Paris by Moonlight
Click on image to enlarge.
by Holli Winters
Description: Lani Sinclair arrives in Paris for the wedding of her best friend, but she soon meets Luc Arceneau and the sparks of desire fly between them. When an ice storm traps them in the hotel, neither can deny the attraction. A hot night of passion follows, and while Lani convinces herself that all she wants is a temporary, anonymous affair, will it be enough? How will she react when she learns Luc's secret?and that he wants more than a Christmas fling?
eBook Publisher: Whispers Publishing, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: March 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [50 KB]
Reading time: 27-38 min.
* * * *
"I can't believe I got roped into this," Lani mumbled as she reached the sanctuary of Hotel Le Meranda. She'd planned to grab a few souvenirs, but the sidewalk crowded with holiday shoppers had quickly turned into a sheet of ice.
The breezy cold air propelled her through the doors and into the lobby of the luxurious five-star hotel. The red-haired bellman gave her a cursory glance before turning away to peruse the valet parking entrance.
Guess her frozen, wiped out appearance didn't impress him. Well, she wasn't one of the nouveau riche guests of the hotel. Not that Lani minded if she didn't warrant his attention. Right now, the only thing she needed was a drink to warm her up.
Drinking seemed to be something she wanted to do a lot these days after learning her job was among those cut by the university board. Five years as a loyal employee didn't mean anything in lean economic times. Thank God her plane fare to France had already been paid for and her room tab picked up by the groom's family. Otherwise, her only Christmas trip this year would've been to the mall. Ho ho ho.
Spotting the entrance to the lounge, she made a beeline for it. A hot toddy sounded good. She'd get her drink and head to her room.
Loud music and the sound of voices greeted her as she entered the darkened bar. Neon flashing lights and swirling orbs decorated the area providing illumination, amid wall to wall seating.
With most of the seats filled to the brim.
She groaned as she scanned the unfamiliar sea of faces. The sight gave her a sinking sensation and her heart began to pound. Maybe she'd spot someone familiar. Surely some of Lauren's soon-to-be family had wandered here after their dinner earlier in the hotel restaurant? She didn't expect Lauren, since the bride-to-be indicated earlier she wanted some alone time with her fiance, Nic.
Lani didn't question what 'alone' meant after meeting Nic. She might be dateless, but her body wasn't dead.
She glanced again at the crowd, not spotting anyone from Nic's family. Talking to strangers in bars wasn't on her list of things she wanted to do tonight. So why did she feel like the vultures were circling?
Most of the people didn't pay any attention to her, which should be perfect in her book, but a few glanced her way. Were they curious who the stranger was standing there looking out of place?
Taking a deep breath, she walked farther into the room and glanced around. She'd met Nic's brothers and sister-in-laws, but she didn't spot them in the bar. Oh, well. She'd order a drink and wolf it down before heading to bed. Hopefully the heater in the room had warmed her sheets.
She squeezed in between a man and a woman at the bar. The bartender had disappeared and not a waitress in sight. Not her night at all. Lani glanced around while she waited. To her left, a blonde haired woman formally dressed in a short, black dress leaned toward an older gentleman, deep in conversation with him.
On Lani's right, a man stood with his back to her. He had longish black hair and wore a dark suit. His attention was focused on the television screen perched high above the bar, tuned to some kind of soccer game. Or, what they called football here in Europe.
That much she'd gleaned during her research and preparation for her trip to France for Lauren and Nic's nuptials on Christmas Eve. While Lani was happy for her friend and coworker Lauren, she'd wondered if winter was the best time to hold a wedding.
Didn't most people get married during warm weather?
"Christmas weddings are considered romantic for a lot of people."
Lani started, realizing she'd spoken her thoughts out loud and the man next to her had heard. Well, crap. She hoped he didn't know Nic or Lauren.
"I'm aware of that, but it's Christmas--"
Then stopped when she got her first sight of him.
It should be a crime for a man to be that good looking. Tall, rugged, with dark hair, he looked every inch the kind of man who was at home in social settings. Something Lani still had problems dealing with even after years spent working in a library.
He smiled, revealing an aura of confidence and power about him. As he leaned closer to her, she caught a whiff of his cologne. "Christmas weddings are considered more magical, especially with snow on the ground. Plus, with all the family gathered for the holidays, you run a better chance of everyone being together." His voice was calm, seemingly well at ease talking to a woman he'd never met.
"I know," she murmured, trying not to stare at the unusual shade of his eyes. They were dark green, almost emerald. Already her body tingled just from looking at him. "It's just cold out and the hotel is crowded with holiday tourists."
