Nine months ago, within hours of purchasing a valuable antiquarian diary for their grandfather, Paula Sinclair’s brother, Eric, was killed by a car bomb and the diary disappeared.
Private investigator, Luc Dupré, and the French police insist the diary was destroyed in the explosion, but Paula isn’t convinced. No trace of either the diary or Eric’s briefcase was found in the rubble, so she believes the diary was stolen. Unfortunately, the diary wasn’t insured and with the bank still owed half a million dollars, Paula cannot sit idly by and watch her beloved grandfather forced into bankruptcy.
Following a mysterious phone call and a series of cryptic postcards, Paula returns to Paris to hear the diary is being offered for sale by secret auction. She’s also learned the diary once belonged to Luc’s family, and when her relationship with Luc changes from business to personal, she’s positive he’s using her to get back the diary.
Genres: Romance / Romantic Suspense / Romantic Thriller
Length: 244 pages
For dinner, they went to a tiny Italian restaurant on the Right Bank, not far from l’Opéra, where Luc held her hand and they drank dark red Italian wine to go with their pizza. The candlelight and the Neapolitan music playing softly in the background were overwhelmingly romantic, but Paula’s nerves were in knots. She wanted to snatch her hand out of Luc’s grasp, tell him she’d found proof of what he was up to, and then leave. But since she couldn’t explain how she’d come by that proof, she refilled her glass with wine and took a very large sip.
Instead of pastry for dessert, they decided on expresso and small glasses of Strega. After the waiter moved away from their table, Luc leaned back in his chair, his dark eyes half-closed and unreadable in the dim light.
She watched him across the narrow table. He’d been fine during dinner, now he appeared tense, on edge. Recalling the click she’d heard while in the den, she wondered if he knew she’d searched his apartment. She’d thought he was still asleep when she went back into the bedroom, but then she’d thought a lot of things about Luc that weren’t true. She’d even been naïve enough to think he was taking care of her interests. “You look very serious. Is something wrong?”
He moved his hand so their fingers were firmly interlaced. “Don’t go back to Montreal. Stay here with me.”
As in forever? “Stay here?” Paula repeated, positive she’d misunderstood. “I don’t understand. Why would you want me to stay here?”
“I want you to live here with me.”
“With you?” She had no idea if she was being proposed to or propositioned. Or if it was all part of the plan to divert her attention while he made off with the diary. She forced a smile. “Nice idea, but it’s out of the question. I have too many responsibilities at home I can’t ignore. For one thing, there’s my job. My grandfather depends on me to run the bookstore. Anyway—”
“You think once this business with the diary is concluded, I will tell you adieu?” He grabbed the sugar bowl, dumped half the contents in his coffee and gave the resultant mess a vicious stir. “Or did what happen between us mean nothing more to you than a vacation adventure? Something to tell your friends about when you return home.”
Although afraid that was how Luc viewed their lovemaking, Paula swallowed her feelings of hurt and forced her mind back, beyond what she’d found in his den to what they’d shared earlier. Luc’s betrayal over the diary didn’t alter the fact there were strong feelings between them. She loved him, and he’d said he loved her. But that was as far as it could ever go. Asking her to stay meant nothing. In fact, his edgy attitude was undoubtedly frustration with a situation he knew to be hopeless. For her, the situation had been hopeless even before she’d found the file and the postcards in his den.
“So, which is it?”
“Neither, actually.” She looked at him for a moment, then shrugged and lowered her gaze. “My grandfather is too old for radical change, and I’m all he has left. I can’t turn my back on him. I can’t, and I won’t.” To her annoyance, her eyes filled with tears, and she reached blindly for the paper napkin in her lap. “So, please, don’t ask me to make impossible choices.”
“I would never do that.” He took the crumpled napkin from her hand and gently blotted her tears. “But if things were different, would you want to stay here with me?”
“If things were different? But they’re not, are they? Until the situation with the diary is resolved, I don’t know what I want. Except—”
I know I won’t sit quietly by and allow you to force my grandfather into bankruptcy.
“I just wish whoever is arranging this auction would get on with it,” she finished with a sigh.
“And when it is, I hope you will talk to your grandfather. Tell him about us. He loves you, so he may be more understanding than you think.”
