Middle school teacher by day, romance writer by night, and group knitter on Tuesday evenings, Flavie Richalet leads a fairly uneventful life—until she receives a long delayed letter meant for a total stranger. Postmarked 1971, the yellowed envelope, addressed to an Amélie Lacombe, holds a fervent message of love and a marriage proposal, signed only with the initial E. Given her own fractured family history, Flavie is dreamily determined to learn what became of the couple . . .
Flavie’s inquiries lead her to a French seaside inn—and to E. himself, a true romantic who never forgot the girl who got away so many years ago. But his protective nephew, B&B owner Romaric, isn’t sure that trying to find Amélie after all these years is good for his uncle. At odds with the tall, dark, and impossibly passionate Romaric, Flavie must show him, and perhaps herself, that true love is timeless—and always worth waiting for . . .
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Chloé Duval, Domitille Vimal du Monteil
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Bragelonne
All rights reserved.
Karouac, Brittany May 2016
The letter came on a Tuesday.
That sentence alone would make a great title for a novel, although my editor would want it shortened. But I thought it was catchy, to the point, and mysterious. It sparked my imagination. What was in the letter? What was so special about it? Why would someone write a novel about that particular letter?
People write millions of letters every day; well, maybe only thousands now that the digital era has pretty much killed traditional mail. So why the fuss?
Because it wasn't just any other letter.
This one was special. It wasn't an advertisement for the latest shop, it wasn't another annoying scam asking for money. It wasn't a bill either — which is a good thing, because I hate bills as much as I hate phone surveys.
It wasn't any of the above. It was a handwritten letter from one real person to another. From a man to a woman. A man who —
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
* * *
So the letter came on a Tuesday.
Barring a few details, that day started like any other.
The morning sun shone brightly for the first time after weeks and weeks of endless rain that everyone in Brittany was fed up with. It was May, and to my delight, I'd finally slipped into the first sundress of the year. At long last, spring had arrived, bringing with it a fresh breeze of optimism and happiness.
As was — and still is, actually — so often the case, I'd woken up in front of my computer, bleary-eyed from the lack of sleep, still halfway into my characters' minds.
I write love stories — romantic love stories, erotic love stories, and everything in between. I write the books for myself first, because serious teacher though I may be, I still have a soft heart, and I love romantic and emotionally moving stories that come with a happily-ever-after; for my friends second, because it's fun sharing my stories over a couple of rows of moss- or rib stitches; and thirdly for my fans and the readers of the world, because a little romance never killed anyone — and neither did a lot of romance — and our lives are serious enough as they are.
That day, I'd spent most of the night writing — the last four hours, to be precise, which meant my total amount of sleep was much too little for comfort and especially short of the "beauty sleep" mark. But I didn't have anyone to look good for, so who cares?
Still half asleep, I'd headed to the middle school where I taught history and geography. Some light makeup and a business-casual outfit had hidden most of my sleep deprivation, but my brain had had a hard time picking up the pieces. I'd need all my wits and a large amount of tea not to get all my lessons confused.
Because even though they may be adorable (most of the time) and understanding (more or less), there is nothing in the world a student likes better than to be able to tell a teacher she's wrong. And I'd rather avoid that, thank you very much.
* * *
So, after a mildly difficult day — I'd taught four classes and marked a heap of homework in my trademark purple pen, the one extravagance I allowed to disrupt my sensible, well-behaved teacher image — I dashed home just long enough to grab my knitting, some cookies I'd baked the day before, and the notebook I always kept in my purse, and headed toward the center of Karouac, the charming little Breton town — complete with narrow cobblestoned streets and half-timbered or gray-stone houses — where I had been living for the last few years. Vic and the others were probably already waiting for me at her shop, Le Fil d'Ariane.
Though infrequent at first, our Tuesday evening knitting meetings had quickly become a regular fixture in my busy week — and something I needed as much as writing or breathing. It was my way of relaxing, of turning off my overwrought brain and imagination. Some people do yoga or martial arts. I knit, and once a week, in rain, shine, or snow — rare though that may be around here — I grabbed my needles and met up with my friends in Karouac's only knitting and sewing shop.
