Planning the cover is one of my favourite parts of writing a book, and it’s especially exciting when I get to work with a great designer who can turn my words into visual magic.
If you’ve read my other books – The Italian Billionaire’s Scandalous Marriage or The Italian Billionaire’s Christmas Bride you’ll have read the excerpts to Flight of Passion. You’ll know it’s a rapturous tale of beauty, obsession and the transformational power of unconditional love. (If you haven’t read the excerpt I’be included a sneak peek below)
One of my good friends, Anna Campbell—a queen of Regency romance recommended a US based designer Hang Le. I haven’t worked with her before, but have always loved Anna’s sumptuous covers.
I sent Hang Le a link to the Facebook page I created – I often create a page for each book to collate my thoughts and inspire me – and to also share my research. If you’d like to take a look, click here. Sign up/subscribe to my Flight of Passion Book page to follow the journey to completion. Cheerleading is always welcome:)
So here are the two (draft) covers Hang Le has designed. I asked my loyal feeders which one they’d choose.
After a lot of feedback from readers, I did a wee tweak and chose this version
P.S. If you’d love to be an advance reader please contact me and let me know.
EXCERPT: Flight of Passion
Past love and the obsessions that bind them.
Devastatingly handsome Oliver Hart is used to getting what he wants. Single, thirty-five and a committed bachelor, he plays by his own rules. On a personal quest to catch a rare, elusive and very valuable butterfly, he’s unwittingly distracted by former flame, Ruby Lilly—a woman who callously abandoned him eight years earlier.
Deciding he wants to reclaim the beauty as his own, in his mind it’s as good as done.
But Ruby is not his for the taking. Promised to the son of a wealthy landowner, she refuses to succumb to his charms. On a quest to save her family’s land, Ruby knows she must put duty first, and silence the passionate stirrings of her heart. But Oliver doesn’t make things easy for her. He’s not taking no for an answer.
Risking everything to help the woman he loves gain her freedom, Oliver entangles himself in an emotional net that alters his life forever. Sacrificing his own selfish pursuit to help Ruby, he realizes that you may be able to own something, but you can never own someone—especially the women you love.
Have you ever wanted to be with someone who sent your heart soaring but threatens your sense of security? Someone who lifts you clear out of the water, but you’re not sure will be around to catch you when you fall head over heels in love? Flight of Passion is a rapturous tale of beauty, obsession and the transformational power of unconditional love.
Would selling Butterfly Lovers really free him of painful memories he’d rather forget?
Common sense told Oliver Hart that Butterfly Lovers was just a painting. An inanimate object, incapable of controlling him. But that was the trouble. It did control him. Seducing him with its beauty, twisting his heart with bittersweet memories.
He rubbed his chiseled jaw as he surveyed the crowd gathered for the charity art auction at Hillcrest, his newly acquired mansion, and New Jersey’s most expensive country estate. His gaze swept over the minimalist, exquisitely designed interior, lingering over the priceless abstract by Rothko adorning a charcoal-black wall.
Tonight, though, it was Butterfly Lovers which held in its grip, the women dripping with diamonds, and men clad in Armani. Locked in shared awe, they clustered around the painting, studying every line, every pulsating color. Oliver wondered if their eyes ached as his did with a heady mix of pleasure and pain just to stand in its spellbinding presence. Or were they trying to decode the paintings hidden secrets?
Like a moth to a seductive flame, his eyes drifted to the bottom of the painting. Nobody, but one other, would ever be able to decipher the graffiti-styled line of poetry scrawled in throbbing orange along the bottom of the painting. Painful memories bled into his consciousness. Why the hell couldn’t he shake her?
The painting was aptly named, he mused forcing his mind from the woman who had inspired the purchase. The dancing kaleidoscope of color reminded Oliver of his collection of exotic butterflies-his hobbyhorse and quiet obsession. The painting’s colors-dazzling sapphire blues, glistening watermelon pinks, pulsating canary yellows with shimmering oranges-flew from the canvas, and ricocheted off the marble floor which had been polished to a mirror-like gleam.
He had commissioned the painting in a move of uncharacteristic impulsiveness eight years earlier when he was 22 and madly in lust with Ruby Lilly. A 20-year old exotic beauty, she’d fluttered into his life, bringing with her eternal sunshine, and air so fresh it seeped through the iron fortress he’d built around his heart.
The painting encapsulated the vitality, optimism and positivity she exuded. It was a rare piece which the serious art connoisseurs who gathered here this evening would die to possess. Oliver’s brow furrowed, aware many were drawn here not by the desire to possess the contemporary art world’s finest paintings, but insatiable voyeurs hungry to glimpse the private world of one of America’s wealthiest and most elusive bachelors.
