One night to change your life…
Magazine writer Kathryn Taylor is traveling from New York to Paris for work. But the flirtatious Frenchman she left long ago is waiting at the airport--and he wants to play…
No one can guide Kat through the sensual city's delights like Marko Renard. He let her get away once, and now he's determined to make her stay--even if he has to tie her down. He will wrap her in cashmere, tease her tongue with chocolate, and take her to the peak of the Eiffel Tower…But can he convince the bohemian beauty she belongs with him, in his luxuriously decadent world? In business, he's the master--but it's Kat's body and soul he truly longs to rule. He has just enough time to show her the pleasures of the boulevards, the boulangeries--and the bedroom. To finally get her to just say oui, he'll have to seize the day--and the night…
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26 Hours in Paris
By Demi Alex
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Demi Alex
All rights reserved.
One article selected. One author featured. One friend disappointed.
Kathryn Taylor groaned, dropped her head onto the mahogany conference table, buried it beneath folded arms, and freaking hid. The best opportunity to advance her career had presented itself in the form of a bloody, word-wrangled catfight.
"That's right, ladies. This is your chance. We're going to feature the winning article in the Valentine's issue," Paul repeated, a smug grin on his good-looking face. "The selected piece will join 'Aphrodisiac Foods from Around the World' and 'How to Say I Love You in Twenty Languages' in City Wings' Valentine's edition. Our readers devour anything and everything having to do with international desires. It's a way to escape the daily grind and dream of possibilities. Who would have thought New Yorkers were so romantic?"
Determined to keep the migraine at bay, Kathryn rubbed her fingers across her forehead and pressed her thumb against her temple. Paul was playing games with her damn life. Her future. She wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into the man — preferably until he conceded and allowed them to do a dual perspective piece. That way, neither Kathryn nor Charlene, better known as Charlie, would lose out.
It simply wasn't fair to compete with a best friend. She'd worked so hard for a second chance at a writing career, and in spite of the threatening headache, perhaps even heartache, she still wanted the byline.
Kat was a damn good journalist, as was Charlie. She'd worked her ass off and done her time, as had Charlie. But, shit. Kathryn wanted her byline so bad, she could practically see the ink on the paper as their boss proposed the assignment. She had to enter the arena and fight for her career.
"Get out there. Do your research," Paul said, raising his arm and circling his hand above his head. "Lasso someone that makes your body hum, and write about the perfect place to find love, ladies."
"Seriously, Paul? Lasso someone that makes our bodies hum?" Kat rolled her eyes. Like those kinds of men were easy to find. With the same amount of exaggeration Paul had exhibited, Kathryn swept her arm through the air and landed the back of her hand across her forehead. "Wait. Hold on a minute. Wait ... wait. I'm seeing a handsome man, in a far-off and romantic place, sweeping me off my feet."
Actually, she could envision someone, someone in a far-off place, sweeping her off her feet — in her dreams. But no one in New York fit the bill or compared to that distant someone.
"Paris is romantic," Kathryn admitted in a low voice.
She and Charlie had already exhausted the typical channels to meet the right men. The kind of guys most women dreamed of were an alien species and simply didn't inhabit their universe. However, she needed to find a man, just one, and fast. She had an article to write and a byline to claim. Feelings of guilt over besting a bestie would have to wait. She tamped down the objection in her gut, and let her creative ideas take flight. It was time to visit the ideal location to find love.
"I think we can take a small detour from the publication's travel angle on this. Why can't a woman find love in her neighborhood, and then sail off to a foreign and exotic land with the love of her life?" Charlie asked. Paler than usual, the other woman twirled a nervous finger into a renegade blond wisp, and just happened to skim over the e-cig stuck in her hair bun. She pulled it loose and looked at it with great longing.
