CHAPTER ONE

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There are many things I love about New York. It's the city of contradictions; thrilling and exhausting, overwhelming and inspiring. Having lived here my whole life, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else in this world. I admire the beautiful view of Madison Avenue in the window before me. In the distance, the Saturday evening traffic snakes up the busy street, individuals who look tiny from my high vantage point walk with purpose, bright lights add liveliness to the sight before me.

Looking up, I see my reflection. It's not my emerald evening dress with its conservative neckline that I notice or the way my long chestnut hair cascades down my back; it's my lifeless light brown eyes that catch my attention. My blank stare reminds me that the contentment in all aspects of my life is at odds with my need for excitement.

"Charlotte, how's the pinot noir?"

I snap to attention; my surroundings come back into focus.

"It's perfect, babe."

I smile in response to my boyfriend, Paul, who sits opposite me in the dimly lit room of one of my favorite restaurants, Le Petit Chateau. Leaning back in my chair, I look down at my empty plate and take a deep breath, feeling satisfied after overindulging on one of my favorite meals, boeuf bourguignon.

My obsession with food started at a very early age. Whether it's cooking dishes or eating the creations of others, nothing brings me more joy in this world. It came as no surprise when I decided early on in life that I wanted to become a chef and share this passion for food with others. Despite enjoying a wonderful night out with my boyfriend, my mind still manages to wonder to my work.

"I have to go in early tomorrow to organize a few last details of the renovation. The restaurant should be finished for the grand re-opening in two weeks."

"I'm sure it will, honey,"  Paul replies absentmindedly.

I stare at him as he takes a large sip of wine. His golden hair falls over his light blue eyes. His normally calm demeanor is almost non-existent as he fidgets with his navy tie and gazes out the window, seemingly deep in thought.

"Is everything alright, babe? You seem flustered," I say, voicing my concern.

I see the shadow of anxiety in his eyes as they meet mine. He quickly replaces the grim line of his full lips into an easy smile. "Of course. I just had a big day at work."

"Did you want to talk about it?" I flash an encouraging smile in the hopes of coaxing him into voicing his worries.

"All I want is to enjoy a lovely dinner with my beautiful girlfriend," he responds with a grin.

My intuition tells me something more than work is concerning him but at that moment, I decide to let it go. The last thing I want is to ruin this wonderful night.

With me owning a restaurant and Paul working as a financial adviser at a large financial corporation, we have very little time for ourselves. Communication between us has become almost as non-existent as our sex life but we try to appreciate the time we do have together. Predictable is a word that can be used to describe Paul and me perfectly. Predictability is a good thing though, isn't it? Our almost 4-year relationship may not be filled with an all-consuming passion and although the way we live separate lives most of the time does concern me, we are comfortable. Comfort is all I need. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

My thoughts are interrupted by the waiter who approaches our table.

"Monsieur and Mademoiselle, can I get you anything for dessert?"

"Can we please have the chocolate soufflé? Would you like anything else, honey?" Paul answers immediately, ordering my favorite dessert to share as we have done countless times before.

"That sounds perfect babe, you obviously know the way to my heart," I say giving him a playful wink.

Paul chuckles in response. The waiter nods and briskly walks away. My attention shifts from our easy conversation to the live band who begin to play their romantic French music that usually accompanies a marriage proposal. After eleven years in the business and countless marriage proposals later, the novelty of these things has completely worn off. The accordion, guitar and French horn player begin to make their way through the restaurant.

"It's my favorite part of the evening, when an unsuspecting woman gets to live out one of the most memorable moments in her life with a room full of strangers." I continue after a sip of wine. "How embarrassing is it to spend such a private moment in front of all these people? And do not get me started on the originality of it all."

I start to giggle and look over at Paul whose already fair skin tone has gone as pale as the white tablecloth set before us. A look of humiliation sits on his face. The shadow cast by the candlelight positioned in the center of our small table emphasizes the tension in his every muscle. The carefree smile I wore only seconds ago disappears as I stare at Paul in confusion. The realization hits me at the same time that the band of men stop directly before us. The feeling of pure delight that usually accompanies the delivery of a scrumptious souffle is replaced with uneasiness when I look down and see a little black box placed beside it.

Maybe predictable isn't the right word to use to describe us after all.

Thank you for taking the time to read The Ex: Chapter one!

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