SacrÃ©-Coeur, with all of Paris laid out at their feet. Under the Eiffel Tower, so they could look up at the steel structure and remember they were in the most romantic city in the world.
He finally decided on Parc Monceau in the eighth arrondissement. It wasnât overrun by tourists, and Celine loved the rose gardens and willow trees and lake surrounded by Corinthian columns.
He packed a picnic of olive baguettes and Brie and capers. There were peaches and berries and a jar of whipped cream. He added a bottle of Veuve Clicquot and Celineâs favorite chocolate torte.
The morning of the proposal, clouds hung low over the Seine. Alec wore a pale blue blazer and beige slacks. He felt the jewelry box in his pocket and a lump formed in his throat.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
âITâS NOT the best day for a picnic,â Celine said when he picked her up at her flat.
She wore blue jeans and a navy sweater and Alec felt a twinge of disappointment. He had imagined her in a sleeveless linen dress and leather sandals. Her hair would fall loosely to her shoulders and she would smell of lavender shampoo.
Instead her hair was wound into a bun and held back with an enamel clip. She wore low boots and an orange turtleneck under the navy sweater.
âWhy donât we see a movie?â she suggested. âThe new Mission: Impossible is playing at Cinema Le Rex and we can eat popcorn and Raisinets.â
âThe last time we saw an American movie with French subtitles, the actors sounded like chipmunks,â Alec grumbled. âIt canât rain, I bought sausages and kumquats from the outdoor market in the Marais.â
The first drops fell as they entered the stone gates. They rushed under the rotunda and Alec gazed at the wet grass. He could hardly expect Celine to sit on a muddy blanket and eat soggy ham and cheese.
He took her hand and suddenly had an idea. They would go to the Passage Jouffroy and eat escargot and baba au rhum at one of the elegant cafÃ©s. When he was a child, he loved visiting BoÃ®te Ã Joujoux with its giant erector sets and Le Petit Roi crammed with childrenâs books and eating almond cakes at Le Valentin.
They crossed the Boulevard Haussmann and entered the iron doors. Alec saw the black-and-white marble floor and glass ceiling and let out his breath. What could be more romantic than a covered passageway built in 1836 by one of Franceâs greatest architects?
âLetâs go to Bouillon Chartier and eat carrot mousse and country terrine,â Alec suggested, picturing the quaint restaurant with its red velvet walls and steaming bowls of bouillabaisse.
âI feel like pizza,â Celine said. âNickâs Pizza has the best pizza margherita in Paris.â
âPizza?â Alec shuddered. He could hardly pull out the jewelry box with greasy fingers.
âWhen was the last time we had pizza?â Celine took his arm. âWeâll share strawberry gelato for dessert.â
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
THEY SAT ON wooden chairs and Alec glanced miserably at the menu. He could propose another day, but he was so nervous, he could barely concentrate on his work. All week he had sketched a companion for Gus: a fluffy French poodle named Monique. Finally he crumpled it in the garbage. His readers wanted Gus to fight fiery dragons, not hold hands on a barge gliding along the Seine.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
âTHE WAITER ASKED you three times what you wanted to order,â Celine said, interrupting his thoughts.
âSorry?â Alec looked up. He pointed to the pizza Napoletana and handed the waiter his menu.
âMaybe we should go home.â Celine sipped a glass of water. âYou look like you are coming down with a cold.â
Alec studied her high cheekbones and slender neck and caught his breath. Even with her mascara smudged and hair damp from the rain, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He fumbled in his pocket