excerpt – THE FRENCH RESOLUTION

THE FRENCH RESOLUTION

 

Chapter One

 

Helen trotted into the Bahamas Beach Tennis Club, juggling her sports bag while also dragging her hair into a hasty ponytail. She scanned the entranceway and spied Jordana window shopping in the tennis club gift store. Of course. Also, of course, Jordana was decked out in a cute, white, short set that displayed her long brown legs to their full advantage.

Faced with Jordana’s perfection, Helen almost regretted her sloppy appearance. Almost. It annoyed her wasting time trying to look effortlessly beautiful. And it seemed pretentious. Then again were her scruffy cut-offs and baggy t-shirt any more honest? She made enough money to dress well but, at least on vacation, she enjoyed annoying those who expected a certain protocol. And she could always count on Jordana to rise to the bait.

“Hey there, girl. You are looking fabulous!” Helen called out as she drew closer.

When they were younger, Helen had prayed for a growth spurt that would give her Jordana’s long, lean look. At 5’4″ standing next to Jordana, she resembled an unsophisticated, teenager. And this year her friend was even more stunning, sporting new, puffier lips. They used to discuss Jordana’s “enhancements” but the last few years Jordana liked to pretend that her boobs, nose, eyes, and now lips, were just as nature had given her.

“I wish I could say the same for you, but what are you wearing?”

“It’s the new, Ralph Lauren line, ‘ghetto.’” Helen sucked in her cheeks and struck a supermodel pose. “It’s all the rage in New York.”

“Hmph. It looks like the same thing you wore last time. You need a style intervention.”

“Too much effort. Besides, this way I avoid the paparazzi.”

“Yeah right, you and Kim Kardashian.” Jordana headed outside to the tennis courts. “We’ve got number one reserved until three o’clock. And no one’s on court two so you’ll have to retrieve your own wild shots.”

Helen waved to Tyrone, manning the reception counter as they zipped by.

He winked back. ”Looking hot, Helen.”

She grinned. He must’ve overheard their discussion. A small huff was the only hint that Jordana caught Tyrone’s comment.

Helen opened her bag and pulled out her racquet as they commandeered the court. “I hope I remember how this game goes. I haven’t been on a court for absolute ages.”

“Oh good. Maybe I can win a game for a change.” Jordana hit a smooth forehand across the net. Helen’s response was a choppy, ugly shot that came back with twice the speed and a touch of top spin. Jordana reached ineffectively for it. “Then again, maybe I don’t really want to win.” She sighed.

“You should fire your tennis pro, and hire me instead,” Helen told her. “I may not look good playing, but I am unpredictable. Oops!” Her lob over Jordana’s head had continued up over the fence. “Sorry, I’ll get it.”

Helen ran to recover the ball before it rolled into the club café. She was lunging for the ball, when a beautiful, manicured, and decidedly male hand picked it up. She glanced at the man proffering her tennis ball and caught her breath in surprise. In front of her stood the most devastatingly handsome man, she’d ever seen. Dark, wavy hair over a high, intelligent forehead, warm brown eyes, sculpted cheekbones, and a wide, sensuous, mouth smiling seductively at her.

“This would be yours?” He also had a delicious French accent.

“Um, yes… Thank you.” She blinked, hoping she hadn’t been staring at him in awe for any noticeable amount of time. As she took the ball from him, her fingers touched his palm and a shock wave coursed through her entire body. She nodded awkwardly, and ran back to the tennis courts.

“My God, Jordana. Did you see that man?” Helen glanced back at the café but the man was no longer visible. She met her friend at the net. “I’m in love. And he has a French accent. Do you think he’s a movie star?”

“He’s gorgeous. I wonder who he is?” Jordana backed up and restarted the volleying. “But the next ball you hit over the fence, I’ll retrieve.”

“Tell me when.”

Helen’s shots became more controlled as she relaxed into the game. Then suddenly Jordana began stretching languidly between each play. Helen opened her mouth to ask if she’d pulled a muscle, when she saw the Frenchman was now watching their game. And, of course, she flubbed an easy shot of her own. If her face wasn’t already beet red from the sun and exertion, she’d have blushed to the self-same color. Thank heavens for small mercies.

“Well, I’m done,” Jordana pronounced as soon as the man turned away to talk with Tyrone. It appeared he’d left his cell phone in the café. “And I definitely need to get a new racquet this season. This one has soggy strings.”

“Yup.” Helen collected the balls and retrieved her sports bag. “Do you want to play again Tuesday or Wednesday?”

