Madame Mirabou's School of Love

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Sometimes real passion means living the life you’ve always wanted.

Nicole Bridges still can’t believe she’s taken up residence in a Colorado apartment complex nicknamed “Splitsville.” She’s still reeling from her husband’s affair, a divorce she never saw coming, and having to leave the upscale, comfortable world she helped make for her ex and their teenage daughter. With little money, even less work experience, and no idea what to do next, she ...

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Sometimes real passion means living the life you’ve always wanted.

Nicole Bridges still can’t believe she’s taken up residence in a Colorado apartment complex nicknamed “Splitsville.” She’s still reeling from her husband’s affair, a divorce she never saw coming, and having to leave the upscale, comfortable world she helped make for her ex and their teenage daughter. With little money, even less work experience, and no idea what to do next, she takes tentative steps–if only to keep her head above water.

Along the way, Nikki unexpectedly finds herself falling in with eccentric new neighbors–and being seduced out of her funk by a charming, elusive ex-Londoner. And through her delight in the sensual elements of perfume, she will discover the courage to form bonds she never imagined. When a discarded flyer printed with the name “Madame Mirabou” provides the spark of inspiration, Nikki dares to blend the fragments of her life into a fragrance that’s uniquely and passionately her own.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Lady Luck’s Map of Vegas

“Fun, fabulous, fast-paced . . . a complex, beautiful, and moving story that will resonate with you until long after you’ve finished the final pages.”
–Kristin Hannah

“[A] wistful story . . . Samuel sorts out all the relationships with a sure hand.”
–The Seattle Times

Kirkus Reviews
Unhappy divorcee with a nose for fragrances finds romance-and herself-in small-town Colorado. Nicole (Nikki) Carrington might not have wanted the big empty house she once shared with her ex-husband and daughter to blow up, but it did, because Nikki had been too terrified of going down into the basement alone to check on the furnace. This failure of nerve sets the tone for Samuel's latest effort (The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue, 2004). Left homeless, and virtually childless after granting her former husband Daniel, a successful black businessman, primary custody of their 16-year-old biracial daughter Giselle, Nikki is forced to move into an apartment complex occupied predominantly by singles. It is there she meets and befriends Roxanne, aka Madame Mirabou, a part-time tarot card reader and walking example of how not to handle a divorce. Nikki gets a job waitressing at an upscale health-food restaurant where she is romantically pursued by one of the regulars, Niraj, a sweetly sensual British/Indian transplant with just enough emotional baggage to make him somewhat believable. She also rediscovers her long-dormant talent for creating signature perfumes. Her scent journal, in which she ruminates on her own olfactory memories, frames each chapter; the evocative descriptions of various scent combinations are the most compelling and interesting parts of the story. After passing an abandoned storefront, Nikki is inspired to open her own perfume shop. As she focuses on acquiring and renovating the charmingly offbeat space, she realizes that can actually enjoy life. A slow-paced story with a positive message of the joyful possibilities of life after divorce.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345469144
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Nikki’s Perfume Journal Entry


November 22, 1978

Definition: Chypres

Chypres is a highly original group that is based on contrasts between bergamot-type top notes and mossy base notes. Chypres perfumes tend to be strong, spicy, and powdery. This perfume group was named after the famous perfume from Cyprus of Roman times. It is used primarily for women, and is appropriate for both day and evening wear, especially during winter.

I told the insurance company I was sleeping when the house blew up.

In actual fact, the cold woke me. I stood at the top of the stairs that led to my basement at three a.m. on a morning in late winter, daring myself to go down and find out why the furnace was not working. Puffs of dust-scented air wafted around my ankles. The narrow wooden steps disappeared into yawning darkness, and even when I turned on the light, it wasn’t particularly inviting. I hate basements—spiders and water bugs and the possibility of creepy, supernatural things lurking. Ammie, Come Home scared the holy hell out of me when I was seven, and I’ve hated basements ever since.

Standing there with my arms crossed over my breasts, frozen in every sense of the word, I thought, This was so not in my script.

I made a bargain, to love, honor, and cook all the meals, while he promised to love, honor, and do things like go down into the basement in the middle of the night. This was not strictly gender role stuff—I was a good cook and I liked it. Daniel was not the slightest bit afraid of ghosts or spiders.

Cold air swirled around my ankles. I couldn’t move. Frozen, just as I’d been for the past seven months.

