Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Au Pair and the Beast + Giveaway

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The Au Pair and the Beast
Aurora Russell

Word Count: 54,799
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 205
Genres: BILLIONAIRE, CHICK LIT, CONTEMPORARY, EROTIC ROMANCE, FAIRYTALES

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Book Description

 

Veronica’s new job comes with a darling little boy, a Gothic castle and…a beast?

When recently laid-off Francophile Veronica Carson is recommended for an au pair job by the elegant leader of her French conversation group, she isn’t sure what to expect—but a Gothic castle deep in the wilds of Maine is certainly not it. Still, she’s drawn in by her joyful little charge, Jean-Philippe, and even more drawn to his brooding father.

Ruthlessly successful businessman Alain Reynard has loved before and has no wish to repeat the painful experience. The tragedy of his recent past is still fresh in his mind, and he wants nothing to do with his son’s lovely new au pair. Despite his best efforts, though, he can’t seem to get her off his mind.

A passionate romance begins to blossom but is put to the test when painful reminders of Alain’s past return. As ugly rumors swirl, the truths of the past and the present collide. Veronica must decide if Alain really is a beast and, if so, whether she can love him enough to break through the dark memories and secrets that tether him to what once was.

Excerpt

“Wait… He’s sending his own car and driver to pick you up from the train station? And take you to his castle? How deliciously Gothic! It’s probably set high up on some cliffs, overlooking an impossibly picturesque view of waves crashing onto the rocks.”

Veronica quirked her lips into a smile at Katrin’s words as they crackled through her cell phone, the reception seeming to go in and out as she rode along. Her best friend had a pronounced flair for the dramatic, which had only been enhanced by a number of drama classes in college.

“Well, when you put it that way…it does sound pretty glamorous,” she laughingly agreed. “If it looks anything like that, I’ll definitely text a picture of the view, complete with fog and sea spray.”

Her friend’s answering chuckle was amused. “How does Madame Montreaux know this guy again?”

Thinking back on it, Veronica wasn’t sure the woman who led her French conversation group had ever actually told her…not specifically, anyway. “Weird. I’m not really sure… She just pulled me aside after our group one day and mentioned she’d heard about a job she thought I might be perfect for, you know, since she knew I’d lost my job when Dumfries & Partners was acquired. I got the impression—maybe just from her voice or something?—that he’s some sort of family friend, but she was super skimpy on details.” She drummed her fingers on her armrest as she considered. “I had to sign a confidentiality agreement before they even sent me the job description.”

“Hmm-m.” The one short word seemed filled with both skepticism and suspicion. “How old are the kids?”

“Just one child. A boy. I think he’s four… Not in school yet, but he goes to preschool.”

Veronica watched as the increasingly rural and wooded landscape flew by outside the window. The day was gray and dreary, but the beauty of the wilds of Maine was still undeniable. The well-modulated, incongruously feminine automated voice of the announcer came over the loudspeakers.

Next stop, Grant’s Cliff. Grant’s Cliff is a flagged stop. Please notify the conductor if you are getting off at this stop.”

Excitement and nerves combined into one powerful spark that set off a flurry of butterflies in Veronica’s stomach, even as she stood and started to gather up her things.

“Sorry, K… Gotta go. They just called my stop. Call you later, okay?”

“Yes! Call, text, everything… I’ll be waiting impatiently to hear that you haven’t been chained up in this guy’s basement—or dungeon. Whatever. Be careful! And good luck!”

Cradling the phone between her shoulder and cheek as she reached for her bag from the overhead storage, Veronica barked a laugh, and it was muffled. “Thank you?”

“Anytime! Bye!”

“Bye,” Veronica answered, letting her bag drop into the seat and clicking to end the call on her phone. And it seemed it wasn’t a moment too soon as she caught the conductor’s eye and the train began to slow. She’d told him earlier where she was getting off and she was glad she had, since it didn’t look like anyone else on the train was making a move to leave. Grant’s Cliff was apparently not a popular destination.

“Right this way, miss.” The conductor’s weathered face creased into a kindly smile as he motioned her with one work-hardened hand.

