Kristi Gold - Hotel Marchand 04

Darling Remy,

 

I am hoping that the damage done by the blackout is now behind us, and that the hotel can begin its recovery from the blow to its reputation. As so often happens, out of dark times comes unexpected joy. Remy, our daughter Sylvie is planning to marry a Boston lawyer. I know you’re surprised—our flamboyant artist with a New England lawyer—but it was Twelfth Night, after all!

 

Perhaps this is the beginning of romance for the Marchand women. Pete Traynor, a very attractive Hollywood director, has arrived at the hotel, and Renee seems to know him from her time at the studio. When I see them together, I am certain I detect a longing in our daughter’s eyes. I can almost hear you laughing at my wishful thinking. If our daughters decide not to marry, Remy, that will be fine, but after our wonderful years together, how can I help but wish the same for them all?

 

Besides, thinking of romance keeps me from worrying about the financial problems we’re facing and the canceled bookings after the blackout.

 

All my love,

 

Anne

Dear Reader,

 

For many years, New Orleans has held a special place in my heart. It’s the city where I celebrated my second honeymoon, where I first tried my hand at riverboat gambling and where I attended the ceremony as a nominee for my first major publishing award. Needless to say, when Hurricane Katrina tore into the Gulf Coast while I was in the process of writing this book, I struggled greatly with the story while I watched in horror as the events unfolded. Yet my difficulties paled in comparison to the devastation the citizens of New Orleans, as well as those located in the hurricane’s path, suffered at the hands of this hurricane.

 

Rebuilding the area will take years, but I have no doubt that the spirit of “The Big Easy” will prevail throughout the difficult process. I therefore dedicate this book in honor of those who have lost their homes and loved ones, and in memory of those who have lost their lives. May we never forget.

 

All the very best,

 

Kristi Gold

K
RISTI
G
OLD
Damage Control

After seven years of starts and stops,
Kristi Gold
saw the release of her first novel in 2000 and has since contracted over twenty-five books. A classic seat-of-the-pants author, she attributes her ability to write fast to a burning need to see how the story ends. She firmly believes that perseverance, some luck, a sense of humor, a continued love of the craft and faithful readers have contributed to her success.

 

As a bestselling author, a National Readers’ Choice winner, a
Romantic Times BOOKclub
Award winner and a Romance Writers of America RITA
®
Award finalist, Kristi’s learned that although accolades are wonderful, the most cherished rewards come from corresponding with readers and networking with other authors, both published and aspiring.

Kristi can be contacted through her Web site at www.kristigold.com.

To the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region for their indomitable spirit in the face of adversity and devastation.

“Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

—Cicero

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to my fellow authors from the Hotel Marchand series. It’s been a pleasure working with you all. And a special thanks goes out to my daughter, Lauren Goldberg, for her culinary expertise in assisting us with recipes for the desserts named after the Marchand daughters.

CHAPTER ONE

J
UST WHEN
R
ENEE
M
ARCHAND
thought she’d left Hollywood behind for good, Hollywood had come to her. After a three-year absence from her life, Pete Traynor now stood at her office window, staring out at the courtyard while her sister, Charlotte, extolled the virtues of the Hotel Marchand.

Renee discreetly remained outside the open door, awaiting a break in the conversation, even though she dearly wanted to storm into the room and demand answers to several questions. Out of all the four-star establishments in New Orleans, why had he chosen her family’s hotel? What were the real reasons he’d failed to direct the movie that she had been slated to produce after he’d claimed the project meant so much to him? And why hadn’t he had the decency to contact her prior to his abrupt departure. Or after, for that matter?

In an effort to restore her composure, Renee took a good long look at him, hoping all the things she’d once deemed attractive had disappeared with time. Initially she’d been fascinated by his creativity, his overt confidence and his keen instincts, which enabled him to generate visual feasts from simple words on a script. But the remarkable looks that matched his extraordinary mind had been difficult to ignore. They still were. His collar-length, rich brown hair, threaded with a touch of silver, was a bit on the rebellious side without being unstylish. His tan chinos and white polo only enhanced his physique—revealing his penchant for staying in shape—and his skin was a golden tone from time spent in the sun.

At forty-two, he hadn’t lost his physical appeal. And she highly doubted he’d lost his charm. Lots and lots of charm.

Eventually that deadly combo had led to Renee’s downfall, both personally and professionally. Never again would she allow that to happen with him, or with any man for that matter. She intended to stay firmly grounded in reality, and the reality was he’d basically ruined her career.

Renee smoothed a shaky palm down her brown linen suit, hitched in a deep breath and donned her professional persona in preparation for the confrontation. Her Southern upbringing had taught her grace under fire; her business acumen had trained her to keep all emotions in check. She could paint on a smile, demonstrate good cheer, even if her heart were threatening to break all over again. But she refused to reveal that his disregard had hurt her deeply, or that he could still affect her after all this time.

She breezed into the room displaying a carefully crafted calm and a practiced smile aimed at her sibling. “Did you need something, Charlotte?”

