Authors: Hunter J. Keane
By: Hunter J. Keane
Camryn Ellis knows exactly what she wants in life- a career in fashion, a fling with a hot French man, and good times with friends. That's exactly why she's going to Paris for a semester to work for a famous designer.
But when she gets to Paris, life has other plans. She meets the enigmatic photographer, Evan Carter, and he is determined to seduce her into his shadowy world. Then Jace Wellington, the handsome and charming tennis player, sets his eyes on Camryn. She finds herself attracted to both men and distracted from everything else. When one man betrays her trust, she realizes that she has completely lost track of her heart's true desire.
Paris is the City of Light, but for Camryn it has become the place where her life took a dark turn. She finds a way to turn things around when she puts aside all the drama and focuses on chasing her dream. When she manages to find love despite the odds, she learns that dreams really can come true.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Copyright © 2014 by Hunter J. Keane
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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Summers in Chicago were amazing. Endless days of sunshine, cool breezes from the lake, and hot bodies on the beaches. It was only August, but it already felt like fall was creeping in on us. We needed to enjoy our last few days in the city.
That’s why all of us had agreed to meet for dinner and drinks. This was our last chance to gather as a group before we would be scattering across the globe.
“How many French guys do you plan to hook up with while you’re there?” Payton asked over our first glass of sangria.
“The hot ones,” I replied without need to think. If you couldn’t live a little on the wild side, what was the point of studying abroad in France?
“Be careful,” Olivia scolded. “Try not to get into too much trouble over there.”
“Yeah, you don’t want to deliver a French baby in nine months.” Payton nodded. “You’ll have to give him some French name, like Marco.”
“Marco? Really?” I gave her a sympathetic look. “It’s a good thing you are pretty.”
“Thank you,” Payton said, smiling broadly. “Speaking of insanely good looking people, where’s Taylor?”
It would’ve sounded like a compliment to most people, but since we had been friends with both of them for many years, we knew that Payton was really complimenting herself. She and Taylor were identical twins. They looked so similar that I still sometimes got them mixed up after a few drinks.
As if she heard us talking about her, Taylor entered the bar in a hurry. We all started clapping and cheering as she approached the table.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m here.” She faked a curtsey.
“You need to work on that. I’m pretty sure the Queen will have you run out of town with a sloppy curtsey like that.” I said, tossing my dark hair over my shoulder.
“I’m not worried about meeting the Queen,” Taylor said, pulling out the only empty chair at the table. “Where’s my drink?”
“Sangria.” Payton passed a drink to her with a smile. “To prepare us for our reunion in Spain.”
“We haven’t even left yet,” Taylor reminded her twin. She held up her glass, toasting all of us.
In addition to Taylor and Payton, we were joined by Scottie and Olivia. The five of us had been friends since we were in Miss Cleary’s first grade class. We had scattered a bit for college, but we still saw each other as frequently as possible. For the last three months, we had been inseparable.
Payton and Taylor attended college in the city with Olivia. Scottie had taken an internship for the summer and was staying with Olivia.
Meanwhile, I had been couch surfing with various friends all summer. Staying in one place for too long bored me and I was always looking for my next adventure. Hence, France.
But our time together was about to end.
“I can’t believe we will all be gone in less than a week.” Scottie was our quiet friend. She preferred to listen to our troubles rather than share her own. “You have to promise to email every day.”
“No way!” I slammed down my empty glass. “I will be too busy hitting on French guys and eating crepes.”
“And going to class? And immersing yourself into French culture? And practicing the language?” Payton asked, laughing when I stared at her blankly.
“This isn’t about education, Pay,” I said. “This is about finding a hot French guy to be the father of my babies.”
Everyone knew I was mostly just talk. I talked a big game, but I knew that once I got to Paris my confidence would fade. I hated being alone, not knowing anyone. My first months of college had been torture for me. I had taken a tennis scholarship at a school five hours from home where I hadn’t known a single person. In a few weeks, I had made a ton of friends, but those first few days had shaken my confidence.