“Thanks.” She gave an answering grin and slipped the strap of her suitcase over her shoulder crosswise, sliding it to her back so she could hurry down the center aisle more easily. “Am I the only one getting off?”

“A-yup,” he said, his Maine accent plain. She thought that was all he’d say, but as she stepped out of the open door onto the small platform, she heard him add, “Not much out here nowadays, apart from the castle and the beast.”

Startled, she turned back, but the doors had already swished closed and the train began to pull away. Okay then.

She turned back and surveyed the deserted station. It was really more of a booth set next to a concrete slab platform with steps leading up to it. The metal sign for the station name was no bigger than a street sign and looked weathered. The dreary day had given way to fog, and now that the train had left, the only sound was the muffled rustling of the wind through thousands of trees. Where the heck is the driver? she wondered. Even as she looked around, half of her mind was still on the conductor’s strange words. What did he mean by the beast? Why hasn’t anyone else mentioned it? Is this, like, a hotspot for sasquatch hunters? Or the home of a rogue grizzly? Wait! Are there even grizzly bears in Maine? She thought maybe there were only black bears. But still, a rogue black bear could definitely be a beast.

When someone’s gentle hand touched her shoulder, pulling her from her thoughts, she screeched and jumped what felt like three feet off the ground.

“Mademoiselle Carson? Veronica Carson?” The middle-aged man’s accent was unmistakably French, and he pronounced her first name as Vehr-oh-nee-ka. She quickly raised her hand to her neck where her pulse was still racing.

“Yes,” she nodded, a little breathless. “So sorry. I didn’t hear anyone.”

The man, who she noticed now was wearing a dark suit and even a driver’s hat, smiled understandingly. “The fog. When it is thick like this, well…everything is hushed.”

“Of course, that makes sense.” She was relieved at such a simple explanation.

He held out his hand formally. “Claude Hormet, in service to Monsieur Reynard for many years.”

She held her hand to meet his, and it was immediately taken into a firm handshake. “Nice to meet you, Monsieur Hormet.”

His smile widened at her pronunciation of his name, and she thought she saw surprise flicker in his eyes. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Mademoiselle. We were told you spoke French well, and I can already hear it, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“Thank you. That’s very kind of you. I’m happy to switch over if you’d like, so you can really hear me.”

Monsieur Hormet smiled again. “I would enjoy that, but later. For now, I will escort you to the château.”

He took her bag from her and led her to a shiny, black Lincoln sedan that looked pristine in spite of the fact that it must have been at least thirty years old. He opened the back door, and once she’d slid onto the back seat, he gave a little bow before closing the door behind her. She didn’t even hear the trunk close after he’d put her suitcase in, and when they began to move, the ride was so smooth that it felt like they were floating.

Monsieur Hormet didn’t speak again, and sensing that it would possibly be considered too informal for her to initiate conversation, Veronica maintained silence as well. Instead, she took out her folder with a copy of her resume and list of references. She reviewed her notes again, but they were sparse. From the barebones details that had accompanied the job description, she really didn’t know a lot about the open position and still didn’t know anything more about her prospective employer than his last name, so she rehearsed again in her head what she could say about her experience.

She was so deep in thought, comfortable on the sumptuous leather of the seats, that she didn’t really look up until the car began to slow. Then…wow. The mansion that loomed before her was truly a castle, made of stone with towers and turrets. If it had had a moat and not located in Maine, she would not have been surprised if someone had told her it was from the Middle Ages.

She must have made some sort of sound because Monsieur Hormet caught her gaze in the rearview mirror.

“Ah, the château is beautiful, no?”

Looking back at the lines of the massive structure, Veronica noticed that they were surprisingly delicate as well. Large it might be, but this was also a masterpiece of artistry, balanced and elegant. Still trying to look at every part of the castle at the same time, she answered with enthusiasm, “Oh yes, absolutely gorgeous!”

They pulled up right to the front steps, and Monsieur Hormet came around to help her out of the car. The air that buffeted her face was cooler than at the train station, damp and heavy, carrying the unmistakable salty tang of the ocean. She curved her lips into a small smile when she heard the distant crash of waves on something. Katrin was going to be overjoyed that her guess had to be at least partly correct.

