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An old family secret. A handsome Formula 1 race car driver. Can Dahlia handle the dangerous curves ahead when their worlds collide?
When indie perfumer Dahlia Dubois steps in to lead the iconic, international perfume house her grandmother founded, she soon discovers that nothing is as it seems—including the intriguing man she met in Cannes, France.
Soon, tensions rise in Monaco, where Dahlia juggles a search for her missing mother, a corporate takeover, and a volatile, passionate relationship with Alain, a legendary Formula 1 race car driver—all just days before the glamorous Monaco Grand Prix race. As long-held family secrets emerge and threaten her future, Dahlia must find the courage to face the dangerous truth.
Essence is part of the Love, California series of linked, stand-alone novels that can be ready in any order. Set in Southern California with international travel, this fun, heartfelt series features a group of best friends determined to live the lives of their dreams while navigating the turbulences of dating and family life.
Tasteful Women's Fiction, Rating: PG. Also available in audiobook. Visit JanMoran.com.
"[Jan Moran] gives fans of romantic sagas a compelling voice to follow." Booklist
"An engrossing view into the world of 'beautiful people' with an ending that will leave you wanting more." - New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Melissa Foster
THE LOVE, CALIFORNIA SERIES:
FLAWLESS (Verena and Lance in Beverly Hills and Paris)
BEAUTY MARK (Scarlett and Johnny in Beverly Hills and Spain)
RUNWAY (Fianna and Niall in Malibu and Ireland)
ESSENCE (Dahlia and Alain in Paris and Monaco)
STYLE (Penelope and Stefan in New York and Copenhagen)
SPARKLE (Elena and Jake in LA and Sydney)
Discover Jan's sweeping HISTORICAL FICTION from St. Martin’s Press:
THE WINEMAKERS: A Novel of Wine and Secrets - A mother and daughter keep disastrous secrets from each other in Napa Valley and Italy of the 1950s.
SCENT OF TRIUMPH: A Novel of Perfume and Passion - A French perfumer’s obsession to reunite her family in the midst of WWII.
JAN MORAN'S BOOK AWARDS
The Kindle Book Review Book Awards Finalist
Reader's Favorite Bronze Award for Historical Fiction
San Diego Book Awards Finalist
Release date: August 21, 2016
Publisher: Sunny Palms Press
Print pages: 324
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
“I know it was sudden, but I wanted to attend the film festival.” Dahlia sat at an outdoor table at a café overlooking yachts in the Vieux Port harbor of Cannes, hoping her grandmother wouldn’t detect her studied nonchalance over the phone—or the undercurrent of nervousness she felt. “Several actresses are wearing Fianna’s gowns,” she added, proud of her friend’s work.
“And I hope they’re wearing our perfume.” Camille’s imperious voice crackled across the Atlantic. “Just as important, while you’re there you should meet our Formula 1 driver. Alain Delamare has a home in Cannes and he’s quite charming. He just won the Grand Prix in Spain. He’s from a fine family originally from Normandy, though they live in California now.” She paused to take a breath. “You should have dinner together, ma chére. I’ve known his family since before you were born. One of his aunts was a friend of your—”
Camille broke off and Dahlia knew she’d started to say “your mother,” but caught herself. Still, she recognized the conspiratorial pitch of Camille’s voice. “I appreciate the thought, but I don’t need your matchmaking.”
At that, a man at the table near hers glanced up with interest, and Dahlia found herself staring into his blazing blue eyes, which crinkled at the corners in a bemused expression. She couldn’t help but smile. With the Cannes Film Festival underway, the area was teaming with filmmakers, actors, and press. She wondered who he was.
Camille continued. “I think you do need my help, as evidenced by Kevin.” She sniffed in disdain. “Alain has such lovely manners. We had dinner together in New York and—”
“I don’t want to hear any more about Alain Delamare.” Dahlia glanced away from the man, breaking his captivating gaze.
