Excerpt: The Beau & The Belle - Vilma Iris | Lifestyle Blogger

Beau Fortier starred in most of my cringe-worthy teenage fantasies.

I met him when I was a junior in high school, a time that revolved exclusively around bad hair, failed forays into flirting, and scientific inquiries into which brand of toilet paper worked best for stuffing bras.

That is, until Beau moved into the small guest house just beyond my bedroom window.

A 24-year-old law student at Tulane, Beau was as mysterious to me as second base (both in baseball and in the bedroom). He was older. Intimidating. Hot. Boys my age had chicken legs and chubby cheeks. Beau had calloused hands and a jaw cut from steel. Our interactions were scarce—mostly involving slight stalking on my end—and yet deep down, I desperately hoped he saw me as more of a potential lover than a lovesick loser.

Turns out, I was fooling myself. My fragile ego learned that lesson the hard way.

Now, ten years later, we’re both back in New Orleans, and guess who suddenly can’t take his eyes off little ol’ me.

My old friend, Mr. Fortier.

But things have changed. I’m older now—poised and confident. My ego wears a bulletproof vest. The butterflies that once filled my stomach have all perished.

When I was a teenager, Beau warned me to guard my heart.

Let’s hope he knows how to guard his.

Book Type:

Romantic Comedy

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Excerpt: The Beau & The Belle
By R.S. Grey

Excerpt: The Beau & The Belle

I’m a long-time, avid reader of R.S. Grey’s books, they are always delightful and fun to read. So every time a new book is announced, I get really excited! THE BEAU & THE BELLE is her next contemporary romance, and it’s a story about teenage crushes and second chances. It’s fun and fast-paced and takes place in New Orleans. While the book isn’t out until February 1st, you can get a sneak peek right now because I’m sharing the prologue and first chapter below!

❮ ADD TO GOODREADS ❯

Prologue

I came tonight with the intention of reconnecting with a ghost from my past, but the woman standing a few feet away from me is no ghost. She’s flesh and blood, rose-colored cheeks and golden blonde hair. It falls down her back, the same length it was a decade ago, except now the curls aren’t wild and free. Even with her mask, I know it’s her the second I spot her from across the room. The top of her dress is tight, fitted to her curves, but the skirt floats around her like a cloud. I see enough hints of her younger self to know my old friend is in there somewhere, but so much has changed. Her cheekbones seem imperceptibly higher; a face that used to be round and sweet is now heart-shaped and demure. My stomach squeezes tight when I see the sparkle in her eyes that seems to whisper, The rules have changed. Back then, her beauty was irrelevant, like a delicate work of art tucked safely behind museum glass. The thought never entered my mind to cross the velvet rope—she was too young, I was too old…

But now she’s too close, and she’s leaning closer.

Chapter 1

Beau

I’ve stood here before.

It’s been quite a while, but the old colonial-style house looks the same as I remember. Broad fluted columns rise imposingly, like bars, as if to warn away those who don’t belong. The ancient wrought-iron fencing matches the ornate filigree that decorates the otherwise subdued exterior of the building. It belongs in the background of Gone with the Wind, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a southern debutante leaning out from a half-shuttered window, petticoat rustling, fan waving. Hi mister, are you here to see little ol’ me?

It’s one of the most famous homes in the New Orleans Garden District. Tourists dawdle in front of it during their self-guided audio tours, oohing and aahing as they learn about its history. I have it memorized. The home was built back in the 1840s after a number of plantations in the area were divided and sold off. Men made wealthy from cotton and sugar snatched up massive plots as a way to escape the stacked townhomes of the French Quarter. One of those men was my great-great-great-grandfather, who commissioned Henry Howard to bring his dream of a proud homestead to reality. After its construction, the mansion remained in the Fortier family up until the late 1960s.

It’s eerie to stand on the outside of a life you could have had, looking in like a ghost in a Dickens story. Every detail about this house has been drilled into my head thanks to my mom. She used to drag me here when I was a kid—she’s a sucker for strolling down memory lane. To her, it’s cathartic to play pretend for a few minutes, wondering what her life would have been like if my grandfather hadn’t been forced to sell the property when his debt collectors came knocking.

“Could you imagine living here?” she’d ask me.

Back then, I honestly couldn’t. I was a country boy who grew up in a double-wide trailer home. The fanciest place I’d ever been to was the state capitol in Baton Rouge on a grade-school field trip. I couldn’t picture myself playing tag on the expansive emerald lawns when most days my friends and I spent time kicking up dust on old dirt roads.

When old money falls, it falls hard.

