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Authors: Cara McKenna

Curio

BOOK: Curio
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Curio

Cara McKenna

 

Caroly Evardt never expected to find herself patronizing a male prostitute. Then again, she never expected to be weeks from her thirtieth birthday and still a virgin.

When a friend mentions that a gorgeous male model in Paris sells his body as well as his image, Caroly’s intrigued. Finally, a chance to sample the gifts of a beautiful man—no strings, no stakes, no fear of rejection.

But she soon discovers that Didier Pedra amounts to more than a striking face and talented body. He’s a kind, charming, damaged man, and after a few evenings of pleasurable education, Caroly’s interest blossoms into something far deeper than mere lust. Her simple arrangement is suddenly feeling downright dangerous…

 

Ellora’s Cave Publishing

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Curio

 

ISBN 9781419936753

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Curio Copyright © 2011 Cara McKenna

 

Edited by Kelli Collins

Cover design by Syneca

Photography: CURAphotography

 

Electronic book publication September 2011

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.  (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

 

The publisher and author(s) acknowledge the trademark status and trademark ownership of all trademarks, service marks and word marks mentioned in this book.

 

The publisher does not have any control over, and does not assume any responsibility for, author or third-party Web sites or their content.

Curio

Cara McKenna

Dedication

 

For the surprising number of people who chimed in to express their enthusiasm when I first mentioned I was working on a “Parisian man-whore book”. Here you go, you glorious perverts.

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

Great thanks to my editor and one-woman bomb squad, Kelli, for snipping my green wire, mere seconds before my head asploded.

Equally heartfelt thanks to Amy and Ruthie, for their willingness, time, encouragement and invaluable (yet somehow free) feedback.

Enfin, most grande thanks à la belle Liz, pour aider avec my hideous mots franglais.

 

Thursday

The First Visit

 

Didier Pedra is the name of a male prostitute who lives at sixteen Rue des Toits Rouges, in Paris.

It’s a relatively quiet street amid the greater bustle of the Latin Quarter, his flat on the top floor of a long tenement, two blocks from the river. I’d never expected to find myself standing on the stoop of a prostitute’s building in the rain, on what should have been another unremarkable Thursday evening in March.

Then again, I’d never expected to be five weeks from my thirtieth birthday with my hymen still intact.

As I stood on Didier Pedra’s front step—precisely six minutes early for my appointment and unwilling to go in, lest I appear too eager—I knew only a few things about him. I knew he’s in his early to mid-thirties, that he’s always lived in Paris and that he has a reputation for being supremely good in bed.

As if I have any basis for comparison.

I knew also, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he’s gorgeous. I use that word without gushing, without girlishness. I say
gorgeous
as though I’m speaking of the most luscious and decadent cake you ever laid eyes on, one you can taste from ten feet away. So beautiful that not only do your salivary glands tingle, your eyes water. So beautiful that cutting a slice and consuming it would feel wrong, because you are beneath such a specimen.

As an aside, you might wonder what sort of woman would visit a male prostitute. I can only speak to the one I know, which is of course myself.

I’m not what I pictured.

I’m younger than I’d have guessed, not quite thirty as I said, and I suspect I’m better-looking but less well-off. I’m not beautiful, but I’m an inch or two taller than average, perhaps a bit underweight, though in this city of chain smokers my measurements seem standard. I have curly hair, neither short nor long, neither blonde nor brown, neither sloppy nor tidy. I pin the sides back with a barrette behind each ear. For some reason I dressed this evening more for a job interview than a first date, likely because Didier intimidates me tremendously. My flats collected rain on the walk from the Metro and the cuffs of my slacks were wet and shapeless by the time I reached number sixteen, Rue des Toits Rouges. The Street of Red Roofs.

I was scared and thrilled, shaky from excitement and nerves and anticipation.

There was no doubting Didier’s aforementioned gorgeousness. I work at a museum in Paris—no, not the Louvre but still very nice—and two of my best friends work in the gallery next door. Paulette is from near Provence and Ania is Polish, and they are both insatiable perverts. I say that affectionately. When customers wander out of earshot, Paulette and Ania are never more than a breath from discussing some man or other or the exploits of a mutual friend.

Ania first told me about Didier Pedra when the gallery displayed a half-dozen daguerreotypes. You may have seen some—photographic images burned onto shiny silver plates, like dark mirrors. It’s a delicate, temperamental, antiquated medium. The artist behind the exhibit was a local woman and her model was Didier.

He is without a doubt the most stunning man I’ve ever seen, both burned onto metal plates and in person, burned forever onto my retinas. He’s so beautiful I actually felt an ache in my chest when I viewed those images.

