Sweet Scent of Success

by Ruth Estevez

Chapter One

Tessa Garcia's hands gently brushed over the white roses. Her dark brown eyes open wide, she inhaled. The sound of pollen-laden bees shimmering in a graveyard on a heady summer afternoon wrapped around her. Glinting in the early morning sunlight, the lustre of the green vase she had carried into the room and placed on the table reflected the angular figure of Didier Giles as he stepped away from her.

'What you are planning to do is suicide,' Didier half-smiled. Tessa leant closer to the tightly packed blooms. 'You know what he's like,' his voice hovered.

'What would you call a perfume that smelt of these?' Tessa stroked a petal between her fingertips.

'Eau de Nausea,' he placed the folder he had been holding on the desk, 'You can't leave when you've not even been here a year.'

'It's eighteen months, same as you,' said Tessa.

'That makes us babies in this business,' Didier glanced towards the open door.

'I never said I was serious about going.'

'It's not like you to say something you don't mean,' Didier circled the table.

'I was wondering if the job is enough, that's all. In my head,' Tessa dipped her face amongst the snow-like bouquet in an effort to curtail the conversation.

'I'd never dream of going.'

'I know, you're right, we're extremely lucky, considering what young things we are,' she too glanced around the tastefully furnished room where she knew every item on every shelf and surface.

'Coty has put time and effort into us precisely because of our youth and he intends to get plenty of years out of us in return,' Didier ran his tongue over his slightly crooked teeth, 'Do you think a man like that will stomach having his judgement proved wrong in front of everybody?'

'That he could be wrong or that it would be in front of people?' Tessa smiled nervously.

'He's trained you up and you're going to tell him you're leaving him. I'm only repeating what you said,' Didier replied.

'He'll be here soon.' she turned her dark eyes away.

'Just remember, he has destroyed the man who shines his shoes for less,' Didier's voice was measured.

'Ah, but the difference is, he thinks of me as part of his family,' Tessa's face lit up as it always did when she smiled.

'Does he?' They stared at each other for a moment too long, 'Well, if that's the case, I think he'll react as any father would when he is disappointed by a daughter.'

Tessa's smile dropped at the reminder of never having had the chance to smooth over the differences between her father and herself. She would never forget the expression on his face when she asked him to fire his secretary and hire her instead. She couldn't bear the thought of that same look in Coty's eyes.

'You know I'm your friend,' Didier fingered the Chinese letter opener on the desk, 'so I have to be honest and say, if this is what you've got in mind, in many ways it would be better for everyone if you went before he finds out what your intentions are.'

'Why do you keep going on about it?' Tessa gently rubbed her sleeve, 'I made a throw away comment. Why would I want to leave when I've always wanted to work here?'

But already the glimmer of possibility felt its way around the room, under chair legs, between the books on the shelves, slipping around the curve of the desk and into the weave of the curtains. There were only the two of them in the room, but already it felt as though many voices were whispering along the corridors and halls, filtering through the stone walls, under the cracks surrounding doorways, billowing and meandering until the distorted words reached Coty's ears.

'You know what this place is like,' Didier straightened his cuffs, 'You have to be extremely careful about every word you say.'

'Thank you,' Tessa raised her hand to terminate the conversation.

'Never forget,' pursued Didier, 'this isn't a family company so there is no safety net. Once you do something the grand patriarch doesn't like, you can be sure you will be out in the cold before you have time to sniff the pollen.'

Tessa's hands froze over the drift of roses as she grasped for the first time how vulnerable they all were. She heard the harsh reality in the tone of Didier's voice. Flushing as she felt her stupidity blazon across her face, she swallowed hard. She and Didier had joined the company at the same time, both keen, both eager, both with nowhere else to go. She wondered how well she knew him, how well she really knew any of her colleagues and which one it would be who would manipulate her words, coating them in the concrete that would bring her down. She knew in that instant that even though she hadn't been serious about leaving Coty, someone could force her to be.

