In the latest in this New York Times bestselling series, San Francisco book-restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright investigates a mysterious spy novel linked to a string of murders...
Newlyweds Brooklyn and Derek are enjoying the final days of their honeymoon in Paris. As they're browsing the book stalls along the Seine, Brooklyn finds the perfect gift for Derek, a first edition James Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me. When they bump into Ned, an old friend from Derek’s spy days, Brooklyn shows him her latest treasure.
Once they're back home in San Francisco, they visit a spy shop Ned mentioned. The owner begs them to let him display the book Brooklyn found in Paris as part of the shop's first anniversary celebration. Before they agree, Derek makes sure the security is up to snuff—turns out, the unassuming book is worth a great deal more than sentimental value.
Soon after, Derek is dismayed when he receives a mysterious letter from Paris announcing Ned’s death. Then late one night, someone is killed inside the spy shop. Are the murders connected to Brooklyn's rare, pricey book? Is there something even more sinister afoot? Brooklyn and the spy who loves her will have to delve into the darkest parts of Derek's past to unmask an enemy who's been waiting for the chance to destroy everything they hold dear.
About the Author
Kate Carlisle is the New York Times bestselling author of the Bibliophile Mysteries, including Buried in Books and Once Upon a Spine, as well as the Fixer-Upper Mysteries, including A Wrench in the Works and Eaves of Destruction.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2018 Kate Carlisle
It was our last day in Paris.
My husband (and yes, I was really loving that word—a lot) Derek and I had breakfast on the private terrace of the hotel suite, enjoying the spectacular view of the city that was spread out before us. Nearby, the tall, thin spire of the American Cathedral speared up into the sky like a javelin. The immense Eiffel Tower loomed impressively in the distance. There was a smattering of fluffy white clouds dotting the blue sky and the early morning sunshine reflected brightly off the windows of the surrounding buildings. The air was still cool but I could already feel it beginning to warm up. Lovely Paris was pulling out all the stops for our last day.
Derek watched me grab a thin slice of delectable Iberico ham from the small plate of charcuterie and I couldn’t help but smile. Not because of the ham, which was utterly delicious and melted in my mouth, but because it had been three weeks since our wedding and I still felt a tingle up my spine whenever I saw his stunning face and thought about those three little words: my husband Derek.
I shook my head. Honestly, on any normal day I wouldn’t be so consumed by such sappy, besotted thoughts. But who could blame me? He’s so gorgeous, I thought. With those dark blue eyes, so intense, so intelligent. And his mouth, whew. His lips could twist into a sensual, roguish smile when least expected. He was tall, dark, and dangerous, and he was all mine.
Maybe I was suffering from some kind of honeymoon fever, because lately, with just the right look or tilt of his head, Derek could render me light-headed and woozy.
Who was I kidding? I’d been ridiculously smitten from the very first time we met. And oddly enough, according to Derek, the feeling was entirely mutual.
That first time had occurred about two years ago during a fancy charity gala at the Covington Library. It was the night my mentor was found—by me—dying in a pool of his own blood. Murdered. Derek had been in charge of a security detail guarding the priceless books and antiquities on display. I had seen him stalking the crowded floor, studying faces, observing body language, watching reactions, looking completely isolated despite the crowd. He was lean and muscular in a gazillion-dollar charcoal suit; his eyes were darkly compelling as he scanned the room. And when our gazes met, he frowned at me. Frowned! It was annoying, to say the least.
Days later, though, he had explained his reaction by saying that I had taken him by surprise.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I’d asked, still a little put out.
He had shaken his head, then grabbed hold of my arms and kissed me. “That’s what it means,” he had murmured.
I exhaled slowly at the memory of that first kiss and, still a little dizzy, reached for a slim slice of buttery Brie and a chunk of fresh baguette. Gazing around the terrace, enjoying the sight of dozens of cascading purple orchids trailing over the wrought iron railings, I sighed. Honeymoon fever or not, the man could still turn my insides to jelly.
Derek touched my arm. “What shall we do today?” With a grin, he added, “As if I didn’t know.”
