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Published author and book nerd, I write and review romance novels.

Monday, 23 February 2015

New romance novel



It's been a while since I published a book, and now it's time to go back to work. Within the next couple of weeks, I will be releasing 'Listen to the heartbeat', a romance novel that I wrote at the beginning of 2012. 
Here is a short description:
Andrew Langston focuses his life on taking care of his mega-business, hence his irritation when he must become the legal guardian of orphan Lucy Whitfield for two months until she turns eighteen. But his discontent melts away when he meets his beautiful pupil. Not even the fact that Lucy is madly in love with business tycoon Peter Randall will stop Andrew from attempting to reach his goal. He takes advantage of the guardianship agreement provisions to keep the two lovers apart. The two moguls will fight to no end for Lucy's love. Their goals will turn her life upside down when they clash. But while one’s personal interests will endanger her life, the other’s will keep her alive. One of them will ultimately achieve what he wants. But which one?
And for those wanting to see how it begins, here is the first chapter.
Chapter One
The stale air steamed in the room, saturated with a week’s worth of humidifier mist. Lucy fought back the urge to wipe the sheen of perspiration that coated her forehead. A quick dab with her silky handkerchief would do. But that would definitely qualify as a slap on father’s face and would most assuredly stick her with an hour-long sermon on her miserable failure to have turned into a refined beau monde mademoiselle. “Educated young ladies never display disrespect for the basic needs of the ill and frail,” he would say, struggling to breathe as the humidifier only provided small relief. He’d made a considerable investment in her expensive education, and expected—no, demanded—a high standard of behavior as part of the dividend.
Lucy stole a quick glance at him. Edward Whitfield looked a lot frailer today than any other day in the past few weeks. His thin body, once athletic and stalwart, now was that of a wrinkled child. It would not be long before the cancer would consume the last of him, but Lucy had no doubt that the very last part claimed would be his caustic tongue. His eyes were glazed by fever, and he’d just finished spilling his guts into an enamel bowl. But even at this very moment, Edward still had enough breath left in him to huff at his team of doctors over poor medication choices. At his current tempo, there seemed to be only two options left: either spend his fortune on the creation of a new anti-spew potion, or find a new medical team overseas after having sacked all available U.S. oncologists.
Strength is derived by ignoring the weaknesses of the human physique and relying on the infinite power of the human mind,” Descartes had once said. Maybe that’s how her father’s spirit was still strong as a bull, even though he had one foot in the grave and the other one firmly on the edge. Her father quoted those Descartes teachings day in and day out. Additionally, he had her read them aloud to him, what seemed like one hundred and one times a day. The motto of existentialism, he called it: “Je pense donc je suis. Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am.” No wonder she woke up in the middle of the night, chanting like a lunatic.
Je pense donc je suis.” “Cogito, ergo sum.” “I think, therefore I am.”…
Je pense donc je suis.” “Cogito, ergo sum.” “I think, therefore I am.
Je pense donc je suis.” “Cogito, ergo sum.” “I think, therefore I am.
That must be how cults hypnotized people and turned them into lifelong puppets.
Lucy risked another furtive glance his way. Maybe there was a chance now to wipe her forehead without him blustering at her even for moving her hand. Or even better, to sneak out of here together with the damn copy of Descartes’ volume from her father’s priceless library. Lucy ran with that thought, dreaming of digging a deep hole at the bottom of Edward’s beloved Longleaf Pine and burying the wretched book underneath a huge bucketful of dung.
A small vibration started tickling Lucy’s hip and grew stronger and stronger as the seconds ticked by. To risk or not to risk? She stuck her hand between the folds of her dress and took out the cell phone, stealing another furtive glimpse at her father. His eyelids had drooped under the spell of his exhaustion, but an erratic flutter was still haunting them. Returning her attention to the phone, she looked fondly at the handsome face displayed on the screen. Peter Randall’s pale blue eyes were staring back at her, bearing funny little crinkles at their corners as he was smiling at her with those lips that were the cornucopia of her fantasies at night and the very essence of her daydreams.
“Hey.” Lucy picked up and breathed into the handset, her voice a faint whisper.
“Hey, babe.” Peter’s voice caressed her senses, velvet soft. “Is it safe to talk?”
“Uh-uh,” she said, looking warily toward the huge king size bed. “Not yet…maybe in another half an hour.”
“Do you think you can sneak out?” he asked. “I miss you.”
