Love and Smoke

Love and Smoke

by Jennifer Blake
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Overview

Love and Smoke by Jennifer Blake

Riva Staulet's cool beauty belies the passions roiling within her. Now, she has everything she has ever wanted. But it hasn't always been that way. Many years before, there was a charming, handsome man who tried to take everything from her. Now he has his eye on the governor's mansion and Riva has not forgotten his cruelty....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780449146828
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/01/1990

About the Author

Dubbed "the steel magnolia of women’s fiction," Jennifer Blake has written more than seventy books, including Shameless, Royal Seduction, and Garden of Scandal. A charter member of Romance Writers of America, she has been inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame and is the recipient of the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. Her novels have been translated into twenty three languages and sold more than 35 million copies worldwide.

Read an Excerpt

1

SHE COULD DESTROY him. The knowledge of her power was like white heat in Riva Staulet's brain as she sat watching the man on the speaker's platform. There was pleasure in it, and triumph. There was no man she despised as much as Edison Gallant, the newly announced Democratic candidate for governor of Louisiana, and none who had hurt her more. At the same time, the consciousness of her will to use that power made her uneasy. She was not vindictive by nature, and the satisfaction she felt at having the means to stop Edison seemed wrong. Not that she meant to allow such scruples to stand in her way. The consequences of failure were too great.

Nothing of the turmoil Riva felt was apparent. She sat with her hands loosely clasped in her lap and an expression of polite interest on her clear-featured face. She was still beautiful at forty, a woman of elegance and grace dressed in monochromatic perfection in cream linen with the lustrous double strands of the famous Staulet pearls about her neck. Her hair was glossy with health and without a sign of gray in the golden brown, classic chin-length style. Her oval face had a serious cast, in part the effect of her dark, straight brows. A wide-brimmed hat of cream Italian straw shaded green eyes that had a warm gold rim around the iris, and cast lacy shadows across her high cheekbones. It was a practical hat against the hot Louisiana sun that beat down on those gathered for this "old time" political rally, but at the same time it added an air of mystery. She looked like a lady, cool and self-possessed, but one who kept her secrets.

Riva knew exactly what she looked like, and why. If she had learned anything in the twenty-five yearssince she had last seen Edison Gallant, it was control of her emotions.

He had changed. He was heavier, his voice was richer and deeper, and there was silver shining in his perfectly cut blond hair. There was about him the burnished appearance that actors and professional politicians take on. Regardless, his eyes were still piercingly blue, and there was something about him that made every woman in the audience sit up a little straighter and smile when he looked her way.

Every woman except Riva Staulet. She met his gaze as it moved over her without a flicker of response. Her stillness, the impassive watchfulness of her, caught his attention, for he paused in his sweep of the audience. Uncertainty flickered across his face and was gone. He gave the smallest possible nod in her direction before he continued with his speech.

Edison didn't know her. He thought he did, no doubt, thought he recognized the widow of the well-known businessman Cosmo Staulet, the woman who was now co-owner, with her stepson Noel Staulet, of Staulet Corporation, a multinational company with interests as diverse as sugar and oil, marine insurance and microprocessors. It was not surprising that he should think so. Her face often graced the business and social pages of newspapers all over the state, particularly those of the New Orleans dailies during the Mardi Gras season, and was not unknown in the tabloids of the larger cities on the Eastern Seaboard and in Europe. She had been cited for her efforts toward historic preservation and restoration, both in general and on her own antebellum plantation known as Bonne Vie. Her decorating skills as shown in her "cabin" in Colorado and her villa in the islands had appeared in Architectural Digest and Modern Home, and she had been approached more than once by those behind the television program "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," though she had refused the opportunity to be featured. She was a woman of high visibility but one selective about where she chose to appear. However, it was not who she was that was important at this moment, but who she had been.

She would swear that Edison did not recognize her at all. She did not know whether to be pleased or angry, complimented or saddened.

