The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh

dabwaha
His duty, her dreams, undone by their desire…

In the male-dominated oil industry, executive Olivia McInnes plays a careful game – she’s cold, uncompromising, and ambitious as hell. Once she seals the deal to drill in the clear waters of Saqat, she’ll finally prove herself worthy to take the reins of her father’s oil company. Her only obstacle is marine biologist – and Saqat’s royal heir – Sheikh Khaled Ibm Saqat al Mayim, who’s determined to protect both his people and his country from environmental devastation…

It’s not long before Olivia’s icy cool exterior is shattered by the intelligent and wickedly hot sheikh, and business is surpassed by sweet, stolen pleasures. But outside the bedroom, there’s reality to be faced. Soon Khaled must return to his obligations – and his betrothed – in Saqat.

Caught between duty and ambition, can an oil tycoon and a sexy sheikh find room for love…or will this business deal spell disaster for them both?
TOTaHSS-500

What readers are saying

“As the title promises, it’s sort of an arch, feminist-aware twist on the Harlequin Presents tropes. It’s also a straightforward sweet story about two people trying to make their way in their respective fathers’ shadows.” – Cecilia Grant on Goodreads

“Ros Clarke gives classic romance a fresh spin in this tale of star-crossed lovers, with warm, believable characters and a tender love story that kept me smiling long afterwards.” – Kate Hewitt, USA Today Bestselling Author

“I was utterly delighted by The Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh! Once again Ros Clarke brought us great, well developed characters who were interesting on their own but when put together, wow, the chemistry was sizzling!” – Stella at Booklovers Inc

Excerpt

Khaled leaned back against the mirrored wall, folded his arms, and tried not to think of all the places he would rather be this morning than in the lift on his way to the boardroom. He was here because his father had asked him to come. When the Emir of Saqat asked, his son knew better than to refuse. So Khaled was in the embassy, speeding up to the twelfth floor to meet the CEO of an oil company.

Oil. He practically choked on the word. It was the very thing that made this meeting such a waste of time. There was no way on Earth that Oliver McInnes of MCI Oil could persuade Khaled to let him drill in the unspoiled waters in his part of the Persian Gulf.

The door pinged and he strode out of the lift. He nodded politely at Saleema, the receptionist. It wasn’t her fault he’d been sent on this fool’s errand.

“Good morning, Your Highness.”

“Morning, Saleema. Is my appointment here?”

“Not exactly.”

Before he could ask what she meant, a woman—a new secretary, he presumed—stepped out of the photocopying room and hurried toward him.

“Excuse me,” she said, without looking up at Khaled. He stepped aside automatically to let her pass. She had to be new if no one had informed her of the correct etiquette when addressing him.

He turned his head to watch her disappear along the corridor and into the ladies’ loo. Not a Saqati woman, which was unexpected here. English, he guessed, with her pale skin and dark hair, and smartly dressed for a secretary in an extremely well-cut trouser suit that clung beautifully to the curves of her backside. A shame she worked for him.

“Sheikh Khaled?”

Saleema’s question dragged him back from his contemplation of the secretary’s curves to the reason for his visit.

“You were saying about Oliver McInnes?”

“Yes, sir. I am afraid he is indisposed. He has sent a representative instead.”

“Fine. Send him in and arrange for some coffee, please.”

“Actually…”

Saleema paused. Khaled gave her a curious glance. “What is it?”

“That was her.” She tilted her head down the corridor where the secretary had gone. “He sent his daughter.”

Khaled’s gaze ran up and down, lazily assessing his opponent in the boardroom. Expensive, charcoal-gray pinstriped suit. Smart, polished shoes. Blue and lavender striped silk tie. White, perfectly laundered shirt. Not Oliver McInnes.

Olivia.

Although, if he were judging by appearances, he’d have guessed that she would have preferred to be Oliver. This businesswoman was dressed in the nearest thing to a man’s outfit that she could get away with. If she was hoping to disguise her femininity, he could have told her it wasn’t working. Earlier he’d noticed her curves from behind, and now that she was facing him, he had a whole different set of curves to appreciate, all of which were wholly feminine and utterly alluring. Noticing that was not helping Khaled concentrate on her presentation, nor was the way her short dark hair showed just a hint of curl at her collar. She wore discreet gold studs in her ears and barely a trace of makeup, which allowed Khaled to see exactly how her cheeks flushed delicate pink with nervousness. Ms. McInnes was not quite as in control as she would have liked him to believe.

For the hundredth time, she tucked a nonexistent strand of hair behind her ear and glanced down at her notes. Khaled watched in silence. The boardroom might not be his natural environment, but he’d been involved in enough negotiations to know when to let his opponents speak. It was usually easier to let them dig their own grave than to surge into battle head on.

He had to admit that the MCI Oil presentation was impressive. Olivia McInnes had done her research. He wondered whether she really was a last-minute substitute for her father, or whether the exchange had been deliberately planned to set him off guard. She spoke confidently about the engineering required and gave cogent reasons for the proposed figures. She even knew a little about Saqat. Not much, but more than a glance at a Wikipedia entry could have told her. He was impressed. Most people Khaled met in England had barely heard of the tiny nation on the shores of the Persian Gulf that was his home.