“If you’ll follow me, Mademoiselle, I’ll show you to the large salon.” Monsieur Hormet glanced at the front windows and nodded slightly at some small movement inside. “Eveline will let Monsieur Reynard know you’ve arrived.”

Still craning her neck as discreetly as possible to see everything at once, Veronica followed him up a large number of stone steps and into the château. She had only a glimpse of the enormous entry hall before they went down a spacious hallway into a room that looked like some sort of formal parlor. There were several seating areas around the room, and he motioned for her to sit in a straight-backed armchair in the cluster nearest to the windows. Even with the fog, she could still tell that the windows here overlooked the ocean. A gray-green expanse of icy-cold Atlantic water, the view looked imposing rather than inviting. She loved it.

Fighting the urge to press her nose to the glass of the windowpanes, she sat down on the chair instead in what she hoped was a professional, dignified manner. She took out the folder once again and waited. An ornate gilded clock, which looked like an antique that would have been at home in the art museum in Boston, ticked, and the sound was loud in the otherwise-silent room. At the snick of the door handle turning, she leaped to her feet and turned to greet her interviewer. The figure that entered was considerably shorter and faster than she’d expected, though.

As he barreled toward her at full tilt, Veronica saw that the little boy had a mass of golden-blond hair, bright blue eyes and cheeks that glowed pink with good health. His happy face was dominated by a huge grin. She braced for possible impact, but he stopped abruptly right in front of her and eyed her curiously.

“You’re pretty,” he said in French, “but I don’t like your coat. I’m not supposed to say ‘hate’ or ‘ugly’.” He looked up at her expectantly.

Veronica stifled a laugh as she darted a glance down at her suit coat. It was something she’d bought for interviews, and she internally agreed that it wasn’t the most attractive thing she owned—more about practicality than fashion. But still…

“It sounds like you’re doing a good job listening, then,” she answered in French, skirting around the question. She set her folder, which she’d still been clutching, on the seat of the chair and crouched down so she was eye-level with the boy. “What’s your name? Mine is Veronica.”

“Jean-Philippe. Yvette says you’re here to take care of me, but only if Papa likes you. I don’t have a maman. She died. Our dog died too. Sometimes I get sad and cry and Papa says that’s okay.” Veronica’s heart clenched at the childish words, but she fought another laugh at what he said next. “Did you bring a present? Papa always brings a present and hides it in one of his pockets. Oncle Marius too. Is that why you’re wearing that coat, to hide presents?” He eyed her outfit with more enthusiasm.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jean-Philippe,” she answered, then shook her head regretfully. “I didn’t know, so no presents today, but I promise that if I stay, I’ll bring you something next time I go into town. How’s that?”

He bobbed his little head as he nodded, making his fine blond hair glint, even in the dim sunlight from the gloomy day. “That sounds good,” he agreed. “I hope you go to town soon.”

She couldn’t have hidden her smile this time if she’d tried, so she didn’t bother. Another noise made her look up again, toward the door, where a young woman stood, looking a bit harried. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, as if she’d been running. She wore some sort of uniform dress, not black-and-white but something about it made Veronica think she might be a maid or housekeeper. Her look at Jean-Philippe was a mix of exasperation and affection.

The man who entered on her heels, though, made Veronica shoot to her feet and straighten her back. He was tall, probably close to six-and-a-half feet, and his shoulders and chest were broad and muscular. He wore a suit that must have been custom-tailored to fit his large frame so perfectly, and he exuded an air of pure power. Confidence. She would have had to be blind or utterly oblivious not to feel an awareness of such a man.

Where his frame and his very presence seemed to fill the room, it was his face that really captivated her. Dark, wavy hair framed the most attractive face she thought she’d ever seen. He wasn’t what she would call handsome—his Roman nose was just a little too prominent—but his features were masculine, strong and absolutely stunning. His eyes, which she could tell even from this distance were a deep brown like melted dark chocolate and framed with thick dark lashes, seemed to see all the way into her from across the room. She felt goosebumps rise on her arms and up her neck, and she couldn’t seem to tear her own gaze away.

