Revealed in the darkness...Cast into a world of black, Declan Carstairs is a man in torment. Consumed by guilt, he sees no way out of the darkness his life has become.i?? Only one thing drives him: finding the woman who caused his brother's death and the accident that took his sight. Housekeeper Chloe Daniels refuses to pity her devastatingly gorgeous boss, but treating him as the strong, capable man he is soon proves dangerous. As Chloe falls deeper under Declan's spell, awakened by his touch, she forgets all about the secret she keeps that may destroy them both...
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USA Today Bestselling Author and 2012 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award Winner, Annie West, specialises in contemporary romances spiced with plenty of passion and emotion. She's been a reader from the day she learned her alphabet and loves nothing better than losing herself in a great romance, especially one featuring a strong, sexy, intriguing hero and a heroine who's his perfect match.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The stack of towels was thick and soft in Chloe's arms as she nudged open the laundry door and headed for the pool house.
She dipped her head and inhaled the scent of sunshine and lavender: one of the special touches she prided herself on when the weather was good enough to use the drying hedge rather than the industrial-sized drier.
Concentrating on such small things, resuming her routine, had seen her through this difficult first morning back at Carinya.
She refused to let memories spook her. Her job was too precious and she needed the financial security more than ever. Besides, she had nothing to fear now.
So she'd ignored the anxiety feathering down her spine when she'd entered her housekeeper's quarters and remembered the last morning she'd been here. And again as she'd started work and imagined a dark-haired presence watching from the shadows as he had so often watched before.
That was in the past. He'd gone for ever. That knowledge helped banish the shadows.
Turning the corner of the house she slowed, hearing the sound of someone in the pool.
The sight of a familiar dark head emerging from the water with each stroke slammed her heart against her ribs. She faltered to a stop, not believing her eyes.
But he's gone!
This was impossible!
Transfixed, Chloe watched him execute a perfect racing turn, coming up metres from the end of the pool. The strenuous butterfly stroke, one she'd never been able to master, looked easy as that long body cleaved the water. The scoop of out-thrust arms accentuated the impressive length of tanned limbs and the power in his shoulders.
Chloe sagged against the wall, her throat tight, heart pounding as she tried to make sense of what she saw.
But he's dead... Dead. The words ran, a bewildered mantra, through her brain.
Yet for one lap of the pool Chloe was caught in nightmare, transfixed by the return of the man she'd come to fear.
Another turn and this time he swam freestyle, powering down the metres as if he had a record to break.
It was only then that her stunned eyes saw beyond the shreds of memory and noticed anomalies. This man looked bigger, though it was difficult to tell in the water. He swam differently, as if propelled by an unseen force that supercharged him through the crystal depths. He was like an efficient machine, each stroke smooth and economical, yet with a raw strength that seemed almost brutal.
Chloe couldn't imagine this man doing a lazy lap or two then loafing away an afternoon at the pool-side with a tray of drinks and his mobile phone.
Even now, turning again and beginning another lap, his speed didn't diminish.
Driven: that was the word that came to mind.
The man she remembered had been many things but driven wasn't one of them. At least, not until he'd turned his attention to her.
Chloe clanged that door shut in her mind. She refused to go there.
The swimmer reached the far end of the pool and in one supple movement heaved himself out. Water streamed down, bright sunlight burnished bronzed, water-slicked skin, from the bunch of muscles in his arms and back to the tight curve of bare buttocks.
Chloe sucked in her breath, her dazed brain registering his nakedness at the same time it assured her this couldn't be him. The shape of the head was different. The height. The breadth. His sheer imposing maleness.
He half-turned and she averted her eyes, but not before she saw a long scar ripping down one powerful thigh.
Relief, the return to normality after those frozen moments of disbelief, made her light-headed. Sanity returned with a rush of embarrassment as she realised who she'd been staring at.
Hurriedly, she straightened away from the wall and stepped out briskly towards the pool house.
'Who's that?' The deep voice was sharp but he didn't turn around, merely reached for his towel on a nearby sun lounger. He wrapped it casually round his hips with all the nonchalance of a man supremely confident in his own nakedness. And the fact he owned the whole multi-million-dollar estate.
Reluctantly Chloe detoured towards the clematis-draped pergola where he stood, putting on sunglasses.
It wasn't the way she'd have chosen to meet her employer at last.
Housekeepers were supposed to be discreet, unobtrusive, not intruding on their boss's privacy.
The image of firmly toned masculine flesh flashed before her eyes and a tingle of unfamiliar heat stirred.
