Read an Excerpt
Guilt was so much fun.
Kelly Rochard grabbed her shoulder bag and bounded down the cracked porch steps of the centuries-old bed-and-breakfast. She couldn't wait a second longer to inhale all the sights, smells and sounds of Paris in the springtime.
Who'd have thunk it? That a gregarious, nosy, hopelessly open person such as herself could possibly have managed to keep a secret this big?
No one even knew she was here.
Of course, in a week, she'd go back home to South Bend, confess everything to her new fiancé, never tell another fib again as long as she lived, and probably do penance for two or three aeons. As her mother loved to say, you could take the Catholic out of the girl, but you were stuck with the guilt for life.
But today, she just plain didn't care. Guilt or no guilt, she was thrilled to be here.
Blithely she stepped off the curband a dozen horns shrieked at her mistake. She backed up fast, heart pounding. A couple taxi drivers yelled as they passed bysomething about connarde and ballot and une t te de linotte. She was pretty sure the insults were aimed at her specific genetic heritage, with a few general references about her being an American scatterbrain, as well.
Okay, okay. So she was suffering jet lag, not at her brightest, and it was going to take her a whileand a mapto figure out how to get around
preferably without getting herself killed.
The small inn where she was staying didn't seem located in exactly the newest, safest part of town, but the neighborhood still exploded with color.
Three street vendors in a row tried to woo her into taking a bouquet of fresh flowers. The next one sold caféwhich she fumbled with her brand-new euros to buy, and then sipped as she ambled on. Pedestrians bustled past, clearly on their way to work. All the women looked so savvytheir clothes not necessarily expensive, but even basic styles jazzed up with an interesting scarf tied the right way. A man winked at her. She gawked at an open-air grocery, where the smell of fresh fruits mixed with a luxurious array of fresh flowers.
The grin on her face just kept getting bigger and sillier. She was free. This was Paris. In May. The city of romance. The city of lights.
Her father's city.
The open door of a bakery drew her inside. A single look at the croissants and baguettes made her realize she was starving to death. Euros were exchangedtoo many, she was positivebut the first taste was better than sin, and well worth whatever the baker had cheated her out of. The pastry was buttery, light, a puff of sweetness on her tongue.
Juggling the pastry and the coffee and her bag, she stepped back into the throng of pedestrians
when a stranger suddenly grabbed her arm.
Initially Kelly reacted with more exasperation than fear.
When the mugger tugged, she tugged back. And no, tangling with a thief wasn't the wisest thing Kelly Nicole Rochard had ever doneparticularly when the jerk was a good half foot taller than her five feet five inches and easily outweighed her by fifty pounds. But, as her mother had noted during labor, Kelly was as naturally stubborn as a goat.
Her roll went flying. Coffee splattered everywhere. She was so busy struggling just to keep her balanceand free herselfthat she didn't originally realize why the mugger was yanking so hard on her arm. But then she did. Fast. Her engagement ring did tend to glitter in the sun, which was probably what caught the jerk's attention. He yanked on her finger so hard she almost cried, but that was just pain.
When he managed to wrestle off the ring, Kelly let out a war cry worthy of a marine. "You give that back, you rotten son of a flea-bitten scumbag!"
She couldn't finish because the mugger suddenly jerked her around and yanked her tight against his chest. Her courage suffered an instant and complete crash. She forgot the ring. Forgot the dazzling day and the wonder of Paris.
When the bony arm cut off her windpipe, she forgot just about everything.
Faces and storefronts blurred. Sounds muted to a distant cacophony. She'd never tasted fear this acid, this consuming. Her entire consciousness was zoned in on her thief. The man wasn't huge, but he was still a ton bigger than she was, and he stank of drugs and desperation. His breath blew fetid on her neck, his body reeking of old sweat. He hissed something to her in French.
Four years of high school French didn't seem to address his particular choice of vocabulary. Still, she was ninety-nine percent certain that she understood him. He seemed to feel that her mother lacked morals, that she herself was a worthless bitch and that her life wasn't going to be worth dog breath if she didn't give up her purse.
She was more than willing to.
"Look," she said desperately, and then stopped. He tightened the choke hold on her throat. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't think. She was panicked enough to suffer a heart attack. Or pee in her pants. Or hurl.
Or possibly all three.
At the same time.
Her mugger hissed another command, this one angrier and more urgent than the first.
She got it, she got it. She didn't have an hour or two to think up a plan. Either she released her death grip on her purse, or just maybe he was going to break her neck.
"Look," she blubbered. "You don't understand. You can have all my money. I don't care. You can take every euro, every dollar. And all the credit cards. Everything. My passportyou want my passport? You can have that, too. But I really need some papers in that purse. You couldn't possibly want those papers. Please, I"
On her last gulp of oxygen, her voice quit. Completely quit, like a cell phone with no battery. She tried to tell herself it didn't matter. He probably couldn't speak English, so why was she even trying to reason with him?
It was just
there were some very old, very private letters in her purse. They were her father's. The only thing she had, or would ever have, of her dad's. They were the whole reason she'd made this impulsive trip to Paris. She couldn't give them up. She just couldn't.
His other hand clamped on her left breast and squeezed. Hard.
She dropped her hold on the purse faster than a hot coal.
The mugger grabbed it and then shoved her, hard.
