It’s all fun and games until someone falls in love.
Maya Tessier needs a fresh start after her last boyfriend dragged her deep into an organized crime ring, putting her life in danger. After inheriting a cottage and acreage in France from her great-grandmother, she hopes to escape her turbulent past to concentrate on her art. Unfortunately, her inheritance is within the estate of a privacy-obsessed billionaire. And he wants it all back.
Jacques de Launay has led a life of rigid control, working hard to repair the family’s fortunes after his playboy father nearly destroyed them. His one attempt at happiness ended in tragedy when his pregnant wife was killed in a car crash. He’d rather be the last in the illustrious de Launay family line than open himself up to that kind of heartache again. Then Maya Tessier arrives on his doorstep and he discovers it’s not only the ancestral land he wants to reclaim.
But if he lets her stay, more than his heart may be at risk.
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Copyright © 2016 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Author.
Excerpt From The Vintner and The Vixen:
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she? The spitting image of her great-grandmother,” Grand-Papa said as Jacques poured himself a drink. “When she pulled up at the gates, I thought for a second that it was my time and I was being given a vision of Yvette before I crossed to the other side.”
Grand-Papa vibrated with excitement. If Maya’s arrival caused his grandfather to have a stroke, she’d find herself out on her ass before she could unpack her bags.
He handed the trusting old man a glass of wine. “Don’t get too excited. She won’t be here long.” He sat on the sofa, hoping Grand-Papa would do the same.
“Really? When she arrived this afternoon she said she’d come to stay.”
He held back the groan of frustration. It would be hard enough to evict the woman, who technically had a legal right to the property, without his grandfather on her side. “Grand-Papa, this is our home. We can’t have a stranger living in our estate. I value my privacy.”
“She’s not a stranger. She’s Yvette’s great-granddaughter.”
“Remind me again why she now owns the cottage.” He’d only discovered the cottage and ten hectares of their best grapes were owned by someone else when his grandfather had transferred the estate to him four years ago. He’d wanted then to reclaim the property, but his grandfather had forbade it, saying it would come back to the family in time. Well, that time was now.
Grand-Papa sighed and finally sat opposite Jacques on the replica Louis XVI fainting couch, which was about as comfortable as a cement bench. “When Yvette and I were engaged, I gave her the cottage and land. It formed part of her estate, so when she died Maya inherited it.”
“It was a betrothal gift for a marriage that never took place. I’m sure we have a legal case to have the property restored to us. Yvette should have returned the deeds when she ran off with that other man.” And it appeared Maya was just like her great-grandmother, holding onto something she had no moral right to claim.
Grand-Papa looked over Jacques’s left shoulder as if seeing the past depicted on the wall behind. “Yvette offered and I refused.”
“What?” Jacques stood.
“I hoped that one day she would return to me. But instead she sent her great-granddaughter.”
Jacques would have to be careful to limit Maya’s association with his grandfather, especially alone. Grand-Papa seemed to be confusing past and present. Who knew what he’d give away next?
Daniel sauntered into the room and poured himself a drink.
“Grand-Papa.” Jacques forced his voice to soften. “I know you think this is some romantic movie, but the reality is that a strange woman is living 100 meters from our house. She drives a motorbike. Who knows what kind of people she’ll let in? This is unacceptable; she has to leave.”
“I may no longer own this house, but I am still the Comte de Vendee and your grandfather. Maya stays for as long as she wishes. You are not to ask her to leave.”
“Grand-Papa, that’s too much. I can’t allow it. Daniel, help me out. We can’t have some wild, biker chick living on the estate.”
Daniel glanced at his phone before answering. “I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the woman, and I don’t discriminate based on transportation choices. You’re on your own in this battle, Jacques.”
Merveilleux, I’m surrounded by romantics.
Grand-Papa cleared his throat, a sure sign Jacques wasn’t going to like what came next. “The only other thing I’ve ever asked of you, Jacques, is to provide me with a great-grandchild.”
“I tried.” His throat tightened and he took a sip of wine to ease the pain. Dieu, when would it stop hurting?
“That was three years ago. It’s time you married again. Six hundred years of history are tied up in your loins. If you don’t produce an heir, the de Launay name will be lost forever. We were once advisors to kings, you know. Now look at us, an old man and his business-obsessed grandson.”
Daniel not being a de Launay was damned inconvenient. It was such a shame they shared a mother and not a father.
“My businesses allow us to keep this place. The chateau makes no money, and the upkeep costs a fortune.” And running his companies kept him sane. Kept him from remembering how empty his life was. Not everyone got to live out their dreams.
“Yes, and I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished. But it’s time to step back from your empire and live up to your family responsibility.”
