Chapter Five - In the Eye of the Beholder
The day with Tristan had been, to put it mildly, amazing.
Sophie practically floated up the stairs, high on the connection they’d shared and the way they’d clicked.
She hadn’t come to Paris hoping to find someone like Tristan, but it was undeniable that now that she’d found him, she was already feeling a pull to him that both surprised and excited her. Judging by the way he’d reacted when she’d teased her shopping plans for the following day, Sophie had a very strong suspicion that he was feeling that pull, too.
Maybe she hadn’t gone on this trip to find someone, but that didn’t matter. It had been a difficult lesson to learn, watching her careful plans go up in smoke when her fiance had ended things. She couldn’t achieve, strive, or girlboss her way to a feeling of contentment. But there was a silver lining in everything.
The lesson now was finding what that freedom looked like. And who she was going to be when she could just be herself.
And that possibility meant more than anything—more than a beautiful view and a gorgeous city.
Inside her flat, Sophie smiled to herself as she went to check her phone. The moment she saw missed calls and text messages, all from Ava Corbett, her heart immediately sank.
Sophie chided herself; It wasn’t Ava she was reacting to, it was the fact that Ava represented everything about the life she’d had left behind when she’d come to Paris. But, Ava had called, so Sophie dialed her back.
The moment the call connected, Ava didn’t even say hello.
“There you are!” Ava’s exasperated voice on the other end of the line crackled as the cell signal faltered. “I was starting to worry that you’d fallen into the Seine.”
Sophie laughed. “No, I just haven’t been glued to my phone all day. Plus, there’s the time difference, and everything… what’s going on?”
Ava huffed a long-suffering sigh into Sophie’s ear. “Well, since you asked, I was going to tell you that I managed to get the caterer to refund eighty percent of the deposit.”
“That’s great,” Sophie said. “Thank you.”
“But there’s no traction with the florist at all,” Ava continued, almost as if she hadn’t heard her at all. “So I think there’s not a lot you can do there.”
Now it was Sophie’s turn to sigh. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to take that loss… or did Greg pay for those? Now I can’t remember.”
“He did,” came Ava’s quick reply. “When we talked, he said that went on his credit card—”
“You guys talked?” Her former Maid of Honor’s words slid like ice down the back of her neck, a sudden and unwelcome shock that Sophie could not explain.
“Well… yeah,” Ava said, like it was a dumb question. “I had to. The caterer had questions, and you’re out of the country—”
“I mean, that’s fine, I guess,” Sophie hastened to say. “It makes sense, if you had to get in touch with someone about… everything.”
Everything. One little word to describe the end of a relationship, a called-off wedding, a total upheaval. Ava and Greg were both adults; they both had a right to communicate with each other, especially since Sophie had offloaded so much responsibility onto Ava for handling the cancellations for the event itself.
“Look,” Sophie said, “you don’t have to worry about it—about any of it. I can handle it when I get back.”
The words had come out before Sophie had really thought that statement through. But the truth was, she didn’t want to go back. She wasn’t ready to go back, not any time soon. Going back meant returning to the grief she’d shed in her apartment. It meant unpicking the threads of what had once been a tapestry of joy.
It meant leaving Paris behind, and leaving Tristan behind, too.
But she was strong. Sophie could handle it.
So where was this fear coming from?
“It’s fine,” Ava assured her. “Really. I’ve got it all under control, babe. You just stay there and enjoy yourself and do whatever it is you’re doing, and I’ll get it all taken care of.”
Sophie should’ve felt relieved. Instead, that only made her feel more on edge.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Because I can buy a return ticket any time, just let me know if--”
“No, no,” Ava said, cutting across her. “Really. Stay. Enjoy yourself. Go… eat some fresh croissants, drown your sorrows in carbs.”
Sophie forced a laugh. “Right. Okay. Thanks. You’re the best.”
“Love youuuuu,” Ava crooned.
Sophie tossed her phone down on the bed when the call ended, and raked her hands back through her hair.
Well. That was one solid way to totally kill the vibes. She ought to feel grateful to Ava, she really should. So why did that call leave her feeling like she was missing something important?
When the morning came, Sophie’s thoughts were still troubled. But she was determined not to let things drag her back down to the place she’d been before, not when things were starting to get interesting. There was nothing better than a little retail therapy to perk up her mood, and there was one shop in particular which promised a certain kind of indulgence that Sophie knew would bring her right back to the Parisian vibe she was going for.
When she walked out of the lingerie shop about an hour and a half later, laden down with utterly self-indulgent purchases, her wallet was lighter but so was her heart. Why had she never done something like this before? Maybe, she wondered, if she had, the relationship with Greg wouldn’t have turned sour… but no, scraps of lace and satin, soft velvet and sheer silk, none of that could keep a heart without love from leaving.
And Greg hadn’t loved her. Not in the way she’d needed. If he had…
It wasn’t worth thinking about, Sophie decided. What would it change? She was tired of living in the past, living in the what-if.
Tristan was waiting for her when she got back to her flat. She caught sight of him leaning against his motorcycle, helmet tucked under his arm, and her breath caught in her throat. He looked like a painting, all long, lean lines, taut muscle and coiled anticipation that made her want to be chased and pinned down and ravished.