She still wants this life—but then, I can’t really blame her. The Garden District holds an unmistakable allure. It’s drawn celebrities like Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z. They all come to town to film, get infected by the southern charm dripping from the mossy live oaks, and try to make themselves into New Orleanians, but even with money, breaking into Big Easy society isn’t half as easy as they’d like it to be. Just ask my mom. She named me Beauregard, as if to try to trick people into treating me with the awe and respect my ancestor commanded, but first names just don’t matter in a place where bloodlines run deep. Unless you’re a Robichaux, LeBlanc, or Delacroix, naming your kid Beauregard is like putting lipstick on a pig.

“Excuse me, sir, do you live here?”

I turn to my right and see a middle-aged Asian woman clutching a crinkled map. Behind her, there’s a cluster of curious tourists, eyes brimming with hope. One of them turns to another and whispers loudly, “I think he was in a movie. Yes! It’s him, I swear!”

I’ve never acted a day in my life.

“No, sorry ma’am.” I shake my head. “I’m just passing through.”

She smiles and points to my clothes. “Well you look like you could.”

I get it. Not many tourists walk around in a pressed suit—especially not in August in Louisiana—but I had to come straight from my mock trial at Tulane and I didn’t bring a change of clothes. It’s fine. I’m not planning on walking around for long. In fact, my destination is right across the street.

It’s a house owned by Mitchell and Kathleen LeBlanc, one of the oldest families in New Orleans. I’ve heard the name a million times. It’s carved on a few buildings downtown. Their home is a yellow two-story colonial with white columns and dark navy shutters. Compared to some of the other homes in the area, it’s not quite as grandiose, but the land alone is worth millions.

A large oak tree arches over the left side of the home, concealing the small apartment on the back of the property and the bright red FOR RENT sign hanging in the window—at least, I hope it’s still there. As of this morning, the apartment wasn’t occupied, but rental properties move fast in this area thanks to all the Tulane students looking to live off campus.

I tip an imaginary hat to the dejected tourists and cross the street, glad to find the front gate unlocked. Warm wind rustles the leaves, bringing with it the sweet scent of blooming gardenia and jasmine. My shiny dress shoes snap against the brick-lined walkway before I take the stairs two at a time. I knock and wait. There’s nothing but silence. I tip back on my heels and try again. This time I hear a faint voice calling through the door.

“Oh shoot—coming! I’m coming!”

The front door sweeps open and I’m taken aback by the woman waving me in.

“You must be Beau!” she says with a wide smile.

I’ve never seen a photo of Mrs. LeBlanc, and I had a fairly well-defined stereotype formed in my mind: stuffy and pretentious, with heavy pearls tugging her earlobes toward the ground. The imagined caricature dissolves in the face of the real version, which has bright laugh lines and an artist’s smock hastily tied around her waist. Two pencils skewer a messy bun sitting high atop her head. She has a smudge of paint across her cheek and her hands are so stained that when I offer to shake her hand, she smiles and extends her bent elbow instead. I can’t help but laugh as I confidently grasp the outside of her arm and shake it like a chicken wing.

“I’m sorry. Am I early?”

I feel compelled to ask although I know that’s not the case. I’m meticulous—I don’t have the luxury not to be.

“No! No.” She shakes her head and leads the way to the kitchen, holding her bent arms in front of her like a doctor scrubbing in for surgery. “You’re right on time, actually. I really thought I would wrap up work in my studio sooner, but the light was just perfect and I couldn’t pull myself away.” She laughs and then puffs out a little breath, trying to move the loose strand of blonde hair off her face. After two more tries, she finally succeeds, and then she turns her expressive hazel eyes back to me. “Now, can I offer you something cold to drink?”

I’m sweating in this suit. It wasn’t a long walk from the streetcar on St. Charles Avenue, but the temperature outside is hovering in the 100s and the humidity is stifling.

“That’d be great,” I say, removing my jacket.

“Wonderful!” Then she glances down at her stained hands. “Oh, right. Well, you’ll have to help me with that.” She laughs at her blunder and heads for the sink.

I jump into action. “I’m happy to. Where are the glasses?”

“In that cabinet right there. Grab three. There should be some lemonade in the fridge. I made it this morning.”

I do as she says and by the time I’ve filled the three glasses with ice-cold lemonade, a man’s voice sounds down the hallway.

“Still painting, Kath? Isn’t that student coming soon?”

“He’s here now, honey!” she calls back. “We’re in the kitchen!”

She smiles apologetically at me as I take a seat at the table across from her, and then Mitchell LeBlanc steps into the kitchen in a khaki-colored linen suit, the summer uniform of every wealthy man in New Orleans. He’s tall and broad-shouldered, but when I stand to shake his hand, I still have a few inches on him. His hair is thick and gray, and he has clear-framed glasses that he tugs off and folds closed.

