TO LOVE A HERO
Jasmine Jade/Cerridwen Press
Publisher: Cerridwen Press
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Book Length: 290 pages
Book Type: Trade Paperback
LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES AND NO FRONTIERS.
Raised in boarding schools, Cecile buried her loneliness under long hours of study and work. On the rebound of a broken engagement, she is determined to excel in her first international contract, the refurbishment of an environmental laboratory in Belarus.
In Belarus, a Russian country dominated by male chauvinism and intrigues, Cecile finds more chemistry than she bargains for.
Admired by men and adored by women, Major General Sergei is a true hero in his country. The widowed Sergei has pledged to clean his country of the pollution left by the Chernobyl disaster.
BUT… With a glass of vodka in his hand and the lovely Cecile nestled in his arms, Sergei has more on his mind than patriotic duty and Cecile soon learns that chemicals are not the only things that generate heat.
Would she betray his trust to save his career? Would her love cost him everything he values?
Excerpt from Chapter One:
“Welcome to Minsk International Airport,” the loud speaker announced as the aircraft bounced on the runway before coming to a halt.
Cecile Lornier rubbed her ringless finger, her spirit buoyant with triumph. “Belarus, here I come. Finally,” she whispered, her nose pressed against the plane window for a first look at the remote little country, located south of Russia. Not much to see. But the gloomy sight of gray sky, barren trees and drizzling rain couldn’t dim the joy that exploded in her heart. After a twelve-hour flight, she’d made it to Minsk. In spite of her ex-fiancé’s dirty dealing. For the millionth time, she cursed Rob Spenser, the worthless creep who’d snatched her promotion, almost foiled her first international assignment and gifted her with a bleeding ulcer.
With a sigh of relief, she hung her purse on her arm and collected her hand luggage to exit the plane. Dragging her carry-on suitcases, she proceeded up the bumpy ramp of the jetway boarding bridge.
A group of people clustered in front of a sign affixed on the sidewall. Russian or Belarussian? Might as well be Chinese as far as I’m concerned. Unable to decipher the foreign script, Cecile shrugged and followed the line of passengers through the arrival gate, toward an escalator.
As if this rickety machine could be called a mechanical escalator. The uneven steps jolted with a grinding noise, bouncing and shuddering downward. Cecile scanned the area for an elevator or stairway. There were none in sight. Was she expected to negotiate this crooked roller coaster with her luggage in hand?
Apparently, yes. The passengers were carefully holding the railing, men helping their female companions and children as they went down. She eyed the rattletrap contraption. Her first taste of Belarussian obsolete technology. This was exactly why her company had been chosen to help modernize the local environmental laboratory.
A military officer dressed in khaki passed her. Cecile’s gaze fixed on his large back and decorated epaulets. He was tall, solid. A brick wall of a man. The wobbly escalator didn’t seem to bother him but then he didn’t have two suitcases hindering his movements.
Cecile bit her lip, imagining the sneer on Rob’s face if he could see her now, hesitating so long in front of the first step of her mission. Literally the very first step. She shifted her two carry-ons to her left hand and followed the officer onto the jerking stairway, hoping for the best. Wishful thinking. Her short heel caught between the steps of the damned escalator. Gripping the railing for dear life, she let her luggage slip out of her hand as she pitched forward.
“Welcome to Minsk…” the airport speaker roared in broken English.
A sturdy back blocked her fall. The officer turned and circled her waist with brawny arms, welding her to his rock-hard frame. She stopped moving, stopped thinking, stopped breathing, until the officer lowered her to stable ground as they reached the end of the escalator.
Her head still pillowed against the muscular chest, she took a breath, inhaling the scent of soap and spicy cologne. She was alive all right and oddly secure in this stranger’s arms.
He said something in his native language. She tilted her head back. Her gaze collided with deep blue eyes shadowed by long, black lashes. Still floating in a peculiar haze, Cecile squirmed to free herself. She gasped for air to clear her head and squeaked, “I’m sorry.”
He stared at her, a glint of interest under the scowling eyebrows. “Americanka?” His baritone voice echoed against the metallic escalator’s crunch. “Here, let me help you.” He cupped her elbow. “Can you walk? Are you hurt?” he asked in fluent but accented English.
