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Changing from her travel clothes to narrow black velvet trousers, worn with a brown cashmere V-neck sweater and black kid ballet slippers, she quickly brushed her soft, blonde hair into its natural curls, and put some pink lip-gloss on. Now, she felt ready for l’heure bleue. She admitted ruefully that its name—the blue hour—suited her mood better than any ‘happy hour’. Willing her sad thoughts away, she put a determined smile on her face and quickly walked down a wide, curving stairway to the first floor. As she descended, she saw a number of people milling about the great hall, stopping here to chat, moving over to another group. She frowned. If l’heure bleue was this busy, there would be little chance of a seat in the bar. Still, she was going to try. She wanted to hear the guitarist.
The moment she entered the Bar Intime, various unattached men tried to attract her attention.
“Chérie, par ici” – over here, honey.
“Vous alors, si jolie et blonde, venez ici” – You there, so pretty and blonde, come here.
“Viens ici, ma p’tite, faisons l’amour…” Come here, let’s make love.
At that moment, a tall, dark man, seated opposite the last speaker, got to his feet. Staring the man down with utter disdain, he said, “You will speak to this lady with the utmost respect, is that clear?”
Eloïse felt her heart stand still. Nick.
The man who had so audaciously suggested he make love to Eloïse, seemed to shrink within himself, mumbling, “I din’t mean nuthin’ by it, juss a joke.”
“A joke in very poor taste,” Nick replied, breaking through the cluster of men who were staring at Eloïse. He slowly walked over to her, stopping in front of her, his eyes sweeping over her, missing nothing.
“Thank you,” she said hesitantly, “but what are you doing here? A quiet village in the Laurentians isn’t your scene. Did your wife talk you into this?” At the thought of Monique, Nick’s secretary-researche r, who had broken up the happy marriage she’d believed she had with her husband, her voice cracked, and her eyes flashed.
Calmly, Nick replied, “I’m no longer married. My wife divorced me, as you well know. I am here for a rest—I’ve been working too hard. What are you doing here, Ellie? This place is a bit expensive for a woman who refused her husband’s offer of alimony, coldly rejecting his efforts to make her financially comfortable. Are you waiting for your current boyfriend to join you?”
Deeply offended by the contempt in Nick’s tone, Ellie shook her blonde curls back from her face. “Not that it’s any of your business, but after the way you made me suffer in our marriage, I’m not likely to give another man a shot at making me equally unhappy.” Realizing her lips were trembling, she pressed them together, hoping Nick wouldn’t realize how vulnerable she still was to him. Turning away, she said, “I won’t remain here, that man was way out of line. I’m going back to my room.”
“Because of that common slob? I think he should leave, Ellie, not you.” Behind him, he heard the other men berating their buddy who had spoken so crudely to Ellie. At last, one of the men addressed himself to Nick.
“No need for the lady to leave. Marcel is going, right now.” They hospitably opened their circle, offering Ellie a seat at the bar. Nick did not resume his seat on the opposite side, he remained standing close by Ellie. “Let us buy you and the lady a drink to show you we are not like Marcel,” one of the men offered.
Nick shook his head. “That was immediately obvious to me. No, let me buy you guys a drink, you’ve been so kind, making your rude friend leave, so that Madame can feel comfortable here. Thank you.” He turned to the bartender. “Bartender? Drinks for these gentlemen, and a slushy margarita for the lady, please.”
The bartender nodded, and one of the men said, “Ah, you know the lady well enough to order her drink. Small wonder you defended her.”
“We used to be married,” said Nick briefly. He was amused at the gasp of surprise his words evoked.
The guitarist entered to a scattering of applause, and began to play a soft melody with a Bossa Nova rhythm. Ellie was grateful to have a few moments to herself. Nick… here. Defending me, and now he’s standing behind me. He seems to be alone… Does that mean he never married Monique, after all? Or are they divorced already? Dare I ask him…?
The barman placed the slushy margarita in front of Ellie, and began to serve the other drinks Nick had ordered. Nick slowly moved closer to the bar, until he was right beside Ellie. Lifting the vodka-tonic he had been carrying, he toasted Ellie, saying, “To a most unexpected and welcome meeting.” Ellie took a deep breath, grateful when their privacy was interrupted by the men Nick had bought drinks for. They were toasting him and Ellie smilingly. When Nick responded, she smiled at the men.
Then they were alone again. Alone with their broken marriage, in the midst of a sea of happy, cheerful people.
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