Joanna finally gets her French lover—and marries him, too—but relocating to a foreign country proves harder than she thought. So does getting pregnant, when a new stepson, accidents and a haunted house conspire against her happiness.
Luc easily fits his new American wife into his world, until he learns she comes with strings attached. She’s an heiress with money to burn. Can he accept that he no longer holds the purse strings?
Joanna Clifford glared at the chip on her perfectly-manicured fingernail. It was the best polish and topcoat money could buy, guaranteed to last at least a week, the beautician on Vancouver’s Robson Street had told her. She was counting on it to hold up the entire time she and Luc were in Paris—she didn’t intend to worry about her nails while she was being wined, dined and screwed senseless by the most wonderful man in the world. The man who was going to show her his Paris, then marry her and bring her home to live with him in the southwest of France.
But the chip was the least of her problems.
It’s not supposed to be like this. I’ve atoned for my mistakes, and the revenge should stop. It isn’t fair!
Jo knew she was being irrational and selfish, but she didn’t care. She was numb with fatigue and shock, and the rocking motion of the train was making her feel slightly queasy.
“I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose him,” Lucien LaPlante repeated in a broken voice, sitting beside her in the crowded railway car. They were just pulling out of the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris, beginning their five-hour journey to Cahors. She watched her handsome lover lean forward in his seat and lower his head into his hands. He didn’t look particularly handsome now—face drawn, long dark hair all over the place, his beautiful dark eyes looking right past her into his worst nightmare.
“Shh, shh. He’ll pull through. The doctors were able to get to him right away, and that’s the important thing,” Jo said, unsure if she knew what she was talking about. Rubbing Luc’s big shoulder abstractedly, she thought it probably didn’t matter what she said, as long as she listened. And held onto him.
“Putain de merde. It’s all my fault,” he insisted.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s my fault that he played today.”
“How could it be your fault?”
“I told him he had to play. It was a tournament game. Merde.”
“I don’t understand.”
Luc shifted uncomfortably in his seat and turned to look out at the receding Parisian suburbs. She saw the tension in his jaw and knew he’d been grinding his teeth again.
“Last week I sat him down for a father-to-son. And I told him about you.” He glanced at the people sitting nearby and lowered his voice. “About your arrival.”
He held out his left hand, fingers splayed. The fourth finger didn’t show a trace of the wedding ring he’d worn for nine years. He’d had it cut off in Rocamadour, last spring, to prove to Jo he was no longer married. The only reason he still wore it, he’d explained, was to protect his son from reality.
“I told him he was going to have a step-mother, soon. From the United States.”
Jo felt twitchy all of a sudden. She tried to keep her voice calm. “Wasn’t it a little soon? He hasn’t had a lot of time to adjust to the fact that his parents aren’t married to each other anymore.”
She knew that, despite finalizing their divorce a few years ago, Luc and his ex-wife Anna pretended it was perfectly normal for mama and papa to each live in their own house. Daniel, only eight, flitted back and forth between the two homes, which shared an acreage, as easily as a butterfly.
Until Jo forced Luc’s hand, so to speak. She didn’t actually force him to tell his son the truth, but it was her appearance in Luc’s life that necessitated it. Once the ring was gone, Daniel had to know why.
“Yes. Anna told me it was too soon. But there was the party.”
Jo tensed. “What party?”
Through his teary eyes Luc managed to look a little sheepish. “Our engagement party,” he whispered.
“Oh?” She didn’t know whether to feel flattered or annoyed. “And when were you going to tell me?”
“Earlier today. As soon as you arrived,” he said, lowering his head back into his hands.
Landing at Charles de Gaulle only a few hours earlier, Jo was exhausted from her flight from Seattle, but buoyed with the anticipation of two glorious weeks with her French lover. They had been separated for two weeks—two agonizingly long weeks—and she ached for him body and soul.
Her suitcases bulged with her prettiest clothes, her sexiest lingerie and her most ridiculous high-heeled shoes. But when she disembarked, instead of an amorous fiancé with an armload of roses, she was greeted by a tearful, disheveled wreck of a man who couldn’t wait to drag her onto a train back to Cahors.
“A party’s the last thing on my mind now. I have to cancel everything,” he said.
“When was this party supposed to be held?” Jo asked carefully. Despite losing her romantic week in Paris, she decided she should be pleased about this one small thing. The idea of an engagement party, where she would meet Luc’s family and friends, was touching. But now, of course, it was unthinkable.
“Next Sunday. At the family house in Nice,” Luc said into his hands. “My father and brother were going to come down from Lyon. I’ll have to call them tonight and tell them what’s happened.”
Jo could hear the uncharacteristic tremor in his voice, she could see his shoulders shake, and her heart swelled in response. She had to be brave and face the facts. Daniel was Luc’s only child, and he had been injured in a soccer match. Maybe seriously.
And she, along with her sexy underwear, had fallen into the background.
Casting a longing glance at her suitcases, which were stacked on the racks over their heads, she put her arms around her beloved as best she could in the awkward seats, ignoring the curious glances of their fellow travelers.
“Never mind the party. Although it was very sweet of you to have thought of it. How did Daniel react when you told him about me?”
“Oh?” She hadn’t anticipated this, and couldn’t think of anything else to say. The back of her throat burned with a bitter bile. Motion sickness—her perennial friend whenever she traveled—was threatening to make her retch. She leaned down to her bag, fumbled for a chewable Gravol and popped it into her mouth.
Luc, watching her, continued. “First he became quiet, retreating like I do when I’m upset.”
He squirmed in his seat, rubbed the back of his neck with one hand and then looked again at Jo. His dark blue eyes were bloodshot and puffy, his lips white with the effort of clenching his jaw.
“He wouldn’t leave his room, and then he said he wasn’t going to play in the cup final this weekend.”
“Do you know why?” she asked as she sucked hard on the cherry-flavored tablet.
He sighed. “Not really. He loves soccer. Maybe it was his way of punishing me. He knows how proud I am of him and how well he plays.”
“And probably because I wasn’t going to be there to watch him,” he added.
Jo began to piece it all together. It wasn’t sounding good. “Because you had to meet me?”
He nodded. “When you and I made our plans I’d forgotten about his game. Of course it’s the biggest one of the season. I feel like such a shit.”