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Invitation to Provence
     

Invitation to Provence

4.0 14
by Elizabeth Adler
 

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Take a journey with internationally acclaimed bestselling author Elizabeth Adler to one of the most sensuous places on earth--a place where lavender-filled fields meet an azure sky, where rosemary scents the air, and where love and intrigue are just around the corner.

Franny Marten's life is unraveling--after arranging to meet her boyfriend, Marcus Marks, for

Overview

Take a journey with internationally acclaimed bestselling author Elizabeth Adler to one of the most sensuous places on earth--a place where lavender-filled fields meet an azure sky, where rosemary scents the air, and where love and intrigue are just around the corner.

Franny Marten's life is unraveling--after arranging to meet her boyfriend, Marcus Marks, for dinner, she finds his wife waiting for her instead. After the initial shock wears off, Franny finds she has more in common with Clare Marks than she could ever have imagined. And, amazingly, the women become fast friends. But even more surprises are in store for Franny Marten: She is unexpectedly offered an all-expenses-paid invitation to a reunion of her estranged family in Provence. And Clare decides to charge the trip to Marcus (for his sins) and come along. Franny knows very little about the French side of her family, but how stressful can meeting long-lost aunts and cousins be after what she and Clare have just gone through?

Provence is everything Franny pictured, but nothing at all what she expected. There are dangerous family secrets buried deep in the lovely, lush landscape of Provence, and there's also a person who will go to any lengths to keep Franny from uncovering them. Jake Bronson is an American with ties to the Marten family, and he seems to know more than he's saying. He's the most intriguing and compelling man Franny's ever encountered, but there are treacherous currents surrounding him. And at the center of it all is the matriarch, Rafaella Marten, a woman with secrets going back decades. Her two sons have caused her both heartache and joy, but Franny may ultimately be the key to truly reuniting the Marten family---and putting to rest the shadows, scandals, and the rivalry of a dynasty. Evoking the lush descriptions of everything that is Provence, Elizabeth Adler casts an unforgettable spell as Invitation to Provence transports you to a truly magical place.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Captivating romance, picturesque landscapes, and charming characters fill the pages of this enthralling novel.... Top-notch read."

RT Book Reviews

 

"Sure to please the fans."

Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429901208
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
08/02/2005
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
241,026
File size:
385 KB

Read an Excerpt

Invitation To Provence


By Elizabeth Adler

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2004 Elizabeth Adler
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0120-8



CHAPTER 1

When the invitation that was to change Franny Marten's life arrived in her mailbox on a leafy Santa Monica street that last day of July, she didn't even notice it. She was too worried about her long-distance boyfriend, Marcus. She was meeting him tonight. He'd said they "needed to talk." "So talk," she'd said, smiling into the phone, but then he'd said it wasn't the right moment and besides he needed to see her. Now Franny was wondering nervously if there was something ominous in those words.

She was leaving Your Local Veterinary Clinic where she worked, and she turned her head as she always did when the glass doors shut behind her, just to check that her name was really there. It still gave her a buzz to see those hard-earned letters after it that said she was a qualified doctor of veterinary surgery, and it always tugged at her heart that her father was not there to see it, too. He would have been so proud of the way she'd handled herself after he'd died, leaving her alone in the world at age seventeen. He'd have been proud of her struggle to put herself through college and med school, working all those jobs, baby-sitting, cleaning houses, waitressing, any work she could get to make ends meet, and even then it had been touch and go.

Franny looked like the typically blond Californian, but she was still a small-town Oregon girl at heart. Ten years had passed since she'd driven down the coast in a junky old car with that newly earned vet license in her otherwise empty pocket, in search of a new life. That dream life included success in her new career and of course love and marriage, which would lead automatically to children and "a family." She'd especially hoped for the family because it was something she'd never had. She sighed thinking about her dream. So far only the career part had come true. Still, maybe one out of four wasn't bad.

