From Paris With Love - Chapter One

Samantha Tonge, author of Doubting Abbey, is publishing her new book, From Paris With Love, in two days. So I'm very pleased to show you a little teaser today. If you can't wait till the 24th, here is Chapter 1.

Blurb: Every girl dreams of hearing those four magical words Will you marry me? But no-one tells you what’s supposed to happen next…

Fun-loving Gemma Goodwin knows she should be revelling in her happy-ever-after. Except when her boyfriend Lord Edward popped the question, after a whirlwind romance, although she didn’t say no….she didn’t exactly say yes either!

A month-long cookery course in Paris could be just the place to make sure her heart and her head are on the same page… And however disenchanted with romance Gemma is feeling, the City of Love has plenty to keep her busy; the champagne is decadently quaffable, the croissants almost too delicious, and shopping is a national past-time! In fact, everything in Paris makes her want to say Je t’aime… Except Edward!

But whilst Paris might offer plenty of distractions from wedding planning – including her new friends, mysterious Joe and hot French rockstar Blade - there’s no reason she couldn’t just try one or two couture dresses is there? Just for fun…


In my gorgeous new dress and earrings borrowed from Abbey, I walked as elegantly as possible, down the aisle. I wore a pale blue set of underwear – apparently matching bras and knickers are the height of sophistication – and my mother’s old gold watch, for good luck. Sashaying now, I smiled at people to my left, and then my right. Ahead, Edward caught my eye and winked. Stomach tingling, I stopped by his side and stared at the lusciousness that was Lord Edward Croxley. *Sigh*. I grinned at the vicar. Today, Friday the first of February, was possibly one of the happiest of my life. 

‘Move out the way, will yer?’ boomed a voice from behind. Talk about rude! I fought the urge to indicate with two fingers, in a “W” shape for “Whatever”, that I’d only be a couple of seconds. I slipped off my jacket and dropped sideways, into my seat, next to my guy. The loud man pushed past, towards the loo. Still standing, unsteadily, the vicar burped and looked out of the window. Truth be told, he was a plumber called Jim and in fancy dress for a stag weekend. 

Despite all that something borrowed, something blue malarkey, this was no wedding, but a trip on an aeroplane. Squirming in my seat, I pulled down the short hem to my cherry red dress. Some of last year’s training that helped me pretend to be modest, aristocratic Abbey for two weeks had clearly stuck – thanks to my teacher, Lady Constance Woodfold (Lady C to me), and her crash course in how to act in a more refined way. 

‘I can’t believe we’re only ten minutes from Paris!’ I said as the sign lit up for us to fasten our seatbelts. 

Edward put away his travel guide and squeezed my hand. ‘What’s more exciting, Gemma – your first flight or the prospect of spending one month in the tremendous City of Light?’ 

I cocked my head, wanting to say neither – I was most looking forward to working in restaurant Chez Dubois for the whole of February and learning everything I could about French nosh. But that wasn’t a very romantic answer, considering he’d proposed only a short while ago, at Christmas – just moments after I’d decided to travel the world in order to learn how to become a chef. 

You see, Edward had tipped thirty whereas I was still a couple of years off celebrating my twenty-fifth. Independent me, much as I loved him, just wasn’t sure whether to say “yes” and sign on the dotted marital line. So patient Edward was still waiting for my answer. I cleared my throat and fortunately, at that moment, the air stewardess came by, to check our belts. In fact she’d been mega attentive throughout our journey and suddenly blurted out: 

‘You two were great on Million Dollar Mansion last year…’ Her cheeks tinged pink. ‘I’ve been longing to say that since we left Gatwick. It’s the best reality show ever and I’m so glad your side won.’ 

Edward’s eyes shone. ‘How kind. Yes, it was super to secure the financial future of my ancestral home.’ 

‘You were excellent, passing yourself off as your classy best friend, Abigail Croxley,’ she said to me and giggled. ‘Your antics were a real hoot.’ 

Even though I’d had the same conversation a thousand times since being on telly last September, I never got bored of chatting to the show’s fans. Not even when people exclaimed how “common” – whatever that meant – I looked, away from the camera, nor when women ogled Edward, who looked even hotter in real life. 

It would be strange in Paris, where no one knew us. Perhaps Edward and me could finally grab some “quality time” together. Jeez, just saying that made me sound about a hundred – I’d spent too much time living in his family home, musty old Applebridge Hall! It was the first time I’d been travelling without slathering myself in fake tan or packing my boob-enhancing chicken fillets. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved my short skirts and colourful nails but… Lady C’s training… All that stuff about moderation… Somehow bits of it had etched themselves permanently onto my brain. 

