There were voices in the dark, in the sand hills. Men's voices.
Faith sat up. A light bobbed in the sand hills above her. It was
moving slowly, unevenly towards her hiding place.
"Où es-tu, ma jolie poulet?" Where
are you, my pretty hen? The man sounded drunk, whoever he
She heard another man stumble in the dark, crashing into one of
the low bushes that dotted the sand hills. He cursed. "Are
you sure she's here?" he asked in rough French.
"Oui. I watched her go in, and not come out. She's
waiting, snug in her little nest for us." The speaker laughed
coarsely. Two others laughed with him. Three men, maybe more.
Faith didn't wait to be sure. She snatched up her homespun woolen
cloak and her reticule and keeping low, began to creep away as
fast as she could.
Behind her lay the town; before her, who knew? But she had no
intention of heading back to town. Not at night. The town would
offer her no sanctuary. She'd discovered that the hard way. The
town was full of men like these. Men who'd driven her to hide
in the sand hills in the first place.
There was no alternative. She made toward the beach.
"Là-bas!" Over there! They spotted
her and gave chase.
It was too late to worry about noise. She ran as fast as she could,
waving through scrubby bushes and low grasses. Her skirt caught
on twigs and spiny thorns. She snatched it up in desperate fists
and ran on. Sticks and thorns slashed at her legs, but she was
oblivious. Behind her, men crashed through the undergrowth. They
were gaining on her.
Thump! Faith tripped over a root and crashed into the ground.
Pain exploded in her face. She lay on the sandy ground, winded,
her empty lungs gasping frantically for breath that would not
come. Finally air gushed back into her and she could breathe.
She scrambled to her feet and listened for her pursuers. And that's
when she heard it. Music. Soft, but not far away.
Where there was music there were people. People who might help
her. Or not. They might be like the men in the town, like the
ones who were chasing after her.
No choice. She could not let herself be run down, like a hare
by hounds. She had to risk it. She would run, run to the music,
and pray for safety.
Music had once been her refuge. And lately her downfall.
Risking everything for the sake of speed, she plunged onto the
open beach, down to the very water's edge where the sand was firmest.
Shafts of pain jabbed her ankle with every step. She heard shouts
as her pursuers spotted her. Faith ran, ran for her life, ran
towards the music.
Her heavy boots slowed her down. They'd protected her feet in
the rough scrub her own slippers would never have stood
that punishment but now the boots were heavy and the soft
sand sucked at them. No time to stop and take them off. Her breath
came in great gasps. Pain bit sharply into her side. She ignored
it and fled on.
She rounded a small headland. Fire glowed in the base of the sand
hills. Lungs heaving, she ran towards it. A campfire. A cooking
pot hung above it. Fishermen?
A solitary shadowed figure sat beside the fire, playing music
softly; Spanish sounding music that rippled out into the night
like water, or wine. A man. A gypsy? A huge dog rose out of the
shadows. Faith froze. She'd had dogs set on her twice in the last
week. This one was of a size to rip out her throat in one bite.
"Là-bas!" Her pursuers came crashing across
the headland. Nothing, not even a hound from hell, could be worse
than what these men planned. Terror drove her forward.
"Aidez-moi!" she gasped raggedly as she stumbled
towards him. "Aidez-moi... je vous implore!"
Help me, I beg of you!
The music stopped. The dog's low growls blossomed into a frenzy
"Silence, Wulf!" The deep barking stopped instantly,
though the dog kept growling.
"Aidez-moi!" she gasped, her breath sobbing from
exhausted lungs. The words came out as a whisper.
Somehow, he heard her. He held out his hand towards her, a dark
lifeline etched in flame. "A moi, petite," was
all he said. To me, little one.
His voice was deep and calm and sure and it seemed to speak to
something deep inside her. And so, despite the fact that she could
not see his face, despite the huge snarling beast at his side,
Faith gathered the last of her strength and stumbled towards him.
He was so tall and solid, and that voice, she imagined, held strength
and reassurance. He could be no worse than those behind her, she
thought, and besides, she had reached the end of her tether.
The toe of her boot caught again in the undergrowth. Her bad ankle
buckled and she pitched forward and crashed into the man. He caught
her hard against his chest, but the impact knocked him backwards
and brought him down, flat on his back.
She lay for a moment on top of him, exhausted, gasping for breath
on his big, hard body. Beneath her, the man lay still, as if his
breath, too had been knocked from him. His arms had closed around
her. Hard, strong muscles. He smelled clean, of salt and wood
smoke and soap. And man.
The dog barked again, but now its menace was directed into the
darkness. Her pursuers must be almost here.
As she scrambled off him, Faith tried to think of the words in
French to explain, to beg for help. Not a single word or phrase
came to her frightened brain. She knelt beside him in the sand,
struggling to pull her wits together.
His features were in shadow, silhouetted against the fire. "Mademoiselle?"
His voice was harsh, deep.
Her mouth opened and closed helplessly. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry,"
she whispered in English. "I can't think of the words. Oh
God!" She could not see his face. Her own was lit by his
His voice sharpened. "You're English!" He stood abruptly.
