Emma Brooks, single mom and managing director at the leading recruiting firm in Paris, was against their merger with an American company from the start. Not only was her firm losing its autonomy, she was losing her well-deserved promotion to Cole Dorseta handsome, arrogant interloper from New York!
How did Cole's ex-girlfriend's dream of moving to Paris become his nightmare? Now he's got to find his way in a new country, and the woman showing him the ropes wants to string him up by one. But as he gets to know Emma and her daughter, he realizes Paris may have more to offer than he thought .
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A blaring horn caused Emma Brooks to cringe as she cut a sharp right and narrowly avoided sideswiping the vehicle next to her. She quickly accelerated past the tiny smart car and sped through the roundabout in an attempt to get ahead, only to slam on the brakes when another car cut her off.
"Ah! Crazy Parisian drivers!"
She jerked the wheel and quickly eased into a rare car-length gap as she continued heading in the direction of Charles de Gaulle Airport. She checked the time and bit back a groan. She was already twenty minutes late with no end to the Paris traffic in sight.
"This is why I travel by métro in the city," she announced to the empty car. She had lived in Paris for ten years and had never learned to embrace the daredevil driving of the French. She used to tell her ex-husband, Brice, that if she wanted to take her life into her own hands, she'd go swimming with sharks or take up skydiving. In her opinion, both of these options presented less risk than getting behind the wheel in her adopted city.
Another car came up suddenly from behind, sliding alongside her so close that she could have sworn only a sheet of paper would have fit between them. She knew better than to stop, though. The best thing to do in Paris traffic was to keep going and pray that the tide would just flow around you. Why, oh why, had she not told her boss, Julien, to send someone else to the airport?
She sighed. A stupid question. She knew why-because she didn't want to disappoint her mentor, and she certainly didn't wish to appear less than competent when it came to navigating the city. After all, she needed that edge to hopefully one day reclaim the promotion she'd been promised. The promotion that now belonged to the fellow American she had been sent to pick up. This reminder only rankled further. In a perfect world, she would be happily ensconced in the CEO's office of Aquitaine Enterprises, the executive recruiting firm she worked for. Instead, she was risking her life in a European version of go-kart driving to welcome the man who'd been awarded the position in her place.
New York businesswoman Lillian Reid had reached out to Julien six weeks ago about the possibility ofjoining her firm, Reid Recruiting, with Aquitaine. After several negotiations and a trip to the United States, Julien had announced the very thing Emma had cautioned against-they would be joining forces with the American company to create an international presence. He had thought she would be pleased. After all, not only was she American born and bred, but she still retained her citizenship there. She had always made it clear that while she loved Paris and considered it her home, she still did, and always would, consider herself American first and foremost. In light of that, she had been hard-pressed to explain to Julien her dissatisfaction with this merger. It went beyond her promotion tanking. She didn't like seeing Julien have to share everything he'd worked for over the years. He had been good to her, especially after her divorce when she'd struggled to balance her job and the responsibility of a newborn daughter. He had watched out for her. Now she wanted to return the favor.
Focusing on the line of traffic before her, she craned her neck to try to see ahead. Cars stretched out in every direction, and she was now-she consulted the time once more- twenty-five minutes late. She had thought about calling the office to alert them she was running behind, but in her nervousness about picking up the company car that morning, she'd left her cell phone on her desk. And there was no way she was going to try to pull out of this mess just to call in and let Julien know about the delay.
No, she'd just have to offer her apologies once she reached the airport and hope the new boss was understanding. After all, as her former mother-in-law always said, with her typical c'est la vie mind-set, "Why worry about a little delay?"
