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       The Allure of Julian Lefray, p.1

           R.S. Grey
 
The Allure of Julian Lefray


  The Allure of Julian Lefray

  Copyright © 2015 R.S. Grey

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, including electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

  This book is a piece of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return it to the seller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

  Published: R.S. Grey 2015

  [email protected]

  Editing: Editing by C. Marie

  Cover Design: R.S. Grey

  Stock Photos courtesy of Shutterstock ®

  The Allure of Julian Lefray

  by R.S. Grey

  Prologue

  Josephine

  “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”

  Who in the world came up with that shitty phrase? It’s my least favorite quote of all time. I spent my entire childhood wishing I was somewhere better than my tiny hometown. Where I grew up, football reigned and being a vegetarian was on par with being a Satanist. Fortunately, it wasn’t all bad. I had two doting parents and Sally’s Thrift Shop. Sally’s was my version of church, because it was where I found my bible: Fashion 101 - A Girl’s Guide to Dressing Fabulously.

  I remember one particular Saturday when my mother caved on the way home from my youth soccer game. I’d pleaded with her to stop into Sally’s for a minute, and finally she gave in and pulled into a free parking spot right in front of the shop. I unbuckled before she finished parking, threw my car door open, and flew through the front door to the sound of her reprimanding me from her driver’s side window.

  Every trip to Sally’s followed the same routine. I had about ten minutes to wander through the aisles—fifteen if my mom was feeling up to chatting with the clerk on duty—during which I would pile as many things into a small basket as I could possibly muster. The rule was always the same: I could pick one item and that was it. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, as my mom loved to say. Even still, I tested her resolve each time.

  That day was no different. When I joined my mom at the front of the store I had two purses slung over my shoulders, a fedora resting on top of my head, two scarves, and a basket overflowing with clothes. My mother tsked and took the basket from me, preemptively apologizing to the clerk for having to return all of my unpurchased merchandise to the shelves.

  “Mom, please! TWO THINGS, PLEASE!” I begged as she tipped the basket out onto the counter. My glittery tops spilled out in a sad display.

  “Josie Ann, you had better pick one thing now or we’re leaving here with nothing,” she said with a stern voice and a hand on her hip.

  I knew that look. I knew I wasn’t going to get away with two items that day.

  And then I saw them.

  I swear a beam of light shined down from the heavens as I stared down at a pair of cheetah print flats on display beneath the glass counter. They looked ten sizes too big, but I had to have them.

  I slid to my knees, pressed my hands to the display case, and fogged up the glass with my stinky child’s breath. Then, having learned my lesson, I wiped the glass clean, held my breath, and stared at those flats like they were going to come to life and pounce at me.

  “I want…those,” I declared with utter decisiveness.

  “Jo, those won’t fit you. They’re probably my size,” my mom protested, bending down to join me.

  “They’re also quite expensive,” the clerk said. “Vintage Chanel.”

  My eyes widened. Chanel—a label I’d learned from Fashion 101. I didn’t know a lot about a lot of things (in fact I’d been pronouncing it “channel” in my head), but I knew that those Chanel flats were going to be mine someday.

  I stared at them until my mom started dragging me out of the store. I dragged my hands on the carpet in protest.

  “Save them for me! Don’t let anyone buy them!” I begged. “Please!”

  I cried the entire way home as my mom berated me for not appreciating the life I had. I didn’t care that we had a roof over our heads and food on the table every night. What good are basic human amenities without a pair of faux fur flats? I wanted those shoes more than anything.

  As soon as I got home, I ran to my piggy bank and counted out all the money I had to my name: twelve dollars and seventeen cents.

  The shoes were $150.

  For the next year and half, I saved every dime I got. Birthday money, allowance money, Christmas money, (attempting to be Jewish so I could get money for Hanukkah did not work on my parents)—it all went into the piggy bank until the day I could finally walk into the shop, take a hammer to my bank, and walk out with a pair of size 8 vintage Chanel flats wrapped up like Fabergé eggs.

  Those vintage Chanel flats were my very first designer purchase, and they were the shoes I wore at twenty-three as I left my small life in Texas with hopes of tackling the fashion world in New York City.

  Chapter One

  Josephine

  “Where to?”

  I glanced up in time to watch the driver toss a hastily concealed cigarette butt out the window and cringed. I knew the stench of secondhand smoke would cling to my layered gown, but I was already running ten minutes late and the chances of finding another cab were slim to none.

  “Upper East Side,” I answered, sliding into the backseat. “Carlyle Hotel.”

  He pulled out into traffic and I tried my best to check my complexion in his rearview mirror. Our eyes met in the glass; I blushed and settled against the seat. What does it matter? It’s too late to fix anything now anyway.

  “Ah. The Carlyle,” he repeated with a thick Italian accent. “Must be a fancy party.”

  Fancy didn’t begin to cover it.

  “It’s the New York Fashion Gala,” I offered, not sure if he was interested in talking or if he was just amusing me.

