Scent of Triumph is the story of Danielle Bretancourt, a talented young French perfumer with a flair for fashion and a natural olfactory gift. In the language of perfumery, she is a Nose, with the rare ability to recognize thousands of essences by memory. The story opens on the day England declares war on Germany, and Danielle and her family are caught in the midst of a raging disaster sweeping across Europe.
Her life takes a tragic turn when her husband and son are lost behind enemy lines. She spies for the French resistance, determined to find them, but is forced to flee Europe with fragments of her family. Destitute, she mines her talents to create a magnificent perfume that captures the hearts of Hollywood’s top stars, then gambles again to win wealth and success as a couturier. Her intelligence and flair attracts the adoration of Jonathan Newell-Grey, of England’s top shipping conglomerate, and Cameron Murphy, Hollywood’s most charismatic star.
Danielle charts her course through devastating wartime losses and revenge; lustful lovers and loveless marriages; and valiant struggles to reunite her family. Set between privileged lifestyles and gritty realities, here is one woman’s story of courage, spirit, and resilience.
Scent of Triumph
by Jan Moran
“Merci, Danielle,” the young woman said with a smile as Danielle placed an armload of fragrant white lilies next to the blush pink roses she had already chosen. “You always choose my best flowers.”
Danielle winked at her friend, the owner of the Flower Pot in Beverly Hills. “And you always have the best flowers in town, Mimi. Especially this spring.”
“Mais oui! It’s a good season. Are these for a special occasion or party?”
“These are just for me. You know I can’t resist walking past your beautiful flowers.” Danielle buried her nose in the bouquet of roses that Mimi had already wrapped in newspaper. “I feel so much better when my home is full of flowers. Their perfume always lifts my spirits.”
“Mine, too. That reminds me, my brother just sent some potted gardenias from the farm. They’re full of buds and would be perfect for the windows in your boudoir. Did you see them? They’re in the front of the shop.”
“I’ll take a look.” Danielle meandered through a brilliant maze of cut flowers, charming topiaries, and magnificent floral arrangements. She loved the scents that swirled through the air, and they really did lift her spirits.
After she had committed Cameron to the sanitarium for his alcohol and drug addictions, she tried to banish the turmoil that had been in their home. Not only had his behavior affected her, but it had also disturbed Liliana, Jasmin, and Marie. Once he was gone, she had asked a friend, who was an interior designer, to make subtle changes throughout their home using an ancient Chinese design theory called feng shui, which they all found calming and healing. The sound of waterfalls and the aroma of flowers had helped restore balance and happiness to their home, and reminded her of her uncle’s flower fields in Grasse. Since then, Danielle managed to find time in her busy schedule to shop for fresh bouquets every week, and she felt better than she had in years.
She drank in the heady aromas wafting through the air, closing her eyes from time to time as she leaned into an exotic flower or plant to breathe in its scent. I could almost be in Grasse, she thought.
She loved her friend’s shop, in fact, she had helped Mimi and her brother start their business with a small investment. They were from the Provence region of France, and while Mimi ran the retail shop, her brother oversaw their farm in a valley north of Los Angeles where they grew the flowers and plants.
The shop was busy this Saturday morning in May, bustling with people in their casual weekend clothes enjoying the warm spring weather. Danielle folded up the long sleeves on her white cotton shirt, and as sunshine streamed through the front windows, she pulled her dark sunglasses from their casual perch atop her head, shielding her eyes against the bright glare. She spied the gardenias and made her way to them.
She rubbed the glossy green leaves, touched the moist earth in the pot, and let her fingers trail along a fresh white flower bursting from a tightly swirled bud. Instinctively, she sniffed her fingers.
Perhaps I’ll capture this aroma, she thought to herself, smiling. Cool greens combined with sweet gardenia, the moist earth, the warmth of the sun—it would be perfect for this season. Maybe a new line of garden-inspired perfumes—
She squeezed her eyes shut, her fingers still hovering beneath her nose. Am I hearing things? She heard someone call her name. And not just anyone, but it sounded just like— And that scent…the patchouli, the hint of rose…it was Spanish Leather and the scent of his warm skin…oh, mon Dieu! She felt a hand on her shoulder, and felt a shiver of remembrance course through her.