Olivia had stopped talking. She was smiling coolly at Khaled, waiting for his response. Something in the way she met his eyes indicated that she was expecting him to agree.

He tossed the report onto the table and stood up. He needed to think. Instinctively, he wandered over to the glass wall of the London office. Gray buildings, gray clouds, gray smoke. This was what the world called civilization? He took a slow breath and looked again, more carefully. Bright-eyed pigeons circled below. Green trees pushed up defiantly toward the sky. The harder he looked, the more he knew he would see. Nature was too strong to be beaten down, even in the center of a concrete city.

“Your Highness?”

His lips tightened, but he turned to speak to her. “Ms. McInnes.”

She was standing up, presumably because he was.

“Sit down.” He called for more coffee and thumbed idly through the MCI report again. It was thorough, but not thorough enough. Not where it counted.

Saleema refilled his cup, and he waved at Ms. McInnes, indicating that she should have whatever she wanted. She smiled at Saleema and asked for tea. It was an unexpected smile, wide and full, with a flash of warmth that was immediately extinguished behind the cool façade of the businessperson.

But the smile remained in Khaled’s vision. A smile like that could intoxicate a man if he weren’t careful.

Khaled turned his attention to the report on the table. “This is an excellent proposal, Ms. McInnes. My father has done extensive research on MCI Oil and I know that he is eager to do business with you.”

She nodded. “As is my father eager to do business with the nation of Saqat.”

“Quite. And yet, neither your father nor mine is here.”

She had apologized for that at the start of their meeting.

She frowned. “Are you telling me you are not authorized to make the deal on your father’s behalf? I understood that…”

“I have the authority.”

“Good. So do I.” She folded her hands in her lap.

“But I am not so easily satisfied as my father.” He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t just sign Saqat’s future away.

“What do you mean?”

He picked up a pen and tapped it against the report. “Tell me about the environmental impact of your proposals, Ms. McInnes.”

“As I mentioned before, a full environmental survey of the area has been undertaken, and the results are in the report you were sent. Provisions are laid out in the contract should any unforeseen consequences arise from the drilling.”

“Provisions?”

“Financial compensation. Restoration. Containment.”

He’d seen the contract with its standard industry clauses that covered everything from minor habitat damage to the devastation of a full-scale leak. None of them went far enough.

“Have you ever been to the Persian Gulf?” The starched and suited Ms. McInnes looked as though she’d never been out of her air-conditioned boardroom.

“No. I’ve traveled to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but never to the Gulf itself.”

“I see. And have you ever seen the consequences of an oil spill in a natural environment?”

“Yes. It’s terrible. That’s why MCI employs a belt and braces approach to safety, Your Highness.”

“Enough with the highnesses.” No one in England bothered with that except his embassy staff. “Call me Sheikh Khaled.”

“Yes, Your… Sheikh.”

He shook his head, but he smiled. It was reassuring to know Olivia McInnes could get flustered. “Not ‘Your Sheikh.’ Sheikh Khaled.”

She batted the mistake away. “Sheikh Khaled,” she repeated coolly. “As I was saying, our safety record is second to none, and we employ a stringent set of checks to ensure that such a disaster will never happen.”

“Never again, you mean.” If she wasn’t going to mention it, he would.

“That was a long time ago.”

“Yet the effects are still being felt.”

“What do you mean?” She couldn’t quite hide the anxiety in her voice.

Khaled pressed his advantage. “The mating population of puffins on Straer Island has never recovered to its previous level. The fish population is steady, but there is a locally high proportion of adults with stunted growth and abnormal tumors.”

Twenty years ago, an oil leak in the North Sea had hit Straer Island, off the eastern coast of Scotland. The clean-up job had been finished for nearly fifteen years. Olivia’s eyes grew wider as he continued to list the ongoing effects of the spill.

“Residual oil in the sand continues to affect the shellfish. Just because the seaweed has grown back and you can see a seagull or two overhead does not mean that the environment has recovered.”

She shook her head slowly in stunned amazement. “How do you know all this?”

“How do you not know? Is this the way MCI Oil makes provisions for disaster? By doing the sketchiest possible clean-up job and moving out as soon as the public outcry has died down? Because I assure you, Ms. McInnes…” He stood and leaned over the table, “…that will not do for Saqat.”

“No… I… yes… I mean…”

He laughed, though he felt no amusement. “That’s what I thought. You really should have done your homework a little better.”

She pushed back her chair and stood up to him, her cool blue eyes flashing like flint. “Tell me about your country, Sheikh Khaled. Your people. They enjoy a high standard of living, do they? All that wealth of the Arab nations. Some of it must have trickled down to them. I expect they all wear gold watches and drive flashy cars, don’t they?”

“My people are quite content.” He hoped they were, but he knew it was hard living in a poor nation surrounded by the opulence of oil-rich neighbors. Very few Saqati citizens had vehicles at all, let alone flashy cars to show off their wealth. The souks in Saqat City sold food, spices, serviceable fabrics, but not gold or jewels. As far as he knew, no one went hungry, but few were rich, as Olivia McInnes no doubt knew.

“They are content to be the poor relation, living on handouts from their rich neighbors, are they? How long do you suppose that generosity will last before Saqat is expected to start exploiting its own natural resources? If not with MCI Oil, with some other company whose environmental track record is far worse than ours.”

