Sorority sisters Melanie, Astrid, and Valerie have been inseparable since college. Even years after graduating, they still get together to debate their favorite topic: Who is the perfect man?
While growing up on a ranch, Melanie always assumed that she’d marry a cowboy—until a Parisian adventure introduces her to a dashing Texas billionaire and makes her doubt what she really wants….
Astrid’s parents expect her to settle down with someone rich, but when she can’t keep her hands off a hardworking and handsome rancher, her world turns upside down....
After a terrifying accident, Valerie doesn’t expect ever to risk love again—until she meets the one man no woman can resist: a billionaire cowboy....
As the three argue over what makes a man a great catch—a pocketful of dollars or spurs on his boots—they discover that the perfect man is sometimes exactly what you’d least expect....
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||1 MB|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“To Paris!” Melanie Shaw lifted her margarita glass and grinned at her two best friends in the world, Astrid Lindberg and Valerie Wolitzky.
“To Paris!” they both echoed as they touched the salted rims of their glasses to Melanie’s.
Melanie sipped her full drink and set it down carefully in front of her. Good tequila should be savored, not gulped, and Golden Spurs&Stetson served the best margaritas in Dallas. “I still can’t believe we bought plane tickets today. We’re actually going.” She gazed across the round table at Astrid, her petite blond friend whose family had more money than God, and Val, a sassy redhead who was one of the best young lawyers in Dallas. “I mean, Paris. Do you realize we’ve dreamed about this since college? I can remember sitting in the sorority house late at night talking about this trip.”
Astrid smiled. “Me, too. And it always had to be just us experiencing it for the first time together. Edward couldn’t understand why I’d refused to go with him last spring. He didn’t get that I was waiting until the three of us went.”
“That’s what I love about you,” Melanie said. “You could have flown to Paris anytime, but you waited for us.”
“Of course I did! Besides, I’d much rather tour Paris with you two than Edward.” Then she blinked. “Did I just say that out loud?”
“’Fraid so.” Val studied her over the rim of her glass. “You do realize that half the women in Dallas want your guy. Good-looking billionaires don’t exactly grow on trees.”
“I know.” Astrid sighed. “I just . . .”
“I think Astrid prefers a Stetson-wearing man.” Melanie winked at her. Astrid had defied her wealthy family’s wishes and become a large-animal vet, a job that put her in constant contact with cowboys.
Astrid picked up her margarita. “Okay, I’ll admit that Western wear gives a guy a certain rugged appeal.”
“Doesn’t it, though?” Melanie had been raised on a ranch and had dated cowboys almost exclusively. Her current boyfriend, Jeff, wasn’t particularly adventurous. For instance, he had no interest in going to Paris. But he sure was pretty to look at. “I’ll take a broad-shouldered cowboy over a billionaire any day.”
“Why settle for one or the other?” Val glanced across the table. “As long as we’re dreaming, why not order up a billionaire cowboy for each of us?”
“The best of both worlds.” Melanie nodded in agreement. “The perfect man. Why not?”
Astrid raised her glass. “Billionaire cowboys for all. It’s no more than we deserve, right?”
“Right!” Val said.
Laughing, they finished their margaritas and ordered another round. Tonight, with their long-awaited trip to Paris finally becoming a reality, nothing seemed impossible.
One Night with a Billionaire
I’m in Paris.
Melanie Shaw stared at the façade of Notre Dame as the deep-throated bells counted down the hour. Ten o’clock in the morning. Instead of mucking out stalls or riding the fence line at her daddy’s ranch outside of Dallas, Texas, she was standing in front of frickin’ Notre Dame. Amazing.
Her plane had landed two hours ago, and she still couldn’t believe she had both feet planted in Paris, France. Only one thing could have made this moment better—if her friends Val and Astrid could be here with her.
They’d become friends and sorority sisters in college, and five years later, they were tighter than ever. A few months ago all the planets had been aligned for this trip. They’d found a killer plane fare and had spontaneously booked the trip. Then Val had been unlucky enough to get caught in a bomb scare during a concert. She’d suffered a broken arm and two broken ribs. Although those had healed, she now avoided crowds and wouldn’t be traveling anytime soon.
Melanie had adjusted to having Val stay home. Astrid was a great traveling companion and they’d still have fun, even without Val. Then, a couple of weeks ago, one of Astrid’s clients had developed a problem with a pregnant mare. With the mare’s life on the line, Astrid had reluctantly canceled her trip, too.
Melanie had almost given up once her friends had bailed. The hotel they’d booked was way too expensive for her to handle alone, so she’d canceled that reservation. But she’d held on to her airline ticket because she couldn’t bear to think of not going. An online search had yielded a cheaper hotel, although it was also far from the main attractions.
Her boyfriend, Jeff, had said she was crazy to consider traveling alone, but he wasn’t about to go with her to someplace where he didn’t speak the language. His provincial attitude had pounded the nail in the coffin, and she’d ended their relationship. It had been on the skids anyway.
Now that she was actually here, though, she’d better get busy and take some pictures with her phone. She’d left her suitcase with the hotel desk clerk because she couldn’t check in until noon, but she had her backpack with all her sightseeing essentials crammed inside. Shrugging it off, she unzipped a side pocket and reached for her phone.