She faltered, taking a moment to identify the sensation she hadn't experienced in years. When she did, shock brought a gasp to her lips.
'I'm waiting.' The words weren't curt, but his languid tone barely concealed impatience.
Chloe stepped forward. Now was not the time to dwell on the fact she'd just felt a spark of arousal for the first time in six years. At the sight of her naked employer.
'It's your housekeeper, Chloe Daniels.' She waited for him to turn. When he finally did she hefted the towels higher on one arm and extended her right hand. Tried to banish the memory of how she'd stood, gawping like some sex-starved miss at the sight of him.
Sex-starved she might technically be but she was no simpering miss.
He stood four-square before her, wearing nothing but reflective sunglasses and a towel. He exuded an air of authority that befitted a man of his commercial stature.
Right now it was his physical stature that pole-axed her.
Chloe had to tilt her head to meet his eyes. Despite her self-discipline and the compelling need not to ogle her employer, it took far too much effort to keep her gaze from that broad chest and ridged abdomen.
Standing this close, she realised Declan Carstairs was bigger, tougher, more imposing than the man she'd known. Only the hair colour and loose-limbed grace were the same—family traits.
His jaw was shadowed, not with sculpted designer stubble, but with several days' growth that made him look more like a lumberjack or pirate than a corporate tycoon.
A sensation like swirling treacle low in her belly unnerved her. She had a sudden mental picture of him swinging across a tall-masted ship, a woman on his shoulder.
Maybe it was the scar that conjured the notion. Long and not yet silvered with age, it carved an uncompromising groove up one cheek, curling in towards his eye.
Chloe shivered as she thought of the long matching wound on his leg.
'We haven't met before,' she said in the efficient housekeeper's voice she'd perfected over the years. She was grateful for it now as her pulse hammered. 'I've been—'
'Away.' He paused, watching her, yet giving no answering smile. His forehead pleated in a frown and his dark eyebrows slashed down as if in disapproval.
By now she felt gauche with her arm extended towards him. When it became clear he wouldn't give her the courtesy of a handshake, she dropped her arm, disappointment adding to her discomfort. Maybe arrogance ran in his family.
'A family emergency, wasn't it?' he surprised her by asking.
She hadn't expected him to know that, especially since they'd never met. His personal assistant had hired her, explaining his boss was often away for months at a time. Carinya had been his family's spectacular Blue Mountains retreat for generations but he lived a couple of hours east in Sydney when he wasn't travelling.
'That's right, Mr Carstairs. A family issue.'
Not that she'd known that the morning she'd fled this house. She'd simply packed her bags and caught the first train out. It was only later she'd discovered that in a weird coincidence of fate she faced not one but two crises. At least one of them was over.
'But we can count on your continued presence now?' One eyebrow arched above sleek designer glasses.
'Of course.' She'd been grateful when her sudden request for leave had been granted, but now she felt a spark of resentment at his attitude. 'I moved back in a couple of hours ago. I'll be on hand whenever you need me.' She forced herself to smile up into his stern face.
If she'd expected a glimmer of friendliness she was disappointed.
The way he stood, staring, no answering smile or nod, should have unnerved her. But Chloe was used to standing up for herself, proving herself again and again. Her self-confidence had been forged in a hard school.
She met his gaze squarely, trying to read his face.
Most people gave non-verbal clues to their thoughts. Not Declan Carstairs. Maybe that was how he'd taken his inherited fortune and turned it into something astronomical—by playing his cards close to his chest.
Yet this was something more. Was that disapproval she read in his set jaw and tense mouth? Anger, even?
Her skin tightened as she recalled standing frozen, eyes glued to his naked form, well after she'd realised who he was. There'd been a distinct element of appreciation as her gaze had slid over his virile form.
Had he caught her staring? Heat washed her throat and cheeks.
'I'm sorry for interrupting you just now. I hadn't realised you were here in the pool.'
Or that you were naked.
'Mr Sarkesian left a message saying you'd both be working in your study this morning and he'd brief me after that. I'd never intentionally...'
A dismissive gesture silenced her. 'David had to leave on unexpected business.' He paused and she had the impression of tension clamping his big frame rigid. 'Was there anything else?'
'No, nothing.' She'd been waiting for him. 'I'll just take these to the pool house. Unless there's anything I can get you?'
He shook his head. Chloe fought not to notice the way tiny droplets of water eased over his shoulders to track down across the solid musculature of his chest.
Her mouth dried and the heat in her face notched up to scorching.
She was doing it again!
She didn't ogle attractive men. Yet the sight of her ...
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