Rendezvous at a Small Hotel is the fifth volume in the exciting series about the Hotel Marcel in the city of Paris near The Eiffel Tower. Elizabeth, an American widow in her 60s, returns to the small hotel, as she does yearly. For her, it is a visit with a purpose--to reconnect with her artist lover, Brit, with whom she has lost contact. Her search leads her to the Normandy beaches and the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. In the wake of her pursuit, a number of adventures occur, involving a vindictive Qatari sheikh, a secret wedding, aiding and abetting the planting of illegal Italian grape seedlings at the château of her American friend, La Marquise de Chevigny, and a final rendezvous at the Hotel Marcel.
The City of Light is Elizabeth's passion to which she is drawn every few months. In the sixth volume, entitled Intrigue at a Small Hotel, Elizabeth is troubled by a malicious woman from the past who seeks to ruin her life. Intrigue will be available in early 2016.
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Read an Excerpt
Rendezvous at a Small Hotel
By Elizabeth Cooke
Abbott PressCopyright © 2015 Elizabeth Cooke
All rights reserved.
TO ENTER THE familiar small lobby of Hotel Marcel is always a thrill for me. Not that it is grand. Not that there are servitors of every stripe to greet one, nor an obsequious fellow at the check-in desk.
There is warmth and love that is expressed by a rousing embrace from the hotelier himself, Jean-Luc Marcel; a pat on the back, with a tear in his eye, from Willie Blakely, the assistant and now manager of the hotel; and an affectionate hug from Brigitte. A young girl from the land of the Vikings, she is one of the three female minions who work happily for Jean-Luc Marcel, attending to the 18 rooms upstairs, serving the breakfast croissants, fresh from the bakery, and occasionally receiving visitors at the front desk.
It is a Saturday morning in late October, a golden day, a day of arrival from Charles de Gaulle airport, with Mounir, my regular driver in Paris, meeting me with a bunch of tulips and a dark, hot café in his van on the highway into Paris.
I ascend to my 5th floor room in the tiny, creaky ascenseur, so familiar to me as to be lovable, and welcome the sight of the pristine bedroom with its armoire, mounted TV, and glass doors to the balcony overlooking the avenue below and The Eiffel Tower above. Immediately, I go out on the stones of my perch with its iron railing and a view of the apartment buildings across the street.
In apartment building 1, on the 5th floor, I wonder if the red-haired widow, Sylvie LaGrange, is still wooing whatever man is in her purview. Her shades are drawn. There is nothing to be seen.
I look across to the apartment in building number 2, directly opposite my balcony, and know that since it has been purchased by my hotelier Jean-Luc Marcel and new bride, Isabella, the red carnations in pots on their balcony are well-watered and cared for. They seem to wink at me.
And last of all, the Frontenac's apartment in building number 3, appears intact, the broad windows, with drapes opened, revealing the dining room with its long table inside. Pierre and his wife, Elise, are not there at the moment, but I do see the familiar figure of their femme de ménage, Henriette, in black gown and white apron, moving in the background.
How the interior of these building have enticed me in the past! How the shenanigans within have amused and piqued my sensibilities! The activity inside those apartments has revealed, particularly at night when the lights are lit inside, Parisian life and lust and passion. Oh, how lovely it is to be back in this orbit, this swirling world of real people that have won my heart.
This October, new drama has entered my world. I am where I know he must be – nearby. I am determined to find him. Brit! A man, artist, ami, amant, and once mine.CHAPTER 2
The Man in the Dark Coat
LATER IN THE morning, after unpacking quickly, I descend to the salon for a café/croissant. From the last seat at the communal table, I watch a man in a dark coat at the far end. He is busy devouring a baguette as if had had no dinner the night before, then attacks the yogurt, the square of gruyère cheese, orders more café au lait, and finally, somberly, lays down his cup.