“I’m so predictable,” I said, smiling self-consciously. “But yes, I’d really like to visit the Bouquinistes one more time. I have a feeling that there’s a fabulous old book just waiting for me to pluck it out of obscurity and make it my own.”
The Bouquinistes were the bookstalls that lined both sides of the Seine River for several miles. And when your life revolved around old books as mine did, those bookstalls were like a siren song. I had to pay them one last visit before I left Paris.
My name is Brooklyn Wainwright and I’m a bookbinder specializing in rare book restoration. I considered the bookstalls my own version of panning for gold.
“I’m in the mood to do some browsing, as well,” Derek said, his normally clipped British accent sounding sexy and mellow in the morning sunlight. “Perhaps I can find more of those tacky souvenirs you discovered. I’d like to bring some back to the office.”
“Ooh, good idea. I’ll need more of those, too.” As if I hadn’t already collected a few dozen, I thought.
He took a last sip of his café au lait. “We can walk along the river, hold hands, and watch the world go by. We don’t have to be anywhere until dinnertime.”
“That sounds wonderful.” I reached my arms out in a big, lazy stretch, then relaxed and smiled at the man sitting across the breakfast table from me. “I love my life. And I love you.”
“And I love you, too.” He leaned over and kissed me, then ran his fingers along my cheek. “I see you also loved your French toast.”
“It was delicious.” I popped the last bit of Brie and baguette into my mouth, then rubbed my full stomach and frowned at all the empty plates on the table. “I can’t believe we ate so much. But this was my last chance to try the French toast. I’ve been craving it for weeks, but I never saw it on a menu until, well, you know.”
I’d had to learn the hard way that the French referred to French toast as something entirely different. Derek had taken pity on me yesterday morning and revealed the secret French code.
“They call it pain perdu,” he had said. “Or ‘lost toast,’ because it’s made with very dry bread.”
It was mortifying to have made that typically American mistake. After all, I had visited Paris at least four times before this and naturally thought I knew everything. One of those visits had been to see my sister Savannah, who had been studying at the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school. With a fancy chef in the family, you would’ve thought I would know what pain perdu was.
But no. I sighed again. You learn something new every day, as my father always said.
We strolled down Avenue George V to the Pont de l’Alma, stopped to marvel at the Flame of Liberty monument and check out the lingering tributes to Princess Diana—who was killed in that very tunnel under the bridge—and then crossed over the Seine to the Left Bank. Staring down at the water, watching the tourist-filled Batobus cruise near the shore, I was surprised at how cold the river looked and how fast the current traveled.
The sudden chill had me rubbing my arms briskly. Despite the sunny skies, the air was cooler and breezier here by the river and I snuggled up close to Derek for warmth. He didn’t mind, and wrapped his arm around me. We walked a little more quickly until we’d made it to the other side.
We ambled along for another mile, maybe two, gazing at shop windows and chatting easily about everything we had seen and done over the past three weeks. We had originally planned to spend only two weeks away, but as friends and family learned of our honeymoon destination, we began receiving requests to run an errand here, or pick up or deliver an item there, or look up someone of importance elsewhere. One or two requests turned into four or five. But only if we had time, everyone insisted, or only if we were in the area. No big deal. Except several of the requests turned out to be quite a big deal. So we extended the trip for a week. I couldn’t say that I minded very much.
Walking along the river, we gazed at the expansive grassy park that led up to the imposing Hôtel des Invalides, where Napoleon was entombed in stately splendor under the grand Dôme des Invalides. I had been inside on a previous trip and had to admit that it was the most spectacular setting for a tomb I’d ever seen. Set on a green granite pedestal and placed on a mosaic tile floor that illustrated the main battles of the Empire, the highly polished red stone sarcophagus was surrounded by marble columns, statuary, and bas-relief sculptures that told the story of his many achievements. Years ago, one of my tour guides had called it “a simple soldier’s tomb.” They couldn’t have been more wrong.
