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Thirty Days

Thirty Days

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Set in London and Brighton, Thirty Days is a fabulously provocative romance series that gives you a very steamy love affair between a hot guy and an unsure heroine, baked goods and some rather unexpected twists and turns along the way. Shy and unassuming, Abigail James loves to bake. She dreams of opening her own dessert café but instead she spends her days working as a data analyst and sneaking in her cakes as the company’s ‘diet assassin’ on the side. Taylor Hudson, the enigmatic owner of Hudson International, has been captivated by Abby’s innocence and quiet charm since the day she started working for the company. However, his history with women is marred by personal circumstances and he has vowed to stay away. A chance meeting sees Abby’s world turned upside down when, drawn in by Taylor’s chocolate-coloured eyes and unexpected kindness, she starts on a journey of attraction that will see her heart and soul laid bare. While their attraction is mutual, both Abby and Taylor have their own inner demons that they need to overcome if their relationship can move forward for them to find their own ‘happily ever after’.

SEPTEMBER

‘The course of true love never did run smooth’

William Shakespeare

I look up and stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. With annoyance I rub my panda eyes, cursing that I had not thought to buy waterproof mascara. Typical, I think to myself. The one day I actually took some effort in getting ready for work, everything is undone by a five-minute downpour at the bus stop. I glance down at my watch and realise that if I don’t hurry, I am going to miss my opportunity to deliver my packages.

Swiping at my eyes with a tissue, I manage to repair most of the black streaks hurriedly. With that done, I pick up my bags and, glancing around, sneak out of Hudson International’s ladies’ toilets. Taking a deep breath and summoning as much stealth as I can muster, I hurry down the corridor towards the staff kitchen, grateful to find it empty. Glancing over my shoulder, I quickly unpack my packages onto the counter.

“So you are the diet assassin, then?” The voice startles me, and I almost drop the box that I am holding. I can feel the flush spread up my neck as I spin around to find myself staring into a pair of delicious dark chocolate brown eyes.

“Um, um,” I stutter, completely disorientated by the man standing in front of me.

“Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me,” he replies, helping himself to one of the chocolate cheesecake muffins I had placed on the countertop. He takes a bite and lets out a small sigh.

“No good?” I ask tentatively, my heart sinking. I had spent hours the previous evening getting the recipe exactly right, and I thought I had finally nailed it. But obviously not.

“No,” he replies, my heart sinking. “Too good,” he says with a grin. Unwittingly I find myself grinning back.

“Um, I’d better get these offloaded, then,” I reply. I quickly place the remaining few muffins on the counter, pack up my boxes and turn around expecting the mystery man to have taken his muffin and left. But no, he is still leaning nonchalantly against the door frame, grinning at me as he slowly eats the muffin.

“Sorry, have to dash,” I mutter, glancing at my watch. “Meeting in ten minutes.” I feel completely unnerved by this stranger that I’ve never seen in the office before. Almost grudgingly he lets me pass, loaded with my empty boxes. As I draw level with him, it feels as if time stands still. The hairs on my neck stand on end as I take in his citrusy smell, the dark eyes crinkling with humour and his lush, full lips that seem to be inviting me to kiss him. I swear I am about to swoon, which is seriously not a good thing.

“So why do you do it?” he asks in a husky voice as if he is affected as much by this chance meeting as I am.

I can feel the heat flaming my cheeks as I reply, “I love to bake.” I shrug my shoulders as if trying to shake off his gaze and swiftly push past him. I find myself hurrying down the corridor at almost a running pace, and I have to mentally give myself a nudge to slow down. It seems that luck is on my side, and I make it to my desk, where I quickly stow away my boxes in my drawers.

I breathe a sigh of relief as I turn on my computer but find my mind wandering back to the mystery man. I cannot understand why he has affected me so much. It is not even as if he said very much to me. Yet his presence seemed to speak volumes, and I have to admit to myself that at this moment I feel incredibly turned on. At the memory of his lips, I feel my heart quicken and my pelvis tighten. Banishing these thoughts, I turn to concentrate on my email, fearing that my tell-tale blush will give me away.

I lose myself in my inbox for several minutes, when I am suddenly brought back to reality by a tapping foot. “Come on, Abby, you are going to be late for the staff meeting, and I hear today’s muffins are to die for.”

Michelle Harrington-Black sends me an arch look, knowing full well who is responsible for today’s cakes, but as my confidante and best friend at Hudson, she has been sworn to secrecy.

