A French Affair
by Lucy Felthouse
eBook ISBN: 9781909624931
Sydney Tyler is renting a barn conversion in Northern France. Unfortunately, construction work next door puts an end to her peace and quiet. Genuinely upset that the builders are going to disturb her, the property’s handsome English owner, Harry Bay, offers to make it up to her.
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Sydney Tyler jumped so hard that her fingers slammed down onto the laptop’s keyboard and she typed a bunch of gobbledegook.
Kashfkjsdhlfknsdlfvn sdlkch awoeduioh ahdwklc
Gasping, she clutched at her chest as her heart thumped rapidly and painfully. “What the fucking hell was that?” she said to the empty room.
Pushing her chair back from the desk, she stepped over to the window. Peering out into the brilliant sunshine, she saw something on the lawn that she had absolutely not been expecting. Workmen.
She groaned. So much for her peaceful writer’s retreat. She’d planned to get a good chunk of her novel down in the fortnight she was away, and now it looked as though her peace was going to be monumentally shattered by banging, drilling and God knows what else.
Sighing, she gave the windowsill a pathetic thump in her frustration. She might have been pissed off, but she was no vandal. And besides, she didn’t want those noisy buggers in her part of the building fixing things—having them next door was bad enough.
Sydney really could not believe her shitty luck. When she’d booked the cottage in the French village of Monthiers over the phone a couple of months ago, she’d dealt with a fellow Brit called Harry Bay, who she’d suspected was the owner. On arrival, though, a timid French woman had met her and let her into the luxurious barn conversion before handing over the keys and explaining a little bit about the local area. Apparently, in the mornings, someone came along the village streets, selling fresh bread and pastries.
There wasn’t much else to tell, it seemed, as the village had nothing except a church—almost opposite her accommodation—and a tavern. It was also lacking—she’d quickly discovered—a mobile signal. Not even a single bar illuminated her screen. Her phone was now no more than a watch, alarm clock and calendar. If there was an emergency, she was screwed. But on a much lighter note, it was one less distraction. She could just get on with what she was here to do, blissfully undisturbed.
The arrival of workmen was incredibly irritating. Her temporary landlord hadn’t mentioned there’d be anyone working next door. If he had, she wouldn’t have booked the place—the quiet and idyllic location were the whole reason for choosing this property, this area. Even though there was no way he could have known she was there to work, common courtesy would dictate that he told her. Perhaps he was just interested in taking her money and didn’t give a damn about whether she had a satisfactory stay or not. There was nothing to be done about it now, unfortunately. She’d paid for the fortnight, and she was buggered if she was going to cut and run, pissing that money down the drain. She’d just have to find a way around the disturbance, and console herself that she could leave a snarky write up on a review site when she got home.
Finding out the builders’ working hours would be a good start—she could attempt to write around them then. Or perhaps she could make use of the headphones she’d stuffed into her case, without ever thinking they’d get used. Some loud rock music would drown out the din from next door and hopefully allow her to work. It was worth a try. She hoped they were only doing a small job that would only take a couple of days, but deep down she knew they weren’t. They were renovating the whole place so it was as beautiful as the half she was in.
She was just about to go in search of the aforementioned headphones when one of the men pottering around on the lush back garden stepped away from the others. Standing in a shaft of sunlight, he pulled his arms high above his head and stretched, dragging up his t-shirt to reveal a lean stomach with a fine line of dark hair leading enticingly into the waistband of his jeans.
Oh yum, she thought, perhaps having builders next door wouldn’t be so bad after all. Especially if they all looked like him. She continued to watch as the man dropped his arms to his sides and watched the others. His dark hair was overlong and stuck out at crazy angles, as though he’d been running his fingers through it. She couldn’t see the colour of his eyes from this distance, but she could make out enough detail of his features to see that he was handsome. Gorgeous, actually. Close up he could be much less attractive, but from her upstairs window, the view was pretty fine.
Just then, he glanced across at her side of the long barn, which was divided into two holiday cottages. He caught sight of her standing there, and his face dropped. He looked back at the builders, then returned his gaze to her again. Pointing at the group of noisy men, he slapped his forehead with his other hand. Finally, he pointed at his chest, then up at her. He was indicating he wanted to come in. She paused, then nodded. Common sense told her she shouldn’t be letting a strange man into her temporary home, but then, there were several large, bulky men milling around, so if they were a dodgy sort, she and the locked door would have no chance against them, especially with no means of calling for assistance. She could scream, of course, but she doubted anyone would come. The walls of the building were extremely thick—though sadly, no match for banging and drilling—the nearest house was a little way down the road, and by day, the village was all but deserted. There was only one business that she knew of—the tavern—so the other inhabitants would have to go elsewhere to work. To nearby Chateau-Thierry, perhaps, or even further afield.
She’d just have to hope that the handsome man—probably the head honcho of their group—was also a decent one. Presumably they were a reputable company, as they’d been hired by the British owners, who were usually more wary of cowboy builders, and given the horror stories and dedicated TV programmes back home, it was understandable.
