Rich, decadent, self-indulgent depravity.
That was my first thought when I surveyed the party I was currently crashing.
“What the hell am I doing here?” I asked barely above a whisper.
But my best friend still heard me.
“To loosen you up, Natalie,” Amy said. She nudged me forward into the room on the stiletto heels she’d all but forced onto my feet before we left her flat.
“In a dress this tight?” I gestured to the skintight black designer dress she’d pulled out of her outrageous closet for me.
Bohemian was a bit more on-brand for me, but I’d relented when I saw how eager she was. We’d been spending all summer in Paris and managed to stay out of trouble. I shouldn’t have even been surprised that she’d gone looking for it our last weekend. Trouble was Amy’s middle name.
“You look hot. Now, shut up and have a good time.” Amy pushed through the packed penthouse party and into the mayhem.
People danced to the music blasting in through unseen speakers. Bodies crushed together, hands touching, hips grinding. It was possible a couple was having sex in a darkened corner. Alcohol flowed like a fountain. Cocaine lay white as snow across a coffee table. For a split second, I saw the Eiffel Tower light up a window before we moved into another room.
“Do you even know where you’re going?” I asked, clutching on to Amy’s hand.
“The bar, obviously. Then, we’ll see if Enzo showed.”
I cringed. This was going to be an interesting night.
Amy found the bar with ease and ordered us both vodka tonics. She promptly downed hers and started in on number two before I even had more than a sip of mine. I was more interested in people-watching. It was a writer’s curse. Or that was what my dad always called it when I was able to recall useless information about strangers. I had a knack for details and never forgot a face.
That was how I found Enzo long before Amy. We’d met him a total of one time before he slipped Amy the address to this party and told her to crash if she dared. Amy could never resist a dare.
“Ma belle,” Enzo said in his thick French accent.
I admired him as he approached. His dark brown skin gleamed under the stark white shirt he’d left unbuttoned to the middle of his chest. His black hair coiled alluringly. He had delicate hands with paint still on his fingertips, as if he’d rushed over here while still working on some new masterpiece. I’d seen his work. I knew, one day, he’d be famous.
“Enzo,” Amy said, fluttering her eyelashes at him. “We made it.”
He kissed Amy on both cheeks in greeting. “So you did. So you did.” His eyes cut to me. “Both you and your little friend.”
“Natalie,” Amy interjected. “She’s with me.”
He shrugged as if he didn’t care one way or another. His eyes were only on Amy. That was normal between the two of us. Amy stood out. I hid behind the page.
“Any trouble with the doorman?” Enzo asked.
He slung an arm around Amy’s shoulders and moved them toward another room. I sighed and followed. Typical.
“We’re here, aren’t we?”
Amy had paid the doorman to let us through. Not that she’d say that. Her parents were rich but not this rich.
Enzo seated us in an enormous space that I could only guess was a den. Enzo’s friends greeted us. While they were all handsome, they were all definitely Amy’s type. She loved artists. And her parents hated them. Win-win in her eyes.
But the line of vapid narcissists all seemed the same to me. I wasn’t sure I had a type. If I did, they weren’t any of these men. I willingly relinquished center stage to Amy and let my eyes drift out toward the exquisite balcony that wrapped around the full exterior of the room.
To the four sets of open French doors. And the white curtains ruffling in the faint breeze off the Seine. To the intricate crown molding that accented the soft blue walls. The dozen people outside laughing. All gorgeous, confident, and utterly carefree like Amy.
But my eyes were drawn to one man.
Gooseflesh broke out over my skin. I’d seen this mysterious man before. He must be staying at a flat near the one I’d been staying at all summer with Amy because I’d seen him in the park across the street on multiple occasions. He was always scribbling furiously in a notebook or gazing off unseeingly into the distance, as if a profound thought might hit him at any moment. He’d seemed intense…even from afar. Intense and charming.
Now, he was here.
“Amy,” I said, gently nudging her.
“Hmm?” Amy asked, prying her eyes away from Enzo for a minute.
“Do you recognize that man?”
Amy followed my line of sight and frowned. “Should I?”
“I’ve seen him before in the park by our flat.”
Amy pursed her lips. “Did you meet Enzo’s friend, Alexandre? He’s hot, charming, and here right now.”
I glanced over at Alexandre and smiled halfheartedly. I didn’t know what it was about this other man. Maybe I did have a type, and men who wrote furiously in notebooks was it.
“Yeah, but…do you think…”
“Natalie,” Amy said, “no way.”
“What? No way what?”
I widened my eyes in confusion. “Why are you freaking out?”
“I know that kind of guy. You should stay far, far away from the likes of him. He has bad news written all over him.”
I laughed at Amy. “You haven’t even met him.”
“I don’t have to meet him. I can just tell. Trust me. You do not want to get tangled up with that.” Amy spread her arms out. “Especially when you have a buffet of hot Parisian artists.”
My eyes roamed the gorgeous stranger. What about him would make Amy tell me to run for the hills? He exuded a confidence that had clearly been bred into him. He wore high society like a second skin in a tailored black suit. His dark hair shone in the chandelier lighting, and the candles flickered against his sun-kissed skin. He had eyes like a hawk—observant, cunning, and wicked. Lips that were sensual and inviting. A body made to worship. He was exquisite. A work of art.
Amy touched her finger to my chin and forced me to look back at her. “Don’t even think about it, Nat.”
But I was thinking about it.
I was definitely thinking about it.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” I mused.
“Fine. It’s your funeral,” Amy said. “But just know that I warned you. I don’t want to have to say I told you so, but I will.”
“You’re so dramatic.”
Amy waved her hand at me, telling me to run off and play. Even though she thought it was a horrible idea, she’d let me make my own bad choices.
But I should have taken her advice. I should have known that Amy was only looking out for me. She wouldn’t have warned me off of this mysterious stranger for no reason.
When he finally saw me, everything screeched to a halt. Amy’s advice fluttered out of my mind like a quick summer breeze. His attention made me feel as if I were trapped in a spider’s web. I could struggle to escape, but it would be pointless. The end result would always be the same.
Then, he smiled—a controlled, devious thing—and moved toward me.
I let the web cocoon me and prepared for his imminent arrival.