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Mesmerized

A beautiful businesswoman lands a new job at a methanol plant in Trinidad and encounters its handsome new operations manager. He happens to be the cheating playboy to whom she was once engaged. They turn to each other for comfort when religious extremists carry out violent assaults throughout the country. Dear fellow romance lover, In my first BET/Arabesque romance, Night Heat, I was excited for the opportunity to show off my beautiful home, Trinidad and Tobago, by taking my characters on a tour that found them strolling along miles of warm coconut-lined beaches, driving across the lush countryside, and witnessing the miracle of the leatherback turtles nesting at night. In Mesmerized, my second romance, I have chosen to show another side of my country, the industry, the diligence and the technological excellence that has made this tiny Caribbean state a center for industry, and the largest exporter of both methanol and ammonia in the world. I felt that as a West Indian, it was my responsibility to show that the Caribbean is more than one endless beach holiday. We do play, but when we work, we work hard, and we work well. However, Mesmerized is not a report on world economics; it is a love story. As always, passion and desire, sacrifice and dedication, come first. If there is one thing that I would like my readers to remember after finishing this sexy and adventurous novel, it is this: none of us deserves to be badly treated by careless lovers. Hurt is not synonymous with love; joy is. We deserve to be loved and respected, and if we demand it, we will get it. Why? Because we're worth it. Happy romance reading.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Simona Taylor

Roslyn Carrington (aka Simona Taylor) lives and works in her native country of Trinidad and Tobago, where she somehow manages to juggle a career in Public Relations with the demands and joys of being a writer. Apart from her multi-cultural romances, which she publishes under the pen-name Simona Taylor, she also writes literary fiction, published under her real name.

Her passion for books and words has been a part of her life as long as she can remember.

Her upbringing in a home in which books took up more space than people, in a family where the names of the poets were as familiar to everyone as their own, offered fertile ground for a budding writer. Trinidad and Tobago, with its social fabric of many-colored threads, its vivid collective imagination, Carnival, music, song and dance, provided all the inspiration she could ever want.

Roslyn Carrington is proud to have touched so many lives in the short space of time since her literary and romance novels were first published, and has decided that the writer’s life is definitely for her.

She would love to hear from her readers, and can be reached at: Roslyn Carrington, 4405 NW 73rd Ave, Suite 011-1241, Miami, FL 3316-6488 Or at simona@roslyncarrington.com Check out her website at www.roslyncarrington.com

Reviews

"I couldn't put Mesmerized down. When Christian comes back to Trinidad in the first scene, six years after Sean left him on the night of their engagement, the tension takes off. This book is not only a great romance but I learned something about Trinidad, it's industries and politics. I learned later the religious terrorist thing really happened! This is the third Simona Taylor book I have read and I loved them all. Each one is different. I like to learn things when I read and this writer always delivers. I learn something about the place, it's history or the people who live there. I always fall in love with the men, they are so wonderful. I am really looking forward to her next book."

Judy Bernstein -- Rancho Santa Fe, CA USA


"Simona Taylor keeps you reading in this fast pace romance. Her occasional use of Jamaican lingo gives the story an added Caribbean flavor. Business and pleasure are well balanced throughout. Sit back, relax, and let yourself be Mesmerized."

Brenda Gayle -- The Write Lifestyle


"Surprises abound in MESMERIZED, Simona Taylor's second novel. Chock-full of terrorist actions, industrial sabotage and steamy romance, the reader is taken on a breathtaking journey that is sure to delight romance and suspense fans. I admit to being pleasantly surprised with MESMERIZED. The main aspect of romance mingles with plenty of action and mystery to form a wonderful story."

Tracy Farnsworth -- Romance Reviews Today
Excerpt

Chapter 1

The world ground to a halt. Everything had stopped moving, everyone had stopped talking, and there was no sound except a high-pitched ringing in Sean's ears, and no sensation except the bands of pain around her chest that reminded her she'd better let out the breath that she'd sucked in sharply the minute she'd turned to shake hands with Christian Devane.

It couldn't be him. Not here, not now. Surely the tall dark man who was clasping her hand with the cordial disinterest of a total stranger couldn't be the man she'd stood up at their engagement dinner six years ago, vowing that she never wanted to see him again. The gods could never be so cruel, so uncaring, so awfully unjust.

