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Marshall Becker planted both palms on the impossibly shiny surface of his friend and business partner's cherrywood desk and leveled the kind of look at him that made foremen quake and contractors relent.
"Say what?" His voice was low, but it packed all the threat of his glare.
Gary pushed back from the desk, the wheels of his leather chair soundless on the Oriental rug that covered the office's Italian tile floors, and crossed his arms. He glanced out the window at the breathtaking sunset view of Boston's ice-covered Charles River and the waterfront homes that still sported their Christmas lights. Then he looked back at Becker, resolve in his eyes. "It's for your own good."
"You didn't just say that!" Becker snapped, smacking the desktop with his hand.
Gary sat forward in his chair, elbows on the desk. He met Beck's stare with practiced calm. "Will you let me explain?"
"You can explain all you want. The answer is still going to be a resounding no."
"Dude? What are we—twelve?"
"It's a sound business decision. We need this contract."
"The Sag Harbor project is nearly finished. You can't pull me off that now."
"Kevin'll take over for the homestretch."
"And the deal on the Annapolis Inn ..."
"We haven't signed off on it yet. Even if we do, you know there's months of preliminary work before we can start the remodel."
Beck stepped back from the desk and crossed his arms. He could feel a vein pulsing in his forehead and a telltale flush moving up his neck. "We're equal partners."
Gary raised an eyebrow. "Yes."
"We both make the big decisions. We consult."
"So this is an obvious call, and if you were being logical, you'd agree."
Becker sighed. They both knew that neither logic nor rational choices had been a high priority for him in months. Maybe years. He was past caring. "We're pulling out," Beck said. He jutted his chin toward the phone. "Go ahead—pick it up. We're pulling out."
Gary looked him straight in the eye. "I've already signed the contract."
"What?" Beck stared at him in disbelief. "Let me get this straight—you get a call from some guy you met at a convention offering you a job in a country where neither of us has ever stepped foot, and you—without consulting with me—sign on the dotted line? Seriously?"
Gary nodded. "That's the gist of it."
Beck hissed out a lungful of frustration and dragged his fingers through his hair. His eyes settled on the wall to the right of Gary's desk. Stalking around the desk, he grabbed a plaque from the wall. "You see this?" He pointed at the names engraved in the polished copper, his finger spearing at the company logo. "T&B. Gary Tyler and Marshall Becker. Tyler and Becker!" He accentuated his own name. "I'm in this too, dude," he sneered, "and unless you plan on taking the B off this plaque, you don't make any decisions without consulting me. And certainly not if they involve me flying halfway around the globe to do the work!"
He hurled the plaque across the desk. It sailed off the edge, upsetting a pile of Architectural Digests, and fell nearly soundlessly to the silk rug on the floor.
"Get ahold of yourself." Gary's voice was low, his eyes burdened.
Becker glared a moment longer, lips pursed, before moving to retrieve the plaque. He brushed it off and, with great precision, hung it back on the wall. Fingers unsteady, he spent an inordinate amount of time leveling it before stuffing his hands into his pockets and walking over to the panoramic window with its priceless view across the river, his body so rigid that he could feel his muscles spasming. He gazed out from the eighth floor of the Back Bay brownstone that had been the first and finest renovation of their twelve years of collaboration, his mind less on the view than on the dilemma at hand.
"What if I refuse?" he asked quietly. "What if I call your stuffed shirt myself and tell him T&B has changed its mind?"
Gary moved to the front of the desk and leaned back against it, facing his friend with a mixture of concern and determination on his face. "We risk losing his business."
Beck turned on his partner, eyebrows raised, ready to make that sacrifice, but Gary put up his hand in caution. "This is just one contract, Beck. But the guy owns half the historical properties in that part of the world. It might be hundreds of thousands—maybe millions—we're throwing away. Not to mention getting our foot in the door of a European market."
Beck leaned back against the window. "Why'd you do it?"
"Why did I commit?" Gary pursed his lips for a moment. "Because you need to get away from here. And because you're the right guy for the project. And it wasn't going to happen unless I—me, your business partner—took the initiative."
"It's a straightforward renovation gig. Any one of our guys could head it up."
"Number one, castle renovations are never straightforward, and number two, none of our guys have been project managers for jobs this size. None of them are the master craftsman you are, and none of them speak the language."
A long silence settled over the office. An antique grandfather clock ticked sullenly in the corner, a gift from one of their most prestigious clients.
Beck finally spoke, weariness in his voice. "So you think I need to get away from here."
