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"Margeaux, wasn't this guy your boyfriend?"
Boyfriend? Margeaux Broussard chewed a piece of cinnamon gum and leaned against the hotel balcony rail, peering through the viewfinder of her camera, focusing on St. Michel's rocky shoreline. It had been years since she'd had a man in her lifesignificant or otherwise.
She pressed the shutter release button and the camera snapped a series of rapid shots. The fleeting twilight gilding St. Michel with molten gold was too gorgeous to pass up for the man du jour her friend Caroline Coopersmith was talking about on television or somewhere in their hotel room. From Margeaux's perch on the hotel balcony, she had a breathtaking panoramic view of the landscape. The light was perfect, and it would be gone in a moment. She wanted to get these shots.
"If it is, he looks downright dangerous," Caroline continued.
Margeaux turned and glanced through the open balcony doors at her friend, who was sitting on the bed reading the complimentary issue of Folio de St. Michel magazine that had been on the coffee table in their hotel room when they'd checked in earlier that afternoon.
"Let me see," demanded Pepper Meri-weather, as she and A. J. Sherwood-Antonelli crowded onto the bed on either side of Caroline and gaped at the picture.
Margeaux turned back to the vista and snapped a few more shots, but the magical light was already fading. At least she'd claimed the best of it.
A.J. let loose an unladylike catcall, which piqued Margeaux's curiosity enough to make her smile, turn back toward her friends and squint at the bold captions on the magazine cover. The words jumped around on the page, and Margeaux had a hard time focusing her dyslexic gaze. She stepped back into the room, refocused on the words, and redoubled her effort to read the print on the magazine cover.
Ahh, it was the magazine's annual "A List" edition, a roll call of her home town's most eligible movers and shakers. Since this was the first time in sixteen years that she'd been back to St. Michel, it would be interesting to see if she knew anyone on the list. She set her camera on the table and prepared to join the ogling party.
"Oooh, dangerous and delicious," Pepper purred, smacking her lips as if she tasted the mystery man in her Southern-laced words. "I'll bet women fall all over themselves for a bite of those honey buns."
"Who is it?" Margeaux asked.
A.J. thrust the periodical toward Margeaux. "Henri Lejardin. Do you know him?"
The name made Margeaux's breath hitch.
"Henri?" Her stomach clenched. Then the bottom of her belly nearly fell out when, there, in living color with his dark, curly hair and penetrating chocolate eyes, her first love smiled at her from the glossy pages of Folio de St. Michel.
"Is this him?" Caroline asked.
Margeaux nodded. It was Henri, alright. All grown up and looking fine; different, but somehow still the same.
If he was on the Folio list, that meant he was single. It shouldn't matter after all these years, she reminded herself. But it did. Suddenly, she wanted to know everything about himwhat he'd been doing all these years; who he was involved withpast and present. Where he was right this very minute. If she knew, she just might go to him and ask him all these questions and others that had plagued her all these years. The fact that she couldthat for once, she could walk right out the door and go to himthat she might bump into him on the streetgave her a breathless thrill the likes of which she hadn't experienced since since the last time she saw Henri Lejardin.
Yes, there were lots of who, what, when, where and whys she wanted to ask him. All in good time.
She was bound to run into him, and she needed to prepare herself for the deluge of emotions she was certain to feel, because this simple photo in a magazine already had her hyperventilating. She was glad she'd have the opportunity to work through it before she found herself face-to-face with the man who'd broken her heart.
Work it out now and get over it.
"You dated him?" A.J. asked.
Margeaux shrugged, unable to tear her gaze away from Henri's photo. "It was a long time ago. We were just kids. We grew up next door to each other."
"And you let him get away?" Pepper stared at her with big, astonished eyes. "Honey, are you out of your mind? If a man like that lived next door to me, I don't think I'd bother to leave the grounds. Except for the occasions when I found myself next door borrowing a cup of sugar. And I'm afraid I'd need lots and lots of sugar."
A.J. and Caroline murmured their agreement.
