Saturday, March 21, 2015

#Excerpt of Hush Hush by Anneliese Vandell (#Giveaway)

24922672Hush Hush #1
by Anneliese Vandell 
Published February 10th 2015
Fifty Shades of Grey meets Revenge in this tantalizing new series about a young woman who’s willing to do anything in the name of vengeance.

Something terrible happened to April Morrison when she was eleven years old. When she returns home to New Orleans fourteen years later as “Sophia,” she has only one word on her mind: revenge. She’s got her eye on Charles and Barbara Hawthorne, the crowning jewel of New Orleans’ elite and the ones responsible for turning her life upside down. 

Enter Liam Hawthorne, the couple’s successful, strikingly handsome, and irresistibly dominant thirty-two year old son. When Liam makes a provocative proposal, it occurs to April that he may be just the “in” she needs. But what she doesn’t bargain for is Liam’s insatiable—and thrilling—sexual appetite. And as Liam begins to test April’s limits, she realizes that appearances are not what they seem. 

This book is intended for mature audiences.


Clack, clack, ccc-clack.
I feel like I'm walking on a tightrope. With cats strapped to my feet.
I look down. No, no cats there. Just ten pedicured toes and two very red—and very sore, might I add—feet bound up in strappy stilettos. They wobble precariously as I stagger into the bar room of the country club. 
As I elbow my way through the tightly-packed crowd, I nearly trip over the trailing hem of a woman's glittery purple gown. She snaps her head over to shoot me a dirty look.
"Sorry…” I mumble, but the woman doesn't hear me. Just at that moment, the eight-piece band onstage wails out a crescendo of trumpets, French horns, and clarinets. 
One of the trumpet players steps forward amid the din, smiling bashfully and fidgeting with the colorful beads around his neck. He brings his instrument to his lips. 
The sound is beautiful, bold, and all-enveloping. And suddenly, it’s as if everyone in the room has drawn a breath; the noise of the crowd wanes as the musician blasts his horn. Heads begin to turn toward the stage.
I take advantage of the momentary pause in activity to careen myself toward the bar. I grab an empty seat and tuck my legs beneath me. As I massage my aching feet, I briefly wonder what kind of genius decided that these four-inch, leather instruments of torture should be considered "fashion." I mean, sure, I guess they make my legs look amazing, but I've never been one to put looks over comfort. Forget heels—give me my roomy high-tops any day of the week.
"What'll ya have?"
A bartender in a pinstriped vest and bow tie is shouting at me over the counter. He wears a slightly harried expression as he waits for my order. 
I can only imagine the night he’s having—and we’re only an hour into the country club’s big pre-Mardi Gras celebration. The club hosts it every year for its members and their guests—and, unknown to them this evening, me. 
Across the bar, a gray-haired woman snaps her fingers impatiently at the bartender. Her voice is reedy when she calls out: “Hel-lo! What does it take to get some service around here?”
I give the bartender a sympathetic smile. “A tonic water with lime, please. In a tumbler.”
“No gin? You’re one ingredient away from one of my favorite cocktails,” says the bartender, already leaning down to scoop ice into a glass. 
That’s kind of the point, I think to myself. 
I need to concentrate tonight, and I can’t have alcohol muddling my thoughts. The fake drink is only so that I fit in with the rest of the crowd. 
But of course I don’t say this. Instead I just murmur, “Yeah. Something like that.” 
I lift myself slightly on my chair and take a look around. All I see are manes of peroxide-blonde hair, or floppy purple-and-gold hats. Their faces are all turned away from me; everyone is still transfixed by the trumpet player’s solo. I sink back onto my seat disappointedly.
“How much?” I ask the bartender as he slides my alcohol-free drink over to me.
He shakes his head. “No charge. Open bar tonight.”
“Oh, great. Thanks,” I say. 
I withdraw a few dollars from my cream-colored clutch and hold them out to him. He takes his tip gratefully before hurrying off to the scowling woman at the other end of the bar. 
The trumpet player blasts a few final notes, ending his solo. When he takes a bow, the crowd roars in applause—well, as much as a crowd like this can “roar,” anyway. New Orleans’ elite may be a little less stuffy than your standard country club crowd, but I’d still hardly consider them to be raucous. Everyone is dressed to the nines, and it’s clear from the way they’re holding their cocktails high in the air that they’re terrified of spilling their drinks on their designer gowns and tuxedos.
The crowd begins to disperse. People stream back toward the bar, and I’m able to catch some glimpses of the faces coming my way. But I still don’t recognize anyone—yet. I twist around in my seat and scan the crowd urgently. 
