“You absolutely tricked me into this,” Sarah says for the fifth time as she and Patrick walk down the damp sidewalks, freshly wet with April showers. The orange-red sun peeks through the edges of alleys and buildings as it sets into a purple night; she is arrested by the beauty of it all, the low-hanging clouds streaking across the sunset. Sometimes, she’s still surprised to be here, in this city and at this man’s side.
Patrick tightens his hold on her hand and brings it up to his mouth for a lingering kiss. She shivers, glancing at him.
“I will fully admit tricking you into falling in love with me and marrying me,” he says with a lazy grin. “But dinner with Luc and Summer? I would never stoop so low.”
She stares at him, exasperated. “What the hell are we even going to talk about? He’s Luc Leroi and she’s – well – “
“Summer is deliciously common, once you get to know her,” he comments idly.
“And you know her quite well already,” she retorts acerbically.
He just laughs, nudging her into the nearest doorway and pressing close to her. She can feel the outline of his limbs and the press of his chest through the loose navy blouse and her jeans; it takes her breath away just for a moment.
“You are the only woman I wish to know in all senses,” he murmurs, rubbing the pad of his thumb over her pearl-and-sapphire engagement ring.
Sarah raises an eyebrow, struggling to keep their sack of groceries from slipping from her tired grip. Her fingertips are numb from another ten-hour-day of sugar work, but she still thinks she’s never been happier than living in Patrick’s open apartment, working in Philippe’s kitchen, and planning a detailed future from the comfort of Patrick’s embrace. Her space is still hers; their work schedules differ enough that she almost always has a day off all to herself. But she finds herself sharing more and more of herself with Patrick, and he with her. She wonders if it’s always like this, the sensation of falling into something better than what she could have ever imagined.
Sighing, Patrick just kisses her once, and pulls her back into the sidewalk. “If I perhaps misled you concerning the nature of the gathering, then I apologize.”
“You said they were having a party.”
He glances at her, those unfathomable blue eyes sheepish. “Oui.”
“It isn’t a party if there are only four people,” she says, shaking her head.
“I think that just you and I is a party in itself, but let’s agree to disagree,” he says cheekily.
“Sometimes I want to strangle you,” she says with a sigh, smoothing her thumb over his burn-speckled knuckles.
Laughing, he kisses her cheek as they turn the corner towards Luc’s apartment. “I love you too, Sarabelle.”
It’s awkward, for sure.
Sarah honestly doesn’t know what to think of Summer. She doesn’t know Summer well enough to have a true opinion, and the public persona does little in Summer’s favor. But Patrick has told her bits and pieces of what seems to have been a troubled childhood, and Patrick, despite his perceived indifference, is a careful judge of character. Besides, Sarah was truly only bothered by Summer because of Patrick’s insane flirting with her, and that was just to drive Luc mad. It’s circular in its logic, but Sarah’s learning to roll with the punches. So, she’s giving Summer the benefit of the doubt.
It turns out to be a good idea.
“They’re useless,” Summer comments with an easy smile.
She and Sarah stand in the kitchen of Luc’s apartment (Summer’s, too, Sarah supposes, in the same way that Patrick’s apartment is also hers), sipping on glasses of white wine and watching as Patrick and Luc argue with each other in heated French in the living room. The wide windows give a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower and the stretch of city in that direction, glowing in the fading sunset.
“I guess dinner’s up to us,” Sarah says with a small smile. She’s still shy with those she does not know well, still reluctant to lower her shields so rapidly to others.
Sighing, Summer parses through the groceries in the sack, pulling out chives and fresh baby potatoes and farm-fresh eggs from the market Sarah passes on her way home from work each day. “Oh, this will be great. How about breakfast for dinner?” she asks brightly, eyes sparkling. “I’m becoming an omelet expert.”