He turned away from her to stare out of the window again. She was right. Damn her, she was right and that was why his father had set up the meeting. The Emir had always done his duty by his people, and now it was Khaled’s time to step up to the mark.

“Your people need this deal, Sheikh Khaled. They deserve the opportunity to earn the freedoms that come with wealth. They deserve a better education system, health care, technology, everything your oil could provide. Surely that is more important than protecting against the unlikely chance of an environmental problem?”

“Problem! Disaster would be a better word. Destruction. Devastation.”

“Call it what you like. Can you deny your people their inheritance?”

No, he couldn’t do that, but there was more than one kind of inheritance that mattered, and he couldn’t explain it here in a gray office at the top of a gray building in a gray city.

“Come with me.”

“What? Where?”

He didn’t wait for her. If she wanted this deal, she would follow. She caught up to him at the elevator, still shoving papers back into her briefcase. The door slid back, and he indicated she should enter. He pressed the button for the ground floor.

“Are you kidnapping me?” she asked calmly.

Khaled smiled briefly. “Certainly not. You are free to leave at any time. Of course, if you do, I won’t have signed your contract.”

She nodded. “Very well. But won’t you at least tell me where we’re going?”

A car was waiting for them outside the building. Khaled opened the door for Olivia, then went around to the other side. As they pulled away smoothly into the busy London traffic, he answered her question.

“The Natural History Museum. I want to show you my people’s true inheritance.”

It had been twenty years since Olivia last visited the London museums. As a child, she’d been unimpressed with the dull old paintings in the National Gallery and unsure what to make of the elaborate, useless exhibits in the Victoria and Albert. It was the Science Museum that had held her spellbound with its interactive displays that opened a fascinating window into the way the world worked. After that, the Natural History Museum could only ever have been second best. She had vague memories of skeletons and trays of butterflies pinned horribly through their stomachs for display. It was hard to see what that had to do with the Saqati oil.

The sheikh’s car drew up outside the main entrance. Olivia exited and stepped onto the pavement before Sheikh Khaled could help her out. He raised an eyebrow at her, but said nothing and leaned into the car to give a murmured instruction to his driver.

“This way,” he said, walking away from the grand entrance with its impressive Victorian gothic architecture.

Olivia followed hastily. “Where are we going now?”

“Tradesman’s entrance,” he told her, with a teasing smile.

He led her around the back of the building and through a series of security gates, which he opened as easily as if he worked here every day. When the receptionist greeted him with a warm smile and an assurance that his lab results were waiting, Olivia couldn’t hold back any longer.

“You work here?”

“Of course,” he replied smoothly. “It is the best.”

“The best what?”

He laughed. “The best place for my research, of course. Come.”

“What research? What work?” But he was already striding down a long corridor and showed no sign of answering her questions. Eventually, he stopped by a door with a brass plate screwed to it. By the side of the door, a black plate listed the names of the researchers involved with the collection. The first name on the list was disconcertingly familiar.

“Dr. K. Saqat? You’re a doctor?”

“Ph.D. Yes.”

“In what?”

“Marine biology.”

“Marine biology. That’s how you know all about the oil spill.”

“Yes. My doctoral dissertation was on the long-term effects of oil spills on marine life. The results were not good.”

“But we have scientists, too,” she said. “They say that so long as we clear up properly, everything will be normal again within a few years.”

“Is that what you pay them to say?”

“No!” She met his enquiring gaze squarely. “No. At least… not as far as I know.”

Sheikh Khaled nodded. “My research was self-funded. There was no external pressure to come up with the ‘right’ results. And believe me, no one would have been happier than I to know that the human greed for oil was not destroying the world around it.”

“I would be happy to know that, too,” she asserted firmly.

He looked at her for a long moment. “Very well,” he said at last. “See for yourself.”

He unlocked the door and held it open for her.

She nodded at the brass plaque. “‘The Al Mayim Collection.’ Is it yours?”

“It is the collection from my country, Saqat al Mayim. But since the collection focuses on the marine specimens found in our waters, it seemed appropriate to give it that name. Al Mayim is the Arabic word for the sea.”

“The Natural History Museum has a collection from Saqat?”

“Of course. They have specimens here from all over the globe, but this collection is at the heart of my research.”

As Olivia entered the room, she saw shelf after shelf of jars and trays containing all kinds of fantastical and faintly gruesome creatures.

“What is your research?”

“I’m making a collection of all the indigenous marine life in the Persian Gulf. There are many species unique to the Gulf and several whose natural habitat is found only in the Gulf and the Great Barrier Reef.” He shrugged off his jacket and rolled up his shirtsleeves to reveal tanned forearms. Beautifully muscular tanned forearms that had nothing to do with the reason she was here.

Olivia dragged her eyes away from the sheikh’s arms and tried to come up with a sensible question. “Isn’t the Great Barrier Reef endangered too?”

“Everywhere that human activity reaches is endangered. But they have done some good work in recent years to protect the reef.”

“Do you have coral in Saqat as well?”

He grinned. “See.” He took her to another part of the room and swept his hand carelessly along the row, where hundreds of specimens of coral in all colors and shapes were stored.