Renee’s composure drifted away the moment Pete turned from the window, his near-black eyes leveled on her. If he was at all surprised by her sudden appearance, he certainly didn’t show it. But then he’d always been one to mask his emotions, as skilled at control as Renee, except for that one night….

“We have a special guest,” Charlotte said, thrusting Renee back into the present. “Mr. Traynor, I’d like you to meet my sister—”

“We’ve met,” Pete said as he took a step forward. “It’s good to see you again, Renee.”

She studied his extended hand, afraid to touch him, but realizing that if she didn’t, Charlotte would know something wasn’t quite right between them. “It’s good to see you, too, Pete,” she said as she shook his hand briefly, pretending he was any other hotel patron.

“I didn’t realize you knew each other,” Charlotte said. “But I suppose that makes sense, considering you’ve both been in the Hollywood scene.” A short span of tense silence passed before Charlotte added, “Mr. Traynor has some concerns about privacy while he’s staying at the hotel. I told him you could address them.”

Renee tore her gaze away from Pete and landed it on Charlotte, who happened to be the hotel’s manager and quite capable of answering those concerns without involving her. “If you’ve already assured Mr. Traynor that we pride ourselves in maintaining our guests’ privacy, I doubt I can offer anything else.” Except for a hefty piece of her mind designed in great detail for their “special guest” should the opportunity present itself, and provided she had a mind left after this encounter.

Charlotte sent Renee a “What’s your problem?” look. “Since you’re in charge of public relations, I thought it would be best if you reiterate that.” She waved a hand toward the door. “And since Luc’s showing Mr. Traynor’s party to their quarters as we speak, I should make sure everything is in order.” With that, Charlotte rushed away without even a parting goodbye.

Renee recognized her sister was no slouch in the perception department and probably sensed something suspicious was going on, even though no one in the family knew about Renee’s brief affair with Pete Traynor. No one really knew all the reasons she’d left California and returned to New Orleans, either. She definitely planned to keep the past in the past. Regrettably, she would probably have to deal with Charlotte’s questions later, but first she had to deal with the preeminent director who continued to size her up as if she were being screen-tested.

“What are you doing here, Pete?” Renee internally flinched at the harshness in her tone, although in many ways he deserved her scorn.

He answered with a winning grin that he delighted in using to full advantage, particularly on women. “I’m checking out the town for an upcoming movie.”

Of course. She would be foolish to think anything other than his work would bring him to New Orleans. “Do you have a crew with you?”

“Evan Pryor, my art director. And an actress, but she’s not involved in the production.”

Which led Renee to believe she could be involved with Pete. That wouldn’t be a first. “Anyone I might know?”

“Ella Emerson.”

Although Renee hadn’t met her, she’d heard the current buzz about the young woman blessed with both beauty and brains, hailing from Australia, a country with a surplus of stunning people. “I understand she’s quite talented.” She wondered if Pete knew all her talents intimately.

“Right now she’s taking a brief vacation before her next shoot. That’s why I want to make sure she’s not bothered.”

Renee hated the sick feeling that settled over her when she thought about Pete with another woman. Hated that she would even care what he did or who he did it with. “You can be assured that you and Ms. Emerson will have your privacy, and that—”

“You look great, Renee.”

Even though she didn’t want his compliments, good manners dictated she respond politely. “Thank you.”

He inclined his head and gave her a slow once-over. “Almost as good as the last time I saw you. I liked what you were wearing back then a little better.”

She folded her arms tightly around her middle, as if that could shield her from the recollections. “It’s been what, almost three years? I don’t know how you could possibly remember what I was wearing.”

“You weren’t wearing anything.”

She clung to the last of her defenses, braced for the barrage of memories, and let her latent anger push them away. “Actually, I do remember certain aspects of our former association, particularly the part that involved a breach of contract.”

His gaze momentarily drifted away. “I had no choice in the matter. And I’m sorry you had to take the brunt of the decision.”

Renee was sorry she’d ever had to face him again. No good ever came from dredging up ancient history. “Fine. It’s done. Over.”

“Are you sure about that?”

If he’d been referring to their personal relationship, that had been over the minute he’d left her bed. “Yes, Pete, that’s all in the past. We should just leave it there.”

“I agree. I also think we should start over.”

Before Renee could come up with a sufficient rebuttal, the rapid sound of footsteps and the opening door drew her attention. A dark-haired little boy rushed into the room and threw his arms around Pete’s waist. “I caught you, buster,” he said.

“Yeah, you did, kiddo.” Pete grabbed him up and tossed him into the air before setting him back on his feet. When he turned the boy around, Renee immediately noticed the resemblance between the two. Was this his child? If so, not once had she heard that rumor, and keeping that sort of secret seemed highly unlikely in light of his status as a prominent Hollywood icon. But stranger things had happened, and that conjured up several scenarios that Renee hadn’t even thought to explore.

Pete rested his palms on the boy’s thin shoulders. “Adam, this is Ms. Marchand. Renee, my nephew, Adam.”

