From a Paris Balcony
The Ella Carey Collection #3
Lake Union Publishing, October 2016
300 pages, ebook, paperback, audiobook, MP3 CD
Women’s Lit, Historical, Romance
I purchased this at the current price. This is my honest review for which I am receiving no compensation of any kind.
The cover is lovely and has the feel of an old memory. The story is not as directly related to the first book as the second one was, but still very much a part of the history of the apartment and its inhabitants. This story enlarges the scope a bit and tracks back from the people to the apartment as opposed to starting from the apartment working out. The characters were excellent. Sarah and Laurent, being the current day characters, were done very well. The family living in the old family estate were outstanding without being too terribly fleshed out. They were identifiable by their actions and comments. The characters of the past were also well-done and not just silhouettes on history’s stage for Sarah to discover. The pace and tension both suffered a bit from so much happening inside Sarah’s head. She spends a lot of time thinking things through, and it does get things explained and worked out, but then you have to get going again and try not to be sidetracked by any of it.
And here begins the reveal…
Sarah West is grieving the loss of both parents and her recent divorce. In clearing out some things in her father’s closet she finds a letter from Marthe de Florian dated 1895. Family legend had it that Louisa had committed suicide from a Paris balcony, but there was never any explanation as to why. The letter suggests that there was more to the situation than that. Finding the Paris apartment of Marthe de Florian is now available for rent, Sarah contacts Loic Archer to see if she can take the apartment.
Sarah ends up sharing the apartment with French artist Laurent Chartier. Loic warns her that he may not be the best of flatmates, but Sarah is not deterred. She willingly puts up with the models and Laurent’s painting until one night she is locked out of her bedroom supposedly by Laurent and whoever he has with him for the night. She sleeps on the chaise longue where Marthe de Florian entertained her callers all those decades ago. She awakes to find two fresh cups of coffee and Laurent painting at her side. He had made the mistake of lending his key to a friend without thinking it through. They had both been locked out of their bedrooms for the night, so he had painted at her side while she slept to be sure she was not disturbed. They talked and made peace and seemed to actually become friends after that. They spent time together some, meeting for drinks or coffee or meals occasionally. And she digs into the past.
The book jumps back and forth between present and past telling the stories of the two women simultaneously, but I’m not going to do that. I found it worked well in the book, but I’m not the book. I’m just going to tell you the story of Louisa here and then finish up with part of Sarah’s story. Okay?
Louisa is a young woman out of step with her family. Her mother has sent her back to England to find a husband or not return to the family. Louisa believes women should have a right to speak up for themselves and have a say in how they live their own lives. She wants to meet Mrs. Pankhurst, the women’s movement leader. Who she meets is Henry Duval, an unhappy, bored young man with more money than compassion. If he’d had any compassion, he’d have left Louisa alone. But he woos Louisa and convinces her that he believes the same things she does about men and women each living their own lives and having the freedom to do the things they want. Louisa is innocent, Henry is not. He plays to her in all things. He invites her to stay at his home, which is a palace. He even brings her a dog and takes her to his favorite secret place on the estate. He introduces her to his family and friends. The night of his ball, he asks her to marry him. He has already written to her father for permission. His mother and father approve. It only takes her agreement. Then he introduces her to his brother, Charlie, who has just returned from another of his estates. While Henry goes to let his parents know that Louisa has accepted him, Charlie tries to warn her that she’s making a terrible mistake about Henry.
Charlie and Louisa become quite good friends and he shows her around the estate on their daily morning rides. Then Louisa and Henry are married and go off to Paris for their honeymoon. Henry insisted Louisa rest after their journey and went out. He didn’t return all afternoon, or for dinner, or that evening, or by the time she retired for the night.
The next evening, Louisa insists on going with Henry. He argues that she should be doing her own things, but she insists she wants to see what fascinates him about Paris so much. The carriage takes them to Le Chat Noir.