Sarah sets down her wine glass and pushes up the sleeves of her blouse. “American breakfast is hard to come by here,” she says, taking a knife and reaching for the farmer’s cheese. It’s softer and a little more mellow, melty and gentle when stirred into eggs.
“I’m rediscovering old favorites right now,” Summer replies, dicing potatoes into wedges for roasting. “And if I didn’t cook, Luc wouldn’t eat anything except Lucky Charms and potato chips.”
With a little grin, Sarah slices the cheese into thin squares. “During my internship it was hard to eat at all. Opposite problem, I suppose.”
“I was always so impressed to see you in the kitchens,” Summer says lightly. “I don’t think I could have survived it.”
There is another layer to her words, one Sarah cannot read. But she takes the compliment for its value, and nods. “It was unbearably tough. I’m glad I did it.”
“Luc thinks you’re very talented,” Summer says in a stage-whisper. “He’s annoyed beyond belief that Philippe Lyonnais stole you.”
“I blame Patrick for that,” Luc says as he and Patrick step into the kitchen. “Dismantling all my hard work in that kitchen the one time I go on holiday.”
Sarah blushes just a little, meeting Patrick’s warm blue gaze from across the island. He smiles with his whole heart, and she is undone by it, by the love in every line of his face.
“As fruitful as the Leuce kitchens were, I thought it best to move on,” Sarah says softly. “With great appreciation to you, Chef.”
“We’re not in the damn kitchen anymore, Sarah. Call me Luc,” Luc says in that gruff tone of his, though his dark eyes are soft as they linger on Summer, the line of her spine as she leans over to slip the tray of potato wedges into the oven.
“I think you mean great appreciation to me,” Patrick says with a loose laugh, leaning in on his elbows towards Sarah.
“Did you do something?” she counters, fighting a smile.
“God, how you wound me,” he moans, a fist to his heart. “Oh, how you crack me.”
Hiding a smile, Sarah reaches for the chives and the basil. The basil leaves are smaller than she would usually like, but it’s still early in the growing season.
“Do you see what she’s done to me?” Patrick asks Luc, pouring them all another glass of wine.
Luc snorts. “An improvement, I’m sure.”
“Betrayed on all sides,” Patrick sighs, blinking dark lashes at Summer. “You’re my only hope.”
Summer shakes her head, that lovely blonde hair streaming over her shoulders with the movement. “Sorry, Patrick.”
“And after I helped you in your time of need,” Patrick sighs. The sound shifts into a wince as Luc punches him in the arm.
Sarah keeps her head down and chops the herbs, setting them in small neat piles near the cheese. Summer mixes eggs and cream into a pale yellow concoction, smile blooming as she and Luc discuss the scouting of houses in the south of France, of his too-soon departure from the Leuce. Patrick will take over as chef-patissier, with Noe rising to his second; it isn’t ideal, Sarah knows. But until they have set plans and the financial means for those plans, she still needs practice and he has job security. Soon, they can make their own moves. For now, they are enjoying Paris, enjoying their word, enjoying each other.
“That’s a beautiful ring,” Summer says over the meal, cheese and herb omelets with roasted potatoes and a fresh green salad with lemon juice and olive oil. Luc eats as if a starved man, his hand loose in Summer’s on top of the table.
Under the table, Patrick sets his hand on her knee. Swallowing hard, Sarah glances at her engagement ring and smiles. “Thank you.”
“I heard Patrick pulled out all the stops. La Tour and all,” Summer says, lips twisting just slightly.
Patrick’s hand skims further up her thigh, heavy and warm through her jeans. Wetting her lips, Sarah nodded. “It was quite the show,” she says, uneasy at all the focus on her.
“In more ways than one,” Patrick mutters.
Flushing crimson, Sarah glowers at him. She is positive he’s thinking of after, of when he took her back to his apartment and they crawled into each other for hours upon hours, judging by the gleam in his eyes. He just laughs and shrugs, as Summer hides her own giggles and Luc rolls his eyes and curses under his breath.
