked, indicating the topic was done with.

“Yup.”

Fuck, yes. Xavier’s insides tanked a little at the thought. Gisele had to come, if only to be a distraction. The 17-hour flight from New York to Fiji, with a stop in LA, was tough enough, and if his parents were going to be on the same flight, it was going to be hell on earth. On landing, they had to take a small plane or a boat from the main airport to Kawaya, Tobias’s 300-acre private island. Just thinking about being stuck on the flight made his stomach churn. “Shame you decided to go a few days beforehand.” Otherwise they could all have traveled on Tobias’s private jet, and it would have made the journey bearable.

“It’s my wedding and I’ll do whatever the hell I want.” Tobias was traveling a few days earlier with Savannah and Jacob. Everyone else was coming a few days later on commercial flights, all paid for by Tobias.

With almost an entire day to get there, then four days on the island and a day to get back, it was going to be almost a whole goddamn week. He had to make sure Gisele came along because, in that heat, with his parents and god knows who else, on an island that was remote, he’d go crazy unless he had something to do. And doing Gisele would be the best way of passing the time.

Tobias gulped down his drink and announced that he was leaving.

“Savannah’s ordered you to be home for dinner?” The idea of domestic bliss bored the hell out of him.

“I promised Jacob I’d be home early.”

Xavier’s eyebrows shot north. Pretty soon Tobias Stone’s household would be just like The Waltons. Saccharine sweetness. Enough to make him want to puke. What the hell had happened to the man dubbed New York’s most eligible bachelor? Not that Tobias had ever really been a player but, as Gisele had shown him on one of those stupid online celebrity websites, his brother still held strong on the list. It didn’t seem to matter that Tobias Stone was getting married. But what irritated him was seeing that he was number 7. And what pissed him off even more was finding out that Luke was number 4.

Number fucking 4.

And the man didn’t even seem to be interested in chicks.

As for himself, he knew why he was so far down the list. He was nowhere near as wealthy as Tobias.

He wasn’t a billionaire.

Yet.

And if truth be told, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to work that hard to become one. He was doing pretty well as he was.

 The Bet releases in April 2018.

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New Beginnings, the 6th and final book in the Italian Summer series, is finally here! YAY!!

 

 

Elsa, the mother of Ava and Rona, has been with us since the first book in the Honeymoon Series, Honeymoon For One. She has also been in the background in the spin-off Italian Summer books. And now you get to discover her story in New Beginnings.

Prologue

“Not now, Viktor.” Elsa giggled. Her husband of 19 years hugged her from behind and dropped a silken kiss upon her neck. “The girls …”

“They’re in their room,” he said softly, before leaving her a lingering kiss that promised more. Tiny flutters danced along her belly as she stirred the pot of lamb stew. Her husband’s favorite.

The poor man had worked hard these past two weekends. As well as working at the electronics factory, he also worked as a handyman on the side, getting work through word of mouth. Viktor had the uncanny knack of fixing things. Friends and neighbors called on him if any of their appliances stopped working. If they had car trouble, or problems with household appliances, Viktor was there, and he never charged a dime. His best friend, Vernon, told him he would have been a rich man if he had.

“Lamb,” he said, sniffing the air contentedly.

“It’s your favorite,” she replied. “And you deserve it.” He hugged her tighter, his hands resting just above her stomach, teasing her. “It’s nice having you at home for a change.” The last two weekends they had barely seen him.

“I would rather be here every weekend if I had a choice, but I don’t have choice. You know how it is. Anything extra helps.” She couldn’t dispute that. They needed every cent they could get.

She turned the heat low, then turned around to face him.  “I just wish you didn’t have to work so hard, honey.”

She was a homemaker, but there would have been not much of a home to make, had it not been for Viktor’s insane work schedule. If only he would let her work. She could now that the girls were eight and nine years old. She could get a babysitter to drop them off at school, and try to get a part-time job around the girls’ school hours. If she worked, then Viktor could ease up on his hours. But each time she brought the topic up, he dismissed it. “Later, you can work later, when the girls are in their teens,” he would say. “They need you at this age,” he would tell her. And the classic, “You leave all the money worries to me.”

