Palace of the Fountains (MF)
[BookStrand Romantic Suspense]
Caro Kingswood answers a plea from her half-sister Sancha and travels to Spain to design a new garden. At first she has a blissful time at the Palace of the Fountains. The charismatic Joe Spenser appears there and, as he courts Caro, persuades her to reconsider her tangled feelings about desire.
Gradually Caro becomes aware that her sister Sancha’s marriage is in trouble. Ann Grant, hired by the family to catalogue their collection of Toledo swords and knives, has disappeared, and Sancha suspects her husband Felipe.
Soon Caro uncovers a maze of dark family secrets. Worse, Joe tells her that Ann was his beloved sister, and he has persuaded the family to admit him so as to find out what happened to her. So was his interest in Caro real?
Matters come to a head during a local fiesta, when the real murderer of Ann Grant targets Caro herself.
A BookStrand Mainstream Romance
4.5 ROSES: "Caro Kingswood goes to visit her sister in Spain and to design a garden for her sister. What starts out as a wonderful time slowly changes as Caro becomes aware of things not being quite what they seem to be. First it seems that Caro's sister, Sancha's marriage isn't as happy as Caro first thought it was. Also Sancha's new family hired Ann Grant to catalogue their collection of swords and knives and Ann is now missing. And now Caro's sister wonders about her husband. Joe Spenser is charismatic and while he seems to be sincere at first Caro is suddenly wondering if he might be hiding secrets of his own. As Caro starts to suspect him Joe finally tells Caro that Ann was his sister and he is trying to find out the truth. As they team up to find the truth things start happening which makes them wonder if Caro is now in danger. The mystery seems to deepen the more Joe and Caro look for the truth and nothing is as it seems. Caro is starting to wonder if she getting the truth from anyone or if everyone is more concerned with covering up the truth. If Caro and Joe aren't careful they just might find out more than they bargained for and someone is intent on keep the truth buried for good. This is an excellent romantic suspense that will keep the reader on the edge of their seat as they read this one. The story slowly pulls the reader in and before the reader knows it they are hooked and not willing to put this one down until they find out just what is the truth. The twists and turns are brilliantly subtle and will keep the reader guessing as to who is behind everything and just what exactly is going on. This is one to pick and read as the reader will not be disappointed in the end." -- Red Roses for Authors
4 BLUE RIBBONS: "Caro Kingswood is a garden designer. She and her husband Alex started their own business designing gardens, but the marriage and business was short-lived. Alex was possessive and controlling, but when he stole Caro's designs and passed them off as his own, it was the last straw with her. She filed for divorce and started anew. When her sister Sancha implores Caro to come for a visit and to design her estate gardens, Caro can't say no. Sancha lives in Spain, and Caro could do with a change of scenery. Joe Spenser is a hydro-engineer who has been hired for a job in Spain. One evening, he stumbles into Caro and her sister and brother-in-law while looking at the sights. They implore him to join them, even though Sancha is playing matchmaker since Joe is so handsome. He instantly finds Caro desirable. Joe recently split up with a woman, Kathy, because she didn't like the close bond he had with his sister Ann 'Az' Grant. He chose Ann, and that was the end of that relationship. Now, Ann has disappeared. She was hired by Sancha and her husband Felipe to catalogue the family's sword collection. Sancha suspects something foul involving her husband but is afraid to express her suspicions. When Caro finds out that Ann is Joe's sister, she questions his motives. Are his feelings for her true, or was he only using her for access to the family and the secrecy surrounding Ann's disappearance? Set against the beautiful backdrop of Spain, PALACE OF THE FOUNTAINS is a page-turning romantic suspense that will bewitch you. With a spatter of complex characters, all with their own secrets, the blossom of romance, a dark and mysterious murder, the danger surrounding Caro and spectacular writing, PALACE OF THE FOUNTAINS is a must-read!" -- Wendy, Romance Junkies Reviews
The following morning, Caro was still disturbed by what she had witnessed, although Felipe had apologised for his overreaction. Sancha seemed satisfied with that, even proud of his machismo.
‘He was protecting us, Caz. What’s wrong with that?’
What was wrong was Felipe’s obvious enjoyment, but trying to convince herself that she was oversensitive after dealing with Alex’s bullying, Caro made a determined effort to forget it, especially as her sister was now keen to show off the family bodega.
By 9:00 a.m. she and Sancha had walked from the palace to the Torralba vineyard. ‘Are you ready to be dazzled?’ Sancha asked, moving ahead to emerge first from their vine-bordered pathway with its waist-high stone walls.