“The footman, his eye diverted from everything, including Louisa, held the carriage door open for her to step outside. As soon as she did so, she was assailed with the squalid stench of cheap perfume blended with human sweat and the rank, turgid odor that emanated from every restaurant in the unbearably warm street. She lifted the hem of her dress instinctively, tried not to look too superior, too interested, or too shocked at the sight of number twelve in front of her.”
Henry strides ahead and is greeted intimately by a woman Louisa at first mistakes for a lady, but then realizes that there is too much skin on display for her to be one. Louisa observes for a while and is shocked at what she sees. This is a side of life she is not prepared for and had never imagined. She stumbles out of Le Chat Noir and finds the carriage to go home. The next morning Louisa decides a walk in the park will help her think. She is approached by none other than Marthe de Florian in her carriage. At a loss for how to handle this woman and what to say, the meeting is brief and Louisa feels that once again, the courtesan has won the round. At home the next day, Henry and Louisa hash out their situation. She realizes that she’s been royally taken and that Henry is not at all what she thought. She also realizes that it’s not quite the way she would have done it, but she does finally have the measure of freedom she has been trying to get in her life. She returns to England with the realization that she has married the wrong brother.
Louisa makes arrangements to meet with Mrs. Pankhurst. The two women get along quite well and Louisa leaves with a renewed sense of mission. She is determined to help women have more control of their own lives. While in London, Henry pays her a visit to remind her that they have a duty to the estate and that they both must act the part.
Back at Ashworth, Louisa has to tell Charlie that she is expecting Henry’s child. Charlie takes her off to Jess’s cottage. Jess was Henry and Charlie’s nanny, but still a young woman. She gives the two the cottage while she goes to have tea in the village. In the privacy of the cottage, the two open up about their love. Louisa tries to convince Charlie to marry someone, but he claims he doesn’t want to marry another woman. Louisa becomes very close to Jess and visits her frequently. With her help, Louisa meets with the local women who are brave enough to come forward initially and sets up a branch of the Women’s Franchise League.
Circumstances cause Louisa to visit Paris. She attends the races with Henry, but Charlie finds her there and escorts her away. They attend a party together not far from Marthe de Florian’s apartment and Henry is present. He is enraged at what he sees as betrayal from his younger brother and his wife. A vicious argument and fight ensue, as Louisa moves to deflect Henry’s strike from Charlie, she is thrown back over the low railing of the balcony. Her last thoughts are of her daughter, Evelyn, her work, and of Charlie.
Sarah has spent a day and a night at the old family estate where Henry and Louisa had lived. The family had a first blocked her access to anything saying that Louisa was mentally unbalanced and that she surely committed suicide. They wouldn’t listen to talk about any other options. The next day, while the parents were away, the son, Jeremy, allows Sarah access to an old part of the palace that has been closed up since Henry and Louisa’s time. Their apartments are still there the way they left them. Sarah looks through the apartments and absorbs the ambiance, but there really isn’t anything for her to find. She wanders into the cemetery before leaving and meets a gardener, an old gardener named Frank Moore. Frank, being Jess’s great nephew, offers to speak with her about the past. Frank explains that Louisa’s baby was not a boy as she’s been told, but a girl, Evelyn. A girl, whom Henry eventually claimed was Charlie’s, not his. Whom Charlie took with him and left Ashworth on his way to Hong Kong to Louisa’s brother, Samuel. Through Frank’s story, Sarah discovers that she is the rightful heir to the estate, but she wants no part of it. She also discovers what happened on that Paris balcony all those years before because Charlie had written to Jess over the years.
Now, Sarah has her story and it’s time to go home. She’s at the train station and has to buy a ticket. But where to? She decides to buy one for Paris and Laurent. She’s to meet him at the Louvre where he’s teaching a class. As she approaches the crowd around him, students stand up and clear a pathway all the way to the front to his easel. Why?
“This one’s not for sale,” he said, his head tilted to one side. “It’s going in my apartment. After all, Marthe had a portrait of herself in her bedroom. I wanted one of you.”…
“He leaned down and brushed his lips over hers, for one exquisite moment.”