Frenched Series Bundle(8)By: Melanie Harlow
“Nothing’s wrong with it at all, princess.” He took my elbow to pull me up a side street, and I tugged it from his grasp.
“Stop calling me that. I’m not a princess.”
“Says the girl staying at the Plaza Athenee.”
“I’m not paying for it, remember? The ex-fiance?”
Lucas paused. “Oh, yeah. I forgot about him.”
“I wish I could forget about him.”
“You can. You will.” He tossed his arm over my shoulder and squeezed for just a moment, surprising me. “I’m sorry I teased you.”
We walked slowly up the Champs, stopping occasionally so I could ooh and ahh over the merchandise in store windows lining the avenue. I entered a few shops, but he chose to wait outside each time, never telling me to hurry up or complaining that he hadn’t had his coffee yet, like Tucker would have. Tucker didn’t get the point of window shopping—if he liked something he saw, he bought it.
I did see some pretty things I’d have liked to get for myself or for my girlfriends, but my credit card couldn’t handle the price tags. And although I had Tucker’s card and even his permission to use it, I just didn’t feel right about it.
“Not even a souvenir t-shirt?” Lucas asked when I came out of yet another store empty-handed.
I shook my head. “Even the t-shirts are a little steep for me.”
“Yeah, these places jack up their prices because it’s prime real estate. But I know some better shopping areas, less touristy ones. I’ll tell you where to go.”
“Thanks. I’d like that.”
At the end of the avenue stood the Arc de Triomphe, massive and solid and majestic, way bigger than I’d imagined it to be. As we got closer I stopped walking and stared, open-mouthed. “Oh my God, it’s so huge!”
“I hear that a lot.”
I made a face at him. “Hahaha. Just be quiet and let me enjoy this stuff, OK? That’s your only job today.”
He saluted me.
“So can we climb it?”
“You can climb it.”
“Why only me?”
He shrugged. “I’m not fond of heights.”
I looked at the Roman arch again. It was pretty high at the top. “You’ve never been up there?”
“I have. The view’s incredible.”
“Well, I’ll go by myself then.”
“No problem. I’ll wait for you here.” We’d reached the end of the block, where a café with a huge red awning and lots of tiny outdoor tables sat kitty corner from the arch. Lucas chose an empty table and sat down. “Aren’t you going now?”
“I guess so.” But I stood there a moment longer, feeling strangely let down that he wouldn’t accompany me. “You sure you won’t go with me?”
“I’m sure. Go on.” He waved me toward a metro station sign. “The easiest way is to go underground and take the walkway.”
I followed his instructions and used my Paris Museum Pass to enter. I actually had two passes—I’d ordered them ahead of time for Tucker and me. As I climbed the hundreds of steps to get to the top of the arch, I thought of maybe giving the other one to Lucas. I wonder if he likes art. I knew he must like music since he majored in it along with psych, but other than that and his job, I knew almost nothing about him, not even his last name.
My leg muscles were burning after a few dozen stairs, but it felt good, and the physical exertion lifted my mood. When I get down, I’ll ask more about him, and I’ll be open-minded and even pleasant, dammit. I won’t compare him unfavorably to Fucker, I’ll stop judging his hair, facial or otherwise, and I’ll even thank him for spending the day with me.
Because really, when I thought about it, he could have just sent me on my way last night. For heaven’s sake, it’s not like I’d been so charming he’d been unable to resist me. I’d been pretty bitchy, actually.
A little breathless from the climb, I reached the top and stepped into the wind, pulling my sweater tighter around me. Carefully, I approached the edge and took in the panoramic view. But rather than the Eiffel Tower or Louvre or La Défense, my eye immediately sought the café where Lucas was waiting for me, and I thought I saw him there, but I couldn’t be certain. I pulled out my camera and took a few pictures before heading back down the steps, through the underground walkway, and back up to the café. Lucas was right where I’d left him, an empty coffee cup on the table. He’d been checking his phone, but quickly tucked it into his pocket when he saw me, something else Tucker would never have done. He was glued to that thing.