Without warning, the backpack was ripped from her hands. At the same moment, someone else shoved her from behind, knocking her to the ground with such force that the breath left her lungs.
“Hey!” A deep male voice from behind her issued a challenge.
She raised her head in time to glimpse a dark-haired man in jeans and a brown leather jacket dash after the thieves. Then folks who were obviously worried about her hurried over and blocked her view. An older gentleman helped her to her feet while two women clucked over her in what sounded like German.
She wasn’t hurt except for a couple of scrapes on the heels of both hands, but if the guy in the leather jacket didn’t catch the thieves, she was in deep shit. Her backpack held almost everything of value—her phone, both credit cards, and two hundred dollars’ worth of euros. Her passport, thank God, was tucked in a pouch under her shirt, but thinking that she might have lost everything else made her sick to her stomach.
Members of the German tour group patted her shoulder as she stood up and dusted off her clothes. They offered words of comfort she couldn’t understand but appreciated anyway. She made the effort to smile her thanks as she scanned the crowd for signs of a tall, broad-shouldered man wearing a brown leather jacket. He’d looked athletic, so maybe he’d be able to tackle the guys who took her backpack.
On the other hand, she didn’t want some stranger risking his safety for her. At least two people had been involved in the mugging, which meant the guy was outnumbered, even if he should catch them. She crossed the fingers of both hands and waited, heart pounding from a delayed adrenaline rush.
At last she saw him coming toward her. His eyes were hidden by sunglasses, but his angry strides and the tight set of his mouth told her all she needed to know. Her hopes crumbled. The backpack was gone.
Despair engulfed her, but she was determined to thank him properly for trying. She hoped he spoke English. All she’d heard was his shout of hey, which might be one of those universal expressions used by everyone. She hadn’t traveled enough to know if it was or not.
When he was about ten feet away, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, ma’am. They got clean away from me.”
She gasped at the familiar accent. “Oh, my God! You’re from Texas.” Hearing a voice from home made her want to hug him. She restrained herself, but the world brightened considerably.
“Yes, ma’am.” He drew closer. “Are you all right?” He took off his sunglasses and gazed at her with eyes the color of bluebonnets.
“I’m fine.” He must have known taking off his sunglasses would help. Seeing the concern in his gaze, she didn’t feel quite so alone. “Thank you for chasing them. That was brave of you.”
He shrugged. “Not really. Anyone could see they were yellow-bellied cowards if they’d attack a woman. Speaking of that, they knocked you down. Are you sure you didn’t get scraped up?”
“Just a little.” She showed him her hands.
“Let’s take a look.” Tucking his sunglasses inside his jacket, he grasped her wrists and examined the heels of her hands. “Damn it. You should put something on that.”
His touch felt nice. His big hands were gentle, and she found that sexy. Although it would be totally inappropriate, she wished he’d kiss her scrapes and make them all better. “I have Neosporin in my suitcase back at the hotel.” At least she’d have a place to stay. She’d given them her credit card number. That card was gone, but she hoped to get a replacement before she checked out.
“Are you traveling with someone? I can call them.” He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a phone.
She shook her head. “I came by myself.”
“Then let’s start with the police. Did you get a look at those old boys?”
“Never mind. I did.” He punched in a number and spoke in French.
Melanie listened with great admiration. He no longer sounded like a Texan as he carried on a conversation without stumbling. Prior to this trip she’d enrolled in an online course and had learned enough to find a bathroom and order a meal. But this guy was fluent, which was her good luck.
If she was super lucky, he had an international plan and she’d be able to borrow his phone to call Val, who could help her straighten things out with the credit card companies. Maybe it was cheeky to ask, but she was in desperate circumstances.
Although he was dressed casually, his jacket looked expensive and his watch might even be a real Rolex. Judging from his ease with the language, he could be a businessman who traveled to Paris regularly. If so, he wouldn’t mind loaning her his phone for two minutes.
He disconnected the call and tucked the phone inside his jacket. “They’re sending someone over, so we need to stay put.” He gestured toward a stone bench a few feet away. “Let’s sit a spell.” He was once again her guy from Texas.
“Sounds good.” She wouldn’t mind sitting down. She felt a little shaky. “I’m afraid I’ve ruined your plans for this morning.”
“No, ma’am, you certainly haven’t.” He waited until she sat down before joining her on the bench. “You’re the one with ruined plans. When did you get here?”
He swore softly under his breath. “I figured that might be the situation when I saw you eyeballing Notre Dame as if you’d never seen it before.”
“I hadn’t, except in pictures.” Then she realized the significance of his statement. He’d noticed her before the mugging. “Did I stick out that much?”
He smiled. “Let’s just say I pegged you as an American.”
“How?” She liked the way he’d managed to smile without appearing to patronize her. And he had a great smile, one that made the corners of his eyes crinkle just enough to add character. As the shock of being mugged wore off, she registered the fact that her rescuer was drop-dead gorgeous.
“White gym shoes, for one thing. French women don’t usually wear gym shoes unless they’re working up a sweat. But the whole getup—the jeans, the hoodie, the backpack—told me you were from the States, probably a new arrival.”
She grimaced. “I’ll bet the muggers figured that out, too.”