Riva had known of Edison's political maneuvering for some time, for years, in fact. She could have put a stop to it long ago, and perhaps she should have. It was Cosmo who had counseled restraint. Mere revenge was beneath her dignity, he had said. Let the past remain in the past. Everyone knew what happened when you touched pitch.

Cosmo had been fond of maxims. He had also been wise. It didn't matter. He was gone, had been dead these six long months, and things had changed. She would have to touch pitch. The only question was how dirty she would get.

The people on the platform behind Edison looked hot. The two other candidates for office who had already spoken and Edison's campaign chairman, the organizer of this south Louisiana political rally, sat squinting while perspiration trickled down their faces. Edison's wife, in navy silk, fanned herself with her handkerchief, and his sandy-haired son twitched his broad football player's shoulders and tugged at his shirt collar.

The smell of the jambalaya, rich with ham and shrimp, that was waiting to be served wafted over the gathering. Mingling with it was the alcoholic yeastiness of the chilled kegs of beer that had already been broached and the hay scent of the park's freshly mown grass. A soft breeze brushed over the crowd, alleviating the heat for an instant and stirring the leaves of the live oaks that were dotted about the grass to a cool-sounding whisper. The instant the wind died, the hot and humid air closed in again.

Beside Riva, the man who was her escort for the occasion shifted in his chair, then lifted a fist to stifle a yawn. She gave him a swift smile of apology. Listening to political speeches, she knew, was not Dante Romoli's idea of a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Dante only shook his head with its close-cropped brown curls, his dark gaze wry but patient. He was with Riva, and that was what mattered.

There came the clatter of applause. Edison Gallant, with a last two-handed wave, stepped away from the microphone. His campaign manager made an announcement about the gumbo and the jambalaya that had been waiting as long and was as spicy-hot as the audience was overheated. People began to rise from their folding chairs, chatting among themselves, moving to seek the shade of the oaks or the food tents set up in a row.

"Aunt Riva! Over here!"

Riva turned at the hail. Bearing down upon her was a young woman so vividly attractive that heads swung around as she passed. Her hair was golden blond and curled abundantly about her shoulders, and her eyes were clear and sparkling green. She moved with a model's long, confident stride and such total disregard for how she looked that it was disarming. Riva's face lighted at the sight of her niece, her sister's daughter, and she braced herself for Erin's exuberant hug.

Erin greeted Dante, then turned back at once to speak to Riva. "If I had known you were coming, I'd have saved you a seat in the shade. Why didn't you tell me?"

"It was a last-minute impulse."

"There must be a lot of that going around. I met Noel just now. Seems one of his old college buddies is in charge of this get-together and persuaded him to come."

Riva looked past her niece and nodded to the tall, dark man who sauntered in the girl's wake. Her greeting was as stilted as the one she received in return from Noel Staulet, her dead husband's son by his first marriage. Since she had seen Noel scant hours before at the breakfast table, there was no call for transports, but the reserve between them suddenly struck her as absurd, as absurd as the familiar pain it gave her. They were two adults, and it was more than twenty years since the afternoon Cosmo Staulet had sent his only son away for her sake. Noel had not been a displaced child at the time, but a young man fully five years older than she had been herself. She recognized that Noel had valid reason to resent her and tried to make allowances. The relationship between them had been less than cordial since his return from near exile in France just before Cosmo's death, but surely it would do him no permanent injury to be pleasant in public.

Her niece Erin was rattling on, claiming her attention. "I know what it is, though, Aunt Riva, you can't fool me. You wanted a look at Josh, that's what. Wasn't it sweet of him to sit up there sweltering just to support his dad? And isn't he a certified hunk? Come on, I'll introduce you. You can meet the next governor, too!"

Riva permitted herself to be pulled forward. Perhaps it was better this way, more natural. She glanced over her shoulder at Dante, who had fallen into step beside Noel as they trailed after Erin and herself. Dante's presence at this meeting would be comforting, but it was unplanned. If it turned out to be a mistake, it could not be helped.

