In honour of Valentine’s Day this week, I’m sharing a sneak peek of my new book, A Marriage Worth Saving, out June 2017 (available to preorder now)! In this prologue, my hero, Jordan, and my heroine, Mila, meet and fall in love on Valentine’s Day.
Jordan Thomas couldn’t take his eyes off his event planner.
Well, he supposed he couldn’t exactly call her ‘his’ when his father had been the one to hire her. But since he had inherited his mother’s half of the vineyard—which he would have gladly traded to have her back—he figured his father’s decision went for the both of them.
‘Are you going to keep staring at her, or are you going to introduce yourself?’
His father, Gregory, barely glanced at him as he said the words. The serious tone Greg had used would have alarmed anyone who didn’t know him—would have made him seem almost angry—but at twenty-seven years old Jordan knew the nuances of his father’s voice. Greg was baiting him.
‘I’m still thinking about it. I’m not sure I want to bother her an hour before the event,’ Jordan answered.
When his father didn’t reply, he sighed.
‘Maybe you should call her over so that I can introduce myself, Dad.’
His father nodded his approval. ‘Mila! Would you come over here for a second?’
The minute she started walking towards them Jordan’s heart raced. She was absolutely beautiful, he thought as he took in the perfectly designed features of her face. A small nose led to luscious lips, pink as a cherry blossom, which curved into a smile when she saw his father. The smile kicked his heart up another notch even though her brown eyes watched him carefully, surrounded by the fullest, darkest eyelashes he had ever seen.
He wondered idly if they were like that with help from cosmetic enhancements, but something told him that everything about her was natural. She made him think of the fields where his grapes grew in the vineyard—of the vibrancy of their colours and the feeling of home he always felt looking at it.
He didn’t have time to ponder the unsettling thought when she stopped in front of them.
‘Mila, you haven’t had the chance to meet my son yet.’ Greg nudged Jordan, and if Jordan hadn’t been so mesmerised by the woman in front of him he might have wondered at his father pushing him towards her.
But all thoughts flew out of his head the minute he introduced himself and she said, ‘Mila Dennis,’ and took his outstretched hand.
He’d thought there would be heat—a natural reaction to touching someone he found attractive. But he hadn’t expected the heat to burn through his entire body. He hadn’t expected the longing that curled in his stomach, the desire to make her his. But most of all he hadn’t expected the pull that he felt towards her—a connection that went beyond the physical.
She pulled her hand away quickly, tucking a non-existent piece of hair behind her ear, and he knew she had felt it, too.
‘It’s lovely to meet you, Mr Thomas.’
Her voice sounded like music to him and he frowned, wondering at his reaction to a woman he hadn’t even known for five minutes.
‘Jordan, please. Mr Thomas is my father.’ He shoved his hands into his pockets and watched as a smile spread across Greg’s face. Jordan felt his eyebrows raise.
‘Actually, Mila doesn’t call me that,’ Greg said, and Jordan realised Greg’s smile was aimed at Mila. It was a sign of affection that made their relationship seem more than that of employer/employee. It was almost…familial. Almost, because Greg didn’t even share his smiles—a rare commodity—with his family. With his son.
He would have to ask his father about it, Jordan thought when Mila’s lips curved in response. But then she looked at Jordan and the smile faltered.
‘Well, I think it’s best that I get back. We have hundreds of people coming today. It was a great idea to host a “Valentine’s Day under the Stars” event.’
‘It was mine.’ Jordan wasn’t sure why he said it, but he wanted her to know that he was responsible for the idea that had brought the two of them together.
He had a feeling it would be significant.
‘Well, it was a great one.’ She frowned, as though she wasn’t sure how to respond to him. ‘I’ll see you both a little later then. Greg…’ She smiled at Jordan’s father, but again it faltered when she turned her attention to him. ‘Jordan…’
She said his name carefully, as though it was a minefield she was navigating through. He watched her, saw the flash of awareness and then denial in her eyes, and something settled inside him.
‘What was that?’
His father had waited for Mila to leave before asking, and Jordan turned to him, noting the carefully blank expression on Greg’s face.
‘I think I’ve just met the woman I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.’
Greg’s eyebrows rose so high they disappeared under the hair that had fallen over his forehead. And then came another nod of approval.
‘I knew you were a smart boy,’ he said, and a warm feeling spread through Jordan’s heart at what he knew was high praise coming from his father.
Meeting Jordan Thomas had unsettled Mila so much that she’d almost lost her headline act.
When she heard the commotion in the tent they’d set up behind the amphitheatre stage—and saw the sympathetic look Lulu, her assistant and long-time friend, shot her on her way towards the sound—Mila knew she was about to walk into a drama.
‘Why would you do this to me on Valentine’s Day?’ Karen, the pretty singer that the whole of South Africa had been raving about since she’d won the biggest singing competition in the country, was wailing. ‘You couldn’t wait one day before breaking up with me? And right before a performance, too!’
Wails turned into heart-wrenching sobs—the kind that could only come from a teenage girl losing her first love—and Mila felt the tell-tale tickling of the start of a headache. She took in the chagrined look on Karen’s guitarist’s face and realised he was responsible for the tears.