Olivia had been abnormally quiet, but now she moaned. “I cannot believe that all of you are leaving me. This is so unfair.”
“We didn’t plan it, Livs. This just kind of happened,” Taylor said.
We all still felt a little guilty that we made plans to study or live abroad for the next four months while Olivia would be left behind in Chicago.
It was our last year of college and we were all growing restless, ready to see the world. Taylor was going to spend a semester studying in London and getting to know her family better. Payton was less inclined to spend time with family and she was going to spend her semester in Rome, learning the language and eating gelato. She also claimed to be registered for some classes, but we were unconvinced. Of the twins, she was the most likely to drop out of school to explore Europe.
I had gotten an internship with a designer in Paris. My mother had some connections, and I wasn’t ashamed to use them. I had been designing and making my own clothes since we were just kids.
Scottie, quiet and smart Scottie, had already graduated. Ever the studious girl, she had taken summer classes all throughout college to graduate early. Her reward was a trip to Ireland to stay with her father. Her parents had divorced when we were kids and now her father was remarrying an Irish woman. They were happily in love, and Scottie had reluctantly agreed to spend a few months with her new family.
That left poor Olivia alone in Chicago. She was focused on getting into law school and didn’t want to be distracted with fancy trips abroad. At least, that’s what she had said when we were all making plans. Now, it was obvious that she was beginning to regret her decision.
“I bought us something,” Olivia announced, plopping her oversized purse on the table.
“Us?” I frowned. “I prefer solo gifts.”
“Still haven’t learned to share, Cam?” Payton teased, helping herself to some of her sister’s sangria. Her own glass had been empty less than a minute.
Olivia pulled a book from her bag and set it on the table. “I got us a journal.”
“Why?” Taylor asked, speaking before thinking like always.
“So we can write to each other!” Olivia smiled proudly. “We’ll take turns. You write an entry, then mail it to the next person. When you all get back in December, we’ll have a complete account of everyone’s trips.”
“Nobody writes in journals anymore,” I said, eyeing it suspiciously. “Can’t we just email?”
Olivia shook her head. “That’s so impersonal. This is much more meaningful.”
“I think it’s a nice idea,” Scottie said, reaching for it. She flipped through the blank pages. “Emails just get buried in inboxes, but this is more permanent.”
“Also known as blackmail,” I said. “Do I really need my sins recorded for posterity?”
“Yes!” they all said with a laugh.
I threw my hands in the air. “Fine. Have it your way. But I guarantee you that you are going to regret this.”
“If you die with no regrets, then you lived a really boring life,” Payton declared.
The waitress had returned with an extra-large pitcher of sangria and after our glasses were appropriately refilled, Scottie demanded a toast.
“What are we cheersing to?” I asked, already slightly tipsy.
“To regrets,” said Payton.
“To hot foreign men!” I chirped.
Scottie added shyly, “To friends.”
“To another lame semester,” Olivia lamented.
Taylor cleared her throat and spoke louder than the others. “To us!”
Three glasses of sangria later, the girls cut me off and put me in a cab. It was probably for the best since I was catching a flight the next day and I still needed to pack.
I managed to stumble up the stairs to my friend Xander’s apartment and after quite a bit of fumbling, I got the door unlocked. He had been out of town for the last two weeks so I’d pretty much taken over the one-bedroom. On my way to the kitchen, my foot got hooked on a wayward bra and I nearly fell down.
My phone started ringing in one of my pockets and I finally managed to track it down.
My sister paused. “Camryn. Are you drunk?”
She knew me too well. “Just a little. I had some going away drinks with the girls.”
“Right.” She sounded confused. “I just wanted to make sure you don’t need anything before you leave.”
Jen was a sweet sister. She was always looking out for me, even now that we were both grown adults. Our mother traveled a lot for work, and with no father in the picture, she was pretty much the only person that ever cared about my well-being. I appreciated the concern, but it had been in overdrive lately.