Us? She picked up a teaspoon and added sugar to her own coffee. “He’s a wonderful and very special man. When Eric and I were very young, our parents were killed in a boating accident. My mother had no family they knew of, so Gramps and Grandma brought us up. He needs me, Luc. Running the store by himself is just too difficult. Then there’s the house. It’s big, but he’s lived there all his life, and he wouldn’t want to move. We have a housekeeper, but it’s not the same. I can’t live here. Don’t you see that?”
“No, I do not see that.” He reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I realize you love your grandfather and that you don’t want to hurt him. But shouldn’t he be allowed to speak for himself? If he is as wonderful as you say, he will want you to be happy. Montreal is not the end of the earth. It’s only a few hours away by air. You can see him whenever you wish.”
Paula was beginning to wish she’d told Luc a simple no rather than bother with explanations and excuses. “You’re right, he would never stand in the way of my happiness. But it’s not that easy. And it’s not only the bookstore and the house. There are other complications that would be difficult if not impossible to arrange. So, unless you would like to give up your business and move to Montreal, can we please drop this?”
“Nothing is impossible if it’s what you really want,” he countered, his thumb caressing the back of her hand as he leaned forward. “I know you won’t turn your back on your responsibilities. And I’m not asking you to do that. But talk to your grandfather. I’m sure a way can be found.”
“You could move to Montreal.”
“I could, but I couldn’t operate my business from there. What I do is very specialized and I doubt if there would be that much call for my services in Canada. I would have to find another occupation.”
She plastered another phony smile on her face. “They’re always looking for people to stock the shelves in supermarkets. It only pays minimum wage—”
“No matter. If that is the only way, then I will do it.”
With Luc determined to brush away any and all obstacles, Paula searched her mind for a way to make him back off without admitting she knew all about his dirty little schemes and plans. About how she’d found the postcards, and that she’d also found confirmation of what she’d learned from de Valois.
Oddly enough what she now knew about Luc made her more sad than angry. Maybe he really did love her, but he loved possessions more and there was nothing she could say or do to change his mind. All the talking in the world wouldn’t change the fact he was a liar and a cheat. And talking wouldn’t pay back the half million dollars her grandfather owed the bank. In the absence of cold hard cash, only bankruptcy and the sale of the bookstore would satisfy the bank. The bookstore was her grandfather’s pride and joy. No way would she stand idly by and allow him to give it up.
Keeping the smile in place, she said, “I wish there was a way, I really do. But there isn’t. Granddad and I have certain obligations we must meet, and that’s fact, not an excuse.”
“In other words, he borrowed the money to buy the diary?”
“Every last penny. It seemed like a good idea at the time. If things had worked out, he would have turned a very handsome profit.”
“If Philippe de Valois is able to get the diary back, perhaps he still could.”
“How? The only way Philippe will get the diary back is if he pays for it.” She sighed, then picked up the glass of Strega and took a tiny sip of the strong, sweet Italian liqueur. “Life would be a snap if it wasn’t for all the lousy ifs.”
“But if it wasn’t for the diary, we wouldn’t have met.”
“And if we hadn’t met, you could have found yourself a nice French girl to have fun with.”
“Is that what you think I want. Just someone to have fun with?”
“I have no idea what you want.”
“I want you.”
Paula’s hand trembled slightly as she put down the glass. “Too bad I’m not available.”
“Then I’ll wait until you are.”
She knew Luc was only talking for the sake of talking, and she wondered why he didn’t give up. He didn’t want a future with her; he was obsessed with restoring his precious family’s wretched collection. And if that necessitated pushing an old man into bankruptcy, then presumably that was just too damn bad. “It could be a very long wait.”
“Maybe so. But this is the twenty-first century. Between the phone and the airlines, we would be able to manage.”
“I don’t understand why you would even want to bother with a long distance arrangement where there’s no end in sight. It could take years for us to pay off the bank.”
“So you said. If it takes too long, I will have to apply for that job in the supermarket.”
“No.” He smiled as he took her hand and pressed a kiss in the very center of her palm, then carefully closed her fingers over it. “Je t’aime, chérie. Je t’aimerai pour toujours. Pour toute ma vie.”
Or until he got his hands on the diary?