Frenched Series Bundle(5)By: Melanie Harlow
Grinning at my new positive attitude, I looked to my left just in time to see a gorgeous young couple take a selfie of themselves kissing with the view behind them. My lips drooped as I turned away.
No, don’t turn away. Their love did not come at the expense of your own.
A few deep breaths later, I was fine. I even smiled at them.
See? You can do this.
To celebrate making peace with my first adventure as an Independent Woman, I went to the champagne bar, ordered a glass, and made a silent toast. To being in Paris, a dream come true.
My throat was still tingling from the bubbles when I heard a gasps and murmurs in the crowd behind me. I turned around and saw a young man down on one knee in front of a beautiful girl, whose fingertips were pressed to her lips. Wide-eyed, I watched as the man took a ring box from his coat pocket and opened it up.
Oh my God. This can’t be happening.
I glugged my champagne, taking in the scene with bug-eyed disbelief. I mean, really? Just when I decided Paris didn’t have to be all about the romance, a proposal takes place ten feet away from me? I couldn’t hear what he said, but I saw her nod happily as he slid the ring on her finger. “Yes!” she cried, and the entire crowd burst into applause and wild cheers as the woman leaned down and kissed her new fiancée.
Smiling half-heartedly, I set my glass down and slipped through the crowd toward the lift, a lump lodged in my throat where the bubbles had lingered just moments before.
I tried to perk myself up with a stroll along the Seine, but my Independent Woman positivity had fizzled.
Everywhere I looked I saw couples in love.
Holding hands on the bridges, sneaking a kiss on cozy street corners, whispering to one another in whatever languages they spoke, exchanging secret smiles, ducking into bars and restaurants, laughing at all the unattached losers in the city—at least that’s what it felt like to me.
I shuffled aimlessly along the river, which looked brooding and gloomy now that the light had faded. Eventually I meandered down Boulevard St. Germain and into what I guessed was the Latin Quarter. The sights, sounds, and smells of the bustling streets should have cheered me up, but the area was full of young people, and somehow my gaze still went to every clinging couple.
Damn you, Tucker. That should have been us.
With every step, anger ran hotter through my veins. A little voice in my head told me I was being stupid, I didn’t really want Tucker here, and I probably looked like an ill-tempered toddler, stomping down the street with my arms crossed and a scowl on my face, but I didn’t care. I was mad at Tucker for jilting me, mad at myself for letting it get to that point, mad at Coco and Erin for making me come here alone, mad at all the couples I’d seen, mad at France, mad at love.
I was also lost. Uncrossing my arms, I stopped walking and looked around, but I saw no major landmarks or street signs. It was dark, and though I hated the thought of pulling out my map and marking myself as a pathetic tourist, what else could I do? Panic tightened my chest, and I forced myself to take a few deep breaths and calm down before the scenarios my mother had worried about infiltrated my brain.
OK, that’s it. I need wine.
I walked one more block and, as luck would have it, found myself passing a building with English words painted on it: The Beaver Bar & Grill. Upon closer inspection of its signage, I discovered it was a Canadian sports bar. Pausing a moment to consider, I decided I wasn’t mad at Canada, beavers, or sports, so I went in and glanced around.
It was a small place, not noisy or crowded, just a few people sitting along a long wooden bar on the left and a group or two at tables in the rear. Eyeing all the patrons carefully, I looked for couples kissing or whispering or groping each other, anything that might signal an engagement was imminent, but didn’t see much love in the air. Most people seemed to be drinking tall glasses of beer and watching a hockey game on a large television in the back or the one over the bar.
“You looking for someone?”
Surprised that I’d been addressed in English, I glanced to my left, where the bartender stood drying a beer glass and watching me with an amused smile. In maybe his late twenties, he had a head full of messy longish curls and a prominent jaw covered with dark scruff.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“You had a very determined expression on your face. Are you looking for someone?” He raised his brows as he repeated the question, and I detected only the barest trace of an accent.
“How did you know I spoke English?”
One side of his mouth hooked up. “I know an American when I see one.”