On the next block we passed the stately Palais Bourbon, constructed for one of Louis XIV’s daughters and now the home of the National Assembly; and then the Musee d’Orsay, an old train station transformed into a popular art museum. On the opposite side of the river were the pretty trees of the Jardin des Tuileries, which led up to the impressive and historic buildings of the Louvre.
“If you’d like, we can stop for a light lunch at Cocorico.” Derek pointed toward the next street. “They’re right around the corner.”
“I’d love to.” I had fallen for the quirky little bistro the other day. Their onion soup was positively addictive.
Finally we came to the place on the Quai Voltaire where the Bouquinistes, or bookstalls, began. The tingle I felt was the same one I experienced whenever I got up close and personal with old books and the people who loved them.
“You know I’m going to look at everything,” I confessed to Derek.
“Of course you are,” he said lightly. “I’ll move along at a faster pace, but I’ll wait for you at the next corner.”
“Is that Rue Bonaparte?” I asked, taking a quick glance at my foldout street map.
“Yes.” He ran his hand across the back of my neck and kissed me. “Take your time.”
Watching him walk away, tall and lean and confident, I let out a jagged breath. The man was compelling, no doubt about it.
Each of the bookstalls—as well as their owners—had their own personality and style. Some of them specialized in older classics with worn leather covers, their gilded titles fading but still readable. Other stalls were dedicated to paperbacks, many of them pulp fiction and noir mysteries with fabulously garish covers. Some owners sold wonderful posters that they clipped to their roofs and allowed to blow in the breeze. These mainly featured those familiar art deco French ad campaigns hocking everything from milk to gin, but there were also lots of stock studio photographs of famous movie stars. Marilyn Monroe was still especially popular.
The bookstalls were uniformly dark green in color and were highly regulated in terms of size, shape, hours of operation, and occasionally, content. Some historians claimed that they had been in existence since the seventeenth century and some of the stalls—and the merchandise—appeared to be about that old. When the simple green boxes were closed up at night and chained to the stone walls that overlooked the river, they looked almost coffin-like.
But for now, the bookstalls were very much alive and open for business. The avenue was crowded with cars, and the traffic noises mixed with the pedestrians’ shouts and murmurs in French. The sounds made me smile with fondness. I loved this city. And I absolutely adored the Bouquinistes. After all, books are my life. My name is Brooklyn Wainwright—um, Stone. Brooklyn Wainwright Stone—and I’m a bookbinder specializing in rare book restoration.
I stopped at the very first bookstall and began to browse through the rows and rows of books on every subject known to man. I glanced up and noticed Derek moving down the sidewalk. He turned and I waved, knowing I would catch up eventually.
I was captivated by the collection of classic mysteries on display in the second stall. Most were written in French, but I still checked every title, hoping to be inspired, hoping to find just the right little treasure to take home with me. Every so often I would pull a book out from the stack to examine the cover and see what sort of condition it was in. These were mostly used paperbacks, but each had been carefully wrapped in plastic, so their condition remained fairly decent. There was also the occasional hardcover and I examined those even more closely.
The bookseller approached after having allowed me to peruse on my own for a while. “Bonjour, madame.”
“Bonjour, madame,” I replied in kind, and took a quick look at her. She was probably fifty, wore a thin white sweater over black pants with little black flats. Her dark hair was short and straight. To me, she was quintessentially French.
“Ah,” she said. “You are American.”
I gave her a rueful grin. “Oui, madame.” Even the best French accent couldn’t fool a French person, and mine was so far from being the best as to be laughable. Or as the French would say, ridicule.
She gazed at the row of books I was going through. “You like the detective stories,” she said in her thick accent.
“Yes.” I liked them as much as the next person, I supposed. The fact that they were simply books had been enough to snag my attention. But to be honest, the long row of Agatha Christies had definitely perked me up.
“I don’t know quite what I’m looking for,” I explained lamely, “but I’ll know it when I see it.”
“Ah.” She nodded in understanding and brought a little stepstool out from under the stall. “You will stand on this. You can see the books more easily from above.”
I was touched by her thoughtfulness. “Merci.”
