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  Coachlight Press
[Ever Your Servant - Cover]

Ever Your Servant, or how retail really sucks
an Excerpt

By K.A. Corlett


In the back room of the Health Food Shop, Joelle bent low over her July sales figures. She adjusted the lamp so her circle of light was smaller. If they didn’t see it under the door, the hamster heads from Security wouldn’t give her a hard time.

“ ‘Thou fair-hair’d angel of the evening,
Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light
Thy bright torch of love.’ ”

Despite herself, Joelle started. Max Lambert stood no more than two feet away, but she hadn’t even heard the door open. “I’m not sure about you, but where I come from, knocking is a good thing.”

His teeth gleamed white in the dark. “Fruit of the vine,” he said, and a fluted glass appeared within reach of her hand. “Or does Mademoiselle have an aversion to grapes?”

“No. Mademoiselle adores grapes. She just doesn’t care much for pushy rich guys who pop in unannounced.”

Lambert crouched low, resting an elbow on the counter. His face came within the compass of her light and he marked her with his strange, clear eyes. “I would agree to ‘bold’, ma chère, but never ‘pushy.”’

“Who said it was negotiable?”

That prompted a huge grin.

“Look—” Joelle slammed her ledger closed. The breeze it created moved a tendril of hair across his face. She decided not to notice. “It’s very simple: I liked Sal. He was a crusty old Italian guy who deep-fried everything and said ‘blessa-you’ when people belched. I don’t know you, Monsieur Lambert, and I don’t particularly care to. You could be Saint Francis of bloody Assisi and that wouldn’t make any points with me.”

His smile had receded to a straight line, but his armour didn’t seem dented in the least. He blinked slowly. It felt like a weird nod of affirmation. “Sal spoke of you. He said that you were beautiful, and very clever.”

It occurred to Joelle that their faces were far too close. He smelled faintly of incense. She straightened and stood up, leaving her wooden stool between them. He followed her with his eyes.

“You are an astute judge of character, Joelle Lachance.”

“And you aren’t doing anything for your case.”

“Ah.” Her visitor rose. Those long legs didn’t seem any the worse for bending. He took a half-step forward, all the stool would allow him. She took a full one back. “You won’t return with me, then?”

“Is that really why you crossed half the store with a glass of wine?”

“Perhaps I just wanted to hear you say ‘Maximillien.”’

“No kidding.” She looked him over. “Give me that.” Joelle put out her hand for the glass. She half-expected him to try something, but he just passed it to her without comment. She raised it to her mouth and drank its contents off in a single draught. Lambert raised an eyebrow. She held the glass out for him to take. “Will that do, Maximillien?

His fingers hovered over hers an instant longer than they should have. Finally, his lips crooked upward at one corner, and he took the glass. “Goodnight, Joelle Lachance.” With another of his genteel half-bows, he left her alone.

Joelle stared at the door that he’d closed so quietly behind him. Her heart pounded like it would jump clean out of her chest. Everything about her was overstimulated at the moment, from her toenails to the ends of her hair. She drew a deep breath. The wine’s warmth began to spread from the pit of her stomach. Vin jaune. She knit her brows. She’d known the dry oak-and-autumn-leaves taste of it—and its name—even before it had hit the back of her throat. She’d also never heard of it in her life.


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Excerpt is Copyright K.A. Corlett 2004.
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