All text and photos © Louise Marley unless otherwise stated Site Design: Seaweed Hut
Jemma Stortford opened her eyes and wondered where the hell she was. Blearily she gazed up at the painting of Aphrodite, romping across the ceiling with Adonis in glorious Technicolor. No one else had Greek gods gambolling through their bedroom. For once, she had fallen asleep in her own bed.
She sank back beneath the sheets and closed her eyes, pulling the duvet up around her ears. Bliss, perfect bliss. The panic only set in ten seconds later, as she became aware of someone else’s deep, rhythmic breathing. Tentatively she lifted the bed sheet - and found a man asleep beside her.
He had flawless olive skin, an unremarkable straight nose, a square jaw and short, dark hair. Totally relaxed in sleep, he looked untroubled, curiously vulnerable, but devastatingly handsome. And Jemma was pretty confident she had never seen him before in her life.
As she attempted to remember what she had got up to last night, Jemma began to feel a lot like Dr Jekyll, the morning after. At least she was still wearing her T-shirt, jeans and boots (she had gone to bed in her boots?). She might be able to throw off her clothes in wild, drunken abandon, but she doubted very much that she would be able to throw them back on again.
The subject of her scrutiny suddenly yawned widely and opened eyes the colour of maple syrup. It took a moment for him to focus on her and, when he did, he abruptly pushed away the bedcovers and sat up.
“Who the hell are you?”
“More to the point,” grumbled Jemma, tugging the bed sheets protectively back up to her chin, “who the hell are you?”He looked around her bedroom with growing disbelief, taking in the turquoise walls, emerald drapes and magnificent painted ceiling - which looked as though it had been scraped off the Sistine Chapel - and ran his hand through his dark brown hair, unwittingly spiking it up on end.
“This is not my house. What am I doing here?”
“Maybe you were abducted by aliens?” suggested Jemma, burrowing back beneath the duvet. Having woken up in strange beds many times, she could relate to his embarrassment. Although at the moment he didn’t appear in the slightest bit embarrassed. She could see he was fully dressed too - casually, in jeans and sweater. So they hadn’t had sex … Jemma wondered why - and began to feel piqued. Hadn’t he found her attractive?
He was first to interrupt the resulting awkward pause. “So,” he began, smiling beguilingly. “Are you going to introduce yourself?”
Even better, she thought sourly. He didn’t want her for sex; he wanted to be friends. More to the point, he probably wanted her to cook him dinner. Men! She thumped the pillow into a more comfortable shape, wishing it was his head. Why didn’t he just get lost? Except all indications pointed to the unassailable fact that he already was.
Begrudgingly she stuck her hand from under the duvet. “Hi,” she grunted. “I’m Jemma. I live here.” She attempted to pull her hand back into the warmth of the bed but found he wasn’t letting go so easily. She was forced to make eye contact.
His voice was deep, amused and faintly accented. As she raised her head to look at him, she realised just how devastatingly handsome he was. If she had met him anywhere else she would have been delighted to have got off with such a hunk but, at the back of her mind, lurked the worrying thought that he could be a mad axe-man. He was certainly mad - dressed from head to foot in black. Wait ‘til Isabel found out she had got off with a Goth.
As she appraised him, she felt a slight twinge of recognition - although that was impossible. She had never met him before - had she? She sincerely hoped he wasn’t one of her girlfriends’ boyfriends. She’d been in trouble for that before. Best-case scenario: they had met at the Parson’s Collar wine bar on the quayside last night.
She had another attempt at retrieving her hand. “Do you know the Parson’s Collar?”
“I’m not a great fan of boy bands,” he replied, still keeping a firm grip on her fingers.
She tugged ineffectively at them for a few moments. If he didn’t let go soon, she would have to resort to all-out arm-wrestling. And he needn’t think she wouldn’t.
Perhaps she should brazen it out.
“Look,” she began, regarding him directly so as to appear sincere. “This is a bit awkward for me. I mean, it’s not as though I make a habit of this sort of thing.” Much. “Tell me, where did we meet?”
