Cat shrugged. ‘I expect I’ll fly back at the weekend after this meeting. I haven’t a clue what it’s about but I hope it gets sorted quickly. I have a life back in England.’ She grimaced. ‘Not a great one, admittedly, but still.’
Seraphina picked up the photo album and thrust it into Cat’s hands. ‘Here are some photos of Olivier. I thought you might like to see them.’ Seraphina didn’t want to admit she had an ulterior motive for showing Cat the photos: she wanted to gauge her reaction and check if any tears that appeared were crocodile ones or real ones.
Touched, Cat took the album and opened it. She gasped as Olivier’s grinning face stared back up at her. The hazelnut eyes met hers and Cat traced a finger round his tanned jaw. ‘Do you know, I’d almost forgotten what he looked like,’ she murmured, her voice unsteady. ‘I only had a few photos on my phone and I kept looking at them but somehow I couldn’t quite see Olivier . . . not like this.’ Overcome, she turned the pages of the album, barely able to keep back the tears when she found a photo of Olivier as a small boy, his shoulders already broad and his grin cheeky and appealing.
Seraphina had all the evidence she needed; Cat’s reaction was totally genuine, she was sure of it. ‘Keep them,’ she offered generously. ‘We have plenty of photographs. No one will mind. Look, I’m off for a ride so I’ll see you later, all right?’
‘Thank you . . . this means . . . thanks.’
Cat sat back clutching the album. She flicked through the pages again, feeling sad and alone. Then she jumped up and headed to Olivier’s grave, not even looking over her shoulder to check if anyone was watching her. She found his pristine black gravestone and fell to her knees in front of it.
‘Olivier,’ Cat whispered, her heart clenching. ‘God, I miss you so much.’ She put her head in her hands, utterly distraught but glad finally to be able to say goodbye, something the French officials had denied her. ‘I’m so sorry . . . you said one of the things you admired about me was my zest for life.’ She sniffed, almost breaking into a smile. ‘Not much of that going on at the moment. I’ve done nothing but cry and make a fool of myself since you’ve gone . . . you’d be telling me off for snivelling all over the place if you could see me.’
Staring at the photographs again, Cat remembered exactly why she had fallen in love with Olivier. And reaching out to touch the words engraved into his headstone, she opened up and told him everything, all the things she’d wanted to say since he’d died. At the end, Cat let out a huge sigh and pulled herself together. She had cried enough. It was time now to do whatever his family needed her to do so she could go home and get on with her life. Clutching the photo album, Cat left the graveyard and headed back to her room.
Upstairs, leaning heavily on her cane because her arthritic hip was causing her pain, Delphine watched with pursed lips. A convincing, heartfelt performance; Cat Hayes made a pretty little widow. Delphine snorted. The sooner she and Guy confronted her, the better, she thought, picking up the phone.
‘Bonsoir, Monsieur Gregoire!’ Ashton called to his neighbour who was struggling with some parcels outside his apartment. Ashton entered his own apartment with the same sense of pleasure he always felt when he came back to Paris after a trip away.
Just a few steps away from the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the Parisian apartment was Ashton’s pride and joy. He had heard about it from his former boss three years ago and had only managed to secure it by selling everything he owned of any value, including his house in England, and a vintage car that had been his pride and joy. He had also been forced to accept a generous payment from his parents which basically meant he had nothing left to fall back on; he had effectively already spent any inheritance that would have been due to him.
The purchase had left him severely out of pocket (he was still struggling to claw back his day-to-day expenses) and without a single luxury item to his name, but Ashton didn’t care because this was the kind of apartment he had read about and hankered after for years. Boasting period features, elegant fittings and a traditional
with a stunning vista of the Place de L’Etoile, the apartment was, quite simply, an architect’s dream.
Ashton collected up his post and listened to his answerphone messages. There was a message from Jeanette, a gorgeous Parisian girl he had been out with a few times.
,’ her message said breathily. Call me. ‘
Tu me manques
, Ashton . . .’
Hearing that Jeanette missed him and wanted him to call her, Ashton scratched his head and wondered what to do. She was a lovely girl but something was missing between them, though he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Maybe it was because he spent much of his life in Provence with the Ducasse family . . .
