When Meg spots a young woman alone in the Pigalle district of Paris at night, she's intrigued. She has to know her story and find out why she looks so sad and alone. After introducing herself, Meg realizes that she and Grace have a lot in common. But when they decide to go and grab a drink together, they discover a mutual love that could bond them forever.
Meg was hungry. Or, to be more precise, she was thirsty. Taking her usual route down the Boulevard de Clichy, she knew she'd find something suitable to drink if she waited long enough. The Pigalle area was notorious both in Paris and further afield, known for its sleazy bars, clubs, and sex shops. Most young women traveling alone would avoid it like the plague. Not Meg. For her, it was the ideal hunting ground.
At this time, just past sunset, it was always full of people, some going about their daily life, which just happened to take the crowds through one of the city's seediest areas. Others came to stare, bug-eyed, at the voluptuous women trying to entice them into lap-dancing clubs. They giggled behind their fingers as they shuffled past shop windows advertising all manner of equipment for use in the bedroom.
Then there were stag and hen parties—groups that descended on Pigalle, spent an evening causing havoc in the bars and clubs, then left, having laughed themselves hoarse and having drunk a skinful.
Most of these people were utterly harmless. The area was an attraction, a bit of fun. For others, it was much more. Attacks on working girls were not uncommon. Or at least, they hadn't been. The crime rates had dropped dramatically since Meg had moved to the area. Nobody, much less the police, knew why. And Meg didn't intend for them to find out.
Meg thought she had a thorough measure of the area and its inhabitants, so, she was completely taken by surprise when she saw the girl. By now, Meg was much further up the boulevard, on a strip of pavement between the Moulin Rouge and the inevitable branch of Starbucks. Glancing across at the coffee house, Meg spotted her. The girl sat at a table outside, gripping a cup of something-or-other as though her life depended on it.
She was beautiful. She was also completely out of place. At this time, the majority of people were here because they wanted to be. This girl looked as though she would rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Wondering if the girl had been coerced into coming by a boyfriend, Meg gritted her teeth and crossed the road.
As she drew closer, she realized there was no other cup on the table, no evidence at all to suggest that the girl was there with someone else. Meg headed inside and ordered a Cappuccino with an extra shot. Caffeine always did her the world of good. It warmed the blood. Taking her beverage outside, she heaved a sigh of relief as she noted both that the girl was still there, and that the seat beside her was the only one available.
Moving toward the girl, Meg smiled and asked, "Do you mind if I sit here? Everywhere else is taken."
Momentarily startled, the girl looked at Meg and smiled shyly. "Sure, no problem. There's nobody sitting there."
"Thanks. I'm Meg, by the way," she said, extending a hand.
"Grace," the girl replied, temporarily removing a hand from her cup to shake Meg's. She put it straight back on again, but not before Meg noticed a slight tremble. The girl looked as though she was about to go back inside her own head, so Meg spoke quickly.
"So, what brings you here? I can't help but notice you're not local."
"Oh," Grace said, as if surprised that Meg was still there. "I live in Paris. I moved here with my boyfriend, but . . . ." she looked at her hands.
Suddenly, a piece of the puzzle clicked into place.
"I'm sorry," Meg replied. "I didn't mean to pry. I'm just a little lonely, I guess. Just making conversation."
"You?" Grace replied incredulously, studying Meg. "If you're struggling for company, then there's no hope for me!"
"Depends what kind of company you're looking for. Can't say there are many desirables 'round here, though!" She looked around, as though to prove her point. "Say, you want to get a proper drink?"
Meg stood, hoping Grace would follow her lead. She looked down at the girl, smiled, and held out a hand. She watched Grace's posture visibly relax, and her grin grew wider as she put down her cup and took the offered hand.
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