Mills & Boon Modern Extra (as One Night Before Marriage)~ December '06 ~ UK
Harlequin Mills & Boon Sexy Sensation (as One Night Before Marriage) ~ April '07 ~ Australia/NZ
Harlequin Presents ~ June '08 ~ USA
Mills & Boon "The Rich Man's Rules" Anthology ~ January '10 (UK) / June '11 (Australia/NZ)
Carissa Grace can play a downright dreamy Chopin nocturne. But her own dreams have fizzled in the hot Australian summer. Her fiancé’s gone and she must be the last twenty-six-year old virgin this side of the Pacific. Until she meets hunk Bill Jamieson, whose warm whisky voice and hard-packed masculinity arouses her interest… and her desire.
Though their one-night stand leaves her yearning for more, when she discovers she’s pregnant, it’s no-strings, millionaire Bill who’s humming the wedding march. Too bad their marriage is in name only, because she’s falling for his soul-searing kisses and generous heart. But Bill is haunted by his past. Can she heal this emotionally scarred man and turn their marriage into the intimate relationship they both need?
The scent of her grandmother’s perfume was the first sign. The prickle at her nape was the second. While Gran’s scent was benign and loving and familiar, the second sent a shiver down her spine.
Carissa Grace never ignored signs.
Anxious, she scanned the stream of cars outside Sydney’s Cove Hotel. Her step-sister Melanie Sawyer had insisted on picking her up since Carissa’s gig at the piano bar finished after midnight tonight. That had been twenty minutes ago.
Hurry up, Mel. Something’s—
The screech of brakes sheared through the balmy night, an agony of metal on metal over the mellow sound of sax drifting from a nearby nightclub. As the dented Holden mounted the kerb, its headlights loomed like silver lasers before her, terrifyingly stark against the subtle orange glow of the city night.
For a stunned second Carissa couldn’t move. She was one with the crowd as it held its collective breath, movement halted, time suspended, minds frozen.
An instant later the car was gone, leaving only the acrid smell of exhaust fumes and hot bitumen.
“Anyone hurt?” a male voice demanded in a deep timbre that rippled down Carissa’s spine like an arpeggio. In the awed hush that followed a man emerged from the knot of people huddled against the hotel’s sparkling lobby windows.
Tall, broad-shouldered. Awesome. He looked as dangerous as the chaos around him, from the heavily shadowed jaw and unkempt brown hair that curled over his neck to the faded black jeans and t-shirt with the ominous logo, Electric Chair. Not the kind of man she’d have expected to get involved in anything but trouble. Every ‘bad boy’ fantasy Carissa had ever had vibrated into shocking – and inappropriate – awareness.
“Someone call an ambulance.” His order snapped with authority.
Then she saw the form sprawled on the concrete. In two strides he was there, crouching over the slumped figure, speaking low. It was an old woman, Carissa realised, the bag lady she’d seen scrounging through the bin only moments ago. Despite the heat, she was covered from neck to ankle in a filthy dung-coloured coat. Her limbs flailed as she struggled up.
With no hesitation the man scooped a hand beneath her head, holding her against his thigh, murmuring soothing noises against her ear.
Carissa pulled herself together and hurried to rescue the woman’s over-stuffed garbage bag nearby. Ignoring the crowd which was curious but unwilling to get involved, as if poverty was a disease, Carissa set the bag down and crouched beside them. “Here you go.”
The woman shot her an accusing glare as she grabbed the plastic.
“Is she okay?” Carissa asked.
“I reckon so,” he said, taking the woman’s dirt smudged fingers in his own large hand. “But I’ll get her checked out to be sure.” Preoccupied with his patient, he didn’t look at Carissa.
Mingled with the odour of unwashed woman, she detected the distinct smell of male. A purely feminine appreciation sharpened her senses. It had been a long time since she’d smelled earthy masculine sweat. Alasdair always smelled of fancy French cologne. Nor could she imagine her fiancé handling this situation with such calm confidence.
The man sat the woman upright and stroked her back through the coat. His forearm twisted, drawing Carissa’s attention to the gleaming silver links of an expensive watch on his wrist. A disconcerting tingle spread through her limbs as she watched the muscles bunch and flex beneath his tanned skin.