Edison was holding court under the gnarled branches of a grand old live oak. There were members of the press gathered three-deep around him, something Riva might have expected if she had taken the time to think about it. She hung back, unwilling to interrupt what was apparently an impromptu news conference. Erin veered to one side, waving to Edison's son.

A grin split Josh Gallant's square face as he saw Erin. He lifted a hand, waded out of the congestion around his father. As the introductions were made, Riva gave the young man her hand. There was something about his confident blue gaze, the curve of his mouth, the lift of his chin that made her throat close for a stifling instant.

"Mrs. Staulet," he said, "I've heard so much about you from Erin that it seems I know you already."

She summoned a smile. "Yes, I ... have to say I feel the same."

The young man shook hands with Noel and Dante, then glanced over his shoulder. "I think the press hounds have had about enough. I know Mom and Dad will want to meet you."

A moment later, Riva was standing before Edison Gallant and his wife. A nervous tremor moved down her spine, then faded away. She held her head high, drawing on years of poise gained in rarefied social circles and buttressed by old money and new accomplishments. She was no longer a barefoot country girl in a faded gingham dress. There was no reason to be intimidated.

"Erin's aunt? I would have said her sister," Edison said with practiced charm as the formalities were completed. "It's a great honor and a pleasure to have you here. My wife and I appreciate you taking the time from your busy schedule."

On cue, Anne Gallant murmured, "Yes, indeed." She stood a little stiffly, as if self-conscious in her role as political wife. She was perfect for the part, very much the Junior League matron with a white Peter Pan collar on her dress, navy and white spectator pumps, and no jewelry. Regardless, there was an odd mixture of boredom and apprehension in her hazel eyes. As she glanced toward her son Josh, who had an arm around Erin, the fixed smile on her face grew warmer and more animated.

"The pleasure is mine," Riva said, and was proud of the even, composed sound of her voice. She dismissed Edison's comment as obvious flattery. However, the light of appreciation in his eyes was unsettling. She preferred this contact between them to be impersonal, and over with as quickly as possible.

One of the photographers with the news crew that was moving off looked back. When he saw Riva and her niece, he swung around to return, taking the lens cover off his camera once more. Whether he recognized her or was only attracted by the picture she and Erin made with the new candidate and his wife and son was hard to tell, but his attention appeared to be fixed on Erin. The dark-haired and lanky young man grinned at the girl before he lifted his camera and began to focus.

Riva was used to being in front of the camera, but this wasn't a meeting she cared to have recorded. She lifted her hand in a gesture of denial. It was never finished, however, for Edison was already flashing his quick smile, already putting his arm around Erin. The five of them froze in place as the camera clicked and whirred.

The photographer called his thanks, walking backward with his gaze still on Erin, before he finally swung around and broke into a trot to catch up with the other newspeople. Riva wished she knew what paper the young man was with so that she could kill the picture. Failing that, she could only hope that with so many others taken today, this particular one would hold little interest.

Edison turned back to Riva. "We were speaking of Erin, weren't we? She's really been a fantastic help at campaign headquarters. More than that, she does wonders for the looks of the place."

"I'm sure the experience has been valuable for her." Riva's voice was clipped. Erin was a law student at Tulane, so she was hardly the giddy volunteer he made her sound.

"I hope so," he answered easily. "She's certainly valuable to us."

Noel Staulet and Dante Romoli were introduced to the others as they joined the group. For a moment they all stood exchanging pleasantries, discussing Edison's speech, commenting on the large turnout of people. Then Josh left with Erin on the pretext of searching among the food tents for something to eat.

There was a lull in the conversation. Edison Gallant glanced around, as if in search of other worthy citizens whom he should greet. Riva felt Dante's hand on her elbow, saw him ready to excuse himself and her with him, and she took a steadying breath.

"I wonder, Mr. Gallant," she said, "if I might have a word with you?"

His attention instantly returned, his blue eyes holding speculation. "By all means. I'll have my secretary set up an appointment. Perhaps lunch on Monday?"

"Now, if you please. I'll only keep you a moment, and I believe you'll find it beneficial."