He seemed immensely tall.
Faith nodded. "Yes. Yes, I am. And you" His words
pierced the fog in her brain. He was English too.
"Thank God, thank God," she whispered. Though why she
should feel safer with him just because he was English as well
as clean was a mystery. But somehow, she did.
The dog suddenly broke into a renewed frenzy of barking and she
pulled herself together. "Those men, they'll be here any
He did not so much glance away. He bent down and held out his
hands to her. "Can you stand?" Distantly she realized
he spoke with no hint of an accent. Spoke, in fact, with the tones
of a gentleman.
She nodded, though her legs were shaking. He helped her to her
feet with strong, gentle hands. She stared fearfully into the
darkness. The dog snarled and growled, clearly sensing her pursuers,
though they'd gone very quiet. "Enough, Wulf!" The dog
ceased its barking but growls rumbled deep in its throat.
Three silhouettes were dimly visible against the glimmer of the
sea and sky.
"They're after me."
"So I presumed. But why are these ruffians chasing you? Did
"No!" she said indignantly. "They want they
think they think I am"
His gaze ran over her, coldly assessing. "I understand,"
he said in a clipped voice.
He did too, she could tell from his tone. She hung her head, too
mortified to speak.
"Sit down over there, near the fire," he ordered. "I'll
deal with them."
"But there are three men! Maybe more."
His teeth glinted in a savage smile. "Good."
Good? Faith stared at the shadowed face, wishing she could see
him properly. What could he possibly mean by good?
A voice from the darkness shouted roughly in French, "Hey,
you there! That woman is ours."
"Oui, give her back and there will be no trouble,"
The tall man answered in French. "The woman is mine."
The dog snarled, as if to reinforce his words.
The woman is mine. An implacable statement of fact.
* * * *
are starting to come in. This is what they've said about Perfect
was very difficult to read this book because I was in tears
more than half the time. I have enjoyed all three of the "Perfect"
books but this last one is a true gem. Thank you.
emailing you to let you know .... I loved "The Perfect
Stranger". I just finished it, minus some sleep and can't
be more happier or ready for The Perfect Kiss. I fell upon
the sisters one winter day while I was in my "romance
novel slump". Couldn't find anything I wanted to read
then I read the first 2 pages of Pru's story and that was
it. I bought both books and waited impatiently for The Perfect
Stranger release. The sisters are so loveable and their heros
are just "ahhh!". That's really all I wanted to
say ... So, take care.
PS Thank goodness that The Perfect Kiss is slated for a Jan
'07 release because I don't think I could wait another year.
I got The Perfect Stranger in yesterdays
mail and sat down to read a chapter or so with my dinner (I
should be furiously studying away for an exam on Wednesday
but decided I deserved a break while I ate).
Well, I just finished reading it I couldnt put
the blasted book down because I wanted to know what he was
planning to do after Bilbao. So much for study!!
And, you made me cry. I never, never, never, NEVER cry. Up
until now there has been only one book thats done that
to me (and considering I read a LOT thats saying something).
Anyway, you did it. There are now two books that have made
Brilliant book, Anne ;-)
I love it!
to personally tell you how much I loved it. The
Perfect Stranger was a fantastic book! I couldn't put
it down and I read it in just one day. This past weekend
I went out and bought The Perfect Rake and The Perfect Waltz.
I can't wait to read them. I'm looking forward to reading The
Perfect Kiss. Congratulations for writing a terrific
finished The Perfect Stranger last night and it is a wonderful
addition to the Merridew saga. I loved it ! Keep up
the inspired work!!!
THE PERFECT STRANGER : I just finished this and it was fabulous!
Tell me, is there another???
Yes, Martha -- there is a fourth book in the Merridew Sisters
series -- THE PERFECT KISS -- Grace's story. It comes out
in January 07. Anne
PERFECT STRANGER was a perfect book!! What a charming,
well written love story thank you so much. I can't
wait until I can read your next one in January!!
Your characters seem so real and such nice, caring people
I wish I could find more books like yours! Keep up
the good work.
I wanted to let you know how well The Perfect Stranger is
doing with my Readers. We really enjoyed The Perfect
Waltz and I have just opened a box of stock with yet more
Perfect Strangers inside and thought I would send you a quick
All the best and may the writing flow...
Margaret (Bookshop owner)
Hi Anne, I love reading
and I picked up your latest book, The Perfect Stranger
at a store and really enjoyed it. I went to the bookstore
and got the other two in the series and same result!
However, the bookstore does not have any of your older books
in stock. I was wondering where I can order some of
your older books and I had no luck on Amazon.com either.
maybe one day Harlequin will reissue my older books. I don't
Thank you for such a beautiful story I loved all the Merridew
stories, but this one was my favorite. I laughed, loved
and (when I read chapter 15) cried.
Please continue to write for many years.
I own all of your books and will continue to buy all new
ones. I look forward to Grace's story.
of the things in the story...