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Pippa finds herself face to face with the woman who has an uncanny knack of tying her up in emotional knots. Now she has to work all summer alongside the beautiful, strong, and enchanting former lover she ran away from when she was nineteen. Her once simple life and well built up façade is poised to crumble . . . la vie en bleu.
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La Vie en Bleu
By Jody Klaire
Bedazzled Ink Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Jody Klaire
All rights reserved.
THE HOT SUMMER air caressed my skin, leaving beads of sweat to trickle down between my shoulder blades. Other people would complain at such an onslaught but just to stand in the fierce heat reminded me of her. If only for a fleeting moment, a secret, unthinking moment, I could close my eyes and feel the touch of her. Warm fingertips, light, teasing, trailing their way up my bare back, her soft laughter in my ear. The sound that had seeped into every breath I had taken since. She was the thudding of my heart, the wriggle in my stomach, the hammering of the pulse in my ear.
Her soft, knowing lips brushed across my exposed neck. I leaned to the side, baring all to her, even if she only existed in my memory now. Sweet, nipping kisses, the feel of her arms as they slid around my waist. Her mouth moving over my neck, my chin, my cheek, searching, demanding —
I snapped my eyes open and rubbed my tingling skin, wanting to scratch the very sordid thought from me. "Yes, sweetheart?" Blowing the guilt, the moment away, I turned to Doug and smiled. Why did it still make me so sick to the stomach?
"You didn't answer my question," he said, concern, trust, and love in his eyes. What had I done to deserve him? "Do you want to help me set up the new centre?"
My conscience screamed no. No, I didn't want to go anywhere near that country. It was easier to forget this far away, easier to believe it was only a dream.
"Of course." I smiled to cover my desperation. "I know how important it is to you."
"I was thinking that you could show me 'round." His smile was so different from mine, so encouraging, sweet. "You never really talked about your time there."
"There isn't much to talk about."
He gave me an ever patient look and took a deep breath. "You were there for a year ... You lived in the city as a Frenchie ... Aren't you aching to get back?"
Aching yes, but to return, to risk seeing her, no. What if she still lived there? My heart thudded. It was a nightmare. What if she remembered? What if she didn't? How was I going to get out of this? When Doug got something in his mind ... This was impossible.
"I'll check with Rebecca, okay, check if I can get the time off?" I said.
Not a chance if Rebecca knew what was good for her.
"Promise?" He gazed at me with those gentle blue-grey eyes, so much like a puppy dog.
"Course." More lies, more guilt. So long ago and yet that madness still haunted my life.
Doug planted a gentle kiss on my still-tingling lips. My stomach tightened up until I felt sick with guilt. I watched his retreating back. What would he think of me if he knew, if he knew just what a coward I really was?
I stared out at the weak spring sunshine in a quiet corner of the world. A small Yorkshire hamlet. Miles upon miles of green, cut into fields by armies of wide-crowned trees. Hedges that buzzed with the scents and sounds of spring. Quaint cottages dotted along winding lanes. His house, a converted Tudor mansion, gated off from the sleepy village beyond. His family home. It would be our family home one day, at least when I ... we ... found the time to put down roots.
I picked up my keys from the sideboard and wheeled my suitcase to the car. In a few traffic-riddled hours, I would be back in a place I knew. London, the city of rain, grey, and congestion charges. The best place to block out the noise. The only place I seemed to have half a chance of forgetting her in.
THE M25 HAD thrown its worst at me. The entire motorway had been backed up. It was nearly the end of the working day when I squeezed into the last space in the cramped NCP car park. I sprinted through the deluge, risking life and limb dashing in front of a bus, and ducked into the three-storey office.
"Hi, Pip!" the squeaky-voiced receptionist chimed at me as I shook off the rain from my jacket. I never understood how Yorkshire could be sunny and London in the middle of a monsoon. Whatever happened to the grim North?
"Hey, you seen the boss?" I mumbled, attempting a smile.
"Lucky for you, she's been on a course all day." The receptionist, whose name I could never remember, tapped her nose. "As long as the cat's away ..."
"You're a Godsend."
I couldn't afford the time off and there was no way I could afford it unpaid. Making a note to send the receptionist — Mary, no, Janet ... no ... well, whatever her name was — some chocolates or flowers, I hurried into the lift. Only three floors but it would have been quicker to scale the outside with my tights like Spiderman.
I stared up at the numbers which seemed to slow down. I hated confined spaces. Why did they make lifts look like something from a tin factory? At least this one didn't have a mirror. Those were just weird. Who wanted to gawp at their own reflection while dangling from a cheese string? Come on, come on. If it didn't hurry up I'd start thinking about the film Speed again. No, not good. Hurry up, hurry the —
The doors dinged open and I toddled down the corridor. Plush was one way of putting the decor. Lots of glass, strange blobs in primary colours that I assumed was art, and closed-off wooden boxes for meeting rooms. No one was around. Thankfully most of them were already on their way home. I wobbled as I turned the corner to an open plan space. Great. One of my shoes had decided to rub a hole in my heel. Doug had offered for me to have tailor-made swish things but I was not going to become some rich, doormat woman who needed her husband for everything. Oh no, if I was marrying Doug, I was staying me.
