Appleby Book 3
Sophie & Marc
He’s a wealthy barrister and lord of his own English manor, but Marc Lewis desperately needs a wife. A duchess or countess will do but a simple village girl will not.
Life has taught Sophie Harrington that no man will ever choose her. But when one day fate throws the hottest man ever at her, this little village mouse can’t help but sit up and roar.
Irresistible attraction sparks, and Marc is more than willing to spend a few nights in Sophie’s arms. But the closer they get, the more Sophie’s heart becomes entangled.
She’s not what he wants, but can she convince him to choose her for a lifetime?
– STANDALONE contemporary romance with steamy love scenes (readers 18+)
Read sample chapters below.
“ This goes down as one of my favorite storylines. I absolutely loved every bit of this story, it captivated me from the start.” (Amazon US, May 09, 2017)
“Could not put the book down. The plot kept me on the edge with all the twists and turns and dealings with royalty. There ends up being a couple of HEA’s in this book. You will adore Sophie.” (Amazon US, April 30, 2017)
“This book definitely has everything I could ask for in a story.” (Amazon UK, May 05, 2017)
“An absolutely fantastic book. I was drawn by it from the beginning till the end and I couldn’t put it away. A great story with a lot of action. I will highly recommended it to everyone.” (Goodreads, May 01, 2017)
Not everyone makes it past the doors of London’s Bourbon Bar. Not unless the owners want you there. Marc Lewis placed his drink on the polished counter and glanced around. The place was notoriously exclusive, but people were still pouring in fast on a grey Thursday evening.
His own group stood chatting in clumps dotted around the bar. Senior barristers hanging out with junior admins, celebrating the win of yet another major case.
He sipped his whiskey. Giving his staff a coveted visit to the Bourbon as a thank you for their work was the least he could do.
“You’re quiet tonight.” Peters, one of the senior partners, came and sat on the empty bar seat next to Marc, his drink in hand. A thickset blond man in his early fifties, Peters floated through life with a happy-go-lucky smile permanently plastered on his face. “I heard today’s case was a bugger to close. Guess you need all the peace and quiet you can get to recover.”
Marc smirked. His black hair and black suit were perfect camouflage in dark corners when he needed it, but recovery wasn’t why he was lingering alone in the shadows tonight. He had things on his mind. Things he was chasing. Things he was close to getting, but still not close enough. “The day I need to recover from a case is the day you can burn my QC silk and bury me for good.” He took another sip from his tumbler.
“Don’t know how you manage these cases so casually,” Peters mused. Then he sat forward, his expression filling with curiosity. “The people who wanted you for this case… Orion Associates… They’re not who they claim to be, are they?”
“What do you mean?”
Peters cast a quick glance around before answering. “It’s one of the Messiah’s holdings, isn’t it?”
“You’ve been digging.”
“Yes… Well… Who wouldn’t be just a teeny bit curious? It’s spice in a dull life, eh?”
Marc grinned. “Dig too deep and you might get more spice than you can handle.”
Peters paused over his drink, taking that in, but his eyes popped with a burning question. “Did the big man himself call to congratulate you?” he blurted.
“You mean the Messiah?” Marc shook his head wryly. “That’s not his style.”
“But you’ve seen him. What’s he like?”
“If I tell you, I might find bits of you under a bridge tomorrow.”
Peters pulled back with a gulp, his light-blue eyes searching Marc’s sharper ones for the joke. Then perhaps finding it, he relaxed with an appreciative laugh. “Oh, you’re joking. You had me going there.”
Was he joking? Maybe. Marc sipped his drink and laughed along.
“Marc, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” The woman’s cultured voice had him turning.
“Renee,” Peters greeted her jovially. Then he looked from her to Marc. “Well, I’ll… um… leave you two alone.” And scooping up his drink he quickly made himself scarce.
Marc watched his fast disappearing back as Renee folded her tall elegant body into the seat Peters had vacated.