"And the sooner the better." Gary pushed off the desk and moved to stand by his friend at the window, staring out as night fell over the stately homes of Arlington Street. "Seriously, Beck. You're the one who can pull this off. He doesn't want industrial efficiency. He wants traditional workmanship. You're the best guy for that."
"Not by myself—not this big of a job."
"He's got crews there who can do the bigger stuff. You'll oversee the project and personally take care of the more tricky renovations."
Beck nodded and pressed his lips into a hard line.
"It's what you do best," Gary repeated. "It's what your passion was at Dartmouth—before you became the tyrannical moron you are now."
The men stared at each other for long moments.
"I want lodging on-site."
"So you can avoid sleeping by working all night?"
Beck raised an eyebrow.
"Done," Gary conceded. "I'll talk to the owner myself."
"I'm sure that can be arranged."
Gary winced. "You can't drive here, so why should you drive there?"
"Because my DUI doesn't count over there?"
"They have taxis. Use them. We're not in any shape to deal with a lawsuit if you tangle with French policemen."
"Fine, but T&B foots the bills."
The two men stared each other down, Gary's blue gaze holding Becker's amber glare without the slightest trace of capitulation.
"You're talking about a pretty big step here," Beck finally mumbled.
"It'll do you good."
"And you know that because ...?"
"Trish told me it will," Gary said. Trish was the sweetest woman Beck had ever met, and he wondered how she'd put up with Gary for nearly ten years.
"You bypassed me completely on this one."
"For your own good, Beck. Come on—give it a shot."
Beck shook his head and stared up at the ceiling.
"What do you have to lose?" his friend added.
That was just it. He had nothing to lose. Except frustrating jobs, tedious social engagements, and endless nights staring at his TV or computer screen. "What do you gain from this?" he finally asked.
Gary shrugged. "Not sure. But this is about you, man. And the welfare of the contractors you've been terrorizing." He shrugged when Beck cut him a disparaging look. "I can't afford to lose another one to emotional distress. Not good for business."
"You're full of it," Beck mumbled.
"Besides—Trish's been planning an intervention for months now. So that's your option. Either you go off to France like a good little boy and bring in some dough for our retirement funds, or you stay here and have a horde of do-gooders descend on you to commit you to a Doofus Anonymous center."
Beck rolled his eyes. "Nobody says doofus."
"I'm an innovator."
"You're full of it."
"So you've said."
Beck leveled a laser-sharp stare at his friend and held it for a moment. They squared off like wrestlers in a ring, both above six feet and built like quarterbacks. If things had ever come to blows, it was anybody's guess who would have come out on top. "Don't ever overstep me again," Beck said with unmistakable gravity. "Not for my own good. Not for T&B's good. We're equal partners. Just be happy I'm in the mood for a change of scenery this time."
"Agreed." Gary went around the desk and retrieved a manila folder from one of the drawers, then slid it across to Beck. "Here's what you need to know. Ticket's in there too. You leave February 2, two weeks from tomorrow."
"Are you kiddin' me?"
"First class. To Paris. Stop your whining."
Beck leafed through the documents in the file and took a closer look at several photos. "This is big," he said without looking up.
"But you love it, right? Do I know you or do I know you?"
Beck pointed at his friend with the folder. "If this thing goes bust, the blame's on you."
Beck moved toward the door, grabbing his jacket off a leather chair and casting a disparaging glance at Gary's shoes. "And buy some real shoes, will you?" he said. "Those shiny Italian things are for sissies."
"You know what, Beck? Go to—"
"France? Why, I believe I will." He gave his partner the you-owe-me-one look that had gotten them through the worst hurdles of their collaboration and opened the door.
* * *
The two weeks before Beck's departure passed in a frenzy of work-related pressures—tying up loose ends on nearly finished projects, handing others off to collaborators, and postponing those that didn't require immediate attention. Beck and Gary pored over what few blueprints they had of the castle in France, comparing visions and arriving at creative compromises that were both pragmatic and artistic. There was little they could truly predict from a continent away, but what could be anticipated was meticulously planned out. Turning a castle into a high-class hotel and restaurant, of course, was primarily a business proposition, but the hotel needed to be true to its origins if it was going to attract the clientele its owner hoped for.
Beck entered the Lucky Leprechaun two days before his departure and took a stool at the end of the bar.
"Hey there, Beck," Jimmy said from the other side of the count er. "The usual?"
"Knockin' off early?" Jimmy asked, cutting a glance at the Miller Lite clock on the wall above the door.
"Just pour the beer."
The bartender saluted. "Aye, aye, sir."
There was some pleasure in watching the foam pour over the top of the tall glass and edge down its side, eventually soaking into the coaster's smiling leprechaun.