Lucy felt a thousand wild shivers run hot through her veins. “I miss you too, but I can’t leave. He won’t let me out without his guard dogs on my heels.” She struggled to keep her voice down to a whisper.
Peter Randall stifled an irritated sigh. “You shouldn’t have told him about me, babe,” he said. “That’s why he’s put a tail on you.”
She shot a dark glare toward the bed. “I know, but it’s a little too late now, isn’t it?” Damn my stupidity and my tendency to be sincere with the wrong people at the wrong time. Yeah, the truth will set you free, but first it will make you so miserable, you’d rather choose to rot in the damn cage of lies, she mused bitterly.  
“Don’t worry, we’ll find a way around it.” Peter’s soft voice kept sending hot flames through her body. “I’ll call you later tonight. I love you, babe.”
“I love you, too,” Lucy murmured, staring pensively at the screen. Had he heard her last words? Not quite sure. She bit her lower lip.
“Lucy Whitfield, would you kindly give your cell phone to Rosa?” Edward’s voice resounded from the bed.
Damn it! Lucy cursed silently just as a jolt of panic shot through her. The scoundrel had lain there in silence, playing dead and listening to the entire conversation. Dead meat, that’s what she was right now, grounded until the day when her father was finally nailed in his coffin.
“Yes,” she muttered, holding her phone out for the maid to confiscate.
“I beg your pardon?” Edward Whitfield’s voice turned silky.
“Yes, sir,” she amended, this time looking straight at him.
He stared back at her, dark-eyed, his thin, crumpled face hard like steel. “Could you please go to the library and get the Plato Oxford Classical Texts? I would like you to read them to me,” he said.
She stood up without a word and headed for the door.
“Lucy Whitfield!” His voice thundered across the room, making her flinch.
“Yes, sir.” She turned around abruptly.
Edward’s face was once more calm and unreadable, only bearing the print of exhaustion. “Educated people reply when talked to. They do not just turn their back on their interlocutors,” he said.
“My apologies, sir,” Lucy replied. “I’ll get that volume right away. If you would excuse me…” She let her words trail just as she executed a perfect curtsy and left the room. Let him feel the blow of her insult, she thought with devilish satisfaction. He’ll certainly choke or puke once more, having seen his daughter bob a miserable servant’s curtsy. Now,  that was a little cruel to wish for. A short pang of guilt hit her. Only a short one, though. She pushed the guilt out of her mind, leaving room for smiling, pale blue eyes. Too bad Edward Whitfield thought philosophy readings were the appropriate punishment for every wrong he thought she’d ever done to him. Like...being born a girl, looking so much like her late mother, having nothing in common with her father, being in love with Peter Randall, and right now, for planning a romantic rendezvous. A rendezvous which was going to happen, even if she had to dig her way out the mansion.
*****
Richard Langston linked his hands on his lap and waited patiently for his son to finish his phone call.
Sitting straight on his sumptuous gray leather chair, Andrew Langston had not spared a glance at his father for the last ten minutes. His forefinger kept absently drawing a spiral on the desk as he concluded his conversation and a hundred and fifty million dollar deal with it. At twenty-seven, he hardly showed his age on his patrician, sculpted face, but his young, inquisitive mind had the strength and wisdom of a much older man. His intellect was definitely beneficial for the business, a disconcerting weapon that more often than not led adversaries on the path of lethal mistakes. Andrew Langston had an innate ability to sniff out his rivals’ weaknesses and mercilessly exploit every crack in their defense using all resources available to him, both personal and corporate. His investments seemed to be bold, risky ventures, yet each one had returned profit, confirming his instincts for investing based on intuition rather than popular or safe trends. Andrew Langston’s career was on a rapid ascend, but at times, Richard wondered if that made his son happy. Amassing billion after billion had not brought his son love and tenderness. Andrew’s handsome face was always dark and rigid, like carved steel. Neither the fascinating bright green shade of his eyes, or the way his brown hair always rebelled, carelessly waving and slightly curling at the temples, softened his outward expression. Richard Langston had no doubt that his son’s heart was just as hard as his granite expression.
“Dad, I’m terribly sorry, but if it’s business you need to discuss, I’m afraid you came at the wrong time. I have a meeting in five minutes.” Andrew looked up at him as soon as he hung up. That was his polite way of scolding his father for barging in.
