Authors: Lucy Felthouse
A FRENCH AFFAIR
An erotic novella
Published by Accent Press Ltd – 2013
Copyright © Lucy Felthouse 2013
The right of Lucy Felthouse to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be copied, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers: Xcite Books, Suite 11769, 2nd Floor, 145-157 St John Street, London EC1V 4PY
Sydney Tyler jumped so hard that her fingers slammed down onto the laptop’s keyboard and she typed a bunch of gobbledegook.
Kashfkjsdhlfknsdlfvn sdlkch awoeduioh ahdwklc
Gasping, she clutched at her chest as her heart thumped rapidly and painfully. ‘What the fucking hell was that?’ she said to the empty room.
Pushing her chair back from the desk, she stepped over to the window. Peering out into the brilliant sunshine, she saw something on the lawn that she had absolutely not been expecting. Workmen.
She groaned. So much for her peaceful writer’s retreat. She’d planned to get a good chunk of her novel down in the fortnight she was away, and now it looked as though her peace was going to be monumentally shattered by banging, drilling, and God knows what else.
Sighing, she gave the windowsill a pathetic thump in her frustration. She might have been pissed off, but she was no vandal. And besides, she didn’t need those noisy buggers in her part of the building fixing things – having them next door was bad enough.
Sydney really could not believe her shitty luck. When she’d booked the cottage in the sleepy French village of Monthiers over the phone a couple of months ago, she’d dealt with a fellow Brit called Harry Bay, who she’d suspected was the owner. On arrival, though, a timid Frenchwoman had met her and let her into the luxurious barn conversion before handing over the keys and explaining a little bit about the local area. Apparently, in the mornings, someone came along the village streets, selling fresh bread and pastries.
There wasn’t much else to tell, it seemed, as the village contained nothing except a church – almost opposite her accommodation – and a tavern. It was also lacking – she’d quickly discovered – a mobile signal. Not even a single bar illuminated her screen. Her phone was now no more than a watch, alarm clock, and calendar. If there was an emergency, she was screwed. But on a much lighter note, it was one less distraction. She could just get on with what she was here to do, blissfully undisturbed.
The arrival of workmen was incredibly irritating. Her temporary landlord hadn’t mentioned there’d be anyone working next door. If he had, she wouldn’t have booked the place – the quiet and idyllic location were the whole reason for choosing this property, this area. Even though there was no way he could have known she was there to work, common courtesy would dictate that he told her. Perhaps he was just interested in taking her money and didn’t give a damn about whether she had a satisfactory stay or not. There was nothing to be done about it now, unfortunately. She’d paid for the fortnight, and she was buggered if she was going to cut and run, pissing that money down the drain. She’d just have to find a way around the disturbance, and console herself that she could leave a snarky write-up on a tourist review site when she got home.
Finding out the builders’ working hours would be a good start – she could attempt to write around them then. Or perhaps she could make use of the headphones she’d stuffed into her case, without ever thinking they’d get used. Some loud rock music would drown out the din from next door and hopefully allow her to work. It was worth a try. She hoped they were only doing a small job that would take no more than a couple of days, but deep down she knew they weren’t. They were renovating the whole place so it was as beautiful as the half she was in.
She was just about to go in search of those headphones when one of the men pottering around on the lush back garden stepped away from the others. Standing in a shaft of sunlight, he pulled his arms high above his head and stretched, dragging up his T-shirt to reveal a lean stomach with a fine line of dark hair leading enticingly into the waistband of his jeans.
Oh yum, she thought, perhaps having builders next door wouldn’t be so bad after all. Especially if they all looked like him. She continued to stare as the man dropped his arms to his sides and watched the others. His dark hair was overlong and stuck out at crazy angles, as though he’d been running his fingers through it. She couldn’t see the colour of his eyes from this distance, but she could make out enough detail of his features to see that he was handsome. Gorgeous, actually. Close up he could be much less attractive, but from her upstairs window, the view was pretty fine.
