After leaving Prince Alexander Liebersturm snoring in his tent, Shasta starts on the long walk back towards civilization.
It seems like she has walked forever in her uncomfortable high heels, carrying her huge pink suitcase. She almost regrets having brought so many outfits, but who knew she was going to carry it back all by herself? The hot sun is beating down, and she would give anything for something cold and sparkly to drink.
She is lucky, a taxi drives by on the deserted country lane. It screeches to a halt and waits for her to come up alongside. The window rolls down and the driver grins at her, drawing on his Gauloise.
‘Où allez-vous comme ça, ma p’tite dame?’ (Where are you going, my little lady?) His eyes rakes her body, lingering on her chest. ‘Champs-sur-Sauloise est loin à pied…’ (Champs-sur-Sauloise is far on foot…)
Shasta hesitates. Shall she get into a taxi with a lecherous fool, or walk God knows how many miles in Blahniks? And the only Champs she knows of is the Champs Elysées in Paris.
‘I’m not exactly going to your Godforsaken village whatever the name is,’ she mutters, not caring if the driver understands English or not. She gets into the backseat, continuing in French, ‘Le Ritz, s’il vous plaît. A Paris. Et n’oubliez pas ma valise!’ (And don’t forget my suitcase!)
The taxi driver grumbles as he gets out of the old Renault and carelessly throws her suitcase into the trunk.
‘Attention! Faites doucement!’
A half hour later she’s standing on a hill overlooking a quaint little town trying to use her cell, but there’s no coverage. She can’t believe the guts of the dang taxi driver; after pulling over, he’d scrambled over the seat and tried to kiss her!
Of course she had slapped his face and scrambled out of the taxi. He was lucky her wand was in her suitcase or she would probably have transformed him into a toad! If her Mother had done her duty and taught her, that is.
Shasta’s in a really bad mood. With only one outfit and no cash, she’s not only upset, she’s stranded on the countryside as well. She threw a precious, but worn-out, Blahnik Chaos after the departing taxi and had to swearing limp to pick up her shoe and put it back on after screwing back the heel best she could. Better keep to the road, maybe someone will pick her up and drive her to the nearest hotel. Regularly checking her cell and planning what she’ll do as soon as she gets to a police station, she walks the last miles downhill into the little town. She’ll sue the driver for attempted rape. That will teach him a lesson and he’ll probably lose his license as well. Too bad for him. She chuckles.
When she finally gets a network signal, she realizes that she doesn’t have anyone to call. All her friends are thousands of miles away over the Atlantic. She must know someone in this Godforsaken part of the world who can lend her some money, or even better, drive her to Paris. Sweating, she pushes up her Dolce & Gabbana eyeglasses and straightens out her black and white Lady G dress. Which, she realizes, is her only one if she doesn’t get her suitcase back.
She gives up her thoughts of vengeance at the prospect of a hot bath and a coke. The police station won’t disappear, she arguments, walking up the few steps to an imposing building on the outskirts of Champs-sur-Sauloise.
‘L’Auberge du Vieux Relais Postal,’ she murmurs, reading the old-fashioned sign hanging over the entrance. The half-timbered walls are whitewashed, crisscrossed with dark oak beams, creating the special pattern you find on most old farmhouses in Normandy. The inn, or in French – auberge – is an historical building, an old posthouse, where horses were kept and could be changed out or rented to travelers. Louis XVI passed this way when he tried to escape from the plebe. Interesting. Now it’s a hotel and restaurant where the Britton owners serve famous and typical French crêpes and cider. Shasta marvels at how much information can be held on such a tiny surface next to the menu by the door. With purpose she pushes the door open and finds herself in a cozy hall. There’s an unmanned desk – so typically French – and a sign telling the restaurant is on the right.
The restaurant is empty at this hour, the only person in sight is a tall woman looking uncannily like Julia Roberts with her large mouth and chestnut hair.
‘Nous sommes fermées,’ the woman says, continuing to put away clean stoneware cider bowls.
‘I know you are closed, but I just had the most horrifying experience. I almost got raped and the taxi driver stole my suitcase and handbag-’ She takes of her huge sunglasses and passes a hand over her eyes, being careful not to smudge the mascara, ‘-and am in dire need of a cup of coffee.’
Shasta stares at the woman. ‘Do I know you?’