“They might have.” He held out his hand. “I’m Drew Eldridge, by the way.”
Eldridge. She’d heard that name, and she thought it might have been from Astrid, whose family was rich. Did that mean her Texan was wearing a real Rolex? His handshake was warm, firm, and gave her goose bumps. She was really sorry when the handshake was over. “I’m Melanie Shaw.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Melanie. I wish it had been under different circumstances.”
“Me, too.” If he was related to the Eldridge family Astrid knew, Melanie wouldn’t have been likely to meet him under any circumstances, unless she was with Astrid, who moved in those circles. “Are you from Dallas?”
“Then you might know a friend of mine, Astrid Lindberg.”
“Astrid Lindberg?” He chuckled. “I haven’t seen her in a coon’s age. We were at the same equestrian camp one summer, although she was with the younger kids. Some old horse tried to run off with her and I was handy. I was worried she’d swear off riding, but she didn’t.”
“She sure didn’t.” Melanie noticed that although Drew had come to Astrid’s rescue, he downplayed his role by saying he was handy. “She’s a large-animal vet now.”
“Is she? That’s great.”
“So are you here on business?” Melanie imagined multinational deals involving millions. From what she could recall, the Eldridge family was loaded.
“Some business. Some pleasure.”
“Ah.” So the multinational deal-making was followed by glittering parties and sophisticated French women who never wore gym shoes with their regular clothes. Yet he’d interrupted all that to help a stranger from home. “Listen, I really appreciate all you’ve done. I’m sure I’ve screwed up your morning, and you’re too polite to say so.”
“Nope. It’s a sunny day and I’d decided to—” A soft chime interrupted whatever he’d been about to say. “Excuse me.” Taking out his phone, he glanced at the readout. “I should take this.” He stood and walked a few feet away.
Hanging out with such a good-looking guy was a heady experience that kept her adrenaline pumping, so she was relieved for a few moments alone to gather her thoughts. If not for her friendship with Astrid, she might have been intimidated by someone like Drew Eldridge. As it was, she was simply grateful. And a little turned on, which served as a great antidote to worrying about losing her stuff.
Having Drew show up was a stroke of luck. Someone with his wealth would have an international calling plan. If she didn’t pay him back until she got home, he probably wouldn’t care. Once he was off the phone, she would ask to make a call. Val had a key to her apartment and could retrieve her credit card information.
The police arrived right after Drew ended his call, so she didn’t have a chance to borrow the phone. Thank God Drew was there to guide her through the process, though. After the officers left, she glanced up at him. “Do you think they’ll recover my backpack?”
“There’s always a chance.”
“But not a very good one, right?”
“I won’t lie to you, Melanie. They may find your backpack, although I figure it’s in a Dumpster by now. But the contents . . .” He shrugged. “Not likely.”
“Speaking of those contents, could I please borrow your phone to call my friend Valerie back home? She can access my credit card info so I can cancel my cards.”
“Yes, ma’am, you sure can. Tell you what. I’ll give you a lift to your hotel so you can doctor those hands. You can call your friend on the way there.”
“You have a car?”
Silly of her to think he’d be on foot, like she was. “You know, that’s a lovely offer, but my hotel isn’t very far away.” That wasn’t quite true. She’d walked at least ten blocks to get here. “I’ll just borrow your phone for a minute. I’ve taken up too much of your valuable time already.”
“Sorry. But my mama raised me better than that. You’ve suffered a shock, and I intend to see you safely back to your hotel.”
Oh, wow. He not only looked like a god, he knew the right things to say that would make a girl melt into a puddle. She’d be a fool to resist a display of gentlemanly manners by a heroic figure like Drew, especially when she’d just been mugged by two guys from the shallow end of the gene pool. “Thank you. That would be wonderful. Where are you parked?”
“In a garage.” He pulled out his phone, punched a speed dial number, and said something in French. Then he tucked the phone away again. “Henri’s on his way.”
“Oh.” Of course he’d have a driver on call. She’d have to remember all the details of this adventure to tell Astrid and Val over drinks next week. “Are you here for long?”
“Two weeks. How about you?”
“That’s all? Five days will go by like lightning.”
“I know, but this was supposed to be a girls’ trip with my two friends, and that’s all the time we felt we could manage for now.”
“And they didn’t come, after all.”
He studied her. “I admire your gumption, Melanie Shaw.”
She basked in the warmth of that gaze. She even imagined that she saw interest there, but she didn’t know him well enough to tell for sure. He might give everyone that same warm glance.
In truth, she did feel proud of herself, even if she had managed to get her backpack stolen within two hours of landing. “Thank you.”
“And there’s Henri.” Drew gestured toward a black Mercedes sedan that had pulled up to the curb. Immediately a uniformed driver hopped out and opened the back door.
“Where was he, around the corner?”
“More or less. Hop in.”
She slid onto the soft leather and wondered if Henri had ever chauffeured a woman wearing white gym shoes. Probably not. She buckled her seat belt.
Drew climbed in beside her and Henri closed the door. Inside the car, Melanie became more aware of the scent of Drew’s aftershave. She didn’t recognize the spicy aroma, but then again, she didn’t hang out with rich guys. Plus he might have bought it here.
