By Jo Watson
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Annie knows life isn’t always fair. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you get mistaken for a crazed intruder when you come home early and find your boyfriend wearing nipple clamps with a coworker on the night you thought he was going to propose to you.
The important thing is to move on, and for Annie that means treating herself to a tropical vacation. But when she runs into her ex and his new woman staying at the same resort, reason is washed out to sea. Caught off guard, Annie pretends she’s with Chris, a cute screenwriter she meets on the beach. With his own writing blocked, Chris is happy to help Annie craft a story to save face. Soon Annie isn’t just getting over her ex, she’s getting under Chris. As her fictional feelings grow increasingly real, Annie has to decide if she’s ready to risk her heart on a new relationship.
“Top Pick! Almost a Bride put a smile on my face more than once. The dialogue was witty, the words were well-written and the heroine was one-of-a-kind.” — Harlequin Junkie
D-day—A year ago
I knew something was wrong the second I walked up to my front door.
Call it intuition. Call it a sixth sense. But I just knew.
I blame the shoes. The shoes were undoubtedly the cause of all the problems that day. It was the shoes' fault that I came home early, and the shoes' fault I was fired.
I suppose I can't blame the shoes for making me late, though—that was the alarm clock's fault for rudely deciding not to do its job.
And when I finally realized, through the thick haze of sleepiness, that it hadn't gone off, it was too late. I was already late for work. And when I say work, I mean my brand-new job—job of my dreams—as a fashion assistant at Glamorous Girl mag. The quintessential magazine for the "fun, fierce, and fabulously stylish South African girlTM."
I'd just made a total career change, leaving behind a successful job as a stylist in advertising to pursue a job in the magazine industry. It was early days, so I was still desperately trying to impress by being perfect, polite, and oh so obliging. Whether it was the request for the latte to be served at 97.7 degrees with no sugar, soy milk froth, and a sprinkling of organic cocoa powder flown in directly from the foothills of the Andes. Or whether it was for the jasmine-and-lavender-scented candles to be burned in the office for exactly ten minutes before my boss arrived—that was me.
Little Miss Annie Obliging.
Because let's face it, the word assistant is just a glammed-up euphemism for slave. But I was ambitious and determined, so when I realized I wouldn't be able to attend to the scented candles, or fetch the latte, I panicked. So much so, that I left the house without the said troublemaking, life-ruining, world-annihilating shoes.
Let's take a moment to talk about the shoes. They weren't ordinary shoes, oh no, they were none other than the just-off-the-Paris-catwalk-and-not-for-sale-to-mere-mortals-yet Christian Louboutins. They also happened to be the centerpieces for that day's shoot.
The same rushed panic that had caused me to forget the shoes in the first place had also left me with barely enough time to scrape my hair back into a casual bun and slip on a creased T-shirt and pair of jeans from my floor.
The latter is a bigger sin than you think. Because where I work, wearing anything other than the most fashionable apparel is sacrilege. People practically throw holy water at you and start wailing in Latin for fear that you've been possessed by the demon of bad fashion. In fact, a real demon possession, complete with a backward-rolling head and the ability to speak in tongues, would be preferable to the demon of last season's handbag and Crocs sandals.
So when I finally got to work, underdressed, out of breath, without the shoes, and over an hour late, I was in serious trouble.
My boss was throwing a hissy fit, due to lack of flowery scents in her office, and her personal assistant Cedric was in the throes of an overly dramatic caffeine withdrawal, due to lack of latte.
And it kept getting worse.
Two hours later the panicky fashion director summoned the Louboutins. Those shoes had been troublemakers from the start. It had been an absolute trauma getting them in the first place. They'd been flown into South Africa late the previous night, and I'd been tasked with collecting them. Everyone was holding their collective breath for the grand arrival. So when I was forced to confess to their absence…well, you can only imagine.
When lunch finally arrived, I jumped into my car and sped home. I had exactly one hour to get in and out before the photo shoot, more than enough time.
I pulled into my driveway at breakneck speed, ran for the front door, slipped my house keys into the lock, and turned—
Something made me stop.
Something told me not to go inside.
Something was very wrong.
I looked around nervously. Everything seemed normal. Peter across the road was blasting his TV as usual, the ratbag Chihuahua from number 45 was running up and down the garden perimeter yapping at an unseen force, and Mildred, my neighbor, was outside watering her hydrangeas.
So why was I hesitating?