“Do you think you can—?” A car’s horn drowned the rest of his words to the old woman.
Carissa glanced at the street. Her ride. She raised a hand to Melanie as she backed away. Clearly he had everything under control and didn’t need her assistance.
“Sorry I’m late,” Mel said as Carissa climbed in. “Emergency was a war zone tonight. What’s going on?” She honked her horn again and pulled into the traffic.
“We’ve had something of our own war zone.” Carissa’s heart was still pounding with the drama. “It’s all under control now.” Thanks to the hero of the day.
Her gaze remained glued to the man as he ushered the bag lady towards the Cove’s gleaming entrance. She could see the powerful square shape of his shoulders and his black t-shirt taut over one thick bicep.
A wildly, sexy, dangerous man. He looked like he’d just stepped out of one of her forbidden erotic dreams. The ones she’d been having with disturbingly increasing regularity of late.
She let out a sigh. She’d not seen Alasdair in a year, which made any man with half the rugged sex appeal of that stranger dangerous.
Not that she hadn’t been more than willing to wait while Alasdair finished his PhD in France. But the promised twelve weeks had stretched into twelve long months.
She took one last look at temptation before turning to the red rear lights of the cars in front. A girl could only wait so long before that temptation reached out to tickle her fancy.
She shook away the delicious little shiver at the thought of the stranger’s long, thick fingers reaching out to tickle her fancy… And bit back a moan. It was sexual frustration, that was all.
In seven days Alasdair would be home, and her bed was already turned down in anticipation. There’d be no more of that waiting he’d told her was the ‘right thing’ to do. Her already sensitised body hummed at the thought. Everything would be fine when Alasdair came back.
* * *
“Alasdair’s not coming back.”
With the single hand-written page in her fist, Carissa sat down on the back step beside Melanie. The numbness had worn off enough to trust herself to talk about it. Rationally. Calmly. Maybe.
Mel’s eyes widened. “Oh, Carrie.” She set her iced tea on the verandah and reached for Carissa’s hand. “I’m so sorry,” she said quietly. “You two have been together what, seven years? What happened?”
“He’s met someone else. I should’ve expected it with him studying overseas and all those chic mademoiselle research assistants.” She closed her eyes. “But I didn’t expect him to tell me his new love’s name is Pierre.”
“Oh. God.” Melanie let out a slow breath. “I don’t know what to say.” She twined their fingers together. “Are you okay?”
“I will be.” Carissa squeezed their hands briefly then stood. A restless energy she didn’t know what to do with was coursing through her body. “I trusted him, I waited for him. Even though I wasn’t sure any more that he was The One, I waited, at least until I saw him again. I must be the world’s most naïve fool.”
“No. It’s not your fault he’s a two-timing creep — in the worst way. You sure you’re okay?”
“Fine.” Enclosing that energy into a tight fist, she crumpled the paper and squinted against the glare of the parched back yard. The hot summer wind kicked up, rattling the loose drainpipe she hadn’t gotten around to fixing yet.
“It’s been so long, I’m used to it. My life will go on as usual. I’ve got my own place, such as it is.” She frowned at the sagging porch trim. Her grandparent’s old home needed major repairs. “And a job.”
“You’ve still got me,” Mel said quietly.
“I know.” She met Mel’s eyes with shared affection before turning away. “Want to know a secret, Mel? And I’ve still got my well-past-its-use-by-date virginity.”
“You mean you and Alasdair never… Oh…”
Carissa paced up the verandah and back. “Now I know why Alasdair was so noble and self-sacrificing. Every time I came on to him he said I’d thank him for making me wait.”
“So… days before your twenty-sixth birthday, you’re still a virgin?” Melanie blew out a breath. “Wow.”
“At this rate, on my fifty-sixth birthday, I’ll be taking out a full page ad.”
The urge to lash out rose up like a black wave. She needed to channel the energy productively. Some serious piano pounding. Something dark and passionate. Bach, she decided. The fly-screen door squeaked on rusty hinges as she swung it open.
Melanie followed. “Do you really want your life to go on as usual? No man, no sex, no fun?”
Carissa’s hand paused on the door. Don’t answer that.
“You need a fling, Carrie, a one-night stand.”