Victoire, the owner, was the "mom" of our group. The shop was her baby, her creation, the symbol of the new life she'd built in spite of the obstacles in her path. She'd opened nearly ten years ago, upon inheriting a tidy sum from her late grandmother. Thirty-two years old and married to a notoriously unfaithful man, Vic had followed her grandmother's advice and reclaimed both her freedom and her maiden name before starting again from scratch. After some difficult times (the joys of living in a small town with some quite busy busybodies), her shop had prospered, becoming the lively, colorful image of its owner, and one we cheerfully invaded every week.
The knitting circle — my preferred nickname for our group — had started with Victoire and Cécile, the oldest member and my first friend in Karouac. For some months after the shop opened, while Vic struggled with bills and a lack of customers, the circle had numbered only two. Vic likes to say that without Cécile's unwavering support, she would probably have given up. It was Cécile who had not only suggested a knitting circle, but also had brought Bérénice and Angélique into the fold, and later myself, once I'd moved to Karouac.
I'll probably be grateful to her for the rest of my life.
The knitting circle is more than friends — it's family. After five years in their company, I couldn't imagine life without them, without their jokes and their advice, and especially not without their unconditional friendship.
* * *
They were nearly all there when I breezed in, somewhat disheveled by the unrelenting Breton sea wind — why did I decide to walk here, again?
"Hi, everyone!" I said as the door tinkled shut.
Vic, Cécile, and Bérénice immediately smiled and greeted me. Only Angélique was missing.
"Hi," I repeated. "How're you all doing?"
"Fine, fine!" replied Vic.
"Me too. So, what's up?" asked Cécile.
I dropped into my chair and sighed deeply. "Ladies, the situation is critical. I'm pretty sure my students think I'm an idiot."
As I spoke, I opened the tin of cookies and set it on the table. "Help yourselves. I've brought the dessert."
I took the lead and bit into one of the cookies, trying not to moan with delight. I'd baked Kinder chocolate cookies, which, in my eyes, are the closest you can get to heaven on earth. I wouldn't be surprised to learn they've been banned in some place or other.
"Flavie, you're the best!" Vic exclaimed.
"Great!" Cécile said. "I'm starving."
"So," Bérénice asked in a soft voice while munching on a cookie, "what did your students do this time?"
"They handed in the homework I assigned," I said, my mouth full.
"So far, so good," Bérénice responded.
"I skimmed through it before coming over here, just to get an idea of what to expect. Guess what?"
"They cheated?" Vic guessed.
"And the winner is ..." I said with a flourish. "They copied the Wikipedia page. Did they seriously think if they added a couple of spelling mistakes I wouldn't notice?"
"All of them?" Bérénice asked, shocked.
"No, but at least three. And you know what annoys me most?"
"I'm guessing we're about to find out," Vic said with a smile.
"Among the three, there's a very smart girl who is perfectly capable of handing in excellent homework! She doesn't need to cheat. The other two are full of big ideas, and they are more of a challenge. But I don't know. I kinda feel like a failure, since I didn't succeed in teaching them the values they're going to need in life."
"Wow, hold your horses, there!" Cécile interjected. "Don't you think you're being a bit hard on yourself? There have always been cheaters. It doesn't mean you're not a good teacher ... This one isn't on you."
I sighed again. "I don't know, Cess. Sometimes I wonder whether I make a real difference. I feel like I'm not helping them."
"Don't let it get to you, though." Vic was always the most pragmatic of us all. "You can't save the world, you can only teach history and geography. Don't tie yourself into knots. Here, have another cookie." She slid the tin toward me. "Everything looks better with a little sugar in your system."
"Vic's right. Not just about the sugar," Bérénice added with a smile as I selected the largest cookie. Sugar was a way of life for Bérénice. Her cookies, pastries, and cupcakes were the best for miles around. She had her own pastry shop, Les Délices de Bérénice. "You shouldn't take it to heart. You're doing your best, and that's what matters."
"My best isn't enough, unfortunately."
"You're not a social worker. It's not your job to save them." Cécile was emphatic. "Leave the superheroing to people who get paid for it. When I show someone a house, I don't tell them how they should decorate. That's not part of my job."