Richard smiled inwardly. By the look of it, he obviously needed to make an appointment to see his own son. “It’s not business…as such,” he decided to amend after starting too vaguely. Five minutes was not long enough for what he had to say, let alone for the explosion that would, without doubt, follow as a result. “I need your help in a personal matter,” he said.
Andrew’s eyebrows rearranged into two indignant lines that almost met in the middle. “Then why didn’t you wait until this evening, Dad? You know I’m always home after six.”
“It’s urgent, son.” Richard met his gaze with a defiant one of his own. “I don’t think you’d lose that much if you spared a few moments for your own father.”
He waited a little to assess the impact of his words. Victory or defeat? Victory, it seemed, for Andrew leaned back on his chair, the frustration gone from his green eyes.
Richard cleared his throat and recommenced. “Edward is dying…not long now, maybe another few days?” A painful lump wedged in his throat, making him stammer a little. A lifetime of memories bonded him to Edward Whitfield. So many, in fact, it had never really mattered that as young men, they’d been fierce rivals in the petroleum business.
 “I’m sorry to hear it, Dad,” Andrew said, his voice suddenly soft and caressing.
His son could at times be just as gentle as he was hard and unforgiving. Richard summoned the strength to get back to the matter at hand. “Edward has a daughter, Lucy. You may remember her.”
“Yes, I do.” Andrew nodded. “That scrawny child with a million freckles and a crooked eye. She bit me when I was fourteen. I still have a scar, you know.” He pointed at his left arm, profound indignation written all over his face.
“Of course she did.” Richard snorted. “You would have done that too if someone called you Doodle Moose.”
“Not if I knew I looked like one,” Andrew retorted, pursing his lips. “She looked like a Doodle monster, with carrot hair and skinny legs. That day, she’d stuck a horrible pair of split hoofs on her skull, saying she was Santa’s reindeer. That’s why I called her Doodle Moose, remember?”
“She was only five years old, for God’s sake. What would you expect?” Richard exclaimed with exasperation. “In contrast, you were big enough to know it was stupid to pick on a child who’d just gotten out of diapers.”
“All right, all right.” Andrew rolled his eyes. “I gather you’re not here to talk about my childhood memories. So what’s the point?”
Richard took a big breath.  “Edward asked me to take care of Lucy, and her fortune, until she turns eighteen.”
Andrew stared back at him with mild interest. His forefinger resumed the spiraling drawing on the smooth surface of the desk. “Why you? Doesn’t he have relatives to take care of it?” he asked.
“Not really,” Richard answered. “He has estranged himself from Catherine’s side of the family since she passed away. You know he couldn’t bear anything that reminded him of her—not even the sight of Lucy. That’s why he sent his daughter to Linden Hall School for Girls for twelve years.”
 “Linden Hall School for Girls? Isn’t that in Lititz, Pennsylvania? That’s more than three hundred miles south of here.” Andrew’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
 “That is precisely what he was aiming for.” Richard nodded his head curtly. “Longer the distance, lesser the pain, or at least that was what he thought. Lucy is the spitting image of her mother, and that was something Edward couldn’t live with. So, he sent the girl to boarding school, only allowing her to visit for a couple of weeks each year. During the rest of the school holidays, she stayed in D.C. with her grandmother.”
“So, why isn’t her grandmother taking on that responsibility now that Edward will…” Andrew hesitated a little over his choice of words. “Depart this life?” he continued.
“She suffers from dementia,” Richard answered. “And there’s only one aunt left from Edward’s side of the family, but she’s two years Lucy’s junior. An orphan herself after her parents died in a plane crash. She has her own guardian, but he’s not someone Edward would entrust with his daughter’s care.”
There was a mounting tension in his father’s voice and definitely a wavering unrest. Andrew picked up the uneasiness with a brief pang of alarm. Richard Langston had so far skirted around the issue of concern.
“What is it that you want from me, Dad?” Andrew asked bluntly, suddenly straightening in his chair.
It was now well past the time for diplomacy, Richard concluded. He mentally cursed his weakness that more often than not made him yield to his own son’s power of mind. “I need you to take over the guardianship, son,” he replied, hating the feebleness of the request as it left his mouth.
Andrew’s eyes narrowed to slits as he fixed his father with a frosty stare. “I beg your pardon?” he blasted.
