A Bullet and a Family Legend

by Renee Dahlia

Inspirations for stories come from many places, seemingly random connections between two unrelated events. In Pursuit of a Bluestocking is the second book in the series, and all through the first (To Charm a Bluestocking), Marie was engaged to Bertrand, boring, bland Bertrand. A story about him is uninspiring, and therefore the challenge was laid down. How could I craft a story that makes him not boring?

I delved into the family legends and plucked out the story of the bullet, gave the bullet to a much more illustrious person, the Duke of Nemour (who has the unfortunate place in history as the first general killed by a bullet). Throw in a few curve balls, a boxing champion hero, and a villain who manipulates everything, and Marie’s tale, In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, was born.

My family legend occurred one hundred and forty years ago, in 1877, at the Battle of Shipka Pass between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. One of the soldiers for the Russians was my great-great-great uncle Pavel who was a member of the Russian Imperial Guard. By 1863, aged 22, he was commander of a rifle battalion, and took part in the suppression of the Polish Uprising in 1863. This photo was taken in that year.

pavel

Concerned about the atrocities that the Turks were committing against Christians living in the regions of what is now Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, Tsar Alexander II declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 24 April 1877. Pavel’s unit fought in the attack led by the Russian General Radetsky on 27 December, but unfortunately, he was shot in the leg during the battle. After the bullet was removed in an army hospital, Pavel returned home to St. Petersburg in January 1878. He recovered well enough to walk with a crutch, but in March, Pavel succumbed to infection and died aged 37. In a rather gothic decision, the bullet was made into a keepsake with a gold cage placed around it. The details of the battle were inscribed into the gold, and on the base, the family crest was engraved. Or at least, that’s what the family legend said.

Last year, when my father was researching the story, he rang his cousin, and asked, “should I include the story of the bullet? Is it real?” 

Of course, it is real. It is sitting on my desk in front of me.”

pavels bullet

The newspaper reports at the time are full of overt racism that many modern day readers ought to feel uncomfortable with, such as these excerpt from The Times on 19 July 1877:

There lay men who had been wounded or unwounded prisoners in the hands of the Turkish ‘gentlemen,’ who had foully murdered and mutilated them, showing thus that they are savages as cruel as any in Africa or India.

On the one side [Russia] civilization, rough if you will, but still civilization, based on the precepts of Christianity; on the other side [Turks] barbarism and the worse than bestial ferocity of cruel men.”

It is no wonder that when the British Empire fought the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli less than 40 years later, during WWI, that they severely underestimated the ‘savage Turks’. The ANZAC tradition came from that battle, while the 1877 battle at Shipka Pass created a new country. The Ottoman Empire lost badly to the Russians, which enabled Bulgaria to be liberated and form their own country.

You can learn more about the battle here.


32236When he goes hunting a thief, he never expects to catch a bluestocking…

Marie had the perfect life plan: she would satisfy her father’s ambition by graduating as one of the first female doctors in Europe, and she would satisfy her mother’s ambition by marrying a very suitable fiancé in a grandiose society ceremony. Only weeks away from completing the former, Marie is mere days away from achieving the latter. But her whole life is thrown into chaos when her fiancé dies, mysteriously returns, and then is shot and killed, and Marie risks her own reputation to save the life of the man falsely accused of the murder.

Gordon, Lord Stanmore, finally tracks down the conman who stole from his estate, only to find himself embroiled in a murder plot. The woman he rescues offers to rescue him in return, by marrying him and providing an alibi. Gordon’s ready agreement to the scheme grows the more time he spends with his new wife. Her wit, her intelligence, her calm, her charm: Gordon finds himself more and more enchanted with this woman he met by mistake. But as the clues to the identity of the murderer start to align with the clues to the thief, they reveal a more elaborate scheme than he could have imagined, and though he might desire Marie, Gordon is unsure if he can trust her.

As their chase leads them out of Amsterdam and into the UK, both Gordon and Marie must adjust to the life that has been thrust upon them and decide if marriage came first, can love come after?

Pre-order In Pursuit of a Bluestocking now!

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Not caught up on the series? Grab book 1To Charm a Bluestocking!