When she wasn't knitting (for herself, for us, or for the homeless), Cécile was a real estate agent, and had been for years. Some people help you find your soul mate, she liked to say, I help you find a home. She'd been the one to find the location for Le Fil d'Ariane and Les Délices de Bérénice, as well as my own house. I'd been a fresh-faced graduate when I'd come to Karouac a few years ago, ready to save the world one student at a time, and Cécile had helped me buy the lovely little cottage I lived in today.
"My job," she continued, "is to help people find the home of their dreams. What they do with it is not my concern. Being a teacher is the same. Your role is to give your students the keys to understanding the world so they can make their own decisions. You can't decide for them and solve all their problems."
I wanted to tell Cécile that she might be right — a common occurrence — but it still bothered me that my kids would prefer to waste their brain cells copying from the internet rather than think for themselves. I viewed it as a personal failure.
The doorbell interrupted me, however, and Angélique's entrance meant the conversation would go in another direction, which suited me just fine. For once, I didn't entirely agree with my friends on how far I should be involved in my students' lives, but I was too exhausted to think about it anymore. For now, at least.
The rest of the conversation would have to wait for my brain to reboot.
"Hi, everyone, sorry I'm late!" Angélique apologized as she rushed in.
Angélique was the only member of the circle to be officially "off the market." She had an adorable son, Olivier, whom she occasionally brought with her so we could coo at him with all our might, something we had no trouble doing.
"Hey, Angel." I smiled warmly at her. "What's up? No baby today?"
She sat down and took out her own knitting. "His father's looking after him. How 'bout you? Oh, cookies. Did you make them, Flavie?" I nodded, and she helped herself to one. "You're fabulous, and they are delicious! You really need to give me the recipe. And Bérénice too. You might want to start selling fancy cookies," she added, turning to Bérénice.
"I've been thinking the same thing!" Bérénice answered.
"Angel, you can't even manage pasta," Cécile reminded her, unable to resist teasing Angélique. "Forget about the cookies."
"I wouldn't bake them — Hervé would!"
"I'd been wondering ..."
"I gave up cooking a long time ago. To be honest, my husband is so sexy working in the kitchen, I don't try very hard. I'd much rather sit with a glass of wine and watch him."
"Never underestimate the appeal of a man with an apron and flour on his hands," Vic intoned solemnly.
"Amen!" Cécile bit into another cookie and turned toward me with an excited expression on her face. "Speaking of men and appeal ... Flavie, I've been dying to hear the rest of your book. Are Liam and Clarissa together now? Did they speak to each other? Did he tell her who the blonde girl from the other night was? Did they sleep together? Because it's all well and good, but there are priorities in life!"
Liam and Clarissa were the two main characters of the novel I was working on — and the cause for the bags under my eyes.
Bérénice joined in. "Me too. I've been thinking about them all week!"
"Well ... They talked to each other."
I summarized the latest events, fresh from that morning. They gave me feedback, talking over each other. I loved the moments when we talked about my characters. It was as though they came alive outside my mind and my computer. We talked about them as though they were real people — and most of the time, I almost expected them to step into the shop and take part in the conversation.
"Which is why I've been running on so little sleep," I concluded. "Liam kept me awake all night ..."
"What happens next? Is it the end?"
"No, I have a lot more planned."
For the next two hours, we switched subjects several times, as we always did, from my novels to our knitting projects, to men, cookies, the latest books we'd read, laughing all the time. We didn't talk about my students again.
Like every Tuesday, time flew by, and after the meeting, we went out for crêpes at one of our favorite haunts. The crêpes were delicious. The owner had a really cute smile and he liked us; he almost always gave us a treat on the house. Who could resist a man like that? Not us, that was for sure, and we almost always stopped by after our meetings.