She waved her hand at the books. “Please enjoy your search.”
The stalls were high enough that the stepstool did make it much easier to look down and see the titles. I started on the next row and was intrigued to find several James Bond books written in French. I picked one up.
“Vivre et Laisser Mourir,” I murmured. I had a feeling I knew what it meant, but just to be sure, I pulled out my cell phone to use my translator app.
“Live and Let Die,” I said, delighted. “Cool.”
The book next to that one was Casino Royale. No translation necessary, although the French version spelled it Royal, minus the e on the end.
I glanced around to see how far Derek had wandered. Much like the fictional James Bond, Derek had been a commander in the Royal Navy and had gone on to work for British military intelligence before opening his own security company. Also like James Bond, Derek was dashing, sexy, brave, and daring. One of these books would make a perfect, slightly silly, gift to give him as a memento of our time in Paris.
But which one? I continued to skim through the books, trying to figure out which title would be best. I leaned farther over to catch a glimpse of the books stacked near the back of the stall. There were hardcovers back there and it was always exciting to discover a hardcover gem.
And that was when I saw it. I reached out, lifted the book gingerly, and stared at it. I had to admit I was shaking with excitement. “It’s too perfect.”
The book was a hardcover English edition of The Spy Who Loved Me. Many years ago, I had stolen my brother’s cache of Bond books and read them all. Since I was only about twelve years old at the time, I probably missed some of the nuances, but I distinctly remembered that this one had been one of my favorites. I vaguely recalled that it had been different from the others because it was told partly from the woman’s point of view. I would have to look that up, though, because I couldn’t be sure if I was recalling it correctly.
If nothing else, the title of the book made it the perfect choice for Derek. But as I examined the book, I was pleased that its dust jacket was still intact, although there was one small tear along the fold. The cover showed a red carnation and the book title written cryptically on a burned note with a stiletto stuck in it. The book itself was a bit cattywampus due to a weakened inner front hinge, a common problem in beloved, well-read books where the front cover had been opened and closed often enough to separate it from the spine. It would be easy enough to fix.
I opened the book to check out the title page. Published in 1962. I wondered briefly if it was a first edition. Probably not. The price, written in pencil on the flyleaf, was only seven euros.
Still, I was thrilled that I’d found it. I stepped down off the stool and found the woman who ran the stall. I smiled and held it up to her. “Perfect,” I said. “Parfait.”
“Très bon!” She clapped a few times, sharing my happiness. “It is a good find.”
“Oui. Yes, it is.” I handed her a five-euro note along with a heavy coin worth two euros. She slipped the book into a small white paper bag and thanked me.
“Merci, madame,” I said. “Au revoir.”
“Merci. Au revoir,” she said cheerfully.
I spotted Derek almost three blocks farther down the Quai. He stood near another bookstall and I wondered if he had found his own little treasure as I had. I headed his way, but slowed down when I noticed that he was talking to another man. I didn’t recognize the man but I was pretty sure he wasn’t a bookseller. He sure didn’t look like it anyway. This man wore a snazzy tweed jacket and khakis and appeared almost as tall as Derek. He had bushy gray hair that he covered with a sporty driver’s cap. His wardrobe, body type, and gestures said “jolly old England” to me. The two men spoke to each other as though they were old friends. Derek patted him on the shoulder, said something, and the other man threw his head back and laughed.
Derek clearly knew him well. It had to be an old friend. Or at least a friendly acquaintance.
I was still two blocks away when I felt a shiver creep up my spine. I glanced around, trying to figure out where the vibe had come from, then stopped abruptly. Someone else on the street was staring at Derek and the other man. The stranger stood near the curb a block away, about halfway between me and the spot where Derek and his friend stood talking.
The guy wore an olive green hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled completely over his head so that it obscured the outline of his face. He was probably completely harmless, I thought, but he was staring so intently at the two men. It made me nervous.
