Heir to a multinational hotel empire, Liam Montgomery thinks business is everything—until he goes undercover to check out their locations throughout Asia. As cosmopolitan as Liam is, from the bright lights of Mumbai to the tranquil beaches of Goa to the bustling streets of New York, he's never met anyone like lovely Mary Costa. He can't understand why this delicate, educated woman works as a maid. Or how she is reigniting his long-buried desire to be an artist. They are apart in so many ways—especially in the things Mary won't tell him. But more and more, Liam can't imagine his life without her...
Mary knows this unexpected desire for Liam must end. It’s true that his gentleness and sense of fun inspires her and makes her hopeful for the first time in her life. But she has a grim promise she feels compelled to keep—and painful experiences she fears he could never understand. And with secrets soon reaching out to separate them for good, can they dare risk a future together if it means confronting the scars of the past?
“This book confronts a number of economic, social, and gender issues with grace and honesty, and provides two very believable, flawed and genuinely empathetic protagonists . . . will linger in readers’ hearts and memories after the final page.” –RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
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Where the Lotus Flowers Grow
By MK Schiller
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 MK Schiller
All rights reserved.
I was too exhausted to sleep. Despite the twenty-two-hour plane ride, the ten-hour time difference, and the three bloody bourbons consumed on the flight, sleep refused to come. That's how I found myself wide awake at the ungodly hour of three a.m., studying the pale glow of a Rajasthani moon. At precisely 5:36 in the morning, I finally decided to make my insomnia useful and call my secretary, Monica Penny.
"Hello Miss Moneypenny," I said, imitating the Sean Connery brogue. It made her giggle every time.
"And who would this be?"
I could imagine the blush that crept around her face whenever we played this game. At sixty years young, she'd always been formal and efficient, but when I burst into Bond, she acted like a giddy schoolgirl.
"Montgomery. Liam Montgomery."
"It's gotta be five in the morning there."
"Five thirty-six, actually." Can we go over the schedule and your notes from the meeting yesterday?"
"I love the way you say 'schedule.' But seriously, Liam, you have to be exhausted."
"I am, but I can't sleep. May as well be useful."
"Fine. Well, I booked the rest of your flights. You'll leave for Mumbai on Saturday and Goa the following Saturday. Then back to New York on Sunday." She went about the specific details, meetings, and agendas that would take place over the coming weeks. I had most of it memorized, but I needed her to remind me of all the upper management at each hotel.
By the time we'd finished, the sun had crept slowly over the horizon. I opened the window to let in some air.
"Make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen, drink lots of bottled water, and buy a Pashmina scarf."
"What kind of protection will a Pashmina scarf offer me?"
"Nothing, but it's a really nice gift for your secretary."
"Liam, what's that sound?"
I blinked, taking in the huge hulking creatures that flew across the sky, their shrieking calls growing exponentially with the rise of the golden sun. Their cackles drowned out all other noise.
"Afraid not, Moneypenny. The wingspan on these birds would give Hitchcock a heart attack." I ducked outside the window to get a closer look. Another flew by, nearly grazing me. Holy shit ... was that a falcon? I banged my head against the sill as I backed away.
"Just banged my brain a bit."
"Are you all right?"
"I'm sure you will, seeing as you have a very hard head. Which reminds me, Natalie called." Moneypenny's typically soft voice hardened over Natalie's name. "She asked about your schedule, too. She's trying for an Indian visa since she's filming a shoot in Hong Kong." Her heavy sigh gave the birds a run for their money. "I thought you broke up."
As if my bloody head wasn't already aching.
"We didn't break up. We were never going out. She rings when she's in or around the same general vicinity as me. We get together. That's all."
"Liam Montgomery, I maybe older than you, but I know what a booty call is."
"Booty call?" I almost dropped the phone. "I believe the kids are calling it a hook-up these days. Yes, that's the correct terminology."
"I don't like her. She's very rude."
