Snowbound With the Billionaire by Aurora Russell – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Aurora Russell who is celebrating the recent release of Snowbound with the Billionaire. Enter to win a fabulous gift package and get a First For Romance Gift Card!

See our review of this book here.

A blizzard traps her in a remote cabin with a man she can’t stand. But what if she doesn’t want to leave when the snow clears?

Marina Lopez might have sworn off love for herself, but that doesn’t stop her from being overjoyed that her best friend Annelise has found true happiness with her new man. Determined to help the couple celebrate in style, Marina drives up early to help organize their engagement party at a lodge in rural Vermont owned by the Gaspards, the future bridegroom’s wealthy, powerful family. Unfortunately, the weather reports were wrong and she gets snowed in with just about the last person she ever wanted to face again.

Pierre Gaspard, the head of his family, company and financial empire, is used to controlling everything and everyone around him and seldom has a regret. However, he does with regard to the harsh lesson he’d decided to teach Marina months earlier, and he’s not thrilled to have her as an unwilling guest at his family’s cabin, which became his sanctuary as he recovered from injuries sustained during an attempt on his life.

Explosive and irresistible chemistry draws them together, but as strange accidents accelerate, they begin to fear that they might not be so alone in the snowy Vermont woods after all. When Pierre sends Marina away over a misunderstanding, he unknowingly puts her squarely into the path of the menace that continues to stalk his family. He rushes to her aid, but even if he makes it in time to protect her, he isn’t certain he’ll ever be able to convince her to forgive him—or that he doesn’t want to take the place of her lost love, but instead to build something new together.

Reader advisory: This book contains a scene of attempted murder and violence.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“Don’t worry, Rina! You’re going to love Rémy’s family. His brothers and sister totally can’t wait to meet you! Also, you look amazing in that dress.” Annelise turned her head halfway to look behind them and Marina wondered what had caught her best friend’s attention in the quiet valet area of the sparkling-clean parking garage.

“In fact,” Annelise continued in a lower voice, “the back looks pretty freaking fantastic. Are you wearing those butt-boosting underwear things? Or have you been hitting the gym harder than usual?” A spark of mischief lit her eyes before she went on. “I don’t mean to be crass…” Annelise waggled her eyebrows.

“Oh, I know I’ve got really nice ass!” Marina had to stifle an undignified snort-laugh as she finished one of their favorite sayings, trying to keep her voice down. “Annelise! Such language so close to the hallowed halls of the Mount Valder Club! I would expect that kind of comment from me, but from you?” Marina mock-chided, but Annelise’s light comment had cut the tension and her anxiety in half.

Annelise flushed pink. “Rémy says it isn’t as stuffy as its reputation would suggest.” She waved her hand dismissively, making the subtle mauve polish that Marina had painted onto her nails a couple of days earlier during a rare girls’ night flash in the soft lighting. “And anyway, it’s not like anyone is going to dare complain about us. Pierre fast-tracked membership for the whole family as soon as they decided to open a Gaspard Industries branch here in Boston, and we have the entire ballroom reserved just for our soiree tonight. All that must have cost, like, a squillion dollars.”

They fell into step together, linking arms by unspoken mutual consent as they headed toward the elevators.

Marina arched one eyebrow. “Look at you, huh? Engaged to a member of one of Canada’s most preeminent families—oh, and wealthiest and best-looking, too—for a little over a month and suddenly even the Mount Valder is small potatoes,” she teased, and Annelise’s cheeks flushed a deeper shade of rose.

“Well, we have been going to a lot of parties—all kinds of parties. The lifestyle Rémy has—really, that they all have—to maintain is kind of crazy. And the events are all so fancy and exclusive and luxurious… I’m getting”—she paused thoughtfully as they stepped into the elevator—“not jaded, but definitely a little less impressed by everything than I used to be.”

Marina showed surprise. “Really? That’s saying something, Anna, for someone who literally plans fancy events for a living.”

Annelise shrugged a little sheepishly, the movement making her shimmery golden dress sparkle all around her. “It’s crazy, right? But I can see why Rémy avoided a lot of this for so long. I don’t know how Pierre does it. He’s in the spotlight the most of all of them, since he’s the CEO and everything.” Annelise leaned closer and Marina smelled the warm vanilla scent her best friend had always favored. “Honestly, I think all of Rémy’s siblings would prefer to be at home most nights, but there are such expectations… They don’t always have a choice.”

