The Man Behind the Mask

The Man Behind the Mask

by Maggie Cox

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781426879289
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 01/01/2011
Series: From Rags to Riches , #1
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 712,370
File size: 406 KB

About the Author

The day Maggie Cox saw the film version of Wuthering Heights, was the day she became hooked on romance. From that day onwards she spent a lot of time dreaming up her own romances,hoping that one day she might become published. Now that her dream is being realised, she wakes up every morning and counts her blessings. She is married to a gorgeous man, and is the mother of two wonderful sons. Her other passions in life - besides her family and reading/writing - are music and films.

Read an Excerpt

Nothing deterred her, it seemed. Not even weather that felt as if it was blowing in straight from Siberia, Eduardo mused. For the past three weeks he had taken to visiting the small historic market town more frequently than when he had first moved to the area—ostensibly drawn to a certain exhibition that had been running in the town hall—and he hadn't been able to help noticing the girl strumming her guitar at the side of the road, singing mournful folk songs and looking like some pretty waif straight out of a Dickens novel. Didn't she have parents, or people that cared about her? Apparently not…

It frankly appalled Eduardo that she was reduced to singing for her supper on the streets instead of earning her living by more comfortable means. It dawned on him that she was the first person to stir him out of his solitary existence for months—a state that had begun even before he had set foot on British shores from Brazil and made the impulsive decision to reside there. Well…the turbulent events of the past two years might have taken their toll, resulting in him becoming somewhat reclusive and distant from the rest of the human race, but he was definitely not looking for remedies to rectify that situation, he reminded himself. No…His interest in the girl was just a passing curiosity that would no doubt quickly fade. At any time she could move on, and he would likely never see her again. He paused to put a note into the tatty tweed cap that lay on the ground at her feet, and weighted it down with two fifty pence pieces to keep it from being snatched away by the wind.

'That's a pretty song,' he murmured.

'Thanks…but that's far too much.'

She stopped strumming and reached for the note, pressing it back into Eduardo's gloved hand. Their glances caught and held, and he had the most disturbing sensation that the ground had somehow shifted beneath him.

'Too much?' He raised a bemused eyebrow, certain he'd misheard her.

'Yes. If you want to donate some money to a charity there's a church just up the road, collecting for the local homeless…St Mary's. I'm neither a charity nor homeless.'

'But you have a hat with coins in it. Is that not why you stand here singing?'

A great irritation surfaced inside Eduardo, and he could hardly fathom the reason for the intensity of it—other than that he wasn't used to having his generosity rejected. Why was he even wasting time talking to such a strange girl? He should simply walk away, abandon her to her peculiar philosophy of singing for mere pennies and leave her be. But he found he could not. Even though the waif had insisted she was neither in need of charity nor a home, somehow her predicament had got to him—reached past his usual iron-clad defences and caused a surprising dent. It was—as he had concluded earlier—just that this was the first time for months that he had voluntarily made contact on purpose with someone else, and he hardly welcomed his considerate action being thrown back in his face.

'I sing because I'm compelled to…not for the money. Haven't you ever done something just for the sheer love of it and for no other reason?'

Her question struck him silent for a moment, and he barely knew what to do with the discomfort that made his skin prickle and burn and his throat lock tight.

'I—I have to go.'

Knowing his expression had become frozen and uncommunicative, as was his usual habit, Eduardo shrugged, suddenly eager to return to the anonymity of the rest of the passersby and the ponderous but familiar burden of his own tormented thoughts.

'Please yourself. You're the one that stopped to talk to me—remember?'

'I did not deliberately stop for the purposes of talking to you!' he flashed, his temper suddenly ignited by the girl's unflinching hazel gaze.

'I see that now. You merely wanted to make yourself feel good by leaving me a ridiculously generous amount of money, then walk away again satisfied that you'd done your good deed for the day. Is that it?'

'You are impossible!'