Standing beside the two of them, shrewd blue-gray eyes flitting from Sean's suddenly bloodless face to Christian's unrevealing one, Andrea Gooding was the first to speak. Sean could see the thin painted lips moving, but couldn't seem to get a fix on what the older woman was trying to say. She had recovered sufficiently, however, to gather that the Senior Vice President was inquiring whether she was all right.

Sean disentangled her cold hand from the strong one that held hers, and wiped it surreptitiously against the rough linen of her skirt. She knew that the shock had made it unpleasantly damp. "Fine," she murmured in answer to Gooding's question. "Tough day, that's all. I've been at my desk since dawn..." Sean's voice trailed off. It sounded callow, whining about how hard she was working. As if she were doing a little personal campaigning, angling for a little recognition from one of the bosses. She decided to make the best of a bad morning and simply shut up.

Andrea nodded unconcernedly and then turned to look up at Christian with an uncharacteristically warm smile. "Well, my dear," she said, placing her smooth, manicured hand lightly on the jacketed arm, "maybe I should introduce you to the rest of the staff." She gave him a barely perceptible tug. "Shall we?"

Sean watched, dazed, as the man who had ruined her life and destroyed all of her faith in the other sex nodded politely to her, still no trace of recognition in his obsidian eyes, and followed the platinum-haired woman along the corridor. She stared after his receding back for a long time, counting her breaths-- in... out... in... out-- until her respiration returned to normal. Then she walked unsteadily to her office and sat down heavily behind her cluttered desk.

The day that had begun badly had suddenly become exponentially worse. Her desk was obscured by scattered documents, and although it was only ten-thirty, the thick curly chestnut hair that she usually kept swept up off her spice-brown forehead was beginning to wilt and fall onto her face in wisps. Deciding that her only option was to immerse herself in the documents until she was home and alone, where she could sort out her tangled thoughts at leisure, she ruffled through her documents and struggled to concentrate. There was, after all, work to be done.

Orion Methanol was a new company, American-owned and Texas-based. The owners had been attracted to the small Caribbean island of Trinidad by the wealth of natural gas and oil to be found just a few miles offshore. In the past few years, with the island's government bending over backwards to woo foreign investors in the energy business with promises of almost outrageous tax holidays, choice parcels of land and bureaucratic fast-tracking, companies such as hers were converging on the island like flies on a sticky bun.

Offered the opportunity of an overseas posting two years ago, Sean didn't have to think too long. She reflected briefly on the Brooklyn brownstone that she was renting, the elevator that was busted more often than not, and the noisy, busy streets which lay just outside, guaranteeing fractured sleep every night. She thought of the intense city heat in the summer and the feel of snow turning to sludge under her boots in the winter. Then she took Orion up on their offer, and never regretted her decision.

Her job as Public Relations Manager was exhausting but always interesting, as the dynamic organization spared no effort in getting established as a major producer of methanol in a country known in the business world as an ideal home for industrial giants.

But these past few days had been more hectic than most. The operations of the plant, which was located on the island's populous west coast, necessitated the relocation of eleven families who had been squatting dangerously close to their southwestern perimeter. The relocation process was not one that was welcomed by the families in question, as they lived there more through necessity than by choice, and leaving would mean releasing their tenuous grip on the tiny homes they had erected and the land that they had been farming for years.

Although the actual relocation was a responsibility of the Trinidadian government, it was potentially damaging to the company's image. The last thing they wanted was to appear to the locals as a huge American ogre muscling in on their land and their livelihood. In the interest of maintaining good neighborly relations, she had been called upon to organize a series of open discussions with the residents and her own company's management, so that everyone's views could be heard. The first meeting was to be held in less than a week, and it was going to take all her time and energy to pull it off right.

She popped a Hershey's almond-filled nugget into her mouth as if it were a tranquilizer, desperate to keep her focus, trying not to think of the encounter that had in a few short seconds threatened the calm and happy existence she had succeeded in establishing. If there was one thing that was guaranteed to make her feel better, it was chocolate. It was her personal addiction, her source of solace, comfort and inspiration. She unwrapped another piece, and laid it carefully on her desk. Some people chain-smoked; she chain-nibbled.