A vivid picture of the house blowing up in a blaze of noise and fire flashed over my imagination (And wouldn’t they all be sorry then!). Experimentally, I stuck my head into the stairwell and took a long, deep sniff. No smell of sulfur, and I have a very good nose. Of course, it wasn’t exactly an airtight basement.

I shuffled forward three inches.


A shuddering hitch caught in my throat. I realized that I could not do it. Could not physically force myself to go down into that creepy, cold, spidery cellar and then get down on my hands and knees and look for a pilot light, and maybe even have to put my hands into a place where there were spiderwebs.

No. Way.

In the morning, I’d call someone to check it out. For now, I’d just have a cup of tea and play with my computer. Instantly, my heart stopped fluttering. Decision made. I stepped crisply back from the yawning mouth of doom and closed the door.

From the linen cabinet by the downstairs bathroom, I took a blanket that smelled of the lavender stalks that I tuck into all the drawers and closets. The pale purple scent eased my tension as I carried the blanket into my study, where the computer was breathing steadily, softly, its lights blinking comfortingly in the darkness.

I turned on the small, Art Deco lamp I’d found on eBay and settled into my chair, blanket around my shoulders, and opened a novel I’d checked out of the library. At least some things were reliable.

Unlike the furnace. Which exploded exactly one hour later with a noise you can’t even imagine.

Obviously, I lived.

The house, on the other hand, did not fare quite so well.

My mother used to say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I was pretty sure I was ready after blowing up the house, but no Mary Poppins of the over-forty set magically appeared to rescue me.

Instead, I sat for six more days at the Motel 6, drowning my sorrows in pints of Dove chocolate raspberry ice cream while I played the television for company and pretended I wasn’t panicking.

The day I met Roxanne for the first time, I gave my Visa to the girl in the Albertsons line and she shook her head. “Do you have another one?”

I did, but it was the last one. I’d maxed out all the rest—four of them, if you want to know the truth. As I handed over number five, even I, queen of denial, had to admit it was time for a change. I had to find a place to live and a job to keep me in ice cream until the insurance settlement came through.

Back at my clean, uncluttered room, where I didn’t have to worry about anything at all, not even vacuuming or dishes or whether I’d remembered to buy shampoo, I faced myself in the mirror. Squared my shoulders.

Time to rescue myself.

First, clothes, since I was wearing an ancient skirt that had been in a bag of things I’d collected to go to Goodwill. I drove to Target, which was, once upon a time, one of my monthly stops. Today, the excessive light and acres of red—on signs and walls and the T-shirts of clerks—dazzled me. Music, modern and unfamiliar, poured out of the loudspeakers.

There were so many jeans. Did I want low-slung or high? Was I too old for acid-washed? Would my expanding butt look stupid in the wide pockets?

How could I choose? In the end, I took the pair that fit, and rushed out of the store because my throat was starting to close. It was an oddity, the hitch I kept getting in my throat. It was as if I couldn’t quite swallow.

Sometimes, I was afraid that what I was holding back was a long banshee scream. As I stood there in those polished aisles, it was way too easy to imagine throwing back my head and letting go, maybe in the men’s department beside the boxer shorts and socks, where I spent so much time and money lovingly picking out underthings for Daniel. He’d liked funny boxers—Tasmanian Devil and Bugs Bunny in particular, said it made him remember the kid he was inside—and sensible white cotton socks for the heavy boots he had to wear on job sites.

When he turned forty, he started wearing silky, black-spotted socks and colored bikinis. Should have been a clue, I guess, but you’re not really thinking your husband is going to fall in love with someone else. That’s what other husbands do.

Yes, I could scream a really long time.

Instead, I grabbed an advertising circular from the racks outside of Target and headed for the Village Inn near my motel, where I ordered a cup of coffee and some eggs and toast, like a normal person.

I opened the flyer. There were a lot of apartments in town. Hundreds and hundreds. Again, I felt that fluttery sensation in my throat. Stirring too much sugar into my coffee, I took a long, soothing sip, and promised myself ice cream if I at least looked at some of them.

The first one I chose was stacked on a hill, a place of in-betweenness. I hadn’t lived in an apartment since I was twenty-three years old, and I never much liked them even in the old days. This one was a gigantic complex, three and four stories tall. I liked it, though, much prettier than the old boxy places I remembered. There were French doors opening onto little balconies that boasted views of King Soopers, and the mountains beyond.

I was scared to death, sitting in the parking lot. So nervous, my elbows felt weak, and there was no logical reason for it. Not even as much logic as spiders in the basement—just general life terror, the same fear that inflicts you the first day of school or starting a new job.