Riva was aware of Dante's concerned gaze upon her and Noel's quick and narrowed glance. She ignored them as she waited for Edison's reply.

His gaze moved swiftly, though with discretion, down the curves of her body before returning to her face. He smiled with a brief movement of smoothly molded lips. "As you like. Shall we walk over there under the trees?"

He neither excused himself nor apologized to his wife and the others, but turned at once in the direction he indicated. Riva touched Dante's arm, said she would meet him at the food tents in a few minutes, then moved to join Edison. It was Noel's stare she felt on her back, however, as she and the candidate for governor walked away.

Her mind felt numb. She could not quite believe that she was calmly strolling over the grass with the man she had detested for so long. To give herself time to decide how to say what she must, she talked inanely about the organization of the rally, which men's clubs had cooked the jambalaya and the gumbo, which business in town had contributed the tents, and how such things indicated support for his campaign. At last they came to a spot in the deep shade of a live oak that was far enough away not to be overheard, yet near enough so that the presence of possible observers would prevent any unpleasantness.

Riva removed her hat and ran her fingers through her hair to loosen it. She met the eyes of the man beside her and lifted her chin. "I'm afraid I may have misled you. The matter I would like to discuss isn't political."

"That's too bad." His tone was noncommittal, though his smile was warm and his blue gaze bright. "I was beginning to look forward to a close association with Staulet Corporation. And with you."

For an instant, Riva was reminded of what she had once seen in this man, once felt for him. There was genuine charm buried under the layers of self-interest. It had not always been buried so deep.

"The problem," she said, her voice hardening, "is that our association is entirely too close already."

His brows snapped together in a frown. "I don't understand."

"I'm speaking of my niece and your son Josh."

"Josh? What has he done?"

"Done? He hasn't done anything. It's who he is."

He stared at her for a long moment. Finally he said, "You'll have to forgive me, Mrs. Staulet, but I haven't the vaguest idea what you're talking about."

"I don't want your son seeing my niece. I want you to put a stop to it."

A laugh that held both surprise and annoyance broke from him. "Josh is over twenty-one; they both are. What do you expect me to do?"

She had anticipated his attitude and his question. "You can send Josh to your campaign headquarters in north Louisiana, to Shreveport."

"And I should do that on your whim?"

"It would be advisable."

"Your advice, of course."

He was losing his caution as his temper rose. No doubt he had accepted that he wasn't going to get a donation from her.

Gently she said, "It's something more than that."

"Are you threatening me?"

"How can you suggest such a thing?" Her words carried a faint edge of mockery. How good it was to have the upper hand after all these years.

"I think you had better tell me exactly what you're getting at, lady."

"I've told you. I don't want my niece having anything more than she already has to do with any member of your family, and it's to your advantage to see that I get what I want."

"If I don't?"

"Then the press will learn that twenty-five years ago you committed bigamy."

Bigamy. The word hung between them in the hot stillness. From far away came the sound of voices and laughter and the music of Cajun fiddles now ringing out from the raised platform where Edison had spoken. Overhead the leaves of the live oak rustled for an instant in a breath of a breeze, then fell silent.

Edison's eyes slowly widened. The color left his face. His gaze flickered over her features, testing them one by one. He moistened his lips.

"It can't be."

"Oh, yes, it can."

"You? Little Rebecca Benson? No..." His voice trailed away. He looked away from her clear gaze, staring out blindly at the crowd before turning his attention back to her face as if drawn.

Riva could almost see him weighing the situation, trying to find a way out, trying to think how damaging the charge might be to him. The consequences could be great. The current political climate did not allow public figures much in the way of moral lapses.

She said, "I assure you, I am Rebecca."

"I would never have dreamed it, not after seeing your pictures in the papers all these years. I really can't make myself believe it. But it has to be. No one else--"

"No one knows except me, and I would like to keep it that way."

"Proof," he said, his voice stronger now that his shock was wearing off. "You have no proof."

"I have a copy of the marriage certificate recorded in Arkansas."

