Here’s a sneaky peek at my just published romantic novel, A Moment Like This. I hope you like it.
Jenna Maitland managed one of her family’s three Yorkshire department stores, until the day she left to rescue her artist father, Daniel’s, failing London gallery.
But now a family crisis looms, and Jenna is asked to go to Cornwall to find her missing cousin, Joss. She needs to persuade him to give up his dream of being an artist and return home to Yorkshire, and take over the running of the family business.
Jenna immediately agrees, but is intrigued when the Maitlands’ new, charismatic company director, Gil Ryder, insists on driving her to St Ives. It doesn’t take her long to realise she’s falling in love with the man. But when an attractive blonde approaches her and warns her off, Jenna realises she’s not alone in bidding for Gil’s affection.
Word of Jenna’s arrival has quickly spread amongst the St Ives artist community, and when Joss realises she’s in town, he contacts her.
But despite Jenna’s best efforts to persuade Joss to return home, he refuses.
… Until news reaches them that Joss’s father, Isaac Maitland, has had a heart attack. There can be no further delay. They must return to Yorkshire.
Jenna Maitland was aware that he’d been watching her. If he hadn’t been so good looking she wouldn’t have been bothered, but this man couldn’t be ignored. She took in the immaculate dark suit, crisp white shirt and soft pink tie. Under his dark gaze she could feel her cheeks begin to burn.
Determined not to embarrass herself, she forced her attention back to wrapping the expensive limited edition Lowry print her customer had just purchased. But in her peripheral vision she was still aware of him moving about the gallery. Suddenly he turned and caught her looking at him. For a second Jenna’s professional response faltered, and she gave him a hesitant smile. The man’s appraising brown eyes flickered over her, and his mouth twitched in the trace of a responding smile before he turned away to wander back up the gallery. Every now and then he’d stop to study one or other of the collection of impressionist watercolours on display. Jenna suspected from his body language that he was simply marking time, waiting for her customer to leave before approaching her. It sent a deliciously icy tingle up her spine.
The woman had noticed him too, for more than once she had glanced back, her eyes lingering on the man’s wide shoulders, the dark, well-groomed hair.
Over the years Daniel Maitland’s Kensington gallery had become popular with the trendy London set, and some of them even recognized the quality of the artwork they purchased. Although Jenna had to keep her frustration in check when paintings she adored were selected purely on the merit of their decorative ability to fit into the colour schemes of smart city apartments. But this man wasn’t one of them and neither, she suspected, was he an art collector. She was intrigued to discover exactly why he was here in her father’s gallery. However, her customer seemed in no hurry to leave. The new print would be perfect, she told Jenna, for that space on the wall behind the desk in her husband’s study…or maybe above the hall table? She wavered, still unsure.
Jenna did her best to keep up, but man’s presence was disturbing. At last the customer picked up her package and turned to leave, throwing one final glance in the stranger’s direction. He waited until the door swung closed again before turning and strolling towards Jenna. For a long moment they faced each other, neither of them speaking…then he smiled, and Jenna felt herself go weak at the knees.
She swallowed. “Can I help you, sir?”
The compelling brown eyes were studying her and she felt her mouth go dry.
“I hope so.” His smile was slightly crooked, giving him a disarmingly rakish air, but his mouth was wide and sensitive. It was a nice mouth. “I’m interested in purchasing something for a new apartment, perhaps you could offer some advice?”
Jenna inclined her head in a gesture inviting him to walk with her through the gallery. She didn’t dare speak for fear her voice came out in a croak. What was wrong with her for heavens sake? It wasn’t as if she was a stranger to the company of attractive men – even devastatingly handsome ones like this. His eyes were still openly appraising, taking in Jenna’s smooth dark hair, her elegantly cut cream suit, and the expensive gold locket at her throat.
His voice was educated; its tone soft, but assertive, and there was the merest hint of an accent that Jenna couldn’t place. She crossed the floor, indicating they should carry on up the gallery as she described the paintings on display and told him about the artists.