Immensely private, he’d never opened any of his palatial homes—not homes, houses—he corrected, to the public before. As he glanced around the clinical, museum-like surroundings, with its dark walls and sophisticated lighting, spotlighting priceless works of art, he congratulated himself for creating such a sophisticated, yet austere, facade.
If a building was truly a reflection of its owner, as many designers believed, the interior aptly reinforced the stereotypes perpetuated in the media. Moody, dark, mysterious and strictly hands-off. There was some truth to that, but it was not the whole truth. Oliver’s eyes drifted to the spiraling staircase and the heavy gold braided rope barricading the entrance to the upper level. He never let anyone get beyond the ground floor of his psyche. Some tried, but few persevered. No one had ever penetrated his fortified armor.
He was complicated.
No doubt someone here tonight would go home and tweet that he was something of a social outcast, and arrogant to boot, Oliver thought as he hovered in the background. The fact was that he preferred his own company to engaging with his guests—predominately wealthy financiers and bankers.
He knew his contempt was hypocritical, given he didn’t care who reached into their pockets. But there was something decidedly unpalatable about bankers and the merciless way they preyed on the vulnerable. Tonight, he would gladly encourage them to part with their millions.
As he glanced at his reflection in the floor length window it struck him how far he had come from the days when just finding money to support him and his younger sister had been a struggle. Resplendent in an immaculately tailored Dolce&Gabbana tuxedo cut from the finest Italian wool, he looked like he belonged.
Oliver rubbed his hand over his pecs, powerfully aware of the Maori inspired tattoo coiled over his shoulder, the crisp white linen of his shirt concealed. His hands pulsed with renewed conviction. It was his touchstone—a symbolic reminder that he was fierce and untouchable; a warrior businessman and an impenetrable lover.
On a good day, he even fooled himself.
But no matter how easily it was to make millions, no matter how many things he acquired, he’d never found a sense of contentment.
Oliver bit down on his teeth, grinding them together in a futile attempt to crush memories he was determined not to revisit.
He glanced at his Rolex. 7:03:02. Irritability coursed through his veins. What the hell was the auctioneer waiting for? He fixed him with a piercing look, shooting his unspoken annoyance through the crowd. Tardiness was something he abhorred, and doubly-so tonight, he thought as he locked on the important call he had to make. In one hour it would be 8am in New Zealand and his sister, as punctual as he was, would be anxiously waiting.
As though feeling the pointed tip of Oliver’s anger the auctioneer looked up. His relaxed smile quickly shattered as he was forced to confront the aggressive glint in Oliver’s eyes, the rigid set of his shoulders, the brutally hard line of his jaw.
The auctioneer banged his hardwood gavel on the sounding block with short urgent thuds, his florid face ballooning as the chatter continued.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention?’ More insistent hammering. ‘Attention! Attention!’
The chatter fell to an orderly whisper, extinguished finally by the auctioneer’s solemn voice.
‘As you know, tonight is a unique opportunity to savor the extraordinary passions of Oliver Hart. Renowned as an astute business man, Oliver Hart is also an obsessive collector,’ he said. ‘He has one of the most significant collections of contemporary art in the world. Not only a man of significant wealth, Oliver Hart, founder of Hart Luxury Hotel Consortium, is a man of outstanding generosity. All the funds raised by tonight’s art auction will provide relief for those affected by last month’s devastating earthquake in New Zealand, where he spent much of his childhood.’
Oliver studied his feet as a thunder of applause quaked through the room, amplifying as it echoed off the walls.
The word was like a vicious punch to his stomach. Oppressive memories pounded his brain, and this time there was no silencing them.
Suddenly he was four years old again. Four years old and frightened. Lonely. Abandoned. Trapped in a jungle of strangers. Abandoned by bickering parents into a boarding school, neither one willing to let the other have custody. Selfishly caring more about winning against each other than the needs of their own child.
His jaw locked as he bit down hard, swallowing a toxic cocktail of grief and anger. Freezing sweat clung to his body in a vice-like grip. He paced across to the open window, inhaling deeply as he struggled to rip himself free from the shards of the past.
To some, it might seem ironic that he should be so generous to a country where he spent such an unhappy childhood, but Oliver didn’t like to think of others suffering.
He forced his mind back to the present.
‘Tonight’s opening painting, Butterfly Lovers, is a significant artwork,’ the auctioneer continued, glancing down at his notes.
Oliver didn’t have to read his words to know that what he would reveal was a shallow rendition of the truth. Only two people in the world truly knew just what Butterfly Lovers meant. He glanced around the room thinking she might have come, hoping with all his willpower she hadn’t.