Just then, he glanced across at her side of the long barn, which was divided into two holiday cottages. He caught sight of her standing there, and his face dropped. He looked back at the builders, then returned his gaze to her again. Pointing at the group of noisy men, he slapped his forehead with his other hand. Finally, he pointed at his chest, then up at her. He was indicating he wanted to come in. She paused, then nodded. Common sense told her she shouldn’t be letting a strange man into her temporary home, but then, there were several large, bulky men milling around, so if they were a dodgy lot, she and the locked door would have no chance against them, especially with no means of calling for assistance. She could scream, of course, but she doubted anyone would come. The walls of the building were extremely thick – though sadly, no match for banging and drilling – the nearest house was a little way down the road, and by day, the village streets were all but deserted. There was only one business that she knew of – the tavern – so the other inhabitants would have to go elsewhere to work. To nearby Chateau-Thierry, perhaps, or even further afield.
She’d just have to hope that the handsome man – probably the head honcho of their group – was also a decent one. Presumably they were a reputable company, as they’d been hired by the British owners, who were usually more wary of cowboy builders, and given the horror stories and dedicated TV programmes back home, it was understandable.
Before she got even halfway down the stairs, a knock came at the door. OK, so he was polite enough to knock; that was good. She moved a little faster, careful not to trip in her flip-flops and go hurtling downwards. Once she was safely on the ground floor, she twisted the key in the door and opened it.
‘Hi,’ she said, glad she’d spoken before she’d looked at him properly. He would definitely have distracted her enough that even the tiny two-letter word would have had trouble making its way out of her mouth. She’d been totally wrong about him not being as attractive close up. He was a million times hotter, and all she could manage to do was step back and wave him into the house.
‘Hello,’ he replied, waiting until she’d closed the door and turned around to hold out his hand. ‘I’m Harry Bay. And I feel absolutely horrendous about all this.’
Even if he hadn’t immediately told her his name, she’d have guessed who he was from his posh British accent – a world away from her broad Midlands one. Realising he’d come to apologise and explain, she took a deep breath and pasted a smile on her face. She’d be nice to him for now. He was sorry and he was sexy.
Shaking his hand, she replied, ‘Sydney Tyler. It’s lovely to meet you, Harry. Though I wish it could be under happier circumstances.’
His polite smile turned wry. ‘I know, I’m so sorry. Can we sit down?’
She gave a curt nod and they made their way over to the sitting area next to the stairs. She thought about offering him a drink, but figured that what she really wanted was an explanation, and fast. What concerned her the most was that if he hadn’t been so damn gorgeous, she’d have been a lot angrier with him.
‘So,’ she said, determined not to give him any leeway, ‘what’s going on with the shattering of my peace?’
His lovely grey-blue eyes closed for just a second, and his face took on a pained expression. ‘Ms Tyler,’ he began, but she cut him off.
‘It’s Miss Tyler, Mr Bay.’
‘I’m sorry, Miss Tyler. Please call me Harry.’
He inclined his head, and continued, ‘Sydney, I really can’t apologise enough. The building work next door was supposed to be finished – or at the very least progressed onto the quieter stuff, like painting and decorating – by now. As I’m sure you know, though, the French are so much more laidback than us. Things have been delayed, and delayed, and now here they are. But, although it’s obviously not a very good excuse, I didn’t think it would matter.’
‘You didn’t? Did you think I was deaf, or something?’
‘No, of course not. But when people come and stay here, they’re generally out all day, visiting surrounding sites of interest. You’ve noticed there’s nothing to do in the village?’
‘Yes, I have. But unfortunately, I picked this place for the peace and quiet as I’m working on a novel. The lack of Internet and telephone signal was a blessing, and I was hoping to really get some word count down this week. And then your workmen turned up.’
The longer she’d been speaking, the more horrified Harry’s expression became. By the time she was done, his elbows were propped on his knees and his head was in his hands. He scraped his fingers through his hair – making his crazy hairstyle even more insane – and looked back up at her.