"Well, it's good you're not sleeping with her then. But in any case, please send two dozen roses to her hotel in Hong Kong with a note relaying my sincere apologies. I'll be far too busy these next three weeks to entertain her."
"I'll send it right away," she said, sounding incredibly happy at being assigned the task.
"Make the note sincere, yeah?"
She huffed over the phone. "What do you want me to do? Quote Shakespeare?"
"That's a nice touch."
"Fine. I'm sure I can find a line from The Taming of the Shrew."
"You're a funny girl. I have to go."
"Be careful, Liam. I'll tell Stephen you arrived safely."
I wanted to tell her not to bother. My half-brother could care less. In fact, he'd probably be happy if I hadn't arrived safely, but I simply thanked her instead. Keeping up appearances had become second nature. If anyone looked below the surface, they could easily identify the large fissures in my family, but we'd done an outstanding job at plugging the leaks.
What looked like a hawk came to the window next. He perched on the ledge, fanning his large wings. It appeared more curious than anything, staring me down as if to say I was on his territory, not the other way around. I could almost hear his taunting thoughts: You wish you had my freedom.
He flapped his wings before swooping down toward the grounds. I followed his descent across the infinity pool, the manicured gardens, and finally the water fountain. Prabhat, the manager here, had given me a brief tour yesterday. I told him to get rid of the eyesore. It wasn't in a spot guests would go to, but the crumpling stones blemished the otherwise spotless façade. Not to mention it was a haven for mosquitoes and the water looked dirty. He went on about how he agreed with me, insisting it would be no problem. So why it hadn't been done in all the years he'd been general manager?
I focused on the shining figure standing next to the fountain. It looked like every ray in the sun was pointing at her and reflecting off her at the same time. That was until I realized that her long white skirt and scarf had tiny mirrors patched into the embroidery. She moved with grace despite the large pot balanced on her hip. She placed the pot on the ground. From within, she took many small silver bowls. Ten, to be exact. I counted as she placed them around the fountain, occasionally swiping the tiny broken stones gathered on its ridge. The strike of a match against the box cut through the air as if even the birds had decided to be silent out of respect for her. She lit each bowl. Who lit candles in the daylight? Was it some type of religious ceremony?
When she was done, she fell to her knees in front of the fountain and removed her scarf. Her hair cascaded in dark waves. A soft echoing music filled the air, the melody haunting. She looked toward the sky.
Whatever she prayed for, I wanted her to have it.
My fingers twitched. I wished for a piece of charcoal, a paint brush, or even a fucking pencil. The once-familiar longing had been absent from my life for many years.
Her gaze drew back to the fountain.
"What's so interesting?" I asked, as if she could answer me. I didn't know what was so interesting for me either. I blamed it on a combination of sleep deprivation, curiosity, and bad bourbon. Whatever it was, I couldn't look away.
A single flower in the middle of the pool opened up. The bud stood out in ethereal white above the still, dark waters. What the hell kind of flower grew in water? A lily? No ... no, this wasn't a lily. I knew this. I racked my brain until the memory finally came.
Mum sitting at the rickety kitchen table, her elbows bent in concentration as she tried to fashion some kind of pin. She based her design on the tropical flower book she'd checked from the library. She swore under her breath as she tried to shake off the arthritis before it settled into her fingers.
I tapped the book with my pencil. "What is it?"
"A lotus flower. I want the pin to look like this. Isn't it lovely?" She prattled on about some stone she'd found at the thrift store.
"No, Mum, it's very ugly" was my flippant reply. I hated her doing this kind of work. It only made her hands hurt. It was the reason all my weekends were spent at street fairs instead of hanging with my mates. Hell, it wouldn't have been so bad if we made money from it. In the end, I felt so guilty for my outburst, I finished the pin for her, bending the stiff silver wires with small pliers, following the lines in the book, until they resembled petals. I pasted the cheap stone in the center.