"Just past three and boozin' it up? What are we celebrating?" Leslie asked, sliding onto the stool next to his.
"My partner's insanity."
"Well, here's to the productively insane! If you two get any more successful, you're going to have to develop big-shot attitudes." Beck raised an eyebrow at her. "Never mind. That ship has sailed." She lifted a hand to get Jimmy's attention and pointed at Beck's beer. "One more."
Becker's eyes were on a recap of a Celtics game on the TV screen in the far corner of the room, but his mind was on the chore at hand. He hated this kind of thing. The artificial sincerity of cutting ties with the unimportant. He glanced at Leslie. Her eyes were on the game, her manicured fingers idly turning the glass of beer in front of her. Quarter turn, quarter turn, quarter turn. Her platinum hair was overteased and sprayed hard. Her makeup was garish—too bold and somehow geometric to actually flatter. Her business suit was expensive and sleek, cut to enhance her toned and trim physique. If he kept his eyes on that and away from her calculating gaze, he was okay. But if he met her dollar-sign stare for more than a few seconds at a time, the beer soured in his stomach.
"So talk fast—I'm between meetings. What's Gary's harebrained scheme this time?" she asked, swiveling toward him on her stool, legs crossed, the tip of her foot sliding around his calf. "Turning another dilapidated factory into a schooner museum?"
Beck turned to dislodge her foot. He dispensed with subtlety—wasn't in the mood for it anyway. "I'm heading to France. For a few months. Big project for one of Gary's contacts."
Leslie raised a perfectly arched eyebrow. "Nice. Can I come along?"
On the television screen, Paul Pierce took a shot from the top of the key and failed to make a basket. "I leave in two days. Thought you should know."
There was a pause while Leslie absorbed the information. Then she leaned in, her mouth close to his neck, and whispered, "Guess we'd better make the most of the time we have left, huh, slugger?"
The beer on her breath repulsed him. The way she touched his thigh did too. Then again, he'd never been more than mildly intrigued by her. Theirs was a cynical arrangement of convenience and distraction. He got the distraction and she got the ... He wasn't sure what she got, actually. It wasn't predictability and it certainly wasn't entertainment. More often than not, they used more words ordering their drinks than they did having a conversation. That's where the convenience came into play. Hours of company and no need for small talk. Didn't get any better than that.
"Actually," he said, taking a long swallow from his glass, "I'm going to be swamped, so ..."
"There are a lot of hours in a couple of days," she insisted, her voice dropping a notch or two as she traced the veins on the top of his hand with a fingertip. Whoever said a person couldn't live on hope alone had never met Leslie. She'd known him for several months and still lived with the delusion that she'd get him into bed. "What are you—a monk?" she'd asked one night, when he'd driven her home in the wee hours after a protracted cocktail party and dropped her at the curb. He'd driven off without answering, watching in his rearview mirror as she stomped her foot on the wet sidewalk. But she'd recovered fast enough and somehow made peace with the situation. As long as they played with fire on a regular basis, she seemed happy to be his drinking partner and social accessory. Suited him just fine.
Beck downed the last of his beer and dropped a twenty-dollar bill on the polished surface of the bar. He stood, grabbed his jacket off the stool next to him and moved toward the door.
"What—no 'See ya later'? No 'Nice knowin' you'?" Leslie swiveled on her stool, hands out in amazement, a flush of red high on her cheeks.
Beck gave her a long look, racking his mind for something meaningful to say. But he could no more validate their relationship with declarations than he could end it with regret. He shrugged, averted his eyes, and turned to go.
It hadn't taken long for Beck to say the rest of his good-byes. Most of them had required no more than a few words of instruction and a casual wave. Such was the nature of his friendships. They were about work or about distraction. Period. They didn't keep him warm at night, but they sure made transcontinental moves less complicated.
Excerpted from Tangled Ashes by Michèle Phoenix Copyright © 2012 by Michèle Phoenix. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted January 22, 2013
I enjoyed this novel thoroughly. Michele Phoenix brings life to the actual Chateau de Lamorlaye, about one hour north of Paris. I found the book hard to put down as the story weaved it's way from the past to the present. i enjoyed the pace of the story .... looking forward to the chapters that went back into the past which was pretty well every three chapters.
The fact that it was based on historical events was also very interesting. I enjoyed getting to know the characters. I also loved the fact that the story came from the heart of someone who had been part of the Chateau's history herself, as she had played on the grounds as a child. I am looking forward to her next novel! Karen Frank
10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 20, 2013
I am wary of "Christian fiction" since so much is superficial and preachy. This book is the best kind - it offers you things to think about. Beck and Jade are flawed characters struggling through serious issues; their problems are taken seriously and not solved neatly. The parallel WWII story is fascinating and ties together with the present but does not have a simplistic ending.