Drew glanced at her. “Where to?”
She gave him the name of the hotel.
“Never heard of it, but Henri probably knows.” He leaned forward and spoke to his driver in French. The chauffeur nodded, and Drew settled back against the seat. “He’ll get us there.” Reaching inside his jacket, he took out his phone and handed it to her before buckling his seat belt.
“Thank you.” She dialed Val’s cell and got her voice mail. Damn it. She didn’t want to leave a message that would worry Val. So she left a cheery greeting saying that she’d arrived and was having a great time. Then she disconnected and sighed.
“I’ll be happy to go online and look up the number for the credit card company if you want to go that route. They should be able to wire you some money to tide you over, too.”
“Oh.” She blinked. “Right. I’ll need money until the new card gets here. I must be jet-lagged, because I didn’t think of going online for the number. If you’ll look it up, that would be awesome.”
The Mercedes drew alongside the curb in front of her hotel and Drew peered out the window. “Is this the place?”
“Yes. If you wouldn’t mind getting that number for me, I’ll make the call and then you can be on your way.”
He glanced over at her. “Melanie, you can’t stay here.”
“It’ll be fine. I gave them my credit card number earlier, and although that card will be canceled, I can probably get a new one by the time I check out.”
“I wasn’t thinking about that. I don’t like the looks of this place.” He studied the hotel again before turning his blue gaze on her. “You need to stay somewhere else.”
Her chin lifted. “This is what I can afford. Besides, I don’t have a new credit card yet, so I can’t book a different hotel. I have to stay here.”
“Have you inspected the room?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. I can deal with whatever. It won’t be the first lumpy mattress I’ve slept on.”
“What about bedbugs?”
“You think they have bedbugs?” Those grossed her out. For some reason she hadn’t anticipated bedbugs in the City of Light.
“I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“If they do, I’ll demand a different room. As I said, this place fits my budget.”
“I understand that, but there’s a better solution.”
“My town house.”
She stared at him, blindsided by the suggestion. “But . . . I thought you were in a hotel.”
“Nope. I have a house here with several bedrooms, and you’re welcome to one of them.”
Her pulse kicked up. “My goodness, that’s way too much of a favor.” And she wondered if he wanted something in return. Thinking of what that might be made her pulse race even faster.
“Not the way I see it. You need a room and I have one available.” He met her gaze. “And to clarify, this is not an indecent proposal.”
Dear God, could he read her mind? Heat rose in her cheeks. “I know it’s not.”
“Do you? Because you were looking sort of wary.”
“I didn’t mean to.” She had to get a grip. This was a guy who didn’t have to drag women in off the street. She flattered herself if she thought he was interested in her. “I just don’t think it’s right for me to accept your generous hospitality.”
“It’s not all that generous. The rooms are sitting there empty. Maybe you’ll use a little water and electricity, but that’s it. No big deal.”
She glanced over at the hotel with its peeling paint and dirty windows. She shouldn’t accept his offer, but damn, she wanted to. He might be a stranger, but he didn’t feel like one. First chance she got, though, she’d call Astrid and confirm what Melanie felt in her gut, that Drew could be trusted.
Growing up on a ranch with salt-of-the-earth parents, Melanie had been taught not to take advantage of people, but she’d also been told never to look a gift horse in the mouth. This was a gift horse if she’d ever seen one.
She took a deep breath. “All right. And thank you.”
“You’re more than welcome.” The tension eased from Drew’s shoulders. He couldn’t leave her here, but he couldn’t exactly kidnap her to keep her out of that fleabag hotel, either.
She had no idea how vulnerable she looked with her big gray eyes and freckle-faced innocence. In her red sweatshirt, with any makeup worn off during the flight, she seemed like a teenager, even though he guessed her age to be mid-twenties. No wonder the bastards had targeted her. He had the urge to wrap her in his arms, stroke her glossy brown hair, and protect her from every danger, both real and imagined.
But any woman who’d climbed on a plane by herself for her first trip to Paris wouldn’t appreciate an overprotective attitude. He’d keep that in mind. Somehow he had to watch out for her in a way that wouldn’t get her back up.
“I’ll fetch my suitcase.” She reached for the door handle.
“Might as well let Henri get it.” He deliberately made it sound like a casual suggestion.
“But I can do it. Oh, wait.” She looked over her shoulder at him. “My claim check was in my backpack.”
“Then why not let Henri handle it? He’s good at these things.”
She opened her mouth to argue, and then closed it again. “Okay.”
Drew leaned forward and spoke to his chauffeur in French. He hoped Melanie didn’t understand the language well enough to know that he’d told Henri to bribe the desk clerk if there was any question about the missing claim check. Because Melanie had yet to utter a word in French, Drew thought he was safe on that score.
The chauffeur exited the car and headed toward the hotel lobby with the brisk stride of a man who would not be denied. Drew smiled. Henri lived for this kind of drama.
“He probably will have better luck than I would.” Melanie watched Henri walk into the hotel. “He looks very official.”
“Don’t think he doesn’t realize that. He plays it to the hilt.” He pulled out his cell. “What’s your credit card company?” When she gave him the name, he looked up the international contact number and keyed it in before handing her the phone.