‘Err… No. I saw you in ze newspaper. Wiz Prince Alexander Liebersturm!’
‘Oh, that… It was a huge mistake…’ Shasta says cautiously.
‘Tell me about ‘im! Is ‘e as ‘andsome as in ze pictures? And as rich as it’s said?’
‘He’s rich, yes, and very charming.’
‘Maybe you can tell me over a cup of coffee? Je suis Julie.’
The two women gossip and Shasta explains her mishap with the taxi driver. Julie graciously offers her a room for the night – or whatever time it takes for her to get back on her feet, Shasta adds silently, knowing full well she has led the poor provincial girl on, making her believe she could introduce her to the Prince…
‘Merci pour tout, I’m so grateful for the room.’ Shasta air kisses Julie, adding, ‘I’ll just freshen up a little and then I’ll try to find the police station.’
‘It’s easy to find. You know what? I’ll take you zere. I can ‘elp you translate, make sure ze police gets your deposition right.’
‘Alors? Weren’t you supposed to prepare the restaurant for tonight’s service?’ A young bearded man with glasses says in French.
Julie shrugs à la française. ‘Everything’s ready, there are just the tables to be set.’
‘Which means nothing is done.’
Julie turns to Shasta, continuing in English. ‘Pierre is my brozer. He’s a pain, of course. Meet Shasta Grey. You know, from ze papers.’
‘Oh. You’re ze famous cougar?’ Pierre says rudely, making Shasta frown. He holds out his hand, adding with a heavy accent, ‘But you seem younger zan ze Prince, so zere must have been some sort of erreur? A mistake?’
Shasta blushes happily. This hipster looking brother of Julie’s is not half bad. ‘Tabloids,’ she murmurs, letting him kiss her hand. ‘They aren’t reliable.’
‘I’ll just drive Shasta into town, she has some administrative matters to attend to. Bisous!’ Julie blows a kiss to her brother, quickly ushering her newfound friend out of the restaurant and upstairs to her room.
Shasta looks out of the window at the small park behind the inn. Lovely, if it wasn’t for the French old-fashioned style merry-go-round right below her window. She can just imagine the pleasure of waking to the delightful circus music and squealing kids. And the wallpaper is horrible.
‘Err… There’s no bathroom?’
‘No, zere’s just one room left wiz a bath, but it’s overlooking ze street.’
‘Oh, I don’t mind.’
Julie opens the door to the other room and hands Shasta the key. ‘Maybe you could do me a favor while you’re staying ‘ere?’
‘A favor? Err… Of course, Julie.’
Julie explains her predicament while Shasta takes a quick shower. ‘My brozer, ‘e is gay but ‘e ‘asn’t come out of ze cupboard yet’
‘Huh? Anyway. ‘e is married to Stéphanie who is a real bitch and zey ‘ave a six year old son, Romain, who is a total- ‘ow do you say? Brat? And our new chef, Marc Champagne, is just “incroyablement mignon” and would make ze perfect match for my brozer. A couple gay is so fashionable!’
‘So, basically, you want me to help you set them up?’
Julie nods enthusiastically. ‘But zere is more. Stéphanie is sleeping around, and My brozer would be better off wizout ‘er. But we need proof to get a proper divorce. Ozerwise she will take ze restaurant.’
‘Toi et moi, bien sûr.’ She gestures to Shasta and herself.
‘Of course,’ Shasta mutters. ‘It could take a while, though…’
‘You’ll stay ‘ere at ze Auberge ze time it takes. She does not know who you are. Zat will make it easier to follow ‘er around and take ze compromising pictures. Are you ready to go now?’
Julie motions Shasta to follow her around to the backside where her Renault Zoe is parked.
‘Is that him?’ Shasta nods towards a handsome man wearing a toque seen through one of the windows.
‘Oui. Il est terriblement mignon…’
‘And you’re sure he’s gay?’
‘Oui. ‘e is too ‘andsome to be straight.’
Shasta fastens her seatbelt. She’s not convinced, but she can do both match-maker and private detective – as long as it assures her a roof over her head until she figures out what to do next.
