Author: Alicia Stone
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 3
Marielle, single, restless and thirty-something is looking for a man. Can love compete with Fate?
The problem is the man she desperately wants and needs is not interested in her. He was once, but ten years ago she threw away their chance of happiness. Together again, Marielle and Peter discover how they have both changed and how much they have in common. Their attraction for each other is intensified, but can their love be rekindled? Can they risk everything for love? Affairs of the heart prove to be no match for the darker powers of Fate as Marielle’s very survival hangs in the balance.
Peter gestured with a slight inclination of his head to a free table in the far corner. Again Marielle didn't move so he led the way and she followed, wondering what she could possibly say. Should they talk about the past? No. The present? Jobs? Holidays? Family? The plight of the Euro? The gallery she'd been to? Peter had already placed her coffee on the table and was holding out a chair. Marielle sat, putting her slightly shaking hands out towards her cup, sipping the coffee, withdrawing her hands and putting them together in her lap to still them. She looked up, unnerved to see Peter watching her carefully as if he were searching for something. Irrationally, she found herself desperately hoping she wouldn't be found wanting.
She tried to brazen out the examination by returning his steady gaze. She dropped her eyes to the table confused. She was stunned by his dark intense stare. She was aware of a physical response to his presence that was becoming uncomfortable. Marielle felt herself redden as she remembered. Their last parting was so painful. Peter had been more mature than she, more self-possessed. She knew he wanted her on many levels. Her younger self was not ready for commitment. She'd been more than halfway in love with him but hadn't wanted to be tied down. After the split she wanted a clean break so she stayed abroad and travelled. She had relationships and moved on, remaining restless. She'd heard no news of him for years as their mutual friends married, had children and also moved on. This did not mean she hadn't thought of him in the last ten years.
Looking at him now she had the decided feeling she was the loser here. He was absolutely gorgeous, radiating the sort of good looks and energy anyone could appreciate. She tried to swallow and attempted a smile. Unable to gauge the result the silence grew. Marielle remembered he'd always been good with silence, which she laughingly acknowledged was not her natural state. The atmosphere was choking like dry ice. She was overwhelmed and tongue-tied.
Seemingly aware of her growing misery, he spoke. "So Marielle. How are you? How have you been?"
The question she dreaded was out in the open between them, an invitation to tell all. She was still speechless, thinking. This was like the early stage of a migraine where the words dance on the page. Nothing was making sense. It too much of an effort to order her thoughts and make a sensible reply. What did he want her to say? How was she? How had she been?
The stare became concerned. She felt tears come to her eyes. She fought to get a grip on herself. She wasn't the crying sort. Especially not in public or in front of a man she felt she'd treated badly long ago.
"Fine," she said, "I've been fine."
She looked defiantly at him and saw the corners of his mouth lift in a slight smile then the eyes lost their softness and he gave her a cooler appraisal. She wondered again what he saw and felt herself blush deeply. What was going on here? She was amazed but disconcerted by the depth of feeling he stirred in her.
"Drink your coffee," he reminded.
The hot strong coffee did nothing to ease the ache in her throat, but she mechanically obeyed. She felt like an awkward teenager. All her senses were heightened and she realised the adrenaline now surging through her would suffice until the coffee began to kick in.
"Have you been happy?" he asked, "Do you enjoy your freedom?" This was said with a hint of bitterness and irony as he looked at her left hand holding the cup.
She reached for Peter's hands and felt him shudder on contact. Did he feel revulsion or something more positive? She realised this was the first time they'd touched. She was aware of a thrill of pleasure, but great confusion, too. Why was this man affecting her so? Their relationship was long over, they'd said goodbye and moved on. Hadn't they both got on with their lives? He was staring at their hands, hers pale and small now enveloped by his. His hands were warm and capable and she felt an absolute and absurd excitement that they covered hers. She could feel no ring. Irrationally emboldened by this detail, she asked him where he lived, the first bland question to enter her head.
"I have a flat in Chiswick near the business. I run a small design business with a partner. He's out of town this week so I was having an initial meeting with a client here. He just left when I saw you...I saw you, Marielle, buying a coffee." He shook his head with a wry smile and a measure of disbelief.
She searched for something to say. Anything would do. Their cups were empty and she could not let him go. She felt such powerful emotions and a desperate urge to stay with him.
"Well then, we have finished our coffee, shall we go?"
What made her say that? How would her suggestion be interpreted? Would he think she wanted to leave and walk away or would he think she was making a more brazen suggestion?
He did not let go of her hand and they moved to the door. As if they were following a film script he hailed a taxi with confidence and assurance. The next thing she knew they were sitting inside, their bags on the floor with nothing but space and a decade between them.