Based on the fascinating true story of a treasure-stocked Parisian apartment opened for the first time in seventy years.
April Vogt, Sotheby's continental furniture specialist, is speechless when a Paris apartment shuttered for seventy years is discovered in the ninth arrondissement. Beneath the cobwebs and stale perfumed air is a goldmine, and not because of the actual gold (or painted ostrich eggs or mounted rhinoceros horns or bronze bathtub). First, there's a portrait by one of the masters of the Belle Epoque, Giovanni Boldini. And then there are letters and journals written by the very woman in the painting, Marthe de Florian. These documents reveal that she was more than a renowned courtesan with enviable decolletage. Suddenly April's quest is no longer about the bureaux plats and Louis-style armchairs that will fetch millions at auction. It's about discovering the story behind this charismatic woman.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Read an Excerpt
She only wanted to get out of town.
When her boss sidled up and said the words “apartment,” “ninth arrondissement,” and “a ton of nineteenth-century crap,” April instantly thought: vacation. There would be work involved, but no matter, she was going to Paris. As every writer, poet, painter, and, yes, furniture assessor knew, it was the perfect place for escape.
The Paris team was already there. Olivier was in charge. April pictured him right then winding through the apartment, tablet in hand, scratching out notes with bony, crooked fingers. He’d called in reinforcements from New York because they needed another appraiser, specifically a furniture expert, to bolster their shoddy credentials in that area. According to April’s boss the seven-room apartment held “enough pieces to outfit twelve upmarket bordellos.” Peter’s expectations were low. April’s were high, but for a different reason. In the end they were both wrong.
While her husband tightened his bow tie and straightened both sleeves, tucking and pulling to make his appearance ever more immaculate, April packed for her redeye to Charles de Gaulle. She was normally an efficient and well-honed traveler, but the thirty-day trip was screwing with her luggage ratios. April was never gone more than a week but, apparently, sometime in the two hours between “ton of crap” and before the issuance of a plane ticket, someone must’ve tipped Peter off that this was not your average find. Stay as long as you need, he said. We can extend the ticket.
April would remind him of this later.
“What’s the problem?” Troy asked, noticing his wife’s pinched forehead. He yanked his shirt straight.
“Packing. I’m not sure I have enough. Thirty days. In Paris. In June. Which means the temperature can shift sixty degrees in any given twenty-four-hour period. As they say, you don’t go to Paris for the weather.”
April looked up, eyes zeroing in on Troy’s left cuff link as it caught the light from the overhead chandelier. It was an irrepressible habit, “assessing” things, and April had to stop her brain from calculating how much that speck of onyx and platinum might go for at auction. It wasn’t that she longed for her husband’s sudden demise; not as a matter of course, anyway, and never as a means to obtain wealth. Rather, her mental appraisals were a by-product of working for the world’s largest auction house.
“What’s with the glare?” Troy asked, chuckling slightly. “Wrong links for this get-up?”
“No. They’re great. Perfect.”
April looked away, relieved she did not specialize in trinkets passed down from grouchy wrinkled coots and therefore lacked the education to size up her husband’s accoutrements. She did, however, have a hard-won de facto master’s degree when it came to assessing Troy Vogt. That alone told April the cuff links, the ones her husband earmarked for specific work events, were inestimable, at least to him. What it said about who might be in attendance April did not want to consider.
“I’m overwhelmed.” April shook her head, staring at her suitcase but not speaking strictly of sweaters and scarves.
“Pack light,” Troy said. “You can always buy more once you’re there. It is Paris, you know.”
April smiled. “That’s your answer to everything, isn’t it? Buy more.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” Troy said with a wink as he moved toward the full-length mirror, gently patting April’s backside as he squeezed past. “You are a rare wife indeed.”
A rare “wife.” The word startled April but shouldn’t have. It had a new meaning now. Wife. Wife.
“Not that anyone’s keeping track,” Troy went on, “except for all of Wall Street, but my ‘buy more’ philosophy is why the recession was the best thing to happen to my firm and our investors.”
“What a charming attitude,” April said, trying to joke. There’d been painfully little humor in their home of late. The whole thing felt creaky, rusted out. “Who doesn’t love the perspective of a smug Wall Street guy to really drive the point home?”
Troy laughed and slipped on his tuxedo jacket. He continued staring into the mirror, chortling to himself, as April sneaked one last pair of ballet flats into her hard-backed suitcase.
“Well, speaking of smug Wall Street guys,” Troy said with manufactured cheer, “it seems you lucked out once again.”
“Lucked out?” April steadied herself against the chest of drawers (George III, mahogany bow-fronted, circa 1790) as she eyed her suitcase, sizing up its potential weight. “In what way?”
It didn’t look that heavy.
April inhaled. Forever imagining her shoulders wide and strong like an Olympic swimmer’s instead of the slight, refined ones she really possessed, April heaved the bulging suitcase off the bed. It promptly thumped onto the floor, one-half centimeter away from shattering the bones in her left foot.
“Lucked out in avoiding another packing injury, for one,” Troy said. “You realize that thing is bigger than you are, right? Sweetheart, you already have the fortuitous plane ticket. You don’t need to break your foot to avoid going to one of my miserable work events.”
“Oh, they’re not that bad.” April wiped her brow, then tilted the suitcase on its side.
“‘Not that bad’? They’re awful and you know it. The other wives will be downright envious.”
The other wives. And what of them, April wondered? What did they think when they pictured Troy? When they pictured her?
“You are my lucky girl,” Troy went on. “Paris will save you. It will save you from yet another dreary evening in a roomful of capitalist drones.”