Mum said the lotus flower was special. I didn't see anything special about it then, and I certainly didn't now.
I couldn't see Lotus Girl's face ... not from this angle, ten stories up, but I imagined it anyway. She was as enamored with the flower as I was with her.
I wasn't the only one watching. He came from the shadows and stood in front of her. My hand clutched the sill. She straightened, but there was no fear in her posture. I recognized his uniform and shape as the driver who'd fetched me from the airport.
Their voices didn't carry, but even if they did, I doubt I'd understand what they said. It didn't matter, though. Their body language slashed through any language barriers. He was taller than she was, but she looked him in the eyes when she spoke. She patted his arm, a docile gesture meant to comfort. She kept an ample amount of space between them, each of her movements careful, perhaps even guarded. His words were accompanied with shakes of his head, his hands barreling though his hair, and finally a defeated slump in his shoulders.
I chuckled to myself. Sorry, mate, but at least she's letting you down easy.
He took her hand and pulled it toward his mouth. She yanked it back so fast, his lips met nothing but air.
Don't go embarrassing yourself, bro. No bird is worth that. As if to contradict me, a fucking Pterodactyl soared past, squawking loudly. I stumbled back.
Once I regained my balance and confirmed my heart was still tucked inside my chest, I shifted my attention back to them. He kept talking, closing the gap between them, his fingers curling around her arm. In reaction, I tightened mine into a fist.
You're starting to piss me off. Keep your fucking hands to yourself before I come down there and break them.
Her stance stiffened. She slapped his hand away. Whatever she said, she spoke it with force, pushing his chest so hard he staggered back.
"Good for you," I said. "Let the wanker have it."
She uttered some final words that must have been harsher than any slap. He shrunk against her voice, shoving his hands in his pockets. She grabbed the large pot and walked away ... well, more like sashayed. The girl glanced back once more, but not at him. At the flower in the fountain. I swear, even from this distance, I could see her regret at being disturbed, her solitude ruined.
I felt it, too.CHAPTER 2
My knocks went unanswered. What type of person requested additional towels and didn't bother to answer the door? And of all the guests, this one should know better. Although there was no invitation to enter, there wasn't a Do Not Disturb sign either. Prabhat had warned us of this guest — a man who came from our corporate office to look over our burdened shoulders.
Prabhat had even called a mandatory meeting with the whole staff, including maids like me, who were normally left alone. He reiterated that we not only had to be exemplary, but extraordinary. With each passing week, the warnings grew and shuffled downward until each supervisor rendered a perfect imitation of our general manager, right down to his stern glances, wagging fingers, and the nervous tick of his lips. Ironically, all the frenzied energy surrounding this visit had the opposite effect. Rather than putting our best foot forward as the guest-centered hotel we were, we fluttered about, tipping around nervously like meek mice in the presence of a hungry cat.
Prabhat would have my head if the man complained about not getting his towels. Then again, if the guest, especially this particular guest, complained I'd intruded on his privacy, it would have the same result. I stared at the soft, fluffy, brand- new towels in my arms. I had no idea what Prabhat thought this deceit would accomplish, except all the fanfare on the man's behalf was an annoyance. He would have to settle. He was a man, after all, not a god.
It took three swipes of the electronic all-access keycard until I managed to unlock the stupid door. I breathed a sigh of relief at the empty room, glad I didn't find anyone sleeping on the four- poster king-size bed. He wasn't here. I wondered why he hadn't chosen a suite or, at the very least, a room with a nice view. I placed the towels on the corner of the bed, making sure their edges were neatly tucked. I pivoted toward the door.
That would have been it. Should have been it. Except my gaze lingered on the bureau. It didn't just linger, it full-out paused. My heart beat several decibels louder than usual. It was love at first sight.
