This February is a big month for juicy releases from some of your favorite authors. Yann Martel returns with another trippy, animal-filled rumination that will leave you scratching your head, and international bestseller Jeffrey Archer pushes on toward the end of his romp with the Clifton clan. There’s also a fun pair of fictionalized biographies of […]
Three women, born generations apart.
One mysterious book that threads their lives together.
A journey of love, discovery, and truth…
I’ll See You in Paris is based on the real life of Gladys Spencer-Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, a woman whose life was so rich and storied it could fill several books. Nearly a century after Gladys’s heyday, a young woman’s quest to understand the legendary Duchess takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a dilapidated manse kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris, where answers will be found at last. In the end, she not only solves the riddle of the Duchess, but uncovers the missing pieces in her own life.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)|
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I'll See You in Paris
By Michelle Gable
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Michelle Gable
All rights reserved.
GOOSE CREEK HILL
"Maybe she'll surprise us," Eric said.
They walked along the path toward the barn, Annie's sandals crunching against the gravel. It was eighty degrees, unusually warm for that time of year, an Indian summer. The sun was bright, the hillsides green and flashing. The leaves had not yet begun to change.
"Surprise us?" Annie said, her stomach wobbly. Somewhere in the distance a horse whinnied. "Uh, no. My mom doesn't surprise anyone."
"Come on, have a little faith. It happens all the time. You think you know someone and suddenly ..." He snapped his fingers and turned. "Just like that. Boom. A complete one-eighty."
As he spun around, Annie laughed.
"Laurel Haley doesn't make one-eighties," she said. "Her entire life's been a strictly measured line going in one direction."
Except for a slight detour, she hastened to add. The detour being Annie.
"But she loves you," Eric said, taking her hand. "And I know she'll be as excited as we are. I can feel it."
Annie smiled, his relentless optimism enchanting her every time. He was unflagging with it, dedicated to perpetual sunniness like he was working it out in boot camp. She couldn't decide if this was a very useful or extremely dangerous attitude for someone about to board a Marine Expeditionary Unit bound for the Middle East.
"Maybe you're right," she said, succumbing to his Eric-ness yet again.
It wasn't impossible. Laurel claimed Annie's happiness was her number one priority. She was happy with Eric. Perhaps this really was enough.
They paused by the stable's entrance. Annie inhaled deeply as a gaggle of tween girls loped past, all lanky and athletic and at the start of beautiful but not quite grown into their breeches or boots.
"Okay," she said. "Here we go."
She took a few cautious steps forward and then peered into one of the stalls where she saw Laurel tacking a horse.
"Beautiful job today, Sophie," Laurel said as a mother and daughter scooted by. "I'm out of town for the next two weeks. Margaret will be doing the lessons for me."
The young girl waved, and then grinned at Annie as she passed. Sophie was one of the twenty or so children Laurel taught for free. Medically challenged girls, those not expected to live long or those not expected to live well. Even when Laurel worked full-time at the gleaming law firm downtown, she always made time for these girls.
"Oh, hi, Annie!" Laurel said as she buckled the mare's bridle. "Eric. I didn't know you guys were here."
"Was that your last student?" Annie asked, feeling Eric's presence solid behind her. "Are you busy?"
"Nope, not busy at all." Laurel tightened the strap. "Just finished a lesson and headed out for a ride. So, what's up?"
She gripped the reins in her right hand, face playing at a twitchy smile. Laurel always knew when Annie was up to no good, when she was hiding something or stretching the truth in some important way. This savvy baffled Annie given her mom lived in the narrowest possible world, comprised of work and Annie and the horses. Laurel quit her job a year ago so now it was down to Annie and the farm. How was it she understood so much?
"The two of you have something to tell me," Laurel said, breaking the ice because no one else would. "Might as well fess up. I think your nervous energy is about to spook the horses."
"Ma'am, I wanted to get your permission," Eric started, his voice strong and assured.
Annie winced, waiting for Laurel to drop a big fat cloud over them. Her mom was kind, generous, at times outright funny. But Laurel could sniff out a bad idea from a mile away and was never afraid to complain about the smell.
