Argeneau book #16
April 24, 2012
Christian Notte's story, the sixteenth book in the
Argeneau series is set on an island paradise called
St. Lucia. After a bad relationship and an even worse
divorce, Carolyn decides to go on a long overdue and
much needed vacation with the 'girls'. Only the rest
of the vacationers didn't get the memo. Around every
corner there seems to be another couple celebrating
their honeymoon or anniversary and the few single men
she does see are far too young to even consider, including
an irresistibly attractive rock violinist she meets.
It's really too bad he's so young but in the end it
doesn't matter because according to his cousin, Giacinta,
women in general aren't Christian's type. But there's
a catch, Christian needs Carolyn's help. He needs her
to be his beard (to play the part of his fake girlfriend)
for the week to appease his 'machismo' family. Carolyn
just can't seem to say No and decides to help Gia's
cousin. The only problem is that being around Christian
and acting like they are a loving couple is wreaking
havoc on her emotions. Carolyn's thoughts keep drifting
back to places they shouldn't, like kissing his full
lips or feeling his broad shoulders under her fingertips...
good lord, she's in trouble.
All I can say is that this is my favourite Argeneau story to date. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
“I don’t see any tables,” Carolyn said, glancing over the busy open-air restaurant.
Julius’s eyebrows rose and he turned to peer at Carolyn with new interest, and then pulled a cell phone from his pocket and began to punch in numbers.
“We can sit at the bar,” her friend, Bethany, said with a shrug. When Carolyn frowned, she rolled her eyes, and caught her arm to drag her toward the bar, adding, “We’ll move to a table as soon as one opens up. Besides, we’re only going to be here until Genie arrives and our table is ready next door anyway.”
“Right,” Carolyn breathed and slid onto the stool Bethany directed her to. She then glanced over her shoulder self-consciously, her gaze skittering over the young, laughing crowd surrounding them. Despite the setting sun, it was still hot and most of the patrons were dressed casually in shorts and summer dresses. This was the more casual restaurant at the resort with bare wooden tables crowded onto the railed deck, and Caribbean music barely covering the sound of talk and laughter. In comparison, the indoor restaurant next door, where she, Bethany and Genie were to eat was a four star affair with proper tables, table cloths, silverware, candle light and four star prices. They’d dressed accordingly which left Carolyn feeling a little like they stuck out like sore thumbs amongst this more relaxed crowd.
That wasn’t the only thing making her uncomfortable, however. It was the clientele here, as well. Most of the people seemed to be half their age, though there were some older people. But no matter their age, they all seemed to be paired off. She and Bethany were the only single females, or single anything as far as she could tell. Everyone else was part of a couple.
Probably on their honeymoons, Carolyn thought unhappily as she noted all the intimate smiles and gentle kisses being exchanged around them. The sight made her sigh and turn her eyes forward to stare at the bottles of liquor lining the back of the bar as she wondered if this hadn’t been a huge mistake.
“What can I get for you two pretty ladies tonight?”
Carolyn blinked as her view was suddenly blocked by a smiling bartender. The man wore a white shirt and dark slacks. His eyes were dancing and his teeth looked incredibly white against his dark skin as he beamed happily at them. Everyone here seemed to be happy and beaming, she noted.
Must be something in the water, Carolyn thought and forced a smile. “A glass of white wine, please”
“The same for me,” Bethany announced. “And two shots of tequila as well.”
“Tequila?” Carolyn asked as the bartender moved away.
“Yes, tequila. And we are downing them the minute they arrive and then ordering more,” Bethany said firmly.
Carolyn hesitated. She wasn’t really interested in tequila shots, but simply asked, “Are you sure your stomach can handle it?”
Bethany had been complaining about her stomach since they’d eaten their dinner on the plane here. Carolyn had taken the rubber chicken, but Bethany had opted for the salmon and had been swearing ever since that it had been bad.
“I’m hoping the tequila kills whatever nasty little parasites the salmon had growing in it,” Bethany said. “Failing that it will make me puke it back up and get it out of my system. Either way, I’ll recover quicker than without it.”
