Well, Emma Sullivan can always figure that out later. The point is -- she's in Paris! Which would be great, except that she's stuck doing public relations for one of the hottest -- and craziest -- rock stars on the planet. Making things worse is Gabriel Francoeur, the sexy and stubborn reporter who refuses to believe her when she tells him that her client was just playing Go Fish in that hotel room with all those scantily-clad girls . . .
But Emma will always have Paris. The City of Light, of romance, of high fashion and of unfathomable varieties of cheese. If a girl can't reinvent herself here, there's no hope! It's time to leave the old Emma Sullivan behind and become someone courageous, exciting, successful. The type of girl who, when faced with a reporter who won't stop asking questions, knows just what to do. After all, they don't call it French kissing for nothing!
|Publisher:||Grand Central Publishing|
|Sold by:||Hachette Digital, Inc.|
|File size:||449 KB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Art of French Kissing
By Kristin Harmel 5 SPOT
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One Our wedding was supposed to be in September.
I'd already been to my final dress fitting. I'd chosen my bridesmaids, picked out my flowers, and booked a caterer. The invitations were printed up and all ready to be mailed. We'd chosen a band. We'd talked about what we would name the kids we'd have someday. I'd filled pages and pages with scribbles: Mr. and Mrs. Brett Landstrom. Brett and Emma Landstrom. Brett Landstrom and his wife, Emma Sullivan-Landstrom. The Landstroms. I could already envision the future we'd have together.
And then one day, it all fell apart.
It was a hot, muggy Tuesday evening in April, and I'd left work at three so that I could make a special dinner for Brett to celebrate our one-year anniversary of moving in together. I cleaned off our patio table, bought fresh flowers, and cooked his favorite meal-grilled chicken stuffed with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and caprino cheese, served over angel-hair pasta with homemade marinara sauce. Perfect, I thought as I poured a glass of Chianti for each of us.
"Looks good," Brett said, strolling out through the sliding glass doors to the patio at six o'clock. As he stepped outside, he loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button on his shirt, which of course made him look even sexier than usual, in a haphazard way. It was a good sign, I thought, that I found him just as attractive as I had the day I'd met him. I hoped he felt the same way.
I beamed at him. "Happy anniversary," I said.
Brett looked baffled. "Anniversary?" He raked a hand through his dark, wavy hair. "Anniversary of what?"
My smile faltered a bit. "Moving in together," I said.
"Oh." He cleared his throat. "Well, happy anniversary to you, too." He folded his six-foot-two frame into the chair closest to the sliding glass door and took a sip of wine. He swished it around in his mouth for a moment, nodded approvingly, and swallowed.
I smiled, sat down across from him, and passed him the salad bowl, which was full of chopped lettuce, olives, pepperoncinis, tomatoes, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and feta cheese. He sniffed it approvingly before spooning some onto his plate. "Greek," he said, his hazel eyes crinkling at the corners.
"Yes," I said with a smile. "Your favorite."
I was determined that I'd be better at this-cooking, cleaning, and basically being a domestic goddess-after we were married. Brett's mother (who, mind you, didn't work and employed both a cook and a maid) had already reminded me several times, with a stiff smile on her face, that her son was accustomed to having dinner on the table when he got home from work and a house that was neat, tidy, and virtually spotless. I knew the subliminal message was that I wasn't quite up to par.
Evidently, I was supposed to be a full-time housekeeper and a full-time cook at the same time I balanced my full-time job.
"So," I said after a few minutes of dead air between us. Brett had begun eating already and was making mmmmm noises as he chewed. I hesitated for a moment. "Have you had a chance to work on your invitation list yet?"
All I needed from Brett was a list of the names and addresses of the family members he wanted to invite, and I'd already asked him four times. I knew he hated planning things and looked at our wedding prep as a burden, but considering that I had booked the minister and the band, gone to all the caterer tastings, met five times with the wedding planner, and picked out the invitations all by myself, I didn't think I was being too demanding.
"Not yet," Brett mumbled, his mouth full of chicken.
"Okay," I said slowly. I tried to remind myself that he was busy at work. He had just started on a big case, and he put in longer hours than I did. I forced a smile. "Do you think maybe you can get it to me by Sunday?" I asked sweetly, trying not to sound like I was nagging. "We really have to get those invitations in the mail."
"About that," Brett said. He ran his fork around the edges of his plate, picking up the last strands of pasta and taking one last big bite before pushing the plate toward the center of the table. He took another long sip from his wineglass, draining it. "I think we need to talk."
"About the invitation list?" I asked. I thought we had already agreed that we would include everyone we wanted to invite. After all, my father had promised to pitch in as much money as he could, and Brett's parents were, to put it mildly, loaded. They lived just fifteen minutes from us in Windermere, the Orlando suburb where Tiger Woods and some of the *NSYNC guys owned sprawling mansions. The Landstrom estate was just as grand, and they had already announced that money was no object in planning the perfect wedding for their only child.
"Not about the list," Brett said. He drummed his fingers on the table. "About the wedding."
