Authors: Barbara Bretton
We'll Always Have Paris
by Barbara Bretton
After twenty-eight years of marriage, Kate and Ryan Donovan called it quits. Two years later at their daughter's wedding, they're seeing each other in a whole new lightâthe City of Light, where romance beckons around every cornerâ¦.
“One of today's best women's fiction authors.”
The Romance Reader
“A master storytellerâ¦”
Barbara Bretton wanted to be a writer from the moment she was old enough to hold a pencil. What could be better than spending all day with your imaginary friends and getting paid for it? She sold her first book (longer ago than she cares to admit) to Harlequin American Romance and was delighted when
went on to be a launch title. Even though she has written and published over forty novels since then, she remains deeply grateful (and a bit surprised) to find herself living her childhood dream.
To Tina and Marsha with thanks
The Engagement Party
out of the big yellow house at the end of Meadow Run Road. Curls of smoke rose from the chimney and spun upward toward the moon, which hung full and glowing in the ink-black sky. The promise of more snow was in the air, but that hadn't kept anyone away. Cars filled the driveway, part of the front lawn, the street.
“Shh!” she whispered as they slipped deeper into the shadowy backyard where their girls had played as children. “They'll hear us.”
He pulled her close and she melted into his embrace. “I don't plan on doing a lot of talking, do you?”
She shivered and this time it wasn't from the winter chill that blanketed the northeast. “No talking,” she agreed. Even though not talking was what had gotten them into trouble.
But who needed words when the moon was full
and the champagne tasted like starlight? There was nothing like your daughter's engagement party to remind you that once upon a time you had believed in happy endings, too. Romance was everywhere. The house was filled with music and laughter. The people they loved most in the world were gathered together to celebrate the wonders of love. You couldn't help believing in forever on a night like this.
He smelled the way she remembered, of spice and heat and mountain lakes. He had laughed the first time she told him that.
You're a Long Island girl,
he had reminded her.
What do you know from mountain lakes?
But she knew wonderful when she saw it and for a long, long time what they had together was very wonderful.
He took her hand and they darted around the weather-beaten shed where the girls had stowed their bicycles another lifetime ago. Hard snow crackled like glass beneath their feet. She slipped on a patch of ice, but his strong arms caught her before she hit the ground. He had never let her fall, not once.
Not even now, at the end.
He didn't ask why she had stopped having the driveway salted.
She didn't remind him that they didn't live there anymore; their youngest daughter and her roommates did.
This was a moment out of time. Nothing before this moment existed. Nothing after it would matter.
There was only the two of them.
He opened the passenger door of his rental car and they scrambled inside.
“A Toyota?” she asked, brow raised.
“They were fresh out of '74 Cutlasses.”
Her sigh filled the tiny space. “I haven't thought about your dad's Cutlass in years.”
“I have.” He unzipped his jacket and drew her inside its warmth. “We should have had it declared a national monument.”
How many hours had they spent in the back seat of that big blue car, young and wildly in love, burning with the kind of fever only the other's touch could ease.
“They're so young,” she whispered against his neck. “I hope they know what they're doing.”
“We had three children when we were their age,” he reminded her.
“It's a different world today. We wereâ” She shrugged inside his embrace. How did you describe a sense of inevitability that shook you right through to your marrow?
“Crazy,” he whispered against her hair.
“Fearless,” she whispered against his neck.
“They're in love,” he said as he did magical things to the length of her spine. “Alexis is following her heart.”
“Like we did,” she said.
“Like we did,” he agreed.
Except for the fact that they were on the fast track to divorce, it would have been a great story to tell their future grandchildren.
Less than a week ago Alexis had shown up with a handsome man by her side and a big announcement to make. She and Gabe Fellini planned to be married in early spring in Paris.
Just wait until you see Paris,
Alexis had raved as she shared her news.
I don't know why you and Daddy never traveled anywhere.
Her darling daughter hadn't a clue what she was asking of them.
Paris was their city, their secret dream for as long as Kate could remember. High-school sweethearts, they were going to run away together to the City of Light as soon as they graduated. They would put college on hold, grab backpacks and whatever savings they could scrape up, and set out to conquer the world. Ryan would write the Great American Novel while she followed in the footsteps of Monet and Renoir and Sargent.
