Home > A Breath of Jasmine

A Breath of Jasmine
Author: Ava Miles

Chapter 1

 

 

Quinn Merriam hated groveling.

As the chief executive officer of Merriam Enterprises, the very notion made his stomach seize up like he’d eaten bad clams. He didn’t grovel to anyone. Never had. Never would.

But Francesca Maroun was the kind of woman a man sank down on one knee in front of. He should know—he’d done it before, although last time he’d asked her to marry him. This time he was hoping to enlist her help for his family company.

He straightened his tie, an Italian blue silk one she’d favor, as he walked up the drive to the historic Frank House she’d rented on Cavallo Point Lodge’s property outside of San Francisco proper.

Back then, unprecedented world events had split them up, and her perceived duty to her family had kept them apart. Those circumstances had been one in a million, though, and there was no way he was letting her refuse him today. He needed her genius Fortune 500 consulting skills to help turn Merriam Enterprises around.

He hoped like hell he could keep his mind strictly on business during this first meeting. The python-like constriction around his rib cage suggested otherwise.

Back then, Francesca’s body had driven him to a depth of desire he hadn’t thought possible. But her brain had been equally arousing. They’d come together at a party in London, both pursuing master’s degrees, and ignited like a bonfire.

Their relationship had been short, in the scheme of things, but he’d never loved like that again.

He hoped she would remember it.

Because he had never forgotten.

His heart still hurt. He hoped to hell hers did too, because he had a second objective: winning her back. It was a lofty goal for a man who’d waited fifteen years, but his brother Connor had inspired him to try. Connor thought it meant something that he still yearned for Francesca after so many years apart, and Quinn was starting to think he was right. The Merriams had always known their soulmates, and he was no different.

Knocking on the door, he fortified himself. The bottle of Dom Perignon champagne casually tucked against his side had been meticulously chosen—a memorable vintage from one of her favorite vintners. In his other hand was a bouquet of jasmine flowers. They grew on her family’s estate in Lebanon, or so she said—he had never gone, although they’d talked about him visiting—and she’d explained the symbolism: jasmine flowers were for welcoming family and friends alike. He hoped she’d understand the subtext.

He wanted to welcome her back into his life and make her feel at home there.

When she opened the door after his discreet knock, a whip of fire seemed to lash his skin. She was even more stunning than she’d been the day they met. The black hair he’d tangled his fingers in still reached her shoulder blades, thick and lustrous, and the radiance of her olive skin made him want to reach out and caress her. As he gazed into her almond-shaped violet eyes, he felt his heart rattle in the glass prison he’d put it in all those years ago. If her gaze hadn’t been as direct and assessing as ever, he would have dropped the bottle of bubbly.

“You brought champagne,” she said, her sultry accent redolent of her homeland and her European schooling. “I traveled from Paris for a business meeting, Quinn.”

A reprimand was in her tone, but in her eyes was something altogether different. They were meeting on her turf and not Merriam headquarters at her suggestion, likely because she’d known any meeting between them would be emotionally charged enough to power a rocket ship. And while she’d always been good at shuttering her emotions, he could see what she was trying so hard not to show. He could see the same longing he felt for her.

Yeah, she still remembered everything they’d shared. God, the relief made his head spin.

“It is a business meeting, Francesca, but I brought you a bit of home as well,” he said, resting his weight on his left foot, adjusting to her powerful presence. He’d once told her she could ruffle the velvet curtains in any storied London building by merely walking through the room. The air around her seemed to shift in response to the sheer force of her personality.

“You figured it wouldn’t hurt, eh? Or were you hoping I’d treat you like an old…friend?” She arched a dramatic brow lushly enhanced with a kohl pencil.

“I figured we both knew this was more than a business meeting, and I thank you for coming to San Francisco,” he said with equal honesty. “Friends is a bland word, and you know it. We loved each other. I asked you to marry me. No point in dancing around the past. Besides, this is your favorite champagne, and you know I had to search high and low for jasminun sambac. You always appreciated extra effort, whether in love or business.”

She gave a Gallic shrug, which only brought his attention to the textured winter white suit she wore. He’d bet it was Valentino. She loved Italian fashion.

Extending the bottle and bouquet, he said, “So take the bubbly and the flowers and let me come inside and share my business proposal with you.”

He met her stare and locked himself in place. All he wanted to do was yank her into his arms and kiss away fifteen years of senseless separation. But she’d rebuff that. In fact, she might break the bottle of champagne over his head.

“You know how I dislike being ordered around, Quinn. While the champagne and flowers are a gallant gesture, they’re nothing if you don’t mind your manners.”

He fought a smile. This was the dance he remembered—and had missed. “I’ll mind my manners like my mother raised me to do. I’ll even carry in the champagne and flowers since you seem reluctant to take them.”

“Well, of course you will, darling.” She stepped back to allow him inside.

“The house surprised me,” he admitted, noting the pleasant contrast between the high white-textured ceilings and light, airy interior.

“When you’re on the road most of the time, you try to make home wherever you are,” she said, closing the door.

He found himself remembering her flat in London. It had been small but neat, and full of touches that rendered it both comfortable and classy. A home. And although this wide-open house was much larger and grander, with a breathtaking view of the ocean and Golden Gate Bridge, it exuded the same feeling. The sage green walls in the main room were decorated with bold landscapes. A gas fireplace was nestled in the corner. He caught sight of an open dining area in a buttery yellow, white orchids gracing the table.

She’d always surrounded herself with the richness of life, a lesson learned from her parents, who’d weathered the Lebanese civil war. The Francesca he knew had always been ready to toast to life.

She’d taught him how to live in the moment.

Unfortunately, he’d long since forgotten how.

No, that wasn’t entirely true. Her way of living had reminded him of her, and the memories were too painful. He hadn’t only thrown himself into work to forget. He’d buried himself in it.

He set the flowers on the side table and walked to the silver bar stand against the wall, popping the champagne open. Two crystal flutes were within reach, and he filled them to the brim, noting the private glass-enclosed sunroom adjacent to this room. Man, she’d chosen a hell of a place. Then again, she’d always had style.

When he turned with the glasses, she was sitting on the arm of the caramel leather couch, an amused expression on her face. “So we are to drink as well? At eleven in the morning?”

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