She opened the door of her dusty white Explorer Sport, flinching as the day's trapped heat wafted over her. Air-conditioning blasting, Kiss FM blaring, she gunned the engine and headed for Main. Of course the traffic was hell, but wasn't it always? Stalled at the light, she flipped down her mirror and checked her appearance. Hot, un-made-up, blond hair dragged back in a fat, untidy braid. Purple smudges of fatigue showed under the long, narrow water-blue eyes, an asset she owed to her Norwegian mother. She looked awful and she knew Marcus would notice and comment on it because that's the way Marcus was — he always found her weak spots.

Actually, other than the pale blue of her eyes and her blond hair and her name — her mother had been a great admirer of J. D. Salinger — Franny didn't owe much else to her Nordic mother, who had simply left them for "better opportunities" when Franny was three years old. She died a few years later, and lonely young Franny had felt nothing at all except, when she was older, guilt for not caring. But her mother had been someone she'd never known, someone who had never wanted to know her.

It was different when her father died. Then she was devastated. He had been her friend, her supporter, the rock on which the burden of her life rested, and suddenly with a car accident all that was taken from her. Somehow she found the strength to get on with life the way they'd planned it, because that's what her father would have expected of her. And what people saw when they met the nice small-town blond vet was not exactly what they got. There was a core of steel forged from hard times under that soft exterior. She'd needed it in order to survive alone in a big, tough world.

Sighing, she switched her thoughts to the beautiful German shepherd whose life she had — fingers crossed, hope, hope, hope, please God, I'm praying for him — saved today. Then she'd had the difficult task of trying to stabilize his distressed owner, a leggy L.A. girl in skintight gray biker shorts and a cropped T-shirt that showed her gold-stapled navel.

"It all happened in a moment," the girl sobbed. "He just ran after a ball, the car threw him into the air, it never even stopped. ... He's all I've got." And Franny had mopped her tears with Kleenex and comforted her with hot coffee and an arm around her shoulders. Soft-hearted, sympathetic, gentle, she was always ready to listen and to offer help, and she always gave that extra time, which simply left no time for herself. And which meant, of course, that despite Marcus's complaints, after dinner she would make sure to go back to the clinic and check on the dog. If necessary she would be there all night. That's just the way she was.

Fretting in the crawling traffic, she finally turned right on Montana, then left onto a leafy side street, stopping in front of the tiny 1930s Craftsman-style cottage that was her home. Her first real home. Well, hers and the bank's anyway, and small though it undoubtedly was, after the dingy furnished rooms in grim, gray parts of town that were all she'd been able to afford when she was putting herself through school, to her it seemed like a palace.

The house was set back from the street with a narrow paved path and patches of grass on either side. It was painted forest green with tan trim. Four steps led up to a sweet little front porch that just cried out for a rocker, the kind with a slot in the arm to hold your glass and a slatted rest for your feet, but Franny had never yet had enough spare money to buy one.

She found a parking spot and jumped out, stopping at her mailbox for the usual bundle of bills, junk mail, and catalogues. She didn't even notice the square cream envelope with the French stamps. She took the four steps up to the porch two at a time, then just two more strides to the front door where, as always, she tripped over the loose plank that she'd been meaning to fix for ages. She thought it was really quite dangerous and she'd better do something about it this weekend.

Sadly, though she loved animals, there was no dog or cat of her own to greet her because she didn't have the home-time an animal needed. Without their friendly barks and purrs, the small house seemed too quiet. She tossed the mail onto the kitchen counter already cluttered with leftover takeout cartons and bundles of half-dead flowers in pottery jars. Six days a week the house was a mess. On the seventh, a Sunday (what else), she cleaned it up. Today was only Wednesday and stuff spilled from drawers and cupboards, old coffee mugs sat around on top of piles of unread books and magazines, and a trail of discarded clothes led to the bathroom, where she was headed now, flinging more onto the heap as she went. She hadn't been born a slob — it was purely a matter of the proper allocation of time, of which there never seemed to be enough.

She barely had time to shower and throw on some clothes — jeans, a white tank top, a lacy blue crocheted shawl against the later ocean-night chill, turquoise flip-flops, and the dangly fake turquoise earrings she'd picked up at the drugstore and thought so sexy, though she certainly was not feeling sexy tonight. She was too worried about her meeting with Marcus.