She gasped. “It’s beautiful.”

“Yes. More beautiful at the bottom of the sea.”

“You dive?” She shook her head. “Stupid question. Of course you would have to.”

“I learned as a child. It was years before I bothered with scuba equipment.”

He had already moved on to the next shelf of specimens. Olivia followed in fascination. He was totally absorbed in the work, describing to her the smallest details of feeding habits and breeding colonies. She barely understood half of what he was saying. Preserved fish and crustaceans were not the sort of subjects that easily held her attention. But Sheikh Khaled—or Dr. Saqat—was an object of profound interest to Olivia. She was entranced by the way his eyes narrowed slightly when he focused on some minute feature of the specimen he was describing to her. She watched the way he handled the tiniest glass jar with delicacy and precision, and noticed the sure touch of his long fingers when he reached out to stroke the coral. He would know how to touch a woman.

She shook her head firmly, throwing out the rogue thought. She had no business wondering how Sheikh Khaled would touch a woman. As penance, she forced herself to listen carefully to his final lecture on the significance of Saqati marine life and the potential for irreversible damage from an oil spill in the region.

“Look at this.” He pointed to an enormous tank containing the preserved body of a creature quite unlike anything Olivia had ever seen before.

“What is it?” She ran her fingers along the glass of the tank and peered closer. It was at least two meters long with a fish-like tail but no other fins.

“A dugong. In your language it is known as a sea-cow.”

“Is it a fish?” It was incredibly ugly, whatever it was.

“No, it’s a marine mammal. See, here, on top of its head. Those are its nostrils.” Olivia looked where the sheikh was pointing and saw the two holes in its skin.

“So it breathes?”

“Like you and me. They can survive underwater for several minutes at a time and dive to thirty or forty meters. But they need to come up for air.”

“Wow.” Olivia gave him a quick glance. His face was set in hard lines. This wasn’t just a hobby for him. He cared about the unprepossessing dugong just as much as the pretty coral or the spiny mollusks.

“How have they been affected by the oil spills in the Gulf?”

He sighed. “Loss of feeding environment.”

“What do they eat?”

“Sea-grass, mostly. They live in the mangrove beds on the shores of the Gulf.”

“But the oil has polluted the mangroves,” Olivia said. She stood up and looked sadly at the dugong. “Are they endangered?”

He shrugged. “They’re not on the official list, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“It’s not.”

“We don’t know,” he said, after a brief pause. She felt as if she had been given the benefit of the doubt. “There are still good numbers in Australia and one or two other places. But numbers are declining everywhere, especially in the Persian Gulf.”

“Yes. Yes, I see.”

He looked down at her grimly. “So what are you going to do about it, Ms. McInnes? Withdraw the offer from MCI Oil?”

Olivia’s mouth opened, but no words came out. She had forgotten why she was here. How could she have forgotten the deal? A couple of hours in the company of this man and she had put aside the ambition of a lifetime. The MCI deal was going to secure her position as CEO of the company when her father announced his retirement later in the year. If she failed, the board would have excellent grounds to refuse her appointment. Many of them already believed her to be too young—and, though they might not say it aloud, too female—to take over.

“I can’t do that,” she managed to say eventually. “I can’t.”

“Well, then, we have a problem.”

“Yes, we do.” Gathering her wits as much as she could manage, she said, “It’s your problem as much as mine. Your father wants the deal, and your people need it. What happens if you just say no?”

He glared at her for a few moments then sighed heavily. “I don’t know.”

“Well, then, we have a problem.”

Sheikh Khaled twisted his lips ruefully. “I already said that.”

“So now what?”

She waited in the corridor while the sheikh locked up the collection. He slipped the keys in his pocket and turned to face her. They were standing close to each other. Too close. His lips twitched. He obviously knew exactly what he did to her, with his tie pulled loose and his shirtsleeves rolled up. The top button of his shirt was undone, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of golden skin and dark hair, with a steady pulse throbbing at the base of his throat.

He was irresistible.

She had to resist him.

She sucked in a breath and stepped back.

The sheikh’s hands shot out and gripped her elbows. He didn’t pull her closer, but he wasn’t letting her go. She could feel his warmth through the layers of her wool suit and silk blouse.

“Now, you invite me to Scotland and I decide whether MCI Oil has anything to offer my country. Or not.”

July 2012
Entangled
45,000 word category romanceAmazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | Books on Board | Kobo | iTunes | All Romance

Previous cover: coverquote

coverquote

New bedroom!

The Grand Tour:

The pictures aren’t perfect. The wall beside the bed is a really dark, rich purple. The gold paint on the walls is metallic and shimmering, not orange. The whole thing looks incredible at night, especially with the candles lit, but that’s impossible to photograph if you are me. But hopefully you’ll get the idea.

bedroom1 New bedlinen was my greatest extravagance but I love it. The pillowcases are from one set and the duvet cover is from the second set which arrived today despite the snow. Headboard is squares of MDF covered in batting and fabric. The mini quilt on the wall was bought in an Amish shop in Intercourse (yup, makes me giggle every time) several years ago. I’d never had a good place to put it before now.

