Oblivious to any danger, Alexandra Lyons ran full tilt across the icy street, deftly weaving her way between two taxis, a gunmetal-gray Mercedes and a jet-black Ferrari. Her hooded, red wool cape was like the brilliant flash of a cardinal's wing against the wintry gray Paris sky and the falling white snow.
Her long legs, clad in opaque black tights and pointy-toed red cowboy boots, earned a quick toot of the horn and an admiring second look from the driver of the Ferrari.
It was Christmas in Paris. Glittering semicircles of Christmas trees had replaced Rond Point's formal gardens, and garlands of lights had been strung up in the city's leafless trees, turning the Avenue Montaigne and the Champs-elysees into great white ways, reminding one and all that Paris was, after all, the City of Light.
But Alex's mind was not on the lights, or the joyful season. Her concerns were more personal. And far more urgent.
She was on her way to the atelier of Yves Debord to try again to win a coveted position with the French designer. And though she knew her chances of winning a position at the famed house of couture were on a par with catching moondust in her hand, even worse than failing would be to grow old and never have tried.
Emerging ten years ago as haute couture's enfant terrible, the designer had been immediately clutched to the decollete bosom of the nouveaux riches. Fashion celebrity oozed from the perfumed corners of his atelier, glinted off the windshield of his Lamborghini, glowed from the crystal chandeliers in his many homes.
Hostesses in Los Angeles, Dallas and New York fawned over him. He skied in the Alps with movie stars and was welcome at presidential dinner tables in Rome and Washington and Paris.
During Alex's student days in Los Angeles, the Fashion Institute had shown a documentary about the designer directed by Martin Scorsese entitled Pure Pow: The World of Debord. Enthralled, Alex had sat through all three showings.
She now paused outside the showroom to catch her breath. Adrenaline coursed through her veins at the sight of her idol's name written in gleaming silver script on the black glass.
"You can do it," she said, giving herself a brisk little pep talk. "The answer to all your dreams is just on the other side of this door. All you have to do is to reach out and grasp it."
She refused to dwell on the fact that after months of daily visits to the bureau de change to cash her dwindling supply of traveler's checks, she was almost out of funds.
Her night job, serving beer and wine at a Mont-parnasse nightclub, barely paid her rent. The hours, however, allowed her to search for work in the fashion houses during the day, and if sleep had become a rare, unknown thing, Alex considered that a small price to pay for a chance to fulfill a dream.
Throwing back her shoulders, Alex lifted herself up to her full height of five feet seven inches and then, with her usual bravado, entered the showroom. Behind her, the door clicked shut with the quiet authority of a Mercedes.
The front room, used to greet customers, was a vast sea of cool gray. Modern furniture wrapped in pewter fabric sat atop silvery gray carpet that melded into the gray silk-covered walls. Marie Helene, Yves Debord's sister and house of couture directress, was seated behind a jet lacquer table.
She was dressed in black wool jersey, her platinum hair parted in the center and pulled into a severe chignon at the nape of her swanlike neck.
When she recognized Alex, she frowned.
"I know," Alex said, holding up a gloved hand to forestall the director's complaint. She pushed back her hood, releasing a thick riot of red-gold hair.
"You've told me innumerable times in the past six months that there aren't any openings. And even if there were, you don't take Americans. But I thought, if you could only take a look at my work" she held out her portfolio "you might consider showing my designs to Monsieur Debord."
Alex's chin jutted out as she steeled herself for yet another cool rejection. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
To Alex's amazement, Marie Helene didn't immediately turn her away as she had all the other times. "Where did you say you studied?" she inquired in a voice as chilly as her looks.
"The Fashion Institute. In L.A."
"Los Angeles," the directress said with a sniff of disdain, as if Alex had just admitted to being an ax murderer. "You're very young," she observed, making Alex's youth sound like a fatal flaw. "When did you graduate?"
"Actually, I didn't. I felt the curriculum put too much emphasis on merchandising and too little on technique." It was the truth, so far as it went. "Besides, I was impatient, so I quit to go to work in New York."
She felt no need to volunteer that a more urgent reason for leaving school had been her mother's diagnosis of ovarian cancer.