Leaning on his arm, she took two steps and exhaled with relief. “I’m fine. Thank you.”
Her ankles felt sore, her right shoulder hurt and her breasts ached from the impact but she was still in one piece. Breathing in uneven gulps, she eased from the officer’s supportive arm.
He waved to the escalator. “People have to be careful. It needs repair. There was a sign.”
“The sign? Oh, is that what it said?” Cecile bit her lip, patting her purse with regret. The little Russian-English dictionary was right there.
“Unfortunately, fixing the airport escalator is not on our government’s priority list and there is no lift at the gate.” A curious smile replaced his scowl. “Is it your first visit to Belarus?”
“Yes. A business trip.” Scanning the six-foot plus, movie star-type figure, she rubbed a sweaty palm against her raincoat. “My companion has already exited the plane.”
Damn it, where was the welcoming committee John Gordon promised? And where had he gone? “I appreciate your help, sir. I can manage now.” She extended a hand to grab the two carry-ons he’d collected for her. A knowing smile curved his mouth as he shook his head. “Let me help you to the passport control. This way,” he instructed as he offered her his left arm for support.
Glancing at the sharp profile, she hesitated for a fraction of a second before accepting the unspoken invitation. John had raved about the quaint charm of Belarus and the affability of its residents. She couldn’t reject the courteous gesture without being rude.
As her fingers curled on the sleeve at his elbow, his hard biceps contracted under her hand. Uncomfortable warmth spread through her. She stiffened but suppressed the urge to pull back.
He led her into an adjacent room where a musty smell mingled with the odor of strong tobacco. She pursed her lips and wrinkled her nose in distaste. The room bustled with passengers in long coats and round fur hats. As her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, she saw John emerge from a dark corner, his burly frame swaying as he walked.
She pulled her hand from the officer’s arm and waved. John headed straight toward her. “For heaven’s sake, where did you rush to? Couldn’t you have waited for me?”
“Why?” He shrugged. “You always manage well enough on your own.”
Cecile rolled her eyes. “Not this time. The broken escalator at the arrival gate threw me down and this gentleman—”
“General Fedorin, I didn’t realize we were all on the same plane.” John pumped the officer’s hand. “It looks like you’ve already met Dr. Cecile Lornier.”
The General? Oh, God. She had literally started her assignment on the wrong foot.
She registered the shock spreading over the general’s face. Her throat went dry with embarrassment.
The general touched her arm. Awareness shot up to her throat as he invaded her breathing space. Her chin tilted up a notch. “Yes?”
“I must leave now. Roussov will take care of the formalities. The opening meeting of our contract is scheduled for tomorrow at eleven, at the Hall of Officers.”
Her gaze trailed over the thin lines bracketing his lips, moved up the high-boned cheeks and tracked the midnight sparks in his eyes. His strong jaw and the small scar on his cleft chin conferred a somber expression to his beautiful face. A handsome man and a mighty officer.
Power and dynamite, she thought on a blink. Definitely not an easy-going customer she could intimidate with starchy speech.
“We’ll be there at eleven sharp, General.” John’s jovial voice intruded into her secret contemplation.
“Then I will see you tomorrow, John, Dr. Lornier.” The general shook hands with John, then raised her hand to his lips and brushed it with a kiss.
Her professional mask melted into a genuine smile. Did he always spice business with old-European, grand manners? She eased her hand out of the general’s palm and blurted the first serious thought that came to mind. “I can’t wait to visit the Belchem Lab.”
“We will go to the laboratory after the meeting. Meanwhile, we will make every effort to ensure your comfort.”
His velvety voice sent a shiver down her spine but she forced a businesslike tone. “Thank you, General. We have a lot to discuss about the contract and the lab refurbishment.”
“Yes, we do. Have a good evening, Dr. Lornier.” His gaze skimmed her face like a gentle caress, launching her heart on a much bigger roller coaster ride than the broken escalator.
For years, she had thrived on challenge in her analytical laboratory. Maybe now the real adventure had begun, with more chemistry than she’d bargained for.