Avery Girard might have sworn off men, but she can't help but get swept away by the beauty, magic and romance of Valentine's Day in Paris especially when she ends up spending it with totally irresistible Dr. Jack Dunbar. One little fling can't hurt, right?
could end with forever!
Wrong! After an afternoon of passion, Avery discovers that Jack is actually the cardiologist she is meant to be assessing! Even more worrying, when it comes to Jack, she's not only dangerously close to losing her professional cool she's close to losing her heart.
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Jack Dunbar studied the map in his hand, trying to figure out where the heck he was in this city of two million people. He was determined not to waste his first hours in Paris, and never mind that he'd only had a few hours of sleep while folded into an airplane seat, couldn't speak French and had no idea how to get around.
But, hey, a little adventure never hurt anyone. Even getting lost would be a welcome distraction from thinking about the presentation he had to give tonight. The presentation that would begin the new phase of his career he'd worked so hard for. The presentation that would launch the newest medical device, hopefully save lives and change forever the way heart-valve replacement surgery was performed.
Before any sightseeing, though, the first thing on his list was coffee and a little breakfast. Jack stepped into the hotel restaurant and saw that a huge buffet was set up just inside the open doors. Silver chafing dishes, mounds of breads and cheeses, fruits and you-name-it covered an L-shaped table, but the thought of sitting there eating a massive breakfast alone wasn't at all appealing. He approached the maître d'. "Excuse me. Is there just a small breakfast I can grab somewhere?"
"Voilà! " The man smiled and waved his arm at the buffet with a flourish. "Le petit déjeuner! "
Jack nearly laughed. If that was the small breakfast, he'd hate to see a big one. "Thank you, but I want just coffee and something quick. What's nearby?"
"Everything you could wish for is right here, monsieur!"
"Yes, I see that, but"
"I know a little place that's just what you're looking for," a feminine voice said from behind him. "When in France, eat like the French do. And that spread in there is most definitely meant for Americans."
He turned, and a small woman with the greenest eyes he'd ever seen stood there, an amused smile on her pretty face. He smiled back, relieved that someone might actually steer him in the right direction, and that she not only spoke English, but sounded like she was American, too. "That's exactly what I want. To immerse myself in French culture for a while. And soon, because I need a cup of coffee more than I need oxygen right now."
Those amazing eyes, framed by thick, dark lashes, sparkled as her smile grew wider. "Caffeine is definitely the number one survival requirement. Come on."
Leaving barely a second for him to thank the unhelpful maitre d', she wrapped her hand around his biceps and tugged him toward the door and out into the chilly January streets of Paris. "Just down the street is the perfect café. We can get coffee and a baguette, then we'll be good to go."
We? Jack had to grin at the way she'd taken over. Not that he minded. Being grabbed and herded down the street by a beautiful woman who obviously knew a little about Paris was a pleasure he hadn't expected, but was more than happy about.
"I'm Avery, by the way."
"Jack." He looked at her and realized her unusual name went well with a very unusual woman. A woman who took a perfect stranger down the street to a coffee shop as though she'd known him for days instead of seconds. A red wool hat was pulled onto her head, covering lush dark brown hair that spilled from beneath it. A scarf of orange, red and yellow was wrapped around her neck and tucked inside a short black coat, and tight-fitting black pants hugged her shapely legs. On her feet she wore yellow rain boots with red ducks all over them, and a purple umbrella was tucked under her arm. Dull she most definitely was not.
"Nice to meet you, Jack." Her smile was downright dazzling. The morning looked a whole lot brighter than it had a few moments ago, despite the sky being as gray as pencil lead. "How do you like your coffee? American style? If you really want to be French, you'll have to drink espresso. But I won't judge you either way."
Her green eyes, filled with a teasing look, were so mesmerizing he nearly stumbled off the curb when they crossed the street. "Somehow I think that's a lie. And while I can handle being judged, I like espresso."
"I knew you were a man after my own heart."
He'd be willing to bet a lot of men were after her heart and a whole lot more.
The little coffee shop smelled great, and he followed Avery to the counter. She ordered in French, and the way the words slipped from her tongue, it sounded to him like she spoke the language nearly like a native.
"You ordered, so I'm paying," he said.
