Wednesday, September 5, 2018

CHRISTMAS IN PARIS---first chapter! Roxanne Rustand




MERRY CHRISTMAS, a bit early! I'd like to share with you the first chapter of my novella, Christmas in Paris,  which is part of our Sweet Romance Reads
2018 Sweet Christmas Kisses anthology.

I had such fun writing this, after my daughter and I returned from two weeks in Paris this spring. I hope you will enjoy this quick peek and will then preorder on Amazon (or your favorite format.)

It's still only 99 cents for the entire anthology!  :)










CHRISTMAS IN PARIS

CHAPTER ONE


            Christmas in Paris—a dream come true. Almost.
With the bright December sunshine and highs still in the fifties here, Holly Foster should have been on her honeymoon right now, rejoicing with happiness while walking beside the man of her dreams.
            But that happily-ever-after future had disappeared, along with most of her savings, after a terse text message from her fiancé three months ago. “Sorry, but it’s over. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
Holly glumly hurried out of her hotel, her focus on the steps and the narrow sidewalk ahead. Something—someone—slammed into her--and the impact knocked her off her feet sideways onto the cement.
            A large male form instantly knelt at her side, his features blurry. 
“I’m so sorry. Are you all right?”
No, she felt like she’d been hit by a truck—and from the way the earth was spinning and her head was throbbing, she suspected she’d soon have a killer headache. Had she run into him? Stepped into his path?
“I…I’m—"She blinked and blindly patted the sidewalk beside her.
            “Ahh,” he said, his voice a deep rumble of sympathy and regret. The blurry face looming over hers disappeared for a moment, then returned. He pressed her glasses into her hand.
“Thank you.” She gratefully slipped them on. But now she could clearly see the Adonis offering her sympathy and assistance, and she could also see several passersby who had halted across the street to stare, and her embarrassment eclipsed everything else. “I’m so sorry. This was all my fault.” 
            She scrambled to her feet. Wobbled for a split-second, then straightened and pasted on a jaunty smile. The rest of her quick apology died on her lips as the man rose to stand in front of her and rested a steadying hand at her elbow.
He towered over her—easily six-feet-plus to her four-feet-eleven, though oddly enough, the height disparity made her feel secure. Usually, she felt intimidated by strangers so much taller than her. Especially those who were tall, charming and way too handsome. Like him.
His thick, wavy black hair, mesmerizing silver-blue eyes and strong, square jaw made him seem strangely familiar. Good heavens. Was he some Hollywood type from the pages of People magazine, maybe? The thought upped her embarrassment into the stratosphere. If there was anywhere to hide, she’d disappear in a flash.
He seemed to be giving her an answering, assessing look as if he too felt some sort of connection. He tilted his head slightly and the slash of dimples bracketing his mouth deepened. “Ahhh. The plane. You were across the aisle from me on the way from Heathrow to Paris.”
A flash of relief skittered through her. Of course. Now that her thoughts were a little less scrambled, she recalled seeing him and the stunning brunette sitting at his side with a huge sparkler on her ring finger.
The two had chatted through most of the seventy-minute flight, her large doe eyes fixed on him—except for when she seemed to cast warning, possessive looks at any woman who happened to pass.  
Holly had guessed they might be on their honeymoon. A couple for whom everything had actually gone right.
But for all the tears, heartache and pain of betrayal Holly had felt after Hal’s abrupt defection, it had taken exactly three more days and news of his surprise elopement to make her realize that she’d escaped a very close call.
He’d been a handsome charmer too, and had seemed absolutely perfect. But it had all been a sham and she’d been a blind, gullible little fool. World’s worst judge of character.
Lesson learned. She’d would never, ever risk her heart like that again.  
And on this trip, away from everyone she knew, she was going to change. Once, she’d actually been surprised and grateful for the interest of an attractive man like Hal, but now she was done being a shy wallflower. A doormat. Done being timid and foolishly trusting. And it was time to address a few other issues as well, that kept her from being a strong and independent woman.
If she failed at her fledgling efforts, at least there’d be no one here from Cranberry Falls to see it happen.
The man in front of her tilted his head as if waiting for an answer, and she gave him a blank look. “What?”
“I think you need to sit down for a moment,” he repeated, gesturing toward her hotel. “You seem a bit unsteady. Maybe there’s a chair in the reception area?”
She blinked and collected her scattered thoughts. The more time she dithered at her hotel the less likely she could make that tour in time, and then her entire day’s schedule would be off. 
It would be a long, long time before she paid her debts for these honeymoon trip expenses and could afford even a smaller adventure in the U.S., much less save enough for another trip like this one. She needed to make every last minute count.
 “I…called for an Uber before coming outside. Did he come yet?”
 “I haven’t seen any cars pull up.” He reached up and gently brushed back a thick swath of hair that had fallen over her right eye to look at her forehead, sending a little shiver down her back. “You should probably see a doctor. I think you hit that cement pretty hard.”
She lifted her fingers to check her forehead. “I’m not bleeding. I’m sure everything is fine.”
“Please. At least until you get your bearings again.” His hand still at her elbow, he gently steered her into the lobby of her hotel, glanced around, then headed for two upholstered chairs in the corner and hovered solicitously until she capitulated and sat down. He pulled the other chair closer. “Are you feeling dizzy? A little foggy, maybe?”
“Uh…no.”
“Does anything hurt?” He leaned forward and peered into her eyes. “Your pupils appear equal, but that could change.”