The sun had set by the time we all left, and I decided to walk home by the beach. Over the five years I'd spent in Karouac, I'd grown to love the seaside. Hidden at the very top of the Pink Granite Coast, Karouac was my own little slice of sand and sea. I'd formed a lot of memories here. The beach was always overcrowded in summer but nearly empty the rest of the year, and I would walk long hours, barefoot, just to feel the sand between my toes, the wind on my face, the salty taste of the sea on my lips and tongue. It was during one of those walks that I had found what would become my favorite spot, a tiny, isolated creek accessible only at low tide. I liked to walk there, to sit and write, or just think about my characters while listening to the sea. It was soothing. Quiet and soothing. The pier, a long arm going into the sea, was another spot where I liked to spend time, sitting on a bench with a travel mug of tea and either my notebook or my knitting, and watch the sun set, seagulls screaming over my head.
Until I graduated from high school, I'd lived all my life in Lannion, which is situated a few kilometers from here; but Karouac, with its five thousand inhabitants, its rural charm and its flower gardens, stole my heart. After five years, I couldn't imagine living elsewhere. It was home.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, I opened the gate to my garden and stopped for a few moments, as I always did, to admire my home in the dusk, pride welling up in my heart.
I'd fallen in love at first sight with the adorable cottage. It was built of gray stone, with blue shutters, and it was a few hundred yards from the beach. Locals called it the principal's house. For a long time, it had belonged to the elementary school close by, and housed the principal. When the school was closed in favor of a newer, safer one, the house had been sold, but the name had remained.
I hadn't planned on buying a house when I'd moved to Karouac. But I'd fallen so deeply in love with the cottage that I couldn't imagine someone else owning it. So I'd gone to the bank and managed to convince the officials of my ability to cover the mortgage. A few weeks later, Cécile handed me the keys, and I moved in.
I still congratulated myself on the decision every day. I loved the cottage, and I really think it loved me too.
On my way in, I absentmindedly picked up the mail. There were a few envelopes, advertisements, nothing out of the ordinary. I left them on the table next to my computer and headed into the kitchen to brew some tea. I was half asleep, but I still wanted to write a few paragraphs, just to finish the current chapter.
Holding a steaming cup of tea, I switched on my computer. While it hummed and came alive, I scanned the mail. Bill, bill, bill. Advertisement. I was about to set everything down when I caught sight of a yellowed envelope addressed to an Amélie Lacombe. There was a post office label stuck to it:
We apologize for the late delivery.
That was it. No other explanation.
I frowned. Amélie Lacombe ... As far as I knew, the house had been empty for years before I bought it. I couldn't remember the name of the previous occupants, but I didn't think it was Lacombe.
Excerpted from Stolen Time by Chloé Duval, Domitille Vimal du Monteil. Copyright © 2016 Bragelonne. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When a letter lost in the post for decades is delivered to a middle-school teacher / author in a small French village, the questions become overwhelming. Addresseed to Amalie, and signed only with an E, Flavie is determined to ferret out the who, the why and perhaps where of the two lovers lost in the vagaries of La Poste. With a premise liket that, anyone who loves romance, history and a little mystery would be hooked (I was) and when you add in the French setting, you can’t look away. But this is far less about Flavie’s attempts to find E and Amalie, and bring about their reunion: it is a story of Flavie’s discovery of love for herself, her coming to understand the actual power of a love everlasting, and the fires that burn in an attraction. Flavie is a quiet soul, appreciating history and the ‘settled’ while understanding that half of the fun in the search is the discoveries one makes along the way. I loved her character: quietly resolved to finding answers to her many questions, her interactions with friends and people around her were lovely and added depth to the story that presented her as someone who dreamed of connections like the one she found in the letter, but isn’t certain she will find it. And then she meets Romeric, with a bit of a whirlwind romance in the present time, and she sees some of the connections that she had built with Amelie through E’s letter coming to her own life. While their romance felt a bit pushed and perhaps more a function of wishful thinking and chemical reactions, it was sweet to see Flavie find the sort of memorable moments that she imagined from reading the letter. While far less time was spent on the letter, and more about Flavie’s journey, the story keeps calling out for you to read on: hoping to find an answer for Amelie and E, wishing that they did eventually find one another. One of those books that is hard to put into words: evocative, transporting and above all engaging, it is a wonderful escape into a gentle love, or two, that resonate through the ages with one simple lost letter. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I loved this book. What an incredible author and story teller. I have read both books and I'm going to anxiously wait for many more. written in french....I hated when both if her books ended....please keep writing.