"I hate to tell you this but unless they work on California time up in Yorkshire, you're way late." Rebecca, my best friend, stood outside my sugar-lump-of-a-cubicle with her arms folded.
"What did you do to your hair?"
Rebecca grinned. "You like?" She turned around on the spot for me.
"You look like a hedgehog had a nasty accident with bleach." I shook my head. I had never understood Rebecca's fashion sense, even in college. I doubted I ever would. "Why did they shave only one side?" I decided, and not for the first time, never to use the same hairdresser.
"It's cool, fuddy duddy." She pointed to her feet. "And you didn't see the shoes."
"How could I with the beacon on your head?" Sighing, I looked down. Some sort of loafer shoe, a crocodile skin pattern on them. Hideous beyond words. "Nice, my dad has a pair, I think." At least he had in the seventies.
"Who chewed your cheese?"
Ignoring the man's shirt, man's trousers, and her penchant for silver everywhere, I attempted my best smile. It was good to see her. "No one. Traffic. The M25 is backed up —"
"If you think that will buy you a pardon ..." Rebecca smiled. "It will. The boss has been out, you're in the clear. I stuck a meeting in your planner."
I dumped my sodden jacket on the back of the chair, then winced as it creaked. Someone had stolen mine again. "How is everything?"
"You mean how was my hot date on the weekend or how do I feel about the un-British sunshine we've been enjoying?"
There were times when I wondered where my social skills had disappeared to. I was terrified of getting lost in Doug and Pippa but he had to take priority, didn't he? Sighing, I wondered where had Pippa, the friend, disappeared to? Try again.
"Yes," I said, turning to look at her. "How was your weekend?"
Rebecca raised her unruly eyebrows at me. "You serious?" She took a chair and wheeled it over.
"Why not. Did this one steal your heart?"
Rebecca laughed. She had an annoyingly cocky laugh that had always driven me insane. "No, but she was hot. I mean, you should have seen her legs." She whistled like a heckling builder. "And let me tell you —"
I held up my hand. Wonderful, I'd chipped my nail polish. "Why do you do that?"
Rebecca frowned. "Do what?"
"Act like you're an ass." I didn't get her, I never would. "Why don't you ever stay around?"
We'd had this conversation so many times that she almost mimed my question. "Some women don't want forever, roses and all that crap."
The soft laughter in my ear, teasing fingers tickling over my rib cage —
"What?" The panic caught in my throat. Had I been thinking about ... I couldn't ... I was tired, just tired.
"Where did you go?" Rebecca wiggled her eyebrows. "And you got a place for me in there?"
"I was thinking about Doug," I lied. "So no."
Rebecca narrowed her eyes, and I could tell that she didn't buy my excuses but after all these years, I hoped she'd given up trying. I knew she knew I was hiding something. It was better I headed her off before she started probing. "He wants me at his new centre opening next month."
"The one in France?" Rebecca leaned back, with a bored expression as her gaze drifted over to the new mail courier. "Why?"
"To support him." I tapped her hand as a sly smile drifted across her lips. Letch. "I've never been to one before. I guess I owe it to him."
"You owe him shit." Rebecca crossed her leg over her knee, her sleeve of tattoos showing.
I did not want to get into this argument again. "Either way, I said yes but ..." I sighed. "I really don't want to go back to France."
"You said yes but you don't want to go?" Rebecca laughed that cocky laugh again. "Now that isn't in the little wife of the year book, is it?"
"When did the hot date tell you she was married ... to a man?"
Rebecca opened and closed her mouth. "I hate that you know me so well."
"That makes two of us." Why did we put up with each other and what were those socks. Neon yellow socks. "So, I need you to find a reason for me not to go."
"Wow, where is he opening it, a prison?"
I didn't care, but I did, far too much. Anywhere in France was too near, too risky. How much did I say? It wasn't like Rebecca just couldn't ask Doug herself.
"Marseille." I tried to keep my voice level, my tone neutral but my heart burst into a sprint in response. Even thinking about it made my hands shake.
"Where you lived in college?" She narrowed her eyes, leaning in. "But they don't even have one in Paris yet, right?"
There was no need for me to even shake my head, she seemed to read my eyes.
"Oh, that's just wonderful." She wheezed out her breath, rapping her ring heavy knuckles on the desk. "Can't he leave one part of you without his stamp on it?"
The anger in her voice surprised me. "What do you mean?" She'd always liked Doug, he'd always liked her. Where had this come from?
"Pip, I love the guy but ... at this rate there will be nothing of you left."
"There's plenty of me. I'm successful in work ..." I motioned to the office. We both looked at my cramped cubicle, the computer which looked older than me, and the mountain of admin in my inbox. Hmmm, not quite the winning argument I was going for. "I have you ..."
Thankfully, she seemed appeased. Rebecca went back to shooting bedroom eyes at the flirty vixen of a courier. She wasn't even attractive.
