French Kissed (International School #3)
December 1, 2014
NA Contemporary Romance
On the surface, Fleur Marceaux has it all. If only the facade matched reality. With one year left at the International School in London, Fleur’s struggling to graduate, her love life is a mess, and she can’t stop thinking about Max, her ex-boyfriend’s best friend. But all that pales compared to the blackmailer determined to destroy her.
There’s a social hierarchy at the International School and Max Tucker is outside the velvet ropes. After watching Fleur break his friend’s heart, Max knows to stay away from trouble, despite the crush he’s had on her since freshman year. But when they’re partnered on a project, Max learns there’s more to Fleur than meets the eye, and she just might be worth the wild ride.
The more time they spend together, the further Max falls. And when a kiss awakens a passion Fleur never imagined, she’s unable to resist Max, who she had thought was all wrong for her but might be the only thing that’s right. But will he stand by her when her secrets are revealed?
Don’t miss the final book in the International School series. This New Adult romance is recommended for readers 17 and up.
"French Kissed is a fabulous ending to the International School series! Max and Fleur's story sizzles all the more for the sweetness and vulnerability both characters show. There's plenty of Samir, Maggie and Mya, as well, and finishing the last page felt a lot like saying goodbye to a great group of friends."
- Brenda St. John Brown, author of Swimming to Tokyo
"Real characters with raw emotions, quick wit, and an undeniable chemistry!"
- Colette Ballard, author of Running on Empty
"[French Kissed] will steal your heart and make you fall in love."
- Typical Distractions
"Chanel Cleeton once again knocks it out of the park for a home run...[she] has such a wonderful way of writing and develops these characters that are lovable and flawed and so human!"
- Beauty and the Books
"This book was sexy and emotional and just plain gorgeous."
- Kimberly Faye Reads
"[T]he words just fly off the page and before you know it you've read the whole book in what feels like the blink of an eye."
- A Life Bound by Books
"Filled with smoking hot romance, sharp wit, and a quarter life crisis, this New Adult novel is a wonderful conclusion to the International School series."
- Not a Picky Reader
FRENCH KISSED Chapter One
I’d never spent much time thinking about men’s backs. Clothes, watches, cars? Sure. Backs? Not so much. But then again, to be fair, no one’s back looked like his.
I shifted in my seat, hoping the movement would keep me awake. Bad enough it was nine a.m. but it was also my Project Finance class, which was a giant pain in my ass. So, really, my back ogling kept me sane and awake. At least that’s what I told myself as he stretched again, and I felt things. Lots of things.
Max Tucker sat in front of me, wearing a light-gray T-shirt that vaguely translated to, I don’t give a shit what I look like. Your clothes could say things like that when your body screamed warrior sex god. Not that I was listening or anything.
He moved forward an inch, and I sucked in a deep breath, watching, fascinated by the muscles rippling under the soft fabric. Compared to the rest of the guys here at the International School in London, Max was huge. The Arab guys weren’t bulky at all, and most of the European boys had a slim but muscular build that gave them an air of grace when they moved. My ex, Costa, had that same languid ease about him, as if it were too much trouble for him to exert himself physically.
There was no grace about Max, and not only because he wasn’t built that way. There was something about him . . . something that didn’t fit here.
It wasn’t just that he was American or that he didn’t have money, although that was a big part of it. We went to a school where labels, wealth, and appearances mattered, but more than anything, what counted most was swagger. You had to walk around like you owned the place, and at a school filled with the sons and daughters of world leaders and moguls, that was no easy feat. But even without the swagger, you noticed Max. He might have been more peasant than king, but his body was all god.
He was tall. The kind of tall that actually made me feel small, which at five eleven was a challenge. His shoulders were so broad, he nearly blocked out the class. Reason number one why I sat behind him. If they couldn’t see you, they couldn’t call on you. And fuck if I knew anything about project finance. I was here because it was required for my fashion marketing major, and even though it was only the first week of classes, I was already over it.
But the other reason, the one that had me squirming in my seat as I drank in Max’s body, was that I liked looking at him. He was beautiful in a rugged way that really shouldn’t have been beautiful at all. Costa had been elegance and sophistication, with eyes that hinted at wicked pleasures and dark sex.
Max didn’t look like that at all. He was too open, his eyes too expressive, his face too easy to read. He didn’t look like he had secrets, like he’d ever had secrets. He looked solid. And while I’d once thought solid was the most boring thing in the world, it now taunted me, sitting inches away. It said, Taste, touch, see. It wanted me to reach out and curl my fingers around his ratty gray T-shirt, slip my hand under the fabric, and stroke the golden skin and hard abs his shirt hinted at.
