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Darkly mesmeric parfumier Guy shuns the press, and he feels he must shun Amber, too. She might be stunningly attractive, but a heated affair with her would risk the media discovering the secret that could shatter ...
Darkly mesmeric parfumier Guy shuns the press, and he feels he must shun Amber, too. She might be stunningly attractive, but a heated affair with her would risk the media discovering the secret that could shatter his world. But now that he's getting to know the real woman behind the celebrity facade, how can he let her go?
But this was the second specialist to say it. His third medical opinion in as many months. And while 'we'll have to wait and see if your sense of smell returns' might be perfectly acceptable advice for most people, it absolutely wasn't fine for a parfumier. Guy couldn't do his job properly without his sense of smell.
He'd been covering it up for three months now. It was only a matter of time before someone found out. And then things would get seriously difficult; as it was, his business partner wanted to accept a huge conglomerate's offer to buy out the perfume house. Guy had resisted, so far—he wanted to keep them focused on what their customers wanted, and continue to support local suppliers—but this would give Philippe the ammunition he needed to force the sale. How could GL Parfums possibly continue as it was, when its head of research and development had lost his 'nose'?
Hell, hell, hell.
He'd been banking on this last specialist being able to help him. On being able to offer him something more than just waiting to see if it cleared up by itself, because the only possible reason for it was damage caused by the virus. He'd sat perfectly still and gone through the truly nasty procedure of having a camera on a tube fed up his nose and into his sinuses. He'd taken vitamin supplements. He'd spent hours online, scouring every possibility, reading the forums of every support group. And still he was being told, 'We'll have to wait and see.'
Worse, the specialist had added that it could take up to three years for his sense of smell to come back, and even then it might not come back fully.
The last three months had been bad enough. The prospect of spending three years like this was torture.
Besides, he couldn't wait for three years. The perfume house couldn't afford to stand still—if they didn't develop new fragrances or extend their current lines, they'd have no chance of competing in the market. And then it would go under and everyone would lose their jobs. His staff had supported him and believed in his dreams so much that they'd even taken a pay cut, in the early days, to keep the perfume house going. How could he let them down?
Unless he hired someone to be his 'nose' at the perfume house in his stead and then his own role would have to change. He'd have to shoulder a lot more of the admin and the marketing—the things he'd always been relaxed about delegating, because he'd been happiest in his lab developing new fragrances. Hiring another parfumier would mean that he could keep the perfume house going; but it also meant that the perfume house would stop being his dream. It'd just be a job. He'd be living half a life, unable to do what he loved most: the thing that got him up in the mornings and made him glad to be alive.
He knew it was selfish of him—and unfair—but he really didn't think he could bear that.
Thank God he'd finalised the formula for the new perfume before his sense of smell had gone. That would buy him a few more months. And then he'd just have to hope to hell that whatever the problem was with his nose could be fixed. That he could find a specialist who could help him.
And somehow he had to drag himself back from the brink so he could be smiling, urbane, sweet-natured Guy Lefevre, best man at his brother's wedding. He wasn't going to drop the vaguest hint that his life was turning into a nightmare: no way was he going to ruin Xav and Allie's happiness with his own misery.
'Smile,' he told himself harshly, 'and look as if you mean it.' And he was supposed to be out here cutting roses for the table arrangements, not making clandestine calls on his mobile phone to an ENT specialist and brooding in his garden. Better get on with it, before someone came to find out what was taking him so long.
'Sheryl, it's gorgeous. It's just like what I expected a French chateau to be like. Did you get the photo I sent you?' Amber asked.
'Yes. All tall windows and old stone. Very glam.'
'It's a bit shabby inside,' Amber admitted, 'but a little bit of work could fix that. Change the faded drapes for voile and light damask, paint the walls white with just a hint of rose, and get someone to polish the parquet and the panelling. And there's this amazing chandelier in the hallway. Needs cleaning, mind, but it's a stunner.'
Sheryl laughed. 'Don't tell me you're going to persuade Allie to lend you the place for a party?'
'I'm tempted,' Amber admitted. 'How much would people pay for a weekend house party in France, do you think? Or maybe a Marie Antoinette-themed dinner?'
