Part of the 'In Her Shoes' mini-series ~ modern-day Cinderella's get their grooms!
This Cinderella's carriage to happiness awaits...
...dare Ellie take Mark's hand and jump aboard?
Outwardly, Mark's super-cool, uber-powerful, and can make or break careers - but it's the compassion beneath his public exterior that's reawakening Ellie's zest for life.
"A solid plot and great characters form the basis for an outstanding story. The author never strikes a false note, tempering poignancy perfectly with humour."
RT Book Reviews - Top Pick for April 2010! (4½ stars)
"An outstanding contemporary romance that will stay with you long after the last page is turned..."
"...this book touched me a great deal, and I won't soon forget Ellie."
All About Romance
"This was a sweet and emotional read that I felt didn't diminish either the loss nor the second chance at love."
Ellie gave in to the insistent nagging at the fringes of her sleep and woke up. She focused on the display from the digital clock next to the bed.
Two-sixteen—and she needed to go to the bathroom. But it was the first night in an unfamiliar house and she didn't really want to be crashing around in the dark, even if she was the sole occupant.
She punched her pillow and flumped onto her other side, burying her head under the duvet. She could last. Clamping her eyes shut, she shifted position again, wriggling into the mattress. The seconds sloped by in the thick silence. She lay completely still, counting her heartbeats.
Apparently she couldn't last. Bother.
She blinked and tried to see where the outline of the door was in the blackness of the bedroom. The dull green glow from the alarm clock lit the duvet but not much more. The edge of the bed was about as inviting as the edge of a cliff.
Ellie Bond, get a hold of yourself! A grown woman has no business being scared of the dark. Even in the kind of huge old house that looked as if it might have ghosts or bats in the attic.
She flung the duvet off and planted her feet firmly on the carpet, but hesitated for a couple of seconds before she rose to her feet and inched towards the wall.
Ouch! Closer than she'd guessed.
Maybe she should have paid more attention when she'd dumped her cases in here, but she'd been so exhausted she'd only managed half her unpacking before she'd fallen into the large, squashy bed.
She rubbed her shoulder and felt along the wall for the door. It was a couple of steps to the left from her point of impact. The antique handle complained as she twisted it millimetre by millimetre. She winced and opened the door slowly and carefully. Why, she didn't know. It just seemed wrong to be too noisy in someone else's house late at night even if they were away from home.
Ellie leant out of the doorway and slid the flat of her hand along the wall in search of the light switch.
Where was the stupid thing?
Certainly not within easy reach. But, as she crept along the hallway the clouds parted and sent a sliver of moonlight through the half-open curtains at the end of the landing. Bingo! She could see the bathroom door, right next to the window. She padded more speedily along the wooden floor, her bare feet sticking to the layers of old varnish.
Relief swirled through her as she scrambled inside the bathroom and yanked the light cord. A few minutes later she opened the door and froze. The moonlight had evaporated and she was left standing in the pitch dark.
Don't panic, Ellie. Think!
There had to be logical way to deal with this.
'Okay,' she whispered out loud, 'my room is the—' she counted on her fingers '—third on the left…I think.' All she had to do was feel for the doors and she would be back in that wonderfully comfortable bed in no time.
She tip-toed close to the wood panelling, letting her left fingers walk along the surface in search of door frames.
She meant to creep slowly, but with each step her pulse increased, adding speed to her steps.
She opened the door and made a quick dash for the bed. Ever since she was a child she'd had an irrational fear that some shadowy figure underneath would grab her ankles when she got close. She'd even perfected a sprint and dive manoeuvre in her teenage years. She decided to resurrect it now.
She tripped over a discarded shoe and stumbled into a solid wall of…something.
It was warm. And breathing.
There was somebody in the house! A burglar, or an axe-wielding maniac…
It was as if her brain short-circuited. Too much information at once. Too much to process. Thankfully, more primal instincts took over. She backed away, hoping she hadn't got muddled and that the door was still directly behind her. But she hadn't made more than two steps when a large, strong hand grabbed her wrist.
