Today for the Excerpt Extravaganza, we have a sneak peek at a young adult time travel story that comes out this fall: Party Like It's 1899 by the delightful Amanda Brice.
Finalist for the Golden Heart Award for Best Young Adult Romance from Romance Writers of America.
Finalist for the Golden Heart Award for Best Young Adult Romance from Romance Writers of America.
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is why I don’t like Bentley, or whether I actually had some weird little crush on him (yeah, right), and all that Bridget Jones kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
“I can’t believe you didn’t buy those black shoes.” Maggie stared into the mirror as she meticulously applied a smudged line of kohl above her eyes. “You’re definitely gonna regret it, Jules.”
“Explain again how I’m going to regret not spending more euros than I can afford?” I asked as I piled my curls up on top of my head and secured the twist with a large rhinestone clip from the treasure trove known as Maggie’s travel accessories kit. “Not everyone can just whip out Daddy’s credit card.”
Lauren shimmied into a sparkly halter-top. “Don’t you want a souvenir of your time in Paris?”
“Malls are everywhere in Northern Virginia. I can just go to Tyson’s back at home. And black heels are pretty standard. I’ve already got a couple of pairs.”
I glanced over Lauren’s head to sneak a peak of my reflection. Even though I felt like I’d probably gained ten pounds at dinner alone, it would do. “Now the red ones...”
Maggie let out one of her famous overdramatic sighs. “We’ve been over this already. They weren’t you.”
“Whatever,” I said. “Besides, my memories of this trip are priceless. I don’t need some cheap trinket.”
Maggie let out a musical lilt of a laugh. “Those were hardly cheap trinkets. Geez, Julie. You’ve got no sense of style.”
She said it like it was a bad thing.
* * *
Half an hour later, a leering cab driver, muttering words under his breath that shouldn’t be repeated in either language, whisked us away from our hotel in the Latin Quarter to the rue du Bourg-L’Abbé.
We pulled up in front of an unassuming 18th century townhouse on a quiet residential street with a red velvet rope outside on the sidewalk and a line of limousines wrapping around the block. Considering as most vehicles in this city looked like those circus clown cars, the limos stuck out like Balenciaga at a barn dance.
I had a bad feeling about this.
Lauren paid the driver and joined Maggie and me on the curb. She squinted as she scanned the crowd of immaculately dressed stick-figure girls who looked like they subsisted on a steady diet of nothing but vodka and cigarettes. We’re talking skeletal, except for a ginormous pair of boobs that were probably as fake as the ID they were using to get in. “There they are.”
I followed her line of sight and saw Bentley and his wingmen, Hayes Kelly and Jon Brier, the Alexandria Academy quarterback and star defensive back, respectively. They were standing in a knot toward the back of the line.
When we reached them, my friends launched into the traditional French cheek-skimming air kiss routine with the guys, including all the permutations guaranteed to make your heard swim with the possibilities. I never know how many or which side first, but somehow it always seems to work.
Bentley leaned in, obviously expecting me to comply. I must have hesitated too long, because Maggie called out, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot Julie’s saving herself for Taylor Lautner.”
I shot her a look that would win the war in five seconds flat if General Petraeus could just bottle it. Why did my friends have to choose now of all times to adopt French customs? It seemed a little silly, given that we already knew these guys and it’s not like we were good friends with them or anything, but I could see I wasn’t getting out of it easily.
When in Paris, right?
So I dove right in. It was just a kiss. Nothing really. An integral part of French life, and even people who barely know one another will jump into an elaborate series of bisous. It would definitely be rude to avoid him, especially considering he already thought I was a bitch.
I leaned in to his right cheek and wound up inadvertently locking lips. Guess he planned to kiss left first. And I hated to admit it, but for just that most fleeting of moments, it was nice. Strong. Warm. Welcoming. The kiss flowed through me with the delicious decadence of a profiterole, that sinfully wonderful marriage of hot pastry and cold ice cream, creating a rush of sensations unlike anything I’d ever felt.
I felt dirty.
I pulled away quickly and glared at him.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, turning away.
“Let’s go!” ringleader Maggie called, clapping her hands like a preschool teacher herding toddlers to the swingset.
“Um, guys,” I said. “Where exactly are we?”
