I'm so pleased to feature my critique partner, good friend, and all-around great gal, Zee Monodee, today as my In The Spotlight author. Zee writes spicy, as well as sweet, romances about a melting pot of cultures. Today's featured book is Once Upon A Second Chance.
image provided by Mattox via stock.xchng
Leila Hassan Al-Nadir spent ten years in a forced, abusive marriage in the United Arab Emirates, before her husband divorced her... and another man stepped into his place to make her his wife. But before she can look at a future with this new man, he abandons her, dropping her off on the island of Mauritius in the care of his stepmother.
Khalid Al-Nadir wants nothing more than to be with Leila, his wife. But he hides a deep, dark secret – his intentions when he made her his weren’t noble. Despite falling in love with her in the end, he knows she will be better off without him.
Leila craves answers; Khalid desires salvation. Fate, in the form of Khalid’s stepmother, intervenes and sets this estranged couple up for a one night stand date with Madame Eve’s agency.
Can Leila and Khalid have a second chance, once they both face the truth that brought them together?
Excerpts (Zee sent me three to choose from and I liked them all so I'm posting them in order as they appear in the book.)
“Chérie? What’s the matter?”
Leila tore her thoughts from the dark memories and stared at the woman who had welcomed her into her home three months earlier. Before meeting Carole, she had never believed compassion existed, or peace thrived on a small island called Mauritius in the southern Indian Ocean. She’d known a life of fear and paranoia in her Arab father’s house in London, and then the United Arab Emirates household of Bashir Al-Arif, the man who had bought her virginity.
A sliver of remembrance sliced through her. She did recall something else. Tenderness, caring, gentleness—all of which she’d found one magical night with the man who saved her from her painful existence, when her first husband divorced her out of the blue.
The man who made her his wife...then drugged her before morning came and transported her all the way from Abu Dhabi to Mauritius, where he dropped her, still unconscious, into Carole’s care, before he vanished.
Don’t think of him. If she did, the tears would threaten to fall, the anguish would come back, as well as the desperation of knowing he’d saved her only to leave her even more alone than before.
“Ma chérie?” Carole raised a dainty porcelain cup in her direction.
Tea. The solution to all woes. The British thought so, and on their former colony of Mauritius, even French-origin natives needed their three o’clock fix.
Leila sighed and dumped her tote on a sofa before she stepped out onto the wide terrace facing the clear blue waters of the Grand Baie lagoon. In what was dubbed the Côte d’Azur of the island, on the northwest coastal tip, she didn’t stand out with her fair skin and flaxen hair. She passed for a tourist or even a member of the white descendants of French rulers who’d stayed despite the British seizing power over two centuries earlier. She shouldn’t feel like the odd one out here, too, like the pale foreigner she’d been in the UAE, but she did.
Leila was on temporary reprieve before the questions came. Carole poured her a cuppa.
No sooner was the drink in front of her than the inquisition began.
“So, the scarf again? You know you don’t need to wear it here.”
But he couldn’t go there. Leila deserved a new beginning and happiness. Everything she wouldn’t get as his wife. If she ever learned the truth, she would despise him, and he wouldn’t be able to bear her cold contempt. One glimpse of her, and he had lost the heart he never suspected he had.
The traffic light switched to green. Snapping out of his thoughts, he gunned the engine and swerved the car to the right in a screech of burning tires, away from the winding lane leading to her house, and toward his rendezvous for the night.
Carole’s work, once again. She had signed him up at a dating service called 1NightStand, and informed him he’d better be ready to go on the blind date Madame Eve would set up for him soon. She Carole knew he didn’t do casual sex, but insisted he step out and meet a girl. Full stop. As if things could be so simple with her involved. The woman had worked as a strategic analyst before she joined the board of directors of one of the biggest banking groups of the Indian Ocean. He was about to be played, but damn if he’d let her get the upper hand, even if she loved to pull the “paradise lies under the feet of thy mother” card whenever it suited her. No way out for him this time.
He glanced at bouquet of pink roses on the passenger seat. Madame Eve had informed him in her email that the person he was to meet loved these roses more than any other flower. He’d bitten the bullet and ordered the blooms, figuring they’d soften the blow of his rejection when he informed his date he had no intention of carrying out a one-night stand with her.
His step heavy on the polished teak floor, he trudged toward the back of the house. Pausing in the open panel of the sliding glass doors to the terrace, he caught a glimpse of the view. Blue waters sparkling even in the late afternoon, with the jutting tip of Coin de Mire island emerging from the sea in a giant chunk of basalt rock.
A postcard image of the north coast— an idyllic setting for a date. He chuckled at the irony. Why couldn’t he be like other guys? He lingered in a dream location, about to meet a woman who would be his for the night, and who would leave in the morning with no questions asked or hopes of anything beyond a few stolen nocturnal hours. He should jump on the opportunity.
And speaking of this woman, where was she?
Clutching the bouquet, he stepped onto the terrace, and froze. No, it cannot be....
She stood barefoot on the luxuriant green lawn, hands atop the back of a chaise as she gazed at the scenery. Her long, turquoise silk dress clung to her lithe body and shimmered like the waters of the lagoon beyond the spit of the land, making her resemble a nymph who’d stepped out of the aquamarine depths. Her shiny, golden hair danced down her back in soft curls the mellow wind lifted from her pale, creamy shoulders. From where he stood, he had a clear view of her delicate, sculpted profile. Eyes closed, she basked in the dying light, and when she opened them, he’d see their translucent jade.
A year ago, across a busy street in Abu Dhabi, the unique sparkle of her gaze had captivated him. She’d worn a black abaya, the long cloak hiding every one of her curves, and a purple shayla scarf that had bared nothing but the oval of her face from her eyebrows down to her chin. Dressed the same as every other woman in the country, she should’ve melted into the crowd. But those irises pierced him when she’d looked in his direction just before she ducked into her chauffeur-driven car.
Lost in thought, he jerked when she turned, and stared at him.
His gut experienced the punch of a hard fist when her eyes locked with his, and his chest squeezed at the same time a dagger ripped at his lungs.