I took a deep breath and inched the door open.
Nothing looked out of place.
Everything was exactly the way I'd left it.
Yet everything felt wrong.
I slunk down the hallway toward the kitchen, where I knew I'd find the shoes perched next to the coffeepot. But once inside, I was hit by a terribly eerie sensation…someone was in the house. A shiver licked the length of my spine when my suspicions were confirmed.
Creeeeaaakkk…A noise was coming from my bedroom directly above me.
Shit, shit, shit, there was an intruder in the house!
I launched myself at the cutlery drawer, grabbing the largest knife I could find while simultaneously dialing the police and still managing to hold on to the shoes for dear life.
"Police! Help, there's an intruder in my house. Forty-Seven Mendelssohn Road, Oaklands. Quick."
Now what? I'd never been in a situation like this before. What was the correct protocol? Should I hide, evacuate the house, attack the intruder, scream loudly? Or perhaps a combination of the above?
I thought for a second before deciding to get the fuck out of there! But just as I had one foot safely installed outside the front door, I heard another noise. This time it was different. It was…
It sounded like…
My blood ran cold.
But it couldn't be. Trevv was at work. Trevv had a very important day in court, he told me. His client's final hearing was today. Right now, in fact. I'd called him from my office about an hour ago and he'd told me he was in court.
He was in court, dammit!
I started climbing the stairs.
But that was impossible…wasn't it?
The noises grew louder and louder the farther up the stairs I went. I'm not really sure at what point I knew what the noises were or knew what I was going to see when I opened the door. But I just knew.
It's one thing walking in on your boyfriend having sex with another woman, but it's another thing entirely walking in on him the second the other woman is coming. She was facing the door but was bouncing up and down so vigorously that her face was a blur. And then suddenly her body stiffened, she threw her head back, opened her mouth, and let out a high-pitched wail. As if that wasn't self-explanatory enough, she decided to toss in a few words for good measure.
"Yes, Trevvy, yes. Oh my God, oh my God, oh Trevvy. Harder! Ah, ah, ah." *Pant, pant, pant* "I'm coming!" *Long high-pitched scream*
Now…there were several things wrong with this picture, aside from the obvious. Firstly, who the hell screams like that in bed? No one does! Sex is not so good that you have to break the sound barrier with your squealing dolphin sounds. Secondly, what the hell was she wearing? She was clad in some kind of leathery studded number that looked like it had been worn by one of the Village People. And to make matters worse, Trevv was blindfolded with the tie that I had bought him two Christmases ago and…OH MY GOD…were those, were those…nipple clamps?
I felt sick to my stomach.
And thirdly, who was this mystery woman without an ounce of cellulite, without the slightest smidge of fat, and with boobs that seemed to defy all known natural laws of gravity and motion? Which woman can be that damn perfect…
…and then her features came into focus and the answer dawned on me.
My boyfriend's work "coworker." The woman I'd invited into my home on several occasions for dinner. The woman that I always phoned when I couldn't get hold of Trevv, because I knew they were probably together working on a case, tired and exhausted and burning the midnight oil when they'd rather be at home with their significant others. She had a fiancé after all.
Poor overworked Trevv and Tess.
God, I was naive.
But the show didn't end there. Tess's eyes were still closed when Trevv started making some delightful grunting-moaning-squeaking sounds. He'd never made sounds like that with me before. His sweaty hands reached up and grabbed at her hungrily.
Loud, long moan.
I was frozen. It's hard to know what to do when you watch your partner of two years with his penis somewhere you wouldn't even like to imagine, let alone witness in full blinding daylight.
Once all their postcoital panting had tapered off, Tess opened her eyes and saw me standing in the doorway. The look on her face was indescribable. Shock and horror and fear all at the same time. And then she opened her mouth and screamed.
Trevv then turned his head toward the door and whipped off his blindfold. Our eyes locked and then he did something truly bizarre. Unexpected. He grabbed Tess by the hand and dragged her to the other side of the bed.
"Anne, please…you don't want to do this." Trevv threw his hands in the air defensively. He looked terrified. She was bleating hysterically by this stage.
What was going on? Wasn't I the jilted one? Wasn't I the one that was supposed to be upset? I started walking toward them, which seemed to only make matters worse.
"Anne, please. Please." He seemed to be begging now. "Think about what you're doing. I know this is bad, but this isn't the way to handle it. Please don't do this."
