He knew her every fantasy…
Charlotte Ashton had never belonged anywhere—until she met worldly Alexandre Dupree. The winemaker was consulting at her family's vineyard, and soon shy Charlotte was completely under his spell. He seemed to know all her secret desires, all her dreams—as if he'd been put on earth just for her pleasure.
Alexandre seduced Charlotte in all the ways she had fantasized about. He'd read her secret journal and discovered the real Charlotte—the sensual lover, the generous woman, the vulnerable virgin. Was his crime so unforgivable when all he'd wanted was her love? Yet now to maintain her trust, he would have to continue to lie…
A strange sound, followed by sudden movement to Alexandre's left caught his attention, shifting his thoughts away from his troubled hosts. Irritated at the prospect of having his solitude disturbed, he paused in the act of rising to his feet, wondering who else was awake at this hour. Seeking privacy, he'd deliberately walked away from the main house and the likelihood of company.
"Why are you making that funny noise?" a soft female voice asked. "I gave you a full checkup yesterday!"
Eyebrows raised, Alexandre stood and stepped out of the vines into a narrow abutting lane that he hadn't noticed earlier. The cause of the disturbance was immediately visible. Delight replaced his earlier irritation. Now, this wake-up call was far more to his liking.
She was petite, he thought, her body small but with no lack of curves. One of those lush curves was currently outlined beautifully by well-worn denim as she knelt on the ground and peered at the front wheel of her bicycle. Long, arrow-straight black hair shifted like thick silk as she moved, brushing her bottom again and again.
Interest sparked low and deep in his gut, a sharp hunger that was at odds with the jaded boredom that had crept up on him over the past year. "Do you need assistance, mon amie?"
Charlotte spun around so fast, she almost toppled her bike. Not having expected anyone else to be up and about, she was startled to find herself looking up into the most gorgeous male face she'd ever seen.
An amused light in his dark eyes, the stranger held out a long-fingered hand. "My apologies. I didn't mean to startle you."
Swallowing, she let him help her to her feet. His hand was strong, his fingers curling around her own until she felt engulfed...owned. Heat sizzled up her spine and burned through her cheeks. She tugged her hand away the moment she was up, unable to cope with the explosive fire shooting through her body.
"We haven't been introduced," he said, his voice accented in a way that was so very, deliciously French, her knees threatened to give out. "I'm Alexandre Dupree."
Alexandre. It suited him. A strong, masculine name for a man who was just that.
"Char-Charlotte," she managed to say around the lump of fascination stuck in her throat. "Charlotte," he repeated and on his lips, her ordinary name was suddenly exotic. "And what are you doing here so very early, petite Charlotte? You work on the estate, oui?"
Perhaps she should've been insulted that he thought her a worker, rather than a member of the privileged Ashton family, but then she'd never wanted to be a member of that family. "No." She hadn't ever met a man like him, one who exuded sexuality like other men breathed. It made rational thought difficult.
"No?" His full lips curved into a coaxing smile that was just this side of sinful. "You wish to be a mystery?"
"What about you?" she blurted out, the compulsion to know more about him overcoming her nervous shyness.
Who was this man who'd smiled at her and in a single moment succeeded in shaking all her beliefs about her own ability to experience passion and desire? She could feel her body sparking with life, embers of something hot and sensual glowing deep inside her. It was as if she'd been waiting for this man since the day she'd become a woman. Was it any wonder no one else had ever measured up?
His eyes, dark as the bitterest chocolate, lingered on her lips and she wanted to ask him to stop, but the words wouldn't come. It felt like he was kissing her with nothing more than a look, making her feel things that should be illegal this early in the morning.
I had to do an enormous amount of research for this book in two completely different fields - wine and flowers.
First came the wine . Because my hero was a winemaker, I had to become knowledgeable about technical aspects of wine production. I did a lot of reading on the internet and even emailed a small winery owner for information about soil! (Yes, they replied). I also bought a wonderful research book, which has an absolutely brilliant fold-out section in the middle featuring a 'map' of a working winery.
As for the flowers, because it was Charlotte's passion, I had to know all the tiny little things that she'd know as someone devoted to her art. Here, I got lucky. I'd recently met a friend of a friend who turned out to be a botanist/plant expert. She helped me design Charlotte's greenhouse, which is unusual because it has an internal garden. I also did a lot of reading up on plants, including seeking out color photos for descriptions.
I have to admit I had a huge amount of fun designing this greenhouse, which template was used by the other authors in the Ashtons continuity when they set scenes in there. That way, the greenhouse didn't change through the twelve linked books.
Believe it or not, the research didn't end there. I also had to find out about airplanes and how fast they could fly in order to work out the timing of Charlotte and Alexandre's trip to the fictional town of Kendall, Nebraska. Fellow Desire writer, Yvonne Lindsay, was the one who got me the answers I needed--from her talented husband!
Not only that, I had to learn French ...well, only the sexy things that Alexandre says to Charlotte. So as a result of having written this book, I now know all about wine, grape cultivation, greenhouses and I can murmur sweet nothings in French!
The Japanese title for Awaken the Senses translates as The Scent of Plumeria, which is based on the scent that Charlotte wears in the book.
Awaken the Senses hit #1 on the Waldenbooks bestseller list, the first of my books to make it to #1.
It was also a 4.5 star Top Pick in the reviews section of the Romantic Times BookClub Magazine, and was nominated for a Reviewer's Choice Award.
Awaken The Senses by Nalini Singh