Not just any ordinary book, but leather-bound with gold lettering etched on the spine. The kind of book my father had kept in his library, and by library, I meant bookshelf. But it was reserved for only the most revered novels. If my father had shown any signs of religion, the shelf would have been his altar, an organized place free of the dust and clutter of his carefree, sometimes careless life.
Although my head kept blasting warnings to leave, my rebellious feet carried me in the wrong direction. I stroked the stiff ridge of the spine and traced the embossed letters. But touching it wasn't enough. To leave would be like seeing an old friend without saying hello. How rude would that be? So despite all my best efforts and misguided intentions, I found myself picking up Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby.
It felt solid in my hands as I turned it over, completely at contrast to the dog-eared paperbacks I currently read, but substantial like the books of my childhood. The pages, thick and uneven, would give a satisfying turn. With so many people at the hotel using e-readers, I had begun to wonder if real books were becoming as archaic as rotary phones.
I flipped through the novel. The sound of rifling paper was louder than I remembered. I missed that sound. There was something comforting about it, a lost melody of my youth.
A card fell out. I bent and retrieved it. The stiff cardboard had yellowed over time, washing out the flowers on the stationery. But the handwritten words remained sharp, written in neat ink: To Liam on his fifteenth birthday. Always remember what Dickens said ... Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes. May you always be delighted in your life, Love mum.
I remembered the quote. Remembered that it was early in the book. In this book. This book that belonged to Liam ... not me. The right thing to do was to leave Liam's possessions alone. I tucked the paper back between the pages, but more cards fell out, scattering all over the floor.
Oh, no. No. No.
Clearly, they marked pages. They also had the same writing. I stuck them back in, praying I wasn't messing up the order too much.
I stood to place it back where I'd found it, but I couldn't help myself. One sentence, I promised. I turned to a random page and read it quickly. It wasn't enough. One paragraph. I could read a paragraph quickly. My eyes lowered, my lips moving as I devoured the words. One whole page. I deserved it, right? One stolen page of Dickens would sustain me for a long time.
My eyes scanned the well-written sheets, careful to avoid the private note cards wedged into the spine.
My thumb leafed across the pages once more, searching for another random passage to read. Air wafted across my face, blowing a strand of loose hair. Ink, glue, cardboard, and paper were not so distinctive on their own, but when combined, they created the headiest scent. I sniffed, inhaling the memory.
"Read this one, Mary," Papa said. "You'll enjoy it."
"My teacher says Indians should only read Indian authors."
"Then your teacher is a fool, beta. What a shame since your tuitions are so high."
I stared at the huge book. Surely, he didn't expect me to read the whole thing? I was twelve years old.
"Priya's mother says reading will make your eyes go bad. Men don't want to marry girls who wear glasses and squint."
I chuckled, remembering the way Papa had tilted his pipe, jabbing the mouthpiece into the air with each point he made. "Then Priya's mother is also a fool. Pity you're surrounded by so many ridiculous people. Why are you even thinking of marriage at your age?"
I shrugged, unsure myself, except that movies, clothes, and weddings were the only subjects of conversation among my friends. Unlike my father, I had no desire to be an outcast, so I followed suit.
He bent to my level, as he always did when he wanted to capture all my attention. "Don't clutter your mind with nonsense. There are many people who will try to educate you, including me, but you are and will always be your own best teacher. There are many wonderful Indian authors, and you should read them. But don't limit yourself. Never be afraid to read about other times, other places, other cultures. On the contrary, it won't cause your eyes to blur, but rather open them wider. The choice is yours, lovely. But I fear you listen to others too readily. That your horizons will be so narrow, you'll have to squint the rest of your life."
"I'll read it," I said, more to please him than any real desire on my part. My sister, Hannah, always soaked up everything he said with a reverence I found annoying.
Hannah. I thought about her every day, but the memories were always tangled with grief. This one was different. She had sat next to me on our worn red couch, a tattered, threadbare blanket wrapped around her, begging me to read Dickens to her. The couch had been my papa's doing because he invested all his money in us. In our education. But the blanket, I had hated with a passion. My mother had left it, and Hannah clung to it as if it would shelter her from any storm.