Another pause. “Kevin is with you, isn’t he?” Camille’s tone was flat. “Tell him it’s business, which technically it is. What’s one evening?”
“That would be awfully rude. Besides, I’m no longer part of your company. I have my own business now.”
Her grandmother was relentless, but Camille’s inexorable drive was how she’d made her fortune and continued to expand it. Today, Parfums Dubois ranked in the lofty upper echelons of luxury perfume beside Guerlain and Chanel. The purchase of the Formula 1 team and the rebranding of it to Team Dubois had catapulted the company to front pages and magazine covers around the globe, increasing sales and the value of the company even more.
“My offer still stands, dear. Both offers, but we can start with Alain.”
Camille had been angling for Dahlia to return to work for the family business, but Dahlia had plans of her own. “And I appreciate it, but the answer is still no. On both counts, Grand-mère.” She was pleasant but firm. Nothing was going to spoil this special trip.
A fragrant café au lait steamed before her, chasing away the fresh morning chill. The early sun warmed her bare shoulders and clear skies formed a canopy over the turquoise water of the Mediterranean Sea. Chirping birds flitted through gracefully arched palm fronds and bracelets of vivid magenta bougainvillea tumbled across ancient stone walls. Lovers strolled hand in hand, pausing to admire sleek harbor boats and artful boutique windows.
Dahlia glanced at the time on her phone. Kevin should have been here more than half an hour ago.
The man at the nearby table had returned to reading his book, but she wondered if he were still eavesdropping. Her interest piqued, she studied him surreptitiously through half-lidded eyes. He was undeniably attractive; he wore a dark blue T-shirt that was stretched across his trim muscular frame, along with white cotton pants and deck shoes. Slight morning stubble matched his short, sun-bleached chestnut hair. Probably belongs to one of the boats, she surmised.
Her grandmother continued talking about the success of the Parfums Dubois Formula 1 team. Camille had been a fan of the sport since she’d been a child in France and her father had raced a Bugatti in an early French Grand Prix. Parfums Dubois had long been a sponsor next to Red Bull and Rolex, Chandon and CNN, but ownership now elevated the brand to a rarified level. Team Dubois was the newest owner in a sport in which few in the world could compete.
Camille read part of an article to her over the phone from Fashion News Daily, the industry trade paper, which hailed the new ownership as “‘a bold move timed with the launch of a new masculine fragrance line from Parfums Dubois,’” Camille said. “The editor included photos of Alain and the racing team, too. Alain is quite handsome. He’ll be an excellent spokesman for the new line.”
As Camille spoke, Dahlia let out a breath of relief. Her grandmother had no idea of the real reason of her trip. After hanging up, Dahlia lifted her coffee to her lips. Once again, she met the steady gaze of her neighbor.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.” He sounded American and his baritone voice had a gravelly quality that was intriguing. “Matchmaking? I haven’t heard that term in a long time.”
She laughed. “That was my grandmother.”
“Ah, I see. I hear that from mine, too.” A friendly grin creased his tanned face. “Are you here for the film festival?”
“We’ve seen a few films.” Kevin fancied himself a producer, but he had yet to make a film.
“I heard you say you have a business. What do you do?”
“I’m a perfumer.” She drained her coffee cup, half-wishing she could stay and talk with him. Kevin should have been here by now. He was probably still on his business call in the hotel room. He’d told her he had a quick call to make, but then, he usually ran late.
“Sounds interesting.” The man inclined his head. “I’d like to hear more about your work. Perfume is a new passion of mine.”
Unlike most men, he truly sounded interested in what she did.
The man shifted toward her in his chair, his movements demonstrating quiet confidence. “Would you like to join me for a walk on the Croisette? I’d really like to learn more about what you do.”
His magnetic gaze drew her in, and she caught herself imagining strolling the wide boardwalk promenade by the sea with him. Everything about him stirred her emotions, and she grew uncomfortable by her fascination with him. “I can’t today. But thank you.”
“Tomorrow, perhaps?” He held his hand out to her in a gesture of hope.