“You heard me,” Richard recovered his strength. “I need your help for a change, Andrew, and I am in no mood to waste time with a confrontation. Edward is my best friend, and I will not betray his trust. You know that your mother and I will be leaving for England for eight months. Amanda has already started the departure preparations, and as soon as she says she’s ready, we’ll go. It could be a couple of weeks, maybe longer, I don’t know, but one thing is certain: we cannot possibly take the girl with us. She is due to start her first year of college here in Rochester.”
He stopped for a moment to stare at his son’s unyielding face. Too bad, he was going to push it right to the point when Andrew would lose patience and either give in or send him packing.
“I know it’s a lot I’m asking of you, but it’s your turn to do something to help us out.” Reminding Andrew it had been his parents’ fortune that had opened the door to his own was uncalled for, but he didn’t have much of a choice, did he? The guardianship agreement involved not only the care of the girl, but also entailed managing the entire Whitfield financial empire. That was a task that he would never entrust a board of directors with while he was away overseas. Yet, the only person he could count on, his own son, was a man who was used to wielding, not yielding.
Nothing on Andrew’s face gave away what was on his mind. He just stared at his father with calm, unreadable eyes. “What is it that I need to do, in practical terms?” he asked. His voice was now as hard as his features.
Richard stifled the urge to push out a sigh of relief—or one of immense misery, he couldn’t quite decide. “You’ll need to go see Edward this evening and meet with his lawyers to sign the legal papers appointing you as Lucy’s legal guardian for the next two months. This will give you full control over her wellbeing and her fortune, which will be entrusted to you to manage and protect to the best of your ability.” He stared for a moment at his son. Andrew’s face was once again hard and unyielding. “It’s only for two months, for God’s sake,” he sighed with exasperation. “Only for two months.”
Andrew felt a small muscle twitch in his neck. “Why doesn’t he give her control of her fortune right now?” he asked. “She’s only two months away from turning eighteen. What’s the difference?”
“Her father has no intentions to do so,” Richard answered. “He believes she’s too reckless and crude and needs more time to grow up. As a matter of fact, he wanted to send her to Mississippi, where she’d only come of age at twenty one, had you been able to move your business headquarters in that state.”
How ridiculous! Andrew looked up to the heavens. On second thought, Edward Whitfield must have a good reason. After all, Doodle Moose was already a little hellcat when she wasn’t even five years old. The scar on my arm is a lifetime testimony of it. And she’d only had baby teeth at the time. Now she must have grown fangs, he thought with profound irritation. “All right,” he said. “I will go talk to Mr. Whitfield. But this by no means implies my acceptance,” he warned as soon as he saw excitement painted all over his father’s face. “It will be just for a discussion, no strings attached. I need to fully understand what’s expected of me. And I’ll talk to you about this later tonight.”
The few moments of silence that followed were enough to send the unspoken message from son to his father. There was a business meeting waiting to happen, and by now, it was long overdue.
Richard stood up in no hurry and shot a friendly hand over the desk. No need to show he was in debt in any way. “Thank you,” he said before turning around to leave the room.
Andrew followed his father with his gaze until the door closed behind him, and only then did he crash his fist on the desk, making the fountain pen jump with a startle. Changing the diapers of a seventeen-year-old, crooked-eyed chick, and looking after her fortune… Jesus Christ! This was the last thing in the world he wanted to deal with.
*****
The wind picked up, sending a hot, humid gust of air through the lush branches of the summersweet shrubs. A blond lock of hair swooped down over Peter’s forehead, followed by another one. He closed his eyes for a moment, taking in the feel of Lucy’s fingers as they pushed the tendrils back in place.
“Your touch is so magic,” he murmured. “I could stay here forever, begging for your caress.”
Lucy felt her cheeks turn crimson. “You are the sweetest advantage-seeker I’ve ever met.” She smiled, letting her fingers trail across his forehead. “You lure me with enticing words at the precise moment when I should stand up and leave.”
Peter leaned forward to gently bite the lobe of her ear. “Little cheat,” he said. “You would give anything to stay here a little longer, yet you can’t help it... You have to give me a little lecture about having to go home.”
“Promise you’ll give me your heart forever, and I’ll stay just as long,” Lucy laughed.
“My heart is ever at your service,” Peter took a dramatic side bow, propping the palm of his hand on the ground as he sat next to her behind the shrubs.
Lucy stared thoughtfully at him, her lips pursed in a jokingly rebellious pout. “Whose saying is that?” she challenged.
