A Captain Scarlet’s birthday story
By Marion Woods
Thanks to the ineptitude of the French President of the Joint European Military Council, the conference finally ground to a halt when the Italian delegation walked out, in response to the repeated allegations directed at them by the Germans. The President threw up his hands in horror as the Dutch Vice-Chairman called a halt to the proceedings and announced, with a sigh, that the conference would resume on Monday afternoon, by which time he hoped he'd have had the chance to restore good relations between the parties, even if it took him all weekend – which it probably would. The Germans, still high-handed and self-important, swept out, ignoring the malevolent glances of their fellow delegates. Rather than staying behind to try and reassure the remaining delegations, the President followed the Italians, who were complaining bitterly, and unwisely, about the dictatorial Germans to anyone who would listen.
Major Paul Metcalfe, of the World Army Air Force, glanced sideways at his commanding officer and raised a coal-black eyebrow. "Well, sir, what do you make of that? This could take a lot longer than we expected," he muttered.
General Henderson nodded, his bushy grey eyebrows waggling up and down in exasperated – if silent – comment on the antics of some of the politicians.
"Yes, Paul, it could, and the Supreme Commander won't be happy if it does; these budget negotiations are already behind schedule. I will have to report back to him this afternoon and see if he has any further orders in the light of these developments." Henderson pursed his lips thoughtfully and then shrugged. "I hope you weren't planning anything important over the next week or so? We could be stuck here for some time."
"There are worse places to be stuck than Paris," Metcalfe remarked, glancing out of the window at the bright winter day with some pleasure. "I like Paris at Christmas time – in fact, I like Paris all the time."
Henderson gave his young colleague a knowing smile. "Especially in the spring when – as the poet says - a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of... romance, shall we say – especially in Paris, eh?"
"I wasn't thinking of romance, General," Paul protested.
"Why ever not? I’m sure I thought of little else in my free time, when I was your age. Ah, but the girlfriend’s stuck back home in Blighty, eh?" Henderson realized perceptively.
"Well, you might say that." Metcalfe's expressive face twitched slightly.
His relationship with Caroline Foster-Finch was starting to peter out, if he was honest. Oh, she was a nice girl, fun to be with and ... passionate, if you played your cards right, but she failed to stir any deep emotion in him.
His mother liked Caro; in fact, it was his mother who was always inviting her to stay and he had the suspicion that she expected – or at least hoped – her only son would marry the young woman. She’d certainly left him in no doubt that she considered Caro an eminently suitable catch: like the Metcalfes, her family was steeped in a solid county ancestry and could trace their roots back to the Norman invaders and, even in the latter part of the 21st Century, such things still mattered to some people.
However, he suspected that Caro was rather more interested in Derek Burghfield than she was in him. Burghfield was a merchant banker in the City, with plenty of money in the bank and an unfortunate taste in loud ties and striped shirts. Personally, he distrusted any man who willingly wore bright-red braces as a matter of course, especially if they also drove a super-fast sports car with a complete disregard for everyone else on the road – and the laws of the land, to boot.
God preserve me from bankers and financiers, he thought. They're mental - the whole lot of them.
"Well, whatever you want to do, you can have the weekend to do it," Henderson was saying as he came back to the present. "My wife arrived this morning and she has... plans ...for us this weekend, so I won't need you, Paul, unless the Supreme Commander changes my brief here, that is. Why don't you take the time to go back home, my boy? Isn’t it your birthday tomorrow? As long as you're back here by midday Monday, I won't mind."
General Henderson and his father, General Charles Metcalfe, went back a long way and were old friends; Henderson had known him since he was a child, but it had still been a surprise to him when the general had requested the recently-promoted Major Metcalfe for his personal aide.
He’d wondered at the time – and was now more or less certain – if it was to do with the fact that his parents kept complaining he so rarely came home; it couldn’t be pure coincidence that General Henderson regularly suggested he pay a visit to Winchester.
For the moment though, it suited his plans to stay put and gain the experience this diplomatic posting afforded him, and he knew he'd never get such a congenial posting anywhere else.
"Thank you, sir. Shouldn't I wait until you've spoken to the Supreme Commander?"
Henderson shook his head. "No, I'm sure it'll be all right, Paul. My guess is that the negotiations are too finely poised for us to risk pulling out now. Mind you, the SC might just decide to bang a few heads together – metaphorically speaking. I should imagine the Triumvirate will be on the phone to him as soon as they hear about this – maybe even before I can get to him. Still, there's no reason we should both have to give up our weekend to soothing the battered egos of wayward politicians. I can handle it alone."
"Very good, General; I hope you and Mrs. Henderson manage to have a good weekend, despite everything. Going anywhere nice?" Paul asked, as they walked out of the conference room.
"Deirdre wants to go sightseeing, and shopping – of course. She was talking about trying to get tickets for the opera, last time I asked. Then I believe she's planning to host a Sunday lunch, for some old friends of ours who are diplomats in the British Embassy..."
"Smashing," he said with forced enthusiasm.
"You wait till you're married, my boy; you'll learn to do what you're told, too, if it keeps the peace," Henderson commented, laughing at the young man's sceptical expression. "Are you coming back to the hotel in the car?"
"No thank you, sir. I think I'll walk, if you'd be so kind as to take my briefcase and hand it in at the reception desk for me?"
"Certainly. Whatever you do, enjoy yourself on your birthday, Paul..."
"Thank you, sir; I hope you have a good weekend too. Goodbye."
He saluted as his commander climbed into the staff car and drove away.
He breathed deeply. Ah, Paris... just the place to unwind and enjoy the luxury of some free time. It’s a pity I’m still in uniform- that’s going to cramp my style a bit…
He glanced along the street, and on impulse headed into a nearby department store and purchased a pair of trousers, a casual shirt and smart, black jacket. He had the shop pack his uniform into one of their distinctive bags and headed out into the bustling streets.
That was a bit extravagant, but now I feel like I’m really off duty and the world is my oyster…
He walked along the boulevard, enjoying the approving glances he was receiving from young women he passed. He found himself a cafe and sat at a table by the window; ordering a light meal and a glass of wine he watched the fashionable world go by as he ate.
He hadn't been on leave for some time, due to the general's busy schedule, and had enough money saved up against the eventuality that he felt a little reckless spending was allowable. It wasn't that he was living on the breadline - or had ever had to - but years of his mother's thrifty ways had left him with a natural inclination to spend carefully – most of the time – although every so often he cut the traces and went mad.
As he finished his café au lait, he decided that he would buy his mother some frivolous little gift from an expensive shop. He could get it sent through the diplomatic boxes at the WAAF offices easily enough; along with a letter promising that, as it was Christmas soon, he'd be back home then. But he'd buy her something today, just for the sheer hell of it, and look for a Christmas present while he was here. She put up with a lot from him and his father - both career soldiers and forever disappearing for weeks or months at a time on WAAF business – and she deserved something in recognition of her tolerance.
It would also help salve his conscience about not going home this weekend. His mother always made a point of celebrating his birthday, despite its proximity to Christmas, and, as a rule, he tried to get back home for it. This year, however, he felt too restless to submit to the familiar – and much loved – comforts of Winchester, the uncertainty about his relationship with Caro playing a significant part in that. He felt the need to ‘live a little’ and maybe try to put his life in perspective; he was approaching thirty – a significant milestone – and it was time to take stock.
