THE LAST WOMAN HE'D EVER DATE                                                             Harlequin Romance

 

 

 

 
 

Tall, dark and brooding - and back for good?

 

Claire Thackeray: Hardworking single mum and journalist on the local paper. Hoping for the inside scoop on sexy billionaire Hal North, aka her teen crush!

 

Most wary of: Gorgeous men who set her heart racing. (Been there, got the T-shirt - and the baby!)

 

Hal North: Bad boy made good. Back in his home town as new owner of the Cranbrook Park estate. Determined to put his troubled past behind him.

 

Most wary of: Journalists - especially pretty ones, like new neighbour and tenant Claire Thackeray.

 

 

 

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What people are saying ...

 

"I loved Claire’s character She was feisty and sassy, the banter between Claire and Hal was an absolute treat to read..."

 

Romance Junkie

 

 

"...so infuriatingly, teasingly good that you cannot put the book down!"

 

Rachel Dove

 

 

"An absolute joy to read - Full of humour and passion."

 

Fresh Fiction

 

 

"Your emotions are in safe hand with this book - romance with a modern twist."

 

Helen Baggot

 

 

taste test...

Claire Thackeray swung her bike off the road and onto the footpath that crossed Cranbrook Park estate.

The “No Cycling” sign had been knocked down by the quad bikers before Christmas and late for work, again, she didn’t bother to dismount.

She wasn’t a rule breaker by inclination but no one was taking their job for granted at the moment, besides, hardly anyone used the path. The Hall was unoccupied but for a caretaker and any fisherman taking advantage of the hiatus in occupancy to tempt Sir Robert’s trout from the Cran wouldn’t give two hoots. Which left only Archie and he’d look the other way for a bribe.

As she approached a bend in the path Archie, who objected to anyone travelling faster than walking pace past his meadow, charged the hedge. It was terrifying if you weren’t expecting it — hence the avoidance by joggers — and pretty unnerving if you were. The trick was to have a treat ready and she reached in her basket for the apple she carried to keep him sweet.

Her hand met fresh air and as she looked down she had a mental image of the apple sitting on the kitchen table, before Archie — not a donkey to be denied an anticipated treat — brayed his disapproval.

Her first mistake was not to stop and dismount the minute she realised she had no means of distracting him, but while his first charge had been a challenge, his second was the real deal. While she was still on the what, where, how, he leapt through one of the many gaps in the long neglected hedge, easily clearing the sagging wire and she was too busy pumping the pedals in an attempt to outrun him to be thinking clearly.

Her second mistake was to glance back, see how far away he was and the next thing she knew she’d come to an abrupt and painful halt in a tangle of bike and limbs — not all of them her own — and was face down in a patch of bluebells growing beneath the hedge.

Archie stopped, snorted, then, job done, he turned around and trotted back to his hiding place to await his next victim. Unfortunately the man she’d crashed into, and who was now the bottom half of a bicycle sandwich, was going nowhere.

    ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ he demanded.

‘Smelling the bluebells,’ she muttered, keeping very still while she mentally checked out the “ouch” messages filtering through to her brain.

There were quite a lot of them and it took her a while, but even so she would almost certainly have moved her hand, which appeared to be jammed in some part of the man’s anatomy if it hadn’t been trapped beneath the bike’s handlebars. Presumably he was doing the same since he hadn’t moved, either. ‘Such a gorgeous scent, don’t you think?’ she prompted, torn between wishing him to the devil and hoping that he hadn’t lost consciousness.

His response was vigorous enough to suggest that while he might have had a humour bypass — and honestly if you didn’t laugh, well, with the sort of morning she’d had, you’d have to cry — he was in one piece.

Ignoring her attempt to make light of the situation he added, ‘This is a footpath.’

‘So it is,’ she muttered, telling herself that he wouldn’t have been making petty complaints about her disregard for the bye-laws if he’d been seriously hurt. It wasn’t a comfort. ‘I’m so sorry I ran into you.’ And she was. Really, really sorry.

Sorry that her broad beans had been attacked by blackfly. Sorry that she’d forgotten Archie’s apple. Sorry that Mr Grumpy had been standing in her way.

