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Lily Adams stood in front of her New Jersey apartment building shivering in the predawn morning skies. Although it was July, the air was still damp and chilly at four in the morning. Her cousin Sarah and her cousin's husband Curt should be here any minute to take her and Sarah to the airport. she and sarah were less than a year apart in age. Sarah's dad was the brother of Lily's late father, and he had done his best to act as a stand-in dad. Although Lily and Sarah had grown up in different suburbs of Philadelphia and gone to different schools and colleges, they had gone to summer camp together and shared major milestones.
And now they were sharing a fabulous trip together. Lily shivered again, this time in anticipation. Her first time in Europe! Sarah had studied in France and was a high-school French teacher, but Lily was a total newbie. A European newbie, so to speak.
After graduating from college with a somewhat-less-than-lucrative journalism degree with an even-less-lucrative English-literature minor, Lily had decided to remedy a childhood of never going anywhere by starting a modest career as a travel writer. So far, she had done several articles on her native city of Philly and had branched out to New Jersey and New york.
But writing articles for the local parenting magazine on top ten historic sites for kids in Philly was shooting fish in a barrel. Adventure lay outside the Tri-State area, so she'd scraped together enough money for a trip to France. Just her and Sarah for the next few weeks.
She craned her neck. yes, that was their car, a dark sedan that glided smoothly to the curb. Sarah hopped out in her pajamas? Comfort was important for flying, but, well, okay. Lily didn't much care what their fellow passengers thought of her cousin's baggy pink T-shirt and red flannel pants, complete with monkeys dangling off palm trees. It was all good, as long as Sarah could pass through security without being tagged for crazy.
But Sarah also looked like death warmed over, her short brown bob scraped back by a linty black headband that looked like an Alice in Wonderland reject. Her face was pale even in the dim light, and her lips were dry and cracked.
"Um, are you okay?" Stomach flu on an international flight would be kind of dicey.
Sarah's mouth spread into a wide grin and then she burst into tears of all things, clutching Lily as she sobbed. Curt hopped out of his side of the car and hurried to them. "What the heck is going on, Curt?"
"No!" Sarah jerked her head up, her expression alarmingly close to a snarl. "Don't you dare say a word!"
Curt and Lily cringed. "Of course not, darling. It's yours to tell, precious." He wrapped his arm around his wife's shoulder and kissed the top of her limp hair.
Darling? Precious? Curt was usually about as romantic as a rock.
"Sarah?" Lily said cautiously. She wasn't sure what was going on, but she had a nonrefundable ticket to Paris leaving in about four hours.
Her cousin's face smoothed out until it was almost beatific. "Lily, I'm pregnant!"
Lily shrieked loud enough to wake the neighbors, who wouldn't bother calling the cops even if it were some mad strangler coming into her apartment. "Pregnant!" She started to jump up and down but quickly stopped when she saw the queasy look on Sarah's face.
"I know, I know! After all these years, all those times when it didn't work out "
Lily gave her a quick kiss, remembering Sarah's several miscarriages until the damn doctors had figured out she'd had a blood clotting disorder all along. This trip to Europe was supposed to be a kind of decompression from the pain and stress of her infertility and lossesno pressure to conceive with a husband five thousand miles away. "But how did you find out?"
Sarah giggled. "I'd been feeling kind of off for the past week but I figured it was a touch of flu. Then last night about eight, I started throwing up hard, and Curt was worried. He took me to the E.R. They put in an IV but also ran a pregnancy test." She shrugged, her face splitting into a grin. "And here we are."
"Well, of course you can't go." Lily wouldn't have her cousin risk her baby on a strenuous overseas trip.
Curt's shoulders sagged in relief. He had obviously expected some hassle.
"But, Lily, how will you manage all by yourself? You don't speak a lick of French, and you've never been anywhere."
Great for her self-confidence. "Didn't you tell me that if you ever got pregnant again you would need very close prenatal care along with anticoagulant shots right from the start?"
"Yes," Sarah admitted. "But I feel so terrible about abandoning you."
"Please," she scoffed. "I'm a big girl. I have my itinerary and my French phrasebook."