For some reason the comment bugged me. What was so obviously American about me? I wasn’t wearing a Nike t-shirt or white sneakers or a baseball cap. I parked my hands on my hips and blew hair out of my face. “I could be Canadian.”
“Nah.” He shook his head and set the glass down.
“What makes you so sure?”
“A Canadian would’ve just answered the question.”
Bristling a little, I dropped my hands and squared my shoulders. “No, I am not looking for anyone.”
“Oh. The way you were scavenging the crowd with those big eyes, I thought maybe you were here to catch your boyfriend with somebody else.”
“I do not have a boyfriend!”
He held up his hands. “Sorry. Or girlfriend, whatever. I just meant you looked like you knew what you came in for, but it wasn’t a good time.”
“For your information, that is exactly what I came in for.” I marched over to the closest barstool and sat down with a huff. “And no, I don’t have a girlfriend either. I’m alone. Alone,” I repeated even louder, drawing stares from the few patrons sitting at the bar. One got up and moved to the next stool down, farther away from me. “Is that OK with you?”
“Love, it’s all OK with me. Why don’t you tell me what you want to drink?”
“Don’t use that word.”
“Love,” I spat.
“Sorry, I just haven’t learned your name yet.”
“That’s not what I meant. I don’t care what you call me, I just don’t want to hear any more about love tonight, or see it, or smell it in the goddamn air.”
He nodded. “That bad, huh?”
“Yes. That’s what I was doing when I came in, making sure there were no obvious couples in love in here. They’re fucking everywhere in this city. You can’t even walk down the street without seeing people hanging all over each other, kissing and hugging and being fucking happy together. It’s like a crime to walk down the street alone.”
“There’s plenty of people alone here.”
“Not that I’ve seen.”
He shrugged. “Well, Paris is a romantic place.”
“Paris can kiss my ass.”
“Why don’t I get you a drink, um…”
“I’m Lucas.” He offered his hand across the bar, and I shook it. ”So what’s your pleasure, Mia?” He smiled and called a greeting in French to some people entering the bar behind me.
“A plane ticket back to Detroit. I want to go home.”
“Well. Can’t help you there, but I bet you can grab a flight tomorrow. And since it’s your last night in Paris, let me pour you a glass of wine.”
“It’s my first night in Paris,” I said miserably. “And my last.”
His brown eyes went wide. “In that case, the wine’s on me. Hang on.”
Moving to the far end of the bar, he pulled a wine bottle off a shelf and poured a glass. I watched as he filled a few drink orders for other people, and noticed he spoke French with everyone but me. Although my ear wasn’t expert by any means, he sounded like a native speaker. And yet he also spoke English with a pretty good American accent. I had to admit I was a little curious about him.
Propping my chin in my hand, I looked him over more carefully. He wasn’t tall or built like Tucker, but he was slender and possibly muscular in a less obvious way. He had a trim waist and a cute butt, shown off nicely in gray pants worn more fitted than Tucker wore his. Too bad he was such a mess above the shoulders, though—that scraggly hair probably hadn’t been washed in days, and even though he had nice full lips, you could barely see them with all the scruff on his face. I thought he could be handsome if he’d invest in a razor and a good haircut.
My taste in guys is clean-shaven and neatly coiffed with a pretty face, which was Tucker Branch to a T. He was as vain as any woman I knew, worked out daily and spent hours in front of a mirror, but it never bothered me. His careful attention to his appearance meant he cared what I thought; he wanted to look good for me. As the memory of his hard, cut body underneath his gorgeous custom suits infiltrated my brain, I experienced a pang of regret. God, he’s just so good-looking. Those blue eyes. The sculpted abs. The smell of his neck when he’d cover my body with his.
“Here you go.” Lucas set down a glass of red wine, generously poured. I liked how the outside corners of his brown eyes got a little crinkly when he smiled, but he was no Tucker Branch. I’ll bet he doesn’t smell as good either. But Coco might have liked Lucas; he was more her type. I wondered if he had any tattoos.
“Thanks.” I offered a small, tight-lipped smile, and he winced.