“Actually, I’m here with someone. And I really must go.” As she got up to leave, the strange tug on her emotions was almost palpable, but she swiftly swept her feelings away. She was nearly a married woman. She hoped to have a family of her own soon, and she would never, ever leave her children as her mother had done.
Dahlia hurried along the Boulevard de la Croisette, a light breeze cooling her heated chest and rippling the long skirt of her azure print sundress. As she walked, she breathed in the fresh sea air and the sweet scent of dewy morning jasmine to clear her mind of the man she’d met. With her senses on overload, an idea for a romantic perfume emerged and danced in her mind.
Soon she neared the grand Hôtel Martinez, where Kevin had booked a palatial suite that resembled a film set from Downton Abbey. Inside the hotel lobby, she threaded her way through guests in fashionable summer resort attire on her way to the elevator.
“Dahlia, I was just on my way to meet you.” A robust, barrel-chested man strode toward her. “Had a long business call that kept me in the room.” Kevin’s breathing was labored. He brushed her cheek with a hurried kiss.
“Relax. I had a long call with Camille.” She leaned in, detecting a familiar fragrance that clung to his clothing. Bulgarian rose, to be precise. With a touch of bergamot. Was it on his thin windbreaker jacket?
“And how is the dragon lady?”
At his curt tone, she shot him a reprimanding look. “Kevin, that’s my grandmother.”
“Hey, I’m only kidding,” he said, laughing a little too loud.
She shrugged off his comment, though it was partly true. Camille was known to be demanding, but she was also highly creative and fiercely protective of those she loved. Still, she wished he’d show more respect toward Camille, even if they didn’t get along. “What was so important that your client called from Los Angeles after midnight?”
Kevin coughed and cleared his throat. “Well, he’s not really in L.A.”
“Where is he?”
Kevin ran a hand over his hair, which looked windblown. “He has homes all over the world.” He sounded stressed, too.
“So where is he?” she repeated. Kevin had been acting odd ever since they’d arrived in France. He had booked the trip months ago for the festival. When he had invited her and proposed, it had been wildly romantic to imagine eloping. Now that they were here, she had to admit she was tense, too, but she imagined that was how every bride felt.
“Where is he? Oh, somewhere in Asia, I imagine. Hong Kong, I believe.” He removed his jacket and swept his arm around her. “I’m hungry. Let’s have breakfast in the café here. After that, we can go shopping.” He winked. “There’s a wedding dress in your future.”
There it is again, that scent. Dahlia wrinkled her nose. It wasn’t on the jacket; it was on his skin. “Where’d you get that fragrance you’re wearing?”
“Fragrance? I’m not wearing anything.”
She tapped his neck. “Yes, you are. I have an excellent nose.”
Kevin sniffed his shirt collar. “Oh yeah, some cheap cologne I picked up somewhere. It was in my bag. Forgot all about it.”
“Doesn’t smell cheap to me. In fact, that’s one of ours.”
He sounded like a parrot, repeating everything she said. “Parfums Dubois.”
“How can you tell?” He sniffed again. “Maybe it was something you wore that didn’t wash out from the fabric.”
She’d never worn that perfume. “You must have been fairly close to someone who had it on.”
He shrugged with exasperation. “Who knows? Maybe the maid had it on, Dahlia.”
She arched an eyebrow. Unless he’d been hugging the maid, he shouldn’t be reeking of perfume. “I have a sensitive nose, that’s all.” She’d been trained since childhood to identify scents. Still, she let it go. She didn’t want to argue with him, not now, not on the romantic trip that would be the beginning of their new life together. Turning to one side, she inhaled to clear her nose. Maybe he’d stood close to a woman in the elevator. Very close. “Let’s get a table by the window.”
Dahlia tossed her dark hair over her shoulder. They were both having a case of nerves, but wasn’t that normal for a couple who were about to exchange vows?