"If it's done properly, I can see it working. However, any featured lovers must take off in the end for a foreign destination." Paul leaned back on his chair and tapped his fingers on the wood. Kat had known him way too long not to recognize the wheels of triumph turning in his mind. "There is a pragmatic benefit, too. If we concentrate on finding love locally, more of our readers will relate to the accessibility of that goal and can dream of escaping to a romantic place with their loves."
"Exactly," Charlie added, her posture relaxing a bit. "The dating scene has evolved so much over the past few years. There's always the chance of meeting someone at a bar or a club. Online sites host a bunch of events in this city. And let's not forget the old-fashioned way of being introduced by common friends."
"Great options," Kathryn said, looking up from the notes she'd scribbled on her legal pad. Her friend and rival had given in to temptation and was taking a long drag on the pink contraption, eyes tightly shut. "Earth to Charlie." Kathryn snapped her fingers and waited for her friend to look at her. "How are those local options working for you?"
Charlie's pretty shoulders dropped a few inches as she exhaled the vanilla-scented vapor. "Not fair. Maybe it's been bad timing for me. I really haven't tried too hard. It's been difficult to trust anyone since my divorce, so maybe I'm the problem and the scene is just fine."
Their boss cleared his throat and held up a hand to stop the personal reflection. They all knew Charlie's self-criticism would end in a door needing new hinges or something.
"You're not the problem, Charlie," Paul said, covering the blonde's hand with his own. His dickhead persona took a backseat for a moment. "Your asshole ex is. So let's take jerks like him out of the equation for the benefit of this piece." Paul could be a decent guy — he was just a pain in the butt the rest of the time. "And don't forget what I said about vaping on the premises."
"Okay, okay," Charlie agreed with a forlorn sigh before she offered them a small smile and put the e-cig back in her bun. "I don't know why I thought to quit vaping now."
Damn, Kathryn's heart ached for her friend, it really did, but they were on opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to beliefs in romance. Charlie believed a happily-ever-after kind of love existed and completed you. Kathryn was practical. She knew that romance could make life fun, if it didn't complicate your life and ruin your career. But love was an added benefit, not the driving force, in one's life.
"Listen, babe, with idiots like your ex showing up all over the city, it's best to try a new place," Kathryn offered. Travel and escape had always seemed like the right venue for romance. No long-term expectations meant no long-term disappointments.
"Somewhere far away and ultra-romantic. Think about it. Paris. City of Lights. City of Love." She made a sweeping gesture across the air and then came to a dead stop for dramatic purpose. She held up a finger and waggled it with significant intent. "Not to mention the endless supply of foreign, specifically French, men that are schooled in the art of sex from a very young age."
"Cute." Charlie actually giggled. "Let's stereotype a nation of men to get a good feature. Why don't we add making love on the banks of the Seine as a favorite hobby while we're at it?"
"Sounds good to me," Paul said. "Maybe I should tag along for the research?"
"Good thing you're the publisher and head honcho of this place." Kathryn leaned across the table and landed a playful fist on Paul's upper arm. "If you didn't have so much influence over me and I didn't like you the way I do, you'd be facing a lawsuit. Besides, January is too cold for outdoor sex in Paris. Is it even legal?"
"Whatever, Kittykat," Paul replied, laughing at the inside joke. "You owe me and you know it. So when I collect —"
"This is a very incestuous organization," Charlie said, pointing from Paul to Kathryn to the door. "Between you two and the accounting department, a tree house should be the official headquarters of City Wings. You're all too tight."
"And you've chosen to live with one of us," Paul reminded her.
"That's because Kathryn begged me to let her share Grammy's closet of an old apartment."
"True. It's the only way I could afford to live two blocks from Central Park. I thank you for your generous spirit, Miss Innocent-in-All-of-This," Kathryn said. "Now let's concentrate and get back to work for a few minutes. We need to write about finding love and about how not to end up like old spinsters — with no cats." She glanced at Paul. "Grandma's building doesn't allow pets."