‘Are you two on a romantic getaway?’ the stewardess continued, oblivious to the glares of the colleague in front of her, trying to pass with the drinks trolley. 

I avoided Edward’s eye. Not that he’d made a fuss when I’d asked for more time to consider his proposal, but it was hard to stay strong. The soppy part of me melted at the sound of his very English voice – at the sight of his strong shoulders, that teasing mouth, those soulful eyes – and didn’t want to think rationally about my jet-setting career plans. 

‘Um… Not really,’ I said, cheeks tingeing pink. ‘I’m here for a month, developing my cookery skills. One of the workmen renovating Applebridge Hall’s top floor heard about me longing to travel. He spoke to his daughter who works in France, in the catering business.’ 

‘It’s who you know, not what, don’t they say,’ said the air stewardess, nodding her head. 

‘Too right! She passed on details of a bistro that needed reliable, temporary English-speaking staff to help out during February. Although there was some mix-up and we’ve ended up working at Chez Dubois, a different restaurant.’ I shrugged. ‘Anyway, a friend of hers lent us her flat as she’d just taken on a cruise ship job for a month and didn’t want it standing empty. Apparently she’d heard of Million Dollar Mansion and cos we’re “famous” – her words, not mine – trusted us not to trash her place.’ 

‘I’d love to live in Paris for more than an overnight stopover,’ said the stewardess, in a dreamy voice. 

‘The restaurants over there are expecting business to boom due to a series of spring events to commemorate the First World War,’ chipped in Edward and ran a hand through his honey curls. ‘I believe Chez Dubois is one of the oldest in the area. It was built in the seventeenth century, originally as a café where men might drink and listen to the wit of visiting actors. Over the centuries it became the haunt for many famous writers, so understandably Gemma and I – both keen readers – are thrilled to work there.’ 

‘Aw, and you’re keeping Gemma company?’ said the air stewardess and gave a flirtatious giggle. 

Honestly! How did Edward manage to turn most women to putty within minutes of talking to them? 

He smiled. ‘Gem doesn’t need me to accompany her – she’s capable of making new friends anywhere on this earth. No, the magazine I write a weekly column for is interested in several pieces on the First World War commemorative events in England. I thought a take on the French perspective might also interest readers, so asked lovely Gemma if she’d mind me tagging along.’ 

How chuffed Edward had been when Country Aspirations magazine offered him the column, having been impressed with the success of his daily blog during Million Dollar Mansion. Since publishing his weekly pieces on the twenty-first century world from an aristocrat’s point of view, their sales figures had soared. The magazine’s stodgy readers particularly lapped up articles on Applebridge Hall’s renovation, high society events and the fine nosh we taught people to cook at the food academy we set up with the million dollars prize. 

The air stewardess wished us luck and moved on, probably disappointed that we hadn’t announced we were eloping or on some sort of honeymoon. As the plane tilted its nose and got ready to land, I leant past Edward to look out of the aeroplane. He’d offered me the window seat, as it was my first time in the air, but I’d said no. Each peek out of the window gave me an excuse to cuddle up to my yummy man. Meringues of cloud parted to reveal sunshine. For a second the plane shook – talk about the ultimate rollercoaster ride, and one that would end at the coolest ever destination! 

My heart felt like it would explode with sparks of joy as I relaxed back into my seat and held Edward’s hand tight. I glanced sideways at him and couldn’t wait to kiss his lips, to feel his breath on my neck, under the starry Parisian sky… A smile crossed my lips. If Auntie Jan knew how Edward still made me feel, she’d call me “a right soppy sausage”. 

‘Have you worked out exactly where our flat is?’ I said, as the plane finally ground to a halt and we stood up to get our hand luggage. ‘If not, I’ll Google the address on your laptop.’ I patted his rucksack. 

‘Done,’ said Edward as we stepped out of the aeroplane and followed the other passengers towards the luggage carousel. Once there, he took out the travel guide and pointed to an underground station, in the north of the capital. ‘As we thought, the flat is near Chez Dubois, in Montmartre – near the Sacre-Coeur.’ 

‘Ooh, close to that square full of artists that I’ve seen on the telly? Aren’t we the cultured ones?’ 