  “Sounds like a party I’m happy to be skipping,” he said, lazily turning back to check if the left lane was clear before swerving over sharply. I fell against the window before I could catch myself and scrunched my nose to ease the pain as I collided with the door handle.

  “You look good though. Pretty dress,” he offered with a lighter tone than he’d used the moment before. Maybe he felt bad for insulting the gala, or maybe I did actually look nice in my rented Dolce & Gabbana gown. Either way, I was happy to hear the compliment. I needed all the confidence I could get.

  I still couldn’t believe I was en route to the gala. When my invitation had arrived (in a gold envelope smelling of baby angels, no less), I’d screamed with excitement for all of two minutes before the stress of attending such an illustrious event crept in. The gala was the fashion event of the year. Every big-time designer, model, socialite, and blogger would be in attendance. Normally I read about the juicy details of the event on blogs and celebrity websites the day after it happened, but for the first time ever I was going to experience it all firsthand.

  “So why are you going to the gala? Are you wunna them models or something?” the cabbie asked, eyeing me in the rearview mirror as if assessing whether or not I could cut it on the runway.

  I snorted. “No. I’m a fashion blogger.”

  He nodded as if impressed.

  “My buddy Geno started
a blog, but it’s mostly about the best hoagies on Long Island. What’s yours called? I’ll tell my daughter to look it up,” he said, reaching toward the console for something and swerving toward the car next to us in the process. I flinched and reached for the door handle, ready to jump for it and get the hell out of his death trap. Just tuck and roll. You’ll survive.

  “Whoops,” he said, righting us on the road and reaching back to give me a paper and pen.

  Aw man. He’d just about killed me, but it was because he wanted to pass my blog along to his daughter. Am I prepared to die for the sake of my blog? Oh hell. I jotted down the URL and passed the paper back to him.

  “What Jo Wore,” he said, reading off my blog name with his thick accent. “Clever. You Jo?”

  Hearing him read my blog name with his heavy accent brought a smile to my face.

  “Josephine.”

  He lifted up onto one side so he could slip the piece of paper into the back pocket of his pants. I can safely say that’s as close as my name has ever been to a cabbie’s ass.

  “Well, Josephine, I’ll be sure to tell my daughter I gave a ride to a famous fashion lady. She’ll be impressed.”

  I nodded, not bothering to correct him. I might have been a “fashion lady” but I was far from famous.

  For now.

  …

  When we arrived, there was a line of cars wrapped all the way around The Carlyle Hotel. I peeked through the window to see a string of sleek limousines with a few Maseratis thrown in for good measure. Suited hotel attendants rushed to the limousine doors and whisked gala attendees out one by one. Meanwhile, my cabdriver tried to discreetly light another cigarette and then openly flipped off every limousine driver that tried to cut him off. Pure class, people.

  I should have had him drop me off down the street, but it was too late. A hotel attendant whisked open the back door of the cab and I fumbled to pay the driver as quickly as possible so that I wouldn’t hold up the line.

  “Crap, I don’t have any cash,” I said, flipping through my purse and hating myself for not being more prepared.

  “I take cards, lady,” the cabbie said, pointing to the credit card machine in the center of the console. “I take numbas too,” he said with a wink.

  The hotel attendant cleared his throat, and I threw him an awkward smile as I swiped my card.

  “Just a second,” I said to the attendant, pretending not to hear the last part of the cab driver’s sentence.

  “Of course,” the attendant replied with a curt, practiced tone. If I hadn’t been about to make my debut at a ritzy party, I would have turned to the attendant and told him exactly what I was thinking. You’re a hotel attendant, not the King of England. Now be quiet and take my hand so I don’t trip over my rented designer dress getting out of this smoke-filled cab.

  The driver handed me my receipt and met my eye.

  “Well good luck anyways, Jo,” he said with a quick nod.

  I smiled weakly and nodded. I can totally do this. Italian cabbie believes in me, and that counts for something.

  I exited the back of the cab with my head held high and let my bright red dress flow down around me. The sweetheart bodice was so fitted that it had been hard to breathe during the ride over, but standing up seemed to help. I adjusted the strapless top and let the rest of the dress fall into place. Red was a bold choice for my first gala. There was no way I could blend in with the masses, but that’s the way I’d planned it. There would be fashion industry bigwigs in attendance and I wanted to make a memorable impression.

  I fell in line on the red carpet and pulled out my invitation in case they asked to see it, but when I scanned the line, no one else had their invitation out. Rookie mistake. I quickly rolled it up and tried to discreetly conceal it in my clutch.

  Most everyone in line seemed to be arriving in couples or groups, but I was rolling solo. The invitation hadn’t specified whether or not I could bring a date and I didn’t want to assume it would be okay. Also, who am I kidding? I didn’t have anyone I could have invited.

  “Name?” the event coordinator asked in a clipped tone as I approached the front of the line.

  “Josephine Keller.”