"But the hotel promises the family the use of the conference facilities, so I'm sure anyone getting married during the holidays will have a wonderful wedding."
"I hope--wait!" Lani blinked and gaped at the man. "How did you know I'm here for a wedding?" Oh. Dear God. He was a guest, too.
"I assumed since you mentioned weddings that you're here for one. Am I wrong?" He held out his hand. "I'm Lucien Arceneau, by the way. My friends call me Luc."
Lani wished the ground would open up and swallow her. She hoped he didn't get introduced to Nic or Lauren and repeat her words. "I love the idea of winter weddings, but I thought it was just odd to have it at Christmas time when everyone is busy with their family and...and..." She was babbling. Just what she needed to do when meeting a yummy, gorgeous guy like Lucien. She wanted to smack her head. He probably thought her a dimwit.
"But you came," he replied, glancing around. "Where is your family? What's a lovely lady like you doing sitting at a bar alone?"
She shook her head, fighting the threat of tears as she thought of her parents. Christmas was always hard without them. "I'm in Paris for the wedding and the bride is otherwise occupied tonight." She took a deep breath. "My parents are dead and the only family I have is an aunt and uncle, but they went to Hawaii for the holidays." Which was fine with her, since Uncle Ted and Aunt Joan weren't the most loving of relatives.
"Ah, I see," he murmured. "And you haven't told me your name, though from your accent I guess you're from America."
"Oh." Lani straightened. "I'm Landra Sinclair. Everyone calls me Lani. I work--or rather, worked with my friend Lauren at the college library." She'd truly been happy about Lauren's engagement to Nic. Love had come to them two years after meeting at Jessica's wedding.
"Ah, Lauren. She's about to marry Nic Badeau, France's superstar Grand Prix driver."
Safe topic, since Nic was a star in his native country and beyond. "Yes, they're getting married in a few days and I'm one of Lauren's bridesmaids."
"They were interviewed a couple of weeks ago and it was splashed all over the news media. Then you are well aware they found each other last Christmas."
She nodded. "They stopped along the way to Nic's family's home and were forced to spend a night together." Lauren hadn't gone into elaborate detail as to what exactly happened that night, but Lani could guess once she met Nic for the first time.
"According to the article, Christmas is special for them because that is the night they discovered their love for each other." Luc raised a finger to capture the attention of the bartender, who'd reappeared. "They wanted to honor their love by saying their vows on Christmas Eve. Sounds like a good plan, no?"
She was saved from responding by the arrival of the bartender.
"Apportez s'il vous plait du vin blanc a la dame," Luc told him. The other man nodded and went to get her drink. He returned his attention to Lani and smiled. "Are you enjoying your trip to Paris so far?"
Lani learned a little French before she arrived, but didn't understand all what Luc said. "What did you order?"
He assessed her coolly, green eyes sweeping over her body, warming her flesh more than any fire would ever do. "A Pinot Blanc. It's a staple of the Arceneau winery. I thought it'd be something you'd enjoy."
He was a vintner? How her life had changed. Prior to this, they'd discussed Nic, a world-class racecar driver. A world away from her mundane life in Rockland, New York. Nic had enough money to hold a wedding in a first-class hotel and provide free rooms for the wedding party. Way out of her realm.
"Well, I--" She sighed. "Sorry, I'm not used to men--people--ordering for me without asking first."
"Not a problem. But wine is always good, no?" At her nod, he smiled. "Now. Where were we?" Luc leaned closer. Long, dark lashes accented his eyes. A crooked smile enhanced his looks.
"Ah...er..." Tiny flutters in her heart heated her veins as she stared at him. Luc had an aura of quiet confidence unlike any other man she'd ever met. The result left her with an attraction for him she couldn't deny. Yet, the words in her mouth wouldn't formulate properly. She bet her friend Belle would've had Luc eating out of her hand by now.
Luckily she was saved from responding by the arrival of her wine. The fragrance of the white wine tickled her nostrils as she inhaled the fruity scent. "Smells delicious," she said and took a sip. "And tastes good." She gave Luc a tentative smile. "You chose well. But then I suppose you know your wines."
"It's one of our winery's labels." His green eyes scrutinized her over the rim of the glass as he took a sip. "We'll also supply the wine for the wedding. I met with the happy couple a few hours ago. They're happy with the choices I suggested."
"Oh," she murmured, hoping he didn't repeat her earlier words about winter weddings to either Lauren or Nic. "How nice. So, you're attending the wedding?" Of course that's why he's here. To make sure the wine served is first-class.
"Yes, but mostly in the background."