 

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Exclusive Excerpt 1: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Finding a Knight

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All’s Faire in love and war…

I’m all right,’ she tried to reassure him, wishing her voice would stop sounding so tremulous. ‘You saved my life.’

I think I might have done. Thank god I decided to take Cleopatra out before the tourney.’ With his free hand, he tried to unclasp the visor that covered his face. ‘Dammit, it’s stuck again,’ he muttered, sounding slightly muffled through the visor of his full-face helmet.

They both looked downhill—the empty horse float’s rapid descent had come to a stop at the bottom of the hill with an enormous crash, but with no one in the way. Faire officials were running from the far side of the jousting lists to look at the horse float. Another group had run down from the top of the hill. Several of them were shouting and pointing at Connie and her rescuer. The knight waved and flashed them a thumb-up sign to indicate they were all right.

I probably better go,’ he said, jerking his gauntleted fist towards the understandably panicked faire staff. ‘They’ll need some help sorting this out. Some rank amateur must have been trying to park in the wrong place.’

Thank you so much,’ Connie said, barely taking in what was going on around her. Her heart was still hammering from the fright. ‘I looked up, and that thing was falling, and I couldn’t even think. I tripped over this bloody dress—too many damn petticoats—my boots caught. I feel like a total twit.’

The knight shook his head, as much as he was able to in the restrictive enclosed helmet. ‘Don’t. You aren’t. I don’t think that dress was made for making quick escapes from runaway vehicles in, lovely though it is.’

Seeing as I made it, I can tell you for a fact ‘quick escapes’ weren’t anything I thought about having to do while wearing this dress.’

You made it? That’s awesome—I mean,’ he amended, ‘my lady is most talented. And I’ve gone and ripped it like an uncouth knave.’

You saved my life, sir. I can fix the dress. My pride, however, is pretty badly bruised. Us damsels are expected to be self-rescuing these days.’

A laugh echoed inside the knight’s helm. ‘Don’t feel bad, my lady, we have a yearly quota of damsel saving we must meet, else they revoke our right to ride in the joust, and also our right to say ‘forsooth’ and ‘verily’. In truth, it is you who have helped me.’

The Modern Woman’s Guide to Finding a Knight is available for pre-order now, and will release 20 October 2017. One-click now!

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Exclusive Excerpt: In Pursuit of a Bluestocking

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When he goes hunting a thief, he never expects to catch a bluestocking…

Spring 1888

Marie sat, head bowed, in the tiny red-brick church on the edge of the small village of Kleindorp. Her carefully constructed life plan lay in ruins. In only two days, the grandiose wedding ceremony that she’d spent two years helping her mother plan should have taken place. Instead, she sat at her fiancé’s funeral, unable to believe that Bertrand was dead. How could a simple accident take away all her dreams? Light shone at an angle through the side windows in the church, sending scattered streams across the aisle, creating shadows on the wooden pews. Dust motes danced in the light breeze that swirled in the empty space, much like the vacancy inside her. The Aanspreker droned on, and his voice echoed around the empty room. His words muffled in Marie’s ears against the clamour inside.

The final preparations for her extravagant wedding had been well underway when that fateful note had arrived from his sister, Loretta. Her dear Bertrand had been crushed by a wagon carrying fruit to market two days prior, and the funeral would be today. Guilt rose in her throat, and she rubbed her palm against her neck as she thought about how she’d spent more time with her mother on the wedding preparations than with him in the last week. Now the news of his demise seemed to appear out of nowhere. She’d left her mother and her two best friends—Josephine, now Lady St. George, and Claire—at her parent’s house in Amsterdam, surrounded by happy wedding clutter. Flowers and gowns and the like filled the room with the happy scent of love.

In Pursuit of a Bluestocking is available for pre-order now!

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Six Terribly Unromantic Fashion Trends

by Anna Klein

Wearing crinolines and corsets and enormous silk dresses just seems so much more romantic than jeans, a t-shirt, and a cardie. On the other hand, history also has a few peculiar historical trends that are distinctly unromantic and un-swoonworthy. I’ve put together a list of the worst offenders;

  • Forehead plucking

Roughly in the time of Shakespeare, high foreheads on ladies were considered terribly sexy, so noblewomen would pluck the front of their hair to raise their hairline for a few inches. That suddenly puts eyebrow tweezing into some harsh perspective.

