The Art of French Kissing
Author:Kristin Harmel

She led me a block down the quai to a café on the Left Bank, just across from Notre Dame. Its yellow-and-green neon letters spelled out CAFé LE PETIT PONT, and its umbrella-covered terrace overlooked Notre Dame across a narrow sliver of river.

“It’s one of my favorite restaurants in Paris,” Poppy said as we waited at the entrance to be seated. “I never grow tired of this view.”

Indeed, I kept pinching myself throughout dinner, convinced that I couldn’t possibly be sitting nonchalantly in a Parisian café, sipping Beaujolais, eating the most delicious coq au vin I’d ever tasted, and looking out on the fabled Notre Dame Cathedral. Only a month ago, I’d been eating at a patio table with Brett, thinking that I had everything in life I could possibly want. It suddenly felt like the world I had lived in before was very small.

After toasting to my new life in Paris with the last of our bottle of wine, we ordered espresso and apple crumble and giggled our way down memory lane, reminiscing about our summer in London eight years earlier and filling in the gaps of our lives since then. We’d stayed in touch, but there had been lapses here and there—particularly on my side, I was ashamed to admit.

“I guess once I started dating Brett, I let a lot of things sort of fall to the wayside,” I mumbled, avoiding Poppy’s gaze. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s in the past,” she said. She reached across the table and gave my hands a squeeze. “And so is Brett. Good riddance.”

I tried to smile, but it was harder than it should have been to get the corners of my mouth to cooperate. I took a deep breath.

“So tell me about Guillaume.” I changed the subject, hoping that Poppy would be less hesitant than she’d been at home. After all, it had been a long time since I’d worked with a bona fide celebrity. By the time the Boy Bandz boys made it big, I already knew them for the pimply-faced, spoiled, hormonal kids they were, which sort of reduced their charm factor for me. I was looking forward to working with someone whom People had named one of the sexiest men alive and whom 67 percent of Glamour poll takers had said reminded them most of a real-life Prince Charming.

“Yes, right, okay,” Poppy said, nodding and looking away. “We’re all very excited about him; he sings in both English and French, and his music makes him the perfect crossover artist. He’s sort of Coldplay meets Jack Johnson, with a side of John Mayer and the influence of the Beatles, all with that delicious French accent.”

“Poppy, that’s great!” I exclaimed. It was just the kind of project I’d dreamed of during all those years of pushing flavorless teen groups. “He sounds wonderful.”

“Well, that’s the way we’re marketing him,” she said, finally smiling and meeting my eye. “He’s supposed to be KMG’s next big thing, the deliciously sexy up-and-coming French star. The higher-ups here have decided that they’ll be pushing him hard to the British and American markets. Everyone already knows his name because of the whole Dionne DeVrie thing—and of course the Jennifer Aniston rumor has helped enormously—so it’s perfect. Together, you and I will be handling his English-language launch, with a big kickoff event in London in just under four weeks. I’ve been working my bum off for the last two months on this.”

“Wow!” I said. “This all sounds so exciting.”

“It will be,” she said with a nod. “It’s a big deal, really. We’re flying lots of press in from the States. Basically, KMG’s big rollout plan this year is to make Guillaume Riche the next big worldwide superstar, starting with the UK and America. It’s up to me and you to make that happen.”

“It is?” I asked. I blinked at her a few times. The responsibility sounded huge.

“Don’t worry, yeah?” Poppy added hastily. “Everything’s already in place. Everyone loves him already because he’s a TV star over here, of course, and because of his reputation as one of Europe’s hottest bachelors. In fact, we organized a poll of fifty British women and fifty American women just last week, and when asked to name the sexiest Frenchman they could think of, ninety-two percent of them said Guillaume Riche!”

“And the other eight percent?” I asked.

“A few said Olivier Martinez, a few named Gérard Depardieu, and one woman, who seemed a bit off her rocker anyhow, kept declaring her love for Napoléon,” Poppy said, grinning at me.

I laughed.

“Plus,” she continued, “the press think Guillaume’s a saint. Along with that whole Ethiopian adoption rumor, we’ve had him doing lots of charity work in the last five months, and the newspapers and TV shows have started to pick up on it. In the last month alone, he’s been featured three times in Okay magazine and made Hello’s list of Europe’s most eligible bachelors—after he and Dionne broke up, of course. The whole Saint Guillaume thing has really caught on.”

“So how come he’s not releasing an album in French?” I asked.

Poppy shrugged. “Over here, the French love English-language music, so they’ll embrace the fact that he sings in English. This way, we can launch him to the UK and America at the same time we’re launching his French music career. It’s like killing two birds—well, a lot of birds, really—with one stone. It’s the Americans and the Brits that drive the world’s taste in music. Plus, he grew up speaking English, so he’ll be ace in interviews. His father spent some time living in the States before Guillaume was born, I gather.”

“Well,” I said, “he sounds perfect. I don’t even know how to thank you for giving me this job.”

“No matter,” she said, glancing away. “I really need the help for the next four weeks, believe me.”

We lingered over the apple crumble while a jazz trio began to play inside. The smells, the sounds, the feel of everything here was so different from what I was used to. I could almost forget that somewhere, thousands of miles away, Brett even existed.

I fell right asleep that night, thanks to my jet lag. When Poppy gently shook me awake the next morning at eight thirty, I felt disoriented, and it took me a moment to remember where I was.

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