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The Night That Started It All - fb3_img_img_31b52016-27bd-541a-9b01-7f6284de5c20.png

As soon as they were in the car he pulled her into his arms and kissed her—a steamy, highly explorational clinch that sucked all the breath from her lungs and shut down her brain entirely.

With a husky laugh, Luc murmured, ‘Not here, ma chérie. Soon, soon.’

Soon? How likely was that once he heard her news? But it was impossible to break it just then. She’d have to wait.

Shari hoped lunch wouldn’t take long. What if it went on for ever and she lost the chance to be private with him? Though was it best to be completely private with him? For this sort of news maybe a public place would be preferable? Perhaps a café?

‘You’re too quiet,’ he observed on the way, pausing for some lights. ‘What’s going on inside that head?’

‘Could we just go to a café or …?’ She tried to swallow.

His eyes narrowed on her face. ‘Que veux-tu …?

‘There’s something I might have to tell you.’

About the Author

As a child, ANNA CLEARY loved reading so much that during the midnight hours she was forced to read with a torch under the bedcovers, to lull the suspicions of her sleep-obsessed parents. From an early age she dreamed of writing her own books. She saw herself in a stone cottage by the sea, wearing a velvet smoking jacket and sipping sherry, like Somerset Maugham.

In real life she became a schoolteacher, and her greatest pleasure was teaching children to write beautiful stories.

A little while ago she and one of her friends made a pact each to write the first chapter of a romance novel in their holidays. From writing her very first line Anna was hooked, and she gave up teaching to become a full-time writer. She now lives in Queensland, with a deeply sensitive and intelligent cat. She prefers champagne to sherry, and loves music, books, four-legged people, trees, movies and restaurants.

Recent titles by the same author:

KEEPING HER UP ALL NIGHT

THE ITALIAN NEXT DOOR …

DO NOT DISTURB

WEDDING NIGHT WITH A STRANGER

Did you know these are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

The Night That

Started It All

Anna Cleary

The Night That Started It All - fb3_img_img_474b865b-191a-5ca3-b23e-08bea04f7121.png

www.millsandboon.co.uk

For lovely Amy Andrews, a brilliant and versatile author and a wonderful friend.

CHAPTER ONE

SINCE the break with Manon, his long-time lover, Luc Valentin mostly resisted seduction. Sex risked ever more desire, and desire was a downhill slope to entanglement in a web of female complications. Before a man knew it he could be sucked into an emotional shredder.

So when Luc strolled into D’Avion Sydney and the pretty faces at the front desk lit up like New Year’s Eve, their smiles were wasted on the air.

‘Luc Valentin,’ he said, handing over his card. ‘I’m here to see Rémy Chénier.’

The first beguiling face froze. ‘Luc—Valentin? The Luc Valentin? Of …’

‘Paris. Head Office. That is correct.’ Luc smiled. Rarely had his appearance at one of the company offices sparked such a dramatic effect. ‘Rémy, mademoiselle?’

The woman’s eyes darted sideways towards her fellows. It seemed a strange paralysis had overcome them. ‘Er … Rémy isn’t here. I’m sorry, Mr Valentin, we haven’t seen him for days. He isn’t answering his messages. We don’t know where he is. We don’t know anything. Do we?’ she appealed to the others. She consulted her mobile, then scribbled an address. ‘You might try here. I’m sure if he’s in Mr Chénier will be deligh—overjoyed to see you.’

Luc doubted it. Since his plan was to encourage his cousin to explain the shortfall in the company accounts then wring his unscrupulous neck, joy was likely to be limited.

There would be a woman involved, Luc guessed, driving across the Harbour Bridge under an impossibly blue sky. With Rémy there was always a woman, though in Luc’s thirty-six years never the same one twice.

The address was for a sleek apartment complex on Sydney’s northern shore. Luc pressed the buzzer twice before it connected. Then for several tense seconds all he heard was the rustle of white noise.

Prickles arose on his neck.

At last, enfin, a voice. It sounded muffled, more than a little croaky, as if its owner had a terrible cold. Or had been weeping.

‘Who is it?’

Luc bent to speak into the intercom, which hadn’t been designed to accommodate tall guys with long bones. ‘Luc Valentin. I am wishing to speak with Rémy Chénier.’

‘Oh.’ Through the woman’s husky fog he could detect a certain relief. ‘Are you from his office?’

‘You could say I’m from D’Avion, certainly.’

‘Well, he’s not here. Praise the Lord.’ The last was muttered.

Luc drew his brows together. ‘But this is his apartment, yes?’ The place looked like the sort of residence Rémy would choose. All gloss and sharp edges.

‘Used to be. Not that he ever seemed to know it,’ she added in an undertone. ‘Anyway, he’s gone. Don’t know where, don’t care. Nothin’ to do with me. I’m outta here.’

Luc’s eye fell on a small pile of carefully stacked possessions inside the glass entrance, among them cooking pots and a frilled and very feminine umbrella.

‘Excuse me, mademoiselle. Can you tell me when was the last time you saw him?’

‘Months ago. Yesterday.’

Yesterday? So he is in Sydney still?’

‘I—I hope not. Maybe. I don’t know. Look … Look, monsieur …’ Luc noticed a slightly mocking inflection in the ‘monsieur’ ‘… I’m very busy. I can’t keep—’

He jumped in quickly before she cut him off. ‘Please, miss. Just one more thing. Has he taken his clothes?’

‘Mmm …’ There was a pregnant pause. ‘Let’s just say his clothes took a tumble.’

Luc hesitated, picturing the scene those words conjured. He had an overwhelming desire to see the face that went with the foggy voice. ‘Are you Rémy’s girlfriend, by some chance? Or—perhaps—the maid?’

There was a long, loaded silence. Then she said, ‘Yeah. The maid.’

Pardonnez-moi, miss, but will you allow me to come upstairs and speak with you face to face? There are some ques—’

The intercom disconnected. He waited for the door to unlock. When it didn’t he pressed again. Finally after one long, persistent ring, she came back on. ‘Look, get lost, will you? You can’t come up.’

‘But I only wish to—’

No. You can’t.’ There was alarm in her tone. ‘Go away or I’ll call the police.’

Luc straightened up, frowning. What after all would he expect? Rémy had never been known to leave friends in his wake. Though if she was the maid, why would she be weeping?

She must have a cold.

He noticed a box jammed against the glass. Through its half-open lid he saw it was packed with shoes, some of them a little scruffy. Though certainly feminine in shape and size, these were not the shoes of a femme fatale.

He slid behind the wheel of his hire car, wondering what had happened to his powers of persuasion. In the past he’d have had that door open in a second and the maid eating out of his hand. Of course, in the past he hadn’t learned what he knew now.

The gentle sex were deceptive. The gentle sex were capable of eviscerating a guy and throwing his entrails to the wolves.

From behind a curtain at an upstairs window Shari Lacey watched the car drive away. Whoever he was, he’d had quite a nice voice. Deep, serious and quiet. Charming even, if she hadn’t been over French accents. So over them.

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