Poked in Paris smarturl.it/PokedinParis
THEY SAY PARIS IS the City of Love. But I’m not here to give my heart away. I’m here to get laid. I know that makes me sound kind of slutty, but the truth is, I’m a good girl. So straight-laced and God-fearing that I was all set to marry Luke Maxwell—a sweet, sanctified servant of the Lord.
Then it all went to hell.
One week before our big day, the wedding planner, Bridgette Wilson, and I walked into the chapel to find Luke plowing dick-first into the ridiculously-skinny church secretary, Winnie Carlton. Instead of her poring over the books, balancing the monthly tithes, she was bent over a pew, balancing herself on tiptoes while receiving Luke’s offering.
Bridgette gasped and said, “Oh. My. God. You dodged a big-ass bullet with this one, Mandi Lang.” For some reason, she always addressed me by my first and last name.
I, on the other hand, remained silent and mesmerized. It was an odd reaction, for sure. But I was stunned down to the ground. Luke had always behaved like a perfect gentleman. A Christ-loving, bible-thumping saint who was saving himself for marriage. For me.
The funny thing was, the sex-loving, pussy-pumping sinner I witnessed that summer afternoon was the man I had always wanted.
Sadly, his transformation did me no good. Cheating is a big, unforgivable no-no, so I did what any woman in my position would. I took the money we had saved for our honeymoon and hopped a plane.
Now, standing here at the airport luggage claim, I vow to find the hottest, sexiest Frenchman around. This curvy girl is getting poked in Paris. And I should be able to earn any extra money I might need to fund my sexual explorations. Two months before Luke proposed, I had applied for a prestigious, well-paying job as a teaching assistant for a theology and philosophy professor at Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris. Most of my life, I had dreamed of traveling and working abroad. Had Luke not proposed when he did, I was on track to do that. I knew our romantic relationship was serious and might be heading toward the altar, but his proposal still caught me out of the blue.
With him being a man of God and all, I figured he was already married to the church. Apparently, I was wrong. He obviously has huge commitment issues. Bridgette was right. I did dodge the proverbial bullet. And since I have, I don’t want to waste a second more on regrets. It’s time for me to follow my heart and my dreams as well as my libido.
After graduating at the top of my class, earning a history degree with a minor in philosophy, I was the perfect candidate to be Dr. Gaston Beaumont’s TA. In fact, I still am. Incredibly, as of this morning, the position has still not been filled. I checked the job postings on the website after my plane landed at Charles de Gaulle International and thanked my lucky stars I might have a second chance to get things right.
Taking my smartphone from my purse, I activate the Uber-Paris App. Within five minutes a car pulls up to the curb. The driver checks his phone, confirming the profile pic on my account matches my face. His grin is wide and friendly. “You are Mademoiselle Mandi Lang. Oui?”
My French is basic and limited. Like a dumbass, I took Spanish in high school just to look cool when ordering out at our local Mexican restaurant. Had I been thinking like an adult, I would have studied the language of love instead. Oh, well, I’m certain I’ll pick up enough of the lexicon to get by.
The really good thing about Panthéon-Sorbonne University is that thirty percent of the students are from abroad and from mostly English-speaking countries. So all the professors are bilingual, speaking both French and English fluently. It’ll make things a lot less complicated when I interview with Dr. Beaumont.
For some odd reason, the hiring process for this particular position has been an extremely lengthy one. A few months back, I first applied online. Then I received a video call that served as my first interview. It was conducted by a nice, middle-aged, American lady who identified herself as Anne Norcross, department head of human resources. She made it clear Dr. Beaumont would not be involved in the preliminary screening of candidates. Apparently, his time was far too valuable to be spent on such a menial task.
However, she told me he would be taking over during the second and final interview and giving his decision. Mine just so happens to be scheduled for tomorrow. Amidst all the excitement and wedding planning, Paris and the job flew right out of my head. I suppose my failing to cancel my appointment could be seen as divine providence in an ironic kind of a way.
I have to admit I’m developing a case of nerves. Should I get the job, one of the requirements is that I enroll at the university for a semester and take Dr. Beaumont’s philosophy class. Like a lot of students, the pressure to perform and succeed makes me a basket case. I can’t imagine how much more taxing it will be to work with such a brilliant professor while also studying under him. But I believe I’m up for the challenge. Even with a hurt heart and wounded pride over Luke’s betrayal, I am ready to get on with my life. Onward and upward, as they say.
The ride to my hotel is an uneventful one. After confirming my identity and appearing assured I am indeed his intended passenger, the driver doesn’t speak another word to me. I am glad because the view from the car is epic. The beauty of Paris in the dusky darkness of late evening is every bit as overwhelming as I thought it would be.
The best two words I can think of to describe the city are magical and luminous. The golden light of the Eiffel Tower in all its magnificent glory easily outshines the sun. I had read it takes twenty thousand bulbs to create this spectacular light show. But nothing has prepared me for seeing it in person. I can’t take my eyes off it, covetously holding it in my gaze until the Uber drives out of view.
When I arrive safely at my destination—Hôtel De Nice—it is beyond nice.
Walking into the lobby is like stepping back in time. The entire hotel is done up in a Parisian décor complete with intricate engravings, old prints of famous painters and exquisite antique furniture. According to the online brochure, my room should reflect a similar décor sporting rich shades of gold and burgundy.