Jacques clenched his teeth. Bien sûr, I’ll just pop out and impregnate the first female I come across. He glanced up and through the open French doors saw Maya approaching. Good thing he didn’t believe in destiny.
Daniel followed his gaze. “That’s the woman you want to get rid of?” Jacques nodded. “Then you better check your pulse, mon frère. I think you might be dead.”
The way his blood pressure skyrocketed at the sight of Maya, death may not be far off.
Maya ran a damp palm down the short skirt of her dark gray dress and squared her shoulders in case anyone was watching from the huge windows of the chateau. She slowed her pace. Walking across pebbled gravel in boots was no problem. Teetering on stiletto heels was another matter. But if she was going to do battle with the beast on his turf, she needed every weapon in her arsenal at the ready. A dress that had brought at least one ex-boyfriend to his knees was the backup to her sharp tongue.
Be nice, Maya. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Although, who the hell wants to catch flies? All I want is a quiet, peaceful place to hide out and develop my art. Grace and serenity, here I come.
Jacques’s grandfather, Charles, stood waiting on the back terrace, the French doors open behind him. He wore a sharp suit, complete with a rose in his buttonhole. He looked like the world’s oldest prom date. But when he held out his arm to her, she took it gratefully and accompanied him into the house.
She did her best not to gawk like a commoner at the room’s outrageously flamboyant style. God, there was enough gold paint in here to cover the dome of Les Invalides in Paris. She’d figured for a house not open to the public, they’d have updated the decor a bit. After a quick look around the room, she dared a glance at its owner. Jacques lounged on a sofa, a glass of red wine in his hand. His eyes narrowed and his lips held a firm line. She sent him her best smile, followed by a little wink when he shifted uncomfortably.
A rich, male laugh brought her eyes around to a man she hadn’t noticed. Although how she could have missed this incredible specimen of manhood, she didn’t know. Her womanly instincts were way off. Or too consumed with the cold and controlled Jacques. The new guy looked vaguely familiar; she’d concentrated so much on researching Jacques, she hadn’t thought to check for other relatives.
“Bon soir, Maya. Welcome to Chateau de Vendee. I am Daniel Michaud, Jacques’s younger half brother,” he said as he glided over to her. Standing before her was every girl’s fantasy: Formula 1’s current champion and world-class playboy. So why did her eyes travel back to the reserved older brother?
It was rumored Daniel’s races lasted longer than his relationships. But she still felt nothing. Not even a flicker of lust when his stunning green eyes roved over her. Yet every cell in her body lit up when Jacques’s gaze traveled the length of her bare legs. But a relationship with either man would be suicide. Both were too much in the media in their careers. Her life depended on her staying in the shadows, hidden in her little cottage behind Jacques’s massive gates.
Daniel kissed her on both cheeks in greeting, and from the corner of her eye she saw Jacques sit up straighter. Charles handed her a wine glass and she took a tentative sip. The rich, red wine teased her taste buds. She was normally more of a beer or Jack Daniel’s drinker, but this wine could convert her. She’d never had anything so velvety.
“Thank you. You have all been so welcoming.” She glanced again at Jacques, who raised his wine glass in a mock salute.
“Would you like a tour of the house before dinner?” Charles asked. Maya forced her gaze from Jacques and turned to the older man.
“Yes, I’d love to see it,” she said.
“Perhaps Daniel could take you,” Charles suggested.
Daniel smiled. Jacques’s mouth tightened even more.
“If Daniel gives me the tour, I have a feeling I’ll end up in some dark corner being seduced by my guide. I’ve made that mistake before.”
“I’m a fantastic mistake.” Daniel flashed another of his sexy grins, but it just bounced off her.
“I don’t doubt it. But I’m looking to learn from my bad decisions, not upgrade them,” she replied.
Jacques laughed, and the sound set off a fluttery feeling in her chest. “She has your measure, Daniel. At last, a woman who can resist your charm.”
“I am cut through the heart,” Daniel said as he pulled an imaginary knife out of his chest.
“Hardly.” She immediately liked Daniel; he was easy-going with a playful side. Normally, she’d enjoy flirting and bantering with him. But her senses were too attuned to every move his older brother made. Maybe because Jacques was her opposite, he drew her like a magnet. “Would you show me your home, Jacques?”
He stood and Maya swallowed. Even at her five foot eight and four-inch heels, he still towered over her. He must be six foot four, at least. Her heart rate accelerated and her mouth went dry.
“It would be my pleasure.”
The way he said pleasure sent a shiver down her spine. Perhaps she was safer with Daniel after all. But she’d issued the challenge. There was no going back now.