One day in the far-distant future they would settle down and raise a family, but not until they had had their fill of Paris.
But there was one slight flaw in their plan: a baby daughter named Shannon who arrived eight months after graduation.
And even though they were painfully careful,
another baby daughter named Alexis had shown up less than two years later.
And seven years into their marriage, just when they thought they could put the diapers and burping blankets and binkies away for good, Taylor joined them.
In the blink of an eye they had gone from love-struck teenagers to loving parents without a chance to slow down and catch their breath. Life didn't work that way. Life didn't slow down and make allowances for youthful enthusiasm, for sweet mistakes, for the daily struggles every couple faced. The only thing you could do was run as fast as you could and hope you'd catch up with each other somewhere down the line.
Through it all, there was always Paris.
they promised each other when times were tough and life seemed to be plotting against them. One day when the kids were grown they would make that dream come true.
Who could have guessed their middle child would be the one to make it happen?
Who would have guessed it would be too late?
“Paris,” Kate murmured against his mouth.
“Paris,” he said and then, for a long time, they didn't say anything at all.
Parisâthe following spring
Six days before the wedding
Kate Finney Donovan fumbled with the fistful of euros then finally handed them all to the impossibly good-looking bellman waiting expectantly by the door.
He bowed and said either, “May I be the father of your children?” or “Lady, you'd better take a crash course in the exchange rate,” then closed the door behind him.
She laughed for the first time in eighteen hours of traffic jams, airport security checks, turbulence, and just plain mother-of-the-bride jitters.
Clearly it was a testament to the Parisians that she had made it from the airport to the hotel without incident and with most of her money still in her wallet. She had relied on the kindness of English-speaking cab drivers and her memory of high-school French to keep her from going too far astray and neither had let her down. Although,
judging by the bellman's reaction to the tip she had given him, maybe she had better reread the section on currency in
Paris for Tourists
She was staying in the apartment her great-aunt Celeste Beaulieu kept at the Hotel St. Michel on the Left Bank. Celeste was already at the inn named Milles Fleurs, which was located on the outskirts of the city, for the wedding festivities, and she had suggested Kate might want to spend a few days in pampered luxury before the wedding craziness got into full swing.
Celeste knew all about her lapse of sanity the night of the engagement party. She had listened as Kate poured out her heart a few days later, held Kate's hand across the transatlantic wires as she alternately blamed herself then Ryan for thinking with their hormones and not their heads. Only Celeste knew what Paris had meant to them and how hard it would be to see the city for the first time as one-half of an about-to-be-divorced couple.
“You will do as I say,
” Celeste had commanded, as only a Frenchwoman from Brooklyn could. “Send on your bags to Milles Fleurs and tell Alexis that you have business to attend elsewhere before you can join them.”
“You want me to lie to her?” Kate had asked, warming to the idea despite herself.
“The business is your heart.” What Celeste apparently wanted was for Kate to discover Paris in
her own way, on her own time, so that she would have some control of her emotions when she finally saw Ryan again. Perhaps if she got all of those Paris “firsts” out of the way she would stand a fighting chance.
Considering the fact that she'd burst into tears at her first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, her aunt might have a point. Even through the thick fog of jet lag, the City of Light's staggering beauty had overwhelmed her as she rode in from the airport. It was every bit as dazzling as she had imagined it as a giddy teenager in love with love and dying for romance. Wide boulevards. Narrow cobblestone streets. Graceful trees dressed in the lacy greens of spring. The Eiffel Tower rising up into the late-morning sky like a dream.
She could almost see the ghosts of Renoir and Monet, Hemingway and Fitzgerald watching over the young artists and writers who sat hunched over sketch pads and laptops and steaming bowls of onion soup, feasting on every wonderful thing the city had to offer.
Why didn't we do this years ago, Ryan? Before it was too late for usâ¦.
She already knew the answer. Children happened. Careers happened. Life happened. And somewhere along the way dreams faded.
Thank God, she had listened to Celeste and claimed this time for herself. Her bags were safely
en route to Milles Fleurs. Her daughters thought she was meeting with a gallery owner who was staying in a farmhouse in the Loire Valley.
