Tuesday, February 05, 2013

And OnceUponASecondChance, the Muslim #1NS, is on sale! Read Chap 1 & come see the characters!

Hey peeps!

Absolutely thrilled and over the moon right now!! My first release of 2013 kicks off today... and it's none other than the story that's been garnering quite some attention lately, becoming known unofficially as 'the Muslim 1NightStand'.

Why's that? Well, because the characters who meet on a blind date set up by Madame Eve of the 1Night Stand agency are Muslims. Yes, who'd have thought, eh? They need love and fall head over heels, face their share of romantic upheavals and doubts and problems, too. And yes, the *ahem* sex can be real hot, as well.

Don't believe me? Then check out Once Upon A Second Chance. *grin*

This is one story that is close to my heart because it sparks throughout with hope and the promise of redemption and salvation. Neither of the characters have had an easy life (Which one of my characters do, actually? Sometimes I scare myself with how sadistic I can get with them...). Neither also believes they will ever get a happy ending. Everything separates them, starting with an ocean that takes 7 hours in a plane to cross.

But Madame Eve is here to work her magic, innit? Grab a copy of the book and find out just how!

Here's the story in a nutshell:

Leila Hassan Al-Nadir spent ten years in a forced, abusive marriage in the United Arab Emirates, before her husband divorced her...and another man stepped into his place to make her his wife. But before she can look at a future with this new man, he abandons her, dropping her off on the island of Mauritius in the care of his stepmother.
 
Khalid Al-Nadir wants nothing more than to be with Leila, his wife. But he hides a deep, dark secret—his intentions when he made her his weren’t noble. Despite falling in love with her in the end, he knows she will be better off without him.
 
Leila craves answers; Khalid desires salvation. Fate, in the form of Khalid’s stepmother, intervenes and sets this estranged couple up for a one night stand date with Madame Eve’s agency.
 
Can Leila and Khalid have a second chance, once they both face the truth that brought them together?


Wanna know how I pictured Leila and Khalid? Look no further!

For Leila, I pictured a fragile, almost ethereal creature. Someone with a docile look on her face, to highlight that she'd been browbeaten by life. But deep inside, her spirit still thrives... and to me, French actress Juliette Dol captured the essence that made Leila in her innocent, naive look (Leila has blonde hair, though).



And for Khalid... Well, the man is definitely a hottie. Here's the one I worked with in my head when I wrote this story. Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan has that worldly and ruthless look to him, and the Arab nose, of course! Still, you can feel there is gentleness and caring under those chiselled features and bad boy attitude.



I had my Khalid and my Leila, and I couldn't believe how much the models who were used for the cover look like them.

www.123rf.com

Spooky, innit?

So now you can picture them in your mind... How about you get a peek of what their story really looks like?

Here's Chapter 1, being shown in its entirety for the very first time!! My treat to you!

