TURNING UP THE HEAT
After eleven years of marriage, Léa Laurier knew her husband. Knew how he could take on responsibility for a world-famous restaurant, a wife, and her two teenage siblings at nineteen years old and never falter, never tire. Knew his drive and his ambition, that took him to the stars. Knew how briliant his gray eyes looked when they met hers for just one moment across a host of cameras. She didn’t know why she was so tired. She didn’t know why she needed to just get away. For a while. Maybe a week or two. A month. She’d be back.
After eleven years of marriage, international superstar chef Daniel Laurier knew his wife. Knew how she could lavish caring on everyone, her siblings, his staff, and most especially him. Knew the way her face lit up when he won yet another television contest, and the way she hugged him for it. Knew how her hair smelled when he sank into bed exhausted at one in the morning. He didn’t know what to do when he came home from a consulting trip to find she’d disappeared to remote South Pacific island: I just needed to get away for a little while. A week or two. I’ll call you.
As the whole solid world under his feet turned into a sandcastle in the tide, Daniel knew only one thing: whatever was wrong with his marriage or his wife, he wasn’t losing her. So as a top chef, he did the one thing he always knew how to do: turn up the heat.
DABWAHA (Dear Author Bitchery Writing Award for Hella Good Authors) 2013 Finalist!
“Exquisite, love-filled, sensual.” 5 stars plus, Mina’s Bookshelf
“This gently erotic romance with a French and tropical flavour would warm anyone’s heart in the dead of winter.” Fresh Fiction
“I love Laura Florand’s writing and the raw emotions she evokes.” For What It’s Worth
“Such a quality read. Laura Florand does not disappoint she delivers quality and consistency each time. Bravo!!” Guilty Pleasures
“I loved Daniel and Léa…they were great characters.I also loved their chemistry, it’s been a while I haven’t seen a couple with such a strong chemistry.“ Books, Books, and More Books
Daniel got back from Japan at three in the morning. It had been a good trip. The restaurant owner there had been eager to have Daniel’s expertise at developing his menu and his theme, and the man was doing good things. As always when away consulting, Daniel had absorbed new ideas for himself everywhere—from tastes in markets to artistic elements in monastery gardens. He had bought Léa a necklace that intrigued him and couldn’t wait to try its design in a subtle squiggle in the corner of a plate.
Sometimes he came back from trips revved up, ready for more, but that had been one hell of a flight, with delays and a double-whammy of jet lag since he had never really had time to recover in the other direction either. He didn’t blame Léa for not picking him up at the airport at three in the morning, but he was a little jealous of her comfortable bed. A little disappointed. She used to travel with him everywhere, but lately she was…just sick of it, he guessed.
Actually, sometimes these days, she only came into the restaurant for the morning, and when he managed to make it home on the break between services in the afternoon, he found her sleeping, which made no sense to him, since she was usually sleeping when he left and sleeping when he got home. How could anyone sleep that much? Especially Léa, who used to have so much energy she could handle all the insane demands of the restaurant during the day, pick up her younger siblings from school, help them with their homework, applaud at their school events, swing by the restaurant after they went to bed to give him a kiss and a hard hug and pitch in for an hour or two if things were intense, and still have energy left to come up with some crazy scheme for him to be on television that she would share with him as soon as he got home at midnight.
He missed her awake. Thank God she still handled the restaurant business management, or he would never see her.
Recently, she had started talking about hiring a business manager, which made something inexplicable knot in his gut. She had left him so little chance with her already, and if she didn’t have the bookkeeping to keep her in his vicinity…she would be entirely gone.
No more leaning over a sexy, shy, happy teenager who drove him crazy with hunger in the alley, reaching above her head to pluck a jasmine flower and tuck it into her hair, wondering if he could sneak her somewhere she would let him kiss her and kiss her and maybe…slip his hands up under her shirt, or even…
He smiled, despite his fatigue, rinsing the flight off in the guest bathroom so he wouldn’t wake her. But sometimes she liked for him to wake her, sliding into bed with her late at night.
She would roll over sleepily, and he would lean over her, stroking her hair back, and her face would light into a smile before she was even properly awake. And he would kiss her, sinking gently, hungrily into her, and know that despite how much his life seemed to be consuming him, everything would be all right.
The windows were shuttered, which was unusual. They lived up in the hills, overlooking a valley of roses on one side, with a far view of the sea from another, and Léa always slept with the shutters open, and in the summer the windows themselves. She loved the sight of moonlight sparkling on the water or gilding the great fields of roses far below. She liked the sound of the cicadas and the wind.
He cast a doubtful glance into the pitch blackness of the bed, not wishing to disturb her, but finally cracked open the shutters to let in some moonlight, because the place made him feel claustrophobic otherwise. He spent enough of his life in tight spaces.
Then he turned back toward the bed—and something cold tremored through him.