Half an hour earlier, as she carried the vase of roses in to Coty's elegant office, Didier had followed her, casually asking why she had given up the man she loved to work in Paris. She had answered without hesitation, keen to impress with her single-mindedness.

'Because he didn't see me as his equal,' she had thrown the words over her shoulder, 'and Mr. Coty does.'

Didier had laughed, but she now realised that with a certain insidious intonation, this could be twisted. To say that she was equal to Francois Coty was like saying a mortal could be one of the gods. And she had said it out loud.

The door of the office had been wide open and her words wafted into the corridor and seeped into the walls of the Château. They were the perfect information for some ambitious employee to slip under Coty's pride to open a wound so tender in him that Coty would have no choice but to remove her.

'I wouldn't make that public knowledge if I were you,' Didier quipped.

'I know,' her thoughtlessness made Tessa angry, 'I'm nothing like Mr. Coty,' she challenged the walls, 'No-one is.'

Didier had strolled over to the door and carefully pulled it closed. Tessa pretended to study the roses in order to block out the corridors and offices and vast echoing spaces. She dragged the interview of a year and a half ago back into her mind, knowing that that always reassured her that Coty liked her. She had been left alone in the family home. Her mother had left for Jerez de la Frontera, taking with her Frank, Nacho and Maraquita. Her younger sister, Carmen had already run off with the gardener's son and Tony had set sail for America. Joseph spent all day at the Garcia company warehouses and Matty, every waken hour at his betrothed side. And Tessa had written a letter to Francois Coty, the greatest perfumer of his generation. She had been amazed and terrified to secure an interview with him.

One spring day, she had tiptoed across the soft, damp earth of a field on the edge of Paris and climbed into Francois Coty's small aircraft to be interviewed as his assistant in the fastest expanding perfume company in the post-war world.

Several minutes after the airplane soared into the clouds, Coty told the pilot to cut the engines. There was silence before the wind began to scream. Her veins throbbed and her head groaned as they fell. She saw the flames and the iron ground that had killed her brother in another airplane in another sky. Her fingers clenching the seat shouted her fear, but still Coty let the airplane plunge with increasing speed and deafening sound. In the second she tensed for the impact, she grasped with absolute clarity what she had spent her life planning and working towards. If Coty didn't say yes to her, part of her would die whether the airplane crashed or not. She had nothing to lose. That was the moment he needed to see. Immediately, the engines kicked in and the airplane levelled off. He ordered the pilot to take the plane back up and fly over the colourful fields of Suresnes, Coty's Perfume City.

Reassured of her success, she breathed in the scent of the roses, sure that he would listen to her and not contaminated whispers. Didier was wrong; Coty would not be embarrassed or angered if he heard a rumour that she wanted to leave him. If she said she would stay with him forever, he would believe her.

'Don't you usually have a cup of coffee ready for Mr. Coty when he arrives?' Didier's words cut through her thoughts as he looked down at the park from one of the long windows.

Tessa glanced at the clock. It was as though she were falling again. She placed both hands, palms flat, next to the vase on the table.

'You don't think anyone will say anything before I have chance to speak to him, do you?' she said.

'Of course not,' Didier shuffled a pile of papers as she sped to the tiny adjacent room where a coffee pot steamed on the stove.

Moments later, the grey-haired Head of Design, Bernard Bacheville, followed by the sharp-faced Head of Marketing, Georges Dufour, then Jacques Régine, the Sales Manager and finally, the round face Head of Production, Henri Taylor filed into the room. Didier was no longer to be seen.

'We have five minutes before he arrives,' announced Taylor, 'Anybody have anything to say that needs to be shared?'

They were still shaking their heads when the door opened and Francois Coty strode into the room.

Chapter Two

The room always shifted when he entered. Immediately, Tessa was dazzled as if in the presence of a sparkling diamond. Every day, this was how she felt in his company. Until today. This morning, for the first time in all her months working at the Château, she realised that diamonds were not only blindingly beautiful, they were also inflexibly hard.