The low growl of a powerful engine announces the arrival of an elderly gentleman in an expensive Italian car. His name is Leonardo Di Grisogno dell’Aquila, a well-off -err, an extremely wealthy– Tuscan count from Monte Aquila di Valle in Italy. He owns vineyards in France as well, and real estate. He has just acquired an old abandoned property which he has decided to renovate. He’s also an avid collector of art, wine and women. His childhood hobby has become his profession and his reputation precedes him everywhere he goes…
He is not only a rich businessman and playboy…
… He is the world renowned magician known as “The Dazzler”!
As usual, Leonardo stops for an early lunch at L’Auberge du Vieux Relais Postal. When he opens the door he immediately sets eye on one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen.
The object of his admiration is deeply engrossed in The Lord of the Rings, waiting for the church clock to strike eleven. It is when she will go and harvest the fruit of her recent work. She has done what was expected of her – delivered a USB key with some really compromising pictures of Stéphanie and her lover, but she has decided to profit from the business, too. After all, she has put in all the dirty work, waiting in the sticky bushes under a hotel window for hours to take the compromising pictures. At least having been followed by paparazzi has taught her a trick or two.
The white shirt, that Julie has lent Shasta, is a little too tight so she unbuttons it leaving the brim of her lacey bra visible. At least she can breathe now without risking sending a button popping. She sips at her tea, elegantly posing the cup and wondering if Stéphanie has done her part. Maybe she hasn’t gotten the message…
Leonardo stops and stares. Who is she? Dark, slender and very classy. The black pencil skirt is an illustration of seriousness, but very alluring. She would be the perfect trophy from this sleepy little town. He must have her.
Fastening his sunglasses on his white shirt he starts towards her table, when Shasta’s cell suddenly rings.
She pulls it out of her bag and walks past Leonardo out of the restaurant, concentrated on her phone call. He closes his eyes for a second, breathing in her scent. Chanel N°5… Scratch lunch! He has to find out who she is.
In a dream like state he ignores Mademoiselle Girard’s cordial greeting and follows the beautiful woman into the street. Where is she going?
He follows her at a distance all the way to the center of the village, practicing some clever lines to pick her up. He can see her animatedly talking on her cell on the other side of the road, crossing the park. He quickly sets after her but loses time because of the traffic.
She hesitates in front of one of the shops specialized in antiquities on the other side of the square. Impatiently he waits for the morning traffic to thin out, but decides he can’t wait any longer and swearing he crosses, almost getting overrun by a zealous delivery van. Leonardo lets lose a flow of Italian expletives.
He brushes invisible dust from his arms, realizing that he has lost sight of the beautiful dark woman. He hurries over to the antiquities shop and peeks through the window, letting out a huge sigh of relief. Ah, there she is! He can see her glancing briefly at the items in the shop but right when he enters, she vanishes through a door at the back.
Shasta has found what she was looking for. She puts her hand in one of the vases and retrieves something. Smiling to herself, she slides the thick envelope into her handbag. Finally she can get some shopping done, and she knows just where to start – the chic little boutique with designer dresses in the window facing the park…
Intrigued Shasta stops. An elderly gentleman is blocking the exit. ‘Oui?’ she asks nervously, trying to keep her calm. Did he see her retrieving the money? The envelope seems suddenly very heavy. She bats her eyelashes and Leonardo drowns in eyes as grey as his own.
‘I … Eh… The vase…’ What is happening to him? This is NOT one of his pick-up lines.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, I… Err, my ring! It fell into the vase. But I didn’t break anything. Now if you’ll excuse me?’ Shasta brushes past Leonardo and hurries out from the shop.
Leonardo is dumbstruck. He can’t believe she thought he was the sales clerk? He, Leonardo Di Grisogno dell’Aquila? The Dazzler? A sales clerk!?! And hmm… Why would she lie about her ring when he distinctly saw she didn’t wear one?
He hurries after Shasta, just in time to see her disappear through yet another doorway. The boutique isn’t very big and he sees her almost immediately. Suddenly overcome by contradicting emotions, he quickly draws back, feigning looking for some jeans.
‘Can I help you, Sir?’ A bothersome salesperson puckers for his attention, and unwillingly he throws her a glance before getting rid of her with one of his most intimidating, nerve-wracking stares.
‘I’ll be around… If you need me,’ she backs off, leaving him to his more important business. But his love interest is gone.
Shasta has finally noticed Leonardo following her, and switches from annoyed to scared. Who knows what a psychopath that old geek could be…? She almost runs into the next shop, a bookstore, and fumbles in her pocket for her cell.