He kissed her nose. “The extra work came up, and I took it. I wasn’t going to turn it down.”

“But you said you’d keep this weekend free.” It was excessive. He’d worked fourteen days without a break.

“It was a quick job today. It wasn’t too bad. You know how I want my girls to have the best.”

“We don’t need the best, we just need you.

“Daddy!” They pulled apart as Rona, the older of the two, ran into the kitchen. “I have to hand in my rainforest tomorrow. You have to help me! Martha Mackenzie’s canopy is prettier than mine and it has more leaves. Real leaves, and real tree bark. We have to make mine better.”

Viktor laughed and ruffled her bangs. “We can’t have that. Ours is going to be much, much better. I’ll work on it with you tomorrow.”

Now, Daddy! We have to do it now!”

“Daddy’s going out,” Elsa told her. This girl of hers knew no patience. When she wanted something, she wanted it immediately.

Rona scowled. “But…”

“No buts. You’ll have to wait.”

Viktor slipped on his jacket. “I want to come back and have dinner with my girls, and then we can all have a game of Backgammon.”

“Monopoly.” Rona insisted.

“Monopoly, then.” He bent down and kissed the top of her head. “I won’t be long, less than an hour,” he told Elsa.

“Do you have to go now? Can’t it wait?” Why couldn’t he stay at home now that he had finished for the day?

“I would rather get it out of the way.”

“Is it really so urgent? Couldn’t you pay it on Monday?”

“It’s the final instalment, honey. I like to make good on what I owe.”

She understood. He was like that. Not wanting to owe anyone a dime, even in this case when the store owner had let them buy a tent and pay for it in three instalments.

“We’ll be waiting” said Elsa. She walked over to him and pulled a stray thread from his jacket. It would be good, all of them having dinner together. It didn’t happen often.

He dropped a kiss on her mouth, a kiss that was soft and chaste and looked at her in that way he often did when he was in the mood and feeling happy. She shook her head and stifled a grin. Even after two children, and many years of marriage, her husband still wanted her, still got excited at seeing her body even though it was no longer pert and tight.

“What are you crossing off now?” He asked Ava, their younger daughter. She had climbed onto a chair and was examining the family calendar. This year’s one had pictures of animals and the picture for this month was a giraffe wearing love heart-shaped sunglasses.

“Four months to go,” squealed Ava, excitedly, giving them a toothless grin. She had lost both of her main front teeth.

“You’re already counting down now?” Viktor asked, sweeping her up off the chair and into his arms so that they both faced the calendar.

“Ava, honey, aren’t you a little too big for Daddy to carry you?”

“He picked me up!” Her pigtails shook as she turned around.

Viktor was a big man, tall and lean and strong, but like most men, he wasn’t invincible. He took on too much, and she worried, in the way that wives worried about their men, their breadwinners.

“What are you crossing off?”

“I’m counting the months,” Ava squealed. “Five months ‘til we go camping!”

“And you’re excited already?”

She nodded, making her pigtails shake even more. “I’m really ‘xcited, Daddy.”

“We’re going to have a blast.” Viktor set Ava down and gave Elsa a knowing look. An I-told-you look. Justifying the trip, with its cost and him wanting to make sure he had everything they needed. The overtime he had done was so that he could pay for a bigger tent and all the equipment. Viktor had been adamant about buying a new, bigger tent. Big enough to stand up in.

“Now we just need to convince Mommy to come.”

“Viktor, don’t you start on that.” Elsa recoiled at the idea of it. The thought of sleeping outside, even in a tent, didn’t appeal to her.

“We want Mommy to come, don’t we?” He was goading the girls, much to her indignation.

“We want Mommy! We want Mommy!” The girls began to chant in unison.

“Viktor!” she cried, eyeing him in annoyance. Nothing and nobody was going to convince her to go.

He winked at her. “I’ll be back, girls,” he said, waving his hand as he walked out of the door. At the door, he paused and gave Elsa a look, the type of look that promised a good night of loving.