When he started to move, whatever spell that was keeping her silent was broken. To her surprise, she noticed that he walked with a cane in steps that looked like they carefully concealed pain.

“Oh, Monsieur, I’m so sorry. He got away from me when he was supposed to be following me,” the young woman apologized to the man who she guessed must be Monsieur Reynard.

He inclined his head slightly, and although his face remained impassive, Veronica somehow got the impression of tolerance.

“I understand, Yvette. You may return to your regular duties.” His voice was deep and rumbling, full of gravel. It rolled through the quiet room, filling every corner, though he spoke quietly.

The young woman gave a little bow and hurried from the room gratefully, leaving only Veronica, Jean-Philippe and Monsieur Reynard.

“Papa!” the little boy exclaimed, confirming Veronica’s guess at the identity of the man. She saw him grimace almost imperceptibly as his little boy crashed into his leg in a show of preschool affection.

“I see you’ve met Miss Carson, my son,” he said, looking at Veronica as he tousled the baby-fine mop of hair.

“Oh yes! Do you like her? Is she staying?”

The question fell heavily in the quiet room, and Veronica turned to pick up the folder again.

“I brought a copy of my resume and a list of references—”

“No need.” Monsieur Reynard interrupted her, gesturing with his hand as if to wave her words away. “I’ve seen enough. The job is yours.”

Veronica’s mouth fell open. “I, uh… We just met.”

He raised his dark eyebrows. “So we did.”

She shook her head. Why was he making her so unsettled? Good Heavens, she was usually more articulate than this! “I mean, you haven’t interviewed me. Don’t you want to know…more?”

He shrugged and inclined his head to one side. “Mademoiselle, I’m known for being a good judge of character, with very few exceptions. It’s part of what has made me so successful. Jean-Philippe needs someone who is good with children, experienced and speaks French. From what I heard, you are all of these things.”

Veronica felt a warm flush rising up her neck, straight to her cheeks then right on up to her hairline. For some reason, the idea of not being aware of this man, with his outsize presence, made her beyond flustered. “You were listening?” she asked in a voice that was, she congratulated herself, almost normal.

He shrugged in a wonderfully Mediterranean way. “Not on purpose, but the door was cracked open and sound carries down the hallway.”

Mentally replaying her conversation with Jean-Philippe, Veronica couldn’t figure out what she could possibly have said to warrant this instant acceptance. “And I said enough to give you such confidence?”

She thought she had gotten over her initial shock of awareness at how very handsome he was, like someone jumping into cold water who starts acclimating. She was wrong. When he turned the full force of his dark, soulful eyes on her and turned up the corners of his mouth in what might have been the beginnings of a smile, she nearly had to catch her breath. She felt the goosebumps rise again all over her arms.

“You did pass the background check with flying colors, and you must know your accent is beautiful. But mostly, you didn’t miss a beat when my son insulted your er…ensemble.” He motioned tactfully to her suit and she opened her mouth in indignation, only to snap it shut at his next words. “I truly believe you to be a young woman of good sense, patience and kindness. Those are qualities I value beyond all others.”

His praise warmed her and was so close to describing the kind of person she hoped she was that she felt like another piece clicked into the odd connection she might be starting to feel with him.

“Thank you. In that case, I accept the position.” He didn’t return her smile, but she thought maybe his eyes crinkled the slightest bit at the corners.

“I’ll have Monsieur Hormet bring in the paperwork. Come along, Jean-Phillipe,” he said, turning and making his slow, deliberate way to the door with a gait she suspected concealed very-well-hidden pain. Jean-Philippe overtook him to sprint out of the door before his father.

All in all, Veronica was feeling pretty darn satisfied and relieved at avoiding the stress of a real interview when she heard Monsieur Reynard’s last words before he left the room.

“Such a relief to meet a young woman who doesn’t trouble herself too much over her clothes.”

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About the Author

Aurora Russell

Aurora is originally from the frozen tundra of the upper-Midwest (ok, not frozen all the time!) but now loves living in New England with her real-life hero/husband, two wonderfully silly sons, and one of the most extraordinary cats she has ever had the pleasure to meet. But she still goes back to the Midwest to visit, just never in January.

She doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t love to read, and has been writing stories since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has always liked the romantic scenes best in every book, story, and movie, so one day she decided to try her hand at writing her own romantic fiction, which changed her life in all the best ways.

You can find out more about Aurora at her website here.

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Spotlight & Excerpt: Louisiana Latte + Giveaway

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Louisiana Latte
by Rebecca Henry
Genre: Romantic Comedy

 

In 1989, at the age of twenty-two, Deb was in a life or death situation. As the engines started, accompanied by the fasten seat belt sign, Deb felt her skin crawl with immobilizing fear. She had two choices, either get off the plane or die in her brand-new Gucci stilettos. Deb couldn’t get on a plane for love that day, but she could do it twenty years later for money. Money was worth dying for.

 

louisianalatte - excerpt

I made my way up the beach, the other woman coming into perfect view. She was an older woman, and she wore a hot pink rhinestone-encrusted string bikini with the fabric stretching in vain to cover her enormous round breast implants. They sat like a hard shelf over her soft potbelly and short, stubby legs. Her skin was dark, tanned to the color and texture of an old shoe. Her mouse brown and frizzy hair stood out like a corona around her head, and her lips were overfilled with collagen, giving her the appearance of a quacking duck.

“Becky, there you are,” Sally said with relief as I walked up beside her. She grabbed my arm and shot me a meaningful sideways glance. I looked over at my mother’s new companion. “This is my daughter, Becky,” Sally told the stranger.

Like a cawing crow, the woman rasped, “Oh, aren’t you fit!” A thick New Jersey accent shaped her words. “Tammy! Tammy, look at her!” she shouted, pointing at me with one long, garish fingernail. “Tammy, doesn’t she look like a yoga instructor in her trendy little one piece?”

Oh God. I hated feeling like I was being put on display. This is just too awkward. Maybe I can hide under Sally’s pile of crap.

Tammy walked over, eyeing me up and down. She mirrored the first woman, perhaps younger. “Oh, yeah!” Tammy squawked. “She looks like Rainbow, the one who teaches yoga downtown.”

I glanced over at my mom after making sure the two crows couldn’t hear me.

“Why did you do this to me?” I hissed under my breath.

“Becky, don’t leave me,” my mother whispered. My arm hurt where she gripped it like a lifeline, tethering me at her side.

“I’m Agatha,” the short, round woman informed me. “Agatha Broccoli, but you can call me Aggie.”

I shook my head, bewildered. “Your name is Aggie Broccoli?” I asked. “Like the vegetable?”

“Yes, sweetheart, it is,” she grinned proudly. “Aggie Broccoli from New Jersey, and this is my sister, Tammy Broccoli. We’re the Broccoli sisters. She’s from Jersey as well.”

Tammy was a carbon copy of her sister Aggie, from her thick accent to her potbelly. Though her rhinestone bikini was turquoise. There must have been a sale. I eyed the two of them. If I were to sum up New Jersey in one word, it would be Aggie Broccoli. I squinted into Aggie’s face. Aggie had the longest eyelashes I’d ever seen—so long that every time she blinked, she struggled to reopen her eyes.

“Oh gawd, I can’t see a thing,” Aggie complained. “I got implants.”

I nodded. Her boobs nearly reached her chin, and I seriously doubted she could see her feet over them.

She pointed instead to her eyes. “They took my hair from my head and implanted them as eyelashes.” Aggie fluttered her eyes, trying to untangle her lashes that had curled together.

“Wait, your eyelashes are made from hair on your head?” I asked in disbelief.

“Of course,” she squawked as she struggled to blink, her thick Jersey accent rounding the words.

My jaw was on the ground. Human hair eyelash implants. That was a new one.

“What? Why?” I asked. “Why use your hair for eyelashes?”

Aggie flicked sand off her long, red fingernails and gingerly pried her lashes apart, blinking widely to adjust. Sally and I watched in abject horror.

“So they would look natural,” Aggie boasted. “I wanted my eyelash color to match my hair color.”

I stepped back in amazement. ‘Natural’ was not the first word that came to mind when I looked at Aggie Broccoli.