“So? How was it?” Lucas pulled the chair on the other side of the table out for me.
“It was amazing. It was breathtaking. It was…” I lowered myself into the chair and pumped my fists in the air. “Triumphant.”
Lucas laughed and raised his hand for the waiter. “That good, huh?”
“Well, I didn’t see anyone kissing or getting engaged, which automatically makes it better than my visit to the Eiffel Tower yesterday.”
“Good. Would you like coffee?” he asked as the waiter approached.
Lucas held up two fingers. “Deux cafés.” The waiter picked up the empty cup and retreated, and I leaned forward onto my elbows.
“So, Lucas...wait, what’s your last name?”
“So, Lucas Fournier. You majored in psych and music, you’re a bartender, and you’re scared of heights. Tell me something else about you.”
“I didn’t say I was scared of heights.”
I blinked. “Yes, you did.”
“I said I wasn’t fond of them. There’s a difference.”
A smile tugged at one corner of my mouth. “Of course. Pardonnez-moi.”
“And I’m not really a bartender. The Beaver belongs to my brother Gilles, and I just fill in there sometimes when I’m in Paris.”
“What do you normally do?”
“I teach intro psych at NYU. I’m just here through the summer visiting my mother and doing a little research.”
“In psychology?” I asked before taking a sip.
“In music, actually.”
“What are you researching?”
“The traditional folk music of Romani guitarists. I’d like to write a book about it.”
I tilted my head at the unfamiliar word. “Romani, what’s that?”
“Well, a lot of people refer to them as gypsies, but that term sounds a little harsh these days.”
“Aha. And do you play guitar as well?”
He smiled. “I do.”
Intrigued, I set my cup down. “Can I hear you play?”
“Did you bring a guitar?”
“Not here, silly. Maybe later?”
He raised an eyebrow. “You planning on coming home with me?”
Immediately my cheeks burned. I’d gone from pleasant to pervy in under a minute. “No—I didn’t mean—I’m sorry, I just—”
Lucas laughed as he reached over and patted my shoulder. “Relax, Mia. I’m only teasing.” He pulled some money from his pocket and laid it on the table.
I bit my lip—I didn’t want him to think he had to keep paying for things. This wasn’t a date. “Thanks. I need to change some money, I guess.”
“Does that mean you’re staying?” Lucas looked at me with a gleam in his eye.
I wanted to say yes, but I didn’t want him to stop trying to sway me. There was something really enjoyable about being the sole focus of his attention. “Still undecided.”
“All right, then. I’ve got work to do. Come on.”
“So nothing romantic, right?” Lucas rubbed his chin as we walked. He’d helped me change some money and now we were headed toward a Metro entrance.
“Damn, that’s a tall order in Paris, but I think I have an idea.”
I followed him down the cement steps, at the bottom of which he took my arm. “Come here. Do you know how to read this?” He led me over to a large map of the routes on the wall.
Quickly I looked it over. I actually love maps and I’m usually really good at reading them. “Each route is has a number and a different color, right? And the little dots are stops?”
“Yes. And the bigger shapes, the white ones, indicate where you can make a transfer to another line. The key is to look at the name of the stop that’s on the end of the line in the direction you want to go. For example, here we are…” He pointed over my shoulder to a big white oval on the map. “At Charles de Gaulle – Étoile.”
He was standing so close behind me that I could feel his breath in my hair. I wondered if it smelled like coffee and then scolded myself for having such a weird thought. “Right.”
“And we want to go here.” He slid his finger across the map to a stop labeled Père Lachaise.
“Père Lachaise…like the cemetery?”
“Yes. Dead people and stone monuments. Not romantic, right?”
I laughed, peeking at him over my shoulder. Holy shit, he was close. My temple actually grazed his chin, and he stepped back, clearing his throat.
“So, how do we get there?” he asked. “You tell me.”