*****
Chapter One
“You didn’t have a scarf on when you left.”
Leila Hassan Al-Nadir bit her lip and yanked off the thin muslin cloth she’d wrapped around her head. She bunched the fabric and stashed it in her canvas tote.
“It’s the sun,” she mumbled, eyes lowered. How could she have forgotten to discard the scarf once she returned home? This way, Carole Laroche’s intense gray irises wouldn’t have focused on the white strip of cloth hiding her hair.
“We have hats for that,” the older woman intoned, a hint of humor in the tart reply.
They did; to wear anything in layers around the neck spelled an invitation to roast under the scorching tropical summer sun. But Leila couldn’t help it. For the past ten years, she’d worn a scarf, sometimes even a burka showing only her eyes, around her home and outside.
A snort escaped her. Her home. More like her prison, the place she went after her father had sold her off to be a fifty-five-year-old man’s broodmare. Thank goodness she’d been barren and the old bastard never got what he sought from her—a male heir. She’d suffered beatings every month when she failed to get pregnant, his almost-nightly visits to her bed just one step short of rape.... Ten years and her “husband” hadn’t accepted the fact she would never give him a child, male or female. He’d made sure to buy her from her father as a virgin, assured of her being untainted by any other before him, unlike his two other wives who’d been married previously. The women who should have given him his heir, since they’d born offspring for their previous husbands.
Chérie? What’s the matter?”
Leila tore her thoughts from the dark memories and stared at the woman who had welcomed her into her home three months earlier. Before meeting Carole, she had never believed compassion existed, or peace thrived on a small island called Mauritius in the southern Indian Ocean. She’d known a life of fear and paranoia in her Arab father’s house in London, and then the United Arab Emirates household of Bashir Al-Arif, the man who had bought her virginity.
A sliver of remembrance sliced through her. She did recall something else. Tenderness, caring, gentleness—all of which she’d found one magical night with the man who saved her from her painful existence, when her first husband divorced her out of the blue.
The man who made her his wife...then drugged her before morning came and transported her all the way from Abu Dhabi to Mauritius, where he dropped her, still unconscious, into Carole’s care, before he vanished.
Don’t think of him. If she did, the tears would threaten to fall, the anguish would come back, as well as the desperation of knowing he’d saved her only to leave her even more alone than before.
Ma chérie?” Carole raised a dainty porcelain cup in her direction.
Tea. The solution to all woes. The British thought so, and on their former colony of Mauritius, even French-origin natives needed their three o’clock fix.
Leila sighed and dumped her tote on a sofa before she stepped out onto the wide terrace facing the clear blue waters of the Grand Baie lagoon. In what was dubbed the Côte d’Azur of the island, on the northwest coastal tip, she didn’t stand out with her fair skin and flaxen hair. She passed for a tourist or even a member of the white descendants of French rulers who’d stayed despite the British seizing power over two centuries earlier. She shouldn’t feel like the odd one out here, too, like the pale foreigner she’d been in the UAE, but she did.
Leila was on temporary reprieve before the questions came. Carole poured her a cuppa.
No sooner was the drink in front of her than the inquisition began.
“So, the scarf again? You know you don’t need to wear it here.”
She did, but she’d lived a decade with her loose hair never touching anything but the pillowcase on her bed. When awake, without a hijab wrapped around her head, she felt naked. In the UAE, a female thus covered obeyed the law and protected herself from the gaze of men. In Arab countries, the men, who should’ve been taught to respect all women, teased the ones who didn’t cover up. Foreign women were seen as “easy,” not warranting the deference a Muslim “sister” demanded with her head-to-toe covering. Even in England, her father had always made her go out with a hoodie or other head-hugging gear.
She’d been shocked to learn, here, men didn’t tease. Whether the female population wore scarves or not, they received respect. Of course, she heard the occasional whistle, usually from drunken young men or secondary school students, but a woman could walk the streets of the coastal village in a bikini and no man would call her a whore.
The knowledge still didn’t put her at ease to ditch the head covering, though. Old habits died hard, lifestyle requirements even harder.
“I told you, it’s the sun. I forgot my hat,” she fibbed.
Leila squirmed under her scrutiny. Even after three months under the woman’s roof, despite the human warmth and frequent laughter bathing the villa, she couldn’t move past thinking herself a barely-tolerated guest.
“I thought you’d gone out to buy some flowers.”
A sigh of relief greeted the change of topic. “The pink roses were sold out. Brigitte said a man called and ordered all twenty-seven she had in the shop.”
“Shame.”
She nodded, and took a sip of tea.
“One of the blooms would’ve looked good in your hair tonight.”
Leila froze. “Tonight?”
Not another big gathering where I have to wear revealing clothes and let my hair loose. Why couldn’t Carole just let her disappear into a dark corner instead of dragging her into situations she had no skills to handle?
The older woman smiled. “You’re going on a date.”
If she hadn’t swallowed her tea yet, she would’ve choked. “No way.”
“Way. Everything’s set up. I’ve left a dress on your bed, and I got you new shoes.”
“You mean with a man? Alone?” Her heart started to beat faster, and after placing the cup back in its saucer with a nerve-wrenching rattle of bone china, she balled her fists tight for composure.
“Pfft. What else do you understand by date?”
“With who?” Maybe, just maybe, he’d be back....