The bed—didn’t look right. He came closer, and this time the shock was so hard it hurt his heart. The bed was empty.
He had to shake himself, take a deep breath. Léa must be in the master bathroom, or in the kitchen getting water, or sitting on the terrace watching the full moon rise.
But she wasn’t in any of those places.
His heartbeat began to race out of control. “Léa?” He started to shout, flicking on lights. Where the hell was she? “Léa?”
The house was terrifyingly empty.
His phone bleeped suddenly multiple times in his pocket, finally getting enough reception to burp up all the messages it hadn’t been able to access while he was on the plane.
He yanked it out of his pocket, and relief surged through him so hard at the sight of her name, he had to grab hold of the table to steady himself. Okay. Okay. She must have gone somewhere. To a friend’s for dinner, had a glass too many, and stayed the night, something like that. The Rosiers below were famous for throwing parties and filling a big upstairs room with mattresses, so that nobody had to restrain their alcohol intake or leave at a wise hour.
He kind of didn’t like it, when she went without him, because—drunk people letting all their wild fun out, lots of mattresses—it wasn’t that he didn’t trust her, but…he hated it when she went without him. But he had never tried to stop her, because…because he knew he could trust her—he thought he knew, although, merde, sometimes he felt like he had barely seen her for years—and it would be cruel to limit her fun for him. Stupid and jealous and selfish.
He hit the voicemail. “Coucou, chéri.” Her voice sounded odd. Wistful and a little nervous. Anxiety tightened again, and he pivoted, still half-searching for signs someone had dragged her off against her will and was now holding her hostage. “I’m sorry to sneak out on you this way. You must be on the plane already. I just—needed to get away for a while.” A little nervous laugh. It made him want to surge out of shadows, eviscerate the man holding a gun to her head while she made this call, a bastard who had sure as hell messed with the wrong knife skills. “I’m, ah—I know you’re going to think this is crazy, but—I’m going to Tahiti. I think I’ll stay a week or two. I’m not sure exactly. I’ll try to call you in a few days. I just need a break. I…” She clearly had no idea what to say next. And suddenly, brightly: “I hope you had a great flight!” The voicemail ended.
Daniel pulled his phone away from his ear and stared at the moonlight over the valley of roses. What?
He hit call back immediately, no longer giving a damn if he woke her up. A cricket chirped from her bedside table. Her phone. He stared at it and actually almost started to leave a message, so intense was his need to talk to her. But then he realized how stupid he was being and slowly hung up.
“Wh—what the hell is going on, Dan?” His neighbor Grégory stumbled as Daniel dragged him out in front of his house two hours later. After listening to that message over and over. After sitting on their bed gnawing at it. After hunting through the house to see exactly what she had taken—not her family heirlooms, at least. A deep breath there. And he didn’t see her wedding rings abandoned anywhere.
“Did you see anything?” Daniel gestured toward the view of his own house. “Any signs of trouble?”
“Danny…it’s not even dawn yet. Wait—what? What do you mean—trouble?”
“Léa is gone.”
“She said she was going on a little trip,” Daniel said, but then wished he hadn’t. He didn’t want to falsely reassure anyone who might help in the search. “I just—did you see her when she left yesterday?”
“Sure, she waved. She did have a suitcase.”
“Did you see anyone in the back of the car?” Daniel asked tensely.
Grégory gaped. “You mean—like a lover? Merde, Dan…do you think…?”
Daniel stared at him in white shock, feeling as if the man had just detonated a grenade in his belly. “A lover? You think she has a lover?”
“No.” Grégory backed up a step.
Daniel followed. “What the fuck have you seen?”
“Nothing! Just…when you said about someone being in the car”—
“Someone forcing her to go! Her voice sounded funny! Not a—lover, damn you.”
“No! No. She seemed—fine. Happy, even.”
That stopped Daniel for a moment. He looked back over at his house. “Happy?”
“You know. Like someone going on a vacation, in fact.”
“Oh.” Daniel continued to stare at his house. He couldn’t remember what it was like to go on a vacation. In his teens, his father had taken him camping in the mountains sometimes. He had given all that up for Léa.
And she hadn’t even invited him?
Not that he knew when he could have gotten away, but…
He rubbed the back of his neck. “All right. All right. Sorry.”
“Were their signs of foul play?” Grégory asked, still worried by Daniel’s worry.
“She had a suitcase. She must have packed.”
“She forgot her toothbrush,” Daniel said lamely. Not really a sign that a woman had been drugged and dragged out of the house, when you looked at it closely.
“You must be jetlagged out of your mind,” Grégory decided finally, giving him a clap on the shoulder. “Give her a call. She probably won’t mind being woken up, if you’re this worried. I’m sure she’s fine.”
Daniel went back into his house, sat down on her side of the bed, and stared at her phone. After a minute, he picked it up, typed in her code, and started checking through all her recent calls.