Jon’s eyes crinkled in a smile. “L’Iguane Blue.”
“Blue Iguana?” I felt a frown form between my eyebrows. “Sounds like something we’d find in LA.”
Lauren nodded. “It’s a really hot club my sister told me about. Loads of celebs. When she was here a couple of years ago for study abroad, she saw Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.” She stopped abruptly and bit her lip.
“But I thought we were going to a café in Montmartre,” I said, referring to the touristy portion of the city north of the red-light district, famous for its sidewalk artists and the onion-domed Sacre Coeur cathedral.
Maggie shrugged. “Changed my mind.”
Oh boy. As if it wasn’t bad enough we broke the pledge we’d signed at school before we left the States by sneaking out of the hotel after curfew, we had to go to an 18-and-over club? And with Bentley and his friends, no less?
Not that it was terribly challenging to sneak out. Our chaperones barely let us out of sight during broad daylight, yet once dinner is over, they trust us to return to our hotel rooms and simply remain there, watching TV or something.
I don’t think so.
It was really quite laughable, actually. We’re teenagers --clearly, we’re going to get into trouble if given the chance.
But not me, of course.
Okay, fine, I admit it. I was planning to sneak out tonight and indulge in a little wine at a café. Who are you? My mom? Sure, I’m underage in the U.S., but not here. Just need to be older than sixteen.
Besides, it would be rude not to have a glass of wine with dinner. Even little kids do it. It’s part of the culture. And that’s what we’re here for...to experience the real France.
When in Paris.
So, really, even though we promised we wouldn’t do it, going to a wine bar was perfectly legal. Sorta. Practically expected even. But a dance club was an entirely different matter.
“I’m not sure I like this,” I said.
Hayes laughed and punched me in the arm. “Live a little, Julie!”
“How are we even going to get in?” I asked, folding my arms tightly across my chest.
Bentley pulled out his wallet and produced a driver’s license. “Meet Harrison James Moore, age 21, from Gulfport, Mississippi.”
Maggie giggled. “Better work on that Southern accent. You sound like a Kennedy.”
“I live in the South now so it shouldn’t be too hard. Just throw in a few ‘y’alls’ and ‘bless her hearts’ and I’m all set,” he said.
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, it’s below the Mason Dixon Line, and yes, there is actually a statue of Robert E. Lee blocking traffic smack dab in the middle of Washington Street, but Northern Virginia is hardly the South.”
“Like the French’ll be able to tell the difference,” he scoffed.”
I shrugged one shoulder in the direction of the card. “Where’d you get that, anyway?”
“Harry and I went to Exeter together,” he said.
“I forget, was Exeter before or after St. Albans?”
He ignored me. “Besides, I heard most bouncers don’t even bother to check ID. And it’s not a fake, because it’s real.”
“Just not your real one,” I said.
“And I’m Brittany Noel Harper tonight, age 22,” Lauren piped up. Guess she was borrowing her sister’s ID.
“But that’s illegal,” I sputtered.
Maggie rolled her eyes. “So’s going to a wine bar.”
“Totally different,” I said and was greeted by a snort that sounded like it came from the senator’s son.
“What, are you going to tell the gendarmes?” Jon asked with a laugh. Right, like I’d really rat them out to the cops.
I looked around and saw all my friends brandishing fake IDs. Was I the only one who took the school’s rules seriously? Was I the only one who didn’t want to screw up her chances of getting into a good college?
Was I the only one who hadn’t thought to plan ahead and pack a fake?
As I debated what to do, the line grew shorter until we were the next group up. It was now or never. I eyed the three-hundred-pound bouncer — yeah, I didn’t think the French got fat, either — armed with his headset, a guest list, and a scowl, and made up my mind.
“I’m going back to the hotel,” I announced.
“But we just got here!” Maggie’s dark eyes pleaded with me to stay. “Besides, how will you get back?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t have a fake.”
“It doesn’t look like he’s even checking,” Little Miss Helpful Lauren piped up, gesturing to the front of the line.
I shook my head. “I can’t risk it. Maybe you don’t care about the rules, but I’m leaving.”
“I think I better escort Morland.” Bentley raked his fingers through that boudoir ‘do of his. “You know, make sure she gets there okay.”
