Authors: Natasha Bond
For H and E, thanks, guys.
Lisa Archer winced as Mimi Leclerc’s nails dug into her arm.
“So, what do you think of him? No, don’t
“How can I say what I think of him if I can’t actually look at him?” Lisa replied patiently. Mimi might be one of Paris’s best-known socialites, and Lisa loved her to bits, but sometimes Lisa could have cheerfully thrown her from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
“I’m only asking you to be a little more discreet. Don’t stare at him as if he was prize poodle.”
Lisa had to smile, despite the nerves churning around in her stomach. From what she could glimpse of Olivier Lemaitre over the heads of the guests in the art gallery, no one could ever describe him as a poodle. She’d googled him thoroughly before the party, of course, and Mimi had shown her lots of photos. Her findings had gone into a file, which was locked in the desk drawer in her apartment, filed under N for new business prospects. Definitely not P for poodle. W for wolf might have been more appropriate.
This was Paris, and Lisa met a lot of good-looking men through her job as an international PR consultant, but even she had to admit that Olivier could have stopped the traffic on the Peripherique, which was annoying because deep down she’d nursed a small hope that he would turn out to be a huge disappointment in the flesh. If she didn’t fancy Olivier, she’d have a cast-iron excuse to back out of her “arrangement” with him before it had even started.
Already, she questioned her own sanity at agreeing to the meeting at all; it wasn’t what Lisa Archer did. Ignoring Mimi’s glares, she craned her head for a better look at him just as the throng of admirers parted. The breath caught in her throat as she got a full view of the man, and even from thirty feet away, she knew there was as much chance of her not fancying Olivier Lemaitre as Notre Dame toppling into the river Seine.
“What’s he doing?” Mimi’s hiss was urgent in her ear.
Lisa glanced away from Olivier and flicked an imaginary crumb from her silk dress. “Nothing, yet.”
She couldn’t take her eyes off him for long and when she looked in his direction again, she saw he’d had detached himself from the group as if he might come over to them. Her pulse rate picked up in anticipation of their meeting but his attention was quickly claimed by a stunning Asian girl in a shimmering minidress. Ten years of working in public affairs for corporate finance clients had made Lisa an excellent judge of body language, and while Olivier smiled and kissed the girl, she could tell he wanted to move on. To her perhaps?
She tried to keep her assessment of him cool and measured but it was difficult. At thirty, with a long term relationship and a few casual ones behind her, she had no excuse for the schoolgirl flutterings in her belly. Olivier wasn’t some arrogant CEO or sly journalist trying to trip her up and more important, it was Lisa herself who’d asked for the introduction. She was the one who’d initiated the meeting, and even if no money were to change hands between them, this was a transaction that she could control, at least for a while.
“Darling, please try not to break that champagne flute.” Mimi laid a gentle hand on her arm. Lisa hadn’t even realised how tightly she’d gripped the crystal stem, and tried to unclench muscles that were as taut as a high wire, despite her efforts to maintain her composure.
“That’s better. I know this is some way out of your comfort zone, but do try to relax. You look like a rabbit caught in the headlights, and this is meant to be a social occasion.”
“You have to admit, the situation is rather bizarre,” said Lisa.
Mimi’s eyes gleamed with mischief. “Bizarre? Darling, you have no idea, but do stop worrying. I’m sure you and Olivier will get on like a house on fire.” Mimi lowered her voice. “If you can manage to ditch the uptight, controlling exterior.”
Stung into a response at last, Lisa opened her mouth to protest when Olivier glanced in their direction. Her pulse flickered again. He must have recognised Mimi, but Lisa felt as if a spotlight had been shone on her, leaving her blinded yet exposed to all around her. It was a mid-May evening, and the row of grand doors were open to the courtyard to let the fresh air circulate in the opulent main room of the gallery. Despite the crush and heat generated by two hundred of Paris’s wealthiest art lovers, goose bumps tingled all over Lisa’s bare back and limbs.
Before she knew it, she’d tugged nervously at Mimi’s silk sleeve. “I think he’s about to come over.”
“Take a deep breath. This is your chance to shine, and remember what I told you. Olivier makes quick decisions, so try to make a good impression, and for goodness sake, look as if you’re happy to be here.”
Happy? That was a feeling Lisa hadn’t experienced for a long time. Not since the early days of her relationship with Jody, which must have been over eighteen months ago now. Successful, busy, buzzed even but
—no. She forced a smile to her face.
She saw Olivier make his good-byes and start to walk towards her, and regretted her choice of outfit yet again. The dress was of fine jersey the colour of cafe au lait
and plunged almost to the base of her spine. It had seemed subtly sexy when she’d tried it in the chic department store, even though it revealed far more flesh than she would ever normally have dared to bare. “
Madame has a beautiful figure, she should show it off,
” the sales assistant had said, along with: “
And the colour complements Madame’s hair
parfaitement.” And “
Would Madame like to try some shoes too? We have the perfect pair of Louboutins in Madame’s size.
Yes, “Madame” had agreed about the dress, and it did indeed bring out the highlights in her hair, adding dark-honeyed tones to the sensible mid-brown. However, Lisa had passed on the Louboutins, which even her generous fee would not run to on top of eye-watering Paris rent and living costs.
With no time to change into something more discreet, she’d grabbed a wrap from the cloak stand and hobbled down the stairs as the taxi driver tooted his horn in the street below her apartment.
Now, seeing Olivier arrow straight for her, Lisa was gripped by a moment of last-minute panic. “Oh God, I’m really not sure this was such a good idea.”
