Authors: Melinda De Ross
A FRENCH KISS IN LONDON
Melinda De Ross
A Melinda De Ross Book
A French Kiss in London
Copyright © 2015 Melinda De Ross
Cover design by Classy Designs
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED:
This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
A FRENCH KISS IN LONDON
Melinda De Ross
Copyright © 2015
Part One—Revelation of Love
“The day that man allows true love to appear,
those things which are well made will fall into confusion,
and will overturn everything we believe
to be right and true.”
Her sunglasses intrigued him first. The big, dark lenses completely hid her eyes and that caught his attention at once.
Outside, the London sun was scorching. Waves of heat distorted the images of buildings and streets. The few pedestrians moved like through dense syrup, wilting under the weight of a truly torrid day. Even traffic appeared as in a slow-motion picture—a fluid, volatile mirage.
Inside the cool room, colorful shutters softened and tamed the light, creating a diffused glow. That, along with the air conditioning’s hum, created an almost domestic ambience.
Gerard remained silent, studying her from the doorway. The woman who dominated the tableau was dressed in white, as though personifying an angel of mercy, whose messenger she’d actually been in the past three years since the opening of Hope, the center of research and treatment for children’s cancer.
She wore slacks and a sleeveless blouse, now wrinkled thanks to the kids who were gathered around her, holding toys and sweets, gifts she always brought on her visits. One of the children had managed to climb onto her lap. Gerard was surprised to notice she held and caressed the child with maternal affection, not with the impersonal air of some celebrities who clearly considered charity just another promotion gig.
Her hair was long, almost reaching her waist—a blend of light-brown and blonde, similar to the color of his own short cut hair. It was gathered in a ponytail and fell carelessly over her shoulder. This look emphasized her aristocratic face, with elegant, well-defined cheekbones and sensual lips. He noticed she wore a pair of tiny diamond earrings.
Maybe the sunshades are meant to make her look mysterious or fend off unwanted company
, he thought cynically.
He knew her name was Linda Coriola. She was an artist, a sculptress or something like that. Periodically, she made large donations to the clinic where he spent most of his time as a researcher for experimental treatments against cancer.
She must have felt his stare, for she turned her head toward him and remained still for a heartbeat. He was aware of the figure he cut as he stood propped in the doorway, his tall frame and wide shoulders almost blocking the entry. He usually dressed simply in jeans and a dark shirt. Today was no exception. He’d discarded his lab coat on his way to grab some lunch, but had stopped dead when he’d caught a glimpse of the woman through the open door of the visiting area. He could do nothing but stare at this feminine vision. He couldn’t see her eyes through the dark sunglasses, but she, too, seemed unable to look away.
He was often told his best feature were his eyes—bluish-green, highlighted by tanned and most often unshaven skin. Those eyes were very observant. By analyzing her face, he could almost read her reaction to his presence. He’d swear she was seized by the same strange symphony of emotions he was experiencing, that same inexplicably powerful attraction. Judging by her wary expression, that reaction must have been somewhat in contrast with the distant cautiousness people said she’d adopted since the unpleasant experience of her divorce, about a year before.
Guessing her dilemma, he moved forward, smiling warmly to the children. They became even noisier and more cheerful when they spotted him, forming an untidy circle around Linda and him. He stretched out a hand to her in greeting.
!” he said in his deep, slightly abrasive voice, spiced with the subtle French accent he’d never managed to get rid of. “I’m Gérard Léon,” he introduced himself, giving his name the English pronunciation.
She looked for a moment at his outstretched hand, and then returned the gesture.
“Linda Coriola. It’s nice meeting you, Mr. Leon.”
“Gerard,” he corrected with half a smile. “We’ve never met before, but I’ve heard about you.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“I’m a biologist and doctor. I work here,” he clarified.
Heavy footsteps sounded on the corridor and a plump nurse appeared in the doorway.