Standing behind the woman he’d met at the café, he listened to the conversation she was having with a man he presumed to be her boyfriend. He wondered why the man had just emerged from a taxi in front of the hotel, why he’d kissed the blond in the backseat, and why he said he’d been on the telephone in the room. The burly man had nearly mowed him down in his hurry to get into the hotel and flag down the woman from the café. Stepping closer, he listened intently. They called each other Kevin and Dahlia.
Dahlia. A rare flower.
He hadn’t meant to follow her after he’d spoken to her at the café, but here she was at the hotel where he was meeting his publicist. That man, Kevin, was a type he saw all too often in the hotels he stayed at around the world, but this petite, dark-haired woman certainly didn’t deserve such poor treatment. He could tell from her speech and mannerisms that she was a fine woman. His chest tightened in response to his thoughts. A beautiful woman, too.
Who just happened to have an enormous solitaire ring on her left hand. They’re engaged. The thought hit him like a bucket of ice.
Furrowing his brow, he wondered who was planning on matchmaking the two of them. Her grandmother, she’d told him, but who was the grandmother? Probably a friend of his own grandmother. Wouldn’t be the first time he’d had to entertain one of her young friends.
He shook his head. The women were usually nice enough, but they were never his kind. Besides, he wasn’t made for the white picket fence life they seemed more suited to. Dahlia was sure easy on the eyes, but she clearly had a big problem. A six-foot-four problem, judging from the size of Kevin. Nope, that wouldn’t work.
At least Dahlia hadn’t recognized him. He loved his fans, but that wasn’t why he did what he did. Plenty of women slipped him a business card and asked him to call. When he was younger, he’d had his share of groupies, but he’d soon found himself feeling more alone than ever. Few people would understand that he found more enjoyment with stimulating conversation or a good book than a vapid groupie who simply wanted to wear him out and brag to her friends.
He’d grown tired of the game of conquest. Where was the love like his parents shared? Six boys and two girls later, and they were still madly in love.
Despite his better judgment, as he watched Dahlia walk away he found himself hoping he’d see her again soon.
Standing at the entrance to the lounge, Dahlia blinked against sepia lights illuminating the dark edges of two silhouetted strangers. The pair were seated on a damask sofa in the lobby lounge, entwined in an intimate midnight conspiracy, brandy snifters beside them. With every mild sea breeze, shadows of palm fronds swayed across the high ceiling and walls of the hotel, a private seaside enclave. As Dahlia peered through tall doors that stood ajar, the scent of white lilies and salty air wafted to her nose.
Where is he?
She’d woken after midnight alone in the spacious suite and found she couldn’t sleep until he returned. It wasn’t like Kevin to disappear, and she was worried. She turned back to the lounge.
The woman’s silky blond hair grazed the man’s cheek as he trailed a finger down the woman’s bare arm, lingering on her hand, their fingers twining in seduction. The woman arched her neck, and her lover drew his lips along her skin.
Such a romantic scene, she thought idly, like something out of an artistic French perfume commercial. Even now, in her half-groggy state, her creative mind was always at play. She blinked, straining to see the lovers while she eavesdropped on their murmured conversation.
The couple’s soft laughter rippled through the sultry midnight air.
Dahlia’s breath caught in her throat, and she clutched her cotton sweater. Had she heard correctly? She glanced behind her but saw no one else.
Deep laughter rang out again. His laughter.
Oxygen whooshed from her lungs. Disbelief and confusion roared through her mind. No, it couldn’t be. Suddenly light-headed, she touched a wall for support.
Sleep had eluded her for the last two hours. Missing Kevin, she’d pulled on dark jeans and a French blue-and-white striped sweater and searched the hotel and gardens looking for him. Since they’d been in Cannes the past few days, he had occasionally left their suite to make a business phone call or have a nightcap, claiming insomnia. But this?
Never would she have imagined he was seeing another woman.
She must have cried out when her knees buckled, because the two figures quickly parted, and she slammed against the wall, rocking a potted ficus tree in a Chinese urn as she did. Gasping for air, her breath came in short fits.
