I was ten when I picked up my aunt’s copy of Name Your Baby and discovered my name means the unlucky one. It explained so much about my life to date—the lost cat, the bad grades, the car accident. Later, I found out my family name, Pech, is the actual word for bad luck in German, and I desperately wanted to ask my parents why they’d named me Mallory. Unfortunately, they’d died years before.
When I met my best friend, Benji Chance, I joked that I should marry him for no other reason than to upgrade my last name.
He scoffed at my superstitions. “You make your own fortune, Mallory. Luck is nothing more than ignorance of all the factors.”
But for me, misfortune always had a way of getting the last laugh, all the factors be damned.
Open-minded to the possibility I could control my own destiny, I decided one mid-May morning to put Benji’s philosophy to the test, hoping to catch the eye of one unsuspecting suitor.
I called this experiment: Operation Eye Catch. In retrospect, that might have been my first mistake.
On the morning in question, the debonair Jean-Luc Chevalier, son of the CEO, was coming to NYC. Setting aside the slight obstacle that he lived in France, I focused on the bigger problem that he’d visited our office twelve times without noticing me. I manhandled my clown curls with a flat iron, popped in new filtered contacts, and confidently strode into work.
Maybe thirteen was my lucky number.
No sooner had I powered up my laptop than I heard the familiar eeeek-eeeek of Benji rowing his chair through the cubicle maze for the morning update. He sailed into the open Sea of Administrivia, and I savored the surprise registering across his features.
“There it is,” I said, half-dreading, half-longing to watch his reaction.
His eyebrows shot up. “What the hell, Mallory? Is that a wig?”
I touched my straightened hair, self-conscious now.
He leaned forward and squinted. “And are you wearing contacts? Blue contacts?”
I defended my new look with a cleverly nuanced retort. “Shut up, Benji.”
My look wasn’t created for his approval.
Benji only smirked and then spun his chair around to start the long heel-over-heel journey back the way he’d come. He stopped short and spun back toward me. “Oh! It’s because he’s coming, isn’t it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He was talking about the man of my dreams, visiting today, all the way from Paris. I looked down at the small Eiffel Tower knickknack Jean-Luc had sent me last year. Well, it was sent on behalf of him anyway. And yeah, everyone in the office got one. But it was the thought.
“You know he’s never even spoken to you.” Benji pushed the Eiffel Tower, and it thunked as it toppled over.
Right then, Grace shouted, “They’re in the lobby!” She brushed her skirt and ran her hands over her hair.
I ducked into the bathroom for one last check of my experimental look. Straightened red-brown hair imitated Parisian chic. First Love lip gloss promised sweet seduction. Long eyelashes bade come hither. And, oh, God. Smudged eyeliner screamed walk of shame. I quickly grabbed a tissue to blot at the defect, eye opened wide.
One brown eye.
Where had my blue contact gone? I blinked rapidly in case it had rolled behind my eyelid, checked the sink, and finally took a step back to examine the floor. One more step, and there it was, where my shoe had been.
Just my normal rotten luck.
I could live with mismatched irises, but sadly the lens wasn’t just cosmetic. I bent down and picked up the misshapen plastic sphere, considering whether I could rinse it off and reuse it, but I dismissed that idea with reluctance.
I squinted and walked back out to the office as the elevator bell chimed. Grace looked my way—both of her. I closed my right eye to correct the distortion. She grinned like the next contestant on The Price is Right. Clearly she was as excited about seeing the handsome Jean-Luc as I was. When I opened both eyes, she blurred, and I felt dizzy. What if I swooned in front of Jean-Luc?
The glass doors opened, and a group of men and women wearing seemingly identical navy blue suit coats and white dress shirts burst into the room. Jean-Luc stood several inches taller than any other person in the group. Dark hair, dark eyes with a hint of mischief. His tan London Fog made him the cream center of the entourage donut.
Grace stepped up and put her hand forward. “Welcome back, Monsieur.”
I sucked in my breath at the sight of him. I hadn’t laid eyes on him since before his interview with Fortune which I’d immediately pulled out and magnetically pinned to my refrigerator. I sighed, remembering the part where he talked about his love for older French music. It would have been so romantic if I shared that interest with him. But it was the slick photograph showing his sweet but sexy eyes and that careless but caring smile that made my heart skip a beat. All that paled in comparison with seeing him walking in here, in the flesh.
Jean-Luc stopped, and his entourage came to a halt around him. He made direct eye contact with Grace as he took her hand in both of his. I might have called it seductive if he’d been looking at me. But he was looking at Grace. And Grace was a good-looking woman, but at sixty-seven, wearing cataract glasses, I didn’t exactly consider her a rival.
No, my rival sat in her office, waiting for Jean-Luc to come to her.
Raquel Cortez should have come out to greet Jean-Luc, but she never would. She knew perfectly well he’d arrived. She’d fling the door open at the last minute. She’d never go so far as to make him knock, probably worried he wouldn’t bother. Once he stepped into her office, I wouldn’t see him again the rest of the day.
I glanced back at her closed door. Jean-Luc’s line of sight followed mine. He pressed his lips to the back of Grace’s hand and excused himself. My heart lurched into my throat at this gentlemanly gesture. The first time I met Jean-Luc, he kissed the back of my hand that same way and said, “Enchanté.”
And Benji thought Jean-Luc hadn’t spoken to me before. But he had. Every single time he’d visited.
As Jean-Luc crossed the floor toward the back office, I waited my turn to say hello to him before he passed. With my right eye closed, I could see his every facial expression, but I couldn’t stand there leering at him with one eye. This was my chance to make an impression. I endured the blurred duplication of his features as I held one hand out in greeting. The dizziness redoubled, and as I took a step toward him, I noticed a creeping gray on the corners of my vision. Another step, and the floor came up to meet me.