“Beau Fortier,” he says, repeating my name as if trying to jog his memory. His eyes narrow thoughtfully. “Fortier. I haven’t heard that name in quite a while, though I think my grandfather’s partner at the design firm was an old Fortier.”

I smile. “He was.”

His eyes light up. “Small world.”

Smaller every day.

“Is that what you’re studying at Tulane? Architecture?”

I shake my head. “Oh, no. I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I’m in my final year of law school.”

“Tulane Law, huh?” His brows rise. “That’s a tough program to get into.”

I adjust my collar, slightly uncomfortable with the amount of attention on me at the moment. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Kathleen speaks up. “Mitch, didn’t the Fortiers used to own the property across the street?”

The question doesn’t surprise me. Mitchell and Kathleen didn’t buy this house; it’s been in their family for generations. The LeBlancs always lived across the street from the Fortiers, up until the day my grandfather got booted. That’s why the name LeBlanc remains etched in stone downtown while my own is hand-scripted in chipped paint on the side of a mailbox on the outskirts. I smile at the thought.

“They did live there,” I fill in before he can. “But the house isn’t in our family anymore. We actually live a couple miles out of town now.”

Mr. LeBlanc frowns, and I assume he’s reading between the lines. “Shame. That’s one of my favorite homes in this neighborhood.”

As the owner of an architectural preservation firm, I’m not surprised that Mr. LeBlanc has an appreciation for the house.

I nod and take a sip of my lemonade, nearly choking as it burns my throat. It’s so tart and acidic that I have to actively keep my face from contorting in disgust.

Mrs. LeBlanc smiles expectantly, so I nod and force out a clipped assessment. “It’s, um…invigorating.”

Mr. LeBlanc laughs and takes a sip of his own. “Jesus, Kath! Are you trying to kill the poor boy?” Then he turns to me. “Don’t bother. She thinks she’s Paula Deen, but she doesn’t ever follow recipes.”

“Real culinary artists just eyeball it!” she insists.

He shakes his head, ignoring her, and continues, “Whatever you do, don’t eat anything she offers you. Our daughter, Lauren, does most of the cooking around here.”

I pause. “Lauren?”

Both parents smile, clearly pleased at the mention of their daughter. If this were the 1840s, they’d point me in the direction of her oil painting over the mantel. “She’s our only child, a junior at McGehee this year.”

McGehee is the expensive all-girls prep school a few blocks over. It’s not surprising that their daughter goes there. I’ve seen the students from the school walking around the Garden District with privilege seeping from every non-acned pore. They’re the future debutantes of New Orleans, but beyond registering their giggles as I pass by, I don’t pay them much attention.

“She’ll actually be home soon,” Mrs. LeBlanc says. “You should get to meet her before you leave. Maybe you can get her interested in grad school.”

I nod politely, but I’m not all that interested in a family meet-and-greet. Even if I end up living on their property, I won’t be spending much time with them. It might seem strange, but living here is a means to an end. I need a new place to live for my last two semesters of school and when I saw the apartment on this property pop up for rent, I jumped at the chance. I have goals—big ones—and living in this area, across the street from my ancestors’ old house is a perfect reminder of everything I’m working hard to get back.

“I’d be happy to.” I reach down for my small worn leather briefcase. “So, about the apartment—I’m living off of student loans right now, and the price you’re asking is a few hundred dollars outside my budget.”

I see a mixture of pity and indecision brewing on Mrs. LeBlanc’s face, so I press forward before either of them can speak.

“Now, I’m not looking for a handout, but in the past I’ve been able to work out special arrangements with landlords—odd handyman jobs, painting, lawn care, that sort of thing. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’d be happy to write a check for two months’ rent right now.”

They should turn me down. They probably have a dozen other applicants for the apartment. It’s in a great location, and the photos made it clear that they’ve updated it in recent years.

Mrs. LeBlanc laughs. “You haven’t even seen it yet. Don’t you want a tour?”

Not really.

I’m honest with them. “I’ve been living in an old place south of Magazine Street. I’m sure the toolshed on this property has better amenities than I’m accustomed to.”

She frowns. I know it’s not fun being confronted by the hardships of the poor, but I’m not ashamed of my humble beginnings. In fact, they motivate me. I’m at the top of my class at Tulane and president of the law honor society. I have an undergraduate degree in business and a small nest egg I’ve grown through investing over the last few years. I have a singular goal: to restore the Fortier name to what it once was.

“Well if you’re sure, I think we can work something out,” Mr. LeBlanc says.

I don’t even hesitate before replying.

“I’m sure.”

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