A year earlier, Jen had moved in with her boyfriend, leaving me more or less on my own. I knew she felt guilty about that, but I wanted her to live her life. It was part of the reason I had decided to go so far away.
“I’m good, Jen. Just need to pack a few more things.”
I looked down guiltily at my empty suitcase. If Jen was here with me, she would have everything packed in less than fifteen minutes.
“Okay. I probably won’t speak to you before you leave tomorrow, but I wanted to tell you to have fun. Stay out of trouble. Learn something. And please, come back in one piece.”
“You worry too much, sister,” I said, smiling fondly.
“That’s my job.” She sounded resigned to that fact.
I wished she was there so I could give her a big hug. Instead, I said, “Stop talking to me and go kiss your man.”
“I love you, Cam.” She sounded like she was about to cry.
“I love you, too, Jen. I’ll call you when I get there.”
“Do me a favor?” Jen sounded even more quiet than usual.
“Have an amazing time.”
That was an easy enough request. “Consider it done.”
When people first met me, they assumed that I loved being the center of attention. I was the first one to admit that I was often loud and crass, oversharing and prying. But usually that was only because I was covering up for how awkward I felt. I would rather overshare than sit in awkward silence.
But that was a problem now that I was in a different country where I didn’t know the language.
For as long as I could remember, I had wanted to be a fashion designer. Buying clothes in a mall bored me, so I started making my own. For my tenth birthday, Mom gave me a sewing machine. In high school, I designed my friends’ prom dresses. So when my mother told me that one of her friends needed an intern in Paris for a few months, I jumped at the chance.
It wasn’t until after I accepted the position that I really started to think about what that would mean for me. Yes, it was an amazing opportunity. But it was also absolutely terrifying. By the time I landed in Paris, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I had flashes from the movie
running through my head.
But Paris turned out to not be quite as scary as that. I took a cab from the airport to the apartment I would be living in for the next few months. My mother was a famous stylist and had worked in the fashion industry for over two decades. It worked out well for me because she had connections all over the word. In addition to getting me a job, she had another friend that was on a safari in Africa for a few months and had generously agreed to rent me her place while she was gone.
With all of the stars aligned in my favor, I had to believe that everything was going to work out. It helped when I learned that the apartment I was renting was in one of the nicest parts of town. My cab driver spoke in heavily accented English as he commented on the neighborhood.
The apartment was just as nice as the neighborhood. It was only one bedroom, but that was all I needed. When I swung open the French doors and stepped onto the old, metal balcony, I was amazed to see the Eiffel Tower far in the distance.
My job started right away, before I even had a chance to get settled. Another stroke of luck meant that my office was in walking distance of my apartment, so at least I didn’t have to figure out public transportation immediately.
I woke up early for my first day of work and carefully chose my outfit. It hadn’t been hard to be the best dressed person in a room back in the Midwest, but I suspected that was about to change. Black seemed like a safe color, so I dressed in it from head to toe, accented only with a red scarf.
A three-story walk-up, the studio was a far cry from the high rise buildings in most cities. Evelyn Rose Fashions took up the entire loft space. I was overwhelmed by the amount of activity and noise that whirled around me. Models were walking around half-naked with assistants following them with stacks of straight pins. Other people sat at desks, talking on phones and typing furiously. In the midst of it all, racks of clothes created a maze-like obstacle course that everyone had to maneuver through just to cross the room.
I loved it.
“Models wait over there,” a woman said, pointing furiously as she ran past me.
“I’m not a model-”
She was already gone, vanished behind a rack of skirts.
My mother had been friends with Evelyn Rose for years, but I’d only met her once, five years earlier. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard an American voice call my name.
I turned around just in time to be rewarded with a kiss on each cheek from a beautiful, middle-age woman. Even having only met her one time, I would’ve been able to pick her out in a crowd. She was exactly the kind of woman my mother would be friends with- fashionable, classy, and fabulous.