“I’ll check my calendar and get back to you.” She held the mesh door open for Helen and glared at her nails. “I need to schedule a manicure, now.”

Helen held back an eye roll. She couldn’t afford to piss off her friend too much. Since Helen now only visited her father in Nassau occasionally, finding people to socialize with had become trickier. And besides, beneath the society mask Jordana really was a nice person.

Excusezmoi.” Helen jumped at the male voice close beside her. “You played an entertaining game. Malheureusement, my usual partner is unavailable this week. Could I persuade you to favor me with a set?”

Helen glanced at Jordana, before realizing he was asking her. “Me? Oh! I’m not a very good player. Um, I’m sure my friend, Jordana, would be better competition.”

Au contraire, you have a scrappy game that looks most challenging. Are you available tomorrow?”

“Oh…” She didn’t know whether to be insulted by the scrappy comment but then couldn’t think of a witty comeback. Actually she couldn’t think of any response as she stared into his mesmerizing eyes again.

“Sorry. Where are my manners?” He bowed. “My name is Antoine Christoff, and I am most pleased to meet you.”

“Pleased to meet you.” Helen struggled to breathe normally. “I’m Helen and this is my friend, Jordana.”

Antoine acknowledged Jordana, but then focused his seductive smile on Helen. “I will meet you here, tomorrow at eleven o’clock, Mademoiselle Hélène?”

She nodded. “Thank you… I mean, sure. See you tomorrow.” She went to wave goodbye but realized she was still clutching her can of tennis balls. With a quick nod she ducked back to the parking lot and the safety of her dad’s car. Although she’d complained earlier, now she was pleased Edward, her dad’s chauffeur, had insisted he’d drive her and wait.

For the rest of the afternoon, her thoughts fixated on Antoine. Who the heck was he? If only her dad hadn’t hightailed it to Europe prior to her arriving, she could’ve asked him. All the mega-rich people in the Bahamas eventually crossed paths. And from the man’s expensively tailored casual clothes, fresh manicure and suave manners, he was undeniably one of the moneyed set.

A quick check revealed her Wi-Fi connection was still down so she called Tyrone at the tennis club. Other than confirming Antoine was a long term member, Tyrone didn’t know much. He “guessed” the man was from France.

Why did Antoine seem interested in her? And what would it feel like to have those lips pressing against hers? He couldn’t be much older than her, he looked in his early thirties, but he was so self-assured, not to mention drop dead gorgeous. Men like that didn’t seek her out and definitely not when she was with Jordana.

It didn’t matter anyway, she chided herself; it wasn’t as though he’d asked her on a date. He’d only asked her for a game of tennis. She was reading too much into his smoldering glances. Odds are he looked that way at every woman, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts. But if she could have one night with him, would she?

****

Antoine unlocked the door to his friend’s house and let himself inside. After the long flight from Paris and the quick trip to the tennis club to check out his quarry, he required a drink. Ms Helene Dunhill had not been as he had expected. After pouring himself a cold Pinot Grigio, he retrieved his well-thumbed dossier on the girl.

The only child of Robert Dunhill, from whom he had just acquired Dunhill Holdings, Ms Helen was also a major shareholder in the company. Twenty-seven years old, short and mousy-looking in the photo, she was the donor relations manager at the Feed the Child foundation, a part-time waitress at a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan and residing in a rental apartment in Brooklyn.

He had assumed she was one of those obnoxious American feminists who felt if they paid any attention to their appearance they’d somehow degraded themselves. After meeting her, he was not so sure. Yes, she dressed atrociously, but she did not have the attitude. And she was more attractive than he had anticipated.

Getting to know Ms Dunhill may not be the onerous chore he had anticipated. He would take her to dinner, compliment her intellect and business acumen—American women liked that—and then persuade her to sell her shares in her father’s company to him before she learned his connections.

It was fortuitous he had not brought his assistant, Laurenne with him on the trip. Much as he would have appreciated having her with him to fill the long tropical nights, she might have been detrimental to his mission. Laurenne had not been concerned with him meeting the dowdy heiress based on her photograph. In person, she might have perceived Ms Dunhill as more of a threat.

And Ms Dunhill, faced with his statuesque, blonde assistant, would have doubted the sincerity in his wooing regardless of her “intellect.” Antoine chuckled, as he recalled his British Public Relations manager, Winston’s advice regarding the Dunhill girl, “Never mind, old Chap. Just close your eyes, and think of France.

****