“Mine, of course,” Peter laughed, leaning forward to kiss her.
Her heart filled with emotion and all the tenderness in the world. “You have the soul of a poet. You should write poetry.” She smiled.
“I don’t think it’s talent.” He playfully flicked the tip of her nose with his forefinger. “At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.”
Lucy drew her upper lip in between her teeth and stared pensively at him for a moment. “Whose saying is this one?” she asked the same question.
Peter burst out laughing. “Mine, of course,” he said, half closing his eyelids again to take in the feel of her caress.
She let her fingers once more roam across his forehead, drawing along his dark blond brows. His lips slid across her wrist, lingering there in a slow caress until he felt her pulse thunder.
“Peter…I need to go,” she whispered, not quite sure if she wanted to pull away or get closer to his touch.
He helped her lie down on the grass. “No, you don’t,” he whispered back, brushing his lips over hers. He let his fingers venture along the hem of her shirt, slowly pushing it up until he felt the warmth of her skin just above her navel.
A sudden rush of alarm shot through her. “I need to go.” She hastily sat up. “They probably noticed my absence and are already looking for me. Besides, I don’t want a security guard to bump into you around here. Because how would you explain your presence in the property? Father would have a heart attack.”
“And why would that bother you, baby? He’s almost food for worms anyway.” Peter laughed.
Somehow, it did bother her. Yet she couldn’t quite put the finger on the unfathomable reason for the unease that was gripping at her heart every time Peter was talking about it with such nonchalance.
“I really need to go.” Lucy almost begged for his permission, not wanting to aggravate him. It had been hard enough for her to sneak Peter onto the property under the noses of four security guards and constant 24/7 video surveillance that swept the entire property.
Peter stood up slowly. “All right,” he sighed. “I’ll talk to you tonight, then. Just try to sneak out sometime tomorrow.” His mouth took hers without warning in a dominant, drugging kiss, leaving her out of breath. “I want you to come to my place. You’ve never been there.”
Lucy felt her cheeks catch fire and definitely turn crimson. “We’ll see about that…” She said the words with a voice so low, he had to strain his ears to hear it.
Whether she’d been so vague about tomorrow’s rendezvous or had just tried to fend off his latter invitation, he couldn’t quite tell. One thing was certain, though, Peter concluded with a sweet smile on his lips as he watched her walk toward the mansion: getting every bit of Lucy Whitfield for himself wasn’t going to be easy.
The double doors to Edward Whitfield’s room were, for once, wide open. Lucy’s heart picked up speed, and so did her feet, until she almost broke into a run along the corridor. She should have stayed indoors and waited for father’s call. A pang of remorse ran through her mind, just before delayed panic shattered her. God! Maybe the priest was in there with him right now, or even worse, he may have even breathed his last.
Masculine voices resounded from the room.
“It was our understanding, Mr. Langston, that you would be coming here tonight to sign the guardianship documents. This is what your father told Mr. Whitfield,” a throaty voice cried out.
She peeked inside for the briefest moment then pulled back quickly. There was no way on earth she could see the bed, let alone her father’s silhouette. Five men were standing there, blocking him from view. That was, if Edward Whitfield was still sprawled on that king-sized mattress, instead of being whisked away to a funeral home.
Another voice resounded in the room, calm and dispassionate. “I truly understand the urgency, Mr. Dunmore, but my father only briefed me about the situation this afternoon. You appreciate that I cannot take lightly the responsibility of being Miss Whitfield’s legal guardian, and I have to confer with my legal team before making any undertaking of this sort or signing any binding documents for that matter.”
A frustrated sigh exploded across the walls, and the same throaty voice continued to berate the last speaker. “With respect, Mr. Langston, you need to take into account that Mr. Whitfield’s condition is critical, and any delay in making your decision may gravely and irremediably affect his business empire. As I told you, Mr. Whitfield made no provisions about how his fortune would be managed, were he to pass away before the guardianship was settled.”
“I was under the impression that the main concern was Miss Whitfield’s wellbeing, Mr. Denmore.” An ironic note clearly radiated from the other voice.
So, her father was still alive and definitely lying down behind that wall of quarrelsome idiots, Lucy decided. She took a few cautious steps and stretched her neck to look beyond them. Yes, she could now see his head poking out from behind a fat man’s backside. His closed eyelids kept fluttering erratically.
“Dunmore,” Edward Whitfield suddenly opened his eyes and croaked. “Just shut up and let Mr. Langston take his time, would you?”