Annelise had hinted before at the fact that everything might not be as picture-perfect and easy as it seemed for Rémy’s fabulously wealthy and powerful family. Case in point, just a few months earlier, the Gaspard siblings had had a crazy ex-friend—also the ex-fiancé of Rémy’s sister—who’d ended up trying, repeatedly, to murder them. He was still awaiting trial.

“That does make sense,” Marina agreed, nodding slowly. She thought of how she and Annelise had been struggling over the past months to make time to get together even once every couple of weeks. Marina totally understood that Anna had been caught up in not only the intensity of a new romance but also in being introduced as a member of ‘the Gaspard family’. Marina wasn’t offended—of course I’m not—but she missed Annelise. Plus, not meeting her best friend for lunch or drinks as often anymore had made her own small studio apartment seem so much emptier.

That was part of what had made Annelise’s invitation to tonight’s party so important—so much so that Marina had gotten a little uncharacteristically nervous. It was a small, exclusive event only for close friends and contacts of the Gaspards and also an unofficial celebration of Rémy’s oldest brother, Pierre’s, expected reentry into society. Marina wasn’t sure what had been going on, and Annelise had been maddeningly vague, but Pierre had been letting everyone else shoulder the lion’s share of the family obligations for months while he mysteriously wasn’t around. Personally, her guess was that he had been hanging out on the family yacht off the coast of St. Tropez with a revolving door of supermodels. Whatever the reason, he was finally deigning to come back at tonight’s event.

At that thought, Marina’s previous anxiety started to ramp up again, but she took a deep breath and straightened her spine. I am smart, fun, beautiful and Annelise’s best friend, she reminded herself. This is for Anna, and if they don’t like me or think I’m good enough, it won’t be because I haven’t given it my damnedest. As though feeling her tension, Annelise squeezed her hand reassuringly as they walked toward the brightly lit ballroom with unmistakable party sounds coming from it, and Marina raised her chin with a confidence that she wasn’t sure she totally felt. It was showtime.

Two hours later, Marina was shocked to find that she was actually having fun. Clothilde, Annelise’s future sister-in-law, was kind, down-to-earth and had a wickedly sharp wit that made her feel like an instant friend, in spite of the fact that she looked like she should be on the cover of a high-fashion magazine. Actually, Marina seemed to recall that Clothilde had been on the cover of several women’s magazines in the past. Luc, who was Rémy’s younger brother, had flown in from Paris just for the event and he was absolutely charming, but in a genuine way. He was handsome, funny and his light flirtation had made her giggle and blush.

Still, so much dancing and socializing had worn her down a little bit, so when Rémy had asked Annelise to dance again for the umpteenth time that evening, leaving Marina alone for a moment, she had seized her chance to sneak away and rest her feet. Not that she was ungrateful—no, it gave her warm fuzzies to think of how attentive Rémy and his family had been to her all evening, obviously determined not to let her feel awkward or nervous for a second—but she was just a little overwhelmed. This was Annelise’s scene, not hers, and her cheeks were starting to hurt from smiling as much as her feet were beginning to ache from spending too long in high heels.

She ducked into the dark hallway behind the ballroom and noticed that the rooms were labeled with the names of prominent Bostonians from the past. They looked like conference rooms, and she nearly sighed with relief. No one was likely to be having a conference at this time of the evening, so she could take a little break in peace to pull herself together again. She opened the first heavy, dark-wood door, which was surprisingly well-oiled and silent. Even with the lights out, she could make out the outlines of several chairs surrounding an enormous table. Definitely a conference room. Perfect.

She pulled the door closed behind her and let out a long sigh, stepping out of her shoes immediately and relishing the feel of the cool hardwood floor underneath her stockinged feet. If she were honest with herself, it wasn’t just the physical strain of the party she’d wanted to escape. It was also the brilliant, effervescent happiness and love that she had felt radiating from Annelise and Rémy. She was overjoyed for her best friend—absolutely, I am—but here in the darkness, alone, she could admit that she was envious, too. The hole that remained in her soul, the slash of pain whenever she remembered the beautiful, wonderful man she’d loved and with whom she’d planned an entire lifetime of happiness, ached and throbbed more than any physical wound ever could. Oh, Jaime.