‘I believe it is excessively touristy nowadays, but yes, that’s the place.’ He leant forward and kissed me on the lips – an action which never failed to make my heart race, as if it only had a few beats left before giving out. ‘Oh, Gem, I can’t wait to show you my favourite Parisian haunts. When Mother brought me here, one school holiday, I thought it was the most wonderful place on earth. The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is smashing – truly panoramic. And we visited the extraordinary Pompidou Centre and Père Lachaise, a magnificent cemetery where some of the greatest writers of all time are buried, like Oscar Wilde. The tombs are like nothing you’ve ever seen – even bigger than those on your favourite supernatural programme…’ 

I screwed up my forehead. 

‘The one where high school students transform into werewolves or consume blood.’ He pulled a face. 

‘Ah, the Vampire Diaries.’ AKA the greatest show on earth! And I wasn’t the only dedicated viewer at Applebridge Hall. Amazin’ cook, Kathleen, watched it too, under the guise of ironing in front of the telly. Proof that grey hairs and wrinkles don’t stop you appreciating hot men – well, bloodsuckers really, but still, what was a couple of sharp glinting teeth between friends? 

Having said that, much as I liked watching lush vamps hang out amongst gravestones, I’d already selected more lively locations to visit during my stay here. For me, the French capital was all about wicked boutiques, awesome cafés and, of course, Disneyland Paris, dream destination to children of all ages – including forty-three year old Auntie Jan, who was Minnie Mouse’s number one fan. 

Plus I could just imagine Edward and me sitting outside some fancy bar in the capital, sipping red wine, and eating slices of baguette with smelly cheese. We’d look all arty and refined, with a cluster of museum guides and shopping bags at my feet. All I’d need then was a beret and miniature poodle to make the fantasy complete. In the background, classy music would play – like that golden oldie about not regretting something or other... *Sigh*. I’d fallen in love with Paris already. 

‘Pardon!’ mumbled a lady in a fur coat, who squeezed past us to get her bags. 

‘Huh?’ I shrugged at Edward. ‘But I didn’t say anything.’ 

‘No, that means excuse me,’ said Edward as he studied the carousel. 

Oh. Clearly my GCSE French was rustier than I thought. Mind you, I hadn’t forgotten everything and when the woman came back again, carrying a smart suitcase, and repeated the polite word, I said. ‘Au naturel,’ pleased to have remembered the phrase for “of course”. 

The woman gave me a strange look and hurried on. Edward chuckled. 

‘You just said “naked” to her,’ he whispered. 

Really? Nah, he had to be wrong, even though he’d spent the last few weeks revising his French. Certain things from school lessons never left me – like the time I did an essay about me and Auntie Jan attempting to make homemade jam. Right healthy it was, and I wrote that we’d used no préservatifs. You should have seen the teacher’s face. Well, how was I supposed to know that was the French word for condoms? Cue, a fleeting moment of fame at school, as everyone thought I’d muddled up the words on purpose. 

As the luggage went around on the conveyor belt, a man in a black suit and sunglasses stood on the other side of the carousel and stared my way. His light brown hair was styled army short. He had tanned skin, a strong jawline and chiselled cheekbones. All of a sudden he turned away and disappeared into the crowds. Perhaps Parisians might recognise us after all. 

A fashionable woman struggled to retrieve her huge suitcase and Edward lunged forward, easily lifted it off the conveyor belt and bowed his head as she giggled and muttered her thanks in French. Yes, I was officially going out with one sexy, appealing hunk! Whistling, arm linked with my man, I eventually left the airport. 

We pulled our suitcases on wheels, both of us carrying rucksacks on our backs. Once outside I took a deep breath, expecting to smell garlic or see strings of onions around people’s necks. This was France, right? Plus my first time abroad… But, disappointingly, everything looked much the same as back home, including the grubby pavement and grey clouds. 

How could this be? I wanted glamour! The Exotic! Sophistication! Even the birds were the same, I noticed, as a couple of chubby pigeons ambled past. You’d think they‘d look all slim and sexy, living over the Channel. Edward hailed a taxi and muttered something in the local lingo. Apparently he’d got top marks for his French A-level and once stayed with family friends in the South of France. As a girl I’d always been lucky to get a week in Margate – not that I’m complaining. It takes a lot to beat a visit to the arcades, followed by a cone of chips and stick of rock. 

We got in the car and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the strange man with sunglasses get into a waiting black BMW. Wow. Its windows were tinted. He must have been important. 

‘Anglais, uh?’ said the taxi driver, as our car pulled away. 

‘Yes,’ said Edward. 


‘Non…’ I cleared my throat. ‘We are, ‘ow you zay… workeeeeng.’ I caught Edward’s eye and giggled, realising that just adding an accent to my English didn’t make me a linguist. 