When he saw her coming, and looked up at her, the feeling—need and desire, pure animal want—only intensified. He stood up, rising to his full height, and yet his confident appraisal of her was softened by the slight fumble of the helmet in his hands.
“Hey,” Tristan said, deftly recovering and holding his motorcycle helmet on his hip. “Did you have a good morning?”
“I did,” Sophie said. She saw his eyes dart down to the logo on the bag, and back up.
“And did you find what you were looking for?” Tristan’s pupils were wide in his dark eyes, making the deep brown look an almost solid black.
“Oh yes,” Sophie said, with a flirtatious smile on her lips. “Lots of things.”
“Well,” he said, “they do say variety is the spice of life.”
Sophie felt a frisson of anticipation and yearning shiver down her spine. The moment between them stretched out, long and tenuous, as fragile as spider-silk, before he cleared his throat and rubbed at the back of his neck, looking away.
“Did you still want to go to the Louvre today?” she asked, half hoping that he’d say no, and ask her if she wanted to show him what she’d purchased. Sophie wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea.
“Yes,” he replied. “If you are?”
Sophie nodded, then lifted the bag up. “Let me just take these upstairs and get changed.”
“Of course,” he said, with a nod.
Sophie smiled at him. She was halfway to her door when she stopped and turned back, a flush of embarrassed warmth on her cheeks.
“Change into—I’m not going to be wearing these,” she clarified, holding the bag of lingerie up.
“I am sure it would not be my business whether you did or did not,” Tristan replied cooly, but there was a glint of heat in his eyes that only made her blush deepen, too.
“Good to know,” Sophie said. She gave him a flirtatious wink before rushing up the stairs to change.
Coming back down to the front steps, Sophie’s gaze found Tristan’s almost immediately. Whether she was wearing her new lingerie or not wasn’t something she was going to volunteer, but the light in his eyes as he watched the movements of her body made her feel powerful, seductive, and desirable. She liked being watched; more specifically, she liked being watched by him. It had been a long time since a man had looked at her like that.
“Hop on,” he said, handing her his helmet. “And hold on tight.”
They sped off on his motorcycle through the streets of Paris. And she did have to admit, it was a bit precarious at times, despite his safe if assertive driving. When they finally reached the Louvre, Sophie let out a sigh of relief as she stood once again on her own two feet. Tristan, catching her, gave her a smile.
“I hope I did not scare you.”
“Oh,” Sophie laughed, and shook her head, her helmet-flattened curls still bouncing around her face. “No. I feel safe with you.”
He paused, a curious look on his face. Sophie wondered if she had inadvertently said too much, or implied something she had not meant to imply, but his face softened again, open and earnest, and he offered her his arm. Under the overcast sky, they walked up to the towering, modern glass pyramid, surrounded by the arms of the older, stately former palace. She was worried about the crowds, but while they waited, Tristan flashed a badge of some kind, and to her surprise they were led in through a side entrance by a solidly built man in a dark suit. Sophie’s conversational French was good enough, but she could not pick up the words that passed between Tristan and the man as they came inside. And when the guard stepped away, she looked to Tristan, brows raised in curiosity.
“What was that all about?”
Tristan smiled, revealing the dimple in his left cheek. “A favor. There’s less crowds this way.”
“A favor?” Sophie followed him past a sign in multiple languages; this seemed to be the gathering point for private tours. “What, are you part of the… museum mafia, or something?”
He laughed out loud. “No, no. Nothing so dramatic as that. I just know him, that’s all.”
Sophie accepted this answer, and when he offered her his hand, she took it. Together, they wandered through the museum, each room grander than the last, until her head was spinning with so much rich color and texture, so many landscapes and stunning, lifelike portraits, so many statues and sculptures, it almost felt like too much.
She was glad for the respite to her legs and her eyes when they stopped in for a quick bite to eat in a gray-walled cafe with a high, arched window that looked out over the glass pyramid, now soft-focus from the misting rain.
“So what do you do,” Sophie asked him, after they had ordered. “You have enough free time to help out tourists and sneak them into museums…”
Tristan laughed softly. “To tell you the truth… I am a photographer. I work for a travel website. That was how I met Julien, at the front. But that was not the favor.”
His eyes were positively twinkling, begging her to ask him the questions that were on the tip of her tongue.
“So…?” She prompted.
“I took photos at his nephew’s birthday party.”
Sophie’s smile broadened. The waiter came by, setting down two cups of a rich hot chocolate, as well as the food they’d ordered.
“Merci. So, a travel blog, hmm?” Ari picked up the chocolate and took a taste. “Does this mean you are using me for research?”
Tristan looked affronted, but there was still a twinkle in his eye. “I would never be so crass as to combine business with pleasure!”
“Not that I would mind it, if I were your pet project,” Sophie replied. The chocolate was rich and thick; she licked her lips, pleased at the way he watched the tip of her tongue dart out.
“I would never call a woman my pet,” he said, before amending: “unless she wished it.”
The way his voice dipped low, as dark as the chocolate on her tongue, made Sophie feel warm in all the right places. And while there were others in the cafe with them, their quiet conversations faded to the background as Sophie and Tristan sat at their table. The rain outside turned to a drizzle, transforming the silver-coated world into an impressionist painting all its own. But for Sophie, there was only one work of art she wanted to stare at and study further.
And underneath Tristan’s thoughtful, intense gaze, she felt as lovely as a sculpture.