She had been married to this man, or so she had thought. For four weeks she had slept with him, made love with him, cooked and cleaned for him, and tried to make a home for them both in a roach-infested apartment of crumbling grandeur on a New Orleans back street that always smelled of frying onions and garlic and cats. Then one day Edison Gallant had said they were not married at all, that it had been a trick. He already had a wife; therefore, the vows they had exchanged together had no meaning, were legally invalid. He had walked out and not come back.

"God, but you've changed," he said abruptly.

"That should be no surprise. I was only fifteen." The words were acerbic.

"Old enough."

Old enough for a night of hasty fumbling in the backseat of a '60 Chevrolet convertible, for games on grimy sheets, for loss and humiliation.

"Never mind," she said tightly. "I think you will agree that it's best that Erin and Josh don't see each other."

"God, when I think about--"

"Don't! All I want from you is your promise to send your son away."

He gave a slow shake of his head. "Why should I do anything with my son? Why can't you tell your niece not to see him?"

"I prefer it this way."

"What is it? Am I a pariah? Is this some weird case of the sins of the fathers?"

She sent him a hard look, suspecting some undercurrent of meaning. But there was nothing in his face to indicate it. The surface reasons were enough, for now. She gave a small shrug. "As you say. You must understand that I don't want the slightest risk of ever having to acknowledge you as a family connection. At the moment, Erin and Josh are just friends. I would prefer not to turn it into some Romeo and Juliet affair by my opposition."

"I agree they're friends. I also think you're blowing this up way out of proportion. Josh is a good boy, as fine a boy as any girl could expect."

There was fatherly pride in his voice. It gave her a better opinion of him than anything she had yet seen. Her gaze level, she said, "He must take after his mother, not that it matters. I've told you how I feel. And I've told you what I want done about it."

His face hardened and he pursed his lips. "People who want something should be prepared to offer a return."

"What do you mean?" The timbre of his voice made her nerves contract.

"That I think we should talk, say, over that lunch I mentioned earlier."

"There's nothing to talk about!"

His gaze held hers, and a corner of his mouth lifted. "I say there is. You're trying to blackmail me, and I don't like it."

"This isn't a question of blackmail." There was a suffocating feeling growing in her chest. She should have known it would not be easy.

"What else would you call it?" He put his hand on her arm. "I think, though, that I can persuade you to forget the whole thing."

She shook off his hand. "You must be insane!"

"Am I? How is it going to look, the lovely and rich Mrs. Cosmo Staulet mixed up in a sordid little affair years ago, letting herself be gulled into a false marriage? You can't expose me without exposing yourself, can you? Your friends will laugh you out of town. Who will trust the head of a corporation who has so little judgment?"

"That may be," she said, "but what you don't understand is that it may be worth the trouble to me to stay free of you and yours."

"Is it worth your place on the board of Staulet Corporation or the risk of devaluing the company's stock? I doubt the other members would think so, particularly Noel Staulet. In fact, Staulet would probably be glad of an excuse to force you out. If you're bound to give him the opportunity, there's nothing I can do."

He was sharp, she had to give him that. She had not realized her difficulties with Noel were such common knowledge, and she had certainly not expected Edison to fasten at once on her weakest point.

"Why are you being so obstructive? What I'm asking is no great thing."

"It's the way you asked, lady. I don't care to be treated lightly, and I don't like being threatened."

Quietly she said, "It's more a promise."

"Is it? That's something we still have to thrash out, as well as just what you're going to do for me if I should, by some stretch of the imagination, decide to agree. Now about that lunch date--unless you would prefer dinner?"

The hint of menace in his invitation made her temper rise even as it rang a warning in her mind. There was nothing she could say to convince him at this moment. He was too set on opposing her, on besting her since she had dared to challenge him. It was possible that she might think of some way to bring him to reason in the time between now and a luncheon engagement, but meeting him again anywhere, at any time, was the last thing she wanted to do.