 

 

bedroom2Colour-blocked bookshelf. I did this once before and it makes me smile every single time I look at it. Books do furnish a room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bedroom3

 

 

The wardrobe is a standard IKEA Pax in birch effect. Because it basically takes up an entire wall of the room, I wanted it to pull its weight, decoratively speaking. I painted it with one coat of a rich greeny-blue and then put gold paint over that. I love, love, love the way it looks now. It gleams in the light. Sadly, this is not quite finished because B&Q haven’t got any more sample pots of the blue. One sample pot did over 3/4 of the wardrobe, so I really don’t want to buy a full-sized pot for the bit that’s left. New storage boxes on the left came from TK Maxx (or as Americans know it, TJ Maxx). Aren’t they lovely?

The lampshade is from ASDA, of all places, but I think it looks fab.

bedroom4

I used to have a chest of drawers under the bookshelf but it was really a bit too big for the space and, since it came from IKEA and I put it together, it didn’t work properly. So I threw it out. But I did want some extra storage and this leather bench is perfect. I plan to make a cushion or two to sit on top of it, and when I’ve made the quilt I want to for the bed, it can go there in the summer.

 

 

 
 
 

 
 

 

 

bedroom5

And finally, the window. This used to have big, warm curtains which were lovely but took up a lot of space. I hardly ever opened them, because the bedroom is on the ground floor and very open to the world. Now I have a roller blind which means I can shut out the world without hiding the windowsill or the heater. The curtains are purely decorative, from orange/pink shot silk. They are so pretty.

 

 

 

Total budget:
Rollerblind: £12
Curtains: £22.50
Lamp: £10
Lightshade: £25
Headboard: £12 + £6
Storage boxes: £7 + £10
Bedlinen (2x duvet covers, 2x sheets, 4xpillowcases): £80 + £8 + £50
Pillows: £11.50
Footstool: £25
Leather storage bench: £100
Paint (4 sample pots emulsion, 3 sample pots other, 1 pot metallic): £30
Wallpaper border: £18

GRAND TOTAL: £427

The leather bench was an added luxury at the end when I found it reduced from £280 in the January sale. The other things that I spent proper money on were the duvet sets. One is Clarissa Hulse and the other is PiP Studio. Both are 100% cotton with a high thread count and utterly gorgeous. Without those, the total spend is less than £200. And for that money there is an almost total transformation.

My initial plans for the room were soft, calm and sophisticated. I don’t know who I thought was going to sleep there, but clearly not me. I am not soft, calm or sophisticated. It never worked and I never felt at home in it. More recently it had mostly become a junk room, which is not precisely conducive to restfulness. I knew I didn’t want it in the same colour scheme as the main room (Cath Kidston-esque pinks, greens, blues and reds) but I didn’t know what I did want. It is a very small room – my whole house is small, but the bedroom is where it’s really noticeable. There isn’t room for anything other than a single bed, for instance. So everything that goes in there has to earn its space.

Now it is “M&B Sheikh’s Harem Without The Sheikh”. Warm, rich colours with lots of luxurious textures – I want to make a velveteen quilt for the bed to add to the silks, leather, satin and fake-jewels that are already there. I’ve reorganised the storage and thrown out quite a lot of stuff so it doesn’t feel so full. The rollerblind has also helped to increase the feel of space in the room, and now the heater doesn’t have the curtain over it, it gets warm much quicker too.

Apart from the quilt, the other long term plan is to cover the empty dark purple wall with old picture frames and mirrors. I’ll use the picture frames to show off some of my favourite fabrics, and maybe do some embroideries and so on, specifically to go in that space.

I’m so happy with it and it’s been fun to work on it, building in new ideas as the work has progressed and finding just the right things for the tiny space.

Table for One

When food critic Claudia Thomas gets dumped on Valentine’s Day, she finds herself occupying a table for one at London’s hottest new restaurant. If her job wasn’t on the line, she’d skip the whole affair, but her editor’s waiting for a review—and with luck, an interview with sexy chef Ward Nicholls.

Ward, intrigued by the single woman in a restaurant full of couples, sets out to tease her palate. Claudia has never tasted anything so luscious as the special meal Ward prepares for her, but when the seduction moves from the restaurant to his bedroom, Claudia discovers the only thing more tempting than his food is the chef himself.

Their connection is instantaneous, sizzling, and spicy—until Claudia comes clean about her job, reopening a wound Ward had thought long-healed. Could one accidental lie of omission end a delicious relationship before it even has a chance to start?

TableforOne600px

What readers are saying

“It was a lovely story. This is the second of Ms. Clarke’s works I’ve read, and again there were intelligent, adult characters. That doesn’t mean that they don’t make mistakes. That means they own up to them and try to find a middle path. They’re grownups. I can’t tell you how refreshing that is.” – Marilyn at Mean Fat Old Bat

“Maybe it’s the hopeless romantic in me but man did I enjoy this book. It involved all my favourite things, romance, a hot guy and food. Seriously could you get anything better in this story? I think not.” – Kayleigh at K-Books

“One of the worst books I have read. Dull and stupid. Wasted 99 cents for 86 pages of drible.” – Anonymous at B&N

Excerpt

“You’re breaking up with me? Today?”