I continued to make my way toward Derek, pretending to check out the books in the stalls as I went so I could keep a surreptitious eye on the hooded man. He stayed in the same spot, still staring at Derek and the other man. I began to question whether I was right about him. Maybe he was gazing at something on the other side of the river. But then Derek glanced my way and waved. The hooded man quickly bent down to tie his shoe, almost as though he didn’t want Derek to see him.
Definitely suspicious, I thought. But I was diverted when I noticed a small hardcover book resting against the back wall of the stall I was just passing. It caught my eye because of its unusual size and style. It was about the size of a small photo album with Chinese writing and characters brushed onto the cover. I reached for the book, opened it, and saw that it was written in French, but there were Chinese characters on each page. I thought it might be a book of medicinal herbs because there were pretty paintings of flowers and herbs on every page as well.
It was the Coptic binding that mainly appealed to me because I’d never seen anything like it in any of the bookstalls I’d visited. The Coptic binding style was named for the Copts, the early Christians living in Egypt who were known for binding books by knotting thread or twine on the outside of the spine. The technique allowed the book to lie flat and required no glue in its construction.
I had promised to bring something back from Paris for Inspector Janice Lee, SFPD homicide detective and my good friend. She was a beautiful Chinese-American woman with great hair, a fabulous wardrobe, and a no-nonsense attitude. But it was her mother who would really love this book, I thought, and that meant that Janice would love it, too. And thinking of Janice Lee, I was reminded of my wedding day.
“What would you like from Paris?” I’d asked Inspector Lee that afternoon. It was a short time after the wedding ceremony, and Derek and I were finally able to relax and enjoy our guests—along with a glass of champagne.
“Bring me something interesting,” she’d said.
Now as I gazed at the odd little French-Chinese book of herbs, I was pretty sure that this would qualify.
I held the book up for the clerk to see. “Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire?” I said, and repeated the question in English, just to cover my bases. “What does this mean?”
She gazed at the book cover and smiled. “Le Langage des Fleurs. How you say, Language of Fleurs?”
“Flowers,” I guessed.
We both grinned at our bumbling method of communication. Feeling emboldened, I stumbled through another question. “Il est écrit en français mais il y a aussi des caractères chinois?” Once again I repeated the same thing in English. “It is written in French, but there are Chinese characters as well?”
“Oui,” she exclaimed. “C’est un livre sur les herbes chinoises, mais bien sûr pour un lecteur français.”
“Ah.” If I was understanding her correctly, she’d said something like, “The book is about Chinese herbs, but of course it is written for a French reader.”
“I see,” I said. “I will take it.”
“Très bon! Quatorze euros.”
Fourteen euros? I frowned at her and glanced at the book. The cover was ready to fall off, and while the pages were fine linen, they were old and dirty. But was I really going to haggle in bad French? And did it matter how much it cost? No, it did not. I started to reach for my wallet.
But Madame had noticed my hesitation and immediately spoke up. “Douze euros.” She gave a short, brusque chop with her hand, as if to say, And that’s my final offer.
“Okay,” I said quickly. “I mean, oui. Merci.” I hadn’t expected her to lower the price, so I smiled broadly as I handed her a ten-euro note and a two-euro coin.
She pocketed the money, slid the book into a small plastic bag and handed it to me. “Merci, madame.”
“Très bien,” I said with a short nod. “Merci, madame.” Ridiculously pleased with my purchases, I glanced down the row of stalls to find Derek.
The man in the olive green hoodie was still standing on the curb, still staring in Derek’s direction.
Maybe he was waiting for the bus, or a ride, but I didn’t think so. He was staring too keenly at Derek and his friend and not giving the traffic a second thought. The hooded observer wore a pair of baggy denim jeans and white sneakers. He was average height, maybe an inch or two less than six feet tall, and slim.
Not sure exactly what to do, I stopped at the nearest bookstall and pretended to browse, but I was watching the hooded man’s every move. His shoulders were tense and his hands were fisted in his pockets. The guy was freaking me out. Maybe he was just hanging out on the sidewalk, minding his own business. Or maybe he was only gazing at the stately buildings on the other side of the Seine. The beautiful trees lining the river. Those silvery leaves shimmering in the breeze. Anyone could be mesmerized by all that beauty. But I didn’t think the hooded man was one of them.