She sighed, and then strode to the little crowd where the scene was unfolding.
‘What’s going on?’
‘Kevin broke up with me!’ Karen said through her sobs, and Mila wondered why she had decided that hiring a fresh young girl to perform at one of the biggest events she had ever planned—for one of the most prominent clients she had ever worked for—had seemed like a good idea.
And then she remembered the voice in the online videos she’d watched of Karen, and the number of views all those videos had got, and she sighed again.
‘On Valentine’s Day, Kevin?’ Mila asked, instead of voicing the What were you thinking? that sat on the tip of her tongue. Best not to rock the boat any further, she thought. Kevin, who looked to be only a couple of years older than the girl whose heart he had broken, shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
‘Well, ma’am, there was this—’
He cut himself off when Mila held up her hand, affronted that he was calling her ‘ma’am’ even though she was only a few years older than him. Four, max. She’d also realised that whatever Kevin had been about to say would have caused Karen even more distress.
‘Okay, everyone, the show is over. Can we all get back to what we need to be doing? Our guests are starting to arrive,’ Mila called out and then waited until everyone had scattered, eyeing those who lingered so that they eventually left, too.
When she was alone with Karen, she turned and took the girl’s hand. ‘Have you ever been broken up with before, Karen?’
Red curls bounced as Karen shook her head, and Mila suddenly felt all the sympathy in the world for her.
‘It sucks. It really does. Your heart feels like it’s been ripped into two and your stomach is in twists. It doesn’t matter when it happens—that feeling is always the same. Stays there, too, if you let it.’
Mila thought about when she had been Karen’s age—of how moving from foster home to foster home had meant that she’d never had someone to tell her this the first time a boy had broken her heart—and said what she’d wished she’d known then.
‘But, you know, the older you get, the more you realise that the less it meant, the less it will hurt. And, since Kevin over there seems like a bit of a jerk, I’m thinking you’ll be over this in a week…maybe two?’
‘Really?’ The hope in Karen’s eyes made Mila smile.
‘I’m pretty sure. And, you know, the best revenge is to prove to him that it didn’t really matter that much after all.’
‘But how…? Oh, if I perform with him, he’ll think that I’ve got over it. Maybe he’ll even want me back!’
She said the words with such enthusiasm that Mila resisted rolling her eyes. ‘Sure—why not?’
She watched Karen run to the bathroom to freshen up, feeling both relieved that Karen was going to perform and annoyed that she didn’t seem to have heard a word Mila had told her.
‘That was pretty impressive.’
The deep, intensely male voice sent shivers up Mila’s spine, and she turned slowly to face its owner. Jordan Thomas’s eyes were the most captivating she had ever seen—a combination of gold and brown that made her think of the first signs of autumn. They made the masculine features of his face seem ordinary though she knew that, based on the way he made her feel distinctly female, he was anything but ordinary. Light brown hair lay shaggy over his forehead, as though he had forgotten to comb it, but it added a charm to his face that might have been otherwise lost under the pure maleness of him.
She took a moment to compose herself, and then she smiled at him.
Because she was a professional and he was a client.
And because she needed to prove that the effect he’d had on her when they’d first met had been a fluke.
‘Thanks. All a part of the job.’
‘Consoling teenage girls is a part of your job?’
The smile came more naturally now. ‘When the teenage girl is the headline act at my event, yes.’
He shoved his hands into his pockets and the action drew her attention to the muscles under the black T-shirt he wore. Heaven help her, but she actually thought about running her hands over them before she could stop herself.
‘It looks great.’
She blinked, and then realised that he was talking about the event. She nodded, and then peeked out of the tent to where people were beginning to fill the seats of the amphitheatre.
‘It’s come along nicely.’ She noted that the wine stalls were already busy, and she could smell the waft of food from the food vendors. ‘You should pat yourself on the back. It was your idea after all.’
She glanced back at him, saw the slow, sexy smile spread on his face, and thought that she needed to get away from him as she had almost fanned herself.
‘It may have been my idea to host the event here at the vineyard, but I could never have arranged a concert and a movie screening in one night.’
‘It pulls in fans for the concert and romantics for the movie,’ she said, as she had to Greg Thomas so many times before. ‘Who can resist either of those events—or any event, really—under the stars, with delicious Thomas Vineyard wines on tap, on the most romantic day of the year?’
His eyes sparkled, as though her words had given him some kind of idea, and then he smiled at her. A full smile that was more impactful than a thousand of his slow, sexy ones.
‘I need to check everything one more time. If you’ll excuse me?’
Jordan nodded, and then said, ‘I’ll find you later.’
She frowned as she walked away, wondering what on earth he’d meant by that.
When the movie was about ten minutes in, she found out.
He had come to her and claimed that there was a problem with the wine delivery for those who had pre-ordered boxes to take home with them. Like a fool she had followed him, her mind racing to a million different ways of solving the problem. Only when he led her through a gate past the Thomas house did it occur to her that there might not be an emergency.
‘What is this?’ she asked quietly, even though they were far enough away from the guests that no one would hear her.