“Thank you.” She settled back in her seat and put the phone to her ear. Moments into the conversation, her body visibly relaxed and her tone was no longer anxious.
He enjoyed watching the transformation and was glad he could be part of putting her dream vacation back on track. From that first glimpse of her in front of Notre Dame, he’d instinctively known how much this trip meant to her. Unlike most of the women in his circle, she’d had to scrimp and save to get over here. He’d never had to scrimp in his life, and he was fascinated by how much that raised the stakes for her.
Her resilience in the face of potential disaster impressed him, too. She had character, and he responded to that almost as much as he responded to her curvy figure and full pink mouth. He wanted her, but he’d meant what he’d said. Inviting her to his town house wasn’t a proposition.
Still holding the phone, she glanced over at him. “I don’t know the address,” she said to the representative, “but I have someone here who can give it to you.” She gave Drew the phone. “They need an address for shipping the new credit card.”
“You bet.” He provided the necessary information and handed the phone back so she could complete the call, which didn’t take long.
After disconnecting, she returned the phone. “Thank you. They’re wiring money to a Western Union office near your town house.” She sighed happily. “I feel so much better.”
“So where is your town house? I don’t recognize street names yet.”
“It’s on the Île de la Cité, about three blocks from Notre Dame.”
Her eyes widened. “Wow. Prime real estate.”
“I like being in the heart of the city.” He’d paid a ridiculous amount of money for the place, but he was buying a piece of history, and that usually cost more.
“So you weren’t far from home when you saw me this morning.”
“No. I had tickets for the Louvre, so I’d decided to walk down there for the exercise and get my fine art fix.”
“The Louvre.” Her expression grew dreamy. “I can hardly wait to see it.”
“Maybe we could go later. I—” His phone chimed again. “Excuse me.” He checked the readout. Not critical. They could leave a voice mail.
“I’m sure you’re busy.”
“Everyone’s busy these days.” Especially him. As the only son of Stephen Eldridge, he’d felt obligated to succeed, and in a big way, too. He hadn’t wanted to ride on his father’s coattails. At thirty-two, he was a billionaire in his own right. He’d gotten there by taking risks, and for the most part, they’d paid off handsomely. But wealth without social responsibility was, in his estimation, immoral. So he’d devoted himself to several causes.
The one currently in the works was especially dear to his heart—aid to orphans in war-torn areas of the world. Although he’d been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he well knew many children hadn’t been so lucky. So he was working on organizing a dinner featuring many A-list performers, which would bring in a hefty amount if all the stars arrived.
But Drew had learned that working with famous people meant dealing with a few flakes. His staff could put the event together, but only his personal attention would get the famous faces he needed to actually show up.
Yet he was glad to do it . . . most of the time. This morning, though, he longed to give his attention to a certain tourist from Dallas. He hadn’t been a superhero and successfully recovered her backpack, but he had the resources to make up for her crummy introduction to the city and he intended to use them.
After listening to his voice mail, he texted a reply. By that time, Henri was back with Melanie’s plain black rolling bag. Her presence in his town house was closer to becoming a reality, and that stirred his blood.
He liked the fact that she’d resisted his invitation to stay there. Despite knowing that he was a member of the wealthy Eldridge family and that he’d met her friend Astrid, she hadn’t leaped at the opportunity to stay under his roof. He’d known several women who, given similar circumstances, would have moved heaven and earth for such an invitation.
A man in his position couldn’t afford to be naïve. Gold diggers were real and they circled him constantly. Melanie, however, didn’t seem to give a damn. She might even consider it a point of honor not to care whether he was King Midas.
With a loud thump that jiggled the car, Henri loaded the suitcase in the trunk.
Drew looked over at Melanie. “What do you have in there, rocks?”
She laughed. “Almost as bad. Books. I’ve been collecting books on Paris ever since my friends and I booked the trip. I brought them all. When I packed, I had to sacrifice clothes for books, so I don’t have a lot with me.” She stuck out her foot. “These are my only shoes.”
“Yes, but as you pointed out, they label me. I don’t look French.”
“Do you want to?” He thought she looked perfectly fine as she was.
She seemed to consider that. “I guess not.”
He liked that answer. In his mind, people should be who they were instead of pretending to be someone they weren’t.
Henri climbed into the driver’s seat. “C’est bien?”
Belatedly Drew remembered her scraped hands. “Do you want the Neosporin out of your suitcase before we take off?”
“That’s okay. My hands don’t sting anymore. I can get it later.”
“Then we’re off.” Drew nodded to his driver. As the car pulled away from the curb, he blew out a breath. Mission accomplished. He’d succeeded in scooping up his lady fair and carrying her out of harm’s way. Of course, part of him realized that Melanie would have probably spent her nights at that hotel without encountering a problem. But Drew wasn’t dealing in logic right now.
His need to get her away from that depressing hotel with its peeling paint and cracked cement steps had been a visceral thing not to be explained. She was alone in the city, and he’d appointed himself as her watchdog. He had the urge to surround her with a fence labeled KEEP OFF. An electrified fence would be even better.
“What’s your town house like?”
He turned toward her. “Old.”
Her forehead wrinkled. “How old?”
“Old enough that the first residents used chamber pots. I have a collection of them.”
“Oh! Is that what you use?”