"That's what I was hoping for. Why else did you think I brought you along?"
"And here I thought it was my good looks and sophistication."
"I did find that, combined with your little-boy-lost look, irresistible, I must admit."
He chuckled. Damned if she wasn't about the cutest woman he'd been around in a long time. They took their baguettes and tiny cups of espresso to a nearby tall table and stood. Jack nearly downed his cup of hot, strong coffee in one gulp. "This is good. Just what I needed. Except there isn't nearly enough of it."
"I know. And I even ordered us double shots. I always have to get used to the tiny amounts of espresso they serve when I'm in Europe. We Americans are used to our bottomless cups of coffee."
"Are you here as a tourist? With friends?" Jack couldn't imagine she was traveling alone, but hoped she was. Maybe they could spend some time together, since he'd be in Paris for an entire month. With any luck, she was living here.
"I'm in Paris to work, and I'm alone. How about you?"
"Me, too. Working and alone. But I do have a few hours to kill today. Any chance you'll show me around a little in exchange for me buying lunch?"
"We're eating breakfast, and you're already thinking about lunch?" More of that teasing look, and he found himself leaning closer to her. Drawn to her. "I've already proved I plan my friendships around who'll buy. So the answer is yes."
He smiled. Maybe this great start to his trip to Paris was a good omen. "Where to first? I know nothing about Paris except the Eiffel Tower, which I know is close because I saw it from the hotel."
"Paris is a wonderful city for walking. Even though it's cold today and may well rain. Or even snow. Let's walk toward the Seine and go from there. If we hit the tower early, we'll avoid some of the crazy lines."
"There are lines this time of year? I didn't think there would be many tourists."
"There are always tourists. Not as many in January and February as in spring and summer, but still plenty. Lots come to celebrate Valentine's Day in Paris. Romantic, you know?"
He didn't, really. Sure, he'd had women in his life, some briefly and some for a little longer. But, like his father in the past and his brother now, his life was about work. Working to help patients. Working to save people like his grandfather, who'd had so much to live for but whose heart had given out on him far too soon.
Avery finished her last bite of bread and gathered up her purse and umbrella, clearly ready to move on.
"I don't suppose they give little to-go cups of espresso, do they?" he asked.
"You suppose right," she said with a grin. "The French don't believe in multitasking to quite the same degree we do. They'd shake their heads at crazy Americans who eat and drink while walking around the city."
"I'll have to get a triple shot at lunch, then," he said as they stood. He resisted the urge to lick the last drop from his cup, figuring Avery wouldn't be too impressed. Might even come up with an excuse not to take him to the Eiffel Tower, and one drop of coffee wasn't anywhere near worth that risk.
They strolled down cobbled streets and wide walks toward the tower, Avery's melodic voice giving him a rundown of various sights as they strolled. Not overly chatty, just the perfect combination of information and quiet enjoyment. Jack's chest felt light. Spending this time with her had leeched away all the stress he'd been feeling, all the intense focus on getting this study off the ground, to the exclusion of everything. How had he gotten so lucky as to have her step into his first day in France exactly when he'd needed it?
"That's L'Hotel des Invalides," she said, pointing at a golden building not too far away. "Napoleon is buried there. I read that they regilded the dome on the anniversary of the French Revolution with something like twenty pounds of gold. And I have to wonder. Wouldn't all that gold have been better used to drape women in jewelry?"
"So you like being draped in gold?" He looked at the silver hoops in her ears and silver bangles on her wrist. Sexy, but not gold, and not over the top in any way.
"Not really. Though if a man feels compelled to do that, who am I to argue?" She grinned and grasped his arm again. "Let's get to the tower before the crowds."
She picked up the pace as they walked the paths crisscrossing a green expanse in front of the tower. Considering how cold it was, a surprising number of people were there snapping pictures and standing in line as they approached. "Are you afraid of heights?"
"Who, me? I'm not afraid of anything."
"Everyone's afraid of something." Her smiling expression faded briefly into seriousness before lightening again. "Obviously, the Eiffel Tower is super tall, and the elevators can be claustrophobic even while you're thinking how scary it is to be going so high. I'll hold your hand, though, if you need me to."
"You know, I just might be afraid after all."
