Five

They slept on the plane, and arrived in Paris a week before Valentine’s Day. Then a limousine took them to the Ciel D’Or Hotel. And Hunter insisted they get right to the makeover.

So, before Sinclair could even get her bearings, they were gazing up at the arched facade of La Petite Fleur-a famous boutique in downtown Paris. A uniformed doorman opened the gold-gilded glass door.

“Monsieur Osland,” he said and tipped his hat.

Sinclair slid Hunter a smirking gaze. “Just how many makeovers do you do around here?”

“At least a dozen a year,” said Hunter as their footfalls clicked on the polished marble floor.

“And here I thought I was special.” They passed between two ornate pillars and onto plush, burgundy carpeting.

“You are special.”

“Then how come the doorman knew you by sight? And don’t try to tell me you’ve been shopping for Kristy.”

“Like good ol’ cousin Jack wouldn’t kill me if I did that. They don’t know me by sight. They know me because I called ahead and asked them to stay open late.”

Sinclair glanced around, realizing the place was empty. “They stayed open late? Don’t you think you’re getting carried away here?” She’d agreed to a makeover, not to star in some remake of Pygmalion.

He chuckled. “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“Hunter.”

“Shhh.”

A smartly dressed woman appeared in the wide aisle and glided toward them.

“Monsieur Osland, Mademoiselle,” she smiled. “Bienvenue.”

“Bienvenue,” Hunter returned. “Thank you so much for staying open for us.”

The woman waved a dismissive hand. “You are most welcome, of course. We are pleased to have you.”

“Je vous pr?sente Sinclair Manhoney,” said Hunter with what sounded like a perfect accent.

Sinclair held out her hand, trying very hard not to feel as if she’d dropped through the looking glass. “A pleasure to meet you.”

“And you,” the woman returned. “I am Jeanette. Would you care to browse? Or shall I bring out a few things?”

“We’re looking for something glamorous, sophisticated but young,” Hunter put in.

Jeanette nodded. “Please, this way.”

She led them along an aisle, skirting a six-story atrium, to a group of peach and gold armchairs. The furniture sat on a large dais, outside a semicircle of mirrored changing rooms.

“Would either of you care for a drink?” asked Jeanette. “Some champagne?”

“Champagne would be very nice,” said Hunter. “Merci.”

Jeanette turned to walk away, and Hunter gestured to one of the chairs.

Sinclair dropped into it. “Overkill. Did I mention this is overkill?”

“Come on, get into the spirit of things.”

“This place is…” She gestured to the furnishings, the paintings, the clothing and the atrium. “Out of my league.”

“It’s exactly in your league.”

“You should have warned me.”

“Warned you about what? That we’re getting clothes? That we’re getting jewelry? What part of makeover didn’t you understand?”

“The part where you go bankrupt.”

“You couldn’t bankrupt me if you tried.”

“I’m not going to try.”

“Oh, please. It would be so much more fun if you did.”

Jeanette reappeared, and Sinclair’s attention shifted to the half a dozen assistants who followed her, carrying a colorful array of clothes.

“Those are pink,” whispered Sinclair, her stomach falling. “And fuzzy. And shiny.” Okay, there was makeover, and then there was comic relief.

“Time for you to go to work,” said Hunter.

“Pink,” she hissed at him.

Hunter just smiled.

Jeanette hung two of the outfits inside a large, well-lit changing room. It had a chair, a small padded bench, a dozen hooks and a three-way mirror.

In the changing room, Sinclair stripped out of the gray skirt suit she’d worn on the plane, and realized her underwear was looking a bit shabby. The lace on her bra had faded to ivory from the bright white it was when she’d bought it. The elastic had stretched in the straps, and one of the underwires had a small bend.

She slipped into the first dress. It was a pale pink sheath of a thing. It clung all the way to her ankles, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. Making matters worse, it had an elaborate beading running over the cap sleeves and all the way down the sides. And it came with a ridiculous ivory lace hood thing that made her look like some kind of android bride.

There was a small rap at the door. “Mademoiselle?”

“Yes?”

“Is there anything you need?”

Cyanide? “Would you happen to have a phone?” Or maybe an escape hatch out the back? She could catch a plane to New York and start over again.

Oui. Of course. Un moment.

Sinclair stared at the dress, having some very serious second thoughts. Maybe other women could pull this off, taller, thinner, crazier women. But it sure wasn’t working for her.

Another knock.

“Yes?” If that was Hunter, she wasn’t going out there. Not like this. Not with a gun to her head.

“Your phone,” said Jeanette.