She toppled on the cement walk, stunning both her knee and elbow when she crashed on the hard surface.
It had all happened so quickly. The mugger disappeared into the crowd. Some pedestrians kept on walking, acting as if she were invisible, but a few rushed over to her, jabbering sympathetically in French. Someone yelled for a gendarmeshe understood the word for police, but by then she didn't care. It was too darn late for that.
She was fine. Her heart didn't know it yet; she was still gulping down air like a panicked beached whale
but really, she knew she was okay. Her engagement ring, her passport, her moneylosing all of it was a nightmare, but she was alive and the jerk was gone.
Everything was survivable except for the loss of those letters. No one even knew she had them, even her mom. Especially her mom. And no one would likely recognize the ratty old envelopes as remotely valuable, because they weren't.
To anyone but her. Unfortunately, they were irreplaceably valuable to her, and the loss hit her like a blow.
" A mustached man in a uniform pushed through the onlookers, bent down to her. A cop. But what good could he possibly do? Find a thief in this kind of city traffic? The guy was probably at the Eiffel Tower by now. And when he got around to opening her purse, he'd undoubtedly take the loot and credit cards and passport and throw out everything else.
Like the letters.
A raw, rusty sound came out of her throat. Kelly told herself to get a grip and turn back into her usual strong, sturdy self, but man, somehow she couldn't find the on switch. Caving was totally unlike her. She'd always been a go-to woman, the kind of woman who could cheerlead through a tornado, who saw problems as opportunities rather than crises. She never had meltdowns. She wasn't the meltdown type.
But damn. The loss of those old letters really, really, really hurt.
"Mademoiselle," the cop repeated, and reeled off some questions in French.
She pushed a hand through her hair, struggling to understand, flunking, struggling again. She could see he was getting impatient. Hell's bells, so was shewith herself. But she was shook up, and the gendarme was speaking so fast.
somewhere in the sea of strange faces and confusion, she heard an American accent.
An American Midwestern accent like hers.
"Hey," he said, "are you in some kind of trouble here?"
Her head shot up. One glance gave her a jolt. The guy was tall and lean and blond, with a Matthew McConaughey angular face and come-on baby-blue eyes. He wasn't just killer good-looking. He was to die for.
But that wasn't what snagged her attention. His clothes did. Filling out a Notre Dame sweatshirt were brawny wide shoulders.
The logo wasn't for Notre Dame, as in the French cathedral. But as in Notre Dame football. As in the golden dome. As in South Bend, Indiana.
As in home.
She fell in love so fast it made her head spinof course, her head was already spinning. And it wasn't like she thought it was real love
but it was real enough for that moment.
She pushed toward him, never losing eye contact, and said breathlessly, "You can't imagine how much I'd appreciate some help. I know a little French, but not enough to communicate, at least as fast as I need to. If you'd play translator for just a few minutes
it couldn't possibly take long
WILL MAGUIRE, at age thirty-one, had done all the bailing out and damsel saving and white-knight crap he ever intended to do in this lifetime.
But hell. He had noticed the commotion from all the way down the block, and when he heard the sudden, sharp, panicked yellobviously a woman's voicehe instinctively hustled toward the sound. The instinct wasn't heroic. It was lunatic.
He'd lived in Paris long enough to know getting Yet still he came closer.
It took only seconds for him to interpret the scene. She'd been ripped off. Moments before, a gendarme had shown up, and typical of Paris, so had every busybody bystander. Most of them figured an American tourist, being anAmerican tourist, had done something stupid. A few wanted to whine about the danger of Paris streets these days. The gendarme was trying to question her about exactly what happened.
In those same few seconds, he snared a quick look at her.
But that was all it took for him to feel a potent kick in the gut.
He didn't get it. A pale purple sweater cupped her small boobs. Dark pants fit snug enough to clarify that she had skinny legs and no ass. Since he'd always tended to like more breasts and less bone, there was nothing below her neck that should have rattled his hormones. Yet his pulse was kabooming like a freight train.
Heightwise, she came up to his chin. And that was where she stopped being ordinary. The eyes were mesmerizing, almond shaped, tea-brown, looking right at him. The details included a small, thin nose; pink mouth; and a sweep of almost-shoulder-length brown hair. Only brown wasn't an accurate description of the color. The sixty-five-degree morning was drenched in sunshine, and that's how her hair lookedlustrous, full of light, shiny in the sun.
Okay, so she was adorable. But that alone didn't explain the kaboom thing. There were fabulous-looking women all over Paris.
There was something else about her, something he couldn't define. A zest. A glow. A female thing. Will didn't need to identify it to know it was a serious problem.
Ever since he'd devoted himself to a life of decadence and vicethat'd be the last four yearshe'd fine-tuned his sonar to beware of women who meant trouble.
She meant trouble.
On the other hand, all she'd asked him to do was translate for her for a couple of minutes. How could that possibly be any kind of risk?
"Sure," he said. And immediately discovered that helping her wasn't going to be quite that simple.
The gendarme shot him a look as if a savior of the universe had just shown up. The bystanders kneed in closer, all hot to participate. Everybody claimed to have seen the thief close-up. One said he was tall and burly. One said he was lean as a stick. One said he had a beard, like a homeless person, and another said he'd just been a guy walking down the street who suddenly sprang into this deviant behavior, far too fast for anyone to stop him or come to the girl's aid.