‘Hello? Julie? Hello?’ Shasta looks at her dead phone. ‘Oh, no…’ What now? Someone in the shop must have a cell. But the bookshop is empty, apart from the salesclerk discreetly reading a book hidden from view under his desk.
Frantic, she hurries over to the young man at the register. ‘You have to lend me your phone! Someone’s stalking me!’
‘Shut…’ The clerk puts a finger to his lips, accentuating the message. ‘Je ne parle pas anglais, madame.’
That’s just her luck, the clerk doesn’t speak English. She lowers her voice, trying to explain in hesitating French, ‘Téléphone? Oui?’
The clerk looks her over like she was crazy. ‘Il y a un téléphone payant là-bas.’
‘Where? I mean, où?’ Shasta can’t see any payphone.
‘Là-bas,’ the clerk says vaguely, gesturing towards the entrance of the bookshop.
Shasta goes in search for the payphone, fumbling for change in her pockets. She can feel her heart beat so fast it hurts. Where is everyone? The stalker could do just about anything to her before someone adventures into this part of the dusty book store.
When she turns around yet another bookcase, she finds herself face-to-face with the leering stalker. She stops, desperately looking around her for help. The scary stranger doesn’t seem fazed by having followed her into a public place, probably knowing it would be deserted. He is casually leaning against a pile of dictionaries, hiding something behind his back.
The old geek is armed! Shasta reacts immediately, remembering her old self-defense classes. She can hear her Auntie Missy’s voice; ‘Don’t bother with rules. Go for the nuts – it will surely incapacitate him long enough for you to escape.’ She wobbles on her high heeled Blahniks but kicks out with as much violence she can, flailing her arms to keep her balance. It totally takes the poor man by surprise and the single red rose he was about to give her falls out of his hand.
A look of disbelief fills his grey eyes before his face contorts in pain and he doubles over, holding his hands protectively over his crotch. He is swearing now in some foreign language. Shasta hesitates. Wasn’t he supposed to go down entirely? Convulse long enough for her to get away safely and hail a cab?
The commotion has disturbed the clerk who can’t believe what he’s witnessing.
‘Oh, mon Dieu!’ A man’s testicles are sacred, he must stop this right now. Luckily the woman doesn’t seem to have gone full force with the kick… Holding a hand over his own precious jewels, he advances, thinking he might overpower the crazy American woman if he comes in from behind. But? What is she doing now to the town’s benefactor?
Shasta has grabbed a dictionary from the table and hits Leonardo hard on the head, watching him fall like an oxen to the floor. She fans herself, searching for something to lean on. It feels like she’s about to faint but at the same time she’s exhilarated.
‘You killed ‘im!’
Shasta swirls around at the sound of the clerk’s voice right behind her. She had completely forgotten about him. ‘He’s not dead.’ She pushes at Leonard’s leg with her foot and he moans softly. ‘See? The stalker is not a nuisance any more. Let’s call the police,’ she says excitedly to the dumbfounded clerk.
To her irritation the sales clerk just stares at her. ‘Monsieur Di Grisogno? Un criminel? Il y a un erreur – a mistake, Madame!’
‘Mistaken? Moi? Jamais. Never happened. He has been following me around the whole afternoon,’ she explains half in French, half in English.
‘Monsieur Di Grisogno est- ‘ow do you say? A respectable business man, Madame. Ze women stalk ‘im! ‘e is a philanderer,’ the clerk finishes laboriously. ‘You, on ze ozer ‘and, is folle – crazy. Go away now.’
‘You mean a philanthropist, not a philanderer,’ Shasta says prissily, reclining from the gesticulating clerk. ‘Or maybe you do mean he’s a cheating son of a bitch.’
‘Go now, or ze police is coming for you! Murderer!’
‘I told you he’s perfectly all right. A little unconscious maybe, but that doesn’t make me a killer and- Err… I think you might be right about leaving,’ Shasta says as Leonardo stirs and struggles to sit up. ‘Goodbye!’
‘Wait…’ Leonardo groans, but she’s already gone.
She didn’t know she could run in strappy heels, but she can – at least until she has rounded the corner. She stops to regain her composure, walking briskly back to the Auberge.