It’s been fourteen years since I’ve seen Barbara and Charles Hawthorne, but I remember their pinched, cruel faces like it was yesterday. Barbara always had a face like a hawk, with her beaked nose and that persistent holier-than-thou look in her eyes. Charles was barely taller than Barbara, but he was much wider, with hands like ping-pong paddles. His hair was just beginning to thin back then, too—I figure he’s probably bald by now. 
I scan the crowd, looking for shiny, bald heads. There are a few, but still no luck—none belong to the person I’m looking for.
“Ex-boyfriend or boss?” says a smooth voice beside me. 
I look down. A man with short, wavy hair and sloping shoulders is leaning against the bar, drumming his fingers on the lacquered wood. He’s young, at least compared to the rest of the members of the country club. Judging from the look of him, I’d put him in his early thirties—about six or seven years older than me. He’s wearing a crisp, tailored suit that looks like it cost him a couple thousand dollars, at least.
“Excuse me?” I say to him.
His eyes are fixed on me as I lower myself, for the second time, back onto my seat. They’re a shocking blue, and I’m reminded of the blue glaciers that sometimes drift across the television screen when I flip on a wildlife documentary. Cold and unyielding. Rough.
“Who are you looking for? Ex-boyfriend or boss?” he says again.
There’s a bite in his tone, almost as if he’s annoyed at having to repeat himself. I resist the urge to roll my eyes.
“Oh, uh, both,” I lie. “Bad breakup.”
He stares at me critically for a moment, and then I catch it—the tiniest, almost unwilling flick of his lips. It’s like he’s trying to contain his laughter.
“Come on, you can tell me,” I say to him playfully. “My mom used to tell me all the time.”
And then I immediately hear myself, and try not to wince.
Tense, April! Remember your tense! The character I’m pretending to be is from a normal family, with normal parents. She uses the present tense when referring to her mother, not the past. 
Unlike me, her parents aren’t in jail. 
But the man in front of me seems not to notice my inner struggle. He says, “What did she tell you?”
“That I’m terribly funny,” I say, my voice quavering slightly.
“Terrible, yes. Funny? Maybe,” the man says. 
At last, his lips curve upward into a smile. The grin seems to make his entire face light up. Instantly, his cheekbones become high and pronounced, and his jaw is sharp and strong. I realize I’m speaking with a Class 10 hottie. Class 11, even. As he looks down toward me with those sparkling eyes, it occurs to me that this hunk may go off the charts.
“So is everyone from New Orleans this witty, or is it just you?” I say coyly—or at least, I hope it sounds that way. How have I suddenly forgotten how to flirt? And why is my heart suddenly beating so quickly?
My words only make his grin grow wider. “It’s just me.”
I turn away and pretend to ignore him as the bartender comes by to take his order. As my eyes begin to sweep the crowd once again in search of the Hawthornes’ familiar faces, I still can’t manage to hide my grimace as the man beside me orders a “Whiskey, neat.” 
I can almost hear him smirking. I resist the impulse to turn back toward him, even though I can feel his eyes piercing through me.
Watch the crowd. Ignore the ridiculously gorgeous man standing next to you. Remember why you’re here, April. 
I repeat these words over and over in my head like a mantra, forcing myself to keep my gaze on the throng of people filtering in and out of the large room. But hardly a minute passes before I relent and turn back to him.
“What?” I say breathlessly.
Keeping those penetrating eyes locked on me, he takes a long, dramatic sip of his whiskey. Only after this does he speak. 
“Not a whiskey fan?”
I wrinkle my nose. “I can’t stand the stuff.”
“So only gin and tonics for you, then.”
I look down at my gin-free drink and permit myself a tiny, knowing smile. “Yeah, something like that.”
And that’s when I see it—a flash of glittering diamonds and white hair catches my eye. 
I swing my head to see a woman with a beaked nose flitting toward the bar, her portly husband trailing behind her. She lands on the far end of the counter, where only moments before the angry gray-haired woman had been snapping her fingers. My heartbeat goes into overdrive as I watch them. 
I’ve found them.
After all these years—exactly fourteen years, three months, and twenty-six days of wondering what had become of the people who ruined my life—here they are, mere yards away from me. 
The Hawthornes have always been New Orleans’ most powerful couple. Even their last name is like currency here. Charles Hawthorne is the founder and CEO of one of the largest financial companies in the country, and his wife Barbara sits on the board of directors for at least a dozen major Louisiana nonprofits. With their wealth and influence combined, they practically run this town. 
Unfortunately for me, this means that if they decide they don’t like someone—like my parents—it’s only a matter of time before they flex their muscle. You’d think that people with that kind of power would be more careful about wielding it. But judging by the wide smiles on their faces as the bartender pours them each a glass of scotch—the oldest, most expensive scotch in the house, I’m sure—it’s clear that their consciences don’t weigh too heavily on their mind.