He paid for his meal, and strolled back to his hotel, conveniently situated in a central location. He only stayed long enough to take his uniform and briefcase up to his room and collect his camera, before wandering back into the streets and heading for the more exclusive parts of the city's shopping facilities - with every intention of burning a hole in his bank account.
When he emerged from the jewellers on to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées several hours later, he was tired, but gratified with his success. He'd just spent a significant amount of money and bought an art-deco style, jewelled compact, which he felt sure his mother would appreciate. On a less assured note, he’d also bought a diamond-encrusted brooch of a cat; with its back arched and its tail raised, its amber eyes seemed to stare haughtily out from a disdainfully turned head.
It was an impulse purchase, partly due – if he was honest - to the flattering attention he'd received from the pretty shop assistant, and her well-feigned surprise at discovering he wasn't a native French speaker.
Mum’s bound to like it, he reassured himself – even though she prefers dogs. She always likes everything I buy her.
He sighed ruefully and decided the compact would make the better peace-offering to be sent home – the cat brooch might do for Christmas, when he could see for himself if she really did like it. Just in case she didn't, he decided that tomorrow he would wander towards the river and search for a suitable print, or better still, an original artwork, from the vendors' stalls. He could always get it framed in Winchester for her.
Maybe I can give Caro the cat brooch at Christmas – if she isn't engaged to Burghfield by then, of course.
Preoccupied, he walked along under the exuberant Christmas lights and then turned towards the kerb to cross the road, just as a taxi swept up and the door flew open to allow its passenger - a young woman - to alight.
She was in a hurry and encumbered by several parcels, so that when she turned suddenly after closing the door, she bumped into him.
"Zut alors, regardez où vous allez, monsieur!" she exclaimed angrily.
"Pardon, Mam’zelle," he said, and stooped to collect all the little boxes and bags that had tumbled out of her arms.
As the taxi pulled away, he glanced up at her, with an apologetic smile. She was so beautiful he caught his breath.
Her silver-blonde hair flowed long and loose around her slender shoulders. Her oval face tapered to a delicate, rounded chin and her complexion was flawless. Her lips formed a perfect 'Cupid’s bow' – and were definitely designed to be kissed. Her eyes – her beautiful, almond-shaped eyes – were an unusual shade of honey-brown and fringed with long, dark lashes.
Right now, her elegant, thin eyebrows had descended in a frown over those marvellous eyes and those full lips pouted slightly at this unexpected inconvenience, as she stood with her hands on her hips - well aware of the imperious impression she was creating - and waited for him to deliver her parcels to her.
With the last parcel gathered up, he straightened and saw that she was shorter than he’d first imagined – he estimated that she couldn't be more than five foot two or three - but what he could see of her under the enormous fur coat she was wrapped up in, was very attractively packaged: shapely and petite at the same time.
As he restored her parcels to her, she gave him a slight nod of her head, and then a bewitching smile caught at the corners of her mouth as she acknowledged that the stranger was a young and good-looking man. With a winsome glance at him she pirouetted on her heel to walk away, but the thin stiletto snapped and she pitched forwards, saved only from a tumble into the relentless traffic by his quick-thinking.
He dropped his own parcels and swept her into his arms to safety.
"Are you all right?" he asked her in English, the incident unnerving him enough to make him forget to speak French.
She clung to him, shaken and, perhaps, a little scared.
"Oui, merci," she whispered, and although she was obviously shaken by the incident she added in heavily-accented English, "You have saved my life."
He patted her shoulder reassuringly. "Nothing so drastic, I’m sure. But you might've hurt yourself and you'd have ruined your charming coat."
"You are a hero, Monsieur, a chevalier in the most shining armour to a demoiselle in distress."
She squirmed against him as she turned to look down at her fashionably high-heeled boot with regret. "Quel dommage! My shoe – it will be impossible to make a repair."
"How will you manage?" he asked, rather enjoying the sensation of her resting against him so trustingly. "Is there any way I can be further help, Mam’zelle... ?'
"Pontoin, Mademoiselle Juliette Pontoin."
"Delighted to meet you, Mam’zelle Pontoin," he said formally, missing the gentle correction to his pronunciation.
She rolled her eyes and smiled. "And what is your name, my brave rescuer?"
"Enchantée, Meester Paul Metcalfe." Her exaggerated pronunciation made him smile.
"Please allow me to help you, Mam’zelle Pontoin."
"But see, Meester Metcalfe, now all of your little parcels have drop to the street. I fear they may have suffered with breaking."
He let go of her long enough to reclaim his property. The boxes were slightly dented. Juliette leant against his arm again, her expression one of concern, as he checked the contents. He was relieved to discover they were all intact.
"Oh, what an adorable little cat," she exclaimed. "Madame Metcalfe will be greatly delighted with it, I think!"
"I hope so," he said, with a smile. "It's so hard to buy for her – but she always seems to appreciate whatever I do buy."
"The attentions of a caring husband are always to be commended," Juliette said deviously, as she studied him from beneath her dark lashes.
"Husband? Oh no – I'm not married; these trinkets are for my mother."
Her expression was one of pure innocence as he returned her scrutiny, but he couldn't help but notice the twinkle in her eyes. She’d said it on purpose, he assumed, to discover if he was single.
"Ah bien, even more valued are the attentions of a loving son," she replied demurely. "I am glad I have not been the cause of distress to your maman."
He smiled again. "Now, Mam’zelle –"
"Juliette, please – to be so formal with a man who saved my life it is to be discourteous."
"Juliette, may I call you another taxi, or assist you to your original destination? Or even, to a shoe shop?" he asked in his best French.
She laughed, a gay, tinkling sound that sent pleasurable shivers through him, and replied in English, "I think I need a shoe shop more than I need to visit the chocolatier, which is where I was going. If you would be so kind, Paul, and I do not put you from your way, it would be another kindness to assist me."
"Lean on me, Juliette; I am entirely at your command."
They made their way along the pavement towards an exclusive shoe shop, pausing only to buy a selection of handmade chocolates at the chocolatier, which fortuitously happened to lie on their way.
Inside the smart shop, Juliette removed her heavy coat, revealing – as he’d suspected – a trim and shapely figure, and the attendants fussed around, fetching a bewildering selection of merchandise for their demanding customer. To his surprise, she didn't settle on a similar pair to the broken boot, or even on the first pair that fitted, but spent the best part of an hour trying on pairs of shoes and boots, parading up and down in them, firing questions at the staff and asking him, in her captivating, accented English, for his opinion of each pair.
A novice in the finer points of female footwear – of any style - he declared them all to be 'perfectly charming'.
Eating his way through his selection of chocolates, and watching Juliette pirouette and mince up and down in various pairs of shoes, he got the distinct impression that it was largely for his benefit, allowing him to study her with impunity. This idea was reinforced when, finally, she chose what he suspected was the first pair she'd tried on, and paid for them with a small, gold, swipe card.
"Now, Paul, you have been so patient and agréable while I was busy, that you must allow me to buy you dinner this evening. I insist – unless, that is, you have thought I have already take too much of your time? You have friends to visit?"
She turned her beautiful eyes on him enquiringly and he felt his stomach flutter in anticipation.
"No, I had no plans," he confessed. "I’m alone in Paris this weekend."
"Alone - in Paris - at Christmas time? Monsieur Metcalfe, what sin is this? Paris is the city of love, you should not be alone - but have some beautiful lady at your side."