She avoids the restaurant and goes straight up to her room. She throws her clothes on the floor for the maid to pick up, forgetting all about the message for Pierre in her skirt pocket. She runs a bath, regretting the absence of some luxury foam to pour into the hot water. She reminds herself to ask the maid to renew the stock of free samples. It is a bliss to sink into the welcoming embrace of a soothing bath.
She really screwed that up, didn’t she? If only she had known who he was, she might have played her cards differently. Now, she’d better stay away from town and from any place where she might run into him. If only she could rewind today’s actions, or at least get a chance to make things right…
The opportunity presents itself the next evening in the form of a preschool outing to the winery owned by the famous Italian count.
Shasta is having her evening meal, consisting of cheese, fresh bread and some olives, at the counter of the crowded restaurant. She’s listening to Pierre arguing with his ex-wife on the phone about their son, Romain, when the old man at the counter finally decides to attack.
‘Je parie que vous n’êtes pas d’ici,’ he says, sipping his wine.
‘Huh? Of course I’m not from here.’ She bends deeper over her plate to show the old man hitting on her that she’s far from interested. The guts of some men. How could he possibly think that someone like her could be open for suggestions from someone like him!
‘Je suis dans la merde,’ Pierre mutters, throwing down the phone. ‘Stéphanie wants me to take Romain earlier than usual because she’s going to Paris on an effing conference, which means that I have to accompany the kid to the winery!’
‘Quoi? Why isn’t he in school tomorrow?’ Julie inquires in French.
‘The class needs accompanying adults and his mother can’t go with him, nor can I as we are both working.’
Shasta doesn’t need to be fluent in French to understand that Pierre needs someone to go together with his son tomorrow. She jumps on the occasion to set her plan in motion, but also to get rid of the old man trying to peek down her cleavage. Thinking about it, the stalker from yesterday was definitely classier.
‘I can take him,’ she says matter of factly, continuing to eat.
The Girard siblings look at her, not sure they heard right. They have only known Shasta since a few days, but it is long enough to be certain that going on school outings isn’t really her style.
‘I mean, I have nothing else to do, so why not,’ she continues. ‘Or he can stay at home. I mean here, in the restaurant. With you.’
‘Non, non, non. ‘e will be an absolute nuisance to us while we work. It is good of you to propose to accompany him,’ Julie says.
‘I won’t leave my son wiz a stranger,’ Pierre protests. ‘I don’t trust her.’
‘Tu sais qu’elle a raison – you know she’s right,’ she adds to her brother. ‘He can’t stay here during rush hours,’ she continues, trying to convince her brother who finally agrees.
‘But only because ‘is teacher is zere wiz ‘im.’
Shasta pulls on the T-shirt Berthe has lent her to sleep in and opens the windows, letting the warm spring breeze freshen the tepid air in the room. She slumps down on the bed, glad to have an objective. Settling on her back, she holds her cell with both hands and starts browsing Italian language sites, finally settling for a free one on YouTube.
‘Let’s see…’ It can’t be that difficult, she’s not going for a Master in Italian after all. No, it’s just a matter of learning some crucial sentences like ‘Buongiorno, Signore.’ Easy peasy… She listens and repeats some basic lines, feeling like an actress learning a role when suddenly she catches a movement at the corner of her eye. What was that? Slowly she lowers her cell.
There’s something on the ceiling.
Without leaving the huge spider with her eyes, she swings her legs over the edge of the bed and sits up. Fumbling for something to kill it with she grabs the lamp on the bedside table and swings it upward.
Screaming she shakes her hair and jumps around, feeling utterly ridiculous when she realizes it wasn’t a spider after all, just an old crack in the painting.
She returns to bed, taking up her Italian lessons where she left them. Exhaustion overcomes her a few hours later and she falls asleep with her cell in a firm grip.
Shasta steps off the bus after enduring an hour of crying, screaming, singing and vomiting kids. Her dress is brand new – or almost. Julie is quite handy with a sewing machine and has helped Shasta sew up a Dolce & Gabbana dress using the curtains in her room. She has succeeded in keeping to herself at the back of the bus, letting the other accompanying mothers clean up after their offspring. None of the kids are hers anyway. She sends a grateful thought to her own daughter, who has never behaved badly like this bunch…
It’s not the time to get sentimental. It’s important that her plan works. She’ll spy on the count, see if he’s all right after their little mishap, and then she’ll color her hair blonde, or maybe red, and see to it they meet again. Running into each other “accidentally” seems like the best plan – even if it means for her to sit on a bench at the town park for hours. But today is only reccon…
Romain’s class joins a boring guided tour. It doesn’t take long before the young boy starts whining.
