Amelia Weatherbee had inherited his family's chateau, and Remy de Fournier vowed he'd buy it back at any cost.
But Amelia's price was high. She wanted the man from the tabloidsthe privileged comte, the celebrity loverto teach her the art of seduction for one month. And Remy was only too happy to oblige. But Amelia's sweetness and her innocence struck something deep inside him. When their thirty days of passion ended, would he get more than he ever bargained for?
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Wild, zany Aunt Tate dead?
Amelia flipped her cell phone shut. Then her grip tightened on her steering wheel as she rounded a curve of green mountain, and the tall hotels of Waikiki vanished in her rearview mirror. Why couldn't her mother ever just answer the phone?
Amy punched in her mother's number once more, and again it rang and rang.
After Aunt Tate's horrid French attorney had told her her aunt had died, Amy had stopped listening for a second or two. The next thing she'd caught was, "She left you everything."
Everything should have included only Ch teau Serene and the vineyard in Provence where Amy had once shared sparkling summers with Aunt Tate and her haughty comte, but her aunt had not quite finished the process of donating her extremely valuable Matisse to a French museum before her death. She'd left a letter to Amy in her will stating her intentions regarding the painting, but technically the Matisse was hers, as well.
"I'm afraid the property is in a pitiable state of neglect. Luckily for you the young comte is ready to make you a generous offer. Naturally he would like to buy the painting back, as well. Surely it belongs on the wall in the home of the family who's owned it for nearly a century."
"The comte's family disliked my aunt. I'm not sure I want to sell to him!"
"But, mademoiselle, the ch teau belonged to his family for nearly eight hundred years."
"Well, apparently everything belongs to me now. Goodbye!"
She'd immediately called Nan, her best friend, who'd been in a sulk because she hadn't gotten to go on a retreat on Molokai with her sister Liz and had asked her to cover for her at Vintage, her resale shop, during the sale today. Then she'd tried to call her mother to tell her about Tate and to ask her if she'd work at Vintage so that she could fly to France to check on the ch teau and vineyard.
Imagining her customers lined up outside Vintage, Amy pressed the accelerator, speeding through the mountains and then along the rugged coastline where waves exploded against the rocks. The shop didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Life was short. She wanted Fletcher, her long-time boyfriend. She wanted his arms around her. That was why she was driving as fast as she could to his beach house on the North Shore.
Aunt Tate was gone. On a day like this there should be a rogue wave hurtling toward the Hawaiian Islands or an earthquake about to topple the hotels in Waikiki.
Despite the wind pounding the hood of her Toyota and streaming past her windows, the North Shore of Oahu with its lush, green mountains and wide, white beaches and ocean was beautiful.
Amy felt sad and restless and increasingly nostalgic about Aunt Tate as she kept redialing her mother. If only she could reach her.
I'll never watch Aunt Tate put on one of her crazy getups again. I'll never hear her throaty laugh as she bows extravagantly and jokes about being a countess.
The bright blue sky misted. Amy's eyes burned.
No! She wasn't crying!
She was driving too fast, and she never drove too fast. With a shaking hand she dialed her mother again, only this time she mashed her cell phone against her ear.
Sounding out of breath, her mother caught the phone on the eighth ring. "Hello!"
"Mom! Finally! The most awful thing has happened! I've been calling you and calling you. For hours." The last was an exaggeration, but her mother deserved it.
"Do you need more money? Me to sign another mortgage paper onVintage? Where are you, sweetie?You're breaking up. Isn't today your big day? How's the sale going?"
"Mom, I'm not at Vintage. I'm on the North Shore."
"Amelia, I thought we agreed you weren't going to chase Fletcher any more!"
Do moms ever step out of the mom role? The last thing she needed was for her mom to start in on how irresponsible and indifferent Fletcher was. Why had she called her mom, of all people?
Because Carol, favorite daughter, her sister, had married wellan English lord, no less. Carol lived on an estate an hour out of London, and it was in the middle of the night over there. Because her best girl buddy, Liz, was in Molokai sitting cross-legged at a retreat. Because Fletcher's phone was turned off as usual. Because Mom was Tate's sister. Because she was her mom, for heaven's sake. And if she had to go to France, who would take care of Vintage?
Shells crunched under Amy's tires as she braked in front of Fletcher's unpainted house. As always the house and neighborhood looked so shabby they creeped her out.
"Amelia! Tell me you didn't drive out to Fletcher's alone!" Amy gritted her teeth.
"You could do so much better."
"Mother, I'm grown."
"Sometimes I wonder. Carol wouldn't have wasted her precious time"
"Don't start on Carol, either!"
