Out today: 7th July 2009
The Book Depository (free international postage): http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781605043272/Secret-Intentions
Amazon: Click here
Mybookstore and More: I'll update the link the very second it goes live on their website http://www.mybookstoreandmore.com/
Zani hesitated outside her front door, fumbling with nervous fingers for the right key. She glanced back at Corbin, who smiled genially and made no sign of leaving. Fang, who’d spent the evening alone in her basket, could be heard barking her head off. The moment Zani managed to get the door open, she shot out ready to defend her mistress against all foes.
“Is this your guard dog?” asked Corbin, laughing as Fang’s paroxysms of barking faded into interested sniffing.
“That’s Fang,” she said, grasping at the conversation with relief.
“Fang? An interesting name for such a small, sweet dog.”
“She’s purebred, and her official name is Princess Cherry Wuffles III. The breeder named her, and I couldn’t bear the thought of either Cherry or Wuffles,” babbled Zani.
“Ah, I see,” said Corbin, who didn’t seem inclined to hurry back to the art gallery.
“Coffee?” she asked, her voice catching, even though she was sure he’d refuse.
He nodded. Her heart, which, up to that point had been thudding a little faster than usual, stopped. “Um,” she said after a short pause, during which her heart resumed operations.
“Should we go inside?” he suggested.
“Yes, I think inside would be an excellent idea.” With the air of one who regularly entertained large Frenchmen, she showed him through to the tiny sitting room just inside the front door.
“Very nice.” He examined the room with interest, but didn’t sit down. “Why shorten it to Fang?” he asked, following her up the hall to the kitchen.
“She sensibly bit my brother when she was a puppy. It was more of a firm suck really, but he’s never got over it.”
“So you called her Fang to remind your brother of this?” Perceptively Corbin touched on a can of worms that Zani was not going to discuss. She was keenly aware it may seem mean-spirited to anyone who didn’t know Paul.
“It’s a complicated situation,” she said, and turned away to busy herself with cups and the kettle. Conversation over.
Having the unexpectedly observant Corbin in her home was unsettling on a level beyond the whole mess at Sunberri. The men in her family including Sebastian, the man her father dreamed she’d marry, were all so self-absorbed that they rarely, if ever, asked her about herself, and then it was only to cover social niceties before steering the conversation back onto themselves. She wasn’t used to men who actually listened to her.
One thing was clear.
Her task was to prove Corbin was leaking company secrets in order to take over Sunberri. It was not to have cozy kitchen table chats after art gallery exhibitions.
She tried to think of something that would politely get rid of him, glancing at the phone and willing it to ring. An emergency, nothing too serious, but an emergency nonetheless would be perfect. True to form the phone did precisely the opposite of what she wanted and remained silent. She racked her brain to come up with something that wouldn’t make the next day at work awkward, but decided the best strategy was to get rid of him as quickly as she could, and instead, like Polly, she put the kettle on.
He hadn’t seemed to take her coffee invitation on anything but face value, but perhaps he was just biding his time. She examined him closely for biding. Settled comfortably at the kitchen table, he’d bent to pay more attention to Fang, who gazed up at him adoringly. The tart.
Out of both coffee and milk, Zani put a large mug of peppermint tea in front of Corbin. To his credit he peered into the cup and looked only briefly horrified. Unwilling to get any closer to him than she had to, she retreated to the safety of leaning against the bench top.
“Nice house,” he said, glancing around the kitchen, at its scrubbed wood table, marble bench tops and giant fridge.
She could almost hear him thinking “a bit too nice for an unemployed secretary who lives alone”.
“My mother left it to me when she died.” As most people did when they heard that news, Corbin looked discomforted.
“I’m sorry to hear it.”
“Oh, don’t be, it was years ago. She died of breast cancer.” Zani adopted a breezy tone designed to put Corbin at ease and declare the subject closed. She suppressed the small twist of grief that always accompanied any conversation about her mother.
“You miss her. No?”
Zani felt a flare of irritation. Bloody man, couldn’t he see that she didn’t want to talk about it?
“No. Yes, I mean of course I do. She died when I was fifteen, and Dad never got over it. He didn’t have a clue what to do with me. It was so hard…”
Corbin looked at her with such sympathy that it made her skin prickle uncomfortably. He didn’t need to know these things; they just made her and her family more vulnerable. Grabbing the cloth from the sink, she briskly wiped down the immaculate bench tops, her back to Corbin, her expression hidden.
“It was a long time ago,” she tossed over her shoulder. “Now tell me, which part of France were you born in?” To Zani’s relief Corbin took the hint and began to chat about his idyllic childhood at La Rochelle, in the west of France. She neatly folded the cloth. But he watched her with an air of speculation that made Zani want to fidget. As if he’d figured out something important.
He finished the peppermint tea with a grimace and placed the cup firmly on the table.
“I should go. Thank you for the cup of…of…it was quite interesting.”
“Thank you for walking me home, and thanks again for giving me another chance to work for you.” Zani began a farewell patter that lasted all the way back down the hall to the front door. Her bourgeoning relief faded when she opened the door, looked up to say a final goodbye and caught Corbin’s eye.
There was an almost predatory gleam, and it put Zani’s senses on high alert. Suddenly she became aware of how close he stood in the narrow doorway. She smelled his piquant masculine scent and the peppermint of the tea he’d drunk. He half muttered a curse in French, and bent toward her.
He’s going to kiss me, she thought a moment before his lips met hers.
Startled, she stiffened and tried to pull away, but his arm snaked around her waist, pulling her closer.
He is kissing me. Her mouth opened under his gentle pressure and Zani forgot any thoughts of resistance. Her lashes lowered as she gave herself up to the sensation.
She felt giddy, as if she’d drunk too much champagne. Frigid air drifted around them from outside, but she barely noticed. Only Fang shivered as she sat in the hallway and watched the kissing couple with an air of resignation.
Somewhere in the back of Zani’s mind a small voice was shouting. Telling her to stop, telling her that the last thing in the world she should be doing is kissing. But kissing Corbin was like eating Belgian chocolate. You knew you shouldn’t eat another, that one more would be too much, but you eat another anyway. Despite your noblest intentions you can’t resist the temptation. It’s almost an addiction.
He pulled her closer and deepened the kiss. Zani twined her arms around his neck and, like butter in the sun, melted against him.
Then the kiss was over. Corbin’s embrace relaxed infinitesimally, and Zani drew away from him. Self-loathing overwhelmed her in seconds. Fury uncoiled in the pit of her stomach and she stumbled ungracefully backwards into the safety of the house, slamming the door.
“What the hell am I doing?” she asked Fang, who stood in the hallway watching her with a quizzical expression. “What the bloody hell do I think I’m doing?”
AND, if you needed anymore convincing...
Fallen Angel Reviews: http://www.fallenangelreviews.com/2009/January/RachelC-SecretIntentions.htm