Jacques stretched then folded his arms behind his head and relaxed into the chair. The sun was low on the horizon, a gentle breeze blew over him, and any minute now one of the staff would offer him a cocktail. But all those enjoyments had nothing on the view of Maya painting in her studio across the yard. As if sensing his stare, she looked up, a rapturous smile lighting her face. Even after almost a year of marriage, he was still enchanted.
Not for one second had he regretted giving up his life in France to live on this small winery in Chile with her. He was doing what he loved—day and night. As Maya disappeared from view, undoubtedly to wash up her brushes and join him, he turned his attention to his grandfather, who was trying to convince the gardener to shape the trees into topiary animals. Thankfully, the gardener was having none of it and insisted that trees should be shaped like trees.
Princess plodded over and flopped at his feet as if exhausted. But since her day consisted of wandering a triangle between Maya, Grand-Papa, and him, making sure each was okay or possibly harboring something to eat, he didn’t think she was too tired. However, he reached down and rubbed behind her ears, earning a tail wag and a contented doggy moan for his efforts.
Maya joined them a few minutes later, bending over and giving him a kiss before taking the adjoining seat. The Andes shimmered blue in the distance, snowcapped this early in the spring. It was a bit of an adjustment getting used to the opposite seasons of the southern hemisphere. But after a restful winter, he was looking forward to a new season of winemaking.
“What are you working on today?” he asked Maya as she rubbed a foot along Princess’s back.
“A special project.” A mysterious smile curved her lips.
“Am I going to have to kiss the secret out of you tonight?”
Her smile got bigger. “Kissing may not be enough.”
“You know how I like a challenge.”
Their playful banter was interrupted by his grandfather taking the last available chair on the veranda, on the other side of Maya. If only Daniel were here, his family would be complete. But his brother was busy racing. And to keep the secrecy of their location, they corresponded only through a highly encrypted Internet cloud account.
Jacques’s fingers still clenched when he recalled his and Maya’s mad race from the Montreal courthouse to the airport. But it had been the right decision. They’d heard a report that the decoy police car that had been sent to Maya’s safe house was under attack. He’d come so close to losing her…
She reached over and ran her hand over his fist before lacing her fingers with his. Warmth flooded through him. Dieu, he loved that woman.
A housemaid arrived with a tray bearing three pisco sours. “Señor, there is a strange ringing noise coming from your office,” the young woman said as she placed the drinks on the table in front.
He exchanged glances with Maya as the color drained from her face. Only three people had the number of the cell phone he kept locked in his desk drawer—Daniel, Etienne, and her brother Sean.
“Excuse us, Grand-Papa,” Maya said as she hurried after him into the house.
By the time they reached his office, the phone had stopped ringing. But it started again within a minute.
“It’s Etienne,” Jacques said. He swallowed down the lump in his throat. Was the RCMP officer calling to say that Big Tony had found them and that they had minutes to leave? Or was the gangster back in custody and they could now breathe easily?
“Tony’s dead. You can come out of hiding now,” Etienne said without preamble. “We finally found him, and he was killed during the takedown. There will be no more trials. Maya is safe.”
Relief swept through him. He hadn’t realized how much fear for Maya’s safety lingered in him until it wasn’t there anymore. “Thanks, Etienne.” He put down the phone and wrapped Maya in his arms. “It’s over,” he said against her lips. They clung to each other for several minutes. He’d have stayed incognito for the rest of his life if it meant keeping her safe.
“I guess this means we’ll be returning to France now,” she said when he finally released her lips.
“I don’t know. I like it here, too.”
“Maybe we could split our time between the two countries. Enjoy endless summer.”
“You are a smart woman, Maya de Launay. Merci à Dieu, I don’t have to remember to call you Maya Delausanne anymore. Why don’t you tell Grand-Papa the good news while I call Daniel? Then we can celebrate.”
She kissed him on the cheek before exiting the room. He called his brother, who, although overjoyed that they no longer had to stay hidden, had an odd catch in his voice. Something was up with him. Their first priority would be to see him at his next race.
Jacques stepped out on to the veranda, the light and clean air wiping the last of the darkness from within him. Although Chile had been their escape, it was now home. Nowhere near as grand as the chateau, but comfortable and full of love. He’d have to check on his corporations, but he wouldn’t go back to working full time in Paris. He’d found his passion in a woman and winemaking.
Picking up his cocktail, he noticed that Maya had exchanged hers for a glass of fruit juice.
“At least now I’ll be able to personally hang the portrait of Jacques that I’m painting in the gallery at the chateau,” she said.
He froze, hope holding his tongue still.
“Those portraits are only hung when the next heir is born,” his grandfather reminded them.
“Maya?” Jacques held his breath.
“Well, I vote that we should slightly amend that tradition.” Maya stood and put her glass down before wrapping both arms around him. She leaned back and pure love shone from her cognac eyes. “In the spirit of equality, we should hang the picture whether it’s an heir or an heiress that is born.”
“Are you …?” He couldn’t even say the word.
“Yup. So even if we stay here for the summer, I’d like to go to France by March. I want the first room our baby sleeps in to be in his or her ancestral home.”
“That can definitely be arranged,” Jacques managed to say past the lump in his throat.
A wife. A baby. A future full of love. He had it all. And he would never let go.
Keep the story going by reading Daniel and Lexy's story in The Playboy and The Single Mum