Week 4 Finalist

Title: THE CLEOPATRA SECRET
Author: Greta MacEachern
Category: Short Contemporary Romance (Silhouette Desire)

The ice queen had arrived.

Russell Deauville stared out the window at the narrow road that linked his island to the mainland. The car was a dark sedan. Toy-sized now, but growing larger every moment.

“I looked her up online. She’s a real success story, a self-made woman.” His voice sounded odd in the silence of the big house. “Her fragrance company does a hundred million a year in sales. But they say she’s got ice-water and perfume in place of blood.”

Boone answered with a low-pitched grumble, and Russell glanced over his shoulder. The dog had dragged in one of the painted leather pillows from the great hall, and was gnawing on it with dedication.

Russell stared. Boone paused, held his gaze for a moment, and resumed the attack.

Portrait of a guide dog gone bad, Russell thought, and turned back to the window. The grocery store delivered on Saturdays, and every Tuesday a small flock of landscapers and cleaning women descended on the island. Apart from that, Catherine Callum was his first visitor in over a year.

She’d been cagey over the phone, unwilling to tell him what she wanted. He wondered how long it would take to get rid of her, and why he’d agreed to see her in the first place.

But that was easy. It was the voice, of course. His sight had been restored three years before, but he still trusted sound and touch the way other people trusted vision.

Catherine’s voice had been something special. Intelligent and professional. Cool, calm, and collected. But underneath the surface gloss was a sensuality, a low-pitched femininity, which had caught and held his attention. On a whim, he’d agreed to meet her–and regretted it almost as soon as he’d hung up.

He liked his privacy. Always had, always would.

Russell watched the sedan pass through the black iron gates and sweep around the parking circle that lay to the north of the house.

A sharp bark told him Boone had sensed the stranger’s arrival. The big dog dropped the pillow and lurched to his feet, then left the office at a trot, toenails scrabbling on the polished oak floor.

Russell followed him out of the room.

Time to meet the ice queen.

Good lord, Catherine thought. The giant oak door had swung open to reveal a man who looked as though he’d stepped straight out of a fantasy. His black hair was cut to a conservative length, but a hint of wave told her that another inch would see it breaking out into gypsy curls. His eyes were so dark they looked black, his features were chiseled, and his skin was tanned to a rich gold.

A low growl interrupted her thoughts and she looked down at the dog that stood between her and the master of the house. It was big, and black, and it was currently flashing a mouthful of teeth.

“Boone.” Deauville made a brusque gesture with one hand. “Down.”

The dog slouched across the foyer and sank to the floor, as sulky as a teenager.

She offered a hand in greeting. “Mr. Deauville?”

“‘Russell’ is fine.”

He took her hand, his skin warm on hers, his palm hard and lightly callused, and suddenly she was dreaming of a new fragrance. A cologne, a masculine scent. Something that hit with the same impact Russell Deauville did.

If she could bottle that devastating first impression, she’d have another sensation on her hands. A fragrance as hot as Desire, her first blockbuster scent.

And then she came back to herself, and realized that the man on her mind was eyeing her curiously. “Shall we sit down?”

She nodded and accompanied him through echoing halls to a sunny room that looked out over a garden. The dog followed at their heels.

Catherine seated herself in a blue silk chair, and Russell took the sofa opposite.

“Why are you here?”

His tone was polite, but the question told her he wasn’t interested in small talk. That suited her fine. “I’m sorry I was so vague over the telephone. For business, I prefer face-to-face meetings. I’m here about …” She paused to gather her courage. “Cleopatra’s Secret.”

Russell stared. “Cleopatra’s Secret? The perfume? It’s a myth.”

She shook her head, slowly. “I don’t think so.”

“You can’t be serious.” A cynical smile curved his lips. “Cleopatra’s Secret belongs in the same category as flying carpets and King Arthur.”

Catherine frowned. “The Arthur legend was based on fact,” she pointed out.

But Russell had already risen. “It’s been nice meeting you. Good luck with your quest. I’m afraid I can’t help.” He made the half-turn toward the doorway that indicated he expected her to follow, but she had no intention of leaving. Not yet.

Instead she settled back in the armchair and crossed her legs. “Your parents believed in the Secret.”

His eyes narrowed. “My parents are dead,” he said flatly. “And every archaeologist in the world will tell you they were wrong.”

“I believe they were right.”