Slowly she swung around. The shop seemed to fall away, and she felt suspended in the moment. She pushed her sunglasses up on her head and blinked, staring at the handsome man who stood before her. “Jon?”
“It must be kismet.” A wondrous smile spread across his face. “I stopped to buy flowers for Abigail, and I thought I saw you through the window.” He ran his hand down her shoulder and caught her hand, drawing her to him, intensifying the delicious scent of him in her nose.
“I can’t believe it, what brings you here?” She felt her heart beating wildly, and was certain he could see it beneath her blouse.
“We have a ship going out on the Pacific from Long Beach. I didn’t have much notice, what with security and all. So I thought I’d surprise Abigail.”
Danielle laughed nervously. “Oh, you would have. But she’s not here. She’s in San Francisco with Lou. He has a film shooting on location there.”
He ran a hand through his thick hair, releasing a faint scent of the sea. “Ah, once again, I should have called ahead.”
He smiled wistfully at her, his warm eyes crinkling at the corners. She noticed his face was leaner than before, but his chest was broad, and he looked more muscular. He’s even more magnificent than I remembered.
“Then our meeting really is kismet,” he murmured. His voice sounded low and gentle, yet charged with emotion and strength. “You look so different, Danielle, you’ve bloomed, just like these flowers. How many years has it been since that day outside of your apartment?”
Danielle felt her face flush, and moistened her lips to speak, but at that moment, Mimi bustled toward them.
“Did you find the gardenias?” Mimi paused and tilted her head. “Ah, I see you’ve found a friend instead. Who is this?” she asked with a curious smile.
“Jon is an old friend, and Abigail’s brother.”
“I am so very pleased to meet you,” she said, her eyes darting between Danielle and Jon. “Danielle, I have your flowers ready. Did you want the gardenias, too?”
“Oh yes, of course. I’ll take two of these.”
“Let me help you,” Jon said. “Which ones do you want?”
Reining in her emotions, Danielle pointed to two lush plants, and Jon swept them up in his arms. “What else do you have?”
Mimi gestured to the counter. “She has quite a few roses and lilies.” She glanced at Danielle and added, “How nice that you ran into Jon.”
“Yes, what luck,” Jon said with broad smile as they wound through the shop.
Danielle felt her pulse quicken, and yet, she marveled at how easily they fell into step together. It had been three, no, almost four years since they’d seen one another. Before Cameron, she thought with a jolt.
Jon paid for the flowers and scooped them into his arms. Laughing, Danielle said, “Here, I can manage the lilies.”
“How far do we have to go with these?”
“I’m parked in the back, follow me.” As he held the door for her, she glanced over her shoulder, and noticed his gaze lingering on her body, then he met her eyes.
“Nice flowers,” he said with grin.
She laughed nervously and shook her head. “I’m in the Delahaye.”
Jon walked to the car and let out a low whistle. “What a beauty—the car, too,” he added, looking appraisingly at Danielle.
“Jon, you’re being naughty. And I’m supposed to be mad at you.” She unlocked the doors.
“At me? Why?”
“Well, why shouldn’t I be? You show up again, with no notice at all.”
“Danielle, let’s not waste time on the past.” Taking the keys from her, he opened the trunk and placed the flowers inside. He drew a deep breath. “I didn’t call you, or anyone, because I didn’t know how much time I would have. As it is, I only have a few hours, and I don’t know when I’ll return.” A serious look shadowed his face for an instant. He took her hands in his. “But I’m here now, and it’s a beautiful day. May we enjoy it together?”
She smiled up at him. “Come with me to the house. My mother and the girls are visiting friends in San Diego. And you know where Cameron is. I wrote to you about that.”
He nodded. “Is he any better?”
“He’s taking this opportunity to work on new songs, and is looking forward to coming home soon.” She paused, then sighed deeply. That had been her standard answer to the press for months. Why should I lie to Jon? “Actually, he was released from the sanitarium to work on his new album, but after just a month, he had a horrible relapse and returned. But let’s not talk about Cameron.” She flipped her sunglasses back on her nose. “Want to drive?”
