The Book Gazette is hosting an excerpt today from “Hello! A Modern Love Story”, a contemporary romance novel. Enjoy the excerpt!
Excerpt 3 – Garden of Earthly Delights
Greg and Elise flew into Marseilles late afternoon in the middle of autumn. From there, they took a fast train to Aix en Provence. At their destination station, the owners of the property they were renting picked them up and drove them to the house, in one of the small villages on the outskirts of Aix.
Benoit and Cecile were a genial couple in their early 40s, well-tanned, lean, and sturdy, with sun-bleached strands weaving through their thick mass of dark hair—chestnut brown on Benoit and brownish black on Cecile. Cecile reminded Elise a little of Leah. They found out later that Cecile’s family originated from Algeria and now lived in Toulouse, south west of Aix.
On the way to the village, Cecile invited them to dinner at their house in Aix that night. But Elise was still not fully recovered from the accident. She was exhausted and they had to decline.
“Maybe, tomorrow night?” Cecile asked. “We’re flexible. We have your wedding to do this week, that’s all. And you do not have many guests. Some celebrations, we have as many as 500.”
“Not tomorrow, I’m afraid. My son and my parents are arriving in the afternoon. How about the evening after?”
“Oh, yes, of course. I almost forgot. They must all come, too, alors.”
“That is generous of you. But wouldn’t we be imposing on you?”
“No, no. I will put a bigger roast in my stone oven on the terrasse and more aubergines, courgettes, peppers, and tomatoes in a casserole next to it and you will have the best ratatouille you’ve ever tasted. You know ratatouille?”
“Yes, I certainly do. My mom is a good cook and tries all kinds of exotic dishes. She loves Provençal cooking.”
“Then, she will like to see my beautiful oven and how to do a proper ratatouille. The oven is almost as old as this farmhouse, you know, 17th century.” Cecile smiled brightly. “You will also taste a specialité of Aix, our calisson. small sweets made with layers of crunchy sugar on top, candied melon and orange and ground almonds and a little bit of very thin bread at the bottom.”
“What does it mean—decad…?”
“Decadent. In this case, it means sinfully good.”
“I will remember that word. It is a good word. Alors, tomorrow night?”
Elise glanced at Greg. He nodded his agreement. “All right, tomorrow night.”
“Benoit will come to take you to our house at about seven o’clock tomorrow evening. It will be okay if I invite a few friends? Greg has met them before.”
“Yes, I would like to meet them and Greg did tell me about having French friends—your friends, too—who he met at your dinners.”
“Yes, these are also his friends.”
“Et, voila. Chez vous,” Cecile said when they reached the house. “For the next three weeks.”
Darkness had begun to descend and Benoit and Cecile took Greg and Elise through a quick tour of the house and the property it stood on. The house was one of three stone buildings on a farm Benoit had inherited. It had two bedrooms and a well-equipped kitchen in the living area. The main building, at least three times as big, had five bedrooms. A tiny cottage, set among the trees away from the other two, slept two people.
Benoit also owned the land surrounding the farm—planted with olive trees and grapevines. The whole property, which belonged to several generations of Benoit’s family, had once grown olives for oil as well as rosemary, thyme and lavender for sachets and herbes de Provence, a mix of herbs the area was famous for.
Greg rented the whole property for a week to accommodate the wedding party, who were expected in the next two days. The ceremony was scheduled a day after the arrival of Leah and her boyfriend, the last two guests.
Greg and Elise scanned the fields stretched across the little villages outside Aix en Provence. The warm light of early morning intensified luscious shades of green on native plants, chestnut trees, and olive groves, lying in harmony with rolling rows of dazzling lavender, a little farther east. All vegetation ended at the foot of a grey rugged mountain, where its march up the slopes was thwarted by the same lime-rich deposits that formed and shaped the mountain into a magnificent range. A reddish cast glowed on the silvery triangular planes of its highest point.
In the modest-sized vineyard west of the house, grapevines had begun to turn golden and bunches of dark purple grapes, hanging on thick gnarled trunks, peeked out from under mottled leaves. The weather was still warm and muggy and not much different from summer. Steady, gentle breezes kept it comfortable and perfumed the air with the smoky floral sweetness of lavender, sometimes tinged with aromatic herbs, light, fresh, and grassy.
