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Authors: Sasha Wagstaff

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BOOK: Heaven Scent
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‘We
are
Ducasse-Fleurie Perfumes,’ Delphine snapped. ‘But you already knew that, of course.’
Cat put down the paperwork with shaking hands. Far from being a penniless waiter, Olivier had been an heir to what had to be a multimillion euro fortune. Why hadn’t he told her? Cat’s eyes filled with tears. Hadn’t he trusted her? Had he assumed that like many women before her, she would only have been interested in him for his money? But if so, why hadn’t he told her after their marriage? Why hadn’t he thought enough of her to tell her the truth then? She had been so sure he loved her, but now . . .
Guy fixed his eyes firmly on Cat, thinking how ghostly pale she looked. ‘We dropped the Fleurie part of our name some years ago but kept it for the brand. I assume you’ve heard of us.’
Cat nodded. ‘Who
hasn’t
heard of you?’ Ducasse-Fleurie Perfumes were as famous as Lancôme or Dior. No wonder the Ducasse family had been treating her with such suspicion and hostility! They hadn’t wanted to get to know her at all. They just wanted her signature on some papers that would get her out of their lives for ever. She was nothing more than a problem Olivier had created, a bit of mess his untimely death had unearthed.
Cat felt both fury and sadness. She had never felt more unwelcome or unwanted in her life. Without thinking, she glanced at her watch, wondering how quickly she could book a flight back to England.
‘You want to pay me off,’ she said in a flat voice. ‘You want me to take this . . . this money and leave. And there was me thinking you’d invited me here because you wanted to get to know me . . . to get to know Olivier’s widow. Christ! How stupid of me.’
Guy, to his credit, had the grace to show some embarrassment but Cat couldn’t even look at him. His part in this hurt her the most because he was the one person in the family who had been decent to her from the start. But it was obviously all a front.
Delphine simply stared at Cat. ‘Will you sign the papers?’ she asked without emotion. ‘We would really like to get this issue tied up as soon as possible.’
Cat got to her feet, colour flooding her cheeks. ‘No, I will not sign the papers!’ She tore them in half for good measure. ‘I didn’t want you to know this but Olivier never said a word about you, he never spoke about any of you. He told me he was a penniless waiter when I met him. He told me he had no money and no family. And I married him anyway.’ She swallowed. ‘Which probably makes me stupid in your eyes, but I loved him.’ Hot tears threatened but Cat held them back with a monumental effort. She would not break down in front of these scheming, heartless people.
Guy felt thoroughly ashamed. He believed Cat. Her shock and dismay were obviously sincere.
Delphine, however, remained unconvinced. ‘Please do not humiliate yourself any further, Miss Hayes,’ she said in clipped tones. She refused to call Olivier’s widow Madame Ducasse – that would be nauseating and utterly unacceptable. ‘This is difficult enough as it is. We have lost a dear relative and we need to ensure that our family is protected. Nothing is more important.’
Cat nodded. ‘I quite agree. Family
is
everything. And as I am not family, I will leave and get on with my life. I have no desire to be part of your business or to take anything from you, not even this pay-off.’ She squashed the thought that the enormous sum of money would be extremely useful since she was out of a job and had no home to go to.
‘We need you to sign something,’ Delphine insisted. ‘If you don’t, you could come back and claim Olivier’s share of the business at any time. As his widow, you are his sole heir but I cannot allow you to just leave without legally stating your intention to step down.’
Cat prickled at the suggestion that she might come back at some later date and demand a share of the perfume business. Judging by the vast sum of money they were offering her to leave quietly, they weren’t concerned about finances; they simply wanted legal confirmation that Cat wouldn’t ever become part of Ducasse-Fleurie. What kind of person did they think she was? ‘I don’t want Olivier’s money. Why can’t you understand that?’
‘This is a legal matter,’ Delphine returned tersely. ‘And you cannot leave until this matter is concluded.’
‘What are you going to do, lock me in my room?’ Cat demanded belligerently. ‘I’ve said my goodbyes to Olivier and I have no wish to stay here. I’m going to pack and I’ll be on the first flight home.’ With that, she turned and left the room.
Guy gathered up the torn papers and slowly shuffled them together.
‘What a performance!’ Delphine sneered. ‘She can’t leave, Guy. We can’t possibly allow her to go back to England without formally stating that she has no claim to our fortune.’