“I don’t know. A woman who once helped me owns a dating service called 1Night Stand. Madame Evangeline, that’s her name. I had her arrange everything.”
Seriously? “You’d send me out to meet a total stranger?”
“He’s been vetted by Madame. After bearing witness to what she can do, I trust her.”
“But—” The word sputtered in her throat. “I’m married, have you both forgotten?”
Carole’s face hardened. “He is not coming back. You know it.”
Leila jumped to her feet. “No! Khalid would never abandon me—”
A sob threatened to fall from her lips. She clamped her mouth shut and spun toward the terrace railing, to grip the wrought-iron with both hands.
He saved me, she wanted to shout. How can he do this to me now?
She felt more than heard Carole stop behind her. The other woman conveyed understanding through her gentle touch on Leila’s shoulders.
“My stepson left you here under my care on the condition I find a good man for you. Someone who would take care of you, give you the freedom and the kind of life you’ve been denied for the past decade.”
A lump clogged her throat, and she blinked to ward off the tears. “Has he given—” she couldn’t bring herself to say the word talaq—divorce in Arabic—which annulled a marriage when stated three times toward a wife. “Has he repudiated me yet?”
Without my knowledge? Everything happened without her knowledge or her consent. No, not everything. She’d given her consent to the marriage with Khalid bin Abdallah Al-Nadir, because she’d been asked by the imam and two other men she didn’t know, who acted as witnesses, before the ceremony took place. A far cry from her first marriage, when her father had manipulated everything.
“You know he cannot do so. Not before you have someone willing to marry you right away.”
Carole had explained the Islamic marriage laws to her, given how her father, and no one at the madrassah, had thought it important to impart such knowledge to a Muslim girl. She’d learned how to read the Quran and how to pray there, the extent of the “necessary” lessons, and hadn’t had a mother or even an aunt who could’ve sat her down and given her “the talk” Islamic-style. The English public school system in Essex had been more conducive to learning how to swear than living in an Arab household. Always a mouse that disappeared in her father’s fearful presence, she had also never asked.
Hence how she’d never known that, once a man divorced his wife, he couldn’t marry her again, unless she’d been married to another man and he’d forsaken her, too. When Bashir, her first husband, divorced her, he forsook all claim to her. But should Khalid annul their marriage now, the old pervert could step in once again to claim her. He could kidnap her, his most prized possession—the English virgin wife with the green gaze and pale hair—and the law in his country wouldn’t blink an eye. But as long as she remained married to another, she would be safe.
The realization of what fate had reduced her to rose up to engulf her like a flash tide, and she refused to fight this time. She gave in, let the sorrow wash over her and drown her in the deepest reaches of loss’s abyss.
She must’ve kidded herself these past three months, pulled the wool over her eyes to obliterate the sight of what the past decade had done to her. But no longer. Nobody had managed to break her spirit in all that time, yet, the prospect of a blind date suddenly resembled an insurmountable mountain. How could she do this?
The sobs welled up, and tears rushed forth.
Ah, ma pauvre chérie.” Carole pulled her into her arms and stroked her hair.
Leila buried her face in the bony shoulder, welcomed the motherly embrace she hadn’t experienced since her mum had died over two decades ago. The whiff of Poison on her benefactor’s blouse teased her nostrils, soothed her ragged soul.
As the pent-up emotions washed out of her, Leila forced herself to take stock of her life, of her future.
Khalid was not coming back.
She didn’t want to go on that date. But she couldn’t keep him bound to her forever. The man who had rescued her from the hell of her first marriage deserved everything good. Including his freedom, if he so desired. No matter what he’d done afterward—she should get over her anger and thank him for setting her free.
She broke away from the embrace, swiped the tears from her cheeks. On a deep breath, she faced her only friend. “This man I’m to meet tonight. Does he know about my situation?”
Carole nodded. “I told Madame Eve everything when I asked her to find someone for you.”
Leila glanced at the sea, at the golden sunlight and the glinting waters. She would never have such brightness touch her life, but maybe she didn’t need to linger in a dark corner, either.
“Okay,” she whispered. “I’ll go.”
***
Damned be Carole Laroche!
Khalid bin Abdallah Al-Nadir winced when the curse danced inside his head. With a hard thump on the wheel of his rental Jaguar, he called the words back, afraid he’d end up facing Hell because of such despicable thoughts. Obedience to parents came right after obedience to God for Muslim men. She might not have given birth to him, but the law remained sketchy as to what power she could wield on his life as his stepmother. A God-fearing man, he didn’t want to test those parameters.
You’re already in Hell. He didn’t deserve anything good after bedding Leila, implying he’d look after her, and then abandoning her. He forced his eyes shut, then blinked and stared through the windshield. He couldn’t think of her, not now. When he stopped at a red light at the entrance of Grand Baie, temptation lay just a mile away. If he turned left, he’d be at their house in less than five minutes.
But he couldn’t go there. Leila deserved a new beginning and happiness. Everything she wouldn’t get as his wife. If she ever learned the truth, she would despise him, and he wouldn’t be able to bear her cold contempt. One glimpse of her, and he had lost the heart he never suspected he had.
The traffic light switched to green. Snapping out of his thoughts, he gunned the engine and swerved the car to the right in a screech of burning tires, away from the winding lane leading to her house, and toward his rendezvous for the night.