Martin Dunmore flinched violently, taken aback by his boss’s eerie return from the slumber of near purgatory. “Yes, sir,” he snapped in military compliance.
Edward’s feverish stare swept his attorney once more, then his eyelids dropped again, resuming their fluttering. “And what are you doing in here?” His eyes snapped open without warning, scanning his daughter’s face.
“I just came to see if you needed me, sir,” Lucy answered.
Five pairs of eyes turned to sweep her from head to toe. Four of them turned back to Edward Whitfield. The fifth man’s gaze remained locked on her, hypnotized. Andrew Langston let the last drop of breath push out past his lips before clamping them together, forgetting to let air come back in. It was not the stale air in the room that made his head spin; he’d been in there for a while without any such thing troubling him. His heart kept skipping beat after beat, and when it remembered to thump in his chest, it did it so hard, it threatened to break out of it altogether. She is a vision. The thought flowed through him, intense, warm, tender. Midnight blue eyes on an angelic face, framed by copper-gold locks that fell over her shoulders, down to her hips…
Lucy briefly bit her upper lip, stealing a furtive glance at Andrew Langston just before Edward Whitfield’s voice croaked back at her once more.
“You are not required here,” he wheezed, gasping for air. “Go to the library and clean up the mess you left behind when you pulled out the texts from the Oxford Classical Collection.”
“Right away, sir,” she almost whispered, bobbing a deep curtsy.
And then she was gone.
Andrew’s face turned hard again. “I would like to take a copy of these papers with me, Mr. Dunmore.” He looked at the plump little man. “I will confer with my legal team in the morning, and someone will get in touch with you before lunch.” And with that, he turned his back on the lawyer, as if he were no more than a freshly squashed fat beetle. “Mr. Whitfield,” he gently called out, “if I’m not asking too much, I would like to meet your daughter before I leave.”
Edward Whitfield popped his eyes wide open, pinning him with a glazed, feverish stare. “You just did,” he whispered, then he shut up, looking immobile and serene, or maybe dead.
The man must be delirious. Andrew looked pitifully at him. He suddenly swept the room with an incredulous stare, attracted to an image he had brushed with his gaze a few minutes ago. The portrait of a vision with midnight blue eyes and long tendrils of copper-gold hair was hanging on the wall. The woman was the spitting image of the girl who’d just been chased away, only that she was some twenty-five years older. The late Catherine Whitfield, most certainly.
Raw fury mounted to Andrew’s temples as he blasted the frail man with a murderous glare. This monster was treating his daughter as if she were a servant. There was no “Dad” and “Father” in her vocabulary. Just “sir,” like the gardener, the maid, and the cleaner addressed him. He’d estranged her from him for twelve long years for looking like her mother, but the portrait of his late wife was sitting on the wall right here in his bedroom. I hope you rot in hell, Mr. Whitfield, Andrew mused bitterly as he left the room, bobbing a curt nod toward the old man’s legal team.
 “Hey!”
Andrew turned around abruptly, almost colliding with Lucy in the middle of the corridor. She was even more exquisite from so close. Where had Doodle Moose disappeared, with her plump, chubby little body stuck on top of two long toothpicks? What about her carrot hair and her million freckles? Well, maybe that can go away with age, but there sure was no miracle cure when it came to a crooked eye. Wrong, he thought in fascination as he lost himself in a sea of midnight blue.
Lucy looked him up and down for a moment, then started scrutinizing his features with a critical eye. “Are you the Langston kid?” she rapid-fired the question.
Andrew’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“You know, the one I bit thirteen years ago.” She pointed at his arm.
“Oh, that.” He understood. “Yes, that would be me.”
“I see.” Lucy nodded. “Then listen to me very carefully, Langston kid.” Her eyes narrowed to slits. “I bit you once when I was only five. Dare to sign the damn guardianship papers, and I swear I’ll stick my teeth in you and tear you to tiny, little pieces. So little, in fact, nobody will ever be able to sew you back together. Is this understood?” And with that, she turned her back on him and walked away, swaying her hips with unconscious grace.
Andrew stared after her, open-mouthed, not quite sure when he’d last felt that mesmerized—if he ever had. She’d bitten him almost thirteen years ago; she’d just done it again with her caustic tongue. Only now, she was no crooked-eyed toddler. She was a fairy tale princess with a big, nasty mouth.