Rogier_van_der_Weyden_-_Portrait_of_a_Lady_-_Google_Art_Project

Portrait of a Lady, Rogier van der Weyden

  • Dress Lacing

The front-lacing dress medieval dress that we all know as ‘the sexy wench look’ were actually for the many women not lucky enough to have a maid to dress them – and who needed to be able to unlace themselves in a hurry to nurse their baby. Rich women had back-lacing dresses, maids to lace them into it, and a dedicated ‘wet nurse’ to feed their babies.

  • No Knickers

It turns out the earliest ancestor of lady’s knickers didn’t become commonplace until the early 19th century. Before then, most women just went breezy under their skirts. In fact, it wasn’t even until the 1920s that knickers gained a centre seam – up until then, it was split up the middle! There are historical examples from around the world of things like knickers being worn by very rich women, or courtesans, but it was considered very unladylike and inappropriate…because they were thought to be trousers, and those were only for men!

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Edwardian undergarments. Image source.

  • Underpants Shirt

Men didn’t get off easy in the historical underpants arena either. They had very long shirts they tucked in between their legs before putting on their hose and that was underpants.

  • Padded Bellies

These days it feels like everything is about eating less and getting smaller, while historically, men showed off their wealth by wearing doublets with a built-in belly to make themselves look larger and therefore obviously capable of affording lots of food.

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    Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Image Source

    The Codpiece

Men’s hose was originally just the two legs tied at the waist, with no centre bit. This was fine when tunics were down to the knee but as the hemlines for the tunic rose higher and higher, pretty quickly the crotch area was left covered with nothing but a flimsy piece of linen from the underpants shirt. That’s when they invented the codpiece, originally a triangle of fabric they laced in between the two legs of hose, before it turned into elaborate fabric representations of the goods underneath. Fun fact: They also used to keep their coin purse inside the codpiece to try and put off pickpockets!

So here’s to zippers, knickers, and non-crotch based cash storage. Maybe that t-shirt and jeans lacks a certain romance, but I’m glad for clothes I can dress myself in! Well, most days – I can’t be the only woman that’s been excited about a smart new office dress only to spend twenty minutes doing contortions trying to do the zip up in the back. No? Just me?


32237All’s Faire in love and war…

Connie leads a double life. During the week, she is an up-and-coming designer and dressmaker, creating sleek, elegant gowns for the wealthy elite. But come the weekend, Connie becomes Lady Constance, a member of the House Felicitous at the local Renaissance Faire, creating beautiful historical garments for herself and her friends and teaching dancing to fair attendees. Fearing loss of business should her stylish clientèle discover her extracurricular activities, Connie keeps her professional life and her faire life carefully separate. However, everything changes when she’s saved from certain death by Sir Justin: a rising star in the joust and an actual knight in shining armour.

Behind his mask as Sir Justin, Dominic is confident and charismatic, but out of his armour, his courage fails him, and to his own horror he finds himself accidentally pretending to be his own best friend. Suddenly, he is in Connie’s life as two different men: the elusive Sir Justin who courts her over the internet and from behind a suit of armour and Justin’s ‘best friend’ Dominic who hangs out at her apartment and helps her move. The lie only grows bigger and Sir Justin finds himself faced with the most frightening challenge he can imagine: extricating himself from his lie and winning Connie’s heart as his true self.

But there’s something rotten afoot at the Faire, something that threatens its future, the community that has grown there, and even Sir Justin’s life. Will Lady Constance find the courage to step up and risk everything to defend her friends, save the Faire, and rescue her knight?

The Modern Woman’s Guide to Finding a Knight is available for pre-order now!

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Exclusive Excerpt: Deal Breaker

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From one-night-stand to new boss…

Alex Broadhurst. She’d known that was the new boss’s name, but she hadn’t realised he was the same Alex she’d … met all those months ago.

Maybe he didn’t remember.

Please don’t let him remember.