Rebecca Henry is an American author living in the UK. Her books range from vegan cookbooks to fantasy to sci-fi to Rebecca’s latest release with Urban Edge Publishing, Louisiana Latte: A Chick Lit Comedy About Sisters, Stilletos, Coffee, and One Fabulous Diva! You can find all Rebecca’s books on Amazon.
 
 

 

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Release Blitz & Excerpt: Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea + Giveaway

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Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea
by Stefania Hartley

Heat Rating: Simmering

Sexometer: 1
Word Count: 43,630
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 179
Genres: CHICK LIT, COMEDY AND HUMOUR, CONTEMPORARY, EROTIC ROMANCE, THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

 

Sicilian marine biologist Serena Ingotta has never understood men, but when she uncovers a mafia factory polluting the sea, it only adds to the things that confuse her.

Twenty-four-year-old Sicilian scientist Serena Ingotta has always misunderstood men, from her workaholic anti-mafia judge father to the Catholic seminarian she’s hopelessly in love with. Interning in a marine biology lab alongside her irritating colleague Enrico, she discovers an illegal polluting factory that is possibly connected with the mafia.

When it turns out that their boss is going to cover up the story, she publicly denounces him at a science conference and gets expelled from the lab. Alone and ostracized, Serena’s attempts to find love and expose the factory seem to be failing epically until she finally realizes that everything she has been searching for was just under her nose.

Reader advisory: This book contains instances of minors with firearms.

Excerpt

Serena jangled the lab keys inside her bag and smiled. The cheerful clink told her that, even without a salary, a job description or a coat peg, she belonged there. The sound echoed in the silent corridor. There was no tapping of wooden soles, no irritated voices, no whispered gossip at that time in the morning. There was just her, the pickled coelacanths and the embalmed, startled pufferfish to greet her through the glass cabinets.

She stuck the key into the lab door and tried to turn it, but it was already unlocked. Strange… I’m usually the first in. As she opened the door, she found the tall green shutters gaping open and a gust of wind slammed the windows shut with a tinkling of glass.

“Hi, Sery!”

“Enrico?” He was perched on his stool, hunched over the wooden workbench with his grubby lab coat unbuttoned, as attractive as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He straightened, turned toward her and blinked as if he were only just waking up. He usually turned up around ten o’clock. “How come you’re here so early?”

“Just to spook you. No, not really. I just suddenly thought, Shit, we have to finish our research by the end of the week, and I freaked out. Are you freaked out too?”

“A bit. Mostly about your sudden interest in our work. I thought I’d never get any help from you.”

He smiled. “I’m here to the rescue, baby.” He thrust a fist in the air, and Serena groaned inwardly. He was even wearing a Superman T-shirt.

She took off her motorbike helmet and put it down on the floor under the coat pegs. “Maybe we’ll get our own pegs after the conference.”

He shook his head. Coat pegs were for staff, not unpaid interns. “I wouldn’t hold my breath, Sery. We’re out of filter paper and we can’t order more until next year’s funding arrives. I don’t think either of us is getting a job here anytime soon.”

“Hold on. If we’re out of filter paper, what are you using for filtering?” she asked, pointing to the funnel dripping a red liquid into a conical flask on their workbench.

“Hand towels.” He grinned.

She clutched her head. “You can’t do that! No wonder our results—”

“Just joking.” He grinned, winking. “I’ve cut the discs in half so we have enough. If you pour carefully, they do the job just fine.”

“Please, don’t make a joke like that again. Not now.” They only had until Friday to persuade their boss to submit their research to the upcoming Marine Biology Conference. If they presented their research at the conference, they could put it on their CVs and maybe they’d get a research bursary or—if dreams ever came true—a permanent research position. Two years of unpaid work in Schettino’s lab would not have been in vain. “Right. Let’s get to work.”

By the time Giovanna and Titti arrived after dropping their kids off at school, Serena and Enrico had dissected the fish samples, isolated the gill tissues and filtered the extracts. Giovanna and Titti were research associates—with coat pegs, name badges and monthly salaries—but they were too nice for Serena to wish that they accidentally cut their own heads off while dissecting a fish so that she could have their jobs.

