BY: ZRINKA JELIC
Love isn’t in the cards for her…
After her short, failed marriage, Kate tries to rebuild her life and takes a position as a nanny to three small boys. She quickly grows to love them, but their father terrifies her, while igniting a passion she didn’t know she possessed. Disturbed by his distant manner with his sons, Kate struggles to make him more involved in the boys’ daily lives. Her efforts are mysteriously supported by an entity that cannot really exist. Or can she? And if she does exist, is she really trying to help Kate, or just take over her body?
But when he deals the hand, all bets are off…
Six years after his beloved wife passed away, Matthias Zrin is still trying to become the father she wanted him to be. Not an easy task for a three-centuries-old immortal. His search for the ultimate nanny ends when Kate Rokov stumbles to his home and into his arms. The immediate attraction he feels for her seems like a betrayal of his dead wife, a love he’s harbored for over three hundred years. But when Kate is stalked by a deadly stranger, the life he clung to in the past begins to crumble and break down. Can Matthias learn to trust and to love again in time to save his family from disaster, or will his stubborn pride destroy everything worth living for?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: With some interesting twists and turns to the plot, Bonded by Crimson by Zrinka Jelic captured my attention from page one and refused to let go right through the last page. The story was packed with characters I cheered for, laughed with, and even shed a couple of tears over. Our heroine, Kate Rokov, is charming, sweet, determined, and just naïve enough to have you groaning, “No, don’t do that,” even though you know she will. The hero, Matthias Zrin, is hot, sexy, immortal, and jaded enough to make you shake your head at his stubbornness. Together, these two blunder their way through ghost-busting, parenting three adorable boys, and falling in love across two continents—from Canada to Croatia. Which totally worked for me. I mean, if you are going to blunder into love, you may as well see the world while you do it.
I liked that Jelic’s characters were human enough to make mistakes, that they weren’t perfect. I also like the paranormal aspect of the dead wife’s spirit helping to bring the two together, though at times I wasn’t sure if she wanted to help Kate or just trade places with her by taking over her body. It’s a well-crafted story with some steamy sex scenes—the very best kind.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Bonded by Crimson by Zrinka Jelic caught me by surprise. For a first effort by a new author, it is quite enjoyable. I liked the depth of characterization as well as the vivid settings. Having never been to Europe, I truly enjoy books that describe foreign place so well I feel as if I have been there. This book was one of those. The plot is strong and the storyline intriguing—the spirit of a dead wife helping her husband to find a new wife. And while I usually prefer more action and suspense, Bonded by Crimson caught my interest and held it all the way through. Jelic took a basic second-time-around romance, gave it a new twist, added a touch of suspense, and came up with something quite good.
Kate is spunky, determined, and wounded from her disastrous first marriage to a jerk. Matthias is hot, immortal, and devastated by the death of his first wife, the love of his life, a relationship that lasted 300 years. Needless to say, Kate finds the competition stiff. The three little boys are charming and when you add a superstitious old housekeeper and a wonderfully sleazy villain, you get a delightful, well rounded cast of secondary characters. I agree with my counterpart that Bonded by Crimson is a well-crafted story.
The steady droplets of rain glistened in the headlights as the garage door glided up. The wipers squeaked over the windshield, erasing the beads of water. Matthias parked his Audi Quattro next to the recently acquired Grand Cherokee. Not even the new vehicle kept nannies employed for long.
Though Mozart’s “Autumn” coming through the speakers suited Matthias’s mood, he turned off the ignition, shutting off the music. He opened the door and stepped out of the car. The wall muffled his boys’ screams, but the terror in their wails sent him rushing inside in a panic.
The ugly picture presented itself as soon as he entered the house. The nanny dragged Luka across the floor by his arm. Ivan and Teo huddled together in the corner. The woman’s fingers had left imprints on their tear-streaked cheeks. The sight broke Matthias’s heart. He should have confronted the nanny the first time Rosalia reported the girl took her rage out on the boys.
“You retards can’t put your muddy boots away.” The venom in her voice stung Matthias to the core. No child deserved this treatment, let alone his six-year-old triplets.
The beast inside him growled and awakened.
The nanny glanced over her shoulder. She shrieked and dropped Luka’s arm. His head thudded on the tile floor.
She straightened and turned to face Matthias. “Mr. Zrin, I didn’t expect you home so soon.” A sweet tone replaced her irate voice. A forced smile stretched her crooked lips, smeared with lipstick.