“Hello, Mr. Leon, Ms. Coriola! I’m here to take the children to lunch. Come on, sweethearts! Wash your hands, food is waiting for you!” she addressed the group of children, who were already heading obediently to the door, saying goodbye to the adults.
After they left, Gerard refocused his attention on Linda, trying to find something to talk about. Before he could open his mouth, he noticed the tip of her nose was red. From behind the dark lenses, a tear was sadly sliding down her smooth cheek.
He knelt down in front of her and lifted her chin until their eyes were at the same level.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, worried. “Don’t you feel well? Do you want me to call somebody? Bring you a glass of water or something?”
She shook her head and turned her face away, but he took her jaw between his fingers, watching her questioningly.
“No,” she finally said on a long breath. “I’m fine, it’s just that…”
She kept twisting a ring on her finger, as though trying to find a proper way to express herself without opening her heart too much in front of a stranger.
“Every time I come here, I get enormously sad seeing their pale little faces, the effects of chemotherapy and other horrible treatments. Their eyes… Some still have hope, but others know themselves to be doomed. I can see it in their shadowed eyes. It upsets me terribly I can’t help them more. I can’t give them what truly matters, meaning health and a normal life.”
While saying this, she extracted a tissue from her bag. Before she could protest, he took it from her hand. He slowly removed her sunglasses, then wiped her tears himself with gentle, almost tender movements. He vaguely wondered what had urged him to make such a bold gesture.
When she opened her eyes, they looked at each other for the first time without any physical barrier between them.
was a much too banal description for her almond-shaped eyes. Although framed by red-rimmed eyelids and wet eyelashes, without any cosmetics on, they were stunning.
He’d never felt such absurd disconcertedness. Now he found himself kneeling in front of the most attractive woman he’d ever met, without a clue on what to say or do next.
After a few moments, he said, “The fate of these poor children is terrible, but don’t think for a moment you’re not helping them. On the contrary. Your donations contribute enormously to expenses for research, treatments, medication, and to ensure a pleasant environment for them.”
Without quite realizing, he took her hands in his.
“You and I both fight in our own way for the same cause. It makes a difference, you know. For them, it’s vital there are still people who care. Most of the others prefer hiding behind an insensitive wall of ignorance.”
Linda smiled, seeming warmed by what he said and by his palms cupping hers.
“I know you’re right, Mr. Leon, but in cases like this it’s never enough. Anyway, what you do for them is much more important. I gathered that you’re experimenting a new vaccine or serum, which already has promising results. A single saved life means more than all the money I could offer.”
“Without the money you offer there wouldn’t be research labs, equipment, resources, nothing,” he replied, getting to his feet. “And please stop addressing me as
Leon. I feel like a decrepit old man,” he went on, smiling. “I don’t think I’m
much older than you. I know it’s not polite to ask a lady how old she is, so I’ll tell you I’m thirty-six. You can calculate the difference and share it with me if you want.”
She laughed softly, and he was delighted by the spontaneity of this sound he rarely heard between these walls. Hopefully, he’d managed to amuse, perhaps even comfort her after only a few word exchanges.
“I’m not yet at the age women get sensitive regarding this subject. I’m twenty-eight.”
“Hmm, so the age difference is ideal,” he replied, watching her thoughtfully.
“Ideal for what?”
“To have coffee together.”
He stretched out a hand to help her rise. Detecting a shadow of hesitation, he added, “I want to tell you about the project I’m working on. I think it would be in your best interest to know what happens to the money you work so hard for. Don’t you agree?”
Clearly recognizing the bait for what it was, but probably unable to resist the famous French charm and her own curiosity, Linda rose and straightened her clothes.
“If you switch the coffee with ice cream, your offer gets even more tempting. Where do you suppose we could go in this heat?”
He opened the door for her, then closed his hand slightly above her elbow.
“There’s a cafeteria close by. I go there from time to time with some of my little patients. The good news is that we don’t have to walk in the sun. The whole street is shadowed by trees and buildings. You’ll like it.”