Suddenly she became aware that she was not alone, and her instincts, heightened as they were by the unnerving incident a few minutes ago, told her unerringly just who the infiltrator of her small office space was. Startled, she looked up, tugging at her errant strands of hair with long-fingered brown hands.

A tall, broad-shouldered shape filled most of the doorway. The man's finely tailored gray suit, with its clean classic lines, drew her eyes along the length of his torso and down a pair of mighty fine-looking legs. Dammit, he could still do it to her. By force of will she dragged her eyes upwards again, back across that broad chest to finally focus on the face that belonged to the body.

He appeared older, of course, and considerably better looking. Not that he hadn't been good-looking to begin with. But in their college days, adopting an attitude of disdain towards things sartorial had been de rigeur. The man-child that she remembered, with his unkempt hair that bordered on baby dreads, and the chin that went several nonchalant days without shaving had been replaced by a man whose smooth jaw could only have been maintained by the careful application of an expensive razor, and whose classic neatly trimmed haircut boasted the prowess of a talented barber.

And the skin! With the clarity that only a painful memory could have, she remembered how much she used to tease him about the similarity in tone and smoothness between her treasured candy and his mellow dark skin. Slap him between a giant graham cracker and a huge marshmallow, she used to tell him, and you'd have the world's biggest S'more.

Irrationally guilty at being caught gobbling candy like a child (especially by someone who knew her addiction so well), and needing to remove the taunting evidence that had triggered the memory, Sean hesitated, not knowing what to do next. Eventually, she solved the problem by picking the offending piece up off the desk, slipping it into her mouth, and crunching it hastily down.

"I see you're still hooked on those things," he said casually. He hadn't moved from the doorway, but instead stood there, shoulder against the door jamb, watching her with the same inscrutable expression he had worn when Gooding had first introduced them.

He had recognized her! Her heart did a double somersault. Silently giving thanks to the Muse of Chocolate for not causing her to choke on the last traces of the melting nugget, she managed to look at once politely interested in and coolly disdainful of her visitor's approach. Two could play at the sang-froid game, she counseled herself. Of course he recognized her. He wasn't stupid. He'd probably chosen to feign ignorance just to rattle her. He was always good at finding ways to do that.

"Is there something I can help you with, Christian?" She had her best don't-bug-me-I'm-busy face on. It was known to daunt even the most stubborn offender.

"Maybe there is," he drawled idly, and the deep mellow voice and unmistakable accent placed his origins squarely in the Lone Star State. Sean remembered the accent and the deep baritone well. She remembered how his voice had been one of the things that had first attracted her to him, how his lazy manner of speech had seemed so refreshing to her jaded New York ears.

Sean glanced quickly past his shoulders, hoping there was nobody in the hall behind him who could hear their conversation. The last thing she needed now was an audience, especially since she had no way of knowing how she would hold up under the strain of his presence.

Adopting a professional attitude was her only line of defense. She waited for him to speak again, but when she realized that nothing was forthcoming, she sighed, placed her light-framed glasses carefully on the desk, and focused on him. "Well?" she asked pointedly.

"You look good. More mature." He took a step into her office, and her initial instinct was to fly around the desk, shove him back out with both hands, and slam the door.

Instead, she nodded mildly. "I grew up." She held his gaze stoically. He may have had the power to hurt her a long time ago, but she was a big girl now. Things had changed-- for the better.

"That you did." His gaze roved unabashedly over her face, taking in the hazel eyes that struggled to keep from showing hurt and the wide mouth that was far from smiling. His scrutiny was more than she was prepared to bear.

She blurted out in frustration, "Christian, are you going to tell me what I can do for you? Because if not, I have lots of work..." She pointed to her cluttered desk, hoping that he would take the hint. The big man eased his frame into the leather-covered visitor's chair that was closest to her desk. "I was getting to it, actually." His gaze had settled upon her lips, and she hoped he wasn't going to make a bad situation worse by saying something suggestive. But he was all business. "I was told that you'd get me settled in today. You know, take me to the bank, help me get my paperwork organized."

Sean couldn't suppress a laugh. There was no way she was leaving her desk to baby-sit a newcomer, especially not this particular newcomer. "You were told that? By whom?"