Mimi snorted. “Don’t you dare back out now. I’ve told Olivier I’ll introduce you, and he doesn’t like being taken for a ride. He doesn’t deserve being messed about.”
Doesn’t deserve it? What did that mean? Mimi had filled her in on Olivier’s background, and Lisa had gleaned as much as she could from the Internet, but nothing that fitted a cryptic comment like that.
“I won’t back out, but I won’t be forced into anything I don’t want to do either,” Lisa said firmly.
Mimi’s eyes narrowed. “But Lisa, dear, I thought that was
why you wanted to meet him.”
Before Lisa could reply, Mimi had deposited her glass on a table, thrown on a dazzling smile and stretched out her arms to greet Olivier.
Leaning low, he planted a kiss on each of the petite blonde’s cheeks. “You look as gorgeous as ever, Mimi,” he said.
Mimi rolled her eyes. “You flatterer, but I won’t complain. You’re good enough to eat, you bastard.”
“Now you’re flattering
, but you don’t have to. I’ll give you what you want without that.”
Mimi batted him on the arm. “Ah, but you don’t know
much I want.”
He winced. “I have a feeling this is going to hurt my bank balance, but any good cause of yours, Mimi…”
Lisa hung on the fringes of their conversation, suddenly unsure what to do with any part of her body, hands, feet or brain. She’d been thrust back to the gauche, shy girl that had emerged from her boarding school, not the woman who was almost as sought after—if Mimi was to be believed—as the man now looking at her with intense interest. The tall, lean man with jet-black hair curling onto his collarless white shirt. The man with the black, buttoned waistcoat that emphasised his broad shoulders and slim waist. The man with the fleur-de-lis pendant hung around his tanned neck. Olivier Lemaitre, artist, renowned patron of the arts and gallery owner.
And to the privileged few in the know, the most desired Dom in Paris
Mimi tucked her arm under Olivier’s. “We can do business later, but I have something even more important than parting you from fifty thousand Euros for my latest good cause. This is my friend, Lisa Archer, to whom I promised to introduce you.”
“How did I guess?
Lisa expected the double kiss. She’d worked in Paris for six months now, but the brush of Olivier’s lips on each cheek, though fleeting, still made the skin tingle all over her body. His greeting was customary, expected and not in any way threatening, but it still didn’t stop her heart from thumping, now she’d finally met—and touched—the man she hoped would fulfil fantasies she’d kept hidden for so long.
“So. You’re a fan of the French impressionists?” Olivier nodded at the painting next to them on the gallery walls.
“Who isn’t?” said Lisa, painfully aware that every word she uttered might be a test. “I know some people think they’re unfashionable and populist, not that anyone would admit that at this launch.” She tried to keep her tone light, but the smile on her face was so forced, it almost hurt her face.
“No one would dare upset Roman after he’s loaned his private collection to the gallery for this charity exhibition,” said Mimi, tucking her arm through a smiling Olivier’s. Mimi had said she and Olivier were just old friends, but Lisa wasn’t so sure, judging by the chemistry she detected between them. Did it bother her that Mimi and Olivier might have been lovers? It shouldn’t concern her at all, because a no-strings and, more importantly, limited-term arrangement was exactly what she was looking for with Olivier.
“Lisa is being modest. She’s a true Monet connoisseur,” said Mimi.
Lisa laughed. “I do like Monet and Renoir, but I wouldn’t say I’m a connoisseur. Mimi will give you the wrong impression about me.”
Olivier’s eyes sparkled. “I hope not.”
When he spoke, Lisa felt as if she was shimmering inside, just like the beautiful Asian girl’s dress.
“Oh, Lisa just
the Impressionists, and she’s very eager to learn more, aren’t you?” Mimi’s innuendo was so heavy-handed that Lisa wanted to dissolve into the marble tiles, and then Olivier smiled again.
He was old-fashioned handsome, as her grandmother used to say, with eyes the colour of darkest caramel, backlit with a wicked charm. He reminded her of a classic French movie star, laid-back yet effortlessly sexy. As for his voice, Lisa had lived in Paris for the past six months, but she still found his blend of French and English accent mouthwatering. He was the epitome of unself-conscious male allure and, she reminded herself, a Dom.
The moment she framed the word in her mind, her composure crumbled. If he
a Dom, that meant he enjoyed dominating and disciplining women. Mimi had said he wasn’t into the Paris fetish-club scene and preferred short-term private arrangements with a very select few women.
Wasn’t that what she wanted too? To abandon her desires and needs to this man? To be stripped of the outward shell she had built up, and become the sensual being she really was? To experience the fantasies that both terrified her and set her on fire with need?
As her mind struggled to work out her response to Olivier, her body answered loud and clear. Her nipples hardened, nudging the thin fabric of her dress, and the sudden urge to touch herself shocked her. A chill skittered along her spine. If he was as experienced as Mimi claimed, surely he could tell how she felt, no matter how cool she acted?
“Shall I get you some more champagne? Your glass is almost empty,” he asked, still perfectly at ease and polite.
“That would be good.” Damn, was that her voice? It sounded higher than usual. She’d trained herself to lower it and suggested many of her female clients do the same. It made you sound calmer, added gravitas to your words and ensured that people took you seriously, both men and women.
Mimi popped her hand over her glass. “No, thanks. I’ve reached my limit, and I need a clear head for the rest of the evening, unlike Lisa, who is most definitely off duty tonight. And I see a Paris banker over there who I’ve been trying to persuade to sponsor my medical foundation. Olivier, can I leave Lisa safely in your hands?”