“Obviously.” Matthias balled his hands into fists, struggling to control the waking animal. This nanny had lasted three weeks. She was the fourth one since the beginning of the year, and it was only April. “I want you away from my children and my home immediately.” Careful not to strain his neck he leaned to his side and peered behind her. He ordered the boys to their room in their native Croatian tongue. They scurried out of the hallway.
With her fists propped on her wide hips, she narrowed her eyes. “That is rude. Speaking a language I don’t understand.”
He glared at her. The nerve of the woman. “You have no business working with children. I want you out of here. Now.” He pointed to the door. She needed to be told everything at least twice.
“Look who’s talking.” The strands of her straw-like, bleached-blonde hair fell from its clip when she shook her head. “It’s not like you’re the world’s greatest dad. Your boys don’t even know you exist.”
“That is none of your concern.”
Though she was right. He had been a distant parent, but her attempt to make him the bad guy was pathetic. “I don’t care what they’ve done to make you so angry. This is not how you treat children. You have fifteen minutes to get out of my house.”
She folded her arms over her heaving chest. “You have to pay me two weeks in lieu.”
The familiar pain stabbed his eyes. He blinked fast in an attempt to stop the color fading from his irises, but the sensation intensified. Avoiding the eye contact with her, he pressed his hand to his brows and closed his eyes. Money. All any of them ever wanted.
“You’d have to take that up with the agency. I could call the police and have you arrested for the assault. You should consider yourself lucky.”
He blinked once again, as the pain in his eyes eased off, and returned his glare to her. The frown on her face made her double chin look grotesque.
“It’s no wonder your wife died.” Her breath carried the smell of stale coffee and tobacco.
He tightened his fists and narrowed his eyes as he pushed away the raging demon brewing in the pit of his stomach.
She tapped her foot. “I’ll have to call my boyfriend. He may not be able to come and get me out here, away from civilization.”
Matthias snapped his wallet open and pulled out twenty dollars. “Call a cab.” With the bill in between his fingers, he extended his arm to her.
Her beefy fingers slipped the money out of his. “You’re all so weird.”
Fortunately for her, she spun on her heels and headed toward the stairs. The black leotards stretched over her large buttocks left nothing to the imagination.
Matthias retreated to his study to calm down before he tended to the boys. The girl had been but a few seconds away from an untimely death. The fiend inside him had stayed dormant for decades, and he had never expected that the mistreatment of his little ones would awaken it.
Twenty minutes had passed and her boyfriend had still not arrived. Finally, the screech of the tires on the driveway, coupled with the thumping music and an impatient honking ensured, Matthias that Mr. Baggy Pants had come for his girlfriend, late as always. Profanity poured out of the nanny’s mouth as soon as she stepped out the door. Her sweetheart replied the same way. The engine revved and the car disappeared in the distance. Well, those two wouldn’t raid his fridge anymore.
He went upstairs and checked on Luka while the other two sat on the big bed in his chamber, flipping through the television channels in search of cartoons.
“Will Rosalia stay with us while you’re at clinic, Papa?” Luka squirmed while Matthias examined his arms and head. Multiple bruises in various stages of healing above the boy’s elbows confirmed Matthias’s suspicion—he had been manhandled.
“Uncle Fortuno and Aunt Adriana will.”
Rosalia, the maid, loved the boys dearly, but she was old, and Matthias couldn’t burden her with their care. She had plenty of work as it was.
“Awesome.” Luka threw his arms in the air. “We get to play vampires with him.”
Matthias gave his son a weary glance. Fortuno would have to stop filling the boys’ heads with this ‘vampires’ nonsense. Unlike their unusual family, the children were mortal. “Only till the new nanny arrives.” He was glad his friends were still in Canada. They had agreed to help him until he found a new nanny. Nonetheless, they’d had to postpone their trip to the old country. Hopefully, their staff would be able to open their restaurant in time for the season.
“Not a nanny again,” Ivan said with a winy voice.
Matthias cast him a scornful look. “We’ll find her. I know we will.” He propped his hands on his hips, reminding himself not to give up hope. “Now, who’s up for dinner? Rosalia’s roast smells delicious.”
The three boys scurried out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Matthias exhaled then pulled his laptop from its case. He’d try the nanny agency’s database one more time. After entering the usual search criteria, he also added Croatian as a language preference.
“Help me, Emina. I beg you,” he whispered before submitting his query.
An hour later, he returned to the computer, expecting to find “no results” flashing on the screen. To his delight, one hit matched his requirements.