With a toss of his dark head he indicated the direction from which he had come. "Andrea sent me over. She said you'd help." He appeared fully aware of the discomfort he was causing, and the awareness seemed to amuse him.

He'd called their only female VP Andrea, and she was willing to bet they'd only met that morning. She remembered Gooding's proprietary attitude towards Christian when she had introduced them earlier. She had no doubt that the woman had willingly invited him to use her first name. That was the kind of man he was; he seemed to have a knack for coercing women into doing what he wanted, while allowing them to believe that it had all been their idea. A fine one with the ladies, as envious men would say. She, having suffered terribly because of his easy charm and casual flirting, had a different name for his talent, and it wasn't one she could use in polite company.

Patiently, she tried to explain that 'Andrea' was sure as hell mistaken. "I'm in Public Relations, Christian. Showing new employees around, as enjoyable as the prospect might seem, is not exactly part of my job function. Surely someone from Human Resources would be able to help you?"

The man was leaning forward on her desk, playing idly with one of her favorite office toys. It was a solid mahogany sculpture that she had brought back from her most recent trip to Guyana. It consisted of a male figurine whose feet had been narrowed to a fine point, and which balanced precariously on a round slab of wood. Across its shoulders, the figurine carried a balancing pole with a weight at each end. The sculpture had been so carefully calibrated that when pushed in any direction it would bob back and forth, sway from side to side, but never fall over or lose its balance. Tapping it and watching it spring back into an upright position was one of her favorite stress relievers. She could do with a stress reliever right now, but the one she had in mind came in a glass and was usually served on the rocks.

She waited for a response, and after the wooden character had been made to bob back and forth for some time, Christian gave it. "I don't know, Sean. I was sent to you. I've been traveling a long time. Are you going to help me or not?"

The obvious fatigue in his voice almost made her feel sorry for him, but she really had no intention of being thrown into his company at the moment. Besides, her work was still pressing. How in the hell did Andrea Gooding think she could do both at the same time?

Sean made for the door. "I... ah, I'd just like to have a word with Ms. Gooding. Would you like to have a seat in the waiting area?" Pointedly, she indicated the well-furnished lobby with a wave of her arm.

"Sean," he began slowly, "I've had a bitch of a flight, and the twenty-four hours that I've spent on land have been uncomfortable beyond belief. It's been one problem and hitch after another. If you don't mind, I don't think I could get up out of this chair if I tried."

"Problems? Such as...?" she asked skeptically, thinking Aw, come on. The trip couldn't really have been that bad. Don't be a baby.

"Such as the hotel I was booked into last night saw fit to hold a party on the roof, one floor above my head. Such as I got here an hour late because they've gone and dug up half the highway to run some cable or other." He looked at her accusingly, almost as if he were holding her responsible not only for the unfortunate booking but the ill-timed road work as well.

He did look a little ragged around the edges, she thought almost sympathetically. Still, sympathy wasn't going to get in the way of good judgment. She was going over to Gooding to straighten everything out.

She rose to her feet, and as she did so she noted with a pang the way his dark eyes flickered along her body as she drew herself to her full height. Christian used to love her height. He hadn't been daunted by it like so many men were, but instead relished her uniqueness. Not many women got to be six feet tall. Sean was one of them. For a girl who was five and a half feet tall by age thirteen, her height had brought nothing but shyness and misery. By the time she turned seventeen, she had topped off at an even six. This she learned first to accept, and then to relish. Her height gave her a sense of power that was almost exhilarating, and her strong, fit figure and elegant limbs gave her a grace of movement that stopped many an onlooker dead in his tracks. As she left the room, she could feel the light feathery touch of his gaze along the backs of her bare legs.

The fleeting pleasure that his remembered admiration brought her did not deter her from her mission. But as she strode up the hall in the direction of Gooding's office, in hot pursuit of justice, or at least a reprieve, she was obliged to make a slight detour, as she was waylaid by a tiny but enthusiastic firebrand called Delta.

"Girl, don't tell me I really saw that great big hunk of good-looking step into your office a while ago!" Small, claw-tipped hands held onto Sean's upper arm, dragging her into the small alcove where a stainless-steel water cooler hummed idly to itself. "Don't tell me you got that new fella in your office and you didn't call me in to say hello!"

