When Dani Smiled
by Athina Paris
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Stranded on the side of a highway, Dani, a young fashion designer and IT expert, calls to reschedule an important interview, only to discover that her future boss is in the hospital. Nicholas, playboy and heir to Galfrey’s, can’t help but be intrigued by the young woman’s voice on the phone and races to her rescue.
Attraction is immediate and mutual, but whereas Nicholas has never waited for anything in his life, Dani quickly dampens his enthusiasm by refusing to be rushed into a casual liaison.
Sams is handsome, ambitious, and rich, but also self-centred, with huge self-entitlement issues, manipulative, and believes Dani belongs to him. A master programmer, he is also no fool and realises that he is about to lose what he has never had; Dani, and so begins a dangerous stalking game. It is up to Dani not only to outsmart Sams, but also save Galfrey’s and herself, as Sams is the keeper of a secret, which he hopes will coerce her into submitting to his twisted desires.
Dani clutched the portfolio pages tightly to her chest as she stepped out the door and glanced at the January sky. It was clear in the east but ominous clouds gathered in the west, broadcasting a possible downpour. Typical Johannesburg weather, surprises every other hour. She held the drawings closer, not prepared to lose years of hard work to potential torrents. Better rush too if she planned to make it to the art shop before ten; had to look professional at the interview.
She gazed at her Jack Russell sitting on Mrs. Brown’s windowsill, glad the kind woman had offered to look after the little rascal whenever she was out. She tapped the glass and there was an instant pricking of ears and wagging of tail. She smiled at the furry face staring back at her, ‘Coco, go play.’ Instead, Coco hopped around, pawed the pane, and licked it. Poor Mrs. Brown, another slobbered window to clean.
Coco had been a gift from Sams, and generally, she regretted accepting anything from him, because every time she did, he felt entitled to some part of her life. She was convinced Sams was a freak of nature, because he was that one thing so many men wanted to be but were not, and she could not remember a time when he had not been number one at just about everything he had put his mind to throughout their school years. As far back as she could recall he had always been good-looking, smart, charming, and excelled at sports, especially rugby. A lot of idolatry had flown around that school. He thrived on it, she found it disturbing.
Her heart dropped as she reached her car, there was a deep dent and crack on the Beetle’s front bumper. She peered at it, poked it, gave it a kick then looked around; trying to find someone who might explain it, but there was no one in sight. Now, when exactly did this happen, here, or at some parking lot? Her father had bought it just two months previously.
‘Ugh,’ she uttered. It was a new car with a scar and she with no idea how it had been inflicted. She felt like crying but what would that accomplish? She should have known then that this was not to be a normal day but ever the eternal optimist she set forth into it as if it were an adventure.
The damaged bumper returned her thoughts to Sams. Once, when they were still learning how to drive, he had taken his mother’s car without permission and gone over to her house. She hated it when he turned up unexpectedly because he was constantly looking for things she did not intend giving him.
He sort of kissed her… She labelled it sort of, because she had been unresponsive. However, when he forced his tongue into her mouth, she became responsive, by pushing him away and locking herself in her bedroom. Sams did not understand or accept rejection easily and left in a huff. She should rephrase that, he tried to leave in a huff but proceeded to scratch a long ugly line all the way down the car’s side as he drove past the gate, so instead, he left in a furious mood.
Something curious happened to Sams that particular January morning. Just as he was about to sit down to write an exam, he had the overwhelming urge to call Dani, not a mere flicker of an idea, but a burning anxiety to contact her. He glanced at the time. Nothing doing, that call had to wait until he was done here, and that was at the very least two hours away. Yet, the urgency persisted. He glanced at the clock again then shrugged; there was nothing he could do about it now. Slowly, the feeling waned, then, vanished, having lasted a total of two minutes.
Sams was not to know that two powerful forces were at work that morning; the first endeavoured to give him another chance at attaining what he wanted, and the second conspired to give Dani what she needed.
He was not to know that had he given up writing that exam and called her, the selfless gesture would have finally shown him in the light he wished to be seen, and worked favourably in his pursuit of Dani Marie Creswell. For at that very moment, she stood on the side of a highway, cursing the damaged bumper that had come off completely. She had ridden over the mangled mess and it was now stubbornly stuck under the Beetle, with a sharp edge dug deep into the front right tyre, which leaned at a strange angle in shreds to the right.
Now, did she call to announce that she would be late for her interview, get a tow-truck, inform insurance, or her father? Safe was probably the best way to go about this.