  She scanned down her clipboard, using a small penlight to illuminate a giant list of names. I saw a few surnames starting with K but she scanned over them, flipped the page, flipped another one, and then flipped back to the front.

  “I don’t see it, next please,” she said, uttering the very words that had been my worst nightmare in the days leading up to the event.

  I broke out in a cold sweat immediately.

  “There must be a mistake,” I said, holding up my rolled invitation—which now looked like I’d nabbed it from someone’s curbside trashcan. Dammit.

  I could hear the annoyed people muttering behind me in line, but I didn’t dare turn around and show my face.

  “Just step aside for a moment,” the event coordinator said, turning on a radio attached to her shoulder strap and using it to summon an assistant to the front entrance.

  This would be my luck. I was this close to really taking my career to the next level and then life decided to give me an ol’ “not so fast, sister” slap in the face. Life is an evil bitch sometimes.

  For ten minutes I stood to the side of the line, beneath the hotel awning, fidgeting from one heel to the other as guests rattled off their names and were ushered inside without a hitch.

  Five more minutes and I’ll leave.

  Five minutes came and went and I stayed, growing more mortified by the second. Where the hell is her assistant? I made it a point to keep my face mostly hidden so that no one would recognize me inside as “that poor girl from the outer borough”.

  Finally, a petite blonde dressed in simple black slacks and a matching button-down ran through the front door clutching a clipboard with wide eyes and a frazzled look.

  “Madeline!” the event coordinator snapped as soon as the blonde came into sight. “Check to see if there’s a—” the event coordinator paused and turned to find me standing a few feet away. “What was your name again?”

  “Josephine Keller,” I answered, trying my hardest not to look past the coordinator. Everyone in line had turned in my direction to see what the commotion was about.

  “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear that,” Madeline replied, looking like she was on the verge of tears.

  That’s because I whispered it, you hard of hearing whore. Please stop drawing attention to me.

  I coughed and took a step closer. “Josephine Keller.”

  Madeline nodded and got to work, flipping through her notes.

  “Just a second,” she said.

  I was crossing my fingers behind my back, repeating the phrase “Please find my name, please find my name,” over and over again in my head, when I looked up and met the eye of a man standing in line.

  My gut clenched.

  HOLY GUACA-DO ME.

  He was third from the front of the line and watching me with a bemused smile. Where all the other stares had been easy to ignore, his devoured my attention to the point of discomfort.

  I swallowed slowly as I scanned over him. Handsome only brushed the surface. He was a vision in black. He had everything down to a T: a fitted tuxedo, silver cufflinks, and impeccably polished designer shoes. His arms were crossed over his chest and his wide shoulders blocked out the streetlamp behind him so that he seemed to glow against the bustling backdrop of limousines and hotel attendants.

  I let myself glance over him for three intense seconds and then forced myself to look away.

  Enough.

  I’d stared too long.

  But he’d been staring back.

  I forced myself to watch Madeline scan through the list of names until the line moved forward again. I peered up from beneath my lashes, using the opportunity to see him one last time before he went inside and disappeared into the crowd forever.

  I tried to memorize every feature as quickly as possible. His b
lack hair was thick and styled flawlessly, a bit shorter on the sides with a smooth wave on top. His cheekbones were so defined that Webster’s surely had an entry for them. As he spoke to the guests in front of him, a permanent pair of dimples framed his cheeks. His jawline was sharp, clean-shaven, and inexplicably alluring.

  I watched him for another moment before he finally detected my stalker-stare and turned my way.

  Hazel eyes locked with mine and I froze as my world slipped right out from under me.

  “Ah! Josephine Keller! I finally found you,” Madeline exclaimed. “Someone put your name down as ‘Josephine Geller’.”

  Typical.

  “Okay,” she said, offering me a relieved smile. “Right this way.”

  I followed behind her as she beckoned me toward the hotel doors. I knew the man’s gaze was following me as I stepped past him. I could feel his eyes on me, heating my cheeks to a cruel, rosy blush that I prayed he couldn’t see.

  “The step and repeat is there to the left,” she said, pointing to a small section of the hotel lobby where a few celebrities were getting their photos taken by the paparazzi. “And the ballroom is just beyond the lobby.”

  I glanced past the black marble floor to where she was pointing.

  I could see a glimpse of the party, hear the pulsing music streaming out, and smell the delicious hors d’oeuvres sweeping into the room.

  For better or for worse, I’d arrived.

  Chapter Two

  Josephine

  After I’d snatched a glass of champagne, spilled a bit of it onto the front of my dress, run to the bathroom to clean it off, and stuffed a few crab balls in my mouth, I was officially ready to party.

  Oh, and by party, I mean stand by myself in the corner of the ballroom and pretend like I belonged. I was praying that the dim lighting made me look like a statue so that people wouldn’t take pity on me. Either that, or for the sexy man from the line to come over and say, “Nobody puts baby in a corner.” And then we’d perform that routine from Dirty Dancing, and everyone would clap, and Vogue would offer me a job because they were so impressed with my footwork.

 
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