Lauren shot Bentley a pointed look. “Maybe I should go with her, make sure she actually gets there.”
Bentley rolled his eyes. “Whatever. I’m not going to try anything. I just want to make sure she gets home okay. I’ll be right back and then we can party without Sister Morland here spoiling all the fun.”
“Gee thanks.” I held up my hands in defense. I didn’t need their charity. “I’ll be fine by myself,” I said, although I didn’t exactly love the idea of walking alone at night in a strange city, even if it was a very safe part. “I’m a big girl.”
“No, you should never walk alone,” Lauren said. “Haven’t you seen the reports on CNN about girls leaving bars and never being seen again?”
“Really, I’ll be fine,” I said. “I’ll just take the Metro.” Maggie shot me a look that said I was crazy. “I’ll take a cab.”
I was actually hoping the girls would leave with me, so I gave them my most pathetic puppy dog look. But I guess I was too subtle, or maybe I just hadn’t perfected my Jedi mind tricks, because they didn’t pick up on my real meaning.
With me, come home, you will. There is no try.
“Actually, maybe we should all go home,” I said. “We’re supposed to leave pretty early tomorrow for Giverny.”
But by that point I was talking to myself. From deep inside the club, I could hear that the DJ had changed the tempo to one of those Eurotrash acid trance grooves that couldn’t possibly sound good unless you were tripping. Not that I would know, of course. But it definitely didn’t sound good sober, yet people were dancing and enjoying themselves, so I assumed there had to be some kind of artificial mind-alteration going on. Besides, Johnny Depp just walked by and nobody seemed to notice.
Clearly, those Frenchies had to be on something.
And where were my friends? The line shrank and I was at the front. I craned my neck to see inside. Maggie was already dancing with some random guy, Hayes was chatting up an impossibly thin Parisienne who looked like she should be home sounding out the words to a picture book, and Lauren and Jon seemed to have disappeared entirely. The only one left was Bentley.
The mammoth bouncer peered down at me. “Mademoiselle?”
Bentley nearly yanked my arm out of the socket as he dragged me out of the line. “Forget them. They’re staying.” His eyes turned the color of the famous Van Gogh sky at midnight as he intently gazed at me, making my stomach do an Olympic-gold-medal-worthy tumbling routine. “I’ll walk you home.”
I broke eye contact. “Shouldn’t they come, too?”
Bentley shook his head. “Who are you, their mom? They’re big kids. I’m sure they know their limits. Come on, let’s get you home before you turn into a pumpkin.”
Oh, that was rich. Sure, go ahead. Make cracks about the scholarship student. Nice. I crossed my arms, stuck out my lower lip, and stood glued to my spot. But the protest was futile, because I really did need to get home. So I gave in.
“Fine, but don’t expect me to talk to you,” I said over my shoulder as I turned the corner.
He laughed, causing small creases around his eyes. “Tough punishment. I don’t know how I’ll ever manage to get over that.”
We left the oh-so-trendy Marais district and walked along the Rue de Rivoli. We were all alone and there was a full moon in the sky. Had it not been Bentley, it would have been -- dare I say it? -- romantic.
I almost wanted to slow down and luxuriate in the act of le promenade, just like the French do, but I wanted to get back. And I wanted to get back now. Ugly American, I know. Rush, rush, rush, whereas the French view the process of walking to be almost as important as the destination.
But I’m not French.
And what would be the point, anyway? So I could savor the thrill of being in the City of Love with Alexandria Academy’s biggest himbo?
Not that actually going back to the hotel held such promise either.
Should I have stayed at the club? I know it wasn’t practical and I could have gotten in a lot of trouble if we were caught, but I didn’t want to be known as a party-pooper. I let out a small sigh of frustration.
Bentley slowed his pace. “Still upset over that kiss? It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of letting him know he was right, so I refused to meet his eyes, still not saying anything, and instead I’d never noticed it before, but he had a dimple in his left cheek.
“I was mocking myself.” He raked his fingers through his tousled locks again. “Self-defecating humor, you know?”
I stifled a giggle. “Don’t you mean self-deprecating humor?”
“No, Morland,” he responded in an especially obnoxious version of his most patronizing tone and oozing the derision he’d so completely perfected. “Defecating. You know, like you’re shitting on yourself.”