She laughed, and her small hand slid into his. Naturally. Just like it belonged there.
"Truth? I get a little weirded out on the elevator," she said in a conspiratorial tone. "So if I squeeze your hand too tight, I'm sorry."
"I'm tough, don't worry."
"I bet you are." She looked up at him with a grin. "The lines aren't too bad, but let's take the stairs anyway."
He stared at her in disbelief. "The stairs?"
"You look like you're probably fit enough."
Her green eyes laughed at whatever the heck his expression was. "But we don't take them all the way to the top. Just to the second level, and we'll grab the elevator there. Trust me, it's the best way to see everything, especially on a day like today, when it gets cloudier the higher you go."
"So long as we don't have to spend the entire day climbing, I'm trusting you, Ms. Tour Guide. Lead the way." The stairs were surprisingly wide and the trek up sent his heart beating faster and his breath shorter. Though maybe that was just from being with Avery. For some inexplicable reason, she affected him in a way he couldn't quite remember feeling when he first met a woman.
They admired the views from both the first and second levels, Avery pointing out various landmarks, before they boarded the glass elevator. People were mashed tightly inside, but Jack didn't mind being forced to stand so close to Avery. To breathe in her appealing scent that was soft and subtle, a mix of fresh air and light perfume and her.
The ride most definitely would challenge anyone with either of the fears Avery had mentioned, the view through the crisscrossed metal of the tower incredible as they soared above Paris. On the viewing platform at the top, the cold wind whipped their hair and slipped inside Jack's coat, and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders to try to keep her warm.
"You want to look through the telescope? Though we won't be able to see too far with all the clouds," she said, turning to him. Her cheeks were pink, her beautiful lips pink, too, and, oh, so kissable. Her hair flew across her face, and Jack lifted his fingers to tuck it beneath her hat, because he couldn't resist feeling the softness of it between his fingers.
"I want to look at you, mostly," he said, because it was true. "But I may never get up here again, so let's give it a try."
Her face turned even more pink at his words before she turned to poke a few coins in the telescope. They took turns peering through it, and her face was so close to his he nearly dipped his head to kiss her. Starting with her cheek, then, if she didn't object, moving on from there to taste her mouth. Their eyes met in front of the telescope, and her tongue flicked out to dampen her lips, as if she might be thinking of exactly the same thing.
He stared in fascination as her pupils dilated, noting flecks, both gold and dark, within the emerald green of her eyes. He slowly lowered his head, lifted his palm to her face and
"Excuse me. You done with the telescope?" a man asked, and Avery took a few steps back.
"We're all done," she said quickly. The heat he hoped he'd seen in her expression immediately cooled to a friendly smile. "Ready to go, Jack? I think we've seen all there is to see from up here today."
Well, damn. Kissing her in the middle of that crowd wasn't the best idea anyway, but even the briefest touch of her lips on his would have been pretty sweet, he knew. "I'm ready."
They crammed themselves onto the elevator once more, though it wasn't quite as packed as it had been on the way up. He breathed in her scent again as he tucked a few more strands of hair under her hat. "Thanks for bringing me up here. That was amazing." She was amazing. "So what now, Ms. Tour Guide? Time for lunch?"
"There you go, thinking about food again." She gave him one of her cute, teasing looks. "But I admit I'm getting a little hungry, too. There's a great place just a little way along the river I like. There will be a few different courses, but don't worryit won't break your wallet."
He didn't care what it cost. Getting to spend a leisurely lunch with Avery was worth a whole lot of money.
They moved slowly down a tree-lined path by the river, and he felt the most absurd urge to hold her hand again. As though they'd known each other a lot longer than an hour or two. Which reminded him he still hardly knew anything about her at all. "Do you live here? You obviously speak French well," he said.
"My parents both worked in France for a while, and I went to school here in Paris for two years. You tend to learn a language fast that way. I'm just here for a month or so this time."
"What do you do?"
"I Oh!" As though they'd stepped out from beneath a shelter, heavy sheets of rain mixed with thick, wet snowflakes suddenly poured on their heads, and Avery fumbled with her umbrella to get it open. It was small, barely covering both their heads. Jack had to hunch over since she was so much shorter than him as, laughing, they pressed against one another to try to stay dry.