"Then, perhaps you would do me the honour of being that lady, Juliette?"
She simpered at the implied compliment. "Mais oui, for did I not just say I would?" She wrapped herself in the coat once more and led the way back to the door of the shop and out into the darkness of the early evening, lit by the twinkle of a million decorations. "You would wish now to return to your hotel and prepare, n’est-ce pas?"
"Umm, I... er... I don't have a very extensive wardrobe with me – is this to be a formal invitation?" he asked, wondering if his dress uniform would do instead of a tuxedo.
"Non, if you do not wish it? I know many delightful bistros et cafés where we may have a fine meal and not be too – how do you English say? – too stuffed shirt?"
He laughed. "That sounds ideal. I can smarten up enough for a bistro..."
"Bien! D'accord – it is agreed. I will call for you at your hôtel at eight this evening – tcha! – but I can only do this if you tell me what is the name of your hôtel."
He supplied the details and she gave an approving nod, explaining that she knew the place well enough.
He flagged down a taxi for her and heard her give the driver an address somewhere in the city, before she climbed in and waved goodbye as the cab pulled out into the traffic. He waved her away, before hailing a taxi for himself and hastening back to the hotel to 'smarten up'.
Once back in his room, he put his purchases away and checked the messages on his official pager. There was nothing that demanded his attention, which - he realised with a start – was a blessing, as he had no way of contacting Juliette apart from that barely overheard address.
With his mind on other things, he stripped and wandered into the bathroom. Humming to himself, he filled the hand basin with hot water and dropped his razor in to warm up, then switched on the shower. When the powerful jet of water was hot enough, he stepped inside the cubicle and pulled the door closed. For a moment he stood immobile in the stream, letting it trickle over his body.
He was weary – it had been a busy week at the conference – but the meeting with Juliette had banished such thoughts from his mind, until now. The water soothed away the aches and pains of tired muscles and reinvigorated him.
He washed his hair and then lathered himself with the subtly-scented – and horrendously expensive - shower gel he'd bought for himself that afternoon, considering his new acquaintance with considerable pleasure as he did so. He sighed and closed his eyes, conjuring her image from his memory as he relived the events of the afternoon in his mind's eye, trying to decide if he was reading too much into her invitation.
He found her fractured English and accent appealing, but he sensed it wasn’t an indication of a poor education, or of a meagre intelligence. Her whole bearing was that of a cultured woman; comfortably well-off, and extremely self-assured – a combination he found incredibly sexy. She was altogether charming and desirable and - unless he was slipping – she'd fancied him as much as he did her.
He opened his eyes before his imagination took too strong a hold of his libido - he had no intention of wasting any energy on a session with 'Mrs. Palm', when he hoped the evening might offer a far more satisfying encounter - and rinsed himself off, reminding himself that, in all likelihood, she was involved with a French man.
Even if she is, he reflected, she's definitely been giving me the come-on, so why shouldn't I take what's on offer? I mean, let's be honest about this – she didn't have to do this if she isn't interested in me. She could have thanked me and sent me on my way when we got to the shoe shop, but I swear she was enjoying slipping those chocolate samples into my mouth.
As he stepped out of the shower and reached for the towel, he paused to examine his body in the misted mirror.
I'm in pretty good shape for someone who's been working at a desk job for the past year... broad shoulders, flat stomach, narrow hips... he twisted around and squinted over his shoulder in an effort to see his back, and I've been told I have 'a cute butt'...
He smiled at the memory of the young American girl he'd dated while at West Point, and of the numerous occasions she'd had to verify that conclusion. He was still grinning as he finished drying himself off and wrapped the towel around his waist.
He stepped up to the hand basin and wiped the mirror clear before reaching for the shaving foam.
If I can believe what I've been told, I'm not bad looking, which is nice to know. Having black hair and dark-blue eyes has something to do with it, I guess, and what was it Louise said? The cleft in my chin makes me look like Cary Grant... He stared thoughtfully at his reflection. Can't see it myself, mind you...
He ran a hand over his chin and grimaced. I’ll need a close shave tonight - I don't think La Belle Pontoin would appreciate having her face roughed up by a five o'clock shadow... even if I told her it was designer stubble. Always assuming I get that close, of course.
He shaved with care, dreading that he might cut himself. He sighed with relief as he completed the task faultlessly and patted his skin dry, before grimacing at the smarting of the aftershave he applied. His ablutions completed, he couldn't resist one last look at himself in the mirror before he strode off to get dressed.
"What woman could resist you, you handsome devil?" he asked his reflection, with a chuckle. "God, I hope I haven't misread this situation and that she really is feeling as eager as I am..."
Nevertheless, he cautioned himself, I'd better not act as if I expect her to fall into bed... that would really put the mockers on it. Why’re women so difficult? What's wrong with simply wanting a one-night stand? Beats me why they have to assume you have ‘feelings' for them, just because you've got designs on their chastity.
He dropped the towel and started rifling through his wardrobe for clean underwear.
He was dressed and ready and waiting in the hotel lobby by ten to eight, even though he expected Juliette to arrive fashionably late. He couldn't imagine she’d ever do anything that wasn't fashionable, but it wasn’t in him to consider keeping her waiting.
He’d chosen to wear a smart pair of dark, casual trousers and a royal-blue silk shirt with a Nehru collar, along with his trusty, black leather jacket. He was aware that the combination suited his dark colouring - the shirt emphasising the unusual deep-blue of his eyes - yet he felt a thrill of satisfaction to see the approving glances thrown his way by several of the female guests who walked past him on their way to the door.
He could only hope Juliette would also like what she saw.
He was sitting opposite the main entrance, when he saw her sweep into the hotel shortly after eight o'clock, and his heart skipped a beat. She was stunningly, yet simply, dressed, wearing a vivid-red, full-length dress, the halter-neckline of which plunged down to a black belt immediately below her breasts. This high waistline, and the full skirt of the gown which flowed around her as she walked, created the impression of long legs and made her look taller, aided by the fact that her long, platinum-blonde hair was brushed up from her face, adding inches to her stature. She was carrying a short, black fur, bolero-style jacket, which swung from the fingers of one hand as she sashayed towards the reception desk. He noticed that she wore no jewellery, obviously confident that she needed no artificial aids to impress him. And she was right; the ensemble was a picture of effortless beauty and chic.
She moved with that rare élan he associated with those lucky individuals who were truly beautiful, and who knew themselves to be worthy of the scrutiny of strangers. It was a strange mixture of arrogance and humility, as if their bodies were saying defiantly, ‘I know what I am, and I cannot help myself. You may watch me and weep, you lesser-mortal.’ He felt sure that acknowledged beauties, from Helen of Troy to the Screen Goddesses of the present day, must know and accept this adoration as no more than their due.
Juliette Pontoin certainly knew how to make an entrance; he had to give her that.
She saw him when she was half-way across the room and her face broke into a warm smile. She moved towards him, her hand outstretched, as he rose to greet her.
She took his hand to balance herself as she rose on tip-toe and planted butterfly-kisses on both cheeks before she said, “Ah, Paul, I hope you have not waited for long – I made especial effort to be on time, as I am escorting you ce soir..."
"No, I haven't been here long," he replied, with a welcoming smile. "Just long enough to buy this for you, in fact." He handed her the orchid corsage he had chosen from the exclusive gift shop in the foyer.
