By Ani Keating
After her parents’ tragic deaths, Elisa Snow wanted nothing more than to escape her past. Eighteen and alone, she fled her quaint English village and moved to the United States. A starving science student by day and an artist’s muse by night, Elisa has slowly built a new life. She never dreamed she would lose everything again.
She’s one week from graduation when her visa is unexpectedly denied. Given thirty days to leave the country, she must face the one thing she cannot survive again—saying goodbye and leaving her home. Yet within minutes of her world shattering, she meets a man with the power to piece it back together.
After finishing his tour of duty in Iraq, Aiden Hale traded battlefields for boardrooms, becoming one of the most successful venture capitalists in the nation. But all his wealth can’t buy him reprieve from the horrific memories of war. The only thing that gives him peace is a painting of Elisa.
Drawn together by their invisible wounds, they begin a passionate affair as they race against the clock to defy their pasts—and fight for their future.
Earlier versions of this book were posted on the author’s blog under the titles of The Master’s Muse and 30 Nights of Snow, using the pen name Ani Surnois, and has since been extensively edited.
“So, what did you want to discuss, Mr. Hale?” I ask the question that is buzzing in my brain to prevent myself from tripping while sitting down.
His smile vanishes as he sips his espresso. He sets down his cup and looks at me with probing intensity. “Are you the woman in my paintings?”
Bollocks! The question settles in front of me like a coiled beast. Blood rushes to my feet and my stomach twists. My mouth parts to let in some air. I notice with horror that he has seen all my reactions, which must be confirmation enough. I have to get it together. No matter my flights of fancy, what Javier and I are doing is illegal. I’m a goner already, but Javier could get deported. I have to help him, even if it takes me down.
“Why would you think that?” I try to keep my voice as composed as possible but don’t do a great job of it.
“I’m a man of means, Miss Snow.”
“What exactly does that mean?” Bloody hell, does he know about Javier already?
“It means that if I want something, I will stop at nothing to get it. In this case, however, the conclusion was not hard to reach. I saw you at Feign’s gallery and the way the receptionist ordered you around indicated that you must work there. I obtained a copy of Feign’s personnel records and the only two women that have worked for him are blondes. You are the only one with dark hair and the woman in the painting of the neck has dark hair.” He finishes explaining his process calmly, like he is merely giving directions.
“But the model does not need to be an employee. She could be anyone.”
“Yes, she could be. But she is not. She is you.”
“If you have already reached this conclusion, why are you asking me about it?”
“To hear you confirm it, Miss Snow.”
“Why would my confirmation matter if you are convinced?”
“Because it will be a surrender, rather than a conquest.” His voice is softer and more hypnotic than ever, but his eyes are exponentially more probing.
“A surrender? Is that why you’re here?”
“It’s one of the reasons. And before you try your distraction technique again, let me make it clear that I don’t intend to divulge the other reason for my visit until you have
satisfied me on this point.” He pauses. Then, his eyes burn with a new intensity.
“Admit it,” he whispers. I imagine this is how the snake must have sounded to Eve. But Eve did not have a family to protect. I do.
“It seems that despite your impressive deduction skills, you have overlooked one
possibility, Mr. Hale.”
“Have I?” He cocks his head to the side, sounding sure that he has overlooked nothing.
“Yes. It’s possible that there are different women for each painting.”
“There is only one woman, Miss Snow. And we both know who she is. But if you need more convincing, I’ll be happy to show you.” His voice is husky and low. Yet, it echoes in my ears, even after he stops talking.
“Show me? How?” I’m nervous about the word show.
He leans across the small table into my space. I smell sandalwood, cinnamon and
something I can’t name. My heart starts clawing against my rib cage. The few breaths I was managing stop. He extends one long index finger and hovers it very closely to my throat without touching it.
“Like this,” he whispers. “It’s your neckline. Your throat. Your collarbone.” His finger trails along the path he is describing but does not touch me. Nonetheless, the effect on me is visceral. My body coils and tenses like a warhorse coming to a sudden stop at the crumbling edge of a cliff.
“I have no doubt, Miss Snow, that if you take off this sweater and these jeans, I would see the same waistline, hip and leg as in my paintings.”
I can’t speak through the terror and thrill that are tearing me in half.
“I can describe them to you if you wish. You have three dark freckles, positioned exactly like an equilateral triangle right above your left hip. They are the only marks on your skin. I would be more than happy to prove my case. Would you like me to, or will you surrender?”
I try to locate some words, or even air, but I can’t. Something darker, scarier than my fear of getting caught assaults me. My shallow breath, the blood rushing in my ears, the flutter at the bottom of my belly and the involuntary flexing of my thighs explain it better than any words. Arousal. I have not felt it in four years. And without a single touch, he has revived it.
I revel in the feeling of my body coming alive. He interrupts my resurrection.
“Which will you choose, Miss Snow?” he prompts, and I have to remember the choices he gave me. Ah yes, prove it or surrender. Truth be told, I’d like him to prove it. Prove it with scientific precision. But I can’t admit that to him. I have only one option.
“I surrender.” I look up at him. I might as well do it with dignity.
He looks…almost victorious, if not for a trace of melancholy in his eyes. “Safe decision.”
Safe? For whom?
Ani Keating is an attorney, daughter, sister, and wife, living in the City of Roses, Oregon. When she is not in court or at the office helping clients sort through legal issues (and complaining about the photocopy machine), Ani explores her childhood passion for writing. Her first novel, Thirty Nights, is a sexy and heart-tugging story about love’s power to save and guide us even at our darkest moments.
Thirty Nights was originally posted online on fanfiction and on Ani’s popular blog. Over the course of eight short months, the story received more than half-million hits, 63,000 visitors, over 1,000 followers, and over 3,000 reviews and messages. It will be released for everyone on November 17, 2015. Its sequel, Ninety Days, is currently in the drafting stage.
When she is not writing, Ani spends endless hours at Powell’s Bookstore, exploring classics and latest releases. She also likes to stroll through the Portland Rose Garden, drool over shoes on any store window, and dance to everything from Beyoncé to Johnny Cash.