‘Tatie, je veux faire pipi! (Auntie, I want to pee!)’
‘Mais, Tatie. Il faut que j’y aille! (I have to go now!)’
Everybody looks at them, expecting her to do something. She seizes Romain’s arm. ‘Come on, Romain, I’ll take you to the ladies’ room… but be quiet, please,’ she says in French.
‘Je suis un garcon!’
‘I know you’re a boy. I’ll take you to the men’s room then. Just be quiet. Please.’
As soon as they leave the group, Romain takes off in a sprint.
‘WAIT! Come back or I swear that I’ll kill you myself!’ She hurries after the vanishing child, but is stopped in the courtyard by a snotty employee.
‘Excusez-moi, Madame. Zis part of the winery is not open to ze public today.’
‘This is an emergency! The boy over there, he-’
‘I must ask you to return visiter anozer day, Madame. I’ll see to it your son is returned to you, you can wait at ze “Accueil”.’
‘He’s not my son.’ How could that stupid woman believe that rude boy hiding behind some oak barrels out of reach could be her son? She shakes her fist at him. ‘Stop making funny faces, you little brat!’
‘Oh. If ‘e is not your son, zen maybe I should call ze police.’
‘You were chasing ‘im. Right? And ‘e is not your son. What does it look like, Madame?’
Shasta has to admit that it doesn’t look good, seen from the snotty brunette’s point of view.
She starts to explain and tries to catch sight of Romain over the assistant’s shoulder at the same time, but instead of seeing what the horrible little boy is up to, Leonardo appears. His eyes rake over her with appreciation, but without a flicker of recognition. He continues walking past, enthusiastically chatting with an older woman.
She recognizes the old bat from last night, she was having dinner with a group of local winegrowers. All Shasta’s carefully thought out plans are gone with the wind. She throws all precaution aside and insists on seeing the wealthy Count. He doesn’t recognize her so why should she wait?
‘Err… I need to talk to Monsieur Di Grisogno!’
‘Ze Count is in an important meeting wiz Mademoiselle Blanc-Sec at ze moment, and cannot be disturbed.’
Shasta doesn’t care. It’s now or never. Briskly she pushes past the crisp assistant.
She dashes through the door, desperately trying to catch up with the Count before the dang assistant stops her. ‘Signor Di Grisogno? Posso parlarle un attimo – Can I have a word with you?’ She has rehearsed the line at least a hundred times to get it right.
Leonardo lights up at the sight of his mystery woman and bows politely. ‘Signorina?’
Shasta can’t believe her luck. He doesn’t seem to recognize her at all. Maybe he lost his memory when she hit his head… What will he do next? Kiss her hand?
‘Signorina, in cosa posso servirla?’ His voice is deep and melodious, and he smells discreetly of Armani Code. Lifting her hand to his lips, he looks deep into her eyes and she can’t help but swoon.
Hmmm… Italian is so classy… How on earth could she have taken him for a psychopath stalker?
She clears her throat, retrieving her hand. Now, let’s lure him away from that old thing. Shasta bats her eyelashes. Her Italian is rusty, bordering on nonexistent. ‘Ahem… Parli inglesi?’
‘Si, si. Of course I do. How can I help you?’ His grammar is impeccable even though his accent is thick. Shasta thinks everything about him is charming. She takes in the impeccably cut crème suit and the black silk, or maybe cashmere, t-shirt. Classy and discreet. Leaving Sacha wasn’t such a bad thing. Maybe.
‘I have some friends over for dinner tonight-’ Shasta improvises, ‘-and I’d like to have an expert’s advice on what wine to be served with the… Err… Coquelet.’ She looks at Leonardo from under her eyelashes, puts her hand on his arm, and voilà.
They walk off towards the private cellar animatedly discussing wine, Romain and Mademoiselle Blanc-Sec forgotten.
Mademoiselle Lardier takes care of the important client, making sure the old spinster doesn’t leave without having passed a hefty order. Meanwhile, Romain is also found and taken care of.