She could picture his face vividly, although now, after so much time, she hated that he was starting to look more and more like the pictures she had of him and less like the man in her memories. He had been young—so incredibly young. She’d been cheated by a stray bullet, friendly fire during a skirmish, out of knowing what he would look like any older than twenty-one. What would he have looked like if he were as old as the woman she saw in her own reflection these days? Would he even recognize her, dancing in a ballroom with multiple men in tailored suits, sipping champagne and eating foie-gras and caviar canapes from silver platters, offered by tastefully dressed and silent waitstaff? Joking and flirting with Annelise’s future brother-in-law as well as several of the other charming older men who were friends of Rémy’s family?

That was the crux of her tiredness…the reason she’d needed to escape. What the hell was she doing, enjoying herself like this when Jaime was cold and buried in the Virginia ground, still wearing his dress blues? And when she’d sent him away the way she had… But she refused to even start to think about that tonight. She tried not to cry anymore, and most days, she succeeded. But this evening, watching Annelise with her fiancé, wrapped up in his love at every moment, had made Marina feel fragile all over again. As if Jaime’s loss were closer tonight, somehow.

She felt for and made contact with the closest chair, planning to sink down onto it.

“Unless you want to find yourself on my lap—which I’m not opposed to, mind you—you’d better choose another seat, chérie.”

Marina yelped and leapt away, her heart pounding up into her throat. The man’s voice had been deep, raspy and amused, and she might have found it sexy under other circumstances. However, alone in a dark conference room behind doors that had looked extremely thick was not the right circumstance for anything but terror.

“Why didn’t you say anything when I came in?” she finally managed to ask, wincing at the accusation in her tone. She heard a rustle and could almost feel his shrug.

“I hoped that you would leave quickly, and I didn’t want to startle you,” he answered simply.

His answer made sense, but Marina was irrationally annoyed. “What are you doing in here, anyway? Who would leave a party to come sit in the dark?”

His chuckle was dry, and goosebumps raised on her arms. “Who indeed?”

She pursed her lips. “Touché,” she acknowledged.

“I’ll reveal some of my demons if you show me yours.” His tone was mocking as he echoed the childish dare. She couldn’t help the way her pulse quickened, as though he were offering to show her something illicit.

“No thank you.” She winced at how prim her tone was, but the stranger’s amused chuckle rolled through the small room.

“I didn’t think you would, but I hoped…” He trailed off meaningfully.

“I’m going to sit down in, uh, another chair,” she announced, trying to change the subject. “My feet are killing me from so much dancing.”

“Be my guest, chérie. Seat yourself anywhere you desire.” Again, his rough voice made his words sound like innuendo. She sank down onto the chair one over from his. “I can imagine your lovely feet must throb from those beautiful yet completely impractical shoes you wore earlier. I could rub them, if you’d like?”
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“What? Of course not!” Marina gasped, actually shocked at his audacity. “You can’t just…offer to massage a complete stranger!”

“Good point,” he answered in a reasonable tone. “Tell me a few things about yourself so I can offer again.”

She laughed in spite of herself.

His chair creaked as he leaned forward. She could make out his silhouette now that her eyes had adjusted, and from his frame, he looked to be very tall and muscular. A dark, spicy scent teased her nose, masculine and exotic.

“Here’s an easy question. Why did you leave the party? The Gaspards always throw the best… It’s expected.”

It might have been the shroud of darkness that caused her to pay such close attention to his voice, or maybe she was just attuned to him, but there was a curious tension in his tone.

“Apart from my feet starting to ache? I…had to get away from all the happiness for a bit. My best friend is engaged to one of the Gaspards—Rémy—and they’re blissfully in love.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Marina couldn’t believe she’d actually said them out loud—and to a near-stranger no less.

The man made a sound of understanding. “Ah, of course. And you love him, too?” There was a resigned sadness in his voice.

“What? No!” Marina denied instantly. “I mean, he’s great, and wonderful for Annelise, wonderful to her, but…no. I just—” She trailed off, not wanting to tell him about Jaime, not wanting to sound like the totally bitchy, selfish friend she knew she was being.

“You don’t like the Gaspards, then? It is common. They are notorious as well as famous.”

Marina noticed the stranger’s accent more on those words. He was obviously one of the French-Canadian guests, which wasn’t surprising, since they made up the majority of the party.

