"A night lost in Paris finds two hearts changed forever."
Sent to Paris on business, Nigel Warren doesn’t quite understand why his colleagues’ eyes twinkle as they tell him to meet them at a local night spot.
When he discovers it’s a drag cabaret and his acquaintances aren’t there, he realizes he’s the butt of a joke. Yet he finds himself quite undone by a singer dressed in an elegant gown, crooning a spellbinding ballad.
It’s not unusual for Jay, a former Londoner, to bring a new “friend” home from the cabaret, but he’s never had a guest quite like Nigel, whose straitlaced manner hides an unexpected passionate streak.
One romantic night on a rooftop under starry skies, followed by an afternoon enjoying the excitement of the 1901 Paris Exposition, bonds these opposites in a way neither can forget—even after they part.
Their spark reignites when Jay comes to London, but he’s not sure he can go back to hiding his true self, not even for the sake of love…unless Nigel is willing to shed his cloak of staid respectability and take a leap of faith.
Warning: Contains a virgin who doesn’t speak French but is fluent in numbers, and a drag performer who is trilingual in English, French and Love. Not responsible for extra pounds brought on by the urge to dine on croissants au deux.
Summer and Bonnie have done it again. Their historical collaborations are entertaining forays into a time that has long since past. Not only are the characters well written but they are men we want to know and certainly men that I would be intrigued to call friends. Their historicals help to remind us just how far we have come as an accepting society, we still have a ways to go but it's good to be reminded how it was, and Miss Devon and Miss Dee do that in a very interesting way. Nigel and Jay are a pair that should never have met, or at least not by standards of the time, but they do meet and boy what a journey they have and we get to go along for the ride.
He should never have agreed to meet Messrs. Abelin and Pascal in such a neighborhood. He could be safely in his hotel room, observing the city from the safety of a balcony.
Even the Champs-Elysées, with all that life under the glittering lights and the spreading horse-chestnut trees, had seemed decadent to him. The people who lounged and laughed at cafés drinking wine and listening to music seemed foreign. Now that broad, clean stretch of Paris felt like home compared to these sinister, crowded streets.
Nigel cringed as he stepped square on a pile of something foul. Not dog feces, thank God, but some almost equally smelly refuse. He hurried on. The next street he turned onto seemed a bit broader and more as if it led someplace he might actually want to go. Music drifted from the well-lit cafés, drinking establishments and music halls. He might have accidentally stumbled onto his destination. Good heavens, what had inspired him to walk rather than have a cab drop him in front of the Cabaret Michou?
The incongruous sight of a turning windmill a ways down the street caught his attention. The infamous Moulin Rouge Theatre. M. Abelin had mentioned the smaller Cabaret Michou was located not too far from that monstrosity. In broken English, M.Pascal had assured Nigel he would find the cabaret most entertaining. Wishing to establish rapport with the French company his bank had sent him to audit, Nigel had affably agreed to come along with Abelin and Pascal on an evening’s adventure. But the thought of can-can dancers holding their skirts high and exposing all sorts of unnecessary flesh didn’t appeal to him in any way. Still, Nigel knew how to pretend to enjoy the same amusements other men did.
At last he spotted a sign on a building with an Oriental-themed façade. Chinese dragons coiled around the columns on either side of the blood-red door, and flickering gaslights shone in flame-shaped torches.
On the doorstep of the club, Nigel paused to reach his finger under the leather upper of his shoe to scratch an itch. How he wished he could remove the shoes from his feet and rub them all over to ease the ache of his long walk. But other customers were approaching the club. He could not delay his entry any longer. Taking a breath, Nigel opened the shocking red door.
The décor of the club reflected the pagoda theme of the exterior. A highly carved table bearing Chinese dragon figurines stood in the foyer, a huge vase of flowers gracing its surface. Depictions of the Far East hung against red wallpaper. In the main room, Nigel scanned the tables and peered as far as he could into the silk-draped booths, but he did not spot M. Abelin or M. Pascal. He’d checked his pocket watch several dingy alleys ago and knew he was late, which meant his business associates were even later since they’d promised to be there to greet him.
Or they weren’t coming. Perhaps the Frenchies had played a funny joke at his expense, luring him to this seamy part of town. When they met again at the Chauve-Souris, the men would pretend Nigel had misunderstood and laugh behind his back at the tres amusante Englishman.
Well, he was too knackered to retrace his footsteps now. Nigel made his way to an open table for two, since apparently the waiters here did not seat customers. He would not hold a larger table and appear a fool if his companions never arrived. Nigel sighed as he slumped in the hard-backed seat. Underneath the scarlet-draped table, he carefully toed off his lace-up shoes and rubbed one foot against the other.