It hit me again, like a punch to the head. I wanted—no, after over a year of celibacy, needed was a better word—to get laid. I knew I was hard up when I was lusting after someone like Max. Someone I hated. Someone who definitely hated me.
Fleur Marceaux’s eyes bore into me like two lasers shooting at my back. Half the time I expected that when I turned around, I’d find a dagger there. The other half I thought of long, straight light-brown hair and deep brown eyes, ballerina-like legs, tanned skin, and more attitude than one man could ever handle . . . or want.
I wasn’t sure if it was a French thing, or a Fleur thing, but either way, she took high maintenance to new levels.
I turned in my seat slightly, just able to make out the curve of her jaw and her soft pink lips. Because I was weak, I allowed my gaze to dip down to take in the rest of perfection.
Even at a school like the International School, where the vast majority of the student body—male and female—bathed themselves in designer labels and over-the-top outfits, Fleur took the cake. She’d brought her A game today, and if she wanted to stare holes in my back, then fuck, I’d return the favor to her front.
I’d been around her enough last year when she’d dated my best friend George—before she put his heart in a blender and hit “liquefy”—to know that the only way to manage Fleur was to not let her mind-fuck you into submission. She always had the upper hand, so I made a point of taking it from her—because I liked it, and even more, because I liked the way it teased out a little line between her brows. The girl who glided through life looked pissed off, and as much as I shouldn’t have cared, her reaction did things to me. So I looked. A lot.
She was wearing a dress today. I had no idea what the color was—something between red and orange that clung to every inch of her body. The neckline dipped low—lower than it probably should have for class—framing mouthwatering cleavage. She wasn’t curvy, and her breasts were smaller than average, her ass the same, but when her hips moved as she strutted down the halls, I’d always found myself unable to tear my gaze away.
I’d hated her for three years; been in lust with her since the first day I bumped into her in the hall freshman year. Total mind-fuck.
She glared back at me, her lips slanting into a hard line, and I met her gaze with a smug satisfaction I didn’t completely feel. I never felt satisfied around Fleur—just needy, and edgy, and wanting more. It made the game of chicken we constantly played with each other that more difficult to win. Impossible, really.
I turned in my seat, adjusting my jeans, struggling to concentrate on the professor at the front of the room and not the girl behind me.
It was my senior year of college, just weeks before I started the long process of going through rounds of interviews for my dream job. Some companies began hiring in the fall of your senior year. I’d been waiting for this moment forever, and now it was here, and it was scary as shit.
I heard my father’s voice in my head:
What do you need with that fancy education? You think you’re too good for home now? You just wait. You’ll come home and end up working with your brothers at the bar.
I tried to block it out. Block out the doubt and the fear that he was right, that I actually couldn’t do this. I was applying to some of the best investment banks in London, one of the most competitive cities in the world. My academic record had to be perfect.
“Eighty percent of your grade in this class will be a team project you’ll work on for the entire semester,” our professor announced from the front of the room. “The project will involve you financing a business venture. I’ll give you the parameters, and you’ll have to operate within those guidelines to create a successful business. You’ll be graded on a variety of factors, including how well you work together, the overall quality of your project, a written paper, and a presentation before the International Business faculty at the end of the semester. You can see how the individual components will be weighed on page four of the syllabus.”
I thumbed through the pages, unable to ignore the feeling that Fleur was watching me again. Didn’t she care about her grades at all? Rumor had it that her father was filthy rich, but what the hell was she going to do after graduation? Live off Daddy? Did she even care about her education, or was college just a series of parties for her?
The International School was a good school, but it definitely attracted a certain type of student. For the most part, the American kids came here to study. A lot of us were on scholarship and had taken out student loans. Taking your education seriously had an entirely different meaning when you knew you’d be spending the next ten years of your life paying it back. If I got lucky, got the kind of job I’d been working for all along, I could turn ten years into two.
“Part of being successful is meeting the challenges thrown your way,” the professor continued. “You may not always like your coworkers, and there’s no ‘fair’ in business. You may be paired with a weaker group, and you can only work harder to overcome your shortfalls. So, in the spirit of creating an authentic business environment, you won’t be allowed to choose your partners as was done in previous years.”
Groans erupted throughout the classroom. I understood his point, but the odds of me getting a good partner were just drastically reduced. Maybe a quarter of the class took their major seriously and actually cared about learning. The rest of the class was like Fleur; their degrees were pieces of paper to hang on walls at family companies where they had secure positions waiting for them after graduation, and an impressive title like “vice-president” they would add after their name before they turned twenty-five.
I had seventy thousand dollars in student loans, and the offer that I could sleep on the saggy couch in my parents’ living room for a couple weeks after graduation—if I paid rent.