Claudia stared at Andrew in disbelief. As far as she was concerned, she and Andrew had the perfect setup. He was a charming dinner companion and a very satisfactory bed companion. “Why would you do that? Why now?”

He cleared his throat. “Things haven’t been right between us for a while.”

Huh. “You can’t break up with me today.”

“Why not today?” He frowned. “Why would you want to go on pretending everything is okay? Especially on Valentine’s Day.”

“Because it’s Valentine’s Day!” She shook her head. “And we have a reservation at Ward’s.”

“Do we? You never said.” For a moment, she thought he might be reconsidering. Ward’s was the latest restaurant to be awarded two highly coveted Michelin stars, and reservations had to be made months in advance.

“It was supposed to be a surprise.” Genevieve, Claudia’s editor at Galaxy magazine, had only told her about it last week.

His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “And?”

She shrugged. She had been planning to pretend it was her treat, but it didn’t matter now. “And I’m reviewing it for the magazine.” No need to mention to Andrew that the hotshot young chef at Ward’s had recently made it to seventh place on a list of the Sexiest Men in London.

“I’m sure you’ll find someone else to go with you.”

“It’s Valentine’s Day. Everyone I know already has a date. I thought I did, too,” she snapped.

“I could still go with you,” Andrew offered. “We could spend the evening sharing stories of how much we irritate each other.”

She laughed. “I’m not sure that would be a good idea. I might throw my soup at you.”

“You never have the soup.”

“You actually noticed.”

“Yes. I really am sorry things didn’t work out between us.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Which was almost true. If he’d told her tomorrow, it wouldn’t have mattered.

“Enjoy tonight.”

“I might not go.”

“You’ll go. You’ve got to write the review, remember?”

He kissed her cheek and said good-bye.

Claudia closed the door behind him and leaned against it. Damn.

She’d have to do it. Any other night she might have called a few friends and headed out to drown her sorrows and scout a replacement, but tonight she had a job to do. Genevieve had been hinting recently that the magazine might be looking for a higher profile restaurant critic. A celebrity who knew nothing about food, Claudia guessed. A name to bring in fresh readers. This review of Ward’s—with a picture of Ward himself—would be a great way for Claudia to show she was worth keeping on.

But a woman dining alone on Valentine’s Day would attract attention. Claudia was fine with attention, but she wouldn’t let anyone pity her—or worse, hit on her. The low-cut, tight-fitting, black-velvet sheath dress she’d planned to wear for her date with Andrew wouldn’t work at all. Instead, she picked out a midnight blue silk jersey dress, which fell modestly to just above her knees and draped softly around her breasts without revealing too much. She clipped several bangles onto her wrists and added a necklace of dark, glittery jet. She took similar care with her makeup, then grabbed a black clutch bag and slipped on a pair of killer heels to complete the look. Smart, sophisticated, sexy but not seductive. Perfect for an evening that was purely business.

Ward dotted dark, glossy balsamic reduction around the venison terrine, arranged the slices of rye bread neatly on the side, and slid the finished plates across the counter. Without pausing, he reached up to pull the next order from the rack as he turned back to the ovens. He glanced at the note, frowned, and called over his shoulder, “Table for one?”

“Yes, chef. Table was booked for two, but the lady’s companion couldn’t make it.”

Ward dismissed the waiter with a nod and detoured via the walk-in fridge. He couldn’t serve the Valentine’s Night menu to a woman who’d been stood up. She didn’t need food to fall in love to. She needed food to make her feel fabulous. He had just the thing in mind.

“Compliments of the chef, ma’am.”

Claudia looked at the small plate in front of her. This didn’t resemble anything on the lengthy tasting menu she’d been given.

“What is it?”

“Langoustines with a chili-ginger dip.” The waiter’s voice was as neutral as his expression.

The shellfish looked deliciously plump, and her mouth watered at the tangy scent of the dip. “Thank you.”

She used her fingers to peel the shellfish, extracting the soft pink flesh and dipping it into the sauce. The first taste sent her reeling. Salty and sweet, with a perfect balance of fiery flavors, it filled her mouth with explosive sensations. Claudia slowly worked her way through the next two langoustines, giving each taste a chance to settle on her palate before she set off the fireworks again with the next bite. Incredible.

At times like this, she had the best job in the world.

In a brilliantly run restaurant like Ward’s, waiters appeared as if by magic at precisely the right moment. One came to remove Claudia’s plate and the accompanying finger bowl. A few moments later, another brought a Chinese-style white porcelain spoon, filled with a single scoop of sorbet. He laid it on a chilled silver charger that would prevent the sorbet from melting instantly.

“To cleanse the palate, ma’am.”

Claudia glanced around the room. At every table, oysters on the half shell sat on the ice sculptures advertised in the menu. No doubt hers would follow after the sorbet. Sorrel sorbet, she guessed, with a hint of lemon. Deliciously refreshing without overpowering. Not what she was expecting, but exactly what she’d needed. She discreetly opened her smartphone and made a few notes for the review.

Claudia’s eyebrows rose when the waiter placed the next dish on the table. A pile of deep-fried leeks topped with a seared scallop and a wobbly poached quail’s egg was placed in front of her.

“Has the kitchen run out of oysters?”

The waiter smiled politely and shook his head. “No, ma’am. The chef thought you would prefer this.”