 

It was only when the stew had turned dry, that she looked at the clock and realized that Viktor had been gone for over two hours.

“I’m hungry, Mommy!” Rona wailed.

“We need to wait for Daddy to get back,” she said, alarm setting in as the clock struck 8.

“But I’m hun-gree.”

“Here,” said Ava, picking out an apple from the fruit bowl and handing it to her sister.

“I don’t want an apple. I want that.” Rona pointed to the pot. Elsa scratched her neck, and glanced at the clock again. It shouldn’t have taken this long. Unless he had run into some friends. Viktor knew almost everyone in the neighborhood. Or maybe he had run into Vernon, who lived only a few blocks away.

“Would you girls like to have your dinner now?” Elsa eyed the four plates and the cutlery she had put down on the table in preparation.

“Caaaan we?” Rona’s large eyes had more than a look of hunger in them.

“No,” said Ava. “We’re waiting for Daddy.”

Rona’s lower lip trembled. “I’m soooo hungry.”

“Why don’t you watch Sesame Street?” Elsa suggested.

“That’s for babies!” cried Rona, an angry expression lining her face.

Elsa was at her wits end, and took them each by their hand, and sat down, putting her arms around them. “We’ll watch something on TV for half an hour, and by that time Daddy will be back, and then we’ll eat. And you,” she said, turning to Rona, “can have an extra-large slice of pie.”

“Okay,” said Rona, looking none too pleased.

She needed to do something normal, otherwise her nerves would fray to shreds. Worry had set in, and she forced herself to watch TV with the girls, and to laugh when they did.

She rolled her neck and shoulders in a bid to ease the tightening she felt all across her body, and even as she stared at the screen, her eyes glazed over the cartoon that Rona had put on. She held the girls tightly against her, encircling them in her arms, trying to give them a semblance of calm, a safe haven. But all she could do was worry and fret, even though she knew it would soon be for no reason.

Viktor would be back any moment now, and they would sit and have dinner together. But half an hour came and went, and as each moment ticked by, the dread inside her grew. Her stomach felt heavy, as if she had swallowed rocks.

He wouldn’t have been this late. Not talking to friends. He knew that they were waiting.

Something was wrong.

It was impossible to ignore it any longer. Her knee started to bounce, and she stilled it with her hand, then got up and walked into the kitchen, her heart beating out of control. She tried to calm herself down.

He had been late before.

But never this late.

Yet there could be a good reason why. Her ears strained for the sound of his key in the lock, and the noise as he bounded into the house, his irrepressible smile lighting up the room.

“Mommy, I’m hung-reeeeeeeeeee!”

Rona had followed her into the kitchen.

“I know, honey. You and your sister come and sit down, I’ll get your dinner. Bring me your plates.”

“Ava!” Rona yelled. Elsa jumped at the sound. Her already-frayed nerves had her tottering on the edge of hysteria. She tried to breathe slowly, even as the fear chewed at her belly.

The girls ran into the kitchen with their plates. Elsa ladled out the stew and gave them each a slice of the fresh bread she had baked earlier.

“Aren’t you eating, Mommy?”

“No,” she said, wringing her hands together. “I’ll wait for Daddy. We don’t want him to eat alone, do we? You go on, Ava.”

She could feel the palpitations in her chest, and willed for the next hour to be over so that she could regain normality again. When the doorbell rang, her immediate reaction of relief quickly faded as she rushed to the door, knowing, at the same time, that Viktor always had the key, that he wouldn’t have rung the doorbell.

She opened the door in trepidation and her heart almost jumped into her throat to find a police officer staring back at her.

“Mrs. Ramirez?”

A chill slid over her, one she tried to counteract with plausible excuses. Viktor’s car has broken down.

“Ma’am.” He removed his cap, and that was when she knew. Knew even as she saw his solemn eyes, and the downcast expression on his face. Her mouth turned to sand. Dry. Dry. Dry. When she tried to speak, her vocal chords seized up. All she could see was the police officer’s hat, and the car parked in full view behind him.

