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Botanist Andreas Bauer, passionate about saffron, plans to reintroduce organic farming of the world's most expensive spice to a region of Austria now known for its wine. Meeting resistance from vintners, he does research in a local abbey and discovers a dark secret regarding a king's ransom gone astray hundreds of years before.
Heiress Savannah Sutherland is on her way to learn the wine business from her uncle, who owns one of the largest vineyards in the area. She has no idea she is expected to marry the heir of a neighboring estate to expand her uncle's empire.
Sparks fly when Andreas sets eyes on Savannah, and he knows they're destined to be together. But their growing attraction is threatened by her uncle—and by whoever orders a deadly attack on Andreas. Dark family secrets and a dangerous, centuries-old conspiracy cast deathly shadows over the love Andreas and Savannah share.
Page Count: 202
Word Count: 43047
Andreas didn’t know what possessed him to look up from his copy of the Austrian daily, Neue Kronen Zeitung, and turn his head to glance through the dust motes of the smudged train window into the eerie morning light at the Bahnhof of St. Valentin. He was on his way from Melk Abbey to Dürnstein, a small town on the Danube River in the Wachau region of Lower Austria, a trip he’d made countless times, when he saw what he later referred to as “a vision.”
At that moment, bathed in filtered sunshine, the beautiful woman lit up the shadowed station like the subject in a Vermeer painting in which the artist had captured the light and her profile to perfection.
Andreas did not have the soul of an artist. He tended to view the world in botanical terms. He compared his reaction to the way he felt when he saw his first tulip at the Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam—in full bloom, decked out in a myriad of colors, dripping with dew, bathed in sunshine. Exquisite. Now he knew how the frenetic buyers felt during the Tulip Craze in seventeenth-century Holland: He had to possess her. The breath caught in his throat. In that moment he knew his life was changed forever.
He certainly wasn’t in the habit of acting on whims, and he wasn’t given to spontaneity or flights of fancy. Like most botanists, Andreas was methodical by nature. Nature, ha, ha. Another botany joke that only his colleagues could fathom. Anyway, he didn’t believe in fate, and he didn’t have time for something as foolish and intangible as romance. Whether whim or will, he was compelled to get off the train, and when the locomotive sped away, and she turned, he was transported. Her beauty surpassed anything he had ever seen or studied on this earth.
She was no more than a slip of a girl, with long, straight, dark, burnished hair and a bow, for goodness’ sake. The type of bow that might appear in the hair of a Catholic schoolgirl. It was a soft pink, embellished with a large woven initial “S,” and the girl’s creamy lips were painted to match. Her hair was swept up above the ears, and she wore the bow at a jaunty angle, clipped on the side of her head. He looked around for a mother or a nun or a companion—a duenna, perhaps—but she was quite alone. Who would have left that small beauty by herself, subject to predators and admirers alike, in this cavernous place some would say was the spookiest train station in Austria?
That day, a narrow arc of sun framed the girl’s face so she appeared both angelic and naughty at the same time. She was deep in thought. What had placed that pensive Mona Lisa smile on her face? A lover? Andreas was already jealous, and he hadn’t even met her. He hadn’t thought of a woman that way in years. He’d spent so much time recently in the Baroque library with the Benedictine monks in silence, so many hours reading the manuscript and trying to crack the code, solve the centuries-old mystery, his eyes were swimming, and his head was throbbing. Now looking at this goddess-child, something else quite below his brain was throbbing, as well. Good to know his privates were still in working order.
Probably his judgment was clouded. He had been spinning conspiracy theories in his head ever since he started his quest, and he was closer than ever to uncovering the truth. A truth that, if he were right, would blow the lid off the Benedictine monastery.
The girl tilted her swanlike neck, looked over at him, and bit her lip in a crooked smile. Erotischster, certainly. But at the same time pure. And that gap between her teeth, so captivating. Her bow serenaded him like a siren’s song. He turned away from the light that was burning his face. She must be staring at someone else. He looked around. No—there was no one else in the all-but-deserted station. She pierced him with her turquoise eyes.
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