She stared at him. “The chef?”

“Yes, ma’am. He thinks the other menu is not suitable for you.”

“Not suitable?” Claudia shook her head. “Why would he think that?”

“Because you are dining alone, ma’am.”

Oh. She looked back at the plate. It smelled incredible and it looked delicious. The chef was quite right—she would prefer not to eat oysters alone, but she was here to review the restaurant. She always had the set menu when she was working. It was the fairest way of assessing what ordinary customers would be served.

“You may inform the chef, with my compliments, that I will have the menu as advertised, no matter what his views on the matter are.”

“Of course, ma’am. Should I take this away?”

She eyed the scallop regretfully. “Yes.”

“She sent it back?” He didn’t shout. Ward Nicholls never shouted. He didn’t need to shout to get the very best out of his staff. He found that a quiet, measured tone was enough to have them quivering with obedience.

“Yes, chef. She asked for the advertised menu.”

“Damn fool.” Ward took the plate and threw its contents into the nearest bin. The egg was already ruined; he’d have to cook the dish again. He gathered a replacement set of ingredients, working swiftly and precisely. “She’s not allergic to the scallop?”

“She didn’t say so.”

“Huh.” He threw a fresh handful of julienned leeks into a pan of hot oil and dropped a quail’s egg into another pan full of simmering water. Just before they were ready, he selected the plumpest, freshest scallop to sear on the grill.

When the plate had been recreated exactly, the waiter braced himself to return with it.

“I’ll take it myself,” Ward said curtly.

“It’s polite to at least try a dish before sending it back to the kitchen.”

Claudia looked up to see a tall man in chef’s whites glaring down at her. Ward Nicholls was as handsome in the flesh as he was in print. Even when he was angry. His strong jaw jutted out over the mandarin collar of his chef’s jacket and his blue eyes glittered in challenge. Evidently he was a man accustomed to getting his own way.

She eyed him coolly. “It’s polite to serve a customer what she’s ordered.”

He shrugged. “It’s polite to serve her what she wants. Try it.”

He’d brought another scallop, another egg, another pile of leeks. Her taste buds cried out to sample it.

“You enjoyed the langoustines,” he murmured, his voice as sexy as his unshaven jaw. “And the sorbet.”

She had savored every bite of the langoustines and each spoonful of the sorbet. And now she craved the scallop and quail’s egg.

Ward drew around a spare chair to sit beside Claudia, and used her knife and fork to put together a mouthful of all the elements on the plate. Silently, he offered it to her.

He was close enough that she could smell sweet herbs and the tang of fresh lemon clinging to his skin. Close enough that she could see the tension in his brow and the darker roots of his blond hair. Close enough that she forgot all about the job she was supposed to be doing.

“Try it,” he invited.

The food. He was asking her to try the food. Not to try the taste of his lips against hers. That would be ridiculous. She didn’t even know this guy. She mustered sufficient self-control to simply open her mouth and let him feed her in a gesture that felt even more intimate than a kiss.

Soft and sensuous, this dish was all about the contrasting textures. Velvety egg yolk clung to the luscious scallop, a counterpoint to the crispy strands of leek. Instinctively, Claudia whimpered for more. Ward chuckled, but she forgave him when he gave her another taste of ambrosia.

There was a dark, earthy aftertaste to the dish. “Truffle oil,” she murmured between mouthfuls.

“Very good. More?”

“Mmm.”

“That’s the last,” he said. “Now, about those oysters. Do you still want them?”

She shook her head. “No oysters.” She didn’t need an aphrodisiac. Not when Ward Nicholls was looking at her like that.

Table for One
February 2012
Entangled
12,000 word short story
B&N | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Books on Board

Twelve Days

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… a flashmob proposal.

All Kevin wants is to spend the rest of his life with the woman he loves. He’s been planning the perfect proposal for months. He never planned what would happen if she said ‘no’.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… a diamond ring.

The last thing Laurel wants or expects for Christmas is a big flashy diamond ring. She’d been hoping for a pile of books or perhaps a cashmere sweater. In her experience, marriage is the quickest way to kill a happy relationship. When Kevin gets down on one knee, she panics and runs.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… a rescue puppy and a trip to Hawaii.

He knows he’s pushed too hard and too fast. Now he’s scrambling to hold on to the best thing that’s ever happened to him, while she’s running hard and fast in the opposite direction. How could it all go so wrong in just twelve days?

12D-COVER

What readers are saying

“Sad-cry + happy-cry = *happysigh* (all in only 35 pages!)” – Kelly at Instalove

“You know what I liked best? These people are grownups. They didn’t communicate as well as they could have and they hurt one another. They talked it over, gave themselves and the other person a little breathing room, and then talked it out to a resolution both could live with. They didn’t expect mind-reading, and they didn’t throw the whole thing into the garbage over one misunderstanding. Nobody capitulated, nobody surrendered, nobody lied, nobody was guilted or coerced. They worked it out.