Ellen perched on the edge of her seat, not even remotely able to keep from studying the man in front of her. A sweep of cheekbones, long face with a straight nose, strong jaw. Crisp blue cotton shirt, red silk tie. Even from this angle, anyone could see he was gorgeous. So clean-cut, masculine and handsome, he could sell cologne for Armani.

Yes. The man was indisputably gorgeous.

Her shoulders dropped and the tightness in her chest eased just a fraction. An attractive guy with success written all over him—chances were, he went home with many, many women. And it was a while ago, their fling. Even if he recognised her, he probably couldn’t pinpoint the where and the when.

The how.

God, the how.

Not helpful, Ellen.

She tore her gaze away, searching for something apart from Alex to hold her attention, but apart from his train wreck of a desk, which held a laptop and various piles of papers dripping in red scribble, the office was bare. No photos, nothing personal.

Maybe it was because he had no personality, like everyone was saying.

When Jeremy had been boss, this office had been full to the brink—photos of Jeremy shaking hands with various important people, framed degrees, posters with witty quotes, novelty gifts. But then again, given the way Jeremy had left, that was nothing to aspire to.

And it wasn’t true that Alex had no personality. He did—and a wicked, sneaky sense of humour. He was also very … generous. She had reason to know.

The pen came to rest. ‘Right. Ellen Kennedy.’ Alex extracted a page from one of the piles—her CV, no red, thank God—and scanned it, nodding occasionally. ‘Okay.’

He dropped it on the table and looked at her. Her stomach clenched. Those eyes. Intense hazel, bright against his dark hair and olive skin. Swarthy almost, as described in the historical romance novels she liked way too much. She had no trouble recalling exactly why she’d said yes that night. At least she could credit herself with having good taste.

Heat flushed her neck and cheeks.

He must remember. No?

Deal Breaker will release 12 September 2017. One-click pre-order below:

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Exclusive Excerpt 1: True Refuge

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Book one in an emotional, erotic, dramatic trilogy about a world gone to hell, and the hell we hold inside…

The area was devoid of life as Euan ascended the hill to the dilapidated farmhouse. Its high-pitched tin roof and slatted, rotting wooden exterior, shattered window panes and waterlogged gutters was a stark contrast against the dew-covered pasture that grew long without domesticated animals or machinery to consume it. He took the Glock from the waistband of his pants and palmed the grip as he climbed the sun-bleached steps up to the front door.

All was silent. Not even the faint morning breeze could be heard from the small porch. The quiet was deafening, it screamed a thousand warnings and the stillness spoke its own language, one Euan could understand.

Nobody was here.

They’d all gone. Euan could only hope they’d left Nick’s body behind.

He took a deep breath, maybe the last he’d take with his heart intact, and pushed open the rotting door with his free hand. He inwardly cringed as the loud squeak wrought havoc on his already shot nerves.

Euan stepped straight into a living room. The weak morning light filtered through the gaps in the tin sheeting where the roof panels had fallen to the floor from the weather. Dust moats glinted gold in the sunlight, the stink of decay and fear stung his nose. In the shadows it was cold, but he didn’t think of that, he couldn’t.

Battered furniture had been pushed to the walls to give space for a macabre performance. A play where cruelty was its drawcard and pain was its allure. Boot-prints of black and brown, blood and earth was evidence of an audience. A destroyed dining table, torn carpet and scorched floorboards were proof they stayed for a show.

In the centre of the amateur stage, the star of the entertainment lay motionless.

Nick was as still as death, a lifeless participant surrounded by destruction.

Euan’s nightmares were confirmed.

The bile in his stomach rose up to burn his throat. He scrunched his eyes closed in devastation at what was before him. It took everything he had not to cover his face with his shaking hands and cry into the silence.

The man who had given his life meaning, given him a sense of purpose, of worth. A man who held Euan’s heart in his hands and likely didn’t even know it.

A man who now lay in a lifeless ball on the floor before him.

True Refuge releases 20 September 2017.

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Finding Refuge

Annabelle McInnes - alternative profile pictureAnnabelle McInnes is the author of True Refuge and the Refuge Trilogy. This is the tale of where she derives her inspiration.