Cole Dorset checked his watch for what he estimated was the eighteenth time and ground his teeth together. Where was this Emma, the woman who'd been sent to pick him up from the airport? He had called in to the office twice now and been reassured both times that she was on the way. But the meeting with the board of directors and company employees was set to take place in thirty minutes, and he was still stuck in the waiting area outside customs at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. His tension grew as he impatiently felt the minutes ticking by. This was not the auspicious beginning he'd hoped to create on his first day. It was bad enough he'd been sent to this country but now, after the long plane ride, to be kept waiting like this
It was well beyond the limits of his frayed patience. Moving to Paris was not his dream. That desire had belonged to his ex-girlfriend, Ophelia. Then she'd broken up with him, left the company and moved to Hawaii to marry the man she'd been sent to recruit. Losing Ophelia was difficult enough-though he still wasn't certain if he'd been in love with her. They'd been together for four years; their lives had become intertwined. And while she had moved on, he was still left at loose ends, sent to take on the role that was meant to be hers. It seemed a grossly unfair consolation prize for what he had lost.
Agitated by these thoughts, Cole stood and began pacing the aisles in the waiting area. He made another sweep of the room, searching for a woman who fit the description of Emma Brooks. It wasn't much to go on. Any of the medium-height women with long, dark hair could have been her, but it was evident that most of them were waiting for friends or loved ones by their relaxed postures or the way they toyed with their phones. He'd been expecting someone in professional attire, with a sign to indicate she was his liaison.
Had he missed her? The line for immigration and customs hadn't taken any longer than anticipated, but perhaps she'd been waiting and, for whatever reason, assumed he wasn't coming? But the receptionist at Aquitaine had reassured him Emma would be arriving shortly. He pulled out his cell phone and debated calling Julien. He hardly wanted to appear the helpless American, especially given his new position as CEO, but at some point, he was going to have to accept that he'd either been stood up or a miscommunication had occurred. The thought rankled.
What sort of incompetency left the new boss stranded in the airport on his first day? It didn't bode well for the future of this enterprise. What had Lillian been thinking, merging her company with a foreign one?
Well, he knew the answer to that. She'd been smart to join with a firm already established in Paris. Such a move only served to strengthen both businesses. Reid Recruiting would tap into a market that already held contacts and a solid reputation overseas, and vice versa for Julien's firm. Cole's only objection had been when Lillian had promoted him from senior executive recruiter to executive director and CEO of the Paris firm. Despite his protestations, her wishes were clear-if he wanted his career to advance any further, he would accept the promotion and move to Paris. He had worked too long and hard at Reid Recruiting to see his future there stall now. And so, here he was, travel-weary and already homesick for New York, wondering if his American counterpart had simply abandoned him and whether he had made a mistake in accepting Lillian's directive.
In any case, it didn't matter. It was too late to go back now.
Turning away, he gathered his luggage and moved toward the exit where ground transportation was advertised in both English and French. If Aquitaine wasn't coming to him, he'd simply have to go to them.
Emma hurried from the car park and toward the elevator leading to Terminal Two. She couldn't bear to look at her watch even once more, didn't want to consider how late she was.
Emerging from the elevator, she rushed toward the secure waiting areas where passengers were funneled after clearing customs. It had been ages since she'd gone through that procedure, not since she'd returned to the United States four years ago for her mother's funeral. Between raising Avery and her job with Aquitaine, there never seemed to be enough time to take a trip, though she knew she needed to make it a priority at some point in the future. She wanted Avery to experience her mother's homeland, not just in words and pictures but physically. Enough time to think about that later, though. Right now, she had to track down her American boss and welcome him to the country.
She reached the waiting area and scanned its occupants, trying to pair the inhabitants with the photo of Cole Dorset she'd seen on the Reid Recruiting website. None of the arrivals quite matched the image of the polished, blond-haired man she'd halfheartedly committed to memory.
Steeling herself, she glanced at her watch and gave a small gasp of dismay. She was forty minutes late. Where could he be? There was no time to waste. She moved farther into the waiting area and began navigating her way around luggage and the rows of seating.
"Excuse me, Cole Dorset? I'm looking for Cole Dorset? Cole Dorset." She felt like a fool, especially when several people shifted in their seats and grumbled annoyance.
Well, it couldn't be helped. She straightened and cleared her throat.
"If a Mr. Cole Dorset is in the waiting area, please, come this way!"
She received a few blank stares and a ripple of interest before most of the passengers went about their business. She huffed in annoyance. Now what?
"Okay, think, Emma." If she were stranded at an international airport and grew tired of waiting, where would she go? She looked around, but nothing in particular stood out to her. He hadn't gotten stuck at customs, had he? Likely not. He'd probably decided to go on without her.
