In the City of Light, one dancer must confront her fears about love and loss before she can step into a brighter future…
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…
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!”
The door slammed with a resounding thud. Lily stared at the wood that separated her from Natalie. The tiny ball of anger and frustration swelled in her belly.
A couple of young dancers covered their mouths as they giggled and scurried down the hallway. She didn’t blame the dancers for finding amusement in the goings on, after all, temper tantrums from principal dancers weren’t uncommon. In fact, Lily had been considered an anomaly due to her lack of screaming and demands. That was one of the reasons the Bohème Ballet had pursued her so intently. That, and her partnership on and off stage with Aiden. It had been a coup for the ballet company to sign them together, especially as Bohème had been competing against more famous and affluent companies. But the allure of Paris, the City of Love, had been enough to convince her and Aiden to fly halfway around the world and start a new life—a life that had only been in existence for a moment in time until it was savagely ripped away in one stupid, painful instant. And it appeared life hadn’t finished doling out more difficulties.
After wiping her hands on her jeans, she adjusted her backpack and negotiated the passageways one more time. There was no point in hanging around. Natalie had made herself clear, yet again, and no amount of stalking would get her to listen. Lily needed time to plan how to approach this sister who felt like a stranger. Over the past couple years, Natalie had grown bitter, selfish, and accusatory, so unlike the sweet girl who had once adored her older sister. Now spite raced through Natalie’s veins and the pièce de résistance had been when she’d joined the Bohème Ballet Company. Natalie had deliberately pursued her sister’s dream, an act that sliced through Lily’s heart. There had to be a reason for her sister’s insane change of attitude and blatant disregard for Lily’s feelings. What had snapped in Natalie? Lily needed to find out, no matter how painful or difficult it would be. If she didn’t, she’d remain caught in the past, unable to move into the future, whatever that may be.
Fighting back tears of frustration, she smiled at Bernard, who opened the door.
“I hope we will see you again soon, Mademoiselle Johansson.”
“We will see, Bernard, we will see.” She squinted in the bright sunlight, pulled out her sunglasses, and waved to the doorman as she took off down the street.
Lily hurried back across Pont au Change, happy the theater was behind her. Reaching the other side of the river, she kept her head down, her feet pounding the pavement even though her lower back ached. Her legs and arms pumped and she reveled in the free movement of her limbs, something she’d once feared was lost.
The sun had dipped behind the tall buildings and Lily shivered, the perspiration on her body multiplying the effect of the cool evening air. With one rapid footstep after another, she powered on, barely glancing at the crowds exiting their workplaces and closing up shop. It wasn’t until she reached the neighborhood of Vanves, that she realized how far she’d walked. With all the twisting and turning down avenues and alleys, she’d walked for at least an hour. Sure, her back ached, but the rest of her body felt so much better. Standing on the corner of Rue Jean Bleuzen and Rue Danton, staring at the headlights of gridlocked cars, she realized where her feet had led her. She sucked in her breath. Why had she allowed her body to dictate her actions? Once, it had been a tool she’d used to express feelings, especially joy, but this time, just like it had since the accident, her body had betrayed her.
If she walked a few blocks from where her traitorous feet stood, she’d be at Avenue Victor Hugo, the site where she lost the man she’d planned to marry and share a bright and starry future. Even Victor Hugo’s name made her shudder. Aiden had adored Hugo’s works, especially The Hunchback of Notre Dame and he’d insisted, in his charming and convincing way, that they should go and check out the avenue named after one of his favorite authors. After a long day of rehearsals, she hadn’t been in the mood but decided to go just to humor Aiden. Perhaps if she’d dug her heels in more they wouldn’t have gone and he wouldn’t …
A cacophony of horns drew her back to the present as stationary drivers rolled down their windows and screamed at each other. Grateful she’d halted her own progress on foot, Lily turned and started the long trek back to the apartment. Even though she’d had plenty of time on her flight from Melbourne to Paris, she hadn’t given any thought as to how a visit to Aiden’s site would play out. She certainly hadn’t envisioned an impromptu visit during Parisian peak hour but really, what would be the perfect way to visit the place where she’d lost a piece of her heart forever? Her clammy skin and thudding heart told her she was far from ready to go to the avenue, and with nausea swelling in her belly, she suspected the timing was not right and most likely never would be.
Alli Sinclair is a multi award-winning author who spent her early adult years travelling the globe, intent on becoming an Indiana Jones in heels. She scaled mountains in Nepal, Argentina, and Peru, rafted the Ganges, and rode a camel in the Sahara. Argentina and Peru became her home for a few years and when she wasn’t working as a mountain or tour guide, Alli could be found in the dance halls dancing the tango, salsa, merengue, and samba.
All of these adventures made for fun storytelling and this is when she discovered her love of writing. Alli’s stories capture the romance and thrill of exploring new destinations and cultures that also take readers on a journey of discovery.
Alli volunteers as an author role model with Books in Homes, promoting literacy and reading amongst young people.