‘Nous travaillons,’ I said, racking my brain for the right words. 

‘Ah… but still… Exciting, non… in Paris?’ 

‘Au naturel,’ I said, despite Edward thinking he knew what that meant. And, indeed, the car swerved, proving that the driver was impressed with my French. 

‘Bit of a luxury this, isn’t it, a taxi?’ I said to Edward as the driver looked in his mirror to give me a weird look and turned up the radio. 

‘Quite. After years of watching every penny, to save Applebridge Hall, my instinct would have been to take the underground.’ 

‘You mean Métro,’ I said airily. ‘Yes – but I’m glad we took the convenient option, instead of dragging our cases across the capital. It’s made our whole trip a lot easier.’ 

‘Our first trip together…’ Edward smiled fondly at me. ‘I wonder where we’ll go for our second? Imagine going on a cruise, like the girl whose flat we’re borrowing. Even though she’s working on the ship, it’s a chance second to none – a life on the waves…’ Edward stared dreamily out of the window. 

It had been weird for him – the fallout from last year’s reality show. The world suddenly realising that his cousin Rupert – not him – was the rightful heir to Applebridge Hall. Once Rupert took over, after graduating later this year, Edward would be free of his aristocratic responsibilities, if he wanted, to carve out any career path. 

I gripped his hand and gave it a squeeze, before gazing out of the window. Whoaa! This was more like it. Clearly we were entering the centre of the Paris. Just look at those cute cafés with people drinking beer and coffee outside, under the early rays of spring sun. And those shop windows had gilt-edged windows… Glamour at last! Plus an old man just cycled past wearing a beret! 

Mind you, he’d have been better off wearing a sturdy helmet. My eyes widened as cars weaved randomly in between lanes, hooting and winding down their windows to swear. Perhaps I’d need to head for the Champs-Elysées to experience French elegance at its best. And sure enough, we drove down that huge avenue eventually – not that I took in much detail, after the psychotic way our car had hurtled around the Arc de Triomphe a few times, seconds before. 

‘I suspect we’re being taken on the sightseeing route,’ said Edward and glanced at the taxi meter before pulling out his travel guide. I held onto the door, heart racing as if I’d just done the scariest ride at Alton Towers. I must have been confused, cos I was sure I saw that black BMW hurtling around with us, as well. 

Not long after, however, the streets narrowed and, able to focus once again, I saw Parisian life up close. Away from the busy boulevards, people walked at a slower pace. They talked on their phones or, carrying a newspaper, stopped to chat with café owners. The most adorable balconies with plant pots fronted white-washed flats above shops, shutters either side of the windows. I sent Abbey a quick text to let her know how cute the city was. 

‘Are you going to miss Applebridge Hall? And your dad? It’s ages since you’ve been away, what with the financial stresses,’ I said. 

Edward chuckled. ‘Father and I could probably do with a break from each other after all this time. But seriously? I feel happier leaving him behind, now that he enjoys the companionship of Lady Constance.’ 

I nodded. Theirs was a mega sweet romance, fuelled by a mutual love of birdwatching. ‘Shame she won’t be with him for Valentine’s Day.’ 

‘At least she’s only in Switzerland for a few days.’ 

‘True.’ Dear old Lady C – well into her seventies and still giving advice on running finishing schools. Having owned one for years, she’d become something of an expert in the field, plus appearing on Million Dollar Mansion had raised her profile. She’d been mega chuffed to be invited to a girls’ college in Zurich for three nights. 

‘Almost there, now,’ said Edward, as we pulled into a busy street which was cobbled, full of pedestrians and increasingly narrow. How adorable! I’d have to take loads of photos later and upload them to my Facebook page, with the status “Wish you were here.” 

‘We can walk from here.’ He paid the driver and we got out. 

Towing our luggage, we eventually came to a tiny square where I did finally breathe in garlic – along with a whiff of seafood wafting out from a bottle-green painted bistro on the left called “La Perle”. Next to that was a gift shop with racks of postcards outside. Opposite was a butcher’s with a queue coming out of the door and a tiny supermarket. A van pulled up near the gift shop to unload fresh produce for a grocer’s further along. Edward pointed upwards, to the right. 

‘Voilá!’ he murmured. 

Wow – it couldn’t get better than this. Our home for the next month was bang on top of a patisserie – that’s a cake shop, to you and me – called… Ah, I could translate those words – the sign said “The Golden Croissant”. Roll on breakfasts of fresh swirly Danish pastries… And down the end of the avenue, along from there I could just see a red canopy over small tables – a bar! 