The entrance to the bodega was in the traditional part of the winery, through an arched door in a Palladian L-shaped building. Immediately in front of the entrance were several vine-strewn trellises, with sturdy beech wood tables and chairs under them.
‘To encourage people to linger,’ Sancha said. ‘Felipe’s opening a restaurant next year, but at the moment it’s appointment-only for tours. I’ll let him know we’ve arrived.’
While Sancha talked rapidly into her mobile, Caro crossed to the small drinking fountain at the opposite end of the trellis. Hearing footsteps on the raked gravel behind, she turned to see a stranger emerge from the shade of the nearby cypress trees.
‘I see you’ve booked a tour. Do you know when they start?’ he asked in English.
‘In a few moments, I think.’ Caro was trying not to stare. Her ex was good-looking. Alex had exploited this accidental advantage to get what he wanted. In a startlingly different way, like the bright negative of a photograph, this man was equally attractive, possibly even more handsome. Sinewy, blond, and tall, he wore blue jeans and a drab grey shirt which could only accentuate a face that might have been ascetic was it not for a big, sensual mouth.
He held out an unopened bottle of water. ‘This might be more palatable than the water fountain. The local water is flat.’ And when Caro hesitated to take it, he added, ‘I can easily get another.’
* * * *
He smiled, momentarily shaken when she smiled back, her attractiveness a serious distraction. Just under average height and delicately made, with satin-cream skin, warm green eyes, and sleek, shoulder-length hair that was darker than mahogany, this woman matched his every adult, sensual dream. She looked thirsty, for her lips were a little dry and she seemed altogether more listless than her lithe, athletic figure suggested. ‘Indulge me,’ he found himself saying, although unlike Az, she was clearly no natural flirt, for she was blushing now. ‘Please?’
‘Thanks.’ Finally she took it, enjoyed a long drink. ‘I needed that. I’m ashamed to admit I only walked a couple of kilometres.’
‘From the palace?’ So who was she? Would she have known Az? Where are you, Az? Did you visit here? Just in time he remembered to dissemble, to play the tourist. ‘But it’s hot today. I cheated and came by hire-car.’
* * * *
‘You’re on holiday?’ Sancha joined them just as Caro was about to move away.
‘For two weeks,’ the stranger replied. ‘I know northern Spain quite well, but León’s a mystery to me. I’m hoping to explore.’
‘Come and explore with us,’ Sancha said, ‘We can have a special tour.’ She held out her hand. ‘I’m Sancha Torralba. The quiet one is my sister, Caro Kingswood.’
The man smiled—he had to know what Sancha was doing, thought Caro, exasperated—and turned at once to the entrance. Sancha caught her back.
‘Should I invite him for dinner tonight?’ she whispered.
‘Stop matchmaking, Sanchie.’
‘This guy is seriously sexy and I’m going to ask him. Now come on.’
Her kiss was like warm silk and as delicate as a butterfly. Hesitant, Joe thought, as her hands wound softly around his waist. She was shy because he was hurting, and shy, too, because she had been hurt.
Her ex must have been a real bastard.
‘Pretty creature,’ he murmured, as she drew back slightly, as if checking he was happy with how she had kissed him. ‘Little Caro.’
‘Little baggy cardigan,’ she corrected, smiling as he dropped a kiss into her palm.
So she had heard that crazy endearment! But it didn’t seem to matter. As he caressed her soft, lush lips with his mouth, she sighed, leaning into him again.
‘Love,’ he started to say, quickly amending it to ‘Lovely,’ as he respotted the narrow white band of flesh around her wedding ring finger. She might not be ready yet for any declaration of intense feelings and he didn’t want to scare her.
But I can show her how I feel.
‘It’s getting late. Will you stay? I’d love you to.’
She looked up at him, her eyes wide, perhaps startled, as if she never expected him to ask her, but not shocked, thank goodness. ‘Are you sure?’ she asked softly. ‘What about how you are, and your teeth?’
Forget those, Joe almost said, because he was rapidly forgetting everything except her, but instead he repeated his wish. ‘Please stay.’
She nodded, once, and he guided her swiftly back to his hotel, hoping she had not noticed his lengthening strides and quickening pace.
Tender, he warned himself, as he opened the hotel room, realizing with relief that he had not left it too untidy. Tender and slow, for Caro.
