Claudine asked her, “Give up?”
“No. Hang on, I’m still looking. I’ll find it. I—”
Her words were interrupted by the sound of the back door into the kitchen being opened and then closed again, while someone stepped into the house. A man’s voice called in French, “It’s only me.”
Claudine half turned. “Luc?” Speaking French herself, she told him, “Come and meet our guests.”
Still from the kitchen, he called, “That’s all right, I just came for my keys. I dropped my own set in the lane and I can’t find them, it’s too dark. I need the spare set from Denise. Is she not here?”
“If she’s not in the kitchen,” Claudine said, “she’ll only be upstairs a moment. Come and meet our guests.”
His voice was deep. Attractive. “I’m in no condition to meet guests. I’ve just got back. I need a shower.”
“Nonsense. You’ll look fine. Come, have a drink with us.”
He came through from the kitchen to the dining room and strode towards us, and my curiosity became a kind of self-conscious confusion.
He was beautiful. There was no other word for it. He wasn’t hugely tall, just average height and with a lean and normal build, but he was beautiful. His face had perfect symmetry, as though an artist had drawn half a face and held a mirror to the drawing—straight nose, level eyebrows, and the clean lines of his jaw and cheekbones, broken only by the fact his hair was parted to the side and fell across his forehead to the right. It was nice hair, light brown and cut in careless layers that half covered both his ears and angled down to brush the back of his shirt collar.
I was staring, and I knew it. I was half-aware Claudine was introducing us, in English, and I held my hand out when I was supposed to, and returned his handshake.
I marked the name, not sure I would remember it because I was distracted by his smile. It was symmetrical, as well, both corners of his mouth turned up to the exact same level to reveal an even row of teeth. And then I saw his eyes.
His eyes were very French. They had the kind of heavy lids that made them look both weary and intensely interested at the same time. And they were blue. A clear and perfect blue.
Claudine was telling him, “And Sara will be staying with us for a few weeks.”
“In the winter? You are brave.” His English was less polished than Claudine’s, and had a stronger accent, but I didn’t mind. At all.
I wasn’t sure what I should answer back, though, and while I was sifting through the possibilities I heard the footsteps coming down the stairs from the first floor and we all turned to face Denise.
She said in French, “You’re back!” and greeted Luc Sabran with an unstudied double kiss that seemed both natural and warm. “And how was California?”
“Full of sunshine. But I’ve dropped my keys. You have the spare ones?”
“Yes, of course.”
She went through to the kitchen and he turned to take his leave of us.
Claudine reminded him, in French, he didn’t need to go. “Have an aperitif. Some dinner.”
But he shook his head. “Tomorrow,” was his promise, “when I’ve had a chance to rest and look presentable.” To us he said, in English, “It was very nice to meet you both. Enjoy your evening.”
Watching him walk off was very nearly as absorbing as observing his approach. He walked as all men ought to walk, with a decided swagger to his shoulders.
Whether Jacqui noticed I was watching him, I didn’t know, but after Luc Sabran had closed the kitchen door behind him and gone out with his spare keys in hand, my cousin leaned back in her chair and looked across at Claudine with her eyebrows slightly lifting in the way they often did when she was sure she’d won a contest, and she raised her glass. “He’s new.”
“Well, I couldn’t do it,” said Jacqui. She took out her hairbrush and sat on the edge of her bed, having dealt with the last button of her pajama top. “If either of my own ex-husbands bought the house next door to mine, I’d kill myself.”
“Denise seems not to mind.”
“I’m only saying.”
I was not about to try debating anything with Jacqui at this hour of the night, not after I’d had rather too much wine, and while I was myself still trying to make sense of what Claudine had told us over dinner about Luc Sabran and why he and Denise had this arrangement.
And my cousin wasn’t leaving any room for me to offer an opinion. “It’s not natural. You can’t be friends with someone you’ve divorced. Not really. I should know.”
I might have pointed out that neither of her exes was as gorgeous as Denise’s, but I only said, “I wonder why they got divorced.”
My cousin told me, “Men like that are rarely faithful.”
“Men like what?”
“You know. You saw him. He was…”
The look she sent me was the one she always used when she was trying to instruct me. “Darling, that man was too masculine,” she said, “to be called beautiful.”
“What would you call him, then?”
“Hot.” Jacqui smiled. “But believe me, he knows it, and men like that aren’t worth your time or your trouble.”
I knew she was speaking from her own experience, and she was probably right. I’d had relative peace on that front since I’d left university, and I was in no way inclined to revisit the past or repeat my mistakes, but I privately doubted that I could have ever divorced any man who had eyes like that. Whether those doubts showed, I couldn’t be sure, but my cousin said, “Sara.”