Sinclair pulled off the hood, cracked the door and accepted the wireless telephone.

She dialed her sister Kristy, the fashion expert.

Kristy answered after three rings. “Hello?”

“Hey, it’s me.”

“Hey, you,” came Kristy’s voice above some background noise of music and voices. “What’s going on? Everything all right?”

“It’s fine. Well, not fine exactly. I’m having a few problems at work.”

“Really? That’s not like you. What kind of problems?”

“It’s a long story. But, I’m in Paris right now, and we’re trying to fix it.”

“Hang on,” said Kristy. “I’m at the Manchester Hospital Foundation lunch. I need to get out of the ballroom.” The background noise disappeared. “Okay. There. Did you say you were in Paris?”

Sinclair’s glance went to the three-way mirror. “Yes. I’m doing a makeover, but I think I many have taken a wrong turn here, and I need some advice.”

“Happy to help. What kind of advice?”

“What do I ask for? Is there something that’s stylish but not weird?”

“Define weird.”

“At the moment, these crazy people are trying to dress me like an android bride, porn queen.”

There was laughter in Kristy’s tone. “Crazy people? What did you do to upset the French?”

“It’s not the French. It’s Hunter.”

“Hunter’s in Paris?”

“Yes.”

Kristy was silent for a moment. “Are you sleeping with him again?” “No.”

More silence. “You sure?”

“Yes I’m sure. What? You think I wouldn’t notice? We’re shopping for clothes.”

“I know things about Hunter that you don’t.”

“We’re not having sex, we’re shopping for clothes. And I’m all for that. Just not these clothes.” Sinclair glanced in the mirror again and shuddered.

“Where are you shopping?”

“La Petite Fleur.”

“Well, they’re good. Is somebody assisting you?”

“Yes. A nice lady named Jeanette, who appears to have horrible taste in dresses.”

“Put her on.”

“Just a minute.”

Sinclair cracked the door again. “Jeanette?”

“Oui?” The woman instantly appeared.

Sinclair held out the phone. “My sister wants to talk to you.”

If Jeanette was surprised by the request, she didn’t show it. She was gracious and classy as she took the phone, and Sinclair was grateful.

“All??” said Jeanette.

Sinclair closed the door. She didn’t want to risk Hunter calling her to come out there.

She stripped out of the dress and tried the other. It was made of black netting, with shoulder-length matching gloves. A puffy neckline of feathers nearly made Sinclair sneeze, while rows of horizontal feather stripes camouflaged strategic parts of her body. The netting base was see-through, so underwear would be out of the question beneath it.

Another knock.

“Yes?”

“You going to show me something?” asked Hunter.

“Not a chance.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

She took in her own image. Maybe she just didn’t have the body for high fashion. Other women looked good. Kristy always looked good.

“I really don’t want to go into it,” she said to Hunter.

“Keep an open mind. It can’t be that bad.”

“Trust me. It’s that bad.”

“Perhaps you’d care to try a different designer?” came Jeanette’s voice.

“Is Kristy still on the phone?”

“She will ring you back. But she made some suggestions.”

Sinclair flipped open the door latch. “No peeking,” she warned Hunter.

Then his cell phone beeped and she heard him answer it.

Good. Hopefully he’d be busy for a while.

She opened the door wide enough to take the new dresses from Jeanette. They were in blues and golds, and these ones didn’t appear to be pornographic.

She closed the door, took a breath, and tried on another one.

It was much better, and she felt a surge of hope.

It clung to her body, but not in an indecent way, and the fabric was thick enough that she could wear underwear beneath it. The netting on this dress was brown, and it was only used for a stripe across the top as well as a flirty ruffle from midcalf to the floor. In between was a glittering puzzle pattern of gold, brown, purple and green material.

Sinclair turned. She liked the way the ruffle flowed around her ankles, and the dress molded nicely to her rear end and her thighs.

There was another rap on the door. “How are you, madame?” called Jeanette.

Sinclair opened the door.

Jeanette cocked her head to one side. “Not bad,” she said of the outfit. “You’ll need some shoes with a little jazz to compete. And maybe a little more support in your bra.”

Was Sinclair offended by that last remark? No way. She was starting to like her new image.

“One moment,” said Jeanette.

She returned promptly with a bra, matching panties, a pair of stockings, and some spike-heeled, precarious-looking, rhinestone-studded sandals.

When Sinclair walked out of the change room, she nearly took Hunter’s breath away. The dress was a dream. Well, mostly her body beneath it was a dream. She looked glamorous and stylish, and it only added to her innate class.