“Who is it, Mommy?” Rona rushed to the door, and behind her, her sister followed. She felt their tiny hands on her thighs, and didn’t dare to turn to look at them, yet she was aware of them hovering around her legs, waist high, their bobbing, curious, inquisitive little faces staring at the police officer.

“Go back inside, girls.” She barely recognized her own voice, a voice which sounded strong and composed, and was the complete opposite of how she felt inside. When Rona failed to move, her voice grew stern. “Don’t let me tell you again, young lady.”

She waited until they were out of earshot then turned to face the now paler-than-ever police officer.

He didn’t even need to say a word because she already knew. A force, stronger than gravity, seemed to pull her to the floor, and yet she was still standing. How was it possible, when all around her, the world seemed to spin out of control, rotating around her like an F5 tornado.

“I’m very sorry, Ma’am, but I regret to inform you that your husband was involved in a collision with another automobile. He didn’t survive.”

She heard him say a collision, and she heard him say that Viktor died instantly. The floor seemed to sink beneath her, and a sound, something like a wail, barely escaped her mouth before she clamped down on it. She still had some semblance of restraint, to know that the girls were within earshot. To know that she could not cry out in anguish, as if the seat of her soul had been ripped out. Days, or maybe weeks later, she would blame herself for his death. If only she had stood up to him and demanded that she also get a job. If she had worked, then her husband might not have had to work so hard, and they might have had the money to pay for the camping equipment in one go, and not in three instalments, and then Viktor would not have met with his death that night when 22 year old Owen Norton, who had been driving under the influence of alcohol, had crashed into Viktor’s car. The car they had saved up for a year.

And now, here she was, facing this concerned looking police officer. Knowing, sensing that the news was bad was one thing, but hearing this man say it, was another. Her legs buckled then, and she fell forward, straight into the police officer’s arms, catching him unawares as they both half fell and half managed to stay standing. She was limp, and lifeless, like a marionette puppet without the strings.

All she could see was that last wave of Viktor’s, the last look he’d given her as he’d stood at the door, telling her he would be back, promising her with his eyes, a look which only she could understand. A look in which he promised her the kind of loving they hadn’t managed in weeks.

“Mommy,” the girls were back. The sound of Rona’s voice made her straighten up and take charge, forced her to pull herself together.

“Mommy?” The fear in her daughter’s voice was hard to miss. Elsa turned around. “Girls, go back, and I’ll be along soon.” But Rona stood defiant, until Ava tugged at her arm and pulled her. “Mommy says we have to go.”

“Ma’am, I could stay here a while until you—”

The sound of footsteps and heavy thudding caught her attention, and then a figure appeared beside the policeman. Someone familiar. Vernon. Panting, and disheveled, as if he had run around the block at lightning speed.

His face white, his eyes darting to her face, then to the police officer’s face.

He looked as if he had been crying.

Her heart plummeted then, because Vernon represented the truth. Vernon, who loved Viktor like a brother, looked the way she felt. Shell-shocked.

The officer might have made a mistake, he might have knocked on the wrong door, mixed up the wrong man. But Vernon was here, looking like he did because there had been no mistake.

“Tell me it isn’t true,” she screamed. It was when he shook his head, that she fell into his arms. Fell and sobbed as she tried hard to stifle her cries in the padded fabric of his jacket; sobbed, because she could no longer hold back the thorns that had cut into her throat.

When she looked up, the police officer had gone, and Vernon looked at her with haunted eyes.

Days later he would tell her that he had seen Viktor’s car in the middle of the intersection, that another car had hit the driver’s side, that Viktor hadn’t stood a chance, that the other driver had lived, the one whose brakes were faulty, the one who had killed Viktor.

And Viktor had died on impact.

It was a miniature saving grace, in a litany of cold, hard facts, that he had died without suffering. She had clutched to that one miniscule detail, trying to glean from it some semblance of hard comfort.

It was the worst thing she had ever had to face; confirmation that the love of her life, her beloved Viktor, had died. The world in which she, they, had carved out their own corner of paradise seemed all of a sudden to be cruel and unjust.