The suggestion was outrageous. And at this point Carissa felt almost reckless enough to consider it. “You know, Mel, I just might take your advice.” She tossed the balled paper in the bin on her way.
“Don’t rush it though,” Mel warned as if she’d gone cold on the idea already. “You want your piano tuned, you don’t call a plumber.”
“So what’s wrong with a plumber if he’s got the right equipment?” Carissa couldn’t help smiling at Mel’s frown. She slung an arm around the one person she could always count on to look out for her. “I’ll be careful.”
* * *
The usual Saturday evening crowd buzzed in the Cove Hotel’s piano bar. Carissa’s eyes roamed the faces while she played her selection of dreamy Chopin nocturnes. She noted the few regulars, but most were anonymous tourists with a couple of hours to kill before heading off to Sydney’s nightclubs.
So much for finding a man. Working six evenings a week seriously impinged on one’s social life. She hadn’t had a social life in so long, she wasn’t sure she was ready for centre stage in the dating scene just yet.
She saw him the moment he entered the room.
He filled the doorway, all six-foot-four-if-he-was-an-inch of him. Her fingers faltered as she drank in the rock-solid body crammed into faded denim and black T-shirt.
Her mouth watered. God help her, if she could choose, she wanted that body, naked and next to hers. It was the kind of body that made women forget all about sexual equality — there was absolutely nothing equal about it.
Her fingers automatically drifted into Moonlight Sonata as her eyes followed him to the bar. She watched him order a beer, then move to a table near the window where the last rays of sunset turned the water beyond to liquid fire and the white tablecloths crimson, and glittered on his fancy silver watch…
Oh. My. God. The guy she’d seen last night. Her pulse rate zipped straight off her personal Richter Scale. He’d shaved. He’d had his hair cut.
But he was still dangerous.
She shifted on her stool for a better view of yesterday’s hero. The evening glow accentuated the angular contours of a tanned face on the wrong side of pretty-boy handsome and a strong shadowed jaw. Mid-thirties, give or take. His teak-coloured hair, although shorter, was still somewhat dishevelled, as if he’d run his fingers through it, prompting images of lazy lust-filled afternoons on black silk sheets.
She should be so lucky.
But he had the most soulful eyes she’d ever seen. She reached for her mineral water, checked her watch and sighed. Two hours and ten minutes till she finished for the night — but he’d be gone by then.
Ben Jamieson flicked an eye over the pianist, then returned for a longer, in-depth perusal. And decided his evening had just taken a turn for the better. Why spend it alone dwelling on his own personal anguish when the distraction he needed was right here?
Rave would tell him to go for it — he could almost see his mate grin and raise a glass in salute to women everywhere. For tonight at least, he could appreciate the soothing harbour view while he watched those clever — and ringless — fingers on the keys.
Kicking back, he took a large gulp of beer and studied her. The way those fingers tickled the ivories, he imagined they could do a pretty good job on a man.
So classical wasn’t his thing. The classic lines of the pianist more than made up for it. That full-length slinky sapphire number she’d poured herself into begged to be taken off. Slowly, an inch at a time. You didn’t hurry over a body like that.
Tall, he noted, but not too tall. Like a long slim candle. He’d bet she’d burn with a cool blue flame, and damned if he didn’t want to singe his fingers. And that hair — a loose twist of sunshine at the crown of her head, held by a sequined clasp. There was something about upswept hair that made his fingers itch. That smooth exposed nape, and all that silk tumbling into his hands.
It was shaping up to be an interesting evening after all.
"Carissa and Ben’s story came 2nd in Romance Writers of New Zealand’s Clendon Award in 2004. I loved the idea of a one-night stand that culminates in marriage. I wrote One Night before Marriage over an eighteen month period of upheaval in my life, including the death of my father. During Dad’s time in hospital and subsequent nursing home after breaking his hip and the onset of dementia following surgery, I wrote the scene in the book where the hero Ben, visits his mother. It was a personally challenging scene to write. At times I felt I couldn’t go on writing. Without the help and encouragement of my critique group I don’t know when I would have finished it."
"Marriage at the Millionaire's Command (4) is a terrific story. Anne Oliver has created a winner in Ben, the hot and sexy, but equally complex, hero."