Stopping just long enough to check her appearance in the mirror, she tugged at the tank top, hoping Marcus wouldn't give her that cool up-and-down look that said without words that he thought she looked as though she'd just thrown herself together. Which was the truth. She had. Still, she left her heavy, pale-blond hair loose and sprayed on a generous amount of the ginger-flower perfume. Her cheeks were flushed from rushing, and she looked about nineteen years old instead of thirty-five.

On her way out she quickly tidied the hodgepodge of flea-market bargain furniture, desperately plumping cushions, shoving old newspapers into a pile, because Marcus always came back with her, and he hated what he called her "squalor" and her cheap but eclectic and colorful furnishings.

She got back in the Explorer, heading down the California Incline and onto Pacific Coast Highway. The ocean glimmered on her left like an iridescent pewter bowl, joggers trotted along the beachside paths with their dogs running alongside, and small children dashed happily in and out of the waves, unwilling to call an end to the day.

She remembered clearly the night she'd first met Marcus, a classic tall, dark, handsome guy with a shy smile and bold eyes that had met hers across a table a year ago. It was at a birthday dinner for a friend, and he was with a pretty girl to whom he wasn't paying much attention. Instead, he kept looking at Franny, couldn't seem to take his eyes off her in fact. Franny had sipped her wine, trying to act cool, glancing occasionally at him over the top of her glass, wondering if she was misreading that message in his eyes. And she wasn't, because later he came over to her and said, "You know, you have the most magical blue eyes. I felt as though I'd gotten lost in them. It's as though I've known you for a long time, maybe even in some other life."

Now no man had ever said anything like that to her before and of course she was knocked out by it, so when he asked for her phone number, she gave it to him. There was a message waiting on her machine when she got home. "I can't stop thinking about you," he said. "Please say you'll have dinner with me tomorrow night."

Franny found him irresistible, like catnip — one sniff of him and she was crazy. Unfortunately, Marcus lived in Atlanta, where he was in property development, building new condos for singles. He came to L.A. twice a month, then he'd promised to make it over more often. And those first few months were heady. They made love all the time, or at least all the time he could spend with her. He sent her flowers and often called just to say goodnight. Lately, though, he'd been too busy to get out to L.A. so often and then he'd been distant, as though his mind were somewhere other than on her.

Franny still wouldn't face up to it, but in her heart she knew the writing was on the wall and she wondered whether it was better just to finish it right now and save her pride. She realized Marcus was behaving badly and that she was stupid to take it, but he was like a bad habit she couldn't shake. She kept hoping that she was wrong and that he really loved her.

She was so caught up thinking about Marcus, she almost rear-ended the Honda Civic in front of her. This time her sigh came from her gut. The only thing certain in her life was that, as usual, she'd skipped lunch — no time — and she was starving. She only hoped Marcus wouldn't be critical of her hearty appetite. And dammit, if he was, she would just tell him to get lost. Oops, she'd almost missed the turnoff. She quickly slid the Explorer across two lanes, eliciting a barrage of horn honking as she sped onto Channel Drive and made a jerky stop in front of Giorgio's.

Grabbing her beat-up brown bag and remembering too late that she'd meant to change it for something smaller and more stylish, she smoothed back her windblown hair, left the car with the valet, and went inside to meet her destiny.

CHAPTER 2

The Italian restaurant was intimate and crowded, with a buzz of conversation and the clink of wineglasses and the pleasant aroma of pasta and sauces and women's perfume.

"Mr. Marks's reservation," Franny said to the smiling hostess.

The girl checked her list. "Mr. Marks hasn't arrived yet. Would you like to wait for him at the table?"

Franny said she would, squeezing past the close-packed tables to one in the corner. She ordered a glass of Chianti and sat looking around her. She didn't come here often and she liked watching the smart people who treated this place as their neighborhood restaurant. She studied the young family at the next table. She thought enviously how perfect they were, so beautiful and happy with their two small sons and another baby obviously on the way. They were an example of everything young people were supposed to strive toward, while she ... well, she was in limbo.

