Desert Isle Keeper
A Crown of Bitter Orange
The first Laura Florand book that I read was The Chocolate Kiss, the second story in her Amour et Chocolat series. I loved it, and since then I’ve been a pretty dedicated fan, so any new book by her is a cause for celebration. The author has now moved from the world of haute cuisine to the world of fragrance with her La Vie en Roses series, which is set in Provence, and takes us on a new journey of family and tradition with the Rosier family. A Crown of Bitter Orange (book three in the series) is rich in detail and abundant in sensuality as it details the poignant, somewhat bittersweet yet heartwarming friends to lovers romance of Tristan Rosier and Malorie Monsard.
Tristan and Malorie are descendants of two great perfume houses, the Rosiers and the Monsards. The Rosier family is still a powerhouse in the fragrance industry. Tristan is a perfume creator with the ability to blend scents together to make unique (and money making) formulas sought all over the world. His family history is one of courage and loyalty, with his grandfather and Tante Colette bearing the scars of their resistance to the Nazi occupation in World War II.
Malorie’s family history on the other hand, is one she bears with shame. Her great-grandfather was a Nazi collaborator, and was directly responsible for the death of one of Tante Colette’s friends. Malorie’s grandmother became pregnant at the age of sixteen, and struggled to raise her son in the post war days. That man, Malorie’s father, was a narcissist who let their family perfume business slowly fall to ruin and whose early accidental death further fractured their family. Malorie’s grandmother stayed in Grasse to give her grandchildren somewhere to call home but for Malorie, her identity as a Monsard is a painful reminder of what came before her.
Tristan and Malorie have known each other since they were children. As primary school classmates Malorie was always known as the steady, quiet, studious child while Tristan was an energetic boy who could never sit still. As they grew older, the gangly boy turned into a head turning, handsome young man – too handsome for Malorie to understand why he’d pay any attention to her, especially with her troubled family history. Fresh out of high school, Malorie left on a hiking trip and didn’t return, settling eventually in New York City and taking a job with a well-known perfume company, Abbaye, as an accountant. Her last encounter with Tristan didn’t go well, with an argument over the cost of ingredients in a perfume he’d submitted to Abbaye putting a sour note on their rocky friendship. But she’s back now in Grasse; her grandmother’s passing has left her with an inheritance that includes her grandmother’s old house and shares in what’s left of the family perfume business. Malorie knows that news of her arrival will soon reach the Rosier family and she’s on the precipice of an important decision. Should she invest in renovating the shop left to her by her grandmother with an eye to reviving the family perfume business or sell it, pull up her roots and move away permanently? If Tristan has his way, he’ll show her that through all these years, he’s been quietly waiting to provide the warmth and sunlight to keep those roots firmly planted and give her a place to call home.
The thing I find challenging about reading a Laura Florand book is that it’s hard for me to get to the end. This is because I inevitably slow down my reading to savor the story, and find myself going back and rereading passages just to enjoy them all over again. She’s got a way with prose that is unlike any other romance writer that I’ve read, paying an attention to detail that makes you able to picture the scene with all your senses. Take this passage for example, where Tristan is with his family helping to prepare for his cousin Damien’s wedding:
Above them, the great branches of an old plane tree shaded their game, leaves spring fresh. In the late Saturday afternoon, the April air was gently warm not hot. Around them were the original old stone buildings of the mas, the outbuildings that had once housed farm animals, and, at a little remove, the extraction plant and a couple more buildings associated with it. Past that stretched the roses, leafing out but not yet in bloom, and steep slopes framed the valley. The Rosier Valley. Not Tristan’s – his house lay high on the slopes, the fields themselves destined for Matt – but home. The apricot and almond trees planted around the house were in bloom, the amandiers releasing that incredible sweet scent from their fragile white flowers. And under that, the scents of stone and green, the softer, humid scents of spring that would soon dry in the summer, baked under the sun. The tingle-sharp scent of his aperitif, the faint hint of dirt stirred up by their feet in the gravel they threw.
The Rosier family is the heart of the story. From the grandfather down to the youngest cousin, it’s a large extended family and everyone has their place – and knows their place, too. It’s clear that there is a lot of research that has gone into making the setting and the background detail about perfume industry as true to life as possible. I love the scenes between Tristan and his cousins, particularly Matt, Damien and Raoul for the warm hearted teasing he gets as the youngest. But the time he spends with his grandfather and his aunt Colette is equally compelling. Like any family, this one has its flaws but it’s what makes them believable and they come across as overall very warm and welcoming.
Tristan finally has Malorie in a place where he can show her how important she is to him. He does this in subtle (and not so subtle) ways, by expressing enthusiasm about the perfume shop and offering to help renovate it to its former glory, in the hopes that it will make her stay. He offers to make perfumes for her, which really is his way of expressing his affection; and eventually Malorie is unable to resist his charms. He really comes across as a sweet, fun loving and adventurous man with a zest for life. Theirs is a slow burn romance but heats up over time with some sensual love scenes.
It’s a challenge for Malorie to trust the sincerity of Tristan’s affection for her. The conflict in this story is partly due to Malorie’s feelings about her past and how they have shaped her self-esteem, but it’s also due to Tristan not recognizing these fundamental parts of Malorie’s character. Growing up as an entitled, well-loved member of the Rosier family, he’s never put himself in her shoes before. Actions that he’s taken in the past and the present are chosen without seeing them from her perspective, causing rifts that are not so easily mended. In return, Malorie needs to see beyond Tristan’s carefree façade and realize that she has the ability to affect him as deeply as he affects her. Slowly but surely, wounds are healed and hearts are mended and the resulting romance is sweet and tender. A Crown of Bitter Roses will definitely have pride of place on my shelf, a comfort read for trying times, and a reminder that love waits in the wings for a chance to bloom.