Not What They Expected-Chapter 1
Two weeks in the French Alps. I had been looking forward to the trip with my girlfriends for months. But as I sat in the car on my way to the chalet where we were to be staying, I was unsure what to think. After I had grabbed my luggage I looked around for the girls, who were coming in from different cities than I. Imagine my surprise when instead of seeing my friends, I encountered a sweet old Frenchman holding a sign bearing my name. In stilted English he explained he was to take me to the chalet. When I mentioned my friends he assured me I was his only passenger.
We arrived at the chalet and Pierre carried in my luggage before giving me a tour. Built of beautiful, light wood, the living and dining areas had 20 foot ceilings that made the place feel open and airy. The floor to ceiling windows provided a spectacular view of the mountains all covered with snow. The stone fireplace looked all set to be lit and I couldn’t wait to snuggle into one of the oversized leather sofas and enjoy the warmth. A glimpse into the kitchen showed state of the art appliances that I looked forward to using during my stay.
Pierre guided me up the staircase and led me through the various bedrooms. As I looked around I took account of how large the chalet actually was. There were only supposed to be five of us, but the house had room for eleven. Pierre deposited my suitcase in the largest room. I started to stop him, but in a brief moment of self interest decided I was the first one to arrive and the garden tub looked divine.
We walked back downstairs and said our goodbyes before Pierre left. Deep leather couches beckoned me and I grabbed the television remote and pulled my backpack close before snuggling in. As I perused the channels, I came across a weather forecast in English and groaned. A blizzard. Each of my friends either lived or was flying through London and there was a blizzard! Quickly, I dug through my backpack and opened up my laptop, connected to the wifi and opened my email. Four different emails from the girls. Two were stuck in London, the other two’s initial flights had never left home. My vacation with the girls was quickly beginning to look like it would be a solitary retreat.
With the realization that the girls wouldn’t be arriving any time soon, I wandered into the kitchen to browse the provided items. One look in the pantry and refrigerator showed me that with the exception of fresh bread, we were stocked up for the first several days at least. All of the ingredients were available to make French onion soup, one of my favorites. The only thing I would need was the missing bread.
I quickly bundled up and made the five minute stroll to the village. The buildings were charming, exactly what you would expect from a small mountain community. I peaked in windows, mentally taking note of shops I’d like to visit, before coming across the store I was looking for. The aroma of fresh bread wafted through the door as another patron stepped out of the shop. Upon entering the bakery, the round woman behind the counter smiled, welcoming me with a hearty, “Bienvenue, bon après-midi.”
Utilizing my sparse French, I replied, “Bonjour.”
She looked at me for a moment before speaking in heavily accented but excellent English, “Are you an American?”
“You can tell from one word?” I asked, a bit surprised by her question.
“When you work in a village full of tourists, you learn to recognize accents quickly,” she explained. “Now, what can I get for you?”
“Just a baguette, please,” I told her.
“You aren’t here with a group?” she inquired.
“My friends are stuck at home and in London because of the blizzard. So I’m on my own for now.”
“There are plenty of activities around here to keep you occupied,” she shared, “and if you get too lonely, I’m Annette. Feel free to come and keep me company.”
“Thank you so much, Annette. I’m Sarina and I may take you up on that kind offer.”
After paying for my lone baguette, I bid Annette à bientôt and wended my way back to the chalet. As the house came back into view, I saw Pierre driving off once again. Surprised, I hoped that one of my friends had somehow made it to France, although the prospect seemed unlikely. Increasing my pace, I arrived at the front door and let myself in and came face to face with the most gorgeous man I’d ever seen. Tall, probably about six foot two. Dark brown hair, flecked with highlights of a lighter brown and red. His eyes were wary, but the emotion did nothing to detract from the mesmerizing gray-blue eyes. The fitted sweater he wore emphasized his muscular physique. The man was godlike and I was temporarily mute.
As I stood there gawking, he stepped forward and asked, “Can I help you?”
My stunned state cleared enough for me to ask, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
He held his hand out and said, “I’m Rich.”
I shook his hand before again asking what he was doing in the chalet.
“I’m supposed to be meeting some mates here for a couple of weeks,” he answered.
“There must be a mix-up, because I am supposed to be meeting a few of my girlfriends here for two weeks.”