Recognising the writing on an envelope as that of his friend Herve, Ashton forgot about Jeanette and tore it open. Herve was an architect he had studied with who often let him know about sensational buildings that were coming up for sale. He had impeccable taste as well as knowing exactly the kind of buildings that sent Ashton’s heart rate soaring with enthusiasm. Feasting his eyes on the grainy photograph of an astonishingly beautiful building with a sign saying ‘
’ next to it, Ashton felt the familiar buzz that shot through him when he looked at something he would kill to work on. It wasn’t just that the building appeared to be a perfect example of late eighteenth-century, Rococo-style architecture, it looked as though it might be just the right property for Leoni’s Paris shop.
Ashton grabbed his keys. If this place was for sale, he wanted it. He checked the directions and headed to the building on foot. This was why he’d become an architect, he thought to himself, as he darted between chattering tourists and busy shoppers browsing along the majestic streets of the Champs-Élysées. It was this buzz, the thrill of discovering something old and beautiful that could look spectacular when it was developed.
Coming from humble beginnings in Oxfordshire where he discovered a talent for freehand drawing and a love of old buildings, Ashton had decided early on that he wanted to be an architect. He had paid his way through five years of study, plus two stints in professional studios in London and Paris, and had now made a name for himself – a good one. He was very much in demand with high-end clients and the majority of his commissions were split between Paris and the south of France.
Ashton made his way to the Right Bank in the ninth arrondissement, not far from Galeries Lafayette, the glittering department store. He turned into a pretty street off the main boulevard and was soon standing in front of the property. It was on the small side but it was perfect for a perfume shop. It had a wide window at the front and an ornate but welcoming door to the right. It would look beautiful lit up from the inside, maybe with some small chandeliers, Ashton decided. The shop came with a room at the back as well as a flat above it, a tiny space little bigger than a one-bedroomed studio but ideal for a storeroom or small office. Leoni was going to love it, Ashton thought. She would want it instantly, he was sure of it. It was crying out to be filled with discreet lighting and elegant packages with lilac ribbons for people to take away in stiff, white, monogrammed bags.
Ashton noticed an attractive woman standing near the property, making notes in an expensive-looking leather journal. She looked to be in her forties and she had a glamorous coil of russet hair at the nape of her neck. She wore a black trench coat, belted at the waist, and sheer black stockings. Feeling his eyes on her, she threw him a seductive smile, her eyes full of mischief.
Ashton reddened slightly and turned away, he was ridiculously shy and her stare was provocative. Hearing the woman’s heels clicking on the pavement, he looked up to see her sashaying away, her hips swinging sexily and unapologetically as she made her way down the street. Ashton hoped she wasn’t as interested in the building as he was, because he was going to do whatever he had to in order to secure it.
Delphine was feeling very out of sorts as she sat in a café waiting for a friend. Cat Hayes’ arrival had unsettled her. She hadn’t met her personally, so far, but she had been unnerved to see Seraphina chatting to her for so long. Cat Hayes had no airs and graces, according to Guy, and if she was a gold digger, she was hiding it well, by all accounts.
Not that it mattered, Delphine reasoned, sipping her espresso. Cat Hayes could be beautiful, she could be ugly, she could be pleasant or she could be shallow; it was unimportant in the scheme of things. Whatever she was like as a person, Delphine could only imagine one outcome for Cat Hayes: being sent packing on the first suitable flight home with no claim whatsoever to the Ducasse-Fleurie fortune.
‘So.’ Cybille Thibault took a seat opposite her good friend. She ordered an espresso for herself and leant forward, her eyes sparkling with interest. ‘What’s she like?’
Delphine took a moment to formulate her answer. Cybille was a coiffed, chain-smoking dragon who had lived off her billionaire husband’s inheritance since his well-publicised debacle with two underage sisters but she was also an important member of Delphine’s inner circle. Cybille was a gossip but a discreet one and she wielded great power. Somehow, she had survived her husband’s recent scandal unscathed and her opinions mattered greatly. She was also a good friend of the editor of one of France’s best-selling society magazines, which was probably one of the reasons she had emerged apparently untouched from her husband’s shame.
‘Well?’ Cybille frowned impatiently, playing with her cigarettes.