Wishing with all his heart that he had ignored that bothersome rogue impulse to reach out to someone who he'd genuinely believed to be in need, Eduardo gripped the ivory handle of his walking cane and moved awkwardly away. He had practically reached the end of the street before his acute hearing once again picked up the strumming of the girl's guitar, along with her mournfully toned voice.

Had she been watching him? It troubled him deeply to realise that she must have been doing exactly that—else why wait so long to resume singing? Yes, she had been watching him.watching him walk away like the cripple he now was, he reflected savagely. Was she by any chance feeling sorry for him? The thought was like corrosive acid in his blood. Well, if he was ever unlucky enough to see her again he would make a deliberate point of ignoring her, he vowed. Who the hell did she think she was anyway—rebuffing his goodwill like that. mocking him, almost?

But as Eduardo painfully forced his stride into a more rapid pace, the question she'd asked echoed tauntingly round his brain and constricted his already tortured heart without mercy. Haven't you ever done something just for the sheer love of it and for no other reason? To his profound shame, moisture stung the back of his eyelids and, murmuring a vehement curse, he walked blindly on into the centre of town, hardly caring that his injured leg was taking unfair punishment—all because an insignificant slip of a girl had scorned his money and pricked his pride.

* * *

The temperature had plummeted to near freezing. Barely able to feel any sensation at all in her numbed fingers as they moved over the guitar strings, Marianne decided to call it a day. The idea of a mug of creamy hot chocolate nursed in front of a roaring fire drew her swiftly homewards, and she strove hard to blot out the fact that she would be returning to an empty house. A silent, echoing mausoleum, where everything from the daintiest ornament to the lovely music room with its shining grand piano was a haunting reminder of the husband and friend who had been taken from her much too soon.

'Move on with your life when I'm gone,' Donal had feverishly entreated her from his hospital bed, with a light burning in his eyes that had scared Marianne, because it had told her that he wouldn't hang on for much longer. 'Sell the damn house and everything in it, if you want! Go and see the world…meet new people, travel…live, for God's sake. Live for the both of us.'

And she would…but not yet. She was still finding her bearings without a compass, in a world empty of the one person who had really cared for her. She was inching forward slowly but surely.

Busking in the street might seem a strange place to start. But having had a dread of performing in public that she wanted to overcome, so that from time to time she could sing in the local folk club without going to pieces, as far as moving on with her life went Marianne saw it as an entirely positive step. Not only was she facing down her fear and thriving at the same time, she was saying to the universe Is that the worst you can do? Take my husband from me and leave me alone again? Well, just watch this! Every day she was becoming more and more confident. Yet again, music had saved her. Donal would have been proud that she'd found the courage to take such a radical if unconventional step towards her own healing—even if his two adult children from his previous marriage were not, instead taking it as a sign that she must be unstable…A sign that she must have had some 'not quite right' influence on their father, to make him ignore them and leave everything to her in his will instead.

Just then, out of the blue, a stranger's chiselled hard face overlaid her husband's kind, familiar one, and Marianne was shocked to recall the man who had put a fifty-pound note in her cap. Not for one second did she doubt it had been the real deal. Not only had he looked wealthy—as if he lived an elite lifestyle that was way beyond the ordinary dreams of a secure, comfortable life for regular people—but he had smelled wealthy too. He'd spoken perfect English, with a trace of an accent—South American, perhaps? He had also exuded the kind of authority that would have made Marianne shrink inside herself not so very long ago. But nursing Donal through his long, ultimately fatal illness, then sitting beside his hospital bed for nigh on two months while he clung doggedly to life before lapsing into a coma, had fostered in her the type of courage and tenacity that she was determined never to be without again.

Cupping her mug of hot chocolate, she stared into the crackling flames in the fireplace, the compelling features of the man who had disturbed her becoming even stronger in her mind. Marianne had never seen eyes quite that unique shade of blue before. They'd been the frosted hue of a cloudless winter sky and, although his hair had had tones of amber-gold threaded through its tawny strands, his lashes had been the intense dark brown of richly melting chocolate. He'd had an aquiline nose, with a slight bump in the bridge and his mouth, though firm and well-shaped, had nonetheless been so stern that it had seemed to suggest it would physically pain him to smile. Even though she had briefly conversed with him, she still got the impression that he projected the kind of impenetrable fortress that even a seasoned campaigner didn't have a hope of breaching! After she had declared she didn't sing just for money, challenging him with her question as to if he hadn't ever done something just for the sheer love of it, Marianne had immediately regretted her outburst.