"Ah, c’est magnifique! Mais, vous êtes very naughty, mon cher." She sniffed at the delicate blooms and fixed the arrangement to the strap of her dress before reaching out a hand to take his again. "Allons, we go now to have a wonderful meal and be jolly together, non?"
"I hope so. I'm looking forward to it."
"Bien... I also."
The bistro was in a quiet street in a part of Paris away from the main tourist trails, and was in itself a work of art. The interior had been decorated in the luxuriously sensual art-nouveau-style, with gilt walls and ceilings and rich, stained-glass décor. One huge mirror at the far end of the room reflected the image of the tables back at the diners, as if the restaurant stretched into infinity.
The waiters obviously knew Mademoiselle Pontoin of old, and they were given a secluded table, away from the entrance, where they could clearly see their own reflections and those of their fellow diners.
It was obviously a popular local venue, used by the Parisians rather than the tourists, and although the other clientele were smartly dressed, the atmosphere was informal and the aura discreet. The music, played quietly over hidden speakers, was so uniquely French he didn't recognise most of it, beyond the unmistakable voices of Piaf, Juliette Greco and Jacques Brel.
The waiters were attentive, yet tactful, and after he agreed to allow her to order their food, and she’d rattled off her selection, they left them alone with a bottle of champagne. Over the excellent meal and marvellous wines, they exchanged information about themselves in a conversation which flowed from French – which he prided himself on speaking well and with a good accent – to English, which in Juliette's speech became a fascinating mélange of mixed metaphors and malapropisms.
He was surprised to discover that he was almost four years older than the sophisticated young lady opposite him. He’d assumed from her poise and self-confidence that they were of an age. Juliette was a Parisienne born and raised, the eldest daughter of a wealthy textile manufacturer. Convent educated - until she had left France altogether, to study at Rome University - she confessed with an ingenuous, Gallic shrug, that more of her time had been spent socializing than studying - once she was free of both convent and parental constraints - and consequently she’d obtained only a degree-level qualification in the disparate subjects of telecommunications and weather-control.
"So, not only do I know when it is going to rain, Paul, I can call you up and let you know," she concluded, with a tinkling laugh.
He laughed in response. "My own life's hardly been that exciting. I was born in Winchester and studied in Winchester – so I'm a novice at the delights of a city like Paris."
He felt a pang of guilt at being less than honest with her about how widely he’d travelled, but caution about revealing too much had been drummed into him, once he left the more active side of the WAAF and moved into the diplomatic circles General Henderson inhabited. Perhaps, when he knew her better, he might be able to talk to her about his own visits to Rome and the fascinating big cities of North America.
"You are here en vacances?" she asked, running a scarlet-nailed finger around the edge of her wine glass thoughtfully.
"This weekend is a holiday, but I'm due back at work on Monday."
"Moi aussi; to tell you in honesty: I am to start a new job on Monday – here in Paris." She gave a huge sigh. "It is, for me, a new direction and a new start of my life. I am not sure it is the right direction, but the old one was very much the wrong way for me to go..."
She glanced at him, a slight frown on her face at her sudden descent into earnestness. She continued with a brittle laugh and a forced gaiety, “But we will not speak of it! Tonight is for friends… and lovers… only. Work shall be banished from our conversation.”
“Whatever you want, Juliette. I’ve no wish to make this a dull evening by talking shop, but… if you want to talk about it, I’m willing to listen and – although I’ve no right to do so – I’ll give you my opinion, if you want it.”
She shook her head, as if she were shaking her sombre mood away as well. “For tonight, let us be two young people in a city of romance. The mundane things of life we abhor and disregard. I need to forget so much, Paul, and you can help me – if you would be so galant? My brave, young Chevalier…”
He laughed at her teasing, but accepted her command gratefully; there were aspects of his work that he couldn’t speak about. This way was much easier. Besides, he had a sneaking suspicion she wasn’t being totally frank with him either, and was, in fact, as keen as he to avoid the topic of gainful employment.
He knew the stories told of legendary French courtesans and the continental practice of being a ‘kept woman’ for the pleasure of some wealthy businessman and, wrong-footed by her forwardness, he wondered, just for a moment, if this charming woman was one of that ilk. Perhaps the textile manufacturer she spoke of was a ‘sugar-daddy’ rather than her biological father? He told himself that he didn’t really mind either way; although, on the whole, he’d prefer not to know if that was the case, and so he honoured her decision to keep things vague, with pleasure.
“Oh, that’s me all right – ‘The Young Chevalier’: a champion of lost causes if ever there was one.” She was baffled, he could tell, so he tried to explain, “The leader of the ’45: the Highland rebellion against the Hanoverian Monarchs?” She shook her head. “Bonnie Prince Charlie?”
“Ah, Bonnie Prince Charlie! I have hear of him.” Juliette grinned. “You are a true romantic if you follow the Jacobites, Paul.”
“Not really – I did a degree in history and studied military campaigns and such like…” He blushed. “Forget I mentioned it.”
She smiled at him, reaching across to pat his hand in a gesture of sympathy. “We will ignore the future and the past and live only for this moment, non?”
He laughed and nodded. A silence developed between them and, after a moment or two, Juliette removed the hand she had left covering his.
He cleared his throat and asked, “So, is Paris truly the most romantic place, Juliette?”
She gave a horrified gasp. “You English! You only see the ordinary things of life. I will show you romance in Paris, Paul Metcalfe. Romance like you have never experience before.”
He gave her a bright smile. “Oh, I do hope so, Julie – I really do.”
It was her turn to blush and it amused him to see her turn her shining eyes away from him to study the candles on the table. Her English might not be perfect but he swore she’d understood every double entendre he’d uttered all evening….
The evening was drawing on when Juliette paid the bill and they wandered out of the bistro together.
“It’s a wonderful evening, very mild for the time of year,” Paul said, as he glanced at the clear sky above them dotted with faint, twinkling stars.
Juliette gave a genuine peal of laughter. “Les Anglais – always they speak of the weather. This is some national idea of fore-playing, non?”
Paul tried to cover his amusement in an expression of surprised offence. “Not at all; I only commented on the fact in the hope I could tempt you to stroll along with me, rather than have you rush away in a taxi. It has been such a wonderful evening I don’t want it to end.”
She pouted prettily and slipped her arm through his. “Forgive me, Paul; I have insulted your countrymen. I am well satisfied to be tempted. Believe me, I have no idea to rush anywhere, unless it was that you wished me to leave. ”
Paul took hold of her hand, kissed the knuckle and linked the fingers with his before drawing it into the pocket of his jacket. “That was the last thing on my mind,” he reassured her.
They strolled through the bustling streets, the tension between them growing as they approached the street with his hotel. Just before they turned the corner, he paused and when she moved to stand close to him, he slipped his other arm around her, pulling her against his body as he pressed his lips to hers. Her lips parted easily and her tongue teased at his until he, reluctantly, pulled away and drew a deep, sighing breath.
He watched her, waiting until her beautiful eyes opened, the long lashes fluttering slightly as she raised her gaze to meet his. There was a sparkle of anticipation in their honey-coloured depths as he studied her.
“Juliette…?” He whispered her name on the edge of a breath. The one word asked a whole barrage of questions he hadn’t the skill to frame.