‘Come on!’ I said and hurried towards the flat. Pulling my suitcase, I charged towards the cake shop and headed up a staircase on its right, whilst Edward nipped inside the Golden Croissant to get the key. Five minutes later, we were inside the flat and surveying our new home in silence. Talk about fab. 

The small, functional kitchen and lounge were open plan, with a welcoming fireplace in the middle, near an ivory sofa and chairs. Underneath the glass coffee table lay a turquoise patterned rug, over oak-laminated floor. On the ornate black balconies, outside the windows, sat potted plants. There was a dinky bathroom and the cutest bedroom, with rustic bedcovers, a bowl of potpourri and a wash basin and jug. A beech table with four chairs just about fitted into the far corner, on the window side…. 

‘Our Parisian abode really is quite charming,’ said Edward as he took out a notebook from his pocket, to jot down some notes. 

‘Look at you, ever the writer,’ I said and winked. 

He nodded. ‘It’s just a few random thoughts of our taxi drive and the sights so far. If I’m lucky I’ll be able to squeeze a few weeks’ columns out of this trip and not just report on the commemorative First World War events.’ 

I opened the windows, by the balcony, to air the flat. The divine aroma of crème fillings, sugar and spice wafted up from the cake shop. I could get used to that. 

Edward smiled. ‘Why don’t you pop out and buy some basics, for tea, from that little supermarket? By the time you get back I should have the heating and kettle on. Or if you like, I’ll get the food in and you can set up the flat.’ 

‘No it’s fine…’ Me shopping – that sounded perfect! Although Edward had become something of a fan of this pastime, since meeting me… Primark was his particular favourite. He couldn’t get over the choice, as over the years he’d made do with the services of a local tailor and occasional trips to a small men’s clothes shop in Applebridge. 

‘I won’t be long…’ A lump came to my throat, just for one second. Edward was so caring and reliable, staying behind to set up a cosy little home for us. Perhaps I was mad to not immediately accept his proposal of marriage. I stepped up on tiptoe, and kissed him firmly on his lips. Tenderly he responded, sending a trickle of tingles down my spine. 

Once outside, I headed towards the supermarket and, as I glanced ahead, I let out a gasp. The man in a black suit stood by a nearby tree. Of average height, he nevertheless stood out. His whole physique shouted discipline – with his clear skin and subtle gym-bunny shape. 

Quick as a flash, he turned away and I shook myself. No. Don’t be paranoid. He must have been a different bloke to the one on the plane. Dark suits and sunglasses were all the rage nowadays. 

I gazed around at a poor lady with matted hair and a threadbare scarf. She sat on the pavement, asking for change. I slid my rucksack off my back and delved in for my purse, before handing her some coins. Then I entered the supermarket, in my head practising the pronunciation for the French equivalent of “how much, please?” 

At the back of the shop, I swung around an aisle, looking for milk and… Whoa! ... came face to face with that man again. Suddenly he reached for a packet of biscuits. The hairs on the back of my neck jumped to attention. Instinct told me that he was pretending to look busy. But why? Could he really have followed little old me, all the way from the airport? 

Shopping forgotten, I made for the door, nevertheless telling myself my suspicions were… Well, my first thought was “bonkers” but since staying with Edward these last months, my vocabulary now included phrases my new aristocratic friends used. Occasionally I’d say something was “quite terrible” or “nonsensical” or “awfully idiotic”. So yes, my suspicions were quite nonsensical. 

Who did I think the man was? A real-life version of the Men in Black agents, about to zap aliens? If we’d been in England, he could have worked for one of the countless TV companies who’d approached me during the last few months, to do other reality shows. Yet we were in Paris… I swallowed. No one knew me. I was letting my imagination work overtime. 

Chest nevertheless pounding, I led him away from the direction of the flat and instinctively quickened my pace. After five minutes, I gazed over my shoulder, as the sunlight began to fade. Really? I mean, really? Had he just dodged behind a parked car? 

No doubt about it, then. He was stalking me. Mouth dry, I took a sharp left into an avenue and ran as fast as I could in my heels. Yet footsteps still sounded behind me. I cut into an even smaller avenue. Shit (sorry Lady C, manners out the window at this point)… I stared at a dead end. My hands felt sticky and in slow motion, I swivelled around. 

The black BMW from earlier pulled up. The door opened. Inside was the mysterious man. He climbed out and walked stealthily towards me.

About the author:
Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family, and two cats who think they are dogs. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, came out in November 2013.

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