'I don't believe you. You're meant to be having fun at a wedding, and you're spotting locations for a possible charity ball.'
'Well, yeah. It's gorgeous, Sher. The kitchen's to die for. It's enormous. There's this old terracotta floor, cream-painted cabinets—and they're obviously handmade—gleaming copper pans and a scrubbed wooden table.' The kind of kitchen she would love to have, herself.
'Just as well the paps can't hear you,' Sheryl teased. 'If only they knew that Bambi Wynne the party girl likes being all domesticated.'
'Just as well you won't tell them, then,' Amber retorted, knowing that her best friend was completely trustworthy and would never betray her to the media. She pushed away the thought that she'd actually quite like to be domesticated, pottering round at home with a family to settle down with. Being the centre of someone's world.
She had a fabulous life—one that most people would envy. A nice flat in a fashionable part of London; good friends to meet for lunch and go shopping with; invitations to celebrity parties and cinema premieres. Her time was her own, and if she fancied shopping in Milan, Paris or New York she could just hop on a plane without having to worry. She was on decent terms with all her family, so why on earth would she have this hankering to be tied down?
She shook herself. 'And the rose garden here. I've never seen so many in one place before. You know that corner of the handmade soap shop we like in Covent Garden? Walking through here's even better than that. Like drinking roses every time you breathe in.' On impulse, she wandered over to one choice bloom and picked it. She sniffed deeply and sighed. 'This has to be the most beautiful scent in the world.'
Guy rounded the corner and stared in disbelief. Vera?
Common sense kicked in. No, of course Xav wouldn't have invited his ex to the wedding. Even if Allie knew her through work, he very much doubted that she and Vera would be friends. Allie wasn't in the least bit princessy, whereas his ex-wife had turned out to be a demanding, selfish diva. More fool him for letting his heart rule his head and not letting himself see what she was really like before he'd married her.
Then the woman turned, and Guy realised that he'd actually been holding his breath.
It wasn't Vera.
Though this woman was physically very like his ex: tall and slender, with legs that went on for ever. She wore her hair the same way, in long, dark spiral curls; even though Guy knew better than to act on the impulse, his fingers tingled with the urge to find out if they felt as silky as they looked. And he'd just bet that under those dark glasses she'd have huge blue eyes, enhanced by coloured contact lenses and super-volumising mascara to make them even more striking.
She was obviously one of the wedding guests. One of Allie's friends, he guessed, because she looked the media type—she was beautifully groomed, even in jeans and a T-shirt. And she was chatting happily on her mobile phone as she strolled through the roses, gesturing with her free hand. She looked absolutely carefree.
And then, to his shock, she stooped and snapped off one of the roses.
Oh, now this really wasn't on. He didn't mind people wandering in his garden, but he did mind them interfering with his roses. What would she do next—toss it to the ground and tread on it, now it had served her whim?
He strode over to her. 'Excuse me.'
She looked up. 'Oh. Got to go, call you later,' she said swiftly into her phone, and ended the call before giving him the most dazzling smile. 'Sorry about that. Was there something you wanted?'
He gestured to the rose in her hand. 'Don't you think you should ask first?'
She frowned. 'It's beautiful, and flowers are for sharing. I didn't think Allie and Xav would mind if I picked a single rose for my room.'
'It's not their garden,' he pointed out. 'It's mine.'
'Oh.' Colour bloomed in her cheeks, making her skin look as pink and as soft as the rose in her hand. 'Well, in that case, I apologise.' She gave a disarming shrug and another of those sweet, sweet smiles. 'I guess it's a tad late to ask permission now.'
She pushed her sunglasses up over her forehead to the crown of her head, and Guy felt his body tighten. She didn't have blue eyes. They were a deep, deep brown, and absolutely enormous. And, from his time with Vera, he could tell that she wasn't wearing much make-up at all: not even mascara to define those amazing eyes. Just the barest sheen of lipstick. Then again, she didn't actually need make-up. She had to be the most beautiful woman he'd ever met, including the days when Guy had been married to a supermodel and had mixed with some of the most gorgeous women in the world.