Carolyn gave a disbelieving laugh. “Yeah, well, I don’t think I--”
“Good, you shouldn’t be thinking,” Bethany interrupted firmly. “I brought you here so you wouldn’t think, remember? And to make you relax and enjoy yourself for the first time in God knows how long. And you are going to relax, Carolyn Connor, if I have to personally pour every last drop of alcohol there is in St. Lucia down your throat.”
“I am relaxed,” she protested at once.
Bethany snorted. “Sweetie, you’re as wound up as a clock and have been for years. And, as your friend, I am going to see you unwind if it kills us both.”
Carolyn stared at her blankly, and then felt the tension in her shoulders ease. A small, real smile claiming her lips she said, “What would I do without you?”
“Lock yourself in your house, leave it only to go to work, and die lonely, old, and bitter,” Bethany said promptly.
Carolyn laughed, but it was a hollow sound, because the sad fact was that Bethany was probably right. If it weren’t for Bethany she’d be locked down already, either in her house or at her office, her head buried in business as she struggled to forget the last ten years and pretend she wasn’t heartbroken and, yes, bitter.
“So . . .” Bethany arched an eyebrow. “Let Aunt Beth nurse you back to health and happiness. I promise you are going to have a very good time on this trip. You will laugh and have fun and even get laid. It will be the time of your life.”
“Right,” Carolyn said dryly, some of her tension returning. The last thing she wanted at this point was to get involved with another man. Been there, done that, got the divorce lawyer to prove it, she thought grimly, and then glanced to the bartender as he returned with two wineglasses and two shot glasses, both with golden liquid in them.
“Thank you,” Bethany said cheerfully, pushing one of the shot glasses toward Carolyn and then lifting the other as she turned on her bar stool to face her. “So . . .” She paused and waited pointedly.
Carolyn picked up her shot glass with resignation.
“To a good time in St. Lucia,” Bethany said firmly and tossed back her shot.
Carolyn raised the small glass to her own lips and took a sip, grimacing as the liquid burned its way across her tongue.
Bethany set her glass down with a gasp, glanced to Carolyn and frowned when she saw her still full shot glass. “Down it,” she said firmly. “Dr. Beth’s orders.”
“Down it,” Bethany repeated pushing the glass to her lips.
Carolyn did as ordered, gasping and coughing as the liquid burned down her throat and slammed into her stomach.
“That a girl,” Bethany said with approval. Slapping her back with one hand, she took the empty glass from her with the other and set it in front of the bartender, saying, “Two more.”
“Beth,” Carolyn got out, her voice raspy, “I haven’t drunk in ages. I—”
“You haven’t done a lot of things in ages,” Beth interrupted as the bartender refilled their shot glasses. “And you’re going to do them all here. So don’t even try to fight it. Trust me, I know what’s best for you.”
Carolyn shook her head, but accepted the shot when the bartender pushed it toward her.
Beth clinked her glass and said, “To freedom.”
Carolyn downed the shot without prompting this time and waited for the coughing fit to follow, but suspected her throat was still numb from the first shot. This one went down more smoothly, and she only had to clear her throat a little afterward. She set the glass down and pointed out, “I’m not free yet.”
“Semantics.” Bethany gestured for the bartender to pour them both another. “The worst is over. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the courts to do their thing.”
“Yeah,” Carolyn murmured as another shot appeared before her.
Raising her glass, Bethany said, “Here’s hoping they’re quicker about it than they have been with everything else.”
Carolyn drank, but as she set the empty glass back, she said, “I don’t really care. I’m in no rush.”
Bethany scowled as she gestured to the bartender again. “I swear, every time you say that it sends a shudder down my back. It makes me think you don’t want the divorce at all. That you’re still hung up on him and want to get back together.”
“No,” Carolyn assured her solemnly. “That isn’t the case at all. But I’m also not eager to rush into a new relationship. In fact, I’ve decided marriage just isn’t for me. So what do I care if it takes a while to resolve the old one?”
“Right.” She smiled. “It doesn’t matter. You got everything you wanted.”
Carolyn snorted. “What I wanted was a happy marriage. Failing that, I wanted a fair divorce settlement.”
“Then that’s our next toast,” Bethany said cheerfully. “To the incredible Larry Templeton, lawyer extraordinaire who is going to get you everything you deserve and more.”
