Authors: Kitty French
Sophie glanced at the regimentally laid out clothes on the bed and sighed. She'd definitely be sitting on the lid of her suitcase, if nothing else.
She pulled herself back to the present and smiled at Kara, who grinned and clinked the rim of her glass against Sophie's with a conspiratorial wink.
Flying by private jet was a luxury that could never get old for her, but as Lucien slipped into the seat opposite, Sophie almost wished that they'd flown with a regular carrier. Safety in numbers. Two was definitely
a safe number. They were only due to be in the air for a little over an hour, but that hour suddenly seemed like an awfully long time to be confined in a small space with Lucien. It didn't help that he'd stripped her naked within five minutes of take-off the last time they'd left England together, or that their return flight held such dramatic, unhappy memories. Sophie and this jet had history, and her stomach flipped over as it started to taxi slowly along the runway.
Please let this flight be uneventful.
Lucien watched Sophie fidget with her seatbelt and then pick up and put a magazine down again. She crossed and uncrossed her legs and he forced his eyes away from the movement. The pink flush in her cheeks and the over-bright glow in her eyes told him of her heightened anxiety levels, even though she was masking it well with her professional veneer.
Yes, Mr.Knight, No, Mr.Knight.
It was driving him crazy. He wanted to hear her say his name again.
"Would you consider it a breach of your rules if I asked you to go back to calling me Lucien while we're away?"
She looked at him, as wary as a cat on a hot tin roof. Ever since he'd informed her about their trip to Paris she'd retreated behind a mask of over politeness, which included addressing him by his formal name. In the past, this might have seemed flirtatious, but she'd made certain not to allow it to sound that way of late.
"I'd probably prefer not to."
"And I'd prefer it if you did. Or I could always go back to calling you Ms. Black, if you'd prefer?"
He knew perfectly well that she wouldn't prefer that, but she couldn't have it both ways. She eyed him tensely for a second.
"Fine. I'll call you by your first name until we get back to England."
"Go on then."
"Go on then what?"
"Call me by my first name."
She squirmed, and he knew he ought to let her off the hook. Would she do it?
"I'll use your name, but the no flirting rule is not to be broken. Deal?"
"I don't flirt, so no deal. Now say my name. Please."
"You're flirting and you know it."
"Sophie, if I was going to flirt, I'd ask you to say my name because I like how it sounds coming out of your mouth. Or maybe I'd say it reminds me of how you sound when you moan it when you're about to come." Lucien saw her eyes widen a fraction and her jaw stiffen. He wasn't sorry. Her rules were keeping him awake at night. "So, no. I wasn't flirting. You see the difference?"
They regarded each other in silence across the small space between their seats.
"Yes, Lucien. I see the difference." She said his name without emphasis, but his point had been made.
He managed to keep the small smile of triumph from his mouth as he reached for his newspaper. He wouldn't break her rules, but he sure would have fun pushing his luck. Besides. He had the distinct feeling that Sophie might break her
rules. If she did, then all bets were off.
Sophie stepped down onto the tarmac at Paris Le Bourget airport and breathed easily for the first time since they'd left the UK. The exchange in the jet had left her under no illusions. Lucien was barely keeping a lid on his lethal charm and the next few days were going to be a trial for both of them.
Kara's words rang in her ears as she slid into the back of the limousine.
Throw your bloody rules out of the window and shag his brains out.
She glanced sideways at Lucien, distracted by the fluency of his French as he conversed with the driver.
She wasn't even sure where they were staying. Lucien had a contact in Paris who had arranged their accommodation for them, and given the lifestyle he led, she was pretty sure that it wouldn't be a budget basic with a shared bathroom on the landing. Beyond that she was in the dark, apart from taking pains to clarify the separate sleeping arrangements. He'd rolled his eyes at her questions.
"Even I can see that it would break your no touching rule to share a bed, Sophie."
Nothing further had been said, and Sophie found herself relaxing as she drank in her first glimpses of Paris out of the darkened windows of the sleek car.