“Can you hang on a minute?” he asked Richard Franklin, one of the Osland International lawyers.

“Sure,” Richard responded.

Hunter covered the phone. “Perfect,” he stated to Sinclair.

She smiled and, as usual, it lifted his mood. He found himself thinking about the evening ahead, and tomorrow, and the next few days. What could he show her in Paris? How could he keep her smiling?

He forced himself to switch his attention to Jeanette. “Can you do two or three more like that? And a couple of ball gowns, and some daywear?”

“Absolument.”

“You look fantastic,” he said to Sinclair.

It was a rocky start. But then she reflexively glanced in the mirror beside her, and he could tell by the shine in her eyes that she liked the outfit, too.

“Try to have fun,” he told her.

“I’m getting there.”

He gave her a thumbs-up.

They’d need some jewelry to go with it, of course. But that could be tomorrow’s mission.

It occurred to Hunter that he was probably having a little too much fun at this himself. But he shrugged it off. Dressing a beautiful woman ought to be fun. And if a man couldn’t have fun spending his money, what was the point in making any of it?

Jeanette herded Sinclair back into the change room, and Hunter returned to his phone call.

“Thanks for waiting,” he said to Richard.

“Do you have a contact name?” asked Richard.

“Seth Vanderkemp. The Castlebay Spa headquarters is on Rue de Seline. Do we have a contract lawyer on standby?”

“We do. In fact, I can get someone there overnight. When will you know?”

“Tomorrow. If it looks like we can get a contract, I’ll give you a call.” Hunter knew this was their last chance to get Luscious Lavender into a spa chain in time for the Valentine’s launch. If Castlebay was open to making a deal, he didn’t want to lose a single minute.

He ended the call.

Immediately, his phone rang again.

“Hunter Osland.”

“What the hell?” came his cousin Jack’s voice.

“What the hell what?” asked Hunter, reflexively cataloguing his actions over the past couple of weeks to see what could have upset his cousin.

“One, you’ve got Sinclair in Paris? Two, there’s trouble with her job. Three, you’re dressing her like an android hooker. And four, you’re probably sleeping with her? Take your pick.”

“Oh, that,” said Hunter.

That’s your answer?”

“What do you want me to say?” Hunter could tell his cousin to shut up and mind his own business. It was hardly a crime to go shopping. And he was behaving responsibly, particularly considering the attraction that still simmered between them.

“That you’re not sleeping with my sister-in-law.”

“I stopped.”

“Good. Stay stopped. She works for us. And you’re you.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means.”

Hunter sighed in exasperation. His reputation as a womanizer was not deserved.

“Tell Kristy I am not having a fling with her sister. Sinclair’s job is not in jeopardy. And she doesn’t look the least bit like a hooker.”

“And you’re not going to break her heart?”

Hunter pulled the phone away from his ear and frowned at it for a second. Then he put it back.

“Obviously, that was Kristy’s question,” Jack went on.

“What exactly have you told her about me?”

“Anything she asks. Plus, Gramps gave her the lowdown on some of your previous relationships. And you and Sinclair did start out with a one-night stand.”

“Thanks for the support there, cousin.”

Hunter hadn’t had that many relationships. All right, some of them may have been short-lived. But they simply hadn’t worked out. It wasn’t as if he went around breaking hearts on purpose.

“Personally,” said Jack, with more than a trace of amusement in his tone. “I’m more concerned about you. She’s got red hair.”

Hunter didn’t bothering answering. He hit the end button and shoved the phone back in his pocket.

His cousin’s joke was lame.

When Hunter was sixteen years old, he’d accidentally burned down the tent of an old gypsy fortune-teller. The woman had predicted Jack would marry a woman he didn’t trust. They’d lose the family fortune. They’d buy a golf course. And Hunter would marry a redhead and have twins.

So far, the only thing that had come close to happening was Jack marrying Kristy before he trusted her. But it was enough to get Jack fixated on redheads and the possibility of twins.

The door to the changing room opened again.

Sinclair emerged in a strapless, jewel-blue, satin evening gown that revealed creamy cleavage on top and silver-strapped, sexy ankles on the bottom. She’d pinned her hair up in an ad hoc knot. As she moved gracefully toward him, the fabric rustled over her smooth calves, while her deep, coral lips curved into a satisfied smile.

Hunter’s body reacted with a lurch, but then his stomach went hollow when he realized he couldn’t touch her.

Kristy had absolutely nothing to worry about. If anybody was getting their heart broken around here, it sure wasn’t going to be Sinclair.