Although Danielle lived less than a mile from the Flower Pot, at her direction they took the long way home so that he could enjoy the fine, sleek automobile. Jon drove south and turned east on Wilshire Boulevard, enjoying the feel of the car at his command. He’d been so busy, there had been few moments to truly enjoy life, especially with a woman he found so fascinating. In truth, there had never been anyone like Danielle in his life, not even Victoria.
Danielle. This was not the woman he’d left in France, not the woman he’d last seen in Los Angeles. Had he thought she would remain unchanged after all she’d endured?
He remembered the young woman he’d met on the Atlantic crossing before the war in thirty-nine, the waif-like creature she had been, even when she was pregnant, with large, luminous eyes in her pale face. He recalled the last time he’d seen her in Los Angeles, right after she’d married Cameron. Could he really blame her for that? She’d been so emotionally scarred and painfully poor when she’d first arrived in Los Angeles; he knew that now, but he hadn’t realized the extent of her suffering at the time. Though they’d corresponded some through the years, and he’d followed her hard work and remarkable accomplishments, still, her new image had startled him when he first saw her in the flower shop. Even in her casual white shirt and cotton pants, she was clearly an independent woman in charge of her destiny. She was so… He paused, searching for words. So sophisticated, so self-assured.
Turning onto La Cienega, he glanced at Danielle, hardly believing that she actually sat beside him this glorious sunny day. She lifted her hand to smooth her auburn hair.
He smiled to himself. Her every movement transfixed him; she was graceful and refined. She’d become a woman. An elegant woman. He turned onto Sunset Boulevard and they wound through the neighborhood.
“So you approve of my choice of car?”
He laughed. “What’s not to love?” He really meant her, not the car, but she seemed a little nervous since he’d mentioned Cameron, so he added, “I’ve always thought this was one of the most gorgeous cars ever built. I met René Dreyfus, the auto racer, not long after he won the Million Franc race in thirty-eight in his Delahaye.” He laughed. “What a great victory over the Nazis that was.”
“Among others,” she said with a world-weary smile.
“Rumors are still swirling in Europe about Hitler’s demise,” Jon added with a grimace. “There were so many different accounts in the press these past couple of weeks, but it’s now been established that he did himself in.”
“Good riddance. Turn here,” she said, indicating her street. “And here we are.” He eased the car into the driveway of the large red-bricked Tudor-styled home, and turned off the ignition.
“I’m so glad to see you, Jon,” she said, touching his hand.
As he curled his fingers around hers, and felt her slim fingers respond, a rush of desire coursed through him. “I’m glad I ran into you. I’d thought about calling you, many times, actually.” He leaned into her and casually kissed her cheek, marveling at the softness of her skin, and the fresh, subtle perfume that wafted about her hair and neck. She seemed a little flustered by his action, so he pulled back, and said, “Let’s put those flowers in some water, shall we?”
He got out of the car, opened her door for her, then gathered the flowers from the trunk. She led him to the side entry and into the kitchen.
Jon glanced around, taking in the comfortable surroundings, photographs of Danielle and the girls, potted palms, and fresh oranges on the kitchen table. “What a lovely home you have, Danielle. I’m glad, you deserve it. But are you happy here?”
“I have so much to be thankful for.” Danielle picked up a pair of scissors and began snipping the flower stems. “My family is together, my business is thriving.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I know what you meant.”
“We have just a few hours, Danielle.”
“I’m very aware of that.” Snip, snip. She tossed discarded leaves in the trash bin.
Jon watched her for a moment. She wore a pair of lean black cotton trousers and flat ballerina-style shoes. Her hair flowed around her shoulders, and her face was angled from him. “Are these the vases you’re using?”
“I’ll fill them with water.”
She nodded again.
“Danielle?” He touched her shoulder, and when she looked up at him, he could see that her brilliant green eyes glistened with tears, and it tore at his heart.
She brushed her eyes with her hand and waved him away. “I’m just being silly.”
“No, you’re not. Come here.” He wrapped his arms around her and felt her body slowly respond, relaxing into his. God, she feels so good.
“I should be happy, Jon. Except for Cameron, I really am, but I don’t have much time for myself anymore. This is a rare day….”