Sarah winced. Lily had a terrible accent, being unable to master the sheer nasality of the language. "Well, at this time of year there are always English speakers roaming around if you get into a bind. And Curt and I will take you to the airport like we planned. I wish I had given you more notice than this," she fretted.
"I wouldn't change anything," Lily told her, and that was the truth. Later on in the pregnancy, when her cousin felt more secure, Lily would inform her she was going to be the godmother. Maybe she would bring back a little French toy for the baby and keep it hidden until he or she was born.
Curt loaded her things into the trunk and they headed for the Verrazano Bridge to cross into New York. JFK Airport sat on a bay overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Queens. At that early hour, the miles passed quickly and Lily found herself deposited on the sidewalk with all her luggage.
Sarah reached her hand out the window to grab her cousin's hand. "Lily, Lily, please take care of yourself." Her eyes were filling up. Lily's were, too, only she didn't have early pregnancy hormones to blame, thank God.
She blew Sarah a kiss. "Everything will be fine. I'll text you once I land. You just concentrate on taking care of yourselfand your baby."
Sarah waved as Curt pulled away from the curb. Lily took a deep breath and hefted her backpack onto her shoulders before pulling her medium-size rolling suitcase into the terminal.
Her first major trip anywhere. France, land of wine and roses, perfume and pomp. Wow, that sounded good. She grabbed her phone and quickly entered that phrase. She had her laptop all tuned up and ready for the great stories that would fall in her lap.
Lily was going to take France by storm.
Jacques Montford hopped off the Metro stop a few blocks from the family mansion on Rue de Faubourg St-Honoré. His mother, the Dowager Countess de Brissard, had wanted to send the family car to meet him at the airport, but he needed more time. Time to get out of the closeness of the airplane, the craziness of Charles de Gaulle Airport, time to get some fresh airas fresh as Paris could provide.
He climbed the stairs to the street. Ah, the parfum de Paris in the summer. More than a hint of auto exhaust and pollution, but also a touch of garden from behind the high walls he passed. Jasmine, definitely rose and a touch of lily. But no lavender.
The only lavender in Paris was in the buckets in the flower market and maybe in a clay pot in some less sophisticated neighborhood than the one he walked through.
For real lavender, Jacques would have to leave Paris and go to Provence.
The idea of another trip at that point seemed exhausting. More exhausting than staying with his mother in Paris? That remained to be seen.
He rounded the corner to the house and took the steps before knocking on the wide wooden door. He hadn't bothered to take his key ring on his trip to the Southeast Asian typhoon disaster area. As a relief-work physician, he'd had plenty of important medical supplies to carry with him. It was typical to bring one backpack of personal items and a couple of large suitcases filled with medicine, bandages and emergency surgical instruments. In fact, he was wearing his trusty backpack right now. He couldn't wait to drop it in his suite of rooms, take a shower and grab something to eat in the large kitchen. A quick knock, the door opened and he was officially in hell.
"Surprise!" A crowd full of people he didn't know greeted him, slapping him on the back and shaking his hand.
His mother, her hair an exact color match for his thanks to the hairdresser, fought her way to him, kissing him on both cheeks twice and crying prettily, though not enough to either ruin her mascara or redden her eyes. "Jacques! Mon petit Jacques is finally home!" she announced. His mother's guests cheered again.
He was a rich lady's prize poodle being trotted out for admiration. And for his next trick, he will administer oral rehydration salts and give measles vaccinations!
He felt like turning around and leaving. But the crowd filled in behind him and Bellamy was taking his beat-up backpack from him.
His mother clutched his shoulders. "Ah, Jacques, your hair. Why so long?" She fingered his long ponytail of chestnut-brown hair. "And la barbe that hides your handsome face?" She tapped his beard. "You look like one of those scruffy men who live in the subway." She, of course, was impeccably turned out in a flowing silk peach-colored lounge suit, the perfect outfit for an evening party at home.
"Maman, please." He took her hand away from his face but kissed the back of it so she wouldn't fuss.
She dimpled at him. "Someone else is waiting to kiss you," she said coyly.
He had no idea who. "Bellamy?" He was their ancient butler and the idea of being kissed by the old English fossil made him crack the first smile of the evening.
