On SALE for
“I’m sorry, Madame. There are no suites available.”
You have got to be f-ing kidding me. What kind of inept moron are you? I made these reservations two months ago, you French son of a…
Biting my lip before any of that diatribe could escape, I take a deep breath and try again. “I believe you are mistaken, Monsieur.” I struggle to stretch my lips into a casual smile. “Both with my title and my room. I am Mademoiselle Maclane, not Madame.” I flourish my left, ring-less hand for emphasis. Resisting the urge to backhand the guy requires all of my self-control. “I also distinctly recall reserving the Suite de la Rose over two months ago, further confirmed by this printed receipt.” Pulling the document out of my well-organized travel wallet, I shove it under his nose, waiting for the apology I’m owed.
“Oui. I see you have a reservation and I do apologize,” he minces, almost convincingly, as he hands the paper back to me. “However, the room in question is not currently available. I would be happy to find you an alternative, and we will of course credit you the difference in cost.”
Having been on the travel writing scene for a couple of years now, I know a crap brush off when I hear one. It’s clear the guy bumped me for someone he’s trying to impress. My flight from Rome was delayed, my suitcase was dented, and I am flat not in the mood to be second-classed for some chump with a larger wallet than mine. Fishing my phone out of my pocket, I open my contacts to my assistant back in the states, willing to wake her with a dictation of my scathing review of this hotel within earshot of the smug maître d’ if he doesn’t fix my room reservation, like now.
“Look, I don’t know what you thi– ooomph!” A blow to my back lurches me forward and sends me halfway across the desk, practically into the lap of the frustrating Frenchie, a location I have zero interest in. “Ow! Son of a bitch!”
Shoving off the front counter and spinning around, blood boiling and fully intent on venting all of my repressed fury on the jackass who half-flattened me, I get an eyeful of a large male chest, the well-worked muscles shaping the thin cotton nicely. At five-feet-eight I’m not exactly shrimpy, so this guy must be huge, at least six-feet-five. I tilt my head and redirect my glare.
“Oh, sorry about that.” Smoky gray eyes, framed under dark chocolate lashes that match his thick mane of hair, radiate sincerity, arresting my rant mid-throat.
“Are you okay?”
I blink, in some weird shock. The noise coming out of my mouth sounds more like a gurgle than actual words.
Pull it together, Chloe! You will not be derailed by a hunk of beefcake.
“American right? Or do I need to try out my rudimentary high school French?”
Clearing my throat, I try again. “Yeah. American. Fine. Thanks.” Shit! One word answers? What kind of pathetic word hack am I? “And you are…?”
“Monsieur Borgatti. A delight to see you again, we have your room ready for you,” the hotel snit interjects.
A black suited arm reaches into my vision, holding an ornate key attached to a hand-carved wooden fob. I note the distinct intricate rose design. The Rose Suite key. Eyes traveling up the arm, I spear the manager with a glare before swiveling back to my assailant.
“Thanks, Simon. I ‘preciate that.” He takes the proffered key and looks back down at me, holding out his right hand. “I’m Andrew. Andrew Borgatti.”
“Chloe Maclane.” I shake his hand with a firm grip, brain still scrambled and struggling to regain my wits. “Nice to, uh, meet you.”
“I really am very sorry. My garment bag sort of fell off of my shoulder and right into you when I put the other suitcases down.” His appreciative gaze runs the course of my body. “I should thank it.” Grey eyes twinkle with amusement, a dimple blooming on one cheek as he smiles.
An unwanted flush creeps up my neck in response to his scrutiny, despite my mind’s objections. Being checked out by my assailant shouldn’t be a turn on.
I pull my hand from his grip. “Huh. Garment bag pick up. That is a new one.”
His dimple deepens.
Not that I notice.
He chuckles, a deep resonant sound, eliciting another surge of warm energy that runs through me, this one further south. I tell myself I don’t notice that, either.
“Not my usual line, and not on purpose. But I do think I should take you out to dinner to make sure there’s no permanent harm done.”
“Well, if I can ever get a room,” I direct a look at the key in his hand, “as they seem to have given away the one I reserved.”
The corners of his lips dip down in disappointment as he turns to the hovering manager. “Simon, you gave away this lady’s room?” He makes a couple of tsk-ing noises, shaking his head. “That’s bad form, my man. Doesn’t say much for French hospitality, now, does it?”