He forced himself not to betray the turmoil of emotions which jack-knifed through his body as the massive painting was carried to the makeshift podium.
The butterfly theme had held so much promise. He’d never really brought into Ruby’s tales about the transformative power of art to heal. But privately he’d hoped her optimism might rub off. With her by his side, and by owning the painting, perhaps he could shed a skin, free himself of his deformed past, re-emerge in a new skin. Undamaged. Someone nearing perfection. A better man. The sort of man Ruby deserved.
He’d been a fool.
Oliver’s spine stiffened. He’d intended to keep it…her…forever. But even good intentions couldn’t make up for a lifetime’s inability to commit. He moved towards the terrace, widening the distance between him and the painting. He would no longer succumb to the painting’s potent power to remind him of his failings.
‘Created specifically for Oliver over seven years ago by struggling contemporary artist CG Tombly—only Oliver could have foreseen its financial potential.’
Oliver’s brow furrowed. The suggestion he had acquired the painting for commercial gain, rankled him. If he wasn’t such a private man he might have told the crowd the truth. He’d made the mistake of talking candidly once before—a mistake he wouldn’t be making again.
In its place he’d created a new habit—a habit of keeping his emotional life to himself, one he wasn’t about to break. Soon the painting, and the painful memories of the only woman capable of making him feel, would be shed and he could devote himself to less painful obsessions.
‘As always, Oliver’s timing is impeccable. The painting’s value has rocketed in the same soaring capacity as the palatial hotel Oliver’s company has recently constructed in Dubai–so tall it almost touches the Gods.’ The auctioneer flung his hands into the air to accentuate his point. ‘Oliver Hart,’ he said, nodding in his direction and pointing to his towering 6-foot, 2-inch frame, ‘never does anything small.’
Oliver thrust his hands in his pockets and glanced out the window refusing to look at the painting as the bidding began.
In a few knuckle-clenching minutes it would all be over and he could get on with his life.
His gaze drifted to the sculpture garden, lying beyond the pool, alighting on a solitary bronze sculpture by Brancusi. The modernist interpretation of Hercules holding the world on his shoulders, with its roughly hewn egg shaped sphere symbolizing earth had always appealed to him.
Balanced precariously on a towering sculpted wood base, the odd shape and the large crater severing the middle of the sphere challenged conventional notions of perfection and reminded him of humanity’s rawness.
As his gaze lingered over the sculpture it occurred to him that repairing his scars, so deep that no relationship he started ever endured, required a Herculean effort. No wonder the painting had failed. But he still believed, as the ancient Greeks had, that art had a powerful ability to transform lives. He only hoped selling the painting finally fulfilled this purpose. Perhaps then the painful memories that still haunted him could be turned to good.
He turned and fixed his gaze upon the audience. Who would be its new owner he wondered as the opening bid of one million was made. Would it go to Don Hermes, the impotent pharmaceutical giant, standing just ahead of him, or some other equally innocuous purchaser?
‘12 million? Do I have 12 million?’ The bags under the auctioneer’s eyes shifted as he tilted his head forward, and peered under his glasses. ‘A small price to pay,’ he continued, his gaze briefly flickering to Oliver, ‘for a painting personally commissioned by a man who defies every category and transcends every cliché: a man with tremendous gusto and creative generosity.’ The auctioneer’s eyes flew to a scantily dressed blonde hovering hopefully next to Oliver. ‘A man who has yet to be pinned down.’
Oliver caste her a dismissive look and moved further toward the back of the room.
‘$12 million we have,’ cried the auctioneer’s assistant, nodding vigorously as he pressed his iPhone firmly to his ear.
Oliver’s heart lurched as the bidding began.
‘$13 million.’ The assistant shouted, raising his hand.
‘13.2 million.’ The auctioneer’s eyes darted between the phone bidder and two men determined to claim the painting as their own.
Explosive tension hovered as one of the two remaining bidders turned their attention away.
‘13.5 million! At 13.5 million the painting will be sold,’ the auctioneer warned. He suspended the hammer in the air, pausing as he scanned the room.
‘$17.4 million,’ came a guttural, low growl from the front of the crowd.
A record price! The room fell silent under the weight of the bid, then buzzed with irritatingly discordant voices, their murmurs of awe and envy a rising tide of white noise. Oliver’s eyes darted to the front row.
Over $14 million? The price was ridiculous. Someone must want it desperately. But why?
He was acquainted with the deep pockets of unbridled obsession. He understood intimately the seductive power of the painting.
But this was crazy bidding.
There had to be a compelling reason surpassing the usual appreciation of an art-lover. At that price it could hardly be an investment buy.
So that left…what?
