Pierre de Vaumont looked serious and elegant as he left his Left Bank Parisian apartment on the rue Jacob in the fashionable sixth arrondisement. He hated early morning flights, but took them whenever he had meetings in New York. He would reach New York before noon, which gave him time for a lunch meeting and appointments in the afternoon. He was always booked in the evenings for major social events, important dinner parties, or discreet meetings that sometimes slid into unsavory activities, if dictated by the people he was with. Pierre was versatile, and open to almost anything. Tall, slim, handsome with graying blond hair, he was forty-six years old, and a matchmaker of sorts. He brought people together in order to facilitate unusual deals on a variety of matters. Sometimes even very unlikely endeavors. He knew everyone worth knowing all over Europe and in the Middle East, and his connections now extended into Asia, with Chinese businessmen who had a great deal of money. Almost all his connections were with billionaires. De Vaumont made his living, a very handsome one, on commissions. What he did wasn’t illegal, although he brushed along the edge of the respectable at times. The higher the risk, the more money involved, and the greater the profit. He was planning to meet with several different groups of people in New York. He only intended to stay there for a few days, depending on how successful his meetings were.
He was involved in fashion on a massive scale, as well as luxury goods, real estate, technology, and oil. He had worked for years meticulously placing himself in crucial positions so he would be able to introduce the right people to each other. And he took a handsome commission for doing so. People sought him out for his connections. He didn’t need to chase them. Not anymore. He had built up his business and his skills over the past twenty years. He was adaptable to all manner of situations and amenable to almost every kind of deal.
He had started working in Europe and expanded to Asia, since he had grown up in Hong Kong when his father was in the diplomatic corps. He returned to France in his early twenties, after his father’s death. His mother had died when he was in boarding school in England. He had no family or attachments, and no children. His father had left him some money, but not enough to live the way he wanted to, so he existed by his wits. He had always wanted to live well, envied people with a great deal of money, and had expensive taste.
He spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. Over the past two years he had concluded several very lucrative deals in Russia and spoke Russian as well. His sexual preference was somewhat fluid, and difficult to discern. He was often seen with well-known, very beautiful women, many of them married, and now and then he was in the company of very attractive young men. Whatever the pleasure of his clients was, he was happy to provide it, and had excellent connections for that too. He was a chameleon when he had to be. His reliable sources for difficult-to-obtain information served his clients well. His handsome features and innate elegance contributed to his image, and he didn’t look his age. He liked the title of matchmaker, although he was neither sentimental nor interested in romance in the classic sense. In many ways, he was a most unusual man, and a power broker among the ultrarich. He was indiscriminate and open-minded about who his clients were and how they had made their money.
Everyone wanted to know Pierre de Vaumont. Anyone who mattered already did, or they at least knew of him. He had the elegance of the French, the unfussy masculinity of the British, and a hint of Italian sex appeal. He would have made a perfect courtier in the court of Louis XVI—he thrived on intrigue.
He was wearing an impeccably cut dark blue suit made by his tailor in London, as he rode in the back of his Bentley on the way to the airport, driven by the chauffeur he used whenever he needed a driver. When he wished to be more discreet or incognito, he drove himself. He thoroughly enjoyed all the finer things in life.
When he arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, two members of the VIP staff were waiting at the curb to spot his Bentley, then two more ground crew rushed out to greet him when his arrival was confirmed. He was well known to the airline of his choice. His luggage was whisked away and checked in immediately. He was then escorted to a private room in the first-class lounge, where a lavish buffet of what he liked to eat was set out just for him. He helped himself to a cup of strong coffee and some fruit, opened his computer, and, after thanking the assembled crew waiting to serve him, disappeared into what he saw on the screen. He would be boarded last, as he preferred, and would settle into his first-class seat, where he would stay for the flight and retreat behind the curtains that gave him privacy. He had flown over a million miles, and his every preference was noted in the airline’s VIP file and communicated to the crew aboard any flight he took.
He had several meetings scheduled in New York, and would be returning to Paris in a few days or a week at most. It was a long stay for him. Sometimes he flew in and out the same day for one important meeting. He liked closing most of his deals face-to-face, not by email, text, or phone. He was a compelling person, and took full advantage of it to get the results he wanted.
Pierre de Vaumont had been sitting in his private room in the first-class lounge, drinking his second cup of coffee, when a chauffeur-driven Mercedes had pulled up to the first-class area at the curb. A man got out of the front seat, obviously a bodyguard, and a slim woman in a black hat with a wide brim and dark glasses waited in the back seat. The bodyguard took her passport to the first-class desk and checked her in. The staff at the desk nodded when they saw her name and allowed him to check her in without further questioning. They knew the procedures and had been warned of her arrival ahead of time so there would be no mistakes. She was one of their most valuable clients, even more so than de Vaumont.
It was the first trip Theodora Morgan had taken in over a year. She was the founder and very successful owner of Theo.com, a well-established internet shopping service that had broken all records of success worldwide. A year before, at thirty-seven, she was one of the most successful businesswomen in the world, and a fashion icon herself, always photographed when she appeared in public, although she kept an intentionally low profile, particularly in the last year. She was also the recent widow of Matthieu Pasquier, who owned more than a dozen of the biggest fashion brands in the world and was the acknowledged multibillionaire mogul of luxury fashion. She and Matthieu had met when she started her fledgling business at twenty-two, fresh out of Harvard. She had started it on a shoestring and rapidly proved the business model’s success. Financial journals and the business press began writing about her. Pasquier had made a point of meeting her. He was twenty-five years older than she, and a ruthless businessman. He had fallen in love with her bold, adventuresome, innovative business plan, and her gentle, determined nature behind it, as well as her youth and beauty. After a rapid courtship, they were married a year later, and remained married for fourteen years. She was his third wife and he had no children, and she had enchanted him even further by giving birth to a son, Axel, ten months after their wedding.
Her own family history had prepared her for marriage to an older man. Her father was almost twenty years older than her mother, and they had had a stable, loving home, where she had thrived as her parents’ only child. She had often preferred the company of adults while growing up.
Her parents included her whenever possible. She had a quiet nature and was an outstanding student. Her parents expected academic excellence from her, and encouraged it. Her father greatly admired success in business. He had done all he could to assist her entrepreneurial dreams and help her to make them a reality.
She had spent more time in college working on her business plans for the future than making friends. Her relationship with a much older man who was considered a genius in luxury retail seemed tailor-made for her. Her parents were reserved and only mildly concerned by her relationship with Matthieu initially, but they were supportive over time.
Theo spoke adequate French when she and Matthieu met. She studied diligently to improve it, until she was fully fluent within a year, for both business and social purposes, which made for a smooth transition when she moved to Paris for him. She had missed New York at first, but Paris rapidly became home and now she preferred it.
She was a devoted mother, often working from home, brilliant at her own business, which she never merged with her husband’s empire, despite his entreaties. She remained independent professionally, while still being a loving wife to him and mother to their only child. She adored their son Axel, who was the joy of her life. And her business was her passion. Her husband Matthieu had been her mentor and best friend, and the marriage solid. Although strikingly beautiful, she had never looked at another man.
It had all ended brutally a year earlier when Matthieu was kidnapped with their son at their country château, while Theo was in the city working.