After a moment, when I steeled my resolve, the door opened.
A man with salt and pepper hair, a nasty scar above his lip and astute eyes, scanned me. “Oui?” he asked rudely.
I hesitated, but then thought, I’m all in.
“Je suis venue pour voir Louis.”
He scanned me much more carefully, and his dark eyes stopped at the cash in my hand. After his eyebrows rose, ever so slightly, his face relaxed and a side hitched up. He shrugged and opened the door wider.
I stepped into another foyer, encased in a marble, circular partition. With one last wave of jacked-up energy, I barreled around the wall, quickly scanning the, holy massive, space, hesitating only to admire the incredible view provided from floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere. Gorgeous kitchen, too. I sucked in a waft of cooked chicken. God I missed meat. Pausing to get my bearings—this was an extremely large suite—I followed the faint sound of the television sports game. There was the living room. I spotted a giant flat screen against a wall, blinds tugged down around it.
My heart was going a mile a minute, my hands shaking. I couldn’t turn back now. I stepped down the two stairs, powered across the empty dining room area, into the living room space, aiming straight for the middle, where . . . my eyes scanned quickly . . . there were others present, two, I think, standing behind one sectional.
There sat Louis, legs wide apart, on a giant leather sofa, a remote in one hand and an empty plate of chicken bones beside him. He was in a pair of track pants and nothing else. To say he was shocked, when he realized the girl standing in front of him was not a cute American announcer suddenly on his TV screen, was an understatement.
“Fleur,” he exclaimed sitting forward, absolutely no fat bunching at the waist.
“What the hell is this?!” I shouted at him, waving the cash.
I watched red sprout in his cheeks as he glanced around at the chilled room, and back on me. His eyes took in the money, and my other hand on my hip. He stood up to his full, mighty height, extra slow, his eyes steady on me.
But I wasn’t intimidated. Not in the least. He was way out of line.
“You know what? In America, you pay—” I shook the wad of cash at him “—after you’ve finished the transaction.” I threw the money at him but it didn’t get very far. It kind of fluttered to the floor.
Holy cow. Did I really just say that? That is not what I had meant to say. It just came out.
Waves of regret rippled through me as he pulled his head back, and his lips bunched up, contemptuous. Disgust spread on his face like ink.
And who could blame him? There I was, standing in his living room, lamenting the fact he had not bopped me. Oh sweet mercy.
As we neared the yacht, I could see only lights from a few windows of the cabin area. Near the bow, men were lingering, smoking. I was shaky as I walked across the sloped plank, and it wasn’t from the cold wind coming off the sea.
Louis’s entourage joined me on the deck. I was struck by how much larger the entire boat seemed once you were on it. My escorts pointed in the direction of the lit cabin with encouraging nods. Just outside the doorway, looking down into the deep inset cabin, I spotted Louis sitting at an elaborate bar, sipping a highball.
He was poised, on the edge of a stool, in black dress pants, one long, thick leg stretched out, the other bent underneath the stool. The sleeves of his blue dress shirt were rolled up, which, I noted, might be a habit of his. He spun the whiskey around in his hand, watching the golden elixir reflect light. I wondered if he was trying to read his fortune in that glass, he stared so intently at it. I recalled the night we met, at the bistro, how he gave off animosity. But now I knew better: it was power.
He glanced up and watched me step down into the cabin. His silent magnitude left me breathless. He took in my dress quickly, eyes steady, and when he broke into a smile, my heart skipped a beat.
“You came,” he said in English, standing up, looking ginormous in the tiny room.
“Bien sûr,” I answered. Why would he think I wouldn’t?
He was already near. It was odd: his face was sketched with relief. He reached for my hand and pulled me to him, brushing his mouth close to mine with a mere greeting. He paused, hovering near, suddenly shifting his lower half up so close I could feel the heat coming off of him. He clamped his lips down on mine with two-ton force. I was crushed under all his intensity as he nudged my mouth open and tasted me. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I kissed him back, tasting the whiskey on his tongue, smelling his cologne and natural musk. We lingered a moment, before he pulled back and, clasping both my cheeks, planted two more soft kisses on my lips.
My chest hurt from a strange new kind of anxiety, high-pitched, full of woe. Dread closed in on me. I’d never felt so exposed standing before one human being before. And realization that he could desecrate me with a mere cold shoulder sank in.
And maybe that was his point. But why?
“Is that what you want? Do you want me to go?” I whispered, trying to keep my voice steady.
I swear a universe of emotion flickered in his eyes, but it presented itself so quickly, and was hidden from view, I wondered if it existed at all.
He shrugged. As if I was asking him what color tie he wanted to wear.
I gasped. The floor opened up beneath me, and, as I fell, I knew it then. He was the keeper—the keeper of our connection. And he’d decided to punish me, without explanation, to prove a point that he refused to explain.
I recalled thinking once that he was a rotten man. What had happened to that idea? It was suddenly clear and present again.
I rushed into my dress, zipping it up on the way to the door. I stumbled because tragedy lay before me.
Was I going to leave?
My heart was up in my throat, and tears ran down my cheeks.
Why was he so mean?
I didn’t understand!
I was steps from his door. Yes. I was running home. To my mother. Like the child he clearly thought I was. The lump in my throat ached, as with one last gasp of disbelief, I pulled on the handle, desperate for him to stop me and desperate to get away, but . . . the door wouldn’t budge.
I tugged again.
His hand was above me, holding it closed. The tattoo glared down at me. He’d moved—fast. To stop me.
He didn’t want me to leave after all.
I didn’t know whether to be relieved or terrified or angry.
I felt, only, numb.
When he stepped into me, my body moved of its own volition as close to the door as possible.
Seems he’d gotten what he was so desperate to have. I was scared of him.
He buried his face in my hair, and my chest burned. Tears of hurt streamed down my face. What had just happened? My heart was pumping so fast it was going to burst and spray black everywhere, and I didn’t even know why!
“Fleur,” he whispered.
No. I shook my head, but his body had drawn close and followed mine as I
I tried to shift away against the door.
“Fleur,” he whispered.
I paused. We stood there, barely touching, me trapped in a standstill of . . . hope. So much hope. Pure hope. It was a field of azure bluebells on a Texas highway promising to bud every spring without tending or mercy. I didn’t know what he wanted from me, not by the way he had said my name, or in general, anymore, and I didn’t care, not as long as he wanted me.
Slowly, gently, he pulled me into him, and I let him.
I let him.
And . . . time began again.
Lesley Young is an award-winning Canadian journalist by day, and obsessive novelist by night. Her debut novel, Sky’s End (Soulmate Publishing, 2013) hit #9 on Amazon’s sci-fi romance paid best-seller list in its first three months of release.
Not too long after that, she started dreaming up quirky heroines who lose their hearts to extremely powerful, flawed heroes, only to find out what love really is while on a dangerous adventure abroad. She called it the Crime Royalty Romance series, and landed herself a pretty big agent at Spencerhill Associates. Never one to take the obvious path, Lesley ultimately decided to self-publish. She’s never sure who or what will pop up in her imagination next. The Irishman? The Spaniard? The Hawaiian? Anything’s possible, and she loves suggestions (or recommendations of really hot, er, talented, actors to work as a muses).
Stay in touch with her and feel free to forward on decent options at Facebook.com/LesleyYoungBooks and @LesleyYoungBks (note: Charlie Hunnam’s already taken the lead role of The American—#3 Crime Royalty Romance…coming soon!).