Excerpt from Secrets of You

In Secrets of You, a man faces an impossible situation—marry the woman he loves and risk exposing her past, or break things off and keep her secrets safe.

Here’s an excerpt from Secrets of You:

Arianna unscrewed the cap on the whiskey bottle and poured two fingers in her glass. She sipped slowly, let the whiskey burn her throat, spiral to her belly in a ball of fire. Not that different from the way Ash’s note had scorched her heart ten minutes ago.

She eyed the note in front of her, plain white stationery, delivered by the local courier. No return receipt requested. Four short sentences that crushed all hope of a future with Ash Revelin.

Arianna—I know this won’t make any sense to you, but it’s over. I can’t marry you. Maybe one day you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me. I will never forget you.
Always,
Ash

Always. Always what? Always thinking of you ? Always in my heart? Always the fool? She finished her whiskey, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and poured another. She was the fool. Ash had seemed so different from her usual choice in men. He’d made her laugh—at him and herself. Of course, he was handsome—lean, muscled, dark eyes, dark hair, cleft in the chin. But it was more than that. He so obviously loved life, loved his life, who he was, what he wanted, and his lack of money didn’t stop him from dreaming and going after those dreams. How many people could say that in today’s society? Most were chasing wads of cash, not following their passion as Ash Revelin had been. Who would take a five-week, cross-country motorcycle trip with nothing but a camera and two saddlebags stuffed with jeans and T-shirts? She’d seen the photographs from that trip—the rugged landscape, the people, the small towns. And when he pointed out the weathered rancher standing next to a split-rail fence that had to be as old as he was, there was excitement in his voice and awe on his face.

He’d promised Arianna they’d share that excitement together, build their dreams, follow their passions.

And now he was gone.

“Hey, drinking alone?” Quinn Burnes stood in the doorway of her studio, looking his usual intense self. They’d been friends since the day he walked into Arianna’s boutique and bought his sister an opal necklace and matching bracelet. I’m on her bad side again, he’d said. And I don’t mind being on anybody’s bad side but Annie’s. His sister’s anger hadn’t lasted long. A flash of smile, a heartfelt apology, and a plea from those silver eyes and any woman, sister or not, would forgive him.

“Some occasions are meant to be dealt with in solitude.” Damn Ash Revelin for breaking her heart.

“Such as?”

When she didn’t answer, he grabbed a glass from the cabinet and poured two fingers of whiskey into it. Then he refilled hers. At this rate, everything would fade away for a little while…she’d forget the note…forget what it meant…forget everything.

“Did your interview get bumped to the last page of the Arts & Life section? Or did Ferdinand cancel the photo shoot?”

She shook her head. If only it were that simple. Four months ago, she’d thought features in newspapers and magazines would bring her limitless joy. The exposure, the commissions for unique designs, the money that would follow. What could be greater than that? She thought the answer was nothing, until she met Ash Revelin. He’d changed everything.

“So what then? Did that boyfriend of yours try to talk you into ditching the wedding gown for jeans and a Rolling Stones T-shirt?”

She would not cry. Tears served no purpose other than to make a person look weak and out of control. She was neither. “Actually, there won’t be a wedding,” she said in a perfect imitation of one who could care less if there was a wedding or not.

“What are you talking about?”

Quinn leaned forward, leaving her no choice but to look at him. Why couldn’t they have fallen for each other? It would have been so easy then—best friends becoming lovers. Of course, if it hadn’t worked out, she’d have lost her best friend, and she’d never had one of those.

“Arianna,” his voice dipped, “tell me.”

She almost relented on her vow against tears and let them come. But what if once started they wouldn’t stop? What if they poured out years of grief and sorrow and pain until there was nothing left of her but shriveled bits of disappointment and regret? “Here.” She pushed the note toward him. “Read this.”

Quinn snatched the note and scanned it. “What the hell does this mean?” He tossed it onto the table and cursed again. “He dumped you.”

Sad but true. “He dumped me.”

“This is crazy. The guy’s nuts about you. He wanted to marry you a month ago.”

She should have run off with him then instead of worrying about a silly wedding dress—a dress that would never be worn now. “Obviously, he’s changed his mind.”

Quinn poured another drink, took a healthy swallow. “He’s not going to get away with this. I’ll have a talk with him and find out what’s going on.”

“No, don’t.” What would Quinn do? Say, Would you please reconsider and marry Arianna?

“There’s got to be an explanation. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would bail on something like this.”

Poor Quinn. He always wanted to take charge and control the outcome. Maybe he’d fall in love one day and realize some things could not be controlled. Like who you loved or who loved you back. She worked up a small smile and said, “I thought you didn’t even like him.”

He shrugged. “I know we didn’t hit it off at first, but I had to be cautious about a guy who walks into your life on a Tuesday and proposes on a Friday. That says player to me. But I saw how he looked at you, how he treated you. The guy loves you, which is why this makes no sense.”

She really didn’t want to talk about it anymore. There would be enough questions from her clients who were all excited about the upcoming wedding, and Quinn’s sister, Annie, who insisted on making a photo collage from the pictures Ash gave her. It would have been a small, intimate wedding, which in some ways made the breakup even more painful.

“I’ve got a guy who specializes in ferreting out the truth.” Quinn covered her hand with his and said in the gentlest of voices, “He’s very discreet and very thorough.”

“A private investigator?”

Quinn nodded. “Exactly.”

“No.” She couldn’t bear to learn Ash Revelin was a lie; maybe he had another family, a child, a wife…another fiancée. It was better not to know. She had secrets she’d never told him because they didn’t matter. But maybe they did. Maybe they always would.

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