9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 20, 2012
This was a book a bit slow to get interested in. However, as the story progressed I became aware of the tangled plot that was taking place with the characters. The story centers on a castle being renovated under the skillful guidance of Becker from the United States. The family who has hired Becker and his company consists of very expectant mother, father, and twins (a boy and a girl), and the nanny. Becker obviously has a problem communicating and interacting with people. But it is not until well into the story that we see just what is causing this issue with him. The nanny is not without problems as well. There is definitely some boy meets girl tension at hand, but it is not acted upon primarily because each has their own problems that preclude their interaction. On the grounds of the castle is a "squatter" which the French allow as having squatters rights. He is old, reclusive, non-talkative, and an unknown quantity. Running through the book's contemporary story of Becker, et al, is that of the German - Nazi - occupancy of the castle in 1943 when they used it as a "hospital" for the breeding of an Aryan nation. (Lebensborn) You wonder throughout the book why this would be such an integral part of the contemporary story unless it is because of the setting in the castle. Ah, just wait and see. There is a light at the end of the book. There is hope. But it doesn't end with a "happily ever after" lovely wrap-up ending. There are lots of tangles and just like a head of hair that is tangled, it is hard to straighten it all out. A very interesting read. I just wonder, will be a sequel?
7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 6, 2012
I really enjoyed this newest book of Michele. I loved the setting... and that you can go to her website to see a photo album of the places that are so important to the story. Her writing is very well done. I appreciated her ability to weave together so many characters, their own pain and struggles, and two different time periods, without totally losing the reader or story line. The end of the story has a great twist, which makes a lot of sense by the time you arrive at it... but probably wouldn't have guessed during the first half of the book. I also liked how the story ends with hope... but not with a neatly died bow on each person's life... it's left with real people, working through real struggles... and not everything is "fixed" - which is life! Even though every reader hopes for perfect outcomes for their favorite characters. Definitely a book worth reading :)
6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 2, 2012
Great Book Filled with Ghosts!
The story is told through two viewpoints: one is a voice from the past and the second is the voice of Becker, a man confronting his own demons and ghosts of the past. In France, Bexter travels to help in the restoration of a 200 year old castle. While there, he meets Jade, who is some ways becomes his conscience. Jade is a no holds barred woman, who is a nanny/chef to the family that owns the castle. The plot is quite intriguing, especially knowing the castle does actually exist. While there was great detail in the life of Becker and Marie’s life, I was hoping there would have been more indepth character development to some of the sub-characters: Terese’, JoJo, Jade, and Elise’s relationship with her beau. The storyline moves rather slowly in the beginning, but quickly moves along, connecting the relationships, filling the gaps in memories, and confronting the ghosts that seem to never be too far behind some of the characters. During the renovation of the castle, it is Jade and Becker that seem to have the most evolvement in their character development. While there was a lot of detail that went into the description of the castle, it did not take away from the storyline. Rather, it helped give a visual aide to the reader and comes in handly at the end of the book, too!
Overall, this was a great story and I loved knowing that the author actually lived near the castle and created this beautiful story based on her own ideas and hopes that come from the magic of being in a castle. I would recommend this book to those who love a great mystery, a book with great questions and thoughts about God, inner battles people experience, and who love a great book that brings hope and forgiveness.
This is a story about confronting ghosts of the past and restoring one’s self.
6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 12, 2013
This book was a disappointment. I kept finding myself skimming over page after page of descriptions and unimportant details to get to a little bit of plot advancement. The underlying story of what happened in the castle in the past and how it tied in with the present was interesting, but it would have made a much better short story.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 29, 2013
Not a bad read I suppose. However I am a little disappointed that the author left all the characters as broken as they started.
4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 29, 2012
Phoenix carefully and meticulously builds her characters, clearly revealing flaws embedded in realistic emotional traumas. She expertly peels back layers of behaviors, observations, and emotions to disclose those events, but it literally takes the whole book for the last layers to fall off. The result is an interesting and realistic portrayal of what can happen to a person who allows bitterness to engulf himself. The tension within the male protagonist, Becker, as well as between him and the other characters builds throughout the story, led me to read faster and faster!