"This is all your father's fault. He was a loser, but you were his favorite. And you couldn't see through him. You feel comfortable with losers like him."
"You married him."
"Don't remind me."
"Not that I'm glad he left me or that's he's dead, God rest his soul."
From her car Amy nervously scanned the broken-down cars and trucks in Fletcher's front yard. Then she spotted Fletcher's yellow longboard in the bed of his old blue pickup and felt a surge of relief.
Her mother sighed.
Amy had never liked the house he'd bought and rented out to surfers or the communal lifestyle that went with it, but real-estate prices were high on Oahu. She was hardly in a position to criticize. Here, people of ordinary means had to compromise. Since the value of her mother's house had appreciated exponentially over the past two decades, Amy had had to move there to save on rent and to help her mom with the property taxes.
"Amelia, are you still there?"
Amy's fingers traced the smooth leather of the steering wheel. "Mom, listen. This lawyer from France with a snotty accent and way too much attitude called me."
"What did he want?"
"Aunt Tate died in her sleep last week."
"II can't believe this. II just talked to Tate. She said she'd been to all those parties in Paris."
"Mom, they already had a memorial service. She's been cremated and put in a niche or something at Ch teau de Fournier."
"What? And nobody called her only sister? They stuck her in Ch teau de Fournier? She hated that place!"
"Apparently they just found Tate's address book today." Her mother was silent, in shock, or more likely a sulk. Like a lot of sisters, she and Tate hadn't always been the best of pals. Tate had done what the women in their family were supposed to do. She'd married up, way, way up, landing a French count the third time around. And she'd never let her family forget it. She'd sent newsy Christmas cards every year to brag about parties at ch teaux after her glamorous stepson's Formula One races, trips to Monaco and round-the-world cruises on friends' yachts. Her step-children were all celebrities in their own fields. But the main headline grabber had been Remy de Fournier, the handsome, womanizing Grand Prix driver. Not that Tate had boasted much about him lately. Apparently he'd retired from the circuit rather suddenly last year.
After one of Tate's bright cards or calls, her mother would sulk for days, blaming Amy's deceased father for never having amounted to anything.
"You're not going to believe this, Mom, but Aunt Tate left me everything. Ch teau Serene, the vineyard, even the Matisse."
"What? That painting alone is worth a fortune."
"Aunt Tate intended to donate it to a museum."
"You can't afford to be so generous."
"Mother! Your baby's all grown-up. I'm afraid I need to go over there to settle Aunt Tate's affairs, pack her personal belongings and inspect the property. I hate to impose, but could you possibly watch Vintage?"
"I suppose. If it fails, who'll pay the mortgage? I'll need a day, maybe two. After that, I'd be glad to. To tell you the truth, I've been a little bored lately."
Which probably explained why her mother tried to run her life all the time.
"Mom, could you help Nan handle the sale today?" This question was met with silence. "Just for an hour or two? Please! Just to make sure Nan's not overwhelmed."
Her mother sighed.
Amy thanked her and hung up. Now all she needed was for Fletcher to hold her and make everything feel all right again.
WhenAmy opened her car door, the wind tore it from her grasp and whipped her long, brown hair back from her face. Her sandals sank deeply into the shell road, making each step so difficult she was almost happy to step into the high grass of Fletcher's yard. With less annoyance than usual, she picked her way through scratchy weeds, beer cans, fluttering fast-food wrappers and plastic sacks. Usually she hated the flotsam and jetsam of Fletcher's front lawn.
Lawn. If ever there was a euphemism.
Today she was too anxious to throw herself into his arms, inhale his salty male scent and cling to him forever, to obsess over her issues with his bachelor lifestyle.
He hadn't known Aunt Tate personally, but he'd scribbled Amy a postcard or two when she'd spent those months in France. One-liners, yes, but for Fletcher, that was a lot.
When Amy reached the rickety wooden stairs that climbed the fifteen feet to his deck, she noticed four triangular bits of red cloth flapping from the railing. She picked them up, fingering the damp strings and then the triangles of what appeared to be the tops of two miniscule bikinis. When she heard music, she frowned. Was Fletcher having a party without her?
A singer cried, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Then the sound of a steel-string guitar accompanied by the heavy thudding of drums.
Her throat tightened, and she flung the bits of fabric savagely into the grass. Avoiding the front door, which stood ajar, Amy put her hands on her hips and marched around to the back of the house by way of the deck. Rounding a corner too fast, she almost stumbled over a bloated male body. His beer gut moved up and down, so he had to be alive. But his shaggy hair was filthy, and his sunburned arms sported several tattoos. She didn't recognize the spider tattoos, so maybe he wasn't one of Fletcher's regular roommates.