“Bien sûr,” she said demurely. Smiling with satisfaction at seeing his eyes widen and the hastily suppressed expression of surprise that crossed his face, she continued, suddenly coquettish, “Would you rather I pretended I don’t know what you mean to ask me? I can do that, if you would prefer… perhaps the English girls they are not so… straight forwards?”
“No; it isn’t necessary. We’ve agreed that we won’t let the past or the future concern us – so we can be honest with each other while we live in the moment, can’t we?” She nodded in affirmation and reached her hand to his cheek. Encouraged, he confessed, “I’m hoping you’ll come back with me to my hotel. I want to make love to you. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen…”
Her smile grew. “All Parisiennes in Paris are irresistible, mon ami.”
As he pressed his lips to hers again he murmured, “No, just this one.”
They stood wrapped in each other’s arms for some moments, oblivious of the passers-by who smiled at the sight of the two lovers so involved with each other.
He was acutely aware of Juliette’s hands, sliding beneath the fabric of his jacket and into the back pockets of his trousers, pulling him towards her. She felt so fragile against him, although she was – he was ever more acutely aware - generously built. He was sure all of the smooth, sweet-smelling, enticing body in his arms was as nature intended her to be, and he was excited by the thought of confirming his deduction… He allowed his hands to travel down the length of her back, and returned her embrace by pulling her against him.
Moments passed in a blur. Nerves, ignited by the touch of body on body even through their clothing, fired already over-active imaginations until the demand for flesh on flesh was strong enough to leave them both breathless.
Juliette disengaged from him with a smile. “Allons,” she said.
They walked back into the hotel and Paul collected his key from the reception desk, while Juliette waited by the lift. They rode in silence to the seventh floor and Paul led the way to his small suite of rooms. The WAAF had allocated him a comfortable billet for his stay in the city – not the best on offer, but one he’d felt able to relax in. He hoped it was somewhere Juliette would feel at home in as well, somewhere where they could forget the world beyond the four walls and live in the excitement of the present.
Juliette walked straight to the windows, dropping her jacket onto the small sofa that occupied the centre of the room. She gazed out at the view of the pale stone buildings and blue-grey slates. In the distance she could see the lights of Montmartre. Behind her, Paul had removed his jacket and was moving around the room to switch on a pair of table lamps. She saw him watching her in the mirror of the windowpane.
“You are truly beautiful,” he said, as she turned towards him.
“So are you,” she replied, with an appraising glance.
He smiled. “I’ve been called some things in my life – but beautiful isn’t one of them.”
“Then the world is full of blind people.” She turned back to the view, sweeping her arm wide across the expanse of the glass. “We are two beautiful people in the most beautiful city in the world,” she asserted.
He chuckled as he crossed the room, standing behind her so that she could rest against him where she stood. “Ah,” he murmured, “but I don’t want to make love to the city though… why would I, when I have my own beautiful, scarlet woman… ” His hands caressed her shoulders as he dipped his head to kiss her neck, and then his arms encircled her completely.
He turned her towards him, bending his mouth to hers. Her arms encircled his neck and he straightened up, lifting her from the floor. She wrapped her legs around his hips as the kiss grew longer and more intense. Paul shifted slightly to accommodate her weight and, making a sudden decision, carried her across to the bed.
She smiled up at him and he reached out and buried his hands in her shining hair, dislodging the pins that held it in place and sending the silvery streams cascading down over her shoulders. He ran his hand through one silky strand and then tilted her head back.
From his vantage point he looked down at her, her wonderful hair tumbled across the pillows, the sheer beauty of her delicate skin and he surrendered, unable to resist the overwhelming impulse to make love to her.
When he awoke from his satisfied doze, Juliette was lying beside him, her hand across his chest, her head against his shoulder. She’d wound her hair into a single strand, and it lay across her shoulder, slipping into the curve between her breasts. She looked serene and untroubled.
Paul stared up at the ceiling for a moment. He’d never experienced anything even remotely like this before. Caro was passionate and enthusiastic enough, but she wasn’t keen on what she called ‘anything kinky’ - and to Caro that meant almost everything.
Other women had been more adventurous, but none had been as adept at pleasuring him as this beautiful Frenchwoman. There seemed to be a rapport between them: something that transcended the barriers of language - and time, for he felt he had known her an eternity. He dismissed the unwelcome thought that he might never see her again after tonight – or at least, after this weekend - they had agreed to live in the ‘now’: it was as if their lives had started this afternoon and would last until the sun boiled into nothingness and the Universe flew apart.
Time was an irrelevance, a ‘weekend’ doubly so…
He sighed, trying to remember where he’d heard something like that before, and Juliette stirred, opening her eyes.
“Tu as bien dormi?” she asked sleepily.
“Oui, merci. Et toi?”
She nodded and smiled at him, artless and unself-conscious. “It is late. You do not mind if I stay for the rest of the night?”
“Of course not – I hoped you would.”
She smiled again. “I do not wish to embarrass you by being here.”
“I told you, Julie, I’m a single man; why should I be embarrassed by having you stay the night, even if there was anyone to take note of the fact? Isn’t there anyone at home who will miss you – worry about where you are?”
“Non; mes parents have gone away to stay with relatives, and my sister, she is at school. I too am all alone this weekend.”
“Was all alone – you’re not alone now, and neither am I.”
She snuggled closer to him with a contented sigh. “It is Fate that we meet together, non? Fate who have thrown us into intimacy.”
“More than likely; I certainly never expected to meet anyone like you.”
“And what is ‘someone like me’ like? How do you see me, Paul?”
He cursed his thoughtless words and replied after some thought, “A beautiful, elegant, passionate woman.”
She considered this and gave a gentle nod of approval. “You do not think I am… naughty to be here in bed with you?”
He gave a silent chuckle of laughter. “I’m just thankful that you are. You are wonderful, Juliette.”
“Bien. Sometimes I think I am too… quick to make decisions on people? But I knew at once you were a … gentilhomme.”
“The Metcalfes pride themselves on being honourable men.”
“Honourable? Oui. And a man – without any doubt, mon amour.”
He chuckled as he felt her fingers tracing down his chin and neck to his chest. “You want even more proof?” he asked.
In the dark hours before the dawn, Paul and Juliette lay entwined, sharing whispered desires, teasing and pleasing each other with hands, lips and bodies. Both of them felt a seemingly inexhaustible energy flowing through them, an energy that was recharged with each climactic conclusion of their intimacy.
As they were lying close together in the afterglow of a particularly satisfying coupling, he said, “I’m damn sure you didn’t learn how to do that in a convent, Julie.”
She snuggled closer and replied drowsily, “I may have been educated in a convent, but I am a Frenchwoman – indeed, a Parisienne! There are some things we are born knowing.”
“I don’t doubt it – given the proof I’ve had.”
She pushed him playfully and then reached across to kiss him once more.
When they finally closed their eyes, they remained snuggled together in the warm bed, Juliette’s head resting against his broad chest, and slept the sated slumber of lovers the world over. It was late in the morning when Juliette woke, blinking bleary eyes against the fitful sunlight streaming through the large windows and striking the bed.
She stretched lazily and yawned – the excesses of the night were finally catching up with her. She slipped from the bed and walked to the bathroom to use the toilet. While washing her hands she peered at her face in the mirror, pouting to see the redness caused by the rough stubble on Paul’s cheeks. Her mascara had smudged, making her eyes appear enormous. She washed her face briskly and tried to improve her appearance as best she could, patting her face dry on the hotel’s soft, white towels.