There seemed to be the slightest hint of laughter hovering around his lips, yet he remained remarkably straight-faced as he said, “I haven’t the slightest idea. Is it important?” He raised her hand, not taking those dark, seductive eyes from her own, before gently kissing her fingers, one by one.
Jemma felt the thrill of reciprocated lust hit home. Was he this full-on all the time? Not that she was complaining. Although it was starting to bug her that she couldn’t remember picking him up.
“Did we meet at the wine bar down the road?” she persisted.
He shrugged apologetically. “Maybe … ”
“I didn’t order pizza, so you can’t be the pizza delivery guy.” Aware how silly her conversation was becoming, she attempted to joke her way out of it. “And if you’ve come to read the meter, you’re seriously lost!”
“Dr Livingstone, I presume?” he grinned, and his mouth unexpectedly landed on hers.
Either he was in denial or he had grown tired of being interrogated. Jemma recognised an evasion tactic when she saw one. She still kissed him back. She had never pretended to be perfect.
It was a full five minutes before she remembered that he might be a mad axe-man and pushed him away. “I don’t know your name … ”
“Short for Nicholas?”
“Long for Nic.” He bent his head again, covering her face with butterfly kisses.
She turned her face away and his tongue slipped into her ear by mistake. “That still doesn’t tell me who you are?”
He paused, faintly exasperated. “Who would you like me to be?”
“Someone I know?”
He leant back on his elbow and laughed, his breath fanning her cheek. “Not some crazy stalker who broke in here while you were asleep?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“OK,” he said, settling himself back against the pillows. “My life history. I’m twenty-six years old. I’m an impoverished writer - the inky fingers are probably a dead give-away. I adore music, movies and takeout pizza. I can’t see the point of sushi, hate nine-to-five routine and despise boy bands, as you know. My starsign, so I am reliably informed, is Scorpio.”
“How weird, so is mine. We have something in common.”
“But not as much as I’d like,” he said, and leant over her again.
Jemma was just starting to feeling like heaven really was a place on earth when she realised the sky outside had grown darker.
Nico, who had been contentedly occupying himself by kissing his way down her neck, noticed she wasn’t as enthusiastic had she might have been.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’ve got to go to a party. It was supposed to start at eight-thirty. I’m late.”
He didn’t seem to think that an earth-shattering problem. “So cancel.”
“I can’t,” she muttered, ignoring the little voice in her head chirping: you can, you can! “It’s my best friend’s birthday party. It wouldn’t be fair to cry off.”
He let out a huge sigh, flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “I see.”
No, he didn’t see. All he could see was her giving him the brush-off. She opened her mouth to try to explain but by now he was climbing out of bed and looking around for his shoes. She noticed his sweater was cashmere so he couldn’t be that ‘impoverished’ - unless he had a wealthy girlfriend/wife in the background?
He found his shoes beneath her bed and slid them on, before turning to check on his reflection in her mirror.
“Do you think it’ll be all right for me to turn up like this?” he said.
She regarded him blankly. Now she had become his style consultant?
“To this party of yours,” he added.
“Did you want to come with me?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said. “Why not?”
A Girl’s Best Friend
Are diamonds really a girl’s best friend? Danielle van der Straaten thinks so. Her
boyfriends cheat on her, her sister drives her mad and her father only wants to see
her married with children - despite all the work she’s put into the family jewellery
business. Diamonds are the only thing she can rely on.
Her sister, Isabel, doesn’t care about diamonds, provided she has something sparkly to wear to a party and a gorgeous man to dance with. Life is for living and having fun. And if their money disappeared tomorrow? She’d be in serious trouble.
Jemma Stortford finds it hard seeing Danielle and Isabel living the life that should
have been hers. But when she wakes up one morning to find the handsome Nico Morales
in her bed, it appears her luck has finally changed. But is Nico who he claims to
be? And why is he so interested in the van der Straatens?
As the three women are about to find out, sometimes diamonds aren’t a girl’s best friend at all!
#1 Romantic Suspense #1 Movers & Shakers & Top 100 Bestseller (Amazon UK)
“Sparkling” Ireland On Sunday
“Witty, enjoyable, entertaining and clever” Woman’s Way Book Club