"I'm sorry I didn't ask you first," Eric went on. "But, well, there's not a lot of time before my deployment. And y'all have your trip to England. Everything's happened so fast. But I'm asking now."
Oh God, Annie thought, heart sprinting. Maybe this is a mistake. But it was already too late.
"May I marry your daughter?" he asked.
After that: silence. Even the horse seemed uncomfortable, sheepishly kicking at the hay.
"Are you truly asking me?" Laurel said at last. "Or are you telling me?"
"It's okay, Annie," Eric said and rubbed her arm. "We've ambushed her. Give your mama the chance to adjust."
"I'm weirdly not that shocked," Laurel said with a careful laugh. "Somehow I knew this was coming."
"I love her, Ms. Haley. I swear to you before God and country that I will treat your daughter better than any prince she's ever dreamed."
"My daughter was never one for princes," Laurel said. "Annie's not that kind of girl."
"Mom, can you chill out for a second?"
"Chill out? Annabelle, honestly."
"Ma'am, I love Annie," Eric said, his Alabama accent at maximum strength.
Though Annie's insides puddled at the sound of it, she knew her mom was skeptical of anything resembling romance. Futures were best made in barns and investment accounts, not in "I love yous" from handsome young marines.
"I'll make this world a better place for her," he added.
"Oh, Eric," Laurel said, and chuckled again. "There are so many things I could say right now."
"How about 'okay'?" Annie grumbled. "That'd be a good start."
As much as she wanted her mother's approval, and held out the feeblest hope she'd receive it, Annie understood what Laurel saw. The whole thing smacked of desperation, of what the hell am I going to do with my life now? Screw it. I'll just marry the next guy I meet.
Standing in that barn was a mother, and before her was an unemployed recent college graduate. Beside the graduate was a man — if you could call him that — a twenty-one-year-old marine about to board a float destined for Afghanistan.
This marine was suggesting marriage, to the jobless daughter no less, who'd been dating a different boy only a few months before. By the time Eric returned from deployment, they will have been apart longer than they were together ... times seven.
All that and Annie had met him at a dive bar. She was sucking down the last dregs of a bad house wine while listening to her best friend, Summer, lament that working in a senator's office wasn't so much public service as coffee service. Starbucks runs in exchange for a paycheck and health care sounded like a respectable gig to the incomeless Annie but Summer disagreed.
"I'd rather be unemployed," Summer insisted.
"And have your mother buy your birth control pills?" Annie asked.
"Admittedly that would be awkward. But it's just so damned boring. I want to be doing more."
"Don't we all," Annie said, and took a final gulp of wine.
Without warning, a man rose to his feet.
He was a large boy really, screamingly clean-cut and soldierly, a marine as it turned out. A round of drinks on him, he announced, to celebrate his upcoming deployment and to thank them, the citizens, for supporting their efforts. Annie's first thought was, Thank God, because I can't afford another drink.
Her second was: Wow, that guy is hot. Too bad he likes guns.
Amid backslaps and handshakes, the brown-eyed, black-haired puppy dog of a man then gave an impassioned speech about fidelity and freedom and the U.S. of A. It was a week after 9/11 and so the response was deafening. By the end of it, every person in the bar stood, looped arms with a neighbor, and belted out the only song that mattered.
And I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A.
"Jesus Christ," Summer said when the excitement dissipated. "Why do I suddenly feel like joining the navy?"
At once Annie was changed.
At once she was done with aloof Virginia boys and their swoopy hair, those lame belts embroidered with smiling whales. She wanted a hero, a man with a little spirit, a guy who could raise a room to sing.
Perhaps it was the result of too much Edwardian fiction in college and the hours spent soaking in whimsy. Or maybe he was that valiant. Either way, with 9/11 the entire world changed, in major ways and in minor ones, all the way down to, it seemed, Annie's taste in men.