“You’re still a woman with feelings.” He tilted her chin up and looked into her eyes. “And I still have feelings for you, Danielle, I always have, from the first moment we met. I will never deny it, no matter what our circumstances might be. There was a time, right after Max died, when I should spoken up, told you how I felt, but I thought it was too soon for you. And then when I did…what a disaster. I’ve made so many mistakes with you.”
She laughed softy. “And now it’s too late for us. We’re both married.”
“It doesn’t change the way we feel about each other. I know what you don’t say in your letters. And I’ve always known that when I saw you again—”
“Shh,” she said, kissing him softly. Her lips were warm, her kiss gentle, and he felt his resolve melt under her tender touch. Then she pulled away, her hand lingering on his face. “Let’s just enjoy the day,” she said, as he turned into her hand, kissing her palm. “I have a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator.”
“I’ll get it,” he said, and kissed her lightly before he released her.
“I’ll get the flutes from the bar.”
Danielle left the kitchen and made her way through the living room. Pausing, she leaned against the bar and drew a hand across her face. She knew what she felt for Jon, she knew what she wanted, but wanting didn’t make it so. And yet, if there was one lesson learned in the past few years, it was to seize the moment and whatever joy might come your way. What if Jon never returned from the Pacific? The war was still raging there. How would she feel if she never saw him again?
How would she feel if she did?
Her attorney had already drawn up her divorce papers. But Jon was still married. And Victoria had a baby. And I shouldn’t be thinking this way.
She chose two tall flutes from the glass shelves behind the bar and went back to the kitchen.
Jon had opened the champagne and he poured two glasses. “To us,” he said.
They drank to the toast, then Jon helped her fill the vases with lilies and roses. Together they placed the arrangements throughout the house, with Jon listening as Danielle told him about her girls’ accomplishments in school, and Marie’s fortunate recovery. They talked about Abigail’s work with orphans, and Jon’s parents, but when they spoke about their postwar plans, Danielle noticed that Jon was vague, so she didn’t ask him about Victoria. What’s the point? she thought.
They returned to the kitchen, and had another glass of champagne along with some fruit and cheese that Danielle prepared, but neither of them were very hungry. Jon wanted to know everything about the way she lived there, and how her business was going. “I want to show you something,” she said, taking his hand and leading him into a room at the rear of the house. As she opened the door he said, “Wow, what’s that incredible smell?”
She smiled, pleased at his response. “This is where I work at home when inspiration strikes. My main laboratory is in my office building, not far from the Flower Pot, but I like to dabble here after everyone is asleep and I have time to think and imagine and create. It’s always been my private room.”
He peered in through the doorway. The room was tidy, but her creativity was evident. On one side sat a small perfumer’s organ, with neat rows of amber bottles, and across from it was a drafting table. A pair of comfortable brocade chairs, a stack of books, a potted palm, beautifully framed impressionist paintings, and a phonograph completed the comfortable room.
“What’s this?” Jon asked, motioning to an open sketch book on the drafting table.
“These are ideas for evening gowns for my winter collection,” she said, showing him her sketches, and touching a stack of jewel-toned fabric swatches as she spoke. She felt Jon’s eyes on her, and their fingers brushed as she showed him her drawings.
Jon asked several questions, and he seemed genuinely interested in everything she was doing, unlike Max or Cameron had been.
While they talked, she opened a set of French doors to the backyard, where a swimming pool sparkled in the sunlight, a waterfall cascaded with a pleasant rippling sound, and a soft breeze billowed the drapes of an open-air pool house.
Jon turned around, taking in the room. “You once described this room to me in a letter. It’s exactly the way I imagined it to be.” He moved toward the perfumery organ. “And this is where you blend your perfumes?”
“Many of them. Here’s one I’ve been working on.” She picked up a small amber bottle, opened it, dipped a slender white blotter strip into it, and held it up. “Tell me what you think.”
He took her wrist and guided the strip under his nose and closed his eyes, inhaling. “It’s fresh, very modern, smells like California in the summer.”
He has a good nose, she thought to herself, acutely aware of his hand on her wrist. “That’s California orange blossoms, and I added a fresh accord, reminiscent of the Pacific Ocean.”
