French Kissing: Episode One
Copyright © Harper Bliss 2014
Sybille, the girl Juliette was interviewing for the position of her new PA, was the spitting image of Nadia ten years ago. Big brown eyes, that North-African complexion that made Juliette’s knees go weak, a feistiness brimming under the polite tone of her voice. Maybe it was wrong to base her decision on the turmoil her personal life was going through, but she couldn’t possibly hire her. Or maybe a constant reminder of how it used to be was exactly what she needed.
Suddenly she didn’t feel like asking Sybille about her strengths and weaknesses anymore—a question the girl would no doubt answer capably and even with a bit of wit thrown in. She was definitely over-qualified and surely ambitious, exactly the overachiever Juliette was looking for.
“You know what, Sybille?” She locked eyes with her and saw Nadia again. Nadia on their first date wearing that white blouse that contrasted so gloriously with her skin, it made Juliette’s mouth water. “You’re hired. Please see Fabio in the office next door for details. We use the standard two-month trial period. Please start as soon as possible.” She stood up to shake hands. Sybille seemed undeterred, as if she’d had this in the bag from the moment she walked in. As if she’d seen it in Juliette’s eyes. The guilt, the eagerness, the desperation to, for once, say yes.
“Merci beaucoup, Madame Barbier.” She stood tall, no trace of nervous sweat on her fingers when their hands met. “You won’t regret it.”
We’ll see about that. Juliette’s success in business was due to a good combination of gut instinct, profound analysis and a complete lack of emotion. If she didn’t deal with her crumbling relationship soon, she’d be doing more than hiring assistants who looked like her wife on a whim. She’d be harming her and Claire’s life’s work.
After showing Sybille out, she reached for her phone and called Nadia.
“Have lunch with me,” she said as soon as she heard Nadia’s matter-of-fact greeting on the other end of the line.
“What? Today?” The lack of eagerness and spontaneity in Nadia’s voice gripped her around the heart like a cold fist. “I can’t, babe. I’m up to my ears.” The same excuse Juliette had used for years, meaning she had no defence against it.
“Please. We need to talk.” If neither one of them ever insisted, how could they ever work it out? If all they did about their current impasse was instigate half-hearted conversations after too much wine—usually resulting in a flaming fight because they both couldn’t control their temper very well when under the influence—how could they possibly find a way out?
“I know, but can’t it wait? The most I could possibly spare you for lunch is half an hour.” Nadia sighed. “We deserve more than that.”
Juliette could hardly argue with that. “Tonight?”
“I’ll be home at eight. I promise.” A sweetness had crept into Nadia’s voice. Juliette didn’t want to hang up now.
“I’ll cook.” She realised she’d been overcompensating in the kitchen of late.
“Why don’t you relax. Open a nice bottle of wine. I’ll take care of dinner.”
“Sounds perfect, babe. I love you.” It was so easy to say, and certainly no lie, but what if it wasn’t enough? What if their love had developed into something different over the years. Something more pragmatic and less romantic.
“Love you too. Got to run.”
Juliette sagged against the leather back rest of her chair. They’d had all weekend to talk, but Nadia had had a nasty hangover to nurse on Saturday and Juliette had been so angry, so frustrated and utterly unwilling to talk anything through. On Saturday evening Juliette had attended a ghastly play with Claire courtesy of a good client—attendance not optional.
On Sunday, just like every Sunday for the past six months it seemed, Nadia had had to deal with an emergency at the hospital, keeping her away from home for the better part of the day. Juliette had been so tired, so emotionally exhausted, she’d barely made it out of bed at all. Resentment was a heavy burden to bear, not just resentment for Nadia’s job which had transformed her into someone Juliette wasn’t sure she particularly liked—possibly because that new person emerging reminded her a bit too much of herself for comfort—but, mostly, resentment for how the whole situation made her feel so helpless, so dependent on someone else’s availability and time for her.
Juliette wasn’t used to playing second fiddle, but Claire was right. Maybe it was Nadia’s time to shine professionally. But where did that leave her, if not in the shadows?
[END OF PREVIEW]