Beside her, Edison stiffened. Riva turned her head to see Noel coming toward them. Cosmo's son moved without haste, with one hand swinging free and his suit coat slung over one shoulder with a finger hooked under the collar. As he neared, his manner was casual but there was nothing relaxed about the way he watched them.

Edison spoke softly so as not to be heard by the approaching man. "The Royal Orleans Hotel, Monday at one. We'll have room service. My secretary will call with the room number."

"Thank you, no," she said with an edge of contempt for so obvious a ploy, then countered with the most patronized restaurant she could call to mind on such short notice. "Commander's Palace. My secretary will reserve a table. In my name."

Before Edison could answer, Noel reached them. His voice was calm and easy as he spoke. "Erin sent me to tell you she is perishing with the heat and has invited a bunch of friends from Tulane back to Bonne Vie for a swim. She has gone on ahead to be sure everything is ready."

"That's fine," Riva answered, though she gave him a searching look. It was not Noel's habit to run Erin's errands, or anyone else's for that matter. However, his arrival gave her a chance to make her departure. "It's really too hot to think of eating just now. I believe I'm ready to go home myself."

"Sounds good to me." Noel turned away with no more than a nod to Edison.

Riva gave Edison the polite farewell she reserved for virtual strangers, then walked away with Noel. She did not look back.

She and Noel moved in the general direction of the food tents and the speaker's platform and the parking lot, which lay beyond them. Their route took them through patches of blinding white-hot sunlight to pools of dappled shade that were cool by contrast, from areas of feet-scuffed dirt to stretches of St. Augustine grass like jewel-green cut-pile velvet.

Riva was grateful for her rescue from a situation that had been getting out of control, though she absolved Noel of any intention of playing the knight errant. She sent a swift glance up at his face. Leafy shadows flickered over his features as he moved, heightening his pensive, withdrawn expression. His appearance, the shape of his head, the set of his wide shoulders, brought a fleeting memory.

This was the way Cosmo had been when she and her husband had first met. He had been forty-six to her sixteen, just as Noel must now be nearing forty-five or six. Noel had his father's air of distinction, that indefinable impression of the aristocrat made up of good bone structure, impeccable taste in clothing, and the confidence that comes from having ancestral portraits in the attic that let you know exactly who and what you are. His black hair had touches of silver at the temples, and his face was brown from the sun. His brows were dark and thick over deepset gray eyes, and his firm chin was finely stippled by the dark beard under the skin. There were laugh lines slashed in his cheeks beneath the high facial bones, and a hint of sensitivity in the chiseled shape of his mouth, though these last two aspects of his personality were not ones he showed to Riva. Not now, not for years.

As if attracted by her scrutiny, Noel turned his head to look at her, saying, "Gallant isn't strong on concrete plans or facts and figures in his speeches, but it seems that what he lacks in substance he makes up for in charisma."

"I suppose he has time to improve before the election."

"Four months isn't that long, not when there are eight other Democrats in the field, not to mention the three Republicans."

"The summer will take its toll, as always."

Noel nodded. "I don't remember my father ever mentioning that he knew Gallant or supported him."

"My father." Noel always gave Cosmo that formal title. There was a time, Riva remembered, when he had called him Dad or Pop, but that was long ago. "I don't believe Cosmo ever met him."

"The two of you seem on friendly terms."

"Not at all."

Noel turned toward her, his gaze direct. "If your association with Gallant is a business matter, maybe I should know about it."

There was logic in that assumption, since anything she did that affected the Staulet Corporation was also his concern. She suspected, however, that it was no more than an excuse to find out what her purpose was in speaking to Edison. "It has nothing to do with Staulet. As a matter of fact, it concerns Erin."

"Speaking to him about Erin is supposed to be to his benefit?" His tone was dry as he watched her.

She forced a smile. "Allow me a little latitude, if you please, as a fond aunt."

"I suppose you were trying to convince him to pay her for her hard work."

It wasn't a bad suggestion, one that might serve as an excuse. She fanned herself with the straw hat she still carried, suddenly feeling overheated. "Erin has spent hours at his headquarters in New Orleans. Don't you think she deserves to be paid?"