Later at his funeral she would sit in numb shock, trying to reconcile that the man with whom she had shared almost two decades of her life, now lay inside the casket. Another cruel fact of life—the girls had come much later, and he had had such a short time with them.

They still had so many things they had wanted to do together, had talked of so many plans; the girls to raise, and dreams to move to a bigger house, and so many other things to think about.

Vernon followed her as she walked into the living room to find the girls sitting at the table. The sight of Viktor’s empty plate sliced through her like a machete and she stifled the sob that rose in her throat.

“What did the police officer want?” Rona asked.

“Tell us, Mommy,” said Ava. Her blue-green eyes shone with wonder, and for a moment Elsa envied her the bliss of not knowing. She tried to stretch it out, telling them and her mind delved into hard, dark places as she tried to think fast, wanting to spare her girls the horror which had decimated her simple but beautiful life.

You cannot be broken. The girls need you.

She smoothed a hand over her hair, wiped the same hand over her face, and tried to reach down for something inside her, something solid and strong to grab hold of. But there was nothing like that left in her. And yet she was still breathing, she was still thinking, life was still moving on and the clock was still ticking.

How was she still able to stand up and breathe?

How was she able to even think?

It couldn’t be true, her logical mind told her. This wasn’t real. For if it was real, her world would have shattered and she would have ceased to exist.

“What’s wrong with Uncle Vernon?” Rona asked. Vernon was right behind her. She felt his hand on her shoulder.

She swallowed then, and swallowed again, then a third time, and held out her arms, because she couldn’t talk, and because she was trying her damndest not to fall to the floor. Her legs were boneless, and she had to concentrate to stay upright because if she fell to pieces, the girls would be scared and fall to pieces with her, and she could not allow that to happen.

“I have some terrible news,” she said, kneeling on the floor and seeing the surprised look on their faces, because she never knelt on the floor. Squeezing her eyes tightly, because she needed that moment, to reach deep down inside to claim some courage, she opened them and stared at her daughters in turn. “I—I,” she stopped, a sob held at the base of her throat, needing release, and it took all the strength she didn’t have, to keep it suppressed. “I don’t know how to tell you,” she whimpered, her voice breaking, the floodgates opening. “Daddy … daddy had an accident.”

“What, Mommy?” Ava asked, her lip trembling.

“Daddy had a nasty accident, and he … he… he’s gone to heaven.”

“Heaven isn’t real!” Rona cried.

The comment caught her by surprise and for a moment—while she questioned how, and when and from where her daughter had reached this conclusion—it took the edge off the awful truth she was in the middle of divulging.

“Listen to me carefully, girls,” she said, recovering quickly, a sudden strength flowing into her veins. “Daddy was in a car accident, and…and…and…” She couldn’t finish the sentence. It stuck in her throat, making her convulse as she struggled to say these words which sounded hollow, which didn’t make sense.

“Can he see us in heaven?” Ava asked, looking at the ceiling. Elsa nodded, and stroked her daughter’s hair then held both girls to her chest as they collapsed on the floor in a human heap of helplessness. Nothing could bring her husband back, and nothing else mattered, except for her girls.

 

Chapter 1

 Twenty two years later …  

Her granddaughter’s 1st birthday was the perfect reason to return to Verona. She wasn’t sure about being here in the cold winter months, for she so loved Verona during the summer. But she couldn’t miss out on Elisabetta’s party. Ava and Nico wouldn’t forgive her.

 Click here to buy New Beginnings

Another new set of covers for A Perfect Match Series!

 

Fall in love with Ethan and Nadine …

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I’ve just released November Sun, the sequel to Roman Encounter!

This is the continuation of Gina and Christian’s story, and is Book 5 from the Italian Summer Series.

If you haven’t yet read the first part of their story, Roman Encounter, you can get it here:

The final book in this series, New Beginnings, (Elsa’s story), is due for release in Nov/Dec 2017.