Her cheeks burning, she pulled away. “I’m fine. But I could receive a low customer rating from the Uber driver if I keep him waiting, so I need to get going.”
 “You could go to the app on your phone to explain and cancel.”
She shook her head. “I’ll just go out and wait.”
“Maybe you could ask him to take you to a clinic, if he doesn’t mind changing his destination.”  
She shuddered, imagining the potential expense. “I didn’t sign up for trip health insurance, so I think I’d better skip that unless it’s really necessary.”
He continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “I hear medical care is excellent here. And surprisingly reasonable, even for travelers. They’ll make house calls to hotels. I’d be happy to cover the cost.”
I’m done being so spineless, she reminded herself yet again. This relentlessly caring man clearly meant well, but he needed to back off and she needed to leave.
She sat up straighter and forced herself to meet his gaze squarely. “I appreciate your concern. But honestly, I’ll follow up if need be.”
“But--”
“No. I’m going to miss an important day of my honeymoon if I don’t hurry.” It wasn’t exactly a lie—this was her wedding trip, after all. It was just that she was the only one on it.  “And you’ll miss part of yours, too. Right?”
His dark, slashing black eyebrows drew together in confusion. “My what?”
She stood and dredged up the firm, no-nonsense smile she always used on recalcitrant five-year-olds in her kindergarten classes. At least in the classroom setting, she was confident and in control.
Maybe she could start imagining all other adults as less than four feet tall, and act accordingly.
“I’m sure your beautiful brunette is wondering where you are, and I need to get to the ten o’clock tour at the Palais Garnier Opera House.”
The concern in his silvery eyes had yet to waver, and now he stood up with a resolute set to his jaw. “Great. I was just heading in that direction myself. Mind if we share the Uber?
She craned her neck to meet his gaze, once again taken aback by his height.
In the past, she might have dreamily thought this stranger charming and caring and unbelievably good looking. She might have even secretly imagined what it would be like to spend time with someone like him. A lot of time.
But Hal had certainly taught her how foolish such thoughts were. A man like this would not be interested in a plain little wren like her.
 “If you don’t mind, I could tag along until you meet up with your husband,” he said when she didn’t respond.
Busted. She felt the heat of an embarrassed blush work its way up into her cheeks. There was no husband meeting her at the Opera House or anywhere else on this trip, but she should hardly tell a stranger that, no matter how decent he seemed. And if this guy insisted on handing her over to a loved one, it was going to be a very, very long wait. Like forever. No one else had come to Paris with her, either.
“Well…uh…he might not actually show up.” 
The man cocked his head slightly but had the good manners to not pry. After a moment’s pause, he beamed down at her with a megawatt smile that sent a funny little shiver clear down to her toes.
“Well then, once you meet up with your tour, I’ll be on my way.” He offered his hand. “Jack Gaines, Eagle Harbor, Minnesota.”
Surprised, she looked up at him, and before she could stop herself she blurted out, “Holly Foster. Cranberry Falls, Wisconsin.”
“Practically neighbors, then.” His smile crinkled the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes.  “Fifty or sixty miles, maybe?”
“Neighbors,” she agreed faintly.
Both small towns were along the Minnesota-Wisconsin state border, in the heavily forested, river bluff country Holly had loved from the moment she’d arrived for her first job interview out of college. What were the chances of running into someone from there in Paris?
His business-like handshake was firm, warm and brief enough to be reassuring, without any connotation of further expectations. And their situations were already clear: he was married and he thought she was, too.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to simply share an Uber to Opera Garnier and then part ways. It wasn’t like she’d be alone with him. The Uber driver would be present, she had her cell phone at the ready, and she’d be getting out in a busy tourist area. She should be perfectly safe.
For once in her life, she was going to take the initiative. Be strong. And take every experience here as an opportunity. 
But as a measure of insurance, she was going to Google this guy before she got into the car, and find out if he was exactly who he claimed to be.
Choosing to be strong didn’t mean she was going to be careless.
She looked down at her phone and angled it away for more privacy, tapped his name and Eagle Harbor into Google, and flipped through the links that came up.
She stifled a sigh of relief. There he was—at the Eagle Harbor Clinic, in a photo of the staff taken in front of a red brick building. The photo was small, but she found him instantly because he towered over the uniform-clad women in front of him.
Next, she opened up her Uber app, where she could see the movement of a small, pellet-shaped car icon proceeding along a city map toward the hotel. ETA two minutes. 
Maybe it was going to be a good day after all.


11 comments:

  1. I love Paris. So much fun and history.

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    1. Ever since I got home, I have wanted to go back!!

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  2. What a fun first chapter! I love the height difference between them (being a short girl myself). :)

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    1. Thank you! And BTW, I an in the same boat. I look up to everyone, LOL!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this fun chapter, Roxanne! Best of luck with the anthology!!

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  4. Thanks for sharing, Roxanne. As you know, I just returned from 3 weeks in France, so thoroughly enjoyed your excerpt!

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    1. I would love to hear about all that you did there! :)

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  5. Wonderful story, Roxanne. Thanks for sharing.

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