As soon as they left the clinic’s cool oasis, the afternoon air became almost unbreathable—hot and dry. Gerard pointed out the way to the cafeteria, which fortunately was indeed nearby. He went on holding her arm, barely touching it, but that was enough to send a thrilling tingle over Linda’s skin.
The street was deserted, except for a few passersby who walked drowsily, presumably toward their own refuges of coolness.
When they reached the cafeteria, its gliding doors opened and a wave of chilly air enveloped them at the entry. An appetizing smell of sweets, pastries and other delicacies flavored the air.
The cafeteria was quite large, done in pastels. It had wooden floors and walls covered in beige wallpaper. The old-fashioned chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, along with the sculptured wooden tables and chairs, formed a classic-looking setting. The only modern sector were the refrigerated displays, which had lots of shelves loaded with culinary masterpieces—cakes, cookies, ice cream, pastries, plus a variety of sodas and fruit-juice, more or less natural.
After a meticulous inspection, Linda chose vanilla ice cream and two éclairs. Gerard followed her example, a gesture she found oddly gallant.
They sat at a far-corner table in semi-shadow, next to a big Ficus tree with shiny leaves.
Gerard pulled a chair for her before he sat at the round table.
“Mmm!” she exclaimed when the first spoonful of flavored ice cream melted deliciously on her tongue. “I hadn’t eaten ice cream this good since childhood. Those disguised chemicals they usually sell in our days can’t compare with this.”
His exotic green eyes rested on her in a way that hinted he was savoring both the ice cream and her company. She found she couldn’t take her eyes off him. He had such an interesting face, which touched the perfect balance between strong and handsome. There were subtle lines radiating from the corners of his eyes. Oddly, she thought that gave him an air of maturity and character. He had a firm jaw covered by dark, sandy stubble, and lips that looked soft and thoroughly kissable.
The simple, midnight blue shirt he wore fit like a second skin, highlighting a broad, muscular chest, strong arms and a flat abdomen. She swallowed hard, thinking that he didn’t have the physique of a doctor, but that of a male stripper.
“I gather you haven’t been in a cafeteria in a long time. Am I right?” he asked, and she nearly jumped, startled out of her musings.
She hoped she didn’t blush as she lowered her eyes and reached for the éclairs.
“I haven’t, in a very long time. Unfortunately, lately I’ve been working too hard and forgot to enjoy the small pleasures of life.”
“Would I seem indiscreet if I asked why?”
She looked at him a bit surprised, before answering amused, “Are you always so straight-forward?”
“Yes, although some people call me nosy. Is it because of your divorce? I heard something at the clinic. If you don’t want to talk about it, you can just tell me to mind my own business. I hear that all the time, but it doesn’t stop me from asking questions.”
“You hear a bit too much for your own good, Mr. Leon!” she teased. “Since you are so well-informed, tell me what you heard about my divorce.”
“Not much. It only took meeting you to realize the guy is an idiot, and it’s probably in your best interest you’re rid of him.”
Her heart skipped a beat at this compliment, but she chose to avoid its trap. She said, “There’s no interesting story. I’m simply one of the million women who got married to a man with whom I had nothing in common. Seven months later, we said
in agreement. No scandal involved. This is all. Disappointed?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
His eyes met hers boldly, with unsettling directness, causing her pulse to accelerate slightly. Then he signaled the waitress and they both ordered tonic water.
After the first sip, Linda restarted the discussion.
“Now that you know the story of my life, tell me about yourself. You’re French, right?”
“Is it so obvious?” he joked, stirring the ice in his glass.
This is pretty much the limit of my French,” she said chuckling.
“In any case, you have a great pronunciation.”
! So, since you lured me here with ice cream to tell me about your project, why don’t you start with a short biography? You can tell me to mind my own business if you don’t want to talk about it,” she imitated him, smiling.