Delta was a bright, good-looking Jamaican woman with a sharp mind for corporate law and a sharp eye out for available men. Flighty and vivacious, her mere existence was an overstatement, and as Orion's unlikely but knowledgeable Legal Officer, the only common sense she ever showed was around the negotiating table. She had been Sean's closest friend since she came to the island; they worked closely together when necessary, and hung out together wherever possible. In a male-oriented industry such as this, they reasoned, it was a smart move for two bright, attractive women to put up a united front.

"Delta," Sean began, but the other woman cut her off.

"I hear you get to show him around. Girl, you a lucky pig. You need help?" The honey-brown eyes flashed with mischief.

"I hardly think getting to show him around is what I'd call lucky," Sean answered sardonically. "I've got work to do. Besides..." she stopped. There was no real need for her girlfriend to know that she and Christian had a history, was there?

Swept up by her own little wave of lust, Delta failed to notice Sean's hesitation. She snorted. "Girl, you lost your mind? When was the last time anything looking like that graced these stuffy halls? When was the last time Orion hired any male under fifty?" She tossed her burgundy waist-length human hair weave out of her eyes with an extravagant gesture.

"Attractive or not," Sean explained painstakingly, "I'm busy. He may have errands to run, but he isn't running them with me." She disentangled herself from her friend and continued on her quest. "I'll talk to you when I get back, okay?" she tossed over her shoulder in an attempt to placate. Delta was much too sweet to offend.

"You can tell the Silver Dragon I'm willing to take over the task, if she's looking for a replacement for you!" the incorrigible Delta yelled after her. Sean pretended she hadn't heard, and kept on going.

"Ms. Gooding," she began before she was properly in the doorway, "the new Operations Manager is in my office..."

Andrea Gooding looked at her as if she were informing her that the sky was blue this morning. "Yes, I know. I sent him to you." She was a woman who had fought hard to make it to VP in an environment where men called the shots, and as such, wasn't averse to being as unbending as any male executive.

Privately, Sean thought that Gooding's striking resemblance to Margaret Thatcher didn't end with superficial appearances. The smoothly coifed hair, in such contrast to her own stubborn, out-of control waves only made Sean feel more disheveled, and therefore at a negotiating disadvantage.

Nonetheless, she pressed on determinedly. "He said you told him I was to take him around?" She hoped that Gooding would tell her she was mistaken.

"Yes. I did. Be a dear and help him settle in, will you?"

Gooding was one of those managers who saw the Public Relations function as that of a glorified hostess. There was nothing that could be done to change that opinion, but Sean tried, even though she knew the battle was already lost. "Isn't it a Human Resources function?"

"Human Resources is in a Divisional meeting." She gave a smile like a hairline crack in cement.

Sean took another stab at it. "Office Services?"

"There's a brownout down on the site, Sean. Most of the Office Services staff are there, trying to get the generators up and running." Gooding set her pen down and leaned slightly towards Sean, resting her elbows on the desk. "I don't have to tell you what an important employee he is. The Company has a vested interest, a very large interest, in ensuring that he settles down as fast as possible."

Gooding didn't have to make herself any clearer. Orion was on a tight schedule, competition in the petrochemical world was stiff, and if one producer failed to deliver, there were a number of others just waiting in the sidelines to snap up the customers. And they were behind schedule; the man whose shoes Christian had been chosen to fill had been given his walking papers quite a while ago.

Carlos Fabregas had turned out to be a surprising disappointment to the company. He had seemed so stable when he had been hired last year, when construction had first begun. He had been a dashingly handsome man of thirty-eight, with fifteen years of experience in the Persian Gulf petrochemical sector, and his downfall on the job had been due not to a lack of knowledge, but to a fondness for alcohol which had led to stupid, dangerous and costly mistakes.

It was only a matter of months before it became apparent that things were going terribly wrong. Whether he had been seduced by the insidiously enticing nightlife of the island, or whether he had arrived with his own demons in tow, not even those close to him ever found out. But Carlos soon started coming to work tired, disheveled, and hung over. At first, his charm and good looks allowed him to talk his way out of almost any self-induced trouble, but business was business, and his charmed existence did not last.

