**A birthday deserves a special story, right? So for Carla (who helped a bit with this as well) Happy Birthday!! May your day be filled with awesome!**
I’d always wanted to visit Paris, and Etienne had made that possible. I swore up and down to anyone who asked I hadn’t started dating the Frenchman so that he’d take me home with him, and it was mostly true. Etienne was gorgeous and kind, and he’d caught my attention before I’d ever heard him speak or known that, for all he’d been living in the States for fifteen years, his heart and home were still in France. Now, after a year and a half of dating, we’d finally gone on vacation to visit his relatives.
Standing outside the Palais du Louvre near the Pont des Arts, I waited for him to finish a phone call that couldn’t wait. He’d been really good about ignoring the phone when he could while we’d been here, so I didn’t fault him for the occasional time that he couldn’t. Besides, it was good people-watching. The courtyard wasn’t overly fully, but there were enough people milling about the pyramid to make it interesting. Family groups, couples, and a whole mess of tourists had my imagination wandering, wondering what their stories were.
With my attention diverted, I was nearly bowled over by two young children, a boy and a girl, as they ran past. Shouting and chasing each other, I smiled as I watched their antics. A woman chased after them, harried looking but smiling as she called out, “Nell! Viggo! Reviens ici, imbéciles. Ne t’enfuis pas de moi.”
They seemed happy, even if their mother looked ready to cheerfully strangle them, and I stepped out of their path and meandered a few feet away. A glance at Etienne showed he was still rather engaged in his phone call, but he had one eye on me and made an apologetic face. I blew him a kiss, and moseyed further inward, taking in the sights, and soaking up the atmosphere.
“Tu es un homme merveilleux.” A deep voice said close to my ear. “Tu devrais me laisser te ramener à la maison.”
I wasn’t very good with French—Etienne was teaching me but it was slow going. I didn’t really have an ear for language—but I understood the gist of it. Since that wasn’t Etienne, I opened my mouth to decline but the words dried up when I caught sight of the man speaking to me. He was absolutely stunning in his beauty, but he held himself with a smarmy air that let me know he knew it. I shook my head. I wouldn’t have gone with him even if I wasn’t already in love.
“Il est à moi,” Etienne growled, stomping over to where we stood, his face a dark mask of anger. The stranger held up his hands and backed away slowly, like he didn’t mean any harm, but Etienne didn’t stop his menacing stare until the man was well and truly gone. I smiled up at my boyfriend. His possessiveness should have been a turn off, but I just found it hot.
“I wouldn’t have gone with him,” I said softly, staring into his deep brown eyes. He nodded quickly, and his smile turned both indulgent and apologetic at once.
“Oui, I know,” he said. Then he held up his phone. “Je suis désolé.”
“It’s all right,” I said, meaning it. I grinned. “How about you show me what you wanted to show me now?”
He nodded and took my hand, leading me toward the Pont des Arts. It was one of the things I’d loved about him from the start, that he wasn’t afraid to show his connection to me. Etienne was an incredibly tactile person, and he touched me whenever he wanted, no matter where we were. I was more than happy to let him.
Once on the bridge, Etienne pulled me to a stop about half way along, and then drew my attention to the railing. It was only then that I noticed the padlocks. Thousands upon thousands of locks were attached. We moved closer and I could see that they had names written on them. I cocked my eyebrow at Etienne in question. He smiled.
“Cadenas d’Amour,” he said in his deep baritone, pulling me closer. “Love locks. It is a tradition that lovers attach a lock to the bridge, and then throw the key in the Siene. It is said to represent a couple’s committed love.”
I smiled, my gaze barely able to take in the multitude of padlocks. “That’s a lovely sentiment. I can’t imagine it’s good for the bridge, but I don’t think I care. I love the romanticism of it.”
Etienne nudged my arm, and when I looked at him, he reached into his pocket and produced a gold padlock. It was a hefty piece of hardware, the shackle thick and sturdy. And then he turned it over to show me the other side. Michael and Etienne was engraved in elegant script. My heart gave a thump, and my breath caught in my chest.
“Oh, Etienne,” I began, but I couldn’t get any more words out. He cupped my jaw with one big hand, his smile full of love, and then we turned our attention to the railing. Together we found a spot, though it was a challenge, to attach our padlock. Etienne was careful to make sure it was secure before he removed the key. He handed it to me, and I kissed him softly before I tossed it over the side and into the Siene.
We stood there for a long moment, just absorbing the moment, before he once again took my hand and we continued our journey. Across the bridge and toward the rest of our life.