In case you didn’t hear, I’m feverishly writing a new novel called Behind Her Smile. This story is a little different for me (read: darker and grittier) and I’m having a blast writing it. Before we get into the very unedited teaser, here’s what this book is all about.
David and Karolina Morgan have the perfect marriage. He runs a financial empire catering to Miami’s most influential and she is the darling socialite, adored by her husband and all those that meet her.
But underneath the lavish home, expensive car and exquisite jewelry lies a darkness threatening to consume Karolina. The once vivacious fashion design student has become a shadow of herself at the hands of her manipulative husband.
Then, with the flick of a power switch, everything changes. Karolina must learn to fight back when she discovers her entire existence is one big sham, with dire consequences.
Teaser time! This is an excerpt from the very first pages of Behind Her Smile. Enjoy!
Now – Karolina POV
Tutu. Baby’s Breath. Angelic Musings. Three very different names describing the same thing: a delicate pink varnish that covers my fingernails. Every Monday I have a standing manicure appointment at Breeze. Each week the manicurist, Meryl, and I play the same game. Perched on a black stool, Meryl clucks over my cuticles and then asks, “How about red today? Goes well with your skin tone.” Pretending to ponder Meryl’s suggestion, I gently retract my hands to tug off my engagement ring and wedding band. “Red would match with a gown I’m wearing to a gala next week, maybe we’ll try it then.” But I never switch my request. Pale, newborn baby girl pink adorns my fingernails week in and week out.
Just once I’d like to try something brash like fire-engine or tangerine. However I’ve learned those colors are garish and considered inappropriate by reigning queens of Miami high society. Heaven forbid I make waves.
With a flick or his elegant wrist, David fills the cabin the luxury sedan with the classical music he prefers. Not a single strand of his hair falls out of place. The crisp corners of his heavily starched white shirt peek out from the edge of a black tuxedo jacket sleeve. David’s initials, DM, are stitched on the French cuffs, parallel to the cufflinks he purchased on a trip to the South of France. Every angle on David seems to be chiseled from the image of wealth and sophistication: classic bow-shaped mouth, straight, high-bridged nose and thick lashes framing his ocean eyes. There are no visible imperfections in his appearance. But I know a secret. If it weren’t for the colorist who visits our home each month, flecks of gray would show at David’s temples.
“That dress you’re wearing was quite the sensation.” The aristocratic timbre of his voice works well in seducing potential clients. David Morgan is the driving force being Morgan Financial, a financial planning service catering to Miami’s elite. In a way, the smoothness in David’s voice was one of the first things that drew me to him, too.
David knows exactly how to charm his prey. Complimenting one of my original designs is my biggest weakness. Under his praise, my shoulders straighten. Despite everything, I still blossom under a compliment from David.
All my life I wanted to create beautiful garments. Worked tirelessly in high school to get good grades and earn a scholarship to college. Slung burgers at a fast food restaurant for extra money. Then I got my prize: a partial scholarship to study fashion at the Miami Design Institute. Finally, I went after my dream of becoming the next Coco Chanel.
Life has a heartbreaking way of uprooting dreams, though.
Instead of producing fashion for Bryant Park in New York City, I’ve been relegated to a studio in my home. It’s not so bad, designing for myself. There’s no pressure to please anyone other than my own critical eye. Although my designs aren’t known on the national level, I am able to showcase some of my wears at society events. This evening I’m wearing a gown that took me a month to create – after the initial conception. Silk. Deep plum twisted bodice and a slit in the A-line skirt to allow a large enough range of motion for dancing. It elongates my lean form, displays feminine curves without being overtly seductive.
“Adriana Martinez would like to commission a gown for an inaugural ball,” I murmur. Like my husband, I’ve trained my voice to be gentle, never jarring.
David’s carefully styled eyebrows lift a centimeter – the barest hint of surprise. Adriana is married to Hector Martinez, the king of a real estate empire stretching from Key West to West Palm Beach County. Along with his wife, Hector can be found at every charity gala, important political function and any other events deemed important by Miami society. Now that the former governor of Florida was elected President of the United States, the financially influential Martinez couple will make their move toward Washington, DC. They were big donors to the president-elect’s campaign. Seven figure donors. Adriana wearing one of my original designs to an inaugural event could be a huge coup for what David calls my little hobby.
“Is that so,” David drawls.
“Adriana will be photographed for magazines and blogs. The exposure could do well for Morgan Financial.” Bravely I lift my gaze to David who stares at me impassively. His emotions are getting harder and harder to read with age.
“Hm. Morgan Financial would be a secondary beneficiary. Your design would be the shining star.” David shifts smoothly in the cream leather seat, now one eyebrow cocked in my direction. My heart thuds in my chest. Is he angry because, for once, a sliver of the spotlight may shine on me? “No matter. Let’s see if you can get yourself invited over to the Martinez compound. You’ll present the idea of a couples dinner at our home.”
“Certainly,” I agree.
David’s expression doesn’t betray any underlying irritation that Adriana may garner interest in my work. The tension in my chest abates and I sink further into my seat, good posture be damned. David reaches across the armrest dividing the backseat of the car, places a hand on my forearm. “Soon you’ll be receiving requests from all over South Florida. My wife, the fashion designer.” His lips flicker upward as though the prospect amuses him. “I support it, so long as your career doesn’t eclipse the time we spend together.”
“No, of course not.”
The diamond tennis bracelet clasped around my wrist pinches my skin, drawing my attention to the glimmering jewelry. David slips two fingers between my skin and the stones, stroking the delicate skin there.
“Do you remember when I gave this to you?” He asks huskily.
“How could I forget?” With my free hand, I finagle David’s hand to clasp our fingers together.
“Remind me,” he teases.
“It was right before we were married. You had the wedding planner deliver it to the bridal suite with a note.” Briefly, my eyes shut as I remember the emotions of our wedding day five years ago. Heady anticipation coursed through my veins that day. Never in my life had I known that type of excitement. I blink my eyes open and find David watching me raptly. A stoic mask conceals whatever he remembers of our wedding. Forcing myself to smile, I tug his hand to my chest where my heart rate has slowed to a gentle cadence.
“At the time, this bracelet was the most magnificent gift I had ever received. You’ve managed to outdo yourself dozens of times over.” I allow my expression to soften. “No one spoils me like you do, David.”
A cloud of Armani cologne wafts around me as David leans closer. He releases my hand, only to drag his fingertips along my cheek. David presses his warm lips against mine in a short kiss. “You’re the one who spoils me,” he croons.
It happens when David shifts back into his corner of the car, so quickly I’m sure he doesn’t think I notice. But I see it. David’s eyes flicker to the driver, making sure that he’s watching the show. If I’ve learned anything in the five years I’ve been married to David Morgan, it’s that appearances are of the utmost importance.