Noting my fixation, Ania had declared herself the model’s greatest fan and disappeared into the storeroom, emerging with a large binder filled with prints. Didier has sat for many photographers and other artists since he was in his late teens. Ania plopped the portfolio down on a table and proceeded to flip through the images. I’d immediately wondered how I might possibly steal the binder and sleep with it beneath my pillow, though of course I never would. But if given the chance, I might borrow it on a long-term basis without permission.

Definitely without permission, because there’s some defect in my personality that prevents me from admitting my attraction to handsome men. I’ve always been that way. I was an extremely homely kid, growing up in northern New Hampshire. I wasn’t quite the ugly duckling who blossomed into a beautiful swan… I merely developed into an okay-looking duck. But back then I was inarguably gawky, and because I knew it would be laughable for me to profess my love for the cutest, most popular boys at my school, I chose to act as though I couldn’t care less about them. That I was above such nonsense.

In truth they intimidated me, because they had the power to disappoint and humiliate me, and confirm everything I feared about my own awkwardness. I carried this facsimile of haughty superiority with me through college and beyond, and though I shrug off accusations that I might have a crush on this man or that and pass my attitude off as contempt, secretly of course I’m simply terrified to hear it made official that they’re out of my league.

Beautiful men terrify me because, deep down, they’re the only kind I want.

I could probably do well, dating guys as passable-looking as myself. I even suspect they’re nicer people, yet I have what feels like an affliction—an affinity for beauty. A fetish, perhaps, to further belabor that overused term. It’s what led me to museum work, to art appreciation, to entire weeks of my life lost window-shopping for mouthwatering furniture and trinkets that could bankrupt me with a single swipe of my bank card. I have expensive taste, my father always said. Though surely he’d meant my refusal to settle for less than the fancy brand of macaroni and cheese, with its seductive silver packet of gooey Velveeta cheese. Not home furnishings or Parisian prostitutes.

But that’s enough about me for now.

When it finally struck six fifty-nine, I gave myself permission to enter Didier’s building. I shook my umbrella off on the stoop and studied the tenant list. I pressed the brass button beside
5C Pedra, D.
and waited, my breath held. I should mention that Didier and I had only corresponded in postcards, because a) I hadn’t had his number at first; and b) once he gave it to me, I was too chickenshit to use it. The voice I’d speculated and fantasized about didn’t greet me, though the door buzzed as it unlocked and I let myself in.

It was probably once a dazzling building, now thoroughly worn around the edges. In addition to attractive men, I fear elevators, especially the ancient kind here in number sixteen, with the accordion-style door, so I found the slightly less claustrophobic stairwell and dripped my way up four flights.

Flat 5C is at the very end of a long, dim, narrow corridor with a ceiling at least a foot shorter than the lower levels’. As I took my final breath, knuckles poised to knock, the door swung in.

Didier was taller than I’d anticipated. He was more of everything than I’d anticipated. Which is saying a lot, because I’d purposefully built him up in my mind, so grand he could only fail to measure up and hence give me permission to do as I always do and declare myself above the bothersome magnetism of lust.

But Didier did not disappoint. My mouth went dry and I must have looked stoned, standing there with the blank expression I rely on when desperately trying to appear unaffected.

“Good evening,” he said. “You’re Carolyn?”

I managed to say, “I am.” My name is, in fact, Caroly, a misspelling on my grandmother’s prospective baby name list that my mother found exceedingly fetching. No sympathy for her daughter, doomed to be addressed as Carol or Carolyn for the rest of her days. And because of how “Caroline” is pronounced in France—
Caroleen
—nobody here ever gets my name right when I introduce myself. But that’s fair, considering how badly I mangle their entire language every time I open my mouth.

“I’m Didier.” He shook my hand and I marveled at the gesture, how he could manage to make it feel so casual yet confident. “Come in.” His English is strong, though his accent heavy. Ania told me he speaks several languages, and that his father was from Spain.

He closed the door behind me as I stepped into his garret.

It’s the single most sensual space I’ve ever been in. There’s nothing fancy about it, yet sex seems to drip from every square inch. His furniture is all dark wood, a mix of mahogany and walnut. More estate sale than antique broker, but it works. It matches the stained beams of the sloped ceiling and sets off the walls, painted the deep red of a dying rose, two weeks past Valentine’s Day. The lighting is perfectly inadequate, allowing the eye to take in only a handful of immediate details at one time. Very soothing, like blinders. The living room is long and narrow, and through the few windows not shrouded by gauzy curtains, you can see an enviable skyline view to the east. It smells nice, as well, something I couldn’t place, the oddest mix of clean and musty.

I’m babbling about Didier’s décor because I was afraid to look at him at first, and those were the minutiae I lost myself in. But eventually I turned to face him.