There was no decent way to explain this to Laurel, of course. Military or not, you simply didn't marry someone you met last month. Annie wanted her mom to be excited but understood why Laurel couldn't find it in herself to even pretend. A tiny part of her wondered if Laurel was right. She was about most things.
"Don't pressure your mother," Eric said, reaching once again for her hand. "Ma'am, any questions you have about my family or my character, I'm pleased to answer."
"Eric," Laurel said and sighed. "It's nothing against you personally. In the three seconds I've known you, you seem like a very nice boy. But you're young, you've only just met. On top of that you're going off to war."
"Geez, Mom, don't be so dramatic. This isn't 1940."
"A war's a war."
"She's right," Eric said.
Annie blinked. A war's a war. He was going off to fight, wasn't he? Did she even appreciate what it meant to be a marine? Had the people in the bar comprehended what they were singing about?
"At least tell me you're waiting," Laurel said. "That you'll get married when he's done with his tour. All his tours. When the war is over and there are no more deployments."
"Yes, of course," he said, though they'd agreed to no specific timing.
And done? Eric would never be done. This was his career. He was in it for the long haul, one deployment tacked onto the next, a long trip with only breaks and no end.
"Okay," Laurel said and exhaled loudly. She closed her eyes. "Good. Wise move." After several moments, she opened them back up. "Well, let's see the ring. There is a ring, yes?"
"Of course there's a ring!" Annie chirped.
She extended a jittery, unsure hand in her mom's direction to display the faintest chip of a diamond of a ring. A tenth of a carat? A twentieth? Even the gold band was so delicate it nearly disappeared. Good thing Annie had petite hands.
"It's beautiful," Laurel said, sounding genuine and almost comforted by the modest piece of jewelry. Eric Sawyer wasn't some spoiled kid supported by his parents. The same could not be said for Annie.
"Again, ma'am, I'm sorry I didn't ask you first. I'm a traditional man. I should've followed the appropriate etiquette."
"In case you haven't noticed," Annie said. "We're not exactly a traditional family."
There was no father to ask, is what she meant. A traditional path would've involved the dad. Who would walk Annie down the aisle anyway? Her mother? A pair of geldings?
"Okay." Eric flushed, the pink high on his cheeks. "All right."
"Well, congratulations, you two," Laurel said as she led the horse out of its stall. "Sorry to dash but I want to get a ride in before dark. Eric, please join us for dinner, if you can."
"Yes, absolutely," he said, stumbling over his words. "Thank you. I'd be honored."
When Laurel was out of the building, on her horse and galloping into meadow, Annie turned to face Eric for the first time since they walked into the barn.
"That went okay?" he said timidly.
"It did," she answered with a nod. "Maybe even better than expected."
Yet she felt unsettled.
Even with Laurel's tacit approval, something wasn't right. Annie should've been filled with love right then, toward her fiancé and her mom who was, if not excited, at least gracious. But despite these things going for her, going for them, there remained a hole, a slow leak of something Annie couldn't quite explain.CHAPTER 2
GOOSE CREEK HILL
Two o'clock in the morning.
Annie's luggage was packed. She'd double-checked her passport and plane ticket. Not one but two weepy e-mails were flying through the Ethernet toward Eric. Everything was ready to go but her brain refused to rest. If she didn't get rid of the collywobbles, she'd never get to sleep.
A letter, Annie thought. She should write one last letter to her fiancé, and do it the old-fashioned way, with paper and a pen. Her mom sounded so retro. He's going off to war. As the soldier's best girl, she needed to play the part and writing letters seemed romantic anyhow.
When she crept downstairs an hour later, stamped envelope in hand, Annie discovered she was not the only one awake. She paused at the threshold of Laurel's office, hesitating before she spoke.
There her mom stood, behind her desk, fully dressed with the lights blaring around her. On the desk was a box. On her face, a scowl. Already the scene was disorienting.
"Mom, what's going on?"
"Oh geez! Annie!" Laurel whopped her chest. "You scared the crap out of me."
"Sorry! Can I come in?"
"Yes, of course. So you're having trouble sleeping?"
Annie walked cautiously into the room. Everything continued to feel muddled.