She turned. The train? No, he was from New York. He'd be more apt to choose a taxi over a train, wouldn't he? Exiting the waiting area, she headed back in the direction she'd come. She only hoped he hadn't left already. What in the world would she say to Julien if the new boss showed up at the office without her?
Cole was no stranger to cities, and he certainly had no problem dealing with cab drivers. But the bombardment of English and French that assailed him when he approached the taxi stands only served to stretch his already frayed patience and overwhelm him further. He began asking the cost of fares and felt a rise of desperation. The amount of euros to the La Défense business district was appalling. His presentation was in ten minutes; the cab ride would take around thirty. He didn't have time to argue with cabbies about their inflated rates.
Though not normally given to nervousness, he felt his palms growing slick with unease. How was he going to navigate through this and still manage to offer up a confident presentation to the board and staff? For just a short moment, he felt as though he were a child once more, being shuffled from one foster home to the next, with all the ensuing emotions of uncertainty and doubt filling him up.
Resolutely, he shrugged off this reaction. He hadn't been that helpless boy for a very long time. And he was not about to let a little cultural uncertainty trip him up.
He was just getting ready to hand his bags over to one of the more pesky drivers when he thought he heard his name. Pausing, he turned, wondering if his anxiety had driven him mad.
He finally saw her, dodging the taxi drivers jockeying for her attention and pushing through a cluster of tourists as she headed in his direction. His first thought was beautiful as he took in her long, wavy, dark hair and perfectly clear skin with cheekbones just lightly tinted pink from exertion. As she drew closer, he could appreciate her trim figure clothed in a pewter-colored business suit that flattered the dove-gray of her eyes immensely. When she finally reached him, she let out a breath and offered a brilliant smile.
"Emma Brooks." She held out a hand. "Managing director of Aquitaine Enterprises and your liaison in assisting with your transition to Paris. Welcome to France."
All thoughts of her beauty fled in the wake of this introduction. This was the woman who had kept him waiting for the past forty-five minutes. She was the reason he would have to explain his tardiness to the board of directors, starting him off at a disadvantage in a company where he knew no one, had no allies.
He glanced at the hand she extended and pointedly refrained from taking it.
Emma hurried after the new CEO as he began walking away from the taxi stands.
"The traffic was atrocious, even by Paris standards," she said, defending herself against his abrupt observation.
He ignored this statement as he looked left then right. "Which way to the car?"
She pointed and then struggled to keep pace beside him when he began walking in the direction she'd indicated. "I'm not used to driving in the city. The métro is much more efficient."
He barely glanced over his shoulder when he spoke. "Is that how your company has been run up to this point? Standing people up and offering flimsy excuses? No wonder your boss agreed to this merger."
These words were like a slap in the face. She halted briefly and then propelled herself forward and ahead of him so that he was forced to follow her in the direction of the car park.
"It was unavoidable," she said, loud enough for him to hear without her turning around. "You don't understand what driving in Paris can be like."
She stopped short of pointing out that, had she driven any more recklessly to get here, she might not have lived to pick him up at all. His attitude was intolerable.
"It can't be any worse than New York City," he countered, "and I've always managed that just fine."
She halted at these words; because of his clipped pace, he was unable to stop in time and stumbled into her. She found her feet and took a step away from him. "This is not New York," she announced. "The sooner you realize that, the better."
"Believe me," he ground out, "I am all too aware of the distinction."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I would never expect this sort of thing to happen at Reid Recruiting, back in America."
"Oh, for the love of- So, I was a little late. The first thing you need to learn about the French is that they're not as tied to schedules as Americans are."
"A little late?" He consulted his watch. "I waited for forty-five minutes while you took your time getting here."
"I told you, there was a lot of traffic." Rather than continue arguing, she turned and started in the direction of the car park once more.
She didn't wait to see if Cole Dorset followed. He called after her, but she didn't stop, not until he finally used the company's title.
She halted and turned, waiting for an apology regarding his rudeness.
He passed her the smaller of his two bags and kept walking.