She held out the coffee cup. Coty, immaculate in his grey suit, the triangle of his handkerchief visible in the top pocket, hair gleaming, ignored her and the vase of white roses, acknowledging instead the male Heads of the various departments.

'Good morning, Mr. Coty,' Bacheville took advantage.

Coty nodded curtly as he placed the long roll of paper he carried on the desk and spreading it out, positioned paper weights at the edges. Everyone remained silent. Coty leant over the architectural plans. The minutes ticked by. Tessa's arm began to shake and she raised her free hand to touch her warm cheek. Someone coughed. A beam of sunshine had caught Coty's sapphire ring and its reflection danced across the ceiling. Tessa watched the bright orb bounce and then fade until it reappeared on the far wall above Coty's head. Studying the curve of his back as he leant, his arms rigid, his hands splayed as he scanned the side view of the vast Château, she began to sway. She had seen these drawings many times as Coty, to clear his head, frequently laid them out on the table and made notes of room sizes and proportions, doorways and corridors, mulling over progress reports and schedules. But it unsettled her now when a meeting of the department heads had been urgently called and they all stood waiting.

She watched his hands, small and neat, extending from pristine white cuffs, stiff below the deep grey sleeves of his jacket. Even though she couldn't see his face, she knew that his lips would be pressed tightly together and his good eye, bright and sharp. Yet today, when it was more important than ever, she couldn't interpret the signs.

They all waited in silence, anxious for him to speak so that they could move. Tessa's sole concern at that moment was if she would be able to stop herself from falling. The cup trembled increasingly on the saucer and the sound, being the only one in the room, resonated as though it were a soup tureen on a metal platter. Coty had stopped looking at the plans. His shoulders, ominously dark, shadowed the papers on the table.

'Everyone out,' he suddenly ordered with a sweeping gesture of his arm.

Tessa watched the straight backed, suited figures of the men, at the top of their profession, as they turned to leave, obeying him like children and she felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment for them. She tried to imagine what had caused his unsettling mood, hoping it wasn't what she most dreaded. Almost spilling the coffee into the saucer she hesitated to leave.

'Mademoiselle Garcia,' Coty purred. 'Stay.' The door slowly closed, trapping her in the room with him. 'Put that down,' he ordered quietly.

Tessa walked forwards slowly and placed the cup and saucer on the desk next to the plans.

'I hear that you are leaving me,' his voice so low she hardly heard him as he continued to stare at the black lines on the paper.

Tessa's head swam at the swiftness of the axe. She breathed in sharply.

'That's not true,' she said.

'Has that coffee gone cold?' he didn't look at her.

'I'll make a fresh one.'

He picked up the cup and drank the liquid in one gulp. Replacing the cup on the saucer, he still did not look at her and the silence began to bang against her head. Unable to bear it any longer, she coughed.

'Would you like me to fetch you another?' she asked.

He continued to study the plan of the Château without responding.

'Did Bacheville bring the proofs?' he finally asked.

'They're on the table.'

He beckoned with his hand and she hurried to fetch the large pieces of card.

'I don't like the colour of the lettering,' he said, barely glancing at the images, 'And the 'L' is too small.'

'Would you like me to call Mr. Bacheville back in?' she said.

'What would you suggest?'

'I'll call him now.'

'I mean the colour. Top of your head.'

'Black is always clear,' she glanced towards the door. He was losing confidence in her. 'Gold?' her voice almost shook as she tried to second guess him.

'Lumen isn't about material extravagance.' He still wouldn't make eye contact.


'Religious overtones? I think not.'


It crossed Tessa's mind that what should have been normality was suddenly out of kilter and when she would have given measured opinions, right now, with her panicked thinking, Coty was giving away no clues. If only he would look at her, then she would know what was going on in his head, but he seemed transfixed now with the pieces of card, turning them towards the window, holding them up so that his expression was blocked from her. Suddenly, he flipped the board over so that it was facing her again.