She’d joined his law chambers a month ago and hadn’t taken long to make a name for herself as a tough cookie. Her long chestnut hair, blue eyes, and beautiful features hid a keen analytical mind. Renee distracted men, and Marc wasn’t ashamed to say he’d used it to his advantage during a few cases.
But did she distract him? Renee probably liked to think so. And judging from Peters’ bumbling attempt at tact, the rest of his chambers seemed to think so too.
“Marc, there’s trouble with the Phillipios mining case.” Renee leaned towards him. “The Lord Chancellor’s office just got involved.”
Marc frowned. Typical. A major case comes along and every barrister and QC worth his silk schemed for it. He took a drink. “Let’s see how it plays out.”
“But it should be yours. The company wanted you. You know someone’s pulling strings.”
Yeah, he knew a rotten fish pulling strings when he smelled one. And that rotten fish even had a name. But it wasn’t a name he wanted to waste time on tonight. He smiled and indicated Renee’s empty hands. “How about a drink? What are you having?”
She laughed and shook her head at the change in topic. “What do you think I should have?”
Marc pretended to study her. “Cosmopolitan.”
“Interesting choice. Why?”
“It’s you in a glass. Good looking… strong… sweet… but hiding a knock-out punch at the end.”
“So that’s what you think of me.” She crossed one long shapely leg over the other, her slim skirt riding higher up her thigh. “I was beginning to think you hadn’t noticed.”
“I’d have to be blind not to.” He nodded at the bartender nearby and the man set to work preparing the drink.
Renee rested her fingers on his hand. “What are your plans for the evening?”
“I have a few loose ends to tie up.”
“Work?” She gave him an exasperated look.
Marc grinned. “As always.”
The bartender handed her the drink, and taking it she sipped the bright red cocktail.
Marc sat back and studied her: flawless skin, perfect lips caressing the glass, the press of her perky breasts against her cream silk top. Since his split from Clarissa Beauchamp two weeks ago, Renee had made herself more and more available. He was single and free, and she ticked every box for what he wanted in a woman. They could do this tonight. Dinner. Back to his London apartment. And then…
So why was he holding back?
Two men approaching the bar caught his eye. The short swarthy one in front looked like a transplant from the fifties in his fancy pinstripe suit. And the grim black-suited hulk walking behind was without a doubt packing guns. On instinct, Marc protectively edged closer to Renee.
“Marc.” The short one came up and held out his hand.
Marc gripped the man’s hand in a firm handshake. “Carl.”
“Good job today,” Carl said, beaming. “The boss chose you for it. He knew you would deliver.”
“Thank him for me,” Marc said.
“We have more work if you are looking for it.”
“My schedule’s tight, but if it’s something that interests, I’ll look it over.”
Carl’s white teeth flashed against his darker skin. “It is always interesting, but not something the courts would smile on, yes?”
“Thanks, but I don’t work on the other side, Carl.”
“That is a shame. This side is where the fun is.” He turned to Renee, who’d been listening avidly. “Renee, always a pleasure to see you,” he said brightly. “Stay and enjoy everything the Bourbon has to offer, yes?”
Renee’s eyes rounded. “Do I know you?”
“You should. Until next time, Marc.” Carl gave a parting grin and left with his over-muscled protector in tow.
“Who was he?” Renee whispered as soon as Carl was out of earshot. “And how did he know me?”
“He knows everyone who comes to the Bourbon. That’s Carl Anderson, or ‘Goblin’ if you prefer. He’s the Messiah’s right-hand man. They own this bar.”
“Carl Anderson…” Renee frowned in the direction Carl had gone. “He looks and sounds too Greek for that name.”
“I doubt the real Carl Anderson needs the name anymore.” Marc took his phone from his jacket pocket. “Though I’d bet he didn’t give it up willingly.” He checked the screen, but no message showed.
“What about tomorrow?” Renee’s quick question brought his attention back to her.