She looked up to see Paul walk in. He was barely awake – his black hair tousled with sleep.
“Bonjour,” she said, amused to see his surprised start.
“I was afraid you’d left me,” he confessed. He came to wrap her in his arms again, nuzzling his chin against her neck. “It was a real nightmare,” he murmured.
She chuckled. “Even in this morning light you find me desirable? Here is a true chevalier sans reproche.”
“Desirable? Yes, you are desirable, and you know it very well – you minx.”
“Please, what is this minx? Do I wish to be one?”
“You are a minx; a desirable, teasing, woman,” he said.
Juliette pushed him away and slipped from his grasp, laughing as she skipped back to the bed. “If I am a ‘minx’ – what will you do about, Paul?”
“Hungry?” he asked suddenly.
He reached out a hand for the bedside phone and ordered them a substantial early lunch.
They ate it picnic-style, feeding each other the choicest titbits while sitting on the floor of the living room area, the food laid out on the low coffee table, and a bottle of Chablis chilling in a wine-bucket. There was a television in the corner of the room and on an impulse Juliette crawled to fetch the remote control, so that they might see what was on.
She gave a horrified gasp as the first channel she chose was broadcasting an England-France Rugby match from somewhere.
He instantly recognised it, however, with a delighted cry of ‘Twickers’.
He reached to take the remote from her. “I’d forgotten this was on this weekend…”
“Non, Non – we shall not watch the football!” she cried, jerking the control away from him.
“Just until it finishes,” he pleaded. “While our lunch goes down…”
She switched the TV off and started to crawl away. Laughing, he chased after her and they rolled across the carpet in a friendly struggle for the remote control.
As he won it from her, he kissed her and switched the match back on – ignoring her protests. He quickly became engrossed in the game, urging his team on as Juliette lay sulking on the bed. Every so often he heard her flouncing about as she thumped pillows and muttered invectives under her breath.
As he had promised, he turned the set off immediately the game finished and came over to where she was lying, rigid in offended silence. He tried to frame his face in an appealing expression of contrition, but he couldn’t mask the delight and excitement in his eyes and Juliette shrugged off his apology with a Gallic sniff and a sceptical raised eyebrow.
“Hey, I’m sorry,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’m all yours now – I promise there won’t be any more distractions.”
“You think that silly game is more fun than I,” she complained, her full bottom lip pouting as she glanced up at him.
“Not a jot of it – but, Julie, a man cannot live on love alone; we’re complex creatures - we need all of our emotional wants catering for-”
He staggered back as a pillow hit him in the stomach with considerable force. “Steady on-” he gasped.
“So, you think you can now come and have loving with me to celebrate the victory of your team?” She bounced up and grabbed her pillow back. “I do not sleep with the enemy, Monsieur Metcalfe!”
Laughing, he reached for her and pushed her back onto the bed. “And here was I thinking we had our very own Entente Cordiale going on here…”
She squirmed away from him and he grabbed her again, imprisoning her in his arms, her back pressed against his body. He kissed her. She was breathing hard, but he knew it was due to excitement and not anger when he heard her give a breathy chuckle.
“Come on, Juliette. Maybe you should be thinking of taking revenge for your countrymen?”
“And how should I do that? Me, a mere woman?”
“You know exactly how to leave me as weak as a kitten…”
“I should make you stop immédiatement…” Juliette threatened.
“And spoil your own fun?”
He grinned triumphantly as she pouted and shook her head.
He surfaced from an abyss of lethargy to see her regarding him from a vantage point on the bank of pillows. Her chin was resting on her elbow and her face wore an expression that verged on pity. He gave her a weak grin.
“Tcha, this is the best you can offer?” she complained, although there was an amused twinkle in her eyes. “Perhaps all your virility drained away watching the big, strong footballer players?”
“Ha, ha. You wait… I’ll prove my virility to you…”
She grinned and slithered down to lie beside him. “I think it is a fault in the species that men always want to play with their balls,” she said, causing Paul to dissolve in weak laughter.
When she’d worked out why, she punched his arm playfully and then started laughing herself.
He apologised for his lapse again and kissed her beautiful lips in contrition.
“Do not concern yourself, Paul. Perhaps the fault was for me? I do not know the power my own body has over you, n’est-ce pas?”
He sighed contentedly and confided, “This has to rank as one of the best birthdays ever… the most beautiful woman in Paris is in MY bed and to top it all, we beat France at Twickers… I could die happy.”
“It is your birthday?” she asked in surprise. “You did not tell me this…”
“I didn’t think you’d believe me, for a start, but yes, it is my birthday. I’m another year older and… hopefully, wiser.”
“I have always like older men…” she muttered as his eyes closed again and his breathing settled into a steady rhythm. “Eh bien, perhaps some sleep is a good idea after all?”
She snuggled against him and closed her eyes, drifting into a deep sleep moments later.
They woke to see the glare of the street lamps beyond the rain-splattered windows. Neither of them had the energy, or the inclination, to want to venture out, so they spent an enjoyable hour sharing the deep bathtub.
Then he ordered some food, and Juliette sat in the only armchair, wrapped in one of the hotel’s bathrobes, while he, resplendent in his scarlet-silk pyjamas, sat on the sofa.
Too hungry to talk, they turned the television on again for entertainment while they ate, and found a channel showing an old movie. They watched it together and when she’d finished eating, Juliette joined him on the sofa and they teased each other about the romantic on-screen lovers.
As the hours passed they moved from the sofa to the bed and in the early hours of the morning, when even their seemingly-inexhaustible energy started to flag, they shared intimate confidences.
Paul told Juliette about Caro, and his mother’s expectations that he would marry her and settle down and his own doubts about that. She spoke of the Italian man she’d met in Rome – an older, far more experienced man – who had introduced her to the pleasures of the flesh, but had refused to leave his wife and children to live with her. It was the disappointment over that relationship that had brought her back to Paris, determined to turn her back on men and concentrate on forging herself a new career.
Neither of them spoke of what they were doing for a living – Juliette’s stricture from the previous evening still held – but they did speak of what they hoped to do; the places they wanted to see, the experiences they hoped to enjoy and the personal goals they anticipated achieving.
“And now that you’ve turned your back on men, so effectively,” he teased her, “do you think you could ever grow to love another man as you did him?”
She blushed – partly at his teasing and partly at the implications of his question. In her wish to answer him honestly she spoke entirely in French, although their conversations generally veered from language to language, often in a single sentence, when their proficiency lagged behind their need to express themselves.
“I have you to thank, Paul, because I’ve found in myself the capacity to love again; the ability to give and take pleasure without any shame and the joy of being loved.”
“And I have you to thank for making me realise that any marriage without this kind of mutual love and respect would be immoral. I couldn’t marry Caro if she was the last woman on earth. I know that now.”
“Pauvre Caro… she will hate my name for robbing her of such a man.”
“She’ll be too busy spending Derek Burghfield’s money to give me a second thought,” he said cynically. “Whilst I – well, I will be remembering the most marvellous weekend I’ve ever spent with anyone.”
“Did I not tell you: Paris is the city of romance, Paul?”
“Never mind the city of romance – you are the very spirit of romance, Juliette. Ma belle, mon amour...” He kissed her tenderly, his ardour finally sated and his passion mutating into the wish to cherish her for ever.