"Oh." I wasn't totally surprised. Brett and I had been through some minor disagreements over things like whether we'd have the ceremony on the beach in St. Petersburg or in his parents' huge backyard (I had deferred to him, and we were planning a garden wedding), and whether we were going to have a traditional vanilla cake or a cake with a different flavor in every layer (we'd gone with plain vanilla, which Brett's mother had practically insisted on).
"What is it?" I asked. "Is it the seating? We can go with the plush folding chairs if you want. It's not really a big deal." I'd been partial to white wooden benches, which I thought would look beautiful in his parents' rose garden. But it wasn't about the location or the cake or the seating, was it? What was important was that I was going to spend my life with Brett.
"No." He shook his head. "The benches are fine, Emma."
"Oh," I said, somewhat stunned. It was the first time he had deferred to my opinion without an argument. "That's great. So what did you want to talk about, then?"
He glanced away from me. "I think we should call the wedding off," he said.
I was sure, at first, that I'd heard him wrong. After all, he'd said the words nonchalantly, as if he just as easily could have been telling me that the stock market was down or that there was rain expected in the forecast the next day. And after dropping his bombshell, he simply reached for the wine bottle, refilled his glass, and glanced inside at the TV, which had been strategically turned so that he could see the Braves game through the sliding glass door while we ate.
"What?" I asked. I shook my head and forced an uncomfortable laugh. "That's so weird. I could have sworn you just said we should call the wedding off."
"I did," Brett said, glancing at me and then looking away again, back to the Braves. He took another sip of his wine and didn't elaborate. I felt the blood drain from my face, and my throat went dry. I gulped a few times and wondered why all of the air had suddenly been sucked out of the space around me.
"You did?" I finally asked, my voice squeaking a bit as it rose an octave.
"No offense or anything, Emma, but I don't think I love you anymore," he said casually. "I mean I love you, of course, but I don't know if I'm in love with you. I think maybe we should go our separate ways."
My jaw dropped. I mean, it actually felt like it came unhinged and fell open on its own.
"Whaaaa ..." My voice trailed off. I couldn't seem to get my mouth to cooperate with me. I was so shocked that I could hardly form words. "What?" I finally managed. "Why?"
"Emma," Brett began, shaking his head in that condescending manner he seemed to have adopted when talking to me lately (it was the same way his father often talked to his mother, I'd noticed). "It's not like I can explain why I feel the way I do about things. Feelings change, you know? I'm sorry, but I can't control that."
"But ...," I began. My voice trailed off again because I hadn't the faintest idea what to say. A thousand things were racing through my mind, and I couldn't seem to get a handle on any of them. How could he have stopped loving me? Had our whole relationship been a lie? How would I tell my parents that the wedding was off ? What was I supposed to do now?
After an uncomfortable moment, Brett filled the silence. "You know, Emma, it's for the best, really. You didn't want to stay in Orlando anyhow."
My jaw dropped farther. "But I did stay in Orlando!" A little flash of anger exploded inside me all of a sudden. "I turned down that job offer. For you!"
Just three months earlier, I'd been offered the job of my dreams-as the head of PR for a new alternative rock label under the Columbia Records umbrella in New York. I'd talked it over with Brett, and he'd told me in no uncertain terms that he would never consider moving; his life always had been-and always would be-here in Orlando. So I'd reluctantly turned down the job (after all, I was engaged, and my fiancé should come first, right?), and as a result, I was still working the same less-than-fulfilling job as a PR coordinator for Boy Bandz, the thriving Orlando-based record label whose latest creation, the boy band 407, had just landed at number four on the Billboard Pop Charts with their song "I Love You Like I Love My Xbox 360."
"Well, Emma, that was your choice," Brett said, shaking his head and smiling slightly, as if I'd said something childish. "You can't really blame me for choices you've made in your life."
"But I made the choice for you," I protested. My head felt like it was spinning. This couldn't be happening.
"And I'm supposed to marry you out of a sense of obligation?" he asked. He stared at me. "Come on, Emma. That's not reasonable. We make our own choices in life."
"That's not what I'm saying!"
"That's what it sounds like you're saying," he said. He looked almost smug. "And that's not fair."
I stared at him for a long moment. "So that's it, then?" I managed to say. "After three years?"
"It's for the best," he continued smoothly. "And don't worry; you can take as long as you want to move out. I'm going to go stay with my parents to give you some time."
I gaped at him. I hadn't even considered that I'd have to move out. But of course I would. That's what happens when people break up, isn't it? "But where will I go?" I asked in a small voice, hating how desperate and unsure I sounded.
Brett shrugged. "I don't know. Your sister's?"
I shook my head once, quickly, pressing my lips tightly together. No way. I couldn't stand the thought of having to slink up to Jeannie's door and admit that I'd lost Brett. Eight years my senior, she was married to the passive, mousy Robert, and they had a three-year-old son who was the most spoiled child I'd ever seen. I couldn't bear to think what she'd smugly say about Brett leaving me. Failure, she would call it. Another failure for Emma Sullivan.