This time I didn’t even bother to hide my amusement. I definitely felt better already. “Wow, so apparently you can’t speak English either.”
“What do you mean by ‘either?’” He slowed to a stop, turned around, and put his hands square on my shoulders. “No really, Julie, what’s bothering you?”
That was new. What was up with the Dr. Phil impression? It’s not like we’ve ever been confidantes or anything.
I’m not sure why I told him. Maybe it was the perfectly clear sky with the full moon casting a silver glow over the stone buildings. Or the magic of a narcissistic city that celebrates the senses like no other, glowing in the warmth of candlelit bistros and streetlamps.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was that tiny spark of electricity I felt when his fingers touched my bare shoulders.
“I wish we didn’t go to a club tonight,” I asked. “Why couldn’t we just go to a café or something?”
“It’s not like you had to drink.”
“That’s not the point. That club was 21-and-older.”
“But I saw you had a glass of wine yesterday,” he said. “You didn’t seem too concerned about getting in trouble then.”
“The drinking age is sixteen here.”
“And it’s still twenty-one at home,” he said. “You’re no angel, either, Morland.”
“But,” I started.
“You know, the French might have some weird ideas, but it makes a lot of sense to let kids have some wine when they’re young.” He rubbed his chin. “Takes away the taboo. No need to binge drink each time your friends’ parents go out of town if it’s something you can just do whenever you want without sneaking around.”
Had to hand it to him. He had a point.
“Better not say that too loud, or MADD might stop donating to your dad’s campaign.”
“Like I give a shit about my dad’s campaign.” He knit his brows, and the ensuing wrinkle didn’t mar any of his practiced gorgeousness. In fact, it only served to impart an air of wisdom. I mean, if you go for that type of thing.
He turned towards me, his light blue eyes catching a shimmer of moonlight like the ocean on a cloudless day. Such a pretty color, almost girly, yet he was all guy. Whoa, what was I saying? Had to stop that dangerous line of thinking.
I shook my head to wash away the craziness. I turned abruptly and said, “Don’t you have to get back to your friends?”
“Suddenly they’re my friends, and not yours too?”
I sped up to get away from him. Because of the late hour, the green metal boxes of the bouquinistes, the antique bookstalls lining the riverbanks, were locked and I almost didn’t recognize the neighborhood without them. On a sunny day, those treasure troves of second-hand books and prints call out to passersby to stop and browse. If we’d had more time here, it could easily become my all-time favorite Parisian pastime, casually examining the tomes, both old friends and new.
I’ve always loved reading, ever since I was a little girl and my mom took me to a Dr. Seuss storytime and then signed me up for my very first library card. Who wouldn’t? There’s just something amazing about curling up with a good book and traveling to whatever world’s inside. All your troubles melt. Unfortunately, lately I didn’t have time for anything other than community service hours or dusty research volumes on topics like the motif of lightness and darkness in “Jane Eyre” or the role of women in shaping the American identity. Inspiring, yes, but escapist?
Not so much.
Across the street, warm golden light glowed from the sole awake building on a rare quiet Latin Quarter street. As we got closer, I could see it was a used bookstore. Perfect!
“Um, can we stop somewhere?” I asked.
“I thought you wanted to go back to the hotel.”
“Just a quick detour.”
Bentley shrugged. “You need a coffee?”
“Not exactly.” I pointed at the store. “I need a book.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“If I’m keeping you from returning to the club, just go. I can find my own way.”
Bentley glanced at his watch and then mumbled under his breath. I didn’t catch it and wasn’t sure whether it was English or French, but I had a feeling it wasn’t something that could be repeated in polite company. “Fine.”
The store was small and somewhat disorganized, but oh so cozy. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with stacks of books and patrons filled the overstuffed armchairs as they read.
“Bonsoir, mademoiselle, monsieur.” A grandmotherly woman with gray upswept hair nodded as we came in. She wore a deep mauve pantsuit, cut in a classic style with dainty silver buttons. Probably Chanel. Large creamy pearls decorated an elegant aristocratic neck. Her accent was flawless, but she couldn’t fool me. I could tell a fellow American.