His fingers feverishly tapped the screen of his cell phone as he threw himself on the back seat of his limousine. The two cars of the convoy were just pulling away from the stairs of Whitfield’s mansion when Richard Langston picked up, his voice charged with impatience.
 “Dad,” Andrew said, staring absently out the window at the manicured parkland of the property. “I’m calling you about Doodle Moose. I’ve just decided to take her.”
*****
Nine rows of chairs were arranged in a wide semicircle. In the center of it, the silk-covered pedestal strained under the enormous weight of the white marble casket and the much lesser one of Edward Whitfield, who lay within. The ceremony had started an hour ago, and there was no sign it was anywhere close to an end, but none of the mourners were raising their eyebrows. After all, they all knew their dearly departed had spent quite some time writing his own fond farewell long before his number came up. Strangely enough, though, a lot of it had to do with Descartes. Not that they didn’t want to hear that “strength is derived by ignoring the weaknesses of the human physique and relying on the infinite power of the human mind,” but by now, they’d all started to whither from the stinking hot humidity that was misting in the air, clinging to their clothes and drawing patchy stains underneath their armpits.
“May his soul rest in peace.”
The magic words came out of the funeral celebrant’s lips, prompting a hundred and twenty-five mourners to stifle a collective sigh of relief. They stood up in silence and queued one behind another to pay their respects to both Lucy and her deceased father. One by one, they stopped in front of the casket, placing their white rose gently on the casket lid.
Lucy’s dispassionate gaze swept the mountain of flowers that now covered the casket, choking underneath them the white spray of roses that had been laid on the lid at the beginning of the ceremony. Damn ass-lickers, she thought with disdain, turning her stare toward the crowd. None of them had given a damn about Edward Whitfield while he was rotting with cancer, let alone now when he was about to take residence six feet under. Her gaze filled with infinite fondness as it met Peter’s pale blue eyes smiling at her from the last row of chairs, their corners creased with funny little crinkles. Damn the Langston family, who was flanking her, and their damn bodyguards watching like jackals from a distance, hands linked in front of their guts, as if they suffered from chronic cramps! How the hell was she going to slip away even for a minute with so many guard dogs on her tail? She sent a tortured look Peter’s way and blew an almost imperceptible kiss at him over the heads of about fifty mourners.
Andrew Langston turned his head for the hundredth time to steal a glimpse at her. She looked both beautiful and fragile, dressed in an ivory suit that was too severe for her age. Then again, who could have argued with Edward Whitfield’s funeral design? He’d most certainly planned every single detail, maybe even chosen the color of her underwear. Andrew felt the rage boiling once more in his temples, but it died just as fast. Now the bastard was nothing more than a rotting corpse, and she…she belonged to no other. His heart overflowed with tenderness as he looked at her once more and froze. Her eyes were sparkling with that midnight blue hue, sparkling like mystique precious stones filled with fire, a fire of love and passion and desire. His gaze shot through the crowd to follow hers and met Peter Randall’s. No, the way Lucy was looking at the blond, handsome man must be accidental. Andrew forced the thought in his enraged mind, unable to peel his gaze from their silent, loving exchange.
The last mourner stopped in front of Lucy and whispered something to her ear. He turned toward the casket with a pained look on his face to drop on it a gorgeous lily with creamy, heavy petals. There was a short moment of silence, as if the crowd inwardly questioned the choice of the flower, then a rumbling that seemed to come from inside the coffin made them all wonder if Edward Whitfield was making some complaints of his own. Why on earth lilies, when white roses were specifically mentioned in the funeral plan? And just as the rumbling got loud enough to make the fiercest materialists believe in disembodied spirits, the overloaded casket crashed on the white carpet, flattening the pedestal to the ground.
It took Andrew a fraction of a second to catch Lucy in his arms and pull her securely to his chest as she fainted for the first time in her life. From the last row of chairs, Peter Randall’s gaze shot at him and held his in a silent duel.
A huge roar spread amongst the mourners as they tumbled the chairs and trampled on the floral arrangements, trying to get closer to the casket. Some didn’t even bother, too busy to secretly rejoice at the thought that the ceremony was now truly over, even though the place looked like a ravaged field after a battle. One thing was certain, no doubt whatsoever. This unholy event with the casket, everybody had to agree, meant that Edward Whitfield was in a hurry to sink down to hell. Or maybe hell was rushing to claim him.

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