Sinclair knew she’d be disappointed if Castlebay didn’t work out. There was her job, her future, Hunter’s reputation at the company, the success of the Luscious Lavender product line all to consider. And she’d reminded herself, she’d lived through two letdowns already. Still, walking up the stone steps to the Castlebay Spas head office, she was determined to fight the butterflies in her stomach.

“What should I focus on first?” she asked Hunter, anxious to get her part right.

She was wearing a mini, tweed coat dress, with pushed up sleeves, large black buttons, black stockings and high-heeled ankle boots. She’d pulled her hair into a simple, tight bob, as Jeanette had advised, and put on a little extra makeup, especially around the eyes.

“Leave the financial details to me. Give out product information only. If I brush your hand, stop talking. And, mostly importantly, walk, talk and act like a winner.”

She gave him a swift nod.

“Oh. And mention that you’ve tried the mousse.”

She shot him a disgusted stare.

“That was just to lighten you up.” He pulled open the heavy brass and glass door. “Relax.”

She took a breath. “Right.”

They didn’t talk in the elevator. And while they crossed the marble floor of the Castlebay lobby, Sinclair concentrated on her new shoes. She did not want to stumble.

“We have an appointment with Seth Vanderkemp,” Hunter said to the receptionist.

Sinclair caught the woman’s admiring look at her outfit, and she couldn’t help but smile. Wouldn’t the woman be surprised to find out she was staring at plain, old Sinclair Mahoney from Soho?

“Mr. Vanderkemp is expecting you,” said the woman. “Right this way.”

She stood and led them down a long hallway to an opulent meeting room. It had round beech-wood table, with a geometric, inlaid cherry pattern. There were four high-backed, burgundy leather chairs surrounding it. And the bank of windows overlooked the Seine.

“Good morning, Mr. Osland. Sorry to keep you waiting.”

“Not at all,” said Hunter. “We just got here. And, please, call me Hunter.” He turned to Sinclair. “This is my associate, Sinclair Mahoney.”

“Seth,” said the man, holding out his hand to Sinclair. “Pleasure to meet you.”

Sinclair shook. “Sinclair,” she confirmed.

Seth gestured to the round table. “Shall we sit down?”

Hunter pulled out a chair for Sinclair, then the men sat.

“Osland International’s latest acquisition,” Hunter began, getting right to the point, “is a boutique beauty-products company out of New York called Lush Beauty.”

“I’ve heard of Lush,” said Seth with a nod.

Sinclair thought that fact boded well for the discussions, but Hunter’s expression remained neutral.

“We’re in Paris for a few days,” explained Hunter, “looking for partners in the upcoming launch of a promising new line called Luscious Lavender.”

Sinclair mentally prepared herself to talk about the products. She’d start with skin care, move to cosmetics, then introduce some of the specialty personal care items.

“With Osland International’s involvement,” Hunter continued, “we’re in a position to launch simultaneously in North America and Europe. A spa would naturally be an ideal outlet for us, and we believe Castlebay’s clientele are dead center for our target market.”

Seth continued nodding, which Sinclair took to be a great sign.

“Under normal circumstances,” he said, “I would agree with you. And I’ve no doubt that Luscious Lavender would serve our client market well. But, there’s a complication.”

Sinclair’s stomach sank.

Hunter waited.

“There’s an offer on the table to purchase Castlebay Spas in its entirety.”

“What kind of an offer?” asked Hunter.

“I’m sure you realize I’m not in a position to discuss the particulars.”

Hunter sat back in his chair. “Let me put it another way.”

This time Seth waited.

So did Sinclair.

“What would it take to get the offer off the table?”

Seth looked puzzled. “In terms of…”

“In terms of another offer to purchase.”

Seth’s eyes narrowed. “Are you empowered-”

“I’m empowered.”

Seth stood up, crossing to a telephone on a side table, and picked it up.

Sinclair stared at Hunter.

Seth asked, “Do you mind if the head of my legal department joins us?”

“Not at all,” replied Hunter. “I assume you have a prospectus and some financials I could review?”

“It’s all in order. Plus a full set of appraisals.”

“Thank you,” said Hunter.

Then he turned to Sinclair, he penned a few words on a business card he’d pulled from his pocket and handed it to her. “Could you call Richard Franklin? Have him set up a meeting at our hotel this afternoon. I’ll meet you there.”

Sinclair palmed the card and quietly left the room.

On the way across the lobby, heart pounding, mouth dry, she flipped over the card. On the back was Richard’s name, his number and the phrase NO ONE ELSE.

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