She sipped her wine, studying the menu and thanking god that at least this time she wasn't the one who was late. The hostess came toward her, escorting a lovely woman, tall and elegant in a black dress, dark hair pulled back, sleek as a cat.

"Ms. Marten?" the woman said. Franny nodded, looking up at her with a puzzled smile. "I'm Clare Marks," the woman said and a hot thrill of apprehension shot up Franny's spine. "Marcus's wife," the woman added calmly. "He thought it was time we met."

Franny could feel the blood drain from her face. "His ex-wife," she managed finally, not wanting to believe the truth.

"His wife, Ms. Marten." Their eyes met, Clare Marks's brown and curious, Franny's dark blue with shock.

Bewildered, Franny thought, This can't be happening to me. Just a couple of hours ago at work she had been the woman in charge, the strong one, the one with the comforting arm and the encouraging words. Now she was reduced to zero, at a loss for words. In an instant her love affair with Marcus was rendered meaningless. She stared at her hand clutching her wineglass so tightly it might break, unwilling to meet Clare Marks's eyes.

Clare pulled out the chair opposite and sat down. She signaled the waiter, asked for a glass of the pinot grigio, then turned back to Franny.

"Of course Marcus didn't tell you he was married," she said calmly. "He never does. He leaves it to me to work it all out. He's a shit that way but ..." She shrugged. "Most men are, don't you think?"

Franny lifted her eyes and looked at Clare, wondering if she was going to scream at her, accuse her loudly in front of the entire restaurant of being "the other woman." She glanced wildly around looking for a quick escape but the tables were too close together to make it easy. Instead, for courage, she downed her wine in three big gulps.

The waiter reappeared to take their order. "I suppose we might as well eat," Clare said, glancing quickly at the menu and ordering the langostinos with fettucini.

The waiter gave her an approving smile — it was the house specialty. He turned expectantly to Franny, who took a deep breath. She couldn't just sit here and have dinner with Marcus's wife. Of course she couldn't. She was getting up and leaving right this minute. Suddenly anger simmered. Dammit, no! She refused to be outfaced by this bitch.

"I'll have the potato gnocci with the tomato sauce, please," she said in a tight little voice she barely recognized as her own. "And another glass of the Chianti," she added recklessly.

Clare Marks leaned her elbows on the table, hands folded under her chin, staring silently at her. The happy hum of conversation floated around Franny's head like confetti at a wedding. Her chest hurt. Well, of course it did, that was where her heart was. Her eyes hurt, too, from staring at this vision that was her lover's wife. The perfect features, the sleek dark hair pulled back to show her perfect profile, the perfect expensive little black dress, the perfect pearl earrings. And the platinum band embossed with diamonds on the third finger of her left hand.

Suddenly chilled, Franny hitched her blue crochet shawl over her shoulders. She felt unstylish and out of her league. She took another gulp of wine and the dangling earrings she'd thought so pretty clanked loudly against the glass.

"Cute earrings," Clare Marks said, and Franny glared at her. She knew Clare knew they were cheap and of course she hadn't really meant it as a compliment. She wondered bleakly why Marcus had even bothered with her when his wife was so beautiful.

"You're looking at me and wondering why he does it, aren't you?" Clare said. "I mean, I'm Miss America personified, right? And that's who I was. Well, Miss Georgia, anyhow. Huh, actually I was more like Miss Hick from Hicksville, an innocent just like you when I met him. Anyhow, Marcus and I have been married for seven years. And you, Franny, are the seventh woman I've had to say good-bye to. How's that for a record?"

Franny just sat there silently, stiff as a corpse in the throes of rigor mortis, aware that Clare was looking pityingly at her. Then Clare drained her glass and said, "The hell with it. Why don't we just get a bottle? After all, this is a kind of celebration. Freedom for you, and — since I've left Marcus — freedom for me, too. And this time I really mean it. I won't stay with that seven-timing, adulterous son of a bitch any longer. Not only that, Franny Marten, I'm gonna take him for every cent I can get, and trust me, honey, it will be a lot." A grin lit her lovely face. Her brown eyes sparkled and she suddenly looked like a mischievous little girl.