‘Galfrey’s, good morning,’ said a prim and proper voice.
After a quick greeting, she stated her business. ‘…I have an interview with Mr. Ridley at eleven, but I would like to speak with him first, if possible.’
‘One moment please.’ Prim and proper checked the schedule. ‘Are you sure it’s today?’
‘Why are you calling?’
Did people not listen? ‘I have an interview but I’m in a bit of a situation.’
Prim and proper glanced at the schedule on the computer screen. She was here three days and did not yet understand all the lists, rolls, rosters, appointments, interviews, and consultations. And the name Ridley… now what was it that she was forgetting? ‘Miss Creswell, what are you coming in for? I don’t have a Mr. Ridley on my register.’
Love & Madness
by Athina Paris
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Benjamin Powell believes he has begun an empire. He has three sons and owns the most successful construction company. But it all begins to crumble when he chooses to manipulate their lives. Twenty-seven years later, the consequences of his decisions are still being felt.
Three women enter this world and fall in love with the Powell men – Sofia, Christie,and Gloria – they will suffer, fight, win, and lose. Can one or all find their way back to happiness; whether with the man she loves, or with someone else?
‘Sofia,’ a little concern seeped into Sister Margareta’s voice. ‘Are you sure you want to be doing this? It’s such a beautiful day,’ she pointed to the heavens. ‘Shouldn’t you be outside doing something more appropriate to your age?’
Sofia smiled. ‘But I love marking the little ones’ books,’ she held the basket up, where about twenty exercise books sat in a neat pile.
‘And I am so thankful that you find the time to help me. I am inundated with all these problems… Mother Superior is under immense pressure. We are not doing as well as we should, and there is even talk of possible closure.’
Sofia’s brown eyes widened in surprise. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry to hear it, I didn’t realise.’
‘Well,’ Sister Margareta gave her a reassuring smile. ‘Whatever happens, it will only be by year’s end as we are committed to all our girls until then. So, at least you will be able to finish your school career in peace.’
‘I thank you for that.’ Sofia gazed at the high convent walls where a creeper tumbled indolently over the thick wall, the cobbled path she had walked thousands of times wound gently round the bend, and the cypress trees stood guard. She felt sad at the possibility that it could all simply end.
‘You know, it is true,’ Sister Margareta continued. ‘When doors close in one place others open elsewhere.’ Reaching the gate, she swung its wide mouth open and with a caress, let her hand run along its weather-beaten wood and metal studs.
‘I had a good time here,’ Sofia sighed. ‘And I always thought that after I qualified I would teach here.’
‘Yes, that was something I was also looking forward to. But those children who will eventually get you have no idea what a blessing you will be to them.’
Sofia dropped her gaze shyly. ‘Thank you Sister Margareta, you have always been encouraging.’
‘I still think you should be swimming or doing something fun,’ Sister Margareta pointed to the basket.
‘This is fun.’ A gorgeous smile spread across Sofia’s face. ‘And it’s hardly hard work.’
‘Okay then, go enjoy your afternoon.’ Sister Margareta held the gate open. ‘And don’t forget to write all those positive little messages. The children love it when you mark their books.’ She laughed. ‘And they are all doing better in English because they want to impress you so hard.’
‘That is sweet.’ Sofia lifted a hand in greeting. ‘Goodbye Sister Margareta, see you tomorrow.’
Turning left, Sofia stopped then walked to the end of the block. Unexpectedly, a boy on a bicycle flipped around the corner, clearly out of control. She screamed, he screamed, and his three friends, all on bicycles, screamed. She threw herself against the wall, dropping everything she was carrying, and within seconds, the exhibitionists disappeared. She sat there a moment, a hand on her chest, feeling her pounding heart. About to get to her feet, she saw a hand outstretched to her.
Glancing up, she recognised the young man she had noticed a couple of times during the last few months in the park across the convent.
‘Are you all right?’ Pulling her to her feet, he gave her a quick appraisal. She was almost certainly from one of the Mediterranean countries. Not what one would call exotic but pretty, with beautiful dark hair and kind brown eyes.
‘Friends of yours?’
‘No, just school kids. Robert Thomas Powell.’ He liked to say his entire name when introducing himself. It made him feel important to carry his two grandfathers’ names.
She watched the blue gaze intently, light hair blowing in the wind, and a nice smile. She placed her hand in his. ‘Sofia Andriotti.’