How refreshing that she’d come right out and asked. “No. The place has all the modern conveniences now. The last owner even installed an elevator, but I like taking the stairs.”
“And walking to the Louvre. That’s why you almost caught those muggers.”
“I would have, too, except for a busload of kids. They piled out right in front of me and I had to put on the brakes or I’d have run them down. By the time I worked my way through them, the muggers had disappeared.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted you to run over any little children to get my backpack.” She’d leaned her head against the seat.
“I wouldn’t have.”
“No.” She covered a yawn with her hand. “You’re a nice guy.” Her eyelids drifted down.
“Mm.” Some of his business associates might not agree with her. If he’d caught the muggers, they wouldn’t have thought so, either.
The steady sound of her breathing told him she was asleep. He could hardly blame her. She’d been on a plane all night long, and then she’d been assaulted. The good news was that she must feel safe with him or she never would have dropped off so easily. Apparently she trusted him.
And she had every reason to. He had no intention of taking advantage of this situation. But he had to admit she was damned appealing. And sexy in a subtle way that really got to him. He’d felt a connection from the moment he’d seen her standing in front of Notre Dame. And it wasn’t just because she was Texan. What he really noticed was that her face had reflected the same awe that had struck him when he’d first seen the cathedral twenty-five years ago.
From a distance, he’d sensed a kindred spirit. When he’d drawn closer, he’d been captured by a primitive tug of sexuality. Her snug jeans and red sweatshirt outlined the body of a flesh-and-blood Venus de Milo. Just as he decided to strike up a conversation, she’d been attacked.
He hated that, but considering how much closer it had brought the two of them, he couldn’t hate it too much. He would have spared her the trauma if he could have, but now . . . well, he’d have to see how things turned out.
Henri drove more sedately than usual, as if he didn’t want to jostle his sleeping passenger. Consequently she was still sleeping when the Mercedes stopped in front of Drew’s town house.
Speaking in a low voice, Drew instructed Henri to open Melanie’s door before getting the suitcase out of the trunk. The click of the door opening didn’t rouse her. When Drew walked around the car and crouched down to shake her awake, she murmured something he couldn’t understand and sleepily wrapped her arms around his neck. Apparently he’d be carrying her inside.
If he hadn’t felt like the great protector before, this maneuver would have done the trick. As he lifted her into his arms, he breathed in peppermint and wondered if she had a roll of them in her sweatshirt pocket. But under that scent he detected a sweet, womanly aroma that sent an urgent signal to his groin.
Cradling her soft body with one arm under her shoulders and the other behind her knees, he started up the walkway. She sighed and snuggled closer. Dear God, he was getting an erection. Not cool. Fortunately her cute little fanny covered his crotch, but that was part of the problem. Every step caused more friction between her bottom and his cock.
Henri had beaten him to the door with the suitcase. He opened it and stood back so Drew could turn sideways and ease through the doorway without bumping either Melanie’s head or her feet. Once inside, he glanced at the staircase. Not happening. Not three flights.
Smiling, Henri walked over to the elevator and pushed the button. Drew stepped inside and vowed he wouldn’t make fun of the contraption ever again. Initially he’d scoffed at the idea of an elevator for a three-story building, but then he’d never imagined hauling a sleeping woman up those stairs, either.
Moving with the silent grace of a cat burglar, Henri entered the elevator behind him and brought the suitcase along, too. Drew decided that Henri needed a raise. The driver had the rare quality of anticipating correctly what his employer needed.
The gilded elevator was beautiful but slow. Considering the circumstances, Drew appreciated the easy ascent. Now that they’d made it this far, he’d like to deposit Melanie on a bed without waking her. She’d probably be embarrassed as hell to find herself in his arms. Besides that, if she insisted on getting down, his arousal wouldn’t be a secret anymore.
When they left the elevator, Henri turned to Drew. “Bleu?” he said softly.
“Oui.” Drew had decided on the way up to put Melanie in the Blue Room. Other than his own bedroom, he liked the Blue Room the best. The other two on this floor were nice—one in shades of gold and the other decorated in green—but the blue was prettier.
In the five years he’d owned this place, he’d mostly entertained business associates here. Whenever he’d given them a choice, they picked the Blue Room. He’d brought one girlfriend here, thinking she’d enjoy Paris. He’d been wrong and she’d been miserable.
He couldn’t understand why anybody wouldn’t love this ancient city with its centuries-old buildings and the Seine winding past all that historic architecture. Sure, the native language wasn’t English, but he liked the sound of French in his ears. Of course, it helped that he’d learnd to speak it so easily at school. Maybe he’d been Parisian in another life.
Henri opened the door to the Blue Room and stepped back.
Drew glanced down to check whether Melanie was still asleep. Yep, out like a light. He edged through the doorway with the same care he’d used getting into the house and the elevator. Bonking her head at this stage would be criminal.
The Blue Room was at the front of the house with a view to the street, whereas his was at the back with a view of a small formal garden and courtyard below. That put Melanie all the way down the hall from him. The bulge in his jeans told him that was a very good idea.
The canopy bed held center stage and was draped with blue brocade trimmed with gold fringe and tassels. Matching curtains hung at the window. The antique furniture—an armoire, a writing desk, and an upholstered chair—could have come straight from Versailles. It hadn’t, but it had been purchased from an estate nearby.