Some sensible part of my brain said with a slap, Get over it! get out of the car! Stop being such a wimp!

I didn’t know what was wrong with me. This was not 1952. It wasn’t like divorce was uncommon. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have resources and brains. I’d led committees of fifty, headed up fund- raisers, organized the busy lives of my ex and my daughter, planned parties for a hundred. My garden was one of the most envied on the block, and I made perfumes. Beautiful perfumes. I was quite accomplished.

But it didn’t matter. Divorce was making me feel like a worm dug out of the nice, loamy ground and flung out on the sidewalk—I was writhing and wincing and struggling to get back into the earth.

Since I couldn’t, I stepped out of the car, carefully locked the door behind me, and walked across the pavement to the office. In the reception area, which was very modern and clean, with a huge arrangement of flowers that reminded me of a hotel, I waited for a girl to get off the phone.

She waved a finger at me: Just a minute. I turned to read the notices on the bulletin board: handprinted ads for house-sitters and babysitters with individual tear-off flaps with phone numbers; a flyer for a lost cat with the sullen face of a Persian; couches for sale.

There were the predictable empty promises: Make money at home!! Lose 30 lbs in 30 days, Guaranteed!!! Feeling my gut billow out beneath my crossed arms, I thought I ought to give that one a call.

The rest were odds and ends, mostly odds: a drumming circle met on Thursday evenings (women only, please!). A tarot reader in Building 4 offered her services for $45, call Roxanne. There was Sufi dancing at the Unity church; shamanism classes, call White Wolf Woman, 555-4309.

A slight buzzing roar blazed through my head, and I took an airless step backward. I was divorced, not weird. There had to be a better place to rent an apartment.

The girl materialized beside me, her wash of thick, glossy hair swirling over her shoulders. “Sorry. It was my boss.” Sticking out a thin white hand, she added, “I’m Monday. How can I help you?”

“Monday’s child?” The rhyme ran through my head. “Fair of face.”

She looked confused. “No, you know, like in the Munsters?”

“Oh. Right. Nicole Carring—I mean, Bridges.” I blinked the embarrassment of my name change away, squeezed her hand too hard.

“Did you want to look at an apartment?”

“Um, well. I . . .” With a grunt, I glanced back toward the flyers stuck with pins and thumbtacks, blue and yellow, white and red, to the corkboard. “Maybe this isn’t the right spot for me.”

Following my gaze, she waved a hand. “Oh, don’t worry. People just do some different things when they’re free for the first time in ages, you know? There are lots of different kinds of people who live here. Lots around your age, too, which is always nice, right?”

My age. Like a class of children to play with at recess. “Sure. All right.”

She picked through a set of keys on a ring. Her cheeks were that natural blushy rose some fair-skinned girls have. With her dark hair and dark eyes, it made her look like Snow White. “What would you like to see? Two bedroom? Three?”

“Um.” Another choice. “Let me see them both, I guess. I’m not sure.”

“Great.” She gestured toward the parking lot. “We also have an exercise room, a pool in the summer . . . and, of course, a shopping center right across the street. Grocery store, videos, gas . . . all right there at your fingertips, and the best views in the city.”


She wore pointed black plastic boots on slightly pigeon-toed feet, and even on this cool day, a slice of white skin showed between her blouse and the top of her jeans, which were what we would have called hip-huggers. I had a pair with three tiny snaps in front, long, long ago. Something about her, the sweet awkwardness of her, made me long for my daughter, though Giselle was not at all like this girl.

I tried to imagine Giselle, doing this job. Since she was driven toward medical school with a ferocity that surprised both her father and me, it wouldn’t happen, but I liked the sunniness of Monday. Traitorously, I wondered if Giselle would be easier to deal with if she weren’t so ambitious.

“Let’s look at the three-bedroom first,” Monday said. “Hope you don’t mind a little climb.”

There was a smell of bacon in the air. The stairs twisted upward, solid concrete rimmed with wispy-looking wrought iron. When we stopped on the landing, stupendously high above the street, a tiny wave of vertigo moved over my brow. I clung to the railing, trying to steady myself, and focused on the horizon.

“Wow!” I said, a reflexive response to the view.

The mountains this afternoon were the color of a plain blue Crayola, jagged peaks dusted with snow above timberline. Above them, the sky was softly gray. Pikes Peak, blue and white and burly, spread his shoulders across the horizon, exactly centered—the father mountain stretching his arms to the north and south. The tourist literature called it America’s Mountain, a moniker that irked me. Daniel used to tease me about my possessiveness, but on this I was unmovable: it was not America’s mountain, it was mine.