Carolyn raised her shot glass, but found it hard to smile. Bethany was trying to cheer her up and ensure she enjoyed this vacation, but she simply wasn’t in the mood. Carolyn was heartsore, bruised, disillusioned, and, frankly, depressed. And she suspected being at this resort in the Caribbean wasn’t going to help. It was obviously a popular place for honeymooners. Everyone was smiling and happy and full of love and hope. It was a depressing counterpoint to her own state, mid-divorce and traveling with a friend. At forty-two she was also old. Or at least she felt old. Christ, she’d never felt so old in her life, Carolyn acknowledged unhappily; old, jaundiced, beaten down. How had she gotten this way?
Carolyn pushed her less than pleasant thoughts away and lowered her shot glass to glance at Bethany. Her eyebrows pulled together when she saw the uncertain look on her face and the way she was suddenly clutching her stomach.
“Are you all right?” she asked, leaning toward her with concern.
“I don’t think the tequila killed the bugs like I was hoping,” Beth muttered.
Carolyn bit her lip. “Do you want to go back to our villa? We can give dinner a miss tonight and just—”
“No, no, Genie is supposed to meet us here,” Bethany interrupted, and then her gaze slid past Carolyn and she brightened. “Oh look, a table has opened up. Why don’t you take our drinks over while I go vomit.”
Carolyn glanced instinctively over her shoulder to see a couple leaving a table on the lower deck overlooking the beach. She then glanced sharply back as Bethany’s last word sank in, but Beth was off her stool and already weaving through the crowd toward the washrooms between the open-air bar/restaurant and the fancier dining establishment beside it.
“I’ll bring your drinks,” the bartender announced, scooping up the two full wineglasses and her shot. When he started around the bar, she stood, thinking she’d claim the table, but if Beth took more than a couple moments, she’d check on her.
Carolyn started to walk, but bit her lip when the room shifted a bit around her. It seemed the tequila was hitting her already. Great, she thought, following carefully as the bartender led the way through the crowd.
When he paused suddenly, she glanced around his shoulder to see that a couple had approached the table from the opposite direction.
“It’s okay,” Carolyn said to the bartender at once. “We can wait at the bar.”
“No, no, no,” he said beaming from her to the couple. “The table sits four. You can share and make friends.”
“Oh, no, that’s okay,” Carolyn said, cringing at the very idea as her gaze slid over the young couple. They looked to be about twenty-five or so. The man was dark-haired, and dark-eyed with the swarthy good looks of an Italian. He was also smiling faintly, one possessive arm around the woman; a curvaceous, auburn-haired beauty who was peering at Carolyn with a discomfiting interest. Definitely honeymooners, she thought unhappily.
“Don’t be silly.” The woman suddenly beamed. “We’d be happy to share. We’re only waiting for our table to open up in the restaurant next door.”
“So are this pretty lady and her friend,” the bartender announced happily, setting the glasses down and moving to pull out a chair for Carolyn even as the other man pulled out one for his wife.
Carolyn gave in and said, “Thank you,” as she slid into the chair.
After asking the couple what they’d like, the bartender slipped away to get their order.
“Well, this is lovely,” the woman said with a pleased little sigh and then held out her hand. “I’m Marguerite Argeneau.”
“Argeneau-Notte,” the man corrected gently, pronouncing it Ar-zsa-no-No-tay, and the woman blinked, then laughed with embarrassment.
“Marguerite Argeneau-Notte,” she admitted wryly, and explained, “It’s new. I’m not used to it yet.”
Carolyn managed a smile and accepted the offered hand as the woman continued, “And this is my wonderful husband, Julius Notte.”
“Carolyn Connor.” She held on to her smile as the man now took her hand in a firm, warm grip, then sat back and cleared her throat. “Honeymooners?”
“Yes,” Marguerite chuckled. “But we’ve been married for weeks. I should be adjusting to the name change by now.”
“You’ve been here for weeks?” Carolyn asked with interest.
“Oh, no. We only arrived a couple days ago,” Marguerite said. “We had some family matters to tend to back in Canada before we started our honeymoon.”