"Well, I don't know, Emma," Brett said, sounding exasperated. He raked a hand distractedly through his hair, which was starting to grow too long. He needs a haircut, I thought abstractly for a millisecond, before I realized that it would no longer be my responsibility to remind him of such things. "You could go stay with one of your friends," he said. "Lesley or Anne or Amanda or someone."
Hearing their names-the names of three of the girls who were meant to be my bridesmaids-sent a jolt through me.
Brett blinked at me a few times and looked away. "Obviously you understand why you need to move out."
I felt sick. I couldn't believe he was doing this.
"Because it's your place," I said through gritted teeth. I could feel my eyes narrow. It had been a point of contention between us for the past year. Brett, with his bigger salary, had made the down payment on our MetroWest Orlando house. Each month, we split the mortgage payment, but Brett was the only one with his name on the deed. The few times I'd complained that the arrangement didn't seem fair to me-after all, I was paying half the mortgage but earning no equity-Brett had smiled and reminded me that once we were married, all of our assets would be shared anyhow, so what was the point in worrying about something so inconsequential now?
It had all sounded so reasonable at the time.
"Right," Brett responded, not even having the decency to look embarrassed. "We'll figure something out about the mortgage, Em. I'm sure I owe you some money since you've made some contributions over the last year. I'll talk to my father and see what we can do."
I gaped some more. Contributions?
"Anyhow, I'm sorry, sweetheart," Brett continued. "This is really hard for me, too, you know. But in all honesty, it's not you. It's me. I'm sorry."
I almost laughed. Really. And perhaps I would have if I wasn't currently absorbed in fantasizing about stabbing him with the knife I'd used to cut the bread.
"You'll be okay?" Brett asked after a moment of silence.
"I'll be fine," I mumbled, suddenly furious that he would even ask, as if he cared at all.
I hadn't known what else to do the next morning when I awoke alone in an empty, king-size bed that was no longer half mine. I was numb; I felt like I was in the middle of a bad dream.
So I did what I did every morning: I got up, I showered, I blew my hair dry, I put on my makeup, I picked out a sensible outfit, and I went to work. At least there was solace in routine.
The offices of Boy Bandz Records were in a converted old train station in downtown Orlando, just a block from Brett's law firm. Sometimes we would run into each other on Church Street as he went to get lunch at Kres with a colleague or I went to pick up a greasy slice of pizza from Lorenzo's. I prayed that I wouldn't run into him today. I didn't think I could handle it.
I sat down at my desk just before eight thirty and stared numbly at my computer screen. It was as if I had lost all ability to function. I had a million things to do today-a press release about the 407 boys, a CD mailing for O-Girlz (the girl band our company's president, boy-band impresario Max Hedgefield, had just launched), several media calls to return-but I couldn't imagine doing something as banal as work when my life had just fallen apart.
Just past ten, Andrea, my boss, stopped by my desk. I had just put in my third series of Visine drops that morning, in an attempt to mask my bloodshot eyes. I hoped that the tactic was working. I knew how the emotionless Andrea despised it when her employees brought their personal problems to work.
"Great job with the 407 account," she said. They were named 407 because Max Hedgefield-whom everyone called Hedge-had apparently run out of silly phrases to string together and had thus resorted to using the area code for Orlando, the birthplace of modern boy bands.
"Thanks," I said, forcing a smile at her through blurry eyes. I had done a good job, and I knew it. One of our 407 boys had decided to come out of the closet the week their album was released, and I thought I had handled the resultant media storm gracefully. Thank goodness Lance Bass had blazed the way for boy-loving boy banders everywhere. Danny Ruben, the out-and-proud lead singer of our band, had been welcomed by the media with open arms, and as a result of all the publicity, 407's album had climbed the charts even more quickly than expected.
"We need to talk about something," Andrea said. She looked down at her left hand and examined her perfectly manicured fingernails intently.
Maybe, I thought with a little jolt of hope, I'm about to be promoted. After all, I certainly deserved it. I'd been with the company for four years, and although I was running the 407 and O-Girlz accounts by myself, I was only a PR coordinator. I'd heard rumors lately about a company reorganization, and I had my fingers crossed that I was next in line to move into a PR managing director position, which came with a substantial pay bump.
"Emma, sweetie," Andrea chirped, glancing now at the perfect nails on her right hand, "Hedge has decided to downsize a little bit, so I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go."
I could feel my vision cloud up, despite the Visine.
"What?" I must have heard her wrong.
"Don't worry!" she went on brightly, glancing away. "We're offering four weeks' severance, and I'd be happy to write you a nice letter of recommendation."
"Wait, you're firing me?" I asked in disbelief.
Andrea looked back at me and smiled cheerfully. "No, no, Emma, we're laying you off!" she said, carefully enunciating the last three words. "It's a totally different thing! I'm very sorry. But we'd appreciate it if you could have your desk cleared out by noon. And please try not to make a scene."
"A ... a scene?" I stammered. What did she think I was going to do, throw my computer at the wall? Not that that would necessarily be a bad idea, come to think of it.
Excerpted from The Art of French Kissing by Kristin Harmel Copyright © 2008 by Kristin Harmel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.