All she had with her was an overnight bag, some toiletries, and the family portrait she had painted at her daughter's request. Somehow her daughter's request had validated her growing success as a portrait artist in a way her many commissions never had. Had Celeste known that traveling light would make her feel glamorous and sophisticated, like one of those world travelers who could put everything they needed in a duffel bag and have room to spare for tchotchkes? More than likely. When it came to life, eighty-something Celeste Beaulieu pretty much had it all figured out.
Celeste was Kate's grandmother's older sister who had moved to France in the 1950s, married a handsome Frenchman, and never looked back. She was one of those women who seemed born with an understanding of the inner workings of romance, a throwback to the days of salons and gentlemen callers. Celeste understood without being told that the combination of Parisian charm and Alexis's wedding might be more than a woman on the verge of divorce could handle.
The sitting room was elegant and quintessentially French. An antique armoire that would have been at home in the Louvre bumped shoulders with an angularly modern chair reminiscent of
Vladimir Kagan. The sitting room opened into a library, which led to the bedroom in the rear of the apartment. The bed was short but invitingly wide, a frothy confection of heavenly pillows and down-filled duvets of dove-gray silk shot through with mauve as seductive as a secret lover.
Long casement windows overlooked the wide street below and, just beyond, the legendary Seine made its way to the sea. Once upon a time the hotel had been a haven for young artists and Kate's sharp eye caught faint smears of phthalo-green and alizarin-crimson on the sill.
“I'm in Paris,” she said out loud to the empty room and waited for the rush of excitement she'd been expecting since her plane landed.
To her dismay, despite the beauty all around her, she might as well have been in Philadelphia.
It was the timing.
Who would have thought the Fates would conspire to grant her fondest wish two weeks before she and Ryan signed the papers that would officially mark the end of thirty years of marriage? Apparently fate had a twisted sense of humor, but for once Kate wasn't laughing. Paris was everything it was supposed to be and more, but Ryan wasn't there to share it with Kate and that made all the difference.
It took her a moment to realize the telephone on the escritoire was ringing.
Celeste said when Kate answered. Celeste was truly ageless. She still retained the enthusiasm of a twenty-year-old-girl. “I have been phoning for two hours now. You had a safe trip?”
Kate rapped her knuckles against the mahogany table. “Knock wood. Slow but safe.”
“And you are settled into the apartment?”
“It's beautiful,” Kate enthused. “I can't thank you enough.”
Celeste made one of those Gallic sounds that could mean just about anything. “And what are your plans for the day?”
Good question. Everyone said traveling west to east was easy, but she felt as if she had spent the flight strapped to the wheel well. “I guess I'll order up some room service and take a nap. Try to get myself adjusted to the time change.”
she countered, laughing. “I'm not as young as you, Aunt Celeste. I need a nap before I go sightseeing.”
“A nap!” Celeste's outrage was formidable. “I forbid you to nap. You're in Paris,
You can nap in New York. Comb your hair. Put on fresh lipstick. That's all you need.”
Maybe that was all Celeste needed, but Kate's list was growing longer by the second with caffeine in the top position.
They chatted a few minutes about the wedding. Neither one mentioned Ryan, which was fine with Kate although he was clearly the blue suede elephant in the room. Alexis and Gabe had talked to Celeste last winter and the family matriarch had bestowed her seal of approval on the match.
That didn't surprise Kate at all. Gabe Fellini was everything Kate could have asked for in a son-in-law. With Aunt Celeste's help, he and Alexis had arranged the entire wedding festivities with flawless precision and so far there hadn't been a ripple of discontent from anyone involved.
The extended Fellini and Donovan families were crazy about one another. Alexis's sisters Shannon and Taylor had happily granted the middle child her day in the sun. And the only thing required of the mother of the bride was that she show up a few days before the Big Day with her dress and the family portrait she had promised them on the night of their engagement party.
Which was otherwise known as the night she lost her mind.
There was no other way to explain what had happened. Not even to herself. It was as if her body had been taken over by an alien being whose sole purpose was to leap into that Toyota and have her way with Ryan.
