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
“No. Mademoiselle adores grapes. She just
doesn’t care much for pushy rich guys who pop in
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
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
“You are an astute judge of character, Joelle
“And you aren’t doing anything for your
“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
“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.