Elzbieta Zalewski had cut it close. But Ela always cut it close at the airport; she didn’t enjoy flying, and was never in a hurry to get on a plane. Ela dreaded takeoff and was uneasy the whole time that the plane was climbing to its intended altitude. She hated the descent just as much. When the plane banked, she instinctively shifted her weight in the seat to prevent the aircraft from spiraling out of control. Once the plane leveled off, she could relax … unless there was turbulence. Ela fought through it all though; she loved her work and in her business she was required to attend events an ocean away.
Ela Zalewski was the owner of Les Vins EZ Inc., an agency that represented producers of luxury wine in the Quebec market. This evening, she was flying to Bordeaux, via Paris, for a very important wine show that took place every two years: Vinexpo. She was also a regular at ProWein in Düsseldorf and Vinitaly in Verona. She had even attended Buy Wine in Florence a couple of times.
Robert Lecler, her director of sales, attended L e s G r a n d s J o u r s d e Bourgogne in the Burgundy region of France, and Vinisud in Montpellier, France. Dividing the traveling helped, but any time in the air was too much time in the air for a wine agent with a fear of flying. Since so much of her agency’s business revolved around the wines of Bordeaux, Ela’s trips to the wine producing region were not limited just to Vinexpo. This would be her sixteenth trip. Flying never got any easier.
Fellow passengers had no idea of the turmoil inside Ela’s head. They only saw an attractive, self-assured professional, perhaps about thirty-five years of age, calmly boarding and then reading the airline’s in-flight magazine while the plane taxied on the runway. Managing appearances was a coping mechanism.
Ela made a point of looking her best when she traveled. Robert had once asked her why she didn’t just put on a nice pair of jeans, a casual top and some comfortable shoes to travel in. She had told him icily that if she were going to die on one of these flights, she would do so fashionably
DIANA SOBOLEWSKI 2
This evening, Ela wore a cropped black zippered jacket over a black short-sleeve jersey top. The jacket cinched at her waist and flared out slightly to the top of her hips. Skinny pants in the same cotton blend, stretchy material stopped just above the fine bones of her ankles. Classic pointed pumps in buttery soft black leather, with a modest three and a half inch heel, were her idea of reasonable footwear.
At five foot one, Ela had long ago adopted stilettos as part of her daily wardrobe, but the long airport corridors and wheeled luggage made certain concessions necessary.
There was a lot of black in Ela’s suitcase. But then, when traveling, it was easy to mix and match black items. Should red wine get on her clothes at a tasting, the stain wouldn’t show. She was also aware that she wore black well. Ela’s attire was always polished and sophisticated, whatever the occasion. A wine agent had to look professional, of course, but it was also a glamorous business. Ela liked showing off her sense of style and her assets. She liked standing out.
Ela had a formula to help her look and feel her best on international flights. She dressed well and relied on CC cream for a healthy glow, and red lipstick, for a little color. Black mascara made her eyes look bigger when she was tired and squinting. A squirt of eau de parfum at the nape of the neck kept her feeling fresh. The custom-made diamond earrings were simply an indulgence she was never without.
Though Ela was not a fan of flying, she always looked forward to Vinexpo. Every two years over forty-five thousand wine and spirits professionals descended on Bordeaux to do business. It was an important event to be part of, whether you were selling or buying, and the atmosphere was electric.
On the buying side, there were importers, hotel and restaurant owners plus agents like herself. Wine journalists from all over the world gathered there as well. Yet it seemed that everyone knew everyone. You were always bumping into a familiar face.
During the day, Ela would meet with her existing producers to taste their new releases and plan strategy for the next two years. She would also meet with new producers whose wines she was interested in introducing into the Quebec market.
That would entail understanding more fully what these producers could offer and an explanation of the buying practices in her home province. She would also take the opportunity to outline what she could do for them within this system, and what they needed to do on their ends. These were very productive appointments that almost always ended in a commitment.
PRIVATE RESERVE 3
The evenings were a different matter. Since her primary business was selling and promoting the wine produced by prominent Bordeaux châteaux, Ela was invited to parties and gala dinners that not many agents had the opportunity to attend. This was her big payoff for working so hard; this was where Ela got to really live it up.