As soon as she saw it again, she knew. The pale colours of the sugar coated Lumen transported her immediately back to the hallway of her childhood home in Langden Park Road, standing, cold, soaking wet, exposed in front of the perfectly dressed Sandes and fair-haired Elizabeth Browne. She had known then that only her own brand of love was jealous, passionate and gut wrenching. Her love was not gently luminous, it was too brutal. That dismal rainy evening, she had felt it rush through her consciousness. She hadn't been able to tell Coty the colour of Lumen because she did not understand it. Her feelings were too dark for pastels; she needed to inhabit, to grasp tightly, to own. Politeness was not for her. Looking at it now, she saw that she was like a bee amongst butterflies with her black hair and eyes and sun-tinged skin.

'Not red,' she felt tears rising in her eyes and she sensed that Coty knew she was about to cry. Clenching her hands into fists, she tried to regain control, telling herself that she must not let him see what lurked behind her brown eyes. But she had let him see, had let him glimpse the real Tessa, the one who gave in to her emotions, the Tessa she had been on that rainy London night. She cleared her throat again, blinking quickly.

'Primrose,' she announced.

Without speaking, Coty turned the board back to face him and for several long, silent minutes, studied the pale blue image amidst swirling mauve mist. She wanted to say that she didn't like perfumes that were portrayed with gentle, stroking, silken overtones and it made her sick that he thought this was what the majority of women wanted. She knew the world wanted blonde, blue-eyed dream girls and being the opposite of that, she was deeply hurt and angered. A primrose coloured Lumen display was what they could recognise as their own and what Elizabeth Browne personified with her shining blonde hair and satin smooth skin. Tessa realised that being dark and secretive made her an outsider in this sun-filled world. She hated the Lumen poster.

'Sit down,' he said, carefully placing the board on the table.

Tessa sank into the chair. Her mouth was dry. Slowly, Coty rolled up the architectural drawings and carefully tied the tape around them. The air waited with silence once more.

'My rivals call me The Haberdashery Salesman made good,' he finally said, 'Why do you think they call me that?'

'I don't know.'

'When I first came to France, I sold lace, linen and trinkets to women of quality. The other perfumers don't like the fact that I have so much knowledge about women,' he said, 'I have studied them for so long that I understand what they want. I know that every woman is different and that I must create a perfume that suits each of them. It is not a case of one fits all. Others can't stomach the fact that I know better than they do.'

'They're jealous.'

'They are perfumers only,' as if he hadn't heard her, 'I am more than that. I think of everything that surrounds a perfume. That is why they try to belittle what I am,' Coty stared straight ahead, 'But I do not allow it. How do I do that? By being in control. I do not let anyone force me to act in a way I do not wish to be seen.' He studied her, 'Tell me what your plans are,' he said.

'I'll fetch the diary,' Tessa started to rise.

'No,' his voice was quiet, 'I said your plans.' He swung his hands onto the arms of the chair, so that, with her way blocked, she fell back.

'I don't know what you mean.' she could barely say the words.

'That is the crux,' his breath spread the aroma of coffee over her, 'I need to know what is going on in your head.'

'All the things we have to do today,' she said.

His eye was piercing her now.

'You say you are my employee,' he said, 'Think what that means.'

'I will do anything you ask of me,' her voice shook imperceptibly.

'You would stay up all night contacting my salesmen around the world?'

'That's what you pay me for.'

'Would you guard the method of Chypre from my enemies?' he leaned closer. She nodded. 'Would you tell a journalist the secret of my methods?' They were almost touching.

'I will do whatever you tell me to do,' she kept her voice steady.