“What a dreamy place. Thank you for bringing me here. Such colors! Such a majestic mountain!”
“Isn’t it? Mont Sainte-Victoire. It’s quite famous. Painted over and over, from different angles, and in different lights by one of the world’s greatest painters.”
“Paul Cezanne. They say he’s the most famous native of Aix en Provence.”
“He was from here? I’ve seen a few of his paintings, in an art appreciation class; also, visits to museums Mom dragged us to.”
“His studio has been preserved. I can take you to it, if you want. I heard he trained as a lawyer, first.”
“Yes, I’d like to visit the studio sometime. I like his still lifes. They’re so intriguing, with catawampus tables.”
Her gaze swept across the landscape again. She inhaled the fragrant breeze deeply. “Can you imagine living here forever?”
“Honestly, no. If olive oil or herbs and spices or wine had been my thing, maybe yes. I love this place. It’s so lush and beautiful and yields such wonderful things. And it’s so serene. I would like us to come back, again and again, in the future. But only to visit.”
“Every once in a while.”
Greg and Elise were enjoying their first full day in the village. The night before—exhausted from the long trip—they went to bed as soon as Benoit and Cecile left them.
They awoke several hours later, past midnight. There was not much for anyone to do in the soundless, still darkness, disturbed, from time to time, by the occasional guttural hooting of owls. They were both certain they would fall back to sleep, if they stayed wallowing in bed for a while.
But Elise sat up an hour later. “I’m starved. How early can we go out for croissants?”
“If I know Cecile, you don’t have to wait that long. Maybe, there aren’t croissants. They like to serve those within a few hours of baking. But I bet we’ll find munchies in the refrigerator.”
They found apples in a basket on top of the kitchen counter. The refrigerator was stocked with bottles of water, a carton of milk, sliced country ham, a round of soft cheese labeled ‘chaource,’ and a divided bowl of couscous and vegetables, with handwritten instructions on heating it in the microwave. Two bottles of wine, red and white, stood waiting on the dining table. Greg opened the red.
Elise munched on an apple between bites of cheese. “A veritable feast in the middle of the night.”
“You should try the couscous and veggies. Really good! And with the ham and sips of wine—even better.”
“These are great, too. The cheese is so creamy and rich, goes well with apple. I’ll have some wine with the ham, but after my apple.”
When they finished eating, he poured the last drops of red wine equally in their glasses. They lingered on their last glass, then returned to bed.
They fell asleep shortly thereafter. They woke up again, at four in the morning.
About the Book
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Heartache and the specter of revenge follow when sparring partners spend the night together two days before he weds someone else.
A deliciously romantic romp with a good dose of realism and a twist of mystery.
A clash of wits, more than of wills, drives the love story in this modern-day pastiche of 19th-century romance novels by Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South) and Jane Austen. The main protagonists deal with messy feelings and events that could happen to any of us: The heroine, a bright young lawyer, confronts choices about career, abortion, and reactions of parents, friends, and men; while he, an alpha male, is haunted by past relationships, but with a sensitive, caring side that emerges as he woos the heroine.
EJourney is a flaneuse (an observer/wanderer) who writes about, and illustrates (oils, pastels, digital) what she sees and loves. In a past life, with a now-dormant Ph.D., (University of Illinois), she researched, evaluated and developed mental health programs.
Writing was her first love and she wanted to be a journalist but her parents balked at that. She was 15, malleable, and dependent on them for support, so she went into the social sciences, actually a compromise and preferable to chemistry, her parents’ choice.
EJourney’s first novel, Margaret of the North, is illustrated with digital “paintings” done on an iPad.
Her book website is: www.margaretofthenorth.wordpress.com for articles on books and writing, some reviews, and interviews.
For her take on art, travel (mostly Paris where she has stayed for months), eating, and state of being as well as some of her paintings, her website is Journey on a Limb at http://eveonalimb.com .
book website: http://margaretofthenorth.wordpress.com/