“I like the Gaspards. Or, at least, I think Rémy is awesome, and even though I just met his brother and sister, Luc and Clothilde, tonight, they seem great too. I’m not sure about the older brother, Pierre. I hear he can be a cold bastard.” She gasped again as she realized she’d been bashing one of the Gaspards to someone who was probably friends with all of them. “I mean, that’s the rumor, but…like I said, I’ve never met him, so I don’t really know,” she finished lamely.

Luckily, her companion didn’t seem offended. “The rumors are correct. Pierre Gaspard can be utterly ruthless when it comes to his siblings and their associates.”

Marina was so relieved that she didn’t pick up on a subtle warning in his tone.

“What matters is that your friend is happy, though, is it not? She must love the lifestyle her fiancé can provide for her.”

“Yes, she does. It’s like a fairy tale, isn’t it? And Annelise is the princess. She always loved pretending we were in a fairy tale when we were kids. I mean, nothing is perfect.” Marina thought of how Annelise had admitted that the lifestyle of being a Gaspard was filled with obligations. “But I’m sure they won’t be so busy handling so many public appearances and duties once Pierre gets back from wherever he’s been. Annelise and Rémy just want a little more time to enjoy each other.” She broke off suddenly, embarrassed again at how much she’d revealed. God, Annelise was going to kill her. She’d been babbling away into the darkness, and she knew part of it was nervousness, but also…the stranger just felt so easy to talk to.

“Ah, yes, the roaming Pierre. Tell me… What do Annelise and Rémy have to say about his whereabouts?” The question was probing. Marina ignored her growing sense of unease, which was buried by her curiosity. Maybe this stranger, who must be close to the Gaspard family, could finally give her more information about where the hell the oldest Gaspard brother had been.

“That’s the weird part. They don’t really have anything to say, but…I think they’re covering for something.”

“Oh yes?” her companion prompted gently.

Marina nodded, even though she knew her mysterious fellow guest would barely be able to see the gesture. “I suppose it could be something like he’s been sick—or maybe he’s an alcoholic or drug addict in rehab,” she speculated, really warming to the topic. “But my best guess is that he’s been living it up on one of their yachts, hooking up with supermodels and too busy partying to take care of his responsibilities.”

There was a long silence that stretched uncomfortably in the darkened room.

“Ms. Lopez,” he began, and Marina felt herself go cold at his use of her name, “I realize that you are new to this world and this level of society, and I am willing to make concessions to your ignorance. However, even you should be aware that as someone closely connected to my future sister-in-law, what you say might very well reflect back on my family.”

Marina felt like she was back in her family’s cozy little home, eight years old again, and being lectured by her nana, who’d just told her that she was disappointed and had expected better of her young granddaughter. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“You should know better,” the stranger continued, “than to speculate on where I have been and what I have been doing. If you can’t control your tongue and prevent it from gossiping, I will be forced to take countermeasures. Do you think you can manage never to gossip about my family again, especially to a stranger who very well could have been a reporter who’d be only too happy to print your comments as truth?”

Marina felt sick as the realization of who the stranger was dawned on her. The flighty, rich playboy she’d been talking about didn’t seem to be very flighty at all, and he was sitting right next to her.

“I apologize for my comments,” she said, feeling the heat of a blush creep up into her cheeks and continuing all the way out to her chest and even her arms. “I don’t normally speculate so much or say things like that to strangers, but… There’s no excuse. I didn’t think of the implications. I will be more careful in the future.”

Pierre rose, even taller and more imposing than she’d realized.

“I hope that you will.” His voice grew colder as he leaned over her chair. “I will do anything…anything at all…to protect my family’s reputation.” Marina thought he was finished, but he continued, surprising her. “Not because it is so precious to me, personally, but because it affects the welfare of thousands of employees who depend on us—on me—and who could be harmed by negative rumors.”

“I understand,” Marina answered, and she realized that she did. While she had focused on how much fun it must be to have so much wealth and power, their company and influence must also be a burden to manage.

“Good.” The word was clipped, and he sounded…disappointed? “Now, will you allow me to escort you to your vehicle?”

Dios, Marina thought. I’m being kicked out politely but firmly. If I don’t leave, is he going to call a bouncer? Does a social club even have bouncers, or does he bring his own? She stiffened her spine and rose with as much pride as she could muster while barefoot in a dark room.

