Under My Skin: A Contemporary Romance Set in Paris (Bistro La Bohème Book 2)

UNDER MY SKIN

Bistro La Bohème

Book 2

Alix
Nichols

Other books by Alix Nichols:

You’re the
One (a Bistro La Bohème novella)

What If
It’s Love? (Bistro La Bohème Book 1)

Copyright © 2014 by Alix Nichols

All Rights Reserved.

Editing provided by Write Divas (
http://writedivas.com/
)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and
incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is
purely coincidental.

Chapter One

September

A tall well-dressed guy entered the bistro, dripping rain and hotness. He
stopped by the door and surveyed the room.

Must be looking for Rob,
Jeanne thought. She tried to peel her
gaze off him and focus on the conversation around her. Easier said than done.
Aside from his general attractiveness, the stranger was full of contrasts that
mesmerized her.

He had long legs and narrow hips, yet his upper body was deliciously
brawny.
The poor fellow must have a hard time finding suits that fit
.
Speaking of suits, his was a sleek number cut from the finest, smoothest wool
to grace
La Bohème
on her watch. The trendy jacket overlaid the lines of
his V-shaped torso as if it were tailor-made. Which it probably was
.
On top of all that, his friendly
,
clean-shaven face sported a masculine
nose and a firm jawline.

Just as the mysterious hunk turned to survey her side of the room, Rob
approached him and gave him a big hug.

“I’m so glad you made it! It wouldn’t have been a proper engagement party
without my best man.”

“It’s a matter of having one’s priorities straight,” the hunk said. “I
told the boss I was leaving at five thirty, whether we were finished or not.”

His crooked smile sent a couple of Jeanne’s internal organs into a happy
little somersault.

“That’s the spirit, man.” Rob grinned.

The guy winked. “Having Mom as my boss does have its perks. Where’s Lena,
by the way?”

“Fetching her folks. They should be here in half an hour.” Rob patted him
on the shoulder. “Now, why don’t you give me your wet jacket and get yourself a
drink. The party doesn’t officially begin until eight thirty, so you can chill
and talk to the people you know.”

The hunk removed his jacket, uncovering an expensive-looking
shirt—and a better view of his broad chest.

Jeanne swallowed. Was this guy real?

Rob took the wet garment from him and walked away. And then something
weird happened. The hottie remained by the door instead of walking toward the
guests or the bar. He looked around the room as if searching for
someone—his gaze lingering on the females until it met Jeanne’s. He
beamed and walked toward her, his eyes trained on her and full of warmth.

Does he know me? Do I know him?

It was downright impossible she would forget a stud of this caliber, even
if she had met him during her wild teens.

“Hi, Jeanne. Don’t you remember me?” he asked when he was close enough
for her to discern the hint of five-o’clock shadow on his chiseled jaw.

“I’m sorry . . . Are you sure we’ve met?”

“Every day for almost two years.”

Righto
. “Next you’ll tell me I used to go out with you,” she said
tilting her head to the side.

“Unfortunately, you didn’t.” The dreamboat sounded genuinely sorry. “But
it wasn’t for my lack of trying. I spent most of my money eating at this bistro
just so I could see you.”

She gave him a puzzled look. Who
was
he?

“OK, you really don’t remember me.” He bowed ceremoniously. “Mathieu
Gérard, also known as Mat. I’m a friend of Rob’s. We studied together here in
Paris a few years back.”

“Mat?” There was no way this guy was Mat. “You can’t be him. Mat
was . . . he was . . .”

“Nothing like me?” he prompted, the corners of his mouth twitching.

To put it mildly.

“Thin
,
” she finally said.
“Anorexic thin. And his hair was like an explosion in a spaghetti factory, and
he had these bulging eyes—”

“Ah, so you do remember me.” He smiled that crooked smile again. “I’m
reassured because I often wondered if you’d even registered my existence.”

There was a sudden commotion at the entrance, and Jeanne turned in the
direction of the noise, happy for the distraction so she wouldn’t have to react
to Mat’s remark.

The bride and her family had
arrived. The ambient music Jeanne had compiled for the
occasion was no match to the decibels produced by Lena’s little half sisters.
It was amazing how much noise a toddler and a baby could make.

“If you excuse me,”—Jeanne stood—“I’ll go greet Lena and her
tribe.”

“Of course,” Mat said. “I’ll do the same.”

After endless hellos, hugs, kisses, “pleased-to-meet-yous” and
“how-are-yous,” everyone settled into small groups, chatting and sipping their
predinner aperitifs.

“Jeanne took care of everything,” Lena told her dad. “I’m so lucky to
have a professional restaurateur for a best friend!”

“This place is cozy,” Anton said. “But I would’ve preferred to celebrate
such an occasion at a more . . . upscale restaurant. If you and
Rob had let me handle things, of course
.

“Have you tried the food here?” Mat asked.

Anton shook his head.

“Is it still the same chef as three years ago?” Mat asked Jeanne.

“Yep.”

He turned back to Lena’s dad. “He’s one of the best in Paris. Believe me.
You get better food here than in a Michelin-starred restaurant, for a fraction
of the price.”

“I wouldn’t go that far, but our chef
is
good,” Jeanne said, not
without pride. “You’ll tell me what you think of him after the dinner tonight.”

“Besides, there's no way Rob and I are celebrating our engagement
anywhere else
.
” Lena turned to her
father. “This is where everything began, Dad.”

“Oh?” Anton gave his daughter and her fiancé an amused look.