Downtown Toronto’s dreary and gray skyscrapers sank into the distance in Kate’s rear-view mirror as she drove on the Gardiner Express Way. The ridges of the steering wheel pushed against her palms. The thought of working as a live-in nanny in a strange household knotted her stomach as she took a note of the first upcoming highway exit. There was still time to call it quits.
No. No more waiting on tables. It was time to go back to working with children and put her teaching degree to use. Besides, what was she afraid of? Mr. Matthias Zrin, the boys’ father? He couldn’t be an ogre like Mr. Wilkins described. The recruiting agent from the Nannies’ Care had tried to discourage her from accepting this job and he’d warned her of the client’s odd behaviour. Mr. Zrin chose her from all the other applicants and not just for her fluent knowledge of the Croatian language.
If Mr. Zrin were a typical Croatian man, he’d speak his mind, curse, swear, and pound his fists if the job at hand wasn’t going smoothly. Her father was no different. Well, just because other nannies the headhunter had placed in the Zrin’s household had not lasted a month didn’t mean that she would not.
Mr. Zrin had triplets, but then so did Shrek. A giggle escaped her and she loosened the hold on the wheel.
“You must do this. There aren’t any other job offers. Your last dime is lonely on the bottom of your purse, and the landlady increased the rent.” Her short pep talk filled her with a newfound courage, and she pressed her foot on the accelerator.
Hectic morning rush-hour traffic thinned as the eight-lane freeway reduced to two lanes, though semi-trucks dominated the road. Lush green hills replaced the urban asphalt. Yep, she was out of the city.
You are now entering the Niagara escarpment, a sign read. The clock on the dashboard displayed twenty minutes passed seven. She had forty minutes to arrive on time.
The hiccupping under the hood caused her to hold her breath in hopes the car wouldn’t stall. She gunned the engine. The gauges leapt as the old Corolla picked up speed.
A few scattered farmhouses came into view along the dinky, country road as she took the highway exit. No safe place to pull over—even worse, no one to ask for directions. Would the sign for Concession Road Six even be posted?
She glanced over the map again. It had to be here. With all this untamed greenery, she must’ve missed the turn. So, this house was in the middle of nowhere, not in the suburbs as she had expected. It was no wonder city nannies couldn’t last out here. The closest shopping mall must be miles away.
Just when she thought she was on a never-ending road to who knew where, a green sign displaying Cons. Rd 6 appeared. A breath of relief escaped her. She made a right turn, and the car sped down the gravel path.
There should be a manmade pond around this bend. There was. She shivered as she passed the small body of water mere seconds later. On the field to her left, there would be longhaired cattle grazing. The sight of shaggy livestock caused her to flinch. None of this was in the driving directions. How did she know? She couldn’t have been this way before. She’d remember.
The private driveway appeared on her left. She turned onto the circular pavement as if she’d done this for years, causing her tires to screech.
A two-story house with a gray-stone façade and a round tower in the middle, stark against the blue sky, loomed over her. Tall pine trees surrounding the building reflected in the enormous bay windows. Intricate cast iron filigree displayed number twenty-six above the door. Of course, the agency wouldn’t want to lose this client. Everything about his place spelled cash.
Silence surrounded the modern castle. Where were the children? Not a single cloud spoiled the sky. Kids should play outside, in these landscaped gardens. Once the buds blossomed, their scents would attract many insects and birds. But it was early May in Toronto. The weather could change from one moment to the next. They could still get snow.
She flipped the visor down and inspected her face. Mascara was smeared under one eye and liner dye had seeped into her eyes, turning them red so that the green of her irises stood out. She reached for a tissue and eye drops. Bother, why did she put this stuff on? She had stopped wearing makeup long ago. Cosmetics only made her eyes itchy and teary.
“Okay,” she muttered as she gathered her long hair into a ponytail. Then she opened the envelope on the passenger seat and read the employment package one more time.
Papers crinkled as she flipped straight to the page containing the family history. Three boys, six years of age, left motherless at birth. Poor little darlings to have experienced that loss at such a young age.
There was no mention of the lady of the house in the papers. Hadn’t their father remarried? Kate shoved the sheets back into the envelope.
Three sweet boys, growing up in this world without their mother, left to the mercy of nannies. So vulnerable and defenceless. How much love had they known? Would the children like her? They were still little, and she hoped they’d love to cuddle. This would be the closest she would come to being a mom.
No. She mustn’t get carried away. They weren’t her boys.
The car door opened with a clatter. She stepped out, scanning the estate. Could she take this on? She must. She couldn’t push another mile through the exhaustion.