“Do you like opera?”
“Depressed singers in pantomime gear bellowing like constipated whales. What’s not to like?”
“Seriously? But you like classical music. You have it playing in your office all the time.”
So she’d been keeping tabs on him. “It helps me work.”
“Well, I thought you’d like opera too.”
“They butcher perfectly good music. The tone wobbles all over the place.” He regarded her. “Why are you asking?”
“I have tickets for tomorrow evening’s Rigoletto. I thought you might like to see it.”
“And I might have come just to keep you company…”
Renee smiled at that.
“…but I’m kissing civilization goodbye tomorrow to chauffeur my father to a backwater called Appleby.”
“Appleby?” Renee wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“No one has. It’s a blip on England’s butt. But my father’s keen to go, so I have to humour him.”
Renee laughed. “Wow, I didn’t realize you were such a caring son.”
“Caring…” Marc mused with a grin. “That’s not the label my father would use for me.”
His phone on the bar counter buzzed, and a message flashed on screen.
“Got to go.” Marc dropped the phone into his jacket pocket and standing, grabbed his black coat from the back of his seat.
Renee’s eyes narrowed in disappointment, and Marc shrugged on his coat with a frown.
He’d move this thing between them on to something more meaningful next time.
* * *
Bright street lights pierced the dusky darkness outside, and a light autumn drizzle covered everything in misty grey. Marc drew his coat collar up against the damp and strode past the London roads jam-packed with traffic and evening crowd.
Anson was waiting for him outside the old wood door of Marc’s law chambers. His trench coat was belted against the misty drizzle and his over-long brown hair was pushed back from his broad face.
“Found her?” Marc asked.
“Tracked her as far as Switzerland. But she’s zipping around Europe faster than a hornet on ‘roids.” Anson shifted his big bulk away from the door. “I’ll have to put my boots on the ground there to corner her.”
Marc’s eyes narrowed. “Is she alone?”
“Hard to say right now.”
Clarissa wouldn’t be alone. She always needed a man’s attention, and there were plenty of men to give it. But one particular man was always with her…
Marc clenched his jaw.
One man Marc had set his sights on ever since Clarissa ran to Europe two weeks ago. “Track her down,” he said. “But stay hands off for now.”
Anson nodded. “I’ll leave tonight.”
“Text me as soon as you have something.”
With another nod, Anson started to walk away but then looked back. “When I find her, then what?”
“Then the bastard with her had better start praying.”
Sophie Harrington closed her eyes and prayed for patience. This was going to be a long afternoon.
She’d desperately hoped for a pleasant time decorating the church for Appleby’s October Apple Week. Instead here she was, babysitting her two younger sisters who’d rather be anywhere else, and facing down a crabby nuisance who looked on the verge of staging a sit-in at the altar.
The joys of being the vicar’s eldest daughter.
She opened her eyes and the crabby old prune was still there.
“No! Not there, you silly girl.” Mrs Buchard fixed Anna with a squinty glare and jabbed her walking stick towards the church altar. “Put them in the middle. Otherwise how will anyone see them?”
Anna glowered at the spindly old woman and stuffed the forlorn-looking flower arrangement into Sophie’s hands. “It’d be a mercy if no one sees them,” she muttered, swiping her blue-streaked dark hair back from her eyes.
But her voice drowned beneath the rousing strains of Joy To The World being thumped out on the wheezy church organ to one corner of the altar.
“Eh? What? What did you say, girl?” Mrs Buchard cupped a hand to her ear and wobbled closer.
Sophie tucked back a strand of long dark hair that had escaped her practical ponytail and dredged up the best placating smile she could. “I’m sorry, but there’s no space for them, Mrs Buchard,” she shouted, and indicated the already overflowing altar where pink and white roses cascaded down the sides and front.
Good thing their father, the Reverend Ian Harrington, wasn’t allergic to flowers. Otherwise all his sermons over Apple Week would have been a string of sneezes punctuated by wild curses.