I’m almost done with the follow up book to Roman Encounter  - here’s an ‘almost’ finished version of the cover:

I’m hoping to release Gina and Christian’s story next week :-)

Roman Encounter, (#4, Italian Summer Series), is finally here!

 

Kindle US

Kindle UK

Kindle CA

Kindle AU

Kindle DE

Kindle ES

This is Gina’s story:  

If you’ve read any of the Honeymoon Series books, you’ll know that Gina has been a hard-working and trust-worthy employee at the Casa Adriana, Nico’s hotel in Verona. Discover what’s been going on in her life while the Honeymoon and Italian Summer series have been unraveling…

 

For those of you waiting for Book 4 in the Italian Summer Series, I’m hoping to release Gina’s story by the end of June. For now, here’s an unedited 1st chapter excerpt:

“Don’t, Mama. Don’t say things like that.”

“It’s the truth” her mother snapped. “They all want one thing.” Gina gave her mother a weary look and wished that she would at least show a morsel of happiness for her today. But instead the old woman waggled a finger at her. “Don’t go making the same mistake your sister did.”

“Stop it, Mama.”  She hadn’t expected her mother to wish her well, or to hope that she had a good weekend but she hadn’t expected this level of vitriol.

Her mother had never met Davide. In fact, her mother had never met any of Gina’s boyfriends, as few and far between as they were. This was the way Gina preferred it.

Running into her old school friend at Nico and Ava’s wedding last summer had been the strangest thing, especially when so many of the people she had gone to school with had moved away or gone abroad. But Davide had recognized her—it probably wasn’t difficult, she guessed, even though fifteen years had passed. She hadn’t changed much. Her hair was longer and she had more fine lines on her face, but other than that she looked the same now as she had then.

He had come up to her at the evening reception party. It was a pleasant surprise once she got over the shock of seeing him after so many years. Men tended not to hit on her, or notice her much but Davide had come up to her and they had been inseparable for the rest of the evening.

Their courtship had been slow. For months they had remained friends, catching up on the past and slowly rekindling their old romance.

“A weekend in Venice,” her mother sniffed. “Don’t come back pregnant.”

“Mama!” exclaimed Gina, her face burning. She had been looking forward to her weekend away with Davide and didn’t need her mother’s venomous words to taint it. This would be the first time they had gone away. Finding time alone wasn’t easy. For one thing, she never allowed Davide to come here, to the house she shared with her mother, and he lived in rented accommodation, sharing a house with a few of his friends. With both of them busy with work, they never found much time to spend together but having him around these past few months had made the time more bearable.

Working at the Casa Adriana hotel fulfilled her completely. Nico, her boss, relied on her more than eve and she had never worked harder. Even when he had hired two new people to join the management team, Gina found that her workload hadn’t decreased; neither had Nico’s. Taking on more people had made her life busier because she had been responsible for helping them to settle in while Nico concentrated on his new hotel.

It didn’t matter. She thrived on the frenetic pace of her working life because it took her away from the misery of her life at home. Having Davide around made it even better.

“I’m leaving now, and I’ll call you when I get there, Mama,” she declared. Not so much to tell her mother that she had arrived safe and well in Venice but more to make sure her mother was fine. Her mother mostly was fine, albeit that she was getting nervous, and playing up because of her upcoming surgery. Her mother being a glass-half-empty person considered herself as being ill, and therefore in constant need of attention.

“Don’t forget to take your medicine on time,” Gina told her, glancing over her shoulder as she picked up her overnight bag. “The taxi’s here, Mama. I have to go.”

She could barely wait. They had agreed to meet at the train station in Verona at 10. It meant they would be in Venice in time for lunch.

“Go!” Her mother shrieked. “You don’t care if I get sick. It’s what you want so that you won’t have to look after me. Go and leave, like that sister of your.” Her mother waved her hand dismissively.

Gina squeezed her eyes shut. Increasingly her mother was becoming harder to live with. It had been her fault for coming back home six years ago after the friend she shared an apartment with decided to get married. Her mother had fallen sick then, and Gina had been the only one around to help. Moving back home and taking care of her mother had seemed the only way back then.

