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Shalimar (MF)

Siren-BookStrand, Inc.

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 75,896
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[BookStrand Contemporary Romance]

When Suzie catches her husband with another woman, she flees to Shalimar, the country house where she grew up and still feels most at home. Mark follows her there, desperate to fix their troubled marriage but finds his progress hampered by an eclectic mix of people from The Grange, the neighboring property, who have befriended his wife.

Annabel, a woman without conscience or morals, will do whatever it takes to help her boss, brash, overweight John Greenberg, to acquire The Grange. Motivated by the desire to amass as much money as she can, she even enters into a kinky sexual liaison with Greenberg.

Suzie, distraught at the disintegration of her marriage, is distracted when she uncovers ancient family secrets that place her in deadly danger, testing Mark's determination to keep her safe. Suzie and Annabel's lives entwine in the most unexpected way when they join forces to thwart Annabel's grasping boss...

A BookStrand Mainstream Romance

Excerpt

STORY EXCERPT

 

As usual, Suzie was so organized that more than an hour before Mark was due she had already run out of things to do. She coaxed the reluctant boiler into life and took a long soak in the bath, forcing herself to relax. But she had still dried her hair and was dressed and ready half an hour ahead of time. Suzie examined her appearance critically in her grandmother’s peeling pier glass. It was hot again, and she’d opted for a simple outfit, having no intention of letting Mark think she’d dressed up for his benefit. An old, floaty, printed summer skirt, a simple black vest, and black wedges on her feet. Her hair she brushed and allowed to float loose, a touch of mascara and pale lipstick.

She ought to look pale and fatigued, given the amount of sleep time she’d given up to agonising about her wretched husband. Her eyes ought to have permanent bags beneath them, given the amount of crying she’d done. She ought to have lost weight, and her clothes should be hanging off her. But Suzie could see that the reverse was true. Her eyes sparkled, her skin looked fresh and slightly tanned due to the amount of time she’d spent sitting on the terrace in the sunshine, and thanks to her bossy new friends, she’d not been permitted to give up food and waste away. If Mark expected to find a shadow of her former self, then he was in for a surprise. The thought gave Suzie’s confidence a much-needed boost, and she went back downstairs, Sparkle at her heels, taking deep, calming breaths as she awaited his arrival.

He was early. Suzie heard the distinctive sound of his car as soon as it entered the drive. She waited for him to knock rather than running to open the front door before he was even out of the car, as she would have done as recently as two weeks ago. The changes that she recognized in herself gave her courage. When he did knock, Suzie took her time traversing the hall, attempting to subdue the horde of butterflies that had taken up residence in her stomach. Sparkle, unhindered by finer feelings, reached the doorway before her, tail wagging in recognition even though he couldn’t see through the solid oak.

Suzie paused with her hand on the latch, took a deep, fortifying breath, and wrenched the door open. The sight of Mark standing there, wearing blue Levi’s, an open-neck white shirt with the sleeves rolled back to reveal strong, tanned forearms, and deck shoes on his bare feet made her physically flinch. He looked devastating. He’d obviously had the roof down on his car, and his thick hair had been blown into curly disarray, only enhancing the beauty in his chiselled features. He removed his sunglasses, and the expression in those remarkable chocolate eyes melted as he regarded her.

“Hello, Suzie. You look ravishing.”

“Come in,” she said.

Suzie stepped back to let him pass her, wondering how she’d managed to keep her voice so even when her stomach was performing Olympic-standard summersaults. Mark hesitated for some time, his eyes not once leaving her face. Suzie met his gaze steadily, determined not to be influenced by it, or intimidated. The tension, the raw sexual attraction, the chemistry between them was palpable and hit her like a bolt of lightning. Mark felt it, too. Suzie could tell that much from the change in his expression. He appeared surprised, as though he hadn’t expected it to be so brutal. She could understand her husband’s confusion, she could even find it in her to sympathise with his predicament because she hadn’t expected anything quite so cataclysmic either.

But it changed nothing, Suzie reminded herself, looking away first. It broke the spell, and Mark stepped into the house. He looked as though he wanted to touch her, but she flinched away from him, not trusting her treacherous body in its present state of heightened awareness to remain impassive to any form physical contact. Before the situation could become awkward, Sparkle intervened, jumping up at Mark and wiggling his whole body ecstatically. Suzie silently condemned her dog as a traitor but took advantage of Sparkle’s diversionary tactics and preceded Mark into the drawing room where the French doors were open to the sun-drenched terrace.

Mark handed her a huge bouquet of her favourite white lilies, along with a large box of Belgium chocolates, and placed several bottles of what she knew would be excellent wine on the table.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” He looked at her for a long time, as though drinking in her appearance. “It’s good to see you, Suzie.” He paused and offered her his full wattage smile. She felt weak at the knees and fuzzy headed as she absorbed it, suddenly finding it hard to remember what madness was causing her to reject this gorgeous male specimen. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ll just put these in water, and then we’ll sit outside, shall we?”

“Sure, I’ll open a bottle of wine.” He followed her into the kitchen. “Something smells good.”

Mark poured two generous glasses of wine and carried them out the terrace. When he saw the long metal table beautifully laid up for seven with crisp white linen and her grandmother’s best china, he stopped dead in his tracks.

“What’s going on?”

“Lunch, of course,” she said, not looking at him. “Isn’t that what you came down for?”

He quirked a brow. “For seven?”

“Yes, a few other friends are coming.”

“This was supposed to be just the two of us,” he said, frowning.

“Was it?” She turned away from him, taking an unnecessary amount of time to settle into a chair. He loomed over her, large and powerful, looking annoyed. Too late she realized that by sitting she’d put herself at a disadvantage.

“You know it was. We have lots to talk about.”

“So you keep saying, but I don’t see it myself.” She patted the chair next to her. “Do sit down, Mark, it’s giving me neck ache looking up at you.”

He complied with obvious reluctance. “Who are these friends then? I didn’t know you knew anyone down here now.”

She told him about Jane and the others, making no mention of Jack.

“Ah,” he said, stretching his legs out in front of him and sounding relieved. “That explains all those mysterious men who answered the phone.”

She flashed a circumspect smile. “If you say so.”

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