"Did Marcus really send you to tell me this?" Franny asked.

"He sure did. The prick never could do his own dirty work, but from now on he'll have to. You, Franny Marten, are my last assignment. I've quit."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Invitation To Provence by Elizabeth Adler. Copyright © 2004 Elizabeth Adler. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Adler is the internationally acclaimed author of fifteen novels. She lives in Palm Springs, California.


ELIZABETH ADLER is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty novels, including The Charmers and One Way or Another. She lives in Palm Springs, CA.

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Invitation to Provence 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
allazone More than 1 year ago
I've read a few of Elizabeth Adler's books, mostly drawn to them because of the locations I love so much! It certainly isn't as descriptive as a travel book (which I think some are looking for!), but it definitely describes the scenery, the culture, the atmosphere, so that it takes you away to another place. Sure, parts are not as believable as others, but it flows nicely, and let's you appreciate the characters and what they are going through. It's a great "by the pool" book, nothing heavy, and just enough romance to keep you interested. I also liked her "House in Amalfi" book for a lot of the same reasons. I think if you like one, you will probably enjoy them all!
Guest More than 1 year ago
OK...so the fact that the characters fell in love instantly was definitely not realistic, but this book was so descriptive and wonderfully written, I felt like I was at that chateau and really got to know the family. I didn't want the book to end. Definitely worth a read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my first book by Elizabeth Adler, & now I want to read ALL of her books! I found that the true essence of Provence is in this story. I started reading this book for the romantic setting, but soon I found myself caught up with Rafaella & her family's dilemas. Dark secrets are shrouded in Rafaella's past, but she hopes to draw her family back together when another tragedy strikes out! I never wanted this book to end, I was captivated by the characters & settings. I think this book would make a GREAT movie. I can see Kate Hudson in the role of the adorable Franny.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read all of Ms. Adler's books, and enjoyed everyone of them, but I put this close to the top of my list. This is a truly enchanting and delightful story. Not only does it give beautiful descriptions of Provence, which is my favorite place in the whole world, but the story itself captivated me. True, there are some totally implausible coincidences, but none that can't be overlooked. I didn't want it to end! The description of Rafaella's party is absolutely priceless!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the first book that I have read by Ms. Adler. There was just the right amount of romance, and enough suspense to keep you interested. I look forward to reading more books by the author.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Southern California veterinarian Franny Marten is stunned to learn that her long distance romance with Atlanta based Marcus marks is over as he not only has a wife, he sent her to break it off with her. The spouse Clare and Franny hit it off and the former persuades the latter to take up her Aunt Rafaella Marten des Sauvages¿ invitation to spend three weeks in Provence at a family gathering although she never even knew this aunt existed............................ Franny, accompanied by Clare, goes to France where she is shocked by her dysfunctional relatives who seem at war with one another in spite of the warm welcoming from her elderly aunt. Worse someone wants Franny to remain in the dark on family secrets and will go to great lengths to achieve this objective; Franny wonders if her nasty cousin Alain would harm her. However, the biggest emotional roller coaster is Jake Bronson, who she falls in love with, but wonders if she can trust him with her heart and her life though she wants too........................ No one does travelogues inside terrific contemporary romances better than Elizabeth Adler does. Her latest tour of the Mediterranean is superb as readers obtain a taste of Provence while also reading an interesting family drama. Franny is a wonderful protagonist and the support cast shines a light on her or on the region. As she has done with A SUMMER IN TUSCANY and THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS, Ms. Adler provides a delightful tale for armchair travelers to enjoy...................... Harriet Klausner
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Man falls in love instantly with heroine. Heroine instantly has a best friend who is instantly a member of the 'family' Former prostitute will be a virgin for her next marriage.Child runs from locked room in fire. Heroine ok after a broken neck.Disappointing descriptions of Provence.