Drew leaned over and laid Melanie on the brocade bedspread. Her eyelids didn’t even flicker. She was down for the count.
He stayed by her bedside, his back to Henri, and willed his erection to subside. He didn’t dare look at her lush mouth or he’d be tempted to kiss her, like some prince in a fairy tale. Except the kiss he had in mind didn’t belong in a kid’s storybook.
When he imagined kissing Melanie, it wasn’t some chaste brush of lips. Tongues would be involved, and heavy breathing, and unfastening of clothing, and . . . this wasn’t helping his condition at all. Taking a deep breath, he glanced across the room at a painting of fruit and flowers.
Technically, a still life created by some artist he couldn’t remember should have calmed him. Instead he pictured Melanie opening her petals to him and himself as the banana in the fruit bowl.
Behind him, Henri unzipped Melanie’s suitcase and began quietly putting her clothes in the armoire. The slide of drawers was the loudest sound in the room, but it wasn’t enough to wake the sleeping beauty. Drew couldn’t stand beside the bed too much longer without looking like an idiot. He decided to take off her shoes. Nobody should sleep in their shoes.
She’d double-knotted them, and he struggled with the laces. That was good, though, because concentrating on her shoelaces took his mind off sex, and he was in much better shape by the time he eased one shoe from her foot. As he fiddled with the second shoe, she woke up.
She wasn’t slow about it, either. She sat straight up and glared at him. “What are you doing?”
He almost laughed, because her angry question was in sharp contrast to the gentle cuddle she’d given him while she was asleep. He stepped away from the bed. “I was taking off your shoes so you could be more comfortable.”
She frowned and surveyed her surroundings. “Oh. Now I remember.” Her gaze softened. “I didn’t mean to be rude. I forgot where I was.”
“You fell asleep in the car, so I carried you up here.”
“You did?” Her cheeks turned pink. “That’s embarrassing.”
“You were exhausted.”
“Yeah. Guess so. Still, I feel bad for conking out on you. I must have been heavy.”
“Did you climb the stairs?”
He smiled. “Elevator.”
Henri cleared his throat. “C’est tout?”
Drew glanced over his shoulder. “Yes, that’s all for now, Henri. Merci.”
Henri nodded and left.
“This is nice.” Melanie glanced around the room. “Very nice. Thank you.”
“There’s a bathroom through that door.” Drew gestured toward it. “I’ll leave you alone so you can get some rest.” He hesitated. “Or are you hungry? I could have some food sent up.”
“No, I’m not hungry. They fed us constantly on the plane.”
“Then all you really need is sleep.” He backed toward the door.
Her gaze found his, and she looked uncertain. “Where will you be?”
His heart squeezed. In her dazed condition, he’d become her lifeline and she didn’t want him to leave. “Just downstairs. I have an office on the first floor. It’s not hard to find.”
“If you need anything, come and find me.”
He forced himself to walk out of the room and close the door behind him. But he felt as if he should be in there, holding her while she fell asleep again. How crazy was that?
After Drew left, Melanie eased off the bed and prowled around the room. What a room it was, too. She fingered the thick fabric draping the bed. Marie Antoinette would have been thrilled with something like this.
The floor was hardwood and the blue-patterned carpets looked like vintage Aubusson. Once again, if she hadn’t known Astrid, such things would have been lost on her. She should take a picture of this room to show her friends.
Then she remembered. She couldn’t take a picture of anything because she didn’t have a phone. She also hadn’t called Astrid to get the lowdown on Drew. Besides that, she should notify someone back home that she was not at the hotel she’d booked. If she called Astrid, that would accomplish everything at once. Astrid could attest to Drew’s character and also spread the word that Melanie’s plans had changed.
Much as she longed to climb under the covers in that beautiful canopy bed, she couldn’t do it until she’d borrowed Drew’s phone and made that call. She smiled as she imagined Astrid’s reaction to the news that she was in a historic town house within walking distance of Notre Dame, and the house belonged to none other than Drew Eldridge, who’d rescued her from a runaway horse.
But no matter how lovely the accommodations were, Melanie didn’t intend to sponge off Drew for the next five days. Once she had a credit card, she’d move out of Drew’s town house and then treat him to a nice meal as a gesture of gratitude.
Then she remembered her clothing situation. Drew’s idea of a nice meal would undoubtedly involve dressing up, and she hadn’t planned for that. She’d expected to explore Paris on her own, and elegant restaurants hadn’t figured into her wardrobe choices.