Carole’s work, once again. She had signed him up at a dating service called 1NightStand, and informed him he’d better be ready to go on the blind date Madame Eve would set up for him soon. She Carole knew he didn’t do casual sex, but insisted he step out and meet a girl. Full stop. As if things could be so simple with her involved. The woman had worked as a strategic analyst before she joined the board of directors of one of the biggest banking groups of the Indian Ocean. He was about to be played, but damn if he’d let her get the upper hand, even if she loved to pull the “paradise lies under the feet of thy mother” card whenever it suited her. No way out for him this time.
He glanced at bouquet of pink roses on the passenger seat. Madame Eve had informed him in her email that the person he was to meet loved these roses more than any other flower. He’d bitten the bullet and ordered the blooms, figuring they’d soften the blow of his rejection when he informed his date he had no intention of carrying out a one-night stand with her. He would’ve been a no-show, but he’d let this woman down, and his stepmother would certainly learn about it. When he could escape her wrath, he did.
Khalid sighed as he was forced to slam on the brakes.  Yet another traffic jam near the entrance to the crowded public beach of Pereybere, one of the most pristine lagoons on the whole island. Thank goodness he didn’t need to enter this glut of people. His GPS screen indicated a secluded villa further to the north-east at the island’s tip known as Cap Malheureux.
Cape of Misfortune, as his father had once described the place. Bernardin de St. Pierre’s  tragic heroine had washed up on this shore after the shipwreck of the St. Geran, in his literary classic Paul & Virginie.
Would his body wash up on that same beach tonight, once he contemplated the true wreck of his existence? He snorted—the spot couldn’t be more fitting for him. He loved this island, loved Carole, but for the first time in his thirty-three years on earth, she didn’t know he was in the country. And so close to Leila. He’d never wanted to set foot in Mauritius again, but business forced him to make a brief stopover. How had Madame Eve known his schedule? Did his stepmother know, too? And his wife?
He drew in a deep breath. He’d gotten what he sought—revenge on Bashir Al-Arif—and in the process, he had freed her. Nothing else should matter. He’d never thought he would fall in love with her, had gone to her bed only to consummate their union and make their marriage valid. But the sweet, innocent way she had opened to him on their wedding night had tilted his world on its axis. He’d more than wanted her then. He’d craved her.
Yet, he couldn’t have her, because he didn’t deserve her trust or her fragile beauty.
As he passed the red and white wooden church erected on the edge of the rocky beach—a landmark of Cap Malheureuxhe slowed the car in anticipation of finding the entrance to the villa. A uniformed security guard threw the gate open at his approach.
Khalid accelerated up the winding drive flanked by lush gardens, watching the wood and wrought-iron panel slide closed in the rearview mirror. He should’ve spared the guard the effort. He would be out of here as soon as he apologized to his “date,” handed her the flowers, and hit the road again.
At least, he planned the meeting to go this way as he parked and exited the Jaguar. The front door lay wide open, and he stepped into the cool semi-darkness of the thatched-roof villa, the bouquet in his hand. The interior appeared empty, not a human sound to be heard. A waft of salty breeze caressed his cheek in the entryway.
His step heavy on the polished teak floor, he trudged toward the back of the house. Pausing in the open panel of the sliding glass doors to the terrace, he caught a glimpse of the view. Blue waters sparkling even in the late afternoon, with the jutting tip of Coin de Mire island emerging from the sea in a giant chunk of basalt rock.
A postcard image of the north coast— an idyllic setting for a date. He chuckled at the irony. Why couldn’t he be like other guys? He lingered in a dream location, about to meet a woman who would be his for the night, and who would leave in the morning with no questions asked or hopes of anything beyond a few stolen nocturnal hours. He should jump on the opportunity.
And speaking of this woman, where was she?
Clutching the bouquet, he stepped onto the terrace, and froze. No, it cannot be....
She stood barefoot on the luxuriant green lawn, hands atop the back of a chaise as she gazed at the scenery. Her long, turquoise silk dress clung to her lithe body and shimmered like the waters of the lagoon beyond the spit of the land, making her resemble a nymph who’d stepped out of the aquamarine depths. Her shiny, golden hair danced down her back in soft curls the mellow wind lifted from her pale, creamy shoulders. From where he stood, he had a clear view of her delicate, sculpted profile. Eyes closed, she basked in the dying light, and when she opened them, he’d see their translucent jade.
A year ago, across a busy street in Abu Dhabi, the unique sparkle of her gaze had captivated him. She’d worn a black abaya, the long cloak hiding every one of her curves, and a purple shayla scarf that had bared nothing but the oval of her face from her eyebrows down to her chin. Dressed the same as every other woman in the country, she should’ve melted into the crowd. But those irises pierced him when she’d looked in his direction just before she ducked into her chauffeur-driven car.
Lost in thought, he jerked when she turned, and stared at him.
His gut experienced the punch of a hard fist when her eyes locked with his, and his chest squeezed at the same time a dagger ripped at his lungs.
A date with his wife—how, ever, would he walk away now?

*****

And don't forget - you can grab a copy of the book at the Decadent website, on Amazon, and on AllRomance Ebooks.

Thanks for letting me share this incredible moment with you, guys! Love ya tons!!

From Mauritius with love,

Zee

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