‘Pleased to meet you,’ he quickly gathered the pile of exercise books into the basket again, grabbed her discarded school bag, and handed them to her. Then sauntering across the street, he got onto his motorcycle and rode away.
by Athina Paris
Genre: Contemporary Romance
After losing her mother to cancer, Gabrielle swears off love. Because loving hurts too much when things go wrong. Then, she travels to Africa to meet her father – a man whose existence she was oblivious to. Before long, there is also a baby sister to look after, and intuitively she knows that she needs to protect her. Promptly, there is another tragedy, and more than ever, Gabrielle realises how wise she is to lock away her heart. But that was before she met Jonathan Knight, a man who amuses and confuses her, and Paul, his best friend, who is just as smart and funny. Through an unfortunate sequence of events, she finds herself in a troublesome situation, but being who she is, she tries to handle it alone, unwittingly sinking into a morass of danger. A solution comes in the form of Paul, who makes a harebrained suggestion, which Jonathan – for reasons of his own – grabs and presents her with the providential arrangement. Instinctively, she declines the proposal, but Jonathan is persuasive and paints a wonderful picture of security. She accepts out of need, but soon, Jonathan’s ulterior motives unravel, and nothing is as it should be. But she can’t disclose the truth, for her secret could undo the safe future she is trying to create for her little sister.
‘Hello,’ Gabrielle called, as she entered the house and dropped her bag and car keys on the hall table. Classes had been a mad rush today and she was truly bushed, but now, she had to go sit with Charles Dickens, and write a paper on why his novels still influenced modern day society.
‘Hi honey,’ Eleanor said from the study. ‘Please come see me after lunch.’
Gabrielle knew days like this; in fact, they were becoming quite common. After making lunch, Eleanor would go lie on the sofa in the study, exhausted for the rest of the day. Gabrielle worried a great deal, but the more she tried to probe and query, the more Eleanor clammed up.
‘I had a sandwich earlier,’ Gabrielle said from the doorway, then walked in, leaned over, and kissed her mother’s brow. ‘Mom, you look so pale, you have to go see a doctor.’
Eleanor dropped her gaze, as if caught in an indiscretion. ‘I have already been to see a few.’
‘What? Then… what did they say?’ Gabrielle sat in the armchair closest to the sofa.
‘I’m very sick.’ Eleanor took a laborious breath.
In contrast, Gabrielle’s suspended for a second. ‘What’s wrong? What do you need, what can I do?’
‘I have cancer.’
Fear sprung forth like a hidden monster, making Gabrielle feel weak and numb. She grabbed the chair’s armrests, digging her fingers in. ‘It’s treatable, right? Do you need surgery, chemo, radiation…?’
Eleanor shook her head. ‘I’m beyond that. It’s just too late— I’m dying.’
A world-crushing hand grabbed her heart, flipped her over, and made her feel as if she were dying herself. Tears filled her eyes as she fell on her knees before her mother, dropping her head into her lap. ‘No mommy, you can’t.’
‘I’m sorry baby, but there is nothing more to do. And you know it too.’ Eleanor caressed her child’s hair. ‘But you will always have the happy times, the joy and laughter we brought each other. I’ve put everything is in order, and Charles is aware of it, so when—’
They did not have many friends in Switzerland, but there was one constant visitor, when he was in the country. Charles Knight was somehow related to Eleanor by a flimsy in-law thread, but he had taken it as his duty to see to their comfort and safety. Gabrielle liked him very much and she figured that he must like her too because he always brought her gifts, treated her like a daughter, and never told her to stop calling him daddy, which she had started doing when she was ten. Consequently, Eleanor often turned to him for advice.
She hated being scared, but right now, she was petrified. ‘Stop talking like this, you are not going to die.’ Tears flowed freely.
‘Listen to me.’ Eleanor said softly. ‘It is going to happen, so you have to accept it and prepare for when it does.’
‘I don’t want to, I need you.’ Gabrielle hiccupped, feeling so much like a little girl that she wanted to curl up into her mother’s lap.
‘Charles and I have already discussed everything.’ Eleanor paused. ‘We have decided that the best course of action is for you to go to South Africa.’
‘What?’ Gabrielle exclaimed. Not only was her mother dying, but she was going to be uprooted as well.
‘You can’t stay here alone.’
‘But… Anna and Luc are here.’ Anna was the cleaning, nanny, and everything else lady, and Luc, her seventeen-year-old son. Gabrielle and Luc had always been close; she had kept an eye on him throughout school, made sure he did not mix with the wrong crowd, and been his emotional support when he lost his father.