Things happened pretty quickly after that. Suddenly, the room was filled with armed police officers. I was about to tell them they could all go home, when Trevv cut me off.
"She has a knife. She's going to kill us!" he shouted, pointing at me.
What knife? I glanced at my hands, and that's when I realized I was still holding the large knife, and it was pointed in their direction.
I quickly turned to explain. "I wasn't going to—"
"Ma'am…" One of the police officers cut me off and started creeping toward me as if I was a feral pit bull that hadn't eaten in a week. "Put down your weapon."
"I swear, this isn't what you think, I was just trying to—"
BAM! Face on floor, handcuffs around wrists.
Three really painful things happened at that point: One, the knife slipped and cut the entire length of my palm. Two, some of my newly acquired, gorgeous nails broke off. And three, the crystal-encrusted, six-inch heel of the priceless Louboutin snapped off, rolled across the floor lifelessly, and disappeared under the bed. As I was being dragged out, I glanced up and saw that Trevv was clutching Tess in his arms. He gently planted a kiss on her forehead.
"It's going to be okay, baby, it's going to be okay."
A broken Louboutin is not a pretty sight.
A naked woman on top of your boyfriend is not a pretty sight.
Your boyfriend wearing nipple clamps is definitely not a pretty sight.
But, do you want to know what's worse?
Try the inside of a holding cell.
I was trembling from the shock. My heart was thumping from the surging adrenaline. I felt physically sick, and strange, and utterly confused…My brain felt like a little hamster sprinting at full speed on his little wheel.
What had just happened? Had he really? With her? Like that? Surely it wasn't possible. It had to be some kind of misunderstanding, because last time I checked, Trevv was not just my boyfriend. Trevv was my soon-to-be fiancé. Not that he'd asked me yet, but I knew it was very imminent. There were signs…
One, we were scheduled to have dinner at my favorite restaurant tonight (clear sign). Two, I'd found a receipt in the trash can for the purchase of a very expensive piece of jewelry (red, flashing sign). Three, he didn't know this but I'd seen a massive bouquet of red roses on the backseat of his car this morning. (How much bigger does the sign need to be, for heaven's sake?)
Trevv was going to ask me to marry him. Tonight! And I was going to say yes because even though we'd been going through a little slump lately, I loved him and this engagement was exactly what we needed to get the romance back. I was so ready to marry him.
My friends had confirmed my suspicions, too. As had my waxologist (who works miracles down there), my hairdresser, the woman that plucked my brows, and my manicurist who'd done my nails yesterday so that I could Instagram the perfect pic of my new ring later today. Everyone agreed—he was definitely going to ask me to marry him. So why, why oh why oh fucking why, was he having sex with someone else?
I slapped my hand down on the bench and winced in pain. The bandage did little to protect me from the intense stinging now emanating from where the blade had sliced into me.
But it wasn't just my hand that hurt; my head was throbbing from being smashed into the floor by a couple of heavier-than-they-should-be police officers. To make matters worse, I was sandwiched between what appeared to be a crack addict on a bad comedown, an old leather-skinned woman who was babbling about "the invasion" (whatever that was), and what was clearly a working girl (either that or Halloween had come early this year).
I was desperate for a moment alone, but there was no privacy. The toilet was completely open and reeked of urine and sour vomit. A chipped concrete basin, solitary dripping tap, and a makeshift toilet roll holder completed the minimalist decor.
"What ya in for, babe?" a raspy voice suddenly piped up.
I turned and came face-to-face with a barely covered boob.
"I'm Angel, by the way." She extended her hand, and not wanting to offend—I wasn't au fait with the finer points of criminal etiquette—I shook it.
"I'm not really sure actually."
She scoffed loudly. "I know what ya mean, babe. Sometimes I think they harass me for the sake of it. This is the third time this month I've been here."
"Me too," said the older woman. "And all I'm trying to do is warn people about the impending invasion."
Angel looked at me and rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, Margie, we know. The flying saucers and little green men—"
"They're not green, they're gray!" Margie cut her off angrily.
"Pink, purple, blue, whatever." The sarcasm in Angel's voice was undeniable.