“It’s spot on, Danielle.” He took the blotter strip from her, trailed it along her throat, and leaned closer to smell her neck. “A great perfumer once told me that it’s better to experience scent on skin.” He nuzzled her neck. “Remember when you told me that?”
Danielle let her head fall back, exposing her throat to him, and savoring the warmth of his touch. “It was in Grasse, after Jasmin was born. I was so glad you were there with me. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
Jon slipped his hand under her hair and held her neck, his lips brushing hers as he spoke. “Do you remember the first time we kissed?”
“How could I have forgotten?” she murmured, tasting his lips with her tongue.
He picked up the perfume bottle, poured a small amount of perfume into his palm and, unbuttoning the top button of her shirt, pressed the fragrant oil into the skin on her chest between her breasts. A small moan escaped her lips as he bent to her, intent on experiencing the aroma as it emanated from the gentle curve of her breast, warmed by his touch.
He slipped another button free, trailing the perfume on her skin with his fingers, past her lace brassiere, and onto her firm, flat stomach, pausing to caress her skin with his nose and lips and fingertips.
His breath felt hot on her skin, she felt his pulse quicken as he held her, encircling her with his hands and arms, engulfing her in a passionate embrace.
At once he stopped and cradled her face in his hands, his eyes dark with desire, then he lifted her easily in his arms.
“Take me outside,” she whispered, and he stepped through the French doors. “To the cabaña,” she added, leaning against his chest and feeling the beating of his heart.
Jon carried her past the sailcloth curtains that lifted in the gentle breeze, and into a slate-floored room with sliding glass doors and a stone fireplace. He placed her on a marine blue, double-width chaise lounge, and Danielle lay with her hair fanned out beneath her. Jon propped himself up on one arm next to her and gazed at her. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, Danielle. We’re meant to be together, you know that as well as I do.”
“I know, Jon, I know,” she murmured, pulling him close and unbuttoning his shirt. He stopped her, then finished the job and tossed his shirt to one side. He bent to kiss her and she met his lips again, gently, then more passionately, as their desire flamed against the cool spring breeze.
“I want to make love to you, Danielle, more than anything I’ve ever wanted to do. You are my heart, my soul, I love you, Danielle.”
She felt the warmth of his breath on her neck, as his words seeped into her soul, warming her to her core. A thought sprang from deep inside of her: I love this man…I always have. She ran her hands through his hair and pressed him toward her, then hesitated, checking her desire. She knew what she wanted, but should she?
He brushed his lips against hers and said softly, “Danielle, I once promised Max I would look after you. Will you let me?”
Jon’s words hung in the air as she met his intense gaze. “But there are others….”
“Who don’t have to figure in our future.”
Danielle sucked her breath in. Do I dare hope? “Until then, let’s just lay together, Jon, there’s no harm in that.”
The minutes turned into an hour, and then another, and they explored one another’s bodies as they lay together, whispering their desires and sharing their passion, and knowing that someday, somehow, they would share their lives. It would be so. As the sun set, Jon rose and started a fire in the fireplace, and Danielle lit citrus-scented candles. Jon brought the champagne and cheese and fruit from the house, and they laughed and drank and ate, then caressed another again, enjoying each other’s touch.
Finally, the champagne unleashed their inhibitions, and Danielle opened herself to Jon, who hesitated only for a moment before entering her with an ease and naturalness that surprised them both at first. They fell into rhythm with one another’s bodies, their scents mingled, merged, and exploded with passion, while their lovemaking soared on an arch of joy and intensity, and they knew no boundaries between them.
Danielle felt herself transported on wave after wave of pure joy, pure love, pure feelings. And this feels so right, she thought.
Satiated at last, Danielle gazed at Jon’s profile against the flickering fire, basking in the glow of their love. For the moment, she was simply happy, and felt closer to Jon than she’d ever been with another man. She smiled, and thought, I feel truly, deliciously loved. She knew he would be leaving soon, but rather than feeling sad, she felt that this day was a gift, a rare glimpse into the future, a snapshot of what could be. If only…she stopped herself, not daring to spoil their moment of pleasure with doubts or questions of the future.
The last thing she remembered was Jon covering her with a blanket and kissing her—kissing her face, her lips, her hair, and then she must have dozed off, for when she awoke, he was gone.