Okay, she could live with that. Maybe if he had a moment, they could steal a dance or two. Her woes about attending the wedding reception unescorted seemed brighter.
His fingers lightly touched her hand, sending sparks of electricity up her skin. "You didn't answer my earlier question. Are you enjoying Paris?"
She shifted in her seat, not wanting to break the contact of their hands. He continued to gaze at her, the smoldering heat making her feel like he wanted to eat her. She forced back a shiver of response. All this was unfamiliar to her, including the sensations rolling through her body. "I haven't had a chance. I arrived late last night and today Lauren, I, and the other bridesmaids all got together for an impromptu bridal shower. I left the hotel a bit ago to grab some souvenirs, but the icy rain wasn't pleasant, so I returned and came in here to warm up before I headed to bed."
He took another sip of his wine, his eyes never leaving hers. "I assume this is your first time to France?" Heat pooled in her loins, especially between her thighs. It'd been a long time since a man made her feel attractive. With Luc's French accent and charming demeanor, he might make her do--or say--most anything right now.
She opened her mouth to respond, when the lights began to flicker. "What's going on?"
"I'm not sure," Luc said, looking around.
Then the room was pitched into darkness. Fear spread through her veins as people around her gasped. Lani tightened her fingers around her glass. What caused the lights to go out? Not that she was afraid of the dark, but being in a strange place didn't help her nerves.
A touch on her arm startled her.
"Lani, are you all right?"
Luc's warm voice comforted her and she held off the urge to huddle closer to him. He probably wouldn't appreciate a woman clinging to him.
"I'm fine. What happened?"
She heard him fumbling with something in the darkness. A few people shouted something in French and lighters were lit to help bring some light to the bar.
"I'm not sure. Here--" A lighter flicked on in his hand and she stared into his concerned face. "This should help until the generator kicks in."
"Is there one in the hotel?" She figured in the bigger ones in the United States they had them, but she wasn't sure about France and how modern they were here.
"Yes. They'll need to power it up." He gazed past her shoulder as a man started talking. "The bar manager says they'll have it going in a few minutes. Apparently an ice storm has moved into the area and coated the lines and brought them down."
"Oh," she said, remembering the chilly wind and cold rain earlier. "We get those where I live and ice storms aren't fun at all."
"Not here either, and with the holidays, it could take hours for the power to be restored."
"But the generator will help?"
He nodded. "To some extent, but the elevators won't run. What floor is your room on?"
"The third. Not a problem." She thanked her lucky stars that she exercised regularly and a two flight walk would be nothing for her. "Are you staying here also? What floor are you on?" The hotel was eight stories high, so if he was on the top floor, he'd have quite a jaunt.
"My room isn't here. I'm staying a few blocks away." He glanced toward the entrance. "I doubt I'll be able to make my way back there tonight." He shot a look at her. "How about if I joined you in your room while we wait it out?"
She blinked at his blatant invitation to join her in her room, even if the idea did thrill her. "You want to go to my room?"
"Sitting in the bar waiting out a storm all night isn't something I look forward to." He quirked a smile at her in the dimness. "I promise to be the perfect gentleman."
Should she let him? She glanced around, noting couples leaving, their hands entwined. While she didn't consider herself lonely, she was the only unattached female in Lauren's wedding party. What harm would there be to have a temporary alliance with someone she'd just met?
"Vous etes surs de moi...bien que si vous voulez plus, je n'hesite pas a me conformer."
"Je ne...er...I understand little French, Luc. What did you say?" Drat the man for speaking in French, though the way he spoke sent thrills of excitement up and down her spine. Thoughts of his speaking French while kissing her caused heat to spike through her core.
"I said you can trust me and nothing will happen unless..." He gave her a smooth look before turning to speak with the bartender.
Unless...what? He planned to spend the night in her room while they chatted and learned more about each other? She glanced at him again. Yeah, and maybe if she had her way, a whole lot more between them. Her nipples tightened at the thought. She wasn't the type to indulge in one night affairs, but they were in the city for lovers.
The lights flickered, then dimmed as they came back on, the generator kicking in. The few people left cheered and clapped their hands. Others had apparently chosen to return to their rooms.
"Perfect," Luc said as he turned back to her, waving a bottle in his hand. "Are you ready? I've got wine from my winery." His eyebrows waggled. "We can raid the snacks in the mini bar."
"Sounds like fun," she replied, returning his smile, the warmth of his attention sizzling through her veins and downward to settle between her thighs.
"Come on, let's go." He grabbed her hand, the searing touch sending tingles up her arm. Being with him seemed right, and she suspected tonight would be a night she wouldn't forget.