Guy frowned. ‘What are you going to do? Lock her in her room as she suggested?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Delphine snapped. ‘We have to think of something. Actually, aren’t the airports on strike again? Yes, I think I saw something about them being closed again this weekend. Which means we have a few days’ grace . . .’ Delphine looked thoughtful. ‘The family meeting is arranged for Monday. We should invite Miss Hayes, make sure she understands how critical it is that she formally declines involvement on Olivier’s behalf.’
Guy shrugged. ‘As you wish.’
‘I’ll get Seraphina on the case. I saw her chatting to Miss Hayes. She can probably convince her the family meeting is a good idea. And maybe Xavier can assist us,’ Delphine added, not at all sure what she had in mind for him. ‘What do you think?’ she asked Guy.
Guy’s manner was offhand. ‘Anything that will get Xavier interested in the business again is fine with me, you know that.’
Delphine narrowed her eyes. ‘What’s the matter, Guy? Surely you didn’t believe what that girl said?’
Guy looked at his mother. ‘Maybe. If it was an act, it was a very convincing one. And she has seemed overwhelmed by her surroundings since she arrived.’
‘Ah, Guy, you always did have a soft spot for a pretty face.’
Guy’s face darkened. His mother’s disdain reminded him of when he’d first brought Elizabeth home to meet the family; they had disapproved of her and Delphine had always resented Elizabeth’s blond beauty.
He got to his feet. ‘Do whatever you want,’ he snapped. ‘Let’s just get these papers drawn up again and signed. Then, perhaps, we can all move on.’
Frowning, Delphine watched him stride from the room. The Ducasse men were all so volatile and headstrong, she thought crisply. It was just as well she was on hand to sort out this preposterous mess Olivier had got them into.
Chapter Five
The following morning, Leoni stood outside the walled-off graveyard, trying to pluck up the courage to go in. She hadn’t visited her brother’s grave once since he’d been buried because she’d been too angry. She didn’t feel any calmer now but after everything that had happened, Leoni knew she had to get a few things off her chest. Unaware Cat had done the same thing only a couple of days before, albeit in a more peaceful fashion, Leoni stalked towards Olivier’s shiny headstone and allowed her emotions to come to the fore.
‘How could you, you stupid idiot?’ she cried. ‘How could you leave me alone like this? And how dare you marry that girl without even telling me?’ Her chest heaved. ‘There’s no one here on my side any more,’ she wept. ‘Selfish bastard!’ She yelled.
Leoni cried and cried until finally she couldn’t cry any more. She got slowly to her feet and dusted her dress down. She was glad she’d told Olivier how she felt – or his headstone, at least – because it was better than keeping it all bottled up inside, as her grandmother always insisted she should do. She glanced at her parents’ crusty-looking gravestones. Why couldn’t she lose herself in an addiction the way the rest of her family did? Or maybe she did, Leoni acknowledged with a jolt. Instead of drink, narcotics or flings with the opposite sex, business was her addiction – perfume sales and advertising. Business might be challenging but it wasn’t messy and it wasn’t unreliable and it didn’t leave you vulnerable and exposed. Or with some bloody beautiful widow who suddenly had claim to your inheritance because you’d flown off a jet ski doing a backflip.
Leoni choked down a sob and then suddenly froze. She’d heard movement behind her. She spun round and caught sight of Ashton’s blond hair through the mimosa trees in front of the graveyard. She flushed, hoping fervently that he hadn’t heard her screaming like a banshee.
‘Er, is it all right if I join you?’ Ashton emerged cautiously from behind the trees.
‘Of course,’ Leoni said awkwardly. She must look a sight.
‘Have you been giving him a piece of your mind?’ Ashton asked with a smile, gesturing to Olivier’s grave. He saw the panic in her tear-swollen eyes. ‘Don’t worry, I didn’t hear you. I’ve only just arrived. And I don’t blame you one little bit if you were letting rip at him.’
Leoni managed to smile back. He was always such a rock. ‘Is our trip to England still on?’ she asked, taking his arm.
Ashton nodded. ‘My parents are dying to see you again. I said we’d stay with them for a bit, is that all right? Then we can go to London and do some research on those brands you mentioned.’
Leoni nodded, feeling almost content for the first time in ages. The trip to England to research her home fragrance line would be the perfect antidote to everything going on here. Cat Hayes would probably be gone soon and everything would settle down and feel normal again.