Her shoes clicked on the stone steps as she walked to the double front door. The doorbell didn’t chime when she pressed the button. So she used the knocker. The silhouette of a stout woman appeared through the stained glass.
The white apron on the waist of the woman’s black dress stood rigid when she opened the door. What would laundry starch manufacturers do without Croatian women?
“Miss Rokov?” When Kate nodded, the woman knitted her thick eyebrows. Deep creases formed on her forehead. “We’ve been expecting you. Come in.” She gestured with a meaty hand.
Kate detected a dialect from the province of Dalmatia when the woman spoke. They seemed to be from the same part of Croatia.
“I’m sorry I’m late. This place wasn’t easy to find.” Kate stepped into a large hallway with tall ceilings. “Once I turned on this road everything became familiar.”
“Have you been here before?” the housekeeper demanded, closing the door.
“No, I can’t say I have.”
“The children are not up yet. I can show you the house.” She straightened the small woven rag in front of the door. “I’m Rosalia,” she continued, her voice echoing in the spacious area, bouncing off the marble floors and sage tinted walls. “I’ve been working for the Zrin family for fifteen years.”
“So, you’re not the lady of the house?”
Rosalia’s stern expression caused Kate to wince.
“I’m the only maid here, but this is the real lady of the house.” She stopped by the portrait of a young woman. Larger than life, it hung on the wall separating dining room from kitchen.
“This is the boys’ mother?” Kate couldn’t take her eyes off the oil painting. The woman was seated, her golden hair cascading down her shoulders. The artist had captured her with life-like accuracy. Her piercing, pale-green eyes stared from the canvass as if she were trying to say something. Her peach complexion and soft features had an odd familiarity. The rose dress she was wearing seemed old fashioned, as if the late Mrs. Zrin was nostalgic about the times long gone.
Kate rubbed her bare arms as a sudden burst of cold air brushed against her. Did someone turn on the air-conditioning in the room? A strange intuition dragged her attention back to the painting. An ink like dot appeared above the woman’s head and spread over the entire canvas.
Kate leaned closer, her body tingling, her pulse quickening. The drive must have torn on her nerves, because somehow the lady’s face blurred, and in the next moment Kate was looking at herself.
Her double’s eyes filled with blood. Kate gaped at the painting, struggling to breathe.
“Yes,” Rosalia said, snapping Kate out of the vision. The maid sighed. “The Master loved her so. He hasn’t been himself since.”
Kate nodded and swallowed hard. Had she really seen that? She looked back at the painting. Mrs. Zrin’s face had returned. The illusion of ink was gone. She glanced at Rosalia. The maid didn’t seem to notice anything strange about the portrait.
Kate licked her lips. Should she say something? Rosalia might think she was on drugs and report her to Mr. Zrin and she’d lose the job before she even started.
“What was her name?” she asked.
“Mistress Emina Zrin.” Rosalia smoothed a strand of her dark hair touched with gray, in a neat bun she wore.
Mistress. Kate frowned. Those titles were long gone from Croatia. There were no more Masters or Mistresses, although she had heard some older women refer to their husbands as Gospodar.
“Zrin,” Kate mused aloud. “I haven’t heard of that last name even in Croatia.”
“It is short from Zrinski.”
“Zrinski?” Kate turned to Rosalia again. “That line of nobles died out. With the beheading of Viceroy Petar in Vienna in sixteen seventy-one.”
“I see you know the history of our country.” Rosalia gave her an approving nod and gestured to her left. “The kitchen is that way.” She turned towards the curving stairs. “Let me show you to your quarters.”
Her quarters? Kate arched an eyebrow. Where was she? On board the Federation Star Ship Enterprise?
She glanced over her shoulder at Emina’s painting. Just where had she met her before? Emina’s face wasn’t one she would forget.
The hem of Rosalia’s dress rose with each stair she climbed, exposing her thick calves hosed in black nylons. She held onto a dark wood banister as she led Kate down the long hallway then stopped in front of the door at the end.
“You’ll stay in here.” The saffron walls welcomed them as Rosalia opened the door. “When you have settled in, come down to the kitchen. Master left some papers for you.”
Kate scanned the spacious bedroom. Two square windows allowed sunlight to wash over the walls, making the interior bright. The double bed with its fluffy pillows called to her. Hopefully, she’d be able to make it an early night. It must have been well after midnight last night by the time she had fallen asleep, only to be awakened, two hours before the alarm went off, by a nightmare she hadn’t had since her childhood.