Nephew, not his son. Well, that answered at least one of Renee’s questions, if in fact he was being truthful. She stepped forward and extended her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Adam. And you may call me Renee.”

The boy gave her hand a jerk and presented a grin remarkably similar to his uncle’s. “Nice to meet you, too.” He looked back at Pete. “Can we go to the stores now?”

“It’s getting late,” Pete said. “Maybe tomorrow.”

The sound of more footsteps sent Renee’s attention back to the doorway, where a fresh-faced, auburn-haired woman appeared, one hand clutching a wide-brimmed straw hat, a pair of sunglasses gripped in the other. “There you are, Adam. You gave me quite a scare, running off like that.”

Her voice hinted slightly at an Australian accent, but Renee didn’t have to hear her to know she was the rising star, Ella Emerson. And presumably Pete’s current object of affection.

Adam braced both hands on his hips, looking as stern as a miniheadmaster. “You’re too slow, Ella. I run lots faster than you.”

“And you’re too wily,” Ella added as she moved into the room, her gaze immediately coming to rest on Renee. “Am I interrupting something?”

“Not at all.” Renee stepped forward and offered her hand, receiving a gentle shake from Ella in return. “I’m Renee Marchand. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

Ella’s smile traveled all the way to her green eyes. “And the same to you. Pete has spoken of you often.”

Renee sent a quick glance at Pete, who looked decidedly uncomfortable. “He has, has he?”

Pete cleared his throat. “How are the accommodations, Ella?”

Ella laid a delicate hand on her throat above the simple white silk blouse that looked anything but plain on her. “Fabulous. It’s a wonderful suite with two bedrooms connected by a lovely living area. The furnishings are grand and the view of the courtyard from the veranda is wonderful. We’ll be more than comfortable in that heavenly bed…” Her gaze drifted away along with her words.

“It’s okay,” Pete said. “You can trust Renee.”

But Renee wondered if Ella could really trust Pete. After all, he’d seemed quite ready to take a trip down memory lane with her only a few minutes before. “I understand the need for confidentiality in this situation.” Even though she didn’t understand why she felt so dejected.

“I appreciate that very much,” Ella added, a slight blush coloring her fair cheeks, making her all the more pretty. “And if it’s not too much of a bother, I would like a few more pillows delivered to the room. I tend to have back problems these days, although Evan, my fiancé, complains quite loudly whenever I bring more than two spares to bed with us.”

Her fiancé Evan?
Renee felt somewhat foolish for jumping to conclusions, but who would blame her, considering Pete’s reputation for courting rising stars? And fledgling producers, in her case. “That won’t be a problem at all. I’ll have housekeeping send them to you immediately.” Amazing how cheerful she now sounded.

“Could you suggest where we might have dinner?” Ella asked. “I’m famished.”

Adam jumped up and down twice before Pete planted a hand on his shoulder. “I’m hungry, too, Uncle Pete.”

Renee could handle arranging for an evening meal, even if she were having a problem handling Pete’s presence. “We have a wonderful restaurant here, Chez Remy. I could seat you in the private dining room so you won’t be disturbed.”

Ella pushed a palm against the small of her back. “That would be wonderful. I’m still exhausted from our flight.”

Renee checked her watch. “It’s five now. Would six-thirty be okay?”

“Great,” Pete said. “Where is this dining room?”

“I’ll show you on your way out.” And the sooner Renee got away from him, the better.

“Could you join us for dinner?” Ella asked. “Pete says you once produced a magnificent movie. I’d like to hear about it.”

Renee clasped her hands to keep from wringing the life out of them. “Well, I really—”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Pete said. “We could catch up.”

Renee warred with playing the perfect public relations host—or avoiding spending more time with Pete. But she could do this—have a nice dinner with nice people and leave it at that. After all, she’d worked all week cleaning up the mess after the blackout, dealing with disturbed patrons and a mysterious death following the Twelfth Night party the previous weekend. What could possibly happen at dinner that she couldn’t handle?

Simple. Her attraction to Pete, which still threatened to rage out of control, could become obvious. But not if she didn’t allow it. “I’d be glad to join you,” she said, both pleased and surprised by how easily the words flowed.

But when she inadvertently brushed against Pete’s arm as she passed by him, bringing about a host of sensations she tried to ignore, Renee recognized that being in his company wouldn’t be easy at all.

 

L
UC
C
ARTER WALKED
two blocks away from the hotel and pulled out his cell phone. With one call, he would set his next plan in motion by notifying the press that an elite party had checked into the hotel. More important, the art director and the up-and-coming actress were obviously an item even though they weren’t married. After seeing the bottle of prenatal vitamins drop out of her bag, he suspected parenthood was on the horizon for the couple, and that was prime fodder for scandal. Although the information would most likely leak out sooner or later, he didn’t see any harm in expediting things a little. And as an added bonus, the high-powered director apparently knew Renee Marchand well. A lot of potential there for serious conjecture, but he’d keep that to himself unless he needed it later.

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