“No, thank you. I can find my own way, Monsieur Gaspard.” She slipped her shoes back on at the door and made an intensely dignified exit.

As the door closed behind her, she thought she heard him whisper, “Too bad.”

About the Author Aurora is originally from the frozen tundra of the upper-Midwest (ok, not frozen all the time!) but now loves living in New England with her real-life hero/husband, two wonderfully silly sons, and one of the most extraordinary cats she has ever had the pleasure to meet. But she still goes back to the Midwest to visit, just never in January.

She doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t love to read, and has been writing stories since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has always liked the romantic scenes best in every book, story, and movie, so one day she decided to try her hand at writing her own romantic fiction, which changed her life in all the best ways.

Website | Goodread | First for Romance Author Page

Buy the book at your favorite online venue or First for Romance.


The Au Pair and the Beast by Aurora Russell – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Website who is celebrating the recent release of The Au Pair and the Beast. Enter to win a fabulous gift package and get a FREE eBook from the author!

Veronica’s new job comes with a darling little boy, a Gothic castle and…a beast?

When recently laid-off Francophile Veronica Carson is recommended for an au pair job by the elegant leader of her French conversation group, she isn’t sure what to expect—but a Gothic castle deep in the wilds of Maine is certainly not it. Still, she’s drawn in by her joyful little charge, Jean-Philippe, and even more drawn to his brooding father.

Ruthlessly successful businessman Alain Reynard has loved before and has no wish to repeat the painful experience. The tragedy of his recent past is still fresh in his mind, and he wants nothing to do with his son’s lovely new au pair. Despite his best efforts, though, he can’t seem to get her off his mind.

A passionate romance begins to blossom but is put to the test when painful reminders of Alain’s past return. As ugly rumors swirl, the truths of the past and the present collide. Veronica must decide if Alain really is a beast and, if so, whether she can love him enough to break through the dark memories and secrets that tether him to what once was.

Enjoy an Excerpt

“Wait… He’s sending his own car and driver to pick you up from the train station? And take you to his castle? How deliciously Gothic! It’s probably set high up on some cliffs, overlooking an impossibly picturesque view of waves crashing onto the rocks.”

Veronica quirked her lips into a smile at Katrin’s words as they crackled through her cell phone, the reception seeming to go in and out as she rode along. Her best friend had a pronounced flair for the dramatic, which had only been enhanced by a number of drama classes in college.

“Well, when you put it that way…it does sound pretty glamorous,” she laughingly agreed. “If it looks anything like that, I’ll definitely text a picture of the view, complete with fog and sea spray.”

Her friend’s answering chuckle was amused. “How does Madame Montreaux know this guy again?”

Thinking back on it, Veronica wasn’t sure the woman who led her French conversation group had ever actually told her…not specifically, anyway. “Weird. I’m not really sure… She just pulled me aside after our group one day and mentioned she’d heard about a job she thought I might be perfect for, you know, since she knew I’d lost my job when Dumfries & Partners was acquired. I got the impression—maybe just from her voice or something?—that he’s some sort of family friend, but she was super skimpy on details.” She drummed her fingers on her armrest as she considered. “I had to sign a confidentiality agreement before they even sent me the job description.”

“Hmm-m.” The one short word seemed filled with both skepticism and suspicion. “How old are the kids?”

“Just one child. A boy. I think he’s four… Not in school yet, but he goes to preschool.”

Veronica watched as the increasingly rural and wooded landscape flew by outside the window. The day was gray and dreary, but the beauty of the wilds of Maine was still undeniable. The well-modulated, incongruously feminine automated voice of the announcer came over the loudspeakers.

“Next stop, Grant’s Cliff. Grant’s Cliff is a flagged stop. Please notify the conductor if you are getting off at this stop.”

Excitement and nerves combined into one powerful spark that set off a flurry of butterflies in Veronica’s stomach, even as she stood and started to gather up her things.

“Sorry, K… Gotta go. They just called my stop. Call you later, okay?”

“Yes! Call, text, everything… I’ll be waiting impatiently to hear that you haven’t been chained up in this guy’s basement—or dungeon. Whatever. Be careful! And good luck!”

Cradling the phone between her shoulder and cheek as she reached for her bag from the overhead storage, Veronica barked a laugh, and it was muffled. “Thank you?”

“Anytime! Bye!”