Until thirty seconds ago she had merely been late.  Now she’d have to go home and clean up. Worse, she’d have to ring in and tell the news editor she’d had an accident which meant he’d send someone else to keep her appointment with the chairman of the Planning Committee.

He was going to be furious. She’d lived on Cranbrook Park all her life and she’d been assigned to cover the story.

‘It’s bad enough that you were using it as a race track—’

Oh, great. There you were lying in a ditch, entangled in bent bicycle, with a strange man’s hand on your backside — he’d better be trapped too — and his first thought was to lecture her on road safety.

‘—but you weren’t even looking where you were going.’

She spat out what she hoped was a bit of twig. ‘You may not have noticed but I was being chased by a donkey,’ she said.

‘Oh, I noticed.’

Not sympathy, but satisfaction.

‘And what about you?’ she demanded. Although her field of view was small, she could see that he was wearing dark green coveralls. And she was pretty sure that she’d seen a pair of Wellington boots pass in front of her eyes in the split second before she’d crashed into the bank. ‘I’d risk a bet you don’t have a licence for fishing here.’

‘And you’d win,’ he admitted, without the slightest suggestion of remorse. ‘Are you hurt?’

Finally…

‘Only until you move I can’t get up.’

Oh, right. Not concern, just impatience. What a charmer.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, with just the slightest touch of sarcasm, ‘but you shouldn’t move after an accident.’ She’d written up a first aid course she’d attended for the women’s page and was very clear on that point. ‘In case of serious injury,’ she added, to press home the point that he should be sympathetic. Concerned.

‘Is that a fact? So what do you suggest? We just lie here until a paramedic happens to pass by?’

Now who was being sarcastic?

‘I’ve got a phone in my bag,’ she said. It was slung across her body and lying against her back out of reach. Probably a good thing or she’d have been tempted to hit him with it. What the heck did he think he doing leaping out in front of her like that? ‘If you can reach it, you could dial nine nine nine.’

Are you hurt?’ She detected the merest trace of concern so presumably the message was getting through his thick skull. ‘I’m not about to call out the emergency services to deal with a bruised ego.’

No. Wrong again.

‘I might have concussion,’ she pointed out. ‘You might have concussion.’ She could hope…

‘If you do, you have no one but yourself to blame. The cycle helmet is supposed to be on your head, not in your basket.’

He was right, of course, but the chairman of the Planning Committee was old school. Any woman journalist who wanted a story had better be well-groomed and properly dressed in a skirt and high heels. Having gone to the effort of putting up her hair for the old misogynist, she wasn’t about to ruin her hard work by crushing it with her cycle helmet.

She’d intended to catch the bus this morning. But for the blackfly she could have caught the bus…

‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ Mr Grumpy asked.

‘Oh…’ She blinked as a muddy hand appeared in front of her. The one that wasn’t cradling her backside in a much too familiar manner. Not that she was about to draw to attention to the fact that she’d noticed. Much wiser to ignore it and concentrate on the other hand which, beneath the mud consisted of a broad palm, a well-shaped thumb, long fingers… ‘Three?’ she offered.

‘Close enough.’

 ‘I’m not sure that “close enough” is close enough,’ she said, putting off the moment when she’d have to test the jangle of aches and move. ‘Do you want to try that again?’

‘Not unless you’re telling me you can’t count up to three.’

‘Right now I’m not sure of my own name,’ she lied.

‘Does Claire Thackeray sound familiar?’

That was when she made the mistake of picking her face out of the bluebells and looking at him.

Forget concussion.

She was now in heart attack territory. Dry mouth, loss of breath. Thud. Bang. Boom.

Mr Grumpy was not some irascible old bloke with a bee in his bonnet regarding the sanctity of footpaths — even if he was less than scrupulous about where he fished — and a legitimate grievance at the way she’d run him down.

He might be irritable, but he wasn’t old. Far from it.

He was mature.

In the way that men who’ve passed the smooth-skinned prettiness of their twenties and fulfilled the potential of their genes are mature.

Not that Hal North had ever been pretty.

 

 

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From the book THE LAST WOMAN HE'D EVER DATE by Liz Fielding

eISBN: 978145923362

Text Copyright © 2012 by Liz Fielding

Cover Art Copyright © 2012 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited

Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by

arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.

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