‘Christ, Sydney. Oops, sorry, excuse my language. I honestly don’t know what to say. People really do come here and just use it as a base; they visit Chateau-Thierry, Reims, Soissons, Paris, and so on. There are lots of war memorials and burial grounds around here too …’ He tailed off. ‘But it doesn’t matter; you’re not here for that. It’s just I didn’t think the builders would bother you. I made sure they didn’t start too early or finish too late so that they didn’t disturb you, but I know now I got it totally wrong.’
Sydney softened, and even started to feel a little sorry for him. He really hadn’t done this on purpose, and was clearly mortified by the situation. Something twinkled on his left hand, and an involuntary feeling of annoyance flitted through as she spotted the wedding ring. Of course he was bloody married. Someone as good-looking, as nice, as him had to be married. So now she’d have to quit lusting after him, or at least be more subtle about it. The last thing she wanted was a jealous wife on the warpath.
‘OK, Harry, you can stop apologising now. I can see that it was a genuine mistake, and I’m sure I can get around it. I brought headphones with me, so I should be able to drown out the sound of the builders with some loud music.’
A tiny smile twitched at the corners of Harry’s lips. ‘How are you getting on with the novel? And what’s it about?’
He seemed genuinely interested, so she smiled back and gave an honest response. ‘I haven’t started yet, I’m afraid. I finished my rough outline before I came away, and planned to get a good amount written in this fortnight. And as for what it’s about, you wouldn’t like it. It’s a romance. Or it’s going to be a romance, anyway. More your wife’s kind of thing, I would imagine.’
‘My wife?’ Harry glanced down at his wedding ring, a look of resignation upon his face, which annoyed Sydney no end. Why couldn’t people marry for the right reasons, and stick to the whole till-death-do-us-part oath? Cheating and divorce were getting increasingly rife, and despite his good looks and charm, it seemed that Harry wasn’t the nice guy she’d thought he was. The look on his face when she’d mentioned his wife was unimpressed, unhappy. Well, just because he had problems didn’t mean he should be projecting them onto a practical stranger. It was disrespectful to his wife, and as soon as he’d given that impression, her crush had disappeared like a fire doused with water.
Harry Bay might have had the looks of a male model – albeit a mature one – but he was certainly no angel, and definitely not someone to admire.
The chatter of excitable young voices drew Sydney’s attention to the kitchen window. She was stirring some scrambled eggs for breakfast to have on top of a slice of the delicious bread she’d bought from the mobile baker earlier. A glance out into the bright morning revealed Harry in the back garden, talking to one of the builders while two young children – both somewhere between seven and ten, she guessed – ran around the grass, chasing one another. She couldn’t hear the conversation, only the rumble of deep voices and the continuing fun of the children.
The conversation between the men concluded, Harry turned and ruffled the hair of the child nearest to him, then turned and headed towards a car parked on the drive of the other half of the building, beckoning the children to follow him. He looked happy, genuinely happy, around them, and Sydney was pleased that he was, at least, very fond of his offspring, even if the same could not be said of his wife.
Then, in a stroke of bad luck, Harry looked up and saw her standing there. His grin widened and he waved at her. Knowing damn well she couldn’t pretend she hadn’t seen him, she waved back. He pointed at his watch, then held up his outstretched hands three times. Thirty minutes.
Thirty minutes for what?
He offered no further explanation, simply closing the car door after the youngsters had clambered inside, then moved around to the driver’s door and got in. Within seconds, the 4x4 was gone, and she was still frozen in place, wondering what on earth he was talking about.
A vicious hiss from the stove reminded her of what she’d been doing, and she hurried back, grasping the wooden spoon and continuing to stir her breakfast before it burned. She thought about what Harry had said – well, gestured – and she could only assume he meant he’d be back in 30 minutes. And the only possible reason she could think of for him telling her that was that he meant to come and see her. In which case, she needed to hurry up and eat, then have a quick shower and get dressed before he arrived. He’d only seen her in her comfortable pyjamas and dressing gown from a distance, which was just about acceptable, but when he was up close, she wanted to be presentable. It was nothing to do with him being hunky, either. She wouldn’t let any strangers see her in this state – never mind a hot man. Even if he was married with two young children.