“Make space then!” The squinty glare now pinned Sophie. “Don’t tell me two fit young girls can’t sweep aside a few roses for my flowers.”
If they could be called flowers.
Sophie studied the arrangement in her hands. A bunch of bobbly purple eyesores—looking like a cross between someone’s privates and a queasy wasp—was surrounded by a collar of hairy green ferns. And it all sprouted willy-nilly from a fat green bucket. If she were to place the lot on one of the graves in the graveyard the dead would leap up in anger.
“I spent all of yesterday making it,” Mrs Buchard huffed. “I wanted flowers that were just the right colour for the altar.”
Sophie looked back at the altar. The autumn sun glinted jewel colours through the towering stained-glass window and dappled the roses in reds, blues and golds, but not a smidgen of purple anywhere. Red tulips or golden sunflowers made sense, but purple bobbly things? Still, the old woman had lavished time creating her beloved masterpiece, and Sophie hadn’t the heart to send her away disappointed.
Perhaps they could hide the purple horrors away at the back, behind a pile of roses, never to be seen on this earth again.
She gave Mrs Buchard a hopeful smile. “Let me see if I can—”
The organ clamoured to a stop, cutting her off. Joy To The World ended and the haunting notes of Liszt’s Dreams of Love soared into the air. One of her favourite tunes. Sophie glanced at the ancient organ where Kitty, her youngest sister, was sitting prisoner and thumping her belligerent way through tune after tune. Two notes dropped to be replaced by a bloop and a whistle from the organ pipes and Sophie winced, her musical fingers itching to get over there and play that music right. But Kitty looked up and catching Sophie’s stare, smirked, then with a toss of her long blonde locks, returned to attacking the keys with a vengeance.
Sophie wearily shook her head. They would have done better without the background music at this rate. Kitty wasn’t the most patient of musicians, but today she was outplaying even her worst, most likely to make their father regret ever trapping her there.
Their father had decided music would lend an air of relaxation as the flowers went up. Sophie would have gladly played since the organ was her special place in the church. But he’d stuck her with the organizing like the good little secretary he saw her as, and then he’d cajoled and threatened Kitty in equal parts into playing.
“Will you put them on the altar or not?” Mrs Buchard’s annoyed voice snapped Sophie’s attention back to her.
Sophie sighed and glanced at the altar again. “We could find space…”
But Anna quickly plonked herself in front of it, arms crossed, and a glare in her bright green eyes that said over my dead body.
Well fantastic. And shooting Anna an evil look, Sophie cleared her throat and tried bargaining. “They’re… um… unique flowers, Mrs Buchard…”
“Orchids. They’re orchids.”
“Oh, I see.”
Mrs Buchard tottered forward until she was eye level with Sophie’s shoulder. “I made this especially for you, my dear.” She gave Sophie a gummy smile. “Your mother’s been telling everyone how she despairs you’ll ever find yourself a nice young man. Twenty-five and still not chosen, and now with your younger sisters coming to attention too. It’s a sad state of affairs.”
Sophie’s cheeks flamed, but the old woman wasn’t done. “These will solve your troubles. It’s said that keeping a purple orchid in a maiden’s sight will quickly bring her true love to her. And in my ninety-two years, I haven’t seen it fail.” The beady eyes squidged up slyly. “It’s how I found mine.”
Sophie stared at her. Old Mr Buchard had died two years ago. Sure, that had been one long and successful marriage, and who didn’t want that? But for heaven’s sake, the ‘not chosen one’? Really? The entire village and her mother were labelling her as so desperate, they were even resorting to magical orchids now.
The music changed again. Dreams of Love died a violent death and The Pink Panther bonged onstage.
And as if that triggered an idea in her, Mrs Buchard gave Sophie another winning smile. “Why don’t you keep these orchids by that organ of yours? Then you and everyone can see them, and you’ll be swept off your feet in no time. There’s no reason why a pretty thing like you shouldn’t be attracting attention.”