"I think you should tell him not to open it there." Her eyes met mine for a moment. "We both know something happened there that changed you."
"Nothing happened there." Oh, but it did. Too much. Everything happened there. No, no, it didn't. It was just stupid, foolish ... those lips —
"See." Rebecca folded her arms. "You never did that before you went there."
"How would you know?" I scowled at the courier. What did she want, a photograph? "You were too busy trying to seduce every woman you could find."
A dreamy smile crossed her face. "Yeah, those were good days."
"Not for the poor soul who slept in the bedroom next to you."
"Hey." She held her hands up. "I put up with you and, 'so good' Doug." She made huffy-breathing noises in imitation and I couldn't suppress the snorted laughter.
"I hate that you heard that."
"Whatever." She wagged her finger. "Serious, Pip, you need to veto the centre." She leaned on the desk, but not before flashing a flirty wink at the courier. "What did happen, you never said."
"Nothing." I switched on my computer which groaned and wheezed into life. The thing sounded like my grandfather who smoked forty a day. "You heard anything about the job yet?"
"No." Rebecca shook her head and polished her disgusting crocodile shoes. Where did she shop? "Why are you avoiding the question?"
The monitor flickered on like it had a raging hangover. Even the computer had more of a life than me. "I thought you would know if you got the promotion by now. Didn't she say you were guaranteed it?"
"Yes and no." Rebecca folded her arms. Were there more tattoos? How much ink did she want to be covered in? "Why won't you tell me?"
Looking through the stack of papers that all said "urgent" on top, I tried to mentally calculate how late I was going to be stuck at my desk. "Did you sign off those invoices I got to you on Friday?"
Rebecca waved a hand. "Of course I did." She rapped her knuckles on the desk again. I swore my computer winced, its screen flickering. "You are not getting away with avoidance."
"Only if you tell me what happened between you and Miss Evans."
"Me or her?"
"Both of you." Rebecca got to her feet. "I hate how well you know me."
"So you keep telling me."
She pecked me on the cheek and swaggered off towards her office. She even walked like a cocky idiot. "Get working. I guess it's me sticking dinner on?"
Dinner, oh I was so hungry. "I forgot lunch."
I opened the drawer, pulled out a plastic tub, and yanked it open. Tuna and mayonnaise sandwiches never looked so good. "I love you!"
Rebecca winked at me before shutting herself in her office. We'd joined the company together when they were recruiting in our final year of technical college. They'd offered two doe-eyed idiots a mediocre wage and a chance to live in the city of London. Naturally, we had both signed up on the spot. A decade later, I was no closer to my dream of being a master carpenter and Rebecca was about as close to her dream of being an architect. In short, we were wonderful underachievers.
The only thing that seemed to redeem me was Doug. I'd met him when our brilliantly drab firm held a gala for the white-pearled smiles of the rich and elite. Doug had made a beeline for me which I still believe was down to my red cocktail gown. It had a halter neck to make anyone drool. Generally Rebecca, but then she drooled over anything in a dress.
Doug was a master at fairy tale romance. He was great and lovely. Still, even though I'd promised to be his wife, I was ever so slightly reluctant to leave my pokey flat and live in a palace with him. Most women would have thrown themselves into it with gusto. He was the ultimate gentleman. Dirty blonde hair and blue eyes, chiselled chin and broad shoulders. He looked good in everything, whether it was a tailor-made suit or a scruffy pair of jeans. In short, he was prince charming. I just liked him better when I wasn't living with him.
Besides, I loved girls' night with Rebecca. I loved vegging out in front of endless DVD box sets in my pyjamas. If I moved out, Rebecca would never make the extortionate rent. This was always my case for holding off nuptials when Doug probed. Probably best he didn't know that my father actually owned the building and we paid next to nothing. I loved Doug to pieces ... I just loved space too. There was nothing wrong with that, nothing at all.
I opened my eyes and looked at the caretaker. Someone had switched off the lights. "Why is it dark?"
"It's gone ten," he said. "I got to kick you out."
Looking down at my watch, I sighed. The urgent invoices were all still neatly labelled in my inbox and my computer was still on the log-in screen. Ah.
"Right ... sorry ..." I turned my computer off and stumbled to my feet, sending the chair clattering as I yanked my coat from it. "Home."
"You work too hard, Pip," the caretaker said. "They don't appreciate you."
I smiled at him and wandered down the corridor to the lift. Had Rebecca seen me sleeping? Had I been dribbling? I took out my phone to text Rebecca and smiled as I realised the date.
I'd met her on a rainy night just like this, although the summer was in full swing in France, the heat sizzling off the sun- baked streets —
"Crap." I dashed between the closing doors of the lift and out into the deluge.
Where had I parked the car? After texting a quick message to Rebecca beneath my jacket, I dashed across to the car park and spotted my little banged-up baby at the back. Doug had offered to buy me a brand new shiny thing with some green badge and heated seats.
Excerpted from La Vie en Bleu by Jody Klaire. Copyright © 2015 Jody Klaire. Excerpted by permission of Bedazzled Ink Publishing, LLC.
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