“Oh.” Carolyn blinked. “You’re Canadian?”
“I am.” Marguerite smiled. “You?”
“Yes, Toronto.” Carolyn lifted her wineglass to her lips, but paused and set it back down thinking perhaps it would be better to switch to water or Diet Coke. She really wasn’t much of a drinker and didn’t want to end up in the bathroom stall next to Bethany. That thought made her glance in the direction her friend had disappeared to as she wondered if she should go check on her now.
“What a small world. I’m from Toronto too,” Marguerite said happily, reclaiming her attention.
“Are you?” Carolyn asked turning back.
Marguerite nodded, and then smiled at her husband and leaned into the arm he’d placed along the back of her chair, adding, “But Julius is from Italy, so we are going to split our time between Canada and Italy for now despite the fact that his business and family are in Italy.”
“You’d miss your family if we stayed only in Italy, cara. I want you happy.”
Carolyn managed another smile as Julius bent his head to press a gentle kiss to Marguerite’s lips, but just barely. Their love and happiness was actually painful for her to witness. Turning her head away, she glanced again in the direction Bethany had taken, thinking she should definitely check on her. And where was Genie? Their reservation was for seven thirty and it was nearly that time now.
“Are you on vacation?”
Carolyn glanced back, relieved to see that Marguerite had straightened, putting some distance between herself and her husband.
“I—yes.” She raised her glass to her mouth to hide her expression as a grimace claimed her lips. A moment of silence passed as she sipped her wine, but it was just a sip. The tequila appeared to be ruffling its way through her brain as it was, leaving her confused and depressed. Alcohol was not a cure for depression, Carolyn thought, and promised herself she wouldn’t let Beth urge any more on her.
She set down her glass and glanced up to find Marguerite eyeing her solemnly, her expression concentrated. It felt like the younger woman was looking right through her and seeing the failed wasteland of her life.
“Perhaps I should check on Beth.” Carolyn pushed back her chair and stood, but paused as Genie suddenly appeared and caught her up in a hug.
“Oh, my God, I’m so sorry. I meant to be here half an hour ago, but just as I was leaving the office I got a call that the band I hired for the next week had to cancel. They were supposed to start tomorrow night, but there’s been a death in the drummer’s family.” She released Carolyn and turned to drop into the empty chair beside hers. “I’ve been making frantic calls ever since trying to replace them and then saw the time and thought I’d better get down here and explain.”
Carolyn sank back into her chair as Genie grabbed Bethany’s glass of wine and took a deep swallow. Carolyn glanced to their table companions. “This is Genie Walker, a friend of ours from university and the reason we decided to vacation here. Genie, this is Marguerite and Julius Notte.”
“Hello, I hope you’re having a nice stay,” Genie said, her professional face sliding back into place as she set down Bethany’s glass.
“Yes, lovely,” Marguerite assured her. “You work here, then?”
“She’s the entertainment coordinator for the resort,” Carolyn said.
“Soon to be ex-entertainment coordinator if I don’t find a replacement band that can be out here by tomorrow night,” Genie moaned and stood up. “I’m sorry, Caro, I have to go. I ran into Beth on the way here. She was headed back to the villa. She says she’s fine, but wants to lie down. I promised I’d keep you company for dinner, and I will, but I really need to find a replacement band first. I’ll come back and join you the minute I find one. But it might be a while. I—”
“That’s okay.” Carolyn stood up as well. “I’ll just go back to the villa and order room service. We can have dinner tomorrow night instead.”
“Sit,” Marguerite ordered.
Carolyn stiffened at the sharp order, but found herself immediately sinking back into her seat though she didn’t recall deciding to. Genie, too, sat down again, she noted with confusion and felt concern begin to stir within her, but as soon as it began to rise, it immediately receded, leaving her calm and relaxed.
“You will both be joining us for dinner,” Marguerite announced with a smile. “I have just the band for you.”
At least, that’s what Carolyn thought she’d meant, though band had sounded like man. But then the tequila was really kicking in now so she’d probably misheard.
“Carolyn?” Julius asked and Carolyn glanced to him, but he was looking at Marguerite.
Nodding, the woman beamed at him. “Christian must come.”