Bentley stopped at the front display and examined a copy of Catch 22. I wandered towards the back of the store. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but that was the point. Bookstores are magical places where you can never know what you’ll find. It’s the only time I let my guard down and do something not on The List. I’m totally organized and planned in my everyday life, but not in a bookstore.
Especially not tonight.
I knew I was smart. I didn’t need to read “literature” to prove it. I could quote the English canon with the best of them, but tonight I was in the mood for some sex with my symbolism.
I needed escape. “Where are your romance novels?”
The other patrons started laughing. The shopkeeper had an apologetic expression on her face as she answered. “I’m sorry, dear, but we’re not really a romance novel type of store.”
Boy, was she right.
All around me were stacks of dog-eared literary fiction and historical treatises. Forget second-hand. If I had to guess, I’d say at least fourth-hand. An occasional genre fiction book was interspersed, but I had a feeling I wasn’t going to find Twilight.
Tucked into the bottom shelf in the far back corner of the shop, a very innocuous phrase stamped in gold on a book spine caught my eye: Paris dans le 20eme siecle.
“Paris in the 20th Century.”
Nothing special, really. Not sure why I even bothered to pick it up, but there was just something that drew me to it. As my fingers grazed the cover, I got a tingle up my spine, unlike anything I’d ever felt before.
I pulled the book off the shelf. Jules Verne? Didn’t he die more than a hundred years ago?
“What’s that?” Bentley’s deep voice snapped me out of my reverie.
“I don’t know.” I turned the book over. It wasn’t a terribly thick book, yet somehow it felt heavy. “Did you know that Jules Verne wrote a book set in the future?”
“Didn’t he write lots of stuff he didn’t know?”
I ignored him as I read the blurb on the book’s dust jacket. I finally understood why they called it that -- I nearly had a sneezing fit from the collected grime. I blew some off and it actually sparkled in the air, like fairy dust. I almost expected Tinkerbell to appear.
According to the blurb, the grandfather of science fiction wrote the manuscript in 1863, but put it aside because his publisher thought it was too depressing. The novel was about a young man living in a world of glass skyscrapers, high-speed trains, gas-powered automobiles, and a worldwide communications network, yet who cannot find happiness and comes to a tragic end.
Verne’s publisher thought the story’s pessimism would ruin his booming career — apparently dystopians weren’t the mega-trend back then they are today — so he suggested he wait twenty years to publish it. Ever the dutiful author, Verne locked the manuscript in a safe, where he later forgot about it. It remained there until discovered by his great-grandson in 1989.
I could feel a steady warmth breath on the back of my neck and looked up to see Bentley reading over my shoulder. And call me catty, but I fully expected to see his lips moving as he read.
“Sounds cool,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind reading that.”
That clinched it. I was already pretty fascinated by the history, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to buy it. But I wasn’t about to let him get it.
I pulled a really disingenuous smile, like my Southern Belle cousins from Georgia do. “I found it first.”
He shrugged. “No prob.”
Either my powers of persuasion were even more impeccable than I’d thought, or he didn’t really care. Whatever. Julie, one. Bentley, zero.
Forget shoes. Maggie might not agree, but I finally found my souvenir from Paris.
My mind made up, I carried the book to the counter. As the elderly woman swiped my card, she stared at the cover, not saying a word. An entire range of emotions crossed her face, like she was trying to figure out what to say. Weird.
After she handed me my package, I turned to go, but was stopped by a hand on my wrist. The old woman locked eyes with me. “Please take care of my book.”
Um, okay. I tried to loosen myself from her grip.
“Please,” she said again, violet eyes boring into me with an uncomfortable intensity. “Books can take you places you’ve never dreamed of. You just have to let them.”
Well, duh. What was up with the creepy tone to tell me something so self-evident?
“Sure,” I answered. “Um, I better get going.”
“Of course.” She dropped her hand and the hard stare immediately melted away as she morphed back into the cheerful grandmother from earlier. “Have a nice night, ma cherie.”
“Come on, Bentley,” I called. “You don’t want to keep the hot chicks at Blue Iguana waiting, do you?”
I stepped into the night, Bentley behind me. Far in the distance, a bolt of lightening snaked across the sky. We decided to make a run for it before we got hit by the rain.