“You have a lovely flat.”

“Thank you. Would you like a drink?”

“Sure.” I’d never needed a drink so badly in my life.

“Have a seat.” He waved toward the settee and armchair in the corner before heading for another room. “And you prefer English?”

“If you don’t mind. Thank you.” I set my umbrella and purse by the door and crossed the room to sit on the chair. Pigeons paced on the ledge outside the window, their little bird motors idling, purring and cooing their contentment. I envied their ease.

Didier’s voice carried from the far room. “I see you did not escape the storm.”

“No, sadly.”

He reappeared with two glasses of red wine, handing me one as he took a seat on the couch.

I have avoided describing Didier, I know. That’s because I worry I’ll never be able to paint him properly, to do him justice. But here goes.

I’ll start with his voice. It’s deep and gentle, warm and relaxed. I’m terrible at guessing heights, but he’s tall, over six feet. His image in those photos and sketches from the gallery binder are elegant, which he is in real life as well.

I can’t find the right word for his build. Though he’s quite trim, he has a large frame—wide shoulders, broad hands—making him seem heavy and strong. In person, his muscular body was of course hidden, and it was maddening to know what he looked like nearly naked and to then have to suffer his sweater and slacks. He had on socks but no shoes, which for some reason I found reassuring.

We sipped our wine and I have no idea what we talked about. The rain, how this spring was stacking up to previous years, perhaps. I took in only what I was looking at.

I know you must want to know about his face, one worthy of so many artists’ awe and my clumsy prose. It’s a stern face, as you’d expect of a male model. A strong jaw, though not square. Cheekbones that bend light, of course. Expressive eyebrows, black in the dim room. His hair is a shade lighter than his brows, and not as unruly as mine—a wavy sort of curly, long enough to clutch but not to wrap around one’s fingers. His eyes are deep brown with heavy lids that give him a slightly sinister, slightly sleepy expression. His nose is strong, not quite
big
, with the slightest hook to it. Like so many Parisian men, he has an air of caustic wisdom about him. Unlike many Parisian men, he does not have an aroma of cigarettes to accent the attitude.

Didier is the type of man who, even if you can’t stand seafood, makes you crave oysters. There is something raw and primal yet utterly refined about him that leaves you hungry for such a thing. He pairs with liver and black caviar and hundred-dollar champagne, this extraordinary delicacy of a man. A rare animal, worthy of hunting to extinction lest anyone else lay claim to the beauty of him.

“So tell me what exactly brings you here,” he said.

Ah, a question I had no answer for. “I saw pictures of you at a gallery, and heard that you… You know.”

He nodded.

“You’ve modeled a lot,” I said.

“I did. Not so often anymore.” The only imperfect thing about him is his teeth—white but a bit crooked, which I don’t mind at all. Mine are just the same.

“Have you lived here long?” I asked, aiming my gaze all around his flat.

“Ages. Nearly ten years.” Didier has a way of leaning forward, bracing his elbows on his knees and locking his eyes on yours even as he sips his wine. Though it sounds unnerving, it makes you feel you’re the most fascinating woman on earth. Normally I shy from a stare as intense as his, strong as a floodlight, but all I felt then was blank.

“And you?” he asked. “How long have you been in Paris?”

“Two years, next month.”

“School?”

I shook my head. “Work. At a museum. Assistant curator.”

He made an impressed face. “And so what brings you to me?”

My delusions of charisma faded. “Um… Do you have a confidentiality thing with your clients?”

A smile that melted my muscles. “We never met,” he said simply.

“Right. Well. This is embarrassing…”

He let me trail off, no prompting, merely sipping his drink while I gathered my thoughts.

“I’m not very experienced with men.”

Didier nodded, as though he were fluent in evasive English. “You’re looking to change that?”

“Maybe. To be honest, I don’t know what I’m looking for.”

He leaned back against the couch cushions and crossed his legs. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a flat rate.” I pictured the check in my purse, ready to be dropped discreetly in his mailbox upon my departure. “You get me for the evening, and what we do is entirely your choice. Nothing is off-limits with me.” He gestured with his free hand, presenting his body as a package.

“Right.”

“But that goes the other way as well. It’s your time, and if all you want to do is talk and drink, then that’s what we do.”

I considered that. I wondered how often that
was
what women wanted from him—a date with no pressure, no fear of rejection. That’s what I wanted, after all. I’ve even heard that plenty of men who patronize female prostitutes want simply that, companionship.

“That would be good, to start.”

He nodded, stern face striking and sage. “Do you mind my asking, how inexperienced are you? Or what would you like to learn from me?”

BOOK: Curio
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