No sooner had she scooted around him when she saw six or seven more bodies sprawled on the deck, over the hoods of cars in the backyard and across the lawn furniture. A boom of deep male laughter accompanied by wild squeals in the Jacuzzi made her heart speed up.
She turned slowly. Sunlight glinted in his tousled curls as he squirmed on the edge of the tub while balancing two topless blondes on his lap.
Amy dug her fingers into the railing so hard a splinter bit into her thumb.
When she cried his name, Fletcher bolted to his feet. He wasn't wearing a suit. To his credit his handsome face turned red. "Aw, baby, you should've called."
The girls toppled into the Jacuzzi with a splash. Squealing, they grabbed at Fletcher's bronzed legs.
Horrified, Amy began to back toward the front of his house.
"Baby!" Fletcher yanked a wet towel off the floor of the deck. Whipping it around his waist, he stomped toward her, leaving big, drippy footprints on the deck.
She ran, leaping over unconscious surfer bodies, plates of half-eaten pie and overturned beer bottles, her feet flying down the steps into the chaos of cars in his front yard. But he was faster. Springing down the stairs with the agility of an orangutan, he grabbed her arm.
"Baby, I know you think you've got a right to be mad, and you do, you do, but I can explain."
His voice was slurred, and he reeked of beer. A smear of lipstick marred one prominent cheekbone.
She jerked free and stomped past the cars to her Toyota. "Look, I know I should have invited you to the party!" he yelled. "But you hate my parties. You refused to move in with me. You never want to do anything fun anymore. Ever since you got the store, you act as old and boring as those old clothes you buy and sell. And when it comes to sex, forget it! You never want to try anything new."
"Maybe because I'm tired after working all day."
"Which you throw at me constantly."
"Maybe because I want you to grow up."
"Maybe I'm as grown-up as I'll ever be. I have money. I bought this house. I run it. So what if I don't have a real job?"
She looked at him, at the plastic sacks fluttering like ghosts in the over-long grass, at his unpainted house and then down at the beautiful beach. "Is this all you'll ever want?"
"What's wrong with this? My old man worked himself into an early grave. Luckily he left me enough so I can get by. I wake up to paradise every day."
The blondes, wrapped in towels now, were standing on the deck watching Fletcher.
Would Fletcher's girlfriends get younger every year? Amy fumbled in her purse for her keys. When had everything changed? Grabbing her keys, she punched a button and got her door unlocked. Then she climbed in and slammed it. As she started the engine, she rolled down her window. He ambled over and smiled at her.
Oh, God, his eyes were so startlingly blue, so warm and friendly and sexy even now, but dammit, her mother was right. She couldn't live with him.
But could she live without him? "You know what, Fletcher? I'm tired of having to feel lucky to be dating the good-looking, popular guy that all the other girls want. I want to be wanted."
"You're not the only one who needs to grow up." She hit the accelerator so hard her tires slung bits of shell against his bare shins.
"Sorry!" she whispered when he let out a yelp. And she was. She was sorry for so many things. Sorry she'd disappointed her mother. Sorry about her dad . Sorry about all sorts of dreams that hadn't panned out.
A mile down the road, she began to shake so hard she didn't feel she could drive without endangering innocent strangers, so she pulled over.
She had always loved Fletcher. To her, he was still as gorgeous as he'd been in high school. But this wasn't high school.
She flipped her visor down and stared at herself in its mirror much too critically. Normally when she wasn't comparing herself to naked teenagers with Barbie Doll hair and pole-dancer bodies, she didn't feel that old.
Today she'd been too busy because of her sale to bother with her makeup and hair. The wind and humidity hadn't helped. Her brown hair hung in strings. Grief hadn't helped, either. Her hazel eyes were red, and her mascara was running.
Images from the past swept her. She'd gotten a crush on Fletcher in kindergarten. By the sixth grade, maybe because he'd failed a year, he'd been almost as tall and cute and golden as he was now. Back then he'd been reckless and daring and the most popular boy in school, while she, Nan and Liz had been bookworms. Only, one day he'd run up to them at recess and painted a mock tattoo of a heart on Amy's left arm. Then he'd kissed her cheek and stolen her book.
Amy had felt like Cinderella at the ball with her prince. Her cheek was still burning when he'd returned her book three hours later and kissed her again. He'd teased her like that for a few more years. Then they'd become serious in high school. Or, at least, she had. She'd told herself she could wait.
She was still waiting.
But not anymore!
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