It made me feel all warm and happy inside, the ending worked for me, the whole book worked for me” – Marilyn at Mean Fat Old Bat

“This sweet, feel-good holiday story is a quick read that’s sure to leave you satisfied!” – Aimee Carson

“Ros Clarke’s enchanting Twelve Days is a beautifully written tale of one young couple and how they work through a major road block on the bumpy road to true love. Real, emotional and wonderfully life-affirming with an added dash of Christmas sparkle, it’s a must-read to get you in the mood for the romance of the season.” – Heidi Rice, USA Today Bestselling Author

Excerpt
On The First Day Of Christmas

“Stay there.”

Laurel stayed. They’d had another six inches of snow overnight, but Kevin had already shoveled part of their driveway. She stood on a dry patch, wrapped in her charcoal gray woolen overcoat, with a soft blue cashmere scarf and matching hat pulled on tightly to cover her ears. Her feet were thrust into sheepskin boots, but even so the chill of the ground was starting to seep through. She shifted from one foot to the other and sipped at her coffee, grateful for its warmth.

“How much longer?” she called to Kevin, who was attaching something to the garage door. He stepped back and she could see it was a camera. What on earth had he planned?

“Any moment now,” he yelled back. “Hold on.”

He’d woken her ten minutes earlier with a cup of her favourite Starbucks caramel latte and then told her to come outside for her Christmas gift. She’d been hoping for jewelry. Maybe perfume and a couple of books. Nothing on her list was too big to fit inside the house. She’d bought him a leather iPad cover and a sage green cashmere sweater to match his eyes. It would be really, really awkward if he’d bought her a car. Or a pony. She didn’t even like ponies, but she couldn’t think what else she would need to come outside for.

Kevin had disappeared completely. Laurel squinted to see if he was in the car, or hidden behind the large pine tree. The camera was still on the garage roof, and it seemed to be pointing in her direction. Someone began singing a carol. Even on Christmas Day, eight o’clock in the morning was a bit early for singing in Laurel’s opinion—especially the one about the partridge that went on forever.

A group of workmen strolled down the street, carrying their ladders and tools. Someone must be paying them good money to work today. Kevin’s house was in a great neighborhood just outside the city limits. It wasn’t large, but it was plenty big enough for the two of them. Around the corner, though, the streets were lined with vast mansions owned by the super wealthy and the old Philadelphia families.
Other people had joined in with the carol singing. Laurel had no idea where Kevin had gone to get her present, but there was plenty to distract her. A woman in a scarlet coat had stopped on the sidewalk opposite Laurel and set down a big pot with a tree in it. Two large pears hung from its branches and a plush bird had been tied on top.

A partridge in a pear tree.

Behind the woman, the workmen were setting up a simple scaffold on which one of them hung a bird cage holding two turtle doves. Well, that’s what she assumed they were, though they looked more like pigeons. The singers had already reached the three French hens verse, and on cue a chicken ran across the road. Two more followed, running rings round the man who was attempting to herd them into a cage underneath the scaffold. The whole song was coming alive around her.

Everyone was singing and Laurel had begun to grin, caught up in the infectious enthusiasm of the performers. The workmen had gone to stand behind the scaffold, and at the start of the next verse, four cut out cardboard birds popped up, each holding a large telephone to its ear.

Four calling birds.

She groaned and laughed simultaneously. Then, with a dramatic pause, the whole chorus reached the climactic moment of the song.

Five gold rings.

Laurel looked around, but no one came forward with anything to represent the rings. The singers took a breath and continued through the calling birds, the French hens, the turtle doves, and the partridge in a pear tree. The rest of the song was pure carnival. Six geese had to be herded into place by seven ballerinas in costumes from Swan Lake. Eight dairymaids and nine ballroom dancers paraded down the street, joining the carefully choreographed performance. Ten men in crimson and fur robes pretending to be lords leapt and pranced their way into the dance, eleven bagpipers marched proudly up the road, and finally twelve drummers in solemn formation lined up in their allotted places. It was a Christmas flash mob, and it was fabulous.

Half the neighborhood had come out to see what was happening. Cameras clicked, children were hoisted onto their fathers’ shoulders, and everyone joined in the carol. A glorious cacophony of voices, birds, bagpipes, and drums celebrated Christmas in the old song. The impromptu choir took a deep breath and began the final verse:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

As each group was mentioned in the song, they bowed to Laurel. She smiled and waved in acknowledgement, laughing at the sheer ridiculous exuberance of it all. The geese squawked through their line and the singers continued. Five gold rings. The notes hung in the air and everyone watching was silent. The performers shuffled slightly to create a path through the crowd. Kevin came forward, his lips tilted into a nervous smile and his eyes glued to hers.

Laurel’s mouth went dry. Her hands clenched into fists inside her pockets. He couldn’t mean to… not here, not like this. Not now.

He knelt down in front of her, heedless of the damp slush seeping through his jeans. Laurel shook her head, desperate for him to understand. To stop. He didn’t, and the next moment he pulled a small black box from his coat pocket and opened it. A flash of light where it caught the morning sun told her everything she needed to know. She didn’t even hear his words, though she saw his lips moving. She just stood, frozen with horror, conscious of all the eyes on her, expecting an answer. Expecting the right answer. The answer she couldn’t give.

December 2012
Self-published
10,000 word short story
Amazon US | Amazon UK | B&N | Diesel | Sony |
Kobo | Smashwords | iTunes | All Romance eBooks

Previous cover: twelvedayssmall

1 33 34 35