Eleanor took her daughter’s chin, looking into the beautiful hazel eyes. ‘You need to live, not be concerned and afraid, or alone.’
‘I dreamt of going to Africa, where I should have been born, but not like this, and… What about my studies?’
‘You know those can be continued and completed anywhere. Charles loves you just as if you were his child, so he will keep you safe. But if you don’t want him to…’ Eleanor stopped.
Even through the tears, the bad news, and the utterly helplessness she felt, she knew something much worse was about to happen. ‘Mommy,’ she could barely say the words. ‘Please tell me you are not dying today.’
Eleanor attempted a smile and failed. ‘Not so soon, but I do have to unburden my heart. Naturally, Charles is completely against it.’ She moved on the sofa with some difficulty.
Gabrielle sobbed. ‘Please, mommy, please don’t talk like this.’
‘I am sorry I lied but I wanted to protect you.’ Eleanor took a deep breath. ‘If you had known, if he knew— well, I don’t know.’
Gabrielle looked up. ‘What are you talking about, mommy? Please don’t tell me daddy— Uncle Charles.’ She corrected herself. ‘Is my real father.’
‘You should be so lucky my darling, but no, Charles is not your father. And as much as it pains me, I have to finally make a confession.’
‘Yes, that you told me a terrible joke and that you are not dying.’ Gabrielle wiped her face furiously.
‘Gaby,’ Eleanor said gently. ‘I have kept something from you, something I wished you would never hear, never see, never experience, but now… I hate the way I feel because I believe the earth will refuse to eat my bones if I don’t tell you.’ She paused to catch her breath and find new words. ‘Your father is not dead. I told you he was so you would never try to see him. And he doesn’t know that you exist either because I left before you were born.’
This was the epitome of a speechless moment, because what could anyone possibly say to that? In the same day she hears her mother is dying, she finds out that her dead father is not dead. Emotions she had never experienced coursed through her. Why this horrid lie? She could not think, so all she did was fall over and break into heart-wrenching sobs.
‘I am sorry baby and if I meant to rip out your heart, I have succeeded. But you have to understand—’
Gabrielle’s beautiful hazel eyes swam with unstoppable tears as she got to her knees again. ‘I have a real father? How could you not tell me all these years? And— you are dying and I’m going to lose you, and there is a father I don’t know… why mommy?’
‘If only I could undo so many things. But you, the meaning of my life, I could never, I would never want to undo, even if your father was the worst criminal.’
‘My father is a terrible man?’
‘Not terrible that way, but the results turn out the same. If you do meet him, be prepared, because he will eventually disappoint you. It’s just how he is, and no one can change him.’
‘But why don’t I know him?’
‘Because I did not want him disrupting your life as he did mine.’
‘None of this is fair,’ Gabrielle cried. ‘How— I don’t know what to do.’
‘Know what you can do?’ Eleanor told her encouragingly. ‘Continue making those cute videos you like to send to Charles, but now, make them for yourself. And we will record our last times…’ Eleanor’s voice broke.
Catapulting to her feet, Gabrielle tore through the house, out the back door, and smacked straight into the property wall, unaware that an agonising scream had ripped through the tranquil afternoon. Then, sinking onto her knees, she buried her face in her hands.
Those who said someone’s life could change in a second had probably undergone something similar, for during the course of a few minutes, everything she knew, everything she had believed in, disintegrated.
All I Ever Wanted: Jessie
by Athina Paris
Genre: Contemporary Romance
When Jessie meets John at college, they begin a friendship that should have never happened, for the Stevens and Barrymores parted ways 60 years ago, under acrimonious circumstances.
Then, John complicates things further by taking her to the family home and hiding her identity from his family. She meets his three brothers, and soon finds herself embroiled in four very different relationships.
Which one will be the love of her life? James, the heir to the Barrymore fortune. Mathew, the heartbreaker. Mark, the one who gives her sleepless night, or John, her best friend?
But can anything meaningful come out of these fateful encounters, when it has all been started on the shaky ground of subterfuge?
Being the only young woman at a dinner table had its advantages and she smiled with amusement as four bachelors vied for her attention, though, each had a different approach. James was careful with his compliments, seeming to take more pleasure in watching and listening. Mathew wasn’t outrageous or extravagant. Mark had a way of giving double meanings to everything, which she found disturbing, and John was plain ridiculous.
