The bohemian salons and wild cabarets of 1920s Paris are just the place for Owen Matthews to pursue his writing and make the right connections in the literary scene. But six years after leaving Los Angeles and the love of his life, he still strives for success. Penning a new screenplay for his friend’s film might just help keep the lights on a bit longer in the City of Lights.
Iris Wong is used to sacrifice and rejection as an Asian-American actress. She’s determined to take full advantage of her new leading role in a Parisian silent film—and the director’s romantic interest in her. Playing the game almost guarantees she’ll be able to break through the industry’s racism and become the silver screen star she’s dreamed of being since she earned her first nickel as a Hollywood extra.
When these two star-crossed lovers unexpectedly reunite, they get a second chance to reconcile their hearts’ desires with their dreams of fame and fortune.
Iris closed the door to Pierre’s flat. She knew the location from a cast party he threw before filming began. For a while, she had feared that she was leading Owen astray as they wound through the narrow streets. Pierre looked like a hefty load to support. Nevertheless, she heard no complaints from Owen until they arrived at Pierre’s door. At first, Pierre refused to take out his keys. His sober behavior reminded her of a sweet bore; his drunk one reminded her of a difficult child. After goading from both Iris and Owen, he finally agreed and allowed them to set him down onto his sofa. If her past conversations with him were anything to go by, he would wake up in the morning with a terrible headache and few memories of the night before.
She and Owen stood outside the flat. “It seems this is good night,” she said.
“It seems so.”
She clasped her hands behind her back. His posture was equally rigid, his shoulders squared. The magic of the night had faded. In the cabaret, she could have almost sworn no time had passed between them. While they were dancing, a sense of weightlessness filled her. All the expectations and barriers she saw for herself faded away. Now “good-bye” was an easier word to think than to say.
“Thanks for your help bringing him back.”
“Of course.” He leaned against the trellis propped against the wall. Ivy wound through its crisscross pattern. “Does this happen every night or only when he wants to impress you?”
“No, thank goodness.” Pierre’s behavior had been appalling. When she met him at the cabaret, his breath already stank of liquor.
Owen gave a low whistle. “Nice place he’s got here. You stay in a flat like this?”
“My hotel is a block away. It’s decent.”
“A block away, hmm?” He ran a hand through his hair. “Would have offered to walk you home, but a block isn’t too bad.”
Darn, why hadn’t she let him walk her without telling him the distance? Here was her chance to say something else. Talking with him felt so familiar; surely the night didn’t have to end. She bit her bottom lip as another thought crossed her mind. At the same time, he had no reason to stay with her. He had plans to meet up with another woman, for all she knew.
“Good night then, Iris.”
Say something. Stop him from leaving.
“Good night, Owen.”
At least they parted as friends. She walked away first, her heels clipping against the cobblestone street. Maybe he hadn’t left yet. She looked over her shoulder. Her heart sank. He had walked away, headed in the opposite direction. She faced the road ahead of her. A fortuitous run-in, that was all it would be.
She stopped. To her left, a shop window showed her profile in its reflection. The window also showed Owen walking toward her, his pace slowing as he approached. She turned around. Maybe she had forgotten something.
“Do you have plans for the rest of the evening?”
Or maybe not.
“Because I was thinking that if you’re not busy, there’s a gathering of some of my friends in Montparnasse.” He studied her expression. “If you’re not busy.”
When Iris had started accepting interviews with reporters, she’d learned an important trick: if it mattered, never say yes right away. Saying yes right away could lead to the interview being canceled at the last second. Saying yes right away could lead to the interview being an hour long but only two lines of a quote in the paper. No, it was better to draw it out. And that meant not actually saying yes right away and jumping up and down in elation, which was what she wanted to do.
She met his gaze and faked a confidence she didn’t feel. “Your ‘set’?”
He smirked. “You could say that.”
“Well, I was planning to rehearse my lines for the next shoot.”
His head hung a little. “You’re right. It’s fine.”
“But I suppose I’m already dressed to go out. And it doesn’t take long for me to rehearse.”
He wiped his palms on the front of his wrinkled trousers. Did his hands feel as sweaty as hers? Being around him made her senses heighten. She strolled beside Owen along the dim avenue as her nerves continued to build. She wanted to spend time with him, and he wanted to spend time with her. That was it. No reason to second-guess her decision. She was tired of planning every move she made ten steps in advance.
A full moon lit up the night sky and exuded a rim of white shadows around it. The ominous clouds covered a portion of the moon. The apartments they walked past obscured the lamplight, casting shadows onto the street. Her face slipped into and out of the shadowy light while he remained on the brighter broad avenue.
“You look like a woman of mystery,” he said.
“Hardly.” Yet she made no move to walk closer to him. Better to stay at a safer distance.
The generous shadows provided her with protection. At least this way, he couldn’t see the idiotic smile stretching across her face. She snuck a look at his hand, hanging loose by his side. It felt odd to walk next to him and not take his hand or feel his fingers intertwine with hers. She missed the simplicity of it. Other lovers took her to bed after a couple drinks or let their hands roam too far south while dancing, their touch always feeling like an invasion. Blame it on youth or nostalgia, but with Owen, it had always felt right.
She tried to remember the last time they’d held hands. If she had known it would be the last time, she would have held on tighter.