When one of the garcons finally deigned to notice him, Nigel ordered a glass of wine and earned a sneer at his pronunciation of the French vintage. He wanted to order food too, but the menu was beyond his skill to decipher, and damned if he’d point to an item and allow the waiter another smirk.
Gaslights on the perimeter of a stage cast an eerie glow upward. A man in the spotlight made an announcement with a lot of extravagant gestures. The band, hidden offstage, played a lively, modern tune, and five dancing girls pranced onto the stage. They kicked up their heels and flounced their skirts and even wiggled their bums at the audience. Mortified, Nigel ducked his head.
None of the other customers watching the review seemed remotely disturbed. Many cheered and clapped along with the song. Nigel peeked at the dancing girls as they trotted up to the front of the stage, and an unlikely detail shocked him—Adam’s apples on several of the women. Other visual cues informed him these were not normal women or, indeed, women at all.
His mouth dropped open, and he stared full-on for the rest of the dance number. Were they pretty young men painted and padded and wearing women’s clothing? He’d heard rumors of such shows but could scarcely imagine a place where such forbidden fruit was paraded right out in the open. Only in Paris.
The faux ladies pranced offstage while the audience yelled and whistled and applauded too loudly. Nigel politely patted his hands together and waited to see what could possibly happen next.
A single spotlight cast beam from the back of the club somewhere, making a neat circle on the stage. Now a long, willowy figure wearing a trailing gold kimono moved languorously from backstage into the spotlight. Black hair brushed the man’s shoulders and white makeup painted his face. Thin arched eyebrows were drawn above a deep-set pair of eyes impossible to look away from. Luscious, full lips were painted as deep a crimson as the door of the club. Nigel’s own mouth tingled at the outrageous thought of pressing against such softness.
This figure was a man, despite the feminine garb and painted face. Nigel wasn’t completely certain until the man began to sing. There was no doubt about his pure, vibrant tenor.
The sweet, plaintive notes of a violin and that yearning, soulful voice filled the room. No one talked or as much as scraped a fork against a plate. For a respectful moment, all laughter stilled. Nigel could hardly breathe as he drank in the exotic figure that commanded the stage without even moving. The beautiful man looked slowly around the club, gracing first one person then another with his attention. For a phrase or an entire line of the song, he sang to that lucky listener. And although Nigel didn’t understand a word, he knew whatever this fascinating man was saying held infinite meaning. He wished he could understand. He wished the singer would look at him.
And then those dreamy eyes focused on him, chose him, offered wisdom to him. Nigel swallowed and gazed back, willing the amazing singer to understand how the words Nigel couldn’t understand touched him.
“Peut-être aurez vous de la peine
Moi j'en ai eu tellement pour vous
Je vous laisse avec votre haine
Mais laissez-moi partir loin de vous
Moi, je meurs d’amour
Moi, je meurs d’amour”
When the song ended, a moment of hushed stillness followed before the audience erupted into applause. This time Nigel joined in, clapping so hard his palms stung.
The chanteur—or was he a chanteuse since he was dressed as a woman?—gave a sweeping bow before flowing offstage again. Such graceful movements for a man.
A man! The absolute perversion of this club where men boldly flaunted themselves in female clothing hit Nigel. And his business contacts had sent him here knowing full well the place would shock him. Clearly a joke at the ignorant Englishman’s expense.
Nigel should be humiliated and furious. He should leap up from his seat and leave the club, catch a cab back to his hotel room and pretend he’d never been here at all. Abelin and Pascal need never know. He’d tell them he’d completely missed the evening appointment as he’d fallen asleep in his hotel room.
But Nigel remained pinned to his seat and listened carefully as the announcer returned to the stage and suggested another round of applause for the singer Jean Michel. Nigel wished he understood more French. He needed to learn everything he could about the ethereal young man in the gold silk kimono.
I began telling stories as a child. Whenever there was a sleepover, I was the designated ghost tale teller. I still have a story printed on yellow legal paper in second grade about a ghost, a witch and a talking cat.
Writing childish stories for my own pleasure led to majoring in English at college. Like most English majors, I dreamed of writing a novel, but at that time in my life didn't have the necessary focus and follow through. Then life happened. A husband and children occupied the next twenty years and it was only in 2000 that I began writing again.
I enjoy dabbling in many genres. Each gives me a different way to express myself. I've developed a habit of writing every day that's almost an addiction. I don't think I could stop now if I tried.
Summer Devon is the pen name writer Kate Rothwell often uses. Whether the characters are male or female, human or dragon, her books are always romance.
You can visit her facebook page, where there's a sign up form for a newsletter (she'll only send out newsletters when there's a new Summer Devon or Kate Rothwell release and she will never ever sell your name to anyone).