It is at that moment, he sees me. His eyes flicker, then quickly, lower under my gaze, at the same time as René Poignal, the intrepid policeman of the quartier and friend of the Marcel establishment, enters the lobby and speaks to Jean-Luc who, this morning, is manning the check-in desk. As it is Saturday, Willie Blakely has the day off.
At the sight of the policeman, the man in the dark coat rises quickly and escapes through the lobby to the outside street, with a quick nod at René Poignal in passing.
So the two men have met before, I think. Under what circumstances?
I hear René say to Jean-Luc, "Not him again?"
"He's an ami," is the response.
"An Italian ami," René counters with a raised eyebrow.
"So what's the matter with Italians?" Jean-Luc busies himself with papers on his desk.
"He's here in your hotel for several days every three or four months."
"He has business in Paris."
"J'en suis sûr," René says with a sardonic grin. Then spying me in the offing, he calls, "Monkey business," Madame Elizabeth, n'est ce pas? Monkey business! I can smell it." He throws this last remark over his shoulder to Jean-Luc.
I smile my best smile as René Poignal approaches to greet me on my return to the small hotel. "Bienvenue, chère Elizabeth," he says cordially.
"Ah, thank you, Monsieur detective. It is so good to be back. Please join me for a café?"
"No café, merci, but I will sit for a moment."
The breakfast salon has emptied of the hotel clients and we are alone. Jean-Luc choses to join us.
Curious, as always, I venture to ask further about the man in the dark coat.
Jean-Luc seems reluctant at first. He glances at René. Then, "His name is Franco de Peverelli," he begins. "He's from San Gimignano, a small hill town in Tuscany. It's famous for its towers and encircling walls. His family has an estate there – oh, Franco is rich – they have olive trees and vineyards terraced into the hills ..."
"He owns all that?" I interrupt.
"He does now. I believe his parents are no longer in this world. He is the sole heir."
"He is someone to watch!" René declares.
"So he has olive trees and wine grapes?" I say with a quizzical smile. "What's he doing here?"
"He's in the business of exporting/importing olive oil and wine from that part of Italy," Jean-Luc answers.
"So?" I say, piqued by this strange, new gentleman and his mysterious comportment.
"Eh bien," Jean- Luc continues, scratching his head, again glancing anxiously at René. "It's a difficult occupation in view of the fact that we French are possessive of our own oils and wine and don't like the – how you say – rivalry ..."
"Competition?" I interject.
"Yes, yes, it's the same word in French, compétition," René comments. He is totally absorbed in our conversation.
"And particularly of such high caliber," the detective continues. "The Italian olive oil ..."
"Considered by gourmets, to be 'sunlight in a bottle,'" Jean-Luc adds.
"And you should know," I exclaim. Jean-Luc is famous locally for his skill de cuisine.
René remarks, seriously, "France imposes a very limited allowance for the import of Italian wines and oils – and a high tariff. It surely must make it hard on someone like Franco de Peverelli to pull down a decent living," he says cynically.
"Oh, he manages," Jean-Luc says. "Somehow."
"He is someone to watch, as I said before," René declares, and with a nod of his head toward me, and a quick smile, he leaves the table to go back to work.
"Who is this character," I ask Jean-Luc, "this Franco de Peverelli? René is certainly suspicious of him."
"René is suspicious of everyone," Jean-Luc says with a laugh, just as the telephone rings at the front desk.
"Dinner tonight, chez nous?" Jean-Luc whispers, as he moves to answer the phone.
"Bien sûr," I respond, my heart quickening. I may be able to find some answers about the whereabouts of my lost love. "Bien sûr," I call after him. "A lovely way to spend my first night in Paris! Merci, Jean-Luc."
"À sept heures," he calls back as he picks up the phone.
"I'll be there," I answer, with a heart full of questions. Jean-Luc must know something of Brit's whereabouts, and I intend to find out.CHAPTER 3
Dinner Across the Avenue
IT IS A joy to see Isabella once again. I had stood up for her at the wedding last May at the Mairie when she and Jean-Luc took their vows. She is glowing, as she greets me at the door of the apartment, wearing a yellow caftan, against which her lustrous dark hair gleams.