“I used to work here with Jeanne and Pepe,” Rob said. “And Lena used to
come here to write her thesis. This is a special place for us
.

“How’s Pepe, by the way?” Mat asked.

“Pregnant,” Jeanne said. “I mean his Danish wife. They live in Copenhagen
now.”

The exchange was interrupted by the chef, who peeked out of the kitchen
and signaled he was ready to send in the first course.

His special menu turned out to be everything one could hope for.

“If I was less inhibited, I would’ve licked the plate,” Anton declared
after he was done with the main course.

Three hours later, the guests had finished their meals, downed an
impressive amount of wine, and begun to order their
petit café
. Lena’s
youngest sister was fast asleep and the older girl was nodding off in her
chair.

Whether because of the drinks, the amount of food or simply the fatigue,
Jeanne began to feel sleepy and a little lightheaded, too
.

“Who’s the DJ?” Lena’s stepmom asked.

Jeanne raised her hand. “Me. Are you tired of this music?”

“It’s a great playlist. Perfect for the aperitifs and dinner.” Anna
winked before adding, “And getting the girls to sleep. But now we need
something we can dance to. I don’t know about France, but in Russia
,
a party isn’t a party without people
dancing until they drop.”

“I thought it was more like
drinking
until they drop,” Jeanne said
with a sly smile.

“That too,” the older woman agreed, unfazed. “So, do you mind if I play
my dance list?”

“Be my guest.”

Lena’s dad carried the sleeping girls to the staff room where two
portable cots had been set up. In the meantime, his wife changed the music and
enlisted helpers to move some tables and chairs around for an improvised dance
floor.

“I’m curious to hear Russian pop,” one of Rob’s friends said.

“It’s not only Russian and not only pop,” Anna countered. “I’ve got a
nice mix of everything, including a couple of slow songs so we can catch our
breath
.

At the first notes of the first slow song, Mat walked over to Jeanne, who
was downing a big glass of water by the bar after a string of exhausting Latin
dances.

“Shall we dance?” He offered his hand
.

“Sure,” she said nonchalantly.

Yahoo!
her body sang.

She put her hand in his, and he led her to the middle of the room. Lena
and Rob were already on the dance floor, and so were Anton and Anna. Both
couples held each other close, and Jeanne wondered if Mat would do the same.

When he went for the classical ballroom position, she exhaled in
relief—or was it disappointment? They began to move to the music, sliding
their feet on the floor tiles. He maintained a polite distance, and their
bodies touched only in the prescribed places—his hand on her mid back,
her hand on his shoulder, and his other hand holding hers. All very
comme il
faut.
Except for the way Mat looked at her lips . . . and
then at her chin, her neck, her bare shoulders, and her cleavage. And then at
her lips again.

Had Jeanne been shy, she would have blushed and lowered her gaze, but as
it was, she stared right back, feasting on his handsome features and savoring
the effect she had on him. His light gray eyes darkened, burning into hers. His
lips parted slightly, and his chest heaved as if he’d been running.

And all at once, the pressure of his hand against her back and the soft
grasp of his other hand felt intimate—a motionless caress that raised
hairs on her body. In some spectacular trick of Jeanne’s mind, everyone except
Mat vanished, leaving them alone, weightless, outside time and space. When she
caught a whiff of his musky male scent that his cologne could no longer
contain, her hand shot up from his shoulder and cupped the back of his head.
She took a tiny step closer.

Then she moistened her lips and whispered, “Kiss
me.”

***

The music stopped, breaking the spell. As
they held each other for a few more seconds, Mat looked at her with a mixture
of regret and relief. Jeanne could definitely understand the regret
,
but why the relief? Hadn’t he been the one who ogled her during the dance?

She pulled her hand from his. “All good
things must come to an end, I guess.”

He gave her a funny look. “I need a drink.
What about you?”

“I’ve had too many
already . . . Oh well, one more wouldn’t make a difference. Your
table or mine?”

He threw a quick look at both. “Definitely
mine. We still have a bottle of that terrific Château-Grillet.”

“So, what do you do for a living these days?”
she asked, filling their glasses.

“I work for my mother’s PR company, and I’m
the Green candidate for mayor of Baleville.”

She gave him a quizzical look.

“My home town in Normandy,” he explained.

“Green, huh?” Jeanne raised her glass.
“Here’s to your success. Is it looking good?”

He touched his glass to hers. “Fifty-fifty. I
need to work hard over the next months to convince the good citizens of
Baleville that my youth is an asset rather than a handicap.”

“You have a good team?”

He smiled. “I’m not running for president,
remember? The regional Greens are helping as much as they can, but I’m
basically on my own.”

“What, not even a private chauffeur for the
future mayor?” She tut-tutted. “Where is this country going?”

“Well, my biggest helper—and
mentor—is my girlfriend. She’s an environmental litigation lawyer, a
great strategist, and a perfectionist to boot.”

Ah.
Now she understood why he’d been relieved when the music stopped.

He continued. “Cécile is my Pygmalion.”

“No less?”

“I’m not exaggerating. She’s molding me into
a winner. She corrects my speeches, picks my suits . . . I
couldn’t do this without her.”

“Why isn’t she here?” Jeanne asked.

“She had to prepare for a court case she’s
pleading on Monday.”

Jeanne took a big gulp of wine and closed her
eyes to savor it. “Oh yeah, it
is
good. I’m glad I insisted on
Château-Grillet over Rob’s choice.”

“Rob is from Jura, remember?” Mat swept his
hand in a
need-I-say-more
gesture.

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