Ellie's stomach somersaulted and she froze. Without even thinking about why or how, she lunged at him, whoever he was, and shoved the heel of her hand under his chin, causing him to grunt and stumble backwards.
Mother, I will never moan about the self-defence classes you made me go to in the village hall again!
In the surreal slow-motion moment that followed, she wondered why a burglar would be bare-chested in March, but before the thought was fully formed in her head his other arm grabbed her and as he fell, taking her with him. She came crashing down on top of him and then they lay winded in a tangle of arms and legs on the floor.
Here, he had the advantage. She didn't know how, but she could sense he was taller than her and, if the chest she'd just landed on was anything to go by, he had five times as many muscles. Somehow as they'd fallen they'd twisted, and she was now partly pinned underneath him, her legs trapped. She started to wriggle.
I should have paid more attention at those classes, instead of gossiping at the back with Janice Bradford.
Because he obviously had no intention of letting her loose. In one swift movement he flipped her onto her back, his hands clamping both her wrists and digging them into the scratchy wool rug while his knees clamped her thighs together. The air left Ellie's body with an 'oof' noise.
She flailed and struggled, but it was like trying to dislodge a lump of granite. Eventually she lay still beneath him, every muscle rigid. His toothpaste-scented breath came in short puffs, warming the skin of her neck. Panic fluttered in her chest.
It dawned on her that her original assumption he was a burglar could be a tad optimistic. Things could be about to get a lot worse.
She had to act now—before he made his next move.
In a moment of pure instinct, she lifted her head and sunk her teeth into the smooth skin of his shoulder. Then, while he was yelping in pain, she used every bit of strength in her five-foot-five frame to rock him to her left, getting him off-balance, thereby gaining enough momentum to swing him back in the other direction. The plan was to fling him off of her so she could escape.
The plan was flawed.
He tumbled over, all right, but as she tried to crawl away, he got hold of her right foot and dragged her back towards him. Ellie tried to stop herself by twisting over and clawing at the rug, but large tufts just came away in her fingers. And then she realised she was travelling further than she'd scurried away. She was being dragged back towards the bed.
That was when she started shouting. A wave of white hot anger swept up her body.
How dared he?
'Get out of my bedroom!' she screamed. 'Or I'll—'
He was angry, but there was something more in his voice—confusion?
Harsh light flooded the room, accompanied by the click of a light switch. Ellie, peeled her face off the carpet and blinked a few times, desperate to focus anything that might give her a clue to where the door was. Her eyes began to adjust and she made out a bedraggled figure against the pale blue of the wall.
Pale blue? Oh, help! My room is a kind of heritage yellow colour.
She crinkled her eyelids until they were almost shut and swivelled her head to face her attacker. Through the blur of her eyelashes she saw a pair of deep brown eyes staring at her. There was something about them... Had she dreamt about a pair of eyes just like that before she'd woken up? Half a memory was lodged somewhere, refusing to make sense.
Ellie's chest reverberated with pounding of her heart and she felt the fire wash up her face and settle in the tips of her ears. He looked as astonished as she felt.
She had seen those eyes before, but not in her dreams. They hadn't been scowling then, but laughing, twinkling…
Ellie let out a noise that was part groan, part whimper as the memory clunked into place. She started to collect her limbs together and move away.
'I'm...I'm...so sorry! I got lost in the dark...' She shot a glance at him, but his face was still etched with confusion. 'I mean, I thought you were a—a maniac.'
He blinked. Something told her his assessment of her wasn't dissimilar.
'I know who I am. Who on earth are you?'
She licked her lips—they seemed to have dried out completely—and cleared her throat. 'I'm Ellen Bond, your new housekeeper.'
Copyright © 2010 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Copyright © 2010 Fiona Harper
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books SA.
Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. All rights reserved.
® and TM are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd and/or its affiliate companies, used under license.