“It’s great, isn’t it?” Monday said over my shoulder. “You never get used to a view like that, either. How could you?”

“I know.”

A door slammed behind us and the sound of heels clicking against concrete came toward us. A woman said, “Hey, Monday,” in a voice as throaty as Elvira. I turned around to see a thin, leggy woman with dark hair cut in urbane choppy layers head down the stairs.

“Good morning, Madame Mirabou,” Monday said.

The woman laughed. It was a rich sound, knowing. “How did it go Friday night?”

“You were right,” Monday said.

“Excellent.” I watched her descent, her knees showing in tan stockings beneath a green dress. “Maybe I should hang up a shingle.”

“Madame Mirabou’s School of Love.”

“Not bad.” The woman looked up as she made the last turn, and her eyes were bright, bright blue as they met mine. I could see she was my age, more or less. “It’s a good place to live,” she said. “I’d be your neighbor, though. Ask Monday if that’s a good idea.”


Monday said, “Come on in and let me show you the apartment.”

The tension in my chest built as we circled the rooms. It was an unoffensive place, with good closets and good views and a certain upscale beigeness that shouldn’t cause so much anxiety. I paused in the windowless kitchen with my hands over my middle, noticing how green my skin looked in the fluorescent light.

It made me think of a spot I loved in the old house, a niche in the kitchen set beneath a leaded glass window. I’d found a battered cherrywood table at a garage sale, and refinished it myself, and put it below the window with a blue glass vase on top. I liked best if there were sunflowers available at the florist, but any yellow flower was fine.

I didn’t love the house, but I’d loved that spot.

Now it was gone.

The hitch in my throat made me cough. Suddenly the idea of going around looking and looking was more than I could bear, especially when I had nothing to put inside any of them anyway, and I could better use the time trying to find a job to see me through until the insurance company approved my claim. I didn’t love this apartment, but it would do for now.

I reached for my purse. “I’ll take it.”

Monday looked surprised, but she was no dummy. “Come on downstairs and we’ll write up the contract.”

Looking out the window, I said, “Will she be a good neighbor?”


“The one we saw out there. Madame whoever.”

“Oh, Roxanne.” Something flickered in her young eyes, gone before I could pinpoint it. “Yeah. She’s divorced with two kids, a son and a daughter in their teens—but they’re not noisy. I never get complaints or anything.”

“Has she been here long?”

“A year or so.” She waved me toward the door. “Let’s get back downstairs, all right?”

I wrote out the check a little later, my hands were shaking, but I was relieved to have made some kind of decision. The first one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2008

    So good it made my stomach hurt!

    This was way better than I thought it would be. It made me laugh, cry and the love story was good enough to make my stomach hurt! I even read it twice in a row! Excellent story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2009

    one of my favorite authors

    I love all her books can't wait for more

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2006

    What a great character study!

    This is the first book of Barbara Samuel's that I've read, but wow--what great insights into the mind of a woman trying to make sense of life--and of herself--after a divorce she never wanted. Lots of little moments and details that sparkle with emotional depth, and lots of laughter and angst that made me love all the women in the book. I want to write this well when I grow up!

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    great character study with a sizzling romantic subplot

    It came as a complete shock to Nikki Carrington when her husband of almost two decades left her for a younger woman of his own race. Their daughter Giselle moves to California with her dad and his new wife because the schools are better there for someone wanting to become a doctor than in Manitou, Colorado. Nikki lets her ex Daniel convince her that it would be better for her to be part of an African-American family.----- Nikki¿s house, which she received as part of the divorce settlement, caught fire when the furnace blew up so she takes an apartment in a complex with many residents divorced or separated. Roxanne stalks her ex-husband who she still loves and his second wife while also having indiscriminate one night stands. Wanda anxiously waits for her spouse to come home from his tour of duty in Iraq. Nikki obtains work as a waitress while hoping to open up a perfume shop selling her own creations. There is a man who wants to forge a future with Nikki, but she cannot commit as she still needs to make peace with her past especially in light of observing her neighbors.----- Hearts will go out to bewildered heroine lost in a world she no longer understands as all the rules of relationships have changed. She struggles to adapt to being single which is made more difficult by the insurance company taking its time on her claim. She knows her prime priority is to discover just who she is since she can no longer hide behind the comfort cloaks of wife and mother. This is a great character study with a sizzling romantic subplot augmenting the deep look at a stunned woman trying to find herself.------------ Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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