"I think she's having fun being involved in the campaign and going around with Josh Gallant. Erin's not the kind to become an earnest, slogan-spouting drudge for a political machine."

Erin and Noel had become close since his return. Riva's niece had been in and out of Bonne Vie for five years, beginning with the day she started at Tulane. Though she lived on campus, the plantation house was her home away from home. Her parents, Riva's sister Margaret and her husband, lived in the northern part of the state. They could not afford to send their daughter to college, particularly such a fine one, so Riva had stepped in to provide both education and a getaway place from academic stress for Erin. It had been a pleasure and a joy, until the girl met Josh Gallant.

"I'm glad you appreciate Erin's finer points." Riva was a little testy on the subject of Erin's future just now, though she trusted it wasn't too obvious.

"Who wouldn't? It's not often you find such a combination of beauty and brains."

Brainy and beautiful, and older by more than seven years now than Riva was herself when Cosmo had married her. Riva felt a twinge of something that might have been envy or even jealousy, if that had not been so ridiculous. She had no interest whatever in being appreciated by Noel Staulet. Anyway, she had at least managed to deflect his attention from Edison.

Or so she thought. She should have remembered Noel's habit in business affairs of subtle moves followed by sudden attacks.

"I would be careful about getting entangled with Gallant if I were you," Noel said. "He has a reputation as a man who likes women, in great variety and often."

Riva sent him a sharp glance. "There's no need to worry. I have no intention of getting entangled."

"I wasn't worried, just thought you should know."

"You will excuse me if I find your concern a bit puzzling." It had been more than twenty years since he had shown this much interest in her personal life, since he had looked at her or addressed her as anything more than a fixture in his father's home or a business associate. It often seemed, in fact, on his rare visits over the years, and even during his stay at Bonne Vie since Cosmo's death, that he avoided seeing her or speaking to her at all unless it was absolutely necessary.

A muscle flexed in his jaw and he turned his dark gaze on her. "There was a time when sarcasm didn't suit you."

"Meaning that now it does?"

"I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe it always did."

Riva opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She was stunned by the dark reflection of pain she thought she saw in his eyes. A hard knot gathered, aching, in her throat.

An instant later, the moment was gone, and all that was left was embarrassment. Riva looked away. They were nearing the tents. For something to say to break the tense silence, she asked, "I don't suppose you know which way Dante went?"

"No." The answer was not cordial.

"I'll have to find him since I came with him."

He gave a curt nod. "I'll see you back at the house, then."

As he strode away, Riva stood watching the stretch of his long legs and the dynamic way he carried himself, as if there were reserves of strength inside him that were seldom called upon, strength unneeded in the business world in which he moved. He was an intensely private man, one difficult to know, though he was acknowledged by many as a strong ally. It was a pity he could not be hers.

Old lovers, like old friends, made dangerous enemies.

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Riva Staulet, a wealthy widow and savvy businesswoman, knows a secret from long ago, one that could shatter lives, perhaps her own, if she reveals what she knows. The man who destroyed her sister’s life, the one now running for governor, could possibly ruin her own hopes, dreams and perhaps even her life. Riva’s mysterious, sharp minded, good looking stepson, Noel Staulet, has his own secret—he’s been in love with his lovely, sophisticated stepmother for many years, but that’s all the more reason why he tries to avoid her at all costs. That was then; this is now. Together again, Riva and Noel make great business partners, as they always did, but their roles are about to change in a way that neither expects. Dark secrets from the 1960s still simmer beneath the sands of time after decades of stillness. A smooth-talking, corrupt politician that Riva knew earlier still wants her, but she can’t afford to let him use her again, not now, not ever. LOVE AND SMOKE releases the fire that bursts into flaming passionate love triangles and an intriguing plot line that doesn’t slow down from page one until the end of the book. Interesting characters with strong motivations make LOVE AND SMOKE another A+++ read from bestselling author, Jennifer Blake.--Reviewed by Camilla Compton