“I’m not sure I’m looking for attention, Mrs Buchard,” Sophie said faintly, as Kitty’s Pink Panther had Anna glowering in the direction of the organ and mouthing ‘Are you crazy?’
Keep the dratted flowers on the organ, her own little corner of the church? No thank you. Not in a million Sundays.
“Of course you want attention!” Mrs Buchard snapped. “Now that your best friend has married, you don’t want to wither on the vine, do you?”
“I don’t want to wither anywhere.”
But even though she was overjoyed for Molly, who’d found her true love in Jake and jetted off on her Paris honeymoon a week ago, Sophie couldn’t help the twinge of envy that reminded her she was stuck here in Appleby, alone, while her childhood friend had an exciting new life and love ahead of her.
“Then do something about it,” Mrs Buchard said, poking her stick meaningfully towards the orchids in Sophie’s hands. “You won’t be pretty forever, you know.”
Sophie grappled with her patience. ‘Pretty’ belonged to her sisters who had every young man in Appleby swooning over them.
Life wasn’t fair sometimes.
She glanced down at her neat button-up white shirt and mud-brown tweed skirt. Her ‘church mouse’ uniform as her mother called it. She wasn’t pretty. She was practical. But practical was good. Practical meant you never had to worry about being sidelined.
Anyway maybe the problem wasn’t her. Maybe it was Appleby…
She pulled herself together. A little place like Appleby wouldn’t suddenly land her with Mr Right, magical purple orchids or not. It was village talk like this that had her feeling sorry for herself, and it didn’t help that her mother was the loudest of the bunch.
So to hell with everything. She didn’t need ‘Mr Right’. She needed life and excitement and a sunny spot outside her sisters’ shadows. And she’d ramp up her efforts to ‘persuade’ her father to let her find a job outside Appleby. He couldn’t expect her to live out her entire life as his church assistant.
But first she had to get rid of Mrs Buchard.
“It’s very kind of you to think of me, Mrs Buchard,” she said crisply. “I’ll find the perfect place for these orchids.” Mrs Buchard eyed her suspiciously and then eyed the church organ again, but Sophie stalled her. “I think flowers as special as these should go on the reverend’s desk, don’t you? In fact, I’ll go put them there right now.”
No man-snaring flowers were going up near her precious organ. And besides, best test them on their absent-minded father first. If he suddenly picked up an admirer or two, they’d know for sure the orchids worked.
Mrs Buchard nodded, apparently appeased. “Don’t overwater them. And make sure they’re kept nice and warm. And tell your father he’s not to sit right in front of them and block out their light. They like plenty of light.”
Sophie flashed a smile and nodded along, until finally, muttering to herself, Mrs Buchard tottered away to the church door.
Relieved, Sophie turned back to the altar. Anna was still gesturing wildly to Kitty, who stuck her tongue out and immediately swapped The Pink Panther for Yakety Sax.
“For God’s sake, Sophie, do something!” Anna shot her a frustrated look. “She’ll bury us in the Sabre Dance next.” Then her gaze fell on the orchids. “Nawp! Not here. Nuh-uh.” And spreading her arms wide she plastered herself like a prickly starfish in front of the altar.
“I wasn’t about to,” Sophie stated with heavy dignity. “I’m taking them to Dad’s office.”
Anna pulled a face. “Poor him. And you know the old hag was playing to your gullible heart with her tale of magical stud-catching orchids, right?”
Sophie bristled. Did she have idiot written on her face? Why did everyone insist on treating her like an imbecile? “Okay, you deal with Kitty… and any other flower-bearing busybodies who come along,” she snapped. “After all this palaver I need peace and quiet.”
And holding the orchid bucket out before her like it was contaminated, she hurried into the dark narrow corridor that led to the blessed solitude of her father’s office, and behind her Yakety Sax merrily chased bikini-clad women around trees.