I decided to ignore the man and concentrate on the views. Pulling my phone from my pocket, I took a few photos of the trees and the bridge over the river. And then I aimed the lens at the hooded man and snapped a few more shots, just in case Derek recognized the guy. Not that he would see his face, but it couldn’t hurt to capture the moment. And if the guy was harmless, I would have a silly story to tell when I showed off my photos of our honeymoon.
I continued walking toward Derek, and when I got within the hooded man’s line of sight, I didn’t make eye contact, but kept walking with a casual air, ruffling my hair and letting it be tossed by the breeze. And then, from the corner of my eye, I saw the guy turn and notice me—and quickly walk away.
Why? Did he know me? Did he know I was with Derek? Had he been watching us before? Now I was completely paranoid. I wanted to chase after him and insist that he tell me what he was doing. But that was crazy. Wasn’t it?
“Derek,” I called from a half block away, and waved.
“Darling,” he said jovially. As I approached, he added, “Come meet Ned Davies.”
I walked a little faster, pasted a smile on my face, and when I got close enough, extended my hand. “Hello, Ned.”
“So this is the girl who stole your heart,” Ned said, grinning as he gave me a hearty handshake.
“This is she,” Derek said.
“Aren’t you a lucky man?” he said fondly, gazing with interest from Derek to me. With a wink at me, he said, “This bloke here has the luck of the devil. He’s pretended to be my friend for years, but has actually been the bane of my existence.”
I gave Derek a quizzical look. “How’s that?”
Derek grinned as Ned clarified. “We had a weekly poker game going for years. And I couldn’t beat him. Not once. Bugger it. He’s a shark, I tell you.”
“He’s pretty good,” I admitted with a weak smile. I’d seen him play cards with my brothers. He might’ve been a shark, but he was a really good-looking shark.
“And now he’s managed to meet and marry this beauty.” Ned slapped his heart dramatically, causing Derek to laugh merrily.
I wasn’t quite ready to be merry, but I managed to keep smiling.
“In case it wasn’t clear,” Derek explained, “Ned and I used to work together.” But then he briskly changed the subject, asking, “Did you buy something special?”
“Oh.” I held up the bag. “Yes, wait till you see it. It’s kind of perfect.”
“Well, let’s have a look then,” Derek said.
“Um.” I flashed him an awkward smile. “Actually, it’s a gift. For you.”
“For me?” His voice softened and he smoothed his hand over my hair. “You got me something?”
“Well, now we must see it,” Ned said.
“Okay.” I glanced around, checking up and down the sidewalk. “By the way, did either of you see that guy in the green hoodie? He was standing about a block away and he kept staring at you. When I got close, he turned and hurried off in the opposite direction.”
Derek’s eyes narrowed and he shot Ned a cautionary look before both men scanned the street.
“Don’t see him,” Ned said with a casual shrug. But I noticed that his shoulders were rigid and his gaze had sharpened. Did he know the guy?
“Probably nothing,” I said quietly, but I frowned as I looked back at the spot where I’d last seen the hooded man. Shaking off the weird vibe, I handed Derek the little bag. “Anyway, here’s what I found.”
Derek took the bag and slid the book out.
“Well, now,” Ned said, and started to laugh. “Isn’t that interesting?”
Derek stared at the cover and chuckled as well. He glanced at me and sobered. “Darling Brooklyn, it’s perfect. But what made you buy this for me?”
“Well.” I was suddenly unsure of myself and began waving my hands as I spoke. “Because, you know. You worked at MI6 and you do all that security stuff. And you know the way Inspector Lee always calls you Commander.”
“I’m not exactly a spy, darling,” he said lightly.
“The rest could apply, though,” Ned said, still grinning.
“Thank you,” I said to Ned. I wasn’t about to start arguing with Derek in front of his friend, but come on, I wasn’t born yesterday. Derek had worked for Britain’s MI6 for ten years. Now his own company handled security for exceedingly wealthy clients and extremely valuable artwork. So maybe his job description at MI6 had been something other than “spy,” but he still qualified as an international man of mystery.