It was still early morning, and the rush hour was in full force. Cars queued bumper to bumper, horns beeped, and taxi drivers waved their arms out of their open windows. Everyone seemed to want to go at breakneck speed even though there was nowhere for them to go, and scooters buzzed in and out of the moving lines like flies. To Sophie at least, it was a different sort of chaos from London, like a scene from a movie compared to the dull, everyday reality of England.
The mish-mash of old and new buildings on the commercial outskirts of the city gave way to grander architecture along the tree-lined edges of the Seine as they proceeded into central Paris. To Sophie's eyes, even the pale grey skies overhead didn't detract from the beauty of the bridges that spanned the wide river, and she craned her neck to look up at the buildings, every inch the excited tourist seeing Paris for the first time. She turned to Lucien and found him watching her with an amused expression.
"Will we see the Eiffel Tower?"
She knew she sounded like a ten year-old in a candy store, but she couldn't hold it in. She'd spent so much time worrying about the trip that she hadn't allowed the excitement of seeing Paris to seep in. Now she was here, it hit her square between the eyes.
Lucien leaned forward and spoke to the driver again in fluent French, then slipped back into his place beside her.
"We will now."
Sophie realised he had asked for a detour, and was touched. What she hadn't bargained for was a full circuit of the architectural highlights of the city. She watched, delighted, as the scenery unfolded. There was the Louvre, grand and sprawling along the riverbank. The dramatic spires of Notre Dame soaring into the skies above. The unmistakable white curves and domes of the Sacre Cour. Lucien pointed them all out and offered snippets about each, knowledgeable and at ease with the city. The solid, grey but intricately detailed Arc de Triomphe. The majestic, glittering fountains of the Place de la Concorde, and, central to all of it, the Eiffel Tower. Excitement built in Sophie's gut at her first glimpse of it in the distance, and roared through her veins as they moved close up. It was every bit as spectacular as in movies and magazines, but infinitely larger and more imposing in real life. It wasn't just architecturally impressive. It stood as a symbol of every romantic novel and love song. It was the scene of countless proposals and Valentines. It radiated romance from its every iron nut and bolt, a great big latticed beating heart of the city that made lovers out of even the most stoic visitors.
Tour over, Sophie turned back to Lucien.
"Thank you for that. I loved it."
"I'd forgotten how it feels to see it through fresh eyes."
She regarded him. "You've spent a lot of time here?"
"Some." He lifted one shoulder. "Not so much in recent years."
He didn't offer further detail, yet Sophie sensed there was more to know. He clearly knew Paris well, but seemed reluctant to be drawn on the subject.
Further exploration would have to wait though, because the car had eased under a stone archway and slowed to a halt in a leafy little courtyard. How could this be nestled so peacefully behind the busy, cosmopolitan street they’d just driven along? Sophie stepped out into the cool morning and breathed in her first real taste of Parisian air. A faint smile tinged her lips. It was probably her fervent imagination, but she thought she smelled coffee, and croissants, and expensive cologne.
Lucien touched her elbow, and she turned to him with the small smile still on her face.
He bowed his head towards an old, broad, studded door embedded in the thick grey wall of the building, and Sophie found herself walking into the elegant, shady vestibule of a sophisticated townhouse. Stunning arrangements of white orchids decorated the immaculate space, and when their driver summoned the elevator, something more akin to a beautiful, wrought iron birdcage than a functional lift descended. Sophie held the rail as they shuttled to the top of the building, watching the inner workings of the townhouse slide by outside the curved confines of the cage. Gracious landings. Picture windows.
And finally, the penthouse.
She knew she ought to be more accustomed to Lucien's idea of luxury, but this place was on another level again. He dismissed the driver and opened the door, and Sophie lingered for a second in the doorway, stopped in her tracks by the sheer opulence of the penthouse. Should she take her shoes off? Lucien placed a hand on the small of her back to propel her inside.
"Go in, Sophie." He hefted her luggage. "Have you packed house bricks in this thing?"