Oliver paced the back of the room in agitation unable to see the face of the man who had placed this latest bid. He caught a glimpse of the woman next to the anonymous bidder as she shook a sexy spill of sun-kissed curls down her back. The familiar gesture sent shockwaves to his heart.
It couldn’t be.
Her head turned slightly.
Oliver stood still, as if immobile, as if turned to stone.
A symphony of emotions crashed through his veins as he saw a possessive arm snake around her waist and realized with horror the serpent she was with. Oliver threw back his shoulders, his muscular jaw tilted forward in defiance as he looked at the nauseatingly familiar figure. Carlos Torres, the New York based, Mexican banking magnate and the-soon-to-be owner of Butterfly Lovers.
He could not let his painting–their painting–fall into her lover’s clutches–a man as unscrupulous as he was deceptively charming.
Oliver’s overactive mind raced with scenarios. He would draw from his own funds the money for the earthquake fund, adding to the millions he had already donated. But he knew with chilling certainty he was powerless to flout protocol, to bend the rules, to manipulate the outcome to suit his own desires. He knew only too well that once the auction had started, Butterfly Lovers could not be withdrawn.
‘At this price, we’ll sell,’ The auctioneer’s eyes swept the room for any last bids.
The muscles in Oliver’s chest tightened as he saw the auctioneer’s gavel sashay into the air.
He watched helplessly as Carlos pulled Ruby toward him and folded her into his arms. The bitter taste of jealously flooded his mouth.
The gavel sank toward the sounding block with freeze-frame inevitability. A splintering crack as wood met wood confirmed it was over with chilling clarity.
Oliver’s hand tightened into a closed fist, crumpling the Butterfly Lovers catalogue into obscurity.
His heart rate pulsated making his chest feel as though it was about to implode, as Ruby turned and he watched with shock the way she wilted under Carlos’s dominant presence, the light of passion missing from her eyes. She seemed sad and vulnerable—and the Ruby he knew was neither.
Something was wrong.
His rational mind thundered a warning. Don’t get involved.
What business was it of his if she wanted to make her life with that snake? None. Not ordinarily. But Ruby wasn’t ordinary. Accepting and accommodating maybe, but something told him there was more to their union then met the eye.
He clenched his fists and cursed softly fighting against the impulse to save her from a big mistake. Playing rescuer would invite complications he didn’t need. Especially now. What he did need was uncomplicated sex. Not a girl like Ruby who’d already proven herself capable of breaking his heart, as women did so mercilessly.
Not so with painting and sculpture and his beloved butterflies, he mused, forcing his thoughts back to his collections. Once possessed they would never leave without his consent. And he could never make them cry. His jaw clenched as bitter memories of his parents’ feuding pounded in his ears. His mother’s heart-wrenching cries once heard, never forgotten.
He must not be distracted. He must not allow Ruby to get close. Obviously she had engineered Carlos to buy the painting, knowing full well how it would torture Oliver. She tortured him all those years ago and it was clear she intended to continue the onslaught. She could have that dammed painting, he mused as unwelcome, undesired, uncontrollable passions, long forgotten but now unbridled, threatened to escape.
He rested one shoulder against the floor length window, his attention locked on Ruby as she freed herself from Carlos’s clutches and fluttered through the swelling crowd toward the patio. She possessed an innate and natural elegance that caused his glands to salivate, wetting his appetite in open defiance of his will. Her legs screamed danger–their long, slender length accented in scorchingly sharp stilettos that threatened to kill. Kill his resolve. Kill his self-control. Kill him all over again.
Reaching for a glass of whiskey from a passing waitress. He rocked the glass from side to side and studied the rough ice-chunks crashing through the amber liquid, then knocked the drink back, drowning his conflicting emotions.
Like a moth drawn to light he savored the way her floor length, silk dress clung to her lithe figure, her hibiscus red dress shimmering under the halogen lights like the wings of a newly emerged butterfly. The way the vibrant color of her dress contrasted so deliciously with the flock of black cocktail dresses and designer dark suits brought a smile to his lips. Ruby had always stood out from the crowd.
Walk away, stay away, a small voice warned him, as he fought an instinctive need to free her from a bad mistake.
The irregularly cut crystal pressed into his fingers as he gripped the glass more firmly. His life had rapidly become complicated.
He craned his neck as he momentarily lost sight of her, searching over the sea of heads and glittering diamonds.
Like the shards of ice in his glass, his hardened intention to stay detached was fracturing.
Troweling on a face of extreme nonchalance, he pushed determinedly towards her through the crowd as she stepped onto the patio and gazed forlornly up at the stars.
Why the hell was she with a dickhead like Carlos. Glancing at his watch, Oliver wondered if he could he find out what he needed to know in less than 20 minutes?
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