“My goodness!” She held me at arm’s length. “You are beautiful, Camryn. You should be a model.”
“Mom said you were a sweet woman,” I said, bashfully ducking my head.
“That’s only because she’s a notorious liar!” Evelyn laughed loudly. “What do you think of Paris so far?”
“It’s very…French.” I wasn’t sure why I was suddenly struggling so hard with the English language. “I like it so far.”
Evelyn winked at me. “Wait until you experience the men.”
She laughed again. “Come on. I’ll show you around.”
It didn’t take long to get the full tour. Despite her four-inch heels, Evelyn walked very fast. In fifteen minutes, she had me folding and boxing up last season’s clothing line. Most of the people around me were speaking French, but a young girl at the table across from me was chatting on the phone in English. When the call was over, she hung up and turned to me.
“Camryn, right?” Her distinct, southern accent was so out of place that it made me smile.
“Macy.” She leaned over the table between us. “Where are you from?”
I took a break from folding tank tops. “Chicago. You?”
“How long have you been in Paris?”
She thought for a second. “About six months now, I guess. Seems longer.”
“When does it get less intimidating?”
“I’ll let you know when it happens,” she said, laughing. “You’re a quick folder. That will come in handy around here.”
I frowned down at the half-filled box. “I hope this isn’t all I’ll be doing.”
“You’ll also be organizing hangers and making coffee,” she said with a big smile. “And we have the fashion show next week, so we’ll all be busy getting ready for that.”
“That sounds fun.” I stayed calm on the outside, but I was giddy on the inside. Working a Paris fashion show was a dream come true.
“Wait until you see the guest list,” she said conspiratorially.
Macy wheeled her chair to her computer and tapped the keys quickly. When she was done, she swiveled the monitor in my direction.
The list looked like a celebrity phonebook. I couldn’t believe how many movie stars, musicians, and celebrities would be in attendance.
“That’s a pretty impressive list,” I said once I overcame my shock.
“If you get assigned to the doors, you’ll get to meet all of them.” She turned the monitor back around. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up though. Maxine always finds a way to get that job.”
I detected something in Macy’s voice. “Maxine?”
“Over there.” She pointed a finger adorned with bright pink polish at a desk in the middle of the room. “She’s been with Evelyn for years and basically orders the rest of us around.”
“She’s Evelyn’s assistant?”
“Something like that.” Macy’s nose wrinkled. “Mostly she’s just a b-. Oh, hey. How’s it going, Maxine?”
We were given a harsh stare through narrowed eyes and the faintest of head nods.
“She seems pleasant,” I muttered as she walked away.
“You have no idea,” Macy added grimly. “I’m famished. We should get lunch. Are you hungry?”
I smiled. “I could eat.”
Somehow I hand managed to make a friend on my very first day at work. It was definitely a personal record for me. Macy took me to her favorite café where we munched on baguettes and she filled me in on all her favorite Parisian hot spots. By the time we returned to the studio, we’d already made plans to hang out on the weekend.
I was beginning to think that maybe moving to Paris hadn’t been such a crazy idea after all.
* * *
Paris is amazing! I mean it, Scottie. I absolutely love it here. I know it’s only been a couple of weeks, but I feel like this is where I am meant to be. The city is beautiful- exactly like in the movies. The food is delicious and the men are gorgeous. And the fashion! Don’t even get me started on the fashion. I’m easily the worst dressed person at work.
I made a new friend at the studio named Macy. She’s crazy and has this ridiculous southern accent that makes the locals stare, but I think I adore her. She has only lived here a few months, but she already knows all the best places and has a bunch of friends. I think one of her friends is even a Countess.
Have you talked to Taylor? It sounds like she’s met someone. Not just anyone- Dexter Sanders! I hope they get married at some exotic location and fly us there on a private jet.