It is hard to articulate poverty and desperation without sounding morose. There is a constant cramp in your stomach, a twisting snake that feeds on hunger, anxiety and fear. It reached minus two degrees celsius that first winter I was by myself. I was cold, I was hungry, and I was often very afraid. After three months in limbo without a dollar to my name and not much more than my school uniform to wear, I was offered basic assistance from the government so I could continue my education without having to leave school. The first cheque I received I bought a coat. It was made of wool and viscose and it required all of the money not tied up on essentials to purchase. It reached my knees and had three black buttons down the front. It was grey, and it was warm. I often wore it to bed, not for heat it offered, but for the comfort it brought me, the safety it provided. I could wrap myself in that wool and hide under bedcovers that smelt of stale cigarette smoke and cheap washing powder.

It was there, under those blankets that I dreamed. Entire worlds would rise and fall, dependent upon my will. I would lie with my back to the wall, my headphones on, a tape-player reciting audio books borrowed from the library. I ignored and chaos, the anarchy and the terrors that surrounded me at night while I lived in a youth refuge that housed both boys and girls from 12 to 18. It is not hard to imagine the events that go on there, in the middle of the night, when youth workers are tired, and children have learned to become very adept in evading adults. 

From the age of sixteen I lived in that refuge in Canberra. For those first three months, most of my meals came from school, where they offered me sandwiches from the canteen. I would hoard them and, as they grew stale, I would simply remove the mould from the crusts. Why waste the entire meal when only small sections were tainted? I still fight this need today. I’ve read that Youth homelessness effects 11 out of 1000 children in Australia. But I suspect there are many more. You likely won’t see those invisible children on the streets. They’re in hostel, youth refuges, or living in the spare rooms of friends whose parents are brave enough to shelter fugitives from the storms of life.

For two years I lived amongst the poor, the drug addicted, the traumatised and the mentally ill. I navigated a world completely foreign to most, a world that I hope you will never see. A world of destitution, desperation and despair. Where laughter comes with a sardonic edge, and no favour is ever given without consequence.

There is both abundant hope and wretched futility in those places. Girls as young as fourteen, pregnant, destitute, kept me up all night with their coughing and their stories of a better life for their babies. They dreamt of houses, of safety, of simple things like education and shoes. They knew nothing except their own tiny, singular world. There was a fruit bowl in the communal kitchen, laden with exotic offerings. It would often rot without being eaten, not for lack of hunger, but because most didn’t even know that such things were edible. 

True Refuge and the Refuge Trilogy draws from these experiences. I work with my memories of boys yet to be moulded into men of muscle and power. Young souls desperate for love and guidance, yearning for a hand to hold, but often too bitter and hurt to reach out. The worlds I create are cruel and cold and barren. A reflection of my memories of that time, but I also write stories of love, of beauty, of people that overcome adversity, that push past their hurt and pain to become champions, heroes for humanity. I write about the wonderful things that men and women can accomplish because I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it, I’ve endured and prevailed.

My experiences colour my writing, they influence both the darkness and the light. I strive to write characters that are more. About men and women who overcome societal constructs, their own histories and demand more from their worlds, more from the people that surround them, more from their leaders and their government. I have learnt that heroes do not ride down from castles on horses that glimmer in moonlight to save maidens with long hair. They come from within. Only a hero born from within yourself can pull you from the mire of poverty. Only heroes that are created by our own bravery, resolve and grit, merged to our hearts, and become intrinsic to our natures can truly guide us to freedom. They drive us, motivate us, and inspire us. They demand that we keep going, get up and try again. Until one day, you are the hero, you are the champion. You are the one shaking your principal’s hand to receive your Year Twelve Certificate, you are walking down the aisle to marry the love of your life, you are holding your beautiful baby boy in your arms. You eat bread without mould and you write stories about love and triumphing over adversity, about men who defy society and women who challenge those men without fear. That is the beauty of this one, wild and precious life. Take it, embrace the hero inside yourself and demand more from everything around you. Then love it, and maybe, when you can, write about it too.


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Book one in an emotional, erotic, dramatic trilogy about a world gone to hell, and the hell we hold inside…

The human race has been all but wiped out, along with our best traits: compassion, empathy, and generosity.