After dinner, Mark annoyed her again when he asked if she could estimate a vase’s worth. She had quickly realised there were pieces of dubious origins scattered among the treasures, a crazy practice from Margaret’s days as lady of the house. It was as if he imagined she had come with a cash-register and put price tags on everything already. She was in no mood for his nonsense.
“Why does he do it?” She queried when John led her down a garden path.
“Because he thinks you’re after my money. I may only be fourth in line but my inheritance is sizeable.”
“Ah, of course,” she made an odd gesture. “So is mine.”
“But he doesn’t know that. And who’s ever heard of a rich Plastics Baron?” He teased. “It’s usually Aunt Monica’s job to scrutinise everyone with a magnifying glass, but he sure gives her a run for her money lately. I say it’s grandma’s fault; he was her favourite and she taught him weird stuff. But cheer up, he’ll be gone on Monday so who cares what he thinks. How about a swim?”
She looked at the beautiful swimming pool area on the side of the house, white marble statues standing guard next to a fountain. “I have no wish to prance around half naked.”
“Not here, we also have an indoor pool you haven’t seen. And for your peace of mind, Mark is not into water sports anymore.” Walking down the side of the house, he pushed open two wooden doors. “What do you think?”
“Not what I expected.” She stared at the pool filling most of the room.
“It used to be a courtyard, but when grandma moved to the south wing after grandpa died, she requested all passages, doors, rooms, and windows be sealed off. We were all at school and in various swimming teams and mom hated watching us turn blue in winter, so father had it built, with only that door leading into the house.” He pointed. “And just so you know, no one goes into the south wing, it’s creepy there. Therefore, I won’t be showing you that.”
The freedom they felt in each other’s presence turned them into children as they laughed and raced each other, and knowing they were making a racket, neither was surprised when Mathew peered in.
“Come join us.” John beckoned.
“I don’t want to intrude.”
“Pfft. Besides, I haven’t raced you in years.” John grinned, which meant he had complete confidence in his own abilities.
Mathew drew closer and gave his brother a lopsided smile. “If I win, what’s my reward?”
John scratched his head. “What do you want?”
“What did medieval heroes get?” Mathew asked curiously.
“I think they got a handkerchief. Or a kiss from the princess, or some such silliness.”
Jessie blushed as two pairs of male eyes turned to her. She made a gesture, implying she didn’t know anything.
“You’ll be sorry.” Mathew warned.
Sitting on the edge to watch, Jessie was engulfed in a blur. John wouldn’t give up and kept losing, Mathew laughed and kept winning, and she reached a state of confused stupor. Not only her cheek and lips were smacked, but also a calf and thigh landed under his mouth.
“How am I doing?” John gasped.
She told him. “Not at all, shame on you.”
“Is that so?” Reaching her, he pulled her into the water. “Let’s see you do better.”
She spluttered. “Wait until I get my hands on you. And it’s unfair competition. Look at him, he’s taller, stronger, broader, will be there long before me.”
“Okay, two second head-start.” Mathew conceded.
John laughed. “No way, she’s trying to sucker you in. Ready…”
Mathew discovered how right his brother was, Jessie swam like a fish and was just as fast. “Now I know what you were doing,” he wheezed. “You put me out of commission and then she finishes me off. Clever.”
Jessie climbed out of the pool and wrapped herself in a towel. “Thanks for the workout, guys; I’m going to change.”
“Thoughts?” John queried.
“Interesting,” Mathew managed out of breath.
Athina Paris lives in South Africa but spent her formative years in Mozambique, where she was born and went to school. Years in convents and boarding schools prompted a deep curiosity and the need to liberate her mind, which quickly developed into an avid interest in reading and storytelling and led to a lifelong obsession with the written word and books. By fifteen she had read most of the classics, discovered ancient civilizations and became fascinated with various mythologies; a love she has kept to this day.
Raised in a culture where meddling is seen as ‘caring’, she became a spectator of human nature. Quiet and shy, she preferred recording conduct rather than participating in what she calls familial mass hysteria, and so built a treasure-trove of relationship observations from which she eventually drew backgrounds for the characters in her romantic novels.
She studied Interior Design, but soon felt the pull of her dormant talent and turned to Creative Writing, as she realised the significance of those notebooks packed with ideas. She soon followed it with Scriptwriting.
Set in faraway and exotic places, Athina’s epic romantic work takes her characters on voyages of self-discovery while dealing with catastrophic love lives and an imperfect world.
A stint as a high school English teacher polished her skills. However, she has recently vacated the position to concentrate on her professional goals of writing, editing and proofreading.