He laughed, tossed his pencil in the air, and caught it before it hit the mahogany. "Let's hear the rest of this expensive trip you're planning."
Charlie cleared her throat and held up a hand. "I honestly feel it's best if we feature local romance opportunities, and doing it that way, it won't strain the budget — for us or for the readers." She shifted in her seat and turned away from Paul. "There are plenty of eligible men right here. Kathryn, you met that construction manager at happy hour last month. He was nice. So we have proof that nice guys do exist around here."
Fine. She was right. The guy had been nice, but Kat had ended it just before Christmas. He hadn't been able to hold her attention for more than three dates and one romp between the sheets. It seemed like no man could. Maybe she needed to lower her standards? Maybe the desire for more than a single good conversation topic was unrealistic? Or maybe she shouldn't expect earth-shattering orgasms, or even one orgasm, with a partner?
"I never said it was impossible to find a man around the block," Kathryn countered, deciding not to settle and still hoping for the elusive "O" in her sex life. "But finding love in the most romantic place on earth is much more exciting. Imagine gliding beneath an old bridge in a tiny rowboat, and gazing up at all those padlocks of love for inspiration."
"You know the padlocks have been cut off, right?" Charlie pointed out.
"And why not a luxury yacht instead of a rowboat?" Paul added.
Kathryn waved them off and continued. "How could a romantic dinner at the Eiffel Tower, with the city lights at your feet, twinkling like a room full of candles, not fuel amorous sensations?" She paused and glanced from Paul to Charlie. Paul adjusted the crotch of his slacks and stretched his legs while Charlie stared dreamily at nothing in specific and licked her lips. "And let's not forget the allure of a mysterious stranger in a whirlwind affair that will have readers packing their suitcases for Paris by the time they flip to the last page. Maybe we'll even get an ad from the Paris Tourist Board?"
"We're looking for love, not sexy interludes," Charlie insisted, a spark lighting her eyes with a new idea. "Sexy interludes. But. Fine. Okay. Got it." She placed her palms flat on the table and stood. "If we're really looking for the perfect place to find love, why not a cruise ship? It's textbook romance. What about one designated for singles? Passengers board with an agenda. Just think how much fun we'll have writing about a cruise, Kathryn."
"Nope. There is no 'we.' You can sail away on a Love Boat, and Kathryn will fly off and take her chances in Paris." Paul spread his fingers over the hard surface of the table, seemingly content with his decision to keep them on opposite ends of the world.
"Why do I need to go to Paris?" Kathryn asked, rubbing her temple with more force. "I'll be looking over my shoulder for him at every turn. What if I bump into him? What happens then?"
"You mean, how do you research the perfect place to find love when love finds you?" Paul folded his muscled arms over his chest and leaned back in his seat. "You could even have a true Parisian show you around all the hot spots. Why is that so bad, Kittykat?"
"Because Marko is not an option. He's loaded, cultured, and out of my league." Even worse, he'd insist on introducing her to his family like he had that Christmas years ago. "I've worked real hard to establish myself as a competent professional. It would kill me to have the mighty Renards look down on me."
"Why would they look down on you?" Paul asked. "You're being ridiculous."
"You could never understand, Paul. You're rich and entitled, cut from the same cloth as Marko. I'm a girl from Long Island that had to take online classes for eighteen months to finish my last semester and get my degree, all while keeping my dad's aluminum-siding business afloat to save my childhood home. Could you picture a woman in Marko's family with chipped nail polish and callouses on her palms?"
"Marko stayed by your side. You were the one that ran away from him." Paul's jaw was set, but his gaze was full of compassion. He'd seen what her father's passing had done to her and her mother, and he'd also been there for her in that difficult time. She hadn't turned away from him. The difference was that Paul was her friend. Marko was her soul mate.
Charlie cleared her throat. "I've heard about Marko, but no one has ever elaborated on who he is to you."