Shasta stifles a yawn. Leonardo might be attractive and very, very rich. But gosh, is he boring. He has given her the tour of the winery, showing her the caves, the vats, the old oak barrels where the wine ages and God knows what else she has seen. Finally he opened a dusty old bottle with Pinot Noir from the 40s and now Shasta is in heaven. Taste wise that is. He has treated her as any woman – with charming politeness. But even though Shasta has gone full force, trying to seduce him, he hasn’t shown any sign of being romantically interested. Maybe he’s gay, she muses.
‘… and then the fermentation is carefully controlled by this machine…’ Leonardo goes on and on about the art of winemaking.
Shasta listens halfheartedly, sipping her delicious Pinot Noir. If she concentrates she can even taste the flavor of red fruits in there. Or is it, what did Leonardo say? “Barnyard” aromas? She pours herself another glass, chuckling to herself. Oups. Mustn’t get tipsy…
‘Signorina?’ Leonardo is looking expectantly at her.
‘Oh…’ She beams up at him. She doesn’t have a clue what he just asked her, better settle for some neutral flattery. ‘I never would have thought winemaking was such a science, Monsieur Di Grisogno. I thought you needed happy barefoot grape stompers to press the fruit, not a machine,’ she gushes.
‘But we do… Let me just check the fermentation temperature here…’ He fiddles with a command. Satisfied he turns around. ‘Where were we?’
‘Ah, yes. Stomping.’ He scratches his chin, glancing at her with an indecipherable look in his eyes. ‘Si prega, come over here… See that big vat? Let’s fill it with fruits of your choice, Muscat raisins or Chasselas, or even Pinot Noir, and then you might want to try.’
Shasta looks down into the empty vat, stained by years of wine making. He must be kidding. But a quick look at him shows her he’s dead serious. The “Ugh, no way!” dies on her lips and she clears her throat, glancing back down into the vat. ‘Ahem, I’m not exactly dressed for wine stomping.’
‘That’s not a problem.’ He walks over to the gate and gestures for someone to join them. ‘Mademoiselle Lardier! Ah. There you are. Can you take Signorina Liath-Grau to the staff’s quarters and show her where to change, s’il vous plaît?’
Shasta stares at the assistant. Has she been following them around?
‘Mais, monsieur-’ Leonardo silences the confused assistant with a stern glance. ‘Oui, Monsieur. Tout de suite.’
A few minutes later, Shasta is back wearing a short white tunic and a head cap. Her feet have been disinfected and stuck into blue plastic thingys, making her walk like some sort of ballerina. Or a duck.
‘Like this, Monsieur Di Grisogno?’ She grabs his arm to steady herself, slipping off the protections on her feet before cautiously stepping into the vat.
‘Si. Molto bene. Call me Leonardo, cara.’
She’s standing immobile with grapes halfway up to her knees. What if there are insects in them? Or larvae? She shudders, afraid to ask. Doing her best to hide her revulsion, she rises one foot then lets it come down again, feeling the fruit squish under her sole and slimily squeeze up between her toes. She gags.
‘How does it feel?’ Leonardo rises an eyebrow, struggling hard not to burst out laughing at her dismayed expression.
She could use a lot of expletives to describe the sensation – Ugh. Yuk. Faugh… She plasters on a brave smile, stomping around exaggeratedly. ‘Ahem… Fine, Leonardo! I’m getting the hang on this! Haha…’
Leonardo smirks. He’s not duped but this is his way of getting back at her.
There is no way he could have forgotten about the beautiful dark haired woman who gave him such a beating only two days ago. He had become obsessed by her, angrily wanting to get revenge and at the same time wanting to bed her so badly it had become almost a physical pain. And then she shows up on his doorstep out of the blue, suggesting the perfect punishment for such a “proper” lady as herself. Wine stomping. He can see that she hates it, and it is oddly satisfying.
She hit him really hard with the damn dictionary – he had to go see Doctor Dubois who said it was a whiplash injury which needed physiotherapy.