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 24, 2013
I liked this book. Beck and Jade each had difficulties to face. Beck had to realize he couldn't use alcohol to hide, and Jade needed the courage to really live. I had trouble seeing how they were going to tie the present day story to the events of WW2 and have to admit I didn't see coming how they did.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2013
Posted November 18, 2012
The story is amazing but, even more so, the descriptions of the landmarks are so precise. As one who has been to the castle and even lived in it, I could picture every nook and crany! I loved the suspense and the beautiful way the book is written. A must read!
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 16, 2014
Posted June 28, 2014
Posted April 30, 2014
I read Michele Phoenix's In Broken Places last Spring. That story made me want to cry, and it made me laugh, and it reminded me that Love is vital to life itself.
I wonder why I waited so long to pick up Tangled Ashes.
As you probably know, this is two stories in one. Or, to be more accurate, it is one story's beginning and it comes full circle to a revelation of truth.
It all revolves around a castle/manor in Lamorlaye France. This building is as old as the Middle Ages and as young as yesterday, and the walls have seen many faces and the floors supported many feet.
During WWII, this place was used as a Lebensborn, essentially a Nazi baby factory. Pregnant mistresses of elite SS men where housed there in comfort and care until they delivered their child, and then were sent on their way while the child was appropriated by a proper German couple.
It was all done in the service of the Reich. We get to see the repulsive strangeness of using new life and birth to further Hitler's agenda, of separating mother from child and encouraging men to father as many Nazi children as possible, through the eyes of two young girls.
Marie and Elise were French teenagers who needed money to help out at home. Now their work at the Lebensborn marks them traitors to their own people, and any hint of disloyalty to the Germans will cause harm to those they love.
Flash-forward to the modern day. Becker, a brilliant, alcoholic architect, is being exiled by his partner to complete a project in France.
Beck knows that sending him to a foreign country to restore a castle was intended as a type of intervention. He intends to have none of it.
He expects to be inconvenienced, but he has no idea how infuriating and maddening it will all be.
From Therese, the interior designer who may be old-maid-ish but who has a core of steel - to Mr. Fallon "Beck, my lad!" who owns the place and wants it looking lovely in time for his wife's 40th birthday - to the enigmatic Jade who works as the Fallon children's nanny - to Jojo, an elderly squatter on the property... they're all there for a reason known only to themselves.
Beck doesn't want them to care about him, and he doesn't expect to care about them.
This is a novel about a place (a place the author loves) and about the stories that such a place has lived through.
This is also a novel about people, and how every person has an inner world, a secret garden, that you can walk right by and miss noticing over and over again.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Posted December 24, 2013
I honestly can't believe how much I learned from this book! Historical fiction is my favorite genre for such books as these. And when you add in the fact that this is a Christian book, it really doesn't get much better than a book like this!
This is the first book I have ever read by Michele Phoenix, but I hope it won't be the last. She added so many fantastic elements to this book that I could safely say she included something for everyone. She added a little romance, a little mystery, some 3-dimensional characters, solid Christian principles, and of course a good chunk of history. She writes with such passion and detail that you just can't get bored. I appreciated the fact that she went back and forth between WWII and modern times, and this only made the story more interesting for me.
If you love historical fiction like I do, I honestly believe you will enjoy this book. Don't be put off by the religious overtones. Phoenix handles this perfectly and with great sensitivity. This is one of the best WWII historical fiction books I have ever read!
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.
Posted September 2, 2013
Posted August 31, 2013
Posted August 24, 2013
This book has it all. Maybe hitting too many points at the same time. Alcoholism, pregnancy, fear, failure, cancer and parallel story lines flashing back.
Like a Nancy Drew mystery for adults. It felt as if the author had town different novels and tried to converge them at the last moment to a have a complete work. On the other hand, the characters will invade the readers heart. Ms. Phoenix brings out feelings and builds solid characters. She also does a great job of capturing the torment and hauntings of addiction.
A grest read for historian or someone who just wants to get away from the moment.
Posted August 19, 2013
Although this was a good story it was not what I expected. For the first almost 100 pages there was no mention of Nazi Germany. I didn't not like the lead male character at all and had a difficult time sympathizing with him even at the end. I felt as though I was reading two different stories that I couldn't connect at all. I enjoyed the chapters that involved the women in the 1940s and their plight and found myself skimming through the other chapters to get back to that. The author spend way too much time on characters and thoughts that were repetitive and inconsequential.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 13, 2013
I loved the weaving between the WWII story about the Lebensborn in France and the modern day renovation of an ancient castle. I couldn't wait to see how the stories would merge and would Beck be able to leave alcohol behind. Since the author grew up knowing the old castle, her descriptions of it were wonderful. I enjoyed this book and recommend it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.