Authors: Letty James
Table of Contents
MISTRESS FOR HIRE
SOUL MATE PUBLISHING
DREAMS DO COME TRUE
Cover Design by Rae Monet, Inc.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, business establishments, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Published in the United States of America by
Soul Mate Publishing
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Macedon, New York, 14502
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To all the men in my life
who believe in romance.
I will be forever grateful to Sylvia for making Paris
possible, and to Jim who understood that I had to go—for a whole month. And special thanks to Cindy at Soul Mate for being so patient with my crazy schedule.
He entered the pâtisserie like a conquering warrior, indecisive patrons falling aside in the wake of his determination to reach the pastry case. His nostrils flared as he inhaled the essence of the bakery. Nikki shrank back from the power emanating from him as clearly as the smell of freshly baked bread rippled from the ovens in back.
Her grandmother’s letter crumpled in her hand. She thrust it into the pocket of her jacket.
The proprietress pushed through the other gray-haired clerks to wait on the man. “
, Gérard. What can I get for you today?”
To Nikki, the air in the bakery stood still as the massive man swept his chestnut mane off his forehead and his eyes scanned the wide display case full of sweet delicacies.
“Un petit macaron de mangue, s’il vous plaît.”
One small mango macaroon? How could such a large man limit himself to one bite?
“How are we to stay in business with customers ordering one
at a time?” she scolded him teasingly as one would a child.
He smiled slowly, his face softening as he looked at her. “Madame, you would make me fat.” He patted his exceptionally trim middle.
“Hmpf.” Madame shook her head and began to fill a large white cardboard box with pastries. Before she could close it, he thrust out his meaty hand, gesturing for the
. Nikki pushed her glasses up her nose, watching as he popped the red-and-orange-tinted cookie into his mouth. He closed his eyes, his face tilted toward the heavens, and his hands clenched the lapels of his black wool coat.
His groans and sighs filled the small room. Nikki’s body flushed as she imagined him groaning like that over a woman—over her. She pushed her glasses up again and wiped the perspiration off her upper lip, watching his tongue move under his lips, over his teeth. She couldn’t look away. She felt the pleasure as
felt it. The barely-there crunch of crust, the smooth interior, the silk of mango cream across his tongue. His tongue that would slide across hers when he kissed her. Sucking wet kisses that would consume her.
His eyes opened, a smoky blue-gray, targeting her, his stare pinning her to the wall. Could he see her lust—exposed as clearly as if she were naked before him? Nikki held his hot gaze, desire shimmering between them, then broke the contact, staring down unseeing toward the glass case. Her gut clenched and her heart pounded. By the time she looked up, his broad back blocked the light from the door. Not thinking, she stepped after him, only to be caught up short by the swirling gray fog. He had disappeared, taking her fantasies with him.
Gérard Beauvais adjusted his scarf against the chill wind, rustling dry leaves through the dark cobblestone alley and cursed his morning flight of fancy. As he strode away, he ran his hand down his face, blowing out a sigh. His reaction to the blonde had startled him—an instant attraction that made him forget the sensations in his mouth and feel other longings. He’d forced himself to turn away and not be tempted. He had enough aggravation in his life. But something about her niggled at his brain. Her high cheekbones, the tilt of her head.
He stopped short, the string of the pastry box cutting into his fingers. Of course! She had to be Jessica’s sister! The younger one supposedly still in the States. Once he realized it, the family resemblance was obvious, although he had never reacted to Jessica in such a physical way. Cursing his weakness, he tamped it down, his mind rolling over other complications.
Had she come to demand ransom for the files Jessica held hostage? Gérard turned to confront the conniving bitch, tossing the pastries into the nearest trashcan. He would shake her until the answers rattled out of her head.
Rounding the corner, he halted, seeing Tante Emmaline and the blonde in the window. Emmaline patted the younger woman while she wiped her tears with a tissue.
. Jessica only had to pull that trick on him once to see he was immune. Emmaline certainly had a softer heart than he as she pulled the woman further into the bakery, probably to fill the thief’s belly with sweets while listening to some preposterous sob story.
Gérard’s eyes narrowed as he stepped back into the warmth of the bakery.
“Madame, I’ll do anything, even sweep the floors,” Nikki pleaded. Emmaline Guiscard was her last hope.
“Ah, Nikki. If only I could afford to. It seems like yesterday when your grandmother and I dreamed about working in the bakery together again. Oh, how I miss Mimi. But the economic times now. It’s terrible. And with my husband, Victor, gone . . .” The stooped, gray-haired woman spread her arms wide for emphasis, her letter of introduction flopping in Madame’s hand like a broken wing.