She curled against him, trusting and contented to be in his arms again. The overwhelming, almost primeval, sexual attraction between them was, it seemed, satisfied and they lay in silent companionship until sleep claimed them once more.
They slept for hours, oblivious of the breaking dawn and the muted roar of the traffic in the streets below as Paris greeted the new day. Beyond the confines of the hotel the church bells rang, and the pale-golden sun darted fitfully through the rain clouds, gilding the spasmodic raindrops and the puddles with rainbows.
Paul woke first, aware that his bladder was bursting. He slipped from the bed as unobtrusively as he could and strode into the bathroom. The pressure relieved, he wandered back into the main room. Juliette was still asleep and he paused to pull on his pyjama trousers, realising with an amused smirk that the colour matched that of Juliette’s long-discarded gown.
He was surprised to discover that he was ravenous and hoped that she’d wake soon, so that he might order breakfast.
He stood, unusually irresolute, looking across the room to the bed, where she lay sleeping, her hand resting beneath her round chin, her tangled hair forming an unruly halo around her. He found her exciting, unfathomable and exhilarating. She gave of herself so freely, expecting nothing more than a mutual respect for each other’s desires and confident enough to demand that her needs be fulfilled as much as his.
She’d also trusted him enough to reveal her essential vulnerabilities, losing herself in the joy of intimacy in a way no other woman he’d known had ever done. Always, even after relationships that had lasted many months, he’d always felt that deep within his lover was a secret self that he would never come to know; with Juliette he already felt that she knew him as well as she knew herself, and that he could almost anticipate her every thought.
He scratched his chin, grimacing at the roughness of it, and wondered if there really was a ‘soul mate’ for everyone – the perfect partner, the one true love.
Nevertheless, he wondered if there was any way he could still manage to see her after this weekend was over. He was essentially at the beck and call of General Henderson, and because the remit of the WAAF was world-wide, they could be sent anywhere for as long as it took to accomplish the mission. But this conference was almost certainly going to overrun: the French President of the Council was incapable of controlling the delegate states and there was every chance that even if the tiff between the Germans and the Italians was sorted out, there’d be another hiatus before the week was out.
Yet, he couldn’t promise to see her again and once this conference was over, he’d be off to some other part of the world - troubleshooting.
He’d already considered asking for a transfer back to something more active, now that his CV included diplomatic experience, but even if he did that, he could be posted anywhere and, if Juliette wasn’t prepared to wait for his erratic and fleeting periods of leave – or to travel with him - it would be no better.
Even as he stood wrapped in thought, she opened her eyes and stretched luxuriously in the vast bed.
“Bonjour,” Paul said tenderly.
“Bonjour, Paul,” she said, smiling. “Is it breakfast time?” He nodded. “Bien, for I have the appetite of a horse today.”
“You mean you could eat a horse…” He laughed as he corrected her.
She pouted as she gave the statement some consideration. “Non, I do not wish to eat horse – but I do wish for other foods…”
Fighting his amusement, he said, “Of course, I will order a large breakfast for two, immédiatement.”
Juliette devoured the fresh bread and croissants with gusto, sipping fresh orange juice and coffee and licking the jam from her finger-tips in a sensual way that only served to inflame Paul’s desire all the more. He tore into the pastries and gulped the coffee, hardly tasting anything in his haste to finish.
Once she was satisfied, she sank back onto the pillows, and sighed deeply.
“Perhaps it is time I should go?” she suggested, glancing up from under the long lashes.
“Only if you have to – or if you want to,” he replied. “I’d keep you here for ever, if I could.”
Her cat-like smile expanded to a satisfied grin. “So now you do believe Paris is the city of romance?”
“I believe that any city in the world that held you would be a romantic one, Juliette. If Romeo’s Juliet was anything like you, I can suddenly understand his motivation.”
She laughed. “So English a compliment. Tu es adorable.”
“Then won’t you stay with me? I have to go back to work on Monday afternoon, but I’m free until then…” He was aware that he was begging, but he wanted this woman so much his pride was willingly sacrificed.
She made a show of considering his request. “It would be to me a pleasure, Paul, but I have to go back to my home tonight - I have to be ready for my own new job demain matin and I cannot go there in my scarlet gown. Besides, if I go in the evening, my gown will not attract the notice it would do on a working day morning.”
“Julie, you know very well that you will attract notice whenever you wear that dress…”
She looked delighted. “You like it? I have only bought it in the afternoon we met. Ma mère, she will tell me it is not suitable, I am sure.”
“I like it almost as much as I like the woman who wore it…”
He reached over and embraced her.
Juliette found this handsome, virile Englishman fascinating and exciting in many ways. She had rather surprised herself by the enthusiasm with which she’d made love, she had tended to be more inhibited with her previous lover, but something in Paul brought out the wanton in her.
She squirmed in his arms to study his face, noting the dark stubble on his cheeks and chin and the darkened rings under his intense blue eyes. She suspected that her face was showing the result of such close contact and expended energy as well, and she didn’t care.
“Do you think I am naughty, Paul,” she asked quietly. “Should I have remained a chaste and forbidden fruit? Then you would have pursued me – charmed me, courted me. Now will you kiss me farewell and I shall never see you again? Is that what you mean to happen, Paul?”
He shook his head and confessed, “Left to myself I might never get out of this bed or leave this hotel, Julie – but I have commitments, duties I have to perform, starting tomorrow.”
“Moi aussi. I know this cannot last for ever – this idyll. But there is always a hope we might meet again, if the Fates allow it?”
“I hope so. I really do.” He kissed her gently and lovingly, acutely aware that the fervour of their passion was evolving into mutual affection and respect. “I shall be in Paris for a few weeks longer, I expect – given the way things are going. Can I see you again? You know, I still don’t have a phone number to contact you.”
“I will give you the number of my téléphone, certainement. I hope that we shall be able to spend more time together – in our bed and out of it – for there is much I wish to show you, to learn about you, to enjoy with you.”
“It’s my hope too,” he assured her. They cuddled together, simply enjoying the closeness of each other’s body and the companionship of a kindred soul.
With a heavy heart Juliette glanced towards the window and the already low sun outside. “I must make ready to leave,” she whispered. “I have so much to do.”
Paul nodded, but hugged her and kissed her in an attempt to mitigate his dismay at the thought of her departure. Gently she stroked her hand through his thick, black hair, caressed his rough cheek and traced her finger down to his chin before laying her finger across his full, moist lips. Then she tore herself from his arms and walked to the bathroom.
Paul lay back in the bed, his arm still stretched across the warm depression she’d left behind. He gazed at the ceiling musing on the situation.
He was, he felt sure, falling in love with this woman – above and beyond the thrill of her body and the passion of their ardour – he liked her personality, her quick intelligence, her girlish laugh… it wasn’t hard to imagine a life where he came home every day to Juliette and a handful of identikit kids.
But he had an ambitious life-plan mapped out in his head, a career to pursue; goals to achieve that would make such a tie… inconvenient. Much of his present posting was dealing with confidential and security matters – things she could never know about. He’d have to make a decision eventually – Juliette or his career and whichever one he chose, he knew that he’d always regret losing the other.
He turned to see her emerge from the bathroom and walk to where she’d left her clothes. She busied herself dressing and then wound her hair up into a bun with practised ease.
