Lily Johannson has returned to Paris, the city that broke her heart and destroyed her ballet career, with two goals in mind: to overcome the grief surrounding her fiancé's death, and to make amends with her estranged sister, Natalie, also a ballerina. But when Lily meets charming composer Yves Rousseau, he is convinced she has a third mission-as his muse . . .
Struggling to finish a score about an infamous Ballets Russes dancer from 1917, Yves believes Lily is meant to help him. Despite her resistance, she is swept once more into the exhilarating arms of the dance-and into Yves' passionate embrace. But when her sister is cast as the infamous dancer and begins to imitate her tragic life, she soon goes missing. Now Lily and Yves must set out to find her-and along the way face their own demons, while also discovering that art, like love, should not be abandoned so easily . . .
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
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Lily Johansson rested her leg on the railing of the balcony and slowly leaned forward, stretching her muscles as she gazed upon Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and baked bread made her stomach grumble as the light breeze danced around the trees, their leaves shimmering in the midday light. On the wide avenue below, tourists and locals bustled in and out of trendy clothes shops and bookstores or settled in for a long, lazy lunch at one of the numerous cafes.
The sun warmed her skin as she pointed her toes and concentrated on each muscle, her body well acquainted with the rigors of being pushed to its limits. Lily repeated the process with the other leg, then stood in first position, bent her knees slowly while moving her arms from first through to fifth position. As much as she hated using ballet as a way to keep the horrendous back pain at bay, she couldn't deny that the movements she'd spent a lifetime perfecting helped immensely. She'd have thought by now, though, that time would have healed most of the wounds, especially the emotional. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and since arriving in Paris the day before, the pain had increased three-fold.
Lily finished her routine, rested her elbows on the railing, and took in the view. Paris felt like a lifetime away from Rutherford Creek, her hometown in rural Australia. She still found it crazy that a young country girl with stars in her eyes had won a position at the Australian Ballet that led her to a contract with the most forward-thinking and prestigious ballet company in Europe. When she'd found out about her acceptance into the Bohème Ballet of Paris, the Australian media had clamored for interviews, but since the incident in Paris, she'd refused to speak to journalists, especially the more they'd hounded her. Even now, they knocked on her door in Australia hoping Lily would finally talk about that fateful night.
Dipping her head and letting out a long sigh, Lily knew she couldn't stay in this anonymous apartment forever. It had taken an incredible amount of energy and soul-searching to get on the plane to Paris, so holing up in a room ignoring the world around her would not get her the results she desired. She had a job to do, and while she'd have preferred to be anywhere but in the city that broke her heart, she had little choice. Demons needed to be confronted. No twenty-nine-year-old should live like this, especially one who'd once had the world lying in front of her pink pointe-shoes.
Going back inside, Lily shoved her camera into the backpack and grabbed the room key. She closed the door, descended the stairs, and stepped out onto the street. Although tempted to put off the inevitable by procrastinating with a coffee, she picked up the pace, determined to reach the Jardin Marco Polo and take advantage of the best natural light of the day. Entering the gardens, she stopped to gaze at the four semi-naked statues holding up a globe of the world, their faces relaying the strain of their effort. After taking a moment to admire the craftsmanship, she rounded the fountain and carefully framed the subjects in the lens, snapping photos from different angles. Strength emanated from these statues and Lily hoped some of their bravery might rub off on her. Since arriving in Paris, her self-doubt had strangled her confidence and killed the strength she needed to endure the reminders of Aiden's death and her sister's abandonment.
She checked the screen of the camera, satisfied with the end result. Since quitting ballet, she'd used photography as a coping mechanism to deal with the long, lonely days. This pursuit gave her a sense of control, unlike her personal and professional life that continued to spin deeper into the abyss. With photography, if the angle wasn't quite right, or she wanted to zoom in on her subject, Lily could make adjustments to get the outcome she wanted, unlike her efforts in real life. Which was why she was here, in a beautiful park in Paris, taking photographs instead of knocking on her sister's door and having it slammed in her face. Again.
Lily took some more shots, enjoying the different subject matter. The oranges and reds of the landscapes of Rutherford Creek and surrounds had been her subject of choice for the past couple years, so it was nice to branch out and try something new. How many times had her mother nagged her about getting back out into the world and finding her feet again? Lily still thought her mother was way too harsh, but she could also see her point of view. It couldn't be pleasant watching your once successful daughter hiding in a tiny rural town and refusing to reconnect with the outside world.
She closed her eyes and tilted her head toward the clear blue sky. Inhaling deeply, Lily allowed the crisp air flow into her lungs. She'd hoped her body would relax and her nerves would settle, but the exercise proved pointless.
Not quite ready to deal with the inevitable rejection from her sister, Natalie, Lily used the park's beauty as a distraction. Gold, red, and orange leaves clung to branches and the gentle breeze sent them drifting into large piles on the grass. Although the trees and surrounding buildings of Paris looked completely different to Rutherford Creek Municipal Park, she could easily picture herself as a kid running through the leaves with Natalie as they basked in the beauty of childhood innocence. Those days were long gone, though, and no amount of wishing would ever bring those back.