He sat back down and stared at her for a long moment. “Why are you so interested in this perfume?”

A tiny tremor shook through her bones. She took a deep breath and made sure her voice was steady when she spoke. “I’m a businesswoman. I run a perfume company. The public relations value of a modern version of Cleopatra’s Secret would be … considerable.”

He stretched one arm out along the sofa and studied her intently. Seconds tripped past and she became aware of the soft rasp of Boone’s breath, the quiet ticking of a clock in the next room, and the faint throb of her own pulse.

“Do you believe in the legend?”

His question took her by surprise. “I–of course not.” But the denial sounded unconvincing, even in her own ears.

Russell pressed his advantage. “It’s supposed to make a woman irresistible, isn’t it? The only genuine aphrodisiac in the world. The true source of Cleopatra’s appeal.”

17 responses

9 10 2007
News Winners and Experts Posted « Chase the Dream Writers Contest

[…] and editors for our Panel of Experts. Check them out. And, of course, check out this week’s Finalist and Mini-Critique […]

9 10 2007
rachellechasebooks

Greta – I like the unexpected twist you gave the hero – the fact that he’d recovered from blindness – and the “guide dog gone bad” comment, which tells us a lot about his relationship with Boone, i.e., the fact that he cares deeply for the dog and that Boone is obviously no longer a service dog. 🙂 His being won over by Catherine’s voice is a nice, unique, touch and in keeping with his character. And what a fun profession you’ve given Catherine! Good job …

Best,
Rachelle

9 10 2007
Marie

Hi Greta,
I really like the enigma you’ve set up regarding the aphrodisiac perfume she’s after – and heroine needing the hero’s inside knowledge to get to it. Congrats on being a finalist!

Best,
Marie

10 10 2007
Melissa

Greta – what a beautiful story. I felt every word of it and was drawn in right away. Already I care about the characters and what will unfold next.
Mel

10 10 2007
Leigh Michaels

Greta, this is a wonderful beginning — lots of nice hints about the past, lots of nice foreshadowing of the future, and already some good tension between the characters. (I hope Catherine’s got some really good reasons why Russell will have to help her, despite his reluctance…) I particularly like the bit about her wanting to bottle her first impression of him for another blockbuster perfume!

All the best,
Leigh

10 10 2007
Marcia James

I really liked this story, and not just because I’m partial to stories with dogs in them! I was caught up in the story right away and find the protagonists appealing. Congratulations on finaling!
— Marcia James 😉
http://www.MarciaJames.net

3 11 2007
Greta

Thanks, everyone! I really appreciate your comments.

Rachelle & Leigh–running this contest must be a huge job. Thank you for taking the time.

Now if only there were a way to meet all the other writers who’ve entered … 🙂

15 11 2007
Cindy

Greta, congratulations on finaling. This sounds like a very intriguing story. Love the characters.

Cindy

22 11 2007
Robin le Fey

Ohhhh – the only genuine aphrodisiac in the world? Now you’ve got my attention. When do we get to see Cleopatria’s Secret?

22 11 2007
Mary Schenten

Oh, Greta, I love this. It reads so easy and I’m right there.
Very good image of what the characters are like. I want to read more.

26 11 2007
cheryl ullyot

Hi Greta- I enjoyed your story. Good luck!
Cheryl from Food as Metaphor class

26 11 2007
cheryl ullyot

Oops-I meant romance class-I had a Greta in my food class at the Loft too. Cheryl

26 11 2007
Ann

Greta,

A wonderful opening. A unique idea with his former blindness and her profession. I can’t wait to read more.
Ann

3 12 2007
Paula Eykelhof and Megan Long (editors, Harlequin)

Definite writing ability and story potential. Introduces lots of interesting questions that we assume the rest of the story will answer. Nice touches of humor. Very appealing hero and dog! We certainly recommend submitting to Desire. Best of luck!

5 12 2007
Greta

Thanks to everyone for the friendly comments! Enjoy the holidays …

5 12 2007
Elaine English (agent)

This is a very strong opening. I really liked your use of all senses in your descriptions. You succeeded in created very strong and believable characters, including the dog, from the very beginning. The enigma of Cleopatra’s secret is also a great hook for the story. Well done.

12 12 2007
Cheryl Ferguson (agent)

Intriguing! Unique premise, extraordinary characters within the guise of ordinary people and a very effective writing style. Much success with CLEOPATRA’S SECRET.




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