Then he pointed to a black and white geometric design by a young artist her father was nurturing. “I’ll have this one,” he said.
She smiled, “Good choice. I’ll have it wrapped. Shall we send it on to you?”
They’d moved back to the desk and Jenna flicked through the red leather ledger, getting ready to take his address, but he said nothing and she looked up. Under his amused gaze she was in danger of blushing like a schoolgirl. She cleared her throat and repeated. “Do you want us to deliver the painting?”
“Can you send it here?” He put a business card on the large oak reception desk. Jenna picked it up, glancing briefly at the Covent Garden address before placing the card in the ledger.
He smiled, and laugh lines creased his mouth and the gorgeous eyes twinkled. He held out his hand. “I’m Gil Ryder.” He nodded back to the sign above the gallery. “I take it you’re not Daniel Maitland.”
“I’m his daughter, Jenna,” she said, a little more stiffly than she had intended.
He smiled. “I was just off for lunch, Jenna. Perhaps you could be persuaded to join me?”
The invitation caught her off guard. “I can’t leave the gallery,” she stammered, annoyed by the audacity of this stranger, yet intrigued by his cheek.
But the man was not to be put off. He tilted his head, brown eyes twinkling with mischief. “Come on,” he said teasingly. “Even the boss’s daughter has to eat.” He arched an eyebrow. “What do you say?
She glanced at the clock. It was nearly lunchtime, and Claire, the gallery’s assistant manager, would be coming on duty at any minute. If she let the man walk away now she might never see him again. Suddenly that seemed quite important. What was she waiting for? Of course she would let him take her to lunch. So ignoring the funny way her heart was flipping over, and avoiding his gaze, she shrugged and said. “Why not?” She’d expected they would walk to one of the excellent nearby restaurants, but Gil Ryder hailed a taxi and told the driver to take them to Covent Garden. She’d been to a couple of the bistros there, but the one he shepherded her into was new to her. It looked expensive. As they weaved their way through the tables she could feel Gil’s eyes on her back, and a tingle ran down her spine.
They both ordered steak with a crisp green salad, followed by a strawberry roulade. Jenna wasn’t quite sure what to make of this man. She studied his handsome profile as he turned to summon the wine waiter. He had a strong face, good firm jaw line – a man who knew what he wanted and was probably used to getting it.
He turned back suddenly and caught her studying him. His eyebrow lifted just a fraction and the hint of a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. Jenna felt the blush start in her throat and travel up to her face with alarming speed. She was trying not to look flustered but he reached across and caught her hand.
“It’s alright, you know,” he said quietly. “I can understand why you’re suspicious of me.” He released her hand and sat back, still watching her. “Maybe I was a bit forward inviting you for lunch when we’d only just met. And this place…” He flipped a hand around the room. “You’re wondering why I brought you to a place like this.”
He smiled suddenly and his eyes twinkled with such mischief that she felt her knees go weak again.
“Perhaps we should have come to somewhere a little less – ” The mesmerizing eyes narrowed as he searched for the right word. “- A little less ostentatious, maybe.”
She was about to tell him she didn’t object to their surroundings when he cut in again.
“It’s partly your fault, though, Jenna,” he said, waving his hand in a gesture to indicate her stylishly appearance.
“Where else could I bring such a lady?”
Jenna’s eyes examined his face. He was teasing her, but she didn’t care. She giggled. “I think you’re making fun of me.”
“Hardly,” he said, quietly.
Jenna felt the flush creep up her neck again.
The waiter arrived with the wine and after Gil had tasted a sample and nodded his approval, Jenna’s glass was filled. They sipped the delicious liquid, eyeing each other over their stemmed glasses until the food was served.
They ate in virtual silence, savouring the delicious food. The coffee Gil later ordered arrived rich and fragrant, and came with mint-flavoured chocolates.
Jenna stirred her cup, glancing up at him. “That was absolutely wonderful. I feel thoroughly spoiled now.”
