Authors: Eve Bourton
LOVE IN VOGUE
When her tycoon father suddenly dies, Corinne Marchand throws herself into running his couture empire based in Paris. Having been abandoned by her playboy lover Philippe de Rochmort three years earlier, she’s also mistrustful of men and convinced that she is better off alone – so when she meets attractive merchant banker Miles Corsley, she refuses to give the him the time of day, let alone a date.
Corinne's younger sister, model Yolande, has loved Philippe’s brother Yves all her life, and they are to be married – but after meeting bad boy film star Patrick Dubuisson she breaks off her engagement and embarks on a passionate affair in Hollywood.
When Philippe finally returns to France and shocking secrets are revealed, Corinne has to decide if she will trust Miles with more than her money as they battle to save her company from a hostile takeover – while Yolande learns the hard way that Hollywood glamour doesn't always bring happiness.
Paris is the city of love, but will it ever be in vogue for the Marchand girls again?
|Chapter Twenty one|
‘God, I feel sick.’
Corinne Marchand’s dark eyes dimmed with pain. It was too hot. So horribly oppressive. Mid July, and despite the air-conditioning she was sweltering in a black linen suit in the executive bathroom at her father’s office, making last-minute touches to her make-up.
‘So do I.’ But Yolande, standing beside her, still looked infuriatingly cool even at this moment of crisis. ‘You’re smudging your mascara. Let me.’
Corinne obediently stood still while her younger sister skilfully repaired the damage. Her stomach had been invaded by a squadron of butterflies, her hands wanted to shake. But she had her speech ready. In her head. Word perfect. She was here to fight. And she was going to win.
‘What if they vote against me?’
‘But everybody expects Georges to take over.’
‘Why? Papa certainly didn’t want him to, and he doesn’t even want it himself.’
‘What about you? You’re perfectly entitled to stand against me.’
And they both had to grin. As if. Yolande had never been interested in anything other than modelling and enjoying herself in Parisian night spots where Corinne always felt out of place.
‘Had to read you your rights,
Yolande smiled sadly. That had been their father’s endearment for her. ‘Yeah, I know. But no thanks. Oh, I miss him so much.’ She turned into her sister’s arms, clung on, choked back the tears.
‘Me too. Me too.’ Corinne held her close, struggled to keep her control. ‘Don’t start me off. I’ll look like a complete Goth if this mascara runs again. We’re already late.’
It was quite a change after the high-rise steel and glass of the bank’s office on London Wall – a boardroom in exquisite Second Empire style, with all the gilt and glamour befitting the headquarters of a major fashion house on the chic Avenue Montaigne. Miles Corsley was at last beginning to enjoy his secondment to Paris. He briefly checked his tie in one of the huge mirrors and laid out his papers on the polished walnut table, tuning his ear in to the various conversations in French going on around him. There was Marchand Enterprises’ finance director, Georges Maury, a well-built man with thinning grey hair combed back neatly from his forehead, in ponderous discussion with a sharp-featured junior: business school clones. Then a couple of leisured looking gentlemen, more interested in their golf handicaps than the fact that they were here to vote on the future of one of France’s most prestigious companies. Non-executive directors up from the provinces, Miles guessed. Probably from Burgundy, where the late Jean-Claude Marchand had started his business empire as producer of one of the finest wines on the Côte d’Or before branching out into exclusive cosmetics and fashion.
Miles had met the legendary Jean-Claude only once, four weeks previously, and had been almost knocked out by his sheer zest for life. He was every inch the tycoon – tough, shrewd, and charming, with penetrating green eyes and a sharp wit. That he had found time in his crowded diary to try to lick a young banker from London into shape was a tribute to both his generosity and his energy. And, Miles was sure his Uncle Rupert would say, to his incurable optimism. Now he was dead. It was a sharp reminder that one should always seize the day.
An impeccably dressed young man with a shock of black hair was pacing the other side of the room. That had to be Yves de Rochemort, one of the major shareholders. Miles noted his height because it was unusual for him to meet a Frenchman at the same eye-level as his own six feet two inches. He was a baron, if Miles remembered correctly, though of course the title was of no account in the French Republic except in certain circles where the old nobility still concerned themselves with such things. He kept looking anxiously at the panelled double doors.
Clearly the Marchand sisters were unused to business, and didn’t realise they should have been here fifteen minutes ago. They probably wouldn’t stay long. All Miles had heard was that their late father had been wildly indulgent and that the youngest, Yolande, who intermittently pursued a modelling career at Hervy, the ailing couture house he had rescued from oblivion a few years before, filled the gossip columns with her escapades. Twenty-nine-year-old Corinne was something of a mystery. An airhead like her sister, his colleague James had said, but without the looks. She worked for her father in some senior role, but seemed very good at keeping herself out of the limelight. No, they would be gone quickly. Georges Maury was sure to become the new managing director, and then Miles could have a long hard chat with him about the huge sums that Marchand owed Corsley First European Bank.