And then without warning, Margie jumped up, rather nimbly for a woman who looked like she was on the wrong side of a hundred. "This is what I'm talking about. You mock me now, but wait until they're here with their probes and their mind control devices. Wait until they assimilate our DNA and turn us into drones and—"
Margie barely had a chance to finish her sentence when, BANG, Angel pushed her. Alien Lady wasted no time in pushing her back, and soon I was watching a live episode of Jerry Springer—and way too close for my liking. Margie was screaming something about the pyramids being transporter beacons and Tom Cruise being involved in the global conspiracy, while Angel taunted her by flashing her boobs. Even the crack addict joined in, making a strange throaty cackling sound that I assume was meant to resemble laughter and egging them on.
I'd never seen anything like it before, and I crept backward, trying to retreat into a corner. I was frightened. I mean, I know what goes on in prisons. I watch Orange Is the New Black.
I didn't belong here.
I really, really didn't belong here.
"Miss Anderson." One of the guards came up to the cell and started unlocking the gate. "You're free to go."
"Oh, thank God." The relief was instant, and I practically threw myself out of the cell, without daring to look back at my fellow inmates—who were now on the floor wrestling. I walked into the waiting area of the police station, and that's when I saw him. My stomach lurched.
He looked every bit the lawyer wearing that crisp, suave black suit and clicking his expensive Montblanc pen impatiently. He looked up and saw me.
"I've come to spring you, as they say." He smiled at me like a Cheshire cat, and then looked at the officer behind the desk. "I'm usually the one putting them behind bars, not setting them free." He gave a small chuckle. "Lawyer…if anyone ever needs one." He took a card out of his pocket and slid it across the reception desk, before winking at the woman. He never missed a PR opportunity. Even now.
"Anne…" He oozed silver-tongued charm as he sauntered up to me and then reached out and took me by the hands. "Tess and I have agreed to drop the charges. We realize that it was a bit of an emotional moment for all of us, and maybe you just lost your head a bit. But no harm done."
No harm done? "What?"
I was stunned. I was downright offended. This was not the reaction I was expecting. Where the hell was my apology? Where the hell was the deep shame and the guilt and the relentless begging on bended knees?
"Tess and I?" I asked with an edge of desperation in my voice. "Since when is there a 'Tess and I'?" My voice went slightly quivery and my knees seemed to follow suit. Suddenly I didn't feel very well. Especially when I saw how he was looking at me.
"Listen, Anne. Let's be honest here." He cocked his head to the side. "It hasn't been working for a while now with us. Let's be adult enough to acknowledge that. Mmmm?" Another head cock. I hated that condescending tone in his voice.
"But…but…," I stammered, and shook my head in absolute disbelief. This was all wrong. Trevv had obviously been handed the wrong script. He was on the wrong page, too, and this was definitely the wrong scene.
"But what about dinner at Piccolo Primi tonight?" I asked.
"I was going to talk about us. I was going to tell you about Tess and—"
I cut him off. "Yes…You were going to tell me that this is all just a terrible, horrible mistake. That it meant nothing and then you were going to propose to me. You were going to ask me to marry you and I was going to say yes because we've been together for two years and we love each other and we're going to be so happy together." The words were flying out of my mouth like uncontrollable bullets. "Look, I know we've been going through a rough patch lately, but all couples go through this, it's perfectly normal, and getting engaged would fix it."
Trevv looked at me with what seemed to be total confusion. He nodded slowly, as if he was trying to process what I was saying, and then brought his hand up to his chin and rubbed it in a thoughtful manner.
"Why did you think I was going to propose to you?"
"Trevv, I found the receipt for the ring you bought and I saw the red roses in your car."
"Those weren't for you, Anne."
"What?" My mind went blank. That news shocked me almost as much as seeing them in bed together. "But…but…I had my nails done. We're getting married. You're marrying me…"
As soon as those words were out of my mouth, I realized just how pathetic and illogical and mad I was being. Why would I want to marry a man that had just cheated on me? Where the fuck was my brain when I needed it? But despite all that, I decided to continue. I decided to do away with any tiny iota of self-respect that I might still have.
"…because she means nothing to you. We love each other and I'm going to be your wife."
Trevv moved closer to me and for the first time since he'd arrived, I got the slightest glimmer of sincerity in him. "I think we should talk about this outside."
I gasped loudly. "She doesn't mean nothing to you?" I looked at Trevv and his expression said it all. "Oh God, she's not a fling. Do you love her? Do you still love me? How could you do this? How long has it been going on?"
"Ssshhhhh!" Trevv tried to shush me as my voice got uncontrollably loud and shrill. "Let's take this outside. This is all getting a tad awkward." He tried to put an arm around me, but his supposed sincerity just pissed me off even more, and a wall of rage slammed into me with such force that I thought I might fall over.