One of the most fascinating features of each room is that they are soundproof. This greatly appeals to my naughtier side. I like knowing the other guests at the hotel won’t be able to hear my screams and moans of pleasure as I’m being ravished by my hot Frenchman. I’m certain it is simply a matter of time before I find him.
Since my amazing accommodation is only a five-minute walk from the Picasso Museum, Seine River, Notre Dame Cathedral and a ten-minute train ride to the Champs Elysees, I should have plenty of opportunities to meet the lover of my dreams.
After checking in at the front desk and arranging for a bellhop to bring my luggage up, I’m anxious to get to my suite and take a shower. It was a long flight from the United States to France, and I’m definitely starting to feel the effects of being jetlagged.
Allowing the last of the adrenaline coursing through my veins to propel me, I quickly make my way across the expansive lobby. The frames of the mahogany elevator doors slowly slide open, yawning like a lazy lion before me. As with everything else in the City of Lights, the finely-carved, frosted-glass panes are breathtaking.
Given the lateness of the hour, the élévateur—as the French say—is practically empty save one lady leisurely leaning into the far right corner. Dressed in a loose-fitting peasant blouse, fitted jeans and low heels, she’s a handsome woman in her late forties or early fifties. With her thick, dyed-brunette hair, high cheekbones and piercing blue eyes, she’s still quite stunning.
As I reach out to press the button for the third floor, she says, “In Paris, everyone wants to be a participant. No one is satisfied with being a spectator. Therefore, you must say yes to my invitation.”
I give her a tired smile, planning to leave it at that, but curiosity gets the better of me. “What sort of invitation?”
“Why, the one to my masquerade party, of course.”
She says it with such flair, I have no doubt this elegant and dramatic woman has spent a great deal of time on the stage.
“Thank you, Madame—?”
“Pay no mind to the wedding rings, dear. My beloved Antoine passed on almost a decade ago, but I can’t seem to part with the jewelry he gave me. Simply call me Camille.”
“Nice to meet you, Camille. My name’s Mandi, and I truly appreciate the offer, but I’m awfully tired from my flight. I’m in desperate need of a shower and a good night of sleep.”
“You can slumber when you’re six feet under. Besides, I’ll simply wither up and die if you turn me down.”
I don’t have the heart to tell her I plan on being cremated. Nevertheless, her enthusiasm is contagious and her flamboyancy irresistible. I’ve always heard the French can be rather brusque and rude, but this lady is every bit as friendly and hospitable as the folks back home. And seeing as how I am a stranger in a strange land, it will be nice to have a friend.
Nodding, I say, “I accept. But I’m afraid I didn’t pack a costume fit for a masquerade party.”
She flaps her slender hand in the air. Every vein is visible beneath her nearly-translucent skin. “Nonsense, my dear. It’s hardly the Grand Masked Ball at Versailles. The attire is entirely up to you although some of the attendees love to dress up. All that’s required is a mask, and I have a whole box of those you can choose from. I throw this sort of soirée all the time and, usually in drunken carelessness, many of the masks get left behind.”
“I’m not a germophobe or anything, Camille, but I’m not crazy about wearing a mask that has been on someone else’s face.”
“You’re not alone. I also have some new ones still in their boxes in my room. If I bring one over to you later, will you consent to join us?”
“How could I refuse?”
“Oh, how divine! Things will be underway in two hours. Make sure to come thirty minutes early so we’ll have time to chat. Plus, you must have your mask in place before any of the other guests arrive. Anonymity is the name of the game,” she says, stepping out of the elevator behind me.
For a second, I wonder if she’s following me for some reason. Then I realize she is staying in the room two doors down from mine. Instantly, the old Dolly Parton song pops into my mind. I begin to hum it as I get ready for what will no doubt be one of the most interesting and entertaining nights of my life.
HE COULDN’T DO THIS anymore. Not and still think of himself as a man. At some point, you had to put your foot down, say no to whomever or whatever had you over a barrel, and damn the consequences. Let the chips fall where they may. Otherwise, you were left to sit back and continue watching little pieces of your soul eaten away.
Sometimes, he wasn’t sure there were any left.
Ambition was a relentless taskmaster. It had been fervently driving him from the moment his mother informed him Conrad had left them. Abruptly walked away from his seven-year-old son and his wife of ten years because he was tired of the day-to-day responsibility.
Abandoned by the family’s drunken, verbally abusive breadwinner, he’d had to grow up quickly. Hunger had a way of instilling a burning desire to improve one’s station. By the age of ten, he was delivering newspapers and cleaning up yards before going off to school each morning because his mother had sunk into a deep depression. Claudette could do nothing but cry and sleep. It was hard, seemingly impossible at times, but they were at least surviving. That is, until the afternoon he returned home to find she had abandoned him as well.
Closing his eyes to shut off the painful memory, he went down the hall to his bedroom and resignedly opened the chest-of-drawers. While he hoped there would come a day when the ghosts of loneliness and destitution did not drive him so powerfully, today was not going to be it.
Rifling through the drawers, he picked out a clownish, mish-mash ensemble to reflect how much he despised the success slave he’d become. He dressed and went back to the den. From the liquor cabinet, he took out a pint of whiskey and sat down on the loveseat. He was going to need more than a few healthy swigs to get through this evening…
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