Nikki sniffed back more tears and Madame handed her a tissue from her apron pocket. Her whole body ached with fatigue and hunger. She’d been trying to stretch her meager resources since Tim had left her stranded in Amsterdam. Quitting her job at Tim’s urging, the two of them had taken her small inheritance and splurged on the European jaunt Nikki had dreamed of for years.
“Think of it, Nikki! You could go to Le Cordon Bleu, the most famous cooking school in the world.” Tim had built her a fragile dream like spun sugar, never mentioning his own, which apparently included partaking of every vice known to man in Amsterdam. Nikki sent out a silent curse to her former boyfriend. Thank goodness, she’d had the presence of mind to stash some money in the travel wallet around her neck which held her passport. She couldn’t think about how long it would take to earn enough money for a plane ticket home.
She wanted to cry all over again. Mimi was gone, most of Nikki’s friends were married or had left town. Even her own sister, Jessica, had abandoned her, failing to meet her at the train station last night. No big surprise there. Ever since Jessica had left home five years ago, she’d become as unreliable as the weather, always called to a duty more important than family.
Madame Guiscard must have seen the despair on Nikki’s face. She patted her shoulder and hustled her to the back room for a cup of tea and a croissant. Nikki teetered on a metal chair crammed in a corner, while Madame sat in an ergonomic monstrosity behind a battered wooden desk on which stood a brand new computer.
It had taken years to convince her grandmother Mimi to get a computer, and even longer to have her use the email account Nikki had created for her. But once they had found Emmaline Guiscard, the emails had zipped fast and furious over the Atlantic Ocean, from cosmopolitan Paris to the tiny town of Loray, Georgia.
A clerk, wearing a green apron emblazoned with the bakery’s logo, stood at the door holding a tea tray, only to have it taken by a large man in a black coat.
. Nikki’s stomach clenched.
“Gérard! Just the person I was thinking of.” Madame ushered him into the room with a wave of her gnarled hands.
He shut the door forcefully with his foot and set the tray on the desk. “I noticed you had a visitor. Gérard Beauvais.”
Monsieur Beauvais stuck out a massive hand and Nikki stood to grip it with conviction, though her insides quaked—from attraction or intimidation, she wasn’t sure.
Her brain synapses fired in double-time as she put two and two together and came up with more than four. This was
as Mimi had labeled him. His parents, Victor’s brother and sister-in-law, had died in some horrible accident and Emmaline and Victor had taken him in at a very young age. He was also the man Jessica described as,
an arrogant capitalist, worthy of destroying the entire planet
. Nikki had pictured him as a pale, scrawny cartoon of a man, who rubbed his hands together in glee over others’ misfortunes. This man could be on a poster for a romantic adventure movie, with his strong jaw and slightly twisted nose. Perhaps the nose was the result of his domineering attitude?
“This is Nikki Sommers,” Madame piped up. “You remember her sister, Jessica Nichols?”
“Absolutely.” His forceful tone made even Madame blink.
Still, he held Nikki’s hand, looking her over as if she was a fudge cake and he was a very hungry chocoholic. If he kept this up, she’d be melting in his hand.
“Well, then. Sit. Sit.” Madame clucked like a mama hen.
He released Nikki and she stepped back, adjusting her glasses and awkwardly perching on her seat. Beauvais shrugged out of his coat, revealing a charcoal suit of a cut so elegant Nikki would have sworn it was custom made, though she knew nothing about suits. His dazzling white shirt emphasized his olive-toned skin, while a red silk square peeked jauntily from his pocket to match his tie. The soft wool of Beauvais’s coat brushed against Nikki’s face as he reached over her to hang it on a wall hook. She could smell the woodsy lemon tang of his cologne and the powder-like scent of starch in his shirt. His leg touched hers and Nikki jumped up. Big mistake, as now her whole body brushed against his. An almost electric sizzle charged between them. Nikki bit her lip hard to keep from squirming.
He merely cocked an eyebrow. “May I take your coat, Mademoiselle?”
Nikki undid the frogs on her consignment shop cape, which besides her suitcases, had been the only splurge she’d allowed herself for the trip. At the time, she’d thought it elegant and sophisticated.
She could have easily turned around and hung up the cape herself, but handed it over to his waiting hand. He motioned for her to sit before he sat on the edge of the desk. His large polished dress shoe sat mere millimeters from her own battered clogs.