Her sister Mimi was the lucky one who got away.

“Did you get my medicine?”

“Yes. You have enough for the weekend, Mama.” She inhaled deeply. It’s only one weekend.  “Ciao, Mama.” She stepped outside, not even bothering to wait for her mother’s goodbye.

She got into the taxi and breathed easier when the car pulled away, leaving the row of tidy houses further behind her. A wave of relaxation rolled over her and it suddenly became apparent to her that this feeling of relief was becoming common; that Davide had been a distraction, a much needed injection of light into the bleak canvas that was her life.

She always felt better when she walked into the marbled hallway of the Casa Adriana. There, Gina felt truly at peace but lately even that was becoming a place she wanted to avoid. It had never grated on her before, but it was starting to now.

People passed things onto her that they couldn’t manage, managers from the other hotels offloaded their problems onto her and expected her to magically solve them. Nico seemed to demand more and more from her and now with his new hotel getting closer to opening, the pressure was full on. Everything was piling up and she found it almost impossible to be as chirpy in the face of mounting work pressure as she had been before.

Her well was becoming drier.

She had no more compassion, no more words of sympathy, no more empathy left in her. No more could she be a sounding board, a smiling face, or a listening ear.

Some days it all got too much.

And lately, there had been some days when she had flirted with the idea of getting away from it all. Lately, she had been toying with the idea of leaving Verona, leaving her mother’s house, leaving the Casa Adriana and starting over.

She waited with happy expectation outside Porta Nuova for almost twenty minutes watching the swarms of people coming and going. It wasn’t until she looked at her watch that she realized she had been waiting for almost half an hour. They were supposed to catch the 10.30 train.

Still, she wasn’t going to panic. She felt too blissfully happy for anything to dampen her mood. Davide would come, but she would call him if he didn’t turn up in another five minutes.

Just as she started to rummage around in her handbag for her phone, he showed up at her side, breathless, with a flushed face.

“Ciao,” she cried, her face and eyes lighting up at the sight of him. Happiness flowed through her veins and then stopped when she noticed that he had no luggage on him.

“Where’s your…?” Luggage, she wondered, not completing her sentence. He stared at her, half-frowning, half-uneasy. Something wasn’t quite right. She could tell by the way he averted her gaze, by the way he didn’t lean in to kiss her, by the way he didn’t greet her.

By his silence.

“Gina, I…” He took her arm, stared down, and there it was again, his refusal to meet her eyes for more than a second. “We need to talk.”

And then she knew, even before she heard the lengthy explanation. Her insides felt heavy as if her heart had been weighted down by lead chains.

“I see,” said Gina, even though she couldn’t see because everything blurred through the tears in her eyes. But she couldn’t cry. She couldn’t let him see that he had hurt her. He had led her away from the busy main entrance of the station and taken her around the corner which was quiet, where less people would turn and stare and might wonder why this young couple looked so intense and unhappy.

“It’s not you, it’s me,” she heard him say. “I need my own space.”

She frowned. “You couldn’t tell me before?”  Like last night, or earlier this morning.

“I thought it would go away, I thought what I felt was just that—a feeling, nerves, whatever you might call it. It’s taken me all morning to realize that I can’t do it. Going away would be a mistake, Gina. I wanted to tell you sooner but you seemed so happy about going away, I didn’t want to burst your bubble.”

She shook her head. “You think it’s better telling me now?” His timing couldn’t have been lousier. Telling her now when she had packed and was dressed and was about to walk onto a train thinking that this man was the best thing to happen to her in years.

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

“You keep saying that.”

“I jumped from one relationship straight into this. I think I need to do my own thing.”

Listening to him, she wondered how he could stay so calm and put together when inside she was crumpling into herself, but she also knew she didn’t need to think about these things just yet. Not with him around. In private, when she was alone, then. She drew upon her usual reserves of strength—the things that helped her through all sorts of predicaments, both personal and professional, in the past. “I respect your decision, but,” she paused, knowing that she didn’t need to say this, but she wanted to. She needed to get it out so that it wouldn’t fester inside her, so that she could tell him what a difference he had made to her life, before he left it forever. “We were good together,” she said, needing him to know, because she truly believed it. She wanted him to say he’d made a mistake, that maybe he would give her another chance, that they could try again. That she was right. But instead he stared at the floor as if it was too much of an effort to look at her.