Dragging herself away from sad memories, Lily studied the small groups of teens texting as they hurried along the wide gravel paths, the elderly couples strolling arm in arm and mothers with young children in tow. Everyone was active, aside from a solitary figure on a park bench nearby.
Even from this distance, he intrigued her. His olive skin contrasted against the blue sky and his brown, shoulder-length hair had the faux-tousled look of someone who'd spent a lot of time styling in front of the mirror. But it was the way he stared into the distance, pencil poised above a notebook that really caught her attention. He oozed intensity, as if a lot rode on what he was doing. Or not doing, as was the case.
Her fingers itched to snap a sneaky shot of this handsome specimen but she refrained, not wanting to draw attention to herself or annoy him. Although, by the way he lounged on the bench, he gave the impression that he was accustomed to being ogled by the general populous.
Bet he's arrogant, she thought, then chastised herself. She'd spent years being judged on her appearance and how she moved her body, yet here she was judging a stranger. Feeling guilty about her shallowness, she looked over and gave him a smile. His eyes connected with hers but his expression relayed nothing.
She spied an empty bench under a tree on the opposite side of the path. Sitting down, she rummaged in her backpack for a bottle of water, twisted open the top, and took a sip before turning her attention to the fountain. It truly was a work of art, especially the marine horses. Beautifully designed, the horses looked like they were about to leap out of the fountain. Feeling a presence, she cast a sideways glance at the attractive arty bloke who was now scribbling furiously. Whatever had blocked him had disappeared as he bent over the notepad and wrote with fervor. Every so often he glanced in her direction, his poker face giving nothing away; then he'd return to his paper, lost in a flurry of inspiration. Curiosity wanted to shove her over his way so she could ask what he was working on, but she didn't have the heart to interrupt.
Standing, she shivered. The sun now hid behind a bank of clouds with a dubious gray tinge. She placed her camera in the backpack, and headed in the direction of Théâtre du Châtelet, where her sister was rehearsing with Bohème Ballet Company — the same ballet company Lily and Aiden had once been so excited about working for.
She adjusted the straps on the backpack and took one last look at the guy on the bench. He chewed his lip as he wrote, and she wondered how anyone could write that fast without getting a serious cramp.
Enough with the distractions, Lily, get your act together.
Taking a deep breath, she marched through the park and down Boulevard Saint-Michel until she reached Le Seine. Halfway across Pont au Change she stopped to catch breath, resting her hands on the rails.
The formidable La Conciergerie perched on the banks as storm clouds rolled above the gray turrets of the centuries old building. Once a palace that had turned into a prison during the French Revolution, La Conciergerie had been the last resting place for prisoners before they were taken away and executed on the guillotine — its most famous inmate being Marie Antoinette. Lily doubted Marie Antoinette could have envisaged her life turning out the way it did, just like Lily could never have imagined her ballet career would be cut short so tragically. Refusing to get stuck in that dark place once more, she gazed up at the historic buildings. She doubted she'd ever get used to being surrounded by so much history. Then again, she didn't plan on sticking around Paris for too long. Get in, do what she had to do, then get out. A simple plan, no complications.
She continued powering down the street to finally arrive at Théâtre du Châtelet. Crowds of tourists stood out front, cameras at the ready, capturing the imposing arches and balcony. But the beauty of the majestic theater was lost on Lily. The last time she'd been here was with Aiden and they'd spent hours wandering through the theater where the music of Tchaikovsky and Strauss, the sets of Picasso, and the incredible dancers of the Ballets Russes had once graced the ornate stage. History, culture, and behindthe-scenes dramas lay secreted between the walls, just begging to be discovered. A new life in Paris had awaited Lily and Aiden and they'd soaked up every moment — until a hulking piece of metal on wheels had ploughed through their lives. Back then it had been easy to swear off ballet and refuse to continue her dream of dancing on stage at the Théâtre du Châtelet. But now, standing on the threshold of broken dreams, she could barely catch her breath. Had her decision to quit ballet back then been the wrong one?
Lily rubbed the small of her back, the ache increasing as her muscles tensed. She'd been lucky to get out of the accident alive, let alone still be able to walk. Some days she wished the car had finished her off because then she wouldn't have to endure the ghosts and the guilt. If only Lily could believe she deserved to move on and find a life worth living.
A life that wasn't wasted.
A life worthy of finding love once more.
Staring off into the distance, she allowed her eyes to lose focus. In front of her stood Aiden with windswept hair, his smile enveloping her in love. His warm hand wrapped around hers and together they ran down the halls of the theater, laughing like they were love-struck teenagers. Aiden flung open a door, hauled her inside the rehearsal room, and pressed her against the wall, his hard dancer's body slowly and sensuously moving against hers. Aiden placed his lips on hers and —
A hard shoulder knocked her off-balance.