"Awkward? Awkward?" I screeched like a deranged banshee. "You call walking in on you having sex with your coworker a bit 'awkward'?" I gestured some dramatic air quotes and several cops turned around and stared.
"Sssshhh," he hissed, looking around self-consciously. "Anne, this is all very inappropriate."
"Inappropriate?" I scoffed loudly. "You know what I call inappropriate? Try walking in on you wearing nipple clamps." I had definitely gotten people's attention now. Some of the cops even put down their paperwork and turned to watch.
"Oh, and I'm so very glad you found such a good use for the tie I bought you. Funny, the man that sold it to me never mentioned that it could also be used as a kinky-sex blindfold."
Trevv looked angry now. "Outside, Anne!" he demanded curtly. How dare he make demands at a time like this!
"No! I don't want to." I stomped my foot like a petulant toddler having a tantrum. "I want to talk about this here. Surely you're not embarrassed? Not embarrassed that you had sex with another woman in our bed and got caught out? Nooo, I wouldn't be embarrassed if I were you!"
A collective gasp rose up from the room, and one of the female cops clicked her tongue in blatant disapproval.
"Bastard," she said, shooting some death stares in Trevv's direction, which I was ever so grateful for. Another voice pierced the air; it was Angel. "I would have cut it off!" she yelled from across the room.
"Anne." His tone was now annoyingly diplomatic. "I think it's best if you come around tomorrow and remove all your things."
"You want me to—"
"Move out. Yes." Cue head cock to the left.
"But…it's my home."
"Technically it's my home. You were just staying there."
"Just staying there? Wow, is that all I was doing?" His words stung me, implying I was nothing more than a guest in his house. A house we had shared together for eighteen months.
Cue head cock to the right. "Maybe your sister could take you in? Or one of your millions of friends and cousins?" He said it with such contempt that it made me fume. He'd never liked my friends.
Take me in? Like I was some scaly, flea-bitten, half-breed mutt that needed rescuing from a dirty sewer?
Shitface spoke again. "Of course, Tess and I don't expect you to get all your stuff out immediately, but maybe just the basics. Clothes, toiletries."
"Oh, how very generous of you and Tess." I said her name as if it were poison, or a hideous infectious disease. "Aren't you and Tess just so damn thoughtful."
The bastard had the audacity to kiss me on the forehead before turning and walking away. I stood and watched as he got closer and closer to the exit, and just as he was about to open the door and walk out of my life, I was gripped by a kind of irrational panic. I didn't want him to walk away. Despite everything that he'd done, I didn't want him to leave.
"Trevv. Wait." My panicked voice quivered as a lump started forming in my throat. He turned around, looking somewhat irritated by now, although still trying very hard to maintain the thin veil of "professional lawyer" that he had left.
I opened my mouth to speak, but there were no words for what I was feeling. It was a nauseating paradox of rage and desperation—all still covered by the haze of confusion that hadn't quite lifted yet.
"Nothing, Trevv. Nothing and everything."
Trevv shook his head slightly before pushing the door open and stepping outside. I watched him as he ambled to his car, as if he was going for a leisurely stroll on the beach. Tess was waiting for him in the passenger seat. My passenger seat. And then he drove off, out of my life.
When I was about six, I was doing a twirly thing on the top bar of my jungle gym and lost my grip. I fell so far and so hard, that when I hit the ground the wind was knocked out of me. I must have gasped for several seconds before finally sucking in the oxygen my aching lungs were so desperate for. It was one of the most frightening moments of my life. I thought I was dying.
That's how I felt right as I watched them drive away together.
After that, things just went from bad to worse. The horror of that day, the thirteenth of January to be specific (and it wasn't even a Friday, if you believe in that sort of thing), was not yet over. Not by a long shot. By now I had totally missed the photo shoot, not to mention broken the pièce de résistance.
- "Top Pick! Almost a Bride put a smile on my face more than once. The dialogue was witty, the words were well-written and the heroine was one-of-a-kind."—Harlequin Junkie
- "Top Pick! This book is even better than the first."—Night Owl Reviews
- "Full of pure-joy romance, laugh-out-loud moments and tearjerkers, Burning Moon has it all."—RT Book Reviews
- On Sale
- Jan 31, 2017
- Page Count
- 384 pages