“I think it’s best if we …you know…we…” He couldn’t say it and she resisted the urge to rescue him and to make it less painful. “I like you Gina, but this isn’t the right time for me.”

“I have some things at your place,” she said, remembering. Her toothbrush, a few clothes and some undergarments.

“I brought them with me.” From behind his back produced a small plastic bag.

Extending a stiff arm, she grabbed it and wondered if he felt even a morsel of the hurt she did. She glanced at him and saw that he looked perfectly fine. “Thanks,” she said, taking her bag without opening.

She could do this. She could make a strong exit. She needed to make a strong exit. “Goodbye, Davide. I hope you find that space you were looking for.”

“Will you be alright?” he asked. As if he cared.

“I’ll be fine.” She had to be fine because everyone around her depended on her to be.

She turned around and walked as fast as she could, away from him, and the train station. Her tears fell, blurring her vision as she tried to hail a taxi and wondered what to tell her mother, of how she would go back home with her tail between her legs, and humiliation written all over her face.

 

An Ordinary Hero, my latest series starter, is now available as a single book! It was originally released as part of a multi-author boxed set, Hot Silver Nights.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the story of Meghan Summers. The teacher she developed a crush on back when she was 18, suddenly reappears in her life in spectacular fashion ten years later.

Lance Turner becomes the hottest new hero when he saves a student during a campus shooting. His sudden fame, coupled with his good looks, is enough for his ex-wife to want him back more than ever. The gorgeous 40 year old college professor s a catch by anyone’s definition.

When the world around her was crumbling, Mr. Turner was the only one to comfort her. But that was then, and this is now. He’s not her teacher anymore, and she’s not 18.

Are second chances possible?

I’ve updated the covers to my Perfect Match Series!

I wrote The Proposal towards the end of 2012. It was my 2nd attempt at writing romance. (Love, Inc was my 1st). I had NO idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about POV, nothing about head-hopping, didn’t even know how to format my books, and the first draft was actually a word vomit while I typed away furiously at my keyboard after work.

I was working in London then, juggling three children and three different school-runs. I was exhausted. I wrote the story in about 10 days and I uploaded what was nothing better than a 1st draft (I can’t believe I did that!)

It was December 2012. The children were ill. They had the norovirus , which was winter vomiting bug. I was desperate to get this story finished and uploaded before Christmas. Once the kids got better, I fell ill with the same bug. I managed to upload something, even though I knew it was full of errors, I didn’t think anyone would buy my book. I needed to reach that goal of uploading by the end of December.

So I did.

Except that I then forgot to fix the errors :-(

The story was riddled with them. Grammar, spelling, POV shifts, head-hopping mistakes galore, you name it. I EVEN got a minor character’s name wrong (HORROR OF HORRORS). And then, to make it worse, I decided to run an Amazon promo on the book – forgetting that I had yet to fix the mistakes. (Or, you know, refine my drafting process…)

I had 10,000 free downloads over the next few days.

And people started to read my book!

They left reviews, too!!!!

Some loved it, despite the errors.

Some hated it, because of the errors, and some just hated the story.

A male stripper and a corporate high-flier?

But The Proposal went on to become an Amazon Bestseller (in the UK)

I’ll take it :-)

And I went on to write 3 more books which then became my first ever contemporary romance series. A Perfect Match Series  sold enough to make me believe I could make a go of this – writing romance for a living.

I write contemporary romance intermingled with women’s fiction, family life and sagas. I write about love, romance, friendships and relationships – the fabric which makes up our lives. Back then I thought I was writing chick-lit, so my first covers were:

I’ve changed the covers a few times since then and these are the latest:

 

I LOVE them :-)

I’m never sure I capture a book well, because covers are so subjective but I absolutely love these new ones.

 

 

 

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