Speaking of guys… I’ve sort of met someone, too. He’s this totally hot photographer from New York named Evan. I met him at an Evelyn Rose fashion show and it was totally love at first sight. He’s 32, but I’ve always been into older men anyway so I don’t think the age difference will be a problem. Evan sure doesn’t seem to mind. I have a date with him this weekend. He won’t tell me what he has planned, but I’m sure it’s going to be super romantic. Everything in Paris is romantic.
Anyway, how’s Ireland? Hopefully you aren’t spending all of your time with the dreadful step-mother and kids. Go out. Find a local pub and make out with a hot Irishman. That’s an order!
* * *
By all accounts, the fashion show was a huge success. Maxine kept door duties to herself as predicted, but Evelyn singled me out to do final checks on the models before sending them out on stage. It was a huge responsibility. The minute the music started, I was completely focused on the task at hand. My only job was to make Evelyn look good and I wasn’t about to let her down.
The show ended to thunderous applause and while the boss took her curtain call, the rest of us scrambled to get everything put away. Evelyn was hosting an after-party at the gallery next door, but we couldn’t attend until all of the clothes were properly packed up.
“The girls looked great,” Macy said when she found me backstage. She had been tasked with escorting everyone to their seats.
“How was the audience?” I had barely been able to see anything from behind the curtain.
“Hot.” Macy grinned. “Lots of beautiful, famous people. I can’t wait to mingle at the party.”
It was incentive enough for me to hurry through the packing. We were finished in less than an hour. After a quick stop in the ladies’ room to make sure we looked presentable, we hustled to the party.
It was just as glamorous as I had thought it would be. Champagne was flowing, hard to pronounce appetizers floated past on silver platters, and naked models peered down at us from the art display.
“These are all done by Evan Carter,” Macy explained as I stared open-mouthed at a full-frontal photo of an intimate couple. “Where I’m from, they call this pornography. In Paris, they call it art.”
I laughed and took the champagne flute she handed me. Hopefully, no one else could notice my shaking hand. “It certainly is different.”
“Yeah, different.” Macy turned away from the wall of art. “I’d much rather worry about the hot men in the room than the ones in the pictures.”
“Good plan.” With a glass of champagne down, I felt slightly less panicked.
Macy used her questionable knowledge of the French language to introduce me to a group of the models from the show. They acknowledged us with faint head nods before resuming their conversation in French. Any words that I might have understood were quickly swept away by dozens of words I didn’t know. Macy nodded and laughed along with them even though I was certain she didn’t understand much more than I did.
Less than ten minutes later, I was ready to move on. Macy was still listening attentively, so I mouthed that I needed to pee and scampered away. Two wrong turns later, I was nowhere near a bathroom. But I had managed to find even more scandalous artwork.
“Oh my,” I gasped, not sure of what I was actually seeing. If I had to guess, it was the reverse cowgirl.
Alarmed, I whirled around, my face bright red. “It’s, um… I thought…”
“I startled you. My apologies.” The man who had interrupted my immersion in the arts smiled. “I couldn’t help myself.”
“That’s okay.” I pointed a thumb over my shoulder. “You weren’t nearly as startling as the exhibit.”
His laugh was deep and warm. “It’s very contemporary.”
I was surprised to realize that I was having a conversation in my native language. So far, Evelyn and Macy had been the only Americans I had met in Paris. While most of the other people I had met spoke at least some English, it was usually reluctantly offered only after I displayed my own terrible knowledge of French.
“Is contemporary another word for pornographic?”
“I’ve seen way worse,” he said, then winced. “That came out wrong.”
“Did it?” I challenged.
He stuck out his hand. “Let’s start again. I’m Jake.”
“Camryn.” His hand was warm and calloused, his grip strong. “Do I know you?”
“I have a familiar face,” he said. “Are you hiding from someone or do you just have a social disorder?”
“Neither. I got lost.” I shrugged helplessly. “I have a bad sense of direction.”
Jake grinned. “But an excellent sense of art.”
“That remains to be seen.” The truth was that I had only stepped a few feet inside the room. The cowgirl photo had stopped me from seeing more. I gestured to the empty room. “Shall we?”