But no matter. That’s why I’m here.
A skinny blonde with implants like inflated balloons shoves her way in between the handsome man and me.
“Lii-aaam, hiiiii,” she squeals, throwing a sharp elbow onto the bar. Her skin, exposed beneath a low-back dress, is way too tan to possibly be natural.
Whatever meager ounce of humor that may have been on Liam’s face is immediately drained. His voice flattens to a dull tone.
“Hello, Courtney.”
“I keep looking for you on jazz nights here, but you hardly come by the country club anymore. I was starting to think that you left the club and canceled your membership. Imagine what a shame that would be, to deny yourself the pleasure of my company.” Courtney shifts against the bar, knocking into my chair and sending the legs into a dangerous wobble.
But I hardly notice. My eyes are already drifting back to the Hawthornes. A group of older men and women have begun to gather around the couple. I wonder who they are. Business associates of Mr. Hawthorne? Neighbors? Some kind of demented fan club?
“Of course I haven’t left the club,” Liam says, annoyed. 
Letting my curiosity get the better of me, I sneak a peek back at him. He’s still leaning against the counter, but there’s an unmistakable air of irritation about him. His shoulders are tense—bristling even. 
“Then why don’t you come around anymore, huh?” Courtney demands.
He flicks an eyebrow at her tone. 
“Let’s just say I like the quiet,” he replies, his words punctuated with meaning. “People tend to be a little too chatty in this place. They don’t seem to realize when a person wants to be left alone.”
It takes Courtney a whole minute to realize that he’s talking about her. She spins on her heel, and for a wild second I think she’s going to fall. But unlike me, she clearly has tons of experience walking around in stilettos. She flounces away from the bar, indignant. 
Liam looks up and catches me watching him.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” he says. He takes another sip of his whiskey. This sip, I notice, is longer and deeper than the last.
Liam’s glass is nearly empty when he places it back onto the counter with a clink. 
“I hate this place. Everyone always wants something from you.”
“And what did she want?” I ask, nodding vaguely in the direction that Courtney was heading.
“Bragging rights. Among other things.”
“You’re that hot of a commodity, huh?” I say, and my tongue wraps around the word hot like a lollipop. 
Suddenly parched, I take another sip of my drink.
Liam studies me for a moment appraisingly. I realize my hair is hanging in front of my face, and I push it self-consciously behind my ears.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?” 
“You’re ‘Liam,’ obviously.”
This earns a chuckle from him. He waves for the bartender and gestures for another drink, then turns back to me.
“And you are…new in town, I take it?” he says.
“Sophia,” I say, offering a hand. A lie. “I just flew in yesterday. I’m here for a few weeks visiting family. My uncle’s a member here.” Another lie. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure’s mine.”
The way he says pleasure is slow and pointed. His eyes wrinkle, just the slightest bit, when he smiles at me.
His hand wraps around mine, and I attempt to ignore the sudden warm, almost electric sensation that trails up and down my spine. 
Keep it together, April, I warn myself.
I glance back over at the end of the bar—and realize that the older couple who is now standing there is not, in fact, the Hawthornes. They must have left sometime during the exchange with Courtney. 
And I was too distracted to notice. 
Damn it!
My eyes swing wildly back at the crowd, but the band has started up again, and all I can see is the backs of people’s heads. Heads of curly blonde hair, bushy brown hair, thinning gray hair—but none that match the bald head and white coif that belong to the Hawthornes. They could be anywhere.
My shoulders drop in disappointment at having let the Hawthornes slip through my grasp. They were right there only moments ago. 
Why hadn’t I seized the opportunity and approached them immediately? Was it fear—that somehow after all these years, I’d botch the plan? Was it safer to spend my life wishing and plotting and loathing? 
With a feeling of dread, I realize that my cousin Miranda is going to kill me. But that hardly compares with the anger I feel at myself.
I turn back to Liam, who is now sipping his second whiskey. Suddenly in need of something stronger than my virgin lime-tonic, I hold out my hand, as if to ask, can I try some?
Liam smiles and obliges. The whiskey is sour and strong on my tongue. I shudder as I swallow. It burns at the back of my throat, but on the bright side, I can immediately feel the liquor’s woozy rush to my head. Either I’ve got a weak constitution or this is one potent whiskey. 
Or maybe a little bit of both, I think.
Our fingers brush as I hand the glass back to him. There are those electric shivers again.
“I hate this place, too,” I say.