Before she got even halfway down the stairs, a knock came at the door. Okay, so he was polite enough to knock, that was good. She moved a little faster, careful not to trip in her flip flops and go hurtling downwards. Once she was safely on the ground floor, she twisted the key in the door and opened it.
“Hi,” she said, glad she’d spoken before she’d looked at him properly. He would definitely have distracted her enough that even the tiny two-letter word would have had trouble making its way out of her mouth. She’d been totally wrong about him not being as attractive close up. He was a million times hotter, and all she could manage to do was step back and wave him into the house.
“Hello,” he replied, waiting until she’d closed the door and turned around to hold out his hand. “I’m Harry Bay, the owner. And I feel absolutely horrendous about all this.”
Even if he hadn’t immediately told her his name, she’d have guessed who he was from his posh British accent—a world away from her broad Midlands one. Realising he’d come to apologise and explain, she took a deep breath and pasted a smile on her face. She’d be nice to him for now. He was sorry and he was sexy.
Shaking his hand, she replied, “Sydney Tyler. It’s lovely to meet you, Harry. Though I wish it could be under happier circumstances.”
His polite smile turned wry. “I know, I’m so sorry. Can we sit down?”
She gave a curt nod and they made their way over to the sitting area next to the stairs. She thought about offering him a drink, but figured that what she really wanted was an explanation, and fast. What concerned her the most was that if he hadn’t been so damn gorgeous, she’d have been a lot angrier with him.
“So,” she said, determined not to give him any leeway, “what’s going on with the shattering of my peace?”
His lovely grey-blue eyes closed for just a second, and his face took on a pained expression. “Ms. Tyler,” he began, but she cut him off.
“It’s Miss Tyler, Mr. Bay.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Tyler. Please call me Harry.”
He inclined his head, and continued, “Sydney, I really can’t apologise enough. The building work next door was supposed to be finished—or at the very least progressed onto the quieter stuff, like painting and decorating—by now. As I’m sure you know, though, the French are so much more laid back than us, and things have been delayed, and delayed, and now here they are. But, although it’s obviously not a very good excuse, I didn’t think it would matter.”
“You didn’t? Did you think I was deaf, or something?”
“No, of course not. But when people come and stay here, they’re generally out all day, visiting surrounding places. You’ve noticed there’s nothing to do in the village?”
“Yes, I have. But unfortunately, I picked this place for the peace and quiet as I’m working on a novel. The lack of Internet and telephone signal was a blessing, and I was hoping to really get some word count down this week. And then your workmen turned up.”
The longer she’d been speaking, the more horrified Harry’s expression became. By the time she was done, his elbows were propped on his knees and his head was in his hands. He scraped his fingers through his hair—making his crazy hairstyle even more insane—and looked back up at her.
“Christ, Sydney. Oops, sorry, excuse my language. I honestly don’t know what to say. People really do come here and just use it as a base, visit Chateau-Thierry, Reims, Soissons, Paris, and so on. There are lots of war memorials and burial grounds around here too…” He tailed off. “But it doesn’t matter, you’re not here for that. It’s just I didn’t think the builders would bother you. I made sure they didn’t start too early or finish too late so that they didn’t disturb you, but I know now I got it totally wrong.”
Sydney softened, and even started to feel a little sorry for him. He really hadn’t done this on purpose, and was clearly mortified by the situation. Something twinkled on his left hand, and an involuntary feeling of annoyance flitted through as she spotted the wedding ring. Of course he was bloody married. Someone as good-looking, as nice, as him had to be married. So now she’d have to quit her lusting after him, or at least be more subtle about it. The last thing she wanted was a jealous wife on the warpath.
“Okay, Harry, you can stop apologising now. I can see that it was a genuine mistake, and I’m sure I can get around it. I brought some headphones with me, so I should be able to drown out the sound of the builders with some loud music.”
A tiny smile twitched at the corners of Harry’s lips. “How are you getting on with the novel? And what’s it about?”
He seemed genuinely interested, so she smiled back and responded, “I haven’t started yet, I’m afraid. I finished my rough outline before I came away, and planned to get a good amount written in this fortnight. And as for what it’s about, you wouldn’t like it. It’s a romance. Or it’s going to be a romance, anyway. More your wife’s kind of thing, I would imagine.”
“My wife?” Harry glanced down at his wedding ring, a look of resignation upon his face, which annoyed Sydney no end. Why couldn’t people marry for the right reasons, and stick to the whole til-death-do-us-part oath? Cheating and divorce were getting increasingly rife, and despite his good looks and charm, it seemed that Harry wasn’t the nice guy she’d thought he was. The look on his face when she’d mentioned his wife was unimpressed, unhappy. Just because he had problems didn’t mean he should be projecting them onto a practical stranger. It was disrespectful to his wife, and as soon as he’d given that impression, her crush had disappeared like a fire doused with water.
Harry Bay may have had the looks of a male model—albeit a mature one—but he was certainly no angel, and definitely not someone to admire.
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