And no doubt she knew just how stunning she was, because she bent her head slightly to sniff the rose, looking up at him. The perfect coquettish pose—one that was very close to his ex's trademark.
'This really is the most amazing scent,' she said.
He knew that. Except he couldn't smell it any more. Only something like the ghost of a scent—so it was more likely that he was simply remembering what they smelled like instead of actually smelling them. And memory wasn't enough. 'Yes,' he said, through gritted teeth.
'I didn't think roses would still be blooming at the end of September.' She shrugged and smiled. 'Still, I guess this is the Med. Or near enough.'
He knew he ought to be polite. She was a guest in his home. It wasn't her fault that he couldn't smell, and it certainly wasn't her fault that she reminded him of Vera. But she'd pressed all his buttons; he was nearly crazy with the frustration of not being able to fix the two biggest problems in his life; and the strain of keeping it from those he loved most—because he knew they already had enough on their plate and didn't need the extra worry about him—wasn't doing a lot for his temper.
'If you don't know where we are, try looking at a map,' he suggested. 'And kindly don't damage any more of my roses.' He turned on his heel and walked off, without a backward glance. He needed to get out of here. Now. Allie's roses would just have to wait.
Amber stared at the man's retreating back. Wow.
What had she done? Were these prize-winning roses and he was the gardener, or something? It would certainly explain why there were so many roses around here. Didn't posh gardeners have lots of different varieties though, and pride themselves on breeding different ones? Most of these roses seemed to be the same colour, cream at the centre shading to a deep blush-pink at the edges.
And what did he mean, it was his garden? Surely it belonged to the chateau and the vineyard? Or maybe he'd been the gardener here for years and felt that it was 'his' spiritually.
All that suppressed anger, over one little rose. Crazy.
Though she felt a tiny bit guilty. He was right about one thing: she was a guest, and she should've resisted the impulse to pick a rose for her room. Or at least asked first.
Never mind. She'd ask Allie about her gorgeous sexy gardener—and if he ever smiled. Because, even though he'd been all brooding and simmering, she'd noticed how gorgeous he was. Sun-bleached fair hair, eyes the colour of a summer evening sky and a mouth that promised passion, all wrapped up with a seriously hot body.
She rolled her eyes. Picking a rose, without asking, was enough of a gaffe. Seducing her friend's gardener would definitely be off limits. Besides, after that embarrassing feature in Celebrity Life a month ago—detailing every single one of her boyfriends over the past year, how long they'd lasted and how they'd dumped her—she'd decided to steer clear of men for a while.
She headed back to her room, filled the glass in her bathroom with water and put the rose in it, then placed it on the table next to her bed.
This place was so gorgeous. OK, so the walls needed a lick of paint and the heavy gold damask curtains were faded and the rug was a bit threadbare, but the half-tester bed was like a fairy princess's. The whole place screamed 'shabby chic' and history. And her room had the most amazing view over the rose garden. It was the kind of room where you'd be quite happy to get up early in the morning, because you'd get to see the sun rising over the garden.
Lucky Allie, having all this at her disposal.
And definitely lucky her, having a friend who could invite her to stay somewhere so fabulous.
She wandered down to the kitchen; Allie was sitting at the kitchen table with someone else she recognised and hadn't seen for ages. 'Gina!' She gave the designer a huge hug, kissing both cheeks. 'When did you get here?'
'The taxi dropped me off ten minutes ago.'
She rolled her eyes. 'You should've texted me. I could've waited at the airport for you and given you a lift. Never mind.' She hugged her again. 'It's so lovely to see you.'
'The coffee's hot, if you want some,' Allie said with a smile.
'Yes, please.' She poured herself a mug from the cafetiere and added a splash of milk. 'By the way, Allie, I'm sorry. I'm afraid I've just upset your gardener.'
'My gardener?' Allie looked surprised.
'He caught me picking one of the roses. He was a bit cross with me.'
Allie frowned. 'I don't have a gard—oh, wait. Was he tall, blond and gorgeous?'
'Tall and blond, yes.' Amber shrugged. 'Gorgeous ' Definitely. 'He might be, if he wasn't scowling.'
Posted January 3, 2011
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