He had chosen a profession that was not suited to his reckless personality; how he had managed to survive so long and rise so far was anybody's guess. Carlos's job was one of the most crucial in the company: he was responsible not only for all the work that went on at the plant, but for the safety and welfare of the hundreds of temporary workers who were building it. As soon as it became evident that even his work was suffering, Carlos was discreetly put on a plane for New York.

He had not gone happily; his dismissal, although just by any standards, had been met with protests, stubborn resistance, and finally, loud, almost incoherent threats that one day he would get even with everyone involved in his downfall.

"This new man is very important to the Company's success," Gooding was saying, "and we have no doubt that his performance is predicated on his being comfortable, and making the transition from his old home to his new one as smoothly as possible. Of course," she added silkily, "you of all people would know just how important the performance of the person who fills this position is to us all."

Sean's face stung. Leave it to Gooding to refer, even obliquely, to the role that Sean herself had played in the dismissal of Carlos Fabregas. His eventual downfall had come about largely on the strength of her testimony regarding his inability to continue to serve the company as he should.

For some inexplicable reason, she'd always sensed a fine undercurrent of resentment from Gooding over the circumstances that led to Carlos's dismissal. There seemed to be no reason for it, unless of course, since Carlos had fallen directly under Gooding's Vice Presidential purview, the woman had resented Sean's encroachment on what she obviously saw as her own personal turf. Sean shook her head. The less she reflected upon that particular unpleasantness, the better.

But, as unlikable as Gooding was, she was right. Christian's presence could mean life or death to Orion, and she, as an employee, should be happy to ensure that he settled in as fast as possible, the better to grasp the helm of their operations and begin to pull the Company up out of the mud in which it had been mired. The position had been a tough one to fill. Months had dragged by, and staff had become anxious, as every month's delay was costing the company millions. But a hasty choice could be as dangerous as none at all, as the business, like all energy-based businesses, was one in which there was stiff competition. Rival companies were not above planting a mole at Orion, especially in such a crucial position where a potential saboteur could do irreparable damage. Many were interviewed. None were chosen. Finally, there was talk around the plant that the head office back in Texas had head-hunted a young whiz kid from one of the U.S. giants, and that this engineering miracle was supposed to turn things around and get the project back on stream.

Employees had spoken with reverence in the corridors about the new wonder who would halt the losses that they were incurring. What Sean had never for a moment considered, though, was that the new man they were whispering about would be Christian.

She regarded Gooding solemnly. The older woman was right. It was in the best interests of the company that he settle down as fast as possible. But why did the facilitator have to be her?

Gooding was speaking again, and Sean struggled to focus. "Be a nice girl," she was saying. "It won't take more than a few hours. Unless of course you have a problem with helping the company out of a tight spot...?"

Talk about being backed up against a wall! Sean couldn't answer. Letting Gooding, or anyone else for that matter, know that this was not the first time she and Christian had met, would only lead to more complex problems. She realized that Christian had been right in pretending not to recognize her.

In mute response to the woman's question, Sean shook her head. Without another word, Andrea Gooding returned her attention to her work.

Ain't that just the way, Sean griped. Good old Public Relations, the general dogsbody of professions. Whenever a job needed to be done that defied classification, PR would do it. Defeated, she stalked back into her office to find the man she had loved and then rejected still apparently fascinated by her mahogany balancing figurine.

She was embarrassed to admit that she had been defeated in her attempt to have him shunted onto somebody else, but work was work. She moved around behind her desk again. "Uh, shall we get going?" She tried to sound pleasant and not look too longingly at her pile of papers.

The smile that he threw her was one of relief, tinged with an unmistakable glimmer of triumph. He rose to his feet. "I'll try not to make it too onerous for you," he promised solemnly. "I haven't forgotten how loathsome you find my company."

Sean shrugged and began gathering her things from her desk. She refused to be baited, and besides, past experience had taught her, very painfully, that his promises were worth less than a three-dollar bill.

She slung her black, locally crafted leather handbag onto her shoulder, skirted the table and made for the door, taking such long strides that he was obliged to hasten to fall into step. As he did so, she noted that the three-inch heels she perversely wore to accentuate her height made her just about an inch taller than he was. The small, if artificial advantage satisfied her immensely.

"We'll do the bank first," she told him.

"No problem," he said.