“I’m so glad,” Summer says, voice still tinged with laughter. “Do you see Magalie a lot?”
“Oh, she comes by every day,” Sarah says, glad to shift the topic back to work. Work is safe, work is something she cannot trip up on speaking of; her relationship with Patrick is still practice, still an effort every day to make it just right. “She’s wonderful.”
“Do you like working for Philippe?” Luc asks, voice quiet.
Sarah pauses, pushing the remains of her omelet around on her plate. Patrick reaches over and steals a potato wedge from her plate, even as his thumb rubs along the inseam of her jeans, right along her inner thigh.
“I do,” she says after a long moment, parsing her thoughts. “It is more in line with my ultimate goal – a shop of that size, that menu.”
“I ran into him the other week at a demonstration,” Luc says, dark eyes fixed on her. “He likes what he sees in you.”
“Oh,” she says, flushing again. Her tongue is thick in her mouth. “There is still much for me to learn and practice, but I do like my work there.”
Nodding, Luc brings Summer’s hand to his mouth, kissing her knuckles. “Trés bien,soleil,” he murmurs, and Summer’s face lights up, all sunny smiles and blue-sky eyes.
“You get to clean up,” she teases.
Sarah, a hand on her plate, begins to rise. Patrick’s warm hand on her thigh stops her.
“We will clean up,” he says, kissing her cheek. “I love you,” he adds softly into the upswept twist of her hair, pressing his lips to her temple before he takes the plate from her hand.
When Sarah can finally look around the room without flushing, Summer sits there with her wine glass, smiling slightly.
“I don’t have many women as friends,” Summer says after a moment. “But I like you. I hope we can be friends.”
Sarah nods, smiling in return. This Summer Corey is warm and bright, as if buoyed by the very presence of Luc Leroi; Luc is the same way. They feed each other in ways Sarah can only imagine, and it is a pleasure to see. “I would like that.”
“Thank god,” Patrick calls from the kitchen.
Sarah just rolls her eyes, and asks Summer about her island teaching fellowship.
Paris is misty with rain as Sarah and Patrick walk home hand in hand. He is quiet, strangely so. Sarah parses through the evening, and wonders if she misspoke, made a wrong move. She had been so careful the whole evening with words and thoughts and action; she knows how important Luc is to Patrick, how essential it is to get evenings like this right.
Even now, confident in her job and her abilities and in her place in his heart, she still wants to be perfectly right in her every move.
But he is comfortable in his silence and so she merely squeezes his hand for a moment and walks at his side. His leather jacket drapes over her shoulders like a cloak against the cool spring air, her skin damp from the mist.
“I suppose we’ll have to make their wedding cake,” Patrick says at last, as they turn onto their street.
Blinking, Sarah stares at him. “Oh?”
“He’s asking her tonight, so…” he trails off, a small shrug rolling his shoulders.
“I guess I assumed they were already at that point,” she says, confused.
He tucks her closer to his side and brings her hand to his mouth for a kiss. “Oh, they are. But he wants to be romantic and official about it. I raised the bar too high,” he laughs.
Sarah stops them in the middle of the sidewalk and presses up on her toes for a kiss, long and slow and warm. His arm circles around her back and holds her close, supports her weight. She shuts her eyes against the city-lit darkness and kisses him until she cannot breathe, until she is sure she will wake up from this dream.
“I love you,” she says, because she can never say it enough.
His finger traces a number on the base of her spine, hand wriggled underneath her blouse and his jacket. Five, she thinks, and blushes.
“I’d like to beat our record,” he teases against her lips.
She opens her eyes and smiles, her whole heart on her sleeve. “For you, anything,” she says.
He shakes his head, eyes deep blue and gleaming in the low-lit street air. “For you, Sarabelle,” he says, voice low and caressing. “Anything for you.”
Like everything he articulates, she takes it to heart and treasures it.