The boardroom doors swung open. So the Marchand sisters had finally decided to show up. Miles glanced up perfunctorily; and was sure he heard the thud as his jaw hit the floor. The taller of the two had the grace of a dancer and a beauty that was searing and vital – tumbling chestnut hair, luminous green eyes under arched brows, high cheekbones, full mouth, and a surprisingly firm chin. Aristocrat and sex goddess all in one. He wouldn’t have believed her to be real if she hadn’t cast him a curious half-smile as her eyes swept the room. Obviously used to making an entrance, he thought. And bloody terrifying; the sort of girl who could eat a man for breakfast and two more for lunch and dinner. That had to be Yolande. He would have recognised her anyway by the strong resemblance to her father. Yves de Rochemort bounded over to her and circled her waist with his arm, then kissed her lips. He escorted her to a seat, while Georges Maury went over to Corinne. After the formal cheek-kissing, he gave her an affectionate hug.
Miles watched in growing appreciation as Corinne was led to the head of the table. James needed to get his sight tested. Though her looks were more reticent, she was every bit as easy on the eye as her sister. Curvier, but still slender, her legs and hips were swathed elegantly in black. She wore a pale pink silk blouse and minimal jewellery. Dark hair was swept back from a classic face, with the same arched brows, high cheekbones, and uncompromising chin as Yolande. He realised that smouldering black eyes were trained on him warily but he just stared back. Couldn’t help it. A man could drown in molten eyes like that. And when he caught the spicy notes of her perfume, he felt as though he’d been punched in the gut.
‘Who the hell is that?’ Corinne whispered to Georges.
‘He’s representing the lenders. He’ll go when we’ve discussed the figures – first item on the agenda.’
Corinne resented the way the man stared at her, and not just because of his want of manners. It was the fire of arousal in his eyes, the hungry way they raked over her and laid her bare. It infuriated her because for a millisecond she felt a responsive shiver, desire she thought she had killed entirely during the past few years. And surprised her because outwardly he seemed like a gentleman. An attractive one too if it weren’t for that insolent gaze. He had an air of unmistakable authority, with piercing grey-blue eyes that gave intensity to a rugged face. The nose was aquiline, the mouth stubborn. His light brown hair was closely cropped like a soldier’s. There was nothing soft about him, she thought. Well, maybe a gentleman who played hard ball. His pin-striped suit was decidedly English, and if she wasn’t mistaken, so was he. She resolved to conduct the entire meeting in French.
She took the chair and called the meeting to order. A secretary began to take minutes. There was one empty seat – it belonged to Antoinette Brozard, one of the non-executive directors. Corinne looked questioningly at Georges.
‘I’m afraid Toinette is unwell and sends her apologies. She nominated me as her proxy.’
Corinne quickly extinguished a flicker of annoyance, and then fixed her eyes on the stranger.
‘We haven’t been introduced,’ she said, her voice as icy as her expression.
‘Miles Corsley.’ He stood up, tall and straight. ‘From Corsley First European Bank. May I offer our sincere condolences on your father’s death.’
Oh, the boss’s son, thought Corinne. And though his French was good, the accent was definitely Anglo-Saxon. They had a damn nerve sending some junior family member to check on her company and apologise for driving her father so hard he had dropped dead of a heart attack. Fifty-eight, no signs of illness. No warning that her wonderful father, so full of life and love, would be lying on a mortuary slab instead of chairing this meeting with his customary verve and good humour. She felt tears come to her eyes, and forced herself to block out the image of his body at the hospital, that last kiss on his cold forehead.
‘Thank you,’ she said curtly. She turned to the secretary. ‘Sylvie, please note that Monsieur Corsley will be in attendance for agenda item one only.’
It wasn’t so difficult when Corinne hit her stride. The butterflies fluttered away, her voice gained in confidence, she engaged everyone in the meeting with a look, a smile, as she hoped they would approve her presentation of the latest company figures. She’d watched her father do it so well, so many times. It was in her blood. And it soon showed.
‘As you can see from the spreadsheet, Marchand-Beauté profits show a seven per cent quarterly increase, with a projected twenty-five per cent for the full year – our sales peak comes at Christmas. We have increased turnover and reduced costs, and I expect further cost savings of twelve million euros for this year to come through once our rationalisation of production is complete. Our mid-range products are doing well in retail, but we have had rapid growth from the web boutique. It will be one of my priorities to continue the work my father started in this area. Hervy couture is finally showing a profit – modest, but very encouraging – while the accessories have really taken off in China and Russia, and I expect continued profits growth as we roll out in other global markets. We are spending a considerable amount on launch of the
range and perfumes, but if anything I feel the profits forecast for this sector is conservative. My recent trips to London, New York, Beijing, and Tokyo have convinced me we have the right designer and product range to bring this great brand back to the glory days when Hélène Hervy established the company in this very building so many decades ago. Now, on the second page you’ll see projections for our holding in Elegance Hotels …’