“Dahlia, what are you doing here?” Kevin leapt to his feet and strode to her, his face masked with annoyance. “You should be sleeping.”
She pushed herself from the wall. Kevin was a head taller than her, but Dahlia raised herself to her full height, refusing to be intimidated. “And miss seeing the man I’d planned to marry with another woman?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Kevin furrowed his brow in irritation. “Nothing has happened.”
“Only because I interrupted you. Is she the business call you’ve been making?”
The woman on the sofa shot a look of victory toward Dahlia. Her pale, precision-cut hair skimmed her shoulders, and her skirt hiked high on shapely thighs. She crossed her arms in petulance and stared at Kevin. As much as Dahlia would’ve liked to have given her a piece of her mind, she turned back to Kevin.
“This isn’t what it seems. Trust me.” Kevin’s face relaxed and his brown eyes melted into hers, reassuring her. As his charm re-emerged, his easy smile revealed perfect white teeth. It was the same charm that had made her fall hard for him only a few months ago. “She’s an old friend of the family. She needed some advice tonight.”
The bartender behind the gleaming cherry wood bar pursed her lips and slid her gaze toward Dahlia. As Dahlia met her eyes, the woman arched a fine eyebrow. In an instant, she had unequivocal confirmation.
“Is that the way you treat all your friends?” Anger burned through her and she jerked her arm from Kevin’s grasp. Her heart was shattering, but she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of tears. Only a few hours ago, they’d lingered over a romantic dinner with a view of the calm, azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea. They’d laughed and kissed and spent the evening planning their life together, sharing a rare vintage wine Kevin had chosen to celebrate their elopement. It had been a perfect, intimate dinner, just the two of them.
Dahlia had no need for an extravagant wedding such as her grandmother Camille, who’d raised her from a toddler, would have surely insisted upon. That is, if she’d approved of Kevin. Camille had called him ambitious, but not in a good way. “He’s not marriage material, Dahlia.” And she’d grown icy when Dahlia told her they’d become engaged. Which was why Kevin had wanted to elope.
Yes, this had been his idea. What was he up to?
Dahlia pressed a hand to her forehead as the shimmering future she’d imagined with Kevin dissolved like a mirage. She’d always been attracted to exciting, charismatic men, but they seldom lived up to her expectations. In her heart, she shared the traditional values that Camille had instilled in her from childhood after her mother had abandoned her.
“Dahlia, you can’t possibly think she means anything to me.” Kevin’s voice dropped a notch, reverberating in his chest, where Dahlia had rested her head just hours ago as they’d danced. She shook her head, casting out the memory.
“And you can’t possibly think I’d fall for that,” she snapped. “Don’t you dare come back to the room.” Dahlia spun furiously from him and charged through the lobby.
After her grandmother had vehemently opposed their decision to marry, Kevin had immediately booked flights for them to Europe. They’d be married in France, he assured her, as Dahlia had told him she’d always dreamed.
Had she been blind to his transgressions? Kevin was the picture of power, success, and extravagance. He’d clearly been relishing this dual role, but for how long? Who was this woman? Were there others?
She flung open the door to their—her—suite and slammed the door behind her. What did any of it matter now? She marched to the telephone by the rumpled bed where they’d made love earlier that evening. Speaking quickly in French, she requested a bellboy.
When the uniformed bellboy arrived, she pointed to Kevin’s bespoke suits, Gucci loafers, and Armani shirts. “Mr. Blackstone is moving to another room. Please remove all of his belongings.” She turned away and stepped onto the balcony. Moonlight illuminated the placid sea, shadowing yachts in the harbor nearby. This was to have been the setting for the beginning of a magical new life. She closed her eyes, feeling sick to her stomach.
“Will there be anything else?”
Dahlia turned back to the young bellboy, who had loaded all of Kevin’s clothes and toiletries onto a rolling cart.
“Yes, please inform him. He’s in the lobby bar. With a blond.”
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