Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sneak Peek: Chapter 9 of Derailed

Release day is almost here! Derailed will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble on October 9, 2013. If you own a Kobo, the book is available for pre-order now! And don't forget to add it to your to-read shelf on Goodreads.

Missed the previous installments? You can find them here: cover reveal and book description, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8.

Chapter 9

Laughter and music drifted on the mild, perfumed air, and Uncle Georges’s house was magical in the twilight. It was a beautiful, perfect reception. Melinda and Benoit were so blissed out Lou was surprised they were still conscious. Home seemed a million miles away, as if Lou were in another world where her problems didn’t exist. Everything was like a dream, the champagne crisper, the food far more delicious.
Never before had she seen such food. The way everything had been laid out was like a painting, an edible work of art. Some of it Lou wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. In her opinion fish should most decidedly not still have its head on when it was about to be consumed, and snails were something no human being was ever meant to ingest. But the cheese was unreal, the bread so amazing Lou would have been content to eat nothing but bread for the rest of her trip. She’d had no idea it was possible to love carbs with such an all-consuming passion, and she thought with a pang of how much she’d miss French bread and pastry when she was back in Michigan.
“Are you enjoying the evening?” Yves asked, joining her as she stood admiring the lavender fields.
“I am. And you?”
“Very much so. I’d say the party is a smashing success.” He smiled as he looked at Melinda and Benoit.
“It is.” Lou followed Yves’s gaze, smiling as she watched her friend and her new husband feeding each other some of the decadent cake the local pastry shop had delivered.
“Are you spending more time in Provence?”
“Just tonight. Tomorrow morning I’m heading to Paris with Blaine and Julia.”
“I’m going to Paris as well, to visit my mother.”
“Didn’t Ben say his mother and yours grew up together? Has she lived in Paris long?”
“She moved there when I went to university. I grew up in Normandy.”
“That sounds so glamorous,” Lou said, sipping her champagne. “Paris, Normandy, now you work in London…”
“I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? None of that strikes me as particularly glamorous, unlike your living in Michigan.” He took a drink of his champagne as well, watching her over the rim of the glass.
“Please,” Lou said, making a face at him. “You probably only know where Michigan is because Ben’s a native.”
“Perhaps, but you can’t dispute what I said about perspective. Take what you see around here. This all strikes me as rather commonplace, while I know you think it’s strange. When I’m in America, things there seem strange to me.”
“I guess you’re right,” she said, giving it some consideration. “You want to know one surefire way of giving away the fact that you’re European?”
“Do tell.”
“You say ‘America’. I’ve never heard an American refer to their homeland like that. We say ‘the U.S.’ or ‘the United States’.”
A thoughtful expression crossed his face. “I do believe you’re right. That is an interesting insight. In return, I’ll tell you something Europeans use to spot American tourists.”
“Oh, this ought to be good.”
“It’s the white trainers. Americans always wear them when they come to Europe.”
“You know, the shoes,” he said, pointing at his feet.
“Trainers! Is that what people in jolly old London call them?” she teased, laughing.
“Yes, because that’s what they are,” he said, leveling a condescending expression on her. She was familiar enough with him to know he was teasing too.
“We call them tennis shoes in Michigan.”
“Are they called something else in other parts of America?” He sounded surprised.
“See, that’s the problem with you Euros, you think all Americans fit into a certain box. The U.S. is huge. There are a lot of differences in accents and in the words we use, depending on where in the country you are. I won’t even get into regional cultural differences.”
“I’ve only visited America a few times,” he said. “I suppose I do still have a lot to learn.”
“Yeah, well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not exactly an expert on France.”
“I hadn’t noticed,” he said in a tone of utter sincerity.
“I cannot get over it, the way you do that. It’s just so weird. How can you tell when someone is serious or when they’re just kidding?”
“Have you lived in London for a long time?”
“Ten years now. I went to university in England and started working in London directly after graduation.”
“One of these days I’d like to see London. Hobnob with the queen, drink some tea, eat some scones, and all that.”
He shook his head. “How long are you staying in Paris?”
“Just a few days, then I head back.”
“A few days! Do you call that a holiday?”
“Um, yes. I’m spending a week in France. What would you call that?”
“I hardly know.” It was obvious he was perplexed.
“Well, I get two weeks of vacation time each year, not counting American holidays, so that’s half my vacation gone.”
“Two weeks a year! Is that all? I have six weeks each year, plus bank holidays.”
“What the hell are bank holidays?”
“More time spent away from work.” He grinned.
“Damn. So that’s why everyone here seems laid back. Are you staying in France for six weeks?”
