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Can their love survive the secrets he keeps?

When crisis-management and PR specialist Mariana Stein meets a handsome and charming tree surgeon, William Smith, in the frostbitten orange orchards of Orlando, she feels a powerful attraction and breaks her strict rules about mixing business and pleasure. When she meets up with Smith again, by chance, on his turf in the hills of Connecticut, she discovers that this green-thumbed man of her dreams is an onion, with many layers, each of them more intriguing than the next, and as likely to make her laugh as make her cry.

William Smith has learned to manage his multiple roles well, over the years, always governing himself by what is expected of a man, to protect and defend the most vulnerable. In, Mariana he has found his one true match, and there is no way he can afford to let her slip through his fingers. They marry in a rush, but Mariana’s stubborn streak is vexing, and could prove lethal. Can he get his delightful and independent new bride to obey him, for her own good? He’s determined to succeed or to die trying. The family paddle might help.

As the couple begins their life together, Mariana learns Will’s big secret—and she’s only scratched the surface. Can the willful and independent Mariana handle the sting of being taken in hand by the billionaire spy? She’s willing to stand by her man, though sitting by him might prove painful.

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EXCERPT

Mariana hung herself from his shoulders and let him devour her mouth. She breathed deep to take on that scintillating green and musky scent of his. It was intense and dizzying and made her instantly wet. William took her in his arms and carried her upstairs.

“Oh, Grizzly,” she teased.

“I really am going to have to spank you,” he said.

“Don’t be silly,” she pecked him on the cheek.

“Who’s being, silly? I’m very cross with you for making me wait.”

When they came to his bedroom, he put her down, and took her by the hand towards the bed. He sat down on the mattress and pulled her down over his lap, so her head was down by the Persian carpet, which covered the floorboards, and her bottom was prominently presented to him.

“William, come on,” she giggled. “Let me up.”

“No use protesting, young lady,” he said. “You know you have this coming.” He swatted her bottom with his hand. “And then some.”

“Ouch!” she protested. “That was hard.”

“Not hard enough,” William said, unleashing six more swats in quick succession.

“Ow,” Mariana cried out. “William, this isn’t funny.”

But, despite her protestations and the sharp pain she felt each time his hand came down, each swat also sent a pleasant shot of electricity between her legs and she was getting incredibly wet. She wanted him to stop, but she also wanted more.

“You’re right,” he said, stroking her sore bottom, but not letting her up. “It’s not funny. It’s very serious business. You cannot leave me hanging like that ever again, not if you’re going to be mine. I have to trust that, when you go, you won’t leave me wondering whether you are okay, or whether you will come back.”

“I’m sorry, William,” she said. “I really am.”

“Let’s make sure of that,” he said, lifting the broad, flowing skirt of her gray knitted dress up over her waist, so it fell down to cover her head. He pulled down her black tights to mid-thigh, exposing her black thong. He played with the back elastic of the thong for a moment, pulling it up with his finger so the gusset dug deeper into her folds, and then he followed the line of the gusset down to check her wetness with his fingers. He lingered there a while, teasing her clitoris. “Is this stringy thing comfortable to wear?” he asked.

“You get used to it,” Mariana said, breathless from excitement.

She thought he would let go of her soon, bring her back up again, hold her in his arms and kiss her, but instead he pulled back the thong, so that it framed the curves of her cheeks, and he swatted her butt again, harder than he had before.

“Ow, William!” she cried out. “I thought we were done with this game!”

“It’s not a game, Mariana. It’s discipline,” he said. Then with a slap emphasizing each word he said, “Naughty. Girls. Get. Their. Butts. Tinted. Pink.” He paused and rubbed her sore cheeks again, before adding one last hard slap. “You’ll get used to it.”

AUTHOR INTERVIEW AMARYLLIS LANZA

What inspired you to write about William and Mariana?

I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was very young, but haven’t always made time for creative writing. Then, ten years ago, my life changed dramatically. I retired from a busy career that kept me traveling around the world year-round. I had settled back in Europe and was enjoying some down time. I found myself watching all the old BBC Shakespeare plays and reading a lot of different books. I knew I wanted to write a novel and kept thinking about the kind of books and characters I enjoyed most. One morning, I made a colorful Venn diagram of the themes I wanted to cover and what characters would best express them. I sat at my computer and started typing whatever those characters had to say. It was mostly dialogue. I didn’t stop for weeks until I had written the first drafts of this series as two very long books.

Except, then I had a big problem. They weren’t quite ready for market and I didn’t really know how to put them together into something readers would enjoy as much as I did. I sent those first drafts out to trusted friends to read and got some positive comments, but I lacked the confidence to move forward.

Instead, I got busy with my non-fiction freelance writing and the pages on the calendar just flew by. Every month or so, I went back to this WIP and tried different ways to shape it into something better. I also dabbled with some other stories that I have in process.

What was remarkable to me is that, all the while, Mariana and Will—and their friends—had nested in my mind and found themselves a home in my heart. No matter what I did, I kept coming back to their story. This year, I finally found the method and the courage to convert those rough drafts into independent books that can stand on their own two feet and deliver delight.

I was also very fortunate to find Blushing Books, who helped me bring the world of the Billionaire Spy to market. Now, I get to dive back into that world of theirs every day and find a better way to tell their story. It’s a world I enjoy visiting and I hope readers enjoy it too.

What makes a good hero or heroine for you?

To me, both have to be strong and both have to be vulnerable. That’s what makes them relatable. Their strength is the strength we might all aspire to and their vulnerability is a vulnerability we might all share at different points in our lives. I don’t like “perfect” characters. I enjoy the flaws in humans, especially the hidden flaws. They make us interesting and beautiful. I enjoy reading dialogue between witty characters and smart asses. I think the power dynamic between two equally headstrong characters is exciting, including a lot of flirting and anticipation. Passion is really like a fire—it inherently requires control. You can’t let the embers go cold, but you also can’t let the fire rage until it uses up all of the fuel.

What are some of your favorite literary couples?

Well, the first isn’t a couple, per se, it’s kind of a menage á folie. I really enjoy the Merry Wives of Windsor and their “relationship” with Falstaff. That play in particular speaks so many truths about love and its folly that it’s one of my favorite of Shakespeare’s works.

My second favorite couple is Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. I think many people would agree to that. There’s something of Darcy in Will’s secrecy, though Will does a far better job at wooing. A very close tie for second is Emma and Knightley. Jane Austen was brilliantly funny and I do enjoy her ponderings on the perils of relationships.

I’m also a huge fan Charlaine Harris (all her work). For the Sookie Stackhouse series, I was definitely team Eric all the way. Sorry, Bill.

I’ve fallen deep in lust with the Masters of the Castle series and I particularly like the relationships in Kaylee’s Keeper and Maddy Mine.

I also enjoyed the relationship between Marcus and Susan in Sugar Babies, Inc.

What can we expect next from Mariana and Will?

I put those two through hell, unfortunately, but they have a lot of fun along the way and they do get an HFN at the end of each book and an HEA at the end of the series which makes all the pain more than worth it.