She didn't dare take her eyes away from his, even to study the flecks on his iris, or to glance at his lips, seeing if they were parted to speak again. By holding his gaze, she saw that he did not study the minutiae of her face either, but remained locked entirely on her eyes. She wished that he would finish her off right there and then because she wouldn't be able to keep this up much longer, and then he spoke again, so softly that his breath spread the words across her face.

'What could you do for me that Mr. Giles isn't willing to do?' The threat was almost hidden in the silk of his voice. She took a sharp breath. So he had heard the whisperings that sighed out of the stone and slid across the marble. Heat seared over the smooth skin of her throat, but she held his stare, wanting more than anything to look away. A knock at the door broke the tension.

For a moment, Coty looked as if he would kill whoever was there, but then he pushed himself away from her and held out his hand towards the door.

'Please,' he said, strolling to one of the long windows, 'Come in.'

Slowly, Tessa prised herself to her feet, smoothing down her hair. She tried hard to think what she should say, half wondering if it were Bacheville at the door, come to retrieve the advertising proofs and gain an inkling as to why they had all been dismissed. The handle moved slowly downwards. It opened slowly. Didier Giles stepped into the room. Tessa's heart lurched. She opened her mouth, forming the words to ask him who had betrayed them when Coty's strong, clear voice behind her rang out.

'Ah! Here is my loyal employee.' Coty theatrically looked at the clock over the mantelpiece, striding forwards, shaking Didier's hand and leading him past Tessa and into the room, 'Close it, close it,' he uttered.

Didier smiled at Tessa as he followed Coty.

'You know Mr. Giles do you not?' Coty threw over his shoulder.

'Mr. Giles is one of Mr. Dufour's assistants,' said Tessa.

Coty released Didier's arm and returned to the window where he stood in silhouette.

'Have you come to take back the proofs?' Tessa's brown eyes were almost black.

'This young man shared something very interesting with me when I arrived this morning,' Coty smiled, ignoring her question.

Didier glanced quickly at Tessa.

'I didn't have a choice,' he said.

'Tell her what you said to me,' Coty purred.

'Miss. Garcia told me earlier that she was planning on leaving your employ, Mr. Coty and I thought...'

'I don't employ you to think,' Coty snapped.

'We were told when we started here that you need to know everything,' Didier's voice trembled slightly.

'Were you aware of that?' Coty raised his chin in Tessa's direction.

She knew that it would anger him if she denied the charge. She knew he would be furious if she merely agreed. He saw her hesitation.

'I have known Mr. Giles since he began in your employ,' she said, 'and I've always classed him as a friend as well as a work associate. We were discussing,' she swallowed, 'We were talking and I said I wondered what it would be like not working here.'

'You wondered what it would be like?' Coty picked up her words, 'She wondered what it would be like?' he smiled at Didier, who, a little more relaxed, returned the smile with a nod, 'I shall tell you about someone who wondered what it would be like.' His steely eye fixed on her. 'Georges Gilbert left my employ because he didn't think I needed to know everything. He soon found out that was not the case. Of course, none of the other Perfume Houses would take him when I fired him, so he found himself a job at the St. Emilion Department Store as a buyer. I withdrew all Coty Perfumes from the shelves of that shop. Customers went to the Grande Gallerie instead. Georges Gilbert lost his position. My perfumes went back on their shelves. I won't go into every step down the ladder, but eventually, he was taken on by a small chemist's shop. People for some reason stopped frequenting the place. Again, for the sake of that chemist's business, he was let go. He went back to his home town, but there was no work for someone who had burned his bridges when he left for the big city, so he soon returned to Paris. He had no friends by this point. He rented in a poor district. He no longer looked respectable enough to work in a shop or even a good restaurant. He worked in a bar, but now he drank most of what he earned. He stole to feed this unquenchable habit, was caught and is now in prison,' he paused, examining his hands before looking up, 'He should not have wondered,' he looked at Didier, 'Would you like to see Miss. Garcia reduced to the same state as Georges Gilbert, Mr. Giles?' he asked.