“It was worse at last year’s party,” he replies. “Three hours on a steamboat along the Mississippi River. You couldn’t even escape it if you wanted to. Unless you were willing to jump into the water, alligators and all. And I’ve got to tell you, when Mrs. Fleming over there”—he nods toward a corpulent woman wearing a clinging red dress and dripping with pearls, who is currently attempting to climb onto the grand piano onstage—“when she manhandled the microphone out of the emcee’s hands, I was getting damn near close to preparing for a swim with the ‘gators.”
I laugh. “I think a steamboat ride on the river doesn’t sound too bad, actually. Romantic, even. Except for that whole two-hundred-other-people part.”
Liam’s eyes gleam. “Tell me about it.”
He takes a sip of his whiskey, and I marvel at how he doesn’t even seem to wince as he swallows the stuff down. 
“So we both hate it here—we have that in common,” he says. “Tell me, what dragged you out here tonight? Was it your uncle?”
Where do I even begin? I think. To seek revenge against the people who put my parents in jail? To infiltrate their lives and seek out opportunities to turn their every movement against them? 
Certainly not anything I can say to a stranger. 
Not like he’d even believe me if I did.
“More like…obligation,” I say after a moment’s thought. 
Liam looks down at the honey-colored liquid in his glass tumbler. There’s a reckless expression in his ice-blue eyes. “Something else we have in common, then.” 
“Lucky us.”
He looks up at me suddenly. His piercing expression makes my heart leap a little in my chest.
“Let’s get out of here.”
Another leap. He can’t possibly mean what I think he means, can he? 
“Where to?” I say, trying with all my might to summon an air of I-don’t-care in my tone. But my voice cracks on the “to,” somehow turning it into two syllables. 
Damn it, April!
Liam leans forward and speaks into my ear. Invisible whiskers on his jaw scratch softly against my cheek.
“I was thinking somewhere private,” he says.
Woah. Woah! 
My heart isn’t just leaping anymore. It’s doing the freaking cha-cha.
“I…uh…” I stammer, casting wildly about for the right words. “But I don’t even know you.”
“Of course you do,” he says, sidling closer toward me. The smooth fabric of his suit slips against my bare knee, and for a fleeting, wild moment, I wonder if I might actually fall out of my chair. “I’m Liam, and you’re Sophia.”
I gaze up at him, stunned. 
This is what normal people do when they go to bars, isn’t it? They happen to cross paths, share a few laughs over a drink or two, and, at some point, they let their bodies take over and do the rest of the talking. 
As I gaze up at him, admiring the smooth angles of his face and the strong, straight slope of his nose—he’s so good-looking and so perfectly charming that it’s almost unfair—I wonder what it would like to be a normal person, just for a night. What would it feel like to have his body pressed against mine? To live, just for a night, with careless abandon, fueled only by romantic passion?
But there’s a different kind of passion that drives me. 
And it has nothing to do with romance.
A part of me wants to shout yes—several parts of me, actually—but my head is already shaking. 
“I’m s-sorry,” I find my lips stammering. “I’m just not that kind of girl.”
And then almost as if he was never leaning against me in the first place, he steps lightly away. He’s there and then he’s gone—just like that. 
Suddenly I am shivering in the absence of his body heat. When I look up, I expect him to look annoyed, or even angry—but to my surprise, that’s not what I find at all. 
Instead, an expression of bemusement flits across his handsome face, like he can’t possibly process the fact that he’s just been turned down. 
I cast a quick, nervous glance over my shoulder, still seeing no sign of Barbara or Charles Hawthorne among the crowd. Not that I expected to. 
I’ll have to ask Miranda for advice on what our next move should be. The Hawthornes are probably long gone—just as I should be. I’ve overstayed my welcome here, anyway. I half-expected to get kicked out by now; it’s a miracle that no one from the country club has figured out yet that I don’t belong here.
I fumble for my clutch and stammer out a “Sorry.”
“Too bad,” Liam says, his voice hardening slightly, “though of course that’s your prerogative. But I’ll admit that you intrigue me, Sophia.”
He reaches into his suit and withdraws a business card. He places it onto the bar and slides it over to me. 
“If you change your mind, give me a call,” he says.
I watch his retreating back as he strolls away. When I turn back to the bar, what I find makes me gasp out loud. A few heads turn my way.
First letting Barbara and Charles Hawthorne evade me—and now this, I silently chastise myself. I’ve been a fool twice today.
I force myself to look down and re-read the name embossed on the card, just to be sure it’s real. 
And, unfortunately for me, it is. 
Printed on the thick card stock, along with a personal phone number, are the words: 

William Hawthorne.

Today the author is giving away one Kindle copy of HUSH HUSH. To enter, just fill out the rafflecopter below. Good luck!

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