“Well, monsieur, we had a bit of a misunderstanding with the accommodations,” Simon, hastily explains, his face reddening. I don’t know who this Andrew Borgatti is, but I’m starting to appreciate more than his physique. “I believe I have it all worked out, however.” He redirects to me. “Mademoiselle, I hope you will find the Lilac Suite acceptable…and with our compliments?”
“That will do fine,” I snap, snatching the key with the lilac carved wooden toggle from his grimy paws, completely aware of his insincerity. Comping the room does earn him points, though, so I suck it up.
I can be a bitch, I know this. I reshaped myself, purposefully, years ago, to avoid getting walked on by men like Simon. But sometimes you have to let stuff go. Simon hasn’t impressed me much so far, but a free room goes a long way in cutting the guy some slack.
“Thanks,” I tell him, mustering up some sincerity. Bending to extend up the handle of my rolling suitcase, I step away from the front desk.
“Mademoiselle, une minute,” Simon calls behind me.
Already halfway across the foyer, wanting nothing more than to get into my cozy suite, I pause anyway, turning back with a sigh.
His expression pinched, nose turned up like he smells something noxious, Simon holds out my pink cell phone to me. It must have flown out of my hand when I was trying not to give him a lap dance.
Without invitation, Andrew plucks it out of Simon’s hand, grabs his bags and brings it to me in three long strides.
“Looks like we’re headed in the same direction,” Andrew observes, nodding toward the elevator and holding my cell out to me.
I take it, and our fingers brush for the briefest moment. A shock of erotic electricity runs up my arm, startling me. I find a lot of men attractive, there’s eye candy all over the place, but physically react like that? Not so much. I pause and look up at him. His eyes are wide, lips slightly parted, and I wonder if he felt it too.
Shaking off my silly schoolgirl fantasy, I dig the suite key into my palm, grounding myself in reality through discomfort. Smiling up at him, I reply “I suppose we are.” The bruise on my back temporarily forgotten, my heart is hammering, my body thrumming with unexplained tension. Taking another step, I don’t object as he keeps pace with me.
“It also looks like you’ll be here for dinner,” he hints without a trace of pushiness or desperation.
I’m sure I could turn this guy down flat and it wouldn’t bother him a bit.
Most good-looking guys fishing for a date with Andrew’s level of self-assurance come across as cocky and entitled, a total turn off for any woman with half a brain. For some reason he doesn’t strike me that way. He’s gorgeous, a gentleman, and as sexy as a firehouse calendar model. I don’t want to turn him down. It’s been a long day of nightmarish travel, and a good meal with a side of eye candy sounds like the ideal nightcap to me.
“It looks like I will be.” I’m agreeable, but not desperate. Reaching the ancient, wrought-iron cage elevator with barely enough room for one, he holds the gate and lets me load my bag and body in first. “I’ll probably be hungry in about hour,” I add, nonchalant, pushing the button to the fourth floor.
“I’ll probably have a reservation made by then.” His low voice almost a growl, his dimple returning with a lopsided smile.
“Won’t that be a lovely coincidence?” I observe as the door clanks shut, his eyes following me through the open bars as the elevator starts its ascent and takes me out of sight. Leaning back against the cool metal, I fan my flushed cheeks. “Lovely indeed,” I murmur, mentally taking apart the contents of my suitcase, already planning what to wear.
As I wheel my suitcase into the main room, my phone rings. It’s my personal assistant, Deb.
“Chloe! You make it to the hotel? I swear I’m never going to use that airline again. Three-hour delay for a one-hour flight, my ass.”
“It worked out all right,” I reassure her, cutting off her rant before she really gets going.
“All right? How all right? Like you made it to the hotel in one piece or you already found some yummy Frenchman to sample?”
I laugh. She knows me too well. “Not French, but a potentially tasty American.”
“Oooo, sounds promising. Is he blog-worthy?”
I picture Andrew’s broad chest, tight ass, strong hands…and feel my body’s hot, tingling response. Definitely. “We’ll see.”
As the elevator pulls the enticing, caramel-haired beauty away from me, I tighten my grip on my bags and head for the stairs. I prefer the small workout over trying to cram both my body and my luggage into that tiny deathtrap. Stepping out on the fourth floor, I pass a wooden plaque carved with lilacs beside a door on the way to my suite. A smile touches my lips.
Simon earned himself a good tip, this time.
Inserting my key into the door with the rose carved plaque, I let myself in.
Fifty-five minutes later I step back into the hall, showered and redressed in clean slacks and a freshly pressed shirt. Slipping my room key into the inner pocket of my dark brown, leather dinner jacket, I head for the stairs again, making it to the foyer a moment before the elevator doors rattle open.