Euan is a survivor. In a dystopian wasteland infused with violence and cruelty, he protects something invaluable. His love for Nick and the solace that comes with the connection keeps him from destruction, and offers him that most elusive and dangerous emotion of all —
hope.

 

But happiness comes at a price and a hunting trip leaves Nick vulnerable to the evil that still infects the world. When Euan returns, he finds Nick broken and bloody, irrevocably damaged in both body and soul.

Now Euan’s only goal is to find a place for Nick to heal, a safe place, a refuge where they can rest, recover and repair their love. When they risk a raid on an abandoned house, they discover the unthinkable, the rarest treasure of all. A woman.

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Quiz: Who’s Your Ideal Hero?

Mandy Magro’s sexy new story The Billionaire Cattle Baron is out soon. To introduce Blake, our titular hero, she prepared the following quiz, to help you determine your ideal book boyfriend…

Answer seven sexy questions to determine your ideal hero…

1 – How do you like to be kissed?

A. Grabbed and pressed against the wall as he claims your lips with his
B. He run his hands through your hair and feather kisses on your lips

2- What gift would you like to get from your love interest?

A. A pair of fluffy handcuffs and some massage oil
B. A bunch of sunflowers

3- How do you like your dates to be planned?

A. Your date calls you and tells you where to be, when, and suggests you wear no underpants
B. Your date rings and asks if you have any preferences and when you’re free

4- For a date you’d like a man that takes you…

A. To a restaurant that does dining in the dark, so you can be a bit naughty
B. To a candlelit restaurant where you can gaze at each other across the table

5- How would you like your man to keep fit?

A. Boxing or some form of martial arts
B. Tennis

6- What man are you physically attracted to?  

A. The rough, dark and mysterious kind
B. The white-collar kind who is sharp, pressed and untouchable

7- How would you like to be asked to get married?  

A. In the throes of breathless passion
B. Traditionally, down on one knee

Results

If you answered mainly A, you’re drawn to the alpha male like a bee to honey, you can’t resist a man that can make you buckle at the knees with a simple, smouldering glance.

If you answered mainly B, you like a sensual hero who wants a true partner, one that likes to win you over with sweet flattery and gentle touches.


Check out Mandy’s alpha-male hero, Blake, in The Billionaire Cattle Baron out September 4. Pre-order links below!

32047 (1)A country boy meets a city girl in this sexy opposites attract story from best-selling author Mandy Magro.

Blake Wellstone is a cowboy through and through, his wealth and status obtained by years of hard work on his cattle stations spread out across Australia. But this farmer isn’t looking for a wife — his first love ended in tragedy, and he will never put his heart on the line again. The land is his love, and he’s happy that way.

Sasha Hepworth has goals and ambitions and she has worked very hard for her success. She’s just forgotten how to enjoy herself. So a weekend fling with a gorgeous cowboy is just what she needs  after all, it can’t go any further. She’d never leave the conveniences and beauty of the city for a dusty outback town.

But a weekend of fine dining and spectacular sights isn’t enough for Blake and Sasha, and the growing feelings that neither can deny make them question everything about their lives. When a city girl meets a country boy, will they find middle ground?

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Exclusive Excerpt: The Billionaire Cattle Baron

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A country boy meets a city girl in this sexy opposites attract story from best-selling author Mandy Magro.

She looked back at him, her eyes now filled with wanton hunger. Silence fell and the atmosphere inside their bubble filled with spark and sizzle, heat and desire. She wanted him just as much as he wanted her. This was hazardous territory. The intensity of his yearning was different with other women. If he got this exquisite creature back to his suite, he would never want to let her go.

Well, I better grab a table before they all go. This is a popular place on the weekends … as you can see.’ Her voice was shaky, a little breathless, as she seized his gaze with her own. ‘And I’m ravenous.’

Her last word was emphasised, as her eyes remained transfixed to his for that moment too long, as though she was directing it to him, suggesting she was hungry for him. Was she? His eyes fell to her chest as he noted her breathing quicken. ‘I’ll bring your drink over to you. Or you can join me at my table, if you like.’