Didier glanced at Tessa, then back at Coty.

'I never said I wanted to leave!' Tessa blurted out.

'But there is a kernel of truth here?' Coty asked.

'It was hypothetical,' she said, 'A scenario, not a desire.'

'What was the other thing?' Coty rubbed his chin frowning at Didier.

'It was nothing,' Didier looked ashamed.

'I will be the judge,' Coty's voice almost broke.

'Well, Sir, Miss. Garcia...'

'I look up to you,' Tessa interrupted, 'I hope, I wish, I hope one day, perhaps, if I'm lucky...'

'She said she thinks she is your equal,' Didier cut in, 'She boasted the fact.'

'My equal in what way?' Coty's voice hardened, 'She is dark, I am fair. I am male, she female. Or have you a nose like mine, Miss. Garcia? Do you think you can create a Chypre or an Emmeraude?'

'She didn't say exactly,' Didier added before Tessa could reply.

'Not exactly? But you are proud of the fact, Miss. Garcia. Please tell me, in what way exactly did you mean that you are like me when you confided, as friends, with Mr. Giles?'

If only it were yesterday, Tessa head spun. If only I could step backwards, through the night, step back and back, far from this morning, before waking, before thinking. Not confide in Didier, not talk to anyone, not make Coty doubt her.

'I am proud to be your loyal assistant,' she said, 'I am here to learn from you.'

'Ah,' said Coty, 'My loyal assistant. Tell me, Mr. Giles, how do we measure loyalty? Would you say it could be measured by betraying your colleagues' confidences?'

'If it is for the good of the company,' Didier asserted.

Coty turned away, lightly fingering the long drapes. Tessa knew to keep quiet. She knew when Coty was thinking, planning, withdrawing into his own thoughts. She had seen it many times. He usually retreated to his home where he had a special studio in which no-one was allowed. Didier did not know Coty so well and he stepped in, confidently striding through the shards of glass.

'I assure you, Sir, I would not do this to any other colleague, but because Miss. Garcia is your personal assistant, the one closest to you in the whole company, I thought, I mean, I felt sure that you would want, need to know her intentions if she was not going to inform you of them herself.'

'Were you going to inform me, or deliver a fait accompli?' Coty pointedly accused Tessa.

She had heard him use this diamond like voice before, but even so, it shook her.

'I don't want to leave, Sir,' she said.

'Sir?' Didier echoed.

'Don't interrupt,' Mr. Coty paced to his desk. Tessa and Didier waited as Coty stroked his hands along the rolled up plans. 'Mr. Giles,' he eventually spoke, 'I want you to go to Madame Popineau.'

'Yes, Sir?' his face eager.

'She will hand you a letter of release. Do not ask her for a recommendation. It will only cause you both embarrassment.' He was matter of fact.

'Sir?' Didier said, 'I don't understand.'

'You will also receive your salary to date.' Coty added dismissively.

Didier's face looked suddenly small and vulnerable as he blanched. Tessa entwined her fingers together.

'But Sir, I...' Didier began, 'This is unjust.'

'Miss. Garcia, open the door for Mr. Giles.' Coty's face was fixed, 'He is leaving.'

Didier hesitated, then, without warning, he rushed forward, throwing himself onto his knees and grasping Coty's trouser legs.

'I did it because I thought you needed to know! I'm not the one planning behind your back. You can't punish me for giving you information. She's a traitor.' He turned his red, tear streaked face towards Tessa, his eyes bitter and desperate. He pointed, 'Fire her,' he sobbed, 'Not me.'

Coty stepped carefully out of Didier's grasp, but Didier persevered in clinging on to his legs and Coty stumbled. Instinctively, Tessa put out her hands to help him. Coty brushed her away, grabbing the chair arm and kicking Didier to extricate himself. Yelping, Didier fell back on the carpet as Coty stepped free.

'It's not fair.' Didier groaned, 'I've not done anything wrong.'

