Their virgin secretary, p.43
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       Their Virgin Secretary, p.43

         Part #6 of Masters of Ménage series by Shayla Black

  she believes the ends will justify her deadly means.

  This mesmerizing gothic tale zigzags from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first-century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit chateaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.

  "Rose masterfully combines romance, mystery, and dual timelines…The storyline and extensive historical details…are fascinating.” (Romantic Times (**** ½ STARS TOP PICK))

  "Mysterious, magical, and mythical…what a joy to read!" (Sara Gruen, New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants)

  “History, mystery, ambition, lust, love, death and the timeless quest for immortality…a riveting tale of suspense.” (B.A.Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger)

  “From the labyrinthine alleyways of 16th century Paris to the danger-infused woodlands of 21st century Fontainebleau, M. J. Rose has crafted a superb, mesmerizing tale of two people separated by centuries yet linked by a haunting secret. Poison, obsession and undying love have never been so enticing—or so lethal. I could not stop reading it!” (C.W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici)

  "With an alchemist's skill, M.J. Rose mixes present and past with the dark scent of love and an intricate mystery, creating a blend that is splendidly, spookily magical." ( Susanna Kearsley, New York Times bestselling author)

  "M.J. Rose masterfully serves up suspense with generous sides of philosophy and intrigue. I devoured this fascinating tale about Catherine de Medici and her perfumer simmered with the compelling modern-day story of an intelligent woman in search of personal completion. Alchemy, mythology, and an exploration of reincarnation lace this tantalizing telling. A lavish and satisfying banquet of a book!" (Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe)

  Chapter 1

  March 1, 1573 BarBizon, France

  Written for my son to read upon my death, from his father, René le Florentin, perfumer to catherine de Medici, Queen Mother.

  It is with irony now, forty years later, to think that if I had not been called a murderer on the most frightening night of my life, there might not be any perfume in Paris today. And that scent—to which I gave my all and which gave me all the power and riches I could have hoped for—is at the heart of why now it is I who call myself a murderer.

  It is one thing to fall in love with a rose and its deep rich scent. once the blood-red flower blooms, browns and decays and its smell has dissipated, you can pluck another rose about to bloom. But to fall in love with a woman after a lifetime of not knowing love? In the browning of your own days? Ah, that is to invite disaster. That is to invite heartbreak.

  The château is cold tonight, but my skin burns. My blood flows hot. Who knew that yearning alone could heat a man so? That only memories could set him on fire? I feel this pen in my fingers, the feather’s smoothness, and I imagine it is Isabeau’s hair.

  I close my eyes and see her standing before me.

  Isabeau! exuberant, tender, dazzling. And mine. I see her sap- phire eyes twinkling. Her thick mane of hair like a blanket for me to hide in.

  I whisper to her and ask her to undress for me slowly, in that way she had. And she does. In the dream she does. She strips bare, slowly, slowly, of everything but her gloves, cream kid gloves that stretch above her elbows. Her silken skin gleams in the candlelight, golden and smooth, smelling of exotic flowers. Gardenias and camellias and roses, scents that emanate from within. This is her secret and mine. Isabeau had a garden inside of her body. Flowers where other women had organs. Her own natural perfume richer and more luxurious than anything I ever could have created and bottled.

  In this dream, Isabeau never takes off her gloves. Night after night, I beseech her to strip all the way for me, but she just smiles. Not yet, René. Not yet. And then she reaches out with one gloved finger and traces her name on my skin. One day, René. Once you have found the elixir.

  I dream this asleep. And hear it, awake, in the wind. Her promise.

  Once you have found the elixir.

  I lie there, sweating into my nightshirt. Trembling from the memories.

  There was something about the way the bell rang that first day she came to my shop. Its tone was different, almost tentative, as if it wasn’t sure it should be ringing at all. Now, looking back, were the fates warning me? How cruel of those witches to give me love at that moment—after a lifetime of holding it back.

  But I will have my revenge on them. I, Renato Bianco, known as René le Florentin, will figure out how to reanimate a dying breath and so wreak havoc for their folly. So help me God, this I will work at until I have no more of my own breath in my body.

  Winter is upon us now, and it is quiet here in the woods and for- ests of Fontainebleau. The days stretch before me, an endless vista of foggy mornings and chilly evenings and dark nights devoted to one thing and one thing only: my experiments. If I cannot succeed with them, I cannot, I will not, go on with my life.

  It was one man who heard the bell ring to the shop and opened the door, and another who closed it. That was how long it took for Isabeau to alter me. And it is the me who is altered who has this need for revenge on the crones who have done this to me.

  Let me tell you first about the man who heard the bell.

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