Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Get Ready for the Romance Divas eBook Challenge!

Looking for some great free reads for Valentine's Day? Then you're in luck! The web's coolest writing resource, Romance Divas, is bringing you the eBook Challenge, where a network of more than 50 authors band together to provide free stories.

You can find links to the stories here:

The stories range in heat level from mild to caliente, so there's something for everything.

So without further ado, please enjoy my short story, "Birthday Gifts." Please note that this is fiction. It is Claire and Kevin's story, not mine.


“Pardonnez, monsieur, nous cherchons Les Fous de l’Isle.” Amy asked an elderly gentleman for directions to the restaurant where we had reservations. We’d only been in Paris for a few months, but already our schoolgirl French had improved amazingly to the point of near-fluency. (Or maybe the Parisians we met were just being nice, although the stereotype wouldn’t suggest that.) Our dressing habits had changed from casual jeans and t-shirts from the U.S. to more sophisticated continental styles. We could almost be mistaken for French women.

Almost being the operative word.

I looked around at the quaint buildings, cobblestone streets, and gaslight lamps dotting the discreet residential district. The Ile St. Louis is charming, but not cheap. I was definitely surprised when Amy told me she was going to take me out for my birthday in such an expensive arrondissement, effectively blowing her student budget for the week on one single lunch. But Amy insisted and I’ve learned not to argue with my roommate when she was on a mission.

“We're almost there,” Amy said. “It’s just the next street over.”

“This is really sweet, but we don’t have to go somewhere so expensive. I would have been perfectly happy with Josselin,” I added, referring to the crêperie across the street from our apartment in the Montparnasse district.

“Don’t be stupid, Claire! We go there almost every day. But it’s not every day that you have a birthday!”

At the mention of my birthday, I grew wistful at the thought of spending it without Kevin, my boyfriend of three years. I know Amy had organized this special lunch to cheer me up, but, well, to be honest, the thought of being on this romantic island in the heart of the City of Love without him was killing me.

Kevin would love it here. So full of history and passion. Parisians celebrate the senses like no one else. The entire city was a bit narcissistic, but deservedly so. No other large cities are as beautiful, particularly at night, when Paris fairly glows in the warmth of candlelit bistros.

I’d hoped that Kevin might be able to visit, but unfortunately, the airline tickets were too expensive. I understood. Really, I did. But I still missed him.

Someday I’ll take him here.

I had to hurry to catch up with Amy’s quicker pace, definitely a trait that nobody would mistake as being anything but American. The French luxuriate in the act of le promenade. Walking is an essential part of the French way of life. Unlike Americans, who view walking as merely a way of getting from one place to another, Parisians view the process as important as the destination.

“Slow down!” I called out. “This neighborhood is so pretty. You just don’t see places like this in the States.”

We passed a building with a small bronze plaque proclaiming that one of its former residents had been the famous Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire. Above the tops of the buildings, I could almost see the spires of Notre-Dame. At the end of the street, tourists and locals alike lined up around the block for a scoop of the famous Berthillon ice cream. Although I’d already been in Paris for a few months, I hadn’t yet been to Berthillon. Everyone told me I was missing out, because it really is the best ice cream in the world. I made a mental note to save room for dessert.

Finally we arrived at the restaurant, highly recommended by one of Amy’s classmates. The hostess quickly showed us to our table, whispering excitedly under her breath in French to the waiter who stood by the door. He cast a glance our way, and then disappeared into the back.

“Really attentive staff,” I said.

“Oh, that? Well, the French take the art of dining very seriously,” Amy said. “Alain recommended the soufflé au fromage for a starter.”

“We don’t need starters. Just the main course."

“Will you be quiet? I already told you, we’re doing this right.” Amy laughed. “A proper French lunch. Starter, plat principal, cheese course, dessert. Of course, wine is a given. I think I’m gonna have the duck in pepper sauce. Or maybe the chicken with Roquefort sauce. Ooh, I bet the salmon’s good, too!”

I examined the menu. Having a notorious sweet tooth, I was immediately drawn to the desserts. Chocolate profiteroles…those were Kevin’s favorite! We’d shared the classic French pastry with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge sauce on our first date. Three years later, my mouth still watered at the thought of the exquisite marriage of sensations, hot with cold, sweet with savory.

Maybe I’d have to pass on the ice cream shop later. Or maybe I’ll have both! After all, it’s my birthday.

We ordered and then Amy excused herself to go to the ladies’ room. While she was gone, the waiter returned with two glasses of champagne. He placed one in front of me, and the other in front of Amy’s empty seat.

Excusez-moi, mais il y a une erreur. Nous n’avons pas commandé le champagne.” I tried to explain that they hadn’t ordered champagne, but the waiter simply shook his head and scurried off.

“Maybe Amy ordered it,” I said.

“Or maybe I did,” a deep male voice called out.

Could it be? I'd know that voice anywhere...

I did a double take as I whipped around to face the man who had just spoken. Was I hallucinating, or was Kevin actually standing in front of me, 3000 miles from home?

“Every celebration needs champagne,” Kevin explained, his blue eyes crinkling in a smile. He walked over to me and took my trembling hands in his.

“Three years ago we shared profiteroles at the French restaurant near school. I knew then that I loved you and that one day I would do this. When you said you were going to spend the semester in Paris, I realized I had the perfect chance and that the profiteroles are probably even better here.” He gazed into my eyes. “Claire, will you marry me?”

Kevin picked up the stem of the champagne flute and held it up to me in a toast. That’s when I saw it. The most beautiful ring I’d ever seen was nestled on the bottom of the glass, almost hidden by the bubbles.

Oui! I mean yes!”

The restaurant erupted in applause. I turned and saw the wait staff crowded in the door to this room, beaming. Amy stood in the middle of the group, shrugging nonchalantly, but she couldn’t fool me. The wide grin spreading from ear to ear gave away her delight.

I turned my attention back to my new fiancé and threw my arms around his neck. It was difficult to believe he was there, but he was. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect proposal in a more perfect city. My dreams of sharing Paris with Kevin had come true.

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Posted by Amanda Brice :: 1:19 AM :: 19 comments

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