Excerpted from Where the Lotus Flowers Grow by MK Schiller. Copyright © 2016 MK Schiller. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 "Give me fifty lashes with that hair, Mary" stars Liam Montgomery finds himself on a trail across Asia, covertly reviewing the Wilshire hotels within his family business. He works alongside his half-brother, Stephen, and is focused, diligent, taking minimal time for himself. He’s a big thinker, and finds himself in a very different position than he started life, and knowing how that can be at the other end of the spectrum, he doesn’t take anything for granted. Mary Costa had an educated upbringing in India. She’s well versed in her literature, and was part of a tight knit family, especially since her mother had left her father alone to tend to her and her young, vulnerable sister. A sequence of horrific events finds Mary now alone and under her self inflicted radar. She took up a maid’s position at the Wilshire hotel in Rajasthan, having minimal dialogue with any of her peers. In fact, her boss assumed she spoke very little english. Liam spotted her tending a beautiful lotus flower, and was immediately captivated. Her elegance, poise and overhearing her have a very easy english conversation with the chauffeur, intrigued him to observe more. This description so far would lead you to believe this story was just an semblance of two people from different cultures. But what MK Schiller was able to inject too was playfulness, and plenty of light amongst an ever growing serious undertone. We discovered Liam’s backstory, which was sad and startling, especially since he was forced to move from the UK to America. We also watch Mary’s distressing story unravel, sprinkled with endearing legacies along the way. A definite good read for me. Plenty to get totally absorbed in. Complimentary copy received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Where the Lotus Flowers Grow, MK Schiller Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews Genre: Romance, My first book by this author and one I really enjoyed. It was a very different to what I expected story, but I soon fell in love with Liam and Mary, and the wonderful settings. Its beautifully described, I felt there in India with them in the heat and dust, seeing the markets, feeling the hustle and bustle of the country. The way the hotel staff are described, the way they tell Liam what they think he wants to hear, rather than the truth is perfect, and when people need their jobs, are unlikely to find others its a situation that's happens the world over. He needs to see why the hotel is losing money, the staff just want to show him the good side, convince him they’re doing a wonderful job. Its so easy to picture it and his frustration. Then he spots Mary, lighting candles at her beautiful Lotus flower that's blooming in the ruins of an old pool. The flower, the Lotus tag, is echoed throughout the novel and made what seemed like very different parts join up – gave them a connection. Its not just a rich man, poor girl romance though, there’s so much more, some horrific tragedy in Mary's past, so much that makes up this puzzle of a woman, well educated, multi lingual, working as a maid. Its very typical the way the hotel manager saw her as a woman and assumed she couldn’t speak English, assumed she was illiterate. We do judge on appearance and culture, and that was true for so many Indian ladies but not for Mary. She had her reasons for staying in the background but once she caught Liam's eye circumstances threw them together, and they began a romance that Mary insisted was for while he was there only, that when he left that would be it. Of course emotions aren’t easily controlled and it was interesting reading how hard she fought hers, how Liam tried to convince himself she wasn’t more to him than a holiday romance. He’s got his own issues, his own difficult background and family problems, and the last thing he’s looking for is love. I really enjoyed the way they struggled against their feelings, and the dramas, the way they turned out, and how disparate things can actually be connected even if by very slight means. Its that Six degrees of separate thing. Fiction often seems far fetched, and yet real life does have these really odd coincidences. Looking back from the end its easy to see the trail that actually connected them, and how it was set in motion, Mary's need for revenge led her to the one place Liam's family circumstances took him to. They could easily have missed each other, but its strange how often circumstance places us in the right position. Is it fate, predestination or truly just chance – who knows? Stars: Five, a lovely story that made me think, made me feel there with the characters. ARC supplied by Netgalley and publisher