“If you’re sitting in an odd numbered row, turn behind you. Congratulations, you’ve just met your new business partner.”
I counted the rows, dread filling me when I came to mine. Fuck.
There was a moment when I thought about saying something to the professor, a stupid wistful moment that vanished as soon as it came. I turned slowly, as if my body could prolong the inevitable. But it couldn’t, and it didn’t, and the next thing I knew, I was face-to-face with my nemesis-slash-crush.
Fleur’s lips curved, and her eyes filled with a knowing glint as if she recognized my discomfort and loved it. Her voice came next, that hint of a French accent some masochistic part of me gravitated toward like a sailor caught by a siren’s song.
We faced off at a little French café around the corner from school. Professor Schrader had released us early so we could go over the project with our partners. Normally, I would’ve been thrilled—thirty minutes less of class was always a win—but at the same time it meant thirty minutes of my life spent with Max.
He scowled at me across the table, and I got a little preview of what the next three months would hold. Fabulous.
I plastered on a saccharine smile completely at odds with my tone. “Are you always like this, or is it just me?”
Max jerked his head up from the notebook he’d been scribbling in—he had freakishly small handwriting—and stared at me blankly as if he’d almost forgotten I was there.
My eyes narrowed. “Believe me, I’m no happier about us working together than you are.”
Okay, that was an outrageous lie. My GPA hovered dangerously around a 2.0, and I needed to pass this class to graduate. Max was allegedly a genius. I definitely had the better end of the deal here. Unfortunately, he was just so Max.
I leaned in closer, trying to sneak a peek at the notebook in front of him. “What are you doing?”
He looked back down at the page, his face hidden, his voice barely over a mumble. “Coming up with a plan for the project.”
“Aren’t we supposed to talk about it?” I asked, torn between annoyed and hurt that he didn’t even ask what I wanted. He probably figured I wasn’t smart enough to contribute. “Shouldn’t we come up with a project together?”
No way was I going to end up with something boring. If I was going to have to stare at numbers all day, then at least give me something pretty to look at—besides Max. A fashion label, something I could handle.
“Hello?” I waved my hand in his face and was met with silence. He wasn’t particularly talkative on an average day, but this was ridiculous.
Max let out a little huff of air as he leaned back in his chair, his palms behind his head. I was treated to the view of big, tanned biceps, and long, corded arms. His shirt rose with the motion, displaying an inch of his abs before it snapped back into place as he slouched forward in his seat.
“Fine. What kind of project do you want to choose?” He stared at me expectantly as I struggled to transition from that hint of ab to finance. “Well?” There was a challenge in his voice we both knew I couldn’t rise to, and a gleam in his eyes that said what I already knew. He’d written me off as an airhead a long time ago.
This was what I hated most about Max. He always made me feel like I was an idiot. To be fair, compared to him, I probably was. I didn’t like school, found most of it to be a giant waste of time. And I didn’t love my major. The fashion part was great, but the rest of it? Business was my father’s thing, not mine.
It would have been easy to blame the language barrier—English, after all, was my second language—but it wasn’t that. Boarding school in Switzerland had been in English and French, and my grades had still been dismal. I’d spent more time hooking up with Costa than studying.
And now, at twenty-two, with less than a year between me and graduation, I regretted it. Regretted all the times I’d blown off studying to go clubbing, all the time I’d wasted on things that didn’t really matter, and the one person who definitely didn’t.
I didn’t want to be stupid, didn’t like the way people like Max looked down on me, but it was all so far beyond me. So I got Cs and Ds occasionally and skipped class when I could get away with it, because sitting in classrooms listening to subjects everyone else so easily understood was sheer torture.
I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. No clue who I was supposed to be.
I blamed Samir. He was my best friend, and thanks to our French mothers, my cousin. But most of all, he was my partner in crime. When I’d been slinging back Cristal at clubs, he’d been right there next to me. It was what everyone around us did. It was normal. And there was safety in numbers; it was how you knew you were doing what you were supposed to, that your life was going according to plan. Eventually we had to grow up, but I’d always thought I’d have more time. But then Samir had graduated and enrolled at the School of Oriental & African Studies to get his master’s, and he’d given everything up for his girlfriend, my other best friend, Maggie.
He was more serious, more driven, just more. So was Maggie. They were talking about getting a flat together next semester and making all these plans, and I was happy for them, really I was. I just wasn’t sure where that left me. I was the female Peter fucking Pan, left behind, wondering what happened next.
I didn’t have a future to get excited about. Didn’t have someone to make plans with. I had a past I wished I could forget and a blackmailer obsessed with making me remember.