‘Mango juice, bottled water, or something from the minibar?’ he asked, inviting her to take the room’s single chair.
He was so aware of her that he heard the slight creak of the wicker as she perched on the edge of the chair.
Nothing is going to happen, Caro-Caroline or Caz, unless you wish it, he almost said, before he fetched two water glasses from the en suite. He poured juice for them and handed her one.
‘Cheers.’ She sipped, and as he settled on the foot of the bed, she rose and paced to the shuttered, half-opened window. ‘You can almost taste the heat, still,’ she murmured, resting her forehead on the wooden slats.
Glad she had relinquished that chair, Joe joined her by the window, pretending to look out over the darkening city. ‘Is this as hot as it gets?’
Very smooth, you idiot, he scolded himself as she coloured slightly, but then she turned to him and put her free hand on his chest. ‘Can I kiss you?’ she whispered.
He smiled and quickly moved their glasses to the narrow bedside table, switching on the lamp there to give a golden light to her small, lithe figure. She was pliant in his arms, her eyes very wide, her mouth very red.
‘Pretty Caroline.’ He kissed her lips and cheek and throat, drawing off her cardigan and feathering kisses along her supple arms. ‘Little Caz.’
‘You heard Sancha call me that.’ She returned his kisses with her own, running a hand through his hair. ‘Do you ever get called Joseph?’
He shook his head. Folding her into his arms again, he swept her up in a wave of motion, amazed at how light she was.
‘Have you seen dandelion clocks?’ she asked suddenly. ‘They may look fragile, Joe, but they grow everywhere.’
He chuckled, understanding her very well. ‘I would call you a damask rose, myself. Sweet.’ He deliberately inhaled the perfume of her hair. ‘And prickly.’
‘Then you must be a cactus,’ she retorted at once, a bright glint in her usually dreamy eyes. ‘Tall and stately and an expert water conserver.’
Joe grinned—he could grin, and he felt like grinning now, despite his earlier visit to the dentist’s—and he ‘danced’ with her across the floor tiles.
‘Put me down, put me down.’ She laughed, throwing back her head, abandoning herself to the moment. ‘There!’
Joe did so very gently, arranging the pillow more comfortably for her head. He sprawled alongside her on the bed and kissed her afresh, his tongue easing between her teeth and then feeling her tongue caress his mouth and inside his lips.
Slow, he reminded himself, as her embrace deepened and his clothes, especially his jeans, felt suddenly too tight.
* * * *
Do I warn him that I’m useless in bed? Caro wondered, before she remembered that only Alex had accused her of that, of ‘lacking sex style,’ whatever that meant. Alex had been ruthless in dashing aside her tentative approaches on the rare times she had made them and had demanded to take the lead. Joe, she knew already, would be different.
Perhaps I won’t be useless with him.
He was floating his hands over her, sliding off her shoes and caressing her toes, kissing her high instep. ‘Ticklish, eh?’ he murmured, as she giggled, and he pinned her to the sheet, one-handed, and tickled across her stomach and under her arms until she kicked and squirmed, laughing even as she called out. ‘Stop! Stop, you horror!’
‘Brute,’ she hissed, as he hugged her tight, rubbing his own bare feet along her calves and ‘hugging’ her feet with his. ‘I bet you were a London water-man in a previous life, a rowdy rower on the Thames.’
He chuckled again and blew a loud raspberry into her stomach.
‘Enough!’ she cried, but he had already scooped her into his arms and they were side by side, him tracing the outline of her collarbone, then her ribs. He cupped her breast, rolling his thumb across her already sensitive nipples, and she moaned.
‘My Caro is a rose.’ He skimmed his long hands over her breasts, then unzipped her dress in a long, smooth motion, unsheathing like an opening flower.
My Caro. She liked that. He was hers, too, her amazing, big brute of a blond.
His fingers had reached her simple white underwear and for an instant she was ashamed of it, until he began to caress her intimately, softly through the cloth, when all thought was lost.
‘Lovely. So very delicate.’
He slipped his hand between her thighs, drawing the simple cotton aside and then away, and now he was unhooking her bra.
‘But you,’ she began, and he smiled at her, placing her hand on his bulging front.
‘Do whatever you want,’ he challenged, kissing her eyelids and spiriting away her bra. Naked and in his arms, she closed her eyes, suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of mingled desire and shyness.
‘What if I do it wrong?’
‘There is no wrong, only love,’ he said, moving himself against her softly cupped hand. ‘Trust me, darling.’