Thirty-two minutes later, she heard the rumble of an engine, the crunch of gravel, then after a couple more seconds, a knock came at the door. She moved over to let him in, smiling as she gestured him inside. ‘Hi, Harry. How are you today? Were those your kids?’
‘Morning. I’m good thanks, how about you? And yes, those were my two little monsters. I just took them to my friend’s. He’s taking them back to England for me, as it seems I’m going to be here longer than expected.’ He jerked a thumb in the direction of the other side of the building and rolled his eyes.
She frowned. Where was his wife? Why wasn’t she taking them back to England?
‘I was just wondering, anyway, if you’d let me make this misunderstanding up to you. Or try to, anyway?’
‘Oh, you’re going to give me a full refund?’ She was only half joking.
Harry raised his eyebrows, then replied, ‘Well, I can do, if that’s what you want. But what I had in mind was something more … fun.’
Now it was Sydney’s turn to raise her eyebrows. Who the hell was he to propose having fun with a woman who wasn’t his wife?
Her expression obviously spoke volumes, because he held up his hands. ‘Look, I don’t mean funny business, nothing like that. I just meant that, if you wanted to, we could head into Paris for the day. I’ve offered the builders more money to hurry up, and they’ll probably be making an awful lot of noise today. I was hoping I could whisk you away for the day so you’re not subjected to it. I just feel so awful that you’re here for the quiet, and that I can’t provide it …’ He paused. ‘Actually, thinking about it, I probably can. OK, as well as heading out, I have another proposition for you. Why don’t you use my place to write? It’s only at the other end of the village; you can walk or drive there. And because most of the time I’ll either be here overseeing the work, or out running various errands, you’ll have absolute quiet. My neighbours on both sides are both away at the moment.’
Sydney’s mind raced. She liked the idea of visiting Paris, especially as he probably knew the city well and could show her around. She’d never been, and really didn’t fancy the idea of going alone. It was just so big, so busy, so intimidating. And he’d said no funny business – he was obviously just being nice. It appeared his wife wasn’t around, and now his children had gone back home, he was probably a little lonely. She couldn’t imagine the builders were much company. Perhaps she’d misread the signals when he’d looked at his wedding ring – maybe he wasn’t discontented with his spouse, maybe he just missed her.
‘OK,’ she said, before her brain had come to a proper conclusion. ‘I’ll go into Paris with you. It’ll be great – I’ve never been before. And we can discuss me working at your house.’
‘Excellent,’ he said, his lips curving in a friendly smile. ‘Well, I’ll just go and check on the guys next door. Come and find me when you’re ready, OK?’
‘I will. I won’t be too long. I’m already showered, I just need to put some make-up on and grab my bag and some sensible shoes.’
‘Oh yes, you’ll definitely need sensible shoes. The Métro is great, but there’s still a lot of walking to be done in Paris. And some of the best places involve climbing stairs.’ He grinned again, then took his leave.
Sydney closed the door behind him, not bothering to lock it again, then went upstairs to get ready for her unexpected day out. She didn’t mind starting her novel another day late because the two weeks she’d carved out to get some words down were just a bonus. She’d have managed it had she stayed at home and been at her day job five days a week, but she’d never been on a writing retreat before and thought it could help her write faster, and better, buying her time for an extra revision or two before sending the completed manuscript to her editor. The more polished it was before sending, she’d figured, the less she’d have to do during edits. Ugh, she hated edits, but knew they were a necessary evil.
Opening her wardrobe, she looked at the shoes sitting on its floor. Grabbing the unattractive but comfortable trail shoes, she also picked up a light jacket while she was there, then closed the doors. Moving over to the chest of drawers, she pulled out some thick hiking socks, pulled them on, then put on the shoes, tying them tightly.