“Bye,” Veronica answered, letting her bag drop into the seat and clicking to end the call on her phone. And it seemed it wasn’t a moment too soon as she caught the conductor’s eye and the train began to slow. She’d told him earlier where she was getting off and she was glad she had, since it didn’t look like anyone else on the train was making a move to leave. Grant’s Cliff was apparently not a popular destination.

“Right this way, miss.” The conductor’s weathered face creased into a kindly smile as he motioned her with one work-hardened hand.

“Thanks.” She gave an answering grin and slipped the strap of her suitcase over her shoulder crosswise, sliding it to her back so she could hurry down the center aisle more easily. “Am I the only one getting off?”

“A-yup,” he said, his Maine accent plain. She thought that was all he’d say, but as she stepped out of the open door onto the small platform, she heard him add, “Not much out here nowadays, apart from the castle and the beast.”

Startled, she turned back, but the doors had already swished closed and the train began to pull away. Okay then.

She turned back and surveyed the deserted station. It was really more of a booth set next to a concrete slab platform with steps leading up to it. The metal sign for the station name was no bigger than a street sign and looked weathered. The dreary day had given way to fog, and now that the train had left, the only sound was the muffled rustling of the wind through thousands of trees. Where the heck is the driver? she wondered. Even as she looked around, half of her mind was still on the conductor’s strange words. What did he mean by the beast? Why hasn’t anyone else mentioned it? Is this, like, a hotspot for sasquatch hunters? Or the home of a rogue grizzly? Wait! Are there even grizzly bears in Maine? She thought maybe there were only black bears. But still, a rogue black bear could definitely be a beast.

When someone’s gentle hand touched her shoulder, pulling her from her thoughts, she screeched and jumped what felt like three feet off the ground.

“Mademoiselle Carson? Veronica Carson?” The middle-aged man’s accent was unmistakably French, and he pronounced her first name as Vehr-oh-nee-ka. She quickly raised her hand to her neck where her pulse was still racing.

“Yes,” she nodded, a little breathless. “So sorry. I didn’t hear anyone.”

The man, who she noticed now was wearing a dark suit and even a driver’s hat, smiled understandingly. “The fog. When it is thick like this, well…everything is hushed.”

“Of course, that makes sense.” She was relieved at such a simple explanation.

He held out his hand formally. “Claude Hormet, in service to Monsieur Reynard for many years.”

She held her hand to meet his, and it was immediately taken into a firm handshake. “Nice to meet you, Monsieur Hormet.”

His smile widened at her pronunciation of his name, and she thought she saw surprise flicker in his eyes. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Mademoiselle. We were told you spoke French well, and I can already hear it, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I’m happy to switch over if you’d like, so you can really hear me.”

Monsieur Hormet smiled again. “I would enjoy that, but later. For now, I will escort you to the château.”

He took her bag from her and led her to a shiny, black Lincoln sedan that looked pristine in spite of the fact that it must have been at least thirty years old. He opened the back door, and once she’d slid onto the back seat, he gave a little bow before closing the door behind her. She didn’t even hear the trunk close after he’d put her suitcase in, and when they began to move, the ride was so smooth that it felt like they were floating.

Monsieur Hormet didn’t speak again, and sensing that it would possibly be considered too informal for her to initiate conversation, Veronica maintained silence as well. Instead, she took out her folder with a copy of her resume and list of references. She reviewed her notes again, but they were sparse. From the barebones details that had accompanied the job description, she really didn’t know a lot about the open position and still didn’t know anything more about her prospective employer than his last name, so she rehearsed again in her head what she could say about her experience.

She was so deep in thought, comfortable on the sumptuous leather of the seats, that she didn’t really look up until the car began to slow. Then…wow. The mansion that loomed before her was truly a castle, made of stone with towers and turrets. If it had had a moat and not located in Maine, she would not have been surprised if someone had told her it was from the Middle Ages.

She must have made some sort of sound because Monsieur Hormet caught her gaze in the rearview mirror.

“Ah, the château is beautiful, no?”

Looking back at the lines of the massive structure, Veronica noticed that they were surprisingly delicate as well. Large it might be, but this was also a masterpiece of artistry, balanced and elegant. Still trying to look at every part of the castle at the same time, she answered with enthusiasm, “Oh yes, absolutely gorgeous!”