She glanced around at her packed-to-the-gunnels suitcase and then moved into the apartment, swallowing hard at the sound of the door clicking closed behind her.
This was it, then. Paris. With Lucien Knight.
"This isn't yours, is it?" Sophie whispered, robbed of her volume by awe.
Lucien dropped their bags down in the lounge. "No. It belongs to an old friend."
Something in the way he said it made Sophie look back over her shoulder at him, but his expression gave nothing away. Whoever the old friend was, he obviously wasn't going to elaborate.
Sophie could deduce for herself that their absent host was incredibly wealthy. The vast, high-ceilinged reception room had picture windows looking out over the city, complete with a postcard perfect view of the Eiffel Tower, and the chic interior decor screamed opulence. Marble tiles. Floor-to-ceiling heavy, dull gold silk drapes. Glittering glass chandeliers. Muted gold and duck-egg sofas and low glass coffee tables with more of those artfully displayed white orchids. The florist for this building clearly worked overtime. It was all so achingly glamorous, like walking onto a film set. Sophie crossed the room to a tall pair of gilt filigree doors, and when she opened them she found an intimate dining room for two leading out onto a balcony offering yet another panorama of the magnificent Eiffel Tower. She turned slowly back to Lucien.
Lucien nodded. "You should see the bedroom."
"Bedrooms, I hope?" Sophie corrected him quickly. She already felt like a kitten in a lion's lair. She needed a private sanctuary, preferably with a lockable door.
Lucien's eyes all but glazed over.
"I keep my promises Sophie." He led her to another set of double doors at the end of the reception room. "Your bedroom." He slid the doors back to reveal a sumptuously appointed suite, dominated by a bed large enough for four adults to stretch out like starfish and still not touch. Tranquillity meshed seamlessly with sensuality in the decor; with its opulent linens and grand mirrors, it was a room that promised the best of whichever activity you choose to use it for.
Lucien opened another door. "And my bedroom."
By any usual standards the room was stunning, but it was definitely the secondary bedroom of the penthouse.
"You can take this one, if you like?" Sophie gestured towards the larger room.
Lucien shook his head. "You'll change your mind when you see your bathroom."
Curiosity won out, and Sophie padded back through her room to open the glass sliding door to the bathroom. Yet again, she found herself stunned into momentary stillness.
She sensed rather than physically felt Lucien come up behind her. His voice sounded suddenly very close to her neck.
"Quite something, eh?"
Pale marble and polished mirrors lined the large room and more huge vases of orchids adorned the side tables. Plump, snow-white towels nestled alongside gleaming bottles of exclusive toiletries, and clusters of lit candles lent the room an intimate glow.
The piece de resistance stood centrally in the room - the grand, deep infinity bath, perfectly placed to take advantage of the expansive view through the windows at the end of the room, across the higgledy-piggledy rooftops of Paris.
"Still want to swap?"
Sophie shook her head, suddenly greedy and giddy. This place was off the scale amazing, and she, Sophie Black, had it at her exclusive disposal. That had to make her just about one of the luckiest girls on the planet at that moment.
She spun around to face Lucien, her hands pressed against her warm cheeks.
"I can't believe places like this even exist beyond fantasies."
She didn't miss the predatory spark in Lucien's eyes at her choice of words.
"As fantasies go, this is certainly up there," he murmured. A shiver ran down Sophie's spine as surely as if he'd stroked a fingertip down its length.
Not that he had, or would, unless she invited him to.
Did she want to issue that invitation?
She didn't just have the fantasy room in the fantasy city.
She had the fantasy man at her disposal, too.
She upgraded her status from being
of the luckiest girls in the world to being
luckiest girl, period.
But lucky didn't mean stupid. Lucky didn't mean throw caution to the wind and not think about tomorrow, because tomorrow had a nasty way of looming up in front of you, grey, cold and all the worse for your indiscretions. Sophie had been there before.
She ducked past Lucien into the bedroom and unzipped her suitcase, which he had hefted up onto the bed for her.