'Call Security,' Coty snapped at Tessa.

She glanced at Didier, doubled over as he half stood, half knelt, trembling with fear. Coty strode quickly across the room and yanked open the door.

'Guards!' he bellowed.

Immediately, they could hear heavy boots stampeding across marble tiles and up the stairwell.

'Please,' Didier was screaming, 'It's not fair. Take her, not me. Her!'

'Life is not fair, Mr. Giles,' Coty replied, 'You would do better to learn that as quickly as you can.'

Suddenly, two uniformed men jostled through the open doorway. Coty waved a hand towards Didier's grovelling frame.

'No!' Didier scrambled in circles, lashing out as one of the guards tried to grab his arm. Both men grappled to hold him still, but Didier wrestled himself free. Finally grasping hold of Didier's leg, one of the guards began dragging him across the floor as the other attempted to ensnare his flailing arms. Didier was now shouting and kicking as if he were being taken to the guillotine, but the burly men had gained control and between them they bundled him into the corridor.

'You'll regret this,' Didier yelled as he disappeared through the doorway, 'I'll get you back,' his voice faded away making his shouts indecipherable.

Coty quietly closed the door, his hand resting on the handle for a moment before he crossed the rug. She waited, fighting back the desire to either run or drop on her knees like Didier and beg for mercy as he circled around her.

After an interminable time holding herself tense, he glided back into her vision and stopped directly in her eye line.

'What if I were now to fire you?' he said, 'No reference. No recommendations. No letter of approval.'

'Yes Sir.'

'You're not afraid?'

'No, Sir.'

'You are not going to beg and scream like Mr. Giles?'

'No, Sir.'

'Is that because I am giving you what you want? You actually do want to leave?'

'No, Sir.'

'Is that all I get? Yes, Sir, no, Sir? I am disappointed, Teresa, you are not who I thought you were,' he turned away, 'You can leave now.'

Tessa blinked on hearing him speak her name. It always sounded different when he said it. She liked the way he didn't shorten it to Tessa. It was as though she ran over his tongue, every syllable of herself sounding out as though she were part of him.

'I don't want to leave you,' she said.

'I have told you to go.' Coty said, touching the roses for the first time.

'They came up from Suresnes this morning,' Tessa stepped towards him as Coty lent forwards and inhaled, resting his hands lightly on the blooms as she had done. 'My house was always dark,' Tessa stuttered, 'It is light here.' The words were tumbling out, 'I was never allowed. My father didn't agree with me wanting to work, but you gave me an opportunity. I value being here more than anything I have known. I want to stay, Mr. Coty.'

She could run his name around her mouth as he had with hers, make it special, make him belong to her.

'Collect your things on the way out.' He was unreadable.

I know you dreamed too,' her words were pleading, 'You were a little boy once just as I was a little girl full of dreams.'

'Madame Popineau has everything ready.' He lifted one stalk out of the vase and reaching out, held it under his nose.

'When I was younger, I cut my mother's flowers,' she could hardly contain her emotion, 'She loved them and I snapped off their heads and plucked out their petals, crushing them hard in my palms, pounding them under the water, holding them down until the colour ran out.'

'She will give you your pay packet,' Coty twirled the flower.

'I collected pine needles and lavender and rosemary and mixed them together with roses.'

Coty laid the bare stalk on the desk.

'Goodbye,' he said.

'Red is the colour you'd give me,' she began to panic, 'I'm prickly, I get jealous, I'm out of control sometimes, I don't make sense, I make mistakes...' She was flushed, 'But I belong here, Mr. Coty. I belong here.'

He was close enough to touch. She could reach out, take his hands and beg. The scent of coffee had almost gone. She could smell the fragrance of musk underneath. He loosened the petals from the flower head.

'I need to know I can trust you,' his voice was low, measured, testing her, 'I need to know that you will not turn on me,' he hesitated for barely a second, 'What I need to know is, can I trust you with my life?'