They pulled up right to the front steps, and Monsieur Hormet came around to help her out of the car. The air that buffeted her face was cooler than at the train station, damp and heavy, carrying the unmistakable salty tang of the ocean. She curved her lips into a small smile when she heard the distant crash of waves on something. Katrin was going to be overjoyed that her guess had to be at least partly correct.

“If you’ll follow me, Mademoiselle, I’ll show you to the large salon.” Monsieur Hormet glanced at the front windows and nodded slightly at some small movement inside. “Eveline will let Monsieur Reynard know you’ve arrived.”
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Still craning her neck as discreetly as possible to see everything at once, Veronica followed him up a large number of stone steps and into the château. She had only a glimpse of the enormous entry hall before they went down a spacious hallway into a room that looked like some sort of formal parlor. There were several seating areas around the room, and he motioned for her to sit in a straight-backed armchair in the cluster nearest to the windows. Even with the fog, she could still tell that the windows here overlooked the ocean. A gray-green expanse of icy-cold Atlantic water, the view looked imposing rather than inviting. She loved it.

Fighting the urge to press her nose to the glass of the windowpanes, she sat down on the chair instead in what she hoped was a professional, dignified manner. She took out the folder once again and waited. An ornate gilded clock, which looked like an antique that would have been at home in the art museum in Boston, ticked, and the sound was loud in the otherwise-silent room. At the snick of the door handle turning, she leaped to her feet and turned to greet her interviewer. The figure that entered was considerably shorter and faster than she’d expected, though.

As he barreled toward her at full tilt, Veronica saw that the little boy had a mass of golden-blond hair, bright blue eyes and cheeks that glowed pink with good health. His happy face was dominated by a huge grin. She braced for possible impact, but he stopped abruptly right in front of her and eyed her curiously.

“You’re pretty,” he said in French, “but I don’t like your coat. I’m not supposed to say ‘hate’ or ‘ugly’.” He looked up at her expectantly.

Veronica stifled a laugh as she darted a glance down at her suit coat. It was something she’d bought for interviews, and she internally agreed that it wasn’t the most attractive thing she owned—more about practicality than fashion. But still…

“It sounds like you’re doing a good job listening, then,” she answered in French, skirting around the question. She set her folder, which she’d still been clutching, on the seat of the chair and crouched down so she was eye-level with the boy. “What’s your name? Mine is Veronica.”

“Jean-Philippe. Yvette says you’re here to take care of me, but only if Papa likes you. I don’t have a maman. She died. Our dog died too. Sometimes I get sad and cry and Papa says that’s okay.” Veronica’s heart clenched at the childish words, but she fought another laugh at what he said next. “Did you bring a present? Papa always brings a present and hides it in one of his pockets. Oncle Marius too. Is that why you’re wearing that coat, to hide presents?” He eyed her outfit with more enthusiasm.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jean-Philippe,” she answered, then shook her head regretfully. “I didn’t know, so no presents today, but I promise that if I stay, I’ll bring you something next time I go into town. How’s that?”

He bobbed his little head as he nodded, making his fine blond hair glint, even in the dim sunlight from the gloomy day. “That sounds good,” he agreed. “I hope you go to town soon.”

She couldn’t have hidden her smile this time if she’d tried, so she didn’t bother. Another noise made her look up again, toward the door, where a young woman stood, looking a bit harried. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, as if she’d been running. She wore some sort of uniform dress, not black-and-white but something about it made Veronica think she might be a maid or housekeeper. Her look at Jean-Philippe was a mix of exasperation and affection.

The man who entered on her heels, though, made Veronica shoot to her feet and straighten her back. He was tall, probably close to six-and-a-half feet, and his shoulders and chest were broad and muscular. He wore a suit that must have been custom-tailored to fit his large frame so perfectly, and he exuded an air of pure power. Confidence. She would have had to be blind or utterly oblivious not to feel an awareness of such a man.

Where his frame and his very presence seemed to fill the room, it was his face that really captivated her. Dark, wavy hair framed the most attractive face she thought she’d ever seen. He wasn’t what she would call handsome—his Roman nose was just a little too prominent—but his features were masculine, strong and absolutely stunning. His eyes, which she could tell even from this distance were a deep brown like melted dark chocolate and framed with thick dark lashes, seemed to see all the way into her from across the room. She felt goosebumps rise on her arms and up her neck, and she couldn’t seem to tear her own gaze away.