Before the goddess could answer, the spritely French waiter buzzed to their side with a cloth. Their sensual bubble burst. Blake wanted to tell him to bugger off, but held his tongue. Manners cost nothing. The waiter acknowledged them with a smile and in what felt like mere seconds had mopped the cocktail up. Standing as though he had been sitting on a thorn, he addressed them with a nod. ‘Can I be of any more assistance madam and monsieur?’ His eyebrows were raised so high they almost disappeared over his balding hairline.

No, but thank you,’ Blake replied before turning his attention back to his stunning captor. He waited patiently for her acceptance of his offer as the waiter sped off in the opposite direction.

She brought her eyes to his, and this time the look of wantonness had faded, replaced by apprehension. His heart sunk. He wanted her to trust him. Desperately. Why? He hadn’t a fucking clue.

Oh, thanks for the invite, but I won’t intrude.’ She pointed to a table right over the other side of the restaurant.

His already waning optimism sunk.

She smiled, but it was forced. ‘I’ll make myself comfy over there. And please don’t bother yourself with bringing it to me, just get the waiter to deliver it.’ She laughed a little uncomfortably as she looked towards the man that had mopped up her cocktail. ‘We must let him do his job. He clearly takes it very seriously.’

Blake nodded, his voice evading him. Women rarely said no to his charms. Yet the one he wanted most was knocking him back. She was going to walk away and he might never see her again. He almost fell to his knees. This beautiful woman, with flawless olive skin, long silky dark hair and piercing green eyes that dazzled like jewels upon her delicate face was a work of art—an exquisite painting but yet somehow broken beneath the exterior. A piece of art he had to make his own.

Although she was brushing him off, he intuitively knew there was a hidden meaning for her change of heart, a fear in her that he too processed. He craved to whisk her away to his suite to make her feel safe and loved, cherished and protected, while he bestowed pleasures upon her that a woman of her calibre deserved. His whole mind, body, heart and soul ached for intimacy with her, to be at one with her. He wanted to know how she tasted, how her skin would respond beneath his touch and how she sounded when she tumbled over the edge of ecstasy in rapture.

Then something stirred deep within him and took over his ability to think rationally.

He had to do something, anything, to leave a lingering within her so tantalising she went home thinking of him, wanting him, desiring him and craving him. Because he knew, if she walked away forever, he would regret it for the rest of his life.

It was now or never.

The Billionaire Cattle Baron will release 4 September 2018. 

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Exclusive Excerpt: Falling Star

Gareth is a masseur on the luxurious Star Island. His next client is the enigmatic pop star, Briana Brite, known for her silent persona off-stage.

In his head, he pictured Briana Brite. He knew her image mostly from the smoky artwork on her indie album, a blonde beauty with a defiant jaw jut that seemed to project an image of quiet allure and confidence.

But there was something in her eyes. Hell, he was probably kidding himself, but he’d looked long and hard at Briana’s picture and with his talent for seeing below the surface he felt as though he could see past her image, down to the darker places inside that her music spoke of.

Speaking of speakinghow will we do this without talking? Gareth knocked on the ajar bungalow door, waiting in the tropical air just turning to dusk. Sometimes his clients preferred silence while he worked, but they always began with a few simple questions about pressure and injuries.

When no one answered, after a few minutes Gareth pushed the door open. ‘Hello?’

Still no response, but the door was open and he was expected, so he took it as tentative permission to enter. He followed the hall to the main living area of the bungalow, and the view took his breath away. Not the pink ocean reflecting the setting sun outside the windows, but the angel standing before him wearing nothing but a towel.

Her corn silk hair tumbled around her bare shoulders, which were dusted with tiny freckles. Her mouth parted into an alluring smile, which was quickly quashed by her teeth finding her lower lip and biting it. Delicate hands held the towel over her frame, but the material barely concealed the voluptuous body within. Instantly, Gareth knew she’d be warm and pliable to touch, her skin with heavenly give under his fingers, soft flesh ripe for gripping firmly.

She raised a hand and waved in greeting, a rosy blush rising in her high cheekbones, and the gesture went straight to his heart, shocking it into an unsteady rhythm. She was literally heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Oh no … Something was happening to him, something he’d sworn only minutes earlier never happened to him. Gareth shifted the table in front of his groin, attempting to disguise the bulge growing there. Get it together. You are a professional, and she’s a client. A gorgeous, captivating client, but still a client. Concentrating on not sounding like a squeaky-voiced teenager, he said, ‘Hey, I’m Gareth, your masseur.’

