My daughter will soon be home for the holidays. It only seems five minutes ago that we were bringing her home from hospital as a tiny baby. Now she's about to start her final year at university. She's studying Archaeology, which means the summer is her busiest time. This year, she'll be spending some of her time working at a Roman site in the south of England, where last season she found all sorts of beautiful and poignant things, from beads to babies. Archaeology is a bit of a cinderella discipline. They also serve who only stand and sift spoil heaps, so I thought it was about time the "trowel jockeys" got their very own heroine! Josie is a dedicated academic who gets the chance of a lifetime in The Count's Prize, my July release for Harlequin Mills and Boon which you can find at http://www.millsandboon.co.uk/books/Modern/The-Counts-Prize.htm. Josie wants to develop a course based on the beautiful di Sirena estate, but its notorious owner Count Dario is a volatile character. He can't resist the challenge of a woman so wrapped up in her work that she spends her days in shapeless working clothes, turning pink in the sun and getting covered in dust. Unlike the other women in his life, Josie is no pushover. She knows what she wants, so when her best friend finally tempts her into attending a glamorous party thrown by Dario she transforms herself into a woman who has an unexpected effect on him. She revives feelings that have remained buried deep within him after a tragedy hardened his heart.
With one hand, Dario lifted a glass of champagne from a nearby tray then stuck the other hand into his trouser pocket and sauntered casually to the edge of her group.
He spoke, and she smiled.
Dario took that as his cue to advance and stand beside her. Instead of lifting her fingers to his lips as he had done the first time they'd met, his hand went straight to her waist as he kissed her lightly on the cheek. She didn't flinch from either gesture, he noticed with a delicious kick of pleasure.
'How are you enjoying the party?'
'I didn't think you'd recognise me,' she said apprehensively.
'I would know you anywhere,' he said, and it was true. She was so lovely, he couldn't bear to leave her alone for a moment. No one knew more than he did how every single second in the company of a beautiful woman should be cherished. One wrong word, one thoughtless gesture and happiness could be snatched away for ever. Nothing could have persuaded him to risk going through the pain he'd endured in losing Arietta - but he wasn't prepared to see Josie fall prey to one of his guests. The idea of a treasure like her in the clutches of another man was unthinkable...
...she was looking at the woman he had abandoned when he'd blazed a trail around the room to her.
'Oh, that's just Tamara,' Dario said casually, stepping back.
On the other side of the room, the blonde raised one hand and blew him a kiss.
'Hmm. It doesn't look as though she's saying"Oh, that's just Dario," to those other people,' Josie said stiffly.
Dario felt a surge of purely male satisfaction. She was jealous - tonight she was as good as his.
Copyright Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd, 2012.
That's what Dario thinks - but Josie has very definite ideas about the way she wants to be treated and loyalty is top of her list. Commitment equals pain for Dario - so when Josie walks away he has to face the past he's sworn to forget, or face losing her forever...
The Count's Prize was an absorbing book to write. I could let myself go on the warm, exotic locations I love so much. We're experiencing some dreadful weather here in England at the moment, so distraction is a good thing. I hope it's blowing itself out ahead of some good weather in time for my darling daughter's stint on that Roman excavation!
Where's your favourite destination when you want to get away from it all? It can be real or fictional, and there's a signed copy of The Count's Prize for a comment picked at random.
Christina Hollis writes Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon Ltd, when she isn't working in the garden, with her bees or daydreaming about resuming her abandoned Classical Studies. You can catch up with her at http://www.christinahollis.com, http://www.christinahollis.blogspot.com on Facebook and on Twitter, where she tweets as @christinabooks.