He leaned forward, smiling. “Spoiled enough to want to do it again? His look was teasing but she knew he was being serious.
She wasn’t about to refuse, but to her surprise he lifted a hand to stop her speaking. “There’s something you should know before you answer that.” He put a hand across his heart and smiled. “I’m actually here as…well, as a kind of knight errant, I suppose.”
Jenna stared at him. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m here because your aunt Molly asked me to come.”
Jenna’s mouth fell open. “You know Molly?”
He nodded. “The plan was to persuade your father to go to Cornwall and find Joss.”
Jenna’s hands went up in a gesture of confusion. “Wait a minute. I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about. What’s all this about Joss? Can you start at the beginning?”
“I’m sorry. I thought you knew about all this.”
“All what?” She could feel her impatience rising.
Gil glanced around the restaurant. A few of the other diners were casting curious glances in their direction. “Look,” he said, “We need to take this somewhere more private.” He signaled for the bill. “I know someone just round the corner who’d love to meet you.”
Jenna said nothing for a moment, trying to work out what was going on. She thought he’d been attracted to her, wanted her company over lunch. It was all now looking like something completely different. Some Maitland family drama seemed to be unfolding all around her and she wasn’t sure she was going to like what this stranger had to tell her.
She gave him an icy stare. “I think you’ve got some explaining to do, Mr Ryder.”
“You’re right, it’s time I came clean.” He put his hands up in a gesture of defence. “But please don’t judge me until you hear the whole story.”
Jenna reached for her bag and stood up with him.
When they were outside he took her hand. “Come on,” he said, leading her across the cobbled piazza. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
They’d walked less than 50 yards when he stopped in front of an artisan craft shop, its window displaying an array of beautiful hand-made pottery. Jenna noticed the shop name – ‘Ryder’s’.
A bell tinkled as they went in and an attractive woman, with shining chestnut hair and smiling brown eyes, hurried forward to greet them. “This is Caroline,” Gil said.
Jenna’s mind flashed back to the Ryder name above the shop and struggled to fight down rising disappointment. The woman was older than Gil…but certainly not enough to be his mother. Was this his wife? She put out her hand and forced a smile. “I’m pleased to meet you Mrs Ryder.”
“Ms Ryder,” Caroline corrected. “I’m Gil’s sister.”
Jenna knew Gil was watching her and she glanced around the shop to cover her embarrassment. “You have some lovely things here.”
“Thank you. We’re lucky enough to be trusted with the work of some of the best craft men and women in the country.”
“Caroline knows Joss,” Gil cut in. “That’s why I wanted you to meet her.”
Jenna raised her eyebrow.
Caroline smiled. “Thanks to Gil’s constant invitations to Yorkshire, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with Molly and Isaac…and Joss and Francine, of course.”
“You’ve stayed at Fenfleet?” Jenna’s voice rose in surprise.
Caroline nodded, calling into the back shop for her assistant to take over. She led the way into a back room, and turned to fill a coffee percolator.
Gil said, “I should explain. I know the Maitlands rather well, in fact. I’m a director in the company. That’s why I’ve come down to London. Molly and Isaac are desperate to know Joss is alright, so I’ve – ”
Jenna threw up her hands. “Wait a minute! Are you saying Joss is missing?”
Gil tried to hide a worried grimace. “Not missing exactly…more like AWOL.”
Jenna recognized the old ‘Absent Without Leave’ saying and was horrified. “What do you mean AWOL. What about Francine…and the twins?” She watched as Gil’s eyes clouded and he heaved a deep sigh.“Well they’re not happy about the situation…obviously. But we’re all trying to support them while we get this thing sorted out.”
Jenna pressed her fingers to her temple, trying to make sense of what she’d just heard. This was her family Gil was talking about!
If you want to know how it all turns out, A Moment Like This is available here for download.
*Just a mention. Amazon’s ‘take a look inside the book’ facility appears to have done strange things with the fonts. Fortunately the download, and sample download, are fine. But please let me know if you discover otherwise. Thank you everyone.