When he started to move, whatever spell that was keeping her silent was broken. To her surprise, she noticed that he walked with a cane in steps that looked like they carefully concealed pain.

“Oh, Monsieur, I’m so sorry. He got away from me when he was supposed to be following me,” the young woman apologized to the man who she guessed must be Monsieur Reynard.

He inclined his head slightly, and although his face remained impassive, Veronica somehow got the impression of tolerance.

“I understand, Yvette. You may return to your regular duties.” His voice was deep and rumbling, full of gravel. It rolled through the quiet room, filling every corner, though he spoke quietly.

The young woman gave a little bow and hurried from the room gratefully, leaving only Veronica, Jean-Philippe and Monsieur Reynard.

“Papa!” the little boy exclaimed, confirming Veronica’s guess at the identity of the man. She saw him grimace almost imperceptibly as his little boy crashed into his leg in a show of preschool affection.

“I see you’ve met Miss Carson, my son,” he said, looking at Veronica as he tousled the baby-fine mop of hair.

“Oh yes! Do you like her? Is she staying?”

The question fell heavily in the quiet room, and Veronica turned to pick up the folder again.

“I brought a copy of my resume and a list of references—”

“No need.” Monsieur Reynard interrupted her, gesturing with his hand as if to wave her words away. “I’ve seen enough. The job is yours.”

Veronica’s mouth fell open. “I, uh… We just met.”

He raised his dark eyebrows. “So we did.”

She shook her head. Why was he making her so unsettled? Good Heavens, she was usually more articulate than this! “I mean, you haven’t interviewed me. Don’t you want to know…more?”

He shrugged and inclined his head to one side. “Mademoiselle, I’m known for being a good judge of character, with very few exceptions. It’s part of what has made me so successful. Jean-Philippe needs someone who is good with children, experienced and speaks French. From what I heard, you are all of these things.”

Veronica felt a warm flush rising up her neck, straight to her cheeks then right on up to her hairline. For some reason, the idea of not being aware of this man, with his outsize presence, made her beyond flustered. “You were listening?” she asked in a voice that was, she congratulated herself, almost normal.

He shrugged in a wonderfully Mediterranean way. “Not on purpose, but the door was cracked open and sound carries down the hallway.”

Mentally replaying her conversation with Jean-Philippe, Veronica couldn’t figure out what she could possibly have said to warrant this instant acceptance. “And I said enough to give you such confidence?”

She thought she had gotten over her initial shock of awareness at how very handsome he was, like someone jumping into cold water who starts acclimating. She was wrong. When he turned the full force of his dark, soulful eyes on her and turned up the corners of his mouth in what might have been the beginnings of a smile, she nearly had to catch her breath. She felt the goosebumps rise again all over her arms.

“You did pass the background check with flying colors, and you must know your accent is beautiful. But mostly, you didn’t miss a beat when my son insulted your er…ensemble.” He motioned tactfully to her suit and she opened her mouth in indignation, only to snap it shut at his next words. “I truly believe you to be a young woman of good sense, patience and kindness. Those are qualities I value beyond all others.”

His praise warmed her and was so close to describing the kind of person she hoped she was that she felt like another piece clicked into the odd connection she might be starting to feel with him.

“Thank you. In that case, I accept the position.” He didn’t return her smile, but she thought maybe his eyes crinkled the slightest bit at the corners.

“I’ll have Monsieur Hormet bring in the paperwork. Come along, Jean-Phillipe,” he said, turning and making his slow, deliberate way to the door with a gait she suspected concealed very-well-hidden pain. Jean-Philippe overtook him to sprint out of the door before his father.

All in all, Veronica was feeling pretty darn satisfied and relieved at avoiding the stress of a real interview when she heard Monsieur Reynard’s last words before he left the room.

“Such a relief to meet a young woman who doesn’t trouble herself too much over her clothes.”

About the Author: Aurora is originally from the frozen tundra of the upper-Midwest (ok, not frozen all the time!) but now loves living in New England with her real-life hero/husband, two wonderfully silly sons, and one of the most extraordinary cats she has ever had the pleasure to meet. But she still goes back to the Midwest to visit, just never in January.

She doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t love to read, and has been writing stories since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has always liked the romantic scenes best in every book, story, and movie, so one day she decided to try her hand at writing her own romantic fiction, which changed her life in all the best ways.

You can find out more about Aurora at her website.

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