"Marko is a very good friend from school. One of my best friends," Paul explained. "He and Kat were joined at the hip from the moment they met. They did everything together. At first, they kept telling themselves they were only friends, but when they finally got their act together and hooked up, our Kittykat glowed like the brightest stars."
"We didn't —" Kathryn tried, but failed to correct her friend.
"Whatever," Paul said, waving her off. "They thought they were having a secret affair in Kat's senior year, but when her dad was in that horrible accident and passed away, she understandably shut down and retreated into a shell. No matter what we did, me, Justin, and even Marko, she wouldn't come back to us. I know it was a hellish situation for her, but I've never seen a man so tortured as Marko was at that time."
"What do mean, Marko was tortured?" Charlie asked.
"Marko is a take-charge kind of guy. He gets things done. Seeing the woman he loved suffer and not being allowed to help was torture for a man like him," Paul explained.
Kat hadn't had a choice. She couldn't have allowed Marko to change all his plans because of her. If he had, he would've resented her forever. It wasn't meant to be. "I'll take the cruise. Charlie can have Paris. She's more cultured and in tune with high society."
"No. Charlie won't do well on an eight-hour flight. You've always wanted to see Paris. No more objections."
Paul was right. Paris had been a dream of hers forever. And what were the chances of running into Marko at a tourist attraction? "Fine. Paris is perfect."
"Good. Time for you ladies to bring out the claws and get down to work. You each have your assignment. Your expense accounts will be adjusted and ready to go by noon. See Justin for the details. Get me your stories by next Wednesday. I'll decide which one gets published in the Valentine's issue."
"On what criteria will the winner be chosen?" Kathryn asked.
"Whatever I want," he said with a smile and a shrug. "I'm the boss." He stood, pretended to tip an invisible hat, and strolled out of the room muttering something about beautiful women pulling off their bikini tops and wiping mud from their faces.CHAPTER 2
A two-thousand-dollar expense account barely covered an airline ticket from JFK to Charles De Gaulle. Kathryn's travel dates were too near for any special deals, so the prices were astronomical. She didn't care. She was getting her byline via Paris.
"Kathryn." Charlie's head appeared from the other side of the cubicle's divider. "Paul is a total ass. A nice ass, but still an ass. He's doing this on purpose."
"Tell me something I don't know." Kathryn continued her Internet search. "And what's so new about what he's doing?"
"He's making us compete against each other, and he's enjoying it. Did you hear the crap about mud and bikinis he muttered as he walked out of the conference room?"
"I sure did," Kathryn replied, reluctantly floating on the reality of seeing Paris. Her mind hesitated, but her body sang with joy. She was freaking going to Paris! "Though, I'd like to put a different twist on it. Like, he was fantasizing about a vacation of his own where mud-splattered women stepped out from the ring to seduce him. Either way, who cares? We can do it."
Charlie's chair rolled close and her chin rested on Kathryn's shoulder. "We have less than a week and won't be able to bounce ideas off each other. He wants us to present, in person, a complete feature on Wednesday, like elementary students presenting a book report to the class."
"It doesn't matter. This is our chance at a byline," Kat said, scrolling down the options on her screen.
"He's asking too much. Look at the prices for those flights. How are you supposed to research Paris on the budget he allocated?" Charlie let out an exaggerated grunt and touched a finger to the screen. "That's not how a publisher should act. For him, it's divide-and-conquer Neanderthal stuff."
"Sexy Neanderthal stuff." Kathryn laughed, pushing her friend's finger away. If it were anyone but her childhood friend doing this to them, she'd be outraged and searching for legal counsel. "He likes to take things to extremes."
"Tell me about it. That's part of his sex appeal," Charlie whispered, an obvious longing in her voice. "Too bad he's gay. I'd let him take me anyway he wanted ... any day. It's been forever since I've had Neanderthal sex. Actually, any sex."
Excerpted from 26 Hours in Paris by Demi Alex. Copyright © 2016 Demi Alex. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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