Her cheeks were red: abraded by his stubble, he realised with a guilty pang. He sat up and swung himself out of bed,
“Give me a moment and I’ll get dressed and come with you,” he said, as he started for the bathroom.
“Non, Paul. It is not necessary,” she said, and held out her hand to him. He crossed to her and took hold of her slender fingers, raising them to his lips. He reached and touched her cheeks, almost about to apologise. She turned her head to kiss his fingers. “I would much like it better if we said au revoir here – like this. I shall be able to remember you as I love to see you.”
He felt himself blushing, yet a sudden impulse to detain her made him say, “Julie, before you go, please let me give you this.” He went to the dresser drawer and drew out the box with the cat brooch in. He held it out to her. “You said you liked it and I haven’t anything else I can give you. Please, my dear, Juliette, please, take it – to remind you of me.”
She stared at the box, colour sweeping into her face so that he thought for one dreadful moment that he had miscalculated and she was offended.
She looked deep into his eyes and said, “But Paul, you buy it for your maman…”
“I’d like you to have it,” he reassured her, adding, “Besides, she’s not that keen on cats.”
Juliette grinned. “You English – always so practical! Merci beaucoup, Paul. I shall treasure it always in memory of our… scarlet nights… n’est ce pas?”
He thought it politic not to suggest ‘dirty weekend’ as the correct alternative, and nodded.
She took the box from him, reaching up to kiss him once more. Her palm rested on his naked chest as, smiling up at him, she murmured, “Au revoir…”
“Au revoir, ma belle Fran – Parisienne,” he responded with a smile.
She grinned at him. “I have left a paper with the number of my téléphone on the table. Call me, when you can. I will make what speed I may to see you again.”
“I know we’re both busy people, Julie, but I’ll call – I promise.”
She nodded. “I must go. Au revoir, Paul.”
She stretched to kiss his cheek for the final time and turned to leave without further delay. At the door, she paused to study him, standing watching her, a smile on his face, his magnificent, and by now familiar, body gilded by the dying rays of the sun so that he seemed to be standing in a pool of scarlet light. She blew him a kiss and walked out.
He slept like the dead that night and woke reluctantly and bleary-eyed at the phone’s instant ringing. He buried his head under the pillow expecting it to be Room Service with his alarm call, but it did not stop ringing, so eventually he answered the phone.
It was General Henderson.
“Major Metcalfe, I’m sorry to wake you so early, especially as I’d given you to expect the morning off, but there’s been a communication from the Supreme Commander. Apparently, at his insistence, the French have replaced the President of the Council with a military man and the new appointee wants to speak to us before the open session begins this afternoon, to discuss some of the SC:EF’s proposals and how we can get the delegates to accept them. I received the document an hour ago and I’m going to need you with me. I’m sorry, my boy, but your leave is at an end. Meet me in the lobby in about forty-five minutes.”
”Yessir,” Paul slurred. He staggered into the bathroom, felt slightly more awake after a shower, but still managed to cut himself shaving.
He ate a hasty breakfast in the restaurant and was just in time to meet General Henderson at the door.
“’Morning, Paul,” Henderson said heartily. He glanced at his less than enthusiastic aide and asked, “Heavy weekend?”
“You could say that, sir. Did you and Mrs Henderson have a good time?”
Henderson grimaced. “Hummph… Tell me, do you like opera, Paul?”
Paul shrugged. “I… I can take it or leave it, sir.”
“Well, I loathe it. I can’t understand a word of it and it goes on for hours. What’s worse, women who probably weigh more than me are supposed to be consumptive, or the hero and the heroine fail to recognise each other because one of them is cunningly disguised by a hat! I find I just can’t suspend my disbelief far enough. Mrs Henderson, however, loves it; so – you will understand what I mean when I tell you: we had a wonderful time – if you get asked.”
“I understand perfectly, sir.”
They had been summoned to a different venue and found themselves being ushered into an imposing Parisian government building and up an ornate flight of red-carpeted stairs to a suite of impressive offices. Here, they were asked to wait until the new President had finished speaking to the Italian delegation. They sat in the formally appointed waiting-room in silence, shamelessly listening to the raised voices beyond the inner door. This President was taking no prisoners, it seemed.
Henderson met his aide’s eyes with a satisfied nod. “We might be away a lot sooner than we thought after all,” he said, satisfaction evident in his voice.
“Yes, sir,” Paul replied, aware of a sense of acute disappointment.
There was a bang as an unseen door closed and after a few minutes the door to the inner room opened.
A uniformed female officer stepped out of the room.
“This way, if you please, Général Henderson; Général De Guise will see you now,” she said in heavily accented English.
Henderson brushed past her and walked into the room, his attention already focused on the Frenchman at the desk.
But his aide was standing rooted to the spot in the waiting-room, staring with astonishment at the young female officer. Even her dull uniform couldn’t disguise her attractive figure and although her platinum-blonde hair was drawn back in a severe plait, so that not a hair was out of place, he recognised her instantly.
“Juliette,” he gasped.
She raised her eyes and stared in disbelief at the major in attendance on the important English WAAF general. “Paul!”
She blushed to the roots of her carefully arranged hair.
“Lieutenant Pontoin, what is wrong?” her commander barked, as he peered towards them from his desk.
Major Metcalfe moved towards her, a finger pressed to his lips. “May I buy you lunch, Lieutenant?” he whispered, as he approached her.
“Avec plaisir, Major.”
“Good; and dinner this evening?” Juliette nodded happily. He continued, “And breakfast tomorrow?”
“Mais certainement, Major.”
General Henderson squirmed round in his seat to see what was causing the delay. “Is there a problem, Major?”
“No, sir. No problem at all. I’m just coming.”
“Can you make it last for all of tonight?” Juliette hissed teasingly, as he started to walk away from her.
“Bien sûr,” he replied, his heart singing as he walked to stand beside his commanding officer and concentrate on the job in hand.
The original version of this story was written a few years ago as a birthday present for a friend, and I am grateful to her for allowing me to bowdlerise and revise it, so that I could offer it to the webmaster as Scarlet’s birthday story, for 2008.
Thanks to Hazel Köhler and Chris Bishop for their expert beta-reading and translation work, in making my usual gibberish mean something in English and French. Any and all mistakes are mine, because I will never stop tweaking…
Before I became part of the wonderful Captain Scarlet Fandom, I had always supposed that there was a ‘thing’ between Scarlet and Destiny Angel, based mostly on the fact that she is the one who identifies his body in the pilot episode. Through reading the fiction on the website, I came to see that many stories partnered him with Rhapsody and – assuming this was canon – I followed suit, although I have to say, she is probably my least favourite Angel, but then it doesn’t matter, because I’m not that fond of him either!
The notion that there was once a romance between Paul Metcalfe and Juliette Pontoin seems to me the ideal solution to this fictional impasse, and so this is my version of their initial meeting. In some ways, it deliberately mirrors the intensity of the instant attraction between my characters of Captain Blue and Symphony Angel, which begins when they meet in Spectrum. Although, Paul and Juliette’s romance does not last - in fact, it burns itself out quite rapidly, leaving an affectionate friendship - that of their American friends persists throughout their lives, but not always harmoniously.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the story and that you will say, with me:
Happy Birthday, Captain Scarlet…
Any comments? Send an E-MAIL to the SPECTRUM HEADQUARTERS site