She smiled in reply but remained silent. Gareth spoke to fill the space where a normal interaction would have taken place. ‘And you’re Briana. So, now we’re introduced, I’ll set up. Where would you like me to put the table?’

With a languid wave, she gestured towards the windows. ‘Okay, great,’ said Gareth, walking forwards and trying to regain some of his professionalism while feeling distinctly shaken. ‘You’ll need to tie up your hairI have a tie if you need one?’

Shaking her head in dismissal, she left the room, and a waft of citrus followed her. She smelled of pink grapefruit and sugar, and the sensuous combination sent another sucker-punch to his crotch. With shaking hands, Gareth opened his table and unzipped his bag, drawing out a bottle of scented massage oil. He was warming it between his palms when Briana returned, her hair now secured in an adorable top-knot.

I’ll just go into the other room to give you a moment to lie on the table,’ said Gareth. Privacy for most clients was still important before and after a session, no matter how much skin he saw during.

With a cat-like grin, Brianna looked back at him over her tanned shoulder. Before he could turn away, she’d lowered the towel to the line of her lower back, and stretched herself along on the table face-down. A low, happy groan rolled out from her throat, as if she really needed this.

So help him, he did too. He needed to lay his hands on her; the pull towards her body was almost supernatural. He clung to his professionalism by his fingernails, remembering to ask, ‘Do you have any injuries or sore places I need to know about?’

Face down, Brianna shook her head, her hair knot flopping back and forth. Gareth paused for a moment, admiring the sight of Briana’s back, all that exposed skin ending where her plump ass cheeks swelled, covered by the towel. His passion for healing and helping had always made his job seem effortless, but for the first time, he walked towards a client feeling as though he was divinely privileged.

Turning her head to the side, Briana caught his eyes with hers and winked. The small gesture electrified him. He definitely wasn’t imagining the silent flirtatious tone here. A bright red buzzing had begun inside his head, warning of danger. He’d relied on that buzzing before, when clients had made innuendos about ‘extra services’ or in the case of one single client in her fifties, mistaken his professional care for personal touching and decided it meant they had a deep romantic connection.

Normally if he had even an inkling of strangeness, he would relate the Star Island code of conduct in a very casual manner while preparing to start: let me know if this pressure is good, would you like music on, as part of procedure I have to let you know all Star Island spa treatments are strictly non-sexual, would you like a complimentary reflexology hand treatment…?

It’s what he should have said, but he pushed the feeling down. This was Briana Brite, the biggest superstar in the music world. She’d made a career out of being desirable, unattainable; this was probably just her being her, and him taking it the wrong way because he was going on ten months without sex. Don’t embarrass yourself.

Okay, I’m going to begin now,’ he said formally. Inside his head though, he was babbling. Just a client. Just another client, he tried to convince himself one last time. He poured a generous handful of oil into his palm, watching his shaking fingers descend to her smooth back. I will not enjoy this. I will not get my kicks from feeling up a vulnerable client. She’s just like anyone else.

He truly believed it. And then his hands connected with Briana’s skin, and he was hopelessly, sinfully lost.


31718 (1)Sometimes it takes finding your heart to find your voice…

It wasn’t her fault…

Somehow a run-in with a handsy, but influential, talk show host has landed Briana Brite in big trouble with the press, and even though it was the host that wouldn’t take no for an answer, Briana finds herself banished until the scandal blows over.

It’s not his place…

Gareth might work for some of the richest people in the world, but his job as a masseur at the luxurious Star Island resort is just that – a job. And he really needs the money and the tips and the hours. Getting involved with resort guests is grounds for immediate dismissal, so the last thing Gareth needs is a troubled pop princess making waves.

It’s not meant to be…

However, when Gareth meets Briana, he realises that she’s more than just her voice, more than the media storm, more than even her management knows. But when it comes to his job and his livelihood, how much will he risk for a holiday fling?

Falling Star will be available on August 20th. Preorder now from your favourite
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