"Excusez-moi," said the tall, blond woman. Lily must have looked upset because she stopped her hasty progress and asked, "Êtes-vous blessée?"
"Yes, yes, I am fine," she replied in English, unable to get back into her very basic French.
The woman patted Lily's shoulder, then continued on her way, her high heels clipping the pavement at great speed.
The vision of Aiden had thrown Lily off-guard. It's not like she hadn't had them before, it was just that this one seemed more real than the others. Lily glanced up at the theater. Of course it would feel more real. What did she expect when she was revisiting her past?
Her chest constricted and even though she wanted to flee, Lily forced herself to walk toward the door. She'd come a long way for this, and chickening out at the last second would not do. Trying to give off an air of confidence, Lily's feet followed the familiar path even though her sweating body told her to turn on her heels and run. She couldn't, because it would mean leaving Paris as a failure once more.
When she'd gone to her sister's apartment the day before, Lily knew it had been a mistake. Natalie didn't have people surrounding her, so it was easy to slam the door in Lily's face. But at her place of work, it would be harder to show her anger and maybe, just maybe, Lily could convince Natalie to listen. After all, Lily had traveled halfway around the world to a city she swore she'd never return to in order to rectify the relationship with her sibling. Given Lily had always looked out for her sister, Natalie owed her at least five minutes. Natalie's hurtful behavior should have been enough to turn Lily away for good, and it angered her that Natalie could be so self-absorbed and downright rude, but they were sisters and Lily couldn't bear the thought of permanently losing her only remaining sibling and best friend. Once more, Lily erred on the side of optimism that somehow, they could work things out.
Making her way to the stage door, Lily's heart bashed against her chest when she realized the doorman was the same one from when she was last here. She doubted he'd remember her as she'd only been with the ballet three weeks, but seeing someone from her ballet days brought all the painful memories back to the surface. Determined to keep it together, she put on her best smile and said in cruddy French, "Hello. I am Natalie Johansson's sister. Could I please see her?"
He studied her from under a veranda of gray brows. "Lily? Welcome back! It is nice to see you. The last time you were here I didn't get the chance to say I'm sorry for —"
"Thank you, Bernard," she said. His English had improved dramatically since the last time they'd met while her school-girl French had deteriorated rapidly. "How is Maryanne? Fabien?"
His wide smile lit up his face. "They are very good, thank you. Maryanne's clothing business is doing well. Maybe I retire soon. Fabien is engaged."
"Oh, that's wonderful!" Although they had only known each other a short time, she loved hearing about his wife and son. A tinge of sadness fell on her, realizing the burgeoning friendship with Bernard had been a casualty of the accident. "I am so happy for them. For you." She fiddled with the strap of her backpack, her lips pursed. "So, I was wondering if —"
"Your sister is in rehearsal room one if they have not finished already." He opened the heavy metal door with an ominous creak. She stepped across the threshold, then stopped, her nose tingling with heady scents from the past. When she'd fled Paris, she'd thrown out everything that reminded her of ballet, including makeup and hair products. Yet here she stood, voluntarily immersing herself in the aromas of a world she'd tried so hard to escape.
Forcing herself to move, Lily kept her head down as she navigated the narrow passageways she knew too well. Finally, she reached the rehearsal room and halted out front. Ballet dancers sauntered up and down the hallway, oblivious to the turmoil swelling inside Lily's stomach. Classical music drifted through the thin wooden door and her fingers hovered over the handle. Could she deal with more rejection? Was it really worth all this trouble?
Of course it was. Even though Natalie had cast her aside like a broken doll, Lily missed her sister. They'd lived, breathed, and loved ballet together since they could walk. How many hours a week had they traveled with their mother to attend ballet classes in the next district? How many nights had they stayed up late, snuggled together in bed, talking about ballet, dreaming, rehearsing? Lily had thought that special bond would never break. How wrong she'd been.
Lily rapped on the door and it swung open. A tall, lean gentleman with salt and pepper hair raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Hello. I'm looking for —"
"Tell her I'm not here!" Natalie screamed from a hidden corner.
Lily tried to edge her way through the door but the man blocked her path. "Please, I'm her sister."
"You are the Lily?" He stared down his nose. "She does not wish to speak with you."
"Listen, I've come all the way from Australia and —"
The door yanked open and Natalie stood in her mauve ballet practice gear, a heavy scowl marring her delicate features, her blond hair sticking to her olive skin. "I told you I don't want to talk. Now go away!"
Excerpted from "Under The Parisian Sky"
Copyright © 2017 Alli Sinclair.
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
Ballet. Music. Heartbreak. Redemption. Once again, Alli Sinclair brings us a compelling story that blends dance, history, adventure and romance with well fleshed out characters and vivid settings. With her trademark dual time lines, Sinclair weaves together history (The Ballet Russe in Paris set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution) with a contemporary story line and themes of family, love, guilt and what it takes to achieve your dreams. Highly recommended!