When the girls told her, so very gently, that their father had said he was bringing someone with him
to the party, Kate had steeled herself for the sight of another woman at her husband's side. He was a gorgeous man. Sooner or later he was going to realize there was a world of women out there and he could have his pick.
She was braced for a twenty-year-old bimbo with fake breasts, porcelain veneers, and thighs the likes of which Kate could only dream about.
But it didn't happen that way. Long Island's snowstorm had moved north and flights between Boston, where Ryan hosted a successful sports radio show, and New York had been cancelled.
Kate was ashamed of the quick surge of relief she experienced when she realized she would be spared the sight of him with another woman.
“We can't have this party without Daddy here,” Alexis had said, but Kate had been firm in her resolve.
“He told you to go ahead without him and he meant it, honey. Your father wouldn't want you to cancel your engagement party because he couldn't get a flight down.”
In a world of change, the one constant was Ryan's love for his daughters. He wanted the best for them and would do anything to make sure they got it.
About an hour into the party, Kate was carrying a tray of shrimp appetizers into the living room when she heard familiar laughter ringing out in the front hallway.
Ryan had rented a car at Logan Airport and driven down to Long Island through the storm to be there to celebrate his daughter's engagement. Kate thought her heart would burst through her chest from longing when she first caught sight of him in the foyer. Snowflakes glittered in his hair beneath the overhead light. He laughed as he brushed them off and handed his scarf and jacket to a beaming bride-to-be.
“Mom, look!” Alexis said as Kate stepped into the room. “Daddy drove all the way down through the blizzard to be here with us.”
“I thought you were bringing someone,” Kate said.
Ryan frowned. “Where'd you get that idea?”
They both turned to look at their middle child, who looked back with an innocent smile on her face. She wasn't fooling anyone.
“I hope you rented a four-wheel drive,” Kate said to Ryan. What had happened to
It's good to see you?
Why did she have to go straight to the negative.
“I'm crazy, but I don't have a death wish,” he shot back. “I rented an all-wheel drive at the airport.”
“There's a blizzard out there,” she pointed out.
“That's not a blizzard,” he said. “You need higher winds to qualify as a blizzard.”
“That's still an awful lot of snow.”
Shut up, Kate. Where is this going? What's the point?
“It was clear sailing from Hartford on. The worst is on its way to Maine.”
Kate opened her mouth to pursue this meteorological debate, but the look on their daughter's face stopped her.
Alexis was looking from Kate to Ryan, her blue eyes wide with puzzlement. This was her day. Kate and Ryan could save their bickering for some other time.
That look of puzzlement quickly turned into something very different when Gabe Fellini walked into the room.
There was something both sad and beautiful about new love. Alexis and Gabe were so innocent, so trusting in their love for each other. They hadn't a clue about the curveballs life would throw their way. Right now they believed that they were special, that the gods had decided to rain down all the blessings of the universe on their heads and protect them always from harm.
She and Ryan had been that way, too, and for a second Kate thought she was looking at their younger selves.
And Ryan saw it, too. Their gazes locked above their daughter's head and everything else fell away. The years. The problems. The fact that they were a half step away from finalizing their divorce.
They exchanged a smile in the foyer. They squeezed past each other in the back hallway. She
smiled when she caught him watching her as she popped more crab puffs into the oven. She blushed furiously when he caught her peeking at him through the back window when he stepped outside to bring in some more firewood.
By the time they found themselves alone on the back porch, the attraction between them was so powerful that they were in each other's arms in the space of a heartbeat.
He told her what he wanted to do to her.
She told him if he didn't do it in the next thirty seconds she would do it to him.
In a flash they were in the backseat of the Toyota with the windows fogging up all around them. Hot. Sweet. Intense.
Too intense. She was losing control and if she didn't get out of there right that second she would say something she would regret. Something like
I still love you
Maybe we should give it another try
, and she would have to endure the look of pity in his eyes.
Kate scrambled into her clothes as if the car were on fire and she had ten seconds to save her own life.
Which, come to think of it, may not have been that far from the truth.
She had made a big fat mistake. One of those mistakes that happened to other, dumber women who ended up crying their eyes out on some relationship expert's shoulder on national television.