“Gérard, you pour,” Madame chirped.
He deftly poured tea for Madame, added a dollop of milk, and placed a croissant on her plate. The cup rattled in the saucer as she took it from him—he held his hand out, ready to catch it if needed. Madame waved off his solicitousness, but he remained alert until her tea made it safely to the desk.
“Cream? Sugar? Lemon?” His tone sounded too intense to be asking about mere condiments.
“A little sugar, please.” Nikki sat up straighter, refusing to be intimidated.
, her internal voice said, warring with the voice that purred,
yeesss, bad, sexy man
Time to stomp down her inner-hussy. After Tim, she didn’t need any more man trouble. She watched as he dropped a sugar cube into the cup, added hot tea, and stirred. Without asking which pastry she would like, he placed a pear and pistachio tartlet on her plate.
“You’ll like this. Not too sweet.”
He eyed her as her stomach growled. She had eaten nothing since a package of crackers she’d found on the train. She pressed her tummy to muffle the sound, but Beauvais merely gave her a slight smile, and with a tilt of his chin, urged her to eat. The tart tasted of heaven in one bite. The lightly flavored cream filling, studded with the crunch of minced nuts, slid over the ripe softness of the pear. She closed her eyes savoring the morsel.
Madame prompted. “It’s okay?”
“It’s wonderful.” Nikki couldn’t hold back a little moan, then looked up at Beauvais. Heat flooded through her face as he watched her intently—just as she had watched him earlier in the shop.
“Nikki is looking for a job.” Madame turned her attention to Gérard.
“Oh? And what is it you do well, Mademoiselle?” He made it sound like she was capable of nothing.
Nikki straightened her spine, refusing to cower. “My dream is to learn the art of Parisian pastry.” Truly, it had been more of her and Mimi’s dream, created together when Nikki listened to Mimi’s stories of long ago Paris.
“That’s not what I asked.” Beauvais took a bite of croissant, chewing it with relish.
” Madame got no further as Gérard held up his hand, his gold cufflink flashing in the dim overhead light.
“Is that what you do well? Dream?”
“Yes. I mean, no.” Nikki frowned, ticked off at being so easily flustered. He didn’t let her continue.
“Mademoiselle Sommers, if you’re going to get a job in Paris, you have to do more than dream. Do you speak French? Do you expect to jump in at a patisserie as an apprentice and support yourself? Do you possess any skills, Mademoiselle?”
This time, Nikki was the one to cut Madame off. “
Je parle Français.
I speak French. Fluently.” She continued in French, having learned the language at Mimi’s knee. “I’ve been working since the age of nine helping Mimi, my grandmother, sell produce at the market to make up for the meager income she made teaching French to spoiled over-privileged children. I became a file clerk at a lawyer’s office at the age of sixteen. At eighteen, I took a job in a canning factory, working my way up to be secretary to the president. I helped him negotiate contracts with both Belgium and France.” She took a deep breath to tell him of her plans for Le Cordon Bleu, but Beauvais interrupted.
“You speak Dutch as well?” He frowned at her as if he didn’t believe anything she’d told him.
“No. We dealt in French.”
“I see.” He took another bite of pastry. A cell phone rang and Beauvais deftly pulled one out of his pocket, moving to the door as he answered.
Madame gave Nikki a wink.
“Il es formidable , oui?”
Nikki nodded, her face burning with embarrassment. She took off her glasses and polished them with the tail of her shirt, avoiding Madame’s dark eyes. Was it Madame’s idea of a French joke? Great or big? The man could be either one. Formidable, indeed. The man was a walking, talking bundle of coiled energy.
Beauvais returned. Madam sipped her tea and stared at the computer screen. Listening or oblivious, Nikki wasn’t sure.
Nikki waited for Beauvais to continue the discussion, or rather interrogation, and ask about college. College hadn’t been in the cards. Mimi had gotten sick and Nikki hesitated to leave her. By the time Mimi died, Nikki had felt too old for the traditional route. She was certainly getting an education in life these past couple years, but it was hard to put that on a resume.
Nikki had taught herself to cook in order to serve a bit of home to Mimi, to make her feel better during chemo and then radiation. Soothing custards, crème brûlée, and fruit curds. They helped and Nikki discovered she had a gift for instinctively putting together a successful dish. A mission formed in her mind—something to strive toward outside her sheltered little life. When Mimi got better, they would tour Europe, then settle in Paris. Nikki would go to Le Cordon Bleu and open a bakery and heal the hurts of the world through pastry.