Jacques held out his arm and Maya placed her hand tentatively on it. Even at home he still looked like he was about to chair a board meeting, although she felt the corded muscles beneath the super-soft suit material. As soon as they were out of the room she let go.
He led her out into a hallway wide enough to drive a car down. A thick wool rug covered the marble tiles, muffling their footsteps. Where on earth did you get a runner fifty feet long? Certainly not at Ikea, where she bought the bulk of her furnishings.
“So, you don’t think I’m capable of luring a woman into a dark corner and seducing her?” His voice lowered and the heat in his gaze made her wish she’d worn a short-sleeved dress.
“No. I didn’t think you’d be interested.”
“You are a beautiful woman in a dress that demands attention. I am a man. Seduction is always in the cards.”
“Just because you’re powerful and rich doesn’t mean I’m going to fall into your bed.”
“You wouldn’t fall in—I’d carry you. But I thought you wanted the tour first.”
So, he thought he could get her in bed with just the crook of his little finger, eh? Arrogant bastard. And damn this warmth flooding her system at the idea he’d want her there.
He opened one half of a double door that led into a room at the front of the house. The fifteen-foot high windows let in loads of light, even this late in the evening. The last rays of sunshine bounced off the mirrors and gold-painted furniture almost blindingly.
“Wow,” she said, struggling to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
“Yes, I know.” Jacques let out a sigh. “My wife decorated when I was away on business for six weeks.”
His wife? She checked his left hand, which still held his wine glass. Yup, golden ring on the fourth finger. Rookie mistake, Maya. Always check the marital status first. He thought she’d fall into his bed with his wife already there? Jerk. It was the giant stop sign her body needed and she put another foot distance between them.
“I’m sure on less sunny days it’s not so … overwhelming.”
“It’s horrible. But I haven’t had the time to supervise a redecoration.”
“What about your wife?” For all her Internet research, she hadn’t read about Jacques’s personal life. In fact, every report had been about his business accomplishments, so she’d assumed he wasn’t married.
Jacques blinked, but his voice remained calm. “She’s dead.”
“I’m so sorry.” Maybe that was why he was so stiff and formal—he was still grieving for his wife. “The furniture’s not bad; it fits with the room. It just needs toning down. Reupholster the chairs in cream or some pale color, return the wood to anything other than gold, rearrange the artwork, reposition the mirrors so they don’t blind you when you walk in…” She stopped talking. Her vision for the room’s potential had captured her imagination. But he probably wasn’t ready yet to let go of his wife’s stamp on the house—even as atrocious as it was.
He turned the full intensity of his gaze on her. “Interesting ideas. Are you an interior decorator?”
“No, I’m an artist. Well, that’s what I want to be. Up to now I’ve paid the bills by working in a club and doing other things. But in addition to the cottage, Gran-Gran left me a little money, so I’m hoping to concentrate on my art for as long as the money lasts.”
Again his intense gaze sent shivers up and down her spine, and the room seemed to shrink in size and cocoon around them. She took another sip of her wine to relieve the dryness in her mouth.
“Let’s continue the tour. Or would you rather I moved on to the seduction?” He raised his eyebrows and she laughed. God, he was gorgeous when he wasn’t being such a prick. Considering her past was littered with jerks, she usually had well-honed defenses. With a single laugh he’d destroyed them. Jacques was dangerous.
They looked into a few other rooms, all of them inelegantly decorated. They wandered down another hallway, this one lined with portraits of de Launays long dead. Maya stopped to examine a couple of the paintings, interested in the different artistic techniques used over the years. Jacques stood quietly beside her, answering her questions politely but otherwise not disturbing her concentration. Yet she was aware of his body close to hers. When he took a step to the side she missed the warmth and followed him automatically.
At last they arrived at the portrait of Charles. His blue eyes lacked the mischief she’d seen in them today, and although he had a ring on his left hand, there was no joy in his face. The last painting was of a man who bore more than a passing resemblance to Jacques.
“My father,” he said quietly. “He was killed in a plane crash when I was eight.”
“I’m sorry. Is your mother still alive?”
“Yes, but she lives in Paris and never comes here. She and my father were separated even before his death, so my grandfather raised Daniel and me.” Again his tone was unemotional, as though everyone was abandoned by their mother in early childhood so it was no big deal. But he’d returned to being stiff and unapproachable.
“Why is there no portrait of you?”
“The tradition is for the man to have his picture painted after he has produced an heir. It is highly likely that my father’s portrait will be the last of the de Launays to hang in this hallway.”
Her argument shriveled on her tongue at the fierce look in his eyes. Either he was still so in love with his wife that he couldn’t ever contemplate remarrying, or the marriage had been such a disaster that he wouldn’t go there again.
Why should she care which it was?