The doctor prescribed a cervical collar to get his neck back to normal again, but that was probably exaggerated – he felt fine after the first massage. Most important – the doctor had also assured him his family jewels were perfectly fine, even if he still feels a little bruised down there. She will think twice about running around making a fool of him. He laughs best who laughs last…
‘Stalker! No less…’ he mutters to himself, checking out her long, racy legs with grape juice running down them. He licks his lips. An appealing combination…
‘Excusez-moi, Monsieur. Il y a eu un accident…’ Mademoiselle Lardier has silently shown up pulling Leonardo back to reality. She continues in a low voice, shutting out Shasta, who indignantly carries on stomping.
‘If you’ll excuse me?’ It’s not really a question as Leonardo doesn’t even wait for her answer. Instead he escorts Mademoiselle Lardier out into the long hallway.
Shasta listens to their receding footsteps and wonders if she’s supposed to continue or not. She looks at her feet. The grapes are mostly squished, giving place to a slushy, slimy, purple-red mixture somewhere between liquid and jelly. She’s had enough, she’s not even getting paid for doing this, and she’s definitely not having fun.
Angrily she starts out of the vat, but slips and falls backwards. With a huge splash she lands on her back, sending a wave of slimy juice over the rim. She can feel it seep through her tunic, making her shiver. Wiping grape peelings and pips from her face, she sits in the goo for a few seconds before clumsily trying to get back onto her feet again. The tears are not far from bursting through. At least Leonardo is gone and didn’t witness her chute.
She sneaks back to the changing room and with her precious Blahniks in one hand, succeeds in getting away without being seen. There’s no way she can put her shoes on – her feet and legs are ruined, flashing an angry red all the way up to her knees. She steals one of the bikes in the shed for the personnel and pedals all the way home barefoot, getting back long after Romain Girard, who was brought back to his class by one of the clerks at the wine-yard. He had hidden behind the large shelves laden with wine bottles, playing international super-spy and succeeding in breaking two very expensive bottles before the clerk got his hands on him.
Julie immediately forgives her when she sees the state Shasta is in; she knows what a brat her nephew can be and she still needs Shasta’s help. She pours her a cup of cider, urging Shasta to sit down. Her brother, on the other hand, shows her by all means that she’s not welcome any more. Livid, he bursts into the restaurant, followed by his son.
‘Where ze ‘ell were you? You were supposed to look after Romain!’
‘I did. He was the one who ran away – it’s not my fault I was stopped from going after him.’
‘Romain is only a child. ‘e could ‘ave vanished forever!’
‘He’s right behind you, so it ended well,’ Shasta says flippantly, shrugging and rolling her eyes which makes Pierre see red.
He lunges forward, but his sister stops him, holding him at a distance with a hand on his chest. With her other hand she signals Shasta to be quiet.
‘Assez, Pierre. Enough. Romain is back. We should be grateful.’
‘Just what I said,’ Shasta adds which makes Pierre lunge forward again.
After yelling and gesticulating at her, which made Romain cry and engendered even more screaming, Shasta finally gets upstairs to her room. Pierre can yell at her as much as he wants, she doesn’t understand half of what he says anyway, and frankly, she doesn’t care. The boy was brought back, so what’s the fuss?
Julie follows her, laden with beauty products. ‘Come ‘ere, I will ‘elp you. Zis bodyscrub is incredible, and it smells good too.’
‘Will I ever drink a glass of wine again?’ Shasta scrubs her Bordeaux colored feet frantically with Julie’s miracle product.
‘Why don’t you suggest ‘e takes you for a Caudalie Vinotherapy Spa Pedicure to reconcile you wiz grapes…’ Julie muses, helping her scrub her back.
‘That sounds wonderful.’ Shasta yawns. ‘Except we are not exactly on talking terms. I don’t think I ever want to see him again…’
‘You’ll get over zis. At least ‘e didn’t see you fall.’ Shasta doesn’t reply, so Julie continues, ‘We ‘ave to talk about Marc. And Pierre.’
‘Right. I’m sorry about Romain,’ Shasta lies.
‘Zat boy is spoilt rotten by ‘is fazer… I guess Pierre is feeling guilty about leaving Stéphanie. Zat brings us back to Marc…’
It is mostly Julie who is talking and Shasta is soon lulled to sleep in the hot water after a very eventful day.
Part I – End of Chapter 08
This chapter would have been boring for all fashionistas out there, if Shasta hadn’t had access to RustyNail’s complete collection….
Thank you, all pose creator’s who make my chapters come alive – Bee, NJB, Jowita are just the top of the iceberg…