“Please be quiet when you bring your belongings in. The Master’s chamber is at the other end.” Rosalia pointed to the double doors at the top of the stairs they had passed on their way here. “You’re to get the boys up and ready for the day. Do keep them as quiet as possible. The Master works nights.”
“The Master is here?” Kate asked, her voice raised a pitch. It sounded odd to call him Master. With any luck, she wouldn’t have to.
“He returned from Croatia late last night. It has been six years since the Mistress passed away. He buried her on an islet they own there.” Rosalia sighed, lacing her fingers over her round midriff.
“How sad.” Kate’s throat closed. She blinked to push away the tears that threatened, not understanding her sudden outpouring of emotions.
“She was a good mistress. May she rest in peace.” Rosalia made the Sign of the Cross and turned. “The children’s room is in the middle.” She pointed to the white doors facing Kate’s suite. “They’ll be up soon, so go get your things in. I have to return to my kitchen duties.”
“When do I get to meet Mr. Zrin?” Kate followed Rosalia down the stairs.
“Later perhaps. He never took time to meet the other nannies. He’s a very private man. Even the boys are shy of him.” Rosalia reached the bottom of the stairs and turned to Kate. “You are to call him Mr. or Doctor. He’d prefer the latter. I’m old so he doesn’t mind me.”
Kate nodded. “He’s a doctor?”
“Yes, a surgeon.”
A shudder rushed through Kate, causing her weakness in her knees. “How old is he?”
“He turned forty-four last week.” Rosalia scurried to the kitchen, leaving Kate by the front door.
What kind of father was this Master or Doctor or whatever he liked to be called? His own children were shy of him.
Kate carried two stacked boxes and made it to the top of the stairs. The smaller box tipped and the contents spilled out, scattering over the hardwood floors and under the door of her new “Master’s” chamber. She cringed, so much for her being quiet.
The door swung open, causing her to snap her gaze to the man standing in the entrance. Mr. Zrin wore pyjama bottoms, an unbuttoned shirt crumpled around his biceps. She swallowed hard at the sight of him. Her heart drummed as she scanned his face. His eyes—narrowed, blue crescents—and dishevelled ebony hair caused her to force a smile in spite of her clenched teeth. No way could this man be forty-four. He appeared much younger.
She peered behind him. The tangled sheets on the large bed meant she woke him with her clumsiness.
“I am so very sorry—I apologize—I didn’t mean to.” Words rushed out of her mouth. She knelt, scooped up her belongings in haste, and shoved them into the box. Darn, she’d had one chance to make a good impression on her new boss and she blew it.
Gathering the scattered pens and papers, she trembled on her knees in front of him. Would he help her or just stare down at her? He closed the door. She exhaled, balling her hands into fists, fingernails digging into her palms. Could the doctor have been any more lacking in good bedside-manners?
She picked up the box and got to her feet. The door of the children’s room popped open before she entered her suite. Two dark haired boys tumbled out while a third golden blond one meandered out, rubbing his eyes.
Storm Goddess Book Reviews:
Wednesday, August 29, 2012: Nikki of Storm Goddess Book Reviews calls Bonded by Crimson masterfully written and gives it 5 Lightning Bolts.
She says: “Bonded By Crimson was such a heart-warming that was masterfully written… I can’t describe how much this story touched me. I just started reading and it just pulled me in and I got lost in the story. I couldn’t wait to see what Matthias was and see how he got that way. I enjoyed watching how Kate worked her magic and brought out the best in everyone. She made Matthias start living again and he started spending time with his son’s and he started getting to know them. Each one was so different and they took up for each other. As I read I found out that it wasn’t a book that was about romance. It had adventure and I got to visit new places. It had suspense. You wanted to know why Emina’s ghost was still around and if the man that was trying to get rid of Kate would ever be caught or would he kill her. You wanted to know the mystery around Matthias. What was he and how did he get to be an immortal.
The author did a wonderful job on the plot and it was exciting from beginning to end. I stayed on the edge of my seat just wanting to know what would happen next. I could feel the pain, love and happiness throughout the whole book. Things happened that I never saw coming. It made me yearn for a love that would last for hundreds of years. It was a book about second chances and taking the leap of faith. You just had to keep on loving through the good and bad. I hated seeing the ending of the book. I really enjoyed the ending and was happy about it. It brought a warm feeling to my heart and I will remember this book and come back to read it again. I highly recommend this book to everyone. It brought happiness to my life and I hope that it brings happiness to yours. READ FULL REVIEW