Her history with Henri was complicated. There wasn't an easy way to answer her friends' questions without awakening a lot of sleeping memories, which, her heart warned her, were much better left alone.
Margeaux had been friends with the three women since their junior year in high school at LeClaire Academy, one of the boarding schools to which her father had packed her off after her mother died. The four of them liked to joke that the reason Margeaux had raised such hell getting herself kicked out of the French boarding school she'd attended before LeClaire Academy was because she was simply making her way to Texas so that she could complete their quartetbe the fourth leg of their table.
But now that they were in St. Michel, they were a long way from Texasand light years away from their rambunctious high school days. The four of them were like family, but the one thing Pepper, A.J. and Caroline didn't know about their friend was that she'd harbored a secret for as long as she'd known them. And that secret, which she'd relegated to the deep recesses of her mind and heart, was doing its very best to push its way out into the golden St. Michel sun.
"I'm guessing if he's in that magazine, it means he's still local," Pepper said. "Why don't you call him and invite him to meet us down in the casino tonight?"
Margeaux took one last wistful look at Henri's broad smile before closing the magazine and turning the figurative lock on the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. She didn't need the sharp reminder of what happened when she allowed her heart to lead her past the point of no return. She was a grown woman now, and she had no intention of backtracking down that fateful path.
"I can't go to the casino tonight," she said. "But you all go ahead without me. I have to go to the hospital to visit my father, and I don't know how long I'll be. If he's well enough to talk, I have a feeling we'll spend a lot of time catching up. If he's not I'll need to sit with him."
Her father was the reason she found herself back in St. Michel after all this time. They'd been estranged for more years than she could count on both hands. But all it took was a call to tell her that her father was in the hospitalthat he'd suffered a strokeand she'd been on a plane to him. No more oceans between them. All the harsh words fired like weapons were forgotten. It was a new chapter. Margeaux was grateful it wasn't too late. Sure, he'd been absent from her life all those years. But one of them had to be the first to extend the olive branch.
She might as well be the one.
"You can join us after you do that," Pepper insisted.
"Pepper, don't," A.J. reprimanded. "This isn't a pleasure trip for Margeaux and the last thing she needs right now is you nagging her to shirk responsibility."
Despite how much she wanted to wave off what A.J. was saying, her friend was right. Mar-geaux hadn't come here on vacation. Her father needed her to step up and do the right thing. It had been so long since she'd been the good daughteractually, had she ever attempted that role? If she had, maybe he wouldn't have sent her away all those years ago.
Now that he was sick, all the rules were changing. She was the prodigal daughter returned home. Even though her friends had accompanied her this far, she had to make the next leg of the journeythe trip to the hospitalalone.
Henri Lejardin glanced at the screen of his BlackBerry: one missed call.
Earlier, when his phone rang, he'd been in the middle of a Musée du St. Michel staff meeting, firming up specifics for the Impressionist Retrospective's exhibition, which would celebrate the museum's centennial anniversary. It had been a long day overseeing the installation of the exhibit on loan from museums from all across Europe. The collection was set to open next week. Yet three key paintings were detained in customs, held back by a mountain of red tape Henri had yet to unravel. His career and reputation hinged on this show, and since it was coming down to the wire, he needed to focus on pulling it together.
When his brother Luc's number had appeared on the screen, Henri had sensed what the call was about, resisted the urge to answer and let it go to voice mail.
Now that the meeting had adjourned, he remained at the conference room table and listened to his messages.
"Henri, it's Luc. Please call me as soon as possible. Margeaux Broussard is back in St. Michel."
Henri's insides shifted like falling dominos and he tightened his grip on the phone, a visceral reaction to the news.
It was exactly the message he'd both feared and anticipated since the moment Colbert Broussard had fallen ill.
As he disconnected from voice mail and dialed Luc, Sydney James, the gallery curator, caught his eye as she lingered in the conference room doorway. A slow, seductive smile spread over her red-glossed lips as she arched a well-shaped brow.
It was a look that suggested so much more than Henri could deal with right now. In an attempt to own his composure, he shook his head and looked away.