My breath hitches in my throat as Chloe steps out. Wearing a red dress that hugs every curve just right, she’s pulled her long hair into a bun at the nape of her neck. My fingers itch to caress and brush away an escaping tendril drifting over her collar bone. Her minimal makeup enhances her natural beauty, pleasing me that she hadn’t felt the need to cake it on for dinner, like so many women I’ve known before. Even in her five-inch stiletto heels, she’s still a few inches shorter than me, but I won’t have to dip too low for a kiss later.
“You look great,” I observe, offering her my arm to take.
“Thank you,” she replies, completely confident and not demurring, slipping her hand into the crook of my elbow.
“No false modesty, I see.”
“What’s the point? I am what I am. We’re all a work in progress, right?”
Assertive, but not overconfident. I like it.
Eyeing the restaurant-less hotel entry, she adds, “So where are we going?”
Glancing again at her footwear, I reply. “It’s not far. A nice little place I discovered on my last trip, only about two blocks away.”
“I can hike five miles in these things,” she assures me, deciphering my gaze and lifting a foot connected to a shapely leg for emphasis. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I won’t then.”
Chuckling, I lead her out of the hotel and onto the lit Parisian street. This woman pulls no punches. And she wasn’t kidding about the shoes. The cobblestone sidewalk doesn’t prove challenging for her, but I like that she leaves her hand on my arm anyway.
Stepping into the darkened restaurant, I lead her to the back stairs. “This way.”
Raising an eyebrow, she doesn’t say a word as she follows me down the stone steps.
Emerging into a cavernous, dungeon-like room, we are greeted by the maître d’. He seats us at the table I requested, located in a semi-private arched recess. Settling ourselves in the antique chairs, we thank him as he hands us each a menu and discreetly steps away.
“What’s good here?” Chloe asks, reading over the French scrawl like a pro.
“Everything, but I especially like the duck. I’ve only ever had it better once, in a restaurant in Vancouver.”
“B.C. or Washington?”
“B.C.,” I reply. “I’m impressed you know there are two.”
She shrugs. “Native Oregonian.”
“Ah. That explains it.”
“This is the part where you tell me where you’re from,” she teases, glancing up at me through thick lashes with the slightest smile curving her full lips.
Chuckling, I comply. “Southern California boy.”
“Aha. Let me guess.” Her gaze openly travels down my body, leaving an almost tangible heat in its wake. “Football player? High school star turned stud on campus in college. Coasted through classes and landed a cush job with a fan, where you get to travel and bank on those hot buns,” she finishes, flashing a grin. “Am I close?”
Some might find her cliché stereotyping offensive, but I can tell by the sparkle in her eyes that she’s messing with me. Determined to return the ribbing, I ask, “When did you see my ass?” I don’t mention I’ve also taken the liberty of checking out her full derrière, which I enjoyed immensely.
Is it weird that her checking out my ass is kind of a turn on?
“I have my ways.” She smiles and shrugs, that wisp of hair teasing me as it moves across her collar bone. “And don’t avoid the question.”
“In answer to your speculation, the sport is rugby, as in I currently play. High school sucked, and college wasn’t anything extraordinary. The degree was a Masters in International Business, which I earned with my brain, not my ass. As for my day job, I had to apply like any other poor sod, and my boss is a fifty-year-old man with questionable hygiene, so I’m not exactly sleeping my way to the top.”
She laughs, lilting and free. “Touché!”
I hardly have a moment to savor the sound, or the unfiltered delight in her expression, before the waiter arrives at our table to take our drink orders. Feeling the French vibe, I order a red wine.
“I’ll take a Scotch and Amaretto on the rocks. Merci.”
“I didn’t take you as a Godfather type,” I observe, impressed by her choice. Most women I know prefer sugary, girlie drinks, that traditionally come with an umbrella or cherry.
“The drink, yes. The movies, not so much. I’ll leave that to you manly types.”
“Yeah, sure. And since we’re on the stereotype train, I guess that means I’ll leave the chick flicks to you?”
Her deep inhalation before releasing a dramatic sigh moves her cleavage in an interesting way. As the drinks arrive I focus my gaze back on her eyes.
“Touché again. But only if you consider sci-fi, the occasional fantasy, and soft porn, chick flicks.”
Holy crap! Did she really bring up soft porn on a first date? Should I feel turned off or on by that?
She tilts her head and winks.
Turned on. Definitely turned on.
A bark of laughter escapes me. “Touché indeed!”