"Elizabeth," she exclaims, hugging me. "Bienvenue, chez nous."
"You look radiant," I say with enthusiasm. In fact, she absolutely does.
"Come in, please." Jean-Luc is not to be seen, as I look around the living room with its grays and whites and golden colorations. On the wall by the window, I notice Brit's painting (our mutual wedding present to the Marcels, last May). It is stunning, placed there, an abstract of The Eiffel Tower, seen looking up, between the huge iron feet of the structure. It's unique beauty overwhelms me.
As I sink onto the handsome, pale gray couch, Isabella approaches with a plate of warm gougères, delectable cheese puffs. She produces two glasses and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.
"He's in our new kitchen – creating a masterpiece for your dinner. He has a new Cornu stove – oh he is crazy about that stove – you know, it's pale blue. Can you believe it? He loves it. You know, when Jean-Luc was much younger, he studied to be a chef." Isabella is chattering away so happily, I dare not interrupt.
"I hope he has a glass ..." I finally say, raising mine in the direction of the kitchen.
"But of course. How else could he cook!" she says with a little laugh. "It is all part of the ritual."
With that, Jean-Luc bursts forth from the door to his realm with a platter of mussels, each in its little dark brown shell (the color of Brit's eyes, oh God), topped with an elegant dab of hollandaise sauce. Our chef is beaming.
"Voila, mes chères dames!" he says with a flourish, placing the platter before us on the low coffee table. He leans down and kisses me (en air) on the cheek. "Madame, it's grand to have you here in our home." He is beaming at Isabella. "Isn't she beautiful?"
I nod, because she is beautiful, as I down more than one of the delicious mollusks. "These are fabulous, Jean-Luc."
"Not bad, non?" he says, obviously pleased. "Dinner is practically ready." He gets up and disappears again into the kitchen.
A small dining arrangement is laid out beneath the window, and under Brit's picture on the wall. From the inner room, we hear a call, "À table, mesdames," and as Isabella and I move to take our seats, Jean-Luc appears with a gorgeous platter of lamb racks – three in all, each one containing four slim chops, coated with a parsley/garlic/ breadcrumb crust.
I cannot help but murmur, "Magnifique," as he sets the platter down. The aroma is exquisite. He disappears and returns with a serving dishes of sautéed vegetables.
"Mon Dieu," I say. "This is really incroyable!"
More of the Cabernet Sauvignon is poured (a second bottle). There is silence, except for the clinking of fork and knife and an occasional sigh of contentment. As the repast winds down, I decide I can finally broach the subject that has been bedeviling me for the past weeks. Brit.
"Do you know where he is?" I ask softly.
"Who?" Jean-Luc says, after a moment. But he knows perfectly well of whom I speak.
"Come on," Jean-Luc. You know who."
He wipes his mouth, takes a sip of wine, adjusts the candle in the center of the table. "I don't know. I have no idea," he says primly.
"Oh, God," I say distressed. "Something must have happened – and I don't know what. We had the most blissful month out on Long Island – and after he returned to France the beginning of September ..." I can hardly speak, now embarrassed.
"Ah, Elizabeth," Isabella says, touching my hand.
"Please, Elizabeth ..." Jean-Luc interjects. "I wish I could help. I do think he is back in France – but I don't know if it is Paris or the South or in Normandy. He could be anywhere."
"You have heard something?"
"But you say he is in France."
"Perhaps the Fernand et Fils Gallery might have heard from him – you know, the one where he had the big show last year – over on the rue St. Honoré ..."
"Yes, yes, of course," I say eagerly.
"No one has seen him." Jean-Luc looks uncomfortable. "But if anyone would know – if anyone would have any idea ..."
"Willie! Why Willie?"