‘I haven’t met her properly yet. But I saw her from a distance and she seemed . . . very normal.’
‘Normal?’ Cybille put her coffee cup down with a clatter. ‘What does that mean?’
Delphine shrugged vaguely. ‘She didn’t look remarkable in any way.’
Cybille sat back and narrowed her eyes. ‘Was she pretty?’
‘She was . . . passable.’
Cybille smiled triumphantly. ‘So she
pretty. I thought so.’ She lit a cigarette, daring the staff in the café to tell her off. ‘The thing to remember about Olivier is that he was a playboy – he played the field and he had his pick of women. Now, did she seem flashy or cheap?’
Delphine sipped her coffee. ‘I couldn’t say. Her clothes weren’t of any note and neither was she.’
Cybille delicately puffed smoke out of her nostrils, somehow managing to make it look classy. ‘You really are being most ambiguous, Delphine! How am I supposed to help you if I don’t have any information?’
‘Help me?’ Delphine raised her pencil-thin white eyebrows.
Cybille considered her. ‘Delphine. How do you think I survived my husband’s disgraceful scandal?’
Delphine patted her chignon with slight distaste. ‘Good connections?’ she offered, not sure what else to say.
Cybille looked smug. ‘Well, yes, that helps, of course. But when cornered, we women need to be smart, we need to be one step ahead of our adversaries.’
‘And how, pray tell, do I get one step ahead of Olivier’s widow?’ Delphine moved her coffee cup to one side as Cybille discreetly pushed a business card across the table. ‘Yves Giraud’, it said in bold, black lettering.
‘A private detective?’ Delphine’s voice rose to a squeak.
Cybille shot her an indignant look, glancing over her sholder to see if Delphine’s raised voice had attracted attention. ‘What are you trying to do, ruin my reputation?’ She looked affronted. ‘I’m telling you about Yves because you are my good friend and because I care about you.’
Delphine inclined her head. ‘Sorry. I just don’t understand why I would need a private detective. I can see why you did – forgive me, I am only speaking the truth here, Cybille – but how does this apply to my situation?’
Cybille lit a cigarette with the dying embers of her other one, giving Delphine a shrewd glance. ‘What do you know about this girl? What do you really know about her? I suspect not a great deal. And why should you? You haven’t even met her yet and all you know is that for some strange reason she married Olivier last year on holiday.’ She grimaced. ‘Talk about “marry in haste, repent at leisure”, or whatever that expression is. Anyway, once you confront her, you may find you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Perhaps she will simply accept your pay-off – you
intending to pay her off, I take it?’
Uncomfortably, Delphine nodded. She detested discussing such vulgarities in a café.
‘Absolutely the best course of action,’ Cybille assured her. ‘And if all goes according to plan, she will be on a flight home in no time. But should she refuse to sign the paperwork or throw something else your way, you need a plan B.’ Cybille tapped the business card with a fingernail painted a garish shade of pink. ‘Yves Giraud is plan B. He’s an excellent investigator and if there is something to find, he will find it. Perhaps Miss Hayes has something to hide? Perhaps Yves might unearth something unsavoury about her she wouldn’t want revealed?’
‘Blackmail?’ Delphine could barely say the word out loud.
Cybille waved her cigarette in the air. ‘Such an ugly word! I prefer to call it insurance. Sometimes, if a situation becomes unpleasant, one has to fight dirty, especially when it comes to family.’
She had said the magic words as far as Delphine was concerned. When it came to family, she would stop at nothing to protect her own.
‘You make a good point, Cybille,’ she said, smoothly sliding the business card off the edge of the table and into her Chanel handbag. She got to her feet, picking up the bill – it was the least she could do. ‘Thank you. I’ll keep you up to date with developments.’
Cybille nodded sagely. ‘You do that,’ she said, reaching for another cigarette.
Xavier strode to the stables restlessly, wondering whether he should give Therese a call back. She’d been badgering him all day and he was about to give in when he discovered his younger brother Max standing next to the dormant lavender fields that would burst into a riot of violet and indigo in June. He was staring down into the rocky valley below, transfixed. Xavier put his phone away. He had been meaning to speak to Max since the party and now seemed as good a time as any.