What People are Saying About This
PRAISE FOR THE PERFECT MAN NOVELLAS
“A very fun read….Ms. Thompson’s fans will be pleased, and anyone who is a true fan of contemporary romance fiction will also find it an entertaining piece.”—Book Binge
“Short and sweet and everything I hope for when reading a contemporary romance…this book was like a dessert at the end of a meal. It was quick, light, and fluffy, and the perfectly sweet end to a day.”—Ramblings from This Chick
“Cute, quick, and romantic….Everything was described beautifully. I loved the author’s writing style…a must read.”—Jackie’s Book World
“[The chemistry] is off the charts....I have always enjoyed Ms. Thompson’s writing and storytelling, and this is one of her best.”—Fresh Fiction
“Sweet and light and, above all, charming.”—BookCrack
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Three great, fun and simple romance short stories. This is the first book I've read from this author and it won't be my last. Melanie, Astrid and Valerie were sorority sisters and became best friends. Even years after graduation they continue to discuss their favorite topic: The Perfect Man Melanie goes on the adventure of her life only to be mugged almost the minute she gets to Paris. Drew Eldridge a dashing billionaire from all places Texas comes to her rescue. Astrid comes from a family with a great amount of money and is expected to marry well. Fletcher Greyson is a simple horse breeder but Astrid can't seem it keep her hand off him. He's everything she's been looking for in a man but can they except each other's differences? Valerie suffers from PTSD after a terrifying accident and has sworn off to risk of love again. After an embarrassing incident at the Golden Spurs & Stetson a local bar valerie runs from the building only to fall in to the arms of billionaire Adam Templeton. Who's best friend is Will Bryan a famous PTSD therapist. Will she be able to accept Adam's help. I enjoyed all of the stories but I love Astrid and Fletcher's story the most.
When most people think of Vicki Lewis Thompson, werewolves come to mind, not necessarily cowboys. Vicki Lewis Thompson brings readers three stories about three different women who end up the cowboys of their dreams. The Perfect Man tells the story of Melanie, Astrid, and Valerie and what each of them is looking for in the perfect man. Readers who are looking for something different from this author, or just a good cowboy romance, this is the perfect book. What I liked: Each of the three stories in this anthology have been previously released from Vicki Lewis Thompson, but having them all together in one book, was a very smart idea. All three women are friends and former sorority sisters, giving them a link to each other and intertwining all of the stories. What do you think makes up the qualities of the perfect man? This is the theme that Thompson is working with here and for these three woman, the answer is a cowboy. At first I wasn't sure there would be enough realism in these stories for me. Then I thought about it. There are of course billionaire cowboys out there and they do eventually find love. How do they do it? It certainly could have happened any of the three ways that Thompson describes in her book. So, with that decided in my mind I loved all three of these stories. One Night With a Billionaire Melanie's story was interesting to me for several reasons. First she goes on a trip to Paris by herself, when both of her friends back out. I love traveling and seeing new places and that struck a cord with me on this one. Who doesn't want to meet the man of her dreams in the city of love? Drew was a great character, charismatic and all cowboy. This was a great story. Tempted by a Cowboy Astrid is the wealthy cowgirl in this story. Her veterinary practice brings her into contact with a local rancher and it's on from there. The connection between these two was more than just good chemistry. There love for animals was also very important to the story. Letting Fletcher in on the fact that she was rich was the obstacle here. This was my least favorite of the stories, but it was still good. Safe in his Arms Valerie's story was probably the most realistic in my mind. Valerie suffers from PTSD following an accident where she was almost trampled during a concert. She meets the man of her dreams while undergoing Equine Therapy to help her manage her panic attacks. I loved the PTSD angle and thought Thompson did a great job of using humor as well as levity in this story. What I didn't like: Since these are all three short stories I run into the same obstacle that I generally have with these. I wanted more time with the characters, a chance to get to know them better. There was just a bit too much love at first sight or almost love at first sight due to the constraints of the form. I will say that I like anthologies and collections that are all from the same author, and this is a good one. Bottom Line: Three great cowboy short romances. The Perfect Man is great for those who like their romance quick and easy. Each story had it's own plot line, but all three were tied together with the thread of friendship. If you are looking for something outside the paranormal from this author, this is a very good choice.
Since this book was really 3 stories in one, I feel I should do each lady justice by reviewing them separately and then together as a whole. So... here goes :) Story 1 - Melanie and the Texas Billionaire This was my favorite pairing :) Only because I loved Melanie and Andre. Their romance was so unlikely and yet... so perfect. They meet in Paris, fall in love... it's beautiful! And what I loved the most about them? The fact that they showed one another a side of life that they didn't know existed. Together, they were alive. That's the kind of romance everyone dreams of having. Story 2 - Astrid and the Rancher It was fun to watch Astrid and Fletcher's relationship develop. It was even more awesome that a once rich, spoiled brat would find solace and a deep passion in an animal lover like Fletcher. This was one of those rich girls likes the not so rich guy, people (parents included) don't approve, which adds extra stress to the situation scenarios. But it worked well. Especially with Astrid and Fletcher following their hearts instead of listening to anyone else. So sweet! And the fact that they both love animals... bonus cuteness! Story 3 - Valerie and the Cowboy Their story made me laugh. Several times. Mostly because of Valerie's situation that brings her to Adam and his ranch to begin with. Her need for equine therapy is warranted, but when it puts her in the sights of Adam, a little bit of hilarity is in order. They are so cute together. And although she fights the urge, he gives her everything she needs to finally listen to her heart. It's so sweet and exudes charm. The Whole Story As a whole, this book was absolutely wonderful. It could bring any cynic to feel, and is chocked full of emotion and romance. The idea of the story is brilliant, and the settings for each of the women are gorgeous and charming. All of the characters are very well developed, and their love stories are... dare I say it? Perfect.