I lifted my shoulders and gave Derek a little smile. “I just thought it would make you happy.”
“It does, and so do you,” he murmured, and proved it by leaning in to give me a soft kiss. “I love it, and I love you.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Back at you.”
“Well, I know you two have big plans for the rest of the day.” Ned gave Derek a manly slap on the back. “It was marvelous running into you, Derek. And lovely to meet you, Brooklyn.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
“Next time you must tell me you’re coming,” he added. “I know Patsy would love to meet you. She’s an excellent cook and would insist on treating you to a home-cooked meal.”
“That sounds wonderful,” I said.
“Good to see you, Ned,” Derek said. “Take good care. And give me a call sometime. Let me know how you’re doing.”
“I will. And go see Owen.” Ned gripped Derek’s arm. “Tell him I send my best. Will you tell him that for me?”
“Of course,” Derek said.
The two men shook hands enthusiastically and then Ned took my hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze. He waved to us and walked away, up the Rue Bonaparte toward the Luxembourg Gardens.
Derek watched him go, then turned to me. “Well, are you ready for a bit of lunch? Or would you rather make our way back to the hotel?”
“After that huge breakfast, I think I’d like to save myself for dinner.”
He squeezed my hand. “Our last meal in Paris.”
“I hate to see it all end.” I glanced around. “But I guess I’m just about ready to go home.”
“I feel the same, love.” He tucked the book under his arm, held onto my hand, and we headed back to the hotel.
We had become used to dining later in the evening as the French do, but that night we took the earliest reservation we could get, knowing that we still had to finish packing and wake up early the next day to catch a plane. We arrived at the little bistro in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés just as they were opening the doors at seven o’clock, and our promptness was rewarded when they led us to a round corner table that allowed us to observe the entire room as waiters bustled by and the place slowly filled with other guests.
While we waited for the waiter to bring us the half bottle of champagne we’d ordered, I took the opportunity to tell Derek a little more about the hooded man. “I wasn’t sure he was watching you until you turned and looked his way and he instantly bent down to tie his shoe.”
“You have excellent instincts, darling,” Derek said. “That does sound suspicious.”
“Thank you.” I reached for my purse. “And I took some photos.”
The waiter arrived just then and poured us each a glass of champagne. When he walked away, Derek said, “In honor of our honeymoon, let’s put this mysterious man out of our minds and simply enjoy our last evening in Paris.”
“Good idea.” I put my purse away and we clinked our glasses, then took our first sips of the delectable golden liquid.
“Darling,” Derek said, after setting his glass down. “I found a little something for you while browsing the bookstalls.”
“You did? How? I thought you were talking to Ned the whole time.”
“Not quite,” he said. Smiling, he pulled a small wrapped package from his jacket pocket and set it on the table in front of me.
“What is this?” I asked, shocked that he had found a book for me.
“You’ll be surprised to learn it’s a book.”
I laughed. “Yes, I figured out that much.” I opened the package and found a darling little book with a pink-and-white slipcover. There was a brushed painting in pink of a stylish young lady from an earlier era. I had to open the book to find the title.
“Oh, it’s Gigi.” I was blown away with delight. I looked at Derek and beamed. “It’s so sweet. Thank you.”
“A small token to remind you of our time in France.”
“I’ll never forget our time in France,” I assured him, and gave him a kiss. Then we lifted our glasses once more and toasted to a wonderful honeymoon.
Although the food was fabulous, Allard was not a fancy Michelin-starred restaurant like some of the others we’d enjoyed on our trip. I didn’t care. It was obvious that diners came here to experience comfort, tradition, and a touch of romance, but not fireworks. The old-world bistro furnishings were subtle to the point of being demure: dark wood wainscoting, tiny-flowered wallpaper liberally dotted with eclectic, wood-framed artwork, red cloth banquettes, crisp white tablecloths. In one corner, a zinc-topped service bar held bottles of wine and glassware, ready to be dispatched to the tables.