~*~

My love for baking started at an early age. Having two parents who were largely absent throughout my childhood meant I was effectively brought up by various nannies. Some were great, but others were horrendous. What they largely all had in common, though, was that none of them lasted particularly long. I think many took the job on thinking that being a nanny to the daughter of two international models would mean plenty of glamorous travel and parties, but the reality was that I was normally left behind in our North London home as mum and dad flitted around the world.

The one constant in my life, however, was my Nonna. It was in her Brighton kitchen that I spent Saturdays learning to cook. First, it was simple things, like scrambled eggs and basic cakes, and then on to harder, more complex dishes where Nonna would encourage me to experiment with flavours and texture. By the age of twelve, I could make my own bread and had pretty much taken over from the nannies in the kitchen.

Once I got into my teens and the nannies were given freer rein, it was deemed that I was independent enough to take myself on the train down to Brighton, where I would spend whole weekends with Nonna, lapping up her knowledge of the Italian cuisine she had grown up with.

While Nonna has always encouraged my love of food, my parents have always been less than enthusiastic about it. Food equals calories, and there is no place for those in a jet-setting model’s life. For them, a stocked fridge is Evian and lettuce.

It doesn’t help either that I was a beautiful baby. Seriously, I look back at pictures of myself up to the age of about six and you would be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous child. I was everything expected of the offspring of Gina Albertelli and Michael James, two of the world’s leading models in the ’70s and ’80s, and my parents positively lapped up the attention. I was on the cover of too many magazines to count, and everyone said I was going to be the next star in the family.

But in that age when milk teeth were lost and school started, something happened and things changed. I got plump and round, my auburn ringlets started to frizz into a carroty mess, my pale freckly skin was no longer in vogue, and that was the end of my child modelling career. And with it, the adoration heaped on me by my parents. Don’t get me wrong. They have never been cruel or horrible, just, rather, that I no longer fitted into their world and so I wasn’t of great interest to them from that point onwards. And therein my love of food grew. Because we all know that food heals the soul, particularly if it comes with a healthy dusting of icing sugar!

Throughout my teens and my years at university, food had been my comfort. But even more than the eating, it is the actual cooking I love. During final exams, I could always be found whipping up grand meals for my housemates simply to ease the tension, even if I was so full of nerves I couldn’t end up eating what I made. All that measuring and being precise is a balm to a control freak like me.

This is where my anonymous cake-baking has come in. My first week at Hudson after graduating was terrifying. Thrust from the world of academia, I was suddenly expected to put all that I had learnt into practice. Each night I went home a wreck and did the one thing I knew I was good at…bake.

By the end of the week, I had so much food I didn’t know what to do with it, so on that Friday morning I snuck it into the office and left it on the kitchen counter. Not feeling confident enough in my position given that I had been there only a week, I didn’t put my name to my goodies.

It was somewhat of a relief to me that day when word spread like wildfire about my cakes. The people in the office loved them. And while they may not have noticed me tucked away in my cubicle, they were all talking about the texture of my coffee sponge with walnut crème and the crispness of my mini pavlovas, not to mention the taste of my chocolate and beetroot brownies!

So what started as a little stress relief became a regular occurrence where I would sneak in goodies and leave them anonymously in the kitchen. Hearing how much people enjoyed my cakes made me feel good inside, even on those days when I felt lonely and unsure of what I was doing. I even earned the nickname ‘diet assassin’ as no one could resist trying out what I left.

For the last three months, people have been trying to find out who their mystery baker is, and so far the only person who knows is Michelle. She caught me one evening on my way out when I dropped my cake boxes in the lift, and she put two and two together. But she has been sworn to secrecy and I trust her with my life. Plus the extras I send her way certainly help. But now my anonymity is in danger and I am unsure what to do.

THE FIRST

I follow Michelle through to the boardroom, where the staff meeting is being held. This is the first time I have attended one of these meetings as they only happen quarterly, and I am somewhat surprised to see so many people in the room. So many in fact that the partition walls have been slid back from two of the meeting rooms to turn them into one huge space. As we file into the back, I glance around and realise that I definitely did not make enough cakes. But people seem to be happily sharing, so I breathe a sigh of relief.

I am just about to dart off to grab a coffee off the table when a voice catches my attention. There, standing at the front of the room is my mystery man. All eyes have turned towards him as he welcomes everyone to the meeting.

My heart plummets. This can’t be good. I feel the heat starting to rise in my cheeks. Taking a deep breath, I lean over to Michelle’s ear and whisper, “Who’s that?”

Michelle looks over at me incredulously. “That’s Taylo

Heroes

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