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Essence (Love California #4)

Essence (Love California #4)

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When indie perfumer Dahlia Dubois reluctantly 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, who turns out to be Alain Delamare, a legendary Formula 1 race car driver.

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Book Description

Book 4, Love California Series

Soon, tensions rise in Monaco, where Dahlia juggles a search for her missing mother, a corporate takeover, and a volatile, passionate relationship with Alain – 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.

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Cannes, France

“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 bracts 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.”

“Our what?”

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?

Book Reviews

"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

"Jan Moran is a favorite author of mine. Primarily because I LEARN something from her and in the case of FLAWLESS, about the cosmetic business of skincare.... All in all, a fun read which grabs you at the start." - Tina Sloan, Author of Changing Shoes, Award-Winning Actress (Guiding Light, film, television)

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