Ela’s week normally started on Saturday evening with La Jurade de Saint-Émilion, a celebration of the wine and heritage of Saint-Émilion, dating back to the late twelfth century. The exclusive event took place in the heart of the medieval city. It was an occasion to induct new members who acted as ambassadors for these regional wines in their parts of the world.
Ela herself had been inducted into this illustrious group several years earlier; she’d stood on stage in a red velvet cloak trimmed in white vermeil as her accomplishments were read out to the assembled guests.
The celebration always began with a cocktail period. The formally attired guests were served Champagne, as was the custom all over Bordeaux. A grand dinner that showcased the refined wines of Saint-Émilion followed, and then dancing into the wee hours.
Ela’s week would end with La Fête de La Fleur on Thursday evening, a celebration of the wines of Medoc and Graves, and Sauternes and Barsac that was held on the grounds of a different château each time. It was a very prestigious event attended by over fifteen hundred elegantly clad guests from Bordeaux and other parts of the world. To receive an invitation was as rare as the wines that were served.
After the ceremony to induct new members, which might include famous personalities, cocktail period allowed guests to enjoy Champagne and white wine while mingling. Having never missed, Ela now knew a great many of the people who would be there.
The dinner would tantalize the taste buds, but the wines would be the stars of the evening. Guests who stayed beyond dinner were treated to fireworks and dancing.
All of this required numerous advance shopping excursions. Ela would figure out with pen and paper what she would need for what events, so as not to be seen in a dress or suit twice by the same people, but still get some of her clothes and accessories to do double duty. She’d start planning in April and would only be done a week or so before Vinexpo, which was held the third week of June. Packing light was not an option in her business.
As a rule, Ela arrived the day before the hectic schedule got underway. She needed to rest and acclimate. She also flew out a day after everyone else, so she could recover after her last gala dinner and treat herself to a spa day.
DIANA SOBOLEWSKI 4
A suite in the five-star Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux & Spa in the heart of historic Bordeaux would be home for the week. Just thinking about the luxury that awaited her did a remarkable job of lessening Ela’s anxiety about flying. She thought only of her arrival now. A car would meet her at Merignac Airport, and transport her in comfort to the hotel that would take away her fatigue, restore her vitality and transform her back into the Ela that people expected.
She worked with some of the most renowned producers in the world … their wines were legendary. It was only fitting that she stay in such a hotel. Besides, she deserved it. Ela had worked hard for this kind of life and she meant to enjoy her success.
While Ela was a woman who lived in the present and looked to the future, she did enjoy reliving some fond memories from the past … like the last Vinexpo, two years earlier. She had reserved a suite at Hôtel Burdigala, another beautiful five-star in the center of Bordeaux, with outstanding service. Nico Baggi had driven all the way from Tuscany to join her there for a couple of very memorable days.
5 CHAPTER 2
Ela had first met Nico Baggi in Florence at a wine salon intended to help stimulate sales for Tuscan wine producers. Ela and Nico had gotten to know each other over meals. Whenever another producer, an importer or a journalist had intended to sit next to Ela, Nico had made sure he got there first.
At the end of dinner one night, after Ela mentioned how peacefully she’d slept in her room at the back of the hotel—unusual because she was someone who had difficulty sleeping well—Nico had complained that his room, which faced on to the street, was very noisy. He was't able to sleep. He had asked the hotel to find him another room, he claimed, but had been told it was impossible. All of the rooms had been taken. Could he sleep in her room … on the sofa-bed, of course? Nico had asked Ela in his charmingly accented English. That was how Nico had come to be in her hotel room in Florence.
Once inside, Nico had deemed the sofa-bed inadequate. Ela had agreed to let him share her bed and even pretended not to notice that he was naked when he got under the covers.
While Nico had kept to his side of the bed, trying to figure out how to bridge the space between them, she had pressed her behind into his hip; feigning sleep. She had moved against him over and over … making Nico really horny and increasingly bold.