 
Sitting beneath a beautiful old sycamore tree, Cat gazed out across a sea of white, frothy almond trees. To the left, she could see what looked like olive trees, apricot trees and jasmine that would no doubt give off the most delicious aromas later in the year.
Cat let out a heavy sigh as she munched on a slice of French bread smothered with apricot jam. La Fleurie really was stunning but beautiful surroundings didn’t mean anything when you weren’t wanted. Cat didn’t feel alone, exactly; the army of staff who tended to the needs of the Ducasse family were highly visible, albeit discreetly. Guy and Delphine always dined together, joined by Seraphina and Max much of the time. Loathe to face the family, Cat had taken to eating alone, usually after the others had left. She had barely seen Xavier, although he apparently resided at the château and Leoni, thankfully, had her own apartment near the perfume warehouse and she drifted in and out – presumably based on her business commitments. Cat wished she could book a flight home but the French were on strike again. How she wished she hadn’t bothered to come! Every time she thought about the legal papers she’d been presented with, she was stung all over again by the insult.
‘Hey,’ Seraphina said, squatting down next to Cat, clutching some brochures and a bag of chinking bottles. She was wearing a grubby pair of black jodhpurs and a tight black T-shirt with a picture of some French songstress on the front.
‘Hey,’ Cat said, giving Seraphina a mistrustful glance, as she finished her lunch.
Seraphina put the brochures down. ‘Don’t be like that! I’m not the one who tried to get you to sign things and buy you off.’
‘You knew about it and that’s just as bad,’ Cat retorted. Instantly, she felt bad. ‘Sorry. I feel like such an idiot.’
‘You shouldn’t. It’s what our family are like. When you have this much money and a château, you end up being very protective of it. The family worked very hard to create the business. It’s natural they want to look after it, isn’t it?’ She pushed a brochure towards Cat. ‘Have a look, read up about it. You should know what you married into.’
Cat glanced at the brochure but didn’t take it. ‘What for? As soon as I can book a flight, I’m out of here.’
‘If you think Grandmother will allow you to leave before you’ve signed something, you’ve very much mistaken. And creating new documents could take ages.’ Her mouth twitched. ‘You know, since you tore the other ones up and threw them at my relatives.’
‘I didn’t “throw” the papers at your relatives. I tore them up and sort of . . . scattered them.’
‘So I heard.’ Seraphina grinned.
Cat clutched her hair. ‘Jesus! I just want to go home. I mean, I don’t have a job or anything but I need to sort one out and I can’t do that here. This is like being in prison, a gorgeous one admittedly, but it’s still a prison because I don’t want to be here.’
‘Thanks.’ Seraphina pouted. ‘I’ll try not to be offended.’
‘Actually, it’s your father I’m most upset about. I thought he liked me but I was obviously wrong.’
Seraphina shrugged. ‘I’m sure he does like you, but Grandmother’s the boss around here.’
Cat flipped through the perfume brochure listlessly.
‘Why don’t you attend the family meeting on Monday?’ Seraphina suggested brightly. ‘Then you can see exactly why everyone is freaking out and going on about you signing papers.’
Cat looked up, her eyes fixed shrewdly on Seraphina. ‘Did your grandmother put you up to that?’
Seraphina held up her hands. ‘Guilty, I’m afraid. But honestly, I think it’s a good idea. It’s serious stuff, the family business. Once you see it with your own eyes, you’ll understand why Grandmother is doing what she’s doing. She’s not all bad, I promise.’
Cat grudgingly agreed to attend the meeting. Glancing at the brochure again, she couldn’t help reading about Maxim Ducasse-Fleurie, the first family ‘senteur’ – or ‘nose’. ‘So your great-grandfather created Rose-Nymphea?’
Seraphina nodded. ‘It was the first Ducasse-Fleurie perfume, launched in nineteen fifty-one, thirty years after the legendary Chanel No. 5 came on the scene.’ She stopped and grinned. She was quoting from the brochure.
‘Hush, let me read,’ Cat said with a smile.
Inspired by his love of both roses and his beloved Monet paintings, she read, Maxim had given Rose-Nymphea, the rose and waterlily-scented perfume, a floral revamp in the early seventies before his death. But apart from a few minor fragrances, he hadn’t been able to match the success of Rose-Nymphea which became the signature scent for Ducasse-Fleurie.
BOOK: Heaven Scent
6.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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