She squirmed at the ill-mannered way she had accused him of trying to make himself feel good by putting so much money in the hat. She shouldn't have done that. How could he know that after the tragedy she had suffered she'd vowed never to accept or need help from anybody ever again? That her trust in anything good had been utterly shattered when, after a hellish childhood with a neglectful alcoholic father, she'd finally found some happiness in her marriage, only for her husband to die just six months later?

But the stranger had stared back at her as if he'd had his own demons to face, she remembered, and for a few tense moments there Marianne had barely known what to think or do as she met his stricken gaze. Then, before she'd had a chance to apologise, he had walked away…limping. Had he suffered an accident or been ill? It didn't seem right that such a big, well-made and relatively young man should have such an obvious infirmity—though it didn't lessen the impact of his imposing stature and riveting carved features at all…merely added to those assets.

Frowning, Marianne realised she had watched him almost as though in a trance…as if totally forgetting where she was or what she was doing. Then the biting cold that had been like the touch of knives against her face had forced her attention back to the present, and she'd resumed her playing and singing with a stoic determination to defy the worst the weather could throw at her. But underneath her singing Marianne had been completely bemused, and not a little shocked that a total stranger could command her attention so avidly..

'You've been overdoing it again, haven't you?'

'For God's sake, I'm not a child!' Grimacing at the older man's frowning face, Eduardo wished he could dispense with the doctor's fortnightly visits for good. But after nine operations on his shattered leg he had needed access to regular medical attention once settling in the UK, and Evan Powell was one of the top orthopaedic surgeons in Harley Street. Plus, he had been recommended to him by his own surgeon back in Rio de Janeiro.

'Then take my advice, man, and stop treating your body as though it were some mechanical machine instead of very human flesh and bone!'

'I was told I would recover complete and normal use of my leg, given time,' the younger man challenged impatiently. 'Why the hell is it taking so long?'

'Your femur was all but crushed in the accident. The bone has been practically rebuilt from scratch. Did you really expect to recover from nine major operations as easily as you would get over a cold?'

'When I want your opinion on how I conduct myself,' Eduardo hissed, his already sour mood worsening by the second, 'I will ask for it!'

'Well, then…' Powell retrieved his cashmere coat from the winged-back chair to fold it carefully over his arm. As tidily as he no doubt expected his staff to lay out the surgical instruments of his profession in theatre before an operation, Eduardo mused without humour. 'Don't bother calling your man. I'll see myself out and bid you goodnight, Mr De Souza.'

'It's been a bad day—' he started, rising to his feet from his chair, bitterly suppressi ng a groan of pain after the short but thorough examination of his leg by the surgeon. Eduardo glanced at the ornate French antique clock on the marble mantelpiece. Sometimes he marveled that time continued as it did on its relentless course, when the tragedy that had ripped his wife and her unborn child away and all but left him a useless cripple should by rights have stopped the world in its tracks. 'I should not have spoken to you like that. It was good of you to come out all this way on such an inclement night as this. Forgive me.'

'No harm done.'

Quickly overcoming any offence he might have taken previously, Evan Powell shrugged his rather bony shoulders in his charcoal-grey pin-striped suit, then glanced interestedly round the beautiful lamp-lit drawing room, with its huge bay windows overlooking the surrounding moat, a network of fields and the dense forest beyond it. A landscape that was now shrouded in the blanket of surely one of the most severe winter frosts on record.

'Perhaps what you need is some company?' he suggested, the sudden 'man to man' glint in his eye speaking volumes. 'You're very isolated out here, and it would help to take your mind off things'

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The Man Behind the Mask 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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I realy liked this book
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