Unfortunately his mother misunderstood. "oh, you funny boy. But that smile tells me you know who I mean."
"Actually, Maman, I don't " he began, and then his teeth clicked together in shock at the person she intended him to kiss.
He'd rather have dysentery again.
"Nadine." It was difficult to pronounce his ex-fiancée's name from a clenched jaw, but he did just fine.
She took that as an invitation instead of an expression of dismay. "Oh, mon amour!" She flung her expensively dressed arms around his neck and tried to kiss him, but he turned his head and was happy to see her spitting out strands of his hair instead.
He took her by the upper arms and tried to set her away from him, but her grip reminded him of a gecko he'd watched while lying in a hospital bed in Thailand. That sticky-footed lizard could walk upside down on the ceiling and even across glass without falling. Of course it could also lick its eyes with its tongue, something that Nadine had not masteredas far as he knew. What she did with her tongue was none of his business anymore. It was what she had done with it while it had been his business that had caused their breakup.
So why was she here, reenacting The Hero's Welcome from a black-and-white postwar movie? Jacques looked around at his proud mother and her well-lubricated guests eyeing him and beautiful blonde Nadine fondly. Nadine wisely decided not to kiss him again and instead threaded her arm through his, snuggling into his side. A hired waiter pressed a glass of champagne into his hand that wasn't suctioned to Nadine, and his mother raised her own glass.
"To my son, Jacques Charles olivier Fortanier Montford, Comte de Brissard." As usual, she forgot the title he valued the mostdoctor.
But the guests cheered anyway. Perhaps his beard hid what had to be a sour expression. Huzzah, huzzah. All that was needed was a rousing orchestral version of "La Marseillaise" as the weary warrior came limping back to Paris. He started to sing under his breath. "Allons, enfants de laPatrie "
Nadine gave him a strange look and he remembered his precarious situation. She wanted nothing better than to be Madame la Comtesse de Brissard, and Jacques's paltry wishes were the only impediment to her desire to enter the noblesse.
He detached himself from Nadine and raised his glass in fake cheer when he caught his mother staring at them. "Come with me, Nadine."
He hurried her into the small hallway leading to the back stairs. Nadine looked at him apprehensively but reached out her arms to him.
Jacques folded his. "Nadine, what the hell are you doing here?" She started to pout, but he ignored it. "Were you hoping I'd developed amnesia along with dysentery?"
He was too tired to be kind anymore. "Go away, Nadine. I don't know what you've been telling my mother all these months, but it doesn't seem to have been the truth."
"But, mon cher, we just had a little misunderstanding before you left. If you had stayed instead of going to that dreadful typhoon, we would have smoothed things over in no time."
His jaw fell. "Nadine, I caught you having sex with your personal trainer. In our bed."
"I know, I know." She pasted an anguished expression on her face. "And I feel terrible about that. I made a mistake."
I, I, I. Or as his Portuguese friend Francisco would say, Ay, ay, ay. It was all still about her.
"No, Nadine. We were through as soon as you undressed for that hairless, muscle-bound refugee from the tanning salon."
Her lips tightened, and he realized the Neckless Wonder might still be her "workout partner." She scoffed, apparently deciding to take the offensive. "Jacques, you know marriages among our class are not necessarily exclusive. Don't be so bourgeois."
"Genetically impossible, cherié. As you well know, I am the Count de Brissard," he taunted her.
The look in her eye made him glad the guillotine had been retired two hundred years ago. "You have the soul of a peasant" And she meant it to sting.
Too bad for her he spoiled it by laughing. "I take that as a grand compliment. As a rule, peasants do not cheat and then have the gall to mock the person they cheat on." Although he had had a few months to come to terms with her infidelity, it still angered him and he started to raise his voice.
"You are the most selfish man I ever met!" she shouted at him.
"Selfish? Because I do not care to share my fiancée sexually?"
"Pah! If you would have stayed in France for more than two weeks, perhaps I wouldn't have needed to find companionship elsewhere."
"Bien, so I am selfish for leaving this mansion and going to the absolute hellholes of the world to help people who have nothing? Sick people? Dying people? Et toi, how do you help anyone but yourself?"