"I can't sleep either," Laurel said as she hugged a tattered blue book to her chest. She was wide-awake but did not seem altogether in the room. "I never can before a flight. It's infuriating. So, I assume you're all packed?"
"I am. Mom? Are you okay?"
"I hope you brought warm clothes," she said absently. "England can be dreary this time of year."
Laurel set down the book.
"Any time of year," she added.
With that same blank look, Laurel started wrapping her hair in a knot at the base of her neck. For twenty years she'd sported a low, tight blond chignon. The tucked-in woman, the ice-queen attorney. Laurel was probably the very paragon of understated law-firm style back in the day, but Annie had to think it'd grown tired after twenty years. She imagined new associates mocking her, placing bets on when she'd finally find a new look.
Then Laurel sold her share of the partnership and the chignon came down. Her hair was surprisingly long and curly and wild. But now, on the other side of the desk, Laurel was trying to wrap it back up again. Old habits died hard, it seemed.
"Mom ... are you ..."
"I enjoyed having Eric for dinner," Laurel said, and let her hair go free again. "He's a nice young man."
"Thanks, I, uh ... yes. He is nice."
Nice. For an English lit grad she really should do better than "nice." It was a half-assed compliment for the so-called man of her dreams. Laurel was polite enough not to call her on it.
"Sorry the house is in such rough shape," her mom said. "I forget sometimes how badly it needs to be fixed up."
"Eric doesn't care about that kind of thing. And it's not so bad. I think he was a little impressed, even."
Their home was impressive — from the road. Or when squinting at a great distance. It was large and white and grand, but shabby at its core, the inside comprised mostly of knotty wood and must. Billed as a "fixer" when Laurel bought it fifteen years before, there'd never been any plans for fixing.
But Laurel and Annie loved the house, even if neighbors, friends, and college boyfriends questioned its value, market or otherwise. Didn't they know what they had out there? Everyone from inside the Beltway wanted a horse farm in Middleburg, more so given that plane-sized hole now in the Pentagon. With even the slightest effort, Goose Creek Hill could be a gold mine. The whole deal would have to be renovated stud to stud first, of course, but the place had potential.
"I do love our rambling shack," Laurel said, frowning at the desk and the old blue book on top of it. "Even if it costs a gazillion dollars to heat."
"Mom, you seem kind of preoccupied. Is everything okay?"
She braced herself for the answer. Because while Laurel had been perfectly pleasant to Eric, it was clear she did not approve.
"I'm fine." Laurel lowered herself onto the green leather chair. She rubbed both eyes with the backs of her wrists. "Just anxious about our trip. Oh, Annabelle ..."
"So you'll go through with it?" She looked up. "This marriage?"
"That's why I said yes when he asked me. You think I'm making a bad decision."
"I do. But you're in love," Laurel said, not unkindly.
"I am. And just to put it out there, I'm not knocked up or anything."
Laurel laughed and then more seriously added, "Have you even been together long enough to get pregnant and also realize it?"
Annie bristled, but it was a fair statement.
"I'm glad you're happy," Laurel said. "And Eric is a charismatic young man. A sweet Southern military boy who loves his mama — every parent's dream."
"So what's the problem, then? You said it yourself. I'm happy. He's a great guy. What more do you want?"
"God, if it were only that easy," Laurel muttered. "It's not that I want any one specific thing for you. I just don't want my baby girl to choose the wrong guy, even if it's for the right reasons."
"You can't name one bad thing about him," Annie said, her voice getting high. "How can you call him the 'wrong guy'?"
And what experience did Laurel have with right or wrong men anyway? As far as Annie knew, her mother hadn't entertained a single significant relationship in the last twenty years. Work, horses, Annie. Annie, horses, work. No room for frivolity. No room for falling in love.
"You think I don't know what I'm talking about," Laurel noted. "That I'm some doddering old lady who can't recognize a good love story when she sees one. But, believe me, I have some experience in matters of the heart."
Excerpted from I'll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable. Copyright © 2016 Michelle Gable. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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