AND NOW FOR A LITTLE TASTE OF MY NEXT BOOK...
‘…to the outsider it must seem a bit like a cross between the plot of a Catherine Cookson saga and a James Bond movie…’
So, Fleur Gilbert, a young mother responsible for a family business in trouble and with an ailing father to care for, describes the feud that has divided her family and the Hanovers for more than a 175 years.
In 1829, Bartholomew Gilbert and James Hanover had formed a partnership to buy land, build the glass houses and make their fortunes breeding Fuchsias, the exciting new plants introduced to Europe by Leonard Fuchs.
It was a very short-lived alliance. When James caught his pretty young wife in flagrante with Bart in one of the hot houses, the land and the plant stock were divided, high fences erected and battle lines were drawn. Thus began 175 years of intense rivalry, industrial espionage and sabotage. Then, one day, a red-haired pixie – the five year old Fleur Gilbert -- stuck her tongue out at the eight year old Matt Hanover through a gap in the fence.
The feud should have been finally buried on the day Fleur Gilbert secretly married Matt Hanover, but life has a habit of getting in the way of happy endings. Within a week of the wedding, Matt had left the village of Longbourne and Fleur has not seen or heard from him since.
Someone has sent him a photograph of Fleur’s little boy, Tom, and now he’s home to claim his son. And to make the boy’s mother pay for five lost years of fatherhood.
Here's an excerpt...
'You’ve asked me to wait for my son. I want something in return.’
‘Anything,’ Fleur said, eager to demonstrate that she appreciated what he was doing. The sacrifice he was making.
Matt reached out, touched her lips with his fingertips. ‘Anything?’ he repeated, so softly that she might almost have imagined it. But his eyes darkened, the very air stilled.
His touch was still magic, sending intense, luscious waves of desire swirling out from the point of contact until every centimetre of her skin was tingling, alive, responsive to an irresistible, siren call.
His mouth followed his fingers, tracing the outline of her lips, then his tongue stole the bones from her limbs and she was limp in his arms, beyond thought as his breath, soft and warm, brushed against her cheek and his hands cradled her head as if she were rare porcelain.
How often had she lived this moment, dreamed of it, yearned for just this touch as he tormented her, made her wait, reducing her to begging mush?
She did not know how she’d had the strength to resist him, do her duty, when he’d demanded that she leave with him the day after his father’s funeral. Maybe if he hadn’t been so angry. If he’d been prepared to listen, to take his time, to talk to her instead of just insisting she choose. Maybe if he’d touched her then, as he was touching her now…
A guttural sound escaped her lips. Need, desire…
‘Anything?’ he murmured again.
‘Yes, yes…’ And then she realised that he’d eased back an inch, that he wasn’t making love to her, that the only contact between them were his hands cradling her head, his thumbs tormenting the line of her jaw, brushing against an ear.
This wasn’t some precious memory she was conjuring up out of the past, but a callous proposition and Matt was waiting for an answer to the question he’d just posed with his mouth, his body, his hands.
‘Are you suggesting that I sleep with you in return for your patience?’ she asked, wanting to be absolutely sure what he was asking, her voice even, low – she’d had years, after all, to practise keeping her feelings under wraps.
‘Sleep?’ he returned, soft as a baby’s breath. ‘Could you actually spare the time to sleep with me?’
‘You just want sex, then?’
‘You’re my wife, Fleur.’
He wanted to punish her, she thought. He wanted to punish her for not loving him enough to leave her dying mother, her poor broken father, a business falling apart.
If he still had any feelings for her, the tiniest remembrance of how they had once loved one another, he wouldn’t be able to do that.
And with that realisation something inside her shattered. It couldn’t be her heart. She knew it couldn’t be that because her heart had been dismantled bit by bit. The day she’d told her father she was pregnant – and wouldn’t, couldn’t tell him who Tom’s father was. The day her baby was born and Matt wasn’t there to hold her hand or to lift his son high as a proud father should. The day she’d registered his birth, leaving a blank space where Matt’s name should have been. Each day since, watching her son grow, knowing that Matt was missing his first step, first word, first day at school. Each day that he didn’t come home.
This was different. All through those years she’d lived with the belief that one day he’d walk up to the front door. No apology, no explanations – she wouldn’t have asked for either – just be there.
What had shattered, she realised, was hope.
As Matt and Fleur battle with feelings too strong to bury, try to come to some kind of peace for the sake of their little boy, events overtake them and they discover that they are not the only ones with long buried secrets.
The Five Year Baby Secret, UK, April 2006
The Five Year Baby Secret, US, May 2006