Next, she checked her bag contained everything she needed – money, camera, other detritus she always kept in there – and decided it did, with the exception of a drink. She’d make sure to get a bottle of water from the fridge on her way out. Almost set, she took the bag and her jacket downstairs, grabbed the water from the fridge, pulled the keys from the inside of the door, then opened it and stepped outside. Locking up behind her, she stepped across to the other side of the building, looking through the big empty window frames in search of Harry. Damn, she couldn’t see him. That meant she’d have to use her minimal French to ask where he was.
Just as she was about to step through the doorway, a voice called her name. It was Harry. He’d wound down the window in his car. ‘Sorry,’ he said, ‘I thought you’d hear the engine running.’
Now he’d mentioned it, of course she could hear it. But she wasn’t expecting him to be quite so eager to go that he’d already got in the car and started it up. Shoving aside her confusion, she made her way around to the passenger side and got in, closing the door behind her, then putting on her seatbelt. Only then did she turn to Harry.
‘OK,’ she said, smiling, ‘I’m ready. Whisk away. I take it you know Paris well?’
‘Fairly well,’ he said, putting the car into gear and accelerating off the drive and onto the deserted village road. ‘I know this area better, of course, as I’ve got my properties here, but I’ve been into Paris lots of times and done most of the touristy things.’
‘Well then, this trip’s going to be a little dull if you’ve done it all before. We don’t have to go, you know.’
‘You’re joking, aren’t you? Paris is a fascinating city – I should think it would be impossible to get bored of the place. And I suggested it, anyway. Why would I have done that if I didn’t want to go?’
‘Because you’re trying to make it up to me.’
‘True, but I could have suggested a walk around Chateau-Thierry, a visit to a war cemetery, a trip to Reims … There’s much more to do in this part of France than people realise.’
‘I know. I deliberately didn’t look into any of it, though, as I’m here to work, not to sightsee.’
Harry shot her a pained look. ‘You don’t have to rub it in. I already told you how bad I feel.’
‘Oh no! I didn’t mean anything by it, I was just saying. Please don’t think any more of it – it was an honest mistake, and I suspect taking my laptop and my notes to your house will solve the problem perfectly anyway.’
He gave a decisive nod. ‘OK. Well, I’ll try and let go of some of my guilt then. Let’s just have a fun day, shall we? You never know, perhaps the city will give you some inspiration for your book. Does it have a setting yet? Is that worked into your outline?’
‘It has. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of room in my head for more inspiration. Maybe it’ll feature in my next novel!’ She grinned. It was sweet how much interest he was paying to her writing. Many people just brushed it off as a silly hobby of hers, something of no consequence. She betted they’d change their minds if she hit the big time and ended up bringing in a ton of money. It was a pipe dream, of course, but she knew people would sit up and take notice if she got rich and famous – so-called friends she hadn’t spoken to for years would crawl out of the woodwork and try to befriend her again, hoping for hand-outs.
She shook her head, eager to uproot the unpleasant ideas. It wouldn’t happen, anyway – the getting rich and famous part. She knew deep down that although her writing was good, it took more than getting a book on retail shelves to make lots of money. For now, she was doing it because she wanted to, not because she planned to make a career out of it. Maybe one day, but not just yet.
They chatted as they travelled into Paris, getting to know one another. Sydney found out all the basics about Harry: where he was from – Cambridge, which explained his posh accent – how old he was, how old his kids were and what their names were, how he’d ended up buying property in Monthiers … The only thing she couldn’t bring herself to mention was his wife. She really wanted to know where his spouse was, and why she wasn’t here or with her children, but something in her would just not let her ask the question. She knew they couldn’t possibly be separated or divorced, as he still wore his wedding ring. Unless, she thought, it had been his wife’s decision to split up and he still loved her? That could explain his slightly odd behaviour when she’d mentioned her before. In that case, she definitely wouldn’t say anything – she didn’t want to upset him. She would just have to ignore the elephant in the room and hope it didn’t trample all over them.