Hooked Up_ Book 1(7)

By: Arianne Richmonde



He turned back to me and looked at my nametag. “For Pearl,” he added, rolling his tongue around the R of Pearl.

My name suddenly sounded beautiful, not like a pseudonym a hooker might use, which is what I was relentlessly teased for in high school.

“Pearl,” he said again. “What a beautiful name. I’ve never heard that before. As a name, I mean.”

“Well, my parents were kind of hippies. Thanks for the compliment, though. I’ll have a . . . a . . . um, I’ll have a vanilla cappuccino, please. You really don’t have to do that, buy me my drink, I mean.”

I fumbled about in my purse—although it seemed more like an overnight bag—to locate my wallet. I was not used to strangers buying me drinks. My fingers couldn’t seem to find my wallet, anyway. I often fantasized about inventing an inside handbag light that switched on automatically whenever you opened it—I’d make millions—they’d be sold at supermarket checkouts nationwide.

My bag was pitch dark inside. I saw nothing.

“And what’s your name?” I asked, still not believing that this man before me was Alexandre Chevalier, the twenty-four-year-old nerd in the hoodie, as he appeared in the online photo. This Alexandre was sophisticated—looked far older than that. Even though he was just in T-shirt and jeans, he was stylish. Very Alpha Male, yet oozing je ne sais quoi. I could have described him as “beautiful” but he was so much more. There was an aura surrounding him of power and sexuality yet blended with an unassuming sort of friendliness as if his good looks were accidental somehow.

He laughed. His teeth flashed white and were almost—but not quite—perfect. An almost perfect, ever so slightly, crooked smile—disconcertingly sexy.

“Very funny,” he replied, tapping his long fingers on his Alexandre Chevalier nametag. “Oh, this is my sister, Sophie.”

The Sophie sounded like Soffy. His accent was disarming me. I thought of those classic, 1960’s French films: Alain Delon movies—yes, he did have that air about him—a young Alain Delon—mixed with the raw, untamed sex-appeal of Jean Paul Belmondo in his prime. What was that film? I asked myself. Ah yes, À Bout de Souffle—Breathless was its translation. That’s how I felt . . .

Breathless.

Sophie locked her eyes with mine and smiled at me. She was smartly dressed, elegant. We moved forward to shake hands. My fingers brushed across Alexandre’s T-shirt for a second, and I felt the hardness of his stomach. I caught my breath. I wanted to blurt out about our company, Haslit Films, who I was, why I had a nametag for that conference, but I found myself behaving like a character from a TV sitcom: Rachel from Friends, or Lucy from I Love Lucy—compelled to tell fibs, invent some cover-up. I felt as if my hand had been caught in the cookie jar and then wondered at my own absurdity. What cookie jar? I haven’t done anything wrong! I could feel my face flush hot and knew that if I were the type of person to blush red, these two strangers would be able to detect the embarrassment glowing in my cheeks.

“What a coincidence,” I said, tossing a coin in my head about whether to explain everything.

“Really why?” Sophie asked.

But I went all Rachel again and heard nonsense spurting from my lips.

“Well, just that you were at the conference, and so was I.”

I suddenly thought that if I told them about my film company and why I was at InterWorld, they’d think I’d been stalking them. Trailing behind them, pursuing them into the coffee shop like some low-grade paparazzi reporter for a cheap newspaper. The fact that Alexandre Chevalier was no longer a rat-loving geek locked in a dark room programming codes, unnerved me. He looked like a movie star. He was as rich as one—maybe more so. For some reason I couldn’t come clean.





ALEXANDRE





SO THERE I WAS, eyeing her up as she perused the coffee menu. I cleared my throat and moved a step closer. “So how did you enjoy the conference?”

She jumped back in surprise; her eyes fixed on my chest. I felt as if I was towering above her, although she was a good five foot six. I looked a mess—T-shirt and old jeans with holes in the knee. So far, she was not responding. I knew that New Yorkers could be just as rude as Parisians, so I wasn’t fazed.

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