‘It’s a picnic. Under the stars.’
A part of her melted at that—the pure romance of it made her feel as giddy as a girl on her first date. But it didn’t change the way her heart raced in panic as she took in the scene in front of her.
A blanket was spread out overlooking the vineyard, and in the moonlight she could see the shadow of the mountains. For a brief moment she wondered what it would look like during the day, with its colours and its magnitude and the welcoming silence.
She shook her head and looked at what was spread on the blanket. A bottle of wine—she couldn’t read the label, though she thought she saw the Thomas Vineyard crest—cooled in an ice bucket with two glasses next to it. A variety of the foods that she hadn’t had time to taste accompanied the wine.
Although she really didn’t want to, she found herself softening even more, her heart racing now for completely different reasons than a man expressing interest in her.
‘Are you going to stay or run?’
She looked up at him, and though his words sounded playful, his expression told her otherwise.
‘Are those my only two options?’
‘I could offer you another.’
She saw the change in his eyes and her body heated.
‘What would you do if I ran?’ she asked, hoping to distract him.
‘I’d run with you.’
She resisted the urge to smile at his charm, and wondered why someone like Jordan Thomas would be interested in her? Firstly, she was his employee. And secondly, she didn’t have much to offer him. What could a woman with no family and no foundation offer a man like Jordan Thomas of the Thomas Vineyard?
Still, she found herself saying, ‘Pour me a glass of wine, Jordan.’
He handed her a glass with a smile that had her shaking her head.
‘You don’t agree with my methods?’
‘You mean lying to get me to share a drink with you?’
‘Yes.’ He grinned. ‘But you can’t tell me this isn’t a welcome change to having to run around all day?’
‘No, I can’t.’ She sighed, and took a sip from her wine. ‘Drinking wine after a long day with a handsome man should be the only way to unwind.’
She didn’t realise what she’d said until she saw him smiling at her, and then she blushed furiously.
Where had that come from?
‘I didn’t mean—’
‘To tell me I’m handsome?’
She set her wine down. ‘Yes. It’s been a long day.’
‘So I could ask you anything now and you would answer it?’
‘Maybe,’ she said softly, caught by the expression in his eyes.
And then she wondered who this person who was flirting with this gorgeous man was. Because surely it couldn’t be tame, safe Mila. How often had she heard those comments from boys she had dated? From her foster siblings, who’d had no interest in hanging out with a girl who couldn’t bring herself to try drugs or go out drinking every night, no matter how desperately she’d wanted to be liked?
She closed her eyes at the pain, and picked up her wine glass again. It must have been the stress of the event that had her thinking about a past she’d thought she’d left behind.
But before she could drink her wine Jordan took the glass out of her hand, and she froze.
‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ he asked her, and she realised he was a lot closer than he’d been a few moments ago. Her throat dried at the woodsy smell that filled her senses, and suddenly she wished she hadn’t flirted with him.
‘No,’ she answered quickly, her breathing becoming more heavy than she thought could be healthy.
‘Good. That makes this much easier.’
‘What are you talking about?’ She couldn’t take her eyes off him, and knew she should be worried that the realisation only caused the slightest bit of alarm in her.
‘Us.’ He pulled the clip out of her hair so that it fell to her shoulders. ‘I’m glad you won’t have to break another man’s heart so that we can be together.’
‘That’s presumptuous of you,’ she replied, though for the life of her she couldn’t think of one reason why that was a problem. Even when he had her speaking her mind without the filter she usually employed with every word.
He didn’t respond immediately, and she wondered if she’d said something wrong.
And then her heart stopped completely when his hand stilled on her neck and he said, ‘It should be. Everything inside me is saying that feeling this way about someone without even knowing them is crazy. And yet I can’t help myself.’
His hand moved to her face, and she thought that even if the sky fell down on them she wouldn’t be able to look away from him.
‘So tell me whether I’m being presumptuous when I say I know you feel it, too?’
She couldn’t speak because the pieces that had been floating around in her head since they’d met—and the feelings that had become unsettled the moment he’d introduced himself—told her there was truth to his words.
‘You did all of this to…to see if I felt the same way?’
‘No.’ He smiled, and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. ‘I did this to make you realise that you did.’
His lips were suddenly on hers, and she felt herself melt, felt her resistance—her denial—fade away. Because as his mouth moved against hers her heart was telling her that it wanted to be with him. She ignored the way her mind told her she was being ridiculous, and instead ran her hands over the muscles she had admired earlier.
With one arm he moved everything that was on the blanket away and she found herself on her back, with Jordan’s body half over hers. But she pulled away, her chest heaving as though she’d run a marathon.
‘This is crazy,’ she said shakily, but didn’t move any further.
‘Yes, it is,’ he replied, his eyes filled with a mixture of desire and tenderness.
She raised a hand to his face, pushing his hair back and settling it on his cheek. He turned his head and kissed her hand. And in that moment, under the stars that sparkled brightly on Valentine’s Day, she realised that she might have just fallen in love with a man she had only known for a few hours.
Even as her mind called her foolish she was pulling his lips back down to hers.