“This house is rather large, maybe we are all meant to be staying here,” he suggested, although he looked doubtful.
“I’m going to kill Miri when I get my hands on her,” I muttered under my breath.
“Miri?” he asked, a look of comprehension lighting his eyes. “Does your friend Miri happen to be dating a man named Adam?”
“Yes,” I answered slowly. “We are both in the right place, aren’t we?”
“I think so. It looks like Miri and Adam left out a few important details about this holiday.”
“Well, since it appears we’re to be housemates, I should introduce myself. I’m Sarina.”
“It’s nice to meet you Sarina, although a bit unexpected,” he admitted honestly. “I take it we’re the first here?”
“Yes,” I sighed, “I don’t know where the rest of your friends are coming from, but all of mine are stuck. There’s a blizzard in London.”
“You’re kidding?” he asked incredulously.
“Nope, I checked my email as soon as I saw the weather forecast. None of my friends are going to make it, at least not for a few days.”
He sank into one of the couches before looking at me and saying, “I’m guessing it will just be the two of us for a while then. My mates are coming from London as well.”
Unsure of what else to say, I turned in the direction of the kitchen. “I was just getting ready to make dinner. Do you like French onion soup?”
“I do,” he replied and began to rise from the sofa. “Would you like some help?”
“You can be on onion duty,” I winked, “and then I won’t be the one with tears running down my face.”
He threw his head back and laughed, I assumed over how blatantly I’d assigned him the worst task. If I’d thought he was spectacular before, his laugh only served to intensify the attraction. At the sound of that rich, earthy baritone my heart had stuttered.
I continued to the kitchen and tried to shake off my reaction to Rich. Holiday romances were certainly not my thing, especially not with a friend of a friend. Then of course there was the fact that he may as well have been a Greek god, the likelihood of him being interested in an ordinary woman like me—highly implausible.
After digging through cabinets, I found the cutting board and piled the necessary ingredients nearby. Rich washed his hands before grabbing a knife and getting to work on the onions. We worked in companionable silence for a few minutes, coming to grips with the unusual situation we found ourselves in.
“How is it that you managed to get here when all of your friends were flying through London?” Rich queried.
“I could ask the same of you,” I couldn’t help but point out.
“Are you always this evasive?” he asked, one eyebrow quirked in a challenge.
“It depends,” I lifted my own eyebrow in response. “I don’t make a habit of sharing a house with a man I don’t know. Friend of a friend or not, so perhaps I’m just being cautious.”
“Or maybe you’re being coy,” he smirked.
My mouth dropped open at that comment. He chuckled and I scowled. It took a few seconds for me to gather my wits, “Fine. If you must know, I’ve been teaching kindergarten in China for the last year. My contract for the year is up and I’ve got a couple of months free, so the girls and I planned this trip. Now, how is it that you aren’t flying through London, since you’re obviously British?”
“I’ve been away for work,” he responded.
Well wasn’t that vague.
“I gave you details; don’t you think you should reciprocate?” I asked with a smirk of my own.
He blushed, sighed and then spoke, “I’m an actor. I was in New York reading for a role.”
Endeared to him by his unease about revealing he was an actor, I decided to let it be, “So you flew through Paris instead of London?”
“Yes,” he said with a look of relief, clearly pleased that I wasn’t pressing the actor topic.
We didn’t speak while we finished prepping the ingredients for the soup. When Rich was finished chopping the onions, he excused himself to call his friends. I heated the soup pot and set about caramelizing onions. There was something comforting about going through the familiar steps and soon I had the onions, spices, broth and wine simmering away on the stove.
The timer set, I went up to my room to shower. Hot water soothed my stiff muscles, courtesy of my long flight. The stale scent I associated with airplanes washed away replaced by my favorite body wash and shampoo. Clean, I riffled through my luggage and dressed in a comfortable pair of yoga pants and a long sleeve t-shirt, before returning to the living room. Rich must have been in his bedroom, as the living room was empty. The quiet was perfect for reading, a fire being the only thing missing. With one match the perfectly arranged logs and kindling began to blaze. I settled into the nearest couch with a book I had picked up at the airport. Between the soft cushions that enveloped me, the roaring fire and the silence that was only broken by the crackle of the logs, I felt the exhaustion of jet lag pulling me under. With a yawn I set the book aside and closed my eyes to blissful oblivion.