Propositioned Into A Foreign Affair

By: Catherine Mann

One




His hands roved her bare body, melting her with the warm heat of his strong caress.

Bella Hudson bit her lip to hold back an embarrassing groan. Barely. She called upon all her training as a Hollywood actress to stay silent while Henri worked his magic on her oiled-up body.

Muscles melting, she buried her forehead deeper in the massage table’s face cradle. The scent of aromatherapy candles soothed her nose while Christmas carols sung in French mixed with ocean sounds to caress her ears.

Pure bittersweet pleasure. Very bittersweet.

Sixty-two-year-old masseur, Henri, was likely to be the only man touching her for quite some time since her jerk of an actor boyfriend stomped her heart just last week. And wow, that thought sure kinked up her neck again, encroaching on her peaceful retreat.

She and her precious dog, Muffin, had escaped to France for some much-needed soul soothing at the seaside Garrison Grande Marseille. Garrison hotels always provided the best in pampering, peace and privacy.

And crossing the Atlantic guaranteed she wouldn’t risk accidentally running into Ridley or, worse yet, Uncle David.

Men. They were all rats. Well, except for Henri, who was too old for her and married, but oh my, he worked wonders with heated river stones along her lower back.

“Henri, are you and your wife happy?” She stared through the face cradle at Henri’s gym shoes as he swapped out the stones beside her treasured little Muffin, snoozing away in her pink doggie carrier.

“Oui, Mademoiselle Hudson. Monique and I are very ’appy. Four-tee years, three children and ten grandchildren later. My Monique is still beautiful.”

He continued to laud his wife and family, his adoration so thick it threatened to smother her.

Or make her gag.

She’d really thought Ridley loved her, only to have him say he’d been too caught up in the romance of their starring roles in the movie about her grandparents’ WWII romance. She’d really thought her parents loved each other, too.

Wrong. And wrong again.

Her mother had cheated. She’d slept with her own brother-in-law and now Bella’s uncle David was actually her daddy David. Her two cousins were actually her half-siblings. Good God, her family was ripe to be featured on an episode of Jerry Springer.

Even river stones couldn’t ease that ache.

A low-sounding beep echoed through the room. A series of clicks eched. Had the whale sounds traded up to dolphin calls?

Henri yanked the sheet up to her shoulders. “M’selle Hudson, quick, get up!”

“What?” she asked, not quite tracking yet.

Her eyes snapped open. She blinked to adjust in the dim light and found Henri blocking someone trying to push through the door.

Someone with a camera.

Crap. Crap. Totally tracking now, Bella bolted off the table and to the floor. Her feet tangled in the sheet and she pitched forward.

“Paparazzi. Run!” Henri barked as Bella struggled to regain her footing. “Run. M’sieur Garrison prides himself on protecting the privacy of his clients. He will fire me. Then my wife, she will keel me. She is crazy mean when she gets angry.”

So much for Henri and Monique’s happy marriage.

“Where the hell am I supposed to run to?” Bella spun away from the door—and the camera—making sure to anchor the sheet over her backside. She dashed to Muffin’s quilted pink carrier and grasped the handle.

She couldn’t wedge past Henri and the photographer struggling to raise his camera over Henri’s head.

“The screen,” Henri gasped. “Move the screen. There’s another door behind. I will hold off this piece of garbage, M’selle Bella.”

Henri might have strong hands, but he appeared to be fighting a losing battle. It was only a matter of time before the paparazzi passed him.

Clutching the Egyptian cotton in one hand and the rhinestone-studded carrier in her other, Bella raced to the antique screen painted with Monet-style murals. Sure enough, she found a narrow exit decorated with a large red bow. She butt-bumped the bar, creaked the door open and peeked out.

She looked left and right down an empty corridor, less ornate than the rest of the hotel. Labeled office doors were bedecked with simple holiday wreaths. There might be some after-hours workers around, but running into them beat the hell out of sprinting through the wide-open, high-ceilinged lobby with crystal chandeliers spotlighting her mad dash toward the elevator.