8. Superb After Superb

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Valerie and Lorne flowed their conversation through and between the well-timed sequence of plates and wines. After a pause to appreciate the subtle artistry of the foie gras de canard aux pistaches, Valerie said, "Always one of my favourite combinations; a torchon and Yquem."

"And mine

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"And mine. Such a dichotomy, though. The fatty, savoury duck liver doesn't make logical sense paired with an intensely sweet white wine, but this combination never fails to sing a superb harmony on my palate."

She raised her glass in a toast. "To all superb combinations."

After their plates were cleared, Lorne asked, "Did you build the company, or is it family?"

"Hah! Family!" She laughed. "Mum was an entrepreneur; a pub stripper with private clients on the side."

"And your father?"

"With Mum's popularity, it could have been any of two dozen or more." Valerie laughed again. "She knew none of them beyond a few minutes of business passion. Never had a regular man. I grew up in rooms above an assortment of Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham pubs."

"And where is she now?"

"Drug overdose when I was sixteen." She shook her head and dabbed her eyes. "Oh, God! How did we get into this?"

Lorne took her hand and gently stroked it as he appeared to be searching for something to say. He opened his mouth to speak as the servers returned with the next course.

"Homard et estragon," the waiter said as he set the lobster in front of them, artistically arranged on black marble slabs

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"Homard et estragon," the waiter said as he set the lobster in front of them, artistically arranged on black marble slabs.

When the sommelier had finished pouring, he said, "Le Montrachet, Marquis de Laguiche 2010."

After the servers had left, Valerie looked up from admiring the superb presentation. "I was raised on greasy pub food. Often, it was whatever Mum could snitch from the kitchen,"

"That must have been difficult for you."

"I didn't realise how good I had it until I was placed in foster care." She blew out a big breath, then she nodded toward the lobster. "We should move on to more pleasant things."

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