Cornetti to see us through today,” Giovanna announced, putting down a parcel wrapped with the paper from the café downstairs on a nearby bench. The heavenly buttery scent of the Italian croissants temporarily flushed the smell of the fish samples from the room. Yes, Giovanna is definitely too lovely to hate.

“Shall we have a break?” Enrico suggested hopefully.

“I want to see the spectrophotometer’s results first, but you can,” Serena said.

Enrico hesitated but picked up a cuvette with fish juice instead of a cornetto with custard and walked over to the spectrophotometer in the far corner of the room. Enrico called out the machine’s readings and Serena entered them into her laptop.

“How are things going here?” Professor Schettino suddenly appeared behind them. The boss never arrived before eleven o’clock. He must be early because of the conference deadline.

“We’re getting together the last results,” Enrico said confidently.

“Great. I want to see all your results by lunchtime.”

“Sure.”

After that deadline was issued, the cornetti weren’t mentioned anymore.

Just before midday, Schettino shouted from his office, “Enrico, Serena, are you done?”

They looked at each other. “Almost!” Enrico called back.

It was a very early ‘lunchtime’ for Italy. They entered the last few results into their table and clicked on the button that would create a curve of best fit. But what came out was not a curve by any standard.

“I’ve calibrated the machine three times!” Enrico protested, waving his arm in the air.

“I don’t think our results are wrong. The repeats are very close to each other.”

“Then why does our data make no sense?”

“It does make sense. Negative results disprove the hypothesis.”

Enrico twisted his mouth. “Negative results aren’t exciting enough to be presented at a conference.”

“Schettino will agree that science doesn’t have to be sensational. Come… Let’s show him.” She got up with her laptop and marched to Schettino’s office-cave. Enrico followed her. “Here are our results,” she announced, putting her laptop down on their boss’ desk, which was scattered with printouts crossed through and scribbled on in red pen. Enrico stopped on the threshold and leaned against the door jamb.

Schettino adjusted his reading glasses, put down the red pen and looked intently at the graph. “Ah,” he said, pushing his wheelie chair back and dropping his glasses to look intently at Serena.

Serena waited for a more comprehensive comment, possibly with some indication of his appreciation.

“So, what’s your conclusion?” he asked, shrugging.

“That there’s no correlation between heavy metal concentration in fish and distance from the shore.”

Enrico stepped into the room. “We’ve calibrated the instruments before every batch of measurements, we’ve repeated each reading at least three times and…we’ve worn gloves.”

“Uhm”—Schettino pursed his lips—“perhaps you need to plot against depth instead of distance from the shore.”

“Why? What’s wrong with our results as they are?” This was not how she had imagined the conversation would go.

“Not impressive enough to go to a conference. The selection committee won’t give you even a five-minute slot to present it. Nobody is interested in you having an idea and proving that it was wrong, Serena. I don’t care what you plot your results against, so long as you find a correlation of some sort. Otherwise, I won’t submit your work to the conference. It’s as simple as that.” He stood up, which made him a lot taller than her—but not Enrico.

“But the submission deadline is on Friday,” Enrico protested.

“You don’t have to come to this conference. There’ll be many others.”

But we’ve worked for two years with the promise of being allowed to submit to this conference.

“We’ll turn the research around by Friday.”

Schettino smiled. “I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

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About the Author

Stefania Hartley

Stefania Hartley, also known as The Sicilian Mama, was born in Sicily and immediately started growing, but not very much. She left her sunny island after falling head over heels in love with an Englishman, and she’s lived all over the world with him and their three children.

Having finally learnt English, she enjoyed it so much that she started writing stories and nobody has been able to stop her since. She loves to write about hot and sunny places like her native Sicily, and she especially likes it when people fall in love.

Her short stories have been longlisted, commended and won prizes. Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea is her second novel, after Sun, Stars and Limoncello.

You can find out more about Stefania on her website, and on the Sicilian Mama’s Blog. You can also listen to Stefania’s podcast.

Giveaway

Enter to win a fabulous gift package and a FREE Stefania Hartley romance book!

Stefania Hartley’s Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea

STEFANIA HARTLEY IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GRAB YOUR FREE STEFANIA HARTLEY ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 26th January 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.