“I could give you a French lesson in line,” Chantal ofers.
“I’m too distracted to learn French right now,” I reply, slamming my mental box shut a little harder.
She waves of my excuse. “Nonsense. This is time we can put to good use. When you are speaking French, you’ll thank me for pushing you.”
Rey reaches for Chantal’s coat, his attention sweeping over her determined expression, and there’s both amusement and a hint of male appreciation in his face.
When he steps into the line with us I frown. I can deal with him being here, but not hovering. “I thought you were going to go work on a backache in one of those steel chairs?”
His lips twitch. “A backache. Yes, I can’t wait.” To my surprise, he saunters away.
Chantal watches his departure and sighs wistfully. “He can be my bodyguard any day.”
I roll my eyes. She’s been casting him shy, admiring looks since she arrived at the house. “Go talk to him. Get to know him.”
She purses her lips. “You’re just trying to get out of French lessons.”
“No, I’m simply putting of making a fool of myself in public when I butcher the words. You can join me when I’m close to the front of the line.”
“Oh, no.” She shakes her head, and you’d think I’d told her to dive of the roof without a parachute, for the panic on her heart-shaped face. “I’m afraid we’ll just sit there in complete silence, and I’ll drool on myself and he’ll have to wipe my lips.”
I give her a serious look. “Not if he does it with his tongue.”
She blinks at me and we both burst out laughing. My cell phone goes of with a text and I retrieve it to read his message.
Are you there yet?
Yes, I reply. The line is long. This could take hours.
Where is Rey?
Generally hovering, as you instructed.
For your own good.
Hmmm . . .
What does hmmm . . . mean?
It means . . .
I consider a short, text-worthy way to state what I feel.
I love you, Chris.
I love you, too. Going into meeting. Text me before you leave so I can meet you at the rug.
I’ll bring the pink paddle, I type, and my cheeks burn with my boldness.
It’s in my suitcase.
I bite my lip. Is he serious? Did he really carry it through customs?
I stuf my phone back into my purse, and I swear my backside tingles.
Chantal’s laughter cuts through the decidedly lusty sensation I’m feeling, and I turn to ind her in conversation with a woman in line behind us. The instant she notices I’m free, she ends her chat and pulls a small lip chart from her purse. Evidently unconcerned about my embarrassment, she starts drilling me, her expression returning to her previous determined one. I respond with a groan and a laugh, accepting the inevitable, and dutifully repeat a phrase in horridly spoken French.
Thirty minutes later the front of the line is inally mine, and I head to the window—only to be given reams of paperwork to ill out. Chantal and I join Rey, and I wade through pages of forms.
Chantal seems to have the opposite problem to mine. Where I ramble when nervous, she doesn’t speak at all. It’s awkward, just as she feared, and I can’t focus on my paperwork.
Finally, I can’t take the silence anymore and I glance at Chantal. “Can I convince you to ind cofee somewhere? My treat. I’ve got a chill from the rain I can’t shake.”
She pops to her feet, seizing the escape. “Absolutely. Cofee sounds great.” She glances at Rey. “Would you like some?”
His lips twitch and he answers her in French. I have no idea what he says, but she blushes, looking exceptionally young in her pale pink sheath dress, with her light brown hair curled sweetly on the ends.
I watch Chantal leave and a pinch of protectiveness overcomes me. Rey’s a good ten years older, and far more worldly than she. I c**k my head and study him. “What did you say to her?”
“If I wanted you to know, mademoiselle, I’d have said it in English.” He delivers this statement in a completely deadpan voice, but I have the distinct impression he’s trying to get a rise out of me.
I narrow suspicious eyes at him. “How long have you known Chris?”
“So he trusts you, even though you’re a smart-ass.” My tone is as perfectly deadpan as his had been.
He stares at me a long moment and then lets out a deep, hearty chuckle. “Yes. I suppose he does. And I guess the same applies to you.”
This time I laugh and, unlike Chantal, I’m comfortable with the silence we fall into as I complete my forms. I instinctively like Rey, even if he does refuse to tell me what he said to Chantal.
I complete the forms and head to the desk to turn them in, hopeful the process will move quickly from here.
It doesn’t. For the next hour the three of us wait, and Chantal thankfully begins to loosen up with him. Both of them drill me on my French, laughing at my pronunciation—and I do, too.
At some point, I relax into what I believe to be new friendships blooming, and with them, connections to this city and to Chris.
When inally my name is called, my mood and my steps are lighter. A plump woman behind the counter with a thick accent asks my name. She keys my information into a computer and studies her screen a moment, then she begins to speak in highly accented English and at lightning speed.
“Can you repeat that, please?”
“Denied,” she states latly. “Your passport is denied.” She hands me my paperwork and a form written in French.