“Oh, yes, those wretched capitalists.” April rolled her eyes and continued in a poorly played British accent. “Sooo fortunate to avoid that ilk. Their vulgar obsession with monetary gain! They’ve no class a’tall.”
April hoped she’d adequately blanketed the sadness with her lame attempts at humor. She did feel fortunate. However, it was not because she got to bypass a swanky work event and tête-à-têtes with the brightest (and most insufferable) on Wall Street.
No, April could hang with the best of them, despite not knowing what happened in Asian markets that morning. She could even tolerate the scene’s newest trophy wife, who would inevitably overindulge in the champagne and spend half the night marveling at April’s various graduate degrees, ultimately screeching to those within booze-spilling range, “Troy’s wife majored in furniture!”
But April couldn’t remember the last time her PhD in Art History was mistaken for showroom salesmanship. Troy almost never asked her along these days. He was forever “just popping by” events that were “no-spouses” or otherwise “too boring” for April to attend. That was the problem. Troy called her lucky, he called her saved, but April couldn’t very well feel grateful to avoid a situation she’d never been expected to attend. Or worse, one where her company wasn’t even desired.
Troy stopped bringing her when things between them had been relatively good. Now, who knew? Was she even supposed to go? In the end April did feel “lucky” and “saved” because with a ticket to Paris in hand, she didn’t have to contemplate that night’s noninvitation. She did not have to wonder if it was by design.
“The accent needs work,” Troy said as he moved to her side.
“For the record”—April batted away Troy’s arm as he tried to help with the luggage—“I enjoy your events. The people are interesting. The conversation lively.”
He turned back toward the mirror and gave himself a smoldering stare. April never knew if Troy did this because he suspected she was looking or because he thought she wasn’t.
“What’s so important that you need to ship out tonight anyway?” he asked, the forced casualness in his voice indicative of a certain level of suspicion.
“You know how these things go.” April wondered if he’d cop to his own wariness. “Furniture emergencies. Have to get in there before the competition catches wind of the sale.”
“But you’re not usually gone more than a week, ten days max, and never with so little notice. It’s somewhat disconcerting to get an ‘I have to go out of town’ text and then come home to find one’s wife packing for a month.”
Is it? April wanted to say. Are you really all that bothered?
Under normal circumstances she might joke about him being the lucky one now, wife out of town and all that. But the figurative cuts and bruises were too fresh, their long-term prognosis unclear.
“I was surprised by the urgency, too,” April said. And she was surprised, but also grateful. “According to the guys in Paris, it’s a remarkable find. A woman died in the South of France but had an apartment in Pigalle that’s been in the family for over a century. They never owned the apartment, but leased it for a hundred years.”
As she spoke, her shoulders began to loosen, her jaw started to unclench. This was a place April still knew how to navigate.
“The woman,” she said, “the deceased, hadn’t been inside since 1940. No one has. I keep thinking the information must be wrong. Maybe the actual dates were lost in translation and it’s only been shuttered since an ugly divorce sometime in the late nineties.”
April felt herself cringe at the word “divorce” but it was too late. The word was already out. And she’d been so careful to avoid it.
“Seventy years!” she chirped, her voice climbing toward the thirteen-foot ceilings. “Unimaginable!”
“I don’t know,” Troy said and shrugged, betraying nothing with his stern, stone face. “Same thing probably happens in Manhattan all the time. Places stay locked up while estate lawyers and trusts cut automatic checks each month, no one bothering to question a thing.”
“Not if it was anything like this apartment. Evidently it’s crammed to the ceiling with furniture and paintings and basically every item that came into the family’s possession prior to World War II.”
“Olivier seems to believe so, or I wouldn’t be going. If nothing else, it’s all fresh to market. Not even the Germans got in there.” April shook her head in amazement. “You’d think at least one errant, gambling-addicted, drugged-up family member would have wanted to get his hands on the stuff somewhere along the way.”
“Unless it’s shit.” Troy picked up his phone and tapped out a message. His formerly smooth brow bunched up. “A Parisian hoarder,” he continued, though he was now most of the way checked out of their conversation.
“Ah, hon, I’m just kidding,” he said, always quick with the necessary retraction, like a reflex. “It sounds very cool. Really.”
The sigh? She hadn’t meant it like that.
“Yes. Cool.” April waved her hand around as if clearing the air. The gesture was haphazard but enough to pull Troy temporarily from his phone.
“Your rings,” he said, staring at her hand and frowning slightly. “They’re in the safe?”
April nodded and looked down at her bare finger. No one wore their good jewelry in Europe, right? This wasn’t about their marriage, it was about her job. Biting her lip, April blinked away the sudden sting in her eyes.
“Troy, listen—” April started, but he was already back to punching at his phone.
Suddenly April’s own phone rang. The car was downstairs. She looked over at her handsome husband and around at their handsome home and thought how happy she had been. For a time her life was bright and shining. Her apartment held everything she always wanted. Seventy years? She’d hoped to stay longer. Forever.
“I’ll miss you,” Troy said, appearing at April’s side as she tucked her phone into the leather tote she’d packed for the plane.
As he wrapped her in a hug, his perfectly masculine Troy scent filling every pocket of air around them, April tried to take him in. She tried not to contemplate when or if she’d have this five-senses feel of him again.
Troy gently kissed the top of her head.
“I don’t want you to leave,” he said, sighing loudly. “Maybe you can wait. A few days?”
He sounded so sincere.
“Oh, don’t worry,” April said and pulled away. “I’ll be back soon.”
Copyright © 2014 by Michelle Gable