“No, no. I’m to spend a week in Paris. I was thinking of going back to Normandy to visit some friends as well.”
“Pardon me for envying the hell out of you. The sad part is, even though I get two weeks a year, I don’t usually use all of my days.”
“You Americans are all mad,” he said, and this time Lou was pretty sure he wasn’t being dry, but that he meant what he said.
“Gee, thanks.”
“Sorry, that was rather rude. But how do you find the time to enjoy life if all you do is work?”
“Work is life for most of us.”
“Sounds unpleasant.”
“It depends on what you do,” Lou said. Suddenly, she was depressed. Work hadn’t been unpleasant for her, not by a long shot. However, now that she was unemployed, she couldn’t help but think of all the things she could have been doing had she not been working so much.
“Look at me, ruining your evening. No wonder you were so convinced I was a prat. I seem determined to prove to you that I am, don’t I?”
“No, it’s okay,” she said, trying to shake the feeling off. She forced herself to smile. “I love the word ‘prat’. I’m not sure if it’s the accent or what, but British slang seems so much cooler than American slang.”
“Must be because it’s so glamorous.”
“Now I know you’re mocking me.”
“You are a fast learner. I don’t suppose I could persuade you to dance, could I?”
The word ‘yes’ leapt to the tip of her tongue, but there was another part of her that felt nervous and sweaty at the idea. She decided to split the difference. “It’s possible you could.”
“Brilliant.” When he smiled at her like that, she couldn’t remember why she’d ever thought he was such a horrible person.
Taking her hand, Yves led her out to the dance floor. A slow song was playing, something in French, and Lou’s sense of unreality increased as Yves pulled her to him and they began dancing. She had no idea if he was as nervous as she was, but whatever the reason, it took them a moment to get into the rhythm, and his toes had to be as sore as hers, given that she’d had no trouble proving herself his equal in the foot trouncing department.
My mother would be so disappointed. Lou was overcome by a sudden memory of the hours upon hours of dance lessons through which she’d suffered as a kid. Dance was something that hadn’t interested her, but her mother had been determined to have a little ballerina in a pink tutu, so Lou had not been given the choice. From the age of three until the age of eleven she had half-assed her way through her dance classes, resenting her mother with every step she took. Before each class they would engage in a loud battle of the wills, until her father finally stepped in and announced that he had no further intention of paying for her lessons, putting an end to Lou’s dubious stint as a dancer. She had been grateful for his interference, even though she knew it had been done not in support of her, but because he was tired of listening to his wife and daughter scream at one another.
“I’m an appalling dancer,” Yves confessed, looking embarrassed.
“I’m not a ballroom champion myself. At any rate, you get points for courage. Most guys I know stay as far away from the dance floor as possible.”
“Not Dem.” He bobbed his head toward Dem, who seemed to be on a mission to qualify as the Webster’s definition of ‘dancing fool’.
“Dem’s a fun guy.”
“Are you two close?”
“No, we haven’t seen much of each other since Melinda and Ben moved.” She didn’t know how to interpret the look that crossed his face. The song ended, and his hand tightened on hers for a brief instant.
“I hope the injuries you sustained weren’t too grievous.”
Lou smiled. “I think I’ll survive.”
He opened his mouth to reply, but someone called to him in French, and Yves turned and gestured. Returning his gaze to Lou, the corners of his mouth curved down in regret. “I’m being called away. If you’d like to have coffee while you’re in Paris, you can call my mobile.”
“Sure,” Lou said, without having the least intention of calling him. As much as she was enjoying their conversation, she didn’t see the point. Soon he’d be back in London and she’d be back in the U.S., trying to deal with the mess that was now her life. Still, it was easier to agree than it was to tell him no. Tugging her phone from her purse, she opened her contacts, tapped on the keyboard, and handed the phone to him so he could add his number.
“’French Dude’?” he asked in a comic imitation of an American accent.
“I chose it just for you,” she said, her voice sugar-sweet.
“Americans,” he muttered. He typed the number in and handed the phone back to her.
“Americans,” she agreed.
“Enjoy the rest of your stay in France. It’s been nice meeting you.”
“It was nice to meet you too.” She meant that. It would be fun to think about in the years to come. Hell, she might even run into him again someday, when he came to visit Benoit and Melinda. She stuck her hand out and he took it, giving her the brief shake that she’d seen French people exchanging.
“And now we’ll say goodbye the French way. Repeat after me: au revoir.”
“Au revoir,” she repeated in what she thought was a passable imitation. He astonished her by leaning forward and doing the French cheek kissy thing. The delicious scent of his cologne enveloped her. His cheek was warm and ever so lightly stubbled as it touched hers, and her eyes fluttered closed for the briefest of seconds. His teeth flashed as he smiled at her, then he turned and was gone.