Jean-Luc shrugs, then stands, removing plates and utensils and rushes to the kitchen. Isabella rises to help him and for a moment I am alone. Willie Blakely! Of all people. Brit must have had a reason.CHAPTER 4
WILLIE! WHY WOULD Brit choose to confide in our cockney friend, once waiter at the Majestic next door, now manager here in the hotel Marcel? Why not Jean-Luc? Why not René Poignal? Now, in my bed on the 5th floor, under the blinking lights of The Eiffel Tower, I ponder these questions. I cannot sleep. Willie may know something about Brit's departure from his home in the Marais, his life in Paris, and from a professed romance with me. Most vital of all, he may know where Brit is right now.
I think of last August, of the two of us, at my house on Long Island where he had come to stay for a full six weeks. It was a hot summer - in more ways than one. On the back deck in the evenings among the rustling trees, the sound of waves lapping on a far shore, a glass of cool, red Sancerre in hand, a sliding glass door to my bedroom next to our twin lounge chairs, and love in both our hearts, the heat belonged to us both, as well as to the afternoon sun.
The counterpoint to the lapping waves had been the sound of soft jazz percussion coming from inside the house through Bose amplifiers, the music flooding over us on the deck – Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett.
We drove to Montauk so he could paint the famous Lighthouse – from Revolutionary times. We stayed at an inn by the sea and walked the beach, barefoot at dusk, and later, ate lobster under a full moon.
Those halcyon days, Brit painted the ocean. He painted the dunes, the Wainscot houses that lined the shore, the sea birds – all in the abstract. And he painted me.
We drove into the city of New York for a couple of air-conditioned days and nights at my apartment on 67th street, relishing the city empty of many office workers (vacation time!) and enjoying a Broadway play and an evening of slow dancing at the roof of the St. Regis.
When I took him to JFK the end of the first week in September, for his flight back to Paris and his little house in the Marais district, we declared our love for one another as we awaited his plane in a teeming terminal, alone together in the booming crowd. He promised Christmas for the two of us in Paris, a dream to build on for the next months, and we vowed constant contact by Skype and phone in between. It was a passionate goodbye.
That was the last I saw him. That was the last I touched him. That was the last I kissed him, and I have not seen nor heard nor touched nor kissed him since. Nothing. Rien!
I could not wait any longer for a Christmas that might never come. I am here. It is now. And I will find him.CHAPTER 5
Franco De Peverelli
IT'S A CLOUDY Sunday morning, this second day of my Paris adventure. I am anxious as I descend in the ascenseur to the lobby, where Brigitte presides at the front desk and also serves breakfast in the salon.
I fiddle with my café au lait cup and munch abstractedly on a bit of croissant. Willie Blakely is nowhere to be seen, nor is Jean-Luc. There are only two persons at the long table in the salon, it being Sunday (and presumably late-sleepers upstairs), myself at one end – and who else but Franco de Peverelli, at the other. He isn't handsome, nor tall. He appears to be in his 50s, but with men, who knows his age! His wiry build and excellent dark hair make it difficult to tell.
With a quick wit, and a certain charm, (according to Jean-Luc) Franco de Peverelli, with a hefty bankroll in his pocket, travels often to Paris to meet the French importers of his olive oil and wine – namely owners of Italian restaurants. This, I learned from Jean-Luc last evening over the golden encrusted lamb chops.
"He always stays at the hotel, partly because there are five Italian restaurants in the area, and also because I am a discreet friend. And Franco needs discretion! Bien sûr," Jean-Luc had said over our delicious dinner, shaking his head.
"Franco de Peverelli looks like he needs discretion – maybe it's the dark coat – there is something – shady – no, maybe mysterious ..." I had remarked.
Jean-Luc eyed me intensely. "Shady? What does that mean?"
"Oh, I don't know ... kind of ... dubious."
Excerpted from Rendezvous at a Small Hotel by Elizabeth Cooke. Copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Cooke. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press.
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