I had always been open to trying new foods, but after three weeks in France, where food was revered like nowhere else on earth, I was frankly ready for a good old American burger and fries. Despite that, when I saw “tender ox cheek” on the menu, I knew I had to order it. It turned out to be a generous hunk of meat as large as my fist and truly so tender, it melted in my mouth.
Tastes like short ribs, I thought with relief. Our server brought it to the table in a mini-pot, drenched in its own dark, rich gravy and served with wonderful chunks of buttery carrots. Derek ordered the famous roasted Challans duck served with dozens of rich, slightly tart green Sicilian olives. The combination was incongruous to me, but it looked delicious.
We didn’t speak for several long minutes while we both stuffed ourselves with indescribably yummy tastes and textures.
We had started the meal by sharing two appetizers—escargot and a curly endive salad with huge chucks of lardons (bacon) and freshly made croutons—and a crisp white wine. With our entrées we had an excellent Saint-Émilion Grand Cru in honor of our quick visit to the charming village of Saint-Émilion the week before.
For my very last dessert in Paris, how could I not order the puffy profiteroles stuffed with vanilla ice cream, accompanied by a quart-size serving of warm, thick chocolate syrup? C’est impossible.
After dinner we strolled along the narrow Rue Saint-André des Arts and down to Rue de Buci to enjoy the lively crowds still dining at the many outdoor cafés and bistros that lined the pretty market street. Then we walked a few blocks up to the fashionable Boulevard Saint-Germain, window-shopping along the way, and finally reached the taxi stand, where we caught a cab back to the Hotel George V. Once we’d greeted the hotel doorman and the concierge, we crossed the lobby and took the elevator up to our suite.
I was looking forward to spending the rest of the evening in our rooms with their pale blue walls and softly lit coffered ceilings. There were beautiful antique furnishings and lovely paintings, and the bathroom was a luxurious marble palace. I had never felt more pampered in my life.
As soon as we walked into our room, Derek grabbed my arm and whispered, “Stay out here.”
“What is it?” But I didn’t hesitate to do exactly what he’d advised. I watched him bend over and pull a mean-looking pistol from a holster strapped to his calf.
Oh. My. God. I didn’t say it out loud. I couldn’t speak. I had no more breath left in me. I stood as still as a statue as he prowled across the living area. Then leaning against the doorjamb, he took a quick peek left and right and crept silently into the bedroom.
Several excruciatingly long moments later, he came back into the living room. Crossing the room, he wrapped his arms around me. “Everything is fine,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I frightened you.”
“That’s okay.” Frankly, I’d seen him carry a gun before. Through no fault of our own, we had the kind of lifestyle that demanded it once in a while. You know how sometimes you just might stumble across the occasional dead body? And then follow it up with your basic showdown with a vicious killer? Yeah, that was the lifestyle I was talking about.
“What made you think someone was in here?” I asked, leaning against him.
“I took precautions before we left for dinner,” he said cryptically.
“Okay.” I breathed in and exhaled slowly. “Well, maybe it was Housekeeping.”
“But no one is here now, right?”
“That’s right. But just to be certain, let’s check to make sure nothing is missing.”
“Good idea.” Since we were leaving in the morning, our suitcases were almost completely packed. Still, we searched the entire suite to make sure everything was just as we’d left it. I even emptied my suitcase, then repacked, just in case, and double-checked that the James Bond book, the Chinese herb book, and the pretty little copy of Gigi were securely tucked away.
And then I remembered one more thing.
“Oh no!” I ran to the closet safe, opened it, and was relieved to find my jewelry still locked inside. It wasn’t that I had anything particularly precious or rare, but there were a few sentimental pieces that I would’ve hated to lose. “It’s all here.”
“Good.” He nodded, then smiled tightly. “So it must’ve been a false alarm. Everything is fine.”
“Everything is fine,” I echoed quietly. But I recognized that edgy tone in his voice. And I knew that everything was definitely not fine.