“The Devil’s Own Chloe” by Alix Nichols
The Devil’s Own Chloe is a feel-good romance that tackles some big issues and delivers a shy-guy hero you won’t want to forget!
Young Parisian architect Chloe Germain hires childhood friend Hugo Bonnet as a builder. Lethally toxic to loved ones, Chloe keeps them at arm’s length to protect them.
Or so she thinks.
Patient and strong, Hugo prides himself on being able to fix anything. Trouble is, he’s never tried repairing a chasm in someone’s soul before.
Will his love save Chloe or will fixing her leave him broken?
FREE: July 16-18
It’s Saturday night, known to the mated population of Paris as Hump Night. The singles call it Hunt Night. Single women—except the confirmed bachelorettes who’ve embraced celibacy—refer to it as Manhunt Night.
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool bachelorette who engages in regular hunting and occasional fishing.
Even gathering is not beneath me.
My kind is so rare, especially among the pre-nasty-divorce crowd, that some consider us an anomaly while others refuse to believe in our existence.
But we definitely exist.
At least I, Chloe Germain, do.
What a shame humanlike robots are nowhere near industrial production yet! I envy those who’ll be born at the end of the century, when stunning PAs (Personal Androids) will make it unnecessary for people like me to be intimate with strangers.
Note to the universe: In the event you reincarnate me in female form a hundred years from now, please look at the “Dreamboat” file on my computer. I’ve spent many an evening in front of it designing my bespoke three-dimensional PA, man parts and all.
And what glorious, tip-top man parts they are!
Maybe I’ll turn out to be one of those lucky individuals whose libido dries up by their mid-thirties. Just another decade to go, and my weekends could be free from hunting and all the associated awkwardness.
I’d love that.
But I’m not holding out hope.
Right now, I amble down the crowded Boulevard de Sébastopol, trying to sashay my hips with surgical precision so the movement gets noticed and appreciated but doesn’t get misinterpreted. My goal is to produce a sway that conveys, “Here comes an emancipated woman looking for some fun tonight,” and not, “I’m a slut—do me.”
Problem is the vast majority of men fail to see the difference between the two.
As is often the case, I give up the runway walk after a few minutes, blaming my uncooperative hips. Instead, I undo another button on my shirt and clutch my purse with my pepper spray a little tighter.
I haven’t needed the spray yet, but you never know.
As I approach Café Lolo, I spot a man smoking a cigarette at a table on the sidewalk terrace. He’s by himself, and his dispassionate demeanor tells me he isn’t expecting anyone. I halt just a couple of steps from him as if debating what to do. After three seconds of fake hesitation, I sit at the closest table and take a better look at the Candidate.
His espresso cup is full, which means he won’t be leaving just yet. That’s a good sign. An even better sign is that the man is skinny and aloof. He has a bad boy leather jacket and a don’t-mess-with-me haircut. Oh, and did I mention the dark stubble peppering the bottom half of his gaunt face?
So my type.
“Got a light?” I ask, leaning in.
He looks me up and down and pulls out a lighter.
As I sit back with my cigarette between my lips, I consider which pickup line to use next.
“You come here often?” he asks.
Thank you. “Not really. You?”
“Yeah, I live nearby.”
“Oh, so you’re a local.” My lips stretch into a friendly smile. “What’s the best feature of this neighborhood?”
“You plan to move here?”
I shake my head. “Just being curious.”
“What you consider good may be bad from my perspective.” He cocks his head. “I don’t know you well enough to answer that question.”
It’s tempting to ask if he’d like to get to know me better tonight, but I stop myself. Women who are too forward scare men off. I don’t mind driving away the caring and marrying types. But I’ll bet anything the Candidate isn’t one of them.
“Good point,” I say. “Let me be more specific. Are there any good music bars in this area?”
“You’re two steps from Bastille,” he says. “Take a wild guess.”
Does he sound peeved, or am I reading him wrong? As a matter of fact, I find myself unable to read him at all.
Maybe he isn’t a good candidate, after all. Maybe I should leave right now, before I’ve ordered anything, and try my luck elsewhere.
“I’m sorry,” he says as I put out my cigarette. “That came out ruder than I meant it.”
I give him a probing look.
“Let me try again.” He gives me an unpracticed smile. “Of course there are good music bars around here. And, by the way, my name is Fabien.”
Fabien sets a few coins on the table. “I could take you to an Irish pub around the corner if you like Celtic music.”
I tilt my head to one side. “Do you like it?”
“It’s OK,” he says, impassive.
He is perfect.
“All right, then. Let’s check it out.”
In the pub, we half listen to a rocksy Breton band playing folksy Breton songs. I make lackadaisical comments from time to time. Fabien gives an occasional nod. Our main activity is consuming large amounts of beer.
“What’s your line of work, Chloe?” he asks when the band finishes their encore song and the bar begins to empty.
“Home renovations. Yours?”
He doesn’t elaborate, and I don’t insist.
It’s not as if I care.
One of the waiters places a check on our table, and another one begins to flip chairs onto tables.
“I guess it’s time to go home.” I grab the bill. “Let me treat you.”
He snatches it from my hand. “No way. It’s on me.”
I object, he insists, and the ritualized back-and-forth ends with him shoving the check in his pocket and handing the server a fifty.
When the server brings the change, Fabien leaves him a generous tip.
So far so good.
“Do you live with your parents?” he asks as we step out into the night.
Every time I get this coded proposition, it reminds me of my first year in Paris as a naive small-town freshman at the École de Versailles. I spent a good half of that year debating if Parisian men routinely inquired about my living arrangements out of politeness or a genuine interest in my person.
“A hotel room would be better,” I say.
Fabien says nothing, just stares at me.
I stare back, trying to guess his next move. Will he seal the deal or back out?
“Follow me,” he finally says.
Congratulations, Chloe, on yet another successful manhunt.
We get down to business pretty much the moment we step into the room, and it’s just as I expected. Fabien performs well. I manage to peak with a little help from my fingers, which is totally fine by me.
Two hours later, we’re dressed again and ready to part ways.
“Salut,” I say as soon as we’re outside the hotel entrance.
He looks taken aback, and I’m pleased.
Men are always the ones to decamp after casual sex while their female partner is holding her breath for a “Can I see you again?” So, yes, doing this feels good. It feels like a small but much-needed contribution to restoring the balance of yin and yang in the universe. Not that I believe in that New Age-y crap for a second.
“Um… yeah, take care,” Fabien says. He doesn’t budge, though.
I turn on my heel and march to the nearest métro station before he can suggest we do this again sometime soon. Or worse, ask me out for a drink.
I don’t do drinks, dinners, movies, dates, or relationships.
My life is a love-free zone.
Anything that resembles feelings or might be fertile soil for affection triggers a glaring neon sign in my head that screams, “Run!” The sign isn’t for my benefit. It’s to protect the innocents who don’t know what